The bar was dark, but not quite dark enough to hide how grimy it was. Patronage was sparse - even for a place as decrepit as this - but the handful of people who were in the bar all had that weary, defeated look that marked them as habitual drunks. It was four in the afternoon.
One such customer was half-slumped over the bar, seemingly unaware of how sticky the surface was, tilting towards a similarly drunk stranger with a look which was equal parts predatory and desperate. The former was a thin, tired looking woman, whose delicate features suggested that she had once been very beautiful. Now, her mouth was crinkled with the lines of a heavy smoker, and the way her skin hung off her bones spoke of too many meals substituted with a bottle of whiskey. She looked brittle.
The man, sat on the neighbouring stool, was younger, and probably rather handsome when his face wasn't so heavy with anger and despair. He was muttering into his beer bottle venomously, only half aware of the woman listening attentively.
“You try to make something of yourself, y'know? I-... you make sacrifices, to make a change, to try and fix this… this shitty world. And it's not pretty, but someone's gotta do the dirty work, right?” He glanced at her, as if hoping for some reassurance.
“Yeah, course,” she slurred, despite the fact she had no idea what the man was rambling about.
“Yeah, exactly! And then, out of nowhere, I’m the bad guy? And then everyone's after you, and the Avengers do the exact same thing, and everyone thinks they're fucking saints?” The man was almost shouting by now, words bursting out of him with an indignant sort of rage.
The woman snorted at this. “Trust me,” she drawled, her voice sour. “Those Avengers ain't saintly. They're assholes is what they are. Stark screwed up my whole goddamn life.”
The stranger paused at this, eyebrows raised. “Really? How's that?”
The woman just waved her hand in a dismissive, clumsy gesture. “You wouldn't believe me. No one believes me.”
Intrigued, he pleaded, “Aw cmon, at least give me a try.” He gave her his best charming smile, and she folded.
“Okay, just don't laugh, alright? And don't go round telling nobody neither. But you really wanna know… I met Stark when I was 21, some fancy party that I had no right being at. Back when he screwed a different girl every night. We had a few drinks, flirted a little, and… well... yeah. Anyway, few days later-” She paused, with a false look of hesitation. The sparkle in her eyes told the stranger that this was the big finish, and she was enjoying the anticipation of the moment.
“-I’m peeing on a stick that’s telling me i’m knocked up.”
The stranger gaped at her for a moment, before a calculating look passed over his face. He smiled; the cat that got the cream.
“Wow,” He murmured, leaning towards her. “Tell me more”
Eliza woke to a pounding headache and vague sense of confusion. She was unsure where she was, but judging by the crick in her neck, it definitely wasn't her bed. Jesus, she thought to herself, what did I drink last night? She groaned pitifully for a moment, before a thought occurred to her: she hadn't been drinking. She was too busy studying for her finals, and had dropped any pretence of a social life. A wave of anxiety swept through her; where was she?
She opened her eyes, squinting against the light when it renewed the pain in her head. She was sitting on a rickety chair, and around her wrists - was that rope? She reflexively tried to pull her wrists from their bindings, true panic beginning to set in. What was happening?
“Finally, Sleeping Beauty awakens.”
Startled, Eliza looked up to find a stranger watching her, a reptilian smile on his face. He was handsome, in a generic, Hollywood kind of way. He was, Eliza thought hysterically, too pretty to be a villain. Was this some kind of prank? Was she being filmed right now?
“Now I'm sure you're frightened, but there's no need; if you cooperate, and your daddy doesn't try any tricks, you'll be leaving here unscathed. That's a promise,” the man said cheerfully. It was decidedly less comforting than the kidnapper seemed to intend.
“I think you've got the wrong girl,” said Eliza, voice unsteady.
“No, I don't think I do,” he smiled.
Eliza shook her head. “No, please, listen - I'm no one! My dad ditched before I was even born. I've got no money, no connections, student loans up to my ears. Just- please, just let me go.” The words came faster and faster, a note of hysteria creeping in.
This seemed to amuse the strange man. He laughed, doubling over, making a show of it. The man wiped imaginary tears from his eyes before crouching down to her level. Eliza jerked back, only to find she had nowhere to go. “Oh kiddo, you've got no idea, do you?”
“No idea about what?” asked Eliza desperately.
He's shook his head and stood, drawing himself up to his intimidating full height to tower over her for a moment. She sunk back into her chair, as if every molecule of her was crawling away from the man. He looked her up and down, seemingly enjoying her terror. Eliza's stomach turned. She willed herself not to throw up. He lingered for a few seconds, before seemingly growing bored of her; he turned and strode away, presumably to go terrorise someone else.
This drew her attention to the other people in the room. A group of nervous looking men and women were huddled around some computers, wires strung haphazardly connecting to… recording equipment? Scattered around were large groups of men in what appeared to be tactical gear, carrying heavy guns that looked like they belonged in action movies. Their bored, restless movements made Eliza’s stomach twist with nerves. They looked dangerous.
Looking around, she had no idea where she could be. The room was cavernous and dusty, mostly empty except for some old crates abandoned at the edge of the huge space. There were no windows, only exposed lightbulbs casting a sickly glow. She wondered whether it was day or night. The last thing she could recall was walking home from a lecture, but that could've been hours ago.
The handsome man from earlier seemed to be in charge - he was overseeing the tech guys, and they all looked extra nervous when he passed by them. Eliza figured that if the other bad guys were scared around him, she should be too.
“Hey, you,” He pointed at one of the guys tapping at a computer. The guy seemed to shrink away from the attention. “Would you like to explain to me why you're still not ready to film?” The tech guy stuttered incomprehensibly, which seemed to infuriate the man. “If you don't get this working soon, you'll be explaining to me why I should allow you to keep your fingers,” he said flatly. The other techies seemed to turn away a little, as if avoiding association with their colleague.
Eliza watched them with mounting horror as it began to sink in that these men really weren’t messing with her. Her life seemed to be in the hands of this psychopath.
Each second felt worse than the last. Eliza had never felt terror as all consuming as this before. A part of her wanted to yell, to demand answers, sure that not knowing was worse than any answer she could possibly receive. A larger part of her choked on the questions, begged her not to draw attention to herself; fear paralysed her. She felt like this man was watching her, enjoying her terror. Like an actress on stage, not knowing her lines. What could he possibly want from her?
After what felt like eternity, one of the tech guys approached with a camera, another with a microphone. Their boss followed after, at a leisurely stroll, a shark like smile on his face.
“Ready to be a star, sweetheart?”
“Sir,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. intoned. “National broadcasts have been interrupted by a message from what appears to be an unknown terror organisation.”
Tony looked up from his workbench, wiping grease from his hands. “Throw it onto the screen,” he commanded. “And alert the team.”
The monitor lit up, showing a shaky view of what resembled an old warehouse. Classic villainous lair, Tony thought to himself wryly. A man stood on one side, a cocky smile on his classic features. To his left, a woman - well, more of a girl than anything, she looked barely out of her teens - was tied to a chair, looking pale but otherwise unharmed.
The man looked into the camera. “Are you listening, Mr Stark? I hope you are, because boy do I have a hell of a surprise for you!” He smiled genially, and made a sweeping gesture to the captured girl. “Introducing… Miss Stark! That's right, Tony, you're a daddy! Congratulations.”
Tony froze, unable to process these words. It wasn't possible. Well, Tony thought, it is possible, but what were the odds? No. It was probably just some actress, there to psych him out.
The girl on the screen seemed to be as stunned as Tony. “What?” She burst out, an incredulous expression on her face. “I'm not-... Tony Stark is not my dad!”
The man chuckled. “I know this is a surprise for you both, but do shut up, kid. Daddy and I are about to have a grown up conversation.”
“No,” she shook her head, looking into the camera. “ Listen, Mr Stark, it's a trick, I'm just some random girl, don't-” Her words were cut off with a sharp backhand; her head snapped to the side with the force of it. Tony felt sick. Whoever this kid was, she was getting hurt because of him. Unless… could this be part of the act?
The man grabbed her by the jaw, turning her to face him. “Next time you speak,” he said with a deadly sort of calm, “I'll cut out your tongue.” The girl gave him a look of pure venom, but kept her mouth closed. With a satisfied smile, the man turned back to the camera. Tony felt rage bubble up inside him.
“Now I suspect you’re not entirely convinced. So let me explain. It was 1996, although I doubt you remember much of that year, that you met this darling girl's mother. From what I understand, it was a one night thing. I know what you're thinking: that doesn't narrow it down much. But I guess you're just going to have to trust me.”
Tony thought back. It had been one of his worst years, when he was really off the rails. This bastard couldn't prove this was his kid, but Tony couldn't prove she wasn't. Either way, she might be innocent, and he couldn't leave some innocent kid with this psycho. He couldn’t have that on his conscience.
“So here's the plan. You join us for a little family reunion. If you come alone and unarmed, we can do a little trade: you for her. If you bring any of your little friends, I'll slit the girl’s throat,” he said, tone matter of fact. “I’ll send our location to your people. See you soon, Tony Stark.” The man winked, and the video cut out.
Tony stared blankly at the monitor. With everything being so quiet recently, and the team back together again… he should have known it couldn't last.
Tony startled, whipping around to look at the intruder in his workshop. Steve stood by the door, looking unusually sheepish.
“We, uh… the team saw the video. They're waiting in the meeting room. We’re gonna figure out how to get her,” Steve said, unbearably earnest. Christ, thought Tony, even after all the shit I put him through, he's still trying to help. Tony nodded wordlessly, and followed across to the meeting room.
As soon as Tony entered the room, he immediately regretted it. All eyes were on him, with expressions ranging between pity and curiosity. Tony collapsed into the chair at the head of the table with all the theatricality he could muster. “Okay, let's get this out of the way: I don't know if she's my kid. Either way, I'm going to get her out. If-... I know things have been, uh, difficult between some of us, so… if any of you don't want to join me, I'll respect that. No hard feelings.”
“Tony, do you have to be so dramatic? Of course we're coming with you,” Natasha remarked, rolling her eyes impatiently. He looked around the table: Hill gave him a sharp nod; Steve gave him a solemn smile; Bucky was inscrutable as ever.
“Barnes? I'd get it if you don't-"
“I'm coming,” Bucky interrupted flatly. “The way I see it, we’re even. That shit is in the past. You messed up, but you made it right, and you've given us a place to stay. Anyway, someone's gotta make sure Steve doesn't do anything too stupid,” he smirked.
Tony breathed out. “Okay, we waiting on anyone else?”
“Clint’s at his farm, Wanda and Vision are still out of the country. Peter is available, but it would mean a detour, and I would rather not keep them waiting.” said Hill.
“Just us then, huh?” Said Stark.
Steve stood. “Okay, team, time to suit up.”
Eliza's thoughts were running fast, too fast, an indistinct buzzing in her brain. Nothing made sense. She was no one to Tony Stark. Did Stark know that? Did her kidnapper know? Why on earth would he think she was Stark's daughter?
The strange man was pacing in front of her, occasionally spinning to check that Eliza was still there, despite the fact she couldn't move. Whilst his face was blank, he radiated a feeling of anticipation, of anxiety. The armed men were feigning disinterest, but occasionally their eyes flicked towards their boss in a nervous sort of gesture. The fear was contagious, and Eliza was not immune.
With each passing minute, Eliza became more certain that Iron Man wasn't coming. She couldn't help but think that her kidnapper’s plan was poorly thought out. Why would anyone trade themselves for a stranger, regardless of biological relationship. Even if, by some obscure coincidence, Tony Stark was her father… he was just an unwitting sperm donor. Eliza felt her stomach sink, suddenly certain than Iron Man wasn't going to save her. What would these maniacs do with her? What had started as a tremble in her hands had spread throughout her body; she was shaking hard enough to make her teeth chatter.
The sound of an engine caused the entire room to freeze, time suspended. The armed men recovered quickly, jerking their weapons up to point at the door way. Eliza strained her ears, but all had fallen silent. Could it be possible that it was a random civilian, stumbling across a hostage situation? How far from civilization had they taken her?
With a crash, the door opened. Sunlight flooded the warehouse.
