Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: The BAST Chronicles
Series Order: 2
Genre: Fix-It, Time Travel
Relationship: Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, Howard Stark/Maria Stark, others
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Violence – Graphic, Violence – Against Children, Canon-typical Science, Discussion – Torture, Discussion – Rape
Note: Yes, I got Aldrich Killian’s name wrong. Honestly, it took me over a year to even notice and I like Killian Aldridge better because it sounds like an actual person’s name so I’m leaving it.
Word Count: 69,553
Summary: Two time-travelers sitting in a tree, (A-)V-E-N-G-I-N-G! First comes love, then comes Hydra, then comes babies in a baby carriage!
“There is no one on this entire Earth I would rather time travel with than you. I would love to face every day, every problem, every party, everything that comes our way by your side. Will you marry me?”
“I must admit I’m surprised by your grace in this situation, Howard.”
Howard turned and stared at Peg, taking the moment he needed to reflect. So much had changed since Bucky—since Yasha—Barnes had broken Hydra’s mind control mid-assassination attempt.
His son was more confident, more productive, and more sober than he’d ever been from almost the moment he’d laid eyes on Yasha, and they became instant friends. His wife was happier, safer now that she was surrounded by a small army of security personnel that loved and respected the hell out of her. His house was full and bright in a way he’d never had before.
His family was growing at a rate he could barely follow.
Now, they were on their first family vacation ever. Though the definition of ‘family’ was fairly loose when it came to admission since it included both the extended Barnes Clan and a good quarter of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda.
He sighed and turned away from her.
He didn’t turn back around to the sound of Peg’s concern, even though he knew that it would be the polite thing to do. Howard was too caught up in the scene unfolding outside his window.
Yasha was holding Princess Shuri on his shoulders, his great nephew Peter Sheppard had Yasha’s granddaughter/adopted daughter Darcy on his, and all four were involved in an all-out snowball fight. Tony was crouched to one side as his new son, the boy formerly known as N’Jadaka of the Wakandan Panther Tribe, who was throwing out cover fire for both teams interchangeably in a pattern Howard had yet to discern. The new young Eric Stark was laughing wildly as he acquired and launched snowballs as fast as Tony could make them.
Watching Tony and Yasha co-parent Eric and Darcy was, as always, a kick in the chest. A wake-up call to how much he had fucked up—deliberately fucked up—with Tony, convinced somehow that was better for him, and how very wrong he was.
“Which situation?” Howard asked, finally turning around as he once again vowed to himself to do better.
“The Hydra-SHIELD situation,” Peg answered immediately. “I fully expected you to charge forward and take command, whether it would have worked or not.”
“More than likely with the ‘not’.” He sighed when she dipped her head in a delicate nod. He took a sip from his mug and conceded, “I thought about it. Standing there, in my lab, with a bag of Erskine’s formula in my hand, I thought real hard.”
“And what did you think about?”
“How good it would feel. To wake up without stiff joints. To never need glasses again.” He gave her a rueful smile. “To make the Red Skull look like a training exercise.”
Peg spit her hot cider and turned to glare at him.
“You know I’m right. I am narcissistic, I know it. I’ve been called a sociopath. But one thing I am not—and never have been—is stupid.”
“Self-awareness is a good thing,” she offered.
“I’m too busy anyway. With Stane on trial and Tony starting his business, the only person I can trust with Stark Industries is me. And I’ve got twin girls on the way,” he grinned and, it hurt to admit, but, “Gotta do better than the last time around.”
“Tony turned out fantastic, Howard. You should be proud.”
Howard waved her off. “I am proud of Tony but that was Jarvis’s doing. And Maria’s. A little bit of yours. I’m not going to outsource the work this time. If I’m going to do it properly, I don’t have time to babysit SHIELD on top of everything else.”
“And you’re afraid of Sergeant Barnes,” she called him on his shit as she always had, but this time at least she did it kindly.
“Oh, am I,” he laughed because he was not ashamed, not even a little bit. Anyone with sense was afraid of Barnes. More so if they were even thinking about becoming a threat to Tony. “Did you watch him sparring? Winning against the Dora Milaje. Bare handed. In the snow.”
“It was impressive,” she agreed. “I miss his smile, though I’m surprised to admit it.”
“The little dirty one that made half the Army question their sexuality?” Howard asked with a grin.
“That’s the one,” Peg laughed in return. “The one that promised you the filthiest sex you could possibly imagine.”
“And made you just know he could deliver. And would, the very second you said yes. Pretty sure he made Phillips question his sexuality at least twice and that man had been married to the same woman over twenty years!”
“Now, imagine you’re his best friend’s girl.”
Howard contemplated that. “Okay, yeah. Now, I’m surprised you miss it.”
“It was a simpler time,” she said almost wistfully. “Even if the world was at war.”
“And Steve was around.”
“And Steve was around,” she agreed. “I miss him, and I want him back with us if at all possible, but I’m not sure about bringing him into the Hydra-SHIELD situation. The war was one thing, but he’d never get on in the spy game. He’s—”
“Too honest,” Howard supplied. “He’d be a bull in a china shop, trashing their plates and ours. And not giving a single damn either way.”
“So, if he’s willing, we use him somewhere his honesty would be a gift, rather than a failing.”
Peg frowned at him. “I don’t take your meaning.”
“Politics,” he answered simply. “Between the shit that’s being kicked up thanks to Stane and the take down of Hydra, the Republican party will fold within the next two years. That gives us a couple months to find him, a good year to educate him and get him up to speed. Then we throw him out there to help kick up a new party. An actual liberal one, since the Democrats have drifted so far right.”
“American distrust of politics will be at an all-time high,” She frowned, thinking it through and slowly starting to nodding. “So, we put out a man known for being honest. Known for respecting equality. Known for serving the United States and her Constitution, even at extreme cost to himself.”
Howard felt himself smirking. “Now all we gotta do is remind people what all Steve was known for.”
“An interview with Sergeant Barnes will handle that, or perhaps Sergeant Barnes’s sisters?” Peg waved that away. “Who wouldn’t want to hear good old Bucky Barnes reminisce about the one and only Captain America?”
“I’ll get some people running the numbers,” he promised, ideas were already popping into shape in his mind.
“We’ll need more than just Steve to form a political party, you know.”
“I have some people in mind. Activists for the most part. People whose values line up with Steve’s. Local politicians, invested in their communities. No Federal experience yet, but we can get it. Unless someone currently big in politics—other than Yasha’s sister, Senator Roth—is hiding an actual conscience.”
Peg took a deep breath and said what Howard had been trying not to think about directly. “Steve hated being a performing monkey.”
“This is different,” he argued. “We don’t want him selling anything to anyone, no one’s making any profit here. And we don’t want him to be anything he’s not. This is still a war, it’s just a war of popular opinion for the future of our country.”
“Make sure you put it like that when you sell it to him,” Peg said with amusement.
There was a thud on the window and they turned to see a snowball trying desperately to cling to the glass before it lost to gravity and hit the ground.
They both moved closer and looked out.
Every single one of Abraham Roth’s brood had joined the snowy melee, including the two previously-missing Sheppard brothers. The middle one, David, was carrying little Herculea out into the cold, while the oldest one, John, laughed and did his best to keep both Jubilee and Kitty on their feet in the snow and ice.
Prince T’Challa and his retinue came frolicking in their wake, too. Howard’s surprise for Tony was walking at the very end of their train.
“Rhodey!” Tony cried, bouncing up to his best friend. “Yasha, Eric, Darcy, come meet Rhodey, he’s my very best friend.
“I can’t believe you finally got leave! How have you been?”
“I can’t believe you got a family!” Rhodey laughed. “I go off for training for a just few months and you get a husband and two kids!”
“Well, not husband yet,” Yasha grinned and held out his right hand. “James Barnes. You can call me Bucky or Sarge, whatever makes you comfortable. Only Tony calls me Yasha, for the most part.”
Rhodes took his hand, looking vaguely faint. “I was named for you!” he blurted out and then cleared his throat. “James Rhodes. Rhodey, for the most part, thanks to Tony.”
Yasha quirked a lip at him and pointedly put a hand on each of the kids’ shoulders. “This is my daughter, Darcy Barnes, and Tony’s son, Eric Stark.”
Rhodey took a step back and blinked at them. Then he blinked up at Tony, clearly unsure what he was supposed to say. In this, Howard could sympathize. Teasing a friend about kids and marriage was one thing. Being presented with those people in the flesh was quite another.
“Now that Uncle Rhodey is here can we do Science?” Darcy wheedled, looking up at her dads imploringly.
Tony snapped and pointed at her, “Good idea. Brilliant.” He whipped around to address the rest of the crowd. “Everyone! It’s time to Science!”
A cheer went up and Tony turned back to Rhodey, declaring, “You need a kid.” He picked up Darcy who squeaked like a cute little mouse and pushed her into the Air Force man’s arms. Rhodey took her with wide eyes.
They stared at each other in shock until Darcy grinned and Rhodes rolled his eyes.
Tony whipped back around, not even noticing the exchange. Or, more likely, pretending not to notice so he didn’t laugh at them in their faces. “Now, you’re ready to Science. Let’s go!”
Yasha himself laughed and scooped Princess Shuri up as they trooped of, making her giggle. Eric and Prince T’Challa scampered around Tony, pestering him to let them help.
Over an hour of Science later, Tony led the entire group into the dining room of the ski lodge. The place was lined with servitors dressed to the nines in full Kabuki style, holding trays of snacks and hot drinks at the ready.
Yasha lead them through the process of accepting hot drinks and bowing in thanks. The kids, predictably, loved it. Even the ones over the age of eighteen.
His parents, King T’Chaka, Queen Ramonda, and Aunt Peg swept into the room to join them. To Tony’s unending amusement, his dad helped his mom sit on the floor between Eric and Darcy and then promptly dropped down on Eric’s far side.
He hadn’t expected his father to object to him adopting Eric, exactly, but he hadn’t expected the man to just roll with it like he had. It sort of made him wonder what would have happened if he—or someone he trusted—had threatened the man with physical violence in the event he hurt Tony when he was actually as young as he physically was now.
Not that he would have ever thought of it, or allowed someone to do such a thing, when he was young enough for it to really matter. The very idea of someone hurting his dad would have terrified the kid he had been.
The man he was now, though, was torn between forgiving his father—and himself, if he was going to be honest about it—and gleefully waiting for Howard to cross Yasha’s invisible line in the sand. He’d earn himself one hell of a wallop should he even look at said line too hard, really.
Aunt Peg came to stand beside him, holding something warm that smelled awesome. Thankfully, she offered it to him before he could even ask.
“Everything okay?” he asked softly as he took the cookie or whatever it was. There was something tense about her eyes. He didn’t like it.
“No,” she said softly but with a smile.
Tony tipped his head toward the door. She nodded and they stepped out. A glance at Yasha showed he’d seen the exchange, and his eyes said he’d be following as soon as he could manage to slip away unnoticed.
So, realistically, he might actually beat them to the little nook Tony was leading Aunt Peg to. Or he would, if Tony had actually told him where they were going.
“What’s up, buttercup?” he asked brightly once they were alone.
Aunt Peg sighed and sat down on the window seat. “There is a situation and a possible hire. Fury had been keeping an eye on him but his entire family group was recently murdered and he’s now on the run from Hydra. We don’t know why, but their tactics are unmistakable. And, the situation being what it is with SHIELD, we feel that officially approaching him would likely result in nothing but their escalation and his death.”
“What’s his name?” Tony asked, mind already spinning on the issue.
“The Amazing Hawkeye,” she quirked a lip when Tony’s jaw dropped though he had no doubt she was mistaking the reason for his shock. “Fury found him in a circus, hence the name.
“We believe his legal name is Clinton Francis Barton but, again, we haven’t approached him in any way, so that is unverified. If we are right, he’s a runaway from an abusive home. Parents deceased; brother deceased. Grew up in the circus.”
“What makes you want to hire him?” Yasha asked, coming up behind Tony.
“He’s a marksman that never misses,” Aunt Peg answered immediately. “A fully trained acrobat and gifted gymnast, he’s an advanced combat asset in the making. He’s also proven intelligent and incredibly loyal. We feel he would be ideal for training in unconventional combat—especially considering his established preference for unusual weaponry. Security and espionage work are likely well within his wheelhouse.”
“A member of the Avengers,” Yasha not-really asked as he slid his flesh arm across Tony’s shoulders and pulled him against his side.
Peg had the grace to shrug. “If we are correct, and he’s willing, he would provide you highly capable long-range support. Eyes in the sky, as it were. Right now, all you have on the team are three close combat fighters. While you are all quite capable, I’d rather make up for the lack of variety now before it comes back to bite any of you.”
“I’m working on getting Gravitas on board, but she’d be more mid-range than long range,” Yasha admitted. “Logan thinks his sweetheart, Storm, might be willing to join us too. That’s a flier.”
“Still not a terribly balanced team,” Aunt Peg pointed out.
“Yeah, you said he’s on the run?” Aunt Peg nodded and Yasha smirked. “Good thing our best tracker is still stateside. You know where he was last seen?”
“His circus troupe was killed in Omaha, Nebraska. He was last spotted in Missouri. Columbia, then Jefferson City.”
“Logan’s going to need any information you can get him,” Yasha said as he, bold as shit, pulled Tony’s phone right out of Tony’s back pocket. “Access to the guy’s scent, if you can.”
“Fury will have the file to Coulson within the hour,” she promised even as she sent a text message with one hand. “His caravan has been sealed by Omaha Police but getting into it shouldn’t be a problem at all.”
Pretty handily, Yasha navigated Tony’s phone and put it to his ear. “Yeah, Logan. We got an irregular we need you to retrieve. Coulson will have the intel within the hour. Take two Cherries, a jet, and a pair of pilots.”
Tony could make out the edge of Wolverine’s grumbling but the man didn’t really argue with his orders and Yasha hung up with a smirk.
“Did you bring it?” Tony asked eagerly, ready 100% to move forward with this saving the world business.
“I did,” Aunt Peg put her free hand on the handle of the purse hanging on her other arm. Now that he was looking at it, it was a surprisingly large choice for her. And strangely boxy. She was usually a clutch or nothing kind of girl.
“You need the bag back?” he asked, eyeing it speculatively. Carrying the Tesseract bare handed was a singularly bad idea unless you were, like, Hulk. Or Vision.
“I do not,” she passed it over. Thankfully, Yasha took it from her without prompting. “I take it that it will not be returning to SHIELD’s care?”
“Do you want it to?” he parried her probe.
She actually stopped to think about it. “It is a risk. We have a great deal of Schmidt tech. Had, actually, a great deal of Schmidt tech. Some of it is missing in the inventory. I have people I trust looking into it, but considering what we know, I rather doubt we’ll find it in SHIELD hands.”
“Hydra has Schmidt Tech,” Tony realized blankly.
That didn’t happen in the future timeline that was now their past. At least, it definitely hadn’t happened before they came back and prevented his dad’s death, he was 98% sure. That they did—if they actually did—now, well. He wasn’t even sure how to process that.
“The theft was recent,” she tried to console. “Likely around the time Sergeant Barnes officially rejoined the land of the living.”
“Hydra traded one weapon of mass destruction for another,” was Yasha’s conclusion. Both Tony and Aunt Peg winced because, from Hydra’s perspective at least, he wasn’t wrong.
“It could be one or two others. Spy agencies always have counter-spies in their ranks. Nature of the beast, I’m afraid. We’ve eliminated the CIA as a possibility, but there’s still a real possibility of the Chinese. There’s also a private American concern, AIM. They’re a think tank heading toward an economic downswing thanks to recent socio-political changes.” Aunt Peg tipped her head to one side. “The end of the Cold War could be making any number of players desperate.”
“Dad wanted me to go to visit them when we get home,” Tony said, glancing at Yasha speculatively. “Since I’m about to open my own think tank.”
“But Stark Solutions won’t be dependent on government contacts,” Aunt Peg objected.
“Right, we’ll be self-supporting, but dad kind of has a point about lab and leadership structures and stuff. They have been successful for quite a while, and it would be bad to stumble coming out of the starting gate, so to speak.”
“While you’re checking that out,” Yasha trailed off leadingly.
“Uh, yeah, no,” Tony vetoed because he knew exactly where that was going. “Pretty sure they’ll notice if the big guy with a shiny metal arm disappeared. Like, immediately.”
Yasha just gave him innocent eyes. He didn’t believe them for a minute. “I was thinking Nat, actually. No one notices her unless she wants them to.”
“I didn’t think she was mission ready yet,” Tony blinked up at him.
“Not a combat mission,” Yasha conceded. “But she can do espionage in her sleep. It’s literally what she was made for.”
Tony didn’t like it. She had already betrayed him once, after all, and she’d been… weird lately. He wasn’t sure how else to describe it or even how to define it but he didn’t like it. “We’ll need more intel before it’s a go. And I’ll wanna talk to her first.”
Yasha nodded, accepting that as an order.
“I’ll get you everything we have,” Aunt Peg promised.
“Have Fury take it to Coulson. JARVIS can analyze it with less prejudice than any of the rest of us. And faster too.”
Aunt Peg inclined her head and slid a hand in her pocket to retrieve her phone again, “Of course. Did you need anything else from me, Tony?”
“We’re good. Thank you, Aunt Peg.”
“You’re welcome,” She turned away, her phone already dialing.
Tony turned to Yasha and smiled his charming best. “What do you think of a picnic on the slopes?”
“Like a date?” Yasha asked, obviously not fooled by him in the least.
“We can call it that, sure.”
Yasha snorted and it was derisive, but he was smiling so it wasn’t meant to be mean or anything. “You don’t get to plan the romance side of this thing. You’ve lost Romance Team Planner Privileges,” he almost-echoed Tony’s words from the start of all the madness right back to him.
With a grin, Tony returned the favor, “Thank Christ.”
Yasha laughed out loud. “Our first date’s in two weeks, you better not be late.”
“I’ll be there with bells on,” he promised.
“I’ve already had Coulson insert it in your schedule.” Yasha was still entirely amused, maybe disbelieving, but Tony wasn’t quite sure. “How many people are we having for lunch?”
“You, me, and probably one more? Maybe two.” He shrugged. “Whoever comes might bring security.”
“Security won’t eat but I’ll get a basket for four. You got transport?”
“Uh,” Tony blinked and smiled his over the top, cheesy best.
Yasha laughed again and pushed him down the hall. “Go bundle up. You have twenty minutes.”
True to his word, twenty minutes later they were in a big red and black snowmobile of some sort with an actual cab, crawling their way up the side of the mountain.
“This thing should go faster,” he grumbled.
“Tony, no,” Yasha laughed.
