Actions

Work Header

Making Amends

Chapter Text

The marketplace was eerily quiet before seven in the morning, with only a few vendors starting to open stalls and set up their wares for the day. It was one of the reasons Steve loved to start his run through the almost empty streets. Here, there was no one to recognize him, no one to see the pain in his eyes or question what he was running from. Sweat was streaming down his temples and he ran a quick hand across his forehead to keep the droplets from stinging his eyes. He could feel his heart pumping in his chest and felt the ache that seventeen miles can have on a body, super soldier or not.

Once he was away from the center of the city, he headed home. He shook his head, he couldn’t call it that, not yet. Not when a sassy redheaded spy, and eccentric billionaire were missing from inside its walls. Letting Tony and Natasha into his mind while mid run was never a good idea. Last time it happened he tripped over an exposed tree root and split open his knee. The flash of pain distracted him until the serum kicked in and he was back on his feet.

Steve pushed himself harder, running through lush gardens brimming with all types of exotic birds and wildlife, trees blossoming in shades he didn’t even know existed, the sounds of the waterfalls helping to ease some of his tension. The serenity of this place signaled the end of his run, and he slowed down enough to jog to the front gates of the palace. There was a large archway with vibranium gates expertly carved into leaves and vines, enormous stone columns surrounded the structure and there were numerous domes erected throughout. At least one wall in every room was nothing but windows, letting those inside have an unobstructed view of the beauty the country had to offer.

One of the main reasons he ran so early was because no one else would be up. No one awake to talk, or ask how he was, or see the exhaustion that sat around him like a wet blanket. Once he was in his room,, he immediately undressed and stepped into his shower, letting the water soothe his muscles, as he thought about the last two weeks. It took them all some time to get used to their new surroundings. After Steve helped his team escape the Raft, there was a natural apprehension to being brought back to T’Challa’s country, due to the fact that they all remembered how relentless he was in his pursuit of Barnes. But T’Challa, every ounce the King his father was, sat down with them and explained how he came to offer his home to the wayward Avengers. And then it was Steve's turn to share what went on after they left the airport. 

They were shocked that Bucky made the decision to go back into cryo, but they understood his reasoning. It was the first thing that he was able to take real control of, and they would support him in that choice. But all too soon, Steve had to explain the actions that went on inside the Winter Soldier compound between him, Buck and Tony. It was difficult, but he was honest with the team, they deserved that (and more) after everything they sacrificed.

“He came to see us. At the Raft,” Sam said after Steve questioned how Tony was able to find him and Buck. “I asked him to go to you as a friend and alone.”

Steve’s eyes widened before he looked down at his hands. “He did.”

“So then how did it all go to shit,” Clint asked. The archer sat on the kitchen counter, back straight and his mouth set in a thin line. He hadn’t been home since he grabbed Wanda from the Avengers facility. Steve was able to get him a secure line to call Laura, but it would still be some time before he could leave.

Steve understood his anger. He picked his head up. “Zemo…” he took a deep breath and gave a curt nod. “Zemo’s whole plan was to break us from the inside. He said that an empire destroyed from within is dead. He turned us on one another.”

Clint raised an eyebrow and leaned forward on his thighs. “Stark went there to help you, Cap. That doesn’t end in Barnes missing an arm and you needing time to recover from a repulsor blast.” He raised his chin. “Don’t bullshit us.”

Clint’s choice of words sent searing pain through Steve’s chest.

Did you know?

I had my suspicions but I didn’t know it was him.

Don’t bullshit me, Rogers. Did you know?

Yes.

He looked at his team. “When Zemo was able to,” he waved his hand around in front of him, “say the words to get him back into Winter Soldier mode, it was for the sole purpose of extracting information from him. He wanted a mission report for December 16, 1991.”

“What’s so important about that date?” Scott asked. He was seated on the floor, his back against the couch, a bowl of popcorn on his lap. The engineer was a bit more understanding about their need to lay low. He hasn’t had to leave his daughter time and time again. The resentment hasn’t kicked in.

“That’s the day Stark’s parents died.”

Steve’s eyes shot over to Clint and the man shrugged his shoulders. “Natasha.”  

He should have known. “Well, you’re right.” He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “Zemo had a tape of that night. Bucky was..” he took a breath and opened his eyes, “Buck was the one who shot out the tires, causing the crash. Howard crawled from the car and Buck killed him. Tony’s mom,” his voice broke off at the word.

“He killed my mom.”

He took a deep breath. “Maria was alive after the crash and he killed her too.”

The silence in the room was deafening. Steve watched as each of their faces went from sorrow and disbelief, to anger and disappointment.

“You knew.” It was spoken so softly that Steve wasn’t even sure he heard it. Wanda repeated the statement, “You knew, but you never told him.”

The soldier’s chin fell to his chest as he felt his eyes fill up with tears.

“Steve. Is that true?”

All he could do was look to Sam and nod, smoothing a finger along his cheek to catch an errant tear.

“What the fuck, man?” Clint hopped off the counter and was in Steve’ face. “I came back in because I agreed with you on the Accords, Steve. If they put us on leashes nothing would get done, and I couldn’t risk my family’s names getting out there. But this was always about protecting Barnes wasn’t it?”

“Clint-“

“No, Sam!” He threw his arms in the air and met each of their gazes head on. “At first we were against this because the Accords are shit, and then it was because Barnes had been framed, but even at Leipzig, Steve,” his chest was heaving, “even then Tony gave you the chance to talk, and-”

“I know.”

“-you didn’t take it, wait what?” Clint’s eyes were wide.

Steve stood up. “I should have listened to him then, Clint. I should have told him about his parents sooner. I should’ve never asked you back. I should’ve never asked any of you to fight for me.” He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. “Believe me, I’ve replayed every action and every word since we left Berlin. But we’re here, Clint. And even though there are some things I'm sorry for, there are things I would do again. I can't support the Accords, they're not right." He turned to face the other man. "As far as Buck, yes, I wanted to protect him and I would gladly die to make sure he doesn't have to suffer again." He sighed and shook his head. "I acknowledge the mistakes I've made but I also stand by my beliefs. All I can do now is try to move forward and set things right.”

He made his way over to the window and looked out at the lush gardens.

“Not for nothing, but Stark isn’t infallible” Sam leaned against the window and nudged his friend. “And we chose to stand with you because we agreed with you; on the Accords and proving Barnes’ innocence.” Steve looked at Sam with gratitude in his eyes. “What do you need us to do, Steve?”

Steve’s mouth lifted up into a small smile. He turned back to the group. “We have to lay low for a bit. Ross is still after us. T’Challa said we can stay here as long as we need and we can train and prepare for what’s next.”

“And what’s that?” Scott asked.

Steve looked back out at the bright blue sky. “Making amends.”

---------

Steve stepped out of the shower and toweled off, getting dressed in a pair of khaki pants and a light blue shirt, matching the Wakandan sky. He could feel the drops of water fall off the ends of his blonde hair and down the back of his neck, soaking into the collar of his shirt, but he didn’t care. Leaning forward, Steve found the shorts he discarded earlier, and took out the flip phone.

It had been two weeks and he still hadn’t heard from Tony. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but he knew that he had hope. He hoped that Tony would call even if it was to call him a coward, a traitor, a liar. He missed the other man’s dulcet tones, the light-hearted banter they had while back in the tower, before the Accords were a mere whisper on lips.

He thumbed open the cover and stared at the one name in his contacts: Shellhead.

His finger hovered over the call button. Steve could feel his pulse quicken at the idea of calling Tony. The genius could have thrown the phone out, could not answer, may not have it on him, or may even pick up to only end the call before speaking.

He looked at the clock and saw that it would be a little after three in the morning in New York, there was a very good chance Tony was still awake.  Since his and Bucky’s escape in Siberia and the prison break at the Raft, there were nonstop news conferences. Because he was the only visible member of the Avengers left and he agreed to the Accords, Tony had been the one to attend the Congressional hearings and meetings with the U.N.; with none of the goings on having made it to the public yet. He knew that Tony was constantly heading to and from the hill and still working for Stark Industries. The man probably never stopped. And he was sure that Ross kept Tony on a short leash. Steve could only imagine what the outcome would be from all of their meetings and discussions. What Ross would deem as an appropriate course of action against the resistance.  

So yea, Tony could be awake, but he could also be passed out in his workshop, face covered in grease and music blasting. At least, that was what Steve hoped.

He took a deep breath and rolled his shoulders back and down. He could always leave a message if Tony didn’t answer.  

It all starts with one step. It only takes one second.

He pressed send.  

Chapter Text

Despite the suits filtration system, Tony could still smell the acrid scent of burnt cloth and flesh in his nostrils. The repulsor he fired at Steve was nowhere near maximum power but he knew it still made contact, he knew it would singe the military grade Kevlar and the pale skin beneath. They were facing each other now, Captain America and Iron Man, and he had his hand up in an all too familiar stance. “Stay down. Final warning.”

But Steve wouldn’t listen, and in that breathless, “I can do this all day,” Tony knew that anything after that moment would change them forever. He didn’t want to think about it. And it seemed as though he wouldn’t have the time to, either. Barnes grabbed his ankle and the hard kick to the downed man’s face was enough for Steve to spring into action. He grabbed him and threw him to the floor. Tony’s back was against the cold concrete of the compound and he could barely get his palms open to fire, before Steve was straddling him. Tony could feel the strength of the soldier’s thighs as they squeezed against armor plated legs, could hear Friday shouting about “maximum pressure reached” and “suit pressure destabilizing”. He wanted to move. He wanted to fight back, but he couldn’t. He was so God damned tired and Steve, well, Steve was relentless in his hits; one-two- punches against his helmet, and the edge of the vibranium shield catching at the corners of the faceplate, until finally, the two men were face to face.

Now, they were Tony and Steve.

Tony blinked his eyes, and he could see the momentary pause as Steve took in the cuts, bleeding and raw along Tony’s forehead. His blue eyes filled with tears, but he still raised the shield high, and before Tony could say his name, could get his hands in front of his face, it came down hard on his throat.

With a gasping breath, he woke.

His chest was heaving; his mouth hung open like a fish stranded on land. This time he was lucky. Usually, the nightmare went on longer than that. He has watched as his body shook along the ground due to the sheer force of Steve’s blow; he has felt the cuts along his face begin to burn as the salt from his tears flowed away in rivers of pink. He’s even heard how his blood gargled and pooled at the gaping wound in his throat, has felt its heat as it spewed up from his throat, dripped over his chin and down into the neck of his armor.

But the worst part wasn’t that he watched himself dying. The worst part was that in his nightmare, Steve was still panting above him, knuckles white from their grip on the shield. The Captain would lean forward so he could see into Tony’s pain filled eyes, watch the light slowly fade away and ask, “Tell me, Tony. Was it worth it?”

Tony always woke up gasping for breath, and feeling unequivocally empty. He could feel the strength behind that blow and knew he was as good as dead. But it wasn’t the act itself that kept him up afterwards. It was Steve’s question.

Was it worth it?

When Tony made it back to the states he was angry, furious really; broken, and disappointed. He held on to that anger like an anchor for days until he received Steve’s letter and the phone. And though he was still seething, it lessened a bit every day after that, until all he had left was a super soldier sized hole in his heart. He realized, six days after the events at the Leipzig airport and in Siberia that no, it wasn’t worth it . The billionaire took a glance at the bedside clock and saw it was a little after three in the morning. He closed his eyes and let his chin fall to his chest. Two weeks of sleepless nights and cold sweats, staring at a phone with a note and a shield from a man he once called a friend.

He shook his head, dislodging some sweaty, brown locks from his forehead and shifted to his side, the movement causing him to wince. Tony let his calloused hands run under and up the hem of his shirt and they settled on the center of his chest, raised scars an intricate braille on his skin that only he knew how to read. But it wasn’t the arc reactor’s absence that had him in pain, it was the sharp line of bruises that Steve had left when he slammed his shield into Tony’s suit. Fourteen days and it was still an impressive Monet of black and purple.

His nails scraped against bruised skin, and he flinched, letting his eyes stay closed. He’s spent more time than he cares to admit thinking about the ways their meeting in Siberia could have ended; actions not taken or words said in their stead to keep the three men from landing and taking blows. After what felt like an hour, he opened his eyes again and saw that only twelve minutes passed. Tony rolled his eyes and got out of bed, his hand came out from beneath his shirt to balance himself against the nightstand. He grabbed the phone and placed it in the pocket of his robe.

He’s replayed every move he made since leaving the conference at MIT. Hell, he’s replayed every move he’s made since outing himself as Iron Man eight years ago. All he’s ever done since escaping that cave was try to prepare himself for what was to come. They called him a futurist.

The futurist is here, gentlemen! He sees all. He know’s what’s best for you, whether you like it or not.

At first, it was stopping Stark Industries from making weapons and turning their considerable resources on clean energy and advanced technology to better the world. Then it was upgrading his suits, constantly, which better prepared him for any and all threats. Even Ultron was meant as a way to protect the world. That’s what the Accords were supposed to be: a way to prepare and protect them for “something worse”. He agreed with Ross, especially after talking to Charlie Spencer’s mother, but after the Secretary of State threatened to shoot Steve (and Sam and Barnes) on sight, Tony couldn’t understand how the Accords were meant to protect them .

As he entered the elevator, he leaned his head back against the wall, his hand rubbing along the curved front of the phone.

There was a moment when he was sure everything was going to work out. Back in that compound, when he found Rogers and Barnes, he felt himself finally relax; all the tension from the Accords, Ross, Pepper, his fight with Steve, and the division of the team- had faded away. He was in front of the soldier as a friend.

“You seem a little defensive.”

“Well, it’s been a long day.”

God, was that an understatement. Tony leaned against that stone pillar, arms crossed, eyes trying to convey that which he couldn’t find the words for.

I’m sorry.

We can fix this.

Trust me.

“Ross doesn’t know I’m here. I’d like to keep it that way.” He raised an eyebrow. “If he did…I’d have to arrest myself.”

Steve’s eyes widened at the statement and the barest of smiles graced his lips. It was Tony’s way of letting Steve know that he’s seen what the Accords mean, what they would do. He came alone. He came as a friend.  “Sounds like a lot of paperwork.”

Tony huffed out an odd sound, something caught between a sob and a genuine chuckle.

Steve took a breath and relaxed his shoulders while simultaneously lowering his shield. “It’s good to see you, Tony.”

Tony’s  broken heart started to mend itself right there. They could make this right. “Good to see you too, Cap.” His voice was soft and deep as he tried to keep the surge of emotion at bay. His lips turned up in a smile at the understanding that the two men were back where they belonged: on the same team but more importantly, at one another’s side.

The soft ping of the elevator signaled his stop. He ran his hand over his eyes and then down across his mouth. The bots whirred in greeting as the lights came on, emitting a soft glow. He moved to a chair along the far wall, and sat in front of his case filled with suits, placing the burner phone Steve sent him, on his work table.

Tony let out a long breath and held his head in his hands. He’s a Stark. Naturally, it all went to hell.

“Alright, Friday. What have we got open that I can work on?”

“Boss, there’s still the matter of the U.N. meeting set for Thursday. I would suggest you look over those notes before starting a new project.”

Tony’s mouth curled up into a small smile and then it immediately fell back down, as though the briefest hints to lightheartedness was foreign to his body.

These last two weeks were nothing but Congressional hearings and the U.N’s chance to cut him down at the ankle. Ross was unrelenting in his pursuit of Steve and Barnes, and the the rest of Team Cap. And Tony hadn’t heard anything from Natasha since the last time they spoke and when he did speak to T’Challa, it was monotone responses and a quick ushering off the line.

Tony wasn’t stupid. He knew that the Wakandan was hiding them. But he knew that the second that information became public, the country and his friends would be in the cross hairs. Despite everything, he still wanted to keep them safe. Regardless of the events that came after he saw that tape.

“Please, help my wife.”

“Sergeant Barnes?”

To say he was angry after what went on in Siberia, was an understatement. Even now, he feels it. It sits just under the skin, a tumor of loss and anger, betrayal and blood.  But when he watched that tape it felt like he was breaching the sun, something so white hot that you couldn’t look at it or hold it for too long or you’d get burned. He let out a self-deprecating laugh. He’s gotten burned more times than he could count through the course of his life. And almost every person who held the torch to his skin was someone he once called a friend. But he knew from experience that if he didn’t process what happened, he would drown in it.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

It took talking to Rhodey and working with him on his physical therapy to get everything out. About the truth behind his parent’s deaths, Zemo’s plan, and Steve’s betrayal. It was his longtime friend who helped him start to set some of that anger free.

“I couldn’t imagine what that was like, Tones.” Rhodes kept one hand on the wall beam for balance as his legs worked to move him forward, a slight sheen of sweat to his face. “But I do know, that in all of this, you’re not the only victim.”

Tony’s face was incredulous and laced with hurt. “He fucking murdered my mom, Rhodey.” He ran his hands through his hair and did everything he could to keep from screaming. “There was no reason to kill her.”

The Colonel made it to the end of the wall and sat in a chair, his legs shaking from exertion. “You’re right. But was it Barnes?”  Tony went to speak but he held up a hand. “It looked like Barnes, but everything that accounts for a person –their mind and emotional response- that wasn’t him. That was Hydra. That was the Winter Soldier.” He stretched his legs out in front of him. “He was nothing more than a weapon. And you said he remembers every single thing he did. So, not only did Hydra make it so he didn’t have a choice, they made it so he remembered the lives he took and what was taken from him each time he pulled a trigger.”

Tony ran his tongue across his lips, his tongue catching a stray tear. His voice was rough when he next spoke. “And what about Rogers?”

Rhodey raised one dark brow and nodded his head. “I’m still pissed as hell at Steve, and I don’t forgive him for keeping this from you.” His voice was resolute. “But, Steve has been a victim of Hydra since his best friend fell from that train. His mission for the last seventy years was to avenge him. And when he found out he was alive, the mission became: bring his buddy home.” He kicked his foot out to hit Tony’s. “I know what that’s like.” He jutted his chin forward and raised both of his eyebrows. “I remember searching for you Tony, in Afghanistan. I knew that no matter what, no matter how long it took I would find you. Dead or alive.”

Tony averted his eyes. He knew that was true.

“Everyone got dealt a shitty hand on this one, Tony.”

Thinking back on that conversation now, Tony’s heart broke for all of them. There was still a lot unsaid, and things done that couldn’t be that easily forgotten, but he believed they could be mended.

It would take time.

He turned on his Stark pad and was about to get to work when a soft buzzing filled the room. Tony turned his head in every direction trying to find it, until he realized it was the burner phone.

He could hear Friday tell him his heart rate was spiking but it didn’t matter. With trembling hands he picked up the phone, one name coming up on the screen: Winghead.

Their lives were made of seconds.

He had a choice to make.

With a shaky breath he flipped open the cover and brought it to his ear.

Chapter Text

 

Steve was just about to end the call when Tony picked up.

His mouth hung open, everything he planned to say, escaped him. There was a cold sweat gathering at his temples and his heart was racing. He could feel his stomach tighten into knots and then explode into unexpected butterflies when he heard the deep thrum of Tony’s voice. He shook his head. He’d think about that later.

“I should be offended at the tech you sent me, Rogers. I mean a flip phone? Really? I thought I taught you better than that.”

Steve’s head fell forward and he let out a puff of air. He smiled. “Well, what can I say? We antiques have to stick together.”

There was a hum on the other end. “Ya-huh. For an antique you didn’t do so bad for yourself the last time we met.”

And there it was.

Both men were quiet for a few minutes, the only sound was their deep breaths and the whirring of Tony’s bots in the background.

“Steve-“

“Tony I’m-“

Each of them chuckled, but Steve continued, “I’m sorry, Tony. For…” his eyes searched the ceiling. How could he put into words everything he was sorry for?

But Tony beat him to it.

“For what, Steve? Was it when you fled Berlin with Barnes instead of letting me try and help? Are you sorry for shitting on me at the airport when I practically begged for you to help me make it right? To save the team?”

 

I’d hate to break up the set.

 

“Or how about when you, the very image of truth and justice, lied to me about my dead parents?”

Steve heard Tony’s voice break and he felt sick. He remembered watching him stare at the tape of his parent’s murder, watching as the tears gathered in his eyes and then the helpless turn of his head towards Steve. He saw how Tony was practically pleading with him to say he didn’t know anything, and in that moment, Steve lied.

He thought back on a conversation with Natasha, another time when everyone they knew was trying to kill them.

If it was the other way around, and it was down to me to save your life, and you be honest with me, would you trust me to do it?

I would now. And I'm always honest.

Except he wasn’t, not when it came to protecting Bucky . And in some way, protecting Tony.

“Is that what you’re sorry for, Steve?”

The soldier’s throat was dry. “Yes,” he rasped out. “All of it.” He heard the other man scoff at him and slam something down on his workbench. “But you’re not infallible in all this either, Tony.” Steve got up and started to pace the length of his room. “You stuck by Ross, putting everything good that we’ve done in the trash. You already had your mind made up when you brought him to the facility; too much of a stubborn son of a bitch to listen to anything we had to say. I had to say.” Tony went to speak but Steve barreled through. “You acted as though Charlie Spencer’s death was only on your hands. We are a team, Tony,” he didn’t catch the slip up, “everything we’ve done has been done as the Avengers. Together.

He heard Tony let out a wet sob.

“And you and I? We were a team. We’d gotten stronger since Ultron, hell we’d gotten stronger, closer, every day since you fell from that hole in the sky. But I guess you forgot all of that.” He shook his head and clenched the phone against his ear. “You sat there and looked at Sam and me as though we were criminals, no better than Pierce or Killian. You didn’t trust me enough to listen when I first told you Buck was framed, and…” he ran his hand over his face and felt it come away wet. When did he start crying? “God, Tony, would you have killed him?”

There was silence on the other end of the phone and Steve’s heart dropped at its implications, but he went on.  “We all made mistakes before the Accords and after, Tony, but don’t you dare act as though I’m the only one responsible. As if I’m the only one who has things to apologize for, has blood on their hands.” He stopped pacing and leaned up against the wall, sliding down to the floor.

He had to check the phone to see if Tony had hung up on him during his tirade.

“I could have, ya know. Killed him.” Tony’s voice was nothing more than a whisper.  

Steve’s breath caught in his throat.

“I could have killed you too, Steve. You think the damage the reactor did to Barnes’ arm was the maximum output for my suits?”

Steve knew that it wasn’t. How many hours had he spent in Tony’s lab watching him tinker and listening to him explain the technicalities and power behind the weapons and arc reactor. He knew Tony could have killed either of them. But he didn’t. His head fell back to rest on the wall.

“I wanted to kill him. I think…I think there was a moment when I would have.” He took a breath and Steve could hear him sniffle. “God, Steve.”

They were both quiet.

“It doesn’t matter now anyway. I know where I stand with you.”

Steve’s brows furrowed at the statement.

“You would have killed me to protect him. I saw that when you raised the shield.”

 

He’s my friend.

So was I.

 

“Tony-“

The genius plowed ahead. “You can’t deny that. You changed direction at the last second. If you hadn’t, the shield would have been lodged in my throat instead of my chest, I’ve seen it play out enough times to know.”

Steve could taste bile at the back of this throat, felt his stomach roll at the admission.

Nightmares.

“No, Tony. I-“

“It’s alright, Cap. We all made decisions on this one that’ll stick like a shadow. Thanks for the call. Tell T’Challa I appreciate him looking after you guys.”

“How did you-”

The call ended.

Steve sat on the floor and stared at the phone in his hands.

----------

Sam came looking for him an hour later.

He knocked but there was no answer. “Steve?” He knocked again and opened the door, sticking his head through the open space to peek in. Steve was still seated on the floor with the phone in his hands, but his eyes were closed.

Sam made his way into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. He could tell by the rise and fall of Steve’s chest that the man wasn’t sleeping. “You alright?”

Steve shrugged and let out a harsh laugh. When he opened his eyes, Sam could see that they were filled with tears. He moved from the bed and sat next to his friend.

“Look around you, Sam. Nothing is alright.”

Sam pulled his lips in tight and tilted his head to the right. “I don’t know about that. We’re all alive, and safe and together. No big catastrophes have happened in the last few weeks,” Steve went to speak but Sam cut him off, “nothing new, I mean. And Natasha showed up a few minutes ago.”

Steve’s eyes widened. He hadn’t seen or heard from her since she let him and Bucky escape at Leipzig. He went to get up but Sam held a hand in front of him.

“She’s still talking to T’Challa.”

Steve winced. That wasn’t going to go over too well. He felt some of the earlier tension leave him. He was happy she returned. After her choice at the airport, Ross would have it out for her, too, so naturally her instincts told her to run. What was it that brought her back?

“You wanna talk about Stark now?”

Steve turned to his friend and raised his eyebrow. Sam could see pain, anger, confusion and a bit of something else flit across Steve’s face. He’d hold on to that for later.

“C’mon, man. You been staring at the phone since you mailed his and I know how bad you’re hurtin’ from Siberia.” Sam’s voice was soft and showed no sign of judgement.

Steve sighed and slumped against the wall. “I called him.”

Sam pursed his lips together.

“I don’t really know what I was expecting but we ended up throwing accusations at one another. Opened those wounds again.” He placed the phone back in his pocket. Did they ever really heal?   “He knows where we are, Sam.”

Brown eyes widened at that and he bent his head back. “Well, I don’t think that’s a bad thing, do you?”

Steve growled, his face taut in anger. “He could come here, Sam. He could take you all back to the Raft, he could take Buck. After everything that’s happened!” Steve pounded his fist against the floor and stood up, running his hands through his hair.

Sam followed him and placed his hand on Steve’s shoulder. “He could… but he hasn’t. There is a very big difference.” He tilted his head to catch Steve’s gaze. “We’ve been here for two weeks and I would bet anything that Stark’s known since the moment we set foot on Wakandan soil. We’ve read the papers and seen the news. The Accords are still topic of conversation and we’re still wanted fugitives, but he hasn’t sent anyone after us.” He let that sink in for a moment. “Why do you think that is?”

He watched as the man in front of him caved in on himself. Steve moved to the bed and sat down. “I never give him enough credit.”

Sam followed. “Look, you reached out to him. That’s good.” He nudged Steve’s shoulder. “I’m not saying I forgive the guy, but I can see that after everything, he’s at least trying to take the first step in correcting some of his wrongs. I don’t think he’ll come after us.”

 

Look...Sam, I made a mistake. I’m sorry.

Well, that’s a first.

 

Sam leaned back, his palms flat on the bed. “A lot of shit went down, Steve. If it wasn’t for me, Rhodes…” Sam broke off and closed his eyes.

Steve turned to face his friend. “We’re all still dealing with a lot.” Sam nodded.

“Are you going to call him again?”

Steve was quiet and Sam saw a flicker of hope in Steve’s blue eyes. “Yea. But I’m gonna give him some time.”

Sam patted Steve’s back. “It’s all you can do.”

Chapter Text

When he hung up the phone, Tony pushed it to the far end of the table, and sat with an unopened bottle of Scotch in front of him. It would have been so easy to drown his failures and disappointments in the bottom of a bottle. Yet each time he went for it, he stopped. He couldn’t get past what his drinking would do to the team.

He rolled his eyes at that. What team? They were scattered to the far reaches of the world. Well, Wanda, Clint, and Sam were with Steve. Natasha was God knows where, Vision was sulking (could an Android even do that?), and Rhodey was currently regaining the ability to walk thanks to Tony’s stellar decision making skills.

That wasn’t fair. Rhodey said he made his decision to stand by the Accords. I can’t take that away from him, too.

In the end, Tony emptied the bottle in the sink and got to work on his speech for the U.N., gathering the information he was going to need to make his case.  

That had been three days ago, and he had not heard one word from the super soldier in all of its seventy-two hours. He was currently in his room, sitting on the edge of the bed in another Tom Ford three piece suit, this one a dark navy topped off with a gray tie. Friday alerted him that the car service was downstairs but he told her to have them wait.

“You’re scheduled to speak in another thirty minutes, Boss and there’s traffic at this time of day.”

The clock read 3:27. “I’m the one who called the meeting, Friday.” He stared at the phone in his hands. “There’s something I have to do,” he mumbled.    

With bated breath he dialed, then listened.

Steve picked up on the second ring. “Tony?” He sounded out of breath. “I didn’t think you’d call. You okay?”

Tony felt an odd exhilaration at the breathiness in Steve’s voice and forcefully shook his head.

What the hell?

“Yep. All good here, Steve.” There was most definitely not a prepubescent squeak to his voice. He could hear talking in the background and his chest tightened in recognition: Natasha. The back of his tongue filled with the bitter taste of betrayal. “Seems like I caught you in the middle of something.”

He heard Steve swallow, most likely chugging a bottle of water. “Just finished some sparring. Nothing that can’t wait.”

Huh. “I...uh, I just wanted to call and…” his jaw dropped open and he rolled his eyes. C’mon, Stark. “I wanted to say I’m sorry too..”

Steve must have been stunned because he didn’t reply.

“I just, I know that it seemed like I gave up on the Avengers, on us, when I agreed with Ross, but I couldn’t get Spencer’s mother’s face out of my mind. I had to make it right. Sometimes I do that by acting first and thinking later, but this time... this tim e I thought about it. And the Accords were the only way to keep us accountable. There needs to be responsibility. And I knew we’d be able to make amendments later; take some control with what we were given and then go back and make it better.”

Steve cleared his throat. “There does need to be responsibility, but not the way they want to do it.” His voice was resolute. “And we should have made it better from the beginning, Tony. They only gave us three days to accept this or get out of the way. There was no room for discussion, that should have been the first sign of trouble.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “You really don’t give an inch do you?”

“I’m sorry, Tony. But this was never something I could stand behind.”

Sometimes if I see a situation pointed South, I can’t ignore it. Sometimes I wish I could.

No you don’t.

No. I don’t. Sometimes…

Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth. But I don’t want you gone. We need you, Cap.

“I know that, now.” There was so much he wanted to say, but when he did, he wanted it to be in person. He wasn’t ready for that, yet.  “But I did mean what I said in Berlin.”

“That you want to punch me in my perfect teeth?” Steve asked, his voice light.

That got a chuckle out of Tony. “You can bet your star-spangled ass I do. But the other thing...about not wanting to see you gone.” Tony’s voice was heavy with emotion, and slightly breathless.

Well, damn. Where the hell did that come from?

Steve was stunned. He blinked his eyes and felt a soft heat in his belly at the sound of the other man’s voice and the truth behind his words. “I didn’t want to go.”

“But you did leave. It’s on the top of my “Regret List”.”

Steve furrowed his brows and scrunched his nose. “That's what makes the list? Not blowing Bucky’s arm off? Not attacking-”

“Your friend?” Tony sneered.

He heard an edge in Steve’s tone and Tony couldn’t help but nudge back. “Really? How about you? Do you regret lying to me about my parents? We lived in the same place for more than two years, and even after the team relocated to the Avengers facility I spent more time there than in the tower. You had plenty of chances to tell me the truth. But you didn’t. Where does that fall on your list, huh?” Tony growled. “What happened to ‘Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things?’” Remember how pissed you were at me for keeping Ultron from the team, and you couldn’t find it in you, to share the truth about one of the biggest moments of my life?” Tony sighed and Steve could picture him running his hand through his hair, eyes closed and shoulders tense.

Steve remained silent.

Tony let out a breath. “Well, this is just great. Thanks for sending the phone, but we’re gonna have to talk about this another day, Cap. I have someplace to be.”

“Another hearing?” When Tony didn’t respond, Steve continued, “We’ve been keeping a close eye on the news.”

“Yea. I would think so considering you’re all a bunch of criminals.”

“Well, Wakanda is warmer than jail.”

Tony’s laugh sprang free from his lips and Steve felt unabashed pride at getting him to sound like that.

“That it is. Don’t forget sunscreen.”

Before Steve could respond, Tony already hung up.

Chapter Text

Steve skipped his shower and made his way back out to the living room. He found Sam and Natasha in front of the television, both still in their workout gear. Natasha was twirling a small paring knife in her hand, occasionally stopping to slice off a piece of the apple that sat in her lap. Her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail, damp, auburn strands were plastered to her neck and cheeks. Sam was standing behind her, a bottle of water forgotten at his feet.

Steve could see the tension in the way they held themselves. When you work with people as closely as they do, it becomes second nature to read and know their body language.

“Something’s going on at the United Nations.” Natasha didn’t even turn around to acknowledge Steve entering the room. After her talk with T’Challa, the spy came to talk to him, the two of them leaving the palace to walk around the expansive gardens. Listening to her speak so openly, made Steve realize just how much it cost her to be in the middle of everything. Out of everyone, she balanced the line between understanding the need for the Accords while fighting against the control others would have over her freedom and actions, the most. He and Tony were her friends and this feud barricaded her in a very difficult spot. Her decision to come back to them turned out to be a personal one: she missed them.

She explained to him that T’Challa apologized for outing her to Ross, and she responded in kind (“Those bites hurt, Ms. Romanoff.”). Having Natasha back, grounded him in a way he hadn’t acknowledged before the Accords. When she was working with Tony, Steve found that if he second guessed himself or needed to work out a problem, he would turn to look for her… and the eccentric billionaire. Though Sam was the closest thing he had to a brother in this life (other than Bucky), Tony and Natasha had been there since the beginning. He never realized how much their friendship and support meant to him until he didn’t have it. Steve moved around the couch and sat next to Natasha. She held out an apple slice for him, and he smiled at her as he took it.

It had been so easy for him to forgive Natasha. Why couldn’t he do the same with Tony? Steve stared at the piece of fruit in his hand, the bright red of its skin reminding him of the red in Tony’s armor. He knew why. As much as he loved Natasha, Tony had gotten in deeper than the rest of them, a fact he hadn’t acknowledged until after he made that first call. There were shouts from the television, pulling him from his thoughts.

Christine Everhart was on the screen, her blonde hair pulled back in a low bun. “WHiH has discovered that a meeting was called here today at the United Nations by Tony Stark.”

Steve’s eyes widened. “I have someplace I have to be.” Oh, God. He was going to tell them that he knew where Steve and the others were. He moved himself to the edge of his seat and placed his shaking hands in his lap. He could feel Natasha and Sam watching him.

“What do you think this is, Cap?”  There was a tremor in Sam's voice.

Steve winced at the title, shook his head and shrugged.

Natasha tilted her head back to look at Sam, “I think we should wait and see what this is before anyone makes a move to do anything.”

Steve knew that last bit was meant for him.

On the screen, Everhart continued. “Just about three weeks ago, Tony Stark and Captain Steve Rogers had a very public falling out over the Sokovia Accords and the demand for Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes to be taken into custody. Since then, there has been no sign of the wayward Captain or the members of his team who escaped from their cells on the supermax prison known as the Raft.” She looked down and pressed a hand to her ear. Steve knew she must have been getting information from the station.

“Since the events in Vienna, Berlin and Leipzig, Mr. Stark and representatives for Stark Industries have been uncharacteristically silent towards the press, and considering Mr. Stark’s previous aversion to government interference,” they pulled up images of his last meeting at capitol hill when the government wanted his suits, “this is a definite turn from what is to be expected. There have been no reports about what Tony Stark wants to discuss, but one can only guess as the topic of this meeting. This journalist would place her bets on the Accords and the possibility that Tony Stark has found the members of the resistance.”

Sam sucked in a breath. “Steve…”

“He wouldn’t do that, Sam.” Natasha was quick to defend Tony. “He’s had more than enough time to come after us.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Tony wouldn’t do that publicly, he’d be covert about; drop himself on T’Challa’s doorstep and just take us.”

As terrible as it sounded, Steve knew she was right.

Sam didn’t let that go. “Like he wanted to take us in Leipzig?”

She stood up and leaned over the back of the couch, her green eyes cold and focused on Sam’s brown ones. “He asked first, Sam. Or did you forget that? He stood in front of Steve and practically begged for it.” She let out a cruel laugh. “Tony Stark doesn’t beg, not even when he was hooked up to a car battery and had his head held underwater.”

Steve’s chest clenched at the visual and it must have been enough for Sam because the other man went quiet. “Nat’s right, Sam.” He could practically hear Sam’s head whip around to face him. “But this is not the time. We need to see what this is about.” The two Avengers stood down and Natasha went back to her spot next to Steve, while Sam perched a little farther down on the edge of the couch.  

Everhart had stopped talking but the station resorted to showing images from the last three weeks, and even some from as far back as their fight with Loki in New York. They only stopped when the cameraman panned to the right, focusing on a sleek, black Audi as it pulled up to the front of the U.N.

His stomach tightened in knots, and it wasn’t until he caught sight of Tony stepping out of the car, that he realized he had been holding his breath. He could feel his heart rate pick up as he watched Tony pull his suit jacket together so he could button it up.

He raised a hand to the crowd and gave them a blinding smile. Steve knew how to read all of Tony’s tells and that smile was one built on years of training. Tony’s public persona was another form of armor, created from expensive cloth and a cavalier facade. But there was one slip up on this occasion: Tony skipped his normal sunglasses and Steve was able to see the dark circles under his eyes, and the hollowness in his cheeks. He was witnessing the physical toll their actions had taken on the man, and as Tony made his way up the steps, he noticed how Tony favored his left side, how his hand went to his chest and stayed there, and how his knuckles turned white as his fingers wrapped around the railing.

Steve was reminded of just how human Tony was.

“He doesn’t look good,” Natasha whispered. She had moved forward as well, her forearms were resting on her thighs and her mouth was turned down.

How badly did he hurt the other man? It made his stomach roll, and he could feel tears prickling behind his eyes. But even with the fading bruises and the apparent weight loss, Tony was still an attractive man. Steve would have to be blind to not see that. Getting to see Tony, if only on television, set butterflies free in his stomach.

Tony stopped to say a few words to Christine.

“Mr. Stark, could you give the world some insight as to why you called his meeting and why such secrecy?”

Tony raised an eyebrow and threw up the peace sign to the crowd that had started to gather outside the barricades. “The world? I think you’re overestimating your reach.”

Sam whistled at Tony’s remark.

Everhart ignored his jab, “There’s speculation that you’ve located the resistance, is that true?”

Tony’s smile faded and he tilted his head as he contemplated the question. He took a deep breath and licked his lips. Steve’s eyes followed the movement, the butterflies ever present. “Captain Rogers and the Avengers, is what I think you were looking for there, Christine. And speculation is just another word for “assume” and you know what they say about people who assume.” He shook his head and look down and away from the camera.

Steve couldn’t look away.

When Tony turned back to the camera there was a steel edge to his gaze. “A lot has happened these last couple of weeks, hell, these last couple of years. But Captain Rogers and the rest of the Avengers have always held the safety of this world and its inhabitants as top priority. They are heroes. And they were,” he paused and licked his lips, “they are the only people who can stand up to forces that no one else on this planet could. And yes, there are those who say that because of the very existence of people like the Avengers, they invite catastrophe, but I’d like you to consider the numbers if they weren’t here. What kind of world would we be living in today? Would there be anything left of this one at all?” He pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and pointer finger. “I’m here today to set some things right and repair some bridges I may have burned down.”

He went to walk away but Everhart called out to him. “Mr. Stark! You said “the Avengers are heroes,” does that mean you don’t consider yourself one?”

Steve’s breath caught in his throat. Did Tony think he wasn’t an Avenger? Or worse, did he think he wasn’t a hero?

Tony raised a perfectly sculpted brow, and the corner of his lip mirrored the movement. He gave a brief nod and went inside.

Now they just had to wait.

Chapter Text

The atrium to the building was cool, and Tony let out a sigh of relief as he propped himself against a marble pillar. Ever since the Accords, he's had anxiety whenever he was around the press, which was a lot, but luckily the specifics of everything that was discussed since Siberia was being kept quiet. He really didn't have to reply to any of the questions that were thrown at him, but he found his resolve wavering whenever people mentioned the Avengers. Or Steve.

It was like the man said, the team was Tony’s family, and even though he knew they all screwed up on this one, it didn't allow for other people to shit on them and their service. He would still defend and fight for them when others threw them on the pyre.

Which was the very reason why he called this meeting. Things had to change and he had to be the one to start the ball rolling. He owed it to the world, to the team, to himself and more importantly, to Steve.

He made his way into the General Assembly room and found that all of the delegates had gathered and stayed despite his lateness. Thanks to his phone call and pit stop with Everhart, he was about 12 minutes late. Walking up to the dais he caught Ross' pissed off gaze and rolled his eyes at the permanent frown the man wore.

Tony was never sure that he was going to do this, but his talk with Rhodey had helped set him on the path and the arrival of an unexpected letter, three days after the events at the compound certainly helped as well.

My Friend,

I did say we were a recipe for chaos. I just never thought it would be on this level.

You should know that I can’t stand with the Accords, and I’m fairly certain you can understand why, Tony. Ross and I have never seen eye to eye; he thinks I’m a weapon that can be trained and contained. I’d only end up with more blood on my hands; a puppet for the government. And I can’t do that to myself or the Other Guy.

I’ve caught glimpses of the team in the news and I have to say that it breaks my heart to see you all divided on this. We were always stronger together. It’s just taken me some time to realize and appreciate that. Don’t make my mistake and let that gap grow. Mend your bridges now and get them back.

I hope you’re doing alright and know that I miss you (all) and think of you often, and that I’m okay.  

When this blows over, I’ll come home.

Your friend.   

He knew what it cost Bruce to reach out to him in a time like this, and if he was willing to risk his safety to remind them that he was always there, and they were always on his mind, then Tony could speak to the U.N. on behalf of the Avengers, to make sure the world understood what the Accords were, what they meant and what they could be. Personal consequences be damned.

He cleared his throat once and the room quieted down. Tony pulled on a pair of tinted glasses and touched a small button on the side. “Apologies for my tardiness, ladies and gentlemen. Friday, pull it up.”

The screen behind him showed pictures he was all too familiar with: London, New York, Sokovia, D.C., and now Lagos and Leipzig.

“We've all met on more than one occasion since the Accords came to light, and our main purpose has always been to ensure the safety of this world and its inhabitants.”

He unbuttoned his suit jacket and took it off, hanging it on the corner of the dais. “Somewhere along the way, we forgot,” he paused and frowned, “I forgot, that the members of the Avengers, and other people like them, are inhabitants of this world too. And the Accords did nothing to protect them.”

The room erupted into angry chatter, delegates turning to their translators, some even standing and raising fists in Tony's direction.

The Iron Man armor flew into the room and landed at Tony's side. The room quieted down instantly.

He gave them a lopsided grin. “There needs to be accountability, there's no doubt about that. But there also needs to be amendments made. When the Avengers first heard of the Accords, they were only given three days to agree or stand down. These are people who spend their lives protecting those of this world, and in some cases, make larger sacrifices to ensure the safety of others. We live in a world that is not black and white, therefore the Accords should be painted in shades of grey; there needs to be safe guards for everyone.” His voice was clear and strong as he spoke. The people in that room knew Tony Stark believed in what he was saying.

Ross looked like he wanted to strangle the man.

A murmur rippled across the room, only stopping when the delegate from India raised his hand to speak. “Mr. Stark, you are asking for quite a bit from this organization. Your friends, at this moment, are criminals under the Accords.” There were nods of assent and more murmuring. “How do we know that you are not asking for these changes to spare them?”

Tony closed his eyes and ran a hand along the back of his neck, before coming around to pop open the top button of his shirt. “The events in Lagos occurred before the Accords therefore they are clear from any criminality in that event, as terrible as it was. But as far as them being criminals…” he trailed off and smirked. “I think that is a bit dramatic.”

There were chuckles, but the delegate was unfazed. “Much like this meeting, Mr. Stark.”

Tony narrowed his eyes at the man. “Let me first address what many of you are probably thinking: this is not a last ditch effort to change the Accords to free my friends of recriminations. It’s to present to all of you the idea of an Accords that actually works.” He steadied himself on the podium. “Captain Steven Grant Rogers and Sam Wilson went after the individual known as the Winter Soldier outside of the parameters set in the Accords, because in this scenario, the immediate reaction to the events in Vienna was to shoot on sight.” He wiped his hand across his mouth and took another drink of water. “Ladies and gentlemen, the international governments of the world set a shoot to kill order on a man who was not responsible for the bombing, nor the lives that were lost in that event. And yet, certain individuals,” he looked at Ross and sneered, “thought it was completely pertinent to follow through with that order without substantial evidence to back it up! The Winter Soldier has been inactive since his encounter with Captain Rogers in D.C. And the first time he was “active” was after Heinrich Zemo activated a Hydra code created by Hydra to turn James Buchanan Barnes into a weapon. And let’s not forget the fact that there was also a shoot to kill order placed on Rogers and Wilson.”

A gasp echoed round the room and whispers and turned heads told Tony that no one knew about that specific order.

He paused to look at the delegate. “Our biggest issue is that there is no line for compromise. We made decisions and took actions without evidence or facts, and used the Accords as a weapon. And I cannot stand by it, as is.”

The man from India sat down and a woman took his place. “What are you proposing, Mr. Stark?”

“A complete overhaul of the Accords. I have some parameters and changes ready for you all to see today, and then I’d like you to take the time to talk it over with your governments and we can reconvene in a week.”

“What if we want no part of these changes?” a voice called.  

Tony cleared his throat and shrugged his shoulders. “We need a majority vote to put it through and I believe that all of us here want the same thing: and that’s a safer world.”

“Where do we start?” someone else asked.

The next picture Friday projected was an old sepia photo of a young man with dark hair, bright eyes and open smile. He was dressed in an army uniform.

Tony couldn't stop the onslaught of anger that spread throughout him, so he took a drink of water to gain his bearings. He knew in his gut this was the right thing to do.

This is where we start.” He pointed to the picture behind him. “We forgot about this man when we were accusing him of murderous atrocities and traitorous acts. We forgot that no one stepped in to save him, to help him when he needed it most. We forgot that the very organization that turned him into a weapon, infiltrated our own government without anyone the wiser.”

He paused.

“We can make this right.  And our first step is with Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes of the United States Army.”

-------------------

Tony had never been as exhausted as he was in that moment, and that's coming from a man who fell from space and was caught by a Hulk, got battered by debris from a blown up city and went toe to toe with two super soldiers.

The meeting at the U.N. went on for three hours. After Tony presented his case he opened the floor to more questions and concerns. At first, many of the delegates were against any changes to the Accords and even more vehement about not pardoning Barnes. It took all of his considerable knowledge, evidence and charm to get them to listen.

Towards the end, there were those that began to see his side, while others still had their feet firmly planted next to Ross and the Accords. This was not something that was going to be fixed overnight, but he was able to have one good thing come from today: he fought for this and they listened. He started the conversation that the international community and the Avengers should have had weeks ago.

As he fell back on his bed, Tony closed his eyes and felt the agonizing throb of a migraine at the base of his skull. Though whether from the lights, or the shouting, or his current emotional state, he couldn't tell.

Tony could feel the tears start to leak from his eyes. A majority of the delegates had agreed, after much deliberation that Barnes should be pardoned of the crimes committed as the Winter Soldier. Human experimentation and brainwashing tends to blow any counter arguments out of the way, and they couldn’t really say much when they were all reminded of the active Hydra bases the Avengers had discovered and shut down, in their countries. But, as with anything when dealing with politicians, there were stipulations that had to be met.

Steve and the rest of the team were still very much seen as criminals and Tony had to concede some points. They would have to be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive, because at the time the Accords were initiated, they went against them. But it was something they could work through and deal with. As with anything, it would take time.

He shucked his shoes off and unbuttoned his shirt, having discarded his vest and jacket on his couch. He could barely move to get his shirt off, the constant ache and pull behind the bruises causing him to wince and clench his teeth. They were starting to get better, the onyx had faded from his skin and he now looked like a rotten eggplant.

The physical pain was bearable compared to that which was going on inside. He felt as though he betrayed his parents in his decision to fight for Barnes.  Neither of them deserved to die like that; if anything, he should be rallying behind all the other voices calling for the man's execution.

The idea came to him just one day before Steve reached out to him, after his discussion with Rhodey. Prior to that, he wanted to see Barnes suffer in retribution for his parent’s fate and in some fucked up way, to have Steve suffer, too. But he knew it would be a decision he could never walk away from, one that would gradually eat away at his soul.

The shrill ring of his phone broke into his thoughts and he groaned as he sat up. He pulled the phone Steve sent him out and saw that it was dark.  Pushing away the disappointment, he reached for his personal cell, and saw it was not only a blocked number, but it was a request for a video call.

“Friday, can we do anything about this?”

“I've tried to get a location on the call. I'm being bounced around to different towers, Boss.”

Huh. He pressed accept. Natasha's bright green eyes were starting back at him. She looked healthy. She looked alive.

“Hey there stranger,” she said. The soft rasp to her voice made his heart constrict. God how he missed her.

“Natasha. It's good to see you.”

The sincerity in his voice brought a smile to her face.

“Saw you on T.V., Shellhead. Want to share?”

He leaned forward on his knees and winced. Natasha didn't miss the move.

“Or do you want to start by telling me what's wrong? You look like shit.”

There wasn't a question there. She demanded an answer while coming across as polite. Spy.

“Jeez, Nat. You wanna tell me where you are?” He wasn’t up for this. He needed sleep.  

“Tony.”

Are you alright?

Always.

He shook his head and went into the bathroom, the light temporarily blinding him. “Where should I start?” He ticked each injury off on his fingers.  “Concussion, small fracture to my left ulna, multiple concussions, bruised ribs -as in plural- and this beautiful mural.” He held the phone out to show her his chest.

Her face fell and it was then that Tony knew he was getting a chance to see Natasha without any of her masks on. But just as quickly as it fell, it was back up.

“Purple isn't really your color.”

He snorted and the two of them shared companionable silence, until he said, “I'm working to get Barnes pardoned.”

Her eyes widened.

“I'm assuming you know. Or knew.”

She took a deep breath. She didn't need to be a genius to know what he was referring to. “I had an idea.”

He waved his hand and shook his head. “Doesn't matter. But yea, I'm working on it.”

“That’s incredibly grown-up.”

He shrugged his shoulders in. “well, you know, me” kind of way.

“There's a lot to work through, Nat. But I'm trying.”

She gave him a soft smile. “You always try, Tony. It's one of your more redeeming qualities.”

He rolled his eyes but his voice turned serious. “How are they doing?”

She turned her head to look behind her. “They're hurt.” The physically and mentally was implied. “Sam’s holding a lot of guilt over Rhodey, Wanda’s despondent and misses Vision, Clint misses Laura and the kids, and Scott is a fanboy.”

Tony's eyes softened. “Tell Birdbrain Jr. that Rhodey is doing great and he doesn't hold any blame. The colonel is resilient, I mean, he's been my friend for decades.” She laughed. “I built him some awesome braces and he's running circles around me already.”

She smiled, but soon, a shadow crossed her eyes. “Why don't you just ask me about him?”

There was a furrow between his eyes and he blink in rapid succession.

“God, you two are idiots,” she mumbled as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Did he tell you Barnes went back under?” Tony's gasp answered for him. “It was Barnes’ decision. He said it would be best for everyone until they got whatever's left of Hydra, out.”

He went 'non-hyper verbal’ for a few minutes. Nat let him take the time he needed to process. “It's in his brain, Nat, that’s not something you can just fix. And if everything I've read and watched about the Winter Soldier is true,” he saw her flinch, “cryo can't fix PTSD. Nothing can except acknowledging what happened and time, and that's coming from experience. He told me he remembered everything. That’s going to stay for a while.”

“I'll bring it up to Steve and the doctors.” The smile she gave him was sad, as though she didn't want to hang up.

“Don't stay cooped up in that mansion, Tony. Get out. Take a flight around Manhattan or, maybe someplace tropical?” This time, her smile showed teeth and he couldn't help but laugh.

“I'll let Steve know you're pining for him.” She winked.

It took a minute for him to realize what she had said. “Wait!”

His screen was dark and he groaned.

“Shit.”

Chapter Text

After Tony had disappeared into the United Nations, Steve, Sam and Natasha sat in front of the television for another thirty minutes before realizing that they would get nothing from the journalists, and that it would be some time before anyone had anything substantial to report.

Sam went to take his forgotten shower and told the duo he'd fill the others in on Stark.

It was just Steve and Natasha.

The room was quiet but you could hear birdsong in the trees.

“You sent Tony a phone.”

Steve didn't say a word but he knew that an actual verbal response was a mere formality, when it came to Natasha. Plus, she knew Steve would have reached out to Tony somehow.  

His silence did not deter her. “You were the one who called first. How did that go?”

Steve sighed and leaned further into the cushions. He turned his head towards her, raised an eyebrow, and gave a halfhearted shrug. “About as well as you'd think.”

She turned to face him, a sign for him to continue.

“We all screwed up on this one, Nat. I know that. And I didn't expect our first conversation after...everything, to be kind. But it wasn't terrible.” He ran his hand over his face. “We have a lot to work through.”

Natasha hummed and tapped her foot against the couch twice. “You wanna share what that face was before?”

His eyes met hers and he saw that there was concern and compassion there. “He's hurt. And not just emotionally or mentally. I physically hurt him.” The admission was like a punch in the chest, it felt eerily similar to the repulsive blast to his stomach. His hand unconsciously went to his middle.

“From what I heard, he hurt you too.”

Steve bit on his lip and rolled his eyes. “It’s different.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed. “Is it? Sam told me it took you a week to recover from the blast he sent your way.”

Steve bristled at that. “It did. Those things really do hurt.” He lips tugged into a thin line before he stood up. “Before I left the compound, Tony was still on the floor. I..” he broke off and went to stare out the window. His gaze followed a flock of birds across the darkening sky. “I didn't even know how badly he was injured.” Tears stung his eyes and he blew a harsh breath out through his teeth. He turned back to her. “I don’t think I really cared in that moment.”

She gave a slight nod. “You left your shield.”

“Technically, it's government property.”

She smiled when he threw her words from earlier, back at her. “Can you just walk away?”

His eyes fell to the floor and he took in a deep breath. That had been one of the many issues running through his head since Bucky went back under. Did he want to keep the mantle of Captain America? Did he even deserve it? Did the nation even want him back? Did the world? These were the things that made the fissures in his heart crack open even wider. Who would he be if not Captain America? It hurt too much to think about. Natasha must have caught on because she changed the subject.

“You didn’t just notice the way he was carrying himself, Steve. There was a different look to your eyes when you saw Tony.”

Tension immediately flooded his body. Natasha watched as his head snapped up to look at her, his shoulders bunched up and became rigid, the muscle in his jaw clenched, and the uncontrolled rise and fall of his chest; he just told Natasha everything she needed to know.  

Steve could feel the warmth of his blush as it crept up his neck to his ears, and looked away. He didn’t stand a chance.

With a small smirk she adjusted her spot on the couch and asked, “How long?”

He rolled his eyes and turned back to the window. He could see stars start to dot the sky. He dropped his chin to his chest. “I don’t know.” In that moment, he looked lost. “I haven’t really had time to think about it.” He fumbled for the words. “I mean, I think I started to realize something was going on before all of this happened, but I never really took the time to figure it out.”  

A small hand fell to the center of his back, causing him to startle. When she moved to his side, she nudged his shoulder with hers.

“You knew.” There was awe and a bit of frustration laced through his words.

It was Natasha’s turn to roll her eyes. The ‘duh’ was implied.

“She knew what?”

The two Avengers turned to see that Sam had entered the room. Steve blushed again and turned away from his friend, but Nat was quick to cover. “That Clint was the one who covered my gun in petroleum jelly.”

The archer thought it was a fitting “welcome back” present.

Sam’s face paled and he held his hands up at his sides. “I had nothing to do with that.”

Her smile was absolutely predatory. “Smart little bird.”

She gave Steve a pat on his back. “I’ll see you boys later.” She had a phone call to make.

Sam sidled up to Steve and shivered. “Ya, know. I like her but sometimes she’s downright terrifying.”

----------------

Natasha left the boys to call Tony and after she hung up the phone, she knew that it was time to find Steve. When the soldier was troubled, he could often be found in the tower’s gym or library, and though their location had changed, their habits didn’t. The exquisitely furnished library was covered in floor to ceiling bookshelves, complete with a ladder that was able to take you completely around.

The shelves were dark wood, and there was a cushioned seat along the large window and two large, plush chairs in front of a fireplace. Steve was currently reading in one, or he had been. Now, he was asleep. She knew that the serum didn’t require that much sleep, but if he had crashed in here, it must have been because his body needed it. She turned to leave.

“Everything alright?” His voice was still filled with sleep, rough and raspy, a sure sign he had been in a deep sleep.

She felt guilty for seeking him out, but she turned from the door and sat in the other chair. “I spoke to Tony.”

Steve went from “struggling to get out of REM sleep” to “wide awake” in less than .12 seconds. His eyes were clear and he sat straight, book falling to the floor, forgotten. If I wasn’t sure about his feelings before, I sure am now.

Steve stared at the phone in her hands. “And? How is he? Did he tell you what went on?”

She nodded. “He told me what the meeting with the delegates was about but I think he should tell you on his own.”

Steve’s mouth was set in a grim line. “Natasha, if he told you-”

“-he told me , Steve. Not you. And even though he didn’t say it, I think he’d want to be the one to tell you his reasoning for going there. I could see it meant a lot to him. You have to respect that.”

He huffed and crossed his arms.

Who knew Captain America was a thirteen-year-old boy?

“He misses everyone. I told him he should get out. Take a break.”

“He won’t do that, he’s Tony Stark.”

She smiled. “I don’t know. He looked like he was in need of a vacation.”

Steve raised an eyebrow and smiled but it faded quickly. “You saw him?”

She raised her phone. “Video chat.”

Steve’s eyes got so wide, Natasha was sure it had to hurt.

“I asked him how he was doing and he said he was fine, which we both know is Tony speak for ‘I’m practically falling apart but I don’t want to trouble anyone”.

That got a small chuckle out of Steve.

Natasha moved to the edge of the chair and pulled something up on her screen. “I took a screenshot while we were talking. Just...be prepared.”

He could hear the concern in her voice and knew that whatever this was, it wouldn't be good. He cradled the phone in his hand, a sharp gasp pierced the quiet. Tony was looking at the screen, his eyebrow raised and an unimpressed look on his face. His free hand held open his shirt which was where Steve’s eyes immediately went. There across the toned, olive skin was an inch-thick bruise, mimicking the color of the night sky. He didn’t even know bruises could be that dark. He also noticed that it seemed to be shaped in a slight curve. One that Steve would bet, matched the edge of his shield.

Natasha watched as his face fell, and paled. She watched as Steve rapidly blinked his eyes to keep the tears at bay and just before he bolted out of his seat, she was by his side with the wastebasket.

He retched until there was nothing left in his stomach.

Once finished, he fell back, flat on the floor, his eyes closed until he felt a cool towel placed across his forehead and heard the clink of ice cubes in a glass placed by his side.

His voice was raw when he spoke. “I haven’t thrown up in decades.” He sat up and saw she was cross legged in front of him. “I did that to him.”

Natasha looked down and away from Steve, her lips in a small frown.

“I knew it pierced the suit but if it had hit him, wouldn’t I have known?”

She shook her head, soft auburn tendrils caressing her cheeks. “In that moment, you weren’t thinking clearly. You know how much weight the suit can withstand, Steve. The kind of force it would take for Tony to have any sort of injury that would leave marks. So while you still did it, you didn’t kill him.”

He took in a shuddering breath. “I think there was a moment when I would have,” he whispered.

The spy was not expecting that.

“Tony said it to me on one of our calls. He said he could see the second I changed direction. That if it had been one degree higher, I would have killed him. Maybe he was right.” He looked up at her and Natasha’s heart broke at the pain in his eyes. “What kind of man does that make me?”

“A man, Steve. Despite the serum and all the enhancements, it gave you, you’re still human.” She placed her hand on his knee. “None of us were there, but we know two things: the first being that you and Tony are not the ones to blame. That’s on Zemo.” Her fists clenched at her sides and he knew how badly she wanted to get her hands on the man. He wanted it even more. “You both made some shitty decisions but that’s also on the rest of us. We can sit here and keep thinking on all of them forever but that means he’s won.”

He took a sip of water and asked, “What’s the second?” He still sounded as though he had swallowed glass.

“That you and Tony always come back to each other. How many times have you two gone head to head about something, and just when it would seem as though the tower would explode, he’d crack a joke or you’d go sit in his workshop and everything would be forgiven?”

She ducked her head to catch his eye. “He will forgive you, Steve. It’s going to take time, but it will happen.”

Steve wasn't so sure it would be that easy. But she was right about him and Tony. Before all of this, Steve wanted to throttle Tony on more than one occasion, and now he knew without a doubt that there were times when the genius wanted to punch him, too. But they did always find their way back to solid ground. Back to each other. But after everything that happened recently, it just seemed so unlikely.

Too much had been said and done, things that Steve couldn’t forget. But maybe together, they could heal.

Natasha leaned back on her palms, legs out in front of her. “You two were actually pretty gross. The googly eyes and pouting.” She blew an errant strand of hair out of her face. “Now I know why you never went on any of those dates.”

He blushed and rose to his feet. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He held his hand out to her. “You call yourself a spy.”

She hummed and punched him in the shoulder. “I’m always here if you want to talk, Steve.”

He smiled at her. “I’ll figure it out.”

“And if you tell anyone that I had this heart to heart with you, it won’t end well.”

She gave him a quick wink and left the library.

The joke was on her. They all knew she was a big 'ol softy.

Chapter Text

Tony stood against the door and watched as Rhodey took a walk around the room without his leg braces. He could see the tremors in the other man’s muscles as he tried to stay up, the amount of effort it took to put one leg in front of the other was exhausting, but he was doing it.

“He's shown a marked improvement.”

Tony startled at the sudden appearance of Vision, but didn't answer him.

“I know you don't forgive me, and though the construct is new to me, I can understand why.”

“You were supposed to be better than us.”

“That was a distinction you placed on me.”

Tony turned to the Android and spoke through clenched teeth. “Here’s another human construct: you let your emotions get in the way of what had to be done.”

He turned away but Vision remained stoic. “I've spoken to Colonel Rhodes and apologized. He told me to stop my sulking and get off my ass.”

It sounded ridiculous coming from Vision but Tony could picture Rhodey saying it.

“Does that mean I'm forgiven?”

Tony's shoulders fell at the sadness in his voice. His eyes were soft when he spoke, placing a hand on Vision’s shoulder. “Yea, Viz, that means you're forgiven.”

They stood in companionable silence until Vision turned to leave. “I miss them as well. It's odd that in so short a time, they've come to mean so much.”

Tony felt his mouth go dry. All he could do was give a tight lipped smile and nod.

Once he was alone he walked up to Rhodey. “Looking good there, Forrest.” The other man rolled his eyes but it got the desired chuckle.

“I need to eat, man. This shit works up an appetite.”

Tony held his arms out wide. “Got a nice spread all ready for you upstairs.”

“Excellent. There's something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Tony's eyes narrowed. This couldn't be good.

-------------

Well, he was half right.

Tony had ordered from Rhodey’s favorite restaurant, Ted’s, something he now hoped would soften the blow of whatever it was his friend wanted to talk about.

Rhodey took a sip of his soda and pushed his plate away. “I got a call from Ross early this morning. He wanted me to knock some sense into you about this Barnes’ situation and the Accords.”

The color drained from Tony’s face. He hadn’t gone into great detail with Rhodey about what he was planning to do, but he couldn’t tell if Rhodey was pissed or not.  

“Rhodey, listen I-”

Rhodes held up his hand. “He told me enough. That you want the U.N. to pardon Barnes and you want to make amendments to the Accords.”

“They were going to ratify it before everything happened in Vienna. There’s no reason we can’t go back to that plan. I know I didn’t tell you everything, please don’t be mad. I’ll explain.”

The colonel scrunched his nose. “Mad? Why would I be mad?”

Tony opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.

Rhodes leaned forward in his seat. “I think it’s the right thing to do.” To say Tony was surprised was an understatement. “I know what the Winter Soldier did to your parents, and I want someone held accountable for that, but all we have is a man who was taken as a kid and tortured, experimented on and brainwashed. That just doesn’t seem like the right place to lay blame.”

“Why didn’t you talk to me about this sooner?” Tony whispered.

Rhodey shrugged and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest. “You needed to come to this on your own. You needed to make the decision because you believed in it and you knew it was the right thing to do. Not because I pushed you, or because you wanted to do it for someone else.” He gave the engineer a very pointed look.

Tony turned away.

“And as far as the Accords are concerned, I still believe that there should be a framework of oversight and international cooperation, but after some considerable time reading the damned thing and thinking on it, I can see that there are areas that need work.”

Tony felt a weight lifted off his shoulders. “Ross, doesn’t want any part of changing it.”

The other man nodded. “He told me he was coming to see you soon. He kind of gave me the ‘Get him to listen or I’m gonna throw him in a cell’, speech. He doesn’t seem to think very highly of you.” Tony snorted. “I think he’s going to try and pin you between a rock and a hard place. So what are you gonna do?” He reached in front of him and grabbed some sweet potato fries.

The corner of Tony’s mouth lifted. “That already happened, and that “hard place” has a punch like a pachyderm.”

Rhodey laughed, almost spitting his soda across the table.

“I’m trying to do the best I can with what I’ve got.”

Rhodey understood.

“And what about a certain Captain?”

Tony wouldn't meet his eyes but he muttered, “That’s not his title, he gave up his shield when he left me in that compound.”

Rhodey’s eyebrows shot up at the choice of words. He leaned forward in his seat. “Left you, Tones?”