“Sorry I'm late to the party.”
Tony Stark stood in the open doorway, casting a long shadow. Eliza’s breath caught in her throat.
“Mr Stark,” the kidnapper said, all false pleasantry. “How nice of you to join us.”
“The pleasure’s all yours. Are you going to introduce yourself?” said Stark.
The stranger smiled like a shark. “You can call me Jones.”
A hand clapped over Eliza's mouth from behind. She swallowed a shriek, twisting around to see this new threat.
“Stay still and quiet,” a woman's voice hissed into her ear. Suddenly, the ropes around Eliza's wrists loosened and slithered to the floor. She saw a flash of red hair and realised: the Black Widow.
Tony was still talking, a seemingly casual chat; no one was looking in their direction. The Black Widow pulled Eliza up, gesturing to follow behind as she slinked silently to duck under some wooden crates abandoned by the tech guys.
“When I tell you to go, run out the door and hide, okay?”
“Okay,” Eliza said shakily.
Meanwhile, the kidnapper - Jones - was getting impatient with Stark’s stalling.
“Look, Stark, either you can come in quiet, hands on your head, or we shoot your pretty little daughter over there.” He gestured behind him, only to double take. “Where the fuck is the girl?!” Jones demanded. The men looked around, as if waiting for Eliza to jump out from the shadows.
At the lack of answers, he seemed to snap. He stabbed a finger in Stark's direction, crying, “Shoot him!”
At the burst of gunfire, Eliza clapped her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut, terrified to see the death of a hero. She took a careful breath before peeking back out, expecting to see a puddle of blood and an unmoving body.
Eliza blinked in confusion. Instead of a corpse, the doorway was blocked with a round shield. Bullets pinged off the blue and red disc, harmless. After a moment, there was a brief cease fire, the goons looking to Jones for further instructions. The Avengers seemed to take this as a signal to attack.
Captain America burst into the room, flinging his shield into the men with enough force to shatter bones. Flanking him was the infamous Winter Soldier. Eliza watched in astonishment as the former assassin took out the assailants with a calm efficiency. His movements had a deadly grace. By contrast, the enemies looked like amateurs - children playing at being mercenaries. Following the duo was Iron Man, looking so much bigger now in his latest suit, repulsors at full blast. They were a good team, but the pure number of opponents was overwhelming.
The Black Widow grabbed Eliza's shoulder, pulling her attention from the battle. “Move. Now!” Black Widow commanded, pulling out two handguns. Eliza nodded, and Black Widow an encouraging smile before darting out to fire at the men.
Eliza ran. She had never been particularly athletic, but in that moment she sprinted like she never had before, fear and urgency in every bone of her body. Her mind chanted desperately, go go go. The light of the doorway was beckoning, the sweet promise of escape. Every part of her yearned to run from this place, this dark room where she thought she would face her end. She was only metres from the exit, just about to make it, and-
An arm shot out to grab her. Eliza's momentum made the arm feel like a gut punch, and she doubled up, momentarily stunned. Rough hands pulled her up. She pulled away sharply, only to still when she felt cold, unyielding metal at her temple. She closed her eyes, but the pain never came.
“Everyone stop, or I'll shoot her, I swear to God I will!”
The voice was unfamiliar, a random assailant among the sea of black-clad soldiers. He sounded… young. Scared. Eliza would probably feel pity for him, if he wasn't holding a gun to her head.
The sounds of gunshots and fighting got quiet quick. Everyone turned to look at Eliza - a hostage once again.
“Don't move,” the young mercenary called out, voice shaky.
“Okay. Nobody's moving. Don't shoot, okay?” placated Captain America.
Iron Man's face plate moved up with a mechanical hiss, to reveal Tony Stark. His face was grim and pale, so unlike the version of himself that Eliza had seen in magazines.
“Right, okay. Okay,” the hostage taker muttered, before yelling, “Stark for the kid, okay? I don't want to kill anyone, I just want to get this fucking job done. Alright?”
There was a pause. Eliza could see The Avengers analysing the situation, trying to find another option. From the grave expressions in their faces, it seemed that they found no solutions.
“Okay,” Tony stated. He sounded defeated, but determined.
“Tony, no,” Steve blurted. “We can find another way. Let's be reasonable here.”
“I am being reasonable, for once in my life. This is the only way.”
Panic swelled in Eliza, making it hard to think. She couldn't allow this to happen. Tony Stark was a hero. The world needed heroes. The world didn't need her.
The Black Widow and Winter Soldier were both watching with grave expressions. Captain America was shaking his head, face pleading - he never had been good with compromise, if the history textbooks were to be believed. Stark avoided their eyes.
With false cheer, Stark asked, “So how do we do this? What's the plan?”
Eliza thought desperately, trying to come up with a plan. She glanced around, but there was no backup, no potential distractions. Just four Avengers, a bunch of anonymous attackers - most of whom were lying prone on the floor - and her. She noted, with a vague sense of disgust, that Jones had disappeared, like a rat from a sinking ship.
“Uh, okay,” the amateur mercenary stalled for a moment, before deciding, “Come out from the Iron Man suit, walk over here, and let us detain you. If it looks like you're gonna try something, I'll shoot her, I swear to God. Once you're tied up, we'll let her go with your friend. I won't hurt them, I swear.”
Eliza felt like she was going to throw up. This wasn't right. She wasn't worth this. If she was honest with herself, brutally honest in a way she rarely was… no one would care if she died today. Sure, she had friends in her classes who would wonder where she was, but after a couple of months of nothing, they would forget her. She had no boyfriend, or girlfriend, for that matter. She hadn't spoken to her mother in almost a year, and had no other family to speak of. No one would miss her. Tony Stark, on the other hand… the world needed him. Who else would save the world?
As she watched, the Iron Man suit opened up and Stark stepped out. He was, Eliza thought, smaller than she had realised. He held his head high, but his face was pinched in an expression which could only be fear, true terror, hidden just under the surface. All of a sudden, the great Tony Stark looked young and frightened and very, very vulnerable. Despite all that, he took a step towards the enemy.
It was that moment that Eliza decided: she could not let this man die for her. She had never done anything truly brave in her entire life, always just trying to get by. She had watched from safety as Iron Man saved civilian after civilian during the Battle of New York. Maybe it was her turn to be a hero. Maybe it was Stark's turn to be saved.
With a war cry, Eliza wrenched the barrel of the gun away, tackling the man backwards. Stunned, he fell, but he recovered quickly, pulling the gun back and squeezing the trigger. Eliza barely had time to feel afraid.
The sound of the gunshot was deafening. Eliza dropped to ground. Her final thought was, I thought it would hurt more.
And then everything went black.
“Christ,” muttered Tony. He was cradling a coffee in unsteady hands. A paramedic had attempted to put a shock blanket around him, but had been warned off with a glare which promised violence. Tony took another sip of lukewarm coffee.
Natasha sat next to him, shot him an unreadable look. It was impossible to tell if she was feeling concern or contempt. Tony had long since given up trying to figure her out. The silence stretched out between them.
“Why-” Tony began, only to clear his throat and start again. “Why did she do that? It just… I don't get it.”
Natasha gave him a wry grin. “Maybe martyrdom runs in the family.”
Eliza woke to a throbbing head and a vague sense of confusion. It was much too familiar for her liking.
A heart monitor was beeping to her right, the noise obnoxiously loud. Her head pounded along with it. She felt like her brain had been replaced by cotton wool. Why was she in hospital?
Her stomach twisted as she remembered: her kidnapping; The Avengers; Iron Man trying to sacrifice himself. Her decision not to let him.
Eliza opened her eyes, only to wince against the light as the pain in her head tripled in response. She took a few deep breaths, steeling herself to try again. She was determined to find out where she was; she needed to know that she had gotten out. Eliza made another unsuccessful attempt, letting out an involuntary whimper that she would probably be embarrassed about later.
“Hey, you awake?”
It took her a moment to identify the speaker as Tony Stark. The situation seemed surreal; Eliza had grown up hearing him on television, and here he was at her bedside.
She tried to tell him yes, but it came out as an unintelligible groan. Distantly, she noted Stark muttering something about finding her doctor before striding away. She drifted on the edge of consciousness for a while, until she heard a pair of footsteps approaching. A few moments later, the throbbing in her head eased away. Eliza sighed in relief. Under the heavy fog of what could only be really good drugs, she sank back into unconsciousness.
When Eliza woke again, she felt significantly more cognisant, her headache fading to a minor thrumming as she slept. She blinked her eyes open, squinting over to where Stark sat beside her. He was seemingly absorbed with the Starkpad on his lap. There was a pile of empty coffee cups next to him, and he had another in his hand. He had either received two black eyes, or he hadn't slept in a while.
Eliza wondered whether she should let him know that she was awake. She felt uncomfortable watching him, like she was spying in a private moment. She cleared her throat, feeling a little silly, but Stark didn't respond. Eliza took a moment to question how she had gotten into such a ridiculous situation, and then told herself firmly to woman up.
His head snapped up, face surprised as if he had forgotten she was in the room.
“Hi, hello, uh… how are you feeling?” Stark seemed at least as uncomfortable as Eliza felt.
“Yeah, I'm okay. What-... wasn't I shot?” The real question was clear: How am I alive?
“Yeah, but only a little bit. You haven't even been out a full day.”
“I was shot… a little bit,” Eliza repeated incredulously.
“Yep, just a graze. Doc says you'll make a full recovery; you got lucky.”
“Oh yes, I'm feeling very lucky,” commented Eliza dryly. She quickly blushed when she realised what she had said. She hadn't meant to sound ungrateful, or-
But Stark was laughing. “Oh, so you're funny, huh? I can work with that.”
Eliza frowned, puzzled by what that meant, but before she could ask, a smart looking woman in a white coat - presumably her doctor strode into the room and introduced herself as Dr Parrish. She picked up her chart, giving it a quick scan before noting down some some numbers from the monitor to the left of Eliza.
“So, Miss Lovedale, how are you feeling?”
Eliza blinked; how did they know her name? “I feel okay,” Eliza replied cautiously.
“Good. We’re just going to run through a few quick tests now. Your CT scan didn't indicate any real damage, but we like to make sure,” the doctor said, pulling out a pen torch. She checked Eliza's pupil reflexes, declaring them ‘perfectly normal’, and checked the wound at her hairline. After applying a clean dressing, she smiled and said, “Almost done, we just need to run through few standard questions, okay?”
At Eliza's nod, Doctor Parrish asked her date of birth, requested that Eliza recount the months of the year in reverse, and asked if she could remember who the current president was (to which Eliza replied, I wish I didn't, earning a laugh from Stark and a stern look from her doctor).
At long last, the doctor smiled. “Excellent. I'm happy to discharge you from the medical ward today, but you'll have to visit again to have your stitches out in a week, okay? And I'll give you some prescription painkillers to take up to four times a day, but if you suddenly feel worse, any dizziness or nausea, come visit me straight away.”
Eliza nodded eagerly, wanting to leave this sterile little room as soon as possible, and the doctor strode off to find her release papers. Eliza took this as opportunity to figure out what the hell was going on.
“Mr Stark, how do they know my name?”
“F.R.I.D.A.Y. did some facial recognition, nothing too complicated,” said Stark dismissively.
“Uh… Who's Friday?” Asked Eliza, more confused than before.
“That's me,” intoned a woman voice. She had an Irish lilt, and her voice seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y. is my faithful A.I.”
“A.I.? As in… artificial intelligence? Genuine artificial intelligence?” said Eliza, tone sceptical.
“I am a genius,” said Stark with false offence.
Doctor Parrish returned. “I just need to take your IV out. You might feel a pinch.” Eliza turned away, not wanting to see the needle - she had always been a little squeamish. Facing away, she could see Stark watching her, giving her a smile which was probably supposed to be reassuring. Eliza gave an uncertain smile in return.
With that done, the doctor passed her some papers, and with a few signatures she was free. Eliza was about to ask why the doctor hadn't requested her insurance information, before deciding not to mention it. Eliza had no medical insurance, and she had been taught to never look a gift horse in the mouth.
