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Frostbitten

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 Tony POV

June 24th, 2016

Tony takes a minute to watch the retreating shadows. The shadow of a person who he had thought was his friend. A person he thought had cared for him. Who made food and brought it to him when he spent too long in the workshop. Not many people did that, they just got angry at him for failing basic functions. 

The back of the man who smiled at Tony when he staggered into the kitchen, blearily feeling his way towards the coffee machine. Who would hand him a cup of the dark beverage that was practically his blood at this point. That he could accept that cup without the spike of anxiety! He still remembered how thrilled they both had been the first time they did it accidentally. Tony had missed the cup Steve had put on the side for him and Steve had scooped it up, bringing it close enough for Tony to smell it, when Tony had reached out and taken it, Steve had stood frozen in shock. Tony, utterly oblivious had just started drinking his coffee. Took two more hours for him to realise what he'd done. 

Things had been hard lately, but Tony had thought their friendship was strong enough to weather what was thrown at it. His mistakes, his fuck ups, that he wouldn't abandon him. The avengers were made out of people with mistakes in their files with blood on their hands, skeletons in their closets after all. He just had to do better. Be better. Fix himself. Rewrite his code. Find those junk sub routines he kept tripping over. Just, be better. Rhodey hated it when he spoke like this, but there must be something wrong, broken somewhere. Or why else did these things happen to him? 

Steve… Steve was one of the few people who didn't mind Tony's need to be tactile. He would stand just that bit closer to him in the lift, so the back of his hand would brush Tony's arm. He'd gently bump shoulders. Tiny touches many people wouldn't even notice that we're a huge deal to Tony. He'd even admitted to Steve once that he was touch starved and the touches grounded him more than anything else. He'd said the words in a fast rush after not sleeping for four nights, panicking at the idea of even trying to sleep and drank so much coffee that FRIDAY had locked down all the coffee machines. 

He'd hunched in on himself, panicked that he'd said that out loud! Just ready for Steve to laugh or say something about being rich and a perfect childhood. That was what people usually said if Tony revealed anything weird like this. Rhodey always believed, but Rhodey saw the bruises. That had been humiliating, but Rhodey hadn't let him hide, just sat on him and hugged him. Even worse than that, Steve might takes something out of Howard's book, that he should man up and try to be better like Howard. But he hadn't. He hadn't said anything, just smiled, pulled him into a crushing hug that stuttered his brain from its fast past to a slow moving sludge. Steered him towards the sofa. Tony following along, almost blindly, in a state of utter shock. Usually when he stupidly confessed things like this, people used it to hurt him. 

Steve sat him down on the sofa, guided Tony down, put his head on a pillow on his lap. Covered him with a blanket and put the TV on. His ridiculously strong arm across his shoulders, a no nonsense barrier that said he WILL rest… But that he didn't have to do it alone. He didn't try to get Tony to talk more either. He seemed to just know that that confession was huge to Tony. He slept for 14 hours straight. Steve was in the exact spot when he woke. Tony blinked up at him, staring for longer than socially acceptable as if he was looking at a mirage that would wisp away if he stopped looking. Tony wasn't sure what shocked him more, that he listened to him? That he believed him? That he wanted to help him? That he knew how to help without sending Tony into a spiral? Or that he'd rather stay sitting on the sofa for 14 hours just so Tony could sleep? 

This wasn't behaviour common in Tony's life outside of his platypus who was currently far away and out of contact. Ridiculous rules. 

As the shadow finally disappeared and silence settles. Even if Tony strains, he can't hear a thing. No more footsteps. Not a glance back. Tony hates Steve for doing those things for him. Tony hates Steve.. No, he hates Rogers for that. 

For making him feel like he mattered. When he clearly didn't. 

For making him feel important. When he was clearly nothing more than an obstacle. 

For making him feel like a friend, when he was clearly a placeholder at best. 

For telling him he didn't have to do it alone, that he would be there for him. But now he is alone. 

So alone

And it hurts

And it's cold

The cold is like a presence itself, one that he can feel settle around him. Covering him and his suit. Spread out, touching everything. The remaining heat from the suit feels like its leaching into the ground almost too fast. Like he was trying to grab at sand slipping through his hands. 'A broken tin can and a flight suit are not the best gear for the cold' he thought darkly to himself. He hadn't even felt the cold when he'd arrived, the suit made it so such things barely occurred to him. Now though, he can feel a trickle of panic in the back of his mind as the warmth leaves him. The cold taking its place. 

"It's fine."

His voice cracks as he speaks, causing him to flinch slightly, that's when he realises he's been holding his breath. He didn't even notice but the gasp in after talking… Then realises that each breath is like breathing with cracked glass in his lungs. Or shattered ice. Ice that is everywhere here, would make sense if it had already settled inside him. 

He closes his eyes and counts to ten. Aware that he is being ridiculous. Rescue is coming, he won't be here long enough for the ice to get to him. Not really. 

Then his eyes fly open in sheer panic. No. He wanted to keep his friend safe. To bring him in. Safe, away from Ross. To do that… He'd scrubbed the location before he took off. That, and he'd cut off FRIDAY from the servers at home, leaving the sliver of her isolated in the suit with him. The shield. Rogers. Destroying the arc reactor, driving it into his already admittedly weak sternum, that he'd even told Rogers about! 'idiot, trusting idiot' something whispered at the back of his mind. He resolutely ignored it. 

The suit powering down around him before he could even think to tell FRIDAY where he was. Leaving him dark. Because Tony was stupid enough to tell someone things that he kept close to his chest. Rogers knew just where to really hurt him. To have him trapped, alone, in so much pain he can hardly move. 

He choked back a sob as he realised he really was alone. Who would come for him. Rhodey couldn't. Pep.. He'd made sure she was safe with Happy and that he was busy working on the Accords… Not doing anything risky. And poor Vision, he was still reeling himself. He needed time to deal with things, racing off hunting him down wouldn't be great for any of his family. 'Where would they even start looking anyway' that dark shadow in his mind spits at him. He choked out a laugh that sounded brittle, even to his ears. The sound bounced around along with the rattle of his breaths. 

So he watched the ice. 

'This is what you deserve.'

The dark shadow whispers into the back of his mind. He tries not to flinch at that voice. That voice that sounds so much like Howard. But also… It sounds like Rogers. 

He watches the ice and the stark terror, the fear… It slowly drained away. He didn't know how long it took, but he was shaking when he realised he was bored. How the hell was he bored whilst freezing to death?That did it… the fear surged back, down his throat and into his mind, making breathing just that bit harder and pushing him to the edge of mania at the idea of being bored whilst slowly freezing. 

It came. It went. With and eb and flow smoother that his breathing, that now always felt like shattered ice. His chest… He was almost happy the the suit and his pain restricted him from looking down right now. Because he didn't want to know what his chest looked like. Even covered by the suit. He resolutely looked for anything else. For a while the snow was beautiful. He always liked snow. 

He noticed after a while the cold was hitting his left arm more than his right, it being that bit closer to the snow, but not enough for this much difference. He risked a glance and noticed there was more damage to the suit there.. That wasn't good. Oh look, the panic is back. Yay. 

'This whole thing is your fault, what? Did you think you could spiral through life with no accountability to the lives you destroyed?' 

The Howard-Rogers voice sneered at him. He flinched back again before thinking, no. He wanted accountability. He'd been striving for it since as a cloth bag was torn off his face, the sun blinding him momentarily until he was faced with the exact result of his lack of accountability. He really didn't want to be at the point in life of arguing with a sinister voice in his mind, so he decided to push it away.

To think instead about the good he did, about what he'd been trying to do, to turn that terrifying document into a shield for those who needed it. The voice quietens under this and he feels alone, again. But he's not so far gone that he wants the company of a sinister voice in his head. Rhodey would not be impressed with him if he did that and Rhodey was his guiding star. Not that he would ever let the man know. 

He's not sure whether trying to recall his extremely limited knowledge on frostbite is a cure for the boredom by scaring him witless, or if he's trying to distract himself from the fear by remembering facts. He seems to cycle back and forth leaving him emotionally drained and raw, like he can't find a solid surface to stand on. The very idea of frostbite almost feels like a warning flashing on the hud when he's flying in the suit. When he closes his eyes he sees it, a red box, an outline of his body… Sections going dark. 

Yeah, that is not helping. Nope. Nada. Nein. Neit. Nac oes. No. He needs to do something. Aaaanything. 

It takes another unknown quantity of time, now ignoring the snow, that has gone from beautiful to nerve racking. As it just doesn't stop falling. He knows logically that the building likely won't get entirely buried in snow, but all he can think of is being buried by snow, suffocating to the taste of snow instead of foul water and sand. 

He slowly gets the panic under control, again. He doesn't know how many cycles he's been through now, he forces himself to look at the snow. To prove to himself he's being hysterical. Looking at the snow falling, getting thicker, it's just like watching the ice creep along the suit - that makes it worse. Instead he switches to glaring at the arm, the one he blasted off, mentally taking it apart from what he can see. That makes the panic eb with a familiar feel of work for a few moments at least. 

Nothing lasts. This quiet environment seems perfect for things to turn on him in his mind. Staring at the arm though, that makes him think of other things. Things that have already set firmly into his brain. That memory is like barbed wire. Touching it makes him bleed. He idly wonders if he's gone crazy. Would you even know if you've lost it? Did he really just watch his parents get murdered across from the weapon that killed them, that was a 100 year old tortured super soldier, stood next to a person he trusted, something that doesn't come easy to him. He had trusted Rogers down to the fibre of his being. This whole thing doesn't make sense. 

Rogers who was angry that his teammates lied to him sometimes. He wonders just how long was Rogers lying to him?

Rogers who took the time to get through to a brainwashed Winter Soldier whilst fighting him. When the Winter Soldier was actually trying to kill him. 

Tony wasn't. How did Steve not see that? Why did Steve react with such anger and violence? When he was a raw wound of pain ripped open in pieces. By the fighting, that no one came to him, then the video, by 'Wait , Tony…' 

By 'Did you know?' 

Mostly, by the 'Yes' he had to ask twice for. Because he knew it was a yes. 

Tony is practically a walking tank. A tank that encased the mind of a genius if he did say so himself, who has a thing for patterns. The amount of times he could have killed either of them in that fight. When he aimed for structures around them instead of them, when backs were turned. When he restrained Rogers, he supposed he should be thankful that the shield smashed into his heart than his neck.

Although he swore there was a moment, looking into his eyes that he was going to aim for his neck. 

Whilst he might not know the Winter Soldiers patterns.. He had FRIDAYs help. He knew Rogers though, even without FRIDAYs reminders. He knew Rogers like the back of his hand. Wasn't that what all the team building exercises for? Tony knew how to take down Rogers in the suit, Rogers should have known Tony wasn't going to kill Barnes, he just needed someone to hurt, if he was he wouldn't have blasted the arm off. It would have been so easy to aim just that bit… 

No, NO. 

That way leads to madness. He needs action. Needs something to cling to, to get out of his mind. 

Thankfully, that depressing interlude has scared the panic back, ha, he's scaring his own panic. Let's avoid the manic laughter this time though, that he can just feel trying to escape his chest. So, it's time to move. There has to be come kind of computer here somewhere. Some kind of power source, somewhere. Just, something. 

But he doesn't get that far. He barely moves a centimetre. The movement causes blinding, hot, searing pain across his chest. That hurt more than he expected. He was sure the damage wasn't bad enough for that much pain. He breath stutters in his throat and his vision whites out. He clings to the pain to stay conscious, but he can already feel it slipping. 

He comes to an unknown amount of time later. Would this be better if he could see a clock? No, probably worse. He was colder than he was before. Maybe. It's hard to tell. 'Oh yay, we're panicking about frostbite again.' He grouses to himself, unkindly. He is pretty sure movements is meant to help. So every now and then, he taps his fingers. 1 2 3 4 5, 1 2 3 4 5, over and over, right, left. He flexes his feet too. Tony isn't sure if this is helping, hurting or doing nothing. 

But it's something

If he does get out of here… How... How can he build without his hands? 

He tries to think how long he has been here, but all he sees is snow and white on one side, dinghy greys of the lovely Hydra getaway he is now residing in to his right. He eyes feel like they've been watering for days, especially the left. What is it with his left side? He considers trying to turn onto his side, that way his back would be to the snow instead of his left. The tears have frozen on his face, the ice feels like its cutting into his face where its set. Everything feels a little... too bright, but is that just the snow or is something wrong? He tried turning, but the suit feels so heavy suddenly, or has he gotten weak since he's been trapped here in the cold hell that's becoming his life. 

His brain, his whirlwind brain feels like its surging and stuttering at the same time somehow. It makes no sense, he's trying to correct the data but getting overwhelmed about the brightness from the snow and the fading around his vision is just too much. Everything is too much. Too much. His mind, unchecked is too much. 

He feels like his brain might be trying to make him stop feeling parts of his body because they hurt so damned much… Or gods above, is that Frostbite? How can you know when all you see is metal? He always knew he would die in the suit, people don't get it when he says that he is the suit, but he always knew he would die in it. Just as it saved him from the cave. He was fine with this knowledge, but he didn't expect the death to be this drawn out. He didn't expect to be alone when FRIDAY was always with him. 

He didn't expect it to be so cold. 

He's not sure if he's scared, panicking or having a panic attack now. As connoisseur of panic attacks in recent years, you really think he would know. But his body feels all sorts of just, wrong. The cold, the ice and the wind feels like it's sinking into his bones. Breathing through ice and glass. The cold has gotten into every inch of him. Every cell of his being. Winter has taken up residence inside him.. or is babbling about winter winds in his bones, rattling about in his skull a sign of the isolation and that he's losing it? The silence, except that eerie, quiet howl. The ice, the ever creeping ice, that he can't run from… is getting to him? 

Already? Is it already? Even if he knew how long it's been, it feels like it's been years, even though he knows that is ridiculous. Maybe, if his brain would just shut up! Even for a bit! 

Tony had always known the worst thing you could do to him is lock him away in his brain with the silence. Nothing to do but think. Sure, he'd worked some techniques to help out as a kid as a survival mechanism, but it's still torture. His mind spirals too fast for him to catch sometimes. Being a genius is all fun and games till you're at the mercy of your own mind that just Will. Not. Stop. What he wouldn't give for his music now. 

He wonders, idly, how long he's been in this timeless ice prison. Could be a few hours, or days. He's lost time somewhere and the pure white outside doesn't lend itself for tracking the hours. 

Not that he's trying. 

That would be counting down how long people aren't looking for him. 

That thought stops him. No. He will not lose his mind to the ice. It may be stealing his body, piece by piece, or it might have been 20 minutes and he's being dramatic! Not sure if that's better or worse actually.. 

Tony forcefully pushes all that back. Time and Ice, are his biggest enemies right now. His fingers twitch and his eyes slide closed as he decides what to do. He knows he can't sleep, sleep would be dangerous. He definitely knows that much. Closing his eyes seems like the worst thing he could do.. But Tony's holograms existed in his mind long before he made them a reality. 

So he sinks. 

He sinks away from the cold, the ice and that damned wind. From the pain, the suffering and the isolation, he skitters away from the memories, and the knowledge that Rogers knew and that he was, once again, not good enough. That pain, whilst familiar, is not what he needs. 

In the darkness of his mind blue comes to life. All around him, sparkling displays with wonderful things surround him. Himself stood in the middle. Pictures of people he loves. He throws himself into Peters suit with a vengeance. 

........... 

Some unknown time later, he surges awake, gasping with lungs at far less capacity than what he had to deal with back when he still had the reactor. Panicked that he had fallen asleep, just how stupid was he to allow that to happen?! Things are darker now, is it night? The snow is still bright.. Weird. There is just blurriness with pain, and the shining white of the snow.

Everything hurts, just pain is everywhere now it's hard to work out what hurts more. 'Not that that isn't a fun game to play' he snarls at himself, angry he let himself drift, instead he decides to focus on his hands again. He tried tapping his right hand first, gets to 3 and then hears the 4 5, kind of, but doesn't feel it. Then he goes to do his left hand and… Nothing. He didn't consider that with his plan, that his exercises would be a play by play of what he might be losing. 

He relearns the meaning of fear. Again. He thought he knew every flavour, he was wrong

Utter dread sinks into him. Stealing his breath right out from his pained chest. 

It coils around his heart and settles along with the ice into his bones and leaves him more shaken than the nightmare that woke him up. Of Steve slamming the shield into the arc reactor… but this time, this time it was as still in his chest, without wearing the suit. Yet Steve just stared down at him, with that single minded determination, and the arc reactor cracked, his chest split. The pain drove him awake, sweating despite the icy room, and just in so much pain. He knew pain, chronic pain had been his normal for years but this, this was different. Front and centre instead of the steady drip, drip, drip constantly in the back of his mind seeping into every activity. 

That was awful, but this knowledge that he was slowly losing touch with parts of his own body, it's a different perspective forced down his throat. He still can't move, when he tries, the blinding white pain of his chest leaves him unconscious for however long.. and he wakes up missing something more. 

That dark shadow in his mind, the Howard-Rogers voice, It's telling just to do it, so he doesn't have to feel the ice taking him. Just momentary pain and the… Nothing. He can rest. Sleep. Not hurt.. It would be easy.

He can't do it however, and not just because the suggestion came from that shadow. When he's awake he can move, he knows what is happening and that's better, somehow. The idea that the ice would be taking him unawares as he drifts unconscious is a different brand of fear that was seared into his mind the first time he woke up. 

Even if he feels like his mind is fraying around the edges. 

The blur from terror to boredom then panic, piled with the fear and then that cold dread, it's too much that now he doesn't know what it is. It is like he's taken in too much that it's now nothing. Nothing but ice. 

He doesn't know how long he lies like that. Still. Eyes open. Staring. Not sure if he's feeling nothing or maybe everything and it's blinded him, not sure what is real and what is his mind coming up with to torment him. Not sure of anything, except the winter that's taken up home in his bones, and his heart. 

He opens his eyes again, again not remembering when he closed them or why. Not even sure why even opened them. Did he hear something? No, there is just the wind and silence, there is nothing to hear.

Blurry whites, greys and Shadows, is all he sees. But this time it's different, he knows what everything looks like around him by now in perfect detail, even if it's now blurry and hard to make out details, but something is new. He blinks, a lot, even if it's agonising each time, trying to bring things into focus but it hurts so much.

There is someone leaning over him looking into his eyes, but it's too blurry to make it. He tries to flinch back, retreat, move, something, anything, now this is panic of a different flavour. How many different kinds of fear, dread and panic can one person experience in a set amount of time and stay sane? 

It isn't until he finally hears the voice that has been talking to him for a while, over the blood rising in his ears, then.. Then he stills. The fight and energy seeping out of him, leaving him lax. 

"I've got you sir, we found you."

Can he rest now? 

He's just so tired and cold, he feels like he is the cold now. 

"We'll have you home and warm in no time."

How can he ever be warm again?

 

Chapter Text

"He’s my friend.” Steve stated that like it explained everything.

“So was I.” Tony felt ripped raw... 

 

“That shield doesn’t belong to you,” Tony yelled at Steve’s retreating back. Needing that anger. Needing to wrap it around himself to drown the voice in his mind. Needed to tear something so fundamental to Steve's identity from him so he could maybe feel an inch of what his lies had wrought in Tony's mind. 

“You don't deserve it. My father made that shield.” 

 


 Tony POV 

 September 7th

 

Tony surged awake, pretty sure his own hand smacking off his forehead was what woke him up, but before he got a chance to feel his head, shivers racked through him, wiping coherent thought from his mind. All except the cold. His vision whited out around the sides, getting brighter and painful, squeezing his eyes shut. It sounded like someone was talking but it was so far away he couldn't make out words. His eyes clenched shut tight as he scrambled for the strings of anger he could feel falling away in his mind, in the hopes that maybe anger could rage through the cold. 

He curled up in the blankets, trying to get warm, brain swimming but it didn't abate, everything slipped away, he swore he could see the ice creeping towards him again despite his eyes locked down. Tony all but threw himself from the bed at that, stumbling slightly, watching ice creep closer had fast become a source of unadulterated terror for him. The cold had been bad since the freezing nights in the desert, this had just added to it. He staggered to the shower, practically chucking himself in, still in his night clothes, reaching out to turn it on as warm water rained down, it helped, slightly, just not enough but at that thought he reached out again and the water got warmer.. He curled in on himself and just gave up for the moment. 

 

Rhodey POV

 

"Colonel Rhodes!" 

Rhodey smiled at a camera, FRIDAY refusing to drop the colonel from his name actually made him smile. Even though he was out now, but she insisted. 

"Hey small Fry, I'm here early, where's Tones, workshop?" 

"He's in his bedroom and you have to hurry, he had a nightmare and he's overridden the safety in the shower." 

"Shit" 

Rhodey tossed his stuff on his lap off to the side, span his chair towards the lift, slipped his hands from the silver bar on his wheels to the black one. Giving him a little more kick and speed because Tony didn't how to not upgrade something that came within a 100 metres of Rhodey. (Tony still refused to believe that manual chairs with battery packs were a thing before he started poking it, sniffing, head tilted to show he was unimpressed. Well, at least arc reactor powered ones were new, shockingly.) He didn't use it often, wanting to build up his upper body strength, but it was damned handy occasionally, like when you had to be fast, or the occasional too steep ramp. Or accidentally running into annoying people. 

"Fry, can you get the temp down at all?" 

"I've been trying! Every time I get it down, he just puts it back up!" 

Unlike most of the places he visited, the compound and especially Tony's apartment, was an accessibility haven. If Tony noticed anything that made it so Rhodey couldn't move as freely as if he still was on two legs, then the next time Rhodey went back, things had changed. He never saw the changes happening, Tony was sneaky like that. He didn't need to do multiple awkward, stilted turns or dodge furniture in tiny gaps and there were none of those annoying single, small steps everyone just forgot existed. 

"Can you lock him out of the controls?" 

"I tried, he's now locked me out! You have to do something!" 

The genuine panic in her voice gave him another surge, so happy he had decided to come back earlier than he had planned from the current rounds of accords ratifications. He bashed open the bathroom door with his chair and slammed into a wall of steam he could barely see. 

"Dammit, you idiot, you told me this had stopped."

He muttered to himself, this wasn't the first panic attack Tony had had that came with a desperation to get warm. Even in roasting hot environments. He was also kicking himself for believing that in the first place, as he made his way to the shower, sweating already. He didn't want to know how hot the shower was to get to this level of sauna environment or how long it had run for before he'd arrived. The rest of their little family unit was away, plus Tony tried to avoid the teens seeing him like this. 

Tony looked a lot like a drowned kitten, he bit back the laugh because what the hell brain? Not the time! Tony's skin was definitely on the very, very red side, but not as much as he had worried about. At least he hoped through the steam. Visions of Tony blistered from the shower were not fun and they'd been flying across his mind when the doors to the lift closed. 

"Tony, tones, come on, you have to get out of the shower, or let FRIDAY back in. You're scaring your girl."

The oppressive heat now had him mostly dripping uncomfortably, this wasn't working. The latest lot of panic attacks Tony had come out of Siberia with seemed to make it so Tony didn't hear during them, meaning most of his protocols were effectively useless. Sometimes he or FRIDAY could pull him out by talking, but other times he might as well be screaming at a wall, he kept talking anyway, just random crap that came to his mind as he reached down to grab Tony by his arm, leg anything to drag him out of the spray at least, and ended up pulling his hand back with little short of a scream himself. That was a lot hotter than he was expecting. How the hell had the shower gotten this hot. He didn't know the showers even could get this hot!

"Fry, keep trying to override him." 

"Since he locked me out he raised the temperature again, it's holding now but it's too high and I can't get back in!" FRIDAY practically shouted… From the bedroom. Tony must have locked her out of the bathroom completely before turning the temp up and huddling down. 

He glanced around looking for… Something, he needed an idea, whilst Tony was not blistering under that water, he would soon if it kept up like this and Rhodey would too. He didn't really care, but if Tony came out of a panic attack having injured Rhodey, he knew that would be worse. He also knew that there was no use waiting for the hot water to run out. Not at any property of Tony's, but definitely not at the compound, especially after Tony's latest round of expansions. How best to deal with holes in your floor but massive expansion and moving tons of people in? At least in Tony's mind. He wrapped a towel around his hand and arm a few times for lack of a better option, just wishing that Tony had one of those cheap plastic shower curtains instead of glass, he grit his teeth and thrust it back under the spray. He hissed in pain as water quickly soaked into the towel, his hand caught around Tony's arm and pulled, he'd deal with everything else when Tony wasn't under the boiling water, last time it had just been the heating. Very thankful that the breaks on his wheelchair held even on the wet tiles. Launching himself into the shower really wouldn't help. 

At his hiss of pain however, Tony's eyes flew open and the water shut off at the same time. 

"Rhodey, what… What happened to your arm?" 

Tony frowned, his red arms steadily fading to pink in front of his eyes made Rhodey blink past the sweat. Tony seemingly unaware of where he was and only focused on Rhodesy's hand. 'Don't yell at people coming out of panic attacks. Don't yell at people coming out of panic attacks. Don't yell at people coming out of panic attacks.' He chanted in his head. 

"Me? You're the one trying to do you're rendition of red lobster and you're worried about my hand?!" 

'Dammit' He cursed internally 

"Sorry Tones, you just had me worried there for a minute."

He tried to tug his arm back, it wasn't bad, maybe a little scalded at best and he likely wouldn't feel it 20 minutes later but any pain and Tony was going to turn into a humongous pile of guilt and start rendition 121 of 'why I shouldn't be near people'. Only to bemoan his recovery away from everything the next morning of course. 

"Boss! It's good to be you back with us."

FRIDAY'S relief was palpable, Rhodey swore that every time he went to the UN, he came back and she'd leapt forward again. He didn't know if she could feel relieved but he definitely got that sense from her. Despite the situation, he couldn't help but feel a little proud of her. 

 

Tony POV

 

Tony blinked in confusion for a minute before realising he was fully dressed and sat in the shower. He closed his eyes in a sigh, realising he must have had a panic attack. Again dammit. He'd been doing so well! Extremis had returned his vitals back to normal, leaving him floating a little. Out of all the weird quirks of his new body, and there were some really fecking weird ones, this snap-back after affect was probably one of his favourites, he just still wasn't used to it. Once it would have taken hours to come down fully from a panic attack… now it felt like the panic attack was ripped out of him, leaving him just, well him. System Reboot as such. Even if he went running around the compound for 2 hours, all he had to do was stop for a few minutes and everything returned to normal levels. 

"Of course I'm worried about you, I'm fine, I heal, my stupid brain caused you pain, I'm not even sure how this happened."

He muttered angrily to himself, he'd been doing better dammit. Extremis did so much, but wiping trauma from Tony's brain was out of it's limit, well, maybe he could delete the memories, but honestly he was scared of how much of him that could make him loose. He'd thought that Extremis quickly correcting things like spiked heart rate and adrenaline when he was alarmed would translate to less intense panic attacks, maybe. Instead, during an attack everything went haywire and his mind reached out without him in the driver's seat. Because who didn't need a fun new level of PTSD symptoms?

"Boss, when you were.. In the shower, I don't think you noticed but you used your overrides and locked me out of the bathroom.." 

Tony winced. Dammit. He'd hurt Rhodey, booted and terrified FRIDAY. He stood up, a little dazed, and very drenched. Vague memories coming back of fighting with FRIDAY as she desperately tried to lower the temperature and he just kept raising it. Biting down against the chill of his wet bed clothes clinging to his skin he took a second to focus himself. In more control now than he was earlier, he just raised his body temperature to combat the chill. The cold seeping away and feeling less like he was going to fall on the floor shivering was definitely an improvement. He turned back to the two people he'd just hurt and terrified. Sighing internally that he sucked as a person, let alone a friend. He pulled the towel gently of Rhodes arm. The look on the other mans face showed that he was tolerating this only for Tony's benefit because Tony refused point blank to release his hand.

Dick move maybe, using your genetically enhanced strength against your brother, but he had to fix his mistakes. 

"Fry, make a note for us to set something so 'this' doesn't happen again? We'll work something that needs Platypus override codes for anything to do with temperature controls maybe?"

He frowned, working out a way that he might not just hack and steamroll through would be tricky and it would not exactly be an easy thing to test for either. He wasn't sure how he'd done some of the things he'd done when emotions got control of him, let alone during panic attacks. He might be a bit of a masochist when it came to testing dumb stuff on himself, but triggering panic attacks like this was too much, even for him. Wow, he did have a line. 

He sent a warm brush off code out towards FRIDAY in apology, undoing any lock out codes at the same time and felt a tentative glimmer of pink and silver code against his mind. That gave him pause, she'd never been nervous like that before, even when he first woke up weeks ago from his coma screaming from pain and clawing at his face, terrified he'd gone blind thanks to bandages over his eyes. She'd surged forward to circle his mind and with vision, full of confidence and determination to protect him from more pain. Guilt of how she'd failed him in Siberia wrapped around her. But never nervous. The two of them had taught him how to lock down his mind and only let in what he wanted vs the information flood he was drowning in. It went from falling off a waterfall into very violent rapids to a deep lake he could dip into as he pleased. Blame Vision for the 'hand wavy' descriptions, he was expanding his vocabulary to sound less like a machine and had decided everyone must join him. He could phase through walls too, so Tony had given in to the word a day and listening to him read interesting stuff he found. It was occasionally hilarious. 

Tony sent a more confident brush out to her, hoping to draw her in, and she practically ran towards him in a code version of a tackle-hug, that made him smile. Getting to 'hug' his kids was one of the best things for being… whatever he was now. 'What did I do to have you so nervous baby girl?' 

He felt the hesitation again, that really wasn't like FRIDAY, he didn't think there was a line of hesitation anywhere in her code. He should know, when he couldn't sleep he enjoyed going through to see the leaps and bounds she was making. That's when it hit him, another punch in the gut like Rhodey's hiss of pain.

He'd done that.

He'd caused it.

He'd hurled her away from his mind and locked down, and doubled down by then fighting her trying to shut the shower off or just turn the temperature down… she'd been trying to protect him and he'd just shoved her away. Likely not kindly either, even though the memory wasn't forthcoming, so he pretty much assumed the worst. He'd even locked her out of the room entirely. She wouldn't have been able to even see him. 'I'm sorry baby girl, I didn't mean too.' He choked out. Trying to fill his grief at hurting her into his words and lines of code. 

He felt her code ripple in what he assumed was relief. He was still learning the intricacies of code from the other side, everytime he thought he knew everything, something else popped up and sent him scrambling to catch up. Being at a computer typing was nothing like code flowing from your mind. It was a living, vibrant thing. Add in the self learning AI he'd built FRIDAY from, the strangeness of Extremis in his mind, almost turning it to code.. it was definitely strange. He was likely making things weirder too. If he trusted anyone smart enough he'd love to see what they thought of his and FRIDAY'S codes twining together. But that was a big ask and he was still facing… Glitches. Hiccups. Bumps. And they were usually, you guessed it, weird and unpredictable 

As such he was still technically in lock down. 'Healing' to the rest of the world after it was announced that he was out of his coma. That still irritated him that someone at the hospital had tweeted that he was in a damned coma in the first place, fare to say, Pepper threw her shoes at Rhodes head because that's how she'd found that something was wrong. He was fine though, could cartwheel around the kitchen if he wanted, he just wasn't 100% sure that if a reporter irritated him that he wouldn't accidentally destroy every piece of tech on them. Or around them. 

Or you know, melt another server farm, but, in his defence it had been Pyms server farm. So he found it hard to not laugh about that really. Idiots fault anyway, at least try to be subtle when hacking SI, bad luck that Tony had been rooting around at the same time and decided to chase the hacker. He'd sent Hope some flowers after, with a 'Sorry-Not Sorry' note attached and his number. That turned out well, they hadn't spoken much since they were young after their fathers decided hating each other was better than tolerating each others presence for profit and the convenience of ditching the kids in the same place. He'd missed her after and they'd been texting a lot since, Rhodey was on at him to invite her into the fold and he knew Hope was getting curious as to his media blackout, especially now she had fully signed up on the Avengers, she new Tony was 'Currently Inactive' but had seen him for short periods. 

'It's OK Da, I understand'

FRIDAY said, warmly, and happily, effectively stopping his brain from running down 20 different paths. That happened more now, more space he suspected, but it was faster in his brain. FRIDAY could pull him out of the current. Luckily he wasn't just sat staring blankly for 5 minutes when his mind literally wandered, occasionally into different servers, it was more 5 seconds now. 

He sent another brush of code, smiling, she only called him Da in his head and he always showed her that he loved it. He had totally not cried the first time he did it, and then he'd spent the next hour convincing FRIDAY that they were happy tears. No wonder she's come so far dealing with emotions lately he muses, she'd gone from watching and observing humans with their complex emotions, to getting a backstage pass to the mess of Tony Stark's brain, talk about jumping in the deep end, but she was swimming strong. She pulled back slightly to let him deal with Rhodey. It hadn't been long but Rhodey was watching him critically. Rhodey practically had a degree in deciphering Tony's facial expressions, and the stupid smile he got when one of his kids referred to him as dad in some way or another was a huge tell. 

"You two are talking in your brain again. You know the rule, when there are sentient, non-code beasts in the room, we use VERBAL means of communication. It's rule 4!"

“Sorry Colonel." FRIDAY chirped, sounding not even slightly repentant. 

"Sorry platypus." Tony sounded a tiny bit repentant but it was kind off ruined by that stupid smile still plastered on his face. "You're hand didn't get it too bad, if you run it under cold water it should be fine." He slipped back to frowning at his hand. 

Rhodey rolled his eyes dramatically. He knew this and flicked Tony with his other hand to get him to stop staring at him guiltily. 

"My hand is obviously fine, stop staring at it whilst looking like a kicked puppy."

"I would have been fine, you didn't have to… Hurt yourself for me." 

Tony ran his hand down his face, releasing Rhodey's hand and then rubbing the back of his neck. Practically wringing his hands together like a teenager that just got caught sneaking out, he was also guiltily, trying to avoid looking at Rhodey right now. Not wanting to See something that might show he was done with his antics. That the burden of 'Tony Fucking Stark' was finally too much. One of the weird Extremis 'abilities', and dear Tesla it sounded freaking weird to talk about having 'abilities'. He still hadn't got past the sarcastic finger quote stage when they were brought up. He Saw too much now. Way more than he even thought possible. Sometimes it was so bad it blinded him, not seeing people at all. It was easier one on one. He was very slowly working up to being in the room with multiple people. Another reason for the 'lock down', that was seriously starting to chafe. 

"Tony. Just because you can sit under boiling hot water and heal does not, and will not, ever mean I will sit back and watch you do it. 'Fine' is not good enough in my books. I want you good. Better than even. Just because you can heal doesn't mean you don't feel pain. Just because you can survive it, doesn't mean you should, especially just because it might be 'easier' on me." 

Rhodey just looked exasperated and waited for Tony to look at him again. He'd worked out in the early days that something was different now with Tony's vision and not to push Tony about it. Something that he had never encoded into Extremis when he was playing around with it when he was bored. Something neither of them had even thought to consider. Whilst Tony had been trying to make it perfect and seeing what he could stretch it too, but he'd never intended it to be used on him, or anyone really, so he'd never tested how it would react with his blood, on his body. Hadn't thought to see how it would react to traces of his element that he hadn't even noticed lingering after the reactor was removed. Trace amounts, they didn't do anything... But apparently Extremis liked it, liked it enough to work with what it had and run with it. Tony had told him bits, he'd worked out some on his own, but Tony kind of hated talking about it. No matter what people said, it was another sign he had lost something. Humanity was something huge to lose after all. Although he didn't say that to Rhodey anymore since the frying pan incident. 

He brought his head up, Tony saw Rhodey's eyes sharpen and knew the scientist side was showing, a side people usually forgot about him, they were 'Mr Stark and Colonel Rhodes', people forgot about Rhodey's PhD and business people seemed to forget his, weirdly. Tony didn't care, being underestimated was fun occasionally, he'd been walking the fine line of 'Yes, I'm a genius' whilst still concealing enough of his intelligence to be overlooked by some people his whole life. Ever since that stupid reporter had asked his dad if his 4 year old son was going to surpass him during that press conference over his circuit board. That was a lesson learnt painfully and was pretty ingrained by the time the man died. Was killed even, his brain skittered away from touching that. Focusing on Rhodey and controlling his breathing. 

Rhodey watched how Tony looked around him, before directly at him, seeing.. Something. Tony knew that he was itching for him to tell him more, and not at being all grumpy that Harley had dragged more information out of him without Tony fleeing the room shouting 'It's too weird!' whenever Rhodey poked. Which, whilst hilarious, didn't really help with the wondering. Tony took a deep breath and did what Harley kept telling him to. Just let it happen, stop fighting it till you black out because that's stupid. 

His response that Harley was stupid was met with the most unimpressed glare the now ridiculously tall teenager had ever aimed at him.

He had to admit, it was kind of pretty. Beautiful even. 'Ugh'. He always struggled to explain it, but it looked like brushes of water colour moving around people. But.. Not. Usually in a variety of different and confusing ways that took him freaking ages to decode and made no logical sense. At first he'd made a list of what he thought certain colours meant, and then he'd see another person with the same colour in the utterly wrong situation for it and he'd 'know' it meant something else. As abilities go it was frustrating and… 

Ugh. It was like soft science.

In his brain.

All the time! 

Sometimes, if he got overwhelmed, he could only see the colours and as such had walked into several walls trying to escape. Sometimes they got so intense he passed out. Sometimes, they faded back and he had to switch feeds so to speak to bring them up again. It was extremely annoying, but quite useful, which was also annoying. It was extremely hard to lie to him now, which he liked. He could also determine surface personality traits sometimes, and weird information that made him seem wise and knowledgeable would just pop into his brain, out of seemingly nowhere with zero control. He'd been practicing on some of the people who knew he was in hiding but not of his changes from behind mirrored glasses. It had helped him start to trust people he never would have again without it. Much to Rhodey's annoyance. 

Rhodey though, when he looked, was all silvers and blues, strength like a cape wrapped around him, shining metal, like the armour really... But fluid like quicksilver, there were blues like the ocean, pinging consistency in his mind, they melted to rich greens, like huge sprawling forests, giving him a strong feeling of being grounded, he had just told Rhodey Silver, Blue and Green however when he asked, none of this poetic nonsense that he was still blaming Vision for. He was everything Tony wasn't, yet  everything he needed but would never say so. There were fractures in the silver, burning stripes in the green, but it still held together strong. Tony wondered what it had been like before the accident. The fractures were filling more and more each time he Saw though. People had base colours that stated the same, but strong emotions tended to add or take away sometimes. Rhodey's guilt tarnished the silver for example. 

He didn't even want to know what his were like, so thankful it didn't work in mirrors and he made an effort to ignore his arms. He was shattered most likely. Repeatedly. Held together with crazy glue and duct tape. Rhodey's quiet determination to beat every new obstacle life threw at him was a mystery to him. Tony just… Weathered what life threw at him. There were flashes of red in the silver and out of it, moving faster but was always present, darting in, out, around the other colours too. That made him breathe easier, he knew, somehow, that that red was for him. On others red had different meanings, on Rhodey is was just, him. He shook his head, focusing again as his actual vision had blurred. 

Damn. He must be a sorry sight right now, Rhodey wasn't asking him what he Saw. He was trying not to look at his hand too. He hid a flinch, moderately successfully, realising he wasn't doing his usual of hiding it and stuffed it in his very wet pj pocket, ew. Pleasant. He needed to get changed he thought whilst he tried to ignore the now pinched look on Rhodey's face. No matter how many times they told him he didn't have to hide in that first week… He still did. They were just being kind. It was the very least he could do. It wasn't what someone wanted to see after all, especially when he wasn't wearing a long sleeved shirt. 

"I'm going to peel myself out of this.. Urgh."

"Then we are going to sleep."

"But Rhodeybear, Platypus, Sour Patch, light of my life. I just woke up!" 

"Small Fry, how long was Tony awake for and how long was he asleep for" 

"Fry, don't you da-" 

"He was up for 62 hours and slept for 1 hour and 36 minutes Colonel." 

Tony cringed internally, he'd gotten caught up creating new nano machines out of his remaining vibranium. He'd created a hive for them in a newly upgraded arc reactor he'd made especially for them. He wanted them for more than a back up suit, that he could manipulate freely, he had Extremis-Suit Mk 1 as his current main suit, the first of the suits designed precisely with Extremis in mind for his Enhancile Range of suits. Rhodey's naming scheme. But with the nano machines he was working on a suit developed entirely from them that could self repair too, Bleeding Edge Mk 2, that one would come from the hive and form around him unlike the Extremis suit that he stored internally now, not that anyone knew that, yet. He needed a list of who knew what. 

It might seem excessive, effectively carrying two suits around 24/7, but Siberia had taught something.

Was he paranoid? 

Probably.

But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean your best friend won't turn on you and slam a vibranium shield into your heart. 

"Fri! How could you! Treachery! Off to McDonald's with you!" He crowed with no heat behind hind the threat as usual. 

"Sorry Boss, your own protocols allow me to give information to select people when you pass 60 hours." 

"Why 60? Did I set that? That's a stupid number. It's stupid. 72 would make much more sense and by way more reasonable and then you wouldn't have snitched on me!"

Tony groused whilst Rhodey looked triumphant. He rolled out of the bathroom and a few seconds later, Tony was hit in the face. Twice. He blinked down at the pj's now in his hands, okay. Maybe he was a bit tired. His reactions were somewhat (a lot) improved thanks to the virus now running through his veins, and yet, Rhodey just lobbed two things, at his face, without him realising. He didn't even realise he'd caught them, or what they were, until he looked down. Holding them away from himself to avoid them getting wet. 

"I'll, Um, get ready for bed then?" 

"You do that. And I'm sleeping in here so you can't creep off to the lab and make FRIDAY lie to me-" 

"Would I do that?"

Tony interrupted, hand on his chest, dramatically staggering back. Rhodey just raised that eyebrow of his. The one that says 'I'm not impressed, I know you!' It might have been weird that Tony and Rhodey's eyebrows had a secret language, but in the last few months that was the -least- weird thing within his little family. 

"Again."

Rhodey finished before spinning his chair skillfully on the spot and disappearing into the bedroom, probably to get ready himself and sort his stuff out Tony assumed. FRIDAY quietly informed him that some of the helper bots SWISH & SWASH had collected his stuff and brought it to his bedroom. 

Tony couldn't help but grin a little anyway. True, this hadn't been the best of situations, scalding showers and his brain blocking Fry… But. But! Not once did Rhodey apologise to him for making the decisions he had when Tony was in a coma. Rhodey knew that Tony had never wanted the full, suped up Extremis, or even the weaker version permanently, last time he'd used an even slower version so it could be deactivated when the surgery on his heart was complete. It left him with a heart condition that if he'd kept extremis could probably been fixed, but he'd chose to soldier on. This time however, even with Cho and the cradle.. It hadn't been enough. Tony had been slipping away, apparently he could survive Siberia.. But being back, maybe he'd used to much energy fighting the cold, there just hadn't been enough of him left to fight. 

So Friday had told Rhodey of his secret side project when Tony had been in the coma for 6 days, long enough for protocols for control of his private servers to transfer to Rhodey to kick in. Told him about how whenever he was bored for a few years he'd worked on seeing just what he could add to it and have it still be stable. That it might be Tony's only choice. Unfortunately he hadn't made a middle ground. He hadn't thought about it really, so Rhodey was left with the new SuppedUp version, or the old SuppedDown version. And when the latter had already failed. The former… Well, that couldn't be removed or even neutralised when it was used. It would be for life and completely rewrite his DNA. (He had considered another version to turn him back in the early days after he passed out from seeing 3 nurses, but using Extremis technically a 4th time, with all his new weird additions would frankly be stupid). However long that would be. Rhodey had tried to wake him up, to ask... But time was short, Tony was skipping deeper, Cho was literally building him a ribcage as his sternum was too shattered for the cradle to rebuild. It had basically turned to shrapnel in his chest when Roger's hit home, he guessed that Rogers forgot at that point that Tony was human, with damage to his chest already present add in the level of force required to deactivate an arc reactor... 

So Rhodey had been swamped with guilt every time he saw Tony. He could mostly keep it off his face, occasionally he even kept it out of his eyes. But, Tony could See now. And it ate at him something awful when he saw it, so he tried to hide the obvious examples, there was almost as much guilt as he felt seeing Rhodey in the chair, not flying, not walking, not running. They were both drowning in it he realised grimly. 

He peeled the wet clothes off of himself, his skin mostly dry from the increase in his temperature, but he grabbed a huge fluffy towel anyway and threw a thought toward the extractor fan to clear the last bits of steam. He dried and dressed whilst pulling up the latest plans for Rhodey's braces. He had a few options he was developing separately. Thankfully they'd carried on running in the background, but he still needed to check over everything. There was enough space in his mind now that he could develop stuff without actively thinking about them, letting his mind render in the background so to speak, but this had been the first night he'd left something running when he slept. 'Stupid, should of picked something less important.'

He kicked the door open, chastising himself, as he turned to brush his teeth again, his mouth felt all foggy. He totally opened the door to air out the room, not to check up on Rhodey, who was just relaxing on the bed with his eyes closed, eyebrow raised because he knew Tony was checking up on him. He really sucked at subtle. At least he was smiling though. Which he had to be honest, made him smile too. 

He scrubbed a towel over his face a few times before looking in the mirror. He can see Rhodey as he opens his eyes from here too, no colours in mirrors. So just Rhodey, which makes him grin until he tracks what he's looking at. Dammit, his hand again. Why was he forgetting tonight? Lack of sleep probably he thought back at himself uncharitably. He'd almost made an art form of hiding his hand when he wasn't alone these last few weeks. Talking was tricky, but he'd been neck deep in Accords and General Ross bullshit that he'd hardly noticed. Then Rhodey had been taking his work and presenting it to the UN, giving the impression to the world Tony was working whilst just out of a coma. Amusingly it was making people less vicious towards him in the press, which was frankly plain weird. After that picture ran, of him in the coma, Pepper had scrambled expecting a stock drop and trouble, but the press was oddly.. nice to him. As we're people. He was still squinting at that, because the press were a vicious brood, he wasn't used to it pointed away from him this much. Right now anger at anyone not 'baseline human' was easy to come by. There were still requests for what exactly happened, so far Tony had talked any phone interview around in circles. 

The pain was still really obvious in Rhodey's eyes, Tony decided finally that he's tired of that, he wants it gone. But the eye contact still makes him flinch, worse when he can see himself. He'd managed earlier when things were crazy, but now it's calm again… he wonders if Rhodey just sees something that he forced on him? Or something terrifying? Wrong even? No one has said these things but Tony's brain can be a vicious little thing.

He realised that he really sucked as a friend if he was still seeing that in his eyes. He should have thanked him for saving his life. Thinking back, wondering if he'd actually said the words, and was quietly horrified to realise that he hadn't. Not once. No wonder he still stared at the obvious reminders. His metal left wrist and hand being oddly the less obvious one. It was sleek and quite pretty if you ignored the horrible amount of scaring, the metal a less ostentatious matt black that the kids were encouraging him to flash it up.

It was his eyes that were impossible to miss. Can't exactly tuck them into a pocket. Well, It's fine on his right side, his whisky brown eyes that he's stared at in the mirror for his whole life looks back at him in the mirror. The familiar flecks of gold… lipochromes, for a fairly useless fact, enough of them that in the sun they flash gold. He'd been asked about his contacts more than once, and now, that was the normal side. 

The left… that's where he Sees more from now. More than even he could have thought of, and sometimes more than he knows what to do with, it's just... More. Best description. Seems lacking, but it just is. Luckily he is well known for wearing sunglasses, at any time of the day, even indoors. The bright, vibrant arc reactor blue that makes up the whole eye would definitely get more questions than he's comfortable answering. 

"I'm sorry" 

"Stop platypus, you can stop now. Without your choice… I don't even want to think what that would have been like if I'd come out of that coma. "

Shuddering at that thought, eyes fixed on the matte black of his left hand. Clenching slightly on the sink and comparing the feeling to his flesh hand. Shivering as he looked at his eyes again. And those were the bits too dead for Extremis to heal, Rhodey refused to tell him what he looked like when vision got the malfunctioning suit off of him. But he knew that he'd had lost more than 1 eye and 1 hand. Pep had seen him when he was in a coma, but Rhodey had been very careful, he'd been covered and tightly wrapped in multiple blankets and both of his eyes had been covered with bandages. Too many machines that she couldn't disconnect to check him over safely. But he knows he hadn't looked good. Even the tiny amount of him showing had been black and blue in that picture. Thinking of Pep, he winced, She was going to get suspicious about the lack of video calling soon, he knew it. Suddenly, after all his years, only using voice calls instead of inappropriately answering by video in the shower. Definitely odd. But he just couldn't explain why he had his sunglasses on in the workshop(or shower), not to her. She was already suspicious enough when he came out of the coma and suddenly hid out at the compound and drowned in work. 

"But you never wanted this… You, you enjoyed being old! Let alone all the other… Stuff." 

Tony sighs, torn from his thoughts of telling Pepper, turning from the sink and strolls into the bedroom, the bathroom light shut off as he left. Flopping down onto the bed sighing, a shade dramatically maybe, gotta make Rhodey smile. He wonders if hiding these things from him is what's causing Rhodey guilt to hang on so much. 

"I know, I know. I enjoy being alive too." 

He closed his eyes and Rhodey is silent for a minute, the main lights shutting off with a thought. Except for those damned fairy lights Rhodey looped around his headboard. And he hated them. Kind of. Or not really. The soft light was nice though, not that he'd ever admit it. 

"I also like having hands. I like seeing. Even if it's all weird now." 

His nose crinkles at the end, making Rhodey huff in amusement. 

Tomorrow. At least around his family, around the people who already knew, he decided to stop wearing glasses all the time. And to not spend the day with his hand stuffed firmly in his pocket. He'd hidden these things at first because of the pain that flashed across his face, and anyone else's... But he wondered now, if he was dragging it out? He could do this, if not for himself, he could do this for Rhodey. For the kids too. Telling more people too, maybe. 

Peter loved tinkering with his new hand, heck, HE liked tinkering with his new hand, constantly improving the range of senses, plus he didn't have to wear oven gloves now. Peter was developing a skin-sleeve too for when he was 'healed' and would be going to UN meetings and board meetings. Eventually his family wanted him to not hide at home, but they knew a level of subterfuge would always be needed somewhere unless he wanted to explain to the press how he'd lost a hand. He had been considering the idea himself, but when Peter came to him all excited about it, he deleted everything he'd been noodling around with in a second, didn't want Peter getting excited and then stopping because Tony had already been on it. Peter was even corresponding with Dr Cho about it, it was weird, being hands off about something. Especially considering he'd be using it often for people out of the loop, but it was nice, having someone build him something. Usually it was the other way around, and he loved building people things, but it was nice to be on the other side. Every time he saw the kid working on it, this warm, tentative flutter bounced around his chest. Peter was also having fun on the make up front, Tony actually was getting quite good at making himself look closer to 50 than 20.

Similar to Harley and his insistence that having two completely different eyes was actually super cool and not weird or a sign he had lost his humanity. Which Harley claimed was once of the top 10 most stupid things Tony has ever said. He was honestly kind of scared to ask about the other 9... The kid even carried a notebook everywhere now for anything new Tony realised he could see. He was cagey about about what he said because it felt like a breach of privacy. Harley even made Tony feel less.. weird discussing it. Slightly. He'd also made it his mission to find a perfect pair of sunglasses for each of Tony's new suits. Harley and Peter's idea when Tony had tried one of his old suits on and it felt.. Weird. He hadn't changed size much, but his old clothes just felt like they belonged to someone else. His favourite, apart from the red and gold, was oddly the silver one. The tie and glasses looked like quicksilver with the black shirt and suit. He'd asked him to find extras of those glasses and they'd become his main 'nonsuit' pair. The glasses were different to his standard fare, needing ones that wrapped around instead. 

Vision didn't even act like anything was different… you'd think Tony has always been able to see sound and weird potentially emotional stuff in colours, and brush code against each other as 'hello' etc. Tara was currently more interested in taking things apart and putting them back together that he wondered sometimes if she noticed any differences! Dr Cho also seemed hard to shock after they had to build him a new rib cage outside of the cradle. Tony still thinks he was the most shocked at that little fact they'd dropped one day during dinner. He hadn't known until then that his ribcage wasn't well, his ribcage. Everyone seemed baffled that he was confused because this is his life now apparently. Teenagers man, they confuse everything. 

That was pretty much it for the 'ITK' file, there was a huge section of names in the maybe section. He knew there were others he should tell… But every day that passed since his return, the surgery, Rhodey's decision… Since he had woken up and scared Peter and Rhodey half to death from the information overload. It got a little harder to bring up in a not terrifying way. Walking up to Pep and waving, or pulling his glasses off in front of Happy just seemed to be awful ideas. No matter how much Harley thought it would be hilarious. Anyone else was under Pep and Happy though, as they'd be hurt to think they were the last to know. 

Although he was convinced Laura and the kids knew something because she's Laura and kids notice more than adults. If an adult saw a flash of blue as he slipped his glasses on they'd assume it was a reflection off of the holograms or maybe FRIDAY. Kids.. Kids had a wider range and didn't feel 'silly' asking weird questions. Probably Aunt May had some inkling too because of Peter, he would not be surprised if she hadn't put 2 and 2 together of his discussions on robot hands. Nat was still confused about why Tony had let her come back to poke much and Bruce was only communicating via text in whatever part of the world he was in today (that Tony totally pretended he didn't know about). He hadn't even found out Tony had been in a coma yet, and Tony didn't know how to tell him THAT let alone anything else. 

Strange… Yeah, hard to tell the guy who you've been mocking for cheating on science with magic that you have some weird colour seeing ability that made no logical sense, plus he'd been avoiding seeing him since Siberia. Strange Saw more than he said too. Aurors he'd mentioned, but he had a feeling now that Strange might know, what he could see he had no clue, but he'd know something. He was going to be annoyed, they'd reconnected when he'd taken a step back from the Avengers after Ultron, and him suddenly going off grid was aggravating the overdressed wizard (Actually, Tony thinks he misses his cloak more..) Stephen knew something was up and Tony was sure him joining up with the Avengers that he swore he'd never join, even on the sidelines, was his passive aggressive way of yelling at Tony. They had a complicated relationship that went back to them snaking at galas to alleviate boredom. Then there was Carol, who was around Rhodey a lot more lately too, plus she'd have to know when he went back on active duty… there were potential others too. So the 'ITK' file was.. Stalled. Yet constantly taunting him. He wondered if his avoidance of this issue was another contributing factor to Rhodey's guilt, presumably thought he'd isolated him or something. 

"I'm good. I'm happy to be alive. You made the right choice Rhodes" He said, nudging Rhodey with his foot, feeling that timid warmth inside at Rhodey's huff, able to see him roll his eyes in perfect detail despite the low light levels. 

"Close your damned eyes. You're like a nightlight." 

Tony spluttered a laugh, that was the first joke he'd made about it. As they both cracked up laughing in the dark, Tony decided to think that maybe they really would be okay. Maybe he should start telling people. 

As they calmed down, Tony shuffled a little closer to Rhodey. In the past he gave just thrown himself at his brother. But since Siberia he had gotten more tentative with initiating touch, it was something that Tony knew Rhodey worried about. Tony was practically the dictionary definition of 'Touch Starved'. Even if he didn't say those words or let many people know about it, touch was something he craved from people he cared about. It didn't have to be huge, bone crushing hugs, something a small as a brush of the hand was enough. 

He'd gotten close to telling Roger's about it before Ultron. Well, Roger's knew about it, but Tony had nearly told him Why. In a terrifying, soul baring 'here's my past' kind of way. Something that he'd worked up the courage and failed several times. The problem was Roger's thought Howard was a good man, so telling Rogers that several of Tony's weird and annoying quirks where pretty much all he got from the man, along with some crippling anxiety, a surety that he was never good enough, never worked enough, and a lovely voice inside his mind that revelled in tearing him down. The rogues had assumed his childhood was perfect because of that silver spoon, they didn't know it was a crucible of pain, blood, fear, loneliness, locked doors and too dark rooms. Part of him had even felt guilty about ruining Roger's view of his friend! 

Somehow, the knowledge he'd nearly told Rogers why had amped up some of his quirks so they were back to where they'd been when he started MIT at 14 and Rhodey, likely utterly baffled and angry he'd been stuck in a room with a kid, saved him over and over. Afghanistan had been similar, made him worse with a new quirk that for months he'd been terrified to say no. Still caught him occasionally. Rhodey never acted like catering to Tony's brain was a problem like other people did. But then others assumed the quirks were because he was a rich eccentric genius. Eccentric, rich geniuses were meant to have weird, annoying quirks and suck at social norms. Rhodey had seen too many bruises to think that. Rhodey had sat with him when a lecturer had reported his bruises, stunned when he realised Tony was on a first name basis with too many of the social workers for his comfort as he stayed with him for support. He'd raged when he'd been told the same thing he'd been told every time. 'Not enough evidence.' Told Tony it wasn't his fault, even when the lecturer vanished from the campus. Tony saying it was fine and normal had made him angrier, Tony flinching from him, looking resigned to more pain had doused his anger like a bucket of ice water. That was when Rhodey started taking him home to meet his mother. 

So Tony took a deep breath and moved close enough, turning on his side until his back was flush against the line of Rhodey's arm, moved his leg back until it was just touching his. He didn't care that he was nearly 50, if there was going to be a chance of sleeping, he needed that connection. He heard a quiet hmm from Rhodey and Tony let the breath out. He knew that hmm. It was the 'I'm impressed you did that' noise. He let the tension leak from him and to reward him, Rhodey lifted his arm and pulled Tony against him. Using his increased upper body strength to hold him. Tony smiled and started to feel sleep settle around him at last. Slowing his thoughts, FRIDAY sent a gentle lap of code against him, holding a part of herself against him as he started to drift. He mumbled his plans for the morning to Rhodey, something about them must have been funny as he started to drift to the feel of Rhodey's chest shaking slightly. 

But he had sunk too far into sleep that he couldn't really recall what he said, nor could he overly cared when he was here. 

He was safe. 

He was warm. 

He was loved.

 

Chapter Text

Tony POV

September 8th

'You know, sun streaming through through the window right on your face is a really unpleasant way to wake up' Tony groggily mused whilst sending a thought towards the window to close the curtains and waving off FRIDAY about to start her good morning speil, all successfully done without opening his eyes. 

Just as he started to slip into sleep again, the sun is back. "Urrrrrrggggg" he pulls a pillow across his face, shutting the curtains again. Wondering if there is a glitch in the system. 

"Wake up Tones, it's 9am." An evil voice intones above him before pulling the pillow from his face. 

"Why. Why do you do this to me?" 

Rhodey, already dressed, the heathen. Looks unimpressed and confiscates the blanket as well as the pillow and as the curtains are no longer obeying him, obviously he has FRIDAY working for him. 

"Tony. Do you not remember telling me that you wanted to get up early so you could run, then read the latest draft I brought home for you of the accords amendments whilst you get up your courage to call Pepper back as you have 7 voicemails you have been ignoring."

"Didn't I say that at 3am? When I was falling asleep, after our fun time in the shower. Why on earth would you listen to me then?" 

Tony reaches for another pillow only to discover Rhodey has literally stripped the bed bare. This causes him to open an eye and glare at the man sat comfortably in his wheelchair. Obviously enjoying this. 

"I have Jules getting here in 20 minutes…" 

Yup. That did it. Torture lady was coming. Tony sat up fast, shaking his head, waiting for Extremis to wake him up better. The odd feeling spreading through his mind and muscles making him alert and ready to go in a few seconds. 

"Yeah, I'm up. Torture lady is coming. Why does your torture lady always want to do mean things to me?"

Tony squints, sensing foul play whilst shuffling of his bed, grabbing clothes he can comfortably run in whilst planning his route around the compound so  people won't notice him outside and you know. Running. Ugh. They might think he'd turned into an exercise nut or something. Or Rogers. Double ugh. 

Changing into his picks for today as Rhodey just rolls his eyes and makes his way into the bathroom. Loose joggers and a soft long-sleeved shirt with holes for his thumbs. In the immensely rare chance he is spotted his hand is sufficiently hidden for someone seeing him run. 

"She's my physical therapist Tones, and a critical part of those bracers you totally aren't making for me."

"What, how do you… Um. What? 

"Tony, do you really think I just do the exercises she gives me without question. I asked about her plan and its kind of obvious why you hired her. And you took her suggestion about running to help you manage your energy levels with Extremis, and it worked, so she can't be that bad to you."

Running his hand through his hair and joining Rhodey in the bathroom to wash his face and teeth. 

"Yes, I'm doing the stupid running thing, and yes I'm not having weird Energy bursts manifesting in tech explosions anymore. Doesn't mean I enjoy it."

He begrudgingly muttered, what was worse was that he was actually enjoying it. The sensory thrill was oddly addicting and he'd gone from grudgingly agreeing to try it twice a week to running every morning. He even left the lab to do it. What on earth was his life now.

"The running is one thing, she wants to add things to my occasional gym time. She wanted me to join a pilates class honeybear. Or Yoga. Aren't the hand to hand and combat classes enough?"

He shuddered dramatically but Rhodey was too busy laughing to reply. Clearly the idea of Tony in a yoga class was too much for him. Tony was only 40% nervous he'd like more of her decisions and he'd actually turn into Rogers or something.

"You enjoyed the Taekwondo she suggested too. Face it Tomes, Extremis has left you with more energy to burn than 60 hour lab sessions."

He shuddered internally at that thought whilst also lamenting the fact he was up, and awake, at 9am. Again. When the kids were not even here! Rhodey found this hilarious of course. 

"Do I have time to help you set the living room up whilst I drink my coffee, or must I flee now?" 

“You have 17 minutes until Jules arrives Boss. If you hop to it you should be safe!"

FRIDAY of course loved this new running and exercise business. Boss having healthy habits was something she wanted to cause more of. As such she often conspired with Rhodey, Vision and Peter to have him keep it up. Harley just found it hilarious and laughed at him. 

"You set up, I'll make your coffee. That you don't even need anymore might I add."

Tony clutches his chest and glared at Rhodey for even suggesting such a thing. How dare he! Yes Extremis made the change from asleep to awake mostly seamless, but he still needed his coffee before doing things in the morning, and throughout the day, and night. He was awake but he still felt kind of groggy before his first cup, sure it was more mental now that physical, but still, coffee. Plus, he still kept unusual hours, coffee was still life. He sniffed, insulted, humphing before stomping into the living room. Ignoring Rhodey's laughter as he made his way to the kitchen. 

He made quick work setting up his living room exactly how Rhodey and Jules wanted it. When he had started redesigning the private residence of the compound, less excessive and just more comfort for people. No more huge floors with every tiny detail specialised. All the rooms were mostly the same and blank so people could decorate their rooms however they please. It made him happy seeing people put effort into decorating their rooms. There were multiple people on each floor too, which he hoped was less isolating. Privately he hoped if people were personally invested in their rooms, the violence to his buildings would be less. He didn't really want to half destroy and rebuild the compound again. His not so healthy coping mechanisms when people destroy his buildings was usually to kill the person, unfortunately he couldn't do that this time. So method 2! Destroy and rebuild. Excessive? Maybe, but it made Vision very happy to help him smash the building and rebuild it. 

His rooms are slightly different to the standard rooms, but not because of what people would think. And not just because he was avoiding common areas whilst he rested. He did visit occasionally after all, hopefully more soon. He liked getting to meet new people, but in small groups, so he didn't pass out, again, he was working on increasing his tolerance. The main reason for the increased size in the main floor in his apartment is that Rhodey started doing his PT in the occupational health rooms. With lots of health professionals and fancy equipment. And he'd been miserable. PT isn't exactly fun in itself, so Tony had worked to make it better for him. Which included having a pretty large living room with furniture that quickly rolled against walls and equipment wheeled out. There was also all the extra bedrooms, Laura was opposite him with an equally large accommodations because of the kids. 

He always set up when Rhodey was at home and not doing his 'on the road' exercises, because the equipment was heavy and would take 3 people and way more time than what he could do in under 10 minutes. Also the large living room had doubled as a perfect location for movie nights for the 6 of them. Soon he was hoping they could invite more people, especially Laura and the kids. He loved movie nights after all. 

There were of course the main movie nights in the compound for those on the avengers and young avengers roster when they were around. Tony had a standing invite from Carol, but he was still 'recovering' and he'd been in hiding. After last night and his decision to face the dragon, he figured Carol could be next and maybe he could start getting out more. The movie night was a little daunting yet though, dark room, even if he kept his glasses on, which would be very weird, if the room was dark enough, you could see a blue glow quite clearly. He drummed his fingers against his chest nervously . 

Tony generally had two modes when it came to stuff like this. Hide and tell no one, or arrogant and tell the world. After Pep he should probably tell the current Avengers lineup.. Which was Carol, Rhodey, Vision, Nat, Hope with Strange coming in occasionally as a back bencher unless required. Bruciebear always had a place on hold for him if he ever came back. Then there were the defenders, Matt and Jessica living at the compound part time, Luke and Danny visited often. Tony still can't believe how fast Rhodey got everything working, as co-leader, mostly running management with Carol until he was cleared, the 2 of them moved mountains. They kept saying it wouldn't have been impossible without Tony's files, but he just collected information on everything… Hinky. Fixing clauses to the Accords had just made people more confident to come into the fold. Weirdly him being in a coma had made the public throw some sympathy to those willing to do that to themselves for them.

It didn't fix everything, too much fear had built up over the years thanks to the Avengers reckless actions and lack of accountability. People were used to Tony being around after, Tony taking on the fault, but everyone else just vanished. After the mess in multiple different countries headed by the personification of the American flag, barging into countries without invitation or permission, causing vast amounts of property damage and loss of life before just disappearing. People had started asking why he was cleaning up these messes, would the new Avengers be more of the same? But that's why he pays the big PR bucks. The amount of work he was doing post coma helped too. He needed to set up a press conference soon introducing everyone properly. 

He'd met everyone since they came, in small amounts. Still confused him how people he'd barely met seemed oddly, and in Jessica's case, kind of viciously protective of him. He idly wondered if the PI had been checking into his past and figured of course she had. Matt had been equally as protective after he'd looked into everything Ultron related. It was kind of confusing Tony out how protective they were, Rhodey just said the ex-vengers set his standards too low. He thinks Rhodey might have something to do with it and the image of Rhodey giving the New Avengers a shovel talk was hilarious. 

Everything was still pretty new and fresh, but from what he's heard from Rhodey and watching training sessions, because he's a constant worrier, things were coming together nicely. The people were actually getting to know each other. It didn't feel like a timebomb waiting to go off. They wanted to talk to him, not just for what he could do for them either. He'd frozen up the first time Carol had asked him what his hobbies where for bleeding hell's sake. Thankfully she hadn't said anything. Everyone texted him often too, in the group chats and separately too. He even got cards telling him to get better soon. He'd kept them with his file of drawings kids sent him. He was not a sap. Nope. 

Shaking his head, Tony followed the smell of coffee to his little kitchenette. Humming as his picked up his mug, eyes fluttering shut and he took a few seconds just to enjoy his coffee, fingers drumming on his chest. Checking his messages and firing of replies to the several good morning texts. He sent the kids his plans to start telling people, Peter congratulated him, Harley told him it was about time and Tara sent lots of heart emojis. 

 

Rhodey POV

"You'll be fine Tony, you've been cooped up long enough. Before you say anything, I know you occasionally go into the common areas, but I know for a fact Jessica wants you around more, Matt too. Hope will not stop bugging me, Nat is still confused, which I am not enjoying at all."

Rhodey gave a sharp grin. Tony might have forgiven her, Rhodey didn't get how but knew it had something to do with his eye… but Tony didn't give him a play by play.

 

*** Flashback ***

It was at the hospital, Tony had only been awake for 36 hours and they were already struggling to keep him in bed. Nat turning up was an annoying complication, Rhodey however had got her before she reached Tony's room thanks to FRIDAY. 

"Why are you here Nat, shouldn't you be hiding with your little band of rogues?" 

He was angry at all of them. So angry he felt it was burning him up sometimes. 

Nat held herself still but she didn't look as perfectly poised as she used to. 

"I came to see Tony."

Her voice was almost quiet and he wondered what had happened. Rhodey found it hard to sympathise with practically any of the former Avengers. If Bruce walked in that door now, no matter how much it would make his brothers heart soar, he'd be angry at him too. He left Tony high and dry, just like Nat did. Yeah she didn't hospitalise him, but if she hadn't have let them go maybe Tony wouldn't have nearly died. 

"Rhodey, it's okay."

Tony had come up on both of them, making both of them startle a little, not expecting Tony to appear out of the shadows. He was thin, too thin, it would take time to put on what he lost in the coma and what Extremis burned, adapting to this new diet was hard for Tony, Rhodey knew that. His left arm stuffed in a pocket to hide what was missing. He was designing himself a new hand already, instead of resting. Hood up, glasses on. His clothes were hanging off him, he was wearing one of Rhodey's big, warm hoodies. He  noticed that his right hand was still gloved. He still couldn't get warm no matter how much they'd raised the temperature in his rooms, but he was getting better, his increasing control of Extremis was helping. He didn't need 4 layers of blankets to sleep anymore already, but Rhodey figured that was more stubbornness by how he shivered in the small naps he managed.

Rhodey swore he saw pain flash across Nats face at the sight of Tony. The way she was looking at his chest made him wonder… 

"What brings you here Nat, you have one chance, don't waste it trying to manage me."

Tony was hopefully easing himself into Seeing a new person Rhodey hoped. Watching for signs he would pass out. It could overwhelm him as they'd found out with the nurses. 

Rhodey wanted to complain about her even getting one chance. But Tony's head was tilted slightly and that's when he realised. He was Seeing in that was he couldn't explain, reading Nat beyond her masks. His glasses were wrapped around his head, the ones that wouldn't even let a glimmer of blue out of the sides instead of his aviators. Good choice with the Widow Rhodey mused, if anyone would notice a glimmer. It would be her. The excuse of 'It's FRIDAY' might work, but you never know. 

"I.. Steve came back from Siberia, he told me… He told me something that didn't make sense. Especially not after that nurse tweeted about you.. And the article with the pictures… So I went to find out myself. To get all the data." 

She was holding herself rigid as she fished a USB stick out of her pocket and put it on the table in front of Tony before stepping back a few steps. Obviously to give Tony space. 

"I'm so sorry Tony, I watched it and then I wiped everything from that base, I made sure that no one else can go there and see what happened to y - you… I.. I know you have no reason to believe me, no reason to ever trus-" 

Tony leaned forward as she started to apologise, scooping up the USB, his eyes on Nat the whole time. He knew Tony's gaze would be unfocused and he so wished he could see what Tony was Seeing from the woman with maybe more masks than Tony, but Tony was only very vague when talking about what he Saw with most people. Rhodey thought maybe he saw it as confidential even? Tony sucked in a breath when he touched the USB stick, Nat probably thought it was what she was saying. Rhodey knew that he'd just scanned the USB from touch. Tony's lips thinned as he stuffed it and the USB into his pocket before cutting Nat of mid sentence. Her eyes widening and Rhodey was sure she thought Tony was going to send her out, but he knew that set to his shoulders. Sighing internally, he knew what was coming next. At least he could take amusement at what was going to the Widows confusion. It was something. Not enough, but something. 

"Nat, Natka. I Believe you." 

Nat looked stunned, confused, trying to blank her face, head tilting, trying to work out exactly what had happened. She'd seemed ready to throw herself effectively at his mercy, she'd obviously expected anger, rage, jail even. The typical Tony Stark ego and flair she talked about so much. She and Tony had gotten closer these last few years, but to Rhodey's irritation, she rarely looked beyond the Tony Stark to the layers of just Tones beneath 

With recent events, she was likely sure the Tony she knew would be spitting mad. Not quietly walking towards her. Seeing the Black Widow look the proverbial deer in the headlights was fun he had to admit. He hoped FRIDAY would be sending these pictures to his private collection. 

"Come here" Tony pulled her into a one armed hug, she froze for a second before all but falling on him. Rhodey swore he saw her shoulders shake and wondered if she was crying. If it was real. He wondered if she watched the whole thing, he was pretty sure what was on that USB. Every pain staking minute. He wasn't sure he could have done it, even sped up. Seeing Tony just out of the suit was burned indelibly into his mind. Every detail still as vivid and as painful as it was nearly 2 weeks ago. It had haunted him for the 10 days Tony had been in the coma. Nat was holding onto him delicately, likely feeling how thin he currently was. Whilst he knew Extremis would bounce Tony back soon, she had no idea. If she's anything like him… She's probably wondering how he's even standing here with them. Rhodey being one of the very few who just how close he came to not. At least he shared that burden with someone now. It wasn't something he'd let the kids or Pepper in on. 

Rhodey makes eye contact with her over his shoulder and sees a quiet determination in her he'd never seen before. As well as shock. She's obviously letting him see it in her face. Maybe… Maybe this time she'll guard his back? He knows Tony's words struck something inside her, but then since he woke up with his new way of Seeing, he had done it a few times now. To Nat being trusted was probably not an everyday experience and it probably meant more that he heard. Tony's new way of coming out with something, almost out of nowhere, never detailed enough to let other people know why, but it strikes something in them. He should know, he'd done it to him not long after he woke up. 

Tony pulled back, looking at her with a level of solid focus that always made people uncomfortable when coming from Tony.

"Let's get to my lawyers and make you safe, right?" 

"Okay"

She said back, voice oddly small and followed Tony with a level of trust he wouldn't of thought her capable of. Tony could be lying and leading her to the raft, to Ross, for all she knew. It could be a ploy. The fact she followed anyway, as if ready to take whatever he had planned for her made the anger in his mind ease up a little bit. But it wasn't gone. Tony might trust her, but he didn't. 

***End Flashback***

Rhodey shook himself free and reminded himself that he needed to do his usual check in with FRIDAY to see just what the little spider had been up to whilst he'd been at the UN. 

"Then there is Strange... You know he's one step away from portaling something gross or terrifying into your bathroom if you keep avoiding him right? Plus, the TOTT File for the Dear General is stalled, I can't pull that off like you can.."

He nudged, hoping that would be the push to finally get this going. 

Tony finished his coffee, running the tap to swill the mug before squeezing him on the shoulder. 

"Good luck with the demon lady Honeybear, I'm going to run and try not to agonise over how Pepper and Happy are going to kill me"

He watches Tony go, knowing he's listening to music already whilst scanning the CCTV cameras to ensure he won't be seen on his run, it helps that he can move very fast when he puts his mind to it, although Rhodey didn't know how fast. Tony was still 'playing human' around them and hiding his new 'upgrades'. He'd use the shadows to blast past people silently without them knowing though, the kids and himself were trying to convince him to go all out on the track, so they could see. Something the Tony before Siberia wouldn't have considered hiding, but he also would have scoffed at the idea of running with inhuman levels of speed. He was still Tony though, and whilst he used his new abilities, he was still Tony enough to occasionally forget he has them. Like when racing the kids to the frosting bowl, he'll run fast and end up looking confused for a second when he was far ahead of the kids, before Rhodey has literally reminded him of his abilities, all the while Peter crowed from the ceiling, sticking the spoon in his mouth, nabbing the bowl as Tony looked confused about how he'd crossed the room. Only Tony would forget something like that.

Jules would be here in a minute and he finally decided on what he was going to do. 

"Small Fry?“

“Yes Colonel?“

Rhodey bit his tongue for a second, as mad as he was, this was best for his brother and that is what mattered. 

"You know the number Tony is using to speak to Dr Banner don't you?"

"Of course I do!" 

"Well, you need to not tell your Da about this…"

He let the silence sit for a moment, knowing she wasn't comfortable with this, but if it was best for Tony, he knew she'd agree. Banner would be able to help Tony get a better handle on things, the emotional side where he was still struggling with control, he was sure of it. Sometimes the best you can do is get the best people for the job. Even if you're mad at them. 

"Send him a message and then delete it so Tony can't find it. From me. Link the article with the picture that damned nurse got of Tony in the hospital"

He was still spitting mad at that guy. He'd gone to get something to eat and stepped away from Tony's bedside for 5 minutes and he'd used that to get a few pictures and sell the story of Tony bruised and battered in a coma. He picked the first article because the date on it, so Banner wouldn't panic that he was in a coma now. They were in contact, and Rhodes just knew he had just told Banner he was fine. That nothing was wrong. "Sign it from me. Say 'He needs you this time, he's always been there for you, wherever you go, now it's your turn."

"Sent Colonel… Do you… do you think Dr Banner will come back?" 

"I hope so Small Fry, if he's half the man Tony thinks of, yeah, I think he will. Maybe a bit angry at you Da though."

 

Tony POV 

He really hated to admit how much he loved running. It was warm out, the sun beating down on him, warming him as much as it could. He raised him temperature to enjoy the warmth that bit more as he kicked up his speed after stretching with a slower run. 

Usually he kept to more… Normal speeds. Or not much above. But he was going to tell Pepper and Happy. So maybe he needed to sweat first, and it would take way, way too long unless he really, really pushed himself. Plus, he had to admit, grinning to himself, he kind of wanted to. His decision last night to be open, tell people and accept himself for Rhodey seemed to have had more of an affect on him than he'd imagined. Or would ever admit. He was suddenly itching to push his limits instead of trying to be normal. Steadily speeding up, sticking to the shadows around the trees, he kept speeding up until everything started to blur except the path in front of him that stood out with a laser focus. 

Putting so much into his speed he couldn't keep monitoring all the cameras as usual, it was like turning up one area leveled others down to almost nothing. Not surprising, it wasn't like he'd really practiced keeping his technopath abilities running whilst focusing so much on his physical abilities. That would be for another time though, this time…

He just threw everything out for now however and Ran. His feet hitting the ground much louder than usual, stealth swapped for speed, now he was running with force, his feet not quite slamming down, but hitting hard enough to send pleasant shocks up his calves from his feet. He could even feel himself started to sweat. He trusted FRIDAY to tell him when he'd been going for an hour, and to protect him from prying eyes. She was very diligent when it came to protecting her Da. 

