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Catechism

Chapter Text

I.

Tony had always known that he was a special snowflake.

He just didn't realize exactly how special, not until the Incident that Shall Not be Named happened in Afghanistan, where life saw fit to endow him with Stark-designed shrapnel through his chest in a grand gesture of unsubtle irony. Somehow he'd managed to cobble together a weaponised armour of sorts using the equipment in the cave that the terrorists had acquired, because Tony Stark was going to rescue himself, thank you very fucking much US Army, and it had all been going fairly well until Yinsen had abruptly gotten infected with self-sacrifice, and then... then Tony only remembered being consumingly, blindingly angry-

He'd woken up in some sort of infirmary that looked a sight better than the cave, not that that was saying very much at all, if Tony had to be honest. But someone had at least bothered to clean him up and put him in a sterile hospital gown, and there was even a glass of water to the side. Tony had the mother of all headaches pounding in his skull, and as he groaned and tried to sit up, only managing to roll over, trying to reach the water, the machine he was hooked up to started beeping in alarm.

Tony glared at it, trying to will it to switch off, and just as he managed to prop himself up awkwardly against the headboard of the cot, the steel sliding doors slipped open, and a tall, bald and scowling African-American man strode in, dressed in a black trenchcoat with an eye patch, of all things. Behind him was a blonde man, military if Tony knew anything about it, straight-backed, broad-shouldered, sharply dressed in a suit with a deep green shirt. Blondie was easy on the eyes, at least, although the look that he levelled at Tony - something between exasperation, relief, and a strange sort of warm fondness - was fucking weird, seeing as Tony had never met Blondie before in his life.

Then again, Tony was awesome, and made weapons. He probably had more than a few fans in the military.

"Let me guess," Tony rasped, looking over to the African-American man in the vaguely piratical get-up. "Red pill or the blue pill?"

The African-American man's scowl deepened and seemed to turn long-suffering. "My name is Nicholas Fury. I'm the director of SHIELD, a UN black ops initiative targeted at preserving global security."

"...Okay. Never heard of you," Tony noted warily. Either he was hallucinating, or the terrorists were getting really creative. "Where the hell am I?"

"You're in Manhattan, Mister Stark."

"Uh huh. In that case, give me a phone. I need to make some calls."

"But before you leave," Fury ignored him, "You're going to have to answer some questions."

"Look-"

"Approximately twenty-eight hours ago," Fury continued evenly, "There was an unusual light flare in a section of the Hindu Kush that was, and I quote witnesses, 'as bright as a new sun', and it went on for nearly half an hour. Surveillance followed the flare to a cave, which had been burned, and just beyond it was you, face-down on the rock, unconscious and unharmed."

"Unharmed?" Tony repeated, surprised, then he belatedly realized that other than the headache, nothing else seemed to hurt. Hurriedly, he pulled up the collar of the blue hospital shift that he was wearing, and glanced down at his chest.

Unmarked.

What in the world...?

"Your life signs were stable, but despite repeated attempts to revive you, you remained unconscious until a few minutes ago," Fury went on, as though oblivious to Tony's undoubtedly visible astonishment. "How much do you remember?"

"There was..." Tony hesitated, frowning, rubbing his eyes, then he shook himself as years' worth of Pepper's very patient military public relations training belatedly kicked into gear. "I want a phone. And the address of wherever we are. If we're in Manhattan, you can't keep me here."

"Mister Stark, it's in your best interests to cooperate," Fury glowered at him, but Tony had been facing down figures of authority of varying importance since he was twelve, and besides, he'd just spent the last three months in captivity, and what with waking up randomly and magically healed in unknown locations, had just had fucking enough of being trapped.

He was also hungry, and very close to being willing to kill for a cheeseburger.

"You can book in a meeting with my secretary when I'm out," Tony retorted, with as insincere a smile as he could conjure, and even as Fury bristled, the blonde man began to chuckle.

"Something funny, Michael?" Fury transferred his glower to his companion, who merely shrugged.

