Title: Remix #394
Author: Saydria Wolfe
Series: The BAST Chronicles
Series Order: 1
Genre: Fix-It, Time Travel
Relationships: Tony Stark/Bucky Barnes, Howard Stark/Maria Stark
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Canon-level Violence, Canon-level Science, Discussion – Torture, Discussion – Rape
Word Count: 52,966
Summary: After being murdered in a Siberian bunker by the Defective Soldiers that he had trained, Bucky Barnes had a choice. His choice could end the world, or save it.
“I am embarrassed,” Tony huffed as he plopped dramatically down in his seat. “This is embarrassing. Can you believe this? I can’t believe this. I should be on a beach in L.A., lazing my way through my last class until I can defend my third thesis. That was the plan. Go to Cali and never come back. But no. I’m here, in this, and this is embarrassing.”
“Flying international on a private plane is embarrassing?” one of the security guys, Phantom, asked, seemingly amused.
“A plane,” Tony emphasized. “We should be riding in style in a Quinjet. Plenty of space, park virtually anywhere, and fuck Customs. Seriously, Yasha, I want the first one off the production line.” He snapped his fingers once and pointed. “I see you rolling your eyes at me.”
“I’ve already talked to Howard,” Yasha assured him. “The first three after they get the kinks worked out will be for family use.”
“The kinks worked out!” Tony sat up, suddenly more offended.
“Of the production line.” Yasha held up his hands in a warding gesture. “The kinks out of the production line. We all know your designs are perfect.”
Tony nodded, reluctantly mollified. “As you should. Because my plans are perfect.”
“Right. You want to go over what we know about Wakanda one more time?”
“I guess we should,” Tony sighed.
Natasha settled in beside Yasha for the review and Logan lounged a row away, chewing on an unlit cigar and pretending not to listen. This new team was weird, not yet cohesive, but the Avengers of the future had never been all that cohesive either and Yasha’s leadership was markedly different from Cap’s. Tony didn’t think it would actually be a problem when they finally faced a threat together.
Natasha, though. She weirded him out.
Honestly, future-Natasha had weirded him out, too. She had infiltrated his company at the highest level and then used the trust and access to stab him in the neck. While it saved his life, the stabbing had made it very clear her loyalty was not to him at all. Not to Pepper either. And after all that he was just supposed to trust her as a team member without any apology or explanation?
This Natasha, though. She was almost thirty years younger, obviously, because math… but there was something disturbingly earnest and yet not quite open about her. Something sort of Stepford-ish.
Almost like a female Captain Do-Right with a flair for Russian Assassination Technique.
And then there was the fact that she just sort of appeared in his bedroom out of the blue one night, after midnight—which, creepy—and basically swore herself to him for life. She was practically on bended knee! Which, he had to say again, creepy.
He wondered if he was her Fury now. Would that make Yasha her new Clint? Or was Yasha her new Fury, and Tony just another fucking mark?
“Why don’t you take a nap?” the woman in question suggested. “You look a little—” she stopped.
“Like shit?” he prompted.
“You look tired,” Yasha corrected and then turned to her. “Darcy was not thrilled with us leaving. It was rough, I think I’ll nap too.”
Which was how Tony found himself tucked in on one of the couches with his personal space heater draping a cold metal arm around his middle. It would have been nice if their first cuddle wasn’t on a plane full of—well, mercenaries, basically—but watching Yasha try to be smooth about initiating cuddle time was just too hilarious for him to actually pass it up.
Nat woke them as promised, and while Tony tamed his hair, Yasha changed into full Winter Soldier mode. It was a newer get up, the materials were more comfortable and more bulletproof and stab-resistant than the honest to god leather he had worn before, but it was still intimidating as all hell.
Which was the point.
The rest of the security team, including Wolverine, was wearing black and gray camo. Black Widow was doing her famous personal assistant impression in a long black coat that almost looked like a dress, gray leggings, and high heeled boots, since they left Phil at home to watch over Darcy and the house.
Tony, of course, stuck out like a sore thumb in his bright blue suit, white shirt, and red tie.
“Why don’t you just paint ‘target’ on my head?” he muttered softly.
“You think we didn’t?” Nat asked in a tone that he wasn’t sure was joking or not.
See? This shit was why he had trust issues.
Yasha glared at her until she looked apologetic.
“It makes it easier for us to find you,” she explained, probably honestly. “And no one would believe you’re hiding body armor under that suit after seeing all of ours on display. Surprises like that will save your life.”
Yasha was the first one off the plane, carrying a prototype M4A1 with him like it was his Precious.
He’d shown a marked preference for the gun in the past so Tony got one rushed through Stark Industries R&D. It was sleeker than the ‘real’ thing from the future, better shaped with several of the other gun’s addons as basic features including laser sight, flashlight, and grenade launcher. Thoroughly Stark-ified but not so much Yasha didn’t recognize it for what it was.
His dad, predictably, had been thrilled with the design.
He was gone for approximately forever and when he returned, he made a series of hand signs Tony didn’t know the meaning of.
The Cherries did, obviously, as they leapt into action. Even the two pilots moved up to stand near Tony with their hands on their guns while Yasha silently took his arm.
Eight minutes later, Yasha was loading him into the back seat of an SUV between himself and Logan with Nat behind the wheel.
He pointed to one of the pilots, Chariot, and gestured to the passenger seat of their SUV. The guy looked surprised—probably too surprised? Tony wasn’t sure. He didn’t know the guy, really, which was weird.
He’d made an effort to make friends with the Cherries because if they were going to be close to Yasha, they were going to be close to him whether they liked it or not. The fact that he didn’t really know this one guy well enough to at least read him a little made him think that Yasha kept them apart for some reason. Tony frowned at the thought.
Three guys and the second pilot stayed behind to guard the plane, and their little three truck convoy took off down the coastal road.
They had arranged to meet an unknown emissary of Wakanda in a middle of nowhere coastal town. Though, from where Tony was sitting it looked more like a small city than a little town. The not-really high rises and obscured sight lines clearly made Yasha very unhappy.
“Too many places for a sniper,” he explained to Tony softly. Both Widow and Wolverine nodded their unhappy agreement.
“That’s what your undercover guys are for, right? Flow with the crowd? Find hidden stuff.”
“Phantom’s good,” Nat agreed, “but he’s the only one we brought.”
“We’ll need to hire more,” was Wolverine’s verdict.
“By the dozen,” Yasha agreed.
Their grim determination to protect him was almost amusing because he was a combatant too, dammit. But without the suit… he was really not. Even though he still had the nightmares, his combat experience didn’t count right now. He didn’t even have any way to pass off the hand-to-hand training he got in the future because he just didn’t have the time to learn it at this point in time.
“What time do you guys start training in the morning?” he asked suddenly.
Yasha raised both eyebrows at him. “Five.”
“AM? Every day?” Tony gasped, and Yasha just nodded. “That’s vile. How dare you.”
Chariot shot him a small smile over his shoulder.
“Are you thinking about doing some calisthenics?” Yasha asked all sly like.
“Maybe,” Tony rolled his eyes. “Maybe some hand-to-hand. I don’t want to be completely useless.”
“I don’t think you could be useless if you tried, but for that kind of thing, I’d rather you do private lessons. With me or May, preferably.”
“You don’t want people to know I can handle myself,” Tony guessed.
“That’s my preference, but if you disagree, I’m willing to discuss it.”
“No, no, you’re the security expert here,” he tapped his fingers on his lap in contemplation. “I’d prefer May, because you would be way too hot and distracting for me to learn anything from, but she’s the head of dad’s travel team, right? So, she’s not always available. What about Phil?”
“I don’t know Phil’s instructor experience. I’ll need to talk to him and get back to you.”
“Fair,” he agreed, and Nat parked them outside a small, clay building.
He was pretty sure it was supposed to be a cafe, just like he was pretty sure there should be more cars out front and that it had been purposely emptied. Especially considering the matched pair of Dora Milaje guarding the door.
“Five may enter,” Door Right said in English once Tony was stopped a Yasha-length away from her.
“You first,” Yasha ordered Chariot.
Widow and Wolverine followed him and Yasha in, of course.
Waiting for them against the back wall was Queen Ramonda herself, flanked by two more Dora Milaje.
“Greet your Queen,” Yasha ordered Chariot in Xhosa.
The man paled but continued forward alone as ordered. He did the cross-armed salute thing and then did something with his face that Tony couldn’t see.
Queen Ramonda welcomed him and a Dora appeared from the back to escort him away.
So that was why Yasha kept him away from Tony, he realized. The guy was a spy.
Still, he should have been kept in the loop. He was supposedly the intelligence/strategy guy. He couldn’t make a strategy for things he didn’t know about.
“Tony Stark,” she greeted, holding out her hands in loose little fists.
“Queen Ramonda,” he returned and he wasn’t really sure what to do here. They had been more or less expecting one of the purple priest people or maybe a high-ranking Dora, not the Queen.
So, he did what he would do if she were Pepper. Or if he were greeting his mom in a public place. He took her right hand and placed a quick, dry kiss on her knuckles because while she was a queen and he did respect her but she wasn’t his queen and that line needed to be drawn.
“I understand you are reaching out to us in friendship,” she said in English accented just like T’Challa’s had been but softer, more feminine. “And yet we know your father already.”
“I honor my father but I am my own man,” he told her as they moved to sit at the table she had abandoned. “I walk my own path and make my own friends.”
She nodded, looking pleased. “And what is your offering of friendship?”
“Our second offering—”
“Second offering?” she asked sharply.
“We returned your spy to you. In one piece and with nothing but more combat training.” He raised an eyebrow. “Spying on people is not very friendly, you know.”
One corner of her mouth quirked up in something that could almost be called a smile and she gestured for him to continue.
“As for our second offering,” he glanced at Nat and she placed a briefcase on the table in front of him. “Have you heard of Ulysses Klaue? Professional Ruffian and wannabe arms dealer. General ne’er do well. Major hate on for Wakanda because his great granddaddy or something was killed by a Black Panther.”
“I would hope so,” she answered drolly, raising an eyebrow. “Since he tried to kill my husband this past May.”
“Right,” he nodded and pulled a folder from his briefcase. “As you know, when we got Bucky-bear over there back, we got a lot of Hydra intel in the mix. That’s how we found out they were manipulating Klaue into attacking Wakanda. Not a big deal on the surface, you guys are so isolationist you have to have some pretty major border protection to maintain it.
“Except?” she prompted.
“Except someone has leaked him actual maps of Wakanda. I mean, you can find fake ones all over the place on the black market, but most of those don’t even have Wakanda’s shape right much less detailed topography, guard schedules, and high-level passwords.”
“What,” she said with a measured sort of calm, and he passed her the folder. Her face turned to stone as she looked over the top few pages which told him that, yeah, these were the real deal.
“We’ve traced the source of the maps to a man named Alexander Stevens in Oakland, California.” He pulled another file and handed that to her. “Single father, wife in jail. Not sure where he came from. Pretty sure he went to Cambridge—facial recognition technology, while new, is amazing—but how did that man end up unemployed in Oakland?”
“You said Klaue is being manipulated by Hydra? Why?”
Actual question or attempt at misdirection? Tony wasn’t sure so he shrugged. “There seems to be a lot of the ‘expose them and we can kill them’ school of thought going around but I’m sure Hydra wants as much Vibranium as they can get. Whether it’s for science or to make Bucky-bear here a shield because irony, I don’t know.”
“You have uses for Vibranium too,” she accused.
“Doesn’t everyone?” he countered. “It’s literally a miracle metal. It could save my friend’s lives, of course I want it.
“But I’m just as interested in scientists. You might have heard from your friend that I’m starting a bit of a think tank. Top of the line facilities, best pay and benefits in the field. I’ll even throw in housing. The things we have to study are amazing, absolutely cutting edge, and will do great things for the lives of people across the planet.”
“So, you want our metal and our scientists.”
“I want to help my friends in Wakanda protect their people,” Tony corrected. “I help with your long-term goals, you help with mine. That’s friendship, isn’t it? And it’s not like I’m going to kidnap and keep your scientists against their will. If any are interested, they’re welcome in my company. If not, that’s fine too.”
“Can I have an example of what your company will be studying?”
“Well,” he paused to think of what would be enough to entice without utterly revealing his plans. “I have access to the world’s only living super soldier and while I would never consider him a test subject, he has agreed to allow us blood and tissue samples for study, see what diseases we can cure.”
Queen Ramonda sat back abruptly and huffed. “I think I’m jealous. My doctorate is in Biochemistry. The list of things Dr. Erskine’s formula cured for Captain Rogers…” she trailed off and shook her head.
“Is longer than my arm, yeah. I’d invite you to play but I’m pretty sure your husband would strenuously object.”
“If he didn’t, my children would,” she shook her head ruefully. “Now, tell me about yourself, young Stark.”
Yasha turned away from the table with a significant look Natasha’s way. She nodded like she was listening to the conversation but he knew that nod in particular was for him, acknowledging his silent order.
Logan joined him as he moved to the door. “Skin on your neck crawling?”
“Yup,” Yasha tapped his ear wig, “All teams, report in.”
“Plane team, we are refueled and secure. Pilot’s down for five.”
“Exterior team, all’s quiet. Locals are giving us a wide berth but they don’t look spooked.”
