Spoilers for Captain America: Civil War.
The worst thing about fighting family was that you could never win. Even when you got what you initially wanted, you still lost something.
Case in point: The Accords were law, but the Avengers compound was all but empty. Rhodey couldn't walk without help, Vision was retreating from the human emotions he'd been starting to embrace, and Tony . . .
Well, Tony was pretty sure his life had been a trainwreck since birth, so there was nothing new there, but this felt like a new low.
He'd been right. He was still convinced he'd been right about needing accountability, and he was still convinced the Accords were the way to do it.
Okay, maybe 85% sure about that second part. An argument could be made for 80%.
That was the part where Pepper should laugh at their little in joke, but Pepper was gone, so.
Apparently Ross'd had the fantastic idea to interview the family members of the fugitive Avengers. He'd started by sending agents to the ex-Mrs. Lang's house, probably because Scott was the only one who actually had family that showed up on public records.
From the sound of things, the ex-wife was getting increasingly frustrated, her police officer husband was demanding to know more about the agency they were with, and the daughter, Cassie - Well, she'd been saddled with a female agent who was talking to her very nicely about how her daddy had made a mistake and now they needed to find him before he got hurt. Cassie was sitting by the kitchen table with her arms wrapped around the ugliest rabbit Tony had ever seen. Seriously, where did she get that thing?
"My daddy's helping Captain America," Cassie said stubbornly.
"Yes, but Captain America made a mistake too," the woman said patiently. "That's why he's not Captain America anymore."
Tony leaned against the wall he was eavesdropping behind. That reminder always did something strange to his stomach that was definitely one part anger, probably one part hurt, and possibly one part guilt, although he wasn't sure if that was guilt for . . . stuff involving Siberia . . . or guilt that he hadn't told anyone that he was keeping the shield in his lab.
On second thought, it definitely wasn't that last thing. He'd laughed for hours after General Ross had called yet another meeting to discuss where the vibranium had gotten off too. But that just left those other things, and Tony made a habit of not thinking about those.
"You're working with Mr. Stark, aren't you?"
"I am, yes. Do you like Iron Man?"
Tony peeked around the door again. Cassie shook her head firmly. "Daddy said to never trust a Stark."
Great. Even five-year-olds hated him.
"So you've seen him?" the lady pressed.
The ex-wife appeared in the doorway. "No, Scott's always been like that. How long have you been asking her questions? You're not supposed to do that without one of us in the room."
"According to the Sokovia Accords, I can."
Cassie's mother crossed her arms. What was her name? Maggie? "According to United States law, you can't."
The two women glared at each other.
The tablecloth moved. Something poked its head out.
Tony yelped. So did the agent.
"What is that thing?"
"That's Antony the Second," Cassie informed her. "Daddy gave him to me."
"That can't be legal!"
Tony finally stepped forward and broke in. "Oh, come on, kids can still keep ant farms, can't they?"
"Not mutated ones!"
"It's a perfectly nice . . . giant ant. Thing. Whatever."
The ant waved its feelers at him. Tony stepped back. "Anyway, looks like we're done here. They don't know anything."
Cassie was looking at him. "You're Iron Man."
"You're why my daddy left."
"No, your dad left because he got a call from Falcon." Now he was arguing with first graders. Fantastic.
"Because you were being mean."
"They were being mean!"
A voice that sounded suspiciously like Pepper told him he was being childish. He swallowed. "Er. Never mind. I have to go."
He walked out. What had Sam been thinking, dragging Scott away from his daughter?
Not-Pepper reminded him that he'd dragged a fifteen year old kid into a fight against vastly superior opponents and that now said kid was getting bombarded by Ross's attempts to identify him so that he could be forced to sign the Accords.
In his defense, Tony was helping him out. Which kind of undermined the whole point of the Accords, but Parker was a special case.
After taking precautions that would make paranoia look reckless, Tony contacted Laura Barton to make sure she was okay.
Her response was two words: "Is Clint?"
Tony didn't know the answer to that, so he just kind of stared at his phone for a few minutes before going off to build something. Or blow something up.
Anything other than notice how quiet the compound had gotten, in other words.
His answering machine was beeping again. Tony turned his music up and ignored it.
He kept the burn phone close, though. Just in case.
The Winter Soldier needed to be brought to justice, and Tony still resented that Cap had gotten in the way of that.
But he was starting to get over the whole lying thing. Not-Pepper had reminded him of how many people he'd told when he'd been dying of palladium poisoning, and people who lived in glass houses shouldn't throw stones and all that junk.
