Reading Time: 147 Minutes
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: The BAST Chronicles
Series Order: 2
Genre: Fix-It, Time Travel
Relationship: Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, Howard Stark/Maria Stark, others
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Against Children, Canon-typical Science, Discussion – Torture, Discussion – Rape
Word Count: 66,658
Summary: Two time travelers sitting in a tree, (A-)V-E-N-G-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes HYDRA, then comes babies in a baby carriage!
“There is no one on this entire Earth I would rather time travel with than you. I would love to face every day, every problem, every party, everything that comes our way, by your side. Will you marry me?”
“I must admit I’m surprised by your grace in this situation, Howard.”
Howard stares at her, taking the moment he needs to reflect. So much has changed since Bucky -since Yasha– Barnes broke his mind control mid-assassination attempt.
His son is more confident and more productive than he’s ever been since he laid eyes on Yasha and became basically instant friends. His wife is happier and safer now that she’s surrounded by a small army of security personnel that love and respect the hell out of her. His house is full and bright in a way he’s never had before. His family is growing at a rate he can barely follow.
Now, they’re on their first family vacation ever. Though the definition of ‘family’ is fairly loose when it comes to admission since it includes both the extended Barnes Clan and a good quarter of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda.
He sighs and turns away from her.
He doesn’t turn back around to the sound of Peg’s concern, even though he knows that would be the polite thing to do. He’s too caught up in the scene unfolding outside his window.
Yasha is holding Princess Shuri on his shoulders, his great nephew Peter Sheppard has Yasha’s granddaughter/adopted-daughter Darcy on his, and all four are going all at it in an all out snowball fight. Tony is crouched to one side as his new son, the boy formerly known as N’Jadaka of the Wakandan Panther Tribe, throws out cover fire for both teams interchangeably on a pattern Howard has yet to discern. The new young Erik Stark is laughing wildly as he takes and launches snowballs as fast as Tony can make them.
Watching Tony and Buck co-parent Erik and Darcy is, as always, a kick in the chest. A wake up call to how much he fucked up –deliberately fucked up with Tony- convinced somehow that was better and how very wrong he was.
“Which situation?” he asks, finally turning around as he once again vows to himself to do better.
“The HYDRA-SHIELD situation,” Peg answers immediately. “I fully expected you to charge forward, take command, whether it would have worked or not.”
“More than likely with the ‘not’.” He sighs when she dips her head in a delicate nod. He takes a sip from his mug and concedes, “I thought about it. Standing there, in my lab, with a bag of Erskine’s formula in hand, I thought real hard.”
“And what did you think about?”
“How good it would feel. To wake up without stiff joints. To never need glasses again.” He gives her a rueful smile, “To make the Red Skull look like a training exercise.”
Peg spits her hot cider and turns to glare at him.
“You know I’m right. I am narcissistic, I know, and I’ve been called a sociopath. But one thing I am not, and never have been, is stupid.”
“Self-awareness is a good thing,” she offers.
“I’m too busy anyway. With Stane on trial and Tony starting his business, the only one I can trust with Stark Industries is me. And I’ve got twin girls on the way,” he grins, and it hurts to admit, but, “Gotta do better than the last time around.”
“Tony turned out fantastic. You should be proud, Howard.”
Howard waves her off. “I am proud but that was Jarvis’s doing. And Maria’s. A little bit of yours. I’m not going to outsource the work this time. If I’m going to do it properly, I don’t have time to babysit SHIELD on top of everything else.”
“And you’re afraid of Sergeant Barnes,” she calls him on his shit as she always does, but she does so kindly.
“Oh, am I,” he laughs because he is not ashamed, not even a little bit. Anyone with sense is afraid of Barnes. More so if they are even thinking about hurting Tony. “Did you watch him sparring? Winning against the Dora Milaje. Bare handed. In the snow.”
“It was impressive,” she agrees. “I miss his smile, though I’m surprised to admit it.”
“The little dirty one that made half the Army question their sexuality?” he asks with a grin.
“That’s the one,” she laughs. “The one that promised the filthiest sex you could possibly imagine.”
“And made you just know he could deliver. And would, the very second you said yes. Pretty sure he made Phillips question his sexuality at least twice and that man had been married to the same woman over 20 years!”
“Now, imagine you’re his best friend’s girl.”
Howard contemplates that. “Okay, yeah. Now I’m surprised you miss it.”
“It was a simpler time,” she says almost wistfully. “Even if we were at war.”
“And Steve was around.”
“And Steve was around,” she agrees. “I miss him, and I want him back with us if possible, but I’m not sure about bringing him into the HYDRA-SHIELD situation. The war was one thing, but he’d never get on in the spy game. He’s-”
“Too honest,” Howard supplies. “He’d be a bull in a china shop, trashing their plates and ours. And not giving a single damn either way.”
“So, if he’s willing, we use him somewhere his honesty would be a gift, rather than a failing.”
Peg frowns at him. “I don’t take your meaning.”
“Politics,” he answers simply. “Between the shit that’s being kicked up thanks to Stane and the take down of HYDRA, the Republican party will fold within the next two years. That gives us a couple months to find him, a good year to educate him and get him up to speed. Then we throw him out there to help kick up a new party. An actual liberal one, since the Democrats have drifted so far right.”
“American distrust of politics will be at an all-time high,” She frowns, thinking it through and slowly starting to nodding. “So we put out a man known for being honest. Known for respecting equality. Known for serving the United States and her Constitution, even at extreme cost to himself.”
Howard feels himself smirking. “Now all we gotta do is remind people what all Steve was known for.”
“An interview with Sergeant Barnes will handle that, or perhaps his sisters?” Peg waves that away. “Who wouldn’t want to hear good old Bucky Barnes reminisce about the one and only Captain America?”
“I’ll get some people running the numbers,” He promises, ideas already popping.
“We’ll need more than just Steve to form a political party, you know.”
“I have some people in mind. Activists for the most part. People whose values line up with Steve’s. Local politicians, invested in their communities. No Federal experience yet, but we can get it. Unless someone currently big in politics -other than Buck’s sister, Senator Roth- is hiding an actual conscience.”
Peg takes a deep breath and says what Howard’s been trying not to think. “Steve hated being a performing monkey.”
“This is different,” he argues. “We don’t want him selling anything to anyone, no one’s making any profit here. And we don’t want him being anything he’s not. This is still a war, it’s just a war of popular opinion for the future of our country.”
“Make sure you put it like that when you sell it to him,” Peg says amused.
There’s a thud on the window and they turn to see a snowball trying desperately to cling to the window before losing to gravity and hitting the ground.
They both move closer and look out.
Every single one of Abraham Roth’s entire brood have joined the snowy melee, including the two previously-missing Sheppard brothers. The middle one, Dave, is carrying little Herculea, while the oldest one, John, laughs and does his best to keep both Jubilee and Kitty on their feet in the snow and ice.
Prince T’Challa and his retinue come frolicking in their wake, too. And Howard’s surprise for Tony comes at the very end of their train.
“Rhodey!” Tony cries, bouncing up to his best friend. “Yasha, Erik, Darcy, come meet Rhodey, he is my very best friend.
“I can’t believe you finally got leave! How have you been?”
“I can’t believe you got a family!” Rhodey laughs. “I go off for training for a just few months and you get a husband and two kids!”
“Well, not husband yet,” Yasha grins and holds out his right hand. “James Barnes. You can call me Bucky or Sarge, whatever makes you comfortable. Only Tony calls me Yasha, for the most part.”
Rhodes takes his hand, looking vaguely faint. “I was named for you!” he blurts and then clears his throat. “James Rhodes. Rhodey, for the most part, thanks to Tony.”
Yasha quirks a lip at him and pointedly puts a hand on each of the kids’ shoulders. “This is my daughter, Darcy Barnes, and Tony’s son, Erik Stark.”
Rhodey takes a step back and blinks at them. Then he blinks up at Tony, clearly unsure what he’s supposed to say. In this, Howard sympathizes. Teasing a friend about kids and marriage is one thing, being presented with the people in the flesh is quite another.
“Now that Uncle Rhodey is here can we do Science?” Darcy wheedles, looking up at her dads imploringly.
Tony snaps and points at her, “Good idea. Brilliant.” He whips around to address the rest of the crowd. “Everyone! It’s time to Science!”
A cheer goes up and Tony turns back to Rhodey declaring, “You need a kid.” He picks up Darcy who squeaks like a cute little mouse and pushes her into the Air Force man’s arms. Rhodey takes her with wide eyes.
They stare at each other in shock until Darcy grins and Rhodes rolls his eyes.
Tony whips back around, not even noticing. Or, more likely, pretending not to notice so he doesn’t laugh at them. “Now you’re ready to Science. Let’s go!”
Yasha himself laughs and scoops Princess Shuri up as they troop of, making her giggle. Erik and Prince T’Challa scamper around Tony, pestering him to let them help.
Over an hour of Science later, Tony leads the entire group into the dining room of the ski lodge. The place is lined with servitors dressed to the nines in full Kabuki style, holding trays of snacks and hot drinks.
Yasha leads them in accepting hot drinks and bowing in thanks. The kids, predictably, love it. Even the ones over the age of 18.
His parents, King T’Chaka, Queen Ramonda, and Aunt Peg sweep into the room to join them. To Tony’s unending amusement, his dad helps his mom sit on the floor between Erik and Darcy and then promptly drops down on Erik’s far side.
He hadn’t expected his father to object to him adopting Erik, exactly, but he hadn’t expected the man to just roll with it like he has.
It sort of makes him wonder what would have happened if he -or someone he trusted- had threatened the man with physical violence if he hurt Tony when he was actually younger than he physically is now.
Not that he would have ever thought of it, or allowed someone to do such a thing, when he was young enough for it to really matter. The very idea of someone hurting his dad would have terrified the kid he that was.
The man he is now, though, is torn between forgiving his father -and himself, if he’s going to be honest about it- and gleefully waiting for Howard to cross Yasha’s invisible line in the sand. He’ll earn himself one hell of a wallop should he even look at it too hard, really.
Aunt Peg comes to stand beside him, holding something warm that smells awesome and offers it to him.
“Everything okay?” he asks softly as he takes the cookie or whatever it is. There’s something tense about her eyes. He doesn’t like it.
“No,” she says softly but with a smile.
Tony tips his head toward the door. She nods and they step out. A glance at Yasha shows he’s seen the exchange, and his eyes say he’ll be following as soon as he can manage to slip away unnoticed.
So, realistically, he might actually beat them to the little nook Tony’s leading Aunt Peg to. Or he would, if Tony had actually told him where they were going.
“What’s up, buttercup?” he asks brightly.
Aunt Peg sighs and sits down on the window seat. “There is a situation. A possible hire. Fury’s been keeping an eye on him but his entire family group has been murdered and he’s now on the run, from HYDRA. We don’t know why, but their tactics are unmistakable. And, the situation being what it is with SHIELD, we feel that officially approaching him would likely result in nothing but their escalation and his death.”
“What’s his name?” Tony asks, mind already spinning on the issue.
“The Amazing Hawkeye,” she quirks a lip when Tony’s jaw drops. No doubt mistaking the reason for his shock. “Fury found him in a circus, hence the name.
“We believe his legal name is Clinton Francis Barton but, again, we haven’t approached him in any way, so this is unverified. The intel is currently unconfirmed but if we’re right he’s a runaway from an abusive home. Parents deceased, brother deceased. Grew up in the circus.”
“What makes you want to hire him?” Yasha asks, coming up behind Tony.
“He’s a marksman that never misses,” Aunt Peg answers immediately. “A fully trained acrobat and gifted gymnast, an advanced combat asset in the making. He’s also proven intelligent and incredibly loyal. We feel he would be ideal for training in unconventional combat -especially considering his established preference for unusual weaponry. Security and espionage work are likely well within his wheelhouse.”
“A member of the Avengers,” Yasha not-really asks as he slides his flesh arm across Tony’s shoulders and pulls him against his side.
Peg has the grace to shrug. “If we are correct, and he’s willing, he would provide you highly capable long range support. ‘Eyes in the sky,’ as it were. Right now, all you have on the team are three close combat fighters. While you are all quite capable, I’d rather make up for the lack now before it comes back to bite you.”
“I’m working on getting Gravitas on board, but she’d be more mid-range than long range,” Yasha admits. “Logan thinks his sweetheart, Storm, might be willing to join us too. That’s a flier.”
“Still not a terribly balanced team,” Aunt Peg points out.
“Yeah, you said he’s on the run?” Aunt Peg nods and Yasha smirks. “Good thing our best tracker is still stateside. You know where he was last seen?”
“His circus troupe was killed in Omaha, he was last spotted in Missouri. Columbia, then Jefferson City.”
“Logan’s going to need any information you can get him,” Yasha says as he, bold as shit, pulls Tony’s phone right out of Tony’s back pocket. “Access to the guy’s scent, if you can.”
“Fury will have the file to Coulson within the hour,” she promises even as she sends a text message with one hand. “His caravan has been sealed by Omaha Police but that shouldn’t be a problem at all.”
Pretty handily, Yasha navigates Tony’s phone and puts it to his ear. “Yeah, Logan. We got an irregular we need you to retrieve. Coulson will have the intel within the hour. Take two Cherries, a jet, and a pair of pilots.”
Tony can hear the edge of Wolverine’s grumbling but the man doesn’t really argue and Yasha hangs up with a smirk.
“Did you bring it?” Tony asks eagerly, ready 100% to move forward with this saving the world business.
“I did,” Aunt Peg puts her hand on the handle of her purse on her arm. Now that he’s looking at it, it is surprisingly large for her. And strangely boxy. She’s usually a clutch or nothing kind of girl.
“You need the bag back?” he asks, eyeing it speculatively. Carrying the Tesseract bare handed is a singularly bad idea unless you’re, like, Hulk. Or Vision.
“I do not,” she passes it over. Thankfully, Yasha takes it from her without prompting. “I take it that it will not be returning to SHIELD’s care?”
“Do you want it to?” he parries her probe.
She actually stops to think about it. “It’s a risk. We have a great deal of HYDRA tech. Had, actually, a great deal of HYDRA tech. Some of it is missing in the inventory. I have people I trust looking into it, but considering what we know, I rather doubt we’ll find it in SHIELD hands.”
“HYDRA has Schmidt Tech,” Tony realizes blankly.
That didn’t happen in the future timeline that’s now their past. It definitely didn’t happen before they came back and prevented his dad’s death, he’s 98% sure. That they do -if they actually do- now, well. He’s not even sure how to process that.
“The theft is recent,” she tries to console. “Likely around the time Bucky rejoined us.”
“Traded one weapon of mass destruction for another,” is Yasha’s conclusion, making both of them wince because, from HYDRA’s perspective at least, he’s not wrong.
“It could be one or two others. Spy agencies always have counter-spies in their ranks. Nature of the beast, I’m afraid. We’ve eliminated the CIA as a possibility, but there’s still a real possibility of the Chinese. There’s also a private American concern, AIM. They’re a think tank heading toward an economic downswing thanks to recent socio-political changes.” Aunt Peg tips her head to one side. “The end of the Cold War could be making any number of players desperate.”
“Dad wants me to go to visit them when we get home,” Tony says, glancing at Yasha speculatively. “Since I’m about to open my own think tank.”
“But Stark Solutions won’t be dependent on government contacts,” Aunt Peg objects.
“Right, we’ll be self-supporting, but dad kind of has a point about lab and leadership structures and stuff. They have been successful for quite a while, and it would be bad to stumble coming out of the starting gate, so to speak.”
“While you’re checking that out,” Yasha trails off leadingly.
“Uh, yeah, no,” Tony vetoes because he knows where that is going. “Pretty sure they’ll notice if the big guy with a shiny metal arm disappears. Like, immediately.”
Yasha gives him innocent eyes. He doesn’t believe them for a minute. “I was thinking Nat, actually. No one notices her unless she wants them to.”
“I didn’t think she was mission ready yet,” Tony blinks up at him.
“Not a combat mission,” Yasha concedes. “But she can do espionage in her sleep. It’s literally what she was made for.”
Tony doesn’t like it. She’s already betrayed him once, after all, and she’s been… weird lately. He’s not sure how else to describe it or how to define it but he doesn’t like it. “We’ll need more intel before it’s a go. And I’ll wanna talk to her first.”
Yasha nods, accepting that as an order.
“I’ll get you everything we have,” Aunt Peg promises.
“Have Fury take it to Coulson. JARVIS can analyze it with less prejudice than any of the rest of us. And faster too.”
Aunt Peg inclines her head and slides a hand in her pocket to retrieve her phone again, “Of course. Did you need anything else from me, Tony?”
“We’re good. Thank you, Aunt Peg.”
“You’re welcome,” She turns away, her phone already dialing.
Tony turns to Yasha and smiles his charming best. “What do you think of a picnic on the slopes?”
“Like a date?” Yasha asks, obviously not fooled by him in the least.
“We can call it that, sure.”
Yasha snorts and its derisive, but he’s smiling do it snot mean or anything. “You don’t get to plan the romance side of this thing. You’ve lost Romance Planner Privileges,” he almost-echos Tony’s words from the start of all this right back to him
Tony returns the favor, “Thank Christ.”
Yasha laughs out loud. “Our first date’s in two weeks, you better not be late.”
“I’ll be there with bells on,” he promises.
“I’ve already had Coulson insert it in your schedule.” Yasha’s still entirely amused, almost disbelieving, but Tony’s not quite sure. “How many people are we having for lunch?”
“You, me, and probably one more? Maybe two,” he shrugs. “She might bring security.”
“Security won’t eat but I’ll get a basket for four. You got transport?”
“Uh,” Tony blinks and smiles, his over the top, cheesy best.
Yasha laughs again and pushes him down the hall. “Go bundle up. You have twenty minutes.”
True to his word, twenty minutes later they are in a big red and black snowmobile of some sort with an actual cab, crawling up the side of the mountain.
“This thing should go faster,” he grumbles.
“Tony, no,” Yasha laughs.
“Tony, no. The pace is fine.” When Tony opens his mouth to argue, he tugs him close. “Shut up and cuddle me already.”