"Gabriel has always been contrary. Let him go. You'll get no help from him if you force him."

"He melted everything in that cave, even the bones of the people who'd been in it. I don't-"

Wait, what? Melted?

"Nicholas," Michael interrupted, with a gentle smile, and Fury sighed.

"Fine. But if there's a miniature solar flare incident in Manhattan if or when our friend here wakes all the way back up, you'd better be fucking on the ball." Fury glanced back over at Tony. "You're free to go, Mister Stark. I'll contact your secretary."

"Great. Civility at last. Thank you. I'll make a suitable donation to UNICEF, or your corrupt UN charity of choice, and maybe we'll call it even."

Fury didn't even bother to acknowledge him further, stalking out of the room, and Michael shook his head wryly. "The Director has not been having a good week."

"You mean he normally doesn't barge into hospital rooms to harangue kidnapping victims?"

"The War has begun, and not all of us have awoken." Michael observed, "And some of those who have - like you - have only done so incompletely. The Director is under quite a great deal of pressure, and he is only human. Unlike us."

"Okay," Tony said, after an awkward pause, "You're cute and you seem nice, but seriously, either there's something trippy in my IV, or you need an industrial-grade strength coffee."

"I will speak with you again, Gabriel," Michael nodded at him, and left the room; though he looked back just before the doors closed, as though with reluctance, and hell, this was Tony's life of late, when a mind blank from trying to free himself from terrorists was quickly turning out to not be the weirdest thing that happened to him this week.

II.

Banned from further press conferences for now, Tony had been working on the blueprint for Mark II of the Iron Man suit when he glanced up for a moment to stretch his back and started violently when he saw Michael standing beside the Bugatti, running a palm idly over the bumper.

"How the fuck did you get in here?"

"I flew," Michael said, and smiled gently when Tony bristled. Cute as Michael was, especially when he smiled, Tony had not been having a good week, what with his company directors threatening to mutiny, the free-falling share price, and sharp pangs from his newly awakened conscience.

"All right, smart-arse, I appreciate the help I got in that Black Ops get-up, but you're trespassing and..." Tony trailed off, gaping, as Michael rolled his shoulders; shadows seemed to uncoil from his back, stretching out over the cars, further and further back, then the tips of it seemed to solidify and flow backwards, like a photograph turning into focus, almost all the way to his shoulder blades. Wings.

Three sets of gigantic wings.

"Funny," Tony said faintly, when he managed to recover his voice, "I kinda thought that they would be white."

"Not mine," Michael noted dryly, and yea, there was a fucking halo, even, a faint golden glow from out of nowhere, just over his head, as his brown wings with their white bars folded down over his back. Somehow, they all managed to fit without looking too awkward, with the medium top set, the huge middle set, with a span that could probably almost stretch the length of the garage, to the smallest third set, that barely brushed the ground when folded up against Michael. "Neither are yours."

"Okay," Tony pinched at the bridge of his nose, "I really hate to ruin the moment, seeing as this is possibly my first religious experience of some sort, but I'm not an angel. You called me 'Gabriel' the last time. My name's Tony. Or Anthony, if you wanted to be precise."

"Your avatar's name," Michael corrected. "But if you prefer to be called Tony, you may call me Steven. That was my vessel's birth name."

"All right, Steve," Tony injected a touch of insolence into his tone, but that only made Michael - or Steven - smile faintly, almost indulgently. "Let's take this again from the top. You, quite possibly, angel. Me, definitely, human. No wings. No halo. Made in America and not in Heaven. Also, a hundred per cent meatbag."

"You awoke briefly in Afghanistan," Steven noted. "Yours was ever the slowest process. You love humanity most, and have always had difficulty letting go of the pieces. But awaken in full you must. The cycle has started to run again. We must find the others before the damage done grows too great."

"The cycle? What cycle?"

"The Revelation," Steven explained earnestly. "The End Days. Lucifer has begun to move."

"...All right..." Tony blinked, "I was expecting more 'swarms of locusts and rivers of blood', not so much stock market crashes and widespread unemployment. Unless the symbolism's been upgraded. In which case, I'm going to be greatly disappointed here."

