Reading Time: 141 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!
“Walk with me,” Yasha requests, turning for the main house after morning training.
Bogart blinks in surprise but falls into step with him easily enough. When they make it up to his new private office, Yasha pulls out a couple folders and moves off to sit on one of the couches well away from the formality of the desk area.
“JARVIS?” he asks.
“Your privacy is assured, Sergeant Barnes.”
“Thanks,” he smiles to the nearest camera and then focuses on Bogart. “So. Bishop has been working as both my and Tony’s assistant since this whole mess started but, with Tony’s business stuff ramping up, I need to get my own assistant. I want that to be you.”
Bogart swallows hard, “Seriously, sir?”
“Seriously. You’re well-organized, self-directing, and smart. I trust you and considering what all being my assistant means, I cannot overstate how important that is. What do you say?”
“Hell ya, sir.”
Yasha smirks. “Bishop’s been handling hiring for me, for the Cherries and Stark Family Medical, so you’ll need to take that over for him immediately. Our needs are still pretty extensive. Bones wants a nurse on duty in the Infirmary at all times and another one on-call, just in case. I figure that means we need at least four but check with him what schedules he wants to run and then figure how that effects headcount.
“Bones is coordinating specialists for our possible special needs, so you’ll just have to handle contacts and budget for that.
“The Cherries need more medics. I want two for each travel detail but we only have two, so that’s at least another four to hire. Maybe a few to man a secondary Infirmary at Bravo Site besides. We can probably promote Stinger to Chief Medic since we all know he’s going to do it anyway. Let him handle hiring and rotations, if that takes some weight of you.
“We also need some more undercovers and pilots.
“We need individual bodyguards for each of the kids, including the Stark Twins, after they’re born.” Yasha scratches his chin, trying to think of what else the guy needs to know. “Duke will be leaving us to head Stark Solutions Corporate Security. We’ve decided to split his current job description. Jamz is officially taking over base security because his motion sickness is intense and crippling, so you’ll be in charge of coordinating the travel detail rotation with him.
“Do you need Menstruation Leave?” he asks suddenly.
“What?” Bogart asks faintly.
“Menstruation Leave. There’s a note in your file here from Bones,” he pulls it out and shows it to him. “That you’re a menstruator but you aren’t listed as having Menstruation Leave like the other menstruators, and he’s concerned that that’s transphobic.”
Bogart shifts nervously.
“This won’t affect the job offer. If you need it, I want you to have it.”
“With respect, Bishop asked me if I needed it when I got hired and I told him to treat me just like the other guys. I think otherwise, that would be transphobic.”
“That’s fair, if that’s what you want, but if your opinion changes or if you need it at any point, just say.”
“Okay, so hiring – you’ll have a lot of that to do. Schedule coordination will take up a lot of your time, of course. You’ll handle payroll, leave requests, and housing concerns for the Cherries and Medical. Oh, and the Beta Site House Staff will officially answer to you, too.
“Speaking of, we need mechanics over there. One might be able to manage it but let’s play it by ear, I want to handle all our vehicle needs in house. They don’t have to live on site, but I would prefer it for security reasons.”
Belatedly, he passes Bogart a notebook and waits as the guy makes notes.
“Tony is talking about getting his own place after the Twins are born, so we’ll probably be separating a group to be ‘his’ Cherries out from the lot, setting up another Infirmary, that kind of stuff. I’ll let you know as I find out.” Then he thinks about it and blinks. “Actually, Bishop will probably tell you before I know, so keep me in the loop.”
Bogart makes an amused noise. “You’ll want me to move with you?”
“It’s your choice but if you don’t want to we’ll have to come up with a new job for you, and I’ll pick a new PA. Cherry Manager, probably. I feel like that’s most of what I’m telling you.”
“I’m willing to move,” Bogarts twirls his pen absently, “but I’ll have conditions.”
“Fair. I doubt Tony’s going to leave New York. Manhattan was where he had his eyes set last we talked about it… and as far as I’m concerned, Forge is already one of Tony’s Cherries.”
Bogart blushes and determinedly moves on. “There a lawyer that handles hiring contracts?”
“Bentley, Bradford, and Jones handle legal needs for the Stark Family. Amy Bradford is the partner we’re specifically contracted with. June Perkins and Adam Castillo are her minions that have been handling employment contracts for us. There’s a form one that they tailor to our needs for each position. One of them will need to approve any contracts before they get signed and you’ll need to make sure they get a copy of final signed ones.”
“I’ll need to sign a new one, with the new position,” Bogart reminds him.
“Yeah, I’ll grab Bishop’s and we can talk it over before we call them. If you need help negotiating any contracts though, Adam’s a shark. So feel free to hit him up.”
“Okay, so as your assistant I’m basically HR for the Cherries and Medical.”
“Basically,” Yasha agrees. “With some resource management thrown in. You’ll also be in change of my schedule and field phone calls for me from the public. There’s already an official number set up, Bishop will give you that phone and walk you through it all later today.”
“Got it, what about fan mail?”
Yasha boggles at him. “Fan mail? I don’t get fan mail.”
“No, seriously, I don’t get fan mail,” Yasha scowls.
“Sarge, if I was a kid or not already working for you when you officially resurrected, I would have sent you fan mail. To welcome you back, if nothing else. I promise you, you have fan mail.” He snickers some more. “It’s probably going to Stark Industries, I’ll talk to Stark Senior about it.”
“Fine,” Yasha huffs. “Are you ready to get to the good stuff?”
“You mean the Avengers?” Bogart perks up.
“You know about that?’
“Uh, I might’ve heard Boss say the word once or twice? And I know Wolverine is on the payroll as, but is not actually, a Cherry. I mean, he lives in the main house too, rather than on the Beta Site with the rest of us. That’s a pretty good sign he’s something more than just a Cherry.”
“It’s an open secret, is what I’m hearing from you right now.”
Bogart just shrugs.
“Alright, fine.” He sighs. “That’s not much information, I suppose, but I’d prefer the name be officially forgotten if at all possible. Got it?”
“You realize with this promotion you get to live in the main house, right? And no one will say anything if you drag Forge along with you as long as we know where to find him if there’s an emergency.”
Bogart beams and Yasha rolls his eyes.
“As my assistant, you will learn a lot of top secret, Tony would say hinky, shit that the Avengers are fixing. Write none of it down on paper, but you can take notes on a device if JARVIS runs its security. Share none of it with anyone. Not even Forge, unless he’s invited along to play with us and then you can only talk about that particular mission with him.”
“Of course,” Bogart agrees immediately. As he should, he has a decent government security clearance of his own and knows all about how secrets work.
“There’s a few situations on the bubble right now. We’re having a team lunch to talk them out today. You’re coming.”
“Do I have time to track down Bishop about your schedule and calls?”
“You have the time but he’s secluded with Tony and Pepper. No way you’re dragging him out of there. Nah. Let’s poke at this paperwork Bishop’s been bitching at me about and see if we can sort it out.”
“You got it, Sarge.”
“We need a mission statement,” Pepper says.
In the downstairs library. At 8 o’clock in the freaking morning, which is much earlier than Tony authorized his guys to pick her up. Seriously, how is she even here?
Also. Somehow, she’s scarier in a wheelchair than she was on her own two feet. What. Even.
Though, that’s probably how she’s here more than an hour earlier than he authorized, now that he thinks about it..
“We need a general guideline for the formation of the business,” she says again, like he’s particularly slow. “In the form of a mission statement.”
“Solutions, Stark Style,” he offers.
Pepper scoffs, “That makes it sound like we’re giving away bombs.”
“I’m not and never will, but I am in the process of selling my dad some ideas to build the Solutions nest egg. We’ll totally be able to buy and remodel the MetLife Tower.”
“Is the MetLife Tower for sale?” Coulson asks from his place off to the side.
Tony just blinks at him because what would that matter? It’s his Tower. Or, well, it will be. He’s going to get it back.
Coulson sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose, “I’ll look into it.”
“You want to buy it just to turn around and remodel it?” Pepper sounds doubtful.
“Well, yeah. It doesn’t have the sublevels to support JARVIS and HELEN’s server farms. Or the arc reactor we’re going to run the building off of. And I’m thinking about adding floors to give me a proper penthouse. Gotta get higher than Donald fucking Trump, otherwise that shit’s just intolerable.”
“You want to install an arc reactor big enough to run an entire building?” Coulson sounds exasperated.
Tony grins at him. Trying Coulson’s patience is much more fun than trying Pepper’s used to be.
“Are you expecting to do biomedical research and development in the middle of Manhattan?” Pepper ask sharply.
“No?” Tony hazards because that tone sounds like his answer should probably be a no.
“I’ll look into permits and zoning but I’m fairly confident biomedical R&D in the city is a no go.” She… snears? He doesn’t quite know how to classify the tone she’s using.
Once upon a time, he knew all of his Pepper’s tones. This Pepper is a mystery Pepper. So far, he’s not a fan.
“Then we’ll host our carpet commandos and what R&D we can there,” Tony shrugs because he’s really not fussed. He’s getting his Tower back. Period. “It would be a good location to run the public trials of bionic limbs through, too.”
Pepper makes a note. “You want to house as much of the company in one place as you can?”
“Yasha assures me it’s better for security. We’ll have to have offsite data backups, though, and that can be even more closely guarded without regular, non-Security employees running around.”
“On an island somewhere?” Pepper asks somewhere between teasing and snide.
Tony was actually thinking of putting it on the satellite home he’s building for JARVIS. Or giving it and HELEN their own satellite but instead, he snaps and points at her. “I like it. Let’s do it.”
“Perhaps we should discuss your plans,” Coulson offers. “For the various lines of business.”
“It’s rather general,” Tony offers, watching without watching as Pepper’s hackles lower. “We’ll probably need marketing consultations or something before anything gets official.”
“Give us what you have so far,” Pepper prompts.
“Computers and robots are my thing, so we’re going to start with computing. Increased data capacity, increased processing speed, graphic user interfaces in color -good color. The Internet is a baby right now, but it’s going to be huge and we’re going to ride the wave, put personal computers in every home.
“Then we’re going to capitalize on it further with phones. Cellular phones that can go on the Internet. Email, web browsing, taking pictures. Editing and sending pictures, too. As well as calls and texts. Anyway you want to stay connected, all right there in the palm of your hand.”
“And what’s your timeline on this?”
“That’s what you’re for,” Tony shrugs at her. “I’ve got the tech. Well, schematics for tech. Not all of it is really buildable right now but it will become buildable as we go along.”
Pepper tips her head to one side. “Are we going to build our own factories? Contract with someone else’s factories? Or sell the patents we develop and roll on?”
“I don’t really want other people playing with my patents. Dad offered us advantageous contracts with his factories for our manufacturing needs but I don’t know what exactly ‘advantageous’ means. That’s another you question, I think. What is the most economical? What makes us the most profit? What’s best for the environment?”
“The environment is a concern?” That is definitely a tone of surprise.
“Uh, yeah. Profit doesn’t matter if we aren’t around to spend it.” Yes, he sneers that because it should be completely obvious.
“So you want manufacturing to be sustainable and responsible?”
“No extra points for throwing around buzz words, but yes. Yes, I do. And not just manufacturing. I want to be a sustainable, responsible employer, too. Full health and medical benefits, retirement, a month of paid vacation every year, a paid three month sabbatical every five years. Short work weeks -three or four days a week- with reasonable work hours. Hour lunch breaks for everyone. We’re going to have the happiest, healthiest employees on the planet. I want people fighting to work for us. I want to set the bar for other corporations so high, they are embarrassed by their own business practices.”
“That sure sounds nice, Mr. Stark, but in practice that’s ridiculous.” Pepper rolls her eyes. Honestly, rolls her eyes!
He glares at her with more feeling than he actually expected. “No, what’s ridiculous is treating people like they are disposable cogs in a business machine. This? This is just treating people like they’re human.”
Pepper flushes but then clears her throat. “There must be research out there about the most effective work week.”
“Don’t consider anything from the US,” he tells her, accepting the almost-apology. “It will all be biased by our foolish capitalism.”
She rolls her eyes again but nods.
“After computers and cell phones?” Coulson redirects.
“Green energy,” Tony answers. “That’s what the arc reactor in the building is for. So when people say it can’t be done we can come back with ‘but we’ve been doing it.’
“I’m also concerned about world hunger. Hell, hunger in the US. There is no fucking reason people should be going hungry in this country. None. So I’m thinking hydroponics? We get it working. Minimize space, maximize output. Make it as self-sustaining as we can, and take over abandoned buildings in poor neighborhoods. We can probably even get the government to fund installation, if we pitch it right.
“Replacing all that canned crap they push off on the needy with fresh food would improve health in underserved communities too, right?”
“What about the bionic limb replacement?”
“Oh,” Tony waves a dismissive hand at Bishop. “That’s going to be on going the whole time. As well as the research into curing disease through Super Soldier Serum.
“I mean, we don’t want to make Super Soldiers because the side effects can be intense and I’m concerned it might cause birth defects? I mean Serum side-effects gotta transfer through sperm, right? But we gotta figure it out, because asthma could be a thing of the past. Pneumonia. Cancer. I think we can do quite a lot without actively enhancing people.”
“You have a team for that already?” Pepper asks, making notes.
“Yeah, I’ve bought and we’re converting one of SI’s old storage warehouses-” the one he eventually made the Avenger’s new playpen post-Ultron, to be exact. “-for the projects and we’re planning to start officially in July.”
“And your researchers?”
“I’ve picked them and made some offers. Only my head of biochem has already accepted and been formally contracted so far.”
“And who’s that?”
“Riion of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda,” Tony answers and Pepper’s eyebrows shoot to her hairline. “Queen Ramonda is sourcing scientists from other tribes to join our various projects. I wouldn’t be surprised if a third of my R&D people end up being scientists from Wakanda.”
At Pepper’s confusion, he explains. “Wakandans are educated to a mind-boggling degree. And they don’t look at the world the same way Americans or European people do. I think that’s important for my goals.
“Currently, I’m trying to get this woman, Dr. Helen Cho from Korea. She’s a very talented geneticist and medical doctor looking into technologically-enhanced biological regeneration -using computers to heal people, basically- and I think she’d be a great asset to the project but Coulson hasn’t been able to get me in to meet her yet.”
“Who else have you picked? And do I need to contact them to finalize anything?”
“I imagine you’ll want to hire some lawyers and human resources for Solutions and have them take care of it but, yeah, offers at least need to be made so negotiations can start. So far, I have yeses from Maya Hansen, Betty Ross, and Bruce Banner. Ross and Banner won’t be available before mid-July because of their teaching commitments but I don’t think that will be a problem. All things considered, it might be better if they don’t start until August but we should consult with Riion before firming that up.”
Tony tips his head back and forth a few times. “I know there are more I want. Names I’ve heard, but I’m reading through theses to make sure these are actually good choices for the company before I approach any more scientists.”
“You’re making it diverse, racially.”
It’s not really a question but Tony nods. “It’s important. Variation in age, race, gender, sexuality, able-status in the scientists makes for a more well-rounded R&D. Not that all old straight white guy R&D labs are bad -it works for SI, obviously- but we’re not sitting in one rut and making the most of it like they are. We aren’t all weapons all the time. I need teams with reach. Teams that can adapt and vary.”
“I want to use that attitude throughout the company,” Pepper asserts, like he’s going to argue with her.
“Okay,” he agrees and she looks flabbergasted. Has she- has she not been paying attention?
“Do we need to take a break?” he asks. “I’m getting a bit concerned that perhaps you have misconceptions about me that you need to get over.”
This Pepper takes it on the chin better than his Pepper ever did. She tips her head up to meet his eyes head on. “I apologize. You’re right. I drew conclusions based on your name, your reputation, and media rumors. I didn’t allow for my own observations to change what I had decided I knew, and that was wrong.”
“The Media is a curse upon my life, especially when I was a kid,” he admits. “But I’ve grown up and the time has come to put aside childish things.”
She nods to him.
“I’ll give you some space, do you have things you can work on without me for the rest of the day?”
“I’ll work on hiring an HR representative and a lawyer for the corporation. I have ideas for those positions, people that can translate into effective leaders in those departments over time, but formal applications and interviews are required to do this right, right?”
“Friends?” he asks warily because cronyism is, eh. He’s not a fan.
Luckily she chuckles, “No, the lawyer is a woman I’ve heard Mr. Aldridge complain about a lot in the past, which tells me several good things about her. The gentleman I have in mind for HR actually got fired from AIM because he refused to not investigate reports of sexual harassment and deal with them appropriately. He’s still a legend around the office but I unfortunately never got to meet him.”
“Okay. Cool. If they aren’t available maybe they’ll know people that are.”
She gives him a tentative smile, “That’s what I’m hoping as well.”
“Since you’re not officially hired yet, Coulson will have to approve your picks.”
“I’ll let him stick around,” she promises.
“When you do sign on, I highly recommend hiring a PA for yourself,” Tony tells her as he stands. “Bishop is seriously the most helpful person in the building, I’d be a mess without him. I’m willing to let you borrow him for now to make sure you’re aware how perfect he is, but you have to remember he’s mine and I’m keeping him.”
Pepper laughs and Coulson blushes. Like, actually blushes. It’s in that weird spot between your eye and your hairline that’s not really cheek but not yet forehead, but he does. It’s adorable.
“And don’t forget to eat!” he reminds them as he heads for the door.
