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“Minowa! We have a potential brother to pick up!”

Slit-pupiled eyes the color of hot embers flicked open and glanced over at the woman who stood beside her. “Vahzah-- Truly?” Minowa pushed off of the wall, turning to face her. She took note of her partner’s thunderous look, and the fact that she was carrying her medical supplies with her. “Let’s head to the Relay, then. I take it he’s not in good shape?”

The woman fell into step only slightly behind Minowa and reported, “Understatement of the millennia. His own teammates… They hurt him to a point where he needs urgent medical attention. And instead of calling the proper authorities… they left him to die!”

Minowa huffed in annoyance, shaking her head in disgust. “They cannot truly be his grah-zeymahzine if they left him in such a state. Is Ulysses meeting us at the Relay, Bridget?”

Bridget nodded and replied, “He said he would go through before us, to make sure the area is truly secure.”

“Pruzah. Hopefully, he’ll be able to lead us right to our destination.” Minowa stopped beside a computer, typing in their destination as Bridget stepped up onto the Relay pad. “You’re sure you’ve got what you need, fahdoni?” Getting a nod, the ebony haired woman joined the other on the pad, and they only had to wait for a second or two before they were enveloped in shadows. After a moment, the shadows fell away to reveal a decrepit looking base of some kind. “Bridget, does this look correct?”

The blond woman nodded and replied, “Definitely. Can you locate our target for us? Maybe find ‘Ses while you’re at it.”

Minowa nodded, looking forward and taking a breath. As she exhaled, she murmured “Laas Yah Nir!” under her breath in a hiss. A moment later, her eyes were covered in a lightly glowing blue film, and she looked around briefly. “This way-- I believe Ulysses and our target are in the same room.”

Nodding, Bridget allowed Minowa to take point, being the better fighter of the duo. It took only a few minutes to reach their destination, and they entered the room together. It took only a moment for the medic to realize the shape the man was in. “Shit.” She gasped, striding forward and dropping to the man’s side. “Mara’s mercy, they did a number on him.” She quickly called upon her restoration abilities, waving a glowing hand over the man’s body. “Damn. I need to get this armor off of him. It’s interfering with my magic.” She looked up as Minowa joined her, as well as Ulysses. “Any hostiles, Ulysses?”

“No.” The black man’s deep voice came from behind a breathing mask securely attached to his face, dark brown eyes scanning the armor. “Life is absent from this place-- recent departure.” A moment of silence passed before he managed to find a button on the armor that manually released the armor. He pulled several pieces away before sitting back to allow their healer to move in.

Nodding briefly to Ulysses in thanks, Minowa turned her attention back to Bridget. “How does it look?”

A tich had formed in the jaw of the woman in question as she focused as much healing magic as she could into his body. “Not gonna lie-- it’s bad. His sternum is little more than shrapnel, most of his ribs are broken… Looks like he has head trauma too. He’s lucky we found him, he wouldn’t have survived much longer like this. ” A few minutes later, she sat back, sighing before she reached for her bag and pulled out several vials. “I can’t fix some of the damage here-- it’s too severe. I can stabilize him so we can bring him back, though.” She looked to Minowa, who nodded her consent. Bridget wasted no more time administering the liquids. “Okay, he should be safe to move now. Minowa, would you mind taking him?”

Minowa held up a hand, shaking her head. “Ro laan, Bridget.” She took a deep breath, and on the exhaled words “Mul Qah Diiv!”, she began to glow, transparent armor and leathery wings forming around her. She looked up and gave a sharp nod. “Let’s go.” She slid her arms under the man’s form, standing with no strain. “Bridget, keep watching his vitals. Ulysses, open the Relay.”

The black man nodded, dreadlocks gently swinging as he raised his hand, before flicking his hand and wrist out. “I’ll have one of the youngers bring over the armor.” He spared a glance at the shield before dismissing it.

“Kogaan, Ulysses.” A moment passed before shadows once again engulfed the group, and when they dispersed, there was no indication that they had been there in the first place.

Chapter Text

The first thing Tony noticed as he came back to himself was that he was warm. His brow furrowed gently, confused-- he had fallen unconscious in Siberia, a place historically known to be the exact opposite of warm. He let out a small hum, letting his eyes slide open. His vision remained blurry for a moment before sharpening. He realized he was staring at a ceiling decorated with a far too realistic moon and stars. He only had a moment to contemplate his surroundings when he heard movement to his right. “Who-” He started to ask, before coughing overtook him, his throat feeling as though he had gargled sand. A gentle hand rested on his arm, and a woman’s face came into view.

“Easy, Dr. Stark. Don't try moving just yet. Let me check your injuries.” She raised her hand, and Tony startled when it began to glow a golden color. She lowered it, and after a moment Tony felt a comforting warmth filling him. “Okay, it looks like your ribs and sternum are fully healed now. I’m going to raise the bed and let you sit up, okay? No sudden movements, though.” A moment passed before the bed tiled so Tony was sitting up and could observe the room around him. His eyes immediately found the blond woman. He noted her sparkling amethyst eyes and heart-shaped face, long blue robes with tan accents snug against her body. She smiled gently as she reached to a nearby table, grabbing a glass of water. “Welcome back, Anthony. You've been unconscious for a few days now. Take a few sips of this while I grab a few things, ok?”

Tony nodded, taking the water from her and taking a mouthful cautiously as he watched as the woman stepped through a side door. The water did wonders for his dry throat and mouth though, so by the time she returned with a file folder in hand, the glass was empty. “So who are you? How did you find me?” He asked, setting the cup to one side.

Bridget smiled charmingly, dipping her head to the older man as she set the folder down on the end table. “My name is Bridget Ivorsen, sir. I’ve been tending to you and your injuries while you’ve been here. As for how we found you… well, I should probably wait until the others have joined us. In the meantime, can I get you something to eat? How about coffee?”

“Coffee. Definitely coffee.”

Nodding, Bridget flicked her fingers out, and a blue-tinged white light burst from them, forming a transparent blue hawk which turned to look at its summoner. “Hello, Savos. I need you to carry a message to the kitchens.” The hawk nodded, and Bridget continued. “Our guest has awoken. Please prepare coffee and drinks for five. Also, prepare a bowl of broth-based soup to send up later-- Whatever is fresh.” Savos nodded again before taking off again, passing through the open door.

