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With Friends Like These

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Things were not going well at all, Tony thought, watching the battle rage around him. Why couldn’t these idiots just think for a minute? Why did he always have to be the one to put on his grown up pants and handle the mess? And they called him immature.

Right now he wasn’t sure who was the biggest child, Wanda or Clint. She honestly had no idea the shitstorm she was in, how the world was gonna demand her head in a platter for Lagos and now this. Plus Vision’s feelings really were hurt – and thank god it wasn’t something more, like his actual head or something. And Clint… Clint had just abandoned his wife and kids – after managing to survive god knows what to actually fucking retire with all his limbs still attached – because he was fucking bored. Goddammit, what the hell was wrong with these people?

Then Wanda was dropping a ton of fucking cars on his head and it was all he could do to dodge them.

“Multiple contusions detected,” Friday said.

“Yeah, I detect that too.” Fuck it all.

Just as he was preparing to blast his way free, more cars come piling up. One of them hit the helmet hard enough to dent it – and his head underneath.

“Fri–” he croaked out, fighting through the pain coursing through his entire head, then lost the battle for consciousness.

*****

Rhodey was getting sick to death of this. Clearly the nice approach wasn’t working.

“Tony? We need to end this now.” There was no answer, and Rhodey frowned. “Tony?”

“Colonel, Sir! Boss isn’t responding. Request immediate assistance!” Friday sounded frantic and Rhodey cursed.

“Hang in there, Friday. I’m coming.”

He checked the position of Iron Man in the hud – under a pile of cars, shit – and took flight. He barely made it out of the ground before a white and blue shield hit him in the back, sending him reeling.

“Fuck!”

Turning quickly, Rhodey deployed a small missile in Rogers’s direction and started running, not even looking back to see if it had hit anything. He needed to get to Tony.

“Vision! Tony’s hurt. I need help,” he said into the comms.

After a few moments, he was able to reach his best friend, and began moving cars aside, hoping he wasn’t about to make things worse.

“Come on, Tony, talk to me.”

“Colonel, what’s going on? Is Mr Stark ok?” It was the kid.

“Don’t know.”

“Damn. I’m on my way.”

Before long, Vision and the kid were there, helping him get the cars away from Tony.

“Tony! Friday, what’s the status?”

“Vitals are all over the place, Colonel.”

After getting out of his suit and rolling Tony on his back, Rhodey activated the emergency release for the faceplate. “Come on, Tones. Get up. You’re missing all the fun.” When this was all over, Rhodey was going to have Rogers’s fucking head on a platter for this. “Tony!”

Tony groaned a bit and slowly opened his eyes, murmuring incoherently.

“Come on, man. Talk to me. Friday.”

“Colonel! Pulse is slowing alarmingly. What should I do?”

“We need an ambulance,” Vision said, crouched down beside him.

“I’ve called for an ambulance, but they said it can’t get here with all this fighting going on,” Friday reported.

“Rhodey…” Tony said. His eyes were unfocused and there was blood running down his face from a cut on his forehead. “Don’t feel so good.” There was blood on the back of his head too, Rhodey could feel it.

“Take it easy, Tones. We’ll get you to a hospital. You’ll be okay. I’ve got you.”

Tony smiled faintly “Thanks, Platypus. You’re the best.”

Then Tony’s eyes closed again, and his head tipped to the side.

“Tony!”

“Colonel! I’ve got no pulse.” Friday said in a nervous voice.

“Emergency protocols, Friday. Open the suit!” Shit shit shit, Rhodey thought frantically. Oh god, no.

The suit was damaged from the fight, so it took a while to get Tony out of it even with Vision and Peter practically tearing it apart. The boy was crying, Rhodey could tell. His own vision was blurry, but Rhodey was a soldier, and he could keep his head for now. He had to.

Finally, they got Tony out. There was still no pulse.

“Take him,” Rhodey told Vision. “Get him to a hospital. NOW!”

Vision cradled Tony as securely and gently as he could and took off.

Please, god, don’t let it be too late

He watched his friends flying away, frozen in place, praying to whoever was listening to keep Tony safe.

“What… what do we do?” Peter asked. He’d taken the mask off and, damn it, he was so young… “What do we do?”

What Rhodey wanted to do was get back in his suit and stay with Tony. He wanted to say fuck you to Rogers and whatever stupid crusade he was in and just let these fuckers be someone else’s problem. But he couldn’t. He had a duty. A job. One that Tony was trusting him to do.

Focus, Jim. Tony will be okay.

He had to be. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.

“I’m going to end this.” The War Machine armor settled around him once more and Rhodey felt his resolve harden. “Stay with the suit,” he told the kid. These assholes had already hurt Tony, Rhodey wasn’t going to let the kid be another victim. There had been far too many already.

The boy put his mask back on, hiding the tear tracks in his face, and planted himself beside the wrecked suit, determination and fear radiating from his posture.

Rhodey took to the air and found Rogers and his team trying to board the Avengers’ quinjet – trying to steal it, more accurately. Prince T’Challa was on the floor and Natasha was with Rogers, the fucking traitor. Fuck them all.

“Stop. Get out of the jet.” His voice boomed through the hangar, amplified by the suit’s speakers. Silently, he gave Friday the command to shut down all systems on the jet. These fuckers weren’t going anywhere.

A red bolt of power came from the witch and Rhodey barely managed to get out of the way in time. Then she was raining whatever equipment was on hand on top of him, and Rhodey snapped.

The sonic blast knocked the woman and everyone else off their feet. Rhodey noted dispassionately that Wilson, Clint and Natasha had been knocked unconscious. Good. Let them stay down. Rogers and Barnes, however, recovered quickly and got into the quinjet. Rhodey ignored them and turned to Wanda.

She may have killed Tony, he thought, anger making his whole body tremble. She’d dropped a dozen cars on his head. She killed him. (No, no, Tony wasn’t dead. He couldn’t be. He’d beaten worse odds before. He’d be okay. Tony was too stubborn to die.)

Wanda was still struggling to get up, pain etched on her face. She should feel pain, Rhodey thought. Tony must have too, when the cars crashed on his head. Tony had been trying to help her. To keep the Nigerian government from demanding her arrest – and possible execution. And this was how she repaid him. With pain. With death. (No, he’s not dead. He’s not.)

For a moment, Rhodey was tempted to kick her in the face. Hard. For Tony. For Bruce, driven off after having his mind messed with. For the people of Johannesburg and Sokovia and Lagos. She deserved it, he told himself. She killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead. He can’t be.) He was better than that, though. So instead of knocking her teeth out, he settled for deploying the collar SHIELD had developed and that Tony had appropriated. Tony had hated the thing – ‘it’s like a fucking dog collar’, he’d said, but he realized it might be needed. It might be necessary. Because this woman was dangerous, and she clearly didn’t care who she hurt while she was throwing her temper tantrum. She hadn’t cared about Vision, who was supposed to be her friend. And now she’d killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead. He’s not dead.)

“Stop! Let go of me!” She cried, struggling ineffectively against him as he put the collar on her neck. She is a rabid dog, he thought. She needs to be put down. She killed Tony. (No, he’s not dead.)

Once the collar was in place, Rhodey stepped back. “You are going to prison. Where you belong,” he told her. (Tony isn’t dead. He’s not dead.)

Rogers and Barnes came out of the now useless jet ready for a fight.

“You are under arrest,” Rhodey said, voice cold and hard. “Surrender now or I’ll knock you out.”

“You’re making a mistake, Rhodes. You’re letting Ross and the Accords tear the Avengers apart.”

Rhodey couldn’t help it; he laughed. It had a touch of hysteria in it, but he was past caring. “You tore the Avengers apart, Rogers. Your pet witch killed Tony. The Avengers are done.” (No, he isn’t dead. He can’t be dead.) Without Tony there would be no Avengers. No defense against whoever or whatever was out there. Without Tony, it would all fall apart. (He can’t be dead.)

“What are you talking about?” Rogers asked, looking around as if waiting for Tony to show up and start quipping.

Rhodey took a step towards him and lifted the faceplate. Whatever he saw in his face made Rogers stumble back.

“You are all finished. I will trade in every favor I’ve ever earned if I have to, to make sure you and your little group go to prison for the rest of your miserable lives. Pepper… Pepper will destroy you.” Oh god, Pepper. He’d have to tell Pepper. He’d have to tell Pepper that he lost Tony. Again. He swore he would have his friend’s back, and he’d failed. Tony died right under his nose. (No, he’s not dead.)

“I… I never wanted this,” Rogers said.

“Do you think I give a shit what you want? HE’S DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU!”

(No, no, he can’t be. He can’t be dead. He’ll be all right. He has to be. He has to.)

For long moments, no one said anything. Rhodey was trying really hard to get his shit together again, but all he could see was Tony, battered and bloodied, eyes closed, pulse nonexistent. ‘Don’t feel so good,’ he’d said. Rhodey had promised he’d be okay.

He has to be.

“Hands on your head. Now,” he said at last, a few weapons popping out of the suit for good measure.

Barnes was the first to comply, dropping to his knees. “I’m sorry.”

“Bucky…”

Rogers looked at his allies. His precious Bucky on his knees with his hands behind his head. Wanda crying as she tried futilely to get the collar off. Natasha, Clint and Sam unconscious on the ground. He was all alone now.

I’m all alone too. I’ve lost my best friend. (No, he’s not dead.)

“You’re making a mistake,” Rogers had the audacity to say.

“Yeah, I am. I’m making a huge mistake wasting my breath on you.” With that, Rhodey deployed the tranq darts he had fitted to the suit for this very eventuality and hit Rogers with three of them, not even caring if the dosage was too high.

Rogers fought to stay conscious, the stubborn asshole, but lost all the same. Barnes remained where he was. “There was a doctor,” he said. “He wanted to know the coordinates to where the other Winter Soldiers were kept. I told him.” He lowered his head. “I had no choice.” He looked up again. “He needs to be stopped.”

Rhodey gave him a frosty look. “And you bastards couldn’t have said this before? You couldn’t have said this before this crazy witch killed Tony!?” (No, he’s not dead. He’s not. He can’t be.)

Barnes winced. “I’m sorry.”

“Fuck you. I don’t care about your ‘sorry’. You can take your fucking sorry and shove it, you fucking son of a bitch!”

There were tears in his eyes, and Rhodey had to blink several times to clear his vision. It didn’t help. The tears just kept coming. He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He repeated the mantra several times in his head, willing himself to believe it. He kept repeating it as he cuffed all of them, tears still streaming down his face.

He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.

Then Vision called.

He’s not dead. He’s not dead. He’s not dead.

He was.

Tony was gone.

Dead.

And these assholes were going to pay.

*****

Iron Man was dead, and the world was reeling.

So were his friends.

Happy had been waiting at the hotel to take Peter back home when Rhodey had called. He had been asked to get Peter back to the States. And Tony’s body as well. Tony was dead and Rhodey didn’t want anyone else to touch him – or the suit.

Happy had stared at the wall for a good ten minutes, unable to believe Tony was really dead. It didn’t seem possible. It didn’t seem real. He’d survived so much… It wasn’t right.

He’d gotten up to get to the car and had fallen down after two steps. It had taken another twenty minutes for the tears to subside enough for him to be able to move again.

Peter had alternated between crying and sleeping on the plane. He kept saying he was sorry, that he should have done more, that he should have protected Tony better.

“He gave me this amazing suit and I couldn’t… I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t even know he was in trouble. I should have been there. I should have helped.”

“It’s not your fault, kid,” Happy had told him over and over again, fighting against his own tears. He knew full well whose fault it was, and they were gonna get what was coming to them, of that he had no doubt. He had spoken to Pepper only briefly, but he knew her. She was out for blood. She would destroy them.

In a way, Happy couldn’t even say he was surprised. Ever since Tony had joined the Avengers, things had been going downhill. Those freeloaders had never done anything but make Tony’s life more difficult. Happy had tried to talk to his friend – Tony was a lot more than a boss to him – but Tony hadn’t listened. Sometimes he was his own worst enemy.

And now… now Happy’s worst fears had come through. He hadn’t believed that Rogers and the others had Tony’s back, yet this… This was something else. This was… murder.

On TV, all the news channels talked about was Iron Man’s death. Rhodey had made a statement to the German authorities, and security footage from the airport clearly showing Wanda Maximoff throwing cars at Tony had been released. There was also footage of Rhodey, Peter (with his face blurred) and Vision’s efforts to save Tony. Maximoff had been charged with murder, and Rogers and the others (including that turncoat Romanoff) with accessory – not counting all the other charges against them, of course. The Nigerian government was lobbying for Maximoff’s execution, and the Sokovians were right there with them. It was a complete mess.

Ross was obviously loving it. He had given an interview talking about the dangers of Enhanced people, and how they needed to be controlled before even more people were killed. The public, in shock over losing Iron Man and terrified of more fights, was eating it up. Already there were congressmen and senators calling for harsher laws against vigilantism and about seizing potentially dangerous technology.

Like hell are they going to get their hands on the Iron Man suit. According to Tony’s will, Pepper and Rhodey got control of the suits, and they were not going to hand them over to anyone. Still, it was going to be yet one more headache for them to deal with. Happy would do whatever he could to help, but he knew it wouldn’t be much.

A sad beep turned him away from the TV. Dum-E and U were poking one of the gauntlets Tony had left on the workshop table.

Happy had been the one to tell them Tony was gone. He wasn’t sure they understood. What is going to happen to them? Happy thought. They were Tony’s kids. Who is going to take care of them now?

It was hard to think about those things. About what would happen now that Tony was gone. How could he be gone? How could he be dead? Tony had always been so much larger than life…

The day of the funeral the sun was shining brightly. Happy, Rhodey, Pepper and Vision stood watching the coffin that held their dear friend being lowered into the ground, each silent in their grief. Beyond a security barricade, thousands had come to pay their last respects to the man who had once saved the entire planet. Around the world, many others were doing the same.

What did that matter, though? Tony was still dead.

At the Rogue Avengers’ trial, every bad word, every slight, every dismissal they had ever shown Tony was brought up. Employees at the Compound spoke of how Rogers and the others mocked and ridiculed Tony behind his back. Helen Cho talked about Maximoff standing by while Ultron mind-controlled her and killed her staff. Pepper and Happy talked about how Romanoff had infiltrated Stark Industries to spy on Tony. Bruce came back from exile to tell the world how Maximoff had brought out the Hulk to attack Johannesburg, and how Romanoff had pushed him into a hole to force a transformation against his wishes.

Testimony after testimony was given about how horrible these so-called heroes were.

A tape showing the Winter Soldier murdering Howard and Maria Stark was leaked, and in court Steve Rogers admitted that he knew about it and had kept silent. For two whole years.

Every single one of ‘Team Cap’ was convicted, but Pepper wasn’t finished. Not by a long shot. She sued all of them for misuse of Avengers’ funds for the search for Barnes. For fraud. For obstruction of justice. Rogers and Romanoff had to pay every penny they had once they lost. The only reason Pepper didn’t do the same with the other was because they had families who were innocent of all wrong-doing and didn’t deserve to pay for someone else’s mistakes. She also demanded that the Captain America exhibit be closed permanently (it had already been suspended once the murder charge had been filed) and the iconic shield returned to Stark Industries.

The Army issued a statement denouncing Rogers and denying that he had ever held the actual rank of Captain. Captain America dolls and merchandise were burned by the thousands all over the world.

Wanda Maximoff was deported to Sokovia and executed, to the cheers of the world – and Tony’s friends.

None of that changed anything, though. It didn’t bring Tony back to them. Happy still missed one of his best friends. And he always would.