Chapter 1: Help part 1
Tony’s head dropped back down, the last burst of energy spent. They’d been murdered. His parents had been murdered. For years, decades, he’d been sure his father had killed his mum by driving while drunk. He’d felt guilty, thinking that his father might have been drinking because of their fight. And now it turned out that they had both been murdered. And Rogers had known. Rogers had known for who knows how long but hadn’t told him. He had kept quiet and had instead used his money and his property to look for his parents’ murderer.
Without the adrenaline, the wounds he had sustained today (God, had it really only been one day?) were making themselves known. Tony knew that he needed to call for help, regardless of how little he wanted anyone to see him like this. The suit had no power, so he would not be able to get out of here on his own. With the helmet as damaged as it was and the suit without power, he could not contact anyone that way. He needed to see if he could use anything of the technology in the bunker to call for help. But for that he needed to get out of the suit. Without power, it was a dead weight, keeping him pinned to the ground. He tried to push himself back up but dropped back down. His left arm wouldn’t support him and the sudden flare of pain in his ribs suggested that he’d broken some. He gasped for breath, waiting for the pain to pass.
He heard a door open and sluggishly turned his head. He hoped it was Vision or T’Challa who’d followed him or the Russian authorities. Hell, he’d even take Rogers coming back long enough to call for help for him.
It wasn’t. In the door stood a group of five men in HYDRA uniform. “Would you look at this, then?” one of them commented. “Captain America left us a present to make up for taking the Asset and getting the other Winter Soldiers killed.”
Tony’s eyes widened in fear. He tried once again to move but couldn’t. He knew better than to assume HYDRA would simply kill him. He and his armour, damaged as it was, were too valuable for that. And he had just seen video proof of what HYDRA could and would do to someone with valuable skills who fell into their hands.
His heart was in his throat. This was worse than Afghanistan. The Ten Rings had needed him aware enough to work for them. HYDRA on the other hand was obviously able to brainwash people into becoming weapons for them, cold and without emotions, without memories of their former life.
No. No! He couldn’t- They couldn’t –
The fear, the pain seemed to break something open in him.
Stay back, he wanted to scream.
Four of the HYDRA soldiers dropped to their knees, holding their head. The fifth, their leader, it seemed, remained standing however. “A guide,” he breathed. “Even better.”
Tony’s world went dark, his remaining energy spend. The last he saw was a streak of white.
Some time earlier:
Erik stretched out his hearing, trying to find out what was happening. He gratefully leaned into Charles’ touch, letting his gifts as both a telepath and a guide extent his range. When the news of the fight at the airport between two factions within the Avengers had broken, the X-Men had taken their jet to Europe to hopefully stop the situation from escalating even further and destroying what little goodwill the general public still had for the enhanced community. They had of course followed the coverage about the so-called Sokovian Accords. While they had not been involved in public fights in quite a while, they knew that sooner or later they would be back in the public eye and a piece of legislature like the Accords, if set up correctly, could offer them protection.
“I know that road.”
“We’ve found them,” Charles told the others while Erik concentrated on what was happening at the base. He passed the direction of the base on to Alex Summers who was flying the jet.
“He killed my mum.”
Erik flinched. It had been decades but he still remembered the day he had said something similar on a beach in Cuba, also filled with such anger and pain, unable to think of anything but avenging his mother. He remembered how the traumatic loss had taken over his life, making him turn away from everyone around him, making him almost loose...
Charles ran his hand down Erik’s arm to interlace their fingers. He wordlessly squeezed his hand, reminding Erik that it hadn’t happened, that he was not alone anymore. He had, they had a family again, and quite a big one at that.
Erik sent him a brief smile. “Thank you, Charles.” He left their fingers entangled, using the contact both as an anchor for his sense of hearing and comfort at the reminder.
Hank growled deep in his throat. “What are those fools doing? He is obviously emotionally compromised “ They were close enough now that he could hear it as well now, even though his own guide could not help him extent his hearing range like Charles could. He couldn’t believe that Rogers was fighting him against Iron Man with the Winter Soldier instead of trying to deescalate the situation.
Charles tensed suddenly. “They’re not alone. Others have arrived at the base but are hiding their presence.”
“Apart from the mastermind of this whole clusterfuck and... is that T’Challa?” Hank asked.
“Yes.” Charles’ eyes widened. “They’re HYDRA.”
“Shit. We still have some way to go,” Alex warned.
“Open the hatch and let me down or have Kurt teleport me over there,” Peter said. “I can run quicker than the jet can fly.” When he saw Erik and Charles hesitate, he gripped Erik’s shoulder. “Come on, Dad. The quicker Stark gets back up the better.”
After a long moment of consideration and silent discussion, Erik and Charles nodded. “Go.”
Peter and Kurt returned the nod, then Kurt teleported them away.
“Peter will be fine,” Charles assured Erik mentally. “He’s an experienced fighter.”
“I don’t want HYDRA to get their hands on him or his DNA again,” Erik replied. He knew that his son was an adult, had been for a while now, but he still worried for him, especially where HYDRA was concerned. No matter how much good came from it in the end, he did not want him to go through the trauma of being captured by HYDRA again.
“They won’t, we won’t let them.”
They all jerked when Tony’s fear and pain suddenly washed over them, projected in what had to be a mile wide radius. Alex and Charles quickly grabbed their sentinels’ arms to try and keep them from getting lost in their reaction to a guide, hurt and in danger. No matter how well trained or well controlled, a guide in pain could still affect a sentinel on an instinctual level.
“Did you know Stark’s a guide?” Alex asked.
Charles shook his head. “I had no idea.” He concentrated on Stark, doing his best to filter out his panic as much as possible. “He had no idea, either. He’s just come online.” He hoped that Erik would be too distracted to remember that T’Challa had been at the base, that he had left Stark behind. He was sure there was a reason, though he did not want to risk stretching his telepathy to check what it was, afraid Erik would notice and attack the plane still very much in his reach. Their focus now had to be on Stark, on saving him from HYDRA and bringing him home.
When they arrived at the base, Kurt and Peter had already knocked the five HYDRA agents out. Between Peter’s speed and Kurt’s teleportation, they’d been out cold before they realized that they were no longer alone with Stark. Alex went to check that they were still unconscious and tie them up, just in case, while Peter and Kurt cleared the rest of the base and Charles kept an ‘eye’ out for anyone else alive somewhere, making sure there were no other surprises waiting for them. Erik knelt down beside Iron Man and started peeling away the remains of his armour to let Hank check on him. He started at the head, so Hank would be able to check his pulse. He started working his way down but when he came to the chest, he froze and hissed.
“Erik?” Hank asked when he didn’t continue.
Erik forced himself to take a few deep breath to reign in his temper. They couldn’t risk the armour moving in reaction to his anger. “I’m afraid to take it off. His sternum is artificial, made partially out of metal. I’m no doctor but I’m quite sure it’s not supposed to have that form. Or be made out of multiple parts. If I take off the chest piece, I’m afraid the pieces of the sternum or his ribs will shift.”
“Damn it. Take off the rest of his armour, then levitate him to the jet. We need to get him to a hospital as quickly as possible.”
“I could take him,” Kurt offered.
Hank considered it, then shook his head. “It’s too risky. At least some of his ribs have to be broken if his sternum is damaged that badly. A wrong shift and one of them might pierce his lungs. Erik can keep him stable during the flight.”
Erik finished taking off the more bulky parts of armour on Stark’s arms and legs, leaving just a small, light bit behind he could use to support his legs while lifting him with his powers. They made their way back to the jet, moving as quickly as they could without risking jarring Stark.
“Where should I take us?” Alex asked as they got back on the jet.
Erik and Charles looked to Hank, deferring to his judgment on Stark’s injuries.
Hank considered their options. They could take him to a hospital in the nearest city for a first treatment, have them stabilize him further for the hours-long flight back to the US. But did the hospitals in the vicinity have the means and the experience for dealing with Stark’s wounds and the unusual aspects of his health? His nostrils flared as he consciously smelled for blood. There was of course the blood from all the cuts and bruises on his face and the bruises on his chest but nothing that suggested any internal bleeding. So he was probably stable enough for transport now. “Charles, can you-?”
“I can keep an eye on his mind, alert you if there are signs that he’s slipping into a coma,” Charles finished for him. He bit back the ‘or worse’.
“Then take us back home.”
Tony slowly came to. Everything hurt. He tried to figure out what was worse, the pain in his left arm, in his chest or in his head. What had happened? Had he been on a mission as Iron Man? His memory seemed a bit hazy but the regular beeping beside him suggested that he was in a hospital or medical in the compound. He needed further information. He swallowed a few times to wet his dry throat. “JAR- FRIDAY?”
“No, it’s Tuesday,” an unknown male voice said.
Tony’s eyes flew open and he tried to sit up, trying to get away from whoever it was. He hissed in a startled breath when the pain in his chest flared up. Okay, that decided which pain what worse.
“Careful there,” another man said.
Tony’s gaze raced across the room. He had no idea where he was or who the two man were. They were both around his age, one with light brown, the other with silver hair. The room looked like a regular bedroom, with warm, cream coloured walls and huge windows that were letting the sun in. The only unusual thing were the medical devices beside the bed which were monitoring his vitals. The comfortable bed, medical assistance, lack of shackles and lack of weapons would suggest that he had not been taken captive by enemies but too much had happened to him to trust appearances.
“What do you remember?” the brown haired man asked.
Tony forced himself to calm down and take stock of what he knew. The meeting with Thunderbolt Ross to inform the Avengers, at least the ones who had obviously turned a blind eye to every bit of international news for the past two years, about the Accords. Aunt Peggy dying and him being kept too busy to go to her funeral. The bombing in Vienna. The fight against his team, at the people he had thought were his friends or at least his allies, at the airport in Germany. Siberia. The video. The fight.
His eyes burnt at the memory of seeing the last moments of his mother’s life, seeing her being choked to death, hearing his father (his dad! His dad who hadn’t killed her with his drinking after all!) beg for her life, at Ste- Rogers’ betrayal. Roger’s had not cared about his parents’ fate, no matter his supposed friendship with his father. (No matter that Howard had cared more for finding Rogers than for his family, for his own son.) He hadn’t cared that he was destroying the team, all for one man. But now was not to the time to deal with it. Not with these strangers and him who knew where. His breath caught when he remembered his last memory before losing consciousness, being found by HYDRA.
“We’re not HYDRA,” the man said. He gave a brief grin. “I’m not one of the telepaths, don’t worry. It’s just an understandable fear for you to have, considering where and how we found you. Have you heard of Professor Charles Xavier and his school?”
“Yes, I have.” He considered them suspiciously. “You don’t look like either the professor or Mr. Lehnsherr.”
They laughed. “No, I have too much hair and too little of a shark’s grin to be either,” the brown haired man said, running a hand through his full, brown hair.
“Well, Dad and I have a similar hair colour now but I don’t think I could pass for him,” the other said.
“Who are you then?” Tony asked.
The brown haired man winced. “Oops, manners. My husband’s always nagging me about it.” He paused. “Don’t tell him I said that. Or that I forgot, ‘kay?”
Tony just stared at him, not sure how to reply.
“Right, I’m Alex Summers and that guy there’s Peter Maximoff,” he introduced them.
“Maximoff?” Tony repeated.
“I’m not related to that HYDRA bitch,” Peter said. “Well, not recently. It think. My mom’s from Eastern Europe originally. There might be some relation further back. Records are kinda spotty back there.” He frowned slightly, staring off into space. “I’m not sure if the blood thing counts.”
Tony wasn’t quite sure if he was hallucinating, suffering from a concussion, missing part of the conversation or if he was simply... a bit strange. “The blood thing?” He felt like a bloody parrot.
“Right, so, some decades back we fought a mutant called Apocalypse and I broke a leg during the fight. Somehow HYDRA had found out about my abilities and that Magneto’s my dad, so they kidnapped me and my family. Seems they didn’t get the memo that pissing of Dad is a really bad idea. Anyway, they saved us before they could do anything much to us but they took some blood from me and my twin sister, to use for another type of supersoldiers. HYDRA couldn’t resist the irony when a pair of twins called Pietro and Wanda Maximoff volunteered for their experiments and they used our blood, giving them similar powers to ours,” Peter explained. Seriously, those HYDRA agents had to have been suicidal, taking Magneto’s children after the way he had reacted to his wife and daughter being killed. But at least something during the fight to get them back had convinced Erik to stay at the school and to give a relationship with Charles another try. Peter preferred to concentrate on that, instead of the memory of his, fortunately short, time as a HYDRA prisoner. Having a broken leg which made him unable to run had been a nightmare all on its own. Being then kidnapped, along with his mom and sister, being unable to protect them, had been nearly unbearable.
Tony took a moment to process all the information. He considered Peter, both his appearance and mannerism. There were some similarities to Pietro, the silver hair and the way some unconscious movements seemed to blur, too quick for a normal human to see, but his build and manner were completely different. There really was no chance of confusing the two. As for their powers, well, genetics and such were not his thing, he could certainly imagine HYDRA trying to recreate mutant abilities. It also made sense that the sceptre needed some other compound to give them their abilities. He could have believed Wanda getting her powers from it, since both she had the sceptre were able to control someone’s mind but he had been confused by Pietro’s.
Alex gave Tony a moment, then said: “If you know about us and about the school, then you can probably imagine that we are interested in the Accords and in them being successful, since they would be a start towards us getting legal protection. Hell, just the fact that they make it clear that Enhanced still have human rights is an improvement. The part about acts of self-defence and framework for Enhanced who break laws were just a bonus. So we followed you to Siberia.” He decided not to mention T’Challa also being there but taking off with Rogers and Barnes without checking on his supposed ally. Stark shouldn’t have to deal with or worry about that yet, not when he had only just woken up. Though he might not have to deal with it, period. Alex figured Charles and Erik would have words with T’Challa before letting him near Stark. As would the rest of them. Past experience told him that he was now meeting their newest baby brother. “We heard what happened in the bunker and arrived in time to take out the HYDRA soldiers before they could take you. We brought you back here, to the school, and took care of the worst of your wounds. One of the doctors, the medicals doctors, I mean, will talk to you about them later.”
“How long was I out?”
“It’s been three days since we brought you back,” Peter answered.
“Three-?” Tony pushed himself up, clenching his teeth to keep from crying out from the pain. There was no time to waste on his wounds. “I need to go. I have to... Ross... they will...” He had to return to New York immediately. He just knew that Ross would use Roger’s actions to try and push through greater restrictions, give the US military more control if not absolute control of enhanced Americans. With the rest of the Avengers locked up or on the run and Rhodey in the hospital (Don’t think about the prognosis, not now, not yet), he was also all that was standing between people like Ross and Vision. And Peter, now that he had involved him in an international fight. God, what had he been thinking?