“So, where about are we?” Eliza was unsure how she would be getting home; she hadn't had a chance to grab her purse before being drugged and kidnapped.
“The Avengers facility in downtown New York. It's kind of HQ now, with a few of us staying here. Don't worry, the decor isn't as drab outside of the med ward. Right, how about we go get some food, huh? You must be hungry.”
At the mention of food, Eliza suddenly realised she was starving, but it seemed rude to intrude on a stranger for so long.
“That's very kind of you, Mr Stark, but I don't have any money with me,” said Eliza politely.
Stark shot her a look of surprise, followed by a sardonic grin. “Kiddo, I'm a billionaire. Pretty sure lunch won't bankrupt me. And quit calling me Mr Stark, it's too weird. You can at least call me Tony.”
“Right,” said Eliza, feeling out of her depth. She had never had money- she scraped by with a scholarship and a part time job, but even then it was tough to make ends meet. This was a familiar feeling to her. All through her childhood, her mother had struggled to keep a job, and half her paycheck was spent on booze anyway. The concept of money being such a second thought was hard to wrap her head around. It seemed strange to her that he was willing to spend it on her now; she remembered her mother's drunken talking about how her no good father refused to help them.
“Cmon,” said Stark, leading her down airy corridors to a small restaurant area. Tony sat without waiting to be seated, and Eliza followed a little helplessly. A waiter promptly gave them a menu each, and took their drink orders.
A silence overtook their little table. Eliza felt out of place; the restaurant was understated, but probably the nicest place that Eliza had ever eaten at. Eliza couldn't help but feel self conscious wearing the same jeans and baseball top that she had been wearing yesterday, the collar stained with a few drops of blood. She wished she had been offered a change of clothes, if nothing else but to mark the day as a new day. She felt lost in time - the warehouse had been windowless, and after being unconscious she felt disoriented. The last couple of days was like a surreal nightmare. She fiddled with the menu, pretending to read it again, although she had already made a decision.
The waiter returned with their drink orders - a coke for Eliza and whiskey for Tony - and took their food orders. Eliza carefully didn't comment on his choice to drink alcohol at lunch. They both took a sip, glad for something to do.
Tony cleared his throat. “Okay. This is a weird situation for the both of us, there's no denying. Pepper is exasperated. She thought I'd done created every scandal possible by this point, but hey, at least I'm not predictable! It's nice to keep things interesting, huh?”
Eliza blinked, unsure if she was really supposed to respond to this. She took a sip of her drink instead.
“Anyway, so now you're awake we should probably go through the plan, or at least Pepper told me that I should, and Pepper is usually right,” Stark rambled. “I know this is a big change, but I think you'll like it. I mean, I hope so. Pepper had already got your room made up, it's big, you'll love it. And there's a kitchen and common room on the residential level, don't worry, you don't have to eat down here. I've already got people at your apartment packing your stuff, so-”
“Wait, hold on,” Eliza interrupted, bewildered. “What do you mean, my room?”
“Well, you're moving here, obviously.”
“No, not obviously. When was this decided?” She snapped.
Stark clearly had not been expecting this reaction. “Uh, 10 hours ago? I don't understand the problem. It's the safest place, away from reporters and-”
“Look, you can't just decide that I'm living here. I have classes, finals to take. I'm an adult, and you're a complete stranger. There's no way I'm staying here.”
“Okay, that's a little harsh. I know I haven't been there for you, but I'm your father, so-”
“Stop right there. You're not my dad,” said Eliza.
“Yeah, I know I haven't been a dad to you, and I'm sorry-”
“No,” Eliza interrupted yet again. “You don't understand, Jones just made that bullshit up. I'm not your kid.”
Tony paused at this, assessed her for a moment. “Crap. I kind of assumed you knew.”
“Biologically speaking, I am your father. Our DNA matched.”
Eliza fell silent. She couldn't process this. Even in the warehouse, when she considered this, she never truly believed it possible. Eliza was… she was no one. Her mom would have said, wouldn't she? She had been told that her dad knew about her, but he didn't want to know - he never even paid child support. She had never been given a name. Did this mean Stark had known this whole time? Despite being a billionaire, had he really been unwilling to give her mother a cent?
Then she realised what Tony had said.
“DNA match? Did you take a DNA sample from me whilst I was unconscious?” Her voice was even, perfectly calm. Tony looked nervous.
Eliza stood up. You would probably think she was entirely serene, if you didn't notice the tremble in her hands.
“Mr Stark, I have to decline your offer. As far as I'm concerned, you're no one to me, and I want to keep it that way,” she stated.
Stark jumped to his feet, eyes wide. “Wait, no, just hear me out!”
“No. I appreciate you coming to save me, but I am the one who decides where I live, and I am the one who decides if I want a paternity test. Not you. Don't follow me,” she said, voice firm. She walked away walked away without a backwards glance.
The compound was a maze. There were no signs, so Eliza picked a direction and started walking. She was furious. Stark may be an Avenger, but that didn't give him the right to take her choices away from her! Eliza had worked too hard to throw away her education, her life, just because someone waltzed into her life after 20 years of nothing.
Eliza was so distracted by her fury that she marched right into someone with enough force that she bounced off him. She would have tumbled to the floor if strong hands hadn't grabbed her first. She craned her head up to see Captain Fucking America, because of course.
She blushed a vibrant red. “Crap, I'm so sorry!”
“Don't worry about it,” he told her earnestly, releasing her. He looked at her, cocking his head to the side. “If you don't mind me asking… are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry, I'm fine,” said Eliza, a little embarrassed that she was so easy to read. Then she took a step back, suspicious. “Wait, did Stark send you?”
“Tony?” The captain looked concerned. “No, he didn't. What has he done now?”
“He just-... He's impossible! First of all he carries out a paternity test without my knowledge, and then he tells me that he's decided I'm moving in!” She exclaimed.
“Sounds like Tony,” he sighed. “He has a habit of assuming he knows best. The thing is-” he looked around the empty corridor before continuing, “he's always trying to do what's right. I'm not defending him - he goes about it all the wrong way - but at heart he's a good man. The truth is, you staying here is your safest option. That video of you and Jones was broadcasted nationwide; the press are desperate to get an exclusive on you. Not to mention the number of people who would love to use you to get to Tony.”
Eliza felt thoroughly chastised. There was nothing quite like a lecture from Captain America himself to make you feel like a tantrum throwing toddler. She hushed the small part of her wondering how abandoning his own child was for the best.
“So you think I should stay?”
“I think that only you can make that call. If you decide to leave, I won't stop you… but I'm hoping you won't.”
Eliza considered this for a moment. Her sense of conviction had abandoned her. She still wanted to get the education she had worked hard for, but an education would be a poor consolation prize if she got murdered in the process.
She sighed. “Okay. I'll stay.”
“... And this is your room. You can change anything you like, obviously, we can order new stuff,” Tony rambled. When he had picked out the room, he had thought it a good choice; it was open and airy, huge windows and white walls. Now, though, it looked… impersonal. The colourless walls were oppressive. It looked like a hotel room, not a home.
Tony watched as Eliza walked into her new room. Her face was impassive.
“There are some change of clothes in the wardrobe, just until your stuff arrives, which should be tonight. If you need anything, just ask F.R.I.D.A.Y., okay?”
Eliza gave a brief nod, which Tony took as his cue to leave.
He wandered over to the common room, and found Pepper and Sam Wilson sat at the table. Littered in front of them was, in Tony's opinion, a hideous amount of paperwork. He ducked down to plant a peck on Pepper’s cheek, and continued on to the coffee maker.
“Samuel, sunshine of my life, to what do we owe the pleasure?” Things were still a little awkward between Sam and Tony. Sam was forgiving guy, and Tony liked him, but after what had happened with Rhodey… sometimes it felt that a lot was left unsaid.
“Steve invited me to stay for a bit - might have suggested that with everything going down, you might need a hand. Right now, I'm just helping Pepper get things sorted for Eliza.”
“I thought everything was done? She's all moved in.”
Pepper sighed, long suffering. “She's moved in, but there's plenty left to do. We still need to get in contact with Cornell to explain why she needs time off, not to mention sorting things with her old landlord, figure out how to get the press to back off…”
“Right…,” said Tony, “You do that, I'm going to go take a nap.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “Sure, man, just leave us to this.”
Eliza investigated her room - bigger than her entire flat - before entering the en suite. She then spent almost an hour having the best shower she had ever had. By the time all the dust and blood and been rinsed down the drain, she felt halfway human again. She dumped her clothes in the bin; Eliza wasn't wasteful, but you have to accept when something is beyond saving.
She found a soft t-shirt and sweatpants in the (excessively large) wardrobe, and wondered absently how they had known her size.
Next, she decided to brave the kitchen. She thought regretfully of the restaurant downstairs. It was too bad that Stark had not waited until the main course before being a presumptuous ass.
Eliza paused at the doorway, but couldn't hear any sign of chatter from within. Praying that the kitchen would be empty, she stepped inside.
As was the norm, her prayer hadn't been answered. Perched on the countertop, drinking straight from the coffee pot, was a man she recognised as Hawkeye. He hadn't appeared to notice her. Eliza hesitated. She didn't really have the energy for another bizarre interaction, but she really was hungry. She considered calling out to him, but found she couldn't remember his real name - it had been a while since he was a wanted fugitive, and since The Avengers who had supported Captain America had been pardoned, everything had been pretty quiet.
Eventually, she decided to hell with it, she was too hungry for this. Squaring her shoulders, she marched in like she owned the place, going straight for the fridge. This was enough for Hawkeye to finally look up from his coffee.
“Uh, hey,” he blinked blearily. “Do I know you?”
Eliza paused; this was not the reaction she had been expecting. “I'm… Eliza?” At his blank look, she added, “Stark's kid?”
Hawkeye frowned. “Aw, no, did I hit my head again?”
Eliza shrugged. “How would I know?” She began to dig around cupboards until she found cereal, and then began her search for a bowl. “I would assure you that I'm real, but maybe your hallucination would say that, so I can't really convince you either way.”
Cocking his head to the side, he asked, “Okay, so if I'm not concussed… since when does Stark have a kid?”
“Well, for 20 years I guess, that's generally how paternity works. Although, we didn't find out until a couple days ago. I was kidnapped, the kidnapper hacked a national TV network to threaten Stark, it was a whole thing. Where have you been?” Eliza continued her search for a bowl - the kitchen was huge.
“On mission. I got back-,” he checked the kitchen clock, “47 minutes ago.”
“Well, that would explain it.”
“Bowls are in the cupboard to the right of the sink,” said Hawkeye.
Eliza blinked, surprised. “Thanks.”
Cereal now in bowl, she poured the milk and grabbed a spoon. She took an impressive mouthful, and stifled a moan. It was some damn good cereal. There was a pause in conversation as she devoured her food.
“I don't know your name,” Eliza blurted out between bites.
“I'm Hawkeye. Don't you recognise me?” He asked, miming a bow and arrow with a grin.
“No, I mean your real name.”
“Oh,” he said, wrong footed. “It's Clint.”
“Nice to meet you, Clint,” said Eliza, dumping her empty bowl in the dishwasher and retreating back to her room, intending to sleep for about 100 years.
Tony was just falling asleep when his phone rang. He commanded F.R.I.D.AY to shut the phone up, please, I'm begging you. F.R.I.D.AY obliged, but the caller rang back immediately. With a groan, Tony grabbed his phone from the bedside table and answered, “Unless the world is ending, I'm not interested.”
“Tony, if you hang up on me, I'll go to the press with the story of your 23rd birthday,” threatened a familiar voice.
“Cmon, Rhodes, that's cold. I thought we were best friends?”
“Yeah, me too, but best friends tell each other about their children ,” said Rhodey.
“In my defence,” said Tony, “I didn't know until the TV broadcast.”
“Really,” said Rhodey flatly.
“Yes, really!” Tony was indignant.
“So the mother never came to you? Why wouldn't she ask for child support, at least?” Rhodey asked, puzzled.
Tony thought. “Maybe she wanted to keep it quiet?”
“Yeah, maybe,” said Rhodey, but he didn't sound convinced.
