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a call

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“Mr. Stark,” T'Challa says the moment the line connects. “What are you doing?”

Tony squints up at the speakers in the ceiling, flicks a gaze to the documents he’s perusing, looks down to the bottle in his hands. “Oh, just digging myself a nice grave. You?”

“You can’t do this,” and wow, he actually sounds concerned. Tony thought that the number of people who genuinely cared about him had dwindled to a lonely one, and Rhodey’s dealing with his own problems, but it seems T’Challa’s determined to prove him wrong. “Ross will-”

“I know what Ross is doing,” Tony says, then pauses to take another swig of scotch - the emergency bottle that he’d hid in his rarely-used office. He hadn’t planned on falling off the wagon, but he’s not sure he can do this sober. “But frankly, your highness, I’ve got no other choice. St-Rogers has fucked off with his new band of miscreants, and someone’s got to take the fall for what happened.”

Silence rings for a moment. “They will imprison you.”

Tony snorts. “I’m too high-profile for that, at least for now. They’ll demonize me, sure, turn the public against me, turn Iron Man into a villain and Tony Stark into a fraud. Then they’ll put me on trial, blame me for the hundreds of accidental civilian deaths, take away my suits, throw me where the sun don’t shine.” The words come out steady, sure, but the bottle is shaking in his hand. Tony looks back at the documents spreading doom across his desk. “I’m just beating them to the punch.”

T’Challa sucks in a sharp breath. “You cannot-”

“Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do,” Tony snaps, suddenly furious. “You think I don’t know that they’re hiding out in Wakanda? I’m trying to fix this fucking mess, don’t lecture me when you’re the one causing it.” His anger drains from him just as quickly as it arrived, leaving him exhausted. “Besides, Rhodey has sway with the military still, the suits will be safe with him. I’m just getting my ducks in a row, and all that.” Tony is reminded for one sickening moment of the palladium poisoning, of the desperate rush against time to make sure the people he loved would be taken care of after he died, and has to swallow back his nausea.

Silence, again. Then, hesitantly. “I’m sorry.”

Tony scoffs, runs a hand over his face. “Whatever.” Then, quieter, “it is what it is.”

“I can help you.”

For a moment Tony is frozen, processing the words. “What?”

T’Challa’s voice is more confident now. “I am the King of Wakanda, now, and my father spearheaded the accords. There are few others who could assure the world of your innocence better than I.”

Tony swallows, sets the bottle of scotch down. “You’d do that? For me?” It comes out embarrassingly weak, shocked.

“Yes.” The word is gentle. “I can protect you, Tony.”

Tony shudders, crumples over himself until he’s pressing his forehead into the cool mahogany of his father’s old desk. His eyes burn.

"Thank you.”