After is as after always is: devastating.
It is never a pretty thing: after. It’s lonely. It’s hard. Because when it is after, it is after everything, and there is nothing easy about climbing up out of the dirt and debris when the dust has finally settled.
The months that pass are slow ones. After the fighting, after the rage, after getting his head back to someplace that wasn’t a red kind of wrath that burned in him every time he took a breath, Tony Stark decided to turn his focus elsewhere than after. He’d taken steps to ensure Rhodey was on the downhill path to recovery, tried to assuage the new restlessness in their resident sentient robot, and buried himself in work. Once Rhodey was able to cope on his own, able to walk when he needed to and had the tech specially built and constructed by Tony to aid him when he couldn’t, Tony sent him home to spend some time with his mother Roberta.
At first Tony had done it believing it would be good for his friend to be around family. Roberta had always been a supporting and loving mother. She’d happily welcomed Tony with open arms whenever he had needed it. She was a good woman, and Tony knew that Rhodey would be in good hands while he mended.
But it wasn’t the only reason Tony sent Rhodey away. It had been more than that, and it had had a lot to do with the same reasons he began avoiding Vision whenever he could reasonably get away with it.
They were reminders of his mistakes. Ones that pained him to see, that haunted him in persistent nightmares, that he would rather avoid during his waking hours.
Most of his time was spent in the labs just beneath floor level. He spent days buried in his work, only surfacing when FRIDAY became concerned enough about his health to threaten to make a few specific calls or when Vision came seeking him out when not in prolonged meditative states.
It was approximately thirty-six hours into one of these particular modes when FRIDAY announced—or attempted to—that a visitor had landed on the front lawn. Tony, covered in engine grease and buried beneath the carriage of his newest pet project, couldn’t hear her over the music he was blasting in the sleek buds he’d put in his ears four hours previous when FRIDAY had tried to chide him for his caffeine intake. It was some guitar heavy rift that Tony would’ve rightly identified as “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” by AC/DC if he’d been paying it more mind than what the beat was and the way it kept his hands steady. It was so loud that Tony was unable to hear FRIDAY, so loud that Tony was unaware that he was no longer the only person in his lab, until fingers wrapped around his ankle and pulled.
With a shout akin to a yelp, Tony was jerked out from under the black frame and rather terrifying looking engine he’d been tinkering with for weeks. He quickly swiped his protective goggles off, already reaching to activate his suit on the gauntlet around his wrist, when he blinked past the surprise in order to register the God standing above him, Vision hovering just behind a broad shoulder.
“Point Break,” Tony greeted with a huff, tugging his earbuds out as he pushed to his feet. “Nice to have you back.”
“Tony,” Thor nodded with a solemn air, even as his brows pinched in confusion. “I was unable to locate any of the other Avengers aside from the Vision upon my arrival. He led me here.”
“Right, yeah.” Tony scrubbed a hand through his hair, face twisting for an instant before he turned away to pad toward one of his work tables. “FRIDAY remind me to program better alert systems in you.”
“Of course, Mr. Stark.”
“How’s the homestead?” Tony asked, glancing over his shoulder at where Thor hovered with a certain uncertainty, and he did not miss the small frown that Vision directed his way. “All good up in god land? The All-Daddy still… All-Daddying?”
It earned him a grimace on Thor’s part; a grave one that had something twisting in Tony’s gut. “I am afraid I return with harrowing news.”
“I believe it would be easier if I announced this to everyone all at once,” Thor said, hammer still clutched in hand, still smelling a bit like ozone from his travel between realms. “Where are the rest of the Avengers?”
Something in Tony’s left cheek twitched. He looked back to the holographic schematics for a moment, and rubbed a hand in a slow circle around the center of his chest. Though in his last doctor visit Tony was given a clean bill of health, his ribs still ached in frustratingly familiar ways around his sternum. Clearing his throat, he finally turned about to face them.
“Absent,” he said with a smile and a shrug. “Why don’t you tell me how bad it is? Apocalyptic? World ending?”
Thor’s frown only deepened. “Universe ending.”
Tony blinked once. Twice.
Thor shifted his weight, lips pressed thin.
“Well, I guess I should make some calls.”