“Tony, no. The pace is fine.” When Tony opened his mouth to argue, he tugged him close. “Shut up and cuddle me already.”
Tony snickered but settled in. Yasha was warm and kind and gorgeous so it wasn’t like snuggling him is any kind of hardship.
On the far side of the mountain, Yasha parked their ride on a flat spot and lead him up to a picnic spot half-sheltered by a shallow cave.
“Uh, yeah, set everything out, will you?”
Yasha just rolled his eyes and waved him on, already opening the basket to set everything out.
Tony stepped into the middle of a clear area, there was nothing but snow within ten yards of him on any side, and focused. He focused on what Thor told him. Heimdall heard all, Heimdall saw all. Through time and space, Heimdall missed nothing.
He focused on the idea that Heimdall could—that Heimdall would—hear him. Then he closed his eyes and spoke.
“Heimdall,” he said softly because there was no need to shout at a man that heard all, right? Thor had but that had to get annoying really quick, having people shout at you all the time. “Heimdall, I have a matter of great importance to discuss. The fate of Asgard depends on it.”
He held his stance maybe five minutes until he heard the Bifrost activate. He opened his eyes as the dizzying rainbow of light faded and he came face-to-face with the biggest man he’d ever seen. He was easily a foot taller than Tony, holding a sword that had to weigh more than he did and wearing armor of a bright bronze-orange with eyes that matched.
The man—Heimdall, if Thor’s powers of description were worth a single damn—seemed to visually weigh him down to his soul before he stepped off to one side.
His movement revealed a woman with long curling hair the color of wheat, wearing a dress that probably had more armor to it than Tony could tell since he’d never seen anything like it before. Her eyes, though, and her smile. Those he’d seen before. Those were utterly Thor.
Or, more likely, Thor’s eyes and smile were hers.
“I am Queen Frigga of Asgard, mother of Loki and Thor,” she said, her eyes raking over him.
“I am Tony Stark of Midgard, father of Eric and Darcy.” He offered her his arm but didn’t approach, allowing her the choice of taking it or not. “We were about to have lunch, would you care to join us?”
Her eyebrows hit her hairline and she moved forward to take his arm. He noted that she made sure the skin of her palm touched the bare back of his hand. There was a little zap of not-really electricity at the contact and he gasped. That was when he remembered that Thor had called his mother ‘Asgard’s foremost Seer and Sorceress’.
He would bet that meant she had just read his mind.
Not exactly polite but it would save them some time later on so he decided to roll with it. He kept his thoughts on relevant history as much as he could as he helped her onto the bench across from Yasha and moved around to take his seat. Yasha sat when he did.
And, man, had Yasha gotten them a spread! In the center of the table were two larger bento trays, one with onigiri and the other with two different makizushi. At each of the proposed place settings was one of four smaller trays with smoked salmon, vegetable tempura, pickled vegetables, tamagoyaki, and fresh or possibly blanched vegetables.
“I have never seen a time-traveler on Midgard before,” Frigga watched him pull out his chopsticks. “Much less two.”
“One time-traveler, technically,” Tony corrected.
“A goddess or an alien or whatever she was, sent me back in time to fix things Stevie and I did wrong. In return, she promised me help,” Yasha explained. He let his eyes rest on Tony for a pointed, lingering moment. “She gave me more help than I could have ever imagined.”
“And you’ve fallen in love with each other. How charming,” The Queen of Asgard all but cooed.
Tony was about to get to work on his food when he realized. “Do you need silverware? Fork, knife, kinda thing? I think?”
He glanced at Yasha who nodded, “We have silverware.”
Queen Frigga smirked at them and settled the resort’s fancy ceramic chopsticks in her hand like she’d never eaten with anything else. “I’m sure I can manage.”
“Is meat a problem?” Yasha asked, seemingly genuinely interested.
“Asgardians eat meat,” she answered. “We have to. I understand vegetarianism is popular on Midgard but it would cause extreme health problems for one of us.”
“And for Loki?” Tony asked delicately.
Frigga stared at him a moment then blinked. “Loki. His…people are from a very harsh world. Their diets are much leaner than ours by necessity. They are omnivorous. Eating meat does not harm my son.” She focused on her bento. “I was under the impression you did not care for my Loki, Dr. Stark.”
“I’m not convinced I actually met him,” Tony admitted, inclining his head. “It was a very stressful time with the Chitauri and the press and the various world governments. And then Odin stuck his foot in, demanding the return of Loki and the Tesseract or else.
“Thinking back on it, I’m fairly certain—” which was 99.9995%, “—Loki’s eyes were blue when we captured him before the Invasion.”
Frigga shook her head. “My son’s eyes are green.”
“Exactly. But I distinctly remember them being blue. And we had a teammate who was mind controlled, and it turned their eyes a similar shade.”
“Did you say Chitauri?” Heimdall said as he stepped up to the empty seat beside his queen. His voice was actually deeper than one would expect. It was impressive, really.
“Yeah. Loki came as their advanced scout or something. Opened a portal and let them through.”
She cut her guardsman off with a glare. There was a bit of silent communication and Heimdall sat—silently but with grace—next to his queen and picked up his own pair of chopsticks.
“Thanos conquered the Chitauri millennia ago,” she continued after Heimdall had eaten a few mouthfuls from his tray. “They are thought to have gone extinct around that time.”
Tony shook his head. “Unless it’s possible to breed upward of a hundred thousand Chitauri in less than thirty years, they are very much not extinct.”
“I saw in your mind the plan you have for us, and the memories Bast must have implanted. It is risky, what you propose.” She placed a piece of the really good salmon on her tongue as she considered. “But if Thanos is to return, it is our best option.
“It’s good to see Lady Bast is alive and well after all these years.”
“Lady Bast?” Yasha asked.
“Your little mechanic friend,” Tony told him.
“She is Lady Bast,” Heimdall objected, sounding nearly offended.
“You might know her as Gaia,” Queen Frigga interjected smoothly. “She is the Lady of Midgard. Ancient and powerful. And crafty. She’s the one that called Odin to defend Earth against the Jotun all those years ago.”
“And the one that made him fuck off afterward,” Tony guessed, earning him a smirk from Frigga and a glare from Heimdall.
“I do not appreciate Odin’s actions toward my sons in your future,” she told them and, honestly, Tony couldn’t blame her for that. “But they both need several lessons that they will never receive on Asgard. Or even among Asgardians.”
“Quests are a thing good for lessons, aren’t they?” Yasha asked suddenly, “I mean that’s how all the old stories go. Isn’t it?”
Queen Frigga blinked at him for a moment. Then she smirked and nodded.
Tony wanted to ask, he really did, but then he decided that ignorance just might be bliss on this one.
Not like he could change whatever she was thinking either way.
“As I imagine you already know, we have a gift for you,” he flicked a glance at Heimdall but the guy remained impassive, “as a thank you for coming.”
“I appreciate the gesture,” she smiled at him as she accepted Aunt Peg’s little-ish, cube purse. “In return, I shall lend you the strength of arms of Asgard. A squad of four warriors to assist you and yours in your endeavors on behalf of Lady Bast.”
Tony frowned, thinking about it. “They gonna speak English?”
“They will have Allspeak. You will hear whatever they say in your first language and they will hear whatever your people say in theirs.”
“Good enough,” Tony agreed. “Send them in December, would you? We’ll be running ‘Welcome to the Future’ classes for one of ours that we’ll be recovering soon. Might as well make them ‘Welcome to Earth’ classes too.”
“Easily done,” she agreed, standing. Everyone stood with her. “We have much to do, do you require anything else?”
Tony glanced at Yasha who shook his head. “We’re good. You know where we are if you want to chat.”
She gave him amused eyes and walked back to their landing spot. The moment Heimdall entered the area, exactly one step behind his queen, the rainbow once again jumped to life and they were gone.
Logan walked quietly through the deserted circus, cigar for once in abeyance.
He was tracking and there were so many smells for him to keep track of, he couldn’t exactly afford a cigar blocking any of them out. Dozens of cops, a half-dozen attackers. So much blood, pain, fear. The older smell of patrons, faded joy and excitement. The animal acts that had all been taken away after the fact.
He sliced the crime scene tape across the door of the Incredible Hawkeye truck. It smelled like every fucking cop in Omaha had been through there but at least their scents were fleeting. A few minutes with the door open and the smell of the man that lived here once again dominated, ingrained as it was in the siding and fabrics.
Below that was the scent of a slightly older man, related to the first but faded. A brother that hadn’t been there in years.
There was also the barest edge of a third scent. Logan followed it to the sharp edge of a cabinet door. She’d cut herself, on the inside of the cabinet door. There was still a little splash of blood. Tiny but useable. Not cleaned with bleach or ammonia. It smelled… familiar to him but he couldn’t place it which was and wasn’t unusual.
A scent he’d found nowhere else in the circus. At least, he’d not found it strong enough to stand on its own and be recognized.
A newcomer. This was the change and the reason for the attack, he would bet.
Fuck! Clint had to chew his lips to keep the word from escaping.
How the fuck did these assholes have so many guys? He’d started taking kill shots three ambushes ago, and somehow the groups just kept getting larger.
Fuck only knew how they were going to get out of this one. He had three arrows in his quiver and the advanced party was already closer than he liked. Then there was the pincher arm coming up his left and back up squad behind the advanced group.
The kid, Laura, reappeared out of nowhere. She had scavenged grocery bags hanging from a handful of arrows in each hand.
Twelve arrows, Clint sighed as he checked them over and slid them back into his quiver. That was fifteen. Not nearly enough but—better.
She kept digging through the bags, shaking and twisting and combining.
Improvised Explosive Devices? he signed, surprised.
“Si,” she nodded.
Whoever had raised this kid needed a stern talking to. Seriously. She had turned one of his hearing aids into a car bomb to get them out of the last ambush, and now she was making homebrew IEDs? Just— Jesus. His childhood hadn’t exactly been sunshine and roses, but lessons on IEDs had been conspicuously absent. So was the fearless use of lethal force she kept throwing around.
And the languages. Not that proficiency in seven languages—eight if you count her obvious understanding of English, nine if you count her intuitive grip of sign—was a bad thing for a kid to have but damn.
There was a shink like Laura’s claws coming out. They both froze and looked at each other.
Not you? he signed.
She visually double checked her hands and feet and shook her head vigorously.
Clint counted down from three and together they leaned around the crates of their hiding place. The primary group of assholes and the pincher arm were frozen, looking around warily. The backup squad was nowhere to be seen.
“Aaaaaaaaah!” A man shouted a furious war cry as he dropped from the ceiling above the pincher group, three metal claws were sticking out from either fist.
Automatic weapons opened up from Clint’s left, taking down the front half of the main group while the back half ducked behind cover. The weapons kept firing, keeping the bastards pinned down while Mr. Claws quite literally tore the pincher group apart.
“Go!” he shouted.
Obediently, Laura grabbed the one pipe bomb she had managed to finish and disappeared into the shadows.
He waited. Something—her IED, probably—went off, taking out a small cluster of three closer to Mr. Claws than Clint had expected, driving the six remaining his way.
At least whoever trained her trained her well, Clint thought as he leaned around and took out the one closest to him.
He almost felt bad for these assholes as Laura started personally driving them toward his line of fire. Laura and Mr. Claws on one side, Clint on the other. Boxes behind, automatic weapons ahead.
These assholes had killed his family. Almost was the closest they would ever get to sorry.
Clint ducked around his crate one last time and got to watch his target realize that he was the last asshole standing.
The suppressive fire cut off. The asshole’s eyes went wide. He looked left, he looked right. He looked directly at Clint, paled, and threw his hands in the air, “I surrender! I surr—”
The guy keeled over. Behind him, another asshole with an arrow sticking out of his chest was holding a holdout pistol, its tiny barrel was still smoking. The man glared at Clint and from his angle he could very clearly read his lips as he says, “Hail Hy-” and white bubbles foamed out of his mouth.
Incensed, Clint broke cover. “Did that asshole say ‘Hail Hydra’? Is that what just fucking happened?”
Mr. Claws just rolled his eyes at him, looking both irritated and amused. He gestured to his right and two more people broke cover, both clutching automatic weapons. A man with truly ginormous shoulders and lips to die for, and a tiny little Asian woman with an expression of stone.
“Wolverine,” Mr. Claws said, gesturing at himself as he retracted his claws. Then he pointed at the other two, “Forge, May.
“Our employer caught wind of Hydra’s activity. He sent us to rescue you and find out why Hydra wanted you.” He looked down at Laura who was staring at him, him, and only him. “I think we figured out why.”
“At least some of it,” the other guy, Forge, muttered.
Clint debated it for a second, then shrugged and went down to join them on the ground. Nobody would sacrifice upwards of thirty guys in a bait and switch, right? Being rescued sounded, well— Being rescued sounded real nice.
Especially if it came with a shower. A hot shower, with soap. And a bed, after. He nearly groaned in pleasure at the thought.
“Employer?” he asked instead as he got close.
The guy frowned at him, puzzled. Must have gotten his tone really wrong because he shot a glance at May and started signing as he spoke. “We work in security. Sarge mentioned hiring you for the team. Your daughter’s welcome.”
“Dude, she is not my daughter.”
“Then whose daughter is she?” this Wolverine person prodded.
“Yours,” Laura answered.
“Kid, I got no kids,” Wolverine shook his head. “Not anyone’s father.”
She started speaking too rapidly for Clint to follow with only one hearing aid. Hell, she was talking too fast for him to follow with two hearing aids. Then she threw herself to her knees and pulled off the slightly beaten backpack he’d never seen her take off the entire time he’d known her.
She unzipped it to reveal a bunch of file folders. Silently, she pulled the top one and handed it to Wolverine.
Curious beyond the measure of it, Clint peaked around the other man’s arm. It was some sort of profile page. At the top it was labeled ‘X23-12’ in big, bold letters and below that was a picture of Laura.
In a column beside the picture it read—
Physical Age: 81 months
Emotional IQ: 144-160 months
Blood Type: O Negative
Biological Donor: James Howlett (Wolverine)
Wolverine snapped the file closed before Clint could read any more of it. “Everyone to the jet. Now.”
Laura took the folder back and slid it back into her bag.
“What else you got in there?”
Laura looked up at Logan, “Everything.”
“I’ve called for clean up,” May said, signing as she did. “We’re good to get out of here.” Then she turned and raised a challenging eyebrow at Clint.
He looked down at the kid. Laura just nodded once in confirmation. “We’re coming.”
Clint woke up in a hospital bed, not quite sure how he got there.
He could remember getting onto the plane with Wolverine’s people, ex-military everyone single one of them. He could remember the plane being huge and decadent and clean, just generally amazing. He could remember flopping out on a couch with a cocky smirk, just to be an ass. But making it off the plane? Not so much.
He turned his head to see the kid sitting in a chair with an activity book, she was working through it with May at her side.
May saw him looking and smiled. Then she signed, “Good morning. You fell asleep on the plane last night and we decided to let you rest. Forge carried you in, and the doctor didn’t think you were too injured so we let you sleep, but they would like to formally look you over, if you’re game?”
“Ugh,” he said aloud. “Yeah, alright.”
She smirked at him and tugged Laura out of the room with her. A moment later, a tall man with pretty green eyes walked into his little corner of what he guessed must be an Infirmary.
“My name is Dr. McCoy,” this guy signed, too. Clint had never in his life met so many people, in such quick order, that could all sign. It was…weird. Nice, definitely, but weird. “Melinda indicated you were ready for your exam?”
“You mean May?”
“Yes,” McCoy raised an eyebrow with a frown. “Melinda is her first name.”
“Okay, let’s go.”
Without comment, the guy pulled the stethoscope off his neck and got to work.
“I’m going to put in an IV,” Dr. McCoy told him. “Rest and fluids are the order of the day. You’ve got a few muscle strains and you’re dehydrated but not dangerously so. Otherwise, you’re in remarkably good shape for being on the run from Hydra as long as you were.”
“Nah, Hydra just sucks,” he declared.
The doctor grinned at him. “A man will be here to fit you for new hearing aids at ten o’clock. Boss and Sarge will be by to talk to you after lunch.
“Now, will you stay in this bed or do I have to knock your ass out until the tech gets here?” The look the doctor gave him made it clear that McCoy was preemptively tired of his shit.
Clint laughed. “I guess I can nap here for a bit.”
McCoy obviously didn’t buy it. “Nurse Chapel is bringing you breakfast. Eat, then nap.”
Clint fucking Barton. Tony had never seen him so young. Never expected to see him again, at all, honestly. Not after that stupid fucking showdown in a German airport. He had especially never expected to see him without the Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery.
Or, rather, to see him with the downgraded Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery. Less Epic Shoulders of Advanced Archery? Epic Shoulders of Mediocre Archery?
Whatever. Dude was a fucking twenty-year-old twink and Tony couldn’t handle it.
“Would you look at that?” Nat drawled, her tone catty. “Another small man with an attitude problem. Yasha’s favorite.”
With a frown, he turned to look at her. “What are you even talking about?”
“Nothing,” her tone was light but there was something ugly lurking around the edges of her face. “Yasha does have a very clear type, though. Doesn’t he?”
“Don’t play your games with him,” a voice growled from behind him, and Tony turned to see Yasha standing there. His eyes were focused on Nat, head down, shoulders up like he was about to tear her apart. “He has taken nothing from you. He hasn’t hurt you. He hasn’t even said a rude word to you.”
She hissed something in Russian, too quick for him to follow.
Yasha snorted. “I was your mission; you were my student. That was all that was between us.” Nat didn’t seem to know what to say to that and Bucky straightened, his shoulders went down. “You know you don’t have to stay here, right?”
Nat clearly didn’t know what to say to that either.
Neither did Tony, for that matter.
“Your conditioning broke, you deserve to find out who you are. If you can’t find yourself here, that’s fine. Go where you want. The bridge won’t be burned unless you burn it.”
“Like I was just trying to,” Nat croaked.
Yasha flicked up both eyebrows and gave a conceding nod. “Anything that hurts a Stark would burn that bridge.”
She glanced from Yasha to Tony, back to Yasha, and then finally to Tony again. “And break my oath.”
Not sure what else to do, Tony shrugged. “You completed a mission as an Avenger. Two technically, the Protection of Queen Ramonda and the Vibranium Theft Prevention. You’ll get a pension for the rest of your life. You were injured in the second one, so you’ll get an even nicer pension. You should never have to worry about money again.”
She stared at him. Silently. Which was weird! Then she turned and left the room.
All without a word.
Tony looked at Yasha who just shook his head, looking done. “What was that?”
“She was attempting to sow discord between us by making you jealous.” When Tony just blinked, he smiled sadly. “She was attempting to use neuro-linguistic programing to plant the idea that I would cheat on you. Specifically, that I would cheat on you with Clint.”
