It all started when Tony emerged from yet another lab binge. He’d been working on a few projects that Pepper had deemed absolutely crucial to the survival of Stark Industries, as well as some minor improvements on different weapons for Hawkeye and the Black Widow to use in the field. After the last close call had left both of them without their usual weapons of choice, Tony refused to send them back out without something he’d created, something he knew would work the way it was supposed to. Keeping his teammates safe in any way he could was more important to him than sleeping or catching up on anything else. If his lab binge happened to coincide with Team Movie Night (seriously, they were adults, not teenagers, why did they need a movie night?) then it was completely accidental on his part, something he hadn’t realized until he’d walked into the kitchen and started pouring himself a cup of freshly brewed coffee, only to find Steve glaring at him.
“What’s up, Capsicle? Did you need me to do something for you?” Tony took a sip from his coffee cup and raised an eyebrow; idly noting that Steve’s fury seemed to increase when he used the nickname. He’d have to keep that one in his repertoire then. Irritating Steve was one of the bright spots in his days. It amused him to see the other man bluster and stumble over a reproachful comment, almost as much as the same behavior had amused him when Rhodey did it in college.
“You missed movie night, again.” Steve moved into Tony’s personal space, staring down at the shorter man. The disappointment in his voice would’ve affected Tony more if he didn’t hear the same tone every single time Steve spoke to him. Since the very first day on the helicarrier, Steve had made it painfully obvious that Tony was a complete disappointment in his eyes. “Team bonding may not seem all that important to a billionaire, genius, playboy, philanthropist like yourself, but to the rest of us, it matters. We’re supposed to function like one fluid unit, not a bunch of disjointed parts. How is that going to happen if one of our team members never bothers showing up for bonding activities?”
Taking a step back, Tony met Steve’s glare head on. “I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet, Captain, but I’m the head of research and development for the leading company in clean energy, in the world. If I don’t put some effort into focusing on my actual job, my fortune, and the success of my company are on the line, not to mention all the stockholders who stand to lose a significant amount of money if anything bad happens to Stark Industries or all of the people we employ whose jobs depend on me keeping my company afloat. Excuse me if I think that’s a little more important than catching you up on seventy years of bad cinema. When the team needs me, I’m there. I always will be. I hardly think that the team needs me to explain what a DeLorean is to you.”
“Team bonding is mandatory, Tony.” And there it was, the commanding tone that had men following Steve into suicidal situations back in the day. Too bad for him that Tony had grown up with Howard Stark as his father, and was predominately immune to the tone he’d heard so many times in the films Howard had forced him to watch. If anything, it only served to amuse Tony to watch Steve attempt to order him around as if he was a soldier. Steve still hadn’t, after all these months, figured out that Tony wasn’t one of his Howling Commandos, that he wasn’t going to jump if the Captain demanded it. “If you don’t show up for the next bonding night, I’m going to be forced to bench you.”
“You can’t bench me because I don’t show up for movie night, Rogers. Natasha and Clint have both missed plenty of movie nights and you aren’t threatening to bench them.” Tony’s face was flushed with anger at the thought of being benched. He’d worked hard to be put on this team and he damn sure wasn’t going to let Steve Rogers ruin that for him. He belonged on this team. After everything he’d done to prove himself to Fury and the WSC, he wasn’t going to allow an outdated toy soldier to take away all he wanted from life. “You can’t punish me for having a life just because you don’t. It isn’t my fault you can’t assimilate to the twenty-first century and you need the team to hold your hands.”
“Natasha and Clint only missed movie night when they were away on assignment. You’re always in the building, you just refuse to come up and join us.” Steve was bending over Tony now, emphasizing their height differences. If Tony hadn’t just spent days in the lab, working his tail off, he wouldn’t have allowed the man to intimidate him. As it stood, Tony was barely holding himself up, much less keeping his insecurities locked up tight. He took a minute step back, doing his best to put them back on even ground. “Either you come to the next bonding night, or you’re done. I won’t allow someone on my team who refuses to get to know his teammates. It has absolutely nothing to do with my history. We are trying to build a working team and if you won’t cooperate with the rest of us, then you aren’t needed. Am I understood?”
There was something in the menacing tone Steve used that had Tony forgetting that he was in Stark Tower, not standing in his father’s lab. Howard had used the same tone of voice when he’d caught Tony attempting to rewire his golf cart so it would run on solar power. Ducking his head down to avoid Steve’s gaze, Tony nodded. “I’ll be at the next team night. Excuse me, I have some work I need to finish.” Right now he needed to beat a hasty retreat back to his labs, back to a place where he was safe from the memories of inadequacy. Turning to leave the kitchen, Tony forced his muscles to relax. He wouldn’t let Steve see how affected he was.
