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“Mr. Stark? Are you still listening?” The Accord’s Council’s messenger asks him, his voice a strange mix of annoyed and concerned as he tries to draw the injured brunet in the hospital bed’s attention back to him. Honestly, Tony’s heard everything that Suit Guy has said. It’d be impossible not to.

“These are difficult times, and the Avengers are in a unique position with being the only ones who can handle the upcoming threats we face.” Tony remembers running that campaign with Fury. The sort of media-based approach to foster a good will from the world towards the actions of the small group of individuals backed by one of the world’s most shady organizations and accompanied by the Press’s Golden Boy. He’d always known that these seeds planted would be a kind of Hail Mary pass for them at least once, but he’d thought that it’d been all used up with Romanov’s horrible ‘You’re not going to put any of us in a prison’ speech.

Honestly Tony thinks he should have noticed the signs back then of the group buying into their own hype, but he’d been too busy and too distracted. Hadn’t he already learned his lesson once about doing something like that? About handing over the reigns to someone he thought he could ‘trust’ – Stane, Fury, Romanov, Rogers, they’re all starting to blend together – and allowing himself to leave it in their hands, ‘The best hands are still our own’ , and deal with the other thousand and one problems that popped up every single day.

He feels like he owes a certain man he left in the desert an apology. He’s made the same mistake twice when he swore over that man’s grave that it’d never happen again. Seems like he was just as blinded by the stars and stripes as everyone else.

“It was determined that open communication with Captain Rogers in light of everything, and in light of his past service to the world wasn’t too much to ask. In the end their demands weren’t too terrible. Worse compromises have been made for less vital reasons.” Wasn’t it always Rogers who spit on compromise as some form of insult to his ‘values’? What compromise would he have accepted that wasn’t a complete bow down to his regime? Tony almost wants to ask, almost wants to make Suit Guy choke on the words as he relays them from Golden Boy Rogers’ mouth and to Tony here in this bed.

The bed where Rogers put him in. Because he held back and Rogers didn’t. Another mistake, another drop in the ocean of Tony Stark’s regrets.

…He should have killed him. He should have released FRIDAY’s restrictions when it came to fighting a living person and just gone to town. To take out years of rage and frustration and despair and betrayal out on that man’s face.

It’s a nice thought, but Tony knows that there was only ever one way that story ended; and that was with him here in this bed and Rogers walking away with barely a scratch. And the reason was because Tony Stark wasn’t Howard. He wasn’t going to become the man either, no matter how hard people pushed him.

And god how they pushed.

These days he understood the old man more than he ever did when he was alive. The push and pull of fools with too much power and no rationality in how to use it. The final moment of deciding that being the ‘bad guy’ wasn’t so bad in the face of monsters parading around as saints as the blood dripped from their hands. He understands why Howard might have finally decided that his own humanity and any kind of benevolence was worthless in the face of something like that.

‘You always compared me to Steve Rogers, how does it feel to know that your ‘good war buddy’ is nothing more than a coward? Is nothing more than a tyrant with a pretty smile? Are you watching dad? Are you proud of your precious creation? Is this truly what you thought a ‘good man’ was once upon a time?’ Tony can’t help but think.

“Understand Mr. Stark.” Suit Guy presses on with this ‘unscheduled meeting’. “The Council is sympathetic to everything that allegedly happened in Siberia, but these are desperate times. Surely you can understand the position that we’re in.” He says and Tony stares at him in baffled silence. ‘Allegedly happened’? He’s seriously looking at Tony sitting in this hospital bed and has the gall to look him in the eyes and say those words without any hint of shame? ‘Allegedly happened’…huh, interesting. “Things are going to come to a head very soon, and we need our defenders, all of them, back where they belong and doing what they’re supposed to be doing-” He’s looking at Tony like he’s trying to impart some kind of wisdom or point. He doesn’t need to work so hard at it, Tony fully understands what’s happening here and what’s really being said. “-with all of this unpleasantness put into the past. We need Captain America and his team. We need Iron Man and his team. We need them working together once more.”

Is that the end of it? Tony waits a few moments to determine whether or not it’s his turn to speak. The room has a kind of soft fuzziness about it, something that has undoubtedly helped with this conversation. Otherwise Tony thinks he might be yelling right now, or having a panic attack. Thank goodness for the good stuff.

“I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.” Tony says after a brief moment and the man gets an annoyed look before he comes forward, holding out a tablet for Tony and Tony just stares at it for who knows how long before he hears the man talking again.