Tony watched the display in awe, but before he could ask about it, another animal of the same light came through the door. It stopped in front of Bridget, and Tony gave a small gasp. The animal was a dragon.

Bridget smiled at the being, dipping her head. “Hello, Odahviing. Do you have a message from Minowa?”

The dragon nodded once before a powerful male voice emanated from it. “Message received, fahdoni. We are coming. The dinokthur will be along momentarily.”

“Thank you, Odahviing.” Bridget turned back to Tony as the dragon dissolved into mist before fading away. “I’m pulling in the rest of the team that helped retrieve you. Our leader will also be coming.”

Tony nodded, swallowing lightly. “Are all of the animals here different?” He asked after a moment, mind on the corporeal hawk and dragon that had appeared not too long ago.

Bridget chuckled softly, shaking her head. “Those aren’t animals, Tony. It’s... oh, how to explain it…? It’s a physical manifestation of our joy and love. It takes on a different shape depending on our strongest traits and personal history. Take Savos, for instance. Hawks are symbolic of healing of the body and soul, astral traveling, and understanding of the magical arts. My job in this place is to act as a healer for those under our Master’s employ.”

“And the dragon?”

“He would be mine.” A new voice cut in, and Tony turned his gaze to the doorway to see a woman step through. She wore black leather armor that sat tight against her body, decorated with red and silver accents. A razor-sharp dagger rested against her hip, and the handle of another peeked out behind her back. Ebon black hair was cut short in spiky layers, a pair of obsidian black horns arching from her head and ending in wicked points. Slit pupiled eyes the color of burning flames seemed to drill a hole straight into his soul. “Odahviing’s case is special. He served me in laas, and continues to do so in dinok by taking the form he does. Dovah, where I am from, are ancient powers-- bormahukiin, The children of Akatosh. They are sahlonid-- loost suleykunslaad.”

Tony blinked,staring at the woman. “Yeah, I’m gonna need you to repeat that in a language I understand.”

A deep chuckle came from the side as a man stepped in behind the woman. “You’re slipping into the dragon tongue again. Try English.”

Minowa sighed deeply through her nose. “Krosis, apologies… Dovah, Dragons in your language, are an old and powerful race. They are the sons of our chief Divine, Akatosh. They are eternal, immortal-- beings of great strength and tenacity.”

Tony sighed, running his fingers through his hair. “Okay, let’s put the notion that dragons are real to the side for a second. Who are you people and what do you want with me?”

Bridget gave him a sympathetic smile. “Master Hadrian will be along in a few moments, then we’ll try to answer any questions you have.”

“I apologize for the wait, everyone.” The group turned as one to the other side of the room to see a swirling vortex of black appear, and a moment later another figure stepped through, the vortex blinking out moments later. The man held a tray with several varieties of beverages upon it. “I figured I would grab the drinks on the way up.”

“Oh thank you, Master Hadrian! You didn't have to do that!” Bridget stood and pulled over a small table for him.

Tony observed the man as he set the tray down. His appearance was youthful, 24 years at most, standing at a height of about 6’1”. He carried himself as if he had seen and experienced many more years and trials than his age portrayed. His black hair was just long enough to pull back in a ponytail and was held back with a strip of black leather. Calm, striking emerald eyes framed by rectangular silver glasses swept around the room in a quick assessment. His skin was pale, though not as much as Minowa’s. He wore a green button-up shirt of the finest silk and charcoal dress pants. A translucent cloak was clasped around his neck by a silver pin in the shape of a triangle with a circle in the middle, a line running straight down through both. The cloak rippled and flowed almost like a liquid around him, giving it the perception of it of being both there, yet not there.

“Ah, and this must be Anthony Stark.” The man smiled kindly at Tony, dipping his head to the man. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last.”

The genius’ brow furrowed in confusion. “The pleasure’s mine, Mr…?”

“Hadrian Black, Master of Death.” Harry turned his attention to Minowa for a moment to allow that information to sink in with Tony. “I brought you a bottle of Black-Briar Reserve, Minowa. Figured you’d appreciate it.”

Minowa’s lips parted in a grin, revealing razor sharp fangs. “Kogaan, Dinokthur. You’re very kind.” She replied, uncorking the bottle to take a swig.

Hadrian nodded before turning his eyes to Ulysses. “I brought firewhiskey for you, my friend. One of the Reapers found it stashed in a storage room while doing inventory.” He held up the bottle, shaking it slightly as the man eyed it. “It’s the good stuff-- 1984.”

A sigh passed the man’s lips from underneath the mask. “Trying to get the mask off for this meeting… well played, Dominus.” He reached behind his head, and after a soft ‘click’, the mask was slid away from his strong jaw and chin, his mouth set in a slight frown. His lips pulled up slightly as a shot of the alcohol was set in front of him.

“As for you, Bridget… Cecilia in the Acquisitions Department brought back something very special about a week ago.” Grinning knowingly, Hadrian passed the woman a glass of what looked like red wine.

Bridget smiled and dipped her head in thanks before taking a tentative sip. She stopped dead for a moment, before lowing the glass to looking knowingly at a beaming Hadrian. “Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, 1990?”

Hadrian nodded and added, “And that’s just one bottle-- the crate had eight.”

The blond woman chuckled lightly, shaking her head. “Trust Cici to spend an exorbitant amount of money on something she KNOWS others will enjoy more.”

Hadrian laughed along with her before turning to Tony. “Your coffee, Dr. Stark.” He placed the mug into the man’s hands before moving around to the foot of the bed. “Now, I’m sure you have several questions. Ask anything you want, and we will do our best to explain.”

Tony’s eyes moved from person to person as he tried desperately to get his thoughts in order. After a moment or two, he took a deep breath. “You introduced yourself as Hadrian Black, Master of Death.” 

A soft snort escaped Minowa. “Always the most difficult question first.”

“Hush Minowa. He’s well within his right to be doubtful.” Hadrian waved his hand and conjured several plush chairs, and the people surrounding the bed sat and made themselves comfortable. “Tony, let me tell you a story--‘The Tale of Three Brothers’.”

Chapter Text

Tony stared at the people in front of him, dead silent. The past hours had been filled with explanations, demonstrations, stories, and a myriad of other things that were making his head spin from the implications. The small break in the middle for food gave him a reprieve to process a bit before jumping right back into the deep end of the information pool. He took a moment to get his head on straight and file away all of the information he had been inundated with before turning his attention back to Hadrian. “There’s still something I want to know.” Getting a nod from the man, he asked, “Why did you save me?”

