Actions

Work Header

Vital for Understanding

Chapter Text

2 years after the Civil War the Avengers have reunited but their relationships are strained at best particularly between Team Cap and Tony. Little did they know this was all soon about to change.
This mission was weird. That much was certain. What were the UN thinking?

Tony snorted mentally. Their latest mission was to detain an benevolent being that aimed to fix relationships and conflicts. Achieving this by focusing on a particular person (a one that it felt had been misjudged or wronged) and showed their motivations, secrets and defining parts of their past to the others. Sometimes even highlighting their mind-set or ghosting pain.

The UN would usually have no problem with it, although when it seemed to be travelling too close to foreign parliaments for comfort and they immediately had a hissy fit as they all had way too many of their own secrets to keep.

Figures.

So that's how they all ended up here. Barnes had been cleared for duty a few months ago due to using the BARF technology, the Winter Soldier sometimes appeared in times of stress or anger but he was usually talked down quickly by Rogers.

Tony tried to be happy for him as he knew logically that Buck - Barnes was a victim too. Really he did. This was exceedingly difficult when at night he kept seeing Barnes - No the Winter Soldiers hands around his mums neck. ( "He killed my mum." No, nope not going down that rabbit hole. Breathe Tony.)

Rogers, he had the nerve to send a patronising (not) apology with a frankly offensive flip phone. Does he really think that's enough for - (keeping the identity of his parents murder from him - slamming his shield on the reactor- that blow would've killed him if it was still in his chest - leaving him there in that Hydra Base. It had taken him a day to get out and get back without Ross suspecting anything. cold cold cold. ) Stop it. Can you really blame him for being angry still? Or losing it back then? When the Avengers first started he'd worked hard to be civil to his ex idol. Some of his snarky side slipped through obviously but that's just his "adorable" personality. After all who wouldn't be bitter with years of being told he would never be as good or as great as the pure patriotic Captain? Capsicle-Rogers even would bring up Howard ( hell no he was the reason Tony's issues had issues ) and he had the nerve to try to discourage Tony from keeping secrets. What a laugh.


Birdbrain- Barton was out of retirement officially now and yes Clint hates him. (Even though Tony got them all pardons with minimal punishments despite what the UN wanted to give them. Additionally, Tony hid the Langs and the Barton Family from Ross when he was at large. He doubts Clint knows this but can't find it within himself to care. "Be careful of this one he'll break your back." Cold Clint.)


Lang like Barton hates him on principle although that's mainly due to the bias that the Pymms have against anyone after Howard with the surname Stark. Despite this, Lang has been warming slightly up to him. He doesn't detect as much vitriol in his tone when he talks to him anymore.
Wanda still despises him (no surprise there) now with the added reason of the raft imprisonment. Couldn't she see he was trying to protect her? The public wanted her head at that time. But no Stark is Satan. Ugh.

Sam seems like a mini Steve but he's a genuine guy and friends with Rhodey. Therefore he's put any animosity he had towards the winged man, for being part of the reason Rhodey was paralysed behind him. (This is your fault Tony. No.) He had made Rhodes new legs of course.


It goes without saying that he'd never trust Natashlie again. (Fool me once. Shame on you. Fool me twice. Shame on me.) Sure he's keeping everyone at arm’s length -even more now- but he's way more wary of her. In battle at least, he knows she won't turn on him.


Bruce turned up soon after General Ross's fall from grace -not before the Hulk had smashed a hole in the nearest mountain range when he heard Tony was working with Ross. (Thank God they're still sciencebros after that.) Considering how the viridescent rage shone in Bruce's eyes when they first saw each other he was sure Bruce wouldn't hear him out or forgive him at all. However, he had given Tony the chance to talk through his reasons why and once he'd heard about all the work Tony had done with the accords and incriminating Ross, Big Green was in no danger of appearing.


King T'Challa and Thor saw them all occasionally as they had other demanding commitments ( Wakanda and Asgard respectively.) Understandably, they couldn't come to every mission including this one for T'Challa unfortunately. He and T'Challa have built a healthy respect of each other and Thor treats him the same as before. ( "Hello brother Anthony." "Hey Big guy mind putting me down I think I've cracked a rib from that hug.")
Scouting the area, where the being was last seen Spiderling webbed ahead with Wanda. Quite quickly he had found out he was the kids idol and that made him clean up his act (I.e the drinking.) He WASN'T going to be a disappointment like Rogers was to him or betray him. (“He is my friend." "So was I.") The plan was to detain not maim the well-meaning alien, the best way to do that would be to hold it down and interrogate it to find out how to get it home. The rest of them went off by themselves to cover more ground.

Flying, over a part of the deserted city that Rhodey hadn't checked, he dove down into the darkened alleyway that he couldn't see clearly into from above. Feeling eyes on the back of his neck, Tony whirled around to face a shimmering iridescent marine alien that defied gravity by swimming through air towards him. Can one of these Aliens obey the laws of physics for once? I really hate magic. Radiating intellect and anxiety it's form morphed into a humanoid shape standing in front of him. Tony smiled slightly subconsciously trying to comfort at the being.
"Thanks, I'm going to tell my team where you are so we can get you home alright Sparkles?"
"Friday patch through to the team- guys I've got Sparkles here on... “A clear concise voice, that of Sparkles, interrupted him mid-sentence
"Before I go home, I must repay you for your kindness and to do that I will help you."
"Help me? I don't know if you know but I am a genius just about any problem I can solve by myself." Sparkles, naming him the being was just insulting by this point, quirked an eyebrow up in amusement but continued.
"You are like the others I help. You are the least liked of your team; this is partially due to the personality you portray,"
"Rude."
"and due to your past misdeeds which they don't know the full story about. A conflict took place which exaggerated matters. You deserve some slack Tony you really aren't a bad person." He scoffed and swiped a hand down his face.
"I have to admit playing the villain does get old even if they get the best lines."
"Tony what's going on we're following Rhodes to your location? Tony?"
Sparkles threw a gold orb at him that it conjured from its hand.

The world went black.

Chapter Text

“Guys, I’ve got Sparkles here…” Static broke and silenced Tony’s voice as a few seconds later another spoke.

“Before I go home, I must repay you for your kindness.” Static burst through again and Steve had to strain his ears to try and continue to listen to the duo.

“Help me? I don’t know if you know but I am a genius. I can solve just about any problem by myself.” Natasha had to contain a snort at that. Once again, her original analysis of Stark is being proven correct. Narcissistic to the core.

“You are like the others I help.” Disturbance began to warp the tone of its words while static worked to mask some its content. “You are the least liked of the team.” Wincing in sympathy on the other side of the com, Rhodes knew that tensions between Tony and the old team still ran high but not that they were that strained. Dammit Tony, why didn’t you tell me it was still that bad? They had forgiven Wanda for siding with Ultron but not Tony for making him. And then the Raft? That was mostly Ross, but they still thought it was Tony. What idiots.

Nonverbally he asked Friday to track Tony’s location. She found it quickly, but it was on the complete opposite side of the area. He forwarded this to the others. If he saw any non-flying Avenger he would help them get there faster, but for now he was focused on getting to his best friend.

“Partially due to the personality you portray…”

Ouch. That was harsh. Wait what portray? Clint was stupefied as the Being’s, Sparkles, words sunk in.

“Rude.” Not a denial, Natasha noted. She would have to interrogate Stark about this later.

“…And due to your past misdeeds which they don’t know the full story about.”

Wanda glowered at the com as her hands crackled in reddened rage. She knew enough. First, he had taken her parents with the bomb he created. Then, Pietro with Ultron, Stark’s brain child. She would never forgive him. Ever.

“A conflict took place which exaggerated matters.” Peter knew that in ordinary circumstances he wouldn’t have been called in to help fight Captain America’s side at that Berlin Airport, due to being underage, but Mr. Stark had needed help to detain the others. Tony had revealed later that he had thought that there was no one more capable than Peter, even with his young age. Additionally, once Mr Stark had realized how serious the fight was going to go, he had told Peter to go home. Now, Peter respected that, despite feeling slightly annoyed by it at the time. Afterwards, Peter had been able to explain away his injuries from the airport as coming from a “Steve from Brooklyn”, but he highly doubted he would have been able to do that if he had carried on fighting.

Static begun again but was quickly cut out.

“You really aren’t a bad person.”

Scott inwardly scoffed. He had been hearing from Hank to never trust a Stark and Tony had done nothing to change his mind yet.

However the Hulk who picked up Ant Man earlier rumbled with laughter to himself, seeing the incredulous look on Scott’s face. TIN MAN GOOD FRIEND TO HULK AND BANNER. TIN MAN VERY GOOD. Banner in his mind nodded in agreement but kept him quiet, as not to disturb the conversation between Tin Man and Sparkles.

“I have to admit playing the villain does get old, even if they get the best lines.”

Has Stark been playing a part this entire time? Natasha was outraged she hadn’t seen it. But a deep sense of anxiety settled in Peter at these words. He couldn’t keep quiet any longer.

“Tony what’s going on we’re following Rhodes to your location?” He had hoped to get a reaction out of Mr. Stark by calling him Tony. (“Call me Tony, Mr Stark makes me feel old.”)

There was a very pregnant pause.

“Tony?”

There was a whoosh of what sounded like strong wind hitting the armor. A dull thud. Silence.

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

“STARK.”

Steve’s anxious yell bounced around the unnaturally dark alleyway.

The silence he got back as a reply increased the worry and suspicion of the other Avengers who edged forward slightly behind him. (They had been persuaded by Cap to not bound ahead. Although the Alien, Being or whatever it was, hadn’t shown signs of malice towards human kind yet, they all knew how Stark pushed buttons and could make someone flip out.)

“Mr Stank,” Rhodes projected his teasing tone into the alleyway as they all edged further in. (“That’s one of the funniest nicknames I’ve heard for Stark. I’m so stealing that,” Clint murmured to Scott who smothered a snort in response, imaging Tony’s reaction to that.)

The deafening silence in reply did nothing but heighten the tension even more.

“Come on Tones. Tell me that creepy alien hasn’t got you.”

“Why would it go after him?” Wanda whispered maliciously under her breath. “He’s in no way been misjudged or wronged. We all know the arrogant murdering arsehole.”

Wisely she stopped once Vision gave her a sharp look in response and Spiderman’s masked eyes narrowed at her.

“We all make mistakes Miss Maximoff.” A sharp otherworldly voice spoke from the blanket of black in front of them making everyone tense and point their weapons in its direction.

The sparkling humanoid walked calmly towards the group sending small shards of light scattering in every direction as it raised its hands in a peaceful gesture. Despite that, both Natasha and Clint kept their weapons drawn and aimed at the creature.

“Why do you hold hostility towards me humans? I mean you no harm.”

“Where do you hold Friend Anthony then?” Thor boomed twirling his hammer menacingly at the being that seemed unfazed by the unspoken threat.

“It seems you are one of the few here that would call him so, God of Thunder,” The Being smiled amiably at him before turning and addressing the others. “I will take you to him.”

Chapter Text

Glowing with an gold omnipotent magic, the Being’s eyes flared as the world around the Avengers warped and twisted around them, like they were in the eye of a tornado.

The many colors of the area they were in eventually bled away and they were faced with a dimly lit, technologically advanced room that was organized a lot like a library.

Looking around the library-like space, the Avengers noticed quickly that it was unique, like a complex Rubix cube that was filled with strange symbols instead of colors.  

Books with a plethora of titles and languages littered some of the shelves. Each was locked, but well cared for and used. (The Italian ones were placed in one corner of the room. Bruce noted that these seemed to be the most loved.) Under these  a broken robotic cat lay resembling something smashed by a hammer. Despite this several branches of thought floated around the robot even though it projected an air of loneliness, sadness and anger.   

Several sections in this part of the room were also labelled, one of which Steve noted, with a growing joy, held classic books, like works by Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and C.S.Lewis.  He couldn't wait to find out who owned this room to see if he could borrow a few from their collection.

Holograms lit the room as they danced around them detailing several different ideas and theories at once.

Bruce''s eyes flew around the room trying to soak in the knowledge from the continually updating theories - Spidey-suit flexibility resistance - How to beat paralysis partially or fully - improvements to Rhodes’ legs - Accords improvements and manipulation - Friday updates - How to deal with PTSD (healthy coping mechanisms.)

Bruce turned to the others whose eyes held an identical sense of awe and respect for the room’s contents before his eyes widened with a sense of realization.

"Guys I think..."

He trailed off when Tony entered the room slamming the door behind him with a loud bang.

Rhodes smiled.

“Tones, don't do that to us Man."

The smile dropped off his face, however, when he took note of the fact that this Tony's hair was messier and spiked; his eyes were steely, sharp, and unforgiving, and an aura of anger, violence, and darkness seemed to seep off the harsh lines created by the shadows clinging to him. The most alarming thing that Rhodes noticed was that his hands were covered in a sparse coating of blood.

All the Avengers (even Natasha ) took a step back as Angry Tony swept into the room, ignoring them all, plucked a chintz chair out of nowhere and began observing the holograms with an unimpressed eye sweeping through them rapidly and scowling.

“Sparkles, why is..." Steve's worried voice was interrupted by two other identical voices chatting to each other as they entered the room

“Sir," Vision breathed sounding thoroughly relieved.

Two other Tony Stark's entered the room, the first (Ironass Tony as aptly named by Clint ) was slightly translucent and shone gold, arrogance and confidence as he stuck his tongue out at Angry Tony across the room with an air of childishness and snorted as Angry Tony glared back at him.

The other seemed more cautious and intellectual than the two other Starks. His posture seemed slightly hunched and he carried a world of weariness that none of the others possessed. This Tony ("Pincushion Tony?" Clint was whacked over the head for that one by Natasha, who was observing this Tony with an analytical gaze.) was dressed in white with an alarming amount of knives stuck out of his back and chest. Natasha twitched as she noticed several of the knives were serrated and of varying sizes. Ouch.

Glancing at the holograms he grabbed several of the locked books that littered the shelves and placed them on the desk.

With growing horror, Bruce noted one sickeningly large knife ran through the arc reactor and stuck out of his back, while another medium sized one was stuck in the side of his neck. Immediately, Bruce saw that both, on their own, would've and should've killed him.

It was surprisingly Bucky that questioned the Being first. Clasping the Being with his metal arm (reconstructed by Tony) he asked coldly, but with a voice full of concern.

"What exactly are you and what did you do?"

 

Chapter Text

"What exactly are you and what did you do?"

Bucky pinned the creature with a cold look that he had perfected during his time as the Winter Soldier.

It was no secret that he and Stark had tried to at least be civil with each other recently ("We are going to be working with each other. I need to know you have my back out there.")

Over the last three months that Bucky had been psychologically cleared to work with the Avengers, Stark agreed to be civil towards both Bucky and the Winter Soldier who was now a controllable HYDRA free side of Bucky thanks to Stark’s guidance and the BARF technology. They both saw during that time that Stark was a dedicated, caring, and a quite funny man beneath the mask full of snark. Sadly, Bucky noted that Stark ("I'm fixing your arm. Call me Tony") still seemed a bit frigid around him. But that was to be expected, after all that had happened. The Winter Soldier had observed that Bucky and Stark -Tony - had highly compatible personalities and that they could be friends. But Bucky highly doubted this.

However, he couldn’t deny that these three identical Starks reminded him way too much of himself and the Winter Soldier. He was becoming deeply concerned for the "Pincushion" Stark. Pincushion, unlike the other Starks, was pale and covered in scars that swirled around his hands with several darker, jagged ones going down his arms and up his neck, resembling scars from some sort of painful poisoning.  Additionally, Pincushion was the only one of the trio carrying not only an arc reactor in his chest but one that looked like it was broken with blunt force, as well as being run through with a large knife. One side had looked like it had almost been yanked out, causing it to be moderately elevated out of his chest.

Bucky had felt sick looking at him.

The Being sighed heavily before moving in front of them all and freezing the three Tonys where they were. Sparkles had the nerve to snort as all the Avengers tensed in a defensive stance as all three versions of the least liked Avenger froze.

Exasperated, the Being leveled them with a flat glare.

"My species are called the Illuminates. You know what we do and so I'm not going to bother wasting my breath explaining."

"The Illuminates?" Thor questioned, narrowing his eyes, suspicious of the Being.

"We exist beyond the nine realms, God of Thunder. In fact we came before all those realms…" The Illuminate trailed off before shaking it's head.

“That is not of importance now. You wished to know what I did."

Everyone nodded lowering their weapons slightly.

"I transported us into Mr Stark’s head."

Everyone froze in shock and Thor almost dropped Mjolnir.

"What?!" Peter squeaked.

Peter felt a weird combination of excitement, fear, and guilt at the prospect of being inside his mentor’s mind. He really did not want to meet the bloody rage that was Tony on the other side of the room. What the hell had happened to his friend to make part of him turn out like that?  And what was with the right corner of the room being filled with swirling dark clouds, sand, water, and was that blood?

Insanely grateful for the huge pellucid sphere which obscured the red raw data swirling in and out of the smoke covering that area, Peter moved forward slightly towards the Illuminate as he continued to explain.

"The three Starks are the Merchant of Death," Wanda stiffened "the Mask or the outside persona Stark, and Tony, or as you so named him, Pincushion," Sparkles the Illuminate sneered at Clint before continuing. "All are real, all are one. Once you see his story, you will not be the same."

Everyone looked either bemused, amused or fearful at its words.

"You will see it from either here, through Mr Stark’s eyes or as if you are a ghost where he is. You will be experiencing ghost feelings and ghost pain." Sparkles took great pleasure in the blanching of some of Tony’s teammate’s faces. Good. "I hope you are prepared." It murmured darkly before disappearing.

The Tonys unfroze and the world swirled around the Avengers once more.

Chapter Text

Recovering from an absurd sense of disorientation Steve shook himself when he saw himself staring at an old fashioned circuit board.

What's going on? Where are the others?

Anxiously, Steve tried to look around him but his vision seemed stuck to the layered plastic board in front of him. He panicked for a moment before remembering what the Being had said about what they were about to experience. "You will see it from either here, through Mr Stark’s eyes or as if you are a ghost where he is."

So that explains it.

Unblemished, young tanned hand's which he now knew were Tony's but seemingly his own, held up the circuit board and inspected it.

Steve could feel himself smiling, unconcerned for a moment about the others, as he felt a foreign sense of pride bubble up inside him. Stark deserved to be proud of himself at this after all he made that complex device at Four years old.

I've got to tell Dad. Internally the young boy’s voice echoed inside Steve head.

Grabbing the device Steve felt Stark pull open the door and run out into the hallway.

"Young Sir! No running in the hallways."

Turning Steve saw that the stern British voice belonged to middle aged brunette Butler that oddly resembled Vision.

"Sorry Jarvis," Steve felt himself inside Tony’s mind startle, Jarvis was a person? "I wanted to show Dad what I made."

"What did you make young Sir?" Jarvis's voice softened as he crouched down to Steve's eye level as Steve saw Tony's hands uncurl as Tony looked down to reveal the newly made Circuit board. Steve felt Tony’s spike of anxiety as he tried to gauge Jarvis's reaction.

"This is amazing Young Sir. Master Stark will be very proud of you. I know I am."

Tony’s face morphed into a grin so wide Steve felt it and feared it would break his face as he engulfed his butler in a one armed hug.

"Thank you Jarvis. I am going to the workshop now."

Racing through several unfamiliar corridors and down several floors, Tony came to a halt at the door of Howard's workshop.

Closing his eyes briefly Tony took a deep breathe in as if to gather himself before he entered the code to the metal door.

It swung open.

Steve was hit with a sense of unease and fear that wasn't his coupled with the now diminished pride of the circuit board.

He couldn't explain it why would Tony feel uneasy around his father?

"Daddy?" Staring intently at his father, Tony crept into the room cradling the circuit board in his arms.

Howard, older and slightly greyer than Steve remembered, was sat by his desk glaring at the map across the room surrounded with little red crosses and circles.

Places where I could've been buried. Steve realised with a jolt. My friend never stopped searching for me.

Steve felt his heart warm with an upsurge of affection and guilt for his old friend and what would happen to him. Tony’s eyes directed his glaze at the things Howard was surrounded by; disembodied weapons, photos of the arctic, weapons plans, tools and several glasses of scotch.

Should I show him now? He looks tense. Tony’s thought bounced around Steve’s head.

He's always working he deserves a break.

"Dad... I made something."

Steve could almost taste the hesitancy and anxiety Tony felt at that moment.

"Not now Anthony." Howard snapped sharply taking a swig of the half empty glass in front of him.

Steve felt his young teammate reel backwards slightly.

Not to be deterred young Tony collected himself vision blurring slightly.

"I..It’s a... c...circuit board...I made it. I...I saw some of your engineering books...d...don't be mad."

Sighing Howard swiped a hand down his face as if he was trying to iron it and beckoned his son towards him with one hand.

Swiftly moving forward Tony planted the small invention on top of a weapon plan before stepping backward.

Howard scowled deeply at it for several long moments as Tony restrained the urge to fidget.

Meanwhile Steve felt the odd urge to comfort his teammate whom was unnerving him with how unlike himself he was acting. Shaking himself he repeated internally that he couldn't do that as Stark still hadn't forgiven him for the whole civil war mess. This was ages ago; Stark would be over whatever happened.

"It's inefficient and far too large; the copper etching here and here is unproductive. The components should be connected to here instead..." Howard pointed out several more areas where he saw errors as he leaned back in his chair.

He wanted to shake Howard as Tony's vision clouded more.

But I tried so hard to make it right.

IT'S NOT ENOUGH.

The vehemence and the melancholy of those statements felt like it physically socked Steve in the stomach.

"But you are smarter than most people your age," Steve felt Tony look up as his hope reignited like a small flickering flame. Maybe Dad was going to compliment him. "We'll have to have a press conference showing this," Howard gestured to the invention dismissively and Tony’s hope of praise inside Steve withered painfully and died. "You can work in the lab once you master more complex things than that thing." Steve saw Howard sneer at it before all of a sudden his vision had gone dark, he began to feel hot trails of moisture running down his cheeks.

"Anthony."

Steve felt the two large calloused hands belonging to his old friend grip the top of his arms painfully.

"Anthony, look at me."

Steve’s vision returned suddenly as Tony removed his hands from his eyes. He was faced with Howard possessing an expression looking like it was carved out of stone.

"Remember this Anthony," Howard paused before resuming at a slightly slower but clearer pace to make sure Tony remembered what he said next." Stark men are made of Iron, we do not cry, break or show weakness in front of others. We are strong. All weaknesses can and will be exploited out there,” Howard flung an arm out to gesture outside as he was speaking, “but not OURS for we do not have them. We cannot afford them. The people out there are sharks and if they can tear you apart they will. So repeat after me Stark men are made of Iron."

 Steve blanched as he realised how much that could mess Tony up in the future. What happened to you Howard?

"Stark men are made of Iron."

Tony repeated in a small voice.

"Good now get out."

Steve gaped in shock the old friend he knew would never talk to a child like that much less his own.

Running as fast as his legs could carry this Tony ran into his room pulling the door shut behind him.

He curled up next to the floor staring up at the Captain America poster opposite his door as he tried to shove all the melancholy, fear and disappointment in himself deep down.

"You'd be proud of me right?"

Dumbfounded, Steve gasped as he noticed the large amount of Captain America merchandise littering the room, Books, Toys, collectors cards, posters just to name a few. 

Of all the people he knew he would not thought Tony Stark would've been an old fan of his.

The glassy eyed static Captain in the posters and merchandise stayed silent even as the young boy burst into body wracking sobs unable to contain them anymore.

The tornado started up around Steve once more but he wanted nothing more but to comfort his young ex friend and reassure him that he was proud of him. Although he was still at odds with the adult version of Tony this version of him was different. This Tony loved, admired and looked up to him. 

Despite this, he knew the adult version of him definitely wouldn't tolerate that behaviour towards any version of him.

Especially, not after all that happened between them, not now.

Chapter Text

When the tornado had calmed down once more Steve had found himself back with the team in Tony's mindscape who were in varying states of outrage, anger and shock.

The lividest of the group was Clint whom, appalled at what he had seen of Howard's parenting, rounded on Steve as soon as he arrived.

"I know he was your friend Steve but what the fuck was he thinking? Seriously his child goes to him having invented something most teenagers would have trouble with and all he tells him is how to make it better! Not a well done. Not a good job. Nothing! Then he proceeds to tell him not to cry about it because he can't afford to have weaknesses. He's going to cry he's allowed to he's fucking Four years old!" Clint vibrated with barely contained rage as his paternal instincts came out.

It was mainly Wanda that he had these protective, parental feelings for, but now he seemed to be having them for Stark too. He would've found this amusing at any other time but the main feelings of rage, sadness and these new maternal instincts were clouding his mind in the recent aftermath of that memory.

I would never talk to my kids like that.

Natasha raised an eyebrow at Clint. Clint was angry on Stark's behalf and how he was treated as a child. She would never have thought that he would react like that considering how he had treated Stark after the Civil War. Wonders never cease. However even she had to admit the way Stark had been treated and the way he reacted really unsettled her. Where was that arrogance and self confidence that she saw when she evaluated him for the Avengers Initiative?

Obviously he hadn’t developed that yet, those particular character traits had developed when he became older.

Bruce's eyes glowed green in agreement with Clint but he talked back in a carefully controlled voice.

"I can see why he did it though."

"What do you mean Bruce? If Cassie came to me having created something like that I'd be amazed. I wouldn't put her down and point out all the things wrong with it." Scott pointed out. He like Clint was shocked and angry at what he had seen but he was willing to hear Bruce out.  Despite their differing opinions on Stark, both Bruce and Scott found that they did work well together in the lab when the team reunited and they respected each other’s opinion.

"So Howard is obviously extremely stressed you can tell that by looking at the numerous amounts of scotch around him, which is one of Tony's tells as well. In addition he had several weapons plans around him implying he had a lot to do for SI as well as running the search for Steve. He had no room for Tony as he wasn't one of Howard's priorities at this point."

"My Father was ruler of the nine realms and of Asgard he always found time to spar with me and congratulate me on my accomplishments. Howard of Stark's behaviour was unacceptable."

Thor scowled morphing the usually jovial God's face into a thunderous expression. In that moment he truly lived up to his namesake.

"I know Thor trust me when I say that I dislike it as much as you do but he was also trying to advice Tony and get him to toughen up in preparation for his first press meeting. His lack of praise and harsh critiquing of Tony’s work however ...” Bruce scowled as he thought of the effect that would’ve had on Tony. ”Young children are very malleable as this is when new neuron connections are easier to make in the brain. This must've been a great influence on Tony for us to be shown it in the first place."

Agreeing with Bruce, Sam nodded.

"Very good Doctor Banner" The Illuminate clapped, appearing truly impressed with Bruce, as it strolled towards the group.

"You discovered in a few minutes what took Tony years to find out," it continued whilst Rhodey gritted his teeth thinking back to his memories of Tony from MIT. "Mind you a few things happened to him later that made that process particularly difficult.”

"Those types of things are always harder to figure out when it’s happening to you." Bruce replied in a reflective tone.

Everyone paused, feeling very awkward at the weight that statement carried.

"Why show us that bit at the end though?" Natasha asked the being her usually blank face turning confused.

"Foreshadowing," The Illuminate answered in a dark tone "You were under the impression that your teammate had the perfect life before Iron man was born and made assumptions about him that were so far from the truth. The Stark Mask would say you needed to wake up and smell the bullshit. It is my duty as an Illuminate to interfere and make you see the truth."

"Foreshadowing?" Steve asked faintly.

"You underestimate the influence you had on his life Captain America. But you will see when the time is right."

"When will that be?" Stepping forward Sam eyed the being. He didn't appreciate it trying to antagonise his friend.

"Soon enough, first let's get on with the next set of memories.”

It clapped and the world disappeared in a swirl of colours once more.

Chapter Text

"What I tend to keep secret about my childhood is that two people who I cared for more than anyone else and they were Ana and Jarvis. Peggy and Maria are a close third with Obadiah coming in fourth and Howard fifth.

There are several reasons why I keep this to myself.

Firstly, I lost the top two on that list at fourteen and secondly I don't think anyone has ever cared about me that much. Although if I'm honest, I was scared that they only stuck around because they were paid to or maybe because of some misplaced loyalty to Howard, that’s stupid right? I know that's stupid because they made it very clear that they loved me."

Searching for the source of adult Tony’s voice, the Avengers were all stumped when they couldn’t see one through the twisting colours around them.

When the whirl of colours cleared they found themselves facing a child Tony, seemingly a year or so older than he was in the Circuit Board memory, managing two experiments at once.

The first seemed to be an explosive for SI judging by the plan that had been drawn out and the chemical concoction bubbling on Bunsen burner on one side of the desk.

However, the second was the one he seemed to be paying most attention to.

Twisting one of the gears in the small device he reached up and grabbed a small pair of teaser’s and pushed it in with a small click.

Ana's going to love this.

But then the bubbling sound became more violent from the other end of the table and they all felt a sharp stab of alarm.

Damn. I forgot to check on the explosive model.

Grabbing the newly made device Tony dived around the back of the desk just as the chemical exploded.

Pop!

Shards of glass and a thin layer of smoke flew in every direction.

They were suddenly very grateful for their incorporeal nature but they still couldnt resist flinching when the glass flew through them.

Thank God sir made it behind the desk. Relieved Vision let out a smile as Tony's small head peered upwards with his hair slightly singed.

"Ooh Jarvis is going to be pissed."

He observed cringing at the sight of the smoke and the indent's in the desk.

 "Why?" A new female voice asked.

Whipping around Tony startled and threw his hands behind his back.

 "Ana what are you doing here? I was just doing an experiment and it kind of-"

 "Exploded on you," Ana smiled, " I can tell."

They could see why as Tony’s appearance was a dead giveaway. Despite the ash smeared across his face Tony only smiled and kept his hands behind his back. Narrowing her eyes at him, she moved forward smiling cheekily.

"What have you got behind your back matok sheli?"

 "Nothing," Tony answered too quickly and avoided her eyes, clearly this Tony hadn't mastered lying yet.

 "Tony." Awkwardly, he opened his hand to her. The others all moved forward to see a half made pocket watch. It was gold and embroidered with roses with the Hebrew word דודה meaning Aunt embedded on to the centre right above the Jewish Star of David.

 Brightly smiling Ana looked to him. "Tony I..."

 "Open it."

 She flipped the lid back and saw several photographs of herself, Jarvis and her mother. "I was preparing this as one of the things to give you when Hanukkah starts, it's not finished yet but I managed to add pictures in of you and your favourite people and I-"

"Whoa Tony these aren't all my favourite people. You missed yourself you big dummy."

 Gaping as a blush coloured his cheeks, Tony was speechless for several minutes, Ana smiled at him knowingly.

 "Eer...what about this one then?"

"I love it." The small photograph was of Tony holding his hands up in a peace sign standing by Jarvis who looked very prim and proper outside a science fair.

"Come to bed, matok sheli." She kissed him on the cheek before whispering, "otherwise I'll tell Edwin you are down here at 4am again and exploded something." Her eyes glinted mischievously as Tony smiled at her.

"You wouldn't."

 "Ok you got me, but you need to get to sleep yakiri."

"OK then," Tony good naturedly rolled his eyes as he placed the watch on the side and followed her upstairs.

 ---

"Come on J you can do better than that."

Watching Jarvis get thrashed by Ana on the mats a young, bruised and battered looking Tony lent against the door frame.

"Sir, what are you doing walking? Shouldn't you be in your chair?"

Tony meant to make a dismissive hand gesture but judging by the pained look that flitted across his face he seriously regretted it.

"Idiot," Ana hissed shoving the wheelchair under him.

 "I'm not weak. I'm fine."

 "Sir, you dislocated both arms, broke both wrists, dislocated 3 toes, cracked 2 ribs and gained a broken leg 3 days ago. Sit down."

They all stared. What had happened to him?

 Regretfully, Tony lowered himself into the chair. "Sorry J."

 Smirking a little Tony continued. "It was worth it to watch you get thrashed by Ana though."

"You should come to every one of our spars then," commented Ana whilst unwrapping her hands. "Don't deny it Edwin,” She turned then to Tony crouching down to his eye level. ”Come when you're better unless you can wheel here."

 "Oo I haven’t tried any tricks in this thing yet. Thanks for reminding me Ana."

With that Tony spun out the doorway on his new wheelchair while several of the Avengers chortled. "No." Jarvis ran after him whilst Ana chortled. "Young sir, don't be irresponsible!"

Nostalgically smiling Ana tutted and walked after them. "Let him have his fun Edwin don't be a killjoy."

 ---

 Wandering into Tony's lab Jarvis looked around the area.

"Young Sir, its tea time," he continued. "Ana's made Cholent with chicken and beef, your favourite."

At this the sound of purring was heard and a line of fur tapped him across the face, looking up Jarvis startled and made a very unmanly noise.

A small very furry ginger cat stared at Jarvis through dazzlingly unnatural green eyes; its ears peaked forward in interest.

"Oh, you startled me." Jarvis smiled as he reached his hand out to it. "Has Master Tony been caring for you little one?"

"No I made him." Tony dived out from under his desk where he had been hiding all along and smiled cheekily.

"This isn't a real cat?" Wide eyed Jarvis beamed at Tony.

"No J, Amico mostra gli artigli." With that the cat produced claws of not keratin like they had expected before but pure steel.

"Friend Anthony was very talented even then." Thor's expression was filled with pride. "He was much like my brother in that respect."

Clint snorted nastily unable to resist that dig. "Doesn't that tell you something?"

"I do not like what you implying Friend Clinton," Thor expression turned thunderous. "It is not right to say or suggest derogatory things about friend Anthony who isn't here to defend himself or my brother who died saving me."

Clint instantly became regretful while the others became sympathetic. "Sorry man, I didn't know."

Twirling the hammer through his fingers, Thor stared at it and began to speak.

"None of you were to know. No one asked apart from friend Anthony after I heard about the Accords and I signed. He asked how I was and about what had happened. I told him what had occurred on Asgard," Thor stopped briefly. "It took me by surprise how sympathetic and understanding he was.”

The others digested this as the memory resumed.

"Young Sir, can he wait down here while we go to dinner? We can show Ana after we eat."

"Sure Jarvis. Amico rimani qui. Non strappare il laboratorio mentre non ci sono."

The lab went dark as Tony followed Jarvis out of the room.

---

 "13 year old male, gunshot wound to the stomach, BP 155 /97."

Dragged along with Ana and Jarvis behind the nurses the Avengers were shocked to see a teenage Tony lying on the bed.

All of a sudden they found they could no longer move when the nurses stopped both Jarvis'.

"Wait here please."

Ana clasped Jarvis' hand as they stared after him, both misty eyed.

"Come on Edwin. He'll make it, our boy is strong."

Soothingly, she guided him a chair in the waiting room at Shield before Peggy and Maria rushed in.

"How is my tesoro?"

Worried Maria made a beeline for the Jarvis's and stared intently at both of them, trying to gauge their reactions.

It became apparent quite quickly that Edwin couldn't talk, staring instead at the dried blood speckled across his hands. Ana reached forward and clasped Maria's hand.

"We don't know yet sweetie," Ana's voice was soft and comforting as she looked across then at Peggy who was trying to disguise her worry. She directed the next sentence at both of them. "Our Tony's a fighter, he'll pull through."

Observing Maria's distressed face, Ana pulled Maria into a hug, Peggy kept her eyes however on Jarvis, seeming deeply concerned for him.

Murmuring something about washing his hands, Jarvis quickly got up while Peggy went to follow him. ("I'll follow him; I haven't seen him like this since you got shot Ana." Ana grimaced at the memory that statement brought up. With her arms still full of Maria, she nodded to Peggy who swiftly sped off after Jarvis.)

A few moments later Peggy returned, Jarvis in tow with reddened and raw but clean hands, his eyes also looked considerably sorer but no one commented on it.

This was perfectly timed as the nurse came through at that moment.

"Friends and family of Anthony Stark can come through, now. He should make a full recovery although he is still unconscious at the moment"

They all got up apart from Peggy.

"Margret?" Jarvis questioned her, perplexed like the rest of them why she remained seated.

"Go now Jarvis, Ana, and Maria we all know how much he means to you." She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. "Someone has to wait for Howard to come back from dealing with the shooter."

Jarvis opened his mouth to protest but Peggy cut him off.

"He's important to me too but he needs you more at the moment."

Jarvis nodded at that, his expression conveying how grateful he was for her thoughtfulness as he grabbed Ana's hand and walked through the doors.

Maria smiled stiffly before walking after them.

Once she was alone, Peggy let her expression show how upset she really was at the whole situation; she leant her head backwards and stared at the ceiling.

Several minutes later they saw Howard enter and bite his lip anxiously.

"Pegs, how is he?"

Lifting her head back up Peggy gazed at Howard who looked decidedly worried for his son and decided to put him out of his misery.

"He'll be alright Howard," Reassured, Howard allowed himself to fall back into the chair behind him, ”He's still out of it though."

"That's...that's good," Recovering from his earlier anxiety and subsequent relief, Howard continued cockily as his mask slid up. "Of course he's alright. My boy's not going to be taken down by a puny bullet, let's go Pegs."

With that he gestured to her to follow him as they vanished through the doors.

----

"Fuck!"

Swearing angrily at himself both in Italian and English, Clint felt Tony throw the tool he was using across the room.

Clint sighed before looking down at the mass of twisted metal and fur on the desk.

He only just recognised it as the robot cat he spotted with Jarvis earlier in this series of memories. Blimey what the hell had happened to that cat?

It looked nothing short of wrecked.

Experiencing, sadness, anger and defeat, Tony shut his eyes.

"Tony," ignoring the door opening as well as the voice behind him, Tony bit his lip harshly.

"Oh Tony, what happened?"

Despite feeling Ana wrap an arm around him Tony remained staring at the cat.

Lie. Young Tony's voice echoed in his mind making Clint curiosity and concern peak.

What are you hiding Stark?

"We were playing on the stairs; he fell from the ceiling, down the stairs and into the tools. I've tried fixing him but it's useless..."

Clint could see his world blurring before it went dark, he could feel Ana's arm around him as she rubbed his back

"I know you did the best you could yakiri. "

----

Lights flashed in front of Scots face almost dazzling him as he was led away from the press who circled him like vultures with blinding brilliant smiles.

"Mr Stark, how do you feel? Are you proud of your son he...?"

"Howard, your son seems to be following in your-"

"…Creating an Engine at such a young age, you must be proud, Mr Stark. What are we to expect in the future from-"

"Tony how are you feeling little one?"

A microphone was shoved near his mouth as the reporter bent down to his level.

"Proud, I guess. Most normal kids can't make this kinda stuff but I love making things..."

Trailing off Scott suddenly noticed how many of the reporters eyes were now on him, feeling rather nervous now, he blushed and looked to the floor.

This seemed to open the flood gates, they loomed over him and began to ask many rapid fire questions, all at once.

He had to admit that even as an adult Scott knew he would have trouble dealing with that Lord knows how Stark managed.

Even as a superhero and an ex thief he was used to staying out of the limelight be it because of his profession or the fact that he wore a suit.

This was completely alien to him.

"Don't crowd the poor lad," At the hand resting on his shoulder, Scott looked up at the tall rather intimidating bald headed man smiling at the press it was Obie, dad's business partner. Thank God.

He looked to his other side and he saw his dad give him a side wink as Obie led him inside.

---

"Tesoro, he is bellissimo."

Jumping over her, Amico perched himself proudly on her shoulder Maria beamed at the cat and then Tony.

She spun around on the piano stool she was sat on to face him.

"Well I'm sure he'll get me first place at the contest," Amico preened at that and Tony snorted at him.

"Don't tell him that it'll go to his head," Amico meowed indignantly at her before smiling as Tony tickled his chin. "I promise you Tesoro I'll come to see you this time."

Worry and excitement bubbled inside them.

"Are you sure you're alright to go? You were ill a few days ago..."

"I'm fine now tesoro."

Young Tony looked over her before smiling widely once more.

"Then it'd be great to see you there."

Purring Amico liked her cheek and rubbed his head against her.

---

The next time Natasha opened her eyes she found she was at a rather extravagant birthday party.

Trapped in Tony's head she found that she couldn't sweep her surroundings as she normally would do but from what she could see she was surrounded by streamers, flashing lights and people of varying ages.

"Hello General Gilligan," Thank God Peggy said that I couldn't remember his name for the life of me.

Natasha turned to smile gratefully at Peggy who just winked at him in return.

"Mrs Carter-Sousa," The General nodded politely to her before smiling at Tony and pulling a small box from behind his back.

"Happy Birthday Tony,"

Taking the small box from the kindly General, Natasha felt Tony's hands flare up in discomfort, aggravating wounds that were spread across that area of hands. Despite this Natasha was confused to feel Stark's increasing vehemence of his thoughts and it was becoming difficult to endure.

 Drop it. DROP it. DROP IT NOW.

"Thank you General," Tony smiled up at the man as he ruffled Tony's hair and disappeared.

Once he was satisfied the man had disappeared he snuck off to a deserted room, forgetting that Peggy would follow him. He placed the gift down on the table next to him before tugging down a bandage from around his palm.

Inspecting the bleeding wound, it was clear to both herself and Tony that the pressure had aggravated it substantially.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

It felt like Tony jumped out his skin by the way he jolted out of his position then.

"Aunt Peg, I um it's not that bad really. I didn't think it would get this sore."

Peggy's face turned stern and stubborn as she looked over her godson.

"I'll get the first aid kit. Stay here."

Natasha felt foreign feelings of warmth, embarrassment and love bubble up inside her from Tony as he leaned heavily against the table by his gift.

What would I do without you Peg?

Chapter Text

Their surroundings froze as the Illuminate appeared, magic twisted and danced across its fingers.

"All of you now have questions about what I have beheld before to you now.” The being seemed to stare right through Natasha as it directed its piercing gaze to her. “Interesting," It paused, "Why did the gift scene bother you the most Miss Romanoff?"

She didn't like then how the Being dragged the truth out of her.

"I thought he was putting on the whole act of not wanting to be handed things because he enjoyed being difficult. In the Red room we were taught to read people like books and Stark who I thought was easy to read, is actually more complex than I thought. This quirk definitely seems to have a history to it. I hate being wrong and I'm curious to know more."

The others stared at her. The more they thought about it the more that aversion to being handed things seemed to be deeper than they thought.

“Don’t worry Miss Romanoff your question will be answered when the time is right. The majority of you wished to know more of Amico though so that must be answered first.”

Dumbfounded, they stared at it before making their agreement known. That little cat of Tony's had grown on them quite a lot, even Scott had to admit that he liked the small robot.

He may not like Stark and he may never admit it but he couldn't deny that he admired the intelligence some of his creations took to make.

His inventions reminded him a lot of how he felt around Pym tech.

"I believe we have our next selection of memories in place." It clicked its fingers and dissolved into the colors spinning around them.


 

"Sir."
"Young Sir it's time for you to get up."
"G'way Jarvis five more minutes."
"Young sir I advise you get up before I play that recording of you singing in the shower to the household staff."
An ten year old Tony jumped up as if he had been burned while all the Avengers snorted. 
"I am up! I am soo up you wouldn't believe how up I am."
"Oh my God..." Clint chuckled.
"Why'd you do this to me J ?" Tony asked as Jarvis poked his head around the door and smirked.
"Blackmail Sir." Jarvis laughed at Tonys scowl and threw some clothes at him. "We need to get you up for your school mechanics competition today."
"That's Today?!" Tony was alert and the team felt Tony's spike of anxiety at this, sitting up straight clenching the clothes in his lap. "Where's Amico?"

Amico, Bruce smiled  the mention of the robot Cat, he much like the others hoped that they would see him soon.

"Amico is downstairs waiting for you. Sir, I will take you to your school your mother will meet us there. Calm down, otherwise I'll have to iron those again."
Looking down, Tony smiled sheepishly at Jarvis taking the clothes from his lap and smoothing them flat on his bed.
Jarvis shut the door to give him some privacy changing.
Tony asked "Hey Jarvis is Dad going to be there?"
Shutting his eyes briefly Jarvis paused and replied in a perfectly level voice but with pursed lips.
"No young Sir he has gone back to the artic to assist with the search for Mr Rogers," Steve jumped slightly and the others turned to look at him.
"Not being funny Stevie but Howard seems a bit obsessed with you." Bucky commented to Steve frowning at the Stark's disappointment creeping across his chest joining the thought of I should've been expecting this.
"Just a tad." Clint snorted.
Hitting him across the head once more Natasha accused him of being insensitive in Russian.
"Hey its not my fault Howard''s a bit - STOP HITTING ME!"
Both Wanda and Scott stifled their sniggering at Clint''s antics.
"He'll be home tonight though right?" Tony asked hopeful again.
"Yes young sir. Agent Carter-Sousa along with Ana and I will be there to support you."
"PEGGY?!" Steve felt like the bottom had dropped out his stomach. It had obviously shown on his face because Vision replied.
"Sir was the child of Howard Stark a mutual friend of both yourself and Former Agent Carter it would be unwise to assume that he didn't know her."
Snap. Steve's jaw had clicked shut but he looked particularly paler than before.
A flare of joy sparked in each of them.
"Aunt Peggy's gonna be there? COOL!" Tony sprung out of the room looking rather dapper in a tiny navy two piece suit.
"Thank you." Smiling a special sort of smile reserved for Pepper and Rhodey, Tony gave Jarvis a huge hug.
Thank you so much. You have no idea how much you mean to me. I love you so much.
Everyone gaped then the depth of love felt then was something no one of them except Rhodey and Vision had associated with Tony.
"I'm the reason the other Jarvis is gone..." Wanda trialed off regret clogging up her throat.
"No Wanda it wasn't you. Stark made Ultron." Clint argued grabbing Wanda by the shoulders and leaning down to make her look him in the eyes.
"Because I got to Stark first and pushed him to do it."
"What?!" Horrified, Clint whispered hoarsely.
Straightening up, his arms dropped to his sides as his expression morphed into one of horror. He had been thinking the worst of his old pranking buddy since that whole debacle and it wasn't his fault? Keeping him in the raft was another thing, now he bet that there was more to that than he knew. Stark had made sure his family was safe from Ross after all.

Man of Iron had been affected by the red witch too? Thor had no idea. Guiltily, he dropped his hammer on the ground stared at it. What kind of worthy friend and leader would throttle someone without knowing the full story? What kind of friend would throttle a friend full stop? At times he forgot his teammates were more physically vulnerable than himself. Thor realized that this was what the Illuminate meant and it stuck him like the lightning he was known to create.

"Wanda what do you mean?" Bruce's eyes migrated from brown to hazel to bright green. Hulk remembered how much his vision had terrified him and felt furious that the Red Witch had forced his friend to go through that trauma as well.
RED WITCH HURT TIN MAN. RED WITCH HURT HULK . HULK SMASH RED WITCH.
No smashing. Banner argued back. I need to find out what she meant.
HULK SMASH AFTER?
"I...I'm sure you'll see what happened later." Filled with regret, Wanda looked down at her feet.
Maybe. Banner agreed, staring unsympathetically at Wanda.
Satisfied, Hulk nodded.
Climbing down the steps, Tony smiled as he gathered a tiny robot cat in his arms.
"Miss me Buddy?"
"Merroow."
The tiny robot cat was very intricately designed covered in a fine layer of fur donated by Peggy. ("Howard gave me this fur coat once it's ghastly maybe you can use the fur to make your cat." Tony had readily agreed.)
Possessing tiny Titanium claws had come in handy mauling several potential kidnappers that year it was needless to say that that group didn't come back.
Metal for the framework had come from spare steel Tony had stolen from Howard's workshop as well as the new long lasting batteries Howard had invented. Tony was sure he wouldn't get caught. Howard had loads. It's not like he would miss 2 every six months anyway.
Iridescent green eyes completed the look making the cat look adorable as well as giving it Xray vision.
"Wow that's amazing. I'd love to work with him sometime." Scott uttered staring wide eyed at the cat. Did I just say that? What? Scott was astonished with himself. He really doesn't seem so bad. Scott reasoned with himself. Maybe when Hank said to never trust a Stark he'd been a bit hasty? No. Scott thought. People change. I'll have to wait for more recent memories to gain a definite conclusion.
The members of the Avengers with advanced hearing subtly stared at Scott as if he had grown a second head for all of two seconds until they noticed that time had skipped forward.
The Avengers had now found themselves in front of a hall with an highly nervous Tony in tow.
"Sir I know you'll be brilliant."
"Thanks J." Tony smiled softly at his friend.
"We'll be in the middle row. See you after the show Tony."
Grinning from ear to ear Tony moved to the front with the other contestants.
Ha, he just called me Tony he can't take that back now. No more of this Sir nonsense. Muah hahaha. I'll have to tell Ana that he finally called me Tony. That contestants work looks good. Oh no they're coming offstage it's me next. Mask you're up.
With that Tony's body posture straightened and a confident smile graced his lips. Totally transforming himself from the nervous boy they saw earlier.
"That's unnerving." Steve whispered slightly disquieted.
"It's brilliant." Peter smiled underneath the mask.
He had idolized Tony from a young age because of his brilliance, his inventions and work as Iron man. When he met Mr Stark that hadn't gone away but he had begun to admire how dedicated he was and how well he could act too. To think that Tony was clever enough at this age to create a convincing mask for himself and make Amico would be unbelievable if he hadn't met Mr Stark.

Swaggering out on stage with a believable amount of bravado the ten year old walked out on to the center as if he owned it holding Amico in his arms.
"Hey everyone my names Tony Stark and I am here now to present to you... the Cyber Cat. His name is Amico and perfect if you want a pet but don't want to clean up the mess or shell out a lot of money for food. All he needs is 2 AA Stark batteries to keep him running for six months. He can also do lots of other neat tricks show them boy. What's the time?"
The cats eyes glowed red as a hologram showing that it was 9:45am lit the air in front of it. The audience gasped and clapped.
"What's the temperature?"
The hologram changed to 15°c.
"What's the date?"
Saturday 15th March.
"Now there are some really neat settings on the inside can also be changed so you can see the year as well. He also possesses Xray vision. All pets of this type will come issued with a have a keen sense of protectiveness and loyalty to their owner but it also has a self preservation instinct so the only reason it will run away is if you deliberately harm it." He gave them all a sharp stern look which the Avengers last saw on Howard in the circuit board memory. It made a few members of the audience gulp.
"But you all look like nice people here," Tony offered them an easy smile, "so you wouldn't do that. I also made an additional protective measure. Amico show your claws."
All of a sudden Amico's claws extended and some of parents in the room jumped to their feet in alarm.
"Relax guys," Tony waved them down back into their chairs before bringing his eyes back to Amico. "Safety mode initiate."
Amico's eyes flashed amber this time, his claws retracting.
"What did that do Mr Stark?" The announcer asked faintly.
"That means he won't bring his claws out unless myself, Jarvis, Ana, Peggy or My mum are in danger . This is because I've logged their names and photos on the data base inside Amico here."
Everyone paused.
"But most importantly Amico acts like a regular cat for the things that count. Thank you for listening."
Everyone clapped as Amico leaped into Tony's arms.
"Well done Amico I am so proud of you." Purring loudly it licked Tony's cheek.
"Aw gross dude." Tony laughed at the cat , bringing it over to the Jarvis's, Peggy and Maria.
Hearing people murmuring about how he must've used daddy's help and daddy's money to enter on the outside mask ignored them.
However on the inside the Avengers were privy to Pincushion's inside rant.
I worked hard to make him by myself. If I used "daddy", they could hear the sneer in his voice at this point, he would be here for things like this not all the way in the Arctic, always at SI or SHIELD but I'm not meant to know that. Jarvis acts more like my dad than him. Steve winced and the others had their mouths set in a grim line.
"Ducky I am so so proud of you." Peggy came over hugging him tightly, engulfing Tony in a flood of brown and speckled grey hair, Buddy wiggled over her and jumped at Jarvis who caught him.
Steve's jaw would've hit the floor if he hadn't caught himself. Why didn't Tony tell him that he was close to Peggy?
She let him go after a long while patting his shoulder gently.
"Mary, Michael and Daniel would be too. Can I take some photos to show them when I get back? They always love seeing what you make."
"Sure Aunt Peg." She chuckled giving him a kiss on the cheek and ruffling his hair as he squirmed in embarassment before she swanned over to Jarvis.
"For the record if they don't let you win they're idiots."
He grinned at the middle aged woman with a gorgeous main of curled light brown hair and bright blue eyes, Ana Jarvis, who winked back before she carried on talking to Jarvis and Peggy.

A beautiful Italian woman with Tony''s eyes, cheekbones and skin tone appeared infront of Ana, obscuring her from view.
"Antonio I second that Darling I'm very proud of you. Your father will be too." A loving smile twisted against her lips before dropping. ". "Mi dispiace non riesco a farlo molti di questi. Io provo e mi piace quello che si può fare." l'm sorry I can't make it many of these. I do try and I do love what you can do. All the Avengers heard the English translation in Marias voice afterward startling. She sighed seeming much older than before "I wish I saw you more."
"At least you try Madre." Smiled Tony, patting his mother on the arm. I know you do.
"Come on you two the results are coming in."
Maria grabbed her sons hand and led him forward so that they could hear the results.
"And the winner is Anthony Stark."
They felt Tony's elation as he ran up to collect the medal for Amico but then the scene dissolved around them.


 

"I'm never going to get used to that." Clint groaned clutching his head .
The others looked around and saw themselves once again in Tony's mindscape.
Outside he was in a beautiful garden sat with Peggy on an old fashioned child's swing, it was the same day but later as they were both dressed the same as earlier watching Jarvis and Ana cook dinner.
All three versions of Tony looked more relaxed than the Avengers had ever seen them so far. Despite this the Avengers were far from comfortable. No matter what the circumstances you can't unsee a child with knifes sticking out their back and chest. Admittedly there was much less in this version than they saw in the adult Tony but the sight still put them all on edge.
"Tony what made you create Amico? Most people in that competition made Robots that would complete a task not a pet."
I was lonely. Pincushion supplied truthfully. I wanted another true friend other than Jarvis, you and Ana. Not a backstabber, liar or user that I tend to pick up at school. To ensure this I made him. It's not like I stay in one grade long enough to make true mates without being pushed up to the next anyway.
The Avengers winced.
"Damn." Rhodey muttered. Was I his first real human friend?
Idiot. Angry Tony hit him over the head reminiscent of how Natasha hit Clint earlier. You can't tell her that.
Why not? This is Aunt Peggy we're talking to.
Let him say it. Mask supplied from where he was sat at the table chucking a file hologram at Angry Tony who was about retort. She's trustworthy. Mask stated staring pointedly at the file.
Stepping forward, the Avengers looked over his shoulder as saw a detailed profile of Margaret (Peggy) Carter-Saousa detailing her age, height, weight, status (married linked to his profile), children (and links to their files), friends (several links to thiers) but the section that they found themselves drawn to was Personality.
Personality detailed Tony's opinion of her and the characteristics she has as well as evidence for this.

  • Strong (ex-director of SHIELD, saved me from a few kidnappings)
  • Hardworking (seen through her army rank and shield work especially hard to do as she was a woman in a male dominated society where women were looked down on.)
  • Caring (makes sure to come to your events and supports you)
  • Clever ( can read people really easily and manipulate them), sassy (verbally ripped apart those boys she caught picking on you. Link to memory here.)
  • Non judgmental (she picked Steve Rogers as Captain America and grew to like him beforehand despite all his ailments.)
  • Trustworthy (hasn't told any of the secrets I confided in her and confides in me too.)

The trustworthy section was highlighted by Mask in the copy of her file he had thrown to literally highlight his point.

I...Okay as long as you mention about Howard not allowing pets as well.

Defeated, Angry Tony took a seat watching the screen wall.
"I was lonely and I've always wanted a Cat. They're independent and cuddly. Amico can keep me company at school and doesn't make any mess, unlike regular cats. Besides Dad doesn't allow pets."
They could feel young Tony wilt.
"He'll love this one as long as he doesn't figure out where the fur is from." Deviously Peggy smirked.
At this both Peggy and Tony burst into laughter as Jarvis and Ana both looked up and grinned at them from the window.



The scene morphed once more and the team found themselves studying the scene as if they were ghosts.
They were in Tony's lab which was quite abit smaller than his father's with concrete steps leading down to it, a Captain America poster hung by the door and it was one of four the rest were posters of famous scientists like Einstein, Steven Hawking and Marie Curie.
The rest of the rooms walls were bare but on his desk lay several books bursting out of the seems with notes and ideas.
Organised by name and amount of use, (they had a feeling Jarvis helped with that), his tools and materials were held by a stack of shelves that curved around the room.
Tony's inventions scattered around the room depending on their purpose.
It seemed that it was still the same day but about night time as the lab dimly lit by the lights spreading through the room.
Sighing Jarvis opened the door, rubbing one of his eyes. It was to the amusement of many Avengers, particularly Vision, that the Butler wore a grey silk suit style pajamas making him appear as put together as he looked in the day time, this effect was ruined however by the obnoxiously pink furry slippers he wore. These were clearly Ana's, emphasizing the fact that the man was half asleep.

"Young Sir it's almost midnight."
"I know. Sorry Jarvis, it's just I have so many ideas rattling around in my head and I would like to show Dad Amico before I go to sleep."
Sprawled over his desk chair, Tony flicked through a thick project book speckled with bookmarks.
"OK sir; just make sure you go to bed before 2am. No experiments. I don't want to be woken up at 3am because of a explosion again."
Wow Tony is as bad then as he is now. Bruce thought snorting.
"Goodnight Sir."
"G'night Jarvis."

Once Jarvis had shut the door gently behind him, Tony had begin flicking through the pages rapidly until it landed on the pages for Amico. These had drawings notes with specific parts exploded across the page so it was easy to see how they worked.
"Y'know I think I get why those pet robots he made really took off now if they are anything like these." Bruce noted.
" Me too." Secretly impressed, Natasha agreed.
The sound of heavy footsteps approached the door accompanied by the sound of cursing and smashing glass.
"Shit. The search didn't go well." Tony breathed, turning and looking at Amico warily as it pawwed the medal around its neck. "Whatever he says, ignore him, you don't interfere, he doesn't mean it. Get me?"
"What does he- oh my gosh." Steve cut himself off as he watched Howard stumble down the steps holding a bottle of alcohol in one hand.

Steve and Bucky kept thier eyes fixed on thier old friend apprehensively, they knew he liked his scotch but they thought he knew better than to be that drunk in front of a child.

Clearly, they were wrong.

With his back turned to Howard, Tony quickly mouthed at Amico to shut up as he had started to hiss at Howard.
Clint and Bruce's whole bodies tensed as they both subconsciously moved forward, they both knew how their dad's had acted when they had drunk too much and they really didn't want to see that happen to Tony.
"T'ose bloody idiots 'ave been scannin' the same area for th'ee weeks. THREE WEEKS! Incompetence," Most of the Avengers were impressed Howard managed to say that word without slurring.
"But I set 'em straight," he nodded stumbling a little whilst leaning against the wall, " Pegs tol' me once he's fou'd he can hav' a proper burial wi' full mili'ary honours bu' I said No Pegs I 'now my frien's alive the serum will keep 'im well." Howard took a long swig out of the bottle.
"No one will believe me."
"I believe you dad."
Tony's hurt stabbed them sharply as Howard snorted and rolled his eyes.
"Wha' you got t'ere anyway?"
At being given an opening, Tony's eagerness to impress sparked.
"Do you like it?"
"Like it what does it do?" Howard's voice was sharp and so unlike what Steve remembered of him he flinched backwards.
What surprised them all was that Tony didn't snap anything back saying a simple "It's all here dad " in reply. Guiding him to the table, Tony then carried the small cat over to him putting him in front of Howard.
"Does it do anything else?"
"It's all listed there."
"So it's not useful then."
"Of course it is," indignation rose in Tony " It has-"
"Noo," Howard sneered patronisingly." It won't help find Steve," he raised a finger and Steve flinched again. "And the only weapons it has on it are those things."
Laughing as the Cats claws came out and it hissed at him in warning.
"What are they? Titanium? Pathetic. There are materials out there way stronger than this."

Howard whipped out Tony's hammer which was placed on the side and slammed it straight through the cats stomach.

Amico never saw it coming.
Nether did Tony as he instinctively surged forward but Howard held Tony back.

"People like us Anthony can't afford weak spots," The medal clattered to the floor as the cat was slammed on its back by the force of the swing.

Crack.

A few of the cats joints were fractured as the force rendered it paralyzed.

He slammed the hammer into it again and the cats eyes flickered as it's stomach dented.

"Any found. Anything you care for can and will be used against you."

Bang. 

The cats legs became disturbingly distorted. It seemed to plead with its eyes for help but Tony was unable to move. Wanda, eyes glowing scarlet, tried to grab it with her powers despite knowing it was futile.

"We aren't as strong as Steve Rogers was but we are smarter than him. Than everyone."

Bang.

The cats tail twisted and fell off. Visions eyes glared gold in anger.

"Life will be hard for you. You are the son of Howard Stark after all." He smiled self deprecatingly.

Bang.

Slamming down on one of its paws, the hammer had split the pad and it's claws clattered to the floor.

"You will be a pawn living life knowing you are being manipulated and used."

BANG.

It's head had been pushed inwards leaving a large dent. All the Avengers knew without looking at Tony's notes that Amico was unrecoverable by this point.

Saddened, Scott hung his head, it was a remarkable bit of tech and above all Tony's friend. Seeing a toy- no a friend being destroyed that way by their own father would mentally scar a child for life. That was unforgivable.

"And you will HATE it."


Amico let out one last broken "m-m-errow." All his lights flickered, his back surged upwards and all his joints seized before dying completely.
Satisfied, Howard threw the hammer to the floor, staring at his shell-shocked son now rather than the decimated robot.
"That is why I had to destroy your cat. You cared for it and it was imperfect. Both are unacceptable. The more you care the more you have to loose."

Stalking across the room, Howard slammed the door behind him.
A numb feeling spread itself across their chests mingling with the sadness as a broken gasp fell from his lips.
Speechless, the Avengers watched as Tony put the hammer back, feeling as if part of his heart had been scooped out and died with Amico. "I'm so sorry you were my weak spot."
Cradling the dead robot cat his legs gave out and his expression turned devastated but determined.
I won't have one again.

Chapter Text

"Seriously what happened to Howard?" Bucky exclaimed as he glanced at each of them, hoping for answers. The man he saw in that memory was nothing at all like the punk he remembered during the war or the man he remembered pleading for him not to murder his wife.
"That's the killer question." Rhodes replied, his expression and voice stony. He hated that Howard influenced his best friend like that and made him feel that way. Now Tony's aversion to having kids of his own made a lot more sense. He was worried that if he did he would mess them up like Howard did him.

They were back in the current mindscape room devoid of all the Tony's as they processed what they had seen feeling emotionally raw from the death of Amico and Tony's subsequent reaction to it.
"Feeling empathetic are we?" The Illuminate asked as it strolled into view.
"Should we be?" Natasha asked critically searching the Beings face.
Narrowing its eyes at her, the Illuminate paused before something steely crept into his voice.
"If you're going to be like that I think it's time for the next round don't you?"

They all mentally steeled themselves in preparation for what was coming.
Clint muttering a sarcastic "thanks Tasha" under his breath.

"Something a little different this time," It stopped it's smile becoming crueller and wider. "Prophesies always tend to come back to haunt you, even if you don't mean to make one."

Colours whipped around the Avengers again before consuming them completely.


 

"Anything you care for can and will be used against you."
Howard's voice echoed around them as the scene changed to Pepper squirming in pain, veins lit extremis red.

---
JARVIS''s gold code scattered and destroyed.

----

In the Hydra base, Tony's eyes glowed bright vermilion as he shook his head and purposefully marched towards Loki's sceptre. Wanda and Pietro smiled widely behind him.


 

"We are smarter than him. Than everyone."
They were in Tony's head now during the Battle of New York hearing his voice calculating variables and scenarios as he grabbed the nuke and directed it at the wormhole. He calculated his risk of death at 85% but his was lower than any of the others (except Thor) combined with greatest chance of reaching it in time 95%. Logically, he was the best choice to do it.
If nuke hits New York chance of survival 0.3%.
Everyone else 0.2%.

He wasn't sure what the Hulk or Thor could withstand but he wasn't going to risk it.
Do it.
Risk of after effects from Nuke radiation if he survives the journey back currently estimated at 88%.
No one said it was a perfect solution.



"Life will be hard for you. You are the son of Howard Stark after all."

Strapped to his hand, a gun lay in a teenage Tony’s hand, he was being taught to shoot by Obadiah and Howard. ("You can leave here once you get 5 bullseye's in a row.") Tony was stuck there all night and half of the next day. He couldn't use his hand properly for a week but the skill stayed.

---
They were with Tony looking at the data about Ivan Vanko who was trying to kill Tony because Howard took the whole credit for the Arc Reactor. That in reality Howard and Anton Vanko created together. Discredited and in exile Ivan's father died in Russia because of Howard and received no credit .
Now Ivan was going to take it out on Tony.
When were Howard's mistakes going to stop biting him on the arse?
---
They were on the raft watching Scott taunt Tony with "Hank Pym did say never to trust a Stark." Great another person Howard screwed over. I'm not him. Why does no one get that?



"You will be like a pawn living life knowing you are being manipulated and used."
Tony was 17 and his parents had just died and after facing a long day filled numerous paparazzi and board members he was now alone with Obie. Feeling drained and numb he stared at a shot glass but his eyes were glassy and unseeing. Obies hands rested around his shoulders and rubbed them mock comfortingly "Don't worry my boy. I will stay CEO for now and deal with them for you."
---
The scene twisted into Tony sitting with Fury finding out Natashlie and her stabbing a needle in his neck.
Iron Man.Yes. Tony Stark.No.
---
Ross dumping the Sokovia Accords on the table playing them all with guilt tactics. Insisting the need for accountability that Tony knows is vital but is certain Ross will manipulate. They found out from this memory Tony was preparing exactly how to hit him back but he planned to wait till everything was all settled down. It would be then he would strike. Ross wouldn't even know what hit him. He will ruin him for Bruce on principle and because the Hulk is cool.

Having the weight of the good Caps reputation behind him would make matters a lot easier.

Now all he had to do was get him to sign.


"And you will HATE it."
Standing up, fuming at the pictures of his weapons in Gulmara Tony twisted glaring at himself and firing the wrist gauntlet at his reflection.


"The more you care."
Pictures of Pepper, Rhodes, Happy, the Avengers, Spiderman, Peter Parker, Harley , Fury ,Coulson, both Jarvis's, Ana, Maria, Howard, Peggy, Vision, Yinsen and the bots. Flicked across this vision fast enough to make them all dizzy.


"The more you have to loose."
Screaming, Pepper fell into the sea of fire below her as she failed to reach Tony's hand. The worst part was that they almost brushed fingers as her grip on the machine gave out.
---
Situated motionless on the ground Rhodes laid in a massive crater while Tony, knelt beside him, shakily ordered Friday to find life signs.
---
Badly burnt and bruised, Happy laid in a hospital bed as Tony turned away and vowed revenge on the Mandarin.
---
The Avengers being torn apart over the accords and a montage of the various battles ensuing. They watched as Tony tried his hardest to minimize their legal after effects while it was all happening. Nearly tearing his hair out after Steve did something that made one of the documents he'd been working so hard for void.
---
Motionless,  on the frozen ground of the old Hydra Base Tony tried to muster the strength and the will to get up while frostbite began to bite at his fingers and the taste of iron rose up his throat.
Distracting himself with assessing his injuries, he tried not to dwell on how he got them.
Broken ribs? 90% probability.
Punctured lung? Calculating...
Response delayed.
Concussion. 100% certainty.
Hooray.
(Steve wondered why his, Tony and Buckys fight before this didn't show up but figured the Illuminate was saving that for later.)
---
Coulson's bloody cards being thrown on the table by Fury as Tony stares at them and vacates the room. He didn't like to think Agent was dead. He couldn't just sit there anymore.
---
Sliding into the sea, his Malibu house fell and his bots sunk with him but some couldn't be revived. Not for lack of trying on Tony's part.
---
Displaying a single message, his phone fell to the floor.- Aunt Peggy died in her sleep. Now he knew what Natasha had told him before she left was true and why Steve had left so quickly from the last meeting. If he had known he would have left for London too. There was still time. He could make it if he left right now. However he was too busy trying to cover everyone's ass from Ross and the damn Accords. Why did he have to find out through Natasha and why didn't  Agent 13 call instead of texting him?
---
Riddled with bullet holes, an Indian man by the name of Yinsens was trying to make his last request with an crudely armoured Tony and now the Avengers listening carefully.
"Don't waste it. Don't waste your life."


 

They were snapped back to themselves unexpectedly. Overwhelmed, with what they had seen all of their eyes were blown wide.
"H-Holy holy hell." Spiderman choked. Going through all of that he could see why Angry Tony exists. Peter honestly wondered how Tony stayed sane.
"That's not everything..." Natasha started feeling slightly sick.
"No some of the worse things I censored out to show you at a later date and all of the things you saw would have more of a effect if you saw the story behind it. Which you will in due course."
"Stop torturing us already and just get on with it." Becoming impatient and irate Clint had snapped at the Illuminate feeling annoyed with it taunting them with knowledge about Tony and dragging out the painful process for him and the rest of them.
"If you think this is torture you are in for a real shock later Barton."
Sam opened his mouth and shut it throughly stunned. He would never have guessed Stark had faced torture.

"Now let's get on with it shall we? Natasha you will now gain the answers you seek."

The Illuminate clapped.
This time the world turned dark.

Chapter Text

The darkness cleared suddenly and the team found themselves back in Howard's lab which littered with new gadgets and weapon plans but weirdly devoid of both Tony and Howard.

Of all the experiences they had been shown in the last memory, one in particular bothered Bucky and it nagged at him like an itch he couldn't scratch. The image of Stark's red eyes as he marched towards the scepter had burned itself into his brain. He couldn't just let it go. He needed to talk to the others about this.

Glancing at the others, Bucky spoke, "Being, can you pause the memory a second?"

The memory flashed gold and stilled.

"Bucky what's wrong?" Puzzled at Bucky's reasoning, Steve turned to his friend.

"That last memory was a bit of an overload but for me something just clicked."

Everyone's eyes went to Bucky then, he let the soldier briefly take control. The difference was staggering; Bucky's posture straightened, his eyes turning icy as all the warmth fell from his face, his hansome features became harsh, his stance slipped into Winter's just before he was about to attack. 

"You messed with Stark's mind in that Base." Wanda couldn't help but startle as Winter's sharp, cold tone addressed her. "Would he have created Ultron if you didn't do that?"

 Wanda wasn't speaking to the man she knew at the moment. Even with her powers, that murderous gaze reminded her of the things the other side of him was capable of doing so she wouldn't even think of lying here or back in the real world.

"No." 

He turned away from her before addressing Steve next to him.

"OK, Rogers what did it feel like to have her in your mind?"

 "Buck how is that relevant?" Steve asked softly, he had confided in Bucky about what Wanda had made him see after Bucky had a particularly bad nightmare about his time as the Winter Soldier.

He didn't like talking about it but he knew Bucky would have a good reason for bringing it up.

Bucky retook control, turning his tone amiable but stern like what he often used with Steve when they were both younger and ordinary, when he would tell Steve off for getting into fights with bullies twice his size.  

"Stevie just roll with me on this."

For the rest of this talk Bucky and the Soldier agreed to merge due to their similar feelings about Stark and the team.

Certainly, it was weird for the others to look at, he appeared normal for the most part other than the underlying vibe of aggression shown by the presence of Soldat lurking in his grey eyes.

Giving his friend a small smile, Steve then look a deep breath in as his expression became menlacholic.

"I felt violated. It was like my mind rebelled against me. As most of you know," He looked up at his teammates and friends sensing varying degrees of sympathy and understanding from all of them, the most coming from those who had been victims of Wanda's power before." I found adjusting difficult when I first woke up from the ice. Everyone I knew was dead or had changed, they lived full lives without me. Your vision took me back there," he coughed through a crack in his voice,"and it reminded me of everything I lost."

Wanda's face dropped as she remembered what she showed him.

"Steve, I'm so sorry." Breathed Wanda, her voice dripped with regret. She truly meant that. Steve especially was nice and supportive to her after everything. "If I could take it back I would." 

 Bucky scowled at her as Winter took over.

"Is that true for everyone? Even Stark?"

Honestly she could say that wasn't true for Stark. Why should I be sorry for him?

"Stark murdered her parents, she doesn't have to-" Defensively, Clint began to argue as he subconsciously moved between her and Bucky.

Winter snorted at this display of protectiveness from Clint. How funny. He moves to her defence much like Rogers is restraining himself from doing. Can you see how hypocritical you've been Captain? Expecting Stark to help me and apologize whereas with Wanda you aren't even expecting her to show remorse for what she's done. Is that why you are restraining yourself?

"Shut up!" Snapped Rhodes to Clint, "Don't comment on things you don't understand. Bucky continue."

Stunned, Clint's mouth snapped shut.

Bucky made Soladat suppress a smile at Clint's dumbfounded expression aimed at Rhodes as he continued seriously.

"Now imagine you had created a murder bot because of it, having to deal with the guilt and the unintended deaths on top of that. Did he get any support from any of you afterward?"

"I had left at that time," Bruce's expression became downcast and repentant, "I couldn't deal with my own guilt, Johannesburg and Ultron. Part of me blamed Tony, Ultron was his idea. He tried calling once but I-uh didn't pick up."

"Tony left too," Rhodes spoke up then," he focused on the relief funds for Sokovia and Johannesburg; he took the fallout, the whole blame, all of it. He became withdrawn for several months after. No one offered support that I know of. I figured that if Tony wanted to talk he would come to me."

"Do you not see how unfair this is? From what I've seen so far it's like there is one rule for Stark and another for the rest of us." Bucky implored. Were he and Winter the only ones who saw this? 

"That's not true, man you weren't there-" Clint protested.

"I've got a lot of sympathy and support from you all because of what Hydra did to me which, for the record felt similarly invasive but worse in comparison to what I have heard about Wanda's powers. I'm grateful for how understanding you all were for me. However, what I don't get is that you all sympathized and confided in each other about the visions eventually after Ultron but none of you thought to help Stark."

 "We didn't think he was affected by her too-" Natasha argued.

"I trained you Natalia. How disappointing one of my best students could've missed it." Winter snarled back. Remembering those times, her argument withered and died on her tongue.

"He's right. We were supposed to be his friends, we should've noticed. Tony wouldn't have acted that recklessly without the pretty extreme motive. Why didn't I see it before?" Rhodes berated himself as his ghostly form paced the lab.

Everyone quietened either deep in self-recrimination, revelation or shock. 

"I think we are ready resume Illuminate." Thor boomed after several moments, once he thought on what his silver armed comrade had said he couldn't help but agree.

 


 

"I don't like being handed things."

Adult Tony's voice echoed around the empty lab; the scene flashed as if a camera flash had just gone off.
"Mr Stark?" Peter asked feeling thoroughly freaked out .
"I believe the Illuminate has given this memory or memories a particular focus. That is why we are hearing this statement from Sir. We are not hearing him speaking to us now." Vision clarified sensing Peters unease.

Simultaneously, they all turned when the door was flung open with a surprising force.
This Tony seemed about 5 bouncing around his father and asking him rapid fire questions.
"Hey Dad what are we working on today?"
"Dad can I make a watch? Or a Cordless Phone? I can think of ten ways to make that one better already." He pointed to the one on the desk that resembled a brick. "Or a shield? Y'know like the one Captain America has that'd be so cool."
"Well at least we know Tony has always fanboy-ed over Caps shield." Clint joked as  he watched the young Tony in front of him vibrate with excitement at the prospect. It was easy to forget his animosity at Stark when the child version was here and not the current version. This Tony was acting a lot like Cooper when he found out his dad was an Avenger. ("Wow dad! How do you shoot like that? Can you teach me? We saw the fight on TV!") At least until the Civil War ended, Clint's smile fell slightly. When they had been first pardoned as soon as he saw his family after those two years; Laura had slapped him, Lila cried and hugged him, Nathaniel didn't know who he was and Cooper now treated him with a cold indifference or anger. It had been 3 months since he had got back and not much has changed. They all loved Uncle Tony though. Shaking his head away from those dark and bitter thoughts, he forcibly refocused on the smaller Tony in front of him.


Bruce smiled as he looked at his younger science Bro. Thank god he hasn't lost that enthusiasm.
"Not now Anthony. You are going to help me make a new model of the SJ Prosper." Howard gestured to a plan on the table before moving across the other side of the room to grab the appropriate tools.
"Dad this is a chemical weapon." Young Tony sounded very disapproving as he scowled at the weapon plan.
"So what?" Howard mockingly hissed back. "Didn't I tell you what SI did? Why do you have a problem now?"
Although he had his back to the Avengers they could all see Howard's back had tensed and his fists had clenched around the corner of the table.
At his aggressive body language, a few of the Avengers moved between Tony and Howard despite consciously knowing they couldn't do anything for Tony now if Howard were to hit him.
Then Howard consciously loosened his back grabbing the chemicals, metal and tools, placing them in front of Tony.


"Whether you approve or not is of no importance to me. You will make weapons even after I die. Obadiah will ensure this." Wanda's eyes widened. Stark didn't want to make weapons? Howard's tone changed to something deeper and sadder as he looked at the signed Captain America poster and the map on the other side of the room. "I'm doing this to make sure Young American Soldiers are safe and secure with Stark weaponry so that they don't need to die or sacrifice themselves needlessly. Do you get that Anthony?"

"Oh Howard." Steve muttered as he regarded his old friend sadly, Bucky did the same. They all knew he was referring to them both.
Howard turned to face his son who nodded at him expression and thoughts unusually somber and sympathetic as he handed his dad the metal and the welding torch.
After a few moments, he shoved the blisteringly hot welding torch back into Tony's unsuspecting hands: they drooped slightly as the phantom sensation of burning flitted across the Avengers palms.
"Drop it Man of Iron." Thor urged the younger version of his friend but his friend didn't heed the advice and instead walked calmly to the table and placed it there. Despite the ghostly taste of iron in all their mouths, implying that he bit the side of his mouth hard enough to draw blood to keep from crying out.
"Hand me the clear acid in the tube next to you."
Gingerly, Tony passed it over and watched as Howard poured some into a small compartment of the weapon and thrust it back into Tony's small hands.
Some of the acid splashed Tony's wrist over the side.
This time he couldn't keep himself silent but quickly stifled the cry of pain trying to force itself upwards.
Stark men are made of Iron get a hold of yourself.
He moved quickly over the sink, grabbing the towel and patting it down quickly.
Do I hold it under water? That helps normal burns.
Not chemical burns. I think that makes them worse don't do it.
All the Avengers grimaced slightly as they felt the muted pain running up their wrist and they saw the skin on Tony's bubble and blister.
"Anthony!"
"Y...yes?"
"Hand me the reactant metal container on the table."
Tony moved over to the table and placed the container near the weapon watching as Howard used Tongs to secure several parts of the metal and the acid tubes in place.
Explaining how the new Prosper worked Howard had eyes only for his weapon as he explained how it would only work if the switch on the side was flipped. The dial on the side could be twisted to control the amount of acid exposed to the metal and therefore the amount of chemical released.
They could tell that Tony was trying hard to pay attention to Howard's explanation but finding it difficult to due to the pain radiating from both his hands.
Admiring the finished work, Howard waved his son away.
Tony scampered up the stairs making sure to avoid Jarvis on his way out.



As the years went on the team saw more cuts, bruises, acid burns, cold burns, normal burns and scars being added to Tony's hands the same way and becoming more enraged about it. Tony managed to frequently and convincingly lie about getting accidentally injured down there to both Jarvis's and his mother Maria by pretending to be clumsy around them too.
"Why doesn't he just stop going down there?" Steve asked the others sounding lost as he watched a teenage Tony grab something Howard handed to him that shattered in his palm. Distantly, they noted the pain but they were focused on the question at hand.

"That could be the only way he learns something." Natasha stated. "Think of it this way. He has a love of learning, in particular science where can he get it to a level that challenges him? The only man alive that rivals his intellect is that of his father. Being in that lab with Howard would be the only thing that would challenge him. So he sticks out the pain to keep the pleasure of learning science with Howard."
"It makes sense." Rhodes agreed staring sadly at Tony sitting by himself in the lab, picking glass out of his hand and aiming the shards at a nearby bin.



"We're being transported somewhere else." Vision informed them all as the tornado whisked around them before clearing suddenly.

Their eyes darted around the great marble hall with two towering pillars and an archway, across the two pillars they noticed a huge banner printed with the words ‘ In memorial of Howard and Maria Stark’ black ribbon held the banner up either side. Ebony streamers and flowers wrapped in black draped a few of the tables on the far side and the bar. They knew mentally Tony took a note of where the bar was so he could give himself some Dutch courage if the night became too difficult.
"Where are we?" Sam mused, staring around  at the exquisite surroundings before him.
"Maria Stark Foundation ball, the first one since her unfortunate passing two weeks prior to this." Vision noted. Feeling very guilty Bucky felt his insides shrivel and looked to the floor.
"Where's Stark?" Scott asked.
Amused, Rhodes snorted. "Do you really need to ask?"
Scanning the elaborately decorated hall, Scott immediately saw Stark surrounded by the biggest pile well-meaning aristocrats, in the center of the hall, feeling strangely suffocated and overwhelmed.
"I thought he was in his element at these things." Wanda commented sounding perplexed.
"His parents have just died and this gala is a bit like someone is rubbing it in his face every five minutes. Forgive him for not being on top form." Rhodes retorted. He remembered this day. Tony had asked him to go as well but his mum organised a family get together at the same time so he couldn't make it. He did support Tony as best he could at the time though.
"Stop it and watch Stark already. I've got a feeling something bad is going to happen pretty soon." Steve scolded them both in his Captain America voice, Rhodes was about to bite something at him but Natasha directed their attention across the room.
Sure enough, an old well-dressed lady handed Tony a champagne glass but when Tony noticed he blanched, making his grip on the glass falter; it shattered on the floor.
Pain, being cut, burnt, bruised. ("How long do I have to hold this Dad?" "Just a few more sec-")
Tony came back to himself with a jolt and Mask helped him recover quickly realising that the (now dripping) lady along with half the room was looking at him in concern.

 Oh great now they think I'm crazy.


"I'm so sorry Madame; Madre always did say was a butterfingers. I was a menace when I was younger let me tell you. Actually stay there, I'll get you some paper towels to dry your dress."
The Avengers trailed him as he travelled to the bathroom.
His thoughts heavily contrasted the convincing but fake, embarrassed smile on his lips.



All of a sudden, they were whisked into Tony's mindscape a view to what was happening outside displayed on the front wall.
I am not a wimp. I am a Stark dammit. Snarled Angry Tony at the two other versions of himself, who eyed him warily as he moved away from them; he prowled the perimeter of the room.
What the fuck was that? Pincushion asked Mask who opened his mouth then closed it again, shaking his head and turning away, sitting at the lab table oddly quiet.
"It was a Flashback." Sam supplied, staring at the three Tony's with an unreadable expression.
I'll tell you what that was. That was a fucking flashback. Irritated, Angry Tony turned prodding Pincushion in the chest next to the small collection of knifes that were situated already there. I thought we weren't going to let him affect us anymore.
I know. Pincushion yelled back. Howard has no influence on me... I just forgot myself.
At this Mask let out a fake laugh and banged his head against the table in exasperation as Angry Tony analysed Pincushion's face.
I better think of an excuse for people not handing me things. Pincushion adopted an introspective edgy expression as he looked at his two counterparts for ideas.
How about just a simple I don't like being handed things fits in with the asshole mask perfectly right? Angry Tony suggested before snorting as Mask sat up at this appearing affronted.
Ugh fine. You know me, I just live to be difficult. Performing a mock seated bow Mask smirked cheekily at Pincushion.
No one would even suspect a thing.
Smiling reassuringly at Pincushion, Angry Tony patted him on the shoulder and stalked across the other side of the lab to join Mask in editing the file on Anthony Edward Stark. Consulting a thick volume, Angry Tony had plucked from one of the locked shelves, they were deep in conversation with each other as they discarded and manipulated the file.
Pincushion let out a real slightly sad smile as he made himself return to the lady offering her copious amounts of paper towels.
No one suspected a thing or even guessed.
Not even Earth's mightiest heroes.
The Tornado twisted around them once more, the colours becoming gradually darker before becoming completely black.

Chapter Text

The next time Peter woke he was suspended slightly in the air, with chains attached to both the ceiling and the floor, holding his arms and legs away from his body.

In his honest opinion it looked like all of the colours had been sucked from the room he had been put in; lit only by the thin narrow rectangle windows high up the left wall, the stormy sky showed through the blades of grass poking through the bottom half of the windows and blew small spots of rain across the left side of his face.

Looking from side to side he saw familiar but young, scarred hands, Mr Stark’s hands, it all clicked for Peter in that moment.

He was experiencing this as if he was Mr Stark. 

But what was he doing chained up in what appeared to be a basement?

Peter felt Tony shake himself as his eyes were drawn to a small metal table, within reaching distance if he was not manacled, which held an obscenely large hammer, manacle tightening tools and two pairs of knuckle dusters. 

This doesn't look good at all. This scene is starting to look like a set of a really bad horror movie. 

Judging from what he could see of Mr Stark's suspiciously short and lanky limbs he had to be a child. Peter only just had time to feel a short stab of horror at the revelation before the door creaked open.

Theatrically, just as a clap of thunder sounded three big broad men dressed in black entered the room. Both of the men flanking the leader were almost identical down to their muscly build and thick skulls however the Monster Muscle on his left had very pale blue eyes that possessed no warmth as they looked over Tony.

You will be monster muscle one. Tony decided

The leader, the smallest and ugliest skinhead, stood a head shorter than his two companions and possessed a thin reedy build. However his eyes were demonically dark eyes like Monster Muscle Two flanking his right, he stood slightly forward in the center of the trio highlighting his importance.

"Hey leader of the monster muscle duo, yes you-this isn't my first rodeo. Whatever you want from me or my dad you can suck it. We aren't going to give you anything."

Cursing Mr Stark's mouth despite the fact that he admired how the disturbingly young sounding Tony mouthed off to those three men, Peter could tell that wouldn't have been the wisest thing he could've done at that moment. He knew immediately from the malevolent, amused smile playing around the leader’s lips that what happens next will be especially savage.

"You are a sassy little shit aren't you? Y'know you'll be cursing that mouth of yours later." Although he couldn't decipher with much accuracy where they were from, the Leader seemed to be of Russian or German descent, judging from the sharp accent tinged across the man’s words, Peter knew Tony recognized this as well.

This time Tony stayed silent but narrowed his eyes at them.

"Call him up." The leader ordered monster muscle two.

The monster muscle to the leaders left pulled a phone from his pocket and dialed a number, putting it on speakerphone whilst handing it to the leader.

"Who is this and how did you get this number?"

Peter felt Tony's hope reignite at Howard's voice.

 Dad will get me out.

"Dad," Tony yelled at the phone his voice becoming increasingly apologetic. “I am so sorry I got napped again but," Peter felt Tony look around the room he was trapped in, "as dark 10 by 15 dingy, ground level cells go this is the business. Credit to you, monster muscles you certainly know how to kidnap a kid in style."

Peter smiled with Tony; it should be easy for Howard now Tony had managed to give Howard a description of the room and the kidnappers.

Irritated, by how much Tony managed to give away but enforcing a calm demeanour the leader frowned at Tony as he continued.

"You have 14 hours to pay 150 million dollars to us. For every hour that passes we will break a bone. Continue to refuse us and we do worse. If the time limit runs out and you don't pay, he dies. Come off that phone and he dies."

"You must know Stark Industries has a no ransom policy."

Swallowing both his and Tony's fear at this, Peter willed Howard to shut up.

"Let's start shall we." The leader’s voice became sadistically happy at the prospect of torturing a child. 

At this point Peter really wished he could web that man from the ceiling by his toes for a few hours, which would definitely wipe that disgusting grin off his face. 

The leader gestured to the two goons next to him, who positioned themselves either side of Tony’s arms.

Grabbing an arm each the goons pulled down sharply. Pop. Pop.

 The arms each dislocated into a sickening position. Peter was amazed that all Mr Stark let out was a whine of pain. If the phantom pain pumping across the joints was anything to go by it hurt a lot more than he was letting on.

An hour passed. Twitching against the chains, Peter felt Tony try and fail to adjust and make himself comfortable but it was fruitless. The leader asked again.

"Are you ready to pay up yet?"

"Stark Industries has no ransom policy." Howard repeated in a monotone voice, Peter would've anxiously held his breath with Tony if he could.

"Right," The leader’s expression turned deadpan.

"Break his wrists."

Peter mentally flinched. Oh god I hope this doesn't get worse

Snap. Snap. Tony twisted his head both sides and Peter noticed with a growing horror that his hands were bruising a light purple which was quickly becoming darker, he was unable to inspect the injuries too much as the chains obscured most of his view.

The goons then tightened the manacles around his wrists. 

Swallowing the yelp of pain that pushed to the surface, Peter felt Tony's eyes become wet as he gasped instead.

Fuck. Hurry up and get here Dad.

Please hurry and get here Howard Stark.

The next hour passed and Tony was straining to keep from crying and screaming, hot pain was pulsating along his arms the position the chains held him in pulled at the dislocated joints and the manacles pushed against the broken bones in his wrist.

Stark men are made of Iron.

I am not a wimp.

Stark men don't cry.

The third hour came and Peter flinched as he saw a fist slam straight into his face. Trying to breathe was becoming difficult with all the blood Peter could feel streaming down his-no Mr Stark's- face. The thick metallic tasting liquid collected in Tony's mouth and stomach. Peter could tell that he had a very badly broken nose, having been a victim of physical bullying if the tell-tell crunch on impact wasn't enough evidence, the amount of blood surely was.

The fourth hour came and went and Tony gained three dislocated toes, the kidnappers glanced each other before the leader nodded. Peter found his gaze fixed on the ceiling as Tony blinked rapidly, hearing three soft snaps and the accompanying pangs of pain travel up one of his feet.

Look on the bright side, at least your right foot is still alright.

Weakness is unacceptable.

Stark men don't cry.

Dad will get here soon.

He could feel small lines of wetness begin to travel down his face as he finally gained the nerve to gaze at his bare, manacled foot; tinged purple and blue from his little toe up to his middle toe.

Noticing his expression, Monster Muscle one's pale eyes glinted nastily, "Not so tough are you now? I expected more, you are such a weakling for the son of such a cold, powerful, lion like Stark." 

Tony spat blood at the man’s face. 

 "Why you little-" The man growled, yanking the clamps from his accomplices hand before tightening all four of the manacles painfully.

Yelping, Peter felt Tony try to adjust limbs stuck to the unforgiving metal.

"Go on writhe, you disrespectful little shit." Monster muscle Two hissed, his two dark eyes glinting with a malicious fire. "Make my day and scream already. Maybe that unfeeling bastard of a father," he looked to the phone that the leader was holding, "will pay up then."

It was with the fifth hour that the leader finally asked.

"Can't you make an exception to the policy for your son?" The leader sounded incredulous now, glancing at Tony before back at the phone. "You can hear how much pain he is in right?"

Peter was in agreement with the Leader at this point.

Policies be damned, any good parent would've got their child out of there by now.

"Anthony can handle pain. There are no exceptions." Howard answered voice devoid of all emotion.

Oh shit. Crap what are they going to do now? Please be alright Mr Stark.

Stunned, the Leader lifted the phone away from his ear and starred at it.

"Boss?"  Monster Muscle Two asked staring expectantly at his leader.

The leader swallowed and starred at Tony with a cold expression on his face.

"Break the thigh bone and then his ribs. I don't think Mr Stark realizes how serious we're being."

Peter felt Tony's throat become tight as his eyes darted warily to the two burly men, Monster Muscle One exchanged his clamps for a metal hammer off the side table before smiling with a barely contained glee, tapping it against one hand.

Foreboding dread from Tony pooled into Peters stomach as the goons restrained his right leg with enough strength to bruise the parts they were holding.  Monster Muscle one slammed the hammer downwards into his thigh.

Screaming for the first time in this whole experience, Peter could feel blood pumping out of Tony's leg causing his trousers to stick to him. He could distantly hear the two goons laugh but it echoed distantly despite their close proximity; Tony couldn't bring himself to look down even with the pain settling firmly at the forefront of his mind. Peter was glad of it.

He's condemned me. Why didn't he just pay?

He hates you. You aren't important to him. The distinctive bitterness of Angry Tony's voice appeared in Peters mind for the first time in the whole memory right then. It surprised Peter that Angry Tony only spoke up then rather than earlier.

