According to the files, Anthony Edward Stark is a second cousin twice removed of Howard Edward Stark, owner of Stark Industries and Stark International.
Clint Barton is a no-one off the street, an acrobat, a circus child. He has no mother, no father, and only a shady paper cut-out for a brother.
Everyone wonders about his past. Everyone asks. No-one ever asks about Tony Stark’s past.
The first time they run into each other, lightning streaks down Clint’s spine, stabs into his brain like a cattle-prod and he thinks, well, fuck me,.
People should definitely be asking about Tony Stark’s past.
“So,” he asks, sinking onto a bench in Central Park, far, far from any SHIELD surveillance. He even left Tasha behind, for this. “We fightin’?”
Stark looks at him over the rims of his sunglasses, all smug condescension and sleek arrogance. Clint knows fighters, knows killers and assassins and murderers. He knows cowards, too, because they are often the most dangerous sort.
Stark carries himself like neither of those things. He’s a man, nothing more, rich, famous, beautiful. He’s never had to fight for anything in his life.
Clint hasn’t survived until now believing the lie. There is something in Stark’s eyes, dark and liquid, that says Clint might win a fight.
Or he might not.
“Why risk it?” Stark asks, smirking.
Seeing the same thing in Clint that Clint sees in him.
“Alright then,” he agrees, easily. It’s not worth it anyway. Probably.
“Why the…” he mimes a ring above his chest, shoves another fry into his mouth, chews slowly.
Stark – call me Tony, handsome – shrugs. “Inoperable shrapnel in my chest.” He steals one of Clint’s fries, shrugs. “Have you ever died a couple hundred times, consecutively?”
Clint shudders, shakes his head and points out, “You could get one of us to remove it.”
Tony, still chewing, simply looks at Clint, saying without saying anything, how terribly young he is.
You need to trust someone to let them dig into your chest cavity while you’re dead and defenseless.
Clint can see where that might be a problem.
Clint was born in the early eighteenth century. He doesn’t know when, exactly, because he really is a circus child, a performer’s unwanted bastard son. The only one in the company that could write was the boss and he didn’t bother taking down the names and dates of children no-one expected to live past the first winter anyway.
So Clint thinks he might be in his late twenties, but he really doesn’t have the first clue.
But it’s been exactly 274 years since he fell off a high wire and woke in a dark, stuffy basement with a blond stranger bent over him, saying, “Welcome to eternity, child.”
Beyond random meetings where they find each other by their quickening, Tony and Clint have nothing to do with each other.
Nothing at all. Keep walking, please.
Everyone’s talking about the battle, about the play-by-play, an about Tony’s heroics with the nuke. Sitting on the crumbling edge of the Stark Tower, a thousand floors above the ground, legs dangling, Clint snorts, raises a beer to his lips and drinks.
“To freedom?” Tony asks, sinking down next to him, bumping his shoulder briefly before shuffling away.
“To miraculously not dead idiots,” Clint counters.
Tony drinks to that. There is concrete dust in his hair and blood dried on his neck. “I thought I was gonna get stuck,” he says, after a long silence.
Clint looks over his shoulder at the party going on behind them. Steve and Thor are arm wrestling. Bruce is discussing something with Pepper. Natasha is watching him and Tony, eyes narrowed. Curious. Uh-oh.
“You mean…,” In space, in the darkness, with the monsters.
He’d have no qualms about saying that out loud, usually, but it’s been a shitty week. “I think Loki might know. About us.”
About you. Because Clint told him, eyes blue and body oh, so willing.
“Yeah,” Tony shrugs. “I figured.”
“What are you gonna do about it?”
Because they’ve both been around the block often enough to know that this isn’t the last they’ve seen of the trickster god. Not by far.
The man underneath smirks, dark again, and more vicious than anything Tony Stark is capable of. “Make it very hard for him to kill me?”
There are ways, Clint knows, to find out things about other immortals. There are the watchers, for one, who have to be the world’s worst kept secret.
He thinks they could at least make a token effort and put the brand on their asses instead of their wrists of all things, but, hey, good for him.
So he milks his old teacher for a bit of information and then uses that to get into a small archive close to Vienna. In and out in under twenty minutes. They never know he was there and he knows everything they know about one immortal billionaire with a battery in his chest.
Most of the files predate Clint. Most of those are in languages he can’t speak, much less read. In the end, they tell him nothing he didn’t know already. Tony is old, Tony is a genius, and when he wants to, Tony can murder you in cold blood with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart.
He’s Clint’s kind of person, really.
They’re alone in the Tower when Tony comes up to Clint, puts a bare blade to his shoulder and asks, “Wanna spar?”
Tony knows too many styles too count, all sleek perfection and smooth moves. Clint, on the other hand, has strength and agility on his side. He suspects that Tony could lay him out flat during the first five minutes, but after that, it evens out and in the end, they’re just fighting for the sake of fighting, hit, parry, spin, duck, twist.
They are both inventive fighters, using what’s at hand. One of Steve’s punching bags gets gutted, a few weights get thrown around.
Two hours after they started, the gym is a disaster zone. They clean up in silence, comfortably exhausted and a bit more comfortable with each other, too, knowing that they’re matched. Knowing that, in a jam, they can watch each others’ back in a way no-one else knows to.
By silent agreement they bypass the showers in the gym and make their way upstairs, discussing fighting styles. Tony argues for old Italian masters. Clint accuses him of patriotic bias just to see what happens and Tony, being Tony, flashes a quicksilver grin and says, “Nice try.”