“Phantom?” he prompted after an extended moment of silence. “Got anything?”
“No, sir,” and Yasha could hear the smile in his voice. Probably chatting up a local. “Not right now.”
“Alright. Stay alert, everyone. Something’s not right.”
He glanced over to where Tony was talking with a queen like they were old friends. He wasn’t sure Tony’s reading that situation right. But he wasn’t sure he was reading it wrong, either. It wasn’t like he had a lot of context for this kind of thing.
He was still missing context for most non-combat things, really.
Tony stood up and turned toward him.
Yasha immediately headed over, “Everything alright?”
“Oh, yeah,” Tony nodded, his smile was breezy and pleased. “She needs to deliberate and contact King T’Chaka, so we’re going to call it a night. We have rooms in town, right?”
“We rented a house,” Yasha answered. “More secure, better view.”
“Perfect. Shall we?”
“Do you need to say goodbye?”
Tony pointed at him and spun around on his heel.
The albino Dora that heretofore hadn’t strayed far from the Queen’s left hand approached him. “Your red-haired assistant has been provided a method of contact,” she advised him. “If more information to support your case is located, use it.”
Yasha raised an eyebrow at her, “Don’t you mean Tony’s assistant?”
And the woman just looked amused.
The Dora outside opened the door as their respective charges headed for it. Yasha, Nat, and Logan stepped out first. Tony followed, then he stopped in the doorway and turned to shake the Queen’s hand one more time.
“Sarge!” Phantom’s voice shouted over the comm and Logan leapt, claws out. The Doras shouted, looking at Logan as he flew toward Tony and Queen Ramonda. The Cherries pulled weapons and turned to face outward.
A shot rang out and Logan’s body jerked.
Yasha was already turning, tracking the path of the bullet as a second shot rang out.
“Stay!” he ordered Tony as he took off after the shooter.
“Go!” shouted one of the Dora.
Nat and the albino Dora took off after him.
The shooter was quick and not alone. Either two or three spotters, he couldn’t tell from the ground.
“Jump!” the Dora ordered him. He glanced back to see her hand curled into something like a claw.
He couldn’t make the three levels up their quarry was keeping to, but he could probably make that second story balcony coming up so he gathered himself and aimed for it. Once his feet were in the air, he heard a shout from the Dora and suddenly he was weightless. Suddenly gravity and wind resistance were things that happened to other people, and he was flying higher and further than intended. He sailed right past the balcony to float over the roof.
Then gravity reasserted itself and he landed hard. Rolling to reduce the impact, he was back on his feet once again chasing the shooter, now on the third level.
Now, he could see who he was dealing with.
He watched as Ulysses Klaue—huffing and puffing as he strained to keep pace with Josef and Sofia—shoved his rifle into Anton’s hands. Ulysses Klaue. With three of Hydra’s Death Squad.
So much for him just being influenced by Hydra.
There was a crunch and Nat landed behind him. Two roofs later the Dora landed in front of their quarry.
“Do something,” Klaue ordered, spittle flying.
The Defective Soldiers didn’t so much as look at each other, they didn’t even pause to communicate. Josef attacked the Dora while Anton and Sofia turned on him and Nat.
The Defective weren’t super soldiers, not in this lifetime, but they were trained by one. Trained specifically by him and they were very dedicated students. They were fast and they were brutal and it was only two minutes before he heard Josef shout, “Come on!”
He risked a glance to find the Dora down, bleeding from her head, as Josef and Klaue jumped off the side of the building.
With barely a glance at Natasha, they changed dance partners. He broke Sofia’s back with two full-power punches from his bionic arm. At the same time, Natasha mounted Anton’s shoulders in a confusing flurry of movement. She rode his broken-necked corpse down to the ground and they rushed together to the edge of the roof.
Josef started a speed boat in one huge pull and they were gone. The pier had no other boats. Water didn’t hold trails.
Klaue grinned and waved sarcastically back at them as they disappeared.
“Блядь,” Nat snarled, but otherwise showed no temper.
“You got something to take their heads?” he asked, looking curiously over at her.
“No,” Nat drawled, turning to study their opponents, “They enhanced?”
“Can we risk it?” because Hydra specialized in Fucked Up Science. If they left these bodies intact, well, it wouldn’t be the first time those wackos had brought someone back from the dead.
“Our friend in red dropped a blade.”
“You check her. I’ll finish them,” he ordered and Nat just went. It was nice, having cooperative minions rather than being the non-consensually cooperative minion.
He scooped up the blade and cut off Anton’s head first, letting Sofia watch because of his rather atrophied vindictive steak. Hydra deserved to see their deaths coming for them. As far as he was concerned, they’d fucking earned it.
“Cолдат,” she gasped, looking up at him with pleading eyes.
“До свидания,” he returned the last words he heard in his last life to the person that served them to him with a cold-hearted glee and brought the sword down.
Tony stared in the direction Yasha took off, surprised at how numb he was feeling.
Someone shot at him.
The last time someone shot at him without him having his suit was… Afghanistan. This almost felt like that. Like waking up in the cave connected to a car battery, but somehow Yasha had run off to take his place in the cave and he was just watching the horror. Disembodied and floating.
Except, realistically, he couldn’t see anything that was going on with Yasha. He had no idea what was going on out there, which just made it worse.
“Boss man,” Morales gripped his shoulder. “We need to check you for injuries.”
“We don’t have a doctor,” slipped out of his mouth without permission from his brain. He’d gotten better about that, he’d had to because time travel, but it was also true so he didn’t try to take it back.
No doctors hadn’t seemed like an oversight before. The Avengers never utilized medics in the field, they went home to doctors.
But this wasn’t the Avengers.
“Stinger’s ex-Navy, Boss man,” Morales corrected. “He was a medic. All the best medics are Navy.”
The man was a retired Marine, though, so he was obviously biased. Tony tried to embrace his own amusement on the matter. “Remind Yasha to hire like a dozen Navy Medics.”
“Two dozen undercover operators,” Morales agreed and this time Tony did smile.
“How’s Logan?” he asked Stinger as the guy started checking him over.
“Tough old bastard,” Stinger muttered. “He has a high healing factor. Once we get the bullets out, and let him sleep for a day, he’ll be good as new. Probably.”
“You haven’t gotten the bullets out?” he asked, trying to stare past the pen light.
“Too dangerous. The shots didn’t put him down and I can’t take ‘im out with drugs I don’t have on me. Can’t knock ‘im out with what I do have without his cooperation because of his healing factor. And he refuses to cooperate until Sarge is back and we’re secure. We also need Sarge to hold him, because otherwise it would be too dangerous. If he were to lash out, he could kill people by accident.”
And there was that car battery feeling back.
“I’m going to see if our new friends need any assistance,” Stinger said as he draped a shock blanket around Tony and moved off to talk to the Queen’s lead bodyguard, who Tony was pretty sure was named Meika.
When he explained who and what he was, the woman practically dragged him to the Queen.
Guess they didn’t bring a doctor either.
“Reading you, Sarge,” Morales said as every Cherry in the room stood a little straighter. “We don’t have the people for that.” Pause. “Right, right. Let me ask.”
Tony watched as Morales approached Meika. “Sarge says your friend that went with them needs a medic and they need back up. Scene containment, body disposal. Do you have a squad that can assist?”
Meika nodded. “Your Stinger can accompany our back up squad, if your men maintain the perimeter.”
“Five minutes to form up here, we can track Gravitas’s position and go straight to her.”
Morales nodded and turned away to activate his earpiece.
Twenty minutes later, Yasha and Nat were once again entering the cafe. He was missing his big gun but carrying a different one. It was large enough Tony couldn’t actually imagine someone of only baseline human strength firing it. He wasn’t injured but Natasha had a slice through her coat and shirt that Tony could see a bandage through.
They were each carrying a rough cloth sack. Both sacks were suspiciously wet and red on the bottom.
“Are those heads?” he absolutely did not squeak.
The two former Russian assassins exchanged looks and shrugs that were somehow both lazy and predatory.
“Klaue had three of Hydra’s Death Squad with him,” Yasha explained.
Tony frowned. Klaue wasn’t supposed to be important enough to work with the Defective Soldiers. “Did they get away?”
“Josef and Klaue, yes. Sofia and Anton, no.” He and Nat took turns holding up their sacks for emphasis. “Sergei and Dima are unaccounted for.”
“Wasn’t Dima the forward scout of the bunch?”
Yasha nodded his head grimly.
“Either they are setting up an ambush,” Meika slipped in, “or the forward scout is at their next objective.”
“Wakanda,” Tony grimly agreed.
“Have the Talon pick up our squad in the field,” the Queen ordered, “and then come pick us up. It is time to go home.”
Disappointed but somehow not surprised, Tony nodded. “If there is anything we can do to help—”
Queen Ramonda cut him off with an imperious eyebrow. “You are coming too. And your men with you,” she continued before Yasha could object.
“The Talon will not hold this many,” Meika reminded the Queen softly.
“It can carry this many to their plane. Then, Noxolo and Zodwa can fly the majority of Dr. Stark’s men in.”
“I stay with Tony,” Yasha asserted and Tony could feel Ramonda very carefully not rolling her eyes.
“On the Talon,” Meika agreed. “Along with your medic and the injured.”
“The sooner we get them to a doctor, the better,” Tony prompted. Queen Ramonda nodded to her guards and suddenly there was a lot more activity around them.
In what felt like no time at all, they were on the roof, loading into the Royal Talon Flyer. Things got really crowded for like a heartbeat and then it wasn’t. Then it was him, Queen Ramonda, half the Dora Milaje, Logan, Nat, Stinger, and Phantom.
And Yasha, of course.
Stinger had the biggest, most solid pair of brass balls Tony had ever seen, standing in Logan’s face as the man half-leaned against the wall. Wolverine’s face was tight with pain and he couldn’t seem to get his claws more than halfway in and this guy was in his face, wielding a syringe without fear.
“You need those bullets out,” Stinger hissed.
Wolverine snarled, “Not. Now.”
“Logan,” Yasha barked and both men looked at him. Casually, he took the big ass gun he brought home as a prize from Phantom. He hit something Tony couldn’t see, the clip popped into his hand, a flick of his fingers and he presented a bullet to Logan with a raised eyebrow. “Your nose is better than mine, so I know you smell that. What is it?”
With a glare, Logan took the bullet and ran it under his nose like a new cigar. Brown eyes flew wide, “Adamantium.”
Yasha nodded. “With a bit of Hydra Special in it. You need that out of you.”
“Wait,” the guard captain, Meika, objected. “The human body cannot stop Adamantium bullets.”
“It can if you have an Adamantium-laced skeleton,” Yasha countered as he pointedly—or perhaps casually, Tony honestly couldn’t quite tell—reached up to scratch his shoulder seam.
“But Adamantium is toxic!” Queen Ramonda glanced at Tony, shocked.
“Do you have studies on the matter?” Tony immediately jumped on the opening. “I’ve been trying to verify that fact but I can’t find any appropriate documentation.”
The queen looked from him to Yasha and finally to Logan, then she nodded but remained silent.
“Hey, Tony?” Yasha waved him over. “Can you get over here? Support Logan’s upper half when he lays down?”
Tony frowned in confusion but wandered over.
“Is there somewhere I can wash off?” Yasha asked Meika as he poked Tony into position. “I need to get this blood off so I can help.”
“We have a sonic sanitation system,” one of the younger Dora answered. “It’s not meant for humans but it should be safe enough as long as you wear ear protection. I’ve used it.”
Yasha followed the woman to the center column of the ship.
She accessed a hidden panel and provided appropriate headgear. Yasha opened the yellow glass and stepped inside.
The process was fascinating and strange. Watching the dried blood on Yasha’s hands sort of turn to dust and fall to the bottom of the chamber was definitely a new thing for Tony. Watching Yasha’s mouth twist in agony? Was not something he ever wanted to see again.
After about five minutes, he staggered out, panting. “Stevie can never use one of these.”
The Dora looked confused even as she slid under his metal arm to bring him back to Tony.
“Enhanced senses,” he answered her silent question. “That was terrible and I’m more a smell and taste enhanced, like Logan. Stevie’s a sight and sound predator, like a freaking eagle.”
The very young woman grimaced, “Noted.”
Yasha staggered the last few steps over to him on his own and settled in just behind Tony.
Phantom and Nat helped lower Logan so that his face ended up pressed into Tony’s belly before pulling his arms around Tony for Yasha to grip firmly. Stinger knelt on the floor on Tony’s left, gloves on and syringe ready, like this somehow wasn’t the weirdest thing he’d ever done.
“What’s going on here?” Tony asked softly once the Dora and their queen had retreated enough that he could pretend they had privacy.
“Logan’s mutation is very bestial, practically feral, but not actually predatory,” Yasha explained right in his ear, making him suppress a shiver. “You represent two of animal side’s three basic needs: den, food source, and mate. He’s imprinted on your scent to mean safety. So, he’ll fight for you, even half dead. And, when he’s injured, he’ll seek you out.”
“You better be saying I’m den and food source,” he gave Yasha a half-hearted glare over his shoulder.
“I do,” Yasha kissed the side of his head. “He’s imprinted on Xavier that way too, so don’t feel too weird about it. He doesn’t need anything from you but your existence.”
