Reading Time: 114 Minutes
Title: The Radical Stark Equation
Fandom: MCU, Eureka
Genre: Contemporary, Crossover, Drama, Family, Hurt/Comfort, Slash
Relationship(s): Nathan Stark/Jack Carter, Tony Stark/OMC
Content Rating: NC-17
Warnings: Torture, Violence – Graphic, Discussion of PTSD, Depression, Drinking
Word Count: 50,000
Summary: Nathan Stark now has everything in life he ever wanted except the one thing he always longed for, his brother Tony. They had been close as children but grew apart as Howard fostered competition between his sons. Now, Tony needs him more than ever and Nathan was determined not to let him go so easy this time. Tony Stark thought he had everything he ever wanted, until he attended his brother Nathan’s wedding. An ache for more began to settle inside of him but instead of settling, Tony acted out even more. He made an attempt at repairing his relationship with his brother, then a fateful trip to Afghanistan changed him forever. But, Tony wasn’t alone any longer. He had his brother, and that changed everything
Tony slowly woke to the feeling of softness, cool, clean air, and silence. IV’s stuck in one arm, and the arc reactor keeping the shrapnel from entering his heart gave off it’s normal soft hum. He felt all of the pain in his muscles and joints from his ordeal. He looked down to see his right wrist wrapped in a soft splint. His right leg was slightly elevated and also wrapped in a splint. Taking everything in slowly as his senses realigned themselves to the fact that he was out of that hell hole, even if the sacrifice was too high.
Tony let out a soft cry remembering Yinsen and how he had to leave his friend behind. The cry made him aware of something firm wrapped around him just below the arc reactor. Looking down he saw that it was a rib brace, and when Tony took a deep breath he startled himself. He coughed, making his torso hurt. Tony opened his mouth and felt himself make a face. Smacking his lips, he felt the dryness and looked around to see if there was any water he could drink. To the side of his bed was a stand with a cup, but when he reached out for it, he almost screamed in pain. His muscles had seized up and moving just caused him more pain.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, let me help you there.” Nathan’s voice came from another part of the room, but Tony didn’t want to move his head to look, but thankfully Nathan came into view for him. “Do you think you can sit up a little?” Nathan sat in a chair next to the bed and handed Tony the remote. Tony took it, his hand shook a little as he held the small device, clumsily hitting the button to raise his bed. When he did, he took a deep breath from the pain, then started coughing hard.
“Easy there, Champ.” Nathan grabbed the cup that held some ice chips. When Tony’s cough passed he nodded and Nathan helped him with getting some of the ice in his mouth. The moan Tony let out had Nathan chuckling. “Only you could make sucking on ice sound way more sexual than necessary.”
Tony smiled, but it hurt.
“Why are my fingers bandaged? And my wrist?”
“You have some minor fractures in both wrists and fingers. The right one is more severe, so the brace. The left one the Doctor thinks you might get away with just the bandages because it’s not nearly as bad.
“Your ribs have hairline fractures in several places. If you had taken another beating, they would have broken and you could have been in even more serious trouble. There’s severe stress to your arm muscles, and legs. Your right leg is going to get a soft cast as well. You have a fracture where something hard was used on you and left some, frankly, horrific bruising. Doctor took some X-Rays and was concerned enough to put you in the splint and elevate the leg.” Tony watched the play of emotions on his brother’s face and knew a truth he had tried to deny and push away for far too long. Nathan loved him. Even after all the hurt and pain they inflicted on each other, Tony’s brother still loved him.
“What’d they do to you, Tony?” Nathan’s normally strong and confident voice was soft with an edge of fear. “I could have lost you. If it wasn’t for Zoe’s ingenuity, it might have taken longer and I can’t….” Nathan turned away, his shoulders slumped as a hand wiped down his face. Tony took all of this in, letting Nathan have his moment.
“Nate,” Tony sounded broken to his own ears as he laid a hand on Nathan’s arm. “I’m here. You helped get me out. You never stopped looking and that means everything.” Tony swallowed down the emotions because everything was too much. Taking a shaky breath caused another painful coughing fit.
“Oh, you have pneumonia on top of everything else. Thankfully your fever broke overnight, but you’ll have the cough for a while.”
“Shit. I thought it was just the dirt, and heat. I should’ve known.”
Nate turned back around and cupped Tony’s chin. “You were running on adrenaline. I’m not surprised, but you’re safe, and we’ll get you home.”
Tony nodded, not sure what to say, he knew he needed to say something with the way Nathan was looking at him. “There wasn’t anything I could do, Nate. The only way I was getting out of there was to keep working. I needed to come home,” Tony’s voice trailed off, and Nathan wasn’t sure what to say.
“I’m not sure if you’re up for any visitors, but there’s an anxious young woman who wants to meet you. She was sorry she didn’t get to spend time with you at the wedding, having to help Pepper with the press and all.”
Tony lifted a brow and wondered if this was Zoe that Nathan was talking about. He took the cup from his brother and decided to suck on some more ice chips.
“I think I would like to meet the young lady.”
Nathan stood, but after he patted Tony’s shoulder. Tony could tell his brother was battling his emotions, which Tony couldn’t blame him. He pushed everything down and would deal with what he needed to deal with later.
“I’ll get her.”
Tony just nodded his head, not knowing what else to say as he watched Nathan walk out the door. A few moments later a short pretty blonde girl shyly entered the room. Her smile was just like Jack’s. Tony smiled at her and gestured with a head tilt for her to move closer.
“Don’t worry, I’m not gonna bite. Besides, you’re way too young.”
The girl laughed as she moved closer into the room and sat in the chair recently vacated by Nathan.
“You must be Zoe Carter.”
“What’s this? don’t call me sir. You’re family. The only people that are allowed to call me sir are those that piss me off, or haven’t earned the right to call me Mr. Stark.” Tony’s tongue was firmly planted in his cheek. It paid off as Zoe gave him another blinding smile and laughed a little. He noticed the bags under her eyes, and the tired cast to her features, but the sparkling humor in her eyes, and the upturned mouth, Tony knew she understood his jokes.
“Okay, Uncle Tony.”
“Ohh, I don’t know if that’s any better than Sir. but you may have to try it out for a while first. Then we’ll come back to this discussion.”
“I think I can handle that.”
“So, you’re seventeen.”
Tony could hear the hesitance in her voice, and he wanted to reassure her that all he wanted to do was talk.
“Pretty smart girl for seventeen. How many dead projects did you cannibalize, and how many of my reprobate scientists proposed marriage?” Zoe blushed and Tony could see right away how someone could be charmed into doing whatever she asked them to do.
“None, Uncle Tony. They were all gentlemen. Of course, if Nakamura saw anything untoward, I think she would have cut them off at the knees. She’s frightening, I think I love her.”
Tony almost choked on the ice chips in his mouth. He coughed a little, which turned quickly into a deep wracking cough. When he was done, he settled back against the bed and made a gesture for Zoe to wait a minute.
“Yeah, Akiko is an amazing woman and I knew she was perfect for the department when she told me to fuck off.”
“Uncle Tony!” Zoe feigned shock.
“What would you think of a mentorship at Stark Enterprises? And, before you get all indignant for the little guy, think of my rescue as your application. Your robot was amazing, and I’m sorry I couldn’t save her.” Tony took a deep breath, the pain was getting to him, but this was important. He needed to let Zoe know how much she was appreciated. “She was beautiful and your integration of the different advanced systems had me almost crying to see her self-destruct.”
“I’m flattered. But, give me time to think about it?”
“Take all the time you need, Kiddo. I think I’m done. I need some sleep. And, from the looks of things, you do too.”
Zoe sighed as Tony carefully lifted a hand to wipe a tear that fell from her eyes. He knew those emotions well. Smiling softly, he patted Zoe’s hand and reassured her he was going to be just fine. Nodding, she left, and Tony was once again alone. He didn’t think it would last long, as the chair Nathan had previously been in was actually a cot. Taking some more of the ice, Tony let it melt on his tongue, swallowing the cool liquid that slid down his still scratchy, parched throat. He closed his eyes and slowly fell back to sleep.
“He looks better than when we found him, but…” Nathan frowned and turned his head. Jack knew his husband was overwhelmed with all that was happening, and he wished he could be there in Qatar with him and Zoe, supporting them. Jack watched over the Skype call as the man he loved appeared ready for a breakdown. The emotional toll was getting to him, and Jack just felt frustrated.
“At least he’s been found, and you’re bringing him home, Nate. I know it’s not what you want to hear, but give him time.”
“Jack, I don’t know if he’s going to come out of this whole. He looked…broken. I don’t know how to help him.”
“All you can do is be there for him, Nate. Be the brother you always wanted from him. That’s all you can do right now.”
“I know. I know.” Nathan scrubbed his face with his hand and Jack saw the fatigue Nathan was fighting.
“Why don’t you get some sleep. I’ve got some meetings with my new team tomorrow. And, don’t think we aren’t going to talk about you having Happy be my detail without telling me.” Jack put on a smile, but he was missing his husband and daughter. He wanted them home, all of them.
“All right. Doctor was telling us that Tony can go home in a few days. They want to make sure he isn’t dehydrated anymore, and the pneumonia is under control.”
“Just, take care of yourself. Zoe is a big girl, and your brother has people watching out for him. I’m not there to watch out for you, so you’re just going to have to put on your big boy pants and do it yourself.”
Nathan genuinely laughed at that, and Jack smiled, glad that he could make his husband laugh. It was past midnight in New York, which made it 7 am in Qatar. The time difference was making Jack a little crazy. He needed sleep, for the morning really was the first day that Jackson and Tony Grimes, as well as himself were going to do some legally questionable hacking into the private affairs of the members of the board of directors of Stark Industries.
Jack knew he could be objective. He had little to no stakes in the game, but he knew Nathan did, and there was one thing Jack would always do, and that is protect Nathan, even from himself. Scrubbing his face, he got up from the bed to put the laptop away, and got undressed to attempt some sleep.
Several hours later, Jack woke from his alarm blaring at him. Groaning he crawled out of bed to begin his morning ablutions, then dressed for the day ahead. Sighing, Jack looked around the empty suite and longed for his husband. He and Nathan hadn’t been separated this long since their reunion, and it was driving Jack a bit crazy. Looking around the kitchen Jack just wasn’t sure if he wanted to make anything for himself to eat.
“If I may make a suggestion, Sir.” Jack startled, surprised to hear the voice of JARVIS. He was used to Sara, he was not used to a cultured English male voice.
“Stark Industries boasts one of New York’s best employee cafeterias on the tenth floor, and an executive café on the eighteenth, which you have access to both. You may find either one of them amenable until Mr. Stark returns.”
Jack nodded his head and felt his shoulders sag in relief. He did not look forward to another meal alone.
“And, there is a message for you from Miss Potts.”
“Oh? Umm, yeah just tell me what it is JARVIS.”
“Very well, Sir. Miss Potts and Mr. Hogan would like to invite you to dinner this evening.”
Jack thought about it for all of two seconds and knew he was going to say yes. “Tell them I accept.”
“Very good, Sir. They also stated casual attire would be acceptable.”
“Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“Is there anything else you might need?”
Jack thought about it for a moment and shook his head. What he needed wasn’t there. Flicking his gaze out the window that looked out onto the New York skyline, Jack took a moment to appreciate the view and laughed at himself that he pined for his husband. Shaking his head, Jack went to the kitchen to at least make some coffee from the beans that Vincent had sent him. Once he had a travel cup filled, Jack made his way to the executive café, deciding he needed to treat himself to something indulgent for once.
“Mr. Stark, I know your brother went over your injuries with you, as well as the pneumonia. What we need to discuss is this.” The army doctor tapped his pen against the arc reactor. “We have no empirical data on what this is going to do to you in the long run. My advice is to consult with your doctor in New York who would know a good thoracic surgeon. I worry about the possible long-term effects.”
Tony had thought about it, but he had not really considered the possible effects to his physical being. There was a part of him that contemplated that maybe this was his punishment for all of those bad things that happened with the weapons Stark Industries produced. He knew he should not feel responsible for them, but there was that tiny voice inside his head, the one that sounded like his father, that kept poking at him making him feel like maybe it was his fault.
Swallowing past the lump that formed in his throat from the wave of emotions that hit him, Tony gave the doctor his best intimidation stare. The one that normally made people cower, however, all the Doctor did was raise a brow and shook his head.
“You forget, Mr. Stark, I have to deal with soldiers all day. Even General’s. You don’t intimidate me.”
Tony felt tired as he slumped back on the bed. His body and mind were both empty of all energy, and Tony found he just did not have the will to fight.
“Fine. I’ll go to the Doctor like a good little boy.”
“Hm…Since your brother holds your medical proxy, I’ll make sure he knows you need to see someone about getting that shrapnel out of your chest so you won’t have to deal with this unproven apparatus.”
