Chapter 1: The World at Large
Tony Stark doesn’t remember the day the world’s outlook on Weres changed. He’d spent the better part of three decades hiding half of who he was and suddenly, almost overnight, it was okay to be a Were.
Centuries of persecution can’t be erased by a few laws though, and Tony knew there were thousands, just like him, who still hid their nature from those around them for fear they’d be hunted and captured for experimentation or killed. Or even worse, to be had as a pet by the highest bidder.
Tony’s a smart man and no person could deny that fact. He knew that, if he felt like it, he could shift in the middle of one of his press conferences and nobody could say boo-who-shit about it. But he also knew that, if he did that, his business would most likely tank overnight.
Tony remembers vaguely the day the existence of Weres was broadcast to the world and he, like the masses of other Weres, cowered in hiding, fearing a mass culling on the horizon.
A semi-famous actress had gone missing months before on Safari in Africa, the only trace of her existence the tattered remains of her clothes. Searchers had rapidly given up hope after a few weeks, figuring the lack of ransom demand meant she’d been eaten by one of the many predators that stalked the African plains. If only they had know how drastically the actress's disappearance would change the world.
Months later, rangers partnered with the WWF darted a Giant Sable Antelope to track for their conservation efforts. Much to their shock and surprise what they discovered was no antelope, but rather the missing actress. Tony would almost think the story funny if it hadn’t put thousands of lives in jeopardy, including his own.
Tony knew now, since his involvement with SHIELD as a consultant gave him limited access(plus his own, JARVIS-derived access) to certain files, that Nick Fury had snatched the poor woman up almost instantly. But by the time they were back, there was no covering up the situation. Park visitors and volunteers had post pictures and videos up all over the internet.
Weres were known to the world, whether they liked it or not.
There was an immediate backlash. Half of the population was calling for open hunting, the other half for protective laws. The military was calling for weaponization and the scientific community was calling for the rights to experiment on any and all captured Weres.
For the Weres of the world, it seemed a dark period of their history was on the horizon.
Until, one day, three months after the initial apprehension of the woman from Africa, SHIELD had moved the woman to a shell company, a bakery of all places, where she was being held until the world had settled down.
Anti-Were activists, using information given to them by an inside source, surrounded the building and, in an act of blatant terrorism, tossed rocks and molotov cocktails through the window, with no regard for the human employees inside. Cell phones captured the crowd of extremists cheering in victory, even as the people inside screamed for help.
But the cell phones also captured something amazing. With bystanders calling for emergency assistance it looked grim for the trapped victims with rescue squads miles away. As the people outside braced for the worst, they were surprised, and overjoyed, when an a large antelope crashed through one of the few remaining windows, two children clutching its back.
All over America, Tony watched as Weres, hundreds of them, risked their lives for the people who so openly scorned them. Wolves who found missing children in Canada suddenly became lumberjacks in the blink of an eye. Dolphins rescued early morning swimmers from shark attacks and, on one memorable occasion, a lion stopped a bank robbery by simply lifting a paw and snarling.
Slowly, the world warmed to the idea of these half-human, half-animal creatures walking among them and their helpfulness came to light. Weres in the rescue, law enforcement and military fields could do things their human cohorts couldn’t.
But no amount of acceptance would ever erase decades, even centuries, of the hate and persecution they had suffered. Tony, like ninety percent of the Were population, continued to hide their status from friends and families alike, for fear they would be hated and scorned by those they loved and cared for.
In Afghanistan, Tony had used his Wereform’s constitution to survive the deadly heat after he’d escaped from the cave, amazed he held off a shift for so long. His hearing had given him the advance notice he’d needed that the helicopters were on the way and he’d turned back. He was glad his clothes had already been in rags, or he’d have been in trouble.
What irked him the most after that was his Arc Reactor. Even when shifted, it sat, heavy in his chest, an ever present reminder to how close he’d come to losing his life. He’d sat one day in front of a mirror, shifted and watched the play of light blue on his thick, spotted pelt. He’d roared, once, a loud reverberating sound, at the mirror and made up his mind.
A few hours later, he’d sat in front of his computer screen in the downstairs workshop, made sure the audio and visual recorders were working properly and then, after taking a deep breath, he faced the screen and spoke.
“My name is Anthony Edward Stark, and I am a Were.”
Chapter 2: The Secret Begins to Unravel
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Pepper and Happy were the first ones to find out. This doesn’t surprise Tony in the least. He’s never been able to hide secrets from Pepper, so why should this be any different? He figures Happy found out because he was in the right place as the right time.
Pepper found the tapes a week after Tony’s “I am Iron Man.” speech on live TV. He’d been doing almost nothing besides the occasional interview on the radio or on a blog, under Pepper’s orders of course, and his weapons-destruction runs in the desert.
It was when he was away on one such run that Pepper and Happy stumbled upon the CD, sitting ever so innocuously on the corner of the main desk in the workshop’s center. It wasn’t labeled and, for the briefest moment, both wondered it was a blank disk.
Curiosity overriding their better judgement and, knowing Tony wouldn’t be home for many hours, Happy grabbed the disk, Pepper stowed the mail in a drawer and both went upstairs to the media room. Pepper turned on the TV and Happy slipped the disk into the DVD player before pushing the tray in gently and stepping back.
There was static on the screen and both settled onto the couch while they waited for it to clear.When it did, both looked extremely unhappy. The Tony on the screen was nothing like the one they were used to seeing. He looked tired and sad, with dark circles under his eyes and a weariness about him that set off alarms for the two people who were watching.
The on-screen Tony heaved a breath, seeming to steel himself before he spoke.
“My name is Anthony Edward Stark, and I am a Were. If you’re watching this video then I’m dead, dying, or missing and presumed dead. If you’re a villain who picked this up while ransacking my lab: You’re an ass and I’m going to beat you half to death and then sue you the rest of the way into the grave.”
A small smirk pulled at the very edges of Tony’s mouth before falling flat again. “My Were-Animal orientation is Panthera pardus orientalis, or for those of you who don’t understand Trinomial designations, I’m an Amur Leopard. The reason I’m making this video is because I want to clear a few things up, both about Weres in general and about myself, so shut up and listen.”
“Today’s date is September 13th, 2009 and it has been less than three weeks since I was rescued from wandering the desert after I spent three months in captivity. To this day, no one knows the extent of what I experienced while I was a prisoner, and I plan to keep it like that. I will say this, if I wasn’t a Were, I’d have never survived.”
“In May of 2008, Weres were forced into the open when one of us was darted by accident. Anyone watching this should know the story by now, so I’m not going to waste my breath with a retelling. Most of what the public knows about Weres today is nothing but propaganda, and not even the good shit, so I’m going to set something straight. Weres are, in fact, more intelligent than their animal counterparts. Just because I turn fuzzy and spotted does not make me a volatile maneater. However, Weres in human form carry over instinct from their animal form. We, because of a genetic anomaly, or defect if you must call it that, are the perfect amalgamation between human and animal. Humans with the strength, speed and other abilities of all kinds of animals and animals with thought processes of an extremely intelligent three year-old.”
“The Amur Leopard is an emotionally stunted, solitary apex predator. I got two out of three. Three guesses as to which ones they are and the first two don’t count. Now, I’m not gonna blame everything on Instinct. I have to say, Howard Stark, for someone who knew what he was getting into when he married my mother, was not at all ready or accepting to find a leopard cub sitting in his workshop a week after my fifth birthday.”
“After my first shift, I was told to never do it again, and I spent the better part of fifteen years only shifting when my mom and I could sneak away when Howard was away on business.” On screen Tony sighed darkly and rubbed a hand across his forehead and looked up, eyes glassy and the lines of his body screaming unresolved grief.
“When the car-crash took my parents...Howard I cared little for and it didn’t really matter to me. But my mom...my mom was also a leopard, and she taught me everything I know today about being a Were, in both forms. I forgot one of my most important lessons after she died. Very few things will make a Were get stuck in their animal forms. Injury, or pain of any kind, sheer stubbornness and our emotions can cause us to get stuck.”
Here he cracked a small smile, something like fond reminiscence behind it and he chuckled.
“I went to Asia and Russia after the funeral, the original plan was to spend a few weeks trying to come to terms with the loss of my mother. After awhile, I realized I wouldn’t be ready anytime soon and gave the company over to Obadiah. I shifted after I’d sent the papers off with a courier. And couldn’t change back the next day.”
“That’s one of the few days I can actually say I faced up to my emotions. You’d a been proud of me, Pep, talking about my emotions, even though it was in my head and to myself, but the principal is the same.”
“But I guess there’s not much more to tell. Pepper, I’m sorry I’ll probably tell you to your face how incredible you actually are and that, for putting up with my shit, you should be made a patron saint of something suitably awesome. Take care of yourself and try to be happy, even if it means you have to go job hunting.” Here Tony laughed lightly at the inside joke and, when he next spoke, his face was less drawn then before.
“Happy, when you helped me all those years ago by defending me from those muggers, I never expected to get not only a talented driver, bodyguard and trainer out of the deal, but also an amazing friend. You, too, deserve to be, well, happy, and I hope you will be.”
“Now, in the event that I am actually de-” Pepper hit the power button the DVD player and slumped back into her seat, the enormity of what was just revealed to her settling in slowly but surely. Happy didn’t appear to be much better off as, after a moment, he loosed a particularly sharp and colorful curse.
“Happy!” Pepper scolded, more out of routine than anything. Happy blushed lightly a moment before he was up and pacing. “I knew something was up! I should have been able to pin it together, especially after the announcement came out.” Pepper looked up at him in confusion, her raised eyebrow an unspoken demand for him to elaborate.
“When someone holds back when they’re fighting, there are always tells. I figured he was just tensing up incase I hit him too hard. Weres are usually as strong their affiliated animals. Leopards are incredibly powerful animals, able to carry and lift dead animals up trees and rocks nearly three times their weight. If Tony had even used a fraction of that strength, then I would have been lucky to get away with nothing more than bruises.”
Pepper was looking at Happy with a thoughtful expression, thinking back to the hundreds of interactions she’d had with Tony over the years since becoming his PA. Little things became more clear to her than before, now that she was looking for them.
When he wanted to get away from something, whether playfully or not, he often shifted from a fast walk to a strange, loping stride that covered ground rapidly, making perfect for getaways and also for getting close to what he wanted, when he wanted it. His laser beam stare and slate-rock face when he was sizing someone up, whether they were an opponent of some kind or an annoyance.
There was reigning silence for a moment before Pepper spoke. “We have to catch him while he’s shifted. Its the only he’ll come clean by himself. If we tell him about the video, he may just lock himself off from us and we’ll never get anywhere with him. And I think I know just when to do it.”
A week after his desert weapons run, Tony decided that one of his walks was in order and used the cloudy Malibu night as a cover for his more than noticeable coat. After making sure the house was empty, as was the water that came away from his private stretch of beach, Tony stripped out of his clothes, leaving them haphazardly strewn all over the floor.
Without really thinking, he was much lower to the ground and his world became nothing more than “den-home-safe” and “rain-sand-like”. He pushed his way out of the open sliding glass door, talons clicking softly on the wood of his porch before he launched down the stairs onto the beach, paws making a thud as he landed in the soft sand.
He loosed a rasping roar, echoed by softer chuffing sounds as he started a trot out onto the sand, unaware of what would await him when he arrived back home.
Pepper led Happy into the house not ten minutes after Tony had left on his walk, carrying with her a small bag of what appeared to be jerky in her hands. “Are you sure that’s going to work? I mean, he’s a leopard, not a house cat. I doubt finger treats are going to hold his attention very well, if at all.”
Pepper cast Happy a sidelong look before she spoke. “Happy, as I’m sure you know, I come from a large family. A very large family. Of all of my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents, about sixteen of them are Weres. All of them some form of large, carnivorous predator. Jerky is something we buy in bulk.”
Happy had no response and simply nodded as he followed her into the living room. Just as Pepper had predicted, Tony had left his clothes scattered all over the floor and the sliding door was left ajar, the sound of rain a background noise, the cooler air comfortably chilling the entire first floor.
Pepper waved Happy into the kitchen and started pulling things out of the refrigerator and telling Happy what to pull out of the cupboards and where. They worked on dinner while talking liveley to each other. Happy had just slipped the lasagna into the oven when their conversation was interrupted by a roar and growl and the quiet tap-click of claws on the hard floor.
Pepper grabbed the bag of jerky and pulled out a few strips before walking purposefully into the living room. There, standing in the middle of the room, was an angry looking leopard, teeth bared, fur on end and silver-blue eyes flashing. Pepper stood up straight and stared at the big cat, not even flinching when he roared at her again.