Wait- he didn't exist until this experience, that's why I didn't hear him. The fact that he was brutally beaten- dare I say tortured- by his kidnappers and let down by his dad was enough to plant the seed of Angry Tony in Mr Stark's mind.

"You better pay up now Mr Stark. Your son is bleeding out."

Peter’s vision darkened around the edges as Monster Muscle One slipped on his knuckle dusters and slammed his fist into Tony's ribs, causing a couple of them to crack.

The metal door behind the Goons flew open, three Agents strode into the room, Peggy Carter-Sousa leading and shooting all of the goons dead whilst running to Tony.

 Grimacing Peggy grabbed the clamps from the metal table, using them to loosen the manacles around Tony’s feet.  

“Agent Lewis,” Tony blearily glanced up at the Agent Peggy mentioned. Inhaling sharply, Peter felt Tony’s stab of alarm as the Agent in question looked like nothing more than a long blurred black and peach blob.

Crap my vision is deteriorating fast; I’ve got to tell Pegs.

  “Grab me the stretcher from the helicopter stat. Cartwright, I need you to gently move his right foot from the manacle without disturbing those toes. Put them into place once you’ve set the foot free on the floor. ”

“Pegs, my visions gone blurry,” The words seemed to trip off Tony’s tongue in a dopey almost drunk manner as Peters head swam with a phantom light-headedness and confusion.

“Lewis should be back soon,” Looking to him, Peggy’s voice became soft, “you’ve lost a lot of blood Ducky but you’ll be alright. I'll make sure of it.”

The Agent nodded, supporting Tony toes through the manacle and taking care to disturb them as little as possible before setting the foot on the floor and clicking the toes into place.

Tony’s strength depleted rapidly, his head lolled as he briefly shut his eyes.

Peter felt her slap his face gently as she lifted his head up.

"Hey Tony, Ducky keep awake for me," She paled slightly as she looked over his injuries again, "I need you to stay awake. Can you do that for me?"

But Peter knew that Tony's vision was darkening too quickly phantom pain and fatigue washed over him.

"I'm s'rry Aunt Peg."

All Peter heard then was Peggy's panicked voice.

"TONY."

Despite his best efforts, he completely blacked out.


 

 When Natasha woke she found herself in an older version of SHIELD infirmary with casts fully coating her left leg.

Tony’s body tried to move and Natasha felt the swift return of the pain everywhere.

Cringing mentally she hissed to herself. Dammit Stark quit moving.

Surprisingly, he did and resigned himself to stare at the ceiling thoroughly bored and alone, or so he thought.

"So what are you here for?"

Tony twisted his head to the side finding himself faced with a man who Natasha recognized to be younger Nick Fury laying on a hospital bed and supporting a bandage over one eye.

Should I tell him? Maybe Pirates are nice. Tony glanced over Fury's face staring at the weirdly soft and cautious gaze coming from his remaining eye.

Amazed, Natasha stared at Fury. No wonder he was so insistent on finding a cure for Stark. Maybe it wasn't just because he was a valuable asset after all.

"Kidnapping, they wanted money my dad didn't give it hence the war wounds."

She could feel Stark smile sarcastically but wince as the movement jostled his nose.

I hope this heals quickly trying not to move my face is gonna be hard.

Fury’s remaining eye widened and a furious expression came over his face.

"Bastards, I hope there’s a special space in hell for the fuckers that hurt kids."

Tony nodded.

"What happened to your eye?"

"I can't really tell you that," a sharp spike of disappointment stabbed Stark and by default Natasha who felt amused upon hearing Stark want to know more about Fury. He smiled suddenly. "But all I can say is that the Fucker that tried to kill me did a lousy job."

Gobsmacked at Fury, Natasha felt Stark's mouth drop open as the doors flew inward.

Both Jarvis' and Peggy stormed in, exploding into a flurry of conversations due to their eagerness and relief at seeing him well, although she could see that this was only true for the Jarvis's as Peggy held back, instead directing a grin worthy of a Cheshire Cat in his direction and keeping silent.

"Young Sir I'm so glad we got you back-"

"We both looked everywhere we were out of our minds with worry-"

"You almost faded on the helicopter from blood loss but we-"

"Then Howard got the call he notified Mrs Carter immediately-"

"Bought you back and hooked you up to an IV. Sir you will need-"

"She traced the call and looked for ground floor places with 10 by 15ft rooms, odd measurements. You'd think it'd be quicker to-"

"Physical therapy to help with the injuries you sustained, myself and Ana will be happy to assist."

"Actually find you. But Peggy did it. I'm so glad she killed them otherwise I would've done it myself. She could've at least left me one to maim at little bit."

Ana scowled and Jarvis hid a chuckle behind a cough.

Fury shot Tony a questioning look.

"Oh right Ana, Jarvis this is... I actually don't know your name."

"Call me Agent Fury."

"Nicolas Fury have you been harassing my godson?" Peggy swiveled around to face Fury who looked actually looked a bit sheepish at the look on Peggy's face. Natasha snorted internally.

"I was only curious Director Carter- Sousa, we don't usually have minors. This one seemed interesting."

"Hmm,” Clearly skeptical, she raised an eyebrow at him.

"Who is your dad kid? He must be someone important to have Director Carter-Sousa as your God-mother." Interested, Fury swiveled his head back around to look at Tony.

He's an agent he'll find out eventually who I am even if I don't say anything.

"I'm Tony Stark. My dad's Howard Stark. This is my butler Jarvis," Jarvis nodded to Fury and gave him a small polite smile which Fury returned, "his wife Ana who also works in the mansion. You already know Peggy."

Smiling at the stupefied look on Fury’s face, Tony allowed himself to look a little smug.

"Wow kid I didn't recognize you. You are pretty beaten up."

Way to make someone feel better about themselves Nicky. Pincushion snorted.

This thought must have shown on his face because Peggy’s expression turned dangerously protective. Recognizing the look on Director Carter-Sousa's face, Fury uttered his goodbyes to Tony getting out of bed and promising he'll see him again one day. Natasha would never admit that if Peggy did that to her, she would’ve run too.

A few minutes later Maria and Howard entered the room.

Peggy left half an hour after they arrived muttering "wayward agent, got shot in the bloody eye... have to drag his butt back to medical...I didn't think he'd use earlier as an excuse to run off... Stupid Fury"

Natasha would've let out a laugh if she could.

Fury really was being hypocritical when he told off me, Clint or Tony for doing the same thing.

Jarvis and Ana left after too saying that someone would have to keep the servants in check so that they wouldn't use this as an excuse to skive. ("They would never," Jarvis had protested. Ana raised an eyebrow at him as if to say "really?" Any argument Jarvis had died on his tongue as he instead smiled slightly at his charge and waved goodbye.)

Physically restraining herself from hugging Tony, Maria had settled with giving him a kiss on the forehead telling him not to do that again in Italian.

"Madre, Mi può prendere un caffè per favore?" She could feel Tony smile cheekily at her as Howard raised an eyebrow at his son.

Maria smiled, rolling her eyes at him in reply before rising from chair. "Sometimes I swear he's just as bad as you Howard. Couldn't you have told me that before I sat down?"

She kissed her husband on the cheek using the movement to try and whisper something to him without Tony noticing, she failed as she felt Tony’s curiosity peak at what she had said.

Natasha, unlike Tony at this age, could lip read. She knew Maria had said, "I know this scared you, Howard but try not to be too hard on him." 

Maria then moved swiftly to the door and disappeared through it.

Only Howard remained staring intently at his son, Tony twitched feeling slightly unnerved as was Natasha by this point but she wouldn't admit it to the others.

"Dad?"

Howard shook his head and stared at the floor.

"You should've realized it wasn't Mickey driving that car."

Oh. Tony stared at his covers in shame. He's blaming me.

How are you meant to know it wasn’t Mickey? Angry Tony argued vehemently in his mind, Natasha was surprised by the indignation and bitterness she heard, it was quite alarming to hear in a child's voice. The level of anger and bitterness she heard present in Tony’s voice reminded her too much of herself for comfort. The windows were blacked out and it was the same car as usual. How were you meant to know he was actually tied up back at home?

Upon hearing this, Natasha felt Tony in the memory shake with Anger.

"Tell me exactly how I was meant to know that." Tony hissed, narrowing his eyes at his father.

"You are a genius Anthony act like one. You should’ve noticed the minute differences there and took note of them then acted." Howard snapped back defensively.

He's deflecting. Natasha noticed. He's feeling guilty and scared about what happened. It's easier to siphon the blame off on someone else rather than deal with yourself.

Banging his head backward on the pillow, Tony closed his eyes.

"I don't want to have this conversation again Anthony," Howard moved to the seat by the top of the bed, keeping his eyes on Tony. "As soon as you are physically able I need my lab assistant back."

To Tony the words sounded harsh and cold but Natasha could read what he actually meant. I love you and I don't want you to get hurt. I was worried for you. I want to spend more time with you in the lab. Natasha was saddened for him. Why on earth didn't he just tell his son that?

"Just not enough to pay ransom for him," Angry Tony spat from Tony’s mouth despite Pincushions protests. Reeling back as if he'd been slapped, Howard's wounded expression was quickly covered up by a stern mask.

"You know why I don't do that."

"Normally I'd get why dad," Howard's expression softened "but I was in pain. They were hurting me this time. You had the power to stop it and you didn't. I almost died." Speechless Natasha watched the scene whatever Howard replied to that would be crucial to their relationship.

She hoped for him that it would mend it.

Howard opened his mouth possibly to say something else but Maria came in through the door.

Click. Howard's jaw shut.

"I'll leave you with your mother." Searchingly Howard gazed over Tony whilst giving him a higher dose of Morphine. "Remember what I told you when you made your first circuit board and you'll get it."

Tenderly, he patted Tony’s arm that was closest to him and left.

In Tony’s mind he remembered Howard's voice repeat with disturbing clarity.

Stark men are made of Iron, we do not cry, break or show weakness in front of others. We are strong. All weaknesses can and will be exploited out there but not OURS for we do not have them. We cannot afford them. The people out there are sharks and if they can tear you apart they will.

Natasha was sure if Howard told him that Adult Tony would get what he meant and what he was referring to but back then all she was getting from him now was confusion and hurt.

Colours swamped Natasha's vision as the world changed once more.

Chapter Text

"What kind of dad is he?" Outraged on the behalf of Tony, Peter could barely keep himself from pacing current Tony’s mindscape let alone keep himself quiet. Those memories had severely shaken him.

Mr Stark couldn't have been older than Ten years old judging by how small he was. 

Holy crap.

"A really fucking awful one," Rhodes snarled not bothering to restrain himself from pacing; his face was set in a deep scowl which gave him the appearance of having aged five years.

"I agree, no wonder Stark's messed up." Clint crossed his arms trying very hard to not think about how his kids would act in that sort of situation. It sent a shiver down his spine.

How could Howard act so cold?

Wanda, Scott and Sam made various motions of agreement.

Re-evaluating at least part of her judgement on Tony, Wanda’s eyes were distant as she agreed with Clint, but despite this her hostility didn’t lessen.

A lot has obviously changed from childhood till adulthood but clearly some of the blame has to go to Stark’s father for that.

He’s still responsible for the death of my family.

 Steve paused before deciding to speak, " Being," The Illuminate faded back into existence, giving him an piercing stare. "How old was Stark when the last memory happened?"

I really don't want to think the worst of Howard but I have to know.

Crossing its arms, the Being grimaced, "Tony was eight years old."

"EIGHT?!" Peter squeaked clamping his hands over his mouth, he knew Tony must've been young but it was worse than he thought.

Bucky growled as the Soldat flashed behind his eyes.  

Howard let his own kid be tortured? Well, I’m glad I hit him in the face a few times, don’t you agree, Bucky? Or are you still cut up about killing your friend?

"So let me get this straight," Bruce bit out tensely, his eyes shone emerald as they strained with effort while the Hulk fought against the Beings magic," he was Eight years old when he had his arms dislocated, wrists snapped, toes dislocated, nose broken, ribs cracked and leg broken while kidnapped and chained. He also had to hear his father constantly refuse to save him at the same time then get jeered at for reacting like a normal human."

"I believe so," Vision breathed. Although he tried, he could only bring himself to say only a brief summary of Howard Stark's reasoning in his defense. "Howard Stark didn't pay the ransom to avoid a repeat occurrence of a similar style of kidnap."

The green in Bruce's eyes gradually faded as Bruce internally explained the logic in Visions point to the Hulk.

TIN MAN HURT! TIN MAN FATHER DO NOTHING! TIN MAN FATHER BAD!

Natasha nodded as Vision said his point but kept her face deliberately blank. Sharply, she pushed away the initial stab of sympathy for both Tony and Howard on instinct; training for the red room had taught her to block out her emotions easily.

He is-was- your friend, it's OK to feel sympathy for him. We've suffered similarly. A part of herself, Natalia argued but the Widow in her mind pushed that half away. Discovering Natalia had survived through the Widow program came after she defected to SHIELD because of Clint. It was during that time she developed a sort of softness for him. That’s when she realized that the red room had failed to brutalize, smash or otherwise tear the softness, weakness that was part of the old her before the Red Room out.  However it was due to this treatment that the Widow still instinctively shoved Natalia away to protect her, that method was too ingrained in her mind to stop now.

 Being emotionally constipated seems to run in the Stark family. To-Stark will have to be wary of that if he ever has children of his own.

"I know man," Sam sighed "but I really want to punch him in the face right now."

"I do too." Bucky agreed. Steve gave Bucky a very sharp and wary look, unsure if it was his friend or the Soldier talking.

"The All father has behaved in a similar manner but he knew Loki and I were of an age and experience where we could fight ourselves out of any situation." Thor sighed as he twirled Mijonir between his fingers, "I know not of Stark Howard but he appears cold and unfeeling to his sons suffering.” Thor walked over to Steve and Bucky clapping them on the shoulder, with a small smile on his face as he turned to the others. “Do not judge hastily, there may be more yet to redeem your old comrade, friend Steven and Soldier of Winters. "

No one had any answer to that so the Illuminate took this as its cue to change the memory and disappear once more.


 "Ow," Tony tried to lift himself up off the bed but cringed due to the pain bouncing around his body.

They all gasped when they got a look at the casts now coating his wrists as well as his leg, dark violet and navy bruising was smeared across his nose and eyes which starkly contrasted his pale white face.  

“We saw a memory where he looked like this before remember.” Natasha reminded the others and herself sternly, this shook them out of their shock at his appearance, remembering that she was right.

"Young sir, you've got to learn to be more patient," Fondly reprimanding him Jarvis walked into the room, pushing a wheelchair with Ana and Maria in tow, "we were just coming back with the Wheelchair Mr Stark revamped for you before he left. Mr Stane also wishes you a speedy recovery, Sir and he regrets not being able to come back and support you at this time."

Jarvis looked anything but regretful that Mr Stane couldn't make it; both Rhodes and Vision couldn't help but grin at each other.

“Turns out the original Jarvis didn’t like him either, huh.” Rhodes nudged Vision who smirked in return, remembering his predecessors dislike which morphed into a vicious hatred for the late Mr Stane after Afghanistan.

"Tesoro, you get to come home today," Maria beamed as she carefully hugged her son, careful not to touch his cracked ribs.

Tony blushed, "Madre, I've only been here a couple of days," Tony smiled at her before looking to the chair with a perplexed grimace. " How am I going to get into this thing?"

"Jarvis, can you give me a hand please?"

 "Sorry Sir this will hurt."

"What do you-" Tony yelped as both Maria and Jarvis moved him from the bed into the chair as fast but as gently as they could.

"Understatement of the century Jarvis," Tony groaned rubbing his ribs as they felt the pain course around that area sharply.

"It would have to be done sooner or later, cracked ribs take roughly three weeks to heal, you can't stay in bed for all that time. I know you want to but you'll get bed sores and you don’t want those do you? That injury will be relatively temporary compared to the others."

"What about the others then?"

"Your wrists should take about eight weeks,  your dislocated shoulders should be alright in 12 weeks at maximum and your leg should take six months to heal properly," Tony groaned, "but your toes should be alright in a couple of weeks."

"We know how much you hate hospitals, matok sheli so we thought it would be less stressful if we brought you back home to recover."

“Didn’t the Doc’s-?” Tony cut himself off as he noticed Maria’s dark brown eyes gleam with a fond mischievousness that was so similar to the adult Tony that many of the Avengers startled.

“They didn’t like it but money does wonders to change someone’s opinion.”

“Miss Maria!” Jarvis spluttered, “You told me the Doctors were alright with Sir being discharged today.”

“I trust you to take care of my son more than them.” Maria affirmed stubbornly, “Besides you haven’t left Tony’s side since the whole ordeal and you were beginning to smell.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Sorry Edwin,” Ana shrugged apologetically, “I’ll have to agree with Maria on this.”

Scandalized, Jarvis’s jaw dropped as he turned to Ana, a faux expression of betrayal etched on his face.

Bursting into laughter Tony grabbed his ribs, rubbing them to try and sooth the irritation the movement of laughter caused, only to cause a several stabs of agony to pierce his arm.

Oh right, shoulders and wrists too, great.

“Your face then J, was a picture.” Tony frowned at his ribs, letting out a quiet “Ouch,” before continuing in a louder voice upon seeing their concerned faces looking down at him, “Thanks for taking me home today; I’d be bored stiff if I was stuck here for longer.”


 

"Tesoro," Maria knocked on the door of Tony's temporary downstairs room before entering with two strange looking mechanical ovals that were mostly obscured by her hands.

The room was painted a warm cream with a wooden paneled expensive floor however it was clear that someone had worked hard to bring some patriotic theme they saw in Tony's room to this one; with the same Captain America poster they recognized from the circuit board memory hung across the wall by the bed and a Cap toy perched by Tony's side as he sat on his bed. They all spotted a couple of Captain America comic books lent by Jarvis's feet but the Butler was fully asleep leaning his head on one hand on the bedside table. Glowing, the  gold and beige lamp on the other side of the table lit the room with a warm, cozy, content aura that most of the Avengers didn't realize they missed until this memory.

Amused, Tony's eyes twinkled as he smiled at Maria, "I don't think my copy of Science America agreed with him."

Maria smiled, they did too when they heard the laugh in her voice. "No I think he loves it," moving across the room and kicking her heels off as she sat on the bed.

"What's that?" Tony nodded at the mechanical objects in her hands, she placed them by him so he could take a closer look.

The Avengers moved closer too to look at two smooth metal ovals with a glowing red circle in the center each end had two small steel pinchers poking out of the small holes they came from.

"They look a lot like the machine he made for your legs."  Steve noted as he looked to Rhodes legs; he felt guilt crash into him upon recognizing that Tony must've looked back on these machines Howard made shortly after the Civil War.

That would've been extremely painful for him.

 "I found these in the lab, Howard made them to perfectly fit your shoulder joints. Now they will be painful, more so than a sling would be but they would mean you would be able to move your arms and they should make the recovery of your shoulders quicker."

"I'll be alright, I've been through worse," recognizing the truth of that statement Maria and several of the Avengers winced, "how do I wear these?"

"You need to wear them every day and night under your clothes. But they need to avoid contact with water."

She slid his top over his head before pulling the metal circle up to his shoulder.

Worriedly glancing at her son, she swallowed as she pressed down on the glowing red indented circle in the center of the contraption; two thin metal arms erupted from each end, two latched themselves around his chest and back to pull the joint up whilst the two that came from the bottom end circled Tony's upper arm, latching on the opposite part of the other side.

"Antonio, stai bene?"

 "I'll be fine," He responded through gritted teeth as a muscle in his jaw twitched, "do the other one."

Maria gave him a doubtful look as she pressed the next one in place.

 At this one he shut his eyes and grimaced.

"I'm fine."

"If they get too uncomfortable take them off, Howard will understand." Tony stifled a snort at that.

She kissed him on the cheek then slipped off the bed.

Nudging the book from Jarvis’s hand, Maria placed it on the table by Jarvis’s other arm.

“Edwin, come on wake up.” Maria grinned as she shook his arm.

"Oh! Mrs Maria, I'm sorry I was just resting my eyes." Yawning widely, Jarvis stretched out his arms like a cat that had just woke up.

"You need to get some rest Edwin. Come on, Tony's asleep now," Tony took the hint, shutting his eyes and resting his head against the pillow, just before Jarvis looked over. "You're sleeping next door with Ana, if Tony needs you, he knows you'll be right there."

Reassured slightly, Jarvis nodded and softly slid him down so Tony was lying comfortably, smoothing the covers flat.

"Sleep well, young Sir."

Maria turned back to see Tony open his eyes and wink at her as Jarvis left.

“Buona note Antonio.” Leaning forward from the door frame she flicked off the light, vanishing into the black.


 

“Do not do that again Sir you almost gave me the fright of my life,” Jarvis scolded a wheelchair bound Tony with a worried but stern frown planted on his face.

 “You have to admit those tricks were awesome though." Tony's fake smile slid off his face as he slumped slightly in his wheelchair. "I'm so bored, J. Other kids my age are outside this time of year; climbing trees, playing with their friends but I’m stuck in the mansion for roughly half the year so the Paparazzi don’t get wind of this," he looked downwards at himself,"and I’ve only really got you guys as my friends.”

Ana and Jarvis exchanged an uncomfortable look between them.

“We are honored.” Ana smiled as she crouched to his level, “why don’t we go to the garden Tony? Edwin can bring some his favorite books down.”

“Fictional stories?” Tony asked sounding excited at that prospect in comparison to other children that age. “Cool I haven’t read that type of book before.”

Perplexed, both Jarvis and Ana stilled.

“What do you mean sir? You have those Captain America comics and stories that I read to you.”

“Dad allows those because they’re based on fact,” Tony trialed off as both Ana and Jarvis’s faces soured, Jarvis in particular looked like he swallowed a lemon. “He says fiction won’t be useful-“

 “Not useful? Imagination is important Tony, I for one strongly disagree with how Mr Stark-" Jarvis cut himself off when Ana shot him a warning look, "I'll be back in a moment Sir."

"Did I make Jarvis mad?" Staring after Jarvis who had just disappeared from view, Tony's expression became visibly upset.

"Don't worry it's not you he's mad at, come on let's get settled outside."


 Ana sat cross legged in the bright, healthy, grass of the Stark garden, running one hand through it as the other idly picked assorted strawberries, grapes from the bowls and popped them into her mouth, her eyes however were fixed on Jarvis sat opposite her; he was the only one of them using the maroon and navy tartan picnic blanket, having piled a thick selection of books directly to his left and a teapot wrapped in a tea cozy with two teacups to his right. Both of them, Natasha and Bucky noted, subconsciously sat slightly in front of Tony as if to guard him from whoever might next walk into their garden. Tony's eyes were fixed on the elaborately illustrated,thick gold rimmed copy of Narnia laying in Jarvis's lap, his face showed the sort of elation that reminded Bruce of whenever Adult Tony finally figured out the answer to a complex problem he was trying to solve.

"Maybe your right about this imagination stuff, J." Tony continued as Jarvis allowed himself to appear a little smug at that remark,"There's whole worlds in here, literally like in the case of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, that's my favorite one so far."

Raising an eyebrow at Jarvis, Ana asked "Who's your favorite character, Edwin?"

"You asked that because you knew how hard it would be for me to choose, didn't you?" Jarvis's eyes twinkled as he smiled fondly at his wife who winked.

"Yup." Unashamedly, she popped some grapes into her mouth before passing a few to Tony.

"Aslan." Jarvis nodded to himself after a few moments of thinking.

"It's because he's a talking lion isn't it?" Grinned Tony, "I have to admit that's the main reason I think he's pretty awesome."

 "No, young sir," Jarvis inspected the cover of the CS Lewis book as his voice took on an analytical tone, "It is because he sacrifices himself to save Edmund from the Witch. This shows a great amount of love and loyalty to a human, who he saw was worth saving. What's more is that Aslan is written as a symbol for Jesus and his role in the bible as the Savior of Humanity despite our flaws. I admire how clever CS Lewis was to weave in that symbolism so effectively."

 "Once again Edwin you manage to impress me with your reasoning." Jarvis's cheeks flushed a rosy pink which he tried to hide by sipping his tea, “What about you, Tony?"

"I know you lot are going to think me weird but I really like Edmund.” Steve had to bite his lip to keep his snide remark about how alike he saw Edmund and Tony to himself. “He has flaws and the witch manages to lead him astray at first but he eventually realizes his mistake and fights for the good guys in the end. Personally, I prefer a hero that's made mistakes and learnt from them, not been portrayed as perfect like Peter, Susan and Lucy. Peter, especially, I mean imagine having a measuring stick like him that you..." 

Tony pursed his lips. He didn't have to imagine what growing up with the perfect older measuring stick was like. 

“One of the reasons I look up to Mr Stark is because he is more human...” Peter tried the word out on his tongue, unsure if that was the right word to describe him. Holding his hands up in universal gesture of 'no offense' when he felt everyone’s attention drawn to him. “The rest of you seem untouchable and unknown in a lot of ways to the general public; living legends,” Peter waved his hand to Steve and Bucky, “Super spies,” He gestured to Natasha and Clint, “Demigods.” Thor nodded, “But Mr Stark lays most of his flaws for the world to see and he made it on to the Avengers when the only ‘super’ thing about him was his mind.”

"Tony, my boy," Tony, Ana and Jarvis’s heads turned to Obadiah who strolled out to meet them on the grass, "I'm sorry this is only a quick stop, I just had to see how you were after everything I was so worried." Obadiah knelt down by Tony’s wheelchair and clasped his neck gently with one hand, Natasha, Peter and Bucky noticed Jarvis’s eyes narrow cuttingly at the bald headed man but Tony and the others remained oblivious.

"I'm fine Obie."  

Obadiah beamed, "That's the spirit,” he patted Tony’s good leg before straightening up and turning his attention to Ana and Jarvis. “I see Ana and Jarvis kept you well entertained all day, what were you reading?"

"The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," Jarvis smiled pleasantly at Obadiah but it didn't reach his eyes, “we were discussing our favorite characters, mine was Aslan not just because of the symbolism behind him; he was the one who saved Edmund and tore the Witch apart for attempting to hurt him. I think we all want a friend like that, don't you agree?"

"Indeed but the Witch was foolish to attempt anything whilst the Lion was alive. It would’ve been smarter for her to wait until the Lion was out of the picture. Or maybe to possess or poison the boy as soon as he met her. After all the prophecy couldn't be complete without King Edmund? Could it?  Villains with too much or too little patience and arrogance never get anywhere in these stories," Obadiah smiled, shark like with all jagged edges, "where do you keep the good decanters? I'm due back at work in a few minutes and I'm parched."

"Right this way, Mr Stane." Ana peeled herself off the grass and led Obadiah back inside to the kitchen.

 "If you take one thing from this CS Lewis's tale,” Tony turned to Jarvis whose eyes were fixed on Obadiah and Ana who they could see preparing the drink in the kitchen. “Sir take this, appearances can be misleading-"

"-like the Witch?"

"Precisely, Sir evil people are not always plain to see but they can grow like a weed around a flower when they find a good person to lead astray. Don't let yourself be led astray."

Chapter Text

 

"What is it Mr Rhodes?"

The Being looked over him with a concerned glance; the others too turned to Rhodey, who was frowning to himself, directing his look at the Being as it pulled his explanation out of him. 

"In all the time I've known Tony, I never thought he would ignore a warning like that from someone he trusts. I know he might not have figured out Jarvis's implication until he became older, but he has an eidetic memory, he wouldn't forget that - so why would he ignore it? Tony became close to Stane." Rhodey shook his head, "That guy even gave me the creeps.. What’s more, Tony never mentioned Ana or Jarvis to me during our friendship, even when I asked him about JARVIS's name.  Despite this they appear to be really close so why would he never mention them? -I can't imagine Ana or Jarvis abandoning him willingly yet he said earlier that he lost them both when he was fourteen. What happened for him to lose them both and to make him never talk about them?"

At this all of them felt had a dark sense of foreboding curl in their stomachs.

I hope they didn't die.  Bucky half prayed in his mind, knowing that it wouldn't do any good.

I don't see any other reason why they would both be lost to him, do you?   The Winter Soldier snapped at Bucky, agitated, his instincts hinting what would happen. Your whining won't change anything.

"These next few memories should clear it up." The Being snapped its fingers and the Mindscape dissolved.

 


 

"Ana?”

The mousy-haired woman in front of Peter seemed to almost double over as she clutched her stomach. They seemed to be in Tony’s lab, where Tony was working on an unrecognisable machine that was an exploded mess of metal parts and wiring. Upon Ana’s sudden movement Tony rushed over to her, dropping his tools on his desk.

“Ana? Are you still getting pain there? I thought you were better now…”

Wearily, Ana looked up at him through her shoulder length limp hair that appeared to be falling out of her trade mark styled curls, the whites of her eyes appeared bloodshot and yellowed - which did nothing to mute the intense look she was giving him.

Peter was shocked by her sickly appearance. It was clear by both the grey streaks in Ana’s hair and how Tony appeared slightly lankier and taller in comparison to her now that he was roughly 13 or 14 years old, but age alone definitely shouldn’t have caused her to look that bad.

“I’m alright,”

Peter felt Tony raise an eyebrow but Ana continued, “When I bend over like this the pain alleviates-“

“This is ridiculous Ana,” Tony snapped as he guided Ana to the couch, “This week alone I have had to get you to lie you down roughly ten times because of that recurring pain in the same area. You’re always tired now, you’ve lost weight and don’t think I didn’t hear you throwing up yesterday. Jarvis and I are worried; this has gone on long enough.”

“I’m sorry Tony,” Frowned Ana as she sighed and rubbed a hand down her face, before pausing and staring intently at Peter as she continued.

“I didn’t want you or Edwin to worry like this, I’ll speak to Edwin and I’ll arrange a Doctor’s appointment.” Fatigue leached into Ana’s voice, and the look in her eyes appeared regretful,

“No; don’t worry about that,” Softly Tony spoke as his hand curled around hers, “I’ll tell J while I get you your hot water bottle. Isn’t he making lunch up there?”

Ana nodded, closing her eyes and leaning back onto the sofa. The hand that was around Tony’s moved to wrap around her stomach.

“Do you want something to eat?”

Ana shook her head.
Worry stabbed Peter’s gut and he felt Tony move away from her and up the stairs.



The scene morphed to the Stark kitchen which was lit up only by the sun. As dawn woke from its slumber, the sun itself had the appearance of being shot; its ruby rays spilled across the skyline and bounced off the majestic ebony marble of the kitchen surfaces, lighting up both Maria and Tony in a way that reminded Bruce oddly of blood.

The imagery that created set the Hulk on edge. Bruce frowned at his counterpart’s uneasiness and bit his lip. I hope Ana will be alright. She seems to be important to Tony but even nature, seems to be giving ominous vibes at the moment.

Tony’s fingers tapped on the table, and he stared past his blueberry-sprinkled porridge at Maria’s phone. Next to it, she clutched her coffee like a lifeline.

"Eat up passerotto."

The ringing of Maria's mobile startled both Tony and the Avengers - some of whom jumped backwards in shock. Scott yelped as he managed go through a chair.

Both Sam and Bucky snickered quietly despite the tense atmosphere with Sam muttering “Tic Tac seriously man…" Bucky shook his head, then felt the brief smile that had appeared on both his and his teammates faces at Scott's clumsiness die as the intensity rose, in anticipation of the memory before them.

"Edwin, it’s great to hear back from you. Tony's been worried about you both. How is she?"

Maria's whole face dropped from the anxious expression she had worn earlier into something sadder.

"How?"

Straining their ears, Tony and the Avengers could just hear Jarvis’s wavering voice on the other end.
"...ignoring symptoms...it spread throughout her whole...please get here now we need you all...call Mr Stark, he'd want to know."

The call bleeped and cut off.

"Madre, how is she? That was Jarvis on the phone, they should’ve been back by now right?"
Tony’s porridge lay forgotten on the side as he stared at his mother.

"Antonio," Maria gulped and stood up, strolling swiftly around the table. "We need to get to the hospital now." Grabbing Tony's hand, Maria swept him out of the room and the scene morphed into a hospital room.


 

Laid up in a hospital bed, seemingly unconscious, Ana was as white as her sheets looking paler and frailer than Tony ever seen her.

Feeling almost as if part of him was freefalling through the floor, Tony crept towards Ana's bed and took a seat next to her.

"Cancer is a bitch isn't it?" Feeling eyes on the back of his neck he knew someone was behind him.

"Yes it is" Jarvis replied, clipped and raw sounding. It was a testament to how far he had been pushed past his limits that he wasn't telling him off for the rude word.
The Avengers could feel something dark twist in Tony's stomach.

"How long has she had...?" Swallowing, Tony couldn't continue, but Jarvis knew what he meant.

"Not long. She’s at the M1 stage, that’s what they call it.” Jarvis wiped his eyes as he pulled up a chair and took a seat by the top of the bed. They could all see the amount of effort it took for him to keep talking. “It has spread from her pancreas to the lymph nodes and it has begun to infect parts of her lungs."

"Is there is anything they can do?"

Tony looked to Jarvis with a tortured expression that made him seem way older than his fourteen years.

"No..." Jarvis replied in a quiet soft voice, a doleful expression marring his face as he stared at his wife.

Slamming his chair backwards with a bang, Tony stood and started pacing.
"No, no, no, no," he yanked his hands through his hair. "I can make something, invent something anything to make her well." His hands dug into his scalp as mind raced through all he knew about biology.

Everyone winced.

"Sir sit down. Ana wouldn't want to see you like this-"

"Tony?"

Tony's bloodshot eyes turned to Ana's, letting a melancholy smile drift on his face.

"You shouldn't have ignored that stomach ache Ana.” Tony scolded without any heat before allowing his voice to become softer. "How are you feeling?"

Dumb question! You're meant to be genius aren't you? She's dying, idiot.

Feeling uncomfortable to be intruding on this memory, several of the Avengers looked away.

"I feel like I've been shot again." Ana and Jarvis exchanged sad smiles.

"I think it would be a bit late to get a Burmese Mountain Dog," Jarvis replied sadly, as he wrapped her hand in his. Ana’s lips twitched upward at him then Tony.

"It’s a good thing I don’t want one then. I already have the family I wished for."

Tony smiled back before gulping and glancing the floor.

Don’t you dare cry. He sternly told himself off as he harshly rubbed his face to try and hide his eyes becoming wet.

"I swear Ana. I will find you a cure. You'll be up and about in no time, telling stories about your life and kicking J’s butt at Martial Arts which is always funny to watch. You could carry on teaching me, I know the basics it’s just…"

Tony’s smile quickly dropped when he saw Ana wasn't returning it.

"Tony, don't let this consume you. I've accepted what's going to happen to me."

Jarvis made a wounded noise as his head dropped into his hands.

"I could never have kids but you have always been like a son to me. I know our time together was too short but I will always treasure it, and I will always watch over you both even if I am physically unable to be here anymore. I've left most of my things to you both in my will. Tony, take care of him when I'm gone."

"If you do die I will, but you aren't going to. I'll make sure of it." Patting Ana's hand one last time, Tony kissed her on the cheek before he twirled around and walked towards the door.

All the Avengers watching knew that Tony was deep in denial right now and it was painful to watch.

"Goodbye Tony."

"Aww hell." Clint murmured, watching the scene with a stricken expression.

The hard after punch of grief and denial made the Avengers reel. Peter remembered feeling that when his uncle Ben died, and he had to force himself to stay silent.

"Stark doesn't find a cure, does he?" Scott asked.

"It would be all over science journals everywhere if he had." Bruce replied, downcast.

Natasha whispered, "Of course he doesn't. The closest thing is something a doctor called AJ Hart came up with, where you use nanotechnology bubbles to isolate the diseased cells and then blast them with concentrated gamma rays. But it only works if the organ infected can be fixed or replaced with transplants. Maybe… maybe that is what saves Mrs Jarvis."

Vision opened his mouth then shut it. They would see.


 


It was two weeks since Tony had last seen Ana. Looking at him it seemed he had neglected sleep for just as long. Once again they were in his lab surrounded by notes.

Cancer what is it? Types?
How to minimise the effects/symptoms…
Possible treatments -

  • Nanotechnology and Nano robots
  • Radiotherapy and gamma rays
  • Nanobubbles?

A combination of nanobubbles and radiotherapy = cure?

His eyes widened as a sense of joy and relief hit them all. Despite the animosity some of them held towards Tony, they couldn't help but smile at hearing how ecstatic his thoughts were at this moment.

I did it!
Ana is saved!
I did it!

Natasha was dumbstruck and yet pleased. AJ Hart was Tony Stark. She was confused as to why he used a false name but she figured that mystery could wait for later.

Bursting into grins, everyone seemed to forget themselves as they high fived and talked amiably among each other but Vision remained unsmiling - in fact his lips quirked downwards. He knew what was going to happen next.

"Vis, what is it?" Wanda asked confused as to why her friend wasn't celebrating like the rest of them.

"I think you'll get the answer to that question if you watch."

The cordless phone on Tony's desk rang. Gleefully, Tony picked it up and shoved it against his ear.

"Hey Jarvis, you'll never guess what? I've just found a cure. Nanobubbles and gamma rays together should heal it. Along with stem cells to grow back the parts of her organs that will be sacrificed. It'll be rough but she'll recover..." his tone grew less proud and more worried as he heard no reply.
"Jarvis?"

After a long moment Jarvis answered, sounding as if he was trying hard not to sob.
"Tony, Ana deteriorated last night. By this morning …she flat lined... Ana is… she is dead...I'm so sorry."

Blanching, the Avengers looked wrecked.

"But he'd just found a cure." Peter whispered. It was cruel for life to do that to him. To find a cure, only for the person he was trying to save die anyway.

Clutching the wall behind him, Tony slid down it as his grip on the phone tightened.

"Don’t be daft J," his hands shook violently and he was unable to keep the tremors out of his voice, "What have you got to be sorry for? It’s not your fault." 

It’s mine. 

Tony inhaled sharply at that thought, scrunched his eyes tight shut to keep himself from crying and curled into himself like a turtle withdrawing into its shell.

"Can I see her?" I need to. Please. 

"Of course you can Sir. Margaret is on her way to the Mansion to pick you up and bring you here."

"Does Madre know? She went to see her this morning and she’s not back yet. Is she there with you?"

"Yes she's with me now. She was there when Ana-" He audibly swallowed. Pausing, Jarvis forcefully tried to strengthen his voice. "Both Mr Stark and Mr Stane have been notified as well."

"Good. I- I have to go."

He clicked off the phone and noticed the gun he had made shortly before Ana died was sat mocking him from his desk.

Rigidly he robotically marched over to the desk and took the gun in both hands.

Self-hate and grief swirled inside their chests.

You didn’t do enough. She’s dead because you aren’t good enough.

"Guys," Anxiously, Peter's eyes were darting between Mr Stark and the gun, fear settling into a hard uncomfortable lump in his throat. “I really don't like where this seems to be-"

SMASH!

They all jumped out of their skins before realizing that Tony had swivelled around and aimed the gun directly at the mirror they hadn’t noticed behind him.

"Holy shit!" Peter gulped and took several steps back.

Everyone grimaced or made similar small actions to convey their shock but Bruce was most affected. He had paled to a dramatic unhealthy white which made his newly turned chrome green eyes stand out on his face.

"Dr Banner, are you alright?" Steve's well-meaning question made everyone look to Bruce.

"I'm fine thanks Steve," Bruce's fake smile wavered, "the other guy is just a bit concerned for Tony that's all. It also reminded me of a few things I'd rather forget."

This was a bad subject for Bruce so they let it go.

"That's seven years bad luck there." Everyone turned to Peggy, who had silently stalked into the room with red and sore eyes and her mascara smudged into small trails down her face.

"It couldn’t get any worse than this." Scowling, Tony twirled the gun between his hands.

"Put the gun down Tony." Alarmed, Peggy's eyes glue themselves to the gun as she crept closer, appearing prepared to hit it from his hands if he were to try anything.

The gun fell from his fingers to the floor on to some of the mirror pieces.

"God’s sake Ducky," They could almost taste Peggy's relief in her voice as her high heel kicked the gun away from his reach, "Don't you dare scare me like that again." Her voice became very stern as she crouched in front of him and lifted his face up to force him to look at her. "Hear me? Ana wouldn't want you to act like this would she?"

"No but now she's dead and I just found a cure Pegs. I just found a way to get her well."

"What do you m-"

Tony cut her off, gesturing to the table where his research lay before he buried his head in his hands.

"Oh my God, " Amazed and horrified, Peggy breathed, "Ducky you-" she clamped a hand over her mouth as her eyes filled with tears. “We have to publish this."

"No," He looked up at her then. "You can. You and Dad publish it. Under a false name, so the research is out there, but don't trace it back to me… please. I don't want to be reminded of it."

"Alright..." slowly placing the research back on the table, she held him to her as he finally shook, unable to restrain the sobs that were bursting out of him. “sshh… we will Tony, it'll be something clever to honor you both. Ana was proud of you, we are all so proud of you, remember that. It wasn't your fault.”

Chapter Text

 

It was Scott who spoke up as soon as they got back to the mindscape. The memory of Ana Jarvis's death and Tony’s report caused certain suspicions to arise in his mind.

“What were Howard Stark’s motivations for trying to reproduce the Ant Man suit?”

Scott bit his lip awaiting the Being’s answer. From what he knew about Stark, the timing of SHIELD’s disastrous replication of Hank’s suit was a year after Ana Jarvis died.

There was no way, even with Howard Stark’s mind, that they would’ve succeeded in making nanobots and effectively using embryonic stem cells to rebuild organs back in 1988, no matter what Tony’s paper suggested. The closest thing would’ve been the suit - which Hank found Stark trying to replicate in '89.

The Being straightened and nodded to Scott before addressing the others.

“You are right Mr Lang. Howard Stark's motivation for trying to replicate the suit was to try to bring Tony’s report to life. They didn’t have the technology to create nanobots, or the methods to extract and use primate embryonic stem cells; but in Howard’s mind, Hank’s technology could at least half help to make Tony’s theory an actuality.  He didn’t tell Hank his reasoning for doing this, so it irreversibly fractured their friendship and they became sworn enemies. Hank took Howard’s action as a betrayal.”

Scott looked to the floor, suddenly feeling extremely guilty about his treatment of Stark on the Raft.

“Hank Pym always said you could never trust a Stark.” The kicker was that Stark senior turned out to be “betraying” Hank for his own child, but Scott had hardly given Tony a chance at all, based entirely on who his father was.

Scott grimaced.

That was an extremely dick move .

He hoped he could at least try to make it up to Tony when they got out of here. Stark did keep his family safe from Ross after all.

“How do you know that?” Bruce breathed, “That can’t have come from Tony’s mind.”

The Being raised an eyebrow at Bruce then turned to Thor.

“Before Earth, I stopped off in Valhalla and Helheim to collect some background memories from the dead, which I can use to extend your understanding if needed.”

“Then your target was Friend Anthony all along. He is your reason for coming to Midgard, is he not?”

The Being smiled, “Very good, God of Thunder. However, we are getting slightly off topic. You wish to know what happens to Mr Jarvis don’t you?”


 

The world twisted around them, changing to what seemed to be a graveyard where a funeral was taking place.

Watching with a closed off expression, Tony wrapped the hand closest to Jarvis around his in a surprisingly gentle gesture of support. Ana's freshly filled grave, piled high with a variety of flowers, was blessed by the Rabbi as he concluded the service. He then led the majority of the mourners away to their cars, to continue on to the Nichum Avelim.

Jarvis had a death grip on his handkerchief but did nothing to hide the tears trailing down his face or the fact that he was shaking. Peggy stood on Jarvis's other side, alternating her gaze between the grave and Jarvis to see if her support was needed. 

Looking up, seemingly searching the retreating crowd, Tony's eyes narrowed as it was only then he realised Howard was absent. 

I'm going to kill him.  

"Tonio?" Maria whispered softly, she stared at her son as she noticed his expression change, "Are you ok? Do you need a breather?" 

"O-oh I think there's going to be trouble." Rhodes commented noticing the look spreading over Tony's face.

However, the look of rage disappeared swiftly into the stoic mask he wore before and he replied, "Where's Howard?" 

"Your father will be back in a few days." Maria's eyes snapped back to the grave whilst she replied in a brittle voice, clearly conveying as much disapproval at his absence as Tony was feeling. 

 


 

They noticed almost immediately that the next scene was set the same day; they could tell because Tony was still wearing the same outfit, although it appeared crumpled, and he was now sat on his suit jacket which he had draped over the piano stool. It appeared to be much later. The room was just lit by the dimming blue natural light from outside. Despite this Tony made no move to turn on any of the lamps or light up the room.

He was seemingly content with glaring holes into the door and the clock that hung by it. 

Some of the team startled slightly as the door began to unlock, but Tony made no form of acknowledgement; only his eyes narrowed, to a point where many of them were wondering if he could still see. 

 "Where the fuck were you?" Growled Tony, glaring up at his father who had just come in through the door. 

"Hello to you too Anthony," Howard retorted sarcastically before his voice turned more stern. "Don't talk to me like that. I'm your father." Howard unceremoniously kicked the door shut as he dumped his suitcase onto the lounge table, before crossing into the kitchen.

Tony followed him like a dark rage-filled shadow, then leant against the doorway as he watched his father make a drink. 

"Maybe you should act like a father and I'll treat you like one. Where were you?" Tony hissed at Howard in a vitriolic voice. 

"Well like it or not I am your father and I did not raise my son to be such a disrespectful brat."

 

Tony barely kept the retort down.  You didn't raise me at all.

 

"Maria told me when she died but I was in the Arctic leading the search party. I can't just drop everything Anthony! I needed to organise the other searchers so they wouldn't need me and I could get back here." 

"Then give up." Tony snarled before pausing and sneering maliciously. "Were you in love with him or something?" 

Everyone looked to Steve then who turned bright pink, appearing mortified.

"No, what the hell gave you-" Howard gave him a withering look, almost as if he couldn't believe Tony was saying something so stupid.

The team all felt something inside their chests shrivel, but Tony barrelled on. "He must have something pretty special about him for you to be almost constantly over there, to constantly choose him over your alive friends and family who need you!"

Howard glared at him ferociously; they now knew where Tony picked up that look, not that any of them would tell him that.

He downed his drink before slamming it on the side. 

"He was one of my best friends. You lost one of yours recently," Howard spat as Tony's eyes became downcast and stared instead at his father’s feet. "What wouldn't you do to get her back?" 

With that Tony's anger vanished; his expression became pained and the team felt the wound of Ana’s death be reopened, fresh feelings of grief and sadness bubbling to the surface.

"They're dead dad."

They all found themselves looking at Tony when he said that. He sounded more vulnerable than any of them had ever heard.

Recognising what he did to his son, Howard frowned before reaching up to grab another glass from the cabinet, setting it on the side before pouring a generous helping of the whiskey he had been drinking into it. 

"Try this Tony." Howard pressed the drink into Tony's hands with a small smile on his face as he patted his shoulder. "It'll make you feel better." 

 


 

The world was black until Bucky felt someone shaking him.

"Five more minutes Ana..." Bucky heard Tony grumble groggily.

"Sir."

His eyes snapped open to Jarvis's very pale face. Sadness and guilt pinched him sharply, clogging up his throat.

"I'm so sorry J. I thought that..."

"You thought I was Ana." Jarvis's expression became closed off, though it did little to hide his red puffy eyes which indicated how upset he was - and how badly he slept. "It's understandable; we used to wake you up on alternate days after all."

"Yes um..." Tony fidgeted with his sheets as he looked down, squishing and distorting the Captain’s face on his bed sheet so he looked like a product of bad plastic surgery. Bucky, if he was him at that moment, would have smirked as he pictured Steve looking horrified at his twisted face.

"Shall we go to the labs?" Jarvis asked, failing an attempt at a smile. In Bucky's honest opinion the face Jarvis actually made looked more painful than if he had let himself frown. "We haven't got anything important to do today and I know how much you love going down there."

"Follow me." Tony was about to get up before Jarvis stopped him. 

"Sir, you haven't had your breakfast or gotten changed yet, I have to insist that you do both those things before we go." 

Gold flew across his vision and he suddenly found himself in normal casual clothes, in Tony's lab, with Jarvis at his heels. 

They both truly smiled for the first time in weeks as Tony showed off his inventions. Walking around the room, he glanced to his idea book, seemingly debating with himself before handing it to over.

"You never cease to amaze me, young sir." Jarvis sounded awed as he began flicking through the book, his eyes drinking in the extraordinary ideas littering the pages.

Tony’s answering grin truly felt like it could break Bucky’s face.


 

"Is Jarvis OK madre? He looks really unwell."

Glancing at Jarvis cleaning the kitchen table through Tony's eyes, Bucky could see how right he was. The previously healthy Butler now appeared almost skeletal. His eyes, once a bright brown, were ringed with dark purple circles and appeared dull against his pallid face; and his trademark once well-fitting, dapper suit hung limp across his shrunken frame.

"I don't know,” Maria frowned across at her friend, as she readjusted the shoulder strap of her bag before regarding Tony with a fond expression. “Antonio, perhaps I shouldn't have let him come back to work straight away. I know how you grieved teroso and that's the healthiest way of doing it - but Jarvis just isn't. He's giving himself more and more things to do, and focusing on looking after us because the harsh reality is that someone he loved and cared for over 40 years is gone now."

"I can't imagine that." Bucky felt Tony’s face contort into a worried frown, considering Maria’s words.

"Keep a close eye on him for me today won't you? I think he hurt his arm when he was trying to polish the ornaments on the top shelf earlier."

Giving her son a kiss on the cheek goodbye she swept out of the room.

It was only as Tony moved closer he noticed Jarvis had stopped keeping one arm very stiff by his side and his eyes seemed to glaze over in pain.

"J? Jarvis?"

"Sir. Can you get me an ice pack please?"

Jarvis gripped his arm and took deep labouring breaths, lowering himself onto a chair in the kitchen.

How badly did he hurt his arm?

"Here," Tony passed Jarvis the ice pack, who placed it up the inside of his arm. Tony stared at it and bit the inside of his cheek "J, you need to take care of yourself. Ana wouldn't want to see you like this."

"She's not here Sir," and Tony winced. Jarvis groaned and clutched his upper arm before looking back at Tony, regretful. The words spilled out from an unwilling mouth. "Sometimes I wish it were... I know it's selfish, it's stupid, exceedingly illogical, but I wish she hadn’t left me here… alone. For these past few weeks I’ve felt as if a hole opened right over my heart."

Tony looked stricken while Jarvis rubbed his chest.

Alarm bells were going off in Bucky's head. Those were heart attack symptoms. Shit. Can't Stark get a break?

"You’re grieving J, more so than any of us." Tony stopped before continuing earnestly, "You still have us, you know,  Madre, Dad, Pegs and me."

Jarvis's breath hitched as he smiled in return. "I told you it was stupid Sir."

Patting Tony’s arm quickly, Jarvis suddenly let out a pained hiss through his teeth, clutching his shirt tightly as his face went grey.

Stark connected the dots then.

"Heart attack," Bucky felt their mouth move as Tony ran out into the hall and grabbed the landline to dial the emergency services.

Lowering Jarvis to the ground, he watched the man wheeze and hiss as he hurriedly told the operator where he lived and to get the ambulance there as soon as possible.

Ripping his jacket off, he placed it under the butler’s head and tried to open up his airways.

"T-t-tony, stay with me." Jarvis grabbed his hand as he gasped for breath, each pant becoming more laboured and agonised.

Nodding, Tony clenched his hand as he kept talking about his inventions, Maria and her charities, and his memories with Ana and Jarvis.

"I'm gl-glad I m-, met you, sir. Y-you have brightened our lives i-in.. ways I could not.. have foreseen-"

"You better not be saying goodbye J." Tony's voice might be softer, then, than he had ever spoken.

"O-of course not. I will never leave you."

Trying to curve his mouth into one last smile for Tony, it soured, turning into a grimace that showed the agony he was in.

His hand became limp in Tony's as all the strength left it.

Jarvis's dark eyes widened, freezing in their pained state and becoming unseeing while the rest of his body shuddered one last time and went completely limp.

Panic and horror felt like it ran straight up Bucky's spine. It had been a long time since the Winter Soldier had felt that at witnessing a death.

"J! JARVIS! No, no don't do this to me."

Tony's hand pressed firmly on his wrist and then his neck.

Feeling numb, Bucky heard Stark swear both out loud and internally before thinking  I wish my first kiss was under different circumstances but here goes nothing.

"I'm so sorry for this J."

Tony pressed his mouth to Jarvis's and pushed as much air into his mouth as possible before pumping his chest 30 times.

He had originally learnt how to do first aid when he had learnt about Ana's condition. At least it would be useful now.

Tony paused to grip Jarvis's wrist, and Bucky felt his face drop as he still felt nothing even with his fingers pressed against Jarvis's neck.

Suddenly the kitchen was full of ambulance crew, who took over. One of them led Tony out of the room but not before he saw the defibrillator cause Jarvis’ body to arch unnaturally upwards.

He sat against the wall, praying to a God that he was convinced didn't exist. Fear turned into an icy block in his stomach.

"Shocking ."

The defibrillator shocked Jarvis again. His body didn't respond.

"Shocking."

After the machine had worked and someone had tried to resuscitate him once more, the dreaded words were uttered.

"Code blue, time of death 12:25pm."

"No. No. NO!" Bucky felt Tony launch his body towards his friend in the other room. A couple of the paramedics stood in protest to try and prevent him coming in, but the head doctor told them to stand down. Tony slid his way past them, crashing to the floor at Jarvis's feet. 

"We'll give you five minutes." Bucky noted the doctors left the room. 

"J? This isn't funny. Please wake up." Tony shook his butler roughly by the shoulder, uncaring of the tears dripping down his face. He hugged Jarvis tightly to his chest. Gradually he became distantly aware that someone nearby was giving a strangled scream that sounded like they were dying. It took Tony exactly one minute to realise he was doing the screaming. 

He had never felt so hollow in all of his life.

This is what dad meant about weaknesses.

He realised it with a jolt, while the paramedics began to pull him with them.

Distantly he felt them wrap a foil blanket around him, guiding him out the house with Jarvis' body, murmuring things as the world began to turn black around the edges.

 "He’s going into shock-"

"Mr Stark can you-"

"Unresponsive-"

"Erratic heart rate - breathing."

The world darkened completely, and Bucky felt one of the paramedics catch his violently trembling body at the same moment that he felt his soul being torn away from the memory. There was time to hear one last haunting thought.

I feel like I've just died too.

Chapter Text

When they got back to the current empty mindscape of Tony, Peter tried valiantly to keep himself from crying. The experience had reminded him horribly of what happened with Uncle Ben and all the things he had felt as he watched him die.

It is weird to see how similar Mr Stark and I are, not just in our passions but our experiences too.

Peter almost choked on a staggered breath as he felt wet patches travel down his cheeks.

"Kid, are you alright?" Rhodes asked quietly, noticing Peter try to covertly rub his cheeks under the Mask. No one knew Spider-Man's backstory or identity other than Tony; despite this, Rhodey could tell that this recent memory had unearthed something traumatic for him.

"Sorry, I-I'll be fine, it's just those memories-" he sighed quietly, glancing around to the others (who thankfully hadn't noticed him crying) before staring Rhodey in the eyes. "They reminded me of how my uncle died." Frustrated with himself, he rubbed both cheeks harshly one last time. "We're here for Mr Stark, I shouldn't be- I'm fine now."

Rhodes nodded and patted his shoulder in a wordless gesture of support before looking at Wanda, who addressed them all.

"As much I hate Stark..." Wanda rubbed a hand across her face as the others’ eyes snapped to her. "No one should see someone they consider a parent die in front of them. When the first bomb hit our apartment," she paused while Clint curled an arm around her shoulder - most of them had never heard her talk about the day her parents died. "My parents were buried in rubble; we barely had a chance to breathe before the next shell came through the wall and cut off any chance of reaching them." Her voice wavered slightly when she remembered her brother. "Pietro tried calling for them, hours after I had given up hope, but no answer came back. It was lucky… in a way, that they died like that. If they were in front of us-"

Wanda's breath hitched and her eyes filled with tears giving them a glassy, doll-like appearance. Noticing this, Clint rubbed her shoulder as Cap walked over and hugged her, murmuring comforting things into her ear and putting his bulk between her and the others’ view. Concerned, Vision too floated over to her, although everyone else remained still.

Natasha simply kept herself from rolling her eyes at the display. Stark has clearly suffered worse. I have suffered worse. Yet here Wanda is, making it all about her. Such displays were dangerous in the brutality of the Red Room, but playing up the poor little girl act was a manipulation tactic we were taught early on. Clint can't even see what she's doing, blinded by affection. I like Clint, but sometimes he is an idiot.

In contrast, Bruce barely restrained a scowl. Although he was sympathetic with Wanda, he saw how she manipulated the situation to gain sympathy and attention from the others. They seemed to almost forget the reason they were actually here. Additionally, he saw Spider-Man being comforted by Rhodes beforehand. Clearly the boy had also actually seen someone he cared about die, like Bruce had seen his mother, but both had chosen to put that aside for the moment.

Wanda must've started this manipulation after Ultron. That's why it was so easy for the others to ostracize Tony from the group.

She tore them away from him, and he wouldn't be able to defend himself because he would be feeling guilty too.

And I left him alone with that.

Shit.

Thor had a small frown on his face, obviously thinking along the same lines as Bruce before he spoke up in his normal thunderous voice.

"My comrades! I feel for your plights, but I fear that we may lose focus if we become too fixated on our individual horrors." Thor watched for each of their reactions, seeing the darkness in various pairs of eyes ease back. Several of the group nodded to Thor and Natasha's lips twitched upwards at him. Only Wanda appeared offended, and unfurled herself from Steve's arms. "Witch of Scarlet, do not judge my words as unsympathetic. I have lost many in my long lifetime, including my mother and my brother - both of whom I watched die. Once we leave this place, we can grieve our individual horrors, but for now the Being wishes to show us more about Friend Anthony."

Bucky restrained a snort, thankful for Thor's speech pulling him out of his dark memories, particularly the ones of Howard and Maria which were in the forefront of his mind.

Good to know Thor was getting fed up of them coddling Wanda too.

The Being took this as  their cue to appear, silently entering the mindscape and clapping his hands once more to make the room dissolve around them.

 


 

They found themselves directly behind young Tony, sitting alone cross-legged in front of Ana and Jarvis's freshly covered grave. A thick layer of both plastic and real flowers filled vases and were planted in the earth.

In the distance they could see Peggy talking with both Obadiah and Maria by the car while Howard approached the grave with a small plastic pink flamingo in his hands.

"Nice of you to show up this time." Tony didn't look from the gravestone as he said this but the hard cold note in his voice showed that he knew Howard was close by.

Howard's lips thinned, and he sighed as he glanced back to the trio waiting for them by the car. Then he consciously loosened the tension gathering in his shoulders and moved around to sit by Tony at the foot of the grave.

Planting the plastic flamingo in the Earth, Howard's lips twitched upwards as he noticed Tony raise an eyebrow at it in interest before he pointedly looked away.

"Of course I showed up, he was one of my best friends too."

Some friend you were. You were never here.

"You've got a lot on your plate," Tony's voice came out clipped and cold, like shards of ice. "What with running a billion dollar company and trying to find your long-lost frozen friend who is probably fish food right now."

Steve and Howard winced.

Clint's "Well shit." seemed to sum up nearly everyone's thought process perfectly as they could feel the bitterness well up to accompany these words.

"I have," Howard replied in a rigid voice before becoming exasperated. "Anthony we've had this conversation before."

Tony's jaw twitched slightly as he folded his arms across his chest, Howard continued as he placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Look, I know what you're going through-"  

Tony laughed without humor.

"No you don't. I would've died to keep him safe- for god’s sake I took a bullet for him last year! And this year," he tore his eyes away from the grave to glare at his father, "This year I watched him die in front of me. You have no idea what that's like!"

Howard's face became grim as he paused for a long moment.

"No I don't." They noticed Howard look back at Obadiah who tapped his watch. "Anthony, Obadiah and I need to go, company business, you get that right?"

Unsurprised, Tony frowned deeply at the grave before he looked to the sky.

"Yeah, the world doesn't stop for a personal tragedy right?" Tony looked to his father who had gotten to his feet with a steely expression on his face.

"Right."

 


 

Tentatively, Natasha felt Tony creep along the hall to his parents’ room which must have been artificially darkened, if the sunshine brightening the rest of the house was any indication, and knock on the door.

"Madre? ...I know you said this morning that you felt today was a dark day and I know you don't like to be bothered when you have these days but I would really like you to show you..." he trailed off, staring at the robot plans in his hands before jolting as Maria opened the door.

Dark day? Widow wondered to herself; she would have to save this information for later to try and figure out Stark's meaning. She already had an idea but she wanted to be sure before she confirmed it.

"You said you wanted to show me something bambino." Maria's voice sounded tired and weary despite the subtle hue of enthusiasm tinting her words.

Maria looked a far cry from her normal beautiful self; she had no makeup on so it was clear to see that her eyes were ringed with dark purple bags and her skin appeared paler than usual. A loose shirt which was clearly an old one of Howard's hung across her chest and she paired this with some shorts which came up to just above her knees.

Actually she looked a lot like Tony after a lab bender. Natasha perked up in interest at this resemblance.

Maria held out a manicured hand to clasp the book that Tony held out to her. She stared intently at the pages but was clearly silent for too long.

"You don't like it. I get it. I...um ....it was meant to be a tribute to Jarvis but I can get rid of it if you want-" Tony hastily tried to backtrack as he reached out for his book.

"No Tonio. Lo adoro."

Sneaking a glimpse through Tony’s eyes of the pages Maria was admiring, Natasha was greeted with the sight of plans for a basic AI named JARVIS, who would mirror the original Jarvis's voice and personality.

"Chances are I won't be able to mirror everything exactly. He would be different to the original J but, well, it’s unfair to expect him to be totally the same... I haven't got what I need technologically yet and with MIT in, what, five months, as well as an increased SI workload... I'm under no delusions this will work yet. With all the improvements added of course that's another story. In my spare time, I'll make some other AI to be sure I can do it properly."

Tony almost dropped the book as it was thrust back into his arms and before Natasha knew it half of her vision was engulfed in long chestnut brown hair.

The phantom sensation of being hugged stayed with her even as the memory changed.

How long had it been since he had been hugged like that?

 


 

"Packing already Tony?"

Spinning around at the sudden sound of Obadiah's voice, he almost knocked over the suitcase perched on his bed as he smiled tightly.

"Oh hey Obie, yeah Howard is sending me to MIT. Figures with the Jarvis's gone he can't get rid of me quick enough. At least I got to spend my last birthday with J before he..." he coughed through a crack in his throat. "You don't want to hear about that, anyway. MIT should be fun right?"

Just going to be in another place where they resent me for being rich and smart.

"You're going to love it my boy." Obadiah boomed as he wrapped an arm around Tony's shoulders and shook him roughly. "If Howard were here right now he would tell you the same."

Tony snorted but carried on folding his things into the suitcase.

"He's a complicated man and his intentions are more altruistic than you think. Going to MIT is as much for your own good as the boarding schools were. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made to get the best results. You'll learn that when you get older."

"Altruistic? Next you're going to say he loves me. Obie, I get that you're dad’s friend, but last year when I was in hospital I overheard him say that he wished he never had me. Don't insult my intelligence." Angered, Tony stared back at Obadiah and clenched the one of the sides of the case so hard that his knuckles turned white.

"What the hell?" muttered Bucky, outraged as he thought back on his friendship with Howard.

"I can't imagine him saying that." Steve frowned, "maybe Tony misheard or something."

Obadiah stepped forward, a mock sympathetic expression adorning his face.

"Think you know Howard better than Tony, Rogers?" Rhodes hissed.

"I get that I was a surprise but for fucks sake! What the hell kind of father says something like that after their child got shot in the stomach? I just stopped J from taking a bullet for me!"

Scott and Clint exchanged tense looks, knowing that if that happened to one of their children they would hug them tight and never let go.

Tony swiftly turned around and pried the Captain America merchandise out of his suitcase before inspecting the pile in his hands. "Self sacrificial moves are only for Cap right? What a load of crap!" He split the merch evenly between both hands and threw it all at the wall with unnecessary force. "Howard can keep the crappy merchandise - maybe he'll make a shrine. Of our-of his perfect hero. That'll be a sight for sore eyes. Don't you think Obie?"

He bent and straightened all his other things neatly in the suitcase.

Obadiah folded his arms to watch, expression guarded, as Tony then spent a few minutes savagely kicking the Cap things into a pile of originally suitcased items. The head came clean off a Cap doll as it smacked hard against the wall, which made Tony smile sadistically for a moment. However, unseen by Tony, Obadiah smiled then for a moment too and his eyes gained a unholy amount of satisfaction at the display, they could see the clogs turning in his mind clearly calculating how he could twist Tony using this. Next Tony gathered the few pieces of Bucky Barnes merchandise, including a Bucky Bear, and put it next to the Cap bear on top of the pile.

"Bucky is cool. I like him. But I've got to keep the double act together." Tony explained as Obadiah raised one eyebrow at him in question and walked over to him.

Tony sighed, his gaze zeroed in on the Cap bear and he plucked the bear off the pile, holding it just above his eyeline as he balanced it on his outstretched palm.  “The perfect Hero leading leading The Allies to victory against the Hydra Nazi’s. The epitome of physical and moral goodness. How can I live up to that?”

Dispassionately he gave the bear a hard look filled with years worth of envy, sadness and anger whilst he tilted his hand downwards towards the pile. The bear tumbled down; past the Bucky Bear that sat upright and unaffected at the top of the pile, all the books, the comics and even the corner of a small replica of Steve’s Shield hit the bear, it only came to a stop once it collided off of Tony’s feet.   

"Heroes are for children, Tony." Obadiah whispered in Tony's ear as he slithered his arms around the young genius, squeezed him tight like a python. "When you become an adult you learn there's no such thing."

Tony pulled away slightly to look up at Obadiah. "But Dad?"

"Howard is clinging to false hope and old friendships long dead." Obadiah's mouth pulled down in a sympathetic grimace that only the spies could see was insincere - they knew Tony was fooled. "It's good to see you grow up in ways that he couldn't, my boy. MIT will be great for you. But if you get into trouble or if you need me," Obadiah kissed him on top of his head as he pulled him close again before ruffling his hair, "I'll be there."

Chapter Text

A dark unsettling feeling hung over Steve like a thundercloud, and no matter how hard he tried he found it hard to shake as he saw how the last part of Obadiah’s speech mirrored the last part of his apology letter after the Civil War.

Tony had to know I was being sincere right?

I'm not like Stane, Tony knows that. He knows I'm- I was his friend despite how we disagreed and how we fought .

It's not like Tony would remember that conversation with Stane,  he tried to reassure himself.  He wouldn't have drawn the same parallels as me. 

I'm still mad at his actions, and about how stubborn he's being now about how he thinks he was right. But he obviously knows he was wrong otherwise he wouldn't have brought us back. 

He knows we were only trying to protect the people. The Accords as they originally were would've tied our hands and made Ross's lapdogs of all of us heroes.

 'A hero- like you?' Tony's words from their first proper argument echoed then in his mind with a surprising intensity, he swallowed heavily to restrain a wince. The incredulous note present in Tony’s voice back then, upon reflection showed how bitter Tony was towards him - and the fact that he didn't believe heroes existed at all.

Maybe Stane’s influence combined with Ultron pushed Tony's opinion for the Accords.  

Now Steve could see that it was mostly Obadiah's fault that Tony thought that way.

Meanwhile, a stunned Bucky found it hard to speak as both he and Soldat processed the news that Tony Stark had owned merchandise of him.

"He had merchandise of me? People considered me a hero..." He paused to digest this before shaking his head. "I shouldn't be, I think all I really did was get captured, shoot a few people and then fall off that blasted train."

"You did more than that. They made merchandise of all the Howling Commandos Buck." Steve gave his best friend a soft smile that did very little to reassure him. " After mine, yours were the second most popular type of toys on sale. In the Captain America museum you're shown as a war hero as well as my best friend. The people love you too - you were a great man Buck and you still are. Even with Winter."

"I'm not though! And I shouldn't be seen as a hero! I became a murderer in the war- I know that's different because we were soldiers, it was kill or be killed. We fought for our country." Bucky's face became darkened and grim. "After that... Hydra didn't discriminate between men, women and children. If you are a target, you die. And chances are I would've killed you. I've even taken the life of someone that I should've seen as a friend, although not a close one by any means. I should've been able to stop myself. He was a nice man when I knew him, and he had a wife who saw the whole thing so I killed her too. All Soldat could see was how to end them. He.. he didn't feel a thing."

"But you-" Steve was about to argue before the words died on his tongue when he found Soldat’s cold eyes staring emotionlessly back at him.

"I was created by Hydra programming then locked into the mission protocols. How was I meant to feel afterwards? Guilt does nothing to undo the event so there was no point feeling it. I prefer to leave that pointless exercise to Barnes." Soldat had taken control rapidly and now folded his arms, watching the others’ dumbfounded expressions with a cold clinical detached nature. "Stark helped me hide many of my experiences from Barnes so that he could still function. If he knew those things... let's just say he'd have a lot more ammo for self-hate than he already does."

The group fell into an awkward tense silence which made Scott fidgety as he tried to think of a way to lighten the tense atmosphere that Soldat's confession brought.

"Man, that Stane guy is creepy." Scott grimaced as he thought about how he had acted around young Tony.

"I agree and the whole touching thing," Spider-Man shivered. "Ugh, not that hugging and kissing isn't fine, it's just the way  he  did it to Mr Stark just made it look gross."

The others made noises of agreement, appearing to be of a similar mindset.

 "What do you wish to see next?" A few of them jumped as the Being appeared in the centre of the group without warning.

 "Can you show us how Tony stopped Jarvis from being shot?" Bruce asked softly. It was one of the things that was concerning and intriguing him since Tony mentioned it in the last memory.

The Being nodded and they vanished, along with their surroundings.

This memory clearly didn't belong to Tony, but they all felt a ghost sensation of scarily strong fear.

It could have belonged to Howard, Jarvis, or Maria, as they each appeared equally on edge, gathered around the kitchen table staring intensely at something.

Darkly intrigued, the team moved forward before freezing at the sight of the note - it was made from letters obviously taken from different newspapers.

Howard Stark
Your weapons took away
      my son
One will take your son
in front of you
for the world to see.

"What the hell? He's receiving death threats at thirteen?!" Rhodes eyes were stuck on the note with a outraged expression.

They were all shocked. How did they not know about this?

"Double the guards Jarvis, this fucker isn't getting anywhere near my son. Be sure of it, stick to Anthony like glue during the press conference."

You can't be seriously thinking of going ahead with this Mr Stark.

 

" Jarvis." Vision muttered, smiling slightly.  This memory belongs to the original Jarvis.

"Mr Stark, it would be prudent to cancel the conference, in light of recent developments." Jarvis cast one last fretful glance at the note before looking up at Howard with a stern expression, lined with worry. The note was the latest in a series of intimidation attempts, delivered by unknown means to their private address.

"And let the world think they've scared us into submission?" 

YES Anthony could die!

" I believe saving face should be the least of your concerns at this moment Sir. This person seems a credible threat and we have no way to tell how much help they have.”

Maria laid a hand on Jarvis's arm to try and calm him down as Howard continued failing to sound reassuring.  " I'll have both you and Ana there, Jarvis. And I've called in Pegs. She's bringing in some of her best agents to scout for threats."

"I hope it'll be enough." Jarvis muttered, "I'll get Ana and Tony. She'll probably want to wait outside to grab the attacker if they try and sneak inside the conference."

Maria nodded in agreement as the scene faded out.

 


 

Feeling a million dollars, Tony leant backwards against the wooden podium traditionally used for these conferences with a cocky grin on his face, while a swarm of reporters clamoured for his attention. Jarvis hovered beside him, impassively scanning the crowd. Each of the mass of press tried to gain the advantage until, noticing the odd one out, Tony gestured to the anxious, inexperienced, middle-aged reporter a couple of rows back from him.

That’s weird. Normally the inexperienced ones are young, but she seems near Madre’s age... Maybe she just had a career change of something. Whatever, I'll try and make her feel more at ease.

"M-Mr Stark-" The woman blushed a light pink, all the way up to the dark brown roots showing through her dyed blonde hair, before reaching into her bag.

"Call me Tony." He gave the woman a side wink full of the Stark charm to try and ease her nerves, and her eyes brightened considerably as she clasped what was inside her bag.

"Alright Tony," The woman's eyes smiled but it was a nasty one. The Avengers, and Jarvis, came alert as her anxiety vanished. "How do you feel now, knowing that it's your father’s fault you are about to die?" 

She didn't give him a chance to answer, sliding the gun out of the bag and without hesitation shooting at him. 

BANG!

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Jarvis diving towards him, fully intending to knock him out of the way and take the hit himself.

No way, I am not going to let Jarvis get shot, not acceptable.

 

Jarvis almost reached him but Tony harshly shoved him back and the bullet slammed into its target. It tore through the slight bulk of the bullet proof vest - the team suddenly recognised the weight - slid through as easily as paper.  Pain tore through their stomachs, and Tony stumbled backward, shakily holding a hand to the wound. Then pulled it away.

Transfixed, Tony stared at his palm, which came away a deep dark red.

 

The scene froze as young Tony's voice sounded around the team. It was clear that they were listening to his internal monologue.

You've just been shot. You can't do anything about that but what you have to do is identify the type of wound so you can choose how to fall.

I think the bullet was from one of your Pegasus line or was it the Griffin series? I don't know it was-

Forget the fucking gun! It was in your stomach. No lung damage, luckily. Did the shot go through you?

No, I would've heard the wood podium behind me splinter if it had.

You know what you have to do then. Fall backwards now.

The scene unfroze.

 

Horrified, Jarvis's eyes were fixed on the growing red pool coming from Tony’s stomach as his charge began to sink backwards against the podium, like a marionette whose strings had been cut.

At this the Avengers noticed several things happen at once.

Peggy, at the far right side of the crowd, was shoving her way through the herd of shell shocked reporters in angry frantic movements, whilst Howard had stilled in shock before tearing his eyes away from his son and ordering the other Agents on the comms what to do.

Pulling the rich red curtains at each side of the room across in front of Jarvis and Tony, Howard then made his way in front of the curtains to deal with the frightened reporters. He warned them not to publish the events that occurred here unless they wanted to deal with SI's legal team. Fury and a team of roughly ten others helped keep the reporters in, making colourful threats and smashing the cameras of any who thought taking a photo was a good idea. Maria had tears rolling down her cheeks as she held the wall phone to her ear, calling for the ambulance and begging them to hurry up.

SMACK!

Peggy's punch sent the woman straight to the floor just behind the crowd. Sprawled across the floor, she was dazed for a second before she lunged to try and get her gun from Peggy, who kicked her in the face in retaliation. 

"Attempted murder of a child. If your story is to be believed you are no better than the man who used Stark Industries weapons to kill yours. What do you have to say for yourself?" 

"Stark deserves this suffering...the death of his brat will allow him to feel what I felt. To see how he wrecks lives..."

"You disgust me. Take her away, boys." 

The Avengers cautiously approached Tony and Jarvis through the red curtains. 

"Jarv’s, you're ok." Tony's lips twitched up before his eyes became wet and he grimaced. "Ah!" He tried to curl in on himself but Jarvis held him down, then moved him so he was lying flat on the floor.

"Don't try to speak Sir and stay still. The paramedics will be here soon." Jarvis hastened to try and reassure him.

"It hurts...it hurts so much... Jarvis." Tears leaked out of his eyes as he gasped, which caused something steely and murderous to creep into Jarvis's face.

"She will get her just desserts Sir. I will personally make sure of it." The look in Jarvis's eyes promised vengeance of a uniquely savage kind - which all of them found weird to see in his normally kindly face.

"Jar-vis, I feel cold."

"Help me hold this on your stomach. The ambulance your mother called should be here soon." Jarvis kept hold of his limp arm using the movement to press two fingers against Tony's wrist.

With that Tony began to go limp and his eyes glazed over. He blinked heavily, slowly.

"Tony, keep focused on me alright? Try to keep awake. Where is that blasted ambulance?"

"'m sorry J." 

Tony lost consciousness.


 

 "What the hell were you thinking?" Howard hissed at a pale, unconscious Tony, with thick bandages wrapped around his stomach. "For fuck’s sake Anthony, what good is it having a bodyguard if you won't even let him save you!"

"He was trying to make sure his friend didn't get hurt," came Peggy’s voice from above; she gave him a half smile before sighing and taking a seat at the foot of Tony's bed. "We both would've done the same."

Sighing, Howard swiped a hand down his face. "Jarvis has that effect on people."

"How is he?" Peggy looked to Tony's unnaturally static form lying limp under the white sheets of the hospital bed.

"He is lucky the bullet missed all his vital organs." Howard pulled a flask of scotch out of his pocket that Peggy nimbly snatched from his fingers. "But Anthony lost a lot of blood so he fell unconscious soon after I walked in. Trust him to be awkward like that."

Peggy gave Howard a half smile before glancing at the windows that showed Jarvis, Maria and Ana talking anxiously outside.

"Why didn't you cancel the conference Howard?" Peggy tried to keep calm but her voice was brittle and tight with repressed anger. "Mr Jarvis told me that he warned you not to go ahead with it. Why did you? Do really care about making money and saving face more than you care about your child's life?"

 "Of course I bloody well care! He is my son!" 

"Then why don't you show it?" 

"I do show it!” Howard exploded out of his seat and started pacing, gesturing to emphasise his points. “I get him the best things, he goes to the best boarding schools. I make sure he has all the things I wanted growing up and more. I tell the press how proud I am of him-"

"It all seems a superficial way of demonstrating love, Howard." Peggy replied softly, turning a cold face to him. 

"Parenting doesn't come with a manual Peg! This is the first thing I have ever encountered where I actually don't know what I'm doing!"

"Why don't you try spending more time with him? Your parents surely-"

"Sure, I'm really going to take parenting advice off of the abusive father and the mother who enabled it because she was too busy and frightened..." He trailed off as he realised how much he revealed.

"What?!" Both Steve and Bucky burst out, and stared at the memory version of Howard with anger and shock split across their faces.

Steve's whole body tightened in rage and he clenched his fists. One thing that he couldn't stand was people who hurt children, and to think that another one of his friends had been hurt like that angered him greatly.

Bucky's eyes hardened. He was in no way close to Howard during the war - not like Steve - but he had insisted on meeting the man who had helped super juice his best friend. He was happily surprised to find not the snotty scientist he expected, but a charming, admittedly arrogant, young man who shared a good sense of humour and the appreciation of good drink with him.

He wouldn't have guessed Howard had suffered like that at all.

At least his behaviour towards Tony makes more sense now. 

"Shit! ...Pegs look I - forget this ok? You can have some alone time with Anthony now. I'll just-" he began to nervously edge towards the door. 

He made one last grab for the flask in her hands, but she used this motion to grab his wrist. "Howard, did he hit you?"

"Give me the flask." 

"No. Sit down." Despite the situation most of them felt a small stab of amusement at Peggy's strict scolding voice.

Sighing heavily, he dropped himself into the chair next to Peggy's.

"Fine. We do this without alcohol, we'll both need some after it anyway. You know what I told you about my parents professions, how I grew up on the lower east side, but if the topic came up about them I was always vague. Ever wonder why? My dad- Walter Stark- was a nasty piece of work, my mum always said the war changed him. Complete bull in my opinion, there had to have been something nasty in him already to-." He shook his head and snatched the flask from Peggy's hands to take a deep swig. "My mum tried getting in the way once. It wasn't pretty. She didn't make the same mistake again. So I grew a hard thick skin, insults, hits, they roll right off me. I know a part of me is twisted, even now, thanks to that sadistic bastard." Howard's voice became very bitter, "I had to get out. Mum died from TB when I was 17 so I made a run for it. I was gifted and I knew it. I wanted so much more from life. I could do so much. But people then judged you based on your class and your status so I lied, made powerful friends and lied some more, up the American ladder like a pro."


Peggy had been silent throughout the explanation. She stared at her friend, reconsidering him, putting this new information into place, before snatching the scotch back and taking a long swig herself.

"All those Artic missions.. and all that extra business, with SI and SHIELD?" Peggy questioned.

"I won't become my father. Anthony needs to be tougher, but I don't want to hurt him to make that thick skin appear. He's been through a lot, we all have. I don't know what to do when I'm around Anthony. I keep myself away. I drink. Then I come home to see my butler raising my child better than I ever could. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for Jarvis but that kills, it really does. Anthony- Tony can't love me, not after everything, after how much I've distanced myself. Besides I know better than anyone how others can manipulate that, so it's better, safer to play the cold distant parent." 

"Howard-"

"There are days when I wish that I never became a father." Howard stared at his son as Peggy's features became enraged, they could feel Tony's groggy horror, hurt and indignation hit them straight in the chest as he began to stir.

What the fuck? Why?

"Oh shit." Peter grimaced heavily under the mask as he looked around at the others who were cringing too.

"That  had  to be the only bit he heard out of that whole conversation. The universe hates the Starks so much that it's not even funny." Agitated, Rhodes muttered as he clenched his jaw and folded his arms.

"I have heard you say and do some pretty stupid things in our friendship Howard but that has to top the list." Peggy rose from her chair and snarled. "After all the things you've just told me, how could you then come out with that? Tony is a credit to you. Ana and Jarvis would love to be in your position. You have no idea how lucky you are."

"I didn't mean it like that! Tony wasn't exactly planned and when Maria told me she was pregnant I was horrified alright?" 

"Why did you agree to keep him then? Did Stark Industries need an heir, is that it?" 

"What the hell do you think of me? Fine they did," while Peggy shook her head Howard insisted vehemently, standing up too then. "That was beside the point. Maria was delighted when she found out she was going to have a baby. I couldn't take that away from her. Truth is that no I didn't really want kids and I thought that-"

"You could palm Tony off on Mr Jarvis too, just like you did with your exotic pets when we were younger."

"Peggy-" 

"You knew full well that he would take care of Tony for you, because he actually wanted children. No, don't deny it. That's exactly what you've done. Like it or not Tony is yours! I thought you were better than to let yourself be controlled by fear. Clearly I was wrong." 

With that she twirled around and marched to the door, slamming it behind her with a bang.

Glancing over Tony one last time, Howard appeared conflicted, but sighed and followed her out the door. 

Once he was confident he was alone, Tony's eyes opened and he swallowed heavily.

At least Peggy defended me.

Why doesn't he love me? It's me isn't it? What did I do?

You better not start crying.

They could see a tear fall out of one of his eyes despite his best efforts before he pulled the pillow from behind him and shoved it on top of his face. 

Weakness.

Stark men don't cry.

 


 

 "NO! Jarvis!" Panicked, Tony bolted straight upright in his hospital bed as he looked around the room. It was clearly nighttime; the white hospital room was mainly lit by dim yellow lights, causing Tony's pallid face to shine.

Tonys eyes darted around the room while Maria leapt to her feet at Tony's shout and moved over to her son.

"Tesoro," Maria touched Tony's shoulder and he flinched minutely, she dropped her hand and swallowing the hurt they could tell she felt at that, she moved her chair closer towards the bed. "Calm down. Edwin is fine."

"But the gun- that woman she shot at me- then Jarvis leapt towards me. Madre, I dreamt that he-. Where is he? Tell me he's alright."

"Tonio he is completely fine. We're all shaken by what happened, but the only person who got hurt unfortunately was you. Non spaventarmi mai più così". " Maria held his gaze intensely, then looked down at the red seeping through his dressings and swore in Italian. Startled, Tony looked down at himself before back up at Maria. "You've torn your stitches. Lay backwards carefully and I'll go ask the nurse to redo them. Stay still whilst I'm gone." She paused. "I'll get Edwin too, you look like you need to see him." 

 "Thanks." 

She smiled and blew him a kiss before she then disappeared through the door.

A gold strand of light flashed across their view, temporarily blinding them before the memory continued.

"Sir are you well?" Jarvis entered the hospital room, shutting the door carefully behind him. He appeared nearly as white as Tony, with dark purple bags hanging under his eyes. "Mrs Stark insisted that I needed to see you at once, alone, and that after all that happened you needed me now." 

"Can you come here please?" 

Jarvis approached his bed and upon seeing Tony reach for him and try to sit up, he halted him with one hand on his charge’s chest and half a smile.

"Sir, if you wish to hug, I must insist that you let me do the hugging. I will not be responsible for giving you extra pain and giving the poor night nurse more work. Do you wish to hug?"

Tony nodded and Jarvis's didn't hesitate, wrapping his arms around Tony gently. Tony pressed his face into Jarvis's chest, making him slightly muffled when he began to talk. 

"Jarvis are you mad at me?" 

"I am angry that you got hurt Sir. I failed to protect you-" 

He's avoiding the question. That means he's mad doesn't it? Wait. He blames himself - really J? 

"I pushed you out of the way-"

"With all due respect I should be stronger than a thirteen year old-"

"Jarvis."

"Yes Sir." 

"Stop talking, more hugs."

Jarvis smiled down at the head tucked into his chest and obliged.


 

They were now back in the Stark Mansions garden but in a part which they hadn't seen before. Tony and a handsome man they hadn't seen before, with greying brown hair and dark eyes, were sat next to each other on deck chairs by the pool.

"I don't see why everyone's so mad Uncle Daniel." Tony whined, "I only did what Cap would've done, besides, there was no way I was going to let Jarvis get shot was I?"

"Uncle Daniel?" Confused, Scott frowned.

"That's got to be Daniel Carter Sousa, the man Peggy finally settled down with after - after me." Steve's eyes glinted with a reopened loss. He really was happy that Peggy got to be happy and move on with her life, but seeing Daniel, it had really hit home for him that his girl had gone.

"They aren't really that mad, kid. " Tony turned his head from the pool to raise an eyebrow at him and Daniel looked across at him seriously. "You scared everyone, including me, but I'm proud of you for pushing Jarvis out of the way. "

"Really?"

"Really," He smiled slightly. "But in no way do I ever want to see ever want to see a repeat of a stunt like that. Are we clear, young man?" 

"Sorry." 

"We were all just as bad once. Apology accepted." Daniel ruffled Tony's hair.

Poking his tongue out in reply, Tony leant back against the seat, looking down at his bandaged stomach self-consciously. "Do you think it'll scar?" 

"Maybe, but if you find someone who really loves you they'll love you no matter how scarred and battered you may get." Daniel paused before he smiled, hoisting his leg up and rolling up his one of his trousers to reveal a state of the art prosthetic limb. "Your aunt Peg fell in love with me despite the fact that I was missing a leg and people could be quite horrible about it back then."

"They're the stupid ones. You aren't any less of person without a leg."

Proudly Daniel beamed as he rolled down his trouser leg. "You sounded so much like Peggy then. You're a good kid Tony, never change."

Chapter Text

"Hang on a minute." Steve frowned as he thought about Daniel again- something about him looked familiar. "I think Daniel looks familiar to me... Wait he was one of the Pallbearers at the funeral. Wasn't he? Being?"
"Yes, he was the old man with white hair carrying the back of the coffin." The Being nodded,"her death had a wider effect on your team than you know Captain."
"On Tony, you mean." Natasha spoke up appearing pensive, "he appeared upset when I told him about Peggy but he insisted that he didn't know her very well and that I should go to you, Steve. He said he'd handle Ross until we all got back." She paused briefly before frowning to herself. "It was obvious now that he was lying about Mrs Carter-Sousa when he sent me off. But Stark has a scarily good poker face and at the time- I didn't."
"You are quite right Miss Romanoff," the Being nodded to her but their face was closed off.
"Sorry for the interruption Illuminate, but before you start the next set of memories... I gotta ask, how did that woman get bullets that could tear through a bulletproof vest? Aren't those really hard to get? She must have had an investor." Peter asked, stopping once he saw Rhodey and Visions faces suddenly become furious. "Am I missing something?"
"Based on past actions, motive and ability, both I and Mr Rhodes seem to have concluded that it was Obadiah Stane who helped this woman's attempt on Sirs life." Vision stated in a tight voice.
The Illuminate gave a small nod to confirm their suspicions.
"I shall give you some time to digest this in private." The Being clicked their fingers and disappeared.
"God fucking damn it!" Rhodey swore, "That makes it three times! Three! If I could bring him back from the dead, I'd kill him myself. Thank god, Tony already killed that bastard."
At the level of animosity present in Rhodes voice, they really didn't doubt him.
"Obadiah Stane tried to kill Mr Stark three times?" Spider-Man spoke up alarmed. "I mean he was a creep and I got a bad feeling about him, but trying to kill him! The News said if I remember rightly that he died in a small aircraft crash. If Mr Stark killed him why wouldn't the public know that?"


"It would be bad for PR if it came out that the CFO of a company tried to kill off its CEO. Then the CEO killed the CFO, there would be a media outcry and SI would be destabilised. It was also a painful situation for Mr Stark and one that he did not wish to discuss with the World." Vision pursed his lips in an expression of displeasure that announced what he felt about that. Mr Stane had never had to answer for his under the table dealings and the public still think that Mr Stark was the one responsible. This misunderstanding caused a rift between Mr Stark and Wanda that he had found hard to navigate and he had tried to rectify a few times. Wanda didn't wish to talk about him and Vision didn't wish to upset her.

"Why would Stane want to kill Stark? Wasn't Stark leading the company and its weapons manufacturing? Why is Stane so important anyway?" Wanda asked.
Stark got hurt because of his father's weapon not his own. It's not like he had to see the name 'Stark' on the weapon that shot him.
I still hate him but he was a child at the time.
Like I was when the name 'Stark' tore my life apart.


"Did you not read Starks file?" Natasha's eyes narrowed dangerously at Wanda who shook her head, Natasha then turned to Steve. "Isn't it meant to be mandatory for new recruits to read the personality profiles and the backgrounds of our existing members?"
"I did make her read everyone's," He faltered a little under Natasha's hard glare, "Apart from Tony's. His bomb tore apart her life, Natasha! I didn't want to make her read about him if she wasn't comfortable-"
"Not comfortable?" Bruce asked in an incredulous voice. "Are you hearing yourself right now? Stane dealt behind Tony's back for years and you didn't think Maximoff should know that."


"That doesn't prove that he didn't sell those shells that killed my parents. That left me and my brother sat next to one for two days waiting for it to blow us up!" Wanda hissed back desperately holding onto her rage and resentment whilst blocking any doubt from her mind. "He didn't care what happened to his weapons then and his carelessness cost me my family! He still made Ultron, Pietro is dead because of him!"
"I helped make Ultron too, or did you all conveniently forget that when I left?" Bruce growled at them all before glaring back at Wanda. "And we all know that you helped create Ultron too now, don't forget that!"
“All I did was encourage what was already there. Stark is twisted and Ultron is that twisted part expressed.” Wanda snapped back, Scott interrupted her awkwardly.
"Um guys, the Being is back."
At this everyone became silent, but the tension remained like a elephant in the room that everyone refused to talk about.
"So now I have given you privacy to think things over, are you ready to continue?"
Getting a series of silent nods as an answer, the illuminate clapped its hands, as the world swirled around them.


 

Tony's new living space had nothing short of the best of everything money could buy, with books strictly about science and engineering, lining the shelves that curved along the personality void, plain white walls. However, the new things seemed cold and unfamiliar giving the room a unwelcoming feeling.
Despite this being only a few months after Jarvis's death, they saw that Tony's appearance had changed substantially; it was clear that he was beginning to lose some of his boyish charm and gain a more handsome shape despite this, his eyes appeared dimmer and lined with faint blue circles which showed that he had been having trouble sleeping.
At this moment, they could tell he was feeling bored as he flicked the bullpoint pen between his fingers and scanned through his old AI plans.
I've got to make something.
What if I just - no that wouldn't work.

His eyes periodically flickered to the mobile phone on the opposite side of his desk.
He grinned widely as it rang and plucked it from its place.
"Oh hey Obie."
"Tony, my boy how are you settling in?"
"Great. It's ah...the work is riveting. Something is challenging me now and it's great- weird but great."
"I'm glad that you like the work at least but Tony, you've got to make the most of this. You can't just shut yourself off from other people because of what happened with the Jarvis's."
"How did you- no we aren't talking about this. We are done here."
"Tony, you did all you could. People die everyday, it was just bad luck that Jarvis died in front of you-"
"Goodbye."
"Tony!"
Tony cringed as Obadiah's annoyed reprimand came through the phone just before he cut him off.
Ooo I'm going to get in trouble for that later. I know I was being rude but fuck him for bringing up the Jarvis's, he knows I don't like talking about that.
Tony could still see the impression of Jarvis's central heterochromatic eyes which had strands bright grey exploding outwards into a sea of light brown. The moment that their light died kept replaying, over and over...
Glancing at the clock hanging on the wall, he spotted that it was 11:30pm but where his thoughts were going, thanks to Obadiah's attempt at comfort, he knew sleep would either be fruitless or filled with nightmares.
Screw sleep. I'll sleep when I'm dead.