“You’re not up to going anywhere,” Alex told him bluntly. “We’re already on it. Erik and Charles have contacted the Accords Council and are working to keep the Accords from becoming legislature aimed against the enhanced community. Last I heard, the Council was calming down and is willing to negotiate some clauses we’d like added or changed. Hank’s in Washington with Mystique. They’re in the process of getting rid Ross.” He grimaced. “I’ll have to fly out there as well later this week, get the opinion among the military more against the kind of experiments Ross loves to run. Nothing like a Vietnam Veteran talking about losing comrades to experiments by their own superiors to get them to listen.” He shook his head, preferring not to remember that time yet if he didn’t have to. “You need to tell us if there is a doctor we should be contacting to deal with your chest because from the way everyone was cursing down in medical, I’d say it’s a mess.”
Tony sank back down, the more immediate panic calmed. Ross and the Council were two of his biggest worries, so he was grateful for the assistance. Grateful and also very surprised. With the Avengers, he’d hardly got help even when he had asked for it, never mind them helping proactively.
He went through what else needed his attention. “I need to call Pepper, let her know what happened and where I am and ask her... No, I need to check on them. Rhodey and the rest of my team, I mean. I need to know what happened to them after the airport, after I left for Siberia.” Rhodey. He needed to know how his Honeybear was doing, if he was really paralyzed. And Underoos. Was hurt badly? He hadn’t had the time to properly check before sending him back to the US. God, seriously, what had he been thinking, bringing the boy to the fight, putting him in danger? Vision, too, needed help. He was in suspense, legally speaking, since it was not really established if he was a person and therefore had the rights of a person. If Ross got his hands on him... Tony didn’t want to imagine it. He might find it hard to interact with Vision since his voice reminded him of JARVIS and the loss of his friend but he knew it wasn’t Vision’s fault and he should not have to pay for it.
“You sound like Peter when he gets going,” Alex said. “We’ll get you a phone so you can call her and your doctor, then take care of checking on the rest of your team while you rest.” He looked to Peter. “Can you fetch him a phone?”
“Sure.” Peter had barely finished speaking, then was gone.
“Why?” Tony asked.
“Why are you doing this?”
Peter shrugged, suddenly back in the room. “You’ve been adopted.” He placed the phone on the bed beside Tony.
“W-what?” Tony couldn’t, didn’t want to believe it. What else had been a lie? His parents weren’t even his parents?
“Not as a child. After what happened, what we learned, Erik and Charles have basically adopted you,” Alex explained. “Not like it’s the first time, most of us got adopted by either or both of them.” He nodded to Peter. “Peter and Wendy are the only ones who are actually related to one of them.”
“Also you’re like their love child,” Peter added.
“Between, you know, the thing with your mom and the way you were trying for compromise even after everything and your attitude and the way you rock the longer hair and beard. ‘cause it might not look like it now but the professor totally did too when I met him.” Peter paused and stared at Tony, then turned to Alex: “Hey, he was already born when Wendy met Dad and the professor, right?”
“Ignore him,” Alex suggested to Tony. “But yeah, they way you remind them of themselves and each other is probably part of why they adopted you.”
Tony turned his head to the side. “They shouldn’t. I’m not... I’m...”
“Dangerous? Breaking everything you touch? Too damaged to love? Not deserving of love?” Alex suggested casually.
Tony’s head whipped back around, surprised by how easily he’d guessed what he’d been thinking.
“I’ve been there, you know,” Alex said. “And believe me, you won’t be able to talk them out of it.” He still remembered feeling like that, like he was less deserving of love, when he had first met them, even after decades of being part of this weird, large family, even after decades into his bond with his Beast, his Sentinel. Unfortunately he and Tony were not to only ones to feel or have felt that way. Far too many past and current students had experienced rejection, hate and betrayal from those who were supposed to love and protect them when they manifested their powers and abilities. As a result, most of the instructors, both fulltime and part-time, had experience dealing with new arrivals who were scared to trust, scared to be betrayed again, so he was confident that they would be able to deal with Stark’s issues as well and make him feel welcome.
Tony looked from one to the other. It sounded strange, unbelievable. He had had to deal with everything alone for longer than he wanted to dwell on. The other Avengers had always demanded his time, his money and his inventions but had not been there for him when he needed someone, even if it was just to talk. Things between him and Pepper were strained since their final break-up and they had therefore decided to concentrate on their professional relationship first before trying to rebuild their friendship. His platypus tried his best, he knew, but he had responsibilities to the army and could not be around as much as Tony would like. He forced himself not to think about how his fall in Leipzig might change this, might make Rhodey turn his back on him. And yet these two were not just offering their help but informing him that they had already started, along with others. He wasn’t ready yet to deal with the ‘adoption’ thing.
He should have every reason not to trust what Summers and Maximoff were telling him, had in fact every reason not to, yet he believed them. “I do believe you. I just don’t know why,” he finally admitted.
“Yeah, that’s another thing we need to talk about,” Alex said. “You believe me because we’re both Guides and so you can tell that I’m not lying.”
“‘Guide’?” Tony repeated. “That one HYDRA goon called me that but I have no idea what he meant.”
“Right, quick crash course before you fall asleep again. There are people with all five senses heightened. They’re called Sentinels. They form a bond, a partnership with a Guide who watches their back and helps them keep control over their senses. Guides often have some form of mental gift, like reading someone’s emotions and intentions. Some also learn to project emotions but I’ve never managed that,” Alex said.
“That sounds like a mutant. I’m not a mutant,” Tony protested.
“We thought as well that it was just some kind of secondary mutation some mutants have but in the 90s a doctor thesis was published about a police officer in Washington state who’s a Sentinel. The author of the thesis later publically declared his thesis a fraud but we knew better. We visited and found that the officer was really a Sentinel and the author of the thesis his Guide. But they both did not have the X-gene,” Peter continued.
“We can explain it better after you’ve got more sleep,” Alex said. “We also have a copy of the thesis and that guy’s contact, if you want to read that. Now make your calls before Jean yells at us.”
“You’d think she’d be less likely to yell at you, since she’s basically your sister-in-law,” Peter said.
Alex snorted. “That only makes it worse. And don’t forget Scott and Logan’s reaction to anyone upsetting their girlfriend. I can do without getting judgemental looks from my little brother, thanks.”
Tony was pretty sure this was too crazy to be real. It was probably all just one huge hallucination brought on by blood loss and hypothermia. But on the off chance it wasn’t... He reached for the phone and dialled. “Friday, baby?”
Chapter 2: Help pt 2
Peter and Alex left him alone to finish his call after a last reminder for him to rest afterwards. They went downstairs to the kitchen to get a snack before meeting up with the others to discuss what to do now. When they entered, however, they found Jean and Scott waiting for them. “What, Logan didn’t want to wait with you?” Peter said.
“He promised to drive Marie into town,” Jean said. “How is he?”
“Hurting. Scared. Confused as hell,” Alex said. “We filled him in and he called his AI, telling her to inform his CEO and his personal doctor, Dr Helen Cho. FRIDAY, his AI, will tell her to call you and clear his further treatment with you.”
Jean nodded thoughtfully. “Dr Cho, yes, I’ve heard of her. Her research in genetics and especially the regeneration of skin is ground-breaking. It will be interesting to talk to her.”
“And hopefully you’ll be able to figure out a way to get him healthy or at least healthier again. We’ll probably also have to go over a lot of what we told him again at some point. I’m not sure how much he’s going to remember,” Alex said.
“If he won’t remember it either way then you should have let Jean see him first and check how he is doing,” Scott said.
Peter snorted. “If we had, he’d not be sleeping right now but planning his escape.”
Alex nodded in agreement. “No offence, Jean, but he doesn’t trust people who are nice to him or treat him gently.” It had been hard enough for him to build a rapport with her when Scott had started dating her and that was after years of having a place here, years in a bond with Hank. He hesitated, then added softly: “And I was worried you might accidentally trigger him.”
Jean frowned. “Wanda Maximoff?” She and her twin had come to their attention of course, with their abilities, even before she had joined the Avengers. The similarities to Wendy’s and Peter’s abilities had made them suspicious and it had not required much digging to find out that they had volunteered for HYDRA experiments. Just the fact that she had voluntarily worked for HYDRA and Ultron had made them highly suspicious of her, especially when the Avengers had kept her past a secret and two important members had suddenly resigned at the same time that she joined. Still they had decided to observe for the time being. After the failure of a mission in Lagos, Charles and Erik had considered offering to evaluate her abilities and control but had wanted to wait until after the Accords were signed.
“It’s an impression I got from him, nothing he said,” Alex explained, “nothing detailed. Just major trauma. Not that that’s any surprise, after the week he had. But I think if we can convince him to trust any of you telepaths enough to take a look in his head, you need to check for injuries there as well. So I think the combination of meeting a female, red-haired telepath might set him off.”
Jean nodded seriously. Alex’ mental abilities as a Guide were not very developed, outside of his bond with Hank. That wasn’t to say they were weak, quite on the contrary. After he and Hank had bonded, Alex’ shields around their minds had become so strong that it was near impossible for a telepath to read their mind without their permission. Only a very powerful telepath would have a chance of breaching those shields, and even then it would take time and effort, especially as they fought back. Emma Frost had found that out first-hand when she had tried to secretly read their minds to get an idea of where they were and if they were planning to come after her. Not only had they noticed her but Alex’ defence had been painful and powerful enough to knock her out. So if he had picked up on the trauma Dr Stark had experienced, it had to be bad.
“The dads might be able to talk to him without him getting suspicious of our agenda or panicking or Ororo or Logan. Until they are here, Alex and I will be responsible for him,” Peter said.
“Especially since he and I are both Guides and that seems to put him at ease,” Alex added.
Scott frowned. “You will be responsible for him?”
“Put the judgemental look away. Stark doesn’t need a flashback to Rogers. And just to check, which one of us is the older brother again?”
“Not that one can usually tell,” Scott muttered. “But I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, what are the rest of us supposed to do, just stay out of the way?”
“Actually, there is something you could help with,” Peter said. “We promised to check on his allies.”
When James Rhodes woke up, he knew he was in a hospital. The transport to the hospital and initial examination had been a blur, leaving him with mostly vague flashes of memory, fading more and more. The part that stuck out, the part he wished he could forget, was the doctors suspecting a paralysis.
“Colonel Rhodes?” a female voice said. “Can you hear me?” Probably a nurse or a doctor, he figured.
“Yeah.” There was no sense in trying to pretend he was still sleeping. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what she had to say, whoever she was, but he also needed to know for sure. So he opened his eyes and carefully turned his head in the direction of her voice.
She was slender, with blonde hair pulled back in a bun in her neck. She looked to be in her 40s and was wearing a doctor’s coat over a white shirt. “I’m Dr Peters. You are currently in the Sachsenklinik in Leipzig.” She paused a moment to check if he was able to follow her words. Seeing the way his eyes were clear and focused on her, she continued: “We operated on your spine. Luckily we had a number of surgeons on hand due to a conference here.”
She was interrupted when the door flew open and another doctor strutted in. He was younger than her, with short hair and skin a few shades darker than her. “Well, let’s take a look at my handiwork.”
Another man around the same age, also dressed in a doctor’s coat, followed more slowly behind him and rolled his eyes. He was pale, with dark hair and startling bright eyes. “Dr Moreau, a bit more tact, please.”
Dr Peters didn’t even look at them, suggesting to Rhodey that this was not unusual behaviour for these two. “These are Dr Moreau and Dr Ahrend,” she simply introduced. “Two colleagues who are here for the conference I mentioned.”
Rhodey nodded briefly, then endured the examination by Dr Moreau. It was not that he was harsh or needlessly causing pain, in fact he clearly knew exactly how to avoid it, but he obviously did not believe in bedside manners, instead preferring a more business-like approach.
“It looks good, as expected,” he finally proclaimed. “We were able to stabilize your spine and there seems to be no injury to your spinal cord.”
“You should make a full recovery,” Dr Ahrend said. “And I’m sure our colleagues here will have you soon ready to be flown out.”
Rhodey considered them, as best as he could, given that the painkillers he was on were making him sleepy again. “Can I keep him as doctor in charge? He’s comforting.”
The three doctors stopped short and exchanged startled looks.
“Right, who messed up the MRI of his head?” Dr Moreau demanded. “Something’s obviously scrambled up there.”
“Dr Moreau,” his colleagues protested.
“I have been informed that being comforting is not in my nature,” Dr Moreau said to Rhodey.
“You remind me of my best friend,” Rhodey replied simply, his eyes slipping closed. “He’s a genius, if that make you feel better.”
Moreau stared at him, still having trouble wrapping his head around the unusual request. “Well... I guess I can stay here a while longer,” he finally conceded. He turned to Dr Ahrend. “Not a single word to anyone back in Erfurt, especially not the minis,” he hissed.
Rhodey allowed himself to slip back under. He needed the rest, he knew. He needed to get back and return to the US as soon as possible. He did not even want to imagine the state Tony was surely in, worrying about him and blaming himself for everything that had happened. His not being paralyzed after all would go a long way to make Tony feel better. So he would behave and follow doctor’s orders, anything to get back to the US, back to Tony, as healthy as possible.
Peter Parker nervously paced up and down in his room, unable to calmly sit down and do his homework. It had been days and, as far as he and the public knew, there had not been any word from Mr. Stark. No one knew what had happened to him after the fight in Germany. Some were saying that he had run off with Captain America, others that he was hiding in shame over running off Captain America and now there were even rumours online that he had been killed by Rogers. It was all his fault, Peter knew. If he had done better, had not got distracted, everything would be different. Mr Stark would be home safe and Colonel Rhodes would not be hurt. He had these amazing powers and he still couldn’t help. He hadn’t been able to help Uncle Ben and now hadn’t been able to help Mr. Stark. Who was surely safe, wherever he was, not dead.
Finally he had enough. He could not stay home, safe, when he could do something, help at least someone. He grabbed his suit and climbed out his window.
Perhaps he should have considered it a bit more beforehand, he had to admit when, not even half an hour later, he found himself fighting a whole group of enhanced burglars. At least he thought they were only burglars. He wasn’t really interested in finding out just what they were all capable of.
So he was quite relieved when another masked guy (a hero, right? Please let it be another hero!) showed up to offer assistance. When the fight was finally over and he had a moment to breath, hard as it was with his bruised rips, he was surprised to find himself faced with Daredevil. “Thanks for the assistant?” he offered.
Matt frowned beneath his mask when he realized that Spiderman wasn’t just a smaller, slender man but a teenager and that he had been injured in the fight. “You should leave such dangerous opponents to adults, Spiderman.”
Peter frowned, annoyed to be dismissed like that again. He had needed the assistance, sure, but... “I can’t. I can’t just do nothing! I can’t let anyone get killed again! Like Uncle Ben! Like... like...” Peter broke off in a sob. He tried to suppress them, ashamed to fall apart like this. He pressed his fist to his mouth, trying to muffle his sobs, ignoring how it hurt his rips.
Matt froze, unsure what to do. He did not know how to deal with a teenager, never mind a crying teenager but he also could not just walk away and leave him alone like this. He made a split decision. “Come along.” He led the boy away, worried by how easily he let him steer him.