“You don't think Stane…?” Tony trailed off.
There was a considering sort of pause, before Rhodey replied, “If Stane covered it up, he can't have been the only one to know. A receptionist, whoever took the call… Stane would have had to keep them quiet. But why-”
“Stane would have done anything to keep me as the oblivious playboy who only thought about booze and girls. Having a daughter would have changed things,” Tony said bitterly.
“Or maybe the mom just didn't want you involved,” said Rhodey, his tone apologetic.
“Maybe. I guess I'll have to look into it,” said Tony. ‘Anyway, how's consulting going for you?”
Rhodey didn't comment on the obvious change of subject. “It's not active duty, but it's something. Speaking of, I gotta get back - but keep me in the loop, alright?”
“Okay, later Rhodey.”
Tony hung up, considering for a moment.
“Hey, F.R.I.D.A.Y., bring up the staff records for anyone who would have taken a phone call for me between 1996 and 1997.”
Eliza woke with a gasp at quarter to three in the morning. Disoriented, she scrambled out of a bed that was too large to be hers. She tried to breathe properly, but her lungs felt too tight. Where was she?
The room suddenly flooded with light. “Eliza, please calm down. You're safe.”
Eliza span, but couldn't locate the source of the voice. Was someone in the room? Watching her?
“You are in your room at Avengers HQ. You are safe.”
Eliza deflated, letting out a gust of breath. Embarrassment swept over her. She felt awfully silly all of a sudden - as though she were six years old and afraid of the dark all over again. “Sorry,” she muttered, heat rising to her cheeks.
“Nothing to sorry about. Would you like me to get Tony for you?” F.R.I.D.A.Y. inquired, voice friendly as ever.
“No!” Said Eliza, too fast.
“Okay, but please do let me know if there's anything I can do for you.”
Eliza stood for a moment, unsure what to do with herself. She was still tired, but felt too jittery to stay still. In the end, she decided to go explore the building; walking might ease off some of the anxiety, or so she hoped. At this hour, it was unlikely that she would run into anyone.
She followed the vaguely familiar path to the kitchen, and tried from there one of the halls branching out from it. One held only three doors which Eliza thought were all unused, maybe guest bedrooms, based in the thin layer of dust coating the doorknobs. She retraced back to the kitchen and chose a different direction.
This one led to a large open space that was presumably the common room. One end was occupied by a bar and a pool table; The other held an oversized television, crowded with various comfortable looking sofas. She wandered over to the pool table, considering whether or not it would wake anyone if she were to take a few shots to pass the time. Before she had come to a conclusion, a voice interrupted.
Eliza let out an undignified shriek, whirling around to face the unknown voice. Behind her, curled up on a couch was Bucky Barnes. How she had missed him before, she didn't know, but it probably had something to do with how small and still he was, sitting there with his knees tucked up under his chin. She wondered to herself of she should be afraid. She was, after all, alone with The Winter Soldier, one of the most infamous assassins to ever exist. Looking at him now, she didn't feel fear.
“Hey, sorry. I didn't see you there.”
“It's okay,” he mumbled.
She assessed him for a moment; he looked sad, exhaustion evident in every line of his body. He didn't look like someone who should be left alone. “Do you mind if I sit?”
He looked at her, a little bemused, but maybe a little hopeful too. “Sure,” he said.
Eliza perched on the armchair neighbouring him, not wanting to invade his space, but also unwilling to show any sign of fear.
“So, I guess you could sleep either, huh?” said Eliza.
“No, but it's nothing unusual. I think I was an insomniac even before…” he trailed off.
“Right,” said Eliza, internally cursing her choice of subject matter.
“So,” Bucky ventured, “how are you liking Avengers HQ?”
“It's…” Eliza paused, thinking of something to say that didn't sound too offensive, “It's big.”
Bucky snorted. “You hate it.”
Eliza laughed a little, “No! I mean, yes, but mostly because I'm not allowed to leave. There's nothing wrong with the place, I just don't appreciate Stark being so…” She waved her hands vaguely.
“Yeah, Stark can be difficult. He's a good guy though, deep down.”
“Really? Didn't he, like, try to kill you?” Eliza blurted.
“Yeah, but he made it right. Gave us a place to stay, designed me a new arm,” he flexed his metal arm in demonstration. “Besides, I've killed a lot of people - who am I to judge?”
Eliza raised her eyebrows at this. “But you didn't have a choice, right? That's what everyone said when you were pardoned.”
“But I still did it.”
“Irrelevant,” she stated decisively. “It’s our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” she quoted with a grin.
Bucky frowned. “Who said that?”
Eliza shot him an appalled look. “Please don't tell me you haven't seen Harry Potter.”
“I've been kind of busy,” he shrugged.
“That's unacceptable. We're watching it.”
“As soon as I've grabbed snacks,” said Eliza, standing.
“Food is not currently required to maintain asset,” said Bucky, voice mechanical.
Eliza turned to face him, a little freaked out, but trying not to show it. “What?”
Bucky shook his head, a look of frustration passing over his face. “Sorry. Sometimes, when I haven't slept, I can get a bit…” He trailed off, running a hand through his hair.
“Nah, it's cool,” Eliza said offhandedly. He still looked a little chagrined, so she continued breezily, “I'll go get the food, I'll be back in two secs. F.R.I.D.A.Y., can you set up the first Harry Potter?”
“Of course,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. intoned cheerfully.
Eliza dashed into the kitchen, returning with various packets of potato chips, cookies, and some ice cream that she had discovered in the freezer.
“Okay, prepare to have your mind blown. I mean, the first movie is not the best of the Harry Potters - the third and sixth are my favourites - but it's still awesome,’ said Eliza excitedly.
“How many of these are there?” Bucky exclaimed.
Eliza just grinned. “You may as well get comfortable.”
Bucky returned her grin with a smile of his own. It was small, but honest, and in that moment, Eliza felt like she had earned something rare and important. Maybe she could learn to belong in this strange place after all.
Tony stumbled his way towards the kitchen the next morning in a desperate bid for caffeine. He had spent his night digging through old staff records.
Caffeine acquired, he stepped into the common room, only to freeze. Tony blinked in astonishment. Asleep on the couch was Eliza and Barnes.
For a moment, Tony felt a sharp stab of envy; It seemed unfair that Eliza seemed more comfortable with an assassin than with her own father. Tony guiltily pushed that thought down. He should be happy that she found someone she could talk to. He wanted her to be happy here.
Tony quietly stepped back. He could drink his coffee in the kitchen.
Eliza woke, feeling stiff, but better rested than she had in a long time. She looked over to where Bucky was curled up. He looked young, his face softened with sleep. Eliza stood, stretching - her back popped satisfyingly. She tried to creep away, thinking that Bucky probably need the sleep, but she wasn't quiet enough. Bucky sat up straight, entirely too alert for someone who just woke up.
“Morning,” said Eliza.
Bucky stiffened, eyes darting around nervously. “Was I… did I fall asleep?” His voice was rough.
“Yeah, we both did.”
He nodded, still looking a little freaked out, before he marched away wordlessly. Eliza didn't take it too personally; after all the shit he had been through, he was entitled to be a little weird. Even Eliza was a little surprised that she had fallen asleep with a stranger in the room.
Picking up the empty food wrappers, she carried them to the kitchen. Sat at the table was Tony. He looked up at her, a hopeful look on his face. With a sigh, she threw away the trash, and sat opposite her father.
“How did you sleep?” Tony asked politely.
“Fine. Yourself?” she replied.
An awkward silence ensued. Eliza had never been very good at small talk.
Tony cleared his throat. “I've been looking into why I never heard about you.”
“What?” Eliza's voice was sharp.
“It just seems weird to me that your mom never got in contact, yknow? Even if it was just to request child support.”
“Wait,” said Eliza, disbelieving. “You're saying you didn't know about me?”
“I-...,” Tony frowned. “Of course not. Did you think...?”
Eliza felt frozen with shock. Her entire life, she had very few things that she held as certain. She could never be confident that her mom would have money for the rent, or that they would be staying in one place for too long. But one constant was her dad; or, at least, her lack of one. She had known that her dad hadn't wanted her, and she had made her peace with that. And now, to question that belief… she couldn't process it.
“No, no, my mom said… she got in contact, when she realised she was pregnant. You didn't want any involvement, refused to even meet with her. She told me that my dad didn't want me.”
Tony looked pale. “Eliza, I swear, I didn't know. I didn't know,” he said, voice tight with remorse.
Eliza looked away, a hot pain in her throat building as she choked back tears. A few escaped, and she brushed them away hastily, feeling humiliated. She commanded herself sharply to stop overreacting. It was in the past; what did it matter if Tony had known?
“I'm so sorry,” murmured Tony.
Eliza laughed wetly. “It's not your fault if you didn't know. Sorry, I don't know why I'm getting so…”
“No, don't…” Tony hesitated, before reaching over to put a tentative hand on her shoulder. Eliza's body seemed to react of its own accord. She reached out for him, a childlike need for comfort. As he folded his arms around Eliza, she knew that she would feel embarrassed about this later, but… not now. Now, she buried her head in Tony's shoulder, and felt truly safe for the first time in a long time.
When they broke apart, neither could meet each other's eye. However, the room felt less tense than when Eliza had entered.
“So, uh, I promised Peter that I would pick him up, since he's staying for the weekend. Want to join me? We can use one of the good cars. I mean, all my cars are good, but we can use one of the really good ones. In fact, you can choose which. Hey, do you drive?” Tony babbled.
Eliza took a moment to parse through the influx of information. “Yeah, sounds fun. Who's Peter?”
“Who's- oh, Spider-Man. Wait, I'm probably not meant to tell you that. Pretend to be surprised when he tells you, okay? It won't take long, he loves telling people.”
“Uh, sure. I'll just go get ready, okay?”
Tony waved a hand magnanimously. “Of course, just let F.R.I.D.A.Y. know when you're ready.”
“Oh, I forgot to ask, has my stuff arrived yet? I appreciate the sweatpants, but…”
“Crap. Uh, kind of slipped my mind. I think the delivery guys left them downstairs. I'll get Captain and Co. to help carry them up later.”
“Oh, I don't want to be a bother,” said Eliza.
“They're staying here for free, they should at least make themselves useful.”
Eliza laughed lightly. “If you insist.”
Eliza met Tony in the garage. The car that Tony had selected looked expensive - a classic, he had assured her - but she didn't know enough about cars to appreciate it. The important part was that it would get Eliza out of here.
As Tony turned the key in the ignition, music started blasting. Eliza looked over at him, eyebrows raised.
“Don't worry,” Tony laughed. “You can put something else on.”
“No, it's not that. It's just… I love this song.”
Tony gave her a look, unconvinced.
“What? It's a good song!” Eliza said, indignant.
“You just didn't seem like a Led Zeppelin kind of girl.”
“Well, I wouldn't like to be too predictable,” she said playfully.
Driving out of the facility was like surfacing. She smiled, winding down the window to feel the wind on her skin. It had only been a few days, but it felt like a lifetime since she had felt free.
It took a while to arrive in Peters neighbourhood. Eliza didn't mind it - she knew that the sooner they arrived, the sooner they would be back. They eventually came to a stop outside an apartment building. Eliza felt a little surprised for a moment, expecting a superhero to live somewhere a little nicer, and then scolded herself for making assumptions. Tony pulled out his phone, presumably texting Peter.
A minute later, a kid jogged over to the car, a backpack slung over his shoulder. He was tall, but kind of wiry - he couldn't have been out of high school. It wasn't until Tony called out a greeting that it clicked.
Eliza whirled on her father, “Tony, how old is Peter?”
“Okay, I know he's kind of young-”
“Kind of young,” she repeated flatly.
“Uh, I'm right here,” inserted Peter. “Anyway, I'm eighteen, so technically-”
Eliza interrupted, “How old were you when Tony asked you to fight Captain America?”
There was a heavy pause. Peter and Tony exchanged pleading looks - neither wanted to be the one to say it. Eventually, Tony won.
“Fifteen,” muttered Peter.
Eliza took a deep breath. And then another.