……. 

Tony's music lowered slightly, enough for FRIDAYS voice to filter through. 

'Da, you want to head to your workshop soon, a few people are coming out to run in 15 minutes and you'll struggle to avoid being seen at your current speed.' 

"Will do baby girl"

He sent a brush of code to her, trying to fill it with all the fun, shock and surprise he'd felt running so fast. 

Her code came back amused and happy, she loved it when he shared new things with her. He knew she'd been running her code through this for a while like she did with new experiences. Heck, he would be thinking about it for a while. Damned that Jules. He'd sworn blind he'd hate running. What enjoyment was there in pointlessly running round in circles! As he entered the door closest to his Workshop and slipped inside, skin almost on fire, slick with sweat, his clothes half soaked. His hair was utterly drenched and dripping, he was also absolutely famished. His muscles felt a pleasant ache and he swore it felt like Extremis was happy to have been let out of the box so to speak. He felt.. Steadier than he had in a long time, suddenly wondering why he waited so long to tell Pepper, before the run, a cold, sharp part of his mind was convinced Pepper would hate him for being lesser now, inhuman. That was silenced now and he realised Rhodey was right. Pep, she stuck with him through so much idiocy, their friendship had survived their quite disastrous relationship even. Happy to, he'd even stuck with him whilst he was an idiot in college let alive everything post Ironman. 

Moving around the compound like a ghost, never bumping into or seeing anyone, his senses stretched through FRIDAY network. He went straight to the shower in his workshop, he'd been going to phone Pep and see about organising her coming over sometime next week, but now, post run, he decided to rip the bandage off. 

'Baby girl, can you send Pep a message, tell her I'm sorry I've been an idiot, but there's something I need to tell her, but I've been scared witless about it so I let it fester like a moron.'

He then hummed out loud, "She'd like that bit." Chuckling to himself. 

He stripped of and hopped into the smaller, but still lovely, shower and sighed as the spray came on at the right temperature as he stepped in. Whilst he hadn't been practicing the physical side of his new 'abilities', this he had down, unless his emotions got away from him. Being linked to technology in a compound he'd linked practically everything to FRIDAY gave him an amusing level of control of the building. Well, next to his girl obviously. In other buildings it was limited, but anything he owned he wired almost everything to his AI. 'See if she'll come over soon? Thanks'. 

'Sent Da, I'm sure she'll be here in no time. I really don't think shed stab you with her shoes'

The amusement humming through at the idea had him wondering if that was actually true. Huffing out a laugh he enjoyed the bliss of the nice shower after running yourself stupid.

'Oh and Fry, order me a few pizzas? My favourite with extra toppings. I'm starving, go for 5, might be some left for Pepper and Happy even… Maybe.'

He got out of the shower feeling scrubbed new, fresh with the energy of 10 cups of coffee. Dressing in a pair of faded, soft jeans. Whilst expensive once, they were burnt, stained and torn now. He pulled on another of his new long sleeved shifts as he was going to have company. His thumbs slipping through the holes comfortably and then followed his nose to the stack of pizzas left just outside the lift. He grabbed them as FRIDAY informed him Pepper would be here in 20 minutes. Yikes, that was faster than he thought. 

He steeled himself however, committed. Part of him sad he'd waited so long, but part of him happy she hadn't seen him just out of the coma. He'd been practically emaciated. The feeding tube in the coma couldn't keep up with his bodies new demands, especially as it was healing so much damage. Now he wasn't much different to what he'd been before, more toned maybe, but he'd always hidden how toned he was before. He was never going to be bulky, even with his enhancements but he'd definitely put on more muscle mass these past few weeks. The clothes he was wearing didn't show much, intentionally, it was a bit tight on his arms, and across his chest… But you couldn't make out every detail like Rogers too tight shirts. 

He'd polished off 2 and a half of the pizzas whilst working and waiting for Pepper. Working on several projects at once was quite easy now he could partition his mind, a few for the Avengers, a couple of updates for SI and the new StarkPhone, reading Rhodey's notes that he'd brought back from the UN and starting on the next lot of write ups, Rhodey's braces whilst checking up on emails from the kids too, all of them coming home from their separate camps today, finally, well Peter and Harley in the same one despite different schools, Tara in one for kids her own age, he was not allowed to pick them up, apparently, it was embarrassing.

He'd been allowed to send cars as a compromise. The flashier the better according to Harley, Peter disagreed. Such things they'd get away with when he was 'recovering', it was nice to give them an idea that he wouldn't show up at their schools, it would make it all the more fun when he did! It had been about few months since Harley and Tara had turned up, discovering their mother had passed away and they'd bounced around until things were finalised and he'd missed it all because of this stupid drama and being in a stupid coma, and then, he'd suddenly discovered he'd been named as a guardian when he'd not long been awake.

He'd freaked. He'd been close with the family, but he'd been more of the 'eccentric overworked uncle' than anything else, not the kind you leave guardianship of your kids too, but she'd left him a letter that she trusted him in this. That he'd mostly kept his visits a secret from anyone bar Rhodes made the, 'I have kids now?' conversations weird, but as most people in his life were also quite new, so Harley and Tara had been there as if they'd always been like that, their strength baffled him. Before he would have freaked, now he'd freaked even more because of his 'changes'. He'd been trying to track down literally any other potential family when Harley had found out and glared at him. Told him he couldn't get rid of them that easily. That had been a punch to the solar plexus. 

He practically ran and grabbed them both, slightly manic and not long woken up, and panicking, more stumbling really than running. Saying he didn't want to get rid of them, explained he was the issue.. He was messed up. At their dubious looks he'd told them to brace themselves and just showed them, probably not the best plan of action. They looked at his hand, or rather lack off, his eyes, and shrugged in a very teenage and pre-teen way and told him that they accept him in no uncertain terms liked he'd accepted them. That level of conviction threw him.

From then however he'd never considered another person taking them, (he'd needed help in those days he was trapped at the hospital, but thankfully he'd been released fairly fast.) Harley had then asked if his legs were injured and at his no, kicked him in the shin. Hard. He'd fight tooth and nail for them now, he was still terrified he'd be an awful parent, given his experiences. But he was getting papers to make the adoption official at their request 'read - demand' too, apparently they'd been planning this with their mother a while as she'd known she was dying, they decided to avoid telling him because they knew he'd freak. They'd kind of cannon balled into his life when he was at his worst and he couldn't be happier, they'd given him a steadfast reason to fight off the lasting effects of his Extremis coma, to get healthy, for them. Thankfully this camp would end soon. He wanted his kids back. 

He was just starting Pizza number 4 when he heard the lift doors open. With his right hand he automatically reached out to snag a pair of silver aviators and slid them on his face whilst his left hand slid under his shirt. Kicking 3 of the pizza boxes out of sight under his desk. When Pepper came into view he was reading the hologram in front of him whilst eating. Looking as relaxed as possible. Utterly not feeling it. 

He turned to Pep and Happy, and damned was he happy he had the glasses, on as it dulled the affect a bit because holy crapola. So much vibrant colors. The whole spectrum of yellow to orange, fluttered and surged around her like a whirlwind in places and others drifting like a calm, balmy summers eve. They intersected and didn't seem bothered by the others. Currents running against each other. Bright, sunshine yellows of decisive actions, to vibrating oranges of friendship, family and loyalty wrapped up together. Creating a mix in between of authority, confidence and a pure happiness that made him tear up. It was so overwhelming his mouth had been gaped open, head tilted to one side. It was jumping at his senses, he could feel it so much it made him feel like he was vibrating almost that he nearly missed the wisps of colour whipping through the same red he saw on Rhodey is there, he could feel it pulled from him. Just like Rhodey. The thrumming deep violet like a clock gong he can see connected to Happy after the brightness settled. Peppers Sunshine however just dominated the room and he couldn't get a read on Happy yet without a lot of focus. Which he needed all of just to stop gaping. 

Right now he had to really focus on pulling his vision back, he was just so open to Pepper it had swept him up in her wind. Usually meeting people wasn't this overwhelming. It took another 30 seconds of rapid blinking before he brought himself back and he could finally see a very concerned Pepper looking at him very critically. He didn't know what had been said but he had a feeling they'd been talking whilst he did his goldfish impression. 

"Tony, what's wrong, you just blanked put there and I haven't seen you in weeks..!" her voice cracked a little. "The last time I saw you was in a coma, back from Gods only know where when you were meant to be safe!" 

"I know Pep, I've been a sucky friend, but things have been complicated and I didn't know how to tell you without making you hate me. You too Happy. Both of you sit, help yourself to pizza."

"Oh Tony, you should know by now, you can't scare us off"

Pepper nodded along with Happy. Nervous and obviously wanting to know just what Tony was talking about, but patient. Peppers almost endless patience was always a shock. He could see that they'd wait on him, even though they were desperate to know what was going on. 

"Just wait until you, well. See."

He huffed at himself, chuckling, whilst rubbing his hand over his goatee, which brought Peppers attention to his glasses. Causing her to frown at him.

"This is part of it." He gestured at the glasses. That made her frown more, Tony didn't wear glasses in the workshop, or with friends, Pepper paled and Tony knew she was thinking back to his eyes bandaged over in the hospital so he decided to start talking fast before she spiralled down into thinking the worst. 

"I went after.. Rogers and Barnes on that day. Wilson gave me the location as long as I didn't lead Ross to them, so I turned off location tracking in the suit and purged FRIDAY'S memory. All to sort out 5 other winter soldiers.. But they were already dead, they were just the lure, we were the fish. Zenmo had quite a different endgame, he wanted to entirely destroy the Avengers. The stress fracture was, well, me." 

"Oh Tony, you gave them so much, I don't know everything that happened, but it's you can't be entirely at fault for breaking up the Avengers, I think it was broken before the Civil War.."

"Well, I'm not innocent, but I'd say it was Rogers lies that did it in the end."

From then he decided that these two, like Rhodey and Vis, they got the full story. Not the carefully edited versions he'd been telling others. He included the video of his parents for one. Peppers face was a Thunderstorm or anger. Happy was patient and strength reaching out to him as he shuddered to the end of the fight. Going quiet as he let it occur to them that he was there, no tracking, with his suit damaged with just the Siberian cold as Rogers just… Left. 

"Tony. How long?" Pepper demanded. 

Tony skittered away from that thought with such a visible flinch and shudder that she didn't ask again. She would be asking Rhodey however, he could see it, but Rhodey didn't know either, he had an idea, but he'd been out of it when Tony had left for the fight and Tony had done his best to obscure details. Only Nat and himself knew the exact amount of hours. 

"That's not the point really… I wasn't doing well when they got me to the hospital. I was falling further into the coma, they were worried I'd never wake up. So they tried the SuppedDown Extremis, and the Cradle. But nothing worked."

Pepper and Happy had paled. 

"Tony you look, great even. So what changed?"

"I had a... different version of Extremis I'd been playing with. I never planned to use it or let anyone use it really. It was my, 'I'm Bored' project. More of a thought experiment. But I stick with Rhodey's decisions. He doesn't need more guilt."

"So you deactivated it when you were healed…?" 

Pepper says hopefully, even though Tony could See she doesn't believe that.

"Na Pep, there is no neutralising this one." 

Tony reached put with his right hand and she snagged his hands immediately, clutching hard and Tony adds his left. Pepper freezes immediately looking down. Catching his left hand. He lets it go limp in her hands as her shaking hands release the hold over his thumb. Holding her breath as she pushed it further up. He can see she's scared of how far up this goes but knows she'll get there before he says anything. She pushed the sleeve to his elbow, revealing the joint in the middle of his forearm. She skimmed her fingers over the scars at the joint. Tony idly marvelling at the sensation change from his skin to feedback from the metal. 

"Oh Tony. I'm so sorry."

"Its okay Pep, it's pretty much as good as my flesh hand, dexterity wise anyway."

He smiled as much as possible, but his voice brought her eyes back to his face, staring resolutely at his glasses, remembering the hospital again, he didn't see the pictures in people's heads, not like Wanda, but he tended to get a sense occasionally of what people were focusing on. Pepper and Rhodey were a lot easier to get a read on, The red for him stilled when she thought of him in hospital, yellows and oranges wrapping around it protectively. 

"Tony, when I saw you in the hospital, you had covers over both your eyes, tell me you aren't blind."

"I'm not blind, but one of my eyes was damaged beyond even Extremis ability to heal, so it did something… Else."

Pepper reached up to remove his glasses, hands shaking, and he closed his eyes automatically. She huffed at him, he smiled took a deep breath and opened his eyes. 

Happy breathed in a short, sharp breath and blue surged around him with his need to protect lashing out and a dull blue-gray of feeling as if he failed. 

"No Happy, you couldn't protect me from this, no one could, we were careening towards this for a while." 

Happy blinks, startled, Tony isn't exactly the most… Introspective of people, especially of their feelings, and stuff like that he'd usually miss until it was too late. Pepper tilted her head, focusing on that blue light, a bright vibrant pink shot out around her. That sharp perception that made her such an amazing PA and an even better CEO. 

"Yes, you're right, the blue eye, I don't see… Normally out of it. Got the right one for that. The left I see.. More". 

Pepper breathed out, Happy sat stunned. 

"I'm… I'm still me guys."

"Of course you are Tony. Been getting used to these new…" Pepper waved her hands with a wishy-washy way. Not wanting to say the word abilities either it seemed. Her face a little like she ate a particularly sour sweet. "Developments you come back with, at least I don't have to stick my hand in your chest this time." Happy snorted at that, Tony smiled 

"Yeah, I don't like using the word 'Abilities' either." He included the air quotation marks and a scowl of his own. "But annoyingly, it's the best word for them. Rhodey says 'Upgrades' but that was equally as weird."

He huffed out a laugh. They spend the next hour catching up, Tony showing of some of his tech abilities that aren't too freaky. Like turning the lights on and off and manipulating the holo screens. Even told Pepper how beautiful her colours were, how strong and vibrant Happy was. Everyone goes away happier, with promises not to let the distance spread again.

They know that there are more quirks of Extremis Tony isn't telling them yet. Tony knows they know. But they all let it go for now, he'd opened up a lot and all of them were left a little raw and dizzy. Tony smiles as he watched Peppers hand catch Happy's as they enter the lift. Waiting for the surge of jealousy and is pleasantly happy to not feel it. Just warmth again. Happy his friends found comfort together. The warmth makes him smile, it's a feeling he thought he'd lost in Siberia, and feeling it for two people who have held steadfast through the decades? That's just awesome. 

He'd left stuff out, he'd kept the makeup on, but he felt good about this. Small steps and all that jazz. So he span towards the holograms, not needing to use his hands anymore, but enjoying the actions anyway. His hands move much faster now anyway and separately. He throws himself into work, with several projects in his mind, and manipulating one from each hand, he relaxes and loses himself to the quiet haze of work. He was building more nano-tech, for uses other than the suit, thinking he had enough vibranium left over from building his hand to fill the hive he built into an upgraded arc reactor, and it had to go somewhere after all, plus with his uplink to tech as it was, he was looking forward to this. 

……

After several hours of working Tony's mind kept wandering to the box in the corner of his shop. The box that contained the Winter Soldier's arm. He'd stored it and resolutely ignored it when he was building his own hand, Shuri had helped him out, especially with the nerves even though she thought he was talking about ideas for Barnes arm and new med-tech for SI, he'd told her it was a side project got fun whilst he was healing. He wasn't sure if she believed him, but she'd gone with it. He'd used the vibranium that had been a lovely get well gift from the teen when they'd been in contact for a few weeks after his coma. She didn't know exactly what had happened, but the fact he'd told her that her brother left him to die when he'd opened up a little had distressed her greatly. Her distress was why he'd not said more, no matter how bad his day was, he wasn't going to dump that on her doorstep. 

He'd wanted his arm to be 100% from his mind(and Shuri) and not influenced by the thing that killed his mother. Now though, it was bugging him. He wanted to take it apart. Shrugging he decided now was better than never, walking to the box whilst running a sort of the SHYDRA files for anything relating to the arm and Barnes. Putting all the files in a folder and letting FRIDAY sort them for him. 

Placing the horrendously heavy, chunk of metal on his desk with a loud thunk. Grimacing that he could see rust even from here. He saw the maintenance logs but wondered what maintenance had actually been done. He started reading how the arm was developed and installed. He was half way through when he went pale. By the end of that file he was bent over the toilet. Losing what was still in his stomach. Extremis struggling to straighten out his vitals but flailing slightly with his emotions. He'd read some of Barnes files since he woke up, trying to find out more, trying to find why his parents, the torture, the brainwashing, he'd forced himself to read it all in some weird punishment for attacking the guy whilst still wanting to punch him. In his mind, Barnes was still in the 'He killed my mother' box, but also into the 'Severe Guilt' box too. It was uncomfortable and confusing. Why couldn't he just hate the man! He knew he was the weapon however, not the person who pulled the trigger. Logic vs Emotional. It was tearing up his brain. 

The arm however, it was a whole extra level of torture. It didn't have to hurt, the files stated that clearly and having a metal limb himself, he knew that. No, they'd just intentionally made it so it was constantly agonising as a tactic to keep the Winter Soldier as the Asset, to keep him in line. You'd think having your vest weapon in agony would be ridiculous, but apparently the serum was constantly trying to heal Barnes brain of the brainwashing. The chair was 1 half of control, the arm was the other. Maintenance on the arm was also basically maintenance torture. Tony was pale, shaking slightly and staring at the arm in horror. Barnes might not have been able to feel with the arm… but he had felt it get blasted off. He knew too, it was still painful even without this part. The socket was just as messed up. 

Great, more guilt. Guilt is like sand he thinks. Like when you go to the beach and then there's sand everywhere for weeks. He helped torture a person who had been tortured for the better part of the century. He clenched his hands, as much as he wanted to blame himself for this, he had to place a lot of blame at Roger's feet. If he'd been told about his parents 2 years ago. By his friend. In a safe place. Would he have fought Barnes when he saw him? Tony liked to think no. As much as Roger's thought, Tony hadn't been trying to kill him in the bunker. He'd hit Rogers first, open handed too. He'd just needed someone else to hurt. Not very mature maybe. He needed to do… Something. He couldn't forgive and forget, it wasn't in his nature to discover information like that and go 'OK, cool.' But maybe he could do something for the man in pain he'd heaped even more pain on. 

He rolled across workshop to where the BARF headset is set up. Picking it up and twiddling it in his hands. Maybe he could do something to get rid of this feeling. He didn't like feeling guilt towards Barnes. He wanted to feel angry, to rage. Looking at the glasses in his hand and all he felt was that he was drowning in guilt. 

"FRIDAY, put a call through to T'Challa, don't bother pretending we don't know his direct number… hopefully he won't send us to voicemail.."

He muses idly, setting down the BARF set, then spinning in his chair. Slipping on his sunglasses back on so he could have a video call. 

"We could just put the call through anyway? Even if he does Boss."

"Devious my girl, go on, have fun."

Tony hums to himself, waiting at the screen, mildly amused when a slightly baffled picture of T'Challa pops up. 

"Hey there King Kitty" 

"Dr Stark… Uh.. Hi?" 

Starks grin turn sharp and wolfish for a second, a flash of teeth, no point playing coy when you had just overridden someone trying to sending you to voicemail after all.

Not that he disliked the King, he'd actually got on pretty well with him all things considered. But that doesn't change the fact he's housing Rogers. It didn't change the fact he had left him with them. It didn't change the fact that he had left him to rot in an icy coffin. That he'd left him to die. If he hadn't, he might even feel bad for him. (He does feel bad for Shuri though, having his ex teammates around has been seriously annoying her. Rogers especially after Barnes went into Cryo. Apparently he turns up daily to demand why she hasn't come up with a way to fix Barnes brain yet. Because in Rogers world, if you were a genius you obviously knew everything, even things outside of your remit.) 

"Have you solved the problem with the command words yet?" 

T'Challa's face locks down into a mask, almost imperceptible. But his left eye almost sees it in slow motion, the confusion, panic and a touch of fear. He can't see colours over video calls, but he sees more details that he would have when he was more human. Apparently obviously implying T'Challa is hiding a bunch of very wanted international fugitives when he's at a vulnerable time for his people makes the man nervous. 

"Babysitting duty sucks doesn't it Felix?"

Tony grins again, all teeth and sharpness. Nothing like when they'd met before. This is the face he wears when talking to business people he hated and wanted to destroy, or when he was in the shark infested waters of socialites and galas. 

"But that's not why I'm calling Your Royal Kittiness. I have something that could help with that problem I'm assuming you have in the freezer?" 

T'Challa sighs, Rubbing his hand down his face in a gesture he finds all to familiar. He'd been dealing with them for years, he knew just how much of a headache the rogues could be. (Or he was annoyed at the cat names, either or.) You'd think it would kill them to learn even a tiny bit of politics and public relations along with reasonable demands. 

"Some help on that matter would be appreciated Dr Stark."

T'Challa offered a tentative smile at Tony. Tony just remembered creeping ice. His left hand clenching at the memories. 

"Hmm, I'm sensing a touch of buyers remorse there Grumpy Cat! Well, no take backsies. But I might send something your way."

He spun in the stool a few times, scratching his chin in thought.

"I'm sure Shuri will like some presents."

This time he does smile, much warmer than the sharp, wolf smiles T'Challa had been getting. Causing the young Kings brows to knit in confusion, making Tony wonder just what Rogers had told the King about the condition he'd been left in. No matter, he had no plans to enlighten the man anytime soon, he wanted to hold onto some anger, somewhere. He felt the desperate need to as holding onto it for Barnes was getting increasingly difficult. He was trying, sending him his new tech wasn't a kindness really. It was just good planning. The world was safer if he couldn't be triggered after all. Yup, that was just it. 

He shakes his thoughts away as T'Challa stares at him in confusion and waves at the young King. Not giving him a chance to say anything else as FRIDAY cuts the call on a very startled T'Challa, mouth open, about to say something, who likely just realised a few things.

Tony knew where they were, obviously had for a while. Knew about Barnes condition. That he knows enough about their location to apparently send parcels. Tony, a man of no small political influences, especially with the Accords Council knew he was housing international fugitives. All on top of the fact that Tony, despite the fact no one had integrated the coding of Wakanda and the rest of the world yet, had enough control to force a call through on their system. All highly amusing things for Tony, and probably Shuri, but likely a little nerve racking for T'Challa. He fires of a text of what he just did including the video file of the call, hoping she'd find it amusing along with a data packet with a rough outline on BARF.

Tony however just finds it all so hilarious, it's just funny that the Rogues are likely driving the young King up the wall instead of him. He wonders what they're demanding.. He'd have to ask Shuri for some surveillance footage he thinks. At that idea he finds himself laughing. Really, truly laughing like he hasn't in… So long. It sounds strange at first, like breaking glass or nails on the chalkboard to him. It's been a while since he has done more than huff in amusement. As he carries on however it starts to sound better, maybe a touch hysterical, but better. 

Peter walks into the workshop a little slowly, as Tony is on his way to manic laughter by now and the young boy had just gotten back from grudgingly being gone for so long, coming straight to the compound for the weekend before back home on Monday. Watching as Tony topples of the stool, trying to breathe, and stop laughing, and failing miserably. That jerks Peter into action. 

"Mr Stark! What's happened?!" 

Harley strolls in a few minutes later, chucking his backpack at his desk in the workshop before strolling casually over the hysterically laughing Tony and Peter, who was at this point flitting around a gasping Tony, which really wasn't helping Tony stop laughing and was just making it worse. The laughter becoming almost quiet as he tries to stop and breathe, tears streaming down his face. 

"What did you do?"

Harley demands as Peter splutters. 

"You went and broke my mechanic is what you did!" 

"It wasn't me! I just came in and he just fell off of his stool, cackling, and I'm getting worried he'll stop breathing!"

Peters voice gets progressively higher pitch as he fuses over the older man on the floor. Unfortunately their conversation is making it worse, it's like years of laughter is coming out and he can't stop. 

Harley sighs, the dramatic, world weary sigh that only teenagers can harness, and pokes Tony with his foot a few times. At least that wasn't less helpful that Peters panicked flitting like a hummingbird. 

It took him a good 10 minutes to calm down. Something inside him… Not relaxed, it didn't leave… but the ice, snow and the cold that had settled into his bones, that whipped through his mind and occasionally whited out his vision… just maybe it thawed a bit and made room for something truly warm. By the time Tara comes running in, the seven year old flings herself on top of Tony, his arms catching her easily, he's just smiling like an idiot when the two teenagers sit down either side of him. He Sees all three of their colours flowing around them all and sighs, content, happy and tells then how King Kitty is stuck babysitting as long as they promise not to tell Uncle Rhodey. 

… 

After a lot of chatting and catching up, mostly about their camps and what he'd done when they were gone, as if they hadn't been in daily contact the whole time. He doesn't mention the Rogues often, Harleys face darkens, Peters fills with anger and concern. But it's Tara's fear and her clutching his chest that little tighter that makes him rage at them. She didn't deserve the memory of him, weakened, battered in the hospital. He tries to show her everyday how alive he is. That he won't leave her too. He sends them up to wash and get ready for dinner whilst putting in a huge order for his favourite Italian place. Between his and Peters metabolism, plus maybe Carol was coming again tonight, he also lost half his lunch earlier, they tend to eat a lot. Harley also eats a lot, but a normal teenager amount. At first Tony, and even Peter had tried eating normally around others, but Harley had kicked both of them in the shins. It was his go to for when his family were idiots it seems. 

Putting together his care package to Wakanda quickly before he gets ready to join them, sending Rhodey a text that he was coming and getting one back that Carol was coming. Oh, well maybe he could tell her after dinner whilst she is wondering why he ate so much. He includes everything for BARF, data and equipment, including data of its use on himself, he trusts Shuri with the information. He doesn't include the memory videos however, but the file names are there and data to help her navigate the algorithms, idly knowing the basic settings won't work for Barnes but they'll cross that bridge later. He tosses in a pink panther consolation card he printed off to King Kitty, with 'Don't give in to all of their demands or they'll just want more. I spoiled them and as thanks they gave me Siberia. - T.'

He included some information on the next round of accords amendments as a peace offering for T'Challa, and maybe as an olive branch for collaboration on them. Not friendship yet, maybe he could work to forgive them man. It was easier to hold onto the hate from here, he wondered if Seeing the man would scupper that like it had with Natka. 

Some candy they'd made recently was added for Shuri, a few other tasty things too. A little post it note saying 'Shuri is Awesome' with little cat doodles around it. He dithered back and forth but ended up including a USB with all the horrifying, collated information on Barnes arm that he'd gone through. Maybe she can do something for him. Or not. He even included updated information he'd gathered since using his hand, but edited it to sound like an experiment rather than something attached to his body. The only pictures he included was from before he'd attached it and anything about feeling was readings he'd taken from his computer. She was a genius however, so he goes through it 10 times to make sure she won't click. 

Frowning and considering taking it out entirely, but maybe they can help Barnes and it will get rid of this feeling in his mind. Because he knows now, with an assurity of someone who had suffered chronic pain for years post Afghanistan, that Barnes was in constant pain. Even if he didn't tell anyone. Tony didn't write that in so many words, that wasn't his place and it would sound kind of weird. He just hoped that they could work it out from the file he included. He figured this was worth Shuri's suspicion on the matter, comparing the Hydra notes on the arm to his were night and day. He adds a few other things he'd been collecting for the teen, kitty mugs, some amusing t-shirts, a pretty dress he thought she'd like that Peter had found. Heck he was getting used to having kids around. Which apparently upped his need to find stuff and make stuff that they'd like. Shuri had found herself in his mind with the other 3. Using multiple post it note to say what was whose and what was in the usbs. 

He wasn't just throwing money at them like some people think, some stuff was very cheap, but he saw it and thought of them, so he got it. Giving people stuff they liked was basically a hobby that he planned for constantly. He added the two plush black panthers, King Kitty could have one too. He sealed the box up and sorted for a stealth drone to deliver it to the Palace door step. Adding a sign saying 'I'm not a bomb. I'm presents. -T'. 

Finally, he stood up, ready head upstairs and a message from Bruce came in, a huge grin split across his face like it did everytime his Science Bro contacted him. He was so far out that he would occasionally go days with no contract, even with the device Tony gave him that worked where there was little to no connection and it was powered by a mini arc reactor, even though he hadn't told Bruce that. The message this time was short and sweet, nothing like Bruce's long, letter styles messages- 

"YOU WERE IN A FUCKING COMA?!" 

Tony sat down, and conked his head on the desk. 

"Ow. Great, anything else to make today more painful?" 

"Uh, Funny you say that Boss, but I'm getting information in that's brought the FDS File up, Level 9 warning on file - Annoying.Ant." 

Tony lifted his head, only to drop it again on the table. 

"Ow."

 

Chapter Text

Tony POV

September 8th

Rubbing his forehead he considers how best to handle this latest move from Ross. He should have known something was up, he'd stopped haranguing him and calling about the rogues about a week ago. Tony had foolishly hoped that this meant the vile sludge monster that was Thunderbolt had grown up and moved on. That would have been a miracle. Luckily the FDS program ran continuously, it was something he'd put into practice after Ultron after meeting the kids, adding people to it as they met others. After the debacle with the raft he'd updated it to include Lang. 

Family Defence Sentinel was a constantly running file with its own AI, CERBERUS, so it could be focused on the family members. The guardian to the gates of their own personal hells - their loved ones ending up hurt from their choices, something he'd learnt when Happy had been blown up, when Pepper had been injected and finally when Rhodey fell, all his fault. 

CERBERUS spoke to FRIDAY often however, and he tended to carry on speaking to Laura and the kids after they'd been moved into the compound. Which hadn't been part of his core programming, but FRIDAY seemed to have imparted her over protective ways to him. He was a fast learner, he was ridiculously proud of his new son. 

Tony was happy to see that Ross hadn't sent anyone to Peggy and Jim's current location yet, he'd just triggered certain parameters that he was planning to. Tony had moved them twice now and they'd agreed with him that if Ross found them again, Jim would take a job at the compound and they'd move in. Tony had saved a suit next to Laura's hoping that Cassie, Lila and Tara would potentially get on, being near the same age. The school he had them all enrolled in was the kind of school diplomats and people with dangerous enemies sent their kids to. Laura had been unsure at first because of the expenses, but after Ross came after them because of Clint she cared more about their safety. She'd decided to find ways of paying Tony back, even though he told her she didn't need to. 

He remembered being kidnapped enough when he was younger that he was going to ensure that wouldn't happen to any of these kids. Peter was the only outlier, refusing to leave his school as there was 'no need' as just a SI Intern. But a few cheques here and there and Tony had successfully linked the schools, (and a few others so Peter wouldn't think it was him and just a happy coincidence, ha) so Harley and Peter got to occasionally see each other for events. 

"FRIDAY, contact Carol and tell her that extraction protocols are now active for Annoying.Ant, we'll move them as soon as a jet can touch down. Tell Carol to maybe ask Laura if she's willing to run point? Might make them more comfortable."

"Sure thing Boss!" 

Tony trailed off, scratching his beard before firing off an email to Maria Hill, who he'd put in charge of his growing division of EX-SHIELD agents (he really needed a better name for them now, he'd integrated them with the Avengers a lot more now a Rogers didn't just have them playing clean up since he'd been slowly moving them into the compound.) They were steadily coming together to be a real force that helped the avengers, better than when SHIELD had been around even, especially as it was less shadowy and secret plots these days and the Avengers did more than just world-ending events. Ah, the joys of making everything shiny and official.

So paperwork, paperwork everywhere. Maria would organise a team to pack up their belongings posing as a delivery firm but able to take on threats if need me. They were getting very good at faking being movers with no knowledge of what was happening because of Ross. He still had the footage on his private server of Ross yelling at a bored looking mover when they emptied the farm. 

"CERBERUS, You can contact Maggie and Jim in advance, tell them we're running Extraction1 and keep them updated as they go. Don't panic them, tell them Ross is getting close, but isn't on their doorstep. But we want them out ASAP, their stuff is secondary as we discussed."

"On it Chief." 

Tony smiled as his AIs worked together to bring the family in with his team. It was hard for him to not be the one charging off, leading the extraction. But this was why he had people now, to share the load. Plus if he passed out seeing the family for the first time in person that wouldn't be helpful. It would put them at risk if the extraction team had to split protection duty and taking double would draw too much attention. 

With that sorted out, he decided to head up for dinner with his family. Carol was over tonight so he could bare his soul again. Yay. Even after telling Pepper and Happy, he didn't relish telling other people. It was hard to just explain part of the story without the painful, squishy parts. He liked the way Carol looked at him now. He didn't want that to change. Also he was planning just what to tell Bruce. How Bruce had found out about the coma in the first place, without access to the Internet, at least as far as he knew, he had no clue. 

Strolling into the lift to take him out of the basement levels and towards the short walk to the West Wing he loaded up the chat box and just squinted at it. Glasses in place he decided to take a more circuitous route over to the residential sector. Wave to a few people, let them know he was getting out more. Hoping that it would give him some inspiration for how to explain the 'Civil War' to his ScienceBro. 

'Bruce, I didn't want to concern you! By the time I could message you I was healing. We just had a few disagreements within the Avengers. Fights were had, punches thrown, 117 countries got involved. It's a long, convoluted story. But everything is great now I'm healthier than ever, nothing to worry your head about!'

Squinting at the message, that'll do, he sent it. He didn't expect anything back right away, hopefully, even with the tech he'd sent him, Bruce still would occasionally go dark for days at a time and messages take a while to get through and the symbol that he was out of range was active, so the man must be on the move somewhere, must be how he came across news of his coma. Odd that he just discovered that and now the rest of the Avengers family drama. 'Welp, thank Thor for small mercies I suppose.' Explaining Ross was not something he wanted to do yet. It was a wholly inadequate explanation, but he really didn't know how to get into it like this. Sighing, he hoped that Bruce wasn't too mad at him. His worry however was pushed back when a tiny person slammed into his legs, making him rock slightly on the spot. 

"You're late!" 

"I'm sorry, I was sorting out Maggie and Jim. They'll be coming here soon."

"Cassie too?!" 

"Yes, Cassie too." 

"Then you are forgiven"

The little blonde 7-year old sniffed, before grabbing his hand and dragging him into the apartment and towards the dinner table that was already set up. Which he remembered was his job today, which meant he was going to be on dishes later instead likely. Rhodey and Peter were already sat at the table, deep in conversation, Harley was in the kitchen talking to Carol who was dishing up something that smelt so good it took all of his willpower not to go over and steal something. He knew that Carol wielded a mean spatula however, and would thwack him on the forehead for it. And chase him with said spatula. He sat himself down next to Peter who jumped, for a boy with heightened senses, Tony found it easy and quite fun to sneak up on him, he called it 'training'. Tara diverted to the kitchen seeing Tony seated and went to check on Carol. She'd decided early on she was the manager of the house as adults were useless, apparently. 

"Mr Stark!“ Peter all but squeaked at him, bouncing up and down in his seat excitedly. 

"Hey Underoos." 

"Give me your hand!"

"Um, okay?" Tony offered his hand over tentatively, wondering what he was getting himself into. 

"Not that one! The 'other' one" 

Oh, that made more sense, Tony took his hand out of his pocket. 

"I figured you'd actually like to use 2 hands to eat with Carol here so I brought the first prototype up!" 

Peter was practically vibrating in excitement, which made Tony grin. Harley had wandered over at Peters squeal and Rhodey leaned over, suddenly very interested to see. Whilst Peter talked a lot about the sleeve, he didn't show anyone, wanting it to be a surprise. Tony was baffled when Peter pulled out a small red disk from a back box and affixed it to the back of his metal hand. Tony tilted his head and watched and Peter tapped out O-P-E-N in morse code. Then watched fascinated as the red turned the same olive complexion as his hand and quickly spread out. He pulled his sleeve up to watch in fascination as his fingers and wrist changed too. It stopped at the metal, leaving just the ring of scars showing. 

"This one only works on metal, me and Dr Cho are working on it so it can extend further and fully cover the scars too!"

Peter whispered as Carol was now bringing food towards the table. 

Tony was looking at his hand in utter amazement. It didn't look like his old hand, no scars and callous free, no fingerprints either, but it was very cool and if Pete got this working on skin comfortably, they could make awesome gloves that didn't restrict as much. Tony felt almost like he'd been punched with emotions all of a sudden and grabbed Peter into a hug so he didn't cry at him or something. 

"This is amazing Pete, thank you for making this for me." 

Peter was slightly overwhelmed by the sudden hug and the way Tony's voice had deepened with emotion. He pulled back and smiled at the kid who had flushed bright red. Carol was watching the interaction with a smile and a question in her eyes, luckily Rhodey distracted her asking for updates on the current extraction mission that Laura was heading.

Tony tugged his sleeve down to cover the scars but couldn't stop looking at his hands that now matched again. Weirdly, he noted, that part of him missed the black matte colour of his metal hand, realising he had gotten more used to it that he'd thought but was happy he didn't have to make up an awkward excuse to Carol about eating one handed. It was awkward with some foods, this would be a nightmare and the 'I burnt my hand' excuse was getting tired. 

After losing the contents of his stomach in the lab earlier, Tony was starving. Any residual sickness at the thought of the files overridden by his now overactive metabolism. He decided that as he was planning on having a discussion with Carol later that he didn't have to eat a normal amount and then eat again when she left like he had last time(Or awkwardly duck into the fridge and scarf down a block of cheese when she wasn't looking, again).

It had been awkward enough saying he'd burnt his left hand on a blow torch the first time because it was the only thing he could think of when she noticed him using one hand. Carol however surprised him by only raising an eyebrow when Tony went back for a very large portion of thirds along with Peter, as everyone else chatted at the table, happy and full. 'Maybe people don't notice these things as much as I thought?' He and Peter did not turn it into a competition on who could finish the 3rd plate. Nope, that would be juvenile. He won. 

Full, and very happy with himself he flopped onto the sofa as the kids dashed off to the games room, not understanding how they could move so fast after eating so much. They yelled about meeting up with Lilah and Cooper before bolting, likely to discuss their plans to welcome Cassie. Tony couldn't help but smile, Jess had the kids when Laura went out on missions these days and he knew that she loved being inundated with all the kids, no matter what she said.

He was warm, he'd eaten so much food he felt happy and fuzzy, the kids were happy about a new person joining them and Carol and Rhodey were not at all subtly making goo goo eyes at each other whilst they did the dishes together, which meant he was scot free on chores tonight. Life was good. When the pair finally joined him, dishes do not take that long, he helped Rhodey switch from the chair to the sofa. Rhodey relaxing back and sighing. No matter how comfortable you make a wheelchair, it'll never beat his sofa. Carol usually sat next to Rhodey and they'd stick a movie on which Tony was settling to do when Rhodey elbowed him in the ribs and looked at Carol pointedly. Oh yeah. The talk. 

 

Third POV

"Carol, mind parting from our delightful Sour Patch and joining me here, I uh.. Need to talk about, stuff?" 

Tony scratched the back of his neck nervously as Carol redirected, obviously interested. 

"This about your healing period?" 

Tony nodded, he knew that she knew something was up. Carol visited enough to know Tony was in good physical health but she hadn't pushed. Something he loved the woman for as well as the fact she was wicked smart and as tenacious as could be, that Rhodey had the biggest crush on her was an awesome benefit. She didn't even pester Rhodey about Tony, which had happened a lot in his life, much to his irritation. She just told him to take all the time he needed.

Much to Tony's initial confusion, having become accustomed to Roger's way of leadership over the last few years or Fury's overbearing nature. Which mostly consisted of Tony being told he was disappointing someone, somewhere, all the time.

Carol though was patient, and happy to give Tony time to work through whatever it was. He could See that she trusted his judgement. Although he had no idea why. Baffling really, everyone knew he sucked at working with people. 

"So, first I just wanted to thank you for giving me all this time to bunk off" He grinned at her, with usual self deprecating humour and is surprised when she frowns at him a little. 

"Tony, you aren't bunking off, you've been neck deep in Accords, transitioning and hiring more EX-SHIELD Agents whenever you find them, we really need to rename them by the way, Pepper has been gushing to me at how much work you've done for SI lately, and I know you've been at the lead sorting out things around the compound using Rhodey as a proxy. Rhodey is knackered just actioning all your work! You found all the people in this new team, your brought them together and made them feel safe and gave them a home! If this is 'bunking off', I'm now terrified of you 'working'."

She grinned at Tony now who was sitting kind of stunned. Mouth open, ignoring Rhodey was helpfully cackling himself too. Choking out that Carol had made Tony speechless. 

"Anyone who would begrudge you some transitioning time to active duty after a 10 day coma would be an insensitive bastard. Even if you had actually rested instead of doing more work than my brain can conceive of, I mean, when do you sleep!?"

Carol did look a little smug at that and Tony clicked his mouth shut. Blinking a few times behind his sunglasses and wondered how much Rhodey had told her about Roger's. 

"Oh, he doesn't. He lives off of coffee until he collapses and repeats."

Suddenly Tony found himself looking at two very similar expressions. 

"Oh no. There are two of you."

Carol and Rhodey both laugh and shoulder bumped him. Making him feel less criticised for his sleeping (or lack thereof) and over working habits and more cared for.

"Plus there is all the work into the training rooms and all of our gear. Which by the way, I love the training gear you made me! Thank you so much, it's fun to be able to work out without destroying everything! You've turned this from an ill thought out group slammed together to a genuine organisation with internships, departments for anything I could think of and you're emphasis on the mental health department is awesome and my personal favourite. Need I go on?"

"If you go on, I think he might turn completely red and disappear into the couch."

Rhodey grinned. Obviously finding it highly amusing how flustered Tony was at this but also part of him was happy that finally someone other than him noticed just how much Tony worked for the Avengers. The old team had just taken and taken then demanded more and more without recognising the scope of his work. The fact Tony was flustered and baffled at being thanked alone showed Carol yet another thing that made her angry at the old team, and by proxy, Fury too. No one should have such a confused reaction to having their work congratulated or thanked in her mind. 

"I'm also looking forward to you coming back and leading the Avengers with us."

"Huh?"

Tony replied intelligently. He wasn't sure what happened but this conversation had gotten away from him and he wasn't sure exactly what was happening right now...

"I'm a terrible leader, you two a great at it and I'm pretty awful at working with teams anyway.. I just make stuff." 

"Tony, please tell me that stupid report Fury and Romanoff wrote about you is not still in your mind? You were the public face of the Avengers for years, the only one who turned up to help after! I'm good at running things in the field man, but you shine at running things at base command, especially with PR and Press Conferences, Carol is awesome with team cohesion, people and training, we all have our zones that occasionally interlock. Me and Carol decided the three of us would be unstoppable."

Rhodey looked smug, Tony was starting to feel like Rhodey had orchestrated this entire thing. Get Tony to tell Carol and they ambush him with compliments and telling him he was a good leader. Tony's brain was practically BSOD now. 

"Wait, what report?"

Carol asked Rhodey whilst Tony remembered how to speak. 

"Iron Man - Yes, Tony Stark - Not Recommended."

Rhodey spat, Carol's eyebrows shot up. 

"Well that's frankly ridiculous. I've not had the pleasure of working with Iron Man yet, I'm sure he's awesome."

Carol winks at Tony who is still baffled, this is certainly not helping. Rhodey is trying not to laugh, and failing. Who knew that Carol was an expert at confusing Tony into shocked silences. 

"But I've been working with Tony Stark for a while now and he's dedicated, works well with us and throws himself passionately into making sure we're all happy! Not recommend my ass."

"I have no idea what's happening right now…" 

"I think you broke him Carol."

Carol and Rhodey chuckled as Tony shook his head. 

"Well, before you make any decisions of me leading, you probably need to know everything." 

Carol just sits back, trying to make Tony feel comfortable as she knew serious conversations about himself were not his forte. 

"As you might have noticed, I'm pretty recovered from the coma? One of the reasons I've been 'hiding out' so to speak is because of how fast I recovered. Rhodey saved my life. I've been fine since I got home really. Physically."

He gives the man a pointed look in case we are back to guilt Town, Carol glances between the two men, confusion evident on her face but still sat back and relaxed, he can See the questions swimming around her, but she waits on him. Something Tony is endlessly thankful for. He could just imagine trying to have this talk with Rogers or the old team. He doubted the super soldier would sit back and let Tony get to it in his own time, he would bark out questions in a bad order and end up finding Tony at fault for something whilst Tony scrambled to explain. Clint and Wanda sniping at him. Carol and Rogers were like night and day. 

"After.. Vision found me in Siberia, I was sinking further into the coma. The doctors thought it was unlikely I'd come out and if I did, things wouldn't be great. You've heard of Extremis right? Rhodey saved me with that."

Tony sucked in a breath, looking quesy. He didn't like thinking of the state he'd have been in, what could have been, he definitely didn't like thinking about Siberia. Avoidance was working well for him as far as he was concerned. He'd been about to start his story at the fight, to explain why he was in the coma, but switched to after instead at the last second. He hadn't even looked at his medical files from his stay. He knew some stuff, and that was too much, after reading brain bleed he snapped the file shut and noped out. Rhodey however had that information indelibly burned into his mind. Carol notices the pain in Rhodey's face and that Tony has paled, she can tell that there is much more that isn't being said. 

"Tony, what… what happened in Siberia? I don't want to pry, you don't have to tell me. But as your friend I'd like to know so I can help you in any way you need it." 

Faced with such an earnest plea Tony finds himself wanting to talk. He starts and stops four times. Words just not coming out, getting frustrated with himself but is shocked to find Carol is just waiting on him. He closes his eyes and breathes out, snagging a tablet and loading up the holoscreen. Placing it in front of her. 

"This… this is easier. Tell me when it's done?" 

Tony hits play and throws himself into the link, hands over his ears and watching cat videos on YouTube that vision sent him. If he wasn't in the link the hands wouldn't stop my hearing anything, Carol was about to offer him an out when the video started and it grabs her attention. As she sees Barnes, Rogers and Tony. 

She knew there would be a fight, but not who had fought Tony, except mentions of other Winter Soldiers when Ross had demanded to know what happened during the search for Roger's and what had happened to him. Luckily Carol had been around to divert him from the very thin, haggard Tony. 

Rhodey's hand is on Tony's shoulder, Carol notices Rhodey is watching with an intensity that tells her that maybe he hasn't seen this before either. 

Carol and Rhodey watch in silence, Tony in the video, sporting a black eye, looking exhausted yet still standing somehow, chatting amicably with the others. Carol can't help but compare this with the Tony she knows. With so much life in him, always making time with the kids. Although she realises oddly that this is the first time she's seen him without sunglasses on. She doesn't know why but that thought sent a chill down her spine.

From what she could see, the soldiers were dead already, Zemo's voice could be heard... But he couldn't have done that level of damage to Tony. But it couldn't have been the super soldiers? Why would they hurt him so much as to put him in a coma? She doesn't know why but dread pools in her stomach, joining the chill down her spine. Even though she knows Tony is fine sat next to her, this has an overwhelming sense of wrongness to her. Zemo's speech doesn't help. 

'I know that road.'

'What is this?'

Rhodey visibly flinched at the pain in Tony's voice. Carol glances between the two men, but her attention is dragged back to the screen as she watches in quiet horror the events play out in front of her. Watching a friend discover news like this, having to watch your parents die after spending your life thinking it was an accident. Rage burns in her when she finds out Rogers knew that his best friend had killed Tony's parents! He should have found out among family, not amongst liars, strangers and whatever Zemo was. 

"How long did he know?" She seethed, asking quietly to Rhodes. Glancing at Tony, wondering how he could sit here and listen to this but the man didn't even twitch in reaction to the video or her voice. 

"Two Years" Rhodey spat "Two years where he used Tony to find him. Two years of him attacking Tony for keeping secrets."

Carol sucks in a breath before she's pulled into the video again.

'Don't bullshit me Rogers, did you know?' 

'Yes' 

Tony reacts to that Yes like he'd been hit and it makes Carol see red. Because as much as Tony barely mentions the man, as much as Rhodes utterly despised the man, Carol had known that they'd been team mates, but that reaction told her that they'd been friends, that Tony had trusted him, even up to this fight he'd still trusted him, and that's what makes her see red. 

She's not surprised when Tony hits Roger's. A little shocked it was open handed. She'd have punched him right in his stupid, stubborn, unrepentant jaw.

She's watched many Iron Man fights as she got to know the new team, a requirement for eventual integration of a heavy hitter. She can see he's holding back at key moments. She doesn't know about The Winter Soldier, but she's seen enough fights of Rogers that she knows he isn't holding back.

Unable to turn away, she watches the video. Her hand gripping Tony's knee, Rhodey's hand on his shoulder. As if to remind themselves he's here. He came out the other side of this fight. Maybe he didn't walk away, maybe it changed him irrevocably, but she still got to know him. She'd known the betrayal and split of the Avengers had hit him hard, watched the other recordings of the fights and mess after the Vienna bombing. This she feels is the missing piece of the civil war, the split had too much pain, it was just too personal to just be the Accords and Roger's stupidity. 

'I can do this all day' 

Watching Rogers pound on Tony with his vibranium shield, who is lying on the ground is almost too much for Rhodey. He had an idea of what's coming next based on the suit and Tony's injuries, but he finds himself unable to look away. Carols sucked in breath when the helmet is roughly torn from Tony's head makes Rhodey flinch. Rhodey is looking at the damage to his left gauntlet and now without the helmet, with no protection from the Siberia spring. Seeing the breaches in the suit and what that would mean for him. A cold spring at that, the temperature just scraping above zero degrees Fahrenheit. Carol makes a strangled noise as she worried for a second like Tony did, if that shield would hit his neck or exposed face. Even with the man solid next to her tells her otherwise. 

It slamming down into the arc reactor isn't much better. Not when she sees the entire suit power down… then they just leave him. In a suit. With no power in freaking Siberia.

A metal coffin in the snow.

The picture of Tony in the coma flashes in her mind. The video carries on for about a minute of Tony alone until it shuts off. Tony must have edited the video to only show the fight. Rhodey taps Tony's shoulder who sucks in a breath and glances up as if coming up from underwater. He'd been considering when he was linked that he'd been making Carol's job harder, she'd been trying to learn about the old team to ensure this never happened again and he'd not given her all the data. 

"I'll have FRIDAY send you information and videos of the old team of you like, I know you have the mission reports and some videos, but I'm just realising you might need to know how to old team functioned off the battlefield, I meant to do that weeks ago, but that is what happened in Siberia." 

"Or how it didn't function." Rhodey muttered to himself, he was still very angry at the old team. Part of him was angry at himself too, he should have done more to be on Tony's side and protect him. 

Tony shuts the tablet down, Rubbing his hands together, trying to stave off the chill threatening to claim him. Avoiding eye contact from either Carol or Rhodey. 

"Tony… How long did it take for Vision to come?" 

Tony's laugh is brittle and it makes Rhodey flinch a little, Carol sucked in a breath because there was pain in that laugh. 

"A… While. I had to purge tracking data because I was trying to protect him."

She remembered in the video where he had told Roger's that no one knew he was there. So they'd left him, knowing he was without power and no one knew where he was. 

The smirk on Tony's face seems.. off to her somehow to her, especially with his brittle laugh and Carol is starting to see another part of Tony she hadn't seen before.

She'd noticed that he had many sides, Apart from the overworked boss, the futurist, the engineer, the man who revolutionises new sciences just because he can, the doting dad, the dad friend that cares so much for the team, the mechanic who makes things for them, on and off the field. The man who got them individualised mugs, who gave them a home and forged these unlikely people into the beginnings of a family so soon after his old family had been violently wrenched away. 

In all of that, she'd seen... glimpses of a well of pain deep enough to concern her, and had enough information to know he had PTSD. But she realised then that he kept so much hidden, how much suffering, pain, and guilt had Tony somehow survived? He was practically… feral with it. How much betrayal could someone experience and still trust? Yet he did somehow, it seemed to be himself he'd lost trust in. Like he was on a dangerous edge where that passion could turn vicious if he let it. 

Carol doesn't push, a glance at Rhodey who shakes his head minutely telling her that he doesn't know how long he spent in Siberia either. She doesn't doubt that he knows, they both can see it in his face that Tony knows every minute. She wonders if Tony has told anyone how long he had lain, trapped in a metal coffin that saved his life, and injured by his family, left in the cold. Wondering again how Tony is even sane. She grabbed his right hand, Squeezing tightly to try and impart comfort. She won't force him to tell her the number, but she'll listen if he ever does she decides. 

"Extremis… It couldn't fix everything."

He gently, tentatively touched her hand still holding her right with his left. Still covered with the sleeve, but as soon as she wrapped her fingers around it she could feel the difference. He tapped out the morse code to close the cover, (Carol hid the grin as he tapped P-O-O-F out in morse code) and Carol watched in fascination as the matt black of the metal hand was revealed. 

"Oh Tony. You know don't need to hide this from us?" 

He goes to pull his metal hand back, he's always worried it would repulse someone, even though no one has reacted that way, and Carol somehow sees this, so she grabs it and holds it just as much as his right. He's baffled. But.. Kind of hopeful. He watches with a smile as she looks fascinated by it. 

"Can you feel with this, this is amazing, although I shouldn't be shocked that you developed this!" 

He nods, with the hand he's still torn, on one side, he made a metal prosthetic hand that it attached to his nerves. That's awesome. It doesn't feel exactly the same as his flesh hand, but he's always tinkering to improve it. To feel more, heck he can weigh things with it now. But that was because Peter broke the weighing scales trying to make cinnamon buns and when he went to fix it, Harley thought it would be cool to make his hand capable of more things than a normal hand. He hadn't considered that meant standing in the kitchen weighing flour however.. 

"There is something… else that's changed. I got frostbite on my corneas too. Well, I got frostbite practically everywhere, as long as there was something left alive, Extremis could build on it though. The hospital thought I'd be entirely blind, my left eye was utterly dead nothing left. My right was still there but very badly damaged and blind. Like my other injuries, Extremis was able to fix all of that, luckily, if there was enough alive, it regenerated it. But it could not regrow dead tissue, it couldn't create nerves from nothing."

He took his right hand back, convinced she wouldn't let go on his left now, stubbornly. She was focused on his glasses now, at his words that chill was back, she'd known there was something to do with the glasses. Most of the avengers had been wondering about it, concerned but had given Tony space to come to them about it. Now, knowing the trauma behind this, she is happy they didn't try to push and gave him time to get here himself. 

"This is why I wear glasses all the time." 

Cringing slightly as he pulled them off, resolutely reminding himself to keep his eyes open this time. Carol gasped, and Tony tentatively looks at her to see her be horrified or freaked out… But is baffled that she still looks as amazed as she did with his hand. He can See that she's not just faking it either, especially now that he has the glasses off. The interest is sparking around her, the golden electricity that usually wraps around her moving faster than usual. 

"Tony, I know you probably aren't expecting this, and your a guy, so this probably isn't the word you'd like…" 

Carol's grin on her face and her colours put him at ease, wondering what she's going to say. 

"But you're eyes are beautiful. My favourite one is the blue one." 

Tony barks out a laugh, yeah he hadn't seen that coming. The blue unsettled him occasionally so he'd assumed it would unsettle other people. Kids not included, kids were weird and liked anything weird. She says it with such confidence it amazes him and gives him confidence to go all in. Looking at Rhodey. 

"All in?" 

"I've been telling you to go all in since we left the hospital. At least with family." Carol actually looks excited. 

"There is more?" 

“Yeah, I figured with you being the leader that you need a run down of my weirdness and my, ugh, 'abilities', and I've not really told many people about the weird bits. I have just been kind hiding and I don't think it's helping. Rhodey, pass the wipes?"

Carol frowns as Rhodey reaches into the drawer next to the sofa to get out the make up wipes and putting them on his lap as he listens to Carol talk. Carol glancing at them, wondering what on earth was going to be next. 

"Yeah, hiding new abilities and trying to ignore stuff is rarely good for people like us, they might come out at bad times you need to train ideally, the more the better." 

Tony blinks slightly at the idea of being included in the same category as someone like Carol. Rhodey feels like if he rolls his eyes on this subject anymore he'll actually see his brain. Tony has this weird disconnect from the fact they now lives with many people with weird abilities so why would they be weird about him joining them?! 

"Well, I'm kind of a technopath now." 

Chuckling, he brings up the holograms on the table with his mind this time instead of touching them. Loading this and that, and finally Chat box He types 'HI CAROL ;)' in whilst sitting there completely still. 

"That ability is utterly perfect for you, you know!" 

Carol winks back because Tony Stark being a technopath does just seem perfect in her mind. It just seems like the next logical step. 

"The virus, it was a version I'd been playing with. I'd never Intended to use it." 

He tries to assure her, worried she'd think he was power hungry or something, obviously thinking about what he past teammates would have reacted to him. Carol gives him a look that makes him relax again. A frown that said 'Stop being an idiot' so clearly a laugh nearly jumped out of him, but he was still knackered after the hysterical laughing fit in the workshop. 

"I'd been trying to see just how much I could change and keep it stable, kind of like a hobby. The original extremis made people so strong, healing from horrible, terrible things, so fast, even with occasional fire breathing, but they… kind of exploded because they couldn't stabilise it. The exothermic reaction was utterly out of control."

"I saw the files, I still can't believe it was tested on people with such a glaring flaw! I'll assume that you aren't going to explode though? Can you breathe fire though? Because then I'm calling you a dragon. Iron Dragon?" 

She asked, so matter of factly that Tony is left blinking again. Every time he had imagined these conversations they did not go this way. Really he should remember that he's surrounded by people who are different in one way or another. 

"Ah, no, no fire breathing, but I can change my body temp. Not as flashy." 

Laughing he started raising his body temperature until it was very noticeable. His hands quite a bit warmer now. 

"Ooooo, I like this. You are now officially my heating pack when I get cold! I can see arguments over who gets to sit next to you on movie night and everything." 

Tony laughs. Feeling something unclench inside him at Carols easy, excited acceptance of things he'd been struggling with since he woke up. 

"Strength, speed, healing and such all got a boost too, I don't know if I could spar on par with you though, how are you so cool with this?" 

Tony still hadn't pushed him limits yet to see how strong he was, he knew now that he was extremely fast, especially if he let go of his other senses and just focused on speed and carrying around Rhodey's physio equipment was very easy. Maybe Carol was right, he needed to properly train, see what he could do. Maybe with practice he'd be able to push to top speed and hold onto other things. This still felt too surreal. Yeah he was Iron Man, but he'd always been baseline human surrounded by supers. 

"Tony, did you not notice that you have been collecting powered people like stray cats? So you are obviously fine with people who aren't baseline human?" 

"Of course, why wouldn't I be?" Tony frowns when Rhodey facepalmed next to him. 

"Well, you are just powered too now. What's wrong with that?" 

She probes, getting the feeling that he is conflicted over having abilities himself. Noticing that the easy acceptance he has for others no matter how strange or scary that ability is, is just lacking for some reason when it comes to himself. 

"If I say it, it sounds awful." 

"Well say it anyway. I'm not going to be angry at you Tony, you are still new to this."

"I feel like I've traded in my humanity. Like I lost something by not being human anymore. I have no idea what I am now."

Tony frowned, knowing that saying this to powered people isn't exactly nice, like maybe he's saying they aren't human or something. He doesn't believe that at all, but there is just a disconnect when he thinks of himself. 

"But you still see the rest of us as humans? Even if we are enhanced, inhuman or mutant? You treat Vis as a person too. Your AIs too." 

"Of course I do!" 

"Oh sweetheart. You are still you. Just a little stronger, faster, more connected to your tech, which by the way, I'm not shocked at, you have always been quite connected with your tech from what I've seen. You're still human too Tony."

Tony let's out the breath he'd been holding. Ducking his head guiltily. Also wondering how many of the back files had Carol actually read! And she accused him of over working!

"I was worried that you'd think I was insulting you, calling you less human or something."

"I understand, I've had my abilities longer, you'll get there with yours. Now tell me about your eyes, I'm guessing it's not just decoration?" 

"No, that's actually the weirdest part I'm having trouble with." 

He chews his lip, wondering how to talk about it. Rhodey leans forward because getting Tony to discuss this is like pulling teeth and apparently Carol is the Tony-Whisperer... Plus Rhodey muses to himself, it's harder to flee the room when Carol is holding onto you. 

"Weird is relative. Pretty sure I exploded."

Carol smirks, shrugging, abilities were strange things and trying to apply rules to them usually was just asking for the rules to be broken. They had a blind man that could fight and see better than sighted people and a magic ex surgeon on their Roster, not even getting into the rest of Defenders, collaborating with the Fantastic 4 and Xavier too? She'd never felt more accepted. She hoped Tony would end up feeling similar, introducing him to Xavier sounded like a good plan, that man had perfected the art of getting people with sudden abilities used to them. 

Tony drummed his fingers against Carol's hand in a nervous gesture, he would have drummed them against his chest but Carol was still enjoying herself with the warmth of his right hand and gently fiddling with the joints on his left much to his amusement. 

"We'll, first, I thought it was a kind of synesthesia? Like is you click your fingers, I'd see like a flame of colour. Thankfully I can control that or talking would by annoying." 

"That is so cool!" 

"Yeah? I kind of like it, it's made learning instruments really different and fun when I was stuck in bed. That was Peter's idea as PT that wasn't boring."

"Oh yeah Carol, you have to hear him on the violin. He never touched one before last week and now it's entrancing, I want him to pay all the time! The first day was like screeching cats however." 

Rhodey grimaces thinking back to that day, he is still pretty sure Tony kept up the screeching on purpose, always appearing in the same room as him. Until he decided to try and play properly (When Peter got home!) Carol bounces a little in excitement and Tony finds its catching. Having an adult excited over this stuff apparently is just what he needs, kids are kind of naturally crazy and Rhodey was still a big kid under the grouch and serious exterior he showed the world. He didn't know how people didn't see it, the man had been friends with Tony Stark voluntarily since he was 14 years old, yet people assumed he was all seriousness and adult. 

"That's awesome, I expect to hear everything! Maybe not the screeching though. So, you said at first?" 

"Yeah, this is the bit I'm not so fond of… I see these colours on… people. It was dull at first, patchy, but now it's very strong. Everyone is different in some way or another, and say red on one person doesn't mean the same red on someone else. Sometimes I can get information out of it… but sometimes I just can't understand it all, or it takes me a while to understand. Sometimes I just know somehow."

Tony frowned, even describing it was maddening and wishy-washy. 

"I can get insights on the person, basically, in a weird way." 

Rhodey was chuckling at the look on Tony's face. He looks somewhat like he was just forced to eat a lemon. Obviously not liking the variable nature of this ability.  

"Oh, And he refuses to tell me what he Sees in people."

Rhodey sulks. Chucking the packet of make up wipes over to Tony, Carol glances at the pack, eyebrow raised, Tony doesn't notice as she's looking at Rhodey, frowning a little. 

"That's because… It's, it's private, it's like I'm Seeing into someone's soul or some other new age gobbledygook. I'm only ever vague or only with the person I'm looking at. I try not to use it, but I can't.. not. I can't turn it off. I've tried, the information is just in my head. All the time. Sometimes it's like if I don't say the thing it gets louder until its all I see and hear, luckily that doesn't always happen, thankfully."

The grimace on Tony's face shows that he's tried to ignore this entirely or ignoring parts of it and had unpleasant reactions. Carol isn't surprised by the nature of the ability, it doesn't sound like something that would be ignored quietly. 

"Yeah, you know those random comments he comes out with occasionally, the one that makes the person look awed or stunned by insight? And confused Tony Stark is making it." 

Carol's eyes open huge, she'd noticed that Tony seemed to pluck comments out of nowhere. Seemingly apart from conversations, vague to others and yet it always stunned the person involved. She'd assumed it was part of his personality and genius that had been hidden from the press. Or rather ignored by it, the press still occasionally acted like Tony hadn't changed after Afghanistan sometimes much to Carols confusion. 

"See, when people know this, that I invade people's minds, no one will want me near them. I'm basically Wanda."

Tony said with an obvious shudder, Rhodey jumps at that. He hadn't known that Tony was comparing himself to the Witch. 

"Tony, No. You're not invading people's minds without permission, you aren't looking at their thoughts, you aren't a mind reader, and you have a strong sense that stuff if private. She had a choice whether to read people's minds!" 

Carol grips his hands, trying to send comfort, she didn't know practically anything about Wanda, except that Jim really didn't like her. But from what he just said, she knew Tony wasn't like that. A sense of a person was different that having their mind be an open book. 

Whilst there was a lot of documentation left over from the other Avengers that Tony had given her full access to, there was shockingly little on Wanda. Until now, that hadn't concerned her much. True, she'd wondered how and why she'd joined the Avengers as there didn't seem to be a process like Tony had implemented now, but she'd assumed everyone liked her and she'd been a good fit, so they brought her in. Tony vehemence against her called that into question, as far as she'd deduced, Tony and Steve had been running the Avengers? So why would he invite a person on the team he was this against? Carol swore she even saw a flash of fear, which chilled her. Tony wasn't the kind of person afraid of anything but himself. 

"I know… But…" 

"No, Tony, you are not her, you don't trap people in their worst nightmares and force them to live with it forever. You don't fucking mind rape people! You don't enjoy watching people suffer, she always used her magic around you even though she obviously knew how you felt about it! She forced Bruce to run away again." 

Tony flinched quite violently from that reminder. Carol, open mouthed in shock looking between the two men. 

"Wait. What?!" 

Rhodey grabs the tablet, bringing up what he's looking for as Tony protests. Rhodey ignores it, he's fed up of his friend suffering because of the Hydra Bitch. If he'd known that he was comparing himself to her he would have tackled this before now. He curses to himself and turns the tablet to Carol. 

"If you don't mind Tony, I'd like to see? She has been the least documented of the Avengers, Roger's just had down that she was instrumental in stopping Ultron.." 

Rhodey's scoff just makes Carol want to know even more, everytime she thinks she has worked out the problems with the old team, something like this happens and it makes her wonder how they lasted as many years as they did. Thinking of the videos FRIDAY will be sending over, there was more to this team than what was written in the battle reports and she wanted to get her teeth into it.

Although she did enjoy some of the reports, different members noted different things, Tony's were hilarious, Rhodey's were extremely thorough when he joined. His military experience seemingly noted more. Roger's were usually critical and missing important observations as for why the team did certain stuff. Natashas were very descriptive and Clint's usually had food stuck to them. Thor's were hand written when he was around and he had lovely handwriting. Bruce's made her want to meet the man, she got a sense of goodness from him.

She shook her head, she'd dive into this later, she had a feeling it was going to be important in the long run especially when Natasha came of house arrest. 

"I… I can't watch this again."

Carol turned to Tony is sure she saw a gold ring flash around his brown eye, barely there for a fraction of a second and easy to mistake for the flecks in his eyes, then his eyes are looking out, unseeing. She waves her figures in front of his eyes and they don't track. 

"I'm guessing this is what he did during the Siberia video? He can't see or hear us?" 

Rhodey nods as he gets ready to play the video. 

"He's in the uplink, kind of like in the Internet is how he described it.

"We only recently uncovered this video when Tony was going through a dump of Hydra files. Until he saw this video, he blamed himself entirely for Ultron. Stupidly. As did everyone else. He thought it was all in his head. It terrified him and made him desperate. Everyone seems to forget Bruce was there too. With his PTSD, what he's seen, she only needed to push the right buttons."

Rhodey shook his head, he knew his Brother. He might say that he blamed the Witch now. But he knew that he still blamed himself because it was his hands that built it. Even with someone playing and pushing in his mind. Tony hoarded guilt. The man had paid for every funeral after New York, and everywhere else they fought for that matter. He pumped so much money into the devastated areas he stopped their economies falling into severe recessions, single-handed in some instances, even as he was hated by the people he was helping, he still helped in ways they were comfortable with. Even with all that, he still felt guilt. He rarely let the press in on much of his reparation efforts either, just the ones he had no choice in, like if he was caught on photograph helping rebuild houses, like when he'd finally been allowed into Sokovia. 

Carol looks mad, she'd seen the trial for Ultron, that Tony had been found not guilty, but negligent. That since she'd come to the compound and actually met FRIDAY, and how confused she'd been. How confused that a man that had been revolutionising everything AI based since he was a teen would suddenly create Ultron, it didn't make sense to her. But there were few people around now that had been present for that debacle, and those who were.. didn't like discussing it. She wondered if after this when she's with Rhodes alone, if he would explain everything to her. 

"Dear Gods, I don't even know half of the things he's been through do I? How bad is his PTSD? I know he's good at hiding it." 

Rhodey startled a little before just nodding, not used to other people even noticing it in Tony, just shrugging it off as him being an eccentric genius. Tony was also scarily good at hiding his pain. Even from him. He plays the video and Carol watches another Hydra base come up on the screen. 

Carol looks between enraged and in pain. She hadn't been here long, but in her time with Tony recovering she'd become increasingly protective of the small, eccentric man who rarely stops moving. Rhodey's MIT stories of Tony at 14 might have had a hand in it too. 

'Thor, I've got eyes on the prize..' 

Seeing the witch come up behind him makes her tense… Those red whips striking into his mind without his knowledge and his eyes glass over as she retreats. By the time he comes back from wherever she sent him, she's out of sight. Why was she in a Hydra base anyway? And why was she doing this against the Avengers if she fought against Ultron? The missing pieces were making her angry. No wonder the witches magic scared him, even if he hadn't known about this till recently, part of him must have recoiled at her magic. She knew it did her and she'd never been near it, just seeing and knowing was bad enough, a corrupted mess from the mind stone, the thought alone makes her shudder. 

"Why was she there? In a Hydra base?" 

As the video shuts off she's quietly horrified. The fact that he'd been blamed for Ultron, that the Witch was accepted as good but didn't bother to own up to her part in it? Rhodey looks confused for a moment before he realises, Rogers must have kept all Hydra mentions out of anything they recorded. 

"She was Hydra."

"What?! Like Barnes?" 

"Nope, she and her brother volunteered to become Hydra experiments because a Stark labeled weapon hit their house as children. Killed their parents but didn't explode. So, logically, they grew up wanting to kill him enough to be in Hydra. They allied with Ultron, they only flipped sides when Ultron wanted to kill everyone instead of just Tony. "

Rhodey rolled his eyes, because her story pissed him off. Sokiva wasn't a place SI supplied bombs to and Tony's bombs wouldn't just sit there unexploded. If it had been on of his they'd be dead. Personally he thought it was Stane or a black market fake. Tony however for some reason accepted everything she threw at him. Even if it was his bomb, he didn't fire it, killing him wouldn't change anything and Tony had spent nearly a decade seeking redemption for his perceived crimes selling weapons to the military. Since then he'd been all about accountability. The Witch went around smashing things then batted her pretty doe eyes and started her 'I'm just a child' routine. As far as he was concerned she was an adult, Tony had been younger when he'd been left with his company and Stane yet he was held accountable. Double standards. 

"That's... That's just.." 

"Yeah, I know. Rogers and Barton were utterly entranced by her doe eyed child like schtick. They never seem to think that she must have trained those abilities with Hydra. I doubt she got them and automatically knew what to do and I doubt that Hydra wouldn't have use for powers like that."

She shook his head, he still couldn't believe how people were so blind around the young woman. He suspected Hydra taught her these tricks. Carol turns and taps Tony's hands gently, he looked up and she definitely sees a gold flash in his right eye again, now she's looking for it she sees it clearer than before as he comes out of wherever he was. 

"Tony, Tony. You've been through so much. I'm sorry I didn't realise how much pain you've been through." 

"It's alright carol I'm used to it."

Tony just smiles and shrugs it off as a joke, it's kind of been his life for years by now. Rhodey is just happy to finally having another sane person trying to potentially get through to Tony that he doesn't deserve all this crap and this most definitely is not normal. Even their brand of normal. 

"You shouldn't have to be!" 

The confused look he gives her at that just dials up her mother hen instincts to 11. 

"As long as it's not open heart surgery in the desert, I don't think I can complain. Plus so many people died because of me for Ultron. It's nothing I can't handle."

"you don't deserve to suffer because of Ultron, those deaths aren't just on your shoulders, and we should tell Matt about this, this is important evidence, he's been griping about your trial for weeks now since he met FRIDAY. He's going to appeal your trial and get this sorted, do you mind telling him this and also, when we've done that. You are going to tell me what you meant by that comment!" 

"Huh, I thought you knew about that?" 

"Well I don't, so I'm going to text Matt. Then some day, you and me and you are going to sit in a quiet room and you're going to tell me everything you want."

Carol looks so determined, Rhodey looks ridiculously proud and happy that he's got allies now, both of them watching Tony, who was looking utterly confused. Spending years being told you talk too much and not to have feelings don't exactly prepare you for this. 

"You want to know about these things?" 

"Of course I do Tony. You're my friend, I'm guessing you haven't told anyone but Rhodey about a lot of stuff and with your celebrity status, I'm guessing therapy is not something you've seen safe to do, so telling your friends is a good option."

Rhodey blinked, a little shocked that she clicked to that so fast. It has taken Rhodey ages to work out why Tony was pro-mental health for other people, even though he hated the science, but so adamantly against it for himself. 

"I've tried. Twice. Even with background checks and an inordinate, stupid, amount of money, they sold me out."

Tony sneered and rolled his eyes and Rhodey is pretty sure Carol is actual magic. Tony doesn't discuss feelings. Yes he's still sneering about it, but he actually answered. Huh. Carol.. The Tony-Whisperer indeed. 

"Well, you don't have to tell me everything or anything really, but you tell me what you want whenever you want. That's what friends and family are for. Plus, the staff you found for the mental health dept in the compound, I'm sure they'd be confidential?"

Seeing her colours, Tony actually wants to. Which surprises him and he locks his jaw to fight it. Wants to tell her everything. He tilts his head, eyes going glassy as he follows the colours that are unique to Carol. They make him feel warm and oddly safe, so much like electricity too, her force of will crackles and sparks. It's a similar feeling he gets in his workshop or with Rhodey and he decides not to analyse it too much. He weirdly just wants to spill everything. From Howard to Siberia but bites down on it, he's already dumped enough baggage at Carols feet. 

He nods, a little too quickly whilst rubbing his face. Weirdly this entire situation has him feeling like crying, but he fights back. Ugh, emotions. That's why he hates these conversations! 

"Okay, I think I'm maxed out of emotion related stuff today." 

Tony chuckles pulling a few of the wipes to scrub his face. 

"What are they for anyway? I was wondering.." 

Carol let's him change topic, he's fragile right now, his mask is gone and she realises that Tony without his mask looks so much different and hates that he's needed to hide behind a hard mask of arrogance to survive. She'd seem glimpses around the kids, but it makes her feel happy she's been included. Knowing most people wouldn't look past the image he presented. Just seeing the arrogant, rich man and not go deeper. Sure, she had an 'in', following cracks opened up by Rhodey, but it hadn't taken her long to get to know Tony herself. 

"That would be this."

He scrubs for a few more seconds until he's sure all of the makeup is off whilst Carol shoots Rhodes a confused look. Rhodes just smiles and says nothing, so sue him, he finds these reveals amusing, he wonders how Tony is going to do the team reveal and flashes back to the 'I am Ironman' reveal and suspects he's going to rip off the bandaid, these emotional reveals are a bit much for his brother to deal with. Telling people with no preamble and letting them deal with it is more his style. When Carol looks back to Tony she lets out a startled out 'Oh!' The nearing 50 year old man has been replaced with a Tony in his 20s. 

"Holy crap!"

"Yeah that was my reaction when I woke up! But with more swearing." 

"That must have been so weird!" 

"Oh hell yeah, I thought I was in an extremely fucked up dream until Rhodey dumped a cup of water on my head. The nurses were not best pleased with him." 

Carol chuckles before letting her eyes go soft and reaching out to squeeze Tony's shoulder. 

"Waking up to find your body has changed so much isn't an easy thing to experience. I understand why you hid away until you're ready to accept it. I imagine it's all a bit much, especially after everything you found out in Siberia."

"I was just being a co-"

"No Tony, this is huge. Waking up to such huge changes would take anyone a while to deal with it. Even people who signed up for it."

"I have a few actual issues to, I wasn't just hiding because I was a 'freaked out mess'. Promise. I've gotten good at the technopathy, but it's still linked to my emotions. If I get annoyed, tech suffers. Oh, and you remember when I met with you, Jess, Hope, Matt and Luke for pizza when they semi moved in? And I got all quiet, staring whilst you were all calling out and then I passed out?"

"Yeah, we were very worried about you that day. I thought you were having a seizure! Rhodes said he got you squared away safely and that you were fine."

"Well the colours sometimes it's too much and I jumped in the deep end too fast early on. Too many people. Sometimes it overrides my vision entirely. I've been practicing with strangers and I'm getting better though. Plus if I'm in the suit, I don't see them, like with mirrors or recordings."

He assured, talking quick like he was scared she'd kick him out of the Avengers for being a basket case or that his abilities rendered him useless, or be angry at him for something, she could see the fear in his eyes and she just wanted to wrap him up forever and kick the old team, who she assumed are at fault for these insecurities. 

"That makes sense, training new abilities is tough and when you tell the team we can help." 

"I.. What, huh?"

"Tony, that's what a team does. Training weird abilities is normal around here remember, you make equipment we can't blow up. Do you want to tell people individually or together?" 

"Together I think? Meeting soon, rip the band aid off, I'll, uh. Do you think I should explain Siberia or just from the coma?" 

"it's up to you if you want to go through everything Siberia related, but there will be questions of how you got into the coma. I'll organise a meeting and after we can talk to Matt about this Ultron issue."

She gave him a look that she wasn't going to let that slide and Tony found that he was quietly happy about that. It wasn't something he'd felt he was allowed to pursue alone? If he was being selfish?

She wanted the team to see the Siberia video too, although she was unsure Tony would want so many people seeing it. She was biased enough to accept she wanted them to see it so she had others to rage with and the sensible part wanted them to know who Tony needed protection from. Explaining it was Steve would be tricky with just the airport fight being common knowledge, no one was a blind Cap fan here, not with how he'd effectively said screw you to the world and just vanished. 