Tony was quick to recover, but his blush gave him away. He raised his hand and waved it in the air. “You know what I mean.”

“MM-hmm. I do know what you mean, I just think you think you know what you mean, but you don’t.”

Tony scrunched up his nose. “What the hell did you just say? Was that even English?” Tony got up and started to throw the empty food containers in the bin.

“I think there was a lot more going on between you and Steve before all of this went down, Tony. I think you took a lot of this personally.”

Tony was enraged when he turned around. “There was never a ‘Steve and Me’.” Was there a hint of disappointment in his voice? “And how could I not take this personally, Rhodey? He automatically assumed that I was in the wrong from the beginning of this, he wouldn’t budge.” He ran his hand through his hair and leaned against the counter. “Once Barnes was in the picture he was already lost to me. And then everything in Siberia….I know where he and I stand now.” His shoulders were pulled forward and his hand hovered over his lips. “I know with these last couple of phone calls we’ve been able to actually talk to one another, so that’s gotta say something.”

There was a slight pause. “I know you care about him.”

“He’s my...was my friend. We’ve worked together, fought together, lived together for years.”

“That’s not what I mean.”

Tony’s chin was down, but he rolled his head to the side to peer at Rhodes. He closed his eyes and gave the slightest of nods.

Rhodey took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I had a feeling after the whole D.C. incident when you went ballistic watching him on that hellicarrier.”

“I was not ‘ballistic,’ I just couldn't understand why he’d just drop his shield like that and why he didn’t call!”

“Right. Not ballistic.”

Tony moved from the counter and sat in the seat next to Rhodes.

“When did you figure out it was more than me just having an attraction for his star spangled ass?”

Rhodes snorted and smiled at the man. “The party after you guys got the tesseract back. You were both so in sync with one another, and I’d catch you staring at him.” Rhodey nudged his friend’s shoulder. “You never stared at Pepper the way you stare at Steve.”

Tony crossed his arms over the table and let his head fall into them. “This really isn’t the best time for me to realize I have potential feelings for the man who almost killed me a few weeks ago.”

Rhodey patted his back. “Well, to be fair, you tried to kill him too.”

Tony groaned.

“You’re trying to make things right, Tony. I know that once Steve and the team see the lengths you’ve gone to, to make these things happen, they’ll know where you stand. Where your heart is.”

“It was always with the team,” he replied.

“If they didn’t know that then, they’ll sure as hell know it now. And if not, I’ll kick their asses.”

Tony chuckled and for the first time that evening, relaxed.

--------------

After his conversation with Rhodey, he thought Ross would call him within a day or two. But of course that’s not how it went. The man wanted to make Tony wait it out. Which naturally, put Tony on edge for days.

And to top it all off, he hadn’t heard from Steve since their conversation almost a week ago. Not that he kept the phone on him at all times of the day (he would definitely not bring it into the bathroom when he showered or leave it on his nightstand), that would just be weird. He also would never program Friday to have a special ring should he be in the workshop, tinkering when it went off.

Alright, so his measure of weird has changed since their first conversation in the “after,” because not only did he find himself hoping the phone would ring, he was hoping that Steve was thinking of him just as much. The blonde super soldier had been popping into his thoughts on a daily basis, and when it happened, his heart would beat rapidly in his chest, he’d start to sweat and he’d feel as though he had just gotten off a roller coaster.

The first time it happened he thought he was having a stroke.

It was all Natasha’s fault really, because she had so evilly unlocked all these thoughts in his subconscious (which decided right NOW was the time to focus on it), and then of course some of the blame could be put on Rhodey for solidifying the idea that Tony was more than attracted to the soldier. He realized that maybe, just maybe, he missed Steve. And not in the, “we lived together and fought all manner of evil together so it’s nice to have you around”, kind of way; but the, “your eyes are really blue and your shirts are perfectly tight and I stare at your ass for an inappropriate amount of time, and I miss seeing you draw in my workshop,” way.

Well, shit.

There was nothing he could do about it right now, because said soldier was a few thousand miles away and Ross was on his way up.  

After the breach at the Raft, Ross had sent armed guards to the tower to personally escort Tony to the supermax prison, where he was unceremoniously placed in a cell. Ross stood on the opposite side of the glass, arms crossed and face set in a devious grin.

“I told you that you belonged in one of these cells. How do you like it?”

Tony leaned against the far wall, arms and legs crossed, and shrugged, “It could use a t.v., and a Keurig, maybe some books, definitely a mini fridge.” He could play this game too.  

“You knew about the escape.”

Tony scoffed. “I’d like to see your reasoning for that. Are you still pissed that I kept you on hold, Ross? I love the light; it looks like the color of my suit.” He gave the older man a full smile and sat on the cot. “Some people say I’m a little self-absorbed.” He threw his hands up in a “oh, well” gesture.

“I think you’re an arrogant son of a bitch who has his head too far up his ass to see what’s really going on.”

Tony was up against the glass in seconds. “Yea, Ross and what’s that? You think I helped Rogers orchestrate a break in after I found out that he knew Barnes murdered my parents? After he almost killed me and then fled? If anything, I want to be the one to put him in a cell like this. Personally.”

His chest was heaving. “Or are you referring to the way you neglected to take action when we found out that Barnes was framed for the explosion in Vienna? Who’s trying to cover their ass here, Mr. Secretary, because it’s not me.”

The pound against the glass did little to startle Tony. Ross was seething. “My concern was for you to bring them in and set an example.”

“Your example was wrong. You were willing to shoot Captain America, not to mention two men who were soldiers for the United States. There was no compromise with you.”

Ross stepped back. “There isn’t room for compromise in the Accords.”

“Yea, and that’s a problem. Listen, you want to keep me here, fine. But I’m pretty sure I’m going to be more useful to you out there, than locked in a cell. I’ve been the face of the Avengers, of all of this, since it started.”

“You can’t be trusted, Stark. Your judgement is askew.”

Tony recoiled from the phrase. He said those exact words to Steve in Leipzig.

“It takes one to know one, Ross.”

After much deliberation and assholery, the Secretary of State released him but with a warning. “Don’t make me regret this, Stark. Next time, I won’t be as kind.”

Now, he could only imagine what Ross wanted to say after his actions at the U.N.

“Friday, record everything and see if you can maybe take a peek in Ross’ phone. I doubt he’s going to be honest about anything that goes on here. And put all projects open and completed on level HS-91 lockdown. Authorization TS-0812.”

“Certainly, Boss.”

The elevator opened and Ross, along with two armed members of the Secret Service, stepped out onto the communal floor.

They didn’t shake hands.

“What the hell was that, Stark?”

The engineer turned his back on the man and made his way to the couch. “You’d have to be more specific, my days are incredibly busy, I do a lot of things in 24 hours.”

Ross turned to the two guards and waved them away with his hand. They stood by the elevator doors, eyes trained on Tony. “You know what I’m referring to- pardoning Barnes? Ratifying the Accords?” He sat across from Tony but there wasn’t an ounce of ease in his shoulders. “I should have left you in that cell.”

Tony tilted his head and rolled his eyes. “It took me a lot of time to realize that Barnes died when he fell from that train. The man we saw in Berlin, that wasn’t him, but I can see how it’s a convenient place to lay blame.”

“Who should we blame, Stark?”

Tony threw his hands in the air, “Gee I don’t know, Hydra? Arnim Zola? S.H.I.E.L.D? Or even the U.S. government for not going back in and recovering Barnes in the first place.” He walked to the large window and looked out at the bustling city below. “There are more than enough places to lay blame, but I refuse to put it on him.”

“That’s very sentimental of you. And what about Rogers?”

Ross had come up beside him and it took considerable strength to not give away how much that question bothered him. “According to the Accords, he’s a criminal.”

The older man leaned against the glass. “And according to you?”

Tony turned to look at him. “The Accords need to be ratified, Ross. If we had been given adequate time to look over and discuss it, provide agreeable changes, this all could have been avoided.”

“Now who’s naive?” Ross jutted his chin out over the city. “The challenges you invite won’t stop.”

Tony was in his face, “No. But they would be handled by a group of individuals who are familiar with the terrain and each other. I’m not saying the Accords are wrong, but as they are right now, they’re a shit show.”

“I won’t let you win this, Stark. You’re more trouble than you’re worth.”

Tony crossed his hands at the wrists, a crude imitation of being handcuffed.  

“You’re too public. I can’t have people thinking I arrested you because of what you said.”

Tony snorted. “Right. Heaven forbid people saw the truth behind the Accords and those who enact them.” Ross was silent. “That’s all we have to say to one another. I’m sure you can find your way out.”

Tony turned back to the window and only once he heard Friday tell him that Ross had left, did he breathe easy. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes, willing his heart to slow and the nausea to go away.

He’d give himself two days to get everything in order. He knew what he had to do.

Chapter Text

STEVE

Steve was on his third punching bag, the other two lay discarded across the gym, sand seeping out onto the mat. 

Though the Wakandans were masters in technology (they could give Tony a run for his money on some things), their gym equipment was not built for his strength. He missed the old gym, especially the Stark bags that were specifically designed with him in mind. Sweat dripped into his eyes with each punch and he could hear the telltale sign of threads coming loose, until finally, with one roundhouse kick, it came off its hinge.

He was alone in the gym, his mood over the last week and a half put everyone on edge around him (except for Sam and Natasha). He hadn’t spoken to Tony since before the U.N. meeting, and other than talking with Natasha that night in the library, no one had brought up the genius in ten days. He walked to the bench that ran along one side of the gym and sat down. He took a bite of his banana and a large gulp of water and let himself cool down.

Steve knew why he was on edge: this last week, he hasn’t thought of anything other than Tony. His feelings for an energized, arrogant, attractive, genius engineer seemed to come before everything else. Which infuriated him. There was so much still going on with the team and the world, they were still in hiding because of the Accords and all he could think about was how he managed to go from barely tolerating the man, to counting him as a friend, to being attracted to him. He cradled his head in his hands. The stickiness of the tape around his fingers caught some of his hair and he flinched as he ripped it away.

What the hell am I going to do?

He was the man with a plan, but in this case, he had no idea what to do next.

“If you hold that look for too long your face is gonna stay that way. Or at least, that’s what my Momma says.” Sam entered the gym and was making his way over. He stopped in front of the blonde who sat back and gave him a tight lipped smile.

“I drew the short straw. You’ve been a pain in the ass so the team decided it was time for someone to pull you out of this slump.”

 Steve rolled his eyes and smiled. “I know. I’ve been unbearable.” He patted Sam on the back, “You’ve all been great; adjusting to this new life and accepting what’s happened. But me, I’m a man out of time. I had just gotten used to our world, only to be thrown off balance. Again.”

Sam hummed next to him. “When are you gonna let go of that crutch?”

Steve looked at him confused.

“The whole ‘man out of time,’ bit. You’ve adjusted, Steve. Incredibly well. There’s more than that going on inside your head.” He waved his hand around the empty gym. “Now looks good.”

Steve steepled his hands together and set his chin on them. “I don’t even know where to start.”

Sam gave an encouraging nod, “How about you just start with what you were thinking about before I walked in? It looked like it had you in knots.”

Steve huffed out a laugh. “That’s the one thing I’m trying to not think about, Sam.”

“That’s what makes it perfect.” He sat on the mat, legs out in front of him.

Steve stared straight ahead, and waited, hoping the other man would give up. But he was stubborn. Sam pulled out the new cell phone T’Challa had given him and started playing Angry Birds.

“Jesus, Sam. Fine. It’s about Tony.”

Steve got up and paced around the room. Sam kept playing.

“About the Accords and what went on with Bucky, yes. But there’s more.”

Still kept on playing.

“I think I like him.” He paused but Sam kept his head down at his screen. “Like, like him, Sam.” His eyes were wide and he bopped his head in place.

“What are you a twelve-year-old girl?”

Steve groaned. “Did you hear what I said? I think I'm attracted to Tony Stark. That’s ridiculous right? I mean, I didn’t really think on it because Tony is just a highly attractive individual,” Sam snorted out a laugh, “so I figured it was natural I thought that. But it's more than just physical attraction.” He squeezed his eyes shut and yelled, “And I kissed Sharon so...what does that say about me?”

To his credit, Sam put his phone away. He raised his hand to calm the man down and gestured to the bench. Steve collapsed onto it.

“There’s no right or wrong here, Steve. There’s no dictate on who you can or can’t be attracted to. And as far as what happened with Sharon,” he shrugged, “I think it had a lot to do with Peggy’s death. She was the last connection you had to your old life, until we found Barnes, and she was something safe and comfortable. It’s okay that it happened.” Steve closed his eyes and let his head fall forward. Sam continued. “Although, I have to say, I saw this coming.”

Steve’s head snapped up and his locked his blue eyes on Sam’s brown ones. “What?”

Sam snorted and let his head fall back. “Please. You are not as stealthy as you think you are. I’ve caught you staring at him at the facility when he would check on our tech, or the way you two linger after dinner and talk long after we’ve all gone to bed. You seek him out, Steve.”

“I’ve never…”

“Yes. You have. I’ve caught your eyes looking for him in a crowded room and I’ve watched how you blush when Tony says something downright hedonistic.” He scrunched his nose. “It’s cute.” His voice was playful, as he leaned back on his hands. 

“You have got to be kidding me.”

“So to answer your earlier question, it's not ridiculous because I think he feels the same way.”

Steve went to answer but all he could managed was a fumbled mass of consonants and his mouth gracelessly opening and closing.

Sam pointed at him. “That’s attractive. Definitely do that the next time you see him.” He laughed and caught the sweaty towel Steve threw at his face. “I wouldn’t lie to you about this. And I didn’t mean to destroy your delicate sensibilities.”

Steve scoffed. “I’m not a virginal flower, Wilson. It was just highly unexpected.”

Sam shrugged. “What are you gonna do about it?”

Blonde locks were disheveled from where Steve ran his hand through them. “What can I do? We’re on the other side of the ocean, we’re still criminals. I can’t put him in a place where he could be charged too.” That’s the responsible thing to say. But what Steve really wanted was to have Tony in front of him. Touch that warm, tan skin and fist his hand in the dark locks, and- he had to stop that train of thought. “What choice do I have, Sam?”

“There’s always a choice, Steve.” He raised a dark brow, inviting him to argue that.

“What would Bucky think?” Steve couldn’t help but think of his friend. “Tony would have killed him, almost did. And here I am pining for him. Is that fair?”

There was a moment of quiet while Sam thought of his response. “I think Barnes would understand. About everything. He knew you were trying to do right by him during all of this, he remembers what happened with Tony’s parents so I’m sure he understood Stark’s anger, but more importantly, I think he’d just want you to be happy. Don’t you both deserve that, after everything? Don’t we all?”

There were tears in his eyes. Sam’s words hit home; he nodded. “Thanks for this. It’s helped to clear some of it up.”

Sam stood and held his hand out to Steve. “I’m just surprised it took you this long to figure it out.”

“What can I say, I’m a work in progress.”

The two men left the gym and went upstairs to have lunch with the team. As he sat around the table, surrounded by friends, he felt, for the first time since Peggy’s death, the Accords, Siberia and Bucky going back under, a sense of peace. He felt happiness and hope that he thought was lost when he fought against his friends, against Tony.  And naturally his thoughts went to the billionaire, and he couldn’t help the smile that came across his features. He knew that there was a lot they would need to discuss and work through; holes in each other’s hearts that had to be patched up and given time to heal. But at the same time, there was such possibility there. And it made him excited for what would come next.

Natasha caught his smile out of the corner of her eye and picked up her glass of vodka and lime. She leaned back into her chair and raised it to him with a slight tilt of her head.

He could see the knowing glint in her green eyes, and laughed. He nodded his head in thanks and let the hum of chatter and laughter warm his heart.

 

 

TONY

 From the moment Ross had left the tower, Tony went into full genius mode. He had started specs on a new project two nights prior and found that, since Ross’ visit, he had a spurt of ingenuity that could not be ignored. It was once he hit the 32-hour mark with no sleep or real food that Friday saved and shut down all of his work. But before he could hit the hay, he asked to meet Vision and Rhodey so he could fully explain to them what he was working on in regards to Barnes and the Accords.

“You look like shit.”

“Thanks, Rhodey, I knew there was a reason I kept you around.”

“You’ve been working nonstop. I believe that’s why you are here now.”

Tony nodded at Vision. He knew that the Android would be able to see the loopholes and any problem areas in the amendments he and the other delegates had come up with. There were still those who were against the ratifications, but with the majority on his side, he knew they would be able to prove their case.

“Tony, are you sure you want us to look at these?”

He sat next to Rhodey and placed his hand on his knee. “I need to you to read them through, know them as well as you know the suit. The meeting isn’t scheduled until Monday, which means you have four days to understand what we’re doing here. Friday has access to all of my notes and she knows the Accords even better than I do.”

“That is very true, Boss.”

Tony smiled. Definitely a red head.

“What the hell? Tony! Where are you going? They’re expecting you.”

Tony shook his head. “I have something that I have to do. But I know that you can do this. And you too, Vision. You both know firsthand what these changes would mean for all of us, and you know how imperative it is that we get through this. I trust you both. Trust me.”

“Of course I trust you, Tones.”

“I do as well, Tony.”

 He blushed at the praise.

“Friday has reached out to the delegates and they know to expect you. The only person we kept out of the loop was Ross. He can’t be trusted.”

 “We’ll do right by everyone, Tony. And worse comes to worse, I’ll play the sympathy card.”

The billionaire laughed and gave his friend a hug. “I’m not leaving until early tomorrow morning. I just didn’t know if I’d get to see you before then.” He looked to Vision. “Make sure he keeps up with his PT, Viz.”

“I know the schedule and will see to it that Colonel Rhodes is there.”

Rhodey and Vision were one hell of a pair, and as Tony left them chattering about the possibilities of the Accords, he felt his shoulders ease.

He headed back to his workshop to gather his completed project, and gave Friday strict instructions that the only ones with full access to the tower and its protocols would be Rhodes and Vision. You could never be too careful.

He made the short trip to his private floor and started to pack his bag. He found himself pulling out snow boots and sweatshirts and threw them to the floor. He wasn’t even paying attention! Falling back onto his bed, he closed his eyes and let out a deep breath, his finger circling the raised scars of the arc reactor. The bruises stilled pulled when he moved, but it was bearable. Right now, he needed to focus his considerable energy on a bigger problem: his unexpected feelings for Steve Rogers.

None of his worries had to do with the fact that Steve was a guy or that he and Pepper had called it quits. Tony has been known to bat for both teams, and there were numerous YouTube videos that could attest to that. And he always found the guy attractive, how could you not when Steve would make Adonis jealous. It was more than that. Over the last few years, the more time they spent together the more Tony realized that Captain America and Steve Rogers were two different people. He like the Captain, but he cared for Steve Rogers, the man who went to soup kitchens twice a month and VA hospitals every weekend, who would kneel when talking to children, would wake up early to draw the sunrise, and cursed like a sailor when he lost at Mario Kart.  

At first, all of these attributes are what drew Tony to him; were the very things that made Tony work so hard to be better; to be his friend. And once they were friends, Tony felt whole in ways he never knew existed. Yet somehow, somewhere, those things started to warm him up from the inside. Hearing Steve say his name or watching him laugh at something Clint had said, would light a fire under his skin, leaving him breathless and hard. 

But there was a shift after Sokovia.

I will miss you, Tony.

And a lot of that had to do with Tony working through the decisions he made and his mistakes. He still visited the facility and made sure the kiddies were decked out in the best tech, but there was a shadow over him, an uncertainty he had to work out on his own.

And in a very adult way, he realized that he couldn’t be with anyone so long as that shadow existed. No one else needed to be brought into that darkness too. Which is how him and Pepper had finally ended their relationship. It was amicable and, in a way, a relief. He loved her but he came to understand that the love he felt for Pepper was similar to the way he loved Rhodey. They were the two people who saw him for who he was, no mask, no bells, no whistles - and they stayed and fought beside him, their hearts only loving him more. They were his family, and no matter the label on their intimate relationship (or lack thereof), they would always be that.

What he felt for Steve was something new, something beautiful and hopeful.

He wanted to keep it in a case so as to not chip the corners, but he knew that with life, especially his, nothing could stay protected. He fought the man a month ago, made him bleed and burn, could still taste the ash at the back of his throat. He didn’t know if they could ever cross that ocean of pain, but he knew that so long as he had Steve in his life at all, it would be good enough.

Sitting back up he grabbed the sorry excuse of a phone off the nightstand and made the call. He looked at his watch and saw that it should be late in the afternoon in Wakanda. He was just about to hang up when Steve answered.

“Tony! Wait!”

He had to hold the phone away from his ear. “You alright there, Rogers?”

“Yea. Ouch! Shit.”

Tony heard him knock into furniture and then the telltale sign of items falling off a desk. “Riiight. That sounds like you’re okay.”

“I was in the shower and didn’t hear the phone ring. I didn’t want to miss your call.”

Didn’t want to miss your call? The image of a naked and wet Steve came to mind, and Tony was immediately hard at the thought. Think of Fury, think of Fury, think of Fury.

“Tony?”

The brunette wheezed out a breath between his teeth and had to adjust his pants. “I’m fine. Sorry.”

Steve chuckled and Tony felt it vibrate through his ear. He grabbed a pillow and groaned into it. I am so fucked.

“Was there something I could help you with, Tony?”

He peeled his face away from the soft cotton and looked up at the ceiling. Really? Someone hates me. “No, no, no. I know that the last time we spoke, I was heading into a meeting with the U.N. I wanted you to know what that was about.”

“I figured that since we’re all still here and not in some cell, that’s a good sign.”

Tony hummed. “That it is. And believe me, there are still people calling for your heads. I’m doing the best I can.”

 “I know that. And thank you.”

There was something odd in their tones. A level of sincerity and gratitude that was very different from their last encounter. Even different from their previous calls. It hinted at something more. Tony wanted him to know that he was still fighting for them. For him.

Tony cleared his throat. “I uh...I..” his throat was dry and he kept stuttering.

Steve listened quietly, shocked to hear the otherwise eloquent man stumbling for his words. “Tony. Just say it.”

“I got Barnes pardoned. I mean, I was working on it and I’m 99.97% positive it’s going to happen.”

There was a small squeak followed by a large gulp of air.

“Steve?”

No answer.

“C’mon, Steve use your words.”

“I don’t understand.” His voice was a mere whisper. The uncertainty and wariness made Tony’s stomach roll.

“I thought on it for a while. It took me working through some things with Rhodey to finally understand that Barnes was a victim, too. It doesn’t mean I forgive him, not fully. I don’t know if I can ever do that. But I acknowledge that he wasn’t given a choice. He deserves a new start.”

“Tony…”

The weight to which Steve said his name spread a warmth through Tony’s limbs, he felt his stomach flop at the tone, and found that he wanted to make Steve sound like that again.

“You don’t have to say anything, Steve. It was the right thing to do.”

“You didn’t have to do this. I can only imagine what it’s cost you. Not only in dealing with Ross, but personally.” Steve hiccupped. “This. This changes a lot of things, Tony. He has a chance and that’s all I wanted for him. A ‘thank you’ can’t fully comprehend what I’m feeling right now.”

“It was difficult. There was a lot of backlash and because of that there’s some stipulations. I can send them to you so you can look them over and any questions, comments or concerns you have I’ll present them to the delegates.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. “I’m trying that talking and listening thing we couldn’t quite get the hang of during all of this.”

He could feel the hesitation when he said “stipulations”, and though Steve was quick to recover, an edge was back to his voice. “I would appreciate you sending them, I’d like to look them over.”

Oh God, Tony! Every time. Every time I think you’re seeing things the right way…

“I’ll overnight them. You should get them sometime tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“There needs to be some compromise, Steve. I’m open to suggestions, just look it over and help me.”

It was the pleading in his voice that made Steve acquiesce. “You’re right. You just taking the steps to make this happen shows me that your heart is in the right place. Send them to me and I’ll look them over.”

Tony clapped his hand against his thigh. “Sounds good.”

There was an awkward silence until Steve asked, “Tony, what can I do? To help?”

Tony was caught off guard by not only the question, but the urgent whisper in the other man’s voice. “What do you mean?”

Steve sighed into the phone. “I just,” he broke off and took a deep breath, “you’re working tirelessly since this all went bust. I feel like I should be doing something.” Tony could hear the clench in his teeth and imagine Steve’s hands turning into fists.

 “Steve.” Tony’s voice was soft and Steve seemed to calm at his name. “You can’t do anything, not publically at least, not right now. We have to work on getting everything settled and cleared first.”

“It’s not right. I had a hand in all of this too.”

“Well, you’re not wrong. But right now, I’m the only one who can get these things going. And Steve,” Tony paused and squeezed his eyes shut trying to stave off the roll of emotion. “You’re doing the one thing I can’t...and that’s keeping them safe and together.”

“We would have been together if I had just listened.”

Tony hummed. “Again, you’re not wrong. But there’s enough blame to go around. For right now, just stay safe.”

“I think I can do that.”

Tony clapped his hands against his thighs. “Alright. So I’ll talk to you…. soon?”

Steve’s voice was soft when he said, “Yea. definitely soon.”

Tony stared at the phone in his hands and let it fall to the floor. He groaned and fell back, his head coming to rest on his pillows while his wrist draped over his eyes. Tony was still half hard and sweating. Tugging his jeans off and throwing his shirt over his head, he laid on top of the cool sheets and took himself in his hand.

His grip faltered for a moment when he remembered that it was Steve who got him hard, and then he thought about how wrong this was, but the more he thought about the blonde, the harder he became. His hand was firm and he could feel the blisters on his hands and moaned each time they caught against his hot skin. The strokes became long and purposeful, and he let his thumb rub across the slit, catching the drops of precum.

He groaned at the sensation. Sweat was pooling above his lip and his tongue unconsciously went out to lick it away while his free hand came up to play with his nipples, the pain of pressing along the bruise only adding to his arousal. He thought about how Steve must have looked just coming out of the shower, drops of water cascading along the dips and valleys of his chest, and then wondered if the man even had a towel on while they were talking. That image alone had Tony crying out, the other man’s name a combination of air and want on his lips.

He began to feel the familiar lull of sleep after he cleaned himself up haphazardly and got under the sheets. His last thoughts before falling asleep were of bright blue eyes and a deep laugh. 

----------------------------

It should be a crime to wake up this early.

Although, he really couldn't complain considering it was the best night of sleep he's had in a while. It's amazing what eight hours of solid sleep could do for you when you weren’t waking up from nightmares of your death.

The drive to the airstrip had been soothing. The horizon was just starting to show slips of morning light, while the stars still sat scattered across the sky. Despite his early departure the city was still humming with life. Street vendors were setting up their carts, and businessmen and women were already scuttling to work, trying to get in so they could leave early, avoiding the evening commute.

Once they were in the air, he made a call to double check his arrangements. Though he was bursting with excitement, there was an undercurrent of apprehension. He bit his lip and let his head fall back. This plane was the same one he had taken to Morocco when he was dying of palladium poisoning. He remembered sitting in this very seat holding out a plate of eggs to Pepper.

What is that?

This is your in-flight meal.

Did you just make that?

Yeah. Where do you think I’ve been for three hours?

Now, he was on a very different journey. One that could inevitably change his life. He shook his head and stared out the window at the clouds around him. He always loved flying, even as a kid. But now, knowing what it felt like to be utterly weightless, to cut through the wind faster than the very plane he was on, was exhilarating. It was one of the things he loved most about being Iron Man. 

He only closed his eyes for what felt like moments, before his shoulder was being gently shaken by the flight attendant.

“Mr. Stark? We’ve landed,” she whispered. “Your bags have already been moved to your car.” She smiled at him as he rubbed his eyes. “Take your time.”

Stretching his legs out in front of him, he pushed away the uncertainty that lodged itself in his belly. He pushed at the blind on his window and peeked outside.

It looked to be a beautiful day in Wakanda.

Chapter Text

He woke slowly, his eyes adjusting to the soft light that crept in through a small space in the blinds. The sunlight was the first sign that something was wrong. When Steve usually woke for his run, the sky was a mass of glittering stars on a dusty, black canvas, the sun nothing more than a thin sliver of light peeking over the horizon. When he peered at the bedside clock, he saw that it was a little after ten in the morning. He never slept in. Even before the serum, he would be up and out of bed the moment his eyes opened, only ever staying in if he was sick (which had been too often).

He let his head fall back against the pillow, blowing a gust of air out from between his lips. He had been exhausted after getting off the phone with Tony. He sat on his bed, in his towel for over an hour after the other man hung up, trying to work through all of the thoughts that had been going through his head.  

When Steve found out that Tony had gone to the U.N., his mind was a tangle of possible scenarios, ranging from Tony outing the team’s whereabouts, to him calling for the execution of Bucky, to even pushing the Accords further. Steve had been torn between wanting to know what was going on and staying in the dark. There was a reason the saying said “ignorance is bliss”. But as much as he thought he wanted to stay unaware, he knew that he needed to know what the world was saying about them, what Tony was working towards and for whom.

Yet, in all his thoughts about Tony and the reactions around the world, Steve found that he didn’t just want to talk to the man to find out the truth, but to hear his voice and talk to him.

And then he finally called.

And when Tony shared with Steve what his meeting with the U.N. had been about, it was miles away from what he had imagined.

He got Bucky pardoned.

Even thinking about it now brought tears to his eyes, and a huge smile to his face. All of the tension he had been harboring since seeing Bucky in Bucharest fled his body the minute Tony explained that Bucky would not be convicted of his crimes. It meant that his friend would have a new start once he woke up, and everything that Steve had wanted for both of them, could become a reality.

Steve could have kissed the man, and would have, if they had been face to face.

But just as quickly as that happiness came, it dissipated when Tony explained that there were stipulations to Buck’s freedom. He almost broke the phone when he heard that, his anger coming back in full force. How did Tony think he would react to something like that? Steve was against the Accords, and now the only way that Bucky would be free was to jump through hoops set up by the very people who wanted him dead only a month ago?

Just the mention of it put Steve back in that compound in Siberia. He remembered the force that he attacked Tony with and wanted to do it again. Everything he thought they were working through (albeit over the phone), evaporated the second he said that.

He had been understandably angry, but Tony’s voice broke through his rage and he felt his heart break as Tony pleaded with him to look over the amendments. It was the same tone he had used at the airport, and he didn’t listen then, and look how things turned out. A compromise was needed, and if Tony was able to start to work through all of his anger, resentment, disappointment (the list went on), in regards to Steve and Bucky, then Steve could do that for him.  But Bucky’s pardon and the Accords weren’t the only things that kept Steve tossing and turning last night.

He had a very vivid dream about Tony.

Steve flopped over on his stomach and pushed his face into the pillow. He could feel the heat in his cheeks as he remembered it.

Over the course of the last few years with the Avengers, his teammates had made it into his dreams and nightmares on more than one occasion. Living with them, and becoming a family meant that, naturally, they would show up; and when one of them got into a situation that went south, it often resulted in nightmares. But last night, Tony was the main focus of his dream and it made Steve wake up with the genius’ name on his lips and his dick red and throbbing. He picked his head up and looked over to the wastebasket, his blush only getting deeper as he eyed the sticky tissues.

It wasn’t the first time he had a dream about Tony. But it was definitely the first one that had garnered such a physical reaction. He groaned into the cool cotton, his eyelashes stroking the material as he closed his eyes.

The team had just taken out an army of “Hammeroids” (as Tony put it). The fight was brutal and the team had seen better days but they had made it through. One would think that would be cause for celebration, but it was Tony’s reckless behavior that stood out. Hammer hid a bomb somewhere in Midtown and had been taunting the team with it as the fighting raged on. Thanks to the genius of Tony and Friday, he was able to locate it and suspend the countdown with twelve seconds left. But once the bomb was removed from its base, the countdown picked back up, a fail safe. Tony flew, bomb in hand, into the evening sky and Steve was left on the ground, watching as it detonated, painting the sky with fire and debris, the force of the explosion reverberating through the ground.

He was left behind to watch and wait, breath caught in his throat after repeated tries to get in contact with Tony and no response.

His comms were quiet and it made Steve’s stomach roll.

“Status report, Iron Man.” Steve ran his hand over his face, taking his cowl off. He could taste the ash in his mouth.

“Come in, Iron Man.”

His shoulders fell. “C’mon, Tony,” he whispered.  

He heard the unmistakable thud of metal boots hitting the ground behind him and a staticy but strong voice in his ear. “Tony? Really, Cap? Let’s keep it professional in the field.”

Even in his dream, Steve had been furious. But it wasn’t until they got back to the tower that he confronted Tony in his workshop.

The glass doors opened wordlessly for the Captain. He stormed right up to Tony.

“You should have clued us in on what was going on! You could have gotten yourself killed!”

Tony waved his hand at the blonde and went to grab an ice pack from the freezer. “No one else would have been able to get it away from civilians in time, Cap.”

“Thor could have.”

Tony shrugged. “Well, it was me. I’m fine. Nothing the suit couldn’t handle. Don’t get your panties in a twi-”

Steve had grabbed the man by the collar of his shirt and held him in place as he assaulted his lips. It was not gentle or kind, but bruising and angry. Their teeth clanked together, and Steve bit Tony’s lower lip causing the other man to moan into his mouth, which Steve took as an invitation for his tongue to do a thorough sweep.

“You never listen,” Steve said between pants.

“If this is the consequence, you can bet I’m never listening to you again.”

Steve smiled against his lips.

Steve turned over onto his back and let his hand travel under the waistband of his sweatpants. He was harder than he had been last night, and he stroked himself as he remembered.

He pushed Tony back onto his work table and in one fell swoop, rid Tony of his jeans and underwear, throwing them behind him. Following Steve’s lead, Tony threw his shirt off to the side and went for Steve’s under armor. Once both men were naked, Steve grabbed Tony under his thighs and pulled him to the edge of the table, leaning forward to kiss him, much gentler this time, and pressing their bodies together. The sensation of their skin rubbing against one another tore a guttural growl from Steve’s throat. Tony’s head was hanging back but he had enough sense to reach for the lube he kept in a drawer (for engineering purposes of course). And just as Steve had his fingers wet and at Tony’s entrance…

He woke up. Once he finished himself off that first time, he jumped in the shower and tried to go back to bed.

But now, with the morning sun spilling into his room, heart rate slowing down, he found himself once again covered in stripes of white from the dream. There was a slight sheen of sweat to his pale skin, and the ends of his hair were stuck to his neck. God he was in trouble.

He got out of bed and took a quick shower, avoiding the questions the others threw his way as he went about his day.

--------------------------------

After a somewhat awkward breakfast, he went down to the medical bay. Steve made a point to visit Bucky at least once a day, and back when they first got to Wakanda, he would spend hours staring at his sleeping friend, and peppered the doctors with questions about Bucky’s condition. He realized after the looks he was getting from the doctors, that they would indeed inform him of any changes. Now, he just visited to see his friend. Knowing that Bucky was under the same roof as him made him feel at peace. This morning however, when he made his way down to the medical bay, he saw that T’Challa was there as well, looking at some data on the tablet in front of him.

“Good morning, Steve.”

He smiled at the King, and gave him a nod in greeting.

“It is a bit late for you, is it not? By this time, you’ve usually run laps around Wakanda before we see you down here.”

Steve laughed. “I got a bit of a late start this morning. How’s he doing?”

T’Challa raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “He’s shown improvement.”  The King scrolled through the screens explaining the information to Steve. “We’ve been using a more finite form of EMP which targets the nanites in his brain. His brain function becomes more consistent each day but there are still moments of chaos.” His finger swiped against the screen and another document was pulled up. “It’s important to note thought that even under sedation, when he is fed a few of those words, (referring to the list Zemo used), the response time is lessening, meaning the power behind them is weakening.” Steve was amazed but T’Challa was quick to remind him that they were dealing with the brain. “It is a very delicate organ, Steve. There are still, how do you say, hiccups every so often. It will take time.”

The soldier’s blue eyes widened at the news and he couldn’t help the large smile that came over his features. Bucky was getting better. “I understand, but I still can’t tell you what this means, T’Challa. Everything.”

T’Challa patted him on the back. “We all do what we can, Steve. I have the resources, and your friend deserves a second chance.” He looked down at his watch and frowned. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a meeting in thirty minutes so I must go and prepare.”

Steve felt a shift in tone of his voice. “Is everything alright?”

The young King nodded and his eyes softened, lines crinkling out from the corners. “It’s with an international party so it may be best if you and your friends stay on your floors for right now.”

Steve nodded in understanding. “I’ll let them know. Thank you.”

He stayed with Bucky a little longer and then went to inform the team.

-------------------------------------

An hour and twenty minutes later, Steve was drenched in sweat and felt a pleasurable exhaustion in his muscles. There were two more punching bags bleeding out onto the mat, but Steve figured that T’Challa already had his people working on stronger material after the ten he had already destroyed.

He made his way up to the communal floor and was just off the elevator when he heard shouting.

“...a lot of nerve showing up here after everything,” Sam said.

“Give him a chance, Wilson.”

“Really, Nat? You’re able to switch back that fast?”

He could envision the eye roll Natasha must have thrown at Clint. “No. I’m able to listen like a mature adult.”

What could have gotten them so worked up?

He made his way through the living room, and took a peek out at the setting sun, wiping the towel across his forehead and under his chin. He turned the corner to the kitchen but he stopped dead in his tracks.

Standing there, in the middle of the room, dressed in tight jeans, a black t-shirt and grey converse, was Tony Stark.

Chapter Text

T’Challa’s home was a fifty-minute ride from the airport, more than enough time for Tony to reconsider his actions. His palms started sweating even with the air conditioning at full blast, there was a slight throbbing at the base of his skull signaling a migraine, and he felt like he was going to throw up.  But he knew that short of world disaster, he’d have to go through with this. After his meeting with Ross, Tony knew he had to see the team; see Steve. They needed to know what was going on with the Accords and where they stood with the world. This was something he couldn’t do over the phone.

They deserved to hear everything in person.

And in some deep recess of his mind, he knew that they all had a lot to discuss. He knew that it was necessary to set things right with the world, but for Tony personally, it was more important to set things right with his family.

Once the car was through the vibranium gates, he took in the breathtaking views of waterfalls and lush trees, full bloom blossoms that seemed otherworldly, and a palace that signaled power, tradition and gentility.

T’Challa was standing on the top of the steps waiting for him.

He smiled when he saw the older man. “Tony,” he reached out his hand, “welcome to Wakanda.”

There was a smile in the King’s soft voice and Tony felt at ease.  He bowed his head and smiled, the two men then grasped one another’s wrist in greeting.

“First, let me thank you for taking them all in, Your Highness,” Tony removed his sunglasses so he could look the other man in the eye. “They uh, they needed a safe place and I couldn’t give them that. Not right away.”

T’Challa nodded away the title and patted Tony’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t have, if I hadn’t heard Zemo’s confession with my own ears.” He signaled for Tony to follow him inside. “Once I found out what his plan had been all along, I knew this was the first step in making things right.” He paused and looked at Tony. “I still believe in the Accords, but in a better version.”

Tony ducked his head and nodded.

“I am assuming that is one of the reasons why you are here. I have seen your appearances at the U.N., and my delegates have reported back to me.”

“It is. I believe that they are necessary but as they are,” he broke off and took a deep breath, “they’re terrible. I should have seen that from the beginning.”

“You were focused on setting things right. That’s understandable and admirable; even more so now that you have admitted your wrongs and are working to make corrections; for the world and for them.”

Before they could fully enter the palace grounds, Tony had to hand over his Iron Man suitcase and the watch gauntlet.

“They will be returned to your suite once they are cleared for any devices.” Tony raised his eyebrow. “Any listening devices or technology that could interfere with the way things are run here in Wakanda.”

Tony held up his hands. “I’m here of my own volition. Ross doesn’t know anything.”

“It is for my own precaution.”

Tony conceded. “Does uh,” he ran his hand over the back of his neck, “do they know I’m here?”

When T’Challa failed to meet his eyes, Tony had his answer.

“I thought it best if we talk first.”

They entered a lavish office, decked out in warm oak with plush seats and an elegant desk in the middle of the room. Along the walls hung portraits of past Kings, the most recent one of T’Chaka.

Tony waited until T’Challa was seated and there was a brief moment of silence, while a petite woman poured them tea.

Once they were alone, T’Challa placed his clasped hands on his desk. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”

-----------------------

They were in T’Challa’s office for a little over an hour before the young King leaned back in his chair and declared that they’d made great progress for the day.

“Your suite is on the eighth floor, just above your teammates, and the communal kitchen is on the sixth floor.”

Tony stuttered at the use of the word ‘team’. “They’re...we’re not...”

The other man chuckled. “Would you be here if they were not considered that, or more?” The elevator took them to the communal floor and they both stepped out. Tony could feel his heart pounding and wanted to run back behind its doors.

“T’Challa! I was just coming to find you, we were going to eat dinner out back, do an old school BBQ. I wanted to see if you’d like to jo-” Sam’s voice cut off when he saw that the King was not alone.

His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. “What the hell are you doing here?” He took a step forward but T’Challa was already in front of him, his hand in the center of Sam’s chest.

“He called and asked if he could come to Wakanda. He has some things he would like to discuss with all of you, and we both agreed it would be better in person.”

Sam took a step back and stared T’Challa in the eyes. “Both agreed?”

The young King dipped his head forward. “Yes. And it is my kingdom so, I am the final say on the matter.”

Sam crossed his arms over his chest. “It doesn’t mean I have to listen.”

“Sam?”

Tony sucked in breath and before he could so much as blink, Natasha was in front of him.

He’d never seen her startled.

But as quickly as the shock came, it was gone and he was greeted with a large smile. “Took that vacation after all, huh?” She moved forward and took him in a hug, her arms squeezing him and running along his back.

He exhaled as he wrapped his arms around her and laughed. “You said some place tropical.”

She smacked him upside the head for good measure. “That I did.” She stood at his side and nodded at T’Challa, then looked back at Tony.

“You alright?”

He paused. “Not yet, but I’m getting there.”

She smiled at his honesty.

“Is everyone else here?”

“Well, almost everyone,” Natasha said.

He could tell by her eyes who he meant. He wasn’t ready to see Steve yet. Maybe it would be easier to talk to the rest of them first.

“Lead the way.”

The three of them went to follow Natasha further into the kitchen, when T’Challa stopped. “I’m going to leave you all to it. But please, Ms. Romanoff, let everyone know that if they have a problem with him being here, they can argue their grievance with me.”

There was a vibranium edge to his voice and Tony shuddered, peeking over to Sam who ducked his head.

He stopped in the archway of the kitchen. Clint and Scott had their backs to him but Wanda saw him the moment his foot hit the tiles, her eyes immediately turning red. The air crackled with electricity and Clint turned, his eyes narrowing at Tony.

“What the actual fuck, man?” He rose from his seat and when he was arm’s length away from Tony’s face, he pulled his fist back and let it fly, connecting with Tony’s cheek.

Clint was going in for a second punch when Sam gripped him under his arms and pulled him away.

Tony had been knocked back into the wall behind him, and Natasha pulled him up. “What the hell was that, Clint?”

“Are you kidding me? He had it coming, Tash. He locked me in a cell. I haven’t seen my family in over a month...I don’t even know how they’re doing and you want to stand there and ask me why I punched him?”  

“We made our own choices, Clint. Your actions put you in a cell. Mine sent me on the run. It’s called accountability.”

Tony rubbed his hand along his cheekbone, wincing. It was definitely going to bruise. “I deserved that.” His voice was rough but quiet.

Clint looked to Tony. “You’re damn right you did.”

Natasha turned on Clint and the look in her green eyes was something fierce. “I’m starting to think you deserve one, too.” She shook her head. “He’s here for a reason, Barton.” The other man flinched at the use of his last name. “How about we listen this time instead of throwing punches?” She turned back to Tony, “And not for nothing, but I’m sure Tony has some reasons to want to punch you in the face, too.”

Scott had gotten up from his seat once Clint punched Tony and was standing towards the back, his eyes darting between the men. Wanda had moved to stand next to Clint and Sam.

“How did you get here?” she asked.

Tony was just about to say “by plane” when Natasha shot him a look. Perhaps it wasn’t the best time for sarcasm. “I asked T’Challa if I could come. I wanted to talk to you about what’s been going on, where you stand.” He took a deep breath, wincing at the throbbing in his cheek.  “I wanted to apologize.”

Clint snorted and shook his head. He turned away from Tony.

“I do, Clint. To all of you.”

“You have a lot of nerve showing up here after everything,” Sam said.

“Give him a chance, Wilson.”

“Really, Nat? You’re able to switch back that fast?”

She sighed and rolled her eyes at Clint. “No. I’m able to listen like a mature adult.”

Tony felt the hair on the back on his neck stand up and turned to look behind him.

There, clenching a towel in his hand was Steve Rogers.

Chapter Text

No one moved.

The air was thick with tension and Tony watched as Steve’s chest started to rapidly rise and fall, watched as his eyes narrowed and could swear he heard the grind of the bones in his fingers as he gripped the towel.

Steve fully entered the room and threw the towel on the counter. Tony took an unconscious step back and tried not to let himself react to the pain that showed on Steve’s face when he realized what Tony did. They stood no more than a foot apart. It was the closest they’ve been since their battle at the compound. Tony could smell the sweat on Steve’s skin, the acrylic paint he still must have been using and something uniquely Steve. The butterflies in his stomach dove with each inhale.

Traitors.

Steve took in the faded bruises and cuts on his face, and noticed the new swelling on his cheek. “Who hit you?”

Steve’s voice was a deep roll of thunder and Tony flinched under his gaze, his hand reaching out to take the bag of ice from Natasha. “I was too busy looking at T’Challa’s swanky digs,” he threw his hand out at his side, “I walked into the wall.”

He kept his eyes trained on Steve.

Clint lifted his chin and Natasha tightened her jaw.

Steve turned to look at the group and his eyes found Clint’s red knuckles. “Barton?”

The archer shrugged. “He had it coming, Ca- Steve.”

Tony raised an eyebrow in surprise. Hmm.

“No he didn’t. He didn’t deserve anything other than a greeting.” He shook his head. “Jesus, Barton.”

Clint quieted down but the glare he sent Tony’s way let the engineer know that they were nowhere near solid ground.

Steve walked to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of water. “T’Challa knows you're here?”

Tony nodded and Steve grimaced. “Does it bother you that the man who put you up didn't clue you in on that?” Tony looked smug. “Huh, doesn't feel good to be left in the dark, does it?”

Steve's hands curled into fists at his sides. He knew that Tony was goading him. “How does this work?” He looked around the room. “You come in here and cart them away?”

Tony seemed to deflate at that. “No! God. I, uh,” he ran a hand through his hair and wet his lips. Steve’s eyes followed the movement. “I have a lot I’d like to talk to you about. All of you.” He placed the ice pack on the counter. “It’s going to take some time.”

“Why should we trust you?” Wanda asked.

He turned to her and pushed air out through his nose.  “I wasn’t the one who put you on the Raft. That was Ross. You all,” he closed his eyes and sighed, “we all made decisions that had severe consequences.”

“Seems like ours were a little steeper than others,” Sam said.

Tony turned on him. “Yea, Sam? You remember Rhodey falling from the sky?” The younger man blanched at that. “And talk to my doctor about my fractured ribs and concussion. About the bruises I’m still wearing in the shape of a shield.” He caught Steve’s sudden intake of breath but kept going. “Did Steve tell you about how I went to him as a friend, like you asked,” he ground out through clenched teeth, “only for it to be thrown in my face when I found out he knew Barnes killed my parents but kept it from me?”

His eyes were wide with fury and frenzy, his chest heaving as he spoke. “Did he tell you how he slammed the shield down on my arc reactor when I had my hands up?” Sam turned to Steve, his brows formed a sharp V. Tony let out a cruel laugh. “Guess not.” His fingers went to tap an unsteady rhythm over his heart, where the arc reactor used to sit. “I didn’t fight back at the end, Wilson.” He turned to Steve and took a deep breath letting himself calm down. “Steve and I talked about this. I never went after him with the intention to hurt or kill. And you’ve all seen the suit. You know it would have been easy.”

His voice became soft and barely a whisper. “I was angry, we both were. But things happened that you weren't there for.” He turned back to Sam. “And as for the Accords, Rhodey stood by me because he believed in them. Can you say the same about where you stood? Or were you just following, because Cap said 'jump’?” 

Sam gritted his teeth and Tony continued. “The second you and Steve left Berlin you were going against the Accords and you knew that.” He pointed at Sam and shifted on his feet.  “You knew anything you did from that point on was breaking the law. And for the record, the no trusting thing? It’s mutual.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Tony?”

He looked to the red head and shook his head. He knew she was concerned for his health. After all, she was the only one who saw him after his encounter with Barnes. “This isn’t how I wanted to do this.” Tony leaned back against the counter and pressed the ice to his cheek. “Shit happened and we’re all at fault for that, but I’d really like the chance to try and set some things right. And it’s my hope that you all want that too.”

No one could deny the sincerity in Tony’s words. Steve cleared his throat and said, “Let’s meet back here in thirty minutes. Everyone is on their own for dinner.”

“Don’t have much of an appetite,” Clint muttered.

“And everyone is expected to meet back here. There’s no room for argument. If you don’t show up, you’re off the team.”

Sam, Clint, Wanda and Scott exchanged looks. This was beyond Steve’s “Cap” voice. It held no room for negotiation and Tony couldn’t help but feel gratitude at that.

“I’m retired.”

“How’s that working out for you?” Natasha asked.

Clint narrowed his eyes at her and glared at Steve as he walked by.

Despite the frigid temperature in the room, Natasha gave Tony a small smile as she passed him and winked in Steve’s direction. The super soldier actually blushed. Tony wondered what that was about.

Finally, it was just the two of them.

The two men stared at one another. Steve still hadn’t moved away and he was shocked at how much he missed the eccentric man. The anger was there, but it wasn’t as strong as it would have been had they not been speaking all these weeks.

Tony missed the way Steve’s eye drank him in, because, once they were alone, he felt the beginnings of a panic attack. With Steve this close, it seemed that his mind couldn’t shut off the images of their last meeting.

You can’t beat him hand to hand!

Analyze his fight pattern!

Scanning...countermeasures ready.

Let’s kick his ass!

Tony’s breathing started to become labored and he brought his hand up to his chest, fingers rubbing the spot above his heart. “Not again,” he muttered. He almost toppled over but Steve had grabbed him around the forearm. Tony took a sharp breath in and wrenched his arm away as though burned.

He stumbled into a seat at the table.

Steve couldn't help the nausea he felt when Tony pulled his arm away. He could tell something was wrong. He sat in the chair next to the older man. “Tony?”

Tony held up a hand, and took in deep, shuddering breaths, his eyes closed. “Just...give me a sec.”

Not particularly fond of the fact that he couldn’t do anything, Steve went to get a glass of water and grabbed a new ice pack for Tony’s cheek.

Tony closed his eyes in thanks.

“What happened?”

The other man huffed out a laugh and rolled his eyes.

“Nothing too serious, Rogers.” Breathe in, breathe out. “Just a panic attack. I haven’t had one in a few days.”

“What brought it on?”

He turned his head to peer at Steve. “I don’t know. Maybe it's the fact that the last time I saw you in person you almost,” he sucked in a large gulp of air and scooted back to rest his head between his knees, “almost killed me.” After some more breathing and counting exercises, he took a sip of water.

Steve gasped at the admission. But his sorrow turned to anger. “I seem to remember a nicely aimed repulsor at my gut, Stark. And Buck behind me on the floor with a missing limb!” He pushed away from the table, from Tony, and stood by the counter.

Tony followed him up and they were back to being only a foot apart. “That’s right.” He prodded at Steve’s chest with his finger. “That was after I found out your best friend murdered my parents and you knew!”

The two men stood facing one another, their heavy pants the only sound in the room.

Steve looked away first. “This was a bit easier when we didn’t have to look one another in the eyes.” His voice was heavy with emotion, and he knew that before the team came back, he and Tony had to talk some things out first.

Tony’s shoulders slumped. “That it was.” He pursed his lips together but the action pulled at the sore spot on his cheek. Steve reached out to touch the bruised skin but caught himself, his hand hanging in midair. There was a deep crease between Tony’s eyes as he tried to decipher the action.

Steve let his hand drop and ran it over his eyes.

Tony cleared his throat and turned away. “I don’t even know where to start with you.”

Steve was taken back by the honesty.

“And they all hate me.” His voice broke as he waved his hand towards the door. “I can live with a lot of things, but... not that.”

Blue eyes widened at his words and he took a few steps forward, closer to Tony. “They don’t hate you, Tony. None of us hate you.” There was strength in his words, and the change in phrase caught Tony’s attention. “There’s a lot that’s been done and said and we all just have to work through that.” Steve shook his head and threw his arms up at his sides. “If anyone should get shit for what happened after Berlin, it’s me.” His voice was soft and deep and held a world’s worth of sorrow.

Tony’s eyes were wide when he met Steve’s. “We all did things on this one, Steve.”

“To a degree, yea. But you were right. When Sam and I left we knew what we were doing.” He bit his lip. “We talked about this before, on the phone, and I’ve had time to think about it since then, and I can’t help but hate myself for not listening to you and talking to you in Leipzig.”

There was a small pause while Tony tried to wrap his head around Steve admitting he was the one at fault (even though Tony knew that there were moments he could have stopped and listened, too). He gave a small nod and decided to dive head first into this. “You know now, that I’ve been actively working with the U.N. delegates to get Barnes pardoned. A majority has agreed, so it’s going through.”

Tony was almost blinded by the brightness of Steve’s smile. His heart skipped at the sight.

“I really can’t tell you what that means to me, what that means for Bucky.” He took a moment before he spoke again. “You said that there were stipulations,” and then he laughed when he realized Tony’s play on words from their last phone conversation. “You said you’d overnight them. I didn't think that meant you’d deliver them personally.”

Tony chuckled. “There was no way I was going to go through with any of this without talking to you in person, Steve.”  Tony turned away and went to pick up a bag that must have gotten lost during the small scuffle. He pulled out a packet and handed it to Steve. Their fingers brushed and a heat went through both of them. Steve ducked his head to hide his blush as both men sat down. 

“Um. Well, it’s all in there.” Tony stuttered as he leaned towards Steve, his arm reaching over the soldier’s to point at things he thought were important. “His location is still listed as unknown and it’s going to stay that way until he’s awake and ready and of course, this is all finalized. There’s mandatory counseling. He has to meet a set requirement of hours each week, month, year; and this follows for two years from his start date.” Tony flipped ahead to other pages mentioning the requirement of a set address, Barnes must be supervised by one of the Avengers whenever leaving his residence, cannot complete missions until he has passed all psych and physical exams, new prosthetic arm to be designed by an individual/organization of his choosing, and must provide the Accords with information on Hydra and any remaining strongholds. “There are other things in here too but those are the most important; the ones they won’t budge on.”

He leaned back and took another sip of his water, watching as Steve perused the document specifically pertaining to Barnes’ pardon.

“I thought these were going to be unbearable. I thought they were going to throw him in a cell if he didn’t comply.”

“There are safeguards; certain consequences if he misses his psych appointments, or starts to regress. He can’t be fully pardoned until he’s cleared of Hydra.” Tony pointed to his head. “But once he meets everything discussed in there, the Winter Soldier is no more, and the deaths,” his voice wavered on the word, “that were done by that individual will be placed on Hydra.”

Steve nodded. “This is,” he licked his lips and smiled. “This is unbelievable, Tony.” His tone turned somber when he added, “And I am sorry.”

Tony sighed and looked away until he felt a warm hand on his wrist. He turned and met Steve’s eyes, filling with tears.

“I should have told you. And you were right when you said I had more than enough opportunities to make that happen.” He pulled his hand back and sat up straight. “I was the shining example of truth and I couldn’t even tell you that I suspected Buck might have…” his voice broke off. “It was wrong. I was wrong.” He sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and shrugged. “I was a hypocrite.” Tony looked confused. “I demanded honesty from all of you and I didn’t practice it when it mattered most.”

Tony nodded and dropped his chin to his chest. “I don’t forgive him for it, Steve. I can’t. Not right now. Maybe…” he shrugged his shoulders raised his hand then let it fall to the table. “Maybe someday in the future, but not right now.”

“I can understand that.”

Tony tilted his head and raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t forgiven you either. Not just for that, Steve. There was a lot,” he huffed out a breath and stood up from the table. “There was a lot that happened.”

Steve’s eyes had filled with unshed tears. “I know that, Tony. But I’m hoping that we can set things right?”

The genius sucked his bottom lip into his mouth and looked down at the floor. “I think we’ve already started that. We talked a lot these past few weeks, and I think that’s been good.” He nodded his head. “I’d like to keep trying.” He gave Steve a lopsided grin.  “This talking thing.”

He got a small smile in return as Steve asked, “Well, you’re here now. How long can you stay?”

“I’m here for four days. I leave on Monday.”

Steve got up to stand next to Tony. “It took less time for all of this to go to shit, so I think we’re already on the right track.”

Tony huffed out a laugh but it got caught in his throat when he heard the elevator ping. They were back.

Steve turned to Tony before he entered the living room. “Did you mean what you said? About not trusting us?”

Tony thought about it and he shook his head. “No. I do trust you. All of you. And I’m hoping they can say the same.”

Steve gave him a small smile and said, “They do, Tony. I know they do. It was just anger talking.” He jutted his chin in the direction of the others and said “They’ll listen.”

He followed Steve into the communal living room, but refused to sit. He straightened up and took a deep breath.

Here we go.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Natasha was the first one to enter the room and Steve watched as her eyes roamed over Tony. His gut clenched when he realized she was checking to see if he was hurt. As though he would harm the other man. I already did enough.

The others filed in behind her. Sam went to sit on the couch, his back to the window. Scott claimed the lazy boy, while Clint and Wanda seated themselves the farthest from Tony.

Natasha walked up to the goateed man and took his chin in her small hand. “You look okay. No blood.” Tony flinched at her word choice. He thought back to the compound and knew that both he and Steve got their fair share of revenge in blood.

“All good here, Nat. No need to worry about little ol’ me.” He winked at her.

She released his chin and tilted her head to the side, showering him with a soft smile. “How’s your chest? Your heart?” She gave him a pointed look and he knew there was no way to avoid the question.

And to make matters worse, Steve heard everything. Stupid serum. “What about his heart?” There was an urgency and concern in his voice that made Tony feel warm.

He looked away and shuffled his feet. He didn’t answer but Natasha did. “After our encounter with Barnes in Berlin, Tony had numbness in his left arm and pain in his chest. I told him to get checked out but I’m sure you don’t remember how shit hit the fan shortly after you disappeared.” She raised an auburn brow and peered down her nose at him.  

Steve’s face paled. “I didn’t know.”

“You wouldn’t have because you left. There's a lot you don’t know, Steve.”

“Natasha, that’s enough. He will. That’s why I’m here.” She looked at Tony, surprised at his tone. “And I’m fine. The doctor said it was stress.” He looked over to Steve. “I’m fine.”

Steve didn’t look convinced but he let it slide. He gave Tony a curt nod, a signal that the floor was his.

The genius suddenly found it difficult to speak. He cleared his throat and let out a breath. “I, uh-” he looked around the room and felt sweat pool above his lip.  “I asked T’Challa if I could come here because I needed to talk to all of you. I needed to let you know what’s been going on since you…” he trailed off, “since your escape from the Raft.”

Clint snorted. “Yea. Something else you didn’t help us with.”

Tony scrunched up his nose and turned his head back and forth to look at the people in the room. “I’m sorry, but were you there, Barton?” He straightened his back and stared the man down. “After you were taken into custody by Ross’ men, I had to fly my best friend to the hospital to see if he was dying or paralyzed. My concerns were somewhere else.” He pointed in Steve’s direction, “And if you’re pissed at me for that, let’s remember that Steve fought me, Natasha, Rhodey and T’Challa to keep his best friend alive.” Tony wagged a calloused finger in the air. “We don’t get to say one side is right but the other is wrong for doing the exact same thing.”

The group remained quiet and a few of them had trouble meeting his gaze.

Tony rolled his eyes. “And as for helping you escape? Ok, I wasn’t the one who came in guns blazing, -”

“You didn’t come in at all! Except to throw it in my face that I left my family.”

“You did, Clint. Your choice.”

Clint shook his head. “You always break the rules, Stark. And the one time I needed you to, you were nowhere to be found.”

“Barton.” Steve’s voice was firm and Tony turned to him.

“It’s fine, Steve. We need to get this out if we have any hope of moving forward.” He turned back to Clint. “I do break the rules. I have my entire life and the one time I did the right thing you’re going to throw it in my face?” He huffed out a breath and looked down at the floor. “I knew that in that moment I couldn’t actively go against the Accords and I knew, when I saw you all behind that glass that the Accords were wrong.” Sam went to speak and Tony held up his hand. “I knew that before you were arrested, but it was solidified in that moment. And just so you know, I got a call from Ross while Steve was getting you out and put him on hold and provided audiovisual interference on all their tech for 12 minutes; just enough time to make sure you cleared the Raft and its perimeters.”

Recognition dawned on all of their faces and Clint fell back into the couch. Well shit. “We needed you earlier,” he muttered, his voice losing the anger and edge he had only moments before.

“You needed me after, more.”

Clint looked away from Tony’s piercing stare.

“From the beginning there was a lot going on that you didn’t know, things that were happening and being discussed that were beyond even my reach.” He shook his head. “I was trying my best with what I was given.”

“The Accords were never the answer, Stark,” Sam said.

“And you should have spoken to us,” Wanda added.

Tony looked up at them. “They were an answer, Sam. Just not in the way they were first delivered to us. And you’re right.” He dipped his head towards Wanda. “I should have spoken to you. We should have sat down and discussed this.” He waved his hand out in front of him. “After the events in Sokovia and then Lagos, the people and governments of the world wanted to know that they could trust us. And as we were, they couldn’t.” He shrugged and sat down next to Natasha. “We protect the world but once we’re finished - we walk away.” Steve went to speak but Tony waved him off. “We get to walk away, Steve. We get to go home and continue on with our lives. To some, it’s not fair. And they wouldn’t be wrong. And at the same time, it looks as though we topple buildings and blow shit up without a care to the aftermath. We do need to be accountable for our actions, just not in the way they wanted.”

He went into his bag and brought out copies of the Accords and the ones he was working to pass (complete with new changes); he passed them around to everyone. “Steve was right when he said that it shifted the blame, and he was right that we should have requested more time.” The other man looked up from the document in his hand and his eyes widened at Tony admitting he had been wrong. “If I had listened to him then, I would have seen that the simple fact that Ross demanded an immediate response from us was an indicator of how they’d respond from then on out. There was no compromise. And for that- - for me not listening, I’m sorry.”

They were all quiet and contemplative over Tony’s honesty.  He pointed to the documents in their hands. “I’m sure you’ve heard about the hearings at the U.N., many of which I’ve called on my own.” He pointed to the new Accords. “That’s what I’ve been working on. These are changes that I think we can all get behind, and if you can’t, I want you to talk to me and tell me what you don’t like and why. Give me ways to make it better.” He ran his hand over his face and when he opened his eyes there was a slight sheen to them. “I need you all on this, it’s the only way it will work.”

The room was silent save for the whooshing of turning pages.

“You believe this, Steve?” Sam held the documents up in his hand.

Steve cleared his throat and closed the packet. “You all know I didn’t agree with the Accords from the beginning, and I still think that on some level, it can go wrong. But I do agree that if this is the new law of the land, there needs to be compromise, and,” he turned towards Tony and gave him a smile, “Tony is trying to do that.” He placed the Accords on the table in front of him and stood. “We need to do this together. That’s where we screwed up.” He shook his head and placed his hands on his hips. “If we just sat down and talked about this from the beginning, we could have been a united front.” He looked down and shook his head. “Instead of being divided.” He went to the window and stared out at the darkening sky. When he turned around there was a sad smile on his lips. “Someone once told me that staying together is more important than how we stay together.” He caught Natasha’s eye and gave her a slight nod. “I should have listened then.” He walked back to the couch and rested his hands on the cushions. “I’m listening now.”

“This doesn’t just wash away what happened, Steve.” Sam stood up, dropping the packet on the table, the sound loud and abrasive. “He locked Wanda away, arrested us and placed us all in cells. We fought each other. People I called my friends.”

It was Tony who spoke up. “Ross did most of those things because of the Accords. And you’re a grown man, you made your own choices. Was there really no time to call me or Natasha after you squirreled Barnes away? Did you even think to try?”

Sam darted his eyes over to Steve, the two of them replaying their conversation after Bucky woke up, and the blonde raised his eyebrows and gave him a tight lipped grimace. He knew they didn’t even hesitate to not call Tony. The engineer wasn’t wrong.

“This would’ve been a lot easier a week ago.”

“If we call Tony--"

“He won’t believe us.”

“Even if he did--“

“Who knows if the accords will let him help.”

“We’re on our own.”

Tony ran his hands over his face. “I did what I had to, in order to stave off something worse, Sam.”

Steve ducked his head and stared at his hands in his lap. He remembered Tony telling him something similar when he pleaded with him in Berlin, after they got Bucky.

“Keep telling yourself that.”

God, how wrong had they been? Tony was telling him then that they needed to work together to be the barrier against the “something worse”. He pinched the bridge of his nose and took in a deep breath. They all had a lot to account for.

