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Fighting Ghosts

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There's fifteen people in the chapel, which means someone's going home unmatched. Tony plays a little game with himself, picking out who it will be, but he'll be real: it's usually him.

Well, always him, so far.

Only one in every few hundred people is sensitive to phantasms at all -- a Seer or a Fighter -- but the numbers have been steadily rising since they started keeping records. Which makes sense, the number of the dead is always on the rise too. Still, their status in society is special, and for Seers that means the euphemistic "protected", which is why he's nere now. A Seer is more vulnerable to phantasms than an ordinary person, physically and emotionally, and it used to be standard belief that they needed a Fighter to protect them.

The highly ritualized bullshit he's going through now with the masks and the robes and the beefy, sweaty-palmed twenty-something Fighters has traditionally been in place just to make Seers feel better about having no choice in their lives.

Until IronSight -- until Tony presented as a Seer at sixteen and was told he'd need a protector, and to eventually one day be presented to his Fighter. And he'd thought fuck that and built armor so if he did have to take on a phantasm he could do it his own damn self.

Well damn, son, you'd have thought he'd invented the Pill the way it caused a revolution.

But that's not even a generation past, only about fifteen years, and while young Seers now don't need a protector if they have a Stark IronSight, the inventor of the reason they don't…he still has one that he can't shake by law until he gets his Fighter. Human tradition is long and powerful. He's talked to the President about this but as long as the GOP controls Congress they're basically fucked.

So here he is. Again. Every year. Waiting to see if they've found someone to pair him with because it's the law. And Rhodey, his protector, might let him do whatever the fuck he wants to do, but it still grates on them both when someone turns to Rhodey to ask a question about Tony's well-being or opinions.

Tony can fight just as well as Rhodey. He can't understand why they won't just give him Rhodey as a Fighter, either, but the Order says Rhodey's not for him. (And truly, Rhodey might murder him or vice versa if they had to spend all their time together.)

Most of the Fighters are easy to pick out, even under cloaks and masks. They're huge, bulked up from fight training, and they even manage to sit with a cocky kind of swagger. Tony picks them out, one through six, and then hesitates between two candidates for number seven. The one guy has wide shoulders but he's hunched over and pulled in like he's trying to make himself smaller, and the guy next to him is cocky and has been talking like an asshole but he's not exactly swole.

So he's mildly surprised when the priest from the Order comes in, looks at the messy crowd of Seers and Fighters waiting for him, and barks, "Can you idiots not manage to form two lines? Seers left, Fighters right," and the cocky asshole joins the Seers side.

"You're Stark, arentcha?" the cocky asshole says, as the priest drones on about sacred responsibility.

"Go fuck yourself, twerp," Tony answers, because he's in no mood to play.

"Gonna go home to your protector again? By the time they find you a Fighter he'll only have to change your adult diapers -- "

Tony turns on him, ready to start some shit -- how dare this pissant little smear come at him and think he's getting away with it, even in the chapel? -- but someone else gets there first. A beautiful right hook splits the air between him and the asshole, and then the big guy who was trying to make himself tiny is there, standing over the asshole, and Tony looks up and sees intense blue eyes beneath the mask.

The priest has stopped speaking.

"Was he bothering you?" the big guy asks innocently. Tony gapes. Nobody's ever just straight up out of nowhere punched someone for him before. Nobody's ever had to, Tony handles his own shit, but….wow.

"I see our first match has been made," the priest drawls drily, and they both look at him and say "What?" in unison.

***

Making a scythe isn't hard. Not for Tony, sure, he's an engineer, he's trained in weapons building and a scythe is technically a weapon, even if its original intention was somewhat different. But even generally speaking, a scythe's basically just a flat oddly-shaped blade, and even the most inept Seer is capable of making a decent one, they have workshops and stuff.

The point is that even if your Fighter prefers the spirit sticks or the EMF gun, a scythe is important, it's a sign of devotion, it's a Seer making a tool for his bonded. It doesn't have to be perfect but it has to be strong and sharp and fitted to the Fighter. So it's not difficult, but you have to put some back into it.

Tony puts his back into everything, but he's been shying away from the scythe. They're bonded now -- they even spent a year together before bonding because Steve has weird ideas about making absolutely sure Tony wants to spend his life with a gorgeous blond who respects him and apologized profusely for the punching incident.

In retrospect it was a good call, because they still bicker a lot, but there was an incident with a half-dozen phantasms coming after Tony at once and after they survived that, Steve just grabbed him and their hands were over each others' hearts, bonding before they knew what was happening.

They've been bonded for three months. He needs to make the scythe. It's holding up legal stuff, a transfer of rights from Rhodey to Steve and Stark Industries stocks and holdings too, for that matter. If Steve's going to be his bonded, Tony's going to make sure he has enough SI property to live comfortably if Tony dies first. Steve won't actually accept more than that, but Tony wore him down.

He found old-growth scavenge oak for the shaft, lathing it down carefully until the wood was laser-straight, with good heft. He's placed several leather handholds at the precise points Steve likes to handle a scythe (he's old school, scythes all the way). The end of the shaft is notched so that when the blade goes over it, barbs in the blade will hook in -- you'd have to snap the oak in half to get the blade off it after that.

And the blade, he's pretty sure, is done. He's forged the steel, folding and folding and hammering and folding, molding the fittings, sharpening the edge until the point is a wicked glint in the low light. It sings if you tap it. All he has to do is hammer the fitting over the shaft, and then give it to Steve. They could do a ceremony but Tony didn't want one and Steve seemed relieved he didn't want one.

He just has to pick it up and do it.

He looks at the notched oak, the hammered steel, and reminds himself if it isn't perfect that Steve won't care, but he also knows if it isn't perfect he'll throw it away and start again.

Of course if it isn't perfect he CAN throw it away and start again, which is how he convinces himself to fit the blade to the shaft, to tip it on end and with the other end padded by the edge of his boot, hammer it home. The mallet feels good under his hand, the oak solid, the blade singing, and maybe --

"Is that it?" Steve asks from behind him, startling him, and Tony whirls, and the scythe goes tumbling to the floor --

Steve catches it before it falls, flips it easily over the back of his hand, and brings the blunt end of the shaft with its low leather grip up into his other hand, so that he's holding it in the second defensive position. He flips the blade up into fourth position, spins it across his hand again, and brings it fully upright to rest position so he can study the steel.

Tony is inappropriately turned on.

"She handles like a dream," Steve murmurs, running his thumb across the blade, not even flinching when he draws blood. A good sign -- Tony's mother used to say a blade that bloods its Fighter knows its master.

"I haven't tested the balance or the -- "

"No need. I can tell you now it's good," Steve says, flipping the scythe in the air, rolling it across his shoulders, catching it in the crook of his elbow. God, it's like sex. His eyes catch on Tony, wicked and delighted, and he bends in for a kiss, putting his weight on the scythe. "Thank you. It's perfect, Tony."

Part of Bonding is knowing when your partner is lying, and Tony can't find even a hint of a lie in anything Steve's said. The scythe is perfect, and it looks beautiful in his hands, too. Steve is pleased and excited and loves him.

"Makes me wanna go out and find a phantasm or three to slay," Steve adds.

Tony leans his head against Steve's shoulder and sees light glint down the blade behind the profile of Steve's face.

"Well, let's go then," he says with a grin, and Steve lights up.