“Tony, would you like to explain why you hired a child to fight against assassins and super-soldiers?”
“God save me,” sighed Eliza. “Y'know what, kid, you can take shotgun,” she told Peter. She clambered out for the passenger seat and into the back, slamming the door shut behind her.
“You're, like, two years older than me!” Peter said with exasperation, but he still took the passenger seat.
Eliza just closed her eyes, wondering how an idiot like Tony Stark could possibly be related to her.
“Wait. Who told you that I’m Spider-Man?” yelled Peter, betrayed.
On the ride home, one thing became very clear to Eliza: Tony was more of a dad to Peter than he would ever be to her. She tried not to resent them for it. Mostly she felt glad that Peter had had someone to look out for him as a young wannabe superhero. Her teenage years had been a struggle enough, and her biggest problem was the bills - she couldn’t imagine being responsible for people's lives at the age of fifteen. Hell, she couldn’t imagine those responsibilities now.
Peter seemed like a sweet kid; a little awkward, but he compensated with a quick wit, and an impressive intellect. A significant chunk of the conversation in the car was of a scientific variety. Eliza wasn’t stupid by any account - she had gotten a full scholarship to Cornell after all - but she wasn’t ashamed to say that she had difficulty following the chat in the front.
When they approached the Avengers Facility, Eliza felt a little disappointed, but not the sense of dread that she had expected. Her feelings of hatred for this place had softened slightly. She still resented what the building represented to her: the loss of her independence. However, there was something about the place. Time seemed to still inside these walls, like the place existed within it’s own bubble, separate from the world outside. It was the first time in a long time that Eliza wasn’t adhering to a strict schedule. There were no classes, no late night shifts. The freedom of the day stretching before her was alien, but also a respite from the exhausting life Eliza had built for herself. She new it couldn’t last forever, but maybe she could enjoy her time here a bit… just for a little while.
Inside HQ, the Tony and Peter headed to the ‘workshop’, whilst Eliza opted to go have breakfast/lunch. She had forgotten to eat that morning. Without the usual structure to her day, things like meal times were surprisingly difficult to remember. In the kitchen she found, to her delight, Pop Tarts and croissants. Belatedly, she added an apple to her plate, as if this would counterbalance the general absence of nutritional value.
After lunch, Eliza asked F.R.I.D.A.Y. to direct her to the workshop. Whilst most of Eliza’s studies had focussed more heavily on bio than physics, she was naturally curious to what kind of stuff Tony was working on. Eliza had always liked puzzles, finding satisfaction in figuring out how things worked, and she doubted that this would be any different.
As she stepped into the large space that she supposed could be loosely defined as a workshop, Tony didn't immediately notice her, hunched over a minuscule circuit board. Not wanting to disturb him, Eliza paused at the entrance way. However, although Tony was distracted, Eliza had not gone unnoticed. As well as Peter peering up from his perch on a workbench, a clunky chunk of metal - (a robot?) - began to trundle towards Eliza. It lifted some kind of limb towards her, and she paused, unsure of the protocol.
“He’s called DUM-E. He wants a high-five,” Peter called out, voice matter of fact. Eliza squinted at Peter suspiciously - was he serious?
Cautiously, she lifted a hand and bumped it gently on the end of the metal limb. DUM-E gave a cheerful chirp and rolled away, knocking over a chair in the process. Eliza grinned, charmed despite herself. She crossed the workshop to take a seat next to Peter.
“He’s like R2D2,” proclaimed Eliza, “but… dumber.”
Peter laughed, “And he’s less sarcastic.”
“Oh, I didn’t realise you speak Droid.” Eliza rose an eyebrow challengingly.
“Yep, it came with the superpowers,” Peter deadpanned.
“Wow, lucky you.”
Peter nodded with false seriousness. “I am truly gifted.”
They both broke then, both dissolving into laughter. This seemed to get Tony’s attention, as he put the soldering iron down and swiveled towards them.
“Hey, kiddo, come look at this. Peter had an awesome idea for compressing his webbing, it’s gonna blow your mind,” said Tony, pulling up some impossible-looking schematics. Peter grinned shyly, and started explaining the concept, a little simplified but never patronising, with Tony listening proudly. Eliza wondered, just for a moment, whether this was what it was like to have a family.
Only a few chapters left guys!
be warned, some discussion of verbally abusive parents and implied homophobia up ahead
“So I was thinking,” started Tony. Eliza’s stomach sank. He was using that tone that he used when he was worried that she might freak about something, all easy and complacent. Anyway, in Eliza’s experience, nothing good ever started with ‘I was thinking’.
“I mean, you’ve already met most of the team, but I was thinking we could do a dinner together, a proper introduction, if you will. I mean, no pressure, but I figured it could be cool.”
“Sure, sounds good,” said Eliza, pasting on a smile. “Who would be there?”
“Well, Peter, Cap, Bucky maybe, Pepper, Sam - have you met Sam yet?” Tony rattled off. “And then Clint and Nat if they’re not busy doing superspy stuff.”
Eliza tried to look as if she wasn’t nervous at the prospect. The thought of so many people - and her, an intruder - made her palms sweat. She wasn’t a fan of large groups, but it seemed rude to say so. Besides, she did want to meet them properly. “Where’s everyone else? I thought there were a lot more of you.”
“Yeah, there’s a few missing. Thor is offworld at the moment. Wanda and Vision are off traveling, trying to help the world, it’s all very noble. Banner is still missing, and Ant-Man - Scott - is home spending some time with his kid, since he was… away for a while.” Tony’s face was unreadable, but there was an unmistakable tang of regret in his words. Eliza wished she hadn’t asked.
“So,” said Eliza with a not-so-subtle attempt at changing the subject. “When is this dinner?”
Eliza blinked. “Uh, yeah, sure.”
“Awesome, I’ll go check in with the others.”
Tony grinned, and Eliza returned the smile, feeling anxious, but kind of excited too.
Eliza arrived at the team dinner intentionally a little late. It went against her instincts, but she knew that if she arrived early, as was typical for her, she would have to wait for everyone to arrive. She had decided to skip that anxiety, but it had backfired - now she felt panicky about her lateness.
She rushed into the dining room and seven heads swivelled around to look at her. Instantly, Eliza regretted not coming earlier. At least, she noted, Eliza wasn’t the last to arrive; there were two empty places left at the table. She took a seat between Tony and Peter, thinking to herself wryly, better the devil you know.
Tony cleared his throat. “Team, meet Eliza. Eliza, this is the Avengers - or, mostly,” announced Tony grandly. “You’ve probably met most of them already, but in case you haven’t, this is the lovely Pepper Potts,” he gestured to his other side, and then worked around the table, “Nat -the next space is for Clint, when he finally arrives - and then Barnes, Cap, Sam, and of course, Peter.”
Eliza nodded politely, murmuring, “Nice to meet you all.”
“So obviously, Eliza, you’re new to the Traditional Team Dinner-” Tony began.
“Oh, we do something three times and suddenly it’s a tradition?” muttered… Sam? This earned him a round of snorts from the table.
“Well I’m sorry for trying to encourage some team bonding,” Tony rolled his eyes, but his voice was playful. “Anyway, we usually just order a bunch of take out, tonight it’s chinese.”
“Sounds good,” smiled Eliza. She was relieved they were eating normal food, not weird fancy stuff like caviar and h’orderves.
“Speaking of,” interjected F.R.I.D.A.Y. , “the food has just arrived, sir.”
Steve jumped up from the opposite end of the table, “I’ll go carry it up.”
Bucky also stood to follow, either wanting to be useful or unwilling to sit with the group without Steve.
“Always has to make the rest of us look bad,” said Tony, but he didn’t sound bitter.
“If you had some manners, you wouldn’t look bad,” Pepper pointed out. She shot Eliza a crinkle-eyed smile, and suddenly Eliza realised that Pepper was - well, not her stepmom, but something like it. She hadn’t even thought about it. It was like the revelation of having a father had eclipsed everything else.
“I pay for it, isn't that enough?” Tony whined.
“It’s not as if it’s going to bankrupt you,” said Nat with a smirk so beautiful that Eliza felt her heart speed up. She tried to act unaffected; Tony didn’t seem bigoted, but you could never be too careful, especially with people you rely on.
“It’s the principle of the thing,” defended Tony.
Natasha gave an easy laugh, before turning her attention to Eliza. “So, Miss Stark, how are you liking Avengers HQ?” Natasha’s smile was friendly, but her eyes were calculating. Eliza thought to herself that it must be intentional. The Black Widow was too good to accidentally let an expression show - she must want Eliza to know that she isn’t trusted. Eliza couldn’t blame her; in Natasha’s profession, trusting easily could get you killed.
“It’s fine,” said Eliza. She thought she should feel nervous, but she actually felt the most calm she had all day. Feeling like people were judging her made Eliza anxious, whereas knowing that someone was judging her brought out defiance.
“So what were you up to, before all this?” Natasha inquired.
“Just college classes, part time jobs when my scholarship didn’t cover the month, nothing too exciting,” said Eliza, tone easygoing.
“Oh, so you must be a smart cookie,” said Natasha affably. “Which college is that?”
Eliza went to Cornell. She was reasonably certain that Natasha knew this, that she was testing her. Eliza looked her in the eye, and said, “Yale,” a cocky grin on her face. Natasha raised an eyebrow, but her lips quirked into a quick, knowing smile. The Black Widow leaned back in her seat, satisfied.
Tony frowned bemusedly. “I thought you went-”
Natasha talked over him, pulling the table into a debate on how late Clint would likely be, smoothly redirecting the conversation. Eliza couldn’t help but admire her a little.
Looking up, Eliza noticed Steve and Bucky, laden with takeaway, paused outside the doorway. As she watched, Steve reached out to Bucky, squeezing his shoulder lightly. Bucky relaxed at his touch, dropping his tense posture. Eliza looked away, feeling as though she was intruding on a private moment.
A moment later they entered the room, Steve cheerfully announcing their return . They distributed the food across the table top for people to help themselves. The team immediately did so, reaching across the table to grab pots of food, calling for someone to pass their favourites down the table. It was chaos, but, Eliza thought, it was a comfortable, a well worn sort of madness. She couldn’t help but smile a little at the spectacle as she made a grab for the nearest food.
It was then that Clint burst in. “I’m so sorry, I swear I was going to be on time today, but then this whole thing happened-”
“Clint, you say this every time. Maybe you should just accept that time management isn’t your strongest suit,” remarked Natasha.
Clint huffed. “Next time, I swear.”
Natasha, Tony, and Bucky all rolled their eyes simultaneously. It was pretty impressive.
Conversation lulled a little as they ate, with a few sarcastic but good-natured jokes at Clint and conversation breaking out between neighbours. Despite the monstrous amount of food ordered, everything was eaten. Steve and Bucky ate enough for a small army, and Natasha put away an astonishing amount considering how tiny she was. It wasn’t until the plates were cleared and drinks had been broken out (although nothing alcoholic was given to Eliza nor Peter), that Eliza found a moment to say something.
“Um, I just wanted to say something…” said Eliza, and the table quieted. “I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped save me from those assholes. I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t...anyway. Thank you,” finished Eliza. She was pretty sure that she was blushing a little, but it had to be said.
“You don’t have to thank us,” said Steve sincerely.
“Besides,” added Bucky, “pretty sure you saved Stark at the end there.”
Eliza shook her head, embarrassed, as a few people seconded this with a cheer. It felt ridiculous to be cheered by real life superheroes, particularly when she had allowed herself to be captured in the first place.
“Speaking of that whole debacle, have the press settled down at all?” Tony directed this towards Pepper.
“Not really, they’re still speculating. I think it’s going to take a while to settle down,” sighed Pepper. Eliza received a few sympathetic looks.
Tony nodded, unsurprised. “Figures. Oh, hey, Eliza, I forgot to mention earlier: I’ve been trying to get in touch with your mom.”
Eliza went cold. She looked at Tony, who looked back innocently. She could feel the room go tense - it seemed that everyone in the room but Tony knew that things were about to get uncomfortable. “You contacted my mother?” Eliza’s voice was icy.