Tony snickers and settles in. Yasha’s warm and kind and gorgeous so it’s not like snuggling him is any kind of hardship.
On the far side of the mountain Yasha parks their ride on a flat spot and leads him up to a picnic spot half sheltered by a shallow cave.
“Uh, yeah, set everything out, will you?”
Yasha just rolls his eyes and waves him on, already opening the basket to set everything out.
Tony steps into the middle of a clear area, nothing but snow within 10 yards of him, and focuses. He focuses on what Thor told him. Heimdall hears all, Heimdall sees all. Through time and space, Heimdall misses nothing.
He focuses on the idea that Heimdall can -that Heimdall will- hear him. Then he closes his eyes and speaks.
“Heimdall,” he says softly because there’s no need to shout at a man that hears all, right? Thor did it but that’s gotta get annoying. “Heimdall, I have a matter of great importance to discuss. The fate of Asgard depends on it.”
He holds his stance maybe five minutes until he hears the Bifrost activate. He opens his eyes as the dizzying rainbow of light fades and comes face to face with the biggest man he’s ever seen. Easily a foot taller than Tony, holding a sword that definitely weighs more than he does and wearing armor of a bright bronze-orange with eyes to match.
The man -Heimdall, if Thor’s powers of description are worth a single damn- seems to visually weigh him down to his soul before stepping off to one side.
His movement reveals a woman with long curling hair the color of wheat, wearing a dress that probably has more armor to it than Tony can tell since he’s never seen anything like it before. Her eyes, though, and her smile. Those he’s seen before. Those are utterly Thor.
Or, more likely, Thor has her eyes and smile.
“I am Queen Frigga of Asgard, mother of Loki and Thor,” she says, her eyes raking over him.
“I am Tony Stark of Midgard, father of Erik and Darcy.” He offers her his arm but doesn’t approach, making it her choice to take it or not. “We were about to have lunch, care to join us?”
Her eyebrows hit her hairline and she moves forward to take his arm. He notes that she makes sure the skin of her palm touches the bare back of his hand. There’s a little zap of not-really electricity at the contact and he gasps. That’s when he remembers that Thor called his mother ‘Asgard’s foremost Seer and Socreous’.
He would bet that means she just read his mind.
Not exactly polite but it’ll save them some time later on. He keeps his thoughts to himself as much as he can as he helps her onto the bench across from Yasha and moves around to take his seat. Yasha sits when he does.
And the man got them quite a spread! In the center of the table are two larger bento trays, one with onigiri and the other with two different makizushi. At each of the proposed place settings is one of four smaller trays with smoked salmon, vegetable tempura, pickled vegetables, tamagoyaki, and fresh or possibly blanched vegetables.
“I have never seen a time traveler on Midgard before,” Frigga watches him pull his chopsticks. “Muchless two.”
“One time traveler, technically,” Tony corrects.
“A goddess or an alien or whatever she was, sent me back in time to fix things Stevie and I did wrong. In return, she promised me help,” Yasha explains and lets his eyes rest on Tony for a lingering moment. “She gave me more help than I could have ever imagined.”
“And you’ve fallen in love with each other. How charming,” The Queen of Asgard all but coos.
Tony’s about to get to work on his food when he realizes. “Do you need silverware? Fork, knife, kinda thing? I think?”
He glances at Yasha who nods, “We have silverware.”
Queen Frigga smirks at them and settles the resort’s fancy ceramic chopsticks in hand like she’s never eaten with anything else. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“Is meat a problem?” Yasha asks, seemingly genuinely interested.
“Asgardians eat meat,” she answers. “We have to. I understand vegetarianism is popular on Midgard but it would cause extreme health problems for one of us.”
“And for Loki?” Tony asks delicately.
She stares at him a moment and blinks. “Loki. His… people are from a very harsh world. Their diets are much leaner than ours by necessity. They are omnivorous. Eating meat does not harm my son.” Then she focuses on her bento. “I was under them impression you did not care for Loki, Mr. Stark.”
“I’m not convinced I actually met him,” Tony admits, inclining his head. “It was a very stressful time with the Chitauri and the press and the government. And then Odin demanding the return of Loki and the Tesseract or else.
“Thinking back on it, I’m fairly certain–” which is 99.9995%, “–Loki’s eyes were blue when we captured him.”
Frigga shakes her head. “My son’s eyes are green.”
“Exactly. But I distinctly remember them being blue. And we had a teammate who was mind controlled, and it turned their eyes a similar shade.”
“Did you say Chitauri?” Heimdall says as he steps up to the empty seat beside his queen. His voice is actually deeper than one would expect. It’s impressive, really.
“Yeah. Loki came as their advanced scout or something. Opened a portal and let them through.”
She cuts her guardsman off with a glare. There’s a bit of silent communication and Heimdall sits -silently but with grace- next to his queen and picks up his own pair of chopsticks.
“Thanos conquered the Chitauri millenia ago,” she continues after Heimdall has a few mouthfuls. “They are thought to be extinct.”
Tony shakes his head. “Unless its possible to breed upward of a hundred thousand Chitauri in less than thirty years, they are very much not extinct.”
“I saw in your mind the plan you have for us, and the memories Bast must have implanted. It is risky, what you propose.” She places a piece of the really good salmon on her tongue as she considers. “But if Thanos is to return, it is our best option.
“It’s good to see Lady Bast is alive and well after all these years.”
“Lady Bast?” Yasha asks.
“Your little mechanic friend,” Tony tells him.
“She is Lady Bast,” Heimdall objects, sounding nearly offended.
“You might know her as Gaia,” Queen Frigga interjects smoothly. “She is the Lady of Midgard. Ancient and powerful. And crafty. She’s the one that called Odin to defend Earth against the Jotun all those years ago.”
“And the one that made him fuck off afterward,” Tony guesses, earning him a smirk from Frigga and a glare from Heimdall.
“I do not appreciate Odin’s actions toward my sons in your future,” she tells them honestly. “But they both need several lessons that they will never receive on Asgard. Or even among Asgardians.”
“Quests are a thing good for lessons, aren’t they?” Yasha asks, “I mean that’s how all the old stories go. Isn’t it?”
Queen Frigga blinks at him for a moment. Then she smirks and nods.
Tony wants to ask, he really does, but ignorance just might be bliss on this one.
Not like he can change things either way.
“As I imagine you already know, we have a gift for you,” he flicks a glance at Heimdall but the guy remains impassive, “as a thank you for coming.”
“I appreciate the gesture,” she smiles at him as she accepts Aunt Peg’s little-ish, cube purse. “In return, I would lend you strength of arms of Asgard. A squad of four warriors to assist you and yours in your endeavors on behalf of Lady Bast.”
Tony frowns, thinking about it. “They gonna speak English?”
“They will speak Allspeak. You will hear it as your first language and they will hear what you say in theirs.”
“Good enough,” Tony agrees. “Send them in December, can you? We’ll be running ‘Welcome to the Future’ classes for one of ours that we’ll be recovering soon. Might as well make them ‘Welcome to Earth’ classes too.”
“Easily done,” she agrees standing. Everyone stands with her. “We have much to do, do you require anything else?”
Tony glances at Yasha, who shakes his head. “We’re good. You know where we are if you want to chat.”
She gives him amused eyes and walks back to their landing spot. The moment Heimdall enters the area, exactly one step behind his queen, the rainbow jumps to life and they’re gone.
Logan walks quietly through the deserted circus, cigar for once in abeyance.
He’s tracking and there are so many smells to keep track of, he can’t exactly use it to block them out. Dozens of cops, a half-dozen attackers. So much blood, pain, fear. The older smell of patrons, faded joy and excitement. The animal acts that have all been taken away.
He slices the crime scene tape across the door of the Incredible Hawkeye truck. Smells like every fucking cop in Omaha has been through there but at least their scents are fleeting. A few minutes with the door open and the smell of the man that lives here once again dominates, ingrained as it is in the siding and fabrics.
The scent of a slightly older man, related to the first but faded. A brother that hasn’t been here in years.
And the barest edge of a third scent. Logan follows it to a cut on a cabinet, on the inside of the cabinet door there’s a little splash of blood. Tiny but useable. Not cleaned with bleach or ammonia. It smells… familiar to him but he can’t place it which is unusual.
A scent he’s found nowhere else in the circus. At least not strong enough to stand on its own and be recognized.
A newcomer. This is the change and the reason for the attack, he would bet.
Fuck! Clint has to chew his lips to keep the word from escaping.
How the fuck do these assholes have so many guys? He started taking kill shots three ambushes ago, and somehow the groups just keep getting larger.
Fuck knows how they are going to get out of this one. He’s got three arrows in his quiver and the advanced party is already closer than he likes. Then there’s the pincher arm coming up his left and back up squad behind the advanced group.
The kid appears out of nowhere. She’s got scavenged grocery bags hanging from a handful of arrows in each hand.
Twelve arrows, he sighs as he slides them back in his quiver. That’s fifteen. Not nearly enough but, better.
She keeps digging through the bags, shaking and twisting and combining.
Improvised Explosive Devices? He signs, surprised.
“Si,” she nods.
Whoever raised this kid needs a stern talking to. Seriously. She turned one of his hearing aids into a car bomb to get them out of the last ambush, and now she’s making homebrew IEDs? Just– Jesus. His childhood wasn’t exactly sunshine and roses, but IEDs were conspicuously absent. So was the fearless use of lethal force she keeps throwing around.
And the languages. Not that proficiency in seven languages -eight if you count her obvious understanding of English, nine if you count her intuitive grip of sign- is a bad thing but damn.
There’s a shink like her claws coming out. They both freeze and look at each other.
Not you? he signs.
She visually double checks her hands and feet and shakes her head vigorously.
He counts down from three and they lean around the crates of their hiding place together. The primary group of assholes and the pincher arm are frozen, looking around warily. The back up squad is nowhere to be seen.
“Aaaaaaaaah!” A man shouts a furious warcry as he drops from the ceiling above the pincher group, three metal claws sticking from either fist.
Automatic weapons open up from Clint’s left, taking down the front half of the main group while the back half duck behind cover. The weapons keep firing, keeping the bastards pinned down while Mr. Claws quite literally tears the pincher group apart.
“Go!” he shouts.
Obediently, Laura grabs the one pipe bomb she managed to finish and disappears into the shadows.
He waits. Something -her IED, probably- goes off, taking out a small cluster of three closer to Mr. Claws than Clint expected, driving the six remaining his way.
At least whoever trained her trained her well, Clint thinks as he leans around and takes out the one closest to him.
He almost feels bad for these assholes as Laura starts personally driving them toward his line of fire. Laura and Mr.Claws on one side, Clint on the other. Boxes behind, automatic weapons ahead.
These assholes killed his family. Almost is the closest they get to sorry.
He ducks around his crate one last time and gets to watch his target realize he’s the last asshole standing.
The suppressive fire cuts off. The asshole’s eyes go wide. He looks left, he looks right. He looks directly at Clint, pales, and throws his hands in the air, “I surrender! I surr-”
The guy keels over. Behind him another asshole with an arrow sticking out of his chest is holding a holdout pistol, its tiny barrel still smoking. The man glares at Clint and from this angle he can very clearly read his lips as he says, “Hail Hy-” and white bubbles foam out of his mouth.
Incensed, Clint breaks cover. “Did that asshole say ‘Hail HYDRA‘? Is that what just fucking happened?”
Mr. Claws just rolls his eyes at him, looking both irritated and amused. He gestures to his right and two people break cover, both clutching automatic weapons. A man with truly ginormous shoulders and lips to die for, and a tiny little asian woman with an expression of stone.
“Wolverine,” Mr. Claws says, gesturing at himself as he retracts his claws. Then he points at the other two, “Forge, May.
“Our employer caught wind of HYDRA activity. He sent us to rescue you and find out why HYDRA wanted you.” He looks down at Laura who is staring at him, him, and only him. “I think we figured out why.”
“At least some of it,” the other guy, Forge, mutters.
Clint debates it for a second, then shrugs and goes down. Nobody would sacrifice upwards of thirty guys in a bait and switch, right? Being rescued sounds, well. Being rescued sounds nice.
Especially if it comes with a shower. A hot shower, with soap. And a bed, after. He nearly groans in pleasure at the thought.
“Employer?” he asks instead as he gets close.
The guy frowns at him, puzzled. Must of gotten his tone really wrong because he shoots a glance at May and starts signing as he speaks. “We work in security. Sarge mentioned hiring you for the team. Your daughter’s welcome.”
“Dude, she is not my daughter.”
“Then who’s daughter is she?” this Wolverine person prods.
“Yours,” Laura answers.
“Kid, I got no kids,” Claws holds shakes his head. “Not anyone’s father.”
She starts speaking too rapidly for Clint to follow. Then she throws herself to her knees and pulls off the slightly beaten backpack he’s never seen her take off the entire time he’s known her.
She unzips it to reveal a bunch of file folders. Silently, she pulls the top one and hands it to Wolverine.
Curious beyond the measure of it, Clint peaks around the taller man’s arm. It’s some sort of profile page. At the top it’s labeled ‘X23-12’ in big, bold letters and below that is a picture of Laura.
In a column beside the picture it reads-
Physical Age: 81 months
Emotional IQ: 144-160 months
Blood Type: O Negative
Biological Donor: James Howlett (Wolverine)
Wolverine snaps the file closed before he can read any more of it. “Everyone to the jet. Now.”
Laura takes the folder back and slides it back in her bag.
“What else you got in there?”
Laura looks up at Logan, “Everything.”
“I’ve called for clean up,” May says, signing as she does. “We’re good to get out of here.” Then she turns and raises a challenging eyebrow at Clint.
He looks down at the kid who nods once. “We’re coming.”
Clint wakes up in a hospital bed, not quite sure how he got there.
He can remember getting on the plane with Wolverine’s people, ex-military everyone single one of them. He can remember the plane being huge and decadent and clean, just generally amazing. He can remember flopping out on a couch with a cocky smirk, just to be an ass. But making it off the plane? Not so much.
He turns his head to see the kid sitting in a chair with an activity book, working through it with May at her side.
May sees him looking and smiles. Then she signs, “Good morning. You fell asleep on the plane last night and we decided to let you rest. Forge carried you in, and the doctor didn’t think you were injured, but they would like to formally look you over, if you’re game?”
“Ugh,” he says aloud. “Yeah, alright.”
She smirks at him and tugs Laura out with her. A moment later a tall man with pretty green eyes walks into his little corner of what he guesses must be an Infirmary.
“My name is Dr. McCoy,” this guy signs, too. Clint has never in his life met so many people, in such quick order, that could all sign. It’s… weird. Nice, definitely, but weird. “Melinda indicated you were ready for your exam?”
“You mean May?”
“Yes,” McCoy raises an eyebrow with a frown. “Melinda is her first name.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Without comment, the guy pulls the stethoscope off his neck and gets to work.
“I’m going to put in an IV,” Dr. McCoy tells him. “Rest and fluids are the order of the day. You’ve got a few muscle strains and you’re dehydrated but otherwise you’re in remarkably good shape for being on the run from HYDRA as long as you were.”
“Nah, HYDRA just sucks,” he declares.
The doctor grins at him. “A man will be here to fit you for new hearing aids at 10:00. Boss and Sarge will be by to talk to you after lunch.
“Now, will you stay in this bed or do I have to knock your ass out until the tech gets here?” The look the man gives him tells him preemptively that he is tired of his shit.
Clint laughs. “I guess I can nap here for a bit.”
The guy obviously doesn’t buy it. “Nurse Chapel is bringing you breakfast. Eat, then nap.”
Clint fucking Barton. Tony’s never seen him so young. Never expected to see him again, at all, honestly. Not after that stupid fucking showdown in a German airport. He especially never expected to see him without the Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery.
Or, rather, downgraded Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery. Less Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery? Epic Shoulders of Mediocre Archery?
Whatever. Dude’s a fucking twenty year old twink and Tony can’t handle it.
“Would you look at that?” Nat drawls, her tone catty. “Another small man with an attitude problem. Yasha’s favorite.”
With a frown, he turns to look at her. “What are you even talking about?”
“Nothing,” her tone is light but there’s something ugly lurking around the edges of her face. “Yasha does have a very clear type though. Doesn’t he?”
“Don’t play your games with him,” a voice growls from behind him, and Tony turns to see Yasha standing there. His eyes are focused on Nat, head down, shoulders up like he’s about to tear her apart. “He has taken nothing from you. He hasn’t hurt you. He hasn’t even said a rude word to you.”
She hisses something in Russian, too quick for him to follow.
Yasha snorts. “I was your mission, you were my student. That’s all that was between us.” Nat doesn’t seem to know what to say to that and Bucky straightens, shoulders going down. “You know you don’t have to stay here, right?”
Nat clearly doesn’t know what to say to that either.
Neither does Tony for that matter.
“Your conditioning broke, you deserve to find out who you are. If you can’t find yourself here, that’s fine. Go where you want. The bridge won’t be burned unless you burn it.”
“Like I was just trying to,” Nat croaks.
Yasha flicks up both eyebrows and gives a conceding nod. “Anything that hurts a Stark would burn that bridge.”
She flicks a look from Yasha to Tony, back to Yasha, and then finally to Tony again. “And break my oath.”
Not sure what else to do, Tony shrugs. “You completed a mission as an Avenger. Two technically, the Protection of Queen Ramonda and the Vibranium Theft Prevention. You’ll get a pension for the rest of your life. You were injured in the second one, so you’ll get an even nicer pension. Never should have to worry about money again.”
She stares at him. Silently. Which is weird! Then she turns and leaves the room.
All without a word.
Tony looks at Yasha who just shakes his head, looking done. “What was that?”
“She was attempting to sow discord between us by making you jealous.” When Tony just blinks, he smiles sadly. “She was attempting to use neuro linguistic programing to plant the idea that I would cheat on you. Specifically, with Clint.”
“You would never,” Tony objects.
“I know that and you know that, but a whisper campaign like that -that probably started weeks ago but we just both only just noticed- will turn your world upside down if it’s given the time to do so.”
“So you just kick her out? Isn’t that a security risk?”