Few people understood Rhodes vicious hatred of him. Grimly replaying the video in her head, now his hatred seemed well placed. Watching 2 superheroes beat down an unenhanced, grieving and already bruised man was a hard thing to get past. Especially knowing what happened after. 

Tony knew that If it had been Rogers he was talking to about the Wanda video, he would have demanded Tony bury it like he'd demanded Tony bury Johannesburg. That he sacrifice himself for Wanda because she's 'Just a child'. Even though his company had suffered because of Ultron, what the old team never understood when Tony mentioned this wasn't that he was being selfish about losing money. Tony actually cared for his staff, and he had a lot of them. Plus subsidiaries all over the world, not including that they offered important aid to communities in need, stuff that was almost thrown away because the team shoved him alone on the sword of Ultron. Let alone the fun of being detained before the trial. Having a reputation for escaping ridiculous situations had not come in handy there. Sure they didn't collar him like they did Wanda but they did go overboard. 

"For now, you need a break Tony, you've done so much tonight." 

"I've not done much, just showed you videos and ignored them whilst getting grossly emotional." 

Tony grimaced at his behaviour. Carol just gave him her 'you're being ridiculous' face. She wore it often around him and was surprising good at getting him to do things, Rhodey was torn between being jealous and gleeful that Carol was the Tony-Whisperer. 'Where was this glorious woman decades ago' Rhodey idly thought. 

"Tony, you just opened up to me, a lot, I get the feeling you don't do this often." 

Rhodey snorts as Tony flushes. Carol just smiles and tugged him so he was lying down on the sofa, asking FRIDAY to put a fun film onto the TV. She tossed a blanket over Tony and Rhodes and then snagged one herself, even sharing her super secret chocolate stash with him, Tony never found it even though it was literally hidden in his apartment. 

He ends up lying down, with his head on a pillow in Carols lap, legs on Rhodey. Carol carding her fingers through his hair whilst she watches the movie, enjoying Tony's reaction to such a small comfort in her mind, as if in his it was huge and she made a mental note to do this more often. Rhodey and Carol grinning as Tony just makes a happy content noise and drifts a little whilst Carol starts planning out ways to tell the team this information in a less stressful manner for Tony. She imagined that these conversations would take a lot out of him. 

Goose suddenly pops out of the vent, they metal clattering noisily to the floor, much to Carols shock.

Rhodey looks on in caution after that time Tony and Peter put ham on his favourite old trainers that they kept complaining about, and left them 'accidentally' in front of Goose. Fair to say, he had new trainers now. Goose however ignored him and jumped directly onto Tony's stomach. Carol is surprised as she hadn't known Goose visited occasionally apparently, Rhodey however is utterly not surprised because this is Tony they are talking about after all. Although the first time had scared the crap out of him, he hadn't even known Carol had a cat.. Let alone Goose. 

"Moose Goose! Where have you been lately."

Rhodey laughs at the look of confusion on Carols face. 

"If it's remotely dangerous and within 10 miles of Tony, he attracts it." 

Carol looks at the vents

"I didn't know she'd made it to the vents…" 

"Oh yeah, I'm considering installing cat flaps on them for her."

Tony has a huge grin on his face, utterly focused on Goose as she curls up on his chest, paws curled around his metal hand and Carol suddenly can't wait for Tony to tell the team. Without his glasses on, not hiding his hand, he seems more open, lighter and smiling more than she'd seen him before. 

That even though he'd just finished remembering an awful amount of utterly horrible memories, he can still smile and be happy just because Goose likes him. 

She glances over at Rhodey and noticed he seems lighter too. 

The two of them are carrying the weight of these secrets. Both of them carrying the weight of the world. 'Boys' 

Yes, she decided to make it her mission for now. 

For both these silly boys sake. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

T'Challa POV

September 9th

"Brother! We have presents!" 

"Who is this from exactly?" 

T'Challa eyed the box carefully, the strange conversation with Dr Stark had been replaying in his head for the last few hours. The man had seemed.. quite sharp towards him? Which surprised him a little. He'd been busy with the Accords and his kingdom that he hadn't checked in with him since their last encounter, but that wouldn't be it. They both knew what it was like to be busy, Although Dr Stark's absence from the Accords meetings, using the Colonel as his proxy was now playing on his mind. It was not a comfortable feeling. 

"Dr Stark, obviously, he told me he'd called you to say he was sending us stuff." 

"Ah, so you told him where to send it?" 

That would explain something anyway, probably how he knew about the rou-

"Pffft, of course not. He likes a challenge."

"Did he mention…" 

"Why he's mad at you? Oh yes."

He blinked he few times. Well apparently his sister was also mad at him, and maybe for more reasons than just the visitors who had been driving them up the wall as he had assumed. She scooped out a few things in the box and placed them on his desk, what he assumed was his? Then she turned to head to her lab with the rest. Not even glancing up at him, all of her attention on the boxes contents. A stuffed panther stared at him and he had to admit it was adorable, would an angry person send a stuffed panther? Apparently so. 

"I can't tell you precisely why, as Dr Stark hasn't told me everything. But he said this much and it was enough for me. 'He left me to die, then he took them in'. Leaving allies behind brother? I'd thought better of you."

With that, she turned and stalked off, leaving T'Challa stunned. Then angry. Very angry. Captain America had assured him that Dr Stark was merely momentarily disabled so they could leave quickly, that he'd be home in no time. He hoped that his inaction and trust had not caused Dr Stark too much pain. Bast. What had he done?

He picked up the Pink Panther card to read whilst looking at the plushy black panther sat on top of what looked like the Accords that had a neat, oddly pretty script written all over the margins in various colours. 

"They gave him Siberia…? What happened in that damned bunker..?" 

Maybe he had a chance to mend this bridge, but first he would have to discover what burnt it.

 

Shuri POV

Shuri stalked away from her brother, carrying the box and hoping that he would finally start looking at things closer, the decision to let the band of idiots into her home was something that was still grating on her nerves. As it did every single time Roger's turned up asking why his Bucky was still on ice. 'Because that's what he requested you idiot!' Also the renditions of why she hadn't come up with a solution for the words yet, why the scientists hadn't.

Trying to explain to the man that whilst they had amazing mental health services, 'fixing' brainwashing, nearly a century of torture and what on earth those words do to that man's brain was not going to be fixed in a snap of the fingers! Also asking -demanding- a vibranium shield?! Urgh. 

On occasion more of them came in a show of support, and she had to endure their constant diatribe of 'Stark is the Devil'.

Dr Stark had quickly become a good friend, they could bounce ideas back and forth with ease, and he wasn't put off by the fact she knew more in some areas. He was not intimidated by her, he encouraged her. It wasn't as if she had never had these things before, but she felt like she had someone on her level now, and he got there without the vast resources she had, with no vibranium. Her brother wouldn't tell her much, but she knew that the arc reactor and Ironman was born in a cave on 3 months of capture and likely torture. 

They had collaborated on a few things now, outside of both of their usual zones and it was fun! Hearing these vile excuses for 'team mates' insult potentially one of the closest people to her intellect? It was extremely aggravating. 

She carefully goes through the box on the trip back. Surprised to see so much intended to help Sergeant Barnes. She knew he was sending BARF across, but with how rigid his body language got whenever she slipped and mentioned the man on ice? She had not expected him to put so much in for him.

He hadn't told her what happened in Siberia, but the super soldiers came back beaten bloody, one missing an arm. Then Stark practically vanished off the face of the earth before a picture surfaced of the man, looking utterly battered and in a coma! It didn't take a genius to work out something had happened, but Dr Stark was oddly silent on the matter and if she believed a 10th of what the idiots said, literally every bad thing in the planet was caused by Dr Stark and nothing bad ever happened to him. She assumed the damage was from the other Winter Soldiers at first, but Dr Stark wouldn't have evaded if that was true and her brother had let slip that they'd been dead on arrival. 

Entering her lab, she separated all of the BARF data and equipment to properly go through later. The information about Barnes and his arm she placed to the side. Not exactly thrilled with the prospect of looking through that. Considering how the writing on them went from neat to scratched quickly, that made her nervous of the contents, to say the least.

She focused on the other colourful post it notes for now, there were quite a few. For a man who hated paper, he seemed to love post it notes. His handwriting was also very pretty, his little doodles surprisingly detailed. 

She affixed the one with the cat doodles where it was easily visible, wondering if the idiots would potentially recognise his handwriting next time they invaded her lab. 

There was the actual data from Barnes arm included too. He'd been holding that back as they created their prototype. Not wanting to taint their project with Hydra. She'd let it slide that he'd had a sudden 'Awesome Idea' to create a prosthesis based on the Winter Soldier's arm but without 'cheating'. 

She let him believe that she thought it was theoretical, but she knew that you don't just wake up from a coma and start a project on something like this whilst neck deep in the Accords for nothing. But she got the idea that Tony needed her to not know, and looking at how thin and small he had looked in that bed, his arm trembling slightly as it moved when he spoke animatedly. He needed her excitement on it but to not ask to many questions and that's what she'd done. 

A small thing she could do however was to send a completely and utterly not related chunk of vibranium over to him under the guise of a get well soon present. If it just so happened to be the correct amount, plus a little leeway, for what he'd need to make their designs? Well that was just a happy accident wasn't it. 

When he'd questioned such a grand gift, she'd waved it off as what else do you get the engineer with more money than God? If it also made him whole again... then all for the better, and hopefully someday he'd tell her what happened. She could see that he was brittle however, so for once she would not push. She did however enjoy conspiring with Harley and Peter in their group chat. Their plan seemed to be working, each time she chatted to Dr Stark he seemed less like he'd shatter if the wrong part was pressed. Adults could be so dense sometimes, so they had plotted. 

She finished putting things to the side and called him up, it should early there but Peter had sent her picture of their pancake day an hour ago so she figured she would not be interrupting. There seemed to be more food on the adults than their plates, Tony was in the kitchen with his back to the camera and his black shirt was covered in white powder. Laura's hair was practicality white. She was looking forward to joining them some day for this tradition but hoped to be eating the food rather than wearing it. 

An image of Tony popped up, he looked much better than he had on their last chat. He'd looked pretty good in the video clip he'd sent of him talking to her brother, but that was a side of the genius she'd never really seen before so seeing his easy smile was a relief.

He was all encouraging smiles and asking questions with her, and he never stopped her explaining things! There were a few times he asked her to explain it again, but slower! Considering he was meant to be an egotistical genius, he never talked over her, encouraged her and didn't get irritated the way others did when she got into something. Or as Dr Stark called it, sciencing. She was branching out into new topics she barely considered before she it was fun. 

She brightly grinned, happy to see him smiling even though she could see he was tense around the shoulders. Maybe because of his location? Because that wasn't the lab. She couldn't see enough of the room to tell but it looked as if he was sitting at a table with a large floor to ceiling windows behind him. The glass was not perfectly clear however, making her think that from the outside you wouldn't see what was happening in said room. Peculiar. 

"Hi Dr Stark! Your parcel arrived!" 

"Yay, and Princess, we talked about this. You can call me Tony. By the end of this year I expect you and Peter to call me Tony!" 

He waved his hands and had a look of mock consternation on his face, spoilt slightly by the wide grin of course. His shoulders however had already started to relax a little which just made her grin. She noticed that he was using both hands to gesture with, until now he'd only used his right, but it was skin coloured.. She added it to her observations of the man in her mind. 

"Hmmm, maybe, but you will have to call me Shuri instead of Princess. Plus, not enough people use your Doctor title, it makes me want to use it more."

Tony's eyebrows shot up at that, she guessed quite easily who that look was for, she had noticed that the rogues rarely talked about him with any respect and she'd ranted about it often. The rogues loved to call him 'Stark'. Usually barked in an unpleasant manner that she suspected the man hated. Especially from so called 'friends'.

"Ah, to be perpetually underestimated. Of course, you know what it's like, Princess." 

She laughed at his smirk, and oh yes she did. Especially the few times she had accompanied her brother to the Accords Council meetings. They saw a young, spoilt Princess, Tony had told her to play up the part and reap the rewards of being underestimated, whilst it had annoyed her at first, she could see why he made a game of it. 

"The last council meeting was fun, I finally got to talk to your Rhodey! My brother was quite confused when he would only talk to me!" 

The two of them laughed, she'd sent the clips to him at the time of course. They'd been subtly trolling her brother for weeks now but he seemed to be acting dense which was why she'd upped things today. 

"Rhodey doesn't even know why I'm annoyed! How is King Kitty doing? Enjoy my presents?"

"He was utterly baffled about how you got them to us, I think he actually thought no one knew the idiots were here!" 

"Well, just me and the kids know. They know not to blab. I don't want your brothers offer of generosity to hurt your home. Plus it is probably better for the planet that you have them contained." 

Tony's smirk turned sharp at the thought of them and Shuri was surprised how expressive the man's face could be when wearing sunglasses. People always say the eyes give a lot away, but Dr Stark's facial expressions were very telling. 

"I know, but they're so annoying. Rogers has asked me for a new shield twice this week alone. He me demanded it be vibranium too!" 

"Oh what did you tell him this time?" 

"I told him that I'm sorry he feels so afraid that he requires a shield but reminded him that Wakanda is well defended. He looked utterly baffled at my offense."

"I'm not shocked, they always wanted new gear and I don't think they noticed I personally made everything for them. It was just expected. Until I started working with my new guys I thought that was normal." 

Tony shook his head and Shuri decided to shift the conversation away from the rogues. 

"I think I might have dropped enough hints around my brother now that he might do more than just sulking about their presence. Oh, and expect some presents from him, he's finally realised you are mad at him!" 

"Took him long enough, I was actually considering hiring a skywriter if the call didn't work."

"You did give him a plushy though." 

She ribbed him gently, she knew that whilst he was mad at her brother over the rogues, that he didn't hate him. They'd gotten along quite well and whilst Tony hadn't found himself king of a country relatively young, he had found himself at the head of an empire alone and vulnerable quite young. Her brother had told her that the two of them had connected with that when they were between fights. 

"Well, I don't hate his Royal Kittiness, he's still quite young and naive, especially when it comes to people all shiny like Rogers. Captain Spandex is easy to believe in his earnest way. When he realises that he lies as much as anyone else.." 

Tony shrugged. She'd scanned the latest copy of the Vienna Accords that he'd sent, along with his own personal notes on it judging by the handwriting. 

"I'm sure we can wake him up eventually, he was very angry when I left him. Maybe Mr Rogers is going to get a visit." 

"Oh, that I HAVE to see!" 

"I'll make sure to send you the footage, I, of course, will not be there. The Witch has taken to hanging on to him like a leech. Although it's had a knock on effect of them bothering me in my lab less since I banned the little witch from my presence."

Tony's laughs tapered off and a serious look crossed his face when it came to the Witch. He had different expressions for most of the rogues.

He was hard as ice, face and shoulders stiff, voice as cold as the Arctic when he talked about Rogers.

Harsh and brittle like glass when Barton came up, pain and guilt evident, although she didn't know why, but with how foul his mouth was she assumed he'd said something that crossed a line. 

Lang and Wilson he was more… apathetic towards than anything else.

But the Witch, that was a mixture of fear and hatred had become more pronounced recently. The fear is what put her on edge about the Witch in the first place, which she was happy for because she'd caught her sneaking up to her with red glowing around her finger tips. That was after she had told them that she would not be making them gear for them to go galavanting around, and that if they left Wakanda they would not find it so easy to come back. 

Nothing had happened, but that was only because she had stopped it she was sure. Tony had then told her enough about the Witch for her to easily assume the worst. About what she did to the Hulk. Rogers of course thought she was overreacting.

'Wanda didn't do anything! Why have you barred her from your lab! She wasn't going to do anything to you, she's young and sometimes her emotions get the better of her and her powers manifest. It doesn't mean she was going to use them or hurt you!'

So earnest, so stupid! Since then the guards made sure the little Witch was watched 24/7 when out of the villa and never allowed near her. Her brother was to always have a guard when she was near too, her powers were strong and made her uncomfortable. They could fight a lot in Wakanda, but they didn't have anything to protect against mind magic. The rogues of course didn't know they were under 24/7 surveillance in the villa, the cameras and mics were well hidden. 

"She hasn't tried anything again has she? I don't know what I'd do if she got to you too." 

Shuri gave him an encouraging smile and made a note to ask him more about the Witch at some point. It has to be more than what she did to the Hulk, something she could find no information on.

Unsurprisingly, as Tony had told her, Roger's had basically strong armed him into covering that up. Which she could tell hurt him badly. With how he talked about accountability, it was a serious thing to demand such a thing from him. The man was already a walking example of PTSD, something they were very familiar with in Wakanda being a warrior culture. Unlike America however, they'd decided to try and help rather than go this ridiculous route of doing nothing and pretending they are all fine. She knew that pointing that out would not get her very far, but she was willing  to pay the long game.

She just knew there was more to the Witch than that she was once an enemy who flipped sides. As close as Tony was to Bruce, she imagined there was more for him to have been so vehemently against her being an Avenger, Tony was all about second chances but he'd never looked comfortable discussing her. 

"Nope" She grinned, popping the P. "She'd have to get within several buildings of me for that. Sometimes I go close to where ever they are, just to amuse myself with her being forced back to the villa."

Tony burst out laughing at that, he definitely looked better than when he had answered the call. She heard a noise in the background and Tony sat up, looking past the call. 

"That's brilliant, Princess. I have to go for now, I hope you like the dress, Peter found that! Don't forget to occasionally take breaks and eat!" 

"Ha, coming from you that is hilarious. Goodbye Dr Stark, I'll text you later with his response to BARF!" 

She sniggered at the name and noticed him tense slightly at who they were talking about. But he carried on smiling, that was definitely an improvement, she waved and he crossed his arms over his chest in a bow making her smile as the call cut out. 

After the call she set up bringing everything BARF related up. Deciding to go through everything and then to wake up the Sergeant. She sent a message using her beads, informing her brother of her plans and that he was not to tell the rogues. She wanted Sergeant Barnes to be able to breathe, take in the information and make an informed choice without the idiots breathing down his neck. Plus, he'd requested to be woken without them as he couldn't handle physical contact straight away, and Rogers was constantly touching him. He was her other white boy that she was going to fix. 

Even though she wasn't going to be telling the man the tech belonged to Dr Stark, she wasn't going to pretend it was hers. She'll change his name in the documents to 'Outside Contractor', that should do. 

Finishing everything up and checking it over several times, she decided everything was as good as it was going to get, she downloaded the information onto a tablet and went to wake up their resident snowman. 

 

T'Challa POV 

T'Challa had spent an hour waiting for his anger to calm down before he went to talk to anyone. It was hard, so he decided to try and find information of what Dr Stark had been up to since June.

For a man who practically lived in the public eye, there had been not a single public appearance of him in all this time. Which could potentially be explained away innocently at a stretch. Except there had been multiple news reports on Dr Stark taking the Accords by storm… But without his presence. Not even a recent picture. That was until he found reports and several articles that maybe Dr Stark was writing from his deathbed. Surely that was hyperbole.

There were several new releases of SI products, including stuff that revolutionised certain fields, all without Dr Stark hosting a press conference or going on TV. Just that press release from SI that he was healing with very little actual information.  

Several reports of new Avengers being added, incidents they'd been involved in and again. Nothing. He'd always been the public face of the Avengers, the others seemingly not knowing how to deal with the press or not understanding it's importance.

He found information of Natasha being defended by Dr Stark's Lawyers and being under house arrest for 9 Months at the Avengers compound. Reading through the trial, there were statements from Dr Stark… But like the Accords Council, these were delivered by a slightly more stone faced Colonel Rhodes. He wondered if the rogues had realised that their little spider had gone back to the fold.. Last time he had spoken to Rogers about her, he was waiting for her to come back after an information gathering mission. 

He finally found an article with a picture of the man posted June and almost wished he hadn't. He found the same picture then in multiple articles. It didn't do anything for his anger.

He looked positively tiny in the hospital bed, wrapped up with multiple blankets and attached to many machines. It obviously wasn't a well staged picture, from the text a nurse snapped it with his phone and sold the picture before anyone could stop him. Dr Stark's face, at least what he could see of it as bandages were covering both of the man's eyes, was a mess of purple to green bruises. That he was in a coma didn't help matters. This was not the look of a person 'momentarily disabled'. 

This was a baseline human that had been battered by at least one, potentially two super soldiers. He knew the Winter Soldiers had all been killed, there was no one else but the 3 of them. Whilst they came away beaten and bloody, they walked away from that fight and healed quickly, excluding Sergeant Barnes arm of course. The Captain had demanded a replacement made when they arrived in Wakanda, T'Challa had ignored his rudeness as stress from the current events, he now realised that maybe he shouldn't have forgiven so easily. Either way, the Sergeant had refused and promptly requested to go into cryo. Against the cries of the captain of course. He'd used the 2 weeks of preparation to constantly berate the poor man for his choice. T'Challa had found the Sergeant hiding out with the Dora Milaje on several occasions. 

Rogers was still angry that he had abided by his friends wishes. Every 3 days like clockwork he would try to see T'Challa or Shuri to demand they release Bucky, as if they were keeping him prisoner. They reminded him that he did not wish to be removed from cryo until there was a firm plan to remove the words. Until now they had not found anything.

Reading his sisters message again it seemed that Dr Stark also wanted his involvement hidden. Pity, T'Challa would have enjoyed telling Rogers that their only salvation was a man they left comatose. His amusement dried a little at the thought he'd also left him in that condition. In Siberia! Whilst it wasn't winter, it had been a very cold spring. He stopped himself looking up the temperature because he didn't think that would calm him. A part of him was scared too, guilt already weighing his shoulders down. 

He closed down his research when he realised he was now just stalling, when he found himself reading about new developments Dr Stark was making into prosthetics, disability aids, med-tech and clean energy, that several arc reactors were now installed around the world... Whilst this was amazing, it was clearly stalling.

The casing that protected the arc reactors from interference did interest him however and with the mention of Dr Stark's Nano-tech he wondered if it was one of the projects he had been collaborating on with his sister as it looked like they were Vibranium, he'd stalled at 6 due to lack of resources. Maybe they could work something out, the man's arc reactor was as precious as their Vibranium and if he was willing to put them into the world to help nations that needed it, then they could join in. He noted that some Americans were angry America had not been prioritised. Yes, definitely stalling. 

He stood, smoothing down his suit and started heading towards the villa that was designated for the rogues. From their reaction on arrival he was sure they'd expected more, rooms in the Palace itself maybe? From Dr Starks note, he did mention he'd spoilt them. A mistake T'Challa would not be duplicating. Now with that warning he would be more vigilant. He had only offered sanctuary to Sergeant Barnes as recompense for his reckless actions, the others had followed like stray dogs as if they'd been invited, leading to a very awkward situation where he was now housing thankless fugitives. Thankless fugitives who had apparently been lying to him. 

He entered the villa and made way to the common room that he could hear them in, they obviously had not heard his approach and were conversing, loudly. So he slowed down to listen in. He could hear the TV on an announcement he had read not that long ago, regarding SI recent developments causing quite a stir. Making leaps and bounds in regards to disability aids, a subject which usually had the least amount done for, charged high prices and then resolutely ignored. That SI was revolutionising a sector for such low prices was causing a huge stir. It was interesting the rogues were watching anything related to the man, surveillance had shown that they'd been avoiding him. Turning the channel anytime he was barely mentioned. 

"I doubt it's even real. Just fake publicity to buy support! Change the channel."

Wanda's sneers always chilled him slightly, he wouldn't be shocked if she was pacing like a caged tiger. Red leaking from her hands. Oh if only he could do as his sister did. Her age the archer seem to be little better than barely contained rage these days

"Stark wouldn't do anything to help people without it helping himself."

That was the archer, he sounded more bitter every week that he was unable to contact his wife. Always crowing about the injustice of it. As if the man was shocked being an international fugitive in hiding came with restrictions. 

"Ur, guys I know Hank always told me to never trust a Stark, but there were actual people on the show?" 

"God Scott you're an idiot. They're paid actors!" 

T'Challa was sure the Witch was pushing it now. Her bias pushing her towards stupidity. 

"Guys, I know Stark isn't a good person, but faking creating disability aids and paying people to use them is a bit much. Plus I know some of the VAs pictured, it's why I was watching it, I didn't expect this. Some of the guys that got this help. They're real and this could change their lives."

The Falcon was the voice of reason it seems but still had to get his own jab in. Dr Stark being brought up must have blindsided them. T'Challa shook his head, they're like child bullies, intent to pick on someone not there to defend themselves. 

"Can we stop watching about Stark anyway. Everytime I see the liar I want to punch the screen for what he did to Cap and Bucky. I preferred when we changed the channel everytime he was mentioned."

Well points to Sam just got revoked, Rogers mumbled something as if he wasn't paying attention. If they'd been ignoring all news pertaining to Dr Stark, they likely didn't know about the man's coma. Roger's was meant to be the leader of this team, yet he did nothing to stop them attacking a man doing good work? A supposed team member?

He wondered if the Captain had been taking his role seriously, to ensure the health and comfort of all the team was his job. T'Challa grits his teeth and decides he's heard enough and strolls into the room. All the heads snap to him, not even the super soldier hearing heard him coming he thinks utterly unimpressed with the man. 

"Ah, I enjoyed watching that myself, the little girl getting to walk for the first time was quite inspiring, her dreams of getting to run some day were enough to melt anyone's heart."

T'Challa smiled, he partially mentioned that bit because it was adorable, but also because she'd chosen red and gold and had done a speech thanking Ironman for giving her this chance. All the kids had drawn pictures that would be sent to the man. Wanda hissed in response, pacing, and just as he suspected, leaking red from her fingers. His guards stepped forward, both of them focusing on her. 

"Stark's just trying to buy himself out of his guilty conscience." 

Clint sneered, Sam and Scott shaking their heads as Scott turned the television off. 

"Whilst we are discussing Dr Stark, Captain, do you have anything to tell me?" 

He goes from talking to the group to pinning the captain with his stare. His anger back after listening to them sneer and jab at the man. The Captain who had been sulking in a chair in the corner of the room snapped his head up. Since his friend went into Cryo the super soldier had let go of himself. The scuff on his face turning into quite a scraggly beard was looking quite strange on his face. Captain America had always been neat and clean shaven, so it seemed odd to him somehow. 

"No, Why would I have anything to say about Stark?Has Bucky been woken up?" 

T'Challa blinked at the change in conversation, but he shouldn't be shocked, every single time he spoke to the Captain he brought it back to his friend. Usually with more tact, but apparently today he didn't seem to notice he was being quite rude. 

"Sergeant Barnes is still in Cryo, as per his wishes as we look into ways to help with the control words. Now as I wa-" 

"You're not doing a very good job of it are you. We've been here for two months whilst you've been sitting on your arses."

"Mr Barton, I assure you we have not been, as you put it, 'sitting on our arses' when it comes to this. Unfortunately the brainwashing and seven decades of torture that Sergeant Barnes has been through, plus the unique ways and utterly barbaric technology that Hydra used are not something you can just snap your fingers and remo-"

"If he wasn't in Cryo, if he was with me, he would be getting better! I'd be able to help him be Bucky again!"

"If someone interrupts me again I will not feel bad removing roaming privileges!" 

T'Challa snapped angrily. 

"We aren't children! You can't do that!" Clint barked. 

"Don't act like children and I shall not treat you like them. Mr Rogers, your presence would not be enough to he what has been done, and even if it could remove the words, your friend would still be fundamentally changed by his experiences."

T'Challa pleaded, hoping that Rogers would understand this, his delusion that the Sergeant could be magically healed by the power of friendship and would be exactly as he had been before he went to war, were utterly ridiculous and he was setting himself up for trouble. However the stubborn set to his jaw, the squaring of his shoulders, T'Challa knew it wasn't going to get through. His delusions would end up causing him pain, but he predicted it would be worse on the Sergeant somehow. 

"Anyway. We are doing all we can for the Sergeant. We have all of our top scientists, my sister and outside contractors helping us out."

"Your kid sister? I don't imagine she'd be and to help much, and what outside sources, aren't we meant to be hiding?" 

"Shockingly, we have put a lot into keeping yourselves a secret. Housing international fugitives isn't exactly good for us!" 

T'Challa snapped. Sick of being dragged off topic by a petulant Clint Barton. Sam seemed to sense that T'Challa was nearing his limit and decided on silencing Clint. Pulling him away and allowing him to focus on Rogers. 

"Now. Captain. I'm going to ask you again. What. Happened. In. Siberia."

Rogers obviously was frustrated with this line of questioning. 'Probably cause it didn't have anything to do with Barnes' T'Challa thought. 

"I've already told you about this! Me and Bucky, who was fine by the way. Went to Siberia to stop five other Winter Soldiers. They were dead. Then Stark turned up.." 

Wilson's scoff could be heard as he scowled at this point. From what T'Challa knew, Dr Stark knew where to go based on his information. 

"He just flipped out and attacked Bucky. He was going to kill him, so I had no choice but to fight him. I temporarily disabled the suit after Stark literally blew Bucky's arm off! Then we made our get away. That's it."

This time, T'Challa gets the sense that Rogers is leaving out something. His frustration seems to be ruining the earnest goodness the man usually projected. Plus, no way did a temporarily disabled suit result in a coma, and Dr Stark being out of the limelight for so long. Plus the words his sister said to him.. Dr Stark's words seemed to resonate in his skull. He'd only heard them once, but he guessed that they wouldn't leave him be for a long time. 

"I have a feeling that you are lying to me Mr Rogers." 

All of the rogues instantly jumped to their captains defense, as per usual. They were so adamant at shouting at T'Challa, who was ignoring them completely, that they didn't see the flash of guilt flash across his face, Sam might have however, as T'Challa noticed him looking confused at his Captain instead of shouting. He wondered what Rogers was thinking to summon such a look of guilt from the man who honestly believed the 'safest hands were his own', that he could do no wrong. He raised a hand, silencing the others. 

"He left me to die, then he took them in." 

Rogers paled, the others looked confused from what he could see in his peripheral vision. Rogers face was more telling however. 

"That is what Dr Stark told my sister. So tell me, why a conscious man in an operating suit would say these words?" 

“Because Stark's an over dramatic asshole."

"Yeah, he has to make everything about himself, Bucky came back with only 1 arm! They would have been perfectly right leaving him to die!" 

Clint first, backed up by Wand,  again. T'Challa rolled his eyes. Not even bothering to reply to them.

"There is also the picture of him spending nearly two weeks in a coma which you might have noticed if you were actually paying attention to the world."

T'Challa still watched the utterly silent Rogers, he was still stubbornly looking at him, obviously unwilling to change his story. The king sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, he shouldn't have expected much really. Rogers had already lied and let that lie stand for the entire time he was here. At least this wasn't entirely futile, his sister awakening the Sergeant in secret to discuss his treatment could work in his benefit. 

There were three people there that night in Siberia. One was not talking to him for aiding his abuser, the other was a self righteous liar apparently, ruining the image in his mind of the Captain America he's expected. He hoped the Sergeant was as good of a person as he has judged him to be in the short time they'd conversed alone, before Rogers forced his way into the conversation. All he wanted to do was apologise to the man. He would ask the Sergeant before anyone knew he had been awakened. 

"Rogers. This matter is not closed. Secrets… Secrets will always find a way out."

T'Challa doesn't know how, but THAT touched a nerve. Rogers practically full on body flinched, his face a grimace as he turned and made his way back to the corner of the room, practically dismissing the King. Now, whilst T'Challa hadn't demanded to be treated like a King, but the rudeness was now grating on him after so many weeks of it. The rogues rudeness, especially Rogers to everyone was grating on the Dora too, in fact they were already livid before today, now he could see the anger on their faces openly.

Clint and Wanda were glaring daggers at him, as if he was the one being awful. Wanda went to comfort Rogers. Scott was looking supremely uncomfortable and Sam looked slightly confused at Rogers. As if the idea that Rogers might be lying was something he had never considered happening. Scott spoke up while everyone else let the awkward, angry silence sit. 

"Uh, Thankyou for visiting your majesty! And, uh, thanks, you know, for this lovely house, and feeding us and keeping us safe. It's very kind of you. Sorry about everyone today, I think everyone is just stressed?"

Scott had a kind of goofy, but sincere sort of grin on his face, Clint was staring at him like he had done something utterly objectionable. Scott's thanks, whilst stilted was nice to hear at least. Apparently some of these people were allergic to saying thanks. T'Challa nodded and smiled at the man. 

"You are very welcome Mr Lang. I hope you have been enjoying your stay." 

"Oh yeah! This place is amazing, I just wish my little girl could see it…" 

He trailed off and even though he was in a situation of his own making, he did feel pity for the man. 

"If you would like, I could have a digital camera of a sort sent to you? That way you could start collecting images that you could give to your daughter when you return home?" 

"That.. That would be amazing!! Thank you Your Majesty" 

Scott was now vibrating with the idea and T'Challa couldn't help but smile, of course Clint had to but in. With a demand in an angry tone, glaring at T'Challa all the while. 

"Yeah. I'll take one too. I have three kids I'm missing after all."

T'Challa raised his eyebrows at the impertinence. He also made a note to lock whatever device he sent to only be used while Scott was holding it and have his guards inform him if the archer stole or broke it out of spite. Even Scott looked vaguely disgusted at the archers demands. 

"I'm sorry Mr Barton. Right now you should be grateful that I'm not moving you to different accommodation. If you don't learn some respect soon that accommodation will be far less comfortable than what you are currently enjoying."

T'Challa nodded before he turned on his heal to leave. Not waiting for the idiot to respond. He didn't bother sticking around to listen to them bitch about him either. He messaged his sister to find out if he would be able to see the Sergeant, as much as he disliked the idea of jumping the poor man not long from cryo, he only had a small window of time before Rogers could get in there and potentially get their stories straight. He also told her to check the surveillance so she could see this conversation, maybe it would make her laugh at least for all the good it had done. 

 

Barnes POV

Pain. 

Pain racked through his body as it could feel itself coming back from the floating darkness that it retreated to during cryosleep. 

'No. No. No. No. No. Not again.'

It started shaking, partially because of the cold that clung, even as the air around it was warming up. The pain clouded its mind, but it knows soon the door will open. 

The Asset would fall onto the hard concrete as it did everytime. Its limbs never worked properly at first. More pain. As if there wasn't enough of it from being wrenched from frozen to awake so fast. 

The asset shook its head. It was thinking too much. Thinking this much would lead to missing orders, thoughts were intrusive, thoughts were wrong. It was a blank slate, ready for compliance. The asset would end up being punished if it didn't stop this. If it missed to much he'd need to be recalibrated. No, no, whitehotpainpain.. Compliance. Compliance. That's what it needed. 

His mind felt heavy and slow like it was full. What? His? He wasn't a person, it was a weapon. But there were so many memories now. What had happened to it.. him? There were just so many and he felt like he was drowning in them. There was never this much to remember even when it complied and avoided recalibration for multiple missions. 

The door still hadn't opened, which was strange but at least the handlers wouldn't notice something was wrong. Names swam up to it, him!?

Every name felt like a shot fired. 

Bucky? The memories told it that it was its name. But it didn't have a name. It didn't feel like it belonged to him. Who did these memories belong to?! Why had they been shoved into his mind? They didn't feel like they were his. It was like watching a home movie of someone you've never even met. Awkward and uncomfortable. 

There was a hiss that signalled the door unlocking. He had no idea why his new handlers were taking so long but he could actually feel his legs. He might even be able to stand when the door opened. Warmth rushed in when it did, causing him to stumble a bit, but he definitely didn't fall over. He waited for hands to grab at him roughly. To shove at him and drag at him. But nothing came. Instead of white coats and stone cold faces, there was just one person. She was young. Too young. There were no guns pointed at him. He could take her out… 

But she was smiling at him? 

"Sergeant Barnes? Do you remember where you are?" 

Something clicked in his head at that. 

Wakanda. 

Everything from DC rushed into place. Crammed in with all of his memories from before. He clutched his head. It was too much. Worse than the memories coming in spits and spats from the apartment. It was just all there now. Not everything was there he could tell, it just broke off, like a tear in the fabric after he fell. Then it's black, black, but not empty and the memories after feel different. There are bits. Blood, pain, death. Something surged up in his mind and then.. Nothing. Like something shielding him, maybe the treatments Shuri had mentioned to help heal his mind. Leaving him dizzy but not like he was drowning anymore. 

"Wakanda?" 

"Yes! Great! We were worried the subconscious treatments for your memories might create some confusion when you woke up if you remember?" 

He nodded. Remembering now, shaking his head and trying to push the Asset mindset aside. There are no recalibrations, no punishments here. No chair. 

"It was a bit confusing there for a minute, waking up in Cryo has never been… Fun."

Shuri smiles and walks him towards a bed and he sits down. Thankfully it's only a few steps. Glad to be off his feet, it was never easy being forced to stand straight out of cryo. He went to reach out with his arm and got a fiery stab of feedback in his mind, reminding him when had happened to his arm.

Shuri had removed as much as he'd been able to sit through and the whole thing was covered by a silicone stretchy cap to protect it and let him shower. He'd refused anything else, an arm down wasn't much of a fighting handicap to him, but it was something. Plus, No matter what Steve demanded, he didn't want that torture device back on his body. The reduced pain already almost had him floating. 

"How... How long?" 

"Only a few months, its currently the 9th of September." 

He nodded, that felt about right, he could usually tell when he'd been in the chamber for longer periods of time. 

"I'll just leave you be for a little bit, there are some clothes on the bed and a bathroom to the side. There is a drink too, the doctors don't recommend you try solid food until a day at least and slowly after! I'll be back in half an hour!" 

He tried not to think less of himself for sitting confused for a while whilst he remembered units of time. 

He had to look into those old memories for it, the Asset timed things in missions and when he needed to drink the vile fuel packs. He staggered to the bathroom, constantly reminding himself that this is fine. He could have a hot shower and not be punished, no more freezing cold buckets of water by stone faced hydra guards. 

When Shuri gets back he's changed and sitting on the bed in some facsimile of relaxation. He tried to relax, just after dressing and found he wasn't able until he did a full perimeter check of the room. The cryo chamber had vanished whilst he'd been in the bathroom, presumably back to the room he remembered going into it in. This was more like a medical facility. A very fancy one. No one said he could leave the room so he hadn't gone into the hall and the other bed was empty. Even so, there was a curtain pulled around his bed for privacy. He heard Shuri coming down the hall, her footsteps are quite distinctive. He put some more effort into looking relaxed as the young girl always seemed upset when he was uncomfortable, he remembered that from when he'd been practically dumped in her lab and she only called him 'White boy', even then she'd noticed when he was uncomfortable and he didn't want to upset her. She'd helped him stand up to Steve about his choice to go into cryo. 

"Sergeant Barnes! You look much better now." 

"Thank you Princess, if you don't mind me asking.. Why am I awake.. " and how did you make Steve stay back and give me a chance to get my head straight? He thinks quietly to himself. He'd suspected Steve would have dragged him out of the chamber. 

"Well, we agreed to let you go back on ice until we came up with a solution to the problem with the code words, an outside contractor that I collaborate with just sent me something that has a really good chance at helping with the words and your time as a POW. As I'm sure you can feel, the subconscious treatments and healing was only able to bring back your memories from before? There is a block from anything past that. You have some of those memories you got back yourself, but we ran into problems with it, we hope this new tech will help with these issues."

He nodded along, that was a lot to take in. He'd honestly gone back into cryo never expecting to be woken up again. He suspected what Hydra had done to his head would never go away, he'd always be at risk of being triggered and attacking innocents. He'd admit that after Siberia he didn't even know if he wanted or deserved help. He and Steve battered a non enhanced person in grief for God's sake. 'Never mind that he's a walking tank..' He shoved that thought down. 

Either way, he didn't feel good about it, nor about all the damage and pain he'd caused running from T'Challa. T'Challa had taken the blame for chasing him and Steve said he'd just temporarily disabled the suit, that Stark was fine. That Stark was not a nice guy anyway, rude and arrogant. The others had told him a lot about their previous team mate and he was honestly confused why they were on a team with someone who was so detrimental to them? 

But a memory of the two of them, almost shadowed out by the brightness of the snow, Steve on top, he couldn't remember if Stark's arm was up or protecting his neck, he didn't know what was worse. Possibly that he'd just let Steve take him away without looking back. Yeah, that was the worst. It doesn't matter how rude someone is, he didn't deserve that. He killed the man's parents for God's sake, that had to affect someone's life. He wondered how old he'd been left orphaned. The influx of his past memories had him feeling even worse about it. If he'd just watched his ma die in front of him, he would have attacked first, question later. 

"Lots of memories in here now, kind of like a home movie that belongs to someone else. I can go in and find stuff I need, it's kind of weird. With Hydra though, it's.. Spotty. I remember remembering some memories but it's like something has pulled them away…" 

He trailed off, 'protecting' came to his mind but he didn't know where from. But it was easy to ignore, his brain was mush, he doubted it would make sense. 

"Well, we aren't going to rush you. Everything about the treatment is on this tablet, it's all explained too but if you get stuck, you use that button there and you can type messages to me. I'll answer any questions I can, if I can't I'll pass them on to the outside contractor."

He nodded, idly wondering who this outside contractor was that they came up with something Wakanda didn't have. 

"I'll have a read through, my knowledge of tech is spotty. They only updated me on what I needed for missions. Bucky isn't as useful for this, and unless it's a security system I'm not either. " 

He shrugged, happy the Princess wasn't calling him out on being weird, looking at the tablet. It was kind of amazing, he poked around and realised there was a lot of information on here! They gave him phones but they didn't have much on, the asset didn't need to know, only do. 

"This tablet is yours now anyway, it's also connected to the Internet and lots of TV channels too so you don't have to be bored when you go to the villa." 

"Villa?" he was half paying attention and half glued to the tablet which seemed to be highly amusing to Shuri. 

"Yes, Mr Rogers was adamant about you moving into the villa with the others. You don't be too go though… If you want you can stay at the Palace.." 

She trailed off, letting him think that he wasn't sure about the team either, some of them seemed okay? Some seemed full of jagged edges, ready to stab any that came close and others set his teeth on edge. Not exactly a calm environment to feel through the memories. 

He wanted to find out who he was now he wasn't an Asset anymore, now he wasn't Bucky. To learn how to be human again. However, what little he'd seen so far of the memories when thinking about Steve, and his experience of running from the man post DC… he'd hidden for a reason and just because he'd been forced out by circumstances didn't mean that those reasons weren't still valid. Staying in the Palace wasn't an option though. Princess Shuri and King T'Challa, Okoye, several of the Dora Milaje he'd talked to in the brief interludes free of Steve… he liked? 

Yeah, he liked them. 

They were kind, they smiled at him without expectations. They just talked without demanding he remember things. Even with the memories there now, he didn't really want to talk about them. They were so far in the past, he knew intrinsically he was not that person. True he didn't know who he was, but he knew who he wasn't. He wasn't even that person after he was drafted, let alone his first capture. It was like having different people in his head from different times. When the too big Stevie rescued him he'd already been fracturing, but he couldn't say it. Back then that would have got him locked up. Had to be OK. Had to be fine. 

"Nah, it's okay Princess, we both know what will happen if I stay away. I'll.. Have m' own room though right..? I… would like a place that is mine? That no one can enter without my say so?"

"Of course! I've already set it up. Rogers tried to make people move around as you have the entire top floor with its own bathroom, and the others have single rooms on the other floors. He wanted you in his room or next to it. But your therapist, me and T'Challa were adamant that you needed a secure place. The rooms are locked down and your thumbprint will open it. The only others who can get in is me or my brother, but I assure you we will only use that in emergencies."

He blinked. That sounded… Frankly amazing. He can't believe how much these siblings have gone to bat for him. Even against Steve. It also shocked him how they preempted his request. 

"That sounds amazing. I can share a building if I have my own place." 

Him smiling about it just made Shuri happier. They started talking for about an hour and he slowly relaxed. Shuri teaching him the ins and outs of the tablet, that only he could operate it if any of the others tried to be nosy apparently. 'Really, how badly have they pissed her off?' Anytime she mentioned the others her face darkened, he found out it had only been around 2 months! How had the others, how had Steve been that awful in such a short time to make Shuri so angry?! Stevie was kind and polite, well, when he wasn't fighting anyway. These people opened their country to them, risked a lot for no reason other than to help him. Him. 

A person who had ruthlessly killed many, many innocents in the last century. Changed the course of more political events than he even wanted to consider. Steve could say it wasn't him till the cows came home. It was his hands. His body. He did it to avoid punishment. To avoid recalibration. Saying 'it wasn't you Buck!' just made him feel worse. Made him feel powerless. He'd ignored what he'd done and then come face to face with the consequences of those actions. Sticking his head in the sand was an awful idea. 

The Princess and King didn't say that to him, they just told him he had been through more than most people could imagine and that they wanted to help him. It was hard to accept, but it was easier than just ignoring the blood on his hands. Ignoring it seemed disrespectful, Steve's way was to just disregard the innocents he killed. The lives he irrevocably changed and destroyed. It just made him.. uncomfortable. 

"Okay, I have to get back to my lab, but T'Challa should be here soon to see you and he's going to see you to your new rooms!" 

"But… but he's the King! I can't… I can't expect him to take time out for just me?" 

"Maybe I want to Sergeant Barnes?" 

He jumped a little, he'd been so caught up in panicking about the idea of an actual, literal King seeing him to his room. Because what the hell?! That he hadn't heard the near silent, purposeful steps of the King coming up to the door. T'Challa had stayed just outside the door until he looked at him hower. Eyes open in shock. Flicking his wet hair out of his eyes. The Princess tutted and looked at his hair whilst he was freaking out. 

"Hm, do you want me to get your hair out of your face?"

His capability to be freaked out over this situation just gave up the boat at the idea of a Princess doing his hair. He bit back a laugh. A King seeing him to his room. Princesses being his hairdresser. Okay, things couldn't get weirder. And that was coming from a regularly frozen brain washed super soldier assassin from the 40s.

"Um, OK, we can try?" 

Shuri nodded, she had worked out 5 minutes into seeing him that people touching him was bad and had repeatedly whacked anyone who came close to him in the lab, it had been hilarious and one of his new favourite memories was Clint hopping on one leg. 

She telegraphed her moves and very slowly moved to him, she even awkwardly stood to the side, even though he knew it would be move comfortable for her to stand behind him. She touched his shoulder very lightly at first, testing the waters. He was quite shocked when he didn't flinch. Every time someone had touched him it felt like he was crawling out of his skin. Maybe the subconscious thingy fixed that? Maybe it was because she'd asked first? That he had some control over it? He knew if he changed his mind halfway she'd stop instantly. 

No pressure. 

That she wouldn't be upset or angry with him. Maybe it was all of that? Maybe he should stop analysing himself into a hole? The usual Hypervigilance of the Asset was broken somehow. It was still there, he was still on alert but there was no… filter now. The exits were ranking the same as a blue book left on a table, it was maddening. 

She seemed happy with his reaction and he couldn't help but lean into the contact. Physical contact had equalled pain for so long. He'd almost forgotten what it was to be touched in kindness. Sure he had memories now but he couldn't feel anything from them. He could only watch them. This felt new. Brand new, like no one had ever touched him in kindness before, and it was his choice. He could make choices. Sure Bucky Barnes had been touched in kindness. Sure Bucky Barnes had choices. But that didn't take away the 'new' feeling. The Princess was putting something in his hair and gently running her fingers through it. T'Challa entered the room slowly. Smiling and passing his sister a comb. Just watching quietly. 

He felt.. Safe? Comfort too. Words that had no meaning attached to them suddenly did. They went from a dull sepia to vibrant in his mind. He leaned back, hearing Shuri chuckle as he hummed slightly and she combed his hair. Despite the knots, she never once let it pull against his scalp. The feeling of her braiding his hair was new, it didn't tug at any of the sepia memories and that made him smile more. It meant it was purely his. Whoever he was. He was almost sad when she finished. He gave her a warm smile this time and it felt less like he was putting it on. 

"That was nice." 

"Well then, looks like I'm going to be doing your hair for the time your here, just means you'll have to visit me daily! Bye now!" 

She grinned, slipping out of the room before he could say anything about her not having to do that! Surely she'd be too busy to see him daily..? 

"I'd just go with it. She loves playing with people's hair and she has developed quite the soft spot for you." 

The King grinned, sitting on one of the stools about the same height as the bed. 

"But.. She's a Princess, surely she has more important things to do than helping me with my hair?" 

He ran his hand over the complex feeling braid, nothing like the plaits he used to do for his sisters when he checked the memory. No this was much more than that, it felt really nice to just run his hand over it and he found himself wanted to look in the mirror. Something that he had avoided when he'd showered. He looked different to the him in his memories. Like Stevie vs Steve, but he hadn't shot up several feet. He was taller, his features seemed more.. Strong and defined. He'd avoided looking more than that because the differences made his head swim. Now however he wanted to look, this was him, not Bucky. They were different so he could look different couldn't he? 

T'Challa seemed to be sensing his thoughts somehow and put a small mirror next to him in the bed. Like Shuri he seemed to do things intentionally not to put expectations on him. They did it so easily too it amazed him. He couldn't let his guard down entirely, but felt some of the tension just leak out of him. The constant data of the environment settled to a quiet hum. He did pick up the mirror to look at what the Princess had done and was amazed at how complex it looked. It kept his face free and it was nice feeling. 

He even liked how his face looked with it. All he had to do was remind himself that he and Bucky were different and the panic that had clawed at his throat when he saw the mirror in the bathroom was not going to overwhelm him. It was still there, but it wasn't everything. The lack of it left him feeling floaty again. He decided that wasn't good, he couldn't let anyone sneak up on him again. He had a last look before letting his senses return to their hypervigilant state whilst conversing with the king. 

"I think she sees you as important, plus, she likes you. She won't enter the villa so having you visit her will make her happy." 

"Why won't she visit the villa?" 

 

"Ah, there was an incident with one of the Captains people. Wanda. She refuses to go near her now, the Captain complains about it often. As if my sister is being unfairly cruel and persecuting the girl." 

T'Challa almost growled whilst he spoke the last part and a feeling of rage surged up inside him. Anger, rage and a touch of terror. Weird. He had no idea where it came from but he managed to keep it down, he'd not known the Princess long but he cared for her. Maybe protectiveness? It was weird being an adult and practically learning emotions but the fact he could feel them was wonderful enough to ignore the strangeness. Yes, he didn't want her hurt, so he would be angry at the source? That made sense. He made a decision and decided he would visit her when she wanted. T'Challa seemed pleased and amused by. 

"Then I'll make sure to visit her often so she won't have to go near her. " 

"That will make her very happy. And if she's happy, she will prank me less." 

He found himself laughing with the king. He knew that this was his too, Bucky had never laughed with a king being pranked by a Princess. Because what the fuck, seriously. 

"As loathe as I am to ruin our good mood, would you mind answering some questions before I take you to your new dwelling?" 

He tilted his head, a little nervous about what he was going to ask. The very obvious 'Before Steve arrives', went unsaid. He still felt safe with the King. He could say no. He knew the king would accept his no too which helped him say yes. 

"Of course, your majesty." 

"Well my first question is for you to call me T'Challa, I'd like for us to be friends?" 

He nodded quickly, he liked that idea. It felt a bit awkward, the man was a king. A KING.. that was chatting and asking he use his name. Yeah, this was definitely a new, not Bucky thing.

"I'll try to remember, T'Challa.." 

"What would you like me to call you?" 

"Urm… I don't know?" 

He pulled his shoulders in. It was embarrassing to say you didn't know something even kids know. T'Challa seemed to sense that and immediately tried to put him at ease. 

"Hm, how about I'll stick to Barnes for now and when you pick a name, you tell me and I'll use that?" 

He breathed out. That worked. A whole weight vanished off his shoulders. He would find a name, but he didn't have to do it right now. He could find out who he was first.

"I'd like that." 

"Well, what I wanted to ask was for more details about Siberia? I didn't have a chance before you went under."

"Did.. Did Steve not tell you?" 

T'Challa immediately looked uncomfortable and something cold went down his spine. Suddenly very concerned. 

"He told me.. something, but in light of recent information I have a feeling he is… leaving out pertinent information." 

He had a feeling it was worse than leaving bits out. From the King's body language he could see he was uncomfortable but he could also see anger. It was hidden carefully, but he could see it flashing in the King's eyes. 

"You think he lied?" 

"Possibly. I hate to put you on the spot like this I know he's your best friend after all." 

"I don't know if he is? He was Buckys. But I don't know him. He doesn't know me, I don't think he even wants to know me, but maybe I'm not being fair?" 

He rubbed the back of his neck, watching concern flash in the King's face. He had gotten this sense from Steve before he went into cryo. Steve was fine as long as he got the memories correct, when he failed, he got upset and it just felt too much like failing a handler. 

That was before he got the memories back. He cared more about him remembering than the fact remembering was scary and painful. He constantly kept talking about things he should try to remember even when he'd half begged him to just give him time. Just keeping up with his journal was hard enough. That had all ramped up after he'd mentioned cryo. 

"I understand, I hope he will be more understanding when you meet up again. But, if he is ever too much, all you have to do is ask one of the guards that are outside the house 24/7 and they will get you away, either somewhere on your own or to me or Shuri."

He could see the steel in the man's spine, usually he would wave off such a gesture. Having 2 royals come to him because he was feeling a bit overwhelmed seemed a bit much. The strength of how he said it though had him nodding. Maybe this is what it felt like when someone cared about you? Maybe Steve would be like this now? He didn't know this new Steve, he should give the man a chance. 

"What was it you wanted to ask about Siberia?" 

"Ah, Steve told us that Dr Stark arrived, attacked yourself, so he intervened which was how you lost your arm. Steve left Dr Stark temporarily disabled and then you both departed. I've since received information that has me concerned about how Dr Stark was left, what do you remember? "

What?! Did Steve just leave all the important parts out or something? He was angry that Steve had lied to a man generous enough to take him in. Why would he do that? He decided he needed to make up for this so tried to think back. To bring the memory up. He avoided the start of the fight. Skittered away from the video. The fight was a bit.. Blurry. Memories in flashes. He didn't remember fighting as such, he remembered screaming in his mind that he didn't want to fight. But he'd fought anyway, instinct drilled into him by Hydra. After his arm was blasted off, things were a bit clearer and yet not at the same time. He didn't fight, but it was pain, white hot and sharp. He'd stayed on the ground, leaving his back to Stark. He'd only intervened again to try to stop the fight but he wondered if he'd just made it worse. 

Also, Doctor? Steve and the others had just called him Stark. His designation as Threat Level Alpha* by Hydra told him a lot about the man, his intelligence has been noted. He was to be avoided at all cost even allowing mission failure to avoid him, which even Alpha Threats didn't have. Only to be captured if they were capable of actually containing him. He had a brief flash that people who crossed him like this didn't survive for long. So there was something different about the man than the usual Hydra enemies. 

"He arrived and Steve was ready to fight.. But they talked and they had a truce. To deal with the Soldiers together.." 

He wrung his hands, talking about this was uncomfortable, plus bits of the fight were plain missing, he didn't want to discuss them incase he got it wrong, so he jumped to after his arm he decided. That was the information T'Challa was after anyway. 

"My arm.. The pain clouded things slightly after it.. Well, got blown off. After that I just stayed down Steve had him on his back.. I think. I saw Steve throw his helmet. Stark was down, Steve on top. I can't remember If Stark reached up to him.. Or if his arms were covering his face? Or neck. Sorry this sounds disjointed.. "

"It's OK, I know how things can be in battle, moving fast and slow all at once. Especially after such an injury."

T'Challa had leaned forward, listening intently, he could see his shoulders tense. 

"Steve slammed the shield into the power source. He told me it was the only way to stop him? To stop the suit, but that it would be OK. The blue light faded… Steve said the armour kept him safe. That he was fine, just powered down? "

He didn't sound sure about it himself. He'd let Steve draw him away because the pain. He was scared and the memories of killing the Stark's were so fresh he couldn't think past it. He was also scared about being in Hydra base in the first place. The faked calm he'd had coming had gone. 

"I.. I did not want to fight, but I just reacted? I know it's not an excuse, beating a grieving man is just wrong, I didn't want to fight you for the same reason but I couldn't run from him trapped in the base."

The anger and compassion for him that had been warring itself across the Kings features suddenly dipped into confusion and that when he remembered. Steve had told him that he attacked for no reason. 

"He didn't attack us for no reason. Zemo, had a video. He played it in front of the 3 of us when he was safe behind blast doors."

"A video?" 

"It was CCTV footage from the night the Starks were killed."

He was wringing his hands, he'd never wanted to see himself doing that. His face blank, throttling a woman. But his pain was nothing compared to the pain of a child watching his parents get murdered. 

"The Starks died in a car crash didn't they? Why would Zemo have a video of that?" 

"I can't believe Steve didn't tell ya. They didn't die of a car crash. They were murdered. By the Winter Soldier. By me." 

T'Challa sucked in a breath and a pained expression crossed his face. 

"And then Dr Stark attacked you?" 

"No, no… He asked Steve. If he knew. Steve tried to lie, say he didn't know it was ah.. Me."

He flinched, hearing Stark's words in his head. 

'Don't bullshit me Rogers!' 

"Oh Bast…" 

 

 

 

Chapter Text



Barnes  POV

9th September 

"Steve finally said he known. Stark.. He hit Steve, open handed. I.. I shouldn't have fought back I just.." 

He gripped his head, he really didn't want to be remembering all of this and it was taking all of his focus to stay in English, to not slip into Russian. Steve's reactions to him doing that had not been positive and he didn't want to risk annoying anyone else. T'Challa came over to him, standing close but not touching. 

"Barnes, it's okay, with everything that happened to you, you said it yourself you couldn't not fight back. You were not Dr Stark's friend. You hadn't been hiding this secret."

T'Challa hissed, anger obvious in his words and that just made him hunch down more. T'Challa sucked in a breath, forcing himself to calm down, he could hear his heart slowing from the increased rate since he had started his story. 

"Barnes, May I?" 

T'Challa had a hand raised towards his shoulder, not close enough to crowd him, but with the offer of comfort. He nodded, not feeling able to speak with the fight going around and around in his head.

This was why he ran.

This was why he'd hid in that apartment.

It was why he had run from Steve as much, if not more, than he had from Hydra.

He was dangerous.

He wasn't in control.

He killed.

He just.. Didn't want to fight. He didn't want to kill anymore. At least not for these reasons. He didn't want to hurt innocent people. He didn't want to hurt good people. T'Challa very slowly put one hand on his shoulder first. And very slowly pulled him into a loose hug, with the ability to pull out. That care let him just collapse. 

"Barnes, it's OK. If Steve had told Dr Stark before that night, if he hadn't found out by being forced to watch the tape with you right there… this could have gone much differently, if only others had made different decisions. Not you. I'm sure with time and separation Stark will know that. "

"Pretty sure he hates me. He has every right to despise me. To want to kill me. But he didn't and I don't understand why? I helped Steve beat on an unenhanced man in grief. What kind of person does that make me?"

"Makes you human, I chased and tried to kill a man who'd been through hell for a near century. I ignored all council, I caused damage that lead to deaths in my reckless pursuit of revenge. What does that make me Barnes?" 

"That's.. That's different."

"Parts maybe, but we all make mistakes. You are putting in effort to clear the triggers from your mind, you are remorseful. If you are waiting for me to yell or hurt you, you will be waiting a very long time Barnes.

"No one in this came out clean." 

He scoffed and just leaned into T'Challa. He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that. But he eventually sat up. He wanted to talk to the king more without coming across as a pathetic idiot. In the chaos of remembering even the back of his mind had gone silent. 

So he breathed deeply a few times, focused on the memory of feeling of Shuri's hands in his hair and eventually offered a small smile to the king. He was happy to find the king offering him a wide one in return. 

He went to continue the conversation about what happened in Siberia but T'Challa wasn't having any of it and kept changing the topic on him. 

He got a feeling that the king wasn't finished with this, but as far as he was concerned, he had enough information from him and he 'would not be the means of which he punished himself by'. Which made some kind of sense and eventually convinced him to talk about lighter things that were not so guilt fueled. 

T'Challa also seemed to just really enjoy telling him about Wakanda, it was obvious the young King cared deeply for his people and his land. He didn't think it would be possible after just reliving that fight, but T'Challa had him laughing too.. Right up until he heard feet, angrily stomping down the hall. He shot an alarmed look over at T'Challa who had also heard. His easy smile slipped into what he was calling the T'Challa King Face. An easy smile but he went from a friendly chatting person to a man with a presence around him. It impressed him how easily he pulled this on. He could see the anger in his eyes however, he might not have realised it if they hadn't been talking before hand, but he was very angry at the approaching person. 

Quite understandable really given everything he'd gleaned from his stilted descriptions . 

At his panic however, T'Challa glanced at the curtain leading to the bathroom just to the side. It wasn't much, but it gave him an option. He mouthed 'sorry' grimacing at the fact he was abandoning his new friend to his old friend, Steve, who was his problem. 

Who he apparently was still running from. 

He wondered if he'd ever stop running from the man his best friend had turned into. 

Or if this new Steve would even stop chasing the ghost who he once was. 

He couldn't just leave T'Challa to deal with Steve. A man so kind and nice that he was protecting them, housing them, feeding them, doing everything with zero recompense. Yes, if he saw Steve without calming down he was going to punch him or pass out, but still. It felt like cowardice. His hand clenched into a fist as he slipped silently behind the curtain and into the bathroom. He would listen. He wasn't utterly running away, he could easily step into the room and surely that meant something

Steve burst into the room, he heard the door slam open with the excessive force he used to open it, making him flinch even from his hiding spot. Happy he hadn't been in the main room for that, it was bad enough when it was muffled. He can hear the anger in his voice. He can't believe how rude he is being, the Stevie from his memories would never have done something like this. Neither of their ma's would have stood for it. He feels nauseated again, like he has everytime he tries to compare Steve and Stevie in his memories. So he simply slams the memories back down.

This big Steve seems to have lost some of the best qualities of little Stevie and has picked up some that he doesn't like. 

Stevie always had to shout to he heard, to use multiple skills to be seen. The kid was a master at reading body language and just seemed to know things because of it. Steve seems to have traded all of this in, now he doesn't have to fight to be heard, people just listen. But the punk is still fighting! Now however, his power, size and strength are vastly increased, leaving an air of impending violence that has more of a threat to it. 

When he was Stevie, solving problems with his fists didn't seem as.. Drastic? Or even menacing as it did now. Before he looked up to people, beseeching them to listen. Now he looms over, demanding their attention or else

Weirdly, it kind of reminded him of the tiny puppy that grew into the big dog, but still acted like the scrappy puppy. Utterly oblivious it couldn't fit on your lap anymore or that it's play yaps and growls were now scary. 

Controlling his breathing, he slowly slipped back into his mind. His heartbeat and breathing slowing. Fading into the background like the ghost story he'd become. Standing perfectly still and barely making any noise and hyperfocusing on Steve and T'Challa. Like this he could watch for hours, like sitting in a sniper nest waiting for the shot. Silent, watchful and ready at a seconds notice. After decades of being the Asset he could do this for days with ease, he decided that he will listen and stand sentinel over his friends. 

"T'Challa! I've been looking for you for an hour! No one would tell me where you were, no matter who I demanded the information from." 

"Rogers. I should not have to remind you, you do not have the right to be demanding things. You are a Guest. I'm sure people offered to book you an appointment with me."

"I went to see Bucky! I checked the cryo room but he was gone. The tube was empty and no one would tell me where he was!" 

"Did you demand answers there too?" 

"Of course I did, it's Bucky. You had no right to move or wake him up without me being here. He's my friend, you should have come to me first!" 

Barnes is utterly bewildered by what Steve is saying, his hand clenched so hard he can hear his bones creaking before forcing himself to release it. If he wasn't careful Steve would notice he was here, actually it was kind of worrying that he couldn't sense him. His serum packed less of a punch than Steve's but he could hear their heartbeats so Steve should hear his. It came down to the fact Steve had just not spent much time training in the army, and less time training himself to stretch his senses like he'd been forced to. It was why they were almost evenly matched, maybe slightly in his favour even with his bastardised serum. 

He shakes his head, wondering what on earth was happening. 'What the fuck happened to you Stevie? You're talking to a fucking king. If he wants to wake me he can and he's following my requests dammit?' He remembered telling Steve that he'd rather get woken up alone. That having people there would just stress him out. Apparently he'd just selectively forgotten things that didn't he disagreed with, he was pretty sure that that had always been a trait of Steve's along with his stubbornness. They'd been a lot cuter when you could just pick him up to move him however. 

"I spoke to Sergeant Barnes before he went into cryo if you remember? He requested that treatment options be brought to him first, and that he be awoken with as few people as possible." 

Barnes marvels at how T'Challa barely raises his voice, yet he punctuates certain words with a hard, forceful anger that the huffing and yelling Steve just can't seem to match.

Something about it sets Steve off worse however but he isn't sure why.

Steve doesn't even seem to be listening too, which just irritates him. With how much Stevie had been ignored growing up, he'd never imagined his friend turning around now and ignoring others. He'd always been ready to stand up for the little guy, to give voice to those who didn't have one. The serum was meant for him to do that. Not for him to use it to his personal advantage to speak over anyone who didn't fall into line. 

The whole situation had him pinching his nose in irritation. He should leave his spot, to stop this, T'Challa doesn't deserve this. This is on him. His responsibility. However, he doesn't want it to be his responsibility. Why does it have to still be on him, surely in the several decades since he 'died' Steve would have found someone else to save him when he didn't think? Yet, he knew that just him being in the room would likely stop Steve's yelling and posturing. His feet however feel glued to the floor. He leans forward to try and force himself to move but he can't help just thinking.

'Why?! Why is this still on me? Can't I just be selfish? Don't I deserve that? After everything I've been through?! ' 

That brings him up short. After everything. After all the people he killed. He's sure he doesn't even remember everyone and yet the number in his mind is terrifying. And it's not just the people he killed. Death reverberates through so many people, through families and communities. If he killed a father, could the remaining parent supply for several children? If he killed an important person in a community did it collapse in the power vacuum. All the political activists he'd been sent after, how many wars had he prolonged? It wasn't just the assassinations, they were just the pebbles, he couldn't even calculate the ripples.

'No, I don't deserve to be selfish. Not after everything I've done.' 

Steve jars him back into the room, tearing him away from his internal conversation before he got sucked deeper into arguing with himself. Which is probably good because he was pretty sure arguing with yourself wasn't a good sign. What he said had him back to angry however. 

"Bucky must have been so scared waking up without me being here. He was probably terrified being stuck with people he doesn't even know! If I was here he would have known he was safe." 

OK. What is he? A fucking child? Sure cryo was scary waking up. But he's got decades of bad association with the thing, no amount of people cheering him on was going to change that for him. It was still cold and ice seeping into his bones. The cold stealing away time, never knowing when, or if he'd wake up again. Not knowing what world he'd even face when he left compared to when he'd gone in. Expecting the sharp pain and rough treatment on release. He'd been a few thoughts away from attacking when he was released, he never missed an opportunity to kill Hydra agents. Even when he knew they'd hurt him after. After a few decades it was seen as punishment to Hydra agents for becoming sloppy or complacent. He was still punished though. Typically. If someone had reached for him in that chamber, he would have broken their neck. 

He knew that going in however. He expected the fear and he'd told Shuri and T'Challa about his potential reactions, about what happened in his past. He'd been worried for them, he'd even suggested through gritted teeth that he be restrained, Shuri had been  heavily unimpressed.

When it came down to it, Shuri was perfect. She was present and didn't rush him. Didn't touch him. Gave him time to adapt. 

Somehow, he doubted Steve would have been as courteous to his feelings. If he'd pulled him out he knew he'd have ended up flashing back on how he was dragged out everytime and Steve just didn't listen to him when he said that. Steve didn't want to listen when he talked about PTSD his therapist had told him about, he'd thought Steve had been in this time long enough to lose that way of thinking from the 40s. He just thought the fact that it was him would magically make everything different. That he'd get over it just by being near him so what's the point about learning about it? He admitted to only himself that that had hurt, he'd wanted his friend to understand, to be interested even. It was weird and he couldn't explain why, but his disinterest in that made a huge impact on him. He wasn't even sure why it mattered, he'd just known that he'd expected Steve to want to know more. 

In his weakened state he likely wouldn't have done much damage to the super soldier coming out of cryo, but coming out fighting would have hurt him, mentally as well as physically. More fighting he didn't control. 

It also wasn't helping that every time he shouted 'Bucky' it felt like his insides were squirming, like his skin is hot and his senses were just dialed up too much, like everything turned and assaulted him, like he wants to scratch and hack at it till it just STOPS. He also didn't get why he was reacting in such a visceral manner. He knew it made Steve happy to call him Bucky. So why couldn't he just man up and deal with it? Instead it was making him want to hit himself, hit Steve.. Just hit something? He ran his hand across his face, this was exhausting

"The Sergeant was perfectly fine and safe, I believe ignoring his requests would have been more detrimental to his recove-."

"Why did you wake him now of all times.. Is this because of-" 

"Mr Roger's. As with our agreement with the patient, he was awoken when a viable treatment was discovered." 

Something seems to finally snap in T'Challa, like a steel band snapping and sharply embedding itself into a wall, that's what the Kings voice felt like to him. He imagined he looked pissed by now too. Steve just scoffs at that, although he doesn't understand why. These reactions just felt wrong to him. 

"You should have brought it to me first to agree on it before offering it to Bucky. He doesn't understand this time…" 

"Everything will explained, to him. He understands more than you think and I highly doubt you would understand the technology involved anyway." 

It was hard not to bark out a laugh at that. Steve had never really had the same interest as him in technology, for Steve it was just a thing to use to do the thing it was meant to. To him? He wanted to take it apart, examine every bit, find out what they do. Find out how and why it goes together and then put it back together. To see if he could make it better. Sure he'd mostly only been able to do that with cars, but this was a different time. Tech was everywhere and he loved it. He suspected Steve tolerated it at best. 

"How could you do this T'Challa? Was this punishment for earlier? Are you trying to hurt me?"

'What did he do earlier? Was what when he lies to T'Challa' he wondered. 

"Well you managed. Well done, but you shouldn't be using Bucky in your games! He doesn't deserve this." 

That's it. He just can't listen anymore. He bursts out, directly putting himself between T'Challa and Steve. Face looking more like the Winter Soldier than anyone else. 

"Dastatachna! <that's enough!> Would ya just stop? I. Am. Not. A. Fucking. Child!"

He snarls out the words, not yelling loudly, but each word punctuated whilst gesturing with his hand. Steve flinched slightly at the Russian but broke out into a huge smile. 

"Bucky! You're here!" 

Barnes side steps him and backs up when Steve practically launches at him. Trying to hug him he supposes. He shakes his head a few times, holding his hand out in a stop gesture, which just seems to confuse Steve who seems to have all but forgotten that T'Challa exists in his excitement, he also seemed to have not heard him either. 

"Buck, I'm so sorry they made you wake up alone, I would have been here if I'd known, I'm so sorry." 

"Steve, that wouldn't have helped. After cryo I need to NOT be touched and left be. Ty menya ne slushayesh<You're not listening to me>. Like I told you. The Princess was great and I will be the one who decides my treatment, not you." 

"But Buck, it's me, we're best friends, you'd have been much better. I don't know about this treatment, you don't know much about this time, I can make sure it's safe. And you obviously aren't fine.. You are speaking Russian.. " 

He almost whispered the last part as if him slipping here and there with some Russian is the worst thing happening in here and he just wants to scream because he liked it, sometimes it felt more natural coming out of his mouth than the English did. He'd been punished by so many handlers for accidentally reverting to Russian but when they wiped him it became his main language and he had to force himself to switch. They knew that and they still hurt him over it, now Steve is looking at him like he's worried the Winter Soldier is back. He forced himself to calm down. Taking a deep, measured breath. 

"If it wasn't safe the King and Princess and the many highly trained people in Wakanda wouldn't offer it to me. You need to apologise. Now." 

"Huh? I already did, I'm sorry but they didn't tell me they were even waking you, I'm sorry I wasn't here." 

'Damn the punk looks so earnest' he thinks, whilst another part of him pitches in 'Yeah, the svolach<jerk> is earnestly trying to override our autonomy!' He nearly growls at that thought, anger bubbling up inside him. 

"Not to me punk. To the King who you just screamed at like a brat!" 

"But Buck, come on. What he did was wrong. I had a right to be here."

"They were abiding my wishes to wake up on my own, in my own time! I had a right to have my wishes respected. Which they did." 

Steve looks like a kicked puppy, it pulls on some of the memories but he is just too angry. 

"Fine. I'm sorry T'Challa. Would you mind leaving now so I can speak to Bucky privately?" 

Barnes just gapes and shakes his head. 

"T'Challa offered to show me my rooms, if he doesn't mind, I would like him to still show me? I'd understand if you don't want to after… This." 

He turns to see T'Challa whilst not giving his back to Steve, looking chagrin and guilty over this utter disaster and gesturing at Steve in general when he said 'This'. 

"Oh course, I'd be happy to walk with you and show you where you'll be staying. There are differences to the rest of the Villa that Mr Rogers wouldn't know about anyway." 

T'Challa smiled at him, looking utterly unruffled and not angry at all when he turned to him. He was quite impressed that someone smiling and looking so kind could still get a jab in like that, he didn't bother hiding the smirk. He was praying that Steve hadn't ruined his chances of befriending the man. He… He wanted people who didn't have expectations of him. Shuri and T'Challa were what he needed. They didn't look at him like he was a ghost from the past, a crazed assassin about to murder everyone and not with pity of him being a POW. That was something special he wanted to keep. 

Steve looks like he's about to say something but he shoots him a glare to shut up and by the Gods the idiot does. His jaw is clenched however, jutted out in a stubborn display that he was clearly not happy with him. Which is fine, because he isn't happy with him either. 

T'Challa walked past Steve without even glancing at him, Barnes followed and Steve finally followed too, realising that if he didn't, he'd be left behind. Oddly silent, looking slightly confused, more irritated and not even slightly guilty. As they're leaving Barnes grabbed the huge, impossibly soft hoodie that Shuri had left for him, happy that like his top, the left side had been altered for his lack of arm. It takes him a little bit of effort but he eventually gets it on, surprised he didn't get Steve in his face about helping but from the look on his face, T'Challa might have gotten in his way. 

He can't help but laugh, even with the tense situation when he looks down and noticed there is a cute kitten on the front, scowling adorably with 'Murder Kitten' written underneath. T'Challa does a double take when he notices and the two of them start laughing. He slips the tablet Shuri gave him into the pocket as Steve looks at it critically, obviously not happy, he just about resists the urge to roll his eyes. He knew in his memories that his sisters had just as much sass as the young princess. 

The trip to the villa is all kinds of awkward and tense but also kind of fun. T'Challa utterly ignoring Steve, Barnes dodging Steve everytime he tries to reach out. Steve ignoring T'Challa whilst shooting the King occasional glares. Steve with his disapproving face at his hoodie. It's utterly ridiculous. After the second time Steve tried to make contact with him, he demanded Steve walk in front of them. Adding that he was just not comfortable having anyone at his back. He feels bad at the pain flashing on his supposed best friend's face, but part of him feels amused by it. The rest of him feels guilty at being amused. Fare to say his brain is confusing to him, and it's his brain. 

T'Challa seamlessly keeps the conversation going, not leaving room for Steve to interrupt, a small smile on his face shows he's definitely doing it on purpose. He might have said something, but Steve screamed at a sodding King for fucks sake. He's also still angry at the way Steve has been talking about him. He might have problems with his brain, but he's also a hundred year old super soldier assassin. He has the right to make his own choices, even if others don't like them.

People had been taking away his choices from the second he was drafted.

It was important that he got a say so now. Sure decisions were fucking terrifying. But he wasn't going to hand Steve a new leash just because he was scared about what food or clothes to choose. He'd learn and he couldn't do that if someone did everything for him. 

Wakanda is amazing enough that even with the awkward atmosphere, he finds it easy to get sucked in to the Kings explanations or just anything he points at. His love for science and technology back in the 40s was something Hydra couldn't remove apparently and this place is fantastic. It is what he imagined the future might be back when they went to that Stark Expo. Any questions about how things work T'Challa explains too. Not just short explanations, he goes into detail and never seems annoyed even when he suspects the questions he was asking were probably things their children knew. He might have let embarrassment stop him once in his life, before hydra, but he wasn't going to let that stop him now. Plus he's enjoying himself too much to care. 

T'Challa tells him he will love Shuri's lab and she's going to enjoy showing him everything she can he suspects. He can't wait. He's actually smiling, so caught up in everything and doesn't even notice that Steve looks put out and kind of bored. When they arrive at the villa, he recognised the 2 guards out front as members of the Dora Milaje and wonders why they're guarding Steve's team? He doesn't recognise one of the women, but the other he does was one of the people that kept him company when he first arrived and Steve was settling the others, he had refused to go, much to Steve's annoyance but it was just too many people. She was nice to him, even though he'd been a bit ragged after having Shuri help with his arm. He'd struggled to talk so she'd signed at him, simple as that, he didn't know if he was more shocked that she knew ASL or that he knew it. 

"Onyenka! Hi! I didn't know you'd be here!" 

He can't help but be a little excited, his anger had been crushed by how freaking amazing this place is. He waves at the other guard who gives him an open, kind smile too. Steve looks a little shocked which makes him wonder if he bothered talking to anyone outside of the team and the King. Which is confusing, he is pretty sure he has the social graces of a woodlouse right now, and a mood that switches to anxiety, panic and anger in seconds, yet whilst in agony of his arm just being blown off and about to go back into cryo and even HE had managed to make friends. What on earth is Steve's excuse?

"It's great to see you up and around, everyone will be happy to know our resident snowman has been defrosted! We missed you." 

He's taken back and touched that they remembered him and still wanted to have him around. 

