Twenty Years Ago
The first time Tony met Magneto, Master of Magnetism, he was just a boy, fifteen years old.
"The world is changing, Tony," his father warned him. "And some people want to change it for the better, and some want to change it for the worse."
Tony considered, not sure where the old man was going with this. "Where are we going, dad?" he asked, looking out the window of the limousine.
"A school," the elder Stark answered. "One I want you to see."
Tony frowned. "I have a school," he answered. "They haven't kicked me out yet, you know." Even if there may have been a couple of near misses.
"It's not for you," Howard answered idly. "You've persuaded your mother and I; you won't be returning to Canterbury, but instead starting M.I.T. in the fall."
The boy smiled. He'd been trying to convince his parents to let him go to college early for years.
"Besides," his father continued, "this school wouldn't take you even if we wanted them to."
Tony considered this. "Girls' school?" he asked hopefully.
Tony frowned. His academic record wasn't that bad, certainly not when set against his academic achievements and the prospects of his parents' money.
The limousine came to stop and Tony followed his father outside of the limousine. What towered in front of them may well have been a school, but it looked more like one of the old mansions that some of his parents' old-money acquaintences owned. Two men met them as they exited, introducing themselves as Charles Xavier and Erik Lenscherr. "Why don't you show Mr. Stark around, Charles?" He turned to Tony. "Would you like to see the athletic facilities?"
Tony shrugged. That sounded as good as anything; perhaps he would get to see some of the hot-and-sweaty co-eds.
Erik led Tony through the gym. "It's important to let your father have some time alone with Charles," Erik explained. "It's Charles who has to be persuaded, least as much as your father--convinced that accepting money from Stark Industries isn't taking blood money." He said this with amused smile, as if he considered his partner's position more to be an eccentric foible than anything else.
"What kind of school is this?" Tony asked, watching as two young boys, a broud-shouldered one and a thinner one wearing ruby red glasses, navigated their way across a basketball court. The broud-shoulder boy jumped up, kicked the basketball with his feet, then grabbed the hoop with his toes and hung upside down, like a bat.
"These children are the future," Erik said, watching as the two young men played basketball. "Young men and women with special abilities, a manifestation of their special genetic code. The world which fears us would call us mutants."
"And what about those of us who aren't mutants?" Tony asked.
The man shrugged. "Those with the ability to keep up will survive," he answered simply. "Those who cannot, won't."
The boy nodded, pondering Erik's words.
"Excuse me," Tony said, breaking off the conversation, as he saw a gorgeous teenaged redhead exit the locker room.
1991 C.E. -- The Passing of Howard Stark
Tony had been surprised when he saw Erik Lenscherr at his parents' funeral.
"I always respected your father," Erik told him as he offered his condolences. "He helped to end a conflict which cost me much, after all."
Tony blinked. He was pretty sure that Erik was the only one among the guests who would remember Howard Stark fondly because he had helped create the atom bomb. "The war in Europe was over by the time the bomb was used," he pointed out. "Hitler was dead."
"It wasn't Hitler who drove the Nazis to genocide," Erik corrected. "It was human nature, their inevitable propensity to hate. There is only one force in all the world which is stronger than hate, my boy; that much at least Charles and I agree upon."
"What is it?" Tony asked.
Erik raised an eyebrow. "Now that's where we disagree, you see."
The Not-So-Distant Future
"Mr. Stark, how kind of you to visit me," Erik had said as Tony entered his plastic cell. "I see you left your famous armor behind, though."
Tony just smiled as Pepper entered behind him. "Oh, I brought my armor," he answered. "It's the metal I left behind. We both know it'd simply be a death trap facing you, Erik."
Erik gave an acknowledging nod, then turned to Pepper. "And you must be Miss Potts," he said with a charming smile. "Tony always was fond of redheads."
Tony pretended not to notice Pepper's disconcerted cough. "I've never noticed him to exhibit that level of discrimination," she answered, quickly regaining her composure.
Erik laughed. "Quite so."
The Just-Slightly-More-Distant Future
Erik wasn't at the memorial service for Scott and Jean. Tony couldn't say he was exactly surprised; it's not as if the old man would have been particularly welcome. Still, his memories of the school, and of Scott and Jean, are as dominated by the man as much as they are by Jean's smile, hair, body.
