Depending on when you caught him, Tony was either a light sleeper or a heavy sleeper. If you caught him in Afghanistan, forced him to sleep in the middle of inventing, or in the middle of an ongoing mission (who the hell wants missions that last more than a day, Fury?), he was a light sleeper. If you caught him after one of his long bouts of insomnia (meaning very long, leading to Pepper tearing her hair out and JARVIS constantly telling him he should go to bed and Dummy actually hiding the coffee pot) or managed to get him to a bed after thirty hours of no sleep and stayed in bed with him, he was a heavy sleeper.
As a light sleeper, he woke up every hour or so and depending on how he’d gotten to bed, he’d either get up to go into the lab or roll back over to sleep again because Pepper/Steve/Bruce/some random S.H.I.E.L.D. doctor was eyeing him warningly. As a heavy sleeper, not much woke him up until his body had extorted the required amount of sleep he’d denied it.
In general, someone trailing kisses down his spine tended to do the job very well. If only because it was a novel sensation that he didn’t wake up to often (try never).
“Mmph,” Tony grunted sleepily into his pillow, not quite willing to move.
The sound caused the kisser to change directions, eventually leading up to the nape of his neck and breath tickling the hairs by his ear. “Morning,” Steve breathed, trailing a kiss over Tony’s temple.
Tony mumbled something into his pillow that elicited a short chuckle from Steve. “Didn’t catch that, sorry.”
Tony turned his face to the side, facing Steve with his eyes still closed. “It’s not morning until it’s after nine. And even then it’s early.”
A hand brushed over Tony’s jaw line, tickling the stubble that had accumulated overnight. “It’s eight.”
“Too early.” Tony mashed his face back into the pillow.
Steve ran a hand down Tony’s back. “Do you usually sleep on your stomach?”
No, usually he didn’t. He was very fond of sprawling, sleeping on his side, or cuddling. Sleeping on his stomach he only did when hiding the glow of the reactor. It wasn’t something most of his bed partners enjoyed (not that he’d had many after Afghanistan, what with building the suit, Obadiah’s betrayal, and then his privatizing of world peace), but it didn’t really matter since they were usually one-night stands, and he kept a shirt on for that. Pepper had been an exception, and Steve apparently didn’t mind all that much considering the few times they’d shared a bed.
Even if it was a long-term relationship, it was a courtesy Tony paid his new partners until he found out where they stood regarding the arc reactor and its secondary function as a night light.
Giving up on sleep for the meantime, Tony sighed into his pillow before turning his head once again, this time to look at Steve. “Not usually. Does it bother you?”
“No.” Steve was tracing lazy circles into Tony’s skin. “I noticed because it was dark.”
“It doesn’t bother me.” Steve rolled on his stomach next to Tony, sliding over so that his arm lay across Tony’s back. “Your reactor,” he added unnecessarily. “It’s a part of you.”
“It’s a machine embedded in my chest.”
“And it keeps you alive.” Steve’s arm tightened around Tony. “Don’t feel like you have to hide it.”
Tony kept silent, tracing Steve’s serious and completely honest visage with his eyes. He hadn’t expected this to be something Steve would talk about. Then again, he hadn’t expected the last so many conversations they’d had either. He’d heard good communication was a staple of a healthy relationship, so it soothed him that this was going right. Never mind that he was utter shit at expressing his feelings on a good day. He had a feeling Steve would eventually manage to coax everything out after giving Tony enough time to brood over it himself.
He sighed softly, a small smile pulling at his lips. “Yeah, okay.”
Steve smiled back. “Good.”
Shifting, Tony slid into Steve’s chest, smirking now. “If we’re going to be talking about heavy stuff at”—he glanced at the clock—“eight-seventeen in the morning, then I think we can do some other stuff as well.”
“Okay.” Steve rolled on top of Tony, holding enough of his weight so he didn’t crush the smaller man. “Just as long as you get ready for that appointment with the X-Men today at eleven.”
Tony blinked owlishly. “Wait… That’s today? When were you planning on telling me?”
“Now. Because if I’d told you earlier, you would have made up some sort of excuse to be late. This way you’ll be on time.”
“Damn it, Captain.” Tony craned his neck to the side as Steve mouthed over the marks he’d left the previous night. “I’ve definitely corrupted you.”
He could feel Steve’s grin against his skin, and was about to say something else when he was lightly bitten at a particularly sensitive spot and his brain largely shut down, its buzz relegated to sitting quietly in the background.
Okay…teasing could wait. This was more important. Much more important.
Let it be put on record that Tony Stark does not like being told what to do (unless it’s Pepper, ’cause she can be scary). Let it also be put on record that while Tony Stark does not like being told what to do, he will listen if it is good, because he is not an ignoramus. Hence why he has not been kicked off the Avengers, and hence also why he is sitting in a car on the way to being tested for his mutant abilities.
Personally, Tony didn’t really think he needed it. He could use some pointers, especially when it came to multitasking, but he didn’t need to be tested. He exploded a fucking bomb with his mind and managed to stop himself from hitting Central Park with a splat when his suit was down, so he didn’t really need to be tested. But Fury ordered it, and S.H.I.E.L.D. kind of needed the reassurance that one of their heaviest hitters (and biggest minds, Tony wasn’t going to lie) wasn’t going to accidentally drop a car on Captain America in the field because he couldn’t levitate it. Not that Tony would, since that’s an elementary mistake he worked on in college (and it’s Steve, and he’d drop the car on himself before hurting him).
Regardless of his personal opinion, Tony could see the point of getting tested. It would show S.H.I.E.L.D. that he could handle himself, and also help him work out the kinks he still had. Because while he was a genius and totally capable of figuring it out himself given time, he’d have to be brain dead not to take this chance to work with a respected mutant like Charles Xavier (the fact that he would get to meet the X-Men was just a bonus) and get expert help instead of muddling through it on his own.
Not that he was doing too badly on his own. But it’d be nice to get some guidance.
As a bonus, Steve was with him, since Fury had told him that Tony shouldn’t be late. He didn’t have to come, but as the unofficial leader of the Avengers, it was probably a good idea anyway. For one thing, Tony was his unofficial second-in-command (he wasn’t sure when this had been decided, but when Tony happened to throw out some absentminded suggestions in the middle of a fight, they were generally followed, regardless of what Captain America had ordered before, since those suggestions usually ended up saving property, ending the battle faster, and lowering casualties. So, apparently, he was second-in-command). For another, Tony was his teammate. And for another, Tony was his boyfriend (lover, partner, significant other; Tony wasn’t sure what the term was). Put together, those points made for a very good reason as to why Captain America (or Steve Rogers) should be there.
Unfortunately, Nick Fury would also be in attendance. Tony thought the guy would have better things to do, being the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and all, but apparently not.
Officially, Fury was there to make sure everything went smoothly and to see what would happen. Privately, Tony thought the guy would just be getting a kick out of possibly seeing Tony having his ass kicked.
Of course, Tony couldn’t forget the other Avengers as well. Instead of staying back in New York and defending the homeland in case of attack by revived dinosaurs from the Museum of Natural History (it had happened!), they were tagging along. Tony hadn’t bothered to ask why, as he knew that whatever the real reason was, they’d just tell him it was so they could know what his strengths and weaknesses were. Privately, he thought it was so they could see him mess up.
In any case, he didn’t really mind being the day’s entertainment. No, what he cared about was that the limo he was sharing with Steve wasn’t even private because all the Avengers were crammed into it. Yes, all of them. Even Thor, and he didn’t even like cars.
Natasha and Clint were sitting next to each other on the opposite side of the limo, meaning they were staring directly at him and Steve. Bruce was on his left side while Steve had his right. Because Thor generally tended to take up more space than one person usually should, he had the corner to himself.
All in all, it wasn’t too bad. Natasha wouldn’t stop staring at this one spot on his neck where his jacket’s collar wasn’t quite high enough to hide a hickey, and Clint had a mischievous gleam in his eyes that told Tony he’d better start holding something ransom, but it wasn’t awful.
The one problem Tony had was that there was zero privacy. If he’d been alone with Steve, he’d be in the middle of a heavy make-out session, as he wouldn’t have to fear blowing anything up after his revelation several days ago.
“Everything all right?” Steve asked quietly, breaking Tony out of his thoughts.
Tony blinked, looking over at him, pulled from reminiscing about their mutual hand jobs that afternoon in the workshop. “Everything looks great over here. Why?”
“You had that little crease here”—Steve’s thumb brushed over the area between Tony’s eyebrows—“that means you’re thinking too hard. Care to share?”
“Just thinking,” Tony said, only to kick Clint in the ankles when he gave a disbelieving scoff.
“You’re always thinking,” Clint said, ignoring the glare Tony shot his way.
“That’s what people do,” Tony said, slouching back into his seat. “We think. Unless we have the IQ of a monkey. In that case we just shoot arrows and nest.”
“Those are birds, asshole,” Clint snapped.
“I was not aware that your birds were capable of wielding arrows,” Thor said, sounding mystified. “Is this some rare breed I have yet to see?”
Everyone turned their heads to stare at him. Steve coughed lowly (it sounded more like a laugh; Tony would have to work on that).
“There are no birds that shoot arrows,” Bruce said finally, nudging Tony’s ankle warningly as he opened his mouth to confirm that yes, there was a bird species that shot arrows. “Clint was just addressing one part of Tony’s statement.”
“I see.” Thor sounded vaguely disappointed. Tony would usually say that wasn’t so, but this was the guy (god) who’d desperately wanted to take one of the dinosaurs home as a pet.
There was a period of silence as everyone did their best to ignore the fact that Thor had seriously asked whether there were birds that shot arrows.
Then Tony broke it. “So remind me again why all of you have to be here for this? ’Cause I find it difficult to believe that Fury would authorize it, considering that New York is likely to fall prey to a strain of rabid chickens or something during our absence.”
“Yeah, I’m not being stuck to deal with Peggy alone,” Clint said. “No way. She’s playing Hound Dog whenever I come near her now.”
Natasha stepped on Clint’s foot, eliciting a low gasp of pain. That ordinarily wouldn’t be the case, but Natasha was wearing heels in addition to a navy blue blouse and dark gray slacks. “We need to see your capabilities.”
Tony raised his eyebrows, pursing his lips. “You’re making me think that you don’t trust me.”
“We trust you,” Steve said, squeezing Tony’s shoulder reassuringly. “It’s just that we’re a team, and that means we have your back. We want to make sure everything goes great.”
“I want to see you blow something up,” Clint interjected.
“Go down in the workshop on a good day, and you’ll have your wish,” Bruce said. “Maybe you’ll even find yourself on fire.”
“Dummy took care of that,” Tony protested.
“You set Bruce on fire?” Steve asked, horrified.
“Accidentally,” Tony pointed out. “Besides, it was just the cloth he was holding.”
“I think I’ll pass.” Clint shifted, the only sign that he was slightly unnerved.
“Your loss.” Tony shrugged.
Clint stared impassively back at him. “No, it really isn’t.”
“I do not understand,” Thor said. “Why would you set Bruce on fire? What is the purpose?”
“No purpose,” Bruce said just as Tony answered, “Fireproof Hulk pants.”
“You have too much time on your hands,” Clint said. “Why do you want to give Hulk fireproof clothes? It just tickles him!”
“Do you remember the last time he got caught in fire? Because I do. No offense, Bruce, but that’s something I don’t want to see again. You is one thing. Hulk’s junk is something I didn’t need to know about.”
“Agreed,” Natasha said.
“I like the big guy,” Tony continued. “But like does not equivocate to seeing how he looks sans clothes. Or having it plastered on YouTube.”
“Fury had that taken down, I think,” Steve said. “Something about it being bad publicity.”
Tony patted Bruce’s arm reassuringly. “JARVIS saved a copy.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll only pull it out when the big guy is in need of a laugh,” Tony promised.
“You don’t remember watching reruns of The Simpsons with me?”
“I thought I imagined that,” Clint muttered. “Are you saying I didn’t?”
Tony grinned impishly as Bruce sighed, giving him a rueful smile as he conceded Tony’s point that Hulk had a sense of humor (even if he only showed it when Tony was around). On his other side, Steve was shaking his head slightly in what seemed to be disbelief.
The rest of the ride passed by in silence, and Tony staved off boredom by catching up on the little work he had to do on Stark Industries on his phone.
It wasn’t until Steve’s fingers tightened on his shoulder in a brief squeeze that Tony looked up to see they had arrived in front of a large mansion, headquarters of Professor Xavier’s X-Men (or his school for the gifted, if you wanted to be technical). Nick Fury was waiting outside, not moving from his spot by the door as the Avengers clambered out of the car (or slid in Natasha’s case; Tony suspected she was part feline).
“You’re just on time,” Fury said, hands clasped behind his back. He was in his imperious trench coat, which wasn’t ridiculous attire for once because it was fall and getting chilly.
“Don’t be shocked,” Tony said, stowing his phone into the front pocket of his hoodie (what? It wasn’t like he was going to meet with SI’s board. Besides, his and Steve’s activities that morning had left him short on time, leaving him to grab some of the rattiest clothes he had on hand because they were the only ones he could scrounge on short notice as he wore them semi-regularly in the workshop…which meant they were kind of greasy, not that anyone could tell because they were dark).
“I’m not.” Fury opened the door, preceding them into the impressive entryway of the mansion.
Charles was waiting at the foot of the staircase, a white-haired dark-skinned woman standing next to him. She was pretty, Tony noted, but he wasn’t interested in doing anything, though he’d probably flirt, as that was his default state. He even flirted with Bruce.
“Good morning,” Charles said, a small smile on his face as he glanced over them. His eyes rested on Tony, who was taking in the wheelchair with a critical eye.
“Closer to afternoon, isn’t it?” Tony asked. His eyes flicked up from Charles to the woman. He could smell muffins somewhere in the mansion.
“This is Ororo Munroe,” Charles said, evidently catching the movement.
“Pleasure,” Ororo said, smiling as she looked them over.
“Pleasure to meet you,” Steve said, smiling that heart stopping grin that still made Tony take a double take and wonder if this man was really in a relationship with him.
“I smell muffins,” Clint said randomly.
“That would be Kitty,” Ororo said. “She’s been baking.”
“Speaking of Kitty, we should move this into the living room,” Charles said, turning his wheelchair around with a twist of the knob (it made Tony want to cry at the hideously outdated sight; he could build better in his sleep). “She would like to meet you, Tony.”
“Just him?” Clint asked.
“She’s interested in majoring in computer science,” Ororo explained. She was walking directly next to Charles, Tony and Steve shortly after her. Fury brought up the rear behind the Avengers.
“And SI is the leading company in computer science,” Tony said over his shoulder to Clint. “No biggie. Let her know that if she does head into the field the company’s always looking for bright and inspiring young minds. R&D could do with an overhaul. I don’t even want to look at half the stuff that the department is coming out with recently.”
“They can’t be that bad, Tony,” Steve said chidingly.
“Yes, they can. Bruce can tell you, and he doesn’t even have a degree in this field.”
“No, I can’t,” Bruce disagreed.
Tony gave him an unimpressed look before proceeding to give his two cents on the shoddy quality of the work of the R&D department. “The department was supposed to work on a new plane design that would use clean energy. You’d think that they couldn’t mess that up. As it is, the last design they submitted has the plane blowing up midair because the engine isn’t cooling down. It’s all there in the math. I just don’t get why they can’t see it.”