“Minimal,” Yasha shrugs again as he pulls Tony close. “She’s been a prisoner her whole life, almost as long as I have and she’s just starting to fully realize that. We could help her find her feet but she’s started lashing out at us for trying. So we give her freedom. Let her fall on her face if that’s what she needs but, she hasn’t hurt us, so it doesn’t hurt to let her know she can came back if she needs to.”
“And we don’t have a cell that could hold her,” Tony reminds him.
Yasha grins. “There’s that too but I’m practicing making choices for humanitarian reasons rather than strategy or practicality.”
“Xavier will be pleased to learn that you’re listening to him,” Tony pats his chest and rolls his eyes. “And the whole her knowing our secrets thing?”
“She can know whatever she wants but she can’t speak of our secrets outside of this house without you or me present.”
“Say, what?” Tony boggles
“We agreed to have the Professor limit what we could discuss in the event HYDRA captured us again. I agreed to a psi-tether that Xavier taught me to tug and Xavier will be able find me, to seal the knowledge in my head, and give you my location for retrieval.
“Nat didn’t want someone permanently in her head, so she has a geas. The terms of it mean she cannot discuss our secrets outside of this house without one of us present.”
“Seems like there are a lot of downsides to that.”
“There are limits to everything,” Yasha shrugs and then sobers completely. “Unless you want me to kill her.”
“No, there’s more downsides to that. I think. I’m pretty sure.” Tony sighs, weighing his options. “Morales would be heartbroken.”
Yasha laughs at him, “Ready to recruit an archer to your boyband?”
“You mock but with Natasha gone the official Avengers roster is all men. Two men, actually. You and Logan.”
“So figure out how to make a successful Super Soldier and we’ll see if May wants a go.”
Tony noodles on that. Melinda May, Super Soldier. It’s got a ring to it. “Maybe we should ask her anyway, she’s scary competent even without enhancement.”
“Very true, you ready to hire another Avenger?”
“Eh,” Tony shrugs. “Let’s stick him in security and let him work his way up. I don’t think this version has anywhere near the combat experience of the last one.”
Yasha winces. “Never underestimate carnies, Tony. It’s a mistake. And besides, he held off ardent HYDRA pursuit for almost two weeks, while protecting a little kid, and managed mostly to get nothing but bumps and scrapes.”
“With a bow and like a dozen arrows,” Tony adds, impressed. “Seems like a pretty good bar for an Avenger.”
Tony thinks it over a little more.
This Clint’s reaction to the gear Tony can make him is going to be epic since he’s not been spoiled by SHIELD, and Tony will get to actually see it since he doesn’t have all those years of super spy poker face training. It’ll be fun. “Yeah, okay, let’s go hire an Avenger.”
“One last thing,” Yasha stops him just outside the door. “While, yes, he is generally my type, even I can tell he’s tragically straight. And -unless I miss my guess, which I know I don’t- May’s about ready to tattoo her name on his ass. Even if you weren’t a factor, I wouldn’t even look at him too hard until she’s secure in that relationship. There’s a collar in that boy’s future, I guarantee it.”
“But I’m a factor?”
“The most important factor,” he says sincerely. Then he smirks, “Even if we haven’t gone on a single proper date yet.”
Tony sighs and Yasha laughs.
“I thought you had a thing for blonds,” Tony blurts before he can think about it. When Yasha just frowns and tips his head, Tony sighs and continues. “Steve.”
“Ah,” Yasha says in understanding. Then he stops. It’s fucking weird. When will this day stop being fucking weird? Is Clint really this much trouble? Eventually Yasha shifts in place and says, “This is the start of a very serious conversation, can it wait until we’re somewhere private?”
“Are you delaying so you can figure out how to break it to me that you’ll always love him?”
“I’m delaying because I need to explain why I will never love him like I love you. Why that was true even before HYDRA used him against me for somewhere around fifty years and why he is not a threat to us.”
“Okay,” Tony takes a deep, fortifying breath. “Okay, I can wait for that.”
“If you’re sure?” Yasha looks a little grey around the edges but Tony’s 95% sure that’s the pending emotional conversation about Steve, not hiring Clint. Seriously, who would be afraid of Clint? Nah, that’s totally emotions.
Tony rolls his eyes and leads them in. Clint is, thankfully, the only one in the Infirmary right now.
Bones, Dr. McCoy, put him in a back corner with sightline for the whole room because no matter what anyone else says the ex-Navy man is an old war dog too. He gets it.
Or at least that’s what Nat and Morales said after Coulson hired him in.
Duke agreed with their assessment. And Apollo. And Phantom. And- point is, all of the soldiers on the security team recognize the doctor as another soldier and he’s proving to be the best hire they could have made for their private medical team.
Clint is reading through a file as they approach.
An actual physical, paper file. It makes Tony’s heart cry. He misses the days of tablets for everything. Tablets por vida!
Clint looks up at them and closes the file.
“Clint Barton?” he asks since technically they haven’t met yet, and he’s got to act like it. The guy nods. “I’m Tony Stark, this is James Barnes.”
“Boss and Sarge?” he guesses, glancing between them.
Yasha laughs, “That’s us.”
“Your guys have code names for everyone,” Clint rolls his eyes.
“They prefer to call them call signs,” Tony informs him. “How are you settling in?”
“Uh, good. Bones won’t let me out of bed even though he said one day of bed rest but, uh. Thanks for the hearing aids? I’ve never gotten fitted so fast in my life.”
“Bonus of billionaire friendship,” Tony shrugs. “You want bionic ears? We did an arm for Yasha, and my team is working on a new foot for Coulson, we could put ears on the docket.”
“Uh,” Clint blinks. “That wasn’t in the benefits package.”
Tony smirks at the dazed look on the archer’s face. “Which package did Coulson give you?”
Clint flips the folder over, “The, uh, the Cherry Package?”
“That’s the Stark Family Security Team. Did he mention the Avengers Initiative to you?” Tony asks, rocking back on his heels.
“No? What’s that?”
“Sort of like the Cherries but they do more, uh, advanced missions.”
“And you need an archer for that?” Clint asks skeptically.
“Why not?” Tony shrugs. “I think an arrow could be a fun delivery method for any number of surprises. It would give the team more options than just guns. And it’ll be a fun challenge for me to make happen.”
“Great! Tell me about yourself.”
Clint squints at him, “Is this like an interview kinda thing?”
“Yeah, sure.” Tony waves a hand, dismissively. “Come on, dish.”
Clint scratches at the back of his neck nervously. “Uh, born Waverly, Iowa. Got an older brother, Barney. Parents died when I was six. Ran away to join the circus at ten, started training under Trickshot and Longsword. Took up the mantle of Hawkeye at fourteen.”
“Sounds like a good call sign,” Yasha interjects and Tony snorts.
Clint looks at them skeptically but continues, “Realized Trickshot and Longsword were up to no good, but couldn’t turn on family, so. One of the acrobats, Catalina, forged me some papers and I enlisted, became a Marine. Almost two years active duty when an IED took 70% of my hearing, medical discharge.
“Come home, Cat’s son talks me into joining the new circus he put together. A bit more than a year there when a stray shows up. HYDRA follows her and kills all my friends.”
“You down to make HYDRA hurt?” Yasha asks.
“Oh, yeah,” Clint agrees, something dark and furious in his eyes.
Yasha looks at Tony who just nods. He fully intended on bringing Clint in from the moment he heard his name, it was just timing he was concerned about. Yasha nods back.
“We’re going to leave nothing but dust and echoes,” he promises.
“Where are we?” Tony asks as he slides into his lab.
“The boat to take us north should be purchased within the week,” Coulson answers without looking up from the papers he’s working on. “Duke’s rejected several, but we found a retired research vessel that looks likely. Over a thousand square feet of clear, useable deck and two fast and light, aluminum daughter craft, but only one helipad. We could probably add a second in the empty space, if you think we need it.”
Tony waves that off, “Depends on the research team.”
“I have their finalized findings. Enough of them anyway for our purposes. Darcy asked good questions and lead them to several other helpful experiments.” Coulson looks up at him seriously. “I hope you realize your daughter is going to get at the very least acknowledgement, if not credit, on three-quarters of the papers these people write on the Arctic and Climate Change for the foreseeable future.”
“And she’s not even in grade school,” Tony grins, feeling all over smug. “She’s smart, our girl.”
Coulson does not look as impressed with this as he should. “I’ll mention it to Sarge for a threat assessment.” That draws Tony up short but before he can ask anything, Coulson continues. “Did you want JARVIS to analyze the data, or did you have something else in mind?”
“Someone else,” he corrects. “Give it to VIRGIL. JARVIS will help but I want two sets of eyes, and VIRGIL is even more analytical than JARVIS.
“Any word back from FRIDAY?”
“FRIDAY has successfully infiltrated SHIELD’s systems,” JARVIS pipes up. “A process made simpler with Director Stark’s personal access codes.”
He should probably feel bad for swiping his dad’s codes but they’re talking about saving the world here. And his dad is the one that not only wrote them down but left them out too. He’s practically asking for it, really.
“Alright, you and VIRGIL will analyze anything she sends back. And give VIRGIL the Zola Files as well.”
That said, he turns back to Coulson, “Any word on the kid thing?”
“We’ve limited the possible sites for the Alkali-Transigen Project to three. We are still working to pinpoint her origin, however, so that might grow. I’ve reviewed the file, several of the genetic donors are our allies. Will we be contacting them?”
“Yeah, they deserve a say in what happens to their kids even if they didn’t choose to have them, right? Even if what they have to say is ‘no, thank you’. We need to be prepared to have alternative options. Have you reached out to the Roth-Bachchans?”
“They will be here for lunch tomorrow.”
“Lunch?” Tony frowns, this is the fate of innocent kids they’re talking about. “They can’t get here earlier?”
Coulson stares at him for a minute before he clears his throat and shifts uncomfortably. “Uh, sir, tonight is your first date with Sergeant Barnes.”
Tony freezes. “That’s tonight?”
“Yes, and trust me, sir, you do not want to cancel.”
Tony squints at him, “Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“It’s a surprise, sir,” Coulson answers with his teeny, tiny, ‘yes, I am a little shit‘ smile. Tony didn’t even know he had that smile but he’s glad of the new found knowledge.
“Can you tell me how dressed up I need to be?” Coulson hesitates so Tony presses. “I don’t want to wear a three-piece suit to a street fair now, do I?”
Coulson makes a maybe-amused noise. “Jeans and t-shirt would work. You’ll need comfortable shoes.” When Tony raises an eyebrow at him, Coulson huffs. “Wear tight jeans and t-shirt and minimize layers. Show off your body. Give him a thrill.”
Tony grins. He can do tight. Uh, maybe. No, that would take putting on clothes from younger than he wants to think about, and they might not actually be long enough. Shit, he needs to go shopping.
“Alright, JARVIS load Daddy Issues #672 to #708 and get ready for work.
“Coulson, get Barton down here. I need measurements and then JARVIS will begin production.” The best thing about the vacation in Japan is that his father took that month to expand what is now firmly Tony’s workshop, and put something perilously close to the production arms JARVIS had once upon a time in California in it. “Yasha’s going to want to test Barton before we do the kid thing so we’ll need to have his weapon of choice ready. Let’s plan on the testing taking him all day tomorrow.”
Because it totally will take all day tomorrow. Probably. Between Barton’s abilities and Yasha’s stubbornness, definitely. Unless, well. This is an almost thirty years younger Clint Barton. Maybe he’s not so skilled as SHIELD veteran Clint Barton.
Maybe he’s more skilled because he’s younger and more fit. Fuck.
Tony shakes his head. “And get Morales to put together a shopping trip for me. Tell Yasha that it’s happening but no details. And he’s not invited. He deserves a surprise too.”
Once Coulson leaves, Tony focuses back on JARVIS. “Do you need help trawling the internet/darknet for HYDRA? There can’t be much there yet. Not anywhere, really, but we could get JOCASTA into Google or something.”
“I am not unduly burdened at this time, Sir,” he responds evenly. “However you may consider the electronic security needs of the United Nations.”
“As far as we know that wasn’t an issue in our time.”
“That is true, Sir, but this is not our time. With the changes that have already been made to the timeline, our future knowledge is inestimably unreliable.”
“Alright, I’ll pitch it to dad. He has the most friends on the Security Council and he’s technically still Director of SHIELD. Maybe Jo can cover both? I don’t think Friday will be satisfied setting up a home in SHIELD.”
“Very good, Sir.”
There’s a knock on the door and he calls, “Come in!”
Clint Barton opens the door looking either nervous or suspicious. His resting murderface makes it hard to tell.
“You were talking to someone?” he asks hesitantly.
“Say hi, J.”
“Greetings,” J says gently from above. “I am Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, please call me JARVIS.”
“System? You’re like a computer?” Clint’s whole face lights up in excitement.
“Correct, Mr. Barton. Though Artificial Intelligence is the most correct term for my existence.”
“Dude, don’t call me ‘mister’. You’re Jarvis, I’m Hawkeye. Done.”
There’s a pause where Tony nods encouragingly to J. It’s a change but a small one and familiarity among Avengers should only be encouraged.
“Very well, Hawkeye.”
Taking that as his cue, Tony gestures for Clint to follow him further back. “I got a bunch of ideas for bows and arrows. What do you think of a quiver that can change the head on the shaft on command? Like if you don’t need a standard head, it switches to an explosive head or a shock head or something.”
“And how would I command the quiver to change the arrow?”
“A dial on the grip of the bow. Short range, encrypted radio-like connection between the two to pass on commands.”
“You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”
Tony waves that off because he really didn’t. “Bows are fascinating. Guns are simple. One speed, one ammo, one purpose. Bows give the archer choices. You choose the strength you launch. Changes in speed, distance affect everything with how the arrow hits. And with the different heads I can give you more options than dead, deadlier, and splat.
“You can’t really put a safety on a bow though. Not unless your draw-weight is something crazy,” he flicks his eyebrows to make it a question.
“Depends on how you define crazy,” Hawkeye shrugs. “I was working my way up to 250 pounds-force because my ringmaster thought it would play well on my posters.”
“250-? That’s like 1,100 newtons, isn’t it?” That’s what his Hawkeye’s draw-weight was but he didn’t think he’d gotten there this young. “You there yet?”
Clint snorts, “No. I can keep working on it though.”
“If you need any special workout equipment, tell Coulson. Don’t worry about cost.”
Clint huffs something that sounds vaguely like, “I won’t.” But Tony ignores it and leads him further back.
“Do you know what your current draw-weight is?”
Clint shakes his head.
“Alright, up on the platform so J can measure you, then we’ll test it.”
JARVIS does Hawkeye the courtesy of little blue grid lines so he can follow the measuring. Unnecessary but Clint’s shoulders relax at the sight and Tony silently reminds himself to give JARVIS a high five for acing human interaction later.
Then Clint looks wary again as floor plates in the back of the room move and two of JARVIS’s work arms unfold from down below. “If you would move over to my work arms, I am prepared to test your draw-weight, Hawkeye.”
“Favorite color?” Tony asks, mostly to distract Hawkeye from the reality of what amounts to grappling with the robot arms. That shit is scarier than it sounds, even when you know they are just there to help you. He learned that lesson personally after his first raid on Gulmira. And Clint doesn’t even know that JARVIS would never hurt him. Not really. Not yet.
“Wait, let me guess. Purple?” and he shoots a pointed glance at Clint’s hearing aids.
“Of course,” Clint sneers somewhere between snarky and snotty. “Purple’s the best color. What else would be my favorite?”
“Uh, red,” Tony counters. “Red and gold, obviously.”
“Jeez, and I thought I was the one that grew up in a circus. Can you pick more ridiculous, flashy colors?”
“Because purple’s good for what exactly? Cause I know it ain’t camouflage.”
“Depends on the color or colors and location,” Hawkeye counters. “Urban night camo? Hell yeah. Multiple shades of purple so you don’t make a human-shaped outline in the shadows.”
“You got some cat burglar confessions to make there, Hawkeye?”
The slightly younger man rolls his eyes. “Hell no, but my first circus closed down for a reason.”
Tony hums but doesn’t ask. He already knows, really, about Trickshot and Longsword. Not from this Hawkeye or the past one but from Widow’s SHIELDRA file dump. From the highlight reel earlier, that’s all the same down to how Hawkeye joined the Marines and lost his hearing.
You’d think his bestie would have had his back and removed his file but, no. She’d released everything short of his street address. Spouses name, number of kids, everything.
No wonder Yasha doesn’t trust her.
“J, adjust the current specs for his measurements.”
“Done, Sir.” And holographic projections of three different bows pop up.
Hawkeye’s eyes fasten directly on the middle one, the one Clint had used the longest. Tough and flexible, it had even survived their bout with Ultron.
“Like that, huh?” Tony grins. It’s the one Tony designed completely himself, it’s nice to see his work appreciated. “I think we’ll make that one with your target draw-weight. Start you off in the field with the first one,” he points at the bow SHIELD had thought good enough for an Avenger. “The third one, though,” he points to it. “Is convertible. Folds down to about the size of a pair of nunchucks so you can hide it in a boot, stretches out to a staff for hand to hand. Can you use a staff?”
“I’m better with a sword but I can learn.”
“Pretty sure May is the one you’ll wanna talk to for lessons,” Tony offers. “Or maybe Stinger. I’ve seen them going at it in the gym a few times with staffs.”
Clint raises and eyebrow, “And arrows? What are you making them from?”
“I was thinking either aluminum or carbon. Could probably do Adamantium depending on what head you want it for. Adamantium shafts, I’d prefer you reuse as much as possible.”
“I’d prefer to reuse them all. Waste not, want not. Re-using fletching can be a problem though.”
Tony nods, fair. “Talk to me about fletching. Are real feathers necessary or are synthetic gonna work?”
“That depends on the weight of the head and the balance of it all with the shaft. The whole system has to be looked at together.”
“So you wanna talk arrowheads first?”
“Alright, J, pull up DI #680 to #708.”
“So he says ‘Jeez, and I thought I was the one that grew up in a circus.’ Like red and gold is ridiculous or something,” Tony scoffs.