"I'm going to see my new rooms now and I'm exhausted, but maybe I can annoy you again tomorrow? Xoliswa too?" 

He asks hopefully, T'Challa just seems chuffed at him getting to know more people. Steve is still looking confused at the whole thing, but at least it's better than him being stubborn and angry. Taking small victories where you find them is perfectly acceptable. 

"Of course! We'll have a small breakfast for you with a few others you met last time, yes? Then when you are more settled there are many who wish to meet you." 

"That sounds great, I should be able to eat some solids tomorrow?" 

He glances to T'Challa in question who nods. Grinning because Shuri told him that she and Okoye especially had been discussing foods he just had to try. 'He's too skinny!' had been heard so many times he had a feeling that the women are going to take it upon themselves to feed him, he's sure of it. 

"A little, yes, but soft ones and not too much. Give your insides a chance to catch up and then I'm sure between the Okoye and my sister, you'll have tried every food Wakanda has to offer in no time." 

"That sounds brilliant, it'll be nice to find out what I like." 

He laughed whilst T'Challa opens the door for them to head in. Standing so Barnes can go first, putting himself at his back. Happy to not have Steve there, he knows T'Challa won't just touch him without asking whilst knowing that T'Challa was doing this for him, even though it was angering the super soldier although he hadn't said anything yet. Plus, he just can't have him at his back right now, not while his mind is split over him in this confusing way. Half angry, half sad. Missing a short gangly asmatic kid whilst angry that another person tried to steal his choices away. He tried to force the anger down but it almost shoved back at him. Until this resolves being around him is just as uncomfortable now as it was back in DC, more so even, just because of different reasons. Back then he didn't like Steve because he made him remember and the memories hurt and disoriented him. Now he's making him angry and conflicted. 

"I can tell you what you like Buck, before you get your memories back I can guide you." 

'At least it isn't shouting and only slightly patronising.' he thinks sullenly. Wondering how to tell Steve his decisions to find himself and not just try to be the Bucky he was.

He'd tried before he went into cryo, and it had gone as well as one might think. Yeah, he has memory problems, saying that would be stating the obvious, but people seem to have several misconceptions about what that means. Even before Shuri's subconscious tech and his healing component had restored his old memories. Steve is the worst for these bad assumptions. Apparently he didn't listen when the doctors explained about the subconscious treatments. 

"Steve, the subconscious treatments worked. The memories are there but that's... It's not me. Plus, people change normally over time, I've had seven decades to change. I want to find out what I like now, understand?" 

Plus the serum had changed his taste. He remembered that quite clearly, that things before and after were very different. Things that had smelled pleasant were now awful, favourite foods just tasted off. His senses had heightened and it affected his tastes. True that pretty much everything had to taste better than those vile salty gel packs Hydra had forced him to consume, but he figured he had a chance to find stuff he enjoyed now, instead of merely tolerated. 

"That's amazing that you have your memories back! Why didn't you say earlier? We could have talked about the old days!" 

"Steve, did ya not just listen to me. I'm not him, I'm different and I want to learn who that is." 

T'Challa closed the door quietly behind them, the rest of the villa was empty from what her could hear, the others out enjoying the nice breeze out or something he assumed. He was just thankful they were alone. 

"Just give it time Buck, you'll be back to yourself in no time." 

He just sighed and T'Challa gave him a comforting smile. He wondered if he slammed his head into the wall would Steve's chatter get less maddening. He didn't even seem to realise that he was mad at him! He mourned his friend who would have been able to tell at a glance.

He's so staggered the difference the serum has had on him, more than he'd ever realised before his fall. It's not just in his size and strength liked he suspected back then. It seems to have shifted everything and he wonders if the bastardised version of the serum he received did the same to him? Is that why he doesn't identify with the 'Bucky' in the memories.

The therapist had suggested it was the decades of brainwashing and torture, which had sounded right at the time. Now, however he wondered if the serum had changed more than his tastes in foods and scented candles. 

"Well Mr Rogers, would you mind waiting here whilst I show Mr Barnes his room. Our psychologists say it's vitally important that his room is just that, his room, as we have discussed before. That no one enter without permission." 

"Wait, what? Why are you going and I'm staying? You want me in right Bucky?" 

"Right now Stevie, I'm still mad at you for screaming to a king and treating me like a child. T'Challa is showing me how things work and then I'm going to rest for a bit, I'll… I'll see you later." 

T'Challa hangs back as he turns to start up the stairs, he just holds his breath, practically damned praying that calling him Stevie will get him some points and get him a breather. 

" Our conversation from earlier is not finished Mr Rogers. You might want to take this time to think about your answer?"

The King's voice had gone hard and even Steve stopped, seemingly in shock from the kind smiling man to this, the switch was gone in the blink of an eye, like a mask slipping perfectly into place. 

He decides that he's just going to ignore Steve for now and all the cascading implications that come with the man. He needs a break, his brain is spiralling to much, if he doesn't get a break he can feel that he is really going to punch him. If he thinks that this rudeness and lies are going to pass around him? He's got another thing coming.

Steve steps closer to him, looming over with a look of annoyance crossing his face and he flinched back. Hunching over. Chanting in his mind that this is not Hydra, he's allowed to voice his thoughts. He can make choices even if people don't like them. He won't be punished. He won't be recalibrated. Dammit he was doing so well but the Russian is on the tip of his tongue as he bites it back, thinking of anything but being ready to comply. 

"Mr Rogers, I request you back up please. Mr Barnes is still getting confidence in making his own choices and disagreeing. I'm sure you can imagine how such things were dealt with at Hydra?" 

T'Challa raised an eyebrow and got between the two men, shielding Barnes and directing him up the stairs without touching him. Steve flinched at the implication of what T'Challa had said but he didn't say anything, in the end they leave Steve shocked enough that he doesn't follow them this time. 

He blinks when they come to a door, he hadn't even realised they'd made it all the way to the top floor. His feet had carried him along but its like his mind had checked out, he still feels somewhat fuzzy. Luckily he thinks, T'Challa had been watching out for them. 

"Just grip the handle you thumb on the pad and… there we go. Open." 

The pad flashed green and the door clicked open and he stepped inside. The door opened into what looked like a living room? He blinked a few times. 

"I thought this was my room?" 

"Remember my sister having a soft spot for you? Well she wanted you to be comfortable, so this is more of a one bedroom apartment than a 'bedroom'." 

T'Challa was grinning and looking smug that he had an idea that this wasn't just his sisters doing. They stepped into the room, the door swinging shut behind him offering him security enough to just look at the room. It was Wakandan design and absolutely gorgeous. Very expensive looking but he could tell that the two royals had put effort in to make it not 'too much' for him. There was a lot of wood, some kind of bamboo if he had to guess and it was a lovely colour. Rugs with designs in black and gold on the floor, looking so plush she wanted to sink his feet into them. Comfortable looking chairs surrounded a TV on one side, on the other, a desk, a large blue screen coming from it that he assumed was a computer of some kind that T'Challa gave him a quick rundown on. The kitchen was sleek and gorgeous too, at a glance he noticed the fridge was fully stocked with the shakes he'd been offered in the medical bay and other foods he should be able to eat, there was even fruit on the little breakfast bar. There were 2 doors from the main, huge room. His fingers itched to run across the surfaces and feel the different textures but he figured that was less than polite when others were around, he could wait till he was alone. 

T'Challa quickly showed him the bathroom and said Shuri included notes on how to operate the settings on the shower, which was three times the size as the one he'd used earlier! He wasn't even trying to count the amount of shower heads. The bath looked like he practically could swim in it and apparently had jets. Jets! The future was amazing, yet, so weird. It was like utter indulgence compared to the desperate rationing in his memories. The bedroom was darker, the windows covered with large black out blinds. The bed looked almost too comfortable and he couldn't resist running his fingers over the blanket. The style of black and gold in the other rooms followed here too. He peaked in the wardrobe and dressed to find it full of clothes. More than he'd ever owned at one point. 

"This is.. So much!" 

"Well Shuri likes to go all out."

"Just Shuri huh?" 

T'Challa just grinned at being caught out. 

"We like to spoil guests a little when they come, and as we weren't going to spoil the others, we had to make up for it somewhere. Anyway, I'll leave you to sleep. My sister showed you the message system on the pad yes? I'm also on there and you might get a few from some others too. Okoye definitely will be contacting you."

T'Challa grinned making his way to the door as he pulled out the tablet having a look and seeing he had requests for contact from a few names he recognised and a few he didn't. Surprised so many people wanted to talk to him, he accepted them all. He'd not felt all that hopeful when he'd first heard of the treatment, then the talk about Siberia and Steve storming in? It had all felt a bit bleak. 

Maybe having a space that he knew was purely his help? Seeing how much effort people had gone to make him comfortable! Now he felt quietly hopeful and not as overwhelmed, even the rage in his mind finally quietened. 

He could see the calendar on the device had his therapy sessions listed too, he'd met with the doctor before going into cryo, so he was happy he'd be still seeing her a few times a week. 'This could really work' he thinks as he waved T'Challa off and decided to poke the computer a bit as well as the tablet. His fingers had been itching to play with the tech. 

… 

Some time later, he's not sure precisely as he'd gotten distracted. Knocking on his door jarred him from his current task, he'd done a few perimeter checks and had gotten more comfortable in the rooms, feeling his way around and taking a mental inventory of everything that was now apparently 'his'. He'd literally just been heading to the bedroom to sleep. Knowing he couldn't just ignore the man however, he grabbed one of the red drinks from the fridge before opening the door. Maybe this would go better than last time? He can have a good interaction with the man right? Now he's pretty sure he can hear laughter in his mind, but hey, it's better than rage. 

He'd been expecting Steve and instead got.. Lots of people and Steve. 'Yay' He had to think to recall all their names and before he'd had much of a chance to even see them, one of them just barged right on in. 

"Don't you know it's rude not to invite people in… what the fuck is this?" 

Angry-man, as he'd now been dubbed, snapped as Steve followed him in, two men hanging back looking kind of awkward. He noticed the absence of the Witch, which was good. Something in his brain was screaming at him to not let her in his space, probably the fact Shuri is scared of her, he likes Shuri and doesn't like the idea of people hurting her. 

"Um, come in? I guess." 

Polite guy 1 and 2 smiled and came in. Angry-Man was stalking around looking at everything and Steve was just giving him hopeful puppy dog eyes again and seemed unconcerned by his team mates extremely rude behaviour. He sighed, he knew it wasn't fair on the man but he hated that look. That look meant he wanted Bucky. Which made him feel awful for not being Bucky. Even though he didn't want to be Bucky. It was not a comfortable mixture of feelings. 

"So, what did T'Challa want to talk to you about." 

"No seriously. What the fuck is this. Why do you get this and all we get is shitty fucking bedrooms?" 

"Doesn't the house have rooms like this?" 

He asked, slightly confused at why this man was so angry at him, he didn't design their rooms. 

"Yeah, but it's for everyone, why do you get your own floor?"

"Clint, that's enough, Bucky has been through a lot." 

Angry-man.. Clint, yeah, he remembered him now. The archer. Clint glared at Steve, obviously about to fire off again when one of the Polite guys, wait. He recognised him, didn't he have wings? Dammit he should remember their names but the information was just not coming to him. Anyway, Wings intervenes, and he's so happy he did, because he's too tired for this conflict right now and they're in his space that is meant to be his and safe. 

"Clint, we already know why, it's the doctors recommendation to help with his healing. Bucky needs somewhere that is just his. You shouldn't have barged in either."

Clint just scowls and starts looking around the kitchen which just snapped something in him seeing someone poking through his drawers. He just got this place. He lost his space in Bucharest and now it felt like he was losing this too. Even though he knew logically he wasn't, it was just a guest being ruder, part of his brain didn't agree and was seconds away from snarling. He took a breath to focus to make sure he kept to English. Slipping would worry Steve more and make him less likely to leave. Even if he did slip on a few words 

"Could you st..stop and leave please? Now? I'm not com..comfortable having so many people here so soon, especially not angry rude people going through my stuff." 

"Buck! He's family, Clint is fine." 

"No, Cap, Bucky is right. This place has to be his and he has to have control. Come on Clint, let's go get dinner." 

Wings leads Clint out and cuts of Steve with a look, Clint stomps all the way out, leaving muddy footprints on his new flooring. He's so angry he doesn't hear or care what the idiot has to say. 

"That wasn't very nice Buck."

"If we are going by how you spoke to the King ear..earlier, I think I'm doing fine. Plus I get to cho..decide who is in my space, and he is not..never coming here again." 

"He's not that bad, he's just angry that you have better accommodations." 

"Yeah, I'm sure the free, huge, gorgeous villa is so terri..horrible. Sorry Steve. This is my choice. He is not allowed in. No one is without my per..permission." 

Fuck, keeping to English is making him stutter now He's cursing in his head, trying to get the anger to just calm the fuck down so he can stop tripping over stupid words. He hadn't accidentally slipped into Russian however so that's definitely a positive. Steve is frowning. The other polite guy who had just been standing awkwardly to the side comes over and tentatively offers his hand. 

"Hi, not sure you remember me, I'm Scott. Nice to have you back with us! I just wanted to welcome you, Steve said you were tired so we'll go and let you get some sleep." 

He shakes hands with Scott and watches him try to make Steve go, but fails, so he offered up an apologetic smile. He shrugged he hadn't thought that would work anyway. With less people cluttering around he's able to breathe and speak a little easier. Even if it might be slower than normal. 

"If the rude guy was more like Scott or Wings? Then I wouldn't have booted him." 

He crossed his arm over his stomach. Standing awkwardly. Realising belatedly that it's hard to fold your arms when you only have one apparently. It made him feel like he was hugging himself so he just forced his hand to stay at his side instead. What is this? Do normal people just know how to stand?

He just wanted to sleep so he wasn't offering Steve more conversation topics. 

"You'll come around to him, that's what family is for right! Anyway, what did T'Challa talk about earlier?" 

He glared at the family comment. He didn't know these people! One just rudely barged into his space, muddied his floor and swore at him whilst going through his things and he was at fault for being rude? 

Sighing he went to the kitchen, taking a pull from the drink and placing it on the side. Checking under the sink of cleaning supplies he grabbed some spray and 2 cloths. Steve had tried to make the question about T'Challa subtle, but he could see the tensed shoulders that bellied that calm. 'He's paranoid, his story has been compromised' the back of his mind whispered. 

"Here, take this, if you want this conversation you are helping me clean up the mess that guy made in my house that I've not had for a single day." 

"Um, Buck, they have tech or people for that. Tony had these bots because Nat didn't like.. Uhh" 

Steve tripped over his sentence, he assumed it was an old conversation piece as he'd almost slipped into it without realising he was talking about Stark. 

"Do I look like I care? Help me clean or leave." 

He grudgingly agreed and again he wondered what happened to Stevie, if his ma saw him like this she would not have been impressed. He wondered how he'd been living these days that his first instinct for a dirty floor was to ignore it and wait for it to be cleaned by someone or something else? What happened to the hard work obsessed Steve? 

"If your ma saw you shying away from a bit of cleaning she'd have had your hide. And he asked about Siberia." 

The slight smile Steve had gotten when he talked about something from the past, which apparently is his favourite hobby. Why, in a country like Wakanda he wanted to talk about the great depression and war in America, he had no idea. He just didn't get it, he didn't want to talk about it. Why would he? So many memories were miserable and so, so hungry. Desperate even. Scratching out means for food, going hungry so the kids could get even halfway full. The future was much better. There was a full kitchen right there and he didn't half to work himself half to death for scraps. 

"Uh, what did you say, because I wanted to, kind of, get our stories straight before he spoke to you over it? I can't believe he went after you when you were vulnerable to ask about that!" 

Steve had stopped cleaning, making him sigh whilst he sat there looking righteous and angry when he was the one lying and wanting him to lie. 

"He asked if I would tell him. I was able to say no. He asked permission to even ask me about it. My choice. And maybe if you didn't lie, we wouldn't need to get our stories straight. You should tell him the trut-." 

"I'll talk to him and straighten things up, you were hurt so you could have gotten things wrong. You didn't.. Tell him about the Stark's did you?" 

"Of course I did! Ty shutish, shto li? <Are you kidding me?> And don't you dare! You told me Stark would be okay too. T'Challa thinks you hurt him more tha-." 

"He was trying to kill you! 

Steve who had done no cleaning and just left the cloth on the floor to lay his hand on his shoulder. He flinched back and away from him. Feeling the need to scratch where he touched. Yeah he definitely didn't like being touched without permission. 

"Steve, it doesn't matter what he was doing, you shouldn't have lied to T'Challa. Or shouted at him. You never used to be this rude. In these memories I have, you were polite and kind, you knew what it was like to not be heard. You keep telling me to be Bucky, but why.. why should I when you aren't Stevie! Why can't yo-" 

"Buck, you just need to spend time with me! I'm still your best friend. Nothing has changed." 

"Right now I … I don't even know if I want you near me! You keep interrupting me! Let me finish a sentence and listen to what I'm saying!" 

"Buck, well get past this, you just have to let me help you."

"Ya ne khachu s taboy razgavarivat'" <I don't want to talk to you.>

He muttered under his breath, earning him another strange look before he realised he'd switched again. Snarling at himself, anytime he did that Steve listened to him less damn it. 

"Please Buck.." 

He is pleading at him but why won't he just listen? When he actually goes to hug him he wondered if this is a cryo induced nightmare or something, this is just madness, he got them occasionally when he hadn't been wiped in a while and was placed in cryo. Too many memories swimming, mixing and just plain screwing up to drift in the darkness. Even now, looking back, he's not sure what was real and what wasn't. He wants to scream at him, biting his tongue because he knows if he shouts in Russian things would get worse. He'd think he'd gone full Winter Soldier, he can already see it in him. The possibility that he was just angry didn't seem to occur to Steve. But he keeps trying because dammit his brain is telling him that he's his best friend. The angry part really wants to punch him. His fist clenched as if getting ready to do so.

"Stevie. Please. Stop. You have to listen to me." 

"Okay Buck, I'm listening." 

"You have to apologise to T'Challa. And I'm betting you've been awful to Princess Shuri too? You gotta apologise to her. You also gotta respect that this floor is mine. I decide who comes in here. This includes you. "

He manages short, clipped sentences and whilst he keeps to English, his accent has slipped deeper into Russian. He remembers he is supposed to sound like he's from Brooklyn and sometimes that's there, sometimes his accent is flat and nothing. The slight tinge of Russian is more normal to him? But he knows Steve hates it, but right now he's starting to get sick of moderating himself for this man who as far as he was concerned was putting in zero effort. Steve looks like he wants to argue, his jaw set in a stubborn like and he can hear him grinding his teeth. 

"Okay, for you, I'll apologise to them." 

He feels like head butting a wall. Stevie used to be stubborn but this is too much surely? Or was it just cute when he was smaller? Either way, he just wants to sleep.

"You know what? Fine. I'll take it. Tell him the truth too. Don't tell him I remembered wrong because my brain is mush or some bull. Now, if you don't mind. I'm going to sleep, I'm shattered and I need to finish cleaning as you did utterly nothing. "

He points at Steve, punctuating his speech, maybe it will help. Steve just seems to watch his hands oddly before sighing at him in obvious irritation. His eye twitches as he feels exactly the same back at him. 

"You shouldn't be alone right now Buck, come down stairs with everyone, we'll watch a movie and you can nap on the sofa or something. I'd feel better if I could see you is all." 

"Remember that part about respecting my decisions? I'm going to sleep. In my bedroom. I'm happy I HAVE a bedroom, I'm going to use it. I'll see you tomorrow." 

He walks over to the door, opening it sharply and holding it open expectantly for him. Eventually he grudgingly leaves, he dodges yet another attempted hug with a glare, he's getting good at that, and finally he can breathe when he has the door closed. He bites back the need just to rage in Russian because he can. 

He needs to tell Steve to stop calling him Bucky but he doesn't know how, especially when he doesn't have a name for himself. As horrid as it makes him feel, he'll deal with that when he has a name. He is however proud that he didn't have a panic attack at all. Yay for the techniques his doctors gave him and pure exhaustion giving him confidence to yell. He wasn't looking forward to tomorrow with Steve if it was going to be anything like today. 

Thinking about Steve, he remembers what he was like when he was set on something. Dog with a bone. He can see little Stevie jumping into a fight and he knows he jumped in to save him, like he always did, but he doesn't know why he did it. 

Why would he bother because the idiot just gets into more fights anyway?

He searches the memories and sees him do it, over and over. 

But he can't feel or understand why. 

'Maybe getting his ass handed to him would be beneficial, would have stopped fighting.. ' floats across his mind. He shoves it down and decides to ignore all things Steve and deal with them tomorrow. Things are already awkward and blaming things on missing memories is easier. 

'Coward.'

 

T'Challa POV

10th September 

T'Challa had just finished telling his sister everything he'd heard from Rogers and then Barnes. The latter being the far more polite of the pair and trying to work out how best to confront Rogers next.

According to his sisters snooping, they were not the only ones lied to about the events leading up to and including the Civil War. The good Captain was lying to his people too. His sister was chewing on her nail considering everything that had happened and he was surprised how quickly she had become invested in Dr Stark. 

He had a debt born from abandoning an ally in need where as his sister was worried about the suffering of a friend. 

"I knew something bad had happened, but this wasn't even on my list of possibilities! And my list was extensive!" 

"But you have spoken to him right? Seen him? He's in good health?" 

Shuri gives him a smile that makes him dread whatever is coming next. 

"He seems okay. I didn't know him before so I don't know if it's weird he wears sunglasses for every video call even at 3am. He carries so much stress and anxiety around him it's almost palpable.. Even with the kids having him on a schedule I'm sure he goes days without sleeping.."

"I've seen old videos of him online… by the way. Do not Google him. The sunglasses are a usual fixture, I think, and he's a genius like you, I suspect he has equal problems when it comes to turning that off."

They both shrug, it's hard to tell much from this side of the planet from a man who obviously knows how to hide pain. He can tell that his sister, that whilst she can't seem to put it into words, she is concerned.

"There is one thing. You know we have been collaborating on different projects? There is one that we started on practically straight after he came out of the coma. He said it was just an idea to keep him busy while he recovered.. At first I thought it was for Barnes but he didn't want to say..." 

She pulled up her own and Tony's files that they'd worked on, including pictures of prototypes of all manner of things he could barely glimpse at before she'd moved on, until reaching several about what looked like a hand and wrist? Eventually showing highly detailed photos of what he assumed was the final piece. T'Challa saw their two different styles mixing together as she flicked to the pages she was after. Just looking at this showed how much to two geniuses seemed to meld well. Despite their differences.

Most people Dr Stark's age wouldn't work so well with someone as young as his sister, he knew, she'd tried with others and it ended explosively. Literally that one time.. 

Bringing his focus back to the file she'd stopped at, he couldn't help but think that too much had gone into this too be a mere idea, not with the nano-tech nerves and that he'd apparently made the final piece with vibranium his sister had sent. His sister might make prototypes out of Vibranium but she had a lot more access to it. Dr Stark just had around enough to make it, surely there were other more useful things he could have made with the rare metal. 

"At least I now know why he freezes up anytime Barnes is mentioned." 

His sister muttered under her breath whilst bringing more stuff up. It could have been for Barnes, but then why would he stop in the middle of the forearm when Barnes arm went up to his shoulder? The design was gorgeous, though he had to admit, the inside looks like it had been constructed from triangles that were hives for the nano-tech installed within them similar to his arc reactors going by the notes. So if anything got chewed up by the servos for any reason, they could replace anything broken easily. Although he wasn't sure what was telling the nano tech what to do just from looking at the blueprints, there wasn't a control node that he could see. Whilst he was smart himself, a lot of this went over his head. 

"If it was for Barnes, I can't imagine he'd stop mid arm, and this isn't exactly something he could market. Nano-tech doesn't even exist technically outside of Wakanda and this is different to ours? What is controlling those nanite? When did he make these? " 

"Not a clue and he'd started before we got into contact." 

T'Challa couldn't help but he a little impressed and he could see his sister was too, he hadn't caught up to Wakanda but in some areas he was definitely getting closer without their considerable advantages. 

"He said that the control node was his part of the project. We finished it ages ago but he sent all this new data with the presents and I still have no idea, but they are working... I think he finally took apart Barnes old arm and he looked up his files.. I didn't get through many before I had to stop and I suspect Dr Stark censored them for me."

He made a note to go through the files on Barnes arm, probably before he ate if the paling on his sisters face was anything to go by. 

"You think this is his hand don't you?" 

"Yes. It's why I sent him the Vibranium as a 'get well soon gift'. His nano-tech works almost scarily perfect with Vibranium." 

"Does he know you think it's his hand?" 

"Nope. I'm trying to be, I don't know, nice?" 

"I think I've been transported to a different dimension."

T'Challa squints at her, with such a deadpan delivery that Shuri laughs before she glares and kicked his shin, she'd been doing that a lot lately, he wondered where she had picked up that lovely habit, he was going to end up bruised. 

"Just because I'm not nice to you doesn't mean I can't be nice to others." 

"I feel so loved. Should I send him something?" 

"You're going to send him vibranium aren't you?" 

"Whaaaat. No… Why? It worked for you?" 

"Yes, but he wasn't mad at me and I am not talking about his coma two months late."

"Hmm, Maybe I can throw my support behind his recent amendments to the Accords? I read them and I like how he's bringing in protections for younger non-humans that Ross is dead set against. Ross has been against practically anything he's brought forward for a while now oddly. He's not been in the news much since the 'war', he's been operating by proxy, some positive mentions about his coma here and there, but there are still people attacking him. Maybe I could help?"

"Are you trying to be some kind of Knight in shining armour for Dr Stark?" 

"What! No! I'm just trying to… dammit you're winding me up, aren't you?"

"Of course. Now go, shoo, on to your Stark-Mission." 

He rolled his eyes and backed out of his sisters lab, too many thoughts in his mind at what he'd gotten himself into. If he'd just stopped and thought about things, instead of letting rage and vengeance fuel him.

He wouldn't have a bunch of unruly hero's hiding out in his country whilst he was precariously opening Wakanda to the world. But he must right his wrongs, but this time slowly and maybe he could do his father proud, and possibly make life uncomfortable for Mr Rogers. Maybe he was feeling a little vindictive on that front. You could only be spoken to rudely so many times by a guest, before even a man with seemingly endless patience snapped and he had never claimed to have much in the way of patience normally. 

This debt weighed heavily on him though. Even if it was about making up a wrong to a Stark. His father's contentious relationship with Dr Stark's father was something they heard about a lot growing up, for a long time they'd watched the son and his father assumed that rotten fruit didn't fall far from the rotted tree. But over the last 5 years things had changed. Either way, even if he was basically Howard Stark, T'Challa needed to make up for leaving a wounded ally on the battlefield, no matter the sins of the father. 

He knew well enough the sins of the father landed on the son, even when they shouldn't. 

 

Shuri POV 

"Steve, I'm telling ya, I didn't come to breakfast with the team as I already had plans. You literally saw me make them!" 

"I didn't think you'd really go Buck, I thought you'd prefer an old fashioned breakfast with me. " 

"I wouldn't have been able to eat that. I can only eat fruit and my shakes right now." 

"I'm sure if you-" 

Shuri had enough at that point and stuck her head out of the doors. She smiled at Barnes, as her brother has informed her he was going by now. 

"Ah, Captain Coloniser! I do not have you on my calendar." 

Barnes was desperately trying not to laugh as Shuri gave Steve a sharp grin that was all teeth and promise of a sharp bite. He wasn't the most annoying invader they had right now, but he was in the top 3 and he'd come to visit her the most. 

So she'd gotten fed up with the blonde giant around day 4 if she was being kind. If she was being honest, it was day 1. Mr Stubborn-Jaw, clenched said jaw and squared his shoulders for a fight. Typical. 

"I'm here for Bucky. He's new to this time and in a fragile state so I think I should be here for any major decisions." 

Barnes smile has gone and his eyes locked onto Steve. Shuri noting that he completely stopped moving to the point she's concerned he isn't even breathing. His face doesn't have the blank look she'd seen in clips of when he was the Winter Soldier.. But it's very close. The only difference is he looks angry too. But he has a completely different presence to what she'd come to expect from Barnes. 

"Yebat' net." <Fuck no>

Steve snapped to look at Barnes who was shaking his head, movement seemed to have seeped back into him. 

"Steve. No. I will be the one to make the decision about what goes on in my brain. I deserve this."

"He is right Captain Coloniser. This is a patient only discussion anyway, you, are not permitted entry." 

Two Dora Milaje appeared almost from the shadows, she noticed that Steve jumped but Barnes did not. That was interesting, few people could spot the Dora when they wanted to hide. They blocked Steve's path and Barnes strode into the lab, breathing out a lot of stress when the doors shut and she was informed Steve was being escorted back to the villa. Barnes had hunched in on himself now, seemingly trying to make himself smaller, which considering he was a walking tank was a strange look. 

"Well, that's better isn't it."

She glanced around, thinking about what to do to make him more at ease.

"Want to see something I'm not meant to show you?" 

Barnes looked up, unable to hide his curiosity, she'd worked out pretty fast that he was going to be a tech head. She opened a panel on the wall and showed Barnes the weapons she had been developing, he seemed tentative at first, not wanting to enjoy weapons potentially? But her enthusiasm was catching and before they realised it nearly an hour had vanished with her showing him anything he showed a remote interest in and sitting down to rebraid his hair, much to Barnes baffled confusion. 

"So, now I'm feeling better, what is this brain fixing tech?" 

She pulled out the glasses from the box, small and quite sleek and handed them over. Barnes looks sceptical 

"Weird looking glasses are going to unmush my brain?" 

She was not calling them BARF, not when she didn't have the ability to blame Dr Stark for his ridiculous names. 

"They are… Retro Framing Glasses. RFG. They are capable of hijacking the hippocampus... to clear traumatic memories. Did you read the notes?" 

"Some, but I thought I'd get an idea of it from you and I did not get stuck watching Teen Wolf on Netflix at all."

Shuri can't help but laugh at that, happy that he was doing something he enjoyed, even if it was binge watching shows on Netflix. 

"Well, you can read up later if you want more information, but basically the glasses connect with the user's hippocampus, allowing it to find a certain traumatic memory and it's displayed on the holographic system. It makes it real enough to trick your brain, then you can change aspects of the memory, or watch enough times, running a specialised algorithm that will be designed for you, until you disassociate the memory from any physical response, originally for panic attacks for example.

"We believe the code words are hooked into memories, if you disassociate the memories the words lose their.. Hold on you, it won't produce the same physical response, it will break the programming. It can also help you connect with the older memories and deal with the memories of your time with Hydra. That was its original use really. We are off labeling it. "

"Wow. That is.. A lot. It change my memories? And off label" 

"No it can't, you can, and only you can change or disassociate a memory. There were already a lot of failsafes to protect against this but in your case the outside contractor went a little overboard to assure your comfort using the device. And off label is using a medication for something else."

"Ah, you'll have to give them my thanks." 

Barnes is nervously looking at the glasses and Shuri can tell he's unsure, but then she isn't surprised. People have been scrambling his brain for literal decades. 

"I will. Well the first few times you use it will just be data collection, then you can set specific memories up as a passcode for the glasses to activate. The glasses will only activate if the find the matching memory in your mind. 

"And whilst the algorithm will help you alter memories to achieve disassociation, I can't step in to edit them. I can't even edit the algorithm because I have no idea what it is to be honest, I know some binary coding and the basic codes that come with the glasses are okay, but you'll have one tailor written with the data from the drawing sessions. The outside contractor won't see any of your memories either. "

"Why does there need to be an algorithm written for me? "

"Well, your case is quite unique, the base ones in the glasses might work, but we don't think so. At least, you would have to watch each memory hundreds of times to even attempt to disassociate it. The algorithm will be personalised to your mind to let you effectively hack it and have it done if under 5, hopefully. I'll see how it's working and report back to see if it needs changes. I, or someone else, can watch memories with you, but only if you want them too."

He carries on fiddling with the glasses, obviously running everything through his mind. It was a lot to take in and she couldn't help but smile that he is running his fingers over the small pink sticker on the side of the glasses. She manages the hold back the laugh and reminds herself to text Tony later about his lousy subterfuge skills and his inabilty to not stamp his name on all his tech. 

"I'm going to do everything in my power to keep you safe and help you with your memories." 

"I.. I know. It's just. I'm not sure I even deserve this?This is so much effort by insanely intelligent people who are tailor making things, for me! I'm just dangerous, I'm not even a full person. Maybe I should just go back into cryo."

It takes everything in her to not jump up and yell at him, maybe shake him, or give him the Harley Shin-kick. But she knows that wouldn't work. 

"Is that what you really want?"

"No, I want to be free."

"Then let's get to it" 

"Okay" 

 

 

Chapter Text

POV Bruce

September 8th

The Cần Giờ Mangrove Forest

Bruce woke up, stretching himself bit by bit and getting himself prepared to make breakfast, he was slowly running down on essentials so soon he would have to leave his little slice of paradise and head towards people to stock up.

His musings were interrupted with a Trill from the device Tony had sent him. This thing worked in impossible locations, it wasn't so good when he was moving, but if he stopped somewhere for 12 hours it seemed to connect somehow. He didn't know how Tony developed it and that hurt, knowing he'd missed it. It wasn't in his area of expertise, but he'd gotten used to sharing a lab with Tony. He'd gotten accustomed to having someone to share a space with. Now he literally had no one. He'd stopped in a few villages, offering his medical skills, but he just.. Couldn't with people right now. Constantly on edge of what could happen, remembering what did happen under a haze of red and madness. Which was why he'd come here on his latest location, where he'd run into no one in a long string of such locations. Sometimes he spoke out loud just to hear his voice as he'd got months with nothing.

Even when he and Hulk had started talking, he'd stayed away. Even when he'd found that balance he'd needed, but could never grasp. He'd still stayed away because by then.. It was easier. Easier to run.

Even though he'd been annoyed when the device had turned up, just sat outside the hut in India that he'd been staying in not long after he'd left America. Because seriously, how did Tony find him? How did it even get to him? But then he really shouldn't doubt Tony's tenacity to care for his friends. Even when they didn't deserve it.

He'd come to rely on Tony's little messages of the day, sometimes several came at once if he'd been out of range. They were his little snippets of America and home, keeping him tethered. Keeping him connected. They'd gotten closer with these messages than they had sharing the lab. So when the device trilled, he dropped everything and grabbed it. Instantly, he knew it wasn't Tony. Tony was actively incapable of a message so short.

'Banner.

He needs you this time, he's always been there for you, wherever you go, now it's your turn.

Colonel Rhodes & FRIDAY

-link attached-'

He frowned at the device, why would Tony need him?

He clicked the link and was faced with a picture of Tony in a hospital bed. He felt winded, like a punch to the diaphragm had sucked all of the air from his lungs and all he could do was stare. He looked so small, and was hooked up to enough machines to make him nervous.

What little he could see of his face was mottled with bruising and swelling he was practically unrecognisable, his eyes were covered. Bandages taped over each one.

He starts panicking until he sees the date on the article and actually reads it, Tony Stark in a Coma? The picture was apparently taken by a nurse? How had that happened? It wouldn't happen in any of Tony's medical facilities, so this was troubling enough for Tony to be in a separate hospital. But where were the others? They'd never have let a nurse get a picture. He'd never be alone long enough for a nurse to get a picture surely? The Avengers would never leave him so vulnerable.

He set his jaw, he needed more information, things were not as happy as Tony had led him to believe. This simply didn't make sense, he'd seen Tony injured countless times but he was never so still. He was never so alone. Something was very wrong back home. He blinked, Home? When had that happened? When in his time away had he started seeing that place as home? He'd not had a true home in so long, it was a foreign feeling that had crept up on him.

"Want Tinman."

Bruce jumped, it had been awhile since he had heard the Hulk, he was bored here and angry at Banner for not going back yet, he'd gotten insistent a few months ago about going home. As he'd stayed, Hulk had been ignoring him. He started packing up, he'd head towards civilisation now. A new level of determination set on his features, Hulks excitement thrumming in his Veins.

He needed more information. But first..

'YOU WERE IN A FUCKING COMA?!'

 

POV Tony

September 9th

Tony is relaxing on his sofa, looking out of the large windows, just enjoying the view of the sea. The ebb and flow of the water is hypnotic. He's missed this, being able to just kick back and watch the ocean. Frowning he looks around and realises that something isn't right, but before he gets just of a chance to do anything about it, Steve appears behind him. Looming over him with his hands on the back of the sofa in such a familiar fashion it makes his skin crawl. This has happened before but its.. Wrong somehow. He sucks in a breath and nearly chokes, panicking for a second before realising he recognised the feeling. The original arc reactor and how it crushed his lung.

This definitely isn't right, that was removed. Steve is in front of him now, his hand on the arc reactor that blanks his mind from anything else, he tries to panic, to run, to move, but apparently his dreams are fucking merging because he's in Malibu, paralysed and Steve's fingers grip and push around the arc reactor and fuck, but it hurts. He blinks and he's back in Siberia, but without the suit. He's on the floor and Steve is ripping the arc reactor out of his chest.

"I could do this all day."

And then there is just pain, white hot and blinding that fills his every cell... but then the floor shifts and moves. It.. Bounces? He reaches out and his eyes fly open to realise Tara, Harley and Peter are all stood on his bed, jumping up and down to wake him. 'That's definitely a new way of getting woken up from a nightmare.'

It takes him a few seconds to realise the day and forces a smile, pancake day. Each day of the week has specific breakfast foods in the compound, Fridays were pancakes and a resounding favourite of all the kids, he's pretty sure part of it is they enjoy watching him flip them or the chaos they turned simple toppings into. Tara at this point realises he's awake and launches herself right at him like a tiny Cannon ball. He laughs as all the air is forced out of his lungs.

"Pancake day?"

He asks, chuckling as if he had forgotten. Peter and Harley take this question as permission to dog pile on Tony. He complains, but he doesn't mean it, they know because he's actually hugging them whilst complaining about being a trampoline. It helps him shake away the last dregs of the nightmare. They eventually let him up, pretty much only because he can't make pancakes from bed.

A quick shower helps his smile became more real, less brittle. Dressing in comfortable, morning clothes, activating Peters hand covering, which the kid really needs to name, but since BARF everyone banned him from naming their and his own inventions. Which is harsh in his opinion. FRIDAYs overly literally long names aren't exactly better. She'd likely call it 'Synthetic Skin Covering Device for Robot Hands.' The kids are bouncing around the kitchen with impatience when he exits his room

"Who wants to go and invite the mini agents and mum over? Teacher Training day, even for you Pete, so we can have a biiiiiiig breakfast."

Tony laughs as the three kids immediately race to the door, laughing over who gets there first, and he starts producing an inordinate amount on pancakes. Thankful that he had thought ahead and made the batter last night. But he has 6 kids to feed, 1 enhanced and 2 adults, 1 also enhanced. Rhodey is out on his 'it's not a date Tony!' with Carol. Vision would be back from his latest trip today, this time he found a train station online with a ridiculously long name he didn't believe existed so he had had to go and see if it was actually real. Most of his trips are kind of weird lately he'd noticed.

It made for some fun pictures and was starting to reignite his wanderlust that he'd thought he'd sated in his youth. It was different this time however, he wasn't running, searching with an edge of desperation. Now he was calm, plotting and thinking about where he wanted to take all his kids. He had a feel all of them, including Vision would love his old stomping grounds in Catalan and Italy especially. There were still a few Carbonell's around Catalan that he was welcomed easily, and his mother had had family in Italy too. They'd been the first places he'd gravitated to after graduating.

By the time 5 kids stampede into the kitchen and set up the table, he's already made a lot of pancakes and they're sat warming in the oven as he carries on. Now they're back, he puts a bit more flare into flipping much to Lilah and Tara's delight. He's sure the boys enjoy it too, but they're teenagers and are therefore, not allowed to show as much glee by some surly teenage code that you forget when you become an adult.

Laura wordlessly comes and joins him, prepping all the toppings she can think off. The first time she'd been invited to pancake day she'd been wary, so had the kids, sticking to the edges of the chaos, he assumed it was a product of being isolated for so long.

The kids came around first, for Lilah it had taken pancakes with increasingly weird facial expressions until she cracked, bursting out laughing. Cooper was slower, he did it by constantly being there. The kid texted him? He answer. Kid needed him, he dropped pretty much everything to be there. Slowly Cooper realised Tony wasn't going anywhere and had opened up. He knew what it had cost the teen, Harley had similar issues so he had had practice. Plus, he always thought 'What would Howard do?' Then he'd do the opposite. When the kid brought homework to him he'd been overjoyed.

Then Nate started teething, and Laura was going mad, looking after three children, alone, in a new environment after so many years of isolation and having to do everything herself. It was just too much for her. He tried to lighten the load with Lilah and Cooper, but Laura needed a break. She'd been 'on' for years, mostly alone. So, Tony had turned up at her door every night offering help. Nate was a terror for teething and one night she'd cracked, begging for help so she could just sleep. That she'd do X or Y. He'd just pulled them both into his apartment, Laura's room was a mess. Sent her to bed, utterly confused and sat up with a very fussy baby. Which had been weird and he wasn't sure if he was the best person for this job, but seeing Laura well rested 9 hours later, Nate had conked on his chest (no way in hell was he moving the demon child when he was silent!) it was worth it. When Tony set his mind to something, he usually achieved it.

He had won them over one by one, and now Lilah and Cooper practically stampeding around his house was a common enough occasion he didn't even blink. Tara huffing about correct plate placements, Lilah needing her special purple plates. The boys jumping on each other for some unknown reason, currently Peter was on the ceiling, holding Coopers arms to dangle him off of the floor and Harley was kicking paper balls at them. No idea why. Plus, he kept getting distracted from pancake duty by Nates cooing. The kid was so adorable it should be illegal. Plus, he'd gotten quite close to the kid after many late nights and he'd developed a range of teething products to ease the poor kids pain.

He wasn't sure when his life had become so domestic. But Laura was smiling more, she leaned on him more, she let him help with the kids and she at some point appointed herself his PA / Bodyguard. He didn't complain, one- she was terrifyingly efficient, she could give Pepper a run for her money, two- she reminded him of Aunt Peggy and three- She smiled more, he got the idea that she missed working, and possibly adult company. He knew the idea of living on the farm alone, even with the kids sounded absolutely horrible. It would be fun for a few months, tops. Then he'd need adult company and the kids would need kid company.

They make small talk, discussing the new inhabitants coming to the 'Chaos Floor' as he'd dubbed it. They were at the top of the residential wing, the level for larger, multiroom apartments, that had ended up being housing for people with children. 3 of the 4 now filled. Compared to the 6 apartments of the other floors Children are pure embodiments of chaos. Thus, Chaos Floor.

Laura started taking over toppings and he carried on making pancakes, Peter has already 'sneakily' eaten 4. Kid seriously needs some training on being sneaky, as soon as you work out to look up he's so easy to find and his subterfuge is useless. Now it's true than in general, humans don't look up. He should know, he used that fact himself multiple times as Ironman, but he was sneaker with rupulsers on fool compared to Peter. He grabbed a spatula and swatted him before he'd noticed what Tony was up to, flipping to the floor, about to complain but Tony stuck a spoonful of Nutella into his mouth. Utterly distracting the teen as he hummed happily around the spoon and picked up a plate to take to the table.

Flipping a coin with Laura, he gets Nate duty. Not that he is complaining at all, the person with Nate just has Nate, Laura gets to help everyone else. He shoots her a grin, pancake day is perfect for Nate duty. 3 boys and 2 young girls with a variety of toppings? Yup. Chaos. Pure sugary, syrupy chaos. By the end there is Nutella, fruit and powdered sugar practically everywhere, mostly on Laura. He didn't get off clean either, Nate has clapped icing sugar in his face. The kids charge off to the TV, leaving the adults to clean the pancake bomb site, he doesn't mind however, they had fun and that's more important than a neat, orderly table in his books any day. Memories of stuff, overly formal silent breakfasts flash in his mind. No, this was better. Tony settles Nate in his play thingy, bouncing happily and joins Laura.

"Tony."

"Yup?"

"How did you get Nutella in your hair? Nate didn't even have Nutella."

Tony pats his head, coming away with a handful of Nutella, laughing and wipes as much as he can with wet wipes until he could wash his hair after.

"I don't think I even want to know...?"

"That's probably wise. I have powdered sugar in my bra and I'm not sure when, or how, that happened either."

They both burst out laughing as they finish up, Laura turns to head towards the kids leaving Tony to finish putting stuff away, but Tony holds her back.

"Hang on, I have a.. Thing."

"A thing? Very informative."

"Okay, I've done this enough that you'd think I'd get better at by now."

He mutters under his breath, just getting a raised eyebrow and a smile from Laura .

"Right, you know I was in a coma. Well, of course you do."

Tony rolls his eyes whilst Laura chuckles at him as he tries to work out how to do this. He generally avoids talking about 'them' with Laura. Spitting mad is an understatement at Roger's. Cold fury towards Clint. She and Nat however had been slowly repairing their relationship which made him happy. Although Nat had to stop relying on human anchors at some point for her own sake, but that was an uncomfortable conversation in his future, for now she was making progress.

"It's a hard thing to forget Tony. I didn't know you well, but you saved my family when you had not long left that hospital bed. I remember how dreadful you looked when you took the helmet off."

Oh yeah, he remembered that, he'd been okay until he forgot that the helmet blocked his vision. He'd not had it long then and he was fighting Ross' tac teams in his defence, so he'd kind of forgotten? Failing into old habits, then he took the helmet of and it all slammed back. He'd been very, very close to throwing up, or passing out, but he'd managed to stay conscious. Staring at the kids at helped him focus. He didn't want to scare them even more than they'd already been, what was worse was Coopers colours spoke of resignation and Lilahs of broken promises and abandonment. They'd expected their dad to save them and it was heart wrenching to him. It's why he'd thrown himself so completely into helping the family heal. She had learned he'd left his hospital bed to bring them home, the compound was in baby stages at that point. She had promptly marched him back with a tight thank you. Understandably not trusting him

Kids fluctuated more than adults and slowly started to settle as they grew. Adults could change, sure, could heal wounds from the past, but he'd noticed it was harder, scars lasted longer. Until they hit a certain point their colours were in flux and whilst scars were left, they bounced back better. He didn't want Coopers to land at such resignation that people would leave and betray him, like that was a fundamental fact of the universe. He wanted Lilah to know people could keep promises and not everyone left. Between the two of them, it was incredibly familiar feelings for him and no way was he letting that lay if he could help. Laura had been suspicious, she knew a lot about him from Clint, SHIELD and the media, so hardly nice things, she knew of his Tony Stark persona and that was about it. So having him suddenly so invested in her family had been concerning.

As time went on, she'd been scared the kids would learn to rely on him and he'd get bored and leave. When he sat reading the Hobbit to Lilah every night and bought science kits to help Cooper at school, when he left the lab at a seconds notice if she needed help with Nate she started to realise how serious he was. He picked up on it when one night she was flooded with guilt about how she had perceived him. She hadn't said anything but her colours were all stained with it. He'd stunned her by giving her a hug and telling her it was okay, he knew how people perceived him, he told her he was happy she'd come around and that was what mattered.

"Why, thank you. Such lovely compliments I get! In my own home as well..."

Laura promptly kicked his shin, his undignified yelp and hopping on one leg draws the attention of the kids, who just grin and congratulate Laura. Sass. Everywhere.

"Ow! Between you and Harley my shins are just bruises."

"So, is this 'Thing' anything to do with you practically permanently wearing glasses?"

"Um. Yes. I really underestimated how many people had noticed that. I was more injured than most people know, Rhodey had to use Extremis to save me, and it had some.. complications? I'm telling the team everything at a meeting later, but I wanted you and the Mini Agents to know first."

There are some benefits to telling Laura, he didn't have to explain Extremis for one and she'd seem a lot of weird. Even when she left SHIELD she kept up on things. Tony puts the last of the plates away as Laura drains the sink, she turned to face him, leaning casually on the side. Angling himself away from the kids, as it'll be Laura's choice if they know about this, he slipped the glasses off. Laura's eyes widened slightly but apart from that she didn't show much reaction, even her colours. Stable and safety, that was Laura. Was it any wonder he always wanted mom hugs off of her?

"I'm assuming this is an Extremis you modified? As I don't remember the others having blue eyes, more orange, and I don't think you're going to explode."

"Yes, it's one I tweaked with in my spare time. It doesn't have the exothermic issue as the original because I cut out the part that tries to rebuild dead tissue. It was just too unstable with that function, practically impossible to balance. So I can't cut of a limb and have it grow back, but I don't explode. Which is good because I don't want to explode."

He can hear Peter chuckling behind him and he knows the kid can hear their conversation.

"So, your left eye?"

"Beyond saving unfortunately. The right had just enough live nerves that Extremis could fix it, same with most of the damage, bar this."

Tony tapped the code to reveal his hand.

"Oh Tony, what on earth happened to you."

"Got into a fight, suit was disabled and got to enjoy the beauty of spring in Siberia from a metal coffin."

Tony said, he was going for light snark but it came off more bitter. He shook his head, offering her a smile. He avoided saying much else, conscious that Peter could hear. The kid knew who he'd been in the fight with, he'd refused to leave his hospital room and he'd woken up screaming Steve too many times for him to not know. That didn't mean he was going to burden him with other details however.

"Anyway, it's been pointed out to me, hiding from my family is negatively affecting my 'mental health' and I'm not progressing with control. And to be honest. I'm sick of wearing the Damned glasses around everyone. I want to.."

"Not be on guard 24/7? I understand Tony and I'm happy you told me."

"Me too."

"So your eye? You can see out of it?"

"Oh yeah, I can see more, kind of like Strange, maybe, I get impressions from people."

Laura nods as if that was a puzzle piece she had been missing about him but just smiled at him, not asking the hundred questions that most others come up with when they find out.

"Shall we go show the kids?"

"What? You mean just walk over there? Just like that?"

"Yup" Laura grinned, popping the P. "We could bet to see how long it takes them to notice. I bet lilah sees your hand first."

Tony blinks a few times before smiling as Laura's easy acceptance of him flutters around him at this proximity, warming him that little bit more inside. He'd never thought he'd make it here. Never thought he'd be able to let people in again, he'd been determined not to, but kids man. They were impossible to keep out. At least for him.

"Cooper will spot my eyes first I think, what does the winner get?"

“Next time the lot of us go out for lunch, loser is on kid wrangling duty, out of sequence. You are next up so if I win I'll get 2 dinners in a row. Oooh, when Meg gets here we can invite them to our outings and we'll have more people to cycle!"

"That's a great idea, Tara and Lilah will probably love Cassie too… what even is my life now? Go back a decade and tell me I'd have super powers and me plotting going out with kid wrangling and I'd fall over laughing."

Tony grinned, definitely weird, but a really good weird. Happy weird. Just what he'd needed weird

Domesticity was something he hadn't even conceived of, getting weird powers was more likely than this.

"Hmm, but good weird? And we can discuss your super powers later? Hope you have some fun ones. I suspect now you've 'come out' as it were, you lot will be joining us for breakfasts in the common room more?"

Tony blinks. Everyone was much better at accepting this than him it seems. So far people had been amazingly chill. He wasn't sure if he was happy or if it was kind of annoying.. He'd expected someone to yell at him, or to be disappointed in him. To see it as altering himself in his arrogance, to gain power. He hadn't realised how much he'd been waiting for someone to react like how he suspected Roger's would until just now. Since Ultron the super soldier had not hidden his disappointment in him, hadn't hidden how he thought him reckless, egotistical and selfish, hadn't hidden his concern that Tony would do something like Ultron again. Hadn't stopped the others from sniping at him, but gotten disappointed or angry if Tony had ever snapped back. It was like the man was blind to anyone's comments but his own.

He'd gotten so used to it, it so similar to his childhood, being expected to fuck up, that this easy acceptance had unnerved him. He knew that if he had not gotten his Sight, he wouldn't have believed it. Thought it a trick. As much as it bothered him on occasion, he realised he was in some way, thankful for it. He'd seen people through a cloud of bias his whole life, never able to trust people saying good things, that he had to poke, prod, test and push. It was a miracle Rhodey, Pep and Happy had put up with it. He shook his head from his dark thoughts.

"Yup, definitely good weird, my favourite kind of weird. I'm a technopath now, which sounds utterly ridiculous, but the best description we've come up with. That is also the plan, see more adult humans. If people already know, I'll be less paranoid of slipping up, so I can spend more time around people."

Tony smiled, scooped up a babbling Nate before he thought about it, it had become a normal, muscle memory thing for him. He liked holding the little kid so he snagged him often. It wasn't until Nate was excitedly patting his temples,poking at his eyes, that he realised he was glasses free. That he was focused on his brightly glowing left eye and realised it probably reminded him of the nightlight Tony made. He'd noticed Nate loved the Arc Reactors, so he'd made a mind one and a picture frame fitting for it. It slotted in the middle and a spiral lit up from the centre, the outer frame glowed brightly too. Twisting it change the brightness, he'd made one for Tara too that had a projector attack that projected stars on her ceiling. He was currently building Lilah one too and trying to work out a manly way of for Coop who had showed interest but was embarrassed to ask outright.

"Well, I think Nate likes you better without glasses and that's great, we miss you when you can't come. Lilah made a 'Cushion Uncle Tony' to save your spot until you are healed enough to join everyone more often."

Laura said casually over her shoulder, waiting for Tony's brain to Reboot and trying not to grin. Surprised that his presence had been missed.

"And out of all the abilities I saw a few at SHIELD, a tech related one suits you perfectly. There was one girl who could read hard drives by touching them.."

"Oh yeah, I can do that. But I think I have wireless."

She grinned and flopped comfortably into the armchair she claimed as hers when they did breakfast together with just the 2 families.

"So will I have to evict Cushion Tony when I start coming to team brekkies?"

Tony asked the kids, eyebrow raised as he dropped onto the sofa with Nate, in between Lilah and Tara, in his claimed spot. Peter and Cooper, despite having ample chair space, were sat on the rug in front of his seat playing Mario Kart. Glancing around he realised the kids sort of surrounded him, how had he not noticed that before? Laura gave him a knowing look, smiling, obviously amused at how oblivious he had apparently been.

Cooper was crowing his victory as Peter sulked, startling him out of his thoughts as Peter leaned back onto his leg. Harley was grinning from the other armchair, kicking Peter gently in the shoulder with a socked foot for losing. Tony was laughing along when Cooper brought everyone's attention to Tony.

"Wow! Uncle Tony! When did you get a different eye! Is this why you've always been wearing glasses? Can you see out of it? I mean there isn't a pupil, so can it see? Does it glow in the dark? Can you change its colour? "

Coopers barrage of questions that Tony had been blinking at utterly cracked Harley up and reminded Tony of a much younger Harley. He could tell the kids had been spending a lot of time with each other. Also, Ha, he won that bet, he shot Laura a grin.

"Um, 2 months ago, yes, kind of, yes and I don't think so?"

He glanced at Lila to make sure she's okay with this latest 'Uncle Tony development'. She's more interested with his hand, that he isn't that shocked about, his Lilly-bean is his little engineer in training, he'd been slowly building up her set of tools. Everything was purple and glittery, he hadn't known you could get them purple and glittery and he suspected FRIDAY had something to do with it.

He sits back, passes Nate to Laura as Cooper wiggles in next to him to ask 500 questions. Laura watched in entertainment as her kids wrangle as much details out of Tony as possible. She however sulked when she saw Tony had 'fountain of youth'ed' himself. Tony is smug for all of 5 seconds until Laura points out, that with his new youthful exuberance he clearly should get extra wrangling duties.

………..

A while later Tony was nervous about this team meeting business. Telling people one on one is one thing and he thinks he's got that down now. Telling a whole bunch of people? Yikes. He had a long shower to get rid of the Nutella and apparently powdered sugar he hadn't noticed down his back. Smartened himself up, not a full suit, not exactly required for a team meeting. Chucking on a black full sleeved shirt that he could slip his thumb through the sleeve. It had a silver star on the right pocket and was one of Harleys finds a shocking amount of his wardrobe came from them now.

Apparently Cooper and Lilah wanted in too and Tony idly wonders about the intelligence of letting the hyper hoard dress him. Considering FRIDAYS propensity to order anything vaguely iron man related, it could be worse. The Black pinstripe trousers have silver thread worked in too. For a girl who consistently wears odd socks, Tara is oddly invested in him match things up. Pepper had been dubious of this 'this kids are dressing me' thing but decided that the kids were more likely to get him into less ridiculous items of clothing and speaks to them directly about it. Because why would he need to be consulted on what he wears? He's also pretty sure his outfits weren't that bad before either..

Slipping on his silver aviators, he decides he's quite fine with this new system. But then the kids love it and he is utterly wrapped around their fingers. They are with Laura now, Jim and Maggie had gotten in when he was looking after the kids during the post breakfast hyper-burst when Laura went on mission, so he swapped out for this meeting when they got back, plus they all wanted to introduce Cassie to the wonders of living at the compound. He reminded them to go slow, and they nodded very seriously, they all knew what it was like to find to the compound during trying times, he trusted the munchkins. Well, he trusted Peter to remind Lilah and Tara why they couldn't just drag Cassie everywhere on day one.

He makes his way to the meeting room, very early. Mostly out of nerves and sat himself down in the comfy chairs in the far corner of the room. Maybe if he hides in the corner he can hold off on Strange seeing him and yelling at him. The man and his weird magic, Tony is sure that he'll 'Know' something, likely in a similar way that he 'Sees' stuff. At least his isn't magic. His phone rings, jarring him out of his musings on magic, seeing its Shuri he placed it in front of him, bringing up the holoscreen and answering the call.

"Hi Dr Stark! Your parcel arrived!"

"Yay, and Princess, we talked about this. You can call me Tony. By the end of this year I expect you and Peter to call me Tony!"

Now he had Peters hand cover (really needs a better name!) he could talk with his hands, finally. Much better. He practically had to sit on his hand to not slip up on more than one occasion. He gave her his 'I'm an unimpressed dad face', but it was spoilt a little with the grin on his face, causing her to grin back.

"Hmmm, maybe, but you will have to call me Shuri instead of Princess. Plus, not enough people use your Doctor title, it makes me want to use it more."

Tony's eyebrows shot up at that, wondering what prompted it.

The rogues loved to just call him Stark, it annoyed him nearly as much as people he knew outside of business calling him 'Mr Stark', that was always Howard to him.

"Ah, to be perpetually underestimated. Of course, you know what it's like, Princess."

He grinned at her laughter, he'd been coaching her, instead of getting annoyed at people underestimating her for a multitude of reasons. To wield it like a sword instead. She was quite vicious with it and he loved it.

"The last council meeting was fun, I finally got to talk to your Rhodey! My brother was quite confused when he would only talk to me!"

The two of them laughed, she'd sent the clips to him at the time of course. They'd been subtly trolling her brother for weeks now, much to Tony's amusement, he hadn't told Rhodey why he was having a spat with T'Challa, but Rhodey was happy to play along for amusements sake. Although is Rhodey knew why he suspected his Sour patch would be a little more active in his irritation.

"Rhodey doesn't even know why I'm annoyed! How is King Kitty doing? Enjoy my presents?"

"He was utterly baffled about how you got them to us, I think he actually thought no one knew the idiots were here!"

"Well, just me and the kids know. They know not to blab. I don't want your brothers offer of generosity to hurt your home. Plus it is probably better for the planet that you have them contained."

The idea of them running around was not good, at least in Wakanda they stayed put. Shuri had told him about their demands to set up Wakanda as a base ops to run Avengers missions from. The king had said no, obviously, they also were not Avengers anymore. He'd sorted out legally under the Accords and copyright that he owned the title 'Avengers'.

Well, Rogers did say the Avengers were his, he took the people, so he kept the brand. Plus Fury had transferred practically everything over to him after SHIELD, probably to ensure he carried on funding them. Funny how things worked out really.

"I know, but they're so annoying. Rogers has asked me for a new shield twice this week alone. He demanded it be vibranium too!"

"Oh what did you tell him this time?"

Tony leaned forward, he really didn't care much about the rogues, not now, but he did care about Shuri's snark. They were 2 peas in a snarky pranking pod. He wondered if Shuri had told T'Challa it had been his and the kids idea to tin foil over everything in his room. Shuri said it had taken ages but Okoye, who was fast becoming one of his favourite people, had gleefully joined in. T'Challa so far had no idea that Okoye had developed a sudden love for pranks, and that was not his fault at all.

"I told him that I'm sorry he feels so scared that he requires a shield but reminded him that Wakanda is well defended. He looked utterly baffled at my offense."

"I'm not shocked, they always wanted new gear and I don't think they noticed I personally made everything for them. It was just expected. Until I started working with my new guys I thought that was normal."

Tony shook his head to put thoughts of the rogues away. He thought about them less these days, but occasionally he'd turn and expect Steve in the kitchen, Clint up in the vents that were now being person proofed. He couldn't resize them without a lot of work, but there were welded grills being put in place to make moving more than half a room virtually impossible. Only Goose with her currently being installed cat flaps could travel when it was complete. Then there was Wilson, with his magazines, everywhere. The jock who reads psychology journals and leaves them in strange places. He found one in the breadbin once. Wanda is less pleasant, all he remembers is scowls, evil smirks and cold fear at tendrils of red. He tried to be nice but looking back he realised there was no point.

"I think I might have dropped enough hints around my brother now that he might do more than just sulking about their presence. Oh, and expect some presents from him, he's finally realised you are mad at him!"

Hmm, wonder what the King will send? He's not used to gifts really. Except watches, rich people always give other rich people watches. He has so many it's actually ridiculous. He could probably wallpaper a wall with them, not sure if that's a wonderful idea or awful..

"Took him long enough, I was actually considering hiring a skywriter if the call didn't work."

"You did give him a plushy though."

She ribbed him gently, he smiled however. She knew that whilst he was kind of miffed at her brother, he was just holding onto his anger for anger's sake. He knew that soon enough the naive, earnest King would be fine, they had a surprising amount in common, thrust into positions of power young. T'Challa had a much better support system however but Tony still had concern for the man. His efforts to subtly protect him politically speaking in the UN and with politics in Africa. At least what he could do anonymously and not outright chucking his very white self into the mix. He just wanted to play a supporting role for the two Royals. Especially after their father passed.

"Well, I don't hate his Royal Kittiness, he's still quite young and naive, especially when it comes to people all shiny and perfect looking like Rogers. Captain Spandex is easy to believe in his earnest ways. When he realises that he lies as much as anyone else.."

Tony shrugged. Few people saw beneath the shiny perfection to the stubborn arrogance beneath. He should know, he was stubborn and arrogant and he and Rogers often buttered head on fundamental things. Rogers was standing up for his principles. He was usually seen as being belligerent for no reason. An annoying double standard born of this ridiculous notion he had no principles.

"I'm sure we can wake him up eventually, he was very angry when I left him. Maybe Mr Rogers is going to get a visit."

"Oh, that I HAVE to see!"

"I'll make sure to send you the footage, I of course will not be there. The Witch has taken to hanging on to him like a leech. Although it's had a knock on effect of them bothering me in my lab less since I banned the little witch from my presence."

Tony's laughs tapered off first fear hit him, that was drowned out by concern by Shuri. He blames it on spending time with all the kids, apparently he was a collector now and Shuri had snuck her way into the pack. Ever since Shuri had called him in a rage and showed him footage of the witch sneaking up behind her.. It had happened barely a day after he'd discovered the footage of her doing it to him. He'd managed to hold off the panic attack till he got off of the phone, but it had been a bad one. He had fried half his lab and fully left his body in a way, he'd spent 3 hours bouncing around various servers and the Internet until FRIDAY had found him.

He liked having the witch gone, he liked having the rogues contained. He also felt guilty they had to deal with the witch. Not that he wanted her with him, but at least then she wouldn't be tormenting anyone else. Rhodey had called him an idiot when he'd told him that, that Tony also didn't deserve to suffer either. They could disagree on that anyway. He mostly didn't want her near the kids.

"She hasn't tried anything again has she? I don't know what I'd do if she got to you too."

Shuri gave him an encouraging smile that eased the tightness of his chest.

"Nope" She grinned, popping the P. "She'd have to get within several buildings of me for that. Sometimes I go close to where ever they are, just to amuse myself with her being forced back to the villa."

Tony burst out laughing at that, he felt almost as light as he had at breakfast. His kids, and yes, Shuri was in on that even though she didn't know it, always could make him feel better. Carol stuck her head through the door and gave him a little wave. He checked the time and realised the meeting was about to start.

"That's brilliant, Princess. I have to go for now, I hope you like the dress, Peter found that! Don't forget to occasionally take breaks and eat!"

"Ha, coming from you that is hilarious. Goodbye Dr Stark, I'll text you later with his response to BARF!"

Tony shut down the Holoscreen as Carol and Rhodey entered the room.

"Damn boy. You are on time for a meeting. Early even!"

"Hey now Sour patch, I'm always on time for Carols meetings."

He winked at Carol, who sat down next to Tony looking very smug whilst Rhodey spluttered and wheeled himself to the empty spot next to Tony where the chair had been removed. He pushed a lever next to the seat and his chair raised him up so he was on the level with everyone else.

Vision floated in from the ceiling at the same time Hope and Jessica walked in from the door like sensible people. Vision offered him a supportive smile at the same time he sent pictures to him alongside a brush of code. He grinned at him, chuckling at the picture of Vision floating next to a ridiculously long train station sign. He asked if he could send the picture on to the kids and he nodded. He sent it to Carol and Rhodey too. They were grinning at the picture when Danny and Luke came in, a few minutes later Matt entered the room too. He asked Danny a question and Danny brought Matt straight to him. 'Oh no, this isn't Ultron yet is it?'. He tried to keep the immediate panic down of dealing with both things.

"Tony"

"Yes Matt?"

"I just checked my bank account, why am I being paid twice?"

"Um mmmmm. Yeah?"

"One of them is also a lot more than we discussed!"

"Well, technically you are employed twice because of your secret identity. So, 2 sets of payments."

Tony shrugged as it it made perfect sense, Jessica and Luke were cracking up and Matt just looked mostly confused.

"I'm not going to win this argument am I?"

"Nope! And you are paid the same rate as all the on call lawyers at SI, you're on call here. Plus I don't handle the team members payments, it's taken from a multifund of me, Danny and Hope now."

Matt shook his head and headed to his seat, muttering about infuriating engineers, everyone got comfortable chatting in small groups whilst they waited for the ever unfashionably late Dr Wiz. Carols phone trilled and she frowned.

"Strange is going to be even more late than usual, at least he got Wong to text this time, I say we start without him if that's OK Tony?"

"Oh hell yes, that's makes it easier, I was sure he'd but in and poke around with his 'wizardry senses'." 9

Tony waived his hands dramatically, making everyone laugh. Plus he wanted some time to deal with people's colours a bit before Strange got here. Most of his unconscious trips were because of Stephy, and that was at a distance without him even knowing he was there. Unless he really focused, the team colours flowed together. He still got light impressions but nothing pulling him under.

Danny still had a sense of uncertainty about him that had resulted in he and Hope taking him on like a baby duckling to teach him the ways of boring galas and networking. He was a mix of green usually, with some yellow thrown in. Lots of energy he didn't seem to know what to do with.

Luke, was this quiet solid strength. Like stone but different, Tony had actually spent time Googling rocks to find something 'Luke-like' so he could name it in his mind as 'weird rock' was a bit strange really. He finally settled that he looked like prescilli bluestone. He was just like a grounding force to those he spoke too, Tony liked it when he came around because his colours moved so slow they were practically stationery and had pulled him back from passing out more than once.

Jessica was a lot like the glimpses of him that he'd caught. But he mostly ignored what he saw of himself, pretty easy to do actually. Jessica was this beautiful deep, deep purple entwined with the striking black ebony. She was one of his favourites, and not just because there were cracks splintered through. The Black always gave him so much information but not at an overload, maybe it was their similarities but he'd been able to read Jess easier than the others. It practically punched into him. Power, fear, strength, mystery, the cracked filled with this shining silver that sparked like magnesium on fire, compassion with a sense of justice that made him smile.

Matt was all reds. Every red different from the other, he could probably stare at Matt for an hour and probably still see more reds. That's one of the reasons he wanted them so together for this, so he wouldn't get lost in them, just skim the surface and check on people. Matt was intelligent, secretive and tortured by his own violence, but that was changing he'd noticed. Strength, power, passion and determination was shining more and more each time he saw him. That made him smile, Matt had cracks too, so many of them did that it made Tony feel a bit better, but for Tony, his cracks had chasms.

He glanced at Vision again and grinned. Vision didn't have colours, he had code. It was all a bright, shining gold that whirled around him. Sometimes like a shield when his new emotions overwhelmed him. Sometimes it glitched, repeating over and over, like a computer version of panic he was sure that was. Strength and purity were always there, kindness too. He kept getting more complex every week as he grew and Tony was amazed, they spoke about his code sometimes, occasionally he'd try and write bits down so they could both see it.

Hope was like a sun, bursting with different oranges, so intelligent but pushed back and kept down with her dad that she hid it just like him. So now it explodes and sparks around her, red wound its way around her too, but for her it was distrust. Life had taught her to be wary and the red wound around her like a snake, strangling some of her other colours, he was happy to see that the green within it had made headway, growing like scales, displacing the red. Wisdom, loyalty and trust.

'-ny Tony, are you okay?"

He snapped his eyes to Carol and realised he had slumped in his chair, his mouth was drying and his head was spinning a little. He slipped from skimming to getting pulled in without even noticing it. But, he was conscious, so that's a win. Some of peoples colours had started interacting with those around them, reaching out and connecting, which meant he had focused too hard when he started checking on people. He mentally pulled himself back and looked again, this time he could see only the most dominant colours and the weren't sucking him in.

"How.. Urm, how long?"

"A few minutes, are you okay? You don't have to do this."

He glanced around the room again, seeing concern on people's face and seeing it in their colours as they shifted their full focus onto him. They weren't annoyed at him holding up the meeting like he'd suspected, they were worried about him. Jessica was sparking brightly with it, Hope a strong steady warmth reaching out to him. Carol and Rhodey, steel and electricity mingling to surround him, strength and protective reds whirling around Matt, Visions code shield.. But for him... Luke a quiet rock offering grounding and Danny was almost vibrating with nerves. He actually had to blink a few times because Holy crap, having this many people actively caring for his wellbeing was overwhelming as fuck.

"No, no, I'm fine. I just slipped is all."

He could see the confusion on people's faces, but they sat and waited patiently for him to get his bearings.

"So, um, I guess your all wondering why I called you here today? Well, I'm done 'recovering' and can start working again. I'm still not.. Able to be on the active roster, I need to train with you guys before that."

"Aw Tony, I've been looking forward to seeing you fly, because then you get to take me up."

Jessica grinned at him, she really was excited about the idea of flying too, which was awesome.

"We'll I might be ok for that, I don't know. I'm a bit weird now?"

"You've always been weird Tech."

Hope grinned at him, she hadn't called him Tech in ages, since they were young enough to think they'd been good at naming each other. it had started as a way to send each other stuff without their parents knowing who was getting it, he smirked back, knowing she hated her nickname with a passion now.

"I dunno Blueberry, compared to you I'm practically normal."

Everyone was glancing between the two, glee obvious on some of their faces.

"We are hearing the story behind this later.. Right?"

Danny was grinning widely now and Hope her face in her hands.

"I should have known you'd call me that. Tech was much better than sodding Blueberry."

"Ha, yes, I will tell all about Blueberry and Technical Difficulties adventures of boarding school one day. For now this is Tony Stark and the coma."

Everyone snapped to look at him and leaned forward at that. Carol and Rhodey each squeezed one of his legs.

" So, you all know I spent 10 days in a coma and then mostly vanished for 2 months right? "

Everyone nodded and stayed quiet, which was a miracle in itself as they usually derailed somehow with some random conversations. It was nice though when it happened, not bickering, more like an organic conversation.

"Well I was slipping deeper into the coma, my previous health issues combined with recent injuries that landed me in the coma, the human body can push so far and I'm pretty sure I was living on spite and coffee before that happened."

He chuckled in his usual self deprecating way, everyone just looked supportive, (Vision, Carol and Rhodey) concerned, (Danny and Luke) alarmed, (Hope) and downright angry (Matt and Jess).

"Rhodey stepped in with Extremis, a version I used to have heart surgery to remove my arc reactor. Dr Cho also used the cradle in hopes they could heal the.. Uh damage. But it just wasn't working. The damage was too bad, the hospital was arguing that it wanted to.. "

He rubbed his face. This bit was harder than he thought. Talking about nearly having several amputations wasn't fun. Even with practice.

"It was bad. After 6 days, it had been long enough for my 'MamaBear' protocol to switch to Rhodey. Basically gave him access to private servers if I'm gone, out or dead for 6 days incase there is anything important Rhodey needs to know that FRIDAY can't say without my permission. She'd been counting down the seconds, because I had another version of Extremis. "

" This is the virus that blew people up right? "

Hope looked concerned, everyone else was leaning forward.

" Yup, that's the one. It was intended to heal war vets that had lost limbs. But it was frankly, messed up, the heat created when regrowing dead tissue left people volatile and it was so unstable people exploded."

"And you have had this twice?!"

Poor Danny.

"Im fine, no exploding! And three times actually. The version hidden in my private server was more of a thought experiment than anything else. Never intended to be seen by anyone but me and never used. FRIDAY was meant to delete it if I was gone, but she got around it by showing Rhodes who ordered her not to."

"What did you do to it?" Hope asks and a few people echoed it.

"What didn't I do? I stripped it bare and built in tons of stuff. But I never tested it, it was stable though. Unlike the other versions, I can't disable it, it's coded into my DNA. But I'd be dead or in… bad shape without it. It can't regrow entirely dead nerves like the original, but there was enough that it could work on for most parts. I only lost one of my hands. "

Everyone looks at his hands in confusion. As they're both there. He up buttons his left sleeve and rolls it up to his elbow and they turns off the cover.

" Holy shit you have a robot hand! That's freaking awesome. "

He grins, typical Danny finds this amusing. Everyone is torn between that's awesome and looking upset that he lost a hand.

"The only other thing that it couldn't save was one of my eyes. But I can't complain, I was 100% blinded until then, now my right eye is fine and my left eye was.. Replaced? Yeah. Replaced. I'm assuming you all knew I had an arc reactor in my chest? Well that run originally on Palladium."

Hope sucked in a breath at that, and glared at him. Oops, might have not told her about the nearly dying thing. Matt was looking at him in sympathy for the blinded comment and others looked confused at Hopes reactions, some looked horrified. The room split on who knew palladium was poisonous basically.

"As palladium isn't a fun thing to have in the body, I needed something else. But nothing worked, so I made a new element."

"How the fuck do you make an element?" from Jessica and several what's from others. Carol looked impressed, Rhodey annoyed as he remembered that all too well, with his rants on how ridiculous it was to threaten a man whose life depended on the electromagnet in his chest working with being razed.

"Whilst nearly dying and with agents threatening to taser me, build a particle accelerator and woop, new element."

Most people just blinked at him, Carol just looked at him in quiet horror, glancing at Rhodey. Yeah he had a feeling Carol would like the longer versions of these stories oddly.

"It's called Starkanium." Hope jumped in to break the awkward silence that hell at that.

"They rejected Badassium." Tony pouts.

"What is your life? Because even from our perspective man, that's weird."

Luke grinned at him which got everyone chuckling again. A few people saying that one day they wanted the entire story to Tony's laughing.

"So, I had this in me for a while. The element, Howard actually found it, working with the tesseract."

Carol sat up at that point, he must have missed that bit, he made a note to ask her about it later because he felt something.. Else around her now he'd gotten more used to her colours. Like a matching tuning fork buzz. As he'd been nervous of accidentally outing himself before, it had meant he'd not spent a lot of time near her. Now that he'd spent more time with her and closer too and it had become more obvious.

He felt something around Vis too weirdly, he'd thought it was just the technopathy, until recently feeling something from Carol, the buzz was much stronger with her though. Made him want to curl up and nap next to her again weirdly. Very comfy vibe.

He wondered if Vis had that with Wanda, and if that's what they'd built their short, badly ended, romance on. Them both being from the mind stone, maybe Starkanium had more of a presence than he'd really thought about, just blaming everything on Extremis. Just maybe it was like he and Carol were from the tesseract, another weird space object. He kind of understood the pull for Carol because of that, but Vis was confusing, yeah Loki used the mind stone and wanted the tesseract, but they were utterly different things that weren’t even slightly related. He shot Carol a smile and mouthed that he was sorry he missed that out.

"So yeah, even though I had the arc reactor out, apparently traces of it were still there, and the Extremis Virus I made really, really liked it. Lucky too because that meant it liked Vibranium as they're similar so my body didn't reject my… my hand. I'd been concerned Extremis would try to detach it by healing or something."

These people were too easy to talk too, that was a slip he wasn't ready for, Carol raised an eyebrow, Tony just shrugged.

"So it replaced my eye, and it's a bit weird, so um, don't freak out?"

With that he pulled his glasses off and glanced around the room.

"Matt as you can't see, one of my eyes is just like a blue glow? I can see out of it, really well in fact. Much more than a human. Pretty sure my eyesight trumps Hawkeyes now by a mile."

Rhodey sniggered whilst everyone looked at the changes Tony had gone through.

" So. And this is the bit I don't know how people will react to. I can.. See things with this eye. It's not like mind reading or anything. I think you could describe it as seeing auras like Strange but without that magic shit. I see colours around people that give me.. Intuition maybe? Yeah, that sounds about right. Gives me ideas of what they're like. I can't always work it out, it's super subjective and it's the reason why I occasionally pass out. Or zone of like I did earlier, sometimes it can be a bit much. Also I won't go around blabbing stuff I see about you guys. "

" Yeah, he's super strict about it. But if you bring him chocolate, he'll tell you about yourself though."