“You would never,” Tony objected.
“I know that and you know that, but a whisper campaign like that—one that probably started weeks ago but we just both only just noticed—can turn your world upside down if it’s given the time to do so.”
“So, you just kick her out? Isn’t that a security risk?”
“Minimal,” Yasha shrugged again as he pulled Tony close. “She’s been a prisoner her whole life, almost as long as I have and she’s just starting to fully realize that. We could help her find her feet but she started lashing out at us for trying. So, we give her freedom. Let her fall on her face if that’s what she needs but, she hasn’t hurt us, so it doesn’t hurt to let her know she can come back if she needs to.”
“And we don’t have a cell that could hold her,” Tony reminded him.
Yasha grinned. “There’s that too, but I’m practicing making choices for humanitarian reasons rather than strategy or practicality.”
“Xavier will be pleased to learn that you’re listening to him,” Tony patted his chest even as he rolled his eyes. “And the whole her knowing our secrets thing?”
“She can know whatever she wants but she can’t speak of our secrets outside of this house without you or me present.”
“Say, what?” Tony boggled
“We agreed to have the Professor limit what we could discuss in the event Hydra captured us again. I agreed to a psi-tether that Xavier taught me to tug so Xavier will be able find me, to seal the knowledge in my head, and give you my location for retrieval.
“Nat didn’t want someone permanently in her head, so she went with a geas. The terms of it mean she cannot discuss our secrets outside of this house without one of us present.”
“Seems like there are a lot of downsides to that.”
“There are limits to everything,” Yasha shrugged and then sobered completely. “Unless you want me to kill her.”
“No, there’s more downsides to that. I think. I’m pretty sure.” Tony sighed, weighing his options. “Morales would be heartbroken.”
Yasha laughed at him. “Ready to recruit an archer to your boyband?”
“You mock but with Natasha gone the official Avengers roster is all men. Two men, actually. You and Logan.”
“So, figure out how to make a successful Super Soldier and we’ll see if May wants a go.”
Tony noodled on that. Melinda May, Super Soldier. It had a ring to it. “Maybe we should ask her anyway, she’s scary competent even without enhancement.”
“Very true, you ready to hire another Avenger?”
“Eh,” Tony shrugged. “Let’s stick him in security and let him work his way up. I don’t think this version has anywhere near the combat experience of the last one.”
Yasha winced. “Never underestimate carnies, Tony. It’s a mistake. And besides, he held off ardent Hydra pursuit for almost two weeks, while protecting a little kid, and managed mostly to get nothing but bumps and scrapes.”
“With a bow and like a dozen arrows,” Tony added, impressed. “Seems like a pretty good bar for an Avenger.”
Tony thought it over a little more.
This Clint’s reaction to the gear Tony could make him was going to be epic since he hasn’t been spoiled by SHIELD yet, and Tony would get to actually see said reaction since this Clint hasn’t had all those years of super spy poker face training the previous model had. Sounded like fun to Tony. “Yeah, okay, let’s go hire an Avenger.”
“One last thing,” Yasha stopped him just outside the door. “While, yes, he is generally my type, even I can tell he’s tragically straight. And—unless I miss my guess, which I know I don’t—May’s about ready to tattoo her name on his ass. Even if you weren’t a factor, I wouldn’t even look at him too hard until she was secure in that relationship. There’s a collar in that boy’s future, I guarantee it.”
“But I’m a factor?”
“The most important factor,” he promised with sincerity. Then he smirked, “Even if we haven’t gone on a single proper date yet.”
Tony sighed and Yasha laughed.
“I thought you had a thing for blonds,” Tony blurted before he could think too much about it. When Yasha just frowned and tipped his head, Tony sighed and continued. “Steve.”
“Ah,” Yasha said in understanding. Then he stopped. It was fucking weird. When would this day stop being fucking weird? Was Clint really this much trouble? Eventually Yasha shifted in place and said, “This is the start of a very serious conversation, can it wait until we’re somewhere private?”
“Are you delaying so you can figure out how to break it to me that you’ll always love him?”
“I’m delaying because I need to explain why I will never love him like I love you. Like I want to love you. Why that was true even before Hydra used him against me for somewhere around fifty years and why he is not a threat to us.”
“Okay,” Tony took a deep, fortifying breath. “Okay, I can wait for that.”
“If you’re sure?” Yasha looked a little grey around the edges but Tony was 95% sure that was the pending emotional conversation about Steve, not in relation to hiring Clint. Seriously, who would be afraid of Clint? Nah, that reaction was totally emotions.
Tony rolled his eyes and lead them in. Clint was, thankfully, the only one in the Infirmary right then.
Bones—or Dr. McCoy—had put him in a back corner with sightlines for the whole room because no matter what anyone else said the ex-Navy man was an old war dog too. He got it.
Or at least that was what Nat and Morales said after Coulson had hired him in.
Duke had agreed with their assessment. And Apollo. And Phantom. And— point was, all of the soldiers on the security team recognized the doctor as another soldier and he was proving to be the best hire they could have made for their private medical team.
Clint was reading through a file as they approached.
An actual physical, paper file. It made Tony’s heart cry. He missed the days of tablets for everything. Tablets por vida!
Clint looked up at them and closed the file.
“Clint Barton?” he asked since technically they hadn’t met yet, and he had to act like it. The guy nodded. “I’m Tony Stark, this is Yasha Barnes.”
“Boss and Sarge?” he guessed, glancing between them.
Yasha laughed. “That’s us.”
“Your guys have code names for everyone,” Clint rolled his eyes.
“They prefer to call them call signs,” Tony informed him. “How are you settling in?”
“Uh, good. Bones won’t let me out of bed even though he said one day of bed rest but, uh. Thanks for the hearing aids? I’ve never gotten fitted so fast in my life.”
“Bonus of billionaire friendship,” Tony shrugged. “You want bionic ears? We did an arm for Yasha, and my team is working on a new foot for Coulson, we could put ears on the docket.”
“Uh,” Clint blinked. “That wasn’t in the benefits package.”
Tony smirked at the dazed look on the archer’s face. “Which package did Coulson give you?”
Clint flipped the folder over. “The, uh, the Cherry Package?”
“That’s the Stark Family Security Team. Did he mention the Avengers Initiative to you?” Tony asked, rocking back on his heels.
“No? What’s that?”
“Sort of like the Cherries but they do more, uh, advanced missions.”
“And you need an archer for that?” Clint asked skeptically.
“Why not?” Tony shrugged. “I think an arrow could be a fun delivery method for any number of surprises. It would give the team more options than just guns. And it’ll be a fun challenge for me to make happen.”
“Great! Tell me about yourself.”
Clint squinted at him. “Is this like an interview kinda thing?”
“Yeah, sure.” Tony waved a hand, dismissively. “Come on, dish.”
Clint scratched at the back of his neck nervously. “Uh, born in Waverly, Iowa. Got an older brother, Barney. Parents died when I was six. Ran away to join the circus at ten, started training under Trickshot and Longsword. Took up the mantle of Hawkeye at fourteen.”
“Sounds like a good call sign,” Yasha interjected and Tony snorted.
Clint eyed them skeptically but continued, “Realized Trickshot and Longsword were up to no good, but couldn’t turn on family, so. One of the acrobats, Catalina, forged me some papers and I enlisted, became a Marine. Almost two years active duty when an IED took 70% of my hearing, medical discharge.
“Came home, Cat’s son talked me into joining the new circus he put together. A bit more than a year there when a stray showed up. Hydra followed her and killed all my friends.”
“You down to make Hydra hurt?” Yasha asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Clint agreed, something dark and furious in his eyes.
Yasha looked at Tony who just nodded. He fully intended on bringing Clint in from the moment he heard his name, it was just the timing that he was concerned about. Yasha nodded back.
“We’re going to leave nothing but dust and echoes,” he promised.
“Where are we?” Tony asked as he slid into his lab.
“The boat to take us north should be purchased within the week,” Coulson answered without looking up from the papers he was working on. “Duke’s rejected several, but we found a retired research vessel that looks likely. Over a thousand square feet of clear, useable deck and two fast and light, aluminum daughter craft, but only one helipad. We could probably add a second in the empty space, if you think we need it.”
Tony waved that off, “Depends on the research team.”
“I have their finalized findings. Enough of them for our purposes, at least. Darcy asked good questions and lead them to several other helpful experiments.” Coulson looked up at him seriously. “I hope you realize your daughter is going to get at the very least acknowledgement, if not credit, on three-quarters of the papers these people write on the Arctic and Climate Change for the foreseeable future.”
“And she’s not even in grade school,” Tony grinned, feeling all-over smug. “She’s smart, our girl.”
Coulson did not look as impressed with this as he should. “I’ll mention it to Sarge for a threat assessment.” That drew Tony up short but before he could ask anything, Coulson continued. “Did you want JARVIS to analyze the data, or did you have something else in mind?”
“Someone else,” he corrected. “Give it to VIRGIL. JARVIS will help but I want two sets of eyes, and VIRGIL is even more analytical than JARVIS.
“Any word back from FRIDAY?”
“FRIDAY has successfully infiltrated SHIELD’s systems,” JARVIS piped up. “A process made simpler with Director Stark’s personal access codes.”
Tony knew he should probably feel bad for swiping his dad’s codes but they were talking about saving the world here. And his dad was the one that not only wrote them down but left them out too. He was practically asking for it, really.
“Alright, you and VIRGIL will analyze anything she sends back. And give VIRGIL the Zola Files as well.”
That said, he turned back to Coulson, “Any word on the kid thing?”
“We’ve limited the possible sites for the Alkali-Transigen Project to three. We are still working to pinpoint her origin, however, so that might grow. I’ve reviewed the file, several of the genetic donors are our allies. Will we be contacting them?”
“Yeah, they deserve a say in what happens to their kids even if they didn’t choose to have them, right? Even if what they have to say is ‘no, thank you’. We need to be prepared to have alternative options.” Tony scratched his not-quite goatee. “Have you reached out to the Roth-Bachchans?”
“They will be here for lunch tomorrow.”
“Lunch?” Tony frowned. This was the fate of innocent kids they were talking about. “They can’t get here earlier?”
Coulson stared at him for a minute before he cleared his throat and shifted uncomfortably. “Uh, sir, tonight is your first date with Sergeant Barnes.”
Tony froze. “That’s tonight?”
“Yes, and trust me, sir, you do not want to cancel.”
Tony squinted at him. “Are you going to tell me what it is?”
“It’s a surprise, sir,” Coulson answered with his teeny, tiny, yes, I am a little shit smile. Tony didn’t even know he could smile that smile but he was glad of the new found knowledge.
“Can you tell me how dressed up I need to be?” Coulson hesitated so Tony pressed. “I don’t want to wear a three-piece suit to a street fair now, do I?”
Coulson made a maybe-amused noise. “Jeans and t-shirt would work. You’ll need comfortable shoes.” When Tony raised an eyebrow at him, Coulson huffed. “Wear tight jeans and t-shirt and minimize layers. Show off your body. Give him a thrill.”
Tony grinned. He could do tight. Uh, maybe. No, that would take putting on clothes from younger than he wanted to think about, and those jeans might not actually be long enough. Shit, he needed to go shopping.
“Alright, JARVIS load Daddy Issues #672 to #708 and get ready for work.
“Coulson, get Barton down here. I need measurements and then JARVIS will begin production.” The best thing about the vacation in Japan was that his father had taken that month to expand what was now firmly Tony’s workshop, and put something extremely similar to the production arms JARVIS had once upon a time in California in it. “Yasha’s going to want to test Barton before we do the kid thing so we’ll need to have his weapon of choice ready. Let’s plan on the testing taking him all day tomorrow.”
Because it totally would take all day tomorrow. Probably. Between Barton’s abilities and Yasha’s stubbornness, definitely. Unless, well. This was an almost-thirty-years younger Clint Barton. Maybe he wasn’t so skilled as SHIELD veteran Clint Barton.
Maybe he was more skilled because he was younger and more fit. Fuck.
Tony shook his head. “And get Morales to put together a shopping trip for me. Tell Yasha that it’s happening but no details. And he’s not invited. He deserves a surprise too.”
Once Coulson left, Tony focused back on JARVIS. “Do you need help trawling the internet/darknet for Hydra? There can’t be much there yet. Not anywhere, really, but we could get JOCASTA into Google or something.”
“I am not unduly burdened at this time, Sir,” he responded evenly. “However, you may consider the electronic security needs of the United Nations.”
“As far as we know that wasn’t an issue in our time.”
“That is true, Sir, but this is not our time. With the changes that have already been made to the timeline, our future knowledge is inestimably unreliable.”
“Alright, I’ll pitch it to dad. He has the most friends on the Security Council and he’s technically still Director of SHIELD. Maybe JO can cover both? I don’t think FRIDAY will be satisfied setting up a home in SHIELD.”
“Very good, Sir.”
There was a knock on the door and he called, “Come in!”
Clint Barton opened the door looking either nervous or suspicious. His Resting Murder Face made it hard to tell.
“You were talking to someone?” he asked hesitantly.
“Say hi, J.”
“Greetings,” JARVIS greeted the archer gently from above. “I am Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, please call me JARVIS.”
“System? You’re like a computer?” Clint’s whole face lit up in excitement.
“Correct, Mr. Barton. Though Artificial Intelligence is the most correct term for my existence.”
“Dude, don’t call me ‘mister’. You’re Jarvis, I’m Hawkeye. Done.”
There was a pause where Tony nodded encouragingly to JARVIS. It was a change but a small one, and familiarity among Avengers was only to be encouraged.
“Very well, Hawkeye.”
Taking that as his cue, Tony gestured for Clint to follow him further back. “I got a bunch of ideas for bows and arrows. What do you think of a quiver that can change the head on the shaft on command? Like, if you don’t need a standard head, it switches to an explosive head or a shock head or something.”
“And how would I command the quiver to change the arrow?”
“A dial on the grip of the bow. Short range, encrypted radio-like connection between the two to pass on commands.”
“You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”
Tony waved that off because he really didn’t. “Bows are fascinating. Guns are simple. One speed, one ammo, one purpose. Bows give the archer choices. You choose the strength you launch. Changes in speed, distance, affect everything with how the arrow hits. And with the different heads I can give you more options than dead, deadlier, and splat.
“You can’t really put a safety on a bow though. Not unless your draw-weight is something crazy,” he flicked his eyebrows to make it a question.
“Depends on how you define crazy,” Hawkeye shrugged. “I was working my way up to 250 pounds-force because my ringmaster thought it would play well on my posters.”
“250—? That’s like 1,100 newtons, isn’t it?” That was what his Hawkeye’s draw-weight was but he didn’t think he’d gotten there this young. “You there yet?”
“No,” Clint snorted, “I can keep working on it though.”
“If you need any special workout equipment, tell Coulson. Don’t worry about cost.”
Clint huffed something that sounded vaguely like, “I won’t.” But Tony ignored it and lead him further back.
“Do you know what your current draw-weight is?”
Clint shook his head.
“Alright, up on the platform so J can measure you, then we’ll test it.”
JARVIS did Hawkeye the courtesy of little blue grid lines so he can follow the measuring. Unnecessary but Clint’s shoulders relaxed at the sight and Tony silently reminded himself to give JARVIS a high five for acing human interaction later.
Then Clint looked wary again as floor plates in the back of the room moved and two of JARVIS’s work arms unfolded from down below. “If you would move over to my work arms, I am prepared to test your draw-weight, Hawkeye.”
“Favorite color?” Tony asked, mostly to distract Hawkeye from the reality of what amounted to grappling with the robot arms. That shit was scarier than it sounded, even when you knew they were just there to help you. He learned that lesson personally after his first raid on Gulmira. And Clint didn’t even know that JARVIS would never hurt him. Not really. Not yet.
“Wait, let me guess. Purple?” and he shot a pointed glance at Clint’s hearing aids.
“Of course,” Clint sneered somewhere between snarky and snotty. “Purple’s the best color. What else would be my favorite?”
“Uh, red,” Tony countered. “Red and gold, obviously.”
“Jeez, and I thought I was the one that grew up in a circus. Can you pick more ridiculous, flashy colors?”
“Because purple’s good for what exactly? Cause I know it ain’t camouflage.”
“Depends on the color or colors and location,” Hawkeye countered. “Urban night camo? Hell yeah. Multiple shades of purple means you don’t make a human-shaped outline in the shadows.”
“You got some cat burglar confessions to make there, Hawkeye?”
The slightly younger man rolled his eyes. “Hell no, but my first circus closed down for a reason.”
Tony hummed but didn’t ask. He already knew, really, about Trickshot and Longsword. Not from this Hawkeye or the past one but from Widow’s SHIELDra file dump. From the highlight reel earlier, all that was the same down to how Hawkeye joined the Marines and lost his hearing.
You’d think his bestie would have had his back and removed his file from the dump but, no. She’d released everything short of his street address. Spouse’s name, number of kids, all of it.
No wonder Yasha didn’t trust her.
“J, adjust the current specs for his measurements.”
“Done, Sir.” And holographic projections of three different bows popped up.
Hawkeye’s eyes fastened directly on the middle one, the one past-Clint had used the longest. Tough and flexible, it had even survived their bout with Ultron.
“Like that, huh?” Tony grinned. It was the one Tony designed completely by himself, it was nice to see his work appreciated. “I think we’ll make that one with your target draw-weight. Start you off in the field with the first one,” he pointed at the bow SHIELD had thought good enough for an Avenger. Well, that bow plus a bit. “The third one, though,” he pointed to it. “Is convertible. Folds down to about the size of a pair of nun chucks so you can hide it in a boot, stretches out to a staff for hand-to-hand. Can you use a staff?”
“I’m better with a sword but I can learn.”
“Pretty sure May is the one you’ll wanna talk to for lessons,” Tony offered. “Or maybe Stinger. I’ve seen them going at it in the gym a few times with staffs.”
Clint raised an eyebrow. “And arrows? What are you making them from?”
“I was thinking either aluminum or carbon. Could probably do Adamantium depending on what head you want it for. Adamantium shafts, I’d prefer you reuse as much as possible.”
“I’d prefer to reuse them all. Waste not, want not. Re-using fletching can be a problem though.”
Tony nodded, that was fair. “Talk to me about fletching. Are real feathers necessary or are synthetic gonna work?”
“That depends on the weight of the head and the balance of it all with the shaft. The whole system has to be looked at together.”
“So, you wanna talk arrowheads first?”
“Alright, J, pull up DI #680 to #708.”
“So, he says ‘Jeez, and I thought I was the one that grew up in a circus.’ Like red and gold is ridiculous or something,” Tony scoffed.