“I can’t wait for Harry Potter to come out again and everyone to realize what a ridiculous Gryffindor you really are,” Yasha says fondly from where he’s lounging on his back on what has become their bed. “You’ll never be able to keep up your Ravenclaw front again.”
And Tony just can’t let that stand so he throws open the bathroom door and saunters out. The way Yasha immediately sits up and pays attention at the very sight of him makes these almost unbreathable jeans worth it.
“And what about the front you’re keeping up?” Tony presses his advantage. “Mister Slytherin in Hufflepuff clothing.”
Yasha licks his lips twice then gives up on turning his eyes away. Instead he allows his stare to linger and raises an eyebrow. “So I’m a hatstall, no reason to be jealous.”
“Hat stall, shmat stall. You gotta pick a House. It’s important.”
“Not for another five years, it’s not.”
“The idea of you and Stevie being roommates in a boarding school that teaches magic and arms children with deadly weapons, though. That’s pretty terrifying.”
“We managed it well enough in a high-rise superhero bachelor pad.”
“Yeah,” Yasha smirks, finally meeting his eyes. “But you didn’t have to face down every boy’s worst enemy. Puberty.”
Tony waves that off. “No, only HYDRA, AIM, Aliens, an evil AI bent on ending the world, a misplaced god here and there…some especially deluded royalty. Space royalty even.”
“Still, not as bad as puberty. Especially not as bad as puberty in the ‘20s.”
“Yeah, yeah, old man.” Tony gives him a poke. “Are we doing this thing or not? I was promised a surprise.”
“I don’t know, kid, did you ask your mom if you can go out? I don’t wanna keep you up past your bedtime,” Yasha smirks.
“Har. Har,” Tony glares and then fights a smile at Yasha’s beaming grin.
They make it outside to see a limo waiting. Tony would bet a Stark Industries limo because a very young looking Happy pulls open the passenger door as they leave the building. Strangely, or perhaps amusingly, Happy is wearing an AC/DC shirt. It’s obviously pulled over his uniform white oxford, tie, and slacks but its still there.
They settle into the limo easily. Doors closed, middle window up. Tony messes with the settings in the door, physical and electronic privacy is assured.
“Is this the time for us to have that long conversation?” Tony glances over. “Dates are the time to talk about emotional stuff, yeah?”
“So I don’t have to talk about my emotions unless I’m on a date?” Yasha raises a sassy eyebrow. “Kinda makes me question the depth of my relationship with Xavier.”
“Magneto will be crushed,” Tony agrees solemnly.
Yasha snorts. Then his resolve crumbles and he just laughs. “My arm would be crushed, maybe.
“Okay, Stevie.” Yasha turns and pulls a leg up on the bench to face him directly. Tony copies him, offering a hand in silent support. Yasha takes it and a deep breath. “Okay. So. It wasn’t exactly safe to me a gay man in the ‘30s and ‘40s.”
“Right,” Tony nods.
“And I’m completely gay. I have no interest in women. The one and only time I got drunk and slept with a woman, well, that got us Darcy eventually so I can’t regret it, but I’m honestly still surprised I managed to get off at all.”
Tony doesn’t disagree. “So, Steve?”
“That day, I was going to ask him to fuck me because I didn’t want to ship out a virgin.”
“Oh.” Tony swallows, not sure what to say.
“Yeah,” Yasha looks away. “It was- it was love and trust and everything I could offer him before I was dragged off to die.” He’s on the edge of tears and Tony hates that he asked. Hates it, hates it. “And then he was so dead set on going, dead set on getting himself killed, too. So focused on what he wanted, on what he had to prove. He had no room in his heart for me or what I needed or wanted- and I realized he never had. Not unless we were completely agreed on something.”
Yeah, Tony had noticed that. “And even then you had to handle it his way or you were wrong and he didn’t have time for you.”
Yasha just shakes his head. “He was stubborn. It was a strength that got him through a lot so I can’t really begrudge it, but he left a lot of unnecessary damage in his wake.
“So yeah, I wanted to give him this. Or get him to give it to me, I don’t know. Maybe I was being selfish too, but at the time it felt like he’d betrayed me. Like he’d stabbed me and I was bleeding out in front of him and he didn’t care. So I picked a fight and walked away. Went dancing, got drunk, slept with a woman just to see if I could, and hated all of it.”
“You didn’t forgive him when he rescued you?”
“Are you kidding?” Yasha laughs. “I was so furious when he rescued me! His ass was supposed to be safe. At home. Not letting random strangers pump him full of random medical, chemical magical bullshit.
“But, no, him showing up actually put the final nail in any romantic musings I might have had for him. For a number of reasons but then he was so obviously head over heels for Carter that it killed my hopes. But that was okay because I had a guy too.” Yasha raises an eyebrow. “A Canadian specialist named James Howlett.”
Tony blinks, “Wolverine. Wolverine was your World War II lover?”
Yasha nods. “He’d been with the 107th when I got out there and was pulled back like a week before we were captured by HYDRA so I knew of him but we didn’t really meet. Then he agreed to work with the Commandos after they formed but never formally joined.
“You should have seen Cap’s face when he caught Jimmy bending me over a Jeep.” Yasha grins and Tony can’t fight a squirm because that, that’s hot. “He kicked him back to his unit for a few months even though we really needed him. It was stupid and childish and an abuse of power.”
“And it pissed you off,” Tony guesses.
“Of course it did! He didn’t want me, and that was fine, but he couldn’t allow someone else to want me. That was bullshit. He’s lucky no Commandos died for it before Carter talked sense into him.”
“That’s good, right?”
Yasha gives a frustrated growl and tugs his hair. “She used the exact same words I had used -several times- but because they were from her they had weight.
“From me, his best friend since he was six, they meant less than nothing.”
“You were a guarantee,” Tony’s heart breaks to realize. Because he’s been there, too. With Pepper, actually. “You were safe, he didn’t feel the need to keep you happy to hold on to you, because where else would you go? He made demands on you?”
Yasha looks away and Tony can guess what Cap’s demands were. Like Pepper’s constant demands to give up Iron Man, ridiculous things he couldn’t do. Not just about Logan, either, because why the hell else would a sniper -who is by definition a long range combatant- end up going toe to toe in the gorilla warfare that was the raid on Zola’s train.
“But, in the end-” Tony can’t finish the question. “The way he looked at you.”
Yasha shrugs, “Who else did we have? Okay, no, he should have had you. Should have realized he had you but I had no one but him and he’s always had a saving people thing.”
“Would you have?” Tony prompt and huffs in frustration at himself.
“Run off into the sunset together?” Yasha finishes. “Maybe? We’ll never know now but that never would have been safe. Once that bridge was burned, I would have been a fugitive forever. And then you throw all the HYDRA and Red Room triggers Xavier pulled out of me -that he’s still pulling out of me because we find a new one every other week or so. There’s no way that would have gone well. Steve would have been dead long before a relationship could have gotten off the ground, and I’d have probably followed him. Either done it myself or thrown myself at you or that cat guy or someone. Suicide by superhero.
“In my right mind, I don’t want a relationship with him. I love him, he’s my friend and my brother, but I respect myself too much to deal with his kind of love. Or at least I remember having too much self-respect for it and I damn well intend to stick with that.”
“Uh, sirs?” Happy breaks in reluctantly over the PA. “We’re here.”
Yasha shoots him a look and Tony nods. He’s cool ending the conversation there. For now. Probably for a long time, actually. It’s a lot to chew on and he could use a distraction.
Yasha hits the button to respond, “Thank you, Mr. Hogan. We’re ready.”
Less than a minute later, the door opens from the outside and Yasha slides out first, as always. When Tony joins him, he’s stunned.
They’re in front of a huge off-white building he’s never seen before. The front isn’t glass or anything, just a chainlink fence and there are cars parked on the other side of the limo as far as the eye can see. Oh, and there’s two lines full of people cheering and waving AC/DC merch.
“What in the-”
Yasha just grins at him and tugs him down the little drive to the fence. The employees don’t even question it, they just let Yasha through which isn’t really strange but it’s all so strange Tony can’t even parse it.
Faintly, in the distance, Tony can hear the rather peculiar strumming of a guitar. He knows that sound. That’s a sound check!
“Yasha, what is this?” he demands, pulling them both to a stop.
His grin only grows, the asshole. The beautiful, beautiful asshole. “Something you’ve never gotten to experience properly.”
“Yasha,” he starts warningly.
“I know you can buy a private performance and you probably have but,” he licks his lips. Hesitates. “Even I know it’s different in the crowd. Surrounded by people that want to be here as much as you do.”
“What did you do?’
“Just hired your favorite band and gave away a few thousand tickets to fans that could pass the background check?”
“So that I could have a concert? A real concert.”
“With King’s X. To open, or whatever.”
“Oh my god, you got me my own Razor’s Edge World Tour show. You are perfect.” He can’t help it, he kisses this beautiful bastard. His beautiful bastard. “What do we do first?”
“Duke swore beer and hotdogs were the order of the day, so let’s find a stand.”
Tony resolves to thoroughly ignore that almost all of the Cherries are in the crowd around them. Morales checking out t-shirts with a little too much investment. Forge is eating cotton candy and the perfect picture of negligence if he weren’t, you know, the size of a house.
Phil and Clint are on what might actually be a date. Which, awkward. Tony carefully doesn’t look at Yasha to see what he thinks or feels about it.
Boundaries, Tony reminds himself. Xavier is always harping on him to create and defend his own boundaries rather than letting everything run all over him. Neither Coulson’s nor Clint’s relationships are his business, unless one of them makes it his business. Because boundaries. Boundaries are important and they keep him emotionally safe.
He misses Phantom completely and by accident until the cheeky bastard stops to wink at him.
“God I need all the merch. All of it.”
And, okay, maybe he gets a little carried away buying everyone in line behind him a t-shirt but he definitely recognized the head of his dad’s R&D back there and Stark employees absolutely deserve nice things.
Yasha actually snatches Bogart by the back of his cardigan -which, really? A cardigan? At an AC/DC concert?- and shoves all of Tony’s personal purchases in his arms. Then he orders the overdressed peacock to take them to the car. Tony’s left holding one measly t-shirt but with the way Yasha watches him yank it over his head you’d think it was the world’s sexiest lingerie.
Tony can live with this. Yes, he can definitely live with this.
“Whatcha thinking?” Yasha purrs, his voice all sleep gravely next to Tony’s ear.
“I’m thinking I have the most amazing boyfriend ever. Who gave me the best first date to end all first dates.”
“It was good then?” he asks as he nuzzles into Tony’s neck.
“Very good.” Tony hesitates. “I do have one complaint, though. A teeny tiny, very minor thing.”
“Oh?” Yasha sounds amused, not offended. Good.
“Yeah, well. See. My boyfriend knocked it out of the park but, uh, he didn’t take his homerun.”
Yasha’s nuzzle gains the faintest edge of teeth and Tony gasps before the damn tease pulls back to murmur, “Maybe he enjoys walking the bases.”
“Oh,” Tony pulls away enough to look at him. “And do you? Enjoy walking the bases?”
“I do,” Yasha scratches the back of his neck with a frown. “I also think we need to have a serious conversation about what we want and expect from sex, but I also like the thought of being spontaneous about it and I’m not sure how to balance these two urges.”
Tony takes a moment to think about it because that’s pretty much the least he can do.
“Let’s take today to think about it. Our goals, desires, limits, that kinda thing. And tomorrow night, assuming we’re not wherever freeing a bunch of kids from HYDRA, we’ll have dinner and discuss it. How’s that sound?”
“Okay, yeah. Sounds good.”
“And we don’t have to have sex or anything tomorrow night. We just talk and then after, depending on what we say, we can put the possibility of sexy ambushes on the table.”
Yasha laughs. “Alright. We might need Xavier for this conversation, though.”
“Not the romantic dinner I was planning then,” Tony screws up his face as he thinks about it. Yasha’s so-called training from HYDRA has left him with a lot of issues, not to mention issues with verbalizing his issues. Having their telepath psychiatrist there would help. “But you’re right.”
“What else in on your tricksie mind? There’s something sad in your eyes.”
“Just-” Ugh, why does his highly trained assassin and covert operative boyfriend gotta be so damn perceptive? “Thinking about what you said, about Steve. Wondering if he was a narcissist before the Serum or if Erskine’s formula did that to him? And realizing that if Erskine’s formula did that to Steve, there aren’t any successful Super Soldiers.
“Well, other than you.”
“I don’t know that I count as a success,” Yasha counters. “Seventy years as a brainwashed assassin for the enemy and now I’m up to my eyeballs in therapy.”
Then he stops, thinks. “I don’t think Stevie’s a narcissist. I think he went through a lot and was expected to just deal with it when there was literally no way that he really could.
“He gained like two feet in height and 150 pounds in muscle, all in less than an hour. He went from knowing he could die just from running too hard or breathing wrong, to the peak of physical perfection. He went from knowing he was going to die alone unless some dame -likely, one of my sisters- took pity on him to having them line up around the block just to look.
“And then you add the politics he was hip deep in just because he survived.
“And then the war that he could see but not participate in.
“And then his best friend being captured, thought dead but actually being tortured. And then- I mean, that’s a lot. Any one of those situations would be a lot. But he had all of it. And he was expected to just roll with it. To keep up the front, keep everything -and everyone- moving forward. He was expected to win us the war.
“The closest he got to someone like Xavier was Peg and she was more a tough love kinda lady. She could use her words and she could be a good listener but she had no tolerance for moping or uncertainty.”
“And that’s pretty much what you express in therapy,” Tony interjects.
“Exactly. And he couldn’t talk about it to me because I was part of the problem, one of the people depending on him. Does that make the probably unintentional damage he did to me okay? No. Does it make it understandable? Yes. I think it does.”
Tony… can’t really argue with that. “Okay, well, the first thing he’s doing when we thaw him out is therapy.”
“All the therapy,” Bucky agrees and Tony can’t help but grin.
“Tony!” a cheerful voice calls as the lab door opens. “I come bearing lunch!”
Carefully, carefully Tony extracts himself from the wiring harness and looks up to see Yasha staring at him.
“Uh, hi.” Yasha breaks his stare to set their lunch on the workbench closest to the door. “I thought Xavier’s lot would be here for lunch?”
“They were delayed,” Yasha answers softly. “We asked most of the adult X-Men to show up, so they had to arrange alternate security for the school. The Security’s plane was delayed. Weather, I think. They’re aiming for dinner tomorrow.”
“We’re not getting the sex talk in then, are we?”
Yasha tips his head to one side. “Yeah, probably not.”
“Damn, when do you wanna reschedule? Soonish, please? I’m probably going to be distracted for like the foreseeable future.”
“By the Iron Man suit?” Yasha asks cautiously.
Tony can feel the other shoe dropping so he just nods cautiously. It’s pretty obvious what he was working on, even if he took a break from the whole forging metal by hand thing to work on the fiddliest bits of wiring.
“Did you tell me you were making the Iron Man suit?”
And oddly, a gust of breath leaves Yasha all at once and his shoulders slump in obvious relief.
“What?” Tony demands.
“I was afraid you’d told me and I’d forgotten. I didn’t think I’d forgotten anything or lost any time since we came back from Wakanda.”
And he’d have to reevaluate everything if he’d been wrong about something so major as his own mind and memories, Tony winces and makes a mental note that surprises are bad. “Uh, sorry?”
Yasha waves that off and starts poking at his sandwich.
“You’re not mad that I’m making the suit?”
Yasha looks at him like he’s crazy. “Tony, you are Iron Man. You always have been. The suit just makes you safer, why would I object to you being safer? When have I ever objected to you being safer?”
“Pepper demanded I get rid of the suits. Like, a lot. From basically the beginning.”
“And why would you stay with someone so abusive?” Yasha raises a single eyebrow and takes a big bite of his lunch.
Tony pulls a chip from their joint bowl and noodles on that a minute. “I wouldn’t call Pepper abusive,” he grumbles.
“She wanted to divide you in half, Tony. The acceptable half that she could love and the unacceptable half that she couldn’t. And she expected you to throw away what she considered the unacceptable half to just please her. She held getting rid of the unacceptable half over your head to advance your relationship multiple times. What else can you call that?”
Tony frowns because he doesn’t remember talking about Pepper this much with Yasha which means he either put it together from the media or maybe Steve told him in their old time. He doesn’t like the idea of the whole world knowing that Pepper held Iron Man over his head but he finds it worse to think that Steve might have noticed. Worst of all that he might have noticed and done nothing.
“I put it together on my own, Tony.” Yasha says with a raised eyebrow.
“I said that out loud?”
“Yup. To be fair, though. After the Triskelion Incident, I raided a bunch of HYDRA bases for money and intel, supplies. I needed to know, you know? Myself, what they did to me. They had hundreds of hours of surveillance tapes of you and Pepper. Audio mostly, no video. She brought it up a lot. She made Iron Man a weapon.
“Specifically, she made it her weapon against you, Tony.”
Tony swallows and looks away. His relationship with Pepper is one of the things he’s working through with Xavier.
They’d been friends for so long before they got together. And he’d acquiesced so much to her demands in the course of running Stark Industries for years. Hell, he’d given into her demands about how he picked people to sleep with for years. It had been hard and strange to find a demand he couldn’t, wouldn’t, could never have actually given her.
It’s hard to accept that no matter how much he’d loved her their relationship was doomed to fail before it even began. Doomed to fail because of the terms and conditions their original work relationship and eventual friendship had been built upon.
It’s a relief though to know that’s not going to be a problem with Yasha. They are a team. They both want to succeed and they’re both willing to bend.
“So you don’t mind me going into the field with you?”
“Fuck, no,” Yasha grins. “You’re a genius, genius, and a tech savant. If anyone has a chance of helping us understand, avoid, or dismantle HYDRA tech in the field it’s you. I just couldn’t see how to reconcile the need for you in the field and my need to keep you safe.”
“Maybe you should start coming to me with conflicting needs you can’t reconcile?” Tony asks as gently as he can. “I am a genius, you know.”