“Fine. I promise I’ll go, now, will you let me out of here?” Tony just wanted to go home.
“I want to keep you two more days to monitor the pneumonia, but you’re responding well to treatment. So, I don’t see why I can’t let you get back to the States. I’ll coordinate with the base commander to get you out on a medical transport to Germany, then a flight to New York. We’ll keep you as comfortable as possible.”
Tony took a few moments before he spoke.
“Will I be taking a bed from someone who needs it?” Tony wanted to be sure he wasn’t being given special treatment just because of who he was.
“Not to worry, there will be enough room for you, Mr. Stark.”
Tony gave the Doctor a smile that he didn’t really feel. The guilt started to creep in over the men who had died in the attack, Yinsen, and all of the innocent men, women, and children that had been hurt by his weapons. All Tony could do was nod. This was a battle he didn’t know how to fight, so he decided to keep his own counsel for now.
The Doctor patted his arm before getting up to leave Tony to his own counsel. Nathan walked in a few moments later and once more sat beside Tony’s bed.
“Doctor told me he’s going to release you in a couple of days. Zoe and I will stick around until we know you’re safely on the transport back home. We can’t go with you, but we’ll do our best to be right behind you and meet you at the hospital.”
Tony gripped his brother’s hand and once more felt grateful he had extended that olive branch. He didn’t know what he would have done if he had to go through this all alone.
“You don’t have to Nate. I know you have a husband to get back to.”
“This is important, Tony. You’re important. You’re my brother.”
Tony’s heart stumbled as Nathan called him brother. He had hoped for friendship, but what they were becoming was what they should have always been. He knew a truth he had denied himself, that it was never too late to repair their relationship.
“Thank you, Nathan. It means more than you realize that you’re here.”
“I couldn’t be anywhere else, Tony.”
No more words were spoken. No more needed to be spoken as the brothers sat in companionable silence. There was a lot Tony needed to know, and he knew Nathan had things to tell him, but for now, the idea of just being in each other’s orbit went a long way to healing years of anger and neglect on both of their parts.
Getting back to the States was far easier than Nathan had anticipated. Tony also didn’t fight his doctor on the surgery, and in a mere couple of weeks had met with a thoracic surgeon who assured Tony that he could indeed do the necessary procedure that would remove the shrapnel. Because of the seriousness of the situation, things were planned and executed quickly and Tony came through the surgery better than expected. Now, the hard task of keeping him from overdoing it for at least six weeks was ahead of all of them. Tony could work, but it had to be from home, and nothing stressful.
“That didn’t last long,” Nathan sighed dramatically as he read the last email Tony had sent him. Tony was incensed over Stane and what the man had tried to do to Stark Industries. He was angry at the complicit nature of the board, and he wanted heads. Nathan leaned back in his chair and stared at the data that Carter and his new friends had already compiled on each of the board members. Most of them Nathan felt comfortable keeping, but there were five that he wanted a closer look at.
Tony had files going back a few years on potential board members that would make good replacements. Nathan knew he had to tread carefully over the next few weeks, maneuvering around powerful people wasn’t difficult for him, but maneuvering around powerful, dangerous people needed a deft hand.
“What has that look on your face?” Carter asked as he walked into Nathan’s office.
“The data you sent me. You, Jackson and his husband did a thorough job. I just now have to be careful how we approach those you flagged as concerning. All while keeping Tony from coming into the office and damaging his recovery.”
“I know you’re worried, but he’s a grown man, Nate. He has to commit to his recovery himself. You can’t do it for him.”
“I know, I don’t like it, but I know once Tony makes his mind up on anything, it’s difficult to talk him out of it. For now he’s staying put and it’s driving him crazy, which in turn is driving me crazy.” Nathan leaned back in his chair looking towards his husband waiting to find out what brought Carter to his office.
“I think you need to turn off that brain of yours for a while, so, I have come to take you to lunch. You’ve been going non-stop for days, Nathan. Stark Industries is not going to fall apart if you leave for a few hours. And, don’t forget, we have to meet Allison, Fargo and the kids at the airport early this evening.”
Nathan shutdown his work, stood up, grabbed his jacket and stood next to Carter. “You’re right, and I’m sorry if I’ve let myself get buried in work.” Taking his husband’s face in his hands he gave Carter a not so chaste kiss. “I’ve been taking you for granted these last few weeks, and I’m sorry.”
Carter laid his forehead against Nathan’s, giving them a moment to reconnect.
“The company isn’t going to burn down if you’re gone for just a few hours. You have family, Nate. You don’t have to bury yourself in work.”
Nathan softly laughed as he pulled back from Carter, but still had his arms wrapped around his husband’s waist.
“I know. Sometimes I get lost, but I have you to pull me back.”
“Yes, you do. Now, come on.”
Nate gladly let himself be pulled along by Carter, who wasn’t heading towards the street. They were headed up to their penthouse apartment.
“Jack, what do you have in mind?”
When they entered, Carter pulled Nathan towards the kitchen where a meal was already laid out on the dining table.
“What’s all this?” Nathan asked as he slid into a chair and pulled the salad that was waiting for him closer.
“I made us lunch.”
“I do know how to cook, you know. Now, eat your salad. I have plans.”
Nathan wondered what Carter had in mind and after eating the light salad of field greens, freshwater crab, heirloom tomatoes, baby cucumbers, and a balsamic vinaigrette, Carter pulled him off the chair and into their bedroom.
“Now, be a very good husband, and I just may let you have the rest of lunch. But not before we spend a little alone time. You are going to fuck me into the mattress, then if I feel like you did at least an adequate job, you get a surprise.”
“Oh, Jack Carter you have no idea what you have gotten yourself into.” Nathan growled as he did exactly as Jack had asked him to do. Laying entwined together, Jack resting his head over Nathan’s heart, with Nathan stroking Jack’s shoulder, a feeling of contentment settled inside of him. “I don’t know what I would have done if you had not decided to come with me, Jack. These last few months, I don’t think I could have done it alone.”
“Good thing you don’t have to do things alone. And, if I know you, the proposal you’ve laid out for Allison will get her to move to New York.”
“I don’t think it will take much. I know she hasn’t been happy with GD and the direction the Government has been pushing us into. She’s always objected to the weapons testing. I know she’s missed working in medical research.” Nathan looked down at Carter, who was looking back up at him, and smiled softly. “Are you really willing to change our whole lives, Jack? I know we initially assumed this would be temporary, but my contract with GD is up, well technically it was never officially renewed after I came back. I don’t have anything except you, Jenna, and Logan to take me back there.”
Carter pushed so he was propped up on his bent arm, head in his hand.
“I want to be wherever you are, Nathan. I know we have a lot to work out with Allison, and the kids, but with us working together, and if Allison accepts I want to stay here. But, I need to know where I stand in the company. I mean, I can’t go back to being a Marshal, too many things keeping me here and I don’t want the constant travel, or putting myself in danger like that anymore.
“I need something more than just wandering these halls. I know you gave me this project in regards to the board as a way to occupy my time, but what happens after?”
Nathan was silent for a few moments and wondered just where Jack could fit. Then a slow smile spread across his face.
“You know that project you brought to me back in Eureka?”
“The need for a nationwide criminal database that collected stats and information on repeat offenders and possibly flagging those that had the traits of a possible serial killer?”
“Yeah. That. I know there are several already in effect, but none of them collect the kind of data you were talking about. It seems like that would be the perfect project for you to head up. Your proposal was well thought out and could go a long way to centralizing vast amounts of data for all branches of Law Enforcement. Plus, we could create a security company that you could run. I know how good you are, and you’re smarter than you let on, Jack.”
“I don’t know Nathan. I’m not cut out for the corporate stuff.”
“Then hire an office manager to help you out, but you work the security side. I’ve seen you negotiate temporary security contracts with visiting Government officials, as well as invited project specific scientists. I know you could do this kind of thing. Plus, you could still keep your hand in investigations. Believe me, a company like Stark Industries has a lot of moving parts to it, and I’m sure more than one espionage attempt has happened.
“Just, think about it, okay?”
Jack leaned over and kissed Nathan. “Okay, I’ll think about it.”
“That’s all I ask.”
“There he is, how’s my boy,” Jack crooned as he took Logan into his arms, while Nathan dealt with Fargo and got the luggage corralled. The boy squealed to see his father, and Jack was happy to have all of his family in one city at the same time.
“He has been missing you. I tell you, taking a trip with two babies, a teenager, and Fargo is far from easy. I’m exhausted.”
Jack’s laugh made his son laugh as the two of them made their way to meet up with the rest of the family. Jenna was strapped in the front part of the double stroller, while Jack carried his son.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t get out there to help. But, we have an apartment set-up for you guys. I think you’ll like it.
Allison gave Jack a tired smile as the group made their way out of the airport and to the company limo.
“A limo, Nahan?”
“It’s not a normal limo and I thought it would be better protection for everyone. Please, Ali, this is important. I’m keeping everyone safe here.”
“Nate, Jack, what’s going on?” Jack indicated with a nod of his head that they should all get in the car. Car seats had been arranged on one side of the bench seats, Fargo was told to sit in the front while Nathan, Allison, Kevin, and Jack took up the rest of the seats in the back. Once the doors were closed, Nathan engaged the privacy protocols.
“Don’t worry, we’ll fill Fargo in later. But, there were several reasons we wanted you here.” Jack began as he leaned back in his seat.
“All right. Are me and the kids in danger?” Kevin shot the two men across from him a worried look.
“Kev, it’s going to be okay.” Jack smiled as he squeezed Kevin’s knee, calming him down.
“We don’t think the danger Tony encountered is completely over. We have reason to believe that the man calling himself Raza was not the actual leader of the Ten Rings. I have some people that we’ve come to trust helping with searching out the origins of the terrorist organization.
“Also, Nate had me looking into the current board at SI. We’ve found some inconsistencies in their CV’s and Bios as well as what we’ve found by doing some deep dives into their backgrounds. After that interview that Nate and I gave to Newsweek recently, we feel that you and the kids might be better off here, where we can protect you.”
Allison was about to protest, but Nathan cut her off.
“I know what you’re going to say Allie, but we have a small discreet security force that is going to meet up with Henry, to help protect the town.”
Allison leaned back and Jack watched her visibly relax.
“Plus,” Jack gave her his best crooked smile. The one that always got him a soft indulgent look from Allison, “We have a proposition for you.”
Nate nodded and took that as his que to continue. “The medical arm of Stark Industries is lagging behind on research and innovation. We need someone like you to come in and take over the division to get it back up to the standards that our father had put into place. Tony was doing his best, but frankly the push into weapons put other divisions on hold.
“I’d like you, Allie, to become the VP of the medical arm of Stark Industries.”
Allison sat there, stunned and silent for a few moments. The silence was slightly uncomfortable as Allison glared at Nathan, then she shook her head while quietly laughing.
“I see. You know I can’t just give you a yes or no right now. I need to look at the division, read up on the research that you’re pursuing, dig into what is going on and what needs to be done.”
Jack took up the thread of the conversation, “We know. And we have everything you’ll need to research what’s happening within the division, and we have plans to give you a tour tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.”
Allison blinked as she stared at Jack, “A good night’s sleep? I haven’t had that in months, Jack.”
“And that is why we will take Logan and Jenna for the night. In fact, if you want to have a nap, we can just take the kids to our place and let you have some alone time. Or, if you want to make use of the employee spa and lounge, we won’t stop you. They have an amazing masseuse. Ask for Willa, her hands…magic, Allison, pure magic!”
Allison laughed which made the babies laugh and Jack knew that they may have hooked Allison into at least giving their proposal a chance.
Tony had been home for four months, and in that time he had isolated himself in his Malibu house wanting no one to disturb him. The surgery and physical recovery had been a success, but Tony wanted the quiet of his private labs. He had plans and wanted to carry out those plans without a lot of people around him. Pepper and Happy had come with him, Happy because he had insisted on watching Tony’s back, and Pepper because she went nowhere without Happy. Tony fought with them at first because he had wanted to be alone. Thankfully, Pepper only bothered him when it was important, and Happy was there if Tony needed to go out somewhere. But, Happy stayed out of his way and kept to the upper floor where he and Pepper had a suite of rooms, unless he went out with friends, or made his way to the beach to swim and run if Tony didn’t need him.
Most of the day-to-day running of Stark Industries he left in Nathan’s hands. But, that didn’t mean that he could completely abandon his duties to the company. He was there when important decisions needed to be made.