“Not everyone’s a genius,” Clint pointed out.
“It’s elementary math—”
“—and anyone with half a brain could see that,” Tony continued, ignoring Clint’s interruption.
“Why don’t you design it?” Steve asked.
Tony shrugged lightly. “I did on the way here. Sent it back to R&D with all their mistakes highlighted in red and the corrections in green. I don’t even know why we have that department.”
“One man cannot be an entire department,” Natasha answered. “If they’re truly as stupid as you’ve made them out to be, then they wouldn’t be employed by your company.”
“No one else notices,” Tony complained, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“No one else pays as much attention,” Steve said, smiling at him.
To be honest, Tony didn’t pay that much attention to it. Which was probably why this was a problem to begin with. Pepper was a great CEO, but she didn’t know what worked and what didn’t when it came to engineering. That left it to the head of R&D (or Tony, ’cause that guy was an idiot) to make sure nothing got messed up. The problem was that Tony found his attention caught by a dozen other things (or a hundred if he wanted to be honest) everyday, making R&D only a small blip on the radar of Tony’s attention.
Steve read most of this in his face, which probably looked vaguely guilty. “You don’t pay that much attention to it, do you?”
“Not as much as I should,” Tony admitted quietly. “But there are a dozen other things that grab my attention first, so…” He made a small motion with his hand as they entered the living room.
“Would one of those things be the television?” Clint asked, sitting down on the couch. “It’s showing Asgardian porn.”
“We do not have this porn on Asgard,” Thor said indignantly.
“It’s on the television,” Clint pointed out. “Unless it’s some sort of fighting ritual where the girl and the guy strip, make out, and have sex?”
“We have no such rituals,” Thor said, frowning down at Clint. “Such action is private, and we do not entertain ourselves the way Midgardians do.”
That still didn’t explain how Tony had hooked the TV up to Asgard. If there was no electricity as such on Asgard, or reception, such an action should have been impossible. He had the feeling that he’d be calling up Jane Foster before long, trying to figure out what he’d done in his insomnia-induced bout of creativity.
Tony opened his mouth to say something along those lines, only to be interrupted by Fury. “Save it for when you’re off duty, people. We have a job to do here.”
Ororo and Charles looked more amused than anything else. They probably saw worse hijinks from the X-Men on a regular basis.
“What are we going to be doing?” Tony asked, wanting to get it over with. He had things to be doing that didn’t involve being a lab rat.
“We will be going over your capabilities,” Charles said. “Depending on your handle of your abilities, we will base our course on that.”
“I assume you don’t want me to make the living room furniture dance.” Tony shot the couch Clint was sitting on a look. “So where are we doing this?”
“We have a Danger Room,” Charles answered.
“It has different programs depending on who uses it,” Ororo explained. “It’s modeled after situations we are likely to encounter in the field. It also serves as a testing area for new mutants.”
“Okay.” Tony folded his arms across his chest, bouncing slightly on his feet. Yes, he might have had a bit too much coffee this morning, but it was that or be half-asleep. He was kind of sleep deprived despite Steve’s best efforts, as he’d pulled another all-nighter two days ago and had gone to bed at three last night after Steve had dragged him into it (then there had been the truly awesome sex). “So when do we start?”
“We can do so now, provided there isn’t anything you need.”
He needed to make a new wheelchair, but that wasn’t something he could say at the moment so he’d refrain. He did have some tact despite what some people thought. “I’m good. Where is this Danger Room? And if it isn’t dangerous, I’m going to rename it.”
About ten minutes later, Tony found himself minus a hoodie and in front of the door to the so-called Danger Room. The hoodie had been handed it off to Steve in favor of the black Sabbath shirt under it. Tony had also gotten wishes of good luck, not that he’d need them.
Exhaling slowly, Tony stepped into the enormous room, instantly scanning the area. There was a panel of windows halfway up the wall on one side where the observation room was. The rest of the room seemed to be made of silver plates. It also seemed to be humming with something, though Tony couldn’t tell if that was just his head or if it was actually humming. It could also be his arc reactor, but that was stupid since he didn’t even notice it humming in his chest anymore.
Charles’s voice echoed through the room, causing Tony to flick his gaze up to the observation room. “The room’s difficulty level will adjust itself as time goes on. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, let me know.”
“You can’t see that for yourself?” Tony said. “’Cause I might be a bit too busy to say something.”
There was a short pause.
“Oh right. Forgot about the thinking thing.” Tony rubbed his thumb into his left hand’s palm, focusing on the feeling as he quieted his brain (which was running schematics on the room, the weak points he could exploit, and all the programs it could run for training). “I’ll let you know. Let’s just get this thing started.”
There was no response, but the room’s humming seemed to peak for a moment. A panel slid open on the side, revealing a dark expanse where a robot slid out of. It was shiny, but that was just about the only thing that the robot had going for it. Tony could count off a dozen weak spots just by glancing.
Digging his thumb into his palm, Tony blinked, focusing on throwing the robot up against the wall. Five seconds later it was a smoldering heap on the floor.
So that had been ridiculously easy. It was probably beginner’s level.
Relaxing, he let his hands fall to the side, noting another peak in humming as two more robots made their appearance from the walls. These were toting guns but were still of a horribly shoddy quality.
This time he moved, wrenching the guns out of the robots’ arms, using them to knock the legs out, immobilizing the robots before they could approach him.
There was another rise in the humming (was that supposed to be there?) and Tony turned his head, seeing five robots now. They opened fire on him (those had better be blanks and not actual bullets) and he threw both hands out, pushing forth a shield that sent the bullets flying.
As soon as he could, he focused his mind on knocking out the weak points he could pinpoint on the robots. A blink later and all the joints blew out, knocking the still firing guns to the sides of the room.
Tony let his arms drop to his sides, eyes scanning his surroundings for anything else. Nothing sprang out immediately, but he didn’t relax. He was beginning to wish he had his suit, as the HUD gave enough information that his brain was satisfactorily occupied. Here with nothing protecting him and no HUD in front of him running diagnostics, his mind was flying in a dozen different directions at once, most having to do with the design of the room and some with fighting strategies.
And there was that annoying humming.
It rose to a fever pitch just as slots in the walls opened, revealing lines of guns.
One level of his brain mentally swore while the other was running calculations as to which angle he would have to displace one or more of the guns so they’d take each other out instead of him.
Throwing a hand up to shield himself as the guns began firing, Tony stretched the other out to the side, running the math one more time to be sure he wouldn’t be literally shooting himself in the back. He twisted his wrist slightly, and felt the impacts against his mental shield lessen as the three guns he’d knocked off course began shooting at the others.
Then he was ducking and rolling to the side, trusting his calculations to be right. Two seconds later and bullets were raining on the spot he’d just abandoned and he was crouched on the side, eyes flicking from side to side as he took in his surroundings from this different vantage point.
From one inhale to the next, Tony felt the hum suddenly intensify behind him, and he threw himself forward to feel something skim through his hair. This was getting too much of a Star Wars vibe for him. The next thing he knew Obi-Wan Kenobi would be telling him to feel the Force.
And he should really focus here, so Tony buried that train of thought under several other more important ones and rolled over on his back to see what he was dealing with here.
Ooh, a robot…kitty. With guns. Super.
Would it breathe flames in a parody of cat breath?
Damn it, focus. JARVIS wasn’t here to analyze the situation for him and he didn’t have the suit to protect his body.
He didn’t want to be on the defensive. And he could think of five different ways to kill this thing off the top of his head, but they all consisted of rehashing of what he’d done before. And while Tony Stark liked blowing things up, he also liked being creative.
So he could do something new here, he figured, pushing the robot cat’s legs out from under it to buy himself more time. As he did, he readjusted the guns with a screech of protesting metal so they faced the ceiling.
Okay, time bought. How would he design this thing? No, don’t think like that. Obviously the person who’d designed this thing was an idiot, since it was too clunky, loud, and full of weak spots to be of much good. So he’d have to think like an idiot.
R&D would be good for this job – focus, Stark!
An idiot would put the brains of the thing either in the body or the head. But there probably weren’t any safeguards built into it, so it didn’t matter if Tony actually got the brains or just the general machinery moving it.
Plan formed, now use the mind to follow through on it.
The robot was getting up (slowly, too slowly, who’d built the joints on this thing?) and its empty eyes were fixed on Tony, who’d gotten to his feet by now.
Zeroing in on the chest (he bet an idiot would place the brains there as it was the middle of the body and best connected to everything else), Tony put a hand up.
If he were the fanciful kind, he would say that he could feel the machinery under his fingertips. But since he wasn’t, Tony ignored the imaginary feeling to clench his hand into a fist. Simultaneously, there was a muffled explosion from inside the robot. It jerked to a halt, hanging suspended for a brief moment before toppling over onto its side with a resounding crash.
Tony flexed his fingers, pleased that it had worked out. “Fascinating.”
Apparently the Danger Room wasn’t impressed with his Spock impersonation, as shimmery figures were forming in addition to the robots being deployed. Holograms and robots?
How…ah. Pressure-sensitive holograms maybe, so he could hit them and they’d disappear like an enemy.
The humming in the room was intensifying now as the machinery powering the stimulations used up energy. Tony made a half turn to see that the area behind his back was also covered by holograms and robots.
As he made the movement, the robots and holograms at his front fired.
Tony wasn’t exactly sure what happened next. He was usually in his suit when fighting against hordes of enemies, so maybe that explained why he threw his hands up like he was firing repulsor beams. But nothing explained the concussive force erupting out of his hands and throwing him backward into the fray of the holograms and robots behind him.
Pro: the concussive force destroyed most of the firepower and the things that had fired it.
Con: the concussive force threw him into the middle of other things that were after his head.
Basic law of physics there, and he’d just fallen right into it because he was so used to his suit adjusting for everything.
Getting a glimpse of a hologram/person and a robot pointing their guns at him, Tony did what he would have done had he been in his suit: fire his thrusters and get the hell out of there.
Of course, since he wasn’t in his suit, he didn’t have his thrusters. That said, he still found himself shooting off into the air like the first time he’d tested the thrusters in his workshop in Malibu.
“Whoooaaa!” Tony flailed in midair, arms spinning as he desperately tried to stabilize his erratic flight. His feet slid out from under him, and he flipped head over heels. Whatever he’d done was still going strong, as he was about to hit the floor face first (albeit in a space that was clear of any robots or holograms).
It took him a split-second to get his hands under him as if he was in the Mark II and calibrating for what his boots couldn’t do, and then he was careening upward as if he was a plane.
This would be so cool…if he could figure out what the hell he was doing. Just as this thought crossed his mind, he felt pressure he hadn’t even known was there disappearing from his feet and hands, and then he was freefalling toward the other side of the room with all the inertia he’d just gathered.
“Oh shit! Suit, suit…” If he pretended like he was in the suit… “Thrusters!”
Pro: he wasn’t heading towards the wall.
Con: his feet had slipped like he was on ice and he was now shooting for the floor.
He cut the “power” to his feet and curled up into a ball, focusing on pulling up on his clothes like he had with the suit that time with the Jericho missiles.
It worked, and instead of hitting the ground with the full force of gravity and possibly breaking something, he hit it with enough force that the wind was knocked right out of him.
This he could deal with. It had happened before after he’d slammed into the ceiling following his miscalculation with the thrusters. Dummy had sprayed him with the fire extinguisher then. This time, he would probably be KIA if he couldn’t get his breath fast enough.
That, or he could simply punch out the robots with his mind. He did have the option.
Closing his eyes, the humming he’d ignored during his brief flight was suddenly back in full force. He batted it away impatiently, focusing on pushing away all the robots around him, not just a select few.
As he batted away the humming, though, he heard the crashing noise that signified the robots had been thrown back. His eyes flew open and it took him a moment to register that yes, the robots and holograms were gone, and that it had happened because he’d dealt with the humming noise.
Was that the sound of the technology around him and not the machinery of the room itself? If so, it was an interesting tidbit that he could use.
With a gasp, air rushed back into his lungs. Coughing, Tony rolled over onto his stomach, breathing heavily as he tried to recover from the brief lack of oxygen. In the midst of recovering his breath, he could see that whatever he’d done with the humming had knocked down every single one of the robots and extinguished the holograms as well.
He shakily pushed himself to his feet, still breathing hard. There was no more time to recover his breath, though, as the floor appeared to be trying to burn through his sneakers.
He wasn’t an amateur anymore. He’d been Iron Man for the last five years. That meant he could fly without crashing into walls. He would just have to adjust for it like he had at the beginning, because he was still an amateur when it came to his telekinesis.
Back to Mark II specs then…
Bracing his hands by his side and setting his heels together the way he’d done for the first few versions of his suit, Tony muttered, “Power at one percent.”
There was no JARVIS to regulate the power, but he’d gotten used to regulating it himself with the later versions of the suit. Besides, JARVIS couldn’t regulate his mind (and he’d feel sorry for anyone who did have to because it was a scary mess that even he didn’t want to touch sometimes), so this was all on him anyway.
As he was paying attention this time, he could feel certain sections of his mind focusing on pushing pressure out of his hands and feet (there was a slight pressure at his temples that he ignored out of habit). And then he was rising off the ground, wobbling only a little as he got used to the feeling of hovering without the suit.
The humming in the room rose a little in warning, and Tony looked up in alarm to see what appeared to be a pendulum swinging directly at him.
“Five percent!” he yelped, kicking his feet back. The extra power boost and the movement moved him out of the way, but then there was what appeared to be a blue fighter jet aiming directly at him. “Eight – oh, fuck it – ten percent!”
He was zipping along the ceiling now, ingrained habits coming into play now as he adjusted his hands minutely to stabilize himself as his feet provided the propulsion. Maybe given enough time he could upgrade this so it’d be like his Mark VII – no hands needed for stabilization.
By this time, Tony was getting pretty comfortable with flying outside of his armor. He’d feel a bit better if it were out in the open like his first time, but he couldn’t be picky, especially since he currently had a holographic fighter jet on his tail.
Moving his concentration on flying down a few levels in his mind, Tony twisted over on his back, holding a hand out and concentrating as if firing a repulsor blast (if this somehow messed him up when he was actually in the suit, he was going to be pissed).
The concussive force probably wasn’t as powerful as an actual repulsor blast, but Tony wasn’t entirely sure. He’d have to run some tests to see what the potential was for mentally powered repulsor blasts.
As soon as he saw the hologram of the fighter jet disappear, Tony twisted back around on his stomach, taking in the still swinging pendulum and the visibly steaming floor.
He hitched the speed up to fifteen percent, began to feel just a bit raw as the air whipped past him and turned it back down to ten. Force fields were an option (maybe something like his suit?) for future flights like this aaaaand…he should concentrate on this instead of future tests he could run.
Skimming by the wall of the Danger Room now, Tony circled back round, eyes inspecting the pendulum. He straightened out for a moment to shoot a “repulsor beam” at the mechanism attaching it to the ceiling. The force burst straight through the gears, bringing the whole thing down with a resounding crash that shook the walls. Not that he would know, considering he was hovering in midair, but he could see some of the vibrations in the glass of the observatory.
No sooner had he taken care of the pendulum were there gigantic cylinders erupting from the floor and the ceiling, punching down like a very messed version of a video game. Tony pressed himself against the wall as one whooshed by his nose. It retracted a moment later to disappear into the floor and he used the opportunity to zoom over to the corner, nearly crashing into the wall as he miscalculated a tad on the amount of power he should use.
