Billionaire heiress Toni Stark spoke to a private session of the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC today according to two sources briefed on the meeting. Despite the return of the Rogue Avengers earlier this year, Ms Stark has remained a constant source of controversy about the reliability of the superhero team.
While her leadership was accepted, temporarily, as the confusion over the Accords was sorted out. The Rogues, led by Captain America, stayed out of the public eye, and several legislators have repeated old complaints about her membership in the team.
Both sources say that the heiress to the Stark fortune was grilled for several hours on whether her presence further divides the Avengers, and why she has not already resigned.
Ms Stark could not be reached for comment.
Wall Street Journal
The Avengers weren’t close anymore.
No one could blame them for that, not after the Accords, and Siberia, and Rhodey and everything else. There was plenty of blame thrown back and forth between them, but nobody bothered to feel bad that they’d lost their camaraderie. It was fine on the field, so it didn’t matter. When evil popped up to have a go at them, the team moved fluidly, trusting each other, reacting with the same instincts that brought them together in the first place.
They folded the Soldier into the mix, because he was excellent at infiltration, recognized Hydra tactics in time to counter them, and kept Captain America from making choices too stupid to survive. He also let an experimental machine scrub the trigger words out of his head when there was a 5% chance it would scrub his brain entirely out of his head.
Anyway. His inclusion was a condition of Captain America’s return.
Toni’s opinion on it didn’t matter. The world needed the Avengers. The Avengers needed Captain America. Captain America needed Bucky Barnes. Toni Stark developed the tech to let that happen.
The Wakandan’s were happy to keep their silence in exchange for the patents.
Ross was removed after a few long conversations with the heads of media organizations and several well placed political donations. She should have done it years earlier, but Bruce asked her not to get involved. With Bruce still missing, and the others not speaking to her, there was no one to say No.
So she got the team back together again, because she was Toni Stark, and she fixed things.
But they weren’t close anymore.
The Avengers put on a show for the public, which returned the favor with memes and flower crowns and adoring fans.
They were all great at the charade. Public events made it look like they were one big happy family. Barnes slipped right into the mix, guilt-wracked but brave, making amends for past wrongs with the world’s mightiest heroes. They all did interviews together and publicly talked about the events around the formation of the Accords as water under the bridge. Steve was bashful talking about his best friend. Rhodey talked about friendly fire and the dangers of the battlefield. Toni did her best to make it seem like it was all a minor misunderstanding.
It didn’t stop the questions, or the stories in every paper, and the leaks from Congress, and the hints from the military, or the whispers from the polite and the shouted questions from the rude. Half the planet was talking about whether or not Toni should be an Avenger after driving a wedge through the team.
Sometimes they even shouted questions while the team was all in the room. Not that anyone answered them. Toni glared, the rest of the team pretended they didn’t hear. A pretty miserable system, but better than Steve Rogers trying to pretend he gave a damn.
Most of the time, Toni went to the shop and stayed out of their hair. Unless they needed something.
When they needed something, if they asked her or not, she got in their business and fixed it for them. Not because she needed to make anything up to them. She didn’t. They’d fucked her over with the Accords, following after Steve and putting all of the pressure on her to hold the world together and make it right.
And she did, because she was Toni Fucking Stark.
It said something about Toni’s life that she had an established system in case of kidnapping and torture, and while there had been tweaks, it was still basically the same as from when she was a kid.
- Let them underestimate you.
- Don’t fight back until you have an exit.
- Lie from the start.
- Protect what matters.
- Assume no one is coming to help.
After Afghanistan she amended number four to include the reactor as well. That was prudence. It could probably withstand any of the banal attacks by fists and boots, but it sent shocks through her body and did more to paralyze her with fear than any other threat. For a little while, after the Chitauri, before the Accords, she considered removing the fifth and placing her faith in the Avengers. Then Cap got called to DC, Natasha went with him, Barton vanished, Thor was in Asgard, and Bruce spent most of his time out of the range of cell towers and satellite surveillance. All while Toni drowned in PTSD. So, number five stayed on the list.
After Siberia number four pretty exclusively meant her hands and her reactor. If she got hit in the head and died, whatever, that was the end of that.
Rhodey wanted to be there for her, but the generals rarely gave him time to check in with her. He’d come if he knew, but he didn’t get told things unless Toni told him herself. Nowadays, even with the suit walking for him, he wasn’t at his best. His fighting was still clunky. He wanted to help, but he couldn’t.
Number five was never going to come off the list.