“Yeah,” said Tony, oblivious. “I figured maybe she could help figure out who in my company covered the whole thing up, if she did speak to someone. At the very least, someone needs to tell her that you’re safe - she must be worried.”
“I wouldn’t bother. She’ll only be disappointed that I survived.” Eliza stood, her movements jerky. She felt very far away all of a sudden. “Excuse me.” And with that, Eliza stormed out of the dining room.
Eliza heard a knock on her door, but her only response was to roll over to face away from the doorway. The knocking came again, persistent.
“I don’t want to talk, Tony!” Eliza called. She knew she was acting like a petulant five-year-old, but she couldn’t help it. She didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t want to face up to the situation, but there was nowhere to go.
A voice carried back through the doors. “No, it’s uh- it’s Peter.”
Eliza sat up and smoothed her hair down, not wanting to be seen looking a mess. “Come in.”
Peter hovered in the doorway, looking sheepish. “I just wanted to check that you’re okay.”
“I’m fine,” said Eliza, trying to keep her voice even.
Peter hesitated a moment before stepping into her room. Eliza stood and gestured for him to enter, leading him past the bed, towards the little arrangement of squishy armchairs by the huge windows. Eliza sat on the bright yellow monstrosity (her favourite), whilst Peter perched on the blue floral chair.
“Eliza… I know Tony can be difficult to be around sometimes - trust me, I know - but his heart’s in the right place.”
Eliza sighed. “People keep telling me that, but I can’t help but wonder whether he’s doing this on purpose. I mean, did he have to bring that up in front of everyone?”
Peter smiled sympathetically. “He’s just… he’s not great with social cues.”
Eliza groaned. She knew he was right, but she still felt mad about it, whether Tony had intended to be hurtful or not. Eliza realised that storming out wasn’t helpful, that she could have just requested to speak about it privately, rather than making a scene. Although, in her defence, she didn’t exactly have a lot of experience with healthy, reasonable discussions with parents.
Belatedly, she felt embarrassed by her outburst.
“Okay, okay, I’ll talk with him,” she conceded.
“Yes! Thank you!” Peter gave Eliza a crinkled eyed grin.
“Now get out of here before I change my mind.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Peter darted out of her room, still smiling.
“In hindsight, I realise that it was not tactful of me, and I apologise. It just didn’t occur to me- I mean, I’ve never been a very private person, I was giving interviews when I was three. But I get that I shouldn’t have-”
“-broached the subject like that. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to have any contact with your mother. Trust me, I’m an expert on contentious familial relations,” Tony rambled.
“I didn’t mean to freak out on you, I just - you took me by surprise,” Eliza finished lamely.
“Totally understandable! I just… I really need to know why I was kept in the dark. I think I’m close to figuring it out, but your mom is the only one who can confirm it,” said Tony.
Haltingly, Eliza asked, “So who… why didn’t you hear about me?”
Tony looked at her for a moment, expression ambivalent. He opened his mouth, before closing it again, exhaling heavily. Shoulders slumped, he turned away. When he looked back, his face was tinged with embarrassment. “When I was a kid, my dad...he wasn’t my biggest fan,” Tony smiled self deprecatingly, and Eliza felt her stomach twist with sympathy. She tried to keep this from showing on her face.
“He had this friend,” Tony continued, “called Obadiah Stane. He was… nice to me. More of a father than my dad really. He was my second-in-command, when I took over Stark Industries, but it turns out he wasn’t content with his position. You remember when I was kidnapped in Afghanistan?”
Eliza nodded. It was big news at the time, but after the story about Iron Man came out, the kidnapping of Tony Stark had been cemented in the history books, landmarking the beginning of what had been dubbed The Superhero Era. She remembered being 11 years old and gaping at the news reports.
“That was Stanes’ doing. He wanted my company,” Tony said, looking a little distant. Eliza felt a pang of sadness, imagining the magnitude of that betrayal. “But even before that he was manipulating me, distracting me with parties and beautiful women. I signed whatever he wanted me to sign, and it got people killed. I figure, if something had threatened to change that, Stane would have been eager to cover it up,” Tony concluded grimly.
Eliza nodded thoughtfully. “But wouldn’t other people have known? Someone had to take the call before Stane was informed?”
Tony beamed at her. “That was my thought exactly! So I looked through staff files and found a Miss Lucy Green, who, a couple of months after your conception, mysteriously came into a lot of money. She quit her job and moved out of the country.”
“So she was paid off?” said Eliza.
“Assuming your mother really did try to get in contact around that time, it seems likely, although only your mom can confirm that,” said Tony.
“Right,” murmured Eliza. She thought back on all the times that her mother had drunkenly spewed out venomous words about Eliza’s father, saying how he had refused to help them, how he didn’t want her.
(On the worse days, her mother had told Eliza that she had ruined her life. Eliza had just shrugged - it might even be true.)
Tony shot Eliza an apprehensive look, before saying, “What you said about your mom earlier… I guess you didn’t get along?”
“Understatement,” Eliza snorted. Tony’s mouth twisted down at this, so Eliza hurried to mollify him. “She didn’t… I mean, lot’s of kids have it worse. She kicked me out at sixteen, and I haven’t looked back since.”
This only served to make things worse. “Shit, kid, she kicked you out? Why?”
“Oh, she, uh… I did something, and she decided that it was unforgivable,” Eliza shrugged.
“What could you have possibly done that was worth abandoning your own child?” Tony looked a little angry now, and it made Eliza’s palms sweat, even though she knew it wasn’t directed at her.
“She disagreed with my lifestyle choices,” Eliza said carefully.
She watched her father for any indication that he would react badly, hoping that she had been vague enough to allow for plausible deniability. Tony blinked at her, a little surprised, but unlike her mother there were no signs of disgust.
“Well I don’t think we will have any problems just because you like-” Tony cleared his throat. “Because of your lifestyle ,” he finished meaningfully.
Eliza shot him a grateful smile, her shoulders feeling lighter. “Thank you.”
Tony grinned back at her, and Eliza felt so relieved she felt as though her chest would burst. She felt something - an emotion that she couldn’t quite identify, like a warm blanket wrapped around her. It wasn’t until Tony started babbling cheerfully about a new idea for his suit that it occurred to her; maybe this was what it felt like to be cared for.
sorry for the delay, first week back at uni and the workload is already impossible
Days had turned into weeks, and yet there was still a steady stream of speculation from the press. Eliza had never considered herself particularly outgoing, but the monotony was starting to get to her, and the processed air of indoors was starting to press on her. Whilst the people she had met here at Avengers HQ had admittedly grown on her, she was beginning to become desperate for a break.
So far, Eliza had ignored the half planned ideas for escape that kept popping into her head. She knew it would be stupid to leave, with the full force of the media, as well as small but not insignificant terror organisations, out to get her at any given opportunity. But as the days wore on, with no sign of improvement, Eliza’s conviction began to weaken. Surely, if she kept a low profile, no one would know if she took a day out? After all, how often was it that you walked past an undercover hydra operative on the street?
She had posed this idea to Tony a few days ago, without success. He had told her that he wished that he could say yes, but that it wasn’t worth the risk. Eliza thought that was pretty easy for him to say, when he wasn’t the one on house arrest.
On one particularly dull afternoon, with most of The Avengers out at some charity gig, Eliza had texted Peter, begging him to come over and relieve her of her boredom. Peter had resisted initially, saying that he needed to study, but Tony had let slip that Peter had gotten enough credits to graduate ages ago. Eventually Peter conceded, and told her that he would swing by in an hour or so. Eliza wondered if he had meant that literally. Either way, an hour seemed like a long time, she thought. Idly, she wondered whether Peter could be convinced to sneak her out. She wasn’t stupid enough to walk out of here unarmed, with no combat skills to speak of, but with Spider-man? He was admittedly young and scrawny looking, but she had seen the youtube videos; Spider-man was pretty bad-ass. The more she thought about it, the more she was sure that this was an excellent plan.
Digging through her wardrobe, she found a big comfortable red hoodie and an old Yankees cap to pull low over her face. Excitement building, she chose her best trainers (which were best for running). It didn’t hurt to be prepared, after all. Grabbing her purse, she strode down to the lobby, doing her best impression of someone who was supposed to be there. Luckily, no one questioned her when she walked out. She stood outside, feeling like she was being watched, and then scolding herself for her paranoia. It felt like she stood there for about three weeks, but it was probably closer to fifteen minutes. At long last, Peter came into view.
He did not notice her until he was just passing her. When he looked up, he froze, his face a question mark. Easily, she hooked her arm into his and span so that they faced away from the facility, marching him back down the driveway.
“What are you doing?!” Peter hissed, but continued to walk.
“Escaping,” announced Eliza with a cheeky grin.
Peter shook is head, conflicted. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
“Man, I haven’t been in New York City in… way too long,” said Eliza, a note of wistfulness in her voice. It had taken a while to get down here, but she figured that they had a while before anyone would notice her missing. Either way, it was worth it. With the city sprawling around her, she felt simultaneously huge, and tiny. She felt like anything could happen.
Peter was grinning at her, looking a little shy but excited. He seemed to have already forgotten his earlier protest. “Where do you want to go first?” Peter asked.
“Are you hungry? I’m starving.”
Peter exclaimed, “I’m so glad you said that! Where do you want to eat?”
“How about we find somewhere obscenely expensive and order too much food that we can’t pronounce the name of?” Eliza suggested mischievously.
“Uh, I don’t know,” said Peter, suddenly unsure, rubbing the back of his neck. “I don’t have that kind of cash, and I couldn’t dine and dash, it doesn’t seem right.”
Eliza rolled her eyes. “What sort of person do you think I am? Money’s not a problem,” Eliza said, pulling out a black card - a gift from her father.
“Holy shit!” Peter yelled, eyes so wide they looked as if they might pop out.
“I know!” said Eliza, gleefully.
They eventually stumbled across a restaurant which looked way too classy for a couple of scruffy young adults - exactly what they were looking for. Eliza strode in with her best don't-question-me smile. Peter shuffled in beside her, looking every bit as out of place as Eliza felt. The waitress raised an eyebrow, but did not otherwise comment, leading them to a table. The place was relatively quiet, being that weird time between lunch and dinner. The waitress seated them, and gave them a crisp menu each, leaving them to browse.
Once the waitress left them to browse, the pair met each other's eyes. Simultaneously, they burst into giggles. Eliza clapped her hand over her mouth, but it did little to stifle the sound. She noticed a few patrons glance over disapprovingly, only serving to make her laugh harder.
“I can't believe I agreed to this. There aren't even prices on the menu!” Peter muttered between hushed laughs.
“It's ridiculous,” Eliza agreed with a grin.
They both calmed down a little, and took the opportunity to read through the menu. Most of it, Eliza barely knew how to pronounce, let alone what the dishes actually were. There were no helpful descriptions, just a list of unfamiliar names in an excessively extravagant font. By the time the waitress came back around, Eliza and Peter had given up, just looking at each other with mystified expressions. When the waitress asked for their orders, Eliza simply pointed at a few different names, to save the embarrassment of butchering the pronunciation.
“So how are things?” Peter questioned tentatively.
“Things are… better than they were. It's just the isolation that's getting to me,” said Eliza.
Peter smiled sympathetically. “At least things with Tony are better?”
“Mostly, yes. It's more than I ever thought I would have, so…” Eliza trailed off, embarrassed by her own honesty.
“He feels the same, yknow. He's happier than he was.”
Eliza blushed, unsure what to say. Fortunately, their food arrived then. Eliza inspected the dishes; the tiny, intricate portions were alien to her. Peter looked at the food with apprehension.
“Okay, well here goes nothing,”said Eliza. She reached out to her nearest plate, neatly taking a forkful and popping out into her mouth.
“ Oh my God,” she moaned. “This is… there are no words.”
“That good?” Asked Peter.
Encouraged, Peter dug into his food - only to promptly spit back out. “What the hell is that?” Peter cried, reaching for his drink, earning a few glares from the other customers in the process. Eliza couldn't help but laugh at his expense.
“Quit laughing and swap me already,” grumbled Peter.