“I can’t wait for Harry Potter to come out again and everyone to realize what a ridiculous Gryffindor you really are,” Yasha said fondly from where he was lounging on his back on what had somehow become their bed. “You’ll never be able to keep up your Ravenclaw front ever again.”
And Tony just couldn’t let that stand so he threw open the bathroom door and sauntered out. The way Yasha immediately sat up and paid attention at the very sight of him made the almost unbreathable jeans worth it.
“And what about the front you’re keeping up?” Tony pressed his advantage. “Mister Slytherin in Hufflepuff clothing.”
Yasha licked his lips twice then gave up on turning his eyes to Tony’s face. Instead, he allowed his stare to linger all the way down but that didn’t stop him from raising a sassy eyebrow and firing back. “So, I’m a hatstall, no reason to be jealous.”
“Hatstall, shmat stall. You gotta pick a House. It’s important.”
“Not for another five years, it’s not.”
“The idea of you and Stevie being roommates in a boarding school that teaches magic and arms children with deadly weapons, though. That’s pretty terrifying.”
“We managed it well enough in a high-rise superhero bachelor pad.”
“Yeah,” Yasha smirked, finally meeting his eyes. “But you didn’t have to face down every boy’s worst enemy. Puberty.”
Tony waved that off. “No, we only faced down Hydra, AIM, Aliens, an evil AI bent on ending the world, a misplaced god here and there… some especially deluded royalty. Space royalty even.”
“Still, not as bad as puberty. Especially not as bad as puberty in the ‘20s.”
“Yeah, yeah, old man.” Tony gave him a poke. “Are we doing this thing or not? I was promised a surprise.”
“I don’t know, kid, did you ask your mom if you can go out? I don’t wanna keep you up past your bedtime,” Yasha smirked.
“Har. Har,” Tony glared and had to fight a smile at Yasha’s beaming grin.
They made it outside to see a limo waiting. Tony would bet it was a Stark Industries limo because a very young-looking Happy pulled open the passenger door as they left the building. Strangely, or perhaps amusingly, Happy was wearing an AC/DC shirt. It was obviously pulled over his uniform oxford, tie, and slacks but it was still there.
They settled into the limo easily. The doors were closed, the middle was window up. Tony messed with the settings in the door until physical and electronic privacy was assured.
“Is this the time for us to have that long conversation?” Tony glanced over. “Dates are the time to talk about emotional stuff, yeah?”
“So, I don’t have to talk about my emotions unless I’m on a date?” Yasha raised that sassy eyebrow at him. “Kinda makes me question the depth of my relationship with Xavier.”
“Magneto will be crushed,” Tony agreed solemnly.
Yasha snorted. Then his resolve crumbled and he just laughed. “My arm would be crushed, maybe.
“Okay, Stevie.” Yasha turned and pulled a leg up on the bench to face him directly. Tony copied him and offered a hand in silent support. Yasha took his hand and a deep breath. “Okay. So. It wasn’t exactly safe to be a gay man in the ‘30s and ‘40s.”
“Right,” Tony nodded.
“And I’m completely gay. I have no interest in women. The one and only time I got drunk and slept with a woman, well, that got us Darcy eventually, so I can’t regret it, but I’m honestly still surprised I managed to get off at all.”
Tony couldn’t disagree. “So, Steve?”
“That day, I was going to ask him to fuck me because I didn’t want to ship out a virgin.”
“Oh.” Tony swallowed, not sure what to say.
“Yeah,” Yasha looked away. “It was— It was love and trust and everything I could offer him before I was dragged off to die.” Yasha was on the edge of tears and Tony hated that he had asked. Hated it, hated it. “And then he was so dead set on going, dead set on getting himself killed, too. So focused on what he wanted, on what he had to prove. He had no room in his heart for me or what I needed or wanted—and I realized he never had. Not unless we were completely agreed on something.”
Yeah, Tony had noticed that about the great and wonderful Captain America. “And even then, you had to handle it his way or you were dead wrong and he didn’t have time for you.”
Yasha just shook his head. “He was stubborn. It was a strength that got him through a lot of terrible things so I can’t really begrudge it, but he left a lot of unnecessary damage in his wake.
“So yeah, I wanted to give him this. Or get him to give it to me, I don’t know. Maybe I was being selfish too, but at the time it felt like he’d betrayed me. Like he’d stabbed me and I was bleeding out in front of him and he didn’t even care. So, I picked a fight and walked away. Went dancing, got drunk, slept with a woman just to see if I could, and hated all of it.”
“You didn’t forgive him when he rescued you?”
“Are you kidding?” Yasha laughed. “I was so furious when he rescued me! His ass was supposed to be safe. At home. Not letting random strangers pump him full of random medical, chemical, magical bullshit.
“But, no, him showing up actually put the final nail in any romantic musings I might have had for him. For a number of reasons—but then he was so obviously head over heels for Carter that it killed the last of my hopes. But that was okay because I had a guy, too.” Yasha raised an eyebrow at him. “A Canadian specialist named James Howlett.”
Tony blinked. “Wolverine. Wolverine was your World War II lover?”
Yasha nodded. “He’d been with the 107th when I got out there and was pulled back like a week before we were captured by Hydra so I knew of him but we hadn’t really met. Then he agreed to work with the Commandos after they formed but never formally joined.
“You should have seen Cap’s face when he caught Jimmy bending me over a Jeep.” Yasha grinned and Tony couldn’t fight a squirm because that, that was hot. “He kicked him back to his unit for a few months even though we really needed him. It was stupid and childish and an abuse of power.”
“And it pissed you off,” Tony guessed.
“Of course, it did! He didn’t want me, and that was fine, but he couldn’t allow someone else to want me? That was bullshit. He was lucky no Commandos died for it before Carter talked sense into him.”
“That was good, right? That she talked sense into him.”
Yasha gave a frustrated growl and tugged on his own hair. “She used the exact same words I had used—several times—but because they were from her, they had weight.
“From me, his best friend since he was six, they meant less than nothing.”
“You were a guarantee,” Tony’s heart broke to realize. Because he’d been there, too. With Pepper, actually. “You were safe, he didn’t feel the need to keep you happy to hold on to you, because where else would you go? He made demands on you?”
Yasha looked away and Tony could guess what Cap’s demands were. Like Pepper’s constant demands for him to give up Iron Man, ridiculous things he couldn’t possibly do. Not just about Logan, either, because why the hell else would a sniper—who was by definition a long-range combatant—end up going toe-to-toe in the guerilla warfare that the raid on Zola’s train had to have been.
“But, in the end—” Tony couldn’t finish the question. “The way he looked at you.”
Yasha shrugged. “Who else did we have? Okay, no, he should have had you. Should have realized he had you but I had no one but him and he has always had a saving people thing.”
“Would you have?” Tony prompted and huffed in frustration at himself.
“Run off into the sunset together?” Yasha finished. “Maybe? We’ll never know now but that never would have been safe. Once that bridge was burned, I would have been a fugitive forever. And then you throw all the Hydra and Red Room triggers Xavier pulled out of me—the triggers that he’s still pulling out of me because we find a new one every other week or so. There’s no way that would have gone well. Steve would have been dead long before a relationship could have gotten off the ground, and I’d have probably followed him. Either done it myself or thrown myself at you or that cat guy or someone. Suicide by superhero.
“In my right mind, I don’t want a relationship with him. I love him, he’s my friend and my brother, but I respect myself too much to deal with the kind of love he has for me. Or at least I remember having too much self-respect for it and I damn well intend to stick with that.”
“Uh, sirs?” Happy broke in reluctantly over the PA. “We’re here.”
Yasha shot him a look and Tony nodded. He was cool ending the conversation there. For now. Probably for a long time, actually. It was a lot to chew on and he could use a distraction.
Yasha hit the button to respond, “Thank you, Mr. Hogan. We’re ready.”
Less than a minute later, the door opened from the outside and Yasha slid out first, as always. When Tony joined him, he was stunned.
He was stunned.
They were in front of a huge off-white building he’d never seen before. The front wasn’t glass or anything, just a chain-link fence and there were cars parked on the other side of the limo as far as the eye could see. Oh, and there were two lines full of people cheering and waving AC/DC merch.
“What in the—”
Yasha just grinned at him and tugged him down the little drive to the fence. The employees didn’t even question it, they just let Yasha through which wasn’t really strange but it was all so strange Tony can’t even parse it.
Faintly, in the distance, Tony could hear the rather peculiar strumming of a guitar. He knew that sound. That was a sound check!
“Yasha, what is this?” he demanded, pulling them both to a stop.
His grin only grew, the asshole. The beautiful, beautiful asshole. “Something you’ve never gotten to experience properly.”
“Yasha,” he started warningly.
“I know you could buy a private performance and you probably have but,” he licked his lips. Hesitated. “Even I know a concert is different in the crowd. Surrounded by people that want to be here as much as you do.”
“What did you do?’
“Just hired your favorite band and gave away a few thousand tickets to fans that could pass the background check?”
“So that I could have a concert? A real concert.”
“With King’s X. To open, or whatever.”
“Oh my god, you got me my own Razor’s Edge World Tour show. You are perfect.” He couldn’t help it; he kissed this beautiful bastard. His beautiful bastard. “What do we do first?”
“Duke swore beer and hotdogs were the order of the day, so let’s find a stand.”
Tony resolved to thoroughly ignore that almost all of the Cherries were in the crowd around them. Morales was checking out t-shirts with a little too much investment. Forge was eating cotton candy and would be the perfect picture of negligence if he weren’t, you know, approximately the size of a house.
Phil and Clint were on what might actually be a date. Which, awkward. Tony carefully didn’t look at Yasha to see what he thought or felt about that.
Boundaries, Tony reminded himself. Xavier was always harping on him to create and defend his own boundaries rather than letting everything run all over him. Neither Coulson’s nor Clint’s relationships were any of his business, unless one of them made it his business. Because boundaries. Boundaries were important and they kept him emotionally safe.
He missed Phantom completely and by accident until the cheeky bastard stopped to wink at him.
“God, I need all the merch. All of it.”
And, okay, maybe he got a little carried away buying everyone in line behind him a t-shirt but he definitely recognized the head of his dad’s R&D back there and Stark employees absolutely deserved nice things.
Yasha actually snatched Bogart by the back of his cardigan—which, really? A cardigan? At an AC/DC concert? —and shoved all of Tony’s personal purchases into his arms. Then he ordered the overdressed little peacock to take them to the car. Tony was left holding one measly t-shirt but with the way Yasha watched him yank it over his head you’d think it was the world’s sexiest lingerie.
Tony could live with this. Yes, he could definitely live with this.
“Whatcha thinking?” Yasha purred, his voice all gravely with sleep next to Tony’s ear.
“I’m thinking I have the most amazing boyfriend ever. Who gave me the best first date to end all first dates.”
“It was good then?” he asked as he nuzzled into Tony’s neck.
“Very good.” Tony hesitated. “I do have one complaint, though. A teeny tiny, very minor thing.”
“Oh?” Yasha sounded amused, not offended. Good.
“Yeah, well, see. My boyfriend knocked it out of the park but, uh, he didn’t take his homerun.”
Yasha’s nuzzle gained the faintest edge of teeth and Tony gasped before the damn tease pulled back to murmur, “Maybe he enjoys walking the bases.”
“Oh,” Tony pulled away enough to look at him. “And do you? Enjoy walking the bases?”
“I do,” Yasha scratched the back of his neck with a frown. “I also think we need to have a serious conversation about what we want and expect from sex, but I also like the thought of being spontaneous about it and I’m not sure how to balance these two urges.”
Tony took a moment to think about it because that was pretty much the least he can do.
“Let’s take today to think about it,” he decided. “Our goals, desires, limits, that kinda thing. And tomorrow night, assuming we’re not wherever freeing a bunch of kids from Hydra, we’ll have dinner and discuss it. How’s that sound?”
“Okay, yeah. Sounds good.”
“And we don’t have to have sex or anything tomorrow night. We just talk and then after, depending on what we say, we can put the possibility of sexy ambushes on the table.”
Yasha laughed. “Alright. We might need Xavier for this conversation, though.”
“Not the romantic dinner I was planning then,” Tony screwed up his face as he thought about it. Yasha’s so-called training from Hydra has left him with a lot of issues, not to mention problems with verbalizing his issues. Having their telepath psychiatrist there would definitely help. “But you’re right.”
“What else is on your tricksie mind? There’s something sad in your eyes.”
“Just—” Ugh, why did his highly-trained assassin and covert operative boyfriend have to be so damn perceptive? “Thinking about what you said, about Steve. Wondering if he was a narcissist before the Serum or if Erskine’s formula did that to him? And realizing that if Erskine’s formula did that to Steve, there aren’t any successful Super Soldiers.
“Well, other than you.”
“I don’t know that I count as a success,” Yasha countered. “Seventy years as a brainwashed assassin for the enemy and now I’m up to my eyeballs in therapy.”
Then he stopped, thought about it. “I don’t think Stevie’s a narcissist. I think he went through a lot and was expected to just deal with it when there was literally no way that he really could.
“He gained like two feet in height and a hundred and fifty pounds in muscle, all in less than an hour. He went from knowing he could die just from running too hard or breathing wrong, to the peak of physical perfection. He went from knowing he was going to die alone unless some dame—likely, one of my sisters—took pity on him to having them line up around the block just to look.
“And then you add the politics he was hip deep in just because he survived.
“And then the war that he could see but not participate in.
“And then his best friend being captured, thought dead but actually being tortured. And then— I mean, that’s a lot. Any one of those situations would be a lot. But he had all of it. And he was expected to just roll with it. To keep up the front, keep everything—and everyone—moving forward. He was expected to win us the war.
“The closest he got to someone like Xavier was Peg and she’s always been more of a tough love kinda lady. She could use her words and she could be a good listener but she had no tolerance for moping or uncertainty.”
“And that’s pretty much what you express in therapy,” Tony interjected. “From some perspectives.”
“Exactly. And he couldn’t talk about it to me because I was part of the problem, one of the people depending on him. Does that make the probably unintentional damage he did to me okay? No. Does it make it understandable? Yes, I think it does.”
Tony… couldn’t really argue with that. “Okay, well, the first thing he’s doing when we thaw him out is therapy.”
“All the therapy,” Bucky agreed and Tony couldn’t help but grin.
“Tony!” a cheerful voice called out as the lab door opened. “I come bearing lunch!”
Carefully, carefully Tony extracted himself from the wiring harness and looked up to see Yasha staring at him.
“Uh, hi.” Yasha broke his stare to set their lunch on the workbench closest to the door. “I thought Xavier’s lot would be here for lunch?”
“They were delayed,” Yasha answered softly. “We asked most of the adult X-Men to show up, so they had to arrange alternate security for the school. The Security’s plane was delayed. Weather, I think. They’re aiming for dinner tomorrow.”
“We’re not getting the sex talk in then, are we?”
Yasha tipped his head to one side. “Yeah, probably not.”
“Damn, when do you wanna reschedule? Soonish, please? I’m probably going to be distracted for like the foreseeable future.”
“By the Iron Man suit?” Yasha asked cautiously.
Tony could feel the other shoe dropping so he just nodded warily. It was pretty obvious what he was working on, even if he took a break from the whole forging metal by hand thing to work on the fiddliest bits of wiring.
“Did you tell me you were making the Iron Man suit?”
And oddly, a gust of breath left Yasha all at once and his shoulders slumped in obvious relief.
“What?” Tony demanded.
“I was afraid you’d told me and I’d forgotten. I didn’t think I’d forgotten anything or lost any time since we came back from Wakanda.”
And Yasha would have had to reevaluate everything if he’d been wrong about something so major as his own mind and memories, Tony winced and made a mental note that surprises were bad. “Uh, sorry?”
Yasha waved that off and started poking at his sandwich.
“Just to clarify, you’re not mad that I’m making the suit?”
Yasha looked at him like he was crazy. “Tony, you are Iron Man. You always have been. The suit just makes you safer, why would I object to you being safer? When have I ever objected to you being safer?”
“Pepper demanded I get rid of the suits. Like, a lot. From basically the beginning.”
“And why would you stay with someone so abusive?” Yasha raised a single eyebrow and took a big bite of his lunch.
Tony pulled a chip from their joint bowl and noodled on that a minute. “I wouldn’t call Pepper abusive,” he grumbled.
“She wanted to divide you in half, Tony. The acceptable half that she could love and the unacceptable half that she couldn’t. And she expected you to throw away what she considered the unacceptable half to just please her. She held getting rid of the unacceptable half over your head to advance your relationship multiple times. What else can you call that?”
Tony frowned because he didn’t remember talking about Pepper this much with Yasha which meant he either put it together from the media or maybe Steve told him in their old time. He didn’t like the idea of the whole world knowing that Pepper held Iron Man over his head but he found it worse to think that Steve might have noticed. Worst of all, that he might have noticed and done nothing about it.
“I put it together on my own, Tony.” Yasha said with a raised eyebrow.
“I said that out loud?”
“Yup. To be fair, though. After the Triskelion Incident, I raided a bunch of Hydra bases for money and intel, supplies. I needed to know, you know? Myself, what they did to me. And they had hundreds of hours of surveillance tapes of you and Pepper. Audio mostly, no video. She brought it up a lot. She made Iron Man a weapon.
“Specifically, she made it her weapon against you, Tony.”
Tony swallowed and looked away. His relationship with Pepper was one of the things he was working through with Xavier.
They’d been friends for so long before they had gotten together. And he’ had acquiesced to her demands in the course of running Stark Industries for years. Hell, he had given into her demands about how he picked people to sleep with for years. It had been hard and strange to find a demand of hers that he couldn’t, wouldn’t, could never have actually met.
It was hard to accept that no matter how much he’d loved her their relationship had been doomed to fail before it had even begun. Doomed to fail because of the terms and conditions that their original work relationship and eventual friendship had been built upon.
It was a relief though to know that wasn’t going to be a problem with Yasha. They were a team. They both wanted to succeed as a team and they were both willing to bend to make that happen.
“So, you don’t mind me going into the field with you?”
“Fuck, no,” Yasha grinned. “You’re a genius, Genius, and a tech savant. If anyone has a chance of helping us understand, avoid, or dismantle Hydra tech in the field it’s you. I just couldn’t see how to reconcile the need for you in the field and my need to keep you safe.”
“Maybe you should start coming to me with conflicting needs you can’t reconcile on your own?” Tony asked as gently as he could. “I am a genius, you know.”
Yasha scratched the back of his neck. “I was going to ask Xavier how to bring it up but if you don’t mind me being blunter than Clint about this stuff, I can skip him and come straight to you.”