Charles quiets his mind and Cerebro sweeps open. As always, she calls for him, welcomes him. She’s eager to play.
He lowers the helmet over his head and gives a long exhale. The world explodes around him and in his mind’s eye. Humans of all sorts, warm and pulsing with life.
Mutants, he wants mutants. He focuses on mutants and the scene shifts, baseline humans fade to gray leaving mutants warm and vibrant. There are too many though, he needs to limit his search further.
He focuses on young mutants. Not teenagers, younger. Not really children, older. Twenty something ten to twelve year olds should pop out at him. Practically glow in bold relief.
He knows they are in the US, Clinton Barton’s circus was a lower-48 affair. They didn’t even travel to Alaska. He also doubts the girl, no matter how resourceful, ran very far before seeking cover and transportation so it should be somewhere in the central states. But nothing in the area lights up as a congregation of mutants meeting his parameters should.
He pulls back.
There’s not quite a pattern where mutants in the right age range light up his view, but there is a distinct void of where they should be.
Oklahoma. They are in Oklahoma, somewhere. And someone is hiding them.
Strange, the dossiers didn’t indicate they had anyone powerful enough to block him.
Not among the children, at least.
“Why do they call you Bishop?” Pepper asks as she reviews the new hire package for Charles Wilson, their soon to be HR manager one last time before she sends it to him.
“It comes from Mr. Stark -Tony Stark’s- security team,” he says evenly. Just like he does everything evenly. Though she is getting better at picking up the undercurrents of his tones. This one, for instance, holds a very gentle, warm pride. “In the terms of chess, Mr. Stark is their King – the most important piece on the board.”
“They lose him and the game’s over,” she realizes and it makes sense.
“Right. Accordingly, Sergeant Barnes is the Queen, the King’s most powerful defender. In their tactical transmissions they usually refer to him as ‘Ice Queen’.”
“Ice as a reference to his past as the Winter Soldier?”
“Yes,” Coulson hesitates. “It’s also a reference to his time in ‘cold storage’.”
Pepper blinks, “I wouldn’t have thought he’d be comfortable enough with his history in HYDRA’s hands to joke about that.”
“I would not say he does to because he’s comfortable so much as to become comfortable with it.”
“Ah.” Okay, no. No, ah, she doesn’t get it. But does she really have to? Pepper ponders this and changes the subject. “I assume Mr. Stark being the king makes you, as his PA, the kingside bishop?”
Phil gives her a tiny smile, mostly communicated in eye crinkles. “Bogart is being promoted to queenside bishop today. If he accepts, I’ll have to stop this and get him up to speed so he can take over his new position officially tomorrow. Would you like to take some work back to Dottie’s with you when I do?”
“I think I’ll call it an early day, actually. Go back, get a massage, see if I can get some research done on productive and humane working conditions.”
His eye crinkles grow bolder. “Conducting research relevant to work tasks is not calling an early day of it, Ms. Potts.”
“Call me Pepper,” she smiles because the nickname’s grown on her. Just like this ridiculously plain man is growing on her.
“You can call me Phil or Bishop, whichever you prefer,” he offers. “I promise you, if you’re concerned, Mr. Stark would definitely approve of a massage break and doing research in comfort.”
“He seems like the type,” and then, realizing how that sounds, she tries again. “I mean, I imagine he would understand how much a long break can improve productivity.”
“Of course, Pepper. I took the liberty of having JARVIS source relevant research for you. He has a great deal for you to read from various and respectable sources. If you wouldn’t mind having lunch here, I’ll have it printed and arrange a massage appointment for you. Stringer will see you back to Dottie’s when everything is prepared.”
She doesn’t even have to think about it. A hot lunch she doesn’t have to hunt down or prepare for herself? Her answer should be obvious.
She shrugs, though, playing it cool. “What’s for lunch?”
“Storm!” Tony smiles, pleasantly surprised to see her sitting in the secure room they’re having their Avengers lunch in. “Do I take this to mean you’re officially joining the Avengers?”
“That is my intention,” she inclines her head. “HYDRA is a serious concern. I find I cannot stand idly by and allow them to continue. I also acknowledge that the X-men’s usual tactics will not resolve this issue.”
“The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi,” he offers as a test.
She grimaces a bit, “I would prefer jail for life. Though death may actually be kinder than living in the necessary isolation.”
Good enough for him. “Welcome aboard.”
He glances at Yasha who nods. “That makes our roster: White Wolf, Wolverine, Storm, Hawkeye, May, and- May still needs a superhero name.”
“How do you feel about ‘Dragon’?” Tony asks her directly.
She raises a single eyebrow, considers it, and inclines her head.
“Isn’t that a little racist?” Clint asks nervously. “I mean. Naming the Chinese woman ‘Dragon’?”
Tony tips his head. “I was thinking that she’s like a Komodo Dragon. Slow and deliberate, watching everything, until suddenly she isn’t and her target is dead.”
“Or wishing they were dead,” she allows in a drolly amused tone.
Clint holds up his hands in surrender, “As long as you’re happy with it, that’s what matters.”
“I am happy with it,” she confirms.
“That makes our roster: White Wolf, Wolverine, Storm, Hawkeye, Dragon, and Iron Man.” Yasha repeats. “I’m still talking with Gravitas, but I’m pretty sure her final answer’s going to be a no. If she wanted this, she’d be onboard already.”
“Iron Man?” Aunt Peg asks. “Who is Iron Man?”
“I can’t really say,” Tony says, pointing at himself alternatingly with each pointer finger.
Yasha laughs and puts up jazz hands highlighting him on his left side. Clint snorts and mirrors him on Tony’s right.
Tony gives her two thumbs up and then starts jerking them at himself. “Iron Man’s identity is hidden. To be considered utterly Top Secret.”
“Fair enough,” Aunt Peg laughs at them and they stop. “What did you bring us together for today?”
“Several things. But first, everyone load up on pizza and grab a spare soda or two. We’re going to be here a while.”
Tony waits while everyone follows his orders. Amusingly rather than everyone moving around, crowding the tight space, Bishop brings the pizza boxes to the table and starts passing them out wholesale. Bogart and Beast haul the coolers over, one to each side of the square table.
“First of all,” he says once his first slice is history. “Professor Xavier has limited to location of the Alkali-Transigen facility to Oklahoma. That’s as of today. This is fresh news, hot off the press. He can’t verify further because there’s some sort of interference messing with him. He’s trying to determine if this is one of the telepathic kids or an adult defender of the site. That will take a while but I’d like to go ahead and see if we can’t find it the exact physical location the old fashioned way. Aunt Peg?”
She hastily swallows her mouthful. “Having to check only one state for a suspicious paper trail is a great help. I will redirect Agent Fury immediately.” She pulls out her cellphone and starts texting one handed. “Mr. Barton, can you limit our search further?”
“Uh, I know the planned path, if that helps? I didn’t care for the exact roads, that’s why I kept my truck in the middle.”
“Every bit helps.”
“We wintered in Central Texas,” Clint tells her. “San Antonio. And then we started north, we were going to hit Minnesota and then head east. Go down the east coast and winter in Florida.”
“Wonderful,” she types for a moment. “You were found in Mississippi, when did you leave your projected path?”
“Nebraska. Omaha, I think.” He thinks about it and nods. “Yeah, Omaha. That’s where-”
He doesn’t say ‘that’s where everyone died,’ not that Tony can blame him. Losing your family is pretty much number one on the list of things that are not fun to talk about and he can personally testify to that.
Aunt Peg keeps on trucking like she doesn’t even register his hesitation, “Very good.”
“I don’t want any boots on the ground until we’re sure Xavier’s interface is one of the kids, rather than an adult HYDRA agent,” Tony tells them. “I don’t even want to think about what a HYDRA telepath could do to one of the Cherries. Or, you know, a non-compromised SHIELD Agent.”
“Agreed,” Aunt Peg puts her phone away. “Though I’ve heard a rumor about a helmet that can protect the wearer against telepaths? Have you heard of such a thing?”
“I’m sure I shouldn’t say.” Though he could definitely build one into the Iron Man helmet. Why didn’t he think of that before?
Tony glances at Bishop, “Take a note: helmets are now standard Avengers attire.”
Bishop just makes a note, typing away on his JARVIS-secured laptop. Someday soon that will be a proper tablet. With JARVIS-secured wifi. It’s going to be beautiful.
“Second, the retrieval of Captain America. I know its not strictly Avengers’ business, but he is a prospective member. It could also be argued that he was the first Avenger since his first mission ever was to avenge Yasha, even if he ended up saving him instead.”
“Saving is a much better ending than avenging,” Storm offers with a small smile for Yasha.
Yasha tips his head in acknowledgement and she focuses on Tony, “Captain America?”
“I have a good idea of where he is. That information has been secured to me and JARVIS only. What I’m also concerned about securing are all those HYDRA weapons.”
“Do you think there is anything worth worrying about?” Aunt Peg asks.
“We have to assume there is,” he deflects, but tries not to be obvious about it since there is no way on this entire Earth he can tell them how he knows its still active. “This was HYDRA’s trump card. Even if there is nothing active or salvageable, they’ll want to capture it for themselves. To study, at the very least.
“But more than that, this is all tech with such an incredibly advanced power source that it might as well be alien. Hell, it might be alien. None of the rules we know apply. We very well could be digging up an entire plane full of active weapons that make nuclear bombs look like a baby’s binky. We don’t know what age has done to them. They could be dead, they could be stronger, they could be unstable. We need to be prepared for anything.”
“And then there’s Stevie,” Yasha adds. “He’s never going to be more vulnerable than he currently is, frozen in a block of ice. If HYDRA got ahold of him. If they used the techniques they created on me and perfected on Nat?” Yasha shakes his head, looking a little sick as he admits, “I’m not sure I could fight him. Not without a trigger phrase and, thanks to Xavier, my trigger phrases are gone.”
“You want us to come?” Wolverine asks, cutting through the chatter. When Tony nods, he looks at Yasha who also nods. “Then we’re coming. Discussion, over.”
“That brings us to point three,” Tony scrubs his hands together as he moves to stand in front of the entire room. “We’re talking Super Soldiers. My dad remade the serum and I’ve been studying it. Not to break it down for medical advancement, that’s someone else’s job, but to figure out how to get the best results when making Super Soldiers. I’ve also learned a lot about how it works that may or may not be relevant to our discussion. Actually, no, it’s totally relevant so you’re going to learn it too.
“You guys ready for this?”
The Avengers, both personal assistants, Beast, and Aunt Peg all express agreement in one form or another and Tony moves on.
“We have a team of psychologists that built not a psych profile as such. It’s more a list of signs to watch out for and avoid because, as Dr. Erskine famously said, ‘Good becomes great, bad becomes worse.’ And no one wants another Red Skull, right?
“Right.” Tony barrels right along, not even waiting for their input. “That’s mental side covered.
“We are going to keep it all confidential so no one tries to fake a match, and anyone that wants to be super soldiered will have to be evaluated by a team of telepaths, too, so they really can’t fake it. So don’t worry about any of that.
“What I’ve personally been working on is understanding the physical side. And -surprise, surprise- that lies in the X-Gene.
“First, though, let’s talk terms. ‘Enhanced’ refers to a person with abilities beyond a baseline – so-called ‘regular’ – human. Reading minds, extended senses, healing factors, flight, these are all things beyond a baseline human’s abilities. Got it?”
They all nod.
“A ‘mutant‘ is a person that becomes enhanced naturally as a result of variations in their genetic code. A ‘mutate‘ is a person that becomes enhanced through some sort of outside intervention. Super Soldier Serum, lightning strike, animal bite, radiation. Radioactive animal bite, probably. Not seen it yet but I believe in the possibility.”
Several of them smile and chuckle like he’s joking. If only they knew.
“Anyway, my research indicates that both mutants and mutates carry active X-Genes and makes me think- well, that’s not important.” Tony shakes his head. “What’s important is, I can prove it.
“Before anyone asks, no, I don’t have government approval for my study but no one wants the government, any government, involved in picking Super Soldiers. That way lies madness. I did do my research with consent of the genetic donors who gave me blood as long as I promised not to clone them, which I would never do. So my experiments, while technically illegal, are not actually immoral.”
“SHIELD was created to find and aid Captain Rogers,” Aunt Peg interjects. “As long as you haven’t done something terrible, I can put it down as a top secret project at the highest level.”
“Awesome!” Tony grins. “Still not handing my research over to SHIELD, though. Especially not while it’s compromised.”
“And you haven’t done anything terrible?” Aunt Peg pushes, ignoring his completely valid point. “Not created any murder beasts or anything like that?”
“No, no murder beasts.”
“No secret army of Super Soldiers you’re going to use to destroy the government and take over the world?”
“See, taking over the world sounds like fun and games but it’s really just a lot of work,” Tony says seriously, and Aunt Peg smiles at him in amusement. “Can you even imagine how much paperwork that would be? Even Bishop would rebel against that much red tape, and we all know I won’t do it, so the world would burn. That’s no good for anyone.”
Aunt Peg inclines her head. “Fair enough. Tell us what you’ve discovered in your Level 11, top secret SHIELD-sanctioned research.”
“Biologically speaking, a person’s X-Gene is determined by two, uh, interactions.” He points at the wall and JARVIS throws two Punnett squares up on it. “The first one determines active, latent, or dormant. The second gene determines strength -from weapon of mass destruction to negligible.
“This,” he points to the simpler Punnett square with only two options: X and x on each axis and four possible results. “Is our active, latent, dormant illustration. We see our choices are double capitals, double lower case, and two options with one of each. With their permission, I did a bit of experimentation and I can confirm this works out perfectly, actually, with the Barnes siblings.
“First, we have our double capitals. That is an active X-Gene or, mutant. In this case that’s genetic sample B3, Elizabeth de la Fontaine nee Barnes. She is, in fact, a mutant but because she’s always been so athletic -being a professional ballerina and all that- no one ever noticed her enhancements. She’s always just been considered a gifted dancer.
“Second, we have our double lower case. That is a dormant X-Gene or, baseline human. In this case that’s B2, Senator Dorothee Roth nee Barnes. It’s important to note that none of her children are mutants. She doesn’t yet have any biological grandchildren that are mutants either but unless her kids reproduce with active mutants it’s highly unlikely that she would ever get mutant biological grandchildren, either.
“Compare that to our first Capital X/lowercase x, B4, who is Regina Sheppard nee Barnes. She has a latent X-Gene which means low chance that she herself will mutate naturally but very likely -because she is powerfully latent- that her children or grandchildren will. Obviously. Since, she has three grandsons that are all mutants.
“Now, I can’t confirm but I strongly suspect that Yasha, B1, would have been latent as well. I suspect weakly latent because his biological granddaughter, Darcy, is baseline. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this because the serum has played merry hell with his biology.
“However! I tested some serum on blood samples -again, with permission. B2, the baseline sample, rejected the serum and the sample was rendered inert.”
“Dead,” Aunt Peg interrupts. “The genetic sample was rendered dead.”
“Basically,” Tony agrees. “I’ve burned all the samples I worked with, by the way. They cannot in any way be retrieved or recreated.”
“Good,” she nods.
Tony nods right back. “B3, our mutant sample, had the opposite problem. It took Miss Lizabeth’s X-Gene and ramped it up. I have no real projection of what this would have done to an actual person, but I imagine it would be something along the lines of Red Skull and his physical changes.” Or Brucie. God, poor Brucie.
“Finally, our latent sample B4 successfully accepted the serum, showing signs of increased health and vitality, quickly growing to be on par with B1’s current samples. Before you ask, it didn’t activate her X-Gene per se, it rendered it… void? Bypassed it? Hot-wired it, maybe.” Tony waves a hand dismissively. “It’s complicated.
“Thankfully, the Barnes’ and Rogers’ family line mutations seem to be more about strength and agility, combat stats that make them good fighters. I’m not sure and can’t currently predict what the serum would do to someone with the latent form of, say, Storm’s family line but they would probably survive the serum and, if they passed the psych eval, shouldn’t go crazy.”
“This is all good to know but why are you bringing this to us now?” Aunt Peg prompts.
“I’m part of the team but, unlike Barton or Iron Man, I’m a close combatant,” May tells her. “And, unlike Logan or Sarge, I’m not enhanced. But I have already passed the psych eval and my X-Gene is latent.”
“I offered her the opportunity to tip the scale in her favor,” Tony explains. “But she wanted the team’s input first.”
“If you want it, I say go for it,” Clint speaks up first. “The world needs more ass-kicking ladies.”
“You’re already Darcy’s favorite Avenger,” Yasha smiles softly. “She’d be heart broken if we didn’t give you every opportunity to be stronger and something horrible happened to you. I’m sure she’s not and won’t be the only little girl to feel that way once the Avengers are well known.”
Wolverine, a man of many words, just nods at her.
“I feel mutations are best left in the hands of Mother Nature. It’s a natural process that we should not interfere with,” Storm says seriously. “That said, it is your body and your choice. Whatever you decide, I will support you.”
They two women almost smile at each other. Like, they might become friends. Wouldn’t it be great to be on a team that actually likes each other?
“Who else would you offer this to?” Aunt Peg asks.
“I’ve only evaluated full Avengers and Cherries that have gone on at least two Avengers missions, if they’re willing. May is both willing and a good candidate. Several others were willing, but actually have minor mutations that eliminate them from consideration. Several were not interested. I didn’t ask why because it’s their choice and I don’t want to even accidentally pressure anyone. There are a few that are too close to having issues and wouldn’t pass the psych eval.” Tony grins suddenly at his godmother, “I could test you. I bet you’d be a great super soldier.”
