Gambit Declined

Summary: Tony offers to sacrifice his life in order to defeat Thanos. Nebula refuses.

Chapter 3

The arm that took the brunt of the stones' power is beyond saving. Tony repurposes his nano tech as an impromptu prosthesis until he can come up with something better. The price seems almost laughably small in face of everything else that happened.

Life goes on. The world recovers. The five years after the Snap are impossible to forget, and while the pain doesn't disappear, it fades. Relief and happiness drown out bitterness and grief as reunions wash away the suffering of loss and death.

There may be no way for things to go back to normal, but at least they're moving on.

"We can't go back to how things were," Steve says one of these days, breaking the semi-comfortable silence they were sharing. "Everything's different now."

"I know." Tony pauses. "I don't think I'd want to go back to how it was." Perhaps in retrospect, they never had anything worth holding onto in the first place. Natasha called their team a family. Perhaps they were all kidding themselves.

"We'll just have to start from scratch," Steve says.

Tony thinks about it and decides that he might be able to give it a try.

He makes his first public appearance two weeks after everything ended. The compound is drowning in mail at that point: cards and flowers and gifts, well wishes and gratitude and hope.

Peter and Harley help him sort through them. ("I can't believe I had to come all the way from Tennessee just to make sure you didn't kick the bucket! Don't do this to me, old man.") Both of them hand over the particularly heartfelt ones and pretend not to notice Tony's watery smile as he reads every single one.

He releases a statement to the public. He shows his face on TV. The world takes a collective breath of relief.

"People are wondering why they aren't seeing Iron Man anymore," Rhodey notes at the breakfast table one day, not entirely managing to keep his voice casual. There's a question hidden in his words he doesn't want to speak out loud. Perhaps he thinks Tony isn't ready to answer it.

"They'll have to get used to it," Tony says, drowning his pancakes in syrup and earning a disgusted glance from Rhodey for it.

Rhodey hesitates. "That's it then? You're done with it?"

"I'm done," Tony says, and they continue to eat in silence.

Tony hasn't recovered all of his strength, and he doubts he ever will. His body has never entirely recovered from those weeks of starvation. Now, after the infinity stones have taken their toll, he isn't sure if he'll ever be able to fly again. The thought doesn't bother him as much as it would have once upon a time.

Tony fixes up Nebula's body as soon as he's physically able to hold a blowtorch. It takes him longer than he likes to admit: he reluctantly takes breaks as often as he needs to, and he asks Rhodey or Steve or whoever is there to bring him the material he needs so he doesn't have to carry it himself.

Nebula is patient. She refuses to accept when Tony tries to thank her for saving his life.

"You are being stupid." She scowls, crossing her newly made arms in front of her no longer half-melted chest. "You are the one who rid this world of Thanos. I could not leave him the satisfaction of taking you with him."

Tony accepts her words and keeps on tinkering. Nebula isn't good with words. There are other ways to show his gratitude.

(Morgan barges in when it's time for Tony to choose the superficial features of Nebula's new limbs. Morgan declares that clearly, red is by far the prettiest color out there.)

(They make a compromise and throw in more purple – Morgan's second favorite color.)

(Nebula pretends to be indulging her. Tony pretends not to see her expression soften as she watches Morgan sit on top of his workbench, swinging her legs and playing with harmless spare parts Tony keeps in the workshop just for her.)

The Avengers come and go, doing their duty protecting the public and returning to the compound when they're done. They talk less – not everything that happened to them needs to be put into words – but they spend more time together than they ever did before.

Clint and Natasha don't leave each others' side for several weeks.

Bruce is out there, helping to reconstruct and to rebuild and to make appearances in public.

Steve spends a lot of his time outside of the compound. He returns with Bucky or Wanda or with nobody at all, and nobody is surprised when Sam picks up the shield and Steve smiles lighter than any of them can remember.

Thor makes time to visit in between rebuilding Asgard at Valkyrie's side and travelling with the Guardians.

Pepper's skills with her suit improve in leaps and bounds. She flies out as Rescue while Tony stays at home with Morgan, and they watch her on television together afterwards. Tony pulls strings at Stark Industries to produce Rescue merchandize – making sure to commission both high quality action figures as well as the crappy one dollar items only found in thrift shops.

(Morgan is delighted.)

(Pepper asks for a divorce.)

(Tony refuses to wear anything other than his amazing wife's merchandize for an entire month straight and makes certain that Morgan does the same.)

All of their scars run deep, and some do more so than others. They won't ever be able to forget. So they cope. They move on.

Tony watches the people that are part of his life and wonders when he became so lucky.

Things aren't the way they used to be, and perhaps it's for the best. They recover. They reconcile.

They'll be fine.

A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful To Mockingbird and PyrothTenka!

Aaand, that was the last one. Hope you enjoyed, and please be a dear and throw me a review before you leave :)