He was stopped by the sound of Steve speaking up again, disdain stronger than disappointment. It was that first meeting all over again. It was almost as strong as Obi’s disdain in those final days. “I was right on the helicarrier. You are self-centered. It’s time to wake up, Tony. The world doesn’t revolve around Tony Stark’s desires.”
Tony froze in the doorway, fingers tightening into a fist. The disappointment in Steve’s voice hurt more than it should. All he’d wanted growing up was to meet Captain America, to be friends with the man his father spoke so highly of. He’d dreamed of the things that they could do together, childish fantasies of meeting his hero. In his dreams, Captain America was always on his side, always defending him from the people who would use him or abuse him. The reality was so much crueler than his imagination ever could have thought. Swallowing thickly, he nodded, “Your criticism is noted, Captain.”
As quickly as he could, Tony retreated to the lab, initiating lockdown protocol and curling up on the couch that he’d set up in there for mid-work naps. He forced himself to breathe deeply, attempting to do the meditative exercises Bruce had been teaching him and pushing his memories back into the depths of his mind, somewhere he wouldn’t be forced to acknowledge them anymore. When he emerged again, he went straight to his room and hid under his covers, falling into a restless sleep, haunted by nightmares that, for once, had nothing to do with the horrific events he’d faced since Obi had turned his back on him.
“That was uncalled for, Captain.” Steve glanced away from the doorway Tony had just stormed out of, surprised to see Thor leaning against the refrigerator. The god’s usual jovial smile was missing, replaced with a frown of concern that Steve had never seen on the other man’s face. “In the aftermath of my brother’s crimes against your planet and Asgard, I have come to an understanding about the comparisons drawn between fathers and sons.” Thor moved further into the kitchen, settling against a counter as he continued. Steve couldn’t help but listen. He’d never heard Thor sound this serious before, not even when Loki had led the Chitauri invasion. Thor was the happiest of their rag-tag group, always ready to greet the others with a smile and a joke of some sort. The man standing before him now was not the god Steve was used to seeing. “My father may be a wise ruler, he may do everything that he thinks is best for Asgard and her people, but he can be a very foolish man. I failed to notice it when I was younger, but there was always a discrepancy in his treatment of my brother and me. The foolish things I was lauded for earned Loki contempt. I know now that it is because Loki is Laufeyson, but at that age, I merely thought that I had garnered more favor because I was stronger, because I was braver. My father, my whole life, has treated Loki as second best because of who his blood father is. The rest of us learned to treat Loki with contempt simply because Odin did. If the Allfather was doing it, then it must not be wrong. The disregard you treat the Man of Iron with is very similar to that which my brother faced every day, growing up in the house of Odin. I fear your comparisons between the Man of Iron and his father will only serve to drive him further away from the rest of us and the bonding you seek to achieve.”
“You don’t understand. I know- knew Howard.” Steve crossed his arms defensively, hands balling into fists against his biceps. “He never would have raised a son with so much contempt for authority and teamwork. Howard was a good man. He worked hard to make sure we were going into battle as prepared as he could make us. Everything Howard did was done so that we would stay safe in the field, so that we would be protected. Tony-“ He floundered for words for a second, running one hand through his hair in agitation, “Tony doesn’t show half the effort Howard showed on a daily basis. It’s like he could care less what happens to this team, what happens to this world. Howard may have been a billionaire, and a Casanova, but he knew what mattered most. Tony doesn’t. All Tony cares about is himself.”
“I may not have known Howard, friend, but I believe you are mistaken about Anthony. Just yesterday, I watched as he, exhausted though he was, stopped on his trek to his laboratories because Lady Natasha had a task she needed him to complete. I have observed Anthony over these past few weeks as he has toiled over the assignments Lady Pepper gives him, as well as working on the things that Lady Natasha and friend Clint have requested of him. He has neglected his own health in order to complete the tasks our shield brothers needed him to complete. That does not seem like the self-centered man you believe him to be. Even the repairs to his own armor have been delayed so that he could complete the tasks other people have asked him to do. That is not an act of a selfish man. You wish to see a reflection of your friend, of this Howard, in his son, but that reflection is not there. Just as my brother is not Laufey, Anthony is not Howard. You must strive to see him for himself, not through someone else. If you do not, I fear you will do far more damage to our fighting force than you claim Anthony is doing.”