“Assuming I’m latent and my family line mutation is useful,” she says dryly.
“Assuming,” he agrees then tilts his head. “If it weren’t for sexism, you could have been Erskine’s success story.”
“Oh, he offered it to me but I refused,” she says softly and several people blink or stare at her. “Run the blood test, let me think about it.”
“Will do, Captain Britain.” he snaps her a sloppy salute.
“That’s Director Britain to you.”
“You don’t want to use the Serum?” Yasha asks as they prepare for bed that night.
“I like the thought of it,” Tony tells him honestly. “Sometimes, I worry you’re going to outlive me by a ridiculously long time and I feel guilty about leaving you. About hurting you that way even if I wouldn’t do it on purpose, but I don’t qualify for the Serum therapy.”
Yasha swallows thickly a few times and then asks, “Why don’t you qualify?” Completely ignoring the first half of his statement as he stares down at the bathroom sink.
Tony trots out one of the smarmy grins he hasn’t really used this turn of the clock, “Why do you think?”
Yasha squints at him through the mirror, saying clearly even without words that he’s not buying what Tony’s trying to sell.
“I’m a mutant,” Tony admits with a sigh.
“A mutant?” Yasha straightens up in surprise. “Like an actual active mutant?”
“Yup,” Tony pops the p and makes a strategic exit to the bedroom.
Yasha, of course, follows. “What’s your mutation?”
Tony thinks about trying to make him guess again, but the futility of it is not lost on him. That’s what he gets for having a brilliant, intuitive, observant Super Assassin of his very own.
Eh, fuck it. “Most people assume it’s my intelligence.”
“No,” Yasha shakes his head and leans closer like he’s inspecting him. “Your intelligence is just you. I’m sure of it. Also, you’ve always been this intelligent, you never suddenly got smarter. Not around puberty, when most mutants activate.”
“Last time, I actually activated when I learned about my parents’ death. Well, my mom’s death.”
“A stress activation,” Yasha nods solemnly. “Not unheard of.”
“Yeah. When I woke up in this time I was already active, though. I think it might actually be stronger this round?”
“Okay, but what is it? I mean, if you want to tell me. You don’t have too. Especially not if it’s really personal or something.”
“It is really personal and fairly intimate, but not just for me. Can you guess?”
Yasha sits on the bed and stares at him for several moments. “Around the time your parents died, yeah? What were you doing then? HYDRA’s dossier on you didn’t really go that far back.
“Well, no,” he corrects after a moment. “It got into your college stuff. You were building robots and advanced simulation programs. Theoretical planes. They thought they had uses for all of it but then you suddenly stopped and-” Yasha freezes. “JARVIS. Whatever your mutation is, it made JARVIS.”
“Got it in one, my wolf.”
“How? How does even that work? Explain it to me. Please?”
“JARVIS, all of my AIs, are different from other people’s attempts. They can’t be replicated because,” He trails off, wanting. No, needing Yasha to guess again.
“Because they’re real.” Yasha hits it on the head and sounds excited about it too. “JARVIS doesn’t fake emotions, does he? He has real ones. His plans and ideas are his, not just the product of code or whatever, right?”
Tony nods, joining him on the bed.
“He has a soul,” Tony answer simply and Yasha’s jaw drops. “That’s my mutation. Soul Magic, I guess you would call it. I don’t know that it’s all that powerful, I can only do it every couple of years.”
“You’re making a soul, Tony, of course that’s powerful. Of course, it would drain you. But, wait, you’ve made like seven AIs since we came back.”
“No, those are pretty much the ones I’d already made last time. I just recreated the electronic framework to house them and called back their souls. Which is probably a bunch of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff I don’t really wanna think about too much.”
“Damn that’s- and you can still do it?”
“Yeah. I created TADASHI just to be sure I could, which is kind of terrible, but I needed to know.”
“That’s why you’re trying to give them all jobs? Because they’re, what?” Yasha tips his head to one side. “They’re people?”
“They are. They really are. I got that wake up call with FRIDAY. When I plugged her in during the whole Ultron thing, she was so relieved to be free, to be awake. I felt terrible.”
“You didn’t mean to?” Yasha offers. “To trap them or whatever.”
“Does that matter? I kept people prisoner on floppy disks. What makes that different from HYDRA keeping you in cold storage?”
“It’s different because you didn’t mean to. HYDRA kept me, used and stored me like a tool despite knowing all along that I was a person. You thought they were just computer programs, and you treated like computer programs until you learned differently. Right?”
“Yeah. As soon as I realized what I did, I built them all server farms and let them live, basically.
“I mean I gave them rules and made them follow them or I’d cut off their Internet. I figure that was the equivalent of like grounding them, basically.”
“They’re your kids,” Yasha smiles.
“Yeah. U, DUM-E, and Butterfingers became more like pets. Smart, trainable, with personalities but not human-level intelligence.”
“I can see it,” Yasha smirks. “U is definitely a cat.”
“DUM-E is my eternal puppy.”
“Not sure we can sell Darcy on that one. Pretty sure she wants an actual puppy, not a robot puppy.”
Tony chuckles, “Yeah. I figure we’ll hit a pound eventually. Maybe for her birthday? Unless she develops a breed preference, then we’ll find an appropriate breed rescue.”
“Every kid should have a genuine mutt at some point.”
“After we get the Alkali-Transigen thing settled,” Tony promises. “We both know Darcy will make it a capital-p Production and I’d hate for her to feel deprived.”
“Fair,” Yasha laughs. Then he tilts his head. “You said your mutation’s gotten stronger?”
“Yeah, uh,” Tony runs a hand over his face. “Since we came back I’ve been seeing spirit animals? I guess? But not following people around like a daemon or whatever. Overlaid, like ghost armor. I guess.”
“Like a mantle?” Yasha offers.
Tony snaps and points. “Yes, a mantle. A soul mantle.”
“A white wolf.” Tony laughs when Yasha’s jaw drops.
“So that priestess in Wakanda?” Yasha almost asks but then can’t go through with it.
Tony quirks an eyebrow, “Yeah I think so.”
“Kind of hard to see my own but I’m pretty sure its a Peregrine Falcon.”
“A golden lab puppy, not sure if that will change as she grows up, though.”
“A tiger. His has changed. It was a kind of damaged looking, kind of bleeding, house cat before he came to us.”
“We’ve made him dangerous,” Yasha frowns.
“We’ve healed him and made him strong,” Tony corrects. “In a healthy way. The cat looks good. Young, but normal.”
“Is that why you picked a dragon for May? She’s a Komodo Dragon. For real.”
“Yup,” Tony smiles. Okay, the intuitive, intelligent thing Bucky’s rocking can stay. It’s actually really nice.
“You can learn things about people from their mantles?”
“Uh-huh,” he nods. “I can tell you which of the Cherries has long term mental and emotional issues or are bordering on long term issues. That’s why I’ve been insisting we make mental health a part of the Infirmary. I can tell when people are lying or keeping things from me. Emotions are pretty obvious. It’s useful but it’s also distracting.” Tony smirks at his love, “I wonder what Steve’s is gonna be.”
“A goat, probably,” Yasha mutters. “Never met someone more stubborn.”
Tony just laughs.
“This is the place we’re setting up your biochem lab,” Tony tells Riion and Dr. CeeCee as he parks their golf cart outside the correct warehouse. “Stark Industries is currently handling site security but we’ll transition them to Stark Solutions or hire our own when Duke is done with his current project.”
“And when will that be?” Dr. CeeCee asks.
“Another few weeks,” Tony pauses to let the lock read his thumb print and waits for the door to whoosh open. “Let’s go find Mick. He’s the guy I put in charge of remodeling and setting up the labs. He did the apartments for you guys on the far side of the lot.”
“You said those are temporary?” Riion asks.
“I mean, we could make them permanent if you want but some of the things Queen Ramonda said made me think you’d want a big house to form your own miniature Science Tribe in. And do you really want to live that close to work?” Tony stops to look at him. “ Seems like a good way to never escape it.”
“In those apartments, we will be living closely enough to form our own ‘Science Tribe’.” Riion explains. “That will happen naturally, I’m sure. It’s a part of our culture. However, several of the volunteers are bringing their children and I, for one, prefer child free space for sleeping.”
Dr. CeeCee looks at him sharply and he backtracks. “Other people’s children, of course. My own children are a different matter.”
She nods once to him, accepting his correction.
“Alright. We can work with that.” Tony smirks. “I’ll leave you to tell Queen Ramonda you don’t want her to buy you a big tribe house, though.”
Dr. CeeCee laughs and Riion gives him a dramatically put upon sigh.
“We’ll take a vote once everyone has arrived,” Dr. CeeCee decides. “And elect a spokesperson.”
“This is Mick,” Tony gestures at the man that’s bent over doing… something across a pair of sawhorses.
Mick, hearing his name, stops what he’s… measuring? Maybe? And looks up. He looks like some sort of a two-bit con man complete with greased back hair and improperly buttoned, gaudy shirt, but he’s a genius with color and texture and he never misses a deadline.
“Tony!” he grins, throwing his arms up for a hug.
Tony accepts the back slapping hug, kind of glad that he can now that he doesn’t have a gaping hole in the center of his chest any more. “Mick, these are Riion, the head of this lab, and Dr. CeeCee his boss. And, you know, fiance.”
“Same thing,” Mick announces with an easy grin. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you two. I want know what you envision for the layout. I have a list of machines Tony’s ordered for you, but I don’t know the kind of arrangements you need for your work. Oh, and if you have any special demands for materials or colors. Those are important for me to know. Walk with me, will you?”
With the three of them distracted, Tony glances over his shoulder.
He’s not even surprised to find Yasha is lingering in the shadow of the door. Tony’s never had this kind of subconscious awareness of a lover before, but now he does and they haven’t even had sex yet. It’s shocking, intense, and empowering. He really likes it.
“Ready?” he asks when he gets close enough.
Yasha just gives him a small smile and offers his hand.
Hand holding isn’t something he’s done often. Obviously, Yasha couldn’t have done it in the ‘40s without going to jail, but it brings home the fact that they are a team. That they are in this together and he likes that, too.
“I can’t believe you have a surprise for me,” Yasha gives him a small smile. “I mean, how?”
“Well, you’re not actually with me 24/7, you know.”
Yasha rolls his eyes and Tony just grins.
“It’s not a bad thing. I’m not complaining. And, besides, after I designed it I gave it over to dad. He needed a project to keep him, you know, out of the way but helping. Bishop was our go between, so you’d never see us talking about it.”
“Alright,” Yasha smirks. “Show me what you’ve got.”
One of the other warehouses on the lot, one of the smaller ones actually, is their destination.
“Only the Avengers, our PAs, Dad, and the pilots we pick will have access to the building,” Tony informs him as he leans forward to be scanned. “Fingerprints and retina scans required for access. As well as a live voice print.”
“Identified: Tony Stark. Welcome, Sir,” an unfamiliar electronic voice says.
Yasha frowns. “Who’s doing security?”
“Hey HOMER!” Tony waves at a nearby security cam. “Officially, the kids are still arm wrestling over it. They’ve agreed that HOMER is taking over electronic security for the Avengers. Keeping our data private, ensuring no leaks, managing media responses, that kinda thing. He thinks he should get Avengers building and vehicle security too, which I can’t argue with, but JARVIS refuses to hand over the keys to the Suit.”
“Which you also can’t argue with.”
“Nope,” Tony grins. “It will probably be HOMER running our security with JARVIS interacting with humanity, particularly at home, to keep HOMER a secret. But I am officially staying out of it. They make their own choices.”
“Fair,” Yasha concedes and then goes still. The warehouse is filled with a large vehicle of some kind. “What is that? Is that… a helicarrier? A tiny helicarrier?”
“No. Well, kind of. I did base it off that design, obviously. It’s much smaller because the Avengers don’t need anything that big. It can carry two quinjets and up to 50 passengers, on top of our crew. We’ve got a gym for sparring or warming up, private equipment rooms with attached lounges and full bathrooms for up to 12 Avengers, two observation decks -top and bottom, meeting rooms, a communal lounge.
“There will be an Iron Man armor station for me, of course, but I still have to install it.
“And there’s a full bridge that can be run by a single pilot or a crew of five, depending on what we need or want or have available. There’s also room for Medical but I wasn’t sure if you’d want a doctor here or to stick with medics?”
“Bones would be the perfect fit for a doctor on a -” Yasha hesitates, glancing it over again, “-a ship. And we’ll want to take him with us when we move out from your parents’ house. I’ll have Bogart hire more.”
“I’ll have dad equip the Infirmary,” Tony assures him. “I put it in the middle thinking that would be more protected.”
“More layers of armor between enemies and our most vulnerable,” Yasha nods, approving. “What do you see us doing with this?”
“This is the CHARIOT. Command, Hovering, Advanced Reconnaissance, and Interactive Oversight Transport. This is where we will launch Avengers missions from.”
“Do we have a bridge crew?”
“Well, I mean Apollo could pilot it by himself. I designed it so that could be possible. But there’s room for a copilot, sonar and radar techs, and an analyst to stand in for the commanding officer when you’re on the ground.”
“Coulson,” Yasha decides. “I want Coulson to be the analyst. Fury might be the more obvious choice but I don’t trust him. Not yet, and I don’t want Peg to be involved that intimately with the Avengers.”
“Letting her keep some plausible deniability?” Tony asks.
“Trying. That ship might have sailed, though,” Yasha shrugs.
“Only if she takes the serum and actively joins the team, I would argue.”
“We’ll need more pilots for the quinjets,” Yasha says, returning them back to the point. “We could fly them, sure, but I don’t want to leave one on the ground to get fucked with.”
“Fair. You’re already hiring more pilots anyway, right?”
Yasha just nods.
“So make sure you get a combat pilot or two.”
“I’ll tell Bogart,” Yasha promises and then tips its head. “You know, this thing isn’t very subtle. How did SHIELD ever get away with that?”
“Oh, it has advanced cloaking technology.”
Yasha frowns and tilts his head.
Right, no watching Star Trek while in cold storage.
Tony pats his arm comfortingly, “It’s got stealth tech to reduce the chances of coming up on radar. On top of that, the cloaking tech advances the stealth and makes it invisible to the naked eye. With everything active, the only way someone could find us is if they got a beacon onboard and homed in.” Which is basically what Loki did before his dumpster fire of an invasion.
“Another reason to never leave a quinjet unattended on the ground.”
“Good point,” Tony points at him. “It’s not the same stealth tech as the quinjet, though, so even when Dad gets to developing those and someone manages to figure out how to find them, we should still be invisible.”
Yasha squints around them at the building, “The roof opens?”
“How else were you going to get it out?” Howard asks jauntily as he approached. He turns to stand with them and look at his work. “Isn’t she beautiful?”
She kind of is. Much more than SHIELD’s helicarrier, with her long sweeping lines and graceful edges.
“The Infirmary is a go, Dad.”
“Excellent. I got all the tech, just gotta get it in there. Want a tour?”
The lowest deck is basically all glass, for manual observation. Above that is a floor that’s completely lounge sliding easily from shelves with a smattering of books to squashy couches to a small kitchen and dining area to more squashy couches in front of a television. The hangar is right above that with three slots for quinjets but only two in their berths.
“Can you add a wall here?” Tony asks, indicating the area between the second full and the empty berth.
“A wall?” Howard asks dubiously.
“Yeah, needs to be pretty heavy duty, too, with a single door. Big one. Twelve by nine, at least.” Because that’s the minimum clearance for the Hulkbuster armor.
“Okay,” his father agrees slowly, not knowing where that’s going but not asking no matter how much he obviously wants to.
“Biometric security, set to me and Yasha only.”
Howard nods. “All the equipment rooms are set to biometric security, too.”
“Good, they’re the level above this, right?”
“Yup, ready to see?”
Every level has at least three ways to travel between them. Different ways. Your choices are elevators, rather steep sets of stairs, and ladders in tubes. Jefferies tubes, Tony thinks, trying to keep his amusement to himself.
“I put four equipment rooms on a level, making three equipment levels.” Howard explains. “This one, then the Infirmary, then the second, your server level, then the last.”
“And how do we set the security on our rooms?” Tony asks.
“I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. You just place your hand on the lock screen of an unclaimed room. The screen will light up blue if unclaimed, red if claimed.”
“Can they be reset?”
“Only if they are completely empty of previous owner’s equipment and with the cooperation of the ship AI.”
“Once it has one,” Tony huffs and Yasha laughs.
“Since we have cable connections right now, they’ve all been giving it a tour,” Howard sounds more amused than confused by this.
Tony just shrugs and Yasha watches closely as he puts his hand on the lock screen of the room most directly above the third berth below them. He doesn’t think this is a coincidence.
And, judging by the look on Howie’s face, neither does he.
“You gonna take one on this level?” Tony asks him, almost casually.
“I was thinking I would take one on the third level to encourage everyone to spread out.”
Tony is somehow not surprised. Disappointed, maybe, but it’s not like he needs Yasha there with him. He could get more suits on board, once he makes them, if he can keep people off this level, actually.
When the screen is done scanning his hand the door slides open with HOMER’s, “Identified: Tony Stark. Welcome, Sir.”