He had been impressed by the reports Nathan sent him over the revamped medical division. When Nathan had mentioned he was offering Allison Blake a position at Stark Industries, Tony did his own research and could admit he was suitably impressed. In the three months since she had taken over, not only had she restarted projects that were promising, she cut projects that made no sense, combined some of the smaller divisions, and brought the whole medical arm into budget. Tony made sure to keep an eye on her. Allison Blake just might be the person who could do proper research into ways that the arc reactor technology could be used in the medical field. Tony shook his head, and took a quick sniff to clear his head and got back to his own personal project.
Tony currently battled with an insomnia cycle, he had not slept in three days, he barely ate, and he couldn’t remember the last time he had taken a shower. His computers were all on, holographic displays for the new, and drastically improved iron suit were everywhere. Dum-E rolled around the workshop in an attempt to ‘help’ Tony, but being more of a disaster than anything. U kept coming up and tried their own brand of comfort which Tony found both secretly charming and endearing.
Steps could be heard on the stairs and the familiar clip of Pepper’s heels put Tony on alert. Shaking his head, he ignored her as he tried to work out the mechanics of how each piece of the suit worked together.
Nathan had called several times, worry in his voice because Tony had not called him back. They had things they needed to discuss. Tony didn’t want to think about business right now. He only had one thing on his mind, safety.
“Tony, didn’t you hear me?”
“Heard you just fine, Pep. Can’t stop.”
The exasperated sigh from his left told Tony exactly where she was, but he already had a clue. His hyper-vigilance had gotten worse as he shut himself in his lab for days on end, only coming up for a shower, the easiest sandwich he could make, take out pizza, or whatever was in the cupboards that was quick, and sometimes to get blinding drunk so he could sleep without the nightmares plaguing him.
“Tony, you’ve been down here for days. You don’t sleep, you don’t eat. You work on this…suit all the time. You’ve ignored everything, especially after your crazy announcement.” Tony’s press conference when he came home was mostly an announcement that Stark Industries was no longer developing weapons. Nathan was steadfastly in agreement, especially after his work at General Dynamics and DARPA’s push for new and better weaponry.
“That’s why I put Nate in charge. Go to him, Miss Potts, he knows what I want and he’s asshole enough to keep SI in the direction that I want it to go. You and Happy don’t need to babysit me, I’m fine.” Tony ignored the glare coming from his PA and continued working on the schematics for what he was calling the Iron Man suit.
“No, Tony you aren’t fine. You need to stop this nonsense with this obsession of yours. You need to get back to life, to the company. You can’t stay holed up in this house. It’s not healthy.”
“Why not? It’s got everything I need. I can have food, clothes, alcohol all delivered right to my front door without taking one step outside. I don’t need to leave, Pepper. What I need is to work on this.” Tony didn’t try to keep the cold, angry tone from his voice because it was how he felt. “I don’t need to be micromanaged, I need to be left alone.”
“Fine. I’ll leave you alone then.” Pepper glared once more and strode out of the lab. Tony heard the slamming of a door a few moments later.
“Miss Potts has left the house.” Tony frowned at the tone in his AI’s voice.
“You don’t approve, I take it?”
“It is not for me to say, Sir. But, she has a point. You are not taking proper care of yourself.”
Tony was silent while he worked then glanced up at the ceiling before giving the left arm of the prototype his attention.
“Iron Man playlist, eighty-percent.”
Tony heard JARVIS sigh and for a moment he thought about telling him off, but decided it wasn’t worth it.
“Very good, Sir.”
Loud hard rock music poured out of the speakers and Tony took a moment to indulge. It was music that he and Nathan used to sneak into their rooms and play as loud as they dared. Their father, of course, disapproved, but their mom just shook her head, an indulgent smile on her face, and closed the door between their suite of rooms, and the boys.
Tony got lost in the music and the work. He lost track of time and when there was a ping on his main computer letting him know there was someone at the door, Tony wanted to curse. When he looked to see who was right outside his door, leaning on his cane, Tony wondered what he was doing there.
“Let him in, JARVIS. I’ll be right up.”
“Looking like you are, Sir?”
“What?” Tony looked down at his oil stained t-shirt and sweatpants as he jogged up the stairs to the ground floor. Phillip walked in and Tony decided he didn’t care what he looked like. This was his home, he could look however he damn well pleased. Climbing the rest of the way up the, Tony walked over to his bar and poured himself a drink.
“Would you like one?” Tony held up the glass and shook it a little in what he thought was a tempting gesture.
“No. Thanks anyway.”
“Your loss. It’s a great scotch.”
“I’m sure it is, but it’s best I don’t drink with the medications I’m taking.”
Tony wasn’t sure how to respond to that so he just turned back to the bar and finished pouring and took a drink.
“What brings you all the way out here to Los Angeles?”
Phillip leaned on his cane and took a good long look at Tony before he spoke. “I got a worried phone call that you were in need of some help.”
“I knew it. I just knew she wasn’t going to leave this alone. Pepper…” Tony yelled as he leaned against the kitchen bar after adding ice to his glass.
“No. It wasn’t your PA.”
Tony narrowed his eyes as he walked towards Phillip with the glass of Scotch in hand. He took a long sip before he asked more questions.
“Did Rhodey somehow get your number?”
“No, Colonel Rhodes didn’t contact me either.” Phillip kept watching Tony as he paced the room, face scrunched up in a frown.
“Dammit, Nathan!” Tony growled under his breath as he grabbed his phone ready to call his brother to curse him out for meddling in Tony’s private life.
“Tony, it wasn’t any of those people”
“Then who the hell called you and made you come all the way out here?”
“It was someone named Jarvis.”
“Son-of-a-bitch.” Tony rolled his eyes and ground his teeth a moment. “JARVIS!” Tony yelled.
“Yes, Sir?” The voice was calm and almost affable which made Tony even more angry.
“Why did you call Phillip?” Tony downed his glass and practically slammed it on a random table he was standing near.
“Because, Sir, your current work and sleep schedule are what most consider to be unhealthy. Along with your lack of exercise and less than healthy diet, I determined contacting someone who might be helpful would be best. As this was not a medical emergency I picked the person you spent the most time with in recent history. Aside from Miss Potts and Mr. Hogan. ” JARVIS ended in a rather snippy tone to his voice and Tony wondered if he needed to tweak his AI a bit.
“You had no right.”
“Very good, Sir. Will there be anything else?” JARVIS’ tone became downright dismissive and Tony started to shake his finger towards the ceiling. He was stopped dead in his tracks when the man standing next to him started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“The fact that you’re standing in your living room, stained clothes, several days of beard growth, a haunted look on your face, and arguing with what is obviously a rather intelligent AI. I mean, the situation is pretty funny.”
Tony stopped to think about it and started to laugh at himself. It was the first time in months that he even felt like laughing. After composing himself, Tony reached into the small fridge near the bar, pulled out bottles of water and handed one to Phillip. Tony moved towards a couch and perched on an arm. The glass of scotch was temporarily forgotten.
“Now, why are you here?” Tony’s voice sounded less confident than when Phillip had first showed up.
“You don’t have to tell me, but I can kind of guess on what you are going through. You don’t sleep, you probably barely eat, haven’t showered in days, are obsessed with something in your lab but it’s not hygiene or cleanliness.
“You notice the mess around you but it takes every effort on a daily basis to get out of bed and put one foot in front of another, so the mess stays. You don’t leave the house often, and when you do, you’re hyper-vigilant and can only think about when you can get back and be safe.”
Tony did a little head roll before he stood up and turned away from Phillip, he walked towards a window that looked out on the Malibu shoreline. His hand itched to have a glass in his hand, but his breathing sped up, his heart rate increased and he was feeling light headed. Before he could even move hands were on him and a voice was telling him to breathe.
‘I am god dammit” Tony thought, but he knew the words had not actually been spoken. He vaguely heard someone telling him he was safe, that he needed to breathe and to take his time. There was a long moment before he could physically form words.
“Wh-why am I on the floor?”
“Because I can’t carry you to the couch, and it’s better to stay put during a panic attack.”
“I- I don’t have panic attacks.” Tony knew it was a lie the moment the words left his mouth.
“And I know that’s a lie.”
Tony turned his eyes up to see the concerned look on Phillips face. But, there was something more, something in his eyes that told Tony this man really did know.
“Come on. Let’s get you over to your couch. I’ll go make something hot to drink. Do you have tea?”
“Pepper, she usually keeps something over there.” Phillip was stronger than he looked. He helped Tony up and onto the couch, then he disappeared towards the kitchen. Tony closed his eyes and bent at his waist where he hung his head between his legs and tried to control what was happening in his body. He felt hot, like he was on fire, then a moment later he felt almost cold. Sitting up he opened his eyes and looked around.
There was a mess and he hadn’t even seen it. Bottles littered one table, discarded clothes were here and there, papers piled up all over the counter. That wasn’t Tony. Where Nathan was fastidious, Tony was downright OCD about his space. He wasn’t sure how he had not noticed.
“It’s called depression, Tony. You’re blinded to the mess around you, it might even be overwhelming to keep your spaces clutter free.” Phillip pressed something hot between his hands and when he took a sip, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it might be.
“You’re PA had a well stocked cabinet of teas. This one is chamomile and lavender. It’s good for calming. Just take a moment. You don’t need to be anywhere right now, so just take some time.”
Tony slowly sipped at the tea and found himself calming down quickly.
“I know more than you think, Tony. You see, during my last tour, as I said that was where I tore my ACL. But, you never asked how I did it.
“I was a Force Recon Marine and my unit worked in and around the Hindu Kush mountains on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We weren’t worried about the Chinese, but Iranians and Pakastani as well as Afghan insurgents made temporary homes up and down the border. The mountains were excellent ground to get lost in with the large natural cave systems.
“We cleared about fifteen small groups that were trying to rally to make raids on the American Military Bases. We knew we couldn’t quash all of them but we tried to clear them out as much as we could. Anyway, we got some intel that a large group was making their way to the Kermu Pass and we knew if they went in there, we’d lose them. We were about 4 klicks away from the target when we were ambushed.
“The intel had been bad, my unit was captured and it was several weeks before we were found. By the time rescuers came, we had been starved, deprived of water for long stretches, beaten, tortured. I had to witness one of my men being killed in front of me because I couldn’t give them what they wanted.
“I’ve still got PTSD. I still have nightmares and it’s possible I may always have issues. It took a while, but I got help after the surgery on my hip, before my knee replacement.”
Tony finished the tea, not because he wanted to, but because he felt obligated. He stood up after sharing a look with Phillip, he set the cup on the table and began to walk away. “I don’t need a shrink.”
“Maybe not, but you need something, Tony. Someone to talk to.”
“What I need is to finish the suit.” Tony turned and started down the steps back to his lab. He had not told Phillip to leave, the man would decide on his own whether to go or stay, just like everyone else in his life had done. Except for Nathan. Tony was still coming to grips over the fact that Nathan was still available to him. A telephone or video call away. Tony felt emotions for Nathan that had been growing since their reconcilliation, love and respect. Knowing Nathan was there let Tony have the time he needed, even if he tried to lie to himself that he was falling apart.
Turning the music back on to an ear splitting level, Tony got back to work.
* * * * *
Several hours later a bowl of soup that smelled amazing waited on a table set-up away from the main computer system. A carafe of something hot accompanied the food. Tony wondered if it was more of the tea Philip had made. Tony itched to add a good portion of scotch into the mug first. Shaking his head he took a deep breath, blinked a few times to reorient himself, then saved what he was doing, checked on Dum-E and U who both had settled into their cubicles and began their nightly recharge. Tony was well aware of the time and knew he had spent the better part of the day in the lab. He needed the suit to work. It was like an angry animal crawling inside him looking for some relief. This need, this anger had fuelled him like nothing else in life had. The anger was partially directed at himself for not paying attention to what was happening at his company behind his back. Tony let out a long sigh and walked toward the delicious smells coming from the table at the back of the lab.
Tony smiled to himself before he walked over to where food and drink awaited him. There was something comforting in the fact that someone had understood him enough to leave him alone, but also let him know they were still there.
Sitting down, Tony poured the mystery contents of the carafe into a mug, Tony was pleasantly surprised it was coffee. He added cream, but no sugar and downed the first cup. The taste was amazing which made him know right off the bat this wasn’t whatever he had in his cupboards.
Fixing another cup, Tony picked up the spoon and dug into the soup. After the first taste of rich, warm spices, hearty vegetables, chunks of tender chicken, and what looked like barley, Tony moaned at the taste. It was comforting, and not just as a way to fill his stomach. This was made for him. Tony picked up a piece of fresh warm bread, that also looked homemade, and dunked it into the dark broth full of those amazing flavors and savored the taste.
Tony took his time. No one since his mother died had taken the time to cook for him. He had always cooked for others, but it was a means to eventually get them into bed, but this…Tony took a shuddering breath knowing this was made out of care. He finished everything and looked around the lab. There was a big part of him that wanted to get back to work, but Tony had been humbled by a simple bowl of soup. Standing up he grabbed the tray and went upstairs to the kitchen and rinsed his dishes, poured the last cup of coffee from the carafe and went to go find Philip.