Sam went to speak but Tony wasn’t having any of it. He bolted up from the couch and walked around the room. “No. You don’t get to judge the things I had to do when you weren’t there to hear the threats that were made against you.” He threw his arms out at his sides. “You keep pinning this on me and yet none of you have taken responsibility for your own actions!” He ran his hands through his hair again and just kept shrugging his shoulders.

He sounded a bit defeated when he next spoke. “I know it’s easy to just blame it on Stark, he always fucks up anyway.” Steve straightened up and went to speak but Tony barreled through. “But I tried with this. I saw the lives Ultron… my decision, had taken, I saw,” his voice broke off and he met Wanda’s eyes, “I saw a future that was cold and empty and I had to do something about it.” She had the decency to look ashamed. “So, yea, Ultron wasn’t the best decision, and that’s on me. I own that. But I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since. And you all need to do the same.” He stopped and his chest was heaving, his hands clenched in fists at his sides to hide their shaking.

“Steve managed to call Nat after the bombing in Vienna, but did he listen to her? No.” He held up his hand and starting ticking these items off. “Sam could have called me when they were hiding Barnes after Berlin. Did he? No.” He ran his hands through his hair and leaned against the couch, behind Natasha. “Clint didn’t have to come back. But he did.” He turned to face the archer head on. “You chose to come back and fight, to leave your family, Clint. I didn’t force you to do that.”

He turned to Steve. “What was it you said after we met with Ross? That I stopped making weapons because I chose to?” He barked out a laugh. “You all chose to act the way you did. You each made a conscious decision to follow through with your actions. Don’t you dare put this all on me.”

The group was quiet for a few minutes as everyone let Tony’s words settle in.

 “And I locked Wanda in her room? What is she twelve?” He threw his arm in her direction. “Wanda could have left the facility whenever she wanted because she’s strong enough to do so. That choice was never taken away from her, I just asked Vision to help me stress the importance of her staying in because the demand for her head was through the roof! Every international party was calling for her to be detained, Sam.”

He turned to Wanda and his voice softened. “When we were first talking about the Accords you were worried they would come for you, and they wanted to, Wanda. I heard, in detail, the things they were going to do to you. Should I have spoken to you about it? Yes. Without a doubt. But given the time frame, which was basically nonexistent, it was the next best thing I could do.”

Wanda’s shoulders fell forward and she seemed to collapse into herself. “They wanted to hurt me?”

The pain in Tony’s eyes told her everything and more. “The things they wanted to do made Hydra look like nuns.”

“I’ve apologized because I never wanted any of you to go through the things you’ve had to endure. I apologized because I couldn't do more.” He whispered the last word. “The one thing I could never stand, was to see any of you hurt.” There was a quiver in Tony’s voice as he spoke and all eyes were on him. “You’ve come to mean…” He shook his head and looked down at his shoes. “I never thought I would have any of this.” He waved his arm out in front of him, pointing to all of them. “I was always used to flying solo.” He smiled and laughed. “Pun intended.” The joke broke some of the tension.

“And when the Avengers started four years ago, I thought we’d fight together in New York and that’d be it, maybe come back when called. But I was wrong. About a lot of things. I was never meant to change the world on my own it was meant to happen as a team.” Bright blue eyes met Tony’s warm brown ones and it took everything in Steve to not leap out of his chair and take Tony in his arms. “The six of us and our broken pieces created something priceless and powerful; something that filled in my empty spaces. And I will never be able to thank Fury enough for that.” He gave a small smile and shrug of his shoulders.

 “To thank you, enough for that.”

Clint’s shoulders relaxed and his face softened at Tony’s raw and emotional talk. The genius was being honest, and he couldn’t begrudge him that. He looked at Natasha and Steve and saw that their eyes were bright with unshed tears. Tony was right. They had created something wonderful, but more than that, they had created something that had come to mean more than just a team. Somewhere along the lines Clint forgot about that. Forgot that through everything, they had each other. He realized he had been wrong, and that much of his previous anger had come from within. Tony was right- Clint made his own choices and it was about time he accepted that and moved on.

Tony all but collapsed against the couch now. The movement causing some of Natasha’s hair to brush across her face. “When they brought you in from the chase in the tunnel, Ross wanted you immediately arrested and thrown onto the Raft. I was able to buy some time by handing over your suits and tech.” He gestured to Natasha and jutted his chin out. “She can tell you what Ross’ plan for you all was after the first escape.”

All eyes turned to the red head. “Before we found you at Leipzig, Ross was going to send in fighters to take you out.”

Steve’s brows furrowed and Sam looked over to him, stunned.

“Tash, you must mean to take them in,” Clint said.

She shook her head. “He was going to take them in dead or alive and when we last saw him before the airport, he was leaning towards the former. He would have killed you, Steve. And Barnes and Sam.” She ran her tongue over her lips. “Tony explained that it had to be us; asked for seventy-two hours and Ross only gave him thirty-six to bring you in.” She turned back to look at Clint. “Ross wanted us to fail from the beginning. He was going to shoot them, Clint. He would have killed them if we didn’t get to that airport.” Her eyes met Sam’s. “We wanted you to come with us, we would have been together, and alive.”

“What are you going to do, shoot Steve Rogers?”

“If that’s what it takes.”

Finally, she turned to Steve, and her voice shook as she spoke the words she’d been wanting to say since she last saw him at that airport hangar. “And you.” Steve’s head picked up and his shoulders fell. “We went to that airport as friends. Tony pleaded with you to listen. I pleaded with you. And you still didn’t budge.” She started to play with a frayed edge of her jeans and when she finally met Steve’s eyes, hers were filled with disappointment and regret. “You were our leader, Steve. You were our friend and you couldn’t see past your own issues.” She let out a big breath and fell into the cushions behind her. “I helped you leave and put myself on the line for you. I told you that I knew what Barnes meant to you, and somewhere along the way this stopped being about the Accords, about us, and became about him.”

“He was framed, Natasha.” Steve’s voice was raspy and low.

“We didn’t know that at the time, Steve.” She gestured to herself and Tony. “But a lot could have been avoided if you trusted us enough.”

He didn’t know what to say to that.

Tony cleared his throat. “Speaking of Barnes...” he nodded to Steve.

The blonde sniffled and cleared his throat. “Tony was able to get a majority of the U.N. to pardon his acts as the Winter Soldier.”

The change in the room was palpable, heads turned in his direction and eyes were wide with shock.

“How did you manage that?” Sam asked.

“Turns out that once you point out illegal human experimentation, brainwashing, Hydra, and the fact that they infiltrated levels of our own government not to mention that of many of the countries in the U.N., it’s not that difficult.” He shrugged. “Plus, we had proof that he had nothing to do with Vienna, which was what a lot of their case rested on.”

“God, Tony. That’s incredible,” Natasha said. He gave her a grateful smile.

“What about the rest of us?” Clint asked.

“I’m working on it.” He ran his hand along the back of his neck and shifted on his feet. “There are going to be repercussions about you fleeing with Barnes in Berlin and then of course the breakout, but I think that most of that will fall on Steve.”

The man in question straightened up. “I can live with that. Those actions were my own.” Sam went to argue but Steve shook his head. “It needs to be on me.”

Tony couldn’t argue with that. It would hold a lot of weight if Steve Rogers admitted his wrong doings to the U.N and the world. “That’s something we don’t have to worry about just yet. It’s being discussed, and it can happen once the new Accords goes into effect.” He waved his hands at the packets. “It’s all in there.”

“Secretary Ross can’t be happy about all this, Stark.” Scott had been reading the document only pausing to gauge Tony’s reaction to his question.

Tony nodded. “He’s not. I met with him a few days ago at the tower. He told me in no uncertain terms that he’ll make sure I’m in a cell of my own when the time is right.”

“Tony, you can’t risk yourself like that. You’re the only one who can make these changes happen.”

He looked down at Natasha and patted her head. “Your concern is touching.”

She glared at him.

“She’s right, Stark.” Tony’s eyes flitted over to Clint. “If he’s threatening you it means you’re doing something right, something that’s making him nervous. But if you can do what you say about these Accords, we need you.”

Tony looked away first and said, “Ross will come after anyone close to me, and by extension that includes you and your families.”

The color drained from Clint and Scott’s faces.

Tony walked back to his bag and pulled out two phones. He handed one to Scott. “I spoke to Hank and Hope Pym and they’re keeping an eye on your ex-wife and daughter, Lang.”

He stood in front of Clint. “I moved Laura and the kids. I went to the farmhouse before coming here and spoke to her, and she understood that for right now, it was for the best.” He handed him the phone. “I couldn’t risk any of them getting hurt because of this.” Tony ran his hand along the back of his neck and looked down at his shoes. “These phones are prototypes; no one knows they exist. There’s no trace of them on anything dealing with SI. These are the most secure lines I could create. You can contact your family whenever you like, and Friday has access to them as well. She’s notified when a call is being made and has protocols to make sure no one can access the locations of the calls on either end.”

Clint was staring at the phone as though it were magic.

“There’s video chat as well so you can see them.”

If Tony had been looking around the room he would have seen Natasha and Wanda excited for the archer to have the opportunity to see his children and wife, he would have seen the look of surprise and appreciation on Sam’s face and the awe on Steve’s. Tony went to great measures to make sure Clint and Scott’s families were safe; he was incredibly proud of the other man.

“Clint, I know you’re angry but I hope-”

“This,” his voice trailed off and he looked up to meet Tony’s eyes, “this is a definite start, Tony.” He stood up and held out his hand to the genius, his head tilted to the side. “I’m sorry I was an asshole to you, man. And you were right. About everything.”

Tony’s eyes widened and he met Clint in his handshake. “I’m sorry, Katniss could you say that again? I want to record it.”

“Never again, Tony.” Clint smiled and it was lopsided and genuine. The others wore expressions of relief and hope. There was something in Clint's "never again", and they knew that he wasn't just joking with Tony, but letting him know that they would never be divided again.

The genius smiled at the use of his first name and nodded while turning to the rest of the group. He saw that the moon was high in the sky and realized they had been talking for hours. He clapped his hands. “Let’s call it a night for now. I’m here until Monday and I meant what I said about these new Accords. Read them, mark ‘em up and take notes. Give me your honest opinions and help me with this.”

He had eyes only for Steve when he said, “I want to get you home.”

Something warm and beautiful blossomed in Steve’s chest.

Home.

There was still a lot unsaid, and even though they discussed quite a bit, those wounds were still raw, still hurt. But they would heal. And Steve knew in that moment, surrounded by his team and staring at the hope in Tony’s eyes, they’d make things right.

They’d get through it. Together.

Chapter Text

With the bulk of their conversation and first meeting over, they all agreed that a good night’s sleep would help ready them for taking on Tony’s assignment: taking on the Accords. Natasha gave Tony a tight hug, quick kiss to his temple and soft, “You did good,” before she left him on the couch. Sam nodded at the man and gave him a shy smile before he followed Clint and Scott out into the elevator.

It was just Tony, Steve and Wanda.

The young woman stayed in her seat looking through Tony’s proposed changes while Steve and Tony said goodnight. It seemed as though the two men only had eyes for each other. Once the team had gone, the two men migrated to one another like magnets. Tony found that there was still a flutter of anxiety when around the blonde soldier, but it was starting to dissipate now that they were on their way to setting things right. He had come to see, with Rhodey’s help, where Steve was coming from during their encounter at the compound. He smirked at remembering Rhodey’s harsh but appreciated statement: “He was trying to protect his friend, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t punch him in that pretty face for what he did to you.”

Tony was still trying to decipher Steve’s actions from earlier in the night (reaching out to touch his cheek, the lingering glances, the wink that Nat gave him), when Steve patted Tony on the shoulder.

“This is all going to work. We’re getting back on solid ground and that’s all because of you, Shellhead.” Steve’s voice was soft and warm, so different from the last time they were physically in front of one another. But Tony had heard that tone before, on a few of the calls they’d shared. The ones that usually ended with him hot and bothered.

Tony had to turn his head to hide his blush at the combination of the nickname and the heat from Steve’s hand lingering on the nape of his neck a bit longer than necessary.

He cleared his throat. “I think so too. We needed to clear a lot of things up, but I’m not naive enough to think that this wipes any of our slates clean.” He rolled his eyes. “I may still return the sentiment to Clint.”

“He’d deserve it.” He met Tony’s gaze head on. “There was no reason for that.”

Tony gave him a grateful smile and was about to say goodnight when he found himself wrapped in a warm, tight hug. His arms were caught under Steve’s and his hands were splayed at an angle, fingers wide, matching his eyes. The other man’s arms came around him and he could feel a strong, wide hand splayed against his shoulder blade, while the other rested on his lower back.

“Steve?”

He heard and felt the large sigh and just as Steve was pulling away, Tony completed their hug. One of his hands came to rest on Steve’s upper back, the ripple of hard muscle a reminder of the man’s strength, while the other came to sit just above the waistline of his running pants.

“I never thought you’d be here.”

Tony closed his eyes and let his head rest in the crook of Steve’s neck. This hold felt intimate but neither of them seemed shocked or uncomfortable at it.

“In Wakanda?”

He tightened his arms around Tony. “Here.”

Oh.

Tony returned the gesture. “Well, I am. And we’ll be alright, Steve.” He pulled his head back to look at the man, and gave him a smile. “The one thing I’m fantastic at is fixing things.”

Steve ducked his head and nodded. “I’d like to help you with that.”

Tony let his arms come down from their hold and laughed. “You can do all the heavy lifting, big guy.”

Steve blushed and he glanced at Wanda who seemed to be engrossed in her reading and turned back to Tony. He brought a large hand up to cup Tony’s bruised cheek, his thumb skimming over the purple, mindful of its tenderness.

Tony was sure his lungs stopped working when he felt the heat from Steve’s hand along his cheekbone. His eyes closed and he unconsciously leaned into the gesture.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Tony.” Steve’s voice was deep and husky.

All Tony could do was nod.

With a bright smile, Steve headed for the elevator, leaving the two Avengers alone. He knew that Wanda and Tony had some things to discuss, he saw the look the two shared when Tony was talking and knew that Wanda had harbored a lot of hard feelings towards the billionaire (although, it seemed that after she realized he was trying to help her, that feeling abated).

He left them to go take his shower and hopefully get some sleep.

Once Tony regained normal brain function and adequate air intake, he took a deep breath and went into the kitchen to prepare two cups of raspberry tea (Wanda’s favorite. He saw the facility’s grocery list and bill and knew the young woman had a penchant for flowery and fruity teas.), and grabbed a small bag of shortbread cookies. When he stepped back into the living room, the glare from the overhead lights was gone, replaced by a warm glow from the lights along the floor, giving the room an ethereal feel.

He set her mug down in front of her and put the cookies between them. There was about a foot and a half of space separating them.

“This is all my fault.”

Tony kept his head down but peered at her from under his eyelashes.

“I said that to Clint when we were fighting Ultron, too.” Her eyes were staring straight in front of her. A million miles away. “It seems so long ago,” she whispered. “But it was my fault then and it’s my fault now. All of this.”

When she finally turned to meet Tony’s eyes there were silent tears carving paths down her pale cheeks.

They were so focused on one another, that they missed the tiny ping of the elevator. Steve walked back out onto the floor, cursing himself for forgetting his phone and the copy of the new Accords. He wanted to read them a bit before going to bed. But he stopped when he heard Tony’s pained filled voice.

Tony’s heart broke for her. “Wanda, all of our actions led us here. I created Ultron. He existed because-”

“Because of me.” She finished.

There was such conviction in her voice that Steve knew there was no room for argument. She had done something to instigate the creation of the robot.

Tony sighed and rubbed his hand across his forehead.

“You never told them of your vision, did you?”

Tony shook his head and stared at the mug of tea, the steam from the hot water curling in the air. “They didn’t need to know that. It was bad enough for me to see it.”

“I’m sorry.”

They were quiet for a few moments before she spoke again. “But it was that vision that drove you to create Ultron. They should know.”

Steve’s heart started to race. Tony never shared with the team what he saw, what ultimately spurred him to create Ultron. He leaned his head against the wall. None of them shared what Wanda had showed them. He knew he was intruding on a private conversation and was about to head to his room via the back staircase when he heard Tony whisper.

“I saw them all dead.” He let out a sob and he collapsed into the plush cushions. “You showed me my greatest fear and it was watching my friends die right in front of me, knowing there was nothing I could do to save them.” He took in a ragged breath and whispered, “To save him.”

Hidden by the shadows, Steve’s eyes grew to the size of saucers and his breath hitched in his throat.

“That you didn’t do enough.”

His eyes shot up to meet hers. He nodded.

Steve’s heart shattered into a million pieces and he wanted nothing more than to go to Tony and tell him that he understood now. That everything made sense and he knew the genius would do anything in his power to save them. All of them. But instead, he swiped at the stray tear that fell, and went up to his room. He had faith that Tony would tell him everything in his own time.

“And that you were left behind.”

Another sob escaped Tony’s throat and his chin fell forward to rest on his chest. “I never had a family. My parents had been gone for decades, and Rhodey, Happy and Pepper were my family, my lifeline. And then I meet them,” he gestured towards the floor above them. “They came into my life and it became fuller.” Wanda’s eyes were soft when he peeked up at her. He knew she understood. “They stayed with me. Fought with me. Bled with me. We’re more of a family than people who share the same DNA.”

Wanda gave him a small smile and nodded. “That is why this is all my fault, Tony. I couldn't see past my revenge and it pushed you into creating Ultron. And if I hadn’t done that, these Accords wouldn’t have happened.” She shook her head and looked down at her hands. “Your family would have never been torn apart.”

He took a deep breath and ran his hands over his face, scooting closer to the young woman. “The Accords were still being discussed, Wanda. They would have come into fruition anyway.” He placed his finger under her chin so she could meet his eyes. “And revenge is a powerful motivator. Did Steve tell you about our confrontation in Siberia?”

She nodded.

“I think I could have killed him and Barnes.” Her eyes got wide at that. “I didn’t, but in that moment, when I had everything taken from me: the team, Rhodey, the truth about my parent’s deaths- I saw how it can consume.” His voice was rough with emotion but he sat up straight and spoke with honesty. “We need to stop blaming ourselves. It becomes this cycle of perpetual blame and self-loathing, and though I am an expert at that, nothing gets done except the ruin of your heart and the lack of actually doing any good.”

He placed his hand on top of hers. “You are a good person, Wanda. Did I forgive you for what you showed me? At the time, no. But now? Yes.” She went to speak but he held up his hand. “If you hadn’t shown me that, I don’t know if I would have realized just how much they meant to me.” He gave her a halfhearted shrug. “All that I’ve done since then has been to protect them and the world. I didn’t know how badly I needed to make that happen until then.”

She rested her head against his shoulder and the act caught him off guard. But he placed his arm around her back and tugged her tight against him.

“I killed those people, Tony.” Her soft sobs soaked his shirt as his rested his head on top of hers.

He knew she would have to work through that in her own way. He knew from experience that it would take time. “We’ll make it right.” The truth in his voice seemed to calm her. “You’re not alone. None of us is alone. We’ll do it together.”

He knew that he and Wanda still had some things to work through, but he felt better about it than he had since Ultron. They sat in the honey glow of the lights, content in one another’s company and the knowledge that in this, they were not as alone as they thought.

When Steve had gone back up to bed he found that he could not fall asleep right away. His thoughts kept finding their way back to the dark haired man who sat a few floors below him, and the words he heard exchanged. He wanted to know what Tony saw that made him create Ultron. But he knew, based off of the few words he caught, that it was something that had to do with the team, with him. But then his thoughts drifted back to their small conversation and the feel of Tony in his arms and he in Tony’s, and sleep came quickly after that, and for the first time in a little over a month, Steve had a full night’s sleep. He wasn’t plagued by nightmares, he slept content, knowing that the team (or most of them), was once again under the same roof and on their way to setting things right.

 

 

The next morning: Day 2 in Wakanda

As per his usual routine, Steve went out for a run before the sun was up, but as he passed through the communal floor, he was struck by the sight of Tony leaning against the window, staring out at the gardens. He was dressed in black sweatpants and a Black Sabbath t-shirt that was tight around his chest and arms. Steve’s mouth went dry and he felt a familiar heat in his belly when he took in Tony’s bare footedness and his disheveled, chocolate colored locks.

It was a very different event to talk to the man on the phone and imagine what he must look like, then to have the man in front of him.

Just when Steve was about to speak, Tony’s sleep heavy voice broke the silence in the room. “It’s beautiful here. I can see why you like it.”

Steve walked up to him and mirrored his stance. “It is.” He turned to Tony and saw that he was staring at him. “But it’s not home.”

Tony’s smile was something small and fragile and Steve wanted to take the other man in his arms, to let him know how much he missed that tower, and more importantly, how much he missed the man himself.

“I think a lot of good happened last night, Tony. You were right in everything you said and I’m sure the team had a lot to think about during, after and today.”

Tony hummed next to him. “I just hope we can all move past this.” He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the glass.

“We can if we do it together.”

Tony turned and smiled at Steve, the phrasing having its desired effect. “I see some things never change.” Tony’s tone was teasing when he gestured to Steve’s running clothes.

The blonde shrugged. “I guess they don’t.”

The two men stared at one another and Steve couldn’t help the way his stomach flipped at the delectable view Tony was offering him. And just when he thought it couldn’t get more enticing, the engineer yawned and stretched, his arms coming up over his head, the action pulling at the hem of his shirt only to expose a mouthwatering expanse of toned, olive skin; his pants resting low on his hips.

When Tony’s arms came to rest across his chest he noticed that Steve was staring at him with undeniable focus. But what really caught his attention, was the way his eyes had turned the color of a darkening storm cloud. He unconsciously licked his lips and almost groaned when he saw that Steve’s eyes clocked the motion.

“Maybe some things do,” Steve said. He was in front of Tony in three long strides, so close that when each man breathed, the others shirt rose with the breath.

Tony gulped and Steve watched as his Adam’s apple bobbed. In one fluid motion, Steve had his hand at the base of Tony’s neck and the other one came to rest against his cheek, and pulled him into a kiss.

It started out soft and inquisitive, Steve’s lips ghosting over Tony’s plump ones, pulling apart every few seconds, as though he was afraid Tony would pull away.

Tony had been so taken back by the seemingly out of character act, that he sat there with his hands stock still at his sides. But once Steve went to pull away, the fear of this ending all too soon spurred him into action. Tony’s calloused hands gripped Steve’s hips and drew him closer, one hand letting go to grasp the back of his neck and pull his mouth back down to Tony’s.

Steve’s blue eyes widened and Tony could feel his smile against his own lips. This time, they were fevered kisses, and it wasn’t until Tony felt the air push out of his lungs that he realized Steve had him back against the wall. It was Tony’s rough moan that broke the spell.

With the kiss ended, both men took a few seconds to catch their breath. Steve’s mouth was red and swollen and Tony had to shift his hips to abate some of the tightness in his pants.

Remarkably, Tony spoke first. “That was unexpected.”

Steve’s eyes traced his face and his lips drew into the most beautiful smile Tony had ever seen. He wanted to keep it and hoard it, so no one else could ever see it.  

“I don’t think it was that unexpected.” Steve ducked his eyes and Tony could see the faint blush that crept up his neck. “I think it’s been there a while. For me at least.” He ran his hand along the back of his neck and around to his collarbone. “I just happened to realize it when I thought I lost you and when we started talking again.”

Tony was stunned into silence and Steve let out a chuckle. He looked at the clock and knew that if he wanted to avoid the traffic of the market, he’d had to leave now. Steve hated the thought of leaving Tony like this, after practically ambushing him, but he thought that some time and space might be good. He ducked his head to catch Tony’s eye, “You gonna head back to bed or stay here?”

Tony blushed at the familiarity the phrase invoked as well as the image that sprung to mind, and turned back to the window. He cleared his throat but he knew Steve could still hear how the kiss had affected him. “I’ll probably be up. I’m gonna try and meet with T’Challa again today. We have some things to talk about. His support on these changes will be a big help.”

Steve caught Tony’s earlier blush and smiled to himself. “Alright then. I’ll see you later?”

Tony nodded and Steve couldn’t help the way his fingers itched to trail through those sleep tousled strands. But instead, he smiled and left.

If he would have turned around, he would have caught Tony watching him in the glass.

After Steve left, Tony managed a cold shower and some coffee before heading down to see T’Challa. The King was in his office speaking on the phone to his delegates who were reporting from the states.

The two men sat holed up in his office for the better part of the morning and early afternoon before they called it quits. They managed to discuss Barnes’ medical care, with Tony pointing out that the man would need psychiatric care as well as physical care to combat the years of brainwashing and torture and to work through what he had done. T’Challa had been stunned at the interest Tony took in the other man’s care.

“You know that I was there when he was showing you the video.”

Tony bit his lip and nodded.

“I was also there for most of the fight between the three of you, and you seemed very intent on hurting or even ending that man’s life.”

Tony became angry. “Could you blame me, T’Challa? I seem to remember a similar sentiment coming from you.”

T’Challa gave him a sad smile and glanced at his father’s portrait. “That is true. And I am glad I did not do anything I would come to regret.” He tilted his head at Tony. “Is that what this is? Some form of atonement?”

Tony looked away. “I was not in my right mind when I was attacking him and Steve. I had just found out that instead of the idea that my father had been drunk and killed my mother, they were actually murdered in cold blood.” He shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. “That helped shed some light on what Barnes might have been going through all these years. The uncontrollability of your own actions. But I know it’s nowhere near what he went through.”

Do you even remember them?

I remember all of them.

“He deserves a chance at a life. And…” he took a deep breath, “he’s important to Steve.”

T’Challa raised a dark eyebrow but chose to stay quiet.

They had managed to also work on the Accords and they were sending information back to Rhodey, T’Challa’s delegates and some of their more supportive members in the U.N. Once they parted, Tony went back up to his room to handle some work for SI. Somewhere along the line his eyes must have drifted closed, because when he woke up, it was midafternoon. The first thought he had was of Steve and within moments of him thinking about the blonde, his mind was wide awake. He let his head sink into the pillow and thought back over what happened. It still seemed so surreal. Tony had come to accept the fact that he definitely had feelings (and an obvious attraction) to the man, so it wasn’t that. It was Steve. The man initiated the whole thing and that was something he couldn’t wrap his mind around.

Once he was out of bed, he showered again, and dressed. His floor had a small kitchen and had been stocked before his arrival. Pulling out a bottle of water and some cereal, he sat at the high table and stared out at the lush forest of Wakanda.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it.”

“Jesus Christ!” Tony gripped his chest and some of his Frosted Flakes fell to the floor. He glared at Natasha. “I definitely didn’t miss that. And I’m pretty sure that if I died right then you would feel pretty bad about it.” He let his shoulders relax.

Natasha was sporting a small smile and ran her hand along his back. “You know the answer to that, Shellhead.” She sat in an empty chair next to him, the two of them watching the birds flit across the sky.

“I owe you an apology, Nat.”

She seemed surprised at that.

“I thought you were playing both sides the entire time, and really, you were the only one who saw the whole picture. I can never thank you for that.”

She leaned forward on the granite countertop and stretched one of her hands out to him, letting it rest on top of his. “He’s my friend too, Tony. And he means a great deal to me.” She shook her head and turned her gaze back to the window. “You all do. This was a tough one, but I think we’ll be ok.”

He smiled at her and let his other hand rest on top of hers. It was a rare display of affection but it warmed his heart to see that she had initiated it and didn’t shy away from it.

“You said we could come to you with our concerns, or any ideas we had.”

Tony met her green eyes and smiled. He held up a finger in a “give me one sec” motion, and left to retrieve his Stark pad and the Accords. When he returned, Natasha had helped herself to tea and some chocolate chip cookies he missed.

Once he was ready he rubbed his hands together. “Where do you want to start?”

About an hour into their conversation, Sam stopped by to see if he could grab Tony to talk about the Accords as well. The three of them sat around the couches, heads bent over the Accords, food strewn about them, talking. There were moments of intense yelling and Natasha had to threaten bodily harm if the two of them didn’t sit down and get their heads outta their asses. But soon enough, they found a rhythm.

Tony stood up to stretch and found that he hadn’t felt this good in quite some time. Watching Natasha and Sam talk about the Accords with hope and acceptance let him know that he was moving in the right direction.

He was so caught up in this thoughts he didn’t hear Sam approach. “Back on the Raft you said that we didn’t really talk, and that was true. But when you came to me, I knew I could trust you, not just because of the evidence you gave me but because he trusts you.”

Tony licked his lips and averted his eyes. He knew who Sam was talking about.

“He told us what happened at the compound.” Tony’s eyes met his. “He told me that you went to him as a friend.”

“You asked me to, Sam. It was the easiest thing I’d done since the Accords came out.” Tony’s voice was a rough whisper.

Sam nodded. “I believe that. And I believe you now.” He shrugged and continued, “I don’t know you as well as I know these other guys but maybe, once this all blows over, we can change that.”

Tony’s mouth lifted at the corner and he rolled his head to the side. “Are you, like hitting on me, Wilson? Cause I don’t know how Rhodey will feel about that.”

At the mention of the Colonel’s name, Sam’s shoulders fell and he bit his bottom lip. Tony grabbed him by the shoulder, “No, don’t do that. Rhodey is doing great. Really. He’s doing amazingly well.”

“It was on me, Stark.”

“No.” Sam’s eyes widened at the severity in Tony’s voice. “And it’s not Vision’s fault either. There was no choice but to fight for your life. I blamed myself for putting him there, and he told me to stop crying about it.” Sam gave a small smile. “He made his choice, Sam and if we take that from him, what he’s going through now will mean nothing.”

The younger man nodded and gave a tight lipped smile. They were quiet for a moment.

“You think you can really make all this happen?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“There’s the Tony Stark we all know and love,” Natasha said as she came up behind them. “If anyone can do this, Tony can.”

“I have to.” He looked at the two of them. “I’ve already spoken to T’Challa about the Accords and with his backing I think it will help our case. And now with your insight, it’s better for all of us.” He ran his hand along the back of his neck. “We just should have done it sooner.”

She sighed and nodded. “Well, we’re doing it now. Sam? How do you feel?”

He put his arm out and gave Tony a hopeful smile. “Better.”

Tony shook his hand and returned the sentiment.

They made great progress and that was only with the three of them working together. As Sam and Natasha laughed over her stealing the last cookie, Tony felt himself really breathe easy for the first time in months. They were on their way; and the Avengers would be stronger than ever.

Chapter Text

Tony and Steve had not run into one another the rest of that day. Tony couldn’t compute what had happened between them and at first, he just pushed it away as emotions running high what with them being civil around one another for the first time in months, and the hope that the team was healing. It was easier for him to just set things aside. This way, if it was a mistake, it wouldn’t be as awkward. Or, as heartbreaking.

At dinner last night, the two men were seated across from one another and Tony could not meet Steve’s eyes. The soldier was quiet all through the meal while the engineer filled the silence with chatter about Rhodey, Vision and the Accords, as well as information on their friends at home. When they cleared the table, Steve cornered Tony in the kitchen and was just about to bring up their kiss from earlier, when Natasha came in and asked if Tony was staying for dessert.

The brunette blushed the color of a ripe apple and stuttered something along the lines of checking in with T’Challa and having an early night.

Steve stood there dumbfounded. Since when does Tony Stark pull an early night?

Natasha stared at him and gave him one of her trademarked lopsided grins. “Maybe Stark already had his dessert, Rogers?”

It was Steve’s turn to blush as he left the kitchen and headed to his room.

 

Day 3 (of Tony in Wakanda)

 

Needless to say, he did not sleep well and that energy and anxiety is what had him up an hour earlier than his normal run time, and kept him out an hour later. When Steve returned from his run, thoroughly exhausted, he went to his room, showered, and went down for breakfast with Natasha.

He was spooning fruit into a bowl when he asked, “You see Tony?”

The redhead nodded, taking a sip from her iced tea. “I woke up and found him on the couch looking over the Accords. He seemed exhausted.” She shrugged. “He left a few minutes before you came in; said he was going to check in on Barnes.”

The bowl that Steve had been carrying fell from his large hands and shattered on the tile. Shards of white ceramic littered the floor along with blueberries and strawberries. “Why did he want to see him?”

The tremble in his voice was obvious and it matched that in his hands. “Natasha. Why did you think it was a good idea for him to go see Buck?”

She stood up and grabbed a towel. Steve was still rooted to his spot. “Bucky is, for all intents and purposes, asleep. And protected. Tony wouldn’t do anything, Steve.” She was kneeling on the floor and looked up at him. “He’s pardoning the man, for Christ’s sake. Give him some credit.”

But Steve didn’t hear her plea because he was already in the elevator, heading down to medical. 

He had been so happy to see Tony that morning, and then their unexpected kisses fueled him to get back that much faster. His run had been filled with all the things he wanted to say and do to the man.

But now, as he entered the medical bay, all he felt was crushing fear that Tony would do something to Bucky; finish what he started in that compound.

“You have no right to be down here, Stark.”

Stark? Where did that come from?

Tony flinched as though slapped and he took a step away from the glass. “I, uh, I wanted to see how he was doing. T’Challa said I could talk with the doctors and give them any insight I had to his...condition.”

Steve gave a derisive snort and walked right up to Tony’s face, his hands in fists at his sides. “Where was this compassion,” he sneered at the word, “when Bucky was on the floor with his arm blown off? Or when you fired a repulsor at me?”

Tony’s eyes widened a fraction, and then just as quickly, narrowed down to slits. “I didn’t have any when I was too busy trying to not die! Or did you forget that your friend tried to break my neck and rip out my arc reactor; or when you almost decapitated me!” He yelled as he grabbed at his hair, and it echoed off the walls. “What the fuck, Steve?” He threw his hands in the air and walked away from the other man. “We’re just gonna keep bringing all of this up, aren’t we?” His hand went to rest on his chest and Steve’s shoulders fell at the move. “We can’t keep these things in our back pockets and pull them out whenever we’re worried, or angry or it's a day ending in ‘Y’.”

He walked towards Steve. “What about all of our conversations over these last few weeks? What about our talk last night and this morning?” He threw his hands in the air and sight caught sight of the other man's blush. “God, Steve. It’s like five steps forward, seventeen back.” He shook his head. “And I already told you that I would have killed him in that compound, and that I was angry and disappointed at you for keeping this from me. But I can’t keep doing this, Steve. This tete-e-tete with you. Who hurt the other more?” He looked away disgusted. “Hasn’t it been enough?”

“I’m sorry, Tony, I just-”

“You put everything else above our friendship, Steve. And I know that I’m not Sam or Nat, but I thought that I meant a bit more to you then....” his voice trailed off and he flicked his hand towards Steve.  

“Tony.” There was a firm edge to his voice but Tony also caught an undercurrent of emotion that made him startle. “You have no idea what you mean to me.”

“Well then we have a pretty shitty way of showing that, huh?”

Steve’s eyes softened and his heart swelled at the use of the word “we”. Tony’s back was to him and as he got closer, he could see that there were stray tears collecting along his lashes. One stray tear fell along the light bruise on his cheek.  

“After you left, the suit was completely disabled. I couldn’t get it off.” He was still staring at Barnes’ prone form. “I must have sat there for maybe fifteen minutes, but it felt like hours, and this unbearable pain radiated through my chest and up my neck and I was sure that,” he snapped his fingers, “this was it. Something must have broken or been damaged, or this was the heart attack I avoided in Berlin, and I was going to die right there.”  He let out a self-deprecating laugh as he turned to Steve. “And even though I’m standing in front of you now, I did die, Steve. There were parts of me I had to leave on that cold ground.”

He glanced at Steve and swiped his fingers across his cheeks to clear away the tears, before turning back to Barnes. “I hated you. And I hated him. And after I realized that I fought you; hurt you, I... I hated myself. When I watched you walk away, pieces of me I didn’t know existed broke. Every moment down in my workshop, shared dinners, jokes and movie nights; the brightness of it all just faded. Because you made leaving seem so easy.”

He bit his lip and closed his eyes. “And then you dropped that shield on the ground like it meant nothing; forgetting the very man who gave that to you, who was murdered by the man you had in your arms,” his voice broke off and he took in a lungful of air, “I wanted you dead too.”

Oh really, you two knew each other? He never mentioned that. Maybe only a thousand times. God, I hated you.

I don't mean to make things difficult.

I know. Because you’re a very polite person.

Steve’s head fell forward and he had to brace himself against the glass at the onslaught of self-loathing.

If it weren’t for the serum, Steve would have missed Tony’s next words. “But as quickly as that thought came, I pushed it away. Because I could never live in a world without you in it, Steve.”

Steve blinked his eyes rapidly, looking at his feet. He was afraid that if he moved, everything he just heard would get swept away, as though nothing but an imagined moment. He slowly picked his head up and was met with sparkling, brown eyes. “Tony-”

Tony held up a hand. “You don’t have to say anything.” He shook his head and cleared his throat. “I just wanted to see how he was doing.” He gestured to the sleeping man and moved to a nearby computer, thinking that after a few minutes, Steve would just go back upstairs.

There was no sound in the room except the clicking of keys as Tony read through Barnes’ files.

“I was too, Tony...”

The tapping stopped.

Tony’s back was still to him, so Steve took a deep breath and continued. “I still hear it; the sound of my fists hitting metal, looking down at you and lodging the shield in your armor.” He shook his head forcefully as though trying to dislodge the thoughts. “For weeks after we got here I was a shell of the man I had been. All because I hurt you.” He looked up and whispered, “So, yea. I was broken too.”

Steve couldn’t stop the words as they came and he realized it was a good thing. They needed this. “Once I found him in Bucharest, I couldn’t think of anything except making sure Bucky was safe, and after we escaped Berlin, I knew that I had to prove his innocence. If I didn’t...they would have killed him.”

Tony was facing him now but Steve was still looking at the ground. “You should have told me.”

“I tried. At the airport. But then things just got so out of control.” He ran a hand through his hair and met Tony’s eyes. “I didn’t know everything that had gone on after I left, you and Natasha were right about that. None of us did, and knowing it now changes things. And I can’t help but imagine how differently everything would have turned out if we had just-,” his voice dropped off and he took a deep breath. 

Tony took a step forward. “What happened, happened. And I didn’t really give you a chance at Leipzig.”

“You did, Tony.” He stared at him pointedly, there was no room for argument. “But with Bucky…” his voice trailed off.

“I get it. I do.” He held his hands up. “I didn’t then and I think a lot of that was some form of jealousy,” Steve raised his eyebrows at that but Tony didn’t seem to notice, “but I know how much he means to you. And after everything with Peggy... Barnes is the last link you have to your past. We wanted to help you both, Steve.”

“I know that now.” He moved away from Tony and went to stare at his childhood friend. “Zemo knew what Bucky meant to me. He used that against all of us.” A trembling hand wiped across his brow. “I watched you when you saw the tape. Each second that passed, a part of me broke, Tony. But even then, I lied to you.” He turned around to look at the man he called a friend, but wanted to call something more. “How can you ever forgive me for that?” He collapsed against the wall, his legs barely keeping him upright.

“The same way I hope that you’d forgive me for every punch, every poisoned tipped word, every time I turned my head…” He was in front of Steve now. “If we keep living in everything that happened we’ll never live, Steve. Zemo will have won.”

There was a small pause.

“That’s very grown up of you.”

Tony let out a small laugh but sobered up. “It’s a new thing I’m trying. Plus, Rhodey is a very good listener and he’s much wiser than I give him credit for.”

Despite the moment of lightheartedness, Steve turned serious again. “I fought you too. Nat showed me a picture of your bruises. God, Tony. I could have killed you.”

Tony rolled his eyes and threw his shirt over his head, holding his arms out at his sides. “I’m fine. I mean, don’t get me wrong, getting the shrapnel removed was a walk in the park compared to this, but it’s healing. I’m healing and I’m alive.”

His arms came down and he was about to pull his shirt back over his head when he felt the ghost of a touch over his chest. He never noticed that Steve moved away from the wall; that he now stood in front of Tony, his mouth slightly open, eyebrows furrowed together as he ran his fingertips along the mottled purple and green on his chest. There were only a few purple spots remaining on his olive skin, the rest of the bruise having turned to the color of a pistachio. His bruises still pulled along his ribs, the fractures having mended but they were still sore. His rapid breathing quickly reminded him of that.

The feather light touch of Steve’s fingers raised goosebumps along the olive skin, and Steve unconsciously licked his lips. Tony caught the movement and felt a familiar tightening in his pants. He gasped and went to step back but Steve gripped his upper arm, keeping him in place. “Does it hurt?” his voice was strangled.

“Uh, no. I mean it does but it's bearable.”

Steve cursed under his breath. “It was worse than this?” The pain in his voice made Tony want to reach out and cup his cheek, but he was hyper aware of Steve’s fingers on his skin.

He was touching Tony as though he were something valuable, something to be protected and cherished. Tony’s cheeks flushed. “Steve?” he croaked. 

When Steve’s eyes met Tony’s the genius took a sharp breath in. The blue eyes were practically black, and he watched as they moved from Tony’s brown eyes, down to his mouth. Steve picked up a tentative hand and placed it along the curve of Tony’s cheek, his thumb coming to brush along the bruise on his cheekbone.

“I don’t want to live in a world without you in it either, Tony.”

A smart ass remark was on the tip of his tongue, but it was swallowed by Steve’s unrelenting kiss.

It took Steve’s brain a few seconds to catch up with his body, but once it did, he realized that not only was he kissing Tony, but the genius was kissing him back! Steve had one hand resting on Tony’s chest, right above his heart, while the other was tangled in the hair at the base of his neck, keeping their mouths locked together. This was different than their shared kisses the day before. This one was all passion and desire. When the kiss first started out there had been a few inches of space between the two men but somewhere between Tony’s groan at Steve’s tongue in his mouth and Steve’s hand dropping to the other man’s waist, they became flush against one another. Tony tasted like coffee and this close, Steve could smell grease and metal on the man’s skin.

Tony could feel the hard plains of Steve’s chest, and the heat that radiated off the man. Steve took a playful bite at Tony’s bottom lip, which resulted in the genius rolling his hips forward. That earned him a deep growl from the usually composed super soldier, and a more forceful bite on his jaw.

Tony prayed that there would be bruises. If only to remind him that this actually happened.

With each kiss, Steve pushed Tony back until the brunette was boxed between Steve’s hard chest and the wall. The force of being pushed back and the nonstop rise and fall of his chest had Tony wincing.

Steve pulled back to look at him. “Did I hurt you?” His voice was wrecked and it took all of Tony’s self-control to not drop to his knees.

“If you stop, I will hurt you.”

Steve gave a wicked smile and grabbed both of Tony’s wrists in his hands and placed them above his head, keeping the man effectively in place. The soldier took it upon himself to wedge his thigh between Tony’s legs, letting out an obscene moan when Tony began to rut against him.

Tony let his head fall back as he rubbed his dick along the hard muscle of Steve's thigh and if he didn’t think he was going to die right there, he was certain he would when Steve started to bite and taste along the corded muscle of his neck, swiping his tongue along the bruised fleshed after each nip.

Breathy whimpers and long moans were escaping his battered lips, and Steve was trying his best to see what new sounds he could get the billionaire to make. Each one had him on the verge of losing his composure, so he went back to assaulting Tony’s mouth, each moan and cry swallowed up by Steve.

When the two of them pulled away (Tony cursed the need for air. Puny humans!), their chests were heaving and eyes were wide with surprise and lust.

Steve felt his dick twitch at the sight of Tony’s lips red and swollen from their kisses, the bruised spots along his chin and neck, and tousled hair. I did that to him.

Tony it seemed, registered where they were first, and searched the floor for his discarded shirt, moving away from the wall to retrieve it. Once his skin was covered, he noticed a small frown come across Steve’s features.

“You should leave it off.” Steve took a step towards him.

Tony’s head snapped up at the gruffness in Steve’s voice. He adjusted the t-shirt and cleared his throat. “I think maybe, for right now, it might be best if I’m not half naked should anyone come down here.”

Steve’s eyes shuddered close at the image and he was soon back in Tony’s personal space. “You don’t usually do anything by halves, and you should definitely not start now.”

Tony whined at the way Steve’s voice seemed to be dipped in honey. What were they doing? He needed to get his head straight.  Tony raised his hand to ward Steve off, but all it did was invite the other man to take his smaller, calloused hand and kiss his knuckles.

The touch was surprisingly intimate and gentle. And it caused Tony’s stomach to drop and his heart rate to speed up. He pulled his hand free. “I think that we-”

He was cut off by the shrill ring of his cell phone. Tony cursed as he fumbled for it in his pocket, and held it up for Steve to see.

“Hey there sugar plum, how’s it going?” His voice was definitely not shaking, thank you very much. Tony went to the stairs, simultaneously thanking and cursing his friend for his timing, but was stopped when he saw T’Challa.

Someone definitely hated him.

“Good morning, Tony. Steve.” T’Challa was standing at the foot of the stairs, a tablet and mug of coffee in his hands. How long had he been there?

Tony let out a long breath and gave a tight lipped smile to the young King.

“Good morning to you, T’Challa.”

Steve sounded perfectly fine. The bastard.

“Is everything alright? You look a bit flushed, Tony.” There was a small smirk on the monarch’s face.

He was there long enough to see something.

Tony rolled his eyes and plastered on a smile muttering to Rhodey to hold on for a second. “Thank you for your concern, T’Challa but I’m fine. Still getting used to the climate here. Nothing a cold shower can’t fix.” He glared at Steve and felt pleased when he caught the widening of blue eyes and the blush that crept up his pale skin. “Colonel Rhodes just called and it seems to be important.” He skipped up a few steps before turning around. “I just wanted to check on Barnes.” He gave a curt nod. “Both of you enjoy your day. Alright baby cakes, talk to me.”

Steve went to speak but Tony was already gone.

T’Challa knew he had walked in on something between the two men, and if the hushed words he caught before making his presence known were any indication, it seems as though the two of them had a bit more to work through than he thought.

“You seem a bit flushed as well, Steve. Perhaps you’re both coming down with something?”

He let out a small laugh and closed his eyes, resting against the table behind him. “Yea. Something.”

T’Challa put the tablet on the table and took a long drag from his cup. “I thought Tony would come down here to see Sergeant Barnes. I explained that your friend is doing better each day. But I have to agree with Tony on the fact that much of the work will begin once he wakes.”

“Tony talked to you? About Buck?”

T’Challa nodded and grabbed his tablet. “We spoke this morning, about the Accords and about Barnes’ care. After looking over his notes, I told him that he has my full support which I believe will be of great assistance. As for Barnes, he explained that the man would be suffering from PTSD.” The young man took a moment’s pause and said, “It seemed to be something he was quite familiar with.”

A shadow came over Steve’s eyes and all he could do was nod. He knew about the nightmares that plagued Tony after New York, the ones that still haunted him from Afghanistan. T’Challa placed a hand on his shoulder. “It’s incredibly helpful that he shared this, it’ll help us formulate a more comprehensive plan for when he wakes. But as with most things, it will take time.”

Steve’s chin dropped to his chest. He came down here thinking that Tony was going to harm Buck and meanwhile the whole time, he was trying to help. “I didn’t know.”

The other man hummed. “Well you do now. I suggest you stop sitting around and start looking at the things you do know and think long and hard about what you want to do about them.” He gave a very pointed stare to Steve and then laughed when the other man blushed.

Steve stuttered a thank you and headed upstairs.

He needed to find a redheaded spy.

Chapter Text

“You alright, Tones? You sound constipated…and out of breath.”

Tony groaned and sagged against the corner of the elevator, adjusting his jeans. He was still hard from his encounter with Steve. He ran his hands over his face and shook his head, trying to get his brain back online.

Steve kissed me.

Steve Rogers kissed me.

Steven Grant Rogers kissed me.

…and I kissed him back.

“Yea. Super. Like totally fine. I did not, in no uncertain terms just make out with Steve Rogers and then run away to take your call.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Rhodey?”

Nothing.

“Rhodes?” Tony was starting to get worried. “James?”

It started out softly but soon enough, Rhodey’s boisterous laughter was vibrating against Tony’s ear. He rolled his eyes and stepped off the elevator, and collapsed onto the soft couch in his living room. “Really? That’s the response I get when I tell you I was mauled by Steve Rogers and that I know what kind of toothpaste he uses?”

Rhodey took in a deep breath trying to slow his racing heart. “I just can’t believe it finally happened. Jesus, Tones. You two were giving me cavities with the way you’d stare at one another all sweet.” He let out a loud “HAH!” and Tony had to pull the phone from his ear. “So is he a spearmint or wintergreen kinda guy?”

“Yea, yea. Laugh it up.” He rested his head back against the couch and stared up at the ceiling. “Spearmint.” The smile was obvious in his voice.

Rhodey hummed. “I still may punch him in the face if I ever see him again, you know that right?”

Tony shook his head and smiled. He looked at his watch and saw the time. “Isn’t it late there, Rhodey? What’s wrong?”

He was once again met with silence and it made Tony’s stomach tighten and not in a good way.

“We’ve been hit with some of the U.N. delegates fighting back against ratification. A lot of this is coming from Ross himself. It seems he’s been meeting with people once he got wind that you were out of New York.” He paused but quickly amended, “He had no idea you left the country. I had Pep put out a press release that you were on a business trip for SI.”

Tony let out a breath. Fucking, Ross. “How many did we lose?”

“Eight.”

Air hissed out from between his teeth. It wasn’t a lot and it wouldn’t hurt their cause too much but they’d feel it and they’d have to work that much harder. “Is everything still set with Barnes?”

“Yea. Amazingly. The numbers are still the same and our lawyers even got the ball rolling with that.”

Thank God. He couldn’t imagine having to tell Steve that Barnes was going to jail or worse after the hope he put in the man’s eyes. He groaned again. Just the thought of Steve had Tony’s dick twitching in his pants. He shifted in his seat.

“What about Ross?”

Rhodey cleared his throat. “Remember how you had Friday hack into his phone to see what he’s been up to?”

Tony grimace at the use of the word “hack”. “That was before I left and I thought that because I didn’t hear anything, there was nothing to report.”

“She encountered some problems.”

“It’s good to hear from you, Boss.”

Tony smiled and said, “You too, Fry. What’s up?”

“There were extensive firewalls in Secretary Ross’ phone. I was able to tear them down, but I had to back pedal and build them back up behind me, while keeping my presence unknown.”

“Should have been a walk in the park for you, my girl.”

“Of course, Boss. It was just infuriating and tedious.”

Snarky.

“I was able to send a virus via his email to any computer or phone he accessed it on and found some interesting information. Anything he wrote or opened was sent to the server.”

Tony’s phone beeped and he pulled it away from his ear, pulling up holographic images of the documents Friday found. It appeared that Ross had acted outside of the Accords as well. There were records indicating that the detention of Steve and the others went against the methods of detaining as stipulated in the Accords, as well as contact with various international parties in Berlin and Leipzig that ordered tactical teams in both countries to use necessary force to obtain Steve, Barnes and the rest of the Avengers should Tony have been unable to follow through.

He continued to swipe through the documents and stopped when he saw a request for medical equipment and the names that fell underneath that request: Banner, Maximoff, Barnes and Rogers.

Tony’s stomach rolled and he could taste bile at the back of his throat. Ross was going to capture them and experiment on them once they were in his custody.

He closed the documents. “Rhodey? We can’t leak this out just yet.”

“What? Why?”

“Right now I know where three out of the four of those names are and I know Banner is hidden well enough that Ross won’t find him. At least not before I do.” He took a deep breath and massaged his temple. “We need to hold on to this. There may come a time when we’ll need an ace in the hole and from the few documents I’ve read, this will be exactly what we need.”

Rhodey sighed. “The public needs to know about this, Tony. Hell, the world needs to know. The very man who pushed the Accords went against them and was using them to approve human experimentation!”

Tony’s fingers started to tap a quick beat against his chest where the arc reactor used to be, a habit he had yet to break even with the reactor removed.  “I know that, Rhodes. I do. But, we need to do this on our own without making it seem like we blackmailed Ross or the United Nations into passing the new Accords. Once we do that on our own merit, we can out him to the world.” There was a steel edge to Tony’s voice.

“You’re right. This way no one can say you had ulterior motives, or turn it around on us.”

“What do you want me to do, Boss?”

“Make sure Rhodey and Vision are prepared for Monday. I’m going to continue on here and we’ll regroup once I get back. But keep me posted if anything changes or if shit hits the fan. And Friday, compile all of these documents into a file: chronological order, find the corresponding emails and who he spoke to, if anyone, and make sure we have enough evidence to back up what we’ll be accusing him of. I want this air tight.”

“Got it.”

The phone was silent on either end save for the two men breathing.

“Are you alright?”

Tony laughed. “I’m ok. Just a lot going on.”

Rhodey snorted into the phone. “Yea. The kissing.”

Tony was quiet.

“Tones? You forget I know you.”

Tony sighed and closed his eyes. “I saw Barnes.” He heard Rhodey’s sharp intake of air. “He’s in this tube and it looks like he's sleeping. They're working towards getting Hydra out but…”

“It's gonna be a long road.”

Tony nodded to the empty room. “And not just for him.” Rhodey knew that in moments like this it was best for Tony to talk when he's ready.

“When Steve found out I was checking on Barnes he freaked; questioned my motives for being down there.”

Rhodey hummed and took some time to formulate a response. “If the roles were reversed, and he just tried to kill me,” Tony winced at the mental image, “would you react any differently?”

Tony's silence was answer enough.

“We all went through a lot, but you and Steve and Barnes are more emotionally and mentally fucked up than the rest of us.”

“Ugh.”

“Hey. I'm not gonna lie to you. The only thing that can fix that is time and talking and believing that you all want to move on from this, together.”

“You sound like him.”

“It's something they teach us in the Army.”

Tony smiled. “He kissed me first.”

Rhodey's laughter was light and jovial. “Of course he did. You're a fine lookin’ man, Tones.”

Tony laughed then turned quiet. “You don't think this is too fast?”

“You've both been dancing around this for the better part of a year.”

“No, Rhodes, I mean after all of this?”

The Colonel sighed and said, “There's no set parameter of when you can fall for someone or when you'll recognize those feelings. Look at your lives, Tony.” He paused. “You don't sit behind a desk, or work a nine to five. You guys are superheroes. Everything about you is heightened, and add to that, the fact that tomorrows aren't guaranteed for anyone. Especially people with lives and jobs like us.” 

Tony could hear rustling on the other end and the spin of a cap. Rhodey took a few sips of water then added, “I think the Accords, in a really backwards and fucked up way, made you both see clearly for the first time. They put everything at risk.”

The genius's voice was thick with emotion when he said, “Is Vision letting you watch Dr. Phil?”

He sniffled as Rhodey murmured “asshole”.

“Thank you, Jim. I don't know if I've ever said it, but-”

“You never needed to, Tony. I'm your friend.”

Tony clapped his hand down on his thigh and closed his eyes, head leaning back against the couch. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “How are you? How’s pt?”

“Vision will not let me relax for one minute. He’s making sure I eat right, which is easy when he’s not cooking, but let me tell you, man all I want is a pizza from Marco’s!  AND he makes sure I’m ten minutes early to all my appointments. I'm there before my therapists!”

Tony laughed and it dispelled any worry and heaviness from their earlier conversation.

“I’m doing great, Tones. Don’t worry.”

Tony bit his lip and then said, “Alright, well I know you need your rest I’m gonna let you go. But you call me for anything, got it?”

“Got it. Enjoy yourself a little bit. Maybe head back down and finish what you started. Use protection!”

Before Tony could respond, Rhodey had hung up.

Bastard.

He stared at the phone in his hands for a minute before he let his head drop against the cushions and closed his eyes. Secure in the knowledge that Rhodey, Friday and Vision would keep him posted on Ross and the Accords, Tony let his thoughts turn back to Steve.

He did more than kiss the other man, they practically dry humped one another down in that room. And Steve was the one who initiated the contact. Every time. Jesus. Tony thought back on the hug and the kissing from yesterday morning and just now and didn’t know what to make of it. But what he did know, deep down in his gut, was that if T’Challa hadn’t walked in, they would have crossed a line he wasn’t sure they could get back from.

Would that have been a bad thing?

The sexual tension from before was coming back and Tony could feel that familiar fire in his belly, so he stood up and went directly to the bathroom, dropping pieces of clothing along the way, and turned the shower on as cold as he could stand it. A quick glimpse in the mirror solidified the fact that they did just make out. Along the edge of his chin and down along the dip where his neck met his shoulder, the skin was red. His head dropped and he saw that his wrists were starting to sport light bruises. It was real. He jumped into the shower and with his forehead pressed against the cool tile, he let himself calm down enough to think over the last hour of his life.

The two of them were at one another’s throats when Steve entered the medical wing, and only moments later, Steve was attacking his mouth. They had an open and honest conversation, but the two of them just started on a path to forgiveness, an acknowledgement of their wrongdoings and ways to go about fixing their relationship. Was the next logical step for them to make out? Emotions had been running high, he could blame it on hormones, endorphins and adrenaline.

He stood with his head under the frigid water, his muscles gradually relaxing as the liquid fell over his back. Tony opened his eyes and looked down at his dick. He was still hot and throbbing, and knew that no matter how cold the water was, how much he tried to not think about the way Steve’s lips felt on his, it was no use. He groaned as his fingers wrapped around the warm flesh and he started a slow pace with his wrist flicking just as he came up to the head. He closed his eyes again and leaned against the tile, the water hitting his shoulder. The touches and images from their encounter were burned into his memory, and with each stroke he remembered the strength in Steve’s arms as he pinned him against the wall, the focus he had as he bit Tony’s jaw and chin, and how he growled when he felt Tony hard against his thigh. The very fact that he could elicit those kinds of reactions from the normally stoic man was what brought Tony over the edge, and he gasped Steve’s name as he came.

He finished washing up and wrapped himself in a towel as he entered his room, where he sat on the bed, his head in his hands as he thought about the other man. Tony knew he was physically attracted to Steve; a fact that made itself known one day, when prior to Ultron, the Captain waltzed into the communal kitchen in nothing more than running shorts, pale skin slick with sweat, hair plastered to the sides of his face. Tony’s immediate departure from the room combined with his raging hard on was a sign that yes, the other man was a peak physical specimen.

But it soon became more than that and over the course of these last few months, with the Accords and the discourse between them, Tony truly uncovered the most frightening fact: he had fallen for Steve. The disappointment he felt at Steve’s choices, his constant fight to make sure the team stayed together and that Steve was kept alive only proved that he would be broken should anything happen to the man (and yes, to any of them). Hell, the last few weeks with their friendship in the balance and not seeing the man, made him ache. Tony’s shoulders fell forward as he yelled. “Damnit!”. He fell back onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. He wasn’t lying when he told Steve that he didn’t want to live in a world without him, he just meant it more along the lines of, “my heart may actually break if it happened”.

And then the man goes and kisses him. Twice.

Could Steve feel anything for him? Could Steve ever want Tony beyond a casual hook up?

And would Tony do that? Have him once and then give him up?

He pulled the duvet over himself, not caring that he was still wet and naked.

 What the fuck do we do now?

----------------------------

When Steve first entered the elevator, he had to press his palm against the front of his jeans to abate some of the pressure. He groaned at the contact and let his head fall against the wall. He took deep breaths in and out and thought of everything he could to get himself to calm down.

Once the elevator pinged, he was well enough to be around other people.

And now, Steve was the very image of a man with a plan.

Once he left T’Challa he went straight back to the communal kitchen hoping to find Natasha. And of course, she wasn’t there.

“Shit.”

“You alright, Steve?” Wanda was sitting in one of the high chairs, eating what looked to be oatmeal and blueberries, and she raised an eyebrow at his out of character expletive.

He looked around the kitchen as though Natasha would pop out of one of the cupboards. He ran a hand through his hair. “Have you seen Natasha?”

Wanda looked deep in thought but she was still staring at Steve’s face. “You look flushed, are you getting sick?”

Steve sighed and sat in one of the chairs. “I have a bit of a headache, nothing that some water and sleep won’t cure. I just really have to talk to Nat. Have you seen her, Wanda?” There was something in his eyes that told her his condition was nothing physical, at least, not in an “ill” sort of way.

The young woman shook her head. “She was here when I woke up, but she looked angry. Like, not normal Natasha angry.” (There should be something said about the fact that there is an acceptable version of Natasha being angry.) “She said something about ‘little birds’ and then she left.”

That must have been after he accused Tony of wanting to hurt Buck. She was definitely pissed at him, as she should be. He was angry with himself! He bolted up from the seat and went in search of Sam.

----------

He tried the gym, the library and the pool but they were nowhere to be found. He crossed paths with Clint who was gesturing wildly, his new phone in hand. Steve’s heart warmed at knowing he was talking to his kids, and that warmth grew when he was reminded that it was Tony who made that happen.

I gotta find Nat and Sam.

The garden had been his last stop and thankfully, that was where he found them. Natasha was curled up on a lounge chair, a glass of green tea in her hand. Sam was seated across from her and he was eating popcorn from a large bowl on the glass table between them. Steve couldn’t see their eyes because of their sunglasses but he knew the moment they were aware of his presence. The straightening of their shoulders and raised chins gave them away

Steve flopped down on the chair next to Natasha, and plucked a ripe strawberry from the bowl. “Tony is fine, Nat. I was wrong to jump to conclusions.”

All he got in response was a raised brow. She was a vault.

“So then what did happen when you went to confront Stark?” Sam’s mouth lifted at the corner and Steve felt himself blush. “Well it’s about damn time.”

Of course she would tell Sam. The two of them were worse than old women.

“But he’s here for a reason, Sam. Something happened and he looks pretty freaked out about it.” A well-manicured nail scratched the bridge of her nose. “First base?”

Steve groaned and let his head fall back onto Natasha’s thigh.

Sam shook his head. “Nah, have more faith than that in the guy, Romanoff. I say third.”

She hummed. “That’s true. And he was with Tony, and Lord knows that man knows his anatomy.”

Steve’s hand covered his eyes. “I am right here.” He peeked at them and saw matching grins on their faces. “I’m going to kick your asses in our next training.”

Natasha laughed. “It has to be something good if he cursed!”

“I live with children.” He pointed at Sam. “All of you.”

She patted his head and nudged him to sit up. Despite their teasing, the two Avengers knew better than to rush Steve, he would start when he was ready.

After a few more pieces of fruit he said, “I went down to confront Tony. I was so sure he was going to do something to Buck. And naturally, I was wrong.” His head fell forward and he mumbled, “Why break the streak.”

“Steve given what’s happened, it’s understandable,” Sam said.

“That doesn’t excuse his thinking that Tony would harm Barnes especially after he found out about the pardon.” Natasha’s eyes blazed with fury. “We have to stop thinking the worst of him, Sam. If we can’t move on from all of this, not only are the Avengers done, but so is all this.” She gestured to the spaces between the three of them. “And then what’s the point of us all staying here. Together?”

Sam ducked his head and gave her a small nod. Even Steve had the decency to look ashamed.

“Tony said something eerily similar.” He felt their eyes on him. “We can’t keep making blows and taking hits, going at one another for the title of ‘who hurt whom more’. He said that means Zemo won.”

“He’s right,” Sam said. The quickly added, “Don’t tell him I said that.” Steve gave him a small smile.

“You were gone for a while though. Something else happened.”

Steve met Natasha’s eyes and blushed. “I kind of kissed him. Twice. And maybe mauled him.”

“No way, man!”

Natasha just looked smug.

He went on to tell them about their conversation and how it was the most honest they’d ever been with one another. When he got to the part of Tony taking his shirt off, he gave the bare bones of their physical encounter.

Sam leaned back in his seat. “What I don’t get is why you’re here.”

Natasha pointed at Sam. “What he said.”

“Tony got a call from Rhodes, and then T’Challa walked in and Tony was caught off guard. I mean,” he ran his hand along the back of his neck and looked to the ground, “he was receptive. Very receptive.”

Sam held up a hand. “Keep some of the mystery, brother.”

Steve stood up and threw his hands in the air. “Well, what do I do now?”

“Well, you should have chased him up to his room cause I’m sure he could have used your help.”

“Sam.” Steve’s tone was a warning and if the way he clenched his eyes shut was any indication, Natasha knew why he was there.

“He wouldn’t turn you away, Steve. If he didn’t before he’s definitely not going to now. But he is going to be an idiot about it.”

Steve looked confused and sat back down.

“Knowing Tony, he probably doesn’t think he’s good enough for you, -”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“- and he’s still working through some things. Not to mention that this, whatever it is between you two probably seems like it came out of nowhere.”

“You both knew.”

“Yea but we’re cool and not oblivious. You guys are idiots,” Sam said.

Steve groaned and closed his eyes. “So then what do I do?”

“The only thing that’s gotten you two to this point.” Sam shrugged his shoulders. “Talk.”

“He’s going to avoid me like the plague.”

Natasha hummed. That’s true. “Maybe take some time to get your thoughts in order. I know that the rest of the team wanted to talk to him about the new Accords. So that will get him out of his head for a while.”

Steve looked at both of them. “Yea. Ok. That sounds like a plan.” He stood up to leave but turned back to the pair. “Just, when you talk to him, really listen. Take it from me and no jumping to conclusions.” He gave a pointed look to Sam.

He held up his hands. “Hey, I think Clint may be the one to we’d have to worry about.”

Natasha’s mouth curled up into a smile. “We’ll be fine, Steve.”

His shoulders relaxed and he gave them a bright smile. “You know, I never really thanked you for what you did. Both of you. And even now with all of this, I don’t think I could ever really explain how much you’ve come to mean to me.” There was a slight sheen to his eyes. “All of you.”