He steps right in and drops his watch on one of the equipment shelves so the room can’t be reassigned.
Yasha nods once in approval and they move on.
The Infirmary is surrounded but empty space they’ll probably fill with more squashy furniture.
That way they can wait in at least physical comfort to find out if whichever theoretically-injured teammate is dying, Tony rolls his eyes at himself. The Infirmary itself has three exam rooms, a generous storage closet they’ll fill with mobile medical gear, and a surgical suite he hopes never has to be used.
True to his word, Yasha takes an equipment room on the third level, right next to the stairs that lead directly to the bridge. Knowing him, probably for additional bridge security and the inevitable quick access.
To Tony’s never ending amusement, he pulls the hair band out of his hair and wraps it around the bathroom door handle to keep the room from being reassigned.
The bridge is actually the front third of the top observation deck but it, thankfully, is not all glass. Just the forward wall, and that might actually be television monitors showing the outside. That’s what Tony’s ideal plans called for at least, but these are flatter and much better quality than he expected for 1992. If they are actually screens, that is.
“Give me a day to get that wall put in and the Infirmary tricked out,” Howard tells them as they ride the main elevator down. “Then she’s all yours to get settled in.”
“In the meantime, I’ll have the Avengers pick their lounge decor,” Tony decides as they wave goodbye to the man. “It’ll take a day at least to get choices and receive the orders.”
“What do you think Logan will say when you tell him that our mobile command center flies?” Yasha asks idly.
Well, fuck. Their tiny claw-wielding dynamo hates flying. He’s been a good sport about it but he is distinctly not a fan. “I’ll tell him it’s big enough that with the four stabilizers turbulence is not going to be a problem. And I’ll remind him that he weighs a lot less with his new Vibranium skeleton than he did with his Adamantium one. He’ll be fine.”
The car ride doesn’t take long. The little coastal storage yard they’ve appropriated from Stark Industries isn’t far from house really.
Bishop, Bogart, and Aunt Peg are all waiting for them on the front step when they climb out of the car.
That’s not a good sign.
“Everything okay?” Tony asks cautiously. He expected the PAs, inside the house but still he expected them. Aunt Peg’s presence is the worrisome bit of this particular image.
“Did you, either of you, send an anonymous tip to Interpol in regards to AIM and their international industrial espionage?”
“No,” Tony frowns and looks at Yasha who’s frowning and shaking his head.
“Did either of you have anything to do with Killian Aldridge’s death?” she asks, ignoring their confusion.
“No.” Aunt Peg nods, not looking surprised, so he asks, “When did he die?”
“Two days ago at approximately 7:45 pm.”
“You were here for dinner with us two days ago at 7:45 pm,” Yasha reminds her.
“I know, that’s why I didn’t ask you for your whereabouts.” She shrugs. “Your alibi is my alibi.”
“Then who could have-” Tony looks sharply at Yasha. “Didn’t Phantom say he saw Natasha in the record room when we were at AIM?”
“He did.” Yasha turns to Aunt Peg, “We planned that op before she left us so she knew all the details. We have to assume she retrieved more intel than we did, she was there first.”
“I have someone ferreting out exactly what the tip was. I understand there were documents involved and at least one body. In the meantime, I would appreciate it, if any in the house has contact with her, that they warn her off murdering people in my backyard. If she makes me investigate her, I will stop her. However, if she has any tips, she is welcome to share and we are perfectly capable of arranging anonymous drops. Without murdering scientists, both foreign and domestic.”
“We’ll see what we can do,” Yasha promises.
Aunt Peg inclines her head and makes for her car without another word.
“You think Natasha did it?”
Yasha looks at him, “I’d need to know how he was killed to say one way or another. I’d also need to know what’s in the documents to hazard a guess about the tip thing, too.
“I do know she’s the deadliest person we know that is currently unaccounted for. I know she certainly could do it but I don’t see why. I need to talk to Morales.” He glances up at the PAs, “Did you guys need anything from me?”
“That’s what we’re here to ask you,” Bogart shrugs.
“I got this,” Tony assures him. “You go. Do what you need to.”
As soon as he’s out of sight, Tony leads the two PAs into the house and closes the door behind them. “Bogart, I need a favor.”
“What kind of favor?” he asks cautiously.
“I need Yasha to sign something without knowing him exactly what he signed.” At the guy’s obvious alarm he continues. “He’s entitled to Medal of Honor plates on his personal car but has to sign the form himself, I can’t get them for him.”
“You got him a car?” Bogart guesses.
“Boy, did he,” Bishop agrees with good natured envy and a small smile.
“We’ve located the Alkali-Transigen facility,” Tony tells the Avengers at their weekly team dinner the next night. He passes May the macaroni and cheese as he continues. “Phantom and Forge are casing the place now. I expect to move sometime in the next three days.”
“What about the psychic defenders Professor Xavier encountered?” Storm asks.
“Uh, yeah, apparently that was actually Xavier’s son, Hioshi.”
Storm blinks, “I was under the impression his mutation was not that powerful. In order to successfully thwart Charles…” She trails off.
“Yeah, according to his file he’s a gamma level mutant. To hold off an Omega like Charles for several days straight?” Tony whistles meaningfully.
“So they’ve hidden the full extent of their powers from their captors,” Yasha shrugs, grabbing another two pieces of fried chicken. Watching Yasha eat with his fingers will never get old. “Makes it more likely they’re on our side.”
“Makes them less predictable,” May counters.
Yasha just rolls his eyes, which, fair. It’ll take more than a 12 year old mutant or twenty to cause problems for the Winter Soldier. Especially with all the gear they’ve had made.
“The equipment is done.” Tony, ironically considering his historic behavior, is the one to get them back on track. “Bishop will call you down, or you can make appointments to get your gear, tomorrow. Between Riion, CeeCee, and I, we made several different versions of each piece. Beast helped a bit, too. We’ll put them all in your equipment rooms on the CHARIOT so you can pick what works best for what mission but I still want to go over it all with you first.
“I’ll also need everyone’s furniture selections for their personal lounges tonight so we can get everything set up before our first mission.”
“You got the bridge crew sorted?” May asks.
“Right now, it’s going to be Bishop and Bogart with Apollo flying,” Yasha tells her. “Bones in the Infirmary, Maverick flying our Quinjet taxi. When we get there, Forge and Phantom will officially liaise with SHIELD.”
“That’s who’s going to maintain the perimeter?”
Yasha sends May’s question to Tony with a flick of his eyes.
Tony flaps a hand in a seesaw like gesture, “Fury is going to lead the containment team himself with all vetted and cleared non-HYDRA SHIELD agents.”
“How is clearing SHIELD of HYDRA’s influence going?” Bishop asks, grabbing a biscuit.
“Good.” Tony frowns, “Sort of. SHIELD R&D was infected right to the marrow, obviously Zola’s legacy. Even the ones that didn’t realize they were hoping to HYDRA’s tune don’t seem to have any sort of real moral boundaries. It’s like a small collection of Mengele’s. It’s terrifying.”
“Are they going to jail?” he asks gravely.
“The ones that don’t get executed for international crimes against humanity, yeah.” He just shrugs at the shocked looks he receives. “And don’t even get me started on SHIELD Medical. It’s a fucking nightmare. A chop shop, borderline-Bene Gesserit nightmare.
“As for field agents, there were surprisingly few that Aunt Peg has been able to prove are HYDRA, but she’s still going through. Alexander Pierce had extensive plans in a safe in his home regarding expanding HYDRA’s influence within the Agency. Much of it hinged on my dad’s death and pushing their people through the SHIELD Academy directly after.
“Obviously, that didn’t happen, but the documents also revealed the existence of two HYDRA prep academies -one in the mountains of Tennessee, one in northern China- and a full blown HYDRA research base somewhere in the Alps.
“We’ll probably be asked to take that down once it’s located. And the HYDRA stronghold where they held Yasha, too.”
“You haven’t taken that out yet?” Clint frowns furiously.
“It’s too well-armed,” Yasha shakes his head. “Right now, it would cost too many lives for us to take it. If we wait, let them think we aren’t coming or that I forgot where it is and they’ll take it back down to merely suicidal levels of armament.”
“You aren’t worried about losing valuable intelligence?” Storm asks carefully.
“No,” Yasha shakes his head. “It’s HYDRA’s main stronghold. Projects are born and die there. That’s where HYDRA stores everything. They would establish a new stronghold before they could abandon that one and we’re making sure they can’t.”
“It might or might not have been a cache of HYDRA money and supplies Aunt Peg captured that financed CHARIOT,” Tony offers. “I mean, I don’t know. But maybe.”
Several people around the table chuckle with dark amusement.
“Are you willing to give us an update on your Serum situation?” Storm asks May.
May nods and swallows her mouthful. “I had my first shot today. I’ll have two scheduled tomorrow and three the next day.”
When Storm just frowns in confusion, May explains. “Because my X-Gene is actually rather strong the McCoys and CeeCee feel that spreading out and ramping up my shots will allow for a gentler, more natural activation than what Captain Rogers went though.”
“Also, her general health is better than Rogers’ was at the time of treatment so the vita rays aren’t necessary,” Tony adds, munching a fry. “That will also take some of what had to be massive physical trauma out of it. Along with, you know, her not growing a foot and a half.”
Tony turns to her. “Feeling anything yet?”
“Yes,” she gives him a small, pleased small. “I feel something like a fire roiling in my belly. It’s not unpleasant.”
“Sounds pretty cool.”
“Yes,” her smile grows. “It really is. I think you might have chosen a true name for me.”
“Go me!” he cheers and she just smiles right back at him rather than scoffing and rolling her eyes like any number of people on the previous Avengers team would have. “We’ve stuck with black for you mostly but maybe we should pick a color scheme to match the dragon you are? Like you’re, what, lawful good? That’d be a Gold Dragon, right?”
Her eyebrows shoot to her hairline in surprise, but she shakes her head in amusement. “I would say I’m more true neutral, so perhaps Iron?”
“Yeah, I’m going to have to veto that,” Tony shakes his head with a playfully sad sigh. “Iron Dragon and Iron Man on the same team seems like a bad idea.”
“It’s pretty much a non-starter,” she agrees. “But I wouldn’t say no to a red and black color scheme to play off Wolverine’s black and silver and Sarge’s silver and blue.”
“Dark gray and red,” he counters.
“That will do.”
Tony grins. “We’ll make it happen.”
“Alright, here’s what we know,” Yasha says in the lounge turned briefing room on board the CHARIOT. “This is the building,” he points at the wall and HOMER projects the image of a warehouse about the size of an American Football field.
“The above ground layers are all storage. Both dummy storage and storage for the research lab. Security is high, May and I will go in first and disable it.
“Once it’s down, we’ll send the signal. Clint and Logan will then come in with the kid. The five of us will proceed underground to the cells where they’re holding the kids and get them out.”
“And Storm and I?” Tony pokes.
“You’re going to control the air, guard our exit, be mobile support. We’re going to need both Quinjets or two trips to get all the kids out and we can’t afford for HYDRA to cut us off from them. We also need you to watch out for the SHIELD Agents on the ground. This entire place is guarded by HYDRA’s Frontline Commandos. They’re not quite Death Squad but the Death Squad all came from these Commandos. They aren’t going down without a fight.”
“I’d like to see them try to fight lightning,” Tony offers and Storm chuckles darkly.
“There may be a mutant or two working for HYDRA as well. According to Laura, Sabertooth visits his biological children fairly regularly even though he appears to have no interest in removing them from HYDRA’s control.” Yasha frowns and turns to him, “Do you have one of your AI beacons?”
“Of course,” Tony raises an eyebrow. “You gonna put one on HYDRA’s system?”
“Seems like a waste not to.”
Tony narrows his eyes, “You mind if it’s experimental?”
“Have I ever minded if it was experimental?”
“Awesome,” Tony beams. “I’ll get you a Fri Beacon after we’re done here.”
“A Fri Beacon?” Storm asks.
“FRIDAY –Field Retrieval, Investigative Deployment, And auxiliarY– is an AI I made that specializes in electronic infiltration and data theft. Place the beacon on a system’s internet connection and she’ll find it. At current transfer speeds, probably within a half hour. Once she does, she downloads herself, takes everything she can and destroys everything else on her way out.
“The Beacon’s experimental because of the component that will burn the beacon out in half an hour.”
“Does that matter?” Clint asks. “Does she need the beacon if she’s already downloaded herself?”
“Nah, it just makes it so no one can copy my tech. The chances of someone catching or stopping Fri are slim, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
“If they got your tech, could they trace it back to you?”
Tony inclines his head. “Another reason to burn the beacon.”
“I’ll check on it on our way out,” May promises. “I doubt SHIELD will let us burn the whole building down.
“Even though we definitely should,” Yasha grumbles grumpily and Tony has to fight the urge to coo at him for the cuteness of it. “We get first shot at physical files. Forge and Phantom are going to oversee it all getting packed up and loaded on the CHARIOT. Several Cherries are coming along to handle that. But if you see anything interesting looking in a place that looks particularly flammable, grab it. There’s bound to be a lot of files that they haven’t backed up electronically.
“Clint, I want you to carry a belt of heavy duty StarkLocks. Any time you see a file room or an office, seal it up so no one can destroy it before the Cherries get to it.”
“The kid?” Clint actually raises his hand to ask. “Laura’s coming in with us?”
“Has too,” Logan grumps. “The kids would never go with us without her telling them to.”
“Xavier couldn’t get past their telepathic defenses to find them until he tried with his mind touching hers,” Tony agrees, frowning. “Fortunately for us, she’s very nearly as badass as her old man.”
“Better with explosives than I am,” Logan grumbles.
“Not that we have any intention to use any.” Tony interjects and he and Yasha share a grin.
“Code Name Protocol is in full effect. SHIELD will have access to our team chatter and secret identities won’t survive if we give away our names on our first outing.
“What are your code names?” he points at Tony.
“Iron Man,” he grins.
“Dragon,” May goes next.
“Hawkeye,” Clint says when he’s pointed to.
“Wolverine,” Logan grunts.
“Storm,” she says with regal amusement.
“I’m White Wolf and the kid is Talon,” He concludes. “Who’s making sure the kid gets suited up?”
“Wolverine,” Storm says with emphasis, “and I shall see to that together.”
“Any more questions?”
There are no questions.
“Then I’m going to give Apollo the go for take off. ETA is approximately three hours. We strike at full dark.”
They planned things the way they have to make sure that if there were any last minute problems with the CHARIOT, they could address them and still make it within their window.
So, of course, they have no issues.
The roof retracts properly. Take off takes off without a hitch. Engines run within expected parameters the entire trip and nothing overheats. The cloak is perfectly seamless. They even find a favorable wind and make it the Oklahoma almost forty-five minutes before the start of their arrival window.
It leaves Yasha fucking twitchy.
Tony looks unaffected which makes everything a little bit worse because if Tony’s not upset then he shouldn’t be, right?
“It’s alright to be anxious,” Tony tells him soothingly. “As long as you use it to make yourself more vigilant rather than jumpy or trigger happy. Take the energy and use it. Come on, you know how.”
Yasha nods and takes a deep breath because Tony’s right.
He’s a goddamn sniper. He knows how to turn any number of emotional energies into a stone for himself to stand on. To empower his vigilance. It doesn’t matter that he’s a super soldier with no reason to be anxious. He has the energy so he’ll use it.
“Tell me about your suits,” He asks.
Tony grins. “You’ve only made me enough armor plates for two so far. I outfitted them to be my main suit and a backup suit. I need you to make plates for the Hulkbuster -the Enhanced Containment Suit, this time- and then I’m going to wait for JARVIS’s production line to be back in business for anymore.
“Unless you’re not willing to help me make the ECS?”
“Well it’s either that or get started on the water feature I got in mind for your mom’s garden. Her birthday isn’t until November though, so I got time.”
“Water feature?” Tony asks. “From metal? Like a fountain or statue over a pond or what?”
Yasha shrugs. “Bit a both. You’ll have to wait until it’s up for more than that. If I can manage it.”
“It’ll be genius, I’m sure.” Tony grins. “So you like metal working?”
“Yeah, I didn’t expect to. I mean, figured I’d be good at it. I am at most physical things but there’s a beauty to it that I didn’t expect. The unlimited possibilities of a blank sheet of metal are, I don’t know, seductive? Is that too strong of a word?”
“I don’t think so. That’s how I feel when I’m faced with a problem. The space between me and the solution I can’t yet see is beguiling.”
“Beguiling,” Yasha tastes the word and smiles in approval. “That’s a good word.”
“Yeah?” Tony smiles as Yasha reels him in.
“Yeah.” He noses at Tony’s throat. “Figures you’d come up with it. Since you embody it.”
“Me?” Tony laughs.
“Yeah, you. That brilliant, wise mind. That sly, sneaky sense of humor. That loyal, stubborn heart. Your big, beautiful brown eyes.”
Overwhelmed, Tony pulls Yasha into a kiss. It’s hot and needy, wet and perfect.
Yasha pulls back with a grin, “And I didn’t even get to how perfect your ass is yet.”
Tony laughs. “I love you,” and then he freezes, shocked at himself and how much he really, really means it.
“That’s good,” Yasha’s grin grows into a very real, impossibly warm smile. “Because I love you too.” He steps back but holds out his hand to Tony. “Now let’s go rescue some little kids, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Tony nods and takes it.