“No way am I swapping you for that,” Eliza said. Peter just looked at her, betrayed, and Eliza broke into laughter again.
After paying the exorbitant bill (and tipping generously), the pair left to find a shopping centre. High on the thrill of spending so much money so frivolously, they were determined to have as much illicit fun as possible at Tony’s expense. Occasionally, one of them would have a crisis of conscience, before being reminded that the money they were spending had been given to Eliza willingly. Still, they resolved to spend the afternoon finding presents for the rest of The Avengers Team. Peter had suggested that no one could be too mad at Eliza for sneaking out if she brought them all a gift back with her. Privately, Eliza felt that it was a little too close to bribery, but she figured it was worth a shot.
They started in a high end boutique, the kind that neither of them had shopped at before. Eliza pointed out a gorgeous hair pin - elegant and classic - and declared that Pepper would love it. Next, they tried an organic trade store, where they found some fancy blend of tea that they agreed Bruce would appreciate.
The two then headed into a bookstore, and were immediately distracted from their mission. They parted ways as Peter headed over to the science and technology section, whilst Eliza lost herself in the fantasy section. She read a few blurbs, but thought to herself wryly that the plots didn’t sound quite as fantastical as her own life. She wandered around the aisles distractedly, feeling peaceful. Eliza had always been fond of bookshops; they seemed to be full of endless possibility, so many stories tucked into one room. Eventually, a book caught her eye, and she couldn’t help but laugh to herself, tucking it under her arm as she went in search of Peter.
“Peter, there you are!” Eliza called, finally locating him in a dusty little nook. Peters head bobbed up from behind a comically large book. “I’ve found something for Tony,” she told him, a mischievous look in her eye. Proudly, Eliza presented the book, entitled: Parenting for Dummies .”
Once their books were purchased, the two exited the store.
Unfortunately, their day was soon interrupted but the arrival of the press. It seemed incredible to Eliza, after twenty years of anonymity, that anyone could recognise her - but that didn't stop them doing so. Once spotted, the reporters accumulated at an alarming rate, creating a small but enthusiastic crowd on the street around her. She tried to back away, but she was surrounded. Just as she started to panic, a hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. She tried to twist away, but then she realised who it was: Peter. He pulled her through the madness, and didn't slow down once they escaped, leading her around a corner into an alleyway. It was a dead end.
“What are we going to do?” Eliza panted.
“... Okay. I've got a plan.”
The reporters followed the elusive Miss Stark, trying to keep up under the weight of the cameras and microphones. They watched as Eliza and her companion ducked into an alley, but before they quite reached the pair, they walked back out onto the street. However, the two quickly split; Eliza continued down the street, whilst the boy crossed the road. He was quickly disregarded by the press, as they trailed after Stark, her red hoodie like a beacon.
She moved quickly, but the reporters were persistent. It took a few blocks, but they did eventually catch up, dogging her with questions and microphones. Still, she didn't look around, just pulled her hood more firmly over her head and sped up. After another block, one particularly tenacious journalist grabbed her wrist, and her momentum caused her to spin back towards the press. The pack drew to a halt as one, questions dying on their lips. Stood swaddled in Eliza's red hoodie was the boy she had been with, blinking at them innocently. One reporter voiced what they were all thinking: God damn it. We lost her.
Giddy on success, Peter peeled off Eliza’s hoodie, watching smugly as the reporters dispersed. He waited until even the most persistent of them had left before tracing back towards the restaurant to meet Eliza. He couldn’t believe that it had worked, in all honesty; it wasn’t one of his better plans.
Upon arriving back at the restaurant, Peter frowned to himself - Eliza was nowhere in sight. Could she still be walking over? Even walking slowly, her route was shorter than his. Maybe she had gone into the restaurant? He ducked his head in, but couldn’t see her. What if she had gotten lost? Or the reporters had caught up with her?
(What would Tony say if Peter let her get hurt?)
Panicking in earnest now, he clasped at his neck, spinning around as if Eliza might jump out from behind a corner and yell surprise! His heart was hammering - what was he supposed to do? Suddenly, Peter remembered the existence of his phone jammed into his pocket, and scrambled to find Eliza’s number. When the dial sound of his phone was echoed by Eliza’s ringtone - Shoot to Kill - Peter slumped with relief. She must be close.
Peter followed the sound a little way down from the restaurant, but his stomach twisted with anxiety when he realised where it was leading: down a narrow alley between buildings. Peter began running in earnest now. He prayed that she was tucked behind one of the dumpsters, safe and just out of sight. This small hope was quickly extinguished when he found the source of the ringing. Eliza’s phone lay cracked on the floor.
Eliza was gone.
“What do you mean, gone ?” Tony yelled. His face was pale and bloodless, nostrils flaring. Peter had never seen him this mad. And worse than that, underneath the anger was something he had never associated with Tony: fear. Peter felt about two inches tall. “Eliza - in fact, both of you - are too smart to do something so stupid. This can’t-” Tony choked off, scrubbing shaking hands over his face.
“I’m so, so sorry, Mr Stark, I’m gonna fix this-” interjected Peter desperately.
“ Sorry doesn’t bring my daughter back!” Tony snapped.
“I swear, I don't know what happened! We split up for five minutes,” said Peter, voice wobbling a little at the end.
Seeing Peters distress, Tony softened from outrage to something closer to disappointment. “I don't see why Eliza left the compound in the first place. What were you two thinking?”
“Maybe you can ask her when we get her back, said Peter pointedly.
“Right,” said Tony, clapping his hands together. “Time to assemble the team.”
Eliza's first thought upon waking was: How much did I drink last night?
Her second thought was: Fuck. Again? Really?
She was, yet again, tied to a chair in a different but equally cliché villainous lair. Eliza was incredulous; how was it that she kept turning into a damsel in distress? Still, she found some comfort in knowing that she hasn't been such an easy target this time. Natasha had been giving her some tips. Across the room, one of the overly muscled henchman was scowling at her, a fresh black eye still swelling on his face. Eliza smirked.
Eliza observed the room around her. It was a similar setup to last time, but with fewer people around. This should have been a comfort, but she somehow got the impression that they were more professional than the last group. Where those men had slouched and grumbled to each other, these mercs were standing to attention, ready for action. She also noted that their weapons were vastly different to the standard guns that the previous men had been equipped with. Huge, bizarre looking pieces of tech were being held with care. They looked like something out of a sci-fi. Anxiety gnawed at Eliza. Her kidnappers looked… prepared.
She then caught sight of a familiar, but unwelcome, face.
This time, she spotted him first. He was deep in conversation with a slightly older man, wearing an ostentatiously expensive suit. Jones was gesturing at the mercs, looking frustrated; the other man just gave him a patronising, too bright grin, clapping a hand on his shoulder. Eliza squinted at the stranger. She had a strange feeling that she had seen him before, although she couldn’t place where. Whoever he was, he seemed to be Jones’ superior. Maybe his employer?
As though feeling her gaze, the man caught her eye, giving her an showy smile as he sauntered over, Jones trailing him.
“Hello, Eliza! May I call you Eliza?” said the stranger.
“Do I get a choice?” Eliza snarked.
He just laughed, saying to Jones, “You didn’t tell me how like her father she was!”
“You know my name. What’s yours?” demanded Eliza.
The man actually looked a little offended here, certainly disappointed. “You don’t recognise me? I’m Stark’s biggest competitor!” he cried.
Finally, recognition sparked. “Wait, I do remember you! Hummer, or something, right?”
“Hammer! It’s… It’s Justin Hammer,” he said plaintively.
“I thought you were in jail?” Eliza frowned.
“No- well, yes, but that’s besides the point,” said Hammer. “The point is, I am out of jail, and I am about to get sweet, sweet revenge.”
“By kidnapping me again? Didn’t you learn your lesson the first time?”
“The last attempt was… unfortunate.” He shot a glare at Jones, who glowered mutinously in the direction of his shoes. “But we did learn something from the whole debacle: The Avengers strategy. This time, we’re prepared.”
“You think they’ll use the exact same tactics?” snorted Eliza derisively.
“No, of course not,” Hammer dismissed. “But their plan of attack is limited. The good Captain refuses to endanger anyone, is the problem. It makes them predictable.”
Eliza shot him a skeptical look, but her conviction had begun to wobble. She couldn’t help but notice that the groups of men were organised in a manner which suggested prior planning. Eliza had picked up on it as soon as she had looked around, the rehearsed feeling to the proceedings. They definitely seemed prepared. But no, Eliza reassured herself, The Avengers weren’t dumb enough to use the same strategy twice in a row.
“Of course, it won’t be identical,” Hammer continued to monologue. “But I would bet my considerable fortune that it will start with the distraction, with the heavy hitters coming through the front. Then someone sneaky, Black Widow or maybe Hawkeye, will make use of the distraction to retrieve you. It’s their best chance of getting you out unharmed.
Whilst Eliza couldn’t deny the logic of this, she held onto the fact that her team was made up of geniuses. She had faith.
“And this time, I designed a little something to make sure that Iron Man won’t be such a distraction this time. See this bad boy?” He heaved up one of the strange looking weapons. “One of these make contact with the suit, and the whole thing overloads. It’s going to be awesome.”
Eliza clenched her fists until her nails bit into her palms. She squeezed her eyes shut, as if this would stop her from imagining Tony being shot out of the air. It doesn’t matter, she told herself firmly. Tony is too smart to do something like that. It will be fine. He’s going to be fine.
“Okay, team,” Captain America began, “This is going to be an in and out. We want the distraction at the front entrance - that’ll be Tony, Buck, and me. And then, Nat, we need you to find a side entrance - seemed to work well last time, right?”
… oh, who am I kidding, thought Eliza. We're fucked.
Just an epilogue left after this chapter!
The waiting was agony. It had been hard enough the first time around, when the thought of The Avengers rescuing her was a pleasant but fantastical wish. Now, the concept filled Eliza half with hope and half with dread. She couldn’t even consider the possibility of someone getting hurt for her, of someone dying-
She cut this train of thought off. Those sort of thought only led to panic, and panic was something she could not afford.
Eliza tried to sit still, not wanting to draw attention from Hammer. Jones had been one thing, but Hammer was… fanatical. Jones just wanted the job done; Hammer wanted it to hurt. Still, this was a task in itself. The adrenaline in her blood was making her twitchy, hypersensitive to every noise. The familiar coldness of desperation was setting in. Her mind was racing through different possible escapes, each as improbable as the last. She cursed herself for not asking Nat to show her how to escape binds. Did she have to dislocate her thumb? Or was that just in the movies? Even if she did, by some miracle, get free... what next? She was an unarmed civilian, and she was surrounded. She would probably get shot for her efforts. She knew her best shot was waiting it out, but the logic of it didn’t detract from the feeling of helplessness it created.
Time trickled past like treacle. It was as the spinning of the planet itself had slowed, twisting lethargically. Eliza was caught in the terror, like a mosquito suspended in amber, barely able to breathe around it. She knew life must be continuing somewhere, but not in this dusty space. Even the movement of the sun couldn’t reach her here.
The suffocating slowness seemed to be particular to her though; the men around her seemed impervious to it, waiting patiently as waxworks. They stood at the ready. It was only a matter of time, and they didn’t seem the sort to be caught unprepared.
Hammer, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so serene. He paced back and forth, but gave the armed men a wide berth. For a weapons designer, he seemed awfully uncomfortable around guns.
Just as doubt started creeping into Eliza’s mind ( What if no one came?), the screeching of bending metal filled the room, echoing like nails on a blackboard. Guns swerved with deadly accuracy to the now-crumpled doorway. Eliza’s stomach swooped violently. However, the doorway was empty, just a hollow space. The mercs swapped wary glances; a few hand gestures, and a group split off, silently approaching the doorway. Anticipation hung heavy over the room.
Just as the men approached the doorway, carefully out of the line of sight, Eliza broke the silence. “Six men incoming,” she called out urgently, “They’re armed, they have-” She was cut off by a sharp backhand from Jones. She felt a molar cut into her cheek, and tasted blood. She opened her mouth again, undeterred, but Jones pressed his large hand over her mouth, smothering the words.
