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A better man (on AO3)
Author: Enmuse
Fandom: Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters: Tony Stark,
Rating: All
Words: ~1800
Summary: Tony is a futurist and he knows what's coming isn't going to be good. But maybe the coming year will be a better one without him. ((No suicidal ideation nor death, despite how the summary sounds.))
Notes: I purposefully use Stark Resilient in the story because SI has undergone some re-branding, though not delved into during this short piece.

Title comes from Jaymes Young's "I'll Be Good"

Also, I don't know why my fix-its for post AoU seem to involve heart-rending Tony feelings.

----
My past has tasted bitter for years now,
So I wield an iron fist
Grace is just weakness
Or so I've been told.
I've been cold, I've been merciless
But the blood on my hands scares me to death
Maybe I'm waking up today
"I'll Be Good" Jaymes Young
----


Tony stood alone in the penthouse, staring out at the multitude of lights brightening the night sky.

Dozens of floors below him, Pepper was hosting the Stark Resilient New Year's party. She had accepted Tony's absence when he told her that he was invited to the new Avengers' facility. In turn, the new Avengers accepted his absence when told Tony was expected at the company party. Pepper had looked relieved when she assumed Tony would be heading upstate. Steve had looked disappointed; Natasha, suspicious.

Tony stood in the dark, gaze locked ahead, glass of bourbon in one hand and a packet of papers in the other. The turning of the year was supposed to spark hope and new opportunities. It was a time for resolutions and promises to do better. But some mistakes had lasting consequences; some would not be forgotten or forgiven.

It had been a long, tumultuous year and while much of the physical damage from the Ultron fiasco had been resolved, it seemed that the clean-up had barely begun.

Tony's fingers twitched at the packet, wrinkling the papers. He took a deep swallow of bourbon and barely registered the taste as it slid down his throat. He felt hollow and nauseous. Although he had been involved whenever possible with the reconstruction projects abroad and in New York, Tony limited his conversations with politicians and diplomats clamoring with questions regarding Ultron. He'd followed the Avengers' lead and let Maria Hill and the newly resurfaced Nick Fury assume the primary spokesperson roles.

Oh Tony had plenty he'd wanted to say over the year in response to accusations about Romanov's allegiance, slurs against metahumans, and questioning of the Avengers' morality. If it would spare the Avengers and the slowly reforming S.H.I.E.L.D., Tony would claim full responsibility for the devastating events and accept punishment. But he was a realist, and while everyone loved a scapegoat, there had been too many parts to the disaster for people to be satisfied by the blood of one man. There had been too many visible and invisible players for things to be easily and swiftly resolved.

Tony knew that even if he entered with the best intentions and promises to be on his best behavior, he would just muck up the works. He was too impatient with politicians and too incensed by recent accusations to keep a cool head. Hill, Fury, Pepper, Steve, and even Coulson made calls, insisting Tony stay out of the talks unless carefully coached and following a script. Not long ago he'd have been insulted. Now, he was too weary to care. Now, his nightmares consisted not of wormholes or caves, but of laughing Hydra skulls, reddish-pink sparks clouding his vision, and Captain America's shield poised over his head like a guillotine.

Tony finished his bourbon and finally turned away from the windows. He dropped the glass on a newly replaced end table and headed for the stairs. What had once been the shared Avengers lab held little in the way of equipment. The lights automatically came on, making Tony wince against the brightness, and illuminated the mostly empty counters and workbenches.

Butterfingers and U tittered excitedly as they woke at their charging stations. DUM-E came zooming around the end of the counters, a rag in his claw waving like a banner in his wake. Tony worked up a weak smile as his first bot skidded to a stop at his side.

"Hey," he greeted quietly, patting DUM-E's arm. Butterfingers and U, seeing that Tony was acknowledging them for once, detached from their stations and rolled over with happy beeps. "Yeah, sorry I haven't been by, guys." He patted them all, his smile tight as he watched them soak up the minor show of affection.

The crinkle of paper drew his gaze back to DUM-E, who closed his claw around the packet in Tony's hand. For a moment Tony debated tugging the documents away. With a sigh, he released his grip and let DUM-E wheel off with the papers. Butterfingers tilted his camera to watch the other bot and beeped inquisitively.

"I don't know what you think you're going to do with that," Tony said as DUM-E rolled up to a bench and dropped the packet. His camera turned to take in the cover page. Butterfingers went to join him, leaving U to chirp happily when Tony's fingers smoothed over her struts, felling for any areas in need of repair.

Butterfingers and DUM-E managed to shuffle past the first page of the packet and their beeps took on a decidedly unhappy tone. Tony closed his eyes and took a moment to lean against U, appreciating her solid support. After another small sigh, he explained, "Congressional Committee is 'politely' requesting my presence to answer some questions." He opened his eyes and stepped away from U. He reached the table and glanced down at the documents beneath the bots' claws, papers now severely wrinkled. "Don't worry, I'm not going," he murmured as he placed a hand on both bots.