Behind her, Happy was watching the proceedings, but he remembered what she told him about dealing with Weres and remembered to keep his back straight and his face smooth. There was a tense moment before the leopard, Tony, he reminded himself, stepped backwards and hissed, raising a paw as if he were getting ready to lash out.
“Enough!” Pepper ordered, her tone sharp and leaving no room for argument. Happy watched in awe as Tony lowered his massive foreleg and turned to Pepper, snarling again. Pepper just looked unimpressed and he clicked her tongue once.
“Anthony Edward Stark, you stop it this instant! It’s Pepper and Happy. You’re safe. Your den is safe. We’re not going to hurt you.” He voice was growing more quiet and gentle with each statement and Happy watch as Tony’s body loosened up, his fur fell flat and the rage left his eyes. He left a gap between them but settled into a sitting position,starting to groom the rain-damp out of his fur.
Pepper handed Happy a slice of jerky and waved him backward and smiled. “Just go slow. He’ll recognize you.” She reminded him, gently. Happy nodded and stood back while Pepper held the strip of jerky out in front of her, creeping forward slowly. Tony lifted his head from where he was grooming around the Arc Reactor in his chest and stared at her, this time eyes alight with curiosity and what looked like recognition.
When Pepper was within arms reach Tony leaned forward slightly and, with his rough textured tongue, lapped up the strip of dried meat. Pepper kept his hand still as Tony nosed around her palm and wrist, great gusts of warm air floating up her arm. After a moment, Tony made a soft chirping sound high in his throat and grabbed Pepper’s wrist in between his teeth. There was no pain and no blood, simply a soft pressure on her skin, the question unmistakable.
“Can you trust me?”
Pepper didn’t speak, simply left her arm where it was and reached forward with her free hand. Tony flinched briefly and made another soft sawing sound in his chest, the briefest tremor shaking his frame. And it became clear to them. Tony though he was going to be hit.
Pepper made a wordless crooning sound and gently ran her fingers through the thick, damp ruff around his ears. There was silence for a few minutes before Tony relaxed again and leaned into her gentle touch.
“You silly, overgrown housecat. We’ll never hurt you. You can trust us.” She crooned and Tony chirped again, content for the moment to allow the petting.
Chapter 3: Strength
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Over the following weeks after the revelation of Tony’s Were status to Pepper and Happy, there were many, however minor changes, to the way Pepper helped Tony and Stark Industries conduct business and his life.
Tony mandated that part of his R&D Department devote themselves to crafting things that would make the lives of Weres around the world a little easier. Tony knew from experience that certain medicine and foods could make Weres extremely ill, if not kill them outright. Tony wanted them to find ways around this for the sake of everyone involved.
A week after the revelation, on a friday night where Tony would have normally been out at a party or gone for a walk, Pepper sat him on the couch and sat herself on the other end, a notepad in hand.
She looked at him for a minute before nodding. “Good. We’ve finally got the time to do this.” At Tony’s questioning glance and tilted head, she smiled lightly and tapped her pen against the notepad.
“You said most of the stuff about Weres in the media and available to the public is false information. I need to know the facts so I don’t accidentally poison you by giving you something you shouldn’t eat or hit you with something because you startled me in the middle of the night.” Tony’s face lit with recognition and he nodded, his eyes enthusiastic. Finally, a human who was interested in his other half, without being disgusted or afraid like his dad was.
“Well, okay. Um, where to start. Oh, okay. Most people will tell you that Weres are able to keep their animal selves and their human selves absolutely separate. That’s not true. Not even remotely. Weres are the way they are because of our genetics, so there’s obviously going to be some bleed over. What it is depends on what animal the Were is associated with. I know a lot of this is also review, especially if your family has multiple Weres, but it never hurts to go over what you know.”
Pepper was nodding and smiling at Tony, knowing that, only if she was receptive to this part of her boss, no her friend, would he keep talking and being open instead of closing himself off from her and Happy again.
“Certain aspects of me are Leopard, and certain aspects of the Leopard are me. For clarity’s sake, I’ll refer to my animal side as Amur. Aspects like eating and sleeping, times of highest activity and even recognition I get from Amur. You’ve noticed I tend to be more active at night and sleep during the day, that I only eat every few days and when I do eat, it’s a shit-ton of food. Little things like that I get from Amur. I recognize things and people by scent and sound more than by what they look like.”
He laughed softly for a minute before turning on her with a smile that was one of the happiest, and brightest she’d seen since he’d come back from Afghanistan. “One of the reasons I chose you to be my PA is because, of all the different stacks of paperwork, business proposals. and other miscellaneous crap that came across my desk, only one scent was associated with papers that were done correctly 100% of the time, with little helpful tab things for organization and I even had coffee cups with the same scent attached come across my desk after some of my all-nighters. So one day, I decided to follow the scent.”
He smiled warmly at her and placed a warm, calloused hand on her knee. “It was easy enough to follow the smell of jasmine, vanilla and sunshine throughout the building until I came to your desk. Of course, you didn’t make it any easier by refusing the job offer almost a dozen times before you said yes.”
Both chuckled happily for a minute, caught in their memories before Tony spoke again. “I’ve adapted to most of the minuscule things. I walk silently, so I talk when I come behind someone so they can hear me. I’m territorial, so I try to restrict my territory to my lab and workshop. I like to perch above the ground, so I built my bed and lab chairs and benches higher than usual. I can drink coffee, but not alcohol, so when we have parties or galas, I pay the bartenders extra to replace my scotch with apple juice or my other drinks with varying sodas and even water. I even perfected playing drunk.”
“I eat mostly red meat and fish and I procure them from a friend, a fellow Big Cat-Were who owns a catering company. I have to eat vegetables and grains, though not as much as a normal human. I can’t eat mint or chocolate and large quantities of dairy products make me throw-up sick.”
“Most of the time if I wake up while Amur, I’ll shift back automatically, but I won’t be able to talk for a few minutes. It’s recommended that Weres change back to human when we get cut or bruised, or sprain and strain something. But if we break a limb or tear a muscle, we have to remain in our animal forms until we heal because attempting to change back with such injuries can leave us permanently lame.”
By now Pepper’s notebook was full of notes and she was listening intently, while Tony spoke of several more, even more miniscule things, waving his hands energetically. She smiled lightly and sat back to listen to him to talk some more.
Another week passed and Tony spent more and more time in Leopard form around the house when he wasn’t working or doing press-conferences and weapons runs. Eventually he stopped flinching when Pepper and Happy reached out to scritch between his ears and he even started to initiate contact with them.
Pepper also started to notice little habits that had passed over her before. When Tony was happy, he made a rumbling sound, deep in his chest, almost like purring, no matter what form he was in. Especially if he was snuggled up against someone, namely Pepper. He made chirping sounds when he greeted someone he knew, usually only Pepper and Happy, but occasionally one of the bots.
They weren’t ready for the disarray and near-tragedy that was about to befall them
When the Palladium started to kill Tony, he started withdrawing from Happy and Pepper. He no longer shifted in front of them, knowing the limp, dull quality of his usually glossy pelt would give him away the moment he changed.
He kept sparring with Happy in a vain attempt to keep the muscle mass he was losing to his new lack of appetite. He didn’t go for walks and, soon enough, he didn’t bother shifting at all, the searing pain brought on by the poison in his blood more than enough of a deterrent to stop the changes.
When Natalie- no, Natasha, came to work for him, he was immediately on edge. She smelt of cleaner and iron, an old scent of blood and death and, oddly enough, leather, that screamed “Stay away!” at him in every language he knew, human or otherwise.
When he fought with Rhodey on his birthday, he would have given everything to climb out of his suit, change and roar his frustration and sadness at his best friend to the night sky. But he didn’t. Instead, he flew away and, in the Iron Man suit, sat in the center of giant doughnut and ate pastries.
When Fury shouted him down the following morning, he felt momentarily vindicated when his suspicions were proven correct and Natasha came striding in wearing a leather catsuit. Tony had just barely bit back a snarl when she stabbed his neck with the Lithium and, for the briefest moment, he thought one of his greatest fears was being realized.
For a moment, Tony thought he’d been Tranq’d and SHIELD was getting ready to cart him off, Iron Man suit and all, to experiment on he and his Were-half. He was only calmed slightly when Fury explained what it was.
When Coulson showed up on his doorstep to guard him while he was figuring out how to fix his reactor, there was a flash of hope and he worked himself to the bone. What he wasn’t expecting while he was down there was Coulson to come down to his lab on the second day, and smile cryptically.
“You know, Mr. Stark, we carry a burden not many others can understand. You’re lucky you have Pepper and Happy rooting for you, or you might of ended up slightly insane before this point.” Tony glanced at him oddly.
“I have no idea what you mean, Agent.” He said slowly, looking up from where he was working on the holoscreen. Phil just smiled again and reached for his jacket, starting to pull that and his shirt off.
Tony, bless his soul, was not the playboy the media gave him credit for, most of the women he brought home were for intellectual conversation, and he could feel the heat spreading across his face as Coulson’s chest became visible.
“J-jesus hell Phil!” He yowled, throwing his arm over his eyes. He was greeted with a bright chuckle and, a moment later, a bark. In his surprise he whipped his arm off from his face and stared away from him. Three feet away, standing over a pile of what had been the agent’s suit, was a large tan wolf, who was looking at him with merry blue eyes.
Tony choked on his own spit for a second before he spoke. “You’re a- you’re a Werewolf!?” He shouted. There was a moment of stillness before the tan wolf padded forward and pressed his nose into the indentation of his hip and took a deep breath. Tony recognized the move. He’d done it to Happy and Pepper both. Phil was committing his scent to memory.
Once the tan wolf stepped back, all wolf-smile and wagging tail, Tony took pause for a moment and nodded. Coulson shifted back from his wolf form and Tony kept his eyes down to give him some privacy while he himself stripped down and shifted.
Tony could feel his ears flattening when Coulson gasped, the sound sad from the usually stoic agent, and knelt down in front of Tony. Tony knew it looked bad, his spotted coat limp and dull and even missing in some places and he made a sad, ‘grrrp’-ing sound in his chest.
“Jesus, Stark. This has to hurt. Why didn’t you get help sooner?” The agent asked, reaching forward. On instinct, Tony tensed and snatched Coulson’s hand in his jaws, though it was gentle. Coulson held still a moment before placing a warm hand on Tony’s head. Tony released his hold and snuck his forehead into the crevice of the agent’s crouched body and breathed.
Phil smelt warm, like cinnamon and clove but with undercurrent of one of Tony’s favorite scents, like he’d just come out of a warm rain. He chirped quietly and pulled back and decided to change back.
Just as Tony left, Phil turned on him with a smile. “Mr. Stark, I’ve known you for a few years now. I’ve know you were a Were from the first day I saw you. I could smell it on you. No one knows moreso than I that Wolves take care of their own. When you get better, come find me.”
After the debacle at the Stark Expo, Pepper demanded they take a vacation from her boyfriend, which Tony readily agreed with. After his debriefing with Fury and a heartfelt man-hug with Coulson, he and Pepper boarded a StarkJet to an island Tony held joint ownership of with another Were and they spent three weeks in each other’s loving company. Pepper scolded him intensely for hiding his illness, and then made it her personal mission to nurse him back to health.
One night, whilst they’d been lounging in front of the fire, Tony’s ears had perked up and he’d shot to his paws. Pepper had just enough time to throw the door open and watch with worry as Tony charged away into the dense forest, his fur disappearing into the dark.
She’d waited for twenty minutes before Tony came padding back, something pitiful and mewing clutched gently in his jaws. He’d come inside and stood by the fire and, when Pepper had come to stand in front of him, he’d set the bundle at her feet.
It was a kitten and it was tiny, it’s light gray and white fluffy pelt probably comprising half its body mass. It looked up at both of them with one green eye and one blue eye and mewed quietly. But that’s not what stood out. It was missing its left hind leg.
Tony shifted back and pulled on a pair of basketball shorts, smiling at her. “Can we keep him, Pep. Plllleeeeaaaaassssseeeee?” He whined. Pepper rolled her eyes but smiled fondly. “You’ll have to take care of him. That means cleaning up after him, feeding him, playing with him and everything else.” She said in a mock-lecture fashion. Tony nodded enthusiastically and scooped the tiny kitten into his arms and smiled brilliantly, if a little sadly at him.