Toni curled tighter, shielding the reactor and her arms, pain spiking bright and vivid in her mind with each blow. There were four of them, thugs, goons, dressed like a paramilitary thrift store had done a blow out sale, and they took it in turn, one pair then the other, to beat the shit out of her. It wasn’t the all out assault of a group trying to kill her. As much as it hurt, they wanted her alive.
They paused, and Toni forced her muscles to relax. It was only a few seconds rest, but it would help when they restarted.
Someone hauled her to her knees on the dank tile, keeping her in place by her hair.
The snap and swooping sound of a phone sending a picture message raised a grin that she tried to shove back down. Lumberjack-looking-goon spotted it, slapping her across the scraped side of her face.
“You have something to say Stark? Some smart reply? Not in your suit now, you just gonna take this like a little whore?”
Rule number one was at the top of the list because she was so very bad at following it.
“I don’t do tech support. Need an authorized dealer for that.”
“Sorry Stark, not one of yours.”
He shook an iphone at her and she cursed in her head. Jarvis could backtrace anything that came from a Starkphone and she owned the market. She dominated the market. She ended other companies each time she released a new model. These assholes were using her biggest competitor. Jarvis could still probably trace it. She beefed up his access to satellite networks after they lost Friday to Ultron.
Except Jarvis primarily traced off the implants in her arms. The ones that used to be in her arms.
The ones that the goon with the grey-streaked braid had cut out of her with the indifference and disgust of a man cleaning dirt from his fingernails.
She’d woken to that, on the floor of what she was pretty sure was an abandoned underground psych ward, with two men sitting on her, and a third cutting away her backup plan. Toni screamed until she lost her voice. Rule six, Don’t Scream, fell apart in a cave on the other side of the world. She never considered restoring it.
She screamed and she did what she’d done in the cave. Her mind whirled through design and technology and kept her apart from the suffering. By the time she got to the tower, she’d be ready to build an undetectable tracker.
Her voice was cracked and raw when the beating started again, a muted shriek behind clenched teeth. They were aiming their abuse towards her legs, and giving away their lie. They hit harder there. The strikes to her face and stomach were softened enough not to kill her. Hurt like hell, but they didn’t -- or whoever they were working for -- didn’t want her dead. Toni waited them out while they lifted her back to her knees to spit at her.
One of them made a comment about getting his dick wet, and the other three cackled, but stopped him with comments about it being a dumbass idea. It really was. She smiled at the goon, showing off bloody teeth, and said, “I only bit his dick mostly off.”
The kid punched her hard enough the world went grey.
Captain America, the Falcon, the Black Widow and all the country’s favorite Avengers did a tour of a local hospital on Tuesday, visiting the children’s ward, and spending hours taking photos. The event was organized by the re-formed SHIELD, part of a series of press events to restore faith in the besmirched organization.
Videos and photos are making the usual viral spin around social media, now with the added bonus of James Barnes. One photo in particular, of the veteran and hero smeared with frosting from a six year old’s cake, has prompted the hashtag #SaltyCupcake.
Unfortunately for the PR team that arranged it, there are also several videos of kids asking to meet Toni Stark, and crying as Captain America informs them that she had to leave early for a meeting.
See the Full Photoset Here!
Toni came to as they shut the door behind them.
The men were smarter than the average kidnapper considering that they grabbed her at all, but not enough to intimidate her. The dampening field they started with was good enough she planned to steal it on the way out the door. They’d had her for a few hours and she didn’t know the exact location. They hadn’t once left her near technology.
So, sure: Smarter than average.
Still stupid enough to tie her forearms together in front of her before they left.
The glow from the arc reactor in her chest was enough light to work by, but she leaned against the wall, trembling, for a long time before she could consider escape.
If the picture had been sent to a buyer, they would be there soon. If it was sent to a client, they’d get their orders soon. If it was sent for a ransom….
Stark Industries had a strict policy against paying those. Toni knew that because she wrote that policy herself and while Pepper wouldn’t like it, and the board wouldn’t vote unanimously, it definitely wouldn’t be in time to be of help.
The Avengers didn’t have enough money to pay it. Even if they did.
It was even odds that the rest of the team would muster to come find her as a show of strength to the world that doubted them sometimes.
And there was rule number five to think about. It was the safer assumption.
She forced herself to take a deeper breath, and started inching her shirt up to uncover the reactor.
Interpersonal tensions to one side, the Avengers needed Iron Man. So it was time to escape.
