Chapter 20: Chapter 20


Summary: The rouge Avengers are pardoned under the influence of King T’Challa and it is up to Tony to ‘welcome’ them back. But as he and his new team are at the private airport, an unexpected fight breaks loose and the fate of the whole universe is changed when a wizard places himself as Tony Stark’s protector.

“I can’t believe we’re going through this shit.” Steve looked up when Clint came into the common room of the Compound, grumbling about the Accords revisions they have been presented with two and a half months ago. They have all gone through them at least once and the only one who had signed was Scott. He signed as Ant Man and will go through a probation period while he uses the suit to help repair the planes he destroyed in Leipzig before he will get an evaluation to see if he can join the New Avengers roaster. Apparently Hank Pym and his daughter have accepted him back and he was staying at Avengers Tower with all the other new recruits on weekends, which is where he was now. That way, he got to be with his daughter and make it up to Ms Van Dyne and Dr Pym while still being properly on probation and under house arrest. Steve was glad Tony at least set that deal for him but he was angry at the billionaire for not arranging something similar for Clint and his family, too.

Although he might not have been able to.

From what Steve got from a bruise-cheeked Clint when the man tried to sneak in a visit with his wife when she was walking Nathaniel with that new Carol Danvers in the park a week ago, Laura was damn straight serious about not wanting to have anything to do with Clint until he pulled himself together and actually thought about his family, her exact words quoted by Hawkeye himself. She had punched him when he tried to hug her and Colonel Danvers had asked - read commanded - him to leave before she was forced to make him herself, thus ending any and all hope of ever seeing his family again not from behind bars. She had threatened with divorce a few times and was actually dead serious about it, if Natasha’s impromptu meeting with her was anything to go by. Laura had apparently had enough and was finally expressing that to Clint now that she didn’t have anything from his old job to rely on.

Except Tony. Tony had apparently managed to get the Bartons off of their farm before Ross got to them while he was still free. And they weren’t the only ones, either, like Scott’s family, Thor’s ex girlfriend and her makeshift family and even Bruce’s old sweetheart. Natasha had not seemed to react upon hearing that but she had been clinically cold while she recounted the events. Bruce and Thor didn’t yet know about that and no one was all that bothered with telling them.

In fact, they had next to no contact with those two. The reason was a black haired, green and black dressed trickster god like wall standing between them. The Avengers couldn’t believe either Thor or Bruce would ever accept Loki into the fold, even with Thor’s soft spot for him. The man was a criminal, a murderer and a terrorist and on more than one planet! He lied and deceived and yet he was welcomed like an unruly child, a wayward son that had finally seen the error of his ways. What’s more, he was signing the Accords with those new wizards that Tony likes to keep around! Loki will be a consultant for the New Avengers! Loki! What was Tony thinking?! But Thor had seemed delighted, as had Bruce - who had apparently become somewhat friends with the crazy god during his (the Hulk’s) stint as a space gladiator - that tall black guy with creepy glowing eyes and the always drunk female warrior that stuck around Thor, Bruce and Loki most of the time.

Steve couldn’t believe Tony was going out of his way to get Loki a pardon - and going as far as to make him a victim of the same torture Clint went through at the power of the Mind Stone in the Scepter - when he wasn’t doing anything for his actual team. Any more visits to Avengers Tower were prevented either at the secretary’s desk where the woman would smile scarily at them while saying ‘Mr Stark’ was out or one of the new residents in the Tower would all but physically throw them out. There was that one memorable time when that Living Flame from the Fantastic Four and some teenager going by the name Inferno teamed up and nearly roasted Natasha out when she tried to sneak in. On another occasion, a invisible forcefield generated by the Invisible Woman had prevented Clint from entering the building through the vents. When Sam went to negotiate with Rhodes or Tony about getting back his Red Wings, he was met by a guy who introduced himself as Erik - it was Magneto from the Brotherhood, there to discuss their signing of the Accords with Tony in order to avoid the much less accommodating Mutant Registration Act, which Sam only learned after the guy magnetized all of his hidden weapons and other devices off of his person and crushed the Wakandan technology like it was nothing.

