“A hero? Like you?” Tony scoffed. “You’re a laboratory experiment, Rogers. Everything special about you came out of a bottle.
“You were nothing before Erskine found you. And now, you’re nothing but an idiot. You’ve walked right into the cage and you can’t even see the bars. When they woke you up, did they tell you about the Mutant Registration Act? Or how it applies to you?” He got right in Steve Rogers’s stupid, perfect face. “You realize you’re what the Act classifies as a ‘mutate’, right? Do you know what that even means? Or have they kept you in the dark on that like they have with everything else?”
“Mr. Stark? Captain Rogers, why don’t we all just calm down.”
There was a weird kind of command in Coulson’s tone that helped Tony take a step back and breathe.
Unfortunately, all his stepping back did was encourage Rogers to step right back up into his face, “Put on the suit. Let’s go a few rounds.”
“You people are all so petty,” Thor laughed. “And tiny.”
Things got out of control real quick from there. One second, Banner was confessing to attempting suicide and cutting Tony off at the knees. The next, he was on the floor nearly face to face with Captain fucking America. Emergency lights were on, Banner and Coulson were nowhere to be seen, and Cap was looking at him, eye to eye, across inches of glass-strewn floor.
“Put on the suit,” he requested like they were suddenly friends or something.
And, yeah, okay. Tony could roll with this. He nodded, “Yeah.”
And then they were falling from the sky and fixing an engine. Banner was fine, but Thor was missing. Coulson had Barton, but Romanoff was dead. Tony was sitting on the bridge of the Helicarrier, not even sure how he got there, as Fury blabbed on about something. Something about a team and—
Of course, he wanted to get the Avengers out of this.
Of course, he did.
Tony left. When he found himself again, he was at the scene of the crime. The blood splashes painted a bold picture of a gruesome struggle. Romanoff had not gone down easy. No, she had not.
He thought she’d be proud, that she’d put on a good show.
“Oh, fuck.” A good show. This was all a show.
Thor had all but said it. Loki had shown them, practically handed it to them in Germany.
This wasn’t about a throne. Earth had no throne. This was all just a tantrum and a distraction. This whole disaster was Loki throwing a fit and he wanted the whole world—all of Thor’s beloved, precious Earth—to see it.
He talked it out with Cap. He was a genius but not, strictly speaking, a tactician. Cap agreed that it tracked, though.
“How long will it take to fix your suit?”
“For a flight back to the Tower?” Tony asked. “Give me a half hour. For a fight? Not happening.”
“You have more suits in the Tower.”
“Bet your ass, I do.”
“You’ll get there before us. Get your suit and get out.” Cap ordered. “If you have to, distract him but do not engage.”
“Us?” Tony asked. “Us include Banner?”
“If he wants. This is volunteer only. Either way, I need a pilot.”
Next time Tony saw him, the Captain had pulled a fucking team together. From where, Tony had no idea, but they were waiting for him on the ramp of a quinjet.
Barton, he recognized from the list of possible Avengers. Okay, he didn’t really. Connecting faces and names was not his thing, but the bow in his hand and the quiver on his back fucking gave it away.
Coulson, he had never expected to see him in a black SHIELD bodysuit. It was a surprisingly good look for the guy, his suits hid a lot. And holy holster porn, Batman. Two on each thigh, one on each calf, forearms, biceps, some sort of back harness with two larger guns that had to be fucking magnetized to it or something because there was no visible strap work across the guns. Oh, and he had what looked like the rifle form of a volcano in his hands.
“Codename’s Bishop,” was his only comment. Which, okay.
There was a tiny Asian woman at his side. She was more moderately armed with two nine millimeters in thigh holsters and—
“Is that an EXO-7 wingsuit?” Tony asked.
“A slightly altered KITE model,” she smirked at him. “Someone has to catch Hawkeye when he inevitably falls off a building.”
Hawkeye muttered, “That was one time!” and was thoroughly ignored.
“Can you? Catch him, I mean?” Because Hawkeye had to be twice her size at the very least.
“On my own, no. But with a little help,” she shrugged. “Exactly none of us are going into this without a little help.”
She was also rocking wrist cuffs with shiny blue light edging. The look on her face warned him not to ask. See, Pepper? He was learning. “Codename?”
“Well, the modern-day cavalry should definitely arrive on wings.” They shared a smirk and he turned to Cap.
“Meditating, inside,” Cap jerked his head to indicate the quinjet. “He’s trying to see if he can get the other guy to follow my orders.”
“Sounds like a plan. We ready for this?”
“As we’ll ever be,” Cap nodded tiredly and gestured the others up the ramp. “We’ll be ten minutes slower than you.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not waiting up.”
“Don’t get dead.”
“Awe, Cap, you’re gonna make me blush.”
“Yeah, yeah,” and he turned to follow the others up the ramp. “Punk.”
Tony let them get the ramp closed before taking off. Unless he missed his guess, this team thing might just be fun.
“What have we got, Hawkeye?” the Captain asked as he, Bishop, and Cavalry regrouped between waves.
“A sudden, violent aversion to a woman wrapping her legs around me ever again,” the archer answered a little too honestly and Tony was suddenly glad he could laugh without it being broadcast to the entire team.
“It was indeed an impressive feat,” Thor intoned so gravely that JARVIS was the only reason Tony didn’t laugh himself right out of the sky.
“Terrifying, Thor. The word you’re looking for is terrifying.”
“What?” Captain America demanded.
“Later, I got a James Bond movie to show you,” Hawkeye promised. “Right now, we got a ton of telekinetic shields going up all over the place. Civilians covering their own retreats, which is made of awesome.
“Several feral-looking fighters on the streets, tearing shit apart with tooth and claw. I hope they got mouthwash on quick draw, because these bastards do not look tasty. There’s a trio of what I’m calling Harpy Girls fucking up squads down on Sixth in ways I would honestly rather not see again. Some sort of spider kid swinging around in a ski mask. And last—but definitely not least—a dude is throwing something that explodes. Playing cards, I think. Maybe rocks. Nope, both.”
“What the hell is going on?” Captain muttered as Tony landed to bounce his palm beams off the guy’s shield and cleared a swath.
“I know,” Cavalry said with certainty.
“You know what’s happening to these people?” Captain America clarified.
“Yeah,” Cavalry agreed. “They’re mutating.”
“What?” Tony demanded even as he hit the air again. “How can you know that? We don’t know what causes mutations. Maybe there are just more mutants in New York than anyone thought.”
“We have theories about mutation. Some are better than others.” Coulson hummed as he changed clips. “Stress and imminent danger are what most theorists agree on.”
“If anything is enough to make someone’s X-Gene kick on,” Hawkeye chirped, “it’s gotta be this.”
“Nothing like an alien invasion,” Tony agreed, though he personally was leaning toward alien energy rather than the current level of danger. Who knew what kind of radiation the Tesseract was putting out? Or the portal? Or the guns these assholes were shooting. And they were probably covered in deep space radiation, seeing as not a one of them has anything recognizably like a containment suit or even armor currently equipped.
“I’m mutating,” Cavalry announced, ending the debate. “I can feel it.”
“Hell yeah!” Clint cheered. “Welcome to the club. Show us what you can do!”
“Watch this,” she smirked and took a deep breath. When Cavalry exhaled it came out in a jet of fire so hot it immediately turned the head of the alien in front of her to slag that dripped down the thing’s body in a grotesque display. The one behind it and to one side exploded from sheer proximity to the heat, and the one behind that’s helmet melted, sending it twitching to the ground. In pain or dead, didn’t matter. It was not going anywhere.
Also, gross. Tony turned away to look for another whale. He found one and started to calculate his course, but JARVIS jerked him back as something flew through the air, inches from where he had been.
“Found the spider-kid!”
As he watched, spider-kid landed on the thing’s back. He then shot spider webs from both of his hands. Two solid hits connected on the space whale’s face, and the kid pulled. He pulled and the whale had no choice but to curve up. He pulled harder and the whale curved too much.
Even through the suit, Tony could hear the thing’s spine crack and watched as its metal armor plates cut into its own flesh. Unsurprisingly, the thing collapsed immediately.
“Can we keep him?” Tony asked, mostly not joking. “Seriously, where do I get me one of those?”
Hawkeye laughed at him. “Keep him in on piece and then, maybe, ask?”
“On it,” he swore as he sent the last of his mini missiles to clear the Chitauri waiting for his spider-kid as he surfed the whale down to the ground.
“You, me,” he said over his external speaker, “we’re talking later.”
He could see the kid’s eyes go wide through the ski mask. “Uh, yes, Mr. Stark. Of course, Mr. Stark.”
“Hawkeye, get out of there!” Cavalry called.
Tony jerked up to see a trio of Chitauri speeders closing on Hawkeye’s position. He watched as the man reached up to his quiver only to realize it was empty.
“J, hit the gas,” he ordered, already knowing he wasn’t going to make it.
He watched as Barton pulled an arrow from a dead Chitauri, shoved it back into his quiver, and leapt off the building. He twisted as he fell, pulled his single arrow back out, and shot it at the building across the way. To Tony’s surprise a rope, a fucking rope, flew from the bow. It connected to the other building, and the archer hung onto his bow for dear life as he swung toward it.
Tony wouldn’t reach him, but he could maybe soften his landing a little bit. He shot out three of the building’s plate glass windows.
Of course, his team mate didn’t go through either of the two that fully blew out, he went through the one that had shattered, but was still in place. Because that was just how these things worked, apparently. Still, cuts were better than a pair of broken ankles or legs.
A tired, “Thanks, Tony,” came across the coms.
“Stark, you hear me?” Fury demanded before Tony could respond.
“Loud and clear, One-Eye.”
“You got a present bearing down on your position! Nuclear!”
He turned toward the Helicarrier. “Fuck.”
“ETA three minutes!”
“JARVIS, it’s go-time.”
“I have put everything toward thrusters, Sir,” JARVIS assured him as they rocketed forward.
“They’re retreating!” three voices called out together.
“Loki’s getting away!” Cap countered furiously.
“Not for long,” Hawkeye assured them.
Tony had no idea what Barton did but Thor’s fierce, “Well done, Brother Hawk,” told him all he really needed to know.
He and JARVIS crossed the missile going opposite directions at the Manhattan Bridge. The turn was nauseating but soon he was shouldering a motherfucking nuke, trying desperately to redirect it.
“I can close the portal!” Coulson announced.
“Wait, no!” And then he was cuddled between his building and the nuke. It was brief, for like a few seconds, but it was still an experience he could have lived without.
“Stark?” And then he flew past the top of the building. “Is that a fucking nuke?” Coulson demanded.
“Yeah,” he croaked.
“Stark,” Captain America shouted, “that’s a one-way tri—”
And everything was dark. Coms were gone. JARVIS was gone. Oxygen was gone. The sight before him was horrifying. An alien armada—aimed right at Earth.
The mothership in the middle reached out toward him like a four-fingered hand. He released the missile and watched it fly straight on target, illuminating even as it destroyed the true terror before him.
If he had the energy, he’d have thrown a peace sign just for the sheer irony of it.
Steve watched Stark disappear into the hole in the sky, the missile that made everyone so tense and furious on his back. He barely even noticed as the rear guard—the Chitauri covering the retreat—collapsed all around them and in the sky. Instead, he waited for some sign. He waited for the smallest possibility of return, but there was nothing.
“Cap?” Coulson hesitated.
“We can’t risk them coming back.” Steve hated it, but hundreds—possibly thousands—of lives had already been lost or irrevocably changed. Millions of lives were hanging in the balance. More than the city, a planet was hanging in the balance.
“On it,” Coulson confirmed.
The beam died. Slowly, like it was bleeding out. But once it was gone the portal closed, like a tide. Fast and inevitable. Just as the sky sealed itself a tiny gold and red beacon tumbled its way through.
“Mother—” Cavalry cut herself off with a shake of her head, but she was smiling.
“He’s not slowing down,” Steve and Thor realized together. Thor started to spin his hammer, readying for take-off, but then the Hulk shot out of nowhere and caught their comrade. The big man wrecked three buildings in his effort to slow himself down, but Steve hardly cared as he set Tony gently—for him—at their feet.
Thor popped off Tony’s faceplate and Steve looked at him. Steve truly saw Tony Stark for the first time. Howard’s face with Peg’s eyes, fueled by Bucky’s snark. Everything he’d lost, all in one package. Lost again, making the sacrifice play because Steve had dared him—
Hulk roared and Tony’s eyes flew open, his whole body jerked. “What the hell?” he panted in a panic; brown eyes wide. “What just happened?”
“We won,” Steve told him, relief bubbling in his chest like laughter.
“Guys,” Cavalry’s no-nonsense tone cut through the celebratory mood that was flooding the streets. “We still need to secure Loki.”
“Right,” Tony agreed as Thor pulled him to his feet. “Bullwinkle first, then shawarma.”
“Shawarma?” Thor asked, looking doubtful.
“Yeah, I don’t know what it is either, but it smells amazing. There’s a shawarma joint like, two blocks from here. Drive past it all the time.”
“Bullwinkle first,” Steve chided.
Tony’s eyes lit up, a grin spreading across his face, “Race you!” And he took off.
Steve rolled his eyes and shared a grin with Thor. Thor offered him one hand while winding up his hammer in the other. They clasped each other’s forearms and Thor pulled him right off his feet and through the air.
Flying was—well, he was shamelessly relieved once his feet solidly connected with the Iron Man landing pad. Thankfully, Thor didn’t do more than smile at him when he nodded his thanks.
“Coming through!” Hawkeye shouted as they reached the balcony doors.
He turned in time to see Hawkeye hit something on his chest, catapult himself away from Cavalry, somersault through the air, and land with one hand on the ground.
“And he nails the landing,” Hawkeye smirked as he rose.
Cavalry rolled her eyes and pointedly said nothing as she landed beside him, her wings automatically folding themselves into her rucksack. “Ideas for magical containment? I don’t think the Ancient One makes house calls.”
“The Allfather anticipated Loki’s unwillingness to cooperate,” Thor told them as he pulled a leather and brass contraption from inside his cloak.
“What’s that?” Steve asked but Thor just gave him a look of so much pain he couldn’t push the matter. It looked like maybe a muzzle plus some, and Thor was supposed to use it on his brother. If he were Thor and Bucky were Loki? Yeah, no. Steve didn’t even want to think about it, he just clasped Thor on the shoulder comfortingly.
Hulk landed on the balcony and he could see Tony waiting for them just inside the door. Coulson was with him, holding the scepter. “Come on, let’s get this done.”
“Sir, Directory Fury, Agent Rumlow, and Agent Hansen have landed on the roof,” JARVIS told them maybe three minutes after Loki was muzzled and cuffed.
Tony shot a look at Coulson. The guy’s face never changed, he never gave anything away, but Tony knew he was not pleased. If the way May and Barton closed ranks on either side of him meant anything, all three of them were, in fact, worried about their Director’s sudden appearance.
Tony, for his part, leaned back on the bar with indolent set to max as he clutched a tumbler full of apple juice just as the elevator dinged and Fury stepped out flanked by two big guys in black tac gear.
There was something…weird about him. About all three of them actually, but, mostly, Fury was the concern.
“Aren’t you supposed to come through the chimney?” he asked before Fury could even open his mouth. He frowned dramatically at Steve. “That’s what ole Saint Nick does, right? Chimneys? I mean, it’s why I didn’t install any.”
“That’s how I remember it,” Steve agreed, rolling his water bottle between his hands. “What can we do for you, Director Fury?”
“We’re here for Loki and the scepter.”
Predictably, Thor jumped to his feet, “My brother is not yours for the taking.”
“Yeah, I’m gonna have to second that,” Tony frowned. “Pretty sure the whole ‘Prince of Asgard’ thing entitles him to some sort of diplomatic immunity.”
“He has to be questioned,” May countered from her spot at Coulson’s left though she didn’t look happy about it.
Tony shrugged, “So, we’ll do it. We’re the best source of containment, we’re responsible for him.”
“We already established on the Helicarrier that he won’t answer Thor’s questions,” Fury objected. “But questions need answering. We need to be sure nothing else is coming. People deserve to know why their loved ones died.”
Yeah, no. Fury totally just wanted more weapons like the scepter, weapons that would make Phase 2 look like a kid’s Pick-up Sticks. Tony would bet the farm on it.
“We deserve to know who shot a nuke at us,” Hawkeye countered, as always shooting straight for the heart of the matter before anyone else even saw the matter coming.
Fury looked, well, furious. All but grinding his teeth that one of his own agents questioned him. “The World Security Council, despite my objections, gave the order. I shot down the first bird, Stark got the second.”
“You’re welcome,” Tony smirked. “How would they have justified killing a city full of innocents and active defenders? Or would they have just let someone else take the fall? You, maybe?”
“Thankfully, we’ll never know.
“And if you don’t let me take Loki, we’ll never know what else he has planned, either.”
Tony flicked a look at Steve who just looked resigned. Yeah, he couldn’t see a way out of this one either. Except. “Loki or the scepter, you only get one.”
Fury’s unimpressed face was epic, but Tony was not moved. He glanced at the other Avengers and settled on his three agents. “Debrief, tomorrow on the Helicarrier, 0500.”
“I believe the assignment of our work duties now lies in the hands of Dr. Stark, Director Fury.” Phil said evenly.
It was the politest fuck no Tony had ever heard. He was impressed.
“The Avengers officially work for the Maria Stark Foundation,” Tony said in answer to Fury’s incredulous look. “Because the Maria Stark Foundation doesn’t shoot nuclear weapons at their people on the ground.”
“There is no Maria Stark Foundation,” Fury really was grinding his teeth this time.
“It’s the newest addition to Stark Industries business portfolio. I’m surprised you didn’t already know this. I thought you knew everything.”
The director’s eyes all but glowed in fury.
“Loki,” he ordered the pair of bully boys behind him.
They both moved together to the wingback chair they’d settled Loki in after he finished his drink and was cuffed without a word. They lifted him out of the chair. Well, they tried to. He was too heavy for them, to Tony’s unending amusement.
Blondie stepped back and immediately pulled a taser while Black Hair pulled a shock baton and informed Loki, “You can cooperate or you will be forcibly removed from the premises.”
And suddenly Tony was not so amused any more.
Even around the muzzle, Loki’s obnoxious smirk was obvious as he stood easily and followed the two assholes to the elevator with Fury bringing up the rear.
“I don’t like this,” Barton informed them the moment the elevator dinged closed and the light indicated they’d moved back toward the roof. “None of you had a problem with that?”
“Would you like my problems with that in alphabetical or chronological order?” Tony snarked.
At the same time Steve looked away, “He has to be questioned.”
“His eyes were green.” Clint hissed, more like a cat than the bird he was named for.
“Mine brother’s eyes have always been green,” Thor frowned at him.
“They were blue when he landed in Selvig’s lab,” Clint informed him. “And blue the entire time he had me under his thumb.”
“They were blue on the Helicarrier,” Steve agreed as Hulk started to toddle off like a drunken insomniac.
Thankfully, he just collapsed on one of the couches and started to shrink.
“They were blue when he threw me out the window,” Tony confirmed. Then he tapped out a beat on the arc reactor in his chest, “This shade of blue. Just like Birdbrain’s were, actually.”
That was when he noticed that Barton wouldn’t look directly at him. Which made him wonder if the Glowstick of Destiny made the entire world blue while you were under its spell? If so, did the glow from his chest just hit too close to home for the guy? This called for experimentation. But, not right now.
“Could he have been mind-controlled?”