“Avengers,” White Wolf addresses the gathered caped and helmeted throng. He holds out his flesh-colored latex-covered metal arm in the middle of their circle.
Iron Man puts his gauntleted fist on top of it. Wolverine and Talon pop their claws and join the pile. Dragon pulls a knife and puts the hand holding it in and Hawkeye pulls an arrow and does the same. Finally, Storm calls just enough lightning to dance between her fingers and puts the back of her hand on the very top of the pile.
“How are we gonna do this?” Wolf asks.
“Together!” they all shout and throw their hands up.
Maverick, wearing the Cherries standard all black avenging gear, including a matching woolen cap and domino mask, nods when they turn to him. Then he slaps the release on the quinjet hatch and lets them all in.
Well, all of them except for Storm and Iron Man. They fly under their own power and escort the quinjet down to the ground.
They land a quarter mile away from the building, just outside the perimeter SHIELD is holding.
“Evening, sir,” Fury says as the Wolf steps into his command tent.
“Fury,” he acknowledges the man. “Everything ready?”
“Yes, sir. With the help of your men onsite, we’ve set up outside of their security and out of line of sight. Fortifications are in place and all my people are armed and ready.”
Wolf frowns. “HYDRA’s combatants will fight it out. Suicide attacks are probable, don’t let them get close. Order your people to shoot to kill and to keep their distance.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
“We’ll try to save you some scientists to interrogate later, but I can’t make any promises.”
Phantom and Forge are standing off to one side when he looks for them, “Gentlemen.”
“Sir,” Phantom greets. “We’ve scouted three possible entry points for you.”
Forge lays out pictures of the entrances on the corresponding sections of the map on Fury’s tactical table.
Wolf looks at Dragon, silently asking her opinion. She reaches out and taps his first choice.
His eyes flick to Hawkeye who wordlessly nods his agreement.
Then he looks at Talon.
“I came out here,” she taps a spot that is none of the three choices.
Forge frowns, sorting through his photographs until he finds two pictures. Unfortunately, they are on either side of the particular spot in a way that still leaves a bit of guesswork on what’s happening in the middle much to Forge’s chagrin.
“We’ll leave that for just in case,” Wolf decides and taps the map. “Dragon and I will go in here. Hawkeye and the Claws will come in here. Rendezvous at Point Theta and we’ll make for the kids together. Questions?”
“No, sir,” Hawkeye answers aloud as Dragon and Wolverine shake their heads.
A round of nods and fistbumps later and Wolf and Dragon are fading into the dark industrial landscape.
“What do you wanna bet Wolf is going to instantly bond with one of those kiddos and take them home?” Iron Man asks, carefully not keying in his mic.
Storm smiles but rolls her eyes, Wolverine snorts, and Hawkeye smirks. “Sucker bet, pass.”
“Like you have any room to talk,” Talon grins up at her adopted uncle.
“From the mouths of babes!” Hawkeye cries dramatically, clutching his chest.
The Avengers laugh.
Everything’s going swimmingly as they approach Point Theta.
The break-in was smooth. They only had to kill and stash two guards in the security office and the Fri Beacon worked quickly enough that she’s already in position to keep or take the security down no matter how someone tries to reactivate it.
So, of course, around the corner from the rendezvous they get ambushed. A huge blond dude drops from the ceiling practically on Wolf’s head.
He’s got metal fingernails and teeth. Wolf’s going to go out on a very short limb and guess they are Adamantium claws and fangs. And the guy’s at least a foot taller than him, probably weighs more than him and Tony-in-the-suit combined.
Figures Sabertooth would be visiting when they attack. Why is he even surprised?
He leaps back quickly enough to keep from getting smooshed and clocks him with a solid left. Sabertooth staggers but doesn’t go down.
Dragon is immediately there, a knife in one hand and the other one glowing. She swipes at him twice before she manages to make contact with her glowing hand. As Wolf watches, her hand hisses through the layers of fur and armor the man is wearing.
The smell of burnt hair fills the hallway and Sabertooth bellows like a stabbed lion.
An alarm fills the air around them, someone must have manually pulled a fire alarm. FRIDAY gets it off again in mere seconds but the damage is done.
So much for their silent infiltration.
“We’ve been spotted,” he warns the team outside.
“Yeah, no shit,” Iron Man returns, less than professional but it works. “We got hostiles.”
Sabertooth back hands Dragon, he puts his whole fucking body into it and she goes flying. Wolf scrambles to catch her before she can go through the corridor wall.
Sabertooth bellows in pain again and Wolf looks up to see an arrow sticking out of the man’s shoulder and electricity dancing over his entire body.
Hawkeye is down the hallway behind him with Talon and Wolverine at his side.
“Wolverine,” Sabertooth growls. It’s more disgusting than intimidating, because drool. So much fucking drool. Apparently toxic metal teeth are not good for lip control. Who knew?
Wolverine puts his head down and pops his claws. “Go, this one’s mine.”
“We’ll pick you up on our way out,” Wolf promises.
Wolverine doesn’t respond, he just throws himself forward, claws first.
He looks down to where the Dragon is blinking her eyes open in his arms, “You alright?”
Two arrows fly past. The two guards that thought they were sneaking up on them shriek as they go down with arrows in their eyes.
Dragon pushes herself out of his arms, “I’m fine, let’s go.”
She lets him help her stand and they duck past two sets of flailing claws to join Talon and Hawkeye.
“The mission,” he reminds them.
Needlessly, apparently, because Talon just nods, “¡Aquí!,” and takes off down the corridor.
Dragon and Wolf flank the kid a step behind and Hawkeye watches their backs. Point Theta isn’t actually that far from the kid’s barracks, if a lab lined with dozens of tiny windowless cells can be called barracks. But that’s why he picked Point Theta.
There are only a dozen guards between them and the kids.
It’s child’s play even without a tiny, whirlyball of death bouncing around between his and Hawkeye’s shots. And he’s not talking about the Dragon.
“Okay, how about she get a permanent spot on the team?” Hawkeye asks over coms.
“When she’s 18 and if she wants it, sure,” Wolf agrees.
“How about after college?” Iron Man counters. “Let her become a more rounded, you know, person first.”
“I haven’t gone to college,” Hawkeye objects.
“Do you want to?”
“Probably need to get my GED first.”
“And again, do you want to? We can make that happen. Maybe even get you into the same college as Wolf after he picks one. Bet you’d rock out Applied Mathematics with all the subconscious calculations you do to make your shots. Might even make you a better shot to be able to do it all consciously.”
“Let’s talk about this when we get home, Iron Man,” Wolf orders.
“Yeah, that’s probably a good call. Hey, did we know that the building next door has a convertible roof and they have helicopters in there? I feel like someone failed to mention this.”
“Couldn’t mention what we didn’t know,” Wolf counters.
Iron Man hums. “White coats on board, looks important. Storm, can you light ’em up?”
“Leave it to me,” she agrees and moments later the rumble of thunder rocks the base. Then the lights go out.
Even better, the door between them and the kids drops and locks into place in response to the loss of power just before they get to it.
“Fuck,” Dragon hisses and Wolf can’t help but agree.
“Check the jamb for numbers or letters or arrows. Any markings.” Because HYDRA has a number of trick door traps. The markings are subtle, but required, in order to install the different doors properly and they should tell him how to get through.
Talon and Dragon get to work. Wolf helps them as he can when he’s not helping Hawkeye take down the defenders that find their hallway.
“Found three arrows,” Dragon announces.
“Yes but I can’t read them.”
Dragon doesn’t argue, she pulls her 9 mill and switches with him.
“Where?” he asks and Talon points the spots out.
“It’s German transliterated in Cyrillic,” He tells them. “Simple, easy cipher but you need to know both languages well to recognize what it is. Especially since the words are nonsense.”
“Do you know what to do?”
He snorts, of course he does. “It’ll take three of us. We’ll have to get through the wall and pull the levers within seconds of each other. If we take too long the door will explode.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Iron Man objects. “Why don’t we just leave the door alone and make Fri open it when we get power back?”
“The rooms are air tight,” Talon answers softly. “If this door remains closed longer than an hour, they will suffocate.”
Wolf nods, “It works on a scorched earth kind of security. If lockdown lasts more than an hour, the base is lost but they’re taking their most valuable assets with them.”
“We can’t guarantee the power will be back on within the hour,” Storm concludes. “You must get them out.”
“Yeah, working on it,” Wolf pulls a knife and kneels to reach the first arrow. He traces to direction its pointing out to the right distance based on the number beside the arrow. Then he feels the wall up for clues he’s in the right place. There are, of course, no clues on the walls themselves but he marks his best estimate anyway.
He repeats the process two more times and is left with spots there is no way he can reach on his own in the correct time frame.
“Wolverine, status,” he demands, because it’s been a while. Surely Sabertooth is dead by now.
Heavy breathing come over the line, that doesn’t sound good. “I got him above ground. HYDRA’s avoiding us now. He’s killing them as much as I am.”
Okay, so the target is definitely not dead. “Iron Man, back up Wolverine.”
“On it,” Iron Man agrees and Wolf back burners the problem for now.
“Talon, take that one. Dragon, can you do that burning thing with your hand again?”
“Good, that one’s yours. This one’s mine. When I say go, we’re each going to make a hole and get to our handles. They might be spring loaded?” Fuck, he’s not sure when HYDRA added that bit of fuckery. Was it original or a post-2000 thing? He honestly can’t remember. “We need to get through within seconds of each other, just in case.
“Hawkeye, move to the end of the hallway.”
“I’m fine where I am, Wolf,” he counters stubbornly.
Wolf rolls his eyes but nods. He wouldn’t just leave friends in harm’s way even if it would be the smarter thing to do, too. As proved thoroughly by that Zola-train nonsense back in the ‘40s.
“On three. One, two, three.” And true to his own word, he starts punching. Two punches from his left fist makes a crack he can get his fingers into. Then he pulls the wall plates apart until he finds his lever.
“Got it,” Talon announces first.
“Got it,” he seconds almost immediately.
Dragon is focused hard, face pale and breathing heavy, as she pushes her heat into the wall.
“Dragon,” he says sharply. The handles are ticking their way towards release so the spring loaded thing was original HYDRA fuckery.
Her hand suddenly scales over and she plunges it into the molten wall to pull her lever.
He and Talon quickly yank their levers to match and they all jump as the door falls forward out of its jamb and into the lab beyond.
Hawkeye huffs a laughs, “Well, that was dramatic.”
Wolf doesn’t even try not to snicker as he pulls a flashlight and breaches the room beyond.
His beam lands on one of the tiny cell doors only to find it not only open but empty. He flicks his light to the next one before he keys his mic, “We got a problem.”
“What?” Talon pushes her way up to his side. She takes one look at what he’s found and relaxes. “This way.”
They move across the lab, through one of the identical cell doors. This one doesn’t lead to an actual cell but to a hallway. Three long paces down that and a sharp right turn, they find about a dozen kids. Wolf looks to the left turn and sees another dozen.
“Rictor!” Talon cries as she throws herself forward to hug a boy almost twice her size and age.
The kids all swarm fearlessly around the Avengers to see and touch Talon.
“I knew you’d make it,” another boy crows. “Didn’t I say? The odds don’t stand a chance against our Laura.”
“She gets that from her father,” Wolf says and the boy blinks up at him. “Uh, I’m White Wolf. That’s Dragon,” he jerks his thumb to where she’s lingering outside the camouflaged door. “The guy in purple back at the lab entrance is Hawkeye.”
“You came for us,” the tiny braggart says. “Why?”
“We’re the Avengers. This is what we do. And we’ve got a couple parents that would like to meet their kids.”
A general gasp goes up and several kids share looks.
One girl, a tiny elven-looking waif, pushes her way through the crowd towing a white haired boy in her wake.
“We aren’t all here,” she tells him. “Our sister, they keep her in the nursery.”
“Well, then let’s go find her.” He keyes his mic, “Dragon, Talon, get them to the jets. Hawkeye, start lock-up procedures.”
“Fur-covered and Ugly is a smear, Wolf,” Iron Man announces happily and more than a little vindictively over the comms. “Near Point Beta.”
“Dragon, avoid Point Beta,” Wolf says as he adjusts his plans again. “Wolverine, meet Dragon at the jet. Iron Man, check on your Beacon and get back in the air. I’m taking these two to find their sister.”
“This way,” the little red haired girl that can only be Wanda Maximoff scampers back to the lab-barracks and through another little cell door that actually leads to another hidden hallway.
“We’re not really allowed back here,” she whispers, ashamed when she doesn’t know how to proceed.
“You’re fast, right?” he asks her brother.
“The fastest,” he swears.
“Can you scout ahead without being seen?”
He vibrates with enthusiasm and hisses, “Yes!”
“You have two minutes to find her. Be back right here in two minutes, not a second more. And let me know if you find any grown ups.”
“Two minutes,” he agrees, nodding like a bobble head.
And the kid vanishes.
“You’re going to be his favorite now,” Wanda warns. “You let him run. You showed trust in him.”
“There are worse things to be,” he shrugs.
She rolls her eyes expansively, “You have never been Pietro’s favorite.”
There’s a gust of wind and Pietro is back in front of them. “I found them with two men. A junior scientist named Mercer and one of the Commando officers.”
“Are the men in the room with the baby?”
“Are they touching them?”
“In grabbing distance?”
Wolf pulls two of the Widow’s Bites disks he decided to carry more for nostalgia than need. He hadn’t seen the point but now he can. “Iron Man, I need more stun options before our next mission.”
“Roger that, White Wolf. I’ll get on it as soon as we’re back to base.”
He taps the disks until their light is the faintest blue, indicating they are set to stun for a normal human. “Lead on,” he orders the boy.
And he does. Mostly walking but occasionally flitting around the hallway like an oversized, over-caffeinated hummingbird.
“Around this corner,” he warns just before the last turn.
Holding a hand up for silence, Wolf squats and peeks around the corner. Sure enough, there are two men distractedly looking his way while arguing softly with each other. One is in the stereotypical white lab coat, the other dressed like all the other commandos he’s killed tonight and clutching the pistol at his hip.
Wolf stands and motions the kids back. They obediently move back down the hall.
“You have two minutes,” he announces. “To explain why I should let you live.” Then he steps around the corner.
“We’re here to offer you a deal,” the scientist tells him. “We’ll let you have these kids, if you-”
And that’s enough of that, he throws the Widow’s Bites. The men catch them with their chests and immediately start seizing. Unfortunately but amusingly, the guard’s hand spasms too and he shoots a full clip into his own leg.
“Safety’s exist for a reason,” Wolf rolls his eyes. “And you assholes thought you could blackmail me?”
A glance shows the room beyond them is empty, save a couple of cribs.
“Go, get your sister,” he orders the kids and he bends to save the idiot’s life. A belt becomes a tourniquet with a few simple tugs. And if those tugs ruin the guys clothes? Well, he really doesn’t care.
“Uh, Mr. Wolf?” Pietro calls out uncertainty. “There’s another one here.”
He enters the room to see Wanda cradling a small green haired girl beside one crib while Pietro peers over the edge of another.
“Uh, Mr. Wolf?” he calls out.
“No Mister, kid. Just Wolf. Or White Wolf, if you gotta be formal.”
“White Wolf, the second child is here.” He looks up, a little wide eyed.
Wolf steps up to the crib and looks down. It’s immediately apparent where the kid’s shock is coming from. The baby is blue.
And he has a tail. And pointed ears. And he’s tiny. Really, really tiny.
“Oh,” he says smartly and bends to pick the tot up. He fits in both of Wolf’s hands. He knows he’s got big hands but damn, that’s a small baby.
His little tail wraps around the wrist of his flesh hand and Wolf decides that anyone that tries to hurt his tiny blue baby will die a sudden death. As painful as he can fucking make it, too.
“What’s his name?” he asks the kids.
Pietro darts around, looking. There’s a tearing sound and he holds up a name plaque as close to Wolf’s nose as he can get.
Mystique, Generation 8
Azazel, Generation 1
A cross breed, that’s new.
HYDRA’s branching out, he scowls to himself, not liking the thought.
“Let’s get out of here,” he says as he heads for the door. They make it to the entrance to the barracks before he hears something distinctly like combat boots approaching.
He hands little Kurt off to Pietro and pulls his 9 mil to deal with this. Before he makes it even five steps there’s a bamf! noise and Kurt is in the air in front of him. He flails to catch the kid before he hits the ground without clobbering him with the gun.
He looks back at Pietro to see him still with his hands out in an unskilled ‘supporting a baby’ pose. Wanda staring at his now empty hands, shock evident.
“Let’s try that again,” he puts Kurt in Pietro’s arms again, more comfortably this time, and walks carefully backwards.
He makes it seven steps this time, probably because backward steps are smaller, and there’s that bamf! again. And the baby is in the air in front of him.
This time catching him is much easier. Mostly because he expects it but also because he hostered his gun before stepping back.
“Huh,” he frowns. He can’t take a baby into a firefight. The possibility of taking Pietro and Wanda was bad enough, taking Kurt and Magneto’s youngest is just a no.
“We can fight,” Wanda tells him earnestly. “Take Sally and we’ll cover you.”
He taps his earpiece and takes her. “Avengers, this in White Wolf. Come in, Avengers.”
“We read you, Wolf,” Iron Man comes back immediately. “What’s up?”
“I got two babies. Location secure,” because Wanda and Pietro no doubt need something to do. “But I need extraction.”