He managed to flip around and brake, only lightly bumping against the corner with his back.
Okay, so options… It wasn’t feasible to use the telekinetic version of a repulsor blast on this, so he would have to aim for the gears. How would he design something like this, though?
If he kept it simple it would probably match whatever the specs were in the Danger Room.
Just as Tony was drawing up specs for his own (very simplistic) version of these chomping cylinders, he heard the hum rise to another fever pitch. His eyes darted around, and he let out a low curse when he saw numerous holograms of fighter jets zoom his way. And there were what appeared to be random lightning bolts streaking through the air.
Tony pushed off the wall, using the boost to angle himself below one of the fighter jets. He twisted halfway, let off a mental repulsor ray (he’d have to think of a new name for this), and turned back around before the attack made contact.
The computer program running this room might have been controlled by Charles, but it still used basic math to coordinate its attacks. From the glimpse he’d gotten in the corner, Tony was already halfway to figuring out the pattern. The rest of his brain was putting the finishing touches to his simple (ridiculously simple!) design for the cylinders of death.
Now that he had a basic idea of what the machinery looked like and where it was located, he could focus on disabling it. Like with the robots before, he would just have to mentally focus on the gears powering it and push them out of alignment or combust the whole thing altogether. He was good at exploding things. Just ask Dummy (or the sink in his workshop or the plumbing in the mansion).
Twisting slightly so that a bolt of lightning lanced past his torso, Tony exhaled slowly as he focused on the gears chugging away. This had better work.
Both his hands clenched into fists and his eyes squeezed shut as he mentally ripped through the machinery he’d designed for the cylinders, focusing first on the floor and then on the ceiling. He ducked under a fighter jet, the algorithms running in the back of his head alerting him to the timing. There was a sharp pulse of pain in his right temple, distracting him for one critical moment.
Then he opened his eyes, found himself about to crash headlong into the glass of the observatory (that blasted pulse of pain had thrown his room measurements off), and flipped around to hover right in front of it. That left him in perfect view of the room and in position to admire his handiwork.
The cylinders had all grinded to a halt, leaving the room in a twisted mockery of some sort of metal jungle…if the trees were round and thick and looked like stalagmites and stalactites.
A fighter jet was heading straight for his face (and that was not in the math, damn you, Charles) and Tony threw a hand up, releasing a mental ray (no, that name sucked, not going with that) to annihilate it. No sooner had the force (the Force? Would it be a ripoff of Lucas’s work? Probably…eh, who cared?) left his hand did a sudden splitting pain pierce his temples, making spots erupt in his eyes.
Inhaling raggedly, he slapped a hand to his head, bending forward in pain. And, oh, he was falling (a lightning bolt lanced through the air in the spot where his head had been a split-second ago). That wasn’t good, not at this height, he’d break something—
“Two percent,” he bit out, and the migraine spiked as his power worked through his feet, slowing him down. But he didn’t have anything stabilizing him, meaning he flipped over and was now hurtling headfirst to the ground.
Ten feet before impact meant he still had time and Tony swung his legs over, straightening out as he pushed the pain of his migraine back to focus on hovering and not breaking a limb (like his neck). He had enough presence of mind left to acknowledge the algorithms that were still running through the back of his head that stated a bolt of lightning would be going through this very spot in about three seconds.
Eyes watering with the pain pounding through his head, it was all Tony could do to focus on the lightning cutting through the air toward him (couldn’t the good professor tell his head was killing him?) and flick his fingers upward to divert it. The redirection of his attention meant that he was again freefalling toward the floor.
He pushed out enough force to jerk his fall to a stop for a brief moment before his migraine kicked it up another notch and he was no longer able to do much else with his telekinesis. The good thing was that he was by now only a couple feet in the air and he didn’t break anything. The impact jarred his entire skeleton unpleasantly, and he toppled over onto his stomach, both hands clenching in his hair now in a futile attempt to stop his head from feeling like it was going to burst.
He couldn’t even muster up enough strength to tell Charles to cut the power, and that annoying humming was aggravating his migraine even more. Reaching out to where the sound was strongest, Tony mentally squashed it.
Silence fell. He hadn’t had any idea how ingrained the humming was into the whole room until it wasn’t there anymore.
There was a faint electrical sizzle from somewhere, but Tony couldn’t be bothered with it. He was too busy curling up into a ball, trying to prevent his stomach from regurgitating its nonexistent contents onto the Danger Room’s oh-so-shiny floor.
Then there were voices ringing through his head and that was even worse.
Steve sounded alarmed. “Tony? Tony?” Hands were running over his body and while Tony would usually be more than fine with that, this really wasn’t a good time. “Tony, what’s wrong?”
Steve was trying to roll him over onto his back, but Tony resisted, pressing his forehead into the warm cloth of Steve’s jeans. Then he remembered that Steve had asked a question. “Migraine,” he managed to say, fingers flexing in his hair as his voice vibrated painfully through his skull. “Aaargh.” Groaning made it even worse so he bit down on his lip, doing his best not to make another sound.
“Migraine?” Steve asked. His hand was cupping the back of Tony’s head, gently massaging the nape.
Charles Xavier’s voice was mercifully quiet as he answered Steve. “It happens when mutants with mental abilities overextend themselves. Rest and quiet is usually the way to deal with it.”
Rest and quiet sounded great to Tony. He’d done much the same in MIT, and if he hadn’t been a self-destructive idiot here it wouldn’t have happened. The time with HYDRA didn’t really count, since he’d passed out before the full-blown migraine could make itself known.
“I’m going to pick you up, okay?” Steve said quietly.
Tony didn’t answer, but apparently his silence was enough of an answer for Steve, who gently lifted him up off the floor without jostling him too much. Regardless, the movement was disconcerting enough that to distract himself from his roiling stomach Tony found himself running a review on the video JARVIS had shown him about his fiddling with the Asgardian porn TV.
Steve had said that if he was really self-destructive, then he wouldn’t be here because obviously a genius would be able to actually self-destruct. But like Bruce had pointed out, humans did have that primal instinct that called for survival, and Tony Stark was no exception to that rule, even if he was a genius capable of ignoring most of his body’s needs.
So Tony was self-destructive. But he’d been toning that down in recent weeks, especially since he’d gotten together with Steve. Yet old habits were hard to break, and that included him ignoring his body’s warning signals when something much more fascinating had his attention. (And flying without a suit? Definitely fascinating.) So Tony could be forgiven for ignoring the impending signs of a migraine that came when he overused his telekinesis.
Though to be fair, he had been practicing using his ability, making sure that a migraine wouldn’t happen again like with HYDRA. Then again, flying, using the mental beams of doom (now that was too dramatic), and all that stuff before with the robots had probably been asking a bit much of his still rather underdeveloped telekinesis muscle.
Steve had at this point rejoined with the other Avengers, as Tony could hear Thor asking, “What is wrong with Anthony?”
Steve, bless his heart, kept his voice low. “Migraine. He overextended himself.”
“Is that why he hit the floor?” That was Clint.
Their voices drifted away as Steve kept moving. It was only a short time later that he lay Tony down on a soft cushiony surface.
“Hey,” he said quietly. It took Tony a moment to realize he was talking to someone else in the room. “Could you get some aspirin or something? Tony has a migraine.”
Aspirin, Advil, or Tylenol… Tony really wasn’t picky as to his drug of choice. He should have thought of that before, but it honestly passed his mind considering the fact that his stomach was trying to expel its nonexistent contents. Then there was the fact that talking hurt his head and he was totally in favor of doing things that wouldn’t hurt him.
Judging from the footsteps, the others were entering the room now.
“Why didn’t you turn the stimulation off?” Bruce sounded slightly upset. “He was having issues before that already.”
“I was unsure as to the full extent of his pain,” Charles admitted.
“It’s a migraine.” Bruce’s voice was disbelieving. “Even given Tony’s unique thinking processes, a migraine should be pretty damn distinguishable.”
“I apologize.” There was a faint whirring (and humming – oh God, that humming) as Charles maneuvered his wheelchair.
“Here you go, Captain,” an unfamiliar feminine voice spoke over Tony’s head. “I know from personal experience it won’t help much, but it should alleviate the worst of the pain.”
If Tony had to bet, Steve was going to hand feed him the pills, and he did have some self-respect. Screw the pain. “You can give me the pills,” Tony croaked, cracking an eye open to see Steve’s worried face right by his own.
Tony would have knocked the Advil (it was kind of sad he could recognize the pills simply by holding them) back dry if need be, but Steve put a straw to his lips that was connected to some blessedly cool water. Unfortunately, it attempted to make another appearance once hitting his stomach, but some controlled breathing took care of the nausea.
“Can you do something, Professor?” Steve asked, carding a hand through Tony’s hair. The movement was soothing and helped to take Tony’s mind off the fact that his head felt like someone was hammering down whole buildings without thought as to where they’d fall.
There was a short pause before the obnoxious annoying humming of Charles’s wheelchair moved over to where Tony’s head was positioned on the couch. “I can isolate the migraine, but he will still need to avoid using his power.”
“Will do so,” Tony said before anyone could answer in his stead (ooh, Advil was magic; he could already talk without his head splitting open in pain). He managed to open his eyes, squinting in the too bright light of the living room. Even with the lights apparently off it wasn’t much good, especially with a bright arc reactor installed in his chest and only partially obscured by his black shirt. “Though if you can do something, Professor, now would be appreciated.”
“One moment.” Cool fingers rested against his temples and Tony closed his eyes to exhale slowly as the pain seemed to leech away, fading to being simply a sore spot in the corner of his mind that he could easily ignore.
Tony groaned in relief, causing Steve to tighten the grip he had on Tony’s hand. “Oh, thank God.”
“Better?” Charles sounded slightly amused, retracting his fingers from Tony’s head.
“Much.” Tony pushed himself up into a sitting position, watching as Steve stood up from his crouch by the couch to hover anxiously over him. “Sit down, Steve.”
“You are feeling better?” Steve asked anxiously.
“Oodles,” Tony said, giving a small grin. “My fault for ignoring the early warning signs, but I was a bit occupied by the flying.”
He eyed the rest of the occupants in the room. Ororo stood next to Charles, but there was another female as well, one with short red hair. She was probably the one who gave Steve the Advil.
“I’m Jean Grey, Mr. Stark,” the woman said, smiling.
“Tony,” Tony said. “Mr. Stark was my dad.”
“You can call me Jean,” she responded.
“Jean has the same ability you do,” Charles explained, “but she is also telepathic.”
“Cool. Is that why you asked about me being telepathic?”
“Not exactly,” Charles said with a smile that made Tony think he knew exactly what was going on in everybody’s minds. Did he know what he was thinking at the moment?
“I see what you mean, Professor,” Jean said, looking away from Tony and down to Charles. “It’s incredibly difficult to get a clear read on him.”
“Stay out of my head,” Tony ordered, though he knew it was a foolish endeavor at best.
“What’s he thinking at the moment?” Clint asked eagerly.
Jean looked back at Tony. “Muffins, a wheelchair, the professor, and something else that involves breaking the rules of physics.”
“I fail to see how any of that goes together,” Clint announced, giving her a skeptical look.
“No lap dances are involved,” Tony promised, earning a thoroughly unimpressed glance from the archer.
“What laws of physics are you considering breaking?” Bruce inquired, leaning over the back of the couch into Tony’s peripheral vision. “Inquiring minds would like to know before something blows up.”
Tony had to think for a moment, since Jean had pointed something out that wasn’t actively taking up his attention. Rummaging around in the back of his head didn’t do much good, so he figured that it would probably pop up at a different time for him to take care of. Most upgrades to the suit, other Avengers’ gear, or SI tech usually occurred that way. “I’m not sure,” he said honestly, coming up empty. Maybe it involved the TV hooked on Asgardian porn, since Thor and Asgard usually violated the laws of physics.
“Bruce is a genius, too,” Clint pointed out. “How come he doesn’t think like you do all the time?”
“Have you seen the difference in our work spaces?” Bruce asked. The question was rhetorical as he continued. “I’m organized and he isn’t. Our thought processes are the same.”
“I was diagnosed with ADD once,” Tony offered offhandedly. “But then I’ve also been diagnosed as a sociopath so it’s all bull anyway.”
“Who diagnosed you as a sociopath?” Steve’s voice was quiet and seemed to bode trouble.
“Some shrink Dad made me go to,” Tony said, shrugging. “The guy was a hack so don’t worry about it. Look, the point is, everyone thinks differently. Pepper could tell you I’m hyperactive, easily distracted, and work on too many things at the same time. Ergo, my thoughts follow the same process. But that’s not why we’re here.”
Good Lord (or Thor depending on how one looked at it), he’d never dreamed that he’d be the one to yank a conversation back onto the original rails. “So what’s the consensus?” He raised an eyebrow. “Am I good to go or what?”
Charles readjusted to the change of topic with excellent aplomb. “Considering how long you were unable to use your ability, you show remarkable ease with it,” he said. “I foresee no problems in the field.”
“That said, training you will not take as long as foreseen.”
“Whoa, whoa. Training me? Who said anything about training? I thought it was just testing!”
“We need you at your full potential, Stark, not half-assing it,” Fury snapped.
“I don’t half-ass anything,” Tony said, insulted. “And I’m not sure where you got that impression either.”
“Regardless, we need you knowing what you can do in the field,” Fury stated firmly.
“I know what I’m doing,” Tony protested.
“The way you were saying ‘one percent’ and ‘thrusters’ begs to differ,” Clint pointed out.
Tony narrowed his eyes. “So I like to experiment. Sue me. I was trying to make sure I wouldn’t crash into the walls.”
“That was the first time you’ve flown?” Charles asked, breaking into the brewing snipe fest.
Tony’s thoughts derailed from their current target to refocus on Charles. “Outside the suit, yes.”
“Remarkable.” Charles pressed his fingers together.
“What’s so unusual about it?” Clint asked. “It’s just flying.”
“Most mutants take years to grow comfortable with their abilities,” Charles said. “For someone who was incapable of doing so for the longest time and is now on the level of someone training consistently for years, it is quite remarkable.”
“At risk of sounding conceited, I’m a genius,” Tony pointed out.
“That sounded conceited,” Clint said.
“I had four years at MIT and then the last few weeks to get used to this.” Tony waved in the direction of his head but didn’t do anything, mindful of the migraine Charles had taken care of. “Multiply that with a high learning curve and what do you get?”
“You’re a whiz kid,” Fury said, “we get it. But you’re not getting out of this.”
“Fine.” Tony leaned forward, lifting his eyebrows meaningfully. “I’d have to be an idiot to pass up the opportunity to work with the X-Men, and I know I have some areas I have to work on. How is this going to work?”
A big bag was dumped on the carpet in front of him, making him jump. He looked back, seeing Natasha give him a sly half-smile. On his side Steve was looking rather sheepish.
Needless to say, it didn’t take a genius to put two and two together. Tony’s eyes widened. “Oh no, no, no. I am not staying here! No offense to you, Professor, but I have things to do, and this mansion is not equipped for that.”
“I packed up some of your equipment,” Bruce informed him, leaning over the back of the couch to place another bag next to Tony.
“Banner—” Fury started.
“Trust me,” Bruce said, “you don’t want him bored. If you don’t want me bored, you definitely don’t want him bored.”