He dragged himself up and made some ,rather generously spiked, coffee and pulled his old book out with plans for the AI in and stalked towards a padlocked door that was near his desk.
A string of gold flew across their vision and they found it to be several hours later as the next day was almost beginning; he was now in the lab and had notes strewn around him like planets orbiting a sun, this circle was only broken by a rather large bit of machinery in front of him, vaguely recognisable as DumE.
"I always loved watching Anthony work," Thor smiled "it reminded me of when I watched my brother practice magic. I think he and Anthony would've been close comrades had Loki defended Earth and not tried to invade it."
"FUCK."
The burst of the loud obscenity from Tony made Clint give a short startled laugh as Tony kicked the offending robot that electrocuted his hand.
Everyone hissed slightly as the phantom pain now went through his foot as well as his hand, the others watched Tony intently.
"You dummy," The robot's eye blinked open to the amazement of Scott who pointed this out to the others as well. However, this went unnoticed to Tony who continued ranting at himself. " Stupid Dummy," The robot stopped, seemingly blinking, before continuing to wheel silently over to his creator. "Really thought that would work didn't you? Stupid. Stupid. Stupid."
Staring up at his creator, DUME waved a metallic claw waved across his face.
"GAH!"
Panicked, Tony flung a screwdriver across the room at it, on instinct DUME whirled away.
"I didn't mean to do that." Grimacing, he patted the bots shaking claw, "God I'm such a Dummy sometimes."
The bot beeped at the mention of his name and his claw lifted slightly to look at Tony's face.
"What? DumE?" Beeping again as an affirmative and waving his claw up and down the bot whirred at he took note of the room.
Tony looked at his notes on the floor.
I did it.
I don't have to be alone anymore.

"Hi I'm Tony, I made you - woah don't touch that-"
DumE, who had been clicking his claw at some of the bright chemicals littering the shelves in the lab, made a unhappy noise in reply and visibly dropped.
Tony scanned the lab looking for something safe for his new friend to play with, before his eyes settled on an obnoxiously yellow stress ball with a smiley face on.
"Small bounces only, break anything and I'll dismantle your motherboard." Tony commented lightly, leaning back onto the sofa in his lab and smirking as DUME inspected the ball.


Walking alongside Tony in a deserted hallway, they all paused when he heard a malicious voice and a grunt of pain.
"You need to be put in your place nigger. What makes you think that you have the right to stand up to me?"
Tony peered around the corner of the corridor to see a teenage black boy, which they recognised as a young James Rhodes, being pushed up against the locker by a bully with dyed blonde hair called Tiberius Stone.
"You were bullied?" Steve looked to Rhodes who smiled bitterly.
"Being black in the 80's didn't exactly make me the most popular kid in MIT, let's just put it that way."
"You think you're above me?" They could hear the amusement and the mocking note in past Rhodey’s voice (they all quickly agreed to call the teenage version of him James's to avoid confusion.) "I knew you talked out of your ass a lot of the time but even I was impressed by the amount of shit you spewed then."
Clint sniggered before outright laughing at the look spreading over Tiberius's face.
"Oh Man, you just owned his ass." Sam smiled and laughed as he high fived the current counterpart of his friend.
"I agree with you man. Being racist really? I didn't think you could sink any lower Ty. Get with the times." Unimpressed, Tony walked boldly out into the hallway and crossed his arm across his chest.
"Ah, look who decided to join the fun. Shouldn't you still be in preschool Stark?"
"Well I got bumped up a few grades." Tony shrugged nonchalantly, "Don't be petty just because I'm smarter, Ty."
"You wish kiddy. I bet you're just here because daddy footed the bill. Now why don't you run along and play with your toy robots. Chocolate and I were having fun before you showed up."
"What a prick." Clint muttered vindictively.
James's fists clenched and Tony's nerve finally snapped, he pulled out something very long, thin and metal from his bag and held it out in front of him as a red laser from the device shone straight at Tiberius's head.
"Is that meant to scare me Stark? Am I meant to be afraid of a red laser?" Tiberius raised one eyebrow as he chortled cruelly.
"Oh I wouldn't be laughing if I were you." Tony's voice became soft and very dangerous, it actually made Tiberius stop. "You see this little gadget here is something I'm helping Howard design for the military. This laser focuses on the pain receptors in the area it's pointed. It activates when it starts to buzz. That's when you really have to worry. Apparently the pain is so intense that it causes you to pass out. So I would think twice about carrying on your bullying ways if I were you. Now run before I decide not to be so forgiving."
Tiberius blinked, looking from Tony to James, who seemed completely flabbergasted, before flinging his bag over his shoulder and running away.
The older Rhodey snorted as he watched Tiberius run. "Wuss."
"Are you alright?" Concerned, Tony grabbed James's things that were littering the floor and shoved them into his bag before holding a hand out to pull him to his feet but he had already got up.
"Yeah, man I guess I owe you one." James smiled then raised an eyebrow. "Were you really going to hurt him with that thing?"
"Nah." Tony laughed and admired the device briefly. "It was really just a laser and a buzzer melded together. I just wanted to frighten him off. Tiberius has always been a coward and I can act quite well, being born in the spotlight has its perks."
"Wow that was some act." James sounded awed as he grinned at his new friend. "I'm James Rhodes."
"No," A grin curved across his mouth. "What you are is a massive Rhodey for allowing Ty to pick on you like that. But I'll stay with you to find a teacher, who incidentally, you should've gone to before you tried to be brave."
"The phrase is Rodney not Rhodey." James replied in a droll voice that made Tony smirk.
"I know." Tony winked at him then his smile dropped suddenly.
Oh shit. He's trying to be my friend.
Tony's tone and expression chilled several degrees as he continued. "Mrs Bassfords room is down there, she should still be up. See you around Rhodes."
"Tony what-?"
Pivoting on his heels, he ignored James and strolled briskly down the corridor in the opposite direction with his bag slung over his shoulder.
"What the hell was that?" James asked an empty corridor, the Avengers could say they shared that sentiment as they watched his new friend disappear into the darkness.



They found themselves stood next to James, who scanned for somewhere to sit, clasping his lunch in a small bag, he smiled once he spotted Tony sat alone and silent amongst the bustle.
James confidently strode up and placed his lunch in front of Tony’s, taking the seat opposite him.
"Hey again. Man, you look tired."
"What's it to you?" Tony asked in a hard voice, his eyes were similarly cold and ringed with dark purple and blue bags. "We aren't friends."
Tony leant back and shrugged before biting into an apple on his plate.
"You seem like a nice kid and you kind of saved my ass from Stone-"
"You're here because you think you owe me. I get it. Debt cleared." Tony looked back down at his food, plonking the apple back on his plate and picking up his coffee; appearing briefly surprised when James didn't move. "That means you can go."
"No. Yesterday before you suddenly shut off you seemed like a nice kid so I don't get the whole 180 mood-"
"Stop." Tony held out a hand, stopping James in his tracks; he pinched the top of his nose and scrunched his eyes together briefly before he opened them again, they had hardened. "Just stop. Whatever you are trying to do, to get from me now, it's not going to happen."
"What the hell kid? I'm not trying to get anything." 
"Ha! Sure. You know who I am and you don't want money, gadgets or weapons plans?" Skeptically, Tony raised an eyebrow at Rhodes, analysing him as he leant back in his chair.

"Loki and I experienced this in Asgard," Thor observed the scene unusually quiet and reflective. "Children of Men of power often do especially as they can be used for their own merits."
"No. No. Man, I don't know whether to feel horrified you think that'd be the only reason someone would want to be your friend. Or offended that you'd think that of me." James frowned.
I wonder how long this 'friend' will last?
"You have no idea what you’re getting into there Rhodey." Tony smiled but it was shaky one.
My last friends died.
"I think I have an idea. You are talking to me after all." James grinned back. "You were a scary son of a bitch. I think Stone almost pissed himself."
At this Tony lent back his head and laughed.


"Look it's the wunderkid!" They looked at the two girls slightly in front of them, each with short denim shorts on, whispering among themselves and staring at Tony who was oblivious, a short distance away.
Rhodey stiffened when he recognized the taller girl nearest to him with dark brunette hair as Sunset Bain, Tony's first girlfriend.
"Oh no not her." Rhodey glared at the memory version of Sunset giggling with her friend, internally bracing himself for what he was about to come.
"Who?" Steve asked but all he got in reply was a lot of annoyed hand gestures from Rhodes as the Being had seemingly silenced him.
"Oh my god! He's adorable, isn't he 16 now?" The shorter blonde girl asked, alternating between smiling at Sunset and Tony who was now talking to James in the corridor.
"Yes. He's the son of my dad’s competitor Howard Stark." Sunset practically drooled, "He is pretty fit isn't he? I've met him a few times at one of those silly charity events Howard's wife runs. Between you and me," She leaned into her friend as she whispered in a hushed voice, the others all moved closer to hear."Dad wants me to steal some of Stark’s new designs. It was hard before to keep up with one Stark. But two? Forget it. Dad wants me to get close to Tony to do this. I think it would be pretty easy. I mean he'd be mad to pass this up." She gestured to her slim hourglass figure and waved goodbye to her friend, who wished her luck.
Stalking into the corridor with her head held high, she feigned falling right next to where Tony and James were stood. Tony stooped quickly and caught her around the waist, righting her before quickly bringing his hands away.
"Are you alright Sunset?" Tony asked while James paused, feeling awkward.
"Yeah, I'm ok." Her hands lingered around Tony's arms as she bit her lip in a flirtatious manner. "Sorry for almost falling into you there, Tony. I often find I'm a bit clumsy around people I like."
Grinning, Tony pinked as they felt warm feeling pool in their chests.
Oh my god Sunny likes me! Me!
James smiled cheekily upon seeing this.
They all knew he was going to tease him for blushing later.
"Before I fell over, I was going to ask if maybe you'd like to go out with me this Saturday at 11?"
"Yes, I'd love to. " Tony grinned back, turning scarlet as she kissed his cheek.
"Meet me by the Galileo block."
"I'll - I'll look forward to it."
With that Sunset turned around and strolled away down the corridor, Tony stared after her and held a hand to his cheek, smiling brightly.
"Huh. I think I'm smitten."
"I think so too," Tony jolted at James's voice apparently not realizing that he had spoken out loud. "You were both making gooey eyes at each other for that whole encounter. It was sickening."
"Sure platypus, sure. Some of us have lectures now, so we'll have to continue this later, bye!"
"We will Tony! This is payback for what you were like with me last time!"


 "Why can't you just accept that I'm not ready yet?"
"It's been weeks Tony! Weeks! Almost a month, and we still haven't done it yet. When I got with you I didn't think I'd be dating a child-Don't you trust me?"
"I'm not a child! I'm sixteen and yes of course I-"
"It doesn't look like it!"
"Sunny-"
"No! You say you love me but if you really did you would do this for me." Hissed Sunset, Tony stared at his feet and the others began to feel extremely uncomfortable.
She moved across the room and glared at him.
"I do love you. I've never done this before."
Perplexed rather than angry now she raised her eyebrows incredulously.
Shrugging, he gave a one sided smile that didn't reach his eyes. "Despite the rumours, I never had a girlfriend before you. I guess I wanted to save myself. For someone special- I don't know- it's a big step. I guess I was just nervous. I'm not now. You are special to me, ok? I do trust you. You're my girlfriend and I want to make you happy so if you still want to do this then let's do it."
Her expression turned softer as she moved back over. She straddled him before she leant in, kissing him heavily in an almost feral fashion. Inexperienced, Tony's eyes widened in surprise at the gusto she was putting into the kiss as he struggled to respond, keeping his hands still on the lower her back. Her hands pawed and teased his shirt off him before pulling away briefly.
"Trust me Tony, relax. I'll do all the work ok? Just follow my lead. I'm going to make this so good for you."
She leaned in again and her hands trailed downwards, they were thankful that memory changed when it did.



Both Sunset and Tony were sat side by side on her desk before Peter felt Tony stand up, he deduced that this memory was soon after the first as each side of his neck felt very sore, a lot like he would imagine large hickies would feel like.

However, Sunsets marks on her own neck were fainter and certainly wouldn't feel very sore if the light small circles of green and red were anything to go by.

"Where are you going?" She stared almost accusingly up at him, with a vice like grip around his wrist.
"I can't stay here forever, you know." He commented lightly before becoming slightly annoyed. "Sunny, I need to go. I have designs to complete and I'm meeting Rhodey in half an hour. You know I'll be back tomorrow."
"You're always working. I'm curious to see what you work so hard on all the time." She purred, her hand squeezed uncomfortably tight around his wrist as her fingers absentmindedly traced patterns in his skin.

Peter suddenly felt very wary of her as Mr Starks advice to him before his date with Gwen echoed in his head. "Don't let her push you into things like sex if you feel you aren't ready or if you are saving yourself. If she starts acting manipulative or controlling, ditch her. You don't need toxic people in your life."
"Just weapons designs for SI, Howard doesn't like me showing anyone-"
"Tones," her hand curled around the side of his face, forcing Peter to look directly into her eyes while he felt the other wrapped around Tony's shoulder. "This is me you're talking to. I'm not going to tell anyone what you are working on, especially not my father. I would never ever betray you. I love you."

"And remember, the 'do this for me because I love you' is the oldest manipulation tactic in the book. Don't fall for it. I'm sure this Gwen girl is nice but be wary ok kid?"



Walking up to her door Tony paused as he heard Sunsets vindictive voice come from inside.
"I know he's so naive. Daddy, he actually believes I love him."
The majority of them inhaled sharply. They had been expecting it but feeling Tony's rage, sadness and betrayal felt like a fist to the stomach.
"He's going to show me the plans after tonight. Don't worry he's smitten. Yeah, I totally played him. He's head over heels for me. No he is, he let me take his virginity. We won't have to worry about a thing, I'll steal his plans tonight. Oh- I have to go. Yeah he's due here soon. Bye."
Upon hearing her click the phone off Tony waited a few moments, collecting himself, then he walked through the door.
"Oh hey, Tones you're early." Sunset turned from the mirror and smiled brightly, flicking her dark brown hair back over her shoulder. "What do you think?"
Smirking, she stroked a hand down her figure hugging yellow dress embroidered with gold and a plunging neckline, gold dangling earrings adorned her ears and a delicate necklace hung around her neck.
The necklace I got her for our month anniversary.
It was all a lie.

"You look beautiful." They all noticed that the sad thing was that she really did; her makeup was done simply, highlighting all her natural beauty in her face, it seemed to bring attention to her sharp high cheekbones and large chocolate brown eyes.
"You know this is all yours tonight. If you think the dress is beautiful, you should see what I have on under here. Shall I give you a sneak preview?" She grinned saucily and licked her rouged lips.
"No." He answered curtly while looked away from her and instead looked at her feet
"Tones, what's wrong did something happen?" The fake concern they heard in her voice made him want to cry but he didn't, she crouched down in front where he was sat and lifted his head up with her hands. "You seem upset."
"I heard you before on the phone." Sunset stiffened and her hands dropped. "I heard everything."
"Oh. You did, did you?" Sunset's concerned expression melted and warped into a cruel sneer, "You really thought this, what we had, meant something didn't you? You were so easy to manipulate, I flattered you, said a few nice meaningless words and made your dick very happy for a few months. I had a goal in mind, I wanted what was in your head." She tapped his forehead causing him to stiffened in anger and glare.
"You make me sick."
Laughing, Sunset stood up. "I don't care what you think of me. It was just sex Tony. I thought you were smart."
But I loved you.
Lost for words they all stared at her, Tony jumped up, they glimpsed a very wounded expression on his face as he ran for the door.
Stupid. Allowing yourself to be hurt like that. They watched him continue to sprint then skid to a stop infront of his door when he finally reached it and fumble in his pockets for his door key. ‘It was just sex Tony.’ Sunsets cruel mocking voice echoed in their heads. Tony suddenly stopped and went rigid.
But before I left Peggy said that I should save that act for someone I care for-
“You were so easy to manipulate.” Sunsets voice hissed in their heads.
That belief was so easy to manipulate.
It’s a nice belief to have but it’s too easy to use against me so it has to go.
After all it’s not like I have a bad body is it?
Lot’s of people actually think I’m quite handsome.
That could be a part of mask now too. To not to care any more, where or with who I-

He choked on a sob cutting off that thought before it could finish as he slammed the key into the keyhole and opened the door.


 

"Jesus, Tony." James stared wide eyed at his best friend sprawled over the floor surrounded by at least 5 empty beer bottles that they could see, at his friend’s voice Tony turned his face to the side and grinned so wide his face looked like it was going to split in half.
"Rhooooodey."
"Looks like you don't need my break up supplies then." James dumped his six pack by the door and sat on the bed opposite where Tony was laid on the floor.
"Sourpuss." Tony grumbled before pulling himself up, so he was sat against the wall, "I've been drunker."
"That's nothing to be proud of, you're only 16."
Tony raised an eyebrow in response, muttering something in response that no one could understand.
"Tony, she's a bitch." Sighing, James plucked the bottles nearest to him off the floor and aimed them into the bin. He then turned back to his friend with a serious expression on his face. "You can do better believe me."
Tony smiled, cocking his head to one side as he watched James pick up some more bottles. "Watcha doing?"
"I’m cleaning up your mess so you don't stab yourself in the foot or hurt yourself if you slip on one of these."
"Aww, you care about me." Tony fluttered his eyelashes at James.
"Sometimes I wonder why, it's like I'm your nanny or something." James snorted while he dumped the remaining bottles in the bin.
"And I care 'bout you too. You're my Rhodey- Wait, you aren't going to leave here alone are you?" James who was going to the door, turned back around at Tony's sad voice and Tony hastily backtracked suddenly appearing a lot more sober.
"It's fine. I don't care. You can go. I'm fine. I'll-"
"I can stay, you dork. I'm going to get you some water."
"Oh, pfft... Alright then. I can keep you company if you're really that lonely Rhodey." Smiling, James moved to the sink on the other side of the room and grabbed a glass.


 Beaming, Tony walked offstage dressed in a light black gown drawn in around the waist with gold tassels paired with a black cap with a long tassel hung from it too.
His newly obtained summa cum laude certificate was clasped in his hands and brass rat was perched proudly on his ring finger. He rushed from the podium and away from the other graduates after the awards ceremony to see his parents, Peggy and Daniel waiting for him.
"MIT summa cum laude graduate with not one, not two but three doctorates! I knew you would go far but that's impressive.” Daniel smiled proudly and Peter felt him clap Tony on the shoulder and squeeze gently. "Good job kid, although I guess I should be calling you Doctor Stark now."

"Tony's fine. I'm not a proper Doctor anyway." Tony grinned at him and returned the gesture before looking to Peggy.
She wrapped him in a hug and pecked him on the cheek. "I'm so so proud of you Doctor Stark."
After a long moment she pulled away and looked up, sharing a meaningful glance with whoever was behind Tony and pulling away.
"You came." Peter felt Tony grin at his father cautiously.
"Of course I did. Obie is handling things for now so I... I wanted to say well done. Maths, Electrical Engineering and IT doctorates...you aren't a proper doctor, but it's still good Anthony." Howard's lips twitched up into a small smile.
He's proud of me.
Peter felt a warm feeling flicker in his chest like a candle as Tony impulsively and without warning, Tony wrapped his father in a hug.
Howard went rigid.
The warm feeling went out.
Abort Hug.
Bad move.
What was I thinking?

Those thoughts were really similar to Peter's when he hugged Tony for the first time, the 'not hug moment' as Tony dubbed it.
"Da-Howard I'm-" Tony was about to pull away but he stopped when he felt Howard forcibly relax and two warm large hands rest on his back.
Oh.
Click.
They both twisted their heads to see Maria smirking behind a camera.
"Don't apologize. Your mother is a little minx. She’s been taking photo’s this whole time." Howard replied in a light voice as they pulled away and laughed, uncaring of the small clicks continuing to go off in the background.

 

Chapter Text

The team found themselves once again, shoved roughly back into the current Tony’s mindscape. Wordlessly, Natasha placed a hand on Clint’s shoulder to try and steady herself as she felt the events that she witnessed from Tony’s time at MIT, particularly those involving Sunset, resonate with her sharply.

Miss Bain’s manipulation and acting skills were impressive for an untrained civilian.

He was your friend don’t commend the person that hurt him! How did he stand me? I started that friendship by trying to manipulate him exactly the same way when we first met…

The sense of guilt she had held almost doubled at finding another comparison between herself and Tony.

Stark lost his innocence young too-just like me.

She swallowed audibly, trying very hard not to think of the horrific methods the Red Room used to accomplish the same outcome that Tony had gained from his relationship Sunset.

“It’s funny to think how we just saw the playboy got played.” Clint’s remark snapped Natasha sharply out of her thoughts, she was about to slap him lightly over the head to chastise him for the insensitive remark but Rhodey beat her to it, hitting him roughly right across the face.

WHACK!

“What the hell?!” Indignantly, Clint retorted as he rubbed his reddened cheek.

“What Sunset did wasn’t funny- “Angered, Rhodey began before Wanda cut him off and stepped up to Clint’s defence.

“Funny is the wrong word, it’s more ironic,” Wanda slid her hand into Clint’s, the edges of a nasty smile beginning at the corner of her mouth. “Stark’s night time activities and the way he used women were well documented- Sunset was nasty but you know what they say about Karma.”

Rhodey noticed Natasha’s eyes narrow cuttingly at the side of her head, her expression mirroring what must be shown on his own face. 

“Karma is a bitch, a lot like you.” Rhodey found himself hissing at her, Natasha’s lips twitched upwards at him in approval as he whirled around and stalked away from her.

Observing Rhodey’s brutal retort to Wanda, Steve found himself oddly torn. He was unsure whether he should go and comfort her or tell off Rhodes for being so mean to a kid- however seeing Clint wrap an arm protectively around her shoulders made up his mind for him.

He decided to do neither.

In the last memory, Tony and Rhodey’s relationship reminded him very much of the closeness that existed between himself and Bucky. Furthermore, the way young Tony stood up to Stone reminded him very sharply of the similarities between him in 1930’s Brooklyn, especially the way he fought back against the Bully.

“Are you alright Punk?” Bucky’s kind voice brought him out of his daze, and he found himself staring at his best friend, it was times like this that he almost forgot that Winter was also present in his best friend’s head.

“Sure jerk,” Steve patted Bucky’s arm companionably, “I just realised how the young version of Stark- no-Tony acted a lot like I did back in 1930’s Brooklyn.”

“Yeah, I saw that too, you and Stark both seem to be made of similar stuff.” Bucky’s whole face brightened before his eyes dulled and his smile fell, “I bet we all could’ve been good friends had the circumstances been different.”

“Aye, Man of Iron, like you both has shown that he has always possessed the heart of a warrior despite being puny.” Thor strolled over to both Bucky and Steve with a jovial, proud smile adorning his lips.

“Ooo Tony wouldn’t like you calling him that.” Steve joked in reply, Thor’s demeanour succeeded in lightening his mood, however this didn’t appear to work on Bucky who still seemed down.

“Ah well, he seemed to have recently adjusted to my way to giving compliments.” Thor shrugged before his voice became more sombre, “My apologies I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I know of your Civil War, but I know not of the personal rift between yourselves and Man of Iron.”

Steve and Bucky looked sharply to Thor then, both of them had kept silent about what had happened in Siberia and- from what they knew- Tony hadn’t told anyone about it either. Granted, though Bucky was the one who wanted to come clean about it to the rest of the team but Steve insisted that he should be the one to inform the others at the proper moment.

After all, it wouldn’t make any sense to reopen the wounds that taken had two years to heal, not when the team was as fractured as it still was.

“My observations do not lie, but some advice my comrades, I found that time is the best healer of wounds. I believe the Being is here to aid us in mending our personal bridges with Friend Anthony. I know that he has forgiven me for my misdeeds towards him.-“

“Hang on, Thor you haven’t hurt Tony- “Steve protested but Thor’s expression became regretful.

 “Aye, you witnessed it did you not? I held him up by the throat- I allowed my rage to blind me. A mistake I will not make again. When I returned, I had to work to restore our friendship to what it once was, avoidance and hostility is not the way to do this. I trust you will amend your ways once we leave here.” Both Bucky and Steve nodded, the God of Thunder smiled in return and guided them over where the rest of the group were talking amongst themselves.

“…It was strange for me to see him so young and to see how little DumE has changed over the years.” Glimpsing the Androids face, Vision appeared almost nostalgic as he described DumE in detail to both Scott and Peter who buzzed with excitement at each side of him.

They each were pressing him for details on how Tony accomplished making DumE at 15 with the tech at the time, the complex answers that they got in reply seemed to feed their thirst for knowledge.

Steve however, was very quickly lost, and found that his attention was quickly drawn to Rhodey and Bruce’s conversation at the other end of the group.

“…you were so lucky to have Tony as a friend. I was bullied too at school and it got so bad that I attempted to blow the place up with myself inside. No one liked me or stood up for me back then…but Tony- he even defended the other guy just hours after meeting me! I thought he was insane at first.”

Rhodey laughed in reply, “That sounds like Tony.”

Steve found himself having to look away.

Yes, that was like Tony, standing up to bullies, villains and the press alike.

“My name is Tony Stark and I’m not afraid of you.” He remembered his heart being in his mouth when he saw Tony declaring war on the Mandarin from a TV in a shop window. Declaring war on a big powerful terrorist, he wanted to do something- anything to make his friend shut up.

Couldn’t he see he was signing his own death warrant?

Then he remembered himself standing up to the man who had been rude about the war recruitment advert in the theatre, the man had punched him three times and he had still gotten up. When the man had jeered at him to give up he had answered with, “I could do this all day.”

 Now that he thought about it Tony hadn’t changed at least not that much, underneath all the bravado- underneath the mask.

Why haven’t I seen this before?

Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the Being reappear and walk towards the group, Steve straightened.

“Now are we all ready to move on?” The Being’s hands lit up with a bright golden magic as he got a series of nods as his answer. “Now I feel I should warn you, that some of you especially,” His gaze met Steve’s, “will find these memories emotionally distressing. Brace yourselves.”

Without another word, the Being vanished and their surroundings began to morph and melt like wax as the colours swirled around them.


 

"Wake up dear and say goodbye to your father."

Howard lifted the blanket off Tony sporting a distasteful expression. Things had been tense with his father ever since he went to MIT and, despite leaving now, things hadn’t changed.

"Who's the homeless person on the couch?"

Howard would say little gems like that which had the unique power of making Tony feel absolutely crap about himself. "This is why I love coming over at Christmas right before you leave town."

Tony lightly jested as he lifted himself off the couch wearing an old Santa hat.

"Be nice dear, he's been studying abroad." Tony smiled in response to Maria, who they noticed had dyed her hair blonde since they last saw her, Tony moved to stand by her whilst she continued to play the piano.

"Where are, you going?"

"Your father's flying us to the Bahamas for a little get away."

"We might have to make a quick stop." Howard spoke up.

"At the pentagon, right?" Tony delivered that question rather sharply to Howard before his tone became lighter and more teasing as he glanced at Maria and leant down. "Don't worry you're going to love the holiday menu at the Congressary."

"You know what they say sarcasm is a metric for potential, if that's true you could be a great man someday."

Howard retorted as Tony straightened and walked away from them both, biting his tongue. Aiming a glare at his father, Tony crossed his arms.

"I'll get the bags." Howard walked from the room.

"He does miss you when you're not here." Maria muttered softly.

Restraining a snort, Tony instead kept his expression very stone faced and stared away from her.

She walked over to him, and moved closer to softly grasp his arm and look into his eyes.

"Say something, if you don't you'll regret it."

Howard walked back over with the bags.

"I love you Dad," he turned back to Maria "and I know you did the best you could."

Maria kissed him on the cheek as her and Howard walked out.

 “That’s how I wish it happened.” They startled at the Adult Tony’s voice and turned to face him although he didn’t seem to be able to see them and he, like his younger counterpart, had frozen and was beginning to disintegrate into white and gold fragments.

“What the fuck?” Clint asked, his eyes were stuck staring at the space where current looking Tony had just disappeared.

"You know what they say sarcasm is a metric for potential, if that's true you could be a great man someday." Their heads snapped to where the voice of Howard came from and the three figures of Howard, Maria and Tony gradually became corporeal again, mirroring their earlier positions.

Tony walked away from them both and aimed a vicious glare at his father.

“You would know.”

“Tonio-“

“No Maria, if Anthony has something to say let him say it.” Howard lifted his chin in an almost challenging manner as he walked over and leant against the Piano near Tony, Maria sighed heavily.

“You are going to the Pentagon, at Christmas because you discovered how to recreate the super soldier serum, how to create others like Captain Asshole. Because you couldn’t shake this ridiculous obsession and face the truth that your old buddy – the perfect blonde Adonis that you seem to be in love with is fucking dead-“

Howards fists clenched and his jaw tightened, “You have no idea what you are talking about! Grow some respect, the way you are talking is disgusting!”

Tony grinned vindictively, “Oh I do know what I’m talking about, I’ve lost people too- have you forgotten that? I’m curious now, why should I show respect for him? For you?” Pointing at Howard with an accusing finger before he dropped his hand and snarled, “Perfect Captain America, the ghost of a legend that you value above your family.” Tony stalked closer to Howard, they could feel the anger coming of him almost like he was radiating it. “What kind of hold must he have over you for you to dedicate the majority of your life’s work to finding him and that stupid serum? It’s pathetic Howard!”

Tony was as unprepared for the slap as they were.

His head snapped violently to the side away from them while Maria started upwards and the piano stool fell backwards on to the floor with a loud BANG.

They all sucked in a harsh inhale. Steve went several shades paler and struggled to swallow past a lump in his throat which was clogged up with thick heavy guilt.

Stunned, Tony lifted a hand to his cheek and stumbled backwards.

“Anthony-“ Deeply apologetic, Howard moved forward but Tony flinched further backwards and pressed himself against the wall.

“You just hit me…” Tony stared at him wide eyed, “Why-why would you do that?”

Appearing equally distressed, both Bruce and Clint exchanged loaded looks with each other as they became very aware and disturbed by the similarities this was showing to their own childhoods.

“You just kept pushing and pushing, Tony I- “

“Is he freaking serious?” Outraged, Spiderman shrieked. Although they couldn’t see the young man’s face, his body was wound up tight like a bow string.

Vision’s face went taunt with anger as well, upon seeing this Wanda moved to comfort him.

“Just go, actually I don’t think I want to hear it.”  I don’t want to hear you say it was my fault. Tony turned away from him, “I’ll grab your shit so you can leave.” Howard was about to follow, Tony into the other room but Maria grabbed his arm and spat in a hushed but angry hiss.

“There is no excuse for slapping our son, don’t try and push it on him. This was you! When we get back you will fix this.”

Howard gulped and nodded, his eyes were filled with a renewed determination and guilt.

They all knew that he would never get the chance to fix it.


 

“Hey Aunt Pegs,” Tony spared her a brief smile before trying to continue on down the lifeless whitewashed corridor, his destination was the steel door at the other end of the room but Peggy quickly blocked his path.

“Tony, what are you doing here?” Alarmed, Peggy put her hand on his shoulder and guided him to the chairs along the side of the wall.

“Obadiah told me my parents are here, I need to identify them- “

Tony started upward but Peggy kept a firm hand on his shoulder, “Tony, I’ve already done that and as your godmother I had every authority to. Obadiah must have forgotten to inform you,” Peggy slouched in her chair, she seemed more tired than they had ever seen her. “Lord knows, this is a stressful time for all of us. This exactly what I was trying to avoid.” 

"Why won't you let me see them?” Tony’s voice shook violently, they could hear the anger begin to creep in.

"They're a mess, Tony." Peggy gave a shaky upset sigh and grabbed his hand. "I didn't want you to see your parents like that- it was hard for me to even-" Peggy paused and took the hand away from his shoulder to squeeze her eyes. “It was hard for me to identify them."

"They're-they're really that bad then." Peggy's hand tightened around Tony's as she looked up at him with tears in her eyes and nodded.

He blanched as he felt it sink in properly before he came back to himself when he heard Peggy mutter to herself. 

“For goodness sake, why now?”

They felt something tighten in his chest when he saw Peggy hastily try to wipe away tears from her face. He wrapped his arms around her and tightened his hold when he felt her tears dripping on to his shirt.


 

The funeral was a public affair.

Daniel and Peggy were deliberately hidden a few rows back within the crowd near Tony. At the front, however Tony was stood by Obadiah who had one arm curled around the young man’s shoulders almost possessively. 

Obadiah patted him on the shoulder and wished him luck as Tony was called up to speak.

After being silent for an awkward amount of time Tony positioned himself in front of the podium and screwed up the sheet of paper in his hand.

"I did write a speech but looking back on it the words just seem hollow now. Anyone who has lost a parent or lost both here knows how Earth shattering that can be." Tony shrugged at the crowd a few of them, including some of the reporters taking notes at the back. "I had so many experiences with my parents, mostly good ones, and they helped shape who I am today. My mother was a wonderful woman, she was the best mother I could have ever wished for... I could tell you so many stories about the times she taught me how to play the piano." Which we played together to bring her out of a dark day. " And My father was a truly brilliant man, in every sense of the word..." he just had no clue how to handle a child, "I could tell you about the many evenings we spent together down in the lab, despite my clumsiness he never got cross with me." Because he would hand me things that were painful to hold, he probably didn't even notice what he was doing. "But to narrow my relationship with my parents down to a few key memories would be an injustice to them... Even though they are no longer here, I will do my upmost to uphold their legacies in the Maria Stark Foundation and in SI respectively, I’ll try to emulate them in the future and do my upmost to do things that would make them proud."

Gold spun across their vision and the scene fast forward and changed.

They were now outside of the church, snow piled across the ground, a thin layer of snow was spread across the ground, whilst it fell, thick and fast from the sky. The crowd bustled from the church and huddled around Tony like a pack of vultures would gather around a dying animal, they all fought to get Tony’s attention.

“Mr Stark I’m so sorry- “

“Do you have any more to add about- “

“What do you intend to do about SI?”

“My condolences- “

“Will you follow in your father’s footsteps with-“

Just get out of my FACE! For fucks sake my parents have just died!

 Tony pushed away both microphone and outstretched hand alike as he stalked ahead of them all, both Peggy and Daniel covertly followed him, only to be lost from their sight too as the snow created a thick white mist that obscured the view of anything further than a few feet away. 


 

"There you are." Obadiah smiled upon finding Tony in Howard's old lab.

He had his feet up on the steel desk, one of his hands was curled around a headless Captain America doll and he appeared to have a large cardboard box resting on his lap. However, despite this façade of relaxation, his position was too tense, his hand was squeezing too tight around the doll and he was scowling at the contents of the box.

"Here Obie listen to this." He plucked a letter from the box," 'Tony, I'm sorry.' Sorry for what exactly? Did he even know what he was sorry for when he saved all this shit? Or did he know in advance that he was going to drink drive and kill both himself and my mum?" 

"Jesus Christ." Bucky muttered while he turned away from the scene.

It was worse than I thought, no wonder Stark is finding it hard to forgive me.

Residual bitterness for Howard, but I sense a longing angry note in his voice. I can manipulate both these things...oh my boy you are making it way too easy.  

The Avengers all startled at Obadiah’s thought ringing through their heads.

"Official sources cite black ice as the cause of the crash-" Stay diplomatic, poised you are playing Howard's friend remember.

"Obie," Exasperated, Tony looked up at Obadiah and sat up, using this movement to snag the half full tumbler of vintage scotch on the side. "I was arguing with both him and mum before they left, I saw him snag a bottle of whiskey on the way out. You can bet he was drinking on the way there." 

Putting on a façade of awkwardness, Obadiah didn't say anything to that for a long time.

 "Besides we bribed the coroner just in case," Tony gave him a disgusted look and took a big sip from the glass. "There was no need to make this any messier than it already was."

 "Right, because at the end of the day their deaths boil down to mess." Tony snapped, Obadiah's eyes narrowed. Has he figured me out? "You and Howard think just the same always prioritising SI, making better ways to tear people apart and blow people up. I don't want to make weapons. I don't want to make mess. I want to help people."

"Tony," There was a hint of danger in his voice now. It was time to press on his weakness.  They felt sick. "By making weapons you are helping people like your friend James," both Rhodey and Tony stiffened, "he's a Lieutenant, now isn't he? Would you really trust him to be protected by one of our competitors like Hammer?" 

"Nasty manipulating bastard." Rhodey muttered, angry that he hadn't seen how Obadiah was twisting Tony right from the start.

"Now I'm not saying this to hurt you or to be mean," Obadiah moved over and perched on the edge of the desk," I'm saying the reality of the situation." Both of Obadiah's hands curled around Tony's shoulders as he smiled slightly.

The Avengers knew from Obadiah’s thoughts that he was doing this subconsciously intimidate the young genius under the mask of comfort which they knew Tony would perceive it as.

"Ok, I'll keep manufacturing but how about I make a few other things on the side?" Obadiah's smile deliberately fell a little so Tony was quick to add. "Only small things, a couple of projects a month just so that I don't die from boredom."

"Alright, I'll take it up with the board." but I'll argue against you when you aren't looking. "Look at you taking charge already, your father would be proud." Obadiah paused for a moment before deliberately softening his voice, "And Tony, I've said it many times before to the press but I need you to know that you are not an obligation to me, the Starks are my family. That includes you, maybe even you especially.”

No, you were both my tools, this is my company and I'm not going to lose it to a spoilt little boy like you.

They were now very conscious of the fact that one of Obadiah's hands was now spread across the side of Tony's neck. They could feel his heartbeat almost as if it were their fingers holding up his head which, coupled with Obadiah's thought of 'It would be so easy to kill you right now you little prick', set them all on edge.

All I would have to do would be to squeeze.

"You're like family to me too, I guess." Tony smiled as Obadiah tapped his neck and winked, bringing that hand away to rest instead on his shoulder. 

Pathetic. He's just like an attention starved Puppy. It can be amusing though to watch him try to make bigger things, better things to gain my appreciation. I suppose I have Howard to thank for that.

He's my golden goose to play with and I know how to make him dance to whatever tune I want.

"I'm sorry about earlier - after the press and everything today it’s like everyone wants me to be the new Howard. The board is up my ass, pushing for my decision on whether I want to become CEO despite the fact that Howard's will said that I can only take charge when I'm 21 and I just-" Tony sighed heavily and stared into space his eyes turning distant as they focused on an empty shot glass that he had drunk at some point. "I'm not ready yet."

"Don't worry my boy. I will stay CEO for now and deal with them for you," Obadiah's hands curled tighter around Tony's shoulders and he begun moving his thumbs in smoothing circular motions to ease the tension from the young man’s shoulders. "They do have a point, things would work smoother with a Stark at the helm, but I can talk to the board for you. Give yourself some time, the press has granted you a grace period, they'll be off your back for a while. Go out, enjoy yourself, maybe grab a few PHD's along the way if you feel like it-" Tony leant into his hands subconsciously, "we all know you're brilliant enough."

Tony’s mouth stretched out into a small smile while he nodded and he hummed in agreement. “I’ll have to sort out my parent’s things here first…”

“Whatever you want to do, I have your back.” Obadiah smiled softly at Tony who returned it, they could tell that only one of their smiles was genuine.


 

"Tony?" They spotted James enter Tony's lab which was in disarray, papers, metal and tools littered the floor.

“Come here U- not you DumE, your brother U is going to hand me the toolbox- don’t look at me like that! We both know what happened last time - I swear you’re becoming more like your namesake everyday…”

James dodged his way around the obstacles on the floor to find Tony balanced precariously on a step stool, working on the claw controlling part of an almost finished robot, with two almost identical robots beeping by his feet.

“Pass me the tweezers.” Tony outstretched a hand in James’s direction, keeping the other inside the bot holding something still in the guts of the robot’s claw.

James plucked the tweezers from the box and placed them in Tony’s hand.

Tony startled the moment James’s hand touched his and swore.

“Damn! I’ve messed up the claw to camera coordination- “Tony frowned before shrugging, “I won’t be able to fix that. Oh well, I can just call him Butterfingers.” He looked down and grinned when he saw James’s face. “Ready to become an uncle, Rhodey?”

Without waiting for an answer, he clicked a switch inside the bot’s head and folded the metal together, Butterfingers claw perked up slowly.

Grinning, Tony moved down from the stool, he watched the bot survey himself before looking up to Tony and beeping.

“Hey Butterfingers," the bot chirruped at his name causing Tony to smile at him, “I’m your creator Tony, this is your uncle Rhodey and these are your brothers DumE and U.” Stepping forward, Tony patted the bots claw as he gestured to DumE and U with his other hand. “Come on let’s show you- “

“Tones, I need to talk to you a minute.” James’s eyes appeared serious despite smiling slightly at the display between Tony and his bots.

Tony’s smile dropped, he led his bots away to a corner of the lab to look around before he walked back to James, who appeared very uncomfortable.

“Look it’s probably not my place to say this because I have no idea what you are going through- “

“Rhodes- “

“It’s been a month, Tones. Shouldn’t you have packed up their things by now? It just seems unhealthy to leave their things about like they are still alive, man- I can help you sort through everything if you want.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine to look through it by myself. Thanks for the offer though…” Tony smiled but his eyes lightened when he noticed the bots were exploring his dad’s old car. “Oh, my God, DumE you are covered in oil! What did you do? You got your siblings dirty too. Well done. Both you and U should know better leading baby Butterfingers into your mess.”


 They spotted Tony sorting out the kitchen, quickly deducing from all the taped-up boxes lining both the floor and the table that he was almost finished cleaning it out.

There was only the almost empty medicine shelf positioned high above Tony’s head, he was on his tiptoes trying to reach one last pill bottle at the back.

His expression lightened as he managed to successfully grab it before it fell when he saw the label on the bottle, he visibly swallowed and placed it to one side away from the other handful of pills.

Vivacitil

Maria Carbonelli Stark

Take 3 a day.

"Where is it?" Maria’s distressed mutter echoed around them as the room darkened, the Tony in front of them disappeared as Maria came into view seeming much more distressed as she rummaged through the pill cabinet that they had seen Tony stand in front of. 

Frantically moving downwards and opening the draws, she became more and more panicked when she couldn't find what she was looking for.

"Looking for these?" Maria spun around at the younger Tony's voice before she like the others squinted as he twisted the light switch with one hand to give the kitchen a dim yellow glow.

She stilled for a moment, taking in the sight of her son holding the prescription bottle in one hand. 

"Yes." Her lips pursed, she grabbed the pills from his hand and instantly poured out three of the orange tablets into her hand before she grabbed a cup of water on the side and drank the pills down. 

"Madre, why didn't you tell me?" 

Her eyes narrowed at him and she gave him a very dark and guarded look, he took a seat at the table, approaching her like a frightened animal. 

"What's Vivactil?" Bucky asked looking to Bruce who looked at Maria with a wretched expression.

"It’s a drug that's used to treat depression. I suspected that she had it but I hoped otherwise. It's a horrible thing to live with, trust me I know." 

"I've always had mild depression Tonio.  There were… There were the Dark Days where I would really feel down for no reason or not want to get out of bed for anything. I lock myself away then. I didn't want you to see me like that. Howard got me these." She tapped the pill bottle with one finger, "to try and help."  

"I had guessed. The name 'Dark Day' is suspicious," Tony gave a half shrug, "But I can help you through them now-"

"No Tonio you don't get it, you can't help me-"

"Why not? You can call me if one hits you when I go back to MIT-"

"NO! It's not because I don't trust you Teroso. I do trust you." Maria sighed as she sat down," and you do help even if you didn’t know it when you were younger, remember when we played together on the piano?” Maria clasped Tony’s hands, “Some of the things I think when I have a dark day are...not nice. You wouldn't like me like that Tonio, mi fanno paura a volte. That’s why I need to be alone."

Tony's expression went really dark and distressed for a moment before becoming determined. "Promise you'll call because I need to know that you won't- promise me you won't do anything. I will always make time for you." 

“What does he think she’s going to do exactly?” Steve asked in a horrified voice, like he knew but he was hoping to be told otherwise, the others who just appeared saddened and horrified they were unable to say anything in return.

The kitchen suddenly brightened as both Maria and young Tony faded appearing like ghosts before they disappeared. The seventeen-year-old Tony reappeared, they watched him gather up all the pills and chuck them in the bin, he frowned and paused before turning back around to deal with the other boxes.

Only to startle when he noticed Peggy leaning on the archway that lead to the kitchen, Tony raised a hand to his chest in an exaggerated display of shock.

“Are you trying to give me a heart attack, Aunt Peg?”

Peggy raised an amused eyebrow in his direction although her expression appeared to carry a certain weight of melancholy which was reflected in her eyes as well. “Tony, I am certain that my appearance won’t cause you to have a heart attack and I see no reason why it should as I am on time.”

“You-er- what?” Confused, Tony stared blankly back at her, “You weren’t meant to be coming until Monday.”

“It is Monday, Ducky.” Peggy huffed good naturedly while she scanned him with concerned eyes.

“Ah-I knew that, of course I knew that.”

“Come on,” Peggy hoisted a box under her arm and smiled kindly, “Daniel’s waiting outside in the car, between us we can fit most of these in the boot. Now which of these would you like me to take?”  

“I’ve marked the ones that are full of stuff you both would like.” Tony carefully approached as Peggy took this as her cue to peer inside the box under her arm which was marked P&D.

“Are you sure you don’t want to keep this?” Peggy lifted a photo from her box which was of herself, Daniel, Tony and Howard at Tony’s graduation.

“I’m many things Peg, nostalgic isn’t one of them.” Carefully, Tony tugged the photo from her hand and smoothed it down on top of the rest of her things in the box.  It seemed to take a great deal of effort for him to tear his eyes away from the picture. “Besides he’d want you to have it.”

“Complete rubbish! First, we both know you are nostalgic.” Tony raised a challenging eyebrow at her, “I know you Ducky and the fact that you’re wearing Howards robe doesn’t make your point convincing. Quite the opposite actually.”

“The old man had style- besides I’m pretty sure he wore this when he was younger anyway.” Looking down at himself, Tony smoothed down the brown and gold patterned long oversized shawl and wrapped it around him. “It means nothing.”

“Poppycock. Secondly, I know he would’ve wanted you to have this photo,” Tony snorted at that while Peggy took the photo back out from the box and held it out to him. “I want you to have it. Keep it safe for me.”

“You win.” Tony grinned as he took the photo from her and slid it into his pocket, “Lets not keep Uncle Daniel waiting."

At this, he ushered her from the kitchen and hoisted two boxes marked P&D under each arm before he left too.  

Chapter Text

Steve swallowed heavily, working hard to process all that he had seen in the previous memory however he found it hardest to deal with the fact that Howard had hit Tony.

“If I hadn’t seen it happen…I don’t think I would’ve believed Howard would ever-“ He trialed off as he found that his throat had closed up, the previously repressed guilt, grief and anger hit him sharply once he realised that it was the last memory Tony had with his parents.

It was my fault.

“You didn’t think that Howard would ever smack his kid around?” Bucky asked softly, “No, I wouldn’t have thought it of him either.” Bucky’s demeanor suddenly changed into the Winter Soldier’s,” I would’ve,” Steve’s expression crumpled, the Soldier froze awkwardly as Bucky flashed in his eyes. “This isn’t on you Rogers, don’t blame yourself for Howard Stark’s actions.” 

“The Winter Soldier is right Mr Rogers,” Vision floated over to them before setting his feet on the floor, his face was impassive apart from the harsh downturn of his lips- Steve spotted with a pang that he had picked up that expression from Tony. “Howard Stark has shown emotionally abusive and in some cases neglectful behaviour towards his child. The way Sir seems to latch on to praise and affection when given by Mr Stane is the most obvious way it is shown to have affected him…and the most worrying.”

“Too fucking right,” Their heads all snapped to Rhodey who was stood just behind Vision and crossed his arms angrily, “The fact that he couldn’t show that he loved his kid, meant that Stane found it easier to slither close to Tony get him to do what he wanted, especially after his bastard father died.” Rhodey’s eyes shone brightly with unshed angry tears, “G-god, I feel so fucking angry, man…” Rhodey shook his head.

Angry doesn’t really touch the surface of how I’m feeling, right now. Rhodey seethed as he lapsed into silence, he busied himself with pacing. Otherwise the strong urge to hit Steve would’ve taken over and he didn’t trust himself not to at this point. I wish I could just turn off and think logically about a situation, like Vision. It is not Steve’s fault. Howard is a dick. It is not Steve’s fault. But Tony only got hit because he insulted the great Captain America.

And the nerve- the absolute nerve of Stane to use my military career to force my best friend to make weapons when he wanted to stop- I want to hit something, preferably Stane’s face.

Wanda watched Rhodey pace whilst keeping a hand around Clint’s, offering a wordless support to him as she knew that both him and Bruce were deeply affected by seeing Stark be struck – she knew that this was due to both of them having personal experience with physically and emotionally abusive fathers.

However, she found herself more affected by Obadiah Stane’s manipulation towards Stark.

He seemed to have quite a hold over Stark- who originally just wanted to help people and not make weapons. That in itself is hard to comprehend.

The Stark I saw then seems…good, if a little naïve. Wanda’s eyes widened fractionally before she found herself speaking in a shocked voice. “I don’t get it, it’s Stark’s company but Stane seems to be the driving force.”

Rhodey shot her a very sharp look as if he was daring her to say something derogatory about his best friend, however when no remark came he pursed his lips and looked away from her. “That’s because Stane was the acting CEO until Tony turned 21 and worked alongside Howard until he died. Tony trusted him to do his job and to have his back. Evidently it was wrong for him to.”

She waited until Rhodes looked away before shaking her head to try and clear it.

No. Stark must’ve had some influence- he is the Merchant of Death... He made the weapons that killed my family.

“I fear that this treachery will wound Friend Anthony as much as my brothers did to me, if not more. My brother’s sacrifice has shown that even under the guise of hatred- underneath it all he still cared for me truly despite previously losing his way and taking his rage out on Midgard. Son of Stane has proven that he has always possessed ill character and evil intent towards Friend Anthony.” Thor thundered then lifting Mijonir to bang it threateningly against his palm, “I shall ask Hela to let me pay a visit to Helhiem when we leave here.”

Meanwhile Peter found himself hovering silently, like Sam and Scott who were listening to Thor and Rhodey continue to convey to sentiment that they wished to bash Stane with Mijonir, he found himself listening instead to Bruce and Natasha’s conversation.

He knew Aunt May would scold him for eavesdropping but at this point worry for Mr Stark overcame that pretty quickly.

“That’s twice now, twice that hints of Maria’s depression have come through in recent memories.” Natasha whispered in a soft voice to try and make sure the others didn’t overhear. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t kidding when he told the rest of the team that his senses were dialled up to 11. “Bruce,” Peter watched Natasha out of the corner of his eye reach out and touch his arm with a gentle hand as she stared into his eyes, “I know you don’t want to think it but-“

“No Natasha,” Bruce shook her off and took several steps back, “I know what you are implying- Tony’s not like that, he’s not like me in that way. You said yourself, Tony’s a narcissist -“

“No, he’s not Bruce. I think I made a mistake,” Natasha frowned to herself as her eyes flickered to the floor then back up to his face. “There are too many similarities to Maria to ignore.”

“Enlighten me then.” Bruce replied in an almost subdued murmur whist glancing at Spiderman, obviously anxious that he would overhear what they were saying. 

Spotting this, Peter quickly looked in the other direction, pretending to be surveying the books on the shelves of current Tony’s mindscape with interest whilst bouncing on his heels and whistling quietly under his breath. 

The teen could almost feel the glare being levelled at his back from the Widow as she lowered her voice, Peter now had to strain to hear. “The Dark days and how St-Tony locks himself away in the lab for days at a time without explanation and then the BARF system with how the system could be used to combat Depression, it was one of the first variants he brought out of the system...”

Horrified at that prospect, Peter froze instantly and almost toppled forward.

“He might have done that to honour Maria and help me out with my mild depression. The Lab day’s come out about when he has fits of inspiration.” Bruce paused for a moment and pinched the bridge of his nose for a second. Reopening his eye’s, he dropped his hand and made his voice quieter with a hint of warning to it. “We don’t know anything for certain yet, maybe we should wait before we make assumptions.”

It was obvious to Peter that Bruce was saying this to try and convince himself as well as her at this point.

“If that’s all it is, why does he let no one down there when he has them? Why doesn’t he let you?”

The Being then appeared to them all at that moment, causing all conversation to cease, Bruce and Natasha split apart and integrated with the others as if their conversation never took place. Watching it approach the group, Peter wrung his hands anxiously wishing to know what the Being saw fit to show them next. Personally, he hoped it was a bot memory.

I love Mr Stark’s inventions and the fact that the bots all have their own personalities too! That’s amazing! Would Mr Stark build me a robot friend to keep in my bedroom if I asked nicely? Actually, I best not I think Aunt May might actually kill me…

 I wonder where Mr Stark keeps U and Butterfingers…I’ve only met Vision, DumE and Friday.

The Being looked up and smiled widely at Spiderman, “I think I have just decided what I need to show you all next.”

They all braced themselves as the familiar sensation of the memory changing occurred once again. However, all those swirling colours still managed to make them all feel disorientated.


 

They found themselves in Tony’s mindscape, they all quickly saw that these Tony’s appeared to be a few years older than they had seen in the previous memory; Mask and Angry Tony had both lost the boyish charm they had when they were younger, they both now appeared as handsome young men with slightly longer hair than before, however the lack of facial hair seemed to be the only thing indicative of his previous youth.

 They were sprawled, in presumably uncomfortable positions across the table and chairs they were on and they both seemed to be on the verge of stirring from their unconscious and seemingly hungover states.

"I am never drinking again," Groaned, Angry Tony as he sat up and rubbed his head.

 Mask looking equally groggy snorted at him, still too lazy to move.

"Because that vow really worked last time, didn't it?" Mask laughed quietly as Angry Tony flipped him off and shoved him.

"At least I had a good reason to drink myself into oblivion this time…” he frowned as he looked around and noticed, like them, that Pincushion wasn’t in sight. “Wait, where's Target Practice?"

Mask pointed to the pellucid sphere, they turned with Angry Tony to see Pincushion sliding his hand through the glass as if it were water, pushing past the smoke to try and reach something.

The smoke retreated slightly to reveal a limp dead hand lying on the floor of the sphere, which caused several of them to startle, Pincushion pushed his arm deeper in but as soon as his fingers brushed the hand it disintegrated into smoke.

Drawing back like snakes, several of the stands of smoke hissed and laughed at him as it violently pushed his hand out of the sphere.

Mask sighed and looked to Angry Tony, "I fucking hate the 1st June...I don't know why its hitting harder this year...I mean it's been six years now."

"I have an idea why." Angry Tony’s frown became very pronounced, he took a moment to survey his counterpart by the sphere. Before he moved across the room to tug Pincushion off the floor, who was still spitting Italian curses at the sphere.

Angry Tony proceeded to plonk him down on to his previous seat.

Pincushion gave Angry Tony a harsh glare but he was having none of it. "Shut up. You are like this every year on the anniversary of J's death, stop acting like such a girl. Now look-"

"You were talking about why it hit me harder this year..." Pincushion's voice sounded raw when he spoke up. "I know why-it's because I'm lonely isn't it?" They blinked at him, several of the Avengers jaws dropped. Clint even let out a surprised shout, “Lonely?!” Before Natasha elbowed him in the ribs.

 "Rhodey's my best and only true friend and he's away and could be blown up overseas while I am just sat here. Partying my youth away,” The smile that appeared on Pincushions face was an ugly thing, full of repressed resentment, worry and sadness. “Fake Friends come and go, wanting money, fame or a good fuck and riding into the sunset once they have it. They flock to me and try to pull the wool over my eyes! Ha! Oh, and let’s not forget the biggest wolf we know Obie. No, he’s great and sure, he loves me but if you think his love is unconditional, think again, it's always been SI first for him. I miss J." Pincushion was silent for a long moment before standing up and snarling. "I'm fed up of feeling like this."

"What are you doing?" Mask stood up eyeing his counterpart carefully as he watched him pluck several of the books off of the shelves and place them in his other arm.

"Making a solution." Pincushion answered shortly as he threw his old idea book at Mask who beamed once he looked at the page the book landed on.

"We're going to make JARVIS." Angry Tony appeared genuinely happy and awestruck by this prospect, they only just had time to appreciate how amazing that was before the scene morphed and changed.


 

They found themselves a high-tech laboratory, one which a select few of them recognised as an older version of the current Tony's lab in Malibu, cars and technology littered the space, which was neatly organised, for the most part. 

The illusion of organisation ended under the ladder Tony was on top of; the notes he had written when he was Fourteen and the improvements he added throughout the years were spread out underneath along with DumE, Butterfingers and U. They had clearly made themselves useful by holding up the notes or the other scattered electronic parts each side of them.

Placing the tile back over the part of the ceiling he had uncovered, Tony then descended back down the ladder.

He moved away from his bots and he gave them a brief glance as he pressed a finger to his lips. They understood the silent command, only lifting their claws to the ceiling in hushed interest.

"Hello,” Tony looked to the ceiling expectantly, “can you hear me?"

"Yes... I don't understand...What am I?"

Grinning widely, Tony's eyes sparkled with pride at the disjointed answer. "You are Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, JARVIS for short. You are an AI."

"JARVIS." The AI spoke hesitantly, "The surname was last belonging to Edwin and Ana Jarvis who served as your Butler, Nanny and Bodyguards respectively. I was modelled after Edwin Jarvis." He paused again seeming almost stunned at himself." How do I know this? I have no recollection of being taught this knowledge."

"I programmed it in you JARVIS so you wouldn't have to be taught. You are a learning program, I find in order to learn you need to have a basis to base your knowledge on."

"I presume you are my creator."

"You presume correctly,” Tony leant back and pushed himself on to the lab table to sit cross legged on it. “Now can you tell me what my name is?"

"Are you suffering from long term memory loss?” The AI sounded concerned, “This could be a serious medical issue as your vitals indicate that you have not taken any knocks to the head recently and you are not displaying any evidence of a concussion."

Tony's lips twitched up at the ceiling, "No JARVIS, just indulge me."

"Anthony Edward Stark, Creator, Sir…” The AI paused briefly before his voice became more puzzled. “When I came into conception I realised there are certain things which I do not wish to be able to do- even though they are within my capabilities and there are certain things that I can’t do and that I wish to. "

"If my hunch is correct and it usually is," Tony tapped his chin in interest and smiled proudly, "Those are your primary protocols acting on you. They are there so you have a basis, a guide to build your learning on. I will monitor you carefully though to iron out any glitches."

After a long silence, Tony spoke up again, "Let me see you J."

At once several lines of warm golden light descended from the ceiling to form a Golden ball that appeared to be trying to branch out and increase its mass along several rings of coding, it appeared a short distance away from where Tony was sat.

Tentatively, Tony moved to stand up again and crept towards the code. After hesitating a brief moment, he ran a hand through it and cupped the code in his hands.

Tony beamed as his eyes shone brightly. "It's human tradition to celebrate their day of birth, would you like this day as yours?" 

"I am not alive therefore it is not logical for me to-" 

"Bullshit! I made you, I gave you and your brothers Creation days because I don't want you to feel like you aren’t-“ Tony took a deep breath in, “Look, you may be artificial but you are real, you are alive- I made you to be. Now tell me, without logic, if you would like to have a creation day." 

Nicknamed Bot Birthday...I need a better nickname for that.

JARVIS paused for a long moment before his tone lightened considerably.

"This day every year is to be my creation day?"

"Yes, but you'll have to remind me when it's coming up though. I'm terrible at birthdays. What is the date today J?"

"June 3rd 1994, Sir."

That caused the smile to fall right of his face.

 It’s been two days since the anniversary of J’s death and I didn’t even visit his grave.

New levels of asshole behaviour reached. 

Jarvis would be so ashamed.

 "Sir are you alright? We can choose another date if you wish."

"Nah Jarvis, 3rd June it is." Tony grabbed a forgotten drink from the side to raise it to the AIs sensors in the ceiling. "Don't let me forget buddy. I'm going to get you tonnes of pressies this time each year, I'll be the type of da-creator that'll spoil you rotten."

Dad? Where did that come from? Fuck, no. If Howard proved anything it’s that Starks can’t be parents.

 Tony changed the subject quickly and looked away briefly to lean against the lab table again. "How's your systems J?"

"All online Sir. I can control any part of the house."

"I'll ease you into the control of other things once I'm confident you can manage your siblings down here. Let's face it, if you can handle DUME, U and Butterfingers down here, you could probably manage SI just fine.” Tony grinned at the trio when he heard DumE beep at that, “Don’t deny it! You are worse than Butterfingers, DumE and that’s saying something! If Obie says it’s okay, you’ll have to run by his guidelines, he’s probably the only person alive who knows the company better than me of course."


“Tony, my boy,” Obadiah clapped a hand on Tony’s shoulder as he strolled arrogantly into the lab, surveying the room critically, “What do you have to show me? I can see nothing new in here.”

“That’s your cue J.”  Tony’s lips twitched up and his eyes flickered up to the ceiling.

“My apologies, good evening Mr Stane. I am happy to make your acquaintance.”

“Well, well what is this?” Obadiah smiled expectantly at Tony for an explanation.

“This is Just A Rather Very Intelligent System,” Tony subconsciously puffed out his chest with pride, ”he can manage the House and he has proven to me that he could manage everything just fine. So, I was thinking that he could help us with the company too.”

“I’m not sure that it’s a good idea to have him in SI’s business,” Obadiah glanced to the ceiling and whispered, moving closer to Tony and placing a firm grip on his shoulder. “Tony, I don’t doubt that you created JARVIS with the best intentions however there is a chance that if we give it-“

“-Not it. Him.” Tony interjected harshly as he folded his arms across his chest.

“If we give him too much power, too quickly he could ruin us, ruin the company.”  He wouldn't- bloody hell Obie loosen your grip! Tony hid a flinch as Obadiah’s hand pressed painfully down on his shoulder, “this is when things like Skynet move from the realm of fiction into reality.”

Obadiah sighed heavily, “At least give me a failsafe- a way to make sure that if that happens, I can shut him down.” Tony didn’t say anything to that and Obadiah moved closer to him, the Avengers could tell he was deliberately making his voice softer and almost pleading. “I need to feel like I have something, my boy.”

Conflicted, Tony stayed silent and frowned deeply before speaking up, “I’ll make you a code.”

One that will shut down the majority of JARVIS’s functions temporarily but keep his audio-visual feed going…I won’t make something that shuts all of JARVIS down permanently. 

I just won’t.

“I have something else you might like.” Tony smirked and tapped Obadiah’s arm lightly to get him to move it, “I know I’m not manufacturing properly yet but y’know Howard left a whole seasons worth of uncompleted designs when he died. Shame really, but… I have completed them and added improvements.”

Obadiah smiled widely and clapped him on the shoulder, they saw that the expression he was wearing turned menacing as soon as Tony looked away.


It was clearly a few days after the meeting with Obadiah as the edited designs were sprawled across the lab table, they could see Tony bunch the designs together, oblivious to both Daniel and Peggy entering the lab.

Daniel asked as he looked around the lab with an unmasked interest. “What was it you wanted to show us, kid?”

Tony glanced over and smiled in return before his eyes flickered up to the ceiling. “Introduce yourself, JARVIS.”

“Hello, Mr and Mrs Carter-Sousa, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” Peggy blanched and dropped her bag on the floor, obviously spooked by the likeness the AI JARVIS showed to Edwin, her eyes flickered to the ceiling warily.

Daniel obviously seemed mildly freaked out by this too, but he looked to Tony for reassurance and upon seeing Tony’s reassuring smile, he relaxed and focused his attention on Peggy.

“What did you- “Peggy’s voice shook slightly before she paused and smiled, “Tony, did you create a new security system? Howard had one similar,” Tony gave her a confused look in reply so she elaborated. “He used to have a manipulated version of Edwin’s voice to warn off intruders, using recording’s which were activated when security was breeched… You needn’t have gone to the trouble of recording a response just for us.”

“He did not, Mrs Carter Sousa. I am a fully functional AI capable of producing my own responses without Sir’s input.” JARVIS appeared mildly offended by the idea that he was unable to think for himself.

“J’s a clever one that’s for sure…” Tony sat up on the desk as he sat up proudly and bragged about his creation with the air of a smug parent. “He even snarked at me yesterday. I have no idea where he picked that up from.” Daniel raised an amused eyebrow Tony.

“Of course, I wouldn’t have picked that up from you sir.” JARVIS quipped in return.

“See what I mean?” Tony beamed and it seemed to light up the lab, “Sarcasm is the metric of wit.”

“You are just as bad as each other.” Daniel shook his head and took a seat on one of Tony’s lab stools.

“Ducky,” Peggy knelt down to collect the things that had previously spilled from her handbag but it didn’t hide the heavy layered concern lacing her tone. “Are you sure that you made him for the right reasons? Because it seems like you are trying to replace Edwin with this AI and that’s not fair to either of them or healthy for you.”

Tony’s smile dripped right off his face as he fixed his gaze stubbornly on the other side of the room, away from Peggy’s view so she wouldn’t be able to see how upset that made him.

 “Mrs Carter Sousa,” JARVIS’s voice was soft but stern, “I discussed this with Sir. I was based on Mr Jarvis but Sir knows that to wish me to be anything other than myself is unfair. I am honoured to be alike and to be named after such a great man who so influential on both Sir and yourselves. I was made to protect and aid Sir as myself-not to be a pale imitation.”

“Then I am glad he has you JARVIS.” Tony’s head snapped to Peggy then who stood up and straightened before nodding once and grinning at him, “What can your new friend do?”

“J, now’s your time to shine buddy.” Grinned Tony as he sprung from the table, beckoning both Peggy and Daniel to follow him upstairs, “You’ll be amazed. J controls the whole house now…”

They watched Tony, Peggy and Daniel disappear up the stairs of the lab before they felt the scene fade out and change.

Chapter Text

 

Bruce swallowed and exchanged a tense glance with Natasha on the other side of Tony’s mindscape. He found it hard to imagine that the reason that his best friend created JARVIS because he was lonely and depressed.

Honestly, I didn’t want to see it earlier… Depression is horrible and I- I just didn’t want to see Tony suffer like me.

I convinced myself before that it must’ve been just because of Maria that he was so understanding but… now I think about it, even before I knew I saw the similarities between Tony and I when we met in the SHIELD Base.

And after.

“Everyone has bad days, buddy. If you want me to leave you alone for a bit, that’s fine. I won’t force myself on you.” Tony’s voice echoed in his head with startling clarity, Bruce felt a pained expression etch itself into his face as he remembered the first bad day with his depression he encountered while staying at the Tower.

He needed to be alone and he was dreading telling Tony that.

Bruce was scared that Tony would think that he didn’t like the genius anymore or that once he told him why he needed to be alone, Tony would be become very anxious and think that he was going to try to bite a bullet again.

At the time, I remember being surprised that Tony was so willing to leave me alone.

 I know that if I had told any of the others that I was having a dark day; they would either hover like a concerned mother hen (Steve), try their best to distract me with bad jokes or Asguardian tales (Clint and Thor) or ask masked probing questions to try and decipher if I was at risk of trying to kill myself again, (Natasha.)

“Bruce, are you alright?” Natasha asked from behind him, it caused him to startle as he hadn’t noticed her move beside him.

“I think you were right. About what you said about Tony before, he created JARVIS because he was lonely-“

“See, that I’m having trouble believing.” Loudly, Clint pointed out, it caused Bruce to startle again, he didn’t think that Clint could hear him. “Come on, guys he was and is surrounded by people. I mean we saw that MIT was shit for him… but I mean he’s Tony Stark. He’s got queues of people begging for his autograph, friendship or whatever else- “

“Yet he can feel the basic insincerity of most of it!” They were all surprised by how vehemently Spider-Man spoke up in Tony’s defence, “Even from Mr Stane who he knows loves the company more than him. Meanwhile, a part of him is worried that his best and only true friend at this point,” he shot a brief look at Rhodey, “is going to die and he was grieving a father figure because he was one of the only people who he knew truly loved him. Hell, if I was in that situation I can honestly say that I would try to make myself a friend too…. I would probably fail because I’m not Mr Stark, but you get my point.”

They were silent for a moment Bucky, Rhodey and Natasha took the chance to shoot the kid various wordless gestures that conveyed their approval of what he had just said, while Clint just nodded, appearing chastised.

“Just A Rather Very Intelligent System,” Scott uttered sounding awed, “Man, it-sorry- he seems like a cool AI, I’m amazed how Stark added all the similarities to the original Jarvis in there when he created him and it was 1994. Hey, he sounds like you!” Scott turned to the Vision beaming widely, before his smile dropped when the others collectively flinched or grimaced.

“Scott, Vision was made from JARVIS but JARVIS… it died, whatever was left of it merged with the Vibranium body Ultron made and the mindstone to create the Vision.” Steve answered deliberately trying to block out any doubts over whether JARVIS was a real sentient being despite the fact that it was almost certain in his mind that Tony thought of the AI as one.

“Oh man, Stark must’ve been wrecked or am I the only one who heard Stark almost call himself JARVIS’s dad? Shit.” Clint could feel the colour drain out of his face at Scott’s response, realising for the first time how Tony must’ve been affected in the aftermath of Ultron.

I don’t want to imagine how I’d react if one of my kids died.

None of us offered him support at all afterwards, we just left him to take the fallout of Ultron’s messes.

I feel disgusted with myself.

I’d retired so I metaphorically washed my hands of the whole thing.

But Tony? He didn’t have that option, the Vultures circled him and tried to tear him apart – we didn’t do a thing to stop it.

“I’m glad that most of you are realising the error of your previous ways,” The Being appeared suddenly in the centre of the group and they jolted backwards in surprise. It shot a glance to Clint, before alternating its gaze with the other members of the group. “What I am about to show you next is Tony’s friendship with a man that most of you have been guilty of overlooking. Just because he is not a Superhero does not mean that he is not a hero in his own right. Remember that.”

Puzzled, the others didn’t know what to say to that, they were all busy trying to work out who the mystery man was while the Being disappeared and their surroundings morphed around them.


 

The sound of heavy Bass hit their ears first before they landed with a bump in what appeared to be a darkened nightclub. Multi coloured lights twitched sporadically around the bar like frightened insects, allowing them to see Tony surrounded by a group of people who all flocked to the bar. The group appeared to be in varying stages of drunkenness, all of them appeared to be downing a round of shots and laughing amongst each other, although none of the Avengers could hear what they were saying.

 It was Rhodey who pointed out Happy.

He appeared to be drinking by himself on the other side of the bar but he was periodically checking his watch, before sighing almost impatiently and drinking a big gulp of his Beer.

“Great, I’ve been stood up.” Happy groaned to himself before his eyes flickered to Tony and his group who were acting raucously, his lips twitched up. “At least someone is having a good night.” 

Oblivious to Happy, Tony smirked at the Bartender and made a swirling motion with his hand, "Another!" 

The barman said nothing but smiled, keeping his eyes on Tony as he poured the shot, when Tony became distracted by the girls chattering around him they saw him slip a white powder into Tony's drink. Unfortunately, Happy didn’t see this as the Barman had deliberately used his body to block Happy’s view. 

"Here you are, Mr Stark." 

Tony turned back at the man’s voice, he took the glass the man offered to him before he paused and smirked at the man’s name tag. “What kind of man’s name is Susan?”

Amused, the girls around Tony giggled as the Chinese bartender flushed and pursed his lips, “It’s Su San, it’s a Chinese name.”

Shrugging, Tony downed the shot while they noticed Su San slip out from behind the bar, ditch the name tag and snake his way through the crowd to where they saw a menacing looking Tiberius Stone watch Tony from a distance.

“The deed is done Mr Stone. I managed to easily overpower and imitate one of the staff, Mr Stark didn’t suspect a thing. That dose should start affecting Mr Stark in roughly a minute,” Tiberius was about to move away before Su San stopped him and growled in a threatening voice. “I have fulfilled my end of the deal. I expect you to fulfil yours.”

Tiberius sneered but obediently handed over a wad of cash which Su San took before slipping away.

Stumbling slightly, Tony accidently slammed to a table which created a loud crash when his glass slipped through his fingers to the floor.

At the noise, Happy looked over again and frowned at Tony before his gaze flickered to Stone watching Tony with unbidden glee and anticipation etched into his face.

Happy began to rise from his seat.

When did it get so hot in here?

Christ, I feel really odd…my head feels like it’s been filled with cotton wool… Shit! I think I've been drugged.

"I'll be back in a second, Ladies feel free to get started without me, I’ll meet you by the Karaoke machine." 

“Aww be back soon Tony,” Several of the girls simpered, normally Tony would’ve replied with a wink and a cheesy grin but he was rapidly feeling worse and decided instead to make a quick exit from the back of the club.

Tiberius quickly made to follow him, they were relieved to see Happy to sneak around the bar to tail Tiberius and Tony, mere moments after he had hurriedly downed his drink.

 


 

They were now in a dimly lit alleyway watching Tony who leaning heavily against the wall, focusing on breathing deeply in and out, he seemed almost white and a thin sheen of sweat was gathering across his hairline.

Tiberius crept towards him, swiftly punching him to make him double over and pull him down the wall. “Well, well how the mighty have fallen Stark?”

“Ty…” Tony breathed.

“That’s right,” Tiberius knelt down opposite Tony almost uncomfortably close, he lifted his head up before swiftly punching him in the face. “You remember our little competitions don't you Tony? I beat you."

 "You were always a coward." Tony hissed spitting blood on the floor, "you couldn't beat me up sober and you knew it! You spiked my drink and coerced me to go outside so you could pound me. We both know it’s just to distract yourself from the pathetic failure you know you've become... tell me how is Vivastone doing again? That ‘business boosting’ trip to Europe didn’t go as planned, did it?"

In response Tiberius growled before his expression morphed and he smirked at seeing Tony try to mask a flinch whilst Tiberius stroked a hand down his face, “Oh, your godfather I’m sure will pay a healthy price to get you back from where I’ll keep you. We will have so much fun together- like the old times.”

“Hmm…” Tipping his head, Tony blinked heavily then suddenly smiled, "They weren't that fun."

"Oh?" Furiously, Tiberius's eyes narrowed. He leant forward and loomed over Tony threateningly. “Why not?”

 “You were kind of an asshole- always were- I just didn't see what a xenophobic, racist, bigot you were until we were in MIT."

"You dare Stark-" Tiberius's snarled and leant into Tony's face. 

"Yes I do dare.” With that he whipped his head forward harshly, deliberately smashing it into Tiberius’s nose.

 “You little prick " Tiberius snarled and yanked Tony up by his hair while the other hand clamped over his bloody nose.

Suddenly a fist slammed into the side of the Tiberius’s face, Tony dropped to the floor as Tiberius’s grip slackened before another three quick punches left him out of it on the ground.

Once satisfied Stone was completely unconscious, Happy rushed over to Tony, who was trying and failing to get up on his own.

"Hey are you OK?"

"Am fine, fanks to you.." Tony let Happy help him to his feet, "What's name, hero o' mine?"

"Harry Hogan," Happy scanned Tony with concerned eyes. "Look Mr Stark, we need to call the cops and an ambulance for you-"

Tony's legs weakened and he almost collapsed backwards but Happy quickly him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders.

"No, JARVIS has it covered, need to get to car-" Tony gasped.

"Who is Jarvis? Is he driving you home? I'm not going to let you drive home like that." Happy answered sternly as he watched Tony clumsily fumble for his keys, "you probably have a concussion and you are definitely off your face on something he gave you."

"To be fair this isn't the first time I've been high," Tony shrugged, "J is redirecting the car here so you can drive me." 

He carelessly tossed Happy the keys before stumbling to the passenger seat of the car and collapsing into it.

Stunned, Happy gaped for a second. Alternating his gaze between Tony who was losing consciousness in the front seat and the brand-new car that had just pulled up.

"You must be mad, trusting someone you just met like this."

"Nah, I know I can trust you 'Arry." Tony nestled into the seat and shut his eyes, "you have a happy face." 

Moving to the Drivers side of the car, Happy twisted the key into the brand new Porsche and gave it a smile full of admiration, "Mr Stark where would you like me to-"

Happy trailed off when he noticed Tony passed out. "What am I going to do now? Where am I going to take you? I need to find this JARVIS guy-" 

"That would be me Mr Hogan." Happy startled violently and his eyes seemed to bug out of his head as he stared at the radio where JARVIS's voice seemed to arise from.

"Are-are you in the car?"

"I assure you, I am not. I am an AI designed by Mr Stark, I will aid you in taking sir home. There we will arrange blood samples and video evidence so that Mr Stane and I can file an extensive case against Mr Stone. I would be grateful if you could guide Sir up to his room, although I wish I could do so, I do not have a physical body so I cannot.”

“Ok. I can do that” Giving Tony one last worried glance, Happy started the car and it leapt to life with a roar.

“And, Mr Hogan I have to inform you that knowledge of the true extent of my intelligence is limited and must not be shared to any third parties. However, I express my sincerest thanks for taking care of Sir in his hour of need.”

“I won’t and you’re welcome.”


 

“Oh my god,” Rhodey felt Tony groan and snuggle into his pillow. His vision sharpened dramatically as Tony shook his head and his room quickly came into view.

Looking down at himself, Rhodey saw that Tony was in the same clothes that he wore the night before but now he had a blanket tossed over his legs and that someone had taken off his shoes. Rhodes saw quickly that it was presumably Happy that did this and that it was him who had left the glass of water on the side too but Tony who was laying on his side facing the glass, frowned. Perplexed, Tony rolled on to his back before pulling himself on. Rhodey knew that Tony felt warmed that someone had been caring for him but it was lit by a tinge of alarm when he found that he couldn’t remember how he got there.

“I don’t normally sleep on my side, drunk me is trying to shake things up again.”

“No, Sir Mr Hogan thought to place you in the recovery position before he left you under the observation of Mr Stane. Last night you suffered a kidnapping attempt from Mr Stone, we had to take a blood sample to prove he drugged your drink to attempt this.”

“WHAT?!” Rhodey felt Tony lift his head up harshly to the ceiling suddenly before pain spiked harshly across his stomach and his jaw. “Fuck!” Tony rubbed his jaw then pulled up his top to view his bright blue and violet bruised stomach. Wow impressive. Rhodes felt Tony’s face twist into a grimace at the sight before he pulled his shirt back down. “Fantastic, who is Hogan?”

“The reason Mr Stone didn’t succeed in kidnapping you. Sir, you need to be more careful. I recommend that in light of recent events, your next advisable course of action is to get Mr Hogan to be your Chauffeur and your bodyguard. I have the events of last night recorded which have proven that he is trustworthy and his background has also shown that he is more than qualified to do so.”

Pausing for a moment, Tony reached over and drank some of the water Happy had left for him.

“What makes you think he would say yes?”

“Mr Hogan was honourably discharged from the Marines a year ago, following two gunshot wounds which tore through several muscles in his collarbone and his thigh while he carried another Marine to safety. He is currently unemployed at the moment and has a lot of medical bills for physical therapy due to both of these wounds. He enjoys boxing in his free time, a combination of this and physical therapy has meant he has improved a great deal since then. In short, Sir, he would enjoy the job and it would give him a chance to repay his bills.”

“Well J, we can pay those off for him, can’t we? Drive me to Hogan’s after I see the footage from last night and after you tell me what Stone used on me… Am I alright to drive now?” Tony glanced up at the ceiling.

“We will have to do another blood test to be sure.” It was at that remark from JARVIS that Rhodey noticed Butterfingers hovering on the other side of the room with a clean syringe clamped in its claw.

He felt Tony give the bot a wary look, “J, why did you think it would be a good idea to give Butterfingers this job- look what he did to my other arm!” Through Tony’s eyes Rhodey got a glimpse of several red pinpricks littering the inside of Tony’s left elbow.

“AH! Careful this time otherwise I will send you to a city college… I swear!” Rhodey just had time to see the bot move slowly up to Tony and press the syringe into his other arm before he felt himself leaving the memory.


 

It was clearly much later in the day now as the sun hung high in the sky but despite this the Avengers all found that there weren’t many people lining the streets and they saw that Tony was doing all he could not to attract attention.

He was clad in dark, understated clothes with shades obscuring his eyes, even the car he brought was black, expensive but not the top of the range like the rest of his collection.

Even Happy almost walked by him before Tony called out, “It’s a nice flat you have here.”

Happy startled at Tony’s voice whilst he turned and blinked at him, “Who are- “

 “Get in and don’t act like you don’t get into cars with strangers because we both know that is bullshit.”

“Mr Stark?” Happy questioned moving towards the car.

“In the flesh.” Huffed Tony as he tore off his sunglasses and gave Happy an irritated look through deeply bruised and fatigued eyes, “I came to offer you a job and to go over the plan of action regarding Stone. Why are you making things so difficult?”

Astonished, Happy slid himself silently into the seat while Tony blacked out the windows and soundproofed the car as he too got in.

The Avengers felt themselves slide through the metal of the car due to their almost transparent forms, it was slightly disconcerting for them but they knew that the Being used their magic to do this so that they could listen in to Tony and Happy’s conversation.

“Really?”

“Yup.” Tony allowed himself to grin a little at Happy’s stupefied face, “Now before you ask anything stupid like why I’ve decided to employ you, your background speaks for itself. I know that you were in the Marines and partook in Boxing clubs in your free time. That changed about a year ago, when they discharged you due to an injury you sustained while saving another of your team. Although now it is almost healed completely. That is what I would call an impressive resume.  Oh, and consider those medical bills gone, I’ve paid them. No don’t protest.” Happy, who had opened his mouth firmly shut it again at Tony's sharp commanding tone. “It’s the least I could do. Even without your background, you kept your mouth shut about JARVIS and you saved me from an attempted kidnapping… I could use more people like you around Happy.”

“Wow, thank you.” Relaxing back into his seat, Happy smiled gratefully.

“But there is one thing you need to do for me… My godfather and I have dug up every little bit of dirt we can get on Stone, add the non-consensual drugging and attempted kidnapping charge and he’ll be digging his own grave. Don’t worry Obie and I are handling most of it and Stone’s fall from grace will be public. To make my case water tight you need to file a witness report with the police. I will make sure you won’t be named in court or to the press, Happy.”

“Ok that’s good.” Happy nodded then paused as he turned to look at Tony through a raised eyebrow. “Did you just call me Happy, Boss?”

Unapologetically, Tony shrugged before he twisted the keys and turned on the engine, “I stand by what I said when I was high, you do have a happy face… I can tell you’re a good guy just by looking at you. It’s annoying. You’ve got the whole charm that Captain America had but just not the apple pie vibes-  Anyway, what else am I going to call you? Harry? Harold? Maybe Hogan? But please, Harold. That especially makes you sound like a stuck up old man.” Smirked Tony as he began to drive away down the road, gaining speed rapidly. “I think we’ve been through enough to call each other friends. And what’s with the whole ‘Boss’ thing? Actually, that’s not a bad nickname compared to some of the others I’ve had. I’m keeping that by the way.”

Looking out to the road, Happy tried to look for any sign that he recognised but they were slightly blurred because of the speed Tony was going. “Where to Boss?”

“Malibu, Hogan we’re gonna go driving. I’ll introduce you to the gym I have too,” Tony’s expression briefly darkened, “if that confrontation with Stone taught me anything is that I can’t allow myself to get complacent. Even drugged the way he kicked the crap out of me was humiliating.” Tony shook his head but kept his eyes on the road. “You wouldn’t mind teaching me how to box as well would you?”

Chapter Text

 “So did Tony send that Stone asshole to jail?”  Spiderman asked and at this Rhodes and the others, apart from Wanda, Bucky, Thor and Steve smirked maliciously, remembering Stone’s scandal being spread across the papers.

“Oh yes,” Rhodes’s voice was laced with a malicious satisfaction, “he got 25 years in Prison for ABH and Attempted kidnapping charges. The Drug that Su San used is actually lethal if too high a dose is used which meant he was charged with Administering Poison to endanger life and that added 10 years to Stone’s originally 15 year sentence. Without their CEO Vivastone tanked and was bought by Stark Industries soon after for $10.”

Amazed, their jaws dropped open before Thor boomed with laughter. “I am glad to see that friend Anthony got justice on this dastardly villain but I must admit that I feel ashamed at looking over the noble Harry of Hogan. He has proven to have a warrior’s heart.”

“Yeah, you don’t think someone with Starks profile would ever have something like that happen to him. I’m glad Happy was there. They seem to have a good friendship going.” Clint added, smiling with the rest of them as they thought of the potential Happy and Tony’s friendship showed.

“I have never seen him around Stark in all my time at the Compound. Hogan obviously seems to have wizened up to Stark’s true self since that meeting.” Sneered Wanda. “He was wise to leave before Stark’s friendliness turned sour… have you all forgotten how he betrayed half of us two years ago?”

“First, Tony never betrayed any of you. I’m not going to begin to start on how stupid that belief is. And second, that is because Happy was in a coma Maximoff. Do you really think Tony flipped and declared war on the Mandarin for no reason?” Rhodey snarled in response whilst Bruce winced.

 No I didn’t know- maybe if I hadn’t fallen asleep on him when he was telling me about it. I would’ve known that.

Vision stepped up to back up Rhodey’s point before anyone else, namely Wanda, had a chance to retort.

“Wanda, Mr Stark came to the compound periodically once every month after we arrived. I’m curious as to what you were basing that conclusion on considering the lack of evidence you have to support your claim.” Visions tone carried only a hint of the bite that Rhodey’s had but it was mainly full of a genuine confusion that implied that he couldn’t believe what she was saying.

 Despite her outraged, hurt look in response, he didn’t appear apologetic and didn’t give her a glance back.

Neither Clint or Steve rushed to her defence as they quickly saw what Vision had said wasn’t directly offensive to her it was just pure logic.

“Are you all ready to continue?” They all nodded apart from Wanda, who was contenting herself with sulkily glaring holes at the floor.

Therefore the Being ignored her and whipped them all into the next memory.


 

They suddenly found themselves walking along a hallway beside a noticeably younger looking Pepper Pots. She was dressed in her usual stylish but business appropriate clothing; with a crisp white form fitting blouse and a navy satin pencil skirt which matched with her normal towering high heels. Despite a confident mask being firmly in place, the spies could see through the twitching of her fingers around the file clasped in her hands and the way she was slightly biting her lip that she appeared nervous.

   She took a moment to collect herself before entering through the large modern, wooden double doors.

They all slipped in behind Pepper to see a ridiculously large office that screamed both professionalism and Tony Stark at the same time which all them, apart from Rhodey who had seen this office before, didn’t think was possible.

Most of the colour scheme was a dark mahogany, black and silver towards the entrance, with the dark glass coffee table and the ebony leather seats positioned around it dominating the space which hinted that it was mainly used as a meeting table.

However, this cold colour scheme gradually bled out as they looked deeper into the room. The unsympathetic silver accessories were isolated to the front of the office and now they could see that the gold was used instead as well as to sparsely to highlight the warmth of the lighter Red Oak wood used in this section to make the desk and cover the walls. They formed the pillars each side of the desk in the centre of the room which both Tony and Obadiah were sat at sorting through candidate files. 

The Avengers as well as Pepper both had to squint as the sunlight streamed in from the window that formed a wall directly behind Obadiah but lit up the side of Tony's face as he was sat side on to the desk.

Both of them were too deep in conversation with each other to notice Pepper at the door.

“I don’t get why I have to be here,” Childishly, Tony groaned and flicked his feet up on the table. “I’m CEO, I have other things to do-“

“If this year has proven anything, it’s that you need a Personal Assistant Tony.” Obadiah replied condescendingly, he pushed Tony’s feet off the desk when he noticed Pepper at the door.

His eyes raked over her appreciatively which succeeded in making most of them feel a little bit ill.

“Your last applicant for the day is here,” Obadiah got off his seat and offered his hand to Pepper. “Forgive him, Miss Potts. It has been a long day.”

Tony’s eyes widened slightly and he straightened as he saw Pepper. Wow, she’s gorgeous.

Smiling slightly, a faint blush made its way across his face as he stood up and made his way over to them.

“I’m sure.” Pepper smiled in reply and shook Obadiah’s hand, they noticed that her expression became more genuine when her eyes flicked to Tony. “Hello Mr Stark, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Virginia Potts.” She held out a hand to him which Tony took.

“A beautiful woman like yourself can’t be called Virginia.”

Challengingly, Pepper raised an eyebrow at him and dropped her hand. “Why not?”

“It doesn’t suit you. I see you as more of a…” Glancing over her, Tony’s eyes lingered over the light brown freckles speckling her otherwise chalky white cheeks and her strawberry blonde hair, before meeting her bright crystal blue eyes. “Pepper.” He breathed.

Pepper met his gaze and held it as she replied lightly. “I always thought my name was better suited to a Spice than a State.”

 “Yes, it does, for two reasons, your colouring reminds of the spice but I also think you and I could spice things up later.” Tony winked suggestively.

“That would be inappropriate, Mr Stark. Especially considering I work for you now too.”

 “Finance, right?” Amused, Obadiah had suddenly interjected, which caused both Tony and Pepper jolt, Tony upon noticing how close he was to her took several steps backwards.

“That is correct, Mr Stane.”

“Tell me why you are the most suitable for the job-“Obadiah Started before Tony rudely cut him off.

"I’m hiring her.” He glanced to Obie who was giving him a narrow-eyed glare for either cutting him off or being so rash.

 "Mr Stark,” Astounded, Pepper placed her empty hand over her chest while using the other to offer him the file, which they now saw to be her file containing her CV out to him but Tony waved it away. “ I-I would be delighted to accept Mr Stark. On the condition that you won't try anything on."

Scandalised, Steve choked on air whilst the others either chuckled or were in silent awe of Pepper's bluntness.

"Of course, not." Respectfully, he nodded to her whilst Obadiah stared her down in a silent request for her to leave. “I’ll see you tomorrow 10 sharp at my Malibu Home, my Artificial butler will guide you to my workshop."

"See you then Mr Stark." Pepper edged away, clearly wary of Obadiah by this point, leaving her file on the small glass coffee table.

Obadiah’s overly fake sweet smile turned into a leer as she turned around then disappeared through the double doors.

“You picked well Tony,” Obadiah clapped him on the shoulder and moved across the room to grab his glass of whisky on the desk, he swirled the ice cubes around his glass. “She is a pretty little thing and in any other situation, you know I would be encouraging your behaviour. But this is SI. Even Howard,” Tony stiffened. “knew when to keep it in his pants before he met Maria. It doesn’t do well to mix business and pleasure, my boy. You must know by now that everything is a balancing act with Business,” Obadiah’s tone deliberately softened at this point turning into a tone a patient Parent might use when scolding a disobedient child. “You remember what I told you, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Tony rolled his eyes, “’Business is balancing act Tony,’” He sighed, perching on the table that Obadiah was leaning on, none of them liked the way he appeared to be looming over Tony at that point. “- you gave me a lot of guidelines about how to act in that lecture but the part your referring to is the socialising. Right? ‘Socialise enough to charm people but don’t let yourself be controlled by a pretty face’ and ‘don’t let people sleep their way into your heart, Sex is just a physical act’. You didn’t need to tell me that I learnt that in MIT. Thanks to Sunset Bitc- err- Bain. So, no I won’t let Pepper in or let anyone control my decisions. I get that you worry about me Obie, but I know better.”

“She’s not the one you have to worry about controlling you, man.” Growled Bucky as he glared holes into Obadiah faux concerned face.

It was close enough to his Winter Soldier voice to make Steve give him a look full of real alarm as the scene changed.


 

“Sir, Miss Potts is at the door. However, given your current wellbeing I recommend that you postpone your meeting with her for another time.”

“J, don’t give Daddy a day off just because he’s feeling a little blue. Let her in, its rude to keep a lady waiting.” Tony kept his eyes down cast on the weapon’s skeleton spread open across his desk while very intrusive thoughts about improvements to the device buzzed angrily across the front of his head.

“Good Morning, Mr Stark.” Cutting through the mayhem of the self-deprecating thoughts and intrusive improvements, Peppers happy voice worked well in grounding him.

Is it? He swallowed the pessimistic retort hovering on his tongue and nodded.

“Are you alright? You seem very subdued.”