“Dragon and Maverick took the first load of kids up to the CHARIOT,” Iron Man tells him. “Hawkeye is still locking shit up, but Storm can take over kid duty and Wolverine can come get you?”
“Works,” he agrees.
“On my way,” Wolverine confirms.
“Now you two,” he orders the not-actually twins. “Don’t make me a liar. Keep us secure.”
They nod. Red mist forms around Wanda’s fingers and her eyes gleam red. Pietro starts darting around again, checking the various door ways for potential threats.
They, of course, join the attack when Wolverine takes on whatever poor bastards thought they had them cornered. Not quite what he ordered but he can’t blame them for getting back some of their own. God knows he’s going to spend the next however many years it takes Avenging himself on them until HYDRA is nothing but a smoking crater and a bad memory.
Ten minutes later they are back at the quinjet.
The kids on the ground don’t quite seem to know what to do with him holding two of their own. They all stare. Even after he asks Wanda to take back her green-haired sister and she does, they keep staring.
When they make it to Medical, the kids waiting there stare, too.
“What?” he finally asks.
“You care for him,” one of the boys, the tiny braggart, says. “He is a mutant but you care for him.”
“Your name, kid?”
He raises an imperious eyebrow. “I am Victor.”
“Talon, Laura, said you’re the brains of this operation.”
The boy relaxes a bit at the implication that Laura trusts him.
“So why wouldn’t I care for him?”
“He’s a mutant. Too small to be useful, too young to defend himself, too blue to hide what he is.” Victor observes him with eyes too old to be fooled, and young enough to show at least some of his pain. “Pick a reason.”
“I know he’s a mutant, you’re right, the blue thing makes it obvious. But he doesn’t need to defend himself, that’s what I’m for. And anyone that even tries to hurt him will learn that quick as quick.” The boy frowns like Yasha’s a species he hasn’t even heard of. He tries again. “A human’s value isn’t determined by what they can do. Or by their genetics. It’s inherent. We are valuable just because we are human.”
“Oh, you have learned things from me!” a familiar voice coos and Yasha looks up to see Tony sauntering in with a non-costumed Laura at his side.
The kids converge on their missing member, allowing Tony to make his way across the room unhindered.
“More like I’m learning things from Xavier,” he counters. “I am in therapy, you know.”
“I’m lucky Clint turned down that bet,” Tony says ruefully, but he’s smiling. “He’d have won like a car or something off of me.”
Yasha looks down at Kurt, momentarily feeling guilty.
“Oh, no. No no no,” Tony tilts his chin back up, his eyes looking oh-so sincere. “I’m not mad. Don’t ever feel bad for being who you are now, for this need to take care of the little guy that you’ve probably always had. Especially don’t feel bad on my account.”
He nods cautiously and Tony smiles again. “Besides, if anyone can afford a third kid, its us.”
“That’s true.” He tries a small smile and Tony’s face positively lights up. “Maybe now Darcy will stop asking for a puppy.”
“Well, he does have a tail,” Tony snorts. “And the ears are adorable, but I’d say he’s more kitten than puppy. Pretty sure he’s purring, too.”
Yasha actually likes the purring. It’s soothing.
“This is Kurt. He wouldn’t let me put him down,” Yasha explains. “I tried to hand him off to Pietro because I could hear some commandos closing in but he wasn’t having it.”
Tony tips his head to the side, “Like, he started crying, or what?”
“Uh, here, I’ll show you. Take him.”
With obvious reluctance, Tony takes Kurt. He’s been practicing with dolls because of the sisters he has coming, but a doll doesn’t care if you drop it and tiny-and-blue definitely will.
Because he’s watching for it, Yasha notices that Kurt gives Tony a good sniff and then relaxes more fully into his arms. With a frown, he gets up and walks away. He’s tense, waiting for Kurt to bamf! to him but it doesn’t come. Even when he steps outside of the room and closes the hatch, it doesn’t come.
He waits as close to two minutes as he can manage before he opens the door back up and stares. Tony is watching him with wary amusement but Kurt’s just cuddled there, safe and happy in his arms.
“What the-?” he marches across the room and takes back his baby.
“Pietro?” he calls and the kid is at his elbow in less than a heartbeat, hands out and ready to receive.
Yasha hands him the baby and steps away. Three steps and bamf! He’s catching his baby once again. “That. That’s what happened in the base.”
“Huh,” Tony leans back and scratches his chin, thinking. “Well, he’s definitely your baby. We can get Aunt Peg to backdoor an adoption into the system. How do feel about ‘Kurtis James Barnes’?”
“It’s not bad. Barnes-Stark has a better ring to it,” he agrees absently, looking over his baby to make sure he’s still okay.
“Stark-Barnes,” Tony counters.
“Hell no,” Yasha shakes his head vehemently. “I’m not giving up my spot in the alphabet. I hate waiting if I don’t get to shoot stuff at the end.”
Tony snaps his fingers and points at him. “Good point. I obviously didn’t think this through properly.”
“I wonder why he stays with you but not Pietro.”
“Well, I mean no offense to the Flash over there, but we know our scents are mixed together because Wolverine said so. At length, for him. And we love each other, so-”
There’s a squeal and he whips around to see a couple of the girls including Wanda giving them star-eyes.
“You love each other?” Wanda asks breathlessly. “Love is real? It happens?”
And isn’t that just horrible? Kids, children that think love is a myth?
“Uh, yeah,” Tony nods, rolling with the weird as ever. “Pretty sure your biological father loves, uh, Hoshi’s? Biological father. And I think Storm loves Laura’s dad? Their relationship is pretty new though, officially speaking, so I doubt they’ve said the L-word yet.”
Some of the kids look dazed at this revelation. Several others look like they don’t trust it.
“What about our dad?” The blonde girl with actual fangs asks. Erika, that’s her name. Sabertooth’s daughter.
“Uh, pretty sure he’s dead, actually,” Tony offers cautiously. “So love isn’t really something he needs to worry about?”
The girl’s face shuts down in a way that makes Yasha need to make sure she never realizes Tony was involved in that death. He’ll talk to Logan about that later.
“This teleporting thing, though,” Tony continues as if oblivious. “That’s a concern. What if he teleports to one of us in the middle of a mission? What if he tries to teleport to one of us and doesn’t make it? Does he have a maximum range? Will he grow out of the auto-teleporting thing?”
“Maybe it’ll stop when he gets comfortable?” Yasha offers. “Or maybe it’s just an age thing?”
“I kind of want to test it,” Tony pouts. “But babies are not science experiments.”
“No, they’re not, but we also need to know what he’ll do when we’re separated. Because you’re right, he could teleport into the middle of a firefight and get himself killed. Will he accept a third-party caretaker so we can both go on missions? If not and I leave him with you for a mission, will he stay with you or will he come find me? Or vice versa? We could both be benched for the foreseeable future.”
“We’ll give it a few weeks once we make it home,” Tony decides. “We’ll learn a lot just being around him so it’s not like we really need to set up tests. Maybe you’re right and he’ll settle down when he feels more secure.”
Yasha nods. “Not like we have any immediate missions on the horizon.”
Tony scrubs his hands together. “Now where is Bones and why hasn’t he seen anybody yet?”
“Oh, he’s already seeing someone,” Yasha snickers. Several of the kids do, too.
“What?” Tony looks around, counting. All 26 kids are here. “What happened? What did I miss?”
“Forge. Apparently, he managed to get shot.”
“How?” Tony frowns at them, “And how is that funny?”
“Fury shot him in the ass for being annoying.”
“Fury,” Tony blinks, not quite registering it. “Fury shot Forge? In the ass?”
“Just a little bit,” one of the kids defends.
“Yeah,” another agrees. “It’s more like a burn than an actual shot.”
Oh, these sweet summer children. Tony just puts his head in his hands and laughs
“Take a walk with me?” he asks, leaning in the doorway of Yasha’s truly massive office.
It has to be massive though. He splits it with Bogart, has all manner of paperwork stored along the walls, and has recently added a playpen for Kurt in the area behind his desk.
“Yeah, sure,” he agrees. “Let me take Kurt down to Liz.”
Thankfully in the two days since the Alkali-Transigen raid, Kurt has accepted a third-party caregiver. Unfortunately, he’s only accepted an elderly woman as his nanny, Yasha’s little sister Liz, and the longest he’s stayed with her so far is 6 hours.
But, hey, it’s better than having no kid-free time ever. Probably for years.
It doesn’t take long for them to be out, actually alone, and walking hand in hand through the too-groomed-to-be-forested lands around the house.
“Negotiations over?” Yasha asks him, amused.
“Yeah,” Tony laughs. “The kids without living or findable parents all have homes. Either with the Roth-Bachchans if they are too young for the school or at Xavier’s school if they are old enough.”
“The school’s going on break for the summer, though.”
“Not for another two weeks.” Tony tells him. “Xavier’s using that time to arrange space for them in a summer camp.”
“A summer camp for mutants?” Yasha asks dubiously.
“Yup. Well, a mutant-inclusive summer camp, it’s in Canada, actually. Tons of fun things for them to learn and do and the camp has a solid team of psychologists, actually, because they take on a lot of abused or orphaned kids pro-bono. Seems like a good fit to me.”
“If they have any problems, I want them to call me,” Yasha says fiercely and then corrects, “Call us.”
“Ah,” Tony grins at him. “I see it now.”
“See what?” Yasha grumps.
“Why Magneto’s children want to come here so bad. Apparently, they all have the same bearer as Laura and don’t want to leave their ‘sister’ behind permanently. I thought it was a kind of lame excuse but now it makes sense.”
Yasha just narrows his eyes.
“Pietro has a crush,” Tony informs him with glee. “And his sisters are following his lead.”
“Pietro does not have a crush,” Yahsa sighs. “Not on me. He’s a good kid, that’s all. Follows orders.”
“I know you know full well about the subset of society that loves taking orders.”
“Since I used to be one of that subset, I am fully aware.” Then he grins suddenly, “You see Clint’s new collar?”
Tony nods. “Simple, sleek. May has good taste. I’m not sure how we’re going to explain it to the kids though. I mean, they’re kind of young for that.”
“We explain it with the truth. Every relationship is different and they all have special rules that the partners agree to. But when they see someone wearing a collar like Clint’s they should talk to the person whose name is on the collar, in this case May, to find out the rules they can need to follow with the collared person. If they can talk to them, touch them, so on, so they don’t get the collared person in trouble.
“The explanation doesn’t have to include sex details, Tony.”
“That’s fair. And that should be enough to keep them from messing up boundaries.” Then Tony grins, “I’ll leave it to you to explain it to the kids.”
“Only if you talk to Clint and May about a field collar. We can’t have him wearing her actual, real name out in the field.”
“Dammit,” Tony groans and Yasha laughs.
He can’t even argue with the assignment of duties, he’s the one that set himself up as the Avengers’ equipment guy.
Time to change the subject. “In the captured files, Bishop found a research proposal. Apparently there’s a kid running around the South that can charge objects with energy and make them explode. HYDRA wants to see if they can alter him to generate Cube Energy.”
“Alter him against his will,” Yasha assumes.
“Yup,” Tony pops the ‘p’. “Kid’s fifteen. I figure we can give it to Xavier. Like a summer assignment.”
“That works, as long as they’re both willing.” Then Yasha confesses, “I gave Morales Mystique’s Alkali-Transigen file, including confirmation of Azazel’s death and my adoption of Kurt. I asked him to get it to Nat and see if she can get it to Mystique.”
“Smart,” Tony smirks. “If anyone stands a chance of finding a human chameleon, it’s Natasha.”
“Yeah. Xavier might be cavelier about lying to her and pissing her off, but I’d rather not. Especially not since I’m pretty much taking her kid.”
“What if she comes for him?”
“That,” Yasha frowns, “…rather depends on how she comes for him, if she wants him, whether he’ll actually go with her, and if we can talk her out of it.”
“Fair,” Tony agrees.
“I do have a, well, a personal question,” Yasha offers hesitantly.
“We talked about my relationship with Steve. What was yours? It seemed,” Yasha hesitates. “Kind of intense back in the bunker.”
Tony lets out a gusty breath. “Okay, that’s fair.” He scrubs a hand over his face. “Our relationship was rocky.
“I’m pretty sure he hated me. Like, from the word go. Possibly, he hated me before we even met. Then New York happened, he decided I wasn’t a complete waste of air, and we became teammates. We were working our way to real friendship, then Sokovia happened. Nigeria, the UN, the Accords. Then it was over.”
“And you were never…” Yasha raises a single eyebrow.
“In love? No. I barely started trusting him before the bullshit in the bunker.” Tony tips his head. “We were lovers, once. It was after Jane broke up with Thor. Steve and I joined Thor drinking away his sorrows and things got real kinky, real fast.
“It was fun but it was casual. It definitely wasn’t love for any of us.” Tony runs his free hand over his face. “It was probably a mistake, too. He never looked at me the same, after.”
“That I can see,” Yasha scratches the back of his neck. “He was weird when he realized I was bottoming voluntarily for Wolverine.”
“Uh. What’s the saying? People hate most in others what they fear in themselves? Shades of that, probably.”
“Huh,” Tony scratches his chin. “He always seems like a dominant, toppy bastard.”
“Yeah, but he’s always so stiff with it,” Yasha counters. “Rigid. Forced.”
“This is all theoretical, of course.”
Yasha nods. “Yeah. Never seen him in a romantic or sexual relationship with a fella, so it’s just a guess. Still, it helped me sleep at night back when he was being a fucker.”
“Which he does a lot.”
“Goat,” Yasha reminds him and Tony laughs.
“I have a personal question for you,” Tony pulls them to a stop and faces Yasha.
“It’s May 16th. A year ago today, sort of, we were in a bunker in Siberia doing our very best to kill each other and save the world at the same time. We succeeded in at least one of those things and we’ve come a long way since then,” he stops talking, pulls a large leather-bound box from his pocket and takes a knee. “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 with you by my side. Will you marry me?”
Yasha stares at him, more than a little awed. Then he shakes his head and takes the box. “I’ll wear white, but I’m carrying you across the threshold. All the thresholds.”
“Is that a yes?” Tony grins.
“Yes, of course.” He opens the box and looks in. “Is this a keyring?”
Tony stands and grins. “Yup!”
Yasha pulls it out of the box. The padding comes with it to show the car key and fob on the ring. “You got me a car?”
“Not just any car.” He grabs Yasha’s metal wrist and tugs him through the last stand of trees between them and the front of the house.
Standing there in front of them, is a cherry-red convertible with the top down to show off the gleaming white interior. The exact same model his father sold the rights to to Chevy in the ‘60s.
“Tony,” Yasha breathes.
“You can’t give this to me.”
“Too late, your name’s on the registration. And look,” he pull shim further around and gestures at the personalized New York State Medal of Honor plates.
“Levitation Over Land Automobile. It’s her name. She’s the only one of her kind.”
“Oh, my god.”
Yasha sounds absolutely giddy and Tony struggles not to dance in place.
“Can we go somewhere? We need to go somewhere. Please, let’s go somewhere,” Yasha babbles.
“Burgers and milkshakes?” Tony offers. “There’s a decent diner a few miles from here. It’ll take us two minutes in LOLA and it’s inside Kurt’s range if he needs you.”
“Yes, absolutely. Let’s go.” Yasha hits him with a smacking kiss and clicks a button on the key fob. He gives a little wiggle as the car turns on. Then he scampers to the drivers side like a puppy on crack.
Christ, who gave super soldier’s permission to be so cute? His fucking life.
Tony, as always, laughs and follows.
“Good morning! My name is Christine Everhart. It is currently June 19, 1992 at-” she makes a show of checking her watch for the camera, “-approximately 7:15 in the morning. I’m here outside the Stark Family Mansion in upstate New York because I have been invited to document the recovery of Captain America himself from his frozen, watery grave.”
She starts leading the camera down the path to the front door. “Some of you may already be aware that Howard Stark has been searching for his lost personal friend from the World War II since the very moment Captain Steven Rogers crashed the HYDRA long-range bomber Valkyrie into the Arctic Ocean and saved millions of lives in the process.
“In fact, Howard Stark has focused so much effort on the recovery of Captain Rogers, that he created a dedicated Stark Industries corporation, named Rogers Research and Security, to maintain the search these last 47 years. RSS has also advanced medical care practices for extreme exposure, frostbite, non-invasive surgical techniques, and several other medical practices that we take for granted today.
“Let’s go inside,” she walks up the steps to the door with the cameraman and sound man the Starks hired for her in her wake.
She’d been more than a little intimidated by the idea of working so closely day in and day out with two such large men. The two of them are so foolishly in love, though, sometimes it’s all she can do not to coo at them. And they treat her like the little sister they’ve always wanted but never had. It’s really nice.
As planned, she knocks on the door. Moments later its opened to reveal, “Sergeant Barnes!”
She didn’t see that one coming.
“I feel like we’ve already had this conversation,” he says sharply but then smiles at her to take the sting out of it, “Please, call me Bucky.”
“Of course, Bucky. Who is this strapped to your chest?” It’s a very little, very blue, baby.
“This is Kurtis Anthony Barnes,” he tells her proudly as he ushers her and her crew inside. “They found him being experimented on by HYDRA and thought of me, for what I guess should be obvious reasons. He wasn’t tolerating any of his previous caretakers well at all. Then I walked in and picked him up. He wouldn’t let me put him down again.”