“The Accord’s Council thanks you for your understanding in all of this, and for your continued service.” He says, motioning forward with the computer in his hands. “This new temporary arrangement is the best we’re going to get. Once you sign it I’ll be out of your hair and you can get some rest.” A contract? Updated Accords? Nah, it’s gotta be something else. Rogers’ demands? Probably closer. Rogers’ demands to the Council for Tony himself, much more likely.

“I’m curious to see what this ‘best we’re gonna get’ looks like. Feel free to send it to me and I’ll have my lawyers look over it.” Tony says and the man looks agitated. Doesn’t he know that if he gets Tony’s signature right now that it’s practically worthless legally? Wait, this isn’t about legality, it’s about the public. They can say that Tony agreed to play ‘fairly’ and then he pulled away and threw a temper tantrum when just asked to do things that undoubtedly will look so harmless on paper.

“It’s only a temporary agreement.” Suit Guy presses, holding it out again. “Not legally binding in any way.”

“Then you don’t need my signature on it.” Tony replies to him and there’s that antsy energy again.

“I was sent here Mr. Stark to get your agreement that you’re willing to work with the Council and the rest of your team on this.”

“I get that.” Tony nods. “But I’m currently doped up and uninterested in signing anything. The old man taught me well. I could be drooling and I wouldn’t sign anything before I read it. Even something that you claimed just said my name was Tony Stark and needed me to verify it.” He actually had someone try that once. Pepper said that Tony had given the guy such a look of ‘dude who do you think you’re fooling?’ that the nurse who had rushed to go get her afterwards to inform her what was trying to happen in that room had laughed about for five minutes.

“Mr. Stark, I don’t think you realize the position that we’re in, that you’re in as well.” The man says and Tony tries to focus on him but honestly he’s more than done with this conversation so he starts feeling around for the nurse call button as he holds eye contact. “You signed the preliminary contract of the Accords and was found in default of your agreement when you headed off to Siberia.”

“I was under the impression that my signature agreed that I would abide by the restrictions and laws for the individual countries involved that would be put into place that hadn’t actually been put into place yet. No Accords laws actually on the books yet means that I’m in default of nothing. Nice try though. Good sell. You looked very stern. Two out of ten.” He hits the button as Suit Guy gets flustered as the nurse comes in, Happy following behind her.

“Sir, you need to leave now.” She says, her shoulders firm and unyielding in a way that Captain America wishes he were in the face of a jerk trying to bully someone else and Suit Guy lets himself be led from the room. There are a few passing threats about something or another but really Tony isn’t listening anymore.

“Hap?”

“Yeah?” Happy’s there instantly, clearly still annoyed about Tony agreeing earlier to taking the meeting with no one in the room but Suit Guy and himself.

“That guy was an asshole.” He says and Happy laughs. That’s good. Tony like’s it when Happy is happy. There’s a thought that crosses his mind and he grabs onto it quickly before it can fade away. “Close down the Compound. Shutter it, shut it off, empty it out. The whole kit and kaboodle.”

“I’ll get right on it.” Happy promises him and Tony nods, laying back into the pillows that he’s sure must be whispering lullabies or something to him.

“Hap?”

“Yeah?”

“I think that guy was trying to tell me to ‘lay back and think of America’ and just let myself get fucked over by them again.”

“He was an asshole.”

“Hmm…he was…No more visitors, okay?”

“Sounds good to me. Get some rest Tony, I’m right here.” He promises and Tony falls under the pillow’s siren song and goes to sleep.

-+-

“I’m ready to be home.” Wanda says, rubbing her hands together nervously. “To talk to Vision.” Clint puts an arm over her shoulder to help soothe any jitters the young girl might have.

“I think we’re all ready to be home.” Nat agrees before she looks at Steve. “Not looking forward to what happens afterwards, but looking forward to meeting it head on and getting it dealt with.” Steve knows what she means. Tony’s refusal to agree to the new Accords setup. Everett Ross had expressed his apologies that they’d been unable to secure the billionaire’s agreement like the Accord’s Council had been certain they’d manage to get. It had been the one thing that they’d almost treated like an afterthought, but Tony had turned around and decided to be just as pointlessly stubborn as he had been back in Siberia.

“I’ll talk to Tony.” Steve promises them. “He can be reasonable when it matters.” He hears snorts all throughout the vehicle at that statement and he tries not to sigh in agreement with them. Tony being reasonable only happened after a long and arduous battle of playing back and forth with him.