Foggy did not sound happy to see him when he shook him awake. “Matt, what...” He frowned. “You don’t look hurt. Please tell you don’t need me to represent one of your ‘colleagues’ again.”
Matt simply pointed to the still sniffling Spider-Man (shouldn’t it be Spider-Boy?) on Foggy’s couch.
Foggy sighed but softened. “Go get the first aid kit, he looks like he needs it.” He got up, rubbing his face tiredly. “Hey there,” he greeted Spider-Man gently.
“Hello,” Peter mumbled, his voice breaking at the end.
Great, now they were even dealing with teenage heroes. “And what were you doing out at this time?” he asked, perhaps a bit harsher than he would have liked if he’d been properly awake.
“I have to help. I... I have these powers so I have a responsibility to stop people from getting hurt. I can’t just ignore it,” Peter protested.
“It is not your responsibility to go out and look for crime to fight,” Foggy contradicted. “You should not turn a blind eye if you come across crime, yes, but you are not required to risk getting hurt yourself to protect others. And you also need to remember how what you’re doing affects others, for example what you getting caught or hurt would do to the people who care about you.” The last sentence was said more loudly.
Peter was pretty sure it was not only aimed at him, considering the way Daredevil ducked his head and said: “You don’t have to yell, you know I have enhanced hearing.”
“More like selective hearing,” Foggy muttered. He turned back to Spider-Man. “I doubt you’re even of age, so that’s even more reason for you not to put yourself in danger by going out as a vigilante.” He softened. “If you really want to use your powers to help people, then you can work under the Accords when you’re an adult or figure out an agreement with the local police, if you prefer not to work internationally. You worked with Iron Man, I’m sure he can help you there.”
“But I can’t just ignore the things I hear and see,” Peter said.
Foggy sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he said to himself. “If you do come across a crime being committed, you can... web them up, or whatever you call it, then call the police. Don’t engage criminals in a fight. If you come across a bigger crime, stay out of it and call Iron Man. Or Daredevil. Just, for now, just be your friendly neighbourhood spider.”
Vision was moving through the empty compound like a ghost, avoiding everyone working there. He had returned here after Germany, feeling unable to go to Stark Tower, not after what he had done, after how he had shot down Colonel Rhodes because he had been distracted by his feelings for Miss Maximoff. He avoided the kitchen, the room he had spent so much time in with Wanda. The room where there was still the hole Wanda had caused by turning her powers against him. The only contact he had had in the days since bringing Spider-Man back home had been FRIDAY. They had talked about their worry for Mr. Stark who they still had not heard from since he had visited the Raft, and his complicated and confusing feelings for Wanda Maximoff. He had cared for her and had thought she cared for him as well, until she had turned on him. Now his feelings for her were mixed with darker, harsher ones, ones he could not differentiate and name. FRIDAY could not really help him either. Like him, she had access to the definitions of different emotions but they both did not have the necessary experience to recognize what it was he was feeling.
“You could try asking for help in forums on the internet,” FRIDAY finally suggested.
Vision considered it. Mr Stark had warned him not to believe everything he read on the internet but perhaps it would at least give him a starting point. He would have to change some of what happened, of course, to avoid people recognizing him but he was certain he could manage.
Some of the replies his post received were extremely unhelpful. They used derogative language, either against him for being defeated by a woman or against her for “not knowing her place”. He had almost given up when he was notified of a reply for a user calling themselves Queen of Chaos.
“I’m sorry this happened to you. What she did was abusive. It is understandable that you have mixed feelings about her now. It sounds like you liked her and felt a connection, a sense of understanding one another, with her. So for her to turn on you like that was not just physically but also emotionally painful. She broke your trust. She used your affection for her against you. You sound like you’re angry, both at her for hurting you and your friends and at yourself for having trusted her and for being affected by your feelings for her. I know it won’t mean much to you, coming from a stranger, but you should not blame yourself for her actions, they’re on her, not on you. You’re probably also angry with yourself because you still like her. That’s normal, too. Feelings can’t just be switched off, so I expect that there is still a part of you that remembers the friendship you thought you had. You feel guilty for believing her and for getting someone else hurt because you were distracted. You are worried about your friend who was hurt and you are also worried about her, both because you still care and because you don’t know if she’s a danger to others as well.”
It sounded right to Vision. Looking at each emotion on its own like they had done, he had to agree with their assessment. But he still had no idea how to deal with these emotions. He considered it. Perhaps they could be of assistance with that as well? He hesitated a moment, then opened a private message.
Pepper nervously drummed her fingers on her desk, a tell she only allowed herself in the privacy on her office. Three days and still they had not heard from Tony. What could have happened? Had Ross captured him somehow? Surely the others hadn’t hurt him. She’d just seen T’Challa on the news and he had seemed unharmed, so surely Tony was fine as well. Right?
So where was he?
“Miss Pott?” FRIDAY said.
“I just heard from Boss.”
Two days after Tony first woke at the Institute, Erik and Charles returned home (“Perhaps they used the time away in New York City to have sex without having to worry about an emergency or someone interrupting.” – “Logan!”). Tony had been a bit nervous since Alex had told him. He wanted to thank them for their help, of course, and to know the details of their meetings with the Accords Council and the UN but he was also not sure how meeting a telepath would go. His only experience had been with Loki and Wanda, neither of which had been positive. He hoped the encounter would not set off his nightmares again, as visits to the Avengers compound had usually done.
“Thank you for helping me in Siberia,” Tony said when they visited his room, hoping to lay the ground work for a positive meeting.
“Not at all,” Charles said. “We are also interested in a compromise between Enhanced and the general population, so it made sense to follow in order to offer you assistance. I just wish it hadn’t been necessary.”
“And I believe for Jean it is already thanks enough that she could meet and work with Dr Cho,” Erik added.
Tony smiled slightly. “She is very impressive.” And she’d pretty much had a fit when she’d first got a look at his injuries from Leipzig and Siberia. It had not been easy to talk her out of going to the police, the UN or, worse, Pepper. He couldn’t let that happen, no matter how much he wished to never see Steve’s team again, they would be needed in the fight that was coming. Pepper would not leave them in one piece, so he had to keep it from her until he was well enough to distract her or talk her around.
“From what I understand, they are planning to have Dr Cho’s Cradle moved here, to work in connection with some of the treatments we have here to restore as much of your ribcage as possible,” Erik said.
“That’s really not necessary,” Tony protested. “I can move back to the Tower or the Compound. I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You aren’t a bother. You are welcome to stay here for as long as your recovery takes,” Charles assured him.
It was strange to Erik. He was used to people concentrating mostly on Charles and doing their best to ignore him, since Charles was generally far better at putting people at ease. Stark was doing the opposite. He kept his eyes and attention on Erik. Whenever he had to acknowledge Charles, he obviously had to fight not to flinch back or tense up. Through their bond, Erik felt Charles’ pain and anger that someone had misused their mental gift against Stark to the point that he feared telepathy in general. He sent reassurance through to him. He considered how improve the situation. “We still have my helmet lying around somewhere,” he finally offered. “You can use that for a while, if it would make you feel better.”
Tony froze. He hadn’t been aware that he had been so obvious about his mistrust of telepaths. He hesitantly glanced at Xavier, worried about his reaction and how to reply. Having their support and cooperation with the Accords and the coming invasion would be invaluable. He just hoped he had not destroyed the chance by insulting Professor Xavier with his irrational fears.
Charles smiled sadly. “I understand why you feel that way and I don’t take it personal. Neither do any of the other telepaths here. If the helmet helps you feel safer until you can believe that we are not going to read your mind without your permission, then you should do it.”
Tony stared at him. “You don’t constantly read everyone’s mind?” Seeing Xavier’s stricken look, he hurried to explain: “Maximoff said that she couldn’t help reading minds and giving me nightmares when I stayed overnight at the compound.”
Charles needed a moment before he could reply, to draw strength from his husband and to keep from demanding that they go down to Cerebro now so he could look for her and make her pay for the abuse she committed.
‘We can still do that later,’ Erik offered through their bond.
‘Careful, love, I might take you up on it in her case,’ Charles replied. Out loud, he said: “Generally, telepaths have to learn how to block out everyone’s mind as a matter of self-defence. The constant onslaught would drive them crazy otherwise. A certain awareness remains, meaning telepaths are generally aware how many people are around and can recognize familiar minds by their... well, let’s call it their flavour. They might sometimes still pick up if some emotions spike but in a school full of teenagers, we quickly learn to block that out as well.” He paused, then said gently: “From what I know and have seen of her, I have to suspect that Maximoff was lying to you.”
Tony nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised.” He was still torn whether to accept the offer of the helmet.
“Like Charles said, no one will mind if you wear it,” Erik said. “I wore it for years after knowing and befriending Charles.”
Tony nodded after some deliberation. “Then just for now, I...”
“Of course,” Charles said. “Erik will see where he put it. If you like, you are also free to have your friends visit or stay here with you.”
“I will ask them. For Vision, he would be good to be around people where he would...” Tony considered how to put it.
“Where he would stick out less,” Erik said. It was not an unusual worry for those whose appearance differed from baseline humans. “Then it’s decided.”
Charles was practically clinging to the bond with his Sentinel. He’d had to shore up his shields as much as he could to make sure Tony would not feel his pain and misunderstand, thinking himself responsible. He gave Erik a shaky smile when he pushed his wheelchair to their room.
Erik pushed the chair beside the bed. He barely spared a thought to using his powers to close and lock the door, instead concentrating on his husband. He pulled him up on the bed and into his arms. When he felt Charles start shaking, he tightened his arms around him.
Neither of them spoke, not out loud and not through their bond. They did not need to. It was always painful to see new arrivals who had been abused to the point that they no longer expected to be treated decently, to the point they did not think they deserved it. Tony being a Guide only made it worse. A Guide radiating pain the way he was making their instincts cry to fix it. Erik was having a slightly easier time, since Tony has not feared him, had in fact been at least a bit less afraid at the offer of his helmet.
Charles was used to people being uncomfortable or suspicious of telepaths but he had never met someone as scared of it as Tony. That it was a fellow Guide, someone who reminded him of his Sentinel and husband, someone he just wanted to bundle up and protect from the world who was scared of his powers, scared of him... He burrowed his face in Erik’s neck.
Erik sighed softly. He knew that it was one of Charles’ worst fears, just as he knew that his suspicion when they’d first met had hurt him a lot. He gently nudged Charles through their bond, encouraging him to drop his shields, at least between them. ‘I trust you, Charles. I don’t fear your powers any longer.’
Charles hesitated. Feeling his husband reject his powers would break his heart right now, he knew, but the need for reassurance was too great. A sob escaped him he felt Erik’s trust and love for him.
‘We’ll help him,’ Erik swore. ‘And we’ll make sure no one hurts him again.’
The next morning Tony reluctantly pulled out the tablet he had convinced Pepper to send him and had FRIDAY start the video call he had promised Rhodey. He didn’t want to admit it but he had been scared to talk to his friend, scared to see his reaction. They had not communicated directly since the airport, had only been passing messages back and forth through Pepper and FRIDAY. But Rhodey had insisted on a video call, wanting to see for himself how Tony was doing.
Rhodey accepted the call at once. “Tony!” He carefully looked him over, as best as he could through the screen.
“Hey, Rhodey,” Tony replied, trying for a relaxed smile.
“How are you doing, Tony, really?” Rhodey asked.
“I’m fine, nothing to worry about,” Tony said, not interested in talking about his own health or rather lack thereof. “Rhodey, ...” He trailed off, not sure how to ask how his friend was doing or how he could apologize. Really, how do you apologize for crippling your friend?
“Aw, Tones, no,” Rhodey sighed, recognizing the self-recrimination in Tony’s expression. “It’s not your fault, Tones, nothing about this was. Not that they didn’t follow the news, that they decided to fight us or that I was hurt in the fight.”
Tony couldn’t let it go that easily. “But if I had...”
“Don’t play that game, Tony,” Rhodey interrupted gently. “You are not to blame for their decisions and actions. I would have been there at the airport either way because I believe that the Accords are needed. They might need some adjustments but overall I’m in favour. I know whenever I put on the suit, whenever I go on a mission, that I might return injured or might not return at all. That’s something I’ve made my peace with, as much as I can. And the doctors here are confident that I will recover. It’s gonna take time and effort but they think I will walk again.” He regarded Tony, waiting to see if he was at least starting to believe him. “I’m coming back to the US as soon as the doctors allow, Tony. I promise.”
“They... Lehnherr and Xavier, I mean, they offered to let you stay here with me,” Tony said. “It might be easier for you during your recovery, since the buildings already...”
“...since it’s already wheelchair-friendly,” Rhodey said. He nodded. “Sounds good. Just how the hell did you end up in the Institute in the first place?”
“They... they picked me up after my last fight against Rogers and Barnes.” Tony would rather not tell Rhodey the details why he had to be picked up and the exact state they had found him in. “They suggested I stay here during my recovery.”
“It’s a good idea,” Rhodey said. “You don’t have to worry about Ross there.”
“Yeah but they insist that I’m on bedrest. And that I get a full night’s sleep. They’ve even threatened to have one of the mutants who can control electronics switch off my tablet at night. I’m not one of their children,” Tony protested. “I don’t care what Summers said about them having adopted me. I’m an adult.”
Rhodey bit back a smile and decided against pointing out that he did not sound very much like an adult right now. Tony hadn’t had parental care since Edwin Jarvis had died and Rhodey figured that, if anyone deserved a parent’s love and attention right now, it was Tony. That it was Magneto and Professor X who had basically adopted him was strange to say the least but he figured that, if anyone could protect Tony from the ex-members of his team, it was them. “They’ll have their hands full, dealing with you, but I believe they have experience.”
Still, he remembered from their time at MIT that it was a bad idea to let Tony get bored, not just because he would sooner or later come up with ideas or experiments that were not advisable but also because he had a tendency to get agitated or to get lost in darker thoughts if his brain wasn’t given a project to serve as his main focus. He needed to give him something to do, something that would not be too strenuously physically but keep him busy for longer than a few hours at a time. After a moment of consideration, he brought something up he had been wondering for a while. “Hey, Tony, have you made any new attempts to bring JARVIS back?”
Tony started. “What?” No one had brought up JARVIS since Vision’s creation. In fact the other Avengers had made it a point to make it clear that they disapproved of Tony working on anything having to do with AIs again.
“You found him again after Ultron attacked him. Is there any back up data? With it, Vision and any remaining traces on the server, you might have enough to bring him back.” When he saw Tony hesitate, he added gently: “Why don’t you bring it up with Vision and FRIDAY?”
“I guess I could bring it up with them,” Tony allowed.
Rhodey checked the time. “I’ll have to cut our call short for today, the doctors will be here soon.” He smiled gently. “I expect regular calls from you now until I can join you, got it? And if something happens while it’s night here, I expect at least an email, you hear me?”
“How are things going?” Scott asked. He, Logan, Jean and Peter had gathered in Scott’s office for a video call with Hank and Alex in Washington and Ororo in Geneva.