Even T’Challa had made an effort on their part, only to meet a guy called Black Bolt, king of the Inhumans they had been hearing about in the news. The man couldn’t speak but his companion - some pink haired woman whose hair was longer than a cape and strong enough to apparently not be cut by Vibranium or torn by a superpowered individual, even the Hulk or Thor - spoke in his name and neither were impressed with T’Challa’s apparent ‘misguided entitlement’ to Tony’s time when even they and the Asgardians all scheduled a meeting in advance. Shuri had all be dragged him out by his ear, berating him in Wakandan the whole way. T’Challa professedly apologized to the other king and Tony and had stayed in tentative contact with the engineer.

Wanda fell into a portal and kept falling for three hours until she was released.

Buck told them he won’t even try.

Steve, on the other hand, had went to the Tower three more times and each time had been a different experience. Once, he met The Thing of the Fantastic Four and the rock mutated man had given him the option of walking away or finding out just how indestructible his skin was now. The second time, he had met a blind lawyer who apparently had sharper hearing than even him and who promptly presented him with a lawsuit that will be processed if he doesn’t leave. The third time, he met an ordinary kid with a not so ordinary potato gun that screamed Stark tech. He didn’t say anything or wait for Steve to say something. He just fired and the shot knocked Captain America over like it was a bazooka shot. Steve was reluctant to try again.

Even Fury, Hill and Coulson had had their own horror stories to tell. Fury met some guy with indestructible skin, Hill was prompted telepathically to leave the building by Professor Xavior and Coulson had to be webbed and carried out by Spider-man after he tried to taze the kid. All of their attempts to sneak into the Avengers Tower then culminated with Ms Potts restriction order, brought over by the terrifying little claw girl and a pair of smug teenage girls who did the whole ‘You’ve been served’ thing before leaving the Compound. From what Fury could tell them, the little terror was Wolverine’s genetic child that Stark was fighting for the rights of, the dark skinned teen was Ms Marvel, an Inhuman, while the third girl was a baseline human, Michelle or something like that, a supposed friend of Spider-man’s and as such falling under Stark’s protection protocols. He at least got right that much.

Point was, the Avengers were not getting back into Avengers Tower, no matter how silly or unbelievable the notion seemed. It was instead filled with pretentious impostors and criminals and they were treated like royalty while the actual Avengers were struggling to buy food in the public cafeteria that the Avengers Compound now sported. What was worse, they couldn’t even complain about the prices or the food quality. Stark had actually arranged for food to be only 10% of the price you would get at the cheapest restaurant, his staff and their new Accords liaison - the old one had quit after having a stroke when he saw the restriction order - even told them it was because superheroeing didn’t pay much and Stark wanted them as actually semi-functional humans. When they asked why semi-functional, the rude cook that seems to have so had it with them had replied that it was obvious they lacked a brain, which had ended with the woman almost comatose when Wanda lashed out.

The Scarlet Witch had just received a call to court for her actions and Steve didn’t know if Clint was raging about that or because Laura had once again forbade him from seeing his kids. It must sting to watch the gossip channels all gushing about how Stark was taking out the various children that now inhabited the tower out for ice cream or hot dogs with their families and at least two other superpowered adult individuals. Vision and that wizard seemed to be his default choices, as they were spotted with them the most often, but there had been instances with all the others, too. The reporters were definitely cooing the most about Cassie and her adoration of her father and that little terror and that Logan guy, whom she seemed to drag everywhere whenever she got the chance.

Steve sighed, turning off the TV just as Tony announced that he was buying the whole parlor a round of ice cream and kids, their parents and other random passerby cheered. “What is it now, Clint?” He asked since no one else seemed to be going to. Wanda was still fuming over the court call, Sam was reading something on the phone T’Challa had given them as a parting gift before he went back to Wakanda - leaving Shuri with a couple of Dora Milaje in Tony’s less than capable or trustworthy hands but Steve figured Shuri can take care of herself and it might just be an infiltration stunt, for all he knows; not that either Scott or Shuri seemed all to keen to talk to them these days, let alone share Stark’s secrets and even T’Challa seemed resignedly fond of the genius. Tony had that affect on people and Steve was disappointed in him for using it for such reasons - and frowning and Natasha was on her own phone, reading some book in Russian or something.

Hawkeye huffed and threw himself on one of the incredibly expensive and unsurprisingly comfortable couches with a half scowl, half pout on his face. “I turned in a request for meeting Stark about negotiating the whole ’not fixing the bow because it’s a weapon and Mr Stark no longer develops weapons for anyone but the Avengers’ thing.”

