Tony stood out on the tower's landing pad and took in a deep, meditative breath. A smell of ozone hung in the air, no doubt from a storm that was threatening to come in from off the coast. It mingled with the various smells of the city, something he'd had to readjust to after so many years of living on the west coast. Malibu had smelled like the sun, sea and smog; of freshly cut grass, chlorinated pool water and suntan lotion.
Nothing like the stew of human despondency that New York had seemed soaked in his youth. Even before he'd come online fully in his late teens, his sense of smell had always been abnormally heightened. It had made for many awkward situations in his childhood that usually left his mother and Jarvis both embarrassed and his father angry and upset.
He never did find out just what about him being a Sentinel, albeit a latent one, had left Howard Stark with such a bitter taste in his mouth. By the time Tony had come online, due to the shock of his parents’ death, it was too late to ask him. In fact, the emotional and empathic impact of having both his mother and Jarvis ripped from him in one cruel stroke of fate, had sent him reeling so far off kilter it had taken him years to recover.
Thank God for James Rhodes and Tony's sudden total and biological aversion for alcohol and narcotics. Well, almost total. He'd definitely tested the limits of how much drugs and liquor his new senses to could tolerate before rebelling violently. Too many days of waking up on strange floors and in strange beds, seconds from zoning out and in breathless pain from his spiking senses.
It wasn't until he'd awoken in an isolation room, feeling like death warmed over and a tearful and exhausted Rhodey slumped outside his door, that's he'd finally said yes to getting some help. He'd been thankful for Obie as well, at the time.
He'd grown up with the man, the smell of his cigars, his distinct aftershave, the hard spearmint candies that he always had in his pocket for Tony. The man had been a father where Howard had fallen short and even after everything with the Ten Rings and the Iron Monger, there was still fond memories and feelings for his uncle within the storm of anger and betrayal that still raged in Tony's heart.
What hurt him most was the fact that even after coming online, his sentinel had still trusted Obie. His spirit animal had been comfortable with Stane. He'd never even registered the jealousy or bitterness or anything out of the ordinary with the man. The fact that Stane had tried to have him killed had come out of such left field that his head still spun from the knowledge that he really hadn't seen it coming at all.
It had made him doubt his own sentinel spirit for a long time. Doubt his spirit animal as well. It had been a painful process, seeking council with the Alpha Sentinel of the East Coast, Burke Jarret himself and his Guide, Shaman Jason Walks Without Sound. The process had been arduous, with Tony having to face some old demons but in the end, he come out of it with a renewed trust in himself and his abilities as a Sentinel.
It had also taken time to mend the bond he had with his spirit animal, for them to trust each other again. Part of why he'd trusted Obie so much was that his spirit animal had been so comfortable with his uncle. On the other hand, the reason why Evander had trusted Obie so much was because of the deep and abiding adoration that a young and impressionable Tony had held for the man.
They'd both been so trusting and naïve together. So fucking… new.
But shit, at least they'd been new together.
Evander was a beautiful, reddish brown, Bay horse with black socks and a shiny black mane and tail. Standing at 16 hands, he was a majestic being and a sight to behold. He was shy though, and didn't appear to very many people. Rhodey, Pepper, Happy and the Alpha pair remained the only people who'd seen Tony's spirit animal more than once.
Even the Avengers had yet to lay eyes on Evander. All except Natasha. And now Steve. He smiled as he remembered the other day when Steve had asked for their Spirit animal to meet. Of course Tony had seen Hoireabard before. In rare photos that Howard had coveted like leprechauns coveted gold. Candid war time shots of the massive bear standing with the Howling Commandos in the muddy battlefields of World War II.
The grizzly bear had been massive, standing at eight feet upright; it's thick dark brown fur and sharp black claws making it look terrifying. It didn't help that Howard would tell/threaten stories of the bear mauling rude little boys at the Captain's behest. It had taken both Jarvis, Anna and his Mother to convince him that those stories weren't true.