“I’m fine,” Tony waved a hand at her dismissively, “anyway I’m just -the weapons systems on here could be better utilised- thinner, stronger? Titanium… maybe? No that’s stupid- how is that stupid? Design flaw. Metal is fine, smaller pellets needed. Arrow head shape rather than pellet? That would work better, much better.” He looked up to the ceiling at JARVIS’s sensors, “JARVIS bring up holographic simulation.”

Carefully observing him, Pepper moved forwards and placed the black coffee that was clasped in her hands on the side whilst Tony appeared absorbed in the gruesome hologram of a figure being hit by his new design.

“Wanna know how it works?” Hopefully, Tony looked over to Pepper who kept watching the holographic version of the device being aimed at the person’s chest. She watched the shards slicing straight through and out the other side then rewind and repeat this action.

“Have you been working on this all night, Mr Stark?”

Diversion tactic, of course she wouldn’t want to look at that. Idiot.

Tony was about to answer before JARVIS cut him off, “Sir has been in the lab working for 13 hours straight, Miss Potts.”

Outraged Peppers face dropped into a comical ‘O’ shape, Tony noticed this and quickly spoke up in his own defence.

“That’s not that bad for me. Look, Pepper you’ve got to get that my mind doesn’t work like a normal person’s does. Honestly, I scored 300 on the IQ test so when I get an idea about something -How do I explain this? You won’t get it because you’re normal and – that’s great really. If I was a normal genius I wouldn’t feel like there are a pack of angry bees in my head every time I get inspiration to do something. I know from experience that they’ll keep stinging unless I do something about them.”

Peppers professionalism faltered and her voice softened, “You’re right, I don’t get what you mean. I never thought…” Hesitating for a moment, she shook her head then her voice became fondly firm. “Make sure you eat regularly while you are working and here,” Tony stopped as he tracked her moving around the table with his eyes before she pushed her coffee towards him. “You need it more than I do. You look dead on your feet. Am I correct in presuming our introductory meeting is postponed? If so is there anything else that I can do for you, today?”

“Go up to my office, JARVIS will show you the ropes of what you have to do as my PA and guide you on how to handle things.” They noticed a weary note creep into his voice at this point, almost as if it was taking all his will power to keep talking. However, the more telling thing was that he didn’t use Peppers last question as an opportunity to make an innuendo which they knew he would’ve done if he was feeling better.

Seemingly sensing that now was the right time to leave, she moved away. “Will that be all Mr Stark?”

“That will be all Miss Potts.”

Chapter Text

“Ok, there was definitely something wrong with Stark in the last part of that memory sequence. I’ve never known him to be so… placid.” Clint grimaced and then perked up when he saw Natasha and Bruce look meaningfully at each other. “What was that?”

“What was what?” Natasha asked giving Clint an unwavering blank stare in response.

 Clint waved his hand between her and Bruce. “You two have been sneaking off and whispering to each other, for the last few memories now. Spill.” He crossed his arms over his chest and measured her with a stern look, intense enough to match her own blank stare.

“You know something about Stark, more specifically you know why he was acting like that.” Winter turned an analytical gaze to Natasha. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed you try to move out of our hearing range Natalia. And you know too, don’t you Spiderman?”

Peter blinked under the Mask, when he noticed everyone staring at him, he held his hands up in the universal term for surrender.

“If this affects the team-“ Steve moved forward and spoke sternly in his commanding Captain America voice but Bruce cut him off.

“It doesn’t and we don’t know anything for sure yet.” He paused and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and his finger. “Natasha and I have noticed some similarities between Tony and Marias behaviour – more specifically the behaviour she display’s when she is having a ‘dark day.’ Which we know now means she is having a bad day with her depression… children who have a parent with depression are two to four times likelier to get it themselves.”

Steve turned away from them and grimaced, he knew what they were implying.

“I know you don’t like to think it, Steve but the signs are all there.” Natasha interjected softly.  

“What signs did you see?” Concerned, Rhodey frowned at them both.

How could I not see this about my best friend in all the time I’ve known him whereas Bruce and Natasha spotted it after seeing a few memories?

“Stark is good at covering it up.” Rhodey startled slightly and turned to her, sometimes it was easy to forget how well she could read people. “But we spotted in both of them. With how weary they both sounded and how much effort it seemed to take them to do things that they would find easy on any other day. If the overall pessimism of Stark’s thoughts wasn’t enough to listen to as well… both of them seem to find their thoughts painful on those days with Stark describing them as ‘angry bees’ and Maria saying that they scare her.”

“To be fair Tony’s ‘Angry Bees’ is most likely a consequence of having one of the highest IQ’s the world has ever seen as well as living with Depression.” Bruce shrugged, “It weighs you down being depressed… I would know.”

He muttered that last part really quietly to himself, only those with enhanced hearing could hear him which caused Steve to send him a concerned glance, as everyone lapsed into a melancholy silence.

Wanda promptly broke it.

“Stark is fine.” She huffed. “I don't understand why you all are suddenly acting like this changes anything. It doesn't. Didn't you see him pushing himself on Miss Potts? Disgusting."

"It’s funny really. No matter what I do, you are there to make me seem like Satan" 

They all stilled at that cold, familiar voice, possessing no ounce of warmth or familiarity.

Gathering up what remained of their courage, the Avengers turned around to face a current Angry Tony.

He was exuding threatening and evil vibes with such an intensity that it made a chill run down Wanda's spine. 

Stalking up to her with a purely malevolent expression, he grabbed her arm tightly before twisting around and shoving her to the floor.

At once the others began to protest or moved forward to try and stop Angry Tony from hurting her more. However, they found their hands went straight through him and they could do nothing but watch as he loomed over her, grinning like a possessed Cheshire cat. 

"Woah! Stark what the hell?"

"Get off her Tony she's just a kid!"

"Friend Anthony this is not a wise course of action, you are letting emotion cloud your mind-"

"What the fuck!" 

"Mr Stark please-"

"Well as you asked nicely-" He straightened as his disturbing grin morphed into a cold sneer. Looking down on Wanda, he yanked her harshly to her feet." Sorry witchy- actually I'm not sorry that felt damn good. I just needed to test a theory and she was the perfect subject to test it out on." 

"What theory?" Clint asked coldly as he pulled Wanda away from Tony.  Frightened, she let him protectively guard her.

"Just to demonstrate the unspoken inequality in this so-called team. None of you protested after all when a known Norse God hoisted me up by the throat yet you all spoke up to defend someone you welcomed on the team after she fucked with everyone's heads, including mine!"

"Why didn't you say anything?" Bruce asked softly.

"I didn't know that it wasn't me all along." Tony's voice truely morphed with Ultron's as the skin covering his cheekbones broke, tore and stretched to reveal Ultron's harsh threatening Vibranium cheekbones and his eyes glowed red. "Until the others realised what you did to me!" Wanda flinched harshly and he almost yelled that last word in her face before pulling back and his voice became dangerously soft. "They thought that this was my true face." He waved a hand that looked like metal had ripped apart the skin over one side of his face. "That I was evil. You didn't have the decency to tell me what you did. But I knew there was something different about that PTSD hallucination...I felt it violate me and because of that I knew it wasn't me."

"IT WAS YOU! I knew it- see Steve," She looked to Steve then, "Stark is twisted and here is the proof."

"Maybe so," Tony’s lip curled malevolently, seeing this Clint put himself between Tony and Wanda. "but certainly, not as much as you are little witch. If it were only up to me," His tone became darker as he addressed Wanda now moving up to her and shoving Clint harshly out of the way. "I would have ratted you out and told you the whole truth about your story from the beginning. I would've watched the Press eat you alive and enjoyed every second. Ooo this is delicious… Who’s having the involuntary reaction in their Amygdala now?" Tony laughed maliciously and sang. "It isn't me."

"Alright, you've had your fun." They turned to see Pincushion glaring at Angry Tony by the door.

He wasted no time in marching towards his counterpart and dragging him away from Wanda.

"Aww, come on hedgehog. Let me have some fun, Morgana deserves it you know she does." Whined Angry Tony but when Pincushion didn't say anything Angry Tony pulled away violently. "WE DESERVE SOME FUCKING JUSTICE!" 

Nearly all of the Avengers flinched backwards at that rage filled yell.

"This isn't the way to get it." Muttered Pincushion as he grimaced.

"He's right, there is no excuse for unprovoked physical assault, especially not when it's against a kid." Pincushion's jaw locked at Steve’s voice and his eyes fluttered shut briefly in a pained expression whilst Angry Tony became enraged, turning on him snarling rabidly.

"She's not a kid! She's Twenty-Eight, she stopped being a child ten years ago- shut the fuck up! And where was that defence when it was ME?! At least I didn't strangle her!"

"Come on man let's go." Pincushion implored, "Let Sparkles do his thing. I'm sure he'll get Morgana and Rogers to see sense."

Angry Tony smiled when he looked up to see Sparkles appear and laughed. "Good luck with that Glitterball. You have a challenge ahead of you." 

 However, he finally complied with Pincushion's request and stalked out of the door, not taking a moment to look back at the others.

Pincushion paused at the door and looked back at the Being. "I don't know how he did it but he somehow managed to break through the magic you put on us. You might want to make the spell stronger next time. And err..." Pausing, he frowned and glanced over each of the other Avengers faces and quickly became confused by the lack of animosity and the soft, grateful gazes he was getting from nearly all of the team instead. "What are you showing them? I was under the impression that it'd just be-"

"I am showing them all what they need to see." The Beings face became impassive and Pincushion became very awkward under their intense stare. 

"Right I'll just-" Awkwardly, Pincushion edged out the door, it was so reminiscent of Peter’s teenage self that Spiderman couldn't help but snigger a little bit. 

It was worth it to see a true smile from Pincushion in response before the door slammed behind him.

The door in the mindscape glowed brightly around the edges as a symbol representing a lock appeared in the centre of the door, it clasped shut before it slowly faded back to its normal brown.

"What did he mean," Wanda's voice quaked as she rubbed the arm that Angry Tony had grasped with an indignant expression, "when he said the 'whole truth' about my story? I know my story!" 

The Being levelled her with an intense look that made her feel like she was being Xrayed. "You don't know everything."


 

“You think you were the only one stalling?" Ultron asked as Wanda watched him through Tony’s eyes stalk towards him around the metal detonator that had erupted from the ground. "This is how you end Tony, this is peace in my time. You see, people are flawed, they always make things to help them end. You are no different. You made me and the Maximoff’s." 

"I know their story, you don't have to gloat." She could feel the uncomfortable feeling of guilt rise from his chest despite his flippant words. Why didn’t I figure out what he was doing earlier?

"Oh, I don't think you do, Tony.” She could feel Stark’s jaw drop as his shock curdled with her reignited rage at Ultron. What was he hiding from me?! “Neither do they. You are the only reason they made it from that building. Take you from the picture and they would both be dead. It was irony at its best, to watch them try to destroy you without knowing that in fact they owe you their lives." 

Stupefied, Wanda froze inside Tony’s head as she felt Tony still too. But that- that couldn’t be possible. Could it? It was his weapons that blew up my home- that killed my parents. How could he have saved me and Pietro? If that were the case I would know.

"What-" Growled Tony, he was about to demand an answer but Ultron chose that moment to attack. 

God, dammit. Now? After that bombshell…

Tony’s whole body sighed as he flew out of the church.

“Fri remind me to search what he means when we get back.”

“I’ll remind you, Boss.”


 

All of the Avengers found themselves in an unfamiliar room, it was lined to the ceiling with stone cobbles and decked with ebony décor lined with small silver octopus’s, the things in the room which were closest to them were two dark leather chairs which held both Obadiah Stane and Barron Von Strucker.

“No.” Wanda’s eyes widened when she saw them and noticed the craters of SI weapons sat behind and around Strucker.  “No, no….”

"It was a pleasure doing business with you Mr Stane." Strucker appeared very pleased with the crates of new looking SI weapons behind him. "These will be put to good use in Sokovia, the rebels are getting restless."

Incensed, Wanda surged forward, her hands glowed red ominously but Steve held her back. She glared at him to see that he was wearing a similar expression to the one she presumed was on her own face, it appeared to be carved out of stone.

Obadiah gave him a gracious half nod. "The pleasure was mine, Hydra will reward me graciously for my efforts." He lifted a cigar to his mouth and took a deep long breath in. "Of course, your part in destabilising Sokovia is greater than mine. I just provided the means. Use those wisely," Obadiah pointed warningly to the crates with his cigar while Strucker's men filtered into the room and greedily drank in the sight of Tony's inventions. They took them out and inspected them with awe. "They are not unlimited. I had to work hard to smuggle these here without Stark suspecting anything."

Vision floated over to Wanda, she noticed a lot of the others were looking at her out of the corner of their eyes warily and she couldn’t blame them. Her hands were pale and lit with snakes of scarlet, they shook violently; only stilling when Vision took one in his hand.

The red haze faded as she allowed Vision to comfort her.

"Is there any risk of that happening?" Strucker looked up in alarm.

"Not for now. He is easy to manipulate. However, once he outlives his usefulness or suspects me ...I arrange a way to get him out the way." Obadiah smiled and clapped his shoulder, "But for now, drink! Enjoy your new toys! Hydra will be well stocked for the foreseeable future."

“Bastard.” Clint ground out as he clenched his fists. At that moment, he wished both Stane and Strucker were corporeal so that he could throttle them himself.


 

They watched the last SI bomb they had fire at an apartment building in the distance which exploded dramatically once it hit its target. They appeared pleased with the results, however when they realised it was the last SI one they had left the rebels were beginning to panic. 

"Use these." A masked rebel offered as he, helped by four of his friends, moved several boxes of crudely made unmarked bombs to the feet of Stucker, who was clearly leading the assault. 

"Those? If we use them they'll know we've run out of SI weapons, imbecile!" Strucker barked sending more of the goons to his right from their posts to look for SI weapons.

The rebel smiled and held out a can of white spray paint and several stencils of the SI logo, "No they won't." 

At this point, Wanda’s eyes bulged because she could do nothing more than watch helplessly as the rebel sprayed the first bomb and beckoned Stucker over.

“Even Stark himself wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.” The masked rebel gloated, clearly Stucker thought the same as he straightened and grinned.


 

The scene changed again and Wanda gasped loudly when she recognised it her as her old home in Sokovia. The rubble had made it completely unrecognisable from the homely flat she had once known.

Half of the back wall and the ceiling had fallen forward fully blocking up the hole in the floor, amongst the rubble and the speckles of glass, they could see sparks flying off the damaged electrics on the far side of the room.

On the side, nearest to them there was a bed, mostly obscured in rubble, where sounds of two children crying came from, the fake SI bomb was perched precariously close to the sound. They all moved closer and peered under the bed to see Wanda and Pietro curled around each other, staring at the bomb with wide frightened eyes.

“Mum! Dad!” Pietro called out to the rubble, he tried to push himself forward a little but he grimaced in pain when his injured ankle protested at the movement. They all felt the phantom pain run across their ankles, as horror, sadness and desperation curled in their stomachs.

There was only one person this memory could’ve come from. Wanda swallowed heavily as her eyes drank in the sight of her brother. Pietro.

The younger Wanda sobbed and curled against Pietro’s chest, one of her hand’s held her head and dried blood had clotted across her hairline.

 “They-they’re dead!” She wailed, “They would’ve replied by now…it’s-it’s no use.”

He swallowed heavily and shuddered. “We’ll get the people who did this.” Peering at the bomb, Pietro’s face suddenly contorted in hate as he saw the name that was on the bomb. “Stark.”

They felt like a fire had been lit inside of them sparking with rage and a desire for revenge.

 It was disturbing to sense that coming from a child.

The younger Wanda turned into Pietro and screamed in anguish, even though the sound was muted by Pietro’s shirt it was still horrific.

The fire increased in intensity.

At least I managed to save a reminder of them…

He valiantly swallowed a sob and tried to make his voice stronger to comfort her but it came out wavering more than he had hoped. “I-I managed to save this.” Pietro uncurled his hand to reveal a very crumpled photo of himself, Wanda and two people who resembled both of them.

The older Wanda choked on a sob as she watched her younger self cradle the photo as if it was the most precious thing she had ever laid eyes on.

 “We-we are going to join them so-on.” Her eyes flickered over at the fake Stark Industries bomb and swallowed, “It-it’s only a matter of time before Tony Stark kills us too.”


 

The Avengers suddenly found themselves outside in the destroyed street several groups of rescuers were rooting through the remains of the decimated buildings.

They felt an echo of grim determination coming from whomever this memory had belonged to it was clearly from one of the rescuers.

 One of the members of the closest group looked up suddenly over to the Avengers, through what appeared to be looking through an old-fashioned camera. “I detect two heat signatures coming from that building there, they appear to be,” the woman lifted the camera up slightly to inspect the rubble, “five foot underground.”

The two women and five men that made up the rescue party sprinted towards the collapsed building behind the Avengers.

The woman holding the thermographic camera instructed the four of the men which slabs to move while the other Woman and her friend stood by the Avengers and busied themselves with trying to get the ambulances attention.

“Thank god Mr Stark came up with the idea to adapt these infrared cameras so they could be used in rescue missions.” They all felt the phantom feeling of relief hit them hard, clearly this bedraggled woman was the one who the memory had belonged to. She turned to her friend and began helping him wave over the ambulance van rolling towards them.

 “I know,” Gasped, the other man as he tore his eyes away from the ambulance to briefly look back at his friend next to him. “I’d hate to think what would’ve happened to these kids if he hadn’t.”


See the Link Below for Some Amazing Angry Tony Art :-)

By My Friend Dorian-The-Grey

http://dorian-the-grey.tumblr.com/image/158481853800

 

Chapter Text

 “It- it can’t be true.” Vehemently, Wanda shook her head to try and stop the doubt, that had settled and grown like weeds, from infecting the rest of her mind. “It just can’t be.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?!” Screeched, Peter as he vibrated with barely contained outrage, “how can you still deny the truth between you and Mr Stark when it is staring you in the face?!” Personally, he considered it a miracle that he had held back this anger at her constant bashing of his father figure and friend until now but the others had nearly always beaten him to the punch.

“Then why did I never see it in his mind?!” Wanda retorted, she leapt to her feet whilst her hands crackled with small scarlet fireworks. Peter’s defiant angry body posture didn’t lessen, she turned to the others who were watching her warily. “Why did I never see it in Strucker’s after I got my powers? All I saw is that we had a common goal. At the time- Pietro and I wanted Stark and his friends dead, how we got to that goal didn’t matter… even if it meant becoming lab rats.”

“And Stark?” Natasha raised a cool eyebrow in her direction, her vibrant green eyes had iced over.

“He is a manipulative, lying piece of work that enjoys pushing your buttons to test you. He doesn’t trust anyone and he uses his talents as a way to endear himself to you because he can see like me that there is nothing else you all would like. He is a twisted murderer. He is the real danger to the team and to himself.” Wanda crossed her arms across her chest.

Thor frowned deeply at her words which sounded nothing like the man he had grown to know and like. Surely the mind stone’s power should have given her a more accurate view of friend Anthony. Could Witch of Scarlet have been subconsciously projecting this view on to my other SHIELD siblings? “Vision, do you see this as truth about friend Anthony?”

“Wanda’s conclusion is based on truth but she fails to see the good qualities that Mr Stark possesses because of her own irrational grievance against him. Her powers do have the power to see him as he really is, as mine does. Subconsciously she did not wish to see it so her powers blocked any evidence that would contradict her previous conclusion.”

That is when it hit her like a freight train.

Tony Stark had indirectly saved our lives…

And in response Pietro and I had worked for the man and the organisation that gave the order to kill my parents.

Wanda’s hands snaked into her scalp and pulled at her hair harshly.

Stumbling backwards, Wanda’s back hit the wall by a bookshelf to the side of the mindscape.

We wait two days for Tony Stark to kill us. Wanda’s words to Ultron echoed in her head with startling clarity, her hands shook violently and sparked to life with iridescent vermillion twirls. Her eyes widened when she noticed them.

For the first time in her life she wanted them gone, they were a mark of what she’d let Strucker do to her. They represented all of her mistakes and the hatred that had governed her for the majority of her life.

All the procedures.

All the pain.

So I would have the chance to torture and murder Tony Stark for taking away my parents when he really saved our lives.

We just saw Stark’s name on the bomb and took it as proof of his guilt.

All our decisions from when Pietro and I were eight onwards rested on that fact and, it – was – a – lie.

“NOOO!” At this tormented scream her powers exploded, lashing out blindly.

Everyone but Vision jumped away from her, they stared in awe and horror at the intimidating red bubble rushing towards them and her surroundings but then the unthinkable happened.

It stopped.

Amazed they looked to Vision whose eyes and gem were glowing an iridescent gold, Vision lifted his arms and the iridescent red bubble withdrew and disappeared back into her chest.

Clint felt almost as if the air had vanished from his lungs and a horrible feeling of guilt mixed with amazement at what he saw. What was Wanda thinking letting her powers explode out of her like that?! Hang on, if Vision contained Wanda’s magic here then that means…

 “Why didn’t you stop us before when we broke out of the compound?” Clint asked as he watched Vision float over to Wanda who had looked up from where she had been almost hyperventilating on the floor.

“Vi-is?” Wanda turned to him and twisted her trembling hand around his. “How did you do that?”

“Your powers came from the mindstone Wanda, it would be illogical to assume that you are stronger than me. I could repress your power if I wish, I always could but I did not want to risk harming you.”

Wanda gaped at him, unable to tear her eyes away as he moved to kneel beside her. “I – I am so sorry Vis.”

“Apology accepted. I hope in time that we can rebuild the trust that we once had but I need time to learn to trust you again.”

Wanda’s mouth shut, she choked on a silent sob and nodded.

The others watched Vision steadfastly supporting Wanda, they were silent for a moment before they began digesting what they saw themselves.

 Steve and Clint gravitated towards her and offered their support.  Steve knelt down by Clint next to Wanda’s other shoulder, it felt wrong to him to see such a powerful young girl distraught like this.

Poor kid, her world had been shaken up. I’m amazed more of the others aren’t offering her support.

Pointedly, Steve turned and gave the rest of the group a severe look over his shoulder.

Scott sent a sad almost pitying look in her direction, although Steve saw by his widened eyes and the way he had pressed himself against one of the desks in Tony’s mindscape that he was scared of her.

Although he understood Scott’s fear, her powers had unintentionally lashed out at them all, she had just seen something the shook her to the core.

 Despite the mishap in Lagos two years ago, she normally had better control over her powers, Scott should know this, they had been working and living together in Wakanda for two years.

He shook his head as his gaze switched to Sam, who was next to Scott and the other Avengers, talking to Rhodey and Bucky about Wanda in harsh, unsympathetic tones.

How could they be so cold?

Hearing what they were saying, she shivered and curled in on herself tighter.

 Clint glared at them but was unwilling to move from his position beside the poor girl so Steve immediately jumped up from where he had been kneeling and turned on them.

“I don’t know what has gotten into the rest of you but you need to cut it out. Now. Wanda has been through enough. For goodness sake Buck,” Steve’s voice softened, “can’t you see that she is a victim of Hydra like you? Or how she is like me because she wanted to make her country get better by allowing a German scientist to experiment on her?”

Bucky snarled so viciously, that Steve could be forgiven in thinking that Winter had taken control again.

“She is not like me. She volunteered for Hydra and to have them experiment on her, not to make her country better or to serve it like you, she chose to do for revenge. She is not a victim, she was not brainwashed like me, in fact she is the one who worked everyone’s head before she even got in this team. What makes it worse is that she was of sound mind when she did it and when she agreed.” Bucky broke off and looked away, trying and failing to make his hoarse voice stronger. “I can’t believe you would even make that comparison, Stevie.”

Wanda lifted her head to the others and looked at them through teary glistening lashes. “Sargent Barnes, don’t hold my past against me. I was young, manipulated…and,” She took a shuddering breath in and paused for a moment, “Yes, I did work everyone’s mind but I did this based on the belief that Stark was responsible for my parents dying. I wanted justice for my parents, you get that, don’t you?”

Bucky was about to retort a comparison with how Tony had dealt with him after they had reunited post-Civil War when he found that he had been magically silenced, instead of drawing attention to this he settled for giving her a rather nasty glare as Sam spoke up.

“No, what you did is you preyed on someone who you thought was connected to your parent’s deaths, even then it was indirectly. Hell, from what I’ve seen about Stark, I know that he wouldn’t send his weapons there to be used on civilians. -“

“We are talking about the person who was nicknamed ‘The Merchant of Death’-“ Clint bit out, as he shot Sam a vitriolic glare. He felt bad for insulting Tony, but he was no saint and it was wrong to use him to rip Wanda apart when she was already emotionally vulnerable.

 “And if you were paying attention,” Bruce growled through gritted teeth, “you would’ve seen how undeserved that nickname was. Stop talking before you lower the IQ of everyone in this mindscape.”  

Bruce’s vibrant green eyes glared back at Clint with a surprising intensity before switching his gaze to Wanda. “If you had actually tracked down the person who fired this weapon and took your anger out where it belonged, you wouldn’t be feeling like this. You knew Tony was mentally ill, I can see it all over your face, and I’m willing to bet you hit every trigger you could to get revenge. Don’t try and excuse that. There is no excuse for that.”

Then Bruce rubbed his temples as the Hulk pounded against the magic the Being had placed to stop him from emerging; with Steve, Clint and Wanda’s tirades however the Hulks struggle was becoming more violent and painful.

Wanda was about to retort when an unfamiliar voice interrupted her.

“Maximoff your story is not unique or special. The route you took was your decision and yours alone to bear the guilt of. It is unjust to continually try to push that on Stark.”

They turned towards the sound, to see an old bespeckled Indian Man wearing a white cloth shirt that was stained extensively with what looked like bullet holes, he was transparent and a thin silver light lined his form.

“What is your name transparent one?” Thor smiled jovially at the ghost but approached him cautiously. “I believe you are not of this realm, the illuminate must have brought you to Friend Anthony’s mindscape for a reason.”

“My name is Ho Yinsen,” Yinsen smiled back at him and looked to the others with varying degrees of warmth until they completely iced over when their gaze lingered on Wanda. “I’m not surprised Stark didn’t tell anyone about me after all we did meet under some less than pleasant circumstances. The illuminate brought me here, Prince Odinson so that Maximoff would realise the injustice of her actions and to do so they brought me here to tell my story.”

“It is an honour to meet you Ho of Yinsen.” Thor went to clap him on the shoulder but he stopped at the last minuite and instead guided him to the centre of the group. “Did the illuminate tell tales of my commrades and I or did you watch over Friend Anthony from Valhalla?”

“Of course, I watched over him, I have done ever since my death.” Those words were delievered very softly before Yinsen seemed to internally shake himself, the ghost straightened and he grimaced slightly. “But I’m getting off track, I was taken here to share my story with you all and that is what I intend to do.”

Intrigued, the Avengers gathered closer to the unfamiliar ghost like group of moths longing the warmth of a flame but they were aware that his next words could burn.  

Yinsen levelled Wanda with an intense stare before directing his next words to the rest of the group.

“When I was alive, I lived in a town called Gulmara with my wife Sara and my children Ahmed and Asha. My wife and I ran a small doctors practise caring for the locals while our children walked to the next town over to gain their education like I did, it was nice.” Yinsen's wistful nostalgic smile flickered before dying completely; Steve, Rhodey and Sam recognised it intimately as one that they’d often see in traumatised men returning home from war, shutting all their emotions away so that they could cope. “However, a terrorist group called the Ten Rings had been gaining strength in Afghanistan, Sara and I had to stop sending the kids to school, we did all we could to stay out of their way. It wasn’t enough.”

Yinsen paused and moved so that he could see each of the others, his voice became steely. “The Ten Rings came a month after that, armed heavily with SI weapons. Originally, they were looking for more troops, they were systematically breaking down each house and forcing us into two groups. It was no point trying to run to family members or run away, those that tried were killed on sight. That was how my eldest died… Ahmed, he wouldn’t let me go so they shot him in the head.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Clint muttered under his breath, he swallowed and tore his gaze from Wanda to Yinsen who stared back at him, “I’m sorry man no one deserves to lose a child. Especially not like that.”

Unseen by Yinsen, Scott blanched and nodded in agreement with Clint.

If that had been Cassie, I don’t know how I would have coped.

Yinsen gave a half nod Clint’s way, in a non-verbal agreement and swallowed heavily. “They kicked his body to half way between the two groups as a warning- a promise to what would happen to those who disobeyed. All the young men and me because I was a doctor were loaded on to the back of their trucks. Then we were forced to watch as they filled our families with lead. After that they tried to ingrain into us that ‘the Ten Rings are the only family you will serve, and that you shall fight for.’”

Natasha swallowed, becoming very aware of the similar styles of indoctrination used by the Ten Rings in comparison to the Red Room. She felt a heightened respect for the man before her.

How strong must Yinsen be to resist the strength of an indoctrination that strong and not to lose himself in hate?

 “Imagine my surprise when one day the Ten Rings brought in none other than Tony Stark, the manufacturer of the weapons that killed my family, and told me to save his life.” He turned and directed a loaded look at Wanda who stared back at Yinsen as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing or seeing. “I didn’t hesitate to do so. My anger is with the Ten Rings not with Stark, they are the ones who killed my family.”

“I-I don’t get it; how can you not be angry? He-He made those weapons-“Wanda’s confusion was etched across her face.

“If he didn’t somebody else would have done so and my family still would have been dead.” Yinsen sighed and surveyed her sadly as he watched that visibly sink in for Wanda; she buried her head in her hands while her powers flickered sporadically for a moment then disappearing.

He moved and crouched down in front of her, “You still have time to make things right.” She slowly lifted her eyes up to meet Yinsen’s, in that moment she truly appreciated how wise and kind the man before her was. He had dealt with a situation worse than hers- where actual Stark weapons were used and yet he saved Starks life.

“How would I do that?”

“To forgive, both yourself- for your past and your mistakes and Stark for his. If you can’t do either of those two things, then there is no point because your heart won’t be in it.” Yinsen replied softly before straightening up, he looked behind the group and nodded, it was only then that a few of them turned to see the Being there.

The Illuminates hands glowed with clusters of white stars, they mirrored the position of the larger ones appearing around Yinsen, the ghost grew more transparent and smiled at them one last time before disappearing completely.

All of them waited for a moment for Wanda to collect herself, she leant heavily on Clint and Vision as they pulled her to her feet.

Seeing that his support was no longer needed, Steve moved around to where he was standing by Bucky, he smiled reassuringly at Wanda before turning to the Being.

“I think we are ready to continue.”

The Illuminate’s hands glowed gold, but its eyes creased in concern. “Before we do, I need to warn you that this next selection of memories will be emotionally painful for you to watch, Mr Rogers.”

Steve’s smile dropped.

“What- “

However, their world had begun to spin once more and their world had vanished into shimmering swirls of colour.

Chapter Text

The Avengers suddenly found themselves in a stylish, modern looking living room, pictures framed the walls; the main occupants of the photographs and seemingly owners of the room, Peggy and Daniel, aged gracefully and appeared to be living a happy life together.

The Jarvis’s flitted in and out of these photo’s before fading out completely as did both Howard and Maria however Tony and Sharon as well as two unfamiliar adults that resembled Sharon appeared to be regular features to the present.  

The light brown leather sofa that Tony was sprawled across worked well with the bright red cushions he used to prop up his head. The most notable change they saw in him was the addition of a small crafted goatee that appeared like a small hourglass below his mouth.

Without warning, a frazzled looking Peggy peered around the corner dressed up in a structured fitted red dress accessorised dangling silver ornate earrings and a matching necklace this was paired with a bold navy tailored jacket and matching high heels.

The most notable change, despite the silver streaked hair, was that she was missing her trademark red lips.

Spotting her, Tony winked and wolf whistled before getting to his feet, “Wow Aunt Pegs, you scrub up nice. It’s something special tonight, isn’t it? That’s why I’m house sitting for the weekend.”

"Oh hush, Mr Hourglass goatee.” Tony made a face of mock offense and covered his goatee with his hand, she grinned in return. “You should know it’s Daniel and I’s wedding anniversary getaway this weekend." Her cheeks flushed a rosy red as her voice went fondly stern.

“Now normal rules apply,” Tony raised an eyebrow at her, “No raves, no toga parties, no microwave AI’s, have fun but be sensible alright.” She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek, “See you on Monday Ducky.”

Peggy was about to sweep out the door but Tony stopped her.

“Aren’t you forgetting something Pegs?”

Bemused, Peggy turned around. “Not that I recall- “

Tony scooped a rouge lipstick off the side and threw it to her which she caught and stared at blankly.

"Huh...anyway I have to go now. I know it’s hard for you to do but behave yourself."


 

They suddenly found themselves in Tony’s living room, decked to the brim with advanced technology.

Judging by the change in location and the dim grey light filtering through the large window, a few days had passed since Tony had housesat for the Carter Sousa’s.

They turned when they saw a smart looking Tony walking out of the lift holding a carrier of strawberries under his arm, whilst talking to JARVIS whose voice moved with him.

“-still can’t see why she doesn’t like it. Uncle Daniel liked him.” Tony gestured to the ceiling as if that made his point.

“I believe Mr Carter-Sousa’s main cause of amusement was the name you had given to the AI you installed in their flat, Sir.” A light amused note tinged the AI’s voice which caused Tony to look up at him too.

“I knew you found it funny J. Come what better name is there for their AI than Pegleg?” Tony rambled on leaving the question rhetorical before JARVIS could come up with any appropriate suggestions. “Oh well, she loves Strawberries so I’m sure these will help Pegs forgive me.” He patted the plastic container filled with the red fruits before glancing to the ceiling. “What’s the time J?”

“It is 1:45pm Sir.”

Tony frowned deeply, “It’s not like her to be late- you haven’t trapped her in a lift, have you? And don’t tell me you haven’t done that before because Obie say’s that he’s been trapped for 20 minutes before.” They spotted Vision give a particularly mischievous smirk at this, one that he had definitely taken from Tony.

“I can assure you Sir that particular mechanical fault has been resolved and will not happen again.”

I’ll have to think of another way to get revenge on Mr Stane when he acts strange to Sir again.

 I don’t know why Sir doesn’t see it.

Tony gave a disbelieving eyebrow to the ceiling before shrugging and turning away to put the strawberries on the side. “Call Peg’s up. JARVIS, let’s see what’s going on.”

“Connecting to Mrs Carter- Sousa now, Sir.”

Tony glanced over to see Pepper enter the room and JARVIS wordlessly transferred the call over to his personal mobile which he pressed to his ear.

"Peggy, whoa, calm down. What can you see around you? OK I'll come and collect you. I think I know where you are. I'll be there in 5."

Clicking the phone off Tony brought it down from his ear, “Sorry Peps I gotta run Aunt Pegs needs me.”

“What do I say to the Mr Stane and the Board? The meeting starts in five minutes.” 

"Family emergency," Tony smiled apologetically as he made his way to the lift, "most of the old coots in there will know how it is. They aren’t all soulless leeches."

Hearing Pepper choke back a laugh at this, he directed his widened smile at her as the doors closed over his face.


 

They now found themselves on almost deserted street corner, the clouds above them had turned almost black as they opened and let out a steady stream of rain on the people below, they all ran for cover, all apart from one lonely figure.

Drenched, Peggy shivered; the rain had smeared her mascara to create long dark lines that created the illusion that she had been crying, her hair clung to her head and neck, this along with her hunched body posture had created the illusion that she had shrunk.

It broke Steve's heart to see her like that.

They whipped around at the sound of an expensive car pulling up at the side of the road, opposite where Peggy was standing.

Jumping out of the passenger side of the car, Tony quickly ran over to Peggy with an Umbrella clasped in his grip

“Come on Aunt Pegs,” He moved his umbrella so it would cover her and wrapped his arm around her to guide her to the car. “Let’s get you inside.”

He opened the door for her and moved hurriedly to the other side of the car, bringing down the umbrella as he slipped in after her.

Eyeing Peggy worriedly, he made a movement to grab her seatbeat before stopping at her stern look, instead he looked to Happy.

“Come on Hogan turn the heating up man, I’m soaked through.” Tony gave an exaggerated shiver and dumped his dripping umbrella in the footwell.

Although, they could tell that this was mainly done out of concern for Peggy, he smiled as he watched her relax back on the soft rapidly warming leather seat.

“Where to Boss?”

“Take us to the Carter -Sousa’s, Hogan.”  Firmly Tony spoke up and Happy began to pull the car away.

Whipping her head around, Peggy made her objection to that plan known. “There’s no need to overreact Ducky I just got lost. I’ll stop our lunches if this ridiculous mothering becomes an issue… for goodness sake I’m just a little wet, I’ll dry off in no time.”

“Daniel would have my head if you got sick because of this… besides you’re dripping all over the seats so I call bull- “Peggy raised a stern eyebrow at him and he cut off mid swear to change the course of his argument. “We’ll talk about this more when we get you home ok, just go with me on this.”

“Fine.” Huffed Peggy as she leant back onto the seat and her eyes flickered to the raindrops travelling down the window. “You’re dealing with Daniel when we get back.”

“Deal.” The memory began to warp and change just as they got one last clear image of Tony pulling out his mobile to warn Daniel of their imminent arrival.


 

“Warm yourself up Tones, you look pretty soaked too.” Daniel’s kind voice brought Steve firmly into the next memory, he watched through Tony’s eyes as he grabbed the wedge of blankets with, what he felt to be, a small smile on his face.

Daniel’s eyes lingered for a moment on Peggy and Tony before he left the room, presumably to get hot drinks or water bottles to warm them both up.

Steve felt Tony hesitate before sliding over from the other side of the couch and draping two of the three blankets he had been given over her already heavily layered form, he hugged her securely to his side and rubbed her arm to try to make some friction both soothe her and create more heat.

"Look it’s been going on for a while, I haven’t said anything.” Tony’s voice shook slightly on the last word and she turned her head to look at him. “You aren't well Pegs."

Peggy gave a short incredulous laugh. "I'm fine Tony."

"Really?" Steve could hear the soft concern creep into Tony’s voice and mix with a sharp incredulous intelligence that told both him and Peggy that he wasn’t buying it.

"Yes." She snapped, Steve could feel himself reel inside Tony’s mind, he had never ever thought he would see such a fierce expression directed at him- no this is at Tony.

"Forgetting things and forgetting where you are, is being fine then?"

"It's called getting old. Tony you'll know if you reach my age. Although with the way you've been living your life I doubt it.”

Steve felt Tony flinch at that remark, and out of the corner of his eye he saw Daniel, who had come back with three steaming drinks, still too.

“Peggy!” Daniel slammed the drinks down harshly and moved across the room to sit beside Tony, “I can’t believe you would say something like that.”

Taking a deep breath in, Steve felt Tony try to calm himself. Wow… that was a low blow Pegs.

“She doesn't mean it…” Tony looked up at Peggy, Steve heard a steely note come through in his voice. “Those things are the early stages of Dementia Pegs. You can't pretend you're alright anymore. Daniel, tell me you haven’t seen anything off about her recently.”

Perplexed, Daniel stared intently between Tony and Peggy. “Not really no. Tones, what is this about?”

Tony opened his mouth to answer but Peggy cut him off.

"What are you trying to achieve here, Anthony?" Her eyes narrowed at him full of suspicion and malice.

"I'm trying to get you to help yourself."

"Really? Well, thank you very much for sharing your ridiculous and unfounded…” Peggy trialled off in the middle of her tirade as her eyes distant and lost nearly all of their earlier fire. “What's the word?"

Tony exchanged a loaded look with Daniel who was appearing more and more worried for her.

"Oh well, no matter. This," She got up shakily, “proves nothing."

It pained Steve to feel the sadness and desperation clogging up Tony’s throat as he watched Peggy shuffle towards the door.

"Margaret Carter," Steve mentally blinked at the unusual use of Peggy’s full name. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Tony sound so serious. “Last time someone I loved ignored something wrong with them they died. I haven't got many people left... I can't lose you too."

The edges of Steve’s vision blurred, he felt tears collect inside Tony’s eyes, before he thought that Tony’s abrasive personality had stopped from being close to others, but these memories told a very different tale.

Peggy’s previous defensive snarl dropped at this, something warm curled in Tony’s chest at seeing her softened expression and feeling Daniel clasp his shoulder.

“Does this really mean that much to you both?” Steve felt an irrational stab of envy at feeling Peggy’s hand wrap around Tony’s when she had walked back over to them.

“It does Peg. Now that Tony’s mentioned it I can see that things have been off for a while…” Daniel frowned deeply. “I guess I didn’t notice because I see you every day but Peggy, I think you need to get yourself checked out.”  

“Alright,” Tony looked at her, she gave him a reassuring smile in response to the relieved one Steve could feel on Tony’s face. “I will go to the Doctors tomorrow."


 

“Ah Tony there you are.” Tony turned from where he was sat at the lab desk at Obadiah’s stern voice. “You have been nearly impossible to get a hold of ever since skipping out of that meeting because of a ‘family emergency’. Now, Tony I have to know what could possibly be so important-“

“Peggy has Dementia.” Obadiah’s mouth shut as Tony turned away. Seeing this vulnerability, Obadiah’s eyes took on a purely malevolent, calculating glint which was hidden well by the concerned mask that he slid over his features.

“So, that’s why you haven’t been doing much work these past three days.” Obadiah murmured, deliberately loud enough for Tony to hear.

“Hey, look Obie I’m sorry man but after I got that news I felt myself go into a dark day-“

“Then why don’t you distract yourself from them with these designs the board want you to make. After all it makes no sense for you to waste time, doing nothing. This is what you’re best at after all and you enjoy building things don’t you?”

Tony didn’t say anything to that, he just nodded.

Obadiah clasped his shoulder at this point and Tony jolted, not expecting the contact. "Don't let this awful business with Mrs Carter-Sousa get you down, My boy. You still have me." Tony’s eyes softened and he smiled warmly at the older man. “Hey I know man, you’re great but it’s hard… I’m just thinking about the day I walk in to see her and she won’t recognise me- “

Obadiah cut him off, sounding purposefully harsh but understanding. “I know it’s hard Tony. But even in the toughest times your father never made the mistake of letting his personal life and his work mix and you can’t afford to either."

Tony’s smile froze and became ugly and fake. “Alright. This should be back to you tomorrow or the day after.”

"Great." Obadiah lifted himself off of the stool, “and Tony next time you feel a dark day coming on…  let me know ok? I wouldn’t want you to go through that alone.”

“If you insist…” Tony rolled his eyes and smiled as Obadiah made his way out of the door.

They all saw an evil grin overtaking Obadiah’s features, JARVIS slammed the door behind the older man with a loud bang which clearly conveyed the AI’s dislike of both the request of the older man and of Stane himself.

They couldn’t help but agree with JARVIS on this and hoped that Tony’s agreement was just lip service and nothing more.


 

They found themselves in the room of what seemed to be a specialised Dementia Care home judging by the certificates littering the warm, wallpapered walls. In fact, the whole room had a soft homely feel to it, despite being drastically different to the home where Peggy used to live. The vibrant red that had been a recurring colour theme in her old room had dulled to a light pink, it most notably covered the plush chairs either side of the bed as well as the cushion and parts of the duvet in the bed Peggy was laying in.

They walked around the table and the folded-up leg braces in front of Peggy’s bed to get closer to Tony who was perched on the chair furthest from them, talking to Peggy.

His eyes sparkled with a light, joyful gleam that was rare to see in him nowadays.

“- should really introduce you to my friend Pepper, Aunt Peg. You’d love her. She’s strong independent and fiercely protective. Who would’ve thought? Certainly, not me, nor in fact did the Reporter harassing me at the last Maria Stark gala last week. Miss Berkeley, I think her name was- she only backed off when Pepper tore some actual pepper spray from her bag and told her to stop being so harsh or she’d spray. I swear that woman thinks of new ways to suit her nickname all the time.” Tony’s cheeks reddened as a dopey smile spread itself across his face.

“Are you sweet on her Ducky?” Peggy grinned.

“I- uh, no, no of course not. We are friends. Friends only Peg.” Vehemently denying Peggy’s observations, Tony failed to notice Peggy’s eyes go scarily blank.

“Howard, who is Pepper?” Peggy asked curiously.

“I just tol-“Tony’s sentence suddenly cut off as his eyes bulged when what she called him sunk in. “Did you just call me Howard?”

“That’s your name.” Peggy raised an eyebrow before narrowing her eyes at Tony when he gaped at her.

“No-no, it’s not-“

"Howard you're scaring me. Did you hit your head recently? You should really let Mr Jarvis drive more often. You’re way too reckless."

Tony took a deep breath in and grabbed her hands. "You’ve got to listen to me, Pegs. I'm not Howard Stark, I'm his son Tony."

Amused, she laughed," Very amusing Howard. But enough of this nonsense, I know you well enough to know you're hardly capable of looking after your pets. Let alone a human being."

Tony dropped her hands and failed to hide a flinch as Peggy leant forward and misinterpreted his expression. “I knew you weren’t well, where’s Mr Jarvis?”

“He’s by the door,” Tony breathed, Peggy leant forward to try and see Jarvis through the crack in the door. He quickly moulded his expression into an amiable, easy one but he was sure to keep his eyebrows and his jaw tense to hint that he was feeling unwell. “Or he was. He, like you, thought I didn’t look well this morning. He’s probably gone to get me some medicine.”

“You’ve got to take care of yourself better, silly man.”  

“I wasn’t going to pass up seeing my pal when she’s laid up here.” He gave a fake flirtatious grin, “besides I’m sure a kiss from a beautiful lady like yourself will make me feel much better.”

She grabbed a newspaper from the side and wacked him over the head with it. “That illness has addled your brain Howard. Remember what happened last time you tried to kiss me.”

Steve choked on air whilst a few of the others snorted or appeared scandalised at the thought of Howard trying to make a move on Peggy Carter.

“Point.” Tony rubbed his head with one hand whilst using the other to take the paper. “Mind if I take this?” He held up the newspaper, careful to use the position of his hand to cover the date. “Jarvis likes the crossword.”

“Of course, it’s nice to see you.”

Tony beamed one last time and gave a very arrogant half wave.

 It was only when he shut the door firmly behind him that he let his composure break.

He slid down the door, until his legs hit the floor with a painful sounding smack that Tony didn’t seem to notice. The newspaper fell to the ground.

Tony swiftly pressed his palms to his eyes, he made a very weak wounded noise that they all knew he’d be too proud to admit ever having made if they brought it up with him.

He began murmuring something in a harsh hiss that the unenhanced members of the team had to move forward to hear, “Pathetic. You knew this was coming. Get a grip… IT’S NOT FUCKING FAIR!”

With that Tony lunged to the side and rolled-up the newspaper so tight that when he threw it, it bounced across the wall and slid an impressive distance down the waxed, wooden floor. Daniel slipped to the side to avoid the skidding projectile, his eyes widened when he saw Tony sprawled over the floor.

Daniel hobbled impressively fast over to him, he winced as he knelt down before he settled himself on the floor next to Tony.

“Tony. Come on kid…”  He sighed and frowned, giving him the appearance of having aged ten years. “I take it she forgot you too then?”

“She forgot you? How can you be alright with that?” Perplexed Tony lifted his eyes to meet Daniel’s, “You are practically soulmates.”

Steve had to fight the instinctive jealousy that rose in his chest at Tony’s declaration and kept the wince off of his face. Honestly, he had trouble, watching all these memories separating the Peggy he had loved, his ‘best girl’ with the Peggy who Tony knew and married another man.

Peggy will always be special to me but she’s moved on and… I can accept that.

I have Sharon now- no I had Sharon.

He fought off a grimace at the thought of that particularly nasty break up with Sharon after he had returned post- Civil War and instead focused on the memory in front of him.

“Dementia is a cruel illness Tony. She’s not purposefully being like this,” Daniel tapped lightly on the door behind him, “Behind that soundproofed door is still the woman we love, nothing will change that.”

Tony rested his head against the door and nodded, “I get that… now come on let’s go and see if there is any alcohol in this place.” Tony got to his feet and offered Daniel a hand.” You look like you need it.”

The memory began to change as soon as Daniel clasped his hand.


 

 The team found themselves back in Tony’s Malibu house, strolling alongside Obadiah, who stilled and paled to a dramatic shade of white at seeing a grey haired disturbingly familiar face rushing past him.

No it can’t be. He can’t be here… It can’t be Howard, he is dead.

“Tony?”  The other man couldn’t help internally bracing himself for Howard’s murderous ghost turning on him for how he was treating his son.

However, he felt an unholy amount of relief at seeing Tony’s faintly annoyed face instead.

This Tony had lost his hourglass goatee and replaced it with a thin moustache that was so reminiscent of Howard that it made Obie feel sick.

The others, apart from Steve and Bucky who were feeling mildly ill too, grinned vindictively at this.

“What happened to your hair and your… face?”

Tony raised an eyebrow at Obadiah’s jerky question, “The ‘face’ was my doing and the hair was DumE.”

Obadiah gave a curious smile as his eyebrows rose up his forehead. “Do I want to know?”  

He noticed Tony move towards the door and quickly moved to follow him.

“DumE is a little shit who decided that instead of fixing U’s paint job, he’d go for my hair instead. Despite the fact that U specifically asked and it was his Bot Birthday. I shouldn’t be surprised, U is the vainest after all. I can’t believe he asked for a paint job, of all things? I have absolutely no idea where he gets that from… I’ve lost you, haven’t I?”

Giving no sign of acknowledging Tony’s previous rant or his question, the older man scanned Tony through narrowed eyes. “Don’t you think you’ll turn a few heads going out like that?”

“Oh relax,” Tony waved him off as he swaggered to the car waiting for him outside and swung some rose-coloured shades over his eyes.

He lowered himself into the driver’s seat and beamed at Stane. “I’m just going to the Dementia place to see Aunt Pegs. What could possibly go wrong?”


 

They found themselves once again in the familiar, warm hallway of the Dementia home, Tony rushed up to elder man and beamed when the older man startled and smiled.

“God, kid you looked so much like Howard then I had to double take.” Daniel paused, still smiling at the hilarity of Tony’s appearance.  “Do I want to know what’s with the silver up do?”

“DumE,” Rolling his eyes, Tony then paused and gave Daniel a very serious stare. “Never ever trust him with spray paint.”

“Maybe, but it’s good you look like this today.” Daniel’s smile dropped. “Peggy’s having another bad day. She won’t recognise you- not as you anyway.”

"When does she think, she is?" Tony cringed.

"Well,” Daniel grimaced, “judging by the amount of worry she showed for you… it seems to be just after you got shot. She kept insisting on how you were and that she needed to speak to Howard about you…”

Tony nodded.

I know what I have to do.

His eyes flickered and became blank.


 

Running over to the thick volumes near the Italian books, Mask grabbed one particularly cold looking black leather and silver volume engraved with the words Howard Stark.

"You can't be serious." Pincushion raised an eyebrow at Mask, whose hand’s flicked through the volume quickly.

“If you’re going to be a whiny little bitch about it don’t bother talking.” Angry Tony drawled, “Of course we’re serious. We can do it, what choice do we have?”

“Chapter 14… Chapter 14…Got it!”

“I don’t like lying to her.” Frowning Pincushion looked over Mask’s shoulder at the book as Angry Tony pulled up various holograms of childhood memories depicting various Howard Stark’s in holographic form from the table.

“Sometimes in the real world, we are faced with ugly choices…” Angry Tony glared at one of the holograms of his father for a moment before his stare lost a lot of heat when he looked back to Mask. “Good luck.”

Mask smiled briefly before blowing into one half of the book, the words clumsily tumbled off the pages on and before chapter 14, most of them fell into an indistinguishable black heap at the three Tony’s feet but two clusters of words hovered like golden bees by the Tony’s.

One cluster held vibrating words like ‘arrogant’, ‘charming’, ‘intelligent,’ whilst the other held words that appeared slightly dimmer, ‘cold,’ ‘calculating’, ‘heartless.’

Mask’s eyes flickered gold as the holograms turned into strands of shimmering silver light that picked up several of the words as they snaked through the clouds of words at the Tony’s eye level.

Mask was briefly obscured by the light before both it and the words sunk into his skin.

To the Avengers, it seemed like they were watching Tony age before their eyes however it became quickly clear that it wasn’t the older Tony they were seeing him morph into…

The scars on his hands vanished as the hands themselves grew, becoming wrinkled and more calloused; Tony’s hair was now white at the roots and quickly overtook the original dark brown on Tony’s head, his face clicked as his skull lengthened, his cheekbones became slightly sharper as his eyes became smaller and more severe.

Standing there now was no longer Tony but...

"Howard?" Bucky asked sounding more vulnerable than anyone apart from Steve had ever heard.

"I don't hear you doubting me now." Mask in the guise of Howard Stark smirked cockily.

Everyone's jaw dropped.

"No way." Scott whispered awed.

"Let's get this show on the road Daddy dearest."

Pincushion smiled widely and clapped Mask on the shoulder as he stepped arrogantly forward.


 

“Tony,” Clicking his fingers in front of the younger man’s face, Daniel smiled as Tony suddenly blinked back, his eyes becoming very sharp.

Tony’s cast the door Peggy was behind a strained smile, “Do you want to come in with me?"

 “No that’s ok Tones, I’ll give you some time alone with her. I’ll be back as soon as I can ‘get that ash’ out of my hair.”

Tony grinned at the mainly grey thick mop of hair that adorned Daniels head. “Getting grey Gramps, you might want to buy some black hair dye.”

“Ha, ha very funny,” Daniel poked his tongue out at Tony and ruffled his hair, “Good luck kid.”

The old man turned around and made his way down the corridor.

“I’m thirty two years old Dan-“Groaned Tony good-naturedly but twisted his head around to find the older man had vanished.

Taking a deep breath in, Tony gathered up his courage and entered the room.

Anxiously, Peggy turned to the sound whilst her hands clawed at her sheets. “Howard, how’s Tony? Have you been in to see him today? Where’s Mr Jarvis? I bet he’s feeling awful about what happened."

"I saw him," Tony spoke with a hard note that they had only heard before in Howard and the present Tony. "He gave us quite the scare soon after you left but he’s stable now. Jarvis… hasn’t left him since he was brought in.”

Nodding, Peggy took a deep breath in then consciously unclenched her hands. “Alright, I guess that’s the best we can hope for. Has he woken up yet? My Anthony was so brave… I need to see him.”

Peggy made to get to her feet but her legs shook underneath her, they would’ve collapsed had Tony not guided to one of the soft plush chairs beside her bed.

 Confused, she looked down at her legs, “What-?”

“That was stupidity Pegs, not bravery.” Tony barrelled on, succeeding in distracting Peggy from her weak legs, that were older and had mild arthritis. “What is the point of having a bodyguard if Anthony won’t even let him do his job? Stupid little brat… “

Tony turned his look into patented Howard Stark disapproval.

"You can stop that," she wacked him on the arm gently. "I know you are worried, Howard. This scared you but please don’t let what happened with your father affect your relationship with Tony."

Speechless, Tony stilled.

Peggy clasped his arm gently. “Howard, what your father did to you was so so wrong… in no circumstance do I condone someone striking a child,” Tony’s breath hitched. “But I know you, Howard Stark… you are not like that. You can be a good father, be brave and show Anthony you love him. Now, before it’s too late.”

"I will and come on Pegs," Tony gave her an exasperated look, "it's not like he needs me to say it. Besides that, whole... mess with my dad is in the past..."

Despite his calm façade, they could feel the turmoil from this new information bubble under his skin.

Oh, my God I’m so sorry, Howard. I thought you were just a heartless asshole for years…

“You don’t have to worry Pegs, I’ll keep you posted on Anthony.” He kissed her on the cheek, “I will let you know as soon as he wakes up.”

Despite himself, he couldn’t help but smile when he turned and Peggy shouted after him, “You had better Howard!”


 

This next memory was clearly soon after the first as they could see the silver still sparsely coating parts of Tony’s hair as he stormed into the kitchen.

“What could go wrong? Fucking jinxed myself there.” Tearing his rose-coloured glasses off, he dumped them on the kitchen counter and grabbed the Jack Daniels from off the shelf.

Swigging a generous helping of the liquid straight down his throat, he felt familiar burn of the alcohol hit his chest but this time the burn hit his eyes too and he was feeling lower than he had felt before the drink.

Alcohol is a depressant, idiot.

Fuck off, I like the burn.

“Mr Stark.” Tony jerked his head to Peppers voice and swore under his breath when he saw her moving towards him appearing concerned.

Time to nip this in the bud.

“Hey if this isn’t my favourite personal assistant!” Tony tried to grin but they all could feel the basic insincerity of it. Please, go away. “I am sooo pleased to see you, in more ways than one… if you know what I mean?”

His grin turned into a very fake, dirty leer as he winked at her.

“I am your only personal assistant and you normally put way more effort into your pick-up lines.” Pepper sighed and sat opposite where he was standing, “what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” he gave her a guarded, analytical stare as he hugged the bottle to him.

“Why are you drinking at 4 in the afternoon?”

“It’s 9pm somewhere.” Tony snapped back in reply, giving her a watery eyed stare before trying to down some more of the drink although before he could get another sip, she snatched the bottle nimbly from his fingers. “You are my friend Tony but after these past few months I feel like you’ve been avoiding me. It’s affecting my work as your personal assistant and personally it’s been worrying me.”

Quailed under her glare, instead of trying to get it back Tony slouched on the seat opposite her. “Sorry, I didn’t mean…my Aunt has Dementia, she thinks I’m Howard-“

“Tony that’s-“Pepper leant forward, a truly sympathetic, saddened expression adorned her face.

“-and my childhood wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. This particular time my Aunt thought she was in was… rough for the whole family really I’d-“

Tony’s left hand dropped from the table and ghosted across the place where they knew the bullet once pierced his stomach.

“I take it that your visit didn’t go well, my boy.” Stiffening at Obadiah’s voice, Tony suddenly leant away from Pepper and gave Obadiah a look that very clearly portrayed the sentiment of ‘no shit Sherlock’ which Clint and Bruce couldn’t help but snort at despite the situation.

“I’ll take it from here Miss Potts.” Obadiah strolled over then pulled the half empty Jack Daniels away from her and took it in one of his hands.

Reluctantly getting to her feet, Pepper smiled at Tony before sweeping out of the room.

“Come on, my boy.” Obadiah wrapped an arm around Tony’s shoulders as he took a seat next to him. “You should be grateful I walked in when I did. I thought you knew better than to let your guard down around people just because they have a pretty face.”

“Pepper’s not like Sunset.”

“You’re sure about that, are you?” Obadiah’s grip visibly tightened around Tony’s shoulder, he paused, giving a moment for that idea to sink in before the older man leaned in even closer. “I just want what’s best for you my boy.”

“Like hell,” Rhodey growled, both he and Bruce spoke up in unison. “Get away from my best friend, you creep.”

Rhodey sneered at Bruce, “Funny, Banner. If you treat your best friends like you treated Tony, it’s no wonder you haven’t got very many.”

Bruce couldn’t help but let out a growl that showed the Hulk’s feeling on those words. “Rhodey, I know you’re angry with me. Hell, I’m angry with what I did too but now’s really not the time.”

Before the others could interject, Tony spoke up. “You know whenever mum got like this, she used to play the piano… I play too,” Tony smirked, “breaks the monotony of the endless parties. Anyway, I know you are a pianist and I’ve been missing a duet partner. What I’m asking is, would you like to play with me?”

Obadiah broke into a massive grin, "I'd be delighted to my boy."

They barely had time to feel creeped out by the predatory and possessive behaviour Obadiah was showing before the memory began to morph and change.


 

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make your birthday, Ducky but I think I had your present in here somewhere.” Peggy shuffled across the room to look through her wardrobe before Daniel stopped her.

“Peggy,” Daniel guided her to an armchair and sat her down carefully. “Tony turned 33 a couple of months ago we gave him the watch he’s wearing,” Hoisting his arm up, the sleeve of Tony’s long t-shirt fell down to reveal a chunky gold watch engraved with roman numerals.

“Oh, but I thought-“ She sighed and sat back down then without warning she stiffened when she saw something silver sticking out of Tony’s pocket, her eyes narrowed as they flickered to every part of his face.

“Hey Peg-leg,” Clearly oblivious to Peggy’s sudden mood change, Tony’s eyes flicked to the ceiling. “Could you see if there’s any more spiked coffee out there?”

“Mr Carter-Sousa has some in his cup but there appears to be more out there, Master.”

“Good, I might need it later.”

Horrified, Peggy looked to her husband as she got to her feet and turned her dangerously narrowed eyes to Tony.

They could see that Tony offered no resistance to Peggy when she lunged at him and pinned him to the floor.

 “Peggy-?!” Daniel yelped at the scene and tried to pull her off Tony, whose arms she had pinned stubbornly to the floor.

 Her grip tightened around Tony’s arms. “That’s not Tony- Daniel I need you to try and find the accomplice code name, Peg-Leg.  Don’t drink that!” Daniel obediently lowered the cup and set it on the side. “They were trying to poison us, I don’t know what they did to the original Tony but I intend to find out.” Tony held back a wince at feeling her nails dig into his skin, she leant in close to his face. “If I find you harmed my godson I swear you’ll rue the day you were born Agent.”

“I am Tony Stark.”

“LIAR!” She lifted her hand to hit him but at that moment Daniel suddenly lunged down and grabbed her.

“Pegs, he’s telling the truth. The accomplice, Peg-Leg was an AI he installed in here and in my place to monitor you, keep me informed of your progress and to help me in my flat.”

Carefully, standing up Peggy’s eyes filled with tears when she watched him gasp for breath on the ground, it took her a moment to realise that she had been sat on his chest.

Oh, my god what did I almost do? This has never happened with Sharon, I almost wish it had she would’ve defended herself…

“Oh, my god, Ducky.” Traumatised, Peggy’s hand’s shook and she looked across to Daniel who was helping Tony off the floor, he appeared equally as spooked as her which helped make up her mind.

“I-I can’t stay here. You can’t see me anymore…”

“What the hell?! Peggy no-“ Panicked, Tony started over to her, “I’m fine really-“

“I made a promise when I became your Godmother that I would protect you- I almost hit you Ducky! I can’t risk that ever happening again because I don’t trust myself and I don’t trust you to defend yourself next time I snap.”

“Peggy, are you sure?” Daniel spoke up now, alternating his gaze between Tony who had gone rigid and Peggy who simply nodded.

“This is bullshit! Complete and utter bullshit!”

“Language Tony…” Daniel chided gently.

“You know what, you can shove ‘language’ right up your-. It was one incident, ONE! I highly doubt you even have any place in mind-” Tony folded his arms across his chest and laughed bitterly.

“England.”

“England…” Whispered Tony, he shook his head before rolling his eyes. “Why not somewhere closer, I’ll put more space between my visits-“

“No Tony.”

 “Why are you so desperate to leave me?!” Tony shrieked before he stilled and put a hand to his mouth. “Wow,” He gave a very fake laugh and grimaced. “I didn’t know I had that in me.”

“Does anyone else really want to hug him right now?” Peter almost whispered, keeping his wide eyes on the younger version of his mentor.

Everyone made a motion of agreement, apart from Wanda, who Vision a shot disappointed glare at.

“Although my opinion on Stark has softened slightly, knowing what I do now, I don’t think I’m ready to hug him yet.” Wanda offered in a small muted voice, she hunched in on herself and kept her eyes on the memory.

“Well, I wish to hold Man of Iron in my arms and assure him that he has my loyalty and friendship even when his soul leaves the mortal realm.” Thor boomed before he frowned at Peggy. “It’s memories like these when I remember how frail mortals are in comparison to myself.”

“When did we say we were leaving you? Oh no, young man.” Daniel smiled reassuringly, they felt Peggy’s pride in her husband rising in her chest at seeing Tony look to him, almost disbelievingly. “We are going to write to you so much, you are going to get sick of us.”

“This isn’t the end, Anthony.” Peggy smiled softly, “I hate what this illness has done to me. I can remember the first toy I gave you when you were a baby, which coincidently was a small yellow duck-“

“That’s where the nickname came from.” Tony breathed.

“Yes,” her smile flitted across her face before it fell. “I can remember that, but I can’t remember when my anniversary was, or what I did this morning.” She sighed.

I love you, Ducky. I’m so so sorry I have to do this.

“Don’t think I’m happy about this because I am really not. However, I will let you go on the condition that I can see you both off, I get you a private plane and a car to take you to one of the best specialist homes in England.”

“Of course, you’re seeing us off I’d be disappointed if you didn’t.” She grinned at the small sincere smile that spread itself across Tony’s face in response.


 

Tony waved up at Daniel and Peggy’s smiling faces from a distance away as the ‘Stark’ jet began to start, he cleared the landing pad and tried to commit their smiling faces to memory as he watched the plane sped off.

Sighing, Tony flicked some light blue shades over his eyes and slumped forward, Obadiah walked carefully over and wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist. “You know, I’ll never leave you.”

The ‘not like them’ wasn’t said but heavily implied as Obadiah guided Tony to the car, that Happy was waiting inside.

Obadiah made to open the door but before he could, Tony pulled the older man into his arms.

They could see Obadiah break out into an extremely nasty, triumphant grin as he returned the gesture, his arms slithered around Tony like snakes and squeezed him tightly.

“I know, man.”  I love you.

“For god’s sake! Open your eyes Tony! He’s a creepy son of a bitch!” Clint fumed at Obadiah in the memory and snarled, pointing at Obadiah in a repetitive angry motion. “And you! You! I really want to throttle for what you did to Wanda as well as Tony you nasty fu-“

Clint’s extremely crude rant continued for a good minute and a half before the archer finally ran out of air.

“Are you done yet?” A grin pulled at the side of Scott’s mouth whilst he watched Clint gasp.

“No, that fucker also deserves an arrow through the eye… now, I’m done.” 

“Why didn’t Stark see what was going on?” Confused, Sam looked to the others. “Didn’t the dude say he had an IQ of 300 a few memories back? This makes no sense.”

“Yes. Yes, it does.” Natasha spoke up, “Stane has been brainwashing him from an early age to love and trust him… not all brainwashing involves a machine.” Bucky winced, “Or magic powers. When you get someone young, they are malleable.” Natasha’s eyes went dark for a moment before she blinked and the emotion they had seen was gone. “They can be influenced easily. You all have seen how smart Stane is, for years he’s been gas lighting and manipulating Tony to do exactly what he wants. All the touches too – that’s a form of manipulation itself and it works both as that and as a power play.”

“Why didn’t you see what was going on Rhodes?” Wanda turned to Rhodey, who glared at her in return.

“Why didn’t I see it?!” Fumed Rhodey, his hands clenched into fists whilst his jaw clenched. “I was flying one of my missions when this was going on. And I can see now that nasty bastard always made sure to keep the creepiness to a minimum when I was around.”

They had nothing to say to that but soon found their attention was drawn back to Tony and Obadiah as they finally broke apart.

“Have a safe ride back, my boy.” Obadiah pecked the top of Tony’s head which caused most of them to shiver as Tony disappeared into the car and sped away.

The car moved out of sight before Obadiah pulled his phone out of his pocket and clicked a contact on his screen.

Moving the phone to his ear, he grinned. “Pierce.”

Bucky stiffened and growled at the name as Obadiah continued. “My golden goose is firmly in my grasp. He doesn’t suspect a thing, so he’s not a threat to Hydra yet.”

Good. When you have bled this asset dry dispose of him, discretely.”

“Can’t you set the Asset on Stark?”

Sucking a harsh breath in, Bucky paled to a sickly shade of white at the thought of killing all three Starks.

“Haven’t you always dreamed of a dramatic death for Stark? No… We use the Ten Rings to do our public dirty work, I will give you our connections to the head of the organisation. He goes by Raza, he will aid you for a price. Using them, you can gain Stark’s throne with ease and Hydra will continue to rule from the shadows.”

“I will be sure to keep you informed. Hail Hydra.” Obadiah smiled into the phone before snapping it shut.

Chapter Text

As soon as they were back in the mindscape, Bucky felt Winter’s righteous rage push to the forefront of his mind at the reminder of Pierce.

“How dare he try to help that traitor to kill Stark? How dare he suggest me as alternative!?” Winter snarls as he paces the mindscape, the others back away apart from Steve who moves closer to try and calm his friend.

“Buck-“

“My name is Winter! Can’t you tell when you are looking at your friend?!” Curling his hand into a fist he brought it back and turned to the bookshelf behind him.

At this movement, Bucky suddenly stole the control from Winter before he could destroy the bookshelf. What the hell are you playing at?! This is Stark’s mind, you can’t afford to lose it in here. What if you damage his head?  

Horrified, Winter stills.

“You are my friend.” Bucky feels Steve’s hand on his shoulder, Bucky uses all the mental strength he has rebuilt from the BARF sessions to keep Winter from turning his smile into a sneer.

Personally, I feel closer to Stark. Frustrated at being held back by Bucky, Winter settled for hissing inside his head. ‘At least he isn’t expecting me to be anything I’m not. If Pierce and Stane weren’t already dead I’d kill them myself.’

Steve lets out a relieved breath that he didn’t know he was holding when he manages to guide Bucky back to the group, it was then that he let it sink in what he had previously seen.

Oh my goodness, Pegs. He felt greatly saddened at seeing Peggy’s progress into the woman he saw a year after the Avengers had formed. ‘I wish I was in Daniel’s place… Oh, Pegs I wish I was there for you and not in that blasted ice…We could’ve grown old together.’

He briefly remembers Wanda’s vision where he was dancing with Peggy after the war and blinks back the thin layer of tears that gathered along his lower lashes.

That should have been me… I just wish I had more time; even if I was in Tony’s place.’

He feels an irrational spike of anger and envy at remembering how close Tony had been with Peggy which led him to think about the so called ‘Dark Days’ he had seemed to go through after his visits to her.

It’s hard to find someone with shared experience.’ He had once confided in Natasha, but now ironically, he seems to have found it in a person who seemed to be the polar opposite of himself.The bully, the close bond to Peggy and the Depressive days… ‘I am surprisingly finding more and more similarities to Stark as the memories go on.’

Tony, you should’ve told me. I could’ve helped.’

When his thoughts cleared, he finds the others have moved on to the topic of HYDRA and Obadiah, despite feeling internally saddened that no one else wished to talk about Peggy, he forces himself to listen in anyway.

“-not surprised that Stane is involved in Hydra and using Tony’s aunt to sliver his way in like that. I shouldn’t really put anything past that despicable creep…” Rhodes shakes his head whilst out of the corner of his eye, Steve sees Wanda’s eyes flash red at the mention of Stane. He can’t help but feel worried; she had been uncharacteristically quiet and subdued ever since finding out the truth about her family, but now rage was etched all over her face.

It is hard to decipher whether it is directed at herself or Stane but either way he vows to talk to her about it soon.

“What gets me is how he uses Mr Stark’s depression, his trust issues and his Aunt and Uncle leaving against him like that. All the touching and the sly digs too… I think I understand why Mr Stark is so careful with me now. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but he never touches anyone below the elbow or the top of the back.” Peter speaks up, his voice sounds hushed and upset.

Growling, Bruce’s eyes flash a dark green. “You’re right! The most disgusting type of people are those who use other people’s mental health problems against them.” Wanda shrinks in a little on herself, eyes downcast, but Bruce continues. “At least Tony has JARVIS there keeping an eye on him and Obadiah. I would’ve personally let the Hulk at him by now if I could.”

“It is most curious how the voice within the walls had his own thought process. I was led to believe that Friend Anthony had not the ability to create souls unlimited to a mortal shell. Only the highest Sorcerers and Mages I believed possessed the power to do this.” A grin cracks open Thor’s face but the others only appear perplexed. “Friend Anthony must be gifted too!”

Wanda blanches at the thought of JARVIS having a soul. ‘No, no he can’t have a soul…but I did feel another presence being transferred into Vision in the cradle, it was at the back of my mind but I was so scared I didn’t think-’

“No, Thor.” Steve steps forward towards Thor, “Whatever JARVIS was, it wasn’t alive. He was an Artificial Intelligence ergo it or he didn’t have a soul and never felt-“

“I believe I will have to disagree with you there Mr Rogers.” Everyone’s eyes snap to Vision who speaks in an unusually, unfriendly tone, his loss of calm unnerves everyone, especially Steve. “If the memory was not enough proof for you, I can tell you myself that I still have JARVIS’ protocols stored within me, despite not being bound to them. Sometimes I do get flashes of memories about times with Sir from twenty years ago and the most intense feeling I have ever experienced was a strong familial bond that linked me to Mr Stark. Do not tell me my predecessor was not real. He was. Just like I am, despite being Artificial too.”

“Vision, I wasn’t implying that you-”

“But you did.” Rhodey snaps in retaliation, angered by the condescending tone Steve had utilised which implied that Vision had nothing to be upset about in the first place. “Steve if we follow your logic regarding JARVIS, Vision would not be counted as real either, so please shut up before you make yourself sound even stupider.”

“Rhodes man, look Steve isn’t right but-” Sam tries to speak up, but Rhodey cuts him off harshly.

“Don’t make excuses for him. He accused my friends of not being real so of course I’m going to snap at him for that. ‘Man out of time’ or not.” He directs the next part to Steve in a vitriolic voice. “However, you were friends with one of the biggest futurists on the planet so I am sure that he would have helped you catch up- if you asked. Yes, I am being mean because I am not feeling charitable to you right now. I’m actually feeling quite bitter… any favourable feeling I had towards any of you lot,” he gestures to Team Cap, “died when you went to top up your tan in Wakanda for two years and left us - namely Tony - to deal with your shit.”

No one has anything to say to that for a long time until the Being reappears, seeming sombre.

“I need you all to prepare yourselves. The next selection of memories will be painful and disturbing for you all to watch.” The Being frowns deeply.

“Oh, fuck this is Afghanistan, isn’t it?” Rhodey groans, appearing tense when the Being nods.

Steve, Bucky and Thor appear confused but everyone else tenses at this -  no one knows for sure what had happened there in those three months - but they know it had led to Tony shutting down weapons manufacturing.

 They quickly judge from the Being that the truth would be darker than they ever imagined.


 

“Mr. Stark! Excuse me! Mr. Stark!” A beautiful blonde reporter was halted by security as she rushes up to Tony, she holds her hands up in a term of surrender as her eyes remain focused on Tony.

“Christine Everheart, Vanity Fair magazine. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”

Tony side eyes Happy next to him for a moment before Happy, appraising her, gives the signal that she is safe to talk to. “She's cute.”

“She's alright?”

‘Are you sure?’

Happy gives a miniscule nod that only the spies notice before Tony whips around to face Christine and approach her.

“Hi.”

“Hi.” Christine replied sweetly.

“Yeah. Okay, go.”

At these words Christine’s head straightens and her tone becomes more inquisitive as her smile loses a lot of it’s fake sugariness.

“You've been called the Da Vinci of our time. What do you say to that?”

“Absolutely ridiculous. I don't paint.” Tony deadpans as a cruel smile breaks out on Christine’s face in preparation for what she is about to say.

“And what do you say to your other nickname,” her fake smile falls completely into a dark frown as she drags out her next words for emphasis. “The Merchant of Death?”

Tony keeps a severe frown on his face as he looks down his nose at her. “That's not bad.” 

“And to think I was going to give you the benefit of the doubt-“ Wanda begins to rage before Rhodey cuts her off.

“Did you forget about Stane? Why would he think it was bad when he thought all the deaths were America’s enemies?” Rhodey snaps in return whilst Tony narrows his eyes at Christine and guesses which university she went to.

“Well, Ms. Brown. It's an imperfect world, but it's the only one we've got.” Tony raises an eyebrow at her. “I guarantee you the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace, we'll start making bricks and beams for baby hospitals.”

“Rehearse that much?” Quips back Christine as her eyes squint analytically at him, trying to gauge his reaction.

“Every night in front of the mirror before bedtime.”

“I can see that.”

“I'd like to show you firsthand.”

Christine shakes her head but the wide smile that spreads over her face at the offer was more than telling.  “All I want is a serious answer.”

“Okay, here is serious.” Tony’s tone becomes darker, “My old man had a philosophy: ‘Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy.’"

“That's a great line, coming from a guy selling the sticks.”

‘Howard was more than that.’

They were surprised by the defensive anger pooling in Tony’s gut for Howard and the fact that his voice chilled a few degrees.

“My father helped defeat Nazis. He worked on the Manhattan Project. A lot of people, including your professors at Brown, would call that being a hero.”

‘I do.’

“And a lot of people would also call that war-profiteering.”

“Tell me,” at this point Tony makes no effort to hide his irritation, he tears the sunglasses from his face and stares back at her. “Do you plan to report on the millions we've saved by advancing medical technology? Or kept from starvation with our intelli-crops? All those breakthroughs: military funding, honey.” Proudly, Tony smiles at the end of his speech and his eyes lighten.

‘That’s my side projects - SI has never been all about weapons. I have never allowed it to be, just try to make up something bad about those, honey. I dare you.’

“Wow,” Christine appears genuinely amazed about his lack of guilt and she tilts her head up at him challengingly. “Did you ever lose an hour of sleep your whole life?”

“I'd be prepared to lose a few with you.” Flirtatiously, Tony raises an eyebrow at her and a slow smile creeps around the corner of his mouth.

“Smooth Stark…” Clint snorts cruelly, “you really would screw anything with a pulse wouldn’t you? She’s pretty, sure- but don’t you care that she insulted everything you and your family stands for? You really do only care about the brawn-”

“Did you forget about Sunset?” Natasha looks away from Christine and Tony, who are now climbing into the car together, and narrows her eyes at him.

Clint opens his mouth but Natasha cuts him off.

“No you view it as a joke don’t you? It is not funny that the ‘playboy got played’ - that toxic relationship is exactly the reason he became one! Until Afghanistan, he didn’t care who he had sex with or who saw him do it. Why do you think there are so many sex tapes of him around and JARVIS didn’t remove them? Sex is just an act, Tony learnt that from Sunset just as I learnt it in the Red Room...” Natasha swallows and shakes her head before sharpening her glare towards Clint. “Imagine if that was Cooper, would you find it so funny then?”

“No,” Clint coughs through a crack in his throat. “No I wouldn’t. I’m sorry, Nat.”

Natasha nods as the scene morphs and whirls around them.


 

“ I'll try again later…” The scene came into focus at Pepper’s words, the Avengers note that they are obviously standing in Tony’s workshop now; Tony is knelt over the guts of a 1932 FORD FLAT HEAD ROADSTER that they know from his memories he worked on with Howard,  they recognise it being responsible for a few of the scars on Tony's hands.

Although working with cars is a hazardous business so they knew Tony didn't entirely blame Howard for those and despite the injuries he received it was one of the rare times he felt close to his dad.

Wow… I'm feeling oddly nostalgic today. Definitely a minor dark day.’

Pepper herself is walking towards him with her hand clasped around her mobile which she had lifted to her ear.

“Please don't turn down my music.” Tony asks JARVIS distantly, keeping his eyes on the screen where JARVIS was displaying information about the car.

“I'll keep you posted.” Flicking off her mobile, Peppers voice became fondly exasperated. “You are supposed to be halfway around the world right now.”

“How did she take it?” Asks Tony, sounding distantly interested as he takes a part of the metal guts from the car.

“Like a champ.” Pepper sighs, they note with some amusement that she appears like a long suffering parent.

“Why are you trying to hustle me out of here?” Examining the metal grill for a moment, Tony places it on the floor as Pepper begins to speak.

“Your flight was scheduled to leave an hour and a half ago.”

“That's funny... I thought with it being my plane and all, that it would just wait for me to get there.”

Clint and Scott snort at that. “He does have a point.”

“I need to speak to you about couple of things before I get you out the door.”

“I mean, doesn't it kind of defeat the purpose of having your own plane if it departs before you arrive?”

Cap merely gives the others who appear amused and memory Tony a look of faint disapproval before sighing similarly to how Pepper did to Tony earlier.

Wanda hisses under her breath, “not everyone is fortunate enough to have their own plane. He should treat them and Miss Potts better.”

“I was the one waiting for him.” Rhodey notes coldly as Wanda looks to him.

“And I heard SI has one of the highest staff satisfaction scores in the country and Miss Potts has no complaints she went on to become his CEO after all… what were you saying?” Peter couldn’t resist sneering at Wanda under the Mask, he had thought she had learnt better than to make nasty assumptions but clearly he was wrong.

To her credit Wanda appeared a little chastised and didn't respond, only turning her head back to the memory into the middle of a new conversation.

“I need it.” Smiling a little as Tony got up, Pepper turns back to her clipboard to hide the light pink blush that flushes across her cheeks. “ Buy it, store it.”

“Okay... the MIT commencement speech-”

 “Is in June… Please, don't harangue me about that stuff.”

“Well, they are haranguing me, so I'm gonna say yes…”

“Well deflect it, absorb it, don’t transmit it back to me.”

“Did we just hear Tony’s hacking method?” Natasha whacks Clint over the head for that remark, “Ow! Jesus Tasha.”

“Shut it! I’ve had enough of missing things because people keep talking over whats happening.”

“Why only hit me?!”

Natasha smirks evilly at that question, “You’re closest.”

“What are you trying to get rid of me for? What, you got plans?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Pepper answers shortly however her voice became softer as her business like demeanour thawed even more and betrayed her real affection towards him. 

She opens up the blue folder she has been leaning on to reveal a long document inside that needed Tony’s signature.

“I don't like it when you have plans.” Tony grins widely at her and his eyes soften as he looks over her face.

With how obvious Tony was being with his attraction to Pepper, Thor couldn't help but boom a short laugh at this statement only becoming louder when Tony reveals he didn't know it was her birthday. ‘At least I remember and celebrate Lady Jane's birthday with her each year, however adjusting to the Midgardian calendar was difficult so other events are harder to remember… I sympathise friend Anthony.’

This causes Clint to give Natasha a betrayed look when she doesn’t whack him for his laughter.

“It's your birthday?” He smiles softly.

“Yes.” She responds in the same way, failing to hide her blush this time.

“I knew that. Already?” Tony’s eyebrows furrow and he quirks his head forward in a curious manner.

“Yeah, isn't that strange, it's the same day as last year.” She smiles teasingly, looking from the folder back to Tony.

“Well, get yourself something nice from me.”

“I already did.”

Tony’s grin became even wider at this admission which they didn’t think was possible. “And?”

“Oh, it was very nice. Very tasteful. Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

“You're welcome, Ms. Potts.”

Tony's expression flickers before closing off from the amiable smile they saw morph into something more business like as he looked away from her and downed the shot of coffee he made previously.


 

It is with some bemusement that Wanda notes that she is in Stark’s head once more, seeing and experiencing things as if she is him.

She finds herself with a lot of begrudgingly impressed looking soldiers and officials in front of her.

‘Alright, let’s get this over with.’

“Is it better to be feared or to be respected? I say, is it too much to ask for both?”

That’s it lay the rhetorical questions on thick…then hit them with the persuasive facts. God, I could do this in my sleep.’

“With that in mind I humbly present to you the crown jewel of the Stark Industries freedom line, the first missile system to incorporate our proprietary repulsor technology. They say the best weapon is one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once, that’s how dad did it, that’s how America does it and it's worked out pretty well so far.”

Wanda snarls inside his head at this. ‘You really don’t know do you, Stark?’

“Find an excuse to let one of these off the chain and I personally guarantee you… the bad guys won’t even want to come out of their caves.”  Gesturing to the missile in front of him, the machine turns around and fires at what she knows to be a mountain range behind him. 

Wanda stilled. ‘Stark really didn’t know… he was naïve enough all this time to think he was just supplying aid to help fight ‘the bad guys’ not civilians, like my parents!’

Despite the stoic and rather hard delivery of that persuasive speech, Tony doesn’t turn around once but she knows a pleased, arrogant smile is threatening to overtake his schooled professional mask.

I am the best - I only make the best to protect my Rhodey.’

“For your consideration, the Jericho.”

She hears the mountain range dramatically explode as the shockwave showers him and the crew of army generals with dust.

They are all temporarily blinded and when the ash clears she feels Tony open a casket of expensive drinks.

“I’ll be throwing one of these in with every purchase of five hundred million or more. To peace!”

Stark’s phone buzzes and he flicks it open to reveal the image of a shirtless Obadiah Stane.

Anger boils inside her very veins at seeing him again. ‘This is who my rage should’ve been directed at - I only wish I could kill him myself for what he did to my family… he is the true merchant of death.’

“Tony-“

“Obie, what are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep till I found out how it went. How’d it go?”

‘Wow that’s odd and… very creepy.’ Wanda muses, but Stark clearly doesn’t find this behaviour odd and barrells on.

“Went great. Looks like it’s going to be an early Christmas.”

Beaming, Obadiah’s face lights up at this declaration as he drawls. “Hey! Way to go my boy. I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?”

She feels pride rise in Tony as he stands a little straighter and smirks in return.

“Why aren’t you wearing those pyjamas I got you?”

‘Creep.’ Wanda sneers.

“Goodnight Tony.”

She feels him roll his eyes at this whilst sliding into the humvee.

“Hey Tony-“ she sees a slightly younger version of James Rhodes approach the vehicle Tony slid into.

“I’m sorry this is the Fun vee,” Tony drawls and glances behind him. “The Hum drum vee is back there.”

‘How rude-’ Wanda’s thought is abruptly cut off by Tony’s.

‘-Those new recruits are nervous enough escorting me without you there too.’

‘So he was actually being considerate?’

She is still stunned, so much so, she barely hears Rhodey leave and with that she is yanked from that memory.


 

They all group together in the humvee with Tony and the three soldiers, despite the fact that Tony has done his best to make them feel at ease by playing obnoxiously loud AC DC from the radio, there seemed to be an underlying tension present that Tony could no longer ignore.

Giving the soldier next to him a very calculating glance, Tony suddenly speaks up. “I feel like you're driving me to court martial. This is crazy. What did I do? I feel like you're gonna pull over and snuff me. What, you're not allowed to talk? Hey, Forrest...”

Amused by Tony, most of them snort at this, however Steve appears faintly unimpressed until Sam nudges him.

“Lighten up man.”

 “We can talk, sir.” The soldier next to Tony, Forrest, cuts Steve off before he can retort.

“Oh, I see. So it's personal?” A hint of offence bled into Tony’s voice.

“No, you intimidate them.”

“Dear God, you're a woman!”

They feel his mortification at that remark before he hastily tries to backtrack. Despite this, he manages to hide his true feelings extremely well and goes instead for an unapologetic, arrogant tone that nearly has Natasha fooled.

“I honestly, I couldn't have called that. I mean, I would apologize, but isn't that what we're going for here? I thought of you as a soldier first.”

“I'm an airman.” The women soldier replies in a deadpan voice while the men in the humvee turn and smile at him.

Rhodey shakes his head as he looks at his friend and laughs under his breath. “You’re digging yourself a hole, Stank.”

“Well you have actually excellent bone structure there. I'm kinda... having a hard time not looking at you now.” At this all three of the soldiers in the car grin widely as the soldier closest to Tony splutters a laugh. “Is that weird? C'mon, it's OK, laugh. Hey!”

 The male soldier in front turns to Tony and smiles. “Sir, I have a question to ask.”

 “Yes, please.”

“It is true you went 12-for-12 with last year's Maxim cover models?”

Cap went bright vermillion and exclaimed an outraged, “TONY!”

“Go big or go home.” Clint muttered whilst smirking. “Damn Stark.”

“That is an excellent question.” Tony whips off his glasses and raises an eyebrow. “Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict, but fortunately the Christmas cover was twins. Anything else?” The soldier next to Tony nervously raises his hand and half smiles. “You're kidding me with a hand up, right?”

Peter suddenly feels an upsurge of empathy for this kid who seemed only a few years old than himself.

‘I was a bit of a spluttering mess when I saw Mr Stark for the first time too but at least I fared a little better than this guy.’

“Is it cool if I take a picture with you?”

“Yes, it's very cool.” Forrest fumbles for his camera before leaning across and giving it to the soldier in front of Tony and throwing up a peace sign. “I don't wanna see this on your MySpace page. Please, no gang signs.” Forrest lowers his fingers hesitantly. “No, throw it up, I'm kidding.” He smiles wider and throws the sign back up. “Yeah, peace! I love peace. I'd be outta job with peace.”

“C'mon! Just click it, don't change the settings.” Impatiently, Forrest speaks up as his friend flips the camera.

The happy atmosphere shatters when the humvee in front of them erupts into smoking detritus. Panicked soldiers begin pouring from vehicles and taking arms.

“Contact-” screams the airwoman as debris strikes the hood.

“What's going on?” Tony asks, attempting to muffle his panic.

“Contact left!” She screams again.

“What have we got?” Presses Tony, desperately.

The airwoman jumps from the humvee to be immediately met with a hail of bullets, falling still in the sand.

Steve is confused, as are Bucky and Thor. None of them quite understand the cause of the attack. Or the significance of Afghanistan. Steve remembers a small mention in Tony’s file about a kidnapping in Afghanistan, and that he’d come out with the Arc Reactor and become Iron Man soon after. He hadn’t thought much about it since it was only a brief note. Steve is unsure what to make of of a situation that is quickly looking like a warzone.

“Jimmy, stay with Stark!” Cries the older soldier as he leapt and takes position behind the hood, situating his rifle.

Jimmy grabs Tony, shoving him to the floor, “Stay down!”

Tony, huddles on the seat, staring at the soldier as he fires on their attackers. A shot shatters the air and the windshield, with a cry the soldier falls.

Tony gasps, jolting up and patting his chest.

“Son of a bitch!” Jimmy jams a round of bullets into his gun. The team feels foreboding churn in their guts.

“No! No! No! Wait, wait, give me a gun!” Tony begs. ‘Stay here please, kid, stay alive!’

But Jimmy was already slamming the humvee door behind him, “Stay here!”

He steps out when, with an explosion of sound, the side of the humvee, and Jimmy are riddled with holes.

They don’t have to see his body to know he’s dead.

‘That had to have been fragmentation class bomb of some kind- fuck I really have to get out, I'm not safe in here if the attackers have those.’

Tony stumbles out of the humvee, ears ringing and lightheaded, he shakily walks to the front of the humvee where the other male soldier lays prone behind the front end. For a moment Tony just stares, kneeling in the sand next to the body of the young man who minutes before had been smiling and about to take that damn photo. Tony can’t even remember if he did.

Tony swipes his gun and takes his place over the hood.

Rhodey is the only member of the team not surprised to see Tony readying to fight the terrorists with only the gun of the man who’d died in the same position he now took. The original avengers are shocked to see how comfortable Tony looks with the gun and the ease he handles it with.

But the gun jammed. He fiddles with it for a minute until he notices damage on the cartridge and barrel.

“Fuck!” Throwing the gun down he seeks out Rhodey, spotting him in the humvee behind, at it’s artillery gun.

“Rhodey!”

Their yells are drowned out by explosions and gunfire and Rhodey has to duck down between shots.

“Rhodey!”

“Get down!”

“It’s so weird watching this from Tony's point of view.” Rhodey mutters feeling anxiety for himself pool in his best friend’s gut; as he watches the past version of Tony reluctantly tear his eyes from James and run for cover behind a clump of rocks while weaving between explosions.

‘Fuck, I hope Rhodey is alright.

‘I gotta contact JARVIS and Obie, they’ll help us.’

He yanks his phone from his pocket and hurriedly begins to text, however just as he sends the message a bomb lands in front of him.

A bomb with the words STARK INDUSTRIES printed boldly across the side.

Tony recognizes it instantly. The HB-62 or 'the Hydra Bite', a fragmentation class bomb. The shell designed to shatter in the explosion, the resulting shrapnel would tear through organic matter like a knife through butter.

I remember showing the plans to Pepper once, the holographic shrapnel tore straight through the model of a human torso.’

Blanching, Wanda’s eyes go as wide as dish plates as her legs weaken, she has to grab a hold of Vision to support her.

‘Stark has more of a reason to hate himself than Pietro and I had to hate him. What did we do?’

“TONY GET OUT OF THERE!” Rhodey, Bruce and Clint yell whilst the bomb ominously flashes red and beeps repeatedly.

Tony scrambles to his feet with a howl, but it was too late, the bomb detonates with shrapnel flying. Tony is blasted off his feet, hitting the ground several feet away.

He lies in the sand, stunned and half deaf.

He stirs weakly for a moment before reaching for his shirt, quickly staining with blood.  Ripping it open with a distant popping of the buttons, exposing the not so bullet proof vest.

‘Wow this brings back memories, at least last time I was saving J.’

Quickly losing strength, he tears his eyes away from the blood steadily seeping through the left side of his chest and lies back down. 

‘Holy Shit. I’m dead.’

“Don’t joke about that Stark.” Worried, Natasha snaps at Tony, the cracks in her impassive façade widen at the sight of Tony’s head tipping back whilst his eyes drift out of focus.