“Perhaps for the best,” Charles said, evidently picking up whatever Bruce was thinking of. He turned his attention to Tony. “It will take roughly two months, maybe less, depending on what you wish to cover and how quickly you learn. Judging from your aptitude in the Danger Room, it shouldn’t take very long.”
Tony glanced askance at Steve. “You’re leaving me here all on my lonesome?”
“We’ll come visit,” Steve said, smiling rather guiltily.
“Fonduuuue,” Clint drawled, eyebrows waggling.
Tony momentarily debated whether he should risk using his telekinesis to dump a vase of flowers over Clint’s head, but was saved from this decision by Natasha whacking him on the head. Then again, Steve was blushing rather fiercely, so perhaps he should thank the idiot.
Charles, bless his heart, didn’t blink even though he probably got a head full of whatever Clint was thinking regarding Steve’s misunderstanding of the word “fondue”. He moved his chair over to Ororo, murmuring something to her. She nodded and left the room, though that was only incidental to Tony, who had reached his limit with that outdated piece of crap.
“Can I build you a new wheelchair?” Tony blurted.
“Excuse me?” Charles seemed taken aback, even though he really shouldn’t have been considering the whole mind reading thing (plus, Jean had totally pointed it out earlier).
“Say no,” Clint advised.
“It’s an outdated piece of crap—”
“Tony,” Steve sighed.
“—and it makes me want to cry even looking at it. And I don’t cry, so that should tell you how bad it is. Please say yes?”
“I don’t require a new one,” Charles said gently.
“Then consider it payment for my room and board,” Tony shot back. “Just…I cannot have you go around in that outdated piece of technology. It should be donated to a museum.”
“It’s two years old,” Jean said, amused.
“Exactly.” Tony snapped his fingers. “I could design better in my sleep. In fact, I have designed better in my sleep.”
“The flower pot?” Clint asked pointedly.
“Jane greatly admires it,” Thor said.
“You gave a singing flower pot to your girlfriend?” Bruce sounded torn between disbelieving and horrified. “Even though no one knows what happened to it?”
“Tony knows,” Steve said.
“No, I don’t.” Tony shrugged as all the Avengers eyed him in horror (Thor didn’t seem to have any emotion regarding that statement). “I was going to look at it, but then it disappeared.”
“Need to know,” Fury cut in firmly before the conversation could get even crazier. “I don’t want to know what goes on, and I don’t think the professor or his associates need to know either.”
“Wheelchair,” Tony said promptly, his brain never having gone off that topic.
“Professor, it might be a good idea to have a new one,” Jean suggested. “An advanced one would be useful in certain situations. Within limits,” she added, seeming to remember she was dealing with Tony Stark here.
“Okay, great!” Tony scanned the wheelchair one more time, plans racing through his head. “How do you feel about repulsors? Obviously not destructive – we don’t want to burn the carpet or blow anything up—”
Clint gave a cough that sounded suspiciously like “Yeah, right.”
“—screw you, Barton – but modifications shouldn’t take very long. Do you want something automatic or something you can control?”
“I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?” Fury sighed, folding his arms across his chest.
Tony beamed at him. “Nope!”
“You’re all doomed,” Clint informed an amused Charles and Jean.
It was only about an hour later that Tony was left to his own devices with the X-Men. Before they left, though, Steve drew Tony aside to talk with him in private in what appeared to be a private study.
“If I didn’t know better,” Tony said once they were alone, “I’d say you wanted to get rid of me.”
His lighthearted statement drew a rather violent reaction from Steve, who paled and clutched at his hands. “That’s not it,” he said hurriedly. “That’s not the reason, Tony.”
“I know,” Tony said quickly, pulling his hand out of Steve’s grip in favor of covering the other’s in reassurance. “It was a joke, and a bad one. A little warning would’ve been nice, though.”
Steve sighed slowly, looking relieved and guilty. “I’m sorry about that. But something told me that if I let you know that you’d find some way of getting out of it.”
“Probably true,” Tony acknowledged. “You’re just lucky Bruce thought to bring my stuff. Was I the only one in the dark about this? When was this planned?”
“Fury decided it when he told me about the appointment,” Steve said. “I packed your clothes. It was Bruce who told me that you need something to do or things were liable to go badly.”
“It was Fury’s decision?” Tony couldn’t really say he was surprised. “Do you think I need this?”
“I don’t think you need this. I do think it’s a good idea. You’re brilliant, Tony, but everyone needs help.”
“I’m not arguing about that.” Tony eyed the shut door over Steve’s shoulder, half-convinced Fury knew they were talking about him. “I would’ve made it on my own eventually, but getting help from a professional is something professionals do.” He smiled wryly. “I’m just curious about who decided it, considering the timing and all.”
There was a vaguely panicked look in Steve’s eyes. “I love you. You know that, right? If it’d been up to me, I would’ve waited for this. But Fury told me it was planned this way.”
“I’m not doubting it,” Tony reassured Steve quickly. Maybe once he would have doubted whether Steve knew what he was doing when he claimed he loved Tony, but he knew for sure now that it was genuine. He had virtually no doubt now about the emotion. But apparently he hadn’t gotten that belief across to Steve, who seemed to think Tony was still waffling about whether to believe Steve’s love (he was waffling about whether he was dreaming or not, but doubt Steve’s love he didn’t…for the most part. He had no illusions about his ability to bullshit even to himself, which meant that it was possible he was deluding himself into believing he was 100% secure in this). “I love you, too. I believe that, all right? I have a crude taste in jokes, and I should have known you’d take it the wrong way. You’re the only person who has the override codes to my suit, so you better believe that means something important.”
Steve relaxed, leaning forward to rest his forehead against Tony’s. “I’ll come visit you,” he murmured.
“It won’t be for long,” Tony said lightly. “‘Sides, if you need something, let me know. I do have my suit.” The suitcase one at any rate, because Tony wasn’t an idiot.
“Okay? That’s all you have to say?”
Steve’s hand slipped up into Tony’s hair and he kissed him before anything else could be said. Liquid heat ran up Tony’s spine and he pressed closer, digging his own hands into Steve’s hair as he took control, deepening the kiss to a point where they’d be arrested for pubic indecency.
He’d just dragged an involuntary groan from Steve when Clint’s obnoxious voice broke in. “Hey, Steve? Fury wants us back in New York thirty minutes ago and if you’re not out in five, I’m sending Thor even if you’re doing the dirty in there.”
Steve pulled back, breathing raggedly and pupils blown. “Sorry,” he apologized, voice deep and wrecked (and damn if that didn’t make Tony want to keep him).
But although Tony had few problems with exhibitionism, he knew Steve did and he wasn’t going to risk making him feel uncomfortable (it’s called being responsible and in a relationship).
“It’s okay,” he responded, his own voice sounding rather wrecked. He was also rather aroused and told his body to calm down, otherwise he’d be walking around the mansion with a hard-on.
“I’ll see you soon,” Steve promised. Then, much to Tony’s disbelief, he kissed him on the forehead, breathing on the spot gently before pulling away completely.
Moments before Steve reached the door, Tony called to him, “Hey, Steve?”
Questioningly, Steve turned back, one hand on the doorknob.
Tony grinned, dragging his eyes slowly from Steve’s feet up to his face, lingering on the blush he could see creeping up his neck. “You owe me one,” he said, dropping his voice so there was no mistake as to what Steve owed him.
There was a noticeable hitch in Steve’s breathing, though he did smile at Tony. “I’ll pay you back.”
And then he left, leaving the door open for Tony. He didn’t follow immediately, instead leaning back to put his weight on the desk. He exhaled shakily, trying to get his body to calm down.
Through the pulse of arousal still humming through his body, Tony couldn’t help but curse Fury out for his horrible timing. He was Iron Man first and a mutant second, regardless of what his genes said. If Fury wasn’t comfortable with having an “untrained” (because Tony had trained himself, thank you very much) mutant on his team, he should just come out and say it.
It was after the Avengers departed that Tony found himself in the private study room (yes, the same one, and yes, it was kind of weird considering he’d been making out with Steve in here only moments before) with Charles, Jean, and Ororo.
“So what’s the plan?” Tony asked, leaning back in his seat. “How are we going to do this?”
“I have limited telekinetic abilities,” Charles said. “Jean will be helping you for the most part, but if there is something that she is incapable of explaining, I am available.”
“Sounds good. When can we start?”
“You still require rest”—oh right, the migraine, Tony had forgotten—“so we won’t begin until tomorrow depending on how you recover.” Charles was looking at Tony as if he knew full well that he was not the best judge of determining what was advisable and what was inadvisable.
“I’ll take your word for it,” Tony said. He could still remember being at MIT and suffering his first migraine because of overextending himself. He’d gotten right back into it the moment it had left (which was the next day), albeit a bit slower because he wasn’t a masochist.
“In the meantime, however,” Charles continued, “I would like to go over your time in the Danger Room. Specifically, what occurred at the end. I did not wish to bring it up in the presence of the director for several reasons, the primary one being your discomfort with him.”
Nice of him, especially since it must have been hard to pick that up considering the other things running through his head. Tony wasn’t scared of Fury, but he was discomfited by him. A super spy who stuck his nose in everywhere, including where it shouldn’t be? While it gave Tony great intel when JARVIS hacked into the S.H.I.E.L.D. mainframe, it also meant he had to be careful regarding his own stuff. That meant he tried to keep things as close to the vest as possible.
But back to the point: Tony couldn’t really remember much of what had happened at that point considering his killer migraine at the time. “What happened?”
“Put simply, you turned it off.”
Tony blinked, turning that phrase over in his mind. “In more complicated terms, I fried the motherboard?”
Charles lips quirked into a smile. “Essentially, yes.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. I’m telekinetic, not technopathic. I would’ve noticed if I had a deeper connection to electronics. I work with them every day.”
“Abilities evolve,” Ororo said. “I manipulate the weather. Where once I might have only been able to do the obvious, now I can manipulate certain aspects even indoors, such as mist and lightning. It comes with practice.”
“So it’s a case of practice makes perfect.” It wasn’t a question. “But from what I understand, telekinesis doesn’t equate to messing with computers.”
“Telekinesis is essentially extending one’s mind out to the surroundings and manipulating them,” Jean explained, eyes landing on a pen. It floated in the air. “It requires being able to tune into your surroundings. The better practiced you are, the more capable you are at doing more things.” A stack papers lifted into the air, shuffling themselves while the pen continued floating.
Tony’s eyes lost focus as he stared past the pen and into the desk. “I hear humming,” he murmured. It was another moment of listening before he blinked, shaking himself out of it. “I heard it back in the room and it told me whenever some robots or holograms were about to attack. I hear it now.” He nodded towards Charles, indicating the wheelchair.
“Humming,” Charles repeated thoughtfully.
“Humming,” Tony confirmed, feeling a bit like a parrot. “More like a really loud computer than the musical kind.”
“You said you work with electronics.”
“You name it and I’ve probably worked with it.” Tony figured it wouldn’t hurt to give some more background information on how he’d gotten round to learning the ins and outs of his telekinesis. It would probably help them better understand his learning process anyway; he wasn’t going to stand for that hand holding crap. “I started using my telekinesis when I was at MIT, practicing and all that. I really just built stuff using it once I got better. Computers, generators, and the like,” he added in case it wasn’t clear.
He’d last been building something when Howard had walked in on him, but that wasn’t something he should think about. Howard was in his past. He was dead and gone and no longer had an influence on Tony’s life (except for his company and the numerous other issues he’d left Tony saddled with, but his influence on Tony using his telekinesis was gone).
“You’ve developed an affinity for electronics,” Charles noted. “It isn’t quite an ability to manipulate technology, but close enough as you are easily able to link into anything related.”
Put that together with what Jean had told him a few minutes ago, it made heaps of sense. “So why haven’t I heard this before? I do my fighting in a technological suit of armor. It should’ve come up.”
“You weren’t using it before,” Charles pointed out. “You are actively using it now, and today was the first time you’ve used it in a battle situation. Unless I am mistaken?”
“You aren’t,” Tony said. “For the most part. There was this one incident with a couple of missiles, which is kind of why I’d like to work on multitasking”—both Jean and Charles raised eyebrows at this—“but today’s the first time I’ve only used telekinesis with no suit to back me up.”
“And you just learned to fly in the room?” Ororo sounded rather disbelieving.
“High learning curve.” Tony shrugged. It’d taken the same amount of time for him to get used to flying in the Mark II, and this time he had the added benefit of actually knowing how to fly, even if it was with the help of a suit. “I learned thermonuclear physics overnight, so it’s definitely probable. And considering I just did it, it’s doable.”
Charles inspected him for a few moments, fingers pressed together. “Perhaps it will take less time than initially planned.”
Tony couldn’t help the grin that crossed his face. “You’re talking my language now. I know we can’t start ‘til tomorrow, but I’d like to go over what I want to cover. I’m sure there’s stuff I haven’t thought of that you guys will think of, but let me just put it on the table.”
“I’ll review your tapes,” Jean said, nodding slightly. “I wasn’t actually there for the stimulation, but I’ll see what your capabilities are.”
“Sounds good,” Tony agreed easily. “So first, I was really interested in hardcore multitasking. I usually multitask anyway, but this gig is still kind of new to me so I’m not all that great at it. Then I was thinking about…”
The next morning found Tony glaring blearily at the outdated piece of crap coffee maker. It was nine in the morning and he’d had an absolutely horrible night. He knew from experience that sleep was needed to recover from the whammy of a migraine he’d had yesterday, but he hadn’t anticipated not being able to sleep.
It wasn’t a matter of being too busy mentally or physically. It was simply an inability to sleep because he’d gotten so used to Steve being there.
It was pathetic considering that they hadn’t even slept together in a bed all that often for him to get used to it so quickly. His only consolation was that Steve might be just as miserable, though knowing the bastard he’d probably slept like a baby.
To compound his misery, he hadn’t even been able to get into his tech. Bruce (or Steve – he wasn’t sure who but was placing his money on Bruce considering Steve was still pathologically technologically inept) had gotten JARVIS to put a lock on every single gadget his friend (ex-friend, the traitor) had packed. Apparently they hadn’t thought he would get to sleep the previous night if the temptation was there. And he hadn’t, but for a completely different reason (damn it, Steve!).
“Work,” he muttered, poking at it. If it didn’t cough up the caffeine in the next ten seconds he was going to attack it with a screwdriver (or knife, given that there weren’t any screwdrivers around), damn the consequences. It hummed lightly in the back of his brain, which he ignored as he didn’t want to actually explode the thing.
“It takes its time, bub,” a gruff voice broke into his pre-caffeine daze.
Tony didn’t bother to grace the newcomer with a response as the coffee maker suddenly decided that it was finished. It might have read Tony’s murderous thoughts in his glare, but it was actually insentient for a change so it was probably just his mind imagining things. He poured a steaming cup and practically inhaled it despite the scorching he was giving his tongue.
With his first dose of coffee over with and his second cooling, Tony turned to see who had spoken to him. He had to take in the sight twice, as the scruffy looking man (the guy had sideburns) at the table had a beer in hand. And it was nine in the morning. Even Tony had never taken to alcohol so early in the day.
“I didn’t see you yesterday,” Tony said, taking a more leisurely sip of his coffee. To be fair, Tony had only met Charles, Jean, and Ororo the day before.