It’s not a ‘no, I am not Italian’, but it’s also a ‘you’re not bad’. Clint takes that to mean that he’s right and the man next to him predates the Roman Empire. Which, wow.
Maybe. Or maybe Tony is just giving Clint enough rope to tie himself into knots. Damn Stark and his clever tongue, Clint thinks, and almost crashes into his back as he stops abruptly in the doorway.
The rest of the team, plus Coulson, is sitting in the kitchen, staring at them. The empty mugs between them say they’ve been home for a while.
“Did you… work out together?” Steve asks. Usually, Clint and Tony do little more than snark at each other and fight about movies.
“Yep,” Tony agrees, half a second too fast. Natasha’s eyes narrow.
Clint mutters something about a shower and gets the hell out of there.
“Is there…,” Steve rubs the back of his head, grimaces, tries again. “Is there anything…. Going on between you and Tony?”
Clint, who grew up among savages, has never worried about social norms but while the Captain has been asleep, he has been awake and watching. He understands the man’s bewilderment with open homosexuality. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to use it.
“Are you sure you want to ask me that, Cap?” he throws out, smirking just a little. Just enough innuendo. Just enough smugness.
Clint pulls out his phone, fires off a text to Tony. It says, if anyone asks, we’re fucking.
Tony sends back a smiley face and a few rude suggestions.
At the next team meeting, Clint plants one on Tony, just because he can.
“You could still join me, my hawk,” Loki purrs. “They will wither, your little human friends, and die.”
Clint smirks and spits a mouthful of blood into the god’s face. He doesn’t say anything. It’s not his style. Instead he shoots off a sloppy salute, a mockery of the days when he would have died for this man, and lets himself fall, twenty floors into oblivion.
“I made you a cop,” Tony says, quirks a grin. “I figured you’d like to keep at least somewhat in the business.”
Clint flicks through the papers with fingers still stiff from healing, so much healing. He has no idea how Tony got him out of SHIELD, out of his coffin, out, out, out, but he did. He figures he owes the old man now.
“Thanks,” he answers, and because he can, he licks his lips and steps a little closer. He’d like to say goodbye to Phil, to Nat, but they’re out of reach now. Dead things should stay dead. But Tony’s here and he’s all Clint’s got left now, so he kisses him, once, deep and slow, like the sex would be if they ever got around to it.
They would have, Clint thinks. But then he died.
“Later,” he whispers. Walks away.
Clive Baker sits in a smoky bar with his friends after a long shift, drinking beer and shooting the breeze, when a heavy arm curls around his neck and shoulders the same way a tendril of lightning curls around his spine.
His colleagues all stop talking, tensing a bit, before they make out the face of the man holding Clive tight. Their eyes go wide.
“Tony Stark,” he drawls, taking a slow sip of his beer, going a bit boneless as Tony hooks his chin into Clive’s shoulder, inhales noisily in his ear. “What brings you to this shitass town?”
“You ever heard about Project: Winter Soldier?” he asks, sounding like nothing so much as a lazy cat, even though Clive knows he’s assessing everyone around them.
Clive considers saying no. Send him away, be done with it. Instead he says, “Outside.”
Seventy years ago, a man fell into the ice. That man was not Steve Rogers. His name was Bucky Barnes, and instead of SHIELD, it was Mother Russia that fished him out of there.
And the things they did to him… Clive’s eyes burn when he’s done with the file, but it’s a dry burn.
“He’s still alive.”
“And we’re getting him out?”
“Wrong question,” Tony says, except he’s not really Tony right now, away from New York, from everything that knows him. He’s quieter, for one. And impossibly, sharper.
Tony scratches a finger through a patch of grey at his temple. How old is Tony Stark now? Fifty?
Clive laughs. “A frozen soldier as a going away gift? Some might consider that a bit… fucked-up.”
They leave Barnes in front of a SHIELD base in Switzerland, a blanket around his shoulders and a confused look on his face. The programming is gone from his mind, though, and they fixed him up as well as they could.
Tony dies only days later, before Barnes ever makes it to New York. It’s Steve who takes the arc reactor out of his still chest. It’s the Hulk who crushes it between massive palms, the way Tony wanted.
There is a funeral.
Loki never gets his chance.
Andrew Jones finds Thomas Clinton on a beach in Indonesia, sits next to him with a cocktail in hand, bendy-straw and all.
“Need some company?” he asks. His hair is black again, his beard shaved. He looks twenty years younger and infinitely freer. Thomas wonders who cut out the shrapnel. He wonders who the man inside of the late Tony Stark trusts.
He doesn’t asks.
Instead he holds out his hand, offers, “Tom.”
“Andy,” the other introduces himself, shaking the hand.
Tom takes reaches over, takes the glass and sticks it in the sand, where it topples over, soaking the ground poison blue. Arc reactor blue, but neither of them know what an arc reactor is. Not anymore.
“Barnes got there okay?”
Andy nods. “Figure we might drop by in a decade or two. Pick him and Rogers up. Teach them the ropes of living forever.”
Tom hums in agreement and then pulls the other man on top of him in invitation. They kiss.
A handful of hours later, Tom rolls into Andy’s side and asks, sleepy and sated, “We fightin’?”
Andy cups his waist, snorts laughter into the other man’s hair. “Why risk it?”