Toni slowly rotated a ring on the edge of the reactor, waiting for the click that indicated the signal was activated. She could manage that even with her movement limited by injury and rope. Activated, she counted back from sixty. When there was no beep, she cursed again. They still had the dampening field running. She was definitely taking that when she got out. Anything that could block the emergency signal was worth a second look. She’d improve it, and then work out how to get her signals around it. Great couple days of work. Military would love it. She’d have a blast doing it. Forty eight straight hours of engineering bliss.
First things first: escape.
Which meant getting out of bondage. The hemp rope was too thick for her to gnaw through and the blade Nat gave her years ago vanished before Toni woke. Which meant she had to slip the bonds.
“Fuck.” Toni took plenty of self defense training when she was a teen and every kidnapper’s idle daydream, she knew she needed a way to slick up her arms. The very first time and instructor showed her how, they used KY jelly. Gross, but helpful. Once, when she was grabbed at fourteen, she got thrown in the mud, and used that to slide to freedom. Those weren’t options at present.
She wasn’t risking dehydration when she didn’t know where she was. Luckily, the cuts on her arms from where they removed the suit locators wept a bit of blood. Only a bit. They were clotting nicely. She had to do something about that.
With her jaw locked tight, she dragged her forearm over the edge of the reactor, tearing all three injuries open. She leaned forward, hissing at the pain in her ribs, and let the blood gather as she pulled her arms back and forth, a quarter inch at a time, to open the wounds on her other arm.
The problem point was the connection above her elbows.
The goons were above average, and knew to lash forearm to forearm, then each wrist to the opposing bicep. It wasn’t impossible to escape, but the rope was tight, and she needed the blood to slide the rope down her elbow. All she needed was one. Until she knew which was easier, she got ready for both, watching her skin paint blood red like a sick echo of the suit.
The loop of rope on the right shifted, leaving a red smear where it had been. Toni grinned.
These were not normal life skills.
And she was not a normal woman.
Toni worked her jaw, building up what spit she had, and gnawing on the cuts inside her mouth until it was disgustingly full. She spat the foamy pink mess down her bicep, letting it drip and pool where it hit the rope, and slid around the perimeter of it.
From there it was the work of minutes. She slipped the coil from her elbow, wetted her thumb with a touch more blood, tucked it against her palm and wrenched it out of the rope.
Hurt a hell of a lot more than when she learned with silk and nylon cord. It left abrasions over the outside of her hand that stung fiercely. It made her brain crackle with static. But it worked.
The pain gave her some clarity above the haze she’d been in, and Toni reassessed the room. Her legs wobbled when she rose, but didn’t collapse. They’d kicked her to hell and back, but hadn’t touched the bottom of her feet. She’d be bruised and puffy soon, but until her muscles locked up, she’d be fine.
She tested the beacon again, hearing the click and counting down while she surveyed the two doors in the space. It still couldn’t connect.
There was nothing useful in the room.
Again, much smarter goons than normal. They knew better than to give her any supplies. She was almost proud of them. Except that she was still spitting blood, had cracked ribs, and she would barely be able to walk in a few more hours when the bruises and swelling stepped into high gear.
Spinning the ring on the reactor the other direction delivered a set of lockpicks from the bottom, and Toni was sneaking up a back staircase ten minutes later.
Definitely an abandoned psych hospital. In the middle of some creepy abandoned town by a look out the window.
There were voices nearby, more than the four bastards that she’d met earlier, and no matter how much she wanted to go beat them to shit and steal their tech, without the suit it wasn’t going to happen.
She climbed through a broken ground-floor window, slicing a long cut on her thigh, and scurried off into the tree-broken buildings. She ran out of land before she felt confident with the distance. The island was tiny, uninhabited, and creepy as anything. Sitting on a rock, by the water, out of sight, she spun the disc again. It beeped immediately. Connected. Jarvis knew where she was. He’d send a suit immediately. It was a low tech backup plan that listed somewhere around Plan Q or R in her running lists, but no one had ever found that beacon.
If it hadn’t connected, she would have had to swim. She could see the other islands, and the skyline of New York. Because the bastards were smart but apparently morons. She was still in the city.
That was just lazy.
Blackmailing the Captain?
While not everyone is going to agree with the conclusion, it’s hard to dismiss how many stories and rumors about the ongoing schism in the Avengers are posted each day. Not everyone has to believe them, and those that do often take it too far.
However, no one can pretend anymore that there isn’t something wrong.
Since the return of Captain America and the Rogues, there have been daily leaks highlighting the necessity of removing Toni Stark from the team. One or two could be dismissed. Ten or twelve could be a conspiracy. At this point, keeping accurate count of them all meant that the New York Times has a team of two who do nothing else.