“But what about when we— I mean, if we— you know, do that?” Tony huffed.
“When we mate,” Yasha said all matter of fact like, “our scent piles will merge. We’ll blend and he’ll fight for us.”
“It won’t upset his equilibrium or whatever?”
“No,” Yasha nuzzled the side of his neck. “Actually, he’ll probably know what we’re going to do before we do, he’ll smell our pheromones change in preparation for mating.”
Tony turned to look over his shoulder and was more than a little horrified only to find Yasha looking completely serious and got more horrified.
“Here we go. Local should have taken effect,” Stinger said from behind his mask. He slid a pair of forceps in to the left-most bullet hole and carefully pulled out the first bullet. The wound welled with blood that was swirled with a yellow-green fluid. Nat, playing a very convincing surgical nurse, reached in to blot the fluid away.
“Don’t linger,” Stinger told her with the air of someone repeating instructions just in case. “We don’t want any of the gauze caught in the wound. If you feel any debris, let me know, but Adamantium isn’t supposed to shatter.”
The discharge from the wound just kept coming and getting greener as the hole started to close with goopy sounds that wouldn’t have been out of place in a zombie movie.
“What is this?” Nat asked.
“The ‘Hydra Special’ Sarge mentioned, mixed with blood. It must be bad stuff for his body to force it out through the wound rather than just closing the hole and making him cough it up later.”
“How can you know that?” Nat asked with a frown.
Tony wanted to know too so he just raised his eyebrows when Stinger looked at him sheepishly.
“My little sister has an advanced healing factor almost on par with his. Can grow up to ten-inch fingernails from her hands in seconds, too.”
“Why isn’t she working with us?” Nat demanded before he could.
“Wouldn’t be a good fit,” Stinger didn’t meet their eyes as he helped Nat dab up the goop. “She’s incredibly xenophobic. She’s working for a guy that wants to ‘cure’ mutants so she can ‘stop being a freak’.”
“There’s nothing to cure with mutants, there’s nothing wrong with them,” she frowned. “Yasha and I though—”
“Hey,” Yasha chastised and Nat looked away but she didn’t take it back.
“Ready for round two? Hopefully this one won’t be so…” Stinger frowned, looking for the right word.
“Juicy?” Tony offered, earning himself a round of probably-inappropriate laughter.
This time when the bullet came out the flood wasn’t quite so dramatic. Both Stinger and Nat kept with the blotting. They ran out of medical gauze and had to resort to three towels and an undershirt before both holes closed with a goopy little slurp.
“That was disgusting,” was Tony’s opinion.
Stinger and Nat just nodded.
“He’s probably going to sleep for a few hours—if he’s like my sister, it’ll be at least six hours—and then he’ll need a big meal. We’ll need to keep a bowl or something nearby in case he starts coughing up the remaining Hydra Special in his system and I wouldn’t put him on the nice sheets, either. He could end up sweating it out.”
“We will transfer him to Medical as soon as we land,” Captain Meika promised, stepping up to them. “Will you go with him?”
Stinger glanced at Yasha, who nodded, and then nodded himself. “If you want him to cooperate until he’s settled, you’ll need Boss and Sarge. More drugs, even for pain relief, are a bad idea at this stage. It’ll just confuse his immune system.”
Meika accepted this with a nod of her own, “We will be landing in twenty minutes.”
When they did land and the ramp opened, they were greeted by a veritable forest of red on the ground before them. In the center, in black and purple, was a horrifically young-looking King T’Chaka.
If Tony hadn’t been sure he’d traveled back in time already, this would have definitely given it away.
“My light,” T’Chaka greeted, sweeping his wife into a tight squeeze.
Dude looked wrecked.
Tony was kind of afraid of what that meant for them. He glanced over at Yasha and found him the dangerous kind of relaxed, his eyes were shuttered and emotionless. Telling Tony without words that he was ready to kill everyone if he had to.
Perversely, the sight of it made Tony relax for real.
“My love, these are the ones that saved my life,” Queen Ramonda said, drawing Tony’s attention.
“The ones that endangered your life, you mean.” T’Chaka rumbled ominously.
“We have much to discuss, my king,” she said gently. “Allow me to introduce you. This is Tony Stark. The head of Dr. Stark’s personal security, Sergeant Barnes. The Sergeant’s men, Phantom, Stinger, and Wolverine is the one on the stretcher. He took two bullets for me. And Dr. Stark’s personal assistant, Natasha.
“Get them to Medical,” the queen ordered, not-quite leading her husband away. “And get them cleaned up.”
Several Dora Milaje stepped forward. Not any of the ones they sort-of knew, those all went with the King and Queen, but strangers that thumped the butts of their spears threateningly on the ground when they didn’t move quickly enough.
There was only one thing to say, really. “Lead the way.”
“We have one,” CeeCee, the doctor in charge of the Infirmary their party had been secured to started as she stared speculatively at Yasha. Specifically, as she stared at his arm. “A doctor of both medicine and robotics. I believe he would be the best choice to examine this arm.”
“Is he around?” Tony asked, knowing that Yasha wouldn’t.
The doctor nodded and walked away, already talking to her Kimoyo Beads.
Moments later, she returned with a man in a lab coat. He was smaller than her but not younger with his right sleeve rolled up to show a small pad that might be a very tiny palm right about where most other people would have an elbow. The palm had three little nubs on it. Fingers, Tony was sure.
On his face was the look of a man that had just seen God.
“Oh, Bast,” he breathed and walked straight up to Yasha. His left hand reached out but he stopped himself. He glanced at Yasha’s face briefly but his gaze was drawn back to the arm, over and over again. “May I?” he asked breathlessly
Yasha cleared his throat, almost looking embarrassed, “Uh, yeah.”
Light, reverent fingers flit briefly over Yasha’s arm, as if even with permission the man wasn’t quite brave enough to touch it. As if he thought he might defile it.
“This is my life’s dream,” the man confessed in a hush. Probably just to Yasha but Tony was close enough to hear it too. And he wasn’t backing off, no way, not unless Yasha specifically asked him to.
This doctor kid looked like he was about to cream his pants.
“A seamless marriage of human biology and mechanical technology. This is Mecca. This is Eureka. I can die now, knowing this exists.”
“Can you help me fix it, first?” Yasha asked plaintively.
The man—who still hadn’t introduced himself—blinked. “What is wrong with it?”
“It’s Adamantium,” Tony answered and the guy whipped around to look at him with wide, horrified eyes. “Pretty sure what’s left of his stump—his words, not mine,” Tony held up his hands to show he meant no harm before the doc could object to the term, “is rotting in there. He’s been itching at the seam more and more. And I’m pretty sure it’s hurting him, not that he’d ever admit it. The weight of it itself is a lot for even an enhanced human body.”
“The silent warrior type, aren’t you?” the man said, and Tony honestly wasn’t sure if he said it to Yasha or the arm.
“Let’s see what we have,” and he twisted one of his Kimoyo beads. A little beam of light shot out and scanned Yasha’s left arm. Then he scanned across Yasha’s chest and the other arm for comparison.
The man walked over to a nearby table covered in gray-black sand.
“I’m Tony Stark, by the way,” he said, hoping the custom of returning the favor was a thing, even in Wakanda.
“I’m aware, Dr. Stark. I am called Riion,” Riion said as he held his scanner bead against a little divot in the table. “Of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda.”
“Call me Tony,” Tony frowned as some of the sand shot up off the table to form a representation of Yasha’s chest from neck to nipples with both arms, in their entirety, attached. “Vibranium sand? Is that Vibranium sand suspended by magnetic force to visually represent your scans?”
Riion smiled at him, pleased. “Brilliant, isn’t it? It doesn’t come in full color, unfortunately. But you learn to read the textures as one would with a black-and-white movie.”
“I have a design for something similar, using holograms,” Tony confessed. “The problem is the cost. Getting or making a computer with the necessary processing power is prohibitive.”
“But you could render color,” Riion countered.
“It’s a goal,” he agreed. “Is it interactive?”
In answer, Riion reached out and spun the thing with gestures not unlike Tony would have used with his holograms in the other future. After waiting for the man’s nod, Tony reached out and expanded the seam section of Yasha’s shoulder.
“The scan definitely picked up signs of infection.” Riion pointed at the different textures. “Interesting. And more than a little terrifying, considering that he is in fact a super soldier.” Riion opened the arm into an exploded view that left Yasha’s stump visible through a cloud of bionic parts. A flick and most of the parts were gone.
The stump stopped about an inch above Yasha’s elbow. “Okay, if that was infection, what’s all that?”
“Necrotic tissue,” Riion ran a hand over his face. “It is as if his body has given up on these tissues and is salvaging what it can.”
The two of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder in horrified wonder.
After several moments, Tony offered, “The pseudo-nerves are—”
“Sloppily done,” Riion finished. “Piecemeal.”
“—Inefficient. If we were to create a sort of pseudo-nerve port and have it surgically implanted in his arm—”
“It could be powered by the arm to prevent pain and phantom sensations when there is no arm attached,” Riion interjected.
“—and he could switch out arms for the occasion. Flesh colored one for when he needs to blend. A weaponized one for missions. I can think of a dozen possible features right off the top of my head.”
“I will have one of black Vibranium,” Riion declared, looking down at his own stump. “And it will have the panther face of my tribe in gold where he has a star.”
“You down to help us with this?” Tony asked.
“You will have to see me dead to stop me,” Riion assured him. “We’ll need CeeCee to verify how far the infection has spread but based on the preliminary scan. If it has grown as far as we think, we will need to integrate the pseudo-nerve port, or PNP, into the shoulder, replacing this joint and, at the very least, reinforce his collar bones with Vibranium. Likely the shoulder blade as well. You see these marks here? He broke his collarbone several times, I suspect, while adjusting to the artificial arm.”
“Arms,” Tony corrected. “This is the second version they gave him.”
“Ah, right. He said as much in the interview.”
Tony blinked over at him, surprised. “You guys saw that over here?”
“It was rebroadcast internationally,” Riion smiled. “And regardless, we get American cable and the BBC. We have many, many options.”
“So, what’s the verdict?” Yasha asked as he walked over and casually slung his right arm across Tony’s shoulders.
“Nothing definitive yet,” Riion told him, without missing a beat. “We’ll need more tests to verify how far your infection has grown. Blood tests are in your future, of course, but it would be better to remove the arm and look.”
Yasha’s nose twisted up cutely in disgust. “Can’t you just take the stump regardless? I’d,” Yasha hesitated. “Rather not have it anymore. I heard you talking about a nerve port, wouldn’t that go best at the shoulder?”
Riion made a so-so gesture with his hand. “Possibly, and it would get you more physical power to have the support structures reinforced with Vibranium but I would prefer to speak with body movement experts before making drastic, reckless changes to your physique. Hydra has done quite enough of that, I think.”
“And you’ll likely need counseling, since you’ve confessed to not wanting your own body parts,” Tony added dryly.
Tony was, of course, correct.
The very next morning, after working out in a gym with some of his men but before he could interrupt whatever IQ-induced disaster Tony and his ever-growing team of specialists had going on with the tried and true diversion called ‘breakfast’, Yasha found himself sitting in a garden with a white-haired blind woman wearing purple and black. She was all braided and beaded, vaguely terrifying in her dignity, and he was pretty sure someone said she was some sort of Priestess of Bast?
“I don’t want anything Hydra put in me,” Yasha told her evenly. He knew it was…not normal, okay? But he’d also adjusted to a future where it had already happened and delaying the inevitable was what was hurting him right now. More than physically. “That includes an arm they’ve all but destroyed. I don’t think that’s unhealthy. Especially when keeping it could kill me.”
“You feel they’ve infected you,” she observed. “Not just physically.”
He couldn’t help but shiver. “Of course they have.” And he’d been getting over it, okay? But now he was back at practically the beginning. At least partially because of that stupid arm.
She was silent. Waiting, or something. He didn’t know, but then she stood with the easy confidence of a sighted woman half her age. “Walk with me, White Wolf.”
“I’m the Winter Soldier,” he told her but stood and took her arm regardless.
“The Winter Soldier is who Hydra tried to make you. The Soldier was a lone hunter who followed orders without question or pause. While the Wolf can indeed do well for himself alone, it’s rather telling that the first thing you did, once given the choice, was to build yourself a pack. With the Starks and your, I believe they are called Cherries?”
“Winter, I can’t argue with. There is the promise of the tundra in your eyes. Deadly cold, biting winds, but also a surprising amount of life should one know where to look. But the tundra is eternal, not there just in Winter. And it is white.” Her smile shined in her film-covered eyes. “Among other colors.
“The truth is, Wolf, that Bast sent you to us for a reason. What it is, I cannot See. Perhaps to save lives, perhaps to end them. Perhaps to change hearts. Wakanda has long been convinced we are separate from the world around us. Better. And while my pride says that of course we are better, we are not separate. Not truly.”
“The world gets smaller every year,” he told her and she nodded like it was something profound.
“Now. My advice, young Wolf. Purging yourself of Hydra’s influence is wise. Particularly physically as I believe you are correct; it could kill you. But it will require doctors and surgeries and many things life has taught you not to trust. Do not rush yourself. Do not allow anyone to rush you. If you need time, ask for it. If you need changes, ask for them.”