After about ten minutes of searching, Tony found the man he was looking for on the patio just off the main living room. The night air was cool for Los Angeles in Spring. Of course they were by the beach and it made the night air chilly from the wind blowing off the Pacific Ocean. Tony watched Phillip for a moment and something he had not felt in far too long settled deep inside. Tony had a real friend, maybe Phillip was more, but he was in no place to think about what that more could be. Swallowing down the lump that had formed in his throat, Tony made his way to his bedroom where he pulled a warm sweater from a drawer and slipped it on. He pulled another one out and took it with him to give to Phillip to put on over his t-shirt.
Stepping out onto the patio, Tony took in the slowly darkening sky before he looked at the man lounging with a small smile on his face and his eyes closed.
“You look comfortable.”
Phillip opened his eyes and the smile widened. “Tony. You have an amazing view here. I’m sorry if I’ve overstayed.” A look of apprehension crept over Phillip’s face and Tony hated that he had put that look there.
“You haven’t. Here,” Tony held out the sweater and it took Phillip a moment to comprehend what Tony wanted. The man slipped the garment on and let out a long contented sigh. “Thank you. You know, for the…” Tony waved towards the general direction of the kitchen. “You didn’t have to.”
“You haven’t been eating properly. And my Grandmother always believed a good bowl of chicken soup could cure just about anything.” Phillip sipped from a glass he had in his hand.
“She taught you to cook?” Tony took his time getting comfortable on the lounge chair next to Phillip’s.
“She did. Bake too. Always said just because my brothers and I were boys, didn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our share. She had us in the kitchen as soon as we could hold a knife and fork properly.”
Tony thought back to his Nonna Carbonell and smiled to himself. The days he and Nathan had spent in their Grandmother’s kitchen were precious. Tony had forgotten, or more precisely had pushed those memories aside. His need to please Howard, his own ambitions, and the need to be better than Nathan had all but consumed Tony for far too many years.
“Funny enough, it’s my Sister that hates to cook or bake.”
Tony laughed and laid back on the lounger and closed his eyes. The sound of Phillips’ voice, talking about his family soothed those hard places inside of him that had been building for years. Closing his eyes Tony let out a noise of contentment as he let the cool Malibu night wash over him easing some of the pain he had been ignoring since his return.
Tony woke screaming, his chest aching, and soaked in sweat. The nightmare was nothing new, but having gone to bed without any help from the bottle had them surfacing again.
“Tony?” A breathy voice called out from his doorway. Tony looked over and could just make out Phillip standing there in just his sleep pants.
“I…” Tony was on the verge of hyperventilating again as his body broke out in a cold sweat.
“Oh, Tone,” Phillip limped his way towards Tony who had not moved from his bed. “Come on, let’s get you in a shower.”
“This is why I drink. I can’t…sometimes they’re too much and I either have to work half to death, or drink enough that I can sleep.”
Phillip sat on the bed next to Tony, who had moved so his legs were hangin off the side. He was naked, but nothing about this situation was sexy. Tony held his body in such a way that Phillip wouldn’t see the scars on his chest in the dark of the bedroom.
“Neither is healthy Tony. You’re coping mechanisms aren’t working. Why don’t you go shower and I’ll take care of the bed, then we can talk.
Tony breathed deeply as he contemplated what it was he wanted. Talking never really got him anywhere. His eyebrows dipped and his nose scrunched at the thoughts in his head. He knew he was lying to himself because it was talking that brought him back to his brother. Nathan and his family were precious to Tony and the only way they had reconciled was the fact that he had for once used his words in a meaningful way.
“Talking. Talking is…good, maybe. I’ve never been good at talking about the hard stuff.” Phillip laid a hand on Tony’s bare leg and gently squeezed.
“Whatever you’re comfortable with, Tony. But, I’m here for as long as you want me to be.”
“Don’t you have, you know a job to get back to.”
“I can do my job from anywhere, and no I can’t tell you what it is. But, I think you need someone right now.”
Tony didn’t know how to handle the care Philip was showing him. The man was respecting his boundaries and Tony had no idea how to handle that. Everyone always wanted something from him, but not Philip. He just wanted to be Tony’s friend. The only other person in his life that had been like that for him was Rhodey. Unfortunately Rhodey had commitments and while Tony understood, it was difficult not to have his best friend around.
Philip was patient while Tony worked through the emotional landmines planted in his own mind. Getting up off the bed Tony walked towards his bathroom to clean off the sweat from the nightmare, and possibly stave off the headache that was brewing behind his eyes.
Taking his time, Tony let the hot water wash over him, pounding on his back and shoulders, massaging his head and neck, soothing those dark corners of his mind that kept creeping back in. When he felt like he could breathe again without panicking, Tony turned off the shower and stepped out. Grabbing towels he quickly dried himself off, wrapped a towel around his waist and walked back into his bedroom. Philip was still there and something Tony thought he had lost back in Afghanistan bloomed brightly in his chest. Hope. For what he wasn’t sure, but Philip stayed and that meant everything.
“I changed your sheets, got them going in the washer. Why don’t you come lay down and I’ll give you a massage.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“Maybe not, but you’ve got me.” Philip smiled and Tony walked towards the bed. Philip had him lay sprawled on his front, then warm slick hands began to massage him and Tony thought he had damn near gone to heaven.
“Stay. Here. I mean…with me tonight.”
Tony couldn’t see his facial expression, but the hum of pleasure he got told him that Philip wasn’t going anywhere that night. And maybe, just maybe Tony could find his way out of the darkness.
“Oh shit,” Tony yelled out before crashing into the wall at the back of the lab he had set-up to test the suit as each piece came together. The suit was more than halfway through prototype and testing. He had hoped to be further along than he was, but having Phillip around was a distraction that he didn’t mind and having someone that understood him and what he had been through went a long way in helping Tony heal mentally and emotionally.
“Problem with the boosters?” Phillip leaned against the wall as he looked down at Tony with raised brows and crossed arms.
Tony raised his head to look up towards Phillip.
“That’s one way to wake me up.”
“Yes, well since you’re hell bent on hurting yourself. Glad I’m here to pick you up.”
“Ohh, what are you going to do with me, tall and handsome?” Tony leered at his partner as he sat on the floor in an attempt to get his bearings. Phillip bent down and held his hand out for Tony to take.
“You need to be careful, Tony. Don’t want those assets ruined, now do we?”
“You’re just asking for trouble.”
Phillips’ brilliant smile had Tony swallowing what little moisture there was in his mouth. After getting upright Tony pulled off the gloves and boosters, made some notes on his computer then shut everything down.
“Hmm, I’m always trouble, or haven’t you figured that out by now?”
Phillip moved into Tony’s space close enough that Tony thought he was going to get a kiss.
“I’ve figured out a lot of things about you, Anthony Edward Stark. One, is you don’t take care of yourself. Two, you are fantastic in bed and a boost to my own ego, and Three, as much as you might protest, you like being taken care of but it scares you.”
Tony tried to stifle the emotion he felt filling his eyes as he stood toe-to-toe with Phillip. Their flirting lately had taken on an emotional edge that Tony was not ready for.
“Is there something you came down here for, Mr. Collier?” Tony curled his lip in a smile as he tried to change the subject and put his feelings aside to possibly explore later.
“I came down to get you to come up and shower and change. I have plans and you are at the center of them.”
“And what plans are these?” Tony grabbed the clothes he had shed to make it easier to test out the suit.
“Taking you out for dinner. And, dress casually.” Phillip threw him a smile as he rushed up the stairs ahead of Tony. The physical therapy he had been going through had made an impact on how Phillip moved and Tony had noticed. He was still unsure of the appropriate things to say as Phillips’ recovery progressed. Tony’s thoughts were a jumble as he slowly made his way to his bedroom. Getting ready for a night out had at first scared the crap out of him. He hadn’t been out much since his own physical therapy had ended. Other than trips to New York to help Nathan restructure the board, and to see Allison settled in as the Medical Director, Tony preferred to work in his lab.
Tony put up a good front when he went out, but he knew those closest to him saw through his masks. Thankfully no one so far had confronted him, or pushed at the boundaries he had set-up to keep himself safe, even if it meant he had put up barriers. Philip unconsciously pushed against those barriers, making Tony question what it was he wanted on a personal level.
Getting showered and dressed took hardly any time as Tony stood back looking at himself in the mirror. Leaning forward he took stock of how he looked and noticed the shadows he had lived with for the last few months were less. The weight he had lost during his kidnapping, the surgery on his heart, and the recovery, he had put back on with the amazing food Phillip cooked for him. Tony also took up running, and was slowly getting back into surfing, as well as weight lifting. The exercise took him out of his head for a while and let him get some small slivers of mental peace.
Tony ran a hand over his face to pull himself out of the free floating anxiety that crept up on him. He finished up getting ready, then left his room to make his way to the ground floor to meet Philip. Tony wondered at the beach chairs, towels, and other items that screamed day at the beach. However it was late afternoon, nearing almost dinner time.
“What’s all this?” Tony asked as he approached Phillip.
“It’s a surprise. Now, help me.”
Tony picked up a chair and one of the bags that had been packed, the two made their way to Phillips Jeep and loaded everything in.
“You know I have a perfectly good private beach we could just walk to.”
“Nope. Not like where we’re going. Now get in the Jeep, Tony.”
“Give me a moment.” Tony ran back in the house and quickly changed his clothes to match beach casual Phillip was wearing. It only took a couple of minutes then Tony made it back and climbed in after putting the extra bag he had thrown a few things into just in case, then threw it in with the other items. Phillip’s wicked smile had Tony worried, but he was assured, again, that everything was going to be fine. After starting the car and turning the stereo to a classic rock station, which Tony wholeheartedly approved of, Phillip pulled out of the drive and made his way towards Highway 1.
The view was spectacular as always and the Jeep hugged the corners and windey areas of the highway. Tony let himself get lost in the view as Phillip drove on. Thankfully the traffic wasn’t it’s usual mess and less than half an hour later, Phillip pulled into the parking lot of a private beach with a restaurant that sat almost at the edge of the ocean. Tony had never been there before.
“When did you find this place? I’ve been up and down this Highway for years and have never seen this place.”
“You have to know where the entrance to the parking lot is. It’s a hidden gem that sometimes gets crowded. Looks like we came at the perfect time. Come on, help me with the gear.”
Tony got out of the Jeep and helped Phillip with the chairs and the bags they brought with them. Tony followed behind as Phillip made his way to some low tables set out just at the edge of the waterline. The restaurant only had tables, diners had to bring their own seating, and some even had their own plates and utensils.
“Don’t worry, the restaurant is fully equipped, but you can ask them to use your own dishes. They pride themselves on sustainability, and most who come here love that about them.”
Tony didn’t have much to say other than agreeing with the idea. The two men set up their chairs, pulled out towels and sat down while they waited for a server to come out with glasses of water, menus, and baskets of garlic bread, chips and salsa, and a bowl of spicy mixed nuts.
“Gentlemen. My name is Marco and I’ll be your waiter tonight. Can I get you something to drink to start?”
Tony looked over the menu and decided on a non-alcoholic concoction of coconut water, fresh fruit, and sparkling water. Phillip ordered one of the restaurant’s craft sodas. Marco left to go place their drink order as well as the calamari appetizer Phillip had requested.
“When I first found this place I thought about bringing you here. But, you weren’t ready yet. Today, I knew you were.”
“And, what made you think that?”
Phillip picked up a chip and dipped it in the salsa, taking his time to answer Tony.
“You were smiling after the crash. You weren’t angry, or cursing yourself, or the equipment out. You had laughter in your eyes which told me you were ready for more of the outside world. I know, Tony, how scary it can be. I know what it feels like to have your control taken from you. Today, even with a setback, you had the look of being in control”
Tony watched Phillip a moment, taking his time on what he wanted to say.
“I am, you know. Feeling more in control. Sending Happy and Pepper back to New York was the best thing to do. You give me room to breathe and to work, they don’t. Don’t get me wrong, they’re like family to me, but they can be…” Tony didn’t want to be harsh he just wasn’t sure of the right word to describe those that cared about him the most.
“You said it, not me.” Tony chuckled as he pointed a piece of bread at Phillip.
“And I’ll say it for you anytime.”
“That goes for both of us.”
Tony kept quiet as he munched on the garlic bread and some of the chips in order to not say anything. Looking out towards the water, the sun began it’s slow descent. Dusk had always been a favorite time for him whenever he was close to the ocean. He itched for his boogie board to be able to ride the gentle waves as the sun went down.