So we know that there is something going on between the team.
We don’t want to jump to conclusions, but with the newest round of quotes coming from Senator Acton’s office, an FBI investigation into the personal finances of the Stark heir is underway. In addition to that, letters were sent to the rest of the team that, reportedly, inquired about any pressure the former party-girl may have exerted to maintain her spot.
Nothing is certain yet, and we advise caution, but it is a fairly obvious conclusion given the information available.
New York Times: Op-Ed
She avoided the water of the East River, and counted down the time for Jarvis to deploy a suit to her location. It wouldn’t be long. He wouldn’t fly them at full speed unless she activated the secondary beacon, but it wasn’t far away. She could see the top of the Tower from the rock she’d chosen.
A soft whine lifted her head as a suit skimmed over the surface of the river, low and stealthy.
“Hey J, come to mama.” The suit stopped in front of her, and the head tilted to the left for a moment before opening. It was the med suit. Because Jarvis was too smart for his own good. He was also far sassier than a computer program should be. The head tilt carried more judgement than she deserved. Normally the suit would locate her and assemble around her. Without the microchips, she had to be old fashioned about it.
“Best decision I ever made J.” She groaned as the suit took the weight off her legs.
“I must assume you are not referring to the situation you have just left.”
“Not so much. Sit rep? Where am I? And hit me with the good stuff. I want to get back in there and kick some ass and steal some tech.”
“I have to advise against that decision Miss. You have three cracked ribs, Hairline fractures in your legs, numerous lacerations and a minor concussion.”
“I can take ‘em.”
“Miss. Your fighting abilities in this state would be at a seventy percent reduction.”
“Cave. Mark 1. Obie. The guy that wasn’t actually the Mandarin. Don’t you start with me J.”
“They are also utilizing a dampening field that previously prevented my detecting your beacons.”
“Missiles Jarvis. I have missiles. I can blow it from here.”
The suit whirred, and fine pin-pricks of pain scattered over the worst of the injuries as Jarvis began medicating her.
“My mistake Miss, I expected you would wish to retrieve the technology behind the field that was able to circumvent your precautions.”
The medicine was low dose, just enough to take the edge off and let her keep fighting if needed, or get her back to the Tower. Intramuscular dosages weren’t as reliable, but it quickly reduced the agony to a thrum.
Toni exhaled something that was a sigh and a groan and a curse, “Fine. Get me home and I’ll come back to kick some ass later. Finish the sit rep.”
By the time the suit was rising above the treeline, she had her breathing relatively calm. As normal as it got with the reactor in her chest.
“You were on North Brother Island in the East River. It is located beside Riker’s Island and was once utilized as a leper colony. The time is 6:43 in the evening. Your trackers fell off my grid ten hours and thirty two minutes ago. As per your protocols you had an additional one hour and twenty eight minutes before I was to contact the rest of the team, Miss Potts, and Colonel Rhodes. May I suggest once more Miss, in light of your current state that the time allowance for you to rescue yourself be reduced?”
“Stop asking or I’m replacing you with Bing. How much interference did you have to run?”
“Captain Rogers sent a recorded message inquiring if you were planning to attend the training session tomorrow with the team.”
“That was the only inquiry.”
“Right. No visitors to the lab?”
“No Avengers business?”
“Or for SI?”
“Good.” Jarvis didn’t comment on how her voice wavered.
Toni coughed, glancing to the image of the ground below her. She was seconds from the tower. Call it another five minutes to get to the lab and out of the suit. There were better scanners there. And higher dose drugs. And bourbon.
Toni hated getting kidnapped. Always had. But knowing she’d been missing for ten and a half hours and no one in the tower had wondered where she was… that was worse.
She spotted the team inside the main room as she landed on the pad, and made a fast decision.
“Leave the suit on, Jarvis.”
“Miss, the Mark 48’s removal is not fully functional within the lab.”
“We’ll do it manually.”
No one said a word as she crossed the room toward the elevator. Barnes and Natasha watched her with too much attention, but they did that to everyone.
The bourbon bottle was empty and Jarvis locked the codes to allow her the good pain meds before the system beeped with a message. Toni took a glance to her appearance before answering.
“Audio only J.”
“Stark, you never confirmed attendance for the practice this afternoon.”
Her side twinged at the thought of it, and she snorted, “Ha, no. Not happening, Cap. Nothing else? Okay, good talk, bye.”
Jarvis shut it off before Captain America could start on a lecture about team participation.
“We were going for subtle this time.”