Uncomfortable conversations. Tony fully understood and supported the need to avoid them.
Plus, Cap - Steve - had apologized, and with everything else to get emotional about, Tony figured he could let that one go.
The Winter Soldier, though? He still didn't belong in the same sentence as forgiveness, no matter what Steve thought.
Ross sent people after the rogue Avengers. No fatalities yet, on either side, but Tony figured it was only just a matter of time.
He'd yet to send the remaining legal superheroes after them, though. Trust issues or something.
Reports put the Black Widow back with the main fugitive squad which was . . . something. Tony wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing yet. On the one hand, she was still a lying, backstabbing traitor who apparently liked Cap - Steve - better than him. On the other hand, at least she wasn't a dead lying, backstabbing traitor who apparently liked Steve better than him.
There weren't any reports of the Winter Soldier being spotted, and Tony speculated darkly that there was a reason for that. Never leave witnesses, right?
Eventually, they got sent out on a mission. Some idiot had decided one round of murderbots wasn't enough, apparently.
Learn from other scientists' mistakes, people.
Tony half-hoped the resulting disaster would lure Bruce back into the open. Instead, they were face to face with the other Avengers.
"Truce till we take care of this mess?" Steve suggested.
Ross was shouting in his ear, so Tony turned him off. "Sure."
He couldn't quite help staring, though. Seeing Steve in battle without the shield just seemed wrong, like he was unarmed.
Admittedly he had a gun now, but still.
And he was out of uniform. They all were, with the exception of Ant-Man and Falcon, who needed their suits for their powers to work.
The better to blend in with, Tony supposed.
They won the battle and were looking at each other awkwardly when the Quinjets showed up brimming with angry agents.
The fugitive Avengers took off running. Tony decided his suit was too damaged to pursue. Rhodey apparently agreed with him.
The Vision took off in the opposite direction. Later, he claimed Wanda had messed with his mind.
Ross bought it, seeing as Vision supposedly didn't know how to lie.
Tony wasn't sure whether he bought it or not.
He did notice that the Winter Soldier hadn't shown up once. He'd been hoping for a chance to bring him in.
They didn't always show up at the same battle sites. Sometimes the legal Avengers didn't get approved for one that the fugitives showed up at. Sometimes the fugitives didn't have the resources to get to a battle the legal ones were handling in time.
Speaking of resources -
"Wilson, is that duct tape on your wings?"
"Shut up, Stark."
"Seriously, how are you still in the air?" Not that he could get a good look at it in the middle of fighting yet more robots - they really needed to find the source of these things - but it was obvious rough repairs had been made. And while some of them were at least passable, the duct tape still remained. Tony rested his case.
His remark stopped being funny when one of the robots hit Wilson's wing and it was too much for the over strained mechanism. He started to fall.
Oh, no, he didn't. They'd had far too many falling Avengers already, thank you very much.
Tony dived after him and managed to catch hold of one of his arms. "Got you."
When Ross inevitably showed up, Sam was forced to abandon the wings as dead weight. Naturally, Tony claimed them for his lab. Equally naturally, he fixed them and informed General Ross of that fact, who, naturally, confiscated them.
And if Ross was an idiot whose security systems could easily be hacked by someone like the Black Widow and if Scott Lang took advantage of the intel to shrink the wings and steal them back, then that wasn't his fault, was it?
Nope. Not at all.
He got an amusing few minutes out of picturing the Winter Soldier with duct tape holding his arm to its socket. Maybe that's why he wasn't fighting with the others.
Seriously, though. Where was that guy?
Wait a minute. He hadn't hit him harder than he'd thought in Siberia, had he? Because as much as he wanted - That didn't mean -
At the very least, Steve would kill him.
Except Steve had shot that murderbot before it could shoot him only last week, so, no. He hadn't accidentally killed the Soldier.
. . . Someone else could have, though. That would be disappointing.
Or something. He wasn't sure there was actually a word for the way he was feeling at the thought.
He waded through Hydra files to try and find some clues as to where the guy might be.
When he got through throwing up, he watched the video of his parents' deaths again to remind himself why he was right about this.
He did achieve a second trip to the porcelain throne to hurl his guts up, but with all that nausea, it was hard to feel a real sense of accomplishment for just about anything.
Still no answers on where Barnes was, though.
He was guessing the answer wasn't good, based on how Steve looked. He was tired, and it was affecting how he fought.
He looked off, too.