“I think I’m going to go for a swim. I’ll order when I get back.” Tony jumped up, pulled off his shirt and khakis revealing the swim trunks he had on under his clothes. That was what he had gone back to change into before they left. He just hadn’t been sure if that was what Phillip had in mind initially. He was happy he had the forethought.
Stepping up to the water’s edge, Tony felt the cool of the sand between his toes as the sun warmed his skin. Taking the plunge he swam out as far as he dared, the water had a tendency to get choppy and quite cold as the weather cooled with the setting of the sun. He knew he had a little while before that happened. Treading the water where he was, Tony looked back and saw Phillip waving to him and the knowledge that the man was still there had another piece of himself thawing and letting go of some of the walls he had built up around himself to keep from getting hurt. Phillip was good for him, but Tony wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with all of this. He only knew that he didn’t want Phillip to leave.
Taking some time, Tony swam back to shore, turned around and swam back out again. Each lap his mind stilled a little more and by the time he felt like he was centered enough, Tony got out of the water and made his way back to Phillip, who had laid a towel out for him.
“You looked good out there.”
“I love the ocean. Always have. Never got enough of it growing up. When I was old enough to get out to the beaches on my own, I learned to surf. Took some time and travelled around one summer surfing some of the best beaches in the world. I’m not going to claim that I’m as good as the professionals, but I do alright. I don’t remember what it’s like to be that young and free anymore.” Tony took a sip of his drink and kept his gaze on the water.
“Maybe it’s time you remember how to be like that again.” Phillip smiled softly as he reached for Tony’s hand. Not missing a beat, Tony curled his fingers with Phillips and enjoyed the place he was at both mentally and physically.
The waiter came out to see if they were ready to order food, the both of them decided on the house special fish tacos, with a sharing plate of ceviche, Shrimp Aguachile, and chilled raw oysters.
Tony and Phillip took their time, they ate slowly enjoying the cool evening as the sun went down and the sky darkened. Coffee and dessert of fried ice cream had them talking to each other about whatever came to mind. There was no rush to any of it. Tony found the whole evening a nice change from the partying, and constant black tie events. He knew people recognized him sitting there, but everyone who came to the restaurant left him to his privacy. It was a refreshing change to the constant flash of cameras.
“You look lost in thought.” Phillip sipped his second cup of coffee while he watched Tony.
“I was thinking how refreshing this is. No cameras, no black tie events, no charities to attend. Just a nice quiet night out. I don’t think I’ve had this in far too long to remember.”
“Hmm, well I’m just going to have to do my best to find places like this where you can relax and be yourself.”
Tony took a deep breath to settle the swell of emotions that he had been fighting for the past few months that Phillip had been with him.
“That is if you still want me here. I know I keep asking and you keep saying it’s okay, but I want to be sure this is really what you want, Tony.”
“I want you to stay as long as you’re willing and able to. I like having you here.”
Phillip took Tony’s hand and held it a moment before bringing it to his lips and kissing along Tony’s knuckles.
“Then I’ll stay.”
Tony sighed, letting out the breath he hadn’t realized he had been holding in. He looked out over the water and up at the rising moon and thought the evening couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Are we doing the right thing, Jack?” Nathan paced the living room of their new to them penthouse suite. There were four suites at the top of Stark Tower, Tony having one of them, two were being rented out, and the fourth was for Jack and Nathan. The space was enormous, even larger than Sara. Jack wasn’t sure about all of the rooms, but Zoe and the boys could each have their own space. He had his own office, as did Nathan, Zoe currently was building a lab in a room next to her bedroom. There were other rooms, but Jack didn’t want to think about how big the space was or it would drive him a bit mad.
He loved the living space, the kitchen, and the entirely tool indulgent ensuite bathroom to his and Nate’s bedroom.
Allison had moved into Jack and Nathan’s old apartment which was just a few floors down from the Penthouse suites. It was at least as large as her house back in Eureka which she protested to at first, but after seeing the nursery for Logan and bedrooms for Kevin and Jenna, Allison capitulated and agreed. Along with the live-in Nanny that Nathan and Jack helped Allison to hire. They all had cleaning staff that came as part of the services for the Penthouses. Jack pulled his mind out of his thoughts and paid attention to his husband.
“What do you mean?” Jack was in the kitchen working on preparing an easy dinner for the whole family. Allison had agreed to join them with Jenna, Logan, and Kevin. Zoe was down in the labs of SI working on a school project, Jack would wait to call her up until dinner was ready if she took too long to make her way back to their new home.
“Leaving Tony alone. I’m not comfortable with it. Not after all he went through. I mean, I know he asked us to after his physical therapy was over, but it feels wrong somehow.”
Jack rinsed his hands from the meat he had been handling, burgers were on the menu with a couple of easy sides. Stepping away from the kitchen counter, Jack went to his husband and laid a hand on his cheek.
“Phillip is there with him. And we do what we can to keep in touch with him to let him know we’re here. But, I think for now what he needs is someone who understands what he went through. We’re not that.”
Nathan heavily sighed as he wrapped around Jack. “I know. I know we’re doing the best we can, but sometimes I feel like it’s not enough.”
“We have a trip planned for the next week and you’ll be able to see for yourself how he’s doing. I know you’re worried. Everything he’s been through would break the best of us, but the last time we talked, he appeared to be doing better. More focused.”
Nathan pulled away and walked to the bar situated near the kitchen. He poured a drink then grabbed a beer out of the fridge for Jack. walking back, he handed Jack the bottle then took a sip before he settled.
“You’re right. I need to stop worrying. I’m sorry.”
“You have every right, Nate. You’re still building your relationship and it’s going to take time. You have to let Tony work things out in his own time. The only thing you can do is to continue to let him know you’re here, you’re taking care of the company, and you have his back.”
Nathan finished his drink then kissed Jack. “I will do my best to stop worrying.” Nate was about to say more when the elevator dinged and Allison came in with the kids in tow. Kevin was pushing the stroller with Jenna and Logan. The two babies lit up when they saw their fathers and the next couple of hours became family time.
Jack went back to the kitchen to begin cooking the burgers, frying up the french fries, and making a big salad. Thankfully Zoe showed up, fresh faced and looking excited.
“Hey kiddo. Why are you looking so happy?”
“I talked to Uncle Tony and he had some brilliant ideas on my project. I’ve been working out the blueprints on my newest robot. I think it’s going to work out perfectly, at least that’s what I hope. What’s for dinner?”
“Burgers and fries. They may not be Vincent’s, but I’m sure everyone will be satisfied.”
“Dad, your burgers are excellent.”
“Well, thank you sweetheart. Now go help set the table and help Allie with the kids.”
Zoe bounced out of the kitchen to help get everyone ready. Jack couldn’t have been prouder of his daughter. Ever since she began working in robotics, everything about her had lit up. She found that thing to be passionate about and it made all of the sacrifices and pain they had gone through to get where they were worth it.
Nate had a lively discussion going on with Zoe while Jack finished up in the kitchen. Smiling to himself, while he worked had Jack realising this is what he wanted all along in life. His family around him, a career he could be proud of and someone who loved him and would always be there for him.
The only thing missing in his life was Lexi. After having her baby, Lexi had once again gone in the wind. He ached to have his little sister back in his life, but he knew that would come only when Lexi wanted it.
“You okay? You look lost in thought.” Allison leaned on the kitchen bar with a glass of ice tea set in front of her.
“Thinkin’ about Lex. I wish I knew where she was and what she was doing. The twins have to be almost two years old by now.” Jack tried to not be angry at Lexi for not showing up to the wedding, but he wasn’t even sure the invitation reached her. The address she had given him where she and Duncan had been living had been vacated a few months later. Jack had a friend at the Marshal’s office check for him when he didn’t receive a response to the invitation.
“I’m sorry, Jack. I know how much you wanted her at your wedding.”
“I’ve had to come to the terms that my little sister is a free spirit and I can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do. I know she’ll find me somehow, but I worry.”
“Of course you do. You had to help raise her when you were barely out of your teens yourself. And, I know it can’t be easy to see Tony and Nate repairing their relationship when your Sister is out there somewhere and you don’t know where she is.”
“I’m not jealous, I’m happy for Nate, but it’s difficult, you know?”
“The problem was she came to Eureka at the wrong time. Even though you didn’t want to admit it to anyone, you were grieving and Lexi didn’t help. She tried to put her own needs above what you were going through.
“Don’t get me wrong, I like her, but your Sister was selfish, even with all of the help you tried to give her.”
Jack took the burgers off the stove top grill and set them aside. The fries were next as Jack checked the temperature of the fryer. He put several of the fresh cut potatoes in and let them cook. Turning back to Allison, Jack looked towards his family and let himself be grateful for them.
“I don’t know what I would do without all of you. And, thank you, Allie, your support has meant everything to me.”
“You don’t have to thank me, Jack. Now, I’ll leave you to finish.” Allison smiled as she grabbed her tea and made her way back to the living room to spend time with Nathan and Zoe. Jack finished up in the kitchen and began to bring everything to the large table in the dining area. Zoe jumped up to help him as he laid out the food and all of the condiments for everyone to make their own burgers.
Family time around the table had become a thing since Allison moved into Stark Tower and took over the medical division of SI. If they didn’t have meals at Jack and Nathan’s, they went to Allison’s, but it became important for all of them to have a few meals a week together. Sometimes Jack would take the babies for the weekend and give Allison time for herself. Everything was working out better than anyone expected.
At the end of dinner, movies and games with the kids. When it became late, Jack helped Allison back to her place with Logan in his arms while she carried Jenna.
“You know, these family meals I think have been good for all of us.”
“Yeah, I’m glad we do this. It feels right.”
“How’s your security thing coming along.”
“I hired a managing director and have feelers out for ex-cops, or those just out of the military who might make a good fit. We’ve already spoken with several companies who are looking into hiring us for special security details. I like it. I like the challenge.”
“You seem more settled than even in Eureka.”
“I am. I like my life and I owe so much to Tony. I owe everything to Tony. I still don’t understand how he did it, and all of the Star Trek mumbo jumbo about computers and buffers and all that, it went right over my head, but it would take a lifetime for me to give back to him what he’s given me.”
They arrived at Allison’s apartment and Jack helped her inside with the kids, getting them settled and Kevin tucked in as well.
“You don’t have to prove anything to him, Jack.”
“I know. I just wish I could help him more.”
“You’re doing what he’s asked. All you can do is let him know he has family, and when he’s ready, he’ll come back. I know it’s been almost six months since Afghanistan, but what he went through, it will take time.”
Jack started to leave to go back to his own place when he turned around.
“Thanks, Allie. I appreciate everything you, you know.”
Allison smiled as she leaned in and kissed the side of Jack’s mouth. “You are an amazing person, Jack Carter. I appreciate you as well.”
Jack kissed Allison on the forehead before saying his final goodbyes and went back home. When he got there he was wrapped up in his husbands arms and the two of them went to bed, talking about their day and plans for the near future, which included a trip to California to see for themselves just how Tony was doing.
Jack turned in Nathan’s arms and wrapped up close to his husband, Jack was once again grateful for everything he had and the family he had around him.
Nathan watched as Tony walked into the lab where his Step-daughter was working on her project. He followed his brother and observed the interaction between the two.
“Uncle Tony!” Zoe looked up when the door to the lab she was working in whooshed open. Tony smiled and pulled the girl into a hug. Nathan knew Tony only came back for the board meetings, that his obsession with finishing the suit was taking all of Tony’s energy. But, from what he had observed when he and Jack hand gone out there the month prior, it was nearing completion. Nate turned when Tony spoke.
“Hey, kiddo. How’s the project coming along?”
“Come see.” Zoe excitedly pulled Tony towards her work area and started up the robot she had been working on. “It’s smaller than Sarabi and Mufasa, but has a lot of the same technology. Right now we’re working on improving the drone technology we added so it can be controlled from anywhere.
“Search and rescue will be their function. I’m planning on making them a trio, and they have sensors that can communicate with each other.”
“Show me.” Tony leaned on the table Zoe worked at. Her eyes lit up and her excitement had Tony exited.
“Are you serious?”
“Very. Come on, Genius, show me what you got.”
Zoe smiled as she grabbed the prototype and set it in the small testing lab next to the practical lab. She put her prototype through its paces, stopped when something wasn’t right and made notes. Continued with each test and Tony could see the practical applications Zoe’s robots had.
“Kiddo, that’s brilliant. It’s coming along. When is the project due?”
“I have a couple of months. I know there are kinks to work out, but it’s coming together.”
“When you come to Malibu next month, I’ll introduce you to my kids.” Tony smiled as he turned to walk out of the lab. Nate watched as his brother turned back to Zoe and smiled. “You’re doing good, kid. Keep it up.”
Nathan followed Tony out and felt a smug smile cross his face.