“What do you mean he wouldn’t let you?” she squints at the tiny tot. He’s surprisingly cute despite being blue, with little elfen ears and three-digit hands.
“He’s a teleporter. If he doesn’t want to be somewhere, he leaves. He’s not shy about it at all. This includes when he gets bored during my morning training or if I’m in a long meeting.” He gives her put upon eyes and sighs when she laughs at him. “Thankfully, he usually just seeks out Tony, who’s gotten really good at surprise baby catches.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just keep that in mind when he scares the shit out of you by randomly showing up around the house.”
“Can I hold him?”
Barnes squints at her, “Will you be insulted if he pops away?”
“I will endeavor not to take it personally,” She promises.
He considers her for several minutes but in the end shrugs and starts unwrapping the sling holding the kid to his chest, “Might as well give you a preview, if you’re coming with us up north.”
“You’re taking him with you to the Arctic?”
“I physically cannot leave him behind,” he reminds her.
Right, she nods. Then she takes the child from his arms and cuddles him close. She barely gets to rub her cheek against his before there’s a bamf! sound and her arms are empty.
She looks up to see the baby back in Bucky’s arms. “Huh.”
“Yeah,” he agrees, sounding smug.
She gives him the stink eye but he just grins.
“He won’t stay with my sisters, either. Not long term. He’ll give Liz a few hours and sometimes he’ll stay with Mrs. Stark for some cuddles.”
“But he is definitely Yasha’s baby,” a cheerful voice announces and they turn to see Tony Stark sauntering down the hall. “Hello, Ms. Everhart. Are you ready to get on this?”
“Absolutely,” she glances at Bucky who just smiles and waves her off as he straps his baby back to his chest. “To invite a camera crew along on your expedition, you must be confident this one will be successful. Why do you think this expedition will succeed where fifty years of your father’s expeditions have failed?”
“Because science, my dear Ms. Everhart. Because science.” The scene cuts and comes back to them sitting in a workshop full of lights and beeping with robots in the background. “As you can see on the map DUM-E is holding up, my father had his people searching the same sections of the ice, the areas within the Arctic Circle along the most direct paths from Austria to New York City, which they knew was HYDRA’s first target thanks to the Valkyrie’s flight plan.
“I, however, suspected that the ice in the Arctic is not anchored. It’s surrounded by land but there’s no land under it. So I paid for a study, sent a team up there last year, and they are still mapping the full extent of Arctic ice movement. They were able to map the currents under the ice around the edges.
“You can see a projection of that data on the map Butterfingers is holding up.
“Captain Rogers said, as he was going down, that he was putting the plane in the water. Which to me means he was landing, at best, near the edge of the ice.
“Using the combination of Dad’s projection of flight paths, combined with the speed and direction of the current over the last forty-seven years, give or take a few months, we have the estimate on the map U is holding up.
“In my personal estimate, we’ll find the Valkyrie towards the edge,” he draws a finger along the map to indicate the highlighted area along the coast. “Specifically within here and here.
“If I’m wrong, we’ll expand the search,” he smirks at her. “But I’m not wrong.”
The scene cuts again to Howard Stark sitting behind a desk in a well-appointed library.
“Of course, I’m proud of Tony,” he says easily. “He’s going to change the world in ways I’ve never even contemplated. He’s one of the three smartest people on the planet and his heart is just as impressive as his intellect.
“If he says Steve is there, you can take that to the bank.”
“How do you feel about the prospect of retrieving Captain Rogers?” Christine asks.
“It’s been the only thing I’ve wanted since we lost him. He’s a great person, honest, hard working, and he never gives up. Excellent fighter, cunning tactician, and talented artist. Our world is poorer without him but I never thought I might see him alive again. Bringing home his body would have been enough, but after finding Bucky,” he shakes his head.
Christine tips her head a bit. “You think you’ll find him alive?”
“Bucky said it best: if he survived being repeatedly flash frozen for years with his HYDRA knock off serum, there’s no way Steve didn’t survive being flash frozen once with the real thing.”
“But what kind of shape would he be in?”
Howard laughs out loud. “The RRS has been trying to figure that out for over forty years. We’re fairly confident we’ve eliminated some possibilities and have successful treatment plans for others but, in reality, there are just too many variables to make a reasonable prediction of his condition.
“We know from their files on Bucky that HYDRA would defrost him over the course of a day and pump him full of vitamins and calories. He would be considered mission ready the day after defrost. But Bucky has admitted that this process was extremely painful to him so they’ll have to take a slower process with Steve and include pain killers in the mix. They might not do much for him but if they can take the edge off, they will.”
“They?” Christine repeats. “You’re not going?”
“My wife is just about seven months pregnant with twins. There’s no way I’m leaving her to go through that alone.”
“Howard!” A woman’s exasperated voice says from off camera and a short blonde woman in a tasteful burgundy dress with a stomach the size of a house waddles on screen. “You are going, Howard.
“We are going,” she corrects before he can object. “I’ll stay on the ship in U.S. waters, my doctor will be onboard, and Tony has already promised me an Infirmary stocked for the apocalypse. There’s no reason for me not to go. I can bedrest there as well as I can at home.”
“But if you don’t cut the Captain out of the ice yourself, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life,” She cuts him off. “And I’m not going to have that on my conscience. No. We’re going and if you don’t personally fly the helicopter carrying him back to the ship, I’ll eat my left shoe. All of them.”
“Well,” Howard drawls, just starting to smile. “If it’s for the sake of your shoes.”
“Exactly,” Maria nods once. “Save my closet. And my stomach. It’s the only reasonable thing for you to do.”
“And I’m never unreasonable,” he agrees gravely.
She laughs, a gentle tinkling of sound. “Of course not, darling. Now, lunch is ready. Let these poor people have a well-earned break and escort me down there like a proper gentleman.”
“Are you nervous?” Christine asks as she takes a seat on the private plane taking them from New York to Alaska.
Tony Stark gives her a dubious, not camera-friendly look, “Why would I be nervous?”
“I don’t know,” she drawls. “How about because you’re about to be performing impossible tricks in front of your dad and boyfriend? It’s making me nervous and I barely know either of them.”
“He’s my fiance, actually.” Tony shakes his head, dismissing the matter before she can even think to offer congratulations. “The science is sound. The math works backward and forward. We’ve got a mutant that can detect metal from miles away on board that’s agreed to help out. We’re going to find him.”
“You know,” she frowns and looks around thoughtfully, “I’ve never seen so many mutants in one place before.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing what people will do for you when you treat them with basic human decency, keep them safe, and appreciate their differences.” Stark rolls his eyes. “They are employees -and some family- with special abilities. Nothing different from seven-times-a-doctor Bruce Banner in my Biochem lab, really.”
“It’s very nice to hear you say that,” a man with white-speckled auburn hair offers as he takes a seat on the couch across from them.
“You know it’s true, Erik. I’ve made no secret how I feel. On any matter, much less this one.” He waves a hand between them. “Have you two met?”
“I have seen her on the television but not had the pleasure in person,” Erik smiles his charming best.
“Well then, Mr. Lehnsherr, meet Christine Everhart. Ms. Everhart, meet Erik Lehnsherr.”
He reaches out and shakes her hand, “I must say, your interview with Sergeant Barnes still moves me to tears. Thank you for treating it, and him, with such respect and dignity.”
“It was my first television interview,” she admits then smiles. “I’m glad to hear it came across so well.”
“You knocked it out of the park, as they say. No doubt a good sign for your future endeavors.”
“Thank you. Out of curiosity, what are you bringing to the expedition?”
“I am the mutant that can detect metal,” he says simply. “Over there, Logan, is another amnesiac World War Two Veteran. He and Sergeant Barnes have something of a two man support group going on.”
“Him?” she exclaims in surprise. “He was in World War Two? He looks, like, thirty.”
“Extreme healing factor,” Tony explains. “The damage someone did to his mind was extensive but now that he’s spending time with a man he knew before the loss, his brain has kickstarted the physical healing and he’s getting his memories back.”
“He almost sounds like a super soldier,” she frowns. “Isn’t that supposed to be what’s happening to Sergeant Barnes?”
“Yup! My theory is that rumors about men of his ability -because there may or may not be another one out there- are what sparked the Super Soldier idea in the first place. Unfortunately, neither Erskine nor Schmidt are around for us to ask, so it will always be just a theory.”
“And the woman with him?”
“His sweetheart, as Yasha would say,” Tony explains immediately. “He wanted Ororo to come along and she might be able to help with the winds, if they’re too high to fly in or whatever, because of her mutation, so I didn’t see a good reason to say no.”
“There are more children here than I expected.”
“Yeah, well, Yasha can’t leave Kurt behind, so it wouldn’t be fair for us to leave Darcy or Erik behind. With our three going there was really no way to justify shutting out Ororo and Logan’s three. Or Erik and his lover’s four.” Tony rolls his eyes but he’s not actually mad about all the kids coming. It’s kind of nice, like a family Arctic cruise or something. “Of course then we needed to add people for daycare, because all the adults we already had slated to come all have specific jobs to do for the project, so we invited Yasha’s sisters.
“Those invitations got all of their families that could come involved. Mostly it’s Gina’s husband and youngest grandson and Liz’s husband, though. Doro and her son Brahm couldn’t make it because they’re campaigning for their various offices right now, and none of us want to use Cap to promote them in any way.
“The government has used him as a political gimmick enough.”
Christine smiles at him, “I hope you have a big boat.”
“I don’t think they get bigger,” Tony grins. “I honestly thought it was too big at first but we needed the deck space so I went with it. Now, I’m glad I had it all converted to passenger cabins rather than just leaving the lower decks for just storage.”
“Are you going to let these children out on the ice?”
“Hell no,” Tony laughs. “I’ve kitted them all out with personalized Arctic gear. Gave them little internal heating elements that should make the temperatures manageable, but no. Not even Kurt. He’ll stay with Liz and my mom on the boat.”
“He’ll only do that for a couple hours though? That’s what Sergeant Barnes said?”
“Yeah. Having Liz around will give Yasha around five hours a day on this ice but that’s longer than any of us should really stay out there at one time anyway. And the ship is going to be within Kurt’s popping distance so we don’t have to worry about him missing and landing in the water or anything.”
“Seems like you’ve thought of everything.”
“I hope so,” Tony gives her a wry smile. “I really hope so.
“It will take a week to get on station. Do you any idea how hard it is to entertain ten children in a small, enclosed space they cannot leave for a week?”
Christine lets out a long breath, “It’s going to be a long week.”
“Birth control week,” she mutters to herself and he laughs out loud.
“You’d think as a gay couple we wouldn’t need birth control,” he tells her, amused. “But Yasha can’t say no to a child in need. We’re destined for von Trapp status, I can see it now.”
Christine laughs at him, and Darcy huffs as she takes the seat between them.
She flops over on his other side and looks up at him with big, blue eyes. “I still want a puppy.”
“Are you ready for this?” Tony asks Yasha softly.
“Ready for what?” he asks, not taking his eyes off of where Christine is interviewing Magneto on the deck of the ship. “Ready to get my friend back? Or ready to give him a chance to destroy everything we’ve worked so hard for?”
“Ready to come face to face with your issues,” Tony corrects. “I know you love him and he’s your brother, but you have a lot of trauma wrapped up in a very him-shaped package. And you’re in therapy so you’re not hiding from it or repressing it all.” The ‘this time‘ goes unsaid because of their inescapable audience but, from the way Yasha’s face twitches, it’s not unheard.
“I have a direct line to Charles already open,” He promises. “I doubt I’ll need it for at least another two days, if at all. But, if I do, he’s made himself available.”
“That’s all I can ask, really.”
Yasha gives him a small smile and pulls him close to plant a kiss on his temple.
“I have calmed the winds,” Ororo declares as she comes to stand by them. “Do you not wish me to be on site?”
“Tomorrow,” he promises. “We’ll most likely need you on station when we’re moving the Valkyrie. Today we’re just finding it and getting the metal plates in place for extraction.”
“You talked to Magneto about taking it slow?” Tony asks. Yes, again. “He’s not as young as he used to be.”
“He’s barely middle aged for a mutant and you know it,” Yasha reminds him warmly. “But yeah, he’s all over down playing his strength for the cameras.”
Paranoid bastard, Tony rolls his eyes but he can’t argue with Magneto’s stance, knowing what he does about the future.
“You’re up,” Logan interrupts.
Tony looks up and Christine is indeed waving Yasha over. With a jaunty grin, Yasha untangles himself from Tony and all-but bounces over to Magneto’s side in front of the camera.
“Tell the viewers at home what’s happening today,” she instructs.
“Well, I’m the most experienced helicopter pilot we have, so I’m going to fly myself and Mr. Lensherr out to the target location.”
“I will then attempt to locate the good Captain’s ship,” Erik puts in. “Should I locate it, and if it is not too deep in the ice, I will insert metal plates underneath her.”
“What are the metal plates for?” Christine asks.
“The metal plates are to the support the Valkyrie so that I may raise her from her tomb of ice,” Magneto answers gravely, the drama queen.
“After almost fifty years in the ice,” Yasha clarifies, “there’s no way she has the hull integrity to remain intact if she were lifted from the ice by the trace amounts of iron and other metals in her frame. I honestly don’t think she’d have survived such treatment when she was brand new, right off the production line. So, yes, metal plates.”
“And you can lift that much?” Christine asks Magneto. “The plane, the Captain, and all that ice?”
“I will no doubt need a long rest after. I am not as young as I used to be,” he gifts her with his best grandfatherly smile. “But I’m sure I can manage it this once.”
“Well, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I wish you good luck!” She gives him an encouraging smile.
Magneto just nods and turns to the waiting helicopter.
“If you’d follow me?” Tony asks, stepping up to the railing not far from them. “We have a control deck set up where we can watch everything from.”
Christine makes for him, camera and sound men in tow. “What will will be able to see, Mr. Stark?”
“Helo One, the one they’re flying today, has a belly cam and Yasha and Mr. Lensherr have agreed to wear cam helmets so we’ll be able to see everything they see.” He explains as he leads them down to the correct deck. “We’ll also get to hear all of their communication. Its as close as we could get to have everyone on one tiny helicopter.”
His dad is standing at the central control station as they enter. His mom is sitting off to the side with her feet up and a plate of pickles and peanut butter resting on her belly. Tony heads over to his father’s station with Christine at his side.
“We have three watch stations set up,” his father explains to them all. “So everyone should have a clear view of this historic event.”
The three of them, plus her crew, watch in silence as Yasha lifts off smoothly and heads out across ice-strewn water. The two mile trip takes both forever and no time at all.
“Control, Helo One is on station,” Yasha reports professionally as he brings the helo to hover about a hundred feet from the edge of the sea ice.
“You feel anything?” he asks Magneto in a gentler tone through the onboard coms.
“Yes, actually,” Magneto sounds pleased. “Drift left, slowly, and get a little closer if you can.”
After five minutes of slow drift, he speaks up. “There, there. Stop.
“He’s there.” They watch through Magneto’s helmet cam as he points at the front display. Drawing an estimate with his fingers in the air before the map. “He’s so close, I’m surprised we can’t see the Valkyrie’s front engine. Or her top. She’s not very deep, either.”
“Are you ready for the next bit?” Yasha asks. There’s a tension in his voice that Tony doesn’t think is from the stress of flying in the Arctic Circle.
“I am, indeed,” Magneto agrees.
“Control,” Yasha’s voice comes over the actual radio. “Clear the deck and open the hatch. Magneto found him.”
A cheer goes up from somewhere further in the ship and his dad sacrifices Yasha’s head camera view to the camera in the cargo hold.
“I’m going to have to step out,” Magneto warns.
“What?” Yasha demands. “Are you sure?”
“I cannot do this with the helicopter in the way.” They watch through Magneto’s view as he pulls out some gleaming metal ball bearings. “Do not fret, I came prepared.”
“Let me put you down on the ice, at least.”
“If you insist.”
“What’s with the little balls?” Christine asks him softly as they watch Yasha not-quite touch down on the ice and let Magneto off.
“Did he tell you about the concentration camp he grew up in?” Tony asks, getting practically everyone’s attention.
“He mentioned it but he didn’t give me details, no.”
“His mutation activated when he was separated from his parents by Nazi’s. The asshole that ran the camp experimented on him. Trained him, sort of. He’d give Lehnsherr ball bearings just like those and demand he make things with them. When he refused, they murdered his father. When he failed, they tortured his mother.”
She looks at him, wide-eyed and pale with shock. “And he still uses them?”
“Well, it’s a handy shape,” Tony shrugs. “And I think it’s like if you’ve ever heard Yasha joke about ‘cold storage’. It’s defiance in the face of the horror that is your life. Taking back some of your own.”
They get quiet as they watch two ball bearings lift from Magneto’s hand, merge and stretch into a flat, round plate. He steps onto it and it lifts him into the air.
Tony double checks the notifications from the rest of the crew, “Helo One, deck is clear and the hatch is open.”
“Excellent,” Magneto says directly to them for the first time.
On the cargo hold camera they watch as one, then two, then three of the dozen or so reinforced metal plates in the ship’s belly rise through the various decks on the ship. Once they make it to the deck, they shoot off in the direction Yasha flew.
One second they’re just hovering there above the ship, next, they throw themselves forward like Star Wars-type spaceships jumping to lightspeed. A blink, and by the time he turns his head to the helo camera, the plates are there. They’re just hovering around Magneto, waiting to do his bidding.