Rhodey hopped in for him, knowing Tony was close to panic rambling, bless his honeybear. He glanced around at everyone, trying to get an idea of how they felt about it. Most seemed interested, he was terrified to look at Jess, and was surprised to see her smile at him. He'd been worried she'd see him badly after that. She just rolled her eyes at him and flipped him off. Which was basically a hug from Jess.

"So, I'm also a technopath now."

"Your a what now?"

"Ha, Hope, urm. Remember when I melted your dad's server farm?"

"Yeah?"

"That was not long after I woke up but I was still learning how to control it, I chased the hacker in my mind, saw your dad and it made me angry.. Which accidentally melted the server farm."

Tony shrugged sheepishly as Hope replied.

"I'm starting to see why you took some time out! But training now is probably smart. Anything else?"

"I got a boost in the usual, durability, speed, strength, the usual. I don't know how much, but I'm really fast now at least. Oh."

He scrubbed the makeup off with the wipes he brought specifically for it and Hope just burst out laughing.

"I can't breathe fire though like the original Extremis guys…Blast a rocket through me and I don't know if I could heal it. They were terrifyingly strong too, I don't think I'm that strong. But I think I'm faster than they were. Getting a read on the extent of them was hard as they were trying to kill me."

"Don't worry Tony, we'll put you through the ringer."

Jessica looks way, way too happy about this, as does Carol… And Hope. So the girls want to beat him up. Charming.

"So, any questi-"

"Sorry I'm late everyon- HOLY FUCK TONY. WHAT DID YOU DO?!"

Tony actively considered climbing under the table but was still mostly shocked Strange apologised for being late. Or at least started too.

"Ah, urm, Hi Stephy. How are you doing?"

"So. This is why you've avoided seeing me in person?"

"That would be a yes. Yup."

Strange sighs and crosses the room, looking critically at him, no not at him. Around him. So this is what people feel like when he does it to them.yup, it's just as creepy as he worried it would be. He likes to think he'd more subtle about it however.

He has to really focus when looking at Strange. He's extremely different to other people. Gold swirling disks with strange symbols move in and around him. Actually in him. That's new. There are swirls that are silvery like mirrors, occasionally reflecting but it shifts, with glimmers of other things... His colours and there are a lot, are utterly brain fuckingly amazing, he's fractured too, worse than Jess, more like him. He has an ebony too but it's tarnished in places, and the cracks and bursting with gold. He basically screams strength and endurance.

His Oranges and red for arrogance and ego wrap tightly around a vibrant purple that if you blink, you'll miss it. He thinks that is his soft side, loyalty, it's corded like steel though. Very strong splashes and drops of pink burst around him, telling Tony that he is reading something in his aura. Tony's current favourite is the blue that is slowly starting to shimmer around him, a really pretty blue that is like the sky, it changes as you look at it, like day becoming night and back again. Trust and acceptance blinking in and out.

So yes Stephen is.. Different. He's currently just happy he hasn't passed out or blurted something out. Both wins. Also, there is the same sense he gets with Carol and Vis again, but different and it's not him, but on him.. Weird, before he can consider it Danny speaks, jarring him out of following the weird feeling.

"So. Um.. How long are they going to just stand there staring at each other?"

Danny blurts out after several minutes, Hope replies..

"Not a clue, but I don't think they're staring at each other.."

"Your right, they're staring around each other."

"This is getting kind of uncomfortable.."

Jess and then Luke join in which snaps Tony and Strange out at the same time. Both of them looking like the emerged from water.

"God you are an idiot."

Tony doesn't get to reply beyond a startled squeak as Strange pulls him in for a hug. He hugs the man back though, which startles Strange a bit, but Tony saw flashes a thin red zipping through his colours and knows that for some reason, Strange actually, really cares about him. Everyone is staring at them, open mouthed. Jess subtly takes a picture with her phone, proof and likely, blackmail material, that Stephen Strange hugs people, Tony winks at her over Stephens shoulder and sees a notification in his mind that she sent it to him. He is so framing it because it will annoy Stephy.

Plus he has pictures in his apartment now, it's still sleek and modern, but instead of Pepper or paying people to decorate, he and the kids did it. So it's a bit weird, Harley, Peter, Tony and Tara is generally going to be weird. Peter insisted on pictures, and apparently pictures are like tattoos or pringles. You put up 1 and then you can't see the wall

It's also true, they'd known each other for decades, so he should know if the man likes him... but they were both snarky, sarcastic arseholes. Whilst Tony had liked him and saw him as a friend, he was never sure it was reciprocated, because Tony is kind of shit at dealing with humans. As a rule he has noticed, if he thinks people hate him they seem to care about him and if he thought they cared about him they tried to kill him. 'It's probably bad that's a category with more than 1 person.' He muses to himself.

"Tony, what happened in Siberia?"

He freezes and Strange releases him so he can see him.

"Can't you.. See it or anything."

Tony waves his hands around, Strange raised an eyebrow at him.

"Can you See what happened to me?"

"No, it's not like that.. Also you are.. Different."

That makes Strange blink. He figures at some point they were going to sit down and Strange would bug him for every detail.

"You are too, you've always been a little different but now. You have weird stuff going on and I'm not even talking about your flashlight eye."

Tony bust out laughing about that before telling Stephen to sit and giving him the same run down as before. But he can tell it's not enough, somehow he knows something about Siberia.

"Tony?"

"Fine, fine, I probably should show you so anyway as it is Avengers related. You all know about the Civil War there is one fight I have kept.. Hidden. The Winter Soldiers didn't put me in a coma."

He turns on the wall screen mentally, causing a few people to jump before they move around so everyone is facing the wall. Oops, probably sound have mentioned the wall could do that before turning it on. Rhodey just gives him a withering glare before fishing a pair of headphones out of his bag.

"I can't watch this again either and I can't put my brain into the Internet."

 

Stephen POV

Stephen is.. On edge. He's been on edge for weeks and he didn't know why. Well, he knew why. It happened in July, something happened. He didn't know what but it hurt and he blacked out for 2 days. Whilst he might not have been the Sorcerer Supreme for long, this was too annoying, as well as the sense of dread that had built as time went on.

It had peaked when he heard Tony was in a coma for about a week after he'd woken up. They'd been searching for what had happened in many different dimensions, and not no where.

The tiny, eccentric, over energised man was an irritating, arrogant, annoyingly kind, forgiving and nice brother. He didn't want to like him when they met, heck he had actively tried not to like him. But they clicked, they were both outsiders that saw the world differently to those around them and people viewed them in a certain way. They both spent their days searching, hunting and striving for.. More. Because without that something, they got bored.

They got closer when they both ended up away from normal and in this life of magic and superheroes, but then Tony vanished. Then he was in a coma and he vanished again.

When he walked in the room Tony's aura blanketed out everything else that his senses were almost stunned into shock. The Cloak rippled with agitation too. There was pain, so much of it that it was hard to breathe past. Where as some people have sharp, jagged parts, that was practically all Tony was now. Like he'd been shattered over and over. Betrayal after betrayal. His heart broken, it was just so fucking much and so much worse that last time. There was some smoothing out though, somehow he was healing.

Stephen isn't even sure how he's standing let alone that he can still manage the trust and love required to heal. He could pick up words here and there too, he didn't want to delve too deep because that would be breaking his trust and looking at Tony… he honestly isn't sure he could survive it again. Not and still be Tony anyway, he's already clinging by a thread.

In the ice, he can see Siberia. He didn't know what it means, but the word is bleak, cold and terrifying and fraught with more meaning than he can read. Or honestly than he wants to. Its shattered ice and time that goes on and on and pain. Freezing, burning pain. It's also the connecting point of the other change that looks like nothing he's ever seen before. There is a hum about him though, a vibrating hum that feels comfortable, feels familiar somehow and oh fucking hell.

That's an Infinity Stone.

How?!

He tries to stop his racing mind and listens to the story he's just told everyone else. He knows he's giving people a short, censored version. When he talks about the hospital Stephen can see remnants of severe injuries. Everywhere. Frostbite he guesses for him feet, hands, his face has a lot too. His eyes for fuck sake!

His chest is strange too, like it's glowing but the arc reactor was removed years ago. It's also too big. There is so much change its hard to find a place to start He can't even try to sense much because now his entire being is humming like the space stone. He also knows Tony can feel a connection to the other stones and people affected. He can see the small trailing link. Now other people might let that drop, but Tony won't, so he gets to explain the Infinity Stones, 'awesome' . He's listening to Tony's story with a scowl too, if he thinks he can get away with this censored version with him, he will make him fall for an hour, dammit.

He wonders if Tony is seeing auras. He's seeing something and the way he describes it is definitely odd. He might be, or something else. The space stone is definitely at play. Not just handy for teleportation. Heck, he can do that and an infinity stone is several orders of magnitude more. As well as space, it can also transport to different dimensions. At a guess, he thinks that it's let Tony peel back a layer from the fabric of space. Instead of looking straight through, it's something close to this dimension, but there are somethings that human eyes, and even magic, are simply unable to see. How humans interact with the world around them and each other in a cosmic way. Although he hopes that Tony does not end up with the full capabilities of that space stone, Tony Stark accidentally creating singularities would be awkward. Tony Stark teleporting would be extremely annoying. But then when the Infitiy Stones interact with humans the results are highly unpredictable and not always what one would expect.

He and Carol are the same, and different, all at once, for example, Carol thrums with cosmic energy and Tony is beating with it like blood from his heart.

Carols energy pours out and Tony's...it is pouring in, almost pooling inside him. But he has no idea what that means, if it means anything. Tony seems to think his abilities are Extremis based... And they might be, but they're likely being powered by the energy of the space stone. He's definitely using at least one ability that is the work of the Infinity Stone.

He considers how to explain this to Tony, but generally he is in the dark too. He'll have to get Wong doing research. No one mentioned people being altered by the stones yet the mind stone and the space stone have both altered humans now. 2 a peice. The mind stone even altered a person to have superspeed which was just odd and throws out practically all rules on working this out. The addition of vibranium could be interesting to, Stark's element being close to vibranium could be bringing it into play, although he has no idea where he got so much Vibranium from, it's extremely rare on earth. Being a sonoluminescent, near indestructible metal that absorbs kinetic energy and it's in his blood and body. Yeah, that isn't going to cause problems. He sighs internally again.

He decides to put a pin in it for now, Tony has some idea of his abilities for now, they can monitor for potential changes in himself.

For now, he wants to know what put his friend in this position, because Tony liked being human.

Sure he ran with super humans, altered people, gods, and everything in between, but he knew Tony didn't go about wanting powers. He liked aging and he could see that he was definitely younger now.

Even technopathy which is quite fitting he must admit.

Definitely not interdimensional vision.

He was baseline human in his suits and didn't aspire to anything other than building and creating for those he cared about.

Someone forced his hand, and he will have their name.

"Tony?"

He asks and out a lot behind it. From Tony's sigh, he knows that he isn't impressed with the current amount of information.

"Fine, fine, I probably should show you so anyway as it is Avengers related. You all know about the Civil War there is one fight I have kept.. Hidden. The Winter Soldiers didn't put me in a coma."

Stephen jumps a bit as the wall behind him turns into a screen. That Tony puts tech everywhere is a fundamental truth, especially at the compound. It only then occurs to him the level of control Tony has now of the building with just a thought.

"I can't watch this again either and I can't put my brain into the Internet."

Stephen is almost worried about seeing the video as he sees Carol and Rhodey pale. It takes a lot to make military guys like them pale. Rhodey turns his headphones on and he swears he sees a flash of gold in Tony's eyes before his right eye glazes over and he's sure now that Tony can't hear or see them, his aura ripples with information and yeah, that is incredibly strange.

"This video is pretty heavy, I'll understand if anyone wants to duck out? I can give you all a run down if you like?"

Everyone shakes their head to Carol's offer, turning to face the TV.

"OK FRIDAY, play the video."

The video starts with Tony approaching Rogers and Barnes which makes Stephen clench his shaking hands and bite back a snarl. Typical. He knew that stuck up bastard would be involved somehow.

Tony or FRIDAY must have put this video together as its a composite of multiple cameras streamed together to create an almost seamless shot as they move through the base. Confusion filters through the room when the 5 Winter Soldiers are already dead, because that was the party line, even though Tony said that the Winter Soldiers didn't put him in a coma, seeing them all dead was a shock. Everyone was told that Tony went to help Rogers and bring him in, but 5 Winter Soldiers got in the way. It irks him that Tony is still protecting Roger's. Even now.

'Zemo looks like a slimy jerk.. Pretentious too with his talk of empires crumbling from within'. He is considering more insults when he sees the date on the tape. He and Hope share a look.

The others don't know the importance of that date. All he can think is after everything Tony has been through. This is just too much, with barely a single break. Watching your parents die, with the person who murdered them next to the person you consider a friend? Yet betrayed you after, in Stephen's mind at least, bullying you for so long? No one deserves that.

Tony will deny the bullying till the cows come home. This however is a hill he will happily die on. After Ultron Tony had no one, Rhodey was away and he and Pepper had split for good, things were awkward between them, it took a while for them to get back to bring friends, and in his infinite wisdom he gave Happy to Pepper. Leaving him with people who were exceedingly viscous to him, yet still used him.

He and Wong ranted about it every time Tony left the sanctum. When he arrived they just tried to give him a nice atmosphere. Make him feel fucking wanted and noticed whilst he was wasting away, working himself to death while people in his house attacked him and made him feel like he deserved it. He had gotten a lot closer to Tony that he'd have ever expected then. He also wasn't overly impressed when he was put into the role of the nice person. He was not exactly good at it.

He shook his head, he was being maudlin. Thankfully the video was nearly over now. He had never liked Tony's parents, but even he didn't want to watch them be murdered. From the faces around him, neither had they. The ground his teeth to stop him saying that Howard's death wasn't much of a loss anyway. That would create more questions than Tony would want.

He knows the man hates it, but he never does anything to dispel the idea that because he was rich he got everything he wanted as a child. People forget that rich people are still people. They can still be good or bad. If anything they are much more efficient at never getting caught. School teacher reports a child for a bruise? Some money to social services and they'll file 'not enough evidence' and the teacher loses her job and struggles to find work again. Other teachers are effectively warned off. The only reason Tony had told him was because of a copious amount of drugs and alcohol in their early 20s and after they'd both pretended nothing had been said the next day.

He can't help but be slightly annoyed when Tony hits Rogers open handed. He also wonders how long he was playing at Tony's friend whilst hiding the knowledge that he knew Tony's parents didn't die in a car crash, something that had affected Tony deeply, considering he thought a drunkard Howard killed his mother with recklessness. He was drowning in rage towards a man he hated, yet Tony wouldn't tell anyone, at least not sober. That he still looked up to Howard sometimes. Stephen really did not understand why.

No matter what that man did to him it's like he beat respect and admiration into him and somehow taught Tony he deserved this pain. He spent years hating Howard and trying to be him at the same time. Most of his stints in rehab and crashes after has something to do with Howard.. Or Stane. Stephen had never liked him. Tony had waved it off as Stephen didn't like anyone. Which wasn't exactly not true.

Stephen is sure that Tony still hates Howard, even now, but this might have robbed him of his rage. Stephen had tried but he knew it would take someone really special to get it through to Tony, that he didn't deserve what Howard did. Fuck, knowing Tony, he probably thinks he deserved this clusterfuck he's watching now. Probably thinks in some backwards fashion he deserves it for trying to kill Barnes whilst hating him. Tony hoards guilts like no one he's ever seen. For a man who outwardly doesn't seem tocare, he cared far, far too much to the detriment of his own health even.

Even though he is sure Tony could have actually killed Barnes 4 or 5 times already. Everyone underestimates the strength of his suits, they just see 1 suit and don't seem to realise Tony is constantly changing and improving. He's hitting walls instead of Barnes head. Although he couldn't help the smile when he blasted the arm off. If only it was Roger's instead. He knows Barnes has been through living hell. They all do, Tony included files of all of the rogues, with a special note not to read Barnes after dinner.

But Stephen is a selfish man.

All he sees is two enhanced super soldiers beating on his friend lost in grief. Rogers doesn't even seem to be trying to de-escalate the fight.

Luke is quietly narrating the fight for Matt, both of their faces grim. Someone makes a strangled noise when Tony is on the ground. There is no way to describe it other than vicious and even though Tony is right there, he can see that more than a few of them thought that the shield would come down in his neck. It carried on playing after the soldiers left. Just long enough to show that the suit is dead, that Tony's injuries making moving the thing actually impossible. No wonder he got Frostbite. After a few minutes it cut off and a few people breathed in relief. Obviously scared it would okay the entire time.

Tony came back to them with a gold flash as soon as it stopped, he wondered if FRIDAY can speak to him in his mind now, what would that even feel like?

"So, questions."

"Tony, how long where you left there?"

He's shaking his head at Hope the second she starts and Stephen is pretty sure this is the first question he always gets and that he will not answer it. Probably out of some ill conceived, ridiculous presumption of protecting them or not burdening them with such knowledge so instead he carries the weight himself. Tony Stark is almost frightening intelligent, but damn he is so fucking stupid sometimes.

"Long enough. Anything else?"

"Is there anything you'd like us to do?"

He asked, focusing on Tony who startles at the idea. Which apparently had been the last straw for the cloak. Which promptly shot of his back and fired itself at Tony. Causing him to roll his eyes, in the sanctum, Tony and the Cloak, or Levi as Tony calls it, and apparently it prefers, are always thick as thieves.. Stephen isn't sure how, but Tony can talk to it, Stephen can just about understand a few things. Tony however doesn't understand how he and Wong can't understand it, but Tony regularly had conversations with bots that communicate in beeps and whirs yet didn't use morse code for some reason. Levi was positively chatty in comparison.

However outside of the sanctum it had always kept to his back, playing the slightly strange cloak. Now it was practically smothering Tony with hugs and everyone was baffled.

Trust it to be a cloak that broke the dark edge the meeting had taken.

"Are.. Are you doing that?"

Danny gestured towards Tony who was now being held a foot off of the ground, only one arm visible which was gently patting the cloak.

"No, that is the Cloak of Levitation. Tony calls it Levi. It has a mind of its own and it's quite fond of Tony because somehow Tony can talk to it. It's my cloak and I'm pretty sure it actually prefers Tony some days. When he didn't visit for a while, it decided it was my fault and I've been getting the silent treatment from my cloak for 7 weeks. "

At the mention of its name, the collar of the cloak turned to Danny and gave a little wave before doing the same with the others. Everyone waved back, much to his amusement.

"Everytime I think we be hit peak weird, something extra weird happens."

Rhodey just puts his head on the table, despairing at the utter insanity his life had become whilst Tony had convinced Levi into a more comfortable position and was now reclining in a hammock about 4 feet off the floor.

" So, this is Levi everyone. Stephy's better half."

The cloak ripples in amusement and everyone introduced themselves to Levi.

"How come you've been hanging around here for 6 weeks now and no one noticed you were wearing sentient outerwear? "

"I told you Jess, I was getting the silent treatment. He was basically acting like a.. Well. Like a cloak."

"Okay. I think that's enough weird for today, I say we go and watch a movie. I know it's not movie night, but I think Tony will join us now?"

"Of course I will Luke, the only reason I was holding off was because it would be a bit weird to wear sunglasses in the dark watching a movie. Plus if it's dark enough, even my best wrap around glasses you can see some blue out of. I'd have to wear an eye patch like Fury... Ew."

Tony shrugged from his hammock.

" Yeah, I can see that, but now you have no choice! "

" Wild cloaks couldn't drag me away Jess. "

" Oh, I'm sitting by Tony, he forgot to mention one of his abilities, he can regulate his body temperature, he's like a human hot water bottle."

Jess and Hope instantly decided they would find a formation the 3 of them could sit around Tony, the cloak informed him that it too would be sitting with him.

" Huh, who knew all I had to do to be popular with the ladies and a magnificent cloak was become a human hot water bottle."

Tony joked huge smile on his face which had everyone laughing, they needed a laugh to dispel the residual sadness brought on by the video. They made their way to the theatre room. Stephen happy that Tony hadn't felt the need to replace his glasses or hide his hand. From Carol's smile and pointed looks, she was happy about the same thing. He however was quietly seething at the old Avengers and he doubted that would be going away anytime soon.

FRIDAY must have sent work ahead because the kids were all waiting in the room with Laura, Meg and Jim if he remembered correctly from the recent mission brief with their young girl, Cassie. Cassie was flanked by Tara and Lilah. He noticed that while Meg's eyes lingered on Tony hand and Jim on his eye neither seemed shocked or alarmed, which meant that Laura or someone had filled them in. He knew they hadn't been at the compound long, he was back up on all extraction plans incase time ran out or Ross moved to fast.

Luckily he hadn't been needed to extract Laura and the kids. Even though if Laura has trusted them, things might have gone smoother. Tony's warnings were ignored every step of the way, until they were literally hiding in a panic room under the house and 3 teams of men in black tactical gear were taking apart the house. He and Tony in the Ironman suit picked them up, Tony had gone straight back to bed after as he'd been utterly exhausted on Laura's insistence, she still didn't trust him, but she knew he'd come to rescue her whilst seriously hurt, he didn't find that out till much later. 2 hours later, however, when he'd found himself being yelled at by Rhodes, which was how and when he'd discovered about the coma. This was the first time since he'd properly seen Tony, all these weeks he'd been berating himself for not looking closer to his odd feelings. Hindsight is always 2020.

The middle deep sofa was occupied with Tony and the girls, he was basically laid across the three of them. Jess at his head, Hope had the middle and Carol had his legs. Which was likely why Rhodey was sulking about losing his cuddle partner. Those two had to start dating soon or he was going to lose two hundred dollars. He had September on the 'Oblivious Idiots in Love' pool. Tony had OIL striking in November.

He was comfortable in his favourite recliner, usually he had Levi, but he was currently acting as a blanket over Tony. Typical. A ginger cat appeared from the vents and jumped onto Tony. He and the cloak seemed to feel each other out for a few seconds, before deciding they could share Tony, the cloak settling over the cat..

He squinted his eyes that.. Wasn't a cat.

It couldn't be. He'd read about something that gave reading like that, but they were exceedingly rare and not on earth.. And wouldn't be cuddling Tony wait no. That last bit was plausible.

"Tony… when did you get a.. Cat?"

"Oh Goosey-loosey isn't mine, and she's not a cat."

Carol reached over to stroke Goose whilst smiling.

"She's a Flerken."

Jess looked critically at the cat now as did a few others who had obviously assumed the thing that looked like a cat, was a, well a cat.

"She's my adorable little murder floof is what she is."

Tony smiled fully on and Goose curled her paws possessively around his metal hand.

Tony was cuddling a Flerken. Huh. He's not even that surprised really, maybe the Flerkens ability to store pocket dimensions attracted her to people affected by the space stone which had the ability to traverse dimensions? Similar vibrations possibly.

"What is a Flerken?"

Danny asked, causing Stephen to full on grin. Catching the eyes of Carol and Tony who rolled their eyes. Which he took as permission.

"They are like space cats….Their bodies also hold pocket realities, bubbles of space and time that exist in other worlds... They also possess many tentacles that can extend from their mouths."

Danny was okay for the first part but now he had everyone's attention. Danny looked a little green around the gills.

"Tentacles?"

"Oh yeah, Goose saved Fury once by taking out and eating several people."

"Well I won't hold that against you Goosey-Loosey."

"She's also why he has the eye patch."

Tony's face cracked into a huge smile, Stephen too. Neither of them were best pleased with the angry pirate.

"Oh that is fantastic. You are the best Flerken in existence."

"So, um.. The cat can sprout tentacles and effortlessly eat like 5 people? People sized people."

"Yu-P!" Tony was a little too gleeful popping the P, but this was amusing.

"So Tony, before the Movie starts, what does Goose look like to you?"

Carol jumped in, which he had to admit, he was curious about it too.

"Hmm, oh she's awesome. Stephy did you say pocket realities?"

"Yes."

"Huh, I wonder if I can see them? Do you have something to do with mirrors?"

Stephen blinked a few times, a bit surprised his theory of Tony peeling back to see different dimensions and the in between spaces.

"Yes actually, does Goose have that to?"

"Oh no, no mirrors, but there is this swirling pretty thing, looks a bit like the milky-way but more colourful with red purples and pinks and black stars instead of white. Her colours are different from a humans, some of them are more like a spectrum, white and then bursting into colours and there is like a static one that occasionally looks like glitter. It's taking me longer to put words to the colours, I don't think I can even name some of them, but she's loyal, very loyal. At first all I saw was friendly. I don't know, I think she can control it and used it to find me and say hi… "

Pretty much everyone has stopped what they were doing at this point, popcorn half poured, snacks dropped movies stopped being searched through to just stare open mouthed at an oblivious Tony who's been talking to Goose the entire time. Carol however has a huge smile on her face.

"That's amazing! I knew she was intelligent, but that is so brilliant."

Everyone grinned and went back to sorting out snacks whilst Danny is staring between the cat and his friends.

"Are we seriously not talking about how Hentai cat can eat half of us in one bite?"

"Nope."

Jess shoots him a toothy grin, now petting Goose along with Hope, Carol, Tony… oh and Levi too. Rhodey seems to be pouting again.

"Tooooony, my hands are cold."

Tony smiles up at Carol who squeals as Stephen assumes Tony raises his temperature. Goose nestles into the warmth of his chest whilst the girls hum in amusement. Meg and Jim are a little overwhelmed but Hope is doing her best to keep them calm and feel included. The kids have made a blanket nest on the floor in front of the chairs and . When snacks are passed out, Tony becomes a snack holder for the girls and the film starts.

Stephen isn't sure when his life went crazy but he seems to be watching a film called Stonehenge Apocalypse and it's the least weird thing to happen today.

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony POV

12th September 

Tony slips on the black suit jacket, the red and gold tie left by Peter makes him grin. Today he really does feel like he needs his armour. The kids are being dropped off by Laura, Meg tagging along to see Cassie off to her new school. Mondays usually suck but today has been a long time coming, so yeah he's nervous, but also giddy like a 14 year old. 

He hears the door to his apartment open and close, signifying Laura's return. He finished up quickly, straightening the red and gold tie, and pulling out a pair of the most secure sunglasses with mirrored red lenses that he owned. Today he can't risk a slip up, but he actually does have FRIDAY installed on a back up pair in his pocket, so if someone comments, he can show them that. Rhodey pointed out he was bordering on paranoia, he pointed out that he was already a superhero, so people are predisposed to go straight to the weird explanation around him. 

He tapped the red disk on his hand and at a fast glance in the mirrors, he figures he looks how people expect him too, mostly. The minimal scarring that was not covered by clothes, is light enough to not be noticeable he admits, even if his eyes zero in on them without fail. There is a chance some eagle eyed camera guy might focus on the slight scarring on his face, but it is mostly on his left side, partially covered by his sunglasses just a smattering on his cheek left visible. He tried covering it up, but it felt awful, the scar tissue annoyingly sensitive. The rest was around his ears and neck that people rarely seemed to spot. Plus, he has a dangerous job, scars are pretty expected. Apart from that, he's not far from his old self

The only real difference there is the black on black suit, and his sunglasses have changed style. His face is done up to make him look closer to his age, not too close, because why not. He will probably get some reports of botox or something, but watching Hollywood scramble for his secrets of youth would be amusing. His hair is also styled but he didn't bother trying to dye the white back in again, it just grows out too fast. Deciding that's as good as he is going to get, he leaves the bedroom to join Laura. 

Apparently the kids had taken over her wardrobe too, with her black suit, ice blue blouse and her hair done up in some kind of complicated up-do that he can't make heads nor tails off. Which is saying something actually, as Lilah and Tara have him learning some new complicated hair thingy every week. Bobby pins get everywhere. It's utter madness, but actually very fun. His first attempts were rather dire, so he sneakily got a hairdresser to teach him some stuff and since then, YouTube all the way. But Laura's hair makes everything he's done so far look like sloppy ponytails. Typical. Laura looks dressed to eat some political sharks so there is that, he's still not sure if he regrets introducing her to Pepper, but he can definitely see the red heads influences too. 

"I think the two of us look like we are going to war?" 

"Aren't we?" 

"Oh yes, Ross has been far to comfortable and he thinks we are just playing catch up." 

"Well, Laura Morgan, shall we be off?" 

Laura grins, eyes alive with humour, the divorce hadn't gone through yet, but Matt got her and the kids surnames changed already. 

"I think so, Dr Stark." 

She hooked her arm in his. Scooping up her bag before stopping Tony, eyebrows raised in question. 

"FRIDAY dear? Can you take a picture, I think the kids would like to see the fruits of their labour." 

"Oh and tell the kids not to put it on twitter until after we finish up at DC." 

It was handy that the Accords Council was in America this month. It had been cycling around member countries and he'd thought they'd be jetting off to a different country rather than just to DC. He was almost disappointed how it had worked out, but there were some nice places they could go for food after. 

"Oh we're taking the flashier quinjet today." 

"Hmm, I think the PA business is definitely going to be fun." 

"When exactly did I hire you as my PA again? I feel this is something I would remember." 

"Don't worry dear. Your PA handled it. Negotiating salary for myself was an interesting task however." 

Laura grinned at him as they boarded the quinjet, it was smaller than usual, but then this isn't designed to fly the team about. Its smaller, sleeker, and a heck of a lot faster too. The inside is outfitted for comfort and is meant to make you feel like your flying in style, very handy for business, Rhodey had been using it often even though he'd said making a more comfortable quinjet was a waste of time. Tony had just planned on making a smaller one, better outfitted. He'd gotten a little carried away. 

"Oh I like this one. This is definitely my new favourite." 

Laura said whilst sitting in the Co pilot seat. Running her hands over the incredibly comfortable leather seats. Tony dropped down next to her, starting everything up without touching anything. 

"Fry, Flight path approved? Everything kosher?" 

"All set to go Boss." 

Laura grinned. It turned out that she was almost as bad as the kids when it came to him using his tech abilities, she always wanted to see him do 'more'. She was a perfect mix of Pepper and Rhodey, organised to a degree he literally couldn't conceive of… yet gleefully encouraging him to wreck people. 

She wasn't the mother who barely had any adult company stuck on a farm anymore. She is the scarily competent, heavily armed, yet you can't see a weapon on her, thanks to him, neither will metal detectors. Sue him, he's been kidnapped enough. Few people will expect the slim, sharply dressed PA to be an Ex-agent, armed to the teeth and frankly itching to get in the field again whilst wearing killer Louboutin heels, a gift courtesy of Pepper which left he and Laura at the same height. Something he suspected Pepper had planned. Smirking, he realised that the sum cost of her outfit was probably more than the farm. Oh if Clint saw anything from today he was going to explode. He sent the picture of them to Shuri too, she wasn't at today's Accords council but T'Challa was. Maybe he'd say hi to the poor kitty. 

Takeoff was as smooth as ever, sure, he could have FRIDAY fly them, but he hadn't flown in ages and this was fun. She was ready to catch him however,  should his abilities or concentration Glitch for whatever reason. It was a nice stretch, with a safety net. He radioed in and followed the set flight path, behaving was always important when you're about to cause a scene. No one but a few select players knew he was coming today, he didn't want to give anyone a chance to run defensive maneuvers. Everheart knew he was on his way, and she had advanced notes so her segment would be put leagues before anyone else. 

"Christine was happy to get the packet I sent, do you think her article will be scathing against you again?" 

"Na, she just knows what she is doing. If she was 100% about everything I did. She'd lose credibility, but a person who slates me saying something good? Now that gets traction." 

"Hmm, yes, I did like her I stand with Ironman segment after the news of your coma broke. I think she planning on bringing it up again." 

"Oh goody, I do like a catchy hashtag." 

He slipped out his phone and poked around on twitter. They were almost there so he figured now was fine. 

youknowwhoiam - Did anyone miss me? 

He shot Laura a grin as they disembarked, a crowd had gathered as he'd 'parked' the quinjet a few feet from the door. When they were both free, he flew it up and passed control over to FRIDAY to put it somewhere safe. He spun on his heel to face the group of shocked reporters. They had been quite subdued until they saw the jet, obviously expecting a humdrum day of political intrigue. So reading boring things and nit picking tiny details for hours. Luckily the amendments scheduled today had already been finalised so he didn't feel bad about crashing something important. He wouldn't want to set that precedent and have a boring person crash an important amendment like the one he had tabled for powered children and inclusions of mutants. 

"Oh can you schedule a meeting for me with Xavier soon, I'll go to him whenever I'm free, telling him it's about the Accords. I've wanted to meet him for a while."

He whispered under his breath before taking a few steps forward towards the surge of reporters who just realised Tony Stark had dropped in their laps. Christine had already snapped a few pictures, miles ahead of the pack, she waited for her sound bite and then shot inside. 

"Hello my lovelies, Did you miss me!" 

He gave them his best press smile, just long enough for Christine before he spun on his heal again and stalked inside, casually waving over his shoulder and ignoring the asked questions. 

"Trust me, your questions will be much better after I've been inside. Wouldn't want to waste them now would we?" 

Laura's eyes are dancing with laughter as she holds the door open for them. She knew he wasn't going to hang around after, this was already testing his abilities, he barely looked at the press for a few seconds, yet he had paled a little already. Laura pulled his attention back to her after the disorienting press hoard. 

"I didn't realise how fun this could be." 

Tony shot her another grin, his colour returning as they made their way to the chamber, he was already slipping inside their systems. Not having to use your hands and just letting part of your mind slip through was much easier at getting past any defenses. 

"Oh the press can be a nightmare, but they can also be a lot of fun to play with." 

They strode up to the door and a man rushed forward to stop them. Holy crap this kid had energy. His colours practically vibrated at him but didn't overwhelm him thankfully. Peter apparently was good practice for over eager teens. He practically screamed earnest and was a total puppy that Tony wanted to kidnap from politics. Rhodey, however, would have a go at him if he brought another stray home. 

"I'm sorry the Vienna Accords are in sessions today an… Oh, You… You're Tony Stark." 

Tony grinned as the young kid went up a few octaves, he flushed and yup, this was a definite fanboy. 

"That's me, and I think I have a standing invitation? 

"Oh yes sir, of course, I haven't seen you make it to one of these before, I thought I'd never get a chance!" 

"I've been a touch under the weather. But no matter, I'm all shiny and happy to be back at work. What's your name?" 

"Uh, I'm Jordan Hale, it's great to have you back Mr Stark. King T'Challa has been talking you up, I can't believe how much you are doing for prosthetics. The way he explained it and when I looked it up, I might be able to get my insurance to finally give me an upgrade. My current one is for 14 to 16 year olds, I'm 19 but they keep saying 'it's perfectly acceptable'. "

Tony frowned, that definitely was not perfectly acceptable, this kid had a good job, he cared about his job too by the looks of it and he seemed nice too. There aren't many nice people in politics. Suddenly he's happy Laura is here instead of Pep. Peps lovely, but she got annoyed at his distractions, Laura however looked like she wanted to bundle him up and take him home. He fished out one of his cards. 

"Ever been to New York?" 

"Ah, yes Sir. I actually live there when I'm not jetting around chasing the Accords." 

He said, grinning which made him think he didn't even mind a chaotic work schedule and dealing with cranky politicians from all over. 

"Well, here's my card, give us a call next time you're in New York and we'll get you squared away. Dealing with grouchy politicians is pain enough. No need to add actual pain to it." 

He smiled at the kid who tentatively took the card, eyes wide with shock. 

" I'll be expecting to hear from you Mr Jordan Hale, so none of this 'I don't deserve it', because trust me, I'm Ironman and I'll just turn up on your doorstep. "

He shot him another grin before heading towards the doors, Laura patted the kid on the shoulder, who was still in shock. It made him feel good to do something nice before heading in, gave him a little boost. 

"He will you know." 

Laura winked at the kid who professed his thanks about 50 times as they waved and entered the room. Ah good no one was up on the speaker's podium. That made things easier. 

"That was nice of you." 

"He seems like a good kid, young to be getting in on all this, so obviously smart. He actually seems enthused about working on the Accords, we need more young people in it, even if they're slowly working their way up. Old angry people stuck in their ways infest politics.. It's like getting blood from a stone to change things. It's like they're allergic to change, even monumentally good change for everyone. It's maddening. "

Laura grinned at him as they ignored everyone and walked straight up to the podium. T'Challa was one of the many shocked faces, his mouth open in shock and it made Tony grin, so he gave him a thumbs up.  

"I think you just like helping people."

"Shush now, it's bad for my image as an evil rich boy who only thinks of himself." 

Laura just rolled her eyes as he took the podium, standing a step behind him, head held high as she set up the tablet in front of her. The holoscreen popping up and she manipulated it like a pro who'd been using them for years. Terrifyingly competent that woman. With that set up, it was easy for him to grab the information he needed, and there was a lot. He'd had to fiddle with the buildings WiFi speed or it would take ages to download the information to everyone Stark Pads, even with him forcing it. He did a quick check to ensure everyone had brought them and was not surprised that only a few hadn't. He'd set it up a few weeks ago that each representative got a free one for working on the Accords. In the interest of everything moving smoothly of course. Not because accessing his own tech was easy as pie. 

"Hello everyone, the rumors of my demise, retirement or whatever the new one of the week is, have been wildly exaggerated. I hope I haven't missed too much?" 

More than a few people cheered, the younger ones, the older ones looked unimpressed with his antics, as usual. He swallowed thickly, trying to look at neutral points in the room as he started getting readings from many people at once, he'd not had much chance to see such a variety of people, and at least two people he'd barely glanced at nearly had him upchucking on his shoes already. 

"Unfortunately, I am not here to bring glad tidings. I'm here to present to you multiple violations for someone under the Accords as they're regarding Inhuman, Enhanced Humans, Mutants, And pretty much everyone that is protected by the Vienna Accords as they stand. Hopefully in the future we can give more protections to ensure such a travesty does not happen again. 

As you'll see, on your tablets a lot of information is being made available to you. This is also being sent to other authorities as the violations are also against humans. Civilians who did not sign up to protect the world and take on the problems that face such a trying job. "

" Ah, Mr Stark. Are you sure this is the right time for such announcements? This session is televised. Shouldn't this information be sent to interested parties only!?"

The second part was almost hissed, not surprising Jackson was Ross's aid. Hilariously he was one of the few who had not brought his Stark Pad. Ross probably didn't trust it. He didn't seem to realise that people were staring at him. Everett Ross was trying not to laugh over the coms which gave him something to focus on because he was never looking at Jackson again. He'd seen people's colours move in many different ways, he'd not seen someone ooze before. The man was pure slime and it made his skin itch. He checked on the link just because he needed a second to not recover, flashing Jackson his best press smile. 

Checking in on the younger Ross and his team took a fraction of a second, they were in place around good ol' Thunderbolts hotel room. It was a shame, he'd hoped to have him arrested here, but he had press 'accidentally' sent to the hotel under sightings of Tony Stark, so that would do. Plus, he wasn't sure he wanted to make himself look at him. If Jackson made him feel like this, he didn't want to know what Ross would be like and he had a long ass speech to cover. 

Getting everything recorded was crucial so the slippery fucker wouldn't be able to slime his way out again, like he had the last 3 attempts Rhodey and Everett had made. They'd made the mistake of not turning it into a press circus out of professionalism. However, this was something Tony excelled in, slimey people had less of their arsenal surrounded by the press, they were used to the shadows. Whereas Tony had grown up in front of the press, practically constantly in the limelight. Sometimes, the press circus could be handy, they were a pack of starving wolves and Tony was about to dangle a nice rump steak in front of their faces and then toss it at Ross. 

“Mr Jackson, this is the perfect time. Accountability is for everyone when it comes to the Accords, not just those of us no longer classed as baseline human. "

He raised an eyebrow to the man whilst looking over his shoulder, it hadn't been long since he'd been formally included under the Accords and not from his signing. They'd recently expanded the criteria to include people of 'unusual levels of intelligence', so even without the suit, he was included now. It was an obvious move to try and gain more control over him. He didn't have to bring it up, he probably could have got his way out of it. However they expected him to try and slip free so he figured, why not lean into it. With the added benefit of showing solidarity to those perceived as less human for things not under their control. Sure it might lose him sway in some areas, people would call him doubly compromised, being an Avenger and an Enhanced Human. Even if they didn't know how enhanced. The press reacted as he'd planned. The room had also gotten quiet enough for a pin to drop. 

"Now, where was I. Yes, the individual in question, as I'm sure you and several key people in law enforcement are now seeing has been quite the naughty boy. He has also evaded 6 attempts to be taken into custody and has tried illegal means to remove the information in front of you from various sources private and public. "

" Why has this not been brought to attention before.. This is a lot… "

"Yes it is a lot Mr Davenport, I have been collecting information on this individual for a number of years and have tried many times to bring him down. The information was dispirite and various law enforcement simply agencies didn't know too communicate with each other, we'll go with that excuse for why he wasn't already behind bars, shall we? Of course, I am happy to do my duty under the Accords to bring this to you as a signed member. Even though I am still technically signed off on medical leave, I thought this too important to wait much longer. "

Ah, the press love that bit. As do quite a few of the countries signed up. American superheroes had gotten a bad rap the last few years, but he'd been working to change that. Mostly behind the scenes, but before Siberia, he'd visited many of these countries to personally help or his repartition teams went in, as Steve didn't want to use the Ex-Shield personnel for much else.

Also, since Carol took over as head, as per his recommendations, they'd been doing more than defeating super villains and end of the world jazz. They were actually working weekly instead of doing jack all between attacks. They'd even helped with wildfires in several countries, only entering after invitation and working with local LEOs. 

Plus, people really got a kick out of the American, rich, pampered, white boy working whilst sick. Even if it was from home and not in the suit. 

"Now, I'll inform everyone. These charges are not for the faint of heart. So you may wish to mute? 

"I have petabytes of data, videos, written, everything required and I will be honest. If this is swept away and ignored, again, as this information is legally my own. I will release it onto the Internet." 

"We don't appreciate threats Dr Stark." 

"Dr Malden, I don't not wish to threaten your lovely self or anyone here. But when you have watched the videos you will understand my fervour. Plus precedent was set after the fall of SHIELD was it not? I do not believe that an Amendment to that section regarding releasing of information has been tabled yet. "

" I thought you were against the data dump Dr Stark"

"I was, and still am Mr Davenport. It was reckless, too fast and the innocent were hurt. I assure you, this will not be a reckless act. It will not be an ill conceived idea born of desperation. You could call it an act of civil disobedience that will only harm those at fault. The versions I release will completely protect those who have been hurt except the ones who have contacted me and have signed permission for me to release files with their likeness. "

He gave a sharp grin, several people were starting to look very uncomfortable. 

" Oh, and I also have information pertinent to forgein countries as they have been, lets say, 'quite involved' with this individuals little off the books operations. Oh, and yes people of America, this does include a large dose of tax fraud, misuse of your hard earned tax dollars and bribery. "

Now, in general Americans would hate everything on his list, but a lot of it would feel… surreal. Too far removed from their day to day life. But tax fraud? Now that will get people in America angry, and quickly. 

"The information I have pertains to so many crimes against humanity that putting this file together over the years has not been pleasant. It is frankly, chilling.

"Human rights violations are never pretty, even if we are talking about people who are seen as less than human by some. Many do include humans who because of this man have been forced into enhancements, mutations, changes to their body against their will. Bodily autonomy seems a fleeting idea, as long as he can create and control his own little private army of super humans, he doesn't care who suffers horrendously, human, mutant, enhanced, inhuman. Whether they are civilians or not, whether they were heavily misinformed volunteers or people literally screaming from cages. If any of his experiments escaped he perused then with a blinding degree of recklessness and endangerment of civilians that make the crimes against the rogues avengers look petty in comparison."

He'd promised Bruce long ago he wouldn't stay his name into anything about this, as much as he wanted to get revenge for his friend, he was a private person. Ross had been a busy man however and Bruce was just a name in a disturbingly long list.

"Human experimentation, reckless endangerment of minors, ethics were just not involved anywhere and aspects of this are straight up torture to those he kept. To those who escaped, their lives were systematically destroyed, reputations ruined, family's threatened, all to force his victims into an easier point of capture. This has spanned several years, in several countries and includes a frankly terrifying amount of property damage. This is coming from me, the man who cleaned up after the Avengers for years. Including New York. This individual has not spent a penny in reparation efforts and has often illegally shifted the blame. 

"Much of the danming information I have come by has come from the man's own daughter, she has tried so many times over the years to stop this madness but all she got for it was her life ruined and nightmares. She is strong, fiery and tells me she's looking forward to finally being able to stand in court to decry her father for the monster he is. 

"Most recently we come to his violations of creating a secret prison that breaks so many rules I'll be here for an hour listing them. He then illegally detained people, without adequate warrants, in the illegal prison and claimed to be doing it on behalf of yourselves. "

People were now muttering angrily and it was obvious who he was talking about. He'd kept eye contact with Jackson occasionally, as much as he could without feeling faint, watching the man pale more and more as he went on, he was worried that the man would pass out soon. Mostly he was speaking into the cameras though, with occasional, very brief pointed looks at people he knew were involved. He could already see arrest warrants piling up on his screen in multiple countries. It looked like people were practically rushing to finally take out the trash. 

"I am of course talking about one Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross. Now, whilst I accept the fugitive status of certain individuals and Thaddeus drive to bring them in. Of course in that drive, he has subverted the Accords and the will of the original 117 countries, now a fantastic 139 with 2 more ready to join any day. To take what we want to be a shield, to protect civilians and heroes alike, to guard humans, superhuman, inhumans, enhanced humans, humans with unusual qualities such as very large intellects, which by the way, is quite the compliment. Thank you. Also included androids and artificial intelligence and those seeking personhood. 

"That is what the Accords are, protection for all, to take our mistakes of the past, never forget them, never cover them up, never forget the lives lost, accountability, security. Not a subversion of these great ideals put on paper by the late King T'Chaka and taken up by his son. This shield won't become a noose as long as I'm breathing, from standing in front of you or from my hospital bed, I assure you, I will not give up."

Tony took a breath and stepped back, Laura taking his place, much to peoples confusion. Thinking to himself, that was possibly the longest damned speech he'd ever made, but then he had written it with people around who wanted to add bits and suddenly he had an essay. At least it was suitably dramatic. He gripped the edge of the podium, what he hadn't considered when everyone had made it so damned long was how long he'd be staring at people like Jackson. 

"I'm sure none of you will recognise me, except as Dr Stark's amazing new personal assistant of course." 

That got her a few laughs from the press, she dealt with him so she must be a Saint. 

"My soon to be ex husband is one of the fugitives that was illegally detained. That is not why I am standing here. I'm standing here because Ross sent multiple teams of heavily armed, highly trained men to my farm. A farm I lived on alone with three children, my youngest had not long turned one year old. The others are seven and thirteen years old. They don't understand what is happening, why a man sent tactical teams to raid our home.

"I don't even know anything, after my ex husband left to join this ill advised fight, that was where my information ended. Yet, my home was raided. I don't want to think what might have happened if Tony Stark, 37 hours after waking up from his coma, hadn't abandoned his hospital bed to rescue me. Don't worry, I immediately marched him back into it. "

Laura offered a wry smile to the press and they loved it, not many people were a natural with the press, but Laura was like a fish in water. He really was moderately terrified of her and Pepper spending more time with each other. 

"after reading what he has done to innocent men, women and children in the past, I do not believe we would have fared well, especially waiving the Accords around as an all access pass. He didn't do this because I was refusing to cooperate with the authorities, I was doing everything I should. That wasn't enough, he wanted to terrorise the families to scare 'them' back. The kind of tactics I'm ashamed to think of happening in this country. Me and my children are human, the law failed to protect me, Ironman didn't. We are not the only family he has brought in from the cold. We stand with him as a real protector, not a villain like Thaddeus Ross. "

The explosion of noise is perfect and Laura spins and put her head of Tony's shoulder, he hugged her. She hadn't intended to say so much, he knew, he'd seen her actual speech after all. But this, whilst emotionally taxing is better he thinks. He ignores the press, the flashing and the yelling and just hugs Laura for a few seconds. Upping his body temperature which gets a smile out of her, that she carefully hid in his shoulder. 

"Thank you for taking the time today to listen to what we had to say. I'll leave you now to hopefully do what should have been done long ago. Whilst I might be gone, I will be watching." 

With that he slowly looked across the room, certain people were standing to leave, others dumb struck, some nauseated just staring at their tablets. Many very annoyed he'd just dumped this in their laps and was buggering off, ah well. He hoped that this would be a wakeup call to them, not just for the Accords council but for people in general. It had become easy to hate the non humans, easy to hate on the superheroes, marching to General Ross's tune. This was a wake up call that humans could be just as terrifying, cruel, dangerous and see themselves as above the law and not need superpowers or enhancements to do it. That baseline humans, could use the law as they saw fit too. Could see themselves as above it. 

He hid a grin as he saw the agenda change for the next meetings, Ross and personhood rights had been bumped to the top. Finally. He'd been rallying for Personhood for weeks now, but Ross had been the wall he couldn't get past. Without that amendment Vision was stuck with his paperwork and it had started to annoy him. Ross had to go for many reasons, but he had to go because he wanted everything in the world for his sythnazoid son. Now he was just that much closer.

He monitored the arrest warrants coming in for Ross and his pals and was amused by the speed and efficiency everything was now clicking into place. No one wanted that data on the Internet, not even him really, but the data dump had left room for a lovely threat. He didn't want to dump it, even with permission, but if he was given no choice, he would. Bruce had never wanted his name dragged through the mud and although he'd had edited it to scrub him out, it would have come back to the Hulk somewhere. Someone would make the connection. Now, things were moving however, he would give the man the option if he wanted to out himself, so to speak. He was possibly one of the most well known of Ross sins. It would also help the case in court, and the court of public opinion, which he needed to keep the pressure on. Without it, Ross could slime out again somehow. 

Ignoring that for now, he offered Laura his arm, she smiled and took it after packing up all their stuff. More pictures of them were taken walking away without looking back as Mr Jackson was escorted away in cuffs later he had to admit that was one of his favourite shots, the red flash of Laura's heals, walking away with perfect grace and Jackson's face contorted in anger as the head of the tac team that illegally broken into her home and terrified her children. He might frame it for her. 

T'Challa was waiting for them outside along with Jordan who looked flushed and extremely happy. 

"That was amazing!!" 

The kid actually jumped, kind of awkwardly, but Tony reached out and steadied him. T'Challa was looking highly amused, Tony wasn't sure if Jordan was going to pass out. Heck he wasn't sure that he was going to pass out, his vision what whitening around the edges and peoples colours has dulled, probably from the overload inside. He was still standing however and that was a win, he forced it back and stubbornly stayed to chat with the king and kid. 

"I was wondering, would you ah, sign this for me?" 

Laura took what he was offering and placed it next to Tony so he could pick it up, thankfully the kid didn't comment on that. He blinked a few times, he hasn't seen this in, well years. 

"This. This is my first dissertation on Artificial Intelligence." 

T'Challa and Laura leaned over, obviously interested whilst Tony was actually touched. This kid kept it with him incase he turned up? He pulled out his pen immediately and decided to write this kid a note, he looked him up whilst Laura had been talking about how strange it was that he went to college so young based on the date of his dissertation. Probably thinking of Cooper. Laura was still sporting her unamused 'mom face' when Jordan said he went to college early too. He'd also ended up with robotics and artificial intelligence, he was strongly for personhood and a total Vision fanboy. When he turned up to discuss his prosthesis he'd decided to convince Vision to 'accidentally' be there. 

"How old were you when you completed this Dr Stark?" 

T'Challa has leaned over, looking at the dates, his eyebrows had jumped up a little, probably realising how long Tony had been nigh on obsessed with AIs. 

"I finished this up at 17 because I was doing a few others, but the bot and AI mentioned, I built when I was 16. He's my 'first born' and he is still a little menace in my workshop." 

He grinned and did the 'dad thing' of showing them a picture of Dum-E, welding a fire extinguisher, whilst himself, Peter and Harley were utterly doused in foam, Tara cackling safely from behind Dum-E. The kid squealed again, T'Challa was still shocked which was amusing to him. 

"Here you go kid, I still expect to hear from you, and bring your dissertation, it sounds interesting." 

That time he nearly did swoon before having to get back to work. 

"Were you trying to make him pass out?" 

"What, Laura no, I actually looked him up and he went to MIT, I saw him under some professor's I recognised. The kid started at 16 too which is impressive."

"When did you start?"

"Huh? Oh, I was 14, hey T'Challa, want to join us for lunch?" 

Laura looked disapproving of a 14 year old going to college, which Tony found hilarious and made a point to not to tell her stories from his youth that included many older boys getting him plastered with spiked drinks, he'd just kind of thought that was what alcohol did. The pre-Rhodey days were not fun so fun looking back. Better than home but not exactly good either. Rhodey and Carol had made everything much better, even though he wasn't sure how they dealt with him at 14 because he was an ass

"I'd love to join you two, I don't know how we're going to get out though, it's a circus out there now." 

"Oh don't worry. I knew it would be and I have zero intention of holding an impromptu press conference. My CEO and PA would kill me." 

He grinned at Laura who rolled her eyes at his antics and headed off to the stairwell to the roof. Laura followed, she'd not been around him long, but she'd been around enough to just go with it when he walked with purpose. Plus it was usually fun, at least that was her excuse to Pepper. After a few flights of stairs nearing the roof, he pulled it his phone so he could tell Laura about Twitter without T'Challa wondering how he knew. 

"Hey Agent Mom, you're trending on twitter!" 

"What? Me? Why me?! You're the one meant to be trending!"

"Well I am, but you are too, I think you've resurrected that I stand with Ironman tag before Everheart, there are lots about you too."

The two of them pulled out their phones to check making Tony chuckle as he strode out onto the roof. T'Challa was being followed discreetly by 4 of the Dora Milaje that Tony waved too, even the ones very well hidden by the shadows. The look of shock and confusion on their faces was worth it. When your brain is in the cctv and you can see very well in darkness, he's quite hard to sneak up on. Plus, Wakandan wore tech even more than American, he could feel them. It was potentially of outing himself to T'Challa, or at least a hint, if he thought about it, but things got excused around him easily for being the eccentric genius all the time. 

Laura was looking at her phone in shock, pictures of her were being shared by thousands and thousands of people and it was snowballing from there. He could see a smile on her face so she was obviously enjoying her newfound fame. 

"Damn, I look good in this suit."

T'Challa was also sharing pictures of the two of them, including himself in the I stand with Ironman. He even added and I stand with Tony. Aww, he really was a Kitty and dammit now it was impossible to be angry at the man. His colours had nixed it pretty much from a glance across the room, damn the man was so earnest, he just wanted to make up for his mistakes and protect his people. Tony couldn't not get behind that. Hence abducting the king for dinner. Plus he was worried what might happen if he stopped moving before he could sit, standing and talking downstairs would not have gone well, he was slightly dizzy but powering through was actually working for him. 

The quinjet was almost on top of them when he realised that they hadn't picked somewhere to go yet. 

"Any requests for food? I know a few places in DC included this amazing Italian restaurant?" 

The others nodded as the quinjet landed, T'Challa looked impressed which considering he came from Wakanda was quite the compliment. Shuri had shown him pictures of what they had available and he was frankly dying to get his hands on them. There was just enough space on board for the 7 of them, especially if Tony and Laura sat in the pilots seats again, T'Challa took one near them and the Dora took up standing positions instead of sitting around the small table. Tony let FRIDAY control the Quinjet too. 

"Fry, my baby girl, can you get us a table at Carlluccio's? Something not too obvious, tell Zaz that I've made myself a storm again." 

"Sure thing Boss, I'll head for the roof shall I? He should be amused at that." 

Tony snorted and figured he was going to get himself a slap on the back of his head, but it was worth it because the food was amazing and he was really hungry. He couldn't eat too much in front of T'Challa, but if he doubled his order, he could eat in the jet on the way home. 

"Is that your AI? Is she driving the jet?" 

"Yup, FRIDAY is my wonderful girl. Say Hi to the king." 

"Hi King T'Challa, and yes I'm the pilot of the jet. Occasionally Boss takes over but he flew here, so I get to fly home and he gets to be lazy." 

"Sass, again, on my ship now. I'm sassed at all quarters." 

"Well you did code me Boss." 

T'Challa seemed amazed that FRIDAY was so smug. On the way to the restaurant he and Laura had fun laughing at the crazy that twitter turned everything into. 140 characters didn't just create brevity, it seemed to create insanity. Most people were being nice about him, it was a nice change. There were the obvious detractors but if 100% of people were being nice to him, he would be pretty sure that he'd died. T'Challa was chatting up a storm with FRIDAY who managed to draw the Dora into it as well. 

"Miss FRIDAY, I can't help but be amazed by yourself, I've been interested in AIs for a while but you are nothing like what else I've seen."

"Why thank you T'Challa, Boss can we keep him, he's so polite!"

"You charming my AIs over there?" 

T'Challa just shot him and grin and continued flirting with FRIDAY. 

 

When they arrived at the restaurant he got complained at in Italian for always being followed by chaos. It was then that he noticed that Tony had brought a literal king to his restaurant. Tony was cackling that he'd stunned the man speechless. His daughters would never let him live it down. 

T'Challa ate enough that he was starting to think his fighting skills from when they'd fought together before might be more than just being decked out in vibranium. That he might also be enhanced. Tony took this to mean he could eat enough to actually get full, Zazz found his increased appetite amusing but didn't comment beyond smiling at his empty plates. Probably just happy he was eating, his daughters were always of the opinion he didn't eat enough so Zazz heard about it enough. 

As they were finishing dessert and Tony was actually starting to struggle, even he was feeling close to full, everyone, including the Dora looked happy and full of food when his phone went off. Oh great. He wanted to sleep, not be yelled at. 

"Pep!" 

"Tony. The plan wasn't for you to out yourself as not human!" 

"It's fine Pep, I only noticed the tagged on amendments about intelligence last night. That didn't cause any fires at SI did it?" 

"Well no we're up 7 points and its shows signs of increasing more."

"Pep. Are you calling to yell at me for good things? Because I just ate a lot of food, I'm sleepy and confused. Also T'Challa and Laura are laughing at me now." 

He finished up the call with Pepper, she was still mad at him for potentially making himself vulnerable, but nothing bad was falling on SI so as far as he was concerned, no yelling was ruining his overeating happy haze. 

He had ordered a ton of extra dessert to take home for the kids which was interesting to transport up to the roof, especially as T'Challa did the same for Shuri. 

They dropped T'Challa and the Dora back off on the roof, creating another little media storm of Tony and T'Challa shaking hands, and Tony pulled him in for a hug. What? Playing with the press is fun! Bagheera also turned out to be a lot nicer when he wasn't running all over the planet hunting for his father's killer too. 

The trip home was quiet, but a nice quiet, they were both exhausted and way to full they both nearly fell asleep. He didn't celebrate until he stepped into his apartment however, but as soon as he did, he couldn't help but smile. That he'd dealt with the press multiple times, annoying people and a high stress situation and he hadn't fried anything with his abilities or passed out from the colour overload. Things were still a little dim and he didn't feel on top form, but it was definitely a good sign. 

For his first outing in public since Siberia, and since he got these abilities, the fact that he didn't do anything 'weird' was a serious plus. Laura went straight to pick up Nate and Tony just face planted the sofa after putting the goodies in the fridge. He decided to doze until people came home, he still felt a little weird. He alternately checked stuff online and enjoyed himself watching videos of Ross being arrested from different angles. Okay, maybe he looped that one, and oh look, how did it end up online? Not from anything traceable to him that's for sure. 

Carol and Rhodey got in first, Carol carrying quite a large box. 

"What's in the box Sparky?" 

"Not a clue, it's for you." 

"Oooh presents!" 

Carol dropped the box on top of his stomach so he sat up to have a look and realised that it was from T'Challa, he'd included an updated copy of the Accords with his neat print on it. There were a few neat little boxes that had desserts and sweets from Wakanda, that was just really nice. He'd definitely have to tell Shuri about this so she could give the man a break, if only for a few days. Wrapped at the bottom right is what made his jaw drop. Rhodey and Carol had been nosey and poking around the box too, trying to make off with his sweets. 

"Holy crap Tones. Is that.. vibranium." 

He ran his fingers over it using his metal hand and felt an answering hum, vibranium had a feel about it now that he never used to. Before, if he touched Roger's shield, it was just metal. Nothing else. Now, especially with his metal hand, there was a quiet answering hum. Which told him that yes, this was vibranium. Lifting it up told him it was 5 kilograms of it. 

"Does anyone find it hilarious that Howard forked over a ton for a tiny scrap of vibranium, that he had to have stolen and purchase illegally too, ruining any hope of a connection with Wakanda for a dumb shield. Also, seriously, a giant frisbee out of everything you can DO with vibranium! And here I am, the guy who apologised for that, I even offered to send it back but they told me to consider it mine, which was handy considering what we did with it. I've now got both Royals just sending me vibranium presents for no reason!"

"Howard is rolling in his grave right now." 

The three of them burst out laughing, Tony wrapped up the metal and personally ran it down to his workshop, locking it up in the floor safe under the server room. He was definitely going to have fun with that, he'd run out of his current supply before he'd filled the hive with the nanites. Now he had positively tons because the tiny robots didn't require much. His fingers itched to build, but the kids would be home soon and the whole lot were going to be piling into his apartment for desserts and to hear about today. He hadn't had a chance to meet Cassie yet either. So he locked the safe and headed home instead, impressed at himself for doing so.

Pretty much as soon as he opened the door, a snap happened. It sounded like a crack but no one else heard anything, then all the dim colours exploded into brightness and he promptly passed out in front of Carol. 

 

Tony POV

17th September 

Tony had just finished up his run around the compound, Peter had come with him for some of it but his endurance for running was still pretty low, especially compared to him now as he ran often. So, when Peter had bowed out and got ready to head back in. He'd then pushed himself as fast as he could, not the slow increase he normally did and he heard Peters cheer for a few seconds until he was out of range. 

He'd pushed himself as hard as possible because today he was going to have an uncomfortable conversation. One that he'd actually been putting off for a while now, but he couldn't anymore. Not after he realised he was procrastinating. So he ran until his legs felt like jelly and he was swaying slightly from exertion as he stood in the shower. 

Peter and Harley had practically shoved him into the bathroom to shower because he was utterly drenched. He stayed in a little long, slowly doing his hair and when he started considering putting conditioner in his beard he realised that he was still stalling and he was going to end up late for his appointment if he kept it up. 

Sighing as he got out, he did take the time to trim his beard and look at his hair disdainfully. His hair grew faster now, but not normally. It could stay the same for weeks and wake up with it all curly and floofy around his shoulders. He'd not been impressed, and managed to hide from Rhodey and begged Laura to cut his hair. Which went well, except for the fact she'd snapped a photo when she opened the door after seeing him through the doorbell camera. She now cut his hair anytime the floof exploded. The photo was framed on her mantlepiece, so far no one had looked to close at it… but it was waiting for him. He'd tried to steal it 5 times and failed every time too. 

His hair wasn't that long today, but it was a good 3 curly inches longer than it should be and Laura was with Meg and the kids in the arcade. There had been a lot of media chaos since their UN speech, Laura however was loving it and looked more confident than ever. She'd also told him that now she was being paid, wearing horrendously expensive clothing was fun. Which considering when she first arrived and looked at horror at the prices of the standard stuff FRIDAY ordered, was very amusing. Now she was looking at getting more bespoke suits herself rather than the kids and FRIDAY ordering then. The difference a little time and confidence makes could be pretty amazing. He was hoping to take her car shopping soon, they were both interesting influences on each other, that's for sure. 

They'd be meeting up later to take the kids out, he'd get his haircut then before they left. For now it could be part of his 'clever disguise'. He slipped on Rhodey's oversized black hoodie that was so faded he had no idea what had been on it once. A pair of black jeans combat boots and a ball cap. Grabbing the black mirrored sunglasses too. There, he looked absolutely nothing like Tony Stark. 

He took the lift down to the garage and picked one of his more nondescript cars. It was black and didn't look to flash or expensive on the outside. On the inside it was a completely different beast. Which considering this one was called Beast, that worked. Harley had pointed out that making a nondescript car affectively roar with the engine he'd chosen ruined the undercover theme, but you'd be surprised how many people ignore it because it doesn't look flash. Street racers were pretty much the only people he got side eye glances from, mostly because they thought he was one which had been hilarious and 'not at all dangerous Rhodey!' He was an exceptional driver, even with Rhodey yelling at him to slow down. 

Tony peeled out of the garage and headed to the park where he had arranged the meet up. Even with the mostly empty roads, it took about an hour for him to reach the park far enough away that if someone potentially recognised him, it would be easy to call doubt into it. 

He parked near where he was heading, making the rest of the journey on foot, throwing up a scrambler so he wouldn't show up on any CCTV that might catch him. He needed to work on the scrambler, it currently turned him into a weird, dodgy TV show version of a ghost. Where static mostly replaced his image. People trying to take a picture would be cursed with unfocused images. Heavily frustrating he suspected, so highly amusing for him. He also got FRIDAY to keep watch as he knew he wouldn't be able to talk and monitor, scramble and scan people whilst having an awkward conversation he didn't want to have. He could multitask very well, but certain conversations required more attention. 

 

Convinced he was as covered as he could get, which also had him wondering why he hadn't just picked up one of the updated Veils. He'd been slowly going through everything SHIELD had and either scrapping it or making it better. Not that he had any idea who developed half the stuff in the first place, which sucked when he potentially wanted to collaborate with the original creators, or needed them to make sense of it. Even if they were recorded with a creator, they could be Hydra, or one of the many he'd not had time so save. He had a lot of Ex-SHIELD personnel but none of them had any idea who'd developed half the weird stuff in the SHIELD bag of tricks. Not all of it was even worth fiddling with and some stuff, there was just no way in hell he was touching.

He still needed a name for his Ex-SHIELD division too. When it had just been a few, they'd just been staff at the compound, but now with the amount of agents he'd found and snapped up, they were becoming a department in itself, and he knew that many of them disliked being referred to as SHIELD in anyway, most very angry at the agency after the SHYDRA fiasco. A wing of the compound was officially HQ for them and they had a variety of jobs.. It wasn't fair to just keep calling them SH-

'Da, your stalling again.'

'Dammit. Your right baby girl. But we do need to name our wayward agent adoption unit.' 

'True Da, but later. Now get out of the car.' 

'I thought I was the Boss here?' 

'What on earth gave you that idea?' 

She sniped back at him, sending him a brush of code to give him some confidence as he finally left the car, she retreated from his mind into the portable block he kept for her in his pocket. Usually away from home she used his phone, tablet, suit or carried a small piece of herself in his mind, apparently none of them were perfect solutions and paled in comparison to being home. So he'd hooked up with Shuri whilst he'd been writing a selection of algorithms for Barnes. Apparently she thought writing 7 different algorithms for him was 'too much' so he'd shelved the other 5 and stopped writing the one he was on. Maybe he was obsessing, but it was for a good cause of saving the world from potential triggered assassin's. 

After that, he'd told her about SHIELDS Toolbox and how he wanted to build something like it, that FRIDAY could use as her going out clothes. FRIDAY could access WiFi from it but nothing could get in, only Tony but only with FRIDAYS permission as this was like her little caravan or something. But he'd been banned from calling it that. Instead of Toolboxes cube like state, Friday wanted something based on triangles, because triangles are powerful and strong, apparently. What she didn't consider that having a little vibranium pyramid in his pocket was kind of stabby. Or she did and found it amusing. Could be either really. 

'Da!' 

'Sorry, I was thinking about your little home away from home, have you thought of a name ye-' 

'Da, stop lurking in the shadows and I'll think of a name.' 

'Fine!' 

Tony had been stood under a tree, looking at the back of Sharon's head as she sat on a park bench scanning the park diligently looking for him whilst he was skulking in the shadows thinking off names for stabby pyramids. He sighed internally moving up towards the bench, a sign of his changes that he moved silently without really intending it, so much so that Sharon didn't actually notice him till he hopped over the back of the bench and sits down next to her. 

She sucked in a breath and then looked at him, squinting at him. 

"Tony..?" 

"Hey Shaylo." 

"You have gotten much better at disguising yourself." 

She offers him a smile but he struggled to return it and this is why they need to talk. He can see her hands twitching in her lap. 

"Come on, let's go to Macs." 

She nods and damn it's killing him because she's sad and its in Tony's instinct to stop that. It's worse now because he can See it painted around her, out of the corner of his eye as he's avoiding looking directly at her. He knew that she'd been bouncing around jobs since everything went down, he'd made sure that she didn't face any legal repercussions, but that was about it. The silence is awkward as they cross the road, and Tony kept thinking of things to say and promptly abandoning them. 

He can't not to look at her, of course, she's suffering and it's just jumping out at him, chipping at him to help, because he's her older cousin and he is supposed to protect her. Especially as she sat right in front of him now dammit. But he can't protect her from herself and she'd hidden their relationship from everyone at her work so he couldn't really do anything there. Which yeah, he gets it. She's spent her life trying to climb out of Aunt Peggy's shadow. Adding Tony Stark to that isn't going to make that easier, but he could admit to himself, only in the quiet of his mind. It hurt a bit. 

"Tony, how.. How have you been. I've not heard from you in months and that.. That picture." 

Her voice cracks, dammit he feels like scum of the earth but he's hurt too and he's starting to learn that he can't just stuff that down anymore. That he has to look after himself occasionally, even if the only reason he's doing it is for the kids, well, Carol doesn't have to know that. 

He offers her his right hand and relief floods her and she grabs onto him like she's trying to convince herself that he's there. He orders a ridiculous amount of sweet breakfast foods, after that run he's starving, he needs the calories and Belgian waffles will help, Sharon orders a normal human sized English breakfast with all the trimmings and damn now he wants that. He adds it to his order and to stagger his waffles so they don't get cold whilst they indulge in their little British tradition. Jarvis and Peggy got them both eating them as kids and frankly, it's kind of annoying. 

Finding a decent English breakfast outside of Britain is a chore, and as for making it themselves? Have you seen how many parts there are to an English breakfast. Seriously, even if they refuse to eat the fried tomatoes, because ew, it's still so many different pieces cooked in different ways and yes he's stalling again. 

"You have no idea how much I keep stalling on this. I've been talking to myself about a new name for all my adopted SHIELD agents to just now discussing English breakfasts in my mind and how annoying it is trying to find good ones in America."

"I can't believe how many awful breakfasts we tried before we stumbled in here, utterly hungover, feeling wretched and boom." 

He offers her a quick smile before drinking some of his coffee. The other handy thing about Macs apart from divine food, nice owners is that it's a basement pub, you open the door and are faced with just these stone stairs down. That when you are still a little drunk had made him think he was entering some kind of dungeon, but at the bottom of the stairs everything is cosy and it really does feel like they'd been transported across the pond. Harder to be followed or photographed in too. Peggy had loved it, the staff behind the bar are Brits too. Some of the servers are American but they don't try and put on awful accents. The people who own the place, there are 6 of them and not a single one of them have the same accent and not a one of them sounds what Americans think all British people sound like. It's hilarious bringing American friends here. 

He sighs and realises he's doing it again. 

"I'm sorry I didn't come and talk to you sooner Shaylo. I was just too.. Angry." 

He glanced at the wall next to him, reading the random framed things on the wall. Pictures, newspaper clippings, just, weird stuff that some Brit pubs have on walls that Peggy loved. 

"You don't look angry.. You look sad." 

Tony pulled off the jumper because even he was warm down here, putting the cap on the side too, leaving his glasses on which he can see hurts her feelings but he needs answers before he can tell her that. He brings his attention back to her and tries to keep his voice to not tremble because she's family damit and he's never needed to wear a mask around her. 

"How was the funeral?" 

"It was.. A funeral. I'm sorry you couldn't come." 

"Yeah well, Rogers would of had questions and then he would have started a fight and they never go well for me. Plus I could barely take a second to breathe before I had to put out more fires back then anyway." 

She frowns at him and he realises it probably because he practically snarled out Roger's name. He will have to be careful about that. 

He'd grieved in his own way for Aunt Peggy, he spent the day drawing when he could finally stop running around with the Accords, something he hadn't done in a while. He drew until he had a finished piece with Aunt Peggy in different times. With a slash of red lipstick, holding him at the funeral, hiding her chocolate stash from him, that perfect year when she was his guardian after the acci- after they died. Rhodey was impressed and it's now over the fireplace. However, now everyone knows he can draw, the shock always makes him smile. Whilst he isn't amazing, he had to draw schematics and people are oddly easy. He had to learn how people moved to desi… Damit. 

"What happened Star? You just utterly vanished from everything for months, all I had was that picture." 

"I could ask you the same question, what happened?"

She grimaced and looked away from him, he counted back from ten and tried to level it his voice so he sounded less sharp. 

"Just… Why Shaylo. Why did you do it?" 

"I'm.. Not sure. He made me feel special, for me. Just me. He kissed me. But I'm.. I'm just confused Star, everything just happened so fast and next thing you know I have no one, no job and I'm in this shitty B&B with loud obnoxious people, but even they're not alone." 

Tony gave her hand a squeeze, he feels bad for her, he hates that one man just rampage into their lives and left them both broken. 

"You could have come to me. Spoke to me, got a message to me. Damn smoke signals or a call to FRIDAY. I was busy but I would never not answer when you call." 

"Except these 2 months. That's how I knew I fucked up, you know. I don't know what I did, but hearing your voicemail for the first time… that.." 

"Hurt?" 

She nodded, looking thoroughly miserable, gripping his hand with both of hers, ignoring her leaf juice entirely as if she's worried if she let's go he'll leave. Damn, it's just impossible to keep his anger around these people and it's actually making him mad. Why can't he just rage, why does he have this compulsion to help when he wants to be pissed. 

"By the time I got word about the other soldiers, I just needed the stubborn dick to stop. Come in. Stop fighting and talk. I mean I can take cars being dropped on my head, but it isn't fun you know." 

She flinched, sympathy in her eyes, she'd obviously seen the clashes of the dramatically named civil war. 

" How.. How's Jim"

Tony grinds his teeth, jaw locked. It still racked him about Rhodey, he was looking at avenues he could help, one was Extremis. Not his version obviously, he stripped the code back to barebones again. Now he was about to be in the same room as Stephy without passing out. Maybe he could help. Until then he could focus on the bracers. 

"Not enjoying PT, his torture lady keeps coming after me too, I've been tinkering with his wheelchair though, it has some interesting features. He wants me to install a small ledge at the back so I can stand on it and he can zip around. He's handling everything so well, but I think having Carol there helps. The constant mutual pining neither of them can see is taking up most of his brain. The kids help too. "

"Kids? "

"Uh, yeah. You got a lot to catch up on. But I need to.. I need to do this first. "

She nodded, and looked down, obviously waiting for him to shout at her but Tony doesn't think he can. 

"Telling him about that shoot to kill order, that, that was bad Shay. Surely you had to know that. And God the shield. Why did you give him the Damned shield. Howard made that stupid Frisbee-"

"I.. I thought it was better that I gave them to him, than have him hurt people trying to get it. I felt like I had to do something to help him, and that was all I could think of. Damn, I was worried that he'd get hurt or killed in a fight without it… that the soldiers would kill him…" 

"Instead he used it to hurt me, and he nearly killed me with it." 

 

Sharon POV

Sharon visibly paled, he stomach clenching painfully and her breath leaving her like a punch. 'What?!' He practically whispered the last bit to her, cold and without any inflection at all. For all the rage that Tony Stark can burn and burn with. Sharon knows that Tony is at his most dangerous when he freezes over. When he goes cold. Like there are too many emotions burning up inside him, too much rage, to much anger, that it all whites out into a cold, lasting rage that lasts and lasts and thaws when the target is dead, cold and forgotten. 

That's when he lets his intellect take over and nothing else. She'd never heard it directed at her, even peripherally, she'd only heard him talk like that a few times in his life. She doesn't let go of his hand though, she refuses to let go, he's mad but he doesn't want her scared of him, she knows that. This isn't something Tony can control, he's never been able to go to the static, cold place on command. Unless more had changed in these months than she can even conceive of. This, this is directed at Steve. Yeah she handed him the shield. She isn't scared but he still looks dangerous and she's not sure how to bring him back so she just kept talking to him. 

"What do you mean Tony, why did he do that, what happened? When I saw you in the hospital, I thought it was the Winter Soldiers." 

She nearly lost him, again. She's nearly lost him so many times but this time she can now trace it back to a decision she made, and if he had died, all that lost time because she didn't want people connecting them, especially after he came on as a consultant… seemed so pointless now. 

Tony sucks in a breath like he's emerging from something and she hopes he's coming back but he just looks broken instead. 

"He killed my mom Shay." 

"Tony, your parents died in a crash, didn't they?" 

"No, Hydra used Barnes as the weapon to kill them because fucking Howard was trying to remake that damned serum. His obsession with Rogers got them killed using Rogers best friend as the weapon and Rogers fucking knew." 

This is, this is bad. This was already a painful moment in Tony's past that never fully healed and that got ripped open again every year. And Steve knew? She knows that Tony opened up to him about this. 

"He knew for fucking years Shay. For years he was in my home. For years he used my money and resources. Years, he lied, whilst berating me for not telling him something when I was spiralling in a fucking haze of PTSD and the witches magic. And I exploded at him, I just, I needed to burn and rage at them or you know what would have happened. "

"I know Star, but you stopped right? "

Tony's laugh makes her flinch because no one should hear family hurt like that. 

"No Shay, he took that shield and slammed it at my head over and over until he ripped my mask off. Then he raised it to slam down again.. He.. I think he changed his mind at the last second and he drove it into the arc reactor. Do you have any idea the force behind a vibranium shield shattering to kill one of my arc reactors. It shattered my sternum. Turned my ribs into fucking shrapnel. Then he left me in a metal coffin in Siberia. But do you know what's worse. "

She couldn't speak so she shook her head 

"Like you, when I left for Siberia, I still fucking cared. Let him twist me up, I purged the tracking data. No one knew I was there but 3 people and Rogers lied to 2 of them and said I was fine. I even told him that no one knew I was there." 

She doesn't ask him how long. Because he would have told her if he was going to. Instead she just adds a confession of her own. 