“Came in this morning.” The guy chugged down a healthy dose of his beer. “Ain’t seen you around.”
“It’s temporary,” Tony explained, snagging an apple from the fruit bowl on the table before taking a seat. “I’m Tony.”
The other didn’t offer his name immediately, instead running an appraising eye over Tony’s figure. Seeming to reach some sort of conclusion that Tony wasn’t privy to, he finally responded, “Logan. You Stark?”
Tony found it slightly refreshing that someone didn’t know who he was right off the bat. It was slightly weird, but it was nice to meet someone who didn’t automatically know him. Of course, Logan could be pretending but he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do that.
“Yeah,” he confirmed, digging a nail into the green skin of his apple. He didn’t think Steve would call this eating, but what the hell. He’d eat a little later. “Not that I don’t appreciate good alcohol when I see it, but isn’t it a bit early?”
“Look who’s talking.” Logan raised a skeptical eyebrow. “From what I’ve heard, you drink a shit ton.”
“I’m cutting down.” Tony gave the apple one more look, considered Steve, and took a bite. Okay, so he probably should have taken a knife and cut it. Eating apples whole wasn’t really his style.
He gave a glance over at where the knives were stashed and called one over, feeling not even a twinge as he used his ability. So maybe he hadn’t gotten a good night’s sleep, but the migraine was still taken care of.
“So what do you do?” he asked, cutting the apple into pieces that floated above the tabletop.
There was a snick from across the table. He looked up to see three gleaming blades poke out from between Logan’s knuckles. The familiar sheen of the metal made his eyes widen and he quit cutting the apple in favor of leaning forward to get a better look at this treasure. The apple and knife began floating around him as well along with all the apple pieces.
“Is that adamantium?” Tony demanded, eyes narrowed as he scanned every inch of the blades. “Do you generate that in your body?”
Logan scoffed, sheathing the blades with another snick. The holes in his skin began healing over within seconds before Tony’s very eyes. “No.”
“Then?” Tony glanced from the beer can on the table to the unblemished skin on Logan’s hand. If it wasn’t natural, then it would’ve had to be implemented into Logan’s skeletal structure. But adamantium was a metal, meaning metal poisoning for anyone normal. So that meant… “Extra fast regenerative abilities?” he blurted, mind racing. “It’d take care of the metal poisoning from something fused to your skeleton. And your liver. That can’t have been fun, though.”
Logan’s dark eyes flicked over Tony’s face, seeing nothing there that spelled any judgment. “You’ve got a shiny bulb in your chest,” he pointed out. “You can’t talk.”
“I’m just saying you’ve got guts,” Tony said, thinking back to all the files S.H.I.E.L.D. had on mutants. This wasn’t in any of them, but some things were buried a bit too deep. There were a ton of programs that had dealt with mutants over the years, and the experiment that had resulted in Logan’s altered skeleton could have been any one of them. “Mine was an accident.”
Logan grunted but didn’t say anything else, seeming to think the conversation was over. Tony let it lie, knowing the signs of someone not wanting to talk about the past. He had his own ghosts that he would never want to tell anyone about.
“Morn…am I missing something here?”
Tony looked up, seeing a teenage girl with brown hair stare at the floating apples around him in confusion. He realized he’d forgotten all about it and snagged a bowl from the cupboard, opening and closing the door as he did. The apple slices all fell into it, the rest of the apple and the knife following, and he pulled the bowl out of the air to place it on the table.
The girl’s gaze moved from the bowl of apples to Tony’s face and widened in recognition. “Oh my God!” Her voice was rather high-pitched in excitement. “Tony Stark!”
Tony smiled warily, not entirely used to this aspect of his fame. He was plenty used to the other side of it, with people wanting to get into his bed or into his private life, but he was not particularly used to star struck teenage girls. That might have had something to do with Pepper always diverting them, under the impression that Tony might somehow corrupt them or do something else that would result in a lawsuit. (And while Tony might be crass, he wasn’t so crass as to hit on teenage girls that were half his age. He wasn’t a pedophile or a creep.)
She seemed to realize what she was doing as her eyes skimmed over a smirking Logan. A light blush suffused her cheeks. “Sorry!” she squeaked. A quick clearing of her throat later and she sounded much more coherent. “Mr. Stark, it’s an honor to meet you. I’m Kitty Pryde.” She smiled hesitantly at him.
Tony smiled back at her, making sure that it wasn’t as plastic as his usual media smile. “The pleasure’s mine. Someone told me that you’re looking for a major in computer science, so you can call me Tony. Anyone who’s interested in that field should get along just fine with me.”
Kitty blushed again. “It’s an interest,” she admitted, shuffling nervously. “You can call me Kitty,” she added shyly.
“She’s been going on about you since Xavier said you’d be coming,” Logan said, catching Tony’s attention.
“Logan!” Kitty sounded horrified.
“No, it’s all right.” Tony shrugged, popping an apple slice into his mouth. “I’m flattered. Normally the reception’s not half as nice.”
Logan snorted. “I find that difficult to believe. Floating food all over the place….”
“You caught me before my third cup of coffee,” Tony sniped, flicking the apple core in Logan’s direction. It was sliced in two with a blade that was drawn faster than Tony could blink and flew past Logan to smack into the wall. Tony sighed at the sight. “So I could still work on speed.”
Kitty had edged around the table to the fridge, pulling down a box of cereal from the top. A jug of milk followed from the actual fridge itself.
“I’m not picking that up,” Logan informed Tony.
Tony scanned Logan’s rough-and-tumble appearance with a critical eye. “I gathered.” He picked them up and dropped them into the garbage under the sink. No, he hadn’t used the garbage yet, but it was under the sink in his mansion, so it stood to reason that it was the same here.
“How long are you here for?” Kitty asked, sounding rather breathless.
“The professor thinks it should be about a month and a half,” Tony said, finishing the last of his coffee and pulling over the machine for the last remnants of the batch he’d made. “Maybe less depending on how it goes.”
“I thought it’d be longer,” Kitty said, sitting down at the table. She was sitting closer to Logan than to Tony, but he didn’t take it personally. “Sorry,” she added hastily.
Tony shrugged, popping another slice of apple in his mouth. He swallowed before saying, “He thought it’d take about two months, but scaled it down. And if you keep apologizing for everything you say, we’re not going to get very far. I don’t bite.”
There was suddenly a smell of something burning in the room and a flash of light by the fridge. A lanky dark-haired teenage boy stood there, yawning rather distractedly as he opened the door.
“Kurt!” Kitty hissed, fanning the air by her nose to get rid of the scent. She grimaced in disgust, muttering, “Urgh…brimstone.”
A German-accented voice responded, “What?” Kurt turned around to blink upon seeing Tony sitting there. “Oh, sorry!” He smiled rather nervously. “I did not see you there. You are Mr. Stark, yes?”
Tony sighed. “I should probably put a sign up somewhere saying ‘call me Tony’ because this is going to get old fast. Yes, I’m Mr. Stark. But if I hear you calling me that, you’ll be helping Dummy faster than you can say Iron Man.”
“Dummy?” Kitty asked tentatively.
“My helper bot,” Tony said, grinning slightly as Kurt paled slightly. “You teleport, right?”
“Yes.” Kurt’s eyes shifted from Tony to Kitty to Logan and then back again. “It is a pleasure to meet you,” he added before disappearing in another burst of that burnt smell, which was apparently brimstone.
“I’m sorry,” Kitty said to Tony, who was left looking at the spot where Kurt had been scant moments before. “He’s kind of shy.”
“That’s fine,” Tony said. “So I’ve already asked Logan, but what is it you do?”
“I phase through things,” Kitty said, brushing a hand through her bowl. It took Tony a second’s thought to realize that it had indeed been through the bowl and not over it.
“That,” he proclaimed, grinning, “is seriously amazing. Is it just you or can you turn other things intangible as well?”
“Both,” Kitty said, flushing lightly under the exclamation.
“I wonder about the applications of that,” Tony muttered, mind running through the possibilities.
“It doesn’t work for everything,” Kitty said, shifting in her chair. “Some metals are a bit too dense for me to phase through comfortably.”
Tony blinked, pushing that back to the back of his mind. “Still, the possibilities are endless. It should be pretty amazing in a couple of years.”
Blushing again (that was seriously making him miss Steve), Kitty ducked her head to concentrate on her breakfast. “Thanks,” she said quietly.
“Logan,” Jean said, coming into the kitchen, “have you seen Tony – ah, you’re here.”
Tony gave a noncommittal noise as he focused on his very lukewarm coffee (that was leaning more towards cold by now) as Logan said, “Couldn’t you sense him?”
“His mind is a bit difficult to focus on,” Jean said, eyeing the empty beer can before Logan. “Good morning, Kitty. Make sure you’re not late for school.”
“How does that work exactly?” Tony asked, downing the last of his coffee with a faint grimace. “Am I like a fuzzy radio? Or is it like listening to too many conversations at one time?”
Jean considered that for a moment. “It makes one dizzy,” she said finally.
“Dizzy as in ‘about to puke my guts dizzy’ or dizzy as in ‘I don’t know what to look at dizzy’?”
“The latter,” Jean answered, clasping the backrest of the chair next to Tony to lean forward on it.
“Are you saying you can’t read his mind?” Logan demanded. “I thought there was no way to shield your mind from a mind reader.”
“It isn’t shielded,” Jean contradicted.
“I just think too fast for her to catch up.”
“I can keep up with speed in terms of thoughts,” Jean disagreed. “It’s more that it’s too much.” She looked at Tony for a moment before shaking her head slightly. “I will not look into that mess at the moment.”
Was she calling his mind a mess? Eh…true enough. It wasn’t like Tony could help it, though. He was no Bruce, who was capable of keeping his thoughts on one path. That showed in his workshop, which had half-completed projects lying all over the place, compared to Bruce’s, which was pristine. He also had different projects lying all over the place, but he tended to focus on one at the time instead of a dozen.
“What’s wrong?” Kitty sounded rather confused.
“Your loss.” Tony finished the last of his apple, shuffling back the current thoughts he had on Logan’s and Kitty’s abilities in favor of focusing on Charles’s wheelchair.
“You said you wanted to work on multitasking,” Jean said, catching Tony’s attention again. “Are you ready to start?”
“He was floating apples all over the place,” Logan grumbled.
“I didn’t have a bowl,” Tony said in answer.
Jean wisely chose to ignore Logan’s comment. “Do you know how to juggle?”
Kitty used the opportunity to snag the coffee machine from Tony.
The rest of the day passed rather peacefully for Tony as he “juggled” a variety of things Jean told him to focus on. This essentially meant he was accompanied by floating things that he rotated around him, randomly switching up the pattern, rate of speed, and whether the items turned in midair or not. Although he had to focus on the job at first, it didn’t take him long before he got the hang of it and he was tapping away on his tablet, curled up on a couch in the living room.
The sight drew many curious stares from the various occupants of the mansion, but most stayed away as Tony didn’t look up from the holograms projecting from his tablet. It wasn’t his workshop, but Bruce had been thoughtful enough to pack the prototype tablet that projected holograms to work with.
It still had kinks to work out, and Tony was already planning changes in the code even as he worked on refining Natasha’s Black Widow bracelets from the last time he had been fiddling with them. He’d yet to give them to her, but that was because of lack of opportunity rather than them not being finished.
In any case, Tony spent the day with the hum of the tablet in his hands (and the hum was in his head because of his newfound affinity rather than anything wrong with the tablet) and the constant juggling of the items around him. As he got a handle on the items already in the air, he added more.
There was a small pause during lunch, when Ororo nudged him out of his work to bring him into the kitchen. Apparently Steve had talked with them about making him eat, which would make him rather upset if not for the fact that it showed he cared.
In the hours leading up to dinner, Tony found himself in the company of Logan, who alternated between drinking beers and staring at the multitude of objects flicking their way through the air around Tony (which consisted of lamps, dishes, pots, papers, staplers – namely anything Tony could get his hands on when he thought about it).
Jean had given up on giving Tony things to levitate after the fifth time he simply lifted something else up without looking to see what it was. That time it had been the flower pot in the room.
When Tony asked why Logan was with him, the other man had told him there wasn’t much to do other than amuse himself watching Tony generally be a one-man circus act.
By the time dinner rolled around, Tony was easily juggling the dozens of objects in the air while tweaking the math on the arc reactor powering the Stark tower in New York. Jean had taken a look at the mess of objects he was using for practice, sighed, and informed him that he would have to put everything back before he could eat. (And yes, he had to eat.)
Naturally, Tony took this opportunity to test himself to see how far his multitasking abilities had evolved. There was a slight pressure at his temples from the steady persistent use of his power, but it wouldn’t explode into a migraine if he stopped levitating the objects in a little bit.
It took three minutes for Tony to focus on each of the objects levitating and the original locations where they had come from. A few objects gave him a blank to draw from (like the umbrella – for the life of him he couldn’t remember where he’d snagged an umbrella from) but he was able to stash them somewhere in the mansion. He’d picked up a couple of calculators as well and hoped that no one needed them, since he didn’t know where he’d gotten them either.
That led him to now, the time after dinner (which had been rather filled with staring, talking, or ignoring depending on who it was) where he was sitting with Charles, Ororo, Jean, Logan, and another man who was apparently Jean’s boyfriend Scott Summers.
Now Scott… Tony didn’t know him well enough to judge his character, but from the little he could gather, Scott reminded him a bit of Steve before he’d started to loosen up. Which was great, except for the part that Tony really hadn’t gotten along with Steve at that point (or maybe he had, but Tony really wasn’t a good judge of that so he would refrain from over thinking the matter).
“How did today go?” Charles asked him.
“I designed the first prototype of your wheelchair,” Tony answered.
“He picked up the exercise I gave him quickly,” Jean filled in for him, already used to Tony’s scatterbrained tendencies.
“What happened to the duster you were floating around?” Logan inquired.
Tony frowned. “It’s back in the closet I got it from. Or maybe it’s in the living room in the corner. But that might be the umbrella…”
“He didn’t use the objects I gave him,” Jean explained, nodding towards the spongy ball on the desk.
“It was boring,” Tony said in lieu of an explanation. Because, really, what did they expect? “But a good starter, considering what happened yesterday.”
“I saw the tapes,” Scott said. “That’s pretty amazing. And you’ve only been actively practicing for a few weeks?”
“Four years and a few weeks,” Tony corrected.
“Four years?” Scott asked.
“You graduated when you were seventeen,” Scott said after a short pause.
“And I remember what I did back then.” Tony shrugged, leaning back in his chair. He rested a leg over the other, foot idly swinging back and forth. “It’s not rocket science, and I studied that.” He paused, contemplating his next request. “Could we work on speed? I tossed an apple core at Logan this morning and he sliced it in half, but I wasn’t able to catch it before it hit the wall.”
“You stopped bullets,” Scott pointed out.
“That’s with adrenaline.” Tony flicked his fingers dismissively. “Heat of the battle and all that. I need to be able to do that without thinking. It’d save me a lot of accidents in the workshop. You have no idea how clumsy Dummy can be.”
Wisely, no one in the room asked who Dummy was.
Or apparently it was just a very long pause, since Logan broke it by saying, “You named someone Dummy?”
“He’s a bot I built when I graduated. He was a bit of a dummy, and still is. I usually tend to name my bots whatever pops into my head first so…” He shrugged lightly.
“I take it Peggy was not named by you then?” Charles was smiling.