Steve shook his head, refusing to give Thor any ground, refusing to believe that Tony was anything other than what he’d portrayed himself to be from the very start. He couldn’t accept that the man he’d known all those years ago in the war would have a son like Tony. It made no sense to him. Howard had been a good man, despite his womanizing, but his son showed none of what he’d known Howard to be. Steve knew that if Howard were still alive today, he would be disappointed in the man Tony had become, in the things that Tony did with his life. “You’re wrong, Thor. Tony Stark doesn’t do anything simply because someone else needs him to do it. If he has nothing to gain, he won’t do it. Tony Stark doesn’t know how to think about anyone but himself. His refusal to join in when we’re bonding as a team is just another way for him to assert his opinion that he’s better than us, that the team is beneath him. I’ve seen it before, in soldiers in France. Just like some of them, Tony doesn’t care about anyone or anything that doesn’t benefit him. He helps us because it makes him look good. If it didn’t, then he wouldn’t do it. He’s his father’s complete opposite.”
Thor was quiet for a moment, taking in Steve’s stubborn stance. Finally, he nodded his head slowly, a sadness creeping into his eyes. With a sigh that betrayed just how long he’d been alive, how much he’d seen he spoke again, “I will no longer attempt to sway your views, Captain. I simply wish for you to be able to look past who Anthony’s father is and see him for who he is. Mayhaps someday you will be able to do so. If you are not able to do so, our shield brother may leave our forces, and he may not be alone. If you will excuse me, I must go find the good doctor; he had some questions for me. Farewell, Captain.”
Thor left Steve standing there, a confused furrow to his brow. He thought about what Thor had said for a moment before shaking his head. He’d known Howard, had become good friends with Howard. The man he’d known would have made sure to raise his son with respect, to make sure that his son understood the importance of looking out for another person. The man he’d met all those years ago in Brooklyn would have prevented his son from embracing the selfishness that Tony held. Howard had been a good man, had known what mattered the most. Steve knew that Howard would have made sure that his son knew those same things. Tony’s behavior was because the man himself was selfish and stuck up, not because of anything Howard had failed to do in raising him. Of that, Steve was certain.
The argument between Tony and Steve was forgotten until the debriefing for the Avengers next mission. Tony, in his usual fashion, had seen something Steve had missed while they were in the field and had acted on it without clearing his course with the Captain. Steve had, in his usual fashion, jumped down Tony’s throat the second the mission was over and the baddie of the week thwarted. Standing there in the Iron Man suit, HUD open, Tony watched as Steve worked himself up, disinterest shining in his eyes. He refused to let Steve know that his criticism had any effect on him. Acknowledging that Steve Rogers had the power to hurt him would do no good. Around them, the other members of the team were doing their best to pretend that they weren’t listening to the argument, except Thor, who had a frown on his face. When Steve took a step towards Tony, Thor stepped forward too, subtly putting himself between the two other men. Steve shot the other blonde a glare before turning his attention back to Tony, fist clenching at his side.
“You’re benched, Stark. If you cannot follow orders in the field and communicate with the team, I can’t trust you not to do something rash. As of right now, Iron Man is no longer one of the Avengers.” Steve was breathing harshly, like the decision to bench Tony was one that had exasperated health issues that he hadn’t had for the majority of a century. “If you can show me that you actually care about this team and communicating with the rest of us when we’re in the field, maybe I’ll reconsider reinstating you. Right now, you aren’t one of us.”
A nerve in Tony’s cheek twitched as he listened to Steve drone on. Calmly, refusing to betray his rapid heartbeat, he pressed the release that would have his armor folding up at his side, waiting for it to finish before picking up the suitcase. “My spur of the moment decision to go after that bot on my own is the only reason Hawkeye still has his eyes, Captain. If I hadn’t gone after that bot, it would have stabbed him. I didn’t have time to warn you before I moved. Taking that time would have meant costing a team member a very vital function.” He took a deep breath and stepped back when it looked like Steve was going to crowd him again. “My actions today have not caused harm to any of the other Avengers or to any civilians so I don’t see why you think benching me is the right way to react to something you just don’t like.”
“I don’t care if your actions didn’t cause any casualties. We needed you to follow Hulk, not go off on your own. What if he’d smashed something he wasn’t supposed to because you weren’t there to stop him? Your disregard for orders could have cost us more than you know.” Steve lifted up the shield that he’d set on the ground, turning his back on Tony to address the rest of the team. “Everybody get to the helicarrier for the debrief. I’ll meet you there after I finish handling this.”
The other Avengers shook their heads, each of them taking a stance and meeting his gaze. Clint stepped to stand next to Tony, laying a hand on the other man’s shoulder. “Look, Cap, I’ll be the first to admit that Stark has issues following orders. They’ve put us in a bind once or twice, but come on. He saved my ass out there. I can’t do anything useful if I can’t see. Stark’s the only reason I’m standing here and not in medical. He doesn’t deserve to be benched because he reacted to a situation he had no control over.”
