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Lionheart

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“They're calling the suit Iron Man,” Jamie tells her, amusement clearly audible in her tone even over the shitty phone line she's calling on, and Tony throws back her head and laughs.

Of course they are. Tony's been having the same argument, more or less, with the media since she was fifteen years old. Back then, it had been over the gender associated with Tony's chosen name—Tony, a man's name, nothing so soft or pretty as her birthname, which was at least fifty percent of Tony's motivation in insisting on it in the first place. From the earliest points of Tony's memory, the media always wished that of her anyway—because, wonderful as it was that there was a new generation of Stark carrying out the family legacy, regardless of how much they valued what her mind could do, there was always underlying disappointment that that Stark was a woman. In the press, Natasha Stark was a wunderkind, yes, but also one who could be beautiful if she would just wash the grease out of her hair and put on make-up; the weapons she built were deadly and necessary, but maybe she could think about losing five pounds; her robots were amazing, but how would she ever find a man if she didn't act just a little more feminine? And when Tony discovered the many wonders of sex, well, they never quite called her a slut outright, but it came pretty damn close. Her whole life, Tasha Stark was a figure who, in the eyes of the press, would have been better, more acceptable and more accepted, if she were a man.

So at fifteen, Tony had called her very first press conference, and walked into it wearing a sharply pressed suit, a man's suit, with her hair perfectly done up and her lips painted blood red. Her opening line was, “So I'm sorry, for all of you who thought shaming me for not having testicles for fifteen years would make me grow a pair, but I have news for you: I'm a woman, and I'm still a hundred times more capable than any man I've ever met.” Her second line was, “Also, stop calling me Natasha, for god's sake, my name is Tony.”

As press conferences go, that one sort of went down in history.

So, yeah. It doesn't really come as any surprise to Tony that, twenty-one years later, she's about to have pretty much the same argument with the media all over again. “God,” she tells Jamie, when she's done laughing. “Iron Man, seriously? It was the lack of giant metal tits on the suit, wasn't it? Because you know me, Rhodey, if there was a way to build giant tits onto the suit and still have it be aerodynamically sound, I absolutely would've gone for it.” If that's what it takes to make people realize a woman is the pilot of the suit—if overtly, overly sexualizing the thing is what needs to happen so people will never, ever forget it's a woman saving their asses—then Tony would do it in a heartbeat.

Jamie, who's been the main accomplice to Tony's pissing match with the patriarchy since they first met at MIT, laughs. “I can picture that,” Rhodey says, and Tony can tell she's grinning without even needing to see it. “Jesus, they'd probably shoot lasers or something.”

“Repulsors,” Tony corrects, distractedly, because the thought's funny enough that her brain's decided to rerun schematics, see if there isn't some way to make that work. The answer still comes up no, unfortunately—Tony's a genius, if the possibility had been there she would have noticed it in her original planning phase—and much as Tony would enjoys fucking with people's perceptions of gender limitations, she's not willing to sacrifice efficiency for a fuck you, even one as blatant as that.

“I can hear you thinking about it,” Jamie says, and Tony grins, sprawls out further on her couch, and spares one soppy second to just be thankful for having Rhodey around.

“Yeah, no, it's still not going to work, sadly,” Tony says. “I'm thinking of having Pep call a press conference, instead.” The woman from the Strategic Homeland Whatever—Cousland? Coulson? Something like that, anyway—has been bugging Pepper to get Tony to do an official talk about the whole situation with Obie, to have Tony deny any personal involvement and talk down Obie's betrayal. Sooner or later, Pep's going to cunningly use his control of Tony's schedule to make her do it, because apparently she hired an evil mastermind for a PA; better to do it on her own terms and get it over with.

“Tony,” Jamie says, voice suddenly sharp, “you can't out yourself to the public just to fix a pronoun—”

“Rhodey,” Tony cuts her off, “Rhodey, come on. This is me you're talking to, remember? Of course I can. I've done much more over things I was much less invested in.” Tony knows, in that moment, that Jamie's thinking about how they got to be friends in the first place; when a rumor about Jamie and Tony being together nearly ruined her future Air Force career, and Tony, who'd known Rhodey for maybe six weeks at that point, might have sort of started a sex scandal just for the purpose of burying that rumor.

Jamie, after a second or two, sighs, and says, “Yeah, I know.” Considering that's practically Rhodey-speak for giving her blessing, Tony feels completely justified in the stupid grin that crosses her face just then. “You're going to give Pepper a heart attack before he turns forty, though.”

If it were anybody else, that would probably be true, but Tony keeps Pep around because he's the only man she's ever met who, when faced with everything Tony Stark is, just raised one eyebrow and continued doing exactly the same efficient job he was doing before. “Nah,” she says, “he'd get bored if I didn't throw challenges his way every once in a while.”

“Try not to break the press, okay?” Rhodey asks, and Tony's grin goes a little sharp.

“Aw, Rhodey, I'm just a harmless little woman,” she says, and if sarcasm doesn't actually drip from her words then it isn't for lack of trying. “What could I possibly do?” she asks, and hangs up.