That was the quote given by Clint Barton, better known as Hawkeye, when asked by Fox5’s Angela Soros about Iron Man’s absence.
This is the third excursion taken by the Avengers since the Rogues returned, and the second which the heiress has skipped.
--Fox5 St Louis
Toni was unpleasantly sober, medicated, and working through an overhaul of the newest phone release with music blaring when Jarvis popped up an alert in the center of the hologram. The visitor alert message came with a small photo on the side of the person at the door. Barnes’ arm identified him even when the hunch of his shoulders kept his face hidden.
“How long has he been there Jarvis?”
“Seven minutes fourteen seconds Miss. He began to walk away several times before seeking admittance.”
She groaned. Team practice was over. It was Barnes not Cap, so it would be a berating by proxy, which was all the more insulting. If Rogers wanted to bitch at her, he could do it himself.
“Audio only J,” She conceded, then spoke without preamble, “Thought we had a deal. I stay out the team’s way, and you all stay away from me. Why are you asking to get into my lab?”
“What about it?” She asked, walking to a mirror to see how bad the bruising was.
“Misfiring. The Wakandans won’t be back for a few weeks.”
“And?” Toni stalled as she set a piece of holographic skin over her cheek and neck, masking the mottled purple and the scrapes. It activated, leaving no mark, and she pulled a hoodie over her tank. Between clenched teeth, she hissed as her ribs protested. The sweatpants hid the rest of the major damage, but her hands were too scratched and raw to explain away.
“Steve sent me down to see you.” She winced, and slid on a pair of fingerless work gloves. Even with the meds, she panted for a moment when dirty leather dragged over the larger cuts. Toni could practically hear Jarvis frowning at her. “Forget it, Stark, it ain’t that bad.”
Barnes turned to leave on the display and Toni flicked a gesture to open the door.
“Internal or external? Are you shooting sparks? Because a lot of people would consider that an upgrade. Makes you match up better with Rogers, you can be his All-American fireworks show.” Someone else would have stuttered to a stop after seeing that much restrained pain on a person’s face. Toni talked faster, “Hm, right, so... internal then. Inside. Dum-E, stool. Stool right? Not a chair. Unless you want to stand the whole time, which would be dumb, I don’t know how long this is going to take until I pry off part of it and look inside. Have to figure out what the Wakandans attached to you and that could take hours. Don’t know why Rogers sent you to me, he probably knows more about how this thing works than I do.”
That wasn’t true. She didn’t design it, but she did consult the King’s scientists on every phase.
She kept talking as Jarvis did a scan, brought up a wireframe model, and isolated a torn wire. It was a back up element, which was why Barnes was calling it a misfire not whimpering on the floor like he would have been if the primary cable had fried. She told them a 4-2-1 casing was going to work better than a 3-2-1, but of course they didn't listen, she was just a billionaire genius inventor, what the fuck did she know?
None of that got said aloud.
The last thing she wanted was for the team to know about what she had been doing while they were playing hide and seek with global law enforcement. At best they’d want to thank her, and at worst, she’d have to call the suit and punch Rogers.
Actually, it was the other way around. Thanking her would be worse.
So Toni talked about restaurants while Barnes sat stock still on a stool in a her lab for the two hours it took to pry his arm apart, route around the wire, replace it, and rehouse it in something that wouldn’t let it get caught in the nearby actuator. Restaurants were her go to source of conversation when she sat at galas since everyone liked food and there enough of them in the city that she could just keep naming them until finding her conversational partner’s interest. And there was no chance of offending anyone talking about the better bechamel sauce. She was explaining the signatures of Armenian spicing when she got the last of it repaired.
When she snapped the panels into place, declared him done and kicked him out of the lab, she realized he hadn’t said a word to her after she opened the door, and that her arms were bleeding again beneath the bandages.
She slept in the lab that night.
“With everything that’s going on -- and you listeners know that I’m not their biggest fan after the way they disrespected our country’s institutions -- but with everything that’s going on, I think it’s time that we get that -- and you’ll excuse me for this because there really isn’t another word for her -- but we need to get that Slut off the Avengers team. It isn’t helping anyone to have someone so morally deficient running around with them. They have problems enough. I know that, you know that. Not a one of them would be welcome in my house on Christmas Eve, filthy damned sinners that they are, but I think -- and you listeners know I’m usually right about these things -- and I hate to say it after what her father did for this country, but I think that the problems they have all come back to Toni Stark.