For the first time since the conversation had started, he was met with silence. After a moment or two, Hadrian sighed and stood gracefully from his seat. He turned his attention to the others briefly. “You all know the drill-- out you go.” Nodding, the trio stood and calmly exited the room. Seeing the confusion and sudden wariness on Tony’s face Hadrian explained, “I have a choice for you, Mr. Stark. I had them leave because I want you to make the decision of your own free will, without outside influences. They left as a courtesy, as a sign of respect for your right to choose.” Tony relaxed and nodded, prompting Hadrian to continue. “As the Master of Death, I don’t often get involved in individual worlds. There are so many out there, I would never be able to get to them all. However, if certain conditions are met within a universe, I am obligated to intervene in some way. There are powers no mortal should ever be able to wield. There are lines that should never be crossed.” Hadrian closed his eyes for a moment. “One of these conditions caused your universe in particular to light up like a dwarf star amongst fluorescent light bulbs. In our investigation into it… We found you quite by coincidence.” His eyes flicked open, a smile gracing his face. “It is rare we discover one with my mark upon their soul without being alerted to it having happened.”

Tony’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

Hadrian waved his hand seemingly absentmindedly. “The mark is where your arc reactor used to be.” Tony blanched and quickly pulled his shirt up to see. Indeed, hovering over the scar was the same symbol that adorned Hadrian’s cloak pin glowing the same color that his arc reactor used to. “That symbol is not one you’re born with-- it has to be earned. It’s a sign to me and my constituents that you are a person of incredible strength in all the ways that count. Every person who aids me in this place has that mark. They are the best existence has to offer.”

Taking a deep breath, Tony looked back up to Hadrian. “What do you want from me, then?”

Hadrian’s brow furrowed as he adjusted his glasses. “What I would like is for you to agree to become one of my Reapers. You would be working with me to keep people safe, to protect life at its’ most fundamental level. You would not have to be here all the time-- you would be free to move to and from your own world whenever you wish, and to others with a native of that world. You would have access to technology and worlds you could only dream of. In return, you would be helping me and the other Reapers protect your world, and others like it from mortals who would try to play with powers that are beyond them.” He paused and allowed that to sink in. “However, I will not force you to say yes. If you agree, I want it to be because you want this. This isn’t a small decision.”

Tony stared at Hadrian for a long time, his mind working lightning fast at weighing the pros and cons. Even so, it took a minute before he replied. “I’m… gonna need some time to process this.”

Hadrian nodded, a smile on his face. “Of course. Time flows differently in this place, so you can take all the time you need.” He stood and banished the chair with a flick of his wrist. “If you need someone to talk to about it though, I can provide that.”

“I thought you wanted this to be my decision alone?”

“Indeed it is.” Hadrian lifted his hand and slid a ring from his finger before grinning at Tony. “However, I think you’ll appreciate this. You always took his words to heart, after all.” He lifted the ring and began to turn it in his fingers, murmuring something under his breath. On the third turn, a sudden chill swept through the room and the lights flickered for a moment. “I’ll leave you to talk.”

Tony watched Hadrian sweep from the room, a look of supreme confusion on his face. “Talk?? Talk to who??”

“Anthony!”

Tony’s head whipped around to the other side of the bed where a softly glowing blue specter now stood. His heart jumped into his throat, and any lingering doubt about Hadrian being who he was died a very sudden death.

“Jarvis!”

---

“Do you think he’ll accept?”

Hadrian let his emerald eyes flick over to where Minowa was sitting in her special window seat, one enchanted to show a view of her homeworld from the tallest peak in Skyrim. “I hope so.” He finally replied, lowering the teacup he had been drinking from. “Ultimately it’s his choice, as you know… should he choose to stay with us though, I’m confident we can be the family and support he needs.”

Letting out a soft breath, the ebony-haired woman pulled her eyes away from the window and looked in his direction. “His previous grah-zeymahzin were… folaas in their assumptions of him. His soul burns as bright as a dovahsil. He gave them much, and they gave him tahrovin in return. Rok ofaal beynunslaad... Ruth strun bah! Kren sosaal!” Her eyes began to glow like red-hot coals and she slipped fully into her native tongue without realizing it. Her voice had gradually taken on an echo of another’s, deep and powerful and full of righteous anger. The addition of the new voice seemed to rattle the furniture with the force of the sound. It seemed Minowa’s passenger agreed with her assessment and mirrored her ire.

Hadrian nodded in agreement, sending a tendril of his deathly aura to wrap around her comfortingly. “We cannot change what has happened. We can only hope to help him going forward. Drem, Minowa.” The power continued to blanket her until she had sufficiently settled, then pulled back to rest around Hadrian.

The sound of a throat being cleared caught their attention, and the duo turned to see Bridget standing in the doorway. She nodded to Minowa for a moment before turning her attention to Hadrian. “Tony is asking for you.”

“Thank you, Bridget.” He replied as he stood gracefully from his seat. He flicked his wrist and a portal opened in front of him. “I’ll let you all know, alright?” Getting nods from the duo, he confidently stepped into the vortex, coming out the other side after a few seconds. He found himself in Tony’s unofficial room again, and he smiled at the man. “Hello, Tony. Bridget told me you were asking for me.”

Tony nodded, a small smile quirking his lips. “Yeah. I… I want to thank you, first of all.” For a moment, he looked away, taking deep breaths to try and get his emotions under control. “Getting to talk to Jarvis… The man was like a father to me, and he died so suddenly…”

Hadrian nodded, slowly moving towards the bed. “Of course. I figured you would appreciate it.”

“I do, more than anything.” There was a moment of silence before Tony began to speak again. “He and I talked about your offer, too. Weighed the pros and cons… And I’ve come to a decision.” Hadrian nodded, a look of calm anticipation on his face. “I want to join the Reapers. I want to make lives better. I want to protect people.” Here he looked up at Hadrian, a look of determination on his face. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do-- protect the innocent.”

A brilliant smile appeared on Hadrian’s face as he nodded. “And you will have countless chances to do so. I will not lie Anthony-- I’m glad you decided to join us.”

Tony nodded, shifting to swing his legs over the bed and stand. He straightened and turned to Hadrian. “So, how do I go about joining your big, deadly family?”