“I can handle blunt,” Tony promised and then winced. “Maybe preface it with something like ‘I’m going to be blunt because I don’t know how else to say this’ or something like that. I can get a little sensitive when I’m thirty hours in on an engineering binge.”
“And you think you’re going to have a thirty-hour engineering binge?” Yasha raised a single eyebrow. “Pretty sure Eric and Darcy at the very least would drag you out of here by your hair before then.”
“Not to mention you.”
Yasha just smiled beatifically at him.
“If you want Iron Man to help you rescue a bunch of kids and face down a bunch of Hydra tech bullshit, then yes. I will have a thirty-hour engineering binge. Maybe even a forty-eight-hour engineering binge.”
Yasha tipped his head back and forth, considering. “Tactically, it would be better. Both for your technical abilities and to have the ranged, mobile fighter on the field. Personally, I’m worried you’ll exhaust yourself building the suit and that could lead to problems in the field.”
Before Tony could even open his mouth, Yasha continued, “How can I help?”
Tony blinked; not sure he had heard that right. He squinted at Yasha but Yasha just sat there waiting for him to say something.
“What do you mean?”
“Jamz has base security covered,” Yasha told him. “Duke is still out and about with the boat thing, but May can cover my French lessons with Darcy. Forge can cover my Japanese lessons with Eric. Howard can cover your science lessons with both. Give me ten minutes to explain it to everyone and the kids will be fine for the next day or two. So. How can I help?”
“What do you know about metal working?” Tony asked.
“I know Bogart apprenticed to a blacksmith and worked at a ren faire before he went into the Army?”
“Didn’t see that one coming,” Tony muttered.
Yasha laughed. “Yeah, doesn’t fit his image now, does it?”
“Not at all,” Tony agreed. “I’m not sure I want anyone other than you knowing the suit that well.”
“Okay,” Yasha didn’t even hesitate or argue, it was great. Because he got it. Then he offered, “I know I only need to be shown something once to learn it.”
“I can work with that. I can definitely work with that,” promised Tony. “Though maybe we should have the sex talk first? I mean,” Tony huffed. “You working in my lab—working on my suit—with me is… it’s intimate. You know, for me.”
“You wanna have this conversation here?”
“I mean, it’s a safe space for me, but we probably need neutral ground, right?”
“Would be the most fair.”
“The office in our suite?” Tony offered.
Yasha poked his plate a little closer to him. “Finish your sandwich, I’ll talk to Howard, May, and Forge, and we’ll meet there in fifteen.”
Tony gave him a sassy salute and picked up his sandwich. Yasha just smiled and walked out.
Tony took his time, wandered their dishes back into the kitchen, and moseyed back upstairs to their suite.
Realistically, there was no way Yasha could prepare their substitutes and tell the kids what was up in fifteen minutes so it was not at all surprising to find their suite still empty when he got there. He should have probably felt bad about letting Yasha do the heavy lifting with their kids but if he were to do it, the talk would end with a load of concessions that would lead to him not getting the suit done in time.
And even if Yasha hadn’t realized it, or allowed himself to realize it, Tony knew he was going to be left behind on missions more than he was going to get to go because kids, so really, he was okay with letting Yasha take the brunt of it this time. He was made of sterner stuff anyway.
When Yasha finally walked in another good ten minutes later it was with both amusement and irritation dancing in the line if his brow.
And with a side of Coulson.
“Uh,” Tony said smartly. He definitely didn’t want Coulson here for their talk about sex and intimacy. That was a big, fat no. He’d rather wait for Xavier.
“I’m just here to inject a bit of realism into your timeline,” Coulson asserted. “We haven’t limited the location of the Alkali-Transigen facility to three facilities, but to three states, along the circus’s route. That’s the best we could do even with JARVIS’s help but we’re still working on it. It could easily be as much as a month before we pinpoint the correct facility.
“Additionally. Even if Xavier can find it and give us the address after dinner tomorrow, we’re going to need to observe the facility for at least a week before we have enough information for it to be safe for us to breech. We need blueprints, security layouts, traffic patterns. Capturing and questioning someone in security would not go amiss. Unless the kids are in clear and present danger there is no way we’re going in within the next two weeks.”
“So, we can take our time,” Tony concluded.
“Yes, you can take your time. I’ll rearrange your schedules to give you six hours a day in the lab together starting tomorrow but still let you give the kids their lessons.
“I’ve also been looking into schooling options,” Phil asserted and Tony winced. Right, school. That was definitely a thing that needed to happen. “The school year ends next month but even with Stark resources you’re going to have to pick a school and enroll them soon to get them in for next year.”
“Day schools?” he asked.
“Of course, sir.
“And you have your tour of AIM tomorrow. And no, I won’t reschedule. That would be suspicious, and we need to not be suspicious if we are going to find out if they have SHIELD’s Schmidt Tech.”
“Right,” Yasha looked at him and reached up like he wanted to scratch the back of his neck but stopped himself and immediately put his arm down before Coulson saw it.
“Romanoff’s gone, right?” Tony asked. “Who do we have that can, you know, do what she does?”
“Me, Phantom, Forge, and Coulson,” Yasha answered.
“Well, you’re too memorable with the whole metal arm thing,” Tony waved a hand, “and Coulson’s too visible with the whole being my assistant and always at my side thing.”
“Phantom’s computer skills are stronger, but Forge is the better bullshiter,” Coulson offered with a straight face.
“Both? Can they both do it?”
“Both is good,” Yasha agreed. “They can both tackle the problem from different angles. Get us better results.”
Coulson turned to leave. “I’ll brief them. Wakeup call is at 0600 tomorrow. Don’t stay up too late working on your joint project.”
“Guess were still used to life at 2016 speeds,” Tony offered once he was sure Coulson was gone.
Yasha allowed himself to scratch the back of his head, looking sheepish. “Yeah, probably. You still wanna talk?”
“You still wanna work on my suit with me?”
“Okay,” Yasha took a deep breath and walked over to sit on the couch across from Tony. “You read my, uh, training files?”
“Twice, actually. The ones we got from Zola and then my dad got me paper copies after SHIELD officially raided Camp Lehigh. He insisted I needed to know and it wasn’t like I could tell him how I already did.”
“They tried to figure out who was updating the files, by the way. But no one but the cleaning kid ever went into the base.”
“So, it was the cleaning kid,” Yasha scowled.
“Not really. See, his dad was a low-level SHIELD Agent when he died. A couple years ago one of his dad’s old coworkers reached out to him. Needed help completing his reports, just scan them in the computer, file them away, no harm done. Kid figured he had dementia, being in a nursing home and, you know, wanting to file reports in an abandoned bunker. So, he agreed. Didn’t think it would hurt anything.
“Didn’t bother to wonder how a guy in a nursing home could put unmarked envelopes full of cash in his mailbox once a month, either.” Tony grinned. “But he also didn’t bother telling the poor guy with dementia when the computer suddenly broke for no apparent reason back in December.”
“So, Hydra doesn’t know that Zola’s effectively dead?”
“Or they didn’t know for about four months or so. SHIELD knows now, so we have to assume they know, too.”
“Fair,” Yasha sighed and ran a hand over his face. “So, you know the things they did to break me?”
“Yeah,” Tony nodded.
“Ok. Well. I don’t remember it directly but I know it happened and I haven’t tried, but I’m afraid bottoming will trigger me.”
“Which would be really dangerous,” Tony finished when Yasha hesitated. “Do you want to bottom?”
“God, yes. It is the best thing.”
“We could experiment? Not now and I’m never going to rush you. For the record, I am totally on board with bottoming for us, but if it’s something you enjoy; I don’t want Hydra to take it from you.”
“What are you thinking?” Yasha tilted his head.
“In a few months, when you’re comfortable being sexual again, I can finger you? Or you could do it whenever but my fingers are smaller than yours so that might be less likely to trigger you? Or we could ask Logan to bend you over again. If it triggers your trauma, it’s unlikely you could hurt him permanently and it could trigger World War II memories for both of you.” Tony wiggled his eyebrows, “Especially if there’s a Jeep involved.”
Yasha laughed. “I could use some non-Hydra memories. But you would you be okay with Logan fucking me?”
“As long as I know about it before it happens, I can handle sharing. You?”
“I’m, uh, I’m not sure. I feel really territorial about you. It’s never happened to me before in a relationship. Not that I’ve had many. I’m not sure what to do about it.”
Tony thought about it. “A time travel thing, maybe? I mean, I’ve had to fight those impulses, too. Ones that I’ve never had before. Like to demand you let me watch Logan fuck you. It could just be because we’re the only ones that know, you know? Each other’s only fully honest connections?”
“Could be,” Yasha inclined his head and then he bit his lower lip. It was dreadfully attractive. “Maybe we should discuss those territorial impulses too, because the idea of you watching Logan fuck me is really hot. With or without the Jeep.”
Tony just laughed. No argument there. “Okay, so, you bottoming is off the table. At least for now. I’m pretty much game for anything. Well, not crossdressing. And no feminization. Nothing against women but I’m with a man and I expect to be treated like a man.”
“Nail polish and makeup are off the table?”
“For you or for me?” Tony asked to clarify. “Because I have no problem with wearing nail polish unless I’m working on something like the suit where it could flake and ruin something. Makeup I’m not sold on outside of Halloween, but considering how Hydra used to dress you up, I can see how epic amounts of eyeshadow could make you feel safer.”
“I like feeling pretty,” Yasha shrugged. “It gives me emotional distance from them because to them I was nothing but a tool. Tools don’t need to be pretty; they don’t need or have vanity; they just have to work. But I meant on you. If I wear something that’s on me, my choice, isn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. Unless you want me to tell you what a pretty little girl you are. That’s a no for me.”
“But you don’t mind telling me I’m pretty?” Yasha teased.
Tony didn’t even want to fight the delighted smile. “You are beautiful and I have no problem reminding you of that fact. Any other boundaries?”
“Well, they never used my mouth so I don’t think giving oral is a problem for me.”
“We’ll take it slow,” Tony promised. “I’m actually enjoying the slow pace. Dating. It’s new for me. Normally it was all ‘Hi, I’m Tony Stark, let’s fuck’ for me. The whole walking the bases thing is nice.”
“Good, cause I’m not ready for,” Yasha trailed off apologetically.
Tony waved that away. They might be sleeping together but they hadn’t even had a proper make out session yet. He was aware that Yasha wasn’t ready. “I’m good with our pace, I swear. Actually, I’m not sure I’m ready to advance things, even if you were. Maybe I’ll have a session with Xavier while he’s here tomorrow. That might be smart.”
Yasha rolled his eyes but he was smiling so it was okay.
“What about dominance and submission? What you threw out there about Clint taking a collar from May kind of— Well, it surprised me.”
“I used to be— What’s the word? Hella submissive. Had to be restrained somehow or at least spanked to cum but,” Yasha shook his head. “Now, I don’t think I could submit if I wanted to, not anymore. And pain no longer makes for happy funtimes for me.”
He didn’t need to ask why, he knew why. Hydra. It was always fucking Hydra. “So, you had, like, a dynamic shift?”
“I guess.” Yasha shrugged.
“You think you could dominate me? I can use being taken out of my head sometimes.”
“Uh, maybe?” Yasha scratched the back of his head again. It was his only real nervous tell and he only allowed himself to do it when he was alone with Tony. It felt like trust and it was adorable. Tony kind of loved it. “I wouldn’t have to hurt you, would I? I’m not sure that I could do that.”
“Nah, upward of three months being tortured in a cave kinda ruined pain for me too. I can endure it but I don’t enjoy it.”
“Yeah,” Yasha nodded. “Can we table that bit for a while?”
“The kinky stuff? Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re not even ready for vanilla so it’s kind of getting the cart before the horse, isn’t it?”
“Agreed. Now, why is working on the Iron Man suit intimate for you?”
“Like you said in the lab, I am Iron Man. Have you work on it is inviting someone to work on me, on my soul, sort of? I hate even thinking in those terms but I don’t have other ones for it. It’s letting you know all my vulnerabilities, maybe, but it’s more visceral than that.”
“It’s daunting,” Yasha offered.
“Extremely. Even though I made War Machine specifically for Rhodey, letting him fly off with it was like tearing out my own arc reactor.”
“Maybe instead of Rhodey, you should give War Machine to someone closer to you this time.”
Tony frowned at him, “You want a suit?”
“No,” Yasha snorted. “Hell no, actually. No offense.
“A flying car, maybe. But not a suit. I was thinking Eric, actually. Whenever you’re ready to retire because there’s no way he’s not going to want to walk in his dad’s flying, robotic boots.”
“We’ll have to come up with rules to them becoming superheroes,” Tony realized absently, his mind already spinning on both problems. “Military or police service, maybe. Something to give them combat experience.”
“We can delay them for now since they aren’t eighteen. That gives us a good ten years to figure it out.”
Tony nodded absently but his mind was still stuck on the car thing. Yasha had never expressed a specific desire for something before. Other than that one time with his dogtags. He would tell them about things they need as a group, especially for missions, but not his own personal desires. “You know my dad built a flying car, once.”
“Yeah,” Yasha grinned. “Saw it at the Expo the night before I shipped out. Cherry red, glowing white interior, ragtop. He ever get it working properly?”
He did, sort of. But Tony could make it work better. Tony hummed, looks like he needed a favor from his old man.
Cindy stood from her seat behind the reception desk when she saw a large group of men pause outside the building’s glass front. They were all in suits, more colorful than the current business fashion but still firmly professional. Two men held the doors for the group as a man and a woman moved forward ahead of the rest.
They swept the lobby like they were looking for bombs or ambushes or something, and Cindy just watched them in mystified wonder.
The subject of their protection was revealed for just a moment as they moved around him. She got a brief glance of a man in grease-stained jeans, an ancient band t-shirt, bright yellow sunglasses, and ratty sneakers, before two men closed ranks in front of him to match the two behind him.
Gossip rags were her one big guilty pleasure, so she readily recognized Tony Stark, and that one of the men in front was Bucky Barnes. Speculation about their relationship was rampant.
It had gotten even worse once the rumor got out that Barnes had organized a concert by Stark’s favorite band as a date.
Well, rumors or not, the concert had definitely happened. Two nights ago, to be exact, in upstate New York. Stark and Barnes had both been sighted in the crowd. They stood in the second row and even danced together to the music, there were multiple accounts.
The group moved through the lobby like a shark through the water. Stressed out AIM employees scurried around them, like fish afraid of being eaten.
“Welcome to Advanced Idea Mechanics,” she greeted them with the widest, most welcoming smile she could muster.
“Good morning,” a bland, slightly balding man in a truly beautiful suit said as he stepped forward to speak with her. And, yes, as the security men rejoined them Sergeant Barnes did drift back to stand with Stark.
She was pretty sure they’re holding hands, too!
She had to swallow her squeal and focus on Mr. Bland But Beautiful. “Dr. Tony Stark’s party, I believe we’re expected.”
“Of course, sir,” she made a show of checking the calendar on her desk. Like she hadn’t prepared for this moment all week or anything. “Ah, yes. Mr. Killian Aldridge will be conducting your tour of our facilities this morning, and then his father and the founder of AIM, Mr. Jonathan Aldridge, will be joining you for a business lunch.”
She said it to impress. It had always impressed guests to have the attention of the founder himself but it seemed like Tony Stark had to work hard not to roll his eyes.
Of course, he wouldn’t be impressed with the founder of AIM, she scolded herself, he grew up with the founder of Stark Industries, which is honestly much more impressive than AIM.
“I’ll just let them know you’re here,” she hastily picked up the phone and dialed Killian’s cellphone.
This was hurting him, seriously. That his dad wanted him to even pretend to take advice from these assholes hurt worse. With paper desk calendars and corded desk phones. Just. Ugh.
The shiny blonde receptionist hung up the phone and promised that Mr. Aldridge would be with them in a minute.
He was waiting just out of sight around a corner, Tony would bet his first patent on it. Still, he counted one minute. And then a second one. And Killian Aldridge, complete with lanky yellow hair and overly large glasses, scurried out to see them.
He was trying to look hurried, important, like he was hard at work before they showed up and he was giving up something precious to accommodate them. It failed because Tony didn’t buy it for a hot second. Yasha’s amused eyes told him he saw through the charade as well.
“I’m so sorry to keep you waiting,” Aldridge extended his hand like he wanted a shake.
Tony stepped back, Yasha and Stinger stepped directly in front of him to bar the way, and Coulson moved up to take the man’s hand.
“Dr. Stark does not shake hands,” the man explained smoothly, like it should have been obvious and was not at all strange. “I’m Phil Coulson, his personal assistant. I believe we spoke together on the phone.”
That was another thing that had changed from the mostly-horrible future they had been living. Not only having people around him that accepted and, in some cases, celebrated his quirks but just being called doctor felt like a bigger change than it probably was.
He’d sure as hell earned the title—three or six times, depending on how you counted it—but he’d never insisted on it in the future. Back then, he’d had all the might and power and money of Stark Industries at his back. That, taken with how much he’d grown SI while he’d been at the helm, had made him an utter nightmare to… probably more people than he wanted to admit so he’d never insisted on the title he’d earned in an effort to humanize himself, mostly for social reasons. His dad had done the same thing when he was alive— Was, in fact, doing the same thing now.
Now, he didn’t have that though. Now, he needed the respect, and reputation, waving around his PhDs would earn him for the sake of the business he was building from the ground up. He needed it for the stability it would give his endeavor and the faith the everyman would put in him just for having earned the degrees.
Idly he wondered if he should get a fourth. Surely, with everything he’d learned, he could kick a degree in some sort of biomed in the face.
“Right,” Aldridge frowned at Phil, his tone made it very clear that he hadn’t realized he’d been dealing with a peon.
Not that Tony considered Phil a peon. A minion, maybe. A ranking minion, even. None of the Security guys were peons either, really. There was just nowhere near enough of them for that.
Maybe when Stark Solutions was off the ground, then he’d have peons.
Phantom managed not to snort when Killian Aldridge rushed out of a conference room at the end of the hall clutching his own hands. Then he stopped, just around the corner from the front desk and checked his watch. He messed with his hair and took a dramatically deep breath. Glasses off, checked watch and huffed. Glasses back on so he could actually read and checked watch. Fiddled with hair, checked watch. Adjusted coat, checked watch.
It was pitiful.
Thankfully, the elevator dinged just as the guy checked the time on his phone a fifth time and Phantom escaped the torture of it.
Thanks to Coulson and JARVIS, he knew exactly where to go. Fourth floor, left to the end of the hall, through the records room, through the secure records room, to the hidden records room. The door was to the final chamber was better hidden than he had expected, though, behind a damn near magical optical illusion. But he found it.
Mostly because it was ever so faintly cracked.