“That’s all Steve,” Tony responded, grinning. “I’d’ve probably ended up naming her Spitfire or something like that.”
“You made a sentient stove?” Jean apparently picked up whatever Charles was thinking.
“Why does everyone always get hooked on that?” Tony complained.
“No one makes stoves alive,” Logan said. “They control what you eat.”
“I do, okay?” Tony snapped. Peggy was just fine, thank you very much. “So about what we were talking about earlier…”
“That is certainly doable,” Charles agreed. “I will leave it to Jean, as I have some other business to attend to.”
“This umbrella,” Scott said, going for a complete non sequitur, “what did it look like?”
Tony cocked his head to the side, wondering. “It was an umbrella. I think it was black, but I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I think that was mine,” Scott said seemingly to himself. “Where did you put it?”
“Several of my students are missing calculators,” Ororo said.
Tony resisted the urge to sigh. He didn’t doubt he could find what he’d apparently misplaced. Mostly. Maybe.
Was there some sort of telekinetic psychic trail he could follow?
It was only several days into his stay at the mansion when Tony went on another bout of insomnia-induced engineering. It was better than what Tony usually managed, because he was really trying for Steve.
Considering that his boyfriend/lover/significant other/whatever-the-hell-they-were-calling-each-other had actually gone to the trouble to text Tony and ask him to take care of himself, it was the least Tony could do. Unfortunately, the best Tony could do mainly involved him tossing and turning in the room he’d been given and sleeping only in short bouts.
It had only been a few nights and he was already used to sharing his bed with someone else.
In any case, back to the insomnia-induced engineering…
As was usually the case, Tony just wandered throughout the mansion, tinkering with whatever he could get his hands on. He winded up in the kitchen at one point or another, but didn’t really know what he’d done.
Insomnia kept him up not because of itchy fingers, but because his brain just wouldn’t shut up. In this case it kept hammering at him with potential uses for his telekinesis, the wheelchair design for Charles, and his desire to find Steve and simply soak in his relaxing presence. Steve had the ability to make his brain shut down, if only for a short time. Not even Pepper had had that ability (which was probably another good reason for them to break up now that he thought about it).
Needless to say, Tony was mainly on autopilot, his brain doing whatever it felt like doing. He didn’t really come to himself until morning dawned in his room and his alarm clock went off. It was at that point that he looked up from the computer he’d taken apart, blinking blearily.
It took him a moment to realize that what was bouncing around the room was not something he’d invented but rather the bouncy ball Jean had given him several days ago for him to work on his speed. Without thinking, he mentally reached out and snagged it, stopping it in midair. It hovered there for a moment before he dropped it on the bed, rubbing his forehead tiredly.
How long had he had that going for?
There was an empty mug on the night table, meaning he’d been partially running on caffeine (in addition to his insomnia). Speaking of caffeine, he should head to the kitchen and get some so he wouldn’t zombie his way through the rest of the day. (He could do it, but it’d probably freak everyone out. The first time he’d done it he’d freaked Clint out, which was saying something.)
Taking his tablet with him, Tony walked to the kitchen. It didn’t take him long to notice that it wasn’t turning on. Which was ridiculous, because it wasn’t an Apple tablet and shouldn’t just break down like that.
He’d just turned it around to better inspect what was wrong with it when he heard Kitty exclaim to someone in the kitchen, “What happened to the coffee machine?”
Kurt answered her. “Is it not there?”
“It was.” Kitty sounded perplexed. “It disappeared.” She was standing in front of the counter where the coffee machine usually stood, scratching the back of her head in mild confusion.
Tony stood there in the doorway, wondering if he would really be subject to no coffee this morning. If need be, he’d eat the coffee straight out of the can, no matter how unhealthy it was. He’d done it before when Dummy had broken the coffee machine down in the workshop and nothing else was there.
“It’s a coffee machine,” Logan said, bored. He was sitting at the table, flicking through a newspaper. “It’s there or it isn’t.”
Maybe he could use his affinity for technology to locate it? He might have done something to it last night.
“I could look for it,” Tony said, alerting the others to his presence.
Kitty turned around, only to end up staring at him. “You look tired.”
Tony grimaced. “All-nighter—”
“DADDY!” something shrieked, causing Kurt to teleport to the top of the cabinet in fright, Kitty to grab a knife, and Logan to spring to his feet, claws at the ready.
For his part, Tony barely had time to react before something barreled into his chest, knocking him flat down on his back with a pained groan. His head hit the wooden floor with a loud whack, sparking stars in his sight.
Thus, it took him a few seconds to see the thing that had settled on his chest and was curling something affectionately around his neck. Of course, seeing wasn’t the same thing as believing so it took him a few more seconds to register that he was really seeing what he was seeing and that it wasn’t a sleep-deprived hallucination.
When that had become clear to him, his head fell back to the floor with a gentle thud. “Oh, goddamn it.”
It was the goddamn coffee machine. Sitting on his chest and chattering away at him in beeps.
It hadn’t been sentient yesterday. He would know considering he’d used it. That meant it was a victim of his insomnia last night.
“Is that…the coffee machine?” Kitty asked incredulously.
“Is it alive?” Kurt didn’t sound incredulous so much as plaintive.
“Daddy!” the coffee machine proclaimed, tightening the cord around Tony’s neck.
Sighing, Tony picked the coffee machine off his chest, sitting up. He held him up as far as he could considering the hold he had on Tony’s neck.
“Would you let go of my neck?” he asked the coffee machine.
His new AI obligingly loosened the hold on his neck, giving a couple of happy beeps in response to Tony’s voice. What had he done? Coffee machines didn’t talk.
He set the machine down on the table, floating his broken tablet behind him. Wait a second…
Tony snatched the tablet out of the air, looking at it more closely. It was missing the camera lens.
He looked down at the coffee machine, only to see what appeared to be a gleaming camera lens shuttering as the little guy blinked at him. It was installed into the front of the machine in the middle of the brand name and in such a way that allowed him to rotate the lens for a full field of vision. It was pretty inventive, but Tony was used to that happening when he engineered under insomniac conditions.
Tony picked up the coffee machine, ignoring the way Kitty and Kurt leaned into his space to get a better look at what was clearly a sentient machine. Logan was observing from his position on the table, arms folded across his chest in a clearly disapproving gesture.
The coffee machine squirmed in his grip, but he allowed Tony to check what else he’d done to the machine in his fit of crazy engineering. There was nothing that visibly popped out at the moment, but Tony knew that if he picked apart the AI he’d find exactly what made the guy tick.
Looking down at the tablet, Tony mentally pried it open in lieu of the absence of workable tools. He set the AI down as he did, picking apart the shell of the tablet to see the insides…which were empty.
Sighing, Tony looked back at his new AI. It was official. He’d cannibalized his own tech to make an AI out of the piece of crap coffee machine the X-Men owned. Peggy was at least top of the line. This coffee machine was pitifully out of date.
“Well?” Kitty prompted, drawing Tony’s attention back to the three people also occupying the kitchen.
“He’s alive,” Tony said, watching the little guy skitter back and forth the table on wheels he’d apparently installed on it. Where’d he get the wheels from? “I’m gonna have to dig through my tech to see what I put in him.”
“You’re saying you don’t know?” Logan demanded, clearly believing he was lying.
“I was up the whole night,” Tony defended himself. “I did a lot of stuff.” He blinked, letting the coffee machine’s power cord curl around his arm as the little guy nuzzled up to his hand. “About that…you might want to watch your step. I’m not sure what else might be lying around here.”
“Is the fridge safe?” Kurt asked, casting the fridge a furtive glance.
“Should be.” Tony couldn’t remember doing anything to the fridge, but that didn’t say much. He sighed, ruffling a hand through his hair as he brushed a thumb over the control panel of the little guy. “I need a cup of coffee. I’ll get you guys a new coffee machine—”
The coffee machine promptly burst into what appeared to be mechanical tears, wailing and clinging to a bewildered Tony’s arm. It wasn’t beeps either; it was actual literal wailing.
“What?” he asked him. “What’s wrong?”
The AI didn’t respond, apparently overcome with emotion.
Tony glanced up, saw that neither Kitty nor Kurt were likely to be much help (Logan was uninterested in helping), and refocused on the still wailing machine. Inhaling slowly, he gathered up everything he could remember from dealing with Dummy when he’d first been built. Insults definitely wouldn’t work here. Dummy knew Tony didn’t mean half of what he said, but this little guy wouldn’t know anything at all.
“Hey, hey, hey…” Tony kept his voice calm and quiet. “Calm down, little guy. Let me know what you need. Shh…”
He kept up the soothing noises, feeling like an idiot while doing so, but it was clearly working as the AI gradually quieted.
When it was finally quiet enough to think, Kitty whispered to Tony, “He started crying when you said something about getting a new you-know-what. Maybe that has something to do with it.”
Okay, Tony liked this girl. Only a few minutes into dealing with her first AI and she was already addressing him with the proper pronouns. When she graduated, he was definitely going to have SI look into recruiting her. R&D could use the new blood.
He refocused on the hiccupping coffee machine (a hiccupping coffee machine? Who knew, right?), considering what Kitty had pointed out.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” he assured the little guy, gently rubbing the glass of the coffee pot. “We’re just looking for some coffee, and I don’t want to overwork you. I wanted to get a helper.”
The little guy gave an indignant chirp, his camera lens shuttering furiously. Tony had no doubt that if he was capable of it, the coffee machine would still be leaking tears.
“Work!” the coffee machine insisted.
So he could say things other than “Daddy” (which was weird enough to consider). “You’re saying you want to work?”
The cord wrapped around Tony’s arm tugged insistently. “Work!”
Seriously, he was going to have to check just what he installed in this guy. Peggy couldn’t talk beyond her beeps. Of all his AIs, JARVIS was the only one with vocal capabilities. Now this guy was also there.
“Okay,” he told the coffee machine. “I’ll help you get started with it, all right?”
Advanced learning capabilities, a camera lens, wheels, vocal capabilities… What else did he have? Repulsor technology?
Apparently not, as Tony had to carry the coffee machine over to the counter so he could get him started on making coffee. He was soon happily chirping away in the language of coffee machines.
Turning back to the table, Tony picked up his cannibalized tablet and poked at it, trying to see what he’d taken out and what he’d left in.
“When were you planning on this?” Kitty asked him, watching as he set out whatever remained of the poor tablet.
“I didn’t plan on it,” Tony responded, noting that the camera lens, speaker, and delicate computer microchips were gone. Which was a tragedy considering this was a prototype of something he’d been planning on selling to the board. It wasn’t like he couldn’t recreate it because it was all in his head, but it was the principle of the matter.
“So you just an installed an artificial intelligence into our coffee machine?”
“Pretty much.” Tony wondered what the microchips were doing in the little guy. There were a dozen different possibilities, but he could narrow it down if he got the rest of his gear. “I’ll be right back. Keep an eye on him.”
Leaving the kitchen, Tony passed the living room on the way back to his room.
An aggravated exclamation drew him back to it: “Dude, what happened to my stereo?”
“Try what happened to the TV! It’s completely gutted!”
Mentally debating whether he should go in, Tony decided against it. He had an AI in the kitchen that he should take care of first. Unless he’d created another AI (possible but not entirely likely, since even he couldn’t create two AIs in one night), he was going to hope nothing destructive was lying around the mansion.
He didn’t even go inside his room to grab the bag containing his tech. Casting a scrutinizing stare over the remains of his computer and seeing nothing missing there, Tony simply snagged the bag and left, hefting it out of the air as he did.
Before he made it to the kitchen, he found himself nearly stumbling over a miniaturized wheelchair that whizzed around his feet before darting away, powered by what looked like mini-windmills. He stared after it, heard an excited exclamation that signified someone had a remote control for it, and gave it up for lost.
An excited squeal of “Daddy!” announced his arrival in the kitchen. Tony simply dumped his bag on the table, zipping it open to see what he’d done in his mad spree last night.
“The coffee’s done,” Kitty said, placing a steaming mug before Tony.
He grabbed it with a hum of thanks, already drinking as he flicked his fingers back and forth, spreading his things before him on the table, cataloguing what seemed to have been cannibalized and what was untouched.
His phone was thankfully safe. The same couldn’t be said for the very small arc reactor Bruce had packed. It was a model he was considering for portable electronic devices, and which was now apparently powering the coffee machine wheeling around on the countertop.
“I named him Spike!” Kitty said cheerfully, catching Tony’s attention.
“His name,” Kitty said, apparently sensing Tony needed a few more seconds of adjustment. “He’s Spike.”
The name seemed oddly familiar to Tony. “You named him after a character from Transformers?”
“He’s cute and innocent and really smart,” Kitty explained, shrugging. She looked rather nervous. “Is it not all right?”
“Do you like it?” Tony asked the coffee machine.
“Spike!” the coffee machine – now dubbed Spike – chirped cheerfully. Tony had the suspicion that the speakers from his tablet and the stereo had gone into Spike so he could broadcast his voice.
“Probably better than anything I could come up with,” Tony admitted to Kitty, who was blushing lightly now. She’d gotten better with the hero worship by now, but it was still rather clear that she was in awe of him.
“I still can’t believe it,” Logan grumbled, eyeing Spike as if he was the devil.
“You didn’t attack him,” Kitty pointed out cheerfully.
“It was a coffee machine. It isn’t supposed to be dangerous.” Logan gave Tony a onceover. “Now I get the stove.”
Looking at Spike now going around in happy circles on the countertop, entertaining Kurt with his cord as he did, Tony decided that he should probably keep Spike here. There was no reason he had to come with.
“Who messed with my hairdryer?” someone demanded. A teenage girl with black hair that suddenly changed to white at the top and around her face barged into the room, holding up a hairdryer which looked perfectly fine. “Kitty, would you stop touching my stuff?”
“I didn’t touch it, Rogue!” Kitty denied.
“It looks fine, bub,” Logan commented, picking up his newspaper and beginning to affect an air of total disinterest, though Tony could tell he was paying attention to Spike from the twitches in his ears. (He was beginning to suspect he also had heightened senses of smell and hearing in addition to a fast healing ability and metal claws.)
“What’s wrong with it?” he asked.
Rogue eyed him but handed him the hairdryer. “It won’t turn on.”
Tony was beginning to think he’d figured out where he’d gotten the windmills for the miniaturized wheelchair. To double check, he pulled it apart, putting it down to see that the rotor blades in there were gone.
“I’ll get you a new one,” Tony offered to a silent Rogue, reassembling the hairdryer as he did.
“The one who wrecked it owes me a new one,” Rogue sniped, taking it back. “But thanks,” she added.
Rogue had been one of those who was talking with him that first night, lack of hero worship helping her significantly.
“Sorry,” Tony said, wincing slightly.
“What are you apologizing for?”
“I may have cannibalized your dryer for parts,” Tony confessed, studiously studying said dryer. “I think someone’s playing with the result. I might have cannibalized someone else’s hairdryer as well.”
Jean walked in, holding up a hairdryer and pointedly placing it front of Tony. “Did it go for a good cause?”
“What did you make with two hairdryers?” Kitty asked curiously.
“Wheeee!” a boy squealed, looking normal except for his forked tongue, which was flickering in and out of his mouth in excitement. He held a remote control in his hands, which controlled a miniaturized wheelchair that zipped around the kitchen leg tables before hovering by Tony’s head.