The men had paused at her outburst, but began to edge forward again. Then, as one, they span out of the doorway, into the dark space beyond. In the silence of the warehouse, Eliza thought she caught a muffled scuffle, but that was all; no one returned.
Hammer seemed to decide that now was time to utilise his best bargaining chip: Eliza. An unyielding coldness pressed into her temple, and her breath caught in her throat.
“Drop your weapons and come in with your hands up, or Eliza gets shot. Your call,” Hammer announced cheerfully.
After a pregnant pause, three men entered the room: Steve first, hands on his head; then Tony, suited up but with his face revealed; Bucky brought up the rear, hands empty and face scowling. Eliza hadn’t known it was possible to feel so relieved and so frightened all at once.
“About time!” crowed Hammer, “Tony, what a pleasure, it has been too long.”
“I’ve heard it’s hard to keep in touch when you’re in prison,” said Tony, all false sympathy.
“So isn’t it lucky that I’m not there anymore?” Hammer smiled with too many teeth. “The silver lining is that it gave me a lot of time to think. I’m sure you’ll be flattered to know that a lot of it was about you.”
“That’s sweet, but you’re not really my type-”
“I have missed your wit! Unfortunately, it isn’t going to save you today, even with the little friends you brought along…” patronised Hammer.
As the snarking continued, Eliza’s eye was caught by a flash of red, and her stomach sank; It was exactly as Hammer had predicted. She had slunk in behind them, seemingly unnoticed - except for the squad waiting for her from behind a broken down forklift. They had been prepared for this.
But then, to Eliza’s surprise, Natasha stepped brazenly into the open, a killer smile on her face. “Hello, boys,” she called invitingly, seemingly unconcerned when everyone whipped around to see this new threat; it was all the distraction that the team had needed. Eliza watched in amazement as Bucky pulled out two handguns, seemingly from thin air. Tony’s armor came down with a thud, and Steve swept his shield up from the doorway. Just like that, the battle had begun.
Bucky was unrecognisable from the man she had marathoned Harry Potter with, a whirl of calculated destruction, perfectly in step with Steve. Tony fought with a ferocity that Eliza hadn’t seen before, hadn’t even known him capable of, whilst Natasha incapacitated the men with a deadly grace. Despite this, Eliza could see that this wouldn’t be an easy fight. Their opponents were impressively skilled, and numerous. The Avengers were holding their own, but none were close enough to reach her, which is why her blood ran cold when she heard the Jones click the safety off, the gun pressing a little more firmly against her temple. Eliza had never been particularly religious, but in that moment she prayed.
She closed her eyes.
But instead of a deafening gunshot, there was suddenly- nothing. The gun wasn’t even touching her. Gasping like she had been drowning, her eyes flew open and oh god, it was Peter. Jones looked at the space is gun had just occupied, and then to where Peter held it, eyes wide.
It was hard to read Peter with his face covered, but for a split second, she thought she saw his grip adjust, finger inching towards the trigger - but then the moment was gone, and he efficiently shot his webs, binding Jones tight.
“You okay?” Peter’s voice was tight with worry.
Eliza gave him a brief nod. “I will be when I’m not tied to a chair.”
After quickly checking if there were any new assailants, he darted around to untie her. Shucking the ropes from her wrists, she felt as if she had also shed the helplessness. Before Peter could protest, she grabbed the gun from him, determined to defend her mismatched family if it came to it.
The battle hadn’t abated around them. Whilst unconscious bodies littered the floor, many were still standing.
It seemed that now she was freed, she had gone from secured asset to target . A few men who weren’t already engaged turned to her, weapons drawn and ready to fire. Peter was quickly on defence, webbing the men one after another, but not fast enough to prevent one from advancing on her. Eliza had raised her gun, but it shook in her hands; the mercenary shot her a knowing smirk as he took aim. Eliza tried to line up her shot ( stay calm, just like Nat showed you, come on), but her finger was frozen on the trigger. She couldn’t do it.
Suddenly, an arrow pierced the man’s shoulder, and he dropped. Stunned, she looked up searchingly. From a rafter, Clint gave her a quick salute before drawing his bow once more.
Looking around, she noticed that the odds were turning. Yet again, Hammer had underestimated them, the idiot. She noticed with disgust that Hammer was edging along the wall towards the doorway, away from the fight and towards escape. She pointed this out to Peter, who quickly ensured that Hammer would be stuck to that wall for a long time.
The Avengers began taking down the handful of fighters left. Just as it seemed the fight was almost over, movement caught Eliza’s attention. One man, bleeding from a bullet wound on the concrete, began to sit up, unnoticed by the Avengers. Before Eliza had time to even call out a warning, he had grabbed a discarded weapon - one of Hammer’s new designs - and to her horror, aimed and fired, hitting Tony straight in the chest. The effect was instantaneous. Electricity danced over the suit, and the joints seized. Iron Man collapsed to the floor.
With an animal-like snarl, Eliza raised her gun and shot the attacker. She didn’t see exactly where she hit, but judging from the spray of blood, he wasn’t a threat anymore.
Eliza darted toward Tony, Peter hot on her heels. The others quickly converged. It seemed the fighting was finally over.
There was a heavy smell of burning in the air, smothering Eliza. Please let him be okay, Eliza prayed to anyone who could be listening. Please.
On her knees, she leant over Tony, and tried to pry the suit open. All she achieved was burnt fingers. Her nails scratched ineffectively at the hot metal.
“Here, let me,” murmured someone - Bucky, she realised belatedly. He reached out with his left hand, and metal scraped against metal as he pulled the faceplate off.
Eliza scrambled over him, desperate for a sign of life. Tony’s eyes were closed.
“Dad, please, wake up,” she begged wetly. She leant down, tilting an ear towards him, listening intently. She held her breath whilst she listened for his.
Then, she heard it.
Chapter 10: Epilogue
Eliza sat in the unforgiving plastic chair at Tony’s bedside, staring down at her shoes. She couldn’t look. Maybe it made her a coward, but she couldn’t do it. Every time she tried, guilt choked her, twisted her guts, and her eyes skittered away. His unconscious face was a harsh reminder of what he had risked for her. Instead she listened to the heart monitor, the steady beep reminding her that he was still alive.
She heard the door swing open, footsteps entering the room. It took a concerted effort to drag her head up and focus her bleary eyes. Pepper swept in, followed by Peter - now back in his normal clothes. Pepper approached Eliza at a fast clip, and for a second Eliza braced herself for the sharp sting of a slap, but instead Pepper wrapped her arms around her, tucking her into her shoulder. Eliza breathed in sharply, the floral scent of Pepper’s perfume filling her nose. For a moment, Eliza missed her mom so hard that her eyes stung. She shook this thought off. This was her family now.
(If they still wanted her.)
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Pepper murmured into Eliza’s hair, voice heavy with sincerity. Somehow, this is what finally did it - the tears that Eliza had been holding back spilled over. Like a secret told, it was impossible to take them back, and her shoulders shook with the force of it. “Shh,” Pepper hushed her, holding her a little tighter. “You’re okay, I’ve got you,” she said with such warmth. How could Eliza possibly deserve this? After she almost got Tony killed?
“I’m so sorry, so sorry,” gasped Eliza, voice hitching and breaking.
“No, shh, you’re allowed to cry, don’t apologise,” comforted Pepper, voice thick. Eliza didn’t know how to tell her that this wasn’t what she was apologising for.
Eventually, the sobs subsided. Pulling back from Pepper, Eliza roughly brushed away her tears, and tried not to look ashamed. Pepper stood and moved over to Tony’s bed, perching delicately and brushing a hand over his face ever so lightly. Eliza averted her eyes, looking over to Peter, who was watching from the doorway still, looking uncomfortable.
Eliza stood, joints creaking, and stepped over to Peter. He wasn’t quite meeting her eyes, arms crossed defensively. Feeling a little unsure, she reached out to put her hand on his shoulder. She didn’t understand the sudden distance, but she did not like it. “Peter? Are you okay?” Eliza asked tentatively.
If anything, Peter just tensed further, his jaw grinding. “I’m fine,” he said.
“Okay,” said Eliza, stepping away. Hurt twisted in her chest. She understood why he was mad at her, but still, it hurt.
“I’ve got to go run damage control,” sighed Pepper, tone regretful. “Call me when he wakes up, okay?”
Eliza nodded, resuming her seat by Tony’s bed. She thought that Peter would leave with Pepper, but he lingered indecisively. It left a bitter taste in Eliza’s mouth.
“Peter, can you just… just say what you’re thinking. I’m too tired for this,” she said heavily, feeling ancient.
He looked for a second as though he might just leave - Eliza half hoped he would - but instead, he came and sat on the floor opposite. Eliza thought he seemed small, tucked up like he was. When he spoke, his voice was small too. “I’m sorry.”
This drew Eliza up short. “ You’re sorry? For what?”
Peter finally met her gaze. “All of it. That stupid plan with the reporters; letting you get kidnapped; not noticing the guy had a gun. I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt,” Peter croaked, shoulders hiking up.
Eliza shook her head, disbelieving. “How the hell is any of that your fault?”
“I just… I should’ve stopped it. What’s the point of these powers if people I care about are still getting hurt?”
She paused, thoughtful, before slipping down from her chair to plant herself opposite Peter. She reached out and took his hands in hers. “Peter, no one can save everyone,” Eliza said earnestly. “No one’s blaming you, okay?”
Peter glanced away, pressing his lips into a wobbly line. Slowly drawing a breath through his nose, he nodded, blinking hard. Eliza’s heart hurt for him. She pulled him to her, letting him hide his face in the crook of her neck. She held him until his breathing steadied out, and then a little while longer, waiting for his shoulders to relax. When he finally drew back, Eliza felt like something had healed.
“You should go home, Eliza, get some sleep,” suggested Peter, voice kind.
“No,” said Eliza stubbornly. “I want to wait.”
“...Okay,” he conceded. “Is there anything I can get for you? Have you eaten?”
“I would kill for some coffee around now,” Eliza admitted with a soft smile.
“One cup of coffee, coming right up,” Peter finger gunned, dorky and boyish, before leaving in search of a cafeteria.
Eliza sighed into the quiet. It had been a long, long day, and was only getting longer. Still, the doctor had said that Tony should be awake soon, and Eliza was determined to be here when he did.
It was several cups of coffee later when Tony stirred, letting out a soft groan. Peter and Eliza shared wide-eyed looks, and he scrambled up to find a doctor, glowing with excitement. Eliza approached the bed. Tony was frowning, eyelids fluttering a little.
“Dad?” Eliza called hesitantly, feeling a strange mix of hope and fear.
At this, Tony’s face screwed up a little, squinting out from under his lashes. “... ‘Liza?”
“Oh god,” Eliza said, “Oh thank god, I was so scared. Are you okay? Are you in pain? Peter’s getting a doctor-”
“Hey, shh, kiddo,” Tony reached out with a clumsy hand, covering her hands. “Are you okay?”
Eliza blinked. “Am I okay? Christ, Tony, I thought you died!” Eliza’s voice rose in pitch, thin and unsteady.
Tony was looking a little more cognizant now, watching her with worried eyes. “Hey, I’m fine, okay? I’m pretty sure Hammer tech hasn’t successfully killed anyone in the history of the company.”
Eliza attempted a steadying breath. “I just… don’t scare me like that. Don’t you dare leave me like that,” Eliza’s voice hitched. She felt scared and vulnerable but she needed him to know - she needed him to know that he couldn’t do this to her. She had just gotten him, and this whole strange new life of hers. She couldn’t bear it if she lost him now.
Tony looked more serious than Eliza had ever seen him, pale and bleached against the hospital sheets. “Eliza, I’m not going anywhere. I promise you that.” He gave her hand a squeeze.
Eliza closed her eyes for a moment, trying to make herself believe it.
It was then that the doctor bustled into the room, followed by a grinning Peter. Something about the scene made the vice around her heart loosen just a bit. She felt a great swell of fondness for them, and everyone else she had met in this new world of hers. She had never thought she would have a family, and now look at her. Sure, it wasn’t conventional, but it was all hers. And she loved it.
She really, really loved it.