They walked silently together through the garden for several moments before she squeezed his wrist and continued. “As for your more personal issues. The emotional ones Hydra has gifted you with. I could give you advice for hours. But I think what you need to remember most is that ‘the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.’ And your pack is especially ferocious. And large. Your mate has built a home for them and even baseline humans will do much for home.
“Speaking of your mate—”
“I don’t have a mate,” he interrupted, feeling, uh, raw about the subject.
She gave him the most eloquent look, one that made him feel stupid down to his bones and continued. “Your mate,” she repeated pointedly, “would set the world on fire for you. A fantastic partner in mayhem, even if your goals are far more benign.
“Now, I will grant you the courtship is new, but you have both decided in your souls to be a team and that, at its core, is what a mateship truly is.”
He waited for her to continue because it sounded like she should continue but she didn’t. So, he nodded and repeated, “The strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
“The strength of the Wolf is the Pack,” she agreed. Then she frowned and looked over her shoulder. “Princess Shuri, what are you doing over there? You are supposed to still be in bed.”
Sure enough, behind a tree at right about two o’clock was a tiny little girl peeking out, wearing a necklace of big cat teeth and her hair in twin poofs on either side of her head. Her shoulders slumped dramatically as she walked around from behind the tree. “I wanted to meet the Wolf, Ugogo.”
The priestess silently rolled her eyes and held out her hand. The girl scampered to it, standing so the woman’s hand rested easily on her shoulder.
“Sergeant Barnes, meet Princess Shuri. Princess Shuri, this is Sergeant Barnes.”
“Call me Bucky,” he said easily.
The girl smiled, showing off a missing front tooth. “Call me Shuri. You’re bigger than you look on the television.”
He smiled back at her. “Well, I was sitting down for the interview.”
“They show it a lot on American channels. They must like you.”
Awk. Ward. “That’s not always a good thing, kiddo.”
“They show your daughter, too,” she carried on. “Did you bring her with you? I should like to meet her.”
“Shuri,” a tired voice said from behind him, and he turned to see King T’Chaka standing there.
“Good morning, Baba!” and she held her hands up in the universal sign of a child wanting to be picked up.
She held her hands up while focused on and facing Yasha.
Knowing it was probably a bad idea but doing it anyway, because kid, he scooped her up and put her on his hip.
“Shuri, what are you doing?”
“I want to meet Darcy, so I’m asking her father if she can come over,” she said, like it was completely reasonable to take a transcontinental flight for a sleepover.
The priestess looked so amused that Yasha wasn’t quite sure how she was not just laughing already.
The King looked resigned. “Well?” the man prompted.
“Uh, well, I don’t know if you noticed, but my daughter,” because yeah, he was in the process of formally adopting her so while biologically she was technically his granddaughter, he could call her his daughter now too. “She’s not so good with secrets. I don’t think bringing her here would be a good idea for your long-term security.”
The King inclined his head while Shuri pouted out her lower lip.
“And,” he continued because Darcy did actually need friends, “I doubt you’d want your daughter in our home, surrounded by our security team.”
That earned him an emphatic headshake.
“So maybe we can meet somewhere neutral? Take like a family vacation and once you know us better, then Princess Shuri could come over?”
“Yay!” Shuri threw her hands up and shouted in his ear.
King T’Chaka made a noise Yasha couldn’t really identify. “Perhaps,” was the King’s verdict. “Taking vacation outside of Wakanda is difficult, but perhaps.”
“I mean, yeah, a miniaturized arc reactor would work for Yasha’s arm, and I’m willing to provide you one, too, but that’s way too dangerous for the general public,” Tony argued absently as he ran the voltage numbers for the Pseudo-nerve Port again.
“True,” Riion huffed. “And we’ll want an easier, low-maintenance option for the general public. Unless we want to indenture your company—or our patients—for constant repair.”
“Which we don’t,” Tony assured him.
“Kinetic energy,” CeeCee put in. “I’ve seen these wrist watches in magazines that charge with the movement of one’s body. Why can’t we do that with a limb?”
“Add a small, rechargeable battery to keep it going when they’re not moving,” Tony scratched his chin, considering. “That could work.”
A song started playing. It was familiar but Tony couldn’t place it. A little 8-bit piece, amusingly enough. It wasn’t until the entire team was staring at him in horror that he realized it was coming from him.
He pulled his shiny red Nokia out of his back pocket.
God, how long has it been since he answered his own phone? JARVIS spoiled him so much in the future.
Of course, now that he knew the noise was coming from him, he missed the call. But the caller called back immediately.
“Yellow!” he answered, earning himself a snicker or two.
“Why is there an invisible British man locked up in your lab?” Howard asked. Because of course it was Howard.
“Darcy left the math homework I gave her in your lab. Phil was in a meeting with your lawyers, so I went to get it but I couldn’t find it until your invisible captive told me where to find it.”
“Ah,” Tony got up and left the lab quickly. He wandered until he found a secluded window niche where he could pretend that he was alone. Just him, with Morales and the palace guard assigned to him standing with their backs to him.
“Tony,” his dad trailed off warningly.
“Look, there is no captive, invisible or otherwise, in my lab. It’s—” Tony hesitated because he knew his dad, okay? He knew he was going to know once Tony told him and then he was going to know. “It’s Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, alright?”
“Just A— and what exactly is JARVIS?”
Best thing about having this conversation on the phone? He couldn’t see Howard’s face. It was an unexpected but utterly pleasant turn of events.
“He’s an AI. I meant him to be a simple little thing to go with one of my products but he got…” Tony exhaled noisily. “He got complicated. And huge. And he’s actually doing a lot of groundwork for us on Hydra. I mean, there’s not a lot on the ‘net but, yeah. He’s running the statistics to find likely Hydra plants and plans. Doing geographical profiling, generally analyzing everything we find.”
“Why doesn’t Darcy know about him?”
“Because I don’t want everyone to know about him?” Tony scoffed. “I love the kid with all my heart but with everything that’s happened, she’s decided secrets are an insult to her ancestors. Phil and Yasha know about him. And he’s not a secret from you or the rest of the house, really. Once the sound guys are done wiring up the house, JARVIS will be taking that over so he can watch over us. You know, manage resources, monitor the perimeter, and stuff. But I don’t think the rest of the world is ready for him yet.”
His dad was silent for a long time and that was when Tony realized he probably should have said something before altering the man’s whole house and installing an AI to run it. But, in his defense, he’d been his own boss for a long time and he wasn’t going to apologize for it.
If asked, he’d claim it was a test of his father’s ‘good dad’ resolve. Or something. Maybe.
“No, probably not,” Howard eventually agreed. “There’s two of the guys doing the installation that it sounds like Duke wants to keep. I’m not sure why, though.”
“I’ll give Yasha a heads up. He might already know, though.”
“Speaking of Yasha, Darcy has some very serious, intelligent questions about snow that have led to the proposal of several experiments related to finding Steve. I want to take her to a tundra. Or at least somewhere with a great deal of snow. I’m thinking we might make it a ski vacation for the family.”
“You’ll need to rent out the whole resort to keep Yasha from losing his mind about security.” Tony felt the need to remind.
“That was the ‘speaking of Yasha’ part,” his dad said, bordering on amused. “I’m planning on it. I just need to be sure there’s no hidden Hydra base wherever I pick.”
Tony hummed as he thought about it. They pretty much had to assume Northern Europe was Hydra’s back yard at this point. “Go with that place in Japan mom loves so much. When are you thinking?”
“End of April at the earliest for Japan, why?”
“Seems Princess Shuri has decided Darcy is the closest thing there is to a real American Princess and wants her to come over. I sent her off to ask Yasha about it but we both know that’s a security concern no matter whose house we pick. A neutral place though,” he shrugged.
His dad laughed. “Well, if we’re going to have the Starks, the extended Barneses, the Sheppards, and the Cherries we might as well add the royal tribe of Wakanda.”
“Exactly. I’ll throw it out there during lunch.”
“Tony,” his dad sounded exasperated, “It’s five-thirty in the afternoon where you are.”
“We should probably ask Yasha if we can take his daughter skiing too, ” his dad reminded.
“I’ll ask him,” Tony promised and sighed dramatically, “before I talk to the King.”
“Alright,” his dad paused, Tony could hear him silently weighing something. “How is all of that going?”
“Hydra took a shot at me and Queen Ramonda.” His dad hissed and, yeah, he couldn’t blame him. “Logan took two poisoned Adamantium bullets, which is good because a.) They couldn’t pass through him thanks to his skeleton, and b.) They were probably designed to kill the Winter Soldier. The Queen and I would have been history.”
“Anyone other than Logan would have been history,” Howard agreed.
“Yeah. So, they’re working on his skeleton as a thank you. Not sure how they are going to get the Adamantium off, though. I don’t think even he could survive them getting it hot enough to melt it off. I mean, he might, but I wouldn’t wanna test it. Definitely not on someone I like, at least.
“They could probably just cover it but they’d have to do it perfectly or they might as well not bother and, while I have faith in them, that’s not something you can realistically promise. And holy shit, he would weigh so much.”
“Magneto could probably help with that,” Howard offered.
And that was actually a really good suggestion. “Would he be willing?”
“We can ask. I don’t know the relationships there though.” A pause. “Maybe get Buck to ask.”
Tony hummed. “Seems manipulative. But a man’s life is at stake. Okay. I’ll talk to the king first. He might not want to invite another Outsider into his country. Not that I can blame him.”
“What about the theft thing?”
“They’re keeping us out of it, for the most part. It’s their home so I’m not sure why I expected differently, but mostly it’s been tactic and ability questions around designing a new arm for Yasha. Oh, and I found the head of my Biochem Lab for Stark Solutions. His name is Riion of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda. His thesis is amazing, bionic prosthesis are his life dream, and Yasha approves. So.”
“Sounds like a good pick.”
“Yeah, I need to get Phil started on paperwork. I think his girlfriend is coming too, CeeCee of the River Tribe. Pretty sure she’s waiting for him to ask but I don’t think he’s actually aware they’re together.”
His dad laughed. “How long until you’re back?”
“Not sure. The Logan situation has no sound solution so no obvious end date. And the Yasha situation is in process but I get the feeling they aren’t committing until they catch or kill Klaue. It’s not really clear. Lots of subtext and I don’t really wanna push and mess it up.”
“You can always take your designs and use surgical titanium. People use it every day.”
“That’s Plan B,” Tony agreed. “But Vibranium would age with him better and give him comparable strength to—while being lighter than—what he’s already adapted to.”
They chatted for a few more minutes over a number of various things. Stark Industries’ new cooperative venture with Sheppard Enterprises, the prosecutor’s progress with Obie and all of his high placed—and treasonous—friends, Aunt Peg and Fury’s progress with SHIELD. They were just poking into the President’s progress with LGBT protections when Yasha showed up.
He was pale with a peculiar look on his face so Tony ended the conversation quickly. Of course, once he hung up, he could see the dozen or so texts from JARVIS, no doubt chronicling Howard’s trip through the lab, but he pushed that aside for later.
“What’s up, buttercup?”
Yasha glared at the palace guard assigned to him. Tony saw them sparing earlier so he was pretty sure they were friends now. That was proven in Tony’s mind when the guy just rolled his eyes, shook his head, and turned away.
It was interesting that he was flanking his countryman rather than the two of them flanking Morales. A sign of trust? Maybe? Whatever. Didn’t matter.
Yasha sat down beside him. “It just occurred to me. I mean, I assumed but I never asked. And I should’ve asked. Like, immediately. I’m sorry I didn’t ask, I—”
“Yasha. Breathe.” Tony waited until his partner took a big gulping breath, “What’s your question?”
“Do you wanna adopt Darcy with me?” Yasha blurted.
And Tony could hardly breathe because yes, yes, he did. He really did but he hadn’t thought— well, Yasha had so little that was really his own. How could he possibly want to share Darcy with Tony? With a man that tried so very hard to kill him not all that long ago.
“I mean, I assumed you would.” Yasha brought a hand up to scratch at the back of his neck and stared intensely at the floor. “You’re my partner, right? And. And I’m way more likely to die than you, she’ll need someone if—”
“Yes,” Tony cut him off.
Yasha looked up, surprise writ large on his face. “What?”
“Yes. I would love to adopt Darcy with you.”
An honest to god Bucky Barnes Grin™ broke out over Yasha’s face. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Only,” Tony hesitated but Yasha did that puppy-like head tilt and he couldn’t stop himself from answering it, “I’m pretty sure homosexual adoption is illegal.”
“No,” Yasha shook his head, “not in New York. I’ve been talking with Doro. And Jessop, you remember him, her husband? The judge? Anyway, the law as written in New York doesn’t say anything against homosexuals adopting. It’s just a combination of people not asking and clerks and stuff refusing those that do ask.”
Tony squinted suspiciously. “So what, he wants us to try and sue when it fails? Take it all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to?”
“It’s a thought,” Yasha shrugged. “Or we could finance another gay couple doing it. Either way, Jessop has agreed to represent the issue. He can’t be our judge because of, uh, conflict of interest?”
“Well, he is family so that makes sense.” Tony noodled on it a bit. Having Yasha formally adopt her first and then getting himself added later would probably give Darcy the most security. There were so many angles though. The political shit was, unfortunately, something he had to consider. “I’ll talk to dad. And mom. And have J run scenarios. There’s no rush, right?”