Natasha and Sam didn’t have to say anything. It was there, in their eyes, too.

Chapter Text

After Steve spoke to Natasha and Sam, he met up with Clint in the gym, hoping to work off his excess energy. He understood and respected Natasha telling him that Tony needed some space to sort out what happened, and as he blocked another one of Clint’s punches, he realized that some time to himself was good, too.

They would talk. He had faith that they’d be able to take the steps to make this work. Too much has been lost already, he wasn’t going to lose his chance at happiness.

Although, the middle of the ring was probably not the best place for introspective thoughts.

Steve moved forward to throw his arm up to block his face while Clint parried back and forth and finally seeing his chance, slid under Steve’s outstretched arm and was back up in the blink of an eye. Before Steve could even get his foot out to take the archer off of his, Clint had sidestepped the move and was able to tackle Steve onto the mat.

“Um, is the serum failing or are you just not here?” Clint rolled off of him and tapped along Steve’s head before falling back against the mat alongside his friend.

Steve groaned and threw his arm across his eyes. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“No shit.”

Steve let out a small chuckle before he got up to grab his water bottle, taking a long drag. “You talk to Laura?”

The corner of Clint’s mouth turned up in a smile and he stood, stretching. “Yea. She’s doing well; wouldn’t tell me where she was and I understand that. I got to see the kids. Nate’s getting big.”

The silence stretched on for a few minutes before Clint spoke again. “I came to you when you called, Steve, because I couldn’t stand by the Accords. I believed in you and what we were fighting for.” He leaned forward and braced his arms on his thighs. “But if you had talked to us and told us that Nat and Tony were willing to listen, things would be so different now. And I can’t help but be pissed at you for that.”

The other man’s voice sounded rough when he spoke. “I’m sorry, Clint. It was about the Accords but then it became about Bucky, too.”

Clint nodded. “I get that. Out of everyone here, who do you think understands Barnes’ situation the most?” He raised an eyebrow. “I remember what it was like to have Loki in my head, to do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise. That’s something he’s gonna live with for a while.”

Steve could only nod.

“But he’s got you. He’s got us, and that goes a long way.” Clint smiled at the nudge he felt against his shoulder.

The door to the gym opened and Wanda walked in, dressed in black shorts, sneakers and a maroon tank top. “I was going to go for a walk and wanted to see if anyone wanted to come too.” She walked up to the two men and wrinkled her nose at the smell of sweat. “Never mind.”

Clint laughed and stood up. “I’m gonna hit the shower and then find Tony.” Two pairs of eyes darted over to Clint, but he waved them off. “It’s about time he and I sat down.” He headed towards the door and before he was out, he turned back to look at Steve. “Don’t worry, Rogers. I won’t hurt your boy.”

Steve’s eyes widened and he stuttered.

Clint’s laughter echoed around the room long after he was gone.

“What does he mean by ‘your boy’?”

Steve groaned and put his head in his hands. Damnit, Barton.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 After a quick shower, Steve met up with Wanda on the communal floor and the two of them made their way out to the marketplace.

Once they were outside the gates, Wanda seemed to relax. Her long hair was pulled back into a ponytail, making her look younger than she was. There was a soft breeze in the late afternoon, and it brought with it the smells of the marketplace: spices and herbs, flowers and freshly cooked meat. The two companions walked in silence, enjoying the fevered sounds of the city around them. Steve glanced at Wanda and saw that she was walking with her eyes closed, face turned up to the sun.

He could understand her need to get out from behind the palace walls at least once a day. Steve remembered when he found her on the Raft, she was a thin, pale, hollow shell of the young woman she had become since joining the Avengers. When he saw they had put an electro shock collar around her neck, and treated her essentially like a monster, he was flooded with incomprehensible anger. He had found himself hating Tony again for putting them all through that. He knew now that Tony had nothing to do with their arrest; knew that it was thanks to him they were able to get away. As he kicked a rock out from under his foot he found his mind drifted to the other man.

Steve was so focused on his thoughts of their encounter in the medical bay and the kisses before that, he hadn’t realized Wanda was no longer by his side. He turned and saw her staring at him with a slight tilt of her head. He walked back over to her side.

“You alright?”

“I’m sorry, your thoughts were very loud.” She ducked her chin and avoided his eyes, and he saw that there was a slight blush to her cheeks. Ah.

This was something they had to work on quite a bit when she first joined the team. Her specific skill set enabled her to, essentially, read people’s minds. She would find herself speaking on things that Sam or Natasha or even himself wanted to keep private and she discovered, as time went on, that a chasm was forming between her and her teammates. After a few weeks of practice with Natasha though, Wanda had built up formidable mental walls to keep others thoughts at bay.

But there were still moments, though few and far between, when some would be too loud for her to turn away.

“I didn’t mean to. You were just thinking of him very…” she broke off looking for the word, “very forcefully.”

Steve ran a hand through his hair and gestured over to an empty bench in the park. Once they were seated, Steve found it difficult to voice what he was thinking. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Wanda or that he was ashamed of what he felt for Tony, but it was different talking to her than to Natasha or Sam.

She looked down at her feet. “It’s okay, Steve. You don’t have to talk to me-”

“No. It’s just that it’s still new, but not new if that makes sense?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “I thought it was something that had been going on for a while.”

His eyes widened in shock. “You too?”

Her laugh was warm and the hand along his back was comforting. “You were fairly obvious in your appreciation of Tony Stark.” Steve groaned and put his head in his hands. “If it’s any consolation, the appreciation is returned.”

Steve’s blush made her laugh even harder and he found himself laughing with her. It felt good to see her returning to her old self. Whatever had transpired between her and Tony when he first got here seemed to have had a pleasant and reassuring effect on the young woman.

Once they both caught their breaths Wanda turned to Steve and said, “I have some ideas about the Accords.” She was playing with her magic, letting some of the petals that had fallen on the ground dance in front of them. “In regards to people like me.”

Enhanced individuals.

“There was nothing in the original set of Accords, and after what Tony said Ross wanted to do to me,” she broke off and took a deep breath to calm her anger, “I knew no one like me would be protected.”

He nodded. “I can’t help but agree. When are you going to talk to him?”

“When we get back. I know he was with T’Challa before I left and Clint is probably talking with him now.” Steve’s eyebrows raised at the mention of the King. “They are together quite a bit. The King seems to be very instrumental in getting the Accords ratified.”

That put Steve at ease. T’Challa had witnessed and understood firsthand what the Accords were and what they would do to not only the Avengers, but people like them. And he was a strong supporter of the Accords as they were. But knowing that he was working with them had Steve believing that everything would work out. They could go home.

Wanda turned and smiled at him. “Home.”

He nudged her shoulder with his and stood up, offering her his hand. They walked back to the palace in companionable silence. The petals dancing alongside them.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tony’s conversation with Rhodey had him completely focused on not only the Accords but Ross, too. He spent much of his morning and afternoon in his room, with the occasional visit from Natasha and a small meeting with Scott, who surprisingly, had great ideas on the way in which the government(s) would have to also be included under the Accords. The two men discussed Scott’s tech and Hank Pym, with Tony regaling the younger man with anecdotes from his childhood of the silver haired man.

What Tony had not been expecting was a visit from Clint.

He knew that the two of them were on better ground than when he first got to Wakanda, but he was still leery of the archer.

Clint stepped onto Tony’s floor and walked to the center of the room, the wide window at his back. He was dressed in jeans and a soft black t-shirt, and though Tony couldn’t see any weapons, he knew better than to assume that Clint was weapon free.

The weight on his wrist reminded him that he wasn’t either.

Clint pointed to Tony’s cheek. “I’m sorry about that.” There was sincerity in his voice.

Tony’s eyebrows raised and he gave the man a nod, the look in his eyes telling him that he’s moved past it.

“Tasha and I talked last night and she told me what you discussed with her and Sam yesterday. A lot of those were my concerns as well but I’d like to talk to you about the “dependent” aspect.”

Tony furrowed his brows, confused.

“If individuals who are listed under the Accords have “dependents” or a family…” he trailed off and waved his hand in the air. “There needs to be some protection; from the world and from prosecution.”

Ah. Tony understood now. He gestured to the small table, already littered with coffee cups and foods, tablets and Accords with red and blue markings all over them.

Clint sat down at one end of the table and before Tony mirrored him, he went to grab two mugs of coffee. When he placed the steaming liquid in front of Clint, the other man smiled in thanks and took a long sip.

“Wakanda has a lot of great food but their coffee is shit.” He peered at Tony over the rim of the mug.

“Yea, well that’s because it’s not from a farm that SI owns and I haven’t been here to brew it in the wee hours of the morning.”

Clint snorted and gave a smirk.

Tony smiled back and dipped his head a sign for Clint to start.

It turns out that there were a few loopholes in the original Accords that did not protect “superhero” families or individuals associated with them. And Clint had a major issue with the Registration Act, a subsection in the Accords that proposed the idea of forcing super or enhanced individuals to put their name on a list.

Tony couldn’t agree more. Instead, Clint was proposing that individuals be asked to sign up so they could be called up to fight if the world needed them, and he was very adamant that there be no penalties for those who did not sign up. Although, Clint did make a case for “dangerous and hazardous individuals”, which would mean they’d have to show a complete disregard for human life in order to be automatically placed on the list.

“Those assholes should be on the list just for our safe keeping, too.”

The man had a point.

Furthermore, Clint explained how once individuals were placed on the list, the identities and whereabouts of their families and friends (“I’m talking grandparents and aunts and uncles, even the creepy ones that don’t get invited to the holidays. There needs to be security for all of them.”), should be protected. In other words: there needs to be a way of the Accords being aware of the “dependents” while not putting them in danger for being on the list, and keeping them from prosecution if the “super” individual is charged with a crime (“Yes, Tony, unless of course they help with said crime.”).

After an hour of them making great strides in these particular areas, the two men settled into a shared silence.

When Clint spoke, his voice was soft, and Tony saw that his eyes were a million miles away.

“Did Nat ever tell you how we met?”

The question seemed out of left field but Tony shook his head. “All I know is that you were sent to kill her and made a different choice.”

Clint hummed. “Yea. S.H.I.E.L.D sent me. She was the last of the Black Widow program and she had been identified as the assassin of high political targets. Although, by identified, S.H.I.E.L.D just meant the most likely candidate.” He looked up at Tony. “Sounds eerily familiar to what Ross did with Barnes, eh?”

All Tony could do was nod. He was right. It seemed like most organizations followed the same form of “blame someone first, then see if they’re actually guilty.” That’d definitely have to change.

Clint continued. “They thought she was working with Hydra so they needed to put her down.” He looked down at his hands and squeezed them into fists. “I had tracked her for the better part of a month when we stopped in Budapest. She didn’t leave any bodies behind in the other countries I had tracked her through, and even when we were there, it seemed as though she was…” he broke off to find the word… “tired.”   

Tony leaned forward, intrigued at the story. The two spies never opened up much about their lives before the Avengers and they out of all of them had the most shared history.

“I trailed her for three days before I made my move; I hoped that she had gotten comfortable and if she had suspected that she was followed, she’d have given up the thought by then.” Clint smiled and let out a small chuckle. “Looking back I was an asshole. I had no clue who I was dealing with.”

Tony smiled and laughed along with him.

“I waited until that afternoon when she had left the apartment she was renting. I snuck in and waited for her in the bedroom, tucked behind some clothes in the closet. I sat there for twenty-eight minutes before I realized something was up.” He rubbed at a spot in his shoulder. “She had slipped back in through the window and shot me through the wall, damn slug was caught right in my shoulder.” His head fell forward. “I had my bow on me and was still able to fire at her through the hole- she wasn’t expecting that.”

Tony shook his head and smirked.

“Nat ran and I chased her to a back alley behind some brothel. We fought but it wasn’t until shots rang out that I realized we weren’t the only two there.”

“S.H.I.E.L.D sent back up.”

Clint nodded as he shifted in his seat. “They wanted to be sure I could take her down. But what started out as me against Nat turned into the two of us against agents. We were cornered and beat to hell, but we were able to stand our ground; I’m sure there’s a report of it somewhere.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “She was cursing at me in Russian, telling me she never worked for Hydra and that she was giving up the Black Widow. There was something about the way she said it, that I knew she was telling the truth. And here we were, fighting for our lives when S.H.I.E.L.D had been hoping we’d both die in the process of fighting each other.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No. We didn’t. But it was a hell of a fight and the only way we made it out was because we worked together.” He ran his hand through his sandy colored hair and Tony couldn’t help but duck his head at the comment. How many times had they all come so close to it being the end but they were able to pull through because they had someone next to them? Someone willing to sit down in the trenches and fight with them. For them.

“We were able to take a good majority of the agents down and the ones that remained, retreated to tend to their wounds and figured we had been injured enough to die in the street.” Clint rolled his eyes. The “amateurs” was implied. “I reached out to Coulson to extract us and he had to explain to Fury the situation; it turned out the WSC was the one who sent the agents to kill us.”

That sounds vaguely familiar, too.

He smirked and laughed. “Fury was pissed and any agent we hadn’t killed in Budapest was arrested. I was reinstated and after a few hoops,” he snapped his fingers, “Nat was made an agent.”

Tony ducked his eyes and nodded. It explained why the two were so close. From the moment they met, they were fighting for their lives and all they had to ensure they’d get through it was each other. He took in the way Clint had leaned back into his chair and the faraway look to his eyes, he knew the memory was still vivid, but then something changed.

“I had retired, Tony.” Clint was staring ahead and it seemed as though the words were flowing without his knowledge. “I was looking forward to a life of leisure and being able to be there when my kids learned something new, or if they needed me when they woke up with a nightmare.” He closed his eyes. “I’ve left them before for missions. When I found Nat, Cooper was four and Laura was pregnant with Lila. She understood.” He took a sip of water and wiped his brow. “Then the team came and the missions got bigger and more dangerous but I did it because it’s who I am and what I do. But something changed after New York.” He gave Tony a tight lipped smile and turned to face him. “You were right. We clicked. All of us broken and battered, we fit, and we became something I don’t think we knew we were missing.”

Tony swallowed the lump in his throat but held Clint’s stare.

“Even when I thought we were done after New York, you reached out to all of us and offered us your home. And even though I had one with my family, that tower gave me a second one.” He raised an eyebrow and gave a soft smile. “You gave me a second one.” There was a quiver to Clint’s voice and Tony saw unshed tears in his eyes.

“I fought my family, Tony.” He gestured between the two of them. “We did. And that’s something we’re all gonna have to live with for some time to come.”

“Clint, I-”

He waved Tony off and said, “Knowing what I know now, changes things. And I’m sorry that all of this happened. I should have never doubted you.” He shrugged. “It was easier to place the blame on someone else than to carry the burden of it myself.” He rested his forearms on the table and let his head fall forward. “I was angry that I didn’t try to reach out to Nat and that I blindly followed, Steve. I was the one who chose to leave my family, I was the one who chose to fight my friends.” He ran his tongue over his lips and took a sip of the now cold coffee. “There was too much to lose here, Tony and I think we all did what we thought was best to keep that to a minimum. But in the end, it was our own actions that ended up creating the biggest losses.”

Tony sighed and leaned back in his chair. He knew that Clint was heartfelt in all that he shared and knew that the man understood his fault in things. He tapped the table and Clint’s head picked up. “It happened, Barton.” He shrugged and gave him a grin. “We talk it out and air it out and we move on. We have too. Our other options are proving Zemo right and living under a law that was created by Ross.”

Clint sneered and he gripped the table so hard his knuckles turned white. Yea, there was a lot of anger there but at least it was directed in the right place now. They could use that.

“That’s not an option, man.”

Tony gave a stiff nod. “We’re all working on this and it’s the only way we’ll make things right.”

The ping of the elevator caught Tony off guard and he startled. Clint didn’t move.

Wanda and Steve stepped out onto Tony’s floor and the engineer’s heart started to beat faster, his fingers tapping against the cool granite of the table.

Steve took in the sight before him and Tony caught how his shoulders squared and his chin raised just the tiniest bit, hands a parade rest. “Is everything alright here?”

Tony gave himself a mental slap. Captain voice was so hot.

Clint stood up and gave Steve and Wanda a nod in greeting. “Tony and I were discussing my concerns about the Accords and,” he looked back at the man in the tin can and smiled, “some other things.”

Steve turned to Tony and he waved him off. “Everything is fine, Steve. Stop the mothering.”

The former Captain shuffled on his feet and he glanced up at Tony through lowered lashes.

Clint’s eye shifted between the two and he meet Wanda’s. She noticed the change in the room as well, so the two of them, with sly smiles on their faces excused themselves, the two men not even offering a goodbye.

Steve took a few steps forward and straightened up. “You’ve been avoiding me.” Tony wanted to get lost in the depths of his voice, his pulse quickening and he was sure Steve could see the jump in the vein along his neck.

Tony put his hands in his pockets and rocked forward on the balls of his feet. “No idea what you’re talking about, Cap.”

Steve winced at the title and his shoulders fell.

“What is with that?” Tony shouted, finger pointing at Steve. “That’s like the third time since I’ve been here that I’ve heard someone call you “Cap” and you give that reaction.” He stepped forward until he was only a foot away from Steve, but the other man couldn’t bear the closeness.

He walked around Tony and went to the window, peering down at the landscape below. He could see Sam and Natasha in their spot in the garden. The sun was hitting the horizon and a brilliant display of golds, oranges and pinks blanketed the sky.

“I left the shield; left a team member- my friend, down.” He turned to Tony, his voice shook and then turned self-deprecating. “What kind of Captain does that? You were right in that compound, it was never mine and I don’t deserve to have it.”  

That shield doesn’t belong to you.

You don’t deserve it.

My father made that.

Tony went to speak but his mouth opened and closed, the words escaping him.  

“See, you know I’m right.”

He moved away from the window and slumped down on the edge of the couch.

“You dropped that shield like it was nothing but dead weight, Steve.” He walked around and sat on the coffee table across from Steve, their knees touching. Tony rubbed his hand over his forehead. “Maybe it was.”

“What do you mean?”

Tony shrugged and leaned back on his hands. “The world demanded so much of you since you woke up, and that has to sit on your shoulders pretty heavy. And though I’m sure you can take it, you had to have some relief at setting it down.”

Steve worried his bottom lip. “The shield was a privilege; an honor. I wore it because it symbolized something greater than what we were. It was protection, and integrity, honesty and strength.” His voice became stronger as he spoke.

Tony nodded. “Things we needed and still need. And it was made for you.”

Steve looked away. “I don’t deserve it. Not after I knew, -” he broke off, “not after I knew the truth. Not after I kept it from you.”

Tony placed a hand on Steve’s knee and the soldier could feel the heat from Tony’s hand, the way it traveled up his leg and sat low in his belly.

“I said those things because I felt betrayed, Steve. And when you left it there, left me there as though it were nothing,” he took his hand back and Steve shivered at the loss of contact, “I wanted to keep it from you. I wanted you to hurt.”

Steve shook his head. “I can’t hear the title. It doesn’t feel right. Not yet.” he tilted his head to the side. “Besides it’s government property.”

Tony raised a brow and smirked. “That it is.” But he soon became serious. “The world needs Captain America, but not as much as it needs Steve Rogers.” Steve’s blue eyes widened at that. It was the first time anyone actively voiced the difference between the two. “Things are changing and the person we all need to see is the man who took a chance to save the world. To do what he thought was right.”

Steve swallowed and he looked away. “But you said-”

“Fuck what I said, Steve.” In an instant he was on his feet. “Looking back on it I sounded like a child. I took it from you because it was given to you by a man who never really cared for me as a son. I was an idiot.”

“You weren’t wrong in that I didn’t deserve it.”

“Fine. In that moment maybe not, because you were being a stubborn son of a bitch,”

“Language, Tony.” Steve stood, the corner of his mouth turned up.  He walked to stand in front of Tony. “And really? You were just as out of control as I was and I remember pleading with you to listen to me.”

There was no anger in their voices, just a hint of...teasing?

They were mere inches from one another.

“Hey, Cap?”

Steve didn’t flinch.

“I’m not avoiding you now.”

Steve didn’t need to be told twice.

Chapter Text

After years of working together, Tony had witnessed firsthand the speed, power and agility Steve had thanks in part, to the serum. He’s watched as the man practically flew over cars, or lift his motorcycle over his head and throw it at Hydra cronies, or even something as gentle as smoothing down the hair of a frightened kid.

But that strength and power and focus was something entirely different when it was directed towards Tony.

Steve was on the engineer in seconds, one large hand was splayed along his lower back pushing the two of them together, while the other was in those dark locks that had teased him so, making a fist in the soft tresses to keep Tony pressed against his mouth.

Tony, who was very much a willing participant, let his tongue slide along the roof of Steve’s mouth, only pulling back so he could bite the rope like muscles in Steve’s neck. Once his teeth sank into the tender flesh, Steve let out a breathy whimper, his hand tightening even further, effectively pulling Tony away from his assault.

“I was having fun there, Cap.” Tony’s voice was playful, yet husky.

Steve’s eyes darkened at the title, and his hand fisted in brown hair to pull Tony’s head back at an angle. Tony let out an obscene moan, his eyes rolling shut and that plump mouth hanging open, taking in staggered breaths. The sound of it made Steve’s vision get hazy and white.

But, he was the one who took a step back, massaging the base of Tony’s skull and placing his hand in the middle of Tony's chest, wary of the healing bruises hidden beneath cotton. Steve gestured to the couch and Tony took a deep breath and followed suit. Steve watched Tony’s body stiffen, the brightness behind his eyes dimmed. He was wary.

“What are we doing here, Steve?”

“And here I thought you knew exactly what we were just doing.” Steve smiled at him and snorted out a laugh when Tony rolled his eyes. Steve scooted down on the couch so there was no space between them. It was the first time he was able to take in how Tony had come apart during their kiss. Steve ran his thumb along the pink splotches that ran along Tony’s neck, and then let it comb through his hair, trying to tame the engineer’s wayward locks. He was pleased when Tony didn’t turn away from the sign of affection, but rather, turned his head into the palm of Steve’s hand as it rested against his cheek. The blonde’s heart was beating a mile a minute at Tony’s question but he knew it was a conversation they needed to have.

Steve turned in his seat so he could catch Tony’s eyes. “I like you, Tony.” He watched as shock and awe and something akin to disbelief danced across Tony’s brown eyes. Steve quickly averted his and felt the blush on his cheeks. “I’ve come to realize that I have very strong feelings for you and,” he ducked his head sheepishly, “I'm pretty attracted to you, too.”

Tony’s brows furrowed. “We fought each other a month ago, Steve. We would have killed one another.”

“I know. I do. And I know there are things for both of us that still have to heal, but I want this. I want to try.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. “This started, for me at least, a little while before Ultron.”

“T-That’s almost a year ago!” Tony sputtered. He jumped up from the couch and spun in circles. “Steve, maybe you’re just confused. There’s a lot that’s happened and it could be some misplaced affection because of everything that went down with us.” He gestured wildly at the space between them.

Steve got up and walked over to Tony, his hands coming to rest on his biceps, keeping him from moving away. “It's not because of that, but I do think that all of this helped me see things clearer.”

Tony started to bit his bottom lip and raised his eyebrows in question.

“You’ve come to mean a great deal to me, Tony. And only when I realized I could lose you, did I really start to see just how much that was. You saved me. I was a man out of time but you treated me like you would treat everyone else. You never doubted my ability to catch up to this time, never treated me like some golden idol, or tried to create a world that fit the one I left. You made it so I could become the person I was always meant to be.” Steve’s hands slowly fell from Tony’s arms. “Somewhere along the way, I started to crave being around you. Whether it was just sitting in your workshop drawing or our late night movie sessions, or even a run to Antonio’s so I could try a new slice of pizza- they came to mean something to me. I couldn’t imagine doing those things with anyone else.”

He couldn’t stop the words even if he tried. They just came, one after the other and part of that could have been his fear that Tony would run away. He needed the other man to hear all of this. To understand that these feelings were always there, he was just too scared and stubborn to do anything about them before.

Tony looked down at the floor and shook his head. “There’s a lot that could go wrong, Steve.” The other man went to speak but Tony held his hand up. “I’m not good with relationships, ask anyone. Ask Pep.” He licked his lips and stuck his hands in his jean pockets. “I’m not the easiest person to be around, I work insane hours and once I get focused on a problem I lose sight of everything else. I won’t give up being Iron Man or the team, if there is a team in the future.” He sighed and threw his arms out at his sides. “I don’t want to break you, Steve. I don’t want to be the one who gets labeled as the guy who broke Steve Rogers’ heart, the one who corrupted him into homosexuality, the one who you walk away from.” He turned away from Steve and looked out the window. “I can’t let any of that happen.”

“That’s bullshit. And you know it.” Tony spun on his heel at the anger in Steve’s voice. “You’re not the easiest person to be around? Have you met me? I’m pretty sure we get on each other’s nerves at least once a day. And all of this happened because we couldn't just talk, which by the way is never happening again.” There was an edge of steel in his voice and Tony knew he was serious. Steve took a deep breath. “And I admire and appreciate the fact that you get so focused on a problem, and you working long hours or losing track of time is what you do. It’s what helps you create things that change the world, Tony. And if that happens, I’ll be there at the door with food and company and pull you away from it when you’ve worked more than sixteen hours without a break. I’ve done it before!”

His chest was heaving and his eyes were wide. “And I’ve always been attracted to guys and gals. It’s just that no one has ever asked and I personally don’t think it’s anyone’s business. But with you…” he trailed off and took a deep breath, “with you, it’s only you.” He gave Tony a heartfelt smile. “And as for your argument about Iron Man? I would never, ever, ask you to choose between the suit or me.”

A few years ago I almost lost her so I trashed all my suits. Then we had to mop up Hydra. Then Ultron, my fault. And then, and then, and then.

I never stopped.

'Cause the truth is I don’t wanna stop.

...I’m a handful.

Tony looked away from Steve but he continued on. “You are Iron Man, Tony. There’s no way I would have one without the other. If you hadn’t built him, who knows if any of us would be here. You wouldn’t be the man that I-” He broke off and took a deep breath. Tony’s eyes widened as he wondered where exactly Steve was going to go with that statement. Steve squared his shoulders as though he were ready to go into battle. Maybe in some way he was. “Tell me I’m not the only one, Tony.”

The genius picked up his head and met Steve’s gaze. He knew that Steve was telling the truth, it was written in the arc of one blonde brow, the upturned corner of his mouth, the way his eyes softened when they looked at Tony.

His shoulders fell, he closed his eyes and he shook his head. “No. You’re not the only one.” He tilted his head to the side and opened one eye. He gave Steve a small smile and the one Tony got back in return set butterflies loose in his stomach. Tony moved towards Steve and placed his hand on Steve’s cheek, Tony’s thumb coming to graze along plump, pink lips. Steve kissed the pad of Tony’s finger and he smiled at him. 

“You gonna kiss me, Shellhead?”

Tony laughed. “I don’t know... I feel like you need to work fo-”

He was cut off by Steve’s lips against his, and just as he was about to wrap his arms around Steve’s neck, his phone rang.

“Don’t answer it.”

Tony grunted. “It could be important.”

“Tony.”

“Steve.”

The two men pulled apart and Steve conceded. Tony jogged over to the high table and saw that it was Rhodey.  “Hey there, dumplin’.”

Steve smirked at the ridiculous nicknames Tony insisted on calling Rhodes, but he felt incredibly grateful for the Colonel and the friendship he had with Tony. Steve followed Tony into the kitchen and poured both men glasses of water. Tony took the glass and mouthed his thanks, while Steve rested against the granite countertop.

He watched as Tony’s face went from wild excitement to downright terrifying. The genius stood up straight and started to gather the documents that were on the table in front of him.

“How long ago, Rhodes?”

Steve mirrored Tony’s stance at the change in tone of the conversation.

“When did the package arrive? Did he give any way to contact him back?” He ran a hand through his hair. “Damnit! No, Rhodey you did everything right. Yea, I’m gonna leave within the next hour, I have to talk to the team.” He met Steve’s eyes and the Captain was already sending out a text for the team to meet on the communal floor. “Keep me posted. Tell Friday I want her in everything.”

He hung up, his eyes fixed on some point just beyond Steve’s head. “Ross called an emergency meeting for tonight.” He met Steve’s stare and said, “Not tonight, tonight cause that's right now, but New York’s tonight.” He shook his head, confused. “He knows I’m “away” and he’s using this an opportunity.”

“Tony.”

Tony blinked and turned to Steve. “This can’t be good.”

Steve tilted his head and said, “Probably not. But we’re better off than we were a few days ago.”

Tony hummed and leaned into Steve, letting his head rest in the crook of Steve’s neck, his arms coming to wrap around the soldier. “I’m gonna clean up here and pack, I’ll meet you on the floor in ten minutes?”

Steve nodded against him and placed a chaste kiss on the back of Tony’s neck. “We’re okay, Tony. You know that right? We’ll fix this and get everyone home and then you and I can start on this.” He bumped his nose against Tony’s.

Tony waggled his eyebrows. “I, for one, am very interested in trying quite a few things out with this.”

He laughed at Steve’s impressive blush and the soldier shook his head as he entered the elevator. Once they separated and Steve was on his way down to the team, Tony turned towards the couch and allowed himself a minute of reliving their moments prior to Rhodey’s call.

His chin fell to his chest and he sighed.

He could do this. They could do this. 

We're comin' for ya, Ross. 

Chapter Text

Tony made it back to the communal floor with two minutes to spare. He set his suitcase and a larger cloth bag down by the elevator and gave himself a few seconds to take in the room. All of the Avengers were there including T’Challa, and based off of the serious looks he was getting, they knew about the phone call from Rhodey; they knew it wasn’t good.

Steve stood when Tony walked in and there was a slight blush to his cheeks, which made Tony smile. God, the guy was cute.

Tony clapped his hands, rubbed them together, and looked around at his friends. “Alright. I’m guessing by the slumped shoulders; you know something's happened.” He ran his hands over his eyes and down his face.  “Rhodey called me yesterday and explained that Ross was able to steal eight delegates from our side since I’ve been gone. He must have had this planned, though my being out of the country gave him the perfect opportunity.” He sighed. “Ross has no idea where I am but is smart enough to see that at the moment, I’m nowhere near being close enough to battle whatever it is he’s trying to do.”

“What do you think that is, Tony?”

Tony looked at Sam and he waved his hand in front of him. “Make us look like the bad guys?” He shrugged. “Make the delegates think the Accords are good as they are? I don’t know. But I do know that none of those options are in our favor.”

There were nods around the room. They knew this could change the course of what happens next. It would either work in their favor, or they’d have to fight. Again.

“You all know that Ross visited me before I came to Wakanda, and that he threatened me with the Raft. I had Friday slip into his phone and she was able to unearth some information that I think would help us should he try to take back control.”

Clint sat up straight. “What was the information?”

Tony hummed as he shook his head. “I don’t want any of you to know. Steve doesn’t even know. It’s best this way for when we do choose to use it.”

“And it’ll protect all of us.”

Tony gave Natasha a tight lipped smile. “True.”

Steve was perched on the armrest of the couch. “It could be a trap, Tony. Just to get you back to New York and in front of Ross.”

Tony sighed and rubbed his forehead, his shake to his voice gave away the tiniest bit of worry. “Yea. I thought of that.”

“You have a martyr complex, you know that, Stark?” Scott said.

Clint huffed out a laugh. “Tony Stark? He's nothing more than an arrogant son of a bitch who cares for no one but himself! Or at least, that’s what the papers and the reporters tell everyone, Lang.” He jutted his chin in Tony's direction and his eyes softened. “They're a bunch of assholes. What they don't know or see is that Tony would do anything to keep the people he cares about safe.”

"Yea. That's true, but it doesn't call for him running in head first without a plan or backup." 

“Right. He needs to know he can’t always do it alone.”

Tony looked back between Clint, Natasha and Steve. “Um, hello? Guys, I’m right here. And I have a plan. Or at least half and plan and then I figure the rest will unfold as I go.”

Steve tightened his jaw and simultaneously raised his hands and eyebrows. "See!" 

Tony was about to defend himself when Sam said, “You can’t go alone, Stark.”

“Well, what else can I do, Sam? I’m not bringing the brigade with me! I don’t want you anywhere near him.”

“And you think it’s easier for us to know you’re going there alone?” Wanda asked.

Tony sighed and leaned against the couch, his shoulders falling forward. His heart swelled at her words and he knew the team would have just as hard a time with him going as he would if they followed. Tony could feel the heat from Steve’s body and he settled next to him. He wanted nothing more than to go back an hour.

He rubbed at his temples and bit his lip. “I am going alone. I need you all to stay here because if something does happen to me, you have to be out of his reach. Safe. Rhodey and Friday have the go ahead to send everything they have on Ross straight to you so you can start building a case- a contingency plan.”

“One of us should go with you,” Steve said. “You took all of this on yourself before everything happened and then during, and now you continue to do it alone.” He looked back at his team. “We can help you, Tony. We should be helping you. We all had a hand in this mess, too.”

Tony gave Steve a warm smile and a small nod. “You’re right.” Steve’s eyes widened. “Please, I know how to say those words and mean them.” He flicked the tip of Steve’s nose. “But I do have people helping. Rhodey and Vision have been working hard back home, and Pepper has been in contact with our lawyers since I proposed the idea at the U.N.” Tony met each one of their eyes before he spoke again. “As for you all taking action? I can’t have that. We can’t have that. Not yet. The second you step foot outside of Wakanda, and your faces get picked up on a street camera, the world’s militaries will be on you. And there's nothing I can do to beat that. Not as things are. So stay here and stay safe.”

He threw his arms out at his sides. “This is the best I can do.”

“Well it’s pretty shitty.”

“I agree with, Sam. Very shitty.”

Chuckles were heard from almost every member of the team at Wanda’s cursing.

She got up and stopped in front of Tony. In her small hand was a thick folder. “I never got a chance to talk with you about the Accords, so I wrote everything out. I hope this helps.” Wanda lifted one shoulder and met Tony’s gaze.

“Of course it’ll help, Wanda. Thank you.” He stood up and went to pat her shoulder but the young woman pulled him into a hug.

“You need to be careful for us too, Tony.”

He closed his eyes at the use of his given name and gave her a gentle squeeze.

Wanda went back to her seat next to Clint, the archer nudged her shoulder, eliciting a smile.

“I understand all of your concerns and they are valid, but I agree with Tony.” T’Challa stood and walked over to where Tony and Steve were. “It’s not the best case scenario but it is what we have. Tony needs to be there, and convince the U.N. of Ross’ ulterior motives while proving that the Accords are just another way to further corrupt agendas; I believe he can do that and then we work on getting you all home.” The tension was still high in the room; everyone was worried about the “what if” scenarios playing in their minds. “If this is just a trap for Tony, then we need to be prepared for that as well.” He turned to the genius and said, “I am willing to go with you, my friend. It will be a show of force.”

Steve shut his eyes and bowed his head to the King in gratitude. “I would feel better if T’Challa went, Tony.”

Affirmations went up around the room.

“Alright. Can you be ready to leave in the next fifteen minutes?”

T’Challa gave him a nod and smirk. “I’ll meet you out front in ten.”

Natasha got up and paced the floor. “Not that I don’t trust you Tony, but what you have on Ross is big, right?” There was a crease in the skin between her eyes and she was running her finger over her thumbnail, a nervous tick he picked up on during their time together.

Tony knew that she was just as nervous about Ross gaining control as the rest of them. The secretary still had it out for her. “It wasn’t enough until this afternoon. Rhodey received an encrypted email that, as far as Friday can tell, originated from Fiji.”

He looked around the room and saw recognition on all of their faces.

“Banner.” Clint said.

Tony nodded. “He reached out to me a few weeks ago, before I called the first U.N. hearing. Told me he thought of us often, that he hated seeing us fight and once this settles down, he’ll come home.” That last line was directed towards Natasha and though she tried to hide it, there was a light sheen to her green eyes.

“He was able to send a file that had information on Ross from before his time as the Secretary of State. He and Banner met when he was General Ross, and the relationship never grew into anything light and fluffy.”

Sam snorted next to Clint. “No. It grew into something big and green.”

“Well, you're not wrong.” He glanced at his watch and saw that he needed to meet T’Challa. He took one last look around the room and gave them his trade mark Stark grin, but it soon faded into something softer. “I just…” he looked down at his feet. “I just want to let you know that these last few days were the best I’ve felt in a while. And that’s because of the company I kept. You all need to do one thing for me and that’s stay here until it’s not an option.” There was a combination of compassion and steel in Tony’s voice.

“Stay safe, Shellhead.”

His eyes darted over to Natasha and he gave her a wink. She rolled her eyes but there was a smile on her face.

Steve followed Tony to the elevator door and the two men stood there, shuffling on their feet.

“Just be safe, Tony. No crazy heroics.”

Tony scoffed. “Who do you think I am, Captain America?”

Steve smirked which Tony returned as he bent down to retrieve the large bag he had nestled on the side of the couch. Steve’s eyes widened and his heart beat faster. It couldn't be. Could it?

Tony pulled back the cotton covering to reveal the red and blue edge of Steve’s shield. “I sat with it in my workshop since Siberia.” He peeked up at Steve then quickly averted his eyes. “I, uh, couldn’t hand it over to Ross. It didn’t feel right.” He covered it back up and handed it to Steve. “The only place it belongs is in your hands.”

Steve’s hands came out to grip around the shield, the weight of it gave him a sense of ease he didn't know he was missing. “Tony, I don’t know. I mean, I left it.”

“I know.” Tony placed his hand on Steve’s wrist and he could feel it speed up at the contact. “Hey.” Steve’s eyes finally met Tony’s. “You have time to think about it. I’m not saying you need to suit up right now or at all, but that there, in your hands, is the best place for this thing to be. You'll know when the time is right, Steve.” Tony ran his hand along Steve’s forearm until it came to rest over his hand. “And if you never want to pick it back up again...that’s fine too.”

“I’m just so tired.”

Tony hummed. “I can understand that. I think we all can.” He squeezed Steve’s fingers and felt his heart swell when he squeezed back. “And we’ll understand and support you if you never want to pick it up again.”

All Steve could do was nod, while his eyes were glued to the bright star in the center of the shield.

“Which could work in my favor because I’ll just paint it red and gold and call it a day.” Steve’s eyes shot up to his and the abject horror made Tony’s head fall back as a laugh erupted from deep in his chest.

“You play dirty, Stark.”

Tony hummed as his thumb caressed the underside of Steve’s wrist. “When this is over, we have some more talking to do. And maybe some not talking.”

Steve laughed, his blush reaching the tips of his ears. “I still have my phone.”

Tony shook his head, his eyes sparkling with mischief. “A flip phone, Rogers! Ridiculous.”

Their eyes met and Tony pulled his hand away, backing into the elevator, but just before the doors could close, Steve stepped forward to stop them. His eyes were focused on Tony. They were filled with determination and something else Tony couldn’t find himself to name.

Tony cocked his head to the side and said, “Steve?”

The soldier moved until he was mere inches away from Tony, and ran his hand through the other man’s thick hair, only stopping when it got to the back of his head. Tony met Steve halfway. Even after a few days their bodies already knew this dance. It was as if they had been waiting a lifetime to for it to happen.

Their lips meeting in a quick but passionate kiss, and when they broke apart, Tony kept his eyes closed for a moment longer, savoring his last few seconds with Steve.  When he opened them, he saw that Steve had stepped back holding the door open with his hands.

Tony’s voice was rough with want and a little bit of worry. “Stay safe.”

“You too.”

The doors closed.

Chapter Text

On the drive to the Wakandan airport, the men had formulated a plan for once they got to the United Nations. Tony had been in contact with Rhodey and knew that the meeting was scheduled to start at seven in the evening; the flight would get them into New York at 6:15 and they’d hopefully (New York City traffic willing), get there on time or just before. But once they were on the plane, the flight was quiet, both Tony and T’Challa understanding that the moment they stepped foot off the plane, the future of their friends and the world was at stake.

It sounded a bit dramatic to Tony when he thought about it, but it was true. They were going into battle, but instead of his armor he had facts and statistics, irrefutable proof that the New Accords was the way to usher in the future. A future with the Avengers and without Thaddeus Ross.

It felt strange to be back in Manhattan. The sounds of the city seemed loud and overwhelming at first, the serenity of Wakanda and his time with his friends, with Steve, seemed a lifetime away. He felt the familiar weight of having to set things right settle around his shoulders. Tony knew they wouldn’t be able to do that all tonight, but he knew that once he presented the delegation with his case, backed by everything he and his team found, it would get them the chance for a second meeting. And then they could really make change happen. 

Because even though Tony had evidence of how Ross’ actions placed him outside the Accords (his biggest gripe against Steve and Sam), Bruce’s information gave them what they needed to burn Ross’ character.

His stomach was tight in knots and he could feel the familiar throbbing behind his eyes as he let his head rest against the seat, and watched the cityscape pass him by.

Tony was brought out of his musings by T’Challa’s deep timbered voice. “Do you think we can do this?”

Tony closed his eyes and sighed. “We don’t have the luxury of not succeeding.” He turned his head and looked out at the dark sky. “They need us to get this right.”

T’Challa placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Then we will.”

Tony glanced over at the young man and gave him a tight lipped smile. He was grateful the King came back with him, his help would be invaluable.

“There's quite a bit of traffic and construction going on, Mr. Stark.”

Tony gave the driver a stiff nod and sat up in his seat. His watch read 6:47 pm. They were going to be late.

He could only hope they’d get there before Ross lit the pyre.

---------------------------------------

 “…look what happened!” Thaddeus Ross pointed behind him to Rhodey and Vision, both wearing their best suits. The braces Rhodes wore under his dress pants were only obvious to those who knew he had to wear them. Tony had the foresight to make them thin and as unobtrusive as he could get them. Rhodes glanced at his wristwatch again and let out a heavy sigh. It was 7:23, and Tony still wasn’t here. He was torn between worry that something had happened to keep him away, and anger that he had to sit here and listen to Ross degrade his team’s character twenty-three minutes longer than he would have liked.

The slight elbow from Vision told him he must have zoned out, so he gave the android a smile and turned back to the Secretary of State.

“They are trying to convince you that these ‘superheroes’,” he sneered at the term, “are meant to protect us and if anything,” he gestured to the photos pulled up on the screen behind him, “they’ve only shown us that they’re the ones we need protection from.”

The room was quiet, the delegate’s eyes moving only from the pages in front of them to the pictures on the screen.

“Now, Colonel Rhodes is a fine member of the U.S. Army, and he has always shown that his heart and mind are with this country. But in this, I am sad to say, he has shown that his condition has only warped his mind into believing that any change to the Accords would be a good idea.”

Rhodey’s face was tight with anger and he went to stand, ready to go toe to toe with Ross, but before he could, a familiar voice rang out across the room.

“I’m sorry, Secretary Ross, did you just insinuate that a decorated member of the U.S. Army was somehow not in his right mind because of an injury sustained in battle?”

Ross’ lip curled up in disgust. “I thought you were away, Mr. Stark.”

A soft murmur erupted from the delegates as they watched Tony make his way to the podium, and the sound rose when T’Challa walked in behind him. The young King nodded to a few of the people in the room as he passed and once he was on the stage, he shook Rhodes and Vision’s hands.

 “A little birdie told me that you were planning a sneak attack, Ross.” He stepped right into the other man’s personal space. Tony put on his rose tinted glasses and felt himself relax when he heard Friday give him a warm, “Hello Boss”.

Ross’ face turned red at the accusation, and Tony was certain the man was going to suffer another stroke. “It's a nice setup you have here and I have to hand it to you, this was quite covert.” It was Tony's turn to sneer. “But, I never thought you would make it seem as though a soldier, of any rank, was incapable of making decisions because of the injuries he or she sustained while in battle. Especially when it was under your directive, seeing as how it was your orders that set Colonel Rhodes and myself to face off with Captain Rogers and his team.” Tony scratched absently at his chin. “Does that mean that the men and women of the U.S. Army are not in their right mind should they sustain an injury in battle and come home?”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Stark.”

Tony turned towards the delegation and spread his arms wide, his back to Ross. “Then you must have meant that Colonel Rhodes’ injury makes him the perfect person to speak about the Accords because he’s witnessed firsthand what can happen when our government keeps information from the public, does backhanded dealings and tries to sweep it under the rug all in the name of safety?”

Ross stepped into Tony’s face but the genius didn’t even flinch.

T’Challa moved to stand next to his friend. “I suggest, Secretary Ross, that you take this time to find your seat and let Mr. Stark address this congregation with correct and prudent information; information that will help all of them make the right decision.”

Ross’ eyes narrowed at the young man. “I seem to remember you being a very loud supporter of the Accords, your Majesty.” Ross raised his eyebrow and gave the young man a mock bow, eventually stepping down and taking his seat in the front row.

Tony took this chance to buy himself some time, so he went to Rhodey and the two men embraced. “How you doing?”

Rhodey smiled and tilted his head. “Oh, you know, I just suffered character assassination in front of the leaders of the free world so…wonderful.” He looked back at T’Challa. “I’m guessing you didn’t take the suit?”

 Tony rolled his eyes and gave him small chuckle. “It’s waiting should things get ugly.” He looked back at Vision and said, “Hey Viz. Thank you for taking care of things.”

“Hey! I did stuff too.” Rhodes punched Tony in the shoulder and the engineer laughed.

Vision stood and gave a nod. “He did do most of the work, Tony.”

Tony couldn’t help but roll his eyes and chuckle. Sarcasm was lost on the android.

“It’s good to see you back. Friday was given everything you’ll need to start.” The billionaire smiled in thanks.

 “Excellent. Excuse me, gentlemen.”

 He shook T’Challa’s hand on his way back to the front of the stage. “Alright, Friday. Let’s go.”

 

He cleared his throat and gestured to the photos that were still on the screen. “I know many of you were told that I wouldn’t be here until tomorrow, which was true. But I was given a call explaining how Secretary Ross wanted to hold a meeting without my presence, and though I am not a delegate of the U.N. I do speak for the Avengers and for the community we have become a part of, since the Accords.”

Tony took a deep breath. “Secretary Ross planned this with the intention of pitting us against one another, and this is not the time to create more of a division than already exists.” He pulled his glasses down and rubbed under his eye.  “I know that the last time I spoke to you, many agreed with clearing James Buchanan Barnes’ name and to start making revisions to the current Accords.” He paused to gauge the group's reactions and he could see that many, still agreed. “There were also those who were concerned about the proposed changes, and I made it back here tonight to clear up any misgivings Secretary Ross may have instilled in you.”

“There are no misgivings, Mr. Stark. Secretary Ross was explaining that, despite what you may say, you and your team were the ones who caused destruction and even loss of life in the past, and even more so over the Accords and over the man known as the Winter Soldier,” a delegate from Costa Rica said. He stood and spread his arms in front of him. “There are those of us who have the same beliefs and concerns. The Accords were meant as a way to keep you in check. And even with the ones we have now, we were unable to do that. So how do you propose we go about trusting you? How do we go about making them better?”

There was a hum of chatter and Tony glanced back at Rhodey and T’Challa, both giving him the slightest of nods.

“Well first, you have to open yourself up to the possibility that we are not the bad guys. That in fact, the ones you should be worried about are the individuals who, thanks to Hydra and organizations like it, were able to infiltrate not only the American government but many of your own. You could start by trusting me when I say that the only real way to combat the individuals and actions that will put this world in peril, because they are out there and they will come, is by reinstating the Avengers as their own entity; with appropriate oversight from the world’s governments.”

The delegate stood tall in his grey suit, scrunched up his nose and raised an eyebrow. “It sounds as though you want it to go back to how it was before the Accords were even an idea.”

Tony shook his head. “No, sir. There needs to be oversight but I know that the only real weapon this world has to defend itself against large scale attacks and individuals with our abilities but a complete lack of empathy, is to keep us together. And not behind bars.” Tony peered down to where Ross was seated. “Many of the threats we have to worry about are in the government. Some even in this room.”

“That is a very strong accusation, Mr. Stark.” A middle aged woman from Belgium stood, a furrow between her brows.

“It’s not an accusation when you have proof.” He filled the glass in front of him with water and took a sip. Friday pulled up the information that had been gathered.

“The events in Lagos were not started by the Avengers, who at the time, were under Steve Rogers command. Rather, they were caused by a man named Brock Rumlow, a Hydra agent that had been working very closely with Alexander Pierce.” Tony showed the room pictures and videos of Rumlow taken from Redwing and Steve’s suit camera when they were in Lagos. “Rumlow’s intent was to draw out the Avengers, and he showed complete disregard for the lives of Lagos’ residents. He attacked the Institute for Infectious Diseases lab where he stole a chemical weapon, and God only knows what his intentions with that vial were.” Tony took a deep breath and surveyed the room. Many of the delegates were listening to him closely. Most, if not all of them had not been privy to this information, which made this the perfect example of what Tony was talking about. The lack of sharing information made them all flounder when events like Lagos happen. They’ll blindly follow whoever gives them (what sounds like) a resolution.

But while most of those in the room seemed startled at this news, Ross did not. The man had his arms crossed over his chest and was clenching his teeth so hard Tony swore he could hear them cracking.

“Rumlow and his men drove a truck through the front entrance, infused the building with poisonous gas, which by the way, was contained and then safely released by Wanda Maximoff. Tests concluded that if the gas had been in the building another five minutes, there would have been a much higher loss of life.”

The slides changed and it was now a cell phone photo of Rumlow on his knees in front of Steve, his scarred face contorted into a hateful sneer. “Prior to this meeting,” he gestured to the picture behind him, “Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson were able to secure the chemical weapon and take Rumlow’s mercenaries into custody; and when Romanoff went to take on Rumlow, the man locked her in a truck with a grenade.”

Tony’s voice was full of anger at the dead man. He remembered watching the footage from Redwing that showed Natasha’s strikes not making a dent, of her almost getting blown up and then the same with Steve. Tony’s head fell forward and he closed his eyes. When he heard what Rumlow had said, his heart broke for the Captain, and then once he realized that Rumlow was intending to kill Steve, he had to swallow the bitter taste of bile.

“Brock Rumlow had constructed a suicide vest with the intent to kill Captain Steve Rogers and anyone who stood in his way or around him once detonated. If it wasn’t for Wanda Maximoff, the damage and loss from a bomb on the ground would have been incomprehensible.”

“Mr. Stark, the loss of life and property damage was still immense. People died.”

Tony met the pain filled eyes of the Nigerian delegate.

“I am,-” he stopped and ducked his head, trying to find the right way to express his condolences. “I can’t find the words to convey how sorry I am for what happened to the people of Lagos.” He peered back and met T’Challa’s gaze, “to the people of Wakanda,” he turned back to the group, “to those in New York, London, and Sokovia.” His voice turned soft at the last one and his heart ached. “We did not go there with the intention of causing harm; of taking lives. And the Stark Relief fund was called in to help meet the needs of the people of Lagos in the aftermath.” The delegate went to speak again, but Tony held up his hand. “Please, sir. I know it does not make up for those that perished that day,” his voice rose and fell with emotion, “and nothing can ever make up for the holes that exist because they cease to. I won’t sit here and pretend to act as though I have an answer. But I do know that these Accords are not the way to go about making change. And I do know that if the Avengers had not been there, it could have been worse. Brock Rumlow and people like him do not care who they kill in order to meet their goals. The theft of the chemical weapon combined with the bomb could have made this a cataclysmic event. Wanda Maximoff used her powers to contain the explosion, to pull Rumlow from Steve Rogers and the crowd that had formed around them. She was unfortunately not strong enough to contain the blast, and that resulted in the loss of life. She is devastated, as we all are. But I know,” his voice was resolute, “without a doubt, that the Avengers are the world’s protectors.”

He paused and rubbed his hand along the base of his neck. The throbbing that had plagued him since this all started, had returned. He could feel the ache behind his eyes and sent a silent plea that he could get through this.

“This had been started because of Captain Rogers.” Tony looked up startled. The young Serbian delegate was on his feet. “This,” he gestured to the screen, “Brock Rumlow, had it out for Captain Rogers and made tactical plans to take him out no matter the cost to civilian lives. What do you have to say to that?”

Tony’s head fell to his chest and he closed his eyes. After a few seconds he peered back at Vision and remembered something he had said. “We invite chaos,” he whispered. The young man’s eyes widened at that admission. “It was something I heard when the Accords were first introduced and it’s not wrong.” He took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “The very existence of the Avengers invites people to challenge us. And those challenges often carry with them severe consequences.”

There was the hum of chatter and he came out from behind the podium.

The room was silent as he thought of how to proceed. “I’m sure there are those in this room and in the world who believe that the dissolution of the Avengers would stop attacks like that of Rumlow.” He gave a small shrug. “You may be right. But before you sit here and place the blame solely on this team, I’d invite you to think back to the battle of New York.” The pictures on the screen changed to the demolished Grand Central station, Chitauri bodies strewn about. “This is where everything started. It was the first time we saw an attack of this magnitude on Earth, and it happened before the Avengers even existed. We were created because of this attack; because we were needed.”

His mouth lifted up at the corner as the footage rolled. His heart still swelled when he thought back on those early moments. They were all so used to being solo acts, that it was difficult for them to trust one another, to find the ways in which they’d work best. But after New York, they became a well-oiled machine.

After New York, they became a friends.

Tony’s eyes were filed with determination when he turned back to the delegation.

…And here we go.  

Chapter Text

Tony turned back to the room. “Secretary Ross’ main argument is that we,” he pointed at himself, “create the destruction and chaos you've seen over the last few years since the Avengers became a team.” The photos of New York showed the obvious ruin from the Chitauri. “I’m not going to stand here and deny that we do bring down buildings, and destroy property, and there are of course, better ways to go about doing what we do. But Loki came to Earth looking to conquer, and he had the army to make that a reality. His appearance ignited the formation and follow through of the Avengers team. Nick Fury knew that combined, we could contain and defeat large scale threats.” He scrolled through images that the world was familiar with. “The New York City police department, the US Army, and the Coast Guard, were all called in, and their help was invaluable. They were able to focus on street level containment and getting to those civilians on the ground. The Avengers, as a team working in conjunction with those forces were able to take down Loki and secure the portal. But there were things we could do, training and experience that we had that was necessary to the Chitauri defeat.”

Tony’s hands started to shake as he remembered the dark sky and creatures from beyond. “We worked together to save that city. No one stopped us and asked if we had a permission slip to be there.” He gave his signature Tony Stark grin and unbuttoned his suit jacket, hanging it on the corner of the podium. “And so you’re all aware, the World Security Council was the one who ordered a nuclear weapon to be fired at the city of Manhattan.”

Tony gestured to the screen behind him as a recording began to play. He had contacted Fury right after the team escaped from the Raft. They had a long conversation about what transpired and what their next steps as a team, should be. After a long silence Fury had said, “Whatever you need, Stark, I’ll give you.”

Tony asked for anything that would help the team avoid prosecution; anything that would show the need for ratifying the Accords.

Fury gave him everything he had.

Director Fury, the Council has made a decision.

I recognize the Council has made a decision, but given it’s a stupid ass decision, I’ve elected to ignore it.

Director, you're closer than any of our subs. You scramble that jet-

That is the island of Manhattan, Councilman. Until I’m certain my team can't hold it, I will not order a nuclear strike against a civilian population.

If we don't hold them here we lose everything.

I send that bird out we already have.

 

The shock was palpable in the room as each member of the delegation realized that the WSC ordered the destruction of not only property, but of civilian lives on a nuclear scale without so much as blinking an eye.

“They had no way of knowing if the nuclear weapon would have successfully closed the portal. And yet, six individuals made the decision to bomb one of the most populated cities in the world. They felt it was a necessary loss to bomb the city, a decision that didn’t seem to weigh on their conscience, and they didn’t discuss it with the leaders of the world beforehand.” He held up a finger. “Yet, we were all still ready to sit behind them and trust that they’d made the right and true decisions for the world.” He ran his finger over his lips and came out from behind the podium. “They were willing to end countless lives and wipe an entire city off the map. I flew that nuclear warhead into a portal understanding that the likelihood of me making it out was near impossible.” He gave them a pointed look and said, “In all honesty, ask yourself which decision you’d stand by.”

He swiped his finger along his upper lip and then across his forehead. The recording changed.

I can do it. I can close the portal. Can anybody copy?

Do it!

No. Wait.

Stark these things are still comin’!

I got a nuke comin’ in and it's gonna blow in less than a minute. And I know just where to put it.

Stark, you know that’s a one-way trip.

Save the rest for the turn, J.

 

The suit was designed to record everything that went on and was said, while Tony was in it. And at this recording, Tony ducked his head and shook his panic away. The screen changed once again, this time, to show the Triskelion and the Potomac; the helicarriers falling from the sky. A video started on the screen, of Alexander Pierce in his office, talking to Steve.

“We knew, that despite all diplomacy and the handshaking and the rhetoric, to build a better world sometimes means having to tear the old one down. And that makes enemies.”

Tony turned back to the room. “Alexander Pierce believed the way to restoring order was by tearing the old world down. He had no compunction in killing innocent people, people that project Insight saw as a threat. It was ready to wipe out millions of lives. I was on that list.” He paused to let that sink in.  “Hydra infiltrated SHIELD years ago, and the only way they were able to become as strong as they were was because of the underhandedness of Alexander Pierce, his egomaniacal belief in what Hydra worked towards and his disregard for human life.”

Tony was pacing along the stage now, rolling his sleeves up his wrists. His voice was loud and shook from anger as he next spoke. “Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Nick Fury and Sam Wilson are the reason Hydra fell that day. The very people you are calling murderers and reckless went in there with complete disregard to their own safety,” his finger jabbed at the air, “to ensure that millions lived.” He gave a sarcastic laugh and gestured to the room around him, his fingers wagging. “I’m sure most of you saw the footage of Steve Rogers falling from one of those helicarriers, or heard how he almost drowned in the Potomac, and was saved by the very man you all call a monster.” He sighed and glanced back at Rhodey. The Colonel was sitting ramrod straight, with his eyes focused on his friend. Rhodes gave him a proud smile and Tony felt some of the tension fall from his shoulders.

He was not alone in this.

He busied himself with his tablet and soon a new video was up for all to see.  This time, it was of the members of the WSC being held hostage by Alexander Pierce.

What are you doing?

She's disabling security protocols and dumping all the secrets onto the Internet.

Including HYDRA's.

And SHIELD's. If you do this, none of your past is gonna remain hidden. Are you sure you're ready for the world to see you as you really are?

Are you?

This time it was Ross who spoke up. “All she managed to do was set all of our security protocols out for the world to see.” He stood up and addressed the delegates. “She put the security of this nation and the world at risk with her recklessness.” Ross’ eyes gleamed like a rabid animal. “There’s nothing brave about that, Stark.”

Tony stared Ross down and then dramatically widened his eyes and mouthed “wow” to the room. He cleared his throat and said, “SHIELD slash Hydra put the nation and the world’s security at risk the moment it became infiltrated, the bad guys were at the controls and no one was the wiser. Natasha Romanoff understood that dumping all those files meant her safety and anonymity would be gone forever, and she did it anyway. She made sure that the WSC, SHIELD and Hydra were taken down. There was no oversight in those agencies. It had all been compromised long before the Avengers became a team. You can try and pin the world’s faults on us but you can’t deny that any leadership and oversight had been lost long ago. We have done everything in our power to make the world a safer place.”

Ross unwillingly sat back down.

Tony pinched the bridge of his nose and sagged against the podium.

His voice was soft and quiet when he next spoke. “We’ve tried at every turn to protect this world. I created Ultron with the vulnerability of this Earth in mind, and as a way to end the Avengers.” Tony closed his eyes as his shoulders fell forward. The room was eerily quiet, all of the delegates focused on the man in front of them. It was a rare sight to see Tony Stark reflective and honest.

“This has to seem so strange, me standing up here fighting for all of this when I was the one who almost caused the destruction of the entire planet. A city fell from the sky because of my actions, and I’m asking you to ratify the very document that would practically put me on a leash.” Tony ran his hands through his hair, and scratched along the side of his nose. “I am at fault for that,” he said. And then again, in a mere whisper, “That’s on me.”

This was the first time Tony had ever talked about Ultron in front of people (except of course for the team and Pepper). Even after they got back from Sokovia, he refused to do interviews, or comment to the press. Those were dark days, and even as he stood in front of them, the nightmare of metal still haunted him; still woke him up screaming in the middle of the night.

“It had been my hope that Ultron would not only protect the world but also lead to the end of the Avengers.” There was a shutter of a gasp heard across the room, and he gave a slight shrug, his hand flailing at his side and coming to rest on the edge of the podium. “And not because I was tired of being Iron Man or of the title of Avenger; far from it. My being a part of this team changed me. I-” he broke off and bit his lip, buying himself a small reprieve by taking another drink of water. “I’ve always been flashy and loud and arrogant; thinking I could save the world on my own.” There was a small chuckle that vibrated across the room and Tony looked up. “I know. Shocking, right?”

The laughter was louder and he felt the earlier anger, anxiety and tension dissipate.

“This team, these people made me realize that the only real way I could change the world was by working together. They made me a better person.” Tony closed his eyes and thought of his family safe in a palace in Wakanda. “I’d like to think that they’d say the same for me.” He could feel the tears begin to sting, and bit his lip to keep them from falling. “So, yea. Ultron happened and it was a way to provide the team with a chance to stop fighting. For all of us, it’s all we’ve known. Our lives have been filled with loss, heartache, violence, lies and fighting. It was time we were able to walk away, knowing that the world was better for us being in it. Being there.”

He shrugged again and stepped to the edge of the stage. Tony bent down and sat, his legs hanging off the edge, he scratched at the back of his neck. His voice was soft when he finally spoke. “But we’ll never really be able to do that. Because one thing I’ve learned since meeting all of them is that we are the ones who run towards the fight when everyone else runs from it.”

Tony’s chin fell onto his chest and he took a few staggering breaths to calm himself. “Now Secretary Ross’ main argument is that Captain Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson’s perusal of the Winter Soldier went outside the parameters set in the Accords. As I’ve mentioned before, this spurred the Secretary to request a ‘shoot on sight order’ for Rogers, Wilson and Barnes. An action that was not discussed with any other member of the U.N.” Tony pulled up emails and phone records that proved Ross went outside of the Accords as well. Once Friday reported what she had found, Tony made a call to his lawyers to request Ross’ email and phone correspondence. This way, it was at least (at some point), legal and usable in court. “The Accords state that individuals cannot be “violently detained” without just cause.”

“The man was wanted for countless assassinations, Stark, I think that counts as just cause.”

Tony clucked his tongue at Ross and wagged his finger in the air. “The Accords go on to state that an order such as the one you gave has to meet the specified crime. You set the order out with relation to the events in Vienna only.”

Ross’ eyes widened and Tony’s smile grew. He knew he had him. “You wanted to kill the man without sufficient evidence for the Vienna bombings. Not for any previous crime he may have committed.”

The room erupted into shouts and Tony took the opportunity to stand and raise his hands in front of him. After a few seconds the room quieted down so he could continue.  “Ross set a shoot to kill order on a man who was not responsible for the bombing, nor the lives that were lost in that event. An order, lest we forget, that was given without substantial evidence to back it up; a direct requirement of the Accords! Add to this, the fact that Rogers and Wilson were also included in that order, and you can’t help but question the morals of Secretary Ross.” He smacked his lips together and set his hands on his hips. “The man, whose main argument against us is that we need to be detained because we step out of bounds, and in this case, outside of the Accords, did the very same thing.”

“This is an absolute outrage, Stark!”

Tony turned to Ross who sprang up out of his seat. “I agree, Mr. Secretary. I remember you stating that the killing of Captain Rogers was an acceptable loss so long as the Winter Soldier was captured or put down.” He gave Ross a half smile half sneer, leaned forward and whispered, “If you’re no good as the rest of us, shouldn’t you be in a cell too?” 

The Secretary’s hands were in fists at his sides.

“Ross did not follow the Accords in starting his hunt for the Winter Soldier. And that disregard continued when I asked if we could be the ones to bring them all in. I asked for time,” his voice broke off, “and he refused. Time would have allowed us to talk to our teammates, to gather information and learn that Ross was wrong.”

He walked back to the podium and tapped on the tablet to pull up the information and request he sent to Ross regarding Zemo. “I sent this to Secretary Ross after the events with my team in Leipzig. This information was irrefutable and yet he still turned a blind eye. We had substantial proof that James Buchanan Barnes was not responsible for the acts he was accused of and yet this man,” he pointed to Ross, “simply pushed it away to follow his own agenda.”

Tony was so focused on addressing the delegation and showing them proof of Ross’ underhandedness, that he missed the older man rushing up the steps. He turned, startled when he heard Rhodey and T’Challa’s shouts, but it was too late.

The force behind Ross’ punch sent Tony to the stage floor.

The room erupted into chaos.

Chapter Text

After Ross’ punch put Tony on the floor, the room was filled with shouts and people running to help the downed man. T’Challa went to go help Tony, but changed direction to grab Ross, who was trying to slip out the exit.

Ross struggled against the iron grips of the young King and when he finally realized it was pointless, he spat at the other man’s feet.

T’Challa tightened his grip on Ross’ collar. “You should not have done that,” he growled. But before he could hand Ross off to a guard, Rhodes charged up to the pair and without a word, threw a right hook at Ross. The only reason the man stayed on his feet was because T’Challa still held onto his shirt.