“You hung on through that storm, lost your family and your leg and you still tried to fight me, someone bigger and stronger than you, off when I found you. You remind me of someone. I’ll call you...Styrke.”
When they built Stark Towers, Pepper never let him further than the three floors above the penthouse, saying it’s contents were a surprise. So while he was working on making the Tower eco friendly with a huge ARC Reactor, Pepper was working on her surprise.
On the night he came home after successfully connecting the reactor to the tower, Pepper was waiting for him near the dearmoring platform, holding in her hand a strip of black silk. Tony, interest piqued, trotted over and turned around when she motioned him to do so. Once the blindfold was secured he grabbed her arm and allowed her to lead him to the elevator.
Once inside, she grabbed his hand and placed it on something Tony recognized as a biometric scanner and then helped him tab in the code. This made Tony even more interested. What kind of surprise required a biometric scanner and a passcode?
When the elevator came to a halt on what he guessed to be the sixtieth floor, the doors opened and Tony was blasted in the face by cool, dry air and the hard floor of the elevator gave way to what felt like gravel and sand. Pepper peeled the blindfold and Tony couldn’t hold back the scream of excitement, kittenish joy taking over as he looked around him.
The sixtieth, sixty-first and sixty-second floors had been converted into a large Leopard habitat. The “ground floor” was carpeted by soft sand and small rocks. Lifelike bushes covered the ground and realistic looking trees branched upwards, cliff-like rocks dotted throughout the room. Each floor above him had a half floor and was decorated similarly. The air that was being pumped in was cool and almost spoke of rain. Tony whirled on Pepper, who was grinning brightly and she could feel tears of happiness prick at the corner of her eyes.
“I researched Amur Leopards and it turns out that they prefer cool, lofty places, even though they can be found in both Russia and the Amur Basin of Asia. So I looked around and it turns out there are at least three companies in New York alone the specialize in Were Habitats, mainly for hospital and school purposes, and they were happy to build this and keep your secret. You now have a place where you, and only you, can come and relax.”
Tony shouted with glee again and wrapped Pepper in a tight hug, dotting her face and neck with feather-light kisses.
If only they knew how their world was about the unravel around them in less than a few hours.
Chapter 4: Grief and Reunions
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The events of the next few days after Coulson dropped of the case of information passed Tony by in a blur of pain, emotion and fear. Pepper left with Coulson to get on a plane for a meeting and Tony buried himself in the information he’d put on the holo-screens.
Stykre had assumed his usual perch on Tony’s right shoulder, and the kitten, still small despite nearly three months of feeding, began purring in content, the soft rumbling a calming background noise as he worked.
Tony wasn’t pulled out of his working trance until the call for help from SHIELD came through. He’d deposited Stykre on the ground and hurried to the arming platform, the suit falling into its usual place around his body and he was off.
When he arrived in Sttugart, he blast AC/DC through the Quinjet’s speakers and immediately joined the fray. He ignored the fact that Natasha was somewhere right behind him, he didn’t think he would ever trust her fully again, and threw himself against the freakishly tall man in the reindeer helmet. Beside Captain America. He just barely contained a fan-girlish squeal of excitement.
Once the reindeer, as he was calling Loki for his own clarity’s sake, was in custody, he climbed into the Quinjet with the others and settled back for, what was supposed to be, a quiet ride to the Helicarrier.
Until Thor, the Asgardian god of thunder, landed on top of the Quinjet to rescue his “brother”. What followed was actually one of the best fights Tony had experienced in a long time. With no immediate threat to his life, it was a chance to stretch his limbs and test the limits of the suit.
When Thor had pumped lightning into the suit, he couldn’t contain a roar of exhilaration, but Jarvis filtered it out so the others couldn’t hear. When they’d finally calmed down slightly, Tony was panting lightly and itching to go another round, but Thor acquiesced to lock his brother up in the Helicarrier.
The conversation that followed on the Helicarrier was one that had Tony’s hackles raised, both literally and metaphorically. While he had Jarvis hack SHIELD’s servers for information he and Bruce Banner, who Tony was dubbing his Science Bro the minute this whole debacle was over and offering him his own lab, tried tracking the Tesseract through its gamma radiation. All while Tony was trying to get his fellow scientist to ‘Hulk Out’.
Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, turned out to be not as awesome as Tony had imagined and when he’d insulted his integrity, Tony had felt his enthusiasm towards the other man chill considerably. He answered Steve’s “Big man in a metal suit. Take that away and what are you then?” with his usual snark, but he could tell his voice was far sharper than usual and he could feel the urge to fight.
But he didn’t. Instead, he kept himself together and even helped Steve get the broken Helicarrier engine back up and running. When Steve didn’t hit the lever right away, occupied as he was with the man trying to shoot him, and Tony was being tossed around, he’d felt his stomach drop until, finally, he was able to fly out and lend a hand.
When it was announced that Phil had been killed, Tony couldn’t hold back the keening wail that escaped him, agony for the loss of a friend and fellow Were overwhelming him, uncaring if everyone heard him. When Fury threw the blood-spattered cards on the conference table later that evening, Tony flinched away, but no one seemed to notice. he lashed out with words against the others and could feel the anger and sadness coming to a head. If there wasn’t a world to save he would have locked himself in his workshop for days on end until Pepper dragged out and forced him to eat, shower and sleep.
When it was discovered that Loki was using his tower, his home, to facilitate the invasion Tony had sped off, only to find Loki waiting in his penthouse, looking for all the world as if he belonged there. What followed was one of the strangest conversations in his life, and there had been plenty, which culminated in Tony flying out of his own window, calling for Jarvis to deploy the Mark VII. For the second time in less than fourty-eight hours, Tony almost died.
Once the invasion started, Tony gave over to his instincts, letting sadness and rage drive him as he destroyed alien after alien, hoverdisc after hoverdisc and every giant alien worm that got in his way. He helped where needed, following directions when given and chiming in every now and then without seeming to realize it.
And then the nuke came.
He could feel the fight leaving the others as the hopelessness of the situation seemed to dawn on them and Tony knew, despite not wanting it to be so, he knew he would be the only one who could stop it. So he had Jarvis direct all the remaining power into the thrusters, ordered Natasha to keep the portal open a little longer and caught it over the water.
As he was carrying the missile into the air, Jarvis called Pepper for him, but there was no answer and so he left a message for her. He poured out his heart to her and, just as he was nearing the portal’s entrance, finished the call. “I know I should have told you this sooner Pepper, but I love you.” He said, and hung up.
In the space on the other side of the portal, he threw the missile and fell back. It was cold and dead and Tony could feel the life leaving him as he fell back.
The next thing Tony remembered was a reverberating roar in his ear and he was gasping for breath, body wracked with shivers of pain, exhaustion and emotion. He was looking up at most of the team and before he knew it, he was asking them to shawarma.
Dinner at the semi-destroyed restaurant is a quiet, somber affair, the ragtag group of heroes simply trying to eat enough to prevent them from falling over. Loki had been handed off to SHIELD in cuffs to suppress his magic and a gag to keep him causing trouble. Once they were done, Tony slapped down enough cash on the table to pay for the food and probably repair the joint three times over and flew back to the tower while everyone else went their separate ways.
Pepper was waiting for him in the penthouse with Stykre, who had hidden in the workshop during the attack, by her side and she wrapped him tightly in a hug the minute he stepped inside, one he was only too happy to return with equal vigor while Stykre wound around their legs, purring his joy thunderously. Both were in tears, Pepper over almost losing him and Tony over the loss of his friend, almost dying three times and the sheer, bone-deep agony that suffused his entire body.
That night, Tony and Pepper slept in Tony’s bed, curled around each other and clinging together as if their lives depended on it.
When Tony and the rest of the team showed up to see Thor and Loki off, Tony made sure to tell the Avengers that the tower had an open door policy for the team if they needed a place to stay. He drove Bruce to the airport after the meeting and made the other man promise to visit soon. “For Science!” He’d shouted, smiling brightly.
He still hurt all over but made his way back to the tower, where Pepper was still working on setting up contractors to fix the window and the other, mainly cosmetic repairs to the building. Tony kissed her temple, murmured a quiet “love you” in her ear and then stepped onto the arming platform and then flew off to start helping with the clean-up. Over the span of the next four weeks, Tony spent most of his days clearing alien corpses and debris from around the city and at night, falling into bed with Pepper and Styrke, content to sleep the night away.
When Tony was called to SHIELD headquarters two months after the invasion, Pepper had to bribe him with coffee and two large, rare steaks to get him up, moving and into the car. Happy maneuvered them through the traffic and construction areas until he was pulling to a stop in front a building not far from Times Square.
Tony hopped out, travel mug of his favorite cinnamon and hazelnut coffee still clutched in his hands possessively and made his way inside. He flashed his consultant’s badge at the secretary and made his way into the elevator. He nodded politely to the agents and the researchers inside the elevator.
On the conference level, Tony stepped out and almost walked headlong into Bruce. Both men shared a smile and a warm handshake before walking together to the conference room, Bruce telling Tony enthusiastically about the work he had finished up in Asia and Tony held the door open so Bruce wouldn’t walk face first into it. They gathered two chairs and put them a small ways away from the table so they could talk without disturbing the others. Both scientists nodded briefly to the others sitting at the table before returning to their enthusiastic science conversations.
Tony had interacted daily with each of the other team members except Thor, who spent equal time on Earth and in Asgard fixing the Bifrost and Bruce who had been away in Asia. A few minutes after the two scientists had sat down the door opened and Fury came striding in. Tony looked up and tried to act attentive, figuring if he was the meeting would be done sooner than if he wasn’t.
“I have not been entirely truthful with you guys.” This had Tony’s immediate attention and he narrowed his eyes in Fury’s direction, tension dancing along the lines of his spine and shoulders. Fury didn’t speak again, merely waved his hand towards the door, which swung open, revealing a Phantom.
Or who should have been phantom. Standing before them all was Phil Coulson, looking only a little worse for wear. Tony’s world froze for a minute, ice water racing through his veins and the blood draining from his face. Everyone else was glaring murder and strife at Fury, but Tony and Phil locked eyes from a moment before Tony was on his feet at the same time his mug fell from his hands, coffee splashing the carpet and his shoes.
Fiery rage lashed through him and he could feel the snarl building in his chest, coalescing into a roar just behind his clenched teeth. His hackles rose and he knew that if he stayed there, he’d shift in front of everyone and show Fury why Leopards were the third most feared Big Cat. The urge to lash out with fangs and talons was strong and Tony did the only thing he could. He whirled on his heel and left the room through the second door.
He stalked through the hallway, blood thundering in his ear, chest heaving with the force of his angry breathing. No one got in his way, making room when they saw him coming and Tony took the stairs, three at a time, ignoring the shouting coming from the room behind him. He burst into the lobby and made straight for the door.
Happy looked up from where he was leaning against the side of the town car, sipping coffee and eating a bagel, and, sensing Tony’s anger, threw open the back door and stepped aside, wincing as Tony launched himself inside. Happy glanced behind him just in time to see the rest of the team crowding against the door, looking at them with worry.
Happy stuffed the rest of the bagel he was eating in his mouth and hopped into the driver seat, turning over the engine and pulling away into traffic. Behind him, Tony was growling, a low sound that spoke of danger roiling just beneath the surface.
Tony felt jittery, like he wanted to jump out of his own skin, fly against the nearest thing and rend with claws and teeth and strength. But he didn’t. He dug his fingers into the leather of the seat and tried to breathe deeply while Happy moved them through the thick mid-morning traffic.
“That manipulative, lying son of a bitch!” He yelled, falling into a stream of curses that colored the air around him and turned the tips of Happy’s ear pink. He was pissed. “That stupid, one-eyed mangy bastard!” He was mad at Fury for lying to them. Mad at both Fury and Coulson for making him think he’d lost a friend. He was mad, no upset, that Coulson didn’t let him know sooner. Two months of mourning, of crushing grief.
By the time Happy pulled up in front of the tower he’d calmed down slightly and when he stepped onto the path, he made sure to thank Happy and apologise for the not-so-minor freakout before. Happy nodded simply and insisted on seeing Tony up to the penthouse level.
Pepper was waiting for them near the kitchen, but whatever she was about to say fell by the wayside when she saw Tony’s frazzled appearance. She hurried over and gently took his face in her hands while he wrapped her in a tight embrace, leaning into the touch against his cheeks. “What’s the matter?” She asked softly, threading her fingers gently through the hair near his ears and scratching softly, knowing the motion calmed and centered him.