“Were you denied on the spot?” Sam asked, looking up from his phone but Clint surprised them when he shook his head.

“No, Stark accepted the request.”

“Then what’s the problem?” The Captain asked, confused. And elated. This was good news. Tony was willing to meet with Clint, which meant not all was lost! Here Steve was thinking they’d have to resort to Wanda’s plan of cornering the genius when he was least expecting them. Although that was now infinitely more difficult, if not downright impossible, since Stark had his guard dog AI JARVIS back. Steve had never been comfortable around him since the computer seemed to know everything and see everything. Still, this was good. Steve had hope that they could make things right at least.

“The problem id that I need a fix and an upgrade yesterday but Stark’s schedule is packed for the next seventeen months!” The archer snapped, punching a pillow in his frustration. “How does he expect us to fight if we don’t have the gear for it!? And that’s not even mentioning that he made Laura come to the meeting when I turned in the request just to hear her say ‘no’. Who does Stark think he is!?”

“We can’t wait for seventeen months!” A half panicked Sam exclaimed. He had turned in a request for Red Wing just the other day and was still awaiting a response. The wait was ‘due to political and legal reasons’ but it would seem he might never get a response. Which meant he was grounded. Maybe for good.

Sam was right. To wait for Tony for seventeen months would just make the whole fixing the team thing harder, since there were no scheduled Avengers meetings until the end of the month. Tony already had too much ammunition against them and held too much power over the Avengers. Seventeen months would be a disaster. “How did those others make appointments if his schedule is so busy?”

“Apparently, he has two hours each day reserved for Avengers related business, two for Accords business and three for UN related things.” Clint grumbled. “When I heard that and pointed out it was avengers related business, Laura told me it was decidedly not. That it was weapons development related business, that it was something not even the R&D department could help with. Although I was free to drop in a request with them, too. They’d fix it but no new shiny upgrades. That’s apparently reserved only for the New Avengers who had signed the Accords. Just like with the visitation rights.” He added bitterly and Steve, for a moment, feared Clint would crack and snap under the pressure. Being away from his family obviously bothered him, as was to be expected. And not being able to go out onto the field won’t help matters any. “I did that, anyway, and will at least have it fixed by the end of the month. It won’t feel right.”

“You’re not your bow, Clint.” Rodgers reassured him but Barton just barked an incredulous laugh at him that sounded somewhat hysterical. “You don’t need those fancy upgrades.”

“No, but I always loved them. Stark is practically a mind reader and he always delivered whatever crazy request I bothered to actually put in. And we used to test them out together. That was fun. Especially since I wasn’t wanted in SHIELD anymore. The Tower was a sanctuary. I guess I should be glad Laura and the kids are there. At least they’re safe. Safer than they’ll ever be, in fact, even when I’m around them.” The tired should-be-retired archer rubbed his hands over his face. “I saw Cooper on my way out. He didn’t even look at me.”

“Hey,” Wanda said as she put a hand on Clint’s shoulder, her anger forgotten in the face of her teammate’s troubles. That’s the sort of team bonding Tony never understood and that’s why he tore the Avengers apart so easily. “We’ll get through this. Stark will fuck up soon enough and they’ll realize his Accords are just a waste of paper and time and we’ll be the heroes again. You’ll get to go back to your family, Clint. You will.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Said man mumbled but didn’t shrug her hand off. “And it looks more unlikely each day. He’s playing a good game here, the long game. And he has support. We don’t have anything and the New SHIELD are doing their best not to fall under Stark’s foot. Coulson said they suspect Stark hacked them but there is no trace, no sign of hacking, nothing. They’re descending into paranoia and Loki refuses to let Thor associate New Asgard with us. All we can do is wait for seventeen fucking months before we can meet with Stark and beg for mercy.”

“We won’t be doing any begging.” Wanda hissed in promise, squeezing Clint’s shoulder. He flinched away from the hand when he felt her powers slipping and Steve frowned, wondering if he should have a talk with her. She had been more explosive as of late and that’s not good for their tattered public image or the team dynamics. “If anyone’s going to beg, it’s going to be Stark.” She fairly spat the name out and Steve once again wondered whether they should have a talk.

