AU where Tony Stark can’t become Iron Man because the strain of using the suit will kill him. So because he’s got things to make up for he becomes the financial backer for the Avengers Initiative. Fury doesn’t give in immediately of course and makes Tony prove he’s really in. So Tony proposes designs for armor upgrade for SHIELD agents as a whole, a few other small upgrades, and pretty much tells Fury if he’s getting involved he’s fixing their security network because it’s laughable.
Which is why Tony ends up hearing about Black Widow and meets Natasha. And finds a woman who is good at being what she needs to be who keeps things on the need to know. Who wants to help and do right to make up for past transgressions. Tony who reads through confidential files about what happened to Nat. And of course it doesn’t escape her notice because she pays attention she confronts him about it. Not that she doesn’t know all about Tony Stark herself, not with all there information floating around about him. And Tony does the only thing he can do to repay the breach of trust, he makes himself vulnerable. Admits that what he read literally made him sick. And at first Nat is angry because she knows who she is now and what she’s done. She doesn’t run from the truth. Tony explains he actually gets choked up when he talks about picturing a kid forced to learn those things, to do those things, how he wanted so damn much to save the kid who needed saving. But it’s too late for that. Tony’s seen what she can do now and what she does. Nat is someone who deserves to be an Avenger because she’s already one. It confuses many people why after that Tony and Nat get on.
Clint doesn’t cause that much trouble though he does give Tony a little noise about the sudden reborn again thing. Tony doesn’t get mad just explains he owes the world and it deserves Hawkeye keeping his eyes on things. And maybe Clint is surprised when Tony Stark signs, stiffly and awkwardly, through his words when the conversation turns more serious. When Tony admits he isn’t the guy who can go out and fight but he is the guy who can make sure the people who go out have what they need for the fight but when they come back too when the fight is over. And it’s obvious Tony is in it for the long haul, ready to dig his feet in and fight. Maybe Clint can approve of a train wreck when he sees one. The paycheck and benefits don’t hurt to convince him. The few demo arrow tips don’t hurt either. It also sure doesn’t hurt that he gets Tony Stark to say “please”.
But the real clincher comes when Clint ends up stranded on the extrusion after a mission and Tony gives Nat the mean to recover Clint. And hiding Hawkeye in the mansion only helps to convince both of them that Tony will have their back. So when Clint is stuck on medical leave lounging in the Stark Mansion they begin to give Tony his own initiation that involves alcohol, involved card games, and learning how to throw knives.
Then Thor shows up in New Mexico as a consultant for the hammer. He sees the recordings of Thor trying to lift the hammer and failing. He sees everything including The Destroyer and when Thor lifts the hammer in the end. Tony doesn’t ever get to meet the guy in person but he does get to meet the people he left behind. And Jane Foster is brilliant, as is Selvig. Tony makes himself some science friends and well Darcy is just too bubbly to dislike.
Then things get hot and Tony helps to narrow down the search for Bruce Banner when things start to get hinky. It’s easier to go with Natasha to India than to stick around while they defrost Captain America. And Bruce is a great distraction from dwelling on the fact the guy Howard spend years obsessing about is in fact still alive.
Somehow Tony ends up at the table with Bruce and they talk, with Nat hovering in the background, uncertain. Tony explains why they’re there. Why he’s there and how he imagines something like this might appeal to Bruce’s capacities for philanthropy. Tony who talks about the details of the procedure and explains how he wonders if things work out that way for a reason. How some men walk out of caves when by rights they shouldn’t have made it out. Tony who tells Bruce he thinks the world has bigger plans for him than hiding in shadows and trying to be some kind of monk. Tony who says he’s met General Ross and he wasn’t impressed. But Big and Green on the other hand, that’s impressive. How Banner has a mind that is a shame to waste when the world could use it. Especially when you have friends in high places that can shut up loud angry Republicans. Tony who looks across the table and asks Bruce if he wouldn’t give him a second chance in the world. Bruce Banner isn’t the kind of man to condemn anyone so he admits he has no reason to deny anyone a second chance. So Tony turns it on Bruce and asks why Bruce cannot give himself a second chance too. Bruce gets a little angry and tries to explain why he can’t when he has to worry about the Hulk. Because they’ve seen what a Hulk can do. Nat startles when Bruce starts yelling because he seems so mild mannered, reaches to set a hand on her sidearm even. But Tony isn’t scared he’s smiling because he knows this. So Tony tells Bruce about the Jericho and how it was almost his legacy, how he has a counter of every life taken by Stark weapons that still ticks up higher everyday even with production stopped. How Tony looks at that number every day and thinks about the people left behind, the ones that die alone. Tony explains to Bruce he’s got a job to do since he’s still breathing to make up for that.
Then they’re back with Bruce in tow and Captain America is wandering around. And Cap is stiff, formal, and stern. Tony doesn’t know what to make of him but he seems like Howard’s brand approved from the get-go. Cap who eyes Tony in his suit, with the cane and doesn’t quite understand why he’s there. When they explain to him why he’s there Steve doesn’t seem impressed or even interested. Tony tries not to take it personally but it overlaps with the old familiar feeling of Howard’s disapproval. Tony finds reasons to not be on the helicarrier until he can’t avoid it when trouble comes knocking.
There is Loki and Thor is back. Tony gets to meet the guy this time around and he is kind of beside himself a little bit.
But then Clint is gone and they need to find him. Nat is tense and Tony tries to help where he can but he can’t find anything. And the stress is wearing him out. Everything feels like an eternity and a blink simultaneously. Tony has too much coffee and almost forgets to take his medication with how time is passing them by.
When the helicarrier is attacked after Loki is taken in Tony goes with Cap to deal with the damage done because he’s the best they’ve got. Tony who can shoot but is also exhausted and a civilian at the end of the day. But they manage to sort things out, get the rotors moving again. Once Steve tosses the lever he sees why Tony was so snappy over the com-line. Tony who is hanging onto a rail for dear life. Steve pulls him back and maybe doesn’t let go for awhile. Not with the memories that brings up or the fact that Tony hadn’t told him why or hesitated to put himself in danger to get the engine running again.
Then they learn about Coulson. And Steve watches Tony take it hard. Watches Tony disappear into the bowels of the helicarrier to find Nat and Clint. Listens as Tony checks on them to see how they are, cracks jokes even. Steve who doesn’t miss the anxious way he looks over the pair. Who keeps checking his phone for updates from Jarvis about any sightings of Hulk or Bruce on the ground.
Tony who is stuck standing on the ground when they go after Loki when the invasion begins. Who is among the people with no ability to fight back. Tony who somehow ends up in the Iron Man suit carrying a nuke through a portal even though he knows his heart can’t handle that.
And Steve can’t help whispering to himself about it being a one-way trip. Hears how Clint curses under his breath before going quiet. Natasha who says she can close the portal, but still tries to will Tony back onto their side of it when she does. Clint who is still quiet. Hulk who is staring up at the shrinking portal.
Then Tony is falling and he’s back. But he isn’t breathing. Then he is and Steve feels like he can breathe again.
Tony who when Loki is returned to Asgard gives Steve a key and an address and tells him to stop by. And Nat and Clint and Bruce head back with Tony to the mansion while Steve turns the key over in his hand. He’s got his bike and the few things he owns in this day and age. It’s not a hard choice to drive himself over to Stark mansion.