“Uh, Cap?” Sam’s voice comes from the front seat and Steve looks at him before he follows where he’s pointing. They’re approaching the front of the Compound and the front doors are chained shut. It’s only looking past them towards the front of the building that Steve can see the boards on the windows and the obvious ‘abandoned and condemned’ look that the building has.

“It’s fake.” Steve says with a sigh. “He’s making a point.”

“He better not have touched my stuff.” Wanda growls and she holds out her hand and the chains on the front doors break and they open. The group pull themselves out of the vehicle with their bags as they walk up to the front doors and Wanda’s forced to use her powers again to open them.

What they see when they get inside is not what they were expecting. The whole place looks gutted. Even the marble tile flooring is missing, just chunks of concrete and dirt everywhere. There’s no furniture left anywhere and the whole image screams ‘construction zone’ versus their home.

What is Tony playing at?

“Seriously?” Clint mutters. “Fucking asshole.” The group walk into the kitchen area where Clint had once saved Wanda from Tony’s imprisonment and the giant hole is still present in the floor, but there’s no fridge or microwave or even a sink anymore in the area. The marble countertops are gone and even the cabinets are missing. Just the barebone hints of what used to be in this area once upon a time.

The real kicker is when they get to where the living room is and the bedrooms. The living room has cut off wires where electronics once hung and in their rooms there are boxes that have their individual names on them with dozens of ‘Hazmat’ stickers on them. Steve finds himself shaking his head.

Real mature Tony. Real mature.

-+-

For months, Tony’s unavailable for comment or even just a five-minute conversation. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t launch a smear campaign against the Avengers, dropping the name himself and distancing SI and the name Stark from anything Avengers related. The Compound is nothing but rubble now, somehow Tony had timed it to be demolished fully when the group was away at a meeting with Ross and the other Council members and Steve sighs at how T’Challa has had to step in for them in this interim.

Tony keeps refusing to be reasonable or rational though, even as the days pass by.

Ross tells him that Tony’s refused to cooperate with the new Accords, and seeing as they’re just a legal contract binding anyone who signs it, there’s no clout to force the wayward brunet into doing it. Not just that, apparently Tony spends far too much time calling in favors and getting a few of those ever-friendly Iron Man politicians to start calling for new regulations and laws put on the books to protect civilians and superpowered people alike around the world.

“He’s trying to make it all favor him.” Nat tells Steve with a sigh. “And he won’t talk to me either. Fury tried; he didn’t succeed either.”

Eventually though, there’s a big enough problem in New York that drags the Iron Man pilot into the fray. Their Wakandan coms are hacked on the field and Tony’s group consisting of new but familiar faces coordinates with the lot of them. It only takes Steve a moment to be concerned about the lack of chatter on the comms before he manages to get too close to the Spider-Kid and he hears his constant bantering back and forth over an undoubtedly internal channel.

“Tony, we need to talk when this is all over.” Steve says.

“No.” Is the only answer he gets. No explanation, no defense of his refusal, just a plain ‘no’. The Iron Man pilot and his team vanish just as quickly as they came, leaving the Avengers behind in the wreckage of their fight. How like Tony to run away and ignore the damage. Steve thought that he’d learned by now, seems as though he hadn’t.

How frustrating.

-+-

The wedding of Tony and Pepper is attended by what Tony would say is ‘everyone who is anyone’. Funnily enough, the Avengers are not in attendance despite other superhero’s being in attendance for the event.

“We should crash it.” Clint says and Nat shakes her head.

“The wedding is the most secure event on the planet right now. Do you really want to give Tony a chance to say that a system glitch misunderstood the people trying to get in and killed them?” Nat asks and Clint huffs as the news crews try to get better glimpses of the event happening past the walls.

Steve can’t help but feel a little bit of betrayal about it all. It was always obvious that if Tony had ever figured out how to pledge himself to one gal that he would have asked Steve to be his best man. Steve should be there, standing next to them during this moment, not banished like a bad dog from the festivities. It feels like it’s a line crossed. The days separate can be forgiven and forgotten, but something like this? Something so monumental? This would always be a blank spot when it shouldn’t be. How would they find a way to replace this memory?

Tony should have thought about that.

Steve just hopes that their absence isn’t making the brunet too upset on his big day. He glances at his phone a few times to see if Tony will crack and offer the invitation that he always should have sent.

“Maybe Pepper refused to allow us to be there.” Sam tries to comfort him. “You know she hates us for whatever reason. Maybe she gave him an ultimatum.” That seems cruel, me or your family? What kind of ultimatum was that?

Honestly Tony shouldn’t have taken it.