Look at the life she used to live. Look at how she’s behaved her entire life. Look at what happened in Sokovia. Heck, look at what happened with the attack on New York years back. That wasn’t something that just happened. These so called aliens arrived right after she’s built some pretentious monument to herself that just happens to be able to open up the portal they need? It’s crazy that more people don’t talk about this, but that attack, and all those deaths, that happened because of that slut. Everyone knows that what happened in Sokovia was because of her, but maybe this country will finally wake up and realize that this amoral woman doesn’t deserve our trust, and that if we don’t remove her from the team, things are going to get even worse than they are. So get on your phones and call your congressman, and start up a campaign, listeners, because we can’t let this go on any longer.”
--Alex Jones, InfoWars
The fractures healed, the cuts scabbed over, the bruises faded into sickly yellows and greens from their initial purpley blacks. Toni kept to habit, and stayed away from the team. She ran into Barnes on a night when she went in pursuit of a new bottle of bourbon, and both stood in the kind of three am silence that made a person feel like they were committing a sin when they made a sound.
She got a piercing look, but no comment.
The scabs on her hands were visible and the last of the bruises on her face were probably too pale to be seen, but there was no guessing with a super soldier.
Either way, he didn’t say anything. He nodded, continued across the room, and stepped into the staircase. That would be his nightly perimeter check. Had to be. Jarvis gave her a report on it every morning. They hadn’t stopped him because everytime he dropped off the cameras and sensors, Toni found a minute gap in her security, and patched it. Barnes changed his path every time she filled a hole.
She stepped into the elevator, holding the Colonel Taylor bottle to her chest like a teddy bear, and damn near dropped it when Barnes slipped in to join her as the doors closed.
“The fuck was that Barnes? If you’d hurt this baby I’d have gotten the suit up here to fly you out the side of the building and watch you pancake.”
“Twelve days ago.” That was all he said at first, but it was enough for her to sneer, and raise her chin. “You left the tower for ten and a half hours.” The unspoken ‘where did you go’ hung in the air, painted with mistrust and violence.
Toni didn’t budge. Memories of facing down against this man while he tried to tear the heart from her chest flickered through her mind, but her chin never dropped. She was a Fortune 500 name before she could legally drink. She was the best in the world in every field she chose to learn and a superhero to top it off; she wasn’t going to be intimidated into answering.
The elevator doors opened at the lab, and Toni exited. Jarvis had the shop in lockdown before she had a glass poured.
If she was very lucky, and the Avengers Alert went off when she was on the top three floors of the building, Toni could deploy the suit her very favorite way.
It was Jarvis’ very least favorite way.
Once she got the assembly time under eight seconds, she worked out a launch system. The time limit was in case the launch ever misfired, and she only had the 9.9 seconds it would take for her to reach the pavement.
With new sensors embedded in her skin, and all but the faintest twinges of pain gone, she stepped onto the pad, and let the boots rocket her a hundred meters straight up.
Toni soared, weightless, free, invinceable, and happy. She flipped middair as the suit flew to find her, snapping into place like a dance. It was assembled and she took control of the fall before she reached the fiftieth floor.
She mastered that game of chicken while the Rogues were still in Wakanda.
Since they’d been in Brooklyn when the alert went off, they still didn’t know.
Despite Jarvis’ forceful questioning, it wasn’t that she was trying to die. She was trying to live, by any means necessary. On the days when everything had been leached of color and joy, she needed something to spike her into exhilaration again. Flinging herself off the side of the building was actually safer than what she’d done in her teens and twenties. It was safer than the drinks and the drugs and fighting evil.
When she jumped off the building, she knew that Jarvis would be there to catch her. That would never change. That would never not be true. Loki threw her through a window and Jarvis got to her in time.
Ultimate trust fall or something.
So she was grinning behind the mask when she landed with the others, shielding Nat from a somersaulting car, before flying her to a better location.
This was the best of it. A fight with her team around her. It didn’t matter then that she hadn’t spoken a word to anyone but Rhodes and Pepp in two weeks. Nothing mattered but the moment and the thousand calculations she processed as she moved from place to place. Clint needed to be on the next building over. Steve didn’t know about the robot on his six. Sam needed a hand to shake the bot on his tail.
Toni relayed updates and called out threats, serving as eyes in the sky, and never once used anything but their call signs and the most crisply professional phrasing.
In her head, she cheered and called out to the friends she used to have.
When she got knocked through a building by a largish bot that detonated beside her, the only mention on comms was a terse, “Status?”
That was how it was for her.
And it was better than the months while the Rogues were the Rogues and she was alone.
The World needed the Avengers.