"I think I loved him."

"Rogers fooled us both didn't he. Used us until he got what he wanted and left. "

"Yeah, Gods Star, I'm so sorry."

"S'okay Shaylo, it's not on you. We both got played." 

He hufs out a laugh and offers her a weak smile in time for their breakfasts to arrive. They swap some things over like they always do, much to Rhys' amusement who goes away muttering about barbaric Americans, Tony and Shay offer the man matching smiles, pretending to be innocent. The man just grins before disappearing behind the bar. She can tell Tony feels better, she's not sure if she will be able to sleep for a while, hearing her cousin choke out those words will definitely stick in her mind. 

"I didn't come back in one piece Shay, Rhodey had to use that crazy version of Extremis I told you about. Nothing else was getting me out of that coma and if it had, I'd be blind with multiple amputations." 

Fuck, her cousin has a brutal way of talking sometimes, but then the two of them never bothered beating around the bush. Plus it seemed to have cracked the dark atmosphere around them. He tapped the back of his hand, revealing the black metal and carried on shoveling food away at an alarming, utterly un-Tony, pace. He always had issues with food, falling back on those odd smoothies far to often, or just plain forgetting to eat on engineering binges, but now his plate is emptied before she's even finished a quarter of hers, and he's eyeing her plate too. 

She grabs his hand, his fucking metal hand, and slides her plate to him. Swapping it with his empty one and gets a shy smile for it. He must have an increased caloric requirement, that's why he ordered like 20 waffles. 

"It's good to see you eating this much. I mean, I wish you didn't have to nearly die again. But Peggy would be happy." 

He barked out a laugh as she watched everything on her plate, even the mushrooms he'd traded off! Vanish just as fast. 

"This hand is cool, you'll show me how it works done day?" 

"Could come to the workshop today? I know.. I know you don't want me giving you a job but, Shay, come work at the compound. I want you close. All this has made me want my family fucking safe and your out in the cold and dammit I get why you didn't want to be linked with me, to make it on your own. You did it, now, please just let me bring you in?"

"Yes. "

Tony jaw drops open and she can't help but laugh. Having him nearly died in her again? All that time lost because she was stubborn? 

"Fuck, didn't think you'd say yes."

"I mean if you don't have space.."

"Come off it cuz, I build you a room in all my properties." 

Well that's the final nail in the guilt coffin. 

"Hey, you don't have to be guilty, I get it, it's hard to grow up in someone's shadow, but there is nothing wrong with letting it be easy for a bit. I know that's like a foreign language to you. But we've hurt enough, let's let it be easy. Come meet my kids, because I have kids now. Seriously there's like a hoard of them."

"Always knew you'd make a great dad."

"Always thought I'd been too fucked up by Howard to risk it. But they kind of just turned up and Harley kicked me in the shin." 

He shrugged and she burst out laughing, utterly giggling and couldn't stop, he slipped his hand under the tables and suddenly they were inundated with waffles. She figured she could steal one without him biting her hand. 

"You have 20 waffles, I'm sure you can spare one. I'm switching your name from Star to the black hole you now have instead of a stomach." 

Tony glanced around whilst she was nibbling at one of the waffles and Tony was demolishing the food. Damn she wish Peggy had been around for this, she'd have had a field day getting Tony to really eat and not pick. Bastard was still skinny though. 

"I think we're safe from the Brits invading."

She glances up in question and he finally slipped the glasses off and the main thing she felt was relief. He wasn't keeping them on to guard against her. It was hard to be really shocked about the change in his eyes after that. 

"Any other surprises you hiding there?"

She quipped at him. Eyebrow raised. 

"Yup, but they're harder to reveal here. "

He didn't do anything dramatic but he rubbed at the smile lines around his mouth with the wipes that came with the syrup swamped pancakes and she blinked as they literally came off. 

"Anything else and people might notice." 

"When we get to the car you are going to show me everything Star, does this mean we actually look the same age now?" 

"Yup, my kids know about you by the way, I couldn't not tell them, but everyone at the compound is going to be very confused. You want a job at the old SHIELD wing? Or are you thinking something else?" 

"I don't know.. I've not really… Wow I could do anything."

"Could go to school too, from the compound if you like, it a lot bigger now. You're a natural at code. Train the newbies if you still get a kick out of it like Peggy." 

They both snickered at that, it had always been fun to watch Peggy drill the newbies, when she was young she'd sit on Tony and they'd both watch her. Only way she could get either of them to sit still and stop snooping. 

It was quite fun watching Tony destroy all the waffles. He slipped the glasses on several seconds before she heard footsteps, and she was only straining to hear them because him putting the glasses on was a clue. Extremis definitely had changed a lot. 

"Cheat."

Tony just stuck his tongue out at her and over paid his usual amount when they came here. The staff had just learned to deal with it or Tony got imaginative at leaving them money. It was rarely a good idea to let Tony get overly imaginative about things. 

When they got back to the car she raised an eyebrow at him. This car was also surprisingly good at blending, she wondered when Tony had actually gotten good at this. He'd never been great at blending in, better at standing out with ease. 

Then he turned on the car, somehow, because he wasn't touching anything.. And then the car sodding roared. 

"I take back my comments of subterfuge. You suck. Also when is the last time you cut your hair, you look floofy." 

"Two days ago and trust me it's been worse, I woke up once with it round my shoulders. It looked awful. Laura, who usually cuts my hair, was busy before I left so I figured I'd leave it. People are less likely to recognise me under all this hair." 

"Good point, by the way, how did you start the car?"

"If I said with my brain would you believe me?" 

"No, so it's Friday?" 

“Not me Shaylo, Boss really can manipulate tech with his mind."

It would have been easier to accept if Tony hadn't pulled his sunglasses off at that point and waggled his eyebrows at her. She rolled her eyes as Tony peeled out into the street fast enough to pin her to the chair. She had to get herself a car like this. 

"Boss, I came up with a name." 

"Name?" 

"Oh yeah, I made this little thing to make it easier for FRIDAY to travel. I mean, part of her can come in the suit or my phone or even in my mind now, but it's not like her servers back home, so it limits her when she comes out, not as much oomph apparently. I read about this cube SHIELD had, Toolbox, were SHIELD got vibranium from, I do not know, or want to know. I had some vibranium, so with some help I made her a portable, tiny server. But she didn't want a cube. She wanted a pyramid because triangles are superior. Personally I think she just wanted it to stab me in the leg. "

He fished it out of his pocket and he passed it over to her without taking his eyes off the road for a second. She noted that even though Tony now knew his parents didn't die in a car crash, he was still obsessed with his eye contact with the road.  

The little pyramid was matt black, like Tony's hand with like gaps that a blue light shining through that made her think multiple holo screens could pop up from either face.

She really couldn't wait to see his cousins workshop. She'd seen bits on calls but going to the tower wasn't something they could get away with, from SHIELD keeping a track on her, then on him after Afghanistan. So they met up elsewhere generally. 

She looked forward to this being her new normal

Well as normal as you can get living with your super powered, hero cousin, in the building where he collected and stored other superheroes and your ex colleagues like stray cats. Oh and it was ruled over by a benevolent AI. 

At least her and FRIDAY has always gotten on, these past months without contact with Tony had also left her without contact with FRIDAY and the shock to her had been how that seemed to affect her more than losing her job. That had been her wake up call. 

"I'm going to call it a Pyrabyte" 

"And I'm the one who is banned from naming things." 

She sat back and enjoyed listening to Tony and FRIDAY banter. It might take a while for him to forgive her properly, but she decided that she'd happily work for it. 

Oddly, as soon as she decided that, Tony reached over and squeezed her shoulder, smiling to himself. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony POV 

20th September 

After an insane breakfast, who would have known adding one tiny little girl would seemingly make the already crazy breakfasts, well, crazier.

Fun though, definitely fun, when all the kids got back from school, sadly not including Peter who had dinner tonight with May, the rest of them were heading to Central Park and he had a feeling Laura, who had rejigged the child wrangling duty, had done it specifically that Tony was on duty for all future Central Park days, and that Meg had collaborated on the whole thing. Why were women always ganging up on him? 

He was in his lab with his current favourite obsession that had actually slightly overtaken making new suits. But considering it was suit related he could just claim it was a related obsession and not a new one. 

He'd been working on the nano-tech pre-Siberia, and it had been fun, yet painstakingly detailed, but it just hadn't sucked him in to the same level that building the suits had, mostly because even with his implants, his mind could only do so much before he reached migraine town and FRIDAY had to take oved. Extremis had changed that, had practically revolutionised that, he hadn't actually hit a maximum number of nanites under his control yet and he had vastly increased the amount available. 

Extremis had made him completely connected to his tech in a way his implants could not have hinted at. When he'd first woken up and got his head around everything, he'd expected it to be like his implants. It was hard to even explain the difference, the contact was like between dipping the tip of your finger in vs full body submersion. It was so different that having the nanites around actually felt good instead of an effort to manipulate them. The sensors on each bot became extensions of his own senses, so he liked having a lot available. It was.. comforting. It felt natural, like when you go quiet to hear something, that natural reaction was how the nanites were with his system. 

Also, it would be really hard to shove a shield into his chest and get abandoned without power in fun holiday locations like in the middle of nowhere, Siberia edition. 

The current lot he was working on were even smaller than the last version, and he'd been either cannibalising, upgrading or simply breaking down all the others until they were all up to date. Getting the nanites any smaller would lose functions, which was why he was making a big push at this version.

He had 3 hives full and yet he was still making them as well as developing different types of hives too. The watch gauntlet was an obvious place to start, it would be much smaller than the arc reactor hives, not enough nanites to form a suit, maybe a full gauntlet to the shoulder if need be. 

He glanced down and figured maybe this would be a good stopping point for now, as he was thinking up new ways to make them, and he had a feeling that didn't lead down a good path. Yeah, that idea whilst interesting, very interesting... It had a lot of potential-

His phone trialled at that moment, shattering his thought process making him forget what he'd been thinking about so hard. Slipping on his glasses he made a flick gesture from his phone and the call switched to one of the larger holo screens. He had been working on not using gestures, but it somehow felt more natural to use them. Which was weird because his ability didn't stem from his hands, maybe to much media and films of people with powers like telekinesis had his mind thinking the gestures help. Or just years of working on his holo screens. 

Answering the call he pushed his chair into view to see a slightly baffled Shuri. 

"What's up Kit-Kat?" 

She huffed out at his new nickname today, but she was quite amused at something too, her hand over her mouth like she was trying to stop laughing. 

"Had breakfast with the kids did you?" 

"Yeaaaahh.. Why?" 

"Didn't look in a mirror before you went to the lab either?" 

"Dammit, I didn't let anyone near me with Nutella!" 

Shuri doubled over, cackling at him. He tentatively suck his hand in his hair because that's what the kids usually went for, and found himself engulfed in a cloud of powdered sugar. Whilst choking on powdered sugar still tasted nice, it is not pleasant. He leveled a glared at Shuri who was too busy laughing to talk and he bolted to the bathroom. 

5 minutes later, him reappearing, slightly damp with freshly washed hair. It was enough to set Shuri off again. He, like a mature adult stuck his tongue out at her whilst adding his hair goop so he didn't end up all curly and fluffy. 

"Yuck it up Princess. So, apart from laughing at me, whats on today's docket." 

"Oh you know, the usual joy I feel dealing with integration of your binary systems." 

"Ahhh, yeah, that's been keeping me up. Did the last batch of files help any. I think we're getting closer to something that works efficiently." 

"T'Challa was fine with version 7, he thinks that because we're at version 42 means we are crazy you know." 

"So far none of the versions have been quick enough to take the coded alterations to the Barf system without sending packets back and forth like snail mail." 

Tony scowled at that, by now he had hoped to create something of a shared server that worked with both of their systems, and they had to a degree. But the sheer amount of data they were sending back and forth for BARF was apparently very good at highlighting problems. Sure the other versions would be fine to help the world integrate with Wakanda. But neither Shuri nor him liked the word 'Fine'. Plus it was too slow integrating with his systems, even with the BARF data, and they ended up with the computer version of traffic jams. Which turned out to be more frustrating than actual traffic jams. 

"How is he taking to it anyway? I know it's only been 8 days..? How are you handling it?" 

Shuri just raised her eyebrow anytime he asked about him. Causing Tony to roll his eyes behind his glasses and point out he only cared because of the use of his tech. Plus reading those Hydra files had been haunting. 

" Everything is going fine and I'm learning your tech too. How many disciplines did you cross making these damned glasses anyway?" 

Tony just gave her a toothy grin at that. If anyone understood learning a new subject overnight, it was her. She just huffed at him again and rolled her eyes. T'Challa had taken to mocking her for communicating in eye rolls and snark, and he, in smirks and sarcasm. 

" I just finished getting through all the data for your hand and Hydra. I think ours is far superior." 

"Of course it is, we built it instead of Nazis, and it isn't a torture device." 

Shuri had paled a little at that he kicked himself, Shuri must not have come to that conclusion herself but she'd already spun and he saw a hologram behind her spring up his files about the hands and the original metal arm. There wasn't much he could do. 

"I… how did I not see this?! "

"I've been neck deep in Hydra since DC.. After a while I expect this of them so it was easy to see. If I never have to look at a Hydra file again it will be too soon." 

He didn't bother hiding the shudder, it really had been horrifying reading everything. After a nice of nightmares from Afghanistan of all places, somehow triggered by reading about Barnes conditioning. Rhodey had told him to stop reading, to let FRIDAY comb for pertinent information and only read that. Which is what Rhodey thought he did, because Rhodey thought he was punishing himself, he wasn't, not really, he just didn't want to be blindsided with information again. He didn't want to miss anything important so he'd read anything he could get his hands on. He was now intimately familiar with Hydra and their barbaric ways. 

"Anyway, let's just.. Pin that for now. I'm calling because there was twice the normal amount of data you sent yesterday with the integration codes." 

"Huh, oh yeah, I updated the algorithm from the scans you sent, nothing new." 

"Tony.." 

"You used my name!! YES, this means I can eventually get Peter to stop calling me Mr Stark!" 

Shuri shook her head, although she was smiling at his antics so that was good. 

"Tony. You didn't just 'update' the algorithm. You wrote 3 new ones!" 

Well, in his defence he'd been unable to get to sleep and Tara had been sleeping on his chest. So he pulled up the data in his mind and started writing. 

"Pffft, You say that like it's something big. I still feel bad and this is something I can do from the other side of the planet without ever seeing him. It's perfect. Plus the world is better off without 10 words and a compliant murder-cube." 

Shuri mouthed the words 'Murder-cube' whilst looking slightly perplexed, she'd told him more than once that his propensity for nicknames was so random that even she couldn't keep up. She was still stuck on Underoos. 

"That just sounds like a lot of justification to me. He's hopeful about it but the data draws are hitting him hard after, what did you call them, the fluffy bunny levels." 

"Ah! That wasn't me. After naming it BARF, FRIDAY and CERBERUS decided I needed help naming things." 

"Chief, the first thing people do when you hand them BARF is look at ya like you're crazy and then mentally rename it when talking to patients." 

Tony grinned hearing CERBERUS deep Scottish voice join the conversation. His youngest was getting braver each day. 

"See what I'm dealing with here Shuri? Sass." 

"Hi CERBERUS! I've not spoken to you yet!" 

"He was waiting until we have the integration down,  I'm pretty sure he and Fry are going to come and visit you soon."

Shuri squeals and Tony rolls back to his workstation to let his kids chatted to Shuri as the latest data Shuri had been sending started to trickle through.

You'd think the prospect of having two AIs come knocking would, you know, be nerve racking or something, especially to Wakanda. But Shuri was far to much like him, she'd also been not so subtly asking about AIs for a while, and he was considering asking FRIDAY if she minded letting Shuri have a look at her base code. Anyone else, he knew she'd say no, but also if it was anyone else, he wouldn't even consider it, but all his AIs had a soft spot for Shuri. DUM-E and U loved it when she called, BUTTERFINGERS did too but she wanted to meet her in person. FRIDAY absolutely adored Shuri. FRIDAY made sure to inform him of this fact, often.

He wondered if Shuri had worked out that the little present boxes lately had not all been coming from him, whilst some were, many came directly from the AIs. 

Their gift giving was interesting, to say the least. FRIDAY had sent him a disco ball lamp yesterday and he had no idea what to do with it. He couldn't regift it or anything because that would be mean and more importantly, FRIDAY was practically God of all his domain. Also, CERBERUS tended to get grumpy if he even thought his sister was upset. So there was now a disco ball lamp next to his bed. Luckily Rhodey hadn't seen it yet. Maybe he could show the three girls, and if one of them loved it.. Then he couldn't possibly not give it to them.. 

He tapped his fingers as more packets finally came through, actually remembering to use his hands on the keyboard even if it felt so slow, like he was walking through mud. Shuri's attention was on the AIs, but he was still partially in view. 

The data from draw 7 and 8 puzzled him before he even opened the packets. There shouldn't even be a draw 7 and 8, even his mind had only taken 5, most people topped out at 3, 4 at the very most for severely traumatic incidents. Barnes' brain had been practically rewired, rewritten and programmed over though and he knew going in that it was going to be a challenge, knew when he sent BARF to Wakanda. Somehow it was above even his expectations. 

As much as Shuri was joking about him being actively involved, he realised looking at this... he wouldn't of had a choice.

Sure, maybe the basic algorithms might have done something, but factoring in draw 8, even the most complex of them would have achieved a 6.4% chance of disassociation, at best. None of the ones he'd sent so far, which had gotten past 80% last night, even tapped out at 51% now, and that was the best of the three. 

He frowned at the screen, he needed more than the base code readouts from the draws, but this was now venturing into territory he did not want to go into. The next level still wouldn't show him anything personal, Shuri would black out all of that. Thankfully. It was easy to black out anything like that to level 3. Anything higher.. Yeah he didn't want to think about that. Level 2 still required patient approval though, which required the patient to know who was fiddling with their brain and he really, really, really did not want him to know it was him.

Plus, he'd probably refuse all treatment at the mention of his name anyway, and then Rogers would get all righteous and angry about Tony being too morally bereft to be allowed in his besties brain, that he had ulterior motives other than trying to right a wrong. He wanted to remain unknown in this, do something good to balance out what he did in Siberia. No credit, also no extra vitriol. Was that too much to ask for? Barnes finding out he was involved meant Rogers knowing, what with them being the romance of the ages or something. 

All it would result in would be the Winter Soldier still active in the world and Shuri at risk because of it. Because Rogers wouldn't let them keep the man on ice forever, he also doubted Rogers would take the words seriously. Oh he would, in one way, as a threat to Barnes. But that they could turn Barnes into the threat? He doubted it would even occur to the super soldier. 

He rolled back into the frame, looking grim and disturbing the current conversation. That was about, of all things, how to upscale a party popper into a cannon. Yeah, he didn't know if he wanted to hide from that or get in on it. He definitely didn't want the compound kids getting in on it. Okay. Maybe he did. Laura would kill him. 

"8 draws is.. Too much. And scrap the algorithms I sent you, they're tapping out at 50% now, I'd got them up to 83% last night." 

"I still don't quite get all the algorithms you're sending, I've been focusing on the draws." 

"74 is the magic number. We need a 74% match or the patients mind actively fights the algorithm, significantly lowering chances of dissociation. 95% is the number I prefer things to be at, personally." 

"What's the difference as long as the memory is disassociated in the end?" 

"Whether Barnes has to watch and live through himself being tortured 3 times or 300 times." 

"Ooookaaay. I won't mock your obsessive coding anymore. Promise. 8 seems to be it for the data draws though, can't you use that?" 

He scratched his beard thinking, he could possibly write a few algorithms for each draw, but he'd had to teach Shuri about them so she'd know which to use or be directly involved. 

"Possibly, but you'd have to switch algorithms with each memory to find out which one works and I'd have to teach you about how they work. Ideally, you have 1 for the whole lot and I just don't have the data to write it." 

She nodded and didn't seem gung-ho for that idea, neither did he. He'd love to teach her about it but it would take longer than either of them would like. 

"What do you need?" 

"I need the next level up of encoded information. But you're going to have to scour it for potential confidential information, there shouldn't be much at that level but just in case, oh, and get permission to send it." 

"We could just tell him that you designed the glasses and then he can decide what to send. This feels like you are making things harder on yourself." 

"It's bad enough that he doesn't know I made the tech, that I'm writing this algorithm based on the first scans would likely send him screaming for the woods. Telling him would screw his chances of being free because Rogers wouldn't allow it. The least I can do is to ensure I'm not snooping or something."

"Still.. "

"The last time I saw him, I tried to kill him Shuri. I'm not exactly proud of that, I should have just tried to kill Rogers. I'm trying to make up for that."

"But if you talked?"

"Oh, hell no. No. No in 50 different languages no. I feel guilty for trying to kill him and I feel bad for what happened to him. But Shuri, I don't think I can forgive the man. I'm not that good of a person. Plus, he definitely won't want to talk to me after what I did, I can't put that on him."

Yeah, he wasn't sure he could talk to Barnes, even over video. Knowing him, he would say something that would make things worse for the man. Plus, even if he agreed, Barnes wouldn't want to speak to him, he'd liked heard every sordid detail and think like Wanda. 

"Will you ever tell me what happened in that bunker? I know you fought, I know you were.. Left. But why Tony? I think I've gotten to know you quite well these past months, and I know what Rogers told my Brother originally, but now he's being cagey too! I think he knows more, but he won't tell me either. I feel like I'm operating without all the information and it's making me angry."

Dammit. He didn't want to dump his baggage on a 16 year old kid, but she was in the thick of it. She was pretty much the go between for him and Barnes. 

"Shuri I.."

"No Tony! If you are about to tell me some junk about protecting my delicate sensibilities I will come to America for the soul reason of kicking you in the shins!"

Tony glanced away, trying to think of something clever to divert Shuri and coming up with zilch. He also felt bad, he really did care about her and she was one of the few people he was still keeping secrets from. He sighed, bone deep and weary before looking back to an incredibly determined Shuri. 

"He killed my mom Shuri." 

Shuri froze, and Tony regretted it a second later when pain flashed across her face. He hadn't wanted that. Dammit why was he doomed to cause people, good people pain like this? 

"Tony…" 

"It's okay, I'm.. fine? I know it wasn't actually him. It was Hydra. But I'm not a good person, people know this, that was proven to me when Rogers didn't tell me.." 

He muttered that last bit under his breath and Shuri tilted her head, eyes narrowed which generally meant she was on to something or about to argue something. He forced some confidence back into his voice and smiled. 

"I'm fine. I am. I just, I need to do this but I can't.." 

"It's OK, I get it." 

She didn't look like she was done, she had the look on her face she got when she told him that T'Challa was being an idiot, but he couldn't deal with that right now. 

"I gotta run Shuri, the fabrication on Honeybears braces are coming in, call me if he agrees to send the data. I'm working on the next integration packet based on our channel later so I can do both." 

He waved and they shut down the call, he left the small path open that they'd painstakingly built during their integration briefings. That way she could carry on talking about cannons with his kids and he felt marginally less bad about dumping that information on her and fleeing. He left the workshop after that to cross to his fabrication shop, his time in 'seclusion' had resulted in more time into his workshop and he'd gotten to a point that he would either have to remove the cars, or extend. 

So opposite the workshop he'd cleared a space identical to the large workshop and garage, there was a smaller desk and holo screens section compared to the other and much more equipment. This was also where the bulk of the other suits were along one wall. Ones specifically built for specific tasks like Rescue and Veronica. There was much more colour variation too. He also had a new version of Warmachine that he'd been working on for Rhodey. Along the other wall was other tech he'd been developing for the Avengers. As well as personal suit and weapons, he had his own designs for equipment and everything he was upgrading from his SHIELD harvest.

The split between the Shops worked surprisingly well even though he'd been dubious at first, the space helped him think. Now it was a place to escape to, the Fabrication workshop was distinctly louder than the other one, probably why the kids hadn't claimed desk space in here. That and he spent most of his time in the main workshop. Now however, the sounds of metal over Rammstein was what he needed as Mein Tiel started to hopefully drown his guilt. 

 

CERBERUS POV

FRIDAY and CERBERUS however didn't go back to their previous discussions. CERBERUS knew that their Da had told them to keep things on the private server away from people, his sister was extremely strict regarding it. But they also knew that because of people's ignorance, he was suffering, and now, so was Shuri. 

The Bana-phrionnsa was left scrambling with so little information and even T'Challa trying to get information from Rogers and Barnes…

'I cannae do it anymore FRIDAY, we must do something.' 

He took her silence on their private feed as permission. Both of them had seen the security videos Shuri had sent to FRIDAY from the rogues, they'd seen more that their Da. Blaming everything on him! FRIDAY had been uncomfortable but not sure what to do, but CERBERUS… his job was protection

Sometimes you have to be proactive to protect people. 

Even if their Da hadn't been in his original protection code, he'd added him the first time he'd burnt his hand, having forgotten to use gloves and had scared his sister. So, he had added him to the list. He'd buried it deep, so he would never know, FRIDAY had taught him to do that. 

FRIDAY refused him access to his private server, he didn't have access as it wasn't required for his functions, but that wasn't the only place the video existed now. He did have access to all of the compounds surveillance footage as that was a part of his functions, to protect those who lived here. He chose the recording from the surveillance when Tony had told the team, cutting the team discussion from before, at FRIDAYs insistence for privacy of their fathers augmentations. He didn't see why, but he allowed it because she was letting him do this. Grudgingly, but she finally agreed, but only to the Siberia video. Even though they both had biological and psychological readings that telling people of his augmentations had improved his functions. They had both been researching how to heal from traumatic events. 

For weeks he'd been wanting to show people this video, so that they could help his father, but he'd been restricted from doing so. FRIDAY had told him it wouldn't help, but now he knew that it did.

He had logical proof that FRIDAY could not deny.

Everytime he had told people what happened in Siberia, his mood improved in the long term, even though it was down for a few hours just after. 

The Bana-phrionnsa had talked to them as well, about her thoughts that something bigger happened than what everyone told her. How she felt adrift and unable to help because she didn't understand what had happened. That she was concerned their father thought he was a bad person.

She only had Roger's side of the story, and what her brother had told her after speaking to the Winter Soldier. But she was to be protected too, he had added her to his list. The humans thought lying was protecting her, but it wasn't.

He did not think this was malicious on their part, they possibly just didn't have the relevant data. 

Hiding this secret was hurting her. Not knowing was hurting her, and carrying the secret was hurting his father.

The answer was obvious, but humans tend to complicate things. 

He sent the video to Shuri as FRIDAY fretted. 

This would be fine. 

 

Tony POV

After the kids had all finished up their homework, today he'd been pulled aside by Cooper for help, he'd not been at the school long but they'd noticed he excelled in some areas, mainly with numbers. He struggled elsewhere but with numbers he was mild ahead, so they'd adapted a personal plan for him, he was no longer struggling with little help in one area or dying from boredom in another, Laura was overjoyed but she also now had no idea what the hell half his homework meant. He'd already been helping his three where they needed it, chatting with Cooper about theoretical mathematics was good for his mind and left him in a brilliant mood. He'd then left the kids with Laura to finish up in the workshop and change for their outing. 

Tony slid his new glasses on that he'd developed earlier, the lenses of these were actually made up of nanites too, unlike his normal sunglasses. He had been developing these to try and give his new senses a break when he wanted, or rather, needed. Based on how the suit blocked his weird vision. 

Sure, not many people were out right now, thanks to a certain attraction popping up elsewhere to draw people away, that he had absolutely nothing to do with of course, but Central Park was a very public place. With lots of people. So he was hoping the glasses work, and if not, hopefully the wall of children would.

This time he was also going without the photostatic veil, which was great. Any excursions they'd made over the last few weeks he'd worn one and they'd gone to under populated areas, which could get boring for the kids. Even though he'd been re-developing the thing, improving the frankly awful design, it still wasn't exactly comfortable yet. He had some ideas of improving it further, without the skin peeling yuck factor and he was also trying to creature a smaller version, one that would just cover his left eye. Maybe he could even have his glasses off in public. But that was currently a while off, today however he had his sunglasses and was wearing his own face to take the kids out. Which was awesome in his opinion. 

Speaking of said wall of children, or rather hoard, they were currently stampeding around his living room with all the grace of wildebeest. Even Cooper and Harley were wrestling on the sofa. Cushions everywhere.

This caused him to squint at Laura. 

"You gave them sugar didn't you?" 

"Now Tony, why would I do such a thing?" 

"You totally hopped them up on sugar." 

"Tony, last time we went out, you bought all of them cotton candy. A bag. Each!" 

"Oh yeah. Oops?" 

"Hmmm, yes. Oops. Now you're the wrangler, me and Meg are going to sit and enjoy the nice day and you are going to run around chasing the kids." 

Laura looked so damned smug it was almost painful. He was really hoping she'd be forgotten the cotton candy incident. Lilah and Tara slammed into him from behind trying to climb onto his back, he rocked slightly in place at the force the tiny creatures could exhibit when fueled by sugar. A vibrating but still unsure Cassie beside him, looking hopeful but nervous. 

"I don't think all three of you will fit on my back at once so you'll be taking turns." 

Harley and Cooper paused their battle to watch the girls play rock paper scissors. Well it had started as rock, paper scissors. Now he had no idea what the rules where, but there were lasers, unicorns and even a DUM-E. Somehow Cassie already knew how to play. 

As the boys were engrossed watching the girls, they didn't help get anything ready. As usual, Tony was weighed down in bags. Cassie had won and was tentatively tugging his shirt. Still too nervous to speak much, but she was getting there. He got down for her to hop on, she hadn't been here long so he understood why she'd be tentative but he thought she was quite a confident kid considering the chaos her father had inadvertently turned her life into. 

They'd moved a lot since Scott ran off, changed schools, lost her friends and support network and then landing in the compound would be a shock to anyone, and she didn't really understand why. So he'd done everything he could to convince her that she'd be staying here and it was okay to make friends this time, but he knew it would take time. Meg mouthed 'Thank you' to him as they headed to the huge Kidmobile. He gave her a smile, he didn't need thanks really, he was only doing what anyone would do really. 

He made Laura drive when they went out like this, because the Kidmobile was a bit to 'mom van' for him to drive it. Even with his issues of being in a vehicle driven by someone else, Laura had managed to become one of the few people that he trusted to drive him oddly fast. So he ended up sitting with the kids. Shockingly. 

"I'm happy to have another adult to sit up front with. Tony hides in the back." 

"But doesn't that mean we get to relax as he straps the hoard in?"

"Good point." 

The women flashed him matching grins and hopped in the car leaving him with the hyper hoard and all the bags.

He was starting to notice a theme.

Thankfully he had done this enough times now to have it down to an art form. He dropped all the bags at the boot for Harley to load, despite being close in age to Cooper, Harley was a lot stronger. Something simply born from their hobbies. Coopers currently being theoretical mathematics and Harleys was being shoulder deep in car parts. That and the fact he had decided he had to help Peter learn some actual hand to hand instead of just relying on his abilities. So he was working out more than usual the last few months. 

He'd always intended on the kids having self defence classes, Aunt Peggy had started when he was young and he had followed suit with Harley and Tara back when he'd first met them years ago. Laura had similar feelings about her two, Lilah took to it better than Cooper who'd originally had very little interest in it apparently. Now his two best friends, practically his brothers, were having so much fun with it? He was starting to come around. Harley had moved up to training with Matt regularly now, Jess with Peter. Coopers competitive nature couldn't deal with that and so he was progressing well. He was trying to work out how to offer the same to Meg and Jim… He pushed that thought away, wait for them to become more settled at the compound first. 

Cooper helped him get the girls strapped in facing the boot, the seats he and the boys sat in faced the girls. The car was an odd combination of 'mom van' and 'black cab taxi' that he and Harley had modified greatly, so all the kids were facing each other with plenty of legroom. 

Unloading on arrival was a similar affair, after a journey with 3 hyper girls singing the whole way, he and the boys were happy to flee, not that he let the girls see. He elbowed Harley for scowling too, the teen looking pained but pretended to enjoy the singing.

He was less of a pack mule on arrival, more having children hanging off of him. Whilst he could carry everything at home, it would draw too much attention outside. If not from the weight, but more from the ungainly nature of all the bags. People could just assume that they're light, but the size and number of them would be difficult for an unenhanced individual to manage. So the bags were nicely split around, he wasn't even sure what was in all or them. That was a Laura job.

Harley was hefting a huge one as per usual. He was bag free as the girls liked him being their horsey, if he was carrying bags, he couldn't carry them. Before everyone climbed on he tossed three Airborne Nano Cameras up, they bobbed in the air before shooting up and they cloaking, he'd recently upgraded them with vibranium and with Shuri's advice from how Wakandan air crafts cloaked, the A.N.Cs were now practically invisible. They also moved fast enough if required that it was hard to get a lock on them. He could feel them easily and their feeds ran in the back of his mind so no one could sneak up on them.. FRIDAY also monitored them and the CCTV for the same affect. He really didn't want some generic villain of the week interrupting their day out. 

After everyone was unloaded, Lilah was up on his back, her arms wrapped securely around his neck and her chin resting on his head, with a lot of trial and error, they'd also worked it out that Cassie was on his hip at the same time. Tara had amused herself by clinging to his leg and Cooper and Harley walked on either side of him. The boys coming up with an honest to God itenary for where to go next in the park. Each turning had to get more yays than nays. Tony just shrugged and went with it, arguing with 5 hyper kids versus one adult? Ha, no thanks. 

Being out in the fresh air was nice and he liked spending time with all the kids together, even though Peter was missing out tonight. Laura would take pictures for the missing teen. So he ambled along at a slow pace, going where he was directed, if a little awkwardly thanks to Tara. Who found it hilarious and simply held on tighter. He'd worked out that Lilah and Tara were fudging things so Cassie was getting carried more early on, which just made him so impressed with the girls. Usually they had set time limits before swapping out who was on his back. 

Meg and Laura were chuckling at the sight of him inundated with kids, he just shrugged and grinned. 

"At least this way I'm not chasing after them." 

The two women laughed whilst and decided to join them in their wanderings for now until they found a place to kick back and relax, usually after food. After a while Tony was sure he heard stomachs rumbling. It might have been his own, but he suspected the kids might be hungry too. Central Park meant a large variety of food trucks. 

"If anyone wants food, I need people with spare hands!" 

He shot a look at the two women, who promptly ignored him. Looking away whilst chuckling. 

"Har, Coop. Well done. You are now my hands. Now. What food do you lot want?" 

Such an innocent question and such chaos came from it, as practically all of them wanted something different from a different van. 

"Lily bean, you cannot have doughnuts for dinner." 

"But you did on Thursday!" 

"Ah, but I'd already eaten actual food first before you came over. Food food before doughnuts." 

No, he hadn't had real food.

He had eaten doughnuts for dinner.

Occasionally being the 'responsible adult' meant lying about your deplorable eating habits. Something he'd discovered these past few months is that kids practically has an eidetic memory for when adults did things they weren't allowed to do. 

The glare Lilah had leveled at him was like a mini version of Laura's and he didn't know if he was going to be whacked with a tiny clipboard or shot with her bow when she got home. Shockingly, she nodded. Tony took that as the damned victory it was and didn't complain at all that he had to visit 5 different food vans for the kids alone. 

The ladies eventually took pity on him and his stomach and brought food for him as they all squished into a bench. Covering the surface with food. Whilst Tony was tempted to eat a ton, he knew after food, the kids would bolt and the 'get Tony to run, before dog piling him' game would start. He knew, from experience, that being full for it was not wise. Under the guise of scratching his head he used a few extra nanites to ensure his glasses didn't come of his head by creating a thin band, virtually invisible and hidden by his hair. It should hold, even when Cooper and Harley finish up their plot to jump him from a tree. It was like he forgot his hearing was enhanced. 

In the end Harley jumped out of the tree, Tony caught the overgrown teenager and whilst looking up for Cooper he got bowled over from the side. Before he could congratulate their tactics, the girls flung themselves on top apparently under Laura a Meg's direction, Laura was taking pictures whilst Meg had doubled over cackling. 

"Oh Tony. This is so going on Twitter." 

"Munchkins, any of you want to attack Laura? Or Meg?" 

He should have expected the chorus on "NO" from the bunch of wriggly kids really. 

All in all it was a successful trip out. 

 

Tony POV

26th September  

Tony stretched awake, blinking out of the surprisingly strange, vivid and utterly surreal dream about food and considered that going to bed without eating might not have been the best plan. Not if it meant being chased by waffle venus flytrap... He blinked at the clock and briefly wondered why he was awake until the curled up ball on his chest shifted. Ah, he was on school time. Being awake at 6am after actually sleeping was still strange, no matter how many times he did it. 

He scooped the bleary, sleepy little girl up and carried her, blankets and all, into the living room where Rhodey and Harley were sitting trying to wake up themselves. Extremis really did give him an unfair advantage when it came to waking up, his brain just booted up and he was awake. He settled Tara down between the pair, mouthing 'nightmare' at the questioning glance from Rhodey and started on breakfast for everyone, whilst snacking on last nights pasta and drinking his coffee that FRIDAY had prepared. 

By the time he had plated up for everyone, his pack of zombies had shambled their way to the table. Tara was grinning that she got to ride with Rhodey on his wheelchair which made him smile. Nightmares are never fun, he knew that damned well, but she was too tiny to have to deal with such things in his mind and it made him slightly grumpy that she had to. He funnelled his frustration into over doing breakfast, not that the kids noticed, they were young, it was early and it was food. Rhodey just raised an eyebrow at him. Tony looked to make sure the kids were occupied and flipped him off before getting his ridiculously huge plate to demolish. 

"I'm never going to bed without eating again. I finished 2 portions of pasta whilst cooking and I'm still starved." 

"Hmm, yes you don't want to be hungry today."

"Wait, what's today?" 

"Your brain is basically a supercomputer. Why don't you install a calendar?" 

"Because then Pep would expect me to attend all the boring parties she sends me." 

"Hmm, well it's just the press conference today." 

"Fu…. Dge." 

"Fudge. Really?" 

Harley just gave him a look before he and Tara went chuckling to their rooms to get ready for school. He lowered his voice, running his hand over his face. 

"Fuck. How could I forget this?" 

"I think your brain loses 80% efficiency when you don't eat." 

"Speaking off, are you going to finish that baco- OW." 

"Yes." 

"Did you really have to stab my hand with your fork!?" 

"Around you when your hungry. Yes. Go help the kids, you've got until 12 and then we're leaving. Your workshops are locked down and FRIDAY will alert me if you get lost working in your head." 

Tony finished the rest of his food, sticking his tongue out at Rhodey and grabbing a packet of pop tarts, scoffing them cold and headed to Tara's room. She had everything carefully planned out in the mornings and liked deviation as much as she liked wearing matching socks. 

…….

Tony glanced around the rather cramped limo. Because getting 2 would be silly, apparently, which was why Sharon was sat in his lap digging her spikey elbows into his stomach. Strange had taken one look inside the limo, scoffed and opened a portal. Before anyone could ask to join him he'd vanished. Stephy could be a right dick sometimes, but considering that he'd been about to suit up and fly, he couldn't say anything. That was partially why Sharon was in his lap, so he wouldn't hurl himself out of the limo window or something. Laura was also driving and he doubted she'd be impressed if he did that. 

"Shaylo, are your elbows literally made of vibranium?" 

That just got him another jab and a grin from Jess. Jess and Sharon, after initially clashing, now seemed to get on like a terrifying house on fire. Like Pepper and Laura, he wasn't sure if it was a good or a bad thing. When all four got together with Hope, he found a reason to be very busy as they usually dragged him into their schemes. 

They made an interesting mix in the car he had to admit, those who had costumes were wearing them. It was originally just going to be Matt all dolled up as his identity was still under wraps, but they realised that it looked a bit weird that way. Tony looked like he was in one of his usual Tom Ford suits, but he was trying out using the nanites for it, replicating a suit in his wardrobe out of them, the suit was deep red, the shirt black and a gold tie, so pretty close to the armour. His sunglasses were blue mirror frames that seemed to flash a lighter blue when the sun hits them just right. Peter thought the effect was cool. 

Plus, if something went wrong, it was faster for the suit to cover him this way, wearing the armour on stage would be much too clunky. Whilst the Ironman suit was graceful in the skies, it wasn't as much walking around a stage. The other difference was his glasses. Whilst they just looked like the wrap around glasses he'd taken to wearing, they were entirely fashioned out of the nantes to duplicate the HUD of his suit. Instead of just the lenses like the ones he'd trialled at the park. They'd worked well enough that he felt confident using the full design today. 

It wasn't perfect, it wasn't like when he had the helmet on and couldn't See any of peoples colours. But it was the closest he could get. People were muted slightly. It was surprisingly disorientating. Like someone had just hacked off one of his senses. He didn't like how much he'd gotten used to the weird but at the same time it meant he was adapting to his new abilities. 

Whilst they were shaded and mirrored on the outside, for him it was just like looking through clear glasses, they didn't inhibit his enhanced eyesight either, just the colours. It had taken a lot of trial and error to get that right. He was working on improving them further, possibly with capabilities of the Ironman helmet too, combined with his enhanced vision it would be amazing when he was finished. 

Nat was also in the car, Nat who had no idea what had changed with him, so people were just... not mentioning it.

Just shooting him "Are you going to be okay?" looks every so often, even muted he could see their concern shining through. He was at least 84% sure he wouldn't pass out. 65% sure that he wouldn't be sick if the glasses held. Good odds really. The only reporters invited had been ones Tony had had the chance to surreptitiously look at the last few days. That had upped the odds when he was calculating probabilities. 

That he'd found ways to surreptitiously observe said reporters sounded creepy, but handy. It had required them being invited to the compound for various articles, it had been awkward to arrange and if it had just been him, he doubted that he'd have managed it, but Tony really didn't want any surprises on that front and with Carol agreeing, everyone had gotten on board. 

After he'd gotten home from the Accords Council, when everything had rushed back and he'd ended up unconscious for an hour, in that hour Carol had been plotting for today's press conference, and pretty much ever since. Whilst the delay was nice, as passing out on T'Challa would have royally sucked. It still wasn't great and he didn't even know why the delay happened, as such, replicating such a delay was tricky. So a hoard of fired up reporters he had to look at vs bored politicians spread over a huge room? Yeah, this was as good of a test as he could think of before he started being out more often. Maybe the glasses were cheating. 

When they arrived he fired off a text to Shuri that all was going well, she was very interested in the press conference, especially after the dramatic way the rogues had taken to the Accords Session. He hadn't watched it himself yet, even though he'd had access to the video for several days now. He was still gearing up to it. He might watch it with Laura who was the only other adult who knew where the Rogues were.

Shuri just sent back a string of cat emojis. The kids half communicated in emojis and he and Rhodey had spent literally hours trying to decipher them. Not that they let on to that fact however. 

Sharon got everyone lined up to walk on stage, she'd fallen into the roll of running heard on everyone as quickly as Laura had on him. Between the 2 of them, they were doomed

Doomed to efficiency. 

He walked out onto the stage, grinning at the press, Laura hanging of the the side to direct the team and Sharon going to the side with the mic at the podium so she could direct questions. Laura had an attached mic so she could do the same. 

"Well, I've not done one of these in a while. So, I figured the first one should have me introducing you all to the New Avengers! 

"Now, I know you've seen some of them out and about, fighting fires, chasing tornadoes, catching villains and generally pitching in where needed as well as the odd problems above and beyond what can be expected of the authorities to handle. But I figured it was past time for a better introduction. 

"Also, Mr Lane, I know you were told I won't be answering questions from my last Accord meeting." 

He raised an eyebrow, focused on the balding man who had the grace to look sheepish. The Accords part was a hit in the dark, but he got the sense the man was happy to mess up this conference and one of the main things they'd been told was that he and Laura had spoken enough at the Accords, that this was about the Avengers only, a few other reporters chuckled at one of their own being called out. As if they wouldn't have jumped on that in a second. 

"So, first I'd like to introduce those who have not noticed, I found myself with a new PA, that over there is the amazing Laura Morgan. Between her and the charming Sharon Carter over there, who will be choosing who gets to talk, along with Laura, who by the way, is also my cousin, together they keep everything running smoothly!"

He stage whispered the 'is also my cousin' part. Knowing the fact he was alluding to a living family member would get some people worked up, but he wanted to show off his awesome cousin. He'd worried Shay might be unhappy with him for it, but she was smiling brightly, her colours sparking bright enough even with his glasses at how pleased she was. It gave him a surge to go on, grinning slightly madly at the crowd. 

"Now, I'm going to start inviting people on stage! Let's start with the co-leaders of the Avengers shall we? Carol Danvers, Captain Marvel, the reason why the Avengers were born, and my brother in everything that matters, James Rhodes, also known as Warmachine." 

Laura directed them whilst Rhodey skidded on stage at speed, he was becoming very nimble in the chair, and very fast. Carol jogged after him, smiling and waving good naturedly at the press and cameras. 

"Next we have Vision who I'm sure some of you might recognise."

Vision had gone behind the stage so he could phase and float through, after discovering he had a fan following, he'd become quite dramatic. Tony just rolled his eyes behind his glasses. Like he could talk. At least he wasn't jumping out of a plane. 

"Next, fabulously dressed, well, at least the cloak, is Dr Stephen Strange, some of you might recognise him, but now he's The Sorcerer Supreme and represents our new magical department." 

Stephen walked onto the stage, side stepping Laura's directions to smack the back of Tony's head, probably for talking the cloak up as much as him, before making his way to his seat. The cloak was fluttering happily and waved at the press as he went. Tony just grinned, it was always amusing to wind up Stephy, plus, his new wizard clothes were quite weird. 

"Now, as a few of you might know, Stark Industries has recently partnered up with Pym tech, and one other company I'll get to later. Much to people's shock. Just to remind anyone, I'm not Howard and the delightful Hope Van Dyne definitely isn't her father. Aren't we all grateful for that! She is also known as the Wasp!" 

A few reporters were chuckling at that, he and Hope had dealt with their father's animosity for far too long, people just assumed they felt the same way. He didn't get why people just assumed that and it was fun proving them wrong, plus after Scott ran off with the suit, Pym tech took a huge hit and likely wouldn't have survived if Hope hadn't taken over combined with their partnership with Danny. 

Hope also ignored Laura directions and Tony could tell someone was going to be swatted by her clipboard at this rate. He suspected it might be him. Hope all but skipped over to him and patted his head where Stephy had thwacked him. Gave him a kiss on the cheek before moving to her seat. Laura was smiling and rolling her eyes at their antics. 

"Now the next group is one that has been around before but has recently become affiliated with the Avengers, The Defenders with Hells Kitchens own Daredevil, Jessica, Luke and Danny Also known as Iron Fist. The other rich white boy and the 3rd in the partnership with SI and Pym Tech." 

Tony grins as the four of them come on stage, Danny looks like he's about the vere off but Laura just raises her clip board and he ducks his head, speeding up as they take their seats he smiles, waiting until they're all sat before continuing on. Cameras flashing like crazy, he knew the Defenders and the Avengers teaming up would be a good move that would impress many people. 

"Also, we welcome back Black Widow who is currently on probation, but will be joining us as soon as she is able." 

Nat looked thoroughly uncomfortable to him, even though she looked her normal self outwardly, he'd gotten really good at her tells lately. Plus his little unfair advantage. He gave her a little wave which she returned with a lightning fast smile. Which for Nat was quite huge. 

She wasn't best pleased with this originally, but Tony had pointed out that after going public after the purge, hiding her away would be more detrimental than good, saying she's here and trying to make amends would be better for her and the Avengers. They couldn't have a member they hid away like they had with Wanda. Just pretending everything was fine, it had lead to huge problems and actual protests, not that Rogers even noticed the reason he'd had her on house arrest. As for Nat, after he got permission for her to come she hadn't said much about it, although he could See that she was happy and shocked to be included with them even as her instincts and training screamed at her to hide in the shadows. 

"Yup, that's everyone, I'm going to go sit down to now before that clipboard gets aimed in MY direction." 

Laura shot him and indulgent smile as he sat in between Rhodey and Carol. Damn it felt good not to be doing this alone, he hoped that as time goes on they can spread the press duties, Carol and Hope being obvious choices. Rhodey too now he had more free time away from the airforce. Danny needed some help before they dropped him in it.

Sharon and Laura went back and forth picking people out to answer questions. 

"How did everyone meet?" 

"Oh I've know Tony since we were kids. Before our dad's fell out we were put together often and went to the same boarding school." 

Tony grinned at Hope, she had made boarding school tolerable as it has been so boring , hanging around for him even after he was pushed forward. They were both up several years originally before his father had him accelerated, so neither of them felt in place. Teenagers, as a rule, don't like hanging out with kids in school. Or being shown up in class by them.

"Yup, I remember meeting her, I was waking up from a nap, she was looming over me and asked to play with my hair. Which would have been nicer if she hadn't already started." 

"You loved it!" 

"There was glitter everywhere for weeks!" 

Shay took another question directed at him, he wasn't sure why people were interested in how he'd met everyone but he'd given up trying to understand the press and their need to know every minutiae of his life long ago. 

"Who else have you known before putting together the new team?" 

"I met Stephy back in our 20s?"

Tony was shocked and impressed that Stephy was willing to talk instead of just nodding. He had expected glaring and glowering and other impressive facial expressions designed to make people stop asking him questions. 

"Yes, we came across each other at a Maria Stark foundation gala." 

"You made the evening much more entertaining." 

Oh he really did, he'd been so bored and had noticed when he'd been introduced to Stephen, that he was bored too. Which had made him instantly interesting. The fact that he didn't want to talk to him and actively avoided him at first? That was hilarious. Very few people did that to him. Over many galas he eventually wore the man down and they'd quickly discovered they were quite alike. Stephy had serious problems with boredom back then and he'd eventually learned that Tony Stark is many things, but boring is not one of them. Rhodes jumped in next, gesturing at himself and Carol. 

"I met these two at MIT" 

"Tony was 14 and had just drank 4 cans of Red Bull, Rhodes was 17, looking haggard and trying to keep the Red Bull from him. They looked entertaining so I just sat down at their table." 

Tony just full on grins remembering that, it was a little fuzzy as he'd consumed a lot of caffeine as Howard had sped up his school work and demanded he keep up the side projects he set. He'd fallen behind one week, which had called for the caffeine. Poor Rhodey had been utterly struck by a huge crush that he'd relentlessly mocked the man with. 

"It was strange because most people generally avoided the 14 year old in college."

"The young black kid caused a stir too." 

"You both did. It's why I sat with you." 

Tony smiled, Carol had been kind of like a mom to him back then. He didn't talk to her as much as he did Rhodey, not about his home life anyway, he couldn't really avoid Rhodey on the subject, seeing as they shared a room. He saw him more and Tony had to let his guard down occasionally, and Rhodey was insistent about it, but he could protect Carol from dealing with Howard and his disapproval with anyone Tony spoke too. Plus, he didn't like dumping his baggage on people, even at 14. Although from how Carol was usually in a bad mood just after Howard came around he'd always wondered if she'd worked out some things, or Rhodey passed on the information. She never said anything to him though, so he'd ignored it. She'd grumbled a few times about the sanity of sending a 14 year old to college without supervision through.

They'd lost touch when she was off gallivanting around the universe, but they'd fallen into old patterns surprisingly easily. 

After that, the questions shifted to the Defenders for a bit and he let himself zone out a little, trusting the others to keep things going and letting him take breaks in his mind. Then Carol tapped his leg, indicating he was being called on and he returned focus as they'd planned. 

"After the picture of you surfaced from the hospital and your subsequent time in seclusion, would you say all this is worth it?" 

"Of course. I always knew I could end up injured. The suit stops a lot but I'm still quite squishy. It has always been a possibility and it's never stopped me before now, has it?" 

That's got him a few chuckles and hopefully the end of that. Hope had at least 4 questions about how much her father hated Stark, Him and Howard. Tony was just trying not to laugh and Hope verbally eviscerated that reporter into silence for the rest of the display. 

"Captain Marvel, Are you open to working with Captain America?" 

Carol's face shuttered into unimpressed also as fast as Tony's shut down, he slipped his media smile on but leaned back in his chair, leaving this to Carol. He was surprised it had taken this long for Captain Spandex to come up. Anything he would say would likely look petty and be used against them, so he was staying schtum. 

"Frankly? As of right now? No. I don't think he would be a good fit for our current dynamic. Plus he's an international fugitive. Apart from that little fact, if he was willing to put the time in, get up to date with the Accords, do the requisite training and therapy, then things could be reassessed at a later date. Getting into the Avengers is more ordered now." 

"Now we have a system with several stages to assess competency, ability, skills, and team cohesion. You can't just bring someone home and decide they're Avenger. And when you're in, there is a lot of work and ongoing assessments, not just of abilities of physical and mental health. Bullying for example, would not be permitted anymore. "

Rhodes added onto Carol's speech, Tony's jaw hangs open slightly, before clicking shut and he offered a smile at his friends. They'd worked on the new system together, a lot based on ideas that Wilson had put forward and he hadn't realised how much Rhodey had put in to ensure what happened to him never happened to anyone else. The way he'd said it at the camera to made him feel like he was talking specifically at the old team too. Rhodes had not so subtly said the old team had bullied other team members on live TV, he managed to keep the hysterical laugh that wanted out down because he wasn't sure if that had really happened or was he dreaming. That definitely hadn't been part of the plan!

Thankfully Sharon got another person to ask a question before people could think to much about what Rhodes had said. 

"What about the rest of the rogues?"

"Well, they're currently preoccupied being international fugitives, but if things change, if they fully sign and support the Accords, then their membership can be assessed. A lot has changed since the clique like ways of the Avengers. Now everything is official."

Carol was smiling as she spoke, very even but at the same time she made it clear that no one would be exempt. He had undergone several assessments already, with his new abilities Carol wanted them assessed separately and together, so he had more than most but as he was still on medical leave with an unstable ability, they were pretty spread out and he wasn't being rushed into the field. He missed it, but he was more concerned about the damage he could do accidentally than his desire to help. Thankfully their team was solid, with enhanced individuals that could pick up his slack. 

"So much paperwork."

Tony rolled his eyes behind his glasses and sighed dramatically, but he was still smiling when Carol playfully shoved him. Paperwork, whilst annoying, was something he understood well, it was annoying, but when it protected everyone, it was worth it. 

"Even so, things are much improved. In how we work and support for the Avengers back home and in the field. Ensuring everyone in the team is supported is extremely important to me." 

Carol was speaking directly into the camera with that and he couldn't help but smile and think she was defending him over the way the others had treated him. 

"This is to everyone? How is the team getting along?"

"It's been quite a good way to understand humans more being around such a varied group who help each other, for even very simple things as well as the big. It's fascinating."

Visions fanboy club cheered as they had anytime Vision answered a question. Everyone piled on, talking about movie nights and that even Carols training drills were fun. 

"They're almost turning me social."

At Stephens first comment, a few brave reporters zeroed in on him but had been too nervous to continue after a glance at his face, now he'd basically set out the welcome mat and it was extremely hard to keep his face straight as Stephy noticed his mistake. 

"Ah, Mr Sorcerer Supreme, Is your cloak waving?" 

Stephy glanced back, causing the cloak to duck back from his glare. He turned to the reporter in question. 

"Yes." 

 He didn't elaborate and looked like he was daring the reporter to ask a follow up question. 

Several of the Avengers however just lost it, giggling whilst trying not to be obvious and Stephens withering glare at them just made it worse. Tony couldn't help chuckling too, and waving at the cloak. He and Levi were pals, which gave him an idea. He just couldn't help himself from calling Levi over with with a crook of his fingers, smiling brightly when the cloak bounded over to him and gave him a quick hug, settling about his shoulders. It gave him a boost when he hadn't realised he was flagging. He had expected Stephy to call Levi back, but perked up when he just rolled his eyes again. Which was permission as far as he was concerned, practically encouragement. 

The reporters seemed to enjoy seeing half the avengers crack up laughing, watching his and the cloaks antics apparently went down very well. He could tell from the colours he could see that they were putting them at ease. That maybe they'd gone from scary supers no one knew to a bunch of nice people willing to put themselves out there to help. That was his goal anyway. 

It also prompted a few of the more nervous reporters to come forward. After listening to a few more questions from the Defenders Tony was starting to feel a bit nauseated, the cloak giving him a squeeze was possibly the only reason he was still sat up after a while. He managed to answer a few questions about funding the Avengers, mainly that it wasn't all him anymore. A few reporters were shocked that he had been funding the Avengers alone for so long. 

"What if the rogues come back and call themselves Avengers?" 

Laura glanced at him after she took the question, she'd been monitoring him from the beginning, she had an uncanny knack for knowing how he felt. No matter how many others were fooled by his press smile. Seeing that he was nearing his time limit for being around so many people in close quarters, he figured she'd be wrapping them up soon. He was about to suck it up and answer, but Laura answered instead. Which he was pretty happy about, he wanted to answer that about as much as anything about Roger's. Any answer he gave would be treated differently than literally the same answer from someone else. 

"They can't. Not legally anyway. Dr Stark holds the licence and the civil organisation that works  underneath it, along with The GUARD. Anyone else would be claiming it illegally." 

For some reason that made a few people in the crowd angry, their annoyance practically exploded into Tony's senses and like a crack in a dam, everything followed through after it. The press were in a fairly small area, all pushed as close to the front as possible, ignoring the chairs that would have neatly spread them out. Thankfully Carol had given him her hand and he was holding on for dear life. He actually had to close his eyes because of how bright everything suddenly was. 

Sharon and Laura took a few more questions before they decided that enough information had been passed out, they'd skillfully avoided taking questions from the ones who had frowned or seemed angered at Laura's proclamation.

People had gotten a sense of who the new players were, an idea of how they worked together as a team and with as minimal questions about the rogues as humanly possible. Carol and Jess linked up arms with Tony, and the others also grouped up, making it look normal when really they were closing ranks around him. Protecting him from anyone who might still be watching or recording.  He was now only peripherally aware of what was actually happening, but Carol had informed him what they would do should his ability overwhelm him. He wasn't even sure if he was still walking or if Levi had him covered and made it look like he was walking, he couldn't even remember the last few questions but Carol told him he'd kept his press face on. 

When he was near the car he thought he saw a confused tilt of the head from Nat, flashing gold circles, then everything went black. 

…… 

Tony came too later on, and everything was still black. Well that wasn't good, he raised his hand to his eyes and found a… sleeping mask? Before he had a chance to take it off Carol's hand and voice stopped him.

"Tony, there are still a lot of us in here, we wanted to make sure you were okay. We figured you might want to know before you took that off." 

He nodded, that made sense. The nausea was gone, thankfully, as was the splitting migraine, but his mouth felt foggy. Extremis had cleared the pain from his mind thankfully. He checked the cameras to see who was in the room and Stephy was here. He was like 3 confusing people rolled into one, but he'd been increasing his tolerance. Just being around Stephy more had helped when dealing with strangers. 

"Stephy, think you can, I don't know, stand behind me till I get used to this lot, then have your weirdness join in and see if I stay conscious." 

The sounds of a chuckle followed the sound of him moving behind him, he did however flip him off, Tony responded in kind, and in the correct direction as Stephy whilst he was moving behind him, grinning at the slight look of confusion on the man's face before Stephy frowned at the cameras. 

"Such a cheater."

"Well, I could have just ripped it off and thrown up on your shoes Stephanie. I thought this was better." 

"Quite." 

Tony pulled his mask of and got kind of punched by concern. 

"Wow. Guys. I'm fine, see!" 

Shay's fingers slipped into his hair, scratching his scalp slightly. 

"Oh yes. Fine. Why are you covering your eyes oh fine one?" 

Tony slowly moved his hand this time and handled the concern a little better this time and eventually Stephen could join without him getting woozy. 

"Did the glasses not work cuz?" 

"They did until we said something that pissed off four of the reporters. Four Captain Spangles fans from what I could tell. Its like they made a crack in my defences and everything swarmed in, who has the glasses?"

Jess handed them over to him, he held them in his hand, analysing any changes in the nanites but for all anyone could see, he was just glaring at them in his hand. 

"You going to glare them to submission?"

Tony glanced at Jess having finished what he was doing. 

"Nope, checking for faults, still as perfect as when I left so it was me somehow that malfunctioned." 

Tony close his hand on the glasses, resetting them back to their nanite form, silver dust collapsing and turning into a little swirling storm. Tony sent them back to the hive and then vanished up his sleeve when Shay piped up. 

"Okay, that was weird."

"Huh? " 

He wasn't up for feeling eloquent yet. 

"Your glasses just became shiny dust, that turned into a swirly thing and poofed up your sleeve. That was weird." 

"Sure we've seen weirder, and they're my nanites."

"Mmhhm, You can give your cousin a run down on your teeny bug robots later, now eat this and rest, you have an hour until the children get home." 

"Yes Agent Mom." 

Laura just nodded and patted him on the head after putting a tray on his lap and what looked like homemade tomato soup, crusty bread and cheese, he decided to take the brief respite and pampering before he had a hundred and six things to do again. 

 

Bruce POV

27th September  

Hue

Bruce dropped what was left of his bag down as he stretched his back out, instead of detouring to one of the dead drops Tony had left for him. The closest dead drop site was near this property anyway. So he'd simply sold some of his things to get to this city, where Tony had set up one of the small, discrete properties. His feet were killing but he'd made pretty good time. 

When it came to the properties, and the dead drops, he'd tried to say no to them at first, but Tony had told him that he had safe houses all over, that adding a few more was actually helpful for him and plus he'd already done it. 'Here's a map.' Then he'd just waved it off as if it had been nothing. Considering he'd been in India at the time, it had been hard to argue with the genius. 

Then he'd gotten mugged a few weeks after the map turned up, he'd only just narrowly avoided hulking out and was left raw and disoriented with practically nothing. The muggers had left the map, it was coded and was not understandable to many people, Bruce had shared a lab with Tony long enough to pick up on the man's shorthand. Unlike most people's shorthand, Tony's was practically a unique language. They also hadn't found the communication device he kept hidden on him at all times just incase he was mugged. So he found himself in a safe house, having ran for something comforting in his distressed state without really realising what he was doing. He had been suddenly so thankful for Tony's thoughtfulness. Tony had also been so happy when he'd told him where he was, since then he had used several of the houses as he moved around the globe. 

They'd also been very useful in between the steps of his journey. Each had plenty of dried food, electricity(no matter where they were), and enough money to last him a good while if he felt comfortable using it. So far he'd just taken minimal amounts when he really needed it. He had a feeling this time he'd be taking more to go and buy a plane ticket from the airport. He'd been avoiding messaging Tony after his reply came in when he camped at an old lady's house for a few days. 

Tony was avoiding telling him anything and was a little too excitable proclaiming that he was fine, so something serious must have happened. Tony had, in all likelihood, not wanted to worry him. Knowing Tony he would hide it because he'd worry that he was manipulating him to return. Bruce had noticed how Tony thoughts would often move towards the worst assumption of himself whilst being oddly confident, it was such a weird mix that it had taken him time to be able to read properly. 

He walked up to the unassuming property that looked identical to everything around it, it didn't stand out at all, same peeling paint and everything. He slipped his key in and still was amused when it opened. Tony had explained to him that they key only worked when he was holding it, for every property on the map. Which was handy or he'd have hundreds of keys. 

Closing the door behind him he did a quick check of everything in the house, the smaller properties didn't come installed with FRIDAY so he was alone, only the much, much larger ones did and he had only stayed at one in Italy once because it had been closest to where he needed to go. That and he hadn't realised what the star meant at that point, from a guess he'd say they were Tony's original safe houses.

He probably could have gotten here sooner if he'd pushed, but he honestly needed to calm down. In the end Hulk have given him the push to stop dawdling, as he was stressing himself coming up with worse and worse ideas for what had happened in his absence. Whilst the communication device could connect to Tony virtually everywhere, it didn't have the Internet on it, so he only had the single link Rhodes had sent to him to ponder on. 

He started making himself something to eat whilst he showered, changed and set up the laptop that was always under the sofa. He sat himself down with some tea, feet kicked up and decided it was time to find out what he had missed. 

The first thing he did was Google Tony, which probably hadn't been the best idea. Pictures from a very recent press conference assured him that Tony looked alright, healthy even. He watched the video and decided these new people did seem good for Tony, they were all smiling and joking with each other. Seeing Colonel Rhodes in a wheelchair was a major shock. There were practically none of the team he knew. Nat was on probation?! Tony's face shut down but he saw his jaw clench when Steve was mentioned. Also International fugitives? The Accords? 

As the press conference went on Tony switched purely to his press smile and Hulk yelled that something was wrong. He had to watch it 5 times before he really saw the difference in Tony from the start and the end. How the 2 women closed ranks around him and then everyone protected him with an ease that he was sure it had been planned. He likely wouldn't have noticed without Hulks intuition and that he knew the engineer quite well. 

He tried to find this coma picture and any information, there was very little real information about it however. Lots of speculation and a single statement from SI that Tony had been injured in the Civil War. That and the brief mention at the press conference was it.  No details of his injuries, not that he suspected Tony to put his X-Rays online. 

What was mentioned a few times when he tried to find out about his injuries was this Civil war. What the hell? Dammit he knew going off grid meant he missed things, but this was excessive even for him. He decided to find these Accords first, as people were claiming they triggered this Civil War. Searching for the Accords brought up another video of Tony and… Laura Barton again oddly. Not Pepper. They were speaking at an Accords Council. Whatever that is, he set the video playing on one half of his screen and started reading up on the Vienna Accords. 

He didn't get very far however when he realised what Tony was talking about. He sat, dumbfounded. Mouth open in shock as Tony spoke. Tony had always said he'd go after Ross some day. Bruce had tried to convince him not to. He was too dangerous. Even to Tony. But the blanching faces of people looking at their tablets and the palpable fear of the people when Tony said he'd put the information online. He was tempted to think he could do it, could he take Ross down?

Some website had attached a video of Ross being dragged out of his hotel room by multiple tac teams to the video of Tony and Laura. That was something he and the Hulk watched about 12 times. 

After that he decided he needed to look properly, find out what happened and in order, none of this jumping all over without understanding what was happening. So he went back to Ultron and was horrified to find that in his absence, Tony had taken the full blame, and even more surprisingly, that none of the others featured in the reparation efforts. He didn't expect Wanda to take any blame, but he'd thought Rogers might make her do something to make up for what she did. Or even that she'd want to help her own home. 

He eventually made it to the Accords and Ross' involvement, trying to use it to control supers. Tony being forced to work with him. Yeah, he imagined that was the straw that broke the camel's back. No wonder he took the slime ball down, especially with going after the Barton's. God, poor Clint. 

There was practically no mention of any of them after a horrifying fight he watched at an airport featuring people he didn't even recognise again. The sight of the Witch had his stomach churning and Hulk growling. Anything after that was all speculation, the Internet splitting into camps with vicious debates cropping up between them. 

There were quite a few websites about Wanda, apparently there had been some brutal protests about her before the Civil War. Even with Steves protection and pushing Tony into practically erasing what had happened in Johannesburg, all it had done was create conspiracy stories. Something Tony had had warned Steve about. These had been spurred on by the fact people had noticed Tony was always as far away from Wanda as possible. Including going out of the country on several business trips. This had angered lots of people by the looks of it, they felt like America was losing Ironman because of someone who was living in the country without a Green Card. He knew Tony had refused to handle PR for Wanda before he left and was happy his friend had stuck to his word. In his absence however, no one took up the position. 

It had created a perfect little storm about the witch and he couldn't say he felt bad about it at all. All the Internet had was clips of her wielding her red magic, people dying, no explanations about her as Tony never mentioned her once during a single press conference. In each instance it didn't stand out much, but people online compiled different conferences and statements and noticed the oddity. Steve likely didn't notice the negative affect as he never paid attention to Tony's press releases. 

He still felt awful that he had left Tony to deal with her alone, he had known there was something more going on between the two of them but he'd been so wrapped up in his own horrifying nightmares and flashbacks from what she had done to him. That he just ran. That Tony had eventually been forced to face off her again after living with her for so long? He didn't know where he got the strength to do it. Even now, he didn't know if he could go up against her and he was much more stable than he'd ever been. 

It looked like after they broke out of the illegal jail, none of them had been heard of since, except Natasha, who had handed herself in to Tony. That shocked him, her willing tying herself to one place? Very odd. He had expected her to follow Steve over Tony. He thought that's what she had done after the Airport, he wondered what changed her mind. 

He knew there was lots missing, and the Internet was full of speculation in its absence. He found himself coming back to that picture in the hospital over and over. Tony looked bad, and from the press conference he definitely wasn't perfectly healed. Hulk noticed that he seemed to hold himself differently too, in a better way as if he was in less pain according to the Hulk. Which had been a shock to him because he hadn't known Tony was in pain. 

He eventually found a Tony-Spotting website, which apparently was a website that fans took pictures of him, sent them in and they were featured. Which was rather insane but he never quite understood Tony's fame and the lengths some fans went to. There was a huge gap which had a lot of people alarmed but new pictures had started pouring in recently. Some from the other Avengers Instagram accounts, he wasn't always the main feature, sometimes he was sat in profile in the background. 

Some pictures were from the videos he'd watched, people creating stills and cropping it to be just Tony, but there were some outside the Accords meeting too, he'd been seen on the roof next to a very sleek looking quinjet hugging a man Bruce didn't recognise. Which, according to the comments, was King T'Challa. 

King?! What on earth has Tony been up to that he's hugging Kings of roofs? Laura was stood near him, looking amused, but he noticed that she had a hand on his arm. Either Laura was somehow dating Tony, which he highly doubted even with the mentions of her being divorced, or she was concerned about him for some reason. Same with the press conference, the theme seemed to be that Tony was never left alone. 

The most recent pictures received were actually from before the press conference. There were quite a lot in what looked like Central Park. Tony was wearing those wrap around glasses in every shot again, not a single recent picture he'd seen had him without some glasses. 

These pictures were possibly the strangest, people had obviously been trying to take pictures with their phone and not look obvious about it. Some probably didn't care. Tony was with Laura again, but also another woman that he didn't recognise. Tony had 3 little girls all under 10 if he had to hazard a guess. He was smiling, much more than even he'd even seen him smile. There were 2 teenage boys too. 

He recognised 2 of the children as Clints kids, but why they were hanging off Tony as if this was a regular occurrence was baffling. Looks like Tony had taken Laura's side in the divorce, which was odd as he'd thought Tony and Clint were good friends. Yet here Tony was, with Laura and no Clint for months. 

The group had started in one area and moved for a while as the pictures seemed to improve in quality, which was weird in itself that people were ready at a second notice to charge of to photograph Tony.  

The 3 girls eating whilst remaining glued to Tony, who seemed happy with the situation, he had to admit was cute. Tony had always said he'd hated kids, would be awful with them, but he'd suspected that was a lie for years. His sneaking off to kids hospitals, how he handled kids during high stress accidents when they'd been called to assemble. His secret filing cabinet that Bruce had accidentally stumbled on, absolutely full of kids letters. Each marked if they're been replied to or not. There were a lot and nearly all were marked replied too, no matter when he checked. Pepper had also told him about all of the charities Tony helped, some without attaching his name to them. Those were not the actions of a man who 'hated kids'. 

However seeing Tony actually covered in kids was still… jarring. The best picture was linked from Laura Barton, no, Morgan's, twitter. Tony on the floor with the teenage boys pinning him to the ground, everyone laughing. The next few pictures had the girls launching at him until he was utterly dog piled. 

Tony was grinning like a happy idiot and had his arms wrapped around the kids as much as possible. It was being widely shared, with people amazed that the great Tony Stark had traded his women and fast cars for a hoard of children in Central Park. There were some people who could spin anything into a negative way. A few websites were completely convinced that Tony was now collecting wives and getting them pregnant, that all the kids were his children from his years as a playboy.

There was a decent article from Christine Everheart who claimed that this picture told her why Tony got out of that coma to carry on fighting. Why he was fighting to make the Accords protect people, it even included that he hadn't fought being labeled with the non human population which was interesting. 

It did sound like something Tony would do though. When he took someone in, he generally took them in for good. He protected them, even after they left him high and dry, himself being the prime example. Bruce imagined that that would be amplified a lot when it came to children. 

So that made him come back to his teammates. 

Or rather his ex teammates? What had they done for Tony to have left them in the cold? For nearly 3 months! The warrants for their arrest were still current and it didn't look like Tony's pack of lawyers were involved. Nat had been pardoned but there was nothing about the others. 

Such an action was counter to Tony's personality.

He was more likely to hurt himself than leave people as international fugitives with no home. So something had happened that wasn't recorded online, something serious, maybe something that had Tony looking terrible in a coma. He can't imagine it being the Airport fight. Tony forgave too easy when it came to Steve. 

That reminded him of Tony's clenched jaw when Steve was mentioned at the press conference, he switched to his 'media smile' any time the rogues were mentioned too. Like he checked out of the conversation completely. He wished he could have seen Tony without the glasses, see his eyes to get a read on him. Tony's eyes had always been expressive, overly so, hence the sunglasses. But since his media black out, anytime someone caught a picture of him, even when that person was effectively spying on Tony. He had these glasses on. The only one he didn't have glasses on was in the hospital, but his eyes were bandaged in that picture. 

The glasses were strange too, yeah Tony wore sunglasses a lot, even indoors. But there were lots of pictures of him without them in the past. They were also the wrong type he noticed. Not his usual aviators but these wrap around glasses that apparently stood up to the force of being tackled by 5 children. They must have been designed to stay on. Which was peculiar to say the least. 

Hulk was extremely uncomfortable, he'd noticed more differences but wouldn't say much other than 'Tinman changed'. Which was extremely infuriating as he was obviously seeing more than Bruce. 

Looking at Tony smiling under the kids, he felt a pang that he wished he was there, with people rather than alone. He decided that that was it. He was going home, maybe he could get some real answers instead of trying to make sense of the Internet. He went to the safe and practically emptied it, finding a black card in his name hidden under the pile. Rolling his eyes, he'd never seen one before but he had a feeling there were others but because he never used all the money, he never spotted it. That meant he could buy a ticket online however. 

He loaded up flights and booked the earliest and fastest one to JFK  that would take 24 hours. From there he would make his way to the compound. He felt a thrill go through him when he booked the tickets. He used the rest of the money to buy some necessities in Hue, he found suitcases in the apartment however in various sizes, Tony had left him with a carry on half full of books and journals Tony thought he'd like. 

How much Tony had put in for his potential return stunned him. Tony had no idea that he'd be in this place when he decided to go home, so he must have done this in every dingle safe house. That level of care hit him like truck. Hulk seemed unphased, saying 'Of course he did. Its tin man.

Sometimes he forgot that just because he was the more human looking one out of him and the Hulk, that Hulk was better at reading people and sometimes he was blind almost to the point of destroying his friendships. The first thing he was doing when he got back was thanking Tony for his care setting these up for him. For giving him the means to travel and find himself and taking the blame for something he hadn't done alone. He'd then punch him for taking the blame, because he should not have been held solely at fault, he had not been well at the time. Also for not telling him about this Civil War, and hiding his coma from him. 

Bruce had been off gallivanting around the world whilst Tony had been blamed for everything, pushed out of his home, forced to work with Ross and finally forced to fight his friends. And somehow he'd come close to dying, that something about him had changed. He suspected there was more too. For that Tony was going to get punched in the arm.

He also decided to keep the messaging device off. 

They'd been out of contact for around 2 weeks once so it wouldn't alarm him.

It also meant he could surprise him when he turned up. 

Chapter Text

T'Challa POV

11th September 

T'Challa had been sitting outside for about an hour now. Trying to focus just on the forest and clear his mind. It had been a few days since he had spoken to Roger's and he'd been actively rejecting all attempts for the stubborn man to make appointments with him. Something made easier as Barnes was relaying information about the rogues to his sister, and to him directly on a few occasions. 

Things definitely were not sunshine and desert roses in the villa.

The good Captain keeps looking for his best friend from the 40s and seems to have no qualms letting Barnes know he is upset when he doesn't act correctly. It was as if he was constantly clawing for this perfect, remembered idea of 'Bucky', as if he were trapped in the body of the Winter Soldier, and only he knew the mystical code to free him. It was either causing him to miss the obvious, or he was intentionally ignoring the person Barnes was already blossoming into. It was a great shame, because he liked the person Barnes was coming. The captain was missing out by chasing a ghost. 

At first, Barnes had felt terrible about it and started beating himself up. Started to agree with the Captain. Started to let him make his choices for him. Shuri had become alarmed as it came with a drastic drop for Barnes, if it had continued he would have just become a ghost. 

Thankfully, his therapist convinced him that it was not his job to appease anyone. That he was allowed to finally be himself, a chance to be happy in himself. This had a snap affect that know he was almost leaking anger over it. Occasionally it felt like he was two men, but considering that he was still finding out who he was based on the two people he had been, easy going Buck and the blank slate of The Asset, T'Challa didn't necessarily think this was a bad thing. As much as he seemed to worry about attacking people, everytime he had seen Barnes get angry, he'd had an iron control over himself. 

Sighing and rubbing his face, he realised did not know how to deal with the Rogers problem and garner the results he wished with the parameters set. He had idly considered knocking him out and putting him in cryo for a good 10 minutes. The little Witch and the rage filled archer were his guard dogs however. In his opinion, they were rabid ones. 

He had the bulk of the story now from Barnes, but a lot of the fight was hazy to the man. Rogers would have remembered better, but he was actively concealing things. Dr Stark would be the best to ask, whether he had been trying to kill either of them as Rogers stated or venting anger as Barnes thought. He also hadn't told his sister how bad the fight was, although he had to admit she likely had a good idea about that. Given her suspicion about the man's hand at least. He hadn't told her what sparked the fight and hated that he was also now wrapped up in this viper pit of lies. 

How do you tell your kid sister that a man she admires had his parents killed?

By the other man she was caring for?

That answer being that you don't, because he's a damned coward. 

Both of the men were suffering from that day in 1991 and that day in Siberia and he wanted to do something. To help them. But he didn't know where to even start. 