“Phil is- he’s alive. And that motherfucker Fury told us all Loki killed him and I just-” A violent full-body shudder rolled through him and she could feel the tension and anger building up in the lines of his shoulders again.
Pepper sucked in a breath at the news but nodded. Tony tried to hide it but, after their first meeting a few years ago, Coulson and Tony got along like two brothers, Coulson’s dry sense of humor and Tony’s constant snark had them clashing playfully whenever they were in the same room. The revelation of of Coulson’s Were status had given Tony someone to walk with and talk with. Soon enough, Tony considered the agent a part of his small family and the man’s “death” had hit him hard.
She rubbed gently behind his ears quickly. “Go upstairs, blow off some steam. I just replaced the foam animals. I’ll handle any backlash if they show up here.” Tony nodded, kissed the tip of her nose and nodded to Happy before springing for the elevator.
Not ten minutes after Tony had made for the upstairs habitat and Pepper had pulled up the surveillance up on her Starktablet to make sure he didn’t hurt himself, the entire team piled in through the elevator. Pepper gave them all a glance, complete with raised eyebrow and slatestone face.
“Captain Rogers, Dr. Banner, Agent Romanov, Agent Barton, Thor, Agent Coulson.” She greeted them, completely serene, though Phil flinched slightly. Pepper never called him “Agent”, hadn’t since he helped Tony when he was dying from the Palladium. That’s when he knew that she was upset. He cleared his throat and stepped forward.
“Mr. Stark rushed out of a meeting a short while ago. He seemed...distressed.” He tried to say tactfully, but he could see the tensing of her shoulders. “Everyone came to see if he was alright.” Pepper didn’t say anything, merely motioned Coulson over to her and turned the tablet so only they could see.
Coulson came face to face with what looked to be the ground floor of Tony’s habitat, where said man had shifted and was tearing into a large foam elk archery target, teeth and claws slicing through the foam like a hot knife through butter. There was no audio to the video, Coulson could tell by the leopard’s gaping maw and the way he was holding his body that he was roaring and snarling.
“I see.” Pepper simply nodded before turning the tablet off and stepping back to stand near the couch. “Give him another hour to work it out and he’ll calm down. Then I’ll escort you.” Coulson nodded and Pepper clapped her hands together.
“Right then. For now, would anyone like a drink?”
Ninety minutes later, Pepper made sure everyone was set up comfortably in the entertainment room with a movie and pulled Phil into the elevator. She pressed her thumb into the biometric scanner and tabbed in her code.
Phil pulled off his suit jacket and tie and, when the elevator landed on the sixtieth floor, he pulled off his shirt and his pants fell off of him as he shifted down. Pepper waited until the tan wold was sitting at her side before she stepped forward and glanced about her. The habitat was a mess, foam from the targets and bark from the trees littered the ground.
Above her, she could hear the sound of claws on perma-stone and she looked up. Tony was moving sinuously down the rock face from the third floor and she stood back as Phil-wolf padded forward. His tail was halfway down and the tip was wagging softly, ear flicked to the side and eyes downcast.
Tony landed on the ground with a ‘whump’ and padded forward slowly, growling lowly and every part the predator. The Phil-wolf crouched low and whined quietly. Pepper watched from near the door, ready to call for Happy to come up with the dart gun if they got violent.
Tony froze a few feet away and sniffed. He recognized “rain-clove-warm” smell and he felt happiness, relief and protectiveness surge through him. “Old-friend-good-Phil!” His mind supplied and he chirped in joy and surged forward. He brushed against the wolf, rumbling and chirping and grunting in happiness while the wolf circled and brushed against him as well, barking and whining in his own happiness.
Pepper watched from the door at the reunion, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes as she watched the two greet each other joyously. It was amazing to watch. Normally, Tony and Phil were both so concerned about keeping themselves in a certain light for the public. But here, in the habitat and in their animal forms, appearances didn’t matter and the unrestrained joy about them was heartwarming.
Finally, as the meeting calmed down, both Weres settled onto the floor, curled around each other, Phil’s tail wagging slightly and Tony’s waving in the air behind him and they lay with their noses pressed together, content for the moment.
Chapter 5: We All Fall Down
Still don't own the Avengers.
Cadent Folium and Hiems Folium are not actual diseases. Other disease mention after, are actual illness. Medicines and doses are real as well.
After that day, Tony’s life became a paradox in that it settled down while at the same time becoming even more strange. Pepper maintained control of Stark Industries and Tony dove headfirst into his consulting work with SHIELD. Most of the time he could found in his lab, buried in hologram depictions of schematics for new comms, better body armor for agents and other gadgets and gizmos that the organization could use.
Coulson was assigned to be Tony’s liaison, mainly because Tony actually respected Coulson and didn’t annoy him to death and Coulson was the only one who could stand Tony for extended periods of time. Plus tasing him was always an option, according to the agent. Tony gifted him with his own floor right beneath the penthouse level and gave him the access codes for the habitat and a few of the other floors that required codes and made sure Jarvis knew to keep him comfortable.
Not long after the revelation of Coulson’s being alive, and Coulson settled into the tower, Bruce moved in. Tony opened a lab for him next to his own workshop and gave him a room without a question. He also added stretchy pants for the Hulk and a “Hulk Out Room” to his to-do list.
Not long after that, Steve, Clint and Natasha moved in as well and Tony did his best to make sure they were all comfortable. He made sure to update the gym and workout room for them and he converted a sub-basement into an archery range for Clint.
By the time Thor, Jane and Darcy moved in, the last two under order from SHIELD, Tony was running himself in a thousand different directions, taking little to no time for himself in an attempt to make sure everyone around him was happy. Everyone should have seen what happened next coming a mile away, though no one was ready for it.
Pepper was ashamed to say she didn’t realize anything was the matter until Tony didn’t emerge from the lab after the fourth day. Armed with a cup of coffee, a full breakfast and a disapproving face, she made her way down to the workshop and tabbed in her code. Only to be met with something she wasn’t used to hearing from the workshop.
That set off immediate alarm bells for Pepper and she walked forward a little faster, placing the food and coffee on the table. “Tony? Jarvis?” There was no response and Pepper walked a little faster into the cavernous area where Tony kept most of the large equipment for synthesizing and assembly. He wasn’t there.
Before Pepper could freak out, she hurried past that room to the back of the workshop, where Tony kept his desk and some other basic comforts. And stopped, standing dead still as she took in the scene in front of her. Tony was curled up on an old, beaten leather couch he’d insisted on bringing down some weeks ago, facing the back. Dummy was fussing over him, beeping and whirring softly as he struggled to pull a an old, grease stained blanket over his creator.
But that wasn’t what had Pepper worried. Tony was trembling violently, face flushed red with fever, snuffling as he seemed to hold back tears. Pepper gasped and rushed towards, kneeling down and placed a hand on his head. He was on fire. “Tony? What’s wrong?” She asked, quickly lowering her voice when he winced and whined almost immediately after she spoke.
“My head hurts.” He whimpered, burying his face into the leather of the couch. Pepper bit her lip and looked up. “Jarvis?” She called again. When there was no response from the AI she became worried again, though it was quickly soothed when there was the sound of whirring and clicking became audible.
“My apologies, Ms. Potts. Sir had me upgrading my systems. I have been offline for three hours and forty-six minutes. How can I be of assistance?” The AI asked and Pepper cringed. How long had Tony been down here, ill and alone?
“I need you to call Dr. Evan McKnight and tell him to come here. Its an emergency. Then tell Phil to let him in and personally escort him to the lab. And to keep the others out.” She ordered, rubbing gentle circles between Tony’s shoulder blades, the only comfort she could offer him.
“Of course, Ms. Potts. Right away.”
Coulson was in the media room, doing paperwork while the others introduced Thor and Steve to the Wii, when he was pulled out of his working haze by Jarvis’s voice from above him. He set down his pen and looked upwards.
“Agent Coulson, I have an urgent message for you.”
Coulson rose to his feet at that and the others stopped what they were doing to watch the interaction, the tension of the room going from none to mission ready in the blink of an eye. Coulson nodded his approval, figuring it was, in fact, a mission call from SHIELD.
“Ms. Potts wishes me to inform you that a Dr. Evan McKnight will be here in ten minutes and that she asks that you bring he and his assistants to the workshop and that you keep the lab cleared.” Coulson looked startled at that, but there was really no time because almost right after, the Avengers rushed for the elevator.
Which refused to open. Coulson was pretty sure Jarvis had something to do with that and he inwardly smiled. The AI was protecting his creator. Shaking himself aware, he whistled sharply and the team turned to look at him. “Obviously, Ms. Potts doesn’t want the lab full if Tony’s not well. Which means you’re not going down there.” He ordered sharply. They looked like they wanted to rebel, but Coulson tamped that down with a sharp look and they shuffled back to their seats, though no one bothered to start up the game again.
It was little more than ten minutes before the elevator dinged open, revealing three people, all of which looked a little worse for wear. The man at the head of the little triangle was young and tan, looking like he spent more hours in the sun than in a clinic. His green-blue-gray flecked eyes snapped with determined fire and he was wearing a pair of blue scrubs and black sneakers.
Behind him were a man and a woman, both blonde and young, carrying twin black duffel bags to the one the man carried, bearing a white cross on the sides. Coulson nodded and strode forward. “Dr. Evan McKnight?” He asked, holding his hand out, which the man shook warmly.
“Aye, that’d be me. These two ‘ere be mah assistants, Nurse Brock and Nurse Elaine. I’m ‘ere to see Tony.” The man rumbled, his brogue thick, but still easily understandable. Coulson nodded.
“Mr. Stark is downstairs in his workshop. I’ll have to take you there, because the security system only lets house occupants down to those levels.” The doctor nodded and motioned the two nurses back into the elevator, with Coulson following close behind.
Pepper looked up at Jarvis’s warning, relieved to see Coulson leading the doctor and his nurses into the lab. She’d covered Tony with the knit blanket and placed a cloth of cool water on his head while he held back tears. She’d managed to get him to tell her most of his symptoms, though soon after, he’d fallen into fitful unconsciousness again.
She stood up and shook hands with the doctor, who smiled at her charmingly. “Evan, thank you for coming on such short notice.” She said gratefully. The doctor, Evan, merely waved his unoccupied hand, letting the duffel strap fall off of his shoulder.
“Nah a problem, Pepper. The minute we ‘eard Tony was ill, Brock and Elaine had the truck ready to go before I could get mah lab coat off and assign jobs to the others at the Clinic. Now then, what seems to be the matter ‘ere?” He asked, pulling a few things out of his bag and then pulling on. Pepper took a deep breath before she began to speak.
“I don’t really know. I came down here this morning to feed him and then drag him away from another lock-in and found him like this. He’s got a fever, he’s been shivering, he says his back and legs hurt, he’s been coughing and having nightmares whenever he dozes off. There’s this really sticky clear and red fluid coming from his ears, mouth and his eyes. And his teeth keep getting longer and then shorter and his eyes are flashing the color they turn when he shifts. I don’t know how long he’s been like this.”
Evan nodded and turned to the nurses, voice clear and precise, brogue muted for the sake of clarity. “Start an IV line, full bore, in the hand, not the arm Brock. Elaine, get him on a nasal cannula and then hang 200 ml of Vibramycin and push another 10 ml of Ofirmev on top of that.” He ordered, voice calm as he pulled on his own gloves.
“Do you know what’s causing this?” Pepper asked as the small medical team went to work, Coulson coming to stand next to her. Evan nodded and began to look over Tony carefully, first his hands and wrists, then his ankles and feet and, finally, behind his ears. When he brushed aside the hair on the right side of Tony’s ear, he made a half-triumphant, half-annoyed sound.
“Aye, I do in fact.” He said, pulling off his gloves and turning to face Pepper and Coulson properly, crossing his arms over his chest. “Were-doctors and dual-doctors like myself call it Cadent Folium Infection. It literally means Fall Leaf. Weres have increased protection against almost every type of bacteria. Except the Bartonella bacteria. Weres, Feline and Big Cat Weres especially, can’t make the antibodies to fight off the infections these bacteria bring. In humans, the bacteria show up as Cat Scratch Fever, Trench Fever and Myocarditis, and they almost always are transmitted by a cat’s bite or scratch.”
Evan sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “In Weres, it shows up as Cadent Folium and Hiems Folium Infections. Has Tony recently been anywhere with an abundance of Wolves Paw flowers or Dragonheart flowers? Or even in the past three months?” He asked. Pepper looked at Coulson for the answer.
