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A New Road To Walk

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Tony was exhausted.

He’d been exhausted for so long that he couldn’t really remember what it felt like to not constantly have pins and needles in his eyes, to not have his shoulders tense and his back locked up.

The past few weeks had been a mess of constant meetings, deadlines, press conferences… just the thought of having to deal with another person of any kind that were not his children right now might actually send him over the edge and turn him into a disgusting sobbing mess.

He took a sip of his… he had no clue # coffee of today. The scent alone made him want to vomit and the caffeine hit him in all the wrong ways.

But he needed it. Because today he would be meeting with the Accords Council, and then with the Avengers, and then he had an interview… and that deadline Pepper had given him, the meeting for the project with defense, and then the gala.

It was not even 6 in the morning and he already knew that he was lucky if he could get home before 2 in the morning tomorrow.

He’d sleep of a few hours on the jet (not his own bed for the umpteenth time that month) and… no he wouldn’t make the deadline if he did that…

He rubbed his eyes and his vision swam. “You’re ok. Everything’s going to be ok.” He mumbled to himself. Just think about meeting #1 of today.

Most people dealing with depression as heavy as Tony had been in for months now would live from day to day. Tony lived from meeting to meeting. That made him think of the fact that he had called off his appointment with his therapist again. The doctor had not been happy and had insisted that they make another appointment right away. The way things were going now he’d have to call her off again.

His phone buzzed.

Time to go.

````````````````````````````````````

The Accord’s meeting went about as well as it had gone since pretty much day one.

People angerly and passive aggressively kept interrupting him. He was being used as the messenger boy for the Avengers. And these people did not care that he was the messenger, they were just happy to have a target to shoot at.

It wasn’t as if he could convince any of the Avengers to come with him, so they can explain their concerns. No, that was Tony’s job, because what else did he do? Besides house them, equip them with gear, maintain said gear, act as liaison between the Avengers and everyone else, fund them, be a heavy hitter on 90% of their missions, and so much more.

Just thinking of it made Tony’s shoulders sag.

The Accord’s committee saw it apparently as an opportunity to hack into him even more.

Tony just tuned the rest of the meeting out and kept his mouth shut. If he spoke once more, he would either cry, throw up or start screaming. Not even screaming words, just scream the noise that had been stuck in the back of his throat for months now.

``````````````````````````````````

“What do you mean, ‘you weren’t able to discuss all topics’? Tony this is important! This is out future we’re talking about.” Steve angerly exclaims.

Tony closes his eyes for a second. “I know-”

“I’m not finished!” Steve yells. “How could you be so irresponsible?! There are reasons we have these meetings, Tony! They’re not just for show. We need these issues worked out, and if you keep working against us…” Steve shakes his head.

Steve is not the only one that’s furious with him. They all are. Even though the points that they want him to put pressure on do not have priority right not. Or even make any sort of sense. They’re in the middle of a dick measuring contest and Steve wants Tony to prove he’s the biggest.

Tony doesn’t even agree with most of the changes that the Avengers want him to make, but he’s constantly overruled by the dictatorship that Steve has set up in the team.

“Steve if you, or anyone, would come with me-” Tony tries for the hundredth time.

Clint cuts him off with a sneer, as expected. “Just like you to cut corners, Stark. Just pull you fucking weight for once! And stop whining about it like a little spoilt bitch!”

Steve doesn’t tell him he can’t be that crude, that he can’t talk to Tony like that. No, because Tony’s the only one that counts for. Tony’s there to be their punching bag after all.

“Tony if you could just forget your ego for a second and focus on what’s important.”

`````````````````````````````````````

When the ‘meeting’ with the Avengers is over and done with, and they feel like he’s been chewed out enough, he tells them he has to leave for his interview.

They all look disgusted with him, and tell him that it’s awful that he can’t even make time for them to properly have a meeting because he needs his 10 minutes of fame again. Even though it’s and interview that was meant for the team but they are all refusing to go to.

Tony doesn’t reply to any of their jabs and just picks up his tablet and leaves the room.

And if he’s late to the interview because he had to make a pit stop at the bathroom to throw up an unholy amount of coffee, then no one is there to notice.

````````````````````````````````````

The interviewer is, in a word, a complete dickwad.