Yasha scratches the back of his neck. “I was going to ask Xavier how to bring it up but if you don’t mind me being blunter than Clint about this stuff, I can skip him and come straight to you.”
“I can handle blunt,” Tony promises and then winces. “Maybe preface it with something like ‘I’m going to be blunt because I don’t know how else to say this’ or something like that. I can get a little sensitive when I’m thirty hours in on an engineering binge.”
“And you think you’re going to have a thirty-hour engineering binge?” Yasha raises a single eyebrow. “Pretty sure Erik and Darcy at the very least would drag you out of here by your hair before then.”
“Not to mention you.”
Yasha just smiles at him.
“If you want Iron Man to help you rescue a bunch of kids and face down a bunch of HYDRA tech bullshit, then yes. I will have a thirty-hour engineering binge. Maybe even a forty-eight hour engineering binge.”
Yasha tips his head back and forth, considering. “Tactically, it would be better. Both for your technical abilities and to have the ranged, mobile fighter on the field. Personally, I’m worried you’ll exhaust yourself building the suit and that could lead to problems in the field.”
Before Tony can even open his mouth, Yasha continues, “How can I help?”
Tony blinks, not sure he heard that right. He squints at Yasha but he just sits there waiting for him to say something.
“What do you mean?”
“Jamz has base security covered,” Yasha tells him. “Duke is still out and about with the boat thing, but May can cover my French lessons with Darcy. Forge can cover my Japanese lessons with Erik. Howard can cover your science lessons with both. Give me ten minutes to explain it to everyone and the kids will be fine for the next day or two. So. How can I help?”
“What do you know about metal working?” Tony asks.
“I know Bogart apprenticed to a blacksmith and worked at a ren faire before he went into the Army?”
“Didn’t see that one coming,” Tony mutters.
Yasha laughs, “Yeah, doesn’t fit his image now, does it?”
“Not at all,” Tony agrees. “I’m not sure I want anyone other than you knowing the suit that well.”
“Okay,” Yasha doesn’t even hesitate or argue, it’s great. Because he gets it. Then he offers, “I know I only need to be shown something once to learn it.”
“I can work with that. I can definitely work with that,” promises Tony. “Though maybe we should have the sex talk first? I mean,” Tony huffs. “You working in my lab -on my suit- with me is… it’s intimate. You know, for me.”
“You wanna have this conversation here?”
“I mean, it’s a safe space for me, but we probably neutral ground, right?”
“Would be the most fair.”
“The office in our suite?” Tony offers.
Yasha pokes his plate a little closer to him. “Finish your sandwich, I’ll talk to Howard, May, and Forge, and we’ll meet there in fifteen.”
Tony gives him a sassy salute and picks up his sandwich. Yasha just smiles and walks out.
Tony takes his time, wanders their dishes back into the kitchen, and mosseys back upstairs to their suite.
Realistically, there’s no way Yasha could prepare their substitutes and tell the kids what’s up in fifteen minutes so it’s not at all surprising to find their suite still empty. He should probably feel bad about letting Yasha do the heavy lifting with their kids but if he were to do it, the talk would end with a load of concessions that would lead to him not getting the suit done in time.
And even if Yasha hasn’t realized it, or allowed himself to realize it, Tony knows he’s going to be left behind on missions more than he’s going to get to go because kids, so really he’s okay with letting Yasha take the brunt of it this time. He’s made of sterner stuff anyway.
When he finally walks in another good ten minutes later its with both amusement and irritation dancing in the line if his brow.
And with a side of Coulson.
“Uh,” Tony says smartly. He definitely doesn’t want Coulson here for their talk about sex and intimacy. That’s a big no. He’d rather wait for Xavier.
“I’m just here to inject a bit of realism into your timeline,” Coulson asserts. “We haven’t limited it to the location of the Alkali-Transigen facility to three facilities, but to three states, along the circus’s route. That’s the best we could do even with JARVIS’s help but we’re still working on it. It could easily be as much as a month before we pinpoint the correct facility.
“Additionally. Even if Xavier can find it and give us the address after dinner tomorrow, we’re going to need to observe the facility for at least a week before we have enough information or it to be safe for us to breech. We need blueprints, security layouts, traffic patterns. Capturing and questioning someone in security would not go amiss. Unless the kids are in clear and present danger there is no way we’re going in probably in the next two weeks.”
“So we can take our time,” Tony concludes.
“Yes, you can take your time. I’ll rearrange your schedules to give you six hours a day in the lab together starting tomorrow but still let you give the kids their lessons.
“I’ve also been looking into schooling options,” Phil asserts and Tony winces. Right, school. That is definitely a thing. “The school year ends next month but even with Stark resources you’re going to have to pick and enroll soon to get them in for next year.”
“Day schools?” he asks.
“Of course, sir.
“And you have your tour of AIM tomorrow. And no, I won’t reschedule. That would be suspicious, and we need to not be suspicious if we are going to find out if they have SHIELD’s Schmidt Tech.”
“Right,” Yasha looks at him and reaches up like he wants to scratch the back of his neck but stops himself, immediately putting his arm down before Coulson sees it.
“Romanoff’s gone, right?” Tony asks. “Who do we have that can, you know, do what she does?”
“Me, Phantom, Forge, and Coulson,” Yasha answers.
“Well, you’re too memorable with the whole metal arm thing,” Tony waves a hand, “and Coulson’s too visible with the whole being my assistant and always at my side thing.”
“Phantom’s computer skills are stronger, but Forge is the better bullshiter,” Coulson offers.
“Both? Can they both do it?”
“Both is good,” Yasha agrees. “They can both tackle the problem from different angles. Get us better results.”
Coulson turns to leave. “I’ll brief them. Wake up call is at 0600 tomorrow. Don’t stay up too late working on your joint project.”
“Guess were still used to life at 2016 speeds,” Tony offers once he’s sure Coulson is gone.
Yasha scratches the back of his head, looking sheepish, “Yeah, probably. You still wanna talk?”
“You still wanna work on my suit with me?”
“Okay,” Yasha takes a deep breath and walks over to sit on the couch across from Tony. “You read my, uh, ‘training’ files?”
“Twice, actually. The ones we got from Zola and then my dad got me paper copies after SHIELD officially raided Camp Lehigh. He insisted I needed to know and it’s not like I could tell him how I already did.”
“They tried to figure out who was updating the files, by the way. But no one but the cleaning kid ever went into the base.”
“So it was the cleaning kid,” Yasha scowls.
“Not really. See, his dad was a low level SHIELD Agent when he died. A couple years ago one of his dad’s old coworkers reached out to him. Needed help completing his reports, just scan then in the computer, file them away, no harm done. Kid figured he had dementia, being in a nursing home and, you know, wanting to file reports in an abandoned bunker. So he agreed. Didn’t think it would hurt anything.
“Didn’t bother to wonder how a guy in a nursing home could put unmarked envelopes full of cash in his mailbox once a month, either,” Tony grins, “But he also didn’t bother telling the poor guy with dementia when the computer suddenly broke for no apparent reason back in December.”
“So HYDRA doesn’t know that Zola’s effectively dead?”
“Or they didn’t know for about four months or so. SHIELD knows now, so we have to assume they know too.”
“Fair,” Yasha sighs and runs a hand over his face. “So, you know the things they did to break me?”
“Yeah,” Tony nods.
“Ok. Well. I don’t remember it directly but I know it happened and I haven’t tried, but I’m afraid bottoming will trigger me.”
“Which would be really dangerous,” Tony finishes when Yasha hesitates. “Do you want to bottom?”
“God, yes. It is the best thing.”
“We could experiment? Not now and I’m never going to rush you. For the record, I am totally on board with bottoming for us but if it’s something you enjoy, I don’t want HYDRA to take it from you.”
“What are you thinking?” Yasha tilts his head.
“In a few months, when your comfortable being a sexual being again, I can finger you? Or you could do it whenever but my fingers are smaller than yours so that might be less likely to trigger you? Or we could ask Logan to bend you over again. If it triggers your trauma, it’s unlikely you could hurt him permanently and it could trigger World War II memories for both of you.” Tony wiggles his eyebrows, “Especially if there’s a Jeep involved.”
Yasha laughs. “I could use some non-HYDRA memories. But you would you be okay with Logan fucking me?”
“As long as I know about it before it happens, I can handle sharing. You?”
“I’m, uh, I’m not sure. I feel really territorial about you. It’s never happened to me before, I’m not sure what to do about it.”
Tony thinks about it. “A time travel thing, maybe? I mean, I’ve had to fight those impulses. Like to demand you let me watch Logan fuck you. It could just be because we’re the only ones that know, you know? Each other’s only fully honest connections?”
“Could be,” Yasha inclines his head and then he bites his lower lip. Its dreadfully attractive. “Maybe we should discuss those territorial impulses too, because the idea of you watching Logan fuck me is really hot. With or without the Jeep.”
Tony just laughs. No argument there. “Okay, so, you bottoming is off the table. I’m pretty much game for anything. Well, not crossdressing. And no feminization. Nothing against women but I’m with a man and I expect to be treated like a man.”
“Nail polish and makeup are off the table?”
“For you or for me?” Tony asks to clarify. “Because I have no problem with wearing nail polish unless I’m working on something like the suit where it could flake and ruin something. Makeup I’m not sold on outside of Halloween, but considering how HYDRA used to dress you up, I can see how epic amounts of eyeshadow could make you feel safer.”
“I like feeling pretty,” Yasha shrugs. “It gives me emotional distance from them because to them I was nothing but a tool. Tools don’t need to be pretty, they don’t need or have vanity, they just have to work. But I meant on you. If I wear something that’s on me, my choice, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. Unless you want me to tell you what a pretty little girl you are. That’s a no for me.”
“But you don’t mind telling me I’m pretty?” Yasha teases.
Tony doesn’t even want to fight the delighted smile. “You are beautiful and I have no problem reminding you of that fact. Any other boundaries?”
“Well, they never used my mouth so I don’t think giving oral is a problem for me.”
“We’ll take it slow,” Tony promises. “I’m actually enjoying the slow pace. Dating. It’s new for me. Normally it’s all ‘Hi, I’m Tony Stark, let’s fuck‘ for me. The whole walking the bases thing is nice.”
“Good, cause I’m not ready for,” Yasha trails off apologetically.
Tony waves that away. They might be sleeping together but they haven’t even had a proper make out session yet. He’s aware Yasha isn’t ready. “I’m good with our pace, I swear. Actually, I’m not sure I’m ready to advance things, even if you were. Maybe I’ll have a session with Xavier while he’s here tomorrow. That might be smart.”
Yasha rolls his eyes but he’s smiling so it’s okay.
“What about dominance and submission? What you threw out there about Clint taking a collar from May kind of- Well, it surprised me.”
“I used to be, what’s the word? Hella submissive. Had to be restrained somehow or at least spanked to cum but,” Yasha shakes his head. “I don’t think I could submit if I wanted to, not anymore. And pain no longer makes for happy funtimes.”
He doesn’t need to ask why, he knows why. HYDRA. It’s always fucking HYDRA. “So you had like a dynamic shift?”
“I guess.” Yasha shrugs.
“You think you could dominate me? I can use being taken out of my head sometimes.”
“Uh, maybe?” Yasha scratches the back of his head again. It’s his only real nervous tell and he only does it when he’s alone around Tony. It feels like trust and it’s adorable. Tony kind of loves it. “I wouldn’t have to hurt you, would I? I’m not sure that I could do that.”
“Nah, upward of six months being tortured in a cave kinda ruined pain for me too. I can endure but I don’t enjoy it.”
“Yeah,” Yasha nods. “Can we table that bit for a while?”
“The kinky stuff? Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re not even ready for vanilla so it’s kind of getting the cart before the horse, isn’t it?”
“Agreed. Now, why is working on the Iron Man suit intimate for you?”
“Like you said in the lab, I am Iron Man. It’s inviting someone to work on me, on my soul, sort of. I hate even thinking in those terms but I don’t have other ones for it. It’s letting you know all my vulnerabilities, maybe, but it’s more visceral than that.
“It’s daunting,” Yasha offers.
“Extremely. Even though I made War Machine specifically for Rhodey, letting him fly off with it was like tearing out my own arc reactor.”
“Maybe instead of Rhodey, maybe you should give War Machine to someone closer to you this time.”
Tony frowns at him, “You want a suit?”
“No,” Yasha snorts. “Hell no, actually. No offense.
“A flying car, maybe. But not a suit. I was thinking Erik, actually. Whenever you’re ready to retire because there’s no way he’s not going to want to walk in his dad’s flying, robotic boots.”
“We’ll have to come up with rules to them becoming superheroes,” Tony says absently, mind already spinning on both problems. “Military or police service, maybe. Something to give them combat experience.”
“We can delay them for now since they aren’t eighteen. That gives us a good ten years to figure it out.”
Tony nods absently but his mind is still stuck on the car thing. Yasha’s never expressed a desire for something. He’ll tell them things they need as a group, especially for missions, but not his own personal desires. “You know my dad built a flying car, once.”
“Yeah,” Yasha grins. “Saw it at the Expo the night before I shipped out. Cherry red, glowing white interior, ragtop. He ever get it working properly?”
He did, sort of. But Tony can make it work better. Tony hums, looks like he needs a favor from his dad.
Cindy stands from her seat behind the reception desk when she sees a large group of men pause outside the building’s glass front. They’re all in suits, more colorful than the current fashion but still firmly professional. Two men hold the doors for the group as a man and a woman move forward ahead of the rest.
They sweep the lobby like they’re looking for bombs or ambushes or something, and Cindy just watches in mystified wonder.
The subject of their protection is revealed for just a moment as they move around him. She gets a brief glance of a man in grease-stained jeans, a ratty band t-shirt, bright yellow sunglasses, and ratty sneakers, before two men close ranks in front of him to match the two behind him.
Gossip rags are her one big guilty pleasure, so she readily recognizes Tony Stark, and that one of the men in front is Bucky Barnes. Speculation about their relationship is rampant.
It got even worse once the rumor got out that Barnes organized a concert of Stark’s favorite band for a date.
Well, the concert definitely happened. Two nights ago, to be exact, in upstate New York. Stark and Barnes were both sighted in the crowd. Stood on the second row and even danced together to the music, there were multiple accounts.
The group moves through the lobby like a shark through the water. Stressed out AIM employees scurry around them, like fish afraid of being eaten.
“Welcome to Advanced Idea Mechanics,” she says with the widest, most welcoming smile she can.
“Good morning,” a bland, slightly balding man in a truly beautiful suit says as he steps forward to speak with her. And, yes, as the security men rejoin them Sergeant Barnes does drift back to stand with Stark.
She’s pretty sure they’re holding hands, too!
She has to swallow her squeal and focus on Mr. Bland But Beautiful. “Tony Stark’s party, I believe we’re expected.”
“Of course, sir,” she makes a show of checking the calendar on her desk. Like she’s not prepared for this moment all week or anything. “Ah, yes. Mr. Killian Aldridge will be conducting your tour this morning, and then his father and the Founder of AIM, Mr. Jonathan Aldridge, will join you for a business lunch.”
She says it to impress. It always impresses guests to have the attention of the Founder himself but it seems like Tony Stark has to work hard not to roll his eyes. Of course he wouldn’t be impressed with the founder of AIM, she scolds herself, he grew up with the Founder of Stark Industries, which is honestly much more impressive than AIM.
“I’ll just let them know you’re here,” she hastily picks up the phone and dials Killian’s cellphone.
This hurts him, seriously. That his dad wants him to even pretend to take advice from these assholes is worse. With paper desk calendars and corded desk phones. Just. Ugh.
The shiny blonde receptionist hangs up and promises that Mr. Aldridge will be with them in a minute.
He’s waiting just out of sight around a corner, Tony would bet his first patent on it. Still, he counts one minute. And then a second one. And Killian Aldridge, complete with lanky yellow hair and overly large glasses, scurries out to see them.
He’s trying to look hurried, like he was hard at work before they showed up. It fails. And Yasha’s amused eyes tells him he sees through it, too.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” Aldridge extends his hand like he wants a shake.
Tony steps back, Yasha and Stinger step directly in front of him, and Coulson moves up to take the man’s hand.
“Mr. Stark does not shake hands,” the man explains smoothly, like it should be obvious and is not at all strange. “I’m Phil Coulson, his personal assistant. I believe we spoke together on the phone.”
“Right,” Aldridge says in a tone that tells Tony he hadn’t realized he’d been dealing with a peon.
Not that Tony would consider Phil a peon. A minion, maybe. A ranking minion, even. None of the Security guys are peons either, really. There’s nowhere near enough of them for that.
Maybe when Stark Solutions is off the ground, then he’ll have peons.
Phantom manages not to snort when Killian Aldridge rushes out of a conference room at the end of the hall clutching a cell phone. Then he stops, just around the corner from the front desk and checks his phone. He messes with his hair and takes a dramatically deep breath. Glasses off, checks phone and huffs. Glasses back on so he can actually read and checks phone. Fiddles with hair, checks phone. Adjusts coat, checks phone.
Thankfully, the elevator dings just as the guy checks the time on his phone a fifth time and Phantom escapes the torture of it.
Thanks to Coulson and JARVIS, he knows exactly where to go. Fourth floor, left to the end of the hall, through the records room, through the secure records room, to the hidden records room. The door is better hidden than he expected, though, behind a damn near magical optical illusion. But he finds it.
Mostly because it’s ever so faintly cracked.
Cautiously, he moves closer to evaluate the situation inside. It wouldn’t do to be caught now.
“Phantom,” a sultry female voice calls out softly. And then he hears the faint click of a camera shutter.
Unable to verbalize a proper response, he pushes open the door. There, bent over the very files he came to retrieve is Natasha Romanov.
“The fuck?” he demands intelligently.
“Oops,” she shoots him a sly grin. Then she gestures to the stack on her right. “You can look through those, I’m done with them.”
“Push them over here,” he counters. Not that there is any point to being cautious now that he’s all but locked in the room with her. It’s just the principle of the thing. She could kill him, probably with a look, but he’s not going to make it any easier for her.
Far from insulted, she just smirks and pushes the files as far across the central work table as she can.