Ross cradled his mouth, his thumb wiping away blood. His eyes narrowed as he said, “You move pretty well for a cripple.”

Rhodes hands clenched into fists at his sides, but instead of striking the man again, he ducked his head low and whispered, “Your time will come, Ross. And when it does, we’ll all be there to watch you burn.”

Ross sneered after the man and was pulled in the direction of the approaching guards by T’Challa. “This way.”

Rhodey left and headed back to Tony, who was being set against the podium by a frazzled looking Vision.

“I’m gonna kill that son of a bitch,” Rhodey spat out.

“It was completely uncalled for,” Vision responded. He looked over to Tony and asked, “What would you like us to do?”

Tony sat there blinking against the harsh light and hissed when he licked his lips. Ross must have split his lip; he could taste the copper on his tongue. “Just get me out of here. I need to go home.”

Vision and Rhodey helped him up and he waved off the delegates calling out to him. “I’m fine. Just a differing of opinion, folks.” He tried to give them a reassuring smile but only managed to pull on the swollen skin, his face contorting in pain.

Before they were on the street, Tony reached for T’Challa’s sleeve and pulled him in close. “If you can, get back in there before they all leave. Take a vote and see where they all stand on ratification and just to ease my mind, on Barnes, too.”

T’Challa nodded. “Of course.” He could see that Tony’s jaw was an angry red and that he was still dazed. “Are you alright? Perhaps we should call an ambulance?”

Tony waved him off. “Ice and some Tylenol.” He pointed back through the doors. “Tell them we’re reconvening in forty-eight hours so I can continue, and after that we move forward.” T’Challa went to leave but Tony held on tight. “Maybe, dazzle ‘em a little bit with where you stand, too huh?” He gave a lopsided grin.

T’Challa laughed and shook his head. “I am quite masterful in the art of getting people to listen to me. I am an only child.”

It was Tony’s turn to laugh. “Thank you, T’Challa.” The car pulled up to the curb and Vision called his name.

The young King bowed his head and went back into the meeting chamber, his voice resonating within its walls. “Please, ladies and gentlemen, if you can take a seat…”

Rhodey was quiet as he ushered Tony into the back seat of the waiting car. Tony sat with his head tilted back and closed his eyes.

He listened to the rustle of Rhodey taking off his suit jacket, and the groan as he stretched his legs, letting the sounds of the outside world lull him into a semi slumber.

  

(10:28 pm) Tony’s Penthouse

“You know, this is starting to give me a complex,” Tony said, throwing a mock punch in the air. He winced when Rhodey pressed the ice pack against his jaw and leaned his head back against the couch.

“I’m actually surprised this hasn’t happened sooner.”

“Really, sugarplum? You wound me.”

Rhodey chuckled and Tony listened as his steps got further away. He could hear the tell-tale sign of the refrigerator being opened and glasses clinking. “And I’m totally suing his ass for assault,” Tony yelled. He opened one eye and then laughed when he realized what he had said.

Rhodey came back with two water bottles and some sandwiches, tapping Tony on his head as he passed him. Tony’s stomach growled when he saw the spread Rhodey had thrown together, reminding him that it had been over six hours since he last had anything to eat. He leaned forward and grabbed a turkey sandwich, but when he went to take a bite he was harshly reminded of the soreness in his jaw.

He frowned and ripped off a small piece. That was better.

“I should have gotten to you sooner, Tones, I’m-.”

“Don’t you dare say you’re sorry.”

God, this felt eerily familiar.

Rhodey sighed and clenched his teeth. Tony looked over at his friend and turned so he was facing him, the ice pack forgotten on the cushion behind him. “This wasn’t your fault, Rhodey. Who the hell could have seen this coming? And not for nothing, but I think that if I got him this worked up, it’s a good sign. I must have been saying something right.” Tony dipped his to the side to catch Rhodey’s eye and raised an eyebrow at the Colonel.

“Rhodes.”

The other man nodded and rolled his eyes at the impressive pout Tony was wearing. They shared a smile and sat in companionable silence while they ate.

“Where’s T’Challa?”

Rhodey stretched his legs and turned his upper body to Tony. “He texted me after the delegates left. Said he had something to take care of and he’d meet us tomorrow morning to get everything in order.”

Tony couldn’t help but wonder what it was the other man had to do but he trusted him. “I told them they had forty-eight hours, Rhodes. You think we can get this rolling the next time we’re all in that room?”

There was no hesitation when Rhodey answered. “I know we can. You can, Tones.” He watched as Tony grabbed the ice pack and pressed it to his jaw. He’d have an impressive bruise tomorrow morning. “You’ve been working on these changes for over a month, and now that you have input from the rest of the team, there’s no way it can go wrong.”

Tony hummed and closed his eyes.

“And not for nothing, but I think a lot of people saw that the world isn’t as black and white as they thought.” He forced air through his nostrils, “They saw the WSC, they saw Pierce and Hydra, the truth behind New York…” he broke off. “They saw what was going on and you proved that the only acceptable way to combat those challenges was with the Avengers.” Rhodey sat back into the cushions and said, “I’m proud of you, Tony.”

The genius’ eyes met Rhodey’s and there was a furrow between his brow. Tony’s heart had clenched at the sentiment. “Nothing’s done yet, so...” his voice was rough when he spoke.

Rhodes shook his head. “No. Don’t do that. Don’t try and brush this off as me being a sentimental old man. It’s the truth. The things you’ve done, to get this far.” He shook his head like he couldn’t even comprehend the things Tony had to go through to get them there. “Yea, you’re fightin’ for the world, Tony, but you’re also fightin’ for your family.” Tony watched as Rhodey’s eyes shone with unshed tears. “You’ve worked tirelessly to get them home, knowing what you were going up against and the battles you’d still have to fight, and that,” the usually stoic man’s voice cracked and Tony had to look away. “That, is bravery. That’s love, Tones.”

Tony’s smile was a delicate thing, and he swiped under his eyes as he said, “They’d do the same for me.”

Rhodes smiled. They would.

-----------------------------------

Tony had only been gone for the better part of a day and Steve was already missing the eccentric billionaire. It was an odd ache that wouldn’t go away. He needed Tony with him.

And he found that it was strange how not strange this whole thing turned out to be. The few times they’d kissed, or more correctly made out, Steve could feel the holes in his heart start to mend, he felt lighter in mind and body than he had since waking from the ice. It felt natural, and at one point, Steve had to laugh at how long it took them to get there.

Steve was currently sitting on the bed in his room, shield in hand. He had been staring at it for over an hour. He didn’t realize he had been gone for so long until an unmistakable tap sounded against his door. “Come on in, Nat.”

When it opened he was momentarily surprised to see that she wasn’t alone. Clint stood tall behind her, hair askew, as though he had been continuously running his hand through the sandy colored locks.

The two spies entered the room and Steve was happy to see that they were back to where they were before this whole mess started. He knew that their division hurt and it was a balm to his heart and mind to see that their friendship was as it should be.

Natasha took a spot next to Steve on the bed while Clint turned the desk chair around and faced the two of them. He leaned the chair back and it sat precariously on two legs, and while Steve would normally admonish the others for sitting like that, he knew the archer would never lose his footing.

The shield was nestled between his feet, his knuckles white from the grip he had on the edge.

Natasha leaned forward and ran her hand along the deep grooves made by T’Challa’s claws. “He kept it.” It wasn’t a question.

Steve nodded. They were quiet.

“He gave it back.”

Steve glanced up at Clint and closed his eyes. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this.” He released his grip and let the shield rest against the bed.

Clint cleared his throat as he leaned forward, his forearms resting on his thighs. “Did you know there was a time, after Loki, when I couldn’t touch my bow?”

Steve’s eyes widened and his gasp was the only sound in the room. He looked to Natasha and saw that her face was sad, but not surprised.

Clint took the soldier’s silence as a sign to go on. “After New York, once I cleared all the psych evaluations, and was told I could go back on active duty, I couldn’t lay a finger on my bow or quiver. All I wanted to do was get back out there and I couldn’t touch my gear.” The archer’s shoulders rose and then fell, a long breath accompanying the movement. He gave a slight shake of his head and leaned back in the chair, its four legs staying on solid ground. “My fingers would ache for it, Steve. I’d start to get the shakes because I went from days without it to weeks, and when I thought I could pick it up and get back to training, I’d have a panic attack.” He squeezed his lips together tight, and gave a half-hearted shrug. “That bow is a part of me. It’s an extension of who I am and I couldn’t fucking pick it up.”

He started to wring his hands. “I would tell myself to get over it, but I couldn’t. I’d reach for it and the images would swim in my mind: I’d watch my fingers release the string and the arrow imbed itself into a Shield agent, or watch as I used it to crack against Nat’s face.”

The redhead blinked and tilted her head to the side. “It didn’t really hurt and it didn’t really help either way. I still got the drop on you.” Her mouth curved up in her trademark grin and the two men couldn’t help but chuckle.

Steve stared at Clint with wide, blue eyes, his mouth opened and closed, searching for words to comfort the man but found nothing. The raw pain in Clint’s voice let Steve know that it still haunted the archer, and he knew what Clint was saying, felt it in his bones and in his blood. How many times had he closed his eyes and saw himself hovering over Tony, slamming the shield into his chest plate? Or watched as he battered T’Challa with it, a man who in the end, gave them sanctuary?  

After a few moments of silence Steve found his voice. “How did you find it in yourself to pick it up again?”

Clint sat up and met Steve’s gaze. “I started to lose sight of myself. It sounds funny, at least to people who aren’t in our line of work, but that bow changed me. I started using it when I was in the circus, it’s what helped get me out, get me on SHIELD’s radar. It literally propelled me forward.” He scratched at his eyebrow and said, “I was letting what Loki did to me ruin who I was. And I liked that guy. And then you all started going after Hydra bases and I couldn't just sit on the sideline. I wouldn't have been able to watch you all leave and then hear that someone got hurt because I wasn’t there.”

“That’s not how it works, Clint.”

He rolled his eyes at Natasha. “I know that, but-”

“You’d blame yourself. You’d wonder ‘what if I had been there’?”

Clint glanced at Steve and nodded. “Exactly. So, I guess in a way, to answer your question? It was the team that got me to pick it up again. To believe in myself again.”

Steve leaned back on his hands, the comforter soft between his fingers.

“You don’t have to pick the shield up again, Steve. You know that right?” Natasha’s voice was soft in his ear, and her hand came out to rest against his shoulder.

He moved his head so his cheek rested against the top of her hand. “I know. It’s just,” he met Clint’s eyes, “I do feel lost without it. When Tony placed it in my hands I felt grounded in a way I hadn’t since I left it.” He shifted and placed his palm over the star. Steve shook his head. “I just need to know what I’m fighting for.” He paused and then met Clint’s hazel eyes, “And I need to believe in myself again, too.”

The two spies gave encouraging smiles; they knew he’d get there.

A sharp rap sounded against the door and a few seconds later, Sam entered the room. “Is this an originals party or can anyone join in?”

Natasha rolled her eyes and patted the spot beside her. Sam smiled back and shook his head, “I came because a call came in for us.”

Steve sat up straight, Natasha mirroring his movements.

 “It’s a video call. From New York.”

The three Avengers exchanged worried looks and got up to follow Sam out. Before Steve closed the door he took a glance back at the shield, and had a feeling that he would need it sooner than he thought.

What am I fighting for?

His mind drifted to Tony, who was fighting a battle across the ocean; to the people waiting for him upstairs.

The elevator pinged and they were on the communal floor. He squared his shoulders and when he spoke it was the voice of Captain America. “What have we got?”

Family.

Chapter Text

Tony and Rhodey stayed up well into the night, even as their yawns periodically broke the conversation and their bodies started to meld into the couch. With heavy lidded eyes, Rhodey got up and made for the elevator, but on his way, he paused and placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder.

“Take some aspirin, and tell Friday to give you at least six hours, Tony.”

“It’s already scheduled, Colonel Rhodes.”

Tony rolled his eyes while Rhodey laughed. “Night, Tones. G’night, Friday.”

When he left, the room was quiet save for the hum of the elevator descending. Tony stretched himself out on the couch, a pillow tucked under his head. The throbbing in his jaw subsided, but it hurt like a son of a bitch whenever he yawned...or laughed...or talked. He could feel the lull of sleep but tried to fight it as he reached for the phone.

“I was hoping you’d call me sooner.” Steve did not sound happy. “How are you feeling?”

Tony let out a long sigh and massaged his temple. T’Challa.

“I was a little preoccupied what with talking to a room full of world leaders and delegates and getting punched in the face by Thaddeus Ross.”

He could hear Steve sigh and it was easy to picture the man perched on the edge of his bed, shoulders hunched but tense, blue eyes closed. How he missed him.

“T’Challa was able to get Friday to send the video of the meeting. We heard and saw everything.” He sighed. Tony could hear the frustration and affection in that sigh. “We should be there, Tony. I should be there.”

“No, Steve. We said, -”

“No. You said.” Tony could hear the anger and worry in Steve’s voice, and the rush of air that left his lungs as he paced his room. “The only reason I conceded was because T’Challa went with you and even with him there...this still happened!” He growled and then let a long breath pass through his teeth. His voice was softer when he next spoke. “I've spent every minute since you left worrying about you.”

The knowledge that Steve cared that much about him, made him feel all warm and fuzzy.

“Well, if it's any consolation, T’Challa took a vote tonight and about 60 percent of the delegation is in agreement for ratification and they’re all still set on Barnes’ pardon. So something good did come out of all of this. And I’m pretty sure that Ross attacking me like that proved how much of an asshole he really is.” Tony groaned. The whole talking thing was becoming problematic. He got up from the couch and wandered into the bathroom where he was sure he’d find some aspirin. 

“Is it bad?”

Tony had to go through three drawers before he found the bottle. “What? My face?” He scoffed. “Please.” That got a small chuckle from Steve and Tony smiled. “Friday did a scan and it came back clean, nothing broken. Just a killer headache,” he moaned. He tucked the phone in between his neck and shoulder and opened the bottle. “And I’m a little swollen and I’ll have one hell of a bruise, but other than that I’m fine.”

They were quiet for a few moments, the sound of the faucet filled the empty space. “How are they doing?”

Steve hummed. “They were worried before you even left.” He sighed. “T’Challa’s call certainly didn’t help to ease that. God, Tony we thought…” he trailed off.

Tony could only imagine what it was that went through their minds when they got wind of T’Challa’s call. “I’m alright, Steve. I have two days and then we reconvene. I’m going to lay down the rest of what I know about Ross and then we’ll set a date to officially ratify the damn thing.  There’s an end in sight.”

Steve didn’t respond right away, and when he did, his voice was low and soft. “Any thought as to what happens then?”

Tony entered his bedroom and started to unbutton his shirt, when Steve’s question stilled his movements. “Hmm... I have some ideas. They all require that you and I stay locked in a room for no less than three days.” He could practically feel Steve’s blush through the phone.

“That’s not a bad idea.”

Tony’s chuckle sounded like honey. “No, not a bad idea at all.” He threw his shirt on the bed and let himself fall back onto the pillows. The bruising he had on his chest was nothing more than a light yellow, matching that of faded parchment. In another few days, it would be gone completely. How fitting that all remnants of the old Accords and what happened would be gone within the next forty-eight hours.

Tony closed his eyes and let his left hand drift to the empty space beside him. His heart clenched at how much he wished Steve was here.

Tony cleared his throat which did nothing to erase the emotional roughness to his voice when he spoke. “I do wish you were here, Steve, and not just to look at you because you’re absolutely stunning, but...” Tony’s voice trailed off and Steve could hear him take a deep breath before he said, “I’m not as good at--at anything as I am when I'm doing it next to you. And that's the truth.”

Tony heard Steve’s sharp intake of breath and let that truth settle. When the two of them were at odds with one another, the likelihood of anything getting done was slim (just look at the “before”). It was when the two men were working together, standing side by side in body and mind that they were able to make the greatest change. 

The soldier didn’t try to hide his affection for the brunette when he whispered, “Tony.” It came out as something precious, and in that one word, Tony knew that what he felt for Steve was returned.

Steve had to compose himself so he took a steadying breath and said, “Tony, look at all you’ve done. I haven’t had a part in any of this, well, save for making us fugitives and all these meetings necessary, -”

“Steve-”

“No. You say you’re not as good at anything unless I’m by your side, but you seem to have overlooked everything that’s happened these last few weeks.” He paused to ensure that Tony was listening and understood what he was saying. “I think you’re pretty damn amazing on your own, Tony.”

Tony could feel the heat in his cheeks and felt tears gather in his eyes. He let out a breath and felt his lips quiver.

“You’re the one standing up there. You’re the one who knows what needs to get done and has the vision to make it so. Don’t be so quick to push aside what you’ve done. God, Tony if anything, I don’t know who I am without you by my side.” Steve’s voice cracked and Tony felt the sob lodged in his throat.

The two men were quiet, their shared words wrapping around them like a warm blanket.

Tony’s voice was rough when he finally said, “I was able to do all of this because of you. And the team...I’m a boat without an oar unless you’re all with me, otherwise I feel-”

“-lost.”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and felt a few tears skip along his cheeks. “Yea.” He hiccupped. “Lost.”

“We’ll be together again soon, Tony. All of us. But right now, you should probably get some sleep. Have Friday schedule you out-”

“-I know. Six hours. Rhodey already has it set. You two are such mother hens.” The usual sarcasm was lost and in its place was gratitude. “Goodnight, Steve.”

The soldier’s laugh vibrated through the phone. “Tony?”

“Yea?”

“I’m nowhere near as good without you, either.”

Tony was stunned into silence and Steve took that as his cue. “Goodnight, Shellhead.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn’t until the next morning, when Tony came face to face with T’Challa, that he questioned him about calling the team.

“During my time with you and them, I have discovered that what you often think is not important for them to know is something they find great importance in!” The young King rolled his shoulders back and took a deep breath. “Steve asked me to keep him apprised of what was going on here.” Tony’s face scrunched into unease and anger but T’Challa held up a hand, asking him to wait. “He was concerned for your safety. None of them like the idea of you here alone and,” he sighed and closed his eyes, “yes, you have the three of us but they want to be here. Standing next to you, supporting you.” He leaned against the kitchen counter. “They know what the Raft is like, Tony. They do not want you there.” Tony flinched and sagged into a seat at the kitchen table.

 

“How was he when you told him? He was pissed, wasn’t he?”

 

The deep rumble of laughter caught Tony off guard, but soon he was joining in on the absurdity of the question. Of course Steve had been pissed (and concerned), Tony gathered enough of that when he spoke to him last night. Tony got up and stopped in front of T’Challa. “Thank you.”

They grasped hands and T’Challa said, “Anytime.” He gave Tony a bright smile. “Let’s go get the others.” 

Tony, T’Challa, Rhodey and Vision spent the rest of the day discussing the next steps in taking down Ross and getting the Accords ratified. The men worked together for hours, only breaking twice: once for lunch and later in the day when Tony had to take a conference call for SI. After dinner, they all went their separate ways. Rhodey had a scheduled PT session, T’Challa had conference calls of his own (he did have a kingdom to run), and Vision was wrapped up in the newest cookbook.

Tony went down to his workshop but after an hour or two, he headed up to bed, where he found he couldn’t sleep. After fifteen minutes of tossing and turning, he reached for the phone, a familiar and comforting weight in his hands, and called Steve.

When the other man answered, Tony had to pull his ear from the phone. “Where the hell are you?” Tony could hear faint chatter in the background, but it was the odd pulsing that had him confused. It almost sounded as if he were on a roller coaster.

Steve chuckled. “Morning hike up one of Wakanda’s mountains. Sam thought it would be good to get our mind off of things.”

Tony rolled his eyes but laughed when he heard someone shout, “Clint I will kill you!” It sounded like Wanda. “Believe it or not I would rather be there.” Steve caught the wistfulness in Tony’s voice and told them all to quiet down.

 “Can’t sleep?”

“Nope.”

“Is it…it’s not nightmares again, is it?” Steve’s voice was tentative.

“No. No nightmares. I haven’t had those since…” he trailed off and thought about it. “Not since that first night in Wakanda. After I talked to all of you.”

Steve hummed. “I’m glad they stopped, Tony.”  After a breath he asked, “So what has you up?”

Tony sat up, the pillows stacked at his back and closed his eyes. “Um, everything?” He shrugged his shoulders and blew air out of his nose. “What if something goes wrong tomorrow?” He waved his hand out in front of him, a flurry of worry and anxiety. “Like, I say the wrong thing or they all decide that this was a terrible idea and they should never had listened to me? What if I never get you home? What if everyone decides that going after you and the team is the best course of action? What if- “

He stopped once he heard Steve laughing. “Really?” His voice was hard and serious, his fist clenched the sheet. “You think this is funny, Steve?”

The other man had to take long and deep breaths to calm down. “Not funny, Tony, but did you forget everything I said to you the other night? You’re incredible; the most brilliant man I know and we’ve watched the hearings. You’re doing great.”

Steve was cut off before he could continue, and there was a shuffling and a grunt on the other end of the line. Tony let out a laugh when he heard Steve growl out, “Will you two calm down!” and then mutter “children” under his breath. Steve sighed and went on with their conversation, not missing a beat. “I know you’ve made a case with all possible contingencies in mind. And you have a knowledgeable and dedicated team at your back. I know Rhodes, T’Challa and Vision would never let you continue if they thought something could go wrong.”

Tony closed his eyes and felt the worry and tension start leave his body. He suddenly felt exhausted.

“Trust them to help you. Trust them to stand by you and be there for whatever may come next. And trust that we’re all there with you, too.”

“How can you not be worried?” Tony mumbled.

“Of course I worry.” It was practically a whisper and Tony could hear, in that one statement, all of the years Steve carried with him. “I want you all safe. I want to go home. I want to be with you. But,” he took a breath, “should something go wrong, we’ll handle it. Like we always do, or at least how we always should.”

The corner of Tony’s mouth lifted up in a smile. “Together.”

“Got it in one, genius.”

It was Tony’s turn to laugh.

“Get some sleep. The sooner you finish with tomorrow, the sooner we come home. Which means the closer we are to that three-day retreat in your bedroom.”

Tony’s eyes widened and he felt that familiar tug and heat in his belly. “Steve…” The soldier’s chuckle did nothing to assuage Tony’s attraction. It only hinted at what was to come. “Fine.” He groaned. “Bed.”

“Goodnight, Tony.”

“Night, Steve.”

He was asleep seconds later.

Chapter Text

The next day went by in a flurry of activity, and soon enough, Tony found himself on his way back to the U.N., the streets busy with people trying to catch their evening trains home. The SUV they were in drove around the front of the building, and the men saw that, as usual, the press had parked themselves on the steps, clamoring like hungry vultures.

“I already told them to bring us in through the back, Tones.”

He gave Rhodey a grateful smile and took a deep breath. “I uh, I just want to thank you for your help and support on this.” He stared down at his hands and when he looked up again, he shrugged one shoulder and gave them a smile. “You’ve listened to me rant and worry and found no problem with telling me when I’m wrong.” Soft laughter filled the car.  “If I needed you, you were there.” He looked to Rhodey. “You were a pillar of persistence and strength.” His eyes met T’Challa’s. “And a reminder of what and who we were fighting for.” Finally, he landed on Vision.

Tony cleared his throat. “No matter what happens today, I’m proud of us. All of us.” He stopped and stared up at the large building. After a few moments, his voice filled with resolve and determination.

“So let’s finish this.”

As he entered the chamber, those delegates who were not seated walked up to him with their eyes on the dark bruise along his jaw.  He politely waved them off, hands shaking from adrenaline and worry. Once on stage, Tony filled a glass with water, took a sip, and smiled at the group. Rhodey and Vision were once again seated at his back, but this time, T’Challa was in his seat with the delegates from Wakanda.

He waited until they were all seated before he began. “I’d like to thank many of you for reaching out to me after our meeting the other night and expressing your concerns and well wishes. I feel fine, and” he gestured to his jaw, “I think purple should be my new color.” There was a current of laughter and Tony was glad to see that the joke helped ease some of the tension. He looked down at Ross who was sporting a similar bruise. “I had quite a bit more to share with you the other night, but circumstances made that impossible.”  Ross was pissed.  It probably had something to do with the security placed along the edge of the stage, the armed escort he had into the chamber, and the fact that Tony had the gall to show up here and finish this.

 “Now, when we last met, I provided you with information that showed how much the Avengers are needed and necessary; I gave you proof and facts that cannot be ignored. I presented you with information on,” he ticked the names off on his fingers, “the World Security Council, Alexander Pierce, SHIELD, Hydra and our very own Thaddeus Ross.” His voice was dripping in disdain as he said the man’s name.

“It may seem as though my bringing Secretary Ross up again is a form of character assassination, or that I’m doing it to be vengeful.” He shook his head, wagged a finger in the air and said, “No. My goal for showing you previous and upcoming information is so you can see who this man really is. Secretary Ross is the main proponent of the Accords, and as I present to you the next portion of my case, I want you to ask yourself the following quetions: how can we trust a man to create, enact and enforce a law that he blatantly ignored aspects of? And how can we trust him to do what is right when he’s made ill informed, cruel and selfish decisions before?” Tony reached into his suit jacket pocket and took out the familiar glasses. He tapped the sides. “Friday, dazzle me.”

On the screen was a picture of a middle aged man dressed in combat gear and armed with assault weapons. Tony faced the group and gestured behind him. “This is Emil Blonsky. He was a decorated member of the Royal Marines, making it to the rank of Captain. This man refused the promotion of Colonel because he wanted to remain a fighter and with his team.” Tony could see some confusion on the delegates faces so he clarified by saying, “Blonsky met General Thaddeus Ross when he was made a part of the task force that was hunting Bruce Banner.

Gasps and murmurs filled the room. Tony took a breath and vowed to do right by his friend.

“Blonsky was part of a combat team created to confront and capture Dr. Banner, but this team was not apprised of Banner’s,” he waved his hand in front of him, “condition as the Hulk.”

The picture changed again to Blonsky and his team. “During their first assignment, their hope was to catch Dr. Banner off guard but he became aware of their presence and subsequently evaded them. Blonsky’s team later cornered him in a bottling plant, but instead of coming face to face with the man, they met the Big Guy.” A snapshot of the incident was shown, the Hulk’s mouth opened in a roar and his powerful hands in fists at his sides. “He tore through the factory, injured and killed some of Blonsky’s men, attempted to kill the Captain himself, and then fled.” He pulled up an image of an email that Blonsky had sent to Ross shortly after the incident.

“This email clearly demonstrates Blonsky’s understandable apprehension with pursuing Dr. Banner, as well as his anger at not being told about Banner’s condition.” The image enlarged and a fragment was highlighted.

Blonsky wrote, ‘If my team and I had been given the opportunity to know what we were up against, we would have attempted to contact Dr. Banner in a nonthreatening way. Because of your [Ross] lack of sharing information, four of my men were injured and three were killed. There were ways we could have gone about this and they were completely overlooked. This was a move made by you, General. And it appears to me that this mission was one that stemmed from personal aggressions and distaste.’

The room was completely silent, the delegates stared in abject horror at the actions that Ross had set in motion to catch Dr. Banner. “Ross did not tell Blonsky or his men what they were facing. A General did not see it fit to equip men under his command with adequate information and tactics that would save their lives. He was so focused on capturing Dr. Banner, that he neglected to tell the team of any methods to talk to the doctor; to the Hulk.”

Ross scoffed down in front. “There is no way to negotiate with that thing, Stark. He’s a monster. An animal,” he sneered. And then for good measure he added, “And the Hulk is nothing more than a mindless beast.”

Tony’s eyes narrowed, his hands in fists at his sides. He could hear Friday in his ear telling him that his blood pressure was spiking and heart rate was erratic. Tony took a deep breath but before he could speak, the sound of glass shattering broke him from his thoughts.

He searched the room and saw a small, redheaded woman from Ireland scoop up the shards of glass in a napkin and raise her hand in apology. He gave her a small nod and went back to the task at hand.

“Dr. Banner is an incredible man and I’m honored not only to call him a teammate but a friend.” He turned away from Ross and addressed the group. “For those of you who don’t know this, and I’m betting it’s most of you, Ross and Dr. Banner first met when he tasked the doctor with the job of building an experimental gamma bomb for the U.S. Defense Department, as well as tasking him with the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project -which was essentially Ross’ way of recreating the super soldier serum.” Tony stopped and took a quick sip of water. “When the first test run of the gamma bomb was scheduled, Bruce saw that a teenage intern had wandered onto the testing site. He selflessly ran towards the testing zone to get the kid out of the way, but in saving his young life, Bruce irrevocably changed his own. He was struck by the blast; deadly gamma radiation hit him full on and he survived. But in that instance, the Hulk was created.”

The emotion in the room was palpable; anger and disbelief were written on many of the delegate’s faces. They were shocked to learn the true story behind Banner’s Hulk, as well as the role Ross played. Tony closed his eyes and let his head drop forward. “Bruce Banner is one of the best men I have ever met. And if there is any question of his character, look back on what I just showed you.” His voice quaked when thinking about his friend. No matter what happened, Bruce always did the right thing; always put others first.

“He spent his life working towards making the world a better, more innovative place. Dr. Banner used his talents for good, and when he worked with Ross, he believed they were taking strides to better this world.” The anger was evident when he mentioned what had happened to his friend. “And now, even the Big Guy works to save others. I’ve watched as he’s fought legions of aliens and robots, and I’ve been awed at how he puts himself in the way of danger to save his teammates. The character of one is the character of the other. And if you sit there for one minute and think that either is a monster, I will spend the rest of my life showing you how wrong you are.” Tony’s voice was steady as he finished.

He took a moment to let himself calm down.

“Despite his letter to Ross, the General continued to share the barest of information with the Captain. I found that Blonsky eventually became aware of the incident with the gamma radiation and its part in creating the Hulk. Blonsky expressed that he was in no condition to go head to head with the Big Guy, so Ross gave a solution.”

He pulled up medical records and images of Blonsky strapped to a gurney, numerous tubes and needles hooked up at various points on his body. “Ross ordered Blonsky to receive a ‘watered-down’ version of the serum, which resulted in the Captain becoming stronger, faster, and more agile. He was now a weapon.”

The delegation buzzed with chatter, people turning to their left and right posing questions. A delegate from Madrid stood and said, “Mr. Stark, couldn’t one argue that Secretary Ross went through with that to ensure that someone could fight the Hulk?”

Tony rolled his eyes and said, “With all due respect ma’am, Ross saw what the serum did to Dr. Banner. He neglected to think it through when he gave the order to inject Blonsky. What if something had gone wrong? If Blonsky got out of control, who would be there to stop him? Would Ross just continue to make these enhanced individuals hoping one would turn out alright and take on the rest?” He scoffed and shook his head.

“Blonsky got the chance to test his new abilities when he met up with Banner at Culver University but even with his enhancements the Hulk was stronger, and was able to flee. It was at this point that Blonsky became focused on the Hulk’s power. We found personal journals (thank you, Bruce) that described in detail, Blonsky’s need to become stronger than the Hulk. He was willing to do anything to get there.”

Tony scratched his chin, wincing as his hand made contact with the bruise. He let his eyes fall to Ross who sat with his arms crossed and shoulders tense. “When Blonsky and the Hulk met again, Hulk kicked Blonsky across a field and into a tree after the Captain repeatedly taunted the Big Guy. Almost all of Blonsky’s bones were crushed. But,” Tony held up a finger, “thanks to the serum he was injected with, he was able to regenerate from his injuries in less than a day. But his focus was still on the Hulk and again, with Ross’ permission he received a larger and more powerful dosage of the serum. This time, he gained strange physical effects,” a picture showed his spine severely deformed, “and he also began to lose his connection with reality. Now in turn, Blonsky neglected to tell Ross of these changes.” 

Tony walked back behind the podium and took a drink of water. He had a slight headache and wondered if he could negotiate a brief respite to grab a snack but he knew he had to get through this first.  He sagged against the wood.

“When Blonsky and Banner finally met up again, Blonsky got his hands on a vial of Banner’s gamma irradiated blood, and injected himself with it. This final dose turned him into an abomination.” The loud consecutive gasp from the delegation let him know that pictures of the Abomination were kept hidden. He thought back to his first real conversation with Bruce.

“Last time I was in New York, I kind of broke, Harlem.”

“Up to this point, the destruction that occurred in Harlem was blamed ONLY on the Hulk. But as you can see, it was a direct result of the fight between the Abomination and the Big Guy.” Video footage popped up on the screen, taken from one of the downed helicopters. “This event would never have happened if Ross had not gone behind the government’s back and infused Blonsky with his first taste of super soldier power. The Abomination killed without regard and it was the Hulk who pulled him away from the highly populated area. AND, I’d like to point out, that the Hulk saved Ross and his daughter from being killed.” He looked at the Secretary and said, “On behalf of the Big Guy, you’re welcome.”

He heard someone give an impressed whistle in the group and smiled. It needed to be said. “Now, Abomination was captured, again, with the Hulk’s help, but from that point on, Bruce Banner was on the run from Ross and the government.” He tilted his head to the side and his voice softened. “Can you blame him? The very man, the very government that he worked with, turned against him and instead of offering help and refuge, they hunted him like a wild animal.” Tony spat the words, his distaste obvious. “And yet Ross was able to get a promotion to Secretary of State. How about that!”

Ross stood up, his face tight with anger and hands stiff at his sides. A guard stepped forward and placed himself in front of Ross but the Secretary pushed him out of the way.

In response, the guard grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back. Tony stepped forward, holding out his hand. “It’s fine. He may have questionable morals but I think he’s smart enough to know not to repeat his past performance.” The guard gave a stiff nod and returned to his post.

“Now, yes these events happened years ago, but they’re being shared with you now because it shows a progression of violent, demoralizing character and decision making skills that still seep into his actions today.” He rubbed his forehead and bit his lip. “He was the main proponent of the Accords, and I was right there with him in defending it. And I was wrong.” He loosened his tie. “I’m not going to go through all of that again, because you heard it already, and I saw your reactions. Most if not all of you know that I was being honest, and that the information I provided, is irrefutable. What I need you to understand is that the man who sat there and argued that my team and I are dangerous, that we need to be collared and tracked, was never a good man to begin with, and he was using the Accords as a front.”

Tony knew that with the vote he had T’Challa take the last time they were here; the majority of delegates were on board for ratification. By releasing this information now, there was no way anyone could accuse him of blackmail. Ross made his decisions; he dug this hole.

“The Accords were created to protect the people of this world, and Ross’ way of doing that was through unlawful arrests, false allegations and imprisonment and illegal human experimentation.” He felt a bit of nervousness as the documents started to show on the screen. But just as soon as it came, it was gone. Tony felt an overwhelming sense of warmth and calm come over him. He breathed easily and looked back at the screen. He enlarged each picture as he spoke. “Please note that all of these documents and any other form of communication were obtained through the proper legal channels.”

He was cut off by Ross’ shouts. “I never heard about any of this!”

Tony peered down at the outraged Secretary of State. “The warrants were delivered to your people, perhaps you were too busy with your plans to take notice of what was going on around you. If you take a seat, you’ll see what I found.”

Ross went to take a step and reluctantly sat down when he saw the guards ready to move.

“Ross was not interested in protection, he was interested in control and power. He made us and people like us seem like the villains so that when he went ahead with his plans, no one would say anything to protect us. Secretary Ross made requests for documents on the super soldier project, the one that created Captain Steve Rogers and Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, and he gathered information on the Russian Black Widow project. He also obtained the medical records of Bruce Banner and managed to get his hands on the Hydra files of Wanda and Pietro Maximoff; files that catalogue the procedures that gave them their abilities.” He paused to give the delegations a moment to understand the gravity behind these actions.

The next item that came up was a file marked “Project Hyde”. “He gathered these particular files because they provided him with insight into medical and chemical enhancements. Secretary Ross sent numerous emails to the medical staff on the Raft, and once Captain Rogers’ team was captured, the next step was to start understanding their abilities. He was going to take them apart and see how they worked, as though they were nothing more than parts to a bigger machine.” Tony’s anger was evident in the rise of his voice. “Ross’ ultimate goal was to create an army of enhanced individuals. Ones who, if programmed the right way, would become weapons under his command. And we’ve seen what happens to soldiers under his command.” 

Shouts of outrage were heard throughout the high ceilinged room, and even though Tony had been aware of this, he still tasted the bile in his mouth, and felt his stomach roll. He could never imagine what would have happened to his friends if Ross had succeeded. The arrest and incarceration were bad enough, but thinking of them strapped to gurneys and being ripped apart hurt him in a way that was raw and deep.

His voice shook when he next spoke. “What he was looking to do was inhumane. It was cruel and went against many of the amendments listed in the Accords. He used his station and this document as a way to further his own personal agenda.” Tony’s voice rose and his fist pounded on the podium. “And we’ve seen what that usually leads to. I am asking you today, to vote to ratify the current Accords into the new ones you were given. I’m asking you to place criminal charges against Thaddeus Ross for treason, attempted murder, illegal incarceration, attempted human experimentation, and for acting outside of the Accords.”

The room erupted into raucous talking, with many delegates out of their seats.

Tony held up his hand and after a few minutes he said, “I’m going to ask that we take a half hour break, and you can use some of this time to think over what I’ve said and discuss it with your colleagues. When we reconvene I have one more matter to discuss and then we will set this to a vote.”

He gave a sharp nod and walked off the stage. Once he was behind the curtain, he collapsed against the wall and let his head rest against his knees.  Visions of the team swam in his mind and he found himself overcome with emotion. His tongue caught the tears as they fell from his brown eyes, the salt stinging the cut on his lip. It was almost finished.  They were so close. In hindsight, everything up to this point had worked. The subject he was going to broach next would be the real test.

“Tones, you okay?”

He looked up to see Rhodey staring down at him, a look of worry written across his features. He must have been in this spot for quite some time. A look at his watch told him he had about eighteen minutes left. Tony wiped under his eyes, catching the wetness that had gathered. He held out a hand to Rhodes, who pulled him up and patted him on the back. “You’re kicking ass. I was watching all of their reactions every time you presented a new piece of evidence against Ross. He’s done, Tony.”

The engineer gave a tired smile, popped two aspirin and chugged half a bottle of water. He was about to sneak out into the hallway to get a snack from the vending machine when Vision stopped in front of him. “Those lights were bright and hot. Friday alerted me that you were dehydrated and your sugar levels were bottoming out, I thought you could use some sustenance.” He held out a bottle of lemonade and a turkey on rye. Tony had never been more grateful for anything in his life.

“Once I get through this we’ll put it to a vote. Ratification can start as early as next Monday.” The excitement in his voice was catching and Rhodes and Vision wore matching smiles. They sat in silence for a few minutes as Tony ate and watched a bug buzz around in front of him. He swatted it away just as his watch beeped with a one-minute warning. He took a deep breath and stepped back out there.

Once everyone was back in their seats, he approached the podium, and let his hands rest on the sides. “The last thing I have to address is the criminal charges placed against Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang and Natasha Romanoff.”

The room was silent.

Chapter Text

Once everyone was back in their seats, he approached the podium, and let his hands rest on the sides. “The last thing I have to address is the criminal charges placed against Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang and Natasha Romanoff.”

The room was silent.

“The events that happened in Lagos, though terrible, do not fall under the current Accords, therefore, the Avengers cannot be charged. However, the actions of Avengers in Berlin, Bucharest and Leipzig occurred once the Accords were made law.” Tony closed his eyes and shook his head. He looked away from the delegates and pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Mr. Stark? Captain Rogers and Sam Wilson fled with Barnes. They went directly against the law. And then, when you were tasked with bringing them in, along with the other members of the team who sided with Captain Rogers, they fought you; resisting arrest.” Tony nodded as the young woman from Monaco spoke. “Never mind the charges of domestic and international terrorism, destruction of government property, and attempted murder.”

Tony’s head shot up but before he could speak, the redhead from Ireland stood. “I would think that as a delegate of this committee, you would have up to date information.” The Irish lilt in her voice was edged with anger. Her eyes darted over to Tony and then went back to the delegate from Monaco. “Those charges were dropped,” her hands reached for papers on the table in front of her and Tony knew they were the court documents proving it, “almost three days after the events in Siberia. So your statement and that charge bear no weight.”

The young woman gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. “Those other charges still stand.”

The redhead narrowed her eyes at the other woman and sat down, while Tony straightened his shoulders and sighed.

“In regards to the charge of acts of domestic terrorism, that specific charge states that the act must take place on American soil or the victim must be the United States Government, or a member, official employee or agent of the U.S. government.  The actions that we are discussing did not take place in America, and the ones that occurred on international soil did not have a victim of the United States.  Their actions were against the Accords, an international entity. Therefore, this specific charge of domestic terrorism cannot stand against Captain Rogers.”

Tony was satisfied for only a moment before the woman went on; she was relentless. “Colonel Rhodes suffered injuries from an event that was instigated by Captain Rogers and Sam Wilson. If I’m not mistaken, he is a government employee of the United States.” She paused and raised an eyebrow. “The charges would stand, Mr. Stark.”

Tony shifted on his feet and unbuttoned the first two buttons of his dress shirt. That familiar tightening in his chest was coming back and he steadied himself with a deep breath before answering. “Yes. Colonel Rhodes is a government employee. And, as I’ve mentioned before, our orders to meet Captain Rogers in Leipzig were from Secretary Ross, another member of the government. However, Colonel Rhodes’ incident was not caused by Captain Rogers or a member of his team. Unfortunately, Rhodes’ suit was destabilized by a shot taken by the Vision, a member of my team at the time, and who was also following orders from Secretary Ross. Therefore, couldn’t one argue that the United States government is responsible for Colonel Rhodes’ injuries, or more specifically, Ross himself?”

The silence was broken as many of the delegates began talking amongst themselves. Tony turned back to look at Rhodey and gave a slight nod. The Colonel got up from his seat and made his way over to the podium, the room quieting down. “I would also like to, for the record,” he added as he looked at Ross and then at the delegate from Monaco, “state that I have not pressed any formal charges against Captain Rogers or any other member of the team. Which kind of makes your charge of domestic terrorism a load of crap now. No?”

Tony had to duck his head to hide the wide smile he was sporting. The Colonel turned to head back to his seat but gave Tony a conspiratorial wink as he passed. Tony continued. “As for the charge of international terrorism, we acknowledge that Rogers did as the law states, which was retaliating against the conduct of a foreign government. But I’d like to remind you of the previous events I had mentioned and acknowledge that those acts in D.C. and New York could also be considered acts of terrorism and no charges were brought against Captain Rogers or this team at that time. We all made choices to go against the standing government – in one case the WSC and in the other SHIELD/Hydra- and those choices were made because the government was wrong.” He scoffed. “When Captain Rogers fought in World War II he was also in retaliation of a government agency, with an agenda very similar to the one the Accords was trying to instill: A list or registration of specific individuals within society.” He scratched his goatee and said, “I’d ask you to take a moment and remember what happened to those individuals who were put on that list.”

The room was eerily silent. He knew everyone was remembering a time when people were forced to wear yellow stars and the sky rained down ash. When people stayed quiet, terrible, unimaginable things happened.

Not today.

“And finally, the charge of destruction of government property is one that we won’t try to deny. And this is an issue I’ve mentioned in previous talks with you. But we have always, as a team in conjunction with the Stark Relief Fund, done what we could to re-stabilize the area, and provide those affected with any help they need.”

Tony took off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He was surprised at how tired he was; not just physically but emotionally and mentally. “Look, the last thing I’d like you to remember is that at the point of the escape from the Berlin compound, Rogers, Wilson and Sharon Carter were the only ones who were able to figure out that the doctor assigned to evaluate Barnes was actually Zemo in disguise. An elaborate scheme was in place so he could get to Barnes and turn him into the Winter Soldier.” Tony ran his tongue across his lips and thought back to the young man in Siberia.

I remember all of them.

“Barnes has been nothing more than a weapon for the last seventy years. Again, the events that transpired once Barnes crashed the helicopter into the river in Berlin -which Rogers tried to stop- were spurred on by Ross. Rogers and Wilson had been against the Accords from the beginning, their main concern was that there was no room for compromise. A fact that was proved once Ross refused to hear anything about Barnes being innocent. So yea,” he flicked his hand out in front of him and then put both hands in his pockets, “they went against the Accords but at that time, the Accords weren’t working. And as for the events in Leipzig…” he trailed off and took a breath.

“I could receive some of that blame as well. I didn’t listen to Rogers when he explained that Barnes was being framed. My concern was getting them back to base so they wouldn’t get killed.” He gave a sarcastic laugh. “I’m not asking that the charges be wiped. It’s not possible, nor is it right. But I implore you to lessen the charges; take everything that you’ve been presented with and make the right decision.”

There were a few minutes of silence and Tony took the opportunity to take a sip of water and he walked over to Rhodey and placed his jacket along the back of his chair.

“They escaped the Raft as well, Stark. That can’t be forgotten.” It was Ross who spoke up, and Tony turned on him, eyes ablaze with anger and resentment. He had to open his god damned mouth.

Another delegate stood up and asked, “Do you know where they are now, Mr. Stark?”

Tony stood in the center of the stage and looked out across the room. If he said he knew where they were, Ross could use it against him and implore the delegates to arrest Tony. He’d go on the Raft and a second escape would be difficult with the increased and updated security, never mind that it would go against everything he worked for. If he lied and said he didn’t know, but it came out later that he did, it would undermine all of the work he just put into ratification and saving his friends. They’d all be doomed.

His mouth opened and closed for a few minutes as he tried to find the right answer. But before he could utter a word, a strong voice came out from behind him.

“We’re here.”

In a moment of deja vu, the room erupted into chaos and Tony, eyes wide and mouth agape turned his head to stare into the bright blue eyes of Steve Rogers.

 

Two days ago-

The elevator pinged and they were on the communal floor. He squared his shoulders and when he spoke, it was the voice of Captain America. “What have we got?”

Wanda and Scott were already seated on the couch, the young woman had her legs tucked under her and she was biting her nails. They knew a call like this wasn’t good. While Steve went to stand against the wall, Natasha went to the single seat and Clint followed her, perching on its arm. Sam walked past the large screen on the wall and nodded to T’Challa.

“I know I told you I would only contact if something went wrong, -”

“Which means something did.” It was Natasha who cut the King off.

“Yes.” He disappeared from frame and a recording of the U.N. chamber came up on their screen.

Steve’s breath caught as he stared at Tony. It had been almost a day without him and Steve couldn’t believe the way his body responded to seeing and hearing the billionaire. He could feel his pulse quicken, his hands itch to touch the olive skin, could feel the way the heat pooled deep in his belly. He shook his head and licked his lips. They were watching Tony finish up for the night, his case coming to an end.

He walked back to the podium and tapped on the tablet to pull up the information and request he sent to Ross regarding Zemo. “I sent this to Secretary Ross after the events with my team in Leipzig. This information was irrefutable and yet he still turned a blind eye. We had substantial proof that James Buchanan Barnes was not responsible for the acts he was accused of and yet this man simply pushed it away to follow his own agenda.” Tony was so focused on addressing the delegation and showing them proof of Ross’ underhandedness, that he missed the older man rushing up the steps. He turned, startled when he heard Rhodey and T’Challa’s shouts, but it was too late.

The force behind Ross’ punch sent Tony to the stage floor.

The room erupted into chaos.

At the sight of the Tony being hit, the team jumped to their feet and started shouting.

“He hit him!”

“That son of a bitch!”

“Is he alright?”

Natasha looked up at Steve and saw the muscle in his jaw tighten as he clenched his teeth, the whites of his knuckles as he held his hands in fists at his sides. The last time she saw him look this angry was when he was at the airport in Leipzig. She let her hand reach out to cover his and only then did he move he eyes away from the image of Tony on screen. He met her gaze and she felt her heart break at the pain in his eyes.

“He wasn’t alone. And he was alert and awake.”

Steve looked away. “I should have been there. He never should have gone alone! We’re a team.” His hand hit the wall, bits of plaster fell to the floor and an indent of his hand remained. He turned back to the screen. “T’Challa, what’s his condition?”

The young man cleared his throat and said, “He refused to call an ambulance but he did get looked over once we got him back to the tower. Nothing is broken and there was no sign of a concussion. His jaw is swollen and he’ll have an impressive bruise in the morning, but other than that and a headache, physically he’s fine.”

“What else is going on?” Clint asked.

“He’s struggling with the thought that he might fail you. It’s weighing on him. I have to tell you, though, the case he’s made is amazing,” a wry smile adorned T’Challa’s face, “he’s a brilliant man.”

"Of course he made it kickass, he’s Tony Stark.” Steve looked over to Sam and saw that it was said with admiration and affection.

Steve moved away to face the team. “You know what I have to do.”

Their faces were stern and after a moment of silence, Wanda stood up. “I think you mean, what we have to do.”

“I can’t ask that of all of you.”

“You’re not, Steve.” Natasha stood up next to him.

Sam, then Clint and finally Scott stood up too. “Look at what he’s done for us, man. If you think you’re the only one that’s going to stand up with and for him, you’re wrong.”

Steve bit his lip and turned to T’Challa. “Don’t let anyone know we’re coming. I think it’d be best if we caught all of them off guard. And that means Tony doesn’t know, too.”

T’Challa gave him a curt nod. “What do you need?”

Clint rubbed his chin and said, “We can’t get there until they’re set to meet again. If we’re too early we risk being detected.” The room got quiet and he looked up to see varying degrees of concern and surprise on their faces. “I’m comin’ too.”

“Clint, we’d understand if-,”

“No, Steve. I have to be there. No matter what happens...we make our own choices, right?”

Steve nodded and said, “Alright. Let’s fly out the night before the next meeting. We have forty-eight hours?”

T’Challa nodded. “I’ll have the plane ready for you and the necessary documents to get you inside the building.” He ended the video call.

Steve looked around at his teammates and said, “Get everything in order. Make sure you have what you need. Once we step foot back home, it's a new game.”

 

------------------------------

Back at the U.N.

 

Tony took a tentative step forward. “Steve?”

“Hi, Tony.” His voice was breathy, nothing more than a whisper.

Another step. “What are you doing here?” He shook his head and took another step. “You shouldn’t be here.”

Steve glanced out at the chamber floor and tilted his head out to the crowd. “Well, I’m not exactly alone, and neither are you,” he said with a smile. 

Tony followed his gaze and it stopped on the redhead from Ireland as she got up and with a delicate swipe of her hand over her face, removed the facial film. Tony gasped when he saw Natasha’s bright green eyes and patented smirk. But before he could think on it, that same whistle from before sounded out and he searched for its origin finally looking up; where he got a wink and nod from Clint. Below him, the guard who had intercepted Ross before he could make it to the stage, stepped forward and took off his helmet. Tony couldn’t help but laugh at Sam’s wide smile, and just as he was about to move, a voice spoke in his ear, “Hiya, Stark!” Tony was able to catch sight of the fluttering wings and knew that the indistinct spot that had landed by him before, was Scott. And finally, as he turned back to Steve he felt the familiar tendrils of Wanda’s magic, that sense of calm washing over him just like before.

He had to blink several times to keep the tears at bay, but they still fell. He knew they shouldn’t be here, but the very fact that they came back for him, made him feel complete and loved and safe.

When Tony was able to really look at Steve, his breath caught at the love that shown in those baby blues. He realized only then, that Steve was dressed in his Captain America uniform, the shield safely strapped to his back. Tony had to bite back a sob. It was an image he never thought he’d see again.

But all too soon, the real world caught up with him. His eyebrows furrowed and the color drained from his face. “What are you all doing, Steve?” he hissed. 

Steve closed the remaining space between them and let his eyes drop to the bruise along Tony’s jaw. His hand went to up to touch the warm skin but, remembering where they were, he let it fall back down onto Tony’s shoulder, his palm warm against his back. “What we have to do, to make things right.”

By now the room had quieted down, though there were people still murmuring. The sight of the Avengers together was a sight to see, and many of the delegates found themselves torn between excitement at seeing the heroes and a duty to their job.

 The team had come out from their spots in the chamber and stood with Steve and Tony on the dais.

“Not really the best tactical plan, is it Captain Rogers?” Ross sneered as he neared the stage.

A delegate from Sweden stood up and said, “If I may, Secretary Ross. I’m sure there are those of us who believe you do not have a say in what happens next.” Murmurs of agreement echoed throughout the hall. Ross turned to the room, disgust written on his face.

“Though these unexpected guests present a new problem, I think it would be best if we voted right now on what should happen to Secretary Ross,” the disdain for the man evident in the delegate’s voice. He turned to meet Tony’s gaze and gave him a slight nod.

Tony scrambled to the podium. “Those in favor of pressing criminal charges against Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross for treason, attempted murder, illegal incarceration, attempted human experimentation, and for acting outside of the Accords, please raise your hands.”

Tony felt Rhodey and Vision come up on his other side, and he held his breath as hands went up all around the room. Once they stopped, he asked Vision to take a count.

“One hundred and one, to sixteen.” 

He did it.

Tony could not believe it. He turned to Steve and felt the ache in his cheeks as he smiled wide at the other man. But before he could do anything, T’Challa rose from his seat on the floor.

“If I may, Mr. Stark. Though the vote shows where we all stand, the formality of actually pressing charges requires documentation,” he held up his hand, “which I already have.” He moved to the front of the room and said, “I will pass it around for all of your signatures, and unless there are any objections,” he signaled to the guards along the stage, “could you please take Mr. Ross into custody?”

Rhodey called out to the guards as they passed, “There’s a cell on the Raft with his name on it, gentlemen.” 

The guards moved forward and dragged a screaming Ross out of the room. “This is not over! You will regret this!”

T’Challa watched as the paper made its way around the room. He cleared his throat and said, “Now the matter falls to us to decide what happens from this point onward. I’d like to schedule a formal vote on ratification in twenty-four hours.” He paused. “Anyone oppose?” The room was silent.

“What about them?” someone called from the back.

T’Challa looked behind him at his friends and gave them a tight lipped smile. “There are still charges against them, but we must remember the information we were presented with today. Mr. Stark has made an excellent case against the charges placed on Captain Rogers and his team,” Tony blushed at the praise, “so I say that when we reconvene we also take the time to decide what will happen next for them.”

He was pleased to see nods from many in the room. “I would like to ask one last thing of you all.” T’Challa raised his chin and spoke with finality. “Let Captain Rogers and his team stay under the watchful eye of myself and Mr. Stark, at his tower in this city.” A low hum started to spread throughout the room. “I will take full responsibility for them.”

Steve and Tony wore mirror images of shock. They did not see that coming. Tony figured that once the delegation saw Steve and the team, they’d throw them in a cell until they came to a decision on the charges. T’Challa was using every ounce of his power to get the group to concede. After another vote, it was decided.

 

They were going home.

At least, for now.

Chapter Text

Once it was decided that the Avengers could go back to the tower, Tony ushered them to the back of the stage, away from prying eyes. T’Challa elected to stay behind at the U.N., so he could field any questions or concerns the delegates might have about the Accords ratification or the team being back.

He understood that the Avengers would want this time together.

Rhodes and Vision waited for the group at the back door, with Vision sending surreptitious glances in Wanda’s direction. Tony caught the moment their eyes met and Wanda’s cheeks tinged pink.

Rhodes had been off to the side when Steve finally made it back there, and once the soldier caught sight of the Colonel, he walked up to him.

“Rhodes, its-”

He was cut off by the right hook to his cheek. The force behind the punch made Steve catch himself on one knee, while Rhodes didn’t even wobble. The team was silent, no one making a move to intervene. The last time Rhodes saw Steve was when he was fighting with Tony at the airport and then later, when he was released from the hospital, Rhodes listened as his best friend broke down, reliving the altercation with Rogers and Barnes in Siberia.

Steve picked his head up and met Rhodes’ gaze head on. “That was a long time coming.” He massaged his cheek.

Rhodes gave him a curt nod. “You bet your ass.” The faceoff lasted a few more moments before Rhodes took a deep breath and stuck his hand out. Steve’s eyes widened and he gave a small nod as he shook Rhodes’ hand. They knew that like the rest of them, it would take time for certain wounds to heal. But both men were okay with that; it was a start.

Rhodes turned to Tony and said, “I told you the next time I saw him...”

Tony ducked his head and massaged the back of his neck as he said, “That you did. I’ll meet you back there.”

Before Rhodes could make it to the door, Sam stepped up to him, the younger man’s face showed his deep personal anguish. “Rhodes, I’m-,” Sam swallowed and tried again. “I’m sorry. About the airport. I shoulda’ caught you.” His voice wavered as he closed his eyes and looked away from the Colonel.

“Hey,” Rhodes placed his hand on Sam’s shoulder and nudged him so they were standing eye to eye. He knew about Sam’s past; knew he was thinking of a time when he had to watch another friend fall from the sky, a friend who didn’t get back up. “None of this ‘should have’ stuff, okay?” Sam went to look away but Rhodey stepped forward. “That wasn’t on you, Sam. It was a combination of things and I’ve had the time to work through them and look,” he spread his arms wide, “I’m okay. I’m better than I was yesterday and tomorrow I’ll be better than today.” Rhodes tilted his head to the side and said, “I could probably still kick your ass in a run, though.” He shrugged. “So... that’s on you.”

Sam laughed and in a move similar to the one that previously occurred with Rhodes and Steve, he extended his hand and the two men shook.

Rhodes patted his friend on the back and turned to the group. “Let’s give these two some time,” he jerked his head in the direction of Tony and Steve, “you can all ride back with me.”

The team followed the pair out, but as they passed Tony, each one would stop to offer a hug (Wanda and surprisingly, Clint) or pat his back (Scott and Sam). Natasha was the last one out.

She stood in front of him, biting her lip. “Tony, I... I just want you to know…that I... Everything you said...” her voice trailed off and he could see she was struggling to find the right words. He was taken back by the unexpected emotion the usually stoic spy was showing.

He stepped forward, closing the gap between them and took her in a tight hug. Her arms wrapped around him easily and Tony could feel the pressure of her fingertips against his back as she held on to him. She tucked her head into the juncture between his neck and shoulder.

“Everything I said was true, Nat.” Her breath tickled his cheek as she sighed. “And I know. Me too,” he whispered into her hair.

As they pulled away, she gave him a quick kiss to the cheek and as she passed Steve, reached out to grab his hand, a reassuring squeeze letting him know she was okay.

Soon, it was just Tony and Steve.

Both men shuffled on their feet for a bit while they waited for the second car.

“Tony, I-”

“Steve-”

They blushed and smiled at one another. With a quick glance around them, Tony moved forward and took Steve’s hand in his, his thumb caressing the soft skin on top. “You look good, Cap.”

Steve blushed again and this time, he let his hand reach out to touch Tony’s face and after a moment, they moved at the same time, both men wrapping one another up in a fierce hug.

“I missed you, Steve,” Tony mumbled into the uniform.

Steve hummed, and ran his hand up and down Tony’s back, inhaling the scent of coffee and metal. “Missed you too, Tony.”

When the car finally pulled up, the two men stepped out of the embrace, but before Tony could get his hand on the door, Steve grabbed his sleeve and pulled him in for a kiss.

Tony was so caught off guard that he stumbled into Steve, but the other man caught him, steadying him. Tony’s eyes closed when he felt soft lips ghost over his and he sighed into the kiss, one hand coming to rest in the soft blonde hair at the base of Steve’s neck, while the other sat possessively on his hip. Steve’s hand held Tony’s head in place, so his tongue could lap against the genius’. 

All too soon, Tony pulled away with a breathy moan. And Steve growled as he brought their mouths back together. He maneuvered them so Tony was caught between Steve’s broad chest and the car, and in retaliation for being thrown around, Tony pushed his hips forward, making sure Steve could feel the hard length of his cock.

It was Steve’s turn to break off for air, letting his forehead rest against Tony’s. “We probably shouldn’t be doing this here.” It sounded as though he swallowed glass and Tony realized he would never tire of getting Steve to sound like that.

“I don’t know,” he said as he ran his hand through Steve’s hair, “I’d be willing to get arrested for public indecency.”

The vibration of Steve’s chuckle danced over Tony’s skin, and he shivered. As much as he would rather keep going, Tony knew they had to get back to the Tower.

“It’s only been a few days, Tony,” the soldier’s voice was filled with awe and wonder.

He knew what Steve was talking about. They saw each a few days ago, but the need to touch and taste and feel was overwhelming once they were finally in front of one another. Tony straightened his suit and said, “Yes and no.” Steve furrowed his brows together, confused. “We both said this,” he gestured between the two of them, “has been there for a while, so we’ve basically starved ourselves of one another for a few years.” His voice was matter of fact but Steve caught sight of the smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

“You’re the genius. Who am I to argue with you.”

Tony laughed as he got in the car.

The two men were quiet as they drove through Midtown, Steve suddenly overcome with a sense of peace knowing he was back in the city and headed home. He was drawn out of his thoughts by the touch of calloused fingers threading with his own. When he looked over at Tony, the man was already staring at him.

“Let’s go home.”

Steve squeezed his hand and gave him a dazzling smile.

Their hands never strayed.

----------------------------------

They were wrapped around one another when the elevator stopped, and once the ping sounded, the two sprang apart like teenagers. Tony ran his hand over his mouth before he started to button up his shirt (how the hell had Steve managed that?), which he did while watching Steve try to smooth down his hair. It was no use. They looked wrecked.

Tony shrugged his shoulders and held his hand out, signaling for Steve to exit first. Steve rolled his eyes but the crinkles at their corners told a different story. He paused only to set the shield down on the floor. Tony followed behind him and at the last second, had to sidestep from running into the soldier’s broad back. As Tony walked around him to see what was wrong, he realized that it was the first time Steve had been back in the tower in months.

There was a slight sheen to his blue eyes and Tony stepped forward, letting his hand run down the length of Steve’s arm until it met his hand, strong fingers coming to grasp Tony’s.

“It has to feel weird. Being here, I mean.”

Steve took a deep breath and let his gaze wander around the room. The couch was still the same black one, the burn mark from one of Clint’s flaming arrows still visible despite the throw pillows, and it still sagged to the left from Thor’s constant claiming of the corner seat. The pictures on the walls remained the same and the game consoles were where he remembered them last, the controller's left on the floor as though the players got up for a break. He looked up and saw the crack in the ceiling from when Natasha fired off a widow’s bite at Sam for stealing her organic pomegranate juice and, as he stepped further into the kitchen where the team was gathered, saw the refrigerator was still covered in his drawings and doodles. Tony made it his mission early on to save all of Steve’s drawings and it didn’t matter if it was done on expensive paper, a napkin, or the back of a lunch receipt: they were all tacked to the fridge under Avengers magnets. Steve took in the sight of his friends, his family, seated around the table and along the countertops, and found that for the first time in months, he was where he belonged. The ever present weight that sat in his chest was gone, and he found that even though their future was yet to be decided, he could breathe easy.

Feeling Tony’s warm presence beside him, he met the engineer’s concerned gaze and tilted his head. There were so many things he wanted to say, but he knew that when he did, he just wanted it to be the two of them.

“No. It feels perfect, Tony.” He pulled the engineer in for a kiss which Tony returned, before the catcalls and whistles caused them to break apart.

Tony opened his mouth but found that he was at a loss for words. Wanda and Clint were seated on the counter, a jar of peanut butter open between them, with Vision standing next to Wanda, no more than a foot separating them. Sam and Rhodey were seated next to one another at the kitchen table, with Scott to Sam’s left and Natasha next to him.

Tony ducked his head and let his hands slide into his pants pockets. After a few moments of deep breathing, he was able to look up at them again and say, “The phrase, “it’s good to see you,” doesn’t quite cut it.” He let out a half laugh, half sob and felt himself grow warm at the sight of their smiles.

He and Steve stepped forward, Steve’s hand a comforting presence at the small of his back and they took the remaining seats at the table.

Tony knocked on the table before reaching for a bottle of water. “What I want to know is when you all decided to come here.”

“We’d been discussing it since you left,” Sam said.

Steve’s eyes grew wide and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

“What?” Natasha asked, “You thought you were the only one who wanted to make a grand entrance?”

Steve shook his head and smiled. “I should have known the second this plan seemed to come together too easily.”

Clint chuckled. “Yea, man. We had this going since Stark stepped on the plane to head back here. The video T’Challa sent only confirmed what we already knew.”

It was Tony’s turn to look confused, so Wanda clarified. “We should have come back with you in the first place.”

Tony shook his head but Scott intervened. “Listen, I don’t know you as well as these guys,” he waved in the general direction of the team, “but I know that what you’ve done is amazing, and a little bat shit crazy, Stark. I mean, you took on the United Nations, man.” Scott let out a low whistle. “And I’ve watched all these weirdos worry about you from the moment we made it to Wakanda. So all this,” he raised his brow, “was always going to be the end game.” His voice lost its lightness when he added, “We’re stronger together.”

Tony snorted and turned to Steve, “You sure know how to pick em’.”  Then his eyes grew wide. “Wait, if this was all planned, the last time I spoke to you…” he let the question hang in the air.

Steve scrunched his face and his hand came to rest on the back of his neck. “I may have been fibbing about the mountain climbing. We were at the airport. You heard the engines.”

Tony had to put his hand to his mouth to stifle the laugh. “Well, shit. That’s too good. And I believed you.”

Steve shrugged. “You were exhausted. It worked in our favor. If you knew, it would have been impossible to pull off-”

“Hey! I can keep a secret!”

“-and it would have looked like you were in on it.” Steve’s face was smug when that shut Tony up.

There was light laughter heard around the room.

“So, Tones...what happens next?”