Coulson looked thoughtful. “Two months ago, we had a battle somewhere in the midwest against a giant bull. He landed in a field of flowers at the end and cut his head. SHIELD medics took his helmet off and administered field first aid before moving him. He cut himself on the right side.”
“Right above the ear, right?” A nod. “That’s what I thought. Bartonella bacteria love those types of flowers for some reason. When Tony was injured and the medics took of his suit’s helmet to deliver aid, they exposed the wound to the bacteria. The incubation period is rather long as well. Luckily enough, Cadent Folium is easy enough to treat, however. The Ofirmev we gave him is just a concentrated version of Acetaminophen, which will lower his fever and help with headaches and body aches and the Vibramycin will begin to rout the infection.”
Elaine came to stand next to him with a small reel of paper and Evan read over the readouts for a minute before nodding and smiling softly. “He’s already stabilizing. However, Cadent Folium is a “Five-day Fever” and, after the initial rise he’ll have a few days of no fever before it spikes again. He needs to be under surveillance for at least the next two weeks to make sure he doesn’t exacerbate the symptoms. Is there any way we can convince him to come to Leonine for the next few weeks?”
Pepper shook her head sadly. “You know just as well as I do Evan, that he won’t unless it’s absolutely life and death and, even then he’ll fight to leave before he’s actually ready.” Evan nodded and scrubbed across his face again, sighing in consternation as he turned around to look at his patient.
“Aye, that I know.” He rumbled. There was silence for a moment before Coulson spoke up. “What would it take to get you to work and stay here for the next while, to take care of Mr. Stark?” He asked. All three whirled on the agent and the young medical team was gaping at him. Evan was the first to recover as he shook his head and turned to both of his nurses, who were nodding.
“Nurses to take their spots at the clinic and a way to keep in touch with my head-of-staff at all times. Leonine does emergency care, and if I’m needed I’ll need a way to get there.” Coulson was nodding his head and tapping something out on his phone and, for a moment, Evan almost expected him to say “So you wish it, so it shall be done”.
After a moment, the phone beeped and Coulson looked up. “Alright. We can do that. Three nurses will report to Leonine National Long-Term Health and Emergency Care clinic tomorrow morning at six in the morning and another three will be there at six in the evening. They will maintain that cycle until you and your nurses return. You will be given a phone capable of video conferences to keep in touch with your staff. If you need a ride, an agent will be here in three minutes.”
Evan merely nodded limply in surprise and shared a shocked look with Brock and Elaine nodded as well. “Good. Do I need to send agents to your homes to pick up clothes?” He asked. Elaine nodded but Brock and Evan shook their heads. “Brock’s roommate will bring him what he needs and my husband will bring me mine. Tell your agent that she’ll need to bring two weeks worth of supplies for Elaine. Same for you, Brock. For now, we need to find a way to get him upstairs.
Pepper smiled lightly. “There’s a god for that.”
Later that night, the rest of the team, sans Tony and Coulson, congregated in the media den, looking at each other heavily. The silence was heavy and, finally, Clint broke the silence. “So we all know why we’re here, right?” He asked, taking a sip from his mug.
“Aye! Friend Anthony has been exhibiting habits most strange and now he has fallen ill!” Thor boomed, setting his own mug on the coffee table from where he sat on the floor. There was a dry-erase board sitting between Natasha and Clint on the couch and the former was holding a red marker.
“I researched the disease Dr. McKnight told us Tony had, but the treatment he prescribed is at odds with his diagnoses. Either Dr. McKnight is treating him incorrectly or we were told the wrong diagnoses.” Bruce said from the recliner and Natasha scrawled “Lying/Incompetent Doctor” on the top bullet point. There was a noise of confusion from the recliner opposite Bruce and they turned to look at Steve, who was staring in consternation at the board.
“I thought Dr. McKnight had been treating Tony for over two years. Would Tony put up with an incompetent doctor? And I thought doctors couldn’t tell people about their patients unless they said it was okay? If Tony told him not to tell us, then the doctor would’ve made up something to tell us. We were being awful impatient with him.”
There was silence in the room for a minute before they conceded Steve’s point and Natasha placed three question marks behind the first bullet point. The silence was oppressing once more before Clint spoke again.
“Anyone else notice the sounds he makes? Or his eating habits? Or the fact that his eyes glow in the dark if you flash light at them? Or what about the sixtieth floor and everything above it is locked off and the fact that you need two security codes to get up there. Or the fact that he’s silent on his feet and fast as fuck? There’s something up with him that no one is telling us. What if it gets one or all of us hurt?” He asked, voice rising throughout the whole tirade.
The occupants of the room were looking at each other, faces drawn, but before they could say anything, they were interrupted. “If you needed to know, Agent Barton, you would have been told before you all agreed to move into Tony’s Tower.” An icy voice said from the entryway of the room. The team whirled to looked at the three figures who stood there. Pepper had a look of cold fury in her eyes, Coulson was was looking at them in disappointment and Evan had a look of mild disgust on his face.
“Is this what you do in your free time? The man opens his home to you, customizes your rooms so they’re the most comfortable and homey for you. He feeds you what you want and, if it’s unavailable, has it shipped in for you. He changes around his plans so you can have your gym, your archery range, your lab. And you talk behind the man’s back...as if he was unnatural or had a problem.” The disgust in his voice was audible, his brogue thick with it, and they flinched away.
Coulson placed a hand on both Pepper and Evan’s shoulders. “Go to the kitchen and get Tony something light to eat. He might not be hungry later. I’ll handle this.” Both nodded and marched away, leaving Coulson, standing in front of the chagrined looking team with his arms crossed and his face impassive as usual.
“Sir-” Natasha started, uncharacteristic hesitancy in her voice before Coulson cut her off.
“I understand that we’ve always told you to investigate things and people on assignments that didn’t make any sense. But Tony Stark is no longer an assignment. Tony Stark is a consultant and a member of the Avengers Initiative who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to allow us to stay in his home and gone out of his way to make it the best for us. Your previous conversation is a grievous insult to the man himself and to his position on the team.” Coulson left the “You should be ashamed.” unsaid, but the statement was clear and the others hung their heads.
“Good, we’ve reached an understanding. Now, it’s late and I have to make sure the good doctor and the nurses are settled for the night.” The agent turned on his heel and marched out of the room, leaving the rest of the team sitting in the half light of the room.
Over the next few weeks, the team completely dropped the subject of the Tony Oddity and did their level best to make the man comfortable while recovered. For the first thirteen days, Tony was bedridden. They knew the illness had taken its toll on the man when he didn’t argue against the order like he usually did, burrowing his face in the pillow and falling asleep again.
Pepper was near him as often as possible because, whenever he went to sleep, nightmares plagued him everywhere and Pepper seemed to be the only surefire way to make him stop when he started screaming. The young doctor, Evan, and his intrepid miniature medical team cared for Tony through the third week, when Tony could walk from his bedroom to the media room with only minimal assistance from the wall before he collapsed on the couch, panting and tired.
After that, Evan and his team moved out, though they visited several times over the next ten days to make sure Tony was getting along with his healing. Bruce did his best to entertain his fellow scientist since he couldn’t get to the lab without dropping from exhaustion. Clint played video games with him, Thor and Steve told stories and held conversations with him and Natasha tried to be surreptitious as she helped him with everything from making sure he was warm enough to making her special secret hot chocolate.
Pepper doted on him when she could and, in return, Tony did his best to help with all the paperwork he could between naps. Stykre the cat was a constant presence to Tony, curled up in the juncture of neck and shoulder, purring and offering warmth. Coulson checked on him every two and a half hours on the dot during the day, making sure he was warm and happy.
Throughout all of the coddling and caretaking, Tony was confused. No one but Pepper and Happy had ever taken care of him before, and no one on such a level besides Pepper. Of course, Pepper knew off the bat what was causing his consternation and she had simply smiled, pulled the blanket tighter around his shoulders and started carding her fingers through his hair, assuring him that he was always worth the effort.
After a while, Tony had stopped protesting or arguing against her, simply happy to lay in her arms and be taken care of.
By the end of the fifth week, Tony was back on his feet, with almost as much energy as before. He jumped back into his projects with his usual fervor, though, this time Pepper was sure to drag him out of the lab every other day for food and a shower. Tony slept on his own schedule, though he often crawled into bed and lay with her as he worked on his tablet.
Within a week of getting back into his lab, Clint had a new bow, Natasha had an improved version of the Widow’s Bite and Tony had increased the output on his repulsors by more than ten percent. Immediately after that, Manhattan was attacked by the Shrimp-people. Tony gladly put on the armor and flew out with the rest of the team. Tony whooped in exhilaration and shot repulsor blast after repulsor blast until the streets where they were fighting were covered in chunked shrimp.
“Iron Man, report.” The Captain’s voice brought him out of his battle lust and he looked over to the direction where the rest of the team was finishing up their fights as well.
‘Doin’ great, Cap. No more shrimp-men over here. Although, the road is a nice shade of pink and gray now.” He muttered scuffing his booted foot through the sludge. Whatever reply he was going to receive was cut off by a spate of static and Tony clicked his tongue in annoyance.
“Of-fucking-course. Probably have damned shrimp guts in the circuitry.” He hissed. He pulled off his helmet and then whirled around when there was a whoosh and a dark chuckle behind him. His face creased in anger and annoyance and he could feel his teeth lengthening, the sudden rush of fury causing the Phase.
“Oh, Man of Iron, such a face. Considering you and your team of puny mortals just destroyed my minions, shouldn’t I be the one who is annoyed?” Tony curled his lip and growled once, low and angry.
“Loki. Still not tired of getting your skinny ass handed to you?” He snarked, and Loki’s face contorted for a minute before it smoothed and he grinned cruelly before he chuckled.
“Oh Anthony. You’re letting your other side get the better of you?” Tony tensed. “I have no clue what you’re talking about.” He hissed, tensing his muscles and getting ready to fight or run away. Loki chortled and clapped his hands.
“Oh, how lovely! Are you in denial? Or is it that you’re just afraid of what the people around you will think? I’ve known since when I first saw you in your penthouse. You’re afraid to tell the world around you that you- oh ho ho- you, my dear Man of Iron, are not human. Not completely anyway.”
Tony sealed the helmet over his head and raised his repulsors, readying them for a shot, but Loki was gone in a flash and Tony shouted in shock as he was sent flying. His shout of shock turned into one of pain as he slid along the street, suit tearing up the asphalt before he impacted with the side of a building. Around him he could hear the sounds of his team shouting for him and then the sound of Thor’s rageful roar as they turned to battle the war criminal.
Tony groaned within his suit, fury and pain coalescing inside his brain, fogging his senses with blood lust. “Jarvis.” He snarled, voice two octaves lower, raspy growling leaking from between his clenched teeth.
“Shatter-joint the suit. He wants the otherside? I’ll give him the otherside.”
“Sir, I don’t think now would be the best time to reveal your Were status to the team.”
“Don’t care, Jarvis. He messed with the Leopard, he’s gonna get the teeth.” He snarled.
“Very well, Sir.” The AI sounded reluctant, but Tony could hear the suit components dropping to the ground around him. His ribs were screaming at him as he rose to his feet. He didn’t even bother to take off his clothes and they shredded around him. He stalked out of the rubble of the building, paws silent as he took in the world around him.
Loki was standing in the middle of a circle of soot and the rest of the Avengers were laying and sitting around the circle while Loki laughed and chortled over something. The world around him was a distortion of heat and pain and sound and he stalked forward, movement silent while Loki continued gloating. When Tony was almost four yards away, he stopped behind a small pile of rubble and dropped low into a hunter’s crouch.
And then he pounced.
The average male Amur Leopard is eight feet from nose to tail-tip, weighs in at a hundred and seventy pounds and can jump over nine feet vertically and ten feet horizontally. But Tony had never been average.
Nine feet and two hundred and three pounds of snarling, roaring leopard came flying out from behind the rubble pile, landing square on the trickster’s back. Tony roared in triumph as he felt his claws sink past leather and metal-slats, sinking into flesh at hips and shoulders.
Loki screeched something along the lines of “You wretched creature!” as they sank to the ground, Loki face-down. Tony ripped into Loki’s body with vigor, but only got a few paws slashes in before Loki used a green tendril of magic to wrap around his front left leg and squeeze viciously. Tony’s roar of triumph turned into a screech of agony as he felt the bones give way and he reared back, a bellow of rage escaping him.
Loki had just turned over onto his back when Tony darted forward and snapped his teeth on the arm Loki raised to protect his face, claws digging shallowly into the flesh of Loki’s chest and abdomen. Tony felt ferocious glee as he felt flesh and bone rend and shatter under his teeth and he responded to the primal instinct to destroy.