“I agree, Steve.” Bruce, who had dehulked and wrapped a blanket around his bare shoulders, stepped forward. “I can’t say that the Other Guy wouldn’t have crushed a building or somebody’s car, but Tony isn’t responsible for his actions. I am. You can’t get mad at Tony every time he jumps to fix something no one else can see. Things can’t always be cleared with you before it’s too late. Sometimes it’s Tony’s spur of the moment decisions that save the mission. You can’t bench him because of that. If it were anyone else, you would be commending him or her. You shouldn’t treat Tony differently than the rest of us. He wasn’t ignoring your orders to be malicious; he was trying to look out for a teammate. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Tony shot Bruce a grateful smile before turning back to Steve, noting that the super soldier’s face was slowly turning purple. “If you’re going to kick me off the island, it’s only fair that the tribe gets to vote on my fate. That’s how we do things nowadays, old-timer. Teams make decisions together, not alone.”
“Like you would know anything about how a team works, Stark. You can’t even be bothered to get to know the rest of us on a deeper level than superficial. How are we supposed to know that you’ll have our backs, that you’ll be there, if you can’t even bother getting to know us? You aren’t a team player and we would be better off without you. You’re benched. I don’t care what anyone else says. I’m the leader of this team; it’s my decision to make. The added benefit of having Iron Man isn’t worth the bother that having Tony Stark is.” Steve’s voice was deceptively calm as he turned to walk away from the rest of them, not meeting anyone’s eyes. He walked towards the quinjet and waited for the other members of the team to fall in behind him, refusing to give Tony any ground. "Nothing like Howard," he muttered as he walked away, the disappointment evident in his voice.
Tony, at his wit's end with Steve fucking Rogers and his fucking obsession with Howard Stark, stalked after the other man, forcing him to turn around and glaring at the spangled hero, "You want to know what Howard was really like, Rogers? You think Howard was such a good team player, that he would never do something with selfish reasons? You think Howard was an honorable man? I’ll tell you what an honorable man Howard Stark was.
“Howard was such an honorable man that when his firstborn child was born ill, he and his wife hid the boy away in the Maria Stark Foundation where he could never be found, then he 'adopted' a child he saw on the street one day to raise as his son." Panting in his anger, Tony continued, eyes blazing. "Howard Stark was such an honorable man that he took a baby from his loving parents because the baby looked enough like it could be his, paid the parents to disappear, and threatened to ruin them if they ever tried to contact their son. He left his own son to rot in hospice while he abused someone else's. He didn’t even visit his own child. He pretended that the boy never existed because he was conveniently hidden away in a hospice far far away from Howard’s perfect world. He buried him in an unmarked grave when he passed away so nobody could tie the boy back to the Stark family because he was ashamed of him.
“Howard was such a great team player that he canceled his contracts with the army because they weren’t willing to pay him as much as he wanted. The man you claim would do anything to make sure that soldiers were protected didn’t care about the soldiers enough to lower the cost of his contracts, or to find a different way to provide them with the weapons and ammunition that would keep them safe.
“Howard was such an awesome dad that he shipped the son he’d stolen off to boarding school almost as soon as he could walk. He never bothered teaching me how to do anything important. Howard was the kind of man who hired other people for that, just so he wouldn’t have to be bothered to do anything having to do with the child living in his house. If he hadn’t needed an heir to keep the Stark fortune away from money grabbing people, Howard wouldn’t have had a child at all. He had one because it suited his purposes, no one else’s. THAT'S the kind of man you're idolizing when you make Howard Stark seem like he's all that jazz. So why don't you just SHUT THE FUCK UP!"
Tony strode away from the shocked super soldier, pulling his phone out and calling Happy to pick him up. The other Avengers filed past Steve quietly, refusing to comment on anything that had just transpired. Thor remained standing, staring at Tony’s retreating figure before he looked over at Steve and spoke up, so serious that it sent shivers down Steve’s spine.
“You have mishandled the situation, Captain. I have led many men into battles far fiercer than the one we faced today. If one of my men had disregarded my orders in order to save a shield brother from an undesirable fate, I would have praised his bravery, not derided him for seeing something that we did not see. Your judgment in this situation was appallingly poor. Perhaps the position of leadership was one that you were not yet ready to take.” With that, Thor took off after Tony, catching up to the other man and placing a hand on his shoulder to draw attention to himself.
Steve stood in silence, watching as his team all turned away from him and wondering where he had gone wrong, what he had failed to see in his determination to compare Tony to the man he had known Howard Stark to be. His thoughts a mess of confusion, Steve boarded the quinjet so that they could debrief. Regardless of what was going on in his head, he had a job to do. Thinking about everything Tony had said could wait until afterwards.