There’s no copier in here. It’s what he figured, but it still sucks leaving evidence of their breach. You never want your quarry to know you’re hunting them. Not before the trap is set, at least.
There’s nothing for it, though.
Resolved, he looks through the files, checking contents as much as he can and checking page numbers. He wouldn’t put it past the Black Widow to fuck with him just because. He’s right, of course, there are a handful of files in the stack clearly from the lower security area.
Unfortunately, that’s not the only problem.
He puts aside the lower security files and ignores her smirk. “What about the missing pages?”
She blinks at him innocently and gives a little shimmy to show of her tight-fitting business suit. “Where would I hide anything in this outfit?”
He gives her the stink eye that deserves but doesn’t call her on her shit. He knows, straight from the horse’s mouth, that she never carries less than two knives, a garrote, and at the very least a hold out pistol. He can’t see any of them on her person but he’s sure they’re there. And if they’re there, then the pages can definitely be hidden somewhere in there, too.
Whatever. Sarge can sort her out himself.
“Well, that’s me done,” she says with a smirk some fifteen minutes later.
He makes sure to keep the table and his armored briefcase between them as she makes for the door. Hand on his belt knife, just in case.
“Be sure not to stick around for lunch,” is her parting shot. “I hear the cafe here is absolutely dreadful.”
With a frown, he pulls his burner phone out the second the door closes and texts Sarge’s own burner. Be advised, take lunch off site.
He’ll explain the source of the warning in debrief. Right now, he’s got a mission.
He turns to the file cabinets for the first time. Now that it feels safe to do so.
Boss needs project details. The Director needs financial details. Okay, Sarge and Coulson want them too, but the Director is the one that can use them legally and he is not going to disappoint her.
Shit, he blinks looking the financials over. Is this better or worse than what they were expecting?
Forge hums absently to himself as he moves past where Aldridge Junior is trying to fawn over Boss. Not that he will ever make it past Bishop and Sarge.
He allows himself a smirk as he swaggers past the elevator bank and around to the back.
The security guard is busy flirting with the mail girl. She’s so into him it’s almost embarrassing. Too bad he’s married. Forge rolls his eyes and pushes past them and into what’s supposed to be a secure stairwell.
He’s early for the research team from what JARVIS could find of their time logs. The time logs, thankfully, seem mostly right. The labs are empty except for one man in a white lab coat asleep half-collapsed on his work table.
An obstacle that’s easily enough avoided.
In the back of the lab there’s a storage room, capped with thick, heavy doors and a complicated electronic lock. Normally it would take him hours to get past this security. Either that or he’d leave a trail by breaking the wall to physically rewire and bypass the lock. Instead, he pulls out an invention Boss called GNAW and sets it over the lock’s face. It gives a bit of a squeal as it settles itself around the casing of the lock. A minute and a half and the door pops open with a refrigerator like whoosh.
Taking that as his cue, Forge slides inside. There’s a lot of hinky looking shit in here. Ominous black canisters, vials of green or red or gold liquid. Boxes much too big for him to smuggle out in his briefcase.
He pulls his camera and starts taking snaps. He’ll grab what he can but this is not what he’s here for.
He pokes and prods, opens and closes. Finally in an innocuous-looking tan filing cabinet, he finds what he’s looking for. The blue glow of Schmidt Energy gives away what he’s looking for before the drawer is even completely open.
Three little boxes half-embracing, half-showcasing Schmidt Tech chargers. A large gun with a glowing blue ammo chamber and a small pistol with the same.
Fuck, there’s no way he can take it all. This is more than he expected. More than any of them expected, he’s sure. He puts the back of his hand to his mouth and thinks.
He snaps several pictures of it all and grabs two clips from each rack, just in case they are somehow different. He takes the pistol completely. Unfortunately, there’s no way he can take the rifle. Then he takes a black canister and one of each of the different colored vials.
God, the pen holders in this damn thing better keep them safe enough. Otherwise, he’s dead. He’s certain of it. And he’ll no doubt take a couple city blocks with him.
Fuck it, next time he sees him, he’s kissing Bogart. It’ll probably be too quick for the nancy bastard, but he deserves it doing after this.
Assuming they all survive.
Forge does his best to hurry out without looking like he’s hurrying out or jarring the case too much.
He’s in such a hurry he makes it to the sleeping scientist before he remembers to turn around for GNAW. He taps a simple rhythm on its case and the tiny bugger releases into his hand. There are four puncture marks on the lock, one on each side, but honestly they are tiny enough he doubts anyone will think anything of it. And it’s not like he can fix it anyway.
When he makes it back up to the security desk, three scientists in white coats are arguing with the security guard about sports. Christ, the security team in this place is a joke.
He’ll have to see if he can get Boss to let him break into and get anything out of SI.
Just as a test, of course.
“How much longer on the tour?” Yasha asks as he absently checks his phone.
Mr. -call me Killian- Aldridge gives him that weird, fixed smile again. “Lunch will be served in Conference Room 3 at 1230.”
He’s stiff to the point of rude, and Tony’s starting to suspect he’s a homophobe. Seriously, he is in the wrong crowd for that attitude.
“We’re not eating here,” Yasha sneers and Killian splutters indignantly.
“Sergeant Barnes is correct,” Coulson chimes in and it’s somehow both a surprise and utterly expected at the same time. “We have reservations at La Vie at noon.”
“La Vie?” Killian asks faintly. “It takes months to get a reservation there!”
Coulson just raises both eyebrows. He couldn’t project ‘not impressed’ any louder if he tried. “The reservation is for five. We assumed you and your father would be joining us.”
“Me and my- yes. Yes, of course.” Killian is white as a sheet and vaguely shakey. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to do- I have to do a thing. Excuse me.”
Tony just shrugs and looks around.
There’s a surprisingly nice break room that Rooster is watching like it might randomly decide to attack. “Coffee?”
“Coffee,” Killian repeats as he begins to flail and sort of flutter away. “Yes, coffee, serve yourself. I’ll have someone come while I do the thing. You should all have coffee while you wait.”
And then the asshole disappears.
“I assume it’s an impressive restaurant?” Tony asks Coulson, or Bishop, as some of the Cherries have started calling him.
“Meaning very expensive.” Not that Tony can’t afford it. Especially since Killian’s probably going to try and foot the bill, he snickers.
Bishop tips his head. “They serve four tables at lunch and four tables at dinner, at noon and eight exactly. Seven courses on a unique menu decided that day by the chef based on several factors, including the freshest available ingredients, applicable food allergies, and mood. The service is silent and prides itself on being invisible. And the chef visits and chat with the tables at every meal.”
“Sounds snooty,” Is Yasha’s verdict. “And we actually have reservations?”
“For two tables of five. One for us, one for the security.”
Yasha glances at him in question and Tony shrugs. “As long as they serve meat. I don’t want to be stuck on the plane home with these assholes if they’re going to be hungry an hour later.”
“There will be meat,” Bishop assures him. “I believe the ‘unique dietary requirement’ was part of why we got reservations so quickly.”
“The chef getting the right to throw around the Stark name later probably didn’t hurt either,” Stinger mutters.
Tony just shrugs, accepts a perfect cup of coffee from Yasha, and settles into a squishy chair for communion. Ah, coffee. It’s really good for breakroom coffee, too. Clearly, AIM does not fuck around.
Tony watches absently as a woman in a pale, minty blue/green skirt suit wheels her way to the copier just across from the break room entrance. There’s something familiar about her as she pulls the first paper out of her lap and starts fussing with the copier settings.
She’s got her strawberry blonde hair pulled up in a no nonsense ponytail and a long, graceful neck. Tony’s just starting to suspect he’s slept with her when she snarls-
“I don’t care if you are the Founder’s son, Mr. Aldridge, if you don’t stop staring I will pepper spray you in the face,” she whips her head around to glare at him and freezes.
Yup, Tony definitely slept with her, he thinks as he forces himself to laugh at that little icebreaker.
“What?” Yasha tilts his head in confusion as he moves up to Tony’s side.
“I’m sorry,” Pepper -no, Virginia Potts- says immediately. “I thought you were someone else. I- I keep getting sexually harassed and it’s made me defensive.”
“No harm done, Pepper,” Tony assures her, still laughing.
“My name is Virginia. Virginia Potts.”
“I think you’re my new CEO,” he counters. Its delightful to see her jaw drop. “I like your fire, Pepper, and I need someone at the helm that will take absolutely no shit.”
“And if I insist you call me Virginia?” she glares.
Ah, good ol’ Pepper. “Recognizing a lost cause is also a valuable skill. Got a copy of your resume?” Not that he’s going to read it, but Coulson will want to file it somewhere. Probably.
She huffs. “Why would I leave a secure job to work for you? Getting something reliable isn’t exactly easy when you’re in a wheelchair.”
“Fair,” he nods. “My team is doing amazing things. We’re not going to change the world, we’re going to save it, but I need someone that will protect our intellectual rights. Someone that will shelter the minds I’m bringing from around the world into Stark Solutions. Someone that can handle marketing and finance and make us all enough money so that we can do amazing things, like donating bionic prosthesis to children and veterans. So that we can change how people the world over grow food. So that we can cure AIDs and cancer and whatever comes next. So that we can make green energy a reality all over the world.
“You should work for me because I think you can be that person.
“Stark Solutions is going to be a privately owned corporation. We’ll seat the Board of Directors together, you as Chief Executive Officer, me as owner and Chief of Research and Development.”
“You don’t even know me,” she scoffs.
“I’d like to,” he says honestly and she freezes. “How about this? Let’s give it a month trial. I’ll pay you ten thousand dollars to quit right now. Some of my guys will help you pack your desk and take you home to pack a bag. We’ll put you up in my mom’s favorite B&B for the entire month. It’s a half hour from our house, all expenses paid. Let me tell you they contract with a day spa that is a gift to humanity, you’ll love it. And, Monday through Friday for four weeks, you’ll work on getting Stark Solutions off the ground with me and Coulson.
“There will be NDAs, of course. A stack of them, probably, but if at any point you decide Stark Solutions isn’t for you, we’ll bring you right back home and I’ll pay you six months salary continuance while you look for a better fit.
Pepper blinks. On anyone else, it would be a signal they’re overwhelmed. On Pepper, it’s a sign she’s looking for faults in his plan.
“And, look at it this way, I can promise you no more sexual harassment from the boss. I mean, no offense to you or anything, but have you seen what’s crawling between my sheets?” And he does a tah-dah gesture with both hands at Yasha because, really, if any human deserves the Vanna White treatment, it’s him.
Especially right now in that bright blue bespoke suit with a light colored, gently pinstriped shirt under it. No tie, collar open, of course. And, unf, the contrast of the suit with a messy man bun and motorcycle boots.
He is, in fact, a walking fantasy.
The fact that he can kill you with his pinky is just a delicious, delicious bonus.
“Alright,” she agrees stiffly. “A month. I want it in writing though. The money to quit, no commitment, all expenses paid, salary continuation, all of it.”
“Can do,” Tony smirks. He then glances at Bishop who is already on the phone. “You go pack your things and my lawyer will be waiting at the front desk when we get there.
“How much help can she have?” he asks Yasha.
Yasha frowns but holds up two fingers. “Bogart. Stinger.”
The two men drop their coffee and step forward.
Bogart honest to god sweeps his fucking fedora off his head and places it over his heart. “You can call me Bogart, Ms. Potts. This is Stinger. We’d be very pleased to assist you.”
Pepper blushes. Straight up blushes! Tony doesn’t remember her being so easily flustered when he knew her! He feels cheated.
Stinger picks up Pepper’s stack of copies, “Which way, ma’am?”
“Oh, this way. Follow me.”
By the time Killian shows back up, her desk is packed and Bogart and Stinger are each carrying a box. He’s thankfully too distracted to notice Pepper wheeling along behind the group, carefully screened by Tony’s security. Tony wouldn’t put it past him to make a scene, especially if he’s already been harassing her, and he just doesn’t have the time for that.
“My father unfortunately won’t be joining us,” Killian smiles weakly. “He’s working on a very, very sensitive experiment that he cannot leave before 1:00, at the very earliest.”
“Oh, that’s so sad.” Tony doesn’t even try to sound like he means it. “I’m sure he will be missed.” In like an alternate reality or something.
“It simply allows us more time to discuss more interesting things,” Killian soothes. “For example, I noticed your, uh, bodyguard has an articulated metal hand. Is that actually a robot hand or simply a glove over his biological one?”
“It’s a hand,” Tony says with a glare. Bodyguard? Bodyguard? Yasha ain’t no stinking bodyguard. “Top of the line. A cutting edge bionic limb replacement.”
“Oh? And wherever did you get it?” The bastard blinks innocently.
Tony want to get out the suit and kick his ass. Fortunately, the front desk hosts a feast of distractions.
He ignores his lawyer’s local partner so as not to draw Aldridge’s attention to her and walks up to the familiar woman sitting in AIM’s waiting room.
“Excuse me, are you by any chance Dr. Maya Hansen?”
Fortunately for Pepper the truly tiny woman Bogart nods her to is close enough for her to hear Dr. Hansen’s awed, “Tony Stark.”
It’s hard to read legal documents and snicker at the same time.
“Yes, that’s me. I just finished reading your thesis on Extremis Theory last night. It’s actually fairly relevant to one of the line if research Stark Solutions will be pursuing and I was wondering if you would mind answering some questions.”
“Yes, it’s my private think tank.”
Dr. Hansen makes an aborted squeal of joy. “Uh, yeah, I would love to discuss my theories with you.”
“Fantastic. Do you have lunch plans?”
“No, I was just here to-” Dr. Hansen cuts herself off. “Nope, I’m available all afternoon and I can answer all of your questions. All afternoon.”
“Fantastic. We have reservations at Le Vie and an open spot, would you like to come?”
This time the squeal makes it all the way out. “I would be thrilled. I’ve heard that place is amazing.”
“It’s got a great reputation,” Mr. Stark agrees as he starts leading her to the door. “This is probably rude but you’re based in New York, right? You just graduated from Culver University in like December? I think I read?”
“That’s right. Dr. Ross was my thesis adviser.”
“Was she fantastic? I’ve heard she’s amazing and I have an interview with her and Dr. Banner,” Stark waves his hand vaguely. “At some point, I don’t really remember.”
“She is brilliant and so kind. You know how a lot of geeks are bad with people? But she’s not. She’s really not. She’s gracious and refined and- just- she’s amazing. Really, you’re going to love her.”
Killian Aldridge trails out behind Stark’s group like a lost little lamb. It’s hilarious.
Stinger huffs disappointedly behind her and Bogart laughs out loud. “Come on, you’ll get to try it next time.”
“Next time?” Stinger hisses. “You think there’s a next time on reservations at La Vie?”
“Ooh,” Pepper frowns sympathetically. “You’re gonna miss out? That’s terrible.”
“You wanted to go?” Stinger asks.
“I didn’t know it was an option but I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity. Even if I had to share a table with Mr. Aldridge. Either of them.”
“Actually,” Bogart frowns and scratches at his chin. “Do you mind waiting to pack a bit? We haven’t got the plane tickets yet so we can go and you can take my spot. We can take you home to pack after.”
“Are you sure?” She asks even though Stinger is all but vibrating to go.
“I’m positive. Stinger, text Bishop the updated plans. Ms. Potts, do you have a vehicle on premises?”
She frowns at him, not quite irritated but close to it. “Can’t really drive without functioning legs.”
“Right,” he looks so disappointed in himself she wouldn’t be able to stay mad if she actually had been in the first place. “Bishop gave me the keys to the third rental, so let’s get loaded up and meet them there.”
Pepper signs both copies of the official written agreement between her and Tony Stark and stuffs her copy in her purse as quick as she can manage. “Let go.”
Then she stops and rolls back to the front desk where her former college roommate sits gaping and confused. “Cindy, update your resume. I’ll call you in a few weeks.”
Because if she’s doing this, she’s picking her own damn personal assistant and Stark can just deal. She owes Cindy so much, really. She wouldn’t know a thing about these people without Cindy and her celebrity-loving little heart and having an assistant that will keep track of all the gossip and fill her in without being asked will no doubt be helpful. And her degree is in Public Relations, which will also be useful on Pepper’s future level.
The rental turns out to be a big black SUV and it’s a bit of a struggle for Pepper to pull herself into it but the men don’t rush her. They don’t push her or try to do it for her or make snide little comments, either. They just wait and Stinger takes her wheelchair around to the cargo area once she no longer needs it. It’s lovely.
The moment Stinger’s belt is on Bogart rockets them away from the curb. They are halfway to La Vie when Stinger’s phone rings.
“Stinger,” he answers sharply.
Pepper doesn’t hear much but the sharply demanded now makes Stinger smile.
“We’re on our way. Bogart’s driving so we’ll be there faster than you expect.” And he hangs up, practically humming.
“You’re going to give me a reputation,” Bogart grumps.
Stinger beams, “Yup!”
Bogart sighs and Pepper laughs.
“What happened?” she asks.
“Apparently there was some sort of incident at AIM and Mr. Aldridge had to hurry back.” Stinger says, exchanging a significant look with Bogart. “Something about a fire in a file room.”
Not really sure what’s significant about that, Pepper lets it pass but it is curious.
Mr. Coulson, or rather Bishop, is blinking at them outside the restaurant when they pull up.
Neither Bogart nor Stinger do more than nod their greetings at him as Bogart goes around back for her chair and Stinger pulls her out of the car.
He’s completely professional and impersonal about it as he carries her up onto the sidewalk. She almost objects on sheer principal to being carried, but then she notes the sheer lack of wheelchair ramp so she resolves to be graceful about it.
Fortunately, Bogart is there, popping her chair open before Stinger has to pass her off to someone else and he sets her gently down.
“It’s no problem,” he assures, his grin fit to crack his face as Bogart starts to push her forward.
He must really like fancy food. So much for Starks nameless, faceless security goons.
Also. If even his security personnel are treated to a place like La Vie– well, maybe working for baby Stark wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When they make it inside, Bogart pushes her right into a spot at Stark’s own table, right next to Sergeant Barnes. The chair for the spot is completely missing. Like she was expected. Like she belongs there.