“It’s going well,” Hank said. “It’s not official yet but Ross has been sacked, his immunity revoked and he’s been taken into custody.”
“The military has dropped him,” Alex added. “Between some of the reports Mystique has leaked and the reminder what experiments like his can do to our own men, our own country, people want him gone or are at least not willing to speak up for him.”
“We’ll be coming home soon,” Hank said. “Mystique will stay here to keep an eye on things.”
They all breathed a sigh of relief. None of them had said it but they had all felt uncomfortably reminded of Strucker. Removing Ross from his position of power and influence was reassuring.
“That’s good,” Scott said for them all.
“How is Tony doing?” Alex asked.
“He is healing reasonably well, given his age and the extent of his injuries,” Jean said.
“Did you see him or did Dr Cho pass it on?” Alex asked.
“I saw him briefly.” Anticipating his next question, Jean continued: “Helen warned him about my hair and my abilities. We figured it would be better than to keep it from him. If we want to gain his trust, we can’t start with lies of omission, especially not after Siberia. He was stiff and obviously nervous, so we kept it as short as possible.” She smiled slightly. “He was wearing Erik’s helmet the whole time.”
“Erik’s helmet?” Hank echoed, looking at Alex but his husband only shrugged. “Don’t look at me, I don’t know about it either.”
“The dads are back. Erik offered him his helmet so Tony can be sure no one can read or control his thoughts,” Peter explained.
“We’ve reached his friends,” Scott said. “Colonel Rhodes is being prepared for the flight to the US. He should be ready any day now.”
“We have also found Spider Man and the Vision and have confirmed the invitation to visit Tony here,” Jean added.
“Seeing them will be good for him and serve as a nice distraction while he is still limited in what he can do due to his injuries,” Hank said. “Are you visiting him on your own right now to keep him company?”
“I did last time. I figured I could introduce him to Kurt next time,” Peter replied. “Dad’s with him right now.”
“We can visit as well when we are not teaching,” Scott said.
Alex hesitated. “I guess we could slowly start introducing him to people,” he said slowly, trying to come up with a way to tell Scott that he was worried about introducing him to Tony right now.
Luckily for him, Logan picked up on his hesitation. “We’ll discuss it later with Peter so we don’t overwhelm him.”
“I have to say, after all some of his work I’ve read and what I’ve heard about him from you all, I’m eager to get to know him as well,” Hank said.
“I can’t wait to introduce you,” Alex said.
Erik was going to see Tony on his own this time, on Charles’ insistence. Yes, they did want him to get to know Charles but, considering the topic Erik needed to bring up, Charles had figured it might be easier if Tony did not feel the need to watch his words as much.
Erik smiled slightly when he saw him playing around with his helmet, rolling in around beside him, turning it around and peering at from all sides. “Is it helping?” he asked.
Tony looked up, surprised. He hadn’t heard him come in. “Ah, yes. I mean, I’m not really noticing a difference but...”
Erik nodded in understanding. “It’s a relief to know your mind is protected. I remember that feeling.” He pointed to the chair beside Tony’s bed. “May I?”
“Of course. It’s your school.”
“But this is your room right now,” Erik replied. He waited for Tony to nod again, then sat down. “Helen and Jean say that you are healing well.”
Tony frowned. “They told me that, too, but they are still insisting that I rest and don’t do anything strenuous.”
“Part of it is because you are a Guide,” Erik said. “Alex has explained what a Guide is?”
“He has.” Twice. Tony had been convinced he had dreamed up the first explanation because it seemed so far-fetched to him.
“As he probably told you, a Guide generally has mental abilities, usually reading or projecting emotions. Sometimes it’s both, sometimes something else. While in Siberia, you projected your emotions.”
“Am I still projecting?” Tony asked worriedly.
“No, you aren’t, don’t worry,” Erik hurried to reassure him. “We can’t be sure yet if your projecting is an ability you gained when you came online or if it was a case of instinctual self-defence that you will not be able to duplicate at will. Part of it might be because the institute has built in measures to dampen powers, to help mutants still learning control. We will figure it out when you start training.”
“And when will I start this training?” Tony asked. He was not sure how he felt about these abilities he was supposed to have or get but he figured getting control of them, if he had them, was better than ignoring them, no matter how much he may want to.
“When Jean and Helen give the all clear.” Seeing Tony’s mutinous expression, he continued: “The better rested you are, the better your control will be. In our experience with mental abilities, both through the X-gene and being a Guide, the state of their health and emotions affects their abilities.” He considered how to make it easier for him to understand, to keep him from taking his words as a challenge. “You’re an engineer. It might make more sense to you if you consider your abilities as a kind of valve. Fatigue or overuse, either by using it too long at a time or to control more than it’s designed for, can cause a malfunction. So if you try to use your abilities while you’re still not recovered enough or are struggling with all that has happened, it’s more likely that you will lose control.”
Tony nodded slowly. That made sense. Unfortunately. “Who will be teaching me? Alex?”
“Alex will only be able to teach you the theory. His own abilities are mostly passive and defensive.” Which had been rather a surprise to them all, given his personality and his mutation which was more suited to offensive attacks. “Charles would be best suited to teaching you, especially since there are parallels between telepathy and many abilities Guides develop. If you’re uncomfortable with that, we can also put you in contact with Dr Sandburg, a Guide without the X-gene.”
“I’ll consider it.” Tony waved at the machines still monitoring his health. “Seems like I’ll have some time yet to decide.”
“Is there a reason you are making sure I don’t have time to really visit Dr Stark?” Scott asked, standing in the middle of their shared room.
Jean and Logan exchanged guilty looks. They had hoped Scott would not notice for a while yet, so they would not have to explain.
“Scott.” Jean reached a hand out to him. Her face fell when he avoided her and instead paced up and down their room.
“He’s been here for over a week now,” Scott said. “I understand that Alex went to meet him first, since he’s also a Guide and often able to relate well to new arrivals who’ve been hurt. Peter... well, I guess he’s doing well with children and doesn’t come across as threatening. Neither of them do. Neither of them are really, obviously mutants. I mean, Peter’s hair could just be dyed. But by now he’s also met Kurt and Hank and got along with them. He’s briefly met Jean, even though there was some concern he might be triggered. And yet you’ve kept me away.”
Logan stepped into his way and took a hold of his shoulders, forcing him to stand still. “Shit. Sorry, Slim. We should have told you. Should have explained.” He loosened his hold when Scott didn’t tear himself free, instead gently rubbing his arms. It was easy sometimes to forget how insecure Scott was in there relationship, especially after Logan had regained his memories from the alternative timeline, the timeline where they had not been in a relationship. The one where Jean had killed Scott and many others before Logan had been forced to kill her.
“We did keep you away, yes, but it has nothing to do with you,” Jean said, slowly coming closer. “Remember how you and Logan clashed when he first came here? Or how you and Alex get sometimes? From what we’ve seen, Tony can get that way when he’s feeling defensive. We were worried that you would set each other off and that it would make it harder for you to really get to know each other.” She reached for his hand again and was relieved when he took it now. “I guess we still have to work on our communication.”
Scott’s lips twitched into a slight smile. “We really do.”
Logan kissed him briefly. “How about we visit him together tomorrow, just for a moment? Introduce you?”
“Let’s see how it goes.”
Charles curled up against his husband and Sentinel in their bed. “He fits in surprisingly well, doesn’t he?”
Erik didn’t need their bond to know that he was talking about Tony, their newest ‘adoptee’. He laughed gently. “Kurt and Hank made a point to tell me that we’re keeping him.” They were slowly introducing Tony to the other residents of the Institute, partly because his health meant that he could not leave his room for long and partly because he was afraid of meeting others and their reaction to him. He got along very well with Hank, discussing different scientific theories, Alex and Peter, so when he did leave his room, he tended to stick close to them.
“His first reaction to meeting Kurt was saying how cool his ability to teleport and his tail are and that they’d be helpful in the lab,” Charles said.
“I can imagine,” Erik said. “Is he getting better with Jean and Wendy?”
Charles considered it. “Slowly, yes. He’s doing better if they’re not using their telekinesis. It seems he associates it with telepathic attacks because of that HYDRA witch.” He smiled sadly. “I’m not sure if I should find it sad or cute that he seems to use your helmet as a kind of security blanket.”
Erik tightened the arm he had wrapped around Charles. “He will come to trust you, I’m sure.”
“Come on, baby bro, you can keep working on it later,” Peter said. “Let’s go outside for a bit.”
“I thought I’m supposed to rest,” Tony protested.
“Sure, but Dr Cho, Jean and Hank said that you’re healing well and that going outside a bit would do you good,” Kurt said.
“And why do you insist on calling me ‘baby bro’? I’m older than you,” Tony said.
They all shrugged. “You’re the latest one to join the family, so you’re the baby,” Alex said.
“Why would you even want me to join your family?” Tony demanded, unable to understand why they would accept him so easily when he was still too injured to be able to do anything for them.
“Aside from being like our dads’ lovechild?” Peter asked. He shrugged again. “You’re a good guy. You accept us and the different mutations here.”
“And you’re kinda giving them a chance at a do-over,” Alex said. “Erik and Charles met when the trauma Erik suffered of losing his mother had had a chance to fester but they can help you deal with it better. And after Charles’ attempt to peacefully reach a compromise failed and he was injured, he ended up alone, with just Hank staying but they can be there for you and help you make sure the compromise doesn’t fail.”
“And you don’t resent it? That I’m the... the ‘baby’ of the family?” Tony asked.
“Nah. We’re used to it. Though admittedly it’s been a while since they adopted someone,” Alex said.
“Yeah, today it’s more the next generation who do the adopting,” Kurt said.
Hank stuck his head into the room. “Sorry to interrupt, guys, but Tony has some visitors.”
“Me?” Tony was surprised. “Who would visit me here?”
“Why don’t you come downstairs and find out?” Hank suggested.
They all followed him downstairs. Tony had barely reached the bottom of the stairs when there was a twin cry of “Mr Stark!” “Mechanic!” and two boys threw themselves at him.
“Harley! Underoos! What are you doing here?” Tony asked.
“Visiting you, of course,” Harley said.
“We had to see for ourselves how you’re doing, Mr Stark,” Peter added.
“They both showed up at the Tower out of the blue, so I figured we’d just bring them along,” Rhodey said, wheeling in in the chair he was still supposed to use for now, followed by Vision and Pepper.
“Rhodey! You’re here.” Tony gently freed himself from the two boys and stumbled over to him. He dropped to his knees beside him and hugged him. “You’re here.”
“I said I would come,” Rhodey said, hugging Tony tight. He hated how, even after weeks of care, Tony was obviously still not completely recovered from the injuries Rogers and the others had dealt him. “When I find out where Rogers and those other assholes are, they will pay.”
“No, you can’t,” Tony protested.
“And why not?” Pepper asked.
“Because they’ll be needed during the invasion.”
Chapter 3: Preparation part 1
“Invasion? What invasion?” Pepper asked.
“I saw it. It is real, it’s not just my imagination,” Tony said.
“Tony, calm down,” Charles said, approaching slowly. “Start at the beginning. What did you see?”
“Back during the fight against the Chitauri, when I flew that nuke through the wormhole, I saw a huge fleet of ships on the other side. The nuke might have destroyed a few more of those ships but not the whole fleet. And they’re heading towards the Earth. Without the tesseract, they need to take the long way here but they are coming.” Tony stopped to gasp for breath. He waited for the disbelief, for them to tell him that it was all just in his head, like the other Avengers had done.
“Then we need to start preparing at once,” Erik said.
“We have another meeting at the UN tomorrow to talk about the Accords, we can bring it up then,” Charles added. “They can then start planning and oversee all member states being informed.”
“Back to meeting with the higher ups in the military, I guess,” Alex sighed.
“I can help you out there, take on some of the meetings,” Rhodey offered.
Tony looked around, certain that he had to be dreaming. “You believe me?”
“Of course, why would we not?” Charles asked.
Tony figured he better not answer that the other Avengers hadn’t, had in fact told him off for lying to get attention. “It must sound crazy. I mean, an alien invasion, that sounds like something out of a movie.”
“But there was an alien invasion in New York. You are the only one to have seen what was on the other side of that wormhole. So if you say that you saw an alien fleet, then I see no reason not to believe you,” Erik said.
Tony swallowed hard. It was an incredible feeling, having all of them simply trust his words and taking his fears seriously.
Harley considered him. “That’s what Ultron was really supposed to be for, wasn’t he?” he asked. “To serve as another layer of protection when the invasion comes.”
“Yes but something went wrong. I don’t know what and how but Bruce and I had scrapped our latest attempt, one which was far from ready. Ultron shouldn’t have been able to come online. I must have screwed up, made some mistake there somewhere.”
“I believe the sceptre might have been involved,” Vision said. “From what you told me, it was able to influence those around it even without someone actively wielding it. Perhaps it had once again acted on its own.”
“Sounds certainly more believable than Tony screwing up an AI that badly,” Rhodey agreed.
“Speaking of screwing up, we should also contact Reed and his team. When they’re not causing problems because of one of his experiments not going according to plan, they are rather capable,” Pepper suggested.
Tony wrinkled his nose. He did not really get along with Reed but he could see Pepper’s point. “I guess we should also contact Pym and Wayne. And what’s left of SHIELD.”
“I could talk to Daredevil,” Peter offered. “He and his friends aren’t interested in regularly fighting crime internationally but in the case of an invasion...”
“And we can contact the graduates of the Institute,” Peter Maximoff said.
“I can go to my workshop and start working on a few things,” Tony said.
“You can go back to your room,” Erik contradicted. “You are still recovering and need rest, not straining yourself.”
“You can start planning them with your FRIDAY, of course,” Charles added, “but anything more physical will have to wait until Dr Cho clears you.”
Pepper and Rhodey exchanged a pleased look, happy to see someone looking after Tony and, even better, Tony only giving a token protest.
Tony had actually gone back to his room and was preparing blueprints FRIDAY could start producing already when Erik and Charles joined him.
“Tony, there is something I would like to talk about while the others are shown to guest rooms, about some of the things you said downstairs,” Charles said.
Tony gave them a suspicious look. Did they not believe him after all? “Yes?”
“You seem convinced that Ultron was your fault, even when Colonel Rhodes and the Vision both agree that there were likely factors involved that make it not your sole responsibility. You are convinced that your ex-teammates will be crucial in fighting off the coming invasion, even though not all of them are enhanced and those that are are no stronger than some of the mutants you’ve met here already,” Charles said. He broke off, not sure how to continue, especially since his relationship with Tony was still a bit shaky, then glanced at Erik. ‘I’m sorry, Erik, but could you explain?’
Erik nodded to his Guide and husband. “Tony, we suspect that you were influenced to believe that foolishness, either by the witch with magic or by the spies using psychological manipulation. We don’t know how long you have been coming online as a Guide prior to Siberia and how that might have impacted it.”
“What does my being a Guide have to with it?” Tony asked.
“The mental gifts many Guides develop can also make them more vulnerable to mental manipulation while they are unbonded. Once they are bonded, on the other hand, they are often able to shield both themselves and their Sentinel from manipulation,” Charles explained.