Tony sighed and unconsciously leaned closer to Steve. “We already got the biggest obstacle out of the way,” his hand splayed out across the kitchen table, “Ross.”

Clint’s eyes had a malicious glint to them. “I wish I could be there when they lock him in his cell.”

Next to him, Wanda’s eyes glowed red. “Not as much as I do.”

“He’s there and he’s never getting out. Stark had more than enough evidence to put Ross away for life,” Sam said as he reached for a water bottle.

Natasha shifted in her seat. “Project Hyde was what you wanted to keep from us, wasn’t it?”

Tony licked his lips and nodded. “I found out about it a day after I landed in Wakanda. I knew that I had to hold on to it for exactly the right moment.”

“It would have looked like blackmail if you used it any earlier,” Natasha commented. Ever the spy.

“Exactly. This way, I made my case for ratification and for you guys. Against Ross...it was just icing on the cake for us.” Tony got up and opened the fridge, taking out some sandwiches and fruit. The team had to be hungry. “I didn’t think he had it in him to reach for human experimentation, but when I saw all of that proof and the correspondence…” he trailed off and set the food on the table, most of them went for it straight away. “I couldn’t let that happen, even if we were back where we were months ago. I would never let that happen.”

“When you said Banner helped, he gave you Blonsky, didn’t he,” Clint asked around a mouthful of ham and cheese.

Tony nodded and sat back down. “He emailed me copies of Blonsky’s personal writings, the videos of their fights, correspondence between Ross and Blonsky, the information on the gamma gun and the serum. I don’t know how he got some of them, but I do know there was enough hostility and animosity between them to spur Bruce to find what he would need to eventually put Ross away.” The look in his eye softened and he said, “If it weren’t for Bruce, I don’t think we would have been able to fully get Ross out of the picture. He helped us and in doing so risked his own safety.”

“You still don’t know where he is?”

He looked to Natasha and gave her a small shake of his head.

She sucked her lips in tight and looked down at her plate.

Sam cleared his throat and asked, “What happens with ratification? And with us?”

Tony rubbed his hands together and pushed his plate away. He jumped when he felt Steve’s hand come to rest on his leg. “Um,” he took a breath, “well, they’re all going to vote on ratification for the Accords tomorrow and we need a majority in order for that to go through. The last time we checked, we had about sixty percent.” They looked pleased at that and many of them let out a long breath. “And Barnes’ is still getting pardoned. Despite everything, that has not changed.” There was a crinkle between his eyes as he turned to Steve. “Speaking of which, how is he doing?”

Steve leaned back in his chair, his hand sliding up a little higher on Tony’s thigh as he moved.

Tony most certainly did NOT squeak.

“He’s still under, but they’ve been able to make some strides using cognitive recalibration. They’re sending impulses to his neurons and images to counteract the words used to get him in, -”

“Crazy assassin mode?”

Steve gave Clint an exasperated sigh and narrowed his eyes.

The archer held up his hands. “Well...I’m not entirely wrong.”

Natasha threw an apple at his face. Which he caught.

“That’s great, Steve.” There was no sign of anger in his tone, and it made Steve release a breath he didn’t even know he was holding. “Can they take him out of cryo yet?”

Steve bit his lip. “It may still be some time. They're keeping me posted.” 

By the other man’s tone, Tony knew that for right now, he needed to let the subject of Barnes rest. But, that didn't mean he wouldn’t bring it up again at a later date. He turned back to the conversation. “As for you guys, I was able to prove the absurdity of most of those charges, but we still have to see. They’re going to want to blame someone. And if you all want to go back on active duty; active duty that is accepted by the world, people have to understand what went on here, how things are changing and they’ll want to know where you stand.”

He stretched his legs out in front of him and he felt Steve squeeze his thigh. Tony swallowed and caught Steve’s eyes track the bob of his Adam’s apple.

Rhodey knocked on the table, breaking everyone out of their thoughts. He stood up, his grip tight on the edge of the table and said, “We can take a crack at all of those questions and concerns after we know what the U.N.’s decision is. There’s no sense in worrying about it now, when in,” he looked at his watch, “twenty-one more hours we’ll know. And I have to say that the simple fact that they let you come back here and didn’t arrest you on sight, are things that work in your favor.” Rhodey smirked and pushed his chair in. “I’m going to call it a night.” He turned back around and leaned against the wall as he said, “It is good to have you home.”

He left to a chorus of goodnights.

It was only a few minutes later, that the room started to thin out. Natasha and Clint went to the gym to work off some of their restless energy, while Vision and Wanda left together, although where to, Tony didn’t know. Scott went up to one of the guest floors, talking about a shower and at least eighteen hours of sleep. Sam was the last one in the kitchen and as he got up, he gave the two men a sly smile.

“I know that none of us have openly talked about...,” he waved his hand between the two men his gaze catching on Steve’s hand on Tony’s thigh, “but I want you to know that we are all totally on board with this.”

Steve flushed a bright pink and Tony looked as though he swallowed a lemon.

Sam laughed. “Despite how emotionally stunted we may seem; we care about you. A lot. And after everything that has gone on, you two deserve to be happy.” He nodded at them and went to leave but stopped just outside the kitchen, his head peeking around the archway. “Oh, and Tony? Take it easy on the old man, would you?” He winked and his laughter was heard well after the elevator doors closed on him.

“You know, I never wanted him. ‘One more,’ you said.” Tony shook his head and let his hand run down Steve’s back. “Are you going to head up to your room or…” He let the question hang out in the open, simultaneously excited and scared for Steve’s answer.

Steve picked his head up from where it was resting on the table and gave Tony a soft, small smile. “I was kind of hoping I could sleep with you.” He could feel the heat in his cheeks when he realized what he said and watched as Tony’s eyes widened. “I mean, sleep, sleep. Like actually rest...ugh.” He ran his hand over his eyes.

Tony stood up next to him and held out his hand. At Steve’s questioning glance he said, “Then let’s go to sleep, Steve.” His voice was warm and inviting and Steve slipped his hand into the genius’. The ride up to the pent house was quiet, the two of them stood against the back wall of the elevator, standing flush against one another, enjoying the heat and weight of one another’s body’s.  

Once they made it onto Tony’s floor, the engineer found he couldn’t control his heart rate. His palms had started to sweat and he could feel the goosebumps erupt on his skin as he listened to Steve’s soft breathing just behind him. Tony opened the door to his bedroom and the room was filled with soft gold light. He stepped inside and started to take off his suit jacket, his shirt halfway undone when he stopped and realized Steve didn’t follow him in.

“You alright?”

Steve was leaning against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest, eyes tracking Tony’s movements. “I was enjoying the show.”

It was Tony’s turn to blush, his hands falling to his sides. Steve walked up to him, still in his Cap uniform, and took him in a chaste kiss. Tony’s eyes immediately closed and his hands came to rest on Steve’s hips. When they pulled away, Steve brushed his nose against Tony’s. “I could really use a shower.”

Tony raised his eyebrows and gave a lecherous smile. “Is than an,” he stopped to yawn, “an invitation?”

Steve chuckled and went to place another kiss on Tony’s mouth, then his jaw and down along his neck. He stopped only when he heard Tony let out another yawn.

“I think you should get some sleep, Tony.”

The billionaire gave a wonderful impression of a three-year-old pouting, but the effect was disrupted by another yawn. “M’not tired, Steve.”

Steve massaged the base of his skull and said, “Sure.” He could see Tony’s eyes starting to get heavy, his rapid blinks a way to stave off sleep. Steve shook his head. Of course Tony would be exhausted. All of his work these last few days was finally catching up with him.  He guided the other man over to the bed and took his shirt off only stopping when his hands went for Tony’s belt.

“Taking advantage of an old man, Rogers?”

“I really don’t know how to answer that, considering I’m older than you, Shellhead.”

Tony shook his head as he toed off his shoes and pulled his pants down. “It’s too much to figure out right now.”

Steve’s eyes had zeroed in on Tony’s muscular physique, paying close attention to the strip of dark hair that trailed down into his boxers, his eyes stopping on the front of the black material where he could tell that even in this state, Tony was semi hard. 

Steve bit his lip to keep the groan at bay and to keep his hands busy, he pulled back the midnight blue covers to Tony’s ridiculous King sized bed and ushered the man into it. “Sleep, Tony. I’ll be right back.”

The genius was asleep before Steve even made it into the shower.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There was someone in his bed.

And he was currently the little spoon.

Tony blinked his eyes and licked his lips, his feet moving over the cool sheets. He could see soft rays of golden light spilling into the room, and knew that it was later than he was used to waking up. Thinking on it, last night might have been the best night of sleep he’d had in over a decade (going under for surgery, not included).  Tony was about to close his eyes when in an instant, the memories came flooding back to him: his speech at the U.N., Steve and the team showing up, everyone coming back to the tower, and Steve putting him to bed.

Tony squeezed his eyes shut and let out a long breath. He had Steve back home and in his bedroom and he couldn’t even keep his eyes open. Tony let out a small groan and shifted in bed, the movement caused Steve’s arms to tighten around Tony’s bare stomach. A move that ignited a fire in his belly. Tony pressed back ever so slightly and found that not only was Steve shirtless, but he was sporting what felt like a very impressive morning erection.

Tony had to squeeze his thighs together to make the ache go away, but in doing so, sent his ass back into Steve. The hand that curled around Tony’s side clenched against his ribs and he felt Steve’s moan reverberate through his back. “Don’t.”

Tony’s eyes fluttered closed at the order and he bit his lip. Following’s not really my style. He arched his back like a cat, and once he made contact with Steve’s hard length, lightly rubbed against him.

“Tony.” Steve moaned into the brunette’s neck, the name both a warning and a benediction.  His warm breath raised goosebumps over Tony’s heated skin, and Tony let out a small yelp when he felt Steve bite his neck, then soothe the skin with his tongue.

In a form of retaliation, Tony pressed himself flush against Steve, the soldier’s dick rubbing against the cleft of Tony’s clothed ass. The moan that escaped Steve’s mouth was scandalous and the action caused him to loosen his grip; Tony taking it as an opportunity to turn around to face him. The engineer’s breath caught in his throat when he was greeted with the sight of Steve’s tousled blonde hair, the beads of sweat along his brow, the way his lips were open as he panted and the unearthly blue of his eyes. The man was absolutely beautiful.  Tony watched as Steve blinked and found that he could not look away from the way the light blonde eyelashes kissed his cheekbones. His fingers itched to trace them, but when Steve opened his eyes, Tony was distracted by the way the blue was practically black, and he surged forward to capture Steve in a kiss.

At first there was nothing but breathy moans and wandering hands. And what expert hands Steve Rogers had.

As the kiss went on, Steve let his fingers roam over the scars in the center of Tony’s chest, his light touches made the sensitive skin come alive. And to add to the fire, Steve bent down to lap his tongue against one of Tony’s nipples, while the other tweaked it’s twin. Tony felt debauched and alive; oh so alive.

He placed his knee between Steve’s legs and was pleased to feel a damp patch along the other man’s boxers. With Steve’s strong thigh between Tony’s legs, the engineer began to roll himself over the taut muscle, his moans lost in blonde locks.

Never one to be left out, Tony discovered a particularly intriguing spot just above the waistline of Steve’s boxers where he could feel the dip of his hipbone. With every swipe of his finger, Steve’s hips would rise up urging him to go inside. Tony smiled against Steve’s red lips and pulled away so he could trail wet kisses along the thick muscles of his neck.

Steve on the other hand was doing everything he could to abate the throbbing of his dick. He kept undulating against Tony and was pleased to hear whimpers escape the other man’s lips when their bodies came into contact. Steve worked his mouth back up to Tony’s jaw and let his hand palm the front of Tony’s boxers, the heat from his cock, and the strangled noises Tony made, spurred him on. He wasn’t the only one that was too far gone, but his thought was interrupted when he felt Tony bite down hard on his neck and then just as quickly swipe his tongue over it while sucking Steve’s pale skin into his mouth.

The thought that Tony was trying to mark him ignited something primal and raw in Steve. He knew that within a few hours, any marks left by Tony would be gone, but any love bites Steve left on the man would be there for a few days. With an evil glint in his eye, Steve flipped Tony onto his back and settled between his thighs. Tony’s eyes were wide with lust and Steve mirrored his earlier movements, his hand in his hair keeping Tony in place. The thought of leaving him with reminders of their coupling almost made Steve come right there. It shouldn’t turn him on to know that Tony would be the more battered of the two of them, but something animalistic awoke in him; this need to let the world know that Tony was his. He let his free hand rest on Tony’s hip, pulling the material of his shorts down so he could see the bone of his hip, and the supple flesh of his inner thigh. Steve leaned forward and bit Tony’s hip, his mouth trailing lower to suck on the tense muscle. The pressure wasn’t enough to break the skin but it would definitely leave a mark for days to come.

“Fuck, Steve,” Tony panted, his hips rising, hoping to cause some friction. He was stopped by Steve’s hand on his hips, and from the way Tony’s eyes widened, he knew the grip was stronger than anticipated. His dick twitched at knowing there would be bruises later.

He nipped at Tony’s lips. “Mine,” he growled.

Steve released his hold on Tony’s hair and hip only when he felt the engineer’s calloused fingers stroke him through the cotton of his boxers. His head fell forward and came to rest on Tony’s chest. He could feel the rapid beating of Tony’s heart against his forehead and it helped him to focus and not end this too soon.

“Tony.” It was a warning. But as soon as he felt the vibrations of Tony’s chuckle, he knew he was in trouble.

Tony’s free hand pushed Steve’s head up, the two men’s gazes locked on one another. There was no facade here, in this moment. Tony was looking at him with such open intensity and something else that he wasn’t quite ready to name. The lines at the corner of his eyes crinkled as he smiled, his lips were open and inviting and in every touch and heated breath Steve knew that everything they had been through, was to lead them to this moment and everything that would come after.  But before he could speak, Tony had other plans.  With his hand still rubbing Steve, the other man’s attention focused elsewhere, Tony was able to flip Steve onto his back, catching him off guard. He went to speak but all he could manage was a strangled “Uh,” as Tony increased the pressure on his erection.

Tony seated himself in between Steve’s legs and he moved forward, placing a tender kiss in the middle of Steve’s chest, above the spot where the star would sit.

“Pick up for me, Steve.” The words a struggle to get out. Steve was pleased to hear that Tony was as wrecked as he was. His hips lifted and Tony stopped his ministrations to get the boxers off of the soldier.

When Tony peered back up, he was momentarily stunned at the sight of a naked Steve Rogers. He sat back on his legs, his hands itching to trail across the expanse of the long lines and curves that Steve presented to him right now. His mouth watered at the sight of Steve’s swollen lips and the way his leaking cock, hard and red, rested against his thigh.

He blinked rapidly and his mouth opened and closed while his mind tried to form a coherent response. “The only thing that comes to mind is ‘God Bless America’.”

An unabashed laugh escaped from between Steve’s lips and his head fell back onto the pillow behind him.  When he opened his eyes, Tony was in the same place. “Tony.” Once brown eyes were almost blown black when they met his blue ones. “You’re too far away.”

Tony’s head fell forward and he let out a breathy “fuck”. He complied, and once he leaned forward and captured Steve’s lips in a bruising kiss, skin met skin, causing both men to groan, and Tony could feel Steve’s hand travel to the waistband of his boxers, and just the barest of hints that he dipped his strong fingers inside.

Tony rolled his hips forward in an attempt to get Steve’s hand further down but the action also pressed both men together. Steve hissed as the feel of cool cotton rubbed against his heated skin. The sound spurred Tony into action and he kissed his way down the length of Steve’s body, placing feather light kisses on the inside of each thigh. Every time he would move over Steve’s dick he would blow air across the tip, the shudder in Steve’s thighs let him know the man was on edge. It was unbearable, the way Tony wanted Steve to touch him, to claim him, but right now, the sounds Steve was making were calling Tony to taste and touch.

“God, you’re fucking beautiful.” Tony whispered it and before Steve could even respond, the engineer had taken him into his mouth.

“Oh, Go-, -” his hips rose up to meet each bob of Tony’s head and his hands went back into Tony’s sweat slicked hair. “Fuck, Tony.” The engineer faltered a bit at hearing Steve curse, and if it were possible, he felt himself grow harder at the sound.

Steve looked down and the sight of his cock buried in the wet depths of Tony’s mouth almost had him coming right there. Tony must have felt Steve’s eyes on him because he chose that moment to look up. “Don’t stop. Please don’t stop,” Steve said through clenched teeth. 

Tony came off of him with a ‘pop’, and began stroking him, rubbing the precum along the shaft. “Steve? You okay, Steve?” His voice was raw and the soldier’s hips bucked forward knowing that Tony’s voice sounded like that because he just had Steve’s dick in his mouth. His eyes closed and he began fisting the sheets.

He licked his dry lips and swallowed, his throat dry. “Never better.”

Tony’s mouth was hot against his ear. “Let’s try for “the best,” shall we?” His warm tongue came out and licked Steve’s earlobe, and he was once again swallowing Steve. Tony’s tongue ran the length of his dick, giving the slightest of flicks to the tip, the movement causing the usually composed soldier to move his head back and forth and writhe along the bed. Tony took this as a good sign and ran his tongue along the soft sack at the base of his cock, while his finger stroked the barge of skin leading to his backside.

“Tony, please. Please-”

The whimpering and cries of his name had him pushing his boxers down to his knees as he surged up to hover over Steve. He placed his full weight on top of Steve, knowing full well the man could take it. He rubbed his thumb along the tip of both their dicks, spreading the cum along the shafts. His expertly took both of them in hand and started to jerk them off.  He knew Steve was close (as was he), and the sounds of Steve’s moans combining with the slick slide of skin and cum brought them quickly to the edge.

Steve came with Tony’s name on his lips and he fell back with a breathless sigh.

Tony followed shortly after, coming across his hand, stripes of white landing on Steve’s thighs as well. His head fell forward to rest against Steve’s shoulder, willing his breath to calm down. Seeing as how there were no tissues on hand, he wiped his mess off onto the sheets (he’d throw them in the wash later). Tony went to sit up but Steve (who was far too agile for someone who just orgasmed), wrapped his fingers around Tony’s wrist and pulled him on top of Steve’s naked body.

“Steve, you’re all sticky!”

He wriggled on top of the naked man but stopped once Steve’s hands came to rest on his waist, pinning him in place. “Don’t move.”

Tony raised an eyebrow and peered down between them. His eyes widened at the sight of Steve’s dick starting to grow hard again. He let his head fall back down onto Steve’s chest and said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Steve rubbed the base of Tony’s neck and the two men sat in comfortable silence.

“We should have done that a while ago.”

Tony chuckled against Steve and placed a swift kiss over his heart. “I won’t argue with you there.”

Steve ran his hands up and down Tony’s back, and with each pass, his hands strayed farther down Tony’s back side. Tony could feel Steve hard against his thigh.

“Tony, I want you to know that for me, nothing has changed.”

Tony pushed himself up to leaned on Steve’s chest, so he could see him. He tilted his head and arched his eyebrow. “Well, sorry Cap, but,” he waved to their current state of undress, “a lot has changed.”

Steve sighed and rolled his eyes, his fingers brushing against Tony’s side eliciting a high pitched yelp. “I meant about my,” he stopped himself and looked away, a slight blush on his cheeks, “my feelings for you. That hasn’t changed.”

Tony picked himself up and let his mouth close over warm, dry lips and once Steve responded, Tony’s tongue dipped into the cavern of his mouth, and began to stroke Steve’s own tongue.  Tony’s hand came to rest on top of Steve’s rapidly beating heart and as he pulled away he whispered, “It’s the same for me, Steve.”

He placed his head back on Steve’s chest and sighed. “I didn’t know what would happen after I left Wakanda. It was only once I was back here that I realized I left my heart with you.” Tony stopped talking and pushed himself off of Steve. He came to sit next to the blonde, the sheets pooling around his waist, and as he struggled to find the right words, Steve took his hand. “I realized that there was nowhere else I wanted to be except by your side.”

The corner of Steve’s mouth lifted in a smile. “Well then I guess it’s only fair I tell you that you carried mine with you onto that plane,” Steve said, his voice filled with affection. “And great minds think alike because there’s nowhere else I want to be either.”

Tony scrunched his face and then just as quickly his eyes widened. He chuckled and placed a kiss onto Steve’s nose. “Can we start our three-day vacation now, Winghead?”

Steve surged forward and placed a quick kiss to Tony’s nose. “As much as I would love to,” he got out of bed and Tony was reminded of Steve’s impressive refractory period, “we have to get ready for this evening.”

Tony groaned and flopped back onto the pillows. “That’s what I get for dating Captain America. Always a stickler for the rules.”

He heard Steve chuckle from inside the bathroom, the hiss as the shower was turned on. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t use our time wisely before then.”

Tony leapt out of bed.

It wasn’t until two showers later that they were able to leave the confines of Tony’s room.

Chapter Text


It wasn’t until two showers later that they were able to leave the confines of Tony’s room.

“I’m going to peek in on Rhodey. You gonna check on the kids?”  

Steve chuckled as the elevator came to a stop on what was now designated as “Rhodey’s floor”. Tony had designed for all of the Colonel’s rehabilitation needs. It was packed with treadmills, a walking path with barres on either side, a stationary bike, and weight lifting machines. But Tony’s favorite part was that one whole the length of the room was nothing but open windows, so Rhodey didn’t feel confined. Plus, the design had the added bonus that Rhodey would be able to see the sky and the beautiful city below it.  He’d fly over it soon; Tony was sure about that.

Steve nodded and stepped forward, taking Tony in a hug, his finger tickling his side. “I’m gonna head down and see Nat and Sam.” Steve rested his chin on the top of Tony’s head. “Friday, where are they?”

The soft Irish voice filled the small space. “Both of them are in the gym, Captain Rogers.”

Steve smiled. “Then that’s where I’ll be.” He gave Tony a quick but dirty kiss, and once it finished, Steve hopped out of the elevator just as the doors started to close.

“That’s cold, Rogers!”

Steve winked and the doors shut.

-------------------------------

Since his defrosting, Steve has fought an army of aliens and a legion of evil robots, and he figured there weren’t many things that could still surprise or put him in awe- -  except for the graceful, lethalness of Natasha Romanoff.

Steve snuck in the gym through the back entrance, and he was immediately greeted with the sight of Sam and Natasha in the center of the ring. Clint and Scott were seated in the bleachers, the two were sharing a jumbo bag of microwave popcorn.

The two fighters must have been at it for some time because both were covered in a sheen of sweat, Nat’s hair had come loose from the confines of her ponytail and Sam was already sporting a bruise to his left temple.

Natasha was watching Sam with the eyes of a predator, tracking his moves and waiting for the perfect time to strike. Steve knew that look well (he has trained with her for over four years). He’s gotten to know the nuances of her fighting techniques, the tricks she uses to make her opponent focus on one thing and miss the incoming punch, or for them to fall into a false sense of security.

The latter was happening to Sam right now.

From where Steve stood, it looked as though Natasha was favoring her right side, which meant that from Sam’s point of view, his hits should stay in that area. He moved forward and stepped on her right foot, the move causing Natasha to jump back which gave Sam the chance to aim for her right hip. But before he could even get his arm lined up for the punch, Natasha used the momentum of her body moving out of the way, to propel her left leg into Sam’s lower back.

The burst of air that left his body was loud enough for Steve to hear it clear across the gym, and before Sam could even straighten up, Natasha swiped his feet out from under him and had him pinned to the mat.

Clint and Scott hollered, popcorn falling to the floor.

Sam let his head fall back to the mat and closed his eyes. “I don’t know why I ever agree to these things.”

Natasha patted his cheek in an adoring, yet terrifying manner. “It’s sweet you think you’ll win.” She got off of him, the limp she had been sporting was gone, and held out her hand. “It speaks to your character.”

He rolled his eyes and let her help him to his feet. “Anything to add, Cap?” His eyebrow raised, questioning Steve’s response to the nickname. Steve shook his head then rolled his eyes at Sam’s obvious once over. Sam glanced at the clock. “You’re up later than usual,” he waggled his eyebrows and turned to Nat. “Right? I mean, 11:34,” he let out a long whistle, “he’s usually run the length of Manhattan by now, -”

“-helped at least six old ladies cross the street,” Natasha chimed in.

“-saved a kitten or two from a tree,” Clint said through a mouthful of popcorn.

Steve closed his eyes and let his head fall forward, shaking it slightly. They were ridiculous, but he couldn’t hold the laughter back. After a few moments, Natasha came up behind him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “I’m guessing you must have been pretty exhausted from last night…” she let the thought trail off and she raised a perfectly sculpted brow.

Sam chuckled behind her. “Or was it this morning?”

Steve threw his hands in the air. “Alright. Really? This is what we’re gonna talk about and not the fact that Sam still can’t get Nat off her feet?”

“Ohhh’s” were heard from Scott and Clint. Steve shook his head; he really has to separate those two. “I mean, maybe you just want to see how it’s really done…”

“Oh, I see. Ok,” Sam grabbed a clean towel and wiped his face down, “it’s gonna be like that.” He pointed to Natasha who walked back to the middle of the ring. “By all means, old man, go for it.”

Steve took off his shoes and stepped up to Natasha. She was rolling her shoulders and stretching the muscles in her neck when she said, “Let’s give ‘em a show, Cap.”

He clapped his hands together and got into a fighting stance. “Whenever you’re ready, Widow.”

She leapt forward.

-------------------------

When Tony stepped out onto Rhodey’s floor, he found his friend leaning against the thick plated glass, staring out at the city, the sky a never ending blanket of blue. He let his hip reset against the glass, his hands in his pants pockets. The two sat in companionable silence.

Rhodey spoke first. “I didn't see you having any trouble walking, so…” he turned to Tony, the corner of his mouth turned up.

Tony’s eyes got wide and he felt the blush creep up his neck. He laughed as his head fell forward to rest against the cool glass. “I’m pretty sure that if I did that once, I wouldn’t leave my bed until I hit double digits.”

It was Rhodey’s turn to laugh and with a quick shake of his head, he turned away from the window and headed towards the sofa that sat against the far wall. Tony walked behind him, noting the way Rhodey’s back was straight, shoulders pulled down and relaxed, his gait smooth and sure. Tony felt such love and happiness at the sight of his friend making real progress. Rhodey still had leg braces on but they were thin and light enough to go under his clothes; looking at him right now, you would never know he was wearing them, or that the diagnosis, when they first heard it, had been dire.

The two sat on the couch, their bodies turned towards one another.

“Do I need to have the talk, -”

“Really? Is this where we are right now?” Tony let his head fall back. “You did punch the guy, Rhodey, I’m pretty sure he knows what’s next if this doesn’t work out.” It was meant as a joke but Rhodes picked up on the uncertainty.

He reached across and placed his hand on Tony’s knee. “Don’t do that, Tones. I think by now, you’ve both shown what you’re willing to do for the other.” Tony lifted his head up, met Rhode’s gaze and then looked away. “You crossed an ocean for each other, you’ve battled the U.N. and he showed complete disregard for his own safety to come and be here for you.” Rhodey fell back into the cushions and ran a hand over his head. “Damn, you guys are assholes.” 

Nothing could be heard except the ticking of the clock but soon, Rhodey heard what sounded like, bubbles being blown. When he picked his head up and looked at Tony, he saw the other man stifling his laughs by covering his mouth and nose. The sound was Tony snorting into his palms.

“Tones…” He tried to sound serious but the more Tony made the sounds the less successful he was. Soon enough, the two men were laughing out loud, tears streaming down their faces.

Once they were able to get a hold of themselves, Tony said, “I am an asshole, Rhodey. And you’re right, I need to stop thinking of the ways this might fail.”

Rhodes raised his eyebrows and his mouth turned up in a smile.

“We’ve both shown what we’re willing to do not just for this team, but for each other. It’s just so different from Pepper.” He raised his shoulders then let them fall.

“Of course it is, Tones. Pepper is fantastic and she did love you. But Steve,” he shook his head, “Steve gets you in ways that I don’t think anyone else can or will.” Tony’s eyes widened and Rhodey added, “present company included.”

 “That’s was makes it simultaneously scary and exciting. Being with Steve is like,” his eyes searched the ceiling for the word and when he finally answered, it was with a smile, “it’s like flying. But better.” He took in a deep breath. “I guess,” he rubbed the back of his neck, “I just never thought I could have everything.” He had been staring at his hands in his lap, but soon met Rhodey’s stare. “SI is doing well, Pepper and I are friends, you’re fucking fantastic, you don’t even need the braces; the team is home and safe, and Steve…Steve is wonderful.” He scratched the bridge of his nose. “It's going to take some getting used to but I like it.” He ducked his head and added, “plus, the wake up I got this morning will definitely make the transition easier.”

Rhodey’s eyes went wide and then the two men burst out laughing.

It was a few minutes until they had calmed down and caught their breath, that Tony said, “Steve talked to me about Barnes.”

Rhodey stretched his legs out in front of him and gave a short “huh”. He scratched his leg. “How’d that go?”

Tony let his head fall back against the couch and closed his eyes. “Better than I expected. It still hurts, and I told him that. He understands.” Rhodey was quiet. So Tony went on. “They’re doing a lot of work on neurological impulses, like,” he waved his hands around and opened his eyes, “letting him listen to phrases that would counteract the Hydra list, or words that would evoke familiar and soothing memories. There’s nano technology involved too so they’re using EMP’s to remove what they can.” Tony sat up straight, “those Wakandans know what they’re doing.”

Rhodey nodded, “You do, too. T’Challa told me you spoke to him about Barnes’ PTSD.”

Tony nodded. “I did, because it’s his brain, Rhodey. You can’t just fix it with wires, as much as I’d like to.” They both knew he was referring to BARF. Tony and Rhodes were glad he stopped messing with the technology. “I talked to Steve about that too, and he agreed that Barnes would need sessions to talk through what he did and work through those feelings.” Tony stood up and placed his hand on one of the walking barres. “I do want him to get better, Rhodey. He deserves that. And as for me and Steve,” he shrugged his shoulders and smiled, “we needed to have that conversation. I’m glad we did.”

Rhodey whistled. “Look at you being an adult.”

Tony gave him a look that read, “are you sure about that?” And then shouted, “wanna see the khckey Steve gave me?”

Why are you unbuttoning your pants, Tones?”

Tony’s laughter could be heard through the floor below them.

----------------------------------------

The rest of the afternoon passed in a flurry of activity. Steve and Natasha finished their sparring (she won and Sam refused to let Steve live it down), and Scott called his daughter while Clint and Wanda played video games, with Vision looking on. Later that afternoon, Sam and Steve went down to Tony’s workshop to see if he wanted to join them for lunch and after some prodding (from Sam), the engineer acquiesced. Tony found that he really did like the young man, and they had quite a bit in common. Sam was incredibly bright and was eager to learn what he could about the Iron Man armor and even more about his own. It wasn’t until Tony felt a kick against his foot that he realized he and Sam had monopolized most of the conversation.

“I like this kid,” Tony said, as he waved his thumb in Sam’s direction.

“You’re not too bad yourself, Tony.” Sam winked at him. “I’m gonna head up, I’ll see you guys later.”

Tony leaned against the couch and tilted his head to better look at Steve. “He’s a great friend. I’m glad you’ve got him, Steve.”

“He’s got me too, Tony.” Steve shrugged, “He’s got all of us. That’s how this team thing works.”

He sidled up to Tony and placed his hand along the back of Tony’s neck, his fingers gently massaged the muscles there.

Tony hummed. “Well, since you’re an expert, could you explain how this,” he gestured between them, “works?” He raised an eyebrow and smirked.

“Let me show you,” Steve whispered and he closed the distance between them.

They made out like teenagers until Friday reminded them that they needed to get ready.

-------------------------------------

The Avengers agreed that they would reconvene for a group meeting an hour before they were set to leave, which is why at 3pm, they found themselves back in the kitchen.

“T’Challa is already at the U.N., he’s going to be conducting the votes tonight. He’s heard rumors that they’re going to ask you to speak.” There were looks of surprise, worry and confusion on the team's faces.

“Why would they want us to speak?” Wanda asked.

Tony shrugged and shifted in his seat. “They may ask why you chose to go against the Accords, or why you shouldn’t be held accountable for certain actions.” He licked his lips then said, “I do think it would mean a great deal if Steve spoke first.”

The room was quiet as all eyes turned to the Captain.

“Steve, they’re going to, -”

“They’re going to need someone to step up and take responsibility, Nat.”

They stared at one another. Natasha took a deep breath in, ran her tongue over her lips and leaned forward on the exhale. “If anything, we should be the ones to speak.”

Rhodes cleared his throat. “I have to agree with Steve on this one.” He rolled his eyes at Tony’s shocked expression. “He testimony would hold more weight if he answered their questions and made a statement first.”

“It’s not right, man.” All eyes turned to Clint. He was once again on the countertop, back against the cabinets, arrow twirling across his fingers. “I get that Steve is our Cap,” Steve blushed at the use of the word “our,” “but this wasn’t just on him, Rhodes.” He clenched his teeth and set the arrow down. “When you came to Wakanda,” he was looking pointedly at Tony, “you reminded us that we all made choices on this one. And if we let Steve speak first, we’re not owning up to what we did.” He pounded his fist into his hand. “I won’t let anyone take the blame for what I did.”

“It’s not that, Clint, -”

“He’s not wrong, Steve.”

Steve’s eyes widened at Wanda.

“He’s not. We made our choices and in keeping with that it’s our choice to not let you take the brunt of this.”

Sam nodded his head. “We fought against the Accords because it was something we believed in. If they ask us,” he waved his arms around the room encompassing the Avengers, “questions about our reasoning, then we’re going to answer.”

Steve sighed and Tony could hear the weight of the world in that one breath. “I wouldn’t want to take that from any of you.” He pressed the back of his hand to his mouth and looked down at the table. “But you have to know that if I can lessen what will happen, -”

“That’s what they’re all getting at, Rogers.” Natasha’s voice cut in. “We know that’s what you’re thinking about, but you’re forgetting one very important thing.”

He picked his head up and there was a crinkle in the skin between his brows.

Natasha placed her small hand over his. “We’re a team. It’s not one of us, it’s all of us.” She let her eyes roam around the room and Steve followed her gaze. “We do this together.”

Tony leaned over to him, his chest against Steve’s side and murmured, “C’mon. You knew that was coming.”

Steve looked at Tony over his shoulder and gave him a smirk and when he turned back, he placed his free hand over Natasha’s, while the corner of his mouth lifted up. “Together.”

The ride to the U.N. was a quiet one, each Avenger thinking over what questions they could be asked and what their responses would be. Clint was especially antsy, his leg kept shaking and with the cramped space, it was also shaking Nat.

“Clint, if you don’t stop, I’m going to stab you.” When normal people use a phrase like that, it’s usually said in jest but when Natasha said it, you listened. The jiggling stopped.

Once inside the atrium, they noticed that there was an increase in security, most likely from the unsettling knowledge that the team was able to blend in with no one the wiser.

On the car ride over, T’Challa texted Tony that all of the delegates were present and they were ready to move forward with these next steps. He also shared some information about Ross’ transfer to the Raft and the inquiries being made about his open position in Washington. There were some whispers about Tony taking the position, but he had bigger things to worry about than ridiculous job offers.

The soft hum of chatter could be heard out in the hall but once Tony pulled the door opened, it ceased. All eyes were on the nine individuals walking up to the stage. This time, along with the podium, there was a half-moon shaped table and six chairs. T’Challa was waiting for them behind the podium and nodded to the group, gesturing at the seats.

Tony, Rhodey and Vision sat in seats just to the right of T’Challa while the team was to his left, and Tony had a perfect view of Steve from where he sat.  

“Good evening. I would like to start by thanking everyone for agreeing to meet tonight and finally finish this.” T’Challa’s voice was strong and steady his hands light and relaxed in front of him. He glanced over at Steve and the team and said, “Before we begin with our questions, I’d like to first take a vote on the ratification of the Accords.”

There were nods around the room.

Tony gasped when he realized they were going to vote first. His heart started to race and he felt lightheaded and dizzy. Everything they had been through, all the blood, sweat, tears of their fighting, and then the hours spent together in Wakanda repairing those broken bridges and talking about positive change; it would all come down to this vote.

Now, because this is considered international law, the process was a bit more in depth than the votes on Barnes’ and Ross. The delegates have to step forward and state their country and whether they are for ratification or not, and the vote must have seventy-five percent of the delegates in agreement (which would be 96 countries). Anything less than that, and ratification cannot go through. Tony would have to start the process all over again.

He licked his lips and realized his mouth was completely dry. He looked over at Rhodes, his hand gripping the other man’s wrist. “Rhodey, I”- he stopped and blinked. He didn’t know what to say.

Rhodey placed his hand over Tony’s and said, “Breathe.” He gave him a small smile. “Breathe, Tony.” They turned back to T’Challa.

“You will be voting on the following combined items: ratification of the Accords, the implementation of the changes that Mr. Stark proposed, and should we reach the required number of votes, the temporary suspension of the current Accords.” The room was quiet but Tony noticed heads nod in understanding. “Now, please come forward, state your country’s name, and your vote.” Tony could feel the air become heavy, the weight of what they were doing sat around all of them. He couldn’t stop his leg from bouncing and when his eyes roamed around the room and finally settled on Steve, he found the other man was already looking at him.

Steve tilted his head and smiled. Tony rolled his eyes but returned the grin.

He looked back at the room and leaned toward Rhodey and said, “It’s a lot more than I thought. How many do we have so far?”

Rhodey hummed. “Thirty-six. But there have been a few who are against it.”  

Tony slumped next to Rhodey. “Well, they’re just assholes.”

The other man snorted and ducked his head.

Tony couldn’t concentrate and he was convinced that time was simultaneously speeding up and slowing down. Every time a delegate said yes it seemed like the next one was against it. His mind kept flitting to what it would mean if he failed, but before his mind could venture further down that terrifying path, Rhodey gripped his arm.

Tony tried to pull away. “Ouch. Jesus, Rhodey what the-,”

“Tony.”

The whispered awe in Rhodey’s voice made the hair on Tony’s arm stand up. He kept his brown eyes on Rhodey’s hand circling his wrist, but once he heard the gasps and shouts he knew.

They did it.

Tony was wrapped up in Rhodey’s tight hug but he only had eyes for one man.

He saw Steve, with a smile that outshone the sun, silent tears cascading down his cheeks, practically vibrating in his seat.  The other members at the table were smiling and he could even hear a few sniffles, but in that moment, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Steve.

“You did this, Tony,” Steve mouthed. He gave a slight shake of his head and let out a laugh. “I am so proud of you,” he added.

Tony mirrored Steve’s smile and laughed. When he separated from Rhodey he looked out at the sea of delegates and saw that many of them were clapping. He put his head in his hands and let the tears fall. This, right now, felt better than anything he had accomplished to that point. Even, in some way, better than his armor. This was for the team; for his family. And that meant more to him than anything. His heart felt full and he welcomed the pain in his cheeks.

They made it right.

T’Challa was soon back up at the podium. “We have one hundred and eight countries that are in agreement for ratification. We will reconvene in two weeks to begin working on a new document. And if you could please be sure to sign the forms in front you, and return them to me before leaving, we can speed up the process.”

Thank you, T’Challa.

There was nothing but the sound of papers shuffling and soon, the young King was back at the microphone. “Our next order of business is to discuss the charges against Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Sam Wilson and Scott Lang.” He peered over at the group and gave them an encouraging smile. The fact that T’Challa was the moderator for this hearing spoke volumes and Tony would never be able to fully thank him.

 “As we’ve already stated, Mr. Stark has presented us with an invaluable amount of pertinent and thorough information regarding the charges leveled against these individuals as well as the events that were going on at the time of their…” his voice trailed off, “excommunication from the Avengers.” He stopped and took a sip of water. “Because we have already been presented with the case, we will only be asking questions of Captain Rogers and his teammates; questions, I remind you, that are relevant to the task at hand. We have allotted thirty minutes for questioning.” He cleared his throat and raised his chin. “Who would like to begin?”

A dozen or so hands went up.

Tony groaned and let his forehead fall to the table in front of him. After a few seconds, he peered back at Steve, who was sitting at parade rest, but there was nothing relaxed about his body language. Tony could see that he was poised for an attack, shoulders tensed and hands in tight fists. Next to him, Natasha had narrowed her eyes at the hands in the air, most likely thinking of effective ways to get the delegates to lower them. Tony leaned back a bit and saw that all color had drained from Scott’s face, and Wanda was biting her nails, curls of magic escaping her fingers.

Sam pursed his lips and raised his eyebrow at the room, the picture of ease as he leaned back in his chair. But like Steve, Tony could see that his muscles were tense. Clint was at the far end of the table, but Tony took a peek underneath and saw that Clint’s foot was tapping a steady beat on the floor, his fingers occasionally twitching, most likely for the comfort of his bow.

Tony wasn’t a picture of calm either but he knew that everything he gave the U.N. was irrefutable and well presented, and he remembered that Rhodey even remarked on the fact that the delegates let them return to the tower. But right now, watching these delegates fight for a chance to question his team made Tony’s stomach tighten, his hands sweat and chest ache where the reactor used to be.

The first delegate took the microphone.

Chapter Text

The delegate at the microphone was a thin man from Romania, his accent a harsh staccato as it echoed off the chamber walls. “My question is for Ms. Romanoff.” Tony took a quick glance at Natasha and saw that she didn’t even flinch at being the first person targeted. Knowing her, she’d be glad to take the first hit for her team.

“When the Accords were first proposed, you came out in favor of them; on Tony Stark’s side. But then we,” he gestured to the delegates that sat behind him, “were informed that during the events at Leipzig airport, you were the one who let Steve Rogers and the Winter Soldier leave.”

Natasha licked her lips and leaned forward in her seat. “Is there a question in there somewhere?”

“You don’t deny it?”

Her response was a raised auburn brow.

The delegate sighed. “Ms. Romanoff, two years ago you were the person whom, in front of your government, not so subtly told them to…” he trailed off thinking of a diplomatic way to phrase her actions.

Natasha beat him to it. “To kiss my ass?”

Snickers were heard around the room and Tony caught Steve ducking his head to hide his smile. He remembered those hearings and the frightening scenes of helicarriers falling into the Potomac that preceded them. Tony had called her the second she left the hill, and admonished her for not calling him in. He remembered how she chuckled at him over the phone, and reminded him of his fight with the mandarin. But she did appreciate his concern.  

“For lack of a better phrase, yes. So, imagine my surprise when you were one of the people who supported the Accords, and then went against them. It must be difficult being a double agent, especially with people who view you as a friend.”

Tony clenched his teeth and he saw that the members of the team also bristled at that phrase. Sam’s back became ramrod straight and Clint’s hands turned into white knuckled fists on the table. Tony remembered when he used that phrase against her, and he hated that it was brought up again. Even though it took some time, he was able to understand that out of all of them, Natasha was the one who balanced the line of understanding the need for the Accords, while also fearing them. She had been torn between him and Steve, her instincts telling her to keep everyone together in any way possible, and that manifested in her working with Tony and letting Steve go in the end.

“My question is why did you do it? I think we’d all like an explanation.”

Natasha cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “I find fault with many aspects of your statement and question, sir.” He went to speak but she held up her hand. “First of which, is that the Winter Soldier has a name; its James Buchanan Barnes.” There was a steel edge in her voice and the delegate took an unconscious step back from his place at the microphone. “I never came out in favor of the Accords. The idea of people having control over my actions was something I’ve lived with in various forms throughout my life. Before my time with Shield, I had been conditioned and trained to follow orders and tell lies, and then after years as a Shield agent, I discovered that Hydra had infiltrated the organization I had come to trust, and so, I was yet again telling someone else’s lies. So, no- I was not in favor of the Accords. However, I understood the need for some form of oversight. The Avengers made some very public mistakes, and it was time that we answered for them.”

She spread her hands out across the table. “But I thought, and maybe naively so considering this was all implemented by a government agency, that by signing the Accords, we were still allowing ourselves the opportunity to control some of our choices; to go where we were needed without a leash or a permission slip.” Her lips curled into a sneer. “It didn’t work out like that though, did it? Ross used the Accords as a way to push his own agenda. He was just as dirty as Hydra and his motivations were never pure. And as for my meeting on the hill two years ago, I did tell my government to back off because you do need us.” She paused and leaned back into her chair, her grin a feral one. “We are the only ones who can meet the challenges that a world with superheroes and enhanced individuals may entice. And if I may be so bold,” Clint snorted next to her as she smirked and raised an eyebrow, “take a look at where we are, Sir. We were the only ones who saw fault with the Accords, and together, we were the only people who were able to bring that to light and take the steps to make things right.”

Natasha licked her lips and took a moment to look at her teammates and then down towards Tony, her voice soft, the undercurrent of emotion loud to everyone. “This was the first time in my entire life where I wasn’t acting on someone else’s orders. I made the choices I did because in those moments they were the best thing for all of us.” She turned back to the delegate. “You can sit there and pick apart my actions, but keep in mind that when I did let Steve Rogers and James Barnes leave, it was because in that moment, the Accords weren’t working. Ross was hell-bent on taking Barnes in for a crime he didn’t commit. There were stipulations in the law that Ross did not follow. I knew that no matter what, it would continue on like that. I made my choice at that airfield, and I did it at my own expense. I found out later that Ross was made aware of my actions, and that solidified a place for me on the Raft.” She briefly closed her eyes and when she opened them, Tony saw the fire and fight he so admired back in her eyes. “I did what I had to do to keep my family together, to keep them alive and safe. Don’t you ever question my loyalty to this team; to my friends.”

Tony let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding and all but collapsed back into his seat. He felt the tears in his eyes and quickly blinked to keep them from falling. When he opened them, he saw his hands were shaking, so he pulled them into fists tucking them under his arms, and prepared himself for the next question.

This time, a plump woman from Fiji stepped forward.

Tony hummed to himself. I should ask her if she’s seen a slouching, salt and pepper, glasses wearing doctor recently.

“I have a question for Miss Maximoff.” Her voice was soft and light, and Tony felt at ease with this woman. Wanda’s eyes grew wide when she realized the woman was speaking to her, but she soon gave a slight nod of her head. Next to her, Clint placed his hand on her arm and gave her a reassuring smile.

“Young lady, it could be said that you are the most powerful member of the Avengers, and with the events in Lagos, - “

“Those events have no bearing on this hearing, Madam.” T’Challa’s voice cut through the air.

She bowed her head and gave a tight lipped smile. “If you please, I’m aware. I do not wish to seem cruel but, I’d like to know her viewpoint on the Accords. And how she thinks we should allow someone with her abilities to be unchecked.” The woman turned her gaze back to Wanda. “Please.”

Wanda had to take a few steadying breaths before she could speak. “People do not understand me, or people like me. The original Accords did not take enhanced individuals into consideration and after hearing about what Ross wanted to do to me and most likely to people like me- “her voice broke off and she had to stop to take a deep breath and regain her composure, “I couldn’t support something like that. But Tony,” her voice softened, “he wanted to make it better; and he did.” She gestured at her teammates, “we’re still human beings, but we weren’t protected in the Accords and I think a lot of that came from fear.” She paused to take a sip of water. “It was explained to me that people are afraid of me because they don’t know me.” Her eyes darted over to Vision and if it were possible, the Android seemed to have blushed. “We always fear that which we don’t know or understand.” She tilted her head and took a minute to think about what she wanted to say next. “Eight years ago a billionaire made a suit of armor that could fly, over seventy years ago, a kid from Brooklyn became the first enhanced super soldier, we have a man who turns big and green when he’s angry and a God from another realm.” She smiled and shook her head.” The world wasn’t ready for them when they emerged, but they embraced them. I’d like to think that once people got to know me, it’d be the same.”

The woman gave her a small smile. “I’d like to think so, too. But there are those who consider you a weapon. What do you have to say to that?”

Wanda sucked her lip in between her teeth and ducked her head. Tony squeezed his eyes shut and remembered saying something similar to Steve; and when he had it was from fear of the Accords and what could happen. Fear was an ugly thing.

“The man who gave me these enhancements wanted me to become a weapon. Over a year ago, I had been so angry at the Avengers, at Tony Stark, that I let that vengeance consume me and in doing so, it blinded me to the utter goodness that resides in these people.” Wanda straightened her back and leaned forward. “When my brother and I went back to Sokovia, we ended up fighting beside them, with them and for them.” The was a quiver in her voice as she spoke about Pietro. “My brother died during that fight. He died a hero. And so I go on for him; to make him and our parents proud.”

Next to her, Clint’s head fell forward, his chin resting on his chest. She reached out and held his hand.  “I am not a weapon. I made the choice to join the Avengers so that I could have control over myself, powers and all.” She turned back to smile at Clint. “There’s a time in your life when you have to make a choice, and from that moment on, that is who you are.” Tony could see her hands shaking. “I am an Avenger. Since joining this team, I’ve learned to control my abilities and use them towards a greater purpose. I’ve learned to work with a team, trust and care for them and in surrounding myself with this love and support I know that utter destruction is not an option. There’s no room for it in here,” she pointed at her heart, “or here,” she pointed at her head. She paused and took a deep breath. “The events in Lagos were terrible. And I live with the knowledge that if I had been stronger and quicker, those people may still be alive; but know that their names are written on my heart. And for the rest of my life I will fight to honor them.” A stray tear carved a path down Wanda's cheeks and she quickly flicked it away. 

The questions continued. 

 “How do we know that you won’t just turn against the government?”

Clint: “If I haven’t done it by now, I’m not going to.” Steve shot him an exasperated look and Natasha pinched his leg. He scowled at her and turned back to the delegate addressing him. “But here’s a question for you- how do we know you won’t turn against us?”

“Every move you make can be considered a political one. How do you suppose the governments of the world should respond to any events that arise from your actions?”

Steve: “The Avengers have no political stake in anything that is going on in the world. We go where we are needed. We are a team that supports the freedoms, wellbeing, safety, and protection of every human being on this planet. In a way you’ll understand? We’re the Switzerland of superheroes.”

“How do we know you’ll follow these new Accords?”

Sam: “These Accords hold some of the same values of the old ones, like a controlled oversight and communication. But, the new Accords combine real world application for our team and the people of this planet, as well as protection for people like us. We can follow this one and support it because we had a hand in making it.”

“What about other people like you? How can we just expect to let them live unchecked? What if they decide to go rogue?”

Natasha: “The Registration Act is a subsection of the Accords and is not mandatory. By you pressuring individuals like us to register, their private lives are open to the public. Never mind that this is a direct violation of their human rights, and the rights stipulated by individual Constitutions for the countries in this room, but think of the safety concerns and lawsuits you’ll have on your hands should a group of individuals similar to that of the Nazi’s, target individuals on that list and slaughter them.” She stopped, her chest heaving and eyes narrowed in anger. “Despite what some may think, we are human beings. And in some cases, we are not the only ones we have to think about. How many people like us have family or friends who put themselves in danger just by knowing our names?” She shook her head. “The Accords were designed to keep peace and protect- a list like that would do neither.” She leaned back in her seat and just as quickly was leaning towards the microphone once again. “And as for them going rogue, the Accords have channels that the Avengers will go through in order to subdue and capture those who pose a severe threat to or disregard for human life. We already have a list of names that were included in the New Accords, of individuals that should be on a watch list. We’re prepared, Sir.”

And that was how it went on for another twenty-five minutes, a barrage of questions ranging from what the team thought about the New Accords, to their own personal reasoning’s for going against them, and finally, if they’d be able to follow and work with the international community. Tony was exhausted, and felt as though he aged a decade while sitting there. He listened to his friends answer every question that was thrown at them, some general and in regards to the Accords and others, personal attacks. Though few and far between they still came up, and T’Challa had to ask the delegates to stop their questioning and return to their seats.

Tony just wanted it to be over.  He looked up at T’Challa and saw that the young man realized their time was coming to a close. There was one more delegate left, and as she approached, Tony couldn’t help the feeling of unease that settled around him. It was the delegate from Monaco, the woman who fought him on the charges against the team; the woman who did not agree with placing charges against Ross.

“It seems that I have the honor of being the last one,” she said, a malicious glint in her eye. “My question is for Steve Rogers.”

Steve didn’t move, save for resting his arms on the table in front of him.

“Mr. Rogers, - “

Soft murmuring was heard around the room at the lack of his title. T’Challa spoke up, “It is ‘Captain Rogers,’ Ma’am.”

Tony couldn’t believe it when she rolled her eyes and tilted her head to the side. “It is my understanding that Mr. Rogers gave up his title after his altercation with Mr. Stark in Siberia.”

Tony chest was rising and falling rapidly, but when he glanced at Steve the man showed no change in his demeanor. How the hell could he be so calm?

“With all due respect, Ma’am, you weren’t there. And I never officially gave up my title. Because of the original Accords, I felt disheartened and my leaving the shield with Tony Stark was out of respect for him and because I needed to remember why I picked it up in the first place.”

She raised her eyebrow and shrugged. “My question for you, sir, is how you expect us to trust you after your blatant disregard not only for the law but for human life? You fought members of your own team, you disobeyed orders and international law. We can’t just forget that.”

Steve’s eyes widened at the question and the accusations she made. Tony was just as shocked. He knew that the dig about his disregard for human life hurt. Steve was the first one into a firefight, his only priority that of civilian lives. Steve licked his lips and took a deep breath. If this was the last time he was going to speak up for himself and his team, speak out for what he believed in, he was going to make it count.

He looked towards T’Challa. “Your Highness, I imagine we’ve gone over the thirty-minute allotment for the questions, am I correct?”

T’Challa nodded. “Indeed. However, the question was presented prior to our time being up, which means you have the opportunity to respond without interruption.” The corner of his mouth lifted into a smile and Tony couldn’t contain the laugh that escaped him. Steve’s head turned the slightest bit and he gave Tony a small smile.

“I’m not asking you to forget what we did. I wouldn’t want you to. I want to make sure you remember everything that happened to get us here because each one of us, on both sides of this stage lost pieces of ourselves to this war.” He sneered at the term. “We’ve left pieces of ourselves behind, we’ve bleed and mourned, we’ve fought and questioned our beliefs and went against our friends. If you forgot what went on it would have been for nothing.” He took a breath. “We stood up for what we believed in and though the division was one that was seen by the world it solidified the very fact that we have the right to not only disagree but to stand up for what we believe in.” He licked his lips and stole a quick glance at Tony. “Yes, our choices had very obvious and dangerous consequences, and that is why we are standing in front of you today. We own what we did. But we won’t apologize for staying true to ourselves. I do however, apologize for hurting my friends.” He turned and looked back at all of them and then at Tony, Rhodes and Vision. “I hurt them in unimaginable ways and I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to them.” He rubbed his hands together. “And to the world, as well.”

He sniffed and closed his eyes. “The Avengers, from the beginning, were created to fight the battles that the world couldn’t. That places us on a very high pedestal. You see us as superheroes but we’re also human beings; men and women with individual belief systems and truths. In this instance, the Avengers were people. And maybe we couldn’t afford that luxury, but it’s the truth.  We stood firm in our convictions, but it also placed us in a difficult position.” He turned his head and looked at Tony. “Tony Stark believed that we needed to have limitations and he’s not wrong, he wasn’t then and he’s not now.  What I disagreed with was the parameters the Accords set in enforcing those limitations. They shifted the blame when we were involved and that, I could not stand for.” He looked down and shook his head. “Ross never gave us a chance. From the beginning, he played a hand that would have irrevocable consequences.”

He stopped and gestured at the people along his table. “That’s why we’re here. There was no room for compromise. His unrelenting search for power created the Accords, and in that rush, he only gave us three days to either agree or get out of the way.” He paused and stared at the woman from Monaco. “I’ve thought about this moment,” he tapped the table with his finger, “every day since I freed my friends from the Raft. I knew it would come down to this and I wanted you to understand the why. It was a confluence of events that no one could have predicted. When Barnes was captured in Berlin, I knew something was up in regards to the way he was captured. There was another hand at play here and no one saw it because they were focused on the Accords, the bombing, and placing blame.” He bit his lip and then turned back to Tony.

“Tony Stark came to me as a friend then and I pushed him away, too consumed by my anger and selfishness." He looked back at the delegates. “I stand by my fighting for Buck, because I knew he wasn’t to blame for the charges Ross saddled him with but,” he looked back at Tony, “I didn’t listen to the man who’s been by my side these last few years. I refused him, and in doing so I doomed us all.” Tony’s eyes had filled with tears and he tilted his head at Steve. Even though they had, in some ways, moved passed all their actions during their civil war, it still pained him to hear it.

“When I left with Buck it solidified my stance on the Accords, but I also learned that there was a bigger threat out there.” The room was quiet; all in attendance focused on the man speaking. “I found out that there were five Hydra super soldiers housed at the compound in Siberia and that Helmut Zemo had access to data that could turn them into human weapons, worse than that of the Winter Soldier. That became my focus; it was an immediate threat that needed to be contained. This information also brought to light proof that Bucky was not responsible for the Vienna bombings.”

He sat up straight and rolled his shoulders back. “When I met Tony and the team at the airport in Leipzig, I didn’t want to hear what he had to say and I didn’t believe that Ross would be convinced that Buck didn’t have anything to do with the bombing. In that respect I was right, but I was wrong in thinking my team wouldn’t listen.” He shook his head, “Ma’am, you say that you can’t trust me because of my actions but in every choice I made I was trying to protect people: my team, my friend, and this world. The Accords as they were, were never something I could stand behind, an innocent man was being charged with heinous international crimes and the man in charge of the Accords did not want to hear the truth about it.” His voice rose and he became more enraged by the events that took place these last few months. “My concern for Hydra’s super soldiers was to protect this world. If they had gotten out, it would have turned this planet on its head.”

Steve’s voice quivered with emotion when he next spoke. “You accuse me of not caring about the people of this world and all I have done my entire life is fight for them, bleed for them, sacrifice for them. It’s not a duty or a job, it’s who I am. Everything I did these last few months was to protect the people I care about. I did help my friends escape from the Raft, and I’d do it again; because they were never given a chance. Because they didn’t belong there.”

Steve shifted in his seat, stared at the table in front of him and shook his head. “You talk about trust but never once did you ask how you can regain ours back. I protect you, Ma’am. We protect all of you and when this started, you never sat down and talked with us. It was an extreme act that was taken without so much as a mention to the very people you were lobbying against. And now, you sit here and ask how you can trust me?” He let out a hollow laugh.

“I worked and lived, and fought and bled with Tony Stark for over four years, and almost three months ago, we fought against one another; my friend.” He turned to face Tony and the engineer could feel the force of Steve’s despair at reliving their fight, his own anxiety crept up his neck and made his heart skip. “But we were able to talk and yell and work towards mending the bridges that were broken and heal some of those wounds. We were able to trust again.” He peered back over at the delegate. “I came back here because I trusted him and believed in what he was doing. He trusted me after everything I did to him, and yet, you sit here and question me? But I’m not surprised. I knew Tony Stark was a better person than all of you, before this. Your actions here today just solidified it.”

Tony gasped and felt tears prick his eyes.

Steve continued. “I’m not asking for any favors here today, ladies and gentlemen. We should be held accountable for our actions, but I do ask that you remember the information Tony Stark provided; the facts he shared and supported with hard evidence before you make a decision based on emotion.” Steve ducked his head and when he looked up he had tears in his eyes. “The people on this stage with me are my team, my friends, my family. If you don’t believe that,” he gestured out with both hands, “look at where we are today. We came back because a member of our family needed us, a person who has stood tall and firm in his convictions about the New Accords. Tony has put himself in the cross hairs on more than one occasion since this has all started and in our returning to the country, we knowingly put ourselves in your line of fire. What does that tell you about the people who stand here before you?” He stopped and took a breath. “Our hearts have always been in the right place.”

He gave a stiff nod and walked back into his seat, his shoulders rigid and jaw tense.

T’Challa turned back to the delegation. “We will ask that Captain Rogers and his team exit the chamber and wait upstairs in the conference room. We will deliberate for one hour. If more time is required, we will send someone to let you know.” T’Challa licked his lips and let his hands rest on the edge of the podium.

Steve, Tony and the rest of the team got up from their seats and once outside the chamber, were ushered upstairs.

------------------------------------------------

When they were safe from prying eyes in the confines of the room, Tony rushed up to Steve and threw his arms around him. Steve’s arms came to rest on Tony’s lower back and they gently ran along his tight muscles.

“How are you doing,” Tony asked, his words spoken into Steve’s neck. He could still feel Steve’s muscles shaking, the adrenaline leaving his body.

Steve tightened his arms around Tony. “Better now.”

When they separated, Tony leaned forward to kiss Steve’s lips. It was soft and comforting, Tony’s hand against Steve’s cheek was a steady presence that they were together. Steve placed a quick kiss to Tony’s temple and they turned to face the rest of the team. Many of them were standing, scattered throughout the room. There were refreshments and some light snacks placed on the large table, but no one seemed to have an appetite.

Steve grabbed three bottles of water and came back to where Tony was talking to Natasha, the two of them smiled in thanks.

“I’m sorry you got hit first, Nat.”

She shrugged and sipped. “I’m not. I had hoped it would be me. There were things I needed to say and I figured it would have been easier for everyone else if I took the brunt of it first.” She let her gaze wander over to Wanda who was standing in the corner of the room, staring out the window. “Clint tried to talk to her as we were walking up here but she wanted to be left alone.”

Tony nodded and went to leave but Steve grabbed his shirtsleeve. “Tony, maybe you should give her some space.”

“She’s turning in on herself, Steve. I know what that’s like and she shouldn’t keep it bottled inside.” He tilted his head. “Trust me.”

“I do.” There wasn’t a moment's hesitation.

Tony smiled and made his way over to the young woman, stopping to check in on Sam and Clint. Outwardly, everyone seemed to be okay, but he knew them well enough to read the little signs. The way Nat kept rubbing her forefinger over her thumbnail, Clint’s constant tapping of his foot, even Sam had a tell (he kept biting his lower lip).

But his main concern, was for Wanda. When he reached her side he could see that her eyes seemed far away. He let his hand come to rest on her shoulder, and the slight weight startled her from her reverie.

“Tony, please, - “

He shook his head and let his hand slide along her upper back so his arm was draped about her. “Nope. That’s not how this works.”

She sighed and let her head rest on his shoulder. “I don’t know if I said enough or if I was out of line or, - “

“Hey.” He shook her so she would look at him. “You answered their questions honestly. That’s all you can do, Wanda. We’ve all done the best we could up to this point. We have to trust that.”

She nodded her head, but her eyes were stilled filled with unshed tears. “I don’t want to go back, Tony.”

He winced, knowing she was talking about the Raft. “I won’t let that happen. Never again.” There was such conviction in his voice that Wanda knew he meant what he was saying. He jerked his head back in the direction of the team, who had gathered around the table. “Let’s go back to the team. We still have another,” he looked at his watch, “forty-eight minutes before they call us back down there. Why don’t you get something to eat, huh?”

Wanda relaxed and followed him. He pulled out the empty chair next to Clint and motioned for her to sit down. She gave him a quick peck on the cheek and then turned back to the table, reaching for some fruit.

Tony smiled and clapped his hands. “So, how’s everyone doing?”

There were slight chuckles heard around the table. He walked around to where Steve sat and perched on the armrest of his chair. Steve brought his arm around Tony’s waist, keeping him in place, his fingers grazing the top of Tony’s thigh.

“Steve, what do we do if this thing goes south?”

Tony spoke up, “I don’t think we should think like that, Sam.”

“But he’s right, Tones. What if…” Rhodey trailed off, not wanting to voice his concerns out loud.

Steve cleared his throat and all eyes turned to him. “I don’t have a contingency plan. I believe in what Tony did and I believe in our responses to the delegates. We were honest in our statements and they saw that. We also have to remember that we have the vote on ratification.” There were slight nods around the table. “They saw what went on even with the Accords in play, they saw how it was corrupted and not right; I think they’ll weigh that with their decisions on us because we helped them understand why we all did what we did.”

Tony leaned into Steve’s body, the warmth from the soldier helped ease his worry. Steve must have needed the comfort too because he squeezed Tony’s hip when he felt the other man push into him.

“We were there when Tony took on the charges placed against us. I don’t think we’ll get away clean, and nor should we. But we won’t be going back to the Raft.”

“I won’t let that happen.” All eyes turned to Tony. “I’ll fight for you all. Or I’ll get you out. You’re not going back there.”  His voice shook, belaying his fear. He couldn’t bear the thought of them all going back to that prison; of just getting this chance with Steve only to have it taken away.

Steve let his arm run up the length of Tony’s back until it came to rest along his neck. He massaged the base of his skull, Tony’s eyes falling closed at the contact. “We believe you, Tony.”

They sat in silence for another few minutes, each member thinking about how far they’ve come and preparing themselves for what was next. They trusted Tony and believed in him and knew the great lengths he went to accomplish what he had for them. Before anyone could speak, there was a knock at the door.

Tony watched as the color drained from their faces, as their eyes grew wide. He would bet that each of their heart rates skyrocketed with that one knock. He got up from his seat and opened the door.

“We have come to a decision.”

Tony stared at T’Challa, hoping to get a sign of what the delegation had decided but T’Challa stood impassively, letting nothing show.

Tony checked his watch, surprised to see that there were still another twelve minutes left. He glanced over his shoulder at Steve. “They’re ready for us.”

Chapter Text

The walk down to the chamber room was a quiet one. Tony and Steve stood together as a united front, the team behind them. Tony startled when he felt Steve’s warm hand grasp his own, but he was grateful for the display of affection and support. He squeezed Steve’s fingers and the soldier smiled.