"In the later days of the cycle, should it be allowed to run, you will have your symbolism," Steven said quietly. "But you must help me. You and the others."

"We're getting a bit ahead of ourselves here," Tony gestured at Steven's primly folded wings. "You, angel. Me, human. Need me to repeat that?"

"You are no human," Steven stepped forward, until he was all the way into Tony's personal space, crowding him confidently against the console, and even as Tony sucked in a breath to snap a retort, or maybe knee the presumptuous bastard in the balls, the third tier of Steven's wings curled over, pressing lightly over his ribs and hips, wrapping around him to weave over the small of his back.

All unthinking, Tony reached down to run fingers lightly over the ridge to the covert feathers, and there was a sense of déjà vu, somehow, at the back of his mind, as though his fingers had walked this through before, pressed tips through an impossibility of soft feathers. He looked up, sharply, to find Steven watching him, his cheeks flushed, eyes a little glazed, as though in pleasure.

Tony did not need to know that about angels.

"Little space here?" he grit out tightly, and Steven blinked slowly before stepping back, his wings clipping away and folding back down, drooping a little at the tips, as though in reluctance.

"Sorry," Steven offered, though he didn't sound particularly sincere; the gentle cast to his face had been replaced by that strange, too-familiar look that Tony had last seen in Black Ops Island - exasperation, fondness, and just as before, it was unsettling. "In time, it will come. But meanwhile, you should prepare to defend yourself. Lucifer may have felt your first awakening, as did I."

"What, should I start stockpiling religious icons and crucifixes?"

"Salt and blessed silver, perhaps-"

"So you're suggesting that I'm about to get attacked by demons?"

"I'm telling you that you will be."

Because this was Tony's life, really. Kidnapper terrorists were evidently so last week. But at least he was taking things well, albeit by mathematical equation. Angels seemingly existed, ergo, demons existed, and if an angel was under the weird impression that Tony was indeed a special snowflake, it didn't discount the possibility that demons were just as stupid.

Privately, after the headache had passed, Tony wasn't entirely too sure what to think about Steven's conclusion. The incontrovertible fact remained that the huge, permanent shrapnel injury that he had endured for three months was now gone, and all the medical tests he had taken had pronounced him disgustingly healthy. Other than that, he didn't feel any different, and an attempt to squeeze out any solar flare-esque abilities from his hands in the privacy of his lab hadn't worked, nor had any attempt to will giant wings to appear from his back, although Dummy had doused him once with safety foam, possibly in an act of moral support.

"So there are more of you? How many more of you?" Tony asked, a little curious.

"Of the Archangels - there are six of us in full. I have found you, Uriel and Raziel to date. Ramiel and Ezekiel are still dormant."

"And then there's Lucifer." At Steven's nod, Tony added, because he had, out of curiosity, thoroughly researched Wiki yesterday, "If he's around, and you're around, why don't the both of you just go have your showdown? From the popular literature, the Archangel Michael always beats the shit out of Lucifer, doesn't he? We can skip all the frills and scorched earth steps."

"Lucifer is imprisoned," Steven elaborated, "The End Days as humanity knows it begins in cycle when the strength of his cage begins to weaken. Three seals have been broken. Ten remain. I cannot stop the cycle by myself. Should Lucifer be freed, I will face him, but the mortal casualties will be catastrophic."

"And then rivers of blood and locusts?" At Steven's wry smile and nod, Tony sighed. "Okay. Fine. If you're really, absolutely sure that I'm what you think I am, how do I trigger it?"

"Memory," Steven began, then he tilted his head, as though listening to something, frowned, and vanished.

That wasn't useful.

III.

Demons, as it turned out, were assholes, and shapeshifters, and if not for Happy's quick interference when Tony was on his way out of a charity gala, would probably have ruined more than just Tony's Hartmarx suit. Unfortunately, Tony wasn't anywhere near any armoured suits, Happy was now unconscious and bleeding but still alive, and the masses of screaming gala guests did not make for good or sane cover.