“Well, first we need to grab one of the others. They’ll act as your Center. He or she will be the foci for the Claiming-- that’s how we’ll bring you into the family. They’ll also show you around the rest of the Nexus and give you a rundown of the basics.” He led the other male to the room from before, where Minowa and Bridget had been joined by Ulysses. The trio looked up as they entered, as if waiting for news. “Anthony has decided to join our family.” He informed them. He smiled as they all offered Tony congratulations and welcomes. “That being said, he’ll need a Center.”

Before anyone could speak, Minowa rose to her feet. “I volunteer.” She looked over at the stunned man in question. “His heart and soul burn with the intensity of a dovahsil. It would be an honor and a privilege to aid him, and show him the true meaning and role of grah-zeymahzin-- shield sibling.”

Hadrian nodded, a bright smile on his face. “Anthony, are you in agreement with this?” He asked softly as he looked over.

Swallowing down the overwhelmed feeling from the show of support, Tony nodded and the trio left the room. Bridget smiled and stood from her own place, declaring she was going to prepare Tony’s room so he would always have a home. As she left, Ulysses stayed sitting, gazing at the door where Hadrian, Minowa, and Tony had exited. After a few moments of silence, he dipped his head and asked, “You saw it, right... The look in his eyes.”

A soft sigh came from next to him as a new figure flickered into existence. The man had light brown hair cropped in a short military cut and sharp, almost piercing light forest green eyes hidden behind dark aviator sunglasses. A red beret sat perched on his head that contrasted with his black shirt and tan cargo pants. A black sleeveless duster hugged his body, the hem of which sat only two inches off the ground. “Yeah. I saw it.” He replied, his soft and dry tenor a sharp contrast to Ulysses’ deep gravely bass. “He’s not used to people helping him without asking for something in return. He’s a loner, but not by choice.” Craig Boone closed his eyes, memories from his past assaulting him for a moment.

Ulysses reached up to pull Craig down into the seat next to him and put his arm around him. “He’ll have a place here now. Family. Support will be in no short supply.” Hearing Craig hum distractedly, he looked down at one of his two consorts. “Something troubles you?”

“His old teammates. They have to answer for what they did, but death would be a release for them-- too easy.” There was a moment of silence from Craig before he turned his eyes to ‘Ses, a tiny yet wicked smirk on his face. “I think our siren would enjoy helping us plan to even the score, don’t you?”

The edges of Ulysses’ eyes crinkled, a sure sign he was grinning beneath his mask. “Your mind is devious. Beautiful in its’ cunning.” He stood gracefully, pulling Craig to his feet as well. “I’ll meet you in our rooms-- need to grab some information.” He removed his mask for a moment to press his lips to Craig’s before replacing it and entering a portal he created that closed behind him.

Craig’s small smirk never left his face even as he opened his own portal, allowing it to carry him to a new location. As he stepped out, he called “Aria? Are you here?”

“In the workshop, Craig! Come on in, I’ll be done in a moment!” A lyrical voice called from the next room. Boone strode into the room and leaned on the doorframe, observing the woman as she expertly cleaned and modified her trusted .44 magnum revolver. After taking a moment to reassemble it she turned to him with a bright smile as she slid the sidearm into the holster on her thigh. Her chocolate brown hair normally hung straight all the way down to her lower back, but it was pulled up in a ponytail away from her face. Halfway down her hair, it took on an ombre appearance as it changed to an electric blue color. That was a recent change-- Craig blamed it on her discovery of a new clothing style that she adopted… something about ‘rave style’. Not that he was complaining, especially when she could pull it off so well. Her armor had long ago been replaced by a deep dive, lace-up halter top that was black with electric blue trim that left her smooth, toned stomach exposed. She wore deep dive lace up leggings to match, the main material being electric blue with black laces up the sides. They hugged her body, showing off every curve and dip of her slim, yet slightly muscled thighs and calves. Her black platform boots had silver zippers up the back and three silver buckles down the front. Craig couldn’t help but bite the inside of his lip appreciatively when he saw the electric blue o-ring choker around her neck with a silver triquetra hanging from it.

Aria saw the gestured and her smile morphed into a smirk. It was nice to know the two most important men in her life still thought she was sexy, even after all these years. “Hey darlin’. Where’s Ulysses?”

That snapped Craig back to why he had come to find her in the first place and he quickly filled the brunette in on the latest developments involving Tony. By the time he was done Aria was pacing up and down the room, her face thunderous as she cursed a streak so blue it would make a seasoned sailor blush. “Yeah, they’re real bastards. But ‘Ses and I have a plan for when we go down there eventually… and we need our Siren for it.”

This caused Aria to stop pacing, and she turned to Craig with a wicked gleam in her eyes that danced like the northern lights and a vicious smirk on her lips. “Tell me more.”

Chapter Text

Hadrian sighed as he closed the door quietly to Tony’s new room where the man was sleeping after the ritual he had gone through. He had left Minowa there to watch over him, and he knew she would do so with all of the protective instinct of a nesting dragon. Knowing she wouldn’t move from his side until he awoke both exasperated him and made him chuckle. Bridget had already checked over him and deemed him simply exhausted, and that a good rest would have him back up in no time. With the knowledge that his newest Reaper would be safe and fiercely protected, he began the walk to his office as his mind whirled with plans. Tony would be well cared for and loved at the Nexus, of that he was certain. That alone would help mitigate some of the damage his life had caused. Hadrian was well aware that the genius would need aid in overcoming certain challenges. He had full confidence that every Reaper under his command would help him if the need arose. After all, they were family now, brothers and sisters in all but blood.

As he stepped into his office, the Master of Death took notice of a chill in the air and a pressure that would affect anyone but him and his chosen. A smile quirked at his lips as he commented, “It’s been a while since you last came to visit me, Mortis.” He strode to his sleek office desk, willing the resurrection stone into visibility on his middle finger. He pressed it to a small indentation in the dead center of the surface, and within moments the desk began to shift and expand. A few seconds later, the desk itself had folded out and changed to a futuristic style u-shaped desk. He lowered himself into his modified office chair, and the chair began to morph and curve up and over his head to display five separate holographic monitors in front of him. The desk slid towards him, allowing him to reach the various things on it.