Tony made sure to reassure Ororo that Stark Industries had no intention of stopping its sponsorship of the school simply because of the Professor's death. No matter who was at the helm, the company was committed to mutant rights and to the education of the next generation.
A young woman walked through the wall. "Miss Munroe?" she asked, more or less ignoring Tony. "Dr. McTaggert says she needs to see you about Theresa. She says it's urgent."
Ororo nodded. "Thank you, Kitty." She turned back to Tony. "Would you excuse me? One of our students is undergoing a secondary mutation."
"Of course," Tony said. "Give Moira my love."
Ororo left the room quickly, leaving Tony and the student together. "Mr. Stark," Kitty said to him, acknowledging his existence as she turned to face the wall, presumably ready to walk right through it again.
"Wait." Tony paused and examined the girl. "How old are you, Kitty?"
The girl blinked. "Eighteen."
Tony smiled and extended his arm. "It's nice to meet you."
The Future, Still Not All That Distant, Really
Erik didn't know how Tony found him, only that there he was.
"Your friends at the Strategic Homeland Alphabet Soup?" Erik asked, an eyebrow raised.
"S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't know where you are," Tony told him. "Not yet. And even if they did, they wouldn't do anything. Probably." He considered.
"They're independent of the FBI and the NSA, and they're not a law enforcement agency--not primarily, at least."
"Can I help you, Mr. Stark?"
Tony paused. "I understand why you did what you did," he said at last. "Jean was the weapon to end all weapons," Tony answered. "Alcatraz was the war to end all wars." He paused. "Haven't you learned anything from history, Erik?"
Erik didn't say anything. Did Tony have anything better to do than harass old men with nothing left to live for?
Tony cleared his throat. "I want to offer you a job," he said, sitting down across from Erik at the chess table. "Colonel Fury is assembling a team," he informed the other man. "The best of the best, both human and mutant."
"And you want me to be on it?" Erik asked, laughing at the sheer absurdity of the thought. "I'm just an old man. Magneto is dead."
Tony lifted his hand; at some point he had put on part of one of the gauntlets from his armor. There was a whirring sound, and the metal chess pieces on the table began to dance between them. "There are ways to master magnetism even without the X-gene," Tony pointed out.
"Tricks," Erik scoffed, but his voice wasn't as firm as Magneto's would have been. "The parlor games of a dying race."
Tony shrugged. "Maybe," he allowed. "Or maybe a hundred years from the now, the distinction between biology and technology won't seem so bright and clear as it does today."
Erik examined Tony. "What do you want from me, Stark? Surely not to put on an iron suit and fight miscreants."
"It's gold-titanium alloy," Tony corrected automatically. "And I suspect you could put up quite a fight. But no. We need you as an advisor--and an engineer. We don't need a man who can manipulate metal with his mind. We need Erik Lensherr, brilliant scientist and engineer. The man who helped build Cerebro. The man who ran the most dangerous terrorist organization of the twenty-first century."
Erik laughed. "Few people would view that as a qualification."
Tony smiled. "I'm one of a kind."
Erik nodded. "You are at that, Mr. Stark."
"I'd like you to meet the Cuckoos." Almost immediately Tony was joined by five identical-looking blonde teenagers--women who'd have been gorgeous bombshells if they weren't so very clearly jailbait. "Sophie, Phoebe, Mindee, Celeste, and Esme."
Erik laughed a dry laugh. "Isn't that a bit much even for you?"
Almost immediately Erik felt the familiar sensation of another presence in his mind, only this time in quintuplicate. "It's not what you think," Celeste said.
"Not yet, at least," Esme qualified in a voice which matched Celeste's pitch for pitch.
Erik examined the five girls again. "They're telepaths."
Tony nodded. "Clones, too, for what it's worth."
Everything fell into place. "You want me to rebuild Cerebro."
Tony nodded again. "We're talking about the culmination of everything you've ever worked for. You and Xavier."
"And just what are you planning on calling this team of superheroes of yours?" Erik asked.
Tony just smiled. "If anyone will appreciate the appropriateness of the name of the initiative, it'll be you," he said.
"They're called the Avengers."