The Avengers needed Iron Man.
Toni needed her friends.
This was as close as she could get.
Toni was limping a bit when they got back to the tower. The debrief and press circus took them most of the way to dawn, and the effort was visible on all of them. The suit was doing most of the walking by the time they were in the elevators. Toni got off at her shop to get out of the suit.
It would have separated and flown back to the the repair and charging stations, but the blow through the wall jammed one of the pieces into her thigh.
It needed a manual fix.
The leading Senator opposing the Avenger’s investigation has been caught on tape talking about fundraising parties held by Toni Stark, and what used to happen at them. He describes lewd sex acts, drug use, and outright bribery.
The Senator’s office is under siege, and the statement he released on the violation of his privacy is being taken as confirmation that the recording is true.
Parental discretion is advised, but it can be heard at the link below.
Toni did track down the group that had kidnapped her. Low level nothings, but their tech was very good. It didn’t take long to get one of them bugged so she could listen in on their conversations. Ten minutes of technobabble as their mechanic explained something and she knew how to prevent their dampening beam from harming the team. She pushed through the update to the team’s tech as she listened.
They wanted to try again.
Whoever wanted her was willing to pay, and the number was high enough it was almost flattering. Not that they ever mentioned their client by name or something useful, just, ‘the client.’
Once they had an idea of where she would be and when, they started planning. Toni listened the entire time.
A Special Counsel has been convened to investigate the Avengers. Despite the written statement from the House and Senate leadership, quotes given on background or anonymously make it clear what this really is: An investigation of Toni Stark.
After video of the fight in Germany, and a leaked debriefing memo on the events in Siberia went public last week, outcry escalated. The visceral reaction to a woman with a reputation attacking an American Icon and his POW best friend finally goaded Congress into doing what they had referenced and considered for months.
Jason Blackmon will lead the investigation.
Most of the team was on the main floor when Toni crossed the floor for the elevator. The Christian Siriano gown was custom, like it always was, looked gorgeous, and the kid was nice enough to design in ways to hide the arc reactor and several weapons. It was black, lined in red and gold, so every other step kicked out with color. It was also why she was bothering to go to the gala. Normally she just sent an extra check to whichever charity she was dodging, and went back to her lab in sweats.
Christian looked so disappointed when she didn’t wear what he made her, it was hard to say no more than once a season.
If the team looked up as she walked by in a multi-thousand dollar dress, Toni didn’t notice.
Natasha caught her at the elevator, hand brushing over the silk flounce, and asked, “Johannsen’s?”
“Their yearly demonstration that they aren’t completely heartless. Heard they brought in a French caterer this year.”
“Heavy as fuck.”
“You’ll get over it.”
“Never said it was a problem.”
Natasha watched her for a moment, too closely.
“Who’s going with you?”
Toni rolled her eyes, “Iron Man.”
Nat waited for another answer, and when none came, took a step backwards.
“Have a nice time. Watch out for the press, they’ll be waiting for you.”
“Gee, I wonder what that’s like, Miss Romanoff? I’ve never had to deal with the press before.”
“Toni.” Captain America interrupted them before they could get mean. “Be safe. We don’t want to see more stories like the last few months.”
“You think?” Toni asked, letting the elevator doors close in front of her.
Fox can exclusively report after speaking to a source inside the Avenger’s tower that information and interview requests have been delivered to several of the Avengers.
They also confirmed that tensions between the team are higher than ever thanks to the formation of the special counsel. While the source didn't provide quotes or video, they did say that the team is happiest when Toni Stark is absent.
“It’s rough you know? She shows up to things and all of them get quiet. Real quiet. Like they wish she wasn’t there. She never sticks around long, but it leaves a… I don’t know… a funk in the air afterwards. Especially around Barnes and Rogers.” The source said.
No member of the team returned the request for comment.
Is this the end of Toni Stark’s shameful career as a supposed hero? Will she finally stop dragging down the rest of the team?
See the timeline below to review the scandals that she has dodged since her alleged captured by the Ten Rings in 2008, and decide for yourself if you want her standing beside Captain America.
Toni scrolled through the feed on her phone, head leaning against the window of the limo.
Normally she wouldn’t bother with the car, but tonight it was necessary. Because of the ballgown, and her plans.
She raised a fuss in the garage when her normal driver wasn’t waiting, too aware of the cameras in the corner of the room.
The new guy was smart, young as anything, but smart. Despite the brand new seven figure check she’d handed him a few days earlier, he looked broke. He looked like what he should have been, a charity hire with a sad story that SI hired as part of an outreach program. And he was, theoretically.