As all of this was happening, a rich voice chuckled as the physical personification of death slid out of the shadows in the room. A head of inky black hair with short sides was hidden by a black fedora decorated with two feathers-- one from a large raven, the other from a snowy owl. (‘Mortis’ would never admit it openly to anyone, but the snowy owl feather was meant as a nod to his master’s dearly departed and terribly missed familiar.) One eye was a swirl of purple and blue with flecks of silver thrown in. Hadrian compared it to the colors of a vibrant galaxy, and Mortis agreed with this and further expanded by saying death reaches across all distances, no matter how wide and far it may seem. The other was comparable to a color wheel, the hues surrounding his pupil spinning lazily. According to Mortis, the colors symbolized the constant flow of life, and how it can change in an instant. His face could best be described as ‘aristocratic’, with flawless ivory skin and Greek nose. His lips were curved up in a smile as if he were seeing a good friend after a long journey. His outfit was cultured and sophisticated, a pristine white shirt with a waistcoat over the top with peaked lapels-- a stunning silk piece that shimmered with a vibrant ‘avada’ color. Tied around his neck and tucked beneath the waistcoat was a necktie, hanging in such a way that the knot clearly displayed the symbol of the deathly hallows. Over all of that was a black sportcoat with two buttons fastened in the front. The coat seemed to be made of darkness and shadows, giving off the feeling of looking into the abyss if one gazed for too long. A pair of black dress pants covered his long legs, ending with sharp black dress shoes on his feet. In his hand he lightly grasped a cane with a silver orb on the top, the symbol of the Hallows etched into it for all to see.

“I apologize, my Master.” The dashing man replied, striding over to the desk with ethereal grace coupled with predatory confidence. “You seemed to have things well in hand here, I was curious how you would fare without my constant presence for a while.”

Hadrian cracked a smile as he looked past the screen to the personification of Death across his desk. “Is that so? Because I recently received a rather in depth, irate, and exasperated report from one of our Local World Departments about a sudden rise in confrontations between their department and another group in their world. A Mr. William T. Spears-- sound familiar?”

Mortis couldn’t stop the shark-like smile from crossing his face. It was always so much fun to rile up the Demons and the local Grim Reapers. Honestly, he didn’t even need to work that hard! A few well placed pranks, a few fingers pointed, and voila! Endless chaos for the amused mastermind behind it all. And really, it was his Master’s fault for the mischievous streak. He couldn’t help but take on some of Hadrian’s traits-- part of the package deal and all that. He had no use for the self sacrificing streak or hero complex, but the mischief he had in his blood that ran back generations… with that, the possibilities were endless.

Admittedly, so was Hadrian’s paperwork in the aftermath of each incident.

Seeing the shit-eating grin on Death’s face Hadrian sighed and shook his head, even as a small smile of his own appeared. “Mortis, could you at least keep your escapades to worlds that don’t already have factions that loathe the existence of each other? Maybe take it to a world where the population is less likely to have a sudden decline because of your antics.” There was a moment of silence before he poked his head around the screen in front of him and barked, “And no, you may not bother the Brotherhood of Steel again! That whole planet causes enough paperwork without you meddling. Eight minutes-- eight!-- Is all it took them to wipe out most of the population of their world! We don’t need to be unnecessarily adding to that!” He started to pull away before pausing and peeking around again. “And don’t even THINK about causing another confrontation with the Altmeri Dominion! Not only do they already despise anyone who isn’t them, Akatosh would be several different kinds of displeased and I would take the flack from it. You’ll also be on Arkay’s shit list by proxy if you do. I don’t like dealing with Arkay even on a good day. And then, then, Merlin forbid anyone who dies has a contract out on them; you would then be dealing with Sithis, who is conceivably older than both Akatosh and Arkay and more terrifying that both of them combined.” He looked over his glasses at Mortis with a stern look. “And if that isn’t enough to deter you, I would remind you that on top of having to deal with the Dragon God of Time, the Father of the Cycle, and the Dread Lord, you would also have to answer to the Dovahkiin. You know, Akatosh’s pseudo daughter, thus Arkay’s niece by proxy, Sithis’ chosen champion AND granddaughter through Akatosh, AND the most powerful Reaper under my employ.”

“Minowa is quite the force to contend with, even without the additional passengers with her.” Mortis agreed, inwardly deciding to scrap the plans he had to enchant every Altmer on Summerset Isle into copulating with any race EXCEPT Altmer, with a side plan of turning every piece of meat in Valenwood into a vegetarian equivalent. Oh he knew Minowa would get a laugh out of such a prank on the Altmer, but the copious death that would follow would not be worth it in her mind. Come to think of it, she also would have been against targeting the Wood Elves too. The Altmer chose to be uptight, all high and mighty and our-race-is-better-than-yours. The Bosmer chose not to eat plant life as a matter of principle and personal choice. If there was one thing Minowa respected in terms of rights, the right to choose how you live your life was one of the most important.

Inversely, those who tried to force their opinions and lifestyles on others pissed her off to no end. If they were foolish enough to confront her with them, they tended not to remain in the world of the living for much longer. Though it was completely coincidental, always in tragic accidents. No connection to Minowa whatsoever-- well, not one they would ever find.

Pulling himself out of his thought process, Mortis turned his attention back to his master. “I find it curious, Master-- you say that the Dragonborn is the most powerful amongst your ranks. How can you tell?”

Hadrian had turned back to his screens to work on some of the forms that Mortis’ recent havoc had caused in the period it had taken the being to think. “Don’t be facetious, Mort-- you know damn well why I say that. The results from when she was tested were clear as day. I know you’ve seen them for yourself, so why you’re asking is beyond me.” There was silence for a good 15 seconds before the Master of Death registered that Mortis hadn’t replied. His hands stilled over the keyboard as he looked up at the other. The being had a coy half smile on his face, his head cocked innocently to the side. “... Death.” Hadrian began with a deceptively calm and quiet voice as he banished the screens with a wave of his hand before standing from the chair. His vivid emerald eyes were hard, and had taken on an ethereal glow as he stared down the man in front of him. “You know something that I don’t. What aren’t you telling me? Because if there is a threat to my people here…”

Death was quick to raise his hand, hoping to ease his master’s worries. “No, there is no danger to you or yours.” He lifted the hat from his head to run his fingers through his ebon locks-- another habit taken from Hadrian. “It’s about the most recent addition to your family.”