Then again a good amount of them are, and he must have smelt blood in the water because he’s not letting Tony off the hook easily.

He asks Tony about how the Accord negotiations are going, about any progress in the Avengers and then Sokovia is brought up again.

And Tony apologizes for the disaster, even though he was under mind control when the incedent was caused, for the hundredth time.

And for the umpteenth time he reassures the public that the Avengers will be there to protect them. “The Avengers will always be available for big scale attacks. When the Accords come through, we will be able to do more, with the transparency the public desires of us.”

“Are you implying that the world cannot function without the Avengers? That first responders are not enough?”

“That’s not what I’m implying. When will there be another invasion like the one that happened in New York, or London? We don’t know. Together we stand stronger.”

“Even though none of you are properly screened through the government?”

“That’s-”

“Or you own failing physical strength?”

And it continues like that. Hadn’t he been under investigation for drug use? Had he this, hadn’t he that…

And when the reporter finally stops throwing Tony’s entire stupid youth in his face he waits for Tony to answer.

But Tony has no answer. It’s been a long time since he had no idea how to respond to a reporter. It just seems like his thoughts are stuck. He can’t form a response and just sits there for a while.

“Mister Stark?”

Tony doesn’t even look at him anymore and just stares at a wall.

What is he even doing here?

“Mister Stark?”

The cold sweat that has been bothering him for days now returns with vigor and Tony’s sure he looks horrible.

But he can’t find himself to care.

“Mister Stark!”

Tony finally looks at the reporter who has a shark-like grin on his face. “Mister Stark?”

Tony just stares blankly at him for a moment before making a decision. He should answer. He should debunk everything this rat is saying. He should.

Instead he gets up and walks out.

He jumps in his car and doesn’t stop for anything until he’s home.

``````````````````````````````````

Tony is sitting in his bathtub with a bottle of whiskey in hand.

He’s pretty sure that his phone would still be ringing if he hadn’t thrown the fucking piece of shit out of the window what must have been an hour ago. He’s slightly tipsy and not even a quarter of the way through the bottle. He’s become a lightweight since he stopped drinking for his meds.

He’s 90% certain that his psychiatrist has probably tried to reach him right now. There is no way that the doctor had not seen the shitshow that was that fucking interview.

He’s pretty sure she would ask him if he thought of ending his life. She’d asked him before, and back then it had been a pretty heavy no.

Now… he wasn’t so sure.

He told her that he didn’t see the point in wanting to kill himself. She explained that most suicidal people didn’t see it that way. That they saw it as the only way to get away from the pain, the only way to make the pain stop.

Back then he hadn’t understood, but now he did.

And Tony did.

He wanted it to stop.

He wanted everything to stop.

````````````````````````````````````````

It was getting dark and Tony had still not moved.

No one had come. No one had taken the time to come see if he were okay. Tony decided that it didn’t matter in the end. More people meant that they wanted things. And right now, that was one thing Tony absolutely couldn’t handle.

He was still in the bathtub. Why he had chosen this place to lay in he had no clue. It was uncomfortable and there was a bed right next door, but he didn’t move. He couldn’t.

His back was cramping and his foot was falling asleep, people were probably still trying to reach him, but he couldn’t find even the smallest glimpse of energy to care.

Tony fell asleep hugging his half empty bottle of whiskey, in the bathtub.

``````````````````````````````````````````

When Tony woke up the next morning he was somehow less gritty eyed as any morning in the last month even though he was hungover.

He looked in the mirror and…

He looked away.

That man in the mirror looked horrible. There were deep black bruises underneath his eyes. His hair was disheveled and the suit he’d slept in was even worse off.

He looked dead.

Tony thought it was rather fitting. He felt dead, why not have the exterior match the interior?

He glanced at the clock. It was midday.

Still there had been no one to come and see if he was okay. Did anyone care?

Tony splashed his face with some water and made his way downstairs.

He took one look at the coffee machine and picked the entire device off the counter and threw it as hard as he could.

It crashed against a wall and coffee beans went everywhere.

When he threw the thing he couldn’t stop.

He broke the plates, mugs, the tablet he’d left on the counter, the barstools, anything that wasn’t attached to something.

And then he started to yell. And scream. And cry.

When he was done he was sure his voice would be shot for the next week and his kitchen was an absolute mess.

Tony felt lighter as he had in weeks.

And then came the thought of all things he would have to get caught up on, how far he was behind now. And he felt… nothing.

It was empty, all so empty and shallow.

The Accords, the Avengers, SI projects… nothing made him happy. Without even really thinking about it he picked up the tablet, now with a shattered screen, and found it still worked.

He started typing letters of resignation.

He signed them all and sent them to the appropriate people. He didn’t even add and explanation, just a quick ‘I quit’ with his autograph below it and hit send.

He went upstairs and packed a bag. Baggy shirts, sweatshirts and a few pairs of pants. He packed essentials and threw them all in a big duffle bag and threw that thing in the back of one of his more ‘normal’ cars.

He started driving. Where he was going, he had no clue. But so long as it was away from here, it was better.