“If you feel comfortable with it, Charles or one of the other telepaths can check so you will have certainty,” Erik offered. “Or if you prefer, you can talk to Jess Yates, the therapist here at the Institute.”
“Or both,” Charles added. “You don’t have to decide now, of course. Feel free to discuss it with Colonel Rhodes and Miss Potts. But for now, just enjoy your time with your visitors.” He looked to the door. It was only now that Tony realized that there was the sound of running coming closer.
Harley and Peter skipped to a stop in the doorway, staring at Erik and Charles. “Um, are you busy, Mr Stark?” Peter asked.
“Oh no, we were just leaving,” Charles said. “I’m sure Tony will be happy for you to keep him company.”
“Sure, come in,” Tony said.
Harley didn’t hesitate. Before Erik and Charles had even left the room, he sat down on the bed beside Tony and hugged him. “I knew they weren’t right. I knew you were going to be okay.”
Tony awkwardly patted his back. “I’m good, yeah. And who wasn’t right?”
“When... when you didn’t show up, some people we saying that you were- that you were dead,” Peter said. He was still standing in the middle of the room, nervously fumbling with his sleeves.
Tony considered him, then waved him closer. He watched him nervously shuffle closer, then stop again beside the bed.
“I’m sorry,” Peter suddenly blurted out. He looked down, unable to meet Mr Stark’s gaze.
“What are you apologizing for?” Tony asked, confused by his reaction.
“If- if I had fought better in Germany... If I hadn’t...”
“No,” Tony cut in sternly. “Nothing that happened was your fault. I should not have brought you along. I should not have put you in danger, in a situation you were not trained and equipped to handle.”
“We all underestimated how far they were willing to go,” Rhodey said, from the corridor outside Tony’s room. He smiled gently. “We all misjudged the situation, because of our relationship with them, because of Roger’s reputation.”
Tony nodded slowly, making himself keep eye contact with Rhodey. Then he turned back to Peter. “Come here.” He patted the space on the bed beside Harley.
Rhodey watched proudly how he tugged him close, reassuring the teenager that it had not been his fault. He gave them a moment, then changed the topic. “So tell me, Tony, have you made any progress with restoring JARVIS?”
Loki stood at a window in a quiet corner of the spaceship, watching the stars go by. He wondered what he was doing here. He had joined Thor in the final fight against Hela out of a sense of nostalgia, for Frigga, for the place he had hoped to have on Asgard and, though he didn’t want to admit it, for Thor. What he did not understand was why he stayed, why he was travelling with them to Midgard, the destination Thor had chosen. Did he really want to stay with the remaining Asgardians who had never accepted him, to build a home on a planet he had been forced to attack for an Infinity Stone? What kind of welcome could he expect, both here on the ship and on Midgard? Wouldn’t it be better if he returned to Sakaar? Though he did not know what kind of welcome he’d face there, after everything that had happened, after he’d been involved in starting the revolt by the gladiators.
“Avoiding your brother again?”
Loki looked over his shoulder, surprised to see Vili, one of Odin’s younger brothers, standing behind him. He turned around quickly, unwilling to leave his back to any of the Asgardians. Except perhaps Thor. “What do you want?” he demanded. He looked around, trying to tell if he was on his own or if there were others waiting to ambush him. “Come to take revenge for my daring to sit on the throne of Asgard? Of a monstrous frost giant daring to besmirch your brother’s throne?”
“I’d appreciate you not talking about my mother like that, thanks,” Vili replied.
Vili’s words derailed Loki’s planning for how to get away and whether to get away from the room or the ship in general. “Your... your mother? What does she have to do with...?”
“Mother was a jötun,” Vili said calmly. “Didn’t Odin tell you?”
Loki stared at him for a long moment. “No, no, he didn’t.” He was lying. Surely he had to be lying. There was no way Odin or at least his brother were part frost giant.
“Shit.” Vili rubbed his head. “I know he didn’t talk about her in public but I’d thought he would have at least spoken of her to you, considering you’re at least half jötun.”
“You knew? All this time, you knew I’m a frost giant?” Loki demanded.
“Of course. I was there when Odin brought you home from Jötunheim.” Vili shook his head. He had been hopeful when Odin had brought the child back. He had thought that Odin would reign in the hateful talk and prejudices running rampant during the war after their final victory. But that hadn’t happened. Looking back, he knew that he should have talked to him about it, if not for their mother then for Loki’s sake.
“Why did he do that? Why did he adopt a jötun? I thought it was to... to prepare a puppet king but now... Was it because of... because of your mother?” Loki hesitantly asked.
Vili shrugged. “I figured it was like with Thor and he was simply bringing the result of his latest affair home.” Odin had never been very close with their mother, so he was not sure that she would have influenced his decision.
“Are you saying Thor was not Frigga’s son?” Loki demanded.
“No, Odin and Frigga had no children together. I do not know if she did not want to or could not give him children but she seemed happy enough to raise the children he brought home.” She had accepted Thor easily enough but she’d instantly bonded with Loki the moment he had been placed in her arms.
“So Hela wasn’t Frigga’s child either?” Now that he thought about it, he could not remember Hela mentioned Frigga, only ever Odin.
“Of course not. Hela was born before the end of the war against the Vanir,” Vili replied matter-of-factly.
Loki wrinkled his nose. Why did he suddenly change the topic? “What does the war have to do with her being Frigga’s daughter?”
“Odin and Frigga’s wedding was part of the peace treaty. By then Odin had sealed Hela away already. Vé and I sometimes wondered if Hela was the reason Frigga was so hesitant to have children with Odin but then again, she didn’t seem to mind him having children with others.”
“One child, Thor. I cannot be Odin’s child, I am Laufey’s. He confirmed it,” Loki pointed out.
“Yes, so?” Vili started. “Wait, if Odin didn’t tell you then he also didn’t give you The Talk.”
Loki flushed. “I assure you, he did. He warned Thor and me not to get a woman pregnant.” He’d love to forget that conversation, actually. He was certain he had never been that mortified in his life.
“Did he also mention how to avoid getting pregnant yourself? Because many Jötun can both sire and carry children, regardless of their gender. I thought that might have happened between Odin and Laufey.” He groaned. “You are really lucky not to have ended up with child yet, it seems. Thor is less likely to be able to get pregnant, since he is only a quarter Jötun but you are at least three quarter Jötun, more if Odin is not your sire.” Not that he thought that likely. He didn’t bring it up yet, figuring it was too soon and that Loki would not take the comparison well but, given the similarities between Hela and Loki, he was quite certain that Loki was Odin’s son. Now Thor he was less certain about.
“Can we please change the subject?” Loki requested.
“We can postpone it. You are getting a complete Talk, either by me or Lady Eir, your choice,” Vili replied. “For now, you can tell me what has you so worried. Asgard may be destroyed, but Hela is beaten and from what Thor has said, we may find a new home on Midgard.”
“Thanos is coming, both for us and for Midgard,” Loki admitted, “to take the Infinity Stones and to take revenge.” He was too busy trying to wrap his head around the information he’d just been presented with to try and figure out a way to distract Vili. It was also a relief to finally tell someone.
“The Mad Titan?” Vili’s eyes widened in realization. “That’s where you were, after you feel off the Bifrost.” He barely waited for Loki to nod, then continued: “We need to inform your brother, have him and the others on board prepare for an attack. Do the people on Midgard know?”
“One of my brother’s shield brothers, Stark, saw Thanos’ fleet. I have checked on him a few times while I posed as Odin and he seemed aware of the danger and making plans but others did not believe him.”
“Then we need to send someone to Midgard to warn them and to confirm his words.”
Tony was still hesitant to bring JARVIS up with Vision, so he had not talked to him about trying to bring JARVIS back since Rhodey had suggested it. He did not want him to get the impression that he was not enough or not welcome, that he wanted JARVIS instead of him. The others had told him not to mention JARVIS to Vision and, since they were living with Vision, surely they knew better what would hurt him? But Rhodey was insistent and finally convinced him to come with him and look for Vision.
They found him in one of the TV rooms with Hank, Wendy and Ororo.
“Hey, Vision,” Rhodey greeted. “I see you’re making friends already.”
“Actually we’ve just found that he and I know each other already,” Wendy said. “Not in person, of course, but we were talking online.”
“Do I want to know what kind of sides you’re visiting?” Rhodey asked teasingly.
Wendy laughed. “Nothing like that, I promise. I’m on a number of forums because nowadays the internet is a common option for people who cannot or do not want to go out in public for one reason or another. It sometimes allows us to find people who have trouble dealing with their mutation and offer advice or directions here.”
“I found the advice I received from ‘Queen of Chaos’ very helpful. It is...a pleasant surprise to meet her in person,” Vision said.
Tony smiled gently. “I bet. When Erik and Charles offered to let you visit, I hoped that you would be able to find friends here.”
“We were looking for you because we wanted to ask your help with something,” Rhodey said.
“Of course, I’m glad to be of assistance.”
“We want to take another look at JARVIS’ coding, see if we can’t restore enough to bring him back,” Rhodey explained.
Tony opened his mouth to explain, to reassure Vision but he was already nodding. “Yes, I will do my best to help. I would very much like a chance to speak to JARVIS. He is... part of me, part of what created me. I’ve hoped for a way to learn more about this part of myself.” He turned to Wendy. “If you don’t mind that our conversation is cut short for now. Perhaps we can talk some more later?”
“Of course,” she assured him. “The three of you will be staying a while longer, so I’m sure we’ll find some other time for me to show you around.” She grinned. “And I can start introducing you to everyone living here at the Institute, human and not.”
“You have pets here?” Rhodey asked.
“A few cats and dogs, yes. They’re good for the children, give them something to take care of. Though they stay outside and in a smaller building on the grounds. It can get too rowdy for them in here,” Ororo explained.
“Is the raven also someone’s pet?” Tony asked.
“What raven?” Hank asked. “We have no tame bird as far as I know.”
“I’ve seen a raven in my room a few times,” Tony explained. “I figured it belonged to someone and had just got away.”
Hank, Ororo and Wendy exchanged startled looks. “I’m calling Dad and the professor,” Wendy said.
“Did I say something wrong?” Tony asked. He paled. “I... I didn’t hallucinate it, did I?”
“No!” Hank quickly cut in. “No, it was no hallucination. But the bird was also not a real bird. It seems that you met your spirit animal.”
“What’s a spirit animal?” Rhodey asked.
“Every Guide and Sentinel has a spirit animal. Some never meet their spirit animal and some meet theirs years after coming online but everyone has one. They represent aspects of themselves, of who they are, and help guide them on their way,” Hank explained. He smiled at Tony’s suspicious look. “I know, it doesn’t sound realistic and scientifically sound. I didn’t want to believe it either until I met mine. But if you’ve met yours already, we might have to start your training as a Guide sooner than we’d planned.”
“The raven is my spirit animal?” Tony asked. He pressed his lips together. A raven.
“Okay, what are you talking about? What does this Guide and Sentinel business mean?” Rhodey asked.
Hank looked from Tony to Rhodey, trying to decide who to reply to first. Then he caught Erik and Charles approaching the room, so he turned to Rhodey. “Let me start at the beginning.”
“Tony, what’s wrong?” Erik asked. “Wendy said you had seen your spirit animal?”#
Tony nodded, looking down at his feet. “ A raven.”
“It’s amazing that you’ve met yours already,” Charles said. He tried to meet Tony’s eye. “I know it can be strange, especially for the more scientifically minded, but your spirit animal can teach you a lot and it will give you an advantage when you start learning to control your abilities.”
“I guess. I just hoped... I hoped I’d left it behind, that I’d started making up for it,” Tony said.
“Left what behind, Tony?” Erik asked.
“The title of Merchant of Death.”
“Ah.” Erik and Charles nodded to themselves, understanding now what was troubling him. “Come sit down, please,” Erik invited, moving to sit in one of the armchairs. He used his powers to help Charles move his chair between the armchair he was sitting in and the next, then waited for Tony to sit down. “You’re associating the raven with death.”
Tony shrugged. “What else? Merchant of Death, omen of death.”
Charles reached over, laying a comforting hand on Erik’s arm. He didn’t like that Erik’s painful past was dragged back up like this but he also knew that they were both grateful it would allow them to better help Tony deal with everything.
“I know what it’s like to be faced with a spirit animal that seems to represent the worst part of yourself and your past,” Erik said. “Let me show you.” He closed his eyes, concentrating on his connection with his spirit animal, asking it to show itself to Tony.
Tony drew in a startled breath when a vulture suddenly landed on the arm of Erik’s chair.
“I thought it was proof that I was doomed to a life of death, that I should stay away from Charles and the children to try and keep death from touching them and their lives.” Erik smiled at his husband. “At least until Charles showed me that the vulture is also a symbol of overcoming death and of protection. I have learned to accept my past, the death I’ve faced, the death I’ve caused, to see that there is more to my life than death.”
“I still have the books I searched to find the symbolism behind Erik’s spirit animal somewhere. We can look for them so you can see what the raven represents,” Charles offered.
“Well, regardless of the symbolism, the animal itself suits you, Tony,” Rhodey said, joining them. Hank had finished explaining about Sentinels and Guides and why it concerned Tony and they had caught the end of Charles words. “They’re extremely intelligent, curious, loyal to those who befriend them, use tools and like shiny things. I’d say that describes you quite well.”
Tony stared at him, surprised by Rhodey’s take on it, by how he saw him. “Thank you,” he said softly.
Tony had to admit that he was nervous. Two days after he had told the others about the invasion he feared was coming, he had been contacted by Thor, by phone even, and asked for a meeting regarding a danger to Earth. Erik and Charles had insisted that the meeting should take place at the Institute, that Tony was still not well enough to travel a lot. It was something they were quite insistent on and made sure to encourage, even in between all the planning and reaching out to potential allies. They were probably right, too but he was not used to someone caring for his health. Oh, he knew that Rhodey and Pepper cared and they often tried to get him to take better care of himself but he found that he had far more difficulty ignoring Erik and Charles’ more parental care. Rhodey and Pepper didn’t seem to find. In fact they seemed to approve. They were also encouraging him to accept their offer on having someone check whether he had been influenced by Wanda. He was actually considering having Charles take a look at his mind, though he had not yet told him. Perhaps after whatever Thor wanted to tell him.
There was a knock at the door. “They’re here,” Peter Maximoff told him. It had been confusing at first when Spider Man had stayed for a few days but the others had quickly adopted Tony’s nickname of ‘Underoos’, much to Peter’s dismay. Tony had been pleased to see Peter and he had also worried about his aunt’s reaction to Peter’s continued lying until Peter had explained that he’d told her the truth. “Mr. Nelson was insistent that I should,” he told him. “I’m grounded for a month but she allowed me to come see you first.”
“‘They’?” Tony repeated. “Not only Thor?” He wondered who it was. He just hoped not the Rogues. The resulting fight with everyone here would not be pleasant and probably undo any chance of him getting them pardoned.