“I didn’t say a word.”
“I can hear you thinking. She’s a good kid and smart. She’ll go far because she doesn’t take people’s shit.”
“Carter is very protective of his daughter.”
“I know. What are you warning me away from?”
“Let Zoe come to you. I think she would be perfect for the Stark mentorship, but she’s been fielding a lot of offers after she presented the paper on how Mufasa and Sarabi were instrumental in their search and rescue of you. She has to decide what she wants to do.”
“You don’t have to warn me away, Nate. The girl has her own mind, but I have a feeling with her father working and living here she’ll choose us.” Tony turned, walking backwards to smile even more smugly than he already was.
“You are the worst.”
“You know you love me, brother mine.”
Nathan shook his head and followed Tony up to the boardroom where a meeting was taking place with some of the potential new members.
“Are you ready for this meeting?”
“Yes. Let’s go make some people very happy.” Tony clapped his hands together and rubbed them as he and Nathan boarded an elevator to the floor where the meeting was taking place.
‘You seem to agree with some of the choices the board has agreed upon.”
“These are good people Nate. I only want what’s best for SI.”
“Good, then let’s get this over with.”
“What the hell happened!” Carter ran into the meeting room with his security detail in tow. There had been no sense of any kind of danger when Nathan had set-up the meeting, and none of the candidates for the board had exhibited any kind of strange behavior. The attempted attack came out of the blue.
“Stane has a mole in the company. Those two over there tried to take Tony out, but he seems to have had a trick up his sleeve.” Tony showed Carter the item around Tony’s wrist.
“Personal shield. Doesn’t mean I didn’t get knocked down.” Tony had some cold compression against the back of his head. Nathan tried to control the fury he was feeling.
“I’ll get everyone on this. We’ll find them, Nate, Tony, I promise.” Jack’s affable nature was gone. He was furious. Nathan could count on one hand the number of times Jack Carter had fully lost his temper.
“Jack, we’re fine.”
“No! No, you don’t get to placate me, Nathan. Someone was out to hurt you and Tony. This is unacceptable and I won’t rest until we find them. I cannot be responsible for my actions when I do.”
Nathan knew he needed to calm his husband. This was US Marshal Jack Carter, not affable Eureka small town Sheriff Jack Carter. Nathan knew the difference well. He had seen it enough times over the years he’s known and loved Jack. Whoever was responsible had no idea what they brought down on themselves.
“Jack. I just don’t want you to do anything stupid.”
“I won’t Nathan. But, those responsible I will find and I’ll make their lives hell.” Jack stormed out barking orders to the men and women that followed him.
“I’ve never seen him like that.”
Nate looked over at Tony and could admit he was angry as well. The assassanation attempt on SI grounds was beyond stupid. Which made him consider there was something else going on.
“Will you be all right if I leave you alone?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine.”
Nate nodded his head then headed out of the conference room and made a mad dash to his office. It had been locked, but that wouldn’t stop someone resourceful and seeking revenge. Walking in he wasn’t unsurprised to see Stane sitting in his chair.
“I didn’t think it would work, but I always like to be proven right. Now, you’re going to sit right here and you are going to reinstate me to CEO, or you’re going to pay me fifty million dollars and sign over all of the patents to everything I created for SI going all the way back to when your Daddy was still chasing skirts.”
Nathan sat there not moving, staring at Stane in disbelief.
“If I don’t?”
Stane’s smile sent a cold chill down Nate’s back as he was handed the phone in Stane’s hand. It was a Stark employee phone that was keyed to many areas of the building. One of the access points was the robotics lab. It took Nate a moment to interpret what he was seeing. There was Zoe sitting at her work desk with one of Stane’s men holding a gun on her.
Nate felt himself go cold. He knew if Carte walked in on what he was seeing, his husband wouldn’t hesitate, and he would feel zero guilt for whatever he had to do to save his daughter.
“You are making a terrible mistake, Stane. If you hurt that girl, my husband will scorch this earth in seeking his revenge.”
“I highly doubt a Marshal turned Sheriff will be able to handle my men.”
“Oh, you greatly underestimate his abilities and resourcefulness. Zoe means everything to him and even the thought she might be in trouble will make him dangerous.”
“Well, we don’t want to see anything happen to father or daughter now, do we?”
Nathan still didn’t move, but he happened to look at the phone that was sitting on the desk in front of him. Nathan was impressed. He had never seen those particular moves from Jack. The more layers he pulled back from his husband the more layers were revealed.
“I think you need to pay attention.” Nathen just barely tilted his head to the side and slid his eyes to look up at Stane.
“What the hell!”
Jack had taken out the mercenary that had the gun pointed at Zoe and the look on his face had Stane almost literally shaking in his boots.
“You’ve got nowhere to run, Stane. We may not have been able to get you arrested for the embezzlement attempt, but this? You’re a fucking idiot and will go to jail for this.”
“Then I have nothing to lose if I kill you right here and now.”
Nathan kept his outside cool, but on the inside he was as scared at this moment as he had been when he walked into the chamber during the time loop.
“What would it gain you, Obadiah? Kill me and hope to try to control Tony?”
Obadiah pulled back the hammer on the gun and sneered at Nathan.
“Tony shouldn’t even be here! He was supposed to die in Afghanistan. You are a complication. I didn’t understand how resourceful you are and how much sway you have with your brother. I didn’t take you into account.”
“Maybe you should have, Stane. You better get away from my husband, or I will not be responsible for what happens next.” Jack was there and Nathan could admit that he felt relief. He knew that Jack wouldn’t waver, Stane had threatened Jack’s family and there was nothing more important than family to Jack.
Stane pointed the gun right at Nathan’s head and a moment later, he was falling to the floor with a gunshot to the head. Obadiah Stane was dead.
Nathan shot up out of his chair and came to gather Jack in his arms.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. I didn’t pull the trigger.”
“I did.” The voice behind them had both men turning to see Tony standing there with a pistol in his hand. He appeared to be in shock as he kept the gun pointed at the spot Stane had previously been standing.
“He was trying to kill me? He was responsible for what happened in Afghanistan?” Tony sounded devastated and Nathan didn’t know how to help him. Walking over to his brother, Nathan wrapped his hand around the gun and pulled it out of Tony’s hand.
“We’ll find out, Tony. I promise you, we’ll find out.”
The police were called in and Stane’s body was removed, the head detective asked the same questions over and over, making sure that Tony wasn’t lying or changing his story. The investigation didn’t take long and Tony was thankfully cleared of any possible charges. The men that had come with Stane and were part of the attempted takeover didn’t take long to crack.
The plot was haphazard and done out of desperation. Stane wanted SI for himself, he didn’t care how he went about it. After going through Stane’s financial records, there was ample evidence that he was deeply in debt and acted out of desperation. Nathan had their forensic accountants looking into Stane with the permission of the police. What they found was a man that had made a lot of promises to a lot of bad people and had no way to fulfill those promises when Nathan and the board had ousted him.
Nathan knew Stane’s actions brought up a lot of unresolved issues for Tony, he just wasn’t sure how to help his brother. Phillip had been flown in because it was the only thing Nathan knew would help his brother.
“Are you all right?” Jack asked as they laid in bed, entwined in each other after some rigorous life affirming sex. The two of them needed it, and Nathan was grateful that Zoe didn’t mind staying with Allison. Jack and Nathan needed some alone time to help them settle their emotions after Nathan’s life had been threatened.
“No. No I’m not okay. I knew Stane was unstable, but I didn’t think he would threaten our family. Jack…” Nathan pulled his husband closer and held him. Words couldn’t express the emotions he felt at the thought of losing either Zoe or Jack. Nate knew it would have destroyed Jack if anything happened to Zoe.
“Do you want to talk to Dr. Bray?” The counselor that had helped Jack and himself when Nathan had come back and Jack had tried to work through his emotions.
Nathan took a deep breath and took time to answer. He wasn’t ignoring his husband, he just knew he needed to find the right words.
“I’m not opposed. I don’t know how to process this. I don’t know how to keep you safe, Jack.”
“Nate, I’m not fragile. We’ll get through this and you have to trust me that I’ll keep you safe. That’s what SI hired me to do.”
Nate felt more settled as he held Jack close. It was a long time before he fell asleep, but when he did the nightmare shook him. Jack stayed where he was to reassure him that everything was going to be just fine.
The suit was starting to come along. He had the legs done, the arms in final testing and the breast plate was getting the final touches, one being the arc reactor that Tony had integrated as the power source of the suit.
The final build of each piece had gone faster than expected after he had finalized all of the pieces in the testing phase. It didn’t hurt that Philip wandered down if he was at the house and helped out. While Tony had told Phillip he could stay as long as he liked, there were times when he had to leave to go back to DC for meetings on what Tony didn’t know.
Phillip had a mechanical engineering degree, but had gone into the Military to help pay for it. While there he had finished his degree, but after his injuries had gone through other training to do whatever it was he couldn’t tell Tony about.
“Hand me that spanner over there,” Tony asked as Philip came into the workshop. A moment later the requested tool was placed in his hand. “Just, a little more…” Tony concentrated on getting the hinge tightened just right on the left arm. When he was satisfied he looked up and smiled.
“Thought you were going to be gone for a few days.”
“Uh, Tony, I was. Four days. Came back today. Did you even leave the lab?”
“Oh.” Tony frowned and looked around the lab. It was cleaner than it had been when Philip showed up almost four months prior, and he had not touched a drop of alcohol in more than five weeks.
“Guess I got caught up. But, hey, I’m making progress.”
“Yes you are. When are you trying it out?”
“I think it’ll be ready for testing by the weekend.”
“That’s good. But, I actually came down here because you have guests.”
“What? Who? I didn’t invite anyone.”
Philip laughed and shook his head. He didn’t have time to elaborate when a voice called down the stairs.
“I see you forgot, Tony.”
“Nathan…” Tony pulled out his phone to check his calendar and let out a string of expletives that would have made his Grandfather Carbonell blush. “JARVIS, why didn’t you remind me?”
“You made it quite clear, Sir, that you did not want to be disturbed for any reason. Miss Potts had reminded you twice this week.”
Tony opened his mouth to argue, but Nathan gave him that look. “Right, sorry, Nate. Just, give me time to clean up and I’ll be right with you.”
“Hey, it’s okay. When I get in the lab, Carter will sometimes have to drag me out. But, it’s all good.” Nathan’s eye wandered over the pieces of the suit. “Can I…” He waved a hand towards the pieces lying about on the worktable Tony had set up.
Tony saw his brother’s eyes light up with curiosity. Normally Tony would only let someone touch his projects if he was there with them. But, he trusted Nathan. Always had and it was something he had forgotten in his bid to be better than Nate.
“Sure. Just don’t break anything. Philip can show you the schematic.” Tony tried not to look hesitant, but the smile on Nate’s face had Tony smiling back. Zoe ran down the stairs as Tony started up them.
“Uncle Tony! We so have to sit and talk because the robotics lab is a dream and with your help I was able to get my project in on time. Not only did I pass but my teacher thinks I might have a shot at the Davidson Fellowship if I showcase the triplets along with Mufasa.”
Tony was suitably impressed. He thought Zoe’s teacher was right in that she had a shot at the prize, especially with a possible Military Search and Rescue Engineering contract that wanted to test the bots in some of the harshest conditions. If they worked, Zoe would be on her way to an amazing career.
“Yeah, Kiddo. We’ll talk.” Tony looked around his lab and saw Dum-E attempting to help Nate, and U looked lost. He took only a moment to decide as he walked back down the stairs. “Come on, I want to introduce you to my kids.”
“Remember I promised to introduce you. You haven’t had the time to visit, so this is the perfect opportunity to meet them. Follow me.”
Zoe’s brows dipped low as she followed behind Tony. “U, roll over here kiddo.”
U stopped what it was doing and rolled over towards Tony. It looked up and Tony could almost feel their anticipation.
“Zoe, meet U. They help me out around here. And the one over by Nathan is Dum-E. I put them in your capable hands as I go up to take my shower.”
The look on Zoe’s face was all Tony needed to know that his bots, no, his children, were safe.
Getting up into his bedroom was easy as the stairs led directly to his floor. He needed the time it took to shower and change to get his mind reoriented to the fact that his family….Tony stumbled as the thought of family in his home made him happier than he thought was ever possible. It also freaked him out. He had lived his life alone for far too long. Letting people in, people that cared about him, respected him, and were on his side wasn’t something Tony was used to.
The free floating anxiety over the knowledge that his family was in his home, and actually wanted to spend time with him threatened to overtake him. The watch on his wrist sent out a gentle, calming pulse that helped to settle him. Tony had created it to help with his anxiety attacks, and to nudge him as it read the physical effects of his depression. After testing the watch out for several weeks, he sent the schematics to Nathan to have the medical division make them. The watches were free to all service men, something Philip became speechless over. The grateful look on Phillips’ face made Tony know that what he was doing was a good thing.
