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