So when Steve had turned those baby blues toward him and asked for them all to get to know each other, Tony had been initially reluctant. His doubt must have shown on his face because suddenly he'd had his guide in his arms, their foreheads pressed together. He'd immediately zeroed in on his lover's heartbeat, the steady thump thump that calmed his own racing heart.
The meeting had been interesting to say the least. Hoireabard had thumped down unto his rump and grunted, scratching behind his ear with one paw while he blinked his eyes sleepily. Tony had been instantly charmed, a smile spreading across his face. Evander, not to be outdone, had whinnied and nickered; brushing against an awestruck Steve's arm and pressed his nose into the Guide's palm; preening as Steve ran a loving hand down his flank.
Tony had heard a huff behind him, soft fur under his palm and he looked over to see the spirit bear rubbing his large head against his hand. The fur was soft and warm and it took Tony's breath away at the honest and open emotion he felt as he ran his hands through it. He'd spent the rest of the afternoon curled up against the bear's side, his back against the warm solid mass that moved with each breath. Tablet in hand making absent notes on whatever idea popped in to his mind, his attention kept being pulled away by the sight of Steve and Evander getting to know each other.
He was drawn away from the fond memories by a soft chirp, bringing his attention to the brilliant pink and orange skies of sunset. Off in the distance is the storm he'd been smelling, thunder rumbling faintly and lightning flashing like sparks. It reminded him of Thor, who was currently visiting with Jane in New Mexico. Tony missed the big guy, his gregarious nature and his wide smile.
Though Asgardians did not fall under the Sentinel/Guide Spectrum, Lady Frigga had sent along some translations of ancient tales of their encounters with the Midgard Sentinels and Guides of old. Midgardian scholars had had a field day with the ancient texts and Thor's mother now had a standing invitation to visit and lecture anywhere on earth she chose. Thor still beamed with pride every time he organized a shipment of Frigga fan mail got sent up with Hiemdall.
"Sir." Jarvis chirped, You have an incoming call SGC."
Tony rolled his eyes. "I thought I told you to withhold all calls from them until I say. What have there been like, seventeen calls already? They need to get off my fucking dick. I'll call them when I'm ready."
"Current count puts the number of calls at twenty four as of noon today Sir." The AI replied, "This call, however, has only been rerouted to the centre. It originates from Washington.
Tony's attention perked up at that fact. "Who's the call from Jay?"
"Shaman Jason Walks Without Sound."
"Put him through"
"Right away sir"
The call connected as Tony walked down the stairs to the penthouse living room.
"Tony. Shíyázhí. " Jason's voice was a warm balm on his soul. "A little birdie told me that you've found your other half. Congratulations."
"If by 'a little birdie' you mean that nosy dragon with feathers you call a spirit animal, then I'm sure she squawked all about it the minute I started to nest." Tony snorted as he searched through his fridge for a bottled water.
"True." The Alpha Guide of the East Coast laughed heartily. "But she didn't have to tell me though, I think almost every sensitive up and down the eastern sea board felt the moment you bonded with Rogers. But I figured that I'd give you a few days before trying to call you. Show a little courtesy for a change."
"It's better than anyone around here. The New York Centre has been up my ass since the morning after. Endless calls and voice messages." The genius propped up against the kitchen counter and took a sip of the cooled water. "They even had a bonded pair show up at the Tower yesterday to 'conduct a routine evaluation' Some kind of bull shit about our unique status as Avengers."
He drained the bottle, crushed it in one hand and threw it into the recycling shute. "JARVIS wouldn't let them past the door and Natasha went down to put the fear of Thor in them. They've backed down for now but have taken leaving regular voicemails and no doubt countless emails."
"Twenty eight voicemails and fourteen emails as of five minutes ago Sir. " JARVIS promptly supplied.
Tony rolled his shoulders and walked towards the large couches. He kept the lights low, letting the beauty of the sunset sky over New York shine in through the two story floor to ceiling glass windows that took up one whole side of the penthouse.
"I mean what the fuck Jase?" he flopped unto one of the large corner couches. "They are all but demanding Steve and I present ourselves to the tribunal for post bonding interviews as if it wasn't just a bullshit excuse for testing our levels post bond."