There were deep discounts to trauma, and domestic violence victims. The watch had become popular with groups that dealt with sufferers of PTSD. Anyone without an actual medical need could buy them as well, but they would pay full price. Tony balanced his altruism with profits.
The watch helped settle him as he finished up with his shower, groomed quickly, then pulled on a pair of sinfully soft jeans and one of his many rock t-shirts. He forewent the jacket. This was family, they should feel relaxed in his home.
When he made it back down, there was a debate going on as to who was going to man the grill out on the deck that overlooked the Malibu shoreline.
“I say Carter is the man for the job.”
“Tony, how are you?” Jack’s look of genuine affection was another confirmation that people actually liked him, not out of obligation but because they broke through his walls and got to know him.
“Good. Better, actually.”
Jack nodded and clasped his hand for a moment in understanding. The all too recent assassination attempt by Stane had affected all of them. He knew Jack and Nate were speaking with someone that had helped them after Nathan came back.
“Well, I brought steaks and chicken. Guess I’ll get them rubbed down with that spice mix you like, Tone.”
“Rhodey. When did you get time off?”
“I got a couple weeks. Nate and Carter gave me no choice as they practically kidnapped me.” Rhodey didn’t even try to hide the happiness that shone on his face. “The place looks great. Better than last time I was here.” Rhodey gave Tony a look of understanding. Their friendship had been tested more than once, but they never would abandon the other. Tony didn’t hesitate in giving his friend, his other brother, a hug and it felt good.
Whispering in Rhodey’s ear, Tony told him some of what had been going on the last month.
“I ah…I’m talking to someone. Just, don’t make a big thing, okay?”
“Never Tony. But, I’m glad.”
And like that, the two men understood each other, nothing more needed to be said.
Tony had begun to see the same therapist that Jack and Nathan were talking to. She was kind, discreet, and patient. Tony knew he wasn’t going to be able to shed all of the things that happened to him in Afghanistan without some help.
Looking around at who else was there, Tony’s eyes landed on who he assumed was Allison Blake. With all of the times he had gone to SI to board meetings he had never met her. He had seen her pictures, but she was dressed down in casual attire. Making a bold move, Tony approached her.
“Hi, you must be Allison Blake. The one who turned my medical division upside down.”
Allison smiled and held out her hand for Tony, who was impressed with her firm handshake.
“I am. And I have to tell you how impressed I am with some of the tech you’ve been sending us for innovative therapy devices for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We’ve seen some great strides. We’re still working on R&D, but the research is promising.”
“What are you going to do when you have too much time on your hands?”
“I usually just spend it with the kids.”
“Yes, well my kids are machines, but they do like attention.”
“Doesn’t make them less real.” Allison laid a hand on Tony’s arm. “A parent, is a parent. I’m sure they can give you just as many late night worries as any children will.”
Tony didn’t know how to respond to that. It made him a bit emotional for someone to recognize what Dum-E and U meant to him.
“I have worked with all manner of scientists, Tony. Their creations are no less important than the children that I’ve had. Your feelings for them are also no less important.” Allison hesitated a moment as she looked over towards Carter for a moment then turned back to Tony. “Has Nathan ever talked about Callister?”
Tony tried to remember if Nathan had ever mentioned that name. “No, I don’t believe so.”
“Ask him one day. I don’t think he’s ever let go of his loss. Callister was more important to Nathan than he wanted to ever let on.”
“I’m assuming this has to do with how I treat my robots?”
Allison just smiled, laid her hand on Tony’s arm a moment and nodded,” It has everything to do with that.” The woman walked away and Nathan was left to wonder what she was talking about. He wasn’t going to ask Nathan about it now, this was a time for everyone to be together as family. Tony mingled for a few more moments, then went back down to his labs to see what was taking Nathan and Zoe so long to join them.
Tony started down the stairs, but stopped halfway down when he saw some of what was going on. Zoe was interacting with his robots, no interacting was the wrong word. She was playing with them. Both Dum-E and U were making sounds that, if Tony had to describe them, they were happy.
Slowly walking down the rest of the way, Tony took his time to see that Zoe was playing a sort of game of Simon on a tablet with the Dum-E and U. There were also balls, and somehow a stuffed animal was on the floor next to U, who after their turn, made cooing noises at it. Tony wasn’t sure where the thing had even come from.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
Zoe looked up and the expression of joy on her face had Tony’s heart stuttering for a moment.
“Oh, it’s a game that I developed while working with Sarabi and Mufasa. I also used it with the trio. It helped their central core in learning and recognizing patterns. They both loved the game, so, I ah, I just figured that Dum-E and U might like it too. Dum-E’s pretty good at it. U is catching up pretty quick.”
Tony tilted his head to the side and as he watched Zoe for a few minutes as he kept walking up to the trio.
“You surprise me Zoe Carter.”
“Yeah? How Uncle Tony?”
“You care about them. Most only see machines.”
“But, they aren’t just machines. They’re what we put into them and often, it’s a piece of ourselves.” Zoe set the tablet aside, to the disappointment of the robots. “I still can’t think of Sarabi. I know…” Zoe swallowed and looked down at her hands. “I know I could rebuild her, but she won’t be the same. And, the guys in the lab, they told me Mufasa keeps asking where she is. I don’t know if it’s real feelings, or just a sense that his partner is gone, but..”
Tony took up the distance between them in a few strides and sat down next to her. Hesitating only a moment, Tony put an arm around her and pulled her in close.
“You don’t have to explain.”
Zoe buried her head against Tony’s shoulder and cried. He looked up to see Nathan putting down the leg of the Iron Man suit he was inspecting. Their eyes met and an understanding passed between them. Zoe hadn’t grieved the loss of her creation.
“It’s okay, Kiddo. I wish I could have brought her back for you.”
Zoe took a deep breath as she lifted her head and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
“It’s okay. I didn’t know it would hit me so hard. I don’t think I ever grieved for her.”
“We love the things we create. And the ones we give voice to, we love even more. It’s not irrational or stupid to have these feelings.”
“Thank you. I think I needed to hear that.”
“Now, where the hell did you get the stuffed animal?”
Tony stood on the balcony of his home, nerves on edge as he powered up the suit. Parts had been finished and each individually tested, much to the consternation of Philip, Pepper, and Happy.
“Tony, are you absolutely certain that you want to do this?” Happy stood on the balcony, eyeing him speculatively as he stood there ready for the final testing.
“Yes, Happy. I absolutely want to do this.”
“Because, you know, all the times one of us had to come down and rescue you from your own creation.” Happy smirked as he crossed his arms over his chest.
“Don’t smirk. It’s not nice. And you didn’t rescue me, you helped provide me with valuable data that helped improve the suit.”
“Right. Just keep telling yourself that.”
“I hate you.”
“No you don’t, you love me.”
“Okay, I kinda like you, but don’t get a big head.”
Happy snorted as he stood there watching Tony. Tony knew he was waiting for the worst to happen, but Tony knew this was going to work. It had to. He had spent almost a year on perfecting it. With Nathan’s help what would have taken longer, the time was cut in half. But now, Tony was ready to try it out.
“All right, powering up. Now go away.”
“Happy, you really don’t want to be here when I get back if this is a success. You, go out with Pep. Maybe for the weekend. I don’t know.”
“Do I need to spell it out?” Tony wiggled his brows and swiveled his hips. It took Happy a moment, but then it finally dawned on him.
“Right, okay then, I will leave you to it and take my wife out for a nice weekend.”
Tony laughed as he watched Happy make a beeline back inside.
“As ready as you are, Sir.”
“Okay, powering up.” The power up only took a couple of moments, then Tony took a deep breath, activated the repulsors and in seconds he lifted off and began to fly. Tony’s heart pounded hard in his chest as he gained speed and height. The feeling was like nothing he had ever experienced before.
“Sir, you wanted me to remind you if you flew too high.”
“JARVIS, this is fucking amazing.” Tony shouted as he straightened out and flew past the beauty of the oceans and made his way towards the San Bernardino Mountains and further. The awe Tony felt at what he had accomplished was amplified at what he was seeing as he flew further and further.
“Sir, I would advise you to head back. Power levels are falling.”
“How long have I been out here?” Tony had lost track of time. He had let himself get lost in the scenery flying by him. The beauty of it all Tony had found a peace that rarely ever came to him. His mind was constantly going and unless he had been fucked out, or ran out of physical steam, his head just kept going.
“It has been 67 minutes, sir.”
“Shit. Right, okay turning around.”
Tony kept his focus on the navigation as he did a quick spin, then began to fly back towards the house.
As soon as he landed on the balcony, Philip was there waiting. Tony hit the controls that released him from the suit and took the two steps to put him right in front of Philip. Without any warning, he grabbed Philip by the shirt, pulled him close and kissed him to within an inch of his life.
“You need to fuck me, right now.” Tony pulled Philip along as he backed up into his bedroom as he attempted to peel Philip out of his tshirt.
Laughing, Philip ended up helping Tony. “Tony, we haven’t had sex for months.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re walking better, right? I’ve been watching you since you went through all of that physical therapy.”
Philip grinned from ear to ear as he watched Tony peel out of his own shirt, and began working on his pants. His hands were shaking, in fact Tony felt like his whole body was shaking from the adrenaline spike.
“Are you sure about this Tony?”
“Oh, oh yeah. I am more than sure. You need to get naked and get that beautiful cock of yours inside me. Like now. Like I need it right damn now.”
Philip grabbed Tony’s hands and pulled him close. “Okay, okay, but calm down.” Philip cupped Tony’s face with his hands and that boyish smile Tony loved was back on his face. The kiss wasn’t unexpected, and Tony let Philip take the lead. His body calmed down, but he was aching and needed more.
“This won’t hurt you, right?” Tony asked breathlessly as Philip pulled back just a bit.
“No. The physical therapy has given me almost full mobility back.”
“Good. That’s good, because I..dammit. I’m on fire. That was amazing. Flying. Flying was amazing. I see why Rhodey loves it.”
“Please don’t talk about Rhodey, or anyone else.”
“Oh, okay. Are we doing this?” Tony didn’t want to beg, but he would because he needed.
“Yeah. We’re doing this. But,” Philip gently pushed Tony down on the bed, then he was right there next to him. “I need you to know something.”
“What? What do you need to tell me right now?”
Philip brushed his hand down Tony’s face, then settled right over his heart. “I think I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Tony swallowed hard as he looked at Philips’ face and finally admitted what he had been denying for months.
“Yeah, well, I think I love you too.”
No more words were needed as Philip fulfilled Tony’s demands. Later, when they were wrapped around each other, coming down from the high of really good sex Tony used his words.
“I really meant it.”
Phillip held Tony closer, hand on his stomach, “Yeah, so did I.”
Tony wasn’t sure what the future was going to hold, but he knew with Philip, and his family by his side, he could weather just about anything. He still had work to do, but he had better coping mechanisms and a support system he hadn’t had in the past. Now, Iron Man could live and bring the same type of hope to others that had been given to him since he had let his brother back into his life.
After his first flight in the Iron Man suit, Tony took it upon himself to help others in need. He would make nightly flights and knew when and where he could help the best.
Phillip was always there for him when he got back, and Tony healed more as time went on. When he became more comfortable, he moved back to New York, inviting Phillip to go with him. Thankfully the man did and Tony only felt the love for him deepen. He wasn’t sure where they were going, but Tony enjoyed the adventure of it all.
When he got back and took his responsibilities to SI more seriously, Nathan and Tony began to talk about resurrecting their father’s search for Steve Rogers. It was this open wound between the brothers. Something that their father had never achieved, but with newer, more sophisticated technology it wasn’t out of the question for a new search to find what their father couldn’t find.
Now, Nathan and Tony stood shoulder to shoulder on the snowbank, both bundled in warm snow suits against the frigid temperatures of the Arctic. Months of research, preparation and searching might finally be paying off.
“We have to be prepared for what we find, Tony.”
“I know. But, we owe it to Dad, to us, and we definitely owe it to Steve Rogers to find him and take care of him and give him a proper burial.”
“So, you think he’s dead.”
“I can’t see how he would be anything other than. If he’s not, the implications…”
Thankfully Nathan didn’t say anything as he stood on the snowbank and looked down into the excavation below them being carefully carried out. Tony and Nate had been alerted that there was something their team had found. There was no guarantee that it was Steve Rogers, but the hope that they could finally fulfill their father’s dream flared as excitement down at the site grew.
“Dr’s Stark, we have something!” The head archeologist the brothers had hired looked excited at something her team had found.
“Lead the way Dr. Wynn.”