She absolutely does not get choked up at the thought.
“Think you can handle seven courses?” Barnes leans over to ask softly so as not to distract Stark and Hansen, amusement is twinkling in his eyes.
He grimaces. “Super Soldier metabolism. Seven courses might not be enough.”
Huh. She hadn’t thought of that but if his body is fueling him and whatever serum enhancements he has, it makes a sort of sense. “Especially if they are those weird little courses fine dining is known for.”
His nose scrunches up, like an adorable little kitten. An adorable but very, very deadly little kitten, she reminds herself. Like a tiger cub.
“We might have to hit a drive thru on the way to the airport,” he sighs.
“Cheeseburgers are life,” she agrees and he laughs out loud.
Starks shoots a look over at them -over at Barnes- that’s so stupidly in love she starts thinking in silly romantic terms. Like ‘soulmates’ and ‘belong together.’ The pleased grin Barnes shoots back at him is just as bad.
“Maybe I’ll start rating meals by how many cheeseburgers it takes to fill me up after,” he tells her softly, and it’s her turn to laugh out loud.
“You’ll need to do a survey of cheeseburgers first, sir,” Bishop offers from her left. “Find out which are most filling.”
“Make a full Cheeseburger Scale,” Barnes nods like this is sage advice.
“Two McDonald’s cheeseburgers are worth one Burger King, sort of thing,” she adds and both men snicker with her.
“Sounds like science to me,” Barnes smirks.
“Mr. Stark would agree and approve,” Bishop says in a weird sort of deadpan. “As long as you properly document it.”
“I am not making a video log of me eating a stack of cheeseburgers.”
“So write it down. Just because Mr. Stark prefers video documentation doesn’t make that your only option.”
“Sounds like a bonding opportunity for you and, uh, Erik? Is that his name?” she asks. “Tony’s son?”
“Yeah, Erik Stark is his name now. He was born N’Jadaka, son of Prince N’Jobu of Wakanda. Been bounced around a bunch, poor kid.” Barnes shakes his head. “But, you know, that’s a good idea. If Stark Solutions CEO is too much for you, you should work with me on Stark Family Security. Bishop’s been handling hiring for the Cherries -that’s what the team calls itself, long story- but with the way the family’s expanding I should probably get my own assistant to handle it.”
“What if you promote from within?” She offers instead. “It probably easier and better to have someone that’s already aware of the team’s needs fill the gaps than to have to train someone to do the job and then them still not really get it, isn’t it?”
Barnes abruptly turns to Mr. Stark. “You better make this work with her. She’s too brilliant to let the competition take her.”
“Uh, okay?” Mr. Stark blinks. “I mean, that’s the plan? Well, one of many of them.”
“Tony has many plans,” Sergeant Barnes tells her, conspiratorially.
Bishop smirks from her other side, “All the plans.”
“Good to see you again, Tony,” Magneto says pleasantly, like he hasn’t been lounging around the house for two hours with no explanation as to why he had to be there while Tony and Yasha had therapy sessions with his lover.
“You as well, Mr. Lehnsherr.”
“Erik, please,” he says as he takes the seat across from Yasha, putting Storm in front of Tony, but Xavier -thankfully, because therapy- out of both of their direct view. “How goes The Finding of Captain America?”
“Fairly well. We’ve located a ship that should get us within a decent distance and Coulson is working his way through the purchase process.”
“We’re going to have to remodel it,” Yasha contributes as he allows a plate to be set in front of him, “because there is absolutely no way we’re going to put Mrs. Stark on anything as utilitarian as a retired icebreaker.”
“Thank you, my dear,” his mom smiles before turning back to her conversation with Rajiv Bachchan. About roses and greenhouses, if Tony’s not mistaken. Makes sense, considering the guy’s mutation.
Yasha just nods, still unable to speak directly to the woman he killed in a former life.
“The ship is currently in Anchorage, Alaska,” Bishop adds from Tony’s right. “Do we need to bring it back here for outfitting?”
“No, Alaska is better, actually.” At the confused looks he rolls his eyes. “Ice floating in water moves. Because tides and flows and stuff. It doesn’t move as fast in the Arctic as it does in the Antarctic because the Arctic is water surrounded by land while the Antarctic is land surrounded by water, but it does move.
“I’ve had a research team up there for five months now. They’ll probably stay up there another year because they’re crazy and they actually like it but they got me what I needed to make a preliminary model how the ice moves. Based on the estimates of where he went down and the speed and direction of the ice in the years since, my calculations indicate that Alaska is a better port to start our expedition than New York even though he crashed on his way here from Austria.”
“So there’s no reason to drag the ship all the way here, outfit it, and then drag it all the way back,” Yasha concludes.
Tony smiles, “Exactly. Someone will need to stay out there to manage the remodel though.”
“Duke will love that,” Yasha grins. “Did you want one helipad, or two?”
“That depends on you, actually,” he says, turning back to Erik. “Can you do non-ferrous metals, or only ferrous?”
Xavier frowns over at his lover and Erik very carefully doesn’t meet his eyes. “I admit I was more adept in my youth, but I can manage non-ferrous as well as ferrous metals.”
“Just moving them or can you detect them too?”
“Detection is possible but my range is much smaller with non-ferrous metals.”
“How about weight limits?”
Magneto narrows his eyes, “Why do you ask?”
“Because. If I my model is right, the Valkyrie is too close to the edge of the ice to risk taking in a bunch heavy of equipment to dig it out. As it is, we’ll have to park the boat at least 2 miles away to keep any ice that might break off in our shenanigans from causing problems for it. No one wants to be stranded because we accidentally capsized our ride home.
“I was hoping if I got you close enough, you could detect it and perhaps lift it out of the ice. Put it somewhere we can explore it at least long enough to get him out.”
Magneto thinks on that for a few moments.
“You will, of course, be compensated,” Yasha adds. “And, go down in history as the man that rescued Captain America.”
“Playing to my ego will get you everywhere,” Erik rolls his eyes. “I’ll need to know what I’m looking for. Any records you have on the Valkyrie would help. I know what Vibranium feels like after our little adventure in Wakanda, but his shield is so miniscule compared to the entirety of the Arctic, I may very well miss it.”
“I can do you one better,” Howard promises, leaning forward from his spot at the head of the table. “How would you like hull samples? Of both the Valkyrie and of the suicide bomber drones she carried.”
“You have that?” Tony asks, surprised.
“Of course. Soon as Cap went down, I took everything I could from the Valkyrie Base, hoping something there would help me find him. Hell, I own Valkyrie Base now, if you want a tour. It’s still historically accurate. For the most part.”
“I wouldn’t say no,” Magneto inclines his head. “But studying the armor samples at the very least would be a good idea. And any samples of the interior support structures, if you have them.”
“I’ll even let you take them home with you,” his dad promises.
“Having a mutant save Captain America would be a great idea, really. Even if there was another way to do it,” Yasha’s nephew, Abraham Roth offers. “Uncle Buck dealt the Mutant Registration Act a serious blow during his interview back in December-”
“An interview that is still running on the television at least once a month,” his not-quite husband Rajiv Bachchan adds.
“Compound that with a mutant saving Captain America,” Roth smirks. “With the way the government has been making a big deal of the Captain for fifty freaking years, and hating mutants will be equated with treason like that,” he snaps his fingers. “The Registration Act will become political suicide practically overnight.”
“We’d have to show it off, though,” Bishop counters. “Interviews, another TV special, announce it all in the papers. And I was under the impression we wanted to keep his return private? Assuming we find him. Assuming he’s alive.”
“If I can survive being flash frozen repeatedly over fifty years,” Yasha counters with a smirk because he obviously did survive, “Stevie’s definitely alive. Get him out, get him warm, feed him enough food for an army for a month. He’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be sure we start baking the moment you get him home, sir,” Ana Jarvis offers from the end of the table.
Her husband pops back into his seat after his most recent trip to check on the kitchen. He looks back and forth between them then tilts his head at Tony’s dad. “Should we consider installing a third stove?”
Yasha laughs. “Nah. You can use the kitchen in the guard house if you need it. I’m sure Esmer would help split the cooking load.”
“If only to keep us out of her kitchen,” Jarvis agrees with a small smile.
“Today was your day at AIM, wasn’t it?” his dad asks, leaning forward. “How was that?”
“Gross,” is Tony’s immediate verdict.
Yasha nods. “Killian Aldridge is a sleazy, homophobic asshole that I’d rather punch in the face than look at.”
“Think you could punch your hand though his face?” Tony asks with interest.
“Which one? The metal one, definitely. The flesh one, I might break some of my bones, but probably.”
“Boys,” his mom tuts, and Yasha immediately looks contrite.
Tony just grins. “It was fun to meet Flavio Lachance. La Vie is amazing. Why it’s in Rhode Island, I have no idea, but you have to try it sometime.”
“I’ve been thinking about visiting but I wasn’t sure the trip was worth it,” his mom says, tapping a finger on her chin thoughtfully. “I’ll have my assistant, Rupert, give him a call. Maybe I can arrange a girl’s day after the twins are born.”
“Do you know their genders?” Dr. McCoy -Beast, not Bones- asks with obvious interest. “Have you picked out names?”
“We do and we have.” She glances at his father and smiles when he nods his permission. “We’re having twin girls, and we’ve picked the names Jamie Renee and Stephanie Adele.”
“James and Steven,” someone breathes, but Tony’s too focused on Yasha to care who.
The man’s gone pale and still in his seat. Tony can’t even tell if he’s breathing, so he takes his hand and squeezes it to remind Yasha that he’s not alone.
“If that’s alright,” his mom asks cautiously, looking worriedly at Yasha.
“Yeah,” he croaks, clears his throat, and tries again. “Yes, it’s fine. I, uh, I’m honored.”
“You’d have been honored sooner if I hadn’t put my foot down last time,” she says tartly and flicks her eyes at his father in a show of exasperation. “Someone wanted to name Tony ‘Steven James’ rather than name our firstborn properly after our fathers. Can you believe that?”
Yasha laughs and it’s more than a little nervous but he relaxes when the table laughs with him.
Howard rolls his eyes heartily at all of them. “AIM? Did you find anything of use?”
“Found my CEO for Stark Solutions,” Tony allows. “Pepper Potts, she’s a spitfire. Bogart and Stinger are flying in with her, and I’m going to put her up at Dottie’s for a month while she decides if she wants to guard my toy box or not.”
“You think she’ll be able to walk away after a month?”
Tony snorts because if he knows Pepper at all she’ll jump on the challenge with two feet and tear apart anyone that tries to take it from her. Partially to prove that Yes, Women Can, and partially for the chance to run the Aldridges into the ground.
Spite is a surprisingly strong motivator is such a pacifistic woman. And, once she realizes how many people she can cordially fuck up as his CEO, she’ll be all over it.
If she hasn’t figured it out yet, she will with in the week.
Dinner passes quickly with all the different personalities and interests in play.
Abraham Roth and Rajiv Bachchan are a lovely couple. A fascinating mix of quiet and cutting, insightful and naive, with a hefty dose of pure caretaker that makes it obvious why Xavier trusts them to foster mutant kids pre-X-Men Academy.
Storm is beautiful and watchful with a sparkling wit that strikes like her favored lightning and she brings out a gruff attentiveness in Wolverine that’s fascinating.
She also clearly adores Wolverine’s daughter Laura, which is all to the good in Tony’s opinion.
The two not-quite Avengers, Clint and May, are quiet and sit very close to each other but they keep Erik and Darcy well occupied the entire meal. Tony tries not to pout about the betrayal of his kids choosing to sit with their new Aunt and Uncle rather than him and Yasha, but the amused looks Yasha keeps shooting him tell him very clearly that he’s not any good at it.
But bedtime comes early and soon the non-combatants are out of the way and the tactical meeting can begin.
Tony stands beside Yasha’s chair as Bishop hands out the copies of the files Laura brought with her. “What we’re discussing today is way beyond Top Secret and technically a little illegal. Normally, this is a case that would be handled by SHIELD. However, SHIELD is currently compromised by the same agency that is running the shitshow we’re going to fuck up, so, understandably they are staying out of it.”
“Is Madame Carter not the Director of this SHIELD?” Magneto asks, opening his folder to Laura’s profile page.
“I am,” Aunt Peg confirms. “Howard is as well, technically, and Colonel Fury is a SHIELD Agent. We are working to rid SHIELD of its contamination. We all support this mission and will do what we can to aid you without compromising it.”
“Why don’t you tell us what the mission is?” Storm has not opened her file while beside her Beast is already actively writing all over his copy.
“Alkali-Transigen is a company supposedly doing medical research. And it’s true, they are, but it’s mostly about suppressing the X-gene when they’re supposed to be curing childhood cancer. But also, on a deeper level, they are creating an… Army? It’s not that large but it won’t really need to be… a strike team, I suppose, of powerful mutants for HYDRA’s use.”
“Creating?” she asks doubtfully.
“Yup. With DNA stolen from every mutant in this room -and several outside of it- and some terrifyingly advanced artificial reproductive techniques.”
Storm stares at him, silently willing him to admit it’s a joke but he can’t, so he shrugs. “Two of them are yours. Daughters. HYDRA apparently has advanced genetic manipulation techniques and tried to make your gifts more powerful in your girls. They failed, but kept those two alive anyway because the abilities they ended up with are still useful, I think.
“Rajiv’s got three biological kids in the bunch. Same with Magneto. Three kids, but only one perfect copy of his gifts, and she’s a girl. Like Logan’s girl, Laura.”
“Laura’s mutation is not exactly like Logan’s,” Storm objects.
“No, but that’s because she’s female,” Xavier speaks up. “In a pride of lions, the female is the hunter and the carrier. The front claws are for hunting, the back claws, her foot claws, are for defense.”
“She effective with them,” Logan grumbles. “That’s all that matters.”
“The fact that they are bio-metal her body generates, rather than Adamantium, which would poison and eventually kill her, is kind of important, too,” Tony counters.
Logan concedes the point with a nod.
“You want her to go with you?” Xavier asks them accusingly.
“The kids are strong and conditioned to be dangerous,” Logan tells the man before Tony has to. “They’re going to need someone they know before they even pretend to trust us. Muchless leave the only home they’ve ever known with us.”
Tony hates it -like, a lot, she’s fucking six– but he agrees. “Besides, do you think for a hot second one of Logan’s get is going to allow us to leave her behind? I’ll remind you she had the solid brass balls to crawl into a traveling circus’s lion trailer and slept with the pride for who knows how long before they found her, and she decided to adopt Hawkeye. The girl will find a way.”
“And what do you need from us?” Xavier asks with a frown.
“If you’d be willing to do your thing and see if you can find the location, that would be great. I don’t know if it would be better for you to see if you can find the location in her mind or if you want to Cerebro it up? Try to find it on your own?”
“Cerebro would be less invasive for her,” Charles decides. “I shall attempt that first.”
“Starting tomorrow,” Magneto declares with a glare at his lover.
“Pretty sure if they were in immediate danger, Xavier would have picked it up already,” Tony shrugs. “You can’t raise an effective telepath surrounded by that metal you use in your helmet, and they’ve got three telepathic kids, so they’ve got to be relying on other means to remain undetected. Most likely that’s the kids not knowing any better. It would, theoretically, prevent them from projecting distress, but if HYDRA starts being truly heinous to the kids, that plan will fall apart quickly.”
“That’s not comforting,” Yasha frowns.
“It’s not meant to be. This is HYDRA,” Tony shrugs. “Nothing about them is comforting.”
“Except their fiery death,” Yasha’s grin is blood thirsty, but that’s okay. Tony’s is too.
“And the children?” Storm asks. “After we free them?”
“If the conditioning took -which I have to say in unlikely, considering we’re pretty sure Laura’s didn’t outside of her combat training- we deal with it. After that, biological parents get first say. Though I would hope you would talk to your kids about what they want. Then we look into fostering options.”
“I do have to say, we cannot promise to take any children their parent’s can’t keep,” Rajiv speaks up, his voice gentle but firm. “My twin sisters are powerful empaths and our home is their sanctuary. We have to be wary about introducing them to combative youngsters. They have to be the final voice on who is welcome in our home.”
“Fair.” Tony glances up to the spot where every single one of his Avengers glanced at, but said nothing about on their way into the study, “Laura, why don’t you come down now?”
There’s a small huff and all four of his Avengers laugh. Then a small body coalesces from the shadows above one of the book shelfs and she drops to the floor. “Mr. Stark.”
“Tony, kid. We’ve talked about this.”
She frowns at him but nods.
“Why don’t you take a seat and tell us about your pack?” He holds up a hand before she can object. “Whatever you’re willing to tell us.”
“There are 26 of us,” she says in a soft, lilting accent that says English is not her preference. “Richard, he prefers Rictor, is in charge among us. Viktor, he’s the smartest of us but does not enjoy the responsibility, and Rictor is the most powerful.
“We are kept inside all day. No sun, no dirt, no plants.
“Stepping outside when I escaped was… strange. I thought the sun was going to kill me. Night is better.”
Tony mentally makes note of that, he planned for a night extraction but that’s a very good reason to stick with his guns on that one.
“We have no mothers. No parents. Kindness, from the nurses, is discouraged. They think they have programmed us; kill codes, obedience codes. But every time one takes hold, Hoshi… does something. He calls it cutting the chord. It’s there, and we know what is expected of us, but we get the choice to do it or not. And we can change our mind at any time even if we obey.
“There is one father with us, sometimes. He comes to visit his children. The Twins, Erica and Ford.”
“Creed,” Logan growls, to pretty much no one’s surprise.
“We’ll add him to the list of possible obstacles,” Tony glances at Bishop who actually, physically, makes a note. “What about Erica and Ford? Will they lose their minds if their father dies?”
Laura shrugs, “No se.”
“At the very least, make sure they don’t see him die, yeah?” He says to Logan who nods.
“This is all very interesting,” Riion, the new head of his Biomechanics lab, freshly arrived for Wakanda, puts in. “But why are we here.”
“Uh, well, I mean, this is going to be the Avengers first big American mission. I need help coming up with ways to hide their most identifying features.”