“Thanks, Mr. Tony!” the boy said, grinning at Tony. Without waiting for a reply, he ran back out, wheelchair floating by his head.
There was silence except for the whirring of Spike’s wheels and his quiet beeps and the rustling of Logan’s paper as he peered over the edge to get a glimpse of the drama.
“You used my dryer to make a flying wheelchair?” Rogue drawled, folding her arms across her chest.
“It wasn’t repulsors?” Tony offered as a weak excuse.
“I have no clue what those are, and I don’t think I want to know,” Rogue declared. She pointed her hairdryer threateningly in Tony’s direction. “You owe me a new one, but I’ll let you off this time.”
Tony blinked, opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off when Rogue continued, “I need coffee.”
“Coffee!” Spike chirped, making a flying leap from the counter onto the table. Logan flinched from behind his newspaper.
Spike popped out the glass pot, snagged the fruit bowl on the table, and poured the coffee into it.
Rogue stared at the sentient coffee machine.
Jean sighed in what seemed to be exasperation or disbelief. Either was probable considering she’d been dealing with Tony for the last so many days.
Scott poked his head into the kitchen. “Has anyone seen my umbrella?”
No one was able to answer, as a fwapping noise made itself apparent only several seconds later. A girl hovered into view behind Scott, a belt looped around her waist. Above her head was the missing umbrella, which was flapping its cloth like a weird set of wings.
“Thanks, Mr. Tony!” she said cheerfully, grinning toothily at him. Then she disappeared, having turned invisible. The fwapping of the umbrella signified that she’d vacated the premises.
There was a momentary silence as everyone seemed to take in the fact that yes, they had really just seen that happen. Tony had already digested it, and was moving on to what he’d cannibalized to make the umbrella work like that.
“I need a drink,” Jean said, sighing.
There was a snick and a bottle of beer was placed before her, courtesy of Logan. The top had been cleanly sliced off.
Logan was knocking back his own, setting it down on the table with a loud thump when he finished. He methodically opened another, eyeing Spike and Tony as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with the two of them.
A boy walked by, poking at his calculator. It announced with a cheery voice, “What would you like to add to that?”
As Tony absently rubbed his thumb over the control panel of Spike, whose cord was running over his arm in a bid to get his attention, he wondered if he could get Pepper on board to ship the materials over to build Charles a new wheelchair.
Logan was on his third bottle of beer and Jean had started hers. Rogue was poking at the ruined fruit in the fruit-bowl-turned-coffee-pot and Kitty and Kurt had both decided that discretion was the better choice here and were heating something up on the stove that would probably serve as their breakfast.
Scott was leaning against the doorframe, a pensive look on his face.
Then another kid walked by, this time with shoes that made laughing noises every time he took a step.
“Give me one, too,” Scott said to Logan, who wordlessly tossed the man the last beer.
Maybe Tony should count on training himself today… He reached over for his phone, easily finding the number he was looking for and pressing dial. When it picked up, he immediately said, “Hey, Pepper…”
It was two days after that crazy engineering night that Tony found himself staring up at the ceiling, mind running over the day’s events and the schematics he was still evolving for Charles’s wheelchair.
Pepper had sent him everything he’d asked for after he’d explained what had occurred. She was familiar with his engineering nights and knew that it was highly likely he would invent something even crazier if not given something else to do.
Charles and Ororo had taken the new events in stride (including the way Spike had dogged his steps the rest of the day, even poking around in his room when Tony was in the bathroom and had adamantly refused to let him in), but they hadn’t been there in the morning.
Jean had stopped after one beer before turning to Tony and making sure he was busy enough not to go stir crazy. Almost all his tech was gone because of his insomnia-induced bout of engineering, meaning that he had little to do until Pepper sent him his gear. That meant that Jean was by him the whole entire time, making whatever he was doing more complicated whenever it seemed like his attention was wandering.
But all that aside, Tony was once again incapable of sleeping. On the positive side, he wasn’t sleeping alone anymore. Spike was sharing his bed after that first night where he’d been left in the kitchen and kept the sharper-eared occupants of the mansion awake due to his crying. (Tony had the feeling Clint would be laughing his ass off if he knew about this.) On the negative side, Spike wasn’t Steve.
Sighing, Tony was about to roll onto his stomach, reaching over for the tablet he was in the middle of rebuilding when the text alert chimed from his phone.
It was two in the morning. Who would be texting him now?
Grabbing his phone from the bedside table, Tony held it up to see that he had a text from a certain Steve Rogers. It read Miss you. Can I call?
It didn’t take Tony very long to reply. It was first going to be a snarky reply, but he realized he missed Steve a bit too much to make him feel shy about reaching out like this through a medium that was so difficult for him to use (Steve probably wouldn’t be shy, but Tony had been fooled before and didn’t want to be wrong about this). Yes.
Tony was about to call Steve, but his phone rang before he could do so.
He picked it up, his phone’s screen clearing to zoom in on Steve’s face. He was lying on his stomach, chin on his pillow, with the phone apparently braced against the headboard of the bed.
“Hey,” Steve said, smiling softly at him. “Miss you.”
Tony was suddenly filled with the yearning to bury his face in Steve’s neck, tangle his fingers through his hair, and curl up around him in bed (or be curled around). His answer held none of these thoughts. “I’m surprised you’re up at this time, what with you being all about required number of hours of sleep and all that.”
Steve’s smile turned slightly sheepish. “Yeah, well…I miss you.” It was as if he didn’t think Tony believed him.
He smiled back, adjusting his position so that it mirrored Steve’s. “Miss you, too.” His smile turned mischievous. “You saying you can’t sleep without me?”
A small half-shrug was his answer in addition to a light blush. “It’s not the same,” he admitted, sighing lightly. “Everything’s so quiet.”
“It’ll probably just take a month,” Tony said, his voice low. “Then I’ll be back and you’ll be wishing that I was still training my ass off.”
“Never,” Steve replied instantly.
Tony’s lips quirked up into a smile. “If you’re going through the trouble of texting me even after I know that you have trouble with my phone – which is way better than anything S.H.I.E.L.D. can issue – then I know you like me.”
Steve shifted slightly, averting his eyes so that he was focusing on a spot over Tony’s shoulder. His fidgety behavior made Tony narrow his eyes in suspicion.
“What aren’t you telling me?” he demanded.
“I…may have lied,” Steve admitted sheepishly, meeting Tony’s eyes. “Your phone is actually really easy to use. It’s self-explanatory, even if I didn’t understand half of what you told me when you explained how to use it.”
Tony could still remember that conversation. Steve had had a glazed look in his eyes about halfway through the explanation, and Tony had done his best to dumb down his language so that the good captain could at least work the basics.
“So why the song and dance?” Tony’s face was stern, but his light voice made it clear he was joking.
“I just liked seeing you smile,” Steve confessed, giving a small bashful grin.
“Not so difficult to see that,” Tony remarked wryly. “You do realize that you no longer have that get-out-of-jail-free card? I’ll be expecting you to know how the tech works now.”
“As long as it’s yours,” Steve replied unhesitatingly. “Even the manual that was given to me earlier didn’t explain how to use the phone S.H.I.E.L.D. gave me.”
“My work is done,” Tony proclaimed, beaming. “If a guy from the forties knows how to work a StarkPhone, then my work has been accomplished.”
“Still using paper and pencil,” Steve said, amused.
“Sure about that?” Tony dragged his semi-completed tablet into view. “Once I get this baby done, you can actually draw in three dimensions.”
“You know me: I’m an old-fashioned kind of guy.”
Tony couldn’t help but smile at the comment, levitating his tablet over to the night table as he did. “In some ways, yes. But you’re doing just fine from my point of view.”
There was a sleepy chirp from Spike, and Tony slid a hand down to his side to quiet him, gently tapping his base. He felt the power cord curl around his wrist as Spike powered down again.
Steve didn’t seem to notice, and Tony certainly wasn’t going to enlighten him to the fact that he’d installed an AI into a coffee machine that apparently had the mindset of a toddler. Spike would be coming with him back to the mansion, though Tony was already dreading the insults Clint would toss his way.
“How’s the team doing?” Tony asked.
“Tony Stark talking shop?” Steve teased, eyebrow raised.
“So sue me. I’m interested in your life.”
Steve smiled lazily at him, a ripple of movement going through him as he seemed to lightly stretch without budging from his position. It sparked a kernel of desire in Tony’s stomach that he squashed.
“It was raining cats and dogs the other day,” Steve said. “Literally. Apparently something went wrong with one of Reed’s devices.”
“You mean there’s a dimension out there that actually has rain as cats and dogs?”
“So he says.”
Tony hummed noncommittally, wondering what kind of device it would have to be in order to affect rain like that. “You’ll let me know if something big happens, yeah? You’ll need me there.”
“Fury told us to leave you be,” Steve said.
No immediate response came, as Tony’s first instinct was to lash out, and he was trying to be better. He was. When he could finally reply without it cutting Steve down, his tone was cool. “I didn’t know you were still dancing to his tune.”
There was a wince. “God, no, Tony. That wasn’t what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean? ’Cause that sounded like an excuse to avoid calling me in. I was Iron Man first, Steve. I’m not liable to wreck anything because of rampant mutant powers; I’m better than that. Anything I’m doing here is supplementary.”
“I know, Tony, I know.” The words were rushed.”I didn’t mean it that way. Fury’s told us to avoid calling you in, but if we really need you, I’ll give you a call. I’ve got your number.”
Tony exhaled slowly through his nose. “That’s all I’m asking.”
They settled into a comfortable silence for a few moments with only the sound of their breathing keeping them company. Tony occupied himself with poking at the humming of the technology around him, feeling out what was what.
“I’m thinking of going over there,” Steve said suddenly, distracting Tony from his thoughts, which settled into the background of his brain, still buzzing, “sometime in the next week or so. What do you think?”
“Of you visiting? Hell, yes.”
“Great. I’ll talk it over with Natasha.”
“She in charge if you’re gone?” They hadn’t talked about it, but Tony figured that after Steve and himself, Natasha was probably next in line for leadership. Thor still couldn’t be outfitted with a microphone without destroying it and was too used to making reckless decisions in battle because he was an indestructible god. Bruce would be an option, except that he turned into a rampaging green monster of destruction that was almost incapable of higher thought processes. Clint was good, but he wasn’t the strategist Natasha was (though he’d be the next person available if Natasha was out of commission).
“Yes. But I’ll only be gone for a day. Not like much will happen.”
Tony arched an eyebrow in skepticism, earning a broad grin from the visage on the screen.
“I’ll let you get back to sleep,” Steve said, sighing softly.
Yeah, sure. He could try. “‘Kay. See you in a bit.”
“Yeah.” Steve’s eyes were warm. “Love you.”
Tony had never thought he’d be exchanging sappy words over the phone in the middle of the night, but apparently there was always room for a miracle. “Love you, too.” The words still tasted strange in his mouth, but it was nowhere near as weird as listening to Steve saying it.
Steve’s image on the screen flickered out to a blank screen a moment later. Sighing, Tony buried his face in his pillow, absentmindedly moving the phone over to his night table.
Spike’s power cord was still twisted around his wrist, but Tony made no move to remove himself from the hold.
Shifting his face to the side so he could breathe, Tony closed his eyes, Steve’s warm face dancing behind his eyelids. Surprisingly, he could feel himself relaxing in a way he hadn’t been able to do for days.
Steve’s voice followed him into his dreams.
Steve came to visit Tony one week after that phone call, but they’d had other calls and text messages since (especially since Tony now knew Steve had no trouble working his phone). It had been a surprise visit that Tony didn’t expect, meaning that he was in the Danger Room working on his flying with Jean when Steve came over.
In any case, at that point Steve’s potential visit was only a small blip in the back of Tony’s mind. Neither Jean nor Charles had apparently noticed anything the morning after Tony had gotten the call aside from the fact that Tony was better rested than usual. Besides, the mess Tony’s mind was on a usual basis meant that they probably also couldn’t pick it out from his thoughts other than the basic thought of “Steve Rogers”, which was to be expected considering they were in a relationship.
But to the point, Tony was currently frustrating Jean with his flying.
“You’re supposed to focus on your entire body,” she said, hovering next to him as he lifted into the air, hands and feet moving in order to stabilize his flight.
“I learned how to fly in a suit,” he answered, looking up from the floor to meet her eyes. “I’m replicating it. The only other time I’ve done what you’re doing”—he nodded towards her—“was when my suit was dead or I was in the middle of almost braining myself on the ground here. And in that case I was focusing on what was on me, like my suit or clothes.”
Jean considered that, arms folded across her chest. “Can you focus on your skin?” she suggested.
Tony shrugged, feeling comfortable enough to move his hands from their position by his side. His feet didn’t immediately slip out from under him, so he moved one to his hip and the other to his neck to rub at a sore spot where his bouncy ball had hit him earlier courtesy of Spike gleefully flinging it at him.
“I could try,” he said. He couldn’t see the issue with how he was flying now, considering it was how he was most comfortable with it. Yes, it was a practical mimicry of how he did it in the suit, but it also allowed him greater freedom of movement than what Jean seemed to have. But maybe he shouldn’t diss it before trying. It would probably offer him greater stabilization in any case.
Tony was just about to try when the door to the Danger Room opened, letting in a familiar and unexpected – though not unwelcome – person. Steve Rogers broke out into a broad grin upon seeing Tony flying in the air.
The sight of Steve was surprising enough to Tony that he had to throw his hands out to stabilize his position before his feet slipped. “Why hello!”
“Tony,” Steve said, still grinning. The perfect gentleman, he nodded to Jean. “Ma’am.”
“Jean, please,” Jean said, landing on the ground. She looked up at Tony. “You might as well, Tony. Knowing you, you’ll come back to this with a solution figured out.”
Tony was conceited enough to agree because – hey – it was true. “Probably.”
He alighted on the ground as well, gradually decreasing power until he was hovering only a couple of inches off the ground. Then he cut all mental output, landing lightly on the balls of his feet.
Tony went over to Steve, meaning simply to give him a decidedly not goofy smile, but his plan was completely derailed when the other drew him into a very tight embrace. Tony had enough presence of mind to note that Jean discreetly left the room to give them privacy before Steve’s lips were trailing over his cheek on a determined path to his lips.
When they finally separated several minutes later, Tony was having difficulties breathing and had to minutely shift to adjust himself in his jeans. “If that’s the welcome I get,” he said, grinning widely, “I’ll have to leave more often.”
“Please don’t,” Steve said, brushing a quick kiss over Tony’s ear. “I missed you.”
Tony wasn’t one for sappy declarations in the middle of the Danger Room, but he had to admit that he’d also missed Steve (he couldn’t even sleep without the other man!). “Same. Why don’t we get out of here?” He darted a glance up to the observatory, though he knew it was empty. The room hummed lightly in the back of his mind, but it was subdued because it was off. Tony had repaired the damage he’d wrought on it shortly after coming, making several improvements as he did.
Steve hugged him closer for a moment before letting him go, fingers trailing down Tony’s arm before interlocking fingers.
Evidently Steve had no qualms about walking through the mansion holding hands regardless of who might see. Not for the first time, Tony had to wonder just how Steve was so comfortable with showing affection like this in the open, given he’d grown up during a time when a gay man would have been jailed for revealing his sexual preferences.
“Do you want something?” Tony asked over his shoulder, leading Steve through the halls. “I think they went shopping yesterday.”