DUM-E straightened and focused his attention on his creator. Tony recognized a suspicious note to DUM-E's next little trill. With a grimace, Tony confessed, "I'm leaving." Butterfingers and U started chittering. "And you're..." he patted the bots under his hands reassuringly. "You'll be with Rhodey. And Steve. You'll get a lot more attention upstate. You like playing with Legolas, right?"

The three robots surrounded him and clutched at his shirt. Tony chuckled, finding the wet laughter preferable to the possibility of exhausted tears. "Easy," he murmured soothingly. "I need you three to do me this favor. Very important tasks." Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat as he thought of JARVIS and how the AI had guided his older, yet less advanced, siblings.

"I know DUM-E's the oldest, but don't let him make the final decision on anything." He tapped DUM-E's claw, clinging to his shirtsleeve, and said, "You're Natasha's favorite, even if she won't admit it, so try coaxing a smile out of her now and then. Butterfingers, don't let Hawkeye wear you down so much that he has to push you back to the charger again. I know you two have fun, but there are limits. U, I know Rhodey loves you, but don't let him baby you too much.

"Steve..." Tony trailed off, unsure what to say for long moments. U whined inquisitively. Tony freed one had to rest against her strut as he responded, "Well, you can trust him. Help him smile. Remind him to relax." His lips twitched into a brief smile, happy memories of the past conflicting with present separation. "Be good for him," he murmured.

It was difficult to extract himself, but Tony eventually managed to escape the grasps of mechanical hands and make his way down a level to his personal workshop. He froze at the center of the room, unable to move for long moments as he took in the sight of finished Avengers gear, armor disassembled to the extent that only he or Rhodey would recognize the pieces, and a lone Iron Man suit standing beside the only lit monitor in the room.

With a shaky breath, Tony got himself moving again and gathered up the Avengers gear. He set all the finished pieces to one side of the room. He quickly sorted through the debris of disassembled equipment, doing one last check to assure himself that he'd broken everything down beyond the point of someone being able to replicate his work. He'd been preparing for a while.

Eventually he drifted over to Iron Man, his final armor still intact. He stared up at the faceplate and felt his chest constrict as it hadn't for years, before he'd managed to stabilize the arc reactor. He reached out a hand to press against the suit's reactor. He refused to acknowledge the fact that his fingers trembled. The armor's nodes lit up at his touch and a murmured activation command.

As Tony donned the armor he struggled with the dual sensations of nauseous dread and a sense of homecoming. He left the faceplate up, sucking in shaky breaths as he stepped forward. His eyes darted around his workspace, wondering what Pepper would think of the mess he was leaving her. He'd been a shitty boss, a poor boyfriend, and most of the time, a sorry excuse for a friend. He grimaced to himself and turned to the monitor he'd left on.

His armor-covered fingers swiftly punched in a series of codes to unlock the sole program residing on the computer. Tony stared at the screen displaying a nightmarish mess of garish copper red framework (Like blood, he thought, and he could almost smell the carnage of a battlefield). His fingers hovered over the keyboard as he stared at the remains of JARVIS. It was just a husk, now, a display of disjointed lines and broken code that would be unrecognizable to most people.

He's gone, Tony thought, grief threatening to overwhelm him. He hadn't allowed himself to dwell on the AI's absence for months. He'll have the time to grieve properly once he leaves, Tony tried to remind himself. His window of opportunity was limited.

Time to go.

Tony didn't allow himself to close his eyes as he typed in the delete and clear command. He watched as the screen blanked, then flickered back to life with a lone bar showing the system wipe progression. He would stay until he was sure it cleared. He had nothing else to do, his missives to the Avengers, Pepper, Rhodey, Happy, and S.H.I.E.L.D. connections had been finished for days. The only proprietary technology left intact were the bots upstairs, Avengers equipment, and a couple prototypes for the latest Stark Resilient projects. He didn't need to pack anything.

It took less than twenty minutes for the computer to clear and Tony to ensure all files had been thoroughly deleted.

"Well," he said to the empty room, "that's that." He flipped the faceplate down and looked around the workshop one last time.

He didn't linger around the tower once he'd lifted off the roof. He didn't even look back as he rocketed high into the sky. As he kept an eye on the HUD for potential conflicts with flight patterns, he noted that the Eastern Seaboard had moved past midnight.

~~~
Misc. headcanon: Tony didn't inject himself with IM3's weirdass version of Extremis. Clint isn't married - but I haven't determined how the safe house matter goes down. The Avengers know about Coulson. The show Agents of SHIELD events don't factor in, though the premise and some loose ideas are considered. (I've watched very little of the show.)

Additionally... The USA is gearing up for Civil War of a sort. Tony's stepping out, though, with the conviction that his presence and interference will make things worse. He'd say he's learned from the Ultron events. Instead, in a larger idea for a story following this "prologue" where Tony's in self-exile, Fury and Coulson are juggling two political sides while Maria Hill keeps things operating at the Avengers-slash-new SHIELD facilities and the new Avengers work as under-the-radar as possible. I would actually like to write the larger story idea I've had since October. The barest beginnings have been written, with a sketchy outline, since I'd hoped to work on it for NaNoWriMo. I'm hoping I can find enough inspiration and commitment before CA:CW releases and my heart breaks too much to deal with anything.