“Well, my sisters are still her legal guardians and they’re… kinda getting up there, so I’d like to get it settled before they actually die but otherwise,” he shrugged.
“Okay. That shouldn’t be a problem. How do you feel about a family ski trip?”
Yasha closed his eyes for a minute. It was his thinking pose; Tony had gotten used to it. Hell, he found it more than a little endearing, really, how Yasha just blocked out everything to really consider what he was being asked.
“Uh, Japan probably. My mom loves it and I think it’d be more restful for you than…” Tony shrugged.
“Than Hydra’s traditional playground?”
“That’s the one,” Tony pointed at him then touched his finger to his nose.
Yasha laughed and threw an arm over Tony’s shoulder. “It’s dinner time. Let’s go see if King and Tribe are interested in a trip to Japan.”
When he tried to find Yasha one morning a few days later, he couldn’t. It took him three different palace guards judiciously using their Kimoyo Beads before they found him on the side of a mountain.
Stinger was with him, looking both amused and resigned.
The air smelled like pot, that distinctive skunk-like smell, but also like candy. Or at least something sweet and fruity.
Yasha himself was sprawled, loose and looking fucked out on a rough wooden bench. He brought what looked like a joint to his lips, took a draw, and made a sound that made Tony’s body twitch in interest before he exhaled and somehow went even more boneless.
The palace guard that had been Yasha’s shadow for the last three days was sitting curled up on the far side of the bench giggling.
“What’s going on?” he asked Stinger.
The older man gave him a look that clearly said he didn’t want to answer and sighed, but answered, “Sarge was…” he huffed again.
“Upset,” Tony supplied. “Stressed out. He doesn’t seem to like seeing the guts of his arm.” Which was surprising. The guy had no problem with human blood and guts but electronic blood and guts made him squirrely.
Though, then again, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising.
Acknowledging what the arm was was probably an acknowledgement of his own weakness. Or maybe Hydra used maintenance on his arm as yet another way to torture him. Realistically, it was both. Probably, both.
“And his response was to get high?” Not that Tony had any room to judge, he was just surprised that Captain Do-Right’s right-hand man would make such a choice.
“He couldn’t wind down,” Stinger explained. “His energy level was destructive.”
Tony nodded. He probably couldn’t wind down because they kept pulling him into the lab for more readings every time he tried to relax. He’d never said anything but Tony couldn’t help but feel guilty.
“It was becoming a detriment. When N’Jin of the River Tribe told him that they grow a plant similar to pot that can affect enhanced, it seemed like a solution. I scanned it. Ran some tests. It’s safer than pot, actually, for him. It’s way too potent in its current form for a baseline human.”
Tony hummed and moved toward the pair on the bench.
Even high as a kite, Yasha clocked him first. A smile grew on his face, wide and just so bright, so easy that Tony wasn’t sure if he was embarrassed for Yasha or furious that Stinger got to see it too.
“Tony!” he greeted, unreservedly pleased.
“Whatcha got there, Buckaroo?”
Yasha held it up for him and Tony took it. With a shrug, he took a hit. The result was practically instantaneous, leaving him feeling light headed. It was more than being high, more than the best orgasm of his life. It was flight and success and freedom.
Tony discretely checked, shifting to make sure he had not in fact gone off in his pants and asked. “What’s going on here?”
“Science,” was Yasha’s cheeky answer.
“Can’t lace Logan’s cigars with it if I don’t know how it works.”
Tony blinked, because, “What?”
“Come on, wouldn’t it be nice? He needs to relax. Like so much. It would be nice.”
“As a prank?”
Yasha frowned, confused. “No, you don’t drug people as a prank, Tony. As a, uh, a gift? A surprise but not in a mean way.”
“How long until this wears off?” he asked N’Jin.
The man shrugged. “He’s a super soldier.” Which, fair. “An hour, maybe?”
Yasha reached for the joint but flopped back easily when Tony jerked it out of reach. “What’s wrong, Tones?”
“We’re ready to take that arm off but you can’t consent when your high.”
Yasha sobered immediately. “Already?”
“Yup. The PNP’s ready and they’ve made the rods to reinforce your collar bones. Morales and I ran home for half a bag of Erskine’s formula to help you heal up after.”
“Why so so— Klaue’s been spotted,” Yasha realized.
“Sergei, actually. No sign of Dima, though, so we think it’s just a distraction.” Tony rocked back on his heels. “The king’s going to want you in the field. And none of us want you there with a possibility booby trapped arm.”
“But you cleaned out all the booby traps.”
“I cleaned out a few,” he corrected gently. “But Hydra’s had you in that thing for more than thirty years. There’s no guarantee they didn’t hide something from us. At minimum, something to prevent tampering.”
“Bomb squad in the surgical theatre?”
“That’s the plan.”
“What’s the damage?”
Tony looked up sharply at the body lying on his left. Yasha looked exactly like he did when they laid him out, cleaned up after his surgery. None of the wave outputs or monitor beeps had even blipped at all. Not really a surprise since they didn’t expect him to wake up for another six hours.
But a slow smile spread across Yasha’s face. Slowly, he opened his pretty blue eyes… and still, the monitors didn’t notice.
“Arm’s gone,” he answered the question. “They reinforced your collarbones, several ribs, a shoulder blade, and your spine. You finished the drip of Erskine’s formula half an hour ago.”
“I can feel it,” Yasha said groggily. “Like sunshine in my veins.”
“Is that supposed to be a good thing?” Tony couldn’t help but snicker. Yasha was fantastically prone to flights of, well, romance, for the most fearsome assassin on the planet.
“It’s nice,” he rumbled, flexing his right hand.
Now, that the monitors noticed.
Yasha looked down at his left side, noticing the black cap they put over the PNP. “No new arm?”
“They want you to heal up a bit, adjust, before you have to bear the weight. We tested the connections as much as we could electronically, we don’t expect any nerve or interface problems.”
“At least a week for a normal person.”
“So, like, tomorrow for me?”
Tony shrugged, “Maybe tonight, but I doubt it. There’s the psychology of initiating positive changes at the start of your day, they thoroughly believe in it.”
Yasha laughed. “Alright. You gonna stick around?”
“Yeah, gonna take the spare bed when I’m tired. CeeCee already approved.”
“Good.” He took a deep breath and settled his shoulders back like he was about to nod right back off.
“Not so quick, Yash, they need to know you’re awake. Check for infection kinda things. And I’m pretty sure at least Stinger and Morales would fight me if I didn’t let them know you woke up. Phantom, too, I think.”
Yasha frowned. “Why?”
“Why Stinger, Morales, and Phantom?”
“Well, they’re not just your minions, they’re your friends.”
“Ugh, but friends are so much work.”
“Yeah, but do you really wanna do all this with without them?” Tony quirked an eyebrow.
“No, that would suck,” Yasha sighed and sat up a bit. “Go ahead and get them but get your butt back here before they start poking me.”
“Sir, yes, sir,” Tony snapped off a sassy little salute.
Yasha laughed him out the door.
“Presenting Prince N’Jobu and son,” a guard called within the chamber below.
Tony stood before a window in an elevated room, with Yasha on one side and Nat on the other. It was a hidden guard niche above the Wakandan Throne Room that only the Palace Guard were supposedly aware of. They—he and his formerly Russian Assassination Friends—were supposed to watch for signs of Hydra interference in the King’s little brother, but how exactly was that supposed to work? Not all brainwashing was Winter Soldier or Black Widow levels of obvious.
Things would be so much easier if it was.
“Brother,” the man below them nodded to the King. “May I present my son, N’Jadaka?”
The boy, maybe a year or two older than Shuri, crossed his arms in the standard Wakandan salute and bowed his head, “Your Majesty.”
“Uncle,” King T’Chaka corrected as he stood and walked across the room. “Call me Uncle, nephew.
“Any day the tribe grows is a good day,” he told his advisors. Then he turned back to the kid. “My son, T’Challa, has agreed to show you the palace and where you will be staying. Perhaps you would like to clean up before lunch? You have many new family members to meet.”
The boy grinned. “Thank you, Your Majesty. I mean, Uncle.”
“Off you go.”
T’Challa moved to them from his spot behind his father’s throne and gave his own salute, “Baba.”
“You may go.”
Both boys saluted again and left.
“Give us the room, please,” T’Chaka requested and waited for his counselors to leave. The Dora, notably, moved closer.
No one signaled for them to leave observation, so this must be about the thing the king wanted them there for.
“I have one question for you, my brother,” T’Chaka sighed as he moved back to the throne and sat down heavily. “Why?”
“Why what, brother?” The innocent tone didn’t ring true for Tony but he could just be that jaded.
“Why did you betray your people? Why did you betray Wakanda?”
“I have never betrayed my people.”
T’Chaka glared at him. Yeah, Tony didn’t like that phrasing either. “You have sold Wakanda’s secrets to Outsiders. Why?”
“Do you know how they view us out there?” N’Jobu swept his arm in a broad gesture. “They think we are weak. Conquered, impoverished, and uneducated. Jail sentences just waiting to happen.
“Our people deserve to know they are powerful. That they are equal. Or greater. It is our duty—”
“Wakandans know we are greater,” T’Chaka interrupted.
“To hell with Wakanda,” N’Jobu shouted. “We are more than Wakanda!”
“As a War Dog, your oath is to Wakanda. Your first concern, Wakanda’s interests. It was your duty to return if you were compromised.”
“How could I return after what I have seen?” N’Jobu countered. “My eyes have been opened, brother. How could I abandon our people once I have seen reality? Once I have seen the truth?”
“You already have,” T’Chaka looked legitimately heartbroken as he took in his brother’s face. “You have abandoned our people, willfully. I had hoped you were being blackmailed. That it was not your choice to sell us out to Hydra.”
“Hydra?” N’Jobu gasped, taking a half-step back.
“Hydra. The enemy of my people and yours. The ones you sold Wakandan secrets to.”
“You have no proof I have done this thing. No witnesses.”
T’Chaka looked to one side and nodded. One of the Dora Milaje opened a door and a man in a purple and gold jersey and low-riding black jeans walked in.
“James?” N’Jobu frowned.
James gave the Wakandan salute and then flipped his lower lip to show something Tony couldn’t quite see. “Wakanda Forever!”
“Introduce yourself, cousin,” T’Chaka instructed.
“I am Zuri, Son of Badu, of the Royal Panther Tribe of Wakanda.”
“Uncle Badu,” N’Jobu realized and staggered backwards. He sat down hard on one of the advisor’s chairs and shook his head in shock. “You put a spy on me?”
“You missed three check-ins. I had a duty to make sure you were not dead. When Zuri found you with a woman and child, I should have had you extracted immediately but I had faith in you, my brother.”
King T’Chaka looked up at them.
Tony didn’t hit the signal, he hasn’t seen anything to make him think N’Jobu’s mind had been played with by anything other than, well, reality.
He glanced at Yasha. Yasha sighed and shook his head.
He glanced at Nat. She didn’t sigh or look surprised, she just shook her head.
Tony set down the button and stepped away from it.
“Your life in Los Angeles is over. My people are dismantling it now.
“Take him to Medical,” King T’Chaka ordered the Dora. “Once he is cleared, he is confined to quarters unless he is being interrogated. I want eyes on him twenty-four hours a day. No communication, no contact with his son, meals brought to his room.
“I hope for your sake, brother, that Hydra fails at their mission. If a single Wakandan soul suffers for what you have done, not even I will be able to save you.”
Two Dora Milaje moved to silently flank Prince N’Jobu, pointedly thumping their spears on the floor. The man shot one last look at his brother the King before he shook his head and rose, allowing them to escort him from the room.
At the guard’s signal, Tony left the room. The king deserved time alone to come to grips with… that.
By now CeeCee should be finished evaluating Logan and Lehnsherr, so he headed right for the Infirmary.
“What do we got?” he asked as he entered the Infirmary’s main chamber.
“Nothing thrilling,” CeeCee sighed. “We have options. Obviously melting the metal on his bones is completely out of the question. Sanding it off is possible with Vibranium-based drill bits but the vibration he experiences during the procedure would be extreme, as would the blood loss. Or—”
“Or?” he prompted when she doesn’t continue.
“Or I rip it off,” Magneto answered. “I’m certain I can do it.”
“The pain would be extreme,” CeeCee countered. “He may be the next best thing to immortal but, if anything, that is more reason not to drive him insane with the pain.”
“I can take it,” Logan insisted. It didn’t sound like the first time he’d said it, either.
CeeCee sighed dramatically. “Having half of your skeleton ripped out would be a thirty on a ten-point pain scale. I cannot authorize such a thing.”
“And what’s going to stop us from going outside and doing it without you?” Magneto asked curiously.
Tony got the feeling that no matter how mellow he grew thanks to all the various shifts in the time stream, Magneto was always going to be a cavalier pain in the ass.
Thankfully, CeeCee turned on the man. Her eyes flashed furiously enough, with enough of a threat, that even the Great and Mighty Magneto took a step back from her. He went so far as to hold his hands up to show he was harmless, the great big liar.
“What pain management options do you have?” Tony asked in an attempt to redirect their energy. “Can we inject him with something and do a test section? On like a leg—because I’m pretty sure he would cut you if you messed with his claws—or something?”