“Anthony?” Getting a nod from Mortis, emerald green eyes narrowed. “There’s not a problem with him being here, correct?” The tone of his voice on the last word clearly projected how protective the Master of Death was already. The black smoke that began creeping from the corner of his eyes was also a good indicator.

The physical manifestation of Death proceeded to backpedal like it was an artform. “No, not at all. That wasn’t what I was trying to insinuate.” He waited as Hadrian settled himself again before continuing. “During the Claiming to bring him into the fold… I got a feeling of his potential power.” Getting a nod to continue, Mortis’ face slid into the most serious look Hadrian had ever seen on his face. “When he wakes, have him tested as soon as possible.”

Eyes still locked on Mortis, Hadrian sat back in his seat for a moment. After a moment of observation he calmly remarked, “You wouldn’t have brought such a thing to my attention normally. You sensed an anomaly, didn’t you?”

Mortis nodded, still serious. “More than one. I do not wish to say anything quite yet though-- I’m not completely certain, and I don’t want to bring anything up if I’m wrong. Rest assured, my Master. Anthony is not a threat to you or yours. In fact, I think he will finally begin to heal what is hurt while residing here.”

Hadrian allowed a compassionate smile to cross his lips as he turned back to the screens. “Indeed. Hopefully we can help him recover from his many hurts.”

---

“I am certain we will be a far better grah-zeymahzin that the other meyjoore he was allied with.”

“You know we will. We won’t use and betray him like they did.”

“Geh, hi vahzah. We will treat him as he should have been-- voth zin.”

Tony’s brow scrunched as the voices washed over his consciousness, bringing him back to the waking world. He stayed still for a moment, taking stock of his body and the fact that several aches and pains he had been living with for years were suddenly gone. He let out a sigh, letting his eyes slide open. It took him a moment to realize he didn’t recognize either person in the room with him, bringing his mind fully online and alert. He immediately sat up in the bed, ignoring the subtle twinges of pain from his body. The two turned to look at him, and he was met with the sight of a woman with chocolate brown hair that shone with caramel and copper undertones and highlights and kind eyes, the color reminiscent of tropical seas. She wore the same armor as Minowa, completely identical in fact. The man standing a few feet from her had pitch black hair styled into long spikes, with two horns atop his head. His clothing was more like heavy armor, adorned with spikes and gauntlets that came to pointed tips at the fingers. His back supported an enormous pair of leathery wings, black as night with jagged edges and spikes. He locked eyes with Tony, and the genius inhaled sharply when he found himself looking into slit pupiled, burning ember eyes that he had come to associate with someone else.

Before he could speak, the man turned to the brunette. “Our grah-zeymahzin has awoken. I will allow you to tend to him.”

The woman dipped her head, and a familiar voice replied “Thank you, Alduin. We will speak face to face once again soon.”

The man, Alduin, nodded sharply with a reply of ‘Lok, Thu’um, dovahkiin.’ A moment later, his entire form dissolved into yellow and blue light which was quickly absorbed into the woman’s body. Once the glow faded, Minowa was sitting where the other woman used to be. She stood and stretched wide as she turned her eyes back to Tony. “Welcome back, Anthony. I hope your rest was peaceful.”

Tony nodded distractedly before blurting out, “Did that guy just get absorbed into you??”

Minowa blinked for a moment before a rumbling laugh escaped her. “The answer is more complicated than that. To understand, we would have to delve deeply into the history of my world, Nirn. Specifically Skyrim, my home.” She held up a hand as he prepared to bombard her with questions. “Now is not the time, for the history is long and detailed. We should focus instead on your health. While the Claiming went off without problems, we do not know what was unlocked because of it. I will summon Bridget to assure you are fully recovered. If you are, we will then go see Zevrael and Dorian. They will be able to tell you what gifts you have gained.”

Nodding in agreement, Tony sat back against the headboard to wait. He watched as she summoned the same dragon from before, using her voice instead of her hand as Bridget had done. As he waited, he thought about the other people he had met and couldn’t help but wonder what their animals would be.

He was still lost in his wondering when Bridget stepped through the door. Her voice snapped him out of it. “Hello, Tony! I’m glad to see you’re awake!” She grinned widely at him as she stopped next to the bed. “I’m going to cast a diagnostic spell on you, just to make sure you’re ready to head to testing, alright?”

Despite the flash of trepidation he felt at the mention of magic, Tony nodded his agreement. So far, the only active magic use he had witnessed in this place had been to heal him, and the summoning and banishing of chairs. The ritual also came to mind, but… the magic had felt… right; like coming home after years away, like the hug of a loved one happy to see you. It felt like a higher force was bringing you into the fold of something bigger and more powerful than yourself. Tony was willing to admit it had been a little… overwhelming, at first.

The rush of healing magic against his skin brought him back to the present, and he watched the golden glow surround him for a moment. He looked up when he heard a soft pop and saw Bridget grab a piece of paper that hung suspended in the air. She read through it quickly, her eyebrows arching into her hairline. “This is… much better than I originally anticipated. The magic during the Claiming healed most of, if not all of the damage your body had. In fact, it seems to have put you at the peak physical condition of a 40 year old.” There was a moment of silence before she looked up with a smile. “Well, according to this you’re in perfect shape. However, there is a note here about the scar on your chest. May I take a look?”

Nodding, Tony pulled down the neckline of the hospital gown to show his sternum. His mouth fell open when he saw that instead of a scar maring the skin, the symbol of the Hallows had taken its’ place on the smooth, unscarred skin. The symbol was blue, like the glow from the arc reactor-- in fact, it was glowing slightly. He ran his fingertips over the mark, and a feeling of home and belonging surged through him. Tony’s breath caught in his throat at the intensity of the sensation.

“Every Reaper carries the symbol of the Hallows in some way.” Minowa explained, drawing his attention to her. “On clothes, weapons, jewelry… to have a physical mark is more uncommon, but not unheard of.”

Bridget nodded, continuing the thought. “Physical marks are usually gifted to those who need them, need the reminder that they are no longer alone and that they have people who would jump to their aid at a moment’s notice.” She sat on the edge of Tony’s bed and put her hand on his shoulder. “You are one of us now, Tony. We’ll stand beside you to fight with you, to support you.”

Nodding, Minowa added “We’ll stand in front of you to defend you, to shield you from those who would try to hurt and break you.”