Before he could succeed in amputating the arm, or at least taking part way off, Loki screamed “Enough!” and another wave of magic sent him flying backwards again. He could feel the agony of his ribs and leg and he lay still amongst the rubble, flank heaving as he sucked in breath after breath.
There was silence for a moment and then a crack resonated through the air and Tony knew his prey had gotten away. His leg hurt and his ribs burned with agony, he breath labored by the injury. There was the shuffle of feet through rubble and he turned bleary blue-gray eyes upwards. There were five people approaching. He rose stiffly to his feet, injured leg tucked to his chest, and pressed into the wall behind him.
They had weapons.
Tony roared a warning, the sounded raspy and labored and they stopped. Tony looked around him and breathed deeply, trying to detect their scents in the moggy air. There was “Charcol-canvas-paint”, “Metal-rain-wheat”, “Sand-bracken-fern”, “Tree-water-snow” and “Leather-iron-clean”. Two-leg-him recognized these people, but he didn’t trust them. And they had weapons.
They were going to hurt him.
“Lavender-vanilla-sunshine” and “Clove-rain-warm” weren’t here. Where were they? Had they left him to these bad people? Had he done something wrong? He lowered himself to the ground, ear flicked sideways, tail lashing back and forth. He didn’t want to be hurt anymore.
Whenever one would try to creep forward, he snapped his jaws and hissed, making sure they got the message. Stay away. He would defend himself. But soon, pain and exhaustion began to crash over him and he could feel his eyes closing. He wanted to sleep.
He had almost fallen all the way to sleep when there was a commotion of noise and he opened his eyes. The cool, evening breeze brought him a scent and he could feel joy and relief permeate him. The smell of “Lavender-vanilla-sunshine”, “Clove-rain-warm”, and “Bread-elk-leather” reached his nose and he chirped loudly, which seemed to surprise the others, the sheer joy in the noise at odds with his attitude moments before.
“Pepper! Phil! Happy!” Two-leg-him supplied and he rose to his paws. There was a cacophony of noise from in front of him and he caught the words “Jesus fuck Phil!” from in front of him and then warm fur and happy blue eyes were next to him, supporting him on his uninjured side.
There were soft hands on his face and he looked up into loving, worried brown eyes and he made a sound high in his throat.
The woman smiled and touched her forehead to his and Tony let the darkness take him.
Chapter 6: Adornments
Don't own the Avengers still.
Thanks for everyone's continuing support of this story. Leopard Spots will be winding down soon but after a short interlude, in which 'The World Unknown' will be getting its sequel, another installment of the "Spots" series will be started.
Pepper watched as Tony sank into unconsciousness, Coulson in his wolf-form easing his battered form onto the ground, making sure to stand nearby. Pepper stepped back as Evan, called in for Tony personally, came barreling out of the Quinjet that landed seconds before, three nurses right behind him. They bore with them a large animal stretcher and bags of medical supplies, and almost immediately Evan took control of the area.
He ordered agents to push back the Avengers and Pepper went with them, ignoring the team’s protests. Phil left Tony’s side, if only to patrol the area where the medics were working and keep it clear, fur on end, tail straight out and eyes like lasers. Evan and the nurses set to work, starting an IV line, splinting his broken leg and his ribs with Dura-splints and COHERE and placing an oxygen mask over his face.
Evan directed the nurses to lift the unconscious leopard onto the stretcher and then fixed the straps so they held him sure, but stayed away from the injuries. Phil padded to stand next to Pepper and nosed her forward until they came to stand by Evan. The young doctor turned to look at them and nodded. “He’s stable for now. It doesn’t look like any of the injuries will require surgical repair, but that leg is gonna need a good strong cast, and I’m very worried about his ribs. We’ll be taking him to the Helicarrier. Fury wants him somewhere where he can recover in peace.”
Pepper was nodding. She’d had a hand in getting Evan and his personal team’s security clearances so they could be called upon anywhere should Tony need medical attention. For now, Evan and the nurses took up a corner of the stretcher and bore it into the Quinjet, Pepper and Phil close behind.
A few hours later, Pepper was sitting vigil in a recovery room on the Helicarrier, nursing a cup of coffee, Phil curled up as her feet as he dozed. The Werewolf had refused to leave the room once the doctors had settled Tony on large bed amidst a nest of heated blankets. Now, Pepper looked at Tony, her friend, her boyfriend, and felt her heart twist.
They’d hit a terrible pocket of turbulence in the Quinjet and Tony’s body had lurched against the stretcher straps. One of the ribs that been fractured snapped off at the end and scraped against the tissue of his lung, causing a Pneumothorax. Evan had rushed him to x-ray as soon as they reached the Helicarrier to confirm it and then placed a chest tube so the air and blood could aspirate.
They’d bound the rest of the fractured ribs with with ACE Bandages, layered carefully with fiberglass Dura-splints so he could recover without fear of another punctured lung. His foreleg had been set by Evan, gauzed, splinted and padded before he crafted a “walking cast” out of Delta-LITE fiberglass casting tape in red and gold. After that, he’d checked the IV and oxygen lines, dosed him with painkillers and a sedative and told Pepper he’d probably sleep through the next fourty-eight hours.
Now, only a fourth of the way into their vigil, Pepper was worried. Elaine, Brock and another nurse, Zack his name-tag had read, had been in multiple times to checks vitals, replaces the cold blankets with warm ones and to offer to watch over Tony while Pepper an Coulson got some food and rest. The last was met by a snarl from the Werewolf and a polite declination from the human.
At hour eighteen, there was a knock at the door and Pepper woke from a doze. Coulson was on his paws and staring at the door intently in record time and she waited. The door came open slowly to reveal none other than Director Fury, who was looking a lot less thunderous than usual, though he still held himself with his usual dignity. He was sans his usual leather trench coat and was holding something in one his hands, a coffee mug in the other. The lines of his body spoke of tension, as if he didn’t know how his presence in the room would be received, which was odd from the director
“Director Fury.” She greeted him cautiously. The Phil-wolf tensed, as if sensing that the situation was starting to turn sour when Fury held up his hands. “Ms. Potts, Agent Coulson, I can assure you I’m not here to yell or cause trouble. I’m only here to talk.” He said, voice diplomatic. Coulson let some the tension drain from his muscles and he sat back on his haunches, laser blue eyes taking in the scene around him.
Pepper relaxed similarily, sinking back into her chair. She looked up in surprise when the mug he’d been carrying when he came in was set down next to her. “I asked the agent that’s been bringing you coffee how you liked it. You look like you need it.” He said and she nodded her thanks before taking a sip. It was perfect, light and sweet and when she stopped drinking and held the mug close, she vocalized her thanks.
Coulson, sensing the tension was gone, hopped up onto the foot of the bed, turned around three times and lay down, facing the door and making sure his tail and hindleg touched Tony’s, reasurrance for both wolf and leopard. Fury’s lips twitched and he pulled over a chair. “What did Dr. McKnight say?” He asked. Pepper knew that Fury knew Tony’s condition already, but she was thankful for the chance to speak with someone.
“Evan said Loki’s magic only fractured the front bones, so he cast the leg. His ribs are fractured and he’s got air in his chest. He’s also cracked a couple of teeth, so all of his food will have to be precut for two weeks before the dental glue can be used. And Evan’s going to put in an Osmotic Pump tomorrow morning for pain management. It’s only a minor surgery, he said.” Fury nodded.
“Do you know when he’ll wake up?” He asked. Pepper stared at the sleeping leopard for a moment before she spoke. “Sometime tomorrow evening. He’ll have to stay in bed for a week, but after that, he’ll be able to get up and move.” Fury followed her gaze and winced, memories flashing before his eyes.
Tony Stark was a wiry man, of that much, Fury was certain. He’d seen the man in the Under Armour bodysuit more than once coming out of the Iron Man Suit and if Fury had been a man prone to vivid hyperbole, he’d have been worried a stiff wind would blow the man away. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t strong. He’d seen an enraged Stark take down three mercenaries in under a few minutes once, completely unarmed and without a wrinkle in his Armani suit. Even as a larger-than-average leopard, he was all compact muscle and hidden strength.
But injury has a way of shrinking you. Pain has a way of making you smaller. Tony looked tiny, curled up as he was in the blanket nest. His fur was mussed and spiked against the usual flat and flecks of blood still dotted the white fur of his chin. His good foreleg, which had seemed massive as he had mauled the God of Mischief and Lies was dwarfed by the cast that encased the other one.
“I was going to tell him when he woke up, but it sounds like it’ll be awhile before that happens.” Fury said and Pepper’s head shot up. Was Fury about to kick Tony off of the team? She opened her mouth to protest, but instead, Fury lay the other item he’d come in with on the mattress next to the blanket nest.
It was a leather bracer.
Pepper gaped at it for a minute before she picked it up gingerly and held it in her hand. It was a simple design meant to wrap around the foreleg and buckle in the back. The leather was supple and soft, dyed black and lined with black dyed fur to prevent chafing. On the front, solid part of the bracer was stitched the SHIELD emblem in silver, the stylized “A” that had come to represent the Avengers in the circle’s background.
“All SHIELD Weres wear these bracers, or collars, or tabards. It identifies them in the field so they don’t get shuffled off scenes or arrested. He can wear it in either form and it should stretch with him when he shifts.” The director said, sitting back in his chair more comfortably. Pepper nodded and placed the bracer on the bedside table.
“You thought I was about to kick him off the team?” Fury asked, and Pepper nodded. Fury was silent for a minute. “Mr. Stark had every right to hide his Were-status from us. There are laws that protect the Weres of our country, and for good reason. Mr. Stark was simply doing what thousands of people before him did and thousands of people after him will do until Weres become a completely accepted part of our society.”
He paused to glance at Coulson, who’d fallen asleep sometime during the conversation and a grim look crossed his face. “In SHIELD, we have a “No Tolerance” policy against Were-discrimination. Of the one-hundred and thirteen Weres active in the offices of the Eastern Seaboard, all but five were victims of hate-crimes at some point in time because their abilities. All of them with-in the three months span after the revelation of Weres and the terrorist attack at the bakery, perpetrated by Anti-Were activists. Now, all new agents must truthfully explain their tolerances to different minority groups. Mr. Stark, if he wishes it, can have his status restricted to only the team, only SHIELD or some other construct his mind is sure to make up.”
Pepper nodded and Fury rose from his chair before making his way to the door. He paused in the door frame and turned to look at the room once more before nodding, and leaving them in peace.
Hours earlier, the Avengers sat in the conference room, minus Tony and Coulson. The room was silent again, reminiscent of their conversation almost two months before. It was Thor who broke the silence this time. “I do not understand. Do all Midgardians not possess the ability to shapeshift? I have met several with this ability. Why is this such a shocking occurence?” He rumbled.
Bruce sighed from his spot across from Thor and shook his head. “No, Thor. Only a handful of humans have the ability to shapeshift. We call them Weres here and the others are shocked because we had no idea Tony was one.” This only seemed to confuse the thunder god further.
“But why would friend Anthony hide this ability from everyone. I still do not understand.” He said, face falling into lines of irritation. Bruce’s response was cut off by the door opening and Fury striding in, another agent trailing behind him. He stopped next to the table and the agent, a young man, stopped slightly behind and to the left of him.
“This is Agent Callahan.” He said, indicating the agent. “Agent Callahan was patrolling the water today when the shrimp men attacked. He also had filled me in on what occurred between Stark and Loki, and how Loki provoked Stark into shifting and mauling him. What I want to know is, why was Stark battling so far from the group, how did Loki show up and what the hell happened where he got all of you down at once?”
What followed was the longest retelling of a relatively short battle, as each person chipped in what they knew about the events. In the end, Fury was left rubbing the bridge of his nose and starring at them in dispare. “So let me get this straight. You sent Stark alone to the bay to cut off the shrip men and then, when Loki showed up, he got you all with an exploding marshmallow? Did I get that fucking right?” He asked
Everyone flinched away from the man but nodded, three of the chiming in a quiet “Yes, sir” and Fury groaned. “Fine. Fine. Whatever. Anything else you all want to add?” He asked, looking at the room. Stever raised his hand and Fury nodded in his direction. “How was Agent Callahan patrolling the water? Once we were sure that’s were the threat was originating from, we had everyone leave the water.” Fury nodded to the young agent, who pulled down the neck of his uniform to reveal a chokechain with a symbol hanging off the end, the SHIELD eagle.