Cautiously, he moved closer to evaluate the situation inside. It wouldn’t do to be caught now.
“Phantom,” a sultry female voice called out softly and he heard the faint click of a camera shutter.
Unable to verbalize a proper response, he pushed open the door. There, bent over the very files he came to retrieve was Natasha Romanov herself.
“The fuck?” he demanded intelligently.
“Oops,” she shot him a sly grin. Then she gestured to the stack on her right. “You can look through those, I’m done with them.”
“Push them over here,” he countered. Not that there was any point to being cautious now that he was all but locked in the room with her. It was just the principle of the thing. She could kill him, probably with a look, but he wasn’t going to make that any easier for her.
Far from insulted, she just smirked and pushed the files as far across the central work table as she could.
There was no copier in the room. It was what he figured would happen, but it still sucked leaving evidence of their breach via disappearing documents. You never wanted your quarry to know you were hunting them. Not before the trap was set, at least.
There was nothing for it, though.
Resolved, he looked through the files, checked contents as much as he could and he checked the page numbers. He wouldn’t put it past the Black Widow to fuck with him just because. He was right to do it, of course, there were a handful of files in the stack clearly from the lower security area.
Unfortunately, that was not the only problem.
He put aside the lower security files and ignored her smirk as he did so. “What about the missing pages?”
She blinked at him innocently and gave a little shimmy to show of her tight-fitting business suit. “Where would I hide anything in this outfit?”
He gave her the stink eye that deserved but didn’t call her on her shit. He knew, straight from the horse’s mouth, that she never carried less than two knives, a garrote, and at the very least a holdout pistol. He couldn’t see any of them on her person but he was sure they were there. And if they were there, then the missing pages could definitely be hidden somewhere in there, too.
Whatever. Sarge could sort her out himself.
“Well, that’s me done,” she said with a smirk some fifteen minutes later.
He made sure to keep the table and his armored briefcase between them as she made for the door. He also kept his hand on his belt knife, just in case.
“Be sure not to stick around for lunch,” was her parting shot. “I hear the cafe here is absolutely dreadful.”
With a frown, he pulled his burner phone out the second the door closed and texted Sarge’s own burner. Be advised, take lunch off site.
He would explain the source of the warning in debrief. Right now, he had a mission to complete.
He turned to the file cabinets for the first time. Now that it felt safe to do so.
Boss needed project details. The Director needed financial details. Okay, Sarge and Coulson wanted them too, but the Director was the one that could use them legally and he was not going to disappoint her.
Shit, he blinked looking the financials over. Was this better or worse than what they were expecting?
Forge hummed absently to himself as he moved past where Aldridge Junior was trying to fawn over Boss. Not that he would ever make it past Bishop and Sarge to do so, but he was trying.
He allowed himself a smirk as he swaggered past the elevator bank and around to the back.
The guard for the secured area was busy flirting with the mail girl. She was so into him it was almost embarrassing. Too bad he was married. Forge rolled his eyes and pushed past them into what was supposed to be a secure stairwell.
He was too early for the research team to be in from what JARVIS had been able to find of their time logs. The time logs, thankfully, seemed mostly right. The labs were empty except for one man in a white lab coat that was asleep half-collapsed on his work table.
An obstacle that was easily enough avoided.
In the back of the lab there was a storage room, capped with thick, heavy doors and a complicated electronic lock. Normally, it would have taken him hours to get past this level of security. Either that or he’d leave a trail by breaking the wall it was attached to in order to physically rewire and bypass the lock. Instead, he pulled out an invention the Boss had called GNAW and set it over the lock’s face. It gave a bit of a squeal as it sealed itself around the casing of the lock. A minute and a half and the door popped open with a refrigerator-like whoosh.
Taking that as his cue, Forge slid inside. There was a lot of hinky looking shit in that room. Ominous black canisters, vials of green or red or gold liquid. Boxes much too big for him to smuggle out in his briefcase.
He pulled his camera and started taking snaps of all of it. He’d grab what he could but this was not what he’d come here for.
He poked and prodded, opened and closed. Finally, in an innocuous-looking tan filing cabinet, he found what he was looking for. The blue glow of Schmidt Energy gave away what he was looking for before the drawer was even completely open.
Three little boxes were half-embracing, half-showcasing Schmidt Tech chargers. There was also a large gun with a glowing blue ammo chamber and a small pistol with the same.
Fuck, there was no way he could take it all. This was much more than he had expected. More than any of them had expected, he was sure. He put the back of his hand to his mouth and took a moment to thing it through.
He snapped several pictures of it all and grabbed two clips from each rack, just in case they are somehow different. He took the pistol completely. Unfortunately, there was no way he could take the rifle. It just wouldn’t fit in his briefcase. Then he doubled back and took a single black canister and one of each of the different colored vials.
God, he hoped the pen holders in his damn briefcase could keep the vials safe enough. Otherwise, he was dead. He was certain of it. And he would no doubt take a couple city blocks with him.
Fuck it, next time he saw him, he was kissing Bogart. It would probably be too quick for the nancy bastard, but he deserved it after doing this.
Assuming they all survived.
Forge did his best to hurry out without looking like he was hurrying out or jarring his precious cargo overly much.
He was in such a hurry that he made it back to the sleeping scientist before he remembered to turn around for GNAW. He tapped a simple rhythm on its case and the tiny bugger released into his hand. There were four puncture marks on the lock casing, one on each side, but honestly, they were small enough he doubted anyone would think too much of it. And it wasn’t like he could fix it anyway.
When he made it back up to the security desk, three scientists in white coats were there, arguing with the security guard about sports. Christ, the security team in this place was a joke.
He’d have to see if he could get Boss to let him break into and get anything out of SI.
Just as a test, of course.
“How much longer on the tour?” Yasha asked as he absently checked his phone.
Mr. Call me Killian Aldridge gave him that weird, fixed smile again. “Lunch will be served in Conference Room Three at twelve-thirty.”
He was stiff to the point of rude, and Tony was starting to suspect he was a homophobe. Seriously, he was in the wrong crowd for that attitude.
“We’re not eating here,” Yasha sneered and Killian spluttered indignantly.
“Sergeant Barnes is correct,” Coulson chimed in and it was somehow both a surprise and utterly expected at the same time. “We have reservations at La Vie at noon.”
“La Vie?” Killian asked faintly. “It takes months to get a reservation there!”
Coulson just raised both of eyebrows at the man. He could not project not impressed any louder if he tried. “The reservation is for five. We assumed you and your father would be joining us.”
“Me and my— yes. Yes, of course.” Killian was as white as a sheet and looked vaguely shaken. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to do— I have to do a thing. Excuse me.”
Tony just shrugged and looked around.
There was a surprisingly nice break room that Rooster was watching like it might randomly decide to attack. “Coffee?”
“Coffee,” Killian repeated as he began to flail and sort of flutter away. “Yes, coffee, serve yourself. I’ll have someone come while I do the thing. You should all have coffee while you wait.”
And then the asshole disappeared.
“I assume it’s an impressive restaurant?” Tony asked Coulson, or Bishop, as some of the Cherries had started calling him.
“Meaning very expensive.” Not that Tony couldn’t afford it. Especially since Killian was probably going to try and foot the bill, he snickered.
Bishop tipped his head. “They serve four tables at lunch and four tables at dinner, at noon and eight exactly. Seven courses on a unique menu decided that day by the chef based on several factors, including the freshest available ingredients, applicable food allergies, and mood. The service is silent and prides itself on being invisible. And the chef visits to chat with the tables at every meal.”
“Sounds snooty,” was Yasha’s verdict. “And we actually have reservations?”
“For two tables of five. One for us, one for the security.”
Yasha glanced at him in question and Tony shrugged. “As long as they serve meat. I don’t want to be stuck on the plane home with these assholes if they’re going to be hungry an hour later.”
“There will be meat,” Bishop assured him. “I believe the ‘unique dietary requirement’ was part of why we got reservations so quickly.”
“The chef getting the right to throw around the Stark name later probably didn’t hurt either,” Stinger muttered.
Tony just shrugged, accepted a perfect cup of coffee from Yasha, and settled into a squishy chair for communion. Ah, coffee. It was really good for breakroom coffee, too. Clearly, AIM did not fuck around.
Tony watched absently as a woman in a pale, minty blue/green skirt suit wheeled her way to the copier just across from the break room entrance. There was something familiar about her as she pulled the first paper out of her lap and started fussing with the copier settings.
She had her strawberry blonde hair pulled up in a no-nonsense ponytail and a long, graceful neck. Tony was just starting to suspect he’d slept with her in another life when she snarled—
“I don’t care if you are the founder’s son, Mr. Aldridge, if you don’t stop staring, I will pepper spray you in the face,” she whipped her head around to glare at him and froze.
Yup, Tony had definitely slept with her in another life, he though as he forced himself to laugh at that little icebreaker.
“What?” Yasha tilted his head in confusion as he moved up to Tony’s side.
“I’m sorry,” Pepper—no, Virginia Potts—said immediately. “I thought you were someone else. I— I keep getting sexually harassed and it’s made me defensive.”
“No harm done, Pepper,” Tony assured her, still laughing.
“My name is Virginia. Virginia Potts.”
“And you’re my new CEO,” he countered. It was delightful to see her jaw drop in surprise. “I like your fire, Pepper, and I need someone at the helm that will take absolutely no shit.”
“And if I insist you call me Virginia?” she glared.
Ah, good ole Pepper. “Recognizing a lost cause is also a valuable skill. Got a copy of your resume?” Not that he was going to read it, but Coulson would want to file it somewhere. Probably.
She huffed. “Why would I leave a secure job to work for you? Getting something reliable isn’t exactly easy when you’re in a wheelchair.”
“Fair,” he nodded. “My team is doing amazing things. We’re not going to change the world, we’re going to save it, but I need someone that will protect our intellectual property rights. Someone that will shelter the minds I’m bringing from around the world into Stark Solutions. Someone that can handle marketing and finance and make us all enough money so that we can do amazing things, like donating bionic prosthesis to children and veterans. So that we can change how people the world over grow food. So that we can cure AIDs and cancer and whatever comes next. So that we can make green energy a reality all over the world.
“You should work for me because I think you can be that person.
“Stark Solutions is going to be a privately-owned corporation. We’ll seat the Board of Directors together, you as Chief Executive Officer, me as owner and Chief of Research and Development.”
“You don’t even know me,” she scoffed.
“I’d like to,” he said honestly and she froze. “How about this? Let’s give it a month trial. I’ll pay you ten thousand dollars to quit right now. Some of my guys will help you pack your desk and take you home to pack a bag. We’ll put you up in my mom’s favorite B&B for the entire month. It’s a half hour from our house, all expenses paid. Let me tell you, they contract with a day spa that is a gift to humanity, you’ll love it. And, Monday through Friday for four weeks, you’ll work on getting Stark Solutions off the ground with me and Coulson.
“There will be NDAs, of course. A stack of them, probably, but if at any point you decide Stark Solutions isn’t for you, we’ll bring you right back home and I’ll pay you six months’ salary continuance while you look for a better fit.”
Pepper blinked. On anyone else, it would be a signal they’re overwhelmed. On Pepper, it was a sign that she was looking for faults in his plan.
“And, look at it this way, I can promise you no more sexual harassment from the boss. I mean, no offense to you or anything, but have you seen what’s crawling between my sheets?” And he did a tah-dah gesture with both hands at Yasha because, really, if any human deserved the Vanna White treatment, it was him.
Especially right now in that bright blue bespoke suit with a light colored, gently pinstriped shirt under it. No tie, collar open, of course. And, UNF, the contrast of the suit with a messy man bun and motorcycle boots.
He was, in fact, a walking fantasy.
The fact that he could kill you with his pinky was just a delicious, delicious bonus.
“Alright,” she agreed stiffly. “A month. I want it in writing though. The money to quit, no commitment, all expenses paid, salary continuation, all of it.”
“Can do,” Tony smirked. He then glanced at Bishop who was already on the phone. “You go pack your things and my lawyer will be waiting at the front desk when we get there.
“How much help can she have?” he asked Yasha.
Yasha frowned but held up two fingers. “Bogart. Stinger.”
The two men dropped their coffees and stepped forward.
Bogart honest to god swept his fucking fedora off his head and placed it over his heart. “You can call me Bogart, Ms. Potts. This is Stinger. We’d be very pleased to assist you.”
Pepper blushed. Straight up blushed! Tony couldn’t remember her being so easily flustered when he knew her! He felt cheated.
Stinger picked up Pepper’s stack of copies, “Which way, ma’am?”
“Oh, this way. Follow me.”
By the time Killian showed back up, her desk was packed and Bogart and Stinger were each carrying a box. He was thankfully too distracted to notice Pepper wheeling along behind the group, carefully screened by Tony’s security people. Tony wouldn’t put it past him to make a scene, especially if he had already been harassing her, and he just didn’t have the time for that.
“My father unfortunately won’t be joining us,” Killian smiled weakly. “He’s working on a very, very sensitive experiment that he cannot leave before one, at the very earliest.”
“Oh, that’s so sad.” Tony didn’t even try to sound like he meant it. “I’m sure he will be missed.” In like an alternate reality or something.
“It simply allows us more time to discuss more interesting things,” Killian said soothingly. “For example, I noticed your, uh, bodyguard has an articulated metal hand. Is that actually a robot hand or simply a glove over his biological one?”
“It’s a hand,” Tony said with a glare. Bodyguard? Bodyguard? Yasha ain’t no stinking bodyguard! “And arm, actually, and top of the line. A cutting-edge bionic limb replacement.”
“Oh? Wherever did you get it?” The bastard blinked innocently.
Tony wanted to get out the suit and kick his ass. Fortunately, the front desk hosted a feast of distractions for his temper. He ignored his lawyer’s local partner so as not to draw Aldridge’s attention to her and walked right up to the familiar woman sitting in AIM’s waiting room.
“Excuse me, are you by any chance Dr. Maya Hansen?”
Fortunately for Pepper the truly tiny woman Bogart nodded her to was close enough for her to hear Dr. Hansen’s awed, “Tony Stark.”
That was when Pepper learned that it was hard to read legal documents and snicker at the same time.
“Yes, that’s me. I just finished reading your thesis on Extremis Theory last night. It’s actually fairly relevant to one of the lines of research Stark Solutions will be pursuing and I was wondering if you would mind answering a few of my questions.”
“Yes, it’s my private think tank.”
Dr. Hansen made an aborted squeal of joy. “Uh, yeah, I would love to discuss my theories with you.”
“Fantastic. Do you have lunch plans?”
“No, I was just here to—” Dr. Hansen cut herself off. “Nope, I’m available all afternoon and I can answer all of your questions. All afternoon.”
“Fantastic. We have reservations at Le Vie and an open spot, would you like to come?”
This time the squeal made it all the way out of the scientist’s mouth. “I would be thrilled. I’ve heard that place is amazing.”
“It’s got a great reputation,” Dr. Stark agreed as he started leading her to the door. “This is probably rude but you’re based in New York, right? You just graduated from Culver University in like December? I think I read?”
“That’s right. Dr. Ross was my thesis adviser.”
“Was she fantastic? I’ve heard she’s amazing and I have an interview with her and Dr. Banner,” Stark waved his hand vaguely. “At some point, I don’t really remember.”
“She is brilliant and so kind. You know how a lot of geeks are bad with people? But she’s not. She’s really not. She’s gracious and refined and— Just— She’s amazing. Really, you’re going to love her.”
Killian Aldridge trailed out behind Stark’s group like a lost little lamb. He was definitely an afterthought to the entire group. It was hilarious.
Stinger huffed disappointedly behind her and Bogart laughed out loud. “Come on, you’ll get to try it next time.”
“Next time?” Stinger hissed. “You think there’s gonna be a next time on reservations at La Vie?”
“Ooh,” Pepper frowned sympathetically. “You’re gonna miss out? That’s terrible.”
“You wanted to go?” Stinger asked.
“I didn’t know it was an option but I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity. Even if I had to share a table with Mr. Aldridge. Either of them.”
“Actually,” Bogart frowned and scratched at his chin. “Do you mind waiting to pack a bit? We haven’t got the plane tickets yet so we can go and you can take my spot. We can take you home to pack after.”
“Are you sure?” She asked even though Stinger was all but vibrating to go.
“I’m positive. Stinger, text Bishop the updated plans. Ms. Potts, do you have a vehicle on premises?”
She frowned at him, not quite irritated but close to it. “Can’t really drive without functioning legs.”
“Right,” he looked so disappointed in himself she wouldn’t have been able to stay mad even if she actually had been in the first place. “Bishop gave me the keys to the third rental, so let’s get loaded up and meet them there.”
Pepper signed both copies of the official written agreement between her and Tony Stark and stuffed her copy into her purse as quick as she could manage. “Let’s go.”
Then she stopped and rolled back to the front desk where her former college roommate sat, gaping and confused. “Cindy, update your resume. I’ll call you in a few weeks.”
Because if she was doing this, she was picking her own damn personal assistant and Stark could just deal. She owed Cindy so much, really. She wouldn’t even know a thing about these people without Cindy and her celebrity-loving little heart and having an assistant that would keep track of all the gossip and fill her in without being asked would no doubt be helpful in this as yet theoretical future.
And Cindy’s degree was in Public Relations, which would also be useful on Pepper’s future level.
The rental turned out to be a big black SUV and it was a bit of a struggle for Pepper to pull herself into it but the men didn’t rush her. They didn’t push her or try to do it for her or make snide little comments about how long it took her, either. They just waited and Stinger took her wheelchair around to the cargo area once she no longer needed it. It was lovely.
The moment Stinger’s belt was on Bogart rocketed them away from the curb. They were halfway to La Vie when Stinger’s phone rang.
“Stinger,” he answered sharply.
Pepper didn’t hear much but the sharply demanded now made Stinger smile.
“We’re on our way. Bogart’s driving so we’ll be there faster than you’d expect.” And he hung up, practically humming with joy.
“You’re going to give me a reputation,” Bogart grumped.
Stinger beamed, “Yup!”
Bogart sighed and Pepper laughed.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Apparently there was some sort of incident back at AIM and Mr. Aldridge had to hurry back.” Stinger said, exchanging a significant look with Bogart. “Something about a fire in a file room.”
Not really sure what was significant about that, Pepper let it pass but it was curious.
Mr. Coulson, or rather Bishop, was blinking at them outside the restaurant when they pulled up.
Neither Bogart nor Stinger did more than nod their greetings at him as Bogart went around back for her chair and Stinger pulled her out of the car.
He was completely professional and impersonal about it as he carried her up onto the sidewalk. She almost objected on sheer principal to being carried, but then she noted the complete lack of wheelchair ramp so she resolved to be as graceful as she could about it.