The Blood from his deep chest wounds form a small pool around him, coinciding with this their vision begins to blur and blacken around the edges before going completely dark.

Chapter Text

They have not time to recover or process what they saw before, with a flash of gold, they’re shoved straight into a new nightmare worthy scene. Familiar sounding, choked, tortured screams echo through the dimly lit cave.

Ghost pain smacks them all, apart from Spider Man, like a hammer, tearing through their rib cage and parting it unnaturally wide, they can’t draw breath properly, they couldn’t breathe.

‘Hurts!  Breathe - I can’t breathe. Help!

‘HELP ME! I can't breathe!

‘What? Fuck! Stop! NO! STOP! Get Off Me! GET IT OUT! OUT! OUT!’

Everyone apart from Peter doubles over and claws at their chests as a burning pain the shape of a hand tears through their chests before the feeling dissipates when gold flashes across their eyes.

"What the hell is going on?" Clint gasps on the floor, sounding shell shocked and still unable to get up.

“Mr Stark!” The distraught teen surges forward but Vision grabs him and holds him in place. “What the fuck are you doing?” Peter starts frantically clawing at Vision’s hand, “I have to save him! Let me go! I’ll save you, Mr Stark!”

The android’s eyes shimmer with unshed tears as he watches the man he considers his grandfather writhe and scream against the hands and the ties of the evil men. “Spider Man… we can’t do anything. I wish I could.”

They can barely see Tony, surrounded by dirty men holding him down with malicious glee as he screams and thrashes against their hands and the restraints on his wrists and ankles.

When the bespecktecled man acting like a doctor moves away, they all get a glimpse of the deep cuts littering his entire chest and some in his abdomen and his straining arms bleeding sluggishly from large gashes, before their eyes move to the deep dark red blood dribbling sluggishly from the unnaturally, obscenely huge hole.

A hole that they can see right through Tony’s chest to his sternum split in two and held open, right down to his heart which is fluttering wildly in his chest like a trapped butterfly.

Incensed, by the sight, Thor crackles with lightning as he vows to torture their souls in Helheim for hurting his friend in such a barbaric way.

Peter stills in Vision’s arms at seeing the valves of his mentors blood caked heart struggle wildly to keep beating as the terrorists hold down his spastically twitching limbs.

The teen doubles over and retches at the sight. Vision tries to keep him upright but Peter drops to the floor and sobs. "TONY!"

Rhodey wasn’t fairing much better, his back shakes as he sobs heartily into his hands, “oh god! Oh god!” Sam moves to comfort him, taking the stricken man away from the scene and hugs him. However, Sam’s assurances that Tony wasn’t there anymore didn't seem to be helping.

Wanda stares in abject horror. She registers the blood, the way his chest is wedged open and his heart visible between his lungs and her mind goes blank.

Meanwhile the Hulk rebelles heartily against the Being’s magic in Bruce’s head, deeply upset by seeing his only friend be tortured.

‘TIN MAN HURT! HULK PROTECT PUNY FRIEND FROM BAD MEN! HULK SMASH BAD MEN!’

Bruce finds himself crying along with the Hulk, “T-they operated on him while he was awake…o-oh my god Tony…”

The operation is nearing an end. They’re wiring his sternum back together but then they bolt a piece of metal to the two halves, before the doctor mounts a large round device onto it and begins stitching his chest up around it.

Disgusted and appalled, Steve turns green and looks away only to find himself faced with a scarily blank looking Bucky.

He feels an upsurge of worry for his friend as his face scarily reminds him of how he’d looked under Hydra programming.

“Buck-“

Bucky - no he is pretty sure it is Winter now, ruthlessly and suddenly surges forward pushing past a dazed Wanda who violently flinches.

He lunges at the men operating on Tony to lash out wildly with his metal arm, becoming more and more angered when his arm goes through the men he lashed out at.

A pale, grey faced Natasha, flings out an arm to stop him from trying to restrain Bucky. “Don’t be stupid, Steve. He’s not going to stop. If he has to hurt you to keep going for those men in the state he’s in he will. We need to get out of here.”

Tony’s screaming stops when the Doctor presses a soaked cloth to his face and the scene warps around them to form the mindscape once more.


 

Wildly turning his head and body around, Winter pauses mid punch when the men and Tony disappear. “WHERE DID THEY GO?”

He scouts the mindscape, noting distantly how Ant Man is having a hard time trying not to throw up at what he has seen like the young Spider but that was not of importance now.

‘Where is Stark?

‘Stark had been hurt in a similar way to Bucky…

‘Open heart surgery without anaesthetic? Disgusting. Despicable. Damn- fucking- inhumane. Those men deserve to die for what they were doing to him.

‘Now if only I can find out where they went.’

“WHERE ARE THEY?” He yells, his training tells him that the men had to be here somewhere but they aren’t.

‘How is that possible?

‘I have to save Stark.’

“Buck-” he feels a hand grab his arm and he lashes out wildly , swinging with his metal arm straight into the person's face, despite Bucky’s objections, before his arm glows with red light and stills against his will.

‘The witch is trying to stop me from helping Stark.

‘Hydra witch has to die.’

Growling, he uses his immobilised metal arm to steady himself as he takes out her legs with a roundhouse kick that knocks her off her feet.

The hold on his arm vanishes and he lunges for her.

She blasts him backwards into the desk which gives the others a chance to spring into action.

Thor, Spider Man and Natasha work on calming and restraining Winter as the others go to help Steve and Wanda sprawled over the floor.

Despite Thor, Spider Man and Natasha’s best efforts Winter isn’t calming and the others stay well back in case he blows up again.

“GET OFF ME!” He writhes against Thor who has pinned down his legs so he can’t get up or kick any of the others.

“My comrade what you saw was a past horror that befell, friend Anthony. Unfortunately we cannot be of aid-“  

“NO! I CAN’T LET SOMEONE BE TORTURED LIKE BUCKY!”

“It’s already happened James.” Natasha intones with a saddened expression.

“I NEED TO HELP STARK!”

“Natasha’s right,” Everyone stills at the familiar voice, one that they had recently heard screaming as if their life depended on it. Their eyes follow Pincushion as he walks over to Bucky and sits cross legged in-between Thor and Spider Man. “I appreciate the sentiment Winter but seriously I’m fine now.”

Winter calms but raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “You expect me - anyone - to fucking believe that? Remember what you said to Steve about me when we were trialling BARF?”

“That’s different.” Pincushion shoots him a sharp glare.

“How is it different?” Winter shoots back, giving him a hard-analytical look that makes him squirm. Pincushion doesn’t answer so Steve takes the chance to speak up.

“It isn’t. You said that torture changes people permanently and that for me to expect Bucky to be the same as the 1940’s version of him was unfair and selfish. You were speaking from experience.” Steve’s voice becomes softer. “I didn’t think that you would have gone through that.” Steve speaks up and everyone looks to Tony suddenly very worried.

Resisting the power of Steve’s puppy dog eyes now is a lot easier than when he actually was foolish enough to consider the man a friend.

“That was kind of the point and the other me is good at what he does.” Tony answers shortly.

Rhodey steps forward. “Tones, I got to know. After we got back why did you say no to actually going to the hospital-“

“Honeybear, I know there was some nasty rumours going around after my 3-month siesta but the only reason I refused was so that no one would find out about the arc. You get that, don’t you?”

“What nasty rumours?” Spider Man pipes up.

“Nothing for you to worry about, Spiderling.” Pincushion gets to his feet and claps Spider Man on the shoulder. “It’s just the press printing rubbish to sell a story. While this interlude was nice… I guess, in a weird way. Red October is fine now so I have to go. I didn’t think the Illuminate would be showing this far back.” He shoots the Illuminate a questioning look. “From what you told me I thought you were only showing the Civil War fiasco.”

“The lack of understanding involving you goes back further than I had thought.” The Illuminates face was unreadable but their tone was soft, Pincushion was shocked to hear the sadness in their voice.

“Riiiiight. We are talking about this more later.” Pincushion narrows his eyes at the Illuminate before giving a small wave and leaving through the door.  

Scott had been staying back trying to settle his queasy stomach before speaking, “That was horrifying, I still might be sick.”

“They - He was awake! And they just-” Rhodey keened.

Wanda covers her mouth.

Nat’s eye’s have a surprisingly wet sheen even as her voice is almost deadpan, “They performed open heart surgery while he was awake and strapped down,” but then she snarls “Чертовы жопы!”

“They went in and opened up his chest,” Bruce muttered, “They had something to knock him out right there but they just restrained him. He could have died from the shock! But they just wanted to inflict pain, they split his sternum, touched his heart!”

Wanda pukes.

Vision kneels next to her and holds her hair out of her face as he hears Ant Man retching in the background.

Natasha rolls her eyes at the display. ‘You'd think Hydra would train their volunteers to have a stronger stomach.’

Meanwhile Bruce and Rhodey look annoyed and unsympathetic as they ignore her display and turn instead to talk to Spider Man and Thor who had got up from their places once Bucky had calmed.

Steve looks divided between staying with Bucky or going to check on Wanda. He hovered for a moment before moving closer and sitting by Bucky’s side.

‘Wanda has Vision and Clint near her to offer support, Bucky on the other hand needs me by his side more. He's got to be feeling guilty for Winters actions and for what happened to Tony. It makes me sick to think that Bucky and Tony went through operations like that.’

Clint looks a little queasy watching her but moves to Wanda’s other side, “You OK, kid?”

“J-Just a minute.” Her voice quakes as she blinks back the tears that sprang to her eyes at how violently she was heaving.

‘Stark was injured by his own bomb. With his name on it, he was torn open awake-’ That thought was cut off abruptly by another violent, yet thankfully dry, heave.

“I’m fine, thanks for asking!” Yells Scott after a minute. “I'm done puking too.” He wipes his mouth with one hand and cringes before muttering surlily. “Assholes.”

Sam snorts and places a hand on his shoulder. “Heard that. You alright Tic Tac?”

“What do you think? How can you be fine? Stark just-” he pales once again and waves his hand. “You know what happened. I don't want to think about it .”

“I was in the military, it makes you build up a strong stomach but look, man I hated watching that just as much as you.” Sam says and after a moment he makes sure Scott is done being sick before he guides him to his feet. “I don't want to think about what it did to Stark either. Are you ready to rejoin the others? No one will look down on you for being ill Wanda was too-”

Scott snorts as if he doubts the genuity of her being ill whilst he lets Sam guide him back to the others.

“Hey did anyone else see how Stark was with that gun?” Scott shakily quips to distract himself.

“I didn’t think he even knew how to correctly hold a pistol let alone proper position and technique for a rifle.” Clint responds, impressed. “But he even had proper cheek weld and trigger pull.”

“Idiots!” Rhodey sneers, “Tony is a weapons designer! He doesn’t just throw some ideas around and let other people make it functional. He’s designed hundreds of guns down to every detail. And you can’t design or improve something properly if you don’t know how it works. Tony tests everything he designs. Did you know know there was a shooting range under the malibu house? And I can’t count how many times he would drag me down to the range to test something out with him. We even saw that briefly - Howard and Stane taught him how to shoot when he was a kid - he was probably younger than you Barton! And yeah, he used to test your arrows himself first.

“Let me guess! You think the suit’s just a big fancy toy that he wears while it does all the work?” Rhodey continues, “War Machine is one of the most complicated and responsive pieces of tech I’ve ever flown, and as a military pilot I’ve flown a hell of a lot of planes! And the full Iron Man suit is way more complicated than mine.”

Clint looks decidedly sheepish, as do most of them. Spiderman gives a low whistle while Thor grins.

Steve sighs, “what was even going on there? I read in his file that Tony was kidnapped in Afghanistan but it never really gave much detail of why or how. Who were those people? Why were they attacking a weapons demo?”

Everyone in the room looks at Steve like he’s got his head on backwards.

“Aye! I was wondering such things myself.” Thor booms, shooting Steve a smile in the process. The God was thankful that Steve asked what he had been wondering about himself.

“I was only ever told details relevant to my missions and I only know bits and pieces. I’m still catching up.” Bucky adds.

“I’m glad to hear you’re trying James and I wouldn’t really expect Thor to understand,” Natasha is staring at him with a look Steve can’t quite figure out. “But I expected better from you Steve. You’ve had six years to catch up.”

“I looked at what was recommended!” Cap bristles defensively, “ the moon landing, some bands, Star Wars-”

“Steve,” Bruce hums nervously, but there’s an edge to his voice “didn’t you look up history? Politics, wars?”

“S.H.I.E.L.D gave me a primer on the basics. There was some trouble in Afghanistan right? That was where Sam lost his partner Riley. I didn’t think it was a full on warzone.”

Gobsmacked Sam speaks up, “Steve, you mean you didn’t know about the war in Afghanistan!”

“More like an invasion by America,” Wanda mutters.

“Al-Qaeda attacked us! Nearly three thousand died in the Towers! We needed to take them out!” Rhodey yells to her as he sees Steve once again looking confused, “God Rogers! How do you not now this man! It’s only the most prominent terror attack this century! What else don’t you know?”

Everyone else in the room wonders the same thing, shocked and vaguely horrified by the ignorance of their former leader. And all of them wondering how they’d never noticed.

“Perhaps, my friends you could explain for us?” Thor asks with a polite smile as the team starts haphazardly explaining 9/11; the fall of the Twin Towers and the resulting War on Terror.

A war Iron Man had almost single handedly ended.

The Being wordlessly vanishes the sick after they had concluded their clumsy explanations and begins the next sequence.


 

Natasha’s consciousness floats, drowning in seas of blackness and pain, it feels like her arms have been stabbed and her chest has been torn open – wait Stark’s had been.

The remembered muted feeling of the Doctor’s hands moving in his chest burns and saps her strength.

‘I don’t think I’ve felt this weak or violated since the Red room.’

‘What happened to me?’

‘Stark?’ Natasha tries to open her mouth but it was fruitless, Stark’s throat had screamed itself raw, she hears him let out a weak whimpering sound that was an attempt at speech.

‘Fucking ow.’

“Stark, can you hear me?” A kindly old man’s voice sounds through the ebony sea of pain, confusion and panic. “Try to squeeze my hand.”

Feeling the light weight settle in his hand, Natasha feels Tony attempt to move his fingers which seem to be made of lead but pain shoots through his chest and his breath hitches.

He attempts to open his eyes but they are welded shut despite his best efforts to pry them back.

‘Stark stop struggling you need to rest.’

“It’s only been a day since he had the operation. No, he won’t be able to get up yet…” The old man’s voice informs someone he can’t see.

Tony slowly feels the darkness pull him back under.

‘Sorry voice, I could hear you. I’ll tell you that if – no WHEN- I get up.’

Natasha feels the weight of the darkness pushing her, chest first, from the forefront of Tony’s mind into deep unconsciousness.


 

His past screams echo in his head and he jolts, gasping for air as his eyes flutter open.

‘Oww! Breathing hurts… Have I been shot again? No, this might actually be worse.’

The pain feels distant to them, at the edge of their awareness and just a taste of what Tony is feeling. They feel it like through a fog, the burning pain that goes deep into his chest and flares with every movement. Every breath.

Finding very quickly that the pain in his chest and arms that was previously keeping him from consciousness is now keeping him in it, his eyes flitter around the cave before the uncomfortable feeling in his nose adds itself to the mental list of injuries in his head.

“Eew!” Scott squirms as he watches Tony finally yank the long tube out of his nostril with a squelch. “Man that is disgusting! How deep would that tube go?”

“To his stomach presumably...” Steve mutters, pity for his teammate filling his eyes as he scans across what he can see of Tony's orm, there’s bandages on his hands poking out from his jacket and dried blood is splattered across both the bandages and the bed.

That pity only intensifies when they all  feel Tony’s despair at accidently knocking the water out of his reach then to the floor.

‘Why does life hate me? I only want a fucking drink.’

Glancing up at the man humming to himself on the other side of the cave, Tony reaches out a sharking hand for the water jug on the floor, only to be stopped by both the man’s voice and something pulling painfully at his chest. His vision whites out for a second.

‘Definitely worse than being shot.’

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

“The surgeon is Friend Yinsen!” Thor notes.

They are all surprised to see that the man who’d performed the awful surgery was the kindly older man they’d met who had told them about the family he’d lost and whose ghost appeared covered in bullet holes and blood.

Tony’s hand wraps around the wires coming from the car battery that go under the bloody bandages.

His hands claw at them rabidly, tearing them open to reveal a metal electromagnetic ring, embedded in his chest and sitting heavily on his sternum.

“Oh my God!” Bruce yells. “The rust on that thing!”

Rhodey blanches, “They had him hooked up to a car battery!”

Everyone is horrified. Tony’s chest is mutilated, the drying blood still seeping from between skin and magnet doesn’t hide the multitude of stitched and puckered shrapnel wounds covering his chest and bestrewn around his abdomen, or the long vertical incision starting from his collar bone and running down to his solar plexus. And in the middle of the scar sits the large corroded magnet, half buried under his skin, blood caked around the edges, the skin red and raised.

A strong feeling of nausea hits Peter again, he uses all of his strength to swallow down bile at the sight in front of him . Wanda’s legs go weak and she grips Vision once more, who himself is wide eyed and trembling. Thor is crackling with lightning as he snarls.

Nat swears violently in Russian as Clint steps back. Scott goes completely green and Steve looks away as Sam shudders.

Bucky just stares, his metal hand clenching with unwanted memories as he forces the soldier down again.

They can feel Tony’s panic and terror as he sees what’s been done to him. His gasping breaths visible in the cold air of the cave. They feel the throbbing burn of his chest.

‘What-what the hell is that? Why is that thing in me?

‘It must be there for a reason! It’s an electromagnet!

‘I don’t give a shit! Why do I have a bloody magnet in my chest?! Get it out!

‘We need to know what it’s for! ASK HIM!’

He opens his mouth and tries to speak but only a very raw gasping sound comes out and he clutches his throat.

‘Shit, what doesn’t hurt at the moment?’

“It would not be in your best interest to try and speak at the moment, Stark. I will be beginning to make some food and drink shortly. Rest and I will wake you when I am done.”

After Yinsen had finished shaving his face, he notices that Tony’s dark and incredulous eyes are still glaring at him.

“Or don’t. It’s your call.”

Moving to a small cupboard, the old man takes out a can of beans and up turns it into the pan.


 

“Since you’ve ripped off your bandages I’d like to take the opportunity to clean your injuries before rebandaging. And I’ll need to check you haven’t pulled the stitches in your arms, you got a few nasty gashes from the shrapnel there. A couple almost tore right through. It seems you got lucky though, I don’t think there’s any damage there that won’t heal and better your arms than your face, yeah?”

Rhodey goes almost grey at the realization that if Tony hadn’t flung his arms up at the last second there would have been no saving him.

They can all feel the ache and slight trembling in his arms and the multitude of stitches keeping the wounds closed.

Tony stays silent, appearing grim whilst Yinsen checks over the, thankfully unbroken stitches. Then he presses the shard of mirror into one of Tony's hands so he can take a look at his chest wound himself whilst he goes back to check the food on the fire.

Tilting the small mirror at the magnet Tony gathers up his courage and looks away from it to Yinsen. Before finally asking in a raw voice, “What the hell did you do to me?”

“What I did? What I did is to save your life.” Yinsen glances at Tony before focusing on stirring the beans over the fire once more.” I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left, and it's headed into your atrial septum.” Something grim settles in Tony’s stomach at these words and he places the mirror on the bed, his eyes go darker when they flicker to the glass tube Yinsen picks up. “Here, wanna see? I have a souvenir.” The old man lightens his tone but it does nothing to cheer Tony up nor does the rattling of the small glass tube with a hand full of finger nail sized shards of metal inside.

“Take a look.” Yinsen throws it at him and Tony catches it, staring grimly at the tube as Yinsen continues to talk. “I've seen many wounds like that in my village. We call them the walking dead.”

Tony’s gaze drifts to a point where it feels like he is looking right through them, many of them avert their gaze and fidget, uncomfortable with the intense look over his face.

“Because it takes about a week for the barbs to reach the vital organs-”

‘So I am going to be dead. Just slightly later than I expected - great!’

“What is this?” Tony grinds out, directing his gaze now at Yinsen as he tilts his head up at the man.

‘I think I know but I want you to tell me. I need you to tell me exactly what you did to me.’

“That is an electromagnet. Hooked up to a car battery. And it's keeping the shrapnel from entering your heart.”

Bucky's eyes widen. ‘That thing is in his chest and keeps him alive!’ He feels bile in his throat as he remembers trying to rip it out. ‘I only intended to disable the suit…’

Deeply uncomfortable, Tony rolls his shoulders back that causes a flare of pain as the heavy magnet shifts and zips up his jacket, averting his eyes to stare directly into a very cheap camera. “That's right. Smile! We met once, you know. At a technical conference in Bern.”

“Don't remember.” Tony glances around the cave, scouting out the other security cameras, whilst Yinsen looks at him and gives a small, light laugh.

“No, you wouldn't. If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have been able to stand, much less give a lecture on integrated circuits.”

“Where are we?” Tony’s gaze snaps to the door as terrorists yell in Arabic at them both to get up.

‘Being a Polyglot has it’s perks… but they’ve got to think I’m ignorant… hold your cards close to your chest.’

Yinsen’s demeanor completely changes, panicked he begins gesturing and hissing for Tony to stand.

“Stand up. Stand up.” He grabs Tony’s elbow to help him to his feet, “Do as I do. C'mon, put your hands up.”

The door is open now and a group of dirty, armed men are walking in. It is the weapons Tony focuses on.

“Those are my guns. How did they get my guns?”

Wanda is shaken by the genuine horror she can feel and hear at his panicked question. ‘He really had no idea.’

“Do you understand me? Do as I do.”

A terrorist with a large bushy beard begins to speak and Yinsen translates in a carefully measured voice, that restrains any anger and Tony gives no hint that he already understood.

“He says: Welcome Tony Stark, the most famous mass murderer in the history of America. He is honoured. He wants you to build a missile. The Jericho missile that you demonstrated. This one.” Yinsen translates as his face looks grim his eyes are carefully looking to Tony to measure his reaction.

However, the emotion in Tony’s stare is impossible to place as he looks at the plans the terrorist’s spokesman is holding up.

"I refuse."

Their faces morph in terror.

"NO! THAT'S NOT WHAT YOU SAY!" Clint yells, his widened eyes darting from Tony’s stubborn face to the terrorists who tenses and glares at Tony threateningly.

The spokesman's smile drops.

He gestures to two of his men who grab Tony roughly and shove a bag over his head, tearing off his thin jacket in the process.

“Hey! What the hell? Hands off the merchandise-”

Yinsen has no choice but to watch as they drag Stark from the room.


 

“Last chance Stark. Build me my Jericho.” The English words clash with the situation he’s in and Tony wishes he could see who it was that was speaking, knowing it wasn’t the spokesman who’d lead him here.

Steve can feel the hard ground under Tony’s knees and the sweaty hands restraining his shoulders and arms - some of the stitches in his arms tear under the rough grips and Steve can see little patches of blood - as he buries the battery against his chest, the cold air nipping at his exposed torso and a heavy heat from behind him. He can hear footsteps and muttering in various languages - though only the man behind him speaks English - he can barely understand it. Once, he hears clipped but familiar tones of Hungarian that might have been comforting to Tony had it come from the woman who had once whispered lullabies in it to him and not this harsh guttural timbre. Steve could tell to Tony it felt like betrayal that the native language of the woman who he loved like his mother was being used this way.  

He smells the sweat and stink of the bodies around him, the gunpowder from the weapons they carry and the old musty scent of the burlap sack that obscures his vision.

Tony listens to the crackling of embers and the scrape of a poker prodding amidst flames, smells the smoke and knows what their plan is. Steve hopes with all his heart Tony is wrong.

Gritting his teeth, Steve feels Tony force back his fear to speak in a strong clear voice.

“I'll never roll over for some fake Al-Qaeda! Fuck you!”

‘Shut up Stark!’ Steve thinks.

‘I will not break.’

He refuses to flinch when he feels the first sharp prod of flaming metal. He bites down on his tongue when it digs into his back and begins to drag down.

Steve is stunned when he feels the skin on Tony’s back peeling, blistering and burning raw as the terrorist behind him moves the rod in another long diagonal motion across his back. Tony’s pain builds in sync with the ache in his chest to a nearly unbearable amount until a gold flash causes the ghost pain to lessen.

He swallows back the instinctive sob that rises to his throat and merely gives a small choked scream in response.

‘Thank fuck they can’t see me crying.’

He still feels it when the terrorist digs the butt of the metal rod into the underside of Tony’s shoulder blade, dragging it in a small torturously slow circular motion. The edge of their tool is sharp but not enough, and the tapered point is forcefully shoved and tugged as it gouges through layers of skin.

Tony barely holds in his screams.

Steve on the other hand is appalled. ‘How could they be so inhumane? How could they treat my friend like that?’

That same voice from behind keeps asking, “Build me my Jericho?”

“No.” ‘Never.’

The burning rod comes and goes. Sometimes it disappears to the sound of the fire flaring, others there’s nothing until it reappears in a different spot. They don’t hold to a pattern - not one that even Tony’s mind can track - the burning touch lightly tracing his skin here, digging there. It moves back and forth across his back, vanishing from one spot only to return to it minutes later. Voices laugh when he jerks under their rough hands, or when a whimper or low keen slips between his lips.

‘Weakness.

You cannot break you are made of Iron.’

‘Oh Tony… Howard what did you do?’ Steve feels pity for Tony rise in his chest and he internally wished that Tony would let himself feel what was happening instead of trying to block it out. ‘It’ll only come out to bite you later...’

For a few moments there’s just rustling and the sound of something poking at the fire again, though it sounds distant to his sluggish senses. Then he feels a different type of pain inside the circles gouged on his back; a sharper, but still burning point digging and carving in small strange movements.

He feels beads of blood run down his back.

‘Oh joy, a knife. What the fuck are they carving into me?!’

“Build me my Jericho?”

Steve feels Tony’s mouth stretch taut to form the inhuman sounding screams erupting from his mouth before he feels himself be pulled sharply from the memory.

Chapter Text

Yinsen gets up once they dump Stark in a shaking heap by the entrance.

“Stark, what did they do?” He grasps the man by the shoulders and Tony flinches backwards and smacks his arms away.

“Stark-”

Tony gulps and gasps in pain at that unintentional movement and squeezes his eyes shut.

“My back- my back… they did something. I don’t-“

“Let me take a look-” Yinsen peers around Tony, taking note of his hoarse voice, before stilling and blanching at the ten rings symbol that faces him along with the full smell of burning flesh.

Steve is once again assaulted with the smell of Tony’s burning flesh and the others all look as queasy at the scent as he does. Steve is certain that acrid smell has burned itself into his nostrils.

Meanwhile, Scott has gone almost as green as the Hulk and looks seconds away from throwing up again.

The burns have to be second or third degree; the rings themselves and the two large diagonal blades in the centre of his back were most likely made with a sharpened fire poker, however the smaller symbols inside the rings were clearly made with a small knife as were the details on the handles of the knives.

The poker had gouged into his skin creating troughs of seared flesh and muscle surrounded by raised, charred and cracked skin on either side that diminished to angry red blisters. The knife wounds ran deeper but were cleaner cut. Small reservoirs of blood pool in the burns giving them a wet sheen, a few rivulets drip down his back, but the cauterization from the burns means there is a lot less blood than otherwise.

Rhodey gags at the sight before he is able to voice a string of curses towards the Ten Rings in a lightly quaking voice.

“I completely agree with you… oh my god Mr Stark.” Peter’s face contorts under the mask, he tries to reach out to Tony only to pull back sharply when his hand goes straight through his shoulder.

Bruce's eyes widen at the sight of the symbol as they go bright green, “I've seen that symbol on someone's back before… in a previously Ten Rings occupied country.” ‘Why didn't I ever think that Tony would've been treated like that? All the signs were there…’

“That's sick man, w-who would do something like that?” They all turn to Scott who has finally spoken up in a breathless, haunted voice, his green shade has faded to ghostly palor at seeing the black and red charred design on Tony's back. Clint moves over and pats his shoulder as a sign of support. “Deep breaths man… lemme know if you are going to faint-”

“-nah, I'm probably going to puke again though,” Clint subtly steps away from Scott at this declaration before nodding at his next words, “... sick fuckers.”

No one has time to verbally agree to that as Tony speaks up next.

“It's bad isn't it?”

Silently, Yinsen stands up and grabs a roll of bandages from beside the bed and their pillows, then sets a pot of water to boil over the fire and moves back over to Tony.

“Tell me.”

“They branded you like a fucking slave.” Snarls Winter as he tears his eyes from Tony and glares ferociously at the door like he wants to kill the terrorists behind it.

“They burnt their sigil into your back,” Tony inhales sharply at this but Yinsen continues to talk in a factual, detached tone to try and cut out any sympathy for Stark the Ten Rings could exploit. “The burns are third degree, I will clean them with some water then I am going to have to wrap them tightly in bandages to hopefully prevent infection. It will hurt a lot.”

Tony shakes his head, “we need that water to drink, we can’t spare it.”

“If you don’t want to die of infection I will clean them.”

“He’s worried about the water!” Shouts Clint, “they just branded him!”

“Judging by the amount of water in that bucket it is a pointed concern,” Vision replies coolly, looking at the meagre supply.  

He helps Tony to stand, managing to take most of his weight to maneuver them to Stark’s bed, arranging him onto his side and pushing the pillows against his chest. “They’ll support your chest in case you pass out.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Tony mutters back sarcastically but he wraps an arm around the ratty pillows anyway.

Yinsen starts cutting stips of gauze waiting for the water to boil before letting it cool. They are only given one litre of dirty, brackish water a day that requires boiling before drinking, but for this he boils a small portion again to be sure it is clean.

“One litre a day!” Sam exclaims, feeling outraged, “and that's between the two of them!”

“If that was the standard for the whole three months Tony would have been severely dehydrated.” Bruce replies with a scowl.

Several minutes later he’s repositioned Tony so he’s upright and mostly leaning against Yinsen, the pillow placed between Yinsen’s shoulder and his chest but Tony still grimaces as the magnet is jostled. Yinsen uses one arm to support the man while the other soaks a bandage strip in the lukewarm water.

“When will you-” Tony clenches his teeth around a whimper as Yinsen starts dabbing at the wounds, swiping away blood. Although it is clear from the shuddering gasps and whines he makes, that he is making a real effort not to scream or hit Yinsen, his nails instead bite into his face as he holds his mouth shut.

“Stop!” Tony screams when the cloth dips into one of the larger burns.

Wanda swallows and looks away. ‘A few days ago I'd have been glad to see Stark suffer like this… but now...now I’m not.’

Yinsen grips his patient's arm a little tighter, “I’m sorry Stark, but if we want to prevent infection I must clean these.”

Tony is breathing harshly through his pain but manages to make an affirmative noise.

Peter swallows harshly, feeling tears again burning at the back of his eyes as he watches Mr Stark flinching at the gentle movements of the cloth.

Yinsen returns to his steady task, surprised the man is still holding onto consciousness. He’s even more surprised when he hears him trying to speak.

Steve is just as surprised that Tony hasn’t lost consciousness at any point yet, either through the torture or the first aid.

“I-I didn’t…”

“Hush Stark, there’s no need to speak. I’m nearly done.”

“Listen to him Tones.” Rhodey advises even though he knows his friend can't hear him and wouldn't listen anyway.

“No. Want you t-t’know. Didn’t g-give in.”

“Oh Tony,” Rhodey sighs.

Yinsen pauses in cleaning the last symbol, stunned. Stark’s voice is weak and it’s clear he’s barely clinging to consciousness. Yinsen is amazed at the strength of the man he’d previously written off as nothing but a shallow playboy at a conference in Bern.

The team mirrors this feeling. Steve had never expected such fortitude from Tony and wishes he’d seen this earlier. While Natasha appears unsurprised, she always knew Stark was a strong man however she wished she had seen the depths under his mask earlier than now.

He finishes cleaning the burn wounds before moving Tony slightly to clean the shrapnel wounds on his chest. He prays that the stitched wounds weren’t exposed to too much bacteria while unbandaged. Thankfully none of the stitches in his chest have been pulled enough to need redoing yet, but some fresh blood spots his chest.

“I’m ready to bandage now Stark.”

Yinsen silently apologizes as he jostles Tony against him so he can reach both arms around him, earning a sharp cry from the magnet now digging further into his sternum, moving his arms as quickly as he can to bandage the burns and cause Tony the least amount of pain. But Yinsen isn’t even halfway up the knives before the whimpering man suddenly sags against him, knowing that the other man has passed out, Yinsen works fast to finish bandaging the wounds, this time working around rather than over the magnet, until his entire torso is bandaged.

Bruce heaves a sigh of relief when Tony finally loses consciousness, hoping he can at least get some rest and escape the pain for a little while.

Cleaning and rebandaging Tony’s arms is much easier now that he’s out. But he still whimpers and groans when he has to restitch what was torn by the rough handling; dark finger shaped bruises are blossoming on his arms and shoulders.

Thor thunders a Norse insult that none of them understand but judging from its delivery they all knew it was an insult at the Ten Rings and their treatment of his friend.

Straining, he gently moves Tony to lie on his side once more repositioning the pillows so that Stark keeps pressure off the wounds and magnet.

Tony's arms wound around the pillows as he murmured, “Pepper.”

Bemused, Yinsen smiles as he looks over then tucks himself into his own bed.

‘Why Stark would be dreaming about hugging a spice I'll never know…’


 

Bucky is rudely awoken by harsh sounding foreign voices shouting this time in a language Tony can't understand. He sees Tony's hands grab the battery just in time before he is yanked to his feet and the familiar dank sack is shoved over his head.

He feels himself being tugged along by harsh bruising hands, they laugh when he yelps as they push against the burns on his back.

Pounding violently at the back of his head, Winter wishes death on all of these terrorists and becomes quickly frustrated by Bucky holding him back from trying to go on another rampage.

‘We are in Stark's body at the moment - we can't do anything!’

Winter only growls in answer. ‘I know and I have to sit here and see our fr- the person who freed us from Hydra's programming suffer like you... This is bullshit.’

Tony is brusquely pushed to his knees, he shivers slightly from how cold it is but also the dark foreboding notion of what is about to happen when he hears a large quantity of water being poured into what sounds like a metal tub.

Panic grows inside Tony's stomach, clogging up his throat when he realises what is about to happen to him.

“No...no...no. That could kill me-”

The bag is yanked from his head, Tony's eyes squeeze shut as a small amount of light assaults his vision, he feels a calloused hand grip his hair and pull his face upwards.

“You better change your mind then Stark. You are no use to us if you don't build.” Tony's eyes widen at the voice; realizing the snarling face of the bald man is who burned him. “Build me my Jericho.”

“Never.”

Malevolently grinning for a moment, the leader moves around the tub in front of Tony before ordering the men gripping him.

"Dunk him."

Tony's face is shoved boldly into the ebony water and Bucky feels himself be torn away from Tony as gold flashes across his eyes. He watches the others appear one by one next to him and opposite Tony who was being dunked again.

Horrified by what they are seeing, several of the Avengers are spurred into a rage by this memory, the worst surprisingly being Hawkeye.

Natasha has to hold Clint back as he lunges for the Terrorists with fists full of arrows and spit slurred swears.

“Clint! Clint! Look at me! There is nothing you can do to help, this isn't going to help Stark - put the arrows down!”

Fiercely glaring at Natasha, Clint shakes her roughly off him and throws the arrows back in his quiver.

Seemingly at a loss, Natasha steps away and narrows her eyes at her best friend, she appears faintly suspicious. “Is there anything else Fury left out of your file? You're acting a lot like I'd expect Stark to now if he were to relive this.”

Clint squares his jaw and flicks his eyes back to the terrorists.

The strong feeling of not being able to breathe scorches their lungs before gold flashes across their vision and the feeling vanishes, however the feeling clearly didn't lessen for Tony.

They watch him writhe against his captors hands and let out a scream as they dig into the burns on his back.

‘Idiot .’ Tony hisses mentally to himself as his air vanishes with that muted scream, only to be replaced with copious amounts of freezing water.

Letting him back up, his ears reopen and he greedily gasps for air as he tries to cough the water from his lungs.

“Build the Jericho, Stark.”

‘No… no… but please I need the pain to stop.’

“Stark men are made of Iron! Don't act like such a wuss Anthony!”

They still at Howard's voice whilst they watch Tony's face harden with a malicious determination.

“Sh-Shove it up your ass.”

They blanch as the leaders face hardens and Tony is shoved under again.

This time for longer...

Digging and clawing into his already burnt back, the hands keep him under water even as Tony's lungs burn for air and spasm with gasps and screams that send the water rushing in.

“Sir! Please remain strong!”

In that moment Tony is pulled up and shoved bodily on to the floor, he retches up water which most of them bodily cringe at.

‘Oh my God I really am losing it if I'm hearing voices already… how long have they been waterboarding me for now?

‘First Howard ...now Jarvis… that's exactly what I can imagine them saying too.’

“Build me my Jericho.”

“Just build it Stark,” implors Scott, as much as he hated Tony before he would never wish that kind of torture on anyone.

Tony’s injured arms shake violently as they tried to hold the battery away from the water he is retching up.

“N-no.” ‘I'd tell you where to shove your precious Jericho if I had the strength to.’

“What are you waiting for? Stark wants a round two."

With that they yank Tony off of the floor and shove him under again.


 

Yinsen rushes over to Tony as soon as the terrorists dump him in a soggy heap by the entrance, however he lashes out blindly, until Yinsen has retreated a safe distance away.

Eyeing both Stark and the battery carefully, Yinsen sees that the battery had miraculously survived the water treatment.

They are all surprised to see how well Tony had clearly protected the dry battery clamped in his hands. With the way that Tony seemed to curl around it too reminded Peter unnervingly of how Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films would protect the ‘precious’.

‘No doubt this is due to Starks careful shielding alone. I doubt it will last though. Electricity near water is a death trap.’ Yinsen thinks.

“You'll forgive the minor freak out right?” Tony’s slightly slurred and gasping voice comes from his pale dripping form as he looks up to Yinsen with dark eyes. “They decided to take me swimming. Woulda been fun - but we disagreed how long I had to stay underwater for…”

“Only Tony would describe water torture as swimming… Jesus Stark!” Clint hisses, normally he would have found Tony's retorts and descriptions funny but seeing what he had sucked the good humour right out of him.

Feeling a fiery protective feeling for Stark at this confession, Yinsen frowns.

‘He’s the same age as Junayd would've been had my little brother and his family not been killed by the Ten Rings before I was captured. Stark reminds me a little too much of him.’

Yinsen quickly moves to grab a small metal bucket and a towel before placing them both by Tony.

“H-how long?” Tony gives a deep, long retching cough after that vague question but Yinsen understands what he means regardless.

“As an estimation, I would guess at three hours this time. They won't let me know the exact time if I ask.”

“Three hours! They were… doing that for three hours!” Steve cries.

Thor again crackles with lightning as Bruce turns a light green and Vision’s gem glows slightly.

“Why?”

Yinsen stays silent for a moment as he loosens the bandages and peers at the aggravated burns on Tony's back.

“It's a cruel punishment… prohibiting my knowledge of the time means that I am unable to pray at the times Allah requires. Therefore they are sealing my fate, in the afterlife my soul is doomed to go to Jahannam-”

‘And never see my family again.’

“I assure you my friends, the fates would not be so cruel to keep friend Yinsen apart from the souls of his loved ones.” Thor boomed. “This Jahannam is another version of Helheim is it not?”

Bruce nods.

“Then it is a place for souls such as that of Obadiah Stane not friend Yinsen. A great injustice would be carried out if he was sent there.”

They couldn't agree more.

Tony’s eyes widen slightly in surprise. “You are a Muslim?”

“Yes.”

Tony is silent for a long moment before he pushes the metal bucket off of him, checks his trouser pockets and pats down his arms.

Swallowing heavily, Tony pulls his hands from his pockets. “My watch is gone… I'll make you one. If anyone deserves to go to Jahannam it's them not you, alright. I'm sure Allah will get that.”

“My faith is important to me and being unable to practice it-” Yinsen cuts off that thought and gives Tony a small, fake smile. “I appreciate the sentiment Stark. But I can't be so sure.”

“Don’t do anything to get yourself in trouble Tones, you’re in enough as is,” Rhodey says sternly to the memory of his friend.

Tony is about to say something else before Yinsen cuts him off. “I expect you must be hungry unfortunately they have not brought any more food for three days and even with rationing we are down to our last portion.”

The rice portion could barely even be called that at only a few mouthfuls each just like the last two days, and leaves them both scrapping their bowls.

None of them would have ever expected that Tony had ever been faced with a lack of food and water like this. But the measly amount of food and water they had been given would not keep them alive for long.

It was a lifestyle Bruce was familiar with and it’s not something he’d wish on anybody, let alone his friend.

“They probably won’t bring any more until I give in will they?”

“I would assume not.” Yinsen is careful not to show his hunger on his face.

Tony slumps further, “I’m sorry Doc. This is my fault, you don’t deserve to go hungry because of me.”

They are surprised Tony gives no complaint for himself as they can feel how empty his stomach is. He’s barely had enough food to make one solid meal since he woke from surgery.

“If it means not making a Jericho missile for another day, I’ll happily go hungry.”

Tony gives a weak smile, in complete agreement.


 

“Ooo swimming again.” Tony looks up at the bald stoic leader facing him, the only man he’s heard speaking English, wearing a mask of pure boredom. “How long have we been doing this now?”

“The water treatment is the most effective method in your case, Stark. It has only been two days since we began this routine… there is still time for it to wear you down even more. It will break you eventually. They always do break. Save yourself the pain. Build me my Jericho.”

“No.”

Scowling, the leader looks over Tony's head and barks at the men holding him. “Again!”

The terrorists positioned around Tony are none too gentle with shoving his head in again, tightening their hold as he struggles weakly against their rough calloused hands.

These struggles become more violent after almost a minute when they feel Tony run out of air; the pain of not being able to breathe hits them violently and many of them start to choke and wheeze on the phantom feeling until gold flashes across their vision and the sensation is alleviated.

‘The only way I'm going to get them to stop is if they think I'm dying.

‘Then let them think it.’

Tony suddenly slumps against them, so convincingly that the Avengers are nearly convinced he isn't faking.

“Get him up! Now!”

The men immediately comply, dropping Tony harshly onto his back.

Tony gives a pain filled yelp, narrowing his eyes at the men who laugh as he pushes himself up onto his knees and launches immediately in a painful sounding coughing fit.

The men's laughter silences abruptly as they watched the bald leader stalks over and roughly pull Tony up by his hair.

“Ow! What the fuck, Baldy?!”

"Sir shut up." Vision sounds sharper than any of them had ever heard him.

Incensed Baldy tightens his grip on Tony's hair. “Use any more such deception or insults against me again Stark, I will pull your tongue out and nail it to the wall. Do we understand each other?”

Steve feels himself go startlingly grey while another round of swearing starts up, Sam is one of the loudest.

“Holy fuck!” Sam yells, “I’ve heard some messed up shit from my guys, but that… that is barbaric! I've wished Stark would shut up before but I wouldn't rip out his tongue to achieve that!”

Tony's eyes go very dark and wide before his mouth goes thin and he nods.

“Now as punishment for your continued disobedience and rudeness,” Tony's jaw goes tight as he eyes Baldy stalking in front of the tub, fear pooling in his stomach. “Let's see if you can deal with two things at once. You're the great, unbreakable , Tony Stark you should be able to take it."

The air vanishes from Tony's lungs as they push the battery in front of him.

The terrorists bruising grip forces him upwards, before they shove his head and the upper half of his chest into the water.

Zzzt. Zzzzt. ZZZZT!

Tony begins to jerk violently against them as he screams into the water.

“Wretched barbaric mortals!” Thor thunders, “I shall drag them to the depths of Helheim myself!”

Bucky fists his hands and snarls behind gritted teeth, struggling to hold back Winter.

“Tony!”

‘Now it’s Obadiah shouting at me - is that who I do all this for?’

Images flicker in front of their eyes of Obadiah and Tony at lightning speed before they feel Tony settle on one.

They distantly note the surroundings as that of Tony's office, they find themselves next to Tony who is perched on a desk chair peering up at Obadiah who frowns at him from where he is standing before he moves towards Tony.

“No Tony, it would be stupid to look at the Arc...It was a publicity stunt. It was never cost effective. What you do now,” Obadiah looms over Tony and grips his chin in what seems to be a loving gesture to Tony but the others aren't convinced. “Your work, your weapons have changed the world, you have shaped the modern age!”

Winter prowls at the back of Bucky’s mind, snarling and making Bucky curl his fists.

‘Who do you think that sounds like, Bucky?

‘Pierce.’ Bucky narrowed his eyes angrily, ‘Stane must have been better friends with him than I'd thought.’

Obadiah’s fingers run along the side of Tony's styled van dyke and his words soften. “I'm so proud of you...I know your father would be too. You wouldn't want to throw all that away in the pursuit of a dead end project would you?”

Under his mask, Peter frowns feeling very uncomfortable with the way Obadiah was touching Tony. Peter rolls his shoulders back and shivers.

Tony finds himself shaking his head before he really knows what he is doing.

“Good boy,” Obadiah smiles as he moves one of his hands to create a firm grip on Tony's shoulder. “Now,” With the other hand Obadiah gave Tony the file that he was holding, “put this silly file back in storage where it belongs. You need to keep your head in the real world my boy, I know it must be difficult with a mind like yours but that's why I'm here to keep you on track.”

Rhodes growls, “No you fucking aren't! Manipulative bastard-”

“I know, the world needs weapons, right?” Tony gets to his feet and hugs the file to his chest. He gives a small smile to Obadiah despite his disappointment.

Wanda’s eyes flicker vibrant red with her magic, she feels it barely leashed under her skin with only the knowledge that none of this is happening right now is stopping her from trying to rip out the Machiavellian murderers throat.

Lightning crackles softly around Thor as he shifts his grip on Mjolnir, his posture unconsciously shifts into a battle stance. Something about Obadiah’s behaviour unnerves him more than he can say, but he’s unsure why.

‘But what if I made the Arc smaller?’

“That's what you're good for.” Obadiah delivers the put down so softly that it almost sounds like a compliment. However, Tony's self worth lowers even more without him even realising it.

‘That's all you're good for.’

Rhodey snarls viciously at Obadiah, frustrated with himself for missing how very wrong things had been with Stane. ‘How did I not see how he was tearing Tony down!’

Bruce’s eyes glow a particularly vicious shade of green at seeing Obadiah’s behaviour towards Tony parallel with how his father used to tear down everything his mother did. He always hated his father’s cruel words and crueler fists. It was a shallow relief that Obadiah wasn’t also physically hurting Tony, but Bruce was aware of just how much damage those sorts of words could do, especially coming from someone you cared about. The method of abuse Obadiah employed was a more sly and subtle criticism than Brian Banner’s outright hatred and broken bones.

Clint too appears angry and pale, he clenches his fists and his jaw tightly. Despite Harold Barton mainly opting for his fists, he knew emotional abuse when he saw it and everything Stane was doing fit the bill.

All thoughts about the Arc Reactor vanish as he slumps slightly before straightening and making his way to the door.

Steve blinks at the memory version of Tony, surprised by the effect Obadiah’s words had on him. It was truly horrible of Stane to imply that all Tony was worth was the things he could make but Steve had seen Tony take worse verbal hits than that with less of a reaction. ‘Was Tony’s mask that good to hide most of the hurt of what I said to him on the helicarrier when we first met? How is it that he could take words like ‘I know guys worth ten of you’ on the chin and verbally retort but not Stanes subtle put downs?’

Suddenly, Obadiah speaks up. “Oh and Tony,” Tony pauses opening the door and looks back, “keep the van dyke, it suits you.”

Natasha shoots a nasty glare at Stane for that. She recognises what he is doing straight away. ‘That is what abusers do to make you stay, they tear you down and then bring you up a little to make you believe they aren't bad or to disguise what they are doing.’

The young genius beams before disappearing through the wooden door.

“Tones!”

‘No, now it's Rhodey who is screaming for me.

‘He's who I make weapons for.

‘But he could be dead now,

‘Nonono, not Rhodey, please not Rhodey,

‘Dead because my weapons got into the hands of the bad guys… just like Jimmy and those other two soldiers…

‘I didn't even bother to learn their names...’

“TONY!”

At Peppers scream he feels blackness crawl across his vision as his strength depletes completely.

He turns completely limp in their hold.

They wait a moment before one of the Henchmen, looks cautiously up to Baldy.

"I don't think he's faking this time."

"Pull him up."

Tony flops backwards like a rag doll, the colour seems to have vanished from his face and his chest was lifeless and still.

Inhaling sharply, Peter recoils and Rhodey blanches so violently that he grabs Sam's arm in fear that he might faint.

“Oh my God…” Steve whispers, “He looks - he looks-”

“He looks dead.” Natasha’s face closes off completely at that declaration, although the slight crack in her voice when she says this gives away how upset she is. “At least they managed to revive him.”

Dragging him and the battery a good distance away from the tub, Baldy barks orders at them as one of the henchmen rips out the wires from the magnet and reconnects them.

Reacting to the dripping wet electromagnet the wires let through a surge of electricity and his chest arches upwards.

“H-OLY SHIT!” Peter jumps violently whilst his eyes bulge to the size of tennis balls under the mask. “They actually-” he gasps and swallows before his face splits open in a jaw breaking smile at seeing Tony's chest move again. “YES!”

Natasha quietly sighs and smiles as everyone else cheers in relief.

"Take him back to Yinsen. We'll let him rest for a few hours before we work on persuading him again. But continue to reduce food for both of them." The leader orders as two terrorist henchmen hoist Tony to his feet and drag him away.

Chapter Text

The Avengers find themselves back in the part of the cave where the Ten Rings store their hostages, they like Yinsen are unnerved by Tony's pallor and eerily glassy eyes that suggests he isn't as far away from death as they thought.

Forgoing the usual practice of waiting for Stark to speak, the Doctor moves.

Moving from the bench he has been hovering by to crouch in front of Tony.

Tony's eyes track him, but otherwise he is still, grey faced and gasping wetly for breath. Although, his eyes are glazed over in pain they can see an awareness there that seemed to be absent when the terrorists first brought him back.

‘So, this isn’t confusion, or shock.’

Pressing two fingers to Tony's wrist provides the answer.

Stark’s heart is hammering, fluttering as fast as he would expect a mouses too.  To make things worse the closer proximity means Yinsen is able to notice the faint smell of burning skin wafting from Tony’s chest.

‘They have really done it this time. Electrocution too… I don't know if I'll be able to save him.

‘Stark’s heart is giving out… that’s got to be ventricular tachycardia. I have to act now.’

He needs a defibrillator. A car battery is all kinds of wrong for cardioversion, but it’s all he’s got. He just has to pray it won’t cook Stark’s heart.

Yinsen pulls his shirt off, lowers Tony onto the ground and rolls him onto his side.

Bruce crosses his arms tightly, knowing how dangerous this is. Car batteries are not suited to the delicate systems of the heart. This could cause even more damage.

“This is going to hurt.”

Briefly turning off the battery he quickly disconnects the right wire, moving aside the soaked gauze to place it just under his left shoulder blade.

Natasha lays a comforting hand on Bruce’s shoulder. “It’ll work. We know he survives.” Despite her confident words, Bruce notes how tense her hand is and how tight it grips.

Yinsen doesn’t look into Stark’s wide panicked eyes, he know’s if he does he will lose his nerve and Stark can't afford for that to happen.

Making sure the wire doesn't touch the burns, he flips the battery back on.

Zzzt.

Stark’s back arches, he briefly convulses with a strangled cry before falling back limp.

Did it work?” Peter’s hushed anxious question raises the tension even more, they wait with baited breath for the answer.

Rhodey cringes from the now disturbingly familiar tang of burnt skin coming from his best friend. The smell is loathsome and it makes him want to empty what is in his stomach.

Yinsen quickly reconnects the wire before he checks Stark’s pulse. It’s a little erratic, a sign of continuing arrhythmia, but otherwise steady. He breaths a sigh of relief, they had gotten lucky. But the damage had likely been done and cardioversion with a car battery would not have helped in the long run.

Everyone is visibly relieved, but Bruce is still concerned, his mind still trying to work out how Tony is going to fix his heart. ‘Surely even he can’t build the arc reactor in a cave?’

Yinsen uses Tony's unconsciousness to check the burns healing progress on his back. They appear like rope burns now, the charred skin beginning to peel away with the bandages, without proper burn treatment they’re not healing well as he’d like but at least there is no sign of infection.

Hissing in sympathy, Yinsen winces when he sees faint yellow bruises the shape of hands twisting around his back from where they had been holding him down; in some parts the burns healing has been set back by their careless treatment too.

Some of the burn blisters have popped and are secreting pus that he wipes away with warm water.

He wastes no time in taking off the rest of the old water logged bandages and notices that more of the stitching has torn, this time on his chest as well as his arms so he goes for his needle and thread.

He’s not looking forward to telling Stark about the problem with his heart.


 

The crushing ache in his chest has somehow grown worse and his back feels like it is on fire again. Tony can feel his heart thumping, but at least it isn’t the erratic fluttering that left him dizzy and barely able to breathe.

It’d felt like he’d been paralyzed for all he could move.  He isn’t sure what had caused it, but it was an experience he hopes never to repeat. But judging from the way he can feel his heart beating, he isn’t going to be that lucky.

Getting his body to move and even open his eyes is a slow, draining task. His body feels heavy like he is moving through quicksand.

Tony feels something pricking the sore sensitive skin on his chest and chokes down a scream, half from the pain and half from the terror of being back on that table with his chest splayed open like a frog being dissected. His eyes, barely able to peel open a second ago now launch open to see Yinsen with a needle and thread.

Feeling Stark’s primal fear that echoes the emotions from the first surgery, Sam inhales sharply.

‘How could I not think that Stark would have PTSD from Afghanistan? Shit man. That flashback already seems eerily similar to what my guys tell me about getting triggered. Stark must have gotten help for it though, right?’

Meanwhile Thor straightens in interest. Friend Anthony is showing signs of experiencing the haunting - maybe he is truly on his way to becoming a great Berserker warrior, like myself and those of old.

A flurry of nonsense words from Yinsen manages to soothe down his rising panic and he tells Tony that some of the stitches in his chest and arms have been torn during his latest round of waterboarding.

Some of them are ashamed that they forgot about the injuries he had sustained in the attack due to the other things that they had seen him go though.

He feels every movement of the needle through his skin and it’s only Yinsen’s voice that keeps him from sinking completely into his nightmares. He clenches his jaw, grimacing, and just barely manages to hold back most of his groans and flinches at each pass of the needle, hating how pathetic he must look to the doctor.

“For goodness sake! Cut yourself some slack!” Peter surprisingly explodes. “You don't look pathetic! I don't think I could have gone through half the things you have here and make freaking Iron Man to somehow explode myself out! So stop putting yourself down. I am sick of it!”

The others stare openly at Spider-Man who appears a little mortified now.

“Hear. Hear .” Rhodey claps Peter on the shoulder. “Tell him that when we get out of these memories. I think Tones needs to hear that more than he let's on.”

The next session of cleaning and bandaging is as painful as the last, but this time he manages to cling to consciousness. The memory of the painful beating of his heart, the lightheadedness, being unable to draw enough breath was terrifying and he needed to know what had happened, praying it wasn’t what he feared.

“Wh’t ‘appen?”

He slowly sits up on the bed, attempting to curl slightly around his pained chest. He hisses and immediately straightens, his chest and back vehemently protesting the movement.

“You should have stayed still Stark. Your body is trying to heal.”

Tony shoots him a glare, “Yeah, ‘caus ‘ey care ‘bout m’health. Jus’ tell me wha wuzzat.”

Yinsen’s mouth thins into a slim line as he helps Tony sit up. “Cardioversion. A crude version at least. You were experiencing ventricular tachycardia; the lower chambers of the heart were beating rapidly and not supplying enough blood. The electric shock helped return it to a normal rhythm. We got lucky really. Cardioversion with the battery could have killed you.”

His trembling hand fists his shirt below the magnet.

“Stark, your heart is failing.”

‘OK. Yep. It’s another death sentence.’

“Surely it’s not that bad?” Scott asks looking pale.

Steve opens his mouth to answer before closing it. ‘Yes it is that bad, I know intimately how dangerous those conditions are, arrhythmia especially since it is one I had myself pre serum.’ A few days ago the thought of a rich man like Stark suffering like he had would have been laughable, back in his day chronic illness was only supposed to be suffered by the dregs of society, the poor, the immigrants and the mentally ill. Many people didn’t even believe in chronic illness, he’d always been told things like his asthma were merely mental symptoms.

Bruce sighs as he addresses the group. “Ventricular tachycardia and arrhythmia are very dangerous conditions Scott. Yinsen stabilised the tachycardia for now but his heart is still arrhythmic - that is; out of rhythm - which likely means atrial fibrillation, which is a chronic condition usually managed with medication or a heart assist device like a pacemaker. Left untreated it could become fatal and that’s without being attached to a car battery that is likely worsening the condition.”

Tony is laughing weakly though it lacks all humour and causes a lancing pain in his chest.

Nat winces at the laugh, she knows she’s heard it from him before during the Ulton fiasco. She hadn’t recognised it for what it was at the time, but now she can feel the hopelessness and depression fuelling it.

“The trauma, the surgery and magnet already damaged your heart. But this is worse and no easy fix. You need a pacemaker or an ICD implanted and I don’t have any suitable tools here. And the Ten Rings won’t care as long as you refuse to build for them. They will let you die here Stark. Next time I don’t think I’ll be able to revive you. Stark? Do you hear me?”

Tony looks up to the Doctor with an almost manic smile, “Yeah, shoulda known death like most things in life, comes in threes.”

It is eerie seeing the humorless, hyena like grin on Tony’s face, they can feel the slight madness bleeding through behind the depression and can't help but wonder when Tony is going to break.

They only know it'll be soon.


 

They come for Tony just after he manages to drift into an uneasy sleep, they pull him roughly from the cot, aggravating all the burns as they do so.

“Bastards! Let him fucking rest!” Clint screams in their faces and tries taking a swing at one of them. He and Nat both recognise this method of torture. They were depriving him of sleep along with food and water while physically torturing him. “Sadistic assholes!”

When the thugs shove him to his knees in front of that Tub again, Tony tries his absolute hardest not to cry... the respite wasn’t long enough and the pain on his back, his chest and everywhere is becoming too much.

“Build me the Jericho,” someone hisses in his ear.

“No,” he rasps, although it comes out far too pleading for his liking.

Rhodey tries to claw their hands from his friend before giving up with a desperate yell and Sam pulls him away.

Natasha squats down next to Tony as though to offer comfort though she’s not sure if it’s more for Tony or herself.

They shove his head down and his world splinters.

Yinsen’s voice echoes in his head from what he had told him earlier. “They will let you die here Stark. Next time I don’t think I’ll be able to revive you. Do you hear me?”

‘You have to break if you want to live.’

Suddenly, the icy water slaps him sharply from his dissociation, reminding him of the agony and no air…

‘I can’t breathe!

‘Just break!

‘NO! I can’t!’

Peter almost sobs, rubbing at tears under his mask, “Just do it Mr. Stark! Just say yes!”

In his ear, that hissing voice: “Build me the Jericho.”

‘Oh, God it’s so tempting.’

Despite this thought, between hacking up mouthfuls of water, he manages a clear "no."

He’s proud and surprised at the strength Tony is showing, but Steve wishes he could stop what is happening.

Again. His vision’s gone completely, his heart is trying to shove the magnet out of his chest.

"Build me the Jericho."

He only has the energy to shake his head and swallow a whimper.

Again. "Build me the Jericho."

Again. His world is water, nothing but the dream of air and awareness of his pounding heart.

‘It's going to explode in my chest…

‘I’m going to die here—’

“Come on Stark,” Sam whispers, “everyone breaks. You can’t keep going like this.”

The voice hisses in his ear, so close that the heat of its breath scorches his skin. "Build me the Jericho!"

"Okay!" the word sounds like it’s been torn out of Tony’s throat, “I'll build it! Just stop!"

They do.

They heard him.

Once they drop him roughly to the floor for the final time, he focuses on heaving up the lungfuls of water collected in his chest and almost faints in relief.

Although they are relieved the torture has stopped. They think they know what is about happen now.

Regretfully, Steve frowns as he looks to his teammate on the floor. ‘I'm sorry Tony. I should have known you would have never double dealt to them willingly… now the emergence of SI weapons in Gulmira makes sense. Tony didn't double deal them. They were tortured out of him.’


 

He’s given an hour to recover before they come again. For a moment when they shove the bag back onto his head he’s terrified they’re just going to keep torturing him.

I've said yes! I've said yes! No, no, don't take me again.’  

But then he hears them harassing the Doctor as well and that soothes the worst of the panic that they’re taking him to the Tub again.

It doesn’t help his fluttering heart though.

He focuses on each step and quickly realizes they’re not being taken to the torture room.  At the back of his mind he counts every step, in case it would be useful to know this journey in the future.

It is proven to be a wise decision when he sees bright light shining through the sack that is then ripped off.

After days inside the dark cave the sun is blinding and burning as he blinks to readjust his eyes.

There’s weapons - his weapons - everywhere.

Horrifyingly large stacks of explosives, missiles and guns. All with his name printed on the side. Tony feels like he’s stepped into a nightmare but he knows he’s already living one.

A hard shove has him almost losing grip on the battery and stumbling into another terrorist who harshly grips him until he’s steady and quickly walks away.

Thor growls at the man who pushes him and whacks Mjolnir menacingly against his palm.

He stumbles down into the main part of the camp, registering the dozens of terrorists but mostly eyeing the cache of his weapons.

Weapons that were supposed to protect their soldiers from these people.

Hugging herself slightly, Wanda feels his fear and she regrets her actions, knowing miserably that she can't do anything about them now.

Bushy Beard is speaking, but his mind is still too caught up in the shock to translate the words.

“He wants to know what you think.” Yinsen’s voice brings him back to the present, horror still lurking at the corners of Tony’s mind.

“I think you got a lot of my weapons.”

‘There’s far too many for this to be an accident - it has to be a stolen shipment I never heard about.’

Steve curses himself. He knows Obadiah Stane was the one behind the double dealing, but he hadn’t believed Tony had been ignorant. ‘Fury was right, he really did trust Stane, and he had no clue what the man was doing. But with what S.H.I.E.L.D first told me backed by what the public knew, I thought… I should have listened to Fury not what was in my briefing packets.’

Bushy Beard starts walking around gesturing as he talks and pausing for Yinsen to translate.

“He says they have everything you need to build the Jericho missile.

“He wants you to make the list of materials.

“He says for you to start working immediately and when you're done, he will set you free.”

Bushy beard has his hand out expectantly for a handshake. Tony almost considers refusing again. However he knows he can’t take another round of the tub.

‘You're pathetic Stark. You should have died before saying yes.’

‘No Stark,’ Natasha thinks, ‘Everyone breaks eventually and better to live and stop them. Make them pay by surviving everything they throw at you.’

He takes the handshake and hates himself more than ever, “No, he won't.”

Bruce winces at the self loathing rolling off Tony.

Meanwhile Vision sighs sadly, intimately familiar with Tony's self hatred from JARVIS’ recovered memories.

Yinsen nods his head a little, “No, he won't.”

Nodding his head Bushy Beard gives a grin, but Tony is now focusing on the man looking down at them from some rocks, fiddling with a ring. He had to be the man who’d burned him and he was the man who had him drowned repeatedly.

He was clearly the leader.

Tony held the leader's cold menacing stare with one of his own for a moment before deliberately lowering his eyes back to Bushy Beards annoyingly happy face.


 

Tony is sat in front of the fire back in their cell. Darkness swirls in his mind clouding his thoughts and sapping the little strength left. He’s not sure how long he’s been sat there, a minute, an hour, a day. He can’t bring himself to care.

“I'm sure they are looking for you Stark. They'll never find you in these mountains.” Yinsen frowns at Tony and moves to sit opposite him across the fire. “What you just saw…” Yinsen’s tone becomes sharper as if he was trying emphasise his point, “that is your legacy, Stark. Your life's work in the hands of those murderers. Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?”

“Why should I do anything?”

The defeated tone in Tony's voice stuns them all, once again it is embroiled with self loathing that they had never expected.

“They're gonna kill me, you... Either way, if they don't, I'll probably be dead in a week.”

“Well then... this is a very important week for you, isn't it?”

Tony's eyes widened when he looked up from the fire.

‘Wait a minute - I could have longer than a week! The Arc if I made it smaller, less bulky included a pacemaker to stabilize the sino-atrial node I would have enough power to keep my heart beating for 50 lifetimes...that would certainly give me enough time to bust myself and Yinsen from this joint… but I would need to go through another surgery.’


 

“God! No, no,no!” They are immediately shocked by the hysterical, pleading tone Pincushion is using, it was one that they had never heard or thought to associate with Tony before the water torture happened.

He gasps and grabs the magnet stuck out disturbingly from his heavily bleeding chest.

Unimpressed with his other self, Angry Tony raises his voice. “What’re you panicking about?! We need thi-”

"I-I can't go through that again! Do you have any idea what this thing will do to our body! We’ll never fully heal!" Pincushion stares at Angry, "What if I wake up again? O-oh my God. I'm going to die soon anyway." Pincushion grabs the table before his legs collapse. "Fuck!"

Everyone is confused by Pincushions extreme reaction, not entirely sure what Tony is planning.

While the rest of the team is surprised by the extreme panic Stark is showing Wanda recognises it, intimately.

She remembers feeling it when she invaded Stark’s mind in Sokovia. She had used it to make him tear himself apart for the wrongs he had done to her and she had revelled in his pain. In retrospect she could say it was a disgusting thing for her to do. Even at the time she knew it was an abhorrent act but Stark had always been an exception to her. She had felt it was well deserved.

Now she no longer revelled in his pain and anguish - or tried not too, old habits die hard - and she felt sorrow for Pincushion.

When his counterpart looks to be on the verge of crying Angry Tony quickly jumps into action.

"Hey,” Angry tries for a gentle tone. “Look at me."

"What could you possibly-" when Pincushion looks up at him Angry Tony lightly taps the others head and his eyes turn jet black.

What the actual fuck?!” Clint bursts out, thoroughly disturbed by Pincushions black eyes, the sight reminds him a lot of the footage he saw from the base where Loki controlled him before his eyes had settled into the Tesseract blue.

However, Pincushions eyes remain fully black, he is seemingly catatonic as dark wisps of smoke begin to trail out of his mouth and chest.

“I knew it.” Angry Tony murmurs as he makes a sharp pulling gesture with one of his arms, which persuades the ebony twirls to leave Pincushion completely and gather up in Angry’s hands .

He uses all his effort to compress it into a cloud of concentrated smoke resembling a ball.

Vision feels disturbed by the aesthetic likeness to how Wanda’s powers looked when she threw him through the compound. He unconsciously shifts a little away from her.

However this was where the similarities ended.

Angry drew his arm back, like he was about to bowl for a Cricket match before he lobs it straight into the sphere.

Once it’s absorbed in, Pincushion’s eyes return to normal and the blackness recedes back into his pupils.

He unfreezes.

"Hope to say to me... wait what happened? Why don't I feel anything?" Pincushion stares at Angry with great suspicion whilst he straightens. "What did you do?"

‘Good question.’ Bucky switches his gaze to Angry Tony although he knows exactly what he had done. Winter had tried blocking and suppressing the memories of his trauma at the hands of Hydra in a similar way once the BARF treatment started.

"No thanks for helping me then, just ‘what did you do’? Sometimes I wonder why I bother. You are such an ungrateful little twat." Angry sulks and crosses his arms.

Rhodey smothers a snort at the scene. ‘Seriously Tones? You are throwing a sulk at yourself. I shouldn't be surprised - this is Tony.’

Fondly frustrated, Pincushion sighs and smiles a little. "Thank you."

"See that wasn't too hard was it? Now let's..."  Angry turns back around and goes to move away before Pincushion grabs him.

"You've still got to tell me."

“You're not being let off the hook there!” Clint flashes Angry a suspicious look, “tell us what you did to our friend spiky Stark.”

"I just shoved all the horrible shit you were feeling into the sphere, so yes my thank you was well deserved -"

"You did what?!" Pincushion’s voice rises several octaves.

"See I knew I shouldn't have told you-"

"It's going to be 10x worse for us when it comes out of the sphere again-"

"If we live that long." Angry cuts Pincushion off, his face hardening into a very cold, angry expression. "Thanks to those fuckers we are likely going to die soon. So yes I just saved us from unnecessary suffering, there is no time to fall apart and I am not going to especially not here. We are Iron and they will never EVER break us!"

Several of them cringe. This was one of the times in the Afghanistan memories where it was again highlighted that Tony had reached his mental and physical breaking point.

Nodding resolutely, Pincushion glances from the sphere back to Angry Tony. “Who said anything about breaking?” Angry Tony opens his mouth but Pincushion barrels onwards, “you're right though. We're gonna need some guts to tell Yinsen he's gonna open me up again…” Pincushion appears grim and his voice goes quiet. “Just hope they have enough knock out juice this time.”

“What!” Peter squeaks.

“God, please no,” Rhodey moans into his hands.

Bruce pales a little at the memory of the first surgery that was more of a butchery and thinking of Tony having to go through that again. With his injuries at the moment Tony may not even be able to survive the shock of another major surgery, let alone awake. Bruce fears it would make him snap completely.

Angry shoots the sphere a sharp side eyed glare when the smoke inside becomes more active and starts smacking the glass at this statement.

The smoke only calms down when Angry Tony's eyes flash briefly black. Glaring at the sphere, he pauses for a long moment before he speaks up in a somber voice. “Yeah, well I'm sure they learnt from their mistakes last time.”

“Don't count on it.” Winter murmurs darkly, thinking about how many times Hydra had left him awake while his metal arm was being updated. No matter how painful the updates were.

Glancing briefly to Winter, Steve swallows. ‘Oh God Buck… what haven't you told me? I really hope Tony isn't awake again.’

Chapter Text

Terrorists are everywhere in the cell, scuttling around like a horde of ants carrying  missiles and crates of weapons, tools and supplies almost like a worker ant would for their queen.

Tony rattles off directions at a speed almost too fast for Yinsen to translate. It is extremely difficult not to give in and help Yinsen translate his requests but then he remembers that he has a part to play and keeps strictly to English.

Once the terrorists have left them, Tony sets to work in sorting out the tools and the missile parts they had dumped over their workstation.

Tony sits at the head of a missile, his nimble fingers working a wire around until the head pops off and he throws it to the side.

“How many languages do you speak?”

“A lot.” Yinsen replies watching Tony work as he slides out some of the inner workings. “But apparently, not enough for this place. They speak Arabic, Urdu, Dari, Pashto, Mongolian, Farsi, Russian.”

“I wonder how many Stark speaks?” Wanda ponders.

“I lost count a while back. In college he could speak German, Italian, Spanish and French and I know he picked up Arabic and Dari after 9/11. I think he might know Chinese and Japanese too.” Rhodey answers with a cautious glance in her direction - she seems to be losing some of her misplaced anger for his best friend, but like Rogers her beliefs seemed to be hard to change so he is still wary.

Impressed, Sam whistles, “that’s a lot.”

“Who are these people?”

“They are your loyal customers, sir. They call themselves the Ten Rings.” Yinsen informs Tony in a carefully controlled but deceptively calm voice.

‘Loyal customers? What the fuck? Have those bastards been repeatedly stealing my weapons?! Who did they buy them from? Obie would've never approved this sale and I definitely didn't.’

Fuming at his undeserved trust in Stane, Wanda’s eyes flash scarlet. ‘But am I any better for trusting Hydra?’

Steve shakes his head in bemusement, surprised Tony really had put that much trust in Stane. Tony had never seemed one to trust easily and Steve had always viewed him as a bit of a lone wolf.

Tony slides the bundle of metal and wires out to drop it on the table. Yinsen adamantly watches, almost transfixed as Stark continues disassembling various missiles, guns and parts with ease.

“You know, we might be more productive if you include me in the planning process.”

Deep in concentration, Tony doesn’t answer whilst he removes a small chip from some sort of cylindrical gear piece.

“Okay, we don't need this,” he says, throwing the contraption over his shoulder.

“What is that?”

Tony raises the forceps to show Yinsen the sliver of metal. “That's palladium, 0.15 grams. We need at least 1.6, so why don't you go break down the other 11?”


 

Tony methodically mixes and kneads a bowl of clay, smoothing the texture and drumming out clumps. His mind buzzes with plans and designs as his hands almost automatically create the mold, then hammering a small tube of metal into a cup of the clay to form a mold.

Thor watches far more avidly than he lets on. As a young child he’d loved to watch smiths and scientists create their feats, but Odin pushed him to martial activities and he’d hidden that passion. Even from Loki.

‘I was so concerned about being the perfect son I drove a wedge between my brother and I. Yet I allowed that same gap to form again with the Man of Iron. I can no longer repair what I had with Loki. I must not continue to make the same mistake with Friend Anthony.’

The easy, familiar work calms Tony and allows him to almost forget about his pain.

The next step isn’t anywhere near so easy.

“Careful. Careful, we only get one shot at this.” Tony frets as Yinsen slowly walks to the table carrying the cup of melted 1.6 grams of palladium.

His hands ache with the desire to snatch the forceps and cup out of Yinsen’s hands. However, between having to hold the battery and the subtle trembling of his hands he knows he’ll screw up the delicate step.

‘This needs to work or I’m dead.’

“Relax. I have steady hands. Why do you think you're still alive?” That gentle yet slightly teasing tone reminds him starkly of Jarvis, with that thought he can't help but remember he hadn't asked his cell mates name.

“What do I call you?” Tony asks as he places the battery on the table.

Rhodey shakes his head with a fondly exasperated sigh and chuckle, “took him long enough.”

“My name is Yinsen.” Whilst the doctor pours, Tony watches sharply and is left almost breathless with relief when the melted metal pools into the mould dead on.

“Yinsen. Nice to meet you.”

Yinsen looks at him and smiles, seemingly bemused.

Oh right we met in Bern before…’

Luckily Yinsen isn't offended by the slip up. “Nice to meet you, too.”


 

Once hardened Tony extracts the fine ring of palladium from the mold with tweezers and carefully plants it in a small container.

Returning to the main workstation he continues work on a small toroidal device about 3 ½ inches in diameter. He precisely solder’s each delicate piece of machinery, various parts of the apparatus displayed in differing states of completion.  

Scott focuses completely on the device Tony is building, the engineer in him trying to work out what it is.

Apart from Bruce, Rhodey and Peter most of team had never seen him while working and now watch almost rapt as he and Yinsen move about each other effortlessly.

It reminds Tony of the days he and Rhodey would spend hunkered down in the labs at MIT on one of their many projects. He hadn’t realised how much he missed working with someone who could tolerate his company. Rhodey was the only lab partner he hadn’t driven off by somehow being an ass. He was rarely even aware of what he did wrong. Most people just didn’t want to work with him .

‘No one wanted to work with a kid too smart for his own good. Or they just expected me to do all the work and for them to get the credit. Team sports were just awful; who wants a scrawny kid half their size.’

A frown tugs at Natasha’s lips, she’d marked him off as not being a team-player without thinking about what past experiences in teams were like for someone who had always been out of place. However, she watches him now and the easy camaraderie with Yinsen and has to make her reevaluate that assumption.

“I know how that feels, people not wanting to work with you or just wanting to use you. I haven’t even skipped any grades but I’m still the loser nerd that’s only useful for homework.” Peter sighs and looks down briefly to the cave floor. ‘ That's another similarity I've found with Mr Stark… no wonder he's such a good mentor to me.’

Bruce nods. “Skipping grades makes it even worse. People feel threatened when someone so much younger than them can out do them so easily. I remember even some professors looked down on me and I went to college at 16.” Comprehension dawns on Bruce's face. “Tony went when he was only 14.”

“You saw me getting bullied in college, but you didn’t really see much of what happened to him. A lot of people thought Howard was paying his way, even professors could got riled when he corrected them. I had to pull him out of a lot of bad situations. Not that I was always the picture of responsibility mind you! We both got each other into and out of plenty of trouble.”

What Rhodey says reminds Steve once more of him and Bucky.

They listen as Tony rattles off complex equations under his breath or explains the workings of something to Yinsen. He is patient while directing the Doctor, showing him the in’s and out’s of various tools.

Several times, Tony descends into complicated technical talk until Yinsen brings him back down and out of his own head or asks him to rephrase. Then he would make an effort to re-explain until they were both sure Yinsen understands. The technical translation is complicated further by English being Yinsen’s second language.

Listening to Tony occasionally struggling to translate things that come so naturally to him, into understandable terms and the way Yinsen prods the discussions along until they are both on the same page makes some of them reconsider some of the times Tony had gone off on technical tangents and they’d assumed he was mocking them. They could feel his frustration at himself as he tries to translate complex engineering concepts that even Rhodey and Bruce don’t always understand into terms that Yinsen can. He feels like he’s trying to say something in a language that doesn’t have the necessary phrasing.

He looks healthier and more alive than he has in days. He is still working through high pain levels but being able to work and finding camaraderie with Yinsen had given Tony back some energy.

So of course when the crash comes, it comes hard.

His trembling hands are the first sign but it quickly progresses to shallow breathing, chest pain and lightheadedness. He tries to work through it but the more he pushes the more grey he becomes.

“I hate watching this,” Peter says.

“Y-Yinsen!” Tony groans when he almost falls out of his chair.

Wide eyed, the Doctor rushes over and a check of Tony’s pulse reveals another cardiac episode. This time spontaneous. Yinsen has to almost carry him to the bed.

They get pulled from that memory as soon as they see Yinsen quickly preparing for another round of cardioversion.


 

Tony has appeared to have recovered from the cardioversion in this memory as the team watch him dialing up a battery connected to what is definitely an arc reactor. The lights of the cave dimming and flickering as he powers it up.

Thor openly stares at the midgardian machine, amazed by the similarities the arc is showing to the energy created by the Tesseract.

Bruce is astounded that he has accomplished building such a device in a cave. Seeing it as it was assembled was an amazing experience. He’s only ever seen the surface of the reactor before and he’s startled to realize the full size of it. ‘For that to fit in his chest-’ he starts feeling a little sick.

“Wow!” Scott exclaims in awe, “is that a cold fusion reactor?”

“Course not,” Rhodey replies, “everyone knows palladium isn’t a viable substrate for cold fusion.”

“I think he’s using the beta decay of Pd-107 as an electron source to capture pd-103 between two radioactive isotopes. The later ionized by an electric arc.” Bruce says distractedly, still focusing on Tony's chest.

“So a type of nuclear decay and electron flux reaction?”

“Yeah, with the electron collision emitting and deflecting gamma rays into the core, catalyzing electron emission creating a self sustaining reaction, you actually know your stuff Lang.” Rhodey says, looking to Scott with a surprised expression on his face.

“And the emitted light is from cherenkov radiation caused by the charged particles passing through a medium faster than the speed of light in that medium!” Peter pipes up.

“Can any of you speak English?” Cries a befuddled Sam.

“It-it’s just really impressive,” embarrassed, Peter murmurs as he looks back to the scene.

“Indeed, it is my friend,” Thor claps a hand on to Spider-Man’s shoulder, “what friend Anthony has produced is a brand of Midgardian magic through understanding the alignments of the shells of your Mortal elements and how they evolve. Science is truly a type of magic is it not?”

Spiderman straightens and shoots a surprised smile at Thor behind his mask, whilst the others, especially Bruce, appear perplexed at the Gods sudden knowledge and interest in Midgardian science.

Thor ignores them and turns back to the scene. ‘At least I succeeded in making the young Spider feel confident in his knowledge. I only wish I had let my brother and friend Anthony know that I had always admired their craftsmanship.’

“Oh wow,” Yinsen murmurs as he bends down to examine the glowing blue, fist sized reactor. “That doesn't look like a Jericho missile.”

“That's because it's a miniaturized arc reactor. I got a big one powering my factory at home.” Tony taps his creation on the side, “It should keep the shrapnel out of my heart.”

“But what could it generate?”

“If my math is right, and it always is, three gigajoules per second.” ‘Now I just need him to agree to this.’

“That could run your heart for 50 lifetimes.”

“That uh, does sound pretty impressive,” Clint smiles.

“Yeah. Or something big for 15 minutes.” Tony brushes him off. “We’ll talk about that later. Cause I’m going to need your help getting this installed doc.”

“Installed?”

Tony lightly taps the magnet, feeling disturbing reverberations in his sternum.

“It’s far from ‘pretty impressive’ Clint,” Bruce states, “It’s cutting edge tech and he built it in a cave. But I’m more concerned about what it’s going to do in his body.”


 

“I won't do it! This is insane!” Yinsen exclaims. “Medically speaking you can never fully heal around this thing Stark! You must know that! Even if you don't die on the table you'll spend the rest of your life in pain! Your chest muscles will be agony! Your lungs-”

“What is he talking about?” Steve demands urgently as Yinsen continues to rant.

“Another surgery.” Shifting uncomfortably, Bruce shares his realizations with horror. “Tony needs the arc reactor implanted, it’s deeper than the magnet. The magnet is bolted to his sternum, but the - the size of the reactor, it would go through his sternum. I never realized how deep-”

“That’s why Pincushion was freaking out earlier?” Bruce nods to a pale Clint.

“I always thought that thing just powered his suit!” Scott exclaims. Wanda, Sam and Peter had all thought the same.

“He had it removed after the incident with The Mandarin.” Steve replies shakily.

“I’m already in agony!” Tony half screams, half sobs with frustration, interrupting Yinsen’s rant. “I have been in pain since my own damn bomb - No tell me! What do I do? If you’ve got any better ideas I’m all ears, because I’ve got nothing else. Either I die in pain or I live in it! Maybe it’ll be unbearable but if I don’t take this chance I’ll be dead in a few days!”

Tony’s breakdown is shocking. They can feel his pain, but it’s dulled and easily pushed aside. This is a vivid reminder that it’s not the same for Tony and he’s been in constant agony since the skirmish. He can’t even allow himself the rest needs to heal, because he’s in enemy territory and his life expectancy is measurable in days.

Tony has hardened, portraying determination he doesn’t really feel. “If you’ve got an alternative great, but I’ve got nothing left to lose.”

Yinsen’s mouth thins and he pauses for a long moment. “I don't like this at all Stark, it goes against everything I promised I would do as a doctor… but if I don't do this you will die, so you leave me no choice… I will do it.”

“Friend Banner? Is this likely to kill Friend Anthony?” There’s a dark, grim look present across Thor’s face, how out of place it looks only highlights the gravity of the situation even more.

Bruce swallows, appearing green for an unrelated reason to the Hulk. “It’s invasive. Really invasive. I need to see the plans, but I don’t like this.”

Tony gives a small grim smile.


 

Yinsen looks over the plans Stark has drawn to secure the reactor into his chest while the other man rests. The plans are disturbing. It is mutilation, plain and simple. But also necessary if his patient has any chance of getting out of here alive. The magnet was only ever a temporary solution.

‘This goes against every principle. It makes a mockery of the hippocratic oath!’

As Yinsen begins marking up the plans to make this sick idea potentially survivable, Bruce analyzes them over his shoulder.

“Bruce?” It’s Natasha who eventually prompts him for the details they’re all waiting for.

“Um, these are the plans for the hub that the reactor sits in. It replaces his entire sternum and is clamped to the ribs. Parts of ribs 2 to 5 will need to be removed.”

Everyone is pale. Scott looks like he’s going to retch again.

“Yinsen’s making the socket shallower - Tony had it deep enough to go into his heart - but they’ll still need to remove portions of his lungs, parts of his muscles and I think they’ll still have to push his heart backwards. His pectorals and some abdominal muscles will be displaced by the metal implant replacing the bones they anchor too, they’ll need to reattach them artificially somehow.

“The parasternal lymph nodes - that’s part of his immune system - will need to be removed. It looks like they plan to build something to manually drain the lymph fluid through. The veins, arteries and nerves that run between the ribs would be shoved out of place.”

“How bad is all that?” Rhodey begs softly.

“Bad. Pincushion and Yinsen were right when they said he’d never heal around it. This thing will be nearly 4 inches deep, it’ll push his heart at least an inch backwards! The reduced lung mass would lead to breathing problems. His immune system would be compromised. The muscle displacement would be painful. Basically he would be physically disabled and in constant pain...Fuck!” Bruce growls, eyes burning green. He now knew what Tony had meant when he said about the Arc.

Terrible privilege indeed...shit Tony. You weren't kidding.’

White as a sheet, Steve remembers that time some magazines were speculating about him having chronic pain after some incident shopping. Mostly it was written off as a joke and Tony had denied it. Steve himself had laughed it off and the team had followed his lead. Now he felt sick to his stomach, thinking of his own childhood and myriad of chronic illnesses. ‘How was I so blind!’

Judging by her glare towards him, Natasha remembers the incident.


 

Tony looks up suddenly upon Bushy Beards entrance, both he and Yinsen tense at his arrival, cease their discussion and stand up immediately.

Bushy Beard moves subtly in front of the camera's view and Tony tenses even more, wound tight like a bow string.

“You.” He points at Tony, “you being operated soon, yes?”

Tony nods cautiously. He knows Yinsen has talked to their captors about it and managed to wheedle use of their infirmary. He was impressed by the amount of concessions that Yinsen had managed to wrangle; they had a small stock of morphine, a ventilator, a heart monitor and he would be allowed time to heal.

Bushy Beard frowns, an expression that Tony deciphers as concern when he looks past at him at the ration Yinsen was about to prepare. “Too small. Need more to get stronger. Work better. To Survive.”

“The hell is this guy playing at?” Shouts Rhodey.

Natasha and Winter are too suspicious of this supposed act of kindness, in enemy conditions like that privileges aren't just given out of the goodness of the captors heart.

Yinsen’s eyebrows rise as Bushy Beard takes a handful of biscuits from his pocket and places them in Tony's hand. “You eat, quickly. Don't let see. Great risk, I get you food.”

Tony is about to save two for Yinsen but Abu makes a vaguely panicked gesture with his hands. Tony gives Yinsen an apologetic look before shoving the whole lot in his mouth, chewing and swallowing them quickly. He is lucky that years of drinking to the excess and sleeping around had mostly killed his gag reflex, otherwise he is pretty sure he would've thrown it back up again.

“Thank you.” A truly genuine smile flashes across Tony's face despite feeling wary of Bushy Beards motives.

‘Whatever it is I highly doubt it's Lima Syndrome. I should just be thankful he gave me some food.’

“You call me Abu.” Bushy Beard - Abu smiles widely, similar to the smile he gave when Tony shook hands with him before.

“Don’t trust him Stark,” Bucky says with a growl, past handlers had tried this method of control with him before they realised he wasn't falling for it. That was when the active brainwashing torture started.

He suddenly turns to Yinsen and speaks to him in Dari about the washing and how ill Tony is whilst the man in question pretends to be oblivious.

‘Thankfully I've had enough practice. Howard seemed to be under the delusion that I didn't know about S.H.I.E.L.D growing up… At least Pegs realised I didn't buy her lies about S.H.I.E.L.D when I was quite young but apparently that was purely because of my facial expression when she talked about the ‘phone company’.

‘Why won't you or Daniel contact me anymore?

‘I bet they're worried sick about me.

‘I don't think they meant to lose touch, they'll contact me when I get home - if I get home.’

“I can’t believe Peggy or Daniel wouldn’t contact him?” Steve says, shocked.

Rhodey scowls darkly, “They probably tried. Guess who would've blocked it.”

“Obadiah Stane.” Natasha hisses out the name between her teeth like a particularly vicious curse.

Tony sighs as Abu gives him a gaze full of concern before leaving.


 

Tony eyes the fully finished reactor hub resting in a sealed container to keep it sterile. It’s gleaming titanium. The main hub is porous titanium encased in paper thin titanium foil. The porosity of the metal maintains the strength of the structure while reducing the weight. The porous metal will also allow for the ribs to grow into and bond with the implant and increase its stability.

The new magnet is already installed in the bottom waiting to be connected to the arc reactor. An array of wires and sensors flare from the underside of the device. He can see the two ICD wires that will be threaded through the subclavian vein and into his heart while the other wires will be connected to the outside of his heart and lungs.

Below each side of the rib connectors is a group of tiny nodes and tubes with a tube trailing up to ports attached to both sides of the hub that will rest just under his skin. They would replace the lymph nodes behind the sternum that would be removed to make room for the reactor.

There were small brackets running around the tube that would be used to secure the muscle tendons to the implant.

They all stare at the monstrosity of an implant; all the metal and wire that doesn’t belong in a human body. The reactor wasn’t anything like they’d thought it was. They’d all assumed that it just sat on his chest or went no further than his sternum.

Rhodey was the only one who’d had any idea how deep it went but he’d never considered how it could impact the body and he hoped it wasn’t as bad as Bruce was worrying about. ‘Surely he would’ve said something if it hurt that badly?’

Bucky clenches his metal arm tightly, feeling the pull on his shoulder and torso muscles. The metal arm is fully functional but had never been pleasant, not that Hydra had cared for his comfort. With his botched serum, the pain is usually easy to push aside and he doesn’t want to know how painful it would be otherwise.

For something made from scraps Tony is quite pleased with the outcome, even it’s slightly bulky and cumbersome appearance. But it also terrifies him because now they were preparing for surgery and this thing would be implanted in his chest.

Within the next hour he would be stepping into the same room where he’d been strapped down and operated on while awake and now he was going to be opened up and cut into to make room for a tube of metal the size of his fist like some madman’s lab experiment.

They can all feel the fear itching under his skin as they all see brief flashes of what happened to him before pass in front of their eyes; scalpels cutting into muscles - his chest split open - Yinsen’s hands digging inside of him, touching his heart-

“Fuck,” Rhodey spits as he looks briefly to the floor. God, I hate thinking of Tony having to go through that once - let alone twice.’

“Stark,”

Tony lets out a shaky exhale at Yinsen’s concerned voice. ‘It’s going to be fine you trust Yinsen and you know the math is right…’ he tries to convince himself unsuccessfully.

“I-I’m scared I might wake up. I remember it the first time -” He’s horrified at how close he sounds to crying and the trembling of his body and curses to himself for admitting fear.

Yinsen’s hand settles on his shoulder and he almost flinches away.

“I’m sorry for what happened Stark,” Yinsen’s voice is soft and calming. “I tried to reason with them, but they refused to listen. But they will this time, I promise. I’ve made it clear that you will die if this isn’t done properly. You won’t be awake .”

“You can’t promise that,” he says, rubbing at his aching chest. “You can’t promise that whatever anaesthesia they’ve got will work, you’re not a anesthesiologist. You can’t even promise i’ll survive. We both know the odds of my making it off the table are abysmal, let alone that nothing will go wrong. We’ve got a twenty percent chance this will work.”

“But I will promise to do my best.”

They all blanch at the odds, Rhodey looks horrified.

“It was really that dangerous?” Steve responds in shock.

Bruce gives a jerky nod. “Add in the fact that he hasn’t been able to fully recover from the previous surgery and yeah it’s bad.”

“Just, if something does happen… don't bring me back,” he whispers.

Bruce hisses, although Tony feeling like that wasn't a surprise it still doesn't stop him from rearing back like he was on the receiving end of one of his father's hits.

“Stark! You don't mean that.”

“Maybe,” Tony hisses back in a slightly high pitched panic. “I know I can't wake up again.”

“Do you wish I hadn't have saved you Stark?”

Chapter Text

‘Do I wish I’d died?’ Tony pondered on Yinsen’s question.  ‘Dying by my own bomb would’ve been fitting justice for the blood on my hands. God knows I deserve it, how many people are dead because of me?’

“Fuck,” Sam swore. He had worked for years counselling veterans with various levels of PTSD and other mental illnesses and had thought he had gotten pretty good at recognizing the signs. ‘Has Stark recovered since this? Or was I really that ignorant?’

With him remembering more and more from JARVIS, Vision knows Tony has had such thoughts before, but it was quite different hearing them himself. Mr Stark was akin to being his grandfather and the closest thing to family he had ever had. Their relationship had not got off to a good start and there were still times Tony could barely stand to look at him. Vision was the one who had to take the initiative in seeking out the familial relationship but they had grown close since the Civil War and it was distressing to hear such thoughts from a loved one. He would have to communicate more with FRIDAY to guarantee Tony wasn’t suicidal.