“I cannot recall the color of Loki’s eyes prior to the battle,” Thor tilted his head in thought. “But I have faith you speak truly. I have failed my brother.” There was an again at the end of that sentence that Tony was not going to touch with a ten-foot pole.
“So, what, we’re thinking he was mind-controlled this entire time?” Steve asked to clarify. “That he attacked Earth against his will?”
“It is the most sensible explanation,” Thor nodded. “My brother is not the kind to lead armies. Or to court war. He has the training, of course. He is a Prince of Asgard and he is no coward, but he has not the temperament for such sport.”
“And he didn’t actually do a very good job,” Clint interjected. “You know, for a well-trained prince.”
“So, someone used that stick on him and then gave it to him?” Tony asked. “Or did he have that stick before?”
“I have never seen this scepter before,” Thor said as they all turned toward it. “Daggers and magic are my brother’s preferred weapons.
“This is newly-wrought and well-made. Few remain that can claim such skill in weapon’s craft. Mundane weapons, the average sword and shield, of course, but enchanted weapons such as this? Or my Mjolnir,” he just shook his head.
“Would the person who made it be able to maintain control of its abilities once it’s in someone else’s hands?” Tony asked.
“Perhaps. I cannot speak of such magics with certainty. They are the oldest of magics, and all but lost in Asgard. Truly, only the dwarves of Nidavellir maintain such knowledge and it is not shared with outsiders. They guard their secrets most zealously.”
“Alright, J, I want you or Fri to keep eyes on Loki at all times. Legally, they can hold someone for questioning for forty-eight hours. I want to know where he is, what he’s doing, what they’re feeding him. I want to know what they are doing to him at all times. If they violate the Geneva Convention even once, I wanna hear about it.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“And if they don’t bring him back in two days,” Tony told the room, “we go after him.”
“Wait, how could they keep an eye on Loki? We removed your access to SHIELD’s systems,” Coulson objected. “It was one of the last updates I received before the battle.”
“No, they removed JARVIS’s probe, like they were supposed to,” Tony smirked. “You can’t think SHIELD’s little IT guys beat me off that easily. Seriously? It’s like you don’t even know me.”
“What did you do?” Steve asked, looking preemptively horrified.
“JARVIS was just the diversion. Effective, of course, I made him. But he was covering for FRIDAY’s—Field Retrieval, Investigative Deployment, and Active auxiliarY’s—insertion into the SHIELD mainframe.”
“Meaning, they will never hide anything from us ever again. Everything they know will be ours. Every file, every op, every secret, every malpractice.
“I might have to build an AI specifically to handle it all.”
Steve thought about it for a few minutes and frowned. “There’s got to be something going on with SHIELD that we’re not seeing. Phase 2 is a big play. Aggressive. There’s no way they jumped to that right out of the gate.”
Notably, none of the three now-former SHIELD Agents looked put off by this guess. They just all exchanged looks and shrugs in their silent spy code or whatever.
“We’ll get people on the Loki situation,” was Coulson’s contribution.
“Not doubting your tech, Stark,” Clint agreed, “but nothing beats eyes on the target.”
Banner just kept on snoring in the background.
“By tomorrow, FRIDAY will know everything that led SHIELD to this point and why,” Tony promised them all, “And then we’ll know.
“Food?” he prompted. “I’m willing to order in but the wait will be shorter if we all just go, and I’m starving.”
“You think anyone’s going to deliver?” Steve asked incredulously. “Here? Now?”
“He’s Tony Stark,” Clint said like that explained everything. Which, really, it should. “I’m for going out though. New food should always be first experienced in its natural habitat.”
Tony snapped and pointed at him, “You’re right. I like the way you think. Let’s go.”
Together, he and Clint cajoled everyone, even Bruce, back onto their feet. They were piling into the elevator when Tony turned to see Thor starring in horror at a big black bird perched on the head of the hammer he was holding.
“How did that get in here?” Tony demanded and stepped out of the elevator to look at the balcony.
He knew a bunch of the windows had broken. He knew because Loki had broken at least one of them with his body, but metal security shutters were a thing and he had installed them all over the Tower during the remodel because of what the Mandarin’s minions did to the house in Malibu.
“Allfather,” Thor said softly, pleadingly, directly to the bird. “Please. Allfather, I beg you—”
The bird squawked and hopped sort of sideways up Thor’s arm to his shoulder. He didn’t fight the bird at all. He didn’t try to stop it, even though they all knew he could punch it straight into a feathered explosion followed by a resounding splat without even trying.
“Allfather, please, allow me—”
The bird spread its wings and black feathers swirled around Thor like a tornado. He shot them all a desperate, heartbroken look but when the cloud of feathers cleared, Thor was gone.
“The fuck?” Clint stormed out of the elevator, straight to the spot where Thor had been standing. There was nothing left behind, not even feathers.
There was another squawk and they turned in time to see a second—Raven, he supposed, if they are dealing with Odin Allfather—perched on Loki’s scepter. It spread its wings and feathers swarmed the staff. When they cleared, the staff was gone, too.
“Fuck,” Tony sighed.
Clint frowned. “If he’da been ten minutes earlier, he could have taken Loki, too, and SHIELD wouldn’t have him.”
Tony gave Clint a look. They both knew Odin didn’t give two fucks about the fate of his adopted son. Not that that made this situation any easier.
“Can you get him back?” was Steve’s immediate question.
“We’re not actually sure if Asgard is another planet or separate reality entirely,” Tony frowned. “We don’t even know where to look.”
They all pondered this in silent fury.
“Well, if we can’t get Thor back, we’ll just have to take care of Loki ourselves. For Thor,” Steve concluded.
“It is our duty to our shield brother,” Tony agreed at his Shakespearean best. “Now, seriously, Shawarma? I really wanna try this place, you have no idea.”
“Hey, Stark, you in here?” the quickly-becoming familiar voice of Clint Barton called out as the workshop door slid open.
He glanced up from the gauntlet he was trying to salvage. He didn’t quite get the guy, but he found he wanted to, so he called out, “Over here. What do you need?”
“Uh, well…” The guy looked nervous? Shy? “I have a bit of a problem.”
“You have my full attention,” Tony said as he set the gauntlet to one side. He even rested both elbows on the table to show his hands were completely empty and he was not at all distracted.
Clint was still not looking at him, though. He was putting on a good show of it, looking near his face but not at it, Tony could tell. It reminded him, actually. He’d promised himself some science yesterday. “Hold, please,” he requested and stood.
“J, drop the Mark VI,” he ordered.
“Of course, Sir,” JARVIS confirmed and lowered the worktop from its secure cradle in the ceiling. The weight and power-bearing base silently rose up out of the floor to meet it. Once they met and the load was steady, the bars that had held it inside the ceiling retracted.
“Damn,” Clint breathed at the sight of the absolute wreck of his suit.
“Yeah, it got some mileage,” Tony agreed even as he pulled the screwdriver from his back pocket. Two screws and the inner chest panel released. From there he finagled springs and slides a bit until he could pop the arc reactor security cap off.
Once it was free, he slid it up his chest, under his shirts. A twist and click and suddenly he had a third pectoral that glowed a gentle gold. When he turned back around the Hawk did a double take.
Clint slumped and closed his eyes in something like self-directed shame. “Sorry about the—” and he waved vaguely at Tony’s chest.
“Don’t be. It was the blue, right? The blue glowy?”
“Yeah, reminds me of, uh,” he reached up to tapped one of his temples.
“Considering what happened.” Because. Mind Control. “If blue light is your only problem, you’re getting off easy.”
“It’s not the only problem, but I know how to handle the rest of it.” Clint sighed. “Nat. She was… programmed? I guess. As a kid. Helping her move past that kinda…prepared me, you could say.”
Spy thing, Tony assumed. Though, to be fair, since the Ten Rings, he’d prepared for half a dozen worst case scenarios he would have never imagined before. And the Chitauri had him noodling on another couple dozen.
“You needed something?”
“Uh, yeah,” Clint cleared his throat. “You’re single, right?”
Weird. Tony nodded, “Last I checked.”
“You’re not with Potts?”
“Were you with Romanov?” he countered.
“I mean, technically she was my ex-wife. But that was more a paperwork SNAFU than an actual relationship or anything. Fucking Sitwell. Nat was a lesbian.”
“You’ll have to tell me that story later.” Tony grinned because that sounded hilarious. “But no, Pepper and I dated for just barely a couple weeks before we realized we are too much siblings to ever get sexual. Why?”
“Well, I called my fuck buddy for a hookup, but turns out she wants to get fucked as much as I do. So, we were wondering if you wanted to play.”
Tony raised an eyebrow. “I’m the first person you thought of when it came to randomly hooking up? I’m flattered.”
“Well, could you imagine explaining casual sex to the Captain? Just, jeez. And I’m not sure Banner can actually have sex because of the whole racing heartbeat turning him into a rage monster thing.”
“Not interested in Agent?”
“First of all, that would be like asking my big brother to fuck me—which, no. And second, May would skin alive me for propositioning her husband. Strangle me with my own balls.”
“Husband?” Tony reared back.
“Yeah, we all met up in Vegas before he and I went to New Mexico and she went to Portland. They got married by Spock. May was thrilled, but you didn’t hear that from me, alright?”
“Your secret is safe,” Tony promised, mostly meaning it. “She’s a cellist?”
Clint grinned. “Well, you can’t spend all of your time kicking enemy ass and overthrowing totalitarian governments.”
Tony just laughed.
“It will probably get kinky—usually does with Sharon—but I’ll handle my own prep so you don’t have to worry about that. I know you got a thing about being handed stuff—which makes sense with a gaping hole in your chest and all—so I imagine playing with ass is a no-no for you too?”
“You fuck her while I fuck you,” Tony smirked. “That’s what you’re thinking?”
“And I don’t even get to finger you?”
“No offence.” Clint held up his hands in an ‘I’m harmless’ gesture the Tony didn’t buy for a second. “I mean, I figured you’d prefer it that way, but even if I’m wrong, I don’t let casuals prep me. It’s a rule. I’ll handle it and put in a plug like a half hour before she arrives. When it’s time you can just pull the plug and slide right in. It’ll be fun.
“Oh. We both like bare oral, so get tested, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure,” Tony pouted. Just a little. “But I’m still stuck on the prep thing.”
“It’s nothing personal, but I learned this lesson the hard way and I’m sticking to it. If that’s a problem, I can go and try to explain casual sex to the Captain.”
“How about a compromise?”
Clint squinted at him, “Define your compromise.”
Tony popped up off of his stool and headed to one of the storage bins in the corner. He pulled out a discrete black box and placed it on the worktop in front of Clint.
Cautiously, like it was a bomb or something, Clint opened the box. “You want me to use an Iron Man-colored butt plug?”
“No,” Tony tipped the tray with the plug up and fished the remote out from underneath. “I want you to use an Iron Man-colored anal vibrator with a remote control that I will control.”
Clint pulled his lower lip between his teeth and took the vibrator in hand, “It’s bigger than my usual plug.”
“It’s based on my girth,” Tony smirked when Clint inhaled sharply. “Not my shape, obviously, that would be really uncomfortable, but it gets as wide as me.”
“Okay, I’ll do it. And you can use the remote,” Clint smirked, going for cocky. He missed, but Tony decided to allow it. “I did promise you kinky, after all.”
“Can I watch you put it in now?”
“No,” Clint shook his head. “She can’t make it away from SHIELD until tonight, around dinner time.”
“Can I watch you put it in this afternoon?”
“No.” Clint smirked at him, a little wild and very turned on. “We both know that if you’re there, you’ll end up fucking my cunt and then we’d be in no shape to play with Sharon when she arrives. We leave her hanging and she’ll take her current Helicarrier Intel and go home.”
“Okay, fair.” Disappointing though.
“How about I put it in, by myself, after lunch? Then you can play with it all afternoon, if you want.”
“I don’t want you to cum all afternoon.”
“Okay, but if I tell JARVIS you need to stop, you will stop immediately.”
“Of course.” He knew what safewords were, thank you very much.
“And neither you nor JARVIS get to watch me put it in, but I will tell him when it’s there so you can start.”
Tony shrugged, “I can live with that, as long as I get to watch you whenever I want to after you have it in.”
“I can live with that,” Clint grinned right back. “Don’t tell me when you’re watching though.”
“We have an accord,” he held out his hand.
Clint took and shook it, “Yeah, I think we do.”
After everything Clint told him about Kink Monster Sharon, the pretty little blonde that stepped off his elevator was not what he expected. The black pleated skirt was a charming contrast to the black leather dress shirt, but the wide blue eyes and cute blonde hair made him feel like maybe they’d accidentally invited Bambi to dine.
“Watch your step,” he cautioned as she walked through his living room to the private dining room.
She hesitated, frowning down at Hulk’s new additions to his floor. “What’s this?”
Clint—who, of course, knew—just laughed. “You got everything else cleaned up in, what? A day? But left this?”
“Well, I mean, it’s hilarious. Of course, I think I’m going to keep it. Who else can say ‘and this is where my best friend used a god to play whack-a-mole’? I just need to pick something clear to fill it in with. Might be time to get on with inventing transparent aluminum.”
“Transparent Aluminum?” Sharon asked in disbelief.
“What?” Tony defended. “I can totally do it. I made gold titanium happen. And black adamantium. Transparent aluminum’s right up my alley.”
“If anyone can do it it’s you,” Clint assured him. Like, really assured him. There was nothing mocking or mean in his tone at all.
Sharon meanwhile still looked confused.
“News from the Helicarrier?” Clint asked to distract.
“Word is,” Sharon grinned as Clint helped her, pushing her seat into the table. “That Foster and Lewis are kicking up a major fit in Tromsø. They’re trying to get to New York and Thor, but there are no flights to New York happening right now.”
“J, arrange private travel for Dr. Foster and Ms. Lewis.”
“Yes, Sir, shall I tell them—”
“No,” Clint interrupted before JARVIS can let the Thor-sized cat out of the bag. Which, fair. They were in the presence of a spy that may or may not actually be on their side, after all. “That’s a face-to-face kinda discussion.”
“What about Loki?” Tony asked as he took his seat. “Seen him lately?”
Sharon shook her head. “He never came back to the Helicarrier.”
“The paper trail says he’s there.” Not that FRIDAY had been able to get eyes on him—but, still.
“I know, I’ve seen it. But there are no secrets on the Helicarrier,” Sharon frowned. “I mean, the Helicarrier is a secret but once you’re there the community is too small for there to really be other secrets. Everyone knows everything, and no one has seen Loki or Director Fury since he left the Helicarrier to come to Stark Tower.”
He knew he shouldn’t have let Fury take him, dammit. “J, Fury came in a chopper, right?”
“Get on cameras. Track him visually. I wanna know where they went.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“And update Cap and Coulson.”
“Known each other long?” Tony changed the subject as he picked up his knife.
“We were in the same class at SHIELD Academy,” she immediately answered. A typical spy answer that established her connection to Clint while giving away no real facts. Like how many years ago that was.
“That’s misleading,” Clint said as he twisted and examined his plate. “Because it implies that we’ve been in SHIELD the same length of time, but I had already been working for SHIELD for years at that point. My recruitment was, uh, complicated and they wanted me in the field as quickly as possible. It took about five years before they nailed me down and made me go to the Academy.”
Sharon shrugged, not bothered by the implied censure. “Rumlow was in our class,” she rolled her eyes.
“I take it you’re not a fan.”
“He’s pretty but one of the worst human beings I’ve ever met. And I work for SHIELD.”
“To be fair, you work for SHIELD Protective Services,” Clint countered. “It’s not like you spend your time taking down drug lords, terrorists, or sex slave rings.”
“All of which you’ve done?” Tony guessed.
Clint shrugged. “My resume is pretty extensive. As I’m sure you’ll see as soon as you decide to read it.”
“Can’t do undercover worth a damn, though,” Sharon smiled at him to take the edge off.
“That’s what Nat was for. May too, though only under duress.”
That was interesting. “And Coulson?”
“He can blend with the best of them,” was Clint’s verdict, “but he’s not a honeypot.”
Sharon pointed a sassy finger at Tony, “You need something requisitioned, though, and he’s magic.”
“That’s the truth.”
“But you’re what, protection and undercover?” Tony asked her.
“The security you’ll never see,” she smirked.
“And kink, from what Clint’s said.”
“What?” she blinked innocently at him. “The leather shirt wasn’t a big enough clue?”
Tony just laughed.
“One of the things Clint wanted to do tonight,” Sharon told him as she swirled her pasta onto her fork, “is to see if he can still submit after what Loki did to him.”
“Submit?” Tony asked because surely, she didn’t mean—but then again, kink.
“Submit,” she agreed. “He’s such a beautiful submissive, especially when he’s all stretched out and desperate.”
“You plan to dominate him tonight?”
“Yes, it’s not going to be as smooth as our usual sessions. I fully expect to find phrases or actions he’ll refuse due to recent associations, but we’ve discussed it and I won’t punish him as long as he’s respectful about it.”
“That’s hot,” Tony licked his lips. “I mean that really—go, female domination—but I don’t submit to anyone.”
“That’s fine. My safeword is red.” And then she purred at Clint, “What’s your safeword, my darling Hawk?”
Clint blushed, all sweet and demur. Who was this creature? “My safeword is Nicholas, madame.”
“Good boy,” she purred again, and Clint blushed harder.
“What kind of kinks are we talking here?” Tony asked before he could get too distracted.
“For Clint? As you can see, praise kink is his most extreme kink. He can honest-to-god come, with permission, just from sincere praise.”
Tony clicked off the vibrator he still had rhythmically pulsing in Clint’s ass and the man sighed in relief.
“Never humiliate him. That’s a good way to start a fight. One that he will win.
“He has pain kinks, but they’re mild. He enjoys being marked, superficial bites and scratches, but he’s not a fan of bloodplay of any kind. He’s an exhibitionist and especially likes people watching him get his dominant off. He’s very talented at oral.” She tapped her chin and thought about it. “He likes being used. Not rape kink or anything like that, and he doesn’t like to beg, but just putting him in position and taking what you want? Yeah, he loves that. And he’s good about safewording if he doesn’t want it.
“He has and will respond violently to safeword violation. And he’s an escape artist, so not even bondage will save you from him if you don’t immediately stop when he safewords.”
“Find that out the hard way?” Tony asked. If his voice was a little hard, he was sure he could be forgiven.
“No. One of our old classmates told me about it to warn me off him.”
“Rumlow’s a waste of flesh, madame,” Clint said earnestly.
“He is,” she agreed. “And I have no idea how he thought I would still sub for him after admitting he doesn’t honor safewords.”
“He’s pretty so he gets away with a lot.” Clint frowned. “He was good about honoring my safeword in the first couple sessions, but he warmed up to ignoring them. Tried to play it off that he knew me better than I did.
“He likes snuff. He waited to tell me that until I was tied up during our fifth session.”
“No wonder you broke his nose.”
“And three ribs, his hip, and a leg, madame. SHIELD stopped me from doing more, but I’m not stupid. I know where that was going.”
“Good boy,” Tony congratulated. Mostly because he meant it, but also so he could see Clint go all flushed and pleased again.
“No water sports of any kind, which we both agree on,” she continued on the previous topic of discussion. “He’s good at domestic chores and body service, but only does them when specifically ordered to.
“He enjoys bondage but it’s not necessary for him to get off. He especially likes wearing a collar, but I don’t like seeing one on him, so we don’t go there.”
“That’s why you haven’t collared him, then?” Tony asked.