“And we’ll stand behind you.” The trio looked over as Ulysses entered the room, pinning Tony with intense brown eyes. “You stumble, we’ll steady you. You fall, we’ll help you back up.”

Tony closed his eyes, unconsciously leaning into Bridget’s grip. Damn it, these people were about to make him cry. He tensed for a moment when another person joined them on the bed, and was startled when he looked up to find Minowa. The woman pulled his head against her chest and wrapped her wings around him.

… Hold on. Wings?

Bridget noticed his poleaxed expression and she laughed softly. “That’s a feature she doesn’t show often. Her wings are completely impenetrable.” She fixed Minowa with a knowing look.

Minowa nodded to confirm this as Tony looked back over his shoulder at her. He was floored by the fiercely protective look on her face and determination in her eyes. “There is no force in the multiverse that could pierce them.”

The meaning of the gesture hit Tony like a ton of bricks. The fact that she didn’t show her wings to just anyone, along with the position she had taken to surround them with the appendages, combined with their indestructibility…

‘We will not let anyone hurt you again.’

Howard had always told Tony, ‘Stark men don’t cry, never show weakness.’ It was a fact his father had drilled into his head. But in that moment, the show of solidarity, the feeling of being broken and made whole again simultaneously, the flood of support from these people who accepted him and helped him despite barely knowing him… Tony felt that notion shattering, just like the iron control he had on his emotions. His hand rose to cover his mouth as tears began to roll down his face, his breath hitching as he tried to quiet himself. He felt Bridget join in on Minowa’s hug, and felt the bed dip again as a hand covered his knee. He managed to crack his eyes open briefly to see Ulysses watching him with the corners of his eyes crinkled-- the man was smiling under his mask.

Minowa rested her chin on his head and tightened her grip on him. As Bridget shifted closer, she spoke to him in a soothing voice. “Let it go, Anthony. We’re right here. We won’t abandon you.”

And as they sat there huddled together, comforting their newest member, Tony finally felt some of the emotional pain fall away, felt the spark of hope rekindle itself in his heart. He felt himself begin to heal.

Chapter Text

Dorian Pavus felt ready to ignite something out of sheer indignation. He sat back from the report on his desk, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “Vishante kaffas, I never thought people could be as thick-skulled and ignorant as the southern Chantry in Thedas, but this… this has taken that notion, burned it, tossed the remains into the privy, and then pissed on them for good measure.” He glared at the report again before standing from his seat and striding into the lab his office was attached to. “Amatus!” He called out as he entered. “Is the testing equipment ready yet?”

“Almost!” A Fereldan-accented voice called back. “I’m adjusting the settings now!”

“Good! Bridget said she’d send over Savos when they were on their way.”

A soft, distracted hum answered him, accompanied by the whirring of machinery starting up. “There! It’s all ready.” A figure stepped out from around a piece of complicated-looking tech, a satisfied look on his face. Zevrael Pavus was a beautiful man with long silver hair that was tightly braided and fell just past his shoulder blades, the pulled back strands allowing his pointed elven ears to be on full display. Laughter filled icy-blue eyes gazed at Dorian with love and adoration, his plush lips pulled into a elated grin. His body was lean and lithe, but in no way weak. The swimmer’s build allowed him to move and attack at near lightning speeds. The outfit he wore still held elements of Dalish design, but had been upgraded with far superior materials and capabilities.

Dorian’s eyes eventually traveled to Zevrael’s left arm. “How does your prosthesis feel? Is it bothering you at all?”

Zevrael laughed good-naturedly, reaching out to cup Dorian’s face with both the flesh hand and the metal one. He smiled brightly when Dorian leaned into the metal one, a silent show of support and acceptance. “Vhenan, it’s fine. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, but honestly there are days I completely forget I lost the limb to begin with! It moves and perceives touch like a real arm, and I can function perfectly well.” He planted a gentle kiss on Dorian’s nose. “I’ll let you know if it bothers me, ok?”

Dorian sighed and closed his eyes. “Alright, Amatus. Forgive me for fretting.”

The elf’s smile turned into a seductive smirk as he pressed himself against the Magister. “Hm… I know a way you can earn my forgiveness…”

The mage leered at him, wrapping his arms around his waist. “Oh do you now? Well, if I must work for it, I might as well enjoy it.”

The two met halfway in a positively filthy kiss, full of teeth and tongue. A kiss that was abruptly interrupted by the arrival of Savos and Bridget’s accompanying voice. “Dorian, Zevrael, we’re on our way, and if you two aren’t presentable by the time we get there I swear to Mara I will beat you two senseless. You have five minutes.”

Dorian groaned as his forehead met his lover’s shoulder, even as the silver haired elf laughed at the timing. His laugh was cut off by a moan as Dorian used his position to nip and suck on his neck. The mage kissed his way up to Zev’s ear and growled, “I bet I can get you off by then.”

Zevrael smirked as his hands found Dorian’s waist and he dug his fingers into his hips. “Let’s see what kind of credit your tongue gets you.” He purred in reply. Dorian grinned at the challenge as he slid to his knees.

Exactly four minutes and forty-seven seconds later, the duo was waiting by the computer equipment as Minowa, Bridget, Ulysses, and Tony walked through the door. Bridget eyed Dorian’s ruffled hair and smug grin before switching to Zevrael’s neck, which sported a fresh hickey. His flushed face was plastered with a slightly dazed look that was quickly becoming more aware. “Really?” She deadpanned at them.

Dorian arched and eyebrow at her, the grin still firmly on his face. “You said we had to be presentable by the time you got here. You’re here, we’re presentable. Conditions met!”

A sharp laugh from Minowa cut off any retort from the healer. “You did say that.”

Ulysses himself snorted. “Loopholes. Check your wording next time.”

“I am going to throttle both of you later.” Bridget growled, fixing the duo with a glare that would kill ten times over. A soft cough pulled her attention back to the reason they were there. “Tony, the absolutely infuriating duo in front of you are Dorian Pavus,” The dark haired man waved at him, “And his husband, Zevrael.” The elf in question wiggled his fingers in Tony’s direction.

Tony nodded to both of them before his eyes locked for a moment on the elf’s metal arm. It went up to the middle of his upper arm, and the metal was a shiny onyx color. For a moment, his memories flashed to a similar metal arm, and the pain associated with it. His memories were suddenly calmed and pushed away when he felt a hand on his back, and he turned to see Bridget watching him from the corner of her eye. He nodded to her, and she pulled back. Tony briefly noted the fading golden glow over her hand. He focused back on the two in front of him, and it was then he noticed Zevrael’s ears. “What’s with the ears there, Tyrande Whisperwind?”