"Doesn’t matter.” Barton repeated. “He’s won. We can’t get in. And we will never be able to meet him before the seventeen months are up.”

“Then we’ll just make him meet us.” Natasha finally spoke up, pocketing away her phone just as a security guard led in a pretty, chestnut haired woman with brown eyes and a pale-ish complexion, dressed in jeans and a nice shirt with a coat over it. The weather had been a bit chilly for this time of year. There was an intelligent gleam in her eyes as they curiously swept over them, obviously recognizing them all hut apparently not knowing what to think. “Dr Christine Palmer, I presume.” Nat said as she rose from her seat and extended a hand to the other woman, who took it cautiously. “We were expecting you.”

“Thank you.” The woman, some kind of doctor apparently, said politely before taking her hand back and looking around some more. “This place is amazing. I can’t believe I’m actually here. It’s certainly an honor to have a project invitation from Dr Stark himself and especially for such a delicate case.”

The men and Wanda all startled at that but Natasha seemed to have no reaction at all. “It is an honor to have you. We are sure you can handle it. After all, Tony always hires only the best.”

This woman, Palmer, only chuckled and shook her head. “Well, that title fell to me only by default since the best of the best can’t practice anymore. I’m surprised he hadn’t taken up consulting Stephen, though. He knows neurosurgery and the human brain and body better than the body itself, or so you get the impression when watching him work. I thought you were colleges now?”

“We work in different teams, I’m afraid. A new structure to appease the UN.”

“I see.” But clearly she didn’t. “So, where is the meeting? How many other specialists has Dr Stark called in? I’m surprised he’s sharing the Binarily Augmented Retro-Framing technology after he’s been keeping it on the down-low for so long. It’s quite revolutionary, really. Even if it’s technically only a prototype. Dr Stark has outdone himself.” And Steve could tell she definitely really was impressed and in awe of Tony’s technology. He could understand that. Ever since he woke up from the ice, he’d been faced with dozens if not hundreds of patents under that man’s name each day. Stark technology was top of the line and only became more extravagant with each passing day. Iron Man was still, without a doubt, the crowning jewel of it all but BARF was pretty neat, too. If only Tony would let Bucky use it ...

“I’m afraid Mr Stark has been a bit delayed. He’ll cover everything with you when he arrives, if only you’d wait a moment. Until then, feel free to help yourself to anything,” Nat cut into his thoughts again and he turned to see her gesturing at the finger sandwiches she had bought with money gotten only god knows from where. Steve had thought Natasha had bought them for the team but now she was offering them to some random doctor. Sure, it always paid off to be a good host but they were kind of on a budget here.

“Nat, what are you doing?” He asked her in a hushed voice as soon as she came back to their group, Palmer walking over to take a few of the sandwiches.

The blond only took out her phone and dialed a number they all knew pretty well. “Ensuring Stark has a reason to meet us.”

“What does that woman have to do with Stark?” Wanda asked, now glaring at Palmer’s turned back in the default manner she has for anyone associated with Tony these days. The woman seemed oblivious but she did look around as though expecting something to jump out at her any moment now. That or she was just intrigued by the Compound. Both were a possibility.

“I don’t know but I do know that Stark has given charity to Metro-Central Hospital, where she works, and has founded a project she was developing. A medical procedure I couldn’t even begin to comprehend when I read about it. The Palmer-Strange method.” They all arched an eyebrow at that and turned to look at the woman again, appraising her because hadn’t that wizard introduced himself as Doctor Strange? Or was it just a coincidence. Maybe Strange in the Palmer-Strange isn’t a name. God only knows Tony gave stupid names to some of his greatest inventions. Just A Rather Very Intelligent System for the most advanced computer program Steve had come across, even in Wakanda? Please. BARF for the most revolutionary therapeutic device in the past two decades? Only Tony. So who were they to judge? And if Tony was funding it, it’s almost 70% chance that it was he who added that ‘strange’ part. “I don’t know if there’s an actual connection but when I spoke to her and just now, she appeared not at all surprised that Tony knows her but rather that he remembered or thought of her when thinking of expanding the research on BARF. So they have obviously met and you know how Stark is. If he’s throwing his money at something, he’s already invested enough to care. He’ll show up.”