“Whatever happens, Tony, thank you.”

Tony scrunched his nose. “For what?”

Steve looked behind him, his eyes raking over his friends. “For them.” He held up their clasped hands between them. “For this.”

Tony blushed and bumped against him. “Thank me later. When we’re home.”

Steve smiled and gave Tony one last squeeze before he dropped his hand. The team took their previous seats and Tony could feel the sweat drip along his shoulder blades and streak across his palms. He was a tornado of emotions. He thought back to the very moment that started this all; the team meeting with Ross when he first told them about the Accords; all of their fighting, to them meeting in Wakanda and finally being here, together.

T’Challa was the last to walk in and when he did, he avoided looking in Tony’s direction. When he was back at the podium, he straightened the papers there and cleared his throat. “The charges we have against Captain Rogers and his team are domestic and international terrorism and destruction of government property. As for the charge of domestic terrorism, with a vote of one hundred and thirteen to four, we find Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang and Sam Wilson: not guilty. The acts of these individuals did not meet the required description of the charge, therefore, it could not be held against them.”

There was an audible exhale in the room and Tony closed his eyes sending a silent thank you out into the universe. He knew that the next two charges would not be as easy.

“In regards to destruction of government property, we find that the aforementioned individuals are guilty of the charge.”

Tony’s body stiffened with tension and he saw the same act mirrored in his teammates. But before he could process it, T’Challa spoke.

“However, the delegation has come to the decision that because the Stark Relief Fund has already been diligently working in areas like Lagos, Bucharest, and Leipzig, the sentencing will be a three-month suspension for all six members of Captain Rogers team.”

Tony pushed out a huff of air and let his head fall forward onto the desk. They could handle a three-month suspension. Tony, along with Rhodey (once he was cleared for it), Vision and (hopefully) Thor could handle any issues that may arise. He rolled his forehead against his forearm, and thinking in hindsight, the six of them could use the rest. Tony felt Rhodey’s hand on his back and realized that T’Challa had started talking again. It was the final charge, and the heavier of the three: international terrorism.

“In regards to the charge of international terrorism, this delegation has found the aforementioned individuals: guilty.”

The room was quiet but Tony was certain he could hear his teammates hearts breaking.

“However, we have come to a unique decision regarding this charge.” Tony and Steve mirrored one another as they sat up in their seats and leaned forward. “This case is unusual in that though the acts performed by these individuals were on international land and seen as acts of terrorism against the Accords, there were extenuating circumstances.”

Tony’s hands gripped the edge of the table, his knuckles turning white. He was sure his bones would break through the skin.

“The standard penalty for such an act is imprisonment or death.”

Tony heard Wanda’s sob and saw Clint drape his arm around her. Next to him, Natasha paled and Sam was gnawing on his lip.

“The case that Mr. Stark presented, showcased the corruption in not only the Accords but in the way things were handled regarding Sergeant Barnes and by extension, this team. We have decided, in a vote of one hundred and fifteen to two, that each of you six will be required to pay a fine of $500,000 that will be divided amongst the families of the victims in Lagos and to the people of Sokovia.”

T’Challa’s demeanor went from dreary to grim and Tony did not like it. “Furthermore, each of you will be given an additional six-month suspension which will be acted out in the form of house arrest. You cannot leave Mr. Stark’s tower unless it requested by this United Nations, members of government, and of course for reasons that fall under personal health and safety.” He turned to the group. “Do you understand the sentence?”

They weren’t going to jail, but they wouldn’t be able to fight, to defend for a total of nine months. But what was worse, was the fact that Clint and Scott would be away from their families. Tony would have Laura and the kids move in with them, and Cassie and Scott’s ex-wife would have access to the tower whenever they wanted. Tony knew it would be difficult, but he knew they could work with it.

“If I may, your Highness?” Steve stood and walked up to T’Challa. “I’d like to address the delegation.” Steve’s face was tight with tension and sorrow.

Tony could feel Rhodey stiffen in his seat next to him.

What are you doing Steve?

Natasha looked over at Tony, her eyes narrowed, a look of confusion on her face. Tony shrugged and mouthed, “I don’t know.”  

“I know I speak for my team when I say that the sentencing is not what we expected and we are grateful for the delegation’s decisions. We understand that our actions were felt throughout the international community and we understand the gravity of the situation we created.” He paused and licked his lips. “The original Accords were not something we could stand behind, but we believe in the ones you’ve all voted on, and as a team, we will follow the rules and guidelines in the new law and look forward to working with you and your countries in the future. Although, it would in a way, be better if you didn’t need us at all.” There was a slight chuckle heard around the room. What a peaceful world it would be if the Avengers weren’t needed. But everyone in that room understood the world was changing. Steve cleared his throat and went on. “Before we adjourn, I would like to ask something of all of you.”

Tony’s heart rate picked up but a chill went down his spine.

“I’ve already told you that the five people behind me, as well as the men to my right, are my family. With that being said, I’d like to take on their sentencing for the international crimes.”

The gasp echoed throughout the chamber and hurried whispers cascaded over Tony. He looked at the team and saw that Sam and Natasha were out of their seats.

“Steve.”

“Cap, don’t!”

Steve turned back to them. “Please,” he implored his voice soft but strong, “let me do this.” His gaze fell back onto the delegates in front of him. “Let me take on their additional six-month suspension, giving me a total of thirty-six months. I’ll take and do the time and I’ll also pay the combined total of three million dollars.” Tony knew that Steve had more than a couple of million dollars in back pay from the United States government, so he was more than capable of paying the fine, but it would still be felt. The Captain’s body fell into parade rest. “They’ll serve out the original three-month suspension which does not require house arrest, and after they serve their time, they are free to act and participate as Avengers, in accordance with the new Accords.”

Tony stood up and swayed on his feet. “Steve,” he whispered. But Steve’s super soldier hearing picked it up and glanced back at Tony. “I have to do this, Tony. For them. Look at everything they sacrificed for me. We talk about being together and being a family; that’s what this is, keeping them safe and protected. And I’ll be home, with you.”

Tony let out a wet sob and as he ran his hand across his eyes, he felt it come away wet. He had been crying. He picked his gaze up and met Steve’s brilliant, blue eyes and nodded.

T’Challa was caught completely off guard by Steve’s request and the delegates were still talking amongst themselves. It wasn’t until he raised his hand in the air and said, “ladies and gentlemen, please,” that the talk died down. “Captain Rogers, that is an extreme although honorable request. I’m not sure…” his voice broke off as he shook his head, trying to find the right phrase.

“If I may, King T’Challa,” it was the delegate from Fiji, the woman who was kind to Wanda when she questioned her. “I’d like to propose a vote on Captain Rogers’ request, but I’d like to make an amendment.”

Tony held his breath and noticed that Steve bristled at her statement.

“I’d propose that Captain Rogers serve twenty-four months of suspension from active duty, and the last year of the sentence he would be on the team as a part time Avenger and not as the team leader. However, I’d like to make the amendment that he only serves a year sentence of house arrest. I think we can all agree that his proposition stems from a devotion to those individuals behind him. It takes great courage and great love to take something like this on, and I think we can agree that three years of house arrest would be an extreme punishment in light of this sacrifice.”

Steve bent his head toward her in thanks. Tony wanted to buy that woman the island of Manhattan.

T’Challa nodded at her and said, “Let’s put it to a vote. All those in favor of letting Captain Rogers take on his teammates sentencing, but removing the stipulation of house arrest after his first year, raise your hand.”

Hands went up all around the room and Tony could hear Vision quietly counting next to him.

“One hundred and sixteen to one.”

There was a chorus of shouts and Tony felt himself collapse into his chair. Wanda was wearing a large, bright smile, crying tears of joy. Clint turned to Natasha and pulled her into a hug, the two of them laughing into one another’s necks. Sam and Scott were hollering and giving each other high fives. They didn’t care about the suspension, and even though they were heartbroken that Steve would have to stay out of active duty for two years, they stood by his sacrifice. It filled them all with such an overwhelming sense of love.

Next to him, Tony could feel Rhodey pat his back, his hand a strong and solid weight against his shoulder blade. He leaned forward until he was right against Tony’s ear. “Tony. It’s over. You did it. You crazy, brilliant son of a bitch, you did it.” He stood up and shook Vision’s hand and they walked over to greet their friends.

Tony stayed in the chair, tears falling from his eyes, his hands shaking from excitement. He didn’t move for a few minutes until he felt strong arms pull him up from his seat. He soon had Steve wrapped around him, the soldier’s head turned into the crook of Tony’s neck. Steve placed a kiss at the soft skin there and said, “We’re coming home, Tony.” He moved his head back so he could look into Tony’s beautiful, brown eyes, and when he next spoke his voice was raw and deep, filled with love and excitement and relief. “I’m coming home.”

Steve placed his hand at the back of Tony’s head, his thumb wiping away the tears that had fallen. He brought their mouths together and there, in front of delegates from one hundred and seventeen countries and their friends, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark kissed until their lungs ran out of breath.

The team was required to stay behind to sign documents stating that they understood and accepted the charges against them, as well as their sentencing. Tony was concerned about the public’s perception of the team after everything that had gone on, but T’Challa assured him that the United Nations would be responsible for the press briefings and they would release the transcripts of all the Avenger’s responses; Steve and Tony felt a sense of relief at that. Their public opinion was at an all-time low, and they knew there would be backlash once the news came out that the Avengers were no longer MIA. The explanation of the suspension and U.N.’s decision would go a long way to help them into transitioning back to active duty.

The team had gathered towards the back of the stage, the euphoria of being able to go home was written in their smiles and relaxed body language. Before walking over to them, Steve stopped to talk to T’Challa.

“Will you be coming back to the tower with us?”

“I have to stay behind so we can get everything in order. There are still a lot of documents we have to sign. I will most likely see you sometime tomorrow, and then I am set to return home to Wakanda tomorrow night.” T’Challa smiled at Steve and reached out across the space between them. “I am very happy for you and your team, Steve.”

The other man grasped T’Challa’s outstretched hand.  “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, T’Challa.” Steve shook his head and looked back at the team; Tony smiling wide, his hands moving wildly in front of him. “You took us in and helped us, and you’re still helping me and Bucky. Your father would be incredibly proud.”

T’Challa closed his eyes and bowed his head. “I wish he were here to see all the work we have done, together. It should have been like this from the start.”

Steve gave a sad a smile. “Well, we’re here now.”

T’Challa nodded. “You and your team will be receiving documents and some form of a tracking device, as stipulated in your sentencing. Someone will be by tomorrow to outfit you with those.”  He tilted his head slightly to look at Tony. “I’m not sure Tony will appreciate the tech, but it is the rules.”

Steve laughed. “He’ll probably be appalled.” The two men shared a laugh.

“Cap!”

Steve and T’Challa turned at the sound of Tony’s voice.

“Ready?” Tony smiled and his eyebrows bounced up and down.

Steve laughed and turned back to T’Challa. “Thank you again.”

The young King smiled and said, “Go home, Steve.”

-----------------------------------------

Once outside, the team split into two groups and headed towards the waiting SUVs.

“Wait.” Everyone stopped and looked at Sam. “Wanda and Vision why don’t you guys come with us and then this way Clint can go with them.” He jutted his chin in the direction of Tony, Steve and Natasha.

Tony laughed when he heard Rhodey’s, “I call shotgun!”

The two newest Avengers made their way into the second car and Clint, with a raised eyebrow, made his way over to the other car.

 “Nice move, Wilson.”

Sam shrugged and smiled in Natasha’s direction. “We’ll see you in a bit.”

Tony, Steve, Natasha and Clint piled into the SUV and once they were on their way, Clint asked, “What was that all about?” He and Nat sat in the first row, with Tony and Steve snuggled close together in the back. Tony had his hand on Steve’s leg and felt proud when he heard Steve’s sharp intake of breath when his fingers dipped to the inside of his thigh.

Natasha shifted in her seat as she waved her hand in-between the four of them. “Sam thought we’d want the time together...seeing as how we’re part of the originals.” Her voice was gentle and warm, the corner of her mouth lifted up in a smile. “For a while, there was a chance we wouldn’t have this again.”

The group was quiet for a few moments.

“We’ve been through a lot.” Tony bit his lip and took a deep breath. “New York was a test of not just our individual strengths, but of how well we would work together. And let me tell you, I was not known for being a team player. I think someone once said that I had, “a compulsive behavior, self-destructive tendencies, and was a textbook narcissist.” He raised his eyebrow at Natasha and she laughed.

Clint rubbed at his chin, “I don’t know...has any of that changed?”

Tony punched him in the shoulder. “Thanks, Legolas.” Clint winked and laughed.

They were quiet again, each of them caught in their own thoughts, until Tony cleared his throat. He folded his hands in his lap and stared at the callouses on his fingers. “There’s something…” he trailed off and huffed out a breath. His head fell back against the seat and he took a glance out the window and watched the city, buying himself some time to collect himself. “We never talked about what Wanda showed us.” He turned his head back to the three of them and gave a half shrug. “She and I had a conversation about that and all is forgiven. We’ve moved on from it. And please know that I’m not asking you to tell me what she showed you, but if you want to it should be when you’re ready. And for me, that time is now.”

Steve reached out and placed his hand over Tony’s. “You don’t have to- “

“Yea, Steve. I do.” He straightened up. “Ultron and every decision I’ve made after were my way of trying to keep you all safe. I know that sometimes, they’re not executed in the best of ways but, I had the very best of intentions. When we were in that last Hydra base, where we found the scepter, I came across Chitauri technology and one of the large transports.” Steve grabbed one of his hands and held it in his own. Tony hadn’t realized he was shaking. “Wanda had been there, though I didn’t see her at the time, and she gave me a vision.”

His voice cracked and Natasha and Clint turned in their seats. “A few weeks ago, she explained to me that visions like that are a combination of our fears and images of the future.”  Tony’s eye filled with tears and he blew a breath out between his lips. “Mine was a vision of the team…you were all dead.” He closed his eyes and a few stray tears fell, dotting his pants. When he opened them, the force of his despair and fear hit them full force. He looked over to Steve. “All of you.”

He wiped his cheeks with his free hand and went on. “I watched as the Big Guy struggled to breathe,” Natasha gasped at the idea of anything being able to kill the Hulk, “Thor, who is a fucking God for Christ’s sake, was dead… and you two,” he looked up at Natasha and Clint and shook his head. A small sob escaped him and when he looked back up, he met Natasha’s green eyes; they were brimming with tears, a few of them had carved paths down her cheeks. He tilted his head at her. “I couldn’t save you,” he whispered. He turned to Clint, “any of you. And I’m sorry.”

He didn’t even hear Natasha move, the only sign she did was the small, cool hand that was on his cheek. “Tony,” her voice quivered and her hand fell to rest over his heart. “You did save us.”

Clint moved forward and placed his hand on Tony’s shoulder and squeezed. “She’s right, man. Never mind the fact that you gave us the tower, a home, Tony. But look at what you just did in there. We’re safe, alive, together and free.” 

Steve turned in his seat and let his hand rest at the back of Tony’s neck, his thumb moved against the olive skin. “And that’s because of you.” Tony’s eyes met Steve’s, and the latter leaned forward to kiss his temple. “You were fighting for us from the beginning and even after everything that happened,” there was a crack in Steve’s voice as images of Siberia flashed through his mind, “you still kept on.” Steve’s other hand came to rest on Tony’s leg. “Don’t ever think that you haven’t done enough. And don’t ever think that you’ve let us down.”

Natasha’s thumb was absentmindedly running over the spot where the arc reactor used to be; the scars mottled and raised under the expensive cotton. “I didn’t have anyone before you five.” Her voice was rough and heavy with emotion. “Sure, there were people who came and went but no one stayed for me or believed in me, or fought for me. That means something, Tony. And I hope with all of my heart, that you know the love you’ve shown us is returned tenfold.”

He had never heard Natasha as openly honest and raw as she was in that moment, and he felt himself fill up with warmth at her words, and at the smiles and nods of agreement from Steve and Clint. More tears fell from his eyes. There were times, in the early days, when he wondered if they only needed him for his tech and his money. He had seen it happen with other people he considered friends, so he wasn’t expecting much from them at the start. But as their time together went on, he came to see that they liked him, and even cared for him.

Love? It had been a foreign concept. But he couldn’t deny it any longer, even now, when his natural inclination was to doubt, he couldn’t. Because he did know it. He saw it every time they smiled at him across the dinner table, heard it when they argued with him over his movie commentary, in the concern they showed when he was hurt during a battle, in the times each one of them had crept down into the workshop to remind him that he was not alone.

It had always been there.

Steve reached out and placed his hand on Natasha’s arm, the one that still sat over Tony’s heart. Natasha in kind, took Clint’s free hand in hers and they completed the circle. The four of them forever connected; their hearts and minds on the people in front of them and their two absent friends.

They had been destined for greatness from the beginning. They just hadn’t realized that greatness was in the form of a family.

Tony let his head fall back and let himself soak in the realization that they were together.

He needed this time with the three of them.

He’d have to tell Sam thank you.

-----------------------------------

 

Once everyone made it back to the tower, they debriefed in the kitchen.

Steve was leaning against the counter, Clint (as usual) on the counter to his left, and Sam in the chair in front of him. Wanda, Natasha, Vision and Rhodey were seated around the table, and Tony was leaning against the wall (across the room from Steve).

“Tony, I think I speak for all of us when I say thank you,” Wanda said. There was a chorus of agreements and Tony blushed.

He waved his hand at them and said, “Just keep your noses clean for six months and we’ll be good. Rhodey, Viz and I will hold down the fort if anything comes up and hopefully, Thor and Banner will be back.”

Scott turned to Steve. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with sitting on the sidelines, Cap?”

Steve took a deep breath and said, “I think it’s needed. For all of us.”

“How’s that?” Sam had his eyebrows raised.

“I think it’ll be good for the team to be under new management,” he reached out and kicked Nat’s chair, “and I know I could use a bit of a break.” He shrugged and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’ve been fighting for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s time for me to sit back and enjoy the finer things in life.” Steve met Tony’s gaze across the room and the engineer blushed, again.

Clint snorted under his breath and then yelped when Wanda reached behind her to pinch his leg. “You’ve been hanging out with Nat too much, Wan.”

The two women laughed.

Tony glanced at the clock; it was late. “The representative from the U.N. should be here by ten tomorrow morning to outfit you all with ankle bracelets.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m sure the tech is going to be atrocious but I can’t touch it or ya know, I go to jail.”

They all nodded in understanding and all too soon, Rhodey, Vision, Wanda, Scott and Clint stood, all heading up to bed. It had been a long day, the exhaustion evident in the way they all carried themselves. They gave Tony one last pat or hug on their way out, the engineer responding in kind.

Natasha stood and walked over to Steve, taking him into a hug. “Thank you for what you did back there, Steve.” He tucked his face into her auburn hair and held her just a little bit tighter.

“Always, Nat.”

When they pulled away she walked up to Tony and placed a kiss on his cheek. “G’night, Shellhead.” He smiled at her.

Sam followed in her footsteps and thanked Steve for what he did back at the U.N. “You didn’t need to, man. We would have taken the punishment.”

Steve closed his eyes and nodded. “It’s why I had too; look at what you all did and endured for me, Sam. How can I ever thank you for that?”

“You don’t have to. That’s the point, old man.”

When he made his way over to Tony the two men stared at one another, until Sam said, “Look, Tony, I just wanted to say, - “

“Thank you, Sam.”

The younger man was caught off guard. “Well, yea, that. But, what are you thanking me for?”

“Before, in the car.”

Sam smiled and ducked his head. “I thought you could use it, just the OG’s.”

Tony laughed and stepped forward, taking Sam into a slightly awkward hug. “You’re supposed to reciprocate a hug, Wilson.”

Strong arms came up behind Tony’s back and Sam laughed. “Yea, well I don’t want Steve kicking my ass.”

The two men laughed, and once they separated Sam clasped Tony on his upper arm and said. “Thank you, Tony.”

“Always.”

 

And soon it was just the two of them.

Tony could feel the excitement of having Steve all to himself flood his system with adrenaline and lust. He watched as Steve’s body language changed, he became more relaxed, his eyes traveling up and down Tony’s form. After a tilt of Tony’s head, Steve crossed the room and the two of them made their way to the elevator and then up to Tony’s floor, the ride eliciting nothing more than casual touches; a stroke of Tony’s cheek, a hand resting on Steve’s belly.

When they were finally in Tony’s bedroom, Tony ducked his head to the side and started nibbling on his lip. Steve thought the unusual bout of shyness looked incredibly cute on the genius, so he took the first step. Coming to stand in front of Tony, Steve undid his red tie and began to unbutton his dress shirt. Tony watched Steve’s ministrations and found that he was transfixed with the attention Steve was giving him. When his shirt hung loose on his shoulders, Steve let his large hands graze up Tony’s sides and then down his shoulders, the material falling to the floor. The vision he was presented with took his breath away. He knew that Tony was attractive but he always forgot how strong the man was; which he would of course have to be considering he wore and carried a metal suit. Taking in the defined muscles of his arms and torso, Steve found that he wanted to lick the man from head to toe. He licked his lips.

The air was cool on Tony’s skin, raising goosebumps and hardening his nipples. He watched, transfixed, as Steve licked his lips and then began unbuttoning his own shirt. Tony sent up a silent thank you that he wasn’t wearing his Cap uniform. It would have been a bitch to take off, and Tony wanted nothing more than for Steve to be naked as soon as possible. The blonde moved forward until their naked chests were touching, and Tony moaned at the contact. He brought his hand to Steve’s cheek and surged forward, pressing his tongue inside Steve’s mouth, threading his fingers through his hair. Steve kept his eyes open to savor the moment; to catalogue everything into his super soldier memory. From the way Tony tasted and felt, to how his body trembled under Steve’s wandering hand and finally, to the sounds he made when Steve’s tongue lapped at the sweat in the juncture of his neck.

He was drowning himself in Tony Stark and he didn’t want a life vest.

He could feel Tony’s hands caressing every part of him, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. Steve’s heart was beating at a pace that would kill a normal human being, and he knew Tony felt it when he went to kiss him above his heart.

Tony ran his fingers down Steve’s shoulders and stopped to grabbed the swell of his ass. Steve moaned as Tony explored, and it made Tony even harder. The dark haired man kissed along Steve’s pecs and he took a pert nipple into his mouth, rolling the bud between his lips and lavishing it with his tongue. The whimper that escaped Steve urged Tony to bring his hand up to his other nipple, and roll it between his forefinger and thumb. Steve was turning to a pile of jelly; his legs were shaking and he was panting.

And though he had experiences with men and women, this was unlike anything he had experienced before. And he knew deep in his heart, it was because of Tony.

The weight of Tony’s hands on his button and zipper kept Steve grounded in the moment. Tony dipped his hand into the waistband of Steve’s pants and boxers and began to stroke the soft skin of Steve’s cock. Steve loved those calloused hands and groaned as his heated skin became exposed. Tony kept stroking, but his mouth was everywhere all at once. It was dizzying. Steve was only able to focus once he felt the cotton of Tony’s pants, and that would not do.  He walked Tony back to the bed, the hand that was on him losing contact as the back of Tony’s knees hit the mattress, and he stumbled. Steve undid his pants and pulled them down his legs, throwing them behind him. Tony chuckled, something dark and lust filled, and shimmied his way further up the bed, reaching for a familiar bottle off the nightstand; he handed it to Steve.

The blonde was vibrating, every cell in his body was alive at the sight of the naked man in front of him. Steve settled himself between Tony’s legs, the brunette’s feet flat on the bed as Steve slicked his fingers with lube. Steve positioned a finger on his right hand at Tony’s entrance and slowly pushed forward while his left hand massaged the muscles of his lower belly. Tony felt himself tighten at the intrusion but he relaxed once he felt Steve’s hand on his sweat slicked skin.

“That’s it, Tony. Breathe. Relax for me.”

It was the first time either of them had spoken since entering the room, and Tony found that the deep tone of Steve’s voice did wondrous things to his body; the request invited a slight jump of his hard, leaking cock. Once Steve felt Tony’s inner walls relax, he slipped a second finger in and gave an expert twist his wrist. A guttural keening sound ripped from Tony’s mouth. “Right there,” he panted.” Steve knew he hit Tony’s sweet spot and seeing as how the billionaire was caught up in the feeling of pleasure, he added a third finger. Tony’s back arched off of the bed as he said, “Fuck, Steve. You. I need to feel you. I need-ugh,” his mouth opened and bucked his hips up.

Steve withdrew his hand and used the remaining lube on himself. One of the many good things about the serum was that there was no way he could contract any disease, and he knew that as an Avenger, Tony was subjected to routine medical exams every four months. If Tony wasn’t clean, Steve knew the genius would have told him.

Once he lined up with Tony, he leaned forward and kissed him. When Steve’s tongue stroked along Tony’s, he entered him and once he was fully sheathed, he took a moment to breathe. He let his head rest on Tony’s stomach and sighed. “You’re so tight. So fucking tight.”

Tony wriggled his hips and drew himself up and then back down on the head of Steve’s cock. “Move, Steve. You gotta’ move, baby.”

The endearment broke something open in Steve but before he could think on it, he fulfilled Tony’s request. It was slow and strong, each thrust of Steve’s hips met the roll of Tony’s, causing Steve to go impossibly deeper. Steve grabbed Tony’s hip to keep him in place while using his free hand to grasp onto Tony’s erection. The sensations became too much and Tony bent forward at the waist and buried his teeth into Steve’s shoulder, the motion caused him to grind down on Steve’s cock, causing the soldier to make an incoherent sound, something between a growl and a gasp. Steve began to thrust against Tony in a frenzy of need and desire, and he released his hold on Tony’s hips and moved his legs to sit high on Steve’s shoulders, changing the angle in which he was fucking him, completely.

A strangled gasp escaped Tony’s swollen mouth, and he reached out and grasped Steve’s hand, pulling it away from its place on his thigh. Their fingers interlaced and in that one movement, Tony felt whole. It was like the final puzzle piece was put in place. Their world became nothing but those points of contact, and he stared at Steve watching the way his eyes opened and closed in a haze of lust, the way his body fit so perfectly with Tony’s when he was all the way inside; the gasps that escaped between those perfectly plump lips.

“God, Tony. I love you.”

Tony’s eyes widened and his heart skipped a few beats, and just as he went to speak, Steve swallowed his words. This kiss was something different all together. It was passionate but not rough. It was slow and languid and deep; and oh so tender. Tony had never had lovers who were this gentle or loving with him before, and he knew, in that moment, it was because he had never been with anyone who loved him as much as he loved them.

Steve started to slow down as he began to shudder against Tony. He knew he was close and wanted Tony to come with him. 

Tony pulled away and held Steve’s face in his hands, making sure their eyes were locked when he said, “I love you too, Steve.”

Steve’s mouth broke into a wide, ecstatic grin and he let out a sob as he bent to capture Tony’s lips in a kiss. When they broke apart, Tony couldn’t contain his smile. Steve kept thrusting, each move bringing them closer to the release they craved.

Tony ran his hand up Steve’s chest, letting it rest over his heart. Steve mirrored his movement and leaned forward again until their noses were touching. He reached down and took Tony’s cock in his hand and started to match his strokes with the pace of his thrusts. Tony closed his eyes and Steve growled, “No. I want to see you when you come, Tony.” He nipped at Tony’s jaw. “You’re mine. No one else.”

Tony moaned against the side of Steve’s head, the sensations in, on and around his body were becoming too much. “There was” he needed a moment to catch his breath, “…there was never anyone else, Steve. Always you.”

Steve’s hips jerked at the admission and he emptied himself inside Tony, his blue eyes never leaving Tony’s brown ones. And with a few more strokes of his hands, Tony soon followed him, white stripes painting his stomach and Steve’s hand.

The air in the room was heavy with the scent of sweat and sex, the only sound, was their pants and their breathing slowed. Tony could feel Steve’s come dripping down his thighs and it only acted as a match to a flame that didn’t seem to be going out any time soon.

Steve all but collapsed on Tony, and the engineer was grateful for the weight. He felt safe and protected and more than anything, he felt loved. The soldier’s head was tucked into the crook of Tony’s neck. “This is my favorite place.”

Tony scrunched his eyebrows and let his fingers play with the sweaty, blonde hair at the base of Steve’s head. “My neck?”

Steve chuckled, and Tony could feel Steve’s abs move as he did so. “Yes.” He rubbed his nose against Tony’s, “and here,” he kissed his lips, “and here,” he kissed the spot where the arc reactor used to be, “and here,” he moved his hips forward and Tony could feel Steve getting hard once again, “inside you.”

Tony’s eyes fluttered shut and he let out a breathy whimper. “Steve, - “

The other man didn’t move. “I meant what I said, Tony. I do love you.” Tony kept his eyes closed. “Hey,” he tapped Tony in-between his eyes twice until he was met with those bright, brown eyes. “I’m in love with you, Tony.”

Tony’s eyes grew to the size of saucers and just as quickly filled with tears. Steve worried that Tony was going to fight him on this, and though he was ready for it, he would much rather spend their time dirtying up these sheets some more. But Tony surprised him, and gifted him with the most breathtaking smile he had ever seen on the engineer. “I’m in love with you too, Steve.”

Steve mirrored his beatific expression and kissed him again. He would never get tired of kissing Tony. “I know you only said a three-day vacation but…I do have some free time.”

Tony’s mouth curled up into an evil grin and he shifted his hips under Steve, effectively pushing the soldier deeper. Both men groaned at the move and Tony watched, mesmerized, as Steve’s eyes darkened. “Let’s see what you got, old man.”

Steve laughed and rolled his hips forward, and the pleasant ache Tony felt had him rolling his head from side to side. Steve bent down and bit at his straining neck muscles. “Let’s see if you can keep up, Tony.”

He did. And even taught Steve a thing or two.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Steve woke up wrapped around Tony, his nose buried in the dark hair he loved so much. He knew, by the rise and fall of Tony’s chest that the other man was awake and had been for quite some time, but it warmed his heart that the usually energetic engineer was content to just stay in bed with him.

He inhaled deeply and smelled the familiar and comforting scent of coconut, and metal. Steve remarked on it last night and Tony huffed him away.

“I do not smell like metal, Steve. How rude.” He crossed his arms and looked like a petulant child. Well, an adorable and entertaining, petulant child.

Steve chuckled and licked a stripe up Tony’s torso. “You taste like it, too.” He kissed Tony’s nose. “I like it.”

Tony blushed and kissed Steve on the mouth, effectively ending the conversation.

Now, as the sun came in and bathed the bed in stripes of gold, Steve kissed the back of Tony’s neck. “Morning, Tony.” His voice was still heavy with sleep.

“Morning, sleepyhead.” There was a smirk in Tony’s voice. “You know you missed your run. It’s after nine.”

The other man hummed and rolled onto his back, taking Tony with him. “I’d rather be here.”

The engineer let out a very undignified yelp, and stared down at the soldier from his new perch on his chest. “Manhandling is hot. But, let’s make a rule not before eleven, ‘kay?”

Steve chuckled. “How did you sleep?” He raised an eyebrow and gave Tony a devious grin.

Tony couldn’t help the blush that crept up his neck. After their first round of lovemaking, the two of them couldn’t get enough of each other. They were insatiable. And not only that, but Steve surprised Tony. Steve knew his way around a man’s body and had a mouth that made Tony blush. They must have come together at least four more times, and now, as Tony was sprawled across Steve, he could feel a pleasant ache all over his body. He was more relaxed than he had ever been, and though the sex was fucking fantastic, he had been calmed by Steve’s declaration of love (which continued on throughout the night, from both men); it grounded him in a way he didn't know he was missing.

He leaned forward and rubbed his nose against Steve’s. “After our marathon, I slept like the dead. How about you?”

Steve smiled and playfully bit Tony’s jaw. “I slept…” When he looked down, he caught sight of finger shaped bruises along Tony’s sides and inside of his thighs. “Tony,” he whispered, as he sat up straight, almost throwing the brunette off of him, “I- I’m sorry... just... do they hurt?”

Tony looked down to see what stole Steve’s focus and saw that he was be speckled with small bruises. Realizing that Steve had literally left his mark on him, turned Tony on in a primal way. Apparently, Steve felt Tony’s physical response to the bruises, and his gaze shifted from the light purple spots on his side, to his stiffening cock.

“They don’t hurt.” He leaned forward and placed a kiss to the center of Steve’s chest. “I like them.” He rolled his hips forward and felt a jolt of glee when his thigh met Steve’s hard cock.

Steve growled as he surged forward to take Tony’s lips, his tongue pushing forward, reacquainting itself with Tony’s mouth. When they pulled apart, both men were breathing hard. “We don’t have much time, Tony.” The gentleman from the U.N. was coming to outfit them with their trackers.

But that meant nothing to Tony, not when he had Steve, naked, beautiful Steve who he loved and who loved him back, underneath him. Tony was already moving to place both legs on either side of Steve’s hips, the soldier’s hands coming up, from memory, to rest on Tony’s. “Well then I guess,” Tony grabbed the lube from the nightstand and spread it hastily along Steve’s length, the blonde hissing at the cool contact and upward strokes, “we'll just have to be quick.”

He pushed down onto Steve’s cock, the movement easy and welcoming and just as he was about to start a slow, glide, Steve planted his feet firmly on the bed and angled Tony’s hips up, so that each thrust hit him right on his prostate.

Within minutes Tony was a blabbering mess, and it was only made worse by Steve’s talk. “You feel so fucking good, Tony,” he grunted and thrusted up harder, the sound of slick skin hitting together created a beautiful symphony with both men’s moans.

Tony reached down to jerk himself off but his hand was batted away by Steve. “I got you.” Steve replaced Tony’s hand and his stroke matched the pace of his hips, unrelenting and deliciously rough. “Look at you, riding my cock.” He let his hand stray from Tony’s leaking length to pinch his nipple.  

“Fuck, Steve…” Tony’s head fell forward. “No one would believe your fucking mouth.” He huffed out a breath as Steve picked up his pace, his hand back on Tony’s cock. “Captain Apple Pie, t-talked dirty in b-bed? No...no way…” the words stopped at the back of his throat as he felt himself come, painting Steve’s stomach white. The soldier came soon after and Tony all but collapsed on Steve’s chest.

“That was definitely a record,” mumbled Tony.

Steve chuckled, his hand coming up to massage the back of Tony’s neck. “Mmm-hmmm.” As he peered around Tony’s head, Steve saw that it was 9:32, just enough time to get into the shower and meet the delegate at ten.

Steve placed a kiss to the side of Tony’s head. “Up and at ‘em, Shellhead.”

“Do I have to,” Tony whined.

Steve patted his head. “Yes.”

Tony groaned into warm flesh before rolling off of Steve. “Torture.”

“Yea, you got it real tough,” Steve yelled from the bathroom. “I’m naked and wet, Tony…” he let the sentence trail off, hoping to elicit some kind of reaction from Tony.

He got what he was looking for; within twelve seconds, Tony was in the shower.

-----------------------------------

Despite Steve’s best efforts, they were late. By the time they made it onto the communal floor, the representative from the U.N. was in the midst of his speech about the devices, and he didn’t even bother to look in their direction. “...are waterproof and will not shut off should there be a power outage. We took your teammate, Thor’s, strengths into play when we developed these. As well as some other new additions.”

Tony walked up to the tracking bracelets laying on the table and picked one up, bouncing it in his hand. He shook his head and muttered, “disgraceful.” Steve raised an eyebrow and gave him a small smile, as they moved to sit on the couch next to Natasha.  She was reading a hefty manual on the nuances of the devices. She turned to both men and gave them a smile in greeting, which then turned to an amused smirk when she noticed a hickey on Tony’s neck. Natasha reached out to press her finger to it. “Looks like you’ll need to borrow some of my concealer, Shellhead.”

Tony craned his neck to the side, “I don’t know, I think it suits me.”

Steve blushed next to him and in an effort to change the subject, jutted his chin towards the manual in her hand. “What does it say?”

The spy rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “If we step more than two hundred feet in any direction of the tower, the U.N and authorities will be alerted.” She thumbed through the pages as she spoke. “Even if we disarm the wireless there’s still a backup in place that tracks us, we can’t go more than seventy-five feet off the roof, Scott cannot wear the suit because if he shrinks, they’ll know and that’s a violation…” her voice trailed off and Tony could read in the slump of her shoulders that there were other things that would make their next three months a huge adjustment.

Before he could ask, Natasha rolled her shoulders back and the smile she gave them spoke of acceptance and understanding. “It’s more than we deserve. We’ll get through it.” She set the manual on the table and watched as Clint got outfitted with the tracker. He, did not look happy.

The trio sat quietly for a few moments as they watched each of their friends go up and get the anklets. Soon, it was just Steve and Natasha who had yet to get theirs. Tony watched again as Nat’s body tensed and her fingers started to shake. He looked over at Steve with a question in his eyes.

Steve placed a hand on her shoulder, startling her out of her thoughts. “I’ll go. Stay here with Tony. If he’s not supervised he’ll set something on fire.”

“Hey!”

But the comment got the response he was looking for; a small chuckle escaped Natasha’s plump lips, taking her out of her thoughts. But her hands were still shaking. Tony reached out with one of his and placed it over her left hand. Her head whipped up to stare at him and then ever so slightly, she turned her hand over so they could thread their fingers together.

She stared at their entwined hands as she spoke, her normally raspy voice was even scratchier, and edged with fear. “When we were in the Red Room...we were fitted with trackers. It was a way to not only see where we were and if we were on mission, but to quickly eliminate us if it was necessary.”

Tony’s stomach dropped, and his mouth hung open. He didn’t think he’d ever really know what happened to Natasha during her time in the Red Room, but he did know that he would spend the rest of their time together making sure she never felt used, unwanted or scared. He squeezed her hand.

“Natasha, none of us would ever let something like that happen. Ever.” He pushed the last word out in a huff of anger and emotion. He scooted next to her so their arms were pressed up against one another, neither of them letting go of their hands. Tony peered over at Steve who had just finished and was talking with the U.N. representative.

He turned back to Natasha, their heads close together. “You are safe here, and you are wanted, appreciated, needed and loved. Not one of us, Avengers present and not, would ever let anything happen to you.” His eyes filled with tears and when she picked her head up to meet his gaze, he saw that emotion mirrored in hers. “Look at them, Nat.” With a shuddering breath, she did. “We’re family. It’s what we do.” He nudged her with his shoulder and she gave him a crooked smile.

He placed a kiss to her temple, and then looked up as Steve approached. Those blue eyes were filled with understanding and love, and it dawned on Tony that Steve knew about Natasha’s previous run in with tracking technology. The Captain gave her the chance to get her bearings, and trusted and believed in Tony to help get her there.

Natasha let go of their entwined hands, stood up and then bopped Tony on the nose. “This one is making you soft,” she hooked her thumb in Steve’s direction.

Tony snorted and got up, throwing his arm around Steve’s shoulders. “Honey, that is one thing I could never say about our Cap.”

Natasha rolled her eyes and laughed as she made her way to the rep, leaving a laughing Tony and blushing Steve behind.

----------------------------------------------------

Later that evening, the team gathered in the living room, boxes of Thai littered the floor and table, the tenth doctor on the television.

Tony was just reaching across Steve for some red curry, when the episode was paused and Friday’s soft voice filled the room. “Boss, you have some guest’s downstairs, shall I bring them up?”

Tony swallowed his bite and asked, “Are they my expected guests?”

“Yes. All of them.”

He clapped his hands together and jumped up out of his seat. “Then, yes! Bring ‘em up.”

All eyes were turned to him.

“Anything you want to share, Stark?”

Tony smiled at Sam, “All in good time, birdy of prey.”

Sam turned to Steve, “You know anything about this?”

Steve just shook his head.

Tony walked around the couch to stand by the elevator, and once it pinged his excitement rose; he even started bouncing on his toes. There was some laughter and chatter but once the guests saw Tony, their voices became louder.

It was one voice in particular, a young girl’s exclamation of, “Uncle Tony!” that had Clint bolting from his seat and rushing to the elevator. The team followed him, interested to see what caught Clint’s attention and in the new arrivals. By this time, the group had made their way into the foyer and Clint had stopped dead in his tracks.

There, standing no more than ten feet away from him, was his family. When his daughter pulled back from hugging Tony, she caught sight of her father and ran towards him with an enthusiastic, Daddy!” Clint fell to his knees to catch her, and once she was encased in his arms, he held on and swung her around. There were tears streaming down his face.

Behind the Barton family were two individuals new to the group. A tall, thin woman with strawberry blonde hair stood with her hand tightly holding her daughter’s hand. The young girl wore her brown hair in two pigtails, and was wearing a Hulk t-shirt. When her eyes caught sight of Scott, she dropped her mother’s hand and ran. Her high pitched wail of, “Dad!” was said just as she launched herself in to Scott’s open arms.  

“Cassie!” There were tears in Scott’s eyes as well, but they were kept at bay as his daughter placed hundreds of kisses all over his face.

Clint’s older son Cooper followed his sister’s lead and ran to his father, hugging him around his stomach. Clint’s hand came to rest on the boy’s mess of coffee colored hair, until finally, his eyes landed on his wife. Laura had moved away from Tony, and in her arms was Nate.  At almost two years old, his green eyes were bright and alert taking in all the new sights and sounds around him, a soft mop of sandy colored hair on his small head. When he saw Clint, his face scrunched up into a delighted smile, his small pudgy hands reaching out to his father.

Once Clint placed Lyla back on her feet, Laura walked forward and she and Nate were taken into Clint’s strong arms. “Hi, honey,” she whispered as she buried her head into the crook of his arm.

He hugged her tighter and inhaled. She smelled like home. “I love you.” He rested his cheek against her head and placed a kiss to her hair.

She chuckled. “I love you, too.”

Natasha walked up to the group to hug Lyla, and she reached around the couple to fist bump with Cooper.

“It’s good to see you, Laura.”

“You too, Nat.” Laura looked behind her to nod to the other Avengers. “To see all of you.” Her eyes landed on Steve and she narrowed them a bit. “I’m still pissed as hell at some of you, though,” her voice held no animosity, just weariness. Steve could see that she was genuinely happy to see all of them alive and together. But he knew there still bridges that needed to be mended from their actions.

Steve bowed his head. “You have every right to be.”

She gave him a small smile.

Tony walked up from his place by the elevator. “Your rooms are all set up, Friday can direct you. And from this point on you’ll have complete access to the tower. Well,” he narrowed his eyes at the small humans in his house, “some of you are on a restricted basis seeing as how you have sticky fingers and can break things. Plus, safety.”

Laughter was heard around the room.

“How did you all get here,” Wanda asked.

“I had my plane pick them up and they’ve been given clearance for the tower. They can come and go as they please. And whenever they want to visit, they have open access to the jet.”

The group was stunned into silence. It seemed that none of them had taken into account the members who had family outside of the Avengers. Tony had enough foresight to make sure they were not forgotten.

Clint stepped away from Laura and the kids and walked up to Tony with a look of disbelief and awe. “You didn’t have to do this, Tony.” He turned back and looked at his family, as though if he took his eyes off of them for too long, they’d disappear. “You just…”

Tony closed the gap between them and in a move that astonished the archer, took him in a hug. “Yea, I did, Clint. They’re family, too.” He patted Clint’s back and felt his shuddering breath and his arms came around Tony. “And I know you haven't seen them since this all started, and you’ll be here for some time. It just made sense.”

When they separated, Clint kept his arm on Tony’s. “Thank you will never seem like enough.”

Tony blushed and shrugged. “You never have to thank me, Legolas.”

Scott walked up to them and held out his hand. “Thank you, Tony. I mean, I really don’t know what else to say.” He glanced at Clint. “I agree with his sentiment wholeheartedly.”

Tony shook his hand and smiled. “Friday? Take everyone to their floors.”

Clint and Scott, along with their families piled back into the elevator and headed up to spend some much needed time together.

Once they were gone, the team went back to their previous spots, picking up cold Thai and where they left off on the television.

Steve came up behind Tony, pulling them flush against one another, his hands sitting low on Tony’s waist. “You never fail to surprise me, Tony.” He set his chin on to of Tony’s shoulder and Tony let his head fall back to rest on Steve’s. “That was an incredibly kind thing to do. I know how much Clint and Scott missed their families.”

Tony hummed and placed a wet kiss to Steve’s cheek. “Family shouldn’t be separated.”

Steve chuckled and kissed the top of Tony’s head. “No they shouldn’t.”

------------------------------------------

The rest of that week was a big adjustment for the Avengers. One morning, Wanda wanted to run down to the corner market to grab some pomegranates and just before she made it to the store, her anklet started to beep. She was coming up on the 200 feet, and had to scurry to make it back to the tower. It took Clint and Scott some time to calm her down. She thought that they would immediately take her away and put her back on the Raft.

In another instance, Clint had walked his family down to the main floor of the tower, (the kids wanted to go to Bryant Park) but just as they crossed the street, Nate dropped his binky. Clint, not thinking anything of it, ran to pick it up, but was stopped by the blinking light and a loud, resounding beep. He returned to the tower only to find that a conference call was waiting for him; he had to explain what happened and also fill out, what felt like hundreds of pages of a report for the incident.  

Some people were handling the house arrest better than others. Scott was having a blast showing Cassie around the tower, and they played a game of hide and seek that took nearly three hours. Sam and Natasha kept busy in the gym or sometimes, would take lunch on the roof, staring at the sky and talking about nothing in particular.

Steve found that the first few days left him on edge and feeling confined. He couldn’t keep to his schedule and the things he liked to do. Even when they were in Wakanda, they had freedom. But, just as quickly as that resentment settled in, it left. He knew, in his heart, that taking on his teammates time was the right decision. And this way, he’d have the time to get back to the list he was working on before D.C. There was still a lot of television, movies, music, literature and history to catch up on.

It wasn’t until the end of the second week that Steve received a request to Skype with T’Challa. The monarch had returned to his home -after of course making sure that everything was solidly in order for the Avengers- to return to his rightful duties. He sent Steve and Tony (at the engineer’s request and with permission from Steve), updates on Bucky’s condition, which more often than not would be sent back with Tony’s insightful recommendations on a combination of technology upgrades and PTSD strategies.

“It is good to see you, my friend.”

Steve bowed his head at the young King. “And you. How are you doing? How are your people?”

T’Challa’s smile was wide. “I am doing very well, thank you. As are they. It feels good to be home. Though I gather you know much about that.” He gave Steve a knowing smile.

The soldier blushed and ducked his head.

“The doctors believe that within the next week we could begin the process of pulling him out of the cryo induced sleep.”

Steve gasped. He felt his heart speed up and he could feel the tears prickle behind his eyes. “I don’t...I don’t understand how?”

T’Challa looked down and Steve could hear the shuffling of some papers. “The doctors were able to use EMP technology to rid him of the remaining nanites that were in his brain. It appears that, without the consecutive brain wipes, he regained more of his memories and the serum was able to identify them as foreign bodies and destabilize most of the nanites.”

Steve sat there in awe as T’Challa continued to describe Bucky’s condition.

“As far as the Hydra word list, we believe that we have done all we can with him being under cryostasis. Once he wakes, we’d like to have him begin talking to someone about his experiences and what he had done under Hydra…” T’Challa trailed off and when he next spoke, his voice was soft. “He has been through a lot, Steve. He will need that therapy even more so, than what we can do for his mind.”

Steve nodded. He wanted to speak but the words were stuck in his throat.

“We’ve also received permission from Tony to use his Binary Augmented Retro Framing device. The B.A.R.F will allow him to engage in memories and work through them.”

Tony

That brilliant, wonderful man. Steve felt his chest grow warm and his mouth curve up in a smile. When Tony asked after Bucky those weeks back, Steve hadn't been ready to discuss him with the engineer, not yet. But even after Steve’s minor shutdown, Tony was still keeping in contact with T’Challa and taking huge steps to make sure Bucky received the helped he so desperately needed and deserved.

“T’Challa, thank you. This is all...this is all absolutely wonderful. I can’t wait to see-” his voice dropped off and his face paled.

T’Challa caught the change in tone and looked up. When he saw Steve’s face it confirmed his suspicions: The Captain forgot he couldn’t leave the tower, let alone the country. “Steve, I’m sorry but you know that’s not possible.”

Steve was nodding his head as he looked up and then back down. “No. Of course. I just forgot.” he cleared his throat. “I appreciate you taking the time out of your day to discuss this with me. I will forever be in your debt.”

T’Challa shook his head. “This is not something you will ever owe me for.”

With brief and quick salutations, the chat was finished and Steve sat in his room, his head in his hands, thinking of his friend.

--------------------------------------------

Later that night, as Steve and Tony were sitting on the couch in Tony’s suite, Steve brought up Bucky.

“I spoke to T’Challa today, and he explained that you gave permission for SI to send B.A.R.F over to Wakanda. For Bucky.” Tony’s head was on his lap, and the blonde was carding his hand through Tony’s hair.

Tony nodded. “I did.” He popped two pieces of popcorn into his mouth.

Steve’s hand kept up the rhythmic pace of running through Tony’s hair. “That means a lot to me, Tony. I don’t think you understand how much.”

Tony sat up and turned to face Steve. “I do, Steve. I know how important Barnes is to you. But that’s not the only reason I did it.” Steve furrowed his brows and Tony sighed, tilting his head to the side. He started to bite his lip. “It took a lot of time and talking with Rhodey to realize that you were right about Barnes. In Siberia, you said he didn’t know, that it wasn’t him.” Tony gave a halfhearted shrug. “He was a weapon. He wasn’t given a choice.”

Steve reached across their laps and took Tony’s hand in his own.

“When did T’Challa say they were taking him out of cryo,” Tony asked.

Steve was looking down at their hands and started tracing a circle in the middle of Tony’s hand, reminiscent of the hand repulsor.  “He said sometime by the end of next week.”

Tony nodded. “That’s good. The sooner they can start helping him the better.” They were quiet again, until Tony cleared his throat. “A lot of my anger was at you.” His voice became softer and a bit desperate. When he remembered the events of their fight, it still hurt his heart. He knew that even though he loved Steve with everything he had, those wounds would always ache when pressed. “Because you didn’t tell me.” He looked over at Steve and saw that there were tears in his eyes.

“Tony, that’s one of my biggest regrets. It is. And you were right. I should have told you.”

A tear escaped the confines of his eye and Tony reached over to wipe it away with his thumb. “I don’t want to rehash it, Steve. But I want you to know that I’m doing this because he’s a human being who has had terrible things done to him. I know what that’s like. I know the pain and anger and fear that he’s going to wake up with. He’ll need all the help we can give him.” He snuggled up closer to Steve and rested his head on the other man’s shoulder. “I’m not saying he and I will be best of friends, or that I’ll even spend much time with him if I see him, but that won’t keep me from helping him and you.”

They sat in companionable silence for a moment, Steve’s hand running along Tony’s arm. He could feel the goosebumps the action raised.

“I love you, Steve.”

Tony would never get tired of saying those words, and Steve would never tire of hearing them. Steve placed his hand under Tony’s chin and gave him a long, sensual kiss. “I love you, Tony. So damn much.”

Tony placed his hand on Steve’s thigh, his fingers thrumming along the taut muscle. “Why don’t you show me.”

The movie was forgotten.

---------------------------------------------------

The next two days gave Steve and Tony little time to spend with one another. Whenever Steve would run into the billionaire, Tony was rushing to a meeting for SI, or working on something for the team or the U.N. or checking in on Ross on the Raft.

He knew the man wasn’t avoiding him, but he couldn’t help and wonder if their conversation the other night put a bit of a wedge between them. Steve shook those thoughts from his head and felt the tension leaving his body when he caught sight of Tony coming of the elevator. He was dressed in an impressive three-piece suit, black with a red tie. Steve felt his mouth go dry at the sight.

“Hi there, Capsicle. How’s it going?” He went up on his toes to kiss Steve.

“That’s a nice suit, Tony.” Steve’s voice had dropped about three octave’s and Tony could feel the fire in his belly.

Tony ran his hands down his chest. “I do what I can.” He nodded back to the elevator. “You got a minute?”

Steve followed him and soon, they were down on the medical bay. It was crowded with people, many of whom he had not seen before. They were scurrying about, hooking up wires and checking on machines; Steve was overwhelmed just watching them work.

“Tony, what are we doing down here?”

The other man briefly taped Steve’s bicep and gestured to the back room. “This way.”

It wasn’t until they made it into the small space that Steve realized what was going on, and he soon found himself falling to his knees. Tony of course, was there to catch him.

“Hey. Hey. Hey. Easy there, Steve.” He grabbed him under the arms and ushered back into a vacant seat. “Take a minute. Breathe.” Steve had started to find that it was difficult to catch his breath. He hadn’t felt that way since before the serum. Tony was a comforting presence against his side and his hand sat over Steve’s heart; the man’s hand helping him steady his breathing.

“Shit. I didn’t think this through. I should have just told you and then brought you down here.”

Steve took in a shuddering breath. “No.” He grabbed Tony’s wrist and stilled him. When he brought his head up, Tony saw his cheeks were wet from tears. “This. I, just...God, Tony,” he practically sobbed. He cupped Tony’s head and crashed their lips together.

When they pulled apart, the two men rested their foreheads against one another. Tony stood up first, his knees stiff from squatting. He held out his hand to Steve, which the other man gratefully took. “C’mon.”

Once they entered the room, Steve was able to get a clear view of Bucky still asleep in the cryo tube, the black wrap around his damaged shoulder a stark contrast against his pale skin. His hand reached out to touch the glass but he stopped. Tony, sensing his hesitation took his hand and placed it in the center of the glass, and then rested his hand over Steve’s.

“I spoke to T’Challa after you had that skype session with him. He filled me in on the plan to wake Barnes up, and even before he told me, I knew it had to hurt to know you wouldn’t be there when he opened his eyes.”

Steve turned to look at Tony and saw that the other man was staring at his best friend.

“There’s apparently a shitload of paperwork you have to fill out when you essentially ship a human being across the globe but,” he shrugged and gave his patented Tony Stark smirk, “we got it done.”

He stepped around the tube and let his finger trail along some of the medical instruments and the desks. “T’Challa pulled a lot of strings and he paid for everything.” He let his hand fly out at his sides gesturing to the people out in the other room. “Many of those employees are the very doctors who were working with Barnes in Wakanda. T’Challa released them to us until Barnes is physically healed.”

Tony walked back up to Steve and let his arms rest at the small of his back. “The U.N. had to be notified of course, but seeing as how he is pardoned, no one can come for him.”

Steve felt an immense weight fall of his shoulders at that. He turned his gaze back to his friend. No one would come for him, he’d wake up and have a real chance at a life. His voice sounded like sandpaper when he spoke, “Tony. I can’t believe you did all of this.”

Tony shrugged again. “Couldn't have you moping around. You knew he was going to be brought out of cryo, and the very fact that you wouldn't be there, to help...I knew that had to hurt Steve. He’s your best friend.” He gave the soldier a small smile. “They’ll wake him in two days.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at that. He was ecstatic that Bucky was here, in the tower, but he loved Tony, and wanted to make sure the engineer was okay with this shift in the plan as well. He closed the small gap between them and hugged Tony, letting his chin rest on top of the shorter man’s head. “You are one of the most giving men I have ever met, Tony.” He turned his head to nuzzle Tony's hair with his cheek. “But sometimes you forget to think about yourself.” He pulled back so he could look into Tony’s gorgeous brown eyes. “Are you alright with this?” Steve placed his finger under Tony’s chin so he couldn’t look away. “The truth.”

Tony sighed and closed his eyes. “At first, when he landed, I felt…” he trailed off and closed his eyes, trying to find the words, “I felt like with him here, you’d forget about me.”

Steve’s heart broke when he heard those words.

“That maybe all of this was just a distraction.” His eyes fell to the floor, the tip of his tongue peeking out to lick his lips.

“Oh, Tony,” Steve whispered, “you are an idiot.” This time, it was Steve’s turn to place Tony in the seat, and as he kneeled in front of him, one hand came to rest on Tony’s thigh, and the other on his cheek.

Tony pushed his head into Steve’s hand. “That’s not a nice thing to say.”

Steve snorted. “I’m going to say this and I want you to really listen to me.” He paused to make sure he had Tony’s full attention and one he got a small nod from the genius he said, “I am in love with you, Tony. You .” He stopped and shook his head. “I told you that I started to feel something for you around the time of Ultron, so this,” he gestured between them, “was not something new to me. It is not a fling or something to get out of my system, or a distraction.” His thumb started to caress Tony’s cheek. “The only way you could be considered a distraction is in the way you scrunch your nose when you’re working on the armor, or how you run your hands through your hair when you’re nervous.” His voice became soft, and was filled with such undeniable love that Tony couldn’t stop the tears building in his eyes if he wanted to. “You’re distracting in the way you mouth drops open and your eyes flutter shut just before you come, in how animated you are when you talk about something you’re passionate about, or in the way you steal the covers but it’s okay because I’m always warm, and in the way you love this team so much you’ll destroy yourself to keep them safe.”

Steve pushed himself forward until there was not an inch of space between them. He let his forehead rest against Tony’s, his breath warm against the other man’s lips. “You distract me, Shellhead, from the nights where I feel that water enter my mouth and freeze my lungs, from the image of my friend falling from a train, from the fear I have about living in a world that’s so different from when I last left it.” Steve paused then said, “You made me want to live, Tony. So don’t, for one second, think that this will ever go away. No matter what you do or say, I’m not walking away. We’re in this together.”

Tony took in a shuddering breath and when he let it out he gasped, “Steve,” and his hands scrambled to come around the soldier’s back.

The two lovers sat and held one another, neither man in a hurry to move.

Tony turned his head and kissed Steve’s neck. “I really have to know… do you write those things down or do you just say it off the top of your head?”

Steve couldn’t contain the laugh that burst forth from his mouth. “You and Sam are forbidden from hanging out with one another.” He chuckled and ran his thumb over Tony’s lips.

Tony pulled back and kissed Steve. “I love you too, ya know.” The smile Steve gave him could light up the city. “It isn’t strange to you that this is where we are after everything?”

Steve furrowed his brow then said, “No. I know I’ve always cared about you, Tony. I’d like to think you felt the same. People who don’t love each other could never get as angry at each other as we did.” he gave a slight shrug. “You could argue that this has always been there. It was always the way it was going to end.”

Tony looked passed him and stared at Barnes. “Maybe we needed to tear some things down to build to something greater.”

Steve’s eyes grew wide. “Now you sound like me.”

Tony rolled his eyes and then got quiet. “You’ll be here when he wakes up, Steve. It’s how it should be.”

Steve took Tony’s hand in his and helped the engineer to his feet. “I’d like you to be there with me when he does.”

Tony startled at that. “Do you think it’s a good idea?”

Steve knew he was referring to the animosity the two had for one another in Siberia. “I do. You’re both a part of my life. I want you there,” he sucked his lip between his teeth, “I need you there.”

Tony nodded once. “Then say no more.”

The two men stood side by side in comforting silence.

 

Chapter Text

Later that evening, the other Avengers were told about their new roommate, and the schedule to wake him up in two days. They were all happy for Steve; they knew what having Barnes in New York meant to him.

After their talk, the Avengers went their separate ways. Steve and Sam went to work out, Wanda and Vision were babysitting Clint’s children (him and Laura were having adult time), and Scott was having dinner with Cassie.

Tony made his way down to his workshop, hoping to get back to some projects he had put on the backburner. He was fiddling with new wings for Sam when he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Tony leaned back slightly in his seat and placed his finger on the band of his gauntlet watch. As he turned, he pushed and pulled the watch, the familiar whirring of the repulsor filled the room, and as he brought his hand up, ready to stun, he stopped when he heard, “Tony! Stop! It’s me!”

Tony’s shoulders dropped and his mouth followed suit. There, in rumpled khakis and a bright blue shirt, impressive tan and disheveled salt and pepper hair, was Bruce Banner. His eyes were wide and hands were up in the customary pose of surrender.

Tony blinked and tried to speak. When he did succeed, he swallowed, blinked and again and took a deep breath. “Friday, why wasn’t I told about Dr. Banner’s arrival?”

There was a momentary pause, as though the AI was trying to figure out what would be an acceptable response.

“Boss, Dr. Banner still had his credentials in the system and seeing as how it had not been changed or revoked since his last time in the tower, I deemed it appropriate for him to come in as per usual.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. There was tremor of worry but also adoration in her voice for the other scientist. He saw where he stood in the grand scheme of things. But it didn’t matter. Soon, he stepped forward and without warning, took Bruce into a tight hug.

Within seconds, Tony felt Bruce’s hands come around him and the two men held one another, the only sound in the room the excited whirs from the bots.

When they pulled away, Tony saw tears shining in Bruce’s eyes. “It’s good to see you, Bruce. Really good.”

The shy doctor gave an endearing smile and ducked his head, his shoulders pulling forward. “I missed you too, Tony. It’s a… it’s good to be home.”

Tony’s eyes widened at the term and his heart burst with love for his wayward friend. He hadn’t realized how much he missed his science bro until that moment. There were so many times over the last couple of months where he wished he could call Bruce, but having him here now, definitely made up for the time apart.

“Did anyone see you?”

Bruce shook his head. “Just Friday.”

Tony nodded. “You want to shower, get something to eat and then we can talk?”

Bruce let out a grateful sigh and then turn cautious. “That sounds fantastic but, since when are you a talker, Tony?”

He shrugged. “Since I realized actually speaking to one another can avoid major worldwide catastrophes. And it’s an acceptable adult move. I’m trying to be more adultish. Adult like?” He rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”  

Bruce gave him a solemn nod and then chuckled at his lack of “adultness” in that response. “Give me ten minutes?”

Tony smirked. “You can use my floor for now.” He figured that Bruce didn’t want anyone alerted to his presence yet, which he understood and appreciated. He wanted a chance to really talk to his friend.

Bruce walked to the glass doors but stopped. “I know we’ll talk when I get back but I’ve read about what you’ve done, Tony, since everything started.”

Tony looked down and shuffled his feet.

“I’m proud of you.” The engineer slowly brought his head up to meet Bruce’s eyes but before he could speak the doctor said, “and eternally grateful.” With that, he turned on his heel and headed up to shower.

Tony stared at the spot his friend just left and felt at complete peace.

----------------------------------------------------

When Bruce returned to the workshop, there were quite a few cartons of Indian food covering Tony’s worktable. He also noticed that Tony had blacked out the windows. Bruce walked over and picked up a plate of Chana Masala, and sat next to Tony on his couch.

“You didn’t have to do this,” he said gesturing to the food and the windows.

Tony shrugged, “I knew you had to be hungry. Who knew where you flew in from. And this way, the team will just think that I don’t want to be disturbed.”

Bruce nodded and the two of them ate in silence for a while. Once Bruce cleared two more plates of Chicken Tikka and rice, he took a long drag of tea and then sat back, turning to Tony. “Where do we start?”

Tony mirrored his pose. “How about from the beginning?”

And so he did.

He told Tony that once he left Sokovia, the Quin crashed down around Fiji, the body of the jet having taken more hits than Bruce knew. By then, the Big Guy was gone and it was just a scantily clothed Bruce, swimming to the beach. There was a couple sunbathing when he came out of the water, and they startled at the sight of him. But they brought him into their home and gave him some clothes and food, and he was soon on his way.

“I made it back out to the Quin on a small fishing boat I borrowed from them. I figured there had to be something on there I could use.” He gave Tony a knowing smile. “I found the phone and got your message. You knew where I was but you didn’t come after me.” It wasn’t a question. Bruce’s voice was filled with gratitude and awe.

Tony shrugged. “I built the damn thing, of course I knew how to find you. But I figured you didn’t want to be found and when you did, you’d let me know. I just wanted you to be taken care of Bruce. You’re my friend.”

The other man nodded and ducked his head. Tony had given him a bank account number to a bank in Fiji with enough money to supply Bruce for five years on the run. But the doctor had barely touched any of it. “I needed time to think things over.”

Tony sat back and let Bruce come to his thoughts. He knew the other man would speak when he was ready. Bruce removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “After Ultron, I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, we created this thing that nearly destroyed the human race. How could I trust myself in a lab? And then in Africa?” He huffed out a breath and shook his head. “I felt the Other Guy’s fear and anger, Tony. it’s a miracle I didn’t kill anyone.” Tony knew he was referring to the time after Wanda got to the team with her visions.

Bruce crossed his arms and bit his lip. “I just needed to get away from it all. I needed a chance to be Bruce Banner and see what came next.”

Tony raised his eyebrow. “What was that?”

Bruce looked up at him and gave him a crooked smile. “I was able to help a lot of people in Fiji, Tony. But every time a picture of the team showed up on the television or in the papers, I felt this pull, right here,” he tapped himself in the middle of his chest, “and I knew that the only place I truly belonged was with you. With all of you.” He halfheartedly shrugged. “You all know me and the Other Guy. And with all of you, I know I don’t have to worry about either of us.” He swiped his finger under his eye. “You’ve got my back.” 

Tony was filled with relief. “But why didn’t you come home, then?”

Bruce sighed and leaned forward in his seat. “There was talk about the Accords, about a law that would restrict what we could do and then a list that wanted our information.” He shook his head and said, “I couldn’t be a part of that. There was no way I’d let the government have control over me like that and then when I heard Ross had a hand in it,” he stopped to take a deep breath. Tony caught a glimpse of green in the doctor's eyes and cheeks. “There was no way I could come home with him having it out for me.”