“You don’t mean masks,” Riion’s betrothed Dr. CeeCee guesses.
“Well I mean that too, probably, but I was thinking Yasha’s arm, really. Pretty sure Storm, if she even wants to come?”
Storm silently raises an eyebrow and finally starts looking at the contents of her folder.
“Pretty sure Storm can get away with the really cool hair and no mask because that lightning eyes thing she does is, like, piss your pants terrifying but a weather proof mask still might not be a bad idea. We don’t want anyone knowing and able to prove the Starks are running a superhero flop house.”
“You want us to design superhero costumes,” Dr. CeeCee is smiling now, looking delighted.
“Pretty much. If anyone can give them all the possible tech advantages without bogging them down, its you two. Well, you two and me, of course.”
“I have ideas for hiding the arm.” Riion leans forward with an amused look, “Tell me, Sergeant, how do you feel about white fur sleeves?”
Yasha glares, justifiably distrusting the look Riion is wearing. “If my helmet is shaped like a wolf’s head, I’m not wearing it.”
Tony grins because oh, he is totally wearing it.
“What are you thinking about?” Erik asks as he returns from the ensuite.
His lover is stationed at the table off to one side of the sitting room of their usual guest room at Stark Manor. The file Stark’s assistant gave him is open and there are four child profiles on the table before him. It’s pretty obvious what he’s thinking about, but their relationship survives because they have rules about talking things out, and he’s not going to be the first to break them.
“I never wanted children,” Charles says eventually. “It was never my plan. I had a lonely childhood and, especially once we started the school, I knew I would never have the time to be a proper parent.”
“And yet, here they are,” Erik fills in because he knows. He feels exactly the same.
Charles shakes his head, with an almost helpless look. “Here they are. I regret for them, the lives they’ve lead. The lives that they were born into.”
“They’re well fed and well-educated,” he counters. “They’re smarter than we are.”
“They’re in a cage, Erik. And they might not even know it.”
He shakes his head. Ah, Charles. “Oh, they know it. Why else would they have sent out a forward scout?”
“You think they planned Laura’s escape? All of them? Together?”
“They’ve created three Wolverine kits, but only the last made a break for it. Why? What changed?”
Charles frowns and pulls Laura’s extended profile from the pile. “Logan 2 -such an original name- was the first of any of the children they made. He had a psychotic break and they killed him.
“Logan 3, this time named Laurence, went into feral mode during combat training.”
Erik lips twist into a frown, “As we know, once in feral mode, Logan only stops when there are no more targets.”
“Right, so they had to kill him to stop him.
“Then with Logan 4, they tried something different. Made the child female.” Charles shakes his head. “Ah, yes, you’re right. They made her female and ensured she bonded to the other children.”
“There’s no way Logan would leave his team behind. Not unless he was made to.” Erik reminds him. They’ve seen that behavior in their clawed dynamo, the both of them.
“Unless it was necessary and they intended to come after her, I agree.” Charles sighs. “She would never leave them behind. She’s a forward scout, like you guessed. And I’m sure Stark has guessed this, too.”
“What are we going to do with them? When we get them.” Because they are going to get them. Tony Stark won’t allow another outcome and he’s got all the resources he needs to back his bet.
Surprisingly, Magneto finds himself actually believing in the skinny little, human, bastard.
“I would like to get to know our children but I don’t know that they would be willing to be separated from the pack,” Charles says eventually. “It’s probably best if we talk it out with them when we get them. All of the adults and all of the children.”
“Most of them will be old enough to go to the School in the Fall semester,” he points out.
Charles frowns. “You’re the one that said they are already well-educated.”
“School is not just about book knowledge,” he counters. “It’s about socialization as well. They’ll need to learn to deal with people outside of their little pack if they are going to have any sort of fulfilling future.”
“That’s- that’s a good point, actually.”
Erik frowns at his hesitation but it’s a playful frown for the most part. “So we offer them a split option. They can get to know their parents or adoptive families over the summer and then be reunited with each other at school in the fall.”
“Except for the ones nowhere near ten years old, and therefore won’t be allowed to attend.”
Erik nods because there’s nothing for it. Unless they make exceptions which Charles is unlikely to do, at least for the ones under nine. Then he smirks. “Am I the only one amused that Logan and Raven’s children are the ones giving HYDRA the most trouble?”
“Not at all,” Charles laughs. “It’s not really a surprise, either. Though the lack of notes on Raven’s previous children make me wonder if her DNA managed to make baseline children and if that’s why they were killed.”
“Either that or they managed to make fools of HYDRA in some way, you know both Logan and Raven have no tolerance for such things. And the first one definitely got old enough to make his escape, especially since they all have been born with their mutations active.”
“The four after that didn’t even make it to a year.”
“So probably baseline humans,” he frowns. It’s not a nice thought. Couldn’t they have given perfectly healthy children up for adoption? All they had to do was abandon them at a hospital and let the state do the rest. Why kill them? Why was that necessary?
Because HYDRA, really.
“Her gift is so strong, though.”
“You of all people should know it takes both parents DNA to make a child. Otherwise, it’s just cloning.” Erik shakes his head. “I want to know how they got so much of our DNA. Enough to make six of Raven’s children, three of mine, three of Logan’s, three of Rajiv’s.”
“I’m sure Stark will find that information in the facility. But we can always ask. Make sure he thinks to get it, since you’re concerned.”
“You’re not going?”
“I hadn’t planned on it. A cripple in a wheelchair isn’t much use in tactical situations. If you need me, I’ll hear you and help as much as I can, of course, but I was going to work with Coulson on temporary housing for the Pack. Somewhere we can all talk it out and come to decisions.”
He hates it when Charles calls himself a cripple. There’s nothing crippled about him. So he can’t walk, so what? He contributes more to society than a dozen walking people that can!
That’s probably the real reason why his next words are over sharp. “And are Raven and Viktor and the others going to be invited to this place to meet their children?”
“Viktor knows his children and he left them there despite the conditions. He’s voided his rights. Besides, Logan will kill Viktor the moment he sees him.” And, wow. Now Charles sounds more than a little bitter. “His new team would jump in and help him get it done, without question.”
“He won’t stand a chance against Wolverine and the Winter Soldier,” Erik gives a rather mean chuckle. “And what about Raven?”
“I don’t know where she is.”
Erik scoffs. Charles always knows where all of his people are. Even when they don’t want him to. Maybe especially when they don’t want him to.
“She made her feelings clear. About us and about children.”
“It’s different when they’re your own,” he tries.
“It’s different when they so clearly need you.”
Charles turns his whole self, chair and all, away. And, well, that’s clear. In a way.
“She’s going to skin you alive when she finds out you kept this from her. And I will say ‘I told you so’ the entire time.”
Charles glares up at him. “Talking about telling people things, you never told me you could do non-ferrous metals.”
“A man’s entitled to some secrets,” he counters and turns to Charles’ suitcase. “Do you want your pajamas or do you plan to sleep in those trousers?”
The sound of the suitcase unzipping makes him start and jerk back. The lid flips open under an invisible hand and Charles’ pajamas wiggle their way to the top of the pile. Once stacked, they sail through the air to settle on Charles’ lap like a pet.
“I guess I’m not the only one with secrets.”
“What’s wrong?” Yasha asks as he leans in the doorway of their private study.
Tony looks up at him, gives him a frown just because. “You really don’t like the wolf’s head helmet?”
Yasha laughs, “I mean, it works with the name, but I’m not wearing white fur sleeves. Or white fur pants. And I don’t want white fur on the helmet, either. I mean it can look like there’s fur, that’s fine. Aesthetic, or whatever. But can you imagine actually having to clean the blood out of that much fur?”
Tony leans back on the couch as he considers this. “People would eventually notice us ordering that much white faux fur and then the jig would be up.”
“Ya think?” Yasha rolls his eyes, but his grin softens the whole thing and he moves closer. “But, really, what’s wrong?”
Tony takes a deep breath and blows it out slowly. “Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.”
“Wanda and Pietro are the names of two of Magneto’s kids created by the Alkali-Transigen Project,” Yasha frowns. “What about them?”
“You remember the Scarlet Witch that fought on yours and Cap’s side at that airport?” Yasha is obviously confused but he nods. “That was Wanda. The same Wanda in the Alkali-Transigen thing. In our world, she and Pietro were twins. There, he was twelve minutes older than she was or something. Here, he’s like two and a half years older than her. And they’re like nine years older here than they were there.”
“They’re the ones that HYDRA supposedly gave their powers?”
“Supposedly?” Now, it’s Tony’s turn to frown. “I mean, that’s what all the documentation said.”
“HYDRA documentation. I wouldn’t trust HYDRA to report the color of the sky without checking for myself,” Yasha counters, flopping down on the couch beside Tony. “And by that, I mean checking at least three different locations around the planet, with separate, non-related witnesses to boot.”
“But there were pictures..”
“Pictures?” Yasha prods. Like, physically, gives him a little poke.
“Well, there was one. In it, they were protesting the Sokovian government before they joined HYDRA.”
“One picture? One?” Yasha scoffs. “Did they even look any younger? Was her hair shorter? Was his hair a different color?”
“I mean, it was smokey? I think? I only saw it once.” Not that that means much, really, which perfect recall. Only, Yasha knows he has perfect visual recall and gives him a look that doesn’t let him off the hook like most people would. “His hair was darker. Their hair was the same color, actually. Pretty sure her’s was up so I can’t tell you the length.”
“But they don’t look younger?”
“No but, I mean, an adult is an adult. You just look like an adult until your wear and tear catches up, right?”
“Could the photo have been faked?” Yasha finally asks directly. “The single photo that HYDRA provided to mark them as loyal and proud Sokovians.”
“Of course. But nine years. That’s kind of a significant age difference.”
“Not for a mutant. Once they reach the age of maturity, aging slows down. We know this. Look at Erik and Charles, neither of them have any sort of healing factor and they have to be in their sixties, but they look mid-thirties. Forties for Magneto, maybe, but he did spend his formative years in a concentration camp and that’s definitely the kind of thing that would leave a mark on anyone, even a mutant.”
“What about the whole getting their powers from the Mind Stone thing?”
“How did the Mind Stone make a guy able to run like that?” Yasha gives him a look brimming with disbelief. “I could see her powers coming from the Mind Stone. I can give you that. She basically changes a person’s reality and your reality is all in your mind, right? But running at those speeds takes some serious physical changes to survive once much less to be able to do it constantly. Your feet, your muscles, your organs. How does his brain even work at Mach 7 or whatever without special equipment?
“Nah, no way. Now. Maybe HYDRA used the Mind Stone to convince them they wanted to work for HYDRA to begin with. That I could believe.”
“You think HYDRA incepted them or something?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Comes from a movie, Inception? Should come out in 2009? 2010? I think? Somewhere in there. It’s about these people that use technology to go into other people’s dreams and steal their secrets. They can also use the tech to alter the target’s like internal truth. Which the main character does to his wife to get her out of limbo. He may or may not be crazy and making it all up, though. It’s a frustrating kind of open ended deal.”
“Okay, sure, they used the Mind Stone to Inception them to work for HYDRA.”
Tony shakes his head. “Why though?”
“I proved their mind control methods leave an obvious mark. Hawkeye and probably Loki proved the scepter’s mind control was pretty easily broken. But… if you can convince someone that their cause is your cause? That’s not mind control. From their point of view, that’s not a foreign influence, so why would they give up on it? Would they stop? If it’s their cause, where would they stop? When would they stop? And why?”
“Death, probably, but what’s the mysterious cause?”
“They both hated you like the devil, didn’t they?” Yasha tilts his head. “I knew her for less than a day and I was treated to at least three rants about how evil you were. Controlling, manipulative. I think she called you poison a few times too.
“But you’re pretty much the founding member of the Avengers. The world’s first real superhero since Cap was on ice at the time and mostly a war gimmick anyway. You were HYDRA’s Enemy Number One. Especially once they realized they would never get the suit from you. Tearing you apart would tear the Avengers apart and that was the only thing she wanted.”
“She was serving HYDRA’s interests even when she was on the team,” Tony runs a hand over his face.
“She probably never even realized it.” Yasha looks defeated on Wanda’s -or maybe on Tony’s- behalf. He finally takes Tony’s hand so he’s going to assume this is on his behalf. “And the team probably didn’t realize it either. If they even thought of it, a little red flicker and the thought would be gone. None of them had any way to protect themselves from her.”
“Except Vision,” Tony counters.
“He had the Mind Stone, though, right? Maybe there was some sort of, I don’t know harmonic energies between them? Could that have been a thing?”
“Maybe? Not like we knew how the Stone worked.” Tony tips his head. “You know, their romance was really sudden. A two day old Android and a girl that just lost her brother and her country? She should have been mourning, not falling in love, right?”
“Rebound?” Yasha offers. “The so-called twins were weirdly close, right?”
“Ew,” is Tony’s conclusion, and Yasha just laughs. “So, how can we trust her now?”
“Where’s the Mind Stone?”
Tony shakes his head and slumps into Yasha’s warmth. “No idea. It came to Earth in Loki’s scepter but we never asked where it came from. Never questioned him at all, really, after the Invasion. That was short sighted.”
“And at this point it doesn’t matter if Asgard of that timeline questioned him. Not for us anyway.”
“Nope,” Tony agrees.
“Can we talk about Cap really quick?”
“What about him?” Tony can’t help but feel weary.
“The Valkyrie was loaded with suicide drone bombs, right? That’s what Howard said. And I remember at least one handler going on about how much better the world would have been if they had gone off.”
“You realize that would have been a world ending event, right?” Tony asks. “That many bombs, made from that material, at that size, going off in such quick succession? Boston, New York, Chicago, LA. The damage on both coasts would ripple across and through the seas. A sudden, violent nuclear winter would cover the planet for, what? Five years? Conservative estimate.
“How many people do you think would survive there being no food-growing season for five years? No sun, no going outside. For five years. Ten, maybe twenty.”
“Well, zealots aren’t exactly known for their clear thinking,” Yasha says, painfully amused.
“Yeah. So, solution?”
“We can’t let HYDRA get the bombs. Period. Can’t let it happen. Even if it means leaving Stevie right where he is.”
“They already have Schmidt Tech, though.”
“Right, but bomb power cores are different than some tiny little gun clips that they can’t recharge anyway.” Tony concedes that with a nod. Yasha smiles softly and pulls him closer until he’s half in his lap. “Can we take it and keep it safe?”
“Without SHIELD?” Tony asks. “Probably not. And I don’t want that shit in the house. I don’t want it anywhere on property at all. I’m curious. I am so, so curious about what we could do with it but we have no idea what that would do to the kids. Or mom’s pregnancy. And we have Cherries that could theoretically get pregnant at some point. It would just be wildly irresponsible to bring it here.”
“How do you feel about burying it?”
“Where?” Because that’s an important factor.
“Up there. How deep is the water on the edge of where we’ll find him?”
“Like, 15,000 feet.”
“German U-boats had a crush depth of less than a thousand feet.”
“Like 900 something, yeah. And the Seawolf-class, modern attack subs that I’m pretty sure have been designed but won’t actually be commissioned for another five years, crushes well before three thousand.
“I see where you’re going with this but how are you going to do it?”
“Creative use of explosives,” Yasha gives him a wicked grin. “Fake an avalanche. Bye bye, Valkyrie.”
“And you can make sure the avalanche won’t hit us?” Yasha gives him another look but Tony won’t back down. “It’s a valid question.”
“Yeah,” he concedes. “I can do it. I’ll need to look at the glacier and pick where Mags parks the Valkyrie but I can do it.”
“So we’ll need to bring Magneto in on the plan.”
“You think he’ll be opposed once he realizes the damage those bombs could do?”
“Yeah, no,” Tony laughs. “He’s pretty invested in that whole survival thing.”
“Probably wouldn’t be bad to bring Xavier in on it. So we can communicate silently, securely. The last thing we want is someone getting a recording of us planning to bury the Valkyrie.”
“Yeah. I can just see some asshole on Capitol Hill getting mad at us for destroying government property captured personally by Captain America.”
Yasha snorts. “They tried to do it with the Iron Man suit and there was no way to argue it was anything other than 100% yours.”
“Senator Stern was HYDRA, though.”
“But he wasn’t alone on the committee,” Yasha counters. “They all had to make the decision to try to steal from you together. That’s pretty much the definition of a committee.”
“Fair,” Tony nods. “I’m going to want to work out containment with my dad. He has the most experience with the Cube, really, and even if all that stuff is never making it off the plane, we definitely don’t want it leaking and damaging the environment.”
“Could we justify containing it but not moving it before we go for Steve?”
Tony shakes his head. “Nah. I’ll work on containing it while you work on getting him out?”
“Then when am I going to plant the explosives without it getting caught on tape?” And that’s a good question. Steve is pretty much the only distraction they’ll have up there.
“That camera crew is going to be a pain in the ass.”
“At least get Christine again, she was great for my interview.”
“And it’s pretty much made her career,” and Tony wonders if this makes them even. The Gulmira thing will never happen again but that doesn’t stop him from owing her for bringing it to his attention the first time. Not in his books, anyway.
“Carter,” he decides. “We’ll find him together, in a big group in front of the camera. You can storm off because PTSD or whatever when you see his face but actually go plant the bombs. I’ll tell them your therapist is on the ship so they won’t follow, because privacy. Then I’ll excuse myself to pack up the HYDRA bombs and have either Aunt Peg or Dad handle Cap’s extraction.”
“It would make Howard’s everything forever to finally rescue Stevie, to actually be the one to pack him up for home.”
“And that’s Father’s Day covered for the rest of my life,” Tony jokes.
Yasha gives him a smile. “You know this saving the world together stuff is kind hot.”
“It’s doing it for you?” Tony grins.
“Definitely doing it for me.” Yasha pulls him properly into his lap, manhandling him until he’s joyfully straddling his super soldier’s thighs and, damn. That’s still so fucking hot. “You’re working this sneaky spy business like mad.”
“You just like my Slytherin-ness.”
Yasha just laughs. “Shut up and kiss me.”