“No, also Banner and someone who looks like Loki,” Peter replied.
Tony perked up. “Brucie bear? Where are they?”
“In Charles’ office.”
“Thanks.” Tony hurried there as quickly as his still recovering health permitted. Erik and Charles were there already, waiting with their three guests. Tony stopped short in the doorway, however, when he got a good look at Thor, taking in his short hair and missing eye.
Thor smiled at him. “Friend Stark, it is good to see you. Though I wish the circumstances were better.” He nodded to Loki. “My brother reminded me that we should inform you before the arrival of our ship.”
Tony nodded, waiting for Thor to explain what he meant by that.
“Then how about you tell him?” Loki suggested pointedly when Thor didn’t continue.
“Ah, yes. Asgard was destroyed. My father is dead and I am now King of Asgard. We are travelling to Midgard in a ship with the survivors of Asgard, hoping to ask for refuge.” At Loki’s pointedly cleared throat, he added: “Loki has also informed us that Thanos, the Mad Titan, the leader of the Chitauri, is on his way to Midgard for the Infinity Stones here.”
“Then we have a name and confirmation now,” Erik said, deciding to concentrate on this part for now. The matter of the refugees could wait until the next meeting with representatives of the UN. “Tony has informed us of the coming invasion. We have passed it on and have started preparations.”
Thor looked a bit put off his stride by their lack of surprise. “Good. Those of us in fighting condition will of course offer our services in the defence of Midgard.”
“And those who know magic but cannot fight can offer their assistance in strengthening your defences,” Loki added.
“I’m sure that will be appreciated and might improve the reaction at the UN when you request asylum for your people,” Charles said.
“The UN?” Thor asked, turning to Bruce and Loki.
“An international organization established to promote peace and the protection of human rights,” Bruce explained.
“Think of it like a council,” Loki suggested.
“They have started coordinating the efforts to prepare for what’s coming,” Charles said. “Any information you can pass on would be appreciated.”
Loki nodded slowly. “I understand. I can pass on what I remember from my time as Thanos’ prisoner.”
“If you prefer not to talk about it at length, me or one of the other telepaths here can work with you to gather the information without your having to relive it all in a lengthy inquiry,” Charles offered.
Loki turned his full attention on him for the first time. “I wasn’t aware that there were telepaths on Midgard. Or Sentinels and Guides again,” Loki said.
“Asgard is aware of the existence of Sentinels and Guides?” Tony asked.
“There have been reports of Sentinels and Guides on Midgard from centuries ago,” Loki replied. “They were of interest to Asgard because they were respected as powerful warriors. But as their numbers decreased, so did Asgard’s interest in Midgard.”
“Well, I expect you will find that the number have increased since then,” Erik said, “though we’re not acting out in the open anymore. And there will likely be even more coming online due to the invasion.”
“From what we understand, Sentinels and Guides come online more often in times of stress and danger. It’s why there is a noticeable overlap between mutants and Guides and Sentinels. We are working to put arrangements in place to protect and help them as they come online,” Charles explained.
“I might take you up on your offer,” Loki said. He grimaced at what he knew was coming now.
“We will also need to talk to Dr Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, since he has an Infinity Stone in his care as well,” Thor said, ignoring the way his brother grimaced at the mention of the wizard.
“Sorcerer Supreme? I have never heard of him,” Tony said. “Though the name Dr Strange sounds familiar.”
“Wasn’t he the one to free Agent Barton and the others of the mind control?” Loki asked. “Or do you have the assistance of another magic user?” That would be preferable. That way Thor could meet just briefly with Strange to pass on the warning and the planning for working with magic users against Thanos could be done with someone else.
Tony and Bruce exchanged confused looks. “We didn’t need a magic user. Romanoff knocked him out briefly and when he woke up, he was himself again,” Tony replied. He started when Loki began cursing in a number of languages.
“Brother? What has you so angry?” Thor asked.
“None of you took care to properly free him from the Sceptre’s influence. I can understand that you Midgardians didn’t know better but you should have remembered Mother’s teachings, Thor,” Loki said.
“What are you talking about?” Bruce asked.
Loki considered how to explain it best so they would understand. “The Sceptre opens the mind of its victims to outside influence and puts them under the control of its wielder. Knocking them out only served to... shift the channels, so to speak, but still left them open to any and all outside control. In fact their mind would actively be looking for orders.”
“Like a car radio trying to find a new channel when they get out of range,” Tony realized. “And then Rogers put the witch on the team. We should contact T’Challa, see if we can arrange to check if Barton is still being influenced.”
“He really put her on the team?” Bruce asked, shocked.
“T’Challa? Are you saying Rogers and his team are in Wakanda?” Erik demanded. They knew that he had helped them away from Siberia but had not thought that he had taken them to Wakanda and was hiding them there.
“Why are they in Wakanda?” Thor asked.
“Perhaps we should explain this in the training room or outside,” Charles suggested.
Rhodey, Vision, Ororo and Hank joined them as they watched the Hulk and Thor tear through the training room after the explanation while Loki was pacing up and down, clearly pissed. Thor seemed to be able to control and influence lightning even more than before, Tony noted. He was also intrigued and a bit freaked out by how the air around Loki seemed to have grown colder.
“Ororo, can you visit T’Challa and ask him if he has someone who can check on the state of Mr Barton’s mind or if he would like assistance?” Charles asked.
“I was planning to visit either way to start discussing how to best coordinate our preparations for the invasion,” she replied.
“Let me know when you plan to leave,” Erik said. “I have something for you to take along.”
“FRIDAY has found a contact for this Dr Strange. I think I remember seeing him at some of the conferences I attended which involved medical research. We can send him a message, arrange a meeting with him,” Tony said. “Perhaps he will be willing to check on Clint.”
Rhodey poked his friend. “And we’ll talk about why you didn’t mention that you knew where Rogers and the others are.”
“Sorry,” Tony mumbled. He noticed worriedly how Rhodey was rubbing his head. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, just a headache,” Rhodey said. “Don’t worry about it. And don’t try to deflect.”
Hulk had calmed a bit and approached slowly. “Tony friend? Friend Tony hurt?”
Tony reached up to pat the Hulk’s arm. “Yes, Big Guy, but I’m doing a lot better already.”
“Not your fault. I understand that you wanted to get away from her,” Tony assured him.
The Hulk started shrinking until Bruce stood in his place, staring at Tony, eyes full of guilt. “But I... we shouldn’t have left you to deal with it all on your own. It might not have been my intention to travel as far as I did but I shouldn’t have left at all.”
Tony just shrugged off the apology but the look Rhodey sent him suggested to Bruce that he considered the apology the least he had to do to make it up to Tony.
“I am sorry that Captain Rogers betrayed you and acted so shamefully,” Thor said, coming closer. He had calmed down noticeably, though there was still the occasional spark of lightning around him. “Do you have a copy of these Accords for me to read through? They might apply to some Asgardians willing to offer their services in the defence of Midgard. They will certainly apply to me.”
“We have both the current version and the one with the proposed changes on our side here. You can take a look at both,” Charles said.
“Those are grave news you bring,” T’Challa said when Ororo had told him about the visit. He tried his best to ignore his sister sitting behind him. She had been displeased enough that the rogue Avengers were staying in Wakanda. Hearing that one of them might be mind controlling at least one other of them... He expected she’d want words with him after this meeting. “We will of course be glad to work with you during the invasion but I don’t know what the news about Mr Barton have to do with Wakanda.”
“T’Challa, my teammates were the ones who saved Tony from Siberia where he was almost captured by HYDRA because he was helpless in his disabled suit. Tony has built some of the most powerful, capable AIs with their own personality and a strong sense of protectiveness for their creator. Three of my teammates are powerful telepaths,” Ororo said. “Tony insisted that we keep quiet. For some reason he still thinks that we might need them to fight off the invasion.”
T’Challa blanched at the mention of what had almost befallen his ally. Rogers had assured him that he was fine and he had foolishly believed him, not even sparing a moment to question his words. He should have known better, especially as he had just learned back then that he had hunted the wrong man because he had not questioned the information presented to him.
Shuri snorted and the looks on the faces of the Dora Milaje present suggested that they agreed with their princess regarding the usefulness of the rogue Avengers in the coming invasion. “The Dora can coordinate with your team leaders. I will coordinate with Dr Stark and other scientists.”
T’Challa wanted to protest. He was a scientist as well, so he could also coordinate on that side of things. He’d have loved the opportunity to work with Dr Stark, now that he was thinking clearly again. Their whole family had been quite impressed with the things he’d come up with, especially since he did not have the advantage of the scientific background they had in Wakanda. Given how he had not really worked with him and the other Avengers while trying to apprehend the Winter Soldier, T’Challa knew that there would be a better chance of successful cooperation with Shuri.
“We appreciate it,” Ororo said. “I should just warn you that Tony is limited in what he can do, as he is still recovering from his injuries.”
Shuri ignored T’Challa’s wince. “Still, we can exchange ideas and plans.”
“I’m sure he would like that.” Ororo placed what Erik had given her on T’Challa’s desk. “Tony found out that his father got the vibranium for Captain America’s shield by less than legal means, so he decided to return it to Wakanda.”
T’Challa stared at it. “Are those scorch marks?”
“I believe it was used for target practice in training before Erik used his powers to render it into a form more manageable for transport.”
T’Challa resisted the urge to poke the vibranium painted red, white and blue that was balled up like a piece of paper. “I see,” he said faintly. Bastet, he’d be lucky if they let him close enough to speak to Dr Stark.
Stephen was rather put out. When he had received a message from Tony Stark asking for a meeting, he had been ready to refuse. Unfortunately he had mentioned to Wong that the message had included mention of Infinity Stones and misuse of magic, and Wong had insisted that it was his duty to at least listen to what he had to say. He was certain it would be a waste of his time. So now the two of them had taken a portal to Westchester, to where Dr Stark was staying. He was a bit surprised. He’d been certain he was usually based in New York or Malibu but then he had not been paying much attention since his accident and the following changes to his life.
They appeared directly in the study where the heads of the Institute and Dr Stark were. He was a bit miffed at their non-reaction to the portal.
“Welcome to the Xavier Institute,” the man in the wheelchair said. “I’m Charles Xavier. These are my husband Erik Lehnsherr and Dr Tony Stark. You already know King Thor Odinson and Prince Loki Odinson, I believe.”
“Yes, I do.” Steven smirked slightly at the dirty look Loki was giving him. “I’m Dr Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Surpreme.”
“Wong,” Wong simply introduced himself.
“Just Wong?” Charles asked.
“Yes, like Beyoncé,” Wong confirmed.
“And who’s that?” Dr Stark asked.
Stephen was startled to realize he was looking at the Cloak of Levitation which was waving to him, then rose from his shoulders and flew over to hover in front of Dr Stark.
“That is the Cloak of Levitation,” Wong answered, looking at least as surprised as Stephen.
“Nice to meet you all,” Dr Stark said, barely looking away from the Cloak, even going so far as to shake “hands” with it when it offered him a corner.
Thor smiled, amused by Tony’s interest in the Cloak. “I thought you did not like magic,” he teased.
“I don’t like that it makes no sense from a scientific point of view,” Tony corrected. “And my opinion on magic shouldn’t affect how I tread a sentient being.”
“Then it would seem magic has never being properly explained to you,” Loki said. “Magic actually shares a number of rules with what you consider science.”
“Like what?” Tony asked.
“For example the conservation of energy. Energy is energy, whether generated by magic or science. It’s simply that magic can cause effects Midgardians have not yet been able to duplicate with science,” Loki explained.
“Interesting,” Tony murmured.
“But something you can pick his brain on later,” Charles suggested. “For now let us come to the reason we asked you here.”
“Thanos, the Mad Titan, is on his way to Earth,” Thor said. “He seeks to unite all seven Infinity Stones and wipe out life here in order to court Lady Death.”
Stephen stared at him, hoping for him to smile and say that it was a joke. Wong, however, just nodded thoughtfully. “We heard rumours about someone searching for them.”
Stephen wondered when Wong had intended to mention that to him.
“We are preparing for the invasion he will lead here,” Erik said. “We would like your advice regarding the magical part and, if possible, your assistance in the coming fight.”
“You will have it,” Wong said.
“There is another matter we would like to consult you on,” Charles said, “mostly unrelated to the invasion.”
“What am I? A consulting sorcerer?” Steven sniped.
Charles ignored the comment and instead started explaining about Loki’s revelation.
Clint slowly entered the room, suspicious that T’Challa had asked just him to come see him. They were staying in just one wing of the palace. T’Challa had requested that they stay there and not wander the castle or the city, so they had not seen much of him since the breakout. “You asked to see me?”
“We received information about the Chitauri invasion in 2012, more specifically the sceptre used on you. We have a specialist here, Dr Strange, who can check you for after-effects. He has sworn a magical oath not to pass on any information on you or your whereabouts without your permission,” T’Challa said.
Clint forced himself not to show any reaction at the mention of the invasion. “I can have Wanda check,” Clint contradicted. He’d rather have no one mess with his mind but if it had to be done, he preferred a teammate.
“But she is not a specialist and not familiar with what to look for,” T’Challa disagreed. “He is here already. Why not have him take a quick look?”
Clint considered it, then nodded, if only to close the topic as quickly as possible. “Fine, let’s get it over with. I doubt there’s anything to find.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Strange said from behind Clint. “Don’t move.” He used his magic to make sure he really didn’t. Without further explanation, he started checking for the changes made by the sceptre to his mind and any outside influence.
Clint dropped to his knees, gasping for breath, when Strange was finished and cancelled the spell freezing him. “Shit! Oh fuck!” he gasped.
“Mr Barton, are you okay?” T’Challa asked, sending Strange a reproachful look.
“I... fuck, what... shit, Laura. What did I do?” Clint said.
“You were still under the influence of the Sceptre,” Strange explained. “It allowed Wanda Maximoff to influence you, your opinions and actions, according to her will. From the looks of it, it was not completely planned on her part, which allowed you a certain leeway, as when you were controlled by Loki.”
Clint glared at him. “I betrayed them. I betrayed everyone, my family, my friends at SHIELD, Tony. All because of that HYDRA bitch.”
“But you did not kill them,” Strange said. “She was not aware how much she was influencing you, so she did not control your actions more closely, not too dissimilar to when you were controlled by Loki. Though it was intentional in his case, since it turns out that he himself had been compelled through torture to attack Earth. It allowed you to choose not to shoot to kill, both in 2012 and in Germany. It allowed you to keep your attacks against Dr Stark mostly verbal, apart from the fight at the airport.”
Clint took some time to think the words through. It felt like he could think clearly for the first time in years. If what Strange was saying was true, then he really hadn’t been thinking clearly for six years. It all made sense now, the way he had suddenly started mistrusting Tony, the way he had found no peace at home with his family anymore, not like he had before, the way he had found himself protective of an ex-HYDRA agent (was she truly an ex-agent?), treating her like a child, like his daughter. He groaned when something occurred to him. “The fight at the airport wasn’t staged, was it?” he asked T’Challa.