````````````````````````````````````

When Tony’s interview hit the news, Pepper knew something was up. The uncharacteristic silence that followed the arsehole reporter’s questions was worrying.

She immediately called Tony to find out what the hell that stunt was supposed to be. After calling him multiple times and only getting his voicemail Pepper had to admit defeat for now. After the meeting, calling Tony hadn’t been a priority. Tony was a grown man, he could take care of himself.

 

When Steve got word of what Tony had pulled, the other man had better have a damned good explanation for it, or there would be hell to pay.

Reporters had been hounding him all afternoon and the billionaire wouldn’t pick up his phone. So long as Tony didn’t fix this mess, Steve couldn’t go out looking for Bucky. There was a lead that was getting colder by the minute and yet Steve was stuck doing Tony’s job.

If he lost Bucky because of this, he could never forgive Tony.

`````````````````````````````

It was the next morning when Pepper started to worry.

It had been sixteen hours since the disastrous press conference and Tony still hadn’t called her back. She knew that he’d been struggling lately with the workload, but it was a part of being Iron Man. When people asked, she told them that Tony had come down with something. That was believable enough since Tony had looked washed out and exhausted during the interview.

She was contemplating sending some security guards to go check if he had made it home safely and to see what the hell he was thinking. That’s when she got the email.

Tony… quit?

Within seconds she was calling Friday, looking for answers.

 

Steve wouldn’t admit it, but the meetings that he had to attend as a proxy for Tony were absolutely horrendous. If he ever had to attend another one of these meetings it would be too soon. Tony still hadn’t answered his calls, not that Steve had had a lot of opportunities to call with how busy his schedule suddenly had gotten overnight.

Steve had already snapped at Clint and Sam, almost told a senator to fuck off and was trying to keep himself from picking up the chair he was seated on and hit the arsehole reporter he was talking to.

Tony made it seem very easy when he did it.

And that’s when Nat came wearing a grim look. That was never a good thing.

“We’ve got a problem.”

```````````````````````````````````````````

Tony was currently sitting in a rather remote bed and breakfast near a lake that Friday had directed him towards when he got too tired to drive.

He was looking into the mirror and picked up his shaving blade. For the first time since he graduated MIT he shaved his beard off. When he looked in the mirror again, he didn’t see Tony Stark, Avenger, Head of R&D. He saw Tony.

He picked up the bleaching kit and with a “What the hell” started applying the product to his hair, silently hoping that he wouldn’t accidentally destroy his hair completely. Or lord forbid end up orange.

When he was done he set a timer and went outside to sit at the lake for a while.

He had no idea what he was doing, but at least the horrible feeling of just being stuck was getting less and less.

He had no idea where he was going but at least he was going somewhere.

Before he knew it the timer went off indicating that he had to wash out the bleach. When he looked in the mirror again his hair had gone rather orange.

Son of a-

```````````````````````````````````````````

Bitch. That was all Steve could think of the Accords committee assistant.

She talked to him as if he were a three year old. Anything he was saying regarding the changes he wanted to make were simply brushed off. She kept repeating herself and was actually saying the same things Tony had been telling them the entire time.

He wished Tony were here so he could solve the problems they were experiencing.

But Tony wasn’t here. And from what he gathered, he had no interest in returning.

When he read the letter of resignation, that was completely devote of any and all emotion, Steve knew they fucked up. When Pepper called and demanded to know if they knew where Tony had gone.

That’s when the panic set in with Steve. He had been doing the work Tony had been doing for months, years for a single afternoon and he felt like he needed a six months’ vacation.

He straightened his back and walked up the stage to give the press conference about Tony’s resignation. When he was up on the podium and the camera’s were flashing in his eyes, he remembered the plastic look Tony had worn during his interviews. He wondered if he looked the same right now, standing in front of this crowd of sharks hoping to tear into him and it made him long for his days as a show monkey.

At least then he only had to say the words he had practiced so often he could still remember them now. At least back then a single slip up wouldn’t get him completely shunned by everyone. If he made a mistake here, misplaced a single word, it would forever be remembered.