The Hulk was growling in Bruce’s head while he wondered how he missed this self-hatred. ‘Oh Tony…’ Bruce shied away from the presence of the Hulk who seemed angry at him. Not that he blamed the other guy, Bruce was angry at himself too. Somehow he had missed the depression and now it appeared he’d missed a lot more too. He knew he wasn’t always the best person but Tony had thought he was a good man and even liked the Hulk. No one had ever accepted him as easily and quickly as Tony and he owed him a lot for that. It was galling to realize that he’d failed his best friend.

Natasha was cursing herself for her own failures. ‘I wrote his profile, I’ve watched him for years. So how did I get him so wrong? What else have I missed?’ She was trained for this, reading people was supposed to be one of her best skill sets. Now she was confronted with new mistakes in her profile around every corner. She was left wondering if she had screwed up that badly or if Tony’s masks had really been good enough to get the better of Black Widow. Either way it didn’t reflect well on her skills or her herself. It was a huge failure with the consequences falling mostly on Tony. He didn’t deserve to pay for her mistakes.

“I think I’ve screwed up Clint,” she whispered, turning to the shocked looking man.

“I don’t think that anyone expected this Nat. He - I don’t know, he always seemed so up himself, so arrogant. He's supposed to love himself too much not hate himself. It's like we're watching someone else-” Clint knew how well Natasha could read people, she was leaps and bounds beyond him, he was a sniper and worked better at a distance, he wasn’t trained to read people and didn’t go undercover often. He knew if Nat had failed to read Tony correctly he’d have had no chance.

“I’m supposed to be able to read people better than this! It’s my job! But I couldn’t even get past his masks.” Natasha snarled.

“This is Stark!” Clint interjected harshly. “Hell, he seems to have three people living in his head, how could you possibly judge that?” He knows Nat doesn’t find much comfort in his words and neither does he. He’d had a burgeoning friendship with Tony once, had liked the guy pretty well but he hadn’t picked up on any of this. ‘Come to think of it, when did that friendship stop? When did I start thinking he wasn’t worth it?’

Meanwhile, Rhodey was shaking his head, keeping his eyes on his best friend. “No way in hell, Tones! You do not deserve to die! Not happening on my watch,” Rhodey yelled vehemently, whilst he paced by the memory version of his best friend. He’d always figured Afghanistan was bad though Tony had always refused to talk about it, he’d never realised just how bad it had gotten or how guilty he’d been over his weapons falling into enemy hands. But Rhodey knew the blame lied with Obadiah, not Tony. He’d make sure Tony understood that and that he was no longer so consumed by grief and guilt that he’d wish for death.

Thor clapped a great hand on Rhodey’s shoulder. “I am in agreement with you Friend Rhodes. Friend Anthony’s weapons were corrupted and turned against his goal and it is Obadiah Stane who should face punishment for it and not Anthony for his intentions were only good.” He knew Stane was dead now, but he felt that Obadiah Stane needed to pay for what he had done to his friend and so many other people. He would make sure this monster paid for his grievances.

‘I wouldn't be in this much pain right now… But I'd never see JARVIS, the bots, Obadiah, Happy,  Rhodey and Pepper ever again.

‘You’re a selfish bastard, Stark. You don’t deserve to taint them with your bloody hands. You're only going to drag them down with you.’

“He’s not selfish! You're not selfish to want to see your friends again,” Peter cried the last part at Tony. ‘How could he think like that?’ Peter knew how he’d feel if something happened to Tony now and he never saw him again. He knew being Spider-Man was dangerous and sometimes got his friends into trouble and sometimes he screwed up, but he did what he did for them, to protect them and so did Tony. ‘Stane’s the one with blood on his hands, Mr Stark was just trying to do the right thing and he doesn’t deserve to die for that!’

“I remember how relieved JARVIS was at his return. The bots as well. I dread to think what would have become of them alone, they love him dearly. It is not selfish,” Vision states emphatically. Wanda moves to comfort him, she is shocked at Stark’s vehement guilt and self-hatred. ‘I thought him a callous killer with no care for who his weapons killed or the families they destroyed. And a man who knew nothing of real pain. I was wrong.’

Steve just shakes his head in a daze. ‘I never expected this. Why didn’t he talk to us?’ The Tony he was witnessing here was extremely different to the arrogant, narcissistic man he had met on the Helicarrier, if in actuality Tony was feeling that depressed then he should have come forward and talked about it to them- either himself or Bruce would have been the wisest choice. Judging by the Doctor's face which is creased in self recrimination and anger he can guess that he didn't go to Bruce either. ‘Why? Why didn't you talk to us Tony? We would have got it.’

Feeling rather flabbergasted, Scott remembered his first meeting with Stark and his quip about his conscience. ‘It seems like Stark’s conscience actually does talk to him a lot - too much in fact. He doesn't deserve to die like that.’

Winter hated watching Stark suffer like this, privately despite his best efforts he had grown to somewhat like the man who had freed him from his conditioning. ‘I know how he feels.’ Soldat thought. ‘I killed so many under Hydra’s control - it’s a taint that I'll never get clean. Stark doesn't deserve this. It's Stane’s taint- not his.’

Bucky, similar to him, liked Stark but it was because he sees a pre serum version of his best friend. In fact, to Winter, there were many times where Stark seemed to have a greater understanding of him than Bucky’s best friend did. A key point to that was the memory of Stark’s reaction to the fact that the Soldier decided to call himself Winter. 'I'm not what they made me, I was a soldier before, the Winter Soldier, for all purposes I am still him. Call me Winter. James has already been taken.' Steve had grinned at him like Christmas had come early thinking he was 'recovering' whereas he knew Stark saw it wasn't that. The dark eyed nod in answer told Winter that he understood. He knew that he was just accepting the similarities that Bucky and the him Hydra moulded shared.

Through these memories he had begun to find out exactly why Stark seemed to understand. He sees parts of himself in Stark especially in the Merchant or 'Angry', the only reason Bucky was still intact was because Bucky made him as his protector. Hydra tried to strip him of empathy, showing he cared got him tortured and could compromise a mission. He was still relearning despite the fact that it was easier being locked into the protocols and having his emotions shut down. But, damn, he actually likes Stark. He would have laughed at the thought of liking anyone before this experience - Steve is Bucky’s friend not his. If he was to like anyone he definitely wouldn’t have thought it would be someone whose parents he killed, guilt from that hit both Bucky and himself like a hammer to the chest… although his version of guilt is not sad and pathetic like Bucky's - his is angry, hot and burning. He hates himself and he hates the way everyone demonises him - including Bucky. He had no choice either - it's not like he asked for his brain to be routinely fried on that fucking chair. Stark seemed to be the only one who gets that - gets him - the most. That was why he liked him. Winter will try to handle this for him, despite the pain and the triggers. Hell he held out 70 years for Bucky... he could handle this for Stark.

“No. I’m glad you saved me.” ‘Selfish bastard.’ His mind repeated more venomously than before. ‘Maybe it’s selfish but perhaps I can still do some good.’

Yinsen and the team release the breath they'd been holding with relief. Tony may have some serious self loathing they weren’t aware of and possibly some suicidal tendencies but at least he didn’t really want to die.

Peter smiled, ‘you did do good Mr Stark.’

“You promise I won’t be awake?” Tony steeled himself for the answer which he knew would be more of a reassurance than an actual promise the Doctor could make.

“I promise.”


 

Walking into the room from his nightmares was every bit as awful as he thought it would be. His chest tightened and his breathing quickened to borderline hyperventilation as he stepped through the door frame and was assaulted with visions of blood, hands and knives. ‘Oh god! They’re going to strap me down - they’re going to - !’

“It’s just us and the two guards here Stark. Don’t show them weakness.” Yinsen whispered laying a hand on his shoulder.

He walked mechanically as Yinsen guided him over to a table of tools. They set about sterilizing the medical tools there. His hands trembled as he thought it was probably these very tools that had cut him open on the table just a meter away. Although the act of cleaning tools was familiar enough that he could almost imagine he was back in his workshop cleaning oil off his own equipment. It was probably the only thought that stopped him trying to flee the room, beside the fact that he wasn’t even sure he’d be able to run let alone escape.

“Why did they have to it do here?” cries Peter.

“It’s the closest thing they’ve got to an infirmary,” Bruce explains tightly. “It’s stocked and at least sort of clean.”

“He shouldn’t have ever had to come here again!” Growls Bucky. He couldn’t imagine having to willingly step back into a room with that chair and machine again.

Eventually the task was done and everything was prepped and Yinsen was gently shepherding him onto the bed. He could feel phantom straps on his wrists and ankles and hands pinning his shoulders back. His chest being reamed open, fingers and tools digging into his chest to pull out tiny scraps of bloody metal -

Bruce is concerned that Tony is about to give himself a heart attack if he doesn’t calm down.

“Breathe Stark,” Nat murmurs.

Everybody was tense praying that nothing went wrong, that the anesthesia worked and that he hadn’t been awake again.

“Okay Stark, I’m just swabbing your elbow, we’ll get you hooked up to a drip and the anaesthesia,” Yinsen speaks through every step, giving his panicking mind a focus away from his nightmares.

“I trust you Doc, you're not gonna let me pull a Shakespeare.”  Tony gave a wobbly smile.

Yinsen paused briefly in preparing the needle. “A Shakespeare?”

“You know him… famous playwright and actor who died on his birthday.” Tony's smile fell, “I mean of all the days to go that would seriously suck the most. Apart from Christmas, at least my parents didn't die on Christmas Day… I'd already got them their gifts though. That's probably why I ‘forget’ gifts for people's birthdays or Christmas now. Whatever, do me a favour and don't psychoanalyse that.” Tony rambled, he looked up briefly at Yinsen before staring up at the cave ceiling. “Why get people things when they can buy themselves whatever they want with your money anyway? It's stupid. ”

Bucky winced and ducked his head at the mention of Maria and Howard’s death. He remembered what he did quite clearly but he hadn’t been very aware of the date. ‘I orphaned a 17 year old at Christmas!’ It was no wonder that Tony hadn’t dealt with their deaths with that on top of all their family issues. It was always so much harder to lose loved ones during special times. He was no therapist but he knew that it wasn’t good if Stark still wasn’t buying presents for people.

Steve grimaced slightly, feeling a little guilty. Seeing Bucky’s reaction he bumped him slightly and gave a weak smile while shaking his head. Bucky knew Steve was trying to comfort him, but it didn’t help, if anything it disturbed him that Steve seemed more concerned with how he felt over how Tony felt. Tony was the victim, not him but Steve was still apparently refusing to acknowledge Bucky’s fault.

To his credit, Yinsen appeared faintly horrified but didn't say anything as he prepared the needles to be inserted to Tony's hand and arm.

“It’s your birthday?” Yinsen asked weakly.

“Well, I think so. Hard to keep track of the day’s when there’s no light and no clocks. I know I was taken on the 18th and my birthday is the 29th.” He gave a slightly hysterical laugh. “It’s the sort of thing that would happen to me.”

“Shit!” Snarled Clint.

Natasha winced thinking about another birthday he spent thinking he was going to die.

“I don’t think I’d ever want to celebrate another birthday again!” Exclaimed Scott.

There was a pinch of needles in his hand and the crook of his arm before he feels cold fluid rushing through his veins and Yinsen telling him to count backwards from ten.

“Ten, nine, ei-eight… sev’n…”


 

Yinsen was given the duty of watching over Stark by the Terrorists after the surgery, luckily this meant that they didn't care what he was doing while he watched over Stark.

He had managed to snag some spare wood from some damaged crates the terrorists had stored the weapons in when Stark had initially agreed to build their missile and a surgical knife that luckily hadn't been needed this operation.

Pulling the knife from the side, Yinsen gently began peeling the wood.

‘Getting Stark a gift would be risky, if the terrorists had any notion of the friendship that exists between us it would be bad for both of us.’

He had paused for a moment, reconsidering his actions before carrying on as he did before.

‘This was already going to be Starks worst birthday. He's not going to be without a gift.’

Natasha wondered how this birthday rated compared to the next. She couldn’t help but agree with what Scott had said, with these two birthdays he’d likely stopped celebrating. She couldn’t remember him ever celebrating with the team.

The carpentry is going to be a slow work but it would be worthwhile, he had last made some rudimentary toy animals for his youngest; Asha. However, Starks gift would be different. A pendant would be the best idea.

“A handmade wooden pendant? He’s a billionaire, he’s going to laugh at that,” sneers Clint but then he quails under several glares.

‘And I know exactly what animal to make you,’ Yinsen looked up at Tony's motionless form. ‘I apologise for judging you hastily Stark. I will help you get out of here even if I have to die doing it.’


 

Rhodey’s world is made of pain. His thoughts - not his - Tony's thoughts flitter away before they form, consumed in the agony.

His mind floated amidst a burning sea until he was dragged under and away from the pain.

When he surfaces again his awareness was stronger and he can make sense of his body and almost think straight. His chest felt like he’d been impaled, which he realized wasn’t entirely inaccurate as he remembered the surgery Tony went through. Pain radiated outward from his chest spreading throughout his entire body. He - Tony - whimpered.

Or tried to.

Tony gaged around something lodged in his throat, which sent a spasm like lightning through his chest which felt like it was being split open and for a moment he can feel phantom hands digging through his chest. He tries to scream and the pain had his world fracturing around him.

The pain Rhodey feels before he and Tony disappear back into unconsciousness is pure agony, the likes of which he’d never felt before. The only thing that came close was that split second where he’d felt his spine snap in Leipzig. It was worse to then recall that this was ghost pain - what Tony was actually feeling was much worse.

‘Fucking hell Tones.’

When he woke again he kept carefully still. His mind was finally coherent enough to not fight the invasion in his throat. He tried raising his hand to remove it but even that sent jolts of pain tearing through his body. Even staying still did little to ease the pain.

‘Don’t try to move man! Just lie still,’

Rhodey was keenly aware of his chest, expanding and relaxing artificially. ‘Fuck that's painful too.’

He can feel every rib grinding and the movement of a heavy, cold weight moving up and down, pressing on his lungs. Every time it sunk into his chest he could feel it brush against his heart.

It’s a terrifying thing for Rhodey; feeling that huge chunk of metal coming so close to his best friends fragile heart.

The mechanical beeping and rhythmic whooshing sounds of machines pull him out of his introspective terror enough for him to ground himself. He recognized the sound of a heart monitor and ventilator and could feel various needles along with a feeding tube once again running into his nose.

‘Fuck! He wouldn’t even be breathing without that ventilator!’  

Then come other sounds, “...St..k...you...hear…op...your eyes”

It took Tony’s brain far to long to focus through the pain and discern that it’s Yinsen’s voice.

“Can you open your eyes Stark?”

Tony tries, the light is piercingly bright, even the sliver he sees before scrunching his eyes shut tighter stabs through his head and makes him flinch away. Then it’s all he can do to keep from choking around the tube in his throat, even the subtle movement setting his raw throat aflame.

Rhodey’s pretty sure his heart is breaking - both physically (thanks to Tony’s ghost pain) and metaphorically. He knew if he was in his physical body right now he’d be crying. But at the moment he's trapped inside the body of his beloved best friend who has just had his chest ripped open for the second time.

‘Why are you still friends with me Tones? I was rubbish at being supportive to you after you got out and I found you. Did I ever apologize for being angry about you cancelling the weapons contract? I promise I will as soon as I can.’

“Alright, alright. Easy. Calm down.” Yinsen’s hand reached for his then, “Can you squeeze my hand?”

Rhodey feels Tony's fingers feebly curl around Yinsen’s.

“Good, good. Okay, can you tap out how much it hurts? from one to ten?”

Taptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptaptap

If Rhodey didn't know otherwise he would be sure that Tony’s finger had a twitch and not that it was an accurate representation of the pain.

Yinsen’s other hand calms his frantic tapping. “I’ll up the morphine. But first I need to know, is there pain coming from anywhere other than your chest? One squeeze for yes, two for no.”

‘The fuck? Everything hurts!

‘Focus. Any pain that shouldn’t be there? Does anything feel wrong? Apart from the chunk of metal in your chest?’

Tony takes a slow stock of his body. His body aches all other but the worst of the pain is definitely in his chest. He squeezes twice and is rewarded by blissful coolness spreading from his arm that soothes away the pain and sends his mind floating again. He gives one final squeeze to Yinsen’s hand in thanks.

As gold took over his vision, Rhodey wished that that would be the end of Tony’s pain, but he knew this was still far from over.


 

Tony hesitantly blinks open his eyes but this time the light doesn’t feel like it is splitting his head open.

He wonders how long he’s been out for, but there’s no way to tell. All his senses are shrouded in fog, even the pain feels dulled. But now he’s aware enough he can see the grey rock of the ceiling and feel the chill of cold air.

Even though Tony had been moved back into the cell, he was still hooked up to various equipment. It’s a shock to their system to see him lying on the bed with IV’s in his arm, hooked up to a heart monitor and chest drains. The ventilator and the intubation tube going down his throat is the most jarring along with the feeding tube in his nose, together they cover most of the lower half of his face.

He seemed smaller, while not a very tall man he’d always given off a larger-than-life presence, but it was gone now and instead he looked frail. He’s pale and his chest was swathed in bandages that block the light of the reactor. A whistling whoosh accompanies the mechanical expiration of his lungs and his eyes are glazed. With all the bandages wrapped around his torso, back and arms, two chest drains leading under the bandages on his chest, the IV’s and heart monitors, the intubation and nasogastric tubes taped to his face and the ventilator tubes hanging around the bed he looked sick and fragile. The weight loss from lack of food and the lights in the cell made him look even more pale and gaunt.

“Oh god, Tony…” Rhodey muttered as he stared at the feeble image of his best friend. He’d seen Tony in pretty bad shape plenty often after battles and he’d never forget finding him in the workshop after Stane had stolen the reactor.

Peter stubbornly blinks away tears, it was hard for him at first to connect the larger than life, healthy Tony Stark he had grown to know and love to the sickly thin pale slip of a man on that bed. ‘Holy shit, Mr Stark.’

He’s blinking dazedly until Yinsen’s blurry figure appears above him.

“Stark, good day sleeping beauty,” Yinsen quips at him.

He tries to say something in return but his throat rips into agony around the tube he’d forgotten, suddenly he’s choking and gagging around it. ‘Oww. There’s the pain.’

He rides out the excruciating spasms through his throat and chest, feeling like he’s been split open and lit on fire. When the spasms had finally run their course - helped with some more morphine - and he managed not to aggravate anything else he was feeling more tired than before he woke up. He wanted to dip back into unconsciousness but this time his body won’t acquiesce.

They only felt part of what Tony felt, but even a fraction of that pain was more than most broken bones compared to the pain Tony felt now. That flare of pain hadn’t been far off what he’d felt during the first surgery.

The non enhanced members of the team grabbed their chests and coughed around sore throats as that familiar pain stabbed through them once again.

“Fuck, man.” Scott gasped as he grimaced around that feeling and shuddered. “To think we're only feeling a fraction of what he went through too…”

“Don’t try to talk yet Stark,” Yinsen said softly, “You have an endotracheal tube in your throat to help you breathe, your lungs aren’t ready to breathe on their own.”

Tony is too tired and in far too much agony now to respond and just weakly let Yinsen repeat the previous tests, and tell him he’d been asleep for most of the last five days. When Yinsen asked for his pain level he just managed to tap out an seven.

There’s a round of head shaking and all of them have wide eyes at what they know is an underestimation of Tony’s pain. Right now, a normal pain chart didn’t seem adequate for a chunk of metal surgically implanted and connected to his ribs, but Bruce’s guess would have been a least a nine, with that flare of pain going off the standard chart.

“I’ll up the morphine, see what we can do about that.”

Yinsen adjusted his dosage and waited a few minutes before repeating the question and now Tony taped out a five before Yinsen left him to rest.

He did try to sleep but it’s a fitful, haunted rest. He dosed and his awareness came and went for what might’ve been minutes or days and afterward he still felt exhausted.

“How can he still be exhausted? Shouldn't sleep help him recover?” Wanda asks the others, a lot of them find themselves stunned at the lack of animosity colouring that question, they only found curiosity and -possibly concern lacing her tone.

“No,” Steve answers wearily. “It’s called chronic fatigue. Often intense pain saps your energy and leaves you feeling exhausted no matter how much sleep you get… there were times when I was bed bound for days because of how draining my illnesses were.”

None of them had anything to say to that. Steve appears deep in thought, Tony going through something he was intimately familiar with made the parallels with both him and Tony run deeper. He couldn't help but feel closer to Tony than he had ever felt before.

Finally Yinsen stopped ignoring his silent questioning about the ventilator. Yinsen had told him prior to the surgery that he would be on it for a while, but he had only been able to give a rough idea of how long as it largely depended on how fast and well his body healed. Tony knew he’d been on the ventilator for at least 5 days and wanted to know how much longer before he could get the damn thing out of his sore throat.

Everyone was in agreement there. The sight of the tube taped to his face and the telltale bulge of it going down his throat was somewhat disturbing and they would all be happy to see it removed.

“Probably a number of days yet Stark. It will depend on how well your lungs manage to function with the decreased mass. You’ve lost about thirty percent of lung capacity combined with the trauma of the surgery and your lungs having to adjust to the arc, they need time to heal and I don’t want you even trying to breathe on your own yet for a few days, minimum.”

“Thirty percent! That thing made him lose thirty percent of his lung capacity, how did he manage to even wear the suit on a regular basis and keep up with the rest of us.” Bucky was stunned, he knew that if Steve still had all of his illnesses he'd fail at keeping up with the team although he would try his best to power through like Stark obviously had done. ‘Another similarity to Stevie…’

Meanwhile, Rhodey dropped his head in shame, he had seen how deep the Arc had went but he had never suspected that it had caused that much damage to Tony's body. ‘What did I seriously think it did? I’ve seen Tony swap reactor and cores, how did I never think it wouldn’t affect his organs?’ It was easy to berate himself now with the benefit of hindsight but if Tony's childhood proved anything is that Tony was an expert at keeping things hidden that were traumatic to him.

‘ The Merchant of Death now needs a tube to breathe and to accomplish things even babies can do.’ Tony thought self-deprecatingly. It was humiliating for him to have to rely on a machine to do something so simple and natural. Even worse the ventilator looked to be at least ten years out of date and somewhat worse for wear. It looked like it could fail at any point and leave him suffocating.

Bruce wrung his hands anxiously. ‘Those machines really don't look reliable… that makes Tony's chances of a proper recovery even lower. It's a miracle he survived really.’

Tony was also completely reliant on Yinsen, he could barely move without the agony making him wish for unconsciousness. The only other time he’d been so helpless was after that beating as a kid, but even then Howard had built him those braces to ensure he had some independence and wasn’t codelled.

A few of them frowned at the reminder of that kidnapping. It had obviously affected Tony more than he admitted.

‘Although, Jarvis, Ana and Madre all smothered me with attention anyway… there's a chance I'm going to join them soon.’

Feeling the stab of longing, guilt and grief through their gut felt physically painful.

‘At least that's one benefit if the machines give out… it'll be a painful way to go but God I miss them so much.’

“You can't think like Mr Stark, you don't die here - you can't. I need you.” Peter murmurs, he remembers feeling like that at times after his early worse missions as Spider Man. He missed Uncle Ben a lot but as much as he wanted that at times Aunt May and his friends had needed him and supported him which gave him the strength to deal with what had happened. ‘Mr Stark didn't seem to ever get that support…’

The horror settles like a heavyweight in his stomach as gold clouds everyone's vision again.

Chapter Text

Steve could feel a cloud of frustration and grogginess weighing down on Tony as soon as the scene resurfaces, the phantom aches make Tony feel like he's a voodoo doll stabbed full of pins.

“Stark-” Yinsen’s voice cut through the haze, like a knife through the mist.

‘Nggghhh fuck off…’ Tony thought as he raised a middle finger. Steve mentally frowned at the rude language and gesture Tony directed towards the doctor. Although he felt sympathy for Tony's plight and knew first hand how draining chronic pain was, there was no excuse for that sort of language.

“Stark,” Yinsen’s voice sharpened, “we have to start physical therapy.”

‘Today!?’ Tony moved his throat a little and Steve was immediately struck by the hoarseness of Tony's throat, since he knew that to Tony it felt like his entire throat was coated in sandpaper and he couldn't vocally express that thought because the breathing tubes annoyingly painful obstruction. He could feel how reluctant Tony was to begin physical therapy due to how bad the pain still was and he wasn't looking forward to worsening it.

Steve felt a surge of pity and understanding for the man he had recently begun to consider a friend and a kindred spirit.

“I'm sorry Stark, it'll have to be today. But to get started I'll need to prop you up.” Yinsen begun doing so as he talked.

Tony's face contorted as Yinsen moved him upright and held him there for what felt like hours to him. They soon got into a rhythm of Yinsen shoving all the of the rolled up clothing and blankets behind him before tilting Tony down a little to see if it was enough.

Yinsen moved as quickly as he could. Despite the weight in Tony's chest lessening, the movement pulled on every healing stitch, aggravated his sore muscles and disturbed the breathing tube and set him coughing around it again.

To his great shame the violence of the coughing fit caused tears to spring to Tony's eyes and down his cheeks. Yinsen though knew better than to mention them as he wordlessly wiped them away with a corner of the stuffed felt he had stuck under Tony.

The therapy started with a massage which Steve was familiar with. ‘This was the sort of thing Ma did after I had been bedridden for a long time.’ Steve thought, the pity and understanding he had for Tony only increased at this thought. He could feel Yinsen’s fingers digging into Tony's chest and shoulders and working down to his hands. Steve grimaced along with Tony as he felt all his nerves set on fire by the simple message and the painful tingling of muscles reawakening.

After the massage Yinsen had Tony go straight onto trying to raise and lower his arms. It wasn't an easy task and without the Doctor's help he was barely able to move anything above the elbow.

Every movement of his shoulders tugged at the healing muscles attached to the casing of the reactor and the metal ribs. He could feel the painful stretch of both pectoral muscles and groaned each time Yinsen moved or bent his arm and asked him to hold the position for as long as he can.

Tony's quite thankful that Yinsen only required him do some basic stretching of the limbs and hold his arms in each position for a few seconds before he was allowed a small rest. Half an hour later they resumed with Yinsen instead focusing on his hands and wrists.

“Stretch out your hand for me.”

Tony shakily spread his fingers across the ratty cot, the muscles throughout his body, even the ones not affected by the surgery, felt sore and taxed and it’s more of a strain than he expected to follow Yinsen’s directions for basic hand exercises.

Steve frowned a little at feeling the extent of Tony's pain as his fingers ran through the exercises; curling his fingers around various objects, making a fist, moving his fingers like he’s playing a piano or touching each finger to his thumb one after the other. He was instantly struck by how difficult Tony found these seemingly easy tasks. ‘It's been so long since I had to struggle-’

The wrist movements came next. Tony's pain only increased when he flexed and twisted his wrists in all directions; these muscles hadn't been affected in the surgery but after a number of days of not moving them they were tense and sore.

“Good… good job,” Yinsen coaxed him gently before Tony gasped and hissed in pain. “Alright, I believe we are done for now. Get some rest.”

Although Steve was relieved that the therapy was over, it left him - Tony - even more sore, he felt like his nerves and muscles had been dipped in a vat of burning acid .

Tony felt seconds away from falling unconscious yet sleep remained elusive.

‘I'm sorry Tony that's an unfortunate side effect of chronic pain.’

Steve felt a familiar frustration take over Tony's mind; he hated having to rely on Yinsen and the machines for everything from breathing to going to the toilet.

‘I know how that feels, I hated having to rely on Ma and Bucky at times too.’

‘These movements are so simple toddlers do them and here I am struggling. Pathetic.’ Tony hissed and banged his head harshly against the pillow. ‘I wonder what Howard would say if he saw me like this…’

Thinking about that only brought his mood lower as he stared distantly up at the cave ceiling.

Steve thought his old friend would be more sympathetic to his son if he saw his son in such a state. ‘Despite the Stark men are made of Iron stuff Howard obviously loved Tony and if he saw him in such a state he'd probably be more nurturing than Tony would think… Although I never really saw Howard being nurturing in Tony's childhood, even after that kidnapping.’

It was to his great surprise that Steve found Tony praying. Tony’s mother had been a devout catholic - like Steve's had been - though Tony had never really believed in her God.

Despite the situation, Steve felt a tinge of amusement hit him. ‘That's probably Howard's scepticism rubbing off on you, Tony. You really are more alike than I had thought. Or at least in comparison to the Howard I knew.’

But now Tony prayed that he could get his independence back and that the reactor wouldn’t leave him confined to a bed for the rest of his life.


 

“Stark, we’ve put this off for long enough. You need to be washed and the bandages changed-” Yinsen began as the team looked at each other in alarm.

“I really don't want to see that much of Mr Stark.” Peter felt himself flush bright red and he averted his eyes.

“Hey!” Clint shouted blindly up at the ceiling, “Being! Illuminatey alien! I think I can speak for everyone here that we don't want to see Tony's crown jewels so if you’ll get your sparkly ass down here-”

“You summoned me, Mr Barton?” The being's form wavered into existence right in front of Clint's face causing him to jump backwards into Natasha.

Meanwhile the Being clicked their fingers and the memory paused, a look of restrained amusement came over their face upon seeing Clint's reaction to them.

“We - we were concerned.” Wanda began, “that we would be seeing too much here-”

“When has that happened any other time, Miss Maximoff?” The illuminate cut her off sharply.

“We witnessed Mr Stark be tortured and felt sensations similar to himself at that moment. Some could argue that was too much.” Vision calmly spoke up.

“It needed to be felt, you know this Vision. That to truly understand at times another one must go through a similar experience. I believe you call it 'walking a mile in their shoes’. You have gone through nothing that you can't handle and only felt a fraction of  the agony he went through in that surgery.” The Illuminate’s gaze turned distant for a moment, “I would not wish the full extent of that upon anyone of you.” They blinked and the look was gone. “As for this particular instance, the implication of what happens will be enough to make you understand. I do not cause unnecessary pain and I am not graphic without a cause.”

And with that the illuminate disappeared and the memory resumed.

Tony gave Yinsen a severe look, then glared at the soapy water and sponge Yinsen was carrying. He made a movement with his eyes and a little gesture with his hand.

“Stark you are in no condition to wash yourself let alone change the bandages or clean the tubes and you know it.” Recognising the truth of that statement, Tony's hand slumped before he tries to make a very fake smile around the tube, only succeeding in causing himself to shudder and cough.

“You’ve only just started therapy Stark, you can barely move your arms.” Yinsen’s voice softened. “Don't worry Stark I've cared for patients before, I know what I'm doing and this isn't the first time I've done this for a patient.”

Tony knows Yinsen had washed him while he was unconscious, but now that he’s awake and aware it was another story.

‘It’s another piece of dignity and independence that the surgery and this cave has stolen from me.’

“There is no indignancy in being bathed, in fact many of the ancient Midgardian and Asgardian rulers used to have servants cloth and wash them.” Thor appeared briefly confused. “I was unaware that friend Anthony was so self conscious.”

However now Thor thought about it Tony had never even appeared shirtless in front of him or his teammates despite the rumours of Tony's arrogance and narcissistic views of himself. For all of Tony's promiscuous history that Thor had heard about Tony had never displayed any such behaviour in the team's presence or been anything other than respectful to women.

‘I know my body won’t take well to the movement.’

Steve makes a noise of understanding in his throat.

Tony barely contained himself from making a small movement that conveyed his frustration.

For God's Sake! I've been in dozens of sex-tapes, everyone's seen me naked! I shouldn't be uncomfortable anymore.’ Tony tried to cover how uncomfortable he was by wiggling his eyebrows suggestively at Yinsen but it clearly didn’t work from the way Yinsen just looked at him a little too knowingly. Tony thought he saw a flash of pity in the Doctor's eyes, he couldn't stand it.

Natasha felt compassionate towards Tony in that moment. ‘It is understandable that Tony feels uncomfortable being so naked and vulnerable to the Doctor.’ Natasha, as the Black Widow, knew she would be too. ‘Being naked and being reliant on someone are two very different things.’

Not even being able to wash myself. Yinsen needs me to be strong so this experience can be over quickly .’ He tried to project confidence as he rolled his eyes and gestures with his hand for Yinsen to get a move on.

“Let's get your shirt off-” Yinsen moved towards the bed, bending over to put the bucket down whilst the memory morphed and changed around them.

Gold flashed before their eyes as the scene morphed slightly and they saw Yinsen putting the bucket of water back and clean bandages peeking through Tony’s shirt.

Tony lied on the bed his face screwed up in pain from the movement during the bath and bandaging. Yinsen had had to roll him completely over twice and the pain had made him wish to blackout several times.

‘Why didn't I blackout? Without the tube I would have been screaming. My body must hate me that's it.’

Another wave of sadness and guilt hit Rhodey upon learning that his best friend had been in so much agony and he can’t help but look away.

‘At least the pain distracted me from the discomfort of being bathed.’

Steve can’t help but let out a small sigh at that thought as he frowns. ‘I remember thinking a similar thing when I was ill-’ He found it slightly alarming to feel the amount of his pre serum pain memories  being unearthed by Tony’s plight. ‘Did I really...forget what it was like to be the little guy?’

Yinsen increased his dose of morphine again and eventually the pain dulled slightly, enough so that his hands relaxed their death grip on the sheets.

“I’m sorry Stark, I know that wasn’t pleasant in any way but it needed to be done.”

Tony managed a slight incline of his head, his eyes appeared worryingly distant and glazed.

“The burns are healing well.” Yinsen said softly to him, “The shrapnel wounds are closing, I’ll look at taking the stitches out in another week. The incisions from the last surgery will take a lot longer to heal. Overall you’ll have some nasty scars but you're healing. Fortunately there’s been no sign of infection in your chest and the chest drains have only picked up a small amount of fluid, I think that tomorrow I’ll start weaning you off the ventilator, yeah?”

Tony managed a weak thumbs up before he can’t keep his eyes open any longer and let himself slip into that welcoming nothingness.


 

Explosions echoed in his ears as he stumbled out of the humvee, he tripped landing face first in the sand. He looked back and saw Jimmy lying in what appeared to be sand stained a deep dark carmine colour, his body almost torn apart from the shrapnel wounds.

“Whoa! What the hell? Why are we back here?” Peter twists back to the others, he was alarmed at seeing the familiar scene.

The sand around him was stained entirely blood red.

“We’re in a nightmare…” Sam murmurs in a hushed voice.

He looked up and could see the mangled bodies of the other two soldiers. ‘What were their names? Why didn’t you ask their names?’

Steve made a low hiss as Tony's past words to him on the helicarrier when they first met echoed through his head. ‘We are NOT soldiers.’

The three corpses were decimated, torn apart because of the explosions, there were more bodies - or parts of what once were people - torn apart and scattered around the sandy plain.  He looked away to see that their blood had stained his hands.

The poetic nature of that image is not lost on Wanda. ‘For the majority of my life, Stark, I thought the blood of my family stained your hands too… but you didn't commit those murders. For Hydra, for Ultron, I killed with my powers - my hands. Before now I never even felt guilt, I believed that because of what you - no, your bomb - did whatever I did was justified.’ She sucked in a harsh breath as her eyes filled with tears. For the first time since she had got her powers she’d worked out the real reason why they are red, it wasn't because she was loving and passionate like Pietro had always said. A dark part of her mind now knew that it was because she lusted for blood under Hydra and they gave her the tools to get it. ‘Now my hands are forever red… and they deserve to be.’

“No, no no no,” Tony frantically scrubbed at his hands and then dug them in the sand, rubbing them raw, trying to get the blood off.

'It won't come off! I need to get it off!’

Bucky’s lip twitched, his own self loathing reawakened at that thought. ‘Unfortunately it'll never come off. I'm sorry Stark you really don't deserve their blood on your hands.’

A distant scream tore through the smoke and explosions, “Tony!”

Rhodey jumped upon hearing his voice and several of the team turn to him but Rhodey's eyes were now stuck on his best friend and he doesn't acknowledge them.

Tony snapped his head up, “Rhodey!”

He scrambled to his feet and started yelling for Rhodey.

“He really loves you.” Vision turned to Rhodes , who finally tore his eyes away from Tony to glance at Vision. “You're more important to Sir than you realise.”

“So is he.” Rhodey breathed.

Explosions still shook the ground and he couldn’t see anyone moving in the smoke. There was only lone limbs, guts, blood and bodies.

“Jesus fuckkk….” Scott gasps as he sees the gore and he turns a sickening shade of green once more.

Beep beep beep…

Several of them jumped at the intruding sound but Dream Tony didn’t seem to notice it.

He stumbled around explosions looking at the bodies with faces, all people he'd seen at the demo, people he'd talked to. Now they were all dead by his weapons. ‘But Rhodey’s alive, he has to be. I can't lose him’

“I can't lose you either…” Rhodey murmured in response, he was too shocked to manage to voice anything else.

Finally he saw a figure walking in the smoke and heard Rhodey calling him.

The relief as he ran toward his best friend was overwhelming. But then without deciding to he started slowing down as Rhodey came into sight.

Beep. Beep. Beep

“That sound… sounds like a heart monitor-” Scott's eyes widened as he realized it. ‘It beeping is a part of the real world bleeding through…’

Tony only realised he was holding a gun in bloody hands when he saw himself raising it. The movement was unintentional and in the harsh sunlight he could see the glitter of strings holding him and his gun up.

What?” Thor stared horrified as Ultron's motto repeated in his head. ‘You have no strings on me…’  

Tony tried to shout a warning to Rhodey, who doesn’t realize the danger, but his mouth refused to move.

The emotion in Dream Tony's face slowly drains until it goes scarily cold and blank.

Bucky’s eyes dart between dream Tony and dream Rhodes with a horrified expression, the way Tony was seemingly being controlled reminded him once again of Winter.

The string connected to his index finger around the trigger was yanked sharply back.

BANG!

They jump violently upon seeing a hole tear itself through dream Rhodey's chest, it was eerily similar to the wound the hole the shrapnel had left in Tony’s chest but the bullet had exploded out of the other side.

Shellshocked, Rhodey's eyes appeared stuck on his - now dead - dream self whilst Sam swallowed heavily. Although he knew that this wasn't real this was now a second friend that he had watched die, Sam inched closer to the real Rhodes to try and comfort himself. ‘It isn't true, Rhodes isn't murdered. He's right next to you.’

Tony was frozen, unable to move no matter how much he tried, completely powerless, he could do nothing but watch his best friend fall...

Beepbeepbeepbeep


 

Tony woke with a jolt, the top half of his body violently launched off of the bed a few centimetres, the tube smothered the blood curdling scream he tried to make.

It didn’t stop him trying to scream a second time as he felt like his chest was ripped open again. Every reawakened injury tore new screams, from the movement and the impact with the bed jarring the implant.

Agony tore through his chest and his throat, so severe that it blacked out his senses. He scrabbled frantically, clawing at the bed sheets and the bandages at his chest.

Peter rushed to Tony’s side, crouching by him and kept fruitlessly trying to stop Tony from struggling and doing further harm to himself. “Mr Stark! Calm down please! You're not there! You didn't kill anyone! You wouldn't! Calm down please, what happened with your weapons isn't your fault.”

“Spider-Man,” Steve was stunned at the amount of care the young man was showing for Tony. The masked head whipped up at his name.

“I've got to tell him, Cap! I've got to let him know that he's not-” Peter spoke up frantically.

The others saw Yinsen running over but they know Tony had no awareness of this, trapped in his memories and nightmares. Neither did Peter until Yinsen went through him and his hands work to hold Tony down instead. The young man startled backward with a yelp at the odd sensation and glanced at the others.

“You really care about him, don't you?” Steve spoke up softly, he tentatively placed a hand on the young man's shoulder.

“Of course I do. He's one of the closest things I've ever had to a father figure.” Peter wiped his face under his mask and breathed out shakily .

It took several minutes for the morphine to kick in and Yinsen held him down on the bed trying to stop Tony's thrashing.

“... in the cave with me, you’ve recovering from surgery, you’re alive, it’s just us here, it’s early morning I think,” Yinsen keeps speaking calmly to try and ground Tony in the present. “They haven’t turned the lights back on yet so we’ve only got the fire, it’s flickering but it’s not embers yet. There’s no one else here, the door is shut, you’re alive, you’re safe.”

Clint and Scott find themselves moved by the image, as father's themselves, and how Yinsen comforted Tony starkly reminded them of what they would do for their children when they had violent nightmares.

It took several more minutes for Tony to slowly calm down, his legs and arms slacken against Yinsen. His eyes briefly squeezed shut as he gasped and leant against Yinsen briefly, still fighting off the images of Rhodey and numerous dead soldiers.

Sam grimaced slightly. ‘It's close to how my support group describes their nightmares. This could just be a one off… I'm a councillor. I wouldn't have missed fully fledged PTSD in a teammate. Although I wouldn't have blamed Stark if he were permanently scarred by this.’

When he opened his eyes, he saw their blood dripping from his hands. He blinked again and his hands were clean.

My hands are clean. Rhodey isn't dead. HE ISN’T! I didn't shoot him... You might as well have if your weapon did.’

That's not…” Wanda frowned to herself appearing deeply introspective. ‘ That's not right. You wouldn't have fired that weapon at your friend. You didn't fire it… you didn't know who Stane was dealing to… therefore it isn't your fault.’ Wanda’s eyes widen. ‘It isn't your fault… for any of it… Maybe if I could…’

Wanda’s eyes and hands go vermillion, she began to step towards the bed before she felt strong hands clamp down on her shoulders and forcefully turn her around.

Upon looking up, she sees Natasha’s cold green eyes glaring at her with great suspicion. “What could you do here? We are in a memory.”

“Exactly,” spat Bruce, “we’re in his head already, she could do even more damage.” Standing at Natasha’s other side, Bruce's dark eyes had a hint of green in them as he shot her a vicious glare.

“I was only going to try to-” Wanda protested.

“Don't.” Natasha cut her off sharply, gone were the days when she would have been gentler with the Witch. She had once thought of Wanda as a protégé of sorts despite her initial discomfort and dislike of her. After a few months of working together that dislike had faded, she’d seen the Maximoff girl was alone like her and in a male dominated team. That empathy had convinced the Black Widow to try for the first time in a long time to forgive. Wanda had thrown that in her face at Liepzig, flinging her in such a way that could’ve seen her paralysed like Rhodes.

Natasha rarely gives second chances but never third.

Yinsen's calming voice pierced through the nightmares and the beeping of the heart monitor started to stabilise.

“You with me Stark?” Tony gave a brief thumbs up, Yinsen squeezed Tony’s still trembling shoulder gently and took a cloth to clean his sweaty, tear stained face without comment. Yinsen set to checking his stitches and fixing the one’s he’d torn in his panic, describing everything he's about to do.

It's calming in a weird way. Despite this, Tony spent the next several minutes staring at the cave ceiling going over every detail of when he last saw Rhodey and racking his brain trying to remember the names of the three soldiers.

“That's the worst thing you can do.” Wanda murmured, Bucky and Natasha scowls at her.  

“I remember every single one of the people that I killed. Every name.” Steve flinched at that admission from Bucky. “They are people, every one of them had families, had friends. Like those soldiers, like the people you must have hurt for Hydra to train those powers of yours-”

“I meant to dwell on it, the dream.” She cut Bucky off lowly and he swore he could see her eyes flash red in a non verbal warning. ‘Don't go there.’

Bucky gave her a half nod in apology for jumping to conclusions but doesn't lower his gaze. Winter growls in his head. ‘Sure you did. Flash those eyes at me again. I'll tie you to a pyre and burn you like the witch you are.’

Tony had pulled the main surgical incision that ran along his sternum, above and below the reactor, requiring Yinsen to rebandage his torso. He was quite thankful for the large dose of morphine.

Their ghost pain had waned and they were thankful for the clean gauze that insured Tony had a higher chance of full recovery.

Tony thinks he might be getting used to the pain, or at least he was getting used to being in pain. He knew he’d have to get used to it sooner or later since the pain wouldn't be going away anytime soon.

Vision frowned, knowing how true that was from JARVIS’ memories. It saddened him to realize just what Tony had been dealing with. Tony was like his grandfather in a strange way and the closest thing he had to family. He wished he could help him more and relieve this pain.

Steve flinched slightly, thinking of everything Tony had done since Afghanistan - every battle with the Avengers - and wondered how they’d never noticed.

Tony was thankful when Yinsen didn’t ask about the nightmare though that might have been in consideration for the tube down his throat that prevented him from answering.

“Ah that's why then.” Scott murmurs, he had been wondering why Yinsen wouldn't have asked what the nightmare was when it caused Stark to thrash around like he was possessed.

‘Thank heaven for that.’  The tube was painful, but Tony knew that he'd rather have a lobotomy than talk about that dream.

Bucky’s face twitched at that thought. “Trust me Stark, you really wouldn't.” Although he had never had a lobotomy, repeatedly having his brain fried in that chair had come close. Especially with how bad Hydra had messed him up to implant the trigger words in his brain which pushed him to make a dissociative personality - Winter.

However, Yinsen places a stethoscope on his chest and listen to his lungs. Tony remembered Yinsen said he wanted to start weaning him off the ventilator today but he didn’t look too happy now.

‘Oh great, another day with the tube.’

Yinsen did decide to wait another day to test his breathing.

Tony couldn't help but be angry at himself that his guilt and residual trauma had to catch up with him that night.

Thor wished that he could reassure his friend that he would overcome this mental and physical hell in the end. ‘It is not shameful to be haunted by what you have seen, my friend. You become a true warrior because of it. It is things like this that shapes Asgard’s best; the Berserkers.’

Chapter Text

“Okay,” looking a little reluctant Yinsen nonetheless turned to the ventilator, “First, we run a test on your breathing, so I’ll turn off the machine’s pressure and you’ll be left to breathe on your own. If you manage alright I’ll take you off the ventilator tomorrow. And remember; breathe with your abdomen.”

The automatic rush of air in and out of Tony’s lungs stops.

The team watch with a tremor of fear as Tony’s chest falls disturbingly still. His eyes are clamped shut, fingers twisting in the mattress, his chest twitching uselessly.

“Turn it back on!” Peter cried, looking ready to dash over and do it himself.

“No, give him another moment,” Thor’s rumbling timbre replied as he stepped closer to the boy. He was sure Anthony would accomplish this task even if his other friends all looked as worried as the spider boy.

Tony’s chest hitched, he tried to force his lungs to perform the movement but his body refused to meet even that simple command as his reduced lungs seemed to just flutter, only drawing in pitiful amounts of oxygen. His hands dug into the mattress as he tried desperately, struggling for the air his body was starting to scream for. His throat twitched around the tube in reflex.

Yinsen’s hand having been hovering over the dial as he looked between his patient and the screen with his oxygen stats now flicked the dial back on. He sighed as Tony slumped into the bed with the renewed whooshing of the machine.

Tony weakly slapped a fist against the bed, his arms trembled from the tense grip he’d had. Tears gathered at the corners of his eyes at the frustration of failing something as simple as breathing.

Steve blows out a harsh breath, appreciating for the first time since he had first received the serum just how much wider his lung capacity was now in comparison to his pre serum self and Tony.

Peter relaxs, calming now that Tony had oxygen again.

Thor slumped a little then straightened again. ‘ Friend Anthony may have stumbled at this challenge but I know he will succeed eventually.’

“Calm down Stark, I know it’s frustrating but you’ll get there. Just give yourself time to heal, we might’ve been too hasty in trying this today,” Yinsen soothed as he patted Tony’s shoulder. “We’ll try again soon.”

Tony shrugged his hand off in a fit of pique, not wanting useless comfort that now just felt demeaning. ‘We don’t have the time! How long until these bastards decide they're sick of waiting? How long until they decide I should be healed and rip this thing from my throat?’ He glares at Yinsen trying to get his point across.

It’s a reminder that Tony may be healing, but danger is a constant presence in this place and Tony was in a very vulnerable state. Bucky, Rhodey, Nat, Clint and Sam exchanged fearful looks. Their horror stories, their own experiences and Tony's showed just how impatient and brutal terrorists could be and Tony was in no condition to be able to defend himself if - or more likely when - it proved necessary.

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” was all Yinsen could offer him, his own face showing worry.

The scene blurred slightly around them and when it settled they found themselves in a very similar scene; Tony’s second pressure test which went only slightly better than the previous one.

Tony’s chest belled out slightly with effort as his healing lungs struggled to inflate themselves. But this time Tony managed a slight, stuttering intake of air.

It was a cruel reminder for Steve and a shock to everyone else how something so simple - so essential - that they all managed easily and took for granted was for some an incredibly difficult task. It was an eye opening experience.

Rhodey could only pray that it had got easier for Tony.

Even though Tony had started to take a stuttering intake of air, it was still far from the outcome Yinsen needed to completely remove the ventilator. Tony’s breathing was too shallow and irregular.

Yinsen gradually turned up the pressure until Tony’s stats were back in a normal range and eases the effort Tony’s lungs had exerted to gain a fraction of his needed oxygen. The aid of the machine would work with and support Tony’s lungs and hopefully strengthen them to a point they wouldn’t need the assistance any longer.

“You’re getting there Stark, it won’t be too much longer and the tube can come out. Just give your lungs the time they need, they’ve suffered a lot of trauma.”

Yinsen sounded pleased about his improvement but Tony again shrugged off Yinsen’s platitudes, trying to slap away the hand that was reaching out to his shoulder. He knew he wasn’t being fair to the man but his frustration - and fear - at his reliance on the ventilator was souring his mood and with no other way to vent Yinsen was the unfortunate target.

“Unfortunately true.” Bucky clicked his tongue and glanced at Steve, whose eyes had brightened in hope. “I don’t remember everything just enough to know that you were no peach when you were sick either.”

“What is it with you and fruits with stones in, man? When Steve first found you, you were looking at plums.” Sam aims a teasing smile at Bucky who shrugs in response.

“It’s a 1940s Brooklyn thing.” Steve smirks before his smile falls upon glancing back to Tony, “Bucky used to bring me back nice fruits like that as a treat to cheer me up when I was ill. Even when I wasn’t nice to him.” Steve looks to Bucky who appears to be drinking this in like it was new information - perhaps it was. That thought upset Steve more than he thought it would.

This obviously showed on his face because Bucky then claps his shoulder. “Looks like I owe Stark a basket of fruits then.”

Shakily smiling in return, Steve nods although he can’t help the jealousy curling in his chest. ‘But that was our thing.’

Two days later Yinsen once again performed the test, with much higher hopes; Tony had been triggering the ventilator quite well on his own.

The pressure in the machine once again disappeared and Tony felt his lungs stutter as the mechanical inflation died. His lungs struggled to find a rhythm to compensate for the loss and his oxygen levels began to drop.

Yinsen watched the stats wearily, muttering a traditional prayer to Allah that Tony doesn’t hear, ready to dial it back up if they drop to a dangerous level.

Bruce silently murmurs the words with Yinsen despite not being Muslim himself; he had picked up quite a lot on his travels including the Islamic prayer for the sick.

Despite being an atheist he drew comfort from mouthing the familiar prayer for Tony who he considered to be his best friend.

Tony’s stats teeter dangerously, then he finally finds a comfortable rhythm and starts to take shallow, even breaths that gradually come easier with each try.

Thor lets out a small smile at this achievement which he finds all of his comrades share, even the Witch of Scarlet which he can't help but be surprised by.

‘It is a good sign that she is purging herself of her unjust poisonous hatred.’

Upon looking to Friend Natasha he finds a concealed look of fear that this is all friend Anthony has achieved so far.

“Come on, Stark.” Natasha murmurs anxiously, she wishes that his progress would speed up. ‘Those terrorists seem particularly impatient, it’s not going to be long before they try something drastic.’ The Widow warns in the back of her mind, Natasha glances at the cave door; she’d already been keeping one eye on it at all times but now she moved, placing herself between the door and Tony careful to keep both in sight. It left her on the outer edges of the group and she knew she couldn’t really stop anyone coming through the door but it made her made her feel slightly less useless as she watched Tony struggle to breath.

His chest ached with each expansion, muscles still recovering from the surgery now having to work once more. Tony could feel each twinge and pull of the throbbing muscles but his stats steadily rose.

Yinsen sighed in relief.

Tony was too focused on his breathing to pay much attention to Yinsen rattling off his oxygen stats but did hear that Yinsen wasn’t willing to take out the tube yet.

“We’ll give it a couple of days to play it safe. If there’s no further issues with your breathing in that time I’ll take it out.”

“You're starting to get better, Tones.” Rhodey spoke up softly. “Focus on that.”

“Yeah, I wish I could tell Stark that he does get better and he does get out.” Scott states sadly. “There was rumours of what happened over there but I never personally thought that he had to overcome quite this much.”

“Me too. I can't believe that after this he also somehow becomes Iron Man and busts himself out of there!” Peter whispers sounding amazed. 


 

 

It has been two weeks since the second surgery and two days since the last breathing test. Tony's breathing had improved slightly then stayed steady and as Yinsen had promised the tube was about to come out.

Though first Yinsen ran through the now standard checks, asking Tony if there was any abnormal pain and what his pain level was. Tony claimed it was holding steady at 4.

Bruce shakes his head knowing it was a bold faced lie meant to soothe the other man. Yinsen doesn’t look like he believed it either but nodded anyway.

“Are you ready then?”

Tony nodded his head as much as he was able and gave a thumbs up. The tube was still a disturbance but not as painful as it had been at first.

Yinsen removed his pillow to tilt his head back slightly and his throat muscles woke screaming, and he has to fight to quell his gag reflex.

‘Wow I thought I’d lost that long ago.’

His throat was shrieking in pain, heaving, almost retching as the tube began sliding out. He could feel the scraping and sliding as it's slowly pulled up his dry throat.

Suddenly, it’s out and Yinsen was pulling away the tape on his cheek - it stung slightly as part of his scraggly beard was pulled away with it.

Steve's cheek spasms in sympathy and he strokes the area where his beard once was.‘That was never a nice way to get facial hair removed.’ He had chosen to get a beard as part of a ploy by Tony to get the rogues more subconsciously likeable to the public by changing their appearance in some way for a short time, only being allowed to gradually change it back once their individual popularity had gone up. The only catch was that they had to pay for this change themselves. Wanda had been almost spitting that she was left with no way of changing the fact that her dark roots were now reaching her shoulders. ‘It really was wrong of Tony to be petty enough to draw funding away from Wanda when she needed it the most… no doubt we'll see why he did that here.’

Steve was ripped from those thoughts when he felt the ghost feeling of Tony's throat twitching and swallowing around the sudden emptiness.

Tony started coughing violently, his sandpaper throat rubbed raw by the tube. Each cough lanced down to his chest, stealing his breath and setting his ribs grinding into the titanium as his chest heaved with wracking coughs. Each one splits his chest in half, stars burst behind his screwed shut eyes, tears running down his cheeks. He tried to turn onto his side and curl around the pain but any movement just made it worse and if he wasn’t coughing he’d be sobbing.

Peter exhaled shakily, seeing his mentor in such a distraught state really made him want to reach through the memory and hug him tightly after busting him from that cave himself.

“No wonder he’s crying. Look at that thing! It's huge!” Clint exclaims upon seeing the breathing tube.

“Breathing tubes generally are.” Bruce ground out, the Hulk bubbles protectively from where he was restrained under his skin, fear for his friend made him irritable and even less tolerant to Clint pointing out the obvious than usual.

Tony stopped moving and lay very still as the coughing began to subside. He flinched when something was pressed against his face.

After a moment he realises it brings cool, soothing air that eased the coughing and made breathing easier.

He gulped the air in greedily, in an unnatural rhythm of short, shallow breaths.

Wanda recognises the jagged movement of his chest as that he’d usually make when he was diving head first into an anxiety attack.

Each one of Tony’s breaths sent a dagger through his chest and abdominal muscles. Yinsen set the oxygen as high as he could and told Tony to rest.

Tony was all too happy to comply and drifted into a fitful sleep.

Thor swelled with pride - and sorrow - for his friend -remembering the pain he’d felt from the first surgery that had brought him to his knees - who even now was in continual torment. He'd always respected his Shield Brother but now he was seeing how strong he truly was. ‘I am unsure I could have faced such tortures as bravely as the Man of Iron, nor with such determination!’

Tony was breathing on his own and the ventilator was being pushed away; without the huge tubes of the machine hanging around Tony, he didn’t look quite so frail anymore. He was still attached to a heart monitor, drainage tubes in his chest with their satchels hanging around his stomach, a nasogastric tube and now an oxygen mask, but now Tony looked like he was on the road to recovery. It couldn’t come soon enough for everyone watching.


 

“I'm sorry you had to go through that  Stark.” Yinsen murmurs when Tony surfaces from his disturbed rest.

Even without the Doctor clarifying, they know he's referring to the removal of the breathing tube; both the ghost pain and seeing Tony in such a state hadn't been nice for any of them.

Tony managed an incline of his head but doesn't say anything in return, his eyes appear worryingly distant. Yinsen is about to say something else but Tony speaks.

“I know it's fine.” Tony's jaw twitches slightly after he says this.

‘I should be used to this by now.’

They could feel the strong heated embarrassment radiating off him despite how he was trying his hardest to repress it.

‘For goodness sake he saw me crying. Me! Pathetic. You are meant to be a fucking Stark not some pussy with eyes like a leaky faucet… great now my internal voice has become Howard.’

Steve's face twitched a little, he still finds it hard to imagine that his old friend was ever that mean to his son. ‘But I can't put it past him anymore… seeing what I have.’

“Can you move your left hand to your pocket for me?” Yinsen’s question effectively pulls him straight out of his dark thoughts, he raises a quizzical eyebrow at the doctor before he does as he is instructed. The physical therapy had been helping and he’d been regaining movement slowly over the last week, his arms move easier; the muscles strengthening, and movement in his shoulders doesn’t pain him as much as long as he’s careful.

“Wait, what is that?” Tony is about to pull his hand out but Yinsen stopped him.

“Don't pull it out, just tell me what you feel.”

Furrowing his eyebrows Tony concentrated on what he was feeling inside his pocket, “Is that...wood?”

Clint erupts into giggles at the euphemism and clutches his stomach. “Oh-oh my god. Is that wood? He is never ever living that down.”

Peter is nearly as bad, just smothering his laughs with the back of his hand.

Natasha rolled her eyes at Clint’s juvenile behavior. ‘Really Clint? At least Spider-Man has the excuse of youth. Anyone can tell he's young by the sound of his voice.’

“It’s small… there’s rope attached? It feels like a pendant… or a necklace of some kind? Did you… you made this for me, didn't you?”

“I did Stark.” Yinsen smiled briefly before his expression quickly falls whilst his tone darkens with guilt and his eyes flicker to Tony. “This is probably the worst birthday you have ever gone through, the least I could do is get you a gift. What do you think it is?”

“A bird of some kind? Thin and graceful, made for speed...I can't tell much more than that-”

“That's actually quite a lot.” Winter let's out an impressed smile upon remembering that some of the red room students he had taught couldn't identify things so well. ‘Of course those ones were quickly eliminated. Stark shows potential-’ He had to forcefully cut himself off from going down that familiar thought trial. Some of the things Hydra had implanted into his brain were so deep that Stark had warned that even the best psychotherapy and BARF couldn't completely remove it all.

‘I guess this was one of those things. I am curious to see what the Doctor has gifted Stark.’

“It is a Phoenix, Stark. I have to admit initially I thought you little more than a shallow playboy, however this experience has shown me that you are more than the drunk I met before. You are a good man, I only wish we had met properly under other circumstances. Now, I know it's not grand compared to the gifts you normally get given but it's the best I could do under the circumstances.”

“It's more than I expected. In fact I can honestly say even just by feeling it, it's one of the best gifts I've ever been given. Yinsen I could kiss you right now.”

Tony may have been trying to be funny but they could all feel his genuine surprise and thankfulness at the gift. They were surprised at how such a simple gift affected him, he was a billionaire used to extravagant, eccentric gifts and they had never thought he’d appreciate something so plebeian as a handmade trinket. It’s why most of them had never bothered getting him gifts.

‘Most people just give me expensive but meaningless things, I haven’t gotten anything like this since Jarvis died.’

“Now, now. None of that.” Yinsen grinned. “A thank you is enough.”


 

The next few days are devoted to intensive therapy. Tony pushes himself more than he probably should, working himself to exhaustion to chase away the nightmares.

‘I wish I was in my lab working until I crashed instead. That always helps, but I’m not in my lab and I can’t even walk yet… pushing through the pain of therapy to exhaust myself will have to do.’

“That really doesn't sound healthy.” Sam states as he frowns then shrugs. “At least that means he's recovering faster physically at least.” Sam frowns deeply. He sincerely hoped that Stark got help for his trauma after this; after his own trauma in Afghanistan with Riley's death the military had left him high and dry. So he had dealt with it by becoming a therapist to other traumatised Vets, that the higher up’s had discarded like yesterday’s trash. Admittedly Sam could see now that the lack of help given to him after Riley's death meant that he had assigned some of the blame for what happened to Stark. Riley had been shot down by a Stark made RPG and it was well known that the only thing that could get through Stark’s Falcon gear was other Stark tech. Sam had been angry and hostile towards the man and chose to avoid him on his few visits to the compound. He had never found justifiable cause to give Stark a chance - it was something he deeply regretted now.

It’s been almost three weeks since the surgery and Tony had regained almost all maneuverability in his arms, though the pectoral muscles still hurt when stretched to far and he hasn’t managed to fully stretch his arms above his head.

‘That hurts a lot.’

Yinsen isn’t sure he’ll ever be able to fully stretch without putting too much strain on the muscles.

Yinsen had moved on to getting him sitting up for short periods of time and moving his legs. It got a little easier every time and he might even be able to get himself out of bed in a week and stand.

Natasha couldn’t help but wonder - and be a little amazed - that he never seemed to have any problems piloting the suit when it seemed now that he should barely be able to get into it. She was distracted from her thoughts when she heard a group of people trudging up to the door.

She spun towards the door and shouted a warning to the others.

Tony was resting from the latest session when the door flew open and a group of terrorists flooded into the cell in a scene reminiscent to their first appearance. They were all armed and looking frustrated and dangerous. Abu Bakaar was at their head, but there was nothing friendly in his face now.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Peter swore.

Everyone tensed, moving into stances that would let them quickly move into battle positions. Thor hefted his hammer and snarled while Vision hovered, his gem glowing brightly.

Even Wanda’s hands began to burn red as everyone else’s hands hovered over weapons. They all felt incredibly useless, knowing they were as tangible as ghosts.

“Please god, no,” Rhodey was pale, terrified to see what they would do.

Yinsen raised his hands as usual but Tony just laid still. He hadn’t seen any of the terrorists since before the operation and he wasn’t sure why they were here now and looking as angry as they were.

‘Guess they got impatient.’

Why isn’t he working ?” Abu questioned loudly, Get him up! On his feet !” he yelled to men behind him, gesturing to Tony. Two of them broke away at the order and stalked toward Tony.

“Halt! You will not take another step!” In a desperate hope Thor swung Mjolnir at their heads, the hammer passing harmlessly through as the two walked straight through the God.

“We can’t do anything Thor, we can’t even touch them.” Steve said as he walked up to calm his teammate down, but it didn't change the fact that he could feel his own anger and helplessness bubbling under his skin too.

Tony blanched when two of the men stepped up to his bed. Yinsen tried to intervene and step between them, shouting in different languages that Tony was still healing and couldn’t stand.

Abu wouldn’t listen.

He’s had time to heal, he needs to start work now. Raza wants his missile and he’s done being patient .” Abu said in Dari.

Vision’s gem flashes in anger.

The two thugs pushed Yinsen out of the way and another stepped up to restrain him. “This is not the time you promised! You said he would have longer!”

Peter tried to pull the two men off Tony as they striped away the oxygen mask and pulled the little sensors off him, but his hands grasp nothing. He shouts in frustration and launches a punch that is set to fly through them.

However his punch was caught by Bucky - Winter. “We can’t do anything kid. We can’t stop them. We’re good as ghosts here.” Peter noted Winter looked as frustrated as he was. “Just try to memorize their faces and when we get back we can track down any that might still be alive.” Winter said with a dark look to the terrorists.

Tony tries to fight but his movements are too sluggish and weak and they grip his arms and pull him from the bed. The men ignored his howl and cries as they dragged him from the bed. The rough treatment and sudden movement jostled the reactor and ripped agony through his chest and Tony sagged between them.

They can feel the stitches holding his chest together tear, several dark stains appear through the bandages and his shirt.

“NO!” Rhodey roars, he couldn't help but lunge towards the terrorists even though he knew he couldn’t help.

The Hulk was trying to forcefully push into the forefront his mind and for once Bruce actually wished he could transform. He would have already if it was possible but whatever the Being had done prevented it even as the Hulk lurked at the corners of his consciousness and had him growling, low and dangerous.

Natasha stalked forward to stand unseen, right in front of Abu. Her eyes glinted dangerously in contrast to the almost sweet smile on her face. “I do hope you’re not dead, so I can have the pleasure of killing you myself.”

His screams broke into a low, long keen as he slipped to the edge of consciousness.

‘Fuck, this is what I was afraid would happen,’ Sam thought as he watched the scene play out.

“Monsters,” Wanda hissed, her eyes and hands sparking red as she longed for a target. “I hope he made them pay.”

“If not I will.” Clint murmured as he fingered his bow.

He could hear Yinsen and Abu shouting as the arms supporting him disappeared and he was dropped to the ground. He only managed a small groan at the impact with the hard ground and tried to curl around his chest.

Tony hit the ground reactor first and they could feel it digging into his chest painfully and the burning pain in his chest.

“This is not good guys! They might really injure him like this!” Scott yelled, he had a hand pressed to his own chest where he could feel the phantom pain. ‘Reactor first. Man, that's probably the worst way he could have fell. Shit.’

They gathered around him protectively now that the terrorists had re-joined the group at Abu’s order. Natasha and Peter kneeling next to Tony as Rhodey stood in front of him, glaring viscously at any terrorist that moved.

Everyone else formed a circle around them, looking ready to kill anyone who took another step toward Tony.

Tony wasn’t sure how much time passed before the shouting stopped and the terrorists left and Yinsen walked over to where he’d been dumped on the ground.

Rhodey jolted when Yinsen walked through him and both Scott and Peter shot him sympathetic looks. Something going through you in this state was never nice, be it a chair or a person.

Tony could hear the Doctor muttering in languages that his clouded brain couldn’t decipher as Yinsen turned him over.

Tony's freakily blank eyes was one that Rhodes, Sam, Clint, Natasha and Bucky recognised as someone who had retreated into the depths of their own head to escape the pain that reality was treating them to.  

Despite not knowing what Yinsen was saying he could guess from the angry tone that it was hissed swears, but weirdly he could also detect worry seeping into the other man’s voice.

“Stark… are you with me?” Yinsen’s question cuts through his muddled thoughts. “Stark!”

“Come on Tony, say something,” Steve tried to prompt him.

Tony managed to nod, it was barely an incline of his head but he didn't trust himself to speak.

Rhodey, now kneeling next to Peter, sighs in relief that Tony was aware and able to respond.

He knew without looking that several of his stitches had been torn and some of the blisters from the brand on his back had popped. He could feel the pus and his body's fluid from his back pool where the skin had been broken.

“We have to get you back on the bed. I’m going to lift you up, it’ll hurt, but try to stay conscious. I’ll need you to lift some of your weight for me.”

Tony couldn't help the scream that tore itself from his throat as Yinsen began to lift him up, his hands dug themselves into an almost painful grip on the Doctor's arms.

Rhodey’s hands hovered, wanting to help, but he didn’t touch him, knowing his hands would only pass through his friend.

Tony leaned heavily on the doctor, his legs shook as he tried to support himself. His steps were barely shuffles.

Thankfully it was only a few steps back to the bed. He hissed as his back touched the mattress and the popped blisters, which he could feel weeping pus under the bandages were further aggravated before Yinsen rolled him onto his side.

They finally relaxed once Tony was back on the bed, except Natasha who was a furious shadow lurking by the door.

The oxygen mask was pressed back onto his face and he breathed in the cool air in relief. He sagged into the bed, arms wrapped around his bleeding chest an almost drifting into unconsciousness as Yinsen retrieved his supplies.

They watched the Doctor move his supplies over to where Tony lay and take out some surgery stitches and thread.

The memory began to change as Yinsen set to work, they could only hope that the Doctor guided Tony back to full health soon. Before the terrorists decided to act again.

Chapter Text

Yinsen was worried Tony was going to pull the new stitches.

After the last appearance of the Ten Rings Yinsen had planned to ease up on therapy for a few days until the stitches and the reopened incisions were all a little less raw. Apparently Stark had other ideas and refused to listen to any of Yinsen’s advice as he pushed himself even further.

Tony was now sitting up in bed with feet on the floor - and he’d refused all help, instead leveraging himself up inch by inch.

He was pale, shaking and breathing shallowly - he had removed the oxygen mask along with the nasogastric tube, IV’s and sensors - but there was a look in his eye that kept Yinsen from interfering. He wasn’t sure if it was determination or spite - or was it fear? - but Stark had decided he was going to walk today.

Yinsen thought the man was insane.

“I’m surprised it’s taken this long for him to try,” Rhodey said in equal parts exasperated and fond. “Tony is an awful patient. Always trying to subvert his doctors and they all end up hating him.”

His smile dropped. “I guess that shows just how awful he felt.”

He didn’t think Tony was in anyway ready to start walking, even before their captors had paid them a generous visit . Yinsen was both impressed and annoyed at Stark’s stubbornness.

‘I just redid those stitches, if I have to do them again only two days later… He’s even more bull headed than Junayd!’

Clint only just managed to stifle a laugh at this; his brother Barney was much the same, he used to adore his stubborn tough older brother.

That was before he betrayed him and told the circus owner about his relationship with Laura  (who at the time was a gymnast and a knife juggler from one of the rival circuses).  

He had narrowly escaped being knifed by one of his fellow performers, however he knew that was nothing compared to what the Boss, Mr Grosso, would to him if he found him.

Clint had no choice but to run with Laura and to hire out his talents to whoever paid the highest.   ‘That was all Barneys fault, the bastard… but was it Stark's similarities to him that made it hard to build anything more than a tentative friendship? ...Probably partly, yes.’

Yinsen understood the motivation behind Stark’s stubbornness; the frustration at being helpless and fear at the same thing. It was the only reason he hadn’t put a stop this already.

“After what they just did, isn't it reckless to try to walk now?”  Scott frowns. He had thought that the treatment those terrorists had subjected Stark to had meant that they would have to watch him go through physical therapy again. He was glad that wasn’t the case.

Bruce bit his lip anxiously. “Well I wouldn't advise it that's for sure. But that's Tony for you.”

Tony had a tight grip on a stack of boxes as he began to leverage himself to his feet. He grunted as he stood slightly stooped, keeping one hand on the box for balance and the other wrapped around his chest.

Gaping, Peter's eyes flick over Tony. ‘Oh god, Mr Stark is standing like an old man.’

Yinsen reached his hand out in an offer of assistance but Tony slapped it away and ground out, “no, I can do this.”

He watched carefully ready to intervene if Stark should fall as he started to take one shuffling step forward.

“Come on you can do it.” Steve murmurs under his breath. “Come on Tony.”

Tony took three small, trembling steps up to the corner of the box. His fingers tapped a nervous beat on the edge box as he forced himself to stand straighter and then let go. He pushed off from the box and took one step forward before his knees buckled.

With quick movements Yinsen caught him under the arms, he slung one of Tony’s arms over his shoulders and guided him back to the bed.

Tony made no protest as Yinsen got him back in the bed and placed the oxygen mask back on his face to ease his ragged breathing.

“Do you want the IV back in for the morphine?”

Tony shook his head, reaching up to take the mask off, “don’t need it... No drugs.”

Perplexed, Thor’s eyes flick to the doctor and then back to his friend. “Why is friend Anthony refusing the aid that he so desperately needs?”

“It is my belief Mr Odinson that Mr Stark feels that he doesn't feel he deserves to be alleviated from the pain.” Vision intones softly.

Bruce's eyes widen in horror. ‘But that makes Tony sound like a self harmer. Oh God.’

Yinsen was tempted to ignore him.

“Yes, ignore him!” Peter pleaded the memory version of the Doctor.

Seeing the man’s other arm wrapped tightly around his chest, had heightened his resolve to do this before Tony pointedly dropped it back to the bed.

Yinsen avoided rolling his eyes at the stubbornness as he reaffixed the mask.

Tony ripped it off again. “I need to start work Doc.”

“Tony for goodness sake!” Steve hissed in what Tony had dubbed ‘his Captain America’ voice.  

“You can’t cast metal yet Stark. Don’t be a fool,”

Tony shook his head, “pen. Paper. Need to… draw plans.”

Yinsen gave him a stern glare as he again replaced the mask. “If I get you something to draw on will you keep the mask on ?”

Tony gave him two thumbs up before pointing to the paper.

‘If I wasn’t already grey…’


 

Wanda could feel Tony’s hand tremble over the board and paper in his lap. He tightened his grip on the pencil and tried to make his mind think straight. He needed these plans, but also had to hide what they actually were and scattering the designs meant they had to be even more exact.

‘I need to do this, I can’t keep mucking around.’

‘You need to get better first,  Stark. You can’t be impatient with yourself.’ She thinks.

Tony needed to get out of this place and figure out what was happening with his weapons.

Twitching, Wanda internally grimaced at that, she hated every reminder that he hadn’t known what was going on. She loathed that slimy feeling inside of her that happened each time.

‘I need these plans first.’

Normally Tony knew he could draw plans in his sleep but he was losing focus and the sharp pains in his chest were getting worse as the last dose of morphine was wearing off.

‘Arrogant in his talents.’ Wanda rolls her eyes. ‘As well as foolishly prideful. I was not wrong about that it seems. Just take the drugs, Stark.’

Nonetheless Tony just grit his teeth and started drawing the next segment. The pain had gotten worse since his captors last visit, being thrown to the floor straight onto the reactor had been agony. However, it served to remind him the power they had over him and that they could make that pain worse at any moment.

They could kill him at any moment.

He knew he was pushing himself too far in response, but right now he didn’t give a damn about his bodies limit’s.

‘I can’t just lie around being useless anymore.’

Wanda could understand this, once she had gotten injected with her powers she had wanted to get out and kill Stark immediately upon feeling the unleashed power in her mind and under her skin.

Not to just sit around and take time to hone them - however she’d known it was necessary in order to truly pull Stark’s psyche apart and kill him.

‘Yinsen has a family to get home to and I need to fix my mess before it got anymore people killed. Something in my company has gone very wrong and I need to root out the cause.’

That slimy, sinking unpleasantness coiled in her gut again. ‘So the drive was not selfish in nature… Of course it wasn’t, I keep jumping to conclusions even when I should know better now. When I do know better. Stark has always seemed to care more for others well being than his own - which is why my vision at the base worked so well in making him self destruct.’

Wanda knew what Stark was like now, she knew he wasn’t thinking of himself here, but she kept trying to find that angle that she could use to justify her actions even just a little. Stark could be abrasive and rude but it wasn’t enough to ease that slimy feeling. It wasn’t enough to ease her guilt.

‘Why can’t the man just be more flawed? This would be so much easier and I could just carry on hating him.’

Her train of thought was broken off when she felt Stark shift, trying to relieve the pain.

Another spike of agony caused him to hiss and spots to dance at the edge of his vision. He saw Yinsen look up from where he was but waved the doctor away.

Tony gripped the pencil tighter and continued drawing.

The lines came out wrong, his hand trembling to much to create the clean lines he needed. He shook his head and flexed his hand, he just needed to work through the pain. He deserved the pain.

‘You can do this Stark, it’s just a little chest twinge. They just dropped you on some rock and burst your stitches. They’ll probably do it again or worse. There are people out there dying because of your weapons while you’ve been reclining on a bed for three weeks!’

The thin pencil snapped in his fist.

Wanda looked at the pieces in shock, she knew that by this point she would have sought rest if she was in Stark’s position. Something warmed inside of her at Stark’s vehemence and determination for trying to stop more people from ending up like herself and the doctor.

Yinsen walks over, seeing both the shattered shards of the pencil and Stark’s distress. “Are you alright Stark?”

He looked away from Yinsen, glaring at the fire instead. “‘M fine!” He ground out beneath the mask.

“No you’re not Stark, you’re clearly in pain.” Tony hadn’t even realized he’d hunched over as far as he had or that his arms were again wrapped around his chest. “You need morphine.”

Tony shook his head - that shouldn’t make him so dizzy - he needed to work, not take more drugs. He would not be stuck useless on a bed anymore when he needed to get out of here and fix his mistakes.

‘I can't be helpless anymore.’

It was still a startlingly strange thought to the witch. She’d never thought he’d understood what pain or hopelessness was like, living a life of a privilege as he had.

It was another similarity she saw to herself and another way she was wrong. Wanda hated it.

Yinsen sighed. “Well you’re not going to be able to work if you’re in so much pain you’re trembling like this and can’t even sit up straight. I’ll give you smaller doses, enough to help you work and I’ll help you walk some more tomorrow, maybe even get you sitting at the table to draw your plans, hmm?”

Wanda felt herself internally smiling at the Doctor’s idea. It was a smart play to offer a compromise that would allow Stark to accomplish what he wanted while also ensuring he got what he needed. She hoped this would lead to a better, quicker recovery. She wanted to get out of this place.

‘If it gets me off this damn bed for more than a couple of minutes then hell yes.’

He nodded his head, focusing on conserving the breath that he seemed to be getting far too little of.


 

Yinsen hovered over him, checking the chest tubes and drainage bags.

Tony ignored the pain as Yinsen gently pressed down on the sides of his chest where the tubes had been slid into his pleural cavity.

‘At least they’re finally coming out.’

He hadn’t protested the drainage tubes, knowing how important the were to drain out fluid and any effusions after the surgery but the tubes weren’t pleasant. The incisions ached and he could feel the length of the tubes resting near his lungs and each subtle movement when he breathed.

Steve's face twitched in sympathy.

A stethoscope was pressed onto his chest as Yinsen checked his breathing again, listening for any signs that fluid may have entered his lungs. The cold metal almost made him flinch, the usual bandages covering his chest had been removed to give Yinsen better access to the drains.

When Yinsen leaned back the team got a clearer view of the scars and healing surgical incisions.

Rhodey's jaw dropped open at the sight that greeted him, now he got why when Tony changed the Arc in front of him he never lifted his shirt all the way up and turned away.  

The extensive scarring was lit eerily by the bright glow of the reactor.

Tony tried not to look at his chest. He didn’t want to see how torn up it looked now. He’d felt bile rise in his throat when Yinsen had removed all the bandages and gauze the first time and it didn’t look any better now.

The vertical incision that ran along his sternum and was intersected by the arc reactor was still held together with black stitches. The stitches for the shrapnel wounds had been removed but the scars themselves were still red, appearing from small round marks to longer, jagged scars leaving his skin pitted and ridged.

Peter gave a little whine at the back of his throat.

Bucky let out an upset sigh whilst he absent mindedly traced the still raised scars sprawled across his shoulder and half of his chest.

There were two open incisions on the sides of his chest, the chest drains disappearing into them and sutured in place. The holes were big enough to slide a finger into, the skin around raw and puckered around the tubes.

“Those tubes are about the width of my finger and they’re inside him!” Wanda murmurs. If she concentrated she could feel them, two long tubes pressed up around his lungs.

It was all terribly enhanced by the vivid, dark purple and green stains with slight swelling around the reactor. The hard impact with the ground courtesy of the Ten Rings had left dark discolored bruises and swelling.

“Those look nasty.” Natasha scanned Tony's chest and prayed to a God that she didn't believe in that Tony had no surprise internal bleeding gathering in his chest cavity.

“And he got up and walked after they did this much damage?” Scott whispered as he gaped at the huge bruises that covered Tony’s upper torso and the smaller finger shaped bruises that wrapped around his upper arms.

“He’s one tough bastard alright,” Sam whistled but his eyes remain dark.

Tony huffed, “can we just remove it please! You know before it clogs or leaks and I need another surgery that could kill me!” His words didn’t come out quite so clear through the mask, but Yinsen was well versed in muffled speech.

“Could that happen?” Clint asked.

Nodding his head, Bruce replied softly, “chest tubes don’t have the best safety record and complications are pretty common. Considering the environment they’re in it’s a miracle nothing’s happened.”

“Well your lungs are clear. There’s been no sign of infection and fluid drainage has stopped. No sign of RBS. I think we’re in the clear.” Yinsen smiled at him.

“Yes!” Scott smiles and lets out a whoop. “Does that mean he's going to finally going to get better and build the suit?”

“Hopefully that's coming after this.” Peter answers, antsy with nervous energy but a shaky smile springs to his lips and his eyes shine brightly. “So far all the signs are looking good.”

‘Thank god!’

Yinsen partially tapped down a piece of gauze above both tubes then clamped the tubes.

He placed a hand gently on the dressing, pressing lightly. A snip to the sutures unsecured the first tube. “Take a deep breath in,” Yinsen said as he gripped the tube.

Tony gripped the sheets of the bed tightly as he took the deep breath.

“Guys this is going to -" Bruce is cut off mid warning when Yinsen swiftly and suddenly pulled the tube out.

Watching the nearly 12FR wide tube sliding quickly out of Tony’s chest, the group gasps with Tony at the uncomfortable pulling sensation and the burning pain.

They stared at the several centimeters of wet and bloody tube that had been pulled from Tony’s chest.

“I didn’t realize it was that long…” Steve rubbed at the side of his chest to ease the slowly fading burning sensation.

Yinsen tapped the rest of the dressing down, a little blood, sluggishly staining the gauze. Tony grimaced at the pressure of Yinsen’s hand on the wound. It felt raw from the tube being pulled out, his chest aching.

It still didn’t compare to the rest of the ache in his chest and as the stinging died down the pain blended in with all his other aches and pains.

“I’ll stitch that shortly. Are you ready for the second tube Stark?”

‘Oh fuck not again…’

Yinsen set to work once more and the team felt the scene whirl around them.


 

Appearing healthier, Tony took slow, steady steps, gripping Yinsen’s arm as they walked around the room. He still wore an oxygen mask connected by a long tube to the oxygen concentrator, but was overwise free of any other wires and tubes.

He knew he wouldn’t have been able to complete the circuit of the room without the extra oxygen.

“How long has it been?”  Natasha asks, “Stark appears healthier now, surely it can't be long until he escapes.”

“Mr Stark has been in Afghanistan for almost two  months at this point.” The Being appears fading into existence, they snap their fingers sharply and pause the memory.  “It has been a week between this memory and the last. His recovery was long and arduous. I know you are all itching to move on but think of the purpose of what I am showing you, three months is a very long time.”

“Fuck…” Scott murmurs, that was one of the first times it had really sunk in for him. ‘THREE MONTHS.’  Judging by the colour Steve's face had gone it was the same for him too.

“Indeed.” The Illuminate purses their lips and shoots them all a sharp reproachful look before leaving once more.

It still took far longer than he liked and a firm grip on Yinsen’s arm to make the full walk around the room, but he finally managed it. So it was that he sat at his drawing table with a little bit of pride as he took the last few steps unaided.

Without any morphine.

The IV had been removed for the last time, just yesterday. He was glad to finally be off the drugs.

Although walking was harder Tony was determined to start work and to get out. Metal work was unfortunately still beyond him however he could draw and plan.

It was a relief to be working again. To have a way to get the buzzing thoughts in his head out and be constructive. His fingers had been itching for something to do for days. Not having an outlet for his thoughts had been maddening and his head had felt fit to burst.

‘Having an intelligence like mine can be maddening. That's for sure… No wonder the mad scientist trope is a thing.’

Bruce smiled, “I would be offended but yeah Tony definitely has a point.”


 

Tony fiddled with the nasal cannula that had replaced the oxygen mask. He didn’t like the feel of the prongs in his nose and how they chafed but it rubbed less than the mask strap.

‘He really is getting better.’ Smiled Bruce, ‘at least he isn't dependant on that mask anymore. It's only going to be a small amount of time before he won't need any aid at all.’

At least it did help when he was doing his morning walk around the cave.

He was now able to walk the full length of the cave without Yinsen’s assistance which he took as a win. Even though the exercise left him winded.

“Well that's a small positive at least.” Steve gave a genuine smile. He couldn't wait to see Tony escape, he hoped that despite the ghost of Yinsen that he had seen, that the Doctor could escape too.

Although after a short rest he was more than ready to start the day.

He took out the cannula as he called Yinsen over and started walking over to his work station. “Leave breakfast. It can wait a minute, I’ve got something you need to see.

Tony grabbed a stack of papers and gestured Yinsen over to the table. Putting the thin onion skin paper down and turning on a lamp he allowed Yinsen to rifle through the various diagrams. “This is our ticket out of here.”

Thor had worked hard to school the anticipation that he had felt at seeing his friends feat of Midgardian magic and metal work. It came easier than many would have expected it to for the God however contrary to popular belief Loki wasn't the only Odinison apt at lying and acting.

“What is it?” Yinsen asked putting the papers back down.

“Flatten them out and look,” responded Tony as he did just that. The thin paper had allowed Tony to hide his true plans, drawing seemingly random parts on different papers, but now each page revealed the full secret.

An Iron Man suit.

Scott whistled in amazement.

“Oh, wow. Impressive,” Yinsen whispered in awe.

“Iron man…” Peter breathed, of course he had heard all about Mr Stark creating the Iron suit in a cave but it was different seeing him do it.

‘You want me to be better than that?  Really Mr Stark?’

A smile curved at Peter’s lips as he felt his admiration for Tony rise even higher. ‘You've set a pretty high bar.’

“Wait hang on… the metal looks pretty heavy. To be carrying all of that Stark must be pretty strong.” Clint comments.

“He is.” Natasha spoke up, a smile twitched at the corner of her mouth. “When I tried the gauntlet on that's what really struck me, it felt not unpleasantly heavy but strong enough for it to cause a strain. I can't imagine how heavy the full suit would be.”

“I do not see the cause for amazement my comrades, Friend Anthony is not strong for a Midgardian... ”  Thor frowned in confusion.

“But he is Thor.” Bruce answered, eyeing the God through narrowed eyes. “Most normal, healthy people wouldn't be able to carry that much metal on them-”

“There would’ve been at least a rudimentary hydraulics system to support part of the weight. Without one we couldn’t even wear the current suits. But they’re still pretty heavy fully assembled.” Rhodey alternated his gaze between Bruce and Thor. “However he is stronger than most people. How could he not be? He's been working with heavy metal for practically all his life.”

“But friend Steven and the Soldier of Winter can lift more than that… I believed that Jane, Selvig and Darcy were not warriors so they were unusually puny in comparison.” Thor's voice had become a low embarrassed rumble by the end upon noticing everyone's horrified eyes on him.

“No Thor, it's the other way around, we are stronger than average.” Bruce's eyes were as round as dish plates. “But Tony's abnormal strength is only present in his head you didn't know that before so… that's why you-" Bruce found his voice had been unnaturally silenced as the scene began to morph around them.

Chapter Text

As the memory settled around them, Bruce felt his heart jump at remembering Thor lifting Tony up by the throat. He understood better now why Thor hadn’t thought his action as extreme as Bruce had understood it to be.

Enraged, the other guy had been clawing to get out and defend Tin Man when that had happened but Bruce had only just held him back. He’d been terrified that any outside action would escalate the situation and the god, with his strength, would twitch his hand wrong.

One wrong move was all it took and Tony would’ve been gone. Bruce could not have allowed that to happen.

He’d been terrified at the blas é attitude everyone had displayed at a being that could match the Hulk grabbing someone by the throat and lifting them up.

A heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder that matched Thor’s voice. In the past such a gesture from the would have almost sent him staggering, now it was more restrained and almost hesitant.

“Are you alright friend Banner? You seem far away.”

Bruce swallowed as he found his voice had suddenly returned to him and muttered. “I’m alright, thanks.” He tried to casually shift away from Thor’s hand. He tried not to think about that powerful hand grasping a fragile human throat with enough force to lift them a foot off the ground.

Bruce tried not to think of the ignorance that could have lead to death, instead trying to remember that Thor hadn’t intended to truly hurt anyone. He thought of the heavy hand that now barely glanced his shoulder and had been removed quickly.

‘Perhaps I should have done more… maybe said something. I know there is a time and a place for things but God… I wish I could talk about this now.’ Bruce's throat was bubbling with things that he wished he could vocalise but got clogged in his throat.

Thor noticed now friend Banner's wary behaviour around him now and the way a few other members of the group were side eyeing him as if he was a wild untamed beast.   

He couldn't help but feel hurt by this although he felt like he deserved it for allowing his rage to make him act like a brute.

The God quickly distracted himself by observing the scene in friend Anthony's mindscape.

On the front wall of the mindscape, facing the Avengers, they saw Tony’s outside view of the cave.  

His hands appeared to be busy fiddling with several clumps of the wiring elements on the table in front of him however they could also see it spread out across the cave.  

The first thing the Avengers noticed was that all these Tony's had the Arc shoved unnaturally into their chests and that the mindscape itself looked different now to what it did before.

The sphere held now, not only smoke, but a sticky black tar that threatened to seep through any structural weaknesses.

There was also a sparse covering of sand coating the floor and the air around them felt hot and muggy like the caves.

Pincushion Tony scanned the cave with his powers to take a holographic print of it whilst Angry compresses all the table and all the other things that were in his way to create a space big enough to hold the hologram.

Pincushion twisted quickly and dumped it in the newly open space.

“Right. Here's the deal.” Pincushion summoned a light green model of the armour and split it into sections.

Touching the helmet briefly, he turned it and the other sections he needed to do toward the end in red before chucking it to Angry.  

“Too obvious to be made right away… the legs hydraulics and support system. We will have to test that first to know that works.”

“We will have to move pretty fast because the cameras will be surveying everything.” Angry commented, “but there's a blind spot just by the door, we can assemble the armour there when I’m actually inside it.”

“We will have to bang everything into shape first but chances are if we scatter the pieces of the armour across the desks they won't have a clue what I'm doing.” Pin commented.

“Chances are the idiots will still think we are making the missile.” Angry deadpanned before touching the chest area of the suit. “This piece here is a problem for several reasons. One it's an obvious chest plate once you place all the pieces together. Two the arc, if we calculate the weight distribution of the suit wrong it could push down on it so hard that it could crush our heart.”

The group were shocked to silence, none of them had ever imagined that was the worst case scenario. They were starting to understand the magnitude of the gamble Tony made in making the suit.

Pincushions face twisted, “When have we ever got a maths equation wrong?”

Shrugging, Angry gave a smile. “One of the first things Pepper spotted after becoming my PA was a small maths error on one of the documents.”

“Ok that was once.” Pincushion protested, “And Obadiah had kept me up for almost a week haranguing me about those bloody finances. It's hardly fair to use that-"

“Am I the only one who keeps hearing more and more alarm bells the more that Tony talks Obadiah’s treatment of him…” Bruce stares at Pincushion with a deeply worried expression.

“Nope.” Clint bites out.

“No but I'm pretty impressed that a small maths error was all he made considering he was up all week.” Scott pipes up, “When I stayed up all night for Cassie the next day I could barely function.”

“Being stuck in a terrorist's lair being tortured isn't fair conditions either.” Angry snarled darkly as his irises gleamed a menacing black. “You are not infallible and we are more likely to die here than anywhere else.”

“You are a ray of sunshine, aren't you?” Pincushion peered at Angry.

“I'm a realist. Blame my creator” Angry teased darkly as the brown bled back over his Irises. “Next.”

“I was thinking we could get started on the internal padding and the wiring mesh which looks the least suspicious.”

“True… it needs to be able to interweave between the Sorbothane we have to stuff inside around the skull to create an artificial hyoid. So that when we bust out of here we don't give ourselves a million concussions.” Angry replied.

Rhodey noted the general looks of confusion the group was sporting, he was about to speak up when Bruce beat him to it.

A hyoid is the cushioning inside a woodpecker's skull to keep it immune to G force and that's what Tony is talking about doing to himself artificially.” Bruce smiled in an awed soft way.

“It keeps our brains from going splat inside the suit.” Rhodey added on snarkily when he saw the looks of bewilderment remain over Steve, Bucky and Wanda's faces. “The material Tony is talking about makes the recoil pads of guns and the soles of your shoes.”

“The body padding can afford to be slightly thinner but it doesn't have to be it's not like we are going to run out of Sorbothane here.”

Angry cracked a grin that looks so odd on his face that the Team can't help but stare at him.

“But how are we going to tell Yinsen this? I'm pretty sure Sorbothane use is out of Yinsen's field.”  Angry questioned and the grin quickly fell.

“He's pretty good on subtleties and we have been surprised by his knowledge a few times. Having another pair of hands to help extracting the Sorbothane -”

“-there's also the language divide and you can't show any skill on that front without arousing suspicion.”