It took three more fights for him to realize the word he as looking for was "thin". It took less than a minute for him to do the math. Less money equaled less food equaled negative effects for a super soldier with a ridiculous metabolism.
Tony went home and stared at the overstocked cupboards. There was a half eaten jar of Nutella in there. Wanda had loved that stuff.
Dropping fruit baskets at fights lacked a certain subtlety, (and yes, he did know the meaning of the word, Rhodey, shut up), so he started monitoring Natasha's hidden accounts instead. There were only a few that she was daring to use right now. Tony started sneaking more money into them.
It occurred to him at about two in the morning when he was playing "hide the money" that Ross would probably like to know about these accounts.
It also occurred to him that Rhodey's leg braces needed an upgrade. Of the two, that one seemed like the more urgent priority, so he got on that one instead.
Clint got hit.
Well, they all got hit sooner or later. But Tony and Rhodey had their suits, Vision was . . . Vision, Steve healed quick, he was pretty sure Natasha did too, Scott was always either too big or too small to hurt, Wanda was weird, and Sam was lucky.
Clint was perpetually unlucky. Clint got hit. Clint was bleeding. Badly. Like, panic inducing badly.
Well, Tony was panicking. Clint was still shooting murderbots because they still weren't rid of those things and as a former SHIELD agent, Clint apparently had horrible self-preservation instincts.
This was bad. This was really, really bad.
Clint was pressing on the wound, but it wasn't stopping, and he looked pretty close to passing out, and Tony was the only one in the area that could possible do an evac, and -
Look, like he said, he panicked, okay? And some instincts didn't go away overnight.
In other words, he might have, possibly, rushed Clint back to the Avengers compound for emergency medical treatment because this particular battle was practically on their hometurf. If Dr. Cho thought anything about it, she kept her mouth shut.
Clint, on the other hand, once he woke up -
"You kidnapped me."
"I got you emergency medical care."
"You still kidnapped me."
"You're not even restrained to the bed!"
"You've been stalking us for months, and it's finally culminated in a kidnapping. I should have known."
"I have not been stalking you!"
Clint rolled his eyes. "Did you really think we wouldn't notice that special Stark brand of "Find Your Friends" in all our tech? Except for you it's more like "Stalk Your Friends"."
"Tracking. Track your friends in case they try to storm Hydra bases without you."
"You couldn't do anything about it if we did," Clint pointed out.
Tony waved a hand. "Not the point. The point is, I'd know."
"Because you have to know everything."
"Uh-huh." Clint glanced at the ceiling. "We win the fight?"
"Of course we did. We're the Avengers."
Clint's eyes sharpened on the "we're", but he just kept looking at the ceiling. "Uh-huh," he said again. "So that means Nat's probably contemplating breaking in right about now."
Tony carefully didn't look at the ceiling vents. "Oh, hey, now that you're awake, you should probably be restrained. I should totally go get something to do that with."
He strolled out the door, whistling.
Strangely enough, when he got back, Barton was gone, and one of Natasha's shock bracelets was there with a note.
It stopped working after Panama.
He could fix that.
Some alien called Thanos attacked, and they couldn't be having that.
Even the Tin Soldier showed up to help out.
Tony was . . . maybe not totally okay with that, but definitely more okay with that than he was with getting blasted by alien weaponry which was what would have happened if Barnes hadn't pulled him out of the way.
He could work with this.
And, no, General Ross, he did not know how the Captain got his shield back, but all things considered, was that really their first priority right now?
The media agreed with him too, so, there.
Which sort of, maybe, culminated in Ross calling him and demanding to know if he had any new leads on the Avengers. His answer of course, was no, he didn't know where they were.
Which was true. He hadn't seen Clint or Scott since they'd left to go see their families this morning, if Natasha and Cap were still sparring he was seriously concerned about both their welfare, and the movie the others had been watching had finished thirty minutes ago.
Admittedly, he was pretty sure they were all at the compound with the possible exception of Scott and Clint, but he had no idea where in the compound, so he wasn't lying. Technically. Maybe.
"Incoming call, sir," F.R.I.D.A.Y. announced.
"Who is it?"
Caller I.D. flashed across his phone's screen.
"I'm sorry, General, I'm going to have to put you on hold again."
"Don't you dare - "
"Very important, sure you understand, sorry about that." He hit hold and switched over to the incoming call. "Pepper?"
"Tony." Exasperated but fond, with that warmth he'd missed so much finally filtering back in. "I've been thinking. Can we talk?"
"Scarier words have never been spoken." He grinned. "I'm all ears."