Fortunately, Bogart was there and had her chair popped open before Stinger had to pass her off to someone else and he set her gently down.
“It’s no problem,” he assured, his grin fit to crack his face as Bogart started to push her forward.
He must really like fancy food, she grinned. So much for Stark’s nameless, faceless security goons.
Also. If even his security personnel were treated to a place like La Vie— Well, maybe working for baby Stark wouldn’t be so bad after all.
When they made it inside, Bogart pushed her right into a spot at Dr. Stark’s own table, right next to Sergeant Barnes. The chair for the spot was completely missing. Like she was expected. Like she belonged there.
She absolutely did not get choked up at the thought.
“Think you can handle seven courses?” Barnes leaned over to ask softly so as not to distract Stark and Hansen, amusement was twinkling in his eyes.
He grimaced beautifully—it was unfair, grimacing should not be beautiful—and admitted. “Super Soldier metabolism. Seven courses might not be enough.”
Huh. She hadn’t even thought of that but if his body was fueling him and whatever serum enhancements he had, it made a sort of sense. “Especially if they are those weird little courses fine dining is known for.”
His nose scrunched up, like an adorable little kitten. An adorable but very, very deadly little kitten, she reminded herself. Like a tiger cub.
“We might have to hit a drive thru on the way to the airport,” he sighed.
“Cheeseburgers are life,” she agreed and he laughed out loud.
Stark shot a look over at them—over at Barnes, specifically—that was so stupidly in love that she started thinking in silly romantic terms. Like soulmates and they belong together. The pleased grin Barnes shot back at Stark was just as bad.
“Maybe I’ll start rating meals by how many cheeseburgers it takes to fill me up after,” he told her softly, and it was her turn to laugh out loud.
“You’ll need to do a survey of cheeseburgers first, sir,” Bishop offered from her left. “Find out which are most filling.”
“Make a full Cheeseburger Scale,” Barnes nodded like this was sage advice.
“Two McDonald’s cheeseburgers are worth one Burger King, sort of thing,” she added and both men snickered with her.
“Sounds like science to me,” Barnes smirked.
“Dr. Stark would agree and approve,” Bishop said in a weird sort of deadpan. “As long as you properly document it.”
“I am not making a video log of me eating a stack of cheeseburgers.”
“So, write it down. Just because Dr. Stark prefers video documentation doesn’t make that your only option.”
“Sounds like a bonding opportunity for you and, uh, Eric? Is that his name?” she asked. “Tony’s son?”
“Yeah, Eric Stark is his name now. He was born N’Jadaka, son of Prince N’Jobu of Wakanda. Been bounced around a bunch, poor kid.” Barnes shook his head. “But, you know, that’s a good idea. If Stark Solutions CEO is too much for you, you should work with me on Stark Family Security. Bishop’s been handling hiring for the Cherries—that’s what the team calls itself, long story—but with the way the family’s expanding I should probably get my own assistant to handle it.”
“What if you promote from within?” she offered instead. “It would probably easier and better to have someone that’s already aware of the team’s needs fill the gaps than to have to train someone to do the job and then them still not really get it, isn’t it?”
Barnes abruptly turned to Dr. Stark. “You better make this work with her. She’s too brilliant to let the competition take her.”
“Uh, okay?” Dr. Stark blinked. “I mean, that’s the plan? Well, one of many of them.”
“Tony has many plans,” Sergeant Barnes told her conspiratorially.
Bishop smirked from her other side. “All the plans.”
“Good to see you again, Tony,” Magneto said pleasantly, like he hasn’t been lounging around the house for two hours with no explanation as to why he absolutely had to be there while Tony and Yasha had therapy sessions with his lover.
“You as well, Mr. Lehnsherr.”
“Erik, please,” he said as he took the seat across from Yasha, putting Storm in front of Tony, but Xavier—thankfully, because therapy—out of both of their direct view. “How goes The Finding of Captain America?”
“Fairly well. We’ve located a ship that should get us within a decent distance and Coulson is working his way through the purchase process.”
“We’re going to have to remodel it,” Yasha contributed as he allowed a plate to be set in front of him, “because there is absolutely no way we’re going to put Mrs. Stark on anything as utilitarian as a retired icebreaker.”
“Thank you, my dear,” his mom smiled before turning back to her conversation with Rajiv Bachchan. About roses and greenhouses, if Tony wasn’t mistaken. It made sense, considering the guy’s mutation. Plants were totally his thing.
Yasha just nodded, still unable to speak directly to the woman he had killed in a former life.
“The ship is currently in Anchorage, Alaska,” Bishop added from Tony’s right. “Do we need to bring it back here for outfitting?”
“No, Alaska is better, actually.” At the confused looks he rolled his eyes. “Ice floating in water moves. Because tides and flows and stuff. It doesn’t move as fast in the Arctic as it does in the Antarctic because the Arctic is water surrounded by land while the Antarctic is land surrounded by water, but it does move.
“I’ve had a research team up there for five months now. They’ll probably stay up there another year because they’re crazy and they actually like it but they got me what I needed to make a preliminary model of how the ice moves. Based on the estimates of where he went down and the speed and direction of the ice in the years since, my calculations indicate that Alaska would be a better port to start our expedition from than New York even though he crashed on his way here from Austria.”
“So, there’s no reason to drag the ship all the way here, outfit it, and then drag it all the way back,” Yasha concluded.
Tony smiled, “Exactly. Someone will need to stay out there to manage the remodel though.”
“Duke will love that,” Yasha grinned. “Did you want one helipad, or two?”
“That depends on you, actually,” he said, turning back to Erik. “Can you do non-ferrous metals, or only ferrous?”
Xavier frowned over at his lover and Erik very carefully didn’t meet his eyes. “I admit I was more adept in my youth, but I can manage non-ferrous as well as ferrous metals.”
“Just moving them or can you detect them too?”
“Detection is possible but my range is much smaller with non-ferrous metals.”
“How about weight limits?”
Magneto narrowed his eyes, “Why do you ask?”
“Because. If my model is right, the Valkyrie is too close to the edge of the ice to risk taking in a bunch heavy of equipment up there to dig her out. As it is, we’ll have to park the boat at least two miles away to keep any ice that might break off due to our shenanigans from causing problems for the boat. No one wants to be stranded because we accidentally capsized our ride home.
“I was hoping that, if I got you close enough, you could detect the Valkyrie and perhaps lift her out of the ice. Put her somewhere we could explore her at least long enough to get him out.”
Magneto thought about that for a few moments.
“You would, of course, be compensated,” Yasha added. “And, go down in history as the man that rescued Captain America.”
“Playing to my ego will get you everywhere,” Erik rolled his eyes. “I’ll need to know what I’m looking for. Any records you have on the Valkyrie would help. I know what Vibranium feels like after our little adventure in Wakanda, but his shield is so miniscule compared to the entirety of the Arctic, I may very well miss it.”
“I can do you one better,” Howard promised, leaning forward from his spot at the head of the table. “How would you like hull samples? Of both the Valkyrie and of the suicide bomber drones she carried.”
“You have that?” Tony asked, surprised.
“Of course. Soon as Cap went down, I took everything I could from the Valkyrie Base, hoping something there would help me find him. Hell, I own Valkyrie Base now, if you want a tour. It’s still historically accurate. For the most part.”
“I wouldn’t say no,” Magneto inclined his head. “But studying the armor samples at the very least would be a good idea. And any samples of the interior support structures, if you have them.”
“I’ll even let you take them home with you,” his dad promised.
“Having a mutant save Captain America would be a great idea, really. Even if there was another way to do it,” Yasha’s nephew, Abraham Roth offered. “Uncle Buck dealt the Mutant Registration Act a serious blow during his interview back in December—”
“An interview that is still running on the television at least once a month,” his not-quite husband Rajiv Bachchan added.
“—Compound that with a mutant saving Captain America,” Roth smirked. “With the way the government has been making a big deal of the Captain for fifty freaking years, and hating mutants will be equated with treason like that,” he snapped his fingers. “The Registration Act will become political suicide practically overnight.”
“We’d have to show it off, though,” Bishop countered. “Interviews, another TV special, announce it all in the papers, but I was under the impression we wanted to keep his return private? Assuming we find him. Assuming he’s alive.”
“If I can survive being flash frozen repeatedly for over fifty years,” Yasha countered with a smirk because he obviously had survived, “Stevie’s definitely alive. Get him out, get him warm, feed him enough food for an army for a month. He’ll be fine.”
“I’ll be sure we start baking the moment you get him home, sir,” Ana Jarvis offered from the end of the table.
Her husband popped back into his seat after his most recent trip to check on the kitchen. He looked back and forth between them then tilted his head at Tony’s dad. “Should we consider installing a third stove?”
Yasha laughed. “Nah. You can use the kitchen in the guard house if you need it. I’m sure Esmer would help split the cooking load.”
“If only to keep us out of her kitchen,” Jarvis agreed with a small smile.
“Today was your day at AIM, wasn’t it?” his dad asked, leaning forward. “How was that?”
“Gross,” was Tony’s immediate verdict.
Yasha nodded. “Killian Aldridge is a sleazy, homophobic asshole that I’d rather punch in the face than look at.”
“Think you could punch your hand though his face?” Tony asked with interest.
“Which one? The metal one, definitely. The flesh one, I might break some of my bones, but probably.”
“Boys,” his mom tutted, and Yasha immediately looked contrite.
Tony just grinned. “It was fun to meet Flavio Lachance. La Vie is amazing. Why it’s in Rhode Island, I have no idea, but you have to try it sometime.”
“I’ve been thinking about visiting but I wasn’t sure the trip was worth it,” his mom said, tapping a finger on her chin thoughtfully. “I’ll have my assistant, Rupert, give him a call. Maybe I can arrange a girl’s day after the twins are born.”
“Do you know their genders?” Dr. McCoy—Beast, not Bones—asked with obvious interest. “Have you picked out names?”
“We do and we have.” She glanced at his father and smiled when he nodded his permission. “We’re having twin girls, and we’ve picked the names Jamie Renee and Stephanie Adele.”
“James and Steven,” someone breathed, but Tony was too focused on Yasha to care who.
The man had gone pale and still in his seat. Tony couldn’t even tell if he was breathing, so he took his hand and squeezed it to remind Yasha that he was not alone.
“If that’s alright,” his mom asked cautiously, looking worriedly at Yasha.
“Yeah,” he croaked, cleared his throat, and tried again. “Yes, it’s fine. I, uh, I’m honored.”
“You’d have been honored sooner if I hadn’t put my foot down last time,” she said tartly and flicked her eyes at his father in a show of exasperation. “Someone wanted to name Tony ‘Steven James’ rather than name our firstborn properly after our fathers. Can you believe that?”
Yasha laughed and it was more than a little nervous but he relaxed when the table laughed with him.
Howard rolled his eyes heartily at all of them. “AIM? Did you find anything of use?”
“Found my CEO for Stark Solutions,” Tony allowed. “Pepper Potts, she’s a spitfire. Bogart and Stinger are flying in with her, and I’m going to put her up at Dottie’s for a month while she decides if she wants to guard my toy box or not.”
“You think she’ll be able to walk away after a month?”
Tony snorted because if he knew Pepper at all she was going to jump on the challenge with two feet and then tear apart anyone that tried to take it from her. Partially to prove that Yes, Women Can, and partially for the chance to run the Aldridges into the ground.
Spite was a surprisingly strong motivator in such a pacifistic woman. And, once she realized how many people she could cordially fuck up as his CEO, she was going to be all over it.
If she hadn’t figured all of that out yet, she would realize it before the end of the first week.
Dinner passed quickly with all the different personalities and interests in play.
Abraham Roth and Rajiv Bachchan were a lovely couple. A fascinating mix of quiet and cutting, insightful and naive, with a hefty dose of pure caretaker that made it obvious why Xavier trusted them to foster mutant kids too young to enter the X-Men Academy.
Storm was beautiful and watchful with a sparkling wit that struck like her favored lightning and she brought out a gruff attentiveness in Wolverine that was fascinating on several levels.
She also clearly adored Wolverine’s daughter Laura, which was all to the good in Tony’s opinion.
The two not-quite Avengers, Clint and May, were quiet and sat very close to each other but they kept Eric and Darcy well occupied the entire meal. Tony tried not to pout about the betrayal of his kids choosing to sit with their new Aunt and Uncle rather than him and Yasha, but the amused looks Yasha kept shooting him told him very clearly that he wasn’t any good at it.
But bedtime came quickly and soon the non-combatants were out of the way so the tactical meeting could begin.
Tony stood beside Yasha’s chair as Bishop handed out copies of the files Laura had brought with her. “What we’re discussing today is way beyond Top Secret and technically a little illegal. Normally, this is a case that would be handled by SHIELD. However, SHIELD is currently compromised by the same agency that’s running the shitshow we’re going to fuck up, so, understandably they’re staying out of it.”
“Is Madame Carter not the Director of this SHIELD?” Magneto asked, opening his folder to Laura’s profile page.
“I am,” Aunt Peg confirmed. “Howard is as well, technically, and Colonel Fury is a SHIELD Agent. We are working to rid SHIELD of its contamination. We all support this mission and will do what we can to aid you without compromising it.”
“Why don’t you tell us what the mission is?” Storm had not yet opened her file while beside her Beast was actively writing all over his copy.
“Alkali-Transigen is a company supposedly doing medical research. And it’s true, they are, but their research is mostly about suppressing the X-gene when they’re supposed to be curing childhood cancer.” Tony explained. “But also, on a deeper level, they are creating an… Army? It’s not that large but it won’t really need to be. It’s a strike team, I suppose, of powerful mutants for Hydra’s use.”
“Creating?” she asked doubtfully.
“Yup. With DNA stolen from every mutant in this room—and several outside of it—and some terrifyingly advanced artificial reproductive techniques.”
Storm stared at him, silently willing him to admit it was a joke but he couldn’t, so he shrugged. “Two of them are yours. Daughters. Hydra apparently has advanced genetic manipulation techniques and tried to make your gifts more powerful in your girls. They failed, but kept those two alive anyway because the abilities they ended up with are still useful, I think.
“Rajiv’s got three biological kids in the bunch. Same with Magneto. Three kids, but only one perfect copy of his gifts, and she’s a girl. Like Logan’s girl Laura.”
“Laura’s mutation is not exactly like Logan’s,” Storm objected.
“No, but that’s because she’s female,” Xavier spoke up. “In a pride of lions, the female is the hunter and the carrier. The front claws are for hunting, the back claws, her foot claws, are for defense.”
“She effective with them,” Logan grumbled. “That’s all that matters.”
“The fact that they are bio-metal her body generates, rather than Adamantium, which would poison and eventually kill her, is kind of important, too,” Tony countered.
Logan conceded the point with a nod.
“You want her to go with you?” Xavier asked them accusingly.
“The kids are strong and conditioned to be dangerous,” Logan told the man before Tony had to. “They’re going to need someone they know before they even pretend to trust us. Much less leave the only home they’ve ever known with us.”
Tony hated it—like, a lot, because she was fucking six years old—but he agreed. “Besides, do you think for a hot second one of Logan’s get is going to allow us to leave her behind? I’ll remind you she had the solid brass balls to crawl into a traveling circus’s lion trailer and slept with the pride for who knows how long before they found her, and she decided to adopt Hawkeye. The girl will find a way.”
“And what do you need from us?” Xavier asked with a frown.
“If you’d be willing to do your thing and see if you can find the location, that would be great. I don’t know if it would be better for you to see if you can find the location in her mind or if you want to Cerebro it up? Try to find it on your own?”
“Cerebro would be less invasive for her,” Charles decided. “I shall attempt that first.”
“Starting tomorrow,” Magneto declared with a glare at his lover.
“Pretty sure if they were in immediate danger, Xavier would have picked it up already.” Tony just shrugged when they both looked at him. “You can’t raise an effective telepath surrounded by that metal Lehnsherr has in his helmet, and they’ve got three telepathic kids, so they’ve got to be relying on other means to remain undetected. Most likely, that method is the kids not knowing any better. It would, theoretically, prevent them from projecting distress, but if Hydra started being truly heinous to the kids, that plan will fall apart quickly.”
“That is not comforting,” Yasha frowned.
“It’s not meant to be. This is Hydra,” Tony shrugged again. “Nothing about them is comforting.”
“Except their fiery death,” Yasha’s grin was blood thirsty, but that was okay. Tony’s was too.
“And the children?” Storm asked. “After we free them?”
“If the conditioning took—which I have to say is unlikely, considering we’re pretty sure Laura’s didn’t take outside of her combat training—we deal with it. After that, biological parents get first say. Though I would hope you would talk to your kids about what they want. Then we look into fostering options.”
“I do have to say, we cannot promise to take any children their parents can’t keep,” Rajiv spokes up, his voice gentle but firm. “My twin sisters are powerful empaths and our home is their sanctuary. We have to be wary about introducing them to combative youngsters. They have to be the final voice on who is welcome in our home.”
“Fair.” Tony glanced up to the spot that every single one of his Avengers glanced at but had said nothing about on their way into the study. “Laura, why don’t you come down now?”
There was a small huff and all four of his Avengers laughed. Then a small body coalesced from the shadows above one of the bookshelves and she dropped to the floor. “Dr. Stark.”
“Tony, kid. We’ve talked about this.”
She frowned at him but nodded.
“Why don’t you take a seat and tell us about your pack?” He held up a hand before she could object. “Whatever you’re willing to tell us.”
“There are twenty-six of us,” she said in a soft, lilting accent that told anyone that didn’t already know that English was not her preference. “Richard, he prefers Rictor, is in charge among us. Viktor, he’s the smartest of us but does not enjoy the responsibility, and Rictor is the most powerful.
“We are kept inside all day. No sun, no dirt, no plants.
“Stepping outside when I escaped was… strange. I thought the sun was going to kill me. Night is better.”
Tony mentally made note of that, he had planned for a night extraction anyway but that was a very good reason to stick with his guns on that one.
“We have no mothers. No parents. Kindness, from the nurses, is discouraged. They think they have programmed us; kill codes, obedience codes. But every time one takes hold, Hoshi… does something. He calls it cutting the cord. It’s there, and we know what is expected of us when the words are said, but we have the choice to do it or not. And we can change our mind at any time even if we do decide to obey.
“There is one father with us, sometimes. He comes to visit his children. The Twins, Erica and Ford.”
“Creed,” Logan growled, to pretty much no one’s surprise.
“We’ll add him to the list of possible obstacles,” Tony glanced at Bishop who actually, physically, made a note. “What about Erica and Ford? Will they lose their minds if their father dies?”