CeeCee, Lehnsherr, and Logan all exchanged looks. Logan nodded, Lehnsherr shrugged, and CeeCee sighed. “Or something.”
“Hydra’s Death Squad,” Tony watched as Yasha looked around the room, making eye contact with the king, all three of the Dora that were present, the chief of the Palace Guard, and both representatives of the Border Tribe. Tony helped by silently laying out the five headshots they’d been able to find. “Five of the most advanced combat assets on the planet. Well above your average Hydra operative but not quite up to Black Widow or Winter Soldier levels. And that’s mostly just because they aren’t enhanced.”
Tony was pretty sure he was the only one that heard the yet at the end of that sentence.
“They’re loyal, fanatics for Hydra. Their basic skills are for the most part all the same. Hand-to-hand combat, like I said. Advanced weaponry is their bread and butter. Breaking and entering’s cake. They can pilot a ridiculous number of vehicle types—land, air, and sea. The exact vehicles vary based on personal preference, for the most part, but between them, I can’t think of anything that’s not covered. They speak anywhere from five to thirty-five languages; English, Russian, and German are universal among them.
“But. They each have advanced specialties.
“Anton,” Yasha tapped the picture of the black man. He was handsome but not too handsome. He was clean looking, his eyes were average, his hair was short and well kept. Put him in a crowd and Tony could see him being fairly forgettable. “He was an American, no idea what happened to make him hate himself enough to join Hydra but he did. He was what Hydra called a ‘social infiltrator.’ An undercover specialist, he spoke thirty-five languages. Gravitas, Nat, and I killed him almost two weeks ago now.
“Sofia.” She was pretty. Small, with blonde hair up in a high ponytail. Even in the picture, her smile had a cruel edge to it. “The other one we killed. She was a legacy. Her mother was Leviathan, her father was Hydra. They facilitated the, uh, merger I guess you could say, between the two. She was a hacker. Black Hat—” he glanced at Tony to check the term. Tony nodded and he continued, “—of the worst kind. Vicious, cruel, and sometimes she was a honeypot. That’s how they recruited Josef.”
Yasha tapped the next picture. In it was a big, totally-using-steroids, kind of guy. His mouth was small and held in a tight line. In the photo, he looked kind of constipated really. “Josef is nominally the leader. He’s smarter than he looks and he’s patient. He’s the team sniper.”
“But they allowed Klaue to take the shot at Queen Ramonda,” Gravitas objected.
“Yeah,” Yasha nodded. “With bullets clearly designed with me in mind. Tells me they’re still playing him. Why, I don’t know. To feed his hatred and make him reckless? If that’s the case, and he dies on the mission, they don’t have to share any Vibranium they acquire with him. But, that’s a guess. Any analysis I could provide would likely be tainted by my extreme prejudice against Hydra.”
Yasha shrugged and moved on.
“Dima.” This guy was slender, by far more slender than Josef or even Anton. His hair was white blond and longer than the Winter Soldier’s, pulled back into a tail at the base of his head. Even in the photo his eyes looked dead, emotionless. Like a snake. “He’s the physical infiltrator. Best tracker I’ve ever seen. A talented advanced scout and a break-in specialist.
“He and Sergei—” Sergei was shorter than Dima and stacked. Like, brick shithouse stacked. His short, floppy hair was more of a golden blond than Dima’s. In the photo he was wearing glasses that there was no way he actually needed, based on how low they hung on his nose. “—were team serial killers when Hydra recruited them. Dima was the shot caller between the two of them and Sergei was his submissive. His minion.
“Sergei would do anything for Dima. Torture, murder, rape, suicide. If Dima asked him, there is nothing off the table.
“On top of that, Sergei’s specialty is explosives. Like bordering on a mutation, level of specialty. If he can combine it, he can probably get it to explode,” Yasha huffed. “He tends to wear a suicide bomber vest on missions. No dead man switch though, so kill him before Dima goes down and we shouldn’t have to worry about it.”
“Anton and Sofia are dead,” one of the Border Tribesmen, W’Naka, stated, tapping their pictures. “Why do you bring them up?”
“So you know what they’re missing. Where their weaknesses are. They’re used to working as a team, relying on each other, not all of that team is there any more. They’re off balance.”
“That is not necessarily an advantage,” the man countered.
“Without Anton there’s no way they can send in a spy,” Tony told him because W’Naka had a point but so did Yasha. “So, they aren’t likely to hear any rumors or gather any more specific intel that way. Nothing current or real time.
“Without Sofia, you don’t have to worry about advanced cyber-attacks. They’ll still probably be able to get places we’d rather they didn’t because they’re damn good, but the more technical and advanced options, like those in the more private areas of the palace complex, will be beyond them.”
“I’m worried about these mountains,” Yasha picked up the thread again, gesturing at the map below the pictures. “All three remaining members of the Death Squad are from Russia. Frozen mountains might slow them down with Klaue in the mix, but it won’t stop them.”
“But the Jabari will,” King T’Chaka chuckled darkly. “I will send a warning to Chieftain M’Bana. They will not enter Wakanda that way.”
Yasha nodded, taking the king at his word.
“In interrogation, the Source admitted their stated goal to be Vibranium theft.” Guard Captain Meika contributed. “Vibranium is mined from Mount Bashenga but that is too well guarded and they would never make it so far into Wakanda undetected.
“There are three ore processing locations along the river but those are still very central and highly unlikely targets.”
“Their best bet would be to strike one of the border settlements right after we receive a shipment.” W’Naka agreed, nodding. “Get in, set off a diversion, and make off with our monthly allotment.”
“We can’t assume they’ll go for the best bet,” T’Chaka sighed. “How do we capture them?”
Yasha shook his head, “You don’t.”
When the king reared back to look at him in reprimand, Yasha sighed. “They were trained by me. Or, rather, by the Winter Soldier. They are violent, clever, stronger than you’d think, and damn determined. If you want to protect your people, you’ll kill all of them as soon as you can.”
“Including Klaue,” Tony added, because he knew that had guy escaped them before.
It was basic logic.
Wakanda had to have him in custody in order to brand his neck. But he had to have escaped to be free for the entire time he was doing the whole arms dealer thing and the Ultron bullshit. Escaped with the Vibranium to enable the Ultron bullshit, which was even worse.
“This village,” W’Naka gestured at the map, which had no names, something that was both amusing and annoying. And a sign of continued distrust, though Tony refused to take it personally. “Is the next one on the delivery schedule. In two days, they will receive approximately half a billion American Dollars’ worth of Vibranium.
“We have seen no sign of the Death Squad’s presence.”
“Which basically guarantees that’s where they are,” Tony muttered, rubbing a hand over his face.
“I agree,” King T’Chaka nodded. “We will set up an ambush to take the interlopers but I want security on all border villages increased. Double the guard. Dragonfliers, patrol the borders. And you, my friend,” the King smirked at Yasha, clapping his still-armless left shoulder, “are expected in young Riion’s lab. It’s time you were properly armed.”
They made it down to Riion’s lab quickly, Tony lead the way since it was easily his favorite place in all of Wakanda. The closest thing to a true bionics lab there was on the entire planet.
The closest thing to his old lab in the Tower, too.
Riion grinned when he saw them, the sling on his shoulder clinked as he turned.
“Uh?” Tony asked smartly, pointing at the man’s sling.
There was no arm in the scientist’s right sleeve. Like, at all. Not even the little one he’d had before.
“I have had my stump removed and the PNP installed. However, my shoulder does not have the musculature to support a fully developed arm such as the one we have built.”
“He must build muscle before we can attach an arm to the socket,” CeeCee agreed. “Else he will damage himself permanently.”
“Is your arm done?” Yasha asked, an empathetic type of excitement shining on his face. “Can we see it?”
Riion grinned like a little boy and lead them over to a table that was draped with some fabric that was both shiny and smooth, like silk but not because Wakanda didn’t trade for silk.
There were two lumps under it, Riion twitched the cover back off the first one.
It was, as expected, an arm. Black Vibranium with gold edging between the pseudo-muscular plates. And, as Riion wanted, in the place of Yasha’s red star was a simplistic sketch of a panther head. It was done in more gold, roaring out at those daring to look upon it.
“And for you,” Riion tugged the sheet completely off the table to reveal a second arm.
This one was neither Riion’s black nor Hydra’s gleaming silver but a dark gray, sort of like hematite. Instead of the star there was the face of a wolf, done in white and snarling.
“Do you like it?” Riion asked, suddenly nervous.
“It’s amazing,” Yasha breathed. He poked Tony into picking it up. Not that it took more than the look for him to all but leap for it, really.
It had the same pseudo-muscular patterns on it as Yasha’s third arm from the future but it was lighter.
“Vibranium?” Tony asked hopefully.
“Of course,” Riion agreed. “And it contains one of the arc reactors you made for the project. I claimed the other one for my arm, I’m afraid.”
“No, no, that’s perfectly fine. I should have said, that’s exactly what I was planning. Can I see the final spec?”
“Of course,” Riion nodded. “The device is half yours anyway. More than that, if we include the arc reactor.”
“How do we put it on?” Yasha interrupted the impending nerdgasm smoothly.
Clearly, he was becoming experienced with them, Tony thought indulgently as CeeCee laid out a paper schematic on the now-empty side of the table.
“You’ll need to hit these panels to open the locking mechanism,” Riion pointed to the spots on the schematic. “Once that’s open, you line it up and slide it along the brackets on the PNP. Hit these other panels to lock it in place, the power up sequence will begin. Once the light comes on in the wolf, full motion and capabilities will be available.”
“Capabilities?” Yasha asked.
“Standard capabilities of a human arm, of course. Enhanced strength, potential up to double that of your previous arm. Which is why we had to reinforce your skeleton. Enhanced feedback, you should be able to get textures and temperature input from this arm but with practice, you’ll learn to mentally turn that off for your more rough and tumble activities.”
“We added magnets,” Tony added with a grin. “Electromagnets you can control mentally to keep from being disarmed and so you won’t be a menace to electronics. Not without meaning to, anyway.”
“Lock features,” Riion took up the thread again. “History indicates falling is a reasonable fear so we made sure you can grip and lock in to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.”
“No falling off the train,” Yasha smirked weakly.
Riion nodded, “No falling off the train.”
That night in his room—the first one since coming to Wakanda where he was actually in his room at an hour appropriate for sleep—there was a knock at the door.
“Hey, Yasha,” he greeted as he opened it.
The man looked gorgeous and somehow looked even more dangerous in loose sweatpants and an almost transparently thin t-shirt than he did in full combat gear.
“Uh, can I?” and Yasha stalled, his shoulders sagging.
“Come in? Definitely.” Tony grabbed his arm and hauled him in, closing the door on the night shift guard’s face. “What’s up, buttercup?” he asked as he led Yasha further into his sitting room and flopped down on a couch.
“Can I sleep with you?” Yasha blurted in a rush before he huffs dramatically and fell back onto his own couch.
Sleep with— Tony was more than interested in getting fucked. More, getting fucked by a super soldier, he bit his lip. He loved—
Tony reined his twenty-one-year-old, hormone-ridden-self back in. Realistically, he and Yasha weren’t that far in their relationship yet. Not that either of them was terribly old fashioned or anything, but they had issues to work through. Issues within themselves and with the outside world. Like Hydra. And Darcy. So, what could—
“You mean cuddle together? Like we did on the plane?”
Yasha’s shoulders slumped but this time it was in relaxation, not defeat. And relief, probably, that Tony got it. “Yeah, like that.”
“You ready now?” Tony asked as he popped up to head to the bedroom. “I need to brush my teeth and change.”
“That’s fine.” Yasha followed him and sat on the bed.
Tony dug in his bag for pajamas. “Talked to Darcy recently?”
“Read her a bedtime story before I came,” Yasha confirmed. “She’s pretty irritated that we don’t know when we’re coming back.”
“Well, tomorrow’s the big day,” Tony sighed. “Hopefully, anyway,” and went into the ensuite bathroom.
“Hopefully,” Yasha agreed. “But even still, there’s no way Logan will be ready in two days and we’re not leaving him behind. That would be too fucked up.”
“It’s not like Wakanda is dangerous for him,” Tony countered. “He saved the life of the Queen.”
“We’re not leaving him behind,” Yasha repeated firmly.
“We’re not leaving him behind,” Tony agreed. “How’s all that doing?”
“The Adamantium removal? They did the test leg and it worked. The solution they put him in for the Vibranium grafting was really effective at pain management so Logan wants to get all the rest done in one go.
“As his Chieftain, I gave the go ahead—he knows very well what he can take and what’s too much—but CeeCee is trying to appeal to King T’Chaka to stop it.”
“I don’t see what good that will do her,” Tony sighed, leaving the bathroom. “Drawing out his Adamantium poisoning has to be worse in the long run than pain is right now, doesn’t it?”
“I don’t want to say she’s more focused on getting her way than long term issues,” Yasha shrugged. “But she might be caught up in the argument of it. It happens to everyone occasionally.”
“A reason not to make her head of my biochem lab.”
Yasha scoffed. “Like you haven’t already decided to give it to Riion.”
“What about your friend from before? Banner? He was a biochemist, wasn’t he?”