The way down wasn’t as treacherous as one would think because the excavation team had built up pathways that led into and out of the main site. Nathan went first with Tony trailing behind. The closer they got to the site, the more the anticipation built up deep inside Tony.
“Dr. Wynn, we got some of the top layer of ice shaved away. You won’t believe it, but we found him. We found Steve Rogers, Captain America.” One of the archeologists on the team couldn’t hold in their excitement.
Nathan and Tony stood at the edge of the excavation area looking down into the icy pit. Their father’s dream was realized and Tony didn’t know how to feel. For much of their upbringing the idea of Captain America was this thing that was always in the background of their family dynamic. Now, Steve Rogers wasn’t just this idea, he was real.
“Okay, we’ll have to be careful how we cut out around him. We want to make sure the body stays preserved until we can carefully thaw him out. Tony and Nathan stayed out of the way, but let the team work. It was several hours of careful planning and chipping away at the ice around the body before they were able to bring it out in a large chunk. The next part was going to be the hard part to wait on. Thawing Rogers out was going to take time because it couldn’t be done too quickly.
“The lab has this under control, why don’t we try to go get some sleep, Nathan.” Tony suggested as he turned away from the excavation team and began the trek back to the rooms that had been prepared for them in the research station that he and Nathan had commissioned to be built to do the research in looking for Steve.
“Good idea. We can’t really do anything until they have him thawed.”
Once they returned to their quarters, Tony called Phillip, Nathan called Jack. They each only had a few moments as reception wasn’t the best, even with how technology had progressed the Arctic was still remote enough that weather played havoc with reception.
Bedding down for the night was difficult as each man was anxious about what would happen over the next few days. They didn’t expect anything, but Tony thought Rogers deserved better than to be buried in the Arctic.
Five days it took as the scientists assigned to work with Rogers body didn’t want to cause any kind of shock.
The shock came when one of the medical doctors found a heart beat.
“How the hell is this possible?”
“I don’t know Dr. Stark. We don’t really know the effects of the Super Soldier Serum other than the notes from your father and Peggy Carter. Unfortunately with the Doctor who created the serum dead, we have no idea how it works. But, as far as we can tell, Steve Rogers is alive.”
Tony paced outside of the medical wing of the research station where Rogers had been moved to after they detected the heartbeat. The doctors thought it would be best to keep him in a medically induced coma and slowly over a few days bring him out. They wanted to monitor him to make sure he wasn’t going to go into shock, or lash out and attack anyone by coming out too quickly.
Tony watched for a few moments, then made his way to the mess hall.
“This is crazy, I don’t understand how this is possible.” Tony flopped down at the table where Nathan was working.
“I don’t know either. Not even Allie can explain it. I sent her all of the medical data the doctors gave me. It makes no sense. But, of course we don’t even know what the serum Rogers was given did to him. Preserving him in the ice like that, is wild.”
“We can’t let the Government take this over, Nate.”
Nathan smiled as he slid over a stack of papers to Tony. Taking a few moments to look over them, they were essentially adult custody papers.
“Already thought about it, and had the SI lawyers working on it. They are also working on identification papers for him, as well as quietly investigating how to get an honorable discharge from the Army for him, or if he is even still tied to the military. If they declared him dead, then the Military might not have any jurisdiction.”
“You’ve been busy.”
“We should protect him, Tony. This could all go up in our faces if we don’t have these protections for us, and for him. He’s a person, and he’s going to have a difficult time adjusting. His whole worldview is going to change and that isn’t going to be easy. Friends, family, comrades, all gone. He doesn’t have anyone, we can at least bet here for him.”
Tony wanted the same things as Nate, he was doing his part to do right by Rogers and their father’s legacy.
“I know you’re right, Nate. I agree and we’ll fight with our lawyers as much as we can. Rogers should get a say in what happens to him when he comes out of the coma.”
“He’ll need time to adjust.”
“I have an apartment set aside for him already at SI. Jack’s security team are some of the best I’ve seen and will protect him as much as possible.”
“Yes they are. We’ve done as much as we can do, Tony. It’ll be up to Rogers once he understands the situation.”
There wasn’t anything else they could do at that moment and decided to try to get some sleep.
Steve didn’t just wake-up, he jumped out of bed and tried to assess the situation he found himself in. He itched to have a gun in one hand and his shield in the other. Taking a moment to look around the room he was in Steve quickly assessed that he was in a medical ward of some kind.
Turning around and looking out the window all he could see was ice and snow for miles on end. He had a feeling he was still in the Arctic. When the door opened, Steve whirled around ready for a fight.
“Whoa there, Popsicle. No one is going to hurt you.” The man who entered Steve’s room had a familiar look about him, but Steve was trained to only trust his team. But they weren’t there.
“Who are you?” Steve only fractionally relaxed his stance as he straightened up.
“Tony Stark, at your service.”
“Where’s Howard? Where’s Peggy? What is going on?”
Tony moved closer in the room and took a seat across from the bed Steve had abruptly woken up in.
“Please, Captain, sit.”
Steve tentatively sat on the bed, thankful he was in pajamas and not a medical gown.
“Howard Stark was my father. He died several years ago. Peggy Carter is living out her remaining years in a retirement home, and the current year is 2011.” Tony sure didn’t sugarcoat things. Steve leaned back on the bed and tried to come to terms with the fact that he had been in the ice for more than sixty years.
“That’s not possible.” Steve knew deep down that Tony Stark was telling the truth, but his brain didn’t want to catch up. The mere thought of all that time lost. Time with Peggy that had been taken from him. They never would have that dance at the USO club. Something about that saddened Steve, but he pushed that down because he knew he needed to deal with the here and now.
“I’m afraid it is. I know you’re going to want proof, so let’s start with this.” Tony pulled out his cell phone and laid it on the bed in front of Steve.
“What’s that?” Steve asked skeptically.
“Go ahead and pick it up. I promise it isn’t going to do anything to harm you. Well, unless you listen to the conspiracy nuts, but you haven’t had time to explore that part of modern society.”
Steve picked it up and when he did the device turned on. Intrigued he closely examined the items and looked back up at Tony.
“What is it?”
“It’s called a cell phone. It’s a modern telephone. But, it can do a lot more than just make calls.”
Steve was stunned as he laid the cell phone back on the bed.
“This is all so strange.”
“Yes, I know it’s probably confusing, but we don’t have a lot of time to catch you up. I know you’re confused and feeling out of sorts, but we need to get back to New York and make plans to keep you safe.”
Steve wasn’t stupid. He knew if what Stark was telling him was the truth, then there would be a tug-of-war on who had a say in his life.
“I want to believe you, I do but you have to know how this all sounds to me.”
“I’m sure it’s quite the mind fuck. But, I promise you, it’s all true and my brother and I want to keep you safe.”
“You don’t think I am.”
Tony stood and slid his hands in his pockets. Steve watched him pace back and forth.
“The world has changed a lot since you’ve been under the ice. Politics have become even more complicated and the people in charge might think they have a right to you and might want to control you. Nathan, my brother, and I want to make sure you have all the rights due you. And you can control your own destiny.
“Look, my father felt guilty for all those years that he couldn’t find where you went down in your plane. We’re keeping a promise to him, and this includes keeping you safe and out of the hands of people who might want to use you.
“We even quietly secured a confirmation that as far as the Army is concerned your ‘death’ made you a free man. You were given an honorable discharge by a General that my brother knows and trusts.”
“Okay, but what does that mean for me?”
“Well, the way we see it, you have a choice. We can fly you to New York and chuck you out into the world and make you try to figure it all out on your own, or we take you back to New York, give you an apartment, time to acclimate, and counselors to help the inevitable freak out you’re going to have.
“Or, we hand you over to the Government and they treat you like a weapon, or an experiment. I’m not sure which would happen, but I have to think it would be both.”
Steve stood up again and began to pace the room. He rubbed his face and let his mind turn over all of the information he was given. There was only one choice he felt safe with at the moment, and that was to go with Stark and stay with him. Steve wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but he knew he needed to figure all of this out before he found a way to live his own life.
“Okay, Stark. I’m going to trust you and go with you. It’s really the only good choice I have. If what you’re saying is true, I don’t know your world and how to navigate in it. I only know the world I came from.”
“You’ll learn, and when you’re ready, you can figure out what you want for yourself.”
Steve felt hollow, like his whole world was blown, and in essence it was, but he was willing to see what Stark had in store for him.
Getting back to New York was easier than Nathan had anticipated. The media blackout had been successful, and any hints of a press leak were dealt with swiftly and harshly. Tony and Nate wanted to give Steve as much privacy right from the start as possible. Thankfully there was little fanfare, and he and Tony were able to get Rogers settled into one of the apartments in the tower. Once that had been taken care of, Nate went to his own place to see his husband sprawled out on the couch watching some game that Nathan only marginally took an interest in.
“Hey, I missed you.” Nate kissed Jack as he pushed his husband down further down on the couch and indulged himself for a few moments. Luckily, Carter didn’t protest.
“I missed you too. You were vague the last few days, what happened.”
“We found him, Jack. We found Rogers. We’ve brought him here to continue his recovery and to help him acclimate to the 21st century. I feel bad for him. I can’t think of what it would do to me if I lost you.”
“We don’t have to find out. We have each other and I’m not going anywhere.”
“Good, because I have a lot of plans for us tonight.”
“Oh, really?” Carter teased.
“Oh, yes, I plan to show you exactly how much I love you.”
“Then I look forward to these plans of yours.”
“Don’t’ plan on going to work, I mean to keep you in bed all day.”
“I see. And what if I don’t agree to that.”
“Hmm, then I’m just going to have to convince you.”
Carter laughed as he leaned up to kiss Nate. Nathan knew he had his husband right where he wanted him, and thoughts of Steve Rogers all but left his mind.
Tony leaned on the balcony railing, a glass of wine in his hand, he was shirtless and his pants barely hanging on his hips. He needed the freshness of the evening air as he thought about everything that had happened over the last eighteen months.
“Hey, you left the bed. I got lonely.” Phillip teased as he whispered in Tony’s ear. “Come back to bed and whatever you’re thinking about, it can be dealt with tomorrow.”
Tony leaned back and let himself be pulled against Phillips’ body. The man still drove him crazy.
“I don’t know what would happen to me if I lost everyone and everything I knew and loved. To live in a world that was new and strange, it would be the worst thing to have to go through.”
“You’re thinking about Rogers?”
“He doesn’t have anyone, not really. I think it’ll shock him if he goes to see Peggy like he wants to. That kind of pain, I’m not sure if it won’t break him in the end.”
Phillip wrapped himself tighter around Tony and the reassurance helped to settle Tony more.
“Come on, let’s go back to bed and you can put all of this aside for the night. Tomorrow you can worry, okay?”
Tony knew Phillip was right. He could deal with Steve and whatever problems that would bring tomorrow, tonight he would spend it with the man he loved.
Tony was impressed at how quickly Steve Rogers was beginning to assimilate. The few weeks that he had been living in Stark Tower, he had mastered the internet, cell phones, and cable. Tony smiled to himself when he showed Steve how to navigate the different channels. Television had barely been widely available, but there were channels that showed some of the old movie serials. Tony could see they gave some comfort to Steve, even if it was a bygone era that the modern age saw a quaint.
Tony was kept updated on Steve’s mental health without prying too far. He wanted Steve to have as much privacy as they could give him. After spending his lunch time with Steve, Tony wandered into Nathan’s office.
“He’s coming along. Technology thankfully doesn’t scare him. He was exited for the laptop and with Zoe tutoring him, Steve is catching on quickly.”
“I’ve been sparring with him in the suit. He’s getting stronger and faster.” Tony looked out the window of Nathan’s office down on the city he loved the most and felt something happening, something that was going to change his life, and possibly all of the lives around him in a short time.
“You’re getting more noticed, Tony.” Nate threw a newspaper on the desk between them. The front page had a blurry picture of Tony in his Iron Man suit with a salacious headline. Tony looked almost impressed. The picture didn’t do him justice, but it was there and at least it was better than the tabloid headlines and the weird conspiracies about metahumans. Tony threw the paper back down on the desk and looked up at his brother, waving an arm in the air.
“I’m helping people out there. I’m not going to stop doing it.”
“I know, but I worry. So does Phillip. He loves you Tone, and neither of us wants to see you get hurt.”
Tony paced in front of the windows with his thoughts going wild. “There’s something starting here, Nate. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like we’re on the precipice of something bigger than ourselves.”
“People are wondering who Iron Man is. Someone is going to be demanding answers, what are you going to do, expose who you are?”
“Maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time for me to announce to the world that I am Iron Man.”
Tony knew by the look on Nate’s face that his brother was afraid for him, but Tony felt it resonate deep inside of him. The world would soon know that Tony Stark was Iron Man and the world just might never be the same.