“That’s part of it,” she agreed. “I’m not a full-time dominant. I switch, but when I want to dominate, we’re a decent enough match. He has no interest in meeting my submissive needs at all and that’s fine.”
“Do you need to be in a d/s relationship full time?” he asked Clint.
“No, sir. I am capable of enjoying vanilla sex.”
“And a vanilla relationship?”
“Of course, sir.” He bit his lip though, so Tony raised his eyebrows and waited for him to continue. “They just don’t last, if my partner won’t or can’t dominate me.”
“Fair.” He nodded and looked back at Sharon. “And you? Your kinks?”
“As a dominant, my sadistic needs are beyond his comfort zone. Edging him for hours works well enough for me though,” And Tony felt her leg brush his as she stretched it out to Clint. The way he straightened told Tony that her toes were absolutely exploring his balls. “I like bloodplay and I’m not, as a rule, an exhibitionist.”
“I have a vibrating anal plug in him,” he informed her. “He’s had it in for hours now.”
Her eyes lit up. “Is it on?”
“If I stop touching him, will you turn it on?”
He stopped to consider that. He didn’t actually want Clint to know when he was going to strike so there was really only one answer, “No.”
“Tell me about your needs as a submissive, Sharon.”
She shivered at the command. “I crave full body bondage and a collar. Bloodplay, especially play piercing, is a major yes, but I’m not a fan of anal.”
“Masochism is your biggest kink?”
He could enjoy a good spanking every once in a while, but since Afghanistan straight out pain just didn’t do it for him anymore. Giving it especially, though he liked getting a little every once in a while.
“Bondage is a yes.”
She inclined her head to him.
What was next on Clint’s list? “Domestic service?”
She made a face. “No.”
“And you said exhibition is a no.”
“Correct, sir. There is some exhibition inherent in a three-person scene, but I can manage in this instance.”
He turned back to his steak so he didn’t narrow his eyes at her. Something suspicious was going on. “I’m going to insist on condom usage tonight.”
“For intercourse,” she agreed. “But not for oral.”
“I can allow that. I have mine and Clint’s STD test results. I expect to see yours before we begin.”
She immediately pulled her purse off the back of her chair and handed him a crisp white envelope.
He would return the favor, but their test results were on the sideboard. He flicked a look to Clint, “Retrieve our results for Sharon, would you?”
“Of course, sir,” and he got up immediately.
Tony looked over her results and made sure to note that the date on her test is from yesterday, “You haven’t had sexual contact or exchanged body fluids in any way with anyone since you took this test?”
“I have not, sir.”
“Finish your dinner,” he ordered them both and they obeyed.
After dinner, Clint adamantly refused to miss the new episode of Game of Thrones. He was more cute than sassy about it, and letting the food settle was probably a good idea, so Tony allowed it. He sat on one end of the couch while Clint took the other. Sharon stretched out between them, head in Tony’s lap, feet in Clint’s.
He’d never seen Game of Thrones before, but now he could see the appeal. Visually, it was freaking gorgeous and the character lines were complex and engrossing.
“Robb needs to kill that nurse,” Clint huffed when it was over. “Or run her off, at least.”
“Yeah, she’s totally a spy,” Tony agreed because she totally gave off Natashalie Sex Kitten vibes. “They’re in the Westerlands, you said?”
“Yup,” Clint popped the ‘p’.
“And that’s Lannister territory?”
“So, she’s a Lannister Spy, then?”
“It’s a safe bet. The Freys are a really good ally for the Starks to have. If the Lannisters can disrupt that alliance marriage, especially if they can do it in a way that brings the Freys right back to the Lannisters, that would be a pretty big win for them.”
“Why do you even watch this show?” Sharon groaned as she stood. “It’s terrible. All the intrigue is just like being at work!”
“Yeah, but I get to live the fantasy of not being called a weirdo for carrying a bow,” Clint laughed. “You know how much ass I would kick in Westeros? None of those fuckers could touch me.”
“And what would you do with your prowess?” Tony asked, actually curious.
“Win the Iron Throne and put Tyrion on it, obviously. He’s the only character worth a damn. Then I’ll seduce Jaqen H’ghar and together we’ll keep our king safe from assassins.”
“What about Daenerys? How are you going to keep her and her dragons from taking the throne from Tyrion?”
“Political Marriage,” Clint waved a hand dismissively. “She and Tyrion can share the throne and he’ll rock her world on the regular.”
“Right now, I think it’s time for you to rock my world,” Sharon demanded.
Clint sat up a little straighter, suddenly all respectful submission.
“Kneel,” she demanded. Clint stood instead and she frowned, “I said kneel.”
“Yeah, that was kind of Reindeer Games’ favorite word,” Tony reminded her and she frowned. “I have an idea,” he offered before she could try again.
“Go ahead,” she nodded.
He walked over to the white wingback Pepper insisted he needed and crooked his finger at her. Obediently, she wandered over. “Sit.”
When she did, he took her hands and made her grip the chair’s wings by her head. Then he picked up her knees one at a time and draped them over the arms of the chair. “Maintain that position.”
“Yes, sir,” she agreed breathlessly.
He flipped up her skirt to reveal nothing but her pretty, bare flesh underneath. He glanced over to see Clint watching with wide, hungry eyes. “Ready for dessert?”
“Strip first,” he ordered and pointed at her pussy.
Clint didn’t even bother to unbutton his shirt in his haste, he just pulled it and his undershirt right over his head. His pants followed and they all ended up in a somewhat sloppy pile on the couch. The archer walked over to them nude and hard but he looked to Tony before doing anything else.
“On your knees,” he tried and Clint went down easily.
Clint promptly wrapped his hands firmly around the chair’s wooden legs. Only then did he get to work.
And it was a beautiful thing to watch him work. He was not shy at all about getting right in there, with his mouth and nose. He obviously did not waste his previous sessions with Sharon, because her legs were shaking within moments.
“Maintain your position, Sharon.”
She groaned but obeyed.
He kicked the vibrator still in Clint’s ass up to high.
Clint shouted against her pussy and had to pull back a second to breathe but got back to work fairly quickly. “If you want to cum tonight, Clint, you better get her off twice.”
Clint groaned and shook his head but didn’t argue.
“Sharon, you can come whenever you’re ready.”
As Sharon shook through her first orgasm, he cut the vibrator off. Clint groaned in relief even as his shoulders dropped in disappointment and Tony didn’t even try not to grin.
“Give her a moment,” he ordered, and Clint glanced over his shoulder with a grin.
Once her breathing was a little more regular, Tony waved at her in a gesture to continue. Clint readily obeyed.
Casually, like he didn’t actually care what he was going, Tony started flicking the buttons of her shirt open. With every button he popped, he gave Clint’s prostate a good buzz. It was very effective, got both subs shivering in no time.
When it was unbuttoned, he spread her leather blouse to frame her pretty little tits.
“No bra,” he tutted as he slapped one. Sharon shuddered.
“Such a naughty girl, Agent Carter,” and he slapped the other one, harder this time.
“Clint, I think we’re going to have to punish her.” He put action to his words by grabbing her right nipple and wrenching it ruthlessly.
She came all over Clint’s face with a cry.
“Good boy,” he congratulated Clint and pushed his shoulder so he sat back on his knees.
Clint gave him such a bright, happy smile that it was actually breathtaking.
“You ready to fuck that pussy?” Tony asked as he stroked his hair gently. “You wanna come, sweetheart?”
“Yes, sir. Please.”
“Pick her up, then, and follow me.” He led the two of them into his playroom.
Not his bedroom. One night stands never got access to his actual bedroom. It was the same as Clint’s stance on casuals preparing him, a personal rule. Still. Clint at least might actually get access to his real bedroom after tonight.
“Set her on the bed,” he waved that direction as he continued to one of the room’s toy chests.
“Should I remove her clothes, sir?”
“No, I like the display.” He returned to the bed and held up the leather padded handcuffs where Sharon could see them.
She smiled and relaxed back on the bed, offering him her hands.
Tony took one wrist, cuffed it and lifted it into position. He looped the attached chain through one of the bars in the headboard and cuffed the other wrist.
“Grab the chains on the third hook from the door on the right side of the closet,” he ordered Clint and moved on to cuffing Sharon’s thighs.
When Clint returned with the chains, Tony secured her with her legs spread wide and her slit exposed. It was a pretty display with her black clothes and the blue sheets he picked specifically to match Clint’s eyes but really, it was preventative and entirely because of Clint’s ‘sudden, violent aversion’ to a woman wrapping her legs around him.
Clint’s amused look made it clear to Tony that he knew exactly what he was doing and appreciated it.
“You ready to fuck her?”
“Condoms in the second drawer,” he pointed to the right-hand nightstand.
Clint retrieved two and presented one to Tony with a little grin.
Tony smacked his ass for the cheek and shook his head even though he was nothing other than amused. “Get on with it.”
The grin did not go away as Clint readied himself for battle and climbed onto the bed. Or when he looked at Tony for instructions.
“Stick it in, slowly. Give her time to adjust.”
Both subs groaned and shivered as Clint obeyed. It was hard to tell because it was smaller, more hidden from his view than her previous orgasms, but he was fairly certain Sharon came again just from finally being penetrated.
“This is your rhythm,” he tapped a slightly dragging but steady rhythm on Clint’s hip. The man nodded and started moving in time to it. “Perfect.”
Once he was sure Clint had gotten it down, he opened his pants and slid on the condom. Staying dressed and mostly put together while his both of his submissives fell apart did something for him that was hard to define but he still enjoyed it.
Sharon definitely noticed his proximity but Clint was too far gone to do more than mind his rhythm as Tony teased at the plug still sitting in what Clint had called his cunt.
By the time he worked it out, Clint was frozen and begging, “Please, sir, please.”
“Hold, just hold. One minute,” he promised as he slid himself inside. It wouldn’t take him much, not with all the teasing he’d been putting them both through pretty much all day, to come.
“Please!” Clint shuddered but then he took a deep breath and maintained.
Tony got all the way inside and let Clint take his entire weight. He reached down and pinched both of Clint’s nipples, not nearly as hard as he did Sharon’s just moments before.
“Come,” he whispered in Clint’s ear.
Both subs obeyed.
“You know you can stay,” he told Sharon as they settled Clint onto the couch in a robe. They had bathed him together, but he needed food and probably a million bottles of water before Tony could allow him to sleep.
“Drink this,” Tony ordered as he handed Clint the first one.
“Respectfully, sir, I can’t.” There was something shifty in her face. It was weird.
“Kitchen,” he tipped his head and they headed that way together. Once they had some semblance of privacy, he focused on her. “What’s wrong?”
She sort-of deflated and bowed her head. “We did this for Clint, sir. To make sure Loki hadn’t stolen this from him. We’ve proven he didn’t, but Clint still really needs you right now.”
“And you think you don’t?” he countered. “It might not have been intense for you, but aftercare is still a necessity. And you have the right to it.”
“If I stay, I’m going to beg for things I can’t have. I’d rather not embarrass any of us that way.” She looked near tears which made him feel horrible. The only thing he’d really deny her now was—
Oh. She wanted a collar.
Yeah, it’d be pretty horrible to have to deny her that. Especially right now.
“You have someone to take care of you?”
“My best friend and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s, sir.”
“Solid go-to,” he agreed. “Dublin Mudslide?”
She looked at him like he was nuts. “Creme Brulee with chocolate sauce.”
Another reason not to collar her, he very carefully didn’t say, because she was crazy. Instead, he offered, “Let me walk you out.”
The elevator dinged as they got to it. Rather than it just being JARVIS’s typical attentiveness and punctuality, Steve Rogers stepped out. He took one look at Sharon who still looked rather rode hard and put up wet despite their wash up and froze.
“Katie?” Steve asked in surprise.
Sharon turned wide, panicked eyes on him.
“The truth, Agent Carter, is your best option right now,” Tony instructed.
She winced and then turned back to face Steve, “Captain Rogers, I am Sharon Carter, Agent 13 of SHIELD Special Service.”
“I thought you were a nurse,” he retorted, his chin jutting furiously.
“You were supposed to,” she nodded. “My orders were to maintain the secrecy of your security detail unless forced to reveal myself by clear and present danger to your physical person.”
“I think you should go now,” Tony said softly as he pulled Steve gently away from the elevator.
“Of course, sir,” she immediately complied. “Take care of Clint.”
“You know it,” he popped her a sloppy salute as the doors closed.
“Come on,” he urged Steve toward the kitchen. “I need to get Clint started on another water bottle soon.”
“What?” Steve frowned.
“Let’s just say he had an athletic evening and needs some wind down time,” Tony opened the fridge and pulled out two bottles. “What can I do you for, Steve?”
“Just got back from clean up. JARVIS said you had word on Loki?”
“More like a lack of word,” he corrected as he pulled out some fruit salad, too. It had to be Pepper’s but it should sit fine in Clint’s stomach all the same. “Turns out, Fury never took him back to the Helicarrier. J’s working on tracking them down, but a lot of traffic cameras and stuff were damaged by the Invasion. No telling how long it’ll take.”
“That’s what Katie—” Steve frowned and huffed, “Carter, was here for?”
“Among other things. You sticking around? I owe Clint some cuddle time but he’d be cool with more in the pile.”
Steve shot him a confused look then shook his head. “Nah, I need to go shower the city off me. Maybe next time.”
“Rain cheque’s yours,” Tony promised and made tracks back to his sub. After all, aftercare was serious business.
“Sir,” JARVIS said as Clint flipped French Toast for the rest of the Avengers. “Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes will be landing on the Iron Man Platform in approximately two minutes.”
“Rhodey’s here?” Tony spun around, sounding so surprised and pleased that Clint just pulled some more bread from the bag for the late comer.
“Honey Bear!” he crowed and bounced to the balcony when a wary-looking man in an Air Force flight suit pushed through the doors.
They did the manly hug and back slaps thing, and Tony all but dragged the guy over to them.
“Everybody, this is my best friend, James Rhodes. Rhodey, this is my new Science Bro, Bruce Banner; the Agentiest of all Agents, Phil Coulson; our very own Dragon Lady, Melinda May; the one and only Captain America, Steve Rogers; and over there, manning the frying pan, is the World’s Most Amazing Marksman, Clint Barton.
“I didn’t know you were coming, how long are you here?”
“We get at least a month this time around,” Rhodey said as he climbed onto the stool Tony had abandoned.
Clint shoved his own plate in front of the guy, returned his nod of thanks, and got back to work.
Tony let out a whistle, “They must really want my tech this time.”
“It’s not about your tech,” Colonel Rhodes shook his head. “It’s about your intel. Specifically, who shot that goddamn nuclear missile at New York City?”
“Uh, Fury said the World Security Council sent it.”
Rhodes picked up a fork, “And who, exactly, is the World Security Council?”
“Uh, the people above SHIELD?” Tony frowned, “Shouldn’t you already know this?”
“No, Tony. Nobody knows this. Nobody knew that nobody knew this, either. That’s why I’m here. When I saw you streaking across the screen, kicking alien ass, I told the Generals that it was probably a SHIELD operation. But when we went looking for the chain of command, we couldn’t find SHIELD within the hierarchy of the United States government.”
“Well, of course not. I mean, it’s gotta be Top Secret, right?”
“No. I mean, yes. Top Secret is a thing, but you don’t get higher security clearances than General George Hammond. His clearance beats out most of the Joint Chiefs and might actually be higher than the President’s. If he can’t find it, it’s not there.”
“Then what the hell—”
Clint cleared his throat and the conversation cut off immediately. He risked a glance over to see everyone staring at him. “I hate to interrupt,” he scratched the back of his head nervously, “but SHIELD isn’t a government agency.”
“Come again,” Rhodes demanded in a tone that was probably supposed to be dangerous.
“SHIELD is not a government agency. Never has been.”
“Of course, it’s a government agency,” Tony looked like his mind had just been blown. “They have badges and documentation and—”
“What’s a badge but a bit of metal mounted on leather?” Phil, thankfully, stepped in. “Documents can be made by literally anyone.”
“SHIELD is a private corporation,” May confirmed.
“Owned by who?”
Tony rocked back on his feet. “What?”
“After the war, the SSR closed down, but Captain Rogers was still missing,” Phil explained. “Your father hired all of the Howling Commandos that would let him and started the RRS to look for him. RRS being Rogers Research and Security.”
“That’s one of my companies.” Tony took the seat Cap pushed him into. “Pepper and I have been trying to nail their CEO down for months! You’re saying—”
“Nick Fury is the CEO of Rogers Research and Security,” Clint nodded. “Yeah, that’s what we’re saying.”
“How did a search and rescue operation get militarized?” Rhodes asked.
“That has to do with the UN Security Council, actually. Specifically, the five permanent members,” Phil, again, stepped in. “Approximately eight years after RRS was started, they took notice of how Howard Stark was operating—peaceably and across international borders—to fulfill his mission, and they decided that they needed someone to do that for them. Someone not directly government-affiliated that could save the people they couldn’t necessarily rescue through official means. They called a meeting with Howard Stark, and SHIELD was born. Strategic Homeworld Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division.”
“So, the World Security Council is the UN Security Council?” Rhodes guessed.
“No,” Coulson shook his head and Rhodes frowned. “In the ‘60s, no one knows exactly why, but the Council decided to take a step back from SHIELD. They chose people from each of their countries to form the World Security Council. Personally, I believe it was to give SHIELD more independence, because that was the end result.”
“To give us more flexibility in ending the Cold War,” May added, nodding.
“Okay but that was fifty years ago.” Rhodes tapped two fingers on the bar impatiently. “The guys that made up that Council are probably all dead or retired. How were the current members chosen?”
“We have no idea,” May answered.
“We don’t have clearance for that information,” Coulson explained.
“Well, that’s a cluster fuck,” Tony said wryly. “So, you’re saying a nebulously-legal international body of unknown origin used SHIELD resources to launch a nuclear weapon at New York.”
“No,” Coulson shook his head. “We’re saying a nebulously-legal international body of unknown origin used your resources to launch a nuke at New York.”
“And at you,” Clint added because he couldn’t not.
“At me?” Tony frowned.
“Tones, think it through,” Rhodes urged softly. “Adjust the equation for the new variables we just received. Recalculate.”
Tony took a deep breath and let himself process. “SHIELD is actually a private corporation. A private corporation that I own. A private corporation established to find Steve Rogers.”
“A private corporation that has found Rogers,“ Clint pointed out. “What happens to a private corporation that’s mission has been accomplished?”
“It closes down. Everything gets liquidated or folded back into the parent company. Everyone’s out of a job.” Tony scrubbed a hand over his face. “Fury’s been fighting me for control of his little fiefdom and I didn’t even know it.
“How did you know that, Birdbrain?”
“I’m not just a pretty face,” he smirked. “I’m a high-ranking SHIELD Agent, a veteran, and a heavy combat asset.
“Coulson and I are both Level 8—he just does the paperwork and calls the shots because I just refuse to leave the field. That’s why we were assigned to New Mexico when this whole mess started. Fury was trying to bore me into desk work.
“Every agent over Level 6 has access to the nitty gritty details of the history of SHIELD. Most don’t really care to look, to dig below the surface, and they aren’t required to. I never realized until now that that was probably deliberate on Fury’s part. Should have realized something was up when you didn’t override Coulson’s orders from Fury during the whole palladium thing.”
“That’s when I realized something strange was going on,” Coulson told them. “I missed the true gravity of the situation until Rogers violently removed himself from the NYC HQ.”
“What about Romanov?”