And while that sounded like a sound theory and just the kind of thing Tony might do, this was still a civilian that they were practically holding against her will here. Only it wasn’t against her will, not really. She wasn’t kidnapped, she had come on her own. She hadn’t expressed a desire to leave so they hadn’t denied her. She had food and could move around as she wished, so she wasn’t confined or starved and they hadn’t said anything degrading or even touched her beyond Natasha’s handshake with her, so she wasn’t being abused in any way. She just ... Didn’t know she will be used to trick a certain billionaire into coming here to talk to them. Steve didn’t like it but he had to admit, short of cornering Tony at some charity gala or a visit to the kids at the hospitals and schools that he frequently makes, or kidnapping him, they had no better options in talking with the billionaire. He hoped Dr Palmer will understand.

At that exact moment, Tony surprised them all by answering the phone. Wakanda’s phones also had the holographic projector options to them but Steve had to admit that Tony’s were better. They were sharper, more detailed, completely accurate save for the fact that he loved that blue color he kept, even though he could have easily made them project the person in a perfect mirror image. Not to mention how interactive they were. Wakanda’s holograms, in contrast, while very advanced for everyone else, were kind of second rate to Tony’s.

And speaking of the engineer, he was more still and relaxed than ever before that Steve had seen him. He had answered the phone but wasn’t even looking at them. He was sitting somewhere, on some surface with a pillow beneath him, legs folded and arms and hands placed in the stereotypical meditating position, which was ridiculous and an insult shot at them because there was no way Tony could sit still long enough to actually meditate! And yet every line in his body was calm and relaxed. He looked several years younger like this, Steve realized with a pang. All the stress lines seem to have ironed out ever since he stopped meeting the team. Or maybe it was just the meditation actually working. Stranger things have happened than Tony learning to take a break every now and then.

“Agent Romanoff, how can I help you?” Even his voice lacked any particular intonation, as though he had cleansed himself of ... everything that made him Tony. The snark, the sarcasm, the sharp wit and the amused drawl he’d usually speak with ... Everything. Steve couldn’t help but find this peaceful Tony disturbing. “Consulting hours are between two and five and it is now half past six.” Steve almost sighed in relief. That at least sounded like Tony.

“I have a doctor friend of yours here, looking for you. She seems quite the charmer.” Instantly, tension seeped into every line of Tony’s face and body and his eyes snapped open, easily zeroing in on Palmer, who was checking something on her phone, drinking their milk and eating their finger sandwiches. Tony’s eyes turned cold as glaciers and the glare on his face was terrifying. Steve had never seen Tony pull that face before. “It’d be rude to keep her waiting, don’t you think, Stark?”

“If you so much as touch her-”

“Then come make sure we don’t.” Was all the Russian spy said before she hung up on the genius. And Red Room graduate or not, that took balls. Because, quite frankly, Tony always has the upper hand, Steve realized. He had just never used it on them before but this situation actually brought it into the light. Just how precarious their position was and just how easily Tony could wreck havoc in their already shitty lives.

“Was that wise?” Sam, who seems to have realized the same, asks with an uncertain frown, fidgeting where he sat next to Bucky.

“He’ll come.” Natasha said confidently, pocketing her phone and sitting comfortably back to her seat.

“That’s what I’m worried about.” Falcon mumbled under his breath and Steve had to agree. Tony wasn’t the most rational of people. Siberia had proved that. It had also proved that the man is not to be underestimated. Tony packed more destructive power per pound (with or without the suit) than an atomic bomb. And he was just as explosive, just as volatile. The room fell into silence, Natasha watching Palmer, who was still on the phone but was no longer eating the sandwiches, Clint coiled like a spring ready to snap, although Steve couldn’t tell if it was for good or bad reasons, Wanda’s eyes were glowing red and she was toying with a red ball of energy between her hands, Bucky was quiet and uneasy and Sam was fidgeting in his seat. Steve ran a hand through his hair almost precisely every minute or so and then had to smooth it out lest he look like a mess in front of Tony - he already achieved that when he was fully groomed, what with his new beard and longer haircut. The minutes ticked by like they were hours before the familiar sound of repulsors came from outside. Not a minute later, someone was walking through the door with purpose.

Tony Stark, despite the distance, had arrived in under ten minutes.

And he was pissed.

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