He soothes himself by watching the approved recording of the festivities and pretends that he was there after all. The smile on Tony’s and Pepper’s faces brings one to his own and he might tear up a few times as he watches it. He really wishes he’d been there. He should have been there.

-+-

“Captain Asshole is outside.” Harley says, glancing out of the windows from the office and down into the main lobby. He’s tilted his head slightly like he’s not sure if he’s amused or baffled by the person down in the waiting area. Peter and Riri quickly get up from where they’ve been doing their intern work and goes over to see what Harley’s looking at.

“He is. Look at that.” Riri mutters.

“I know.” Tony says. “He’s checked in each day this week.”

“Why don’t you have security toss him out?” Peter asks and Tony shakes his head.

“No reason to give him a soapbox to pretend that he’s some sort of prosecuted martyr. Trust me, there’s nothing Rogers does better than make up some fake righteous cause that he’s being persecuted for because he’s just ‘such a good guy’. As long as he doesn’t bother anyone, I’ve got no issue with him being down there.” Tony says and Harley shrugs before he nudges the other two’s arms and they go back to where Tony is. “FRIDAY, sweep for Natasha or any potential ‘aid’ for Rogers.”

‘Already done Boss. Romanov has infiltrated the employee parking lot and has started to make her way into the building.’ There’s something unconcerned with how FRIDAY says it.

“Have you alerted security?” He questions.

‘I have, and I have contacted the local law enforcement. The elevator is more than capable of holding her until they arrive to take her into custody.’

“That’s my girl.”

“You should have them go through the lobby. Let Rogers see Romanov in cuffs.” Riri says and Tony snorts at the thought.

“As funny as it would be, the chaos that Rogers would undoubtedly cause isn’t worth the property damage and workman’s comp claims that would arise from it.” Tony points out. “We’ll have security take her out the other exit. Still visible enough without the threat of Rogers seeing anything.”

He’s not surprised to hear that five minutes after the cops leave with Romanov that FRIDAY tells him that Rogers got a phone call that made him irate and he took off out of the building. The news runs the break-in and arrest over and over again and Tony can’t help but watch it a few times. That’ll probably come back to bite him if Rogers has any say in it…

But so worth it.

-+-

Tony and his group manages to keep the news of Pepper’s pregnancy quiet for as long as they can possibly manage, but eventually someone manages to figure it out and the papers have a field day with the news of the upcoming Stark and Potts heir. There are rumors that Tony’s gotten a little crazy with Pepper’s protection detail and really Steve doesn’t feel like Tony’s being unreasonable considering all of the enemies that he’s made over the years.

He wants to point out that there’s a whole group of people waiting on the sidelines, just waiting to be tapped in, who will be able to guarantee Pepper’s and the baby’s safety.

Tony’s still not responding to any of his overtures though. His team becoming even bigger and bigger as the days go on. Steve tries to get T’Challa to manage an invite to a Stark event or something similar so that he can just talk to Tony at least once face to face, but T’Challa’s informed him that Tony’s refused any overtures of friendship from the Wakandan king and doesn’t offer up any invitations that aren’t written out for Shuri.

Steve tries to ignore the frustration and focus instead on becoming a godfather. He hopes that Tony and Pepper learn how not to spoil that child rotten, but they’ll have a whole bunch of people coming up alongside them to help share the burden of parenting. It takes a village after all.

Steve buys a baby gift and gets it sent to Tony’s mansion.

On the day Morgan Stark is born – Steve gets it back in the mail as undeliverable.

-+-

Thanos comes, not that they thought he wasn’t going to. This is something they’ve been dreading for years, and have been preparing for with every waking moment. The battle is long and hard, with so many new faces and old running around and it’s nothing but pure adrenaline from start to finish.

But it gets finished.

In the end, Thanos goes down. His two daughters breaking through the final line of defense and managing to get the killing blow. Steve can’t imagine the pain they’re going through, and it’s surprising to see how quickly they turn from their dead father and hold onto each other and walk away.

Tony is smiling, and it lifts Steve’s heart. The brunet is celebrating with everyone else, hugging Pepper and the other Iron Suited kids and the woman Nebula at one point and Steve comes over to finally close this gap and let it start healing between them. Tony turns to greet whoever has just approached him and his smile falls instantly and his arms drop.

“No.” He says firmly to Steve before he turns away and rejoins the festivities. That same word, still no explanation or reasoning behind it to explain why he’s still so determined to leave this festering thing between them. They all make it back to Earth and Steve sits with the Avengers as they celebrate and he can’t help but hear that word echo in his mind.

It keeps echoing all night long.