Laura shrugged, “No se.”
“At the very least, make sure they don’t see him die, yeah?” he said to Logan who nodded.
“This is all very interesting,” Riion, the new head of his Biomechanics lab, freshly arrived from Wakanda, put in. “But why are we here?”
“Uh, well,” Tony blew a breath out of his mouth. “I mean, this is going to be the Avengers first big American mission. I need help coming up with ways to hide their most identifying features.”
“You don’t mean masks,” Riion’s betrothed Dr. CeeCee guessed.
“Well I mean that too, probably, but I was thinking Yasha’s arm, really. Pretty sure Storm, if she even wants to come?”
Storm silently raised an eyebrow at him and finally started looking at the contents of her folder.
“Pretty sure Storm can get away with the really cool hair and no mask because that lightning eyes thing she does is, like, piss your pants terrifying—but a weather proof mask still might not be a bad idea. We don’t want anyone knowing and being able to prove the Starks are running a superhero flop house.”
“You want us to design superhero costumes,” Dr. CeeCee was smiling now, looking delighted.
“Pretty much. If anyone can give them all the possible tech advantages without bogging them down, it’s you two. Well, you two and me, of course.”
“I have ideas for hiding the arm.” Riion leaned forward with an amused look, “Tell me, Sergeant, how do you feel about white fur sleeves?”
Yasha glared, justifiably distrusting the look Riion was wearing. “If my helmet is shaped like a wolf’s head, I’m not wearing it.”
Tony grinned because oh, he was totally wearing it.
“What are you thinking about?” Erik asked as he returned from the en suite.
His lover was stationed at the table off to one side of the sitting room in their usual guest room at Stark Manor. The file Stark’s assistant had given him was open and there were four child profiles on the table before him. It was pretty obvious what he was thinking about, but their relationship survived because they had rules about talking things out, and he was not going to be the first to break them.
“I never wanted children,” Charles admitted eventually. “It was never my plan. I had a lonely childhood and, especially once we started the school, I knew I would never have the time to be a proper parent.”
“And yet, here they are,” Erik filled in because he knew. He felt exactly the same.
Charles shook his head, with an almost helpless look on his face. “Here they are. I regret for them, the lives they’ve led. The lives that they were born into.”
“They’re well fed and well-educated,” he countered. “They’re smarter than we are.”
“They’re in a cage, Erik. And they might not even know it.”
He shook his head. Ah, Charles. “Oh, they know it. Why else would they have sent out a forward scout?”
“You think they planned Laura’s escape? All of them? Together?”
“They’ve created three Wolverine kits, Hydra has, but only the last made a break for it. Why? What changed?”
Charles frowned and pulled Laura’s extended profile from the pile. “Logan 2—such an original name—was the first of any of the children they made. He had a psychotic break and they killed him.
“Logan 3, this time named Laurence, went into feral mode during combat training.”
Erik’s lips twisted into a frown. “As we know, once in feral mode, Logan only stops when there are no more targets.”
“Right, so they had to kill him to stop him.
“Then with Logan 4, they tried something different. Made the child female.” Charles shook his head. “Ah, yes, you’re right. They made her female and ensured she bonded to the other children.”
“There’s no way Logan would leave his team behind. Not unless he was made to,” Erik reminded him. They had both seen that behavior in their tiny clawed dynamo.
“Unless it was necessary and they intended to come after her, I agree.” Charles sighed. “She would never leave them behind. She’s a forward scout, like you guessed. And I’m sure Stark has guessed this, too.”
“What are we going to do with them? When we get them.” Because they were going to get them. Tony Stark would not allow another outcome and he had all the resources he needed to back this bet.
Surprisingly, Magneto found himself actually believing in the skinny little human bastard.
“I would like to get to know our children but I don’t know that they would be willing to be separated from the pack,” Charles admitted eventually. “It’s probably best if we talk it out with them when we get them. All of the adults and all of the children.”
“Most of them will be old enough to go to the School in the Fall semester,” he pointed out.
Charles frowned. “You’re the one that said they are already well-educated.”
“School is not just about book knowledge, Charles,” he countered. “It’s about socialization as well. They’ll need to learn to deal with people outside of their little pack if they are going to have any sort of fulfilling future.”
“That’s— That’s a good point, actually.”
Erik frowned at his hesitation but it was a playful frown for the most part. “So, we offer them a split option. They can get to know their parents or adoptive families over the summer and then be reunited with each other at school in the fall.”
“Except for the ones nowhere near ten years old, and therefore won’t be allowed to attend.”
Erik nodded because there was nothing for it. Unless they made exceptions, which Charles was unlikely to do, at least for the ones under nine. Then he smirked. “Am I the only one amused that Logan and Raven’s children are the ones giving Hydra the most trouble?”
“Not at all,” Charles laughed. “It’s not really a surprise, either. Though the lack of notes on Raven’s previous children make me wonder if her DNA managed to make baseline children and if that’s why they were killed.”
“Either that or they managed to make fools of Hydra in some way, you know both Logan and Raven have no tolerance for such things. And the first one definitely got old enough to make his escape, especially since they all have been born with their mutations active.”
“The four after that didn’t even make it to a year.”
“So probably baseline humans,” he frowned. It wasn’t a nice thought. Couldn’t they have given perfectly healthy children up for adoption? All they had to do was abandon them at a hospital and let the state do the rest. Why kill them? Why was that necessary?
Because Hydra, probably.
“Her gift is so strong, though.”
“You of all people should know it takes both parents DNA to make a child. Otherwise, it’s just cloning.” Erik shook his head. “I want to know how they got so much of our DNA. Enough to make six of Raven’s children, three of mine, three of Logan’s, three of Rajiv’s.”
“I’m sure Stark will find that information in the facility. But we can always ask. Make sure he thinks to get it, since you’re concerned.”
“You’re not going?”
“I hadn’t planned on it. A cripple in a wheelchair isn’t much use in tactical situations. If you need me, I’ll hear you and help as much as I can, of course, but I was going to work with Coulson on temporary housing for the Pack. Somewhere we can all talk it all out and come to decisions.”
He hated it when Charles called himself a cripple. There was nothing crippled about him. So, he couldn’t walk, so what? He contributed more to society than any dozen walking people that did!
That was probably the real reason why his next words were over sharp. “And are Raven and Viktor and the others going to be invited to this place to meet their children?”
“Viktor knows his children and he’s left them where they are despite the abusive conditions. He’s voided his rights as a parent. Besides, Logan will kill Viktor the moment he sees him.” And, wow. Now Charles sounded more than a little bitter. “His new team would jump in and help him get it done, without question.”
“He won’t stand a chance against Wolverine and the Winter Soldier,” Erik gave a rather mean chuckle. “And what about Raven?”
“I don’t know where she is.”
Erik scoffed at that. Charles has always known where all of his people were. Even when they didn’t want him to. Maybe especially when they didn’t want him to.
“She made her feelings clear. About us and about children.”
“It’s different when they’re your own,” he tried.
“It’s different when they so clearly need you.”
Charles turned his whole self, chair and all, away. And, well, that was a clear enough statement.
“She’s going to skin you alive when she finds out you kept this from her. And I will say ‘I told you so’ the entire time.”
Charles glared up at him. “Talking about telling people things, you never told me you could do non-ferrous metals.”
“A man is entitled to some secrets,” he countered and turned to Charles’ suitcase. “Do you want your pajamas or do you plan to sleep in those trousers?”
The sound of the suitcase unzipping made him jerk back from it. The lid flipped open under an invisible hand and Charles’ pajamas wiggled their way to the top of the pile. Once stacked, they sailed through the air to settle on Charles’ lap like a pet eager for his attention.
Eric just raised an eyebrow at his lover, “I guess I’m not the only one with secrets.”
“What’s wrong?” Yasha asked as he leaned in the doorway of their private study.
Tony looked up at him and gave him a frown just because. “You really don’t like the wolf’s head helmet?”
Yasha laughed, “I mean, it works with the name, but I’m not wearing white fur sleeves. Or white fur pants. And I don’t want white fur on the helmet, either. I mean it can look like there’s fur, that’s fine. Aesthetic, or whatever. But can you imagine actually having to clean the blood out of that much fur?”
Tony leaned back on the couch as he considered that. “People would eventually notice us ordering enough white faux fur to replace it all the time and then the jig would be up.”
“Ya think?” Yasha rolled his eyes, but his grin softened the whole thing and he moved closer. “But, really, what’s wrong?”
Tony took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. “Wanda and Pietro Maximoff.”
“Wanda and Pietro are the names of two of Magneto’s kids created by the Alkali-Transigen Project,” Yasha frowned. “What about them?”
“You remember the Scarlet Witch that fought on yours and Cap’s side at that airport?” Yasha was obviously confused but he nodded anyway. “That was Wanda. The same Wanda in the Alkali-Transigen thing. In our world, she and Pietro were twins. There, he was twelve minutes older than she was or something. Here, he’s like two and a half years older than her. And they’re like nine years older here than they were there.”
“They’re the ones that Hydra supposedly gave their powers?”
“Supposedly?” Now, it was Tony’s turn to frown. “I mean, that’s what all the documentation said.”
“Hydra documentation. I wouldn’t trust Hydra to report the color of the sky without checking for myself,” Yasha countered, flopping down on the couch beside Tony. “And by that, I mean checking at least three different locations around the planet, with separate, non-related witnesses to boot.”
“But there were pictures—”
“Pictures?” Yasha prodded. Like, physically, gave him a little poke.
“Well, there was one. In it, they were protesting the Sokovian government before they joined Hydra.”
“One picture? One?” Yasha scoffed. “Did they even look any younger? Was her hair shorter? Was his hair a different color?”
“I mean, it was smoky? I think? I only saw it once.” Not that that meant much, really, with perfect recall. Only, Yasha knew he had perfect visual recall and gave him a look that didn’t let him off the hook like most people would have. “His hair was darker. Their hair was the same color, actually. Pretty sure hers was up so I couldn’t tell you the length.”
“But they don’t look younger?”
“No but, I mean, an adult is an adult. You just look like an adult until your wear and tear catches up, right?”
“Could the photo have been faked?” Yasha finally asked directly. “The single photo that Hydra provided to mark them as loyal and proud Sokovians.”
“Of course. But nine years. That’s kind of a significant age difference.”
“Not for a mutant. Once they reach the age of maturity, aging slows down. We know this. Look at Erik and Charles, neither of them has any sort of healing factor and they have to be in their sixties, but they look mid-thirties. Forties for Magneto, maybe, but he did spend his formative years in a concentration camp, and that’s definitely the kind of thing that would leave a mark on anyone for life—even a mutant.”
“What about the whole getting their powers from the Mind Stone thing?”
“How did the Mind Stone make a guy able to run like that?” Yasha gave him a look brimming with disbelief. “I could see her powers coming from the Mind Stone. I can give you that. She basically changes a person’s reality and your reality is all in your mind, right? But running at those speeds takes some serious physical changes to survive once much less to be able to do it constantly. Your feet, your muscles, your organs. How did his brain even work at Mach 7 or whatever without special equipment?
“Nah, no way. Now. Maybe Hydra used the Mind Stone to convince them they wanted to work for Hydra to begin with. That I could believe.”
“You think Hydra incepted them or something?”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Comes from a movie, Inception? Should come out in 2009? 2010? I think? Somewhere in there. It’s about these people that use technology to go into other people’s dreams and steal their secrets. They can also use the tech to alter the target’s like internal truth. Which the main character does to his wife to get her out of limbo. He may or may not be crazy and making it all up, though. It’s a frustrating kind of open-ended deal.”
“Okay, sure, they used the Mind Stone to Inception them to work for Hydra.”
Tony shook his head. “Why though?”
“I proved their mind control methods leave an obvious mark. Hawkeye and probably Loki proved the scepter’s mind control was pretty easily broken. But… if you can convince someone that their cause is your cause? That’s not mind control. From their point of view, that’s not a foreign influence, so why would they give up on it? Would they give up on it? If it’s their cause, where would they stop? When would they stop? And why?”
“Death, probably, but what’s the mysterious cause?”
“They both hated you like the devil, didn’t they?” Yasha tilted his head. “I knew her for less than a day but I was treated to at least three rants about how evil you were. Controlling, manipulative. I think she called you poison a few times too.
“But you’re pretty much the founding member of the Avengers. The world’s first real superhero since Cap was on ice at the time and mostly a war gimmick anyway. You were Hydra’s Enemy Number One. Especially once they realized they would never get the suit from you. Tearing you apart would tear the Avengers apart and that was the only thing she wanted.”
“She was serving Hydra’s interests even when she was on the team,” Tony ran a hand over his face.
“She probably never even realized it.” Yasha looked defeated on Wanda’s—or maybe more on Tony’s—behalf. He finally took Tony’s hand and laced their fingers together so he was going to assume this is on his behalf. “And the team probably didn’t realize it either. If they even thought of it, a little red flicker and the thought would be gone forever. None of them had any way to protect themselves from her.”
“Except Vision,” Tony countered.
“He had the Mind Stone, though, right? Maybe there was some sort of, I don’t know, harmonic energies between them? Could that have been a thing?”
“Maybe? It’s not like we knew everything about how the Stone worked.” Tony tipped his head. “You know, their romance was really sudden. A two-day old Android and a girl that just lost both her brother and her country? She should have been mourning, not falling in love, right?”
“Rebound?” Yasha offered. “The so-called twins were weirdly close, right?”
“Ew,” was Tony’s conclusion, and Yasha just laughed. “So, how can we trust her now?”
“Where’s the Mind Stone?”
Tony shook his head and slumped into Yasha’s warmth. “No idea. It came to Earth in Loki’s scepter but we never asked where it came from. Never questioned him at all, really, after the Invasion. That was short sighted.”
“And at this point it doesn’t matter if Asgard of that timeline questioned him. Not for us anyway.”
“Nope,” Tony agreed.
“Can we talk about Cap really quick?”
“What about him?” Tony couldn’t help but feel weary.
“The Valkyrie was loaded with those suicide drone bombs, right? That’s what Howard said. And I remember at least one handler going on about how much better the world would have been if they had gone off.”
“You realize that would have been a world ending event, right?” Tony asked. “That many bombs, made from that material, at that size, going off in quick succession? Boston, New York, Chicago, and LA. The damage on both coasts would ripple across and through the seas. A sudden, violent nuclear winter would cover the planet for, what? Five years? Conservative estimate.
“How many people do you think would survive there being no food-growing season for five years? No sun, no going outside. For five years. Ten, maybe twenty.”
“Well, zealots aren’t exactly known for their clear thinking,” Yasha said, painfully amused.
“Yeah. So, solution?”
“We can’t let Hydra get the bombs. Period. Cannot let that happen. Even if it means leaving Stevie right where he is.”
“They already have Schmidt Tech, though.”
“Right, but bomb power cores are different than some tiny little gun clips that they can’t recharge anyway.” Tony conceded that with a nod. Yasha smiled softly and pulled him closer until Tony was half in his lap. “Can we take it and keep it safe?”
“Without SHIELD?” Tony shook his head. “Probably not. And I don’t want that shit in the house. I don’t want it anywhere on property at all. I’m curious. I am so, so curious about what we could do with it but we have no idea what that would do to the kids. Or mom’s pregnancy. And we have Cherries that could theoretically get pregnant at some point. It would just be wildly irresponsible to bring it here.”
“How do you feel about burying it?”
“Where?” Because that was an important factor.
“Up there. How deep is the water on the edge of where we’ll find him?”
“Like, 15,000 feet.”
“German U-boats had a crush depth of less than a thousand feet.”
“Like nine hundred something, yeah. And the Seawolf-class, modern attack subs that I’m pretty sure have been designed but won’t actually be commissioned for another five years, crushed well before three thousand.
“I see where you’re going with this but how are you going to do it?”
“Creative use of explosives,” Yasha gave him a wicked grin. “Fake an avalanche. Bye bye, Valkyrie.”
“And you can make sure the avalanche won’t hit us?” Yasha gave him another look but Tony was not backing down. “It’s a valid question.”
“Yeah,” he conceded. “I can do it. I’ll need to look at the glacier and pick where Mags parks the Valkyrie but I can do it.”
“So, we’ll need to bring Magneto in on the plan.”
“You think he’ll be opposed once he realizes the damage those bombs could do?”
“Yeah, no,” Tony laughed. “He’s pretty invested in that whole survival thing.”
“Probably wouldn’t be bad to bring Xavier in on it. So, we can communicate about it silently, securely. The last thing we want is someone getting a recording of us planning to bury the Valkyrie after we get Cap out.”
“Yeah. I can just see some asshole on Capitol Hill getting mad at us for destroying government property captured personally by Captain America.”
Yasha snorted. “They tried to do it with the Iron Man suit and there was no way to argue it was anything other than 100% yours.”
“Senator Stern was Hydra, though.”
“But he wasn’t alone on the committee,” Yasha countered. “They all had to make the decision to try to steal from you together to try and pull that shit they did. That’s pretty much the definition of a committee.”
“Fair,” Tony nodded. “I’m going to want to work out containment with my dad. He has the most experience with the Cube, really, and even if all that stuff is never making it off the plane, we definitely don’t want it leaking and damaging the environment we leave it in.”
“Could we justify containing it but not moving it before we go for Steve?”
Tony shook his head. “Nah. I’ll work on containing it while you work on getting him out?”
“Then when am I going to plant the explosives without it getting caught on tape?” And that was a good question. Steve was pretty much the only distraction they would have up there.
“That camera crew is going to be a pain in the ass.”
“At least get Christine again, she was great for my interview.”
“And it’s pretty much made her career,” and Tony wondered if that made them even. The Gulmira thing was never going happen again but that doesn’t stop him from owing her for bringing it to his attention the first time around. Not in his books, anyway.
“Carter,” he decided. “We’ll find him together, in a big group in front of the camera. You can storm off because PTSD or whatever when you see his face but actually go plant the bombs. I’ll tell them your therapist is on the ship so they won’t follow, because privacy. Then I’ll excuse myself to pack up the Hydra bombs and have either Aunt Peg or Dad handle Cap’s extraction.”
“It would make Howard’s everything forever to finally rescue Stevie, to actually be the one to pack him up for home.”
“And that’s Father’s Day covered for the rest of my life,” Tony joked.
Yasha gave him a smile. “You know this saving the world together stuff is kind hot.”
“It doing it for you?” Tony grinned.
“Definitely doing it for me.” Yasha pulled him properly into his lap, manhandling him until he was joyfully straddling his super soldier’s thighs and, damn. That was still so fucking hot. “You’re working this sneaky spy business like mad.”
“You just like my Slytherin-ness.”
Yasha just laughed. “Shut up and kiss me.”