“Right now, I’d say he’s more of a semi-permanent student than any sort of true laboratory scientist. He already has more PhDs than I ever got. But I’m pretty sure I can lure him and Betty into my lab. I mean, the government managed it in our timeline but that was a disaster that ended with the Hulk which ruined Bruce’s life. Employment with me will be much better pay, benefits, work hours, the whole enchilada.”
“You want to prevent the Hulk?” Yasha tipped his head, like a curious little puppy.
“I kinda owe it to him,” Tony quirked his lips, hoping the pain wasn’t too evident in his eyes. “He’s my friend and if I can save him from that, I should.”
Yasha nodded and kicked his bare feet up on the bed. “Who’ll take his place on the team?”
“Uh, you? Or Logan? Or, maybe, Gravitas. We have to assume the team’s going to be different this time around. We’re different, the origin of the team is different. SHIELD isn’t behind us, not really, not in the same way.”
“Okay, what other changes do you want to make?”
Tony took a seat on his side of the bed and sighed. “I haven’t really thought long term yet. My focus has, admittedly, been on keeping you safe. Cock blocking Hydra, making sure the Army can’t claim you or press charges against you, making you popular enough no one would press charges against you and take you away. Fixing the arm problem before it could kill you. That kinda stuff.”
“I feel very safe,” Yasha promised, tugging him down into a cuddle. “I think it’s time to get started on our long-term plan.”
“I—” Tony huffed but snuggled in readily. “I need more information. World-ending threats don’t come out of nowhere. Maybe someone dropped a hint and I just didn’t recognize it? Let me think about it.”
Yasha was so warm and solid, but not entirely unyielding. Like the world’s best blanket, one that cuddled you. As a bonus, the cold metal arm across his middle meant he didn’t even have to stick a foot out uncomfortably to properly regulate his temperature or anything.
Yasha muttered something but Tony didn’t hear it as he closed his eyes.
When he opened them, he was alone in bed. Well, in cot, really. This was definitely not the bed he fell asleep in—too small and distinctly lacking a certain super octo-soldier.
He turned his head to see Kaylee, the mechanic from Firefly, sitting calmly and watching him from a metal stool not far away. He was pretty sure Firefly wouldn’t even be a thing for another ten years, so what—
“You’re Yasha’s little mechanic goddess,” Tony identified as he sat up on the bed.
She grinned at him, “I am.” Her voice was deep and thick with a faint bit of echo to it that his mind instinctively shied away from. “I’m very proud of you, Tony. You’ve done very well.”
“And, who are you, exactly?”
“You can call me Bast.”
“So, you’re a—” Tony hesitated because he was an atheist and this kind of nonsense was never on his agenda. “—a goddess?”
Bast shrugged. “That’s as good a word for it as any. I am Gaia.”
“Earth. You’re the Earth.” He frowned, considering. “The Earth is sentient?”
She glared and raised a single eyebrow. Which okay, dumb question but he really did have to ask.
Fuck. He needed to re-evaluate his priorities. He’d always known the Earth was alive but not like this. This made the way they treated her in the future nothing less than bloody fucking torture.
Torture with a fatal ending for everyone.
“I had a friend that thought the Earth was intelligent and caused the number of gay/lesbian people to increase as a form of population control. I always thought that was bullshit and we just became more open about our existence.” Tony tipped his head, making it a question, not a statement.
“Same sex couples don’t breed naturally and I was trying to avoid a third World War.” She tipped her head right back at him. “Though you guys were headed that way all on your own.”
“You can cause wars?” he frowned. “Did you cause the first two world wars?”
“I didn’t stop them,” she shrugged.
Sensing there was nothing else useful to be had here, Tony changed the subject. “You know I expected a Wakandan goddess to look, I don’t know—”
“Wakandan?” She laughed. “I can look like anyone that’s ever walked the planet.” And she sort of morphed into his father. His father, just sitting on a stool in front of him deep in the belly of a battered old spaceship. Still in Kaylee’s jumper, too, which was hilarious. Then she became the Nick Fury he knew all ragged and trench-coated and eye-patched. Then Queen Ramonda, regal as ever with that really tall hat. Then she was back to Kaylee.
“No kitty ears?” he poked at her a bit. He couldn’t really help it. “No tail? I mean, panther goddess, right?”
Her eyes flashed gold in a wordless threat but then little brown kitty ears appeared in her hair with a floop.
Tony couldn’t help but laugh.
Bast smirked. “I picked this form to make you comfortable. My form didn’t matter for your Yasha. Let’s be honest, no form I could take would have made him comfortable with a stranger, but he had to pick when to go in order for me to send you.
“For you, though, I’m cute and familiar. And you actually prefer female authority figures, so it’s not like you’d have a problem working with me.”
“And you didn’t ask me because?”
“He had to choose to fix his failure, not that it was really his failure—but still. He had to pick, them’s the rules. And I didn’t think you would object to his mission objective, saving your mom and all.”
“No, no objection to that. It was just a surprise. The whole non-consensual time travel thing.”
“You were dead,” she reminded him. “But you’ve always been adaptable, Tony. I have faith in you and you should, too.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not done yet.”
“No,” she agreed. “But I believe you asked for information.”
“And you’re going to give it to me? Just like that?” Because, yeah, right.
“Perhaps. Perhaps not. Consider this a brainstorming session.”
“Okay, I can brainstorm. I like brainstorming.” Tony smirked at her, his mind churning. “Okay. So. What’s the big threat looming on the horizon? Can you give me that? I can’t really solve a problem I don’t know the parameters of.”
“There are always those that seek to unite the Infinity Stones,” she said. “They were separated for a reason.”
“Riddles. Non sequiturs. My favorite,” Tony ran a hand over his face and stood to pace. “What are the Infinity Stones?” Silence was his answer. “Can you give me an example of an Infinity Stone?”
“Contained the Mind Stone, Thor said that. That’s why we went to Sokovia to retrieve it, it was too dangerous to leave lying about. The Tesseract contained the Space Stone. How many Stones are there?”
“Alright, we’re getting somewhere. Are there any Infinity Stones other than the Space Stone currently on Earth?”
Silence. Tony decided to take that as a big fat yes.
“So, we need to destroy one? Or separate them? But then we’d need pretty fierce security, I’m assuming.” He paced some more, running his hands through his hair as he thought. Tried to think. His mind was getting nowhere.
“What allies do you have that are undefeatable?” she prompted.
Tony froze. “Uh, none. That’s pretty much why you sent us back in time, isn’t it?”
“Perhaps allies is too strong a term.” She tried again. “Enemy of your enemy.”
“Not helpful since I don’t know who this final enemy is.” Contrary to his complaint, though, his mind started working.
Thor and Asgard seem to be at the center of this mess, considering that Thor and his adopted brother Loki revealed the Space Stone. Loki carried the Mind Stone to Earth in the first place. Thor’s girlfriend, Tony was pretty sure, was the bearer of one Stone or another for a bit, before he took her on an adventure to Asgard and it got pulled out of her before they broke up.
So, an enemy of Asgard that would also be the enemy of this mysterious other.
A memory came loud in his head. One he wasn’t really sure had actually happened—but it was Thor talking to him and Steve about—
“Oh, that’s clever.” He shook a finger at her. “That’s sneaky.”
“I’m a cat,” she shrugged, a little brown tail came around her body and settled in her hands for her to pet. “There’s another issue I need you to take care of.”
He just gestured with one hand, inviting her to lay it out there.
“In reality 616B—”
“Wait, wait, wait. How do you number realities? I’m assuming time isn’t a factor.”
“The ideal reality is zero,” She explained patiently. “Every step a reality takes away from the ideal, increases the number.”
“And if two realities take the same number but different steps?”
“That’s where the letters come in.”
Of course, the letters. He would complain but his favorite math involved letters, so. “And I’m from?”
“When you died? 616C. Now? You’re currently in 394. That number has actually gone down since you returned, by the way. Congratulations.”
“Huh.” Okay, that’s— “In twenty something years, we made 222 mistakes?”
“Not you, not even just this planet, but yes. Roughly. Time travel is an interesting occurrence because time doesn’t actually travel in a straight line as humans perceive it. Time is a pond; the time-traveler is a stone. Throw a stone in a pond and you get ripples.”
“And with two time-travelers…” he prompted.
She inclined her head. “More ripples, ripples in all directions. Past, present, throughout the universe. The further the throw, the larger the ripples. Two stones, more ripples. More ripples than you will ever see. Luckily the two of you are united in your goals so that minimizes the mess somewhat, but your methods are vastly different. Like I said, it’s interesting.
“Are you ready to continue?”
“Have at,” he plopped back down on his cot to listen.
“In reality 616B, the Defective Soldiers as you call them, died in their chambers and you all survived Siberia—but the team was sundered. Many things happened that aren’t terribly relevant, but when Prince T’Challa was to be crowned as King, he faced challenge from a man named Eric Killmonger and was killed. King Eric took the might of Wakanda and turned it on the world to liberate his people and fulfill his father’s dream.”
“Eric is N’Jadaka’s Outsider name,” Tony told her, horrified. “You’re talking about N’Jadaka.”
“Not the one you know. One that was abandoned in the outside world after his father was killed by his own brother.”
“What happened to the world?”
“It came very near to ending. Until Princess Shuri—a baseline, unenhanced human—took on King Eric, who had all the might of the Black Panther in his veins, and won. When the Other came, she raised a team to face him down, but it was too late. Earth had lost too much.”
“Her team still exists? I can add them to mine?”
“Many do not exist yet. Spider-Man, for example. Wolverine and Storm do. The Phoenix has not yet developed into her whole self but, ideally, she never will. Nor will the Rogue Marvel.”
Tony…really didn’t know what to make of that. Wasn’t sure he wanted to either. “What’s the solution? What do you need from me?”
“Like all children, N’Jadaka needs to be loved. He needs a home. A foundation of his own on which he can stand tall and proud. A life where he can find his own path, rather than clinging to the burning husk of his father’s dream.”
“I mean, we can do that but I don’t think Wakanda will take it very well.”
“It must be his choice,” she said. “Wakanda will honor his choice, I swear it. But you must make sure he knows that he can make it.”
“Three minutes to position,” the voice over the radio reported to the room at large.
Captain Meika of the Dora Milaje, acting as Mission Control, keyed in to respond, “Acknowledged.”
Tony focused on getting the spybots—his drones with Wakanda’s stealth tech—into position. The problem with running an operation in a village made of huts, was that there was no good place to install cameras for observation. Especially in a village on a plane set below a forest of trees they had to assume were full of enemies.
Three spybots hovered above the village to offer bird’s eye views from the six different angles of their fore and aft cameras. A full dozen had eyes on the tree line where the attack was most likely to come from, hoping to avoid or at least head off any and all surprises. Another three were patrolling the rest of the perimeter, watching their backs. A final drone was keeping pace with the truck Yasha was in the back of.
The truck that, coincidentally, also contained the bait shipment of Vibranium.
Riion was at Tony’s side, slowly and methodically working a drone through the big ass trees Yasha identified as the best sniper territory.
Riion jerked and started hitting buttons, “Ma’am, my drone has stopped responding. Transmission lost.”
“Malfunction or destruction?” Meika asked.
“Attempting to verify. No response, assume destroyed.”
Tony transferred control of the closest tree line drone to Riion and personally adjusted the rest to cover the gap.
“Let’s see if we can find anything on the last bit of footage.” Tony took control of the dead drone’s feed to scroll back.
Meika clicked in to the radio. “Be advised, we have possible contact. Sector three.”
“We are on station, proceeding with caution.”
“Yeah, that’s a bullet,” Tony announced even as he triangulated the bullets path. “Looks like Josef took Yasha’s preferred nest.”
“Riion, verify,” Meika ordered.
With all of their planning and preparation, it was still somehow a surprise when Tony came drone camera to face with Sergei. “Contact!” He announced as the asshole opened fire.
He watched as the Border Tribesmen formed a line, and then an arch, to try and contain the man. Their traditional cloaks flashed over into honest to god energy shields. Ones that automatically interlocked when they touched, which Tony hadn’t expected and didn’t know what to do with. The tribesmen began to close in on their target.
Two men broke cover eight drones away and sprinted for the delivery truck. Klaue and Dima.
“Two breaking for the truck,” Natasha announced before Tony could do more than open his mouth. Then she was on screen, leaping from the shadows of a hut, knife already in hand.
Dima spotted her before she could tackle him and leapt out of the way. She took down Klaue instead and the struggle was on.
Dima, notably, didn’t stop to help his supposed comrade.
Instead, Dima threw himself at the truck, wrenching the door open. He kicked the truck into gear because of course the driver had left it on. This was Wakanda, why wouldn’t the driver leave the fucking thing on?
Dima hit the gas and the truck surged forward.
Nat saw him coming and managed to get mostly out of the way.
Despite the drones having no sound, Tony was certain he could hear her scream in his soul as Dima ran over at least one ankle. More than that, he couldn’t really tell, but she hit the ground very hard.
Klaue’s head went under the first wheel but Tony couldn’t even feel bad for the guy.
Then Yasha was there, hanging off an accelerating truck like a suicidal spider monkey. He shoved his left hand through the door and ripped it off its hinges—the showoff—in his haste to stop Dima and the truck.