He crossed his arms behind his head and lay in the silence of the slowly darkening room, the only sounds his steady breathing and the soft whirr of background technology. "If it wasn't for Steve being so mellow about this whole thing, I'd be calling my fleet of ruthless lawyers to rip them all new assholes right about now."
The voice on the other end was worryingly silent. When the Shaman spoke, his voice was contemplative.
"You've never been tested…. Officially, I mean." he began. "When you came online, they did some preliminary testing but you were unstable then. The death of your parents and your resulting downward spiral wreaked havoc on you mentally and emotionally and as such, distorted most if not all of your results."
"Yeah.." Tony shrugged, "Times were different then. They didn't put as much value in levels and compatibility then. The research was so new. By the time they got around to approaching me again, I had the whole of SI's Legal Department between them and me."
"Mmmm. I remember. That case ended up being the catalyst for most of the new Laws, laying the groundwork on how Sentinels and Guides, and even Sensitives, are treated today. "
Tony smiled indulgently, certain that Jason was probably nodding over the phone as he was wont to do when he got started on the battle for Sentinel/Guide Rights. He shrugged. "Not that I don't appreciate loyalty to the tribe and everything but there's no reason for the Council to be all up in my beeswax. I've always found some of the so-called testing and evaluations were too damned invasive."
"I mean, things were different back in Steve's day, individual governments dictated the very lives of the enhanced. Hell, even Steve was chosen in part because he was latent. If Project rebirth failed and Steve had somehow survived, the US government would have had every right to use him as a lab experiment for the rest of his life."
Tony frowned, playing with the dog tags that hung around his neck on a thin metal chain. "I don't want my guide exposed to the intense scrutiny that comes with bonding with me. It's already a shit situation with my celebrity status and being an avenger…"
Jason hummed low over the line. "You don't want there to be another reason for your guide to be unhappy with you" he finished."
Tony flushed in the darkness of the room. Trust his mentor to zero in on his deepest insecurities. He gave a gusty sigh. "Yeah. When it was just the team, being an alpha was pretty simple. I've done it before with SI, and when it was just Rhodey, Pepper and Happy. I had responsibilities you know but I could handle those. No real pressure"
He rolled his shoulders and flopped over unto his stomach with a sigh. "But with Steve… with Steve it's felt like everything has been ramped up to one hundred and just the thought of disappointing him seems devastating."
It hurt physically to say that out loud but he'd always been able to share his anxiety with Jason without fear of being unduly judged.
"Shíyázhí" Hearing that word uttered in that warm voice made Tony's eyes sting. "He knows you. He knows your heart. From the moment you bonded, you let him into the very heart of you. He has seen you and chosen to complete the bond. He isn't going to turn away now. Be sure of that fact, my son."
The brunette wiped at the moisture in his eyes. "So if he hasn't run away screaming as yet, he's not going to?" his smile was a bit watery and he was sure that the other man could hear it through the phone.
"That's right." The other man chuckled, "Trust in your Guide Shíyázhí, just like you ask him to trust in you."
They chatted for a bit more before ending the call, the shaman promising to look into why the NYC Centre was being so persistent. Tony wanted to talk to the Shaman about Bucky's situation but so far it had only been shared by a very few. Not even all of the Avengers knew as Bruce was still at an international conference and Thor was in New Mexico with Jane.
Besides, this time he wanted to make an effort to have Barnes himself on board with any decision to be made. It was one thing to test a theory without the man's knowledge but he didn't want to make it a habit of making life changing choices for someone else. He didn't ever want to become that guy.
After they all talked it out, he would request for Burke and Walks Without Sound to visit the Tower and inform them of Bucky's status in person. They would be able to discuss further actions then. Right now a combination of Sam's Latent ability and Natasha's unbonded status as well as Tony and Steve's new Alpha bond was keeping Barnes from freaking out too much.