Toni read through the entire Infowars transcript from that afternoon, throat tight, then read the entire Tucker Carlson transcript.
The limo thumped as it crossed onto the bridge, heading for the underwhelming golf course in Pellham. She took a knife and started hacking off the skirt of the dress, hoping that Christian never heard about this.
“Are you ready Miss Stark?”
She snorted, “Are you?” as she sidled out of excess fabric, leaving her in leggings and the top of the gown.
“I think so, I got the suit you made me, and I tested it. It seems like. Well I’m pretty sure that I’m ready.”
“Good job, Peter.” Toni glanced back at her phone, and the timer that was about to sound. “You trust me, Mr. Parker?”
“I do, Miss Stark.”
The explosion was strong enough to blow them into the air, and off the bridge while tires squealed on the surrounding cars. Armor prevented them from getting ribboned by shrapnel of the chassis, but it couldn’t prevent the way she cracked her head on the ceiling.
Toni saw the speed boats heading towards her, and took a breath, hoping she wouldn’t break bones on impact.
“We have to acknowledge that what we used to love isn’t what’s good for us now. As America has changed in the last years, so have our needs. I’m not afraid to be the first to say this publicly: Toni Stark shouldn’t be an Avenger.” - Senator Richard Santos, D-MI
They weren’t idiots.
They were morons. But they weren’t idiots.
They cuffed her hands to a chair that was bolted to the deck, and shoved a rag in her mouth to muffle her screams as the new sensors were dug out of her arms. They tossed them, and two landed on the ship, the other four went over the side. Proud of their accomplishment and forethought, but rushed by the sound of an approaching jet they didn’t notice.
Smarter than average.
Not smart enough.
Still dripping wet from the East River, still high on the adrenaline of her brand new injuries, Toni Stark let them take their picture, and send it to their buyer.
She let them take more in increasingly insulting poses, and she let them laugh as they told her they were sending them to the Avengers. They showed her the message.
“Taking out your garbage. You owe us.”
The dampening field was still in effect, but the speed boat was hurtling toward the ocean. She couldn’t hear sirens or the whirr of the quinjet; nothing but the engine’s whine and the crash of the ship against the waves.
Peter got away clear. Hanging from the underside of the bridge and panicked, he saluted her when she got above water again. He would do his part.
Toni waited until they slowed the boat, waited until they shut off the meager lights for their rendezvous to find them. Waited until their phone dinged with a return message and the leading goon grinned at her. Waited until she’d undone the cuffs. Waited until she had an exit.
Then she dug her thumbnail into the ring on her right hand, and both of the sensors, forgotten on the seat ten feet away from her, exploded.
A few minutes later, while her captors bled out, Toni watched as the boat exploded entirely, from fifty feet away, paddling water in the darkness. That was one of her bombs. One of the last type she’d designed before Afghanistan, stolen by these idiots that thought they could win against her. It made it easy.
She started swimming.
After five days of search and rescue operations for Toni Stark in the water off New York, the Governor has cancelled further efforts.
While the search by the Avengers themselves will continue, the coast guard will no longer be involved.
Toni Stark idly fixed the hinge on the patio umbrella over the table at the cafe, blonde hair drifting into her face. The pastries were good in Belgium. The cardiac surgeons were better.
Rhodey would be getting in soon, for his monthly visit, and a few more things snagged for her from the Tower. Including a very important briefcase.
Escaping wasn’t hard. Not in all the times that Toni had to get away from kidnappers or reporters or politicians. Or her friends. It was always the same.
Let them underestimate you. Don’t fight back until you have an exit. Lie from the start. Protect what mattered.
Assume no one was coming to help.
Six months after the attack on Toni Stark on the Trogs Head Bridge in New York, the Avengers have released an official statement about the cessation of their search efforts.
There are rumors from high-placed sources that the team was pressured to make the decision by the Special Counsel, as well as indications that Captain America and Sergeant Barnes were the final hold-outs before the vote was taken.
With the declaration of her death, the Special Counsel has been disbanded, and numerous ceremonies honoring her role as Iron Man have been arranged. Three charities in her name have been founded to support women in STEM fields, and the President of the UN will give a speech next week about the work she did to protect the world.
Only one member of the Avengers answered a request for comment, Natasha Romanoff. Though the famed Black Widow rarely speaks to the press, she called our offices specifically to give this quote; “Toni should have taken someone with her. If she’d asked, any of us would have gone.”
Ms Romanoff refused to elaborate.
-New York Times