Instead of looking offended, the person in question burst out laughing. “You know, I’ll take that name over ‘knife-ear’ any day of the week. But to answer your question, I’m an elf.” Seeing the incredulous look on the genius’ face, he explained. “Dorian and I, we’re from a different world, a different part of the multiverse. Elves are a pretty common sight there.”

Dorian nodded in agreement. “Yes, Thedas’ population consists of four different people. Humans, like me, are what you’re most likely to see. Elves,” Here he gestured to Zev, “are relatively numerous, and are either found in cities in alienges or in separate clans. Those in clans are called the Dalish. Then there are dwarves. You won’t find many of them above ground-- They stick to their cities underground.” Here Dorian frowned slightly. “If a dwarf catches even a glimpse of the sky, they end up banished above ground. Dwarves that end up above ground, whether by banishment or birth, are forbidden from entering Dwarven cities again.” Seeing the outraged look on Tony’s face he nodded grimly. “Yes, it’s not a practice I endorse. The last race are called the Qunari.” Here Dorian paused, as if struggling. “The Qunari are normally tall and bulky, with grey skin and horns. The horns come in a variety of different sizes and shapes.”

A laugh erupted from Zevrael suddenly. “Iron Bull is a perfect example of that. His rack is quite impressive.”

Dorian snorted. “It’s more impressive that he’s managed not to gouge out doorframes on a daily basis or bang them on walls and hallways.”

“Yes, but…” Zev fought down his giggles for a moment. “The door to the war room.”

The mage choked before breaking into laughter. “They had to replace the beams around the door! He was so embarrassed!” Dorian managed to collect himself after a few seconds. “We still tease him relentlessly about it…”

Watching the two interact, Tony couldn’t help but smile at their relationship. It was obvious the two adored each other-- even a blind person would be able to see it. Suddenly, something they had said caught his attention. “You’re speaking about him in the present tense.” He said, though it was almost a question.

Dorian nodded in affirmation. “Oh yes, Bull is very much still alive. He’s one of our best friends back in Thedas. He keeps an eye on the goings on in the world while we’re not there.”

“We go back every once in a while to check in and make sure everything is running smoothly. Andraste forbid if something burned down… or blew up.”

“Again.”

The conversation was cut short by another voice. “I’m glad to see you’re all getting along so well!” They turned to see Hadrian striding through the door, his cloak billowing behind him almost dramatically. He first turned his attention to Tony. “Anthony, I’m glad you’re feeling well. You’re not in pain, correct? The Claiming put you through a bit of a physical ringer.”

“No, I’m fine. Actually I feel better than I have in years.”

The Master of Death nodded, a pleased smile crossing his face. “Good! Shall we jump right into it, then?” He gestured to Dorian and Zevrael, who stood straighter at the gesture. “Dorian, Zevrael, can you get things started?”

Zev casually saluted and chirped “Right away, Lethanavir!” He quickly bounced over to a screen and began to tap on it.

The elf’s mage counterpart stepped up to the group. “Ser, would you like me to explain what’s going to happen?” Getting a nod from Hadrian, he guided Tony to the center of the room and onto a strange platform with foreign symbols carved into it. Wires snaked away from it, leading to several more machines which were then connected to the screen in front of Zevrael. “So that ritual you took part in, the Claiming? It doesn’t just bring you into our chaotic, tight-knit family. I mean, that’s the main purpose, but a nifty side benefit is the unlocking/bestowing of powers befitting a Reaper. We are the hands of Ser Hadrian, and he is quite protective of us. He wants us to be able to defend ourselves, so this was integrated into the process. Very complicated magic combined with a heaping dose of technological know how, add in a dash of runes to get it all going and presto! We’ll get readings on the person standing on the platform involving any and all abilities along with recommendations for further training.”

Tony nodded in equal parts fascination at the complexity of the machinery around him and wariness of the magical aspects. “This isn’t going to hurt me or cause me to spontaneously combust, right?”

The Magister barked out a laugh as he backed away. “No, it won’t do either of those. Well, admittedly it did for one person-- me.” He held up his hands as Tony looked at him with wide, panicked eyes. “BUT, that’s because my power is this.” He held his hand outstretched, palm up, and a ball of black fire flashed into existence in his hand. A moment later, the fire shifted into the shape of a snake, and now sat calmly in his hand. “Absolute pyrokinesis. I was always skilled with fire magic back home, but this power grants a level of control and finesse over fire and anything involving it that would normally be impossible. Case in point, this particular flame.” he held up the snake, who now was looking at a transfixed Tony, “This is fiendfyre. A normal mage couldn’t even hope to control this-- it’s too wild, actually possessing a mind and will of its’ own.” He looked down as the snake began to slither up his arm, yet the Magister remained unburned. “Fiendfyre will burn through anything-- literally. The only way to stop it is for the person controlling it to kill the flame.” He looked up as the snake reached his shoulder, resting its’ head on his shoulder. “Until then… It will consume anything it touches.”

Silence met his explanation. Tony’s eyes were still locked on the flaming reptile. Finally, he asked “If you have complete control over it, could you stop it from burning something or someone if you willed it?”

Dorian smiled at the question as he reached up a hand to stroke the head of the construct on his shoulder. “All fire bends to my will. So yes, if I didn’t want something to be burned, it wouldn’t.” He flicked his wrist, and the snake fizzled out of existence. “But I digress. As for your original question, it won’t hurt. At most, you’ll feel a pleasant tingling sensation, maybe a slight buzz.”

Swallowing his fear, he nodded in understanding. The mage strode over to the silver-haired elf who was finishing up preparations. They spoke for a few seconds before turning their eyes to the platform. “Tony, we’re ready to begin. Just stand still and relax. Remember, this process will not hurt you. Ready?” Zevrael called out.

Tony nodded, forcing himself to take deep breaths. After a few moments, the runes around the edge of the platform began to light up one by one, moving around the rim in a circle. They glowed with a bright blue light, pulsing with each new rune that lit up. Once they were all lit up, they flared brightly before straight lines branched away from each symbol towards Tony. Once there, an intricate circle lit beneath his feet. The brunette gasped as a blissