. 0 .

It was because of Yinsen.

You got a family?

Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?


So you're a man who has everything... and nothing.

He'd never cared before. But in that moment, in a cave in the Middle East, with only a timid old doctor for company, Tony suddenly did.

. 1 .

Tony wakes up, head pounding and ribs aching, a few hours after the battle.

The TV is on, but muted. He's glad for it. The whirlwind montage of destruction and chaos was loud enough the first time.

"You awake?" Bruce is standing cautiously at the threshold, in a fresh change of clothes.

"Hey," Tony grits his teeth at the effort it takes to talk. "Come on in. Where are the others?"

"They're all okay. Steve heals quickly; Thor's indestructible. And Natasha and Clint are just sleeping it off."

"What about you?"

"Mostly unscathed." The doctor steps closer, but doesn't sit. "Perks of having an alter ego."

"Thank you," Tony finally says. "You saved my life."

"Did I?"

Tony nods in the direction of the television screen. "Don't tell me you didn't see the footage. If it weren't for you, I'd be a stain on the pavement."

"If it weren't for me, the city wouldn't look like–" He gestures at the scene beyond the window. "–like that. Destroyed."

"You're right, it would look worse."

"Tony, stop. People died out there." Agitated, he runs a hand through his messy hair. "Even if the Other Guy isn't a monster, he's far from a hero. You aren't doing anyone any favors by pretending otherwise."

"And you aren't doing anything by denying he's a part of you."

"We are not having this conversation again."

"Okay," the billionaire winces as a spasm of coughing shakes his bruised torso. "Okay, fine. Not now. But for the record, I owe my life just as much to you as to the big guy."

"I–" Bruce clears his throat. "Thanks. I'll tell the nurse you're awake."

He leaves without another word.

They meet again on the bridge, when Thor and Loki leave with the tesseract.

"Hey," Tony calls out to Bruce as everyone parts ways. "Do you have somewhere to go?"

From anyone else, the question might have been laced with pity, but Tony's face is earnest.

The doctor pauses, turns around. "Uh, heading back to Calcutta, I guess. Natasha was about to drop me off at the airport."

"Come to Stark tower."

"I couldn't."

"You'll get your own research lab," Tony says. "And I'll smash-proof it. Somehow."

"You think you can stop the Other Guy?"

"I think I can try."

"Being around other people... it's not good for me. And in a city like New York..."

"Bruce, please." He's dropped the casual banter now, but he doesn't care. Because he knows that voice – lonely, bitter, refusing to let anyone else in. Knows it like his reflection, because it once was. "Just shut up and take the offer because you know as well as I do that you want to."

And Bruce does.

Natasha pulls his duffel bag from the car and hands it over with a smile. When Bruce turns away, she pulls Tony aside. "Thanks, Stark. Maybe I was wrong about you."

He raises his eyebrows, almost asking why, but she departs with Clint before he can say a word.

. 2 .

It's a few days later when he remembers Steve.

Pepper is pouring granola into her yogurt when she pauses for so long that he looks up at her.

"So. The Avengers," she says. "There were more than just you and Bruce."

"Clint and Natashalie went back to SHIELD, probably. And Thor's on Asgard, and–" Tony stops short. "Oh."

Pepper resumes making her breakfast. "Yeah."

Steve has an apartment in New York, courtesy of SHIELD. The first few times Tony comes by to visit, no one answers the door. It's not surprising; he's told Steve practically lives at the gym these days.

By the fifth visit, Tony's so fed up he dons the suit and simply blasts his way inside.

When Steve comes home an hour later, a grocery bag under his arm, he finds the charred door swinging off its hinges and Tony lounging on his couch.

"You know, normal people leave a note," Steve says.

Tony swings his feet onto the coffee table. "Yeah, but last time I checked, we weren't normal people. And you gotta admit, that's a lot more fun."

Steve manages to hide his grin with a look of exasperation. "Did SHIELD send you?"

Tony puts a hand over his heart. "You wound me. Do you think I've lowered myself to doing SHIELD's dirty work?"
"Why else would you be here?"

"I can't drop by to say hi? Isn't that what friends do?"

This time, Steve can't stop the smile sliding across his face. "Sure. Uh… can I get you something to drink?"

"D'you want to come to Stark tower?" Tony blurts.

"What?" Steve stops with the refrigerator door open.

"We're a team now. And what's a team without their captain?"

"We met a week ago. Literally, a week. I can't just–"

"Why not? What's keeping you here?"

Steve sets the two bottles of soda on the table, and glances around his apartment. Several abused punching bags slump against the sofa, the shield propped up on the armchair. And that's it. He's kept it utilitarian, not because he has to, but because he has nothing to remember – no photographs or souvenirs worth keeping.
He turns back to Tony. "Alright. When can I move in?"

. 3 .

Clint is next. Natasha is called away on a solo mission and he finds that the SHIELD headquarters are emptier and lonelier than he remembers.

Tony stumbles into the kitchen of Stark tower one morning to find him calmly eating a bowl of cereal.

"How the hell did you get in here?"

Clint smiles through a mouthful of Lucky Charms. "You keep the door on the deck unlocked."

"Of course I do! It's fifty floors up! What did you do, fly?"

"Maybe," he says.

Tony has just made up his mind to throw the archer off the roof, breakfast and all, when Pepper wanders in. "Tony! Why didn't you say you were having friends over?"

"Um, no. No. This is not—"

"No, this is great! It's good. I'm glad you're making friends." She kisses him on the cheek on her way out. "I'll leave you two to whatever you superheroes do in your spare time."

"Want to try and get rid of me now?" Clint asks smugly when Pepper leaves.

Tony shoves him from his seat on the counter. "Just stick to the Cheerios. The Lucky Charms are mine."

. 4 .

Natasha comes back from her mission two days later, and it's only natural that she moves in, too.

Tony offers her the room she used to have as his PA, but she's hardly there. She has a habit of falling asleep in hidden, tucked-away places. In the closet, on top of the washing machine. Pepper nearly has a heart attack one morning when she finds Natasha on the window ledge.

. 5 .

When Thor comes back to earth, Tony throws up his hands and offers the god a place to stay. To hell with it, anyway.

By now, Stark tower has become Avengers tower – a New York City landmark and home to the world's most superhuman family.

. 0 .

"Shouldn't we fix the sign?" Pepper asks him one night over dinner.

"What, back to 'Stark'?" Tony asks. "No point, is there?"

The A stays.

So does the team.

And Tony think that maybe Yinsen was right. This was everything.

[see author profile for notes]