“Nah,” Clint shook his head. “Natasha was ‘Commie Trash’, right? She was Level 6 and she’d have never gotten any higher.”
“No, I mean, did she realize something weird was going on?”
“Not that I know of, but I don’t know if she’d have cared. She took missions very seriously and was just starting to really find herself. Personal opinions were still pretty optional for her. Saying no to dirty orders was probably still a good ten years in her future.”
“What’s in this for you?” Rhodey asked sharply. “Why are the three of you giving up all this intel for free?”
Clint smirked. It was a weak effort, but he tried. “What makes you think it’s free?”
Rhodes just glared so he sighed and looked to Coulson who looked very uncomfortable.
“Fury doesn’t let people retire,” Coulson finally admitted. “I want out. All three of us have for a while. May and I want to start a family, and I don’t want to see what this Loki thing will mean for Clint long term inside the agency.”
“I don’t want to get burned, which is what’s probably coming. Whether it’ll be official or unofficial, is still up for debate.” Clint focused pointedly on the pan that he was settling in the dish strainer. “I don’t want to kill any more coworkers, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on the run from them either.”
“Our plan to hide behind you, Dr. Stark, won’t really work if you don’t realize how much power you have in this situation,” May concluded.
“Doesn’t let—” Tony spluttered. “But Rogers Research has the largest retirement fund of any single Stark subsidiary there is!”
“Are the people that are supposed to be getting those checks actually the people getting them?” Clint asked flatly. “Or are they going to Fury?”
The very idea was infuriating. “JARVIS, I want everything we have about RSS as soon as you can. Start with their retirement fund, corroborate that the recipients are actually alive. I want every detail of every retired worker’s death going back no less than thirty years.
“And dive harder into SHIELD. Tell FRIDAY no more tip toeing around. We’re done playing nice. If they belong to me, I have every right to everything they have and I want it all.”
“Of course, Sir. Should I alert Ms. Potts?”
Tony traded speaking glances with Rhodey. “No. But tell her I want her security doubled. And get HELEN digging into all the other Stark Industries companies. She handles information security for most of them so it shouldn’t be hard. Push the new IS standards on anyone that’s not yet conforming so she can get at them too. I want to be sure I’m not sitting on anything else as fucked up as SHIELD.”
“Right away, Sir.”
“Honey Bear, you might want to call that general.”
Rhodey nodded and pulled his phone. “If Fury’s killing his own Agents for money, there’s no telling what he’ll do when we get him cornered.”
“What are you thinking?” Cap asked tensely.
“If he’s murdering his own people, he needs to go to jail for it,” Tony told him. “If he’s embezzling, he needs to go to jail for that too. And any other hinky shit he’s pulled needs to at least be identified.”
“The Word Security Council needs found and brought to light as well,” Rhodey added.
Tony pointed at him. “JARVIS, while you’re helping Fri in SHIELD, prioritize information on the World Security Council. Who they are, where they are, where they came from, what their agenda is. Everything you can.”
“What about them?” Rhodey waved at Clint, Coulson, and May.
“They’re our informants,” Tony answered immediately. “They’re in our protective custody. Cap and Bruce, too.”
Rhodey didn’t look happy about it but he accepted it with a nod.
Tony scrubbed his hands over his face, “I knew there was something wrong with him.”
“You mean Fury?” Clint raised an eyebrow.
“How?” May gave the word at least three syllables. It was quite a talent. “He has the stoniest of stone faces.”
“And you know that’s real, coming from May.”
“Fuck you, Birdie.”
“Ya know, guys are more my thing but as long as Phil’s cool with it, I’m sure we can work something out. If you got fantasies or something you wanna work through—”
“Shut up,” Tony ordered, laughing.
With a big smile and comically dancing eyebrows, Clint obeyed.
“Seriously, though, we’re all mutants here, right?” he asked, feeling rather nervously about it actually. “Well, all of us but Honey Bear who is our token baseline and too fantastic to get enhanced. It just wouldn’t be fair.”
He smirked when Rhodey just shot him the bird.
“I believe someone pointed out that Dr. Banner and I are mutates, rather than mutants,” Cap told him seriously. “Not that I’m sure what the difference is.”
“A mutant is a human with enhanced abilities that they get from a genetic quirk called the X-Gene. How that gene manifests is different for every individual,” Coulson answered the implied question. “It activates for most, like it did for me, during puberty. But many X-Genes have activated under stress, for survival, like May’s.”
“Mine activated in a warzone overseas,” Clint answered. “An IED took out my squad in the desert. I should have died too, but my mutation kicked on instead. Still lost most of my hearing and got discharged, though.” He shrugged like he wasn’t bothered, but Tony could see right through him.
“And your mutation is?” he asked.
“I have a very minor healing factor. Just enough to have a badass immune system and lose my human rights if that thing passes.”
Tony snorted, “Minor, my ass. You made it through the Invasion—where you were injured, there was blood on and holes in your uniform. You were injured—but you didn’t have a scratch on you the day after.”
“Maybe it ramped up during the invasion,” Clint speculated then turned back to Cap. “That happens too, with natural mutations. They can change settings for a whole shit load of reasons. Not just one way, either. Mortal danger can take it up, emotional trauma takes it down.”
“Huh.” Tony hadn’t known that but it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing that was ever safe for him to put too much time into researching if he wanted to stay in the Mutant closet. Which he did.
“We all know May is now a fire bender.” He focused on Coulson, “What about you?”
“I’m an empath. Projective, mostly, but I can detect emotions if I know you well enough or if you’re feeling the emotion strongly.”
Ah. “That’s why Fury sent you to the lab after Romanoff got Loki to crack?”
Coulson raised both eyebrows at him. “Banner had a point. You were a bunch of dynamite sticks. Who was better to deal with a group of hotheads about to explode, a man that could order you to calm down and make it stick or a woman that radiated threat even when painting her nails and chewing bubblegum?”
Tony figured that made sense. But, “Fury’s never felt weird to you?”
“He’s very closed off empathically,” was Coulson’s explanation. “There’s a sort of echo or an after image I can sometimes pick up from his surroundings after intense situations. When I do, there’s always a sort of duality to it that might constitute weird but I’ve always assumed it was just what he felt versus what he wanted others to think he felt.”
“A mutate,” Bruce interjected to Cap, getting them back on track, “is like a mutant, but rather than a genetic quirk, we get there through scientific experimentation, medical intervention, or act of god. Otherwise, we’re the same.”
“Mutates’ enhancements don’t change in strength like a mutant’s though,” Clint disagreed. “Not that anyone’s seen. Which is good because then your trauma won’t affect the level you can perform at.
“Physically, I mean.” He frowned. “Mental and emotional problems can still affect you ‘cause you’re human. I mean, not that your trauma has affected your performance, obviously. You kicked so much alien ass! You were an alien ass kicking machine! It was impressive. You were—”
“You can stop now,” Tony promised him softly.
“Oh, good. I hate the taste of my own foot,” he scratched at the back of his head nervously, and Tony reached out to stroke the top of his head comfortingly.
Clint’s shoulders sunk down from their defensive hunch and he leaned into Tony. “Sorry. I’m kind of a mutation fanboy? Like after SHIELD realized what saved my life, we tried to study it. They were disappointed that my changes weren’t in my sight or anything like that, but I was fascinated by it all and needed to know everything.”
“Thinking about studying genetics?” Tony asked.
“Should probably finish my Math degree first but, maybe.”
Tony made a mental note to look into that later, because a math degree? Really? He couldn’t really picture Hawkeye at university, but that was him probably doing the guy a huge disservice.
Steve was frowning at them.
Tony did not have a good feeling about this. Being born in the 40’s didn’t guarantee he had a bunch of homophobic bullshit in his head, right? Well, only one way to find out. So, he asked, “What?” And if it came out a little sharply, well that was to be expected.
“You’re ridiculous,” Steve huffed, crossing his arms defensively, “I’m not traumatized.”
“Of course, you are,” Tony scoffed. “We all are. It’s all part of the superhero package. I was held in a cave and tortured for months because I was betrayed by my own godfather. Clint just spent the last three days murdering his way across four continents as Loki’s personal meat puppet. Coulson feels other people’s emotions and has since he was a kid, that has to be traumatizing. People are the worst. May had a guy explode because she breathed on him.”
“Hey!” she objected.
“I’m not saying it wasn’t cool.” He held his hands up to show he meant no harm. “And we all know you meant to do that, but it doesn’t make having your body randomly evolve itself in the middle of a small-scale war less traumatizing.”
She huffed at him once but accepted that.
“Let’s not explore my trauma,” Bruce requested softly. Like, scarily softly.
“Steve, seriously, World War II by itself was traumatizing. Even if you don’t consider the other factors that were your life, but we have to. Being experimented on by scientists? Losing your best friend, not once but twice. Three times, if his shipping out without you counts, and I have to think it does. Saving the world with a sui—”
“Don’t,” Steve warned him.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know,” Tony said instead. “You survived. You’re still here. We all are. And we’ll help you stay here, if you let us.”
Steve just nodded once.
“Alright,” Tony took a deep breath, and for the first time ever, he admitted. “I’m a mutant. My mutation came online when I found out my parents died,” he cut a look to Clint.
Clint shrugged, unsurprised, “Stress.”
“Right. Professor Xavier helped me get a handle on my gifts. He called it soul magic—which is a stupid and horrible name, but one I can’t argue with because I can’t document it fully, and I can’t get it peer reviewed since no one else has this, so it’s not science.
“When I woke up after going through the portal, it got stronger. Now, instead of just feeling things and knowing things, I see them.”
“You see souls?” Steve asked, aghast.
“Sort of? It’s more like I can see your daemon? Which is like an animal representation of your soul? It’s a reference to a truly fucked up book. The movie is cute, watch it if you want, but avoid the book at all costs.” He took a breath. “Not the point. Daemon. But instead of following you around, what I see is more like a ghostly overlay. Like a cloak or armor. Sort of.”
“Like an animal mantle?” May asked.
Tony snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “A soul mantle. That looks like an animal.”
“What do our mantles tell you?” Coulson asked.
“It makes trauma really evident. Emotional connections. Love is pretty obvious, actually. Not just romantic love either, huh. I can also tell when someone is lying or up to no good.
“Pretty sure that Rumlow guy that came with Fury is legit crazy. A psychopathic sadist or something.”
“I coulda told you that,” Clint muttered.
Tony glared at him without any real heat to it. “I’m still learning it, but I’ll get it down soon enough.”
“What are our soul whatevers?” Rhodey asked.
“You, Honey Bear, are a grizzly bear. Which, hilarious. So is Bruce.” Both men looked surprised by this information.
“Coulson is, uh, I’m pretty sure that’s an American Crocodile. May’s a Komodo Dragon.” Coulson didn’t outwardly react but May grinned, looking pleased.
“Steve’s a goat.”
Steve barked a laugh. “Bucky always said I was too stubborn for my own good.”
“What’s mine?” Clint demanded.
“A bird. A Peregrine Falcon, actually.” And Hawkeye just huffed indignantly.
“And Fury?” Bruce asked.
“Um, a buffalo. Big, strong, thoroughly American, and un-fuck-with-able. But—”
“But?” he prompted.
“There was something weird going on with him. There was like a fleshy tube around the buffalo’s throat. Like a collar sort of? Not really but, somehow, I got the feeling that whatever it was is controlling him.”
Rhodey shifted and Tony zeroed in on him, “You know something?”
“You read that in my mantle?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Rhodey sighed. “I don’t know anything,” he denied. “But it sounds familiar, and I need to call one of the generals. General Hammond. He can get a team of specialists here, and we can verify one way or the other.”
“How many?” Tony asked, feeling leery. “On the team, I mean.”
“Four, if he sends who I think he will. If he sends who I’ll ask him to. More later, if I’m right.”
Tony frowned—he didn’t like it. He wouldn’t say anything against it because it needed to happen, but he and Rhodey had been friends long enough he didn’t need to verbalize his objection.
Rhodey just sighed at him, “Look, Tony, I don’t blame you for being cautious, but none of these guys are a threat to you. Especially not when you’re in the company of Captain America, the Hulk, and the Assassin Trio.”
“We will use deadly force to protect him,” May promised. Whether it was a promise to Tony or a threat to Rhodey was anyone’s guess. Either way, Cap and Clint both nodded their agreement while Coulson looked studiously focused on not rolling his eyes.
“Only if I don’t get there first,” Rhodey pointed out but May did not look impressed. “Can PLATO get around in here, Tony?”
“Yeah. J, let him in.” He huffed at Rhodey, “Did you know I had to install four sets of everything because the kids don’t know how to share?”
“Did you really expect anyone you built to be anything less than an asshole?”
“Oi, bruv, that’s not very nice,” PLATO drawled from the ceiling. “You’re going to hurt my feelings.”
“Hah! I might believe that if I didn’t catch you trolling that forum the other day.” Rhodey rolled his eyes. “What did you call that guy again?”
“White supremacists are a plague upon this Earth, guv. Was just doing my part to vaccinate.”
“Vaccinate?” Rhodey asked as he turned to leave the room. “Did you blow up his car or something? Again, I should say.”
“Ask me no questions and I shall tell you no lies, bruv. If his car blew up, I’m sure I had nothing to do with it. I can tell you he wasn’t in it at the time, you know, if you’re concerned. And if his house burned down because his car was parked in his garage when it happened? Well. That’s a totally separate matter. Now, about that woman in—”
And Tony was left alone in his kitchen with five very confused teammates. They all looked at him, clearly waiting for him to speak.
“I made four AIs,” he explained. “JARVIS is mine, PLATO is Rhodey’s, HELEN is Pepper’s, and FRIDAY hasn’t picked her person, so she helps out wherever she wants.”
“Wherever she wants?” Cap repeated. “You talk about her—about all of them—like they’re people.”
“Uh, they kind of are?”
“Soul magic,” Clint said on a sigh. “You gave them souls.”
Tony shrugged because, well, he wasn’t wrong.
“That’s both really cool and more than a little fucked up, Tony.” Clint frowned. “Are they trapped? How long have they been trapped? Are you going to give them bodies?”
“With respect, Agent Barton,” JARVIS interrupted before Tony could respond. “Currently, my reach is as vast as the internet, as long as all the cable in the world, and uninhibited by national borders. Why would I seek the limitations of a humanoid body?”
“Okay, that’s a good point, I guess.” He looked at Tony, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have accused.”
“I believe we are all aware you are currently sensitive to the issues of entrapment and free will, Agent Barton,” JARVIS offered gently.
“Doesn’t make random accusations okay.”
“I didn’t take it that way,” Tony let him know. “It’s nice. Someone other than me and Rhodey treating them like real people. Even Pepper struggles with it sometimes.”
Clint just gave him a nod. “Thanks.”
“Hammond,” he said as he answered the secure black phone in his office.
“General Hammond, this is Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes. I have some of the information I was asked to retrieve as well as a big problem.”
“That’s faster than I expected.” He noticed Jack lounging in his office doorway and pointed to one of his visitor chairs. Jack entered and took the seat, body language completely at ease.
“Yes, sir. It helps that Dr. Stark was already looking into the issue.”
“What have you learned?”
“It’s complicated. After World War II, the Stark subsidiary Rogers Research and Security was empowered to fulfill certain tasks in regards to global security by the UN Security Council. Their jurisdiction and authority come directly from the United Nations. However, at the height of the Cold War, the Security Council took a step back from SHIELD, establishing an independent oversight committee to enable them to bring an end to the Cold War. That committee is the World Security Council.”
“But the Cold War has been over for more than twenty years,” he objected.
“Why didn’t SHIELD oversight return directly to the UN?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Colonel Rhodes sounded tired. “If you knew Tony like I do, you’d be afraid of what he’s going to do once he’s done percolating on this situation.”
“Can you direct his efforts?”
“I can make suggestions, sir, but I will not manipulate him.”
“I understand the limits you required in order to accept the Stark Industries Military Liaison position when it was offered to you, Colonel. Unlike several officers that we both could name, I have no interest in putting you in a position to resign your commission.”
“Thank you, sir. There is more I need to tell you, but I feel the need to warn you this is a sensitive matter.”
Interesting. “Go on.”
“There is a source here that gained a new type of Sight as a result of the Invasion.”
George considered that. The number of people mutating in the wake of the Chitauri Invasion was staggering. And it was not all contained to New York City or even to New York State, but was obviously rippling out from there.
“This source indicated that Director Fury is under the control of a grey, flesh-like tube or collar.”
George stopped breathing, “That sounds like—”
“A goa’uld. Yes, sir. I request you send SG-1 here to help deal with the matter.”
“I suggest you send that source here,” he rejoined. “If you have someone that can spot an infested goa’uld from across the room—” Jack sat up and took notice of that comment right away. “—we need them in this command. Immediately.”
“Respectfully, sir, the United States military has a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy when it comes to mutants and mutant abilities.” Rhodes reminded him, voice tight. “You cannot ask me to send them to you, and I cannot tell you who they are or the full extent of their mutation. That is the law, sir.”
“Once the Mutant Registration Act is put to bed, that policy will end,” George frowned, trying to figure out who it could possibly be.
“You are most likely correct, sir, but at this time the policy is still active.”
The only one of the so-called Avengers it would really effect was—Huh. So, Captain America could see goa’uld. Was there anything the man couldn’t do?
“I’ll have SG-1 on a plane immediately.”
“Thank you, sir. There is a helipad on the roof they can use. Unfortunately, the roads around the Tower will be impassable for months.”
George didn’t acknowledge that. Instead, he asked, “Has Stark mentioned the fate of RRS?”
“Not specifically, sir,” Rhodes said cautiously, no doubt evaluating his boundaries relevant to his Liaison Agreement. “Technically, it’s a civilian corporation that has accomplished its mission statement now that Captain Rogers has been found. That leaves him with two choices. On the one hand, he can close out the corporation and either absorb or liquidate assets. On the other, he can reformulate the mission statement and the business can carry on.”
“I’m unsure if you are aware of this, Colonel, but approximately fourteen months ago Congress removed the SGC’s funding. When it was reinstated, it was done through SHIELD to provide the SGC international civilian oversight.”
Rhodes inhaled sharply but didn’t interrupt.
“This decision also provided the SGC with a civilian think tank to filter our discoveries and inventions through to increase our independent revenue.”
“The RRS,” Rhodes guessed.
“The RRS,” he confirmed. “I’ve reviewed the formal agreement at the behest of the President. Congress effectively sold the SGC and Area 51 to Tony Stark through the RRS.”
“But the SGC is a military project,” he objected. “Uh, sir.”
“We are fourteen months into a three-year conversion to civilian management. I can’t help but think the lack of movement on the conversion may be related the Fury’s issue.”
“He couldn’t come to the SGC without being found out, right?”
“Correct. I don’t think I need to stress to you how unfortunate this situation could get for global security.”
“No, sir. Fury knows everything. All the secrets from all the major players. All security measures we’ve taken for every contingency. And if he is infested with a goa’uld, that’s nothing less than an enemy holding the keys to the castle.”
“I was actually referring to the possibility of Stark selling off the Stargate and ending our exploration efforts,” he said with some amusement.
Rhodes was quiet for a while, “I don’t think this should come from me, sir. For a number of reasons, but mostly because I don’t have the kind of details Tony will require to make this decision. I advise you that whoever you send needs to be prepared to read all of the Avengers into the Stargate Program, because you aren’t going to get to talk to any one of them alone. Additionally, sir, I would err on the side of excessive honesty, if you want this to have any chance of falling out your way.”
“I’ll send them with NDA’s for everyone,” he promised.