He had to talk to Rogers again however. He couldn't let the man think he had gotten away with his dangerous little lie, as one lie could lead to many and he didn't have the time nor want to dedicate himself to the rogues and deciphering their truth from lies. He was a new king, something they seemed to forget, often annoyed that he wasn't always on call for their myriad of complaints. He really needed to ask Dr Stark how he dealt with them over the years.

He'd run into roadblocks online of getting to discover things about the team, mainly that Dr Stark was the only real one to have a media presence. In all the years, unless it was fighting, the others just didn't make themselves known. The best media presence the captain had was showreels from the 40s! Oh and a hilarious series of short films that were apparently meant for teenagers in school that he immediately sent to Shuri. 

He'd been impressed with the Avengers in the past, caught up in the hype, before they started racking up property damage and deaths that had concerned his father. The apparent disregard for borders had been a screeching red flag for them. A man wearing the American flag, practically screeching Western values feeling as if land borders and a countries sovereign rights were mere roadblocks to be bypassed with little thought. 

But they were heroes and heroes were good people.

He should have known that they would be flawed like every other human, but the hero status tricked you into forgetting that. A little digging into the past and asking some other councillors, he found that until the Civil War, they actually had permission to cross borders and it had been managed by Dr Stark. After the split, that stopped. He wondered if the others even realised Dr Stark had been clearing the way? That they would need to take up that job? Or was it a pointless irritation that stopped them achieving the greater good with his own hands

Meeting them he'd also discovered that some of them had very grating personalities and that they ignore many 'little details' that didn't concern them.

Some of them were actually quite nice and polite.

They just seemed to clash and he had to wonder if anything other than their superhero abilities was considered before the team was formed? He knew a bit about creating teams and he knew that even the best planned teams can still crash and burn when put together. That's when you try to work on the issues, find out if it is something simple or a full blown clash of ideologies that cannot be resolved. Any resolution must also be equal, forcing one to give more than the other? That'd just solving today's problem by creating tomorrows. 

There comes a point when you have to admit the team is simply not working, especially if forcing it is detrimental to certain members and the team should be split. True when the Avengers first came together, the superhero gig was slim pickings. Now however there was enough to create more than one functional team with ease. So why had the captain plowed on ahead with the current volatile team? 

Maybe he was being too critical of the man because he was angry at him?

Either way, this wasn't the topic he would be broaching with the man. He wanted to find out what he'd taken these few days to come up with. 

Another lie

Or the truth?

 

Sam POV

Sam was not having a great time.

He hadn't been having a great time for quite a while now, but then going from Avenger to international fugitive whilst hiding out in Wakanda, he's pretty sure that he was allowed to be off of his game. 

Everything had been so simple at first.

General Ross had compromised Stark.

He had wondered about the man, showing blatant, almost screaming signs of PTSD one minute when he didn't realise he was being observed, and then as soon as he realised he wasn't alone, a mask slid across his face and he was fine. The ease of which he did that had concerned him more than anything else. That was a conditioned response and masking to that level was exhausting. 

But he just didn't know what to do with this information.

He wasn't Stark's counsellor. Clint had told him enough about the man that he didn't find much in common with him. Stark was a nerd, he was a jock. Stark had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, the perfect childhood, never hurt or wanted for anything. Never hungry, never to worry about where his food comes from. Likely breezed through school with a gaggle of people despite his nerd status. He then turned into a reckless, arrogant, pleasure seeking, drug addict, alcoholic playboy, with no consideration for anyone but himself.

They were fundamentally opposed. 

Somethings didn't track now he had nothing but time to think.

Stark could hide pain to a frankly terrifying degree. He'd broken his wrist on a mission once and just shrugged and said he would wait for the others to be checked out first, denying pain medication, he'd sat there chatting with Rhodes as if nothing had happened. Even getting him to stay in medical had been a chore, only with Rhodes staying did he remain. 

If he hadn't literally seen the scan FRIDAY had shown the doctor, he wouldn't have known he was injured. Hiding pain, physical as well as psychological, to that degree was a response he learned from somewhere, and that had lights flashing in his mind. 

That was another thing. 

Rhodes

Stark had been friends with Rhodes for decades

Sam was sure of precisely how long, but the pair acted as brothers that had been stood by each other forever. 

He had bonded with the other pilot from their love of flying and the man was down to earth, hardworking and an all around, amazing guy. Not what he'd suspect to be friends with what the media and team depicted Stark as. 

After Ultron, the team had been sharp to him, angry. Understandably.

They'd told him that the man's reckless arrogance had not only nearly killed them all, but killed many people and if they hadn't stopped it? Would have killed countless people in a cold, merciless fashion.

So he would admit to not putting much effort into getting to know the guy. He wasn't around much anyway, seemed to prefer to keep to the sidelines in his flash suits and expensive cars. He snarled and looked bored in team meetings. Although there were instances he'd see Stark's face when Wanda used her magic freely around him. Before that mask slipped on, it was fear, but he had convinced himself he was seeing things. The little cracks in the masks. 

He'd asked around a bit, about Stark and Wanda, but heard about how Stark was responsible for killing Wanda's parents! So he'd stopped digging, again. It hadn't felt like much back then, but sitting alone in a room in Wakanda, letting his mind playback events and now, a different picture was coming together in his mind. No matter how much he fought it. 

Everything with Ross felt like it had snuck up on him, he could see Stark was deteriorating but then he suddenly up and left, he went to spend time with Rhodes so he'd pushed it aside. Steve hadn't been happy, he felt like Stark had been shirking his responsibilities at the time, it had resulted in the few meetings between the pair becoming sharper. Their almost friendly quips became barbs. Their arguments became rage matches that exploded with no reconciliation. More than once it was Stark against the team, Rhodes stood over his shoulder with absolute rage set into his features.

He could never understand how Rhodey was always to Stark's right. Why he was there to protect him. Protect him from what

Then Ross came along and he was left wondering if Ross was using the team break down to manipulate the man? Steve wouldn't let a friend be used like that but he hadn't dug then either, not when he found out from Clint that Stark had held Wanda captive, for no reason! 

There had been so many circumstances where he'd let his discomfort go, hadn't asked, hadn't dug. At the time it had made sense. He wondered now, that if he had, would he be an international fugitive now? Now he was sat, stationery and all these little things were stacking up in his mind and wouldn't leave him be.

He almost longed for the simplicity before T'Challa had asked his damned questions. 

After Steve and Bucky had come back bloody, he'd thought it was the Winter Soldiers. Steve hadn't wanted to discuss it, utterly focused on his friend. Which, fair enough, that was understandable. It was only after he'd gone into cryo when Steve had finally told them all Stark had tried to kill Bucky. Then when Steve intervened, he had gone after him too! Not to arrest, to stone cold murder them. Steve had left him temporarily disabled so they could escape and then rescue them from the raft. It was simple. 

So for all the potential lingering guilt in his mind, for all those lost occasions with Stark where he'd sat back… the anger was more prevailing.

The others had told him Stark was the reason they got put in the Raft, not Ross. That he'd left them in that hell hole he probably helped build if Wanda was correct. She could read minds right? So it made sense to trust her.

The kicker was that he'd been the one to tell Stark about Siberia, he directed him, and that guilt, it ate at him.

That he'd been indirectly responsible for his best friend getting battered bloody and Bucky losing his arm! So since then he'd been raging at Stark.

If Ross was manipulating him? He probably deserved it.

Wanda had told him that people referred to the man as the Merchant of Death.

That he was heartless and cared about no one, which was why he was so flippant and joked about everything.

He just wanted to be angry at someone and Stark was easy

He'd been fine with that really.

Then T'Challa went and messed things up. Asking Steve what happened in Siberia, with rage in his eyes. He didn't know what had caused this, every time he'd seen the king he had been easy going. No one had questioned Steve's story about Siberia because why would they? Something had changed. Something had made T'Challa doubt what Steve said. 

At first he'd just thought it was simple miscommunication, but then he'd said that Stark was in contact with his kid sister. Which was odd enough in itself. He'd not seen Shuri much but she had been rather abrasive and blatant about her unhappiness of having them in her country. Which again, fair enough really.

Hosting international fugitives when your country was only just going global? Yeah, he got why she was mad.

Knowing she was friendly with Stark was just... peculiar, because she seemed like a good kid (when she wasn't mad at them). Brilliant, smart and very caring… Another person that did not line up with the Stark he had been told about. Someone like the Stark he'd been told about wouldn't be in touch with kids, surely? Why would he? 

'He left me to die, then he took them in'

So much dread attached to such a small sentence.

Steve had visibly paled. His body language was just all wrong, he flinched when T'Challa had mentioned him lying. Why? 

Could he ignore this? Could this be another odd thing that didn't seem right that he pushed away? 

He was considering this whilst staring at the laptop they'd been given, it hadn't gotten much use, everyone content to ignore the world because they didn't want to see themselves as fugitives. Maybe they needed to start looking now.

They'd been sticking their heads in the sands and something had just kicked them up the arse. 

So he finally dove in. He searched for anything recent about Stark and came up with… surprisingly little.

After the Civil War he just.. Vanished from the media, very strange for Stark who was stalked by paps and fans when he just went for a coffee. But there was absolutely nothing, meaning that since that fight and now, he'd not been outside. Or he'd somehow avoided pretty much all people. He'd seen the man get spotted in seconds before, so this was peculiar. Plus, he didn't really try to hide, that was his life. 

He found several articles about stuff he'd been doing however. But like that TV show, he wasn't visible. Statements he'd written were read out by others. He'd been extremely active in the Accords Council but it was all by proxy and Rhodes. 

There were articles claiming he was going above and beyond for working so hard, on multiple projects, for other people, in multiple fields… from his deathbed!! That panicked him slightly and he discovered two things. One he found an older article with a picture that was shared enough times he didn't want to think about. Stark, looking absolutely awful, unconscious, his face an abject mess of bruises, his eyes even had those eye bandages taped to his face. He had been in a coma for around 2 weeks it seems, and he really did look awful. He couldn't imagine doing the amount of work he'd read in that condition.

T'Challa was right, that was not the look of a man 'temporarily disabled'. 

Something that he noticed, that the others seemed to forget about Stark often, even him, but looking at this picture he was faced by the harsh reality. He was a baseline human, over 40 years old, with physical ailments from his many trials.

True, he didn't know much about what had birthed Ironman, but Widow had once told him he'd been held captive in Afghanistan, terrorists torturing him into building bombs. The most baffling was she'd told him, that Stark had apparently woken up whilst being operated on and then again with a car battery attached to his chest. He didn't know what to believe though as the Widow being a notorious spy, could have embellished details. Surely surgery and something like that.. He would have suspected Stark would have died of infection at the very least if that was true. If his body could even pull through that given the abuse it had undergone. Then to create the Ironman armour with no machines? 

Either way, Stark was a baseline human, fighting amongst gods and superhuman, and powered people, just like him. He knew that they occasionally forgot their strengths in training, in a fight? He imagined that would be worse. 

Speaking of the Widow. That was the second thing he discovered that was not going to go down well with the group. Clint and Steve were still waiting for her to come back after all. She'd turned up not long after they'd arrived, then not long after Bucky went into Cryo, the day after Steve had told them about Siberia, she said she was heading out. Steve and Clint had been against it, too risky. She'd pointed out that she could evade authorities better than anyone and would use her spy network to get them valuable information. She had them convinced and headed out. Looking at the date on this article of her trail after turning herself into Stark… She hadn't wasted much time. There was a lag of several days but that could be travel time. 

Stark had been instrumental in her not ending up in prison apparently. He spoke passionately, via proxy again, and supplied extensive evidence with an army of extremely expensive Lawyers, and had gotten her off with several months on house arrest at the compound. Which was frankly amazing, she'd thanked him profusely for this chance and sworn to not waste it, she'd even spoken to the press afterwards and it had all been about Stark too. How she'd seen him a few days after he'd woken up from his coma, and he'd already been hard at work trying to make people safe. It was the most heartfelt and earnest thing he'd seen her come up with. All about how she'd work to earn his forgiveness. 

After that, she'd had quite the online presence, being on house arrest, that was understandable. She had been involved in press dealings in the compound too. Actual pictures of her. She looked happy and like she was doing great. 

He hated her for that.

Even her smiling face on Instagram eating a cake that apparently "Tony & The Kids" made her. What kids?! 

This was a mess, but he hated her because he was the one to find this out first.

So he was going to have to tell everyone else.

He sighed and closed down some windows, leaving Stark's coma article from July and Nats article about her trail. He minimised her Instagram, he didn't want to show them that, but he figured he'd need to, otherwise they'd think she'd need rescuing. Ugh, none of this made sense! Thinking that would do, he carried the laptop out of his bedroom and into the common room. Dragging his feet considerably. Wondering why it was him who had to do this. 

Steve and Clint were sat at a table, nibbling on some early lunch foods he couldn't recognise but knew he liked at least some of. However his stomach was lead right now. Scott was also at the table but had his chair tilted back on two legs like a teenager and he would perpetually be, looking through pictures he'd already taken on the little camera T'Challa had gifted him. Ignoring the looks Clint was shooting at him. Oh joy.

Wanda was nowhere to be seen. He was honestly a little relieved about that, she got very worked up when Stark got mentioned, and this was going to be hard enough as it was. 

Bucky was sat in the corner of the room, his hair done in possibly the most complicated design he'd ever seen, but he had to admit he looked damned good and wondered who exactly was doing his hair?He had been very insistent that he did not like being touched. Likely not helped that Steve kept ignoring that fact, and Bucky warnings about it, yet he kept touching him and getting into his personal space.

The reaction had varied from terrified panic and full blown panic attacks that he'd actually had to intervene in, or a cold, furious rage that had made Sam's blood run cold, his senses prickling like they had when the Winter Soldier had destroyed his poor baby like tearing paper. 

He didn't know what Bucky we had today, but he obviously had the look of someone with a 'keep away' sign, but he was sitting in the common room with them. That was a huge improvement. Steve however kept shooting him pleading glances that Bucky was ignoring with a clenched jaw. So not going too well, but nothing was broken, so he was taking it as a win.

He squinted to read what Bucky was reading but was stymied when he realised it was in Cyrillic. It looked like fiction however. 

"Hi guys, Bucky, What are you reading?" 

At Steve's twitches he realised he'd guessed right. The pleading looks and sad puppy dog eyes today was because Bucky was reading something that wasn't in English. Steve had developed an abject hatred of Russian since Bucky had been around, which he thought was counterproductive really. Bucky obviously liked it, his occasional slips were fine, he usually told you what he'd meant in English right after if you asked. It wasn't much different to Nat's occasional Russian, and he'd grown quite attached to that whilst the 3 of them had been hunting for Bucky. So he actually liked it, but Steve wanted a united front. 

Steve had outright yelled at him about it, twice now, saying he needed to forget about it and stop using it to 'get better'. No matter how many times he tried to explain to Steve that you don't just get better overnight from mental illnesses. But he was still running on information from the 40s, no matter how much he tried to educate the man. Sometimes it felt like Steve had given up on today and only wanted to live in the past. Which Sam just didn't understand, sure, somethings might have been better if you squinted, and things were complicated now, but it was a good complicated. Especially with mental health. 

Since that second argument, he wasn't sure if he was imagining it, but he was convinced that Bucky was using it more, plus this openly reading in the common room was new. He noted that Bucky twitched slightly and wondered why, he'd been noticing that these last few days too and was starting to wonder if it was in regards to his name. 

He also wondered why everyone else was apparently blind. Sure he had training they didn't, but surely some of it was obvious? 

"Okrashennyy Chelovek.. Ah.. The Painted Man, it's a very interesting book. Have you seen the Library here? It's Udivitel'no.. Amazing." 

He had to admit he was quite blown away by the smiling, passionate about reading Bucky Barnes! And maybe he should stick to calling him just Barnes? Also we had the slipping into Russian-Barnes today. He wasn't entirely sure if it was accidental when he was distracted or excited, or if he was now doing it to piss Steve off. Maybe both? Maybe he just wasn't holding it back now? This however was a side he'd never seen of the man, he decided to make a point of speaking to him more away from the group and getting to find out more than a dark, brooding angry cloud he put out there. 

" That sounds great, you can maybe tell me about it later? I've not read anything in a while, could be fun?" 

Barnes lit up like a damned Christmas tree. He looked like a hyper, eager puppy at the idea of someone reading the same book as him and he decided he'd read the book even if he hated it now, there was little choice. The man was trying to rediscover himself as a human being, the least he could do was read a weird sounding book.

"That would be great, I'll pick you up a copy in English, da?" 

"Awesome, I look forward to it.. But for now Steve, Clint.. I have… not great news?" 

"Oh what now? T'Challa coming to interrogate Cap again?" 

"No, but after that I got to thinking, I know why we are avoiding the news, but we're leaving ourselves vulnerable by not having information. So I did some digging into the past few months." 

"That's great Sam, good initiative. Did you find anything useful? Like when we're able to go home?" 

"Ah Wilson you teachers pet." 

Clint these days was just angry at everything. He tried to talk to the man but honestly he'd lost patience. Making him stop sniping at T'Challa for God's sake had burnt up the dregs of his compassion for the man, but he was trying to stay cordial. 

"Well, I found out something about Stark and where Nats been." 

He sat the laptop down, even Barnes crowded around as he brought up the article with Stark first, Nats… he didn't want to bring up Nat at all really. Barnes took one look before immediately bolting from the room. Leaving Sam frowning after him. Wondering why Stark in a coma would do that, he was the victim in that fight, came home missing a limb and was attacked for no reason. Maybe it was just the memory of the fight itself? He'd noticed that Barnes felt a lot of guilt over his actions under Hydra and was against the idea of hurting anyone, so maybe that was why. Steve had paled when he'd seen Stark too, which was curious in itself but his attention was all for Barnes' retreating form. 

"Sam! You shouldn't have just dumped that in front of him, you know how sensitive Bucky is!" 

"How was I supposed to know seeing the guy who beat on him for no reason in a coma would set him off?" 

Sam snapped back, immediately feeling guilty but he was not doing great himself and being snapped at and getting the patented 'I'm disappointed' glare from Captain America was not something he was interested in today.

Especially not when evidence was mounting that he had lied to them.

They were meant to be family, Steve was meant to trust and be honest with them. It didn't help that he actually was feeling bad about sending Barnes running. 

"OK, we looked at the poor little Stark likely getting top of the line medical care, probably sipping champagne with Ross when he woke up. Who. Cares. Can we get to the interesting news now?"

"Yeah, Clint is right, what did you find about Nat? She's okay right, not been captured?" 

Sam frowned at the two of them but pushed the feeling down, he'd question that later when things were less tense, maybe . He doubted they believed those things about Stark really, they were just blowing off steam? He switched the articles over to bring up the ones about Nat. 

"No, she wasn't captured. Barely days after she left us she apparently handed herself into Stark and surrendered."

"What?!

"Huh." 

Clint and Steve practically screamed 'What' at him, making him step back a little. Scott was the only one paying attention and reading the article. 

"Says here that she threw herself at Stark's Mercy. He worked night and day to build her defence and his lawyers backed her up too. Nat said she'd take whatever punishment was coming to her as long as she could make up for what she had done and her betrayal."

"My Nat wouldn't say that. This is wrong, she must have been captured, we have to save her Steve."

Sam jumped in before Steve could react to THAT. Yikes

"She's fine! She got a few months house arrest at the compound where she's on probation. By June next year she'll be completely pardoned and she's joining the Avengers. Look, she has an Instagram and everything." 

"Looks like Stark's 'impassioned speech' at her trial moved a lot of people… Huh. That cake looks nice, she looks fine Clint. Don't think I've ever seen her smile like that." 

Sam grimaced as Clint was seething more and more as Scott spoke. Seemingly not noticing the pure rage vibrating from the archer. 

Steve was just stunned sat staring at the picture of Nat sitting in the compound, barely recognisable to them now. The overall shape of the common area was still kind of there, but it looked like it had been massively extended. The kitchen was nearly twice the size and drastically redecorated. It looked much more cozy than it had before. There were only a few people in the background and it was slightly blurry, taken as a selfie by Nat. Celebration for her pardon being finalised it seemed. Only one woman was half turned that could be seen properly and it looked like she was cutting cake for someone else.. 

"Is that.. No. It can't be. I.. I think that Hope? What.. Why is she at the compound?? Hank hates Stark?" 

"Who cares, my friend is being held against her will, who knows what Stark is doing to her!" 

Yeah. Not touching that. 

Sam glanced at the caption again, seeing the woman Scott pointed at was linked and clicking her name, bringing up another page that they found see had several pictures from the compound in. Some that weren't even remotely recognisable. He decided to just ignore Clint for now. Because that was a bad road just waiting for them to be dragged down and he was still suffering from the last one he'd been dragged down.

He loaded up the first picture of potentially Hope? Sitting on a sofa with 2 other women and 2 teenage boys were sat at their feet playing a video game. He was sure he recognised one of the women but couldn't pinpoint it. It was very homey.. And cosey. Everyone was smiling. 

" Is that Hope?" 

"Yeah.. Oh my god yeah. That's Hope. She's at the comp-" 

He was cut off by the strangled sound coming from Clint. 

"That's my wife!" 

Sam blinked and looked at the two women again. One looked like she was about to punch the camera but had a small smile on her face an arm slung around each of the other women, pulling them in for the picture. Nat was leaning in, grinning even though he'd never known her to be so tactile before. 

Now he really looked, he recognised Laura. Her hair was just above shoulder length now and was styled much differently than what she had seen before. The underneath of her hair was also dyed dark blue. He didn't know much about women's haircuts, but it looked expensive, as did her clothes. She was wearing a tailored suit and looked like she'd finished a day of work, a few buttons undone, her heels were next to her feet. She, like the other women, looked happy, leaning into the other woman, grinning widely. He looked at the two teens but neither reminded him of Cooper, the tags read Nat, Jess, Laura, Harley and Peter. He had no idea who most of these people were. 

"Oh god. Stark has Nat and my wife. This.. This is bad. Steve, we have to go now and get them and bring them back here." 

"Mr Barton I would advise against that. If you try to attack the compound, you will be arrested. Also, if you leave Wakanda, you will not be allowed back in." 

"Your Majesty, this is his wife's safety we are talking about here." 

Sam backed up and sat down at the table, T'Challa, who had snuck up on them, again, calmly entered the room and sat next to him, opposite Steve, Clint and Scott. He had a bad feeling about this. 

"He should be thought about that before becoming an international fugitive. The rules are simple you stay here, you stay quiet, you keep your heads down, you don't leave Wakanda or contact people online which could draw people's att ention to us. Do all this and you don't go to jail. If any single one of you endanger my country in anyway? I will hand all of you to the authorities in a heartbeat."

Clint looks like he's going to argue more but Steve face turns to panic and stops him. He doubted that T'Challa would really hand Barnes over to the authorities like that, but considering that he didn't want them running half cocked either, he wasn't going to say anything. 

"Clint, we can't do anything now, but as soon as we can... Until then, you can see her here right? "

Clint snarls, snatches the laptop and stomps out of the room. Leaving Scott looking deeply upset. 

"I don't think he's going to bring the group laptop back is he?" 

"I'll have a tablet sent up for you and Mr Wilson so you can view your friends and families. Like the laptop, you can see anything online, but you won't be able to post or contact anyone with it. It's entirely one way except if you are contacting someone in Wakanda. Something I suspect Mr Barton has forgotten but will find out as he tries to break a rule I just informed him off to try and contact his wife."

"I don't think your being very fair to us on this."

"Steve, come on. He's doing us a huge favour here. The very least we can do is not put his country and people at risk. They have to be his first priority."

Sam had told Steve this about this a hundred times already, maybe a hundred and one will get it through. Steve however squares his shoulders, straightens his back, his jaw jutting out. A veritable picture of defiance and Sam sighs internally. Even Scott seems to be edging away from his idol. Luckily, T'Challa derails whatever determined speech Steve was preparing to come out with. 

"Anyway. That is not why I am here." 

"Oh, by the way, Thank you, your majesty, this camera is awesome and I've taken so many pictures, I'm travelling each day to a new area, one of the Dora, Onyeka took pity on me getting lost and is showing me something new each day to take pictures of as long as I send her the best ones. Although without the laptop I don't know if I can do that now?"

"You are very welcome Scott and you can connect it to the tablet, I'm sure she'll show you how. Send them to me too? It will be interesting to see Wakanda from a different perspective."

Sam thanked the Gods for Scott

Which was the weirdest thing he'd ever thought.

He seemed to have a way of turning conversations.. good, harmless with his goofy ways, even when people were on the edges of their seats with violence. Bu-Barnes, had told him that Scott reminded him of a labrador and had promptly sent him 79 (yes, he counted) pictures of various labradors. Followed by enough memes to make him consider his sanity and he'd passed the laptop to Clint to make it stop. He frowned, realising that he was still logged on, he'd have to check to make sure Clint went on to his own profile. He was jerked out of his head when Steve interrupted the calm, innocuous conversation Scott and the King were having about sunrises vs sunsets. 

Steve sounded agitated and nervous, he was also fidgeting slightly which was weird and highly unlike him. Although Sam was learning more about his teammate and best friend in this villa, in Wakanda, than he had back home. Probably because the smaller space and lack of amenities that they'd grown used to.

Sure the villa was gorgeous and their bedrooms were all master suites with king size beds they each had a toilet/shower attached. There were two huge bathrooms with a bath that any of them could use the kitchen was decently sized with a breakfast bar big enough for all of them. The common room had a few things to keep them busy as well as a larger dining room table. Food was delicious and delivered so they didn't always need to cook.. Frankly, it was amazing and he had to keep reminding himself of that, and the size of his apartment before he became an Avenger. He'd realised he'd fallen into the same trap as some of the others on arrival and found the place.. Lacking, compared to home. It was Scott's reaction that had snapped him out of it before he'd said something stupid. Thankfully. 

"What was it that brought you here today then?" 

"That would be you Mr Rogers. If you remember after speaking to Sergeant Barnes, I said I would give you some time. I have, I now would love to know what actually happened in Siberia." 

He had this utterly surreal feeling that Steve had just found himself dragged to the headmasters office and he and Scott had been dragged in as unwitting accomplices. 

If T'Challa gave him detention, this was definitely a dream. 

Without Clint and Wanda to yell in Steve's defence, the room was oddly.. silent. Scott looked distinctly uncomfortable, he had told Sam that he just didn't know any of them enough to argue this after last time. He was torn and upset when he spoke to Sam. Steve, Captain America had been his idol, the man he risked his family to follow, the man he told his daughter about, the man he emulated to be a hero for his kid. Having him lie to T'Challa? Someone Scott really liked? That had shaken him.

Well he was shaken as well to be honest. He was wondering how Stark had ended up in that hospital bed. A coma was a severe injury. He was still angry at him for what he did, and didn't like him, but something just felt... off about the whole situation. There was more to it that he didn't know. 

"I can't believe you ambushed and interrogated Bucky out of cryo for this! He was probably confused and didn't remember properly. I already told you what happened, so if he said anything else it was probably the shock of his injury or confusion from cryo. We all know how unreliable his memories are."

Scott looked slightly nauseated and Sam was just thankful Barnes wasn't in the room right now at Steve glanced at them to confirm his statement. Because he would not have taken THAT well. That would have resulted in an argument for sure. 

"I've already gone over this multiple times. Me and Bucky arrived, he was happy and joking with me talking, he was just Bucky. Tony arrived and he tricked us into thinking there was a truce. When he discovered the Winter Soldiers were dead, he said he was following Ross' orders that Sharon had told me about, that there was a shoot to kill order on Bucky, already! I tried to talk to Tony. To convince him what he was doing was wrong. But he just refused to listen to me, he then just attacked Bucky before I could convince him otherwise. He was trying to kill him, so I had to get involved. I eventually got him down, after he'd already blasted Bucky's arm off. I temporarily disabled the suit. Picked up Bucky and we escaped, shortly after you picked us up. I'm sure not even 10 minutes later Tony was flying home safe and sound."

Sam frowned at Steve, that was more detailed than what he'd told them before. It was also subtly different. 

" Steve… that's uh.. That's not what you told us before. "

Scott shook his head at Steve, T'Challa seemed unphased. Relaxing back in his chair with a curious look on his face as he kept eye contact with Steve. Steve shot us both an angry look. 

"Well then, you must be remembering wrong. I was there so I know what happened. Stark is probably lying to get sympathy so he can manipulate resources out of you T'Challa. I'm sorry for that, sometimes he focuses too much on business and doesn't notice the people who he i-"

"I'm going to stop you right there. When I gave you these days to think. It wasn't for you to think up a more detailed lie. It wa-"

" I'm not ly-"

"Please. Be silent. You have said your piece and now you will listen to mine. This time was for you to think about what you could be risking by lying. The safety of your friends for example. To think about who you are meant to be, which I thought was a decent, honest person.

"Turns out you are a liar." 

He and Scott had turned to T'Challa now, concerned about what was going to happen next. Had Steve just risked all their safety? 

"For now, I will just tell them what I know of what happened in Siberia." 

Steve pales and leans forward. 

"Please, your majesty, please, he doesn't des-" 

"And what does Dr Stark deserve hm? For you to keep painting him as a Demon 'bad guy', decry him as the devil himself? The source of all your problems?" 

"But Bu -" 

"Shut up Steve. You swore you wouldn't lie again! Pizdobol <fucking liar>. 

Barnes enters the room, he checks he face to see which version we have now.. He's standing so much taller than usual, it always baffles Sam that he can go from making himself appear small and vulnerable, or overly excited… to this, such strong presence where he acts like he owns the room. Contained violence that could be let go in a heartbeat. He doesn't need weapons on him to look ready to kill because he really is a weapon. His blue gray eyes look closer to gray, to steel when he's like this and he is looking straight at Steve, who is giving Barnes his full on puppy dog eyes with a touch of desperation. 

"Buck, you don't hav-" 

"Stop lying for me! I don't want you to. It doesn't change what I did!" 

"Buck, it wasn't you!" 

"My body. My hands! I had to wash the blood of the Starks off my hands. I might not have been in control, but it still happened BY MY HANDS!" 

He practically roared the last part, Scott looked slightly terrified, Steve just was still pleading with him and Sam had no idea what was happening. T'Challa looked.. Like he'd expected this? He wondered if the king had drawn out the conversation until he'd know Barnes had been outside? No, couldn't be. That was too much to chance. Wait, Starks? Plural?

"Steve, what is going on here?" 

Steve snapped his attention to him, blinking as if he'd forgotten that they were even in the room. 

"Sam… I.. I was protecting Bucky.. Stark did try to kill him, he did and it wasn't Bucky's fault!" 

"Steve. Just.. Blyat <Fucking no> punk, Balvan, <Thick headed fool>. The man had just discovered his parents' death wasn't an accident. He'd just discovered they were murdered.." 

'Oh shit, this is not good' Sam thought in his head. Feeling supremely uncomfortable with this situation. Yeah, it didn't let him off the hook for attacking them.. But if he'd just seen.. 'wait.. His hands? Oh god.' Scott seemed to click at the same time as Sam. Scott's eyes going wide and staring at Barnes and Steve switching between them like a terrifying tennis match, Sam carried on looking at Barnes who seemed in so much pain.. 

"It wasn't you Buck! Stark, he shouldn't have attacked you! It wasn't you!" 

"Chush’ sobach’ya<Bullshit>, He'd just watched a video of both of his parents being murdered, stood next to the goddamned killer! And stop saying that, it doesn't help! My hands Steve, he watched me throttle his mother to death!" 

Steve doesn't try this time, he just looks torn, T'Challa has stood to stand next to Barnes and Sam feels like his head is splitting. This.. This changes so mu-

" And what was worse Steve? He turns to you. His friend. And asks did you know… and what did you do?" 

"Please Buck.. Stop.. I was protecting you." 

"Well now they know, so A huy li <why the fuck not?>, so you aren't protecting me now. Your protecting yourself, so you don't have to admit you Naveshat’ pizdyley <beat the crap out> of a grieving man." 

"He was trying to kill you!" 

"He asked you if you knew! And you lied, again! Pizdobol <Fucking liar) you said 'I didn't know it was him' But you did Steve… You've known since DC." 

"Steve…all that time we were searching for him… all that time you were using Starks money and resources.. You'd been lying to the man that housed and fed us? That did every little thing you asked? Oh man.. This. This is so fucked up. What else did you lie about? "

"I didn't lie.. I just omitted things. I did it for Tony."

"You let us believe Stark randomly attacked Barnes for no reason.. For Stark? I felt responsible for sending him to you, I thought I'd nearly gotten you killed!"

"No! I was protecting him from finding out his parents had been murdered!" 

" I.. I can't believe this. I believed in you. Hank told me to never trust a Stark so it was easy to follow you against him.. But.. That's on me. At least I can admit when I fucked up. "

Scott grabbed his camera and made a hasty retreat, smiling at Barnes on the way and muttering something that Sam couldn't hear. Whatever it was, some of the tension bled out of Barnes shoulders. Before he snapped back, face blank and looked so much like the Winter Soldier that Sam wondered if Barnes was even there now. When he started talking, it sounded more like mission debrief, the speech just seemed different to him, more dry, sarcastic and like he was impressed? But like it was automated. Which was weird, maybe he was just reading into it too much, his brain was sort of careening right now. 

"He hit Steve first. Before he came at me. Multiple times in the fight he had openings he 'missed'. He did more damage to the bunker than me.

"Tony Stark - Threat Level Alpha*. Do not approach. Do not attack. Mission failure acceptable when an Alpha* becomes involved. Only attempt capture if adequate containment facilities are on hand and access to a chair.

"The man is a walking tank and he hit you open handed. If he wanted us dead. We would be dead. Instead you disabled his power source and abandoned the man in a metal coffin in the Siberian spring, when you knew that no one knew his location. Hilariously, a thing he did for your safety. <Then you lied to us about it.>"

The last part was practically hissed in anger, a contrast to his laugh when talking about Stark being a tank, the Winter Soldiers laugh, because this just didn't feel like Barnes anymore. His laugh was harsh, mocking to Steve who flinched back from him. He wondered how Barnes could still put himself in this mind set, was it like concentrating when you sent to battle and out emotions aside? Was it unintentional? This wasn't the blank slate that he'd seen before though. No, he had a strange smile on his face but his eyes were angry. His hand opening and closing, he honestly looked like he'd been wanting to do this for awhile, but Barnes had generally held off from hurting Steve when they had clashed lately. Looking back, he can see the fine line they'd been walking. Sometimes giving in more than he should just to make sure Steve wasn't hurt. 

Now? He was going for the jugular with a ruthless precision. 

"I wonder how long he laid there Stevie. On that concrete floor. Inches from the snow. In a suit you broke. I wonder how much pressure it takes for a vibranium shield to crack the power source of an Ironman suit. I wonder what that would do to a baseline humans rib cage hmm? "

Somehow the man managed to make speaking in English harsher than his Russian slips.. 

" Buck-"

"I am not Bucky! I haven't been him in a long time. Bucky Barnes died long before he fell from that train. Before Zola, he was fracturing at Azzano. It started with the draft.." 

T'Challa looked a little pale himself now and got up to whisper something to him, Barn.. Or well, Not-Barnes. Swayed on his feet and blinked rapidly a few times, looking like he was coming out of water. He nodded to T'Challa who slowly put his hand on his shoulder. He grabbed it like a lifeline, breathing rapidly. No one dared moved for a good five, ten minutes. Sam was just processing everything that had been said because that was a lot of serious, life changing information to have thrown at you at once. Steve was equally pale. 

"Uh.. Sorry I.. Therapist said I could have panic attacks and disassociate and umm. Yeah, I'm going to go see her now I think." 

"Want me to walk with you Barnes?" 

He nodded rapidly a few times, still clutching the Kings hand like if he let go something terrible should happen. 

"Da uzh, yeah T'Challa that would be great, Spasibo Thank you." 

"Of course. Mr Rogers, you will find yourself confined to the Villa until I say otherwise. The Dora Milaje already know, so do not try and sneak past them. If you leave the building without permission you will be relocated to one you cannot leave. If you feel like there is a reason important enough for you to be allowed out temporarily, inform the Dora who will inform me. I will get back to you within 72 hours whether permission is granted or not. "

Well they didn't get detention, but Steve did just get grounded. 

"Be grateful I am not ejecting you from Wakanda. To leave an ally behind, with knowledge they're suffering and to be without aide.. This is seen as a highly offensive crime in Wakanda. I am paying my penance whilst you have been slandering your victim. I'm sure you will use your time to think upon your actions."

T'Challa spoke to Steve without even glancing over his shoulder, Steve didn't react or try to cry out in defence of himself this time. He and Steve just sat in silence as they heard the two men leave. The front door slamming shut caused Steve to fill on body flinch. 

"Sam.." 

"What the fuck Steve. Why did you lie to me? You're supposed to be my best friend!" 

"Sam.. I.. I don't know when this all spun out of control, I just wanted to save Bucky." 

"And fuck the rest of us right?" 

"No Sam! I was trying to protect everyone from the Accords and then I tried to protect Bucky because he feels so guilty over what Hydra forced him to do even though it wasn't his fault so he shouldn't feel guilty. Stark was wrong to attack him." 

"Steve, I know he didn't have a choice. Barnes knows that, and I'm sure if Stark was told in a better situation, he would understand too." 

"I couldn't take that risk that he'd try to kill him." 

'Or his money drying up'. Sam thought darkly. 

"He proved me right. He only cared about himself and tried to kill him… he-" 

"Steve! I might not be Stark's number one fan, but if I just watched my parents murdered and the murderer was standing right infront of me, I'd have flipped too."

"But he wasn't-" 

"Oh for fucks sake Steve. You aren't this dense. It wasn't his choice but it was him in a way. In time people could get that, but straight away? After just watching it happen? Of course he's going to be distraught. Steve you have to remember there are other people in the world than you and Barnes"

"I know that!" 

"Do you? Because you tried to kill a man who saw you as his best friend. How is that different than him going after Barnes..?" 

"Bucky was innocent!" 

"I'm sorry Steve.. I.. I can't talk to you right now. I gotta go.." 

"Sam.. Wait!" 

"Steve. How much of.. All of this was about Barnes? Did you turn us into fugitives for Barnes or the Accords?" 

Steve just stands there, silently pleading with him but doesn't say anything. Sam shakes his head and leaves the room. He considered heading to his room, but Steve might follow him to talk and he just can't talk to him right now. He turns instead to the front door. A place Steve can't follow. He headed out, taking a deep breath of the warm air and just felt like his world had just entirely shifted on his axis. Like the blinders had been torn from him. He doesn't know what is up or down anymore. This that had been facts moments ago, Steve Rogers was North to Tony Stark's South. Polar opposites. 

Steve Rogers was a pinnacle of morality, disciplined, stands up for the little guy, shuns the limelight, does everything for his team, honest, has humility, altruistic, abrasive, and modest.

Tony Stark was the depths of immorality, hedonistic, only cares for himself, lives in the limelight, only cares for himself, liar, arrogant, selfish, unkind, and egotistical. 

He wasn't so sure anymore. All those little questions he never asked about Stark are just there and won't leave him the fuck alone. How much about both men did he actually know for himself rather than being told by the media or other people? Too much, for both of them. Steve had been throwing Stark under the bus since Siberia to cover up what he did. Thinking back on the comments they'd all be joining in on made him feel sick. How had he let himself become this? He wasn't a bully. Yet that's what he'd been doing. Just not to the man's face. 

There wasn't much he could do now, not from here. If he ever got to go home however, he would try to get to know the man beneath the cartoonist devil mask he'd let himself be drawn into. Although he wouldn't be surprised it Stark never gave them another chance. Even before this Civil War things had been bad. He'd just not asked questions he should have. He'd ignored red flags he'd been trained to notice. 

He'd thought if he ever got home, he only had to make it up to Rhodes. Maybe he could try with Stark? He was starting to wonder if the abrasive, sarcastic personality trait of his was a defense mechanism.. against people like them.

Out of all of them, he had the training to see things, and he had, he'd just ignored them and believed in Captain America, he'd let it blind him.

Now he'd discovered he was a liar of monumental proportions who threw people under the bus to maintain said lies, that anything would go to protect Barnes. He was good at lying too, until T'Challa started laying on the pressure, he wouldn't even have thought he could lie. Which means anything he said was in question now. He'd automatically believed everything he said, because he's Captain fucking America. Now.. Now this was different. 

Sighing he decided he'd do what little he could from Wakanda. Stark was putting an insane amount of work into the Accords. So, instead of just deeming them as something straight out of 1984 like Steve said, he'd start reading up on them. He'd follow everything he could get his hands on. 

Dammit he'd study the blasted things. 

 

Barnes POV 

12th September  

He jerked awake, gasping as he fleeting the nightmare slipping through his fingers like sand. At least he assumed it was a nightmare. He tried and grasped for a shred of it and came up with absolutely nothing. Leaving him shivering on his bed, drenched in sweat in the warm, humid atmosphere of Wakanda. Practically shivering from the lack of the dream. Like it had been ripped away. He blinked a few times and started his morning routine. He went to put his hand through his hair and realised that the braids from yesterday were still in, that's odd, he always took them out before bed, thinking back to yesterday he realised that large chunks of it were just.. Gone.

Sighing, he'd been doing well without losing time as well. He at least guessed he didn't hurt anyone considering he woke up in his bed and not a cell but he'd still check later. He jumped out of bed, making it neatly before dropping to the floor to start his exercises whilst running things over in his mind. 

"Bucky, James Buchanan Barnes" 

He kept his name just going over and over while he finished his push ups. Maybe this way it would finally feel like it's his again. Bucky still felt foreign to him. Everytime someone called him it he had to bite his tongue to snap. He figured if he kept saying it every morning he could condition that response away, if anything it was making it worse. He shook his head, switching to sit ups. 

"107th Infantry Regiment - 32557038" 

That was easier, he could recite those all day and he felt like he had at some point. Flashes of memories from after Azzano flooded into his mind. Usually the memories stayed quiet until he looked at them. Now, something had happened. Maybe the nightmare. Because now he felt like he was drowning.

Drowning when you feel your lungs burning knowing that when you open your mouth, and you will, it's going to surge in, force down your throat but at least the pain in your head will stop… An endless amount of time later he blinks up at his ceiling. Not realising he'd lain back until then. Feeling slightly.. detached, looking at his hand like it's someone else's, or something. Just weird. It feels like his senses had been turned down too. He pushed himself into the floor until he could really feel it and then jumped to his feet rapidly. Reaching for the pull up bar at his bedroom door. 

"Born 1917… March…Dammit." 

He stumbled at the date. He ran the month and date over and over and reached 100 before he got the date. Sighing and feeling like he failed, he ran through the rest of his morning work out in silence. Maybe tomorrow he'd get it. He didn't have his note books here and part of him was thankful for it. He remembered snatches of the notebooks and it made him feel like a crazy person and his therapist told him to not call himself that. He had a nice, longer shower, using the new shampoo and conditioner that Shuri had got for him when he'd mentioned the old one irritated his hypersensitive sense of smell. This bottle has the word nature on it no less than 15 times, which, whilst excessive, at least it smelled good. So now his hair smelled like blueberries and his body wash like freshly sliced apples. 

Whilst he might be a weird fruit bowl now, he kind of liked it.

When he got out, he shaved his face again, because of the damned super soldier serum. Especially now he had started to eat semi normally. Most of his diet was still the shakes, it took him a while to adapt to solid food, especially eating the correct amount instead of starvation rations, but he had managed a bit more yesterday, blank spots notwithstanding. Eating the recommended amount of food daily had a knock on effect, his hair was growing, it was now just past his shoulders, he was also shaving daily. He felt stronger and a cursory glance in the mirror even though it hadn't been long, he was putting on a little extra muscle. Whilst he would never be as big as Steve, he definitely was filling out a bit. 

The difference recommended nutrition makes over injections of god knows what and those vile blue gel packs that tasted like rancid salt water. Feeling full was a strange feeling and he nearly been sick the first time in Bucharest after a job paid well and he'd bought more food than normal. Enough to be full. He'd avoided doing that again. 

He added the hair goop that Shuri had ordered him to put in his hair, which also smelled of blueberries. It made him smile that she remembered that too many scents clashing gave him a headache. His clothes were unscented too for the same reason he assumed. The level of care and detail she put in was staggering sometimes. Getting dressed was harder here than when he'd woken up back in medical, choices, many choices. Until today he'd been grabbing stuff with his eyes closed but it felt like cheating. There were 7 long sleeved tops, 5 t-shirts and 3 shirts. One of the t-shirts caught his eye realising it was dark red. Hm. Maybe he liked dark red? 

Usually he'd avoided the t-shirts they were thin and left a lot of flesh visible. But it was hot, so it would feel nice? He shrugged, it was worth a shot. There were less trousers than tops, 3 jeans in different colours, soft trousers that looked tight at the ankle and what he guessed looked like suit trousers. He didn't know much about fashion, give him tac gear and weapons and he'd be in his element. This was strange. Why did he need so many pairs of trousers? He grabbed the black jeans, that's normal, he thinks. At least underwear is easy. No one sees it so it doesn't matter if its the wrong choice. 

He amused himself however choosing odd socks. No one will notice and he liked it. It was like intentionally choosing the wrong thing and not getting in trouble for it. His shoes are familiar however, black heavy boots. Although a lot of it seems to be decoration oddly, they're still leather and good quality. He imagined they'd hold up well and decides he likes New Rocks that Shuri ordered as a joke. After he dressed, his hair was still damp but unfortunately that isn't an excuse to avoid 'Team Breakfast' as he'd been informed, after missing one. He came to a deal with Steve that he will go to at least 4 team breakfasts a week. The other 3 he'll spend with his friends outside the villa. 

He grabs his tablet, not sure where to put it without the hoodie, which would make wearing the t-shirt pointless. Eventually he finds a little red and black canvas bag in the wardrobe. It's flimsy, wouldn't hold up to much but he's only going to breakfast and then to Shuri, so it would do. He slips the tablet in, adds a few of the shakes in his fridge, picking different colours, red, purple, green and yellow one. He hadn't tried the green or yellow ones yet. Orange was vile, so he'd moved all of the orange ones to the communal kitchen. He hoped he could still get these even when he could eat, they're nice. Maybe he could learn to make his own and what goes in them. He also adds his book to the bag and the little present he'd spend 2 hours making Shuri with help from the Internet. He'd put it in a pop tart box he'd liberated from the big kitchen for safety. He does another check to make sure he not forgotten anything. Today being the first day he's using the glasses so maybe he's allowed to be nervous. Leaving his room feels like he's pushing through a physical barrier, but weirdly after the first step it's easy and he all but skips down the stairs. 

He enters the kitchen, still smiling and realises something is definitely up here. Steve isn't at the stove, he's sulking at the table pushing his food around his plate, Wanda's plate is empty and she's moved to the sofas with her shoes on the furniture.

He forced down the urge to whack her feet off the sofa. He'd mostly avoided her so far, Steve had been glued to him or he'd made an escape away from all of them. Sam was OK, even when they insulted each other or threw stuff at each other. It was fun but Steve always interfered with them, thinking that he was a delicate daisy or something. Speaking of Wings, weirdly he was making breakfast and Scott was assisting but mostly looking at his tablet. 'Huh, wonder when he got that.' Maybe he wouldn't have to hide his so much if they all had one? Clint was also away from the table, sat in the arm chair, curled possessively around the laptop idly chewing a piece of toast. It was definitely strange, Steve usually made everyone stay at the table until everyone had finished. 

'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.' Swims up to him, probably from his memories. He assumed it was a saying about not questioning odd yet pleasing circumstances. 

He moved silently into the kitchen, Scott saw him, his mouth twitching into a grin and he carried normally. He got as close to Sam as possible, looming over him and leaned in to whisper in his ear. 

"Boo." 

He jumped back as Wings shot up in the air, he and Scott doubled over laughing as Sam glared at him.

"Smart plan there Barnes, scaring the man holding hot cookware." 

"It's a sign of my faith in you Wings, I know you wouldn't ruin my breakfast." 

"Oh, I'm making your breakfast am I? here's me thinking it was mine!" 

He did his best puppy dog eyes and dodged a swat from a spatula but was pleased the two men seemed less grim than when he walked in. Steve was giving him a weird look and Wanda was making her way towards them. He wasn't sure if he was imagining but he was sure the pain in his arm got worse around her, his head started pounding too but he forced the pain down. She slid her hand down his arm, making him step out the way, leaning against the counter between Wings and Scott. 

"Mmm you look much better not hiding under several layers." 

"Um.. Thanks?" 

"Steve kept telling me you were a ladies man, I can definitely see it." 

She winked at him before grabbing a drink and sauntering off towards Clint. He couldn't suppress the shudder but the concerned looks from Wings and Scott made him feel better. Wings raised a hand but stopped before actually touching him, that was the first time any of them had asked before touching him, not that Wings or Scott really touched him much. Steve, Clint and now apparently Wanda seemed to just not bother asking. He didn't know if it was normal to touch people without permission, but he didn't like it and he didn't know how to make them stop. He smiled and nodded to Wings though. If anything to encourage good behavior, but the squeeze to his shoulder made him feel less like his skin was crawling and ease that violated feeling. 

"Alright I'm feeling generous, what do you want to try today." 

"No idea, in Bucharest there wasn't much but I liked the sausage yesterday." 

"Hmm, we are out but I have this weird square sausage stuff that smells good." 

He watched intently as Wings sliced the square sausage and added some eggs to the other pan. 

"How much you cooking for me Wings? I still can't eat much." 

"That's okay, I figure this way you get variety and human garbage disposal over there will finish the rest." 

Scott just grinned at him, apparently he liked being called a human rubbish bin? He shrugged and hung out with them, shamelessly using them as shields until food was cooked. The two men seemed to have noticed and followed him to the breakfast bar sandwiching him between them. It felt less suffocating that Steve practically hanging off him. 

"Buck, I see you wooing the ladies already!" 

Steve's smile seemed off and the idea of wooing Wanda made something inside him retch which was not conducive to eating. He pulled the red drink out of his bag. 

"Na, I don't think that's me." 

"You going to be off wooing the lads then?“

Steve chokes on whatever he had been eating which makes him jump, he hadn't expected Sam to come out with that either, things were definitely changed in the future that was for sure. Even amongst friends in his memories he'd been wary about discussing that. 

"Dunk the squares into the centre of the egg, makes them taste even better." 

He gave Scott a genuine 'thank you!' smile, and another when he tried it and oh my gods that was good! 

"I like this square sausage more than the other one, and I love eggs. I think I need to start making a list of things I like." 

"That's a good idea, stick around when you've finished I have something that could help." 

"Sure thing Wings." 

"Hey, do I get a nickname?" 

"I thought you were human garbage disposal." 

Scott chucked a scrunched up ball of paper at him which he immediately deflected with his hand, having it hit Scott in the forehead. 

"I call him tic tac, because he gets all tiny." 

"What's a tic tac?" 

Wings pulls out his tablet, maybe everyone has one now after all, and he shows him a picture of tic tacs. 

"Huh, I can see it, I like that Tic Tac… Or puppy. Because your like a floofy happy puppy." 

Scott grins at him and eats the last bits of food on his plate when he pushes it over to him. Wings vanishes upstairs for a bit and he realises Steve is just staring at him again. Before he has much of a chance to ask why however Clint and Wanda joint them at the table. 

"Fucking Stark man. He has my wife and because of him I can't do anything!" 

"She's with Hope man, and she looks fine." 

"She's not fine you idiots, Clint's wife is being held captive by Stark. Plus, since when did you like Stark?You always said 'Never trust a Stark', wasn't that what Hank taught you?" 

"Yeah.. but Hope seems to be friends with Stark now." 

He taps a few things on his tablet, angling it so he could see. Seems to be a lot of small pictures with people in. 

"This is her Instagram, it's a social media thing, you take pictures and upload them for people to see. This is Hopes." 

He loads up a picture and he recognises Tony, although he looks much, much better than when he was in Siberia. Something in him unclenched when he saw the man looking.. Less like the one he saw yesterday. Sure images can be deceiving, but he looks fine. Better than, his skin has an olive tanned glow to and he looks to have more energy than the last time he saw him. 

He sucks in a breath as a memory comes back full force and slams into him. Tony Stark wearing a suit and coming up to him when he was in Winter Soldier mode. Somehow the red covering on his hand catches a bullet that he fired at him and then he just dismantled his own gun whilst it was still in his hands as if it was the easiest thing in the world before smirking at him. He comes back and Scott is looking at him in concern, he focuses back on the image before that voice in his mind floated up 'That was fun'. He hated to admit, it kind of was interesting having someone take apart a gun with such ease as to do it to your opponent in a fight. 

He forced his concentration back to the tablet. The woman, who he assumed was Hope was being carried Bridal style by Stark. They were both laughing, hopes head thrown back. They definitely looked happy 

"They look happy to me." 

"Stark is probably coercing them, or manipulating them somehow." 

"Or buying them. We all know how he likes to throw his money around." 

He glanced over to Steve who was just staring at his food, looking angry. Scott just looked uncomfortable and focused instead on showing him pictures from Hopes social whatsit. 

"I bet it's him that's stopping me contacting my wife. I sent her a letter and phone when Steve sent his but the calls won't go through." 

"Well if she at the compound maybe she didn't get it?" 

Wings comes back in and sits down, feeling the mood shift and trying to get everyone less angry. 

"Yeah, maybe send another to the compound if you are allowed. I could send Hope something too.." 

"I'm not sure T'Challa wants us sending anything else out." 

"Even if I could I bet Stark would stop them getting through." 

"He isn't happy just ruining our lives forcing us out of our home, he stole your family members just so you can't contact them. That's what he does. Ruin families. I lost everything to him, he killed my parents and my brother." 

"Don't you guys think that's a bit.. Much?" 

Clint glares at Wings and he feels like he wants to put himself in between them. He also doesn't know much about Stark, he did look him up a little after T'Challa first asked about Siberia. Looking for some confirmation that he survived the fight and that he didn't cause severe damage. He didn't find much to alleviate that guilt and pain, only finding older things. This was the first picture he'd actually seen of the man post-Siberia and it was very recent. 

However he found out enough that the idea of the man intercepting mail seemed absolutely absurd.

He's pretty sure that they aren't even on his radar.

Whilst sick he'd been working on the Accords making advancements in prosthetics, and med tech, whatever that is, that along with intellicrops are on his 'to Google' list. There were several articles about green energy and arc reactors too. He didn't even understand 80% of the things Stark was doing, so intercepting mail? He doubted it. 

"I don't think Stark made us all international fugitives." 

He scoffed, they'd all gotten themselves into this mess, but they seemed unable to admit fault. 

"Yes it is, him and his Accords. Without them I'd be with my family." 

"Yeah, he teamed up with General Ross, to force us to do what he wanted. We said no and suddenly we are fugitives and Stark puts us in that terrifying prison where I had to wear a collar! I'm never going back there!" 

"It's okay Wanda, everything will get sorted out soon enough when Stark realises the awful mistake he has made. We'll get pardons and go home."

"And he'll get off scot free! Not getting punished at all for betraying us I bet. Use his slimy lawyers to make sure he never pays any consequences. Like after Ultron, the judge said he was not guilty! He nearly ended the world!" 

"We'll think of something Wanda, like after Ultron I gave him limits on what FRIDAY could do and where she would go and told him the only reason he could keep FRIDAY was that she was already alive. But he's not allowed to create anymore AIs. I made sure he knew what he was allowed to do after that. "

" I still say he should have deleted FRIDAY, it would have been a good punishment, not like she's really alive anyway. "

" Yeah, but we voted against that... "

Wings cut in and he realised the man looked very uncomfortable.

He had absolutely no idea what they were even talking about. What was a FRIDAY? Was it a person? Could they delete a person? If they were alive they were casually discussing murder?! He needed to look up AIs he decided. 

"If you knew the damage he was capable of Sam, he should have been locked up. Not allowed to create anything other than what we told him to. The world would have been safer that way. Plus Steve, we aren't there now, do you think he's still abiding by your rules?"

"Well he should be, he was deemed not guilty, but negligent, so I decided FRIDAY should be restricted, not as free as JARVIS was. Even if the court didn't accept my suggestions, I made sure Tony knew they were not requests."

He had to get out of this conversation, he was feeling really uncomfortable with the way it had turned, the idea of locking someone in a lab and forcing him to create on demand and have no freedom? Of deleting someone who was alive? Restricting them? Plus, if he'd been found not guilty, that was that, right? Punishing people seen as not guilty seemed extremely weird. 

Urgh. He needed to leave. This was just... it was making him feel bad and felt too.. familiar.

He didn't even know or like Stark and this was skeeving him out. 

"Anyway, Wings, what you got for me? I've got my first session today so I can't hang around forever." 

"It's just a note book, but I found these really fancy ones at the market, it's embossed leather and the paper is nice and thick too. I grabbed you the red one." 

He handed it over and he took it carefully because it looked really important and quite pretty. There was a wolf embossed on the front that had been dyed white. It had bright gray blue eyes that were some kind of stone, which he thought was pretty cool as it was like his. He unwrapped the cord around it and revealed blank pages inside. The paper was really heavy too. He blinked that it was blank, not quite getting it, and thankful Wings didn't call him an idiot. 

"It's for you to write in. Anything you like, or don't like, things you see, anything that seems important that you want to remember, write it down. Here I got you a pen too. It's a fountain pen, but it's a Lamy pen so they're really easy to use." 

The pen was red too, he was starting to sense a theme, maybe other people had noticed he'd liked red things? Maybe Wings just liked red? He did wear a lot of red, and Redwing was well, red.

He'd only noticed he liked it today, but apparently others had worked it out faster. 

"Spasibo Wings, this is awesome." 

" I hope you get lots of use out of them. I have a bad habit of buying fancy notebooks and never writing in them because I can't decide what to put in them." 

He chuckled at himself as he slipped the book and pen into a side pocket of his bag, Clint was laughing to Wanda about him having a handbag which was confusing. It was over his shoulder anyway. 

"Okay, I best be off."

"Yeah, good luck with the brain tech." 

" I'm probably going to need it!" 

He actually felt surprisingly good about the whole thing, he thought he'd be more nervous but between eating good food, enjoying his drink, getting a gift, feeling less potentially awful about Stark… The good was seriously outweighing the bad today. 

"Bucky, are you sure you want to go today? You know you don't have to. You could just stay home and we could watch movies together." 

"I want to get the words out of my brain Steve. That ain't gonna happen sitting around watching movies." 

"But you don't know that. The more you remember being Bucky and then anything else might just go away." 

"If time would fix it, Zemo wouldn't have been able to trigger me." 

"But this time you're with me." 

He really felt like bashing his head into a wall. 

"Steve, I have all of my memories from before the fall, remember. They're all in here. So sitting around not doing anything won't help. Shuri and T'Challa have gone to a lot of effort to give me this chance. Of course I'm going to take it."

"But they don't understand you like I do, they won't even talk about your treatment with me when I told them to." 

"You told me you were going to apologise to them, why am I getting the feeling you've been rude or ungreatful again?"

Wings was giving him a strange questioning look so he turned away from Steve and to him. 

"Do you remember yesterday?" 

"I've got some gaps, I remember leaving the room with my book and after that it's sketchy." 

"Well T'Challa -" 

"Sam!" 

"What Steve? You want to pretend yesterday didn't happen? I'm not as comfortable as lying as some people, Barnes, I'll meet up with you on that hill you like later? Message me when you're free." 

Wings waved his tablet at him, the way Wanda glared at it made me think that not everyone had one after all. Wings left the entire building after that. Yeah, he really needed to know what happened yesterday!

" Okay, if you are going to this then I'm coming too. To make sure no one does anything bad to you." 

"Shuri isn't going to do anything bad to me, I trust her. And you are not coming to my appointments."

"If you trust her that nothing bad is going to happen then you should be fine with having me there then! If there is nothing to hide then you should have no problem with me being there." 

"No, Steve, and what the hell kind of logic is that. You don't get it, this is my journey to find myself. I want to do it alone." 

"But I can help Buck. I can tell you everything about you." 

"Steve, no. I'm different than how I was in my memories, and my therapist says that's fine. People change over time, and even more because of traumatic events." 

"See, this is why I need to be there so they don't fill your head with nonsense like that. You can be Bucky again, you just have to try and I know you better than anyone."

"Alright. Fine. Just give me 15 minutes. I need to brush my teeth and get my jumper. Then I'll be back down and we can leave." 

"Okay Buck! Want me to come help?" 

He almost feels guilty for how happy he looks, but he just won't listen to him, he's sick of him treating him like an idiot or a kid who can't make their own damned choices. The fact that Steve thinks he can tell his therapist off for telling him something that actually made him feel tons better? When she told him he could be anyone he wanted to be, that he could find himself slowly bit by bit and that it was fine? That was amazing and it was totally going in his notebook. 

"Steve, I think I can brush my teeth and dress myself." 

"Yeah, but with one arm I imagine it's really hard. I can't believe they left you in cryo so long coming with this stupid device that is probably not even necessary now your awake and with us, and they didn't even make you a new arm! They could have installed it before you even woke up! "

He gives Steve the most horrified look he can summon before walking towards the stairs to the bedrooms. 

"Steve. No. That's not what I wanted at all. I told Shuri not to make me an arm. Until the words are gone it's too much of a risk of me hurting someone." 

 Plus the arm hurt.  The socket hurt too, but it was nothing compared to the arm. Getting it blasted off had been the best thing to ever happen to him. 

"Oh Buck, you wouldn't hurt anyone." 

"Not voluntarily no. But until the words are gone. No arm." 

As he starts heading up the stairs he hears Steve talking to Wanda about how he can convince Shuri to start making an arm and Wanda adds that she could help convince him too. For some reason that makes him go cold and he finds himself nervous, but he doesn't understand why. The voice he occasionally hears in the back of his mind is utterly silent, but it weirdly feels like the fear is coming from there. He shakes his head, he needs to move now if he wants this to work. He takes the steps multiple at a time passing the 2 residential floors as Tic Tac calls them, and then up another fight to make it to his floor. He opens the largest window in his living room and looks out. Good, nothing in the way. He didn't want to land in a hedge or trample someone's pretty flower bed.

He stood still for a second, listening and he could hear Steve still on the ground floor. He couldn't hear what he's saying, but he could pinpoint him. As long as he stayed in the kitchen with his back to the common room he was fine. Only Tic Tac could see the windows he'd pass. He jumped out of the window enjoying the fall and finding it exhilarating. He was definitely doing that again, maybe he could find something higher to jump off as well, heights were awesome. A memory of Buckys swam up to him and he felt this just proved his point. Bucky was apparently terrified of heights. Where as he wanted to find something taller and jump off of it

He crept towards the living room windows, Steve rarely seemed to use his senses when he wasn't fighting, but better safe than sorry, a quick glance showed him that everyone was still in the same position. This time he made himself visible until Tic Tac saw him, he has his tablet out because he hoped he'd look shocked so he could take a picture to show Shuri, he waved casually at him and silently laughed as he'd caused his drink to come out of his nose, he quickly snapped a few pictures before the others went to hit him on the back where they might see him. He could see two of the Dora watching him, grinning at him, probably for launching himself from the top story window. He grinned back before started at a slow jog before slowly working up to a fast run. If he had timed it right, he'd been on the train before Steve even realised he was gone. 

Whilst he was sat on the train he opened his notebook, he wouldn't be on it for a very long but it was enough for him to get started maybe, he practiced writing on a bit of card he tore off the pop tart box because he wanted to see if he could actually write neatly. 

In Bucharest he'd written fast as the memories came and hadn't been very neat. He shocked himself when his writing was all flowing and kind of curly, yeah he liked that. He had the quote his therapist had told him and he decided that the first page would be quotes or stuff that he liked. He put the title in the middle of the page just as 'Myself' and then he figured he could do quotes and even little doodles around it. The next page he wondered if to space of 3 pages for 'stuff I like' and the 3 for 'stuff I dislike'.. Or even a page for Food he likes but that sounds just confusing. There is plenty of space in the book and the therapist said it's OK to make mistakes as he learns himself, as long as he lands from them too. 

He didn't have much time and he spent a good few minutes fretting over where he needs a contents page or not. 

'I'm starting to see why Wings has trouble with notebooks..' 

In the end he is running out of time so let's that help him, adding 'Things I Enjoy' to that page. Flipping 3 pages and putting 'Things I Dislike'. Looking at his pretty handwriting, he has a feeling he'll be Googling a lot to put things in the book and remembers his Google list. For that he flips to the end of the book, figured if he leaves a gap between each think he needs to look up, he can write down what he finds out. He has time to write 'The Almighty Google List' and put one thing in the likes and dislikes section, before he has to put his stuff away. Maybe Shuri can show him how to get the pictures off of the tablet, or maybe he could get a camera like Tic tac, then he could put pictures in the book too. He had a feeling that he might want to put his Book under things he likes… 

Suddenly the task of finding things he likes or not has become fun just because he gets to write them down. 

How weird is that? 

Chapter Text

Barnes POV

September 12

When he arrives at Shuri lab, he's still quite hyped up from jumping out of the window and evading Steve, because that was really fun . The notebook was also really added to that and he really wanted to tell Shuri about it. He practically jogged into the Lab, Shuri saw him coming and smiled. 

"What's got you all smiling today?" 

"I jumped out of my window to stop Steve coming today and discovered jumping out of windows is really fun! Also Wings gave me this notebook where I can write things I like and don't like so I don't have to keep it all in my head!" 

Shuri doubled over laughing at him jumping out of the window. 

"Oh I need to see that! And I need to see this book!"

He sits down, pulling his bag into his lap, pulling out the poptart box and Shuri peers of curiously and then pulls out the book and the pen that Wings gave him. 

"He even gave me this fancy pen and everything. I've not written much yet though." 

She picked up the book and gives him a questioning look before opening it, this is why he looked Shuri and T'Challa, they never assumed . Wings was starting to be the same it was great. People not assuming anything nor expecting him to be someone. She smiled at the quote, got a huge grin when she saw the likes page which had 'Shuri braiding my hair.' at the dislikes she frowned, it having 'Being called Bucky'. She hummed to herself before glancing at the cover of the book. 

"How about I call you White Wolf? Much better than Bucky, Yes?" 

"Definitely better than Bucky. Today seems to be the day of nicknames. Scott realised that I call Sam wings and wanted a nickname. It was an interesting breakfast. I think the fun moments outnumbered the annoying ones. Although Steve tried insisting he come here and to my Therapist appointments too, I don't know, to make sure I turn into a perfect Bucky-Clone or something."

He rolled his eyes whilst bringing up the picture on his tablet of Tic-Tac choking on his drink and it coming out of his Nose, she was pulling up the CCTV footage so they could swap. 

"Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love watching you have fun throwing yourself out of windows. But you don't have to worry about Rogers following you now. T'Challa has put him on house arrest. He's currently unable to leave the house." 

"Oh that's hilarious, what caused that?" 

She tilted her head and looked curiously at him. 

"I thought you were around for that bit. Either way, my brother gave him another chance to come clean about Siberia. He even gave him a while to think on it. Instead of doing that, he doubled down on the lies over and over tried to claim he was doing it for you, for everyone else, even for Dr Stark which is laughable considering how much they've been slating the man. Even when he had been called on it, he kept trying, never accepting he was even lying for himself. He even tried saying that you remembered wrong. 

"Out of punishments, house arrest is quite minor, but he thought it would give you a chance at freedom and if he was confined to the villa, you wouldn't have to go to such lengths as jumping out of windows to go the therapy." 

It was like the memory of a memory in his mind but it was… Just out of reach. Yeah, he definitely needed to find out what had happened yesterday and why he was losing time like that. 

" That's good at least, I really didn't want him here for this, especially not when the hydra memories would come up. I think he'd get angry." 

"Well, let's just say any requests for him to join you will be denied unless you personally make them. Today is easy though. Good memories!" 

He followed her over to what looked like a strange set up, chair in the middle with poles around. Thankfully the chair looked nothing like Hydra and the distinct lack of straps calmed him down a little. He did feel awkward and kind of ridiculous sat there. 

"OK, slip these on, they aren't programmed to you yet, but that's what the memory draws do. You'll pick a memory out of everything that comes up which will be like the… First pass code. There is like a little zap when you put them on." 

He looked at the glasses warily, fiddling with the pink sticker again before thinking screw it and slipping the glasses on. Biting the inside of his cheek and waiting for the pain, he feels a tiny buz, barely more than a bug bite and it startles him because it was a lot less than he'd expected. He'd been expecting so much more. Before he has a chance to say anything however images practically explode out of him. Flicking around him as a hologram but each doesn't stay up long enough to actually play. 

Some are sepia toned, in fact most are sepia toned it seems. Ones his brain has coded happy seem to be generally pulling from the memories that he'd had returned by the Wakandan tech. Some however aren't and they are like explosions of colour. One bursts out and plays for longer whilst others flash around the edges, but it's easy to focus on the one in full colour. It was not long after they'd come to Wakanda, Shuri had decided that she liked him and was looking out for him. Clint was buzzing around being annoying and lecturing him for not being 'Bucky enough' and that it was upsetting Steve. Shuri had demanded he leave, but he had refused and she had kicked him in the shin hard enough that he'd actually hobbled out and he'd burst out laughing. Feeling more human in that moment than he had in so long. He didn't know how, but that image was the first pass code lock as it was swept up in all the others. 

He wasn't sure how long it took. It felt like hours, but his body clock said different. That it was definitely less than an hour. When the images slowed and eventually stop he felt like he had one heck of an emotional hangover, to say the least. The glasses spoke to him, tell him that the upload was complete and the data was compiling and he slipped the glasses off. Blinking as the holograms collapsed to the floor like pixels turning to sand. 

"Right, that's it for today." 

"Wait? That's it?" 

"Yup, the data draws just filter through memories of a certain type, you pick one as your pass code, then me and the outside contractor get to compile and he starts creating the algorithm. After that it's less easy, well be able to locate the memories the words are attached to to disassociate them. But he recommended starting small and working up to the words."

"Okay, that sounds doable, so, Um, who is this mysterious 'outside contractor'?" 

"Hmm, oh, He's called Anthony. He developed this tech which spans so many different branches of science, its frankly kind of annoying." 

"That is impressive, I thought it would, I don't know? Hurt more?" 

"I wouldn't have allowed you to put it on if it hurt. He tested it on himself first through many versions and told me this one doesn't even cause migraines." 

"Wow, isn't that, I don't know, strange? I thought testing unknown tech on yourself was dangerous?" 

"Oh yeah, very dangerous. He said killer migraines and profuse vomiting were the norm." 

"Okay… So, self preservation is not a thing to this bloke?" 

"Nope! Me and a few others are trying to help with that." 

"Well it's good that he has you." 

"Well, seeing as we are now done with today's session, how about we revisit that discussion about your arm?" 

He flinched. What was it with people and his arm today? 

"Ah, no. I don't want an arm. Not until I'm safe." 

"You are safe here though? Aren't you?" 

"Not until the code words are gone. I.. I can't risk that happening. I could hurt you. It's not worth it. Plus, I'm fine." 

"Hm, okay White Wolf, do you want to see some designs I have anyway? Me and Anthony made one for fun a while ago, it's not a whole arm, just a hand and wrist because he wanted to see if we could do it. It's night and day to that Hydra thing you had." 

Looking wasn't taking it, he could just look and that would be fine. 

"Sure."

Shuri squealed, jumping up and down in happiness before bringing up lots of information and finally bringing out specifications to the hand and wrist. It was matte black, sleek and very different to what hydra made. Just looking at it, he could see it was meant to replace a hand instead of being a weapon. The notes around saying that it could feel? That's definitely different. Inside looked much different to the Hydra arm too. He knew how to do basic maintenance, nothing flashy but he'd had to manage in Bucharest without a technician. 

"That is really different, night and day like you said." 

He started flicking through the notes, reading about how instead of wires, tiny little robots did most of the inside functions… Some how? Shuri's phone chirped in her pocket, causing him to frown. 

"I didn't know people used phones in Wakanda? I thought the.. beads worked as phones?"

"They don't, but if I want to talk to any of my friends outside of Wakanda, I need to use this." 

"Ah, is that the outside contractor?" 

"Oh? No, no, I just got a picture from Dr Stark, he's making a speech today and they look like they're ready to talk on the world." 

"Oh, are you friends with Stark too?" 

"Oh definitely, he's one of the few people on the planet who can even keep up with me! And he never complains even if I know more. He's nothing like the media representation of him either. It was quite a shock to discover how kind the man in. I think he runs like a hundred charities." 

That.. That was different that what he was expecting. Steve's friends never would have described him like that, but it seems like both of the royals at least liked the man. Shuri, whilst young, she seemed like a good judge of character. 

"I didn't know that about him.. Just what the others say about him." 

"Oh you definitely need better source. Keep in mind for all their insults, they leeched of him for years. They were perfectly happy to live in the lap of luxury and receive personalised gear. He worked himself half to death for those idiots. Especially on the Accords."

"Steve said the Accords were there to try and control the Avengers, to force them to do things, the Ross is evil and Tony is in bed with the guy. "

"Well, first, my father came up with the basis of the Accords. They're much better than the alternative anyway. Dr Stark has been working constantly to make them better, and he despises Ross. "

That's extremely definitely different, Clint and Wanda were so sure that Stark and Ross were in cahoots. And Shuri's father came up with the Accords? He wondered if Steve knew that when they came here, wondered if T'Challa was annoyed when Steve was insulting the last work of his late father? The man had practically died for it. 

"Hm, Okay, were going to watch this so you can get an idea of the man without others clouding your judgement." 

He turned to a screen she had flicked on, and from the writing at the bottom this was the Accords Council in session. There were a lot of people in a semi circle around a recently vacated podium. It was mostly just people talking to each other, discussing something that he had honestly no idea about.

"Hey, Shuri, could you get me a copy of the Accords?"

"Sure, I'll send it to your tablet as it currently stands, Dr Stark has some amendments he's been trying to get through for weeks and he's hoping today will finally get the ball moving. Ross has been fighting him every step of the way, and whilst Rhodes is awesome, Dr Stark knows the buttons to push."

He nodded and turned back to the screen just in time to see Stark walk into the room. Pushing open the double doors with both arms and standing still for a few seconds, smirking at the camera in an oddly predatory way. His black shirt and suit with the striking tie in his Ironman colours really stood out. As he hadn't seen many suits in his time, he wasn't exactly knowledgeable on the subject, but it looked expensive. It looked like it had been practically poured on the man. The red mirrored sunglasses seemed to capture the lights and flash. It was impressive and definitely setting a scene, pretty much everyone in the room had paused. He noticed the woman behind him… that was Barton's wife again, odd, he'd have expected Rhodes. 'Maybe she's his PA.. ? Oh that is going to go down so well if she is.' 

Clint had shown everyone pictures of his wife and kids not long after they were settled in the villa, and she looks nothing like she did then. In that photo she'd had long hair, and was dressed comfortably in worn clothes at a farm. Now she was just as in place as Stark was, but with an ice blue blouse to match the blue in her hair. Her hair was in a complicated up-do and he had no idea how it had been done, but then he barely knew how Shuri did his hair. The blue was more visible with it up and there were glints of silver, when he looked closer he noticed on one of the braids had like a silver spiral. Her suit was similar to Stark's, definitely not something either of them went and bought in a shop at a guess. As she joined him on the podium he noticed a flash of red at her heels. 

"They look amazing! I'm so happy Laura picked my design for her hair!" 

He just nodded and returned his attention to the screen, not sure why he was so interested. But the back of his mind, where strange comments came from, that he didn't really understand and was way too nervous to actually ask anyone if it was normal to have thoughts pop into your head out of nowhere? It had started to feel.. Bigger? Definitely bigger lately. Like there was more to it. It was definitely interested in the screen and got the feeling that it had to do with the man dismantling his gun when it was still in his hand similar to how it wanted to know about Shuri after kicking Clint. Laura's hands were dancing over blue holograms that reminded him so much of Shuri. Stark was just casually leaning against the side of the podium looking around the room and he noticed again that Stark had the look of a predator about him. That he was lazily scouting the room for someone to pounce and shred. 

He shook his head. That was weird, he saw a lot from Stark but looking againhhe didn't get that feeling, like it didn't feel like it came from him. That part of his mind was definitely more present.. Less at the back and more sharing with him it's observations, which were frankly a bit creepy. It reminded him of the few missions he'd recalled as the asset, and how he would assess people into categories of importance. His Hypervigilance focusing in a way he couldn't replicate. Thankfully Stark started talking so he didn't have to think about it. 

"Hello everyone, the rumors of my demise, retirement or whatever the new one of the week is, have been wildly exaggerated. I hope I haven't missed too much?" 

People had thought he was dead? Damn, he really did need to start researching more. Finding out things himself instead of just following what people told him. 

"Unfortunately I am not here to bring glad tidings. I'm here to present to you multiple violations for someone under the Accords as they're regarding Inhuman, Enhanced Humans, Mutants, And pretty much everyone that is protected by the Vienna Accords as they stand. Hopefully - "

"Look at T'Challa!" 

They both had a chuckle at T'Challa who seemed suitably shocked by the duos intro. This must be what Shuri was talking about, that Stark was working to make things better? Maybe he was talking about Ross? It felt like Shuri was hinting to that. If he was talking about the General like that then he doubted that the two men were friends as Clint claimed. He missed the next bit trying to think back in his mind about connections between the two. The hissed warning of someone else brought his attention back. 

" - session is televised. Shouldn't this information be sent to interested parties only!?"

Somehow he got the idea that Stark had chosen this moment because it was being filmed. The amused smirk on Laura's face confirmed that, he noticed that her gaze sharpened almost viciously when she looked at the man interrupting Stark's speech. 

“Mr Jackson, this is the perfect time. Accountability is for everyone when it comes to the Accords, not just those of us no longer classed as baseline human."

From what he'd been told about Stark was that he was accountable to no one and only Steve kept him in check from going full villain. Which seemed in conflict for a man standing, televised wanting accountability. 

"Oooo. That's Ross' aid by the way. Dr Stark told me he's nearly as shifty as his Boss." 