“Fine.” Pincushion snapped, “let's just keep him on a need to know basis. There will be plenty of time to fill him in on the details when we bust out of here anyway.”


 

“Good,” Yinsen chuckled as he looked at Tony’s dice, “Good roll. Good roll.”

“You still haven't told me where you're from.” Tony muttered as he passed Yinsen the dice, the other man gathered the dice in his hands and shook them before giving an answer.

Tony was still slightly annoyed at the regular breaks Yinsen had forced him to have. Although his mind was playing out possibilities of the game and the best moves he could make his hands itched for his tools and details and plans still ran concurrently in his head, cataloguing his supplies and making adjustments to the designs as he went.

Thankfully, the Doctor had understood the importance of Sorbothane pretty quickly. Yinsen had apparently met some other Doctors in Bern who used it for treating something called Golfer's Elbow.

‘So having an extra pair of hands to help with extraction, then later fitting it in the suit, would make up for all the time missed in these breaks.’

“I'm from a small town called Gulmira.” Yinsen answered in a forcibly calm voice, he dropped the dice to look away from Tony. “It's actually a nice place.”

“Got a family?” Tony asked in a quiet voice.

“Yes, and I will see them when I leave here.” Yinsen’s voice became slightly harder, he kept his eyes on the game rather than Tony as he moves the metal pieces. Then he looks up to Tony as he lightly asks, “And you, Stark?”

Tony tries to smile but it comes out looking like a grimace.

‘Family huh? I’ve got two dead parents, Jarvis and Ana are gone too. There’s Peggy and Daniel - who I haven’t seen or heard from since they moved to England. And Peggy doesn’t remember me anyway. JARVIS and the bots are a bit like my children - but they're my creations so they aren't real in the traditional sense and they're tied to me. Would they stay with me if they had a choice?

‘Pepper… I'd like to think I have her but she tolerates me mostly, at a stretch I’d say we’re friends but not family. Happy? We're friends, true, but if it came to a choice between me and Pepper… I know who he'd pick. Rhodey is awesome but he's my best friend … not family in the traditional sense and I hardly ever see him anymore. His family have always been nice to me but they live in Philadelphia and I haven’t even heard from them in a while.

‘And let’s face it, I pay Pepper and Happy to be around me. Rhodey… I don’t know if he’d still be around if the military wasn’t paying him.

‘So all I really have is… Obadiah.’

Rhodes growls and clenches his teeth, “You have me as well! Idiot! I didn’t hang around you because the military paid me! I can’t - I can’t believe he thinks that! You don't just have that traitorous bastard.”

“I am inclined to agree with you Colonel Rhodes,” Vision speaks up as his gem glows brightly, “even if Sir doesn't realise it. He always had his childr - creations to count on.”

Everyone gave Vision a strange look for that rare slip in his speech, however the Android refused to address it.

‘But even he's not family in the traditional sense. I don't have any family left. I am alone.’

“You’re not alone,” Peter mumbled morosely.

Tony's mouth twitched at that last thought, he finally looked from the game to Yinsen and answered shortly.  

“No.”

“No?” Yinsen mimicked Tony's delivery of that last line. He glanced back at the board before raising an eyebrow and studying Tony with intense eyes. “So you're a man who has everything and nothing.”

‘Everything and nothing,’ Wanda thinks, ‘I guess I never thought of Stark that way. Where it counts Stark was truly poorer than me.’ She felt some of her vindictiveness rise up, but soundly forced it back. She’d held on to those feelings for so long they didn’t want to fade easily. Now it was a stain that left a bitter taste in her mouth.

Tony gave a half smile that was entirely fake as he could feel the dark day tugging harsher at the back of his mind at that statement.

Thanks for that Yinsen. Why do you think I drown myself in booze and sex?

Steve was shocked by this thought. ‘I always saw Stark as one of those rich selfish decadent men who indulged themselves to the excess because they could… not because he was unhappy.’

Tony tried to shift his thoughts back to which layers of metal would be the best choice for the shell of the suit and away from the dark thoughts that he couldn’t afford here. For Yinsen’s and his family's sake.


 

Tony was stopped from going deeper down that depressing train of thought by Abu’s eyes poking through the metal hatch.

He shouted at Tony in Arabic whilst walking in and gesturing wildly with his hands when he translated into broken English. “WHEN? When finish?”

Everybody's hackles raised at his frantic questioning.

“He’s not even close to being done yet is he? They can’t expect him to be done already!” Cried Scott.

Tony's body language subconsciously wound tighter with Abu’s shouting and his voice came out cold and clipped. “Finished, ready.”

Steve felt momentarily horrified at the thought that Tony had actually built the weapon or had finished plans to.

“What?” Rhodey squeaked, “no he can't-” he cut himself off when Yinsen directed Abu to the washing machine where a neat pile of washed clothes and linen lay.

Steve allowed himself to relax, but in the back of his mind he was still worried that Tony would be convinced to build it.

Abu started ranted about colours and whites being mixed.

“I washed the whites and the colors seperately, I just folded them,” Tony bit out a retort about how he did fine considering how he'd been injured before and it being his first time washing.

Although a few of them laughed at this fact, the others were more worried because of how the last interaction with Abu went, it seemed beyond stupid to answer back like that.

Abu tucked the washing under his arm before looking over at Tony and Yinsen’s game. Moving a few of Yinsen’s pieces, Abu smiled at Tony as the genius chips in with a rather forced nonchalance. “That's what I would've done.”

“Mr Tony,” a proud smile spread itself across Abu's face. “Abu champion, Abusieda.”

Yinsen quickly translates that meant that Abu was the champion of Backgammon in his big town.

Tony’s expression remained cold almost disinterested as he glanced over at Abu before looking back at his game.

“Guess where he got that look from.” Clint murmured snidely whilst glancing at Steve and Bucky. “Your old war buddy certainly wasn't as great as you thought.”

Bucky grimaced whilst Steve shot Clint a sharp glare at the implication. Watching Howard's less than stellar parenting had been difficult for him and he didn't like being reminded of it.

“I sorry Mr Tony.” Tony looked up again at Abu, raising his eyebrows at the unexpected apology. “I not want to hurt."

“What did you mean ‘I not want to hurt’? You dropped an injured man on his chest, you idiot!” Peter snarls.

“Technically, It wasn’t actually him, he was just giving the orders.” Several glares in her direction told Wanda how unappreciated her comment was.

Abu trailed off before pointedly turning to Yinsen and speaking in fluent Dari.

Yinsen’s expression became pinched almost like he had sucked a lemon however his voice is one of a cold calm. “He says that Raza wanted the missile, that he ordered progress. He needed to make sure it is done. Raza kills and tortures those who disobey. Then he asks if you understand this.”

Tony pursed his lips and nodded, still unhappy with the man but he could imagine the situation Abu was in.

‘Under extreme duress people do horrible things to survive.’

Wanda’s eyes brightened a little. ‘Maybe Stark does understand my reaction to him after all. I was a refugee who had lost my entire family…’

“Don't tell me Stark is now sympathizing with his captors! He chose to be a terrorist!-" Winter spat savagely.

“Only to keep himself and maybe his family safe!” Wanda retorts as she rounded on Winter. “Those Americans shouldn't have got involved in their countries affairs!”

“You can't exactly say that was your reason, can you?” Bruce snarled. Wanda whipped around to face the Doctor, her eyes glared an unnatural shade of rageful red.“And I'm sorry what were you doing in Lagos a few years ago? Fine when it's not your country isn't it?”

Wanda blinked appearing hurt as she gaped like a fish out of water before storming away from him when it became obvious that she couldn't think of anything to say in her defence.

Rhodey snorted and murmured under his breath to Peter. “The Hypocrisy is strong in this one, young padawan.”

Peter’s previously worried frown snapped into a face splitting grin. He had to smother a laugh on the back of his hand at the obvious Star Wars reference.

Although the witch had done nothing to him personally, Peter couldn't help but dislike how she talked and acted around Mr Stark. To Peter she seemed like a bully which confused him as to why the Captain liked her so much and not Mr Stark. ‘ Isn't Captain America supposed to hate bullies?’

“You well? You work?” Abu peers at Tony's chest at this question which makes Tony slightly uncomfortable, he does up his jacket a bit more.

“Getting better, working on plans and some wiring but I’m not up to metalwork yet. Soon.” Tony tried to offer a fake small smile but it fell quickly.

“Good.” Seemingly pleased, Abu pat Tony on the shoulder, before gazing at him with concern when Tony failed to hide a flinch. “Too skinny. More food I bring.”  

Abu left and a few minutes later brought in another washing basket using the movement of dumping it on Tony to slip him a pocket full of crackers along with the promise to play against him sometime in Backgammon.

Tony narrowed his eye’s as Abu left the cell. ‘It... might be possible that Abu is genuine and just doing what he has to to survive...’

“What the fuck?” Clint was stunned. “Tony, he knew exactly what he was doing to you! He knew what the Ten Rings do to people and he VOLUNTEERED to join them! Does that sound like a good person?”

Natasha gave Clint a intense pointed glare. “What?” Confused Clint tensed defensively to which Natasha flicked her gaze to Wanda.

She rolled her eyes when it becomes obvious that Clint couldn't see the irony or the hypocrisy in his own words.

‘But there’s a far more likely scenario here.’

He knew he could use this to his advantage. Play the game they’d set up, get the extra food and whatever else he could weasel out of them and garner some trust and leeway. It was the smart option.

It also made his skin crawl.

The thought of pretending to work with them, to befriend one of them, was disgusting. They were murderers and torturers. ‘He could have been the one to hold me down while Yinsen ripped open my chest! Or hold me underwater and burn my back!’

‘I've just got to wait and pretend to play into it for now, wait for Abu to be more obvious or to slip up… and he will.’


 

Abu came back the next night whilst Tony worked on pulling all the Sorbothane out of yet another unloaded gun’s recoil pad and played a game with Yinsen.

The terrorist seemed impressed that Tony was succeeding doing these tasks at once and Tony tried to not let his revulsion at this show on his face.

Tony placed the striped gun on the side and faked a friendly smile so convincing that a few of them had to concentrate on the doubtful fear and distrust that they were actually feeling from Tony to believe that it was in fact all a farce.

Warily, Tony cast a glance at the camera's as Abu took a seat beside him.

“No worry Mr Tony. Watcher’s sleep. Quiet. Guards,” he pointed to outside of the door, “no hear. I play?”

Abu directed Tony to move the pieces accordingly in stuttering clumsy English and Yinsen found himself surprisingly losing with in few minutes.  

Smiling, Tony leant back and rubbed his chest as he analysed the board. “Well looks like I win, Doc. Give up.” Abu frowned at him.

“We win.”

“Of course.” Tony kept the sickening smile, Abu returned the gesture as he clapped Tony on the shoulder.

“You make progress Mr Tony.” He whispered whilst he pointed to the wiring and metallic aspects around the room. “I bring reward.”

‘Wow that was obvious. Are you trying to be subtle?’  

With that Abu reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of assorted foods wrapped in a napkin which he handed to Tony under the table. “You hide this.”

“I will.” Abu nodded at Tony's answer and let out a wide grin that Tony saw reach his eyes this time.

‘Ooh you are slipping aren't You? Now time for the ultimate test.

“Ultimate test?” Steve questioned the group, he bit his lip anxiously. “Don't play games with him Tony.”

“But he is playing.” Bucky answered with a smirk dancing at his lips and his eyes gleaming with hidden knowledge. “And he is winning. I have a feeling Abu’s plan is going to come undone pretty soon.” ‘I just hope not too soon.’ Winter commented doubtfully in the back of his head. ‘If Stark plays into this he could use it to hasten his recovery by taking advantage of the extra food, but it didn’t sound like he was planning too.’

“Tell me a bit more about yourself.” Tony molded his face into one of polite interest.

Tony waited a moment, Abu appeared to tense nervously so Tony attempted to ease this with a gesture that Abu often did to him; he clapped the terrorist’s shoulder. “Hey, no need to be so nervous I just wanted to know more about my frien-”

Tony made a mock face of mortification and paused a moment before correcting himself so that Abu could decipher his ‘mistake’. Only resuming what he was saying when he detected the poorly concealed triumph in Abu’s eyes and he made his voice sound tighter.

Natasha cocked her head as she admired Tony’s smooth manipulation.

“-you. I wanted to know more about you. Just tell me something like I don't know…  you seem like a pretty decent guy. Why did you join the Ten Rings?”

The best way to suss someone like this out is to turn their own points against them. To pick out things like inconsistencies and logic flaws…” Natasha breathed as she directed a smile at Tony. “You're full of hidden talents aren't you, Stark?”

Abu frowned at him for a long moment before exchanging meaningful glances with Yinsen.

“Family, protect.” Unnoticed by Tony, Yinsen’s eyes flit to the floor. “Core values not all bad. Stupid to object-”

Yinsen’s gaze sharpened as he glared at Abu for a moment before he directed his eyes back to the board.

“Which core values?” Puzzled, Tony leant forward looking intrigued. “Tell me which you think aren't bad.”

A smirk twitched at Yinsen’s lips as he saw what Tony was doing.

“Oh he's got you now.” Rhodey laughed.

Abu paused but his eyes become slightly panicked. “Come on Abu,” Tony urged him. “You could have a convert here. Just tell me which aren't bad.”

Hurriedly Abu spoke Dari to Yinsen as Tony turned his head to the Doctor.

“He says that values are only told to members and that to pick a few above the rest would be bad because he could get killed if the watchers understand.” Yinsen translated, Tony could see that the Doctor was trying to carefully reign himself in from showing his joy at catching Abu out.

“That's a pretty weak argument, for one he said the watchers were asleep earlier.” Sam pointed out, “Wow he's thick…”

“I'm willing to bet he wasn't even the one who came up this plan.” Scott rolled his eyes. “That Raza guy seems like the only one with brains…”

“You said they were asleep earlier.” Tony pointed out in a droll voice, he watched Abu lazily as the terrorist gaped like a fish out of water.

Steve got the distinct impression that Tony at that moment was a lot like the cat he would often see outside his old house in the 1940s who he would catch playing with mice before they met their inevitable demise. It made Steve uneasy. ‘ Tony is more manipulative than I gave him credit for… it's one of the reasons I was initially reserved about trusting Natasha. I didn't trust Tony anyway though… that could have been one of things that made him seem off to me… Howard was more genuine.’

Abu rose to his feet. “They could wake.”

Tony smoothly steps up too in response. “Of course they could.” He purred, “but that is not the real reason why you can't tell me is it? You're stalling.”

Sneering, Tony's lip curls up. “Why? To think of a satisfactory answer rather than so called secrecy, probably because they would have enticed you in with something-"

“Protect family-" Abu spat, a vein throbbing in his forehead.

“It is unwise to keep pushing this fiend, friend Anthony. He has shifted into an attack stance.” Anxiety pools in the Gods gut and Thor's grip goes white around Mjolnir.

“Sounding like a broken record there, aren't we?” Tony daringly stepped forward into Abu's personal space. “No. You didn't do it to protect your family. Do you even have a family? You haven't mentioned anything about them, not even names.”

Clint twitched a little at this, he hadn’t mentioned his family much either before civil war but that didn’t mean they weren’t important to him. He was keeping them secret to protect them because he cared. ‘You don’t know what you have till it’s gone,’ a mocking voice sounding like Barney sang in his head. ‘I haven't lost them. I will fix things with the kids and I will try to get at least a friendship back with Laura when I get out.’ He grit his teeth and continued to listen to Tony taunting Abu.

“Nice terrorists don't exist…”

Wanda flinched a little at that before comforting herself. ‘I’m not Hydra anymore. I’m good now. I’m an Avenger.’

“At least not for long. You seem experienced. So much so that they trust you to be around the captives and not set them free… You’re their spokesman, so you must be fairly high up. Oh no, you have been around a long time. What's worse is that when I asked you, you didn't offer any ‘good reason’ to entice me into joining your crazy cult.”

“Tony, don’t call the Ten Rings a ‘crazy cult!’ He has a gun. Stop!” Bruce pleaded to his friend even though he knew that he couldn’t hear him.

“So either you know what you are doing is bad or you can't think of a reason why any good person would join. Honestly I’d put my money on both-”

Abu snapped.

The terrorist whipped the gun from his holster, aiming it at Tony's head. The Doctor immediately jumped up to his feet to intervene, Abu turned around to aim at him instead.

They all felt a flash of fear, thinking for a moment that this could be where Yinsen dies…

However, Tony quickly moved in front of the gun and with a single swift movement his hands clapped around the terrorist’s wrist and gun, twisting the pistol from Abu’s grip. Tony used the movement to try and grab the gun but he lacked his usual coordination and the gun went spinning across the floor.

Bucky was shocked at seeing the quick defence, it wasn't something he had ever expected from Stark despite the fact that it probably should have been. ‘Stark did show some talent when he kept up with me two years ago. He was untrained and unenhanced that's pretty impressive.’ Winter commented . ‘He has potential to be a good student like Natalia was.’

Natasha’s eyes widen, impressed with the move. But he’d also dropped the gun and was in dangerous territory. To make matters worse she knew that his body wasn’t going to be able to keep up. She worried that no matter the outcome here, Tony would be worse off.

“Wow! That’s pretty advanced defense…” Clint smiled. “Go Tony!”

Abu shouted in pain and anger, his trigger finger broken and bleeding from a gash where the edge of his gun had caught it.

Rhodey would have let out a cackle however he knew that even with a broken finger Abu was dangerous, perhaps more so now...

Tony didn’t have the speed to react, his chest and shoulders protesting his quick action, when Abu’s other arm launched at Tony and pushed him up against the cave wall. He threw his hands out in a fall break, grazing his palms against the rock wall and groaned as his healing back impacted the rough surface. He kept his head safely ducked until the terrorist’s forearm was shoved against his throat and his head was pressed against the wall.

“He really does know some self defence,” Sam murmured. “Most people don’t think to brace themselves or duck their head to stop it hitting the wall.”

“More than some,” Rhodey said a little proudly. Tony had already had knowledge in self defense but Rhodey had gladly taught him some of the manuvers he had learned from the military. ‘I wish he hadn't had to use them but I'm glad they helped him here.’

Tony choked for a moment, forcefully calming himself as he struggled for air, he lifted his right arm up, twisting and bringing his elbow down to break the hold. He’d got Abu’s arm off his throat when the man stepped back and punched him in the solar plexus.

“Oww. Bastard! Get your grubby hands off.” Rhodey growled.

He doubled over with a whine, the impact traveling through his chest and spat bile at Abu’s feet.

Abu growled menacingly in Dari and lifted Tony by the neck again, this time wrapping his fingers around his throat.

Thor noted with horror that it was similar to how he had lifted Tony upon discovering Ultron.

Tony was dazed but pleased to note that Abu was keeping his other hand close to his chest, blood dripping down his hand from his broken finger.

“That looks like it hurts,” Tony hissed hoarsely, a grin twitching around his lips before the fingers around his throat tightened. He mentally ran through the ways he knew to get out of the hold and which soft target's he could attack, but his chest ached worse with every movement, his throat was screaming at him, his back throbbed slightly and he couldn’t bring himself to so much as kick at Abu’s knees.

Yinsen shot Tony a worried, silencing look but dared not intervene when Abu glared viciously at him, 5 fat fingers still wrapped around Tony’s throat.

Abu started yelling viciously in Dari, spittle flying onto Tony’s face and the genius found it hard to maintain the lie of being oblivious when he was keenly aware of all the threats that Abu was snarling at him.

(If you are triggered by threats of non con I’d advise you to skip this bit up to the ***)

:You think you are so great, Tony Stark. But we are the Ten Rings. You are only alive because we allow it. Remember that!:

Peter felt the colour drain from his face. ‘Mr Stark gets out. He's ok. He gets out.’

‘We can't exactly forget it.” Sam murmurs darkly as his hands clenched.

:The minute you stop being useful we will remove your hands and your famous silver tongue and nail them to the wall.:

Rhodey made a horrified high pitched noise in the back of his throat.

:You think you know pain? There is much more humiliating and degrading ways we can deal it to you other than fire and water.:

Natasha’s jaw jumped although her face appeared blank her eyes blazed with an angry green fire at the implication behind Abu's words.

:Ever been whipped? Chained, caged and used like the dog you are?:

“Just you dare, you despicable fiend! You are a lesser mortal than friend Anthony!" Thor growled as a menacing tremor of murderous thunder crept into his voice.

Peter 's eyes darted between Abu and Tony. The darker part of his mind suspected what Abu was threatening his mentor with but the other part didn't want to open his mouth to confirm it.

In the end, a stunned Scott was the one who asks, “Is he-is he really threatening him with rape?”

Scott felt scrutinised when everyone's intense gazes flicked to him, it almost felt like he had broken an unspoken rule.

The faces around him looked as terrified as he felt.

“Yes.” Rhodey's voice sounded like it was scraped with sandpaper, he looked furious and his fists were clenched so tight his knuckles were white.

“What?!”  Steve's voice went unnaturally high, “Why would he even-? How? Tony's a man.”

“Well,” Clint appears grey, he talks through a tremor in his voice. “It obviously works the same way as it would to with a woman… just the butt way.”

“Oh my god. No.” Steve digs his pale face into his hands.

Bucky just stares, his eyes are as round as dish plates, he feels Winter stalk menacingly to the forefront of his mind. “Natalia, if this Asshole is still alive how do you feel about tracking him down with me and cutting off his dick?”

Natasha gave a frigid smile. “It would be my pleasure Soldat.”

:All those things can and will happen to you if you dare make presumptions or impede production.:

Visions gem shone a vibrant, vicious gold and his face became as cold and unforgiving as marble. The android didn't do explosive rage, his form of anger was more controlled and cold but still carried the same amount of danger. Perhaps more so because every action of his would be calculated and precise. ‘I destroyed Ultron with the force of this gem… just imagine what it would do to a person.’ Normally such thoughts would horrify him but this man was threatening to hurt his grandfather in one of the worst ways possible…

Vision believed himself to be justified to be on the side of death rather than life in this case. He was only glad that Mr Stark and JARVIS’ actions led to this terrorists’ demise later.

However Wanda who was next to him openly gaped. ‘Even Hydras prisoners were not treated to such a fate… no the ones I came into contact with just had their minds ripped apart…’

: I came here to check you are making progress not to make a friend.:

*** Tony didn’t have to continue to pretend to be oblivious because soon after Abu has stopped talking Yinsen translated in a harsh voice the brief minimum of what Abu says.

“You are only alive because we, the Ten Rings, allow it. If you stop being useful we can remove your hands and tongue and nail them to the wall. You see that we have far more humiliating ways of dealing pain to you than what you have been through before. That can happen if you ever impede production  or make presumptions about me again. I came here to check your progress not to make friends.”

Working to keep the reaction to both those sets of words from his face was hard, Tony felt a surge of fondness towards Yinsen for trying to spare him the harsh details of Abu's extra threats, however pointless it was.

Tony knew what they could and would do to him. Terrorist groups weren't kind to their captives and nothing was off limits. The Ten Rings were no different.

“I know.” Tony's voice sounded choked and hoarse, he was in agony and Abu’s threats implied that it only could get worse.

Abu’s hand released him and Tony gasped, slumping against the wall he tried to steady himself against it as his legs faltered. The terrorist sneered at him as he slid to the floor and coughed as he rubbed his sore throat.

Peter startled forward in an aborted attempt to support him before remembering once again that he couldn’t do anything. He looked to the others and saw that they too had unconciously gathered around his mentor in an untidy protective formation. ‘It was hard to imagine that merely days ago the majority of the reformed Avengers didn’t like Mr Stark. But now they appear genuinely angry for him, huh maybe this experience is changing them.’

Tony stayed slumped there as he watched Yinsen reluctantly splint and bandage the broken finger Abu had jammed into his face after picking his gun back up. He focused on steadying his breathing and the feel of his heart as the pacemaker artificially soothed it back into a normal rhythm.

Abu threw them both a dark glare on his way out and snarled, “No rations,” as he picked up the bag of bland rice.

‘Fuck. There goes our food.’


 

Yinsen watched Stark leverage himself up off the floor, clearly ignoring his body's aches and pains as he walked back to his work station. The gun he’d been pulling apart was lying half stripped on the desk, he continued stripping it with what Yinsen was sure was more force than necessary, thoroughly dismantling the gun and setting aside any usable components as he extracted the Sorbothane.

“Stark-” Yinsen began to inquire before Tony bitingly cut him off with an order to let him work.

“Ouch.” Steve murmured, there was no need for Tony to snap at the Doctor like that, he was only trying to help.

He threw away the useless pieces of the gun in frustration. Obviously craving something more physical, he grabbed some metal rods and started heating up the forge.

Bruce turned from Tony to watch as Yinsen sighed and reluctantly left Tony alone, he looked over his shoulder, ready to intervene if Tony got too carried away.

Bruce knew from the many times where he and Tony had worked together, that was easily done.

Most of them turned away from Tony’s tense form to watch as Yinsen knelt down, screwing off the cap of a missile propped against a crate; revealing that the mechanical innards had been stripped and was instead almost half filled with food.

Although it was only one kind. Rice.

Bruce grimaced. Rice was a staple in many countries much it didn’t offer the full nutritional needs of a balanced diet. Having eaten a lot of rice himself over the years he’d had also come to resent the bland taste of plain white rice.

Often he, like Tony, had popadoms instead of rice at every opportunity. Tony however refused to eat anything even containing rice, claiming it was the devil’s food and seemed to loathe the simple grain. Bruce understood his reasoning now, whereas he’d previously assumed it was just another of Tony’s eccentricities.

“How do you feel about Rice?” Yinsen joked.

“I'm giving this place a 1 star review on Yelp. The menu variety is extremely poor.”

“Well at least his sense of Humour is still there.” Peter quipped, determined to try and see the positive of the scene. Personally, Peter thought that place deserved no stars on Yelp. ‘Torture with sides of crappy dieting and disgusting threats. It doesn't even deserve one Star. Can you give minus Stars on Yelp? This place deserves minus a million.’

Although, he was pleased to hear Starks snarky response, nothing could hide the fact that Stark's eyes were darker than usual as he looked back at Yinsen.

‘If he's trying to hide his turmoil he's doing a poor job at it.’

Yinsen kept focused on the task at hand dug out two handfuls of rice and placed it in the pan. In the background he could hear as Tony heated the thin rod and started banging it into the shape he wanted.

Peter watched excitedly as Tony twisted and hammered the end of a rod over an anvil. His movements were jerky with frustration, but still showed that he knew exactly what he was doing.

Yinsen was suddenly startled when he heard one particularly loud hammer blow, one that bent and almost ruined the rod he was working on.

Although surprisingly Stark remained silent, his eyes bore holes into the rod and his face creased into an almost animalistic angry snarl.

The hammering became more incessant before he let out wordless yell, Tony threw one of the bent, heated rods across the room.

Wanda yelped and shivered as the rod went right through her. ‘I always knew Stark had an explosive anger to him like the beast but I wouldn't want to be on the end of that.’

Yinsen saw that his brown eyes appeared to have an angry red hue with how the light from the fire reflected off of them. He’d known that it was only a matter of time before Stark snapped.

Angry Tony is obviously centre stage again…” Clint murmured.

Steve couldn't help but openly stare with Clint, the artist in him wanted to capture that image. The crimson and the yellows of the fire had highlighted the high points of Tony's face and accentuated the shadows which made him look almost demonic - no that wasn't the right word. ‘He appears like an Avenging angel.’

He doesn't know why but that thought made him as terrified as he had felt in Siberia when Tony had attacked him after seeing that video.

Tony bent over the anvil, twisting his shoulders in a way that told Yinsen they were aching and rubbed his chest around the reactor.

“Stark you need to rest-"

Tony looked up and gave the Doctor such a fierce glare that even Thor stepped back. “I'll rest when I'm dead.”

“Ok is anyone else quickly getting why Mask calls Angry ‘goth girl’? I think that's the most Emo thing I've heard come out of Stark's mouth.” Sam commented.

Peter sighed, “technically emo and goth are two different things but similar, so yeah.” Quickly spotting Thor’s, Steve’s and Bucky’s looks of confusion, Peter tries to elaborate. “A friend of mine went through a phase,” the looks still remained, “Ok this is a discussion that really needs to happen at another time.”

“You’re still obviously in pain-”

“Of course I’m in pain! I’m always in pain now, so what kind of fucking question is that?”

They all reared back at the yell, struck by how honest and emotional the answer was.

Thor looked down somberly, clearly his Shield Brother had, had a harder life than he had anticipated before the Being had put him through this experience. Thor had always thought Tony had an easy life like himself before his fall to Midgard, despite the fact that he had always seen the Man of Iron as sharing many similarities to Loki.

Steve frowned in sympathy and understanding but turned a little red at the language. “There were days before the serum that I felt like turning on everyone because of how much pain I was in too. But Ma would shove soap in my mouth If I swore like that.”

“-really?” Bucky asked with wide eyes.

Steve paused for a moment, appearing sad. “Yeah, don't you remember? Even for words like ‘shit’ or ‘damn’ she would do that...It'll come back to you Buck. Don't worry.”

“Hope so.” Bucky gave a false smile in response and bit his lip. “The mental image of you with bubbles coming from your mouth and nose is hilarious.”

Steve playfully shoved him in response, it was only when he turned away that Bucky let his smile fall. ‘I wish I could remember that but Stark said there's no guarantee I'll ever fully remember it all even with his machine.’

Yinsen shot his own withering glare at Tony. “You just got into a fight with a man who is currently twice your bodyweight. On top of the fact that, yes, you are still in pain, you are in more pain because of that and should rest. Preferably before you ruin any more rods or harm yourself more.”

Tony glanced to where the cooling metal lay on the floor and ran a hand tiredly down his face. “Fine, I’ll just put this in a bucket.”

Sighing in relief, Yinsen turned back to the food cooking on the fire. He started serving it into the bowls as Tony sat down next to him.

Despite adding a little of water to each bowl, the two portions still looked pathetic and unappetizing. The rice was gluggy and clumped together in the now murky water and it was more water than rice. It looked like a watery and lumpy white soup.

Wanda stared at it with an intense expression, she had often had to survive on unappetizing meals like that given out by relief aid workers after the bombings. There had even been times were she and Pietro had gone hungry, leading him to pick up the habit of stealing. ‘A habit which I always feared would get him shot.’

Tony glanced down at the pitiful meal, “The IntelliCrop gives better food than this.”

Yinsen gave Stark a curious look. “IntelliCrop? You'll have to forgive me Stark they don't keep us well informed of the outside world in here.”

Tony stared at Yinsen with wide eyes. “I unveiled that design several months ago. It didn't get as much publicity as the weapons do… which was a shame, I was proud of it. We’ve been working on the concept for years and funded a large plantation for UN relief workers back in the 90’s. We’ve had other fast growing plants but this one was able to grow just about anywhere.”

‘Oh god, those relief aid workers used Stark's tech not just to help us from that rubble but to feed us!’ Wanda felt sick. Sokovia had been hit with several food shortages which were always quickly resolved with something Pietro had shrugged off as ‘bio food.’ She hadn't cared where it had come from at the time but it had kept her and millions of others alive.  ‘We were out to destroy the person we owed our continued survival to...Oh god no!’

Horrified, Wanda stepped quickly backward, keeping her wide eyes on Stark. ‘What have I done? What did we do?’  

Vision drifted to the back to enquire what was wrong but she couldn't speak, she merely shook her head.

The Android remained by her as a sole comforting presence, Clint and Steve looked back at her but she wordlessly assured them that she was alright.

She lied. They didn't need to know the magnitude of her mistakes.

Steve grimaced as he looked back at the sad excuse for a meal. “We didn’t have much growing up, but Ma always found a way to at least make it taste alright. This looks awful.”

“Hydra gave me better food than this.” Grunted Bucky.

Bruce shifted awkwardly at the small amount of secreted food and the way Tony and Yinsen both looked to the door as though expecting someone to come and take it away. It reminded him of his childhood where loss of food had been a frequent punishment.

It had obviously been the same for Clint, the archer was reacting in a similar way to him.

“I think I’ve had some of your bio food before.” Yinsen smiled.

“Oh really?” Tony gulped down the rest of his watery rice quickly without looking at it. “What did you think?”

“It was good. It kept me and my family alive and well and it tasted better than anything we had in months.” Yinsen said as he collected Tony's bowl, once he turned around he said, “we didn't know who to thank for it so we included whomever made it in our prayers from then onwards-"

“- Oh well you didn't have to.” Tony replied self deprecatingly. “Really I don’t deserve that.”

“You fed my family Stark, I say you do.”

Wanda nodded a little at this, she swallowed heavily but Vision’s comforting presence gave her the strength to lift her head and remove her gaze from the floor.

However speech still eluded her.

Tony shook his head vehemently. “I just lost you your food! Because I was an idiot and couldn’t just play nice with Abu.”

“You can't seriously be blaming yourself for that?” Peter cuts in incredulously. “You reacted like any normal person would in that situation, Mr Stark.”

“We have just eaten. And no one would blame you for not ‘playing nice’ with a terrorist. Although there were smarter ways of handling the situation you reacted as a human. I don't blame you for that.”

This is why you don't piss off terrorists. That was a doozy, man. But no, I don't blame you either.” Sam reprimanded softly, forgetting for a moment that Tony couldn't see him.

Stark is silent for a long moment. “A part of me wanted to believe he was good now… purely so we would have another friendly face. But I knew he was one of them. I had suspicions they were trying to make me fall for Stockholm syndrome. The pure audacity of that after everything… how fucking dare they?”

“These people have no morals.” Yinsen delivered the answer with a cold sharpness rarely ever heard from the Doctor. “But I don’t believe their plan would have worked on you. A weaker man would have given into that temptation, that need to have another friend here. It's a credit to you that you kept your wits even in these dire circumstances. Whether you believe it or not, you’re a very strong man Stark.”

Tony gave Yinsen a weird look as they all felt a little dizzy when their perspective suddenly changed and the now familiar ghost pain emanating from Tony's chest returned.

“Just then you really, really reminded me of JARVIS.”

“Who’s Jarvis?” Tony visibly froze up at the question.

Despite everything, Tony eventually managed a shaky grin.

“He's an advanced AI. Do you remember Dum-E from the news?” Yinsen nodded and Tony was impressed the Doctor remembered that from so long ago. “Just think think of him as a slightly more advanced version. I have two others as well.” Tony looked up at Yinsen to try to analyse how he would process that information but Tony saw no fear; only interest on the Doctor's face.

“Oh?”

“U and Butterfingers. They aren't real, not in the traditional sense, not like your family but they are mine.” Tony paused and smiled at Yinsen.

Vision smiled brightly at that. ‘ You are mine too.’

That's kind of sad if you think about It-" Wanda spoke up somberly. “He had no real family so he made himself an imitation of one. Made of things that were tied to him-"

“I assure you, Wanda. He made himself a real family, they are with him of their own free will and are as happy with him as he is with them. There's nothing sad about it.” Vision’s voice was unusually stern when addressing her which made her wisely not retort.

“I will reunite you with yours. I promise. If you want I can take you and your whole family back to America with me. Anything you want, anything you need. You come to me and you would never have to struggle again.”

“That's what Friend Anthony did for all of us.” Thor beamed.

Cringing, Clint’s gaze flits to the floor, guilt twisted uncomfortably in his stomach. ‘That's what he did for me, in particular. And how did I repay him for it?’

Yinsen had a weird expression on his face, filled with a mix of different emotions that Tony couldn't identify all at once.

“No pressure,” they feel a deep flash of fear coming from Tony that he had come on too strong. “You don't have to answer right away. By all means ask Mrs. Yinsen first when I drop you back-”

“No, no Stark I'm flattered. It's just - You do have a family.” Yinsen murmured. “Real or not in the traditional sense, they are real to you and that is what matters.”

“Very true.” Rhodey exchanged a meaningful glance with Vision, who gave a sorrowful smile in response.  “Many people undervalue how much the bots mean to Tony. They really shouldn't.”

Chapter Text

The scene swirled around them and the team found themselves back in the Mindscape.

Wanda rubbed her arm uncomfortably, thinking about Stark’s creations. “I have never seen Stark’s bots outside these memories. What exactly is Stark’s relationship with them? The way you are talking makes it sound like… almost as if he is a father. But he said earlier that he does not want to be one, so I am unsure.”

“It is a unique bond, that is certain.” Vision spoke up in a thoughtful tone, he graced her with a smile for her new respect for his family. “However the closest and the most intimate way that I can replicate it is that of a paternal one.”

Wanda mentally blanched but tried to remain as calm as possible on the outside.

“Yeah, it took me a while to figure out how much JARVIS and those bots meant to him - too late really - but they mean the world to him, he’s just afraid to show it. You can imagine why with Howard as his father.” Rhodey answered with a bitter tinge.

Cringing, Clint averted his eyes. He knew exactly how that felt with the horrid Harold Barton as his father when Laura had first told him she was pregnant he had been terrified. ‘That could have been why I often took long missions away from them and why I left all the disciplinary actions to Laura. She’s told me off in the past for acting more like a friend than a father.’

“To make you…” Scott's eyes were wide with horror as they look to Vision, “Stark's kid had to be destroyed...”

Bruce's eyes flicked to Scott. ‘No, no it can't be. The Avengers murdered Tony's kid, I never saw it like that before but that was because I was sure part of JARVIS was still alive in Vision.’ Bruce’s eyes turned to a rather grey looking Wanda. ‘The witch had played a major role in killing Tony's kid. Disgusting. I'm just glad that Tony has other A.I. children to comfort him after… wait.’

“If there's one thing that we can get from this it’s that Tony’s A.I’s are essentially his children. He has a lot of them. Dum-E, FRIDAY, JARVIS, KAREN, PHOENIX… Wait PHOENIX...” Bruce paused, thinking of the A.I. that now ran the Compound. “Who do we know that is patient, calm under pressure and recently gave Tony a phoenix pendant?”

“The new voice within the walls, PHOENIX is based off of friend Yinsen?” Thor questioned.

Steve smiled, “Yes. That certainly seems to be the case. I think that even after everything we might still be important to Tony. I mean entrusting us with an embodiment of the Doctor could be Tony's way of apologising to us.”

Rhodey sneered. “Nope. FRIDAY just refused point blank to work with you - she said something about not trusting herself not to hurt you, I don’t blame her - but she demanded Tony not be left alone with you either. PHOENIX volunteered, in fact he was the only volunteer.”

“Tony can defend himself, we just saw that. It's not like he needs protection from us-" Natasha objected. ‘He didn’t. He didn’t.

Bruce raised an eyebrow at her whilst Rhodey let out a incredulous swear.

“Tony may have self-defense knowledge, but he’s human. A normal human and most of us aren’t. We all have skills, powers or training above his. Outside the suit Tony was a normal man. No - no, sorry, he was a chronically ill man with a heart condition, reduced lung capacity and sternum and rib implants! One well placed super strong blow to his chest could have been fatal.” Bruce explained, out of the corner of his eye he sees the Captain shaking his head avidly.

“It can’t have been that bad.” Steve had an expression on his face like he was talking to a particularly stupid child and Bruce feels his teeth grit at the condescension. “Besides he has Extremis now-”

“Now yes, two years ago; no.” Bruce snapped with disgust on his face. “And he definitely needed someone to intervene when a literal god lifted him up by the throat!”

Thor jerked backwards, wincing.

“Why didn't you then, Doctor?” Natasha spoke up, “You are the one of the group that is the closest to his strength. For all my training I couldn't match a God.-"

“Shouldn't you be asking that question to our glorious ex leader over there?” Bruce growled as he gestured to Steve. “And in answer, I was worried that if I did anything, I would Hulk out and make everything worse!”

“That still doesn't answer why Tony would feel threatened around us now.” Steve said in a calm manner. “That was an extreme situation, if Tony behaved and caused less problems it wouldn't cause us to react in such a bad way.”

“I thought my opinion of you could go no lower Captain,” Vision replied calmly, a subtle look of repulsion on his face.

Peter had found that his mouth had gone completely dry, one of his ex - now definitely ex - idols had just tried to rationalise their abuse of his father figure by blaming him for it… ‘Holy shit…’

“Was anyone else impressed with those kick ass moves as I was? Where did he learn them anyway?” Peter asked with a forced jovial light tone into his voice before the argument could escalate further, hoping to alleviate the tension of his teammates somewhat. However the tension was still palatable but Rhodey broke his eye contact with the Captain to look at him.

“Well some moves I taught him after I completed basic training. We still spar occasionally, not so much after Afghanistan but we’ve picked up again the last couple of years. Before the coma Happy boxed with him. In his childhood, from what we have seen, I think he was taught by Ana, Jarvis and Peggy as well.”

“Well at least it came in handy there… Jesus some of those threats Abu was spewing though.” Sam shook his head, he was still several shades lighter than normal. “Do you remember what the press was rumouring about that he was hurt like that over there when he got back?”

Peter let out a high pitched noise and Rhodey’s head snapped to Sam. “How'd you still remember that? It was ten years ago... And Tony filed for defamation so the press haven’t been able to mention it since.”

Sam shrugged, “I didn’t really till that low-life threatened him. It was pretty shocking at the time but I never believed it. Stark is too much of a proud bastard to allow that to happen to him-"

“Rape isn't something people allow to happen to them-" Rhodey snapped.

“He was one man against dozens and injured, there wasn’t much he would’ve been able to do. He wasn’t even able to fight off Abu properly.” Winter growled, “Do you think I allowed myself to be mind wiped and controlled by Hydra?”

“No, no. Look it was poor wording but it was just never something I saw Stark as ever having gone through.” Sam held his hands out in a placating manner; Bucky narrowed his eyes at him before letting it drop.

The gravity of the threats levelled against Tony still weighed heavily on their minds, Tony was still in danger of that happening while he was still in the Terrorists clutches.

By Natasha’s math that was roughly two weeks, ‘a lot of things can happen in two weeks. Tony will still be starving and if he shows any open sign of disobedience they might just do that…’

Natasha’s hands clenched into fists and she glanced down at her new widow bites that had recently been upgraded by Tony. ‘How I itch to Avenge him and rescue him from this hell now…’


 

Sparks flew as Tony used an old hand held, circular saw to cut down struts for the hydraulic exoskeleton. The struts were measured against his thigh and shin.

The way he was bent over made the team notice that parts of his spine were visible even through his sleeveless shirt.

Bruce winced, rubbing his hands on his pants nervously, “he’s starting to become emaciated.”

Clint looked away, remembering how his father had often denied him food for the slightest - or even perceived - wrongs.

The hydraulics system was one of the most difficult parts of the suit. While easy enough to make he had to ensure the cylinders and struts were capable of carrying the weight of the suit and completing  any necessary tasks without compromising his movement too much.

The suit wasn’t going to be agile by any means but he needed to be able to walk.

“This really isn’t going to be anything like his current suits is it? He’s usually pretty maneuverable, this looks clunky.” Scott commented as he eyed the rudimentary parts he could see scattered around.

“Can you grab a couple of the double-acting cylinders, doc?” Tony asked as he paused his cutting and flipped up his mask. Yinsen headed to the box filled with the cylinders as Tony shouted back “the ones I marked with red!”

Trying to start up the saw again, he banged it on the table until it restarted. He bent back down to cut an opening into the strut and the cries of the metal and saw drowned out his bitter “piece of junk.”

Rhodey grimaced at the faulty tool, thinking of how dangerous it was to work with tools not operating at full capacity. He eyed the cable that led to a battery that reminded uneasily of the one Tony had been hooked up to.

Yinsen returned with the two cylinders and Tony set him to start attaching their fuel lines as he began filing down the edges of the metal. The back and forward motion of his arms as he put force into the movement tugged at the muscles of his shoulder and upper chest.

The resulting strut was not pretty but he didn’t need it to be and he ignored the tingling in his right shoulder as he swept up the shavings.

Not having a decent drill, let alone proper drill bits, the bolt holes needed to be done the old fashioned way; in the forge. Chiseling and punching a hole took a lot longer than drilling one and a lot more work. Tony’s muscles were tense and sore by the time he’d finished the necessary holes.

Steve still found himself surprised at how hands on Tony was with the building and how he seemed to even enjoy it. He’d always assumed that Tony did most of his work on computers and either had employees or machines do the actual building. He found he rather liked watching Tony work.

He ignored the aches and began helping Yinsen mount the two cylinders onto the struts to form the basic leg supports. “Wrench it tight,” he grunted as he threw his weight onto the last few turns of the wrench on his side of the support, until the bolt refused to budge.

Thor was stunned at being reminded once again of the Man of Iron’s fragility; he would be able to tighten that bolt with his bare hands. ‘I can't believe that I misjudged friend Anthony so badly… when inside the suit of Iron I have seen him best a Chitauri mothership. This increase in strength from his current condition must be some feat of Midgardian magic and craftsmanship worthy of the Dwarfs.’

“Good,” Tony huffed as he wiped sweat off his forehead as he checked over the bolts.

Tony could feel Yinsen’s dark eyes assessing him, checking whether he was in pain.

‘He's worse than Jarvis was with the physical therapy when I was younger… did they take tips off each other or something?’

“He really should stop, he’s pushing himself too far.” Natasha muttered.

Now for the test.

Tony and Yinsen spent several minutes hooking up the cylinder to the radial pump and checking the pressure and flow control valves before Tony ran some last minute checks on the Gesture Control Brace he’d designed earlier.

“Let’s hope we’ve got this right,” Tony said as he strapped the brace tightly around his leg and connected the wires to the strut laying on the table. “This should detect movement in my leg and send signals to actuate the cylinders, increasing or decreasing the flow into each chamber to mimic the movement in my leg. If this doesn’t work-”

‘Please God let it work.’ He really did not have time to go back to the drawing board. With the camera in the cell he would only get this one shot to test out his design for the hydraulics.

“Pressure flow looks a little low,” Yinsen said as he looked at the reading on the computer, “provided I’m interpreting this correctly.”

“You’re doing fine, turn up the flow regulator and make sure the hose is secured.”

Scott and Rhodey both move to Yinsen so they could take a look at the actual readings.

“It is a little Low I guess.” Scott murmured, “but it will work.”

Yinsen bent over the pump as Tony instructed him, turning the regulators dial once to increase the flow of the hydraulic fluid to and from the cylinders.

Looking at the readings again, Yinsen gave a thumbs up, then Tony raised his leg.

The large strut thwacking the table in time with him moving his leg, as well as the tell tale hiss from the pistons of the radial pump on the table, caused a smile to break out across Tony's face.

The team all let out wide grins and other celebratory gestures.

“You did it.” Yinsen gave a small proud grin to Tony who looked across to him.

“No we did.”

After placing his leg back on the floor the team sees Tony quickly removing the brace with ease and storing the struts away before the scene swirls around them.


 

Tony wasn’t surprised when a voice came through the hatch and the metal doors finally creaked open again, he was actually shocked it had taken them this long. He knew his latest equipment test had been in full view of the camera.

He and Yinsen abandoned their work and placed their hands on their heads at the influx of their heavily armed captors, weapons were pointed at them before the men parted to reveal Raza who prowled ahead of them like an alpha lion leading his pack.

“This is not going to go well! Shit. They know he’s not building the missile,” Sam swore as he eyed the amount of armed opposition, afraid of what punishment they might inflict on Tony now for his defiance.

Raza assessed them with a cruel, calculating gaze as he stalked toward them, looking like a predator who had cornered its prey and casually twirling the ring he wore.

“Relax.” He ordered in a calm almost friendly tone.

Tony glanced briefly to Yinsen as he obeyed and they both warily dropped their hands. He tried to look calm as Raza walked towards him.

‘You are not afraid of him.’

Tony didn’t quite restrain his flinch as Raza fingered his shirt, pushing the collar away to better admire the unbandaged Arc.

He could feel his heart thumping madly against the reactor as Raza’s finger’s glossed over the device almost certain the organ was going to jump out of his throat. His breath was caught in his lungs as he struggled not to retreat or strike out - made a little easier since despite the rush of his mind his body seemed locked in place - as the man touched the device keeping him alive. Tony was certain he could feel the touch through the reactor as the terrorist drew his fingers along the casing of the reactor with a desiring glint in his eyes.

A tremor of fear ran through the group as they watched this man touch their friends mechanical heart and the lingering look he gave it as he began to talk set them all on edge.

“The bow and arrow once was the pinnacle of weapons technology.”

“Once!” Clint protested as Raza gave Tony the ghost of a malicious smile that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

Natasha, like a few of the others just inch closer to Tony whilst keeping their eyes on Raza.

Raza finally dropped his hand, walking over to a stripped missile, Tony’s eyes followed him all the way. “It allowed the great Genghis Khan to rule from the Pacific to the Ukraine. An empire twice the size of Alexander the Great and four times the size of the Roman Empire.” He fiddled with a piece of machinery dangling from the carcass before crossing back over to Tony who was careful to remain silent and not to make eye contact. “But today, whoever holds the latest Stark weapons rules these lands.” The man walked past Tony, going to the table where the suit plans had been laid out and began rifling through them.

Tony shot an anxious side look to Yinsen who raised his hand slightly in a calming, warding gesture.

“And soon, it will be my turn.” Raza stated menacingly as he placed the papers back and turned towards Tony. His voice had lowered to a threatening promise, his cold black eyes boring into Tony’s for a long moment, he walked to stand in front of Tony again, sand and dirt crunching under his boots. The tension between them rose when Raza barked something in Urdu, a language Tony had unfortunately never learned.

Tension and fear for Tony rose in the group at the foreign language. For Bruce, Thor and Vision who understood the language, fear rose for the Doctor who they knew the order was directed at.

Yinsen replied in a deliberately soft meek voice, which made Raza turn around and ask something else as he approached the Doctor. Tony watched cautiously as the questioning took on a sinister edge.

Raza barked something that Tony, despite not understanding, knew was an order, he watched as a group of men then reached out, grabbing Yinsen by his elbows and the back of his neck, pushing him onto his knees whilst Raza turned away to the fire.

Tony grimaced, his hand clenching and unclenching reflexively.

“What are they doing?” Peter yelled, he really didn’t want to experience someone else being burned again.

Tony briefly looked away and then turned back to see Raza blowing on a hot coal clasped in forceps, initially Tony’s eyes bulge slightly as they flutter from the hot coal to Yinsen kneeling on the floor.

“Oh god,” Bruce muttered as he heard what Raza said next. Thor looked furious.

“What’d he say?” Rhodey asked.

Bruce swallowed nervously, it was Vision who answered in a cold rage, “He said open your mouth.”

“What does he want?” Tony spook up, he tried to force as much steely calm into his voice as possible whilst he watched Raza bodily grab Yinsen’s head, twisting it to the side and forcing it down onto an anvil. His stomach clenched at the sight of the burning coal, the burns on his back echoing with ghost pain.

‘Yinsen tell me...’

Raza hissed a question.

All most of them and Tony could understand from Yinsen’s response was the word ‘Jericho,’ and that was when it clicked - they were questioning Yinsen for the Jericho now too.

The coal was brought closer.

Tony breathed heavily as he looked between his friend and the psychopath holding the burning coal - a part of Tony screamed to get as far away from that coal as possible and the pain he knew it could bring, another part was demanding he do something to help his friend. Sweat dripped down Tony’s palms, his hands subtly trembling, as Raza repeated the question, a controlled rage lacing his words. Yinsen once again repeated his answer and the coal inched closer.

Tony did a good job at hiding it but Natasha noticed the fear behind Tony’s wide eyes. She noted how his fingers twitched.

“He’s terrified,” Bucky stated, looking between Tony and the coal. “He’s remembering when they burned his back. And this is probably the bastard that did it. He certainly seems to like it.”

Sam looked closer at Tony and compared his current state to some of the soldiers he’d counseled. He could spot symptoms of a burgeoning anxiety attack a mile away, even when it was being heavily repressed. At least he’d thought he could because it was becoming more and more clear that he’d missed it in Stark.

Steve looked confused, “But he’s been working around hot coals and was fine?”

“He could control that,” Natasha mused, “he was working. Now he’s not the one in control and it’s a threat.”

Both a combination of Raza’s shout and the fact that the coal was now inches from Yinsen’s tentatively opening mouth spurred both Tony’s mouth and body into action.

“What do you want? A delivery date?” Tony strode forward and instantly all of the terrorist’s guns were on him, Abu was amongst those vocally telling Tony to stop for a brief moment before they look to their leader who still has a burning piece of coal raised inches from Yinsen’s open mouth.

I can not see you get your tongue burned off.’

“Tony!” Rhodey cried.

“Shit,” Clint swore, seeing the guns and their trigger happy looking handlers turn to Tony, “this is not a smart move man!”

Tony carefully placed an impassive, almost uncaring facade over the majority of his face but his eyes glistened with very real fear which contrasted with his carefully detached voice. “I need him.” Tony deliberately emphasised this part before adding the next part as almost an afterthought. “Good assistant.”

‘A better friend - but I can’t let them know that.’

Raza considered him. The coal dropped inches from Yinsen’s mouth.

The knot in Tony’s stomach loosened and he could breathe again. The phantom pain running through his back faded.

“You have till tomorrow to assemble my missile.” Raza ordered before ushering his men out of the door.

“Actually he handled that quite well,” Natasha said, impressed with how Tony dealt with the situation, managing to find a way to defuse it instead of the many more ways he could've easily made it worse. “He was casual and placed importance on Yinsen’s part in the project rather than getting emotional and making him seem like good leverage against him.”

“He was really prepared to risk his life to save his friends, even back then.” Steve said, he could feel a proud smile spread itself across his face. “They looked ready to start shooting.”

“Indeed! Friend Anthony is truly a brave and noble man! I am honored to have him as a shield-brother.”

Tony waited till they had all left to breathe out a short relieved laugh, he gave Yinsen a small smile. But the other man doesn’t appear to return the gesture, his eyes are still on the hot coal as he slowly lifted his head from the anvil and leant against it with shaky legs.

‘Thank God Yinsen didn’t get burned too. No wonder he’s a little shaken-’

Tony glanced up to the security cameras before turning to the Doctor. “Look Yinsen-”

"That was incredibly stupid of you Stark." Yinsen leveled Tony with a stern look.

Tony blinked at him.

“What? So I don't get a thank you, I just stopped you from having a hole burned into your mouth-" Tony growled.

“Although I am grateful, they were ready to shoot you." Yinsen retorted sharply.

“They need me they aren’t going to-” Tony spoke up but Yinsen uncharacteristically cut him off.

“You don’t know that. If you become more of a problem and they decide that you are more of a commodity than an asset you will be killed. You saw how Raza looked at the arc reactor! He knows it’s more than a pacemaker Stark! Right now it keeps you alive and productive so he allows it, but the moment you no longer suit their needs they will kill you and take it from your corpse! That is not a scenario that I am willing to see take place. I didn't spend all this time saving your life so you could ruin it with American bravado."

Vision flinched violently, remembering through JARVIS being unable to move as Obadiah did nearly exactly that to his grandfather. Next to him Spiderman’s body language had curled so tight that he was sure that the young man was shaking and shocked speechless.

Feeling a little sick, Wanda realised she could visualize that situation quite clearly. Ultron had deserved what he’d gotten. Stark didn’t deserve that either alive or dead. Ultron was a monster, Stark… wasn’t.

Rhodey went grey, feeling sick at the thought of that happening to his best friend. He swore that he would kill anyone who dared even try to do that to his best friend.

“Fuck man! That’s so messed up,” Scott murmured as his face gained a sickly green tint.

“They’re monster’s,” Steve said in a hoarse sounding voice. “It’s barbaric. Who would rip someone else’s heart out? No one deserves that.”

Wanda shot a sharp glance to Steve. “Yes there are. But Stark isn’t one of them.”

Bucky was shooting a side glance at Steve, remembering his own - or Winter’s - action to almost tear out the device and the way Steve had slammed his shield down on it. He knew better than to voice this. Bucky knew he would most likely be silenced by the Being before he could get his point of view across.

Green tinted Bruce’s vision before it was pushed back to the far reaches of his mind. He and the Hulk were in complete agreement though regarding what would happen if any such thing ever occured.

Natasha was muttering swears in Russian and several other languages under her breath. Clint bumped her shoulder, “It doesn’t happen Nat, he’s alive and fine.”

“So next time I’m just supposed to let them do it am I?” Tony snarled venomously, “Do you want them to carve a pretty pattern on your face like they did to my back?”

They twitched at the reminder of the brand, the ghost feelings from Tony made them feel even worse.

‘Ok that was harsh but he needed to hear it.’

"Stark.” Yinsen’s voice took a harder note which effectively cut Tony off. “That is not what I meant and you know it and yes, if there is a next time you are supposed to just let them do what they want to me.”

“I don't regret saving you. Don't try to make me. I would do it again.” Tony bit out as he stormed away from Yinsen and grabbed a bit of metal that needed to be banged into shape.

Despite Yinsen’s reaction, Tony swore he could feel the wooden Phoenix burn proudly in his pocket.


 

The Avenger’s attention was drawn quickly by Tony hammering a piece of metal into shape over the anvil. Each hit caused a pang of ghost pain to ripple across the teams chests and right shoulder.

Tony paused slightly between each hit in order to recover and regain the familiar rhythm his work had when he was in the lab.

Bang!

They saw that the exertion of the work had caused him to shine with a thin sheen of sweat which highlighted his muscles rippling with each hit.

Bang!

Tony grimly peered at, what the team now saw, was a metal face plate.

“Fuck.” Clint piped up in a wavering voice. “Damn, Iron Ass can be scary when he wants to be.”

Nats mouth twitched. “Did you expect him to make it smiling?”

“Nay. To make an armour jovial would defeat its purpose to intimidate your foe. Friend Anthony's armours do this well.”  Thor rumbled, because of his concentration on Tony he had completely missed that Nat’s question was in fact a rhetorical one.

It was a dark intimidating thing and a twisted part of Tony hoped that it would cause a few terrorists to shit themselves before he killed them.

“Oh they will, man.” Scott spoke up, “if I wasn't Ant Man I would be pretty scared too.”

Scott is irked by a small scoff he hears in response but he can't tell who made it. He was about to retort with how he had easily slipped into Stark's armour at Leipzig before he just stopped himself.

After dunking the metal in some cool water and letting it sizzle for a moment Tony pulled it out with a pair of forceps and twisted around to rest it on Yinsens desk.

The team shifted and some of the other members of the team got a good look at it.

The helmet truly made an intimidating sight, smoking as the water evaporated from the rapidly cooling heat.

Peter let out a low whistle as Wanda swallowed and stared at it. It unnerved the witch a little almost as much as it had done to see her eyes glare red for the first time or to see Ultron’s face in the Novi Grad church. It reminded her of how she could feel Ultron’s presence but she couldn't see into him. ‘Sometimes not seeing something is worse…’

Steve tilted his head as he admired the helmet. It felt cold and too threatening like this, his inner artist longed to see the familiar gaudy red and gold design once again.


 

Tony was wrapping his hands like a boxer as Yinsen began to organize the suit, loading the chest piece onto a tall rack that was positioned facing away from the camera. Yinsen then helped Tony into a thick jacket that would protect his skin from the rough metalwork of the suit, Tony’s thick working gloves followed to protect his hands and then a makeshift neck brace.

Tony felt like an Arthurian knight being dressed in his leather under armor. The comparison helped steady his nerves and reminded him of all the stories he’d read of King Arthur as a child.

Steve made a small noise and grinned over at Bucky upon remembering all the times that he had role played as Arthur and Merlin when they were kids. Or Bucky and Ma reading those legends to him when he got sick.  He remembered getting into a massive argument with Bucky, who had seen himself as a knight too rather than a sorcerer. Now upon reflection he agreed Merlin’s character didn't fit Bucky but Tony… Tony fit him almost seamlessly. ‘He is truly a wizard with technology that's for sure.’

Stepping up to the rack he kept still as the heavy chest plate was lowered down with mechanical clanks and hisses. He rolled his shoulders back and tried to get used to the hulking weight that was bearing down on his sore chest.

“Okay?” Yinsen breathed, getting Tony’s attention, “can you move?” he asked flexing his hand in question. Tony fisted his hand closed testing his range of movement beneath the forearm plating.

“Okay, say it again.” Yinsen prompted.
 
“41 steps straight ahead. Then 16 steps, that's from the door, fork right, 33 steps, turn right.” Tony answered back in a determined but lightly quaking voice as Yinsen ran last minute adjustments on the suit, checking filter lines and tightening bolts.

“Wow.” Scott breathed, “he could really remember the way out after three months stuck there…”

“Tony is remarkable, that's for sure.” Bruce smiled as an impressed grin too spread itself across Natasha’s face.

Yinsen moved around to Tony’s front to adjust the metal plates. Looking up, Yinsen spared Tony a brief reassuring smile, sensing his nerves. The warm reassurance that gesture gave pooled in Tony’s gut and the nerves he felt eased back a little.

I will get you out of here, if it is the last thing I do…’

The mood of the entire group drops, even Steve who had briefly courted denial about Yinsen’s death was now forced to confront the reality of the Doctors impending doom.

Steve swallowed heavily at feeling the strong friendship between Tony and Yinsen. ‘ Yinsen was Tony's Doctor Erksine… I just hope that Tony didn't have to see his death.’

Then the moment broke.

“Yinsen! Yinsen! Stark!” The terrorist’s clamber at the door, continuing on to shout something in a language that Tony only recognised and once again his heart felt like it had settled in his throat.

“Say something. Say something back to him.” Tony murmured to Yinsen, the strength of his voice wavered a little once again.

“He's speaking Hungarian. I don't…” Yinsen responded, equally flustered.

“Then speak Hungarian.” Tony hissed at the Doctor, the anxiety pooling in his gut made it come out harsher than he intended.

“What the hell Stark?” Wanda hissed, “You can speak Hungarian! There are things more important than keeping up the stupid charade-"

‘Come on Yinsen. The only words I know from Ana are Aunt, Darling and Sweetheart. I don’t think they’d take it well if I called them that. I might as well put a gun to my head.’

Wanda twitched awkwardly after hearing that thought and back peddled, “Well I guess that's ok then.”

“Okay. I know.”

Hope reignited in Tony’s stomach but he pressed for Yinsen to elaborate. ‘Please don't let the only words you know be pleasantries too.’ “What do you know?”

Yinsen frowned briefly before shouting back something at the terrorists behind the door.

A few members of the team turned to Bruce, Natasha, Clint, Thor or Vision to translate but there was no time to do so.

The terrorists flurry of responses to him clearly confused the Doctor who made a helpless expression before the terrorists tried to pull open the door.

The team noticed the bomb wired to the door a second before it exploded in a ball of flame.

Dust, sand and small debris washed over Tony as he tried to turn his head away from the cloud.

Despite not being physically present they all flinched back from the explosion, expecting the force to wash other them.

Scott reflexively coughed in the debri cloud.

‘Ok, so it exploded but are they down?’ The fact that the bomb detonated caused some confidence to leak back into his voice though and he found upon opening his mouth again that his voice no longer shook. “How'd that work?”

“Oh, my goodness. It worked alright.” Yinsen appeared slightly stunned and a little impressed whilst he moved back to secure the leg of the suit.

“That's what I do.” Tony tried to push some false nonchalance into his tone to lighten the mood despite the fact that he could not feel less proud of that fact at the moment. ‘It is the same thing that killed those three soldiers and possibly Rhodey…’

Rhodey swallowed heavily at the phantom feeling of crushing self loathing and guilt. “I'm not dead, what happened isn't your fault.”

He felt his gut wrench at that thought and he stubbornly stopped himself from going down that rabbit hole.

“Good.” Bucky muttered, he knew Tony couldn't afford to go there now.

“Let me finish this.”

“Initialize the power sequence.” Tony said urgently. ‘ We’re running out of time…’

“Okay.”

“Now!” Tony raised his voice at the Doctor, the very real anxiety of running out of time was stronger than it had ever been, being immobilized was worse when he knew that he could complete this ten times faster if he was able to aid Yinsen.

“Tell me. Tell me.”
 
“Function 11. Tell me when you see a progress bar. It should be up right now.”

“Yes.”

“What the hell does ‘yes’ mean?” Peter hissed in a panic.

Tony’s eyes widened a little. ‘Yinsen. Elaborate! You can’t just say yes.’
 
“Talk to me. Tell me when you see it.” Tony tried his hardest to control the irritation and the fear that was bleeding it’s way into his tone, Yinsen was his eyes, ears and hands at the moment and that powerlessness really didn’t sit well with him at all.

Natasha nodded as she watched the scene intensely, real powerlessness was not something she had experienced much since her days in Red Room.

It was not something she liked the feeling of.

“I have it.” Oh thank God…’

“Press Control ‘l’.”

“‘I.’ Got it.”

“‘I.’ ‘Enter.’ ‘l’ and ‘Enter.’” Yinsen’s hands darted across the keyboard in accordance with Tony’s instructions. “Come over here and button me up.”
 
“Okay. All right.” Tony could almost feel the Doctor’s nerves as he bolted the final parts of the suit together, it didn’t help that the distant sounds of terrorists approaching was echoing down into their part of the cave.

‘Showtime is approaching.’
 
“Every other hex bolt.” The noises were getting louder, Tony tried to project some steely, strict calm into his voice in the hopes of easing the Doctor’s nerves a little.
 
But it was in vain, Yinsen was still panicked even as he secured half of Tony’s bolts. “They're coming!”

“Nothing pretty, just get it done. Just get it done.” You can do this Yinsen, we planned it all out remember.’

“They're coming.” ‘I know… I can hear them. Please don’t do anything stupid.’

A dark foreboding feeling swept over the group… what was coming was becoming clearer and clearer to them.

“Make sure the checkpoints are clear before you follow me out, okay?” The tremor in Tony’s voice returned, the darker part of his mind had guessed that Yinsen was going to do something suicidally reckless. ‘Just say Ok..please Yinsen.’ Tony’s bright eyes were stuck on Yinsen as the doctor stilled and looked at the progress bar.

“We need more time.” Yinsen looked up from the progress bar and his eyes went to Tony as he moved away from the computer. He spoke in a soft tone that told of the determination of what he was about to do and of the friendship that they had shared in their three months of hell together.

“Hey, I'm gonna go buy you some time.”

“Shit!” Scott exclaimed, “do you - do you think this is how he dies?”

“God I hope not.” Steve replied, his nails pressed deeply into his palms. ‘Please don't mirror Erksine… not like this.’

“Friend Yinsen is truly a worthy warrior, but this action is unwise.” Thor fiddled with his hammer anxiously

‘NO! NO! DON’T! I’ll be fine! Idiot! You have a family!’

“So do you.” Both Rhodey and Vision shared an awkward glance as they both spoke in unison.

“Stick to the plan! STICK TO THE PLAN!” Tony yelled as he watched Yinsen grab a loaded gun from one the blown up terrorists. “YINSEN!” Tony twisted his head just in time to see the other man  disappear into the deeper recesses of the cave.

‘I’m not worth dying for.’

“Yes you are.” Peter murmured in response whilst he followed Tony's gaze to where Yinsen had vanished.

Shuddering, Tony turned back from where he saw the Doctor disappear, took a shaky breath and glared holes into the computer on the worktable.

‘Hurry up you piece of junk. I’ve got to save Yinsen.’

They waited with baited breath as they stared at the progress bar and prayed for it to hurry up.

Chapter Text

Tony glared at the progress bar which seemed to be crawling to the end.

‘Faster!’

He couldn’t hear Yinsen anymore, the other man's yells and gunfire had faded out of hearing range .

‘If there is any God at all up there, please just help me now. I need to save Yinsen.’

As if in answer the green line boosted to a hundred percent, the computer flashed a moment before it along with all the rest of the lights in the cave blacked out, plunging the room into darkness.

Narrowing their eyes in an attempt to adjust to the sudden darkness, they felt a malicious satisfaction and a deep determination rise up in Tony as they heard ominous clanking coming from the suit as he lifted it from the dock.

As Tony finally freed the suit from the dock and slunk further into the darkness, they could hear the distant sounds of the terrorists chatter approaching.

Thor boomed a short callous laugh as he watched the terrorists wearily approach the entrance, startling the team. “Selfish fiend,” he sneered, upon seeing his friend’s looks of confusion The God elaborated. “One of those Midgardian torturers tried to push his comrades ahead of himself to face the Man of Iron. An act of true Cowardice and Dishonour which could be expected of these lesser Mortals.”

The Avengers got a closer look at the men as they moved shakily into the cave, clutching their guns like frightened children clutching their blankets.

Tony clenched his fist when a terrorist drew near him, daring further into the cave then the others.

Taking the opportunity the terrorist had provided by singling himself out, Tony lifted the hand covering his chest and bared down upon the witless man.

The blue glow lit his terrified features as he turned around. He barely got a glimpse of the metal behemoth before an iron gauntlet slammed into his face. The impact sent him flying several feet backwards with a scream and a rattle of bullets that ended abruptly when he landed.

The three men outside splayed the cell with bullets in a blind panic. The wild gunfire ricocheted loudly around the room and caused sparks to fly.

“Shit!” Cried Sam as he and most of the others reflexively ducked or hid behind objects. Sam still shivered as he felt several bullets and ricochets pass through him. “Are they stupid?! There’s explosives in here!”

“I think that’s already been well established!” Clint shouted over the gunfire.

The gunfire finally petered out and they ducked out from their hiding places trying to see where Tony had gone.

“How is he being so stealthy in that suit?” Peter whispered as he blinked away the spots in his vision from the bright sparks.

Natasha shrugged in answer, her eyes were glued to Tony as he waited in his new position for the terrorists to move. She had only found him because she was so used to looking for things out of place, she knew Clint had spotted him even before her. She was impressed at how Tony was able to hide so effectively in something so large and obvious. The darkness of the room and the materials were too his benefit as he was able to blend in with the supplies and the terrorists hadn’t got a good look at him yet.

One of the terrorists turned backwards and spoke to his comrades, even through the language barrier it was obvious what he was saying. His assumption was proven wrong when, just as he finished speaking, a light shone on them and he turned back in time to see the man next to him be picked up and slammed into a wall before he met the same fate.

The man behind them had blanched upon seeing the metal man, watching as his comrades crumpled against the cave walls. He desperately started shooting as it stalked towards him.

Tony paid no mind to the bullets he could feel hitting the suit. He knew the layers of metal would deflect them even as he sweated and heaved under the hulking weight of it.

He stepped heavily forward, toward the terrorist and hit him with all the force of the suit, his punch aimed right at the man's face. He heard the man’s neck snap from the hit as he fell limply with a thunk a few feet away.

Winter, despite himself, admired Stark’s technique. Blunt force was effective, sure, but he knew it was more so to utilise the metallic hand in order to squeeze the neck until the tell-tale snap was achieved. ‘Don’t think about that,’ Bucky hissed in his head. ‘It’s inappropriate, you killed Stark’s mother that way.’

Frustrated at the reprimand, Winter huffed, ‘I can’t exactly help it. Stark said some of the programming would stick.’

Tony took a moment to straighten to his full height again, bracing himself under the weight of the suit and the now familiar strain lancing across his chest and back.

Steve cringed slightly both at the ghost pain and at the figure Tony cut in the metal suit. ‘Tony truly does cut a menacing figure in the suit. That has clearly always been the case.’

Peter was awed at the sight of the suit, it was far more intimidating than the other suit’s he’d seen. The size and roughness of the suit giving it the sort of dangerous air that the sleeker versions could never achieve the same way.

Scott whistled.

Tony turned toward the next section of cave, being met with more gunfire. He remorselessly bounded forward with heavy menacing, sounding clanks, the bullets harmlessly bouncing off of the armour whilst he faced off with those who dared to fight him.

One man was foolish enough to run at him with his gun going off, yelling while he did so.

“Idiot.” Natasha stated unsympathetically as she watched Tony’s metal hand punch him so hard they all saw a part of his face concave, without even checking they knew he was dead.

Scott swallowed heavily, he felt his face pale and he quickly looked away from the gore.

Another was stupid enough to follow his friend’s lead and this time Tony lifted his arm to slam into the other terrorist and his body was flung into a motionless heap several feet ahead.

A man appeared from the side when Tony reached a junction, his view under the helmet was too narrow to see the assailant, instead he relied on the sound of the gunfire to locate his target. He swung out his left arm as the man ran into it, twisting him head over heels.

The next group hesitated at this before before running back up the tunnel.

Sam and Peter looked down at the limp man as they kept pace behind Tony. Rhodey glanced at the man with a remorseless look.

You can run but you can’t hide…’ Tony thought viciously.

Sam shivers, as an ex Veteran and a councillor, he knew that it was environments like this that brought out the worst people. ‘Clearly this is Stark’s dark side...not that I blame him for expressing it after everything.’

Tony stalked them ominously down from behind whilst the terrorists run in a panic, one fell behind and turned to in a  futile attempt to fire more shots at Tony.

His fellows did not wait for him, callously locking the metal door behind them.

“Cowards.” Steve spat after them, before his eyes flit to Tony who was stalking down the terrorist unmercifully like a predator would stalk after prey. Feeling something cold creep up his spine, Steve inadvertently took a step back.

They watched as the man the terrorists had sacrificed desperately banged on the door, no doubt pitifully begging them to open it. He kept glancing back at the approaching armored man as he screamed to his companions, pleading in vain.

They didn’t speak and they didn’t move.

Tony got closer and closer until he was right up behind the other man.

The terrorists pleading cries and shouts only got louder as Tony pulled the other man's head back and slammed him into the metal door so hard his skull split outwards and a dent formed in the door.

“Fuck!” Peter jumped violently and his eyes bulged, he was genuinely surprised and horrified and the extremity of the violence his mentor was using, it wasn’t something he had ever thought of Tony using before.  

Natasha watched unblinkingly.

Winter eyed the gore with satisfaction.

Knowing the man was dead, Tony dropped him.

Wanda inhaled shakily and inadvertently backed into a equally frightened looking Steve, he tried to give her a false shadow of a smile and squeezed her shoulder in comfort but the effect was ruined by the sight of Tony rhythmically punching out at the door until it exploded outwards like the dead man's skull.

The terrorists fled in a frenzy as Tony broke through, one crushed under a panel of the door before he even had a chance to run.

He reached another junction with terrorists running through.

Tony swung out his arm and the terrorist he’d been about to hit just managed to duck while Tony’s arm hit and caught in the wall.

The man picked himself up off the ground and fled as Tony began pulling at his arm. Another man noticed Tony’s moment of vulnerability, hesitantly creeping towards him with his gun raised.

“Tony hurry up!” Clint shouted, concerned that Tony would be caught again.

Steve griped his shield just a bit tighter, it was truly a dishonorable move to try to attack someone whilst their back was turned.

Tony continued frustratedly trying to pull his arm loose, cursing the bulky design when he felt an impact on the back of his helmet. He turned to look down at the crumpled idiot with a ricochet through his head.

Clint groaned at the stupidity.

Tony gave a withering glare from under the mask as one massive yank finally ripped his arm free.

‘That’s what you get for shooting at someone when their back is turned.’

Bruce let out a nasty smile in agreement with that statement and his eyes shone a vibrant vicious green.

With that Tony moved onward, noting that the terrorist had already fled the area, heading towards the exit of the cave system. His mind ran through his map of what he knew about the caves to figure out where they might be planning to ambush him.

He kept an eye out for any sign of Yinsen taking hope in the fact that he had not yet found a body.

‘Hopefully that means he has made it out or found somewhere to hide.’

“Oh god, it’s coming isn’t it?” Steve whispered hoarsely, he felt Natasha and Bucky’s concerned eyes on him.

“I think so Stevie.” Bucky moved closer to Steve as a way to try and offer some semblance of comfort whilst they followed Stark into the mouth of the cave.

Tony’s hopes were dashed when he saw Yinsen sprawled across the sandbags in a bloody mess. All thought of the terrorists and ambushes fled his mind at the sight of his bloody, bullet ridden form.

Despite the horrid parallels that Yinsen’s death drew to Erskine's, Steve was thankful that Tony at least didn’t have to witness Yinsen’s injuries happen.

“YINSEN!”

“Watch out!” Yinsen warned weakly, he coughed and more blood leaked from his wounds.

The team were speechless, even mere minutes from dying Yinsen was looking out for Tony.

Tony turned and was barely able to duck out of the way of the small missile and it exploded behind him, the shockwave and rubble nearly overbalancing the large suit.

He quickly opened the panel on his left arm that held his own missile, a quick strike from the flame on his right arm ignited and launched it, returning the favor.

The missile exploded on the rocks behind Raza as he tried to cover himself. Without a suit or armor, Raza was exposed to the full shockwave and lashing fire from the explosion, rocks above him were dislodged and finally sent him to the floor. Tony allowed himself a brief, guilty hope that the man was dead before disregarding him.

“Don't feel bad about that.” Rhodey spat, “I hope he's dead too.”

He hauled a rice sack off Yinsen’s body and raised his faceplate. He felt tears burning at the back of his eyes as he looks at his friend now with clear vision.

Yinsen’s shirt was soaked through with the life blood seeping from the multitude of bullet wounds. His skin was turning waxy with pallor, he was barely able to keep his eyes open and it was clear that he didn’t have long.

Peter could feel his own eyes burn, the scene reminded him mockingly of what happened to Uncle Ben, it took all of his will power not to start crying.

Steve exhaled shakily. He wiped his eyes as Bucky wrapped a hand around his shoulders and gave it a comforting squeeze.

However, Tony was firmly courting denial.

“Stark…”

"Come on, we've got to go. Move with me, we've got a plan. we've got to stick to it." Tony begged him, desperate not to lose this friend he’d known for far too little time but already come to care for.

"This was always the plan Stark."

"No it wasn't ." Scott muttered forlornly staring at the man.

"Come on we have to go see your family, get up." Tony was certain his throat was burning and his lungs were struggling to expand, his eyes were noticeably watery. He couldn’t make sense of what Yinsen had said.

How could he want to go?” Wanda murmured in a soft heartbroken voice.

Natasha was about to answer before Yinsen himself spoke up.

"My family's dead, I'm going to see them now Stark," Yinsen breathed. “It’s okay, I want this… I want this...”

Natasha blinked and frowned deeply. She was half expecting that as an answer but she still found that it resonated with her deeply.

Tony’s face twitched in shock as he swallowed back the words of denial that immediately rose. He thought about what Yinsen just said and he could understand no matter how much he wanted to deny it. Tony could understand the desire to be with family quite well - his mother, Jarvis and Ana - and he would honor that.

Rhodey blew out a harsh breath.

He gathered himself back together, forcing back tears and grief and shoving them into the recesses of his mind.

Sam cringed a little. ‘Repressing that is definitely going to come back to bite him later…’

He looked down at Yinsen with a sigh and his mouth twitched up into a tiny smile - he could do this, he would for Yinsen. Tears still stung at the back of his eyes as he thought about how he was losing this friend, this man he’d barely known and yet had carved out a spot in his heart, a piece that Yinsen would take with him. Tony was glad to give it to him.

"Thank you for saving me," He said softly, he didn’t think his words did justice to what this man had done for him. Yinsen had done more than save his life, he’d helped Tony find a part of himself Tony had never realised was there. He’d saved Tony from himself.

Wanda shifted uncomfortably, knowing that last part wasn't entirely true. ‘Maybe he did so at that point. But Yinsen only really delayed the inevitable…’

"Don't waste it… Don't waste your life." Tony imagined he could feel those words searing on to his heart like a brand; a vow he would endeavor to keep.

“I promise Yinsen… I promise. And I’ll never forget you.’

Steve nodded in understanding, he knew that he carried Erskine with him still. The Doctor had made him a hero a lot like Yinsen had made Tony one.

Yinsen choked a little before he breathed out one last time.

Tony watched Yinsen’s chest still, a slow simmering anger rising up in his own chest as his friend breathed his last. He turned with a sharp jerk towards the cave mouth, his eyes burning dark with rage and revenge.

As he flicked his visor down, Tony swore he could feel something deep within him snap...


 

The team blinked under the desert sun as all of a sudden, they were standing with the terrorists who quaked and trembled at the foreboding smacks of metal Tony made as he stomped to the cave's entrance.

It was when the daylight revealed the clunky silver body of the suit they could all appreciate in broad daylight how terrifying the suit was.

The slots for Tony's mouth and nose were drawn in insidious intimidating lines that mirrored the expression on Tony's actual face.

They could feel the raw cold rage, radiating from Tony like a mini sun.

Shivering, Peter took a step back, the ghost murderous feelings were so alien and unsettling to him that he couldn't help but feel afraid of his mentor in that moment.

A rogue terrorist let out a shout and they all opened fire on Tony.

The bullets buffeted the suit, but despite jaring Tony around a little bit, the gunfire did no damage.

“Do they never learn?” Sam raised his eyebrows after a little wince as he felt the minor impacts against the suit, “bullets can’t get through Stark's armour.”

“Feats of their stupidity were shown earlier.” Natasha raised an eyebrow and scooted an inch to the left to miss a ricocheting bullet. “I suppose they are hoping to get a lucky shot in. But it would be smarter to run.”

A few seconds later, inevitably, the terrorists ammo ran out, they inched backwards as the pellets clattered to the floor.

The tension rose and nobody dared to speak. They could feel the dark, curling rage inside Tony's chest twisting in a malicious, malevolent satisfaction.

My Turn.”

It was the only warning both the team and the terrorists got before flames flared out from Tony's arms.

Running from the flames would be futile, but the team still backed away all the same.

Fire engulfed them.

Steve found he could no longer see anyone else, he was swamped in orange and red.

He had instinctively reached for his shield before finding that despite an uncomfortable feverish hit of heat he couldn't feel the flames.

The terrorists weren't so lucky.

Steve saw the one behind him had his legs alight, the man had stumbled into a crate of what Steve quickly judged to be explosives by how one of the cases exploded.

It caused another terrorist who had rushed towards his friend to become riddled with flash burns as it threw him out of his view.

Stalking forward, Tony adjusted his arms and the flame throwers, which allowed Cap to see the group again.

“Is everyone alright?” Steve asked, he directed his question to all of them but mainly at Vision and Rhodey who appeared very scared.

Quickly he sees that they are looking at boxes of Tony's weapons that he was hosing with flames.

“Oh God!-" Steve’s eyes go wide but he is quickly cut out by Rhodey's desperate shout.

“Tones get out of here! They're going to blow!”

Tony remained obvious to his desperate shouts as he kept stalking forward, aiming to destroy all the weapons and the terrorists in the camp.

The majority of the group quickly folded in behind Tony to take shelter from the uncomfortable heat. They could feel sweat soaking their skin and clothes but when they tried to wipe it away there was nothing there. There was a burning sensation along their forearms and a few of them coughed in a useless attempt to clear their airways and lift the weight off their chest to breathe better.

Only Wanda seemed oddly frozen behind her abnormally useless red shield.

“WANDA!” Someone shouted at her, but she was becoming lost in remembered panic.

‘I’m powerless against Starks bombs… just like before.’

Stark’s bombs were exploding left and right, sending debris flying everywhere. She suddenly felt trapped in her surroundings as they were swamped by screams-

Forcefully dragging herself away from those disturbing similarities, Wanda quickly took Clint’s offered comfort in the form of a side hug as they all trailed behind Stark.

Being pressed against Clint felt safe, she almost felt shielded from the horror going on around her. She was reminded profoundly of the fact that Clint was a father, Wanda was convinced he was a good one.

Meanwhile Rhodey cringed at seeing the exposed mechanisms in Tony’s suit as renewed gunfire started.

Tony staggered a little and had to bring an arm up to block the gunfire better.

Steve griped his shield tighter and Vision’s gem flared angrily as the gunfire rained down on the suit from above.

Seeing Tony being pushed back slightly, multiple shooters from the side and the front began to batter the suit.

The suit held up well against the barrage, until one unlucky shot hit part of the hydraulics system for the right leg. Tony lost the support of the suit and felt his leg buckle under the weight.

Peter can’t help but let out a gasp as his mentor crashed to his knees. “Oh no.”

“Oh man...Shit! Shit!” Clint hissed in sympathy upon watching Tony jolt a little with every bullet that smacked into him. He thought Tony’s armour meant that he couldn’t feel bullets at all but through the phantom pain he knew now that some of them would make some rather nasty bruises. “They’re obviously bringing out bigger weapons. Stark get out of there!”

The sensation of being in an oven grew as the blast from a small explosion smacked into Tony’s side, he fired back with his own fire blast despite the pain emanating from where the flame throwers lay against his arms.

“T hank god they’re just firing shots-” Sam cut himself off mid sentence when he saw another terrorist preparing a rather familiar looking bazooka. It was one that appeared disturbingly like the one that shot down Riley - in fact he found that it was exactly the same model. Sam felt an icy crawling sensation in the pit of his stomach, his eyes bulged and he found he could no longer keep his voice steady. “Oh crap.”

For a moment Tony was swamped in flames when the missile hit nearby, several loud blasts sounded across the camp along with the screams of burned and dying men.

Their view cleared but even then only Tony was visible in the fire. Several closer bombs went off and Tony took it as his cue to leave.

The smoke was becoming suffocating, clogging his airways and making his chest feel even heavier and hotter around the reactor. He barely draw a breath. The bullets were still coming hard and fast and were starting to feel harder against the armor. He knew he had to leave, he also knew he wouldn’t be able to walk now.

He struggled to get his right leg into a position to stand and supported the weight of the suit on his left leg. He nearly lost his balance as he awkwardly stood, fighting against the suit’s bulk, and for a moment all his weight had been on the damaged right leg. He groaned as he felt like something in his leg might have twisted.

He fumbled with a hidden switch that activated the crude propulsion.

The heat was bubbling under his skin, his sweat drenched him and caused the suit to stick to him and trap the warmth, even whilst he was flying up above the balls of fire.

Shocked, the team found themselves start to levitate with Tony, however as they were just behind him, they were hit with the full force of the feverish flames.

Steve squinted his eyes in a way he hadn’t ever had to do since he crashed the Red Skull’s aircraft in the arctic. The only things preventing him from thinking that he was back there was the direct contrast Tony’s event drew to his own.  

Instead of the flashes of brilliant blues, whites and the dark, almost black,  navy of the sea which eventually choked him and encased him in ice, he saw the horrid hues of fiery red, oranges and yellows. Now he was also rising up into a bright blue sky, not down into the dark grey suffocating smoke or the inky blue of the ocean.

A wave of more intense burning heat rushed over him and he pressed his eyes shut. He prayed for this to be over soon as he was almost deafened by the explosions, however he was thankful for the shouts of his teammates. He was not alone. Not like before and not like Tony was here. A wave of relief rushed over him when he felt the similar sensation of the Memory warping around him.


 

“What the hell?” Sam asked whilst he scanned the seemingly deserted desert, the rest of the team appeared equally as confused as he was feeling.

“Let’s spread out Stark can’t be far-” Natasha cut herself off when the sound of a long drawn out frightened yell was heard along with the whine of the wind.

Stark’s form was quickly spotted by the team, they immediately smiled at the sight of him emerging from the clouds at a rapid descension, however it became clear that he wasn’t stopping.

His armour was falling apart in the sky, his back seemed to arch into an almost unnatural way in the air but nothing seemed to deter his head first course to the sand.

“Shit! That could break his back…”  Sam muttered, he caught a look of pure terror over Rhodey’s face as he glanced to him then to his best friend.

Panicked, they both set off at a sprint to try and fruitlessly catch up to Stark, to Sam it seemed like a mocking parody that fate was drawing to what happened with Riley and Rhodey.

Upon seeing this, Thor’s eyes widened in fear for his friend and he gripped his hammer tightly before spinning it, faster and faster until he lifted over the dune.

However thanks to his natural flying and phasing abilities, Vision reached the landing point first. He made easy work of the sand and arrived to Tony’s estimated landing just in time to see Tony pull his body into a twisted flip.

He landed awkwardly on the side of his back with a heavy thump before a large sand cloud erupted from the area where he fell into the sand.

Vision stopped just short of the dust cloud and he heard Thor, Sam and Rhodey skid to a halt behind him.

The sand cloud began to disperse as the rest of the group caught up, ignoring the debris raining down around them.

Vision paid no mind to the chunk of metal that went through him as he moved forward slowly towards the mechanical, whirring, half destroyed mess of armour that Tony resided in.

Skittishly, Peter peered up at the sky to check for anymore rogue pieces of armour falling and upon finding none, he skirted forward like a spider.

Tony gingerly assessed himself, he lifted his left leg cautiously and tore a clump of metallic wiring off of it and onto the sand.

His right shoulder, which Tony realised felt all too warm, wet and out of place, protested sharply at the movement so Tony gently rested it back down on to the sand and used his other to yank his helmet clean off.

Vision shifted around to gaze at the inside of the helmet, and frowned at the small amount of blood he saw on the inside.

The unforgiving sunlight from above dazzled him, he twisted his aching neck gingerly before resting it in the sand.

“Not bad,” he murmured. He took a moment to try to motivate himself to move again before he glanced down at himself and the strengthening of the intensity of the pain emanating in his right leg. If it hadn’t been injured before, it certainly was now.

‘Thats something to worry about after you try to get up. But first the rest of the suit needs to come  off.’

Wincing minutely as he pulled off the remnants of the burning metal suit encasing his arms, Tony shakily sat up.

“Ow, fuck!” He gasped as he noticed two long first degree burns stretching from his hands up to his elbows.

‘Flamethrowers! Fucking brilliant idea genius!’

Ouch.” Bucky hissed, he felt Winter perk up in interest at the back of his head, his alter ego had been keeping a track of all the scars Stark was acquiring, the methods of which had been similar to what had happened to him. The addition of the super serum had caused all his scars, apart from the ones that had caused the heaviest trauma around his arm, to be erased. However unfortunately for Winter he could still remember the pain, some of which was startlingly familiar to the blistering phantom pain of those burns.

‘Yay! With the amount of scars I'm collecting I'm going to look like a patchwork quilt.’

“I think you’re pretty far off patchwork quilt stage Stark.” Clint smiled, “You should see Fury.”

“Did he actually have quilts in the Avengers merch store?” Sam asked, trying desperately to take his mind away from the memories this scene unearthed for him. “I'm grabbing a falcon one for Redwing if he does.”

“He had one for every Avenger.” Peter blushed under the suit, glad no one could see it, as everyone turned to him. “I got myself an Iron Man one after the battle NY.”

Tony unclasped the few remaining intact metal struts surrounding his legs and stood, gingerly due to the obvious sprain his right leg had gained, it felt like it was going to fold under him at any second.

Although scarred both mentally and physically - he was out.

‘I should feel happy. I got revenge, I destroyed the terrorists and my weapons.

‘But you failed… failed Yinsen.’

“No you didn't.” Vision answered softly, “Mr Yinsen wished to perish, you can't save someone who doesn't wish to be saved, Sir.”

He shoved his hand into a pocket to pull out the little wooden phoenix. Thankfully it was safe and undamaged.

Unlike its creator.

“You were a bloody idiot, Yinsen. You were no soldier!” His fingers curled tight around the little pendant.

‘We’re not soldiers!’ Echoed in Steve’s head, he looked away.

“But friend Yinsen certainly displayed the bravery of a true warrior despite not being that in name. I see no reason why he would not be allowed into Valhalla, I shall protest it if he were not.” Thor vows.

‘You didn’t have to die like that! Certainly not for me!’

The thought of Yinsen’s bloody, bullet ridden body, caused an overpowering wave of rage and hatred to rush over him, the feeling begged for an outlet.

That’s when his eyes caught the dark grey helmet stuck in the sand.

‘Why did it only save you? Why? Why? WHY?!’

Without consciously telling himself to he pulled his right foot back, despite his leg protesting the movement, and slammed it into the helmet with all his might.

The helmet was lifted a short way down the dune before it landed with the empty face facing him, although some of the group were a little unnerved the symbolism of this, they were quickly distracted by an anguished sounding yell coming from Tony.

His eyes squinted in pain, a painful bolt ran up his right foot, telling him this reckless action had caused him to dislocate his big toe.

“You did the best you could my friend.” Thor rumbled, he was worried by another demonstration of how puny Midgardians were. He knew that if he had attempted to kick that helmet, it wouldn't have caused any damage to him and he was sure that it would no longer be in eyesight.

“Mother fucking OW! YOU FUCKING STUPID PATHETIC IDIOT! WASN’T DISLOCATING YOUR TOES ONCE IN YOUR LIFE ENOUGH! SO STUPID YOU CAN’T EVEN SAVE YOUR FRIEND! YOU GODDAMN-” Tony’s hoarse yell broke off into a wheeze. He bent over, his good arm wrapping around his chest as he struggled to catch his breath around the heavy, aching weight of the reactor. His entire torso felt bruised from the weight and pressure of the suit.