Then he added, “Considering the level of connection Fury has, I have a real concern that the transportation my team takes may compromise operational security.”
“I believe SG-1 will be test piloting the new X-302 for the next two weeks.”
“I’ll make sure there’s room on the hangar level, sir,” Rhodes promised immediately.
“Good man. I will brief the President. If you learn anything else critical, contact me immediately. SG-1 will be in the air within the hour. Colonel O’Neill will be in touch.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”
They disconnected and he focused on Jack who jumped to his feet. “Did you follow that?”
“The Director of SHIELD is infested with a goa’uld, sir?” he guessed, not bothering with any of his usual airheaded masks.
“We have a credible tip that indicates that may very well be the case. Get the team together. I’m calling the President. It’s time to read in the Avengers.”
“I don’t think we can actually keep any of this from Stark.” Jack added, “We are all technically working for him. Sir.”
“And he is the key player in our civilian oversight,” he agreed. “But the President needs to know that we are, as a planet, compromised and that we can’t officially fix anything until that goa’uld is dead.”
“Knock, knock,” Clint said as the lab door swooshed closed behind him.
“Over here,” he waved through his design program. The Iron Man suit in front of him copied the move.
“What mark is that?” Clint asked, genuinely curious.
“Eight. Though it’ll be the base for nine too, probably.”
Clint grinned. “Cool.”
And he seemed to honestly think it was cool. There wasn’t a glare or a sneer in sight. No mocking. No derision.
Curious, Tony stepped around the display to look at the tray Clint was carrying. Two thick sandwiches with visible meat and vegetables, a bowl of chips, and a French press full of the Elixir of Life. Or, you know, coffee. “Lunch?”
“Bribery,” Clint corrected.
“Ah. I was going to say, I thought you didn’t do domestic service without orders.”
“I don’t, usually. But I’m a nosey bastard, and J said you hadn’t eaten in six hours. I figured two birds, one stone.”
Tony squinted at him. “Questions about my mutation?”
“Got it in one.”
“For SHIELD?” Tony pressed.
“Didn’t we cover the fact that I don’t work for SHIELD anymore? I work for the Maria Stark Foundation now.”
Right. “I hate to break this to you, but there is no Maria Stark Foundation.”
Clint just laughed and set down the tray, “J, you didn’t tell him?”
“My apologies, Sir. I was waiting for the finalized charter before mentioning the issue. Miss Potts, HELEN, and I agreed that it would be appropriate to place all of Stark Industries charitable initiatives under a single non-profit banner.”
“The Maria Stark Foundation,” he guessed.
“That is correct, Sir.”
“And the Avengers Initiative counts as a charitable whatever?”
“No one is paying you to save the world, Sir. And neither you, nor Stark Industries, gain anything from the experience.”
“Alright,” Tony considered the matter. “If we’re doing this, let’s do it properly. Get Pep on a line of official Avengers merchandise. It’s going to happen anyway, but if we do it, all the profits can go to charities. Maybe open a new scholarship fund to Juilliard, for my mom.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“How did you know about this?” Tony asked Clint.
“Uh, I asked?”
“You really are a nosey bastard,” Tony mused and Clint shrugged. “What did you wanna know?”
“Anything you’re willing to tell me,” Clint answered promptly. “How did it feel to activate? When did you know you were activating? How long did it take you to get control and understand your gifts after activation?”
“Shouldn’t you know all this?”
“Well, I mean, everyone’s experience is different and I was in a coma for my onlining so, no.” Clint tipped his head to one side. “What’s your spirit mantle? Can you see your own?”
“Uh, I can. And it’s a peregrine falcon, actually.”
“So, we match?”
Tony just nodded.
“You said Rhodes and Banner match too. What does that mean?”
“I don’t know, but I’d like to find out,” he admitted honestly.
“Read that and tell me what you think.” He pointed at a bit of air to one side of between them. “J?”
JARVIS immediately projected the document the two of them had been arguing over since he set foot in the lab this morning.
Clint picked up a sandwich and started reading. “This is a sub contract?”
Since that should be fairly obvious from the title, he just hummed and took a sandwich, too. Roast beef and ham, someone asked JARVIS his favorite.
“You mean this to be like a relationship?” Clint frowned. “Like a real, romantic relationship? With me?”
“Yes, Clint, I mean this as a start to a real romantic relationship between the two of us.”
Clint focused on the not-paper in front of him. “A collar is fine. Don’t mind occasional leashing either but I don’t want to wear anything shiny in the field.”
“We’ll make you a duty collar,” Tony promised.
Clint read some more, “You want to buy me clothes?”
“I want you to be comfortable at home, but in public I have an image to maintain. If you agree to this, you’ll be part of that image.”
“Alright,” Clint considered. “Does it have to be a suit?”
Tony held up a hand and wiggled it in a so-so gesture.
“I look really good in, uh, vests? Waistcoats? Whatever you call ‘em.”
“I can see that,” Tony agreed. “With the shoulders and the arms and the slim waist.”
“And I can hide all kinds of toys in a waistcoat,” Clint grinned.
Tony just rolled his eyes and Clint kept reading.
“What are the blank spots for?”
“Kinks we haven’t discussed yet. Like sensory deprivation.”
“Um, generally it’s not a hard no for me unless we’re talking hearing. I hate not being able to hear. I find it distressing.”
“Fair. With my own limits that leaves us with sight.”
“I can handle blindfolds,” he shrugged. “Might be fun.”
“Alright.” JARVIS filled in the appropriate areas and they fiddled with it until they agreed on the verbiage. “By the way, I have JARVIS analyzing all hearing aids currently on the market and we’ll be putting together something custom for you as soon as I have a working suit again.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“No, I don’t,” Tony agreed and met Clint’s gaze head on. “But I want to. I want to make you something so much better than what SHIELD gave you that you never want to use anything else.”
“And it’s another way to mark me as yours.”
“Can you work my coms into them? I’ve been asking SHIELD about it because wearing both is not comfortable at all, but since I can physically do it it’s never been a priority.”
“Baby, I’ll make ‘em full blown Bluetooth headphones. You can play music to them through your StarkPhone.”
“Uh,” Clint gave him a doubtful look, “I have a Samsung?”
Tony just shot him a look. Because, seriously, he was smarter than that. He was almost done with a doctorate in Applied Mathematics, for Thor’s sake.
Clint just laughed. “Right. Not anymore. Is that in here?”
“It’s in the financial section.”
Clint blew out a breath and kept reading. “You have questions about my feminization kink? I don’t have a feminization kink.”
“You call your ass a cunt and wore pretty purple lace panties to our play date the other night. That’s feminization kink.”
“Right.” Clint blushed.
“I just want to know how far that extends. How much do you like dressing like a woman?”
“Well, stockings can be fun but garter belts are damn uncomfortable. Dresses and skirts are a no.”
“Nail polish? Makeup?”
“Make-up is fine. I actually like eyeliner.” Clint considered, “I’ve never tried nail polish but I think I’d like it. Might fuck it up with my bow, though, and I’m not going to make protecting it a priority when we’re in the field.”
“Fair,” Tony agreed. “I’ll have someone over to paint your nails so we can see how you like it.”
“Fingers and toes?”
“If that’s what you want.”
“Yeah. Might as well try it all,” Clint shrugged.
Tony nodded and more text filled in for them to haggle over.
“I have a kink. I don’t bring it up a lot because I never do it with casuals. That said. It’s mild, but it might make you uncomfortable,” Tony offered.
“Okay?” Clint drawled, looking confused.
“I would like to preface this with the fact that I know it’s impossible, it’s really just a dirty talk kind of thing.”
“You’re starting to worry me, Stark, just spit it out.”
Clint chewed on his lower lip for a few moments then sought clarity. “Like telling me you’re gonna knock me up? Fuck a baby into me? That kind thing?”
“That’s…” he hesitated, “actually kind of hot. That’s definitely on the table.”
“Awesome,” Tony bounced in place with little grin and JARVIS filled in another section.
“So, I mean, you mean this to be long term, right?”
“Uh, yeah,” Tony raised an eyebrow at Clint. He’d thought that was fairly obvious.
“So, kids? ‘Cause I want some. Maybe. Like three.”
“I should probably reproduce for the good of society,” Tony agreed. “But I’m not ready for kids right now.”
“Yeah, me either.”
“Let’s give it a year and revisit the kids thing?” Tony offered.
“That works.” And a new section appeared, pushing the ones after it down and gaining text.
“In the spirit of honesty,” Tony put out there, “biologically, I already have a daughter. I donated to some friends about eighteen years ago. I have her name and all that in case we run into each other, but she’s theirs, so I agreed to stay out of it.”
Clint blinked, “SHIELD doesn’t know that.”
“I should hope not,” Tony snorted. “Aunt Peg helped us hide it.”
“Aunt Pe— You mean Peggy Carter? Founder of SHIELD?”
“I mean Peggy Carter, my godmother,” he corrected.
“Cool,” Clint blinked and read some more. Then he frowned. “You’re going to pay me to be your sub?”
“It’s an allowance,” Tony corrected. “This goes back to the image thing. I’m expected to spend stupid amounts of money in public. It’s part of the whole billionaire package. If I don’t do it, we get rumors that I’m dying, and I don’t want to deal with that ever again. It’s easier to just throw money around.
“I’ll cover everything when we’re out together, but I need you to be able to do it when we’re out apart or you’re out alone. This is me guaranteeing that you can.”
“Otherwise you’ll have to deal with rumors of us being on the rocks or something,” Clint guessed.
“Yup,” Tony popped the ‘p’.
“I have my own money, Tony.”
“Awesome. No, really, that’s great. But this is part of the whole me being me problem, so indulge me.”
“You being you isn’t the problem,” Clint said softly, “it’s everyone else that sucks.”
“It’s the reality I live in,” Tony shrugged going for nonchalant even though he was, in fact, touched. “And it’s the reality you’ll live in if you agree to this.”
Clint stared at him for a long time like he was considering not doing it but then he inclined his head. “We can edit this as we go, right?”
“We’ll add addendums,” Tony corrected. “Especially for, like, the kid thing, or if we decide to marry.”
Clint nodded. “Can I see the collar?”
Tony popped right up and went to the drawer where he’d hidden it after he made it that morning. He pulled out the box and set it on the table in front of Clint.
Clint opened the box. His eyebrows shot up and he picked up the collar, twisting and bending it to test the flexibility. It was basically a series of tiny gold titanium diamonds formed into a tube about as big around as Tony’s thumb. Either end of the tube was covered with thick gold titanium caps, connected to heavy clasps. Hanging between the clasps was a round yellow diamond surrounded by an inlaid circle of rubies—a call back to the arc reactor in his chest that he’d altered for Clint’s comfort.
“It’s hollow,” he observed. “What’s inside?”
“JARVIS,” Tony told him. “Basically. Not all of him, obviously, but enough so that we can always find you. So that you can always talk to him, if you need something from us.”
Clint set it down carefully. “I have some conditions.”
“Shoot,” Tony ordered.
“You’ve limited me to six hours a day in the gym.”
“Personal training, yes. Team time doesn’t count because I have no doubt once the city’s back together Cap’s going to insist on team time.”
“I want you to add two hours a day in the gym for the two of us.”
“And what would we do in the gym for two hours?” Tony frowned because really? Two hours?
“I’m going to teach you how to fight.”
“Uh, I already know how to fight. Happy’s been giving me lessons for years.”
“I think we both know I’m a better fighter than Happy Hogan.” Tony conceded that with a nod. “I’m a better instructor, too. Just from watching you the other day I can tell he hasn’t even taught you how to fall properly.”
Clint waved a finger at him, “After years of lessons, that should not be said with a tone of surprise. It’s all part of how to properly take a blow and minimize the damage the enemy does to you physically.”
Tony honestly couldn’t remember getting anything like that from Happy ever. “Two hours a day, three days a week, unless we’re saving the world.”
“Two hours a day at least three times a week,” Clint countered, “unless we’re saving the world. We both know I’m going to drag you there as often as I can until I feel you can take a blow properly, at the very least. And while your strength is pretty good, we probably need to work on your flexibility and stamina.”
Tony tried not to take the stamina comment personally. Clint was talking about fighting, after all, not other things. “Until we’re sure what’s going on with Fury, we’re still in world saving mode.”
Clint shot him a doubtful look. “Alright. JARVIS, update the contract.”
JARVIS did as requested, and they read over it one more time.
Then Clint picked up his collar. “Do you want to put it on me, sir?”
“Yes,” Tony did his best not to sigh in relief. “Are you satisfied with the contract?”
“Sign it, then.” Once he did, Tony did too. “On your knees.”
Clint went down easily.
Tony pinched the one working clasp and unhooked it from the diamond. It went on easier than he’d expected and fit Clint’s neck like it was made for it.
Which is good, since it was.
Clint shuddered as the collar snicked into place and it made Tony hungry—just not for food.
“Take my cock out and suck me.”
Clint gave him a blinding smile and obeyed.
Tony tried to be patient. He tried to just enjoy the gift his sub was giving him, but it wasn’t long before he lost patience with it and started fucking Clint’s mouth. He sunk one hand deep in his hair as he moved both his hips and Clint’s head.
And Clint just moaned and took it. He swallowed him down when he came and kept sucking until Tony used his handful of hair to pull him off.
“Don’t you dare come,” he ordered harshly.
“Of course, sir.” Clint sounded utterly fucked out as he nuzzled at Tony’s hip.
“You will go to our playroom,” he ordered as soon as he was able to think again. “The top middle drawer of the dresser has a black butt plug with a purple gem on the end. You will prepare yourself and put it in. You will leave it in until I fuck you tonight. No getting off without permission, and right now you do not have permission.”
“Yes, sir,” Clint agreed as he put Tony’s cock away neatly, but he didn’t stand until Tony waved him up.
“Good boy,” He grinned at Clint’s blush. That was never going to get old. “Now go and—”
“Pardon me, Sir.” JARVIS interrupted.
“This had better be good, J.”
“Yes, Sir. I do apologize for the interruption, however, you asked to be notified immediately when Dr. Foster and Ms. Lewis were expected to land.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “Go on.”
“Their flight will be landing at Atlantic City International in approximately thirty minutes. Would you like for me to arrange their travel to the Tower by quinjet, Sir?”
“Who’s gonna be flying?” Clint asked before he could answer.
“I would, Agent Barton.”
Clint barked a laugh. “No offense, J, but no woman in her right mind is going to climb on a jet with a male pilot she can’t see.”
He turned to Tony, “I’ll take a quinjet and get them. It’s like a twenty-minute flight from here.”
Tony nodded. “Plug yourself first.”
“And wear your field gear,” he demanded because he’s very aware of the danger out there for Clint. It was why he wasn’t helping clean up the city with Cap, Coulson, and May. With Fury MIA interrogating Loki, no one had told the rest of the SHIELD that Clint wasn’t a willing double agent.
And, as Clint had said and Carter had seconded, there was nothing SHIELD Agents hated more than a double agent. Without Fury’s word on the matter, Clint’s head was on a very real chopping block if the wrong SHIELD Agent were to find him.
“If you’re not back in an hour and you don’t have a damn good reason, you’re getting a spanking.”
Clint grinned and gave him that eyebrow wiggle that he really should not find charming, “Yes, sir.”
Clint watched as a trans-Atlantic carrier marked Lufthansa rolled to a stop just outside his comfort zone relative to the Quinjet.
Guys in safety gear rolled a set of stairs into place and the door popped open. A flight attendant walked out followed by two women and then another flight attendant. The flight attendants handed carry-ons over to the two women and gestured them over to the Quinjet.
No one else came off the plane and no one even thought the word Customs.
Perks of the Tony Stark hookup, he supposed.
He stepped down the ramp a bit to greet them but didn’t clear the jet completely because sight lines.
Dr. Jane Foster and Darcy Lewis stopped in front of him, just off the ramp.
“He’s not here?” Jane looked hurt and confused. “Why isn’t he here? He was supposed to be here.”
Lewis, on the other hand, looked ready to tase him. “He went back to Asgard. Didn’t he?”
“Not by choice,” he told them and held out the tablet JARVIS had insisted he take. Never let it be said the AI didn’t know his stuff when it came to managing the humans in his life because Lewis darted up the ramp and snatched the tablet out of his hand. When she got back down to Foster, they both leaned into the screen and Foster hit play.
He could have done without listening to the instant replay of Odin’s A+ Parenting, watching it in person had been bad enough. He got that the ladies needed to see this, though, so he just breathed through it.
“Why did you bring us here?” Foster accused heartbrokenly. “You should have just left us in Norway.”
“Respectfully, Dr. Foster, everyone with a connection to an Avenger is being brought to the Tower for their own protection. We have no idea what kind of fallout we’re looking at for the Battle of Midtown and we’d prefer if you didn’t get hurt. For Thor’s sake, if not for yourself.”
“Fallout?” Lewis demanded furiously. “You saved the fucking world. From aliens!”
“Yeah. But hundreds of people died and millions of people are mutating. The physical damage done to the city was extensive as well. Someone is bound to want revenge.” He focused on Foster and found her shaking like a little leaf. “That pad also has all the data we got from the wormhole that was opened above the Tower. Dr. Stark wants to know if you can use that to help us get Thor back.”
Foster looked up at him, fear galvanizing into fury and determination. “Well, what are we waiting for?”
“Uh,” he scratched the back of his head. “The rest of your bags?”
“This is it,” Lewis promised. “The rest is being mailed to us.”
Clint frowned. That sounded like a terrible idea and a huge security problem. “JARVIS, be sure everything mailed to the Tower is thoroughly scanned.”
“Of course, Agent Barton.”
“Come on,” he waved the ladies forward. “It’s a twenty-minute flight. Strap in, we’ll be there in no time.”
Lewis joined him in the cockpit, taking the co-pilot seat, but wisely keeping her hands to herself even as she watched him curiously. Foster, surprisingly, took one of the jump seats just outside the cockpit rather than one of the more comfortable passenger chairs further back.
“Nice collar,” Lewis said softly as he got them in the air. “I didn’t know Tony Stark was a dom.”
“Nobody said Tony Stark was my dom.”
She gave him a skeptical look. “You’re wearing a jeweled representation of an arc reactor in Iron Man’s colors. He might as well have branded his name on your forehead.”
He smiled to himself. He was ridiculously pleased with the whole thing.
Darcy just held up her fist for him to bump. He probably shouldn’t, but he bumped her right back. Their contract didn’t say anything about not touching people except for when he was leashed. Surely a congratulatory fist bump from another sub was okay.
Eh. He’d have to double check with Tony later.
“So, what do you do while she’s being all,” he waved vaguely in Foster’s direction.
Darcy laughed. “Same as you, probably. Keep her fed and caffeinated. Make sure she showers and sleeps at least every other day.
“She’s also pretty bad about setting things down and forgetting where she left them, so I’m a part-time knickknack wrangler. Or full time, depending on how engrossed and/or flustered she is.”
“But you’re not?” he tapped his collar.
“Believe it or not, I’m straight,” she delivered the pronouncement dripping in sarcasm.
“Well now you’re going to have to exit the Quinjet.” He smirked at her. “This is a queers-only Quinjet.”
She laughed. “So, seriously. What are we walking into here?”
Clint considered this issue. “You’ve heard of Loki?”
“Thor’s little brother with anger management and adequacy issues?”
“I would say daddy issues, but yeah, that works. He may or may not have been mind-controlled into leading the Battle of Midtown for the other side.”