“I’m a Were-Saker Falcon. I was up in the air over the water when the attack started.” He explained. Steve seemed to be left agape, Thor only looked more confused and everyone else merely nodded. Thor raised his hand next and, after dismissing Agent Callahan, Fury pointed at him. “Yes, Thor?”
“What will become of friend Anthony?” He boomed and the other, also wanting to know, turned to look at him. “Nothing. He’ll heal, and resume his duties as Iron Man. Dr. McKnight isn’t expecting much longer than seven weeks for his leg and chest to heal. For the time being, Stark will remain in his leopard form. From what I gather from Pepper, he recognizes you all in that form, but he’s very skittish and mistrusting. Make sure you try to spend time with him, so he gets acclimated to you. At some point, if Tony agrees to using his ability for missions, we’ll probably have to introduce him to everyone in costume. Weres are weapon-shy, so when you go to see him, go unarmed. Introduce him to Darcy and Jane while you’re at it.” The man ordered before turning on his heel and leaving the room.
Chapter 7: Evolution of Acceptance
There was screaming coming from the Were-wing of medical. Guards rushed down halls, weapons drawn as they head towards the commotion. As they neared, the low sound of snarling could be heard and and they rounded the corner.
The door to 34A, the room they knew to belong to Tony Stark, guarded viciously at all time by Pepper Potts and Agents Coulson and Romanov, was ajar. Sprawled on the ground right outside the door was a medic, tubes and syringes on the ground around her. Romanov was pointing a gun at the medic while Coulson, shifted, stood next to her.
The guards tromped up and the leader, set apart from the others by the re band tied around his wrist, stood next to Natasha, nodding sharply. “What seems to be the problem here, Ma’am?” He asked. Natasha looked at him sideways for a second before returning her gaze to the medic, lip curling in her own snarl.
“This...person, attempted to take samples of Mr. Stark’s blood without permission. When I asked for identification, she attempted to run after striking Mr. Stark in the ribs. Were-Agent Coulson, who was already shifted at the time, used a takedown method to bring her to the ground.” She reported rapidly.
The guard nodded to the men behind him, who walked up and pulled the woman to her feet before cuffing her and leading her down the hall. Only when they were out of sight did Natasha and Coulson relax. Everyone looked up as more feet came pounding down the hall and the guard had to smile momentarily.
Dr. Evan McKnight and his miniature medical team had become well-liked by the guards that were stationed in the Were-wing of medical. Though they were here to look after Stark, they could often be found helping out with the other patients of the wing. Now they looked like they had just pulled themselves out of their racks, hair everywhere, blurry eyed, but ready to spring into action.
Natasha waved her hand and stood back so the medical team could flood inside. They shut the door so they could have privacy and took up her guarding spot again, Coulson at her feet.
A few hours later, Natasha was still standing still outside of the room when Brice walked up, the rising sun casting his shadow long against the ground. The man had a tray in hand, which bore several covered plates and some mugs, as well as a bowl. The Avengers had avoided Tony’s room since the debriefing last week, mainly at the request of Pepper and Evan, who wanted Tony to have peace while he recovered.
Today was the day Tony was scheduled to have his walking privileges restored and the team had agreed with the doctors that, after that, they would begin spending time with Tony again so he didn’t go stir crazy and try doing something to hurt himself further, or set back his healing. The scientist smiled as he came to a stop in front of them. Natasha had to admit she had a soft spot for the shy scientist. He was kind and polite, but, after he’d gotten used to the team, he wasn’t afraid to chime in on conversation and, according to Tony, his “Science Bro was a total troll!”.
“Good Morning, Agent Romanov, Agent Coulson.” He said. Natasha rolled her eyes, though her face remained impassive as usual. No matter how many times she’d told the man, he still insisted on calling her that.
“Dr. Banner.” She responded in kind while the Werewolf curled up at her feet barked twice before grunting and slapping his tail on the ground. Bruce chuckled and handed Natasha a mug and placed one of the plates on the ground for Coulson, removing the cover to reveal a semi-deep dish, which was filled hot, rare steak drenched in what smelt like black coffee.
Brice shrugged his shoulders at Natasha’s questioning glance. “I asked the cafeteria workers what Coulson’s usual was when I was ordering and this is what they gave me. I guess Coulson usually eats this in this form.” True to his words, both looked down to the see the back of a tan head while Coulson happily devoured the food Bruce had set before him.
“Are people allowed in now?” He asked. Obviously, everyone on the helicarrier had heard about the mysterious woman who had tried to sneak in to steal a blood sample from Iron Man. She nodded and stepped aside. “Dr. McKnight said she didn’t hit him hard enough to cause any damage. It was more of pain thing, something to keep Tony in his nest and Pepper by Tony’s side. They’ve both been awake for about twenty minutes.”
Bruce nodded and opened the door, hoping he wasn’t about to get mauled by an angry leopard inside.
Tony was sitting on the floor of the room, warm blanket draped over him as he groomed the fur of his chest weakly. In the chair in front of him, Pepper was reading and he was content. He liked when she read to him. Her voice reminded him of “den-safe-mate” and it eased the unnerving sensations brought on by the strange room he’d been in for the seven moon-rises.
His ears flickered and his head shot up as he heard the door open. He stood on unsteady legs and put his back to the nearest wall, body tense, fur on end, fearful trembling wracking his body with pain. Pepper stood up when he startled, obviously ready to defend him if necessary and he sighed heavily.
The door swung all the way open, bringing with it the scent of “Sand-bracken-fern” and he tensed. “Not-bad-Bruce.” Two-leg-him supplied and he relaxed slightly, though he watched as the man approached warily. Bruce handed Pepper a plate and a mug and then paused as he picked the large bowl up off of the tray. Pepper smiled at him and turned the chair towards where Tony was crouched.
“Place the bowl a few feet from him and then sit a few feet from the bowl. Just sit still and don’t make any loud noises.” Bruce nodded and slowly moved forward. Three feet from Tony’s position he set down the bowl and stepped back, sinking to the floor into a lotus position. Tony looked at the bowl, the scent of Hot-meat-warm-milk reached his nose and his stomach growled loudly.
He rose up and padded forward at a snail’s pace, cast thumping against the ground, blue-gray eyes trained on the man behind the bowl. He seemed okay, Pepper seemed to like him and so did Two-leg-him, so he crept forward the rest of the way to the bowl and dug in. It was rare steak, hot milk and cornmeal, better than what he’d been given previously and he ate with gusto.
When he was finished, he sat back and used his good paw to groom his face and watch Bruce. The man hadn’t moved a muscle since he’d sat down and now, feeling a bit braver, he limped forward. He paused when Bruce opened his eyes and smiled softly, but when the man continued to stay still, he crept forward again. When he was standing in front of the other man, he stretched his neck out and breathed deeply.
The scent was warm and comforting, it reminded him of his lab, his territory. He inched a little closer and then sat on his haunches. There was a moment of stillness before he leaned forward and rested his head on Bruce’s shoulder, chuffing quietly. Bruce reached a hand up and froze when Tony tensed like a spring, jaws closing around the wrist.
Pepper tensed, fearing a Hulk out, but there was no destruction, no anger. Tony’s teeth barely scraped against his skin, with no pressure and Bruce recognized the gesture. Tony wouldn’t trust them if they didn’t trust him. Hulk had done something similar with the rest of the team, often times picking them up after battles and holding them in his hands, well above the ground.
Bruce simply raised his other hand and stroked down the expanse of his back, murmuring quietly. Eventually, Tony relinquished his hold on the appendage and settled his head back on Bruce’s shoulder, content to wait out the next while.
A few hours later, Evan came in to tell Pepper that, while Tony would have to stay on the helicarrier until his ribs healed, he was being given wandering privileges. Tony had perked up immediately when he heard the phrase “leaving the room”, joy in his eyes. Everyone had laughed and Evan had scratched his name onto the discharge papers while Pepper secured the bracer on Tony’s front leg.
Bruce had spent the morning with Pepper and Tony in the room and now, he could see the flickers of Tony in the big cat that sat before him. Tony was no different than he was, regardless of his Were-status. It had been a comedy to watch the leopard, who’d moved so gracefully during the battle, hobble out into the hall. But as soon as he got his first taste of freedom, Tony was off, limping quickly down the hall.
Pepper didn’t even try to stop him, not that either could keep up with him, injured or not, and she smiled. “The osmotic pump was a good idea, Evan. Its like he can’t even feel he’s injured.” The young doctor nodded and they followed after Tony at a much much more sedate pace. When they reached the main conference area, they were shocked, but pleased at the scene that met them.
Tony was laying on the floor in a beam of sun and, right across from him, Jane, Darcy and Thor were sitting. The girls were petting him and squealing of his “utter adorableness” while Thor skritched around his ears, booming something along the lines of “A great beast of war!”. Tony was basking in the attention and Pepper laughed, the sound light and happy for the first time in a while.
Relieved that Tony was getting along with the trio, Pepper and Bruce pulled up chairs while Evan headed back to the medical wing. Tony rolled onto his back and Darcy renewed her scratching with vigor while Tony rumbled in happiness. They all talked to each other for more than twenty minutes before they were joined by Coulson and Natasha. The effect was instantaneous.
Tony was up on his paws and backing away from Natasha, lip curled to bare his teeth. But it was clear the move was born of fear and the assassin stopped still, as the room fell silent around them. Amidst the silence, Natasha sank to the ground. She reached to the holster on her hip, freezing when Tony snarled fiercely, but then discharged the magazine and slid it away. She slid the gun away from herself, well across the room.
Tony watched her from his spot under the table, injured leg tucked close to his chest, staring at her. Around them the room slowly reanimated, but neither assassin nor Were-Leopard moved, staring at each other. Natasha looked anywhere but at Tony’s eyes and Tony looked at her with the laser intensity of a hunter.
Ten minutes later, Tony crept out from underneath the table slowly, creeping towards Natasha until he was face to face with her. The room as a whole jolted as he roared, directly into her face, but Natasha didn’t flinch. When he quietened, he glanced at her, her unmoved visage and nodded once, grunted before he lowered himself to the ground and placed his head in her lap.
The corner of her lips quirking up, Natasha smiled and threaded her hands through the fur between his ears, noting absently the silken quality, the way it gleamed in the sunlight. Tony sighed contently under the ministrations, slumping against her and dozing off in the warm light.
Tony made himself comfortable in one of the conference rooms, Coulson in human form helping him drag in a multitude of blankets and pillows to make a nest under the table. A junior agent dragged in a cot for Pepper, who was staying with Tony until he could return to the tower in a week’s time. Natasha and Coulson took turns bringing her the paperwork from the office every day.
On the second day of his release from medical, Clint and Steve returned from an assignment, tired but successful in their endeavours. Clint, who used the various conference rooms as access points to the ventilation systems, accidently stumbled on the one where Tony and Pepper had camped out.
The first thing that really registered was a terrific roar, and a massive foreleg striking out against him. The limb made contact, but the pain of talons ripping his skin never occurred and he was shocked still. He opened his eyes and smiled. Standing precariously on his back legs, front paws braced on the archer’s shoulders and eyes alight, was Tony.
Clint hadn’t wanted to leave on the assignment, especially so soon after Tony had been hospitalized. He and the engineer had gotten along like a house on fire when they’d first met and when he’d seen the injuries done to him, he’d been upset and pissed at Loki. More so than usual. Now to see his friend up and in good spirits lifted his own mood.
He had been surprised when Tony’s Were-status had been revealed to the team, and in spectacular fashion if he said so himself, but he could have cared less. He’d done plenty of missions with Weres and plenty of Weres had saved his life in the field. They just had something a little extra in a pinch.
He placed gentle hands on Tony’s head and used his fingers to scratch behind the big cat’s ears, smiling brightly when he leaned forward and licked Clint’s cheek, and the other man giggled aloud, much to the amusement of Pepper, who was catching the event on her Starkphone. After a moment, Tony eased down to the ground and grabbed the hem of Clint’s shirt in his teeth, tugging him inexorably towards the nest.
Clint went willingly, blushing lightly at Pepper’s constant giggling, and crawled under the table with Tony. After arranging a pillow and blanket for himself, Clint fell still and waited until he felt Tony curl up around his back before he drifted into a doze.
Hours later, both were woken by the sound of giggling. Clint cracked his eyes open, noticed the ring of women wrapped around Tony’s and his resting spot and groaned. “Go ‘way. We’re sleeping.” He growled before curling up tighter against Tony’s chest. The leopard echoed his growl and Clint smirked before drifting off again.