````````````````````````````````````````

When Pepper saw the footage of Tony completely demolish his kitchen she knew that Tony had reached his breaking point. Every person had one, but Tony always hid his so well that they had all just kept pushing, and pushing and pushing.

The screams he let out were the ones of and animal driven into a corner, the screams of a hopeless man.

The first person she called was the psychiatrist she knew Tony had been seeing and demanded to know why she hadn’t been notified that Tony was this on edge.

The doctor informed her that Tony had been continuously canceling his appointments and that the doctor had in fact tried to reach her about it.

Pepper hadn’t replied.

Pepper hadn’t seen the emails sent to her to inform her of the situations along with a plead from the doctor to take up contact with her again, to talk to Tony and remind him why it was important for him to go.

When she showed Rhodey the footage he was equally astounded. Even more as when he was told that Tony had quit.

Like everything.

The man was a notorious workaholic and he’d just up and quit everything and had gotten the hell out of dodge.

The only comfort they had was the fact that Friday was still looking out for Tony and that Friday would regularly update them on his wellbeing.

``````````````````````````````

So Tony had decided to head south.

Why south, there was really no reason besides the fact that he did not like the cold much. It made his chest hurt and he never really cared for snow and ice.

He drove when he wanted to forget things and slept if he got to tired to keep driving.

He tried to come up with things normal people did while they were on vacation. Not retirement, he wasn’t that old, but he was just taking an extended vacation.

When he passed through a small town he saw Steve on TV giving a press conference. The man looked like  deer in headlights and as if he would rather be anywhere else besides on that podium.

Tony watched impassively for a few moments before heading towards the groceries store.

```````````````````````````````````

Steve had watched the public fully gaslight Tony for his Houdini act.

It had taken people a few days before they realized that this was actually happening. When they did realize it, they did everything in their power to let it be known how angry they were with the billionaire.

Steve was honestly afraid what would happen when the panic would set in. Steve was certainly panicking at the absurd amount of paperwork that even the simplest of missions caused. Or just life in general it seemed.

He sighed and got ready for another meeting. He silently wondered how Tony had even made time to eat in between these meetings and how he had barely even time to sleep much less do anything else. It was like he was stuck in a version of a tug-o-war, except there were hundreds of people tugging on him and everything was on fire because this was absolute hell.

````````````````````````````````````````````

Tony was enjoying a sandwich on the beach.

Ever since leaving Tony had gotten his hair fixed at a hair stylist who had questions for him about how he had managed the monstrosity that his hair had been and Tony hadn’t had a single answer to give the poor man besides a shrug. So now his hair was a sandy blond. Not a single person had connected him with Tony Stark, and if they had, they were to polite to mention it.

After moving around for a bit he had eventually calmed down enough and the overwhelming feeling to just run had dissipated.

When he was ready Friday directed him to one of his long forgotten about beach houses. Why he had even kept the place was a mystery to him, since he was sure the last time he’d been there, he’d been a teenager.

Friday had arranged the basement to have the bear essentials of a lab, but he hadn’t really been compelled to go there until recently. For the first time in years he had a project of his own to work on, a project that didn’t have a deadline, that didn’t end with others needing more of his designs, that he didn’t have to give interviews about or have to include anyone besides Friday in.

It was freeing in a way he had forgotten about, to just sit back, and create.

When he called his psychiatrist the doctor was relieved to know he was okay. She also advised him to take things slow and to start taking his meds again. Which he did, and things slowly started to inch towards a hesitant okay again.

``````````````````````````````````

Steve was going absolutely insane.

If he had to give one more interview, go to one more gala or Accords meeting, he would lose his goddamned mind.

How had Tony managed to do this?! The thought of the paperwork that was awaiting him was enough to send him into hysterics.