“I’m good.” Steve’s presence was a solid warmth behind his back. “Have you eaten?”
“Been eating two times a day,” Tony said, “because someone decided to tell them that I have to be fed.” He shot Steve an irritated glance over his shoulder, only to receive an angelic smile in return.
“Did you eat?” Steve pressed.
Tony had just had coffee. “I’ll get an apple,” he said to pacify Steve.
Making a stop in the kitchen meant that Steve would run into Spike, as Tony had left him there under stern orders to behave himself. He didn’t necessarily have to make coffee anymore as Tony had gotten a new coffee machine, but Spike still made Tony his coffee in the morning. The first time Tony had tried with a different one, Spike had broken into tears. Needless to say, Tony hadn’t repeated the experience.
Spike was on the countertop, humming what sounded like Stairway to Heaven, though this quickly changed to an excited squeal of “Daddy!” when Tony made his appearance. He’d tried to get Spike to call him Tony, but he still insisted on Daddy, which made absolutely no sense to Tony. Dummy had never called him that, neither had Butterfingers, You, or JARVIS, even though he’d created all of them. He’d yet to take a close look at Spike’s code, as he only had his computer, which he’d probably used for the coding in the first place.
“Hey, squirt,” Tony said, snagging a red apple from the bowl. “You being good?”
“Spike!” the coffee machine chirped, apparently in response to Tony calling him squirt. Spike rolled backwards before suddenly zooming forward and making a flying leap onto the kitchen table, rolling excitedly before Tony. “Good!”
Glancing over at Steve showed that the man looked very confused. “Tony?”
“Steve, this is Spike. Spike, this is Steve.”
Spike gave Steve a cursory look over before returning his attention to Tony’s fingers, the prongs of his outlet poking at his nails. “Nails!”
“Yeah, those are my nails.” Tony let Spike continue his cursory examination, turning to Steve. “He’s been here for the last week. I’ve been trying to hook him into the Internet – which should be easy considering he’s made with the microchips from my tablet – but he’s been stubborn about it.”
“Like someone else I could name,” Steve said, lips twitching. He looked down to where Spike had moved from Tony’s fingernails to his palm, tracing over his lines. “AIs must be really easy to program.”
“They’re not,” Tony said, pulling out a knife and bowl before beginning to work on cutting the apple into pieces. “But it gets easier after your first. Dummy was mine, and he’s got his quirks compared to Butterfingers and You. JARVIS is my most sophisticated. Once you have the basic code it’s just about personalizing it. In this case, I’m not quite sure what I did, it being the middle of the night and all when I started cannibalizing my own tech.”
Steve looked slightly bemused. “You made him in the middle of the night?”
“I couldn’t sleep.” Tony tapped Spike in reprimand directly above his eye when he poked too hard at Tony’s wrist. “No worries, though. Pepper sent over a bunch of stuff so it won’t happen again.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” Steve smiled at him, slinging an arm over Tony’s shoulders and softly kissing him on the temple. “If I remember right, I owe you one,” he whispered into Tony’s ear, making him shiver in anticipation of the unspoken promise.
Tony leaned his head back, smirking at Steve. “What happened to your shy nature, Captain?”
Judging from the blush covering Steve’s face, even the little he’d whispered into Tony’s ear was enough to embarrass him. “It’s still there. Just…muted.”
“Very muted,” Tony said with a straight face.
“Hang on a second.” Tony picked Spike up, who gave an excited squeal, and put him back on the countertop. “Stay here. I’ll be back later.”
“Okay.” Spike gave a little hum, beginning the chorus to Stairway to Heaven, one of the things he had picked up on the Internet.
Tony turned back to Steve, who was holding the bowl of apple slices. The knife went into the dishwasher and then Tony led Steve to his bedroom, getting started on his first apple slice as he did.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, seeing as how Tony really wasn’t hungry), he wasn’t able to get started on the rest of the apple. The moment the door closed, Steve was on him, mouth covering his own hungrily.
Making a surprised sound that was swallowed down as Steve deepened the kiss, taking advantage of Tony’s open mouth, Tony fell back down on his bed, Steve on top of him. He had enough presence of mind to save the bowl from an untimely death, stashing it somewhere safe.
Then Steve’s hands moved, and all his attention was diverted elsewhere.
After their impromptu session of sex Tony relaxed, resting against Steve, who kept carding a hand through Tony’s messy hair.
“God, I missed you.” Steve sighed, pressing a kiss into Tony’s hair. “I can’t even sleep right.”
“That makes two of us,” Tony murmured, pushing himself up to lie even with Steve’s shoulder, allowing him to use that as a pillow instead. Yes, he’d turned into a sappy fool, but it did have a purpose, since he didn’t have to see Steve’s face when he started spouting poetry. “It’s not for much longer, though. Just about two weeks or so.”
They were going to spend the majority of that time refining Tony’s touch with electronics, though he’d been doing that on the side anyway.
Steve’s sigh washed over his hair, ruffling the strands. “I’m glad. Peggy misses you.”
“Just her, huh?”
“You already know I miss you.” Steve’s arm tightened. “Even Clint admits that it’s not the same without you.”
“Nothing big’s happened, yeah?” Tony asked casually.
“I would’ve called you if there had been,” Steve assured him. “But no.”
They lay there in silence for a few minutes, simply breathing together. For once Tony wasn’t off in his head playing with the humming that was accompanying his every waking moment; he was firmly in the moment.
“There’s a new superhero in New York,” Steve said quietly, breaking the silence. “Well, the police don’t seem to think so, but he’s been going around catching a lot of the street criminals.”
“Really. So you’re the one calling him a superhero?”
“He’s doing good,” Steve argued.
“What makes him super?”
“He’s swinging around New York on webs,” Steve said. “He can also climb up buildings without climbing gear. Clint’s jealous.”
Tony considered that. “Definitely super, if just for the fact that he’s pissing Clint off.”
Steve laughed. “That’s what I thought.”
Smirking in agreement, Tony turned his face to press a kiss into Steve’s shoulder, trailing up before latching down on Steve’s collarbone and sucking. Steve let out a low groan, which had Tony humming lightly in response.
Tony swung around to lie directly on top of Steve, kissing and licking his way up Steve’s neck, leaving hickeys that would fade in a couple of hours due to the serum. He’d just reached the spot where Steve’s jaw line began when he suddenly found himself pinned under one very aroused super soldier, who swooped down to mark Tony’s neck again.
Breath hitching, Tony slipped a leg between Steve’s, turning his head to the side as Steve trailed up to his ear, nipping his lobe lightly before catching his lips in a kiss that left him gasping for breath.
Steve drew back, pupils dilated and breathing ragged. “Two weeks?”
“Give or take,” Tony said, gasping.
“Then we’ll have to make the most of now.” Steve moved his leg, eliciting a bit off groan from Tony.
“All for that.”
All mind readers had better be out of the house or not listening in for the next several hours because they were going to regret it otherwise.
After Steve left that day (following an encounter with Logan, who sniffed the air around the two of them, gave Tony a manly slap on the back, and walked away, smirking), Tony was largely left alone except for the phone calls and texts from Steve. There was a brief text from Clint the night after Steve visited, with a simple “Who tops?” as the message.
Tony’s response to that was to get JARVIS to play the sappiest love songs he had in his repertoire every time Clint walked into a room, worked out, or did anything that put him in one spot for a brief period of time. He was probably going to regret it when he brought Spike home, but it was worth it considering the videos JARVIS sent of Clint storming out of whatever room he was in the moment music began to play.
In any case, it was about two weeks later when Tony walked into the kitchen, received his cup of coffee from an ecstatic Spike, and sat down across from Logan. He’d downed half of his coffee before he realized what he was staring at on the front page: BIOLOGICAL ATTACK ON NEW YORK CITY
What?! Sure, he’d been kind of out of the loop lately, what with most of the kids kind of reluctant to let him close to the TV after what he’d done with it (he’d repaired it, but that didn’t seem to earn him any brownie points), but how could he have missed something this big?
“Logan, can I have that paper?” Tony asked, tapping on the table to get the other’s attention. “Just the main story.”
Logan didn’t say anything but did slide over the asked for page, along with the rest of the story that was on a different page. Tony flattened it on the table, speed reading through the contents.
A giant lizard man had attacked New York after terrorizing the residents for a few days. A masked vigilante (the superhero Steve had mentioned?) had been chased after by the police, but had saved New York by bringing the lizard down. He was now known as Spider-Man and no longer had a man hunt after him.
And in all of this, there was no mention of the Avengers.
Tony frowned, pulled out his phone, and opened the last text message he’d received from Steve.
It had been sent two days ago at eight in the morning. It read Morning. Hope you slept well. Remember to eat. ;) I love you.
They didn’t text or call each other every day, so Tony hadn’t been worried when nothing had come the last several days. But now with this news story staring at him in the face, he couldn’t help but wonder if it meant something else that Steve hadn’t texted him.
He’d promised to let Tony know if they needed backup, and a giant lizard man terrorizing New York was definitely something that seemed to require the help of Iron Man. If anything, he could have built something to find that thing sooner before the biological attack could even take place. Where had the Avengers been?
Tony sent a quick text to Steve. Saw the news this morning. I don’t see you guys. What’s up?
There was no immediately reply and Tony had to stop himself from sending another, putting the phone down on the table so he wouldn’t be tempted. Spike seemed to sense his nervousness, anxiously nudging the refilled coffee mug closer to Tony’s hand.
“Everything all right?” Logan asked, bending the newspaper over to look at him.
“Yeah…yeah, it’s fine,” Tony replied, distracted.
Logan wasn’t convinced, but Tony ignored him in favor of calling someone who would know what was going on.
“JARVIS,” he said when the AI picked up, “what’s going on? I’m seeing the news this morning about an attack on New York, and I don’t see my team anywhere near it.”
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line. “The Avengers left the mansion several days ago, sir. Director Fury assured me that you had been alerted of the circumstances.”
“Obviously I have not been alerted. What the fuck is going on?”
Spike flinched back at the angered tone in Tony’s voice, rolling backwards to Logan’s side of the table.
“I am unsure, sir.” JARVIS’s tone was flat, signifying his displeasure at this fact. “I have not received any communication from them since their departure.”
“And you didn’t think this was wrong?”
“I ordinarily do not receive communications from you during a mission unless the suit is in commission. As Director Fury informed me that you would not be coming and had been informed, I assumed all was well.”
“That lying bastard!” Tony’s chair slid back with a screech as he stood up, fingers clenching furiously on his phone. Logan’s eyes followed him as he agitatedly paced the length of the kitchen. “Damn it.” He took several breaths, trying to calm himself so he could plan out what he would be doing next.
Fury had gotten the Avengers Initiative started. He’d pulled them all together and given them the tools to begin. As Bruce had said, they’d been a time bomb of destructive chemical mixtures. That was then and this was now. They were no longer a ticking time bomb about to self-destruct; they were a potent poison to anyone that dared to take it (perhaps this analogy was a tad bit out of hand).
The point was that while Fury had gotten the Avengers started, they were their own team now. Yes, S.H.I.E.L.D. debriefed them and pointed them to where they were needed, but why exactly did they need to be debriefed? It was nothing they couldn’t figure out themselves. JARVIS was the world’s most advanced AI and more than capable of keeping up with the news and making sure the Avengers were put where they were most needed.
S.H.I.E.L.D. had given birth to the team, but it was about time that the agency let them go.
Fury was meddling in places where he shouldn’t be meddling. Although he was head of S.H.I.E.L.D., he had no idea just how the Avengers actually worked. Captain America was the leader and Iron Man was his second-in-command. Fury had interfered with that when he made the decision to drop Tony in the middle of the X-Men for training and then further decided that he should be benched until everything was mastered. Just because Tony hadn’t been accepted in the Avengers initially (yes for Iron Man and no for Tony Stark? Just how delusional were they?) didn’t mean he wasn’t an Avenger now.
And now? Now Fury had taken the Avengers God knew where and Tony was stuck in Winchester because the master spy had no qualms in lying to the men under his command.
Well, fuck that.
Tony snapped back to attention, brain whirling through plans. “Okay, JARVIS, here’s what you’re going to be doing. Keep an eye out for any communications involving the Avengers and let me know the moment you get anything. In the meantime, look at how the team is connected to S.H.I.E.L.D. and what we can do to severe those ties.”
“And you, sir?”
“I’m going to be paying a friend a visit,” Tony said, thinking of Pepper. If the Avengers was going to be independent from S.H.I.E.L.D., it was going to need its own source of funding, and SI was the best way to do it if the CEO was on board.
“Best of luck, sir.”
Tony paused, thankful for the umpteenth time that JARVIS had turned out the way he had. “Thank you, JARVIS.” With a press of his thumb, the call was disconnected.
Spike peered out from his position by Logan’s newspaper (the guy was actually a softie when one got right down to it; he’d taken wonderfully to the little AI), uncertain as to whether Tony was approachable.
Logan had a thoughtful expression on his face, arching an eyebrow.
“Yes?” Tony challenged, flipping his phone around in his hand.
Logan shifted, moving his eyes from Tony to his newspaper. “Nothing.” He hefted the newspaper up, taking Spike’s hiding place away, and looked back up at Tony over the top. “Didn’t hear anything.” He straightened the paper with a loud sound and proceeded to ignore Tony.
Pressing his phone in-between his hands, Tony closed his eyes and focused on the hum of his suitcase armor, calling it to him. He made sure to focus so that it wouldn’t go crashing through the walls.
Several seconds later, it zoomed into the kitchen, sliding to a halt on the table. On its heels were Charles and Jean.
“Is something wrong?” Charles asked, eyes flicking from the suitcase (prodded by a curious Spike) to Tony.
“Pickup’s at three today,” Tony said, hefting the armor up and leaving the kitchen (he could see Logan prevent Spike from chasing after him), Charles and Jean on his heels. “I’m packed and ready so give everything to the driver when he comes. I’m leaving now because I have a very important appointment.”
That mentioned, he should probably send Pepper a text so she wasn’t completely startled. Typing with one hand, he quickly sent one off, proceeding to stow his phone into the pocket of his hoodie.
Stopping by the entryway, he turned back to the two. “It’s almost done,” he told Charles, nodding towards his wheelchair. “I just need to do some last minute programming.”
Charles and Jean were silent, though Tony didn’t think they could glean much from his racing thoughts.
“Thank you,” Tony said, opening the door. “Tell the kids I said goodbye. I’ll drop by when the chair’s done.”
“Good luck,” Jean said, stepping out as Tony kicked the suitcase open.
“Let us know if there is anything we can do,” Charles said.
The suitcase armor was assembling itself over Tony in accordance to the homing bracelets that were now part of his permanent attire. The helmet clicked into place, the faceplate sliding down to cover his face and eyes lighting up as the suit fully came online.
“Thank you,” Tony said, attention already caught by the HUD.
Turning his back on them, he fired his repulsors and blasted off, feeling an extra oomph as his telekinesis kicked in a bit. He pushed it down, focusing solely on the humming of the suit around him.
“It is good to have you back, sir,” JARVIS said from the speakers in the helmet.
“Good to be back, JARVIS.” Tony was flying up through the clouds.
“What were your plans?”
“Stark Tower, New York City.” He leveled his flight, picking up speed. “I’m going to see Pepper about my team.”
It wasn’t S.H.I.E.L.D.’s team. Not anymore.