“Staged? What gave you the impression it was staged?” T’Challa asked.
“Nothing else made sense,” Clint replied. “Why else would we be fighting against our teammates? Why else would I fight against Nat? I thought it was a way to give you plausible deniability while we dealt with the threat. I thought there was a plan and that Tony had betrayed us.”
“It was probably a way for your mind to rationalize what was happening and what Maximoff was suggesting to you,” Strange said.
“What happens now?” Clint asked.
“That is up to you,” T’Challa replied. “You can return to your teammates here, you can be given separate rooms here or Dr Strange can take you to the US to turn yourself in.”
“Take me back. Take me back to the US so I can explain myself and beg Laura’s forgiveness,” Clint said at once.
“Have you decided yet who will train Tony?” Erik asked. He had come to Charles’ office so they could go down for dinner together.
Charles sighed. “He has seen his spirit animal already, so it stands to reason that he is a strong guide, that his being able to project his emotions as he did in Siberia might not be a one-off after all. So Alex will not be the best choice to train him. I’m just not sure if he is ready yet to trust me enough to work with him. We might have to call Dr Sandburg. Hopefully he can also convince Tony to at least talk to Jess or to let Dr Strange check him for magical influence on his mind.”
Erik was about to reply when they turned a corner and saw James Rhodes sitting in his wheelchair, hitting its arms in frustration.
“James?” Charles asked.
“Tony has locked himself in his room,” Rhodey said. “He’s not letting me in.”
“Did something happen?” Erik asked.
Rhodey shrugged. “I came to ask him if he wants to have dinner downstairs with everyone or if we should have dinner in his room. He just stared at me and said that I would be better off without him. Then he locked the door and now he won’t even answer me.”
“Ah.” Charles nodded in understanding. “I believe I know what he is thinking.” ‘And I’m beginning to understand why Peter has been asking about potential misplaced siblings or Wendy creating children with her powers,’ he added to Erik.
‘Should I talk to him?’ Erik asked.
‘No, I think my perspective might be more helpful right now. Can you take James with you?’
Erik nodded. “Come on, then, James. Charles will talk to him. They’ll either join us soon or you can check on Tony after dinner.”
Rhodey hesitated. He did not want to leave Tony alone, not when he knew he was blaming himself and beating himself up. Hell, he was tempted to demand that Erik unlock the door so he could talk to Tony properly and make him see sense. But he also knew that Tony would not react well if pushed too much, so he reluctantly agreed, promising himself to come up instantly after dinner if Tony didn’t come down.
Charles waited for them to leave, then knocked on the door. He waited a moment, then, when there was no reply, he called: “Tony?”
Another moment of silence, then he heard Tony softly ask: “Charles? Is that you?”
“Yes. Just me. May I come in?”
Once more there was a pause, then the door opened slowly and Tony peered out. He looked up and down the corridor, checking in Charles had told the truth or if Rhodey was hiding around the corner.
Charles waited patiently for him to step aside and let him in, taking the opportunity to look Tony over. He seemed tense and pale. Even without purposely using his powers, Charles could feel pain and guilt Tony was radiating.
Yes, he could understand Peter right now.
“Erik and I convinced him to go down for dinner,” he explained after Tony closed the door. He waited for a reaction but Tony just nodded. “He’s worried about you.”
“He shouldn’t be. He should... he will realize... It’s my fault. My fault that he’s hurt. That he might be discharged from the Air Force.”
“It’s not your fault,” Charles said decisively. “You didn’t cause his injury. You didn’t force him to be there. It is not your fault.”
Tony shook his head. “You don’t understand. I should have done more. I should not have asked him along. I should have included more safety features in his armour. I should have...”
“Stop,” Charles interrupted. “Tony, he is an adult, a soldier and an Avenger. Even if you hadn’t asked, if the Avengers who signed hadn’t been asked, the military would have probably sent him since Rogers has proven his disregard for regularly officers. Also, I understand more than you think. When we sent out to X-Men to deal with a threat, we try to minimize risks but we’ve had to learn that we can never predict everything.” He paused. “Are you aware how I ended in this chair?” When Tony wordlessly shook his head, he quietly said: “It was on the mission which ended with our team breaking apart for decades, with me and Erik parting ways because we did not manage to compromise. I was hit at the end of the mission by a bullet an ally had shot at Erik and which he had deflected.”
Tony was aghast. “Your husband paralyzed you?” He could hardly believe it. They seemed like such a happy couple, so in love with and devoted to each other.
“Well, he wasn’t my husband back then and, contrary to what the children think, we were not involved back then either, though we were both attracted to one another. When they came back, it was one of the things we had to work on the most. Erik had a hard time believing or understanding that I did not blame him, that I could and did still love him.”
Tony winced. “I’m sorry for what I said, about you not understanding.”
“You didn’t know,” Charles simply said.
“I should have. I should have...”
“That’s part of what Erik and I were talking about when we spoke to you after your informed us about the invasion,” Charles cut in, hoping to distract him from spiralling into what-ifs and blaming himself. “The way you keep blaming and underestimating yourself yet still holding yourself responsible for things out of your control.” Charles paused. “You heard what Dr Strange found in Barton’s head. Have you considered letting him or someone else check if you are also being influenced, outside of the headaches and nightmares Maximoff caused you?”
Tony had talked about it with Rhodey and Pepper. They had been very much in favour of him getting checked and talking to the counsellor at the Institute. It was Tony himself who was hesitant, afraid of letting someone into his mind, afraid of his mind being compromised. “Can you check?” he asked. Strange was still... well, a stranger and, after his experience with the Avengers and SHIELD, Tony was hesitant to trust him. While he still did not trust Charles completely and was still scared of his abilities, Tony was starting to believe that he did not currently mean him any harm.
“Are you certain?” Charles asked, surprised by the question.
“You’re right, I need to know.” His mind, his intellect, was one of the things he was most proud of and which, to him, were an essential part of himself. So he needed certainty if and how it was compromised. “I need to know now, if that’s okay for you.”
Charles considered him carefully, trying to judge if he was calm enough again. “Very well, we can do it now,” he finally agreed. He moved his chair closer and laid a comforting hand on Tony’s wrist. “Take a few deep breaths and try to relax. It will not hurt, at most you’ll feel a kind of pressure.” He watched Tony breath, then closed his mind and concentrated on Tony’s mind.
Between Alex’ warning about Tony’s mind being injured and the pain he’d felt from him, even through his shields, Charles had thought he knew what to expect but the reality was far worse. They had expected Maximoff’s attacks to have left scars, especially since she had wanted to hurt him and had not worried about leaving traces. He had not expected for the scars to be centred around Tony’s deepest fears to the point that he must have been unable to sooth them and had to have been in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. Her attacks had also been aimed at his sense of self-worth. Given the similarities to some of their students, like Alex, Charles and Erik had known that Tony was far less confident and worthy than he projected. Maximoff had purposely targeted what little self-esteem he had, something which had been made all the easier because SHIELD, especially Romanova, had used the same point of attack to keep him under their control and willing to work for them for free, all in an attempt to belong and to prove himself. Maximoff had enforced his doubts about himself, rendering him practically blind to his positive actions and characteristics.
Charles had to consciously take a few breaths to try and keep his calm. He reminded himself that Tony’s mind was fragile right now, so he needed to be especially gently. He concentrated first on her command aimed at Tony’s self-perception. The sceptre might have made her powerful but he had far more experience and, though he tried to downplay it to the world, he was one of the most powerful telepaths on earth. It took some work but her spell finally gave way. He then turned his attention to the state of fear Tony was in. He could not calm him completely, not without controlling his mind to a point that was unethical and would destroy the trust Tony was developing in him but he could at least make it possible again for him to leave that state of hyper-vigilance. Working through his fears, both true and imposed on him, would take time and effort but Tony was strong and had many people in his corner willing to support him, more than he realized. Charles was certain he would recover.
Sam slowly walked through the parts of the Wakandan palace that were open to them, trying to understand how it had all gone so wrong. They were heroes trying to save the world but now they had been branded terrorists and were hiding abroad. All of them were reacting to it differently. Scott spent most of the time locked in his room, furious with them for being declared a criminal, for losing his chance of rebuilding his relationship with his daughter. Clint had been filled with rage, ranting about Stark and his betrayal but Sam had not heard or seen him in a few days. He hoped he wasn’t off doing something stupid but he was reasonably certain that T’Challa and his Dora Milaje would stop him if he tried. Wanda also spend most of her days angry, though she was ranting less than Clint. Privately Sam found her more scary, however, since she often seemed to lose control over her powers when she got angry. He tried not to think about what that meant about her control and her readiness to be out in the field. They hadn’t seen much of Steve since he had rescued them from the Raft. He’d briefly told them that Tony had betrayed them, again, then had spent most of his days staring at Barnes’ cryotank. Or at least he had been until the scientists had thrown him out last week, citing that he was distracting and hindering them in their work.
Sam stopped when he realized that he wasn’t sure where he was. He had never been in this part of the palace before. He just hoped he hadn’t accidentally left the part they had to stay in and thereby jeopardized their stay here. He opened a door at random, hoping to find something familiar or someone who could help him.
The room looked like their rooms, so he seemed to have stumbled into someone’s private rooms. He was about to turn around and leave when the door to the bathroom opened. He stared, shocked. “Barnes?”
Bucky froze for a moment, then went further into his room, trying to seem casual. “Hey. Wilson, right?”
“Uh, yeah. Don’t take this the wrong way, man, but aren’t you supposed to be on ice? Steve didn’t mention that you’re awake again.”
Bucky winced. “He doesn’t know. Princess Shuri has some ideas to help with the triggers in my head, so they woke me up but I need some more time and distance to deal with what happened to me.” He grimaced. “Especially the thing with Stark. Looking back, I can see that we mishandled that situation really badly.”
“Yeah, we should have never trusted him. I shouldn’t have told him where you were.” Sam nodded to Bucky’s left shoulder and the empty sleeve. “I guess that’s kinda my fault, so I’m sorry.”
Bucky stared at him, trying to understand what he meant. He knew his brain was still pretty scrambled and his memory was basically Swiss cheese but he was pretty certain his reaction didn’t fit what had happened. Except... “What did Stevie tell you what happened?” he finally asked.
“That Stark turned on you and attacked you for no reason, that you had to fight him to be able to deal with that guy out to use the other Winter Soldiers,” Sam replied.
Bucky groaned, covering his face with his hand. “What is he thinking?” He went to sit on his bed. “Come in and sit down, this is going to be difficult for me to explain.”
Sam sat and listened with growing horror to Bucky’s account. It had little to nothing in common with what Steve had told them. Yes, Stark had attacked them but it had been due to being faced with traumatic news in the worst way possible. It had been Stark who had been betrayed, having to learn that his teammate had been covering up his parents’ murder. He didn’t understand why Steve hadn’t told them the truth, why he had chosen to lie to them.
It had to have been a choice, right? Steve couldn’t actually believe the story he’d told them. (Could he really be certain?) Had Steve lied about anything else?
“I need some more time away from Stevie and his expectations to wrap my head around what happened and who I am now,” Barnes said, unaware of Sam’s inner turmoil.
“I won’t tell him if you don’t want me to,” Sam promised. He paused, considering it, then offered: “I’d be happy to listen, if you like.”
“Shouldn’t we try and find a sentinel for me to bond with before the invasion?” Tony asked. He had just finished his lesson on identifying and controlling his new gifts with Charles and Alex.
“Your lessons are going very well,” Charles assured him, “you haven’t lost control even once. Finding a bondmate is not urgent.”
“I know,” Tony said. He did know. He was far better able to take a more realistic look at himself now, thanks to Charles undoing Maximoff’s work. He still judged himself more harshly than others, something he was working on with Yates, but he actually knew and believed that he was doing well in his lessons on being a Guide. “It’s just that you’ve told me that control and abilities increase after they’re bonded. So shouldn’t we try to find a bondmate for me to improve our chances in the coming invasion?”
“I can’t say that it wouldn’t be an advantage in the short-term but a bond is usually a bond for life,” Charles said. While there where ways to break a bond if it proved to be irrevocably unsuitable, it would leave both sentinel and guide with mental wounds, something he wanted to spare Tony, especially considering how much he still had to heal from. “I know that you are used to ignoring your own happiness and wellbeing in favour of others but isn’t something where you can or should force the matter.”
Tony shrugged. “I can deal. What’s important is that we manage to beat Thanos.”
Alex had no idea where he got the reputation for being selfish from. His newest baby brother was one of the most self-sacrificing people he’d ever met and he lived with Charles. He briefly glanced to Charles. Tony’s reaction was a good example for why they had not brought up finding a sentinel yet. Tony wasn’t ready yet to build such a relationship, at least not a healthy one. Not that Tony would see that or at least consider it a valid reason. They needed to convince him or he might start looking on his own, something which wouldn’t be too difficult since the danger of the invasion was likely to bring many more sentinels and guides online.
He hated to use it but there was only one reason he could think of to make Tony reconsider. ‘Don’t contradict me now,’ he thought at Charles. “A bond always impacts at least two people and they all need to be sure it’s what they really want and that the bond is suitable for both,” he pointed out gently.
“Oh.” Tony sank back. “I hadn’t considered that.” He did not want to trick a sentinel saddle with him and his issues.
“You will find one, I’m certain,” Alex said, “it’s just that building a bond takes time and we’re unlikely to have much of it while preparing for the invasion.” Not to mention that any sentinel interested in Tony would first have to prove their worth and intention to the rest of them.
I couldn't resist the two references in the scene with Strange
Tony won't find a sentinel in this story yet but in a sequel
Chapter 5: Aftermath
I decided to post it like this. I plan to use the NaNoWriMo to try my hand at an original story for the first time in years, so you'll get the last part like this today. I might change or add some things at a later point but didn't want to leave you waiting.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They had managed to beat him. They had actually won, and with minimal losses on their side at that. Tony still had trouble wrapping his mind around that. Yates, the therapist at the Institute, was working with him to help him get over Wanda’s influence and to get a more healthy view of himself and the other Avengers but Tony had still been convinced that all their preparation would not be enough. It was because of this that he had talked the others into not opposing the planned pardons for the Rogues some politicians in Washington had thought to offer in return for their help during the invasion, arguing that, if they were accepting help from actual villains, then they could not turn away heroes who were in conflict with the law.
And there had been quite a number of villains offering a temporary truce. The UN had worked out formal agreements with some, like Loki, Luthor or Doom, and the law enforcement and heroes in many countries had unofficially agreed to turn a blind eye to the presence of other villains fighting against Thanos and his army during the invasion.
It hadn’t been just heroes and surprisingly many villains fighting Thanos. Many already online Sentinels and Guides and Enhanced not interested in working as heroes had come forward and offered their abilities to protect the Earth. Not all of those Enhanced had been students at Charles and Erik’s school though, as it turned out, many knew students and ex-students and had therefore trusted the news that the UN would not pressure them into working for them after the invasion. The threat had also prompted governments all over the world to admit that they were not as unaware of the potential throat of aliens coming to earth as they had pretended and to declassify programs and agencies who had been dealing with it for decades.