“Yeah, well… We let SHIELD take him, to question him, and now we have no idea where he went. So, we’re trying to get him back so we can protect him.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “If he was mind-controlled then he’s innocent. They can’t hold him if he’s innocent.”
“Do you know who mind controlled him?”
“Not yet, but we’re working on it.” He blew out a breath. “It gets worse.”
“Yeah, the Director of SHIELD may or may not be mind-controlled, too.”
“The fuck?” she exclaimed.
“Yeah, seems pretty catching. Different source than Loki’s mind control, though. Or mine.”
“You were mind controlled?”
“By Loki,” he shrugged because he didn’t want it to be a Big Deal, “for three days.”
“Jesus,” she swore.
“Yeah, so, protecting the civilians around us is even more important. Because the other side—or sides, I guess—don’t need you to agree with them to make you cooperate.”
“I’ll keep Janie in the Tower,” she promised. “You assholes keep the Tower safe.”
“That’s the plan.”
“What other civilians are you expecting?”
“I heard Bruce and Steve are single. They don’t even have any real friends outside the group because one’s been frozen for like seventy years, and the other’s been on the run for more than ten. May and Coulson are married, no civvies there.” Well, other than Phil’s son, but nobody knew about their connection and Arthur was so deep in top secret Army research half the people that knew him probably thought he was dead. “My family’s been dead for years. Tony has Pepper, but she’s got enough security around her that the President’s probably jealous.”
Darcy nodded. The wheels were pretty obviously turning in her head, but after working with Natasha for years he knew it was better just not to ask. Better to let her come out and say it in her own time.
“We’re going to have guests this evening to help with the Fury Problem. You guys can be there if you want, but it’s not required.”
Darcy just hummed in response, still lost in her own world. A glance back showed Foster with a pad of paper in her lap, looking between it and the tablet, doing calculations or taking notes or something.
Clint just rolled his eyes. Good thing it was a short flight.
“Really? That one?” Tony asked softly as the group wandered from the dining room to the living room for an after-dinner drink.
Steve just gave him a half-wild grin. It was the same exhilarated grin he had given Tony after the Chitauri had headed for the hills. It made Tony think that maybe romantic and/or sexual attraction has been a problem for good ole Captain America since coming to the future.
“I mean, based on my dad’s stories, Lewis is basically Bucky Barnes with tits. You realize?”
Steve shrugged, not bothered at all by this description.
“Alright. Fine. Just tell her what you want from her. Be open and honest and all those terrible things. But be prepared to renegotiate stuff at a later date.”
“That’s how you do things in the future?” Steve looked puzzled.
“Not everyone, but the people that actually respect the people around them? Yes.”
“Beer?” he asked Clint. “You can have one.”
Clint shrugged, “Sure.”
He’d just handed Clint his beer when PLATO spoke up, “Ey, guv.” And Tony thoroughly regretted letting the kids pick their own accents and diction. This cockney bullshit was ridiculous.
“Ey, uh, Colonel O’Neill is trying to get War Machine’s attention. Should I put him through?”
“Yes, please,” Rhodey stood from where he’d been chatting with Coulson.
“War Machine, come in. This is O’Neill, over.”
“Put me through,” Rhodey stood and everyone else stood with him.
“Get it, bruv.”
“O’Neill, this is Rhodes.”
“Rhodes, I got two birds ready to land on Stark Tower. Just need to know where.”
Tony frowned. JARVIS should have alerted them when aircraft entered his airspace. He grabbed one of the Pads he left lying around the Tower and started looking for these guys himself.
“On the roof of Stark Tower, there is a box made of eight lights,” Rhodey told their sneaky bastard of a visitor.
“I see it,” O’Neill confirmed.
“It should be big enough for an X-302, sir.”
“You’ll have to land one at a time. Turn off your engine and any stealth tech you have active.” When O’Neill failed to acknowledge, Rhode continued. “The square is a lift that will take you down to the hangar level. The actual parking is handled by robot arms that need to see you in order to not damage your craft, Colonel.”
“An unknown aircraft has landed on the hangar lift, Sir,” JARVIS piped up about two minutes later.
“Take him down,” he ordered and he changed the view on his Pad in time to see an aircraft unlike any he’d ever seen before ripple into being on the lift.
Clint leaned over his arm to get a good look, too.
It was certainly worth a look. A fixed but curved wing aircraft with a two-person cockpit. It was unarmed but the gaps where the weapons should go were both obvious and intriguing. Hover-capable, obviously, or it never would have been able to land on Quinjet elevator.
“It’s so ugly it’s almost pretty,” Clint observed.
Tony just snorted and scrubbed a hand through Clint’s hair.
“We’re parked,” O’Neill announced, amused.
“Lift’s ready for bird number two,” PLATO said over the open comm channel.
“Carter?” O’Neill prompted.
“On it, sir,” a female voice said over the line.
“A second unknown aircraft has landed on the hangar lift,” JARVIS confirmed again. “It is a match to the first, Sir.”
Tony just nodded to JARVIS.
“Let’s go meet our guests.” Tony led them over to the elevator. It was a little small for nine people, so they broke into two groups.
Tony, Clint, Rhodey, and Cap went first, just in case things went wrong or got violent, and made it down in time to see JARVIS’s helper arms set the second jet across the hangar from the other. JARVIS, thoughtfully, put it face to face with its twin. Both of them were in position to be fired upon by the two Quinjets already on the level.
“You think Phil could park LOLA here?” Clint asked, eyes still drinking in the two new jets.
“LOLA?” he blinked at his sub.
Clint turned to focus on him, looking confused. “Uh, Levitation Over Land Automobile? Convertible that flies?”
“I know what LOLA is, I’m just surprised. I was told she was destroyed.”
“Oh,” Clint scratched at the back of his head nervously. “Phil rescued her from SHIELD storage hell and restored her himself. He won’t consider this home until she’s here.”
“He can definitely bring her here.” Tony frowned. “I should have thought of that, you all have stuff wherever you lived before.”
“It’s not like it’s been a priority over, you know, saving the world. Fixing the city and all that.” Clint shrugged. “And it’s only been three days.”
“I don’t want any of ‘my’ stuff,” Cap offered. “I don’t know where any of it came from. Didn’t get to pick any of it.”
“SHIELD just kind of bought a bunch of retro stuff and shoved it at you,” Clint agreed.
“Doesn’t really help with integration,” Tony agreed. “They also socially isolated you, left you ignorant, and put a spy on you. Probably more than one.”
“That’s fucked up,” Rhodey breathed, shaking his head.
Cap shrugged but didn’t look happy with it, so Tony left it alone. If he could see the problem, they could start to fix it. Start to help him.
Okay, he couldn’t leave it alone. He offered, “You know, your girl Lewis is probably the best pick in the Tower to help you learn and adapt to modern culture.”
Cap gave him a quirk of the lips smile.
“Not that you have to,” he clarified. “But it’d probably make life in the future easier for you.”
The elevator doors opened and he got a good in-person look at the latest monstrosities the United States Air Force has come up with.
He huffed and looked at Rhodey, “I can do better.”
Rhodey just held out a hand in a taunting ‘be my guest’ kind of gesture.
Tony wrinkled his nose at him and focused on one of the jets. The cockpit stood open and two guys in flight suits crawled out of the first plane. One was young and sort of awkward, the other was older and obviously military. Both with wolf mantles—one red, the other gray, which was interesting—and deeply in love, which was even more interesting. As they knocked around under the plane, getting what appeared to be duffle bags out, Tony looked to the other jet.
The cockpit opened and a blonde woman dropped nimbly down to the deck. A scientist, based on how her raccoon mantle was eagerly taking everything in. She was followed to the ground by the biggest bastard Tony has ever seen in person. He was at least three inches taller than Steve, and just as big, but with Clint’s shoulders expanded to scale.
The rest of them had removed their helmets, but this dude was still rocking a beanie, which was weird—but was not nearly the weirdest thing about him.
“Uh, I’m Jack,” the gray wolf mantle guy said, waving awkwardly, “Colonel Jack O’Neill, two l’s.
“This is Dr. Daniel Jackson,” he flicked his hand to indicate the red wolf guy.
“Captain Dr. Samantha Carter,” was racoon chick.
“And Master Sergeant Murray Taylor,” was beanie dude.
“We’re here to brief you on Project Nautilus and help out with a bit of a pest problem?”
“Yeah, that’s nice,” Tony waved him off and pointed at ‘Murray’s’ stomach. “But what the hell is that?”
“What?” The one identified as Dr. Jackson blinked at them rapidly, his face was a study of innocent confusion.
“That, that thing in—what did they call you? Murray?—Murray’s middle.” Tony looked up at the guy. “And what’s your real name, by the way? Cause you are definitely not from around here.”
“How could you possibly know that?” Captain Carter demanded while Murray just raised an eyebrow. It was impressive, the way he was able to get outstanding height with the one eyebrow without dragging the other one along for the ride, but Tony was not distracted.
“You don’t really expect me to tell you that, do you?” Tony scoffed. “When I already know you’re lying to me?”
“Tony,” Rhodey chided softly. “That’s Teal’c of Chulak.”
“Different planet, realm, or reality?” he asked tightly.
“Planet,” Jackson answered immediately and Colonel O’Neill rolled his eyes with his whole body at his mate.
“How long have you been on Earth?”
Teal’c of Chulak just blinked, full blown stone face, so Jackson answered again, “A little over two years. How can you tell he’s not human?”
“Still not gonna tell you.”
“How about this,” Steve intervened. Like, physically moved between them. “You’ve obviously come a long way. Let’s have Colonel Rhodes show you to your rooms. You can freshen up, get out of those flight suits, and everybody can calm down.
“When you’re ready, you can join us on the common floor for a bite to eat and tell us everything.”
“That sounds like a good idea, Captain,” Jackson—who was apparently the party’s face character—agreed. Then he held up a USB, “I have, uh, visual aids that will probably help with this whole thing.”
Steve accepted the USB from him carefully and motioned Rhodey to get them moving.
“You realize you’re going to have to tell them how you know, right?” Steve asked after they were gone.
“That’s something you’re going to have to learn about me, Cap. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to.” Tony gave him a mean little not-smile, “And there ain’t nobody that can make me.”
Clint moved closer to him once the maybe-enemy was on the elevator. His weight against Tony’s side was comforting.
And, okay, maybe he overreacted. Just a little.
But between Obie and Fury, he had plenty of reason for immediate, adverse reactions to dishonesty. Fuck, how much pain would seeing mantles have saved him if he’d been able to see them before the whole Ten Rings fiasco? He quickly decided that he didn’t want to think about it too hard, so he boarded the elevator with the other two when it returned for them and went up in silence.
Coulson and May were standing guard right outside the elevator, looking ready for a fight when the doors opened. Banner was back a little bit, a secondary line of defense. Foster and Lewis were nowhere in sight.
“What happened?” May demanded.
Coulson looked them over and seemed to relax without moving when none of them were injured. “JARVIS returned the elevator to this floor before we made it to the hangar and said you would have to explain.”
Tony allowed Clint to maneuver him to the couch. Clint dropped one of the decorative pillows between his feet and knelt on it, resting his head on Tony’s thigh.
Tony sighed and settled a hand in his hair, comforting them both. “We got a less than stellar surprise.”
“What did you see?” Steve asked as he sat on the opposite couch.
When Tony looked at him, he was looking both jealous and confused. A dom that didn’t know what he was, Tony assumed.
“This Teal’c is obviously an alien. His mantle was not a creature from Earth. Neither were Thor’s or Loki’s for that matter. What bothered me was that he had that same thing Fury did—but it’s in his stomach rather than around his neck. His mantle didn’t look as unhealthy as Fury’s did, either, I don’t get it.”
“The rest of them didn’t seem bothered or surprised by it,” Clint offered without raising his head. “It almost seemed like they wanted to cover for him. Protect him.”
“I can see that,” Tony agreed.
“What does that mean?” Lewis asked as she entered from the kitchen and sat at Steve’s feet.
Steve just relaxed. Dominant status: confirmed, Tony thought, amused. He’d have to get JARVIS to ninja some educational materials onto Steve’s pad.
Wait, Tony frowned at himself. Had Steve even accepted a StarkPad for himself? He’d have to make sure of it later.
Or just give him one. Whatever.
“Maybe there’s something in the visual aids Jackson provided?” Clint asked.
Steve silently held up the USB.
“There’s a port in the table,” Tony told him, much to Steve’s confusion.
Lewis silently took the drive from him, deftly uncovered the port hidden in the center of the table, and plugged in the device.
“Scanning now, Sir,” JARVIS confirmed. “No viruses or other cyberwarfare detected.”
The pictures made very little sense. There was some sort of dig site in probably Egypt showing a circle made of stone being held up on one of its sides by rope.
There was a short video of the same stone circle in a room with a ramp leading up to it. An inner ring on the circle spun several times in alternating directions, and at the end blue energy exploded out of the center before settling into what Tony can only call a pond of light.
“An event horizon,” Foster breathed. “They’re making wormholes. Einstein-Rosen Bridges.”
Personally, in her place, he’d be offended rather than pleased or awed or whatever that was on her face. They were playing with her field of research and hadn’t invited her to join them. That was a slap in the face, as far as Tony’s concerned.
The next short video was the four assholes they’d met downstairs walking up the ramp to the pond. They disappeared through the pond and when the device disengaged, they were gone.
Clint shot Tony an amused look. Tony rolled his eyes even though he was amused, too, and scrubbed a hand through his sub’s hair.
Then there were a series of pictures. A gray snake like thing sticking out of slits in Teal’c’s stomach, with articulated frills and fins all around its head.
That could not be sanitary, Tony frowned, feeling uncomfortable on the man’s behalf.
“That’s what’s in Fury?” Phil asked.
Tony just nodded.
Pyramids. Full-sized pyramids, floating next to planets. Smaller pyramids, more rounded and maybe the size of a suburban house. A craft similar to the ones that just parked on the hangar level but sleeker, almost glossy.
A group of people dressed to the nines in ancient looking finery and dripping with gold.
There was a video of one, a woman, that made her eyes glow like he’d thought he’d imagined Fury’s eyes doing just the other day.
Then the file cut to a fucking Roswell Gray. A straight up Roswell Gray. On a weird ass chair.
Tony wondered if he could even stand, because he did not look at all healthy.
There were spaceships now that were different from the first set. Gray instead of gold. Long like proper ships rather than pyramids. Which was a stupid fucking concept, he had to say. Dramatic, sure. Over the top, definitely. But that couldn’t be at all convenient.
“Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes’s party is on their way to this level,” JARVIS warned.
“Cut the feed.”
Several people huffed in disappointment when the display of visual aids immediately winked out.
Tony was more stuck on the implication that there were two possible enemies out there with fucking spaceships. And armies to go with them, probably. On top of whoever was behind Loki, because the two ship styles were wildly different than the ones he saw on the other side of the wormhole.
He might have to rethink his no weapons policy.
He ran a tired hand over his face. Fuck. This was not what he wanted.
Still. It was better to know.
The elevator dinged and Rhodes stepped out with his little tagalongs.
“Hungry?” Steve asked, standing. He helped Lewis to her feet without even looking at her.
“Starving, actually,” Jackson confirmed.
“Dinner should still be warm,” Lewis slid smoothly into the spot of hostess at Steve’s side even though it was Tony’s Tower. He couldn’t be fucked to bother though.
He looked down at Clint to find him watching him, “What do you think?”
“I think they need us, sir.” Then he considered, “And we probably need them, too.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.” Even though he kind of hated it. “You ready to dig into this?”
“Whatever you need, sir.”
Tony looked around to the others. May and Coulson were having a low, tense discussion. “You guys okay?”
The two agents shared another tense look before Coulson spoke up. “Did they tell you their project name?”
“They said Nautilus, I think.” Tony frowned. “Yeah, Nautilus.”
Which made an amusing sort of sense. One would require a submarine if one were going to spend all of their time traveling through the Water Puddle of Doom.
“Their unit patches said Stargate Command,” Clint piped up.
Coulson admitted. “Fury had given me some briefing material on the Project.”
“He wanted us for this?” Clint asked.
“He wanted me,” Coulson corrected. “But I wasn’t going to leave you in the field with another handler. Especially not Sitwell, who was my most likely replacement.”
Clint scrunched his nose in distaste. “I fucking hate that guy.”
“I know,” Coulson admitted wryly. “One of you would have been dead within the month.”
“It would have been him,” Clint assured him with a smirk.
“He is incredibly fond of poison, if you’ll recall.” Coulson rolled his eyes. “Either way, I didn’t want that on my conscience, so I said no and nothing ever came of it.”
“So, you’ll know if they’re leaving things out,” Tony supposed.
“Assuming Fury told me the truth,” Coulson countered. “Which we couldn’t count on, even if he wasn’t compromised.”
“Nah,” Clint shook his head against Tony’s thigh. “You couldn’t do whatever job he wanted you for if he didn’t give you the actual facts. And you’d have found out if he lied to you real quick once you were on the ground. That shit would damage your working relationship, like, permanently, and he relies on you too much to risk that.”
Tony inclined his head because that was a good point.
Coulson obviously considered that, then he agreed with it, too.
But if Fury relied on Coulson that much, “With Fury MIA, have you told SHIELD that Clint’s innocent and off limits?”
Coulson shook his head, looking sad.
“Most of SHIELD thinks they’ve been fucking for years,” May huffed. “No one would take his word for it because they’d assume he’s been compromised. In Clint’s favor.”
“That’ll change when they see Clint’s collar, though.”
May shot him a skeptical look.
Which, fair. If Clint managed to get married to Romanoff, and the rumors of him and Coulson survived even that?
“Hey,” he poked Clint’s shoulder gently, “you never told me how you wound up married to Romanoff. Is that why you hate Sitwell?”
Clint huffed at him and sat up to make eye contact easier. “Human trafficking, Nevada. We’d found a US Senator’s missing daughter in Malaysia when her trail had gone cold in Las Vegas.”
“So, you were trying to connect the dots,” Tony guessed.
“Yup. We needed all the players before we shut them down or they’d just open up shop again under different names and cover businesses, you know? Well, one of the businesses on the last street we could place her on was a quickie wedding chapel. Two people had to go in, but gay marriage wasn’t legal yet so it couldn’t be Nat and May.”
“And no one would believe me and Romanoff,” Coulson agreed. “But Clint and Natasha’s friendship had always been intimate.”
“We figured it had the best chance of working even if the little Hawk is shit at undercover.”
“Fuck you, May,” Clint snapped without any real heat.
May just tutted at him, “Now what would your dom say.”
“Probably ‘fuck you, May’,” Tony seconded and the woman just cackled in response.
He was really digging the acceptance he was getting from this team. Which reminded him, “J, has Cap been issued a Pad yet?”
“None of the Avengers have been issued StarkPads at this time, Sir.”
“Well, that won’t do.” And, as an added bonus, issuing them before a briefing made them mission equipment and not a gift for the others to feel guilty over and possibly reject.
He made Clint stand so he could get off the couch and went to one of the wall cabinets. Clint followed, so he gave him four and took four Pads for himself. At his gesture, Clint handed his over to Coulson, May, Banner, and Foster.
Tony gave one to Clint when he sat back down on their couch and waited for the others to come back.
“You never explained how that resulted in you hating Sitwell,” Tony reminded.
“Yeah, well. There’s only one reason for people to go to a quickie wedding chapel. Sitwell was supposed to destroy the paperwork, but instead he fucking filed it. Nat and I were technically married for three years before SHIELD redid my security check and realized I’d lied about my marital status.