“I can understand that, Bruce. And I respect that.”

The two men were once again quiet. Each one thinking about the decisions that brought them to this very moment. Bruce spoke up, “Then I saw you walking with him after everyone had signed and I couldn’t understand how you could stand by him. You basically told the United States government to “fuck off” when they wanted your suits and now you were working with them?” Bruce’s brows had furrowed and there was pain in his eyes. Tony swore under his breath. He could see that his friend was still hurt at his initial decision with the Accords.

It was Tony’s turn to lean forward, their knees touching. “I couldn’t trust myself, Bruce, and they’re not wrong. We do need limitations- - Ultron was the perfect example of that. But, as I quickly realized when everything went to shit, the original Accords weren’t the way to go.”

Bruce titled his head and looked at Tony. “I saw images from Leipzig. You all fought, Tony.”

The genius’ shoulders dropped and he sagged against the couch cushions. He couldn’t look Bruce in the eyes. “I still have nightmares about that.” He crossed his arms and stared at the loose string on his jeans. “Every night I fight someone else. Sometimes it’s Wanda, other nights it’s Nat or Sam.” He shook his head trying to clear his head. “Other times I just watch Rhodey fall from the sky, again.” When he finally looked up he saw pain in Bruce’s eyes and was sure the other man could see it in his own. “I stopped dreaming about Siberia, so that’s a plus.”

Bruce had heard about the fight between Tony, Steve and James Barnes. He was sure he didn’t know the whole story, but he knew Tony would tell him in time.

“What made you want to take on Ross and the Accords?”

Tony’s face contorted into anger. “They were wrong as they were. No one was truly protected in them and Ross was dirty. Everything he did was carefully orchestrated so he could control and hurt us.” His chest was heaving, “I couldn’t let that happen. And they needed to come home, Bruce. They’re family. I needed you all home.”

Bruce reached over and placed his hand on Tony’s bicep. “No one else could have gotten that done except for you. What you did for this team, for the world...there are no words.”

The pressure from Bruce’s hand had a calming effect on Tony. “You helped too, Bruce. We couldn’t have gotten rid of him without your help. You were a lifesaver.”

Bruce's smile was predatory. “I’d been waiting years to do that.”

Tony snorted.

“Boss, Captain Rogers is outside the door. Shall I let him in?”

Tony raised an eyebrow and looked to Bruce. The scientist took a deep breath and nodded.

“So, I need a shower and I thought I’d ask if you wanted to join m-” he stopped when he caught sight of Bruce.

The older man’s eyes grew wide at what he heard and his mouth turned up into a shit eating grin. “So that’s how you guys made up, huh?” He started to laugh. When he calmed down he turned to Tony and said, “It’s about damn time.” He swung his gaze around to Steve. “We were going to start taking bets.”

Tony bounced his eyebrows up and down and gave a lascivious grin. “I can tell you all about it, Brucie Bear.”

Bruce held up his hands, “No. I’m fine, thanks.”

Steve walked up to Bruce, his blue eyes filled with disbelief and pronounced relief. “It’s so good to see you, Bruce. You’ve been missed.” The two men shook hands and then, despite his sweaty shirt, Steve took the good doctor into a tight hug. They pulled apart but Steve left his hand on Bruce’s arm. “Has the team seen you?”

Bruce shook his head.

“Let me shower and we’ll go up together?”

Tony’s chest was filled with so much love and gratitude for Steve in that moment. He knew the soldier could gather that Bruce would be a bit nervous to see the team; so he was reassuring him that he’d be there by his side. That nothing would go wrong.

“I’d appreciate that, Steve.”

“I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

“Wait,” Tony shouted. “What about shower time?” he pouted.

Bruce chuckled and Steve blushed. “Later, Tony.”

“Oh, no, Cap. Don’t let me keep you from…” he gestured between Steve and Tony. “I can stay here until you two get back.” He smirked in Tony’s direction.

“Yes!” Tony practically jumped into the air. “You’re the bestest of best friends, Bruce.”

The two men were gone.

They didn’t return for another twenty minutes.

-----------------------

“Maybe I can just hide out in the workshop for a few days…” Bruce said, the uncertainty evident in his voice.

The elevator had come to a stop on the communal floor; Tony had Friday tell the team to meet there so Bruce could get this done in one shot. He placed his hand on Bruce’s back, “I’m telling you, they’re gonna be more relieved than anything.”

Bruce certainly hoped so. He felt he left Sokovia in such a hurried and cowardly way, he didn’t know what to expect from the team.

“We’ve all been through a lot, Bruce. I think they’ll just be happy to see you and know that you’re home.”

Bruce’s heart swelled at the term and he gave Steve a shy smile, but his tension returned when he heard laughter coming from the living room. As they turned the corner, Sam called out, “Steve, please tell them that I kicked your ass.” He was smiling wide and gesturing at Natasha and Clint, the two assassins were sitting on the beanbags that Wanda was so fond of.

Tony laughed, “Hate to break it to you, Wilson, but Cap’s ass is just fine.”

Sam groaned and everyone else laughed; but it quickly died down when all eyes fell on the doctor. Bruce stood a few feet behind Steve and Tony, one hand massaging his neck, while he raised his other in greeting, “Hey, everyone.”

There were a few moments of stunned silence, but it was Clint who got up first and went to Bruce. He placed his hand on the scientist’s shoulder and said, “It’s good to see you, Banner.” He patted Bruce’s shoulder and then gave Cap a smile as he headed back to the couch.

Though Sam and Scott had never met Bruce, the two men went up to him to thank him for his contributions to helping the Accords and landing Ross in jail. Rhodey stepped up and shook the man’s hand and Bruce was overcome with such relief at seeing the Colonel walking and without pain.

Finally, Natasha made her way over to him and everyone could feel the tension in the room rise, as they held their breath, waiting to see what Natasha would do. The group was stunned when, instead of striking him like they thought she might, she stepped forward and took him in a hug.

Bruce noticed her take a step forward and braced himself for the hit, but when it didn’t come, and he instead was wrapped in small, strong arms; his eyes grew wide and he let out a shuddering breath. He followed her lead and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in the crook of her neck.

“All you needed to do was talk to us, Bruce. Talk to me.”

He closed his eyes and nodded. “I needed to figure some things out on my own. I didn’t know where he began and I ended,” he whispered. 

They pulled apart and Natasha nodded. She understood the fear of losing yourself to the monster within.

“How did you fix it?”

He gave a small shrug and said, “I realized that there was no division.”

She hummed, standing in front of Bruce, her hands resting on his forearms.

During their time apart, each of them was able to realize that their initial attraction was out of a connection to someone who understood those terrors within. For Bruce, Natasha was strong in ways he couldn’t be and hadn’t learned, and for the assassin, Bruce was grounded and soft, things she believed lost to the Red Room.

It felt good to be standing in front of one another.

Her gaze became serious, green eyes narrowing into thin slits. “I still want to beat the shit out of you, but maybe when we’re in a more manageable environment.”

He ducked his head and hid his smile. “I can understand that. You get one hit and then all bets are off.”

She raised her brow and gave her patented smirk.

It was Sam who spoke next. “Are you thinking about staying?”

Banner looked to Tony and Steve and after a few seconds said, “Yea. It was time I came home.” The group smiled.  “Besides, I have new team members to meet and I’m sure there’s tons of work that can be done. I’m not…” he stopped and took a deep breath, “I’m not too sure about a Code Green yet, but I can be of help in other ways.”

“Of course you can, Brucie Bear. I’ve got a list a mile long of things you could do. Your floor is ready and waiting for you.” He gave Bruce a hug and then clapped his hands as he stepped back. Tony caught Bruce’s gaze and flicked his eyes to where Wanda stood, off in the corner on her own.

Bruce let his head fall and gave a slight nod.

“Alright, guys. Let Bruce get settled in, we can all bug him at dinner.”

The group laughed and made their way out of the room, each of them in turn taking a moment to once again welcome Bruce home. He hadn’t felt so light and free in almost a year. The entire time he was away all he wanted to do was reach out to them, to remind himself that he was not alone. But there were some things in life that had to be done that way.

He looked over at Wanda and sighed again; this was one of them.

She was leaning against the long window, her arms crossed over her chest. The closer Bruce got, the more the tension and unease in his stomach grew as he remembered the last time he and Wanda were in the same place. He felt that familiar twinge of anger, but it dissipated once he had come up next to her: she had been silently crying.

He mirrored her stance and said, “I don’t believe in sugarcoating things.” He swiped his finger over his lip. “I’m still mad, Wanda.” She picked her head up and looked him in the eyes. “You made me see things and feel things that I had worked so hard to move past.” Bruce’s voice broke and he felt all those old wounds rip apart. “Out of everyone, you should understand what it’s like,” he took a staggering breath, “when there’s something inside you that you can’t understand, control or maybe even want.”

She bit her lip and nodded. “I do,” she whispered hoarsely.  She closed her eyes and tears skipped across her cheeks like rocks on a lake. “I’m sorry, Bruce.”

It was his turn to nod. “I appreciate that, and I must apologize too.” She furrowed her brows at him. “For when I attacked you in the lab,” he amended.

Wanda sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “You had every right to question me.” She shook her head as though to clear her thoughts. “I had been so angry...but maybe that is something you too, can understand,” she looked up at him sheepishly.

He gave her a small smile. “I can,” he answered, encouraging her to continue.

“I had been so angry with Tony and in turn the Avengers, and I couldn’t see past that. I hurt innocent people.” She turned to meet his gaze, “good people.”

It was Bruce’s turn to bow his head.

“You have every right to be angry with me still, Bruce. And I understand if you never really get over that. It took the others some time to get past what I showed them.” She worried her lip and Bruce could see her struggle. “But please know that I am truly sorry,” she said imploringly. “I know what you saw and I…” her voice cracked under the weight of emotion, “I don’t know how you could ever forgive me.”

He looked down at his feet as they scuffed against the floor. He remembered standing outside the Quin when he felt this wave of fear and anger...and then the images started. There were memories of his abusive father, quick flashes of Ross trying to kill him, his fight with the Abomination, the damage he’d done as the Hulk, the image of the dead if he were to be set loose. He could taste the bile at the back of his throat, felt his stomach roll just thinking about all of that again.

Bruce sighed and placed his hand on her arm, startling the young woman. “If we hold onto things, and never learn to heal, we’re not really living, Wanda.” His voice was soft and sincere and he spoke. “I think everyone in this tower can attest to that.” He bent down to make sure she caught his eye. “I’d like to get to know you. I’d like for us to become acquaintances and maybe even friends.”

Her eyes grew wide at that last suggestion. “Why…?”

“Because I’ve seen the good you’ve done with the team, and I know that they wouldn’t fight for you, let alone live with you if they hadn’t found the young woman who was there before the magic.”

Her lip quivered and she closed her eyes. Bruce felt tears splash against his hand.

“I’d like that,” she whispered.

Her gave her a small smile and the two stood there, side by side, staring out at the city below.

-------------------------------------------------------------

Later that night, dinner was a raucous affair. In honor of Bruce’s return, they ordered sushi and all crowded into the communal living room; Avengers and extended family alike. At one point, Tony had to get up to take a conference call, absentmindedly kissing Steve before he left the room. Steve caught Natasha and Bruce’s knowing grins and rolled his eye at the pair, but he couldn’t help the warmth he felt at Tony’s gesture. It was something he didn’t even think about, and didn’t even hesitate about doing it in front of the team. As Steve watched him go he felt his heart tighten at the sight. God, he was a goner.

When Tony returned, he took a moment to stare at the beautiful sight before him. Bruce, Steve and Natasha were huddled together, Bruce talking and gesturing wildly, the two Avengers laughing at his tall tales. Across the room, Clint and Sam were battling Lyla and Cassie on the foosball table, the two girls winning (with a little help from the bird duo), Wanda and Vision were seated awfully close on the settee, while Rhodey and Scott were playing Mario Kart, the rest of the Barton clan cheering behind them.

“Friday, record this please.”

“Of course, Boss.”

Tony couldn’t help but want to hoard this memory; to save it for a time when they may not all be under the same roof again, or when their hair may be a bit grayer and reaction times a bit slower. His hand went to the center of his chest where the arc reactor used to be, and he felt the steady beat of his heart. It felt strong. As his eyes raked over the group once more, he realized he has never, in all his life, felt as complete and content as he did in that moment. Everything he had been through from that dank cave to the farthest reaches of outer space led him to this moment with these people.

He would spend the rest of his life making sure they were safe and knew how very loved they were; and he knew they would do the same for him.

Tony had been so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t hear Steve come up behind him. He startled when he felt strong arms wrap around his waist from behind. Steve let his chin rest on Tony’s shoulder, breathing in the scent he loved so much.

“You were staring into space there, Tony.” Steve placed a kiss to the underside of Tony’s jaw. “You okay?”

Tony hummed, as his hands came to rest on Steve’s warm skin. “You ever think about the things we could have done differently? Like, how one decision might mean you or I wouldn’t be here?”

Steve furrowed his brows and turned Tony in his arms so they were face to face. “Like, fate?”

Tony shrugged, then after thinking on it a second, nodded.

It was Steve’s turn to become contemplative. “I never really thought of it. But you know, that thinking also includes all the bad things.” His face became somber.

Tony closed his eyes and when he opened them there was a slight sheen. “But look at where we are, Steve.” Tony gestured between the two of them, they gestured to the team behind him. “Look what we have.”

Steve looked past Tony and let his eyes rest on each of his friends. He didn’t realize he was nodding until Tony cupped his cheek and placed a kiss on his lips. “You know I love you, right?”

Steve tilted his head and hummed. “Why don’t you know me how much?”

Tony laughed when he realized Steve was throwing his words from earlier back at him. He grabbed the Captain’s hand and after one final glance back, they were on the elevator up to Tony’s room.

----------------------------

Steve woke up to an empty bed. He turned to the clock on the nightstand and saw that it was a little after nine in the morning. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back onto the pillow.

His arm, on its own volition, sought out the other side of the bed, only to find it cool. Tony had been gone for some time. Steve rolled onto his stomach and had to stifle a groan. He could feel the muscles in his legs flutter and strain at the movement, felt that ache in his lower body that felt so good.

When they made it back up here last night, Tony made sure to show Steve just how much he was loved.

Steve’s shirt had been discarded the moment the elevator doors opened to Tony’s floor, the engineer lapping lewdly over Steve’s hardened nipples. The younger man’s head fell back as Tony’s free hand, began palming him through his jeans.

“Oh, fuck, Tony.”

A mischievous grin was felt against heated skin. “That’s the idea, Steve.”

Tony tore himself away from Steve’s delicious flesh only to remove his own shirt and start undoing his pants, his movements faltered when Steve reached forward to pull Tony into a raw and powerful kiss. Their teeth clanked together, tongues fought for dominance and Steve returned the favor; strong fingers ghosting over Tony’s denim covered cock.

Tony’s mouth fell open and Steve took the opportunity to kiss along his jaw and down his neck, sucking on his collarbone.

The two men stumbled into Tony’s room, clothing discarded along the way. Tony knew he would have a bruise on his elbow from the fall he took into the wall, from hurriedly removing his pants. He silenced Steve’s laughter with a kiss.

Now, both naked, the two of them fell onto the bed; Tony finding himself under Steve’s warm body, his legs falling open. Once their hard, and leaking cocks brushed, the urgency of coming together took precedent.

“It’s in the drawer,” Tony gasped as he rolled his hips forward to rut against Steve’s thigh.

Steve leaned over, yelping when he felt Tony bite his side, then soothe over the mark with his tongue. Once he was settled back in-between Tony’s legs, he popped the cap but stopped. He was looking down at Tony, olive skin flushed and covered in a sheen of sweat, eyes blown black from lust, lips parted, greedily taking in much needed air.

Steve leaned down, placing the bottle next to them, and cupped Tony’s beautiful face. “I want you to take me, Tony.” He kissed those plump lips and sat back up.

Tony rapidly blinked at Steve’s request, those soft lashes kissing his cheekbones, pert pink tongue licking his lips. He didn’t mind bottoming; to be completely honest, with Steve, it made him feel safe and protected, added a whole new layer of intimacy to when they had sex. Did he think about topping? Of course, but he never broached the subject. Here and now that Steve had asked for it, made Tony want him in a whole new way.

“Um, yea,” he cleared his throat, “Ok.” He shimmied out from under Steve and felt himself harden even more at the sight of the other man taking his place, on his back.

Settling himself between Steve’s legs was an otherworldly experience. There was such reverence and love as his trembling hands skimmed from the bone in his ankle up to the soft, quivering muscle of Steve’s thigh.

He could hear Steve’s breathing change, from heavy pants to breathy, gasps. “Tony,” he warned.

Tony grabbed the bottle of lube and coated his fingers in them and as he positioned himself at Steve’s entrance he took a deep breath. The image was delicious. “God, Steve…” (how was he supposed to concentrate?) “I don’t…”

Steve had thrown an arm over his eyes and said, “I’m sure you c-can figure it out.” There was a teasing and challenging tone in his voice.

Tony, with one finger and a deft twist of his wrist, plunged into Steve’s warm, tight heat without any warning. He leaned up and said, “Figured it out.” He watched as Steve’s hand dropped, his eyes widened then shut, his mouth opening up to a silent moan. Tony leaned forward and placed gentle bites along Steve’s hipbones, until he felt the other man start to push down on his finger.

Then he added another one. Their dance went on like this until thin strings of precome were leaking out of Tony, and Steve was a blubbering mess.

“I want you, Tony.” There was a quiver in his voice. “Inside me, please.”

Tony withdrew his fingers and moaned as he coated himself in the lube. He knew this would be quick. He moved forward until Steve’s thighs were propped on his own, and with one hand lifting Steve’s hips a bit more, guided himself inside his lover.

While Tony groaned, Steve gasped, his hands reaching out to grip the sheets.

“Tony, you have to move, sweetheart.” Steve wriggled his hips, settling on Tony even more.

The engineer let his head drop to Steve’s chest. “Just, one minute.” He adjusted his hips and was assaulted by the tightness and warmth of Steve. “So fucking tight, Steve.”

After a few seconds of adjustment, Tony finally started to move. His hands found purchase on Steve’s waist and his thrusts started out agonizingly slow. Every time he would pull out to the head, and then thrust back in, grazing that sweet spot buried deep.

Steve’s hands closed over Tony’s wrists. “We should have fucking done this sooner.”

Tony chuckled and leaned forward to kiss Steve. “I like it when you do all the work.”

“I’m gonna, oh God,” his head fell back and his hips rolled up, “I’m gonna ‘member that.”

Steve let his eyes wander over Tony’s strong body. Where Steve was broad, Tony was lean and muscled. It was easy to forget how strong he was when inside the suit or covered in clothes, but here, with no barriers between them, Steve was in awe of the raw physical strength Tony had. It was beautiful to watch and erotic to see it used in this way.

The two men kept up that slow, torturous rhythm until Tony started to feel that familiar tug and pull in his belly. He pulled out, ignoring the other mans strangled plea, placed Steve’s ankles on Tony’s shoulders. When he entered the blonde again, the angle was completely new. If it were possible, he was deeper than he had been before.

Steve was completely undone. “More, Tony. Fuck, yes.” He was biting his lip, his hair a wild mess on the white sheets. Steve’s cock was steadily leaking and Tony knew that they were both close. In one swift movement, he leaned forward, practically folding Steve on himself, and took him in a hungry kiss. Every time Tony’s tongue swept over Steve’s, he’d roll his hips forward; each time he’d suck on Steve’s tongue, he’d follow it with a bite or a pinch.

“You’re mine, Steve.” He kissed him hard, swallowing Steve’s moan.

Steve ran his hand up Tony’s chest and stopped at his heart. “Yours, Tony.”

“Come with me.”

Tony reached down and took Steve’s cock, the pressure of Tony’s scarred fingers finally on him was what pushed him over the edge. Steve came with a loud cry, painting Tony’s hand and his stomach in white.

Tony followed him seconds after.

 

Steve turned over and felt himself grow hard at the memory. Tony was a drug he never wanted to get over. As his hand traveled down his body, he felt the dried up come on his skin and knew he had to jump in the shower. Just as he was out of bed, Tony came strolling in, Steve’s toned ass in his line of sight.

“Ah, perfect timing.” Steve turned around and smiled, but Tony’s eyes were drawn to his erection. “Really, perfect timing.”

He sauntered up to Steve and kissed him.

“You were gone,” Steve’s voice was a bit sad.

Tony nodded. “I’m sorry about that. I had something to get done first thing, but I knew you’d sleep in. And I had Friday alert me to when you woke up.”

“Anything important?”

Tony tilted his head thinking about it. “We can talk about it after.”

“After?”

Tony walked past him and with one quick move, took his shirt off, his hands starting on his jeans. “You coming, Cap?”

Steve was on him in seconds.

-------------------------------------

It wasn’t until they were both dressed and eating that Tony explained where he went.

“I wanted to go talk to Barnes’ doctors. They’re waking him up today.”

The bite Steve was about to take stilled in midair.

Tony continued, “I wanted to make sure they had everything they needed, and I spoke to Bruce and he said he would be there, too.” He shrugged, “I know Bruce isn’t that kind of doctor but there’s no one else I’d rather have in there with T’Challa’s team and Barnes.”

Steve put the fork down and sat back in his chair. He took a deep breath. “I’m scared,” he whispered.

Tony scooted his chair closer to Steve, so much so that they were pressed up tightly against one another. If someone walked in, they wouldn’t be able to tell where Steve ended and Tony began.

“It’s totally alright to be scared, Steve. You should be scared, hell I’m scared.” At Steve’s pained expression he quickly added, “Not entirely because of that, though it’s there, but because I want this to work. For you and him.” He licked his lips and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them he said, “Being scared is good. But it’s also important to be realistic, hopeful and excited.”

Steve turned to look at Tony, and there was such love in his eyes. Steve nodded.

Tony grabbed his hand. “Remember, you’re not doing this alone, and I don’t just mean me.” Tony’s mouth curved up into a beautiful smile. “This team is here for you and Barnes. Whatever you need, we’ve got you.”

Steve returned the smile and let his head rest on Tony’s shoulders. They sat in companionable silence for a few more minutes, Tony’s hand carding through Steve’s hair. “If you’re finished here, we can head down now.”

Steve’s shoulder rose and fell with his breath, and he nodded. Once they were in the elevator, Steve closed the space between him and Tony and took him in a hug; Tony’s arms immediately coming up to hold the other man, too. “I try, Tony, so many times to tell you how I feel, but the words that come to mind are never enough.” He placed a kiss to Tony’s temple and let his head rest there.

Tony turned his head to breath Steve in. “’I love you,’ is perfect, Steve.”

The other man chuckled and stepped back to place a kiss to Tony’s lips. “I love you.”

Tony smiled back and stood on his tiptoes to kiss Steve’s nose. “I love you, too.”

The doors opened onto the medical floor and the two stepped out. The room was a flurry of activity and as they came upon the room where Barnes was held, Steve reached out to take Tony’s hands.

They stood in the doorway.

Tony looked over at Steve and squeezed his hand. “Together?”

Steve’s mouth turned up in a grin and his heart swelled. He squeezed back. “Always.”

Chapter Text

Three Months Later

The first few weeks after Barnes woke, Tony had been a combination of angry, rude and quiet around the former Winter Soldier. Steve understood that the entire situation had to be painful and weird for Tony, but he knew the engineer would come to him should there be a problem. And true to his belief, Tony did. They were able to discuss some of his worries, the recurrence of his nightmares and the anger that still seemed to sit just below the surface.

“Every nightmare has been the same, since he woke up. I keep seeing him go for the arc reactor, Steve. And then I can’t breathe.” Tony rubbed the heel of his palm against his chest, feeling his raised skin and skipping heartbeat. “Up until a few years ago, I’ve never been without it, and just seeing him try to pry it out…” Tony’s voice trailed off.

Steve went up to him and kneeled at his side, his hand running up and down his back. “I’m sorry, Tony. I know,” he took a deep breath, “I know we both went after it. It’s what powered the suit, it seemed, at the time, the only way to get you to stop.”

Tony looked up at him. “Before, it was the thing that kept me alive.” His voice was rough and low as he licked his lips. “I never really told you about Obadiah Stane or the Ten Rings, did I?”

Steve shook his head. None of them ever talked about what happened “before”. He never talked about Red Skull, Sam never discussed Riley, Nat never shared information on the Red Room…it was understood as “off limits” unless the person brought it up. “No, you never told me.” Steve’s voice was soft and held no sign of accusation.  

Tony huffed out a laugh. “It’s not something I like to talk about.” He took a deep breath and said, “Stane was a mentor, the closest thing I had to a father after mine died. But it turned out he was using me for my ideas and creations, selling them to terrorist groups overseas and murderers. It’s where I got my nickname, “The Merchant of Death.””

Steve gasped. “Tony…”

The engineer waved him off. “I know that’s not who I am, Steve. It’s taken some time, but I do know that. It’s just that…that’s where it all started.” His fingers tapped against the middle of his chest where the arc reactor sat. “Yinsen saved me with that battery. I know in the moment I probably came off as ungrateful, but he gave me a second chance.” Steve nodded beside him, remembering Erskine. The two of them became the men they are because two men believed in them when they didn’t believe in themselves.

Tony continued, “That arc reactor, that little circle of light saved me in more ways than the physical one. And towards the end, when Obadiah finally came out with his plan, he took it from my chest.” There were tears in his eyes when he turned to Steve. “I felt myself start to die, Steve. I crawled to the workshop trying to get another one in before I took my last breath…and that was where I found myself in Siberia. Barnes had his fingers digging into the suit and I couldn’t help think that with one more push it’d be out and then I’d be helpless; then where would I be?” He took a shuddering breath in and shook his head. “It put me right back there with Stane. And then you…” he turned his head to look at Steve. “You went for it too. I see that sometimes,” he whispered.

“Oh, Tony.” He shuffled forward and took the engineer into his arms. “You were betrayed by a man you thought was your friend and the I did the very same thing.” He felt his tears fall into Tony’s hair. “I’m so sorry.”

Tony sniffled. “It’s done, Steve. I’ve forgiven you for what went on then. It’s just that the mind has a funny way of dredging things up that I know I’ve moved past. But with Barnes waking up, it brought some of those memories and feelings back to the surface. It may take me some time.”

Steve held him tighter. “That’s okay.” He kissed the side of this neck. “Take all the time you need.”   

Barnes had been no better. Upon waking, and realizing that he was living under Stark’s roof, he turned in on himself, refusing to see anyone other than Steve and never venturing off the medibay floor. Steve and his wayward friend took some time to talk about Bucky’s guilt and his fear at never really being able to get past the things he did as the Winter Soldier.

Steve had suggested (to both men on separate occasions) that they find the time to sit and talk, even bringing up the idea of Sam acting as a mediator. Tony scoffed at the idea, stating that he wasn’t ready for that and Steve didn’t push; Bucky’s face blanched at the idea and Steve knew it could never be something he pushed on either man.

So the two men avoided one another, though whether it was a conscious decision or not, Steve couldn’t tell. It wasn’t until two weeks after Bucky woke, that Steve came across the two men sitting in the kitchen in the early morning.

Steve had woken up to an empty bed, and assumed that, as usual, Tony had gotten a spark of inspiration in the middle of the night and went to his workshop. Sticking to his routine, he dressed for his run and on his way out, caught sight of the two men: Bucky propped up on the counter, legs swinging and Tony leaning against the wall, hands wrapped around a mug of coffee.

He could hear the soft murmurs of their voices and found that there was not a hint of agitation or anger in either man’s tones. Though there was still an ample amount of space between the two of them, there was no tension in the room. If anything, it looked like two men just...talking.

Steve stepped into the kitchen and gave Tony a quick kiss to the lips, made his way over to the fridge for a water bottle and then nodded his goodbye. He didn’t want to interrupt the moment. When he returned from his run, he found Tony in his workshop and when he broached the subject, Tony shrugged and said, “He asked me what I was working on, and it just kind of went on from there.”

Steve was beaming. Bucky knew, from Steve, that Tony was always working on something. It was the easiest way to get the engineer to open up.

From that point on, their time together just grew. They kept running into one another in the morning, and when Steve cornered Buck, he found out that the soldier was usually awake at that time and would try and get up there before Tony. Sometimes he’d miss the billionaire and other times, the two of them would sit and talk, but never about what went on in Siberia.

They had just finished a conversation about Sam’s wings and what Tony does to Nat’s bites to make them sting so much, when they got onto the topic of movies. Tony had rattled off some titles and blanched each time Barnes said he hadn’t seen them.

“There is no way you haven’t seen Harry Potter, Barnes.” Tony sipped his coffee, the hazelnut creamer sweet on his tongue. “That’s just absurd.”

Barnes was in his usual spot on the counter, but this time, Tony was no more than two feet away, leaning against the countertop. Barnes snorted. “Yea. Sorry, Stark, but in case you forgot I haven’t actually had the time to catch up on pop culture considering I was busy doing time as an ice cube.”

Tony’s eyes went wide and his mouth opened, coffee spilling back into his mug. “I said something eerily similar to Cap the first time I met him.” He scratched at his chin, staring at Barnes as though he were a puzzle he was trying to figure out. He blinked and there was a small smirk to his lips. “Any who,” he waved his hand in the air, “we’ll do movie nights. Get you up to speed. I think you’ll find you have a lot in common with Snape.” At Barnes’ raised eyebrow Tony added, “guy you think is bad but then turns out to be one of the best good guys.” Barnes’ eyes widened and Tony chuckled. “Yea, definitely Snape.”

The topic of Siberia was brought up about a week later, and it happened after Tony had a panic attack during one of their movie nights. Barnes had been absent for this one; his daily therapy session got pushed back because of a medical follow up with Bruce. The doctors from Wakanda along with Banner had been able to eradicate all of the nanites, and had run three successful tests of the Hydra list that put Barnes into the Winter Soldier mode. He was, for all intents and purposes free of Hydra. But the young soldier still suffered from PTSD, nightmares and guilt. He still had a long road ahead of him.

This particular night found the team watching a Russian movie that Natasha picked out, and the scene was set in snow covered mountains. Before Steve could register the snowy backdrop, Tony’s breath started to become shallow and quick, his hands sweating. The panic attacks had stopped months ago, but it seemed that his subconscious had other plans. He stood up abruptly and ran out of the room, running right past Barnes, and into the open elevator.

Steve got to the elevator just as the doors closed. “Damnit.” He let his head rest against the cool metal.

“What happened?”

Steve turned to Bucky. “The movie, it ah,” he took a breath, “the scene brought on a panic attack. He hasn’t had one in months.”

Bucky furrowed his brows. “What was the scene?”

Steve sighed and licked his lips. Buck could feel the unease in his stomach. “A snowcapped mountain.”

The other man’s shoulders dropped and he felt lead in his stomach.

“He probably went to his workshop I gotta g- “

“Wait, Steve. Let me…let me talk to him?” There was a pleading tone in his voice and Steve didn’t know what to do.

“I know I said you two should talk but maybe now isn’t a good time, Buck.”

“It might be the most honest chance we’ll have, Steve. You can come down with me so he can see you. It needs to happen. I see how he looks at me.”

Steve’s eyes filled with tears, “Buck, no.”

He held up his hand, “Yes, Steve. It’s still there.” He shook his head, long locks brushing against his cheek. “We sit there every morning and talk but it’s never what we really need to say.” There were tears in his eyes. “Help us both, Steve.”

There was a war of emotions in Steve’s chest. He knew the two of them needed to talk about what went on during their war but he didn’t know if now was the right time. “If we go down there and he refuses- “

“I head back up here, Steve. But I have to try.”

The two men made their way down to Tony’s workshop and once they were outside the glass doors, they could see Tony seated at his worktable, head in his hands.

“Friday, could you tell Tony that we’re both out here and we’d like to talk.”

He watched as Tony’s head picked up a bit and then his shoulders sagged.

“Captain Rogers, he asked that Sergeant Barnes come in alone.”

The two men shared a look and Steve asked, “Ask him if he’s sure.”

He watched as Tony nodded his head.

The doors opened and Barnes took a deep breath. Before he stepped through, he turned back to his friend. “You’ll be out here?”

Steve swallowed and nodded.

The first thing Barnes noticed was how eerily quiet the workshop was. The one time he had been down here was to get Steve for a training session, and the space was practically vibrating from the loud rock music that was pumped throughout the room.

He stepped around the worktable, only stopping when he was right in front of Tony. The engineer was breathing deeply and his eyes were closed, but he must have sensed Barnes in front of him, because he slowly opened them.

“He still out there?”

Barnes peered around Tony and saw that Steve was sitting on the steps, watching them.

“Yea. He won’t leave unless you ask and even then, - “

“He’ll wait where we can’t see him.” Tony huffed out a laugh. “Yea, I’ve been on the receiving end of Mother Steve.” He ran a hand through his hair then fanned his hand out, gesturing to the vacant stool in front of him.

Barnes took it, the two men sitting in silence, each trying to figure out where they should start.

“I haven’t had one of these in a while.” Tony was massaging the center of his chest. Barnes remembered the circle of light he tried to crush. “It looked like Siberia and for some reason,” he snapped his fingers, “I was back there.”

The other man lowered his gaze.

“I don’t even know where to begin, Barnes.”

He stayed staring at the floor.

“I did want to kill you. And in that moment, right before you grabbed my ankle, I would have.”

The raw desperation in Tony’s voice is what made Barnes pick his head up. When his eyes met Tony’s he could see the warring emotions swimming in those dark pools.

“I’ve talked to Steve about this,” he shook his head as his eyes closed, “numerous times and I know he and I have moved past it. But I was never supposed to see you again, let alone have you in my home.” His voice broke on the last word and he opened his eyes. “Somewhere along the line, I fell in love with Steve,” he turned around to look at the Captain resting on the stairs, eyes boring straight into Tony’s, “and he fell in love with me.” He gave Steve a fragile smile, which the blonde returned. He faced Barnes. “He loves you, too.”

Barnes sat up. “Stark, not like- “

Tony held up his hand. “I know that. But he does love you. You’re his brother, his friend. A living, breathing memory of everything he thought he lost.” He ran his hand over his face. “I had to get you here. I had to do that for him.” He ducked his head and looked Barnes in the eyes. “For you, too.”

The tears came with no fanfare. Barnes could feel them as they cascaded down his cheeks. “I don’t’ deserve it. I’m so sorry. So, very sorry.” He cradled his face in his hands.

They sat in silence, nothing except the occasional whir from the bots or a sniffle from Barnes.

“I thought I died when I fell from that train.” He took a shuddering breath. “And all too soon I realized I wish I had.” His eyes were shut tight and Tony could see the pain and years etched across his face in that moment. “Decades, Stark. I was half a man for decades. Everything that made James Barnes was slowly stripped and burned away and in his place became this vessel of pain, torture and emptiness.” His voice was scratchy and weak. “I wasn’t lying to you when I said I remembered all of them.” He opened his eyes and looked past Tony. “They took the things that made me, me and in their place they left me with images of the people I made into memories.” He took a gasping breath. “People like your parents.”

It was Tony’s turn to duck his head and he bit his lip.

“How can I atone for something like that? How can I ask for forgiveness? Do I even deserve it?”

Tony licked his lips. “I was called the “Merchant of Death,” did you know that?” Barnes shook his head so Tony continued. “My company made weapons, it’s what dad made his money on and so I just followed the family business. Turns out, they were engaging in dirty dealings; selling to terrorists and murderers. The very things that I created, that had my name on them, were being used to kill innocent people across the world.” He looked behind Barnes and let his gaze rest on the brilliant red of the Iron Man suit. “I’ve spent the better part of the last ten years trying to make up for that.” Tony got quiet, his eyes still focused on his suit. “And then Ultron happened, the very thing that seemed to spur on the Accords and I almost destroyed the world. I still wake up dreaming of blood on my hands and screams in my ears.” He gave a small shrug. “I didn’t think I deserved forgiveness and thought that there was no way I could even make things right.” He closed his eyes, “but I like to think that before Ultron and after, I’ve made things better.”

He reached across the gap between them and placed his hand on Barnes’ flesh arm. The other man picked up his head. “It takes time for us to learn how to forgive ourselves, Barnes. There are still days when I don’t think I’ve fully forgiven myself for the things that happened indirectly or directly because of me. It’s a process, but one I didn’t have to do alone and neither will you.” Tony paused to collect his thoughts. “It also took me some time, but I came to realize that the man who did those things, the man I saw in the video; that wasn’t you.”

Barnes took in a shuddering breath and Tony watched as his lip quivered. “I hated you. I did. But I also hated Steve for keeping it from me. I was able to forgive him and even now I’ve come to forgive you, too. Even though, logically, there’s nothing to forgive.”

“Stark. I killed them. It was my hand that blew out the tire, God, what I did to your mother, - “his voice broke off into a sob. “I see their faces all the time.”

The mention of his mother brought forth a pain so sharp it made Tony reach for his heart. It was decades old, this wound, but it still bled when poked. “It wasn’t you…” he took a deep breath and slowed his heart rate. “Look,” he knocked his knuckles on the table. “We can sit here all day and go back and forth on this. I’m telling you, here and now we start new. We do better; make things better.”

Barnes’ eyes widened at the prospect. “How do we do that?”

Tony stood up and the move startled Barnes. He leaned back in his seat eyes wary. “Like this,” Tony held out his hand, “I’m Tony Stark. Genius, billionaire, philanthropist, Iron Man, Avenger.”

His hand was sturdy and solid in front of Barnes and after a few seconds, the soldier reached across and grasped it with his flesh hand. “James Barnes. Soldier, Brooklyn Dodgers fan…and I’d like to find out what else.” There was a hint of uncertainty. He wasn’t sure if it could be this easy. But as he held Tony’s hand and the two men shook, he realized that it wasn’t easy. The path to this moment was paved with blood and tears, loss and anger. But they made it. And Tony was right. They’d do better. Be better.

“Nice to meet you, James.”

Barnes smiled and it was something wide and bright, uniquely him. “You too, Tony.”

---------------------------------------------------

“Dsi shu ee da ast un,” Tony said around a screwdriver.

Barnes looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “I dunno if that was English, Tony, but I’d like for you to try again.”

Tony rolled his eyes and took the screwdriver out of his mouth. “This should be the last one,” he tapped against the metal casing of Barnes’ arm. He was tinkering with the wires, testing Barnes’ pain receptors and making sure the metal wasn’t rubbing against his skin. This tinkering session had become so routine, that Tony had Friday put it in his calendar; every Wednesday for the last two months.

After their conversation three months ago, Tony made it his mission to make sure that Barnes’ arm was better than it had ever been with Hydra. Never mind the fact that the workmanship was barbaric and the construction and link up to his arm was brutal, Tony needed to remove the last bit of Hydra from Barnes. Let the younger man start anew.

Tony had been working day and night for weeks to make sure the prosthetic was perfect. And in true Stark fashion, it was. Barnes had been scheduled for surgery a month after he was brought out of cryo after getting the all clear from the medical doctors, his therapist and the U.N. The surgery went perfectly and since then, the two had been meeting up to fine tune, check on and chat about Barnes’ new arm. The man couldn’t be happier.

One final swipe inside and he nodded, closing the casing. Barnes watched the engineer’s movements with a steady eye, filled with intrigue and hope. “You really think so?”

Tony placed his hand over his heart, offended. “C’mon, Barnes. I mean, I know there’s still some issues upstairs,” he mock knocked on the side of Barnes’ head, “but you know I know what I’m talking about.”

Bucky smiled and shook his head. Only Stark could get away with a comment like that. He stood up and pulled his shirt back on. “It’d be nice to not have to come down here anymore.” He cast a side eye over at Tony. “There’s only so much chatter a man can take before it makes him crazy.”

Tony’s eyes widened and then, when he caught sight of Barnes’ smirk, he rolled his eyes again. “Oh my God, you’re a troll.”

Barnes laughed and Tony found himself still startled at the sound. When Barnes woke up, he spent the first two weeks reserved and quiet. The first time he really laughed out loud was when Clint was showing him how he used the vents to get around in the tower. Sam had Redwing come up behind him and scare the shit out of him. Clint fell through the vent and Barnes couldn’t keep the laugh at bay. He immediately closed his mouth out of fear (though whether it was from it feeling so odd or the fear of punishment, Tony never knew). It took a long talk from Steve to get the other man to understand that it was okay and necessary to live his life.

Barnes hopped of the stool he had been sitting on, and laughed. “I’m going to find Natasha; I’ll see you later?” The team had gotten to making sure Barnes caught up on all manner of television and movies, so each night, they’d watch another film from his growing list.

Tony scratched his chin and made a face as though he couldn’t be bothered. “Eh,” he shrugged, “maybe.”

Steve chose that moment to walk in. “Please, Tony. We all know you’ll be there, if only to comment on the technical inaccuracies or blurt out the ending, - “

“or tell us how he’d make it better,” Bucky added. Steve smiled.

Tony threw his hands in the air, “Alright. Both of you, out.” He shooed them towards the door, only stopping to take a kiss from Steve.

He heard them laugh all the way up the stairs.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

It wasn’t as odd as he thought it would be.

Being a part of this strange family.

It was difficult at first, to equate the people standing before him with the images and memories he had of them at different points in his life. He’d look at Sam and remember soaring heights and kicking him off the edge of a hellicarrier; catch a glimpse of Tony laser focused on the suit and see pain filled eyes and betrayal; watch Steve laugh with Clint and Rhodey and feel his chest grow warm as sepia colored images ran past his mind’s eye, of sleepovers and asthma attacks, of Red Skull and Captain America, of falling from a train and then pulling a man he didn’t remember from the Potomac; and finally, of a red-haired girl, lip bloodied and knuckles raw, fighting for her life and trusting him with her smile.

The memories he thought were lost were coming back to him and it was all thanks to the people who surrounded him each day. He was healed in the way they smiled at him, or joked with him, the way they scooted over on the couch so he could sit, in the way they patted him on the back and asked how he was doing. Those shattered pieces of the young man he had been before were slowing coming back together, and though the cracks would always show, he’d never felt more whole than he did in those moments.

But there was still so much horror that sat at his back. And yet, they still took him in; still made it their personal mission to see him healed and full. He didn’t know how to repay them. How is thank you enough when these people made breathing and living that much easier? He'd thought about it hundreds of times since waking up. But looking on them now, he knew they understood even if he never said the words. He’s seen what they do for each other; what they’d risk for one another. These beautifully broken people fit together in a way he didn’t think broken people ever could, and what was more amazing, was that their puzzle had room for him too.

Upon leaving Tony’s workshop, he made his way down to the gym, knowing full well that after their small spat this morning, Natasha would block off the room for her own use. He could hear the music before he even opened the door. When Natasha wanted to be by herself to work through a problem, she’d dance. Barnes was certain that it was something no one on the team, except for him and Clint, knew about.

Barnes was able to piece together that the initial trigger that got her dancing again, was him coming out of his cryo sleep. Natasha shut down for a few days after he came too and still showed no recognition of knowing her. It seemed to calm her because when she would meet up with the team later on, she’d be more herself; the tension would be gone from her shoulders and her lips would turn up into a small smile when Tony or Sam did or said something ridiculous.

Earlier today, she had stalked past Tony and Steve without so much as a glance, and when Barnes eventually made his way out onto their floor, he looked sad. He asked where she had gone and the two men shrugged, but Barnes knew. The Natasha he was remembering and the one that was with him now were still parts of the same person; even though now, the feral look she wore was gone and she had smile lines along her eyes and mouth.

To say it made him happy to see her alive and well was an understatement. They met after she graduated from the Red Room; she was living a life of “kill or get killed”. The two of them, on more than one occasion had crossed paths; she while working with the Widow program and he with Hydra. Their history spanned decades; there were things Steve didn’t know, but she did.

Natasha knew the monster within and still, she stayed. Until, she couldn’t; whether it was a mission or needing to go underground, they would hoard the small moments they had together, knowing it could be their last. But even then, Barnes would only remember her for the briefest of moments, but he knew, when he saw her again, his heart would pull and pulse in her direction. Even in his brainwashed state he couldn’t forget her.

Who knew that decades later, he’d be lucky enough to have her whole and warm and alive.

He stood in a darkened corner and watched her now. She was wearing what looked to be a black unitard and a pair of Lycra shorts. On her feet were pointe shoes and her hair was fanning out around her as she did a pirouette. He felt his breath catch in his throat as he stared at her; she became something other worldly when she moved.

It seemed as though she were floating on air and as she took the last turn, he remembered a cold Russian night where she danced for him under the light of a full moon.

Her hair was longer and in a braid, and as she twirled, snowflakes fell around her. They had met in secret, the two of them young and scared of losing who they were.

When she finished, he got up from the cold ground and kissed her red lips. She smiled against him, small hands coming to rest in his long hair.

It wasn’t until she stopped, that Barnes realized there were tear tracks on her cheeks. He adjusted the collar on the sweatshirt he stole from Steve, and let his eyes rest on the magnificent woman in front of him. He knew, if he could see himself, that he was looking at Natasha as though she were something fragile. She’d probably hate him for it. But he walked up behind her and whispered, “Вы все еще танцуют.”

Her shoulders slumped forward and Barnes watched as her chest rose with a deep breath, and she turned. He gave her a crooked smile and held his arms out as his side, his shoulder going up in a shrug. Natasha licked her lips and closed her eyes, slightly nodding her head.

She stepped forward and into his arms. “I’m scared you’ll forget me again, мой волк."

His flesh hand came to rest in her hair, fingers massaging the base of her skull. He kissed her temple. “You’ll be here to remind me every day, yea?”

He could feel her shuddering breath against his chest and then heard a small chuckle. “каждый день до конца.” They stood like that for what seemed like ages. Content in the knowledge that they were together, safe and loved.

----------------------------------------------------------------

The team had been off of suspension for a little over a month when the first call came in. And true to the New Accords, they were able to go to the fight without anyone standing in their way; though the United Nations needed to be made aware of the mission, and of course, the country where they were headed needed to provide permission.

It was nothing that couldn’t be handled while the team was in the air on the Quinjet.

This first venture out saw the team at almost full capacity (minus Bruce, Barnes, Rhodey and Steve who was still suspended). Tony was hesitant about leaving without Steve, but it was the Captain’s unwavering faith in not only his team, but his co-captain that made it easier for Tony to take off.

“You gotta keep an eye on them, Shellhead.” Steve placed his hand in the center of the suit, just above his heart.

Tony rolled his eyes, though Steve couldn’t see it because the face plate was down. “I feel like a kindergarten teacher.” The team’s shouts could be heard from the Quin.

Steve chuckled. “Hey,” he knocked on the faceplate and found his heart skipping when he saw Tony’s bright brown eyes. “You be safe and come home.” There was a small waver in his voice. It was the first time they were heading out as the Avengers, since they’d been cleared. He wanted and needed to be with them but he had so much trust and pride for his team, he knew they’d be fine and handle whatever came their way.

What he wasn’t ready for was the pain in his chest at the thought of Tony being out there without him. “I should be by your side, Tony.” He let his head fall forward and it came to rest on Tony’s. He heard a familiar whir and felt Tony’s flesh covered hand kneed at the back of his head.

“You’re always with me, Steve.” He kissed his lover’s forehead. “You’re on comms and Friday will pull up anything you want to see or hear.” The suit closed over his hand and Tony stepped back. “This is what we do, mon Capitan.”

Steve nestled closer and placed a quick kiss to Tony’s nose. “You know we need to talk about what we’re going to do with- “

“I know, Steve. I haven’t been ready and I’m honestly- “

“-trying not to think about it. I know.”

Tony gave him an exasperated sigh. “When I get back. We’ll decide what we’re going to do.”

Steve leaned forward and kissed him once more. “Ok, Boss.”

“Let’s go boys, you can make out when we get back.”

Tony turned and narrowed his eyes at Natasha who just blew him a kiss.

“If I happen to sting her just a little…”

Steve chuckled. “She’ll hurt you when you least expect it and I’m not sleeping with a night light.”

Tony thought on it and frowned. “You’re probably right.” The faceplate shut and he hovered above the ground for a few seconds. “See you later, Winghead!” He soared into the sky, the Quin behind him.

Steve took a deep breath. “Friday, pull everything up for me by the time I get to Tony’s workshop. I’ll need to see it all.”

“Certainly, Captain Rogers.”

It was a long day and a half, but they were soon back home. Bucky and Banner kept Steve company while he listened in on comms, the two of them just as worried as Steve was. The team managed to catch and secure the bad guys (which turned out to be remnants of Hydra), and they all came home in one piece, save for a few scratches here and there and a sprained wrist on Sam. 

Steve made sure he was on the flight deck when they returned. He needed to see that they were safe and home. Each time one of them got off the Quin, he made a point to reach out and touch them; a pat to Clint’s back, a high five to Scott and Vision, a playful punch to Sam’s arm, his hand resting on Wanda’s shoulder, a hug to Natasha and a long, passionate kiss to Tony. He tasted like sweat and metal and Steve couldn’t get enough of him.

“I can’t help but feel like you’re not as happy to see the rest of us, Cap,” Natasha said after the two men broke for air, her brows arched high.

Steve rolled his eyes. “I’m glad you’re all home.”

“He’s not the only one.” Barnes made his way up to the hangar, and he stood close to Natasha, his metal hand resting at the small of her back. “He carved out a path in your workshop, Tony. From where he kept pacing back and forth.” He smiled wide and said, “Why don’t you go wear him out, huh?” He winked at Tony and then ushered Natasha inside.

Tony sidled up to Steve, now dressed only in his under suit. “How about it, Steve? Wanna show me how much you missed me?”

Steve made Tony late for his debrief.

-----------------------------------------

It wasn’t until later that night that the two of them finally had a chance to sit and talk about what they’d been putting off: Ross. They had been checking in on him and keeping a close watch since the moment he was escorted out of the U.N., but they never made time to talk to him themselves.

“I don’t see why we have to go now, Steve.” Tony crossed his arms and turned to face Steve, the two of them in bed.

Steve licked his lips and closed his eyes. “It’s something we wanted to do since the Accords were finalized. I know you were just as adamant as I was about going there and seeing him, and besides, I think it’d be good for us to see that he’s fully locked away. To know that there’s no chance of him getting out.”

“Well, you proved that’s not true.”

Steve poked him in the side. “Don’t be a smart ass, Tony. I know and you know that they asked you to work on their security after the break in. The Raft is impenetrable.”

Tony tilted his head to the side. True.

“I don’t want to see him, Steve.”

The soldier reached out and pulled Tony to him, the engineer tucking his head into the crook of Steve’s neck. “You don’t have to. Come with me; be there for me and I’ll go see him.” He let his hand run up and down Tony’s arm, raising goosebumps in his wake. “I have to see him,” Steve whispered. “After everything he did and the plans he had, Tony…” Steve took a deep breath, fighting the bile at the back of his throat. He still had nightmares of what could have happened to the team should Ross had succeeded. They’d all be ripped apart and used, shells of the beautiful people he’s come to love.

Tony’s hand came to rest over Steve’s heart and he could feel it beating rapidly. “I’ll go with you. And I’ll see him too.” He knew why Steve needed to lay eyes on the man, and deep down, Tony felt it too. There was this residual anger and hate that still sat around, swirling dep in the pit of his gut. Despite the fact that they’ve all moved on, he knew that the very fact that Ross still breathed air, albeit caged air, made him uneasy and bitter. They needed to put everything behind them in order to really move on and embrace their life together.

Ross was the last item to cross off that list.

Tony leaned up and placed a kiss to the underside of Steve’s jaw. “I’ll set it up. I’ll call the U.N. and let them know that we’re looking to go and with some help from T’Challa, we can maybe expedite the paperwork.” He sighed. “We’ll go the day after tomorrow.”

Steve nodded.

Two days.

----------------------------------------------------

They were flying over the Atlantic, Steve mesmerized by the waves and whitecaps below them. His eyes would occasionally flick over to the controls, where no one sat.

“Friday is flying, Steve. We’re fine.”

Steve didn’t doubt it, but it was still a bit unnerving to see the helicopter flying without a pilot.

Tony was looking out the window, his chin in his hand. “The last time I was headed out here, Ross threatened to put me in there with my friends.” He turned his head and gave Steve a sad smile. “I didn’t know what I was expecting, but even as I got further into the base I didn’t think they’d be treated like they were.” He ran his hand over his mouth and sat back into the seat.

“God, Steve. They had Wanda in a strait jacket, and a- “

“An electric collar. I know. I saw.”

Tony met his eyes and nodded once. “It wasn’t supposed to be like that,” he whispered.  

Steve reached out and took Tony’s hand in his. “You fixed it, Tony. You changed the world. And for the better.” His thumb was caressing the top of Tony’s hand. “I got them out and you made a world where they could live.” Steve leaned forward and captured Tony’s lips in a soft kiss, his hand coming to rest at the back of the other man’s skull. When he pulled away he smiled at Tony, but it slowly started to fall as he saw the Raft emerging from the ocean. He took a deep breath and unconsciously gripped Tony’s hand tighter.

Tony squeezed back but said, “Easy, tiger. Fragile goods, you’ve got there.”

Steve’s eyes went wide and he brought Tony’s hand up to his mouth, placing feather light kisses along his knuckles. “I’m sorry…I’m just…” he trailed off trying to find the right words.

“Angry? Scared? Unsure? Because that’s where I am right now.”

Steve nodded and all too soon, the helicopter was making it’s decent.

Once he exited the helicopter, Steve was greeted by Everett Ross and two armed security guards. Steve raised an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest. “That seems a bit excessive considering everything’s been put behind us, no?”

Tony stepped down after him and rolled his eyes at the other man. “We’re not armed.” He glanced down at his watch. Well, not entirely. “We’re just here to see him and leave.”

Everett Ross sidled up to the duo and said, “I think it’s interesting that neither of you think you’re a threat without the bells and whistles.” He narrowed his eyes at them, then took a deep breath. “This is protocol. We like to be prepared,” his eyes stayed on Steve, “for all manner of…events.”

Tony and Steve shared a look and followed him as he led them out of the hangar and then into a series of corridors. They had to walk through extensive security scans at multiple points: emptying out their pockets, leaving any and all tech behind (Tony wasn’t happy about leaving his watch; guess they learned their lesson), and then a full body scan which Tony was sure could make out the grooves of the marrow in his bones. Until finally, they came to an inner sanctum, similar to the room that housed the security cameras and computers that Ross had originally watched Tony through, when he first saw the team here. The only difference in this scenario was that the cameras were watching Ross’ cell; which was the only one on the floor.

Tony’s eyes couldn’t come away from the computer screen, not even when he felt Steve move next to him and brush a hand against his shaking one.

“Why is he the only cell?” Steve’s voice was coarse when he spoke. He cleared his throat. “Why isn’t he on a floor with other prisoners?”

Everett Ross adjusted his tie and shuffled on his feet. The men could see he wanted their visit over as quickly as possible. “Considering his job before coming on the Raft, government and U.N. officials thought it’d be best if he was kept secluded. They didn’t want him getting too comfortable or talkative with other prisoners.” He caught his reflection in the glass and smoothed out the wrinkles on his suit. “Sharing ideas and insight that concerns the United States and the world, with the crowd this place keeps, is probably not the best idea.” 

Tony couldn’t help but be impressed at that reasoning. He knew the Raft’s design was as air tight as it could be; he made it. But he knew, from experience, that if someone wants something bad enough, they’ll find ways to make it happen. In other words, if someone wanted access to the Raft, though it would take some serious reconnaissance, intelligence and money; it could happen.

He swallowed at the thought. “Does he know we’re here?”

Everett nodded to the computer techs and with a few strokes of the keys, the doors were opening. “We didn’t tell him anything, but I’m sure he’s been expecting a visit.” Steve and Tony nodded and made their way out of the room and into the open floor. Before they left, the younger Ross said, “Gentleman, you have twenty minutes, and should you at any point wish to leave, all you have to do is scan your hand,” he pointed to a biometric scanner imbedded in the wall. He paused and added, "I would be mindful of what you say, and be wary of what he says to you. It seems that former Secretary Ross has quite the grudge against you and your team." He tilted his head up and concluded by saying, "watch him."

The warning did nothing to abate the tension in Tony's stance or stomach. "Well that was fucking helpful," he muttered under his breath. He turned to Steve. "Ready?" The soldier's gaze was laser focused and he gave a stiff nod.

The two men walked into the circular room, stopping only when they were in the middle. Ross' cell took up one half of the room, a half moon, and inside he had only a twin bed and small bathroom area. He was sitting on the bed with his back to them, and from the way he was hunched, he seemed to be reading a book.

Ross straightened up and turned his head to the side. "I was wondering when you'd show up." He closed the book and set it on the pillow.

Steve and Tony were rooted to the spot.

Ross stood and raised his chin. His shoulders were back and down; his stance was not that of a man currently incarcerated for life. He seemed calm and at ease. It was making Tony’s anger grow and if the tension in Steve’s shoulders was any indication, he wasn’t too happy about it either.

Ross stepped forward until he was right against the glass. He took in the two men, his eyes wandering up and down their tight, coiled muscles and he smirked, eyes catching the small space between the two of them. “Are congratulations in order? I thought I heard through the grapevine that the two of you are an item.” He raised a white brow, “let me know where I should send a gift,” he sneered.

Steve was the first one to move. “You’re never getting out of here, Ross,” he growled. Steve stalked forward until he was mere inches away from Ross’ face. Tony knew the glass was a foot and a half thick, knew the strength that would be needed to even get it to crack. Ross didn’t have that; but Steve, with enough anger and force, could. “You tore our lives apart, all for your own personal gain. You were looking to tear the world apart.” He shook his head, fire in his eyes. “Do you even feel remorse for what you did? For what you were planning to do?”

Tony followed Steve as he moved and stood off to the side, his eyes on Ross.

The older man shrugged and let his hands come out at his sides and then crossed them over his chest. “I was looking to change the world. Small minds like yours usually don’t see the big picture.” He scoffed and shook his head, mimicking Steve’s movement. “You’ve all done nothing but create chaos. The world saw it but did nothing to change it. I was the one who got things started.” He turned to look at Tony. “You even agreed with me, Stark.”

“I understood the need for oversight, Ross. What you wanted was complete tyranny. There was no room for change. Only dominance.”

The corner of Ross’ mouth went up in a wry smile and he shrugged, almost as if to say, “you got me there.” He turned back to Steve. “And you tore yourselves apart.” He let out a breathy laugh. “You turned on one another so easily; it played out better than I could have imagined. So, to answer you’re question, no. I don’t really see what I have to be sorry for, Rogers.” He tilted his head and let his hand touch the cool glass. “I wanted to make the world a safer place.” He walked the length of the window, his fingertips just brushing the glass, “that included all of you locked away, or dead.” He stopped and then met Steve’s eyes. “Although some of you would have been strapped down to gurneys, cut open…” Steve’s hands clenched into fists at his sides and Tony gasped. Ross turned and started walking back towards Tony, stopping when he was right in front of the engineer. “I wonder what makes Miss Maximoff, tick?” He tapped against the glass, his finger hovering in the space between Tony’s eyes. “Or what about the Hulk,” he spat the name out between dry lips. “How much pain do you think he could take?”

Tony swallowed the lump in his throat, but it just made the taste of acid that was coming up, that much more stringent against his tongue.

Ross hummed. “I’m also a very big fan of Ms. Romanoff’s.” Tony’s eyes narrowed and his breathing sped up. “It’d be interesting to see how she was put together.” He stepped forward until his nose was against the glass. His finger now tapped against the glass that sat in line with Tony’s heart. “Of course to do that, I’d have to take her apart.”

Tony stepped up to the other man. He was so close to Ross he could see the sun spots and freckles that dotted his cheeks and nose. “You will never touch any of them.”

Steve could see that Tony was practically vibrating with anger. His hands were shaking at his sides, his back taught with tension, his face mere inches from the glass.

“You will never get out of here, Ross.” Tony licked his lips then smiled, something predatory and feral. It was a look Steve had never seen on the other man before. “I was with you in the beginning, but that was because I was trying to do whatever I could to protect my team.” His voice did not waver. There was no doubt that Tony Stark believed in what he was saying to Ross; that he wanted to leave it all here. When he left the Raft, this chapter of his life was going to be closed. They were all moving on.

Tony scrunched his nose and scoffed. “You underestimated us in the way every foe we’ve ever faced has: you don’t understand what it means to be a team.” He stressed the last word and ran his tongue over his lips. “Yea, we fought each other,” he shook his head and turned to glance at Steve, “we each have scars from this one, but the thing is,” he turned back to Ross, “we’re stronger for them. We’ve helped each other heal.”

His eyes fluttered closed and he swallowed. When he opened them again, they were bright and focused. “You put my friends in cells for your own agenda; not one being the safety of this world. You locked them up with the intention of collecting the set and experimenting on them.” His voice shook then, the very thought of what would have happened to them still hurt his heart. “You tied Wanda up like a rabid dog, beat Clint and didn’t get Sam any medical help. I read the intake logs. But know this,” his head tilted up as he took at the inside of Ross’ cell, a small smile graced his features, “they’re free, healthy, safe and home, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”  

Steve walked over to Tony and placed a hand on his lower back, letting him know that he was here with him, he wasn’t doing this alone, he was supported and safe; all while his blue eyes stayed watching Ross. The former Secretary’s face lost its smugness, all color leaving his cheeks.

Tony continued, “While you’re sitting here, in your makeshift 4x4 cell, pissing and shitting where everyone can see you, and forgetting what the sun feels like on your face, I want you to remember us.” Tony’s breathing was calm and his hands finally relaxed. “When your muscles start to weaken, and your mind starts to slip away, and everyone who once cared about you forgets your name; remember us.”

Steve stepped forward, but kept his hand on Tony, needing the connection to the other man just as much as Tony did. “You wanted to create a world that cowered in fear but instead you’ve given us the chance to create a better one.” His eyes flicked over to Tony’s and the two men shared a smile. “They’re not frightened of us, nor are they unsure of our motivations. And as for those people who were on your list, and those you wanted to leave behind in our absence,” Steve reached out and took Tony’s hand in his, “We’re still standing. Together.”

Ross gritted his teeth, his hands in fists, eyes bulging from the tension in his neck and head. “This isn’t over,” he spat.

Steve stepped back, his shoulder warm and strong against Tony’s, and as he looked down at the man who claimed his heart, he took a deep breath and with such honesty and faith said, “No, I think it is.” A blonde brow went up and he tilted his head in question.

Tony smirked and nodded, holding out his hand. “Yea. We’re done here.” Steve grasped it and they turned away and as instructed, held their hands against the scanner to leave. But just as the doors opened, Ross wanted to give a parting gift. “He’ll leave you, Stark. Once his wartime buddy wakes up, he’ll leave you.” His nostrils flared and he smiled something wicked and warped. “They’ll all leave you.”

The words crushed Steve’s heart. Tony had voiced his worries about those very things just before Bucky woke up. He thought that with Buck back, Steve would leave and that once the team felt ready, they’d abandon him as well. He took a shuddering breath and gave Tony’s hand a squeeze, which the other man returned right away. Then he turned to face Ross.

Steve moved with him but this time, he only had eyes for Tony.

The engineer wore a smile that was uniquely Tony Stark. A smile that no one else, save the team got to see. It was soft and hopeful and filled with life. It was the smile he wore when he was kicking Nat’s ass at chess, when Bucky told him stories about them growing up, or when he got Wanda to laugh; the one he wore when he caught sight of Rhodey walking or was sciencing with Bruce; when Thor used his lightning to pop popcorn or when he talked with T’Challa about Wakanda’s technology; or when he watched Clint with his kids or Scott and Sam playing Mario Kart; the one he wore when he whispered “I love you,” to Steve.

“No. They won’t.” His eyes met Steve’s and in that moment, Steve knew that Tony believed what he was saying. Tony shrugged and let his hands flail out at his sides. He didn’t even acknowledge Ross, he just kept staring at Steve. “You won’t.”

The soldier gave him a wide smile and whispered, “never.”

Tony blinked away the tears and jutted his head towards the door, not even sparing Ross one last glance. Steve nodded and followed him out.

“Stark! Stark!” Ross pounded against the glass.

The doors closed. It was over.

The two men stayed quiet as their belongings were returned to them and soon, they were back in the air. It wasn’t until the skyline of Manhattan was well in their sights that Steve spoke. “Home?” His hand reached across the seats, Tony’s hand turning up on his thigh to properly hold Steve’s hand. They didn’t need to talk about anything else. What was said to Ross was enough; they left it back there, on the cold floor of the Raft.

Steve’s free hand traced along Tony’s cheek and jaw, under his chin and down his throat. There was such promise in his touch. The promise of love, friendship and protection, and the promise of the things he wanted to do to Tony once they got home. He leaned forward and kissed the engineer, his lips soft against Tony’s. With each breath Tony took, the smell of Steve’s shampoo filled his senses and Tony opened his mouth wider for the soldier. When their tongues met, the fire it ignited in his belly could have burned down Yellowstone in seconds. When they pulled apart, the laugh lines around Tony’s eyes became more pronounced as his smile grew. He let his head rest back against the seat, his eyes never leaving Steve’s face. “Home,” he said, his voice filled with warmth.

There was a tower of people waiting for them.

And as his thoughts landed on each one of them, Tony felt his heart swell with such unyielding love.

How lucky was he, that home was not just a place, but a person (or ten)?

He smiled at Steve again and let his body rest against the solid warmth of the man who had healed his heart; claimed it.

Tony closed his eyes and breathed in deep. “Home,” he whispered.