Tony hoped he might be able to arrange a visit to Nevada or Cardiff, now that the threat of Thanos had passed. He was just itching to get a proper look at the tech there and to talk to some of the people there. Their brief interactions during the preparation had been interesting and he figured it would be fun to spend some more time with them. (Rhodey claimed that the idea of them spending time together was scary. Tony did not understand why.) That did not mean that he was not still rather annoyed with them for having stayed silent, even after the Chitauri invasion in 2012. It was one thing for them not to have told the public then but they could have reached out to SHIELD or the Avengers.
On second thought, perhaps it was better that SHIELDRA had been left ignorant of the resources of some of those other agencies. Agent Agent, now Director Agent, who had turned out to be alive, seemed to have agreed, since he never mentioned that his father worked for one such agency.
That meeting had been fun when Maria had brought Fury and Coulson along to offer help from the new SHIELD during the invasion. Tony wasn’t sure who had been more angry at their deception, him or Charles and Erik on his behalf. Erik had in fact threatened to throw them out.
“Don’t be foolish,” Fury had said. “You will need us.”
“Actually, I expect Stark will have the assistance from our agents, no matter how this meeting goes,” Hill had pointed out calmly, which had made them all stare at her in surprise. “They have not forgotten that it was him who got most of them to safety when they were burned.” She had not needed to mention that Rogers and Romanoff hadn’t shown the least bit of interest in the fate of all the people connected to SHIELD who had their personal information suddenly made public.
Fury had actually sighed at that. “I still don’t get what they were thinking. Both then and during the clusterfuck with the Accords.”
After that the meeting had gone a lot better.
His training as a Guide was also going very well. He’d met Dr Blair Sandburg, the Guide Charles and Erik had mentioned, and his Sentinel Jim during the invasion and he’d offered to help out in his training. Blair had theorized that he was doing so well because, as a genius, he was more used to process a lot of information without getting lost in it, something he’d experienced himself. In his last lesson, he’d been told that he might soon be ready to start meeting with Sentinels in order to find a compatible one.
Tony also wasn’t the only newly online Guide anymore. As Charles and Erik had expected, the threat of Thanos’ arrival had resulted in a number of Sentinels and Guides coming online. Rhodey, King T’Challa and Dr Strange had been among those coming online unexpectedly, though all three of them as Sentinels. Tony did not envy Strange. It looked like some of the magic (ugh!) was hell on the senses. He’d been told that Rogers, Barnes and Wilson had also come online, though he didn’t know as what since he had kept his distance to them as much as possible. Barnes and Wilson had respected that and also made sure to stay away, apart from a brief message from Wilson to Rhodey in which he apologized for not catching him and for being an idiot. Rogers on the other hand... Well, his friends and the people at the Institute were only too happy to run interference for Tony.
Their victory did not mean Tony was being idle or taking much time to relax. Now that it was over, he, along with Erik, Charles, Daredevil, in his identity as Matt Murdock, and his friend Foggy Nelson were going to use the current good press the Enhanced community had to clean up the Accords and put in legislature to protect them from being used for their abilities against their will. Danny Rand had offered his support as well, though he had bowed to their combined experience and had just asked them to let him know how and when to best use his company, name and money to help.
Erik and Charles had also made it clear to Tony that he was still very much welcome at the Institute, regardless of this project and his training as a Guide. “You’re free to come and go as you like, of course,” Charles had said. “And you’re family now. That doesn’t change just because you’re not staying here anymore.”
Tony would have doubted that they meant it, that they really choose to consider him as family, that they meant it when they said that he did not have to offer anything, be it time, money or effort, to gain their acceptance. His sessions with Yates and Charles’ undoing what Wanda had done to his mind were helping but not that quickly. Contrary to his ex-team mates, however, they did not demand that he believe them, they were instead willing to be patient and prove to him that they were serious. He’d been worried that Erik and Charles’ other “children” might get jealous but they were taking as much care to make him feel welcome, even after the fight was over. Kurt for example had given him a framed prayer in German for his room, saying “Gott, gib mir die Gelassenheit, Dinge hinzunehmen, die ich nicht ändern kann, den Mut, Dinge zu ändern, die ich ändern kann, und die Weisheit, das eine vom anderen zu unterscheiden.“. Tony didn’t usually like religious imaginary and he didn’t understand what it said but he’d accepted the gift, too happy about being the one receiving gifts for once. (He’d been confused when Erik’s first reaction upon seeing it had been to assure him, lips twitching suspiciously, that it seemed quite fitting for him. When he’d asked Friday for a translation, she’d agreed with Erik that it fit him. When he’d seen the translation, he’d understood why. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”
Well, he was working on it.)
For now, Tony had decided to stay, along with Rhodey and Vision. It was great to be able to spend more time with Rhodey again, without a threat looming over their shoulders. He had missed him dearly. Not that he would ever tell him so, he would never want him to feel guilty for his career in the Air Force. Still, he was happy to have him close again. With JARVIS back, with Rhodey’s assistance, his relationship with Vision was also improving, since his every word didn’t remind him of the grief of JARVIS’ loss anymore. It was nice to see Vision building friendships with the others here at the Institute. He’d grown close to Erik’s daughter Wendy, often sitting together for long talks, especially after they had figured out that they had met online before where she had helped him. Vision hadn’t wanted to tell any of the details of what she had helped him with and Tony didn’t feel the need to keep bothering him. He was just happy to see that Wanda’s betrayal hadn’t made Vision shy away from connecting with others.
He was healthier than he had been in years, he had a huge extended family suddenly and he got Rhodey by his side again. Life was good.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Steve had been sure that the Accords would blow over quickly once the public realized what foolishness they were, that they were just a means for politicians with their own agenda to use the Avengers. He and the others would be welcomed back with open arms and he would go on to lead the Avengers, with Bucky back at his side. Stark would be put in his place, financing the Avengers and keeping their gear up to date but it would be clear that he was no Avenger.
That hadn’t happened. The public had been tricked by fake news spread by the others and was still very much in favour of the Accords, as were many heroes and Enhanced individuals. Steve couldn’t understand how they could be so blind. At least some people seemed to still see clearly and had arranged for him and the others to be pardoned in light of the coming alien invasion Thor had returned to warn them of. Another alien invasion. Who would have expected that?
Their return to the US shortly before the fight had not been the triumph he had envisioned however. They did not return as a team. When T’Challa had told him about the pardons, he’d also informed them that Clint and Scott had turned themselves in weeks earlier, without talking to him or the others first, and had already been flown to the US. Steve had been disappointed in T’Challa, he still was. He should have talked to him first before letting them make that decision. T’Challa hadn’t agreed. He’d just said that they were adults and that, as long as they did not endanger his country, he would not lock them up. Steve shook his head at the memory. He was obviously too young and unprepared for a position as leader.
So it had been only him, Bucky, unfrozen in time for their return, Sam and Wanda. Though Sam and Bucky had been strangely distant, spending most of their time together and away from him and Wanda. He was happy to see his friends get along but he wished he would see more of them. And poor Wanda could use the friendly support of the others, considering how she’d been bullied since their return.
Instead of being greeted at the airport by the other Avengers, ready to apologize for how they’d acted, or by the people who had to have been eagerly awaiting their return, they had been greeted by two red-headed women, later introduced as Jean Grey and Wendy Maximoff. Without introducing themselves or waiting for them to introduce themselves they had threatened Wanda, telling her to stay away from Tony and that there would be consequences if she tried to use her abilities on him again. Didn’t they understand that she was just a kid, still learning how to control her abilities? It was not her fault that Tony was being so thin-skinned. He was sure their threat was just an attempt by them to prevent the Avengers from being reunited. He’d since learned that they were part of a team called the X-Men. They were probably afraid of being overshadowed if the Avengers reunited. When Wanda had tried to use her powers to defend herself from their bullying, they had somehow deflected it with similar powers, leaving poor Wanda rather shaken. She’d had nightmares for days, the poor kid. And that hadn’t been the end of the bullying she faced. A man calling himself Peter Maximoff, with powers similar to her brother’s, was often around Tony, making a point of calling him ‘brother’ when Wanda was in earshot.
When they had first heard of the Xavier Institute while their pardons were being prepared, he had been happy for Wanda. Finally she would have other people who understood that it was not her fault people feared her and her abilities. He was sure that there had to have been false information send at some point. They’d been told that the Institute and especially Charles Xavier, the founder, were understanding and welcoming, even if the Enhanced coming to the Institute had been misunderstood or had done something wrong in the past. When they had met him, however, he had not been the slightest bit welcoming. He had in fact point blank refused to allow them anywhere near the Institute, stating that “their kind” was not welcome there. “I’m not about to let a Nazi anywhere near my husband,” he’d told them when he had demanded a explanation. Steve did not understand. Hadn’t anyone told him who he was?
And she wasn’t the only victim of their bullying. Tony had not returned his shield to him, forcing him to use a replacement issued by the Accords Council which didn’t work as well as his and which he’d had to return after the fight was over. When he’d complained, Pepper had issued a public statement saying that SI had returned the shield to its legal owner. And that other guy, Summers (the older one, there were two of them, though they were both unfriendly towards them for no reason), had somehow convinced the Army to issue a statement revoking his title, claiming that it had been just a stage name.
During the invasion, he’d found his senses suddenly spiking at random. He’d been informed by T’Challa that it seemed he was a Sentinel as well. It was annoying but he was assured that it would settle as he got used to them and would further improve when he bonded with a Guide. Only none of the Guides he’d encountered, both during and after the fight, had been willing to consider a bond. He was certain it was Tony’s fault. He’d probably spread lies about him.
Something also seemed to going on with Bucky, though he didn’t know the details, he only noticed that he seemed to tense up whenever they encountered Lehnsherr. Now there were even voices saying that their pardons should be rescinded, claiming that they had not done enough in the fight to have earned it, that they had not been necessary.
But he’d show them. He’d stick it out and prove them wrong. With Bucky at his side, he’d manage anything.
At least he’d thought so until the meeting between the Accords Council and those fighting under the Accords about everyone’s intention for the future and if they planned to keep working internationally as heroes. He had already declared that he would continue to lead the Avengers when they asked Bucky.
“I’m not interested in fighting, not outside of world-ending emergencies,” Bucky said. “I’ve had enough of that for several lifetimes. With T’Challa’s permission, I would like to return to Wakanda to start a new life. Or go to another country. Or planet. I’m not picky.”
Sam nodded, like that was something they had talked about. “I would like to go with him.”
A member of the Accords Council nodded. “Since only Mr Rogers and Miss Maximoff are interested in continuing as Avengers, the Avengers will need to be benched until more members are found.”
Steve sank back in his chair, shocked. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
James relaxed back in his seat on the plane. He could finally put the past behind him. The triggers HYDRA had planted in his head had been taken care of. The Accords Council was informed that he would not be staying or continue to serve as hero or member of the military.
He’d left a letter for Stark with the X-Men, asking Lehnsherr (who he was pretty sure he remembered fighting against once as The Asset, though he couldn’t remember any details, only pain and almost dying) to pass it on to Stark for when and if he felt ready to read it. In it, he apologized for everything, for not being strong enough to break HYDRA’s control over him and save Howard and his wife, for not turning himself in after Washington, for fighting Tony Stark in Berlin and Siberia, for Steve being willing to burn down the world in his name. He’d given another letter to the Accords Council, containing everything he could remember of his time as the Winter Soldier. Now he could start anew, in a place he associated with neither Bucky Barnes nor the Asset (and away from the, rather understandable, dirty looks Stark’s family were giving him), allowing him to figure out who he was.
He smiled when Sam knocked their shoulders together, then reached out to take his hand and entwine their fingers. He knew that he would have his Guide by his side.
For the first time in years, he was optimistic for the future.
It wasn’t fair.
T’Challa had been very impressed by Tony Stark in the course of the preparation for the fight against Thanos and the fight itself, impressed by his intelligence, his creativity, his generosity and his bravery. Not to mention his good looks. Now that it was over, he was interested in getting to know him better, both for himself and because having him as a Guide would be a boon for every Sentinel. It proved to be harder than expected. Whenever he tried to invite Dr Stark somewhere, either one of the X-Men or Dr Strange would interrupt, the latter often by trying to outdo him with invitations or gifts. Any attempts to compliment him or flirt with him seemed to go over his head. It was a poor consolation that Dr Strange didn’t have any more success.
He was also pretty certain that Ororo and Everett Ross were keeping his sister informed of his every failed attempt, considering they always seemed to be on their phone when he tried to talk to Dr Stark.
Strange dropped down in a seat beside him when they were once again interrupted, this time by Colonel Rhodes asking to continue watching a show they had started. T’Challa had to suppress a growl when none of the X-Men made a move to join them, contrary to whenever he or Strange suggested an activity intended to leave them alone with Dr Stark. From the smirk the Colonel sent them over his shoulder, he knew about his advantage.
“They’re running interference,” Strange said.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Everett said, not looking up from his phone. He paused, then added: “Not that I can blame them for being somewhat overprotective, considering what he’s been through.”
T’Challa resisted the urge to cross his arms petulantly. He was certain either Everett or Ororo would sent Shuri a picture if he did. It was unfair that his single-minded focus on getting revenge might have cost him his chance.
Charles leaned against his husband, basking in the happiness of their family. Tony was doing a lot better, his sessions with Yates helping him accept that they considered him family and were serious about offering him a home. They were making great strides with the Accords. It seemed certain now that they would finally offer them and other Enhanced the legal protection they had often been lacking. The future looked bright.
That joke’s never getting old for me. I just had to include it.
Tony made them promise not to hurt the rogue Avengers. Since he didn’t say anything about not making them pay in other ways, they decided to start getting creative. There may or may not have been a meeting of Sentinels and Guides in the different US armed forces to discuss how to make sure the Rouges’ career in that direction was over.
I couldn’t resist including the serenity prayer when I came across it again. I figured it’s an attitude Tony’s new family would want him to adopt.
Bucky’s reaction to Erik is a reference to him being the one to assassinate Kennedy and Erik haven’t tried to prevent it.
T’Challa is right to worry. They are keeping Shuri very well informed – and greatly entertained.
Chapter 6: Preview for the sequel
I'm not sure yet when I will write the sequel, perhaps for the Rough Trade Challenge in April next year.
Anyway, here's a short preview
“You want to look into Thor’s true parentage,” Heimdall said. “Is that truly necessary? It is unlikely to ever come up.”
Vili gave him a look. “Right, because relying on it never coming up worked out so well with Loki and his parentage.”
Tony forced himself to meet Daniel’s eyes. He’d been so close to him and Peggy while growing up. Learning that they had also kept the truth about his parents’ death from him hurt. “Why didn’t you tell me the truth about it?”
Clint fidgeted nervously. “Hey, Laura.” He wanted to slap himself. Really, this was the first thing he said after seeing her again after being freed from Wanda’s influence?
“Clint,” Laura replied, staring at him, holding herself stiffly.