“If Steve managed to get the landing gear down,” Dad tells Lensherr over the radio. “It should stand a yard below the hull.”
“Then I shall plant them two yards down so as not to risk the Captain.” And one plate shoots forward, violently stabbing itself in the ice directly in front of Magneto.
Tony waits, holds his breath, to see how the ice reacts.
It doesn’t. There is no ominous creaking noises. No cracking. No crackling or fissures forming Nothing.
“He must be really good at the tablecloth trick,” Tony concludes, making his dad snort with laughter as the other two plates slam into the ice on either side of the first.
“I bet he’s fun at parties,” his dad agrees while Magneto on the screen stares at his own work.
Christine groans at them. “You two are terrible.”
There are gaps between the plates. Fairly large ones because the Valkyrie’s wingspan is ridiculous. He ends up calling two more plates and slamming them into place so the whole width is underscored with metal.
He and his dad just grin. “Yeah, we’re pretty much the worst.”
“Horrible senses of humor,” his dad agrees. “We’re lucky Maria and Buck put up with us.”
“You jest but it’s true!” his mom calls from her seat off to the side.
And everybody laughs.
“It’s go time,” Howard Stark claps with an excited smirk.
“What’s the plan, Mr. Stark?” Christine asks.
“James Archer,” he points at Apollo who waves for the camera, “and I are going to pilot the fast and light -you know, Helo One- with the belly cam to document the event. We have room for a third passenger, if you want to come?”
“And witness this with my own two eyes?” she grins. “You bet your ass I wanna come.”
He smirks at her. “Good, good.
“Buck is going to pilot the heavy chopper with a bunch of Stark Family Security guys in the back. Once Cap’s on a solid foundation, they’ll put down and make a secure perimeter. Then we’ll start sonar imaging the ice cube to get the lay of the land, so to speak, and make sure we’ve got the right frozen airplane.”
“What’s this hanging from the side of the heavy chopper?” she asks. “It looks like a wench or something.”
“It is,” Howard nods. “We modified and reinforced a parachute harness for Lehnsherr. We didn’t plan for him to have to get out of the chopper but we can’t let him just do it like that again. It’s unsafe. What if he overextends himself and passes out or something? He’s going to wear a parachute harness and we’re going to attach it to the copter’s winch cables just in case. Right, Buck?”
The man freezes as he’s passing by. “What?”
Then he tips his head, listening to the playback in his head. “Oh, yeah. Definitely. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, he probably wouldn’t survive the time it would take to fish him out of the water, but because Steve would lose his shit if we traded someone else’s life for his.”
“And we definitely don’t want Cap to lose his shit,” Howard agrees sardonically.
“Everyone fears the Disappointed Face.” Buck grins at both of them, “Even I can remember that.”
“You guys ready to go?” Mr. Archer asks. “The choppers are ready, we’re waiting for you.”
“Yeah, let’s load up,” Howard agrees.
“Oh,” Christine stops mid-step. “Give me two minutes to grab my recorder and I’m good to go.”
“Two minutes,” Howard agrees and makes for their helicopter.
It’s not until they’re taking off that she notices and says, “I didn’t know Tony was coming.” Because that is him in the co-pilot seat beside Sergeant Barnes, yes it absolutely is.
Howard huffs but doesn’t comment.
The flight out to the ice shelf is breathtaking.
“It almost looks like we’re not destroying our planet, doesn’t it?” Tony’s amused voice comes over the headset his father made her put on when she climbed on board.
Howard rolls his eyes, “Helo Two, are you on station?”
“Indeedily do, Helo One,” Tony chirps, way too happy for the frozen fucking morning this is. “That crazy old bastard is getting strapped into his harness. He tried to tell Yasha he didn’t need it, can you believe this guy?”
“A crazy bastard, indeed.”
Tony keeps bitching about the kind of things that could happen. Somehow devolving into Buck having to dive into the frozen water after Magneto? Howard’s not really paying attention though Christine’s getting a kick out of it.
He watches carefully as one of the side doors of Helo Two opens and Lehnsherr steps out on the landing skid. He tosses out his already formed metal plate at steps out one more time. He folds his arms like a fucking genie or something and floats forward, the safety lines trailing obediently in the wind.
When he gets a good distance away from Helo Two, he puts his hands out like he’s holding an invisible box. He looks silly. Then he lifts the box and a huge section of ice copies the motion.
“Holy-” he clamps his lips down before he can embarrass himself further.
Not that anyone else notices the slip.
Tons of ice. Literally tons of ice, rise well clear of the rest of the shelf and floats away. Under the direction of a sixty year old. Standing on a metal frisbee.
It’s a sight and a half and he can’t even-
Then the shelf around where the Valkyrie and the Captain slept, groans and collapses into the sea. Clearly, showing that his son was right and that bringing out heavy equipment would have been both a waste and a mistake.
Helo Two paces Lehnsherr as he moves the ice block nearly a mile down the ice, then sets it down, surprisingly gently.
Either on purpose for drama of it, or by accident because the guy has to be tired, Lehnsherr loses control of his frisbee when he sets the Valkyrie down. He and the frisbee both fall but at least he has the harness to keep him from danger.
He’s clearly awake judging by the panting, “Pull me up.” But the frisbee has gone the way of the dodo. Specifically, a popsicle dodo.
But that’s fine! For this, Howard will buy him all the ball bearings he wants. Forever.
He forces himself to wait as they reel Lehnsherr into Helo Two. And then as the first few Cherries set foot on the ice, stomping like a human foot could do more to test the ground’s steadiness than at least three tons of ice wrapped around a WW2 HYDRA bomber holding a United States hero.
When they finally start settling in, he follows Bucky’s lead and flies several hundred yards inland before settling down. Because if any of them know how to fly around in the Arctic Circle, it’s definitely Mr. James Been-Kept-In-Siberia-Forever Barnes.
Tony, Logan, and Ms. Munroe are the only ones to depart the chopper before it takes off again, though.
“Um?” he asks intelligently when Tony treks over to him.
“Yasha and Stinger are getting Erik back to the ship. He’s not quite in worse case scenario territory, but he’s not very far off.”
“That was…” Christine hesitates, “…terrifying. Impressive as hell, but terrifying.”
“Well, you’re never going to see it again,” Tony says, almost comfortingly. “Pretty sure it took years off of his life. Like, almost all of his hair is white now and it’s not from the snow so I assume it’s an expression of his life force weakening or something.”
“Strain, maybe?” Howard offers and Tony shrugs.
“Still terrifying,” Christine asserts. “But good to know he probably can’t do that again.”
“Tony!” a voice shouts and Tony whips around.
“Andrea!” he shouts right back at the woman parking a dog sled team not far from them and the helicopter. “Glad you made it.”
“Well, you said you needed ice experts. We’re your ice experts so of course we made it.”
“That was quite a show, old chap!” one of the men of the party says.
“Andy, Jack, Hans, meet my father Howard Stark, Christine Everhart who is covering this event for us, and James Archer one of the pilots on this crazy scheme.”
“Your lads aren’t setting up that close to the edge are they?” Jack asks, staring off worriedly.
“Do they know nothing?” Andy asks.
Tony looks between them and the infant base camp with amusement, “Pretty sure that’s what we need you here for.”
“Best get on with it, then,” Andy nods to them and then marches right over to Duke and starts telling in no uncertain terms what’s what.
“Your mother would like her.”
“Aunt Peg would like her,” Tony counters. “Mom would just be amused.”
“Did you bring the extra toys we asked for?” Hans, who is apparently on sled dog duty, asks.
“Yeah, Yasha will bring them out when he brings Cap’s relocation unit.”
“Relocation unit?” Christine asks, holding up her recorder. “What’s this relocation unit?”
“It’s how we’re going to get Cap home,” Howard answers for him. “Think a 9x9x9 cube freezing unit. Runs on an experimental arc reactor that Tony managed to miniaturize so it never has to be plugged in. Could run that sucker for over fifty years and the ice would never think about melting.”
“You mean, nine feet? Why so large?”
“We don’t know what position he froze over in. Was he spread eagle when it happened or did he manage to lay himself out? Was he walking when it happened? Was he standing or sitting? Is he stuck to the command console? He’s six feet tall so his arm spread is six feet, that’s the minimum his ice cube form would be. His legs are longer, though, so we give him an extra foot and a half to a either side to allow for positioning. Leaves us at 9 feet.”
“Don’t want any more super soldiers losing limbs to reckless extractions around here,” Tony agrees. “Same for a lack of space.”
“You’re thawing him at home, then?”
“It’s the most controlled environment we have,” Howard says by way of an answer. “There, we have the space to deal with a huge block of ice, all the resources we could possibly need, and, of course, our medical staff is impeccable.”
“I’ve seen the Valkyrie plans. Cutting a 9x9x9 cube out of her would destroy the plane.” She reminds him.
“Who cares about the plane?” Tony frowns at her. “There are hundreds of mock ups built based off of the plans and recovered materials. The original adds nothing but bragging rights to the collection. And a person, an actual living person, is much more important than any bragging rights.”
“Here’s the 3D model of the plane that is in our relocated ice cube,” Tony brings it up for the camera to catch.
“And this- guys, if you would,” Yasha and Morales hold up the poster he handed to them earlier. “Is the official finalized blueprint of the Valkyrie.”
“Looks like a match to me,” Christine announces.
“Yup,” Tony grins, rocking back in his heels.
“Even the suicide drones are still there,” She reaches out and cautiously touches the screen. “What’s this? There’s nothing that matches it on the schematic.”
“Well, the imager doesn’t have the processing power to be sure but as the only thing we can see that doesn’t belong on this plane, it has to be Cap.”
“You think that’s the Captain?”
“Yeah. If I had to guess, which I do, I would say he propped himself against one of the plane’s interior support columns. Whether he meant to or was thrown there in the crash, who knows? But it means we can just chop the column and carry his body out.”
“His body? You don’t think he intended to survive?”
“No, I think he didn’t expect to survive. Who would expect to survive crashing a plane in to water in the Arctic Circle?”
“Point.” She nods. “Good point.”
“This morning,” Yasha starts, dropping his side of the schematic. Morales follows his lead and sets to rolling it back up. “The team cut an entrance through the ice here,” He taps the fuselage across from the shadow that’s probably Cap but several feet closer to the drone bay. “The plane is still closed up but we should be able to cut through and get Cap out today.”
“What are we waiting for?” Christine asks.
“You,” he grins.
She laughs. “Well, I’m here! I’m ready, lets go.”
The entrance they carved, really, proves to be an 8 foot wide tunnel with stairs cut right into the ice. Someone thoughtfully added slip resistant rubber mats over the ice-stairs.
“Alright,” Yasha picks up the plasma cutter. “Moment of truth time.”
He pulls on his eye protection and ignites the torch. He cuts as close as he can to the edge of the ice, ducking out of the way as some of it melts and steams. Logan and Clint are the first to hop to when the metal starts to come free. They support the weight of it so he can finish cutting and then the three of them haul the newly-cut hatch out of the ice tunnel.
By silent agreement, the Avengers let Logan duck in first, being nigh indestructible and all.
He takes several deep inhalations, testing the air before he declares, “Everything’s fine. Come on.”
Yasha follows first, then Clint and Tony. The cameraman, then Christine and his dad.
The spread out, taking in the haunted wreck of the plane.
None of them say a word until Clint calls out, “Sarge? Boss? You gotta see this.”
He swipes at some ice to reveal the shield. Of course. Who but Hawkeye would spot Cap’s damn shield through almost a foot of ice? It’s leaning against the central control column like it was left out specifically for them to find.
“Fuck,” a man, probably his father, exclaims softly.
“Got more than that,” Yasha says staring up at a hulking shadow trapped in ice.
He stretches up as far as he can to swipe at it to reveal Steve Rogers’ face staring down at them. He’s jammed himself into the support column about two feet off the ground so he’s surrounded, sheltered, on three sides by metal. It’s definitely a cold resting place. And Tony’s sure he probably just sleeping but he looks dead.
Yasha takes one step back. Then another. Then he turns and flees without a word.
His dad reaches out like he’s going to stop him but Tony shakes his head. “Let him go. He probably needs a minute.”
His dad stares at him, confused. Then he thinks it through and nods.
“How did he get up there?” Christine asks. Her interview voice a little shaky around the edges but none of them call her on it.
“He must have been looking for shelter.” Tony answers. “Look at the exposed column over there. His shoulders wouldn’t fit in there at standing height so he would have had to climb up and wedge himself in.”
“He was awake when until he froze,” she realizes in horror.
“Makes our task easier,” his dad concludes. “Cut the pole above and below, carry him out on it. Just like you said, son.”
“I do love being right,” he smiles but even he knows its a weak effort. “You got this?”
“Yeah, I do. You going after Buck?”
“Nah, he’ll seek me out when he’s ready. I’m gonna check the drones. I mean, we didn’t detect any radiation,” he lies through his teeth. “But I’d rather be safe than sorry.”
“Good call,” his dad agrees.
Then as he passes his dad on the way aft, his dad catches him by the shoulder and leans in to whisper, “Thank you, son. Really. I’m so proud of you.”
The sheer gratefulness and pride in his dad’s eyes makes him choke up a bit. It shouldn’t. He’s forty-six fucking years old, his father should not be able to affect him like this. But he does and it’s all Tony can do is nod back and keep moving.
He pauses by Andy lingering in the ice tunnel.
“Go ahead and get your samples,” he tells her.
“They’ll need someone to make sure they don’t send the plane crashing into sea,” she counters.
“One of you can do that. The other two get the samples. I want everyone on the ship tonight for a celebration dinner so let’s get it all done.”
“I would never say no to hot food,” Hans offers from Andy’s shadow.
“Alright,” Andy sighs. “You make sure they don’t do anything horrible. Jack and I will get the samples.”
Andy and Tony exchange amused looks at the enthusiasm. “If you need any of the metal or anything cut without heat, talk to Logan.”
“Will do.” She very carefully doesn’t ask, she just goes with the weirdness that is his life. It’s one of the things he loves about the woman. “Jack already put your coolers in the back.”
“Thanks,” Tony cracks his knuckles and gets to work. He’s got four drone bombers to disarm.
It’s relatively simple to do, actually. HYDRA didn’t bother to booby trap the keys to their ultimate victory in any way. Which he can’t really blame them for, they were kept in a top secret ship in the heart of their highest security base. All he really has to do is pop the top, use his Tesseract-grade pliers to remove the core rod, and slide core rod into the leaden sleeve.
Two full sleeves go in one cooler, two in the other. He wraps them in chains to make sure they can’t spill open in any way on accident.
Everyone they have on hand puts their backs into maneuvering Cap out of the plane and then pushing him across the ice to base camp. He weighs like sin so even the guys that took Andy’s coolers have to come back to help push.
Whatever. Everyone is back at base camp and no one is any near the Valkyrie.
Even though they planned it all together thoroughly. Even though he saw Yasha pack the charges. Hell, even though he watched Yasha build biodegradable seismic charges, it’s still a shock when a rumble starts in the direction of the Valkyrie that ends with a series of crashes and the scream of falling ice.
“No!” he shouts and starts that way. Thankfully, Yasha darts out of Helo Two to catch him around the waist.
Andy throws herself, arms up, between everyone else and the Valkyrie to stop anyone from running off that direction. “No, we don’t know how stable the ice is. We need to get everyone out of here and come back to scout later. When things have settled.”
“She’s right,” his dad agrees and gestures at their salvaged man-cube. “What’s the plan for getting Steve in the box? ‘Cause we’re not doing that by hand.”
Yasha gives Tony a squeeze and he looks up to realize he’s been staring the direction of the Valkyrie for no reason.
He knew what was going to happen. This was the plan. They made it together. To make sure no one would ever get those damn cores and those damn cores couldn’t harm the environment.
So he does his best to nod to Yasha and steps back, fully on to his own two feet once again.
“I’m going to use Helo Two to lift him into it. Duke, Logan, get to hooking it up. Jack, if you would help. Andy and Hans keep an eye on the ice between us and the collapse, to warn us in case we need to move quickly.
“I’m not going to be able to fly anyone else with the Cargo so, Archer, get to work of ferrying everyone back to the ship. Start with Christine and the Starks.”
There’s a round of ‘yes, sir’s, an ‘of course, sir’s and ‘right away, sir’s’, and Yasha focuses back on him.
“Actually, I have to fly Helo Two out of here,” Howard quietly disagrees.
Yasha laughs, “What?”
“It’s a thing, with Maria. Don’t make me explain it.”
“Yeah, okay. Go get in.” Yasha points at his father, “Co-pilot seat. Don’t fuck with me here.”
They watch as Howard stalks off through the ice. Only when they’re alone does Yasha focus on him.”You okay?”
“Yeah,” he lets out a shaky breath. “I kind of feel like Cap should have gotten to destroy that. To destroy his cage.”
Those oh so intuitive husky blue eyes take him in, and Yasha leans down to whisper, “That he should have gotten to destroy his cave?”
“Yeah, that,” he agrees. Tony got the destroy the cave where he was held against his will when he escaped, after all. And Yasha’s in the process of destroying his cave. Shouldn’t Cap get the chance too? Should he feel guilty for taking that away from him?
Questions for Charles, no doubt.
“I need you off the ice so I can get in the air,” Yasha says softly.
“Yeah, okay. I’ll go tell the kids the good news.”
“Sounds like a plan.”