Soon enough they would have to hammer out some long term plans. No person in history had ever been turned from a normie into a sentinel before. The very thought of it still made his skin crawl. He couldn't begin to imagine what Barnes must be feeling. People with the gift were born that way not made and while it was true that every living person carries some bit of enhanced genes in them, most people had only the most miniscule amount of potential DNA.
For someone, no matter if they were an evil Nazi cult or not, to manipulate that DNA in such a way as to 'manufacture' enhancement was the stuff of nightmares and horror stories. And for that Frankenstein effort to have not gone immediately dormant but to have manifested as such a strong online presence was one in about a trillion, if Tony really thought about the numbers.
It was something against nature and it had rubbed Tony entirely the wrong way in his first few days of finding about it. It was only through time spent with Barnes and the overwhelming need to give Steven Grant Rogers every damn thing under the sun and beyond that had him working so hard to give the former Hydra a chance at a normal life.
It was full dark when he was brought out of his musings by the sound of Steve's heartbeat as it entered the building. He jumped up off the couch, just barely sidestepping the heavy glass coffee table. Hopping on one foot as he over balanced, he called for JARVIS to raise the lights slowly. He'd learned from previous experience that flicking on a light switch after a while in the dark was an express ticket to a migraine.
He ducked into the stairway and sped down three floors to the Common living space, skidding to a stop in front of the elevator just as the door pinged open. Steve and Sam stepped out laden with white paper bags and boxes, a very familiar logo stamped on the packaging.
Whatever quip Tony was planning to tease both men with slipped from his mind as he took a deep, moaning breath. He licked his lips impulsively, glancing up at Steve when he suddenly scented arousal in the air. Steve's eyes were the clearest blue and zeroed in on Tony's lips.
The blonde gulped. "We brought Spanakopita." his voice was a bit rough and Tony grinned, leaning into the warmth of Steve's body heat.
He heard as Sam gave a heavy sigh and reached out to take some of Steve's bags, continuing on to the kitchen and leaving them both standing awkwardly in front of the elevator. "From that place in Little Greece, we also got some of those tomato fritters and the spicy meat balls. And some of that awesome fried cheese and Souvlaki too."
Tony chuckled, throwing over his shoulder " Tomatokeftedes and Keftethes Sam. And the awesome fried cheese is called Saganaki."
"It's all Greek to me, man" Sam replied from well within the Kitchen, "I don’t need to know how to say it. I just need to point at a menu, baby."
Tony and Steve shared a smile as Tony leaned forward and went on tip toe to press a kiss against Steve's lips. Humming, Steve opened up to the kiss, deepening it until they were both swaying and breathless.
"We also got lots of Loukoumades, Amygdalota and Baklava." he gasped softly, licking his swollen lips.
"Yumm-o" Tony murmured against his guide's cheek. "And lots of Tzatziki I hope. I swear Clint drinks the stuff like its a fucking smoothie."
Steve nodded, his sweet breath ruffling Tony's hair. Ten minutes later they were around the sleek dining table, their fare spread out before them.
Soon enough, the smell of food brought Natasha and Bucky up from the gym, sweaty and flushed with endorphins. Tony made a face at the stink but a pair of unimpressed stares from the two other sentinels made him keep his mouth full of food and not words.
Less than a minute later Clint dropped from a ceiling vent directly into his seat at the table. Tony made a show of looking between the archer and the vent he'd sworn had never been there before. In return, Clint gave him a smirk and grabbed an entire container of Tzatziki, placing it next to his plate.
Tony could hear Steve sniggering into his hand from where the blonde sat next to him and had to fight not to turn and look at him. If he did, he would start to laugh as well and would probably choke to death on a mouth full of spinach.
As he looked at this team, maybe not all of them but enough for it to feel like Tribe, he felt the alpha within him stretch like a lazy cat. Mine, it yawned and settled once again. This is mine. Their heartbeats thrummed in time with his. Each unique in their own way just as their owners were as well. Together, though, together they like music. A complex symphony that sang in Tony's head and beat next to his own heart.
This is good. It said. This is home.
And for the first time in his life, he believed it.