Steve was sitting on the bridge of the Helicarrier, hunched in his chair as he drank from his mug and watched the clouds outside. Everyone had gone to see Tony already. Except for him. He felt terrible. He and Tony hadn’t gotten along when the other man was human. How was he going to deal with him now that he was an animal?
He didn’t think Weres were bad though, granted, he didn’t understand how they lived with it. Steve was haunted by the look of terror that had shadowed Tony’s eyes as he’d backed himself into the corner after the battle. What had happened to Tony that caused such fear to be the first thing he felt when his friends found out?
Was he afraid they were going to hate him? That they were going to hit him? Steve felt sick to his stomach just thinking about it. Were the Weres really treated so horribly that they were terrified to reveal to their loved ones what they were? Steve sighed as he scrubbed a hand across his face and placed his mug on the table. His shield was still sitting on the surface, next to his polishing kit, awaiting his attention.
Distracted as he was by his inner monologue, he never noticed when he was joined in the room, silent as his new companion was. He never noticed when his companion leaned up on the table and gently took the shield by a strap, pulling it down. He didn’t notice anything until his companion nudged his chair forward with a hearty nudge.
He looked down and locked up for a brief minute, unsure what to do with himself. Standing next to him was Tony, who was staring back at him with blue-green eyes. Steve was about to get up and back away when he noticed the leather strap clenched in the vice of his jaws. His shield! Steve made a swipe for it, but Tony danced away, eyes narrowed playfully and dancing with mischief.
Steve scowled and stood from his chair, stalking forward and lunging for it again, only for Tony to prance towards the door, tail held high. Steve gaped, before rising to his feet and stalking over. For every few steps Steve took, Tony took just as many in the opposite direction, holding the shield out of Steve’s reach.
For the next hour, Tony and Steve chased each other around the top level of the Helicarrier, Steve repeatedly lunging for his shield and Tony keeping it away from him. Soon enough, Steve found himself enjoying the game of keep-away and his annoyed grumbling turned into barely suppressed laughter.
Finally, Steve cornered Tony on the control deck between the conference table and the bank of Fury’s screens. Even without somewhere to go, Tony held the shield strap in his teeth stubbornly and Steve crept forward slowly. “Tony.” He coaxed the billionaire-turned-leopard. “Give me my shield. Come one, give it here.” He crooned. Tony gave him a wholly unimpressed look, but lowered the shield to the ground and pushed it across to Steve with his muzzle. Steve lowered himself to sit on the ground and took the shield before setting it behind him and looking at the figure before him. Super-soldier and Were-Leopard regarded each other for a minute, before a realization hit Steve.
Tony was still Tony when he was like this. Still an extremely intelligent, bratty, pain-in-the-ass that everyone adored anyway. He reached a tentative hand forward, freezing when Tony did, remaining still. There was only a moment of hesitation before Tony reached forward and licked around his fingers. Steve chuckled brightly, the texture of Tony’s tongue rough and ticklish at the same time. Steve reached up and threaded his fingers through the fur between his ears, marveling in the shiny softness.
Eventually, Tony got tired of sitting and stood up, walked over before laying down in Steve’s lap. Surprised by the sudden addition of two-hundred plus pounds, Steve grunted before rolling his eyes and resuming his ministrations. “Brat.” He hissed fondly.
Tony didn’t deign to respond, as he was already asleep.
Chapter 8: Epilouge
This is the end of "Leopard Spots" but not the end of the Spots!Verse. More to come soon, but first, look for my next work, "Sivass".
Over the next two weeks, the Avengers spent varying amounts of time on the Helicarrier, entertaining Tony, who was still secluded. Clint and Thor could often be found accompanied by Tony and up to no good, while Phil and Natasha brought him everywhere, both agent and Were looking suitably stern and frightening. Steve would draw him and talk to him while Bruce spent hours simply sitting with him and relaxing.
What surprised the others the most was Fury. Tony often went to debriefs and meetings, or spent time on the control deck, lounging comfortably on the floor. Most of the junior agents expected Fury to quickly lose patients with Tony underfoot, but were surprised when all Fury did glance sideways at him and walk around. Tony simply gazed back at the confounded agents with the leopard equivalent of a smirk.
After the the third week, Evan declared Tony’s ribs knitted enough to send him back to the tower, to finish healing in the peace and comfort of his own home. And so, after having his rib splints and bandages removed, Tony pranced his way onto a Quinjet, tail held high and eyes bright, with the rest of the Avengers and made the trip home.
Once at the mansion, Tony immediately climbed onto an elevator with Pepper Thor and Clint, the only people that could fit in one ride, and made for the penthouse level. That night, for the first time in almost a month, Tony and Pepper slept in their own bed, though Tony curled up at the foot.
Stykre was happy to have Tony back, no matter what form he was in, and soon he was a constant presence along with Tony. The group, over the next few weeks, got used to seeing a leopard calmly lounging around the house, the glow of the Arc Reactor just as constant as it was before.
Two weeks after returning from the Helicarrier, the group determined, with input from Fury, Coulson, Pepper and Dr. McKnight, that then was the opportune moment to begin introducing Tony to the team in their costumes. After a bit of debate, it was determined that they would introduce themselves to him in different places around the tower, going from Natasha, whom Tony was already used to in her fighting gear, to the Hulk, who had the largest difference between his appearances in the tower and in the field.
The first day, Natasha simply moved about the tower in her catsuit, polishing her guns and toying with the Widow’s bite in her hands while the others watched. Tony was mellow at first, until she’d pulled out the weapons. The reaction they were expecting followed. Tony had recoiled sharply and roared, the sounded piercing and then echoed by hissing.
Taking the tips given to them by Coulson, the room didn’t tense up and instead continued on with what they were doing. Tony seemed to remember himself quickly, because within twenty minutes he was back to facing Natasha with an impassive face.
The next day, Thor and Steve introduced themselves in costume. And Tony wanted absolutely nothing to do with either. Both had come into the room expecting a reaction similar to the one Natasha received but much to their consternation, and the amusement of the others, Tony looked them up and down, sniffed once, and turned on his paws and stalked away.
The room was silent for a minute before everyone burst into laughter while Thor and Steve stood there and looked confused, shocked and amused, a strange combination on the super-soldier and thunderer both. Jane had hugged Thor while Pepper patted Steve’s cheek and the others chortled around them.
Introducing Clint in costume was a disaster. While Tony in leopard form was just as fond of the archer as he was in human form, he was absolutely terrified of Clint’s bow, and therefor Clint in costume. The minute Clint removed the bow from his back, Tony released a sound that could only be classified as a shriek and, in an impressive show of speed for one still injured, ran from the room. The room had been shocked still at the show of fear, but after a shocked moment, Coulson and pepper burst into action.
Coulson ordered Clint to put the bow away and everyone broke off to search for Tony under orders from Pepper not to approach him if they found him. Despite Jarvis’ assurances Tony hadn’t left the floor, it still took over an hour to find him. Jane found him, tucked under a futon in the game room, fur on end, tail lashing and teeth bared. She stayed by the door and called for Pepper, who came moments later, most of the team behind her.
It took almost thirty minutes for Pepper to coax Tony out from underneath the futon and even then the only ones he let near him were Pepper, Bruce, Coulson and Darcy. Pepper feared that the split second occurrence of Tony seeing the bow had set back his trust and socialisation with the team. That night, Tony didn’t sleep as, even in his animal form, nightmares plagued him.
Clint hid in the vents for the next weeks upset at himself despite the fact that everyone kept telling him that it wasn’t his fault. But every time he closed his eyes, he was haunted by the echo of Tony’s frightened shriek and the terror the effused his eyes. Clint and Tony couldn’t be in the same room now, as every time they were, Tony ran away.
From the vents, he watched the events of the following week, when the entire team made their way down to the “Hulk-out” room. Pepper kept Tony in a far corner while Natasha and Coulson talked Bruce through a transformation. Hulk appeared with a grunt and a low growl, looking around him. Pepper eased Tony forward with a firm hand on the back of his neck and when both Were and Hulk faced each other, the rest backed off.
There was a tense moment of silence before Hulk leaned down and wrapped a massive green hand around Tony’s stomach, lifting him into the air. Tony groaned once in protest, legs kicking before he fell still, blue-gray-green meeting earthen green. Tony and Hulk chuffed simultaneously before Hulk grinned. “SOFT. WARM KITTY.” He grunted, smiling wide enough to reveal blunt teeth.
Tony didn’t do much but rub one paw against Hulk’s arm before he was lifted and settled across broad green shoulders, much like a scarf. Neither seemed to mind the arrangement and seemed content to spend the afternoon that way. Hulk was careful of his passenger as he sat to watch cartoons and Tony kept up a constant rumbling in his happiness.
Everyone was relieved that the introduction went better than they'd hoped.
Over the next three and a half weeks, the Avengers were called out almost constantly against Doom, Skurge and Amora, random mutant squids and squirrels, and even Loki eventually, who still bore the marks of his bout against Tony despite his healing magic. Tony spent more time in the habitat or with Coulson in the command center as he healed and, finally, eight weeks after the fight, Evan arranged an appointment to remove the cast from Tony foreleg.
And so, early on a Saturday morning, Pepper and Happy loaded Tony into a car. Pepper crawled into the back with him, a small duffel bag over her shoulder as today wasn’t only the day when Tony would have his cast removed, but he would return to his human form. Evan and Brock were waiting for them in the back of the clinic for privacy’s sake. Pepper, Happy and Tony entered the clinic behind the doctor and nurse, anxious for the procedure to be over.
An hour later, an exhausted looking Tony, clad only in a pair of socks, black silk pj bottoms and a loose t-shirt, was leaning heavily on Pepper while Evan ran gentle fingers over the wrinkled skin of his recently-uncasted arm, rubbing lotion into the area. Once that was done, Evan slipped a soft brace on his wrist and stepped back while Pepper wrapped the familiar blue knit blanket around his shoulders. Throughout it all, Tony was silent, on the verge of drifting off. Pepper bit her lip. “Is this normal?” She asked.
Evan nodded. “Completely. He’s spent an extended period of time in his Were-form, which is exhausting, even if he didn’t do anything terribly strenuous. The next few days are going to be like this. Just keep him warm and comfortable, make sure he performs his therapy for his wrist, and that he eats at least twice a day. He won’t speak for a day or two either. His voice is unused and may cause him pain, so warm liquids like tea, coffee, hot chocolate and broth are recommended.” Pepper nodded and brandished a thermos from the duffel, which was filled with Natasha’s special hot chocolate.
Evan smiled and nodded. “Well, that’s good. You have his therapy sheets and aftercare instructions. You guys can head on home. Take care.” He said, waving as he left the room. Happy helped Tony to his feet and, with Pepper’s help, helped Tony into the car. Upon arriving at the tower, Coulson and Bruce met them at the doors and helped them move the rapidly wilting Tony up to the penthouse.
Upstairs, Natasha and Steve had readied a foldout couch in the media room with mounds of pillows and blankets and Tony happily curled up with his blanket as soon as he saw it. Pepper smiled and lay down next to him, running her fingers through his hair and murmuring to him. It wasn’t until the others started getting comfortable around them on the floor and the rest of the furniture, that she realized they were there to stay.
Over the next few days, the team and everyone else made themselves comfortable around Tony’s makeshift blanket nest. True to Evan’s predictions, Tony was weak and quiet for almost a week. It took almost four days before they got any response that had more than a single syllable. Despite his non-communication, Tony expressed himself in other manners. His face and the set of his shoulders gave away most things. When Pepper entered the room or someone brought him coffee or hot chocolate, his face came alight and his shoulders were high.
When someone woke him up from a nap or forced him to do his therapy when he was occupied with something else, his face would crease and darken and his shoulders would hunch. Slowly, they began to realize that Tony would move or vocalize differently for each person. When Steve came in, Tony would huff and lift a single shoulder slightly and if Clint came in his eyebrows would go up, one corner of his mouth would lift and his shoulders would shift back.
But one state they noticed whenever he was around any of them made their hearts lift. Shoulders relaxed, face smooth and a constant rumbling thrumming deep in his chest. For the longest while, no-one knew what it meant until one day, Darcy nudged Tony, whom she was laying next to while everyone enjoyed The Lion King. “What’s with you?” She asked. Tony mumbled something into his arm and Darcy rolled her eyes. “How about in the king’s english?” She asked.
“I’m happy.” He rasped, eyes already drifting closed again.
Everyone else was only too glad to have been a part of his happiness, and they settled back comfortably around the room, content for the moment.