By the time Tony made it down a side corridor, heading for the back exit, the demon had shaped into something only dimly human-like that was beginning to have difficulty squeezing through a normal door, and it was totally rocking the spikes-on-spikes-on-scales Alien chic, with shreds of its previous waitress disguise hanging off horns and its leathery black skin. It moved like some sort of demolition derby, smashing into furniture and anyone unlucky to be in its way, roaring and gouging gashes into the marble floor of the hotel with its talons, ignoring the security guards emptying bullets into its flanks.

Irrationally, Tony wished that he'd thought to get Steven's phone number. Did angels even have phone numbers? Or was the praying bit of the popular propaganda true?

Skidding around a corner as he sprinted through the library and towards the kitchen, Tony supposed that it wasn't as though he had anything to lose. "Dear Michael, or Steve, or Steven," he grit out, as the demon snarled and barrelled through the library doors, overturning an antique oak table and bounding over a couch, then slamming into the heavier mahogany door that Tony managed to drag shut behind him. "I'm in trouble right now and will appreciate help, amen."

Nothing. So much for prayer.

The chefs in the large kitchen looked up sharply as Tony pushed into the room and grabbed the closest weapon-shaped thing he could reach, turning around quickly as, bellowing, the demon hauled itself into the kitchen, baring its large, curved fangs. The chefs scattered, screaming, and Tony took a deep breath. Boiling oil to his right, check. Bread knife in hand, possibly could have been improved, check. He could probably delay the demon or something, get out of the hotel, and... and... and for some reason, deep down, Tony was just fucking tired of running.

Story of his life to date.

"Yeah, you don't scare me," Tony growled, and this was probably not a rational approach, really, not from someone with Tony's usual level of brain function and/or athletic ability, but something about being chased around a hotel by something right out of the brain of one of the bible kooks demonstrating on the street was tapping into the caveman part of his backbrain. "Come and fucking get it."

Unfortunately, bravado notwithstanding, Tony's reflexes weren't exactly what they used to be, if they ever were good enough for these kinds of situations, and at his first attempt at dodging a charge, the demon pivoted with surprising speed and grabbed him with a fist half the size of Tony's chest, slamming him into one of the steel fridge doors with enough force to dent metal and crack bone. Tony snarled, stabbing down, but the knife might as well be a fucking toothpick for how useful it was, and he could feel the demon's grip tightening, crushing down, and even as Tony started to struggle for breath, spots spreading over his vision, something within him rose up- he dropped the knife, pressing his palms over the demon's wrist instead, and spoke something in a tongue that wasn't meant for a human throat.

The demon screamed, dropping Tony and backpedaling, its skin bursting into flame, the heat so intense that fat started to melt off the creature's bones, then flesh, then bone itself, and as Tony watched, wide-eyed, the fire consumed the demon until only a smoking stain was left on the tiled floor.

Leaning his skull back on the cool steel, Tony tried to catch his breath, panting, even as Steven abruptly appeared next to the stain.

"You're a little late," Tony rasped, as Steven glanced at the smoke, then stepped over to press a palm over his shoulder. The pain from his ribs disappeared, and Tony gingerly pulled himself to his feet. "Where were you?"

"You were doing well by yourself." Steven shrugged, a quirk playing at the edges of his mouth, then he sobered. "I was trying to prevent further casualties in Sioux Falls. A grigor pack was loose."

"Then-"

"Was loose," Steven repeated, and reached over to take his arm. Tony blinked, and abruptly, they were back at the entrance to the hotel. Steven bent, to press fingers against Happy's forehead, and Happy stirred, looking up, disoriented.

"Boss... where..."

"Just sit there for a bit, Happy. It's fine." Tony glanced over to Steven. "Thanks. I guess."

"Soon," Steven smiled, cryptic and affectionate, then to Tony's surprise, leaned over for a quick peck over Tony's cheek, before he vanished again.

Well. Tony hadn't needed to know that about angels, either.