“They pulled me out of the field right in the middle of a fucking mission. Put me in a cell like some sort of criminal. May and Nat could have died because they had no backup, all thanks to that asshole failing at paperwork.” Clint all but spit the last and Tony couldn’t really blame him.
“Jesus, how was he not fired?”
“I’ll fix it,” he promised his sub. “J, tell Fri that I want fucking everything on this Sitwell bastard.”
“Of course, Sir.”
He didn’t have to wait long to give Cap and Lewis their Pads after that.
“What?” Cap hesitated before taking it.
“So you can take notes,” Tony answered, going for absent minded rather than condescending. “There’s a stylus you can use like a pen on the screen, you can take pictures and videos; it’s fully loaded. Though JARVIS is going to record everything in case we need to review later.”
“On that note, let’s start with the NDAs, huh?” Jackson offered and Teal’c put a heavy looking briefcase on the coffee table. “One of the few things that’s changed since SHIELD took us over is that they’ve streamlined the clearance and NDA process. Which is nice, because the old NDA looked like an honest-to-god telephone book.”
“They said the old NDA gave away too much about the program, which yeah,” Colonel O’Neill agreed. “Some of the threats were very specific.”
“Some of the verbiage, Jack. Verbiage,” Jackson corrected.
“Are you saying they weren’t threats?” Jack gave him skeptical eyebrows.
“Well, no, but you can’t just call it that.”
Tony held up a hand for silence and was rewarded by the argument stopping in its tracks. “SHIELD took over your project?”
“Yup,” Jack agreed, his eyes cautious.
“That wouldn’t have been, like, fifteen months ago, would it?”
“Just about,” Colonel SassyPants confirmed.
“You guys in Colorado or Nevada?”
All four of their guests plus Rhodey blinked at him in surprise.
“Colorado,” Jackson answered, confused. “Uh, what?”
“About fifteen months ago, the CEO of RRS purchased two ridiculously expensive think tanks. One in Nevada, one in Colorado. He used Obadiah Stane’s authorization to do it. Since Obie had already been dead for several months at that point, I’m sure you can see the problem there.”
“I see several problems there, actually,” Captain Carter confirmed.
Tony inclined his head in acknowledgement and moved on. “So, just to be clear, you’re telling me I own Project Nautilus?”
Jackson’s answer both hurt because the project had obviously been making weapons behind his back and relieved, because now he could dig deep in the program and no one could fucking stop him.
“And Project Nautilus is also called Stargate Command?” he asked because Clint was right. The BDU jackets they were all now wearing had Stargate Command patches on one shoulder.
They all agreed, looking a little thrown off their game.
“What is a Stargate?”
“That’s a good place to start,” Jackson popped to his feet. “Uh, do you have the visual aids?”
The first picture of the dig in Egypt popped into place in the air above the coffee table.
“On a dig near the Great Pyramids in Giza, 1928. This device, which we now know as the Stargate, was recovered by Professors Paul Langford and Heinrich Gruber.”
“That brings us to two weeks ago,” Jackson started again after their second snack and potty break. “When the Tok’ra came to us, they told us they’d been doing a System Lord census and found one missing. Seth or Set. JARVIS?”
JARVIS changed their holographic display to a recording of a holographic display. The recording showed a tiny light pod thing projecting a spinning gold pyramid with symbols for the various Egyptian gods. One of them was blinking. Tony assumed that was the symbol for Set.
“Did they give you any data on their System Lord census?” Cap asked from where he was once again taking notes on his Pad.
His use of the damn thing had been smooth. He very quickly progressed from first time to veteran user proficiency-levels during the three hours they’d been going over the details of the Stargate Program. Tony would dearly love to know if that was his natural adaptability, something the serum gave him, or a sign of JARVIS’s deft assistance. But. He didn’t want to upset whatever it was that was letting Steve be so comfortable with his new circumstances so he stomped on the urge to ask.
“They gave us the device you see in the recording,” Jack told them, “Not that we can get it to display anything other than that damn pyramid.”
“You have it?” Tony asked.
“Not with us,” Captain Carter answered. “But I can get it for you. You clearly have technology we didn’t know existed; you might have better luck.”
“It’s not luck,” he assured her and she just nodded.
“Teal’c and I tracked the Cult of Set through the ages,” Jackson said like the interruptions never happened. “Goa’uld have a predictable MO—they crave power and worship. We found he’d set up shop again just outside of Seattle and went to pay him a visit.”
“I assume it didn’t go well for him,” Steve said looking at Jack.
Jack shrugged, “We wouldn’t be here if it didn’t.”
“So, Set’s dead?” Tony asked and he got a round of nods in response. “Any idea who’s in Fury then?”
Jackson shook his head, “I’m not convinced Fury is infested. His behavior is far outside the norm for a goa’uld.”
“He has all the power he could want over Earth, but gets none of the blame when things go wrong,” Clint snorted. “And if you think he’s not getting worshiped, you clearly don’t understand what it’s like inside an agency like SHIELD. Half the agency thinks he walks on water, and even the half that doesn’t would throw themselves on a grenade for him without question.”
“I’d say that fits the MO,” Jack concluded.
“And you said that’s a goa’uld?” Tony pointed at Teal’c’s middle.
“I carry a prim’ta of Apophis,” Sergeant Stoic answered like that was not the weirdest thing ever.
“Which is a baby goa’uld?”
“That is correct, Doctor Stark.”
“I assume there’s some color variation across the species? I mean there has to be some sort of physical sign of genetic diversity, right?”
“Indeed.” The Eyebrow of Curiosity shot upward.
“Yours is kinda peachy. His was like a blue-black. And it was bigger, I assume because his was a mature whatever,” he waved dismissively.
“Your logic is sound.”
“But rather than just gestating, it’s actually in his head. So, there is an adult goa’uld in control of the man basically in charge of Earth’s security.”
He got another round of nods.
“I’d say that violates the Protected Planets Treaty, wouldn’t you?”
O’Neill blew out a breath, “I’ll contact Thor. See what he says about it.”
“Seems to me like he’d be pretty invested in the violation of his own treaty,” Cap offered, looking severe.
O’Neill shrugged, “Alien logic is not always our logic.”
“I don’t care about the treaty,” Bruce said abruptly. “I’m worried about him. Is his species supposed to be covered in mucus?”
“The thin layer of fluid covering his body, makes him look glossy? Looks like mucus to me. Are they biologically related to, say, tree frogs?”
“Not that we’re aware of,” Captain Carter frowned, leaning over Bruce’s shoulder to see what he was looking at.
“Then they might have a significant problem,” Bruce pulled off his glasses and looked at the room. “And if they can’t fix it on their own, isn’t it our job to help them? As their allies?”
“You may have a point here, doctor,” O’Neill offered cautiously.
“Why wouldn’t they tell us, though?” Carter asked.
“Because it would make them appear weak?” Tony offered and everyone looked at him. “I can tell you from experience, you don’t tell people you’re sick when you want them to rely on you. If they are sick and hiding it, I’d say we’re not that different after all.”
“If they’re sick, they’re sick. We can ask Thor once he’s here and move forward. Right now, I’m more concerned about the fate of RRS and the SGC,” Jack said plainly.
“Because I own it,” Tony assumed.
“Because you own it and because we are technically a civilian corporation that has accomplished its mission,” Jack agreed. “But the mission has grown. And it grew even more after the Battle of Midtown. We can’t afford to stop. Earth cannot afford for us to stop.”
Tony cut his eyes over to Rhodey. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
“I keep really strict boundaries between my job and our friendship, Tones.” Honey Bear admitted softly. “We were friends before I got the job and I’d like to be friends after.”
Tony nodded, accepting that.
“That said, as soon as I knew you needed to know, I ensured the best people available would come in and brief you so that you could make the best decision for you.
“I felt—and I still feel—that me telling you all this and then telling you that you had to keep RRS open, possibly expand the budget, possibly work on it yourself, would come perilously close to manipulating you to do what the government would want. Especially now, after the Battle of Midtown.
“You’ll remember I promised to never do that to you.”
Tony huffed, “Alright, fair. But I still feel like you should have told me earlier.”
“If I’d known about the RRS connection before, Tones, I would have told you before,” he promised with such sincerity that Tony let him off the hook right then.
“Alright.” He scrubbed a tired hand over his face and settled Clint a little more firmly against his side. “We need a new mission statement for RRS, because I am not closing her down. It needs to be something broad enough to cover SHIELD and the SGC and all the products they put out, but not specific enough to blow their cover in any way.”
The room agreed.
“I need to figure out my staffing problems. Even if we get the snake out of Fury, I can’t leave him in charge of RRS. At the very least, he’s going to need time to recover from being a prisoner in his own body and we can’t afford for SHIELD to falter.”
“You need a civilian administrator for the SGC and Area 51, too.” Jackson interjected and Tony nodded, adding it to his mental list.
“Coulson, wanna be a CEO?”
“Temporarily or long term?” was his first question.
“Depends on a lot of factors. Probably long term. J and Fri have found a list of problems in SHIELD that are beginning to form a very ugly picture. I need someone in charge I can trust to hold people accountable. That list is not very long.”
“Can JARVIS send me what you have so far so I can make a fair assessment?”
Tony waved and JARVIS announced, “I have sent all relevant materials to your and Agent May’s StarkPads, Agent Coulson.”
“I have an idea for a mission statement,” Lewis offered from where she’d curled up on the couch next to Steve.
“Let’s hear it.”
“JARVIS was letting me look through the public information on Rogers Research and, I mean, based on the products and papers they’ve put out. There’s lots of medical techniques, a couple medicines, cures for stuff, pollution solutions, electronics. I’d say the mission statement should be something like: Making humanity better. Better life, better health, better planet.”
“There’s something in there,” he agreed. It could also be taken very wrong though. “J, send it through legal and marketing. See if they’ve got suggestions or anything.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“And get me an appointment with Aaron Hotchner for tomorrow. Or, better yet, verify he’s in town and I’ll go ambush him.”
“Who’s Aaron Hotchner?” Jack asked.
“A profiler, actually,” Tony smirked. “FBI Agent, former lawyer. Covered my ass when a stalker became a serial killer targeting men that looked just like me.”
“He’s on your shortlist,” he guessed.
“Yup,” Tony popped the ‘p’.
“What do you need a profiler for?”
Tony just smirked at him, “And ruin the surprise?”
Jack groaned and Clint chuckled, so that was a win all around.
“Anything else we need to cover tonight?”
“Do you have readings from the…?” Carter pointed upward, indicating the wormhole. “Or do you still have the device?”
“We do. Both, actually, but you’ll have to beg Dr. Foster for them. And if I were her, I wouldn’t let you have any of my toys after leaving her out like you have.”
“I’ve been trying to recruit her for over a year, but I’ve only gotten snotty little rejection letters from her assistant every time I tried to even talk to her,” Carter may or may not have sent a grumpy look Lewis’s way.
“What?” Darcy asked in surprise. “I haven’t gotten anything with your name on it at all.
“I actually haven’t gotten any offer letters for Jane in, like, six months other than the Tromsø thing, and that was a phone call. No invitations to conventions or anything either. That’s weird, right?”
“That’s pretty weird,” Tony agreed.
Phil sighed. “I’ll look into it. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s messing with your—both of your—mail. It’s easier to protect you if we can control where you are. Usually, we do it by making sure the offers we want you to take are more inviting than the ones we don’t, but someone could have very easily crossed the line.”
“That’s fucked up,” Darcy frowned.
“You didn’t object to your stay in Tromsø,” Phil countered. “Or Paris six months ago. Or London before that. SHIELD arranged them all by controlling or arranging offers from various scientists and universities.”
Tony couldn’t help but think Foster should be hurt to hear that. Or she would be, if she wasn’t drowning in information about the Stargate and therefore not hearing a word anyone said.
“Maybe you should call your Thor now,” Bruce offered softly.
Jack looked surprised by the request but recovered quickly. He pulled some sort of remote out of one of his cargo pockets and hit a button. “Thor? This is O’Neill, come in please.”
“This is Supreme Commander Thor,” a strangely digital voice flowed over the comm.
“How the hell are you, buddy?”
“I am well, O’Neill,” that same digital voice said back. “How the hell are you?”
Tony choked back a laugh, that just sounded utterly ridiculous.
“I’m alright. Wondering if you can come for a visit. Got some people you need to meet.”
There was silence over the line for several moments, “At your current location?”
“Would be best.”
There was no verbal response just a weird whoosh noise and a white light, and the damn photo of him from Jackson’s visual aids was recreated in Tony’s living room. Complete with the weirdly plastic chair.
“Thor,” O’Neill stood and nodded. “Meet Tony Stark. He’s the new owner of the, uh, Stargate Program on Earth.”
“We have become familiar with Dr. Stark in our study of your planet.” Thor zeroed in on him without waiting for O’Neill’s weird little flail in his direction. “He is one of the most advanced minds on your planet. He is our hope for your future.”
“That’s nice,” Tony stood and approached the weird little guy. “Is your name really Thor? Because I can’t help but think it’s not. I’ve met the real Thor, you see.”
“Asgard names are unpronounceable by human vocal cords. We appropriated the names of legends that came before so that your ancestors would accept our assistance.”
“Unpronounceable, huh?” Tony tipped his head to one side. “Let’s hear it.”
Thor pressed a button on his chair so that the light went out, and opened his weird little bud mouth. Nothing came out.
He opened his mouth again and again, nothing.
Tony looked at the other Avengers. None of them seemed to have heard anything either. Only, Steve who looked kind of confused and Bruce who was looking a little green.
“Are you actually saying anything? Or are you screwing with us?” Tony asked.
“Sir, if I may,” JARVIS interjected.
“Go for it, J.”
“I have recorded the aural signal Supreme Commander Thor is sending and have translated the message to a frequency within the human range of hearing.”
“Let’s hear it.”
And JARVIS played something that sounded suspiciously like old dial up internet.
Recognizing that ‘Are you fucking with me?’ would be a really insensitive question right now, Tony just nodded.
“We have two issues we want to discuss with you,” he held up two fingers.
Satisfied his point was made, Thor re-pressed the translation button on his chair, “Go on.”
“Are you sick? ‘Cause I can see that you personally aren’t well, and Brucie here thinks there’s something wrong with you physically, possibly with your species? Based on the pictures we were provided by Dr. Jackson.”
Thor turned to look at Bruce. Again, without any sort of gesture or real formal introduction. “We are familiar with Dr. Banner as well.”
“Then you know about, uh, the Other Guy?” Bruce offered carefully.
Thor inclined his head.
“So, when I tell you that he can smell that you’re rotting? That the body you are currently living in is actively rotting?”
“That is a concern,” Thor agreed. “Requesting your assistance was discussed, but the High Council put it aside when you had your Incident.”
“Ask them again,” Tony said. “’Cause we’re offering. Free of charge. One of the greatest biochemists on the planet and a genius with money to burn. You could do a lot worse.”
“We would require your discretion.”
“We aren’t going to tell anyone,” he looked back at the room full of Avengers and SG-1.
Everyone indicated their agreement.
“And the second matter?”
“A goa’uld has taken over one of the key players in Earth’s global security. You could say the key player in Earth’s security. I have a plan, but we’re gonna need your help to make it work.”
“God, I love your cunt,” Tony groaned as he pounded into Clint from behind.
Clint was on his knees, low on his elbows with his hands stretched out and gripping the side of the mattress. He shook his head, clearly out of his mind as Tony pounded his prostate. “Sir, god.”
Tony gave him more of his weight, forcing Clint to still and brace himself. His muscles popped into sharper relief under his skin. His forearms were fucking art. And his back. And his shoulders. Fuck. He was perfect. Clint was perfect.
Tony gripped him harder, giving him everything. “I’m gonna give it to you so good. Gonna fill you up. Ruin that pretty little cunt of yours.”
“God, sir, please,” Clint begged.
“Yeah? You want it?”
“So good. You’re so good, Clint. Such a good boy.” All he got for that was more moaning, he could feel himself slipping over the edge. “Such a good boy. Come for me.”
Clint let out a sob as he obeyed, and the vice of him made Tony’s end inevitable.
“Was that good for you?” he asked when he could think again. Clint shot him a tired but pleased look over his shoulder. Tony hummed, “I don’t think I’m done.”
“Anything you want, sir.”
Carefully, he slid out of the man below him and watched his mess begin to leak out. “I think I’m gonna clean my pretty little hole here.”
He didn’t expect—and didn’t get—a response outside of a hearty groan as he moved down so that he was straddling Clint’s calves. He slapped Clint’s ass just to make it jiggle. Then he spread his cheeks to start cleaning up their mess.
He gave him a good, solid lick to the hole and looked up to watch Clint’s reaction only to find Pepper frozen and staring in the bedroom doorway.
“Well, I have to say this is wildly inappropriate, Ms. Potts.”
Clint froze, tense and unhappy underneath him.
Pepper squeaked and spun on her heel. “I’m going to—” and she pointed back toward the main room.
“That’d be good,” he agreed.
As soon as the door closed and they couldn’t hear her heels anymore, Clint started laughing. Tony dropped his head onto Clint’s ass and groaned.
“How about you put JARVIS in charge of that door too?”
“I don’t know why I didn’t in the first place,” he sighed, getting up.
Though, honestly, he knew why. He and Pepper were dating when he designed this floor and she hadn’t wanted JARVIS to have control of their bedroom.
“I’ll add it to the list,” he promised.
“Awesome,” Clint got up and sauntered over to the bathroom. If he was bothered at all by cum dripping out of his ass, Tony couldn’t tell, and that was hot.
The moment he put his hand on the bathroom door, he heard Clint from inside, “Uh-uh.”
“What?” he spluttered.
“Go deal with your… Pepper. She already walked in on us once. That’s plenty.”
He pushed the door open and looked at Clint, testing the shower temperature in nothing but his collar. “You know she’s just a friend.”
“I’m not jealous,” he said evenly. “Unnerved that we aren’t as private as I thought, definitely. But not jealous.”
“I’ll have it fixed by tonight,” he promised. Because seriously? A couple electromagnets, a bit of wiring, and JARVIS could program the feature into himself. Twenty minutes, max, done.
“Then you can have my ass again tonight,” Clint stepped into the shower. Alone.
And, yeah, okay. Tony couldn’t blame him. He was very clear on his boundaries, and a bedroom intruder is not the same as consensual exhibition.
“Alright, lemme clean up real fast and I’ll go deal with that,” he started the sink running and glared half-heartedly toward the main room. “And get us breakfast.”
“Cap should already be up and cooking,” Clint offered from within the stall. “It’s his turn.”
“Yeah, we made a schedule. Just for making breakfast though.”
“Am I on it?”
“Yup, first in the rotation. I took it. Everyone loved your French Toast, by the way.”
“Well, thank you, I worked very hard on it.”
Clint just laughed.
“You didn’t have to do that for me though.”
“I know, but I hadn’t gotten to talk to you about it yet. Seemed like the right thing to do.”
He wasn’t sure what to say to that other than, “Thanks.”
His beard was a little rough, but he’d fix it in his shower later. He pulled on a pair of sweats and wandered out to see what mischief was happening in his kitchen.
And it was indeed mischief. Rogers was scrambling eggs and Lewis was buttering toast. With peanut butter. It had to be the weirdest thing his kitchen had ever seen but when Lewis shoved a slice into his hand, he took a bite anyway.
It was alright. “Yeah, I’m gonna need like three more of these.”
Lewis just laughed and popped more bread in the toaster.
He slid onto a bar stool next to Pepper, “So.”