Tony saw two sparks bounce off Yasha’s metal arm and he realized— The sniper. He’d forgotten about the goddamn sniper.
CeeCee, on site as a doctor just in case, took one ricochet in the shoulder where she was kneeling next to Nat in the grass. She staggered but didn’t go down. Instead, she threw some sort of containment field over the smaller woman and started to drag her one handed off the battlefield and under cover.
Silently, Tony held his left hand out to Riion. The man took it immediately, curled around it and started rocking in his distress. Maybe now the man would realize what the two of them meant to each other, he thought irreverently. But he also really, really hoped she was okay.
The second bullet ricocheted of Yasha’s arm into Dima.
That was what Tony assumed at least since the driver just sort of keeled over with no contact from Yasha whatsoever.
Yasha pulled him out of the truck and out of the way, climbed inside and brought the truck to a stop. He, of course, pulled the keys out of the damn thing when he had it once again in park. Because he was from Brooklyn and had actual sense.
Tony looked over to check on Sergei. The man’s mouth was moving, his stupidly big gun was still spitting death.
The border tribe was maybe two steps closer to him. Not much progress there.
Then, suddenly, Sergei was throwing down his weapon and charging bare fisted at the gathered men.
One, Tony was pretty sure it was W’Naka, Sparta Kicked the man to the chest, sending him sprawling down on his back. W’Naka then threw himself down on top of the man. He had just enough time to arrange his cloak into a dome of blue light before the asshole exploded.
Meika made a wounded noise and Tony winced in sympathy. There was no way W’Naka survived that. The cloak didn’t even survive that.
“In pursuit,” Yasha’s voice came cold and clipped over the comm.
Tony looked up to see a half-dozen of the border tribe throw themselves into the forest after him. He focused on using the drones to help as much as he could.
It would be a lot easier if he had JARVIS to coordinate his little drone army instantaneously.
There wasn’t the technology for it yet but once there was, JARVIS was going into space, Tony decided. Backup servers on a satellite. An Arc Reactor-powered, repulsor-driven satellite with a defense grid that would make at least a thousand Marines come in their pants. With the ability to communicate all over the globe because there were a lot of things the AI just couldn’t do with a few cell phone lines from Howard’s—his granddad, basically—basement.
“You’re approaching the suspected nest location,” Tony advised them all. “Proceed with extreme caution.”
Of course, one of the border tribe women didn’t listen and hopefully lost nothing more than a leg to what was probably a land mine. Two of her tribesmen stayed with her and started preparing her to get her back to the doctor with as little blood loss as possible.
Apparently, the Tribal Cloaks of Amazing worked as self-adhesive bandages, too. Who knew?
The trail was muddied by the explosion and the blood and the screaming. And was growing colder the longer they lingered, so Tony focused on taking his main drone in a gradually widening spiral around the tree, trying to pick up the scent.
It took him almost twenty minutes before he, “Found it.”
Yasha continued on with three at his back. Fuck, if Yasha lost his legs—
Tony did his best not to bite his nails.
It wasn’t hard since he only had one hand that he could use to guide the drones anyway but if he had his suit—
He didn’t though, so he did his best.
There were a few gunshots at random intervals and seemingly not aimed. Just something to make the pursuers duck and buy the pursued time.
It, unsurprisingly, worked.
Just about an hour and a half later, they made it to a brook running through the forest and one of the tribesmen grabbed Yasha before he could step into it. “That’s it,” the man said. “This is the border. We cannot cross.”
“He got away,” another growled.
Tony was waiting outside the main door to the Infirmary for their heroic adventurers’ returned.
Riion was on his left, starting to look a little gray and worn around the edges. He hadn’t stopped shaking since CeeCee took that bullet.
Morales was on Tony’s right, doing the next best thing to shifting from foot to foot anxiously. The broody and cool thing he usually pulled off was a distant memory and Tony had to think that was entirely because Nat got hurt.
Which was strange.
Last he heard Morales was ace. For him to be in a relationship with someone like the Black Widow seemed like a recipe for pain for at least one of them and Tony did not approve of that shit.
Not that he had the right to an opinion either way. Or any room to comment or throw stones, he reminded himself.
He was the one falling in love with his parents’ not-actually murderer.
A group of people flowed around the corner and made speed down the hallway toward them.
First was a floating stretcher with CeeCee strapped to it. Riion cried out and flung himself forward to follow it into the Infirmary.
Next came a stretcher with the exploding woman, missing both legs. Yikes, that had to be the work of a mine. Hopefully, not a Stark Mine, Tony couldn’t help but wince.
Third came Natasha, covered in a blue film of light just like the other two. She was out of it completely. Obviously, the light was light-years beyond regular sedatives. Tony was betting it was some sort of stasis field.
Yasha himself was pushing her stretcher forward. He looked fine. Dirty, a little pissy, but fine.
“What’s the plan?” He asked the surgeon that had worked on Yasha, Detaan, as the man moved toward them.
“I have viewed the scans made on scene. I have several more I will run here but the current plan… We have a, I suppose you could call it biodegradable glue that we will use to put her back together from toes to kneecap. The bones treated with the glue heal stronger than the bone’s previous state.”
“Sounds perfect. What’s the catch?”
“Approximately 0.02% of our population is allergic. I will have to test for the allergy.”
“Which you can do before you open her up,” Tony guessed.
“Then that’s not a problem. What is the problem?”
The doctor hesitated. “Between the surgeries on your mate and on the Wolverine, tribe’s blood supplies are dangerously low.”
“And you already have two tribesmen to work on.”
The man nodded, confirming Tony’s guess.
“That’s okay, we got a tribe too.”
“I’ll donate,” Yasha immediately volunteered, leading by example as always.
“I cannot allow that,” The doctor shook his head. “Your blood is enhanced and I cannot alter her without her permission. Neither can I chance ending the stasis to ask her permission. Her injury cannot afford it.”
“The Black Widow’s enhanced too,” Yasha informed the man. “Her serum is based off mine. She can take transfusions from me.”
“She can take transfusions from all of us,” Morales added, the other Cherries nodding behind him. “We’ll all donate. Least we can do.”
“Stinger,” the man stepped forward when Tony called his name, “Can you take blood?”
“Just gimme the tools,” He said, nodding.
“Alright, here’s the plan.” It was gratifying when they all leaned in a little the listen. “Detaan, you keep her in stasis as long as you can. Have one of your nurses start taking donations from the guys we have here.
“Stinger, you, Phantom, and Apollo will run home. Get donations from everyone you can—volunteers only—and get back here as quick as you safely can.
“I’ll call ahead so they know you’re coming. How long is the flight?”
“Three hours in the Talon.” Captain Meika interrupted, “I can fly them myself.” She was staring pointedly over Tony’s shoulder.
He turned to see King T’Chaka standing behind him. “Will blood be made available to my tribesmen?”
“Of course,” Tony agreed. Then he reconsidered and inclined his head. “Any baseline human blood we collect will be made available to your tribe. Not Enhanced blood. Especially not Yasha’s or Wolverine’s. I’m about ninety percent sure Wolverine or at least rumors of his healing factor were the inspiration for Super Soldier Serum in the first place. We don’t want to risk enhancing someone by accident. That would be no good for anyone.”
“Accepted,” T’Chaka nodded. “You may take them to New York and back, Meika. Take Gravitas and Buhle with you.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and bowed her head.
“Stinger, see if you can talk dad out of the other half of Yasha’s bag of serum. They’re right; since she’s already enhanced it, can’t hurt her.”
“Of course,” he nodded.
“Go,” Tony ordered his contingent and they began to break up.
“If you’ll come with me?” Detaan asked politely enough and everyone but Tony followed him into the Infirmary.
Tony— he needed a minute.
Just a minute to breathe. It felt like he hadn’t gotten a full breath since Nat left to get on station last night, and now she was back and injured. He walked around a corner and leaned against the wall once he was out of sight. He was alone for the first time since they boarded the plane from New York. It was nice.
It was also terrifying.
“What happened, Uncle James?” a young voice asked from somewhere out of sight. “Why are all those people hurt? I know you know.”
“My father was a War Dog, too, you know,” Zuri’s distinct tones answered. There was a moment of silence, possibly a shake or nod of a head. “He was. Badu, son of King Azizi. He went to learn of the world, to prepare Wakanda for what might be coming. That was his first duty.
“He lived in a state called Georgia—”
“I know where that is!” the kid said. “It’s in the South, right above Florida!”
“That’s right,” Zuri said kindly. “He went to school, he worked, he got to know the people and the country. Then, he was drafted into the United States Army to fight in World War II. He could have disappeared. He could have come home to Wakanda and faced no consequences but he chose to remain. He chose to fight in a war that he felt was justified.
“He joined the Army and fought on the German front. He was captured by Hydra, eventually he was freed, and he became a Howling Commando.”
“Like Sergeant Barnes!” the boy, probably N’Jadaka also called Eric Stevens, said excitedly. “And Captain America!”
“Yes, it was Captain America that rescued him.
“But. By staying in a war that wasn’t his, he prepared Wakanda for when that War found us. When Captain America came to Africa, the Black Panther—your grandfather, Azizi—met him. They fought many battles, side-by-side. They saved many lives.”
“Uncle Badu saved Wakanda?”
“That’s right. But doing so damaged him.”
Tony started to slide down the hallway in their direction as quietly as he could.
“Because he was a War Dog?” N’Jadaka, Tony could now verify, asked.
“Because there are many things in the Outside World that growing up in Wakanda doesn’t prepare you for.”
The kid tipped his head, obviously confused.
“Those people were injured because your father sold information about Wakanda to bad men.”
“Dad said his job was to sell people information.” The kid only sounded more confused. “But by selling information he hurt Wakanda? You said War Dogs protect Wakanda!”
“They do,” Zuri confirmed. “That’s why I think something happened that damaged your father, just like mine too was damaged. Mine retreated and joined the Jabari when he brought my sister and I home. Yours—”
“Got people hurt! Is he going to jail? Is he already in jail? Is that why they won’t let me see him?”
“That is why you haven’t been able to see him, yes. I don’t know if he’s going to jail—”
“Are they going to kill him?”
Zuri was quiet for longer than Tony was comfortable with and then his answer was a useless, “I don’t know.”
The kid looked devastated.
And who could blame him? That was both of parents in jail. His father was more than likely going to die because a man, a chieftain, died tonight as the result of his actions.
“You’ll be fine, you know,” Zuri tried. “We’ll all be here for you. Me, your uncle and cousins, our tribe. All of Wakanda.”
“I don’t want Wakanda,” Kid said the closest Tony’s ever heard to scathing from a not-quite eight-year-old. “I don’t want anything to do with it!”
And, again Tony couldn’t really blame the kid. He’d been in Wakanda, what, a week? Max? Tony wouldn’t buy the ‘we’re probably going to kill your dad but don’t worry, you’re safe with us!‘ bit either. Like, at all. Family or no family.
“Then come to New York,” Tony offered before he could think better of it. He peeked around the corner to find the kid surprised and Zuri first shocked then furious. “You’re always welcome at my house, kid.”
N’Jadaka studied him with eyes that were much too smart for his age. It just proved to Tony that the kid would fit in perfectly with the rest of the Too Smart for Their Own Good Household.
“And you’ll,” the kid hesitated, “be my dad.”
“If that’s what you want.”
“And Sergeant Barnes? He’ll be my dad too?”
Ah, yes, Bucky the Baby Magnet.
“We’re kind of a package deal,” Tony shrugged, trying to play it cool. He succeeded, thank you very much.
“Shouldn’t you ask him first?” N’Jadaka looked dubious.
“He surprised me with a kid, I get to surprise him with a kid,” Tony smirked. “That’s called equality.”
The kid actually laughed. “I don’t think that’s how that works.”
“What he doesn’t know…” Tony let the sentence trail as the kid laughed again. “If I’m going to be your dad, will you take some advice?”
N’Jadaka tipped his head to the side, silently urging him to continue.
“You’re really mad right now. And probably hurt and confused, too. God knows I would be in your shoes. Your feelings are absolutely valid, and I don’t want you to ever think otherwise, but do yourself a favor and make no choices right now.” The kid looked offended and Tony held up a hand. “You’re always welcome with me, that’s a promise, but making decisions while you’re angry is a mistake.
“The last time I made that mistake, I tried to murder the love of my life,” N’Jadaka’s eyes went wide. Tony gave him his best what can you do frown and nodded. “Thankfully, he’s the next best thing to indestructible so we were able to work it all out.
“He’s forgiven me for what I did but I can’t forgive myself. I won’t. I refuse to, and I don’t want you making the same mistake.”
N’Jadaka nodded and softly promised, “I will think about it.”
“Okay. And while you’re thinking also think about what you want your post-adoption name to be and what color you want your room painted.” N’Jadaka grinned and something loosened in Tony’s chest. He took a moment to think that maybe Bast was onto something here. “We’ll talk to the Queen in the morning. I bet she’ll have ideas on how this should go.
“For now, let’s go crash Uncle Logan’s movie. When I walked by, he was watching Ghost. Again.”
“Can we make fun of it?” the kid asked, perking up.
Tony nodded. “That’s the plan. Mission: Running Commentary is a go!”
“Yes!” Kid leapt from his seat and fist pumped. “Race you!”
Tony laughed and took off after him.