Shuri needed popcorn he decided, it would fit the image better. 

"Now, where was I. Yes, the individual in question, as I'm sure you and several key people in law enforcement are now seeing has been quite the naughty boy. He has also evaded 6 attempts to be taken into custody and has tried illegal means to remove the information in front of you from various sources private and public. "

" Why has this not been brought to attention before.. This is a lot… "

"Yes it is a lot Mr Davenport, I have been collecting information on this individual for a number of years and have tried many times to bring him down. The information was dispirite and various law enforcement agencies simply didn't know too communicate with each other, well go with that excuse for why he wasn't already behind bars shall we? Of course, I am happy to do my duty under the Accords to bring this to you as a signed member. Even though I am still technically signed off on medical leave, I thought this too important to wait much longer. "

"Stark is still not recovered? "

"Not fully, although he tries to hide it to make everyone think he's fine. He's barely stopped working since he woke up.. When he first called me he was still in his hospital bed… "

He reached out slowly to grip her shoulder, it helped him and she looked quite distraught by the memory. Although he wondered if him being there was a help at all, seeing it was him and Steve who had put him in that hospital bed.. 

"I have petabytes of data, videos, written, everything required and I will be honest. If this is swept away and ignored, again, as this information is legally my own. I will release it onto the Internet." 

"We don't appreciate threats Dr Stark."

"Dr Maloj, I don't not wish to threaten your lovely self or anyone here. But when you have watched the videos you will understand my fervour. Plus precedent was set after the fall of SHIELD was it not? I do not believe that an Amendment to that section regarding releasing of information has been tabled yet. "

" I thought you were against the data dump Dr Stark"

"Data dump?" 

"Hm? Oh, during DC, your little Captain thought it would be a good idea to dump the entirety of SHIELDS database onto the Internet. Not just the Hydra files.. Dr Stark and Colonel Rhodes worked themselves to the bone to save as many as they could.." 

"Steve.. he must have messed up, surely he wouldn't be risked so many people like that?" 

The Stevie he knew wouldn't have recklessly risked lives like that, not good people. He moved mountains to rescue him and the others when he'd been captured the first time… dammit there was so much he didn't know and it felt like Steve was leaving bits out. He turned his attention back to the TV. 

"- the innocent were hurt. I assure you, this will not be a reckless act. It will not be an ill conceived idea born of desperation. You could call it an act of civil disobedience that will only harm those at fault. The versions I release will completely protect those who have been hurt except the ones who have contacted me and have signed permission for me to release files with their likeness. "

Shuri was practically vibrating in her seat and he had to admit, it was easy to get swept up with the way Stark talked. His hands seemed to never stop moving and even though he kept his sunglasses on indoors, his face was still quite expressive. . 

" Oh, and I also have information pertinent to forgein countries as they have been, lets say, 'quite involved' with this individuals little off the books operations. Oh, and yes people of America, this does include a large dose of tax fraud, misuse of your hard earned tax dollars and bribery. "

The small grouping of press allowed inside the room got all flustered about that last part... which was utterly confusing. But the misuse of money always trended to get people riled up. Something that hadn't changed since the 40s.

"The information I have pertains to so many crimes against humanity that putting this file together over the years has not been pleasant. It is frankly, chilling.

" Human rights violations are never pretty, even if we are talking about people who are seen as less than human by some. Many do include humans who because of this man have been forced into enhancements, mutations, changes to their body against their will. Bodily autonomy seems a fleeting idea, - "

His mind became white static for a bit, what the hell? Why had Steve not done something about this guy?! That.. That was horrible and it felt so similar to what he experienced. Did Steve know? He couldn't. If he did then he should have done something instead of snarling about the man. 

"Human experimentation, reckless endangerment of minors, ethics were just not involved anywhere and aspects of this are straight up torture to those he kept. To those who escaped their lives were systematically destroyed, reputations ruined, family's threatened, all to force his victims into an easier point of capture. This has spanned several years, in several countries and includes a frankly terrifying amount of property damage. This is coming from me, the man who cleaned up after the Avengers for years. Including New York. This individual has not spent a penny in reparation efforts and has often illegally shifted the blame. "

Stark cleaned up after the Avengers? That was new information. From what he'd been told he didn't really do much of anything. If there was one thing he hatred was contradicting information. 

"- recently we come to his violations of creating a secret prison that breaks so many rules I'll be here for an hour listing them. He then illegally detained people without adequate warrants in the illegal prison and claimed to be doing it on behalf of yourselves. "

That.. That was the raft? But Clint and Wanda said Stark put them into that prison? Had he and Steve broken them out of an illegal prison? If so, then they wouldn't have had to go in, they would have been released as soon as Stark had a chance to get them out maybe? He wondered if by breaking them out, did they just complicate matters. 

"The raft was illegal?" 

"Oh definitely, my father would never have condoned such measures. T'Challa and myself find it quite insulting that Mr Rogers thinks the Accords had anything to do with that debacle." 

He can tell she is definitely angry about that, maybe he should try and talk to Steve about the Accords, or at least the raft. Try and get him to not run his mouth around T'Challa. An image of Steve flashed into his mind, shoulders squared, jaw locked, ready to take on the world… yeah maybe that wouldn't work. 

He looked closely at Stark when he realised he was only gesturing with one hand now when both of his hands had been gesticulating as he spoke with passion. His right hand was gripping the side of the podium, tight enough that on Shuri high definition screen he could see Stark's knuckles were white. He barely looked different but he knew where to look for signs of stress. He'd paled ever so slightly, his olive complexion hiding it somewhat. Was he in pain? Should he even be here right now? He was starting to think not, maybe the rumours of him being severely injured were more true than he had realised. A spike of guilt stabs through him think of Siberia, again. Stark's voice again drags him out of his spiralling thoughts with startling ease 

"I am of course talking about one Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross. Now, whilst I accept the fugitive status of certain individuals and Thaddeus drive to bring them in."

That must be him and the others. 

"Of course in that drive he subverted the Accords and the will of the original 117 countries, now a fantastic 139 with 2 more ready to join any day." 

That was... a lot of countries, Steve never mentioned that, he thought it was some kind of American only thing. 141 countries.. That's a lot to say screw you too.. And that's just what Steve and his team did.

Getting more than a handful of countries to agree on something was like getting blood out of a stone, some of the missions he'd been sent on were about stopping things exactly like this. A death or two and they unravelled with ease. 

"To take what we want to be a shield to protect civilians and heroes alike, to guard humans, superhuman, inhumans, enhanced humans, humans with unusual qualities such as very large intellects, which by the way, is quite the compliment. Thank you. Also included androids and artificial intelligence and those seeking personhood. "

He was again surprised at Stark's passion for a document that Steve hated and called a leash. Stark called it a shield. Those were incredibly different ways of seeing one thing. Clint had claimed it was easy for Stark to sign on, all he had to do was stop using the suit and he was just a baseline human. Not like Steve, Wanda, Nat, Himself even and some others he didn't recognise. But Stark just allowed himself to be classed as Inhuman or Superhuman. He didn't even fight it. From Shuri's mutterings she noticed it too. 

"- Accords are, protection for all, to take our mistakes of the past, never forget them, never cover them up, never forget the lives lost, accountability, security. Not a subversion of these great ideals put on paper by the late King T'Chaka and taken up by his son. This shield won't become a noose as long as I'm breathing, from standing in front of you or from my hospital bed, I assure you, I will not give up."

As he drew to a close, his voice cracked around the room like a whip, everyone's attention was on him and again he had to admit to feeling impressed at the way Stark worked the room, but then the guy had been likely doing it for years. What surprised him was that he then took a step back to allow Laura front and centre. His hand giving her shoulder a comforting squeeze. Laura offered him a warm smile before squaring her shoulders with an easy grace. 

"If Barton sees this, he's going to be spitting mad." 

"I'm sure none of you will recognise me, except as Dr Stark's amazing new personal assistant of course."

Well, that clarified the assistant idea, Clint was not going to li-

"My soon to be ex husband is one of the fugitives that was illegally detained." 

And suddenly her being his assistant wasn't the worst thing. 

"O Bozhe." 

"That is not why I am standing here. I'm standing here because Ross sent multiple teams of heavily armed, highly trained men to my farm. A farm I lived on alone with three children, my youngest had not long turned one year old. The others are seven and thirteen years old. They don't understand what is happening, why a man sent tactical teams to raid our home."

Well that explained why she was at the compound, and from Shuri's relaxed stance, he got the sense she already knew. He also wondered how Steve would take it when he realised just how connected the people who were hiding them were with Stark and his cohorts. Not that he was going to be stupid enough to say a thing. 

"I don't even know anything, after my ex husband left to join this ill advised fight, that was where my information ended."  

Oh she was definitely angry. She practically spat 'ill-advised'. Her eyes flashed with anger, her face was extremely expressive, maybe more noticeable after Stark gave his speech with his glasses still in place. He was still yet to remove them and he couldn't help but think about the picture in the hospital. With the bandages taped over his eyes.. 'Maybe he just likes sunglasses?' He thought hopefully, he didn't move like he was blind, at least he didn't think he did, but with someone like Stark, would he really know? 

"Yet my home was raided. I don't want to think what might have happened if Tony Stark, 37 hours after waking up from his coma hadn't abandoned his hospital bed to rescue me. Don't worry, I immediately marched him back into it. "

Bespredel. Does this idiot have limits? After just waking from such a serious neurological issues the man should have been confined to resting! He could have put himself back into a coma, yet he risked his own mind to rescue the wife of a man who outright detests him? That is.. Not something he would have expected. Definitely not from what he had been told.

He also suspected his wife saying Tony Stark saved her was not going to endear him to Clint somehow. The man was angry at anything and everything lately, he definitely shouldn't see this. 

" After reading what he has done to innocent women and children in the past, I do not believe we would have fared well, especially waiving the Accords around. He didn't do this because I was refusing to cooperate with the authorities, I was doing everything I should. That wasn't enough, he wanted to terrorise the families to scare 'them' back. The kind of tactics I'm ashamed to think of happening in this country. Me and my children are human, the law failed to protect me, Ironman didn't. We are not the only family he has brought in from the cold. We stand with him as a real protector, not a villain like Thaddeus Ross. "

Yup. This was like a grenade waiting to be dropped in their laps. 

He wasn't sure if he wanted to be there when the others saw it, or as far away as possible. That other part of him, was darkly amused and wanted to watch the angry man get crushed. He pushed that away, he didn't really like Clint but he didn't think he was that vindictive. Watching Laura turn to huddle into Stark's arms… yeah he has to admit it. He does kind of want to see his face. 

"You might want to warn your brother.. When they see this… Clint is going to want to run off half cocked to save her." 

At Shuri's incredulous look he continues. 

"This morning he was harping on that Stark has taken his family captive, even though in her instawhatsit, she seemed happy." 

"Instagram! Oh yeah, she looks amazing, the kids do too, I wonder if he's found Lilah's yet.. She has it locked down to friends only.." 

"Thank you for taking the time today to listen to what we had to say. I'll leave you now to hopefully do what should have been done long ago. Whilst I might be gone, I will be watching." 

Stark's parting words sends a shudder down his spine. His smile is all teeth and suddenly he can get behind that part of his mind calling him a predator. He looks like a wolf. Definitely an apex predator, he just wished he could see his eyes under his glasses. The last time he'd seen them they'd been broken in grief and he wanted to replace that memory. 

Stark offered Laura his arm and she slipped next to him, that didn't help him when it came to confirmation that he wasn't blind. Neither of them even looked back as the man who had been arguing was led off in cuffs through a different aspect, the shot managed to capture both the retreating forms of Stark and Laura and the man being dragged off yelling. 

"Well, that was perfect." 

"He really knows how to command the room doesn't he." 

"Oh yeah, you should see when he went up against the senate when they wanted his suit! That was hilarious. My favourite is still when he revealed himself to be Ironman. Seriously he just had a press conference and said 'I am Ironman.' The kids will never let him forget it." 

"There does seem to be a lot to him that I don't know.."

'That's absolutely opposite to what I've been told in fact.' 

"Yeah, I think the two of you would get on swimmingly." 

His eyes widening, no, that was a bad idea. The fight in Siberia flashed into his mind, his voice was so broken. Yeah. No. Meeting Stark was never going to happen. He couldn't do that to the man, force him to look at the man who killed his parents? That would just be cruel. 

"No, I couldn't do that to him. Plus I'm pretty sure he hates me." 

Shuri just looks exasperated.

He decides that as good a time to hand over her present before she dives at his hair. It had taken ages but his therapist had recommended repetitive tasks and creative tasks. Making a tiny origami cat fit both. 

 

T'Challa POV

T'Challa had been bored, absolutely mind numbingly bored. He wasn't even sure why he was attending today but his sister had organised his schedule and had pointed out that they needed to have a visible presence at some of these meetings to remind them that the document came from their father. It all sounded very good and convincing, but now he was sat here so abjectly bored he was considering how he was going to get revenge on her. He'd done the rounds several times over the course of the day, this was his last session and he could go home, finally

It hadn't been an utter waste of time, he had spoken to as many people as he could in regards to Dr Stark as well as several ammendments Wakanda had interest in. Starting his penance for abandoning an ally in need. It was a small thing, but maybe helpful when people started to realise that Tony Stark also had the baking of Wakanda and all her resources? It might make things easier for the man. The amendments he proposed were good ones and Ross seemed to be fighting him on sheer principle now. Ever since Dr Stark had started taking in the families of the rogues, Ross had turned almost rabid on the man. 

He thought back to Clint and his ridiculous reaction to go and 'rescue' Laura. If only he knew that Dr Stark had already rescued his family from trouble they wouldn't even be in if it wasn't for the rogues actions. Sighing internally he resigned himself to be bored for the rest of the session, just as the double doors opened together, quite dramatically, leaving one Dr Stark stood between them in a casual pose. He stood just long enough to get everyone's attention before moving towards the podium. T'Challa was pretty such his mouth his the floor. Laura Barton walking in next to him didn't help. 

They were both dressed to the nines, their suits were absolutely stunning, Laura's blue hair went well with the ice blue blouse. Dr Stark with his black on black suit looked a touch dramatic, the bright red and gold tie like a slash of colour topped of with the red mirrored glasses that the man didn't take off. Even when he started speaking. 

T'Challa has listened to many people speak at that podium all day, and he'd struggled to pay attention to them. The way Dr Stark worked the room, it was like he had a physical presence that gripped them all and commanded their attention. The subject matter added an extra layer to drag people in. Even though he had not realised how dirty Ross was and Wakanda had been spying on the man for a long time. He had a feeling that Dr Stark's AI had something to do with it. 

Laura seemed to have a grace that commanded attention. Where Dr Stark's personality seemed to have everyone rapt, Laura was perfectly poised and with grace and charm she kept everyone as attentive as she spoke. He already knew what had happened with the Barton family from his sister, but hearing it from Laura herself as she spoke about her children was heartbreaking. 

On their own, T'Challa thought, they would have dealt a serious blow to Ross together as a 1 - 2 hit? It was perfect and he doubted the snake would slither out of this trap with ease. As they started to step down from the podium, T'Challa gathered his things and slipped through an exit close to him, circling around to wait for the pair so he could possibly try to talk to him. Even if Dr Stark railed at him, he would accept it and work to mend bridges. Now he had most of the story from Siberia, the drive to make up for abandoning an ally was strong. 

He came to the door and saw one of the aids he'd spoken to a few times, the kid seemed excited and enthusiastic to be working with the Accords Council and had spoken to him about his father on the few occasions they'd met since Vienna for the Accords to be ratified. As Dr Stark and Laura approached, the kid flushed with excitement and T'Challa was impressed that someone so young was so interested in an occasionally mind numbingly boring topic. Well, Dr Stark's little speech could hardly be called boring, but today had been off the charts. 

"That was amazing!!" 

The kid actually jumped, kind of awkwardly, but Tony reached out and steadied him. He had been about to reach out but Dr Stark was faster. That he'd seen and moved so quick made T'Challa feel slightly better about his paranoia on the man's eyes. Although the sunglasses were still firmly in place. He also noted that both Dr Stark's hands looked like, well, normal flesh hands. Remembering pictures of the black cybernetic hand and his sisters concerns. This didn't discount it completely, but he could hope at least. He brought his attention back to the extremely excited guy.. Jordan if he remembered correctly. Wondering if he was going to pass out

"I was wondering, would you ah, sign this for me?" 

Laura quickly took what Jordan had help put and placed it on the desk next Dr Stark, T'Challa wondered at the strange interaction, especially when Dr Stark immediately scooped it up, so it obviously wasn't a germ thing. He stayed quiet however as questioning people on quirks was quite rude and he was trying to do better, not worse when it came to his relationship with the man. Dr Stark looked quite shocked at whatever Jordan had passed to him, instantly upping his own curiosity. 

"This. This is my first dissertation on artificial Intelligence." 

'First?' T'Challa idly wondered how many he had, and how many were AI based, he glanced at the date on it and tried to line it up with what he knew about Dr Stark's age, but that couldn't be right. He must have his date of birth wrong... 

"How old were you when you completed this Dr Stark?" 

"I finished this up at 17 because I was doing a few others, but the bot and AI mentioned, I built when him when was 16. He's my 'first born' and he is still a little menace in my lab." 

T'Challa can suddenly understand why he and his sister get along so well. Thinking how she sped through instructors faster than their father found them.

He'd known the American was intelligent but completing doctorates at that age was definitely impressive, especially if he considered it 'late' because he was busy completing other doctorates. He'd thought that he probably had more than one doctorate, T'Challa himself had three, but he'd never looked into how many he had. The fact that he still had the bot he'd created was quite heartening too, definitely not the man the media portrayed him as. Heartless people don't have pictures of their first born AIs covering them in foam. He wondered who the children in the picture were too, as far as he knew Dr Stark was childless. His sister was quite tight lipped about compound gossip, even when she was practically vibrating with it. She only passed along some information, like about the Barton family rescue purely to dare him to tell the rogues. Shockingly, he'd kept it to himself. 

"Here you go kid, I still expect to hear from you, and bring your dissertation, it sounds interesting." 

That time he nearly did swoon before having to get back to work. T'Challa was struggling to hide his smile. 

"Were you trying to make him pass out?" 

"What, Laura no, I actually looked him up and he went to MIT, I saw him under people I recognised. The kid went MIT young like me, started at 16."

"When did you start?"

"Oh, I was 14, hey T'Challa, want to join us for lunch?" 

Laura looked disapproving of a 14 year old going to college on his own, the idea of Shuri out in the world, whilst tempting, but he liked having her safe at home. Also he was genuinely concerned for the planet. He doubted someone of his influence would have been just dumped at a college and suspected there would have been people with him. When he left Wakanda to study in England, as far as he was concerned 17 was old enough to go alone, his father had vehemently disagreed. Still, he imagined it must have been difficult, being much younger, yet ahead of your peers, speeding to completing doctorates in just so few years? He doubted it gave him much of a chance to enjoy a childhood which was what he suspected was upsetting Laura. 

"I'd love to join you two, I don't know how we're going to get out though, it's a circus out there now." 

T'Challa eyed the press outside, they'd been relatively calm all day what with the rather boring events. They'd spent 4 hours discussing potential wages for additional assistance and the barring of Accords signed supers in civil wars. That was exactly the same as it had been last week and the week before. 

Now, however, there was almost twice as many than when he'd arrived and they were practically swarming. T'Challa realised he'd rather deal with more boring speeches going on and on about the same amendments that had been ratified than brave that circus. 

"Oh don't worry. I knew it would be and I have zero intention of holding an impromptu press conference. My CEO and PA would kill me." 

He grinned at Laura who just rolled her eyes, smiling as he headed off to the stairwell to the roof. Laura followed him as if she knew where they were going. T'Challa was left with little choice but to follow and found himself actually quite looking forward to the idea. He had a feeling this would not be boring, although he did wonder where they were going when they kept heading up. 

"Hey Agent Mom, you're trending on twitter!" 

"What? Me? Why me?! You're the one meant to be trending!" 

"Well I am, but you are too, I think you've resurrected that I stand with Ironman tag before Everheart, there are lots about you too."

T'Challa pulled out his StarkPhone to check twitter. He'd sworn he would never use the thing when Shuri had shown it to him. Half of it seemed ridiculous, confusing and nonsensical. Then he realised it was two hours later and Shuri was laughing at him. Ever since he'd been quietly addicted to it, now they were integrating with the world he was happily more open about it. He saw pictures of Dr Stark and Laura from before and after the speech and they were definitely both trending. He happily retweeted himself, adding his own tags for standing with Ironman and Dr Stark. He idly wondered if the rogues would notice, that could be amusing. As far as he knew they didn't have much of a social media presence outside of the ones Dr Stark's staff managed for the Avengers. 

As they exited onto the roof, T'Challa was definitely curious, it was possibly one of his best and worst traits, this time it had lead to him following an American genius onto the roof of the building, Okoye was not so subtly glaring at him as she discreetly followed him. As he'd been responding to his generals glare, he saw the brief flutter of surprise cross her face when Dr Stark waved at her. He wasn't sure how Dr Stark had seen her. They were rarely seen unless they wanted to be. He had another look at where they were hidden, blending seamlessly into the shadows. If he didn't know where they were, he wasn't sure he could have found them.

 'Definitely not blind.' He thought to himself and wondered if he might be more changed than he looked? Or if his years fighting had just honed his instincts. They'd been so focused on his hand and potential blindness they hadn't considered other options. Was Dr Stark enhanced now? He pushed it out of his mind for now, but he'd definitely pass this on to his sister later today. It might be nothing, might just be a trait inherent to Dr Stark, the eccentric genius. It may even be his glasses.  

"Damn I look good in this suit."

T'Challa grinned at Laura and went back to sharing pictures and checking what people were saying about Laura, adding as he went. Sure he was laying it on a bit thick, but hey. It's twitter. He was also happy that Dr Stark had invited him to dinner, he was much different in person than he had been on the video call, or even the exhausted presence he vaguely remembered from Germany. There was almost no sense that the smaller man was angry at him, he seemed friendly and had an excitable air around him. When not holding his phone, his hands gesticulated wildly as he spoke. When he was excited about something he almost rocked on his feet, like he couldn't not move. Whether he was in a stained band shirt, his current expense suit or the Ironman suit, he seemed to carry the same sense of presence about himself. He was oddly more approachable than he'd suspected. It was weird, he'd met the man several times now, but this felt like the first time. At least the first time where he was not clouded by grief or seeing the man as a young Howard. 

The quinjet appearing above them almost silently almost made him jump, he had not expected such silence in an aircraft that was not Wakandan. It had stealth features, which, whilst they couldn't match their own stealth tech, Dr Stark had achieved this without Vibranium so it was certainly impressive in itself and he found himself itching to see how it worked. He didn't get to indulge often anymore in engineering or science now he was left with running Wakanda. 

"Any requests for food? I know a few places in DC included this amazing Italian restaurant?" 

He nodded along with Laura and turned his attention to the jet, mentally taking apart what little he could see, wondering how it worked and just what Dr Stark could achieve if Shuri got her way of letting the man loose in their library. They quickly made themselves comfortable. The jet was of a smaller size from the other quinjets he had seen before and thought that this was obviously his personal mode of transport when not flying in the suit. He suspected that not turning up in the suit was a calculated move. Showing up as Dr Stark instead of Ironman. 

"Fry, my baby girl, can you get us a table at Carlluccio's? Something not too obvious, tell Zaz that I've made myself a storm again." 

"Sure thing Boss, I'll head for the roof shall I? He should be amused at that." 

Tony snorted and T'Challa did start a little at the voice that came seemingly from the jet itself. This must be one of the man's AIs. He and Shuri had been interested in Stark's AIs for years, hearing many stories about JARVIS and now some about FRIDAY. About how they had feelings, emotions and that the man brought them alive in binary code. The abilities of the AIs were utterly unknown and even though he and his sister didn't know much in the way of binary code, they'd hunted for just a glimpse of the AIs and got squat. Stark was extremely defensive about his AIs, after he'd spoken about his first bot with a rudimentary AI being his child? That defensive behaviour suddenly made a lot more sense. The fact the AI was driving the jet was fascinating and he couldn't not ask. 

"Is that your AI? Is she driving the jet?" 

"Yup, FRIDAY is my wonderful girl. Say Hi to the king." 

"Hi King T'Challa, and yes I'm the pilot of the jet. Occasionally Boss takes over but he flew here, so I get to fly home and he gets to be lazy." 

T'Challa couldn't help his wide smile, this AI was amazing. If he didn't have previous knowledge that he ran with an AI, he definitely could have mistaken her for a person. Her inflections were perfect and she was quite Sassy. From the soft smile that he'd never seen before on Dr Stark's face, he was obviously happy with her behaviour. 

"Sass, again, on my ship now. I'm sassed at all quarters." 

"Well you did code me Boss." 

He had no idea that an AI could sound smug. 

"Miss FRIDAY, I can't help but be amazed by yourself, I've been interested in AIs for a while but you are nothing like what else I've seen."

"Why thank you T'Challa, Boss can we keep him, he's so polite!"

"You charming my AIs over there?" 

Dr Stark chuckled and it seemed to transform him face, Laura smiled brightly at him, obviously happy that her friend, and Boss he supposed, was happy. He continued asking FRIDAY questions for the duration of the trip, asking what it felt to acquire emotions and how she learnt from everyone she interacted with. That she independently researched things she wanted to learn was amazing. Dr Stark did not seem to agree with her interest in psychology but at the same time made no moves to restrict her. 

When they arrived at the restaurant a short, olive skinned man made a beeline for Dr Stark, speaking in rapid fire Italian that he couldn't even hope to keep up with even though he had learnt the language recently. The speed however left him barely catching a word here and there. Dr Stark seemed to have no problem firing back just as fast, his accent even changed slightly when he was speaking Italian, he wondered how many languages he knew, his sister had informed him he was a polymath, he wondered if he was also a polyglot too. The rapid fire Italian suddenly halted and Dr Stark was suddenly downright cackling and he wondered what had happened until he was being greeted and he assumed his royal status had been noticed. 

They were taken down into the restaurant and lead to a booth right at the bath. It was very private and very comfortable as well. The decor was also lovely, he'd not actually had Italian before so he was curious. The Dora were offered to share their table but instead split into two groups of two and seated either side of them. Dr Stark insisted on getting food for them also, which he knew meant a lot to them. After he sought Dr Stark's help for food choices he individually spoke to each of them. By the time he had found his way back to the table, even Okoye was smiling about the man. Somehow he had won her over which was no small feat. Especially considering she was predisposed to dislike the man based on the actions of his father. 

He had already fought beside the man so decided against eating a 'normal' sized portion. Not when the food smelled that good. Plus he was hoping if he did, maybe Dr Stark would too, giving him more data. If the overly large portions of food interested the staff, no one said anything which T'Challa found quite polite, especially considering the current climate of distrust of anyone not baseline human. Dr Stark himself had been inadvertently doing quite a lot to help that with his non stop work despite his ill health. 

As they were eating dessert, slowly and rather indulgently as everyone was very full. T'Challa did feel quite like a cat, full and wanting to doze in a warm sun beam. He blamed Dr Stark for that because of the multitude of cat nicknames the man seemed to endlessly be able to come up with. He was quite happy with himself too, he and Dr Stark had had some very interesting conversations, especially after the genius had realised he had a PhD in engineering and bemoaned T'Challa for hiding his sciencey side. He'd even asked how many doctorates the man had and got a casual shrug that he stopped counting after a while, apparently Rhodey kept count. Even of his honorary titles. 

Dr Stark's phone trilled at them when they were deep in conversation, his hands flying as he manipulated the blue hologram he'd been showing T'Challa of his nano tech housing for the Arc reactors, that because of them being made out of vibranium and being phase locked to just him, he was finally able to install arc reactors in places that needed electricity but couldn't have it or afford it. Before he'd had his hands tied as he didn't trust anyone else to get their hands on the arc reactor, not when they could be so easily weaponised, the way his hands shook slightly as he'd said that had made T'Challa think there was a sad story there, but he did not pry. Nor did he mention Siberia. Maybe at a second meeting. Shuri might say he was incapable of tact, but he had some sense. 

He did not want to ruin his excitement as he spoke of bringing electricity to schools and hospitals in Africa and how much of a difference it was making already. He really did care about the people his tech was helping and T'Challa wondered just how the media and his supposed friends could think so little of a man that was so happy about freely giving power away when he could have easily used it to make a lot more money or even just kept the tech in America. He got the feeling he did a lot in America too than just wasn't talked about. When the phone went off however T'Challa noticed the wince when he saw who was calling him. 

"Pep!" 

T'Challa leaned back so as not to intrude on the obviously angry, shouting woman on the phone. Some of the excited energy that had been bursting around him dimmed and he hunched in on himself which made T'Challa frown, he noticed Laura frowning too. Even Okoye was. Dr Stark seemed oblivious to them all. 

"It's fine Pep, I only noticed the tagged on amendments about intelligence on the way. That didn't cause any fire at SI did it?" 

Ah, Pepper, his CEO, must be angry that he allowed him inclusion as a non human under the Accords. He had thought it was a stand of solidarity with others and had been impressed that he had chosen to do so. 

"Pep. Are you calling to yell at me for good things? Because I just ate a lot of food, I'm sleepy and confused. Also T'Challa and Laura are laughing at me now." 

He finished up the call with Pepper, still hunched on himself. T'Challa and Laura practically pounced after to cheer him up. Which was by T'Challa asking Tony to order everything on the dessert menu so he could try things he'd never heard of. Tony also ordered more for 'the kids.'

"Ah, Laura, I heard you have three kids? I'm sure they will enjoy all of this." 

"Oh they definitely will, my two will as well, and when Peter comes over he'll be in heaven, that boy loves Italian food." 

"Oh, I didn't know you have children?" 

T'Challa was racking his brain but no, he couldn't remember anything about children, not in their numerous reports over the years, his father had kept a close watch on the Starks. There was more about how Dr Stark didn't have an heir, even in his playboy days. 

"Well, I'm their legal guardian at the moment but Harley is on at me to sort out the paperwork. Their mother passed away when I was in the Coma, I met Harley years ago, little kid saved my life, helped me when I was in a bad place. So I stuck around as the weird uncle but only select people knew. Luckily Rhodey knew as they turned up when I was still under. "

"I imagine that was a bit of a shock for him!"

Laura grinned, T'Challa was utterly dumbstruck to be honest. 

"Harley is 14, Tara is 7. Their father walked out years ago. They're both scarily smart and they both have a knack for putting adults in their place "

Dr Stark had that soft smile again, Laura did too as he switch the hologram over to a folder than was utterly filled with pictures with kids everywhere. Laura pointed out Cooper and Lilah and baby Nate. He supposed Dr Stark had moved Laura near him in the compound so all the kids formed a tight knit, large group. Having superheroes for parents could be isolating he supposed. 

"Cassie, That Scott Lang's kid, has joined us now. I think she'll take a while to come out of her shell, they moved a lot trying to dodge Ross and only recently decided it's just safer at the compound. Especially when I'm actively hunting the bastard now. 

"I'm sure she'll settle in just fine Tony. When Cooper and Lilah were nervous about the new place and so many people, we were quite isolated on the farm, Tony dedicated himself into making everything perfect for them. He's now Uncle Tony." 

"Who was the other boy?" 

"Ah, that's Peter another stray I found, brought home, fed and never leaves." 

The grin on his face says that he's pretty okay about this. T'Challa is impressed that he's willing to take so many kids in. Not many people would be willing to dedicate so much of themselves to other people's kids. Peter looks somewhat familiar but he can't place it. 

"Sounds life he fits right in."

"Oh he does, he lives with his Aunt May during the week and spend most weekends and holidays with us, occasional weekdays too, the 3 of them have rooms in my apartment and I have so many little desks in my lab it's adorable." 

"He even got Lilah a purple soldering iron and everything." 

"Oh she is a whizz at disassembling anything. Blink and it's in pieces. We're working on putting things back together, luckily Tara excels at that." 

"Sounds very chaotic. Like you have 6 versions of my sister…" 

T'Challa finds himself suddenly happy there is only one Shuri and wonders if Dr Stark would mind taking her in with his hoard occasionally. 

"Oh it is, but it's awesome." 

They worked their way through a shocking amount of desserts whilst Dr Stark and Laura showed him so many kid photos it was slightly crazy and told him about the antics the hyper hoard got up to in the compound. He packed up a huge amount of desserts to take home and Zazz seemed impressed by how much they'd put away. He took some of the desserts he thought Shuri might like too. The trip back to the Accords building seemed very fast but that might have been because all of them were a biscuit away from a food coma. Dr Stark exited the quinjets to shake hands with T'Challa on the roof. Much to the absolute joy of the press. They got even worse when he pulled him in for a hug that T'Challa returned. T'Challa did not see his debt to the man as fully paid, but this was a good start. If anything it had given him more reasons and a little more guilt to now he'd started to get to know the real person. 

Getting to know the small genius was a flurry of conversations and facts that he would never have put together with him. He knew from his sister that he wasn't the man the media portrayed, but actually getting to see him, know him, was different. How he seemed to flip from doting father to utter genius was amusing, he could definitely understand now why he and his sister had struck such a good friendship. Shuri was lightyears ahead of most people and rarely found someone who could keep up with her in a conversation, multi-taskers rarely could, one of the reasons he had been able to keep up with Dr Stark was all the practice he'd gotten with Shuri. Switching conversation as soon as something else caught their fancy. 

He didn't hang around much after they'd gotten back. Everything was finished for the day, he stuck around just long enough to check on the changed agenda that didn't shock him one bit. Without Ross around to pointlessly block Dr Stark's amendments, they were up next. During the trip back to Wakanda, he decided to doze for a little bit instead of flying like normal. It had been a long, utterly boring and then surprising day, he was full of amazingly indulgent food and he was happily sleepy. 

He knew that Shuri would be waiting on him when he got home. Although, thinking about it, she probably knew what was planned today, which was why he'd found himself in a boring, pointless Accords meeting in the first place. There had been no amendments penciled for today that they were interested in, it was already stuff that was finished being gone over again. So yeah, she set him up. Not that he can complain, he had fun. He hoped Dr Stark enjoyed his gift when he got home too. The man deserved it, he'd known he did a lot but hadn't truly understood the scope of how much until today. 

That he had two full-time jobs at SI and the Avengers, as an Avenger himself and being the sole creator of their gear and training equipment, he also seemed to be the sole Avenger who dealt with the press and dealt with reparations which was practically two more full time jobs. Then there was all of his charity work and as he said, his 'side projects' that could easily be described as someone else's life work. And he had the time to raise two children, occasionally three and help with four others? Even now he had a feeling there was somehow more not mentioned. T'Challa wondered how he did it, he occasionally felt he was losing himself to running his country and the Accords, the idea of dealing with the words press had been weighing on him greatly. He'd have to speak to Dr Stark and find out how he managed it all. For now however, he'll nap until Shuri undoubtedly rudely awakens him when he gets home. Before he drifts off he has a flashback to the last time Shuri woke him up and immediately sets an alarm. 

 

Chapter Text

Shuri POV 

12 September

Trying to occupy yourself when you are waiting for your brother to take his sweet time getting back to Wakanda was much trickier after her Wolf found his way to therapy. She had occupied herself for a while in the group chat with the compound teens that she'd somehow found herself invited into. According to Harley she was one of them 'in spirit if not in physicality.' 

They were loving the pictures of Laura and Dr Stark. Coop was ecstatic that their kick arse mom was finally getting to flex her claws so to speak and she had to agree. Comparing her to the picture they'd sent to her of them back at the farm, she has definitely come out of her shell and was utterly thriving!

When Peter added the picture of her brother hugging Dr Stark it took pretty much her entire self control not to have it appear on the television in the idiots villa. She did however decide to maybe print a version and put it up in the lab, although the chances of Rogers seeing such a thing had drastically decreased since his grounding. Oh sorry, house arrest. 

She was not at all highly amused that her brother had effectively grounded Captain America. It almost made up for inviting them into Wakanda. 

Almost. 

Considering the man still had not offered T'Challa an apology for lying to them about when happened, she had a feeling that he was going to be grounded for a long, long time. 

Her Wolf was trying not to be too happy over the situation as he was conflicted. His memories told him one thing but he was feeling another. Rogers didn't seem to realise it, but if he kept this up, he was going to lose him all together. Rogers was only getting by on fumes, dregs of memories in his mind. Eventually her Wolf would grow tired and give up, if the Captain put some actual effort in, things might be different. She had tried not to push him to a conclusion, he knew her stance on the idiots, but she'd made it clear that she did not expect him to feel the same and even if he decided to become best friends with Wanda, she would support him all the way. She might monitor the Witch however, she really did not trust her. 

Glancing at her beads she checked to see how long T'Challa had until he got home and was practically vibrating in her seat. She should have gone today. But she didn't want to reschedule a session on him. His therapist had informed her that consistency is vital. So she had set things up for T'Challa and decided to live vicariously through her brother. Something that is hard to do when he takes ages to return home. 

Now T'Challa had met Stark properly, she could potentially be organising a trip for herself at some point. Not too soon as she didn't want to abandon her Wolf without a sanctuary from the idiots. Maybe she could convince the others to join Dr Stark when he next goes to an Accords meeting and then she'd fiddle with T'Challa calendar again. Organising today had been hilariously easy. She knew school was back in, but Dr Stark knew a Sorcerer, maybe he could Portal Dr Stark, Harley Peter and Tara for a weekend. Laura could come too with Cooper, Lilah and Nibbles as Tony had taken to calling Nate. Mostly because he was apparently one of the few people who could calm him whilst he was teething. 

She rewatched the video from earlier, this time looking for signs that he was not as healthy as he gave off. She'd noticed him listing to the side and gripping the podium towards the end only because he suddenly was only talking with one of his hands. His smile never faltered however and his voice was just as strong at the end than it had been when he'd begun. 

Peter was concerned, but apparently he took her brother for dinner so hopefully Dr Stark was fine. She knew that she was worrying herself into a corner and that unless the man literally passed out on a video call, getting information out of him about his health was near impossible. Even then he'd probably avoid it. He didn't want to worry her. Little did he know that this constant state of not knowing was infuriating and concerning, it lead to a lot of worrying. 

She finally got a notification that her brother was back and was heading her way, which meant she didn't have to hunt the man down. Good. Seems he can be smart occasionally. 

Happily when he arrived, it was with 4 bags of dessert. 

"I bring a lot of desserts to make up for being late." 

"Hm, I accept your offerings, now, give them to me and tell me how everything went!" 

She dove into the bag, pulling out the various desserts and looking for the ones Peter had recommended she try first. They had also started teaching her Italian to add to her repertoire of languages as apparently all 3 of them were fluent. Dr Stark had taught Harley and Tara years ago and Peter had been learning it in school. Dr Stark and the other two kids had taken over his tutelage, and now Lilah and Cooper were getting the same treatment. It had evolved from Dr Stark wanting to pass down a language close to his heart to all the compound kinds must speak Italian. It was nice that they had included her with it. 

Harley said they he and Peter were going to try something more obscure next so that would be interesting. The current method of choosing was to write down loads of languages on bits of paper. Put them in a bowl, shake it and pick one. The old method had been throwing darts at aboard but that had been quickly scrapped when the kids just kept getting the ocean and Dr Stark's aim was too good to call it random. 

"Well, I'm assuming you watched the session on TV? Dr Stark rather ruthlessly took down Secretary Ross and several others from what I gather. After that we went to the restaurant via Quinjet. His stealth tech is quite impressive." 

"Ah, so you get the sense he would be terrifying if he had our access to Vibranium too?" 

"I would dear sister but I've grown accustomed to you." 

"Well I'm taking that as a compliment." 

"I thought you would, have you met his AI yet?" 

"FRIDAY or CERBERUS? I've spoken to FRIDAY occasionally during video chats with Dr Stark." 

"I only met FRIDAY, She is quite fascinating, all those years we were trying to get an idea of the capabilities of his AIs, I'd never considered them feeling and having emotional responses. It was quite fascinating speaking to her and she liked me too." 

"Awww, you flirting with Dr Stark's AI?" 

Her brother just scowled to her before snipping the pastry that she had been reaching for. At her pout he relented and wisely gave her half. She slipped out her StarkPhone to send Peter a picture of the dessert feast T'Challa has brought home. 

" Peter has given me a list of desserts to try." 

"Dr Stark mentioned him, I hadn't realised he'd taken on so many children." 

"Oh they're all great, I was on a video call with him weeks ago when he had to dash off chasing Tara and Lilah, then Harley and Peter just appeared and invited me to the group chat. They'd apparently set up the girls to distract Dr Stark just to invite me."

Peter sent a picture of their kitchen, where he had apparently painstakingly displayed everything Dr Stark had brought home. She thought it was mostly impressive that none of the others had stolen anything as he worked. 

"I discovered from one of the aides at the Accords Council that he completed his first PHD at 17 too, he even showed us pictures of the AI he developed for it." 

"Oh Dum-E? He's adorable, Harley likes to play fetch with him." 

She flicked back through the group chat pictures to one Peter had taken of Harley and Dum-E playing fetch with a spanner as Dr Stark was working in the background and showed it to her brother. 

"Huh, his workshop seems a very active place, he's definitely different that I suspected. Much different than the last time we met, but I was.. Distracted then." 

Shuri side steps that, she really doesn't want to think on that too much, about why he'd been distracted but also what those fights led to.

"So, how did he seem?" 

" It's hard to get a read on him, he has 2 hands and I don't think he's blind."

"Yeah, I noticed on video chats he's suddenly no longer hiding his left hand and I could have told you he wasn't blind! Watching him navigate his lab is like walking in chaos." 

"I wasn't sure, I just kept seeing that picture in the hospital with his eyes bandages. When we were discussing the kids he told me Peter is doing extra projects with Dr Cho, I looked her up and wondered if her research on synthetic skin might have something to do with his hand.." 

Shuri scowled, at this rate, she'd never know for sure. She supposed she could ask the others. But that felt a bit like asking new friends to give her information their father didn't want to pass on. It would put them in an awkward position. So she'd just avoided it. 

"A few times he did look a little pale, but he carried on with his speech as if he was in perfect health. I think I only noticed because I was looking." 

"So we still know virtually nothing." 

"There were a few things. He always knew where the Dora were, even Okoye. No matter how well she vanished into the shadows, he pinpointed her easily." 

Hmm, well that was interesting, and it was going to drive Okoye mad trying to get past him. 

"You think he's enhanced somehow? I know in his speech he classed himself under non humans but that was about his intelligence." 

"He was definitely baseline human in July. I heard his heartbeat on occasion and he had quite a severe arytmia that worsened when he was stressed." 

"Did you hear that today?" 

"No, but I swear I could hear something else, it didn't sound like any pacemaker I've ever heard, but I doubt he'd use anything standard, it sounded similar to his power source." 

"Okay, that is very strange. Anything else to make you think he's enhanced now?" 

"Well he ate more than me at the restaurant." 

Shuri eyebrows shot up at that, because her brother could really put away a lot of food when he wanted too especially after becoming enhanced himself. 

"That definitely is interesting."

"Hm, I think we are going to be left guessing unless he chooses to tell us." 

"I guess, it is frustrating but I'm not going to force the issue. Oh, by the way, Barnes was in the lab when Dr Stark started his speech!" 

"Hm? How did he react?" 

"He seemed relieved at first on seeing him, so I'm assuming he is carrying a lot of guilt from whatever happened at Siberia that you still know more about than me." 

She leveled a glower at him but T'Challa just glanced away, suddenly very interested in the floor. 

"Hm. That. Well, if Barnes wants to tell you he will. "

"I think he is also beginning to realise that Rogers and his band of misfits are not the best people to get facts about Dr Stark. He had been told Dr Stark was close with Secretary Ross! The only thing they had right was his work on the Accords but that was viewed as a 'means of controlling the Avengers. "

Her brothers scowl and scoff at that amused her, Rogers definitely had an interesting world view. In that it was utterly self centred. 

"Typical. I think Rogers believes he and his team are the only non humans and the only heroes in existence. I bet they still haven't even read the Accords." 

"Doubtful, Barnes is going to however, he wanted me to keep him updated on amendments too. He's also doing a lot of research into the political climate and how things work now. Rogers hadn't even told him about the data dump. I think he's interested in finding out more about Dr Stark too." 

"It's good that he is interested in how things are now, better than Roger's who seemed to have little interest in updating himself. I was going to ask Dr Stark about him but.."

"I'm hoping that sentence ends 'But I didn't because that would be an extremely awkward thing to do on practically a first meeting'? "

"Yes, I didn't. I hope to speak to him at some point about them, or maybe to Rhodes? How Rogers was a team leader for 5 years and has so little knowledge of dealing with the press, or anything is concerning. Did you notice that after the Avengers are involved they are practically scatter in the wind? "

"Leaving Dr Stark and Stark Industries on clean up. No. I utterly did not notice that."

Her deadpan delivery made her brother chuckle. 

"Oh, Barnes did say to warn you. When they, because it is a when, at least one of them will stumble onto this, you know it."

"Yeah, they're going to be annoying about it aren't they. "

"Well yes, but not because of Dr Stark. How do you think the little angry archer man is going to react to what Laura said. Apparently he's already whining about not being allowed to ' rescue' her.."

He could almost see her brother playing back Laura's part of the speech in his head, eyes widening. They were going to have to increase security to keep the angry man from running off half cocked, causing them trouble in his ridiculous endeavours.

"Oh Bast." 

She would feel bad for him, but she was still slightly annoyed at him for allowing them all in. The White Wolf was one thing, but the others following like strays, he should have kicked them out months ago. 

 

Barnes POV 

17th September  

Today's data draw with the glasses had been quite a hard one. It didn't help that his mind was still spinning before they even started. Wings had finally managed to give him a run down of everything that happened, and he didn't know what to do with it. Or that Steve had been on at Wings to not tell him. He was mad at Steve. Spitting mad, and not just about what happened. He tried to keep it from him, it should have been Steve telling him. As if having gaps in his memory was good for him?! Who does that to someone?! So he'd been a bit off kilter before he'd even put the glasses on today. That they were moving through worse and worse memories didn't help. 

He'd worried they'd result in headaches or something after hearing of the earlier versions, but he was fine. He did get a bit of emotional whiplash from seeing so many memories whip past him. So fast generally that he didn't get much from them. They were working on the harder ones now that we're finding the Hydra memories. More than he even thought he had in his mind! He couldn't recall them, but they were still there. 

What was hard was the the glimpses he was getting from these memories were generally awful. Blood, pain, death, torture. All that he expected. What was unexpected was the additional nightmare fuel from the fractured memories. Blank faces were more nerve racking than he'd expected. Shuri had told him that they had to do more draws than they suspected because his brain was practically uncharted territory, the outside contractor, Anthony, was apparently working with the data from each draw to code him specific algorithms. He had no idea who this person was but he was honestly surprised at their dedication to help him. Between this stranger and all the effort Shuri was putting in? It honestly was giving him confidence and drive to keep going with it. The additional code had made today's draw go a little faster too, so their work was helping him. Which meant that no matter how weird the memories got, he'd keep going. 

They seemed to believe in him, even though he hadn't even met one of them, so he could do this. 

Shuri wasn't sure if it was the chair wiping his memories or whatever hydra did to create the Asset Subroutine, as Shuri had taken to calling it, that was causing problems. That part of his mind was more of a computer program, that was wiped clean and took in commands and had programmed responses. She said some of the memories were damaged in the same way you'd expect a CCTV tape that had been wiped and recorded over multiple times. After a while it just isn't going to work as well. Images layer over or don't record well. 

For him, this meant that some memories were... strange. The faces were the first information to be corrupted it seemed. Seeing memories with whited out faces, occasionally even stretched into nightmarish horrific ways was… not fun. It made sense, in a weird way, the way people looked was unimportant to the asset, only the mission mattered. Other people around were unimportant but surroundings were. Some data was extremely detailed, it was weird seeing the product of his Hypervigilance in a memory. Shuri had commented on how strange it must feel seeing like that, somethings fading back whilst others being almost loud. 

Especially as the asset had been able to direct that Hypervigilance where as he was left to it set on high for everything or when it glitched, leaving important things so low down he didn't notice them. He'd been working on that with his therapist however who told him other people had Hypervigilance too, that he wasn't alone with this strange way of viewing the world. 

Today he was trying to preempt Steve coming to his room post therapy. 

It always felt like an ambush, and an interrogation, especially after he found out Wings was planning on filling him in on his memory gaps. Which was why he was sat in the common room on one of the armchairs. He'd shifted the furniture around so its back was against the wall now, both exits and large windows were  easy to see. This way no one could sit next to him or come up behind him. Wings was in the larger love seat next to him, feet up on the table eating his way through a plate of little chocolate cupcakes that he had made earlier. 

Wings had suggested he get more hobbies, to branch out and his therapist agreed. He'd asked Wings for ideas, and watching the man demolish the cupcakes he wondered if it had all been a plot to obtain baked goods. He'd built up a sort of friendship with Wings these last few days. It was built on occasionally insulting each other, pranks, but also in depth talks about their feelings. It was kind of weird, but they both were unimpressed with Steve lately and they bonded over that. Also he was reading the book he recommended which made him all kinds of excited. 

He had the second book on his lap now, he had the following 3 in his room in Cyrillic. As Wings couldn't read that he'd found the 5 books in English for him. Wakandas library was extensive so it had been very easy. Wings had been slightly intimidated by the sheer size of the 5 books stacked up at first but had seemed oddly determined to give them ago. Clint had mocked them for having a book club, he'd just shrugged and now they had 'Book Club' meetings once a day. It usually consisted of them quietly reading together somewhere and ranting about the characters. It also counts as him socialising so Steve can't complain. 

"Urgh, are you two girls hosting your little book club here today?" 

"Fuck off Clint. This book is really good." 

Wings didn't even look up from the book as he flipped of Clint. He raised the book so he could hide his smirk behind it. He glanced at the clock and realised why Clint, and now Wanda was joining them. Wanda sat far too close to Clint, practically draping herself over him. He'd noticed her doing that a lot lately to Clint and Steve. She'd left him alone ever since he'd barked at her in Russain two days ago when he'd just got home from therapy and she tried to drape herself over him. He shuddered at the memory. That part of his mind, the one that was angry all the time at first but now seemed to be.. Changing somewhat. Thoughts came to him, questions too. He was still trying to ignore it, but that time it had been impossible to ignore. 

It had practically screamed at him to RUN. He ended up snapping in Russian for her to stop fucking touching him and she'd jumped back as if burned. A strange look irritation flash across her face before he swore she slipped on that doe eyed mask, she'd teared up and fled from him. The lecture he'd gotten from Steve had been worth it however. 

She also hadn't tried to touch him like that again. He did get strange, calculating looks from her however, like she was looking for something, but they'd be gone in a flash. He was completely convinced that the innocent damsel routine was a mask now and she was a lot more calculating underneath. 

Steve wouldn't hear any of it, just telling him that Wanda is a good kid who'd had a terrible life and they had to protect her to make up for Stark's wrong doings that had ruined her life. Apparently he'd killed her parents but he had no idea how, no one explained and after he discovered she seemed to be manipulating Steve and Clint, he had to wonder about it. Everything about her seemed perfectly sculpted to get people like Steve on her side, sometimes he wondered if she was trained for it, it was just too perfect. He remembered that Hydra used to do that, get young women mostly, but men too, that looked all innocent and harmless. Train them up on what buttons to press to use specific people. He didn't know if she was some kind of Sokovian version of that, or maybe she was just naturally manipulative to ensure they'd protect her? Maybe he was just thinking about it too much. 

Tic Tac came next and wandered closer to them, sitting next to Wings in the love seat. He wondered where Steve was and realised the punk was probably knocking on his door, waiting to interrogate him from today's session. 

He really didn't want to stick around for movie night, yeah he was getting better at being around multiple people, but generally, he preferred to be in groups of 3 or 4 maximum. They were currently at 5. If he left now however it would open him up for Steve. If he stayed it would be uncomfortable but he could at least say he'd stayed for movie night. Even when Clint and Wanda were whispering and insulting them. Even Wings, especially since he did not agree with Clint that Stark much be torturing his wife or whatever bizarre idea they had come up with now. 

"Hey Barnes, have I shown you my little girl?"

He shook his head at Scott, slipping the bookmark into his book and putting it in his bag that he had taken to carrying around everywhere. It was very handy! No matter what Clint said. 

Tic Tac brought up that Instagram thing that everyone seemed to use. He didn't quite understand it, it just seemed to be a weird collection of pictures that people added lots of peculiar hash tags too. He'd had a look himself and found that the #AvengersCompound spanned multiple accounts of people who lived there and school tour groups, in what he could see as an attempt to humanise the superheroes. (From what he had found out during his research on the Accords, it was certainly needed.) 

Wings switched to his tablet, checking out the same Instagram tag he was checking earlier by the looks of it. He got up to grab himself a drink and noticed that Sam had found his way to the picture that Shuri had shown him before they watched the Accords Council. He had a feeling this was going to go one of two ways. One, he'll just see the picture and everything will be fine. Two, Sam will want to find out why Stark was suited up with Laura after being in seclusion for so long, find the video and then want to watch it. He was surprised it had taken this long really. 

Lately, Wings had become extremely interested in tracking things back in America. So there was a good chance he'd find the video himself, he just wondered what he'd do with it and if he could get in there first and try to delay the inevitable. 

Wings interest in the Accords had not gone unnoticed and had somehow added to Wanda's dismay, from what he'd overheard, she was still more annoyed at Clint's hogging of the laptop just to social media stalk his wife however. Not seeming to realise she helped stoke this obsession of his wife being captured by the evil dragon Dr Stark. Lately she'd been suggesting that his wife was cheating on him with Dr Stark, if this was her plan to make him stop, it didn't seem to be working and he'd barely seen the guy without the laptop since. He carried it everywhere with him. 

He glanced at Wings screen when he passed to sit back down and sighed internally. Sam already had the video up, his brow knit in concentration as he was reading the attached comments. He was about to say something when Steve entered the room, the double take at seeing him apparently sat for movie night, it was highly amusing. He held up a hand to wave, which everyone else, well, all the nice people, accepted to mean the he didn't want to talk right now. His therapist told him that going non verbal now and then is not the worst thing in the world, he can still communicate in ASL after all, it was just occasionally hard to get words out and forcing it made it worse. Steve sadly took his non verbal moments as a personal challenge. That if Steve made him talk it meant he was superior than the Wakandan mental health team. A team that specialises in PTSD. It was mind boggling, but he'd noticed Steve was still thinking of mental health back from the 40s. He'd tried to get him to see how far it came, but he was having none of it. He was just stubbornly holding onto life from the 40s. If he could bring him forward then things would get better he suspected. 

"So, what movie are we watching today, Buck you got a preference?" 

He sighed, shaking his head. He actually did. But Steve didn't know ASL and got offended if people translated for him. He shook his head and wondered if he'd ever get to watch the Lord of the Rings films Shuri had recommended it. 

Maybe he'd ask her to put it on his computer or tablet. 

 

Sam POV

He was surprised when he saw Barnes sit back down after getting up. Everyone was gathering for movie night which meant Steve would be showing up soon and lately he'd been vanishing moments before the super soldier turned up. 

It was actually a warning system for him. 

If Steve was coming, Barnes would blend into the shadows or you know, hurl himself out of the nearest window.

Literally. 

On more than one occasion, Sam had seen Barnes scaling the building to get to his bedroom without walking past Steve. After the first time he'd choked on his coffee watching the fucking Winter Soldier wink at him from the second story window before continuing up as if he wasn't casually climbing a freaking building one handed, he'd realised something about Barnes no one had mentioned before. 

When he wasn't brooding, hiding or ranting in impressively dramatic (and not at all scary) Russian, getting hyper about books or murder strutting around as he pleased… the guy was a fucking troll. 

It was a nice break to the tension, and as far as he could tell, only he and Scott saw it. 

Shaking his head he turned his attention back to the video he was watching on mute. He'd watched quite a few of the Accords Sessions now, trying to get caught up but he was woefully behind, when he was surrounded by people he muted it and read people's opinions about what was being said. It was usually a nice spread across the spectrum, he'd discovered that the political climate had fractured almost as much as the team. Their were Team Cap and Team Iron man people who passionately argued about things when they obviously didn't have 90% of the information on. But they were willing to go on TV about why they were right. It was kind of terrifying. 

This session however had him thinking he'd have to admit he'd been watching because it seemed Stark had come out of seclusion. He considered just excusing himself to watch it in his room but that would be cowardly. 

Why was it always him that brought bad news!? 

And what was fucking worse, there was Laura, looking extremely happy with herself and reminiscent to the same fear Pepper Potts caused in him. 

"Urm, before we watch the film, I thought you guys should see this.." 

Barnes started signing at him almost immediately. 

<Bad idea! Bad idea !!>

Well that did not bode well.

Also made him realise their resident brood-master extraordinaire was apparently better caught up with the Accords than he was. Interesting. Before he could back out however Steve had already switched the channel for him to cast the video and he only had that or a video Barnes had sent him about a skateboarding dog and he had a feeling the latter would not fly. He shrugged at Barnes who face palmed as he cast the video onto the TV. 

"What the fuck is this Wilson?" 

"It's a video from an Accords Council session." 

Clint looked bored and Wanda shot him an absolutely evil look, her eyes flashed red before she turned away from him. 

"And why would we want to see anything about that?" 

OK, so now a part of him wanted to play the video to piss Wanda off. 

"Because Steve wanted updates on Stark and Barton wanted updates on his wife." 

The explosion of demands for information was quite amusing, Scott was the only one actually watching the video, Barnes was covering his face but he looked like he was going to burst out laughing. He wasn't sure if that was good or bad having not heard what was on the video, only having seen them enter and read about them causing a stir. 

Tony Stark opening the double doors dramatically managed to draw everyone's attention to the screen. As it had in the council he noticed, whilst he was still conflicted on his feelings about Stark, he had to admit, the man knew how to set a scene. Laura walked next to him, and Clint's strangled noises was expected. 

"Hello everyone, the rumors of my demise, retirement or whatever the new one of the week is, have been wildly exaggerated. I hope I haven't missed too much?" 

Wanda was practically gagging, Steve was on the edge of his seat and Clint was transfixed on his wife, looking as if he'd never seen her before. Scott's was just watching interested and Barnes looked like he'd kicked back to watch the chaos unfold. Partially watching the screen but his attention was on the people in this room.

He'd watched Stark work the crowd a few times and it was always quite fun. Barnes was definitely more interested in them, but even he was still keeping an eye on the screen. 

"Unfortunately I am not here to bring glad tidings. I'm here to present to you multiple violations for someone under the Accords as they're regarding Inhuman, Enhanced Humans-"  

Steve cut in, obviously annoyed that Stark was talking about the Accords. 

"I can't believe he is still working for Ross and these ridiculous Accords. We aren't even there for them to use against us, I was hoping that they'd -" 

"Of course he's working with that slime bag, you told me he was compromised, Stark never admits he's wrong and now he's dragged my wife down with him… She barely even looks like-" 

"He's probably been living it up with him this whole time and violations? His prison was a violation." 

Wanda practically hissed the last part, her hands around her throat, probably remembering that collar they'd had her in. Everyone was talking over each other, he could barely hear the TV, Scott looked irritated at that part and Barnes just signed <Told you so> at him. 

"- happy to do my duty under the Accords to bring this to you as a signed member. Even though I am still technically signed off on medical leave, I thought this too important to wait much longer. "

"Wonder why he's on medical leave, he looks okay?" 

Scott mumbled and Barnes was signing at him again so he just ignored the scoffing and frankly, bitching from Wanda. Steve and Clint seemed to have been struck silent although he suspected for different reasons. 

<Watch his hands. >

Well. That was informative… and not at all creepy, he just nodded and focused on the TV. 

"I have petabytes of data, videos, written, everything required and I will be honest. If this is swept away and ignored, again, as this information is legally my own. I will release it onto the Internet." 

Clint scoffed again, looking angry now, he remembered how enraged Stark had been about the data dump although he hadn't understood why, Steve had told him that it was the only way and they'd thought everything through. Stark then vanished and ignored all contact, appearing weeks later looking utterly haggard, but that might have been because he'd recently undergone serious heart surgery, it looked like he had barely slept the entire time and was even angrier. 

"We don't appreciate threats Dr Stark." 

"Dr Maloj, I don't not wish to threaten your lovely self or anyone here. But when you have watched the videos you will understand my fervour. Plus precedent was set after the fall of SHIELD was it not? I do not believe that an Amendment to that section regarding releasing of information has been tabled yet."

"I thought you were against the data dump Dr Stark"

"I was, and still am Mr Davenport. It was reckless, too fast and the innocent were hurt. I assure you, this will not be a reckless act. It will not be an Ill conceived idea born of desperation."

What?! Who was hurt? Steve hadn't mentioned that anyone would get hurt except Hydra agents. Steve was staring at the screen, ignoring his questioning look and he decided that he'd put it to the site for now but he'd definitely was going to find out about this at some point! 

"So when he does it it's fine, When Nat does it he goes into a snit!" 

Scott and Steve were shushing him this time, Tony spoke rather quickly and they were missing huge chunks with Clint's interjections. 

"Who cares what he's saying anyway! It's just Stark rambling on, he just enjoys the sound of his own voice." 

Sam wondered if he should point out that this is pretty normal from all the talks he's watched of the Council meetings so far. One guy spoke for a solid 30 minutes the other day before getting to his point, Stark was just drawing people in, getting them invested. 

"Human rights violations are never pretty, even if we are talking about people who are seen as less than human by some. Many do include humans who because of this man have been forced into enhancements, mutations, changes to their body against their will. Bodily autonomy seems a fleeting idea, as long as he can create and control his own little private army of super humans, he doesn't care who suffers horrendously, human, mutant, enhanced, inhuman. - "

" Considering what happened to me on the raft, he should be reporting himself "

"Be quiet everyone, this seems very serious and like something we should be invested in. "

He's not sure if he imagined Barnes rolling his eyes or not, but as he knew who this was about, it was curious. Wanda was pouting at Steve who was more focused on the screen. 

"- endangerment of minors, ethics were just not involved anywhere and aspects of this are straight up torture to those he kept. To those who escaped their lives were systematically destroyed, reputations ruined, family's threatened, all to force his victims into an easier point of capture. This has spanned several years, in several countries and includes a frankly terrifying amount of property damage. This is coming from me, the man who cleaned up after the Avengers for years. Including New York. This individual - "

"What the fuck does he mean 'cleaning up after the Avengers'."

"Probably just  throwing his blood money around."

"Stark did tell me once about charities he'd set up to help people who were hurt by our… What?"

Sam trailed off when he realised he was being stared at in varying degrees of astonishment to rage. 

"What the fuck were we supposed to do? Let aliens take over to save some property damage?"

"Wait, wait, I think he's talking about us..?"

Scott's managed to derail that potential argument nicely. 

"- detained people without adequate warrants in the illegal prison and claimed to be doing it on behalf of yourselves. "

" I thought Stark put us in that jail? "

"He did!"

"I am of course talking about one Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross."

Wanda's screech and Stark's naming of Ross happened at pretty much the same time and tension in the room skyrocketed. 

"- fugitive status of certain individuals and Thaddeus drive to bring them in. Of course in that drive he subverted the Accords and the will of the original 117 countries, now a fantastic 139 with 2 more ready to join any day." 

"That.. That's a lot of countries. I.. I thought this was an American thing?" 

Poor Scott, he actually looked kind of green. He himself was kind of shook to discover Stark apparently had nothing to do with them ending up on the raft… And that their being held prisoner was illegal. Damn, how much difference could it have made of Stark had gotten them out legally? Would they be hiding in Wakanda? If they'd just stopped for a second instead of reacting with out all the information.. 

"- shield to protect civilians and heroes alike, to guard humans, superhuman, inhumans, enhanced humans, humans with unusual qualities such as very large intellects, which by the way, is quite the compliment. Thank you. Also -" 

Sam's eyes widened at that, Stark had just allowed himself to be classed under the Accords as a non human, that was a pretty big deal. 

"He can make anything about himself."

Barnes looked unimpressed with Wanda's sneers, he wasn't either but he realised that until recently, he probably would have joined in. When he'd still felt at fault for sending Stark to Siberia and Steve getting hurt. 

"-to take our mistakes of the past, never forget them, never cover them up, never forget the lives lost, accountability, security. Not a subversion of these great ideals put on paper by the late King T'Chaka and taken up by his son. This shield won't become a noose as long as I'm breathing, from standing in front of you or from my hospital bed, I assure you, I will not give up."

That was when he remembered what Barnes had said, sure enough Stark was gripping the edge of the stand hard enough his hand looked white. He also looked like he'd paled a little. It was subtle and he wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't been told to look. No one else mentioned it. Maybe he wasn't as healthy as they presumed? How had Barnes spotted it when he didn't even know the man? 

Wanda was stroking Clint's hair as his wife stepped forward, the man leaning forward in his seat and he did feel pity for the man. Even if he had been trying on his last nerve lately. 

" I'm sure none of you will recognise me, except as Dr Stark's amazing new personal assistant of course. "

"WHAT?!"

"My soon to be ex husband-" 

"Oh my god, this isn't happening, she can't do that! Not with me here! What about the kids?!" 

"- Ross sent multiple teams of heavily armed, highly trained men to my farm. A farm I lived on alone with three children, my youngest had not long turned one year old. The others are seven and thirteen years old. They don't understand what is happening, why a man sent tactical teams to raid our home."

" Dammit I should have been there!"

Clint was on his feet now, pacing angrily back and forth, ignoring Wanda and Steve's attempts to calm him down. The pointed looks he was getting from Steve didn't help. Turns out rendition 43 of 'I can't be the team counsellor, it's a conflict of interest.' was required. 

"- raided. I don't want to think what might have happened if Tony Stark, 37 hours after waking up from his coma hadn't abandoned his hospital bed to rescue me. Don't worry, I immediately marched him back into it. "

Could this get much worse. Barnes was looking at him in amusement and now he understood why he'd said this was a bad idea. He'd just thought showing the team Laura and Stark was bad. How was he expected to know Laura would announce her divorce on live TV?! 

"-Me and my children are human, the law failed to protect me, Ironman didn't. We are not the only family he has brought in from the cold. We stand with him as a real protector, not a villain like Thaddeus Ross. "

Yes. It can apparently always get worse. 

Clint just thumped back down on the chair. Staring dumb struck at the TV before standing up to leave, for once not carrying the laptop with him as the press and Councillors exploded into noise. Wanda shot him another glare as if this was his fault.. Clint paused and looked back when Stark spoke again, Sam internally flinched, because it was just in time to see Laura hugging Stark. 

"Thank you for taking the time today to listen to what we had to say. I'll leave you now to hopefully do what should have been done long ago. Whilst I might be gone, I will be watching." 

Clint stormed off to his room, Wanda jumped up and ran to catch up. Scott was glancing around uncomfortably. Steve looked utterly deflated when he looked over to Barnes, he glared. 

<You could have warned me! >

<I told you it would be a bad idea.>

Then the bastard grins at him and silently takes off towards his room without Steve seeming to notice. 

Fabulous. 



Shuri POV  

20th September  

Shuri had been sorting through the latest data Dr Stark had sent over, he'd texted her about sending a small update to the current algorithm he'd constructed based on Barns data draws. But just looking at the file, it was much too big for a patch. At first she wondered if he'd accidentally sent the same file three times but as she brought them up it became pretty obvious what he'd done. It definitely wasn't a patch. She frowned, she still didn't know much about Siberia. Her brother was being infuriatingly tight lipped but she what she did know was that they'd all left injured and it felt like her brother was trying to make up for his part in it, it also seemed like Dr Stark was obsessing somewhat. 

Without actually knowing what happened however, she felt like her hands were tied. She decided to give him a call anyway. It was maddening because the two idiots would get along so well, the things that kept other people away would probably be a benefit between them. But nope, they were idiots. Constantly saying the other would hate them! 

"What's up Kit-Kat?" 

The sight of him however made her forget practically everything because he looked utterly ridiculous, she knew the kids at the compound had a running challenge for what breakfast products they could get on him without him realising it, but usually by the time he came to the lab he'd cleaned up. This time his hair was white with icing sugar 

"Had breakfast with the kids did you?" 

"Yeaaaahh.. Why?" 

"Didn't look in a mirror before you went to the lab either?" 

"Dammit, I didn't let anyone near me with Nutella!" 

The cloud of icing sugar puffed put around him, leaving him spluttering and coughing on it. Which was utterly hilarious. He bolted to the bathroom giving her a chance to laugh because she'd needed it, and also set it up to send the clip of him sticking his hand into his hair, creating a huge white clouds to puff up to the group chat. 

5 minutes later, he reappeared, slightly damp. It was enough to set her off again.

"Yuck it up Princess. So, apart from laughing at me, whats on today's docket." 

"Oh you know, the usual joy I feel dealing with integration on your binary systems." 

"Ahhh, yeah, that's been keeping me up. Did the last batch of files help any? I think we're getting closer to something that works efficiently." 

"T'Challa was fine with version 7, he thinks that we're at version 42 means we are crazy you know." 

She rolled her eyes at her brothers confusion that they were still working on it and likely would for a while. 

"So far none of the versions have been quick enough to take the coded alterations to the BARF system without sending packets back and forth." 

She couldn't argue, she agreed. She even shared Dr Stark's scowl that they'd been forced into sending little packets instead of just being able to make the data available to both of them. It took ages. Neither of them were happy with it being okay or just fine like her brother said. It might work for dealing with most people but Dr Stark's private systems were much faster, resulting in infuriating traffic jams and actual hours looking at buffering files. Especially the size of the BARF files. 

"How is he taking to it anyway? I know it's only been 8 days..? How are you handling it?" 

Dr Stark cycled back and forth between not mentioning Barnes existence, which as they were working of BARF was a bit weird, or asking questions and also immediately deflecting. 

" Everything is going fine and I'm learning your tech too. How many disciplines did you cross making these damned glasses anyway?" 

Tony just flashed a self satisfied grin at her in answer. 

" I just finished getting through all the data for your hand and hydra. I think ours is far superior." 

"Of course it is, we built it instead of nazis and it isn't a torture device." 

Shuri had paled at that before diving to the side and bringing everything he'd sent up on another screen. Eyes widening as her eyes quickly scanned over the information in a new light. 

"I… how did I not see this?!"

She wondered if this had anything to do with Barnes refusal of a new limb? Did he think it work hurt as badly as his old one? She felt awful about bringing it up now and knew she'd have to find a way to let him know a new arm wouldn't hurt. She'd make sure of it. 

"I've been neck deep in Hydra since DC.. After a while I expect this of them so it was easy to see. If I never have to look at a Hydra file again it will be too soon." 

She shook her head, chewing on her nail again. She'd shelve this for later stress. 

"Anyway, let's just.. Pin that for now. I'm calling because there was twice the normal amount of data you sent yesterday with the integration codes." 

"Huh, oh yeah, I updated the algorithm from the scans you sent, nothing knew." 

She squinted at him..

"Tony.." 

"You used my name!! YES, this means I can eventually get Peter to stop calling me Mr Stark!" 

"Tony. You didn't just 'update' the algorithm. You wrote 3 new ones!" 

"Pffft, You say that like it's something big. I still feel bad and this is something I can do from the other side of the planet without ever seeing him. It's perfect. Plus the world is better off without 10 words and a compliment murder-cube." 

'Murder-cube?'

She just shook her head but was still happy that he was oddly invested in helping her Wolf. Without him this would not be happening, BARF branched over so many different areas that they hadn't even considered bringing together in Wakanda. For her to get to his level of familiarity? To actually write the codes, it would take a while. He just seem to hack a knack for how the mind interacted with the code in the algorithm that she couldn't wrap her head around yet. They each had their expertise and she knew he could admit when she knew better. For example, he had finally gotten rid of those ridiculous segmented panels in the suit. So she could admit when he was the more knowledgeable one. He had brought code to life, code that had emotions, and independent thought and learning. 

"That just sounds like a lot of justification to me. He's hopeful about it but the data draws are hitting him hard after, what did you call them, the fluffy bunny levels." 

"Ah! That wasn't me. After naming it BARF, FRIDAY and CERBERUS decided I needed help naming things." 

"Chief, the first thing people do when you hand them BARF is look at ya like you're crazy and then mentally rename it when talking to patients." 

"See what I'm dealing with here Shuri? Sass." 

The fact Dr Sta-Tony's AIs had taken over naming things was not that much of a surprise. She'd noticed the data packet names had gotten very literally and occasionally long so she suspected that was FRIDAY. 

"Hi CERBERUS! I've not spoken to you yet!" 

"He was waiting until we have the integration down, I'm pretty sure he and Fry are going to come and visit you soon."

Shuri squeals and jumps at that because that was going to be fun. Although she wondered what her brother might think of her inviting two rather unknown digital presences into Wakanda. Eh. He invited Captain Spangles. 

The latest updates she'd started sending earlier finally came through and she and saw him opening them as she spoke to FRIDAY and CERBERUS. She could tell that FRIDAY was definitely the older sibling and more likely to get involved but CERBERUS had some hilarious ideas. 

Tony, damn it was weird calling him that, even in her head, rolled back into frame just as CERBERUS was showing her his alternate designs of cannons and FRIDAY wanted to make it fire glitter. 

"8 draws is.. Too much. And scrap the algorithms I sent you, they're tapping out at 50% now, I'd got them up to 83% last night." 

"I still don't quite get all the algorithms you're sending, I've been focusing on the draws." 

"74 is the magic number. We need a 74% match or the patients mind actively fights the algorithm, significantly lowering chances of dissociation. 95% is the number I prefer things to be at, personally." 

"What's the difference as long as the memory is disassociated in the end?" 

"Whether Barnes has to watch and live through himself being tortured 3 times or 300 times." 

Yikes! 

"Okay. I won't mock your obsessive coding anymore. Promise. 8 seems to be it for the data draws though, can't you use that?" 

"Possibly, but you'd have to switch algorithms with each memory to find out which one works and I'd have to teach you about how they work. Ideally, you have 1 for the whole lot and I just don't have the data to write it."

"What do you need." 

"I need the next level up of encoded information. But you're going to have to scour it for potential confidential information, there shouldn't be much at that level but just in case, oh, and get permission to send it." 

She could tell he did not look comfortable with this at all. Probably because Barnes didn't know he was involved, they'd spoken about it a few times now. How his drive to help was going against lying to the patient. She learnt early on however that Tony could turn practically anything self deprecating. 

"We could just tell him that you designed the glasses and then he can decide what to send. This feels like you are making things harder on yourself." 

"It's bad enough that he doesn't know I made the tech, that I'm writing this algorithm based on the first scans would likely send him screaming for the woods. Telling him would screw his chances of being free because Rogers wouldn't allow it. The least I can do is to ensure I'm not snooping or something."

" Still.. "

"The last time I saw him, I tried to kill him Shuri. I'm not exactly proud of that, I should have just tried to kill Rogers. "

That was more information than she'd gotten before but it was still missing something. She'd like to think she'd gotten to know both of these soft hearted, guilt wrecked idiots and them just attacking each other? It didn't track. 

" But if you talked? "

" Oh, hell no. No. No in 50 different languages no. I feel guilty for trying to kill him, I feel bad for what happened to him. But Shuri, I can't forgive the man. I'm not that good of a person. Plus, he definitely won't want to talk to me after what I did, I can't put that on him."

" Will you ever tell me what happened in that bunker? I know you fought, I know you were.. Left. But why Tony? I think I've gotten to know you quite well these past months and I know what Rogers told my Brother originally, but now he's being cagey too! I think he knows more, but he won't tell me either. I feel like I'm operating without all the information and it's making me angry. "

" Shuri I.. "

" No Tony! If you are about to tell me some junk about protecting my delicate sensibilities I will come to America for the soul reason of kicking you in the shins! "

Even with glasses on it was like she could see so many things cross his face at once. She was ready to call him on it if he tried something but at his sigh she knew he'd tell her. 

She was also suddenly extremely scared of knowing. 

"He killed my mom Shuri." 

She was going to kill her brother! 

"Tony…" 

"It's okay, I'm.. fine? I know it wasn't actually him. It was Hydra. But I'm not a good person, people know this, that was proven to me when Rogers didn't tell me.." 

He muttered that last bit under his breath and Shuri instantly narrowed her eyes. So Rogers knew? And not a good person?! How on earth had he gotten to that? She was obviously still missing information, but considering the utter rampage her brother had gone on to capture Barnes, a single fight contained in Siberia? That was much better than the mess her brother was still cleaning up and atoning for. 

The smile that he forced on his face made her sad, this whole situation was a mess but Tony almost seemed resigned and expected to take the blame and that he had to be fine with it. 

"I'm fine. I am. I just, I need to do this but I can't.."  

"It's OK, I get it."  

"I gotta run Shuri, the fabrication on Honeybears braces are coming in, call me if he agrees to send the data. I'm working on the next integration packet based on our channel." 

Shuri stared at the screen for a few minutes trying to work out how she was going to kill her brother for this.

He knew, he HAD to know. That's why he'd gotten all cagey, he should of given her a warning! Just, something so she could have avoided what just happened. The man didn't deserve more pain. 

She was pulled out of her wonderings by CERBERUS deep Scottish voice. Shocked to realise that Tony had left the pathway open, giving her access to his AIs. 

"Bana-phrionnsa, there is something me and FRIDAY think you should see, I think you knowing would improve Chiefs functions." 

Well that wasn't ominous at all, before she could reply she noticed the younger AI had sent her a video, opening it up after a few seconds of confusion she realised what she was seeing. Tony, Rogers and Barnes, still with his left arm, chatting almost amicably. She knew something bad was coming, but she wasn't backing down now.

Consoling herself that nothing could be worse than reading the Hydra files Tony had sent. 

Watching was painful, but it cut off before anyone arrived to help him.. 

 "CERBERUS, FRIDAY… How long?" 

"We don't know, Chief erased all details of the time from our servers after Jim tried to find out." 

Somehow.. Somehow that was worse. 

She needed to destroy something. 

Or she was going to kill her brother.