He could see how Tony had thought that passing the torch to the Accords committee had been attractive if the other man had been doing this for months.

“Captain? They’re ready for you.”

“Right! I’ll be right out.” Steve smiled at the sweet intern that had been sent to fetch him. It wasn’t her foul that he was in a foul mood. He struggled to tie his tie and the intern took pity on him.

Steve let out a frustrated sigh at himself. The intern giggled and moved to tie it for him. “Don’t worry. My brothers could never get theirs right.”

Ten seconds later he was being hounded up the platform and he took his seat.

It was only a few minutes in when the reporter finally asked a question which he had no idea how to answer.

Steve opened and closed his mouth several times before-

```````````````````````````````````

Tony only looked at the interview because the internet was apparently going crazy over it.

Steve looked tired and when the reporter asked the question Tony held his breath, not knowing what Steve would answer to that. Steve didn’t seem to know either and eventually just took a big breath and let out the absolute longest motherfuckingbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep” Tony had ever experienced in his entire life.

Tony’s jaw dropped and when it sunk in what Steve had done, Tony began laughing hysterically. He laughed until tears blurred his vision and he had to sit down on the floor.

In a way he felt bad for Steve. He knew what it felt like to be in that chair, but at the same time, that was going to be the best meme the internet had ever seen. And Tony needed that on a fucking t-shirt. Like yesterday.

``````````````````````````````````

When the Accords were signed in Vienna by the Avengers Tony actually went to Vienna for a private meeting.

It had been the first meeting he’d gone to in months.

He and several other enhanced individuals had signed a special clause. It basically was an ‘end of the world’ clause.

When the UN would call out a catastrophe of at least level 7 he was welcome to join in at any time. He was not required to come, but had any and all jurisdiction to act.

That served him fine. His days of Ironman were not coming to an end, but the bullshit that came with it was.

The UN was happy that Tony was willing to help should disaster strike, and Tony got to stay out of the mess that the Avengers were.

Win-win.

`````````````````````````````````

Steve could not explain the relief he felt when they finally signed the Accords.

It was over.

They would get someone who would help him with the public, they got financial support for their equipment and payments for their missions.

Even though Clint had endlessly whined about signing Steve had told him that he could either take the offer or retire. He was so ready to sign the day it was finally arrived it was surreal.

`````````````````````````````````

Gradually Pepper started to receive finished projects from Friday, made by Tony. The projects were simply amazing as usual and it seemed that Tony was ready to come back to the company.

He eventually fell into the position of freelance R&D. A position Pepper made sure existed especially for Tony. It didn’t truly matter since the projects were as inventive and brilliant as any of his projects were.

Slowly but surely things went back to normal.

Or at least as normal as things could be when Tony was involved.

``````````````````````````````````

When Thanos arrived a code of level 10 was called in.

A full scale invasion.

The combined forces of earths heroes pushed him back. The battle was eventually ended by Tony, who wielded Thor’s new axe.

Then, before Steve could even say a word to him, Tony vanished again.

After everything, Steve couldn’t help but feel they deserved it.

``````````````````````````````````````

One year after Tony left he lay lazily in bed with a snoring wizard at his side.

After the whole Thanos event Stephen and Tony had hit it off  immediately and matched each other in snark casually. Then they went on a few non-dates. Then a few date-dates and before either of them had realized it, they were acting like an old married couple.

Rhodey had been the first to point it out and despite the fact that Tony was practically in Steven’s lap during game night, they had both been surprised.

Apparently they were the only ones who were surprised.

And one thing led to another and now he was playing house with a wizard while working on space travel options for his metal suit he fought aliens in. And one of his best friends was a sentient flying cloak. And his children were robots.

Sometimes Tony wondered how this was his life.

Tony smiled as Stephen let out another snore and was tempted to record it since his wizard still would not believe Tony on the snoring factor.

Tony smiled happily and went to the kitchen to get started on breakfast. When Stephen joined him he was hugged from behind and once again appreciated their height difference.

And then his comm rang.

And then Stephen's comm rang.

A level 8 threat.

With an amused sigh they both ran off to their respective storage places for their super hero get-up.

Friday turned the furnace off and then briefed both Boss and Doctor Wizard to the situation.

And if there was a picture of them kissing when the battle was over, Tony couldn’t care less.