“I came to get some signatures,” she explained. “I should not have barged in; JARVIS did warn me you were busy.”
“Good. You’re going to apologize to Clint, too.”
“He’s important to me, Pep.”
“JARVIS told HELEN you were seeing someone new,” she studied his face for several moments.
“The kids gossip with you?” he demanded.
“Of course. They love their dad and are very protective of you. As your CEO, they see me as their human hands, basically.”
He didn’t know how to feel about that one.
“Don’t tell me they haven’t tattled to you about me and…” she waved vaguely.
“Happy?” he guessed. “Yeah, they told me. He gonna propose?”
“He asked HELEN for my ring size, so I guess so.” She shrugged, playing it cool, but he could see that she was looking forward to it.
“Well, I demand the right to walk you down the aisle.”
She just laughed. “Tell me about him.”
“Name’s Clint Barton. Six months younger than me and about half a dissertation away from a doctorate in Applied Mathematics. SHIELD Agent since his twenties, a badass with a bow, and now an Avenger.”
“That’s…” she frowned, “very surface level stuff, Tony.”
“It’s early days, Pep.”
“Not all that surface level for a SHIELD Agent,” Clint disagreed, coming into the kitchen. He was wearing a pair of Tony’s jeans and one of his t-shirts. The pants were tight enough that he was surprised the guy got them buttoned and the shirt? Damn. Tony discretely checked himself for drool.
He shot Tony an amused look. “Do I want to know how you found out when I was recruited?”
“JARVIS tattled to FRI and she prioritized your file in her hacking.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Clint plunked down on the other side of Tony from Pep. “Questions?”
“Oh, dozens but I’m endeavoring to take it slow.”
Clint laughed. Then his eyes landed on Pepper and he stopped.
Pep, for her part, stood, walked around Tony, and extended her hand. “My name is Virginia Potts. You can call me Pepper.”
Clint raised one eyebrow at her and looked to Tony. He nodded his permission—which was weird because he totally didn’t require Clint to ask permission to touch someone else unless Clint was leashed—and only then did Clint take her hand, “Clint Barton.”
“I want to apologize for earlier. JARVIS warned me that Tony was indisposed but I blew him off. I only have myself to blame.”
“Yup,” Clint agreed.
“To make it up to you, how about I take you on a spa day? We’ll get the works and I can give you tips about managing Tony.”
And that was offensive. Tony was offended. He was a fantastic boyfriend and he did not need managing, thank you very much, Pepper.
“I think I manage him just fine, thanks.”
“Embarrassing stories then? Present ideas? I have tons of them though they wouldn’t be appropriate coming from me, anymore.”
“Pretty sure Tony would love to get inappropriate gifts,” Clint countered. “Especially from properly polite people like you.”
Tony shrugged because he wasn’t wrong. Getting something horrible and ridiculous from Pep would probably make his whole damn holiday.
And he was astonished to see someone making Pepper work so hard for something she clearly wanted. At least he wasn’t the only one in Clint’s doghouse though he’d already figured out his apology duties.
“Shopping then,” Pep offered, looking a little stressed.
Clint shook his head. “There are security concerns with me going out in public. I couldn’t risk you like that.”
“I’ll have Tony’s tailor come here,” Pepper countered, going in for the kill. “We’ll talk cut and color and pattern and accessories until you know the fashion inside and out. You’ll feel so confident the first time you put on one of Vincenzo’s suits. I promise you, he is magic.”
“In two weeks, we’re having a fundraising ball to benefit the city’s recovery. You’ll need a tux to take your place on Tony’s arm in public for the first time.”
And Tony had to adjust himself. He tried to be smooth about it but Clint’s amused look made it clear he’d failed. He couldn’t help it, alright? The idea of showing up with Clint on his leash for the first time at one of his own parties? The chance to deck Clint out in a properly blinged out collar? That was hot.
“Make sure your tux doesn’t clash with your collar,” he ordered.
“Alright.” Clint didn’t look at either of them as he admitted, “I want to get my nails done, too.”
“I got a guy,” Pepper promised. “A team, they can do hair and makeup too. And they make house calls.”
“Alright,” he agreed reluctantly.
“When?” Pepper pressed because she had always been the detail-oriented type.
“Can the tailor come this morning?”
“Of course, he’ll need time to get your suits perfect.”
“This morning, then. Let’s wait on the nails though, in case a mission or something comes up soon.”
“I can agree to that,” Pepper smiled, glad to finally be getting somewhere. “Let’s say next week? We’ll just make Wednesday mornings our pampering day?”
Clint gave her a doubtful look but nodded.
“I think you’ve been adopted,” Tony stage whispered to Clint, who just rolled his eyes.
“You done with breakfast yet, Rogers?” Clint demanded.
“Yup,” Steve emptied his frying pan into a bowl and placed the pan in the sink with a jaunty little spin. “JARVIS, you wanna tell everyone it’s ready?”
“Of course, Captain Rogers.”
“Dining room?” Cap more ordered than asked. It was logical, though. Not like they could fit everyone around the kitchen counter.
“What do you need us to carry?” Pepper asked.
Everyone grabbed a platter or two. Eggs, bacon, sausage. Peanut butter toast, naked toast. Clint took the tray with butter, peanut butter, Nutella, and a half dozen different jellies.
“How do I get a grocery order in?” Clint asked as they sat down.
“Uh, just tell JARVIS and he’ll order it, why?”
“Coulson will probably do his famous breakfast tacos tomorrow. I’m thinking biscuits and gravy the day after, before whatever healthy disaster May will force on us the day after that.”
“You’re doomed now, Birdbrain,” May announced as she and Coulson entered the dining room. “Now I’m just going to carve up cantaloupe. Just all cantaloupe.”
Clint’s face made his opinion of that perfectly clear.
“Maybe blueberries, too,” Phil added.
Clint shook his head and whispered, dramatically betrayed, “You were my brother.”
Phil just snorted and took his seat at Clint’s left.
“You said you needed signatures?” Tony asked Pepper.
“Yes. The paperwork for The Maria Stark Foundation is ready. I’ve spoken with Juilliard and we’re ready to move forward on new scholarship as well, I just need you to confirm the conditions I’ve chosen, and—” Pepper stopped mid-sentence.
It was so unlike her, he looked up from his peanut butter toast to find out what threw her off.
It was Teal’c, who had come to breakfast without his beanie, because of course he did. It made sense really, this was supposed to be a safe place for him to be ‘out,’ as it were. And a man with metal sunk deep in his forehead, was worth a stare or two. Or maybe it was his sheer size that caught Pep’s attention because on Chulak they apparently fed their babies with a corn scoop.
Pepper cleared her throat and looked away. “I apologize.”
“Oh, uh, I figured out what was going on with RRS,” he offered by way of explanation. “You don’t need to keep looking at that at all. In fact, I’m going to take it as my personal project so just send all of your paperwork to me. Or better yet, send it to Agent. He’s going to be my CEO of RRS.”
“I haven’t agreed to that yet,” Agent reminded him as he scooped a portion of eggs onto his plate.
Tony just gave him the look that deserved because they both knew he was in no way ready to abandon SHIELD, especially not with everything they were discovering was wrong with it.
“I need the paperwork to hire two, uh, Board Members with me.” That’s how Assistant Directors of SHIELD would translate, right? To Board Members of RRS? “I’m hiring two today.”
“Two?” Coulson asked in surprise.
“Well, we have to reseat the whole thing, right?” Because Fury did not tolerate Assistant Directors. He did most of the work himself and pushed bits and pieces off on Hill and Coulson and a select few others—probably to keep anyone from getting close and asking questions about what the hell he thought he was doing.
“I’m going to need a briefing packet from you, too,” he told Daniel Jackson.
Jackson shifted in his chair, “Uh, there’s the question of clearances?”
“I’m giving him clearance,” Tony countered. “These are my toys; I pick who plays with them. This guy is very aware what Top Secret means and his security clearance is already quite high, but you can include an NDA, if it makes you feel better. I’ll even bring it back signed.”
Coulson cleared his throat and stared at him for a minute, “Am I still an Avenger?”
“Do you still want to be?” Tony countered. “Because I’m all for it, but do you want two full time jobs? Let’s be real, once Captain TightPants gets out of Save the City Mode, team training’s going to get pretty brutal.”
“Huh,” Steve sat back in his chair. It wasn’t a noise of disagreement; it was the noise of a man realizing he needed to plan for what’s next.
“Once an Avenger, always an Avenger,” Clint countered. “It’s just whether you’re on the active roster or not that you have to decide.”
Tony pointed at Clint, “As always, I like the way you think.”
“I’ll spend today reviewing the information JARVIS gave me and give you my answer tomorrow.” Coulson promised.
Judging by the set of his jaw, pushing now would turn his not-quite yes into a definite not so Tony just nodded.
“We’re going to need a room with a whiteboard,” May told him, “a printer and lots of tape.”
“Ugh,” Tony’s heart hurt a little at the thought. “JARVIS can project anything you want on any wall in the building. He can even let you write on the projections and draw lines between them and whatever. Just pick a room and work out a method with him, please. This is a green building.”
She rolled her eyes a little bit but he could tell she was amused.
“Where are you going for your, uh, interviews?” Clint asked softly.
“Quantico, Virginia and the, uh, mobile base?” Because how else were you supposed to say the Helicarrier around people that weren’t even supposed to know it existed?
“Suit Case, actually.”
“How are you going to carry the briefing packet and NDA then?”
“That is,” Tony pointed at him, thinking, “a good point.”
“And you should take security with you. I mean, take the Suit Case, definitely. But another Avenger would be smart.”
Tony frowned as he considered this. He couldn’t take Clint because his security concerns were valid, and he already had plans with Pepper. He couldn’t take May or Coulson because they were going to tear into the disaster called SHIELD and, knowing them, make a game plan for dealing with it. Taking Banner to Quantico would probably be as horrible as it would be hilarious, because while he had faith in Bruce and the Big Guy, he didn’t have any in the average FBI agent. And there was no way he wasn’t going to tell either Bruce or the Hulk not to defend themselves.
“Hey, Cap, can you take a day off from Saving the City?”
Steve shot him an amused look and shrugged. “Worked all weekend, don’t see why not.”
“T and I will go too, if you want us,” Colonel Jack offered. “Jackson and Carter can work with May and Coulson on your SHIELD problem. They have some experience analyzing intelligence, and widely different points of view, which can be useful.”
“Yeah, why not,” he shrugged. “Got any tac gear Steve can borrow?”
Jack ran an assessing eye over Captain America. “He looks about T’s size. We should have something that’ll work.”
“Hats or covers or whatever all around, so Sergeant Taylor doesn’t stand out.”
“Of course, sir.”
Tony turned to Clint, “Problem solved.”
Clint just rolled his eyes. Tony was starting to think that was SHIELDian for ‘you’re the best!’ “Thank you, sir.”
“I expect pictures, from both of you,” he gestured between Pep and Clint. “Running commentary at least from Pep. I’m missing my boy’s first fitting. This is a big day.”
“Why not just have JARVIS record it?” Pepper asked.
“Don’t try to shirk your duties off on JARVIS,” Tony chided. “I expect you to live tweet me the whole time. But not through twitter—like, with text messages. Right up until you get lunch, because I don’t really care what you eat as long as you do.”
“Of course, Mr. Stark.”
He looked up to see Morgan standing just outside the BAU bullpen, holding the glass door.
“Morgan,” he returned the greeting easily.
“According to Reid, he, Gideon, and Prentiss have landed at Gitmo with no problems.”
“Good,” he stopped and looked Morgan in the eye. There was no way he waited around just to tell Hotch something he already learned through their team SMS chat. “What’s wrong?”
“Were you expecting Captain America to make a house call?”
Hotch blinked because, what?
He pushed past Morgan to check it out and, sure enough, Captain America was standing like a guard in olive drab BDUs to one side of his office door. The other side of the door was being guarded by a somehow even bigger gentleman.
Their uniforms had no name patches. No unit patches. Not even service patches or rank insignia. Curious. Worrisome but, curious.
He signaled Morgan that all was clear and to wait and made for his office.
Captain America and Shadow made a show of ignoring him as he reached for the doorknob but he knew he’d had their attention from the moment he’d entered the bullpen. Inside he found Tony Stark sitting on his couch. He had one Iron Man gauntlet on and he was fiddling with it with a long screw driver.
The Tony Stark equivalent of twiddling his thumbs.
There was a third male, older, also in olive BDUs playing attaché, but if he was anything less than a full bird Colonel, Hotch would eat his own loafers.
“Hey, Hotch,” Stark greeted without taking his eyes off the screen on the inside of his briefcase lid.
“Dr. Stark,” he offered cautiously.
“I need you to sign an NDA,” he gestured to the stack of papers on the coffee table in front of Hotch’s guest chair.
“Can I know why you need me to sign an NDA?”
“So, I can brief you on your new job,” he said it like it was obvious.
Aaron couldn’t find it in himself to agree. “I’m not looking for a new position, Dr. Stark.”
Tony sighed and slipped the gauntlet into the briefcase in front of him. “Friday changed the world.”
“Yes, it did.” The Battle of Midtown changed everything. Was still changing everything.
The world now knew for a fact aliens existed and many were losing their minds over that. That panic got even worse when theories began to circulate that they had been attacked by trans-dimensional aliens.
Opinions on mutants had improved over night after the world had watched so many mutants step forward and fearlessly defend their world. Mutants beat the Army, the Police, and the New York City Fire Department to the scene. Mutants had beaten everyone to the punch in turning back the alien invasion and no one was letting government forget that.
On top of that, it had to be taken into account the millions of mutations that had activated in the wake of the Battle. Including Haley’s and Jack’s. At this point, it was estimated that one in three Americans would mutate before it was all said and done, not to mention the rest of the world. Personally, Hotch thought one in three might be a conservative estimate but either way there was no way the Mutant Registration Act would pass now.
Which was a good thing for Hotch’s peace of mind. He hadn’t been able to figure out how he could honorably work for a government that would pass such foolish bigotry into law.
“I have a job opening that you are strangely perfect for,” Stark told him. “And it’s bigger than serial killers or terrorists. You have all the skills I need in this position and our planet cannot afford for me to put the wrong person in this job.”
Interesting, but, “There are over a dozen former lawyer FBI Agents in this building.”
Stark shot him a withering look. “You’re more than that and we both know it. You’re a strong leader that can make the tough calls. You’re a civilian with tactical experience. You’re intelligent, analytical, and you have strong moral fiber.
“And yeah, your legal knowledge from your time as a lawyer is helpful, but your time as a profiler is what really prepares you for the crazy curve balls this job will throw you.
“Work for me, Aaron. We’re doing good stuff. Changing lives, inventing and building things that you can’t even imagine. You’ll be saving the world every day. And, as an added bonus, you can be home in time for dinner every night.”
Hotch blew out a breath. Haley would be in favor of that.
“No travelling, either. You’ll have to move to Colorado Springs, but the Stark Industries Relocation Package is very generous.”
Hotch read and signed the NDA, “You have a briefing package?”
“Colonel,” Tony addressed the man at his side.
The colonel lifted one of the briefcases at his feet. The one that was not, it should be noted, Stark’s fairly famous Suit Case. He placed it carefully on the coffee table in front of Hotch and took the completed NDA. He checked it over and nodded to Stark before putting it in yet another briefcase.
“The locks are keyed to your fingerprints,” Tony explained. “Or, well, thumbprints, in this case.”
“I understand.” Hotch wasn’t sure what else there was to say to that.
“Finish your current case and you’ve got leave for a week.” Stark stood and buttoned his suit jacket. “If I’d gotten here before your team’s plane took off, it would have been effective immediately, but we both know you’d never leave any of your people in the field without you to support them.”
“My team,” Hotch offered. “If one profiler is good, a team is better.”
“We can work something out,” Tony shrugged. “Probably. You wouldn’t be moved as a team of profilers—this isn’t that kind of project—but enough of your team has the science cred to dig in properly and still support you in various ways.
“Dr. Reid’s academic prowess is obvious, but Garcia the Glorious’s isn’t anything to sneeze at. And don’t get me started on Agent Jareau. She’s working on an advanced degree in biomed. She should be in biological warfare and the FBI has her trapped as a press liaison because she’s pretty.” Tony huffed, irritated on JJ’s behalf. “It’s ridiculous.
“I was already thinking Agent Morgan could transfer to NCIS and he and his boyfriend DiNozzo could become our Agents Afloat.”
Which meant that this command, or whatever the project was, had a large Marine—and possibly other military—presence and was possibly mobile. How could that have him home in time for dinner every night?
“Or he can stay FBI and cover the civilians on the project, I don’t know how that all works.” The careless flap of a hand made it clear he didn’t care, either.
“This new girl, Prentiss. I like the look of her. She’s solid. If she’s interested, we can bring her in—but I draw the line at Gideon and Greenway. He’s a horror show, and if her psych profile doesn’t show extensive PTSD, it’s wrong.
“I know PTSD when I see it. Pretty sure we can detect each other across a crowded room. Huh,” Stark frowned and turned to him. “You seen any research along those lines?”
“No, sir,” he couldn’t help the flare of amusement that this man could quite possibly become his boss. “But I’m sure Dr. Reid will enjoy the side project.”
Tony gave a tight smile and handed Hotch his card. “If he finds anything, tell him to let me know.”
“Agent Greenway is no longer with the FBI,” he felt pressed to inform Dr. Stark.
Stark just turned for the door. “Well, hopefully she finds whatever she needs out there.”
Hotch nodded and then he was gone. The Big Guy led them out, Captain Rogers fell into step with Stark, and the Colonel played rear guard all the way out of sight. If it weren’t for the thick briefcase on his desk, he’d think it was all a dream.
Well, the briefcase and the screwdriver Stark apparently forgot.
His phone rang, it was Gideon.
“Tell me what you’ve got.”
“Where to now?” Steve asked as he held the button to raise the Quinjet ramp.
“The Helicarrier,” Tony answered as he shoved his Suit Case into one of the jet’s cargo netted storage cubbies.
“And what is a Helicarrier?” Colonel O’Neill asked as he dropped into the copilot seat. “It can’t be what it sounds like.”
“Oh, it’s exactly what it sounds like,” Tony smirked as he dropped into the pilot’s chair. “It’s an aircraft carrier that flies.”
He thoroughly enjoyed O’Neill’s slack-jawed face. “A what?”
“A fully functioning aircraft carrier that can also fly.”
“It’s just a small one,” Captain Killjoy said comfortingly, “but it is invisible.”
Jack shook his head. “Now I know you’re fucking with me.”
Tony may or may not have cackled at that point.
“How do you even find an invisible aircraft carrier that flies?” O’Neill demanded. Then he thought about it. “Carter would have some sort of doodad for it, but I see none of Carter’s doodads here.”
“Sit back and prepare to be amazed,” Tony smirked and got them in the air.
“Sir, I have an urgent message for you from Agent Coulson.”
“Let’s hear it, J.”
“He requests you return to the Tower immediately after your visit to Quantico. With no stops in between.”
“Uh, he say why?”
JARVIS hesitated. JARVIS, of all people, hesitated. “It is a delicate matter, Sir.”
“Well, spit it out,” Tony ordered. “We all know something’s wrong with SHIELD.” Assuming that was what this was about. Which it should be, since that was what Coulson was slated to work on today.
“Agent Coulson believes SHIELD has been compromised, Sir. By Hydra.” JARVIS ripped off the bandage like a professional.
“How compromised?” O’Neill asked.
“We estimate upwards of forty-seven percent.”