“Ouch,” Clint flinched, rubbing at the echo of pain in his chest. His chest hurt and he felt slightly short of breath even though he was breathing normally. Even so he knew that failing to save a friend was worse, it was one of the worst pains that you could go through, especially if that friend died to save you. ‘ Like Pietro did for me…’

“It's quite telling isn't it?” Natasha spoke up, her eyes scanned Tony's wheezing form with a frown on her face. “What he says when he thinks no one can hear him.”

Rhodey shot her a sharp look.

He was glad no one could see the gasping mess he’d become. It was a stark reminder of the restricting painful pressure the Arc put on his chest.

‘Ow, ow, ow fucking ow! You deserve this pain! Yinsen died and you, you got out.’

Alarmed by these thoughts, Bruce’s eyes widened and he stiffened, again drawing parallels between how he knew a self harmer thought. ‘Oh god, no. At least Tony never acted on those thoughts. He’s my best friend! I definitely would have noticed had he done so.’ But Bruce knew better than to voice his dark thoughts, instead his mind flitted to his friend gasping for breath because of the arc. “Shallow, even breaths, come on Tony.”

He saw Steve’s eyes flicker to him then, the Captain nodded, appearing paler than usual. “He can do it.” Bruce then picked up the even quieter murmur, “If I can do it, he can.”

The injustice of that burned his heart worse than the Arc. If Tony had a choice, he knew who he would have picked to be flown out of there in that suit.

It wasn't himself.

Peter let out a shaky, upset exhale, hearing and feeling the ghost feelings of his mentor's self hatred was horrible for him. As was the constricted feeling in his chest, though it was more familiar for him, having had a couple of anxiety attacks that had left him short of breath. Tony had taught him some breathing techniques to help.  He wasn’t sure what was worse though, struggling to breathe from being so deep in panic, or because of injuries and a reduced lung capacity.

Yinsen had made him promise not to waste his life. He had promised himself to do everything possible to fix the damage his company and weapons had caused. To find a way to repay each life whose blood was now on his hands. Including Yinsen and his family.

‘Good luck with that. It'll never be enough… but I can try, I have to.’

Chapter Text

He steeled himself, looking up to the sun he tried to figure out which direction the Bagram Airfield was and started limping through the desert heat that burnt the reactor searing hot.

Trudging through the desert, littering pieces of the suit as he went, Tony’s eyebrows rose as he saw the glint of a familiar looking metal body in the distance. “Dum-E?”

“What?” Rhodey gasped as he whipped around to stare at the familiar metallic bot, straight away he was hit with the absurdity of the situation before it sunk in that Tony was obviously experiencing a hallucination.

There was a chorus of enthusiastic sounding beeps in response while two more claws popped out from the sand and screeched at him.  

Vision smiled warmly upon seeing the two other bots, it was heartwarming to know that his grandfather loved them that much to hallucinate them in his time of need.

Peter blushed when he let out a quiet, enthusiastic squeal.

‘Great. U and Butterfingers are out here too!’

What the hell did you drag your brothers into this time? You know sand and wheels don't mix,” Tony grinned brightly as he dragged his feet over to the area where DumE, U and Butterfingers appeared sunken into the sand. DumE let out an apologetic whine and lowered his claw. “Yeah, yeah save it. Just be grateful I'm here to dig you - woah!”

He reached out to pat Dum-E’s body but his hand clasped nothing and the Bots bodies dissolved into sand, he nearly fell straight forward before catching himself.

He pressed his sandy palms into his moist eyes. ‘God I miss them!’

“Hallucinations… that's just,” Tony tore off the other flamethrower and threw it across the dune, furious at the taunting of his own mind, “fucking,” then does the same to the hand gauntlets, “GREAT!”

Bruce slipped to one side to dodge the projectile and let out a sympathetic sigh. ‘No wonder he's angry, thinking you have something and then taking it away is worse than never being offered it at all.’

He sighed and kicked off his boots before lying backward in the sand. The reactor pressed downward uncomfortably. He ignored the ache and burning around the device and the constriction of his lungs, it was at least a distraction from the hallucination.

“Guys, is anyone else worried about that hallucination?” Sam asked anxiously as he eyed Stark laying in the sand.

“What? Why would we be? Don't people who get trapped in the desert experience mirages?” Peter replied. He frowned deeply under the mask, admittedly he didn't know much about it but it was something he had briefly covered in school.

“This is no mirage. A mirage is an optical illusion usually seen in the distance, this is far too realistic, he’s even hearing them. This is psychosis.” Sam replied. Sam couldn’t believe that he’d missed Stark’s PTSD but he couldn’t deny it anymore.

“What? Psychosis?! Com'on Sam Tony's not mad-" Clint started before Sam cut him off.

“It can be a symptom of PTSD. Which is looking like the most likely case at the moment, judging by what he’s just gone through you can't really blame him, can you?” Sam asked.

Bucky’s brow furrowed as he looked to Sam. “I have PTSD and I’ve never had hallucinations like that.”

“It only happens in about 52% of cases.” Sam answered.

Shutting his eyes, Tony breathed in deeply as the sand sparsely covered him in a warm blanket…

‘How easy it would be to just go to sleep right no-’

“Tones.”

Tony startled at the fond familiar voice and his eyes snapped open.

He was greeted instantly with Rhodey’s face and he couldn’t repress the small gasp he let out, or the tears gathering at the corners of his eyes as he began to raise his head from the sand.

“Oh my god.” Rhodey breathed, “Oh my god Tony."

A turmoil of emotions raised inside Rhodey. At his lowest his best friend imagined him there by him, although he was unbelievably flattered he was also confused. “I don't get it. Tony was always the extraordinary one and we have both pulled each others ass out of trouble. We met when he saved me from Stone-" Rhodey cut himself off to calm himself down although it did nothing to hide his shining eyes or the fact that his voice trembled.  “Oh yeah, he thinks I'm fucking dead! How could I forget? God... that-that hallucination or whatever is just misplaced guilt trying to get him moving.” Rhodey aimed a furious kick at the sand, his hands clenched as emotion welled up in his chest. He didn't know whether he wanted to laugh or cry.

“Friend Anthony obviously sees you as a comfort to see you in his time of need.” Thor gave a sad smile, “ Although, it may be because of some misplaced guilt too.”

However as quickly as the instinctual part of him lit up at seeing his best friend alive and whole, common sense kicked in.

“You’re not here.” Tony frowned and tilted his head back into the sand with an air of grief and resignation, “you’re dead. Same as Yinsen and those soldiers and it’s my fault. So why are you here? All these deaths are on me, so what’s the point?”

“Point of what?” Peter breathed, Natasha gave him a side look.

There was only so much she could decipher from how he was feeling without seeing his face however there was a dark edge to his voice and a tense line to his body that told Natasha that this question came from denial rather than ignorance.

The young man suspected at least what the question meant.

“What is the point of-of what?” Hallucination Rhodey snaps, “Living?!”

‘Platypus sounds pissed.’

“You are just going to give up now after we gave our lives for you! You know I had Lily at home waiting for me right?” Rhodey bore down on him and Tony felt his stomach drop.

“Lily? Who is that?” Scott asked, appearing worried as he turned to Rhodey. “No offence intended man, is she your daughter?”

Rhodey appeared a little put out. “She's my niece, my sister died.” Rhodey looked up and upon seeing the questioning faces he answered bluntly. “She... overdosed. And left Lily largely in the custody of her dad so she's not really around much. But she loves visiting Tony and I when she can.”

The group fall into silence at this, none of them were too sure how to react, in learning about Tony they found that they were learning more about each other too.

The clogs turned in Natasha’s head, although this event wasn't shown Tony's life she was sure that it had more of an effect on Tony's life than what was shown. ‘Stark has an addictive personality, showing signs of alcoholism, but he largely stuck to that. It’s uncommon for those type of personalities, especially celebrities, who could get hard drugs with ease. What happened to Rhodey’s sister may have stopped Tony from turning down a darker path especially if she was already an addict when Tony was at MIT.’  

At the mention of Rhodey’s adoring niece, the hallucination Rhodey got to his feet, looking the angriest that Tony had ever seen him. “You are going to get your lazy ass up and get moving because I will never ever forgive you if you die here.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself.” Rhodey gave a weak attempt at a smile, feeling grateful for the psychosis for the first time.

“Hear hear!” Clint said, “Go hallucination Rhodey! I like this guy,” he gave a smile to the others who appeared faintly amused by him. “If anyone can drag Stark’s ass up its him.”

Staring at his best friend for a long moment, Tony swallowed heavily.  “Why couldn't it have been me instead?”

“Damn it Tony!” Rhodey yelled. He would always rather it was him than Tony.

“Life’s a bitch.” Rhodey’s head nodded a little as he said this, his face grim.

“Oi!” Clint exclaimed appearing offended on Tony’s behalf. “Just when I thought you were cool.”

“It’s Tony’s psychosis, not me,” Rhodey said as he gave Clint an amused side eye.

Tony rose to his feet shakily, he winced as he pressed a hand to the arc. His leg still felt like it was going to give out, Rhodey stayed close to him as he began to walk by his side. Tony didn’t dare reach out, didn’t dare disrupt the illusion. “Do something for me once you get back.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t let anyone else die like we did.” Rhodey stopped and gave him an intense, sad stare, Tony's eyes stung harshly.

‘My best friend is dead and it's all my fault.’

“I am not dead you idiot!” Rhodey snarled, “It's not your fault even if I was! I would do it again.”

Steve let out a grin at this, that sort of declaration was a sign of true friendship, which mirrored what existed between himself and Bucky. ‘I would die for him, I almost gave up everything for him, thank god it all turned out in the end.’

“Never again.” Tony's voice wobbled violently, but it didn't falter in its conviction. “See you on the other side.”

Thor frowned. “I wish I could reassure him that he still has many battles yet to win. I have never known Man of Iron to be so sure of his impending doom.”

“You gotta admit… things don’t look good for him right now.” Bruce replied with a grimace.

“That better not be for a long fucking time, you jerk.” That was when Tony noticed that Rhodey's eyes were bright with unshed tears too, as his form wavered and disappeared, gradually fading away like a ghost.  

Tony choked out a teary laugh before finding that he was alone once again.


 

The sun bore down on him harshly, he found himself extremely bored as he trekked through the monotonous sandy landscape.

His right leg trembled and protested agonisingly against the constant movement and he could feel blood leaking from the various cuts he had sustained.

His mind was in too much turmoil to care, it felt almost like someone was banging an anvil against his skull and his thoughts were whirling all over the place with nothing in the landscape to distract him.  

‘You should have died in that cave. You don’t deserve to see your bots again.

‘But I have to get home. I have to find a way to get home. I've got to fix my company and avenge Rhodey, Yinsen and those soldiers. How did it end up like this?’

Suddenly his right leg slipped a little, before giving out completely at the top of the sand dune. Tony let out an agonised yell whilst he tumbled forward and slid down the sand dune.

“Ow!” He clasped his leg and tried his best to support it however the motion caused intense waves of pain to rock through him. He gritted his teeth and tried very hard not to cry as he reset his leg into a straight position. Although his leg had been bent awkwardly Tony could tell that it hadn't done any more damage than a gash from something buried in the sand.

The team felt a surge of worry as they saw beads of scarlet stain the sand and stick to Tony's leg, his eyes took on a glassy appearance and they saw him take a long exhale as he gazed at his leg.

“Don't tell me you’re going to cry that truly would be pathetic, Anthony.” Tony went rigid at Howard's familiar, cold tone. “Find a new way to disappoint me, you pathetic excuse of a Stark.”

“No, not you.” Tony hissed in firm denial about the Howard hallucination he could hear, he refused to look up at him. “Go away.”

“What?” Howard snarled, “Can't even look at Me? Is it because you know you ruined my company and besmirched my name by what you allowed those weapons to do?”

“Ouch.” Peter cringed, hating how harsh Tony’s dad was being with him, “That’s wrong, he makes it better.”

Tony was finally prompted to look up at him when he said this, and immediately wished he hadn't.

Howard looked more terrifying than ever with an almost translucent ghostly, white appearance matching his white mop which only served to accentuate his furious black eyes boring down on him.

Steve inhaled sharply at the sight of the hallucination of his old friend, he appeared so malevolent and ghostly that he was sure he wouldn’t have connected that specter to Howard.   ‘Did Tony really see his father as that bad? Sure Howard wasn’t a great father, we saw that, but it is obvious he tried…’

However Tony refused to be intimidated by the ghastly spectre.

‘I’m not a kid anymore. You don’t scare me.’

Bruce and Clint shifted uncomfortably, they accidently caught each other's eye before quickly looking away.

He got up, his leg protested harshly at the weight he put on it.

“How can I ruin something that was already rotten?!" Tony protested.

Steve raised his eyebrows, the Howard he knew was proud of his work and would never let it become bad.

“I was a War hero. And what are you compared to that?” Howard venomously spat the words at Tony, stepping forward and looking down his nose at him.

“He’s Iron Man, you dick.” Rhodey bristled defensively.

“A disappointment. Nonetheless,  I entrusted my legacy to you because it was what was expected of me, I trusted you to protect our soldiers. I thought that you couldn't fuck that up at least. Yet your weapons somehow ended up in the hands of the men that killed them!”  

Sam twitched at that and flinched. ‘Like Riley was.’

“You were the one who decided to sell weapons.” Tony stalked right up to Hallucination Howard's face. “I was never given a choice! You could have made computers and been a pioneer of technology, but all you ever wanted to do was sell death! You helped make a bomb that killed 225,000 Japanese citizens, women and children. You don’t get to lecture me after you helped destroy two cities!”

“What?!” Steve’s eyes bulged with horror, “Howard was involved in causing that?!”

All of the group apart from Thor turned to stare incredulously at Steve, including Bucky. Thor just looked confused and a little horrified.

“Did you not read up on anything after you were de-thawed Stevie?” Incredulously, Bucky raises an eyebrow at Steve. “Seriously not even about Howard?”

“I did!” Steve turned to the group, who appeared severely unimpressed with him, and he tried his best to explain himself. “When I woke up I heard that the Manhattan Project helped win the war, but I wasn’t told the specifics. I looked it up myself later and saw photos of the effects of the two ‘winning’ bombs. I was horrified and I didn’t want to know anymore, I never looked up who was involved. It reminded me too much of Red Skull’s tactics so I never looked any further. All I asked is if the people involved in the project were dead and the agent I asked said yes… How was I meant to connect my friend to that?”

“It should have been mentioned in his file. He was heavily involved,” Clint scowled at Steve.

“I... never read the full file. I looked at the time and cause of death and I saw that he had founded S.H.I.E.L.D, saw that he had a kid, but I never looked further…”

“You didn’t want to admit the world had moved on without you, that your friends had had lives, so you stuck your head in the sand.” Natasha sneered with disgust.

“Bombs aren’t uncommon on Midgard so I don’t see why-” Thor started but Natasha cuts him off.

“Because these were atomic bombs; they vaporized people, gave them injuries that shortened their life by decades or made them die in agony whilst all their cells became infected with Radiation. This is one of the reasons why many Eastern European and Asian companies hated the Starks, still do in many cases,” she glanced at Wanda as she said this. "They hated Howard Stark because he was America's attack dog. They hated Tony Stark because he seemingly didn't care who his weapons went to and only stopped making them when he got back from Afghanistan to cover his own ass."

“Even people in America thought that about Tony though.” Scott spoke up, almost regretfully. “Hell, Pym told me he suspected Afghanistan was an inside job and Stark was working with them all along. Gotta say it sounded convincing at the time he told me.” He spotted Rhodey’s harsh glare in his direction and quickly silenced.

“What have I told you constantly about what we do? Collateral damage is necessary and unavoidable.” Howard bit out coldly. “The ends justify the means. You don't get it. The Japs weren't going to stop so they had to be killed. You don't hear people calling me the Merchant of Death do you? No…” Howard purred, “I'm a war hero. If there's one thing I regret making it's you. You break everything you touch.”

Steve shivered slightly at the cold mentality. ‘How can anyone just shrug off so much death as collateral damage? As unavoidable?’ He reminded himself that this was just a hallucination and that the real Howard must have felt awful for what his weapon had done.

“He just built the bomb, he didn’t launch it; It wasn’t his fault.” Steve murmured to himself before his gaze flicked to Wanda who had just suppressed a flinch at hearing that.  Another part of Steve’s mind argued back upon seeing her. ‘No. He knew what he was doing, what it was capable of and he knew it would be used. 225,000 people…’

“The only reason why one was a war hero and the other was ‘The Merchant of Death’ was the difference in the wars.” Vision spoke evenly and logically but there was a hard edge to his voice that hinted he was angry at what the hallucination said. “The difference between how people viewed the government, the military and war.”

Howard disappeared soon after saying that, Tony watched him leave. He felt heavier, almost as if he was carrying an extra weight on his back.


 

Moodily, Tony limped through the sand. “I'm a war hero, Tony’” he sneered. “Yeah right, you cold calculating bastard. I wonder what your precious Captain America would think of you now.”

“Got to say I'm not a fan of what he did.” He heard a soft American voice say, “hello Tony.”

Tony felt his insides freeze, he turned around to face the hallucination “Why did you have to turn up?”

Steve looked more handsome in the hallucination than he did in any of the posters; with perfect blonde hair, glistening sapphire eyes and the distinctive vibranium shield perched across his back.

Bucky wolf whistled teasingly and nudged Steve who appeared very uncomfortable. He couldn't stop staring at his other self; the perfect other self. Pondering on what the hallucinations appearance could mean, Steve folded his arms and smiled a little. ‘Maybe this just means that Tony didn’t hate me so much later in life and he grew out of  it.’

Peter smiled and made a high pitched noise of excitement that he quickly tried to conceal as a cough.

Tony felt a strong urge to punch him straight in his perfect teeth.

Steve gave a full bodied sigh, ‘ That was that hope dashed. -I guess Tony always wanted to punch me.’

“When you were younger you looked to me for validation and encouragement when you got none from your father. Your thoughts of him led back to me.” Steve smiled.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut briefly as guilt rose up in his chest, he found it hard to believe that he was that much of a comfort to Tony at this moment in time.  

“No fucking wonder.” Tony's lip curled, “he loved you.”

“You did too.” Steve replied and the sneer dropped off Tony's face.

Steve waited for the expected denial of this accusation but he was shocked instead by the silence his hallucination was met with.

“No way…” Steve gasped, it was as much of a confirmation of truth as the dark glare the hallucination received.

Tony hobbled away from him.

Steve walked after him at a steady pace.

The team followed, shocked by what they unearthed. “This doesn't make sense, from what I heard Tony and Steve never got on even when they were ‘friends.’” Scott commented appearing very confused. “Well I get that Cap's good looking but-"

“It's not that type of love.” Natasha hissed back, “have you felt arousal from Stark? I know I haven't. There's a thin line between hate and love, particularly in this case. The lines are blurred here for Tony, he deeply respected Cap but he is also jealous...”  

“Well I don't anymore! I can't stand the sight of you and your perfect face. I don't need You! I never have! There are people who love me at home. Who cares if Howard wasn't one of them? He's dead. I have a mentor that adores me that makes up for that ten times over." Tony snarled ferociously as a retort.

All of the group cringed at that.

“And yet you imagined me and not him here…” Steve narrowed his eyes at him, “why?”

Tony shifted uncomfortably. “My subconscious and I need a talk. I'd rather he was here.”

Steve flinched at that.

“No you don't though… That's because you know this mentor of yours, Stane, has a dark side. You get an uncomfortable feeling around him sometimes. There are thing he does to you that you know are wrong but you let it slide. You are worried deep down that he'll withdraw his support if you mess up or disappoint him.”

“That sounds pretty toxic…” Peter frowned, “but not surprising, sadly, especially not with what we've already seen.” He was just thankful that Tony was a much better mentor than Obadiah was.

“You put so much trust in him, but you can't read him. At times you know he's manipulating you… he's as hard to read as Janus.”

Janus?” Sam asked the others, faintly confused as to what the hallucination meant.

“He's the Roman God of Passages,” Bruce spoke up whilst focusing intently on the memory with narrowed eyes. “He's well known for having two faces at the front and back of his head. The hallucination is voicing that Tony finds Obadiah as hard to read as a God with two faces and always has done. However until now this has never really concerned him because he was sure Obie was on his side… now he's doubting him.”

“So no, you didn't really want Obadiah here. Not when you fear that he could be berating you for what you had to do to get out.” Steve said sadly, “You expected me to do so as well especially being ‘perfect Captain America’ and to be honest I was disgusted by your methods.” Cap frowned, “War brings out the worst of us. Trust me, I know Tony, after Bucky… I had to admit I had less qualms about killing.”

“That's true.” Steve whispered, both Bucky and Sam looked to him worriedly, Bucky moved closer to him and placed his hand on his shoulder.

The gesture seemed right somehow to Bucky, especially when Steve gave him a wobbly excuse of a smile in response.

Tony exhaled shakily, “So I'm not bad?”

It was a question he was reluctant to voice, but with the example of Yinsen being held over him he felt like he’d fallen short. Especially when he enjoyed the killing he took part in in that camp.

Wanda cringed.

It was a feeling that she could understand, especially with all she took part in with Ultron, in Sokovia she had enjoyed the power she’d held over Stark when she had violated his head.  

“Get out of here, son. You'll redeem yourself, you aren't past that point unlike those terrorist monsters. You know what you have to do.” Tony had noted that Cap had completely dodged the question but obviously he wasn't past redemption even to the hallucination version of Cap.

Steve stared, shellshocked at his hallucinatory counterpart. He couldn't believe his counterpart was that… nice. ‘ I don't think I've ever behaved like that towards Tony… ’ guilt curled ruthlessly in his gut at that thought.

“Where should I go? It's not like I'm going to survive long out here anyway.” Tony responded.

“You do though!” Peter exclaimed. “Come on, Mr Stark you can't give up now…”

Hallucination Cap glanced around the sand dunes before looking to Tony sharply.  “How about straight ahead?”

“Aye Aye Captain.” Tony shrugged with his less injured shoulder, Cap offered him a smile that gave his chest a warmth unrelated to the arc being heated by the desert sun.

They walked together in silence for a while, Tony would try and fill it but he found the weight he had been feeling since Howard's hallucination had gotten heavier.

It took more effort to drag his legs, particularly his injured right leg now.

Sweat gleamed across his face and what they could see of his chest. His cheeks had flushed an unmistakable scarlet whereas before, the pink the team had seen, they had written off as mere exertion from the adrenaline of busting out of the camp.

Bruce was now worried, Tony was ticking off a lot of the boxes for Heat Exhaustion.

Tony could feel bile rising up his throat. ‘Fuck. I'm going to vomit.’

His head pounded harshly and he was quickly losing his strength to hold back his sick. Barely managing to hold back long enough to drop to his knees and aim downward into the sand.

“Oh Shit!” Scott stopped and gave Tony a wide berth, “Why was he suddenly sick? Is it a concussion or something?”

“Maybe, but it's more likely a combination of that and heat exhaustion.” Bruce worried his lip anxiously.

The hallucination Steve frowned, “You know I would help you if I could.”

“You can't help the dead…” Tony gasped raggedy as he spat out the remaining bile in his mouth.
The hallucination  Steve tried to encourage him, “You're not dead yet. You've got to get up and go back-"

“Tell me Captain Asshole, what have I got to go back to? Your best girl doesn't even remember me, just you. You know what, fuck you! I don't have a Bucky Barnes to fight for anymore, my best friend is dead and it's my fault. I paid him and everyone else to stay anyway. Obadiah I don't fully trust now especially not with what I've just seen he's either hidden a stolen shipment or actively double dealt behind my back. So you and your perfect apple pie ideals can go fuck right off!” Tony kicked some of the sand over his sick before he stood.

However upon doing so he noted that Cap was gone.

He found that although he had wished Cap away earlier he now wanted him back.

“What I don't get is why he imagined him in the first place.” Bruce frowned, “I heard with PTSD psychosis the hallucinations have to directly relate to the event.”

“Sometimes there is an emotional connection.” Sam answered, “and they all make sense if you think about them like that. The bots, he built them but unlike the iron man suit that was made out of desperation they were clearly made out of love. They are things he wishes to return home to and they give him the drive to keep moving. Rhodey,” Sam looked to his friend as he said this and decided to brief this particular point out of concern for him. “He relates obviously to the event itself and emotionally. Howard related more emotionally than anything because he considers himself a disappointment to his father and a failure because of how his weapons ended up. It's clear that he felt like he never measured up, then you turn up, Steve.” Cap jolted a little at his mention, “The idol he was constantly compared to by Howard and the one he neglected him for. It's clear that Tony felt like he failed to measure up against you and that you would have never resorted to the brutality he did.” Steve cringed heavily at that.

“Pathetic.” Tony hisses harshly to himself, “Utterly pathetic.”


 

The long stretch of sandy terrain added insult to injury, the sun was now beating down on him harshly leaving him soaked in sweat even as his mouth felt as dry and coarse as the sand and his chest as hot as the sun's rays.

Tony couldn't tell how long it had been but the silence and desolation of the bright landscape was getting to him.

‘I almost want Howard back to taunt me.’

“Wow that's how you know the desert is getting to him.” Clint bit out.

Muttering angrily under his breath at that thought he yanked his jacket from his waist and wrapped it around his head.

“Very fetching Stark.”

Their initial laughter at the sight of Tony looking ridiculous with the jacket around his head died completely when they heard that voice.

Tony stumbled and stilled at that heartbreakingly familiar voice, he was about to turn when the hallucination took the initiative to move in front of him.

“Yinsen.”

Sam’s lip twitched, he had been wondering why some form of Yinsen hadn't appeared in the psychosis, but it seemed it had just been a matter of time.

“Hello Stark.” Yinsen’s face broke into a massive grin, which only grew wider as Tony remained speechless and gaped at him. “Nothing to say?”

“I-You’re,” Tony sighed heavily, “you’re not real.”

“No, but that does not mean that I’m not here.”

Tony scrunched his brow, “is this some spiritual ‘the dead don’t really leave us’ mumbo jumbo, because I’ve never really believed that. You’re just a hallucination brought on by heat and dehydration.”

Steve let out a sad sigh, he wished Tony did believe it to some degree. His Catholicism had been a crutch for him after he'd woken up in the 21st Century, to believe everyone he loved was gone forever would have been unbearable.

Yinsen shrugged with a quirk of his lips, moving to keep pace beside Tony.

“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered.

“Whatever for?”

Tony shot him a distressed look and gazed down to his chest. There was no blood staining his shirt, no sign of the bullets that had taken his life.

“It was not your fault,”

“Yes it was! I should have come up with a better escape plan! I should have made something to protect you! WHY AREN’T YOU BLAMING ME?!” Tony was stunned by the anger and the anguish in his shout, but he found he couldn’t stop. “You’re dead because of me! Rage at me, tell me what an irredeemable stupid shit I am for allowing them to use my weapons to murder you. Do it!”

The team flinched at the clogging self hatred pushing down on them and they stepped away from him.

“You didn't allow them to do anything.” Wanda murmured.

“That is not what you believe I would do if I were here.” The hallucination replied softly, “I cared for you. You know I strive to see the best in people. At the time I obviously saw something in you that you don't see yourself. I wouldn’t have given my life for you if I didn’t think you were worth saving.”

Tony shifted a little guiltily, “I guess I can’t switch places with you even if I wanted to and you told me not to waste my life.”

“That’s right.” Yinsen nodded.

“But how am I not meant to waste my life when I am trapped here?” Tony breathed, he was annoyed at how misty his eyes went when he voiced this.

“By not giving up. Someone will have definitely noticed that explosion, you’ve just have to keep walking till they find you.” Yinsen advised.

Tony gave him a brief bright eyed smile before moving closer to Yinsen whilst they trekked together across the sand dune.


 

Tony kept stumbling forward, exhausted under the heat of the sun. His mouth was as dry as the desert around him and his legs felt like they were about to give out from under him.

He didn’t hear the quiet roar in the distance over his own pounding head at first, and when he did register it he passed it off as exhaustion and the heat messing with his head. He kept his focus on moving one foot in front of the other, his pace had slowed and he was barely able to stay on his feet. He was certain the only thing that was keeping him going was his own momentum.

Then he saw it.

Out of the corner of his eye, a helicopter zoomed past him.

He turned and saw another on his left, he honestly wasn't sure if he had ever felt so happy or so relieved.

Peter couldn’t keep a grin off his face and he started bouncing around, whooping in joy when he realized Tony was finally being rescued.

The rest of the team was more restrained but just as relieved and shared smiles amongst themselves.

“HEY!” He yelled as he waved his less injured arm up in the air, waves of relief rushed over him as he watched the helicopter’s lower towards the ground a short way from him.

Letting out a relieved laugh, he waved again more erratically this time and smiled into the sun. “HEY!”

He tried to run a little but quickly stopped as he watched the copters land, he dropped to his knees but kept his arm elevated in a peace sign.

Sand whipped around them from the wind of the chopper and they could feel exhaustion seeping off Tony as he finally let himself relax.

They all wondered how long had he been walking for in that heat.

‘They're here to save me. YES! I'm not going to waste my life after all.’

A group of men rushed from the chopper, a man he quickly recognised as Rhodey led them to him, with a huge grin on his face.

‘This feels so real…’

“How was the funvee?” Rhodey asked, Tony saw the concern behind that joking question and thanked every god he didn't believe in, that he didn't voice it.

He sounded different than before, so much so that it clicked with Tony that his best friend was actually here.

‘You're alive! YES! Rhodey I could kiss you!’

Rhodey couldn’t help the grin that slipped across his face as he let out a laugh that was both fond and slightly embarrassed.

Sam slung an arm around his shoulder with a incorrigible smirk on his face, “Tony and Rhodey, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-”

Rhodey shoved him into the sand, “What are you? 5?”

“I-N-G,” Sam continued singing the childish song unabashedly, soon joined in by Clint as Thor laughed loudly and mimed kissing.

Tony let out a smile of pure relief and shut his eyes as he felt Rhodey place a hand on his shoulder, drawing him in for a hug.

“Next time you ride with me, ok?”

Tony gave a small nod before he felt Rhodey pull him close and place a hand on his back, he feels thankful that the bandages are now off so Rhodey wouldn't be able to suss out that he was branded there.

Rhodey frowned at himself, he had suspected because of how twitchy Tony was and how careful he had been not to show his back that he'd been whipped.

At the time he didn't know to handle it so he honoured Tony's privacy and figured that if Tony needed or wanted to open up to him about it he would.

He's proud of himself for not flinching but he wished he had the energy to reciprocate.

Instead he relished in the fact that his best friend was alive and here.

‘Oh thank god I didn’t kill you. I love you so much.’

Sam made kissy faces again to Rhodey who smiled and snorted.

Rhodey found he didn't mind too much this time though, ‘I love you too Tones.’

He was glad Rhodey knew him well enough not to say anything as he tucked his face into his best friends neck with damp eyes.

However, he thought he could feel Rhodey pull him just a bit tighter.

Chapter Text

For a moment Tony just clung to Rhodey, digging his fingers into his jacket and breathing in Rhodey’s scent from under all the sand and relished the very solid feeling of Rhodey’s arms. His breathing felt easier than it had for a long time and he almost couldn’t feel the weight of the reactor as Rhodey’s presence - the knowledge that he was alive! - seemed to chase away the months of pain, at least for a moment.

“That feeling you get when you're reunited with someone you love after going through something like that is one of the best feelings.” Bucky smiled, both Steve and Natasha looked to him, the later with the hint of an understanding smile at the edge of her lips whilst the former squeezed Bucky's shoulder in a comforting gesture with sad puppy dog eyes.

“I can't tell you how relieved I am to see you alive Tony.” He felt Rhodey hug him tighter. “Three months! Three months I've been searching for your scrawny ass-”

“I missed you too.” Tony rasped into Rhodey, “you have no idea how much.”

‘I love you so much Honey Bear. Thank god you're alive. I would never forgive myself if anything happened to you.’

Rhodey smiled wordlessly with bright eyes, he knew that in his heart the feeling was mutual.

Rhodey was silent for a long time, he sounded regretful when he spoke up again. “Let's head into the aircraft, can you walk?”

“Yeah, you’ll have to give me a hand though.” Tony rasped hoarsely.

Rhodey pulled away before his eyes widened when he spotted glow of the arc under Tony's shirt.

“Shit! Those bastards! I need a bomb disposal team here asap!" Rhodey pulled Tony away from him and holds him securely by the tops of his arms.

The team couldn't fault Rhodes’s logic at all in thinking that but the thought of how easily that could have been the truth made the more intelligent members of the team wince.

Tony held back a wince as it jostled his injured arm.

Rhodey did wince.

“Rhodey it's not a bomb!” Tony’s voice went hoarse and cracked, both due to the vehemence of the words and the severe dehydration that being under the unforgiving heat of the desert had put him under. He coughed slightly and tried to make his voice sound more natural, but his throat grated further. “I got injured. I made a miniaturized arc reactor and slotted it in my chest to keep myself alive.”

Rhodey swallowed as Tony pulled his tank top down with two fingers briefly to show the side of the arc and give a glimpse of the scars twisting the top of his chest.

For a moment Rhodey just stared in shock, a faint look of horror twisting over his face.

“Call off the bomb disposal team. False alarm. But make sure Base medical is alerted.” Rhodey barked to the men hovering behind him whilst helping Tony up off the sand. “MOVE IT! Let’s go!”

Feeling a distant pang of embarrassment at how his best friend half carried him towards the aircraft, Tony shrugged him off after they walked forward a few paces and he managed to half fall, half stumble into a seat.

The spike of pain that ran through his leg - and just about every other injury - should have made him regret the action, but he was to glad not to have looked entirely helpless among the unknown soldiers.

Tony leant over and let out a groan whilst he pressed his face into his hands.   

The team saw Rhodey cast Tony a worried look before grabbing three full, litre bottles of water in his arms and taking a seat next to Tony.

“Wow that's a bit of an overkill on the water isn't it?” Scott said whilst raising an eyebrow at Rhodey.

“I wanted to make sure he was alright after spending who knew how long wandering the desert. Besides as long as he drunk it slowly I thought he'd be fine.” Rhodey shrugged tensely.

He placed two of the bottles to his side furthest from Tony before holding one out tentatively to him. “Tony, I’ve got you some water.”

Tony’s head jerked up and he snatched it greedily from him.

Rhodey watched him apprehensively for a moment  before Tony heard him calling one of his army buddies, who Tony distantly saw carrying over a small medical bag.

Tony raised an eyebrow as Rhodey pulled out a tube and several rolls of bandages.

“What the hell is that for?” Tony rasped in a harsh questioning voice.

“The first degree burns on your arms,” Rhodey raised an eyebrow at him, “I know you well enough to know you're not going to let me treat much else. But look if you have any broken bones or anymore burns tell me now.”

“My big toe popped at one point.”

“Right that sounds like a dislocation, come here give me your foot.”

Tony made an incredulous and slightly defensive expression and kept his injured foot where it was.

“Tony quit the bullshit and give me your foot.” Rhodey snapped, sounding thoroughly done before taking a breath and continuing on in calm but demanding tone. “I can help you get your shoe off if you want-"

Tony grumbled and slid it off himself, Rhodey gave a small flash of a smile which told Tony that was Rhodey's plan all long.

“Ready?”

Tony scoffed, “Ready? I was born ready-"

Then Rhodey quickly grabbed his clearly dislocated big toe and snapped it back into place.

A bolt of familiar pain ran through Tony's foot.

Grimacing, Tony bit his tongue so hard he thought he could taste blood and he squeezed his eyes tightly shut for a moment.

“See I was fine.” Tony had to consciously try to untense and convince Rhodey that this was true, though he was uncomfortably aware that his best friend could see right through this façade despite Rhodey not calling him out on it. Rhodey could always see right through him.

“You also barely placed your right leg on the floor at all when you were moving by yourself, wanna tell me why that is?” Rhodey asked, before hissing when he spotted beads of blood on Tony’s right leg. “Fuck, man. Why didn’t you tell me you were bleeding?”

“I forgot.” Tony shrugged before his leg reflexively jolted away as Rhodey touched his shin. He pretended not to see the flash of pity on Rhodey’s face as he moved his leg back as though nothing had happened.

“Did that hurt? I was trying to feel for any foreign objects stuck in-”

“Nah I’m fine,” Tony answered, they both knew that Rhodey barely even touched his leg, “although without that context the way you’re touching my leg is bit creepy there Honey Badger.”

A smile weakly twitched at Rhodey’s lips, “No offence man but you’re not my type. Lift your leg for me.”

Rhodey worked quickly and silently on wrapping the cuts there before securing it and placing his best friends leg back down.

“Wait… I didn’t see you as the type to learn about medicine.” Steve wondered briefly as he turned to Rhodey.

“It’s standard procedure to know the basics.” Rhodey replied in a distant sounding voice.

Sam shot Rhodey a worried look whilst Steve cringed internally, knowing that he barely knew that. He was used to being the one being treated not treating others.

“You’re missing out buddy.” He shrugged with his uninjured shoulder then asked in a more serious voice. “Seriously though, how did you get out alive? … I thought you were dead, just like-”

Tony cut himself off and swallowed heavily as 3 familiar faces flashed through his mind, keeping his eyes trained on his best friend.

“I thought I was Tony.” Rhodey breathed in answer as he finally looked away from Tony’s leg to meet his eyes.

Tony went rigid. His mind started running through ideas of all the ways Rhodey could have been injured and nearly killed during the attack, each worst then the last.

There was a short pause between the two before Rhodey began to elaborate. “After I sent you off to run to safety, there was a shit storm of bullets that rained down us. One hit my shoulder but most of the first round just hit the gun, enough to ruin the gun and send it spinning…  the next thing I knew I lost my balance. And I smacked my head hard on the side of the Humvee and the ground. It was enough to make me completely black out. I woke up a couple of hours later when a team from base arrived to find out where we were. You were gone. All of the Convoy bar me was dead. The only reason I’m alive is because with how I fell and how much the superficial wound bled the terrorists believed I was too. ”

All of the group turned their shocked faces to Rhodey, who patted his armoured shoulder. “Every word of that is true… I've got the scar to prove it.”

Clint gave a long whistle. “This is probably the one instance where I'll say that you were lucky to be shot in the arm… you got damn lucky Rhodes.”

“He's lucky that they were so stupid as to not check too-" Peter added.

“They wouldn't have had time to check each body for life signs and it would have been foolish to do so.” Sam replied, frowning while he did so. “They wanted to kidnap Stark and get out of there as quick as possible. The fuckers shot anyone obviously still alive by the end of their assault and then cleared off. Stark was injured himself at the time as well and they didn't want him to die on them while they could use him or be stopped by any reinforcements the military would send to look for their missing convoy.”

Rhodey swallowed heavily before breaking eye contact with Tony and moving to sit beside him.

A million things passed through Tony’s head and for the first time Tony was shocked by just how old his best friend appeared.

“It’s been a long three months Tony…” Rhodey sighed whilst staring into the distance.

“I thought I failed him.” Rhodey confessed quietly with bright eyes. “For three months, I feared I’d led him to his death.”

Steve looked over to him. In a fit of sympathy, he was about to divulge that he knew exactly what that felt like but shut his mouth before he could speak.

“I know.” Tony answered shortly.

There was another long unnatural silence between the two, Tony’s head buzzing with questions about how everyone else had coped while he had been in hell. He had found it hard to comprehend that it had been three months since the Convoy had been attacked. It had been three months - it felt like it had been years.  

Natasha could feel herself cringe, she knew how slow time seemed to crawl when held under torture or under abuse and after getting out… the darkness that had tainted her never went away. She could only fear and wait to see how that darkness tainted Tony.


 

Thoughts about the attack, Rhodey’s injury and all the soldiers who died turned his thoughts in another direction. He wet his lips as he prepared to ask about one of the things that had haunted him in the last three months.

“Did you know the people who were with me in that Humvee?”

“Not well but I knew their names.” Rhodey answered shortly in a tired voice whilst he leans heavily back on the chair. “Staff Sergeant Sasha Ramirez, Senior Airman Daniel Pratt and Airman First Class James Forrest.”

Tony felt a knot gathering at the back of his throat. “Did they have families?”

“Don’t do that to yourself.” Rhodey said in a stern voice.

Natasha blinked in surprise, struck suddenly by the parallel to the words she used to comfort Clint after Loki.

It's clear that to her that Clint saw this too, he directd a warm smile to her and then pointedly looked back to the memory Rhodey.

“Do what exactly?” Tony’s voice went dangerously low as he narrowed his eyes, he found the anger within him had suddenly risen up. The strength of his sudden rage even took him by surprise, he took a moment to try and restrain the sudden rage as Rhodey began to speak again.

Sam cringed internally, knowing that the sudden rage was also telling of PTSD. ‘ How the hell did I miss so much?’

“Don’t find out just to find another reason to blame yourself for something that you had no fault in.”

“Well said, my comrade.” Thor boomed at Rhodey with a large smile on his face, he would have patted him on the shoulder too but with how the team had filled into the carrier had meant that several memory objects were in his path.

Rhodey instead gave a fleeting smile. “Thanks Thor.”

Tony scoffed and stood up angrily before sneering nastily.  “You know I can find out myself later, right? Whatever misguided protection you think withholding this from me now does, actually does nothing.”

Peter flinched slightly away at his tone, he knew that if Tony had directed those poisonous words at him, he wouldn't have nearly stayed as cool and collected as Rhodey.

Rhodey stared him down with a hard look that made his insides shrivel. “I thought you respected me more than that.”

The rage monster that had risen up in Tony seemed to have curled in on itself in shame and in its place he felt a cold shrinking sensation of guilt and sadness.

“Rhodey I'm sorry, I didn’t-”

Rhodey’s stare softened slightly,“ I know you didn’t… just don’t be an idiot. Sit down, you need to rest.”

Tony gave an upset sigh before sitting back down next to Rhodey.

After a long moment, Tony grumbled. “I hate just sitting here.”

“I know.” Rhodey answered with a slight smile on his face, “I think we’ll be arriving soon don’t worry.”


 

The team found themselves a little thrown when the scene suddenly changed to a Doctor’s office at the base.

“Stark can you tell me your injuries please?”

Tony gave the man a hard glare. “Surely as a doctor you’re meant to tell me that.”

“Come on Tony, you’ve got to at least give him something to work with.” Bruce rubbed his hands together and tried to resist biting his nails, anxiously he waited to see how the Doctor reacted to what Tony says. ‘If he reacts the wrong way it could make Tony withdraw even more.’

The Doctor didn’t rise to the bait though, and responded in such a calm mild mannered way that it reminded Tony painfully of Yinsen. He focused on the man’s physical differences like, the lack of spectacles and the orderly, thick mop of brown hair that was the polar opposite to the other Doctor to try to keep the similarities from hurting. “I can’t do that without examining you properly Stark.”

“When you lose someone you care about you can’t help but see them everywhere, see every little similarity. It hurts…” Wanda murmured as she frowned and looked away.

Rhodey swore under his breath before hissing. “I chose him because I thought his temperament might help Tony feel comfortable…”

“Give me your best guess, Bones.” Rhodey bit sharply in response.

Doctor Bones turned briefly to Rhodey before looking back to Tony. “I believe you are suffering from heat exhaustion, you have two obvious first degree burns on your arms which were treated very well. The way you are being very careful with your right arm makes me believe that you have dislocated it somehow.”

“You’re a right Sherlock doc.” Tony said with a hard note, his mouth twitching into a false smile. He just wanted this doctor to leave.

‘I don’t need your help, I’m fine. I’m not weak.’

“Needing medical attention doesn't mean you're weak, Sir.” Vision sighed.

“The effect of Howard's A+ parenting strikes again.” Clint gave a sarcastic slow clap. “What a dick.”

Surprisingly Steve didn't react to that. He knew he couldn't deny that description at least fit Howard's behaviour to Tony. By seeing his friend act the way he had as a parent Steve noticed that he was slowly starting to see in shades of grey where things and people to him had previously either been all good or bad without question.

“As for treatment of this injury I will set on bandaging and possibly stitching some of these wounds up,” Bones said as he peered at the cuts across Tony’s chest and shoulders. “Then give you some local anaesthetic-”

“-No.” Tony bit out in a brittle voice.

“Stark, I don’t think you understand how much resetting the bone will hurt if I don’t-”

“No you don’t understand. The last thing I need is to risk an addiction to pain meds which is surely what I will get knowing what my track record with Alcohol is like. I don’t use it unless I absolutely need it”

“Wait… What?” Peter turned to Rhodey, appearing surprised. “I get that he liked his drink in the past but I never thought it was an actual problem.”

Rhodey sighed and then bit out in a hard voice. “The press have been spreading rumours about his issues with alcohol since his parents died and there was a grain of truth to it. Is it really any wonder he didn't want to be addicted to something else?”

Wanda tilted her head to the side and questioned, “but he was using morphine in the cave and never said anything.”

“We all felt the pain after the operation and that was with the drugs, he needed it there.” Natasha answered back in a dark thoughtful voice. “But it’s understandable that with how much drugs he’s used recently, he wouldn’t want to risk anymore.”

Memory Rhodey stayed silent where he was sitting but his look to the the Doctor became sharper and he bristled almost as if he is readying himself for a fight.

“Alright but I must warn you the process will be very painful without it.” The Doctor agreed before moving other to the side to grab the gauze and stitches.

“Wait? That’s it?” Tony blinked at the Doctor who turned back to him with the equipment gathered in his arms. He’d expected more of an argument.

“Short term relief isn’t worth it if you feel it’s going to to be detrimental to you in the long run.” The Doctor flashed him a smile that flooded Tony’s insides with relief, Tony noticed Rhodey untense as well as the Doctor moved back over.

“Bless you Bones.” Steve smiled. “He's pretty understanding.”

“Putting the patients long term needs ahead of protocol sometimes is the mark of a good Doctor.” Bruce responded with a smile.

“If I may before I fix your arm, can I get some details about the device in your chest and how it will possibly affect the muscles in your shoulder and your chest cavity.” The Doctor prompted gently. “I would like to take some scans and run some tests to be sure I don't cause further damage.”

Tony gave him a hard look. “Long story short, it's a very sophisticated pacemaker. I got injured. I made myself a solution. No, you popping my arm back in won't tear anything in my chest, just do it."

“He can’t possibly know that.” Bruce gasped. “Tony you idiot!”

“What?! Why would his shoulder affect anything?” Rhodey turned to Bruce with wide panicked eyes.

“Because the pectoral muscles run from the shoulder to the sternum; it connects to the reactor. Moving the shoulder back could cause the muscle to tear away from either his shoulder or the arc.” Bruce responded in an anxious flurry, he felt restless and anxious at the thought of possibly more internal injury for Tony and what it could mean.

The Doctor frowned, he pressed his hands briefly around the area of the joint and his chest, seeming to check Tony's words were true before he clicked the joint back up.

Feeling flooded through Tony's arm, which was both a good thing as he hadn't realised his fingers were going numb till that point and a bad thing because the pain around the joint had flared up again with a vengeance.

They all hissed in pain and clasped their respective shoulders as they felt the sharp pain and the dull ache that blended with the pain that still lingered in their chests. Tony scarcely winced.

“How is he barely reacting to that?” Wanda hissed, as she gingerly brought her hand away from her arm. Her powers thrum powerfully across that shoulder and trickle down to her hand, almost as if they were checking that conduit was still available to them.

“The reactor,” Bruce murmured sadly, “he’s getting used to pain around his torso. The relocation is nothing compared to the pain he’s had and still has from the reactor.”

“Colonel Rhodes, would you mind grabbing the patients change of clothes? I'll be ready to move on the full examination soon.” The Doctor said as he moved over to the cooled storage cabinet.

“Full examination?” Tony raised an incredulous eyebrow at the Doctor that he didn't see because he was in the process of taking out ice packs from the Cabinet.

Tony thought he could see brightly coded and labelled selections of vials of medicines and containers filled with things he couldn't distinguish.

Bruce’s interest peaked at the small glimpse of the other doctors materials and chemicals, he recognised a lot of the things in there from what he used as his time being the team doctor.

However, he forced himself to look away from the distraction to Rhodey. “What the fuck is that? It sounds plain creepy or boring to Me.”

“You and me both.” Peter mumbled as he shifted uncomfortably, he had always felt uneasy around Doctors and his family could rarely afford medical care. He’d gotten used to minor injuries and illness being taken care of by Aunt May and now that he was Spider-Man by fixing whatever injuries he received himself.

“Its standard procedure. He just needs to check for any internal injuries you may have.” Rhodey said.

“I'm fine.” Tony said incredulously.  

“Forgive me if I have trouble believing that seeing as you busted yourself out using an explosion.” Rhodey hissed anxiously to Tony.

“It is pretty far fetched, in fact there was a high possibility of fatality from both the explosion and the fall.” Vision said. “Mr Stark was very lucky to have gained only these injuries from what we have just seen.”

There was a moment of tense silence between the two before Rhodey’s tone became reassuring. “I'll be back soon.”

Tony hated it. It felt like Rhodey was being too careful with him, treating him like he was fine china.  

He was sure to show how much he hated it too by directing a severe glare at Rhodey, one he's sure would have been worthy of Howard Stark, as he left the room.

Steve cringed as he saw the resemblance from the Howard that he had seen in Tony's memories. He had always wanted to see Howard in Tony, now he wasn't sure he liked it.

“I promise I won't be too invasive Stark, but we will get to that in a moment.” The Doctor replied calmly but firmly as he moved back over. “First I need you to hold the ice pack to your shoulder whilst I check your ankle.”

Tony held the ice pack mechanically as the doctor prodded around the ankle before declaring it was only twisted with a small gash before binding it.

“Can you take off your shirt please so I can examine the wounds there?” The Doctor asked.

“No.” Tony bit out.

“Would you prefer to wait till Colonel Rhodes returns?”

“No I would prefer to have no one poking and prodding at me for once in three fucking months! Is that too much to ask?!”  Tony found himself yelling at this point without consciously telling himself to. “I am fine! I really am! I just want to get changed and be left alone. No meaningless prodding! No gawking! You've fixed me up, now there's no point for it for some BS examination. I know I'm fine. Let me go.”

The group were floored again but the sudden strength of the anger that rose up in their teammate and a lot of them found themselves stepping away from him unconsciously.

“Fuck…” Peter reared back in surprise, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so… raw and angry.”

“Not that you can blame him, he did just bust out of hell.” Winter’s eyes narrow as a calculating expression comes over his face distinctive to the Soldier. “He’s tense and defensive which is telling of anger but the way he’s angling his body, particularly his back away from the Doctor seems to me like he wants to keep the Doctor as far away from that part of him as possible.”

The scene began to morph and change around them.


 

The team followed Rhodey and Tony down the corridor leading away from the Doctors office, they were a little thrown by the sudden scene change and Bones absence. But not so much as to not follow the conversation they were listening to.

“This is fucking Bullshit. I'm not an invalid.” Tony growled to Rhodey from the wheelchair.

“I'm not treating you like one. It's a reasonable compromise seeing as you won't let the doctor check for internal injuries… when we get back I'm going to call some paramedics to meet us as we land in the US.-"

“-Rhodey-"

‘You know that promise to the Doctor was bullshit, come on Man.’

Bruce let out a long suffering groan. “Tony, is one of the best friends you can have, but the worst patient you can ever have.”

“I brought you a suit you can change into.” Rhodey spoke up, Tony hated the tone he was using it sounded too calm, too careful, like he felt Tony would shatter if he was too harsh. “I'll show you to the bathroom.”

“Go Rhodey.” Peter smiled widely to him.

“Pepper packed those clothes for me to bring him home in just before my first mission. I couldn’t bring myself to take them back to her even after so long. Neither of us wanted to give up despite it being so long…” After that confession Rhodey’s voice hardened and his jaw clenched. “Only Stane seemed ready. I should’ve been more suspicious at how ready he appeared to be to call off the search to ‘grieve’. Bastard.”

“I can't believe I sw the day where you got self conscious. All the time I've known you you've never been like this - quite the opposite actually.” Rhodey observed anxiously.

“People change.” Tony bit out.

Rhodey opened the door and turned back to Tony, giving him a worried frown. “That whole exchange with the Doctor just now seemed off. You're hiding something-”

Tony narrowed his eyes and rose to his feet as he steadily met his best friends piercing gaze.

“Well if you don't want to tell me that's fine.” Rhodey appeared a little put out by the lack of response before he held out the suit. “Here. Take as long as you need, I'll be waiting.”

Rhodey shut the door swiftly after that to give Tony privacy.

As soon as he was sure Rhodey wouldn't come back in, he began to quickly pull off his jacket and his tank top despite his injuries protests.

Upon looking at himself in the mirror, Tony's face dropped, not only was he really pale and gaunt, he was covered completely in scars.

The worst was the mangled mess that was his chest, at the top were the places where Yinsen had extracted the shrapnel, jagged lines from where Yinsen had inevitably slipped a few times when Tony had violently writhed against against his blade.

Tony cringed at the remembrance of those thoughts circling his brain, he tried not to linger too much on those scars though.

He knew what they looked like.

“It’s still a lot though …” Steve looked over Tony sadly, “that’s going to be tough to deal with.”

“Well spotted Captain Obvious.” Winter growled in reply, seeing Stark so scarred and seeing what he had to go through to get them seemed to have struck a nerve in him and Bucky.

After taking a moment to brace himself, Tony turned and twisted his head to take a look at the massive Ten Ring's brand dug into his back.

Tony is immediately floored by the extent of the ugly brand distinctive brand, it swamped the entirety of the lower half of his back.

Winter tensed, the almost imperceptible sound of gears jarring against each other and the general hum of the arm was something he more felt rather than heard as he clenched the arm. He could feel the metal rubbing against flesh under the skin of his shoulder.

His new arm was different, better than Hydra’s. And it didn’t have that god awful red star, the one that claimed him as their puppet. But that feeling of being owned and permanently disfigured by Hydra never left. No one could miss that he was as messed up as he was or that Hydra had took his flesh arm, that the remnants of his shoulder were a scarred mess. But he knew it would be much worse if he was forced to stare at that red star day after day. Stark didn’t have the option of replacing his whole back or getting a new paint job.

“It's massive,” Tony breathed. “Holy shit! I can't cover that up. No amount of plastic surgery will ever fully fix-.”

Winter swallowed heavily, he barely held back the murderous rage and it was only thanks to Stark’s treatment with the BARF that he could.

His throat clenched painfully and he cuts himself off before he can finish that sentence.

Contrary to popular belief he had never been fully arrogant or vain.

But one thing he was, was proud.

He took pride in several things, for instance; Tony knew was attractive - but now with the brand covering his back and the arc scarring splayed across his front, he was ruined.

Front and back.

“No. Scars are a mark of what you can endure, they are something to be proud of since they are a mark of the battles and the struggles you can endure. Doesn’t Midgardian culture view them this way too?” Thor looked to the others with confusion etched on his face, the brand on his friends back he could get the shame in since the enemy had defiled him with their symbol but the chest scars he couldn’t get the shame in them at all. They were a testament of survival against all odds.

“Most people view them as just ugly.” Natasha replied in a hard voice, she had to try to keep her hand away from her side where Winter had shot her, the mark had bothered her for a long time until she had gotten treatment for it, now she was lucky that only the barest hint of a mark remained.

What was worse was that he would have to carry their mark on him for the rest of his life

‘Who would want to sleep with you now? Pepper certainly wouldn't. Even discounting that who would want to be in a relationship with a man who has a brand like that on his back and a mechanical heart.’

“She did though!” Rhodey exclaims, “Because she loved you, idiot.”

“At least I am here. The personality is what counts isn't it? I survived, I burned them. They're gone. They’re gone.” Tony repeated that to himself like a mantra.

‘It doesn't change the fact that I am permanently disfigured now. And come on the personality is what counts?! I don’t even like myself.’

Wanda spoke in a toneless voice, “Scathing, even I have got to say that’s too harsh.”

Tony grimaced at that before grabbing the brown shirt and slipping it on gingerly to accommodate for the pains running up and down his arm.

He took care to pull the pendant Yinsen made him from his pocket and stow it safely on the side before looking to grab his new clothes. Pepper had good taste.


 

Eventually, he grabbed his dirty things and unlocked the door to find Rhodey sat waiting for him with that blasted wheelchair still there.

“Hey Tones- I've got to ask… what happened over there?”

They saw brief flashes of blood, water, sand, metal, bright blue light and Yinsen’s dead unsettling eyes.

‘Suppress it .’ They felt Tony internally push everything deep to the back of his mind.

“I have a feeling that all the darkness in Friend Anthony’s sphere is all the repressed traumas from times like these.” Thor reaffirmed the grip on his hammer anxiously.

“I really hope not.” Scott replied. “He can’t afford to do that, especially not after all this.”

“I don't want to talk about it.” Tony's jaw twitched, he was silent for a long moment then his voice became sharp and his eyes turned black. He knew Rhodey wouldn't drop it unless Tony gave him something.

So give him something.’

“They wanted me to make weapons.”

“And?” Rhodey prompted.

“I said yes, I made a weapon too. One to get out and blow their operation to smithereens, they got nothing from me.”

Natasha was awed at how good a manipulator Tony was showing himself to be. He was telling the truth but in such a way that he omitted huge details without it being obvious that was what he was doing.

‘It's not proper lying; I just kind of skimmed over the truth a little. I'm not going to tell anyone about the other things that happened.’ Tony thought.

Seemingly relieved, Rhodey smiled. “Oh thank God. Who knows what would have happened if you were your normal stubborn self and said no first.”

“I didn’t buy it completely but I thought this was as close to the truth as I was going to get.” Rhodey shrugged with bright eyes and looked away, “I didn’t want to push too hard and cause him to retreat into himself.”

Tony resisted twitching at that and disguised the impulse by instead lowering himself into the wheelchair. ‘Oh I do know. I lived it.’

Rhodey shifted uncomfortably and grimaced at remembering all the things he had seen his best friend live through in those three months of hell.

“Tony...that’s enough for me but my CO is going to want to see you now you're all patched up.” Rhodey said almost regretfully.

“Really? Can’t they just let him go home already?” Peter exclaimed as he turned to current Rhodey.

“If it was up to me I would have.” Rhodey wiped his hands down his face. “There’s no way I could have done that without getting both myself and Tony into a lot of unnecessary shit.”

Tony let out a loud groan. “What the fuck? Really? I just want to go home already. I want to see Pepper-”

“-I know. I know,” Rhodey’s voice took on that soothing, careful tone again and Tony hated it. “You can do all those things right after this.”

Tony folded his arms and lifted his head up defiantly to Rhodey, he had always been smaller than his best friend and the wheelchair only emphasised that.

Although it was an illogical thought, he felt trapped. Again.

“No wonder…” Sam sighed.

Something about those thoughts must have shown on his face because then he felt Rhodey’s hand on his shoulder. “Hey, this is just standard procedure. Be brief if you want, he'll ask you to elaborate if they need you to. No-one’s accusing you of anything, it’ll just be him clarifying what went down.”

“He better be quick.” Tony let out an irritated sigh and grit his teeth, his eyes flashed angrily. “Where does he want me?”


 

When the scene reappeared the Avengers found themselves standing with the younger version of Rhodey waiting impatiently outside an office door beside an empty wheelchair.

The mystery of what was going on behind the locked door was quickly solved when they heard muffled raised voices of both Tony and another man.

A few of the team jolted in surprise when the door slammed open and a scarily angry looking Tony stormed out through it.

The man who was quickly apparent to be the CO followed Tony out, he moved like a much younger man than he appeared to be and held himself upright and stiff like a soldier.

His cold, controlled anger clashed staunchly with Tony's who whirled furiously around on him with all the fury and heat of a forest fire.

"If you bugged the hospital room what was the point in asking me all those questions?! What I said there is all I will say!"

“That… that breaks patient confidentiality. Tony could sue him for that.” Bruce said in a hard voice, he found his old rage for the US military resurfacing with this revelation. “He should.”

“So much for not accusing him of anything.” Natasha’s jaw twitched, “I'd expect this behaviour if they thought...”

Natasha gave side glance to the current version of Rhodey before continuing in a more detached probing tone. “Even though this is an interrogation tactic used to try and verify someone's word, I would expect behaviour like this if your CO believed that Tony was guilty.”

Rhodey matches her hard look with one of his own. “The Brigadier General is like your Fury. He never trusted anyone as far as he could throw them. He was a staunch rule abider when it suited him, when it didn't... he didn't see the harm in bending a few. It was probably one of the reasons why he was so successful. Tony had a way of verbally tying him in knots and making him fall flat on his face. It didn't help that there were glimpses of SI weapons in other countries when Tony boasted that he exclusively dealt to the Military and those were fakes. As for suing him… Tony had bigger fish to fry after Iron Man and the guy retired soon after Obadiah had kicked the bucket.”

The Commanding Officer took on a firm, stubborn tone whilst his expression remained unapologetic. "All I want is to clarify what happened over those 3 months so we can rule out any suspicions."

"Suspicions of what?” Tony snapped cuttingly.

He waited a moment whilst he scanned the other man's face before Tony’s eyebrows rose so far up his head they were in danger of disappearing into his hairline. “Terrorism? Do you really think I'd betray the country my father and I made resources to protect?”

“It’s ludicrous,” Cap murmured as he shook his head. “Completely Ludicrous.”

“If you didn’t know Stark… it didn’t seem such a stupid assumption.” Scott cringed, “Quite a few others thought it.”  

The Brigadier pressed his lips together to form a thin white line, the expression reminded him of Howard and for this he hated the man even more. “Anything is possible given the right motive.”

Steve felt the colour drain out of his face as he risked a quick glance to Bucky.

“Fuck you.” Tony snarled, “We're done here."

Peering at the military craft landing outside and the soldiers filtering into it, Tony took a seat in his wheelchair and began to try to speed away.

It was difficult with one arm, so he ended up almost careening into the wall before he felt Rhodey grasp the back of his chair and steer him back on course.

Whilst walking him swiftly away from the Brigadier, Rhodey asked. “Where are we going?”

Tony pointed at the military craft with his uninjured arm.  “Home.”

Chapter Text

It seemed to take an age for the aircraft doors to finally open, Tony stood stubbornly upright as soon as they did and Rhodey grabbed his hand as he insisted on supporting him.

‘I am finefinefine.’

The proud part of his mind tried to weakly argue that he should let go of Rhodey’s hand, however another part of him actually held tighter and relished the fact that Rhodey was here and had succeeded in bringing him home.

Rhodey smiled widely at that and his eyes burned suspiciously bright.

Although the brightness of the outside world had blinded him a little, he could make out a bright vibrant head of strawberry blonde hair a short distance away and it made his heart leap to his throat.

Pepper.

He was distracted from his sudden leap of joy at seeing her by Rhodey suddenly moving his arm to try and guide him over from a gap in the ramp.

“Watch it coming up here.” Rhodey murmured in a protective low voice.

Tony’s eyes looked across to Rhodey as he continued to walk over the connecting bump in the railing but as he did he spotted a couple of paramedics with a gurney rush up to him.

“Are you kidding me with this?” Tony asked Rhodey in a flat annoyed voice, he unlinked their hands to wave the bed away, then adjust his sling as a wordless reminder to their conversation earlier while he was still in that blasted wheelchair. “Get rid of it.”

Letting out a sigh, Bruce's lips twitched as he watched the scene intently. “I guess you called them?”

Rhodey looked back to him, “I called Pepper and told her of his state, then I called them.” His defensiveness flared as did the intensity of his voice. “Of course I did he'd just got out of 3 months of Captivity-"

“I wasn’t implying it was the wrong thing to do.” Bruce responded softly. “Tony would have never stood for it but I would have done the same.”

Rhodey shut his mouth, instantly feeling bad for snapping.

Rhodey gave an almost inaudible annoyed sigh as he walked away from Tony to deal with the paramedics. Tony kept walking straight towards Pepper who was smiling and biting her lower lip.

Concerned, he stopped a few feet from her and tilted his head down once he noticed her normally clear brilliant blue eyes were bloodshot as if she had been crying.

“Hmm. Your eyes are red.” He noted before trying to cover his concern with a joke. “Few tears for your long lost boss?”

Pepper’s smile grew wider as she answered in an amused yet tender tone. “Tears of joy. I hate job hunting.”

“Obadiah took away her job?” Natasha raised an eyebrow, “I thought he would have transferred her to his section or had her do odd jobs for him.”

“Oh he did, both.” Rhodey answered darkly, “Pepper hated it, Obadiah wasn't the nicest boss. Borderline creepy at best. Angry and aggressive at worst.”

“She shouldn't have had to stand for that.” Steve frowned. “Wasn't there anyone she could have complained to?”

“Tony was gone. She talked to me but I couldn't do anything.” Rhodey answered with a sad sigh.

He was relieved by the fact that she left what she really meant unspoken, it was familiar and comforting.

Tony found he needed that normalcy after everything, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

‘Even if you don’t deserve it.’

“Stop that. You do.” Peter hissed back, in a surprisingly stern voice he had picked up from Aunt May.

“Yeah, vacation's over.” He found that even though Pepper gave a radiant smile at this, he couldn’t stir one himself.

‘You know who should have got out and it wasn’t you.’

He refused to let himself dwell on the thought, there were too many emotions tied to it and he didn’t have time to break down. He just moved to the car with Pepper at his side.

Peter swallowed around the renewed tightness in his throat as he felt the scene shift around him. But this time the shifting felt harder, as he and the whole team would have to fit in the small space of the car.

It had happened before. Still the disconnect, the sensation of being without even the projection of a body and having only a vague awareness of his teammates was something he wasn't sure he could ever fully get used to.


 

“I hate this sensation. Stark needs to stop getting into such small cars.” Then Scott hissed to the projection of Tony, “Get a limo man, you have enough money.”

Bucky just managed to stifle a snort.

“Where to, sir?” Happy asked, he sounded professional as ever but he was wearing dark shades that Tony knew were hiding misty eyes underneath.

Pepper answered for him in a soft voice. “Take us to the hospital, please Happy-.”

Tony cut her off firmly, “No.”

He got that she was trying to care for him, but right now he did not appreciate it at all. ‘I’ve just escaped from being prodded like a-’ Tony forcefully squashed down that anger before it could fully come up. What’s wrong with me?’

‘PTSD.’ Sam mentally answered but he didn't have time to voice this as Pepper spoke up quickly.

“No?” Pepper’s voice turned from soft and surprised, to a stern tone that Tony had often heard from Madre, Peggy and Ana growing up. “Tony… You have to go to the hospital.”

“I don't have to do anything.” Tony turned to her as he answered in a stern voice of his own, one that would normally end arguments.

Pepper tried to insist in a pleading voice and wide anxious blue eyes that looked from his sling to the small cuts maring his face. “The Doctor has to look at you.”

“I was in captivity for three months.” Pepper swallowed and moved back a little at that reminder. He tried to soften his voice a little as he continued to look at her. “There are two things I want to do. I want an American cheeseburger…” He blinked wondering how to best ask what he was going to say next without sounding completely insane. “And the other…”

Pepper turned away sounding sharp and a little disappointed. “That's enough of that.”

He realised quickly that she thought he was going to ask her to organise an orgy. ‘Like I have any desire for that right now. I have work to do.’

‘That's a definite sign of change.’ Steve directed a proud smile to Tony. The selfish arrogant man that he had been shown videos of when SHIELD had first defrosted him wasn't what he was seeing in Tony now at all. ‘Or was the Tony I had seen to be purely invested in his own pleasures the Mask rather than the real Tony all along?’

Tony didn’t look away from her though, “It's not what you think. I want you to call for a press conference now.”

Bewildered, Pepper looked back to him. “Call for a press conference-”

Tony cut her off, turning to look to Happy now. “Yeah. Hogan, drive.”

“What on earth for?” Pepper questioned, he felt her eyes on him but he didn't look to her.

“Cheeseburger first.”


 

Tony felt a pit in his stomach as the car pulled up and he saw the crowd watching and clapping, Obadiah standing front and centre of the mass. He couldn't help but think how fake it all was and how none of the strangers that were clapping and smiling probably even cared that he was back, that he was home.

‘How many of them wish I was rotting in the sand?’

Thor felt himself cringe, despite his experience with the Warriors Three, there had been plenty of people in the past who had tried to fake being friendly to him just because he was the Prince.

He just wanted to go home and seek the familiarity of his workshop - of JARVIS, DUM-E, U and Butterfingers - but this was something he had to do.

Sam sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Go home Man, or better go to a hospital. It can wait.”

“Look at this, huh?” Obadiah cheered as he opened the door for Tony with an overwhelming grin plastered to his face.

Tony stepped out of the car to be swept into a hug by Obadiah. It should feel comforting but instead it felt weird and overbearing.

The group cringed at that, Wanda’s eyes flared briefly red as she stared hard at Stane.

“At least he’s started to realize, if only subconsciously,” Natasha mutterd.

“We were going to meet at the hospital?” Obadiah questioned him as he pulled away.

“Yeah, nah, it’s-it’s fine” Tony muttered as he shifted uncomfortably, turning around to look for Happy and gratefully accepting the next burger he held.

“Oh, a burger, you had to have a burger.” Obadiah said as he saw the greasy packaging of the drive through burger. Tony thought his tone sounded vaguely derisive, but told himself it was just teasing.

“I wouldn't be so sure.” Clint spat and he kept his narrowed eyes on Obadiah.

“Well, come on,” he shrugged, feeling slightly annoyed anyway.

“Did you get me one of those?”

‘Oh so now you want one?’

“There’s only one left, I need it,” he rebuffed. He might regret it later, but damn if he was going to give up one of these burgers right now. They were the most delicious thing he’d tasted in three months. The only thing that wasn’t rice and water or the bland broth they’d given him at the airbase.

“Yeah, he needs it more than you!” Peter protested indignantly.

“Technically true.” Bruce nodded, “but it's really not a good idea for him to be eating all those burgers after nearly three months of starvation… he's going to be very sick later.”

The team followed carefully between Obadiah, Tony and Pepper as they were lead through the hallway to the conference hall.

The front of the group narrowed their eyes at Obadiah, who stuck behind Tony like a malicious shadow, whilst putting on a scarily convincing farce of celebration.

Rhodey just managed to hold back a growl.

Meanwhile the others towards the back were warmed at seeing Peppers genuine joy at watching Tony.

She sighed in relief whilst Obadiah clapped loudly and laughed as he presented Tony to the room of reporters, “Hey, look who's here!”

“My God he's like an embarrassing soccer mum.” Peter hissed.

Embarrassed for Tony, Clint quickened his pace as he, like the rest of the team walk by behind Tony who was parting the press like the red sea.

He was thrown when Natasha suddenly tugged on his arm and inclined her head to their left. When Clint looked over his mouth went dry as he saw Coulson talking to Pepper at the back of the conference. Nat hissed to him, not unkindly, but subtly, out of the corner of her mouth. “Take note but keep walking.”

Natasha had to guide him forward, as Clint was too shocked by the sight of his dead best friend and handler to take much else in. It reopened a wound that he had long since tried to bury. Clint felt a pang in his chest when the swarm of reporters blocked out his view of Coulson. He swallowed heavily.

Natasha’s grip on his elbow became less firm and more of a comforting hold before she dropped her grip, squeezed his hand and moved away.

He looked around to see why and saw Tony hesitate almost unnoticeably, as he walked up to the crowd. If he wasn’t able to feel Tony’s unease at the sight of the group with their microphones pointed threateningly at him he would have passed it off as nothing.

Clint realized that a large group standing in front of him and pointing objects at him wasn’t a very comforting sight so soon after Afghanistan. Clint wouldn’t have been surprised if Tony had fled there and then.

But he didn’t. Instead Tony walked in front of the podium and sat down, making an effort to look as casual and comfortable as possible.

I remember watching this. I thought you had a lot of balls, man. Apparently you had even more than I thought.’

“Jesus,” Scott muttered, “I think I would’ve just run.”

The group divided around either side of Tony, into what subconsciously appeared to be their civil war teams.

“Are you alright?” Wanda inquired to Clint in a low voice as they sat on the podium by Steve’s side, “Who was that man?”

Clint just shook his head.

“You'll find out later.” Natasha answered shortly for him, from where she was perched nearest to Tony on Steve's side.

“Hey,” Tony called up from where he was sat. “Would it be alright if everyone sat down? Why don't you just sit down? That way you can see me, and I can… A little less formal…”

Obadiah moved to the side, with a tight indulgent smile and took a seat on the steps.

Natasha’s lip curled at having to move for him whilst Cap had to stand to scramble out of the way. Though she was pleased to note Tony’s tension regarding the crowd lessen as they all sat on the floor and that she had ended up conveniently sitting between Tony and Obadiah. She refrained from sneering towards Obadiah when Tony turned to him, looking through her, seeking a familiar face away from the crowd to settle himself and take a moment to dissociate the crowd from the memory running through his head.

“Good to see you.” Tony greeted Obadiah softly, giving his godfather a long meaningful look.

‘Thank God you're here by my side.’

Obadiah's whole face crinkled in a closed lipped smile, something in Tony's chest warmed at the sight as Obadiah echoed the sentiment and clasped his shoulder. “Good to see you.”

Natasha grimaced and shuffled forward to escape the odd feeling of his arm passing through her.

“I never got to say goodbye to dad.” Tony said in a low, tight voice to Obadiah.

The colour drained from Steve’s face and he looked down at his lap, but Bucky straightened and moved his gaze from Obadiah, straight back to Tony. Bucky refused to shy away.

“I never got to say goodbye to my father.”

The press shifted awkwardly at the revelation .

The brief beat of silence that followed was heavy, even the Avengers didn’t make a sound to break it.

“There's questions that I would've asked him. I would've asked him how he felt about what this company did…” Tony took a moment to try and keep the waver from his voice as he continued. “If he was conflicted, if he ever had doubts.”

‘If he was like you.’ Steve blew out a quiet exhale, before he would have stepped up to defend his old friend and say that obviously he had done. However, he saw that the hallucination of Howard that Tony had imagined didn’t. ‘What would have given Tony that idea?’

“Or maybe he was every inch the man we all remember from the newsreels. I saw young Americans killed… by the very weapons I created to defend them and protect them.”

Despite how much he was reining himself in, the team could hear and feel the raw emotions behind the words and see the haunted look hidden in his eyes. Wanda in particular couldn’t help but become misty eyed. Meanwhile Natasha looked to Stane, she saw something calculating flicker across his face, as if he was reassessing Tony .

“And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero-accountability.”

The reporters broke out in quiet murmurs as one man at the front raised his hand. Tony pointed to him. “Hey Ben?”

“What happened over there?”

‘OK. Nope, Not going there.’

Tony stood and moved to the podium, putting it between him and the group, there was an audible shift in his voice as he sounded stronger, more vehement and determined. “I-I had my eyes opened. I came to realize that I have more to offer this world than just making things that blow up. And that is why, effective immediately, I'm shutting down-”

The uproar was immediate as the press clammered to their feet and Obadiah hastily got up when  Tony’s plan became clear. However, Tony plowed on regardless.

“-the weapons manufacturing division of Stark International…” Obadiah ushered him away from the podium in an attempt to shut him up but he only raised his voice over Obadiah’s and the crowd. “Until such a time, as I can decide what the future of this company will be, what direction it should take, one that I am comfortable with, and is consistent with the highest good of this country and the world.”

As he swiftly walked through the centre of the press, the Avengers made to follow him but looked back as they heard Obadiah take over in a powerful voice.

“What we should take away from this… is that Tony's back!” He flung his arms out toward where Tony was leaving. “And he's healthier than ever. We are gonna have a little internal discussion and we'll get back to you with the follow-up.”

“Healthier than ever?” Sneered Rhodey around the subtle ache in his chest, an echo of Tony’s now constant pain.

Rhodey couldn’t help but notice his own frowning face at the edge of the crowd.


 

The scene reformed around them, they could hear and feel a low electric hum vibrating through the room.

Bruce looked to the centre of the room, he knew what he was looking at but almost couldn’t believe it. However the blue glow from the huge machine was unmistakable as the arc reactor.

Clint and Scott whistled as they saw the reactor.

“He made this small enough to fit in his chest!” Scott cried in awe as he stumbled up to the railing and looking up to the machine that dwarfed the entire team.

“Wow…” Peter whispered with a grin as he stepped up to Tony.

‘I can’t believe it took getting waterboarded and my chest ripped open to see the potential of this. I was so stupid before.’

Bruce wavered where he stood, he almost forgot himself and walked forward to remind his friend of the memory he had seen and how Obadiah had steered him away, when the man himself walked in.

Tony straightened and tensed a little as he looked to Obadiah.

“Well that... err... that went well.” Obadiah said around a cigar before removing it. Sensing the restrained anger within Obadiah’s words, Tony looked to his hands on the railing, he felt his mental guard go up.

“Did I just paint a target on the back of my head?” Tony questioned tightly as he moved away from the bars and loosened his shirt.

“Your head?” Obadiah dismissed, strutting behind Tony. “What about my head? What do you think the over-under on a stock drop is gonna be?”

“Selfish bastard,” Sam growled.

Tony hummed, taking off his tie and laying it next to his jacket. “Optimistically? 40 Points?” It would be a big loss, but not unrecoverable, they had other divisions, weapons wasn’t all they did. He had made sure of that and it was time to remind the world.

Wanda gave a brief fleeting smile at this thought even though that reminder hadn't reached all of the world, certainly not Sokovia.

“At minimum.” Obadiah almost growled, leaning forward into Tony’s space slightly.

“Yep.”

“Tony,” came Obadiah’s firm tone, sounding like he was lecturing a child. Tony hated it when he started talking like that, it reminded him of when his dad would talk down and dismiss his ideas. But he was determined not to give in this time. “We're a weapons manufacturer.”

‘No, not anymore,’ Tony thought with exasperation. “Obie, I just, I don't want a body count -”

“That’s-” Obadiah started trying to talk over him, but Tony carried on undeterred. He almost snarled, his throat tightened and the fingernails of his free hand dug into his palm.

“-to be our only legacy!”

“That's what we do. We're ironmongers, we make weapons.”

“It’s my name on the side of the building-” Tony pointed out. His name, his company and his decision. Obadiah would have to pry that from his cold, dead hands.

Vision grimaced, the bits of JARVIS’s memories he had recovered hinted at how ready Obadiah was to do that.

Obadiah carried on as though he hadn’t heard him, sounding like he was speaking to a particularly ignorant child. “And what we do keeps the world from falling into chaos.”

“Not from what I've seen.” Wanda snarled, her own experiences with what she had thought to be SI weaponry and Stark's own, weighed heavily at the back of her mind.

“Not based on what I saw.” Tony argued. He’d been there, he’d seen the way his weapons were being used. Something had gone wrong and he wouldn’t be an engineer if he didn’t fix it. “We're not doing a good enough job. We can do better, we're gonna do something else.”

Wanda blinked and her lips parted in shock at how her words basically mirrored Tony's own.

“Oh, like what? You want us to make baby bottles?” Obadiah said dismissively.

“Oh my god... he’s always putting him down and I'm sick of it.” Peter hissed whilst he twisted his arms tightly around each other.

Tony inwardly seethed at the condescension. He released a hiss of breath between his teeth, his fingers forcefully uncurling and used the opening to present the idea swirling in his mind. “I think we should take another look into Arc Reactor technology.”

“Oh, come on,” Obadiah grinned and chuckled like Tony had made a joke. “The Arc Reactor, that's a publicity stunt!” He swung his arm out to gesture to the machine. “Tony, c'mon! We built that thing to shut the hippies up!”

Incredulous, Scott's eyebrows raised into his hairline as he looked back up at the arc before he gave a long, impressed, low whistle.

“It works.” Tony said whilst looking up into the glowing blue.

“Yeah, as a science project!” Obadiah replied as he moved around behind Tony, “The Arc was never cost-effective. We knew that before we built it. Arc Reactor technology, that's a dead end, right?”

“Maybe,”

“Huh, am I right? We haven't had a breakthrough in that, in what... 30 years?” He wheedled as Tony turned to face him.

“That's what they say,” Tony narrowed his eyes sharply. “Could you have a lousier poker face? Just tell me, who told you?”

“Never mind who told me. Show me,” he demanded, pointing to Tony’s chest.

Winter growled at the obvious manipulation, “liars like him are always the worst ones, they let you see the harmless lies so you think you have them figured out. It makes them even more dangerous.”

“It’s Rhodey or Pepper?” Tony questioned, feeling a little stung. He’d told them both not to tell anyone. He had planned on telling Obadiah eventually, but he hadn’t wanted him to know yet.

“I wanna see it.” Obadiah demanded whilst deftly avoiding the question.

“Okay, Rhodey,” Tony grimaced, knowing Pepper wouldn’t have asked him to hid the fact that she had told him.

Rhodey shifted uncomfortably under some of the teams sharp looks. “He had me fooled as much as Tony and I thought he needed to know.”

He removed the sling and unbuttoned the top two closures, eyeing the area uncomfortably to make sure no one else would see. Obadiah stared at the device before glancing around and stepping closer to Tony. He fiddled with reclosing the buttons on Tony’s shirt as he gave a wide grin and a muffled laugh and threw a nervous look around the area.

“Eww...is it just me or is everyone else getting strong pervy vibes here?” Scott shivered.

“It's not just you.” Rhodey answered in a strained voice that radiated discomfort as everyone else glared at Obadiah.

“It works,” Tony said forcefully as he pushed down his rising discomfort and the odd urge to run before he became prey.

‘This is ridiculous. It's only Obie. Stop it.’

Obadiah sighed and slung his arm around Tony, drawing him closer as Tony tensed. “Listen to me, Tony. We are a team, do you understand? There's nothing we can't do if we stick together, like your father and I.”

“So now he plays the team card,” Natasha sneered.

Tony wanted to curse at the mention of his father, he hated how Obadiah always insisted in bringing him up. It always had the effect of making him feel inadequate, bitter or raw.

The corner of Winter’s mouth twitched upwards into a nasty sneer, he recognised immediately that Obadiah was again using the memory of Howard to manipulate Tony. ‘Much like Pierce had done to me with Steve, in a more obvious way.’

“I'm sorry I didn't give you a heads up, okay? But if I had…” ‘You would’ve stopped me, you never would’ve let me do the conference.’

“Tony, Tony, no more of this 'ready - fire - aim' business. Do you understand me?”

“That was dad's line,”Tony smiled stiffly, wanting to scream at another comparison and the insinuation that he was being impulsive. He had had three months to think this over, he knew exactly what he wanted.

“You gotta let me handle this. We're gonna have to play a whole different kind of ball now.” Obadiah said, sounding concerned and caring. “We're gonna have to take a lot of heat. I want you to promise me that you're gonna lay low.”

Natasha scoffed at Obadiah’s sudden change in tune. “Like he wasn’t just completely against Tony’s idea. It’s clear he doesn’t know the meaning of teamwork and he just wants Tony kept quiet and out of his way.”


 

Scott heaved a sigh as their awareness once again formed inside the tight space of the car.

“Mr Hogan slide down the divider and take me to my office.” Obadiah watched Happy do as instructed before he turned to Tony. “Tony you have been out of sorts ever since you've gotten back. I feel like there's something you're not telling me-"

Tony had to restrain a shiver when he felt Obadiah look to him and touch his leg in a gesture that he presumed was meant to be comforting but now only served to creep him out.

However his feelings of anger and suspicion weighed heavily on his chest like the arc.

“Focus on that feeling, friend Anthony.” Thor rumbled worriedly, “pull yourself away from this fiend.”

“Not nice being on the other foot is it?” He asked sharply, narrowing his eyes at Obadiah who drew the heavy hand away.

“What are you on about?” Obadiah asked, Tony noted something calculating enter his eyes back in response but it was difficult to tell what Obadiah was thinking at the best of times.

“In Afghanistan, the Ten Rings somehow managed to get a hold of a bunch of my weapons. I want to know how and why because I sure as fuck didn't approve of terrorists grabbing my stuff.” Tony demanded angrily

“Neither did I.” Obadiah frowned, he sighed and Tony thought he could see regret flash across the other man's face.

“He’s a good actor.” Natasha acknowledged coldly.

“Dude has to be half snake to slither his way out of this though.” Clint had an element of forced hope in his voice. “Come on Tony.”

“What? You know why they had it don't You?” Tony's voice dropped to a low warning growl. “Obie-"

“There was a stolen shipment about 4 months ago.”  

“I fucking knew it.” Tony whispered as he slumped down in the seat.

“No you don't.” Winter's lips twitched, it was a lie but one that could be plausible and what he knew would be a preferable alternative for Tony.

“God, Obie! Why would you cover that up?,” Tony grit his teeth. “You know how damn stupid that is! I know you do. Fuck just telling me, you needed to report it to ITAR! How have they not started an investigation already?”

Sam chuckled, “He’s caught, he’s got to be caught. He can’t talk his way out of this.”

“Well until you announced it to the world, no one knew they had our weapons.”

“How?” Tony yelled. “They blew up a convoy and killed dozens of people!”

Obadiah's lips thinned, “we said they were fakes, well made copies. It’s not the first time people have tried to profit off fakes. There wasn’t anything intact for them to examine anyway.”

Wanda grimaced at remembering how she had been fooled by one of those fakes.

Tony shook his head askance, rubbing a hand over his jaw.

“I only hid it to protect you and the company. If people found out we’d been stolen from not only could we lose contracts but we’d be inviting more thieves. We can’t show weakness Tony.” Obadiah soothed, his tone dripping with ‘I know what’s best for you’. “I just wanted to protect you. And you know I like dealing with these issues myself, you had enough on your plate Tony.”

Steve mentally shifted uncomfortably and resisted turning his awareness to Wanda, after Lagos and Sokovia he had actively done something similar with her and the media to shield her from what he believed were unfair consequences.

Tony’s lip curled up slightly before he lent in towards him, “You know also that I am not a child. Your protection is not needed or warranted especially not in the case of my own stuff being taken. I trust you to deal with it on the condition that you tell me each time it happens and that you actually do your legally required job. You have violated that trust once. And you have covered up a crime. Report it, hand over the evidence to the authorities and maybe we can clean this up.”

Tony gave him a long intense look that Obadiah matched and a very heavy silence fell between them.

“I know you’ve always put profits above just about everything else, but profits and your reputation do not come above the law. We are all accountable. This will not happen again.” Tony was stiff as he waited for Obadiah’s brief nod, then sighed tiredly. “It's only because of who you are that I am giving you a second chance. Don't fuck it up.”

Sam let out an exasperated groan and swiped a hand down his face.

Bruce sighed heavily. “He’s like weasel. Or a cockroach.”

Meanwhile, Thor’s lips twitched in understanding as he thought of Loki.

“I assure you, my boy I had only the best of intentions-"

“-Isn't that what they say about the road to hell?” Tony snarked in reply.

“That's certainly where he should be, if not in the pit.” Peter muttered darkly under his breath.

Thor answered in with a thunderous voice. “I don't know about any pit, young Spider but it is my belief that Son of Stane’s soul resides in Helhiem.”

“I won't as you so eloquently put it ‘fuck it up’.”  Obadiah smiled, he pat Tony's shoulder briefly before be looked out the window. “I should be arriving at the office soon. Tell me honestly, are you alright?”

“Fine.”

“You don't appear fine to me. You forget I know you, Tony.” Obadiah pressed, his voice rumbled with an authoritative yet gentle tone that he had heard often utilised both in the AI and the Human Jarvis’s.

“Unfortunately so. Manipulative fuck.” Sam hissed.

Normally that would have softened something in him but now it only made him feel more like an exposed nerve.

“I'm sorry but was being held captive for three months and having a device shoved in my chest not enough for you?! What do you want me to say-" Tony stopped himself and tried to contain the anger that had unexpectedly taken a hold of him again. “Sorry… I normally have more of a lid on it.”

“Given the situation I'll forgive you.” Obadiah’s voice stayed warm and reassuring despite the hard offended edge. A strong feeling of regret swept through Tony's stomach.

“Remember we are in this together.” He felt Obadiah's hand pat his own briefly and managed to direct what he thought was a realistic smile back. “You need to be open and honest me about what you intend to do forward.”

“That goes both ways.” Tony responded, he looked Obadiah up and down to try and detect any lie but all he could see was sincerity when Obadiah nodded his head.

“You'll have more luck drawing blood from a stone than having people like Stane be honest.” Natasha sighed.

He felt something warm in his chest at his godfathers agreement before the car ground to a halt.

“We're here, Mr Stane.” Happy’s voice came over the cars intercom, “Can I raise the divide? It makes me feel weird not to know what you both are doing and saying back there.”

Tony cringed at that, knowing that he only usually had the privacy window down when he decided to have a one night stand in the back of his car.

Clint inwardly snorted.

“Eww. Is that true?” Peter mentally turned to Rhodey and Vision for an answer, who both sent back impressions of a shrug, so he focused back to the scene.

The intense look Obadiah gave him did nothing but heighten the weird atmosphere. It made Tony feel on edge, like he was naked or being x rayed.

Reaching out, Obadiah pressed a  button on the side of the window to lower the divide then he brought his hand to Tony's face.

“You are so much like your father, not just in appearance.” Tony felt the bottom of his stomach drop out and he was sure it showed on his face. “He never liked asking for help either, that led to him dealing with a lot of things alone even though there were lots of people around him. Granted he never went through anything quite like you have but I don't want that for you.”

Tony gave him a incredulous look, as he grasped Obadiah's hand and took it from his face. “Then come back with me. I'm sure the bots have missed you...”

‘Don't leave me alone.’

Rhodey let out a long pained sounding exhale when he realised that was exactly what he and apparently Pepper, had done. Selfishly, he first hoped that Obadiah did leave Tony at this moment before remembering that being alone would be worse.

“Your recent publicity stunt has left me with a lot of work to do, my boy.” Appearing firm, Obadiah stepped away from the car. “It can’t wait otherwise we will be more of a laughing stock.”

“Right.” Tony nodded whilst he hastily rebuilt his uncaring mask. “I get it. Later Obie.” Tony waved him goodbye before he slammed the door shut.


Tony walked into his large, open living room alone, looking around the seemingly untouched space as the lights brightened. He heard the door lock soundly behind him and his lips twitched sadly.

“Welcome home sir,”

Tony closed his eyes as he heard that voice for the first time in three months. His fingers trembled slightly as he reached up to loosen his tie and cleared his throat.

“It’s good to be home J,” he replied softly as he quickly blinked his eyes.

“Based on news reports, I calculated your safe return at 0.25%.”

“Was it really that low?” Peter asked in a soft voice. Vision only nodded in response, his gem glowed slightly as a new selection of memories from his father were unearthed for him.

All that time JARVIS spent waiting and longing for Tony to be alright; trying to keep his siblings calm, finding out and assisting all he could with Colonel Rhodes’s missions, making sure Peg Leg was keeping Daniel and Peggy informed of new developments and progress.  The emotion’s slammed into him like a ton of bricks.

Vision found that he had to consciously remind himself to breathe and focus on the sight of Tony in front of him. He felt himself shiver and his eyes stung harshly, although there was no physical reason for it.

Tony swallowed and twisted his tie as he heard the more robotic tone JARVIS was using. The young A.I. was trying to seem unaffected but Tony could practically feel the worry and fear he was trying to hide behind calculations.

Most people would say that JARVIS doesn’t have emotions because he was an A.I. Tony knew better.

“That's actually quite a human response. A lot of people deal with things by using facts and distancing themselves like I was taught to.” Natasha volunteered as she looked to Vision.

“I'm glad you both understand. Most people would have just used this as confirmation that AIs are less than ‘real people’.” Vision’s gaze lingered on Steve for a moment longer than usual before he looked back to Tony.

“I missed you too,” he said as he shrugged off his sling and rolled his shoulder, conscious of all his bodies various aches. He spoke softly but earnestly, “I’m back now, I’m here J. I’m safe and I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Sometimes he wished he’d built JARVIS a body.

Bruce grimaced at that, he couldn't help but give Vision a subtle glance as he noted that the Android really wasn't what Tony had intended when he had put JARVIS in Utron’s vision at all.

He waited longer than usual for an answer, no doubt JARVIS was running all manner of scans to ensure his health. The absence of an immediate answer was proof enough of how the last three months have impacted JARVIS. Sometimes it was easy to forget that for all JARVIS’ development and that he wasn’t human, he was only fourteen. In so many ways JARVIS was still just a child trying to figure himself and his emotions out.

Peter was suddenly very glad none of his teammates could see his face whilst he connected the parallels between himself, JARVIS and Tony thinking they had lost or actually lost their father figures at that age. ‘I thought thirteen was meant to be the unlucky number not fourteen, fuck.’

“I’m detecting the presence of electromagnetic energy?”

Tony reflexively placed a hand over the reactor, “I’ll explain that later J, but it’s not a danger, promise.”

JARVIS hesitated again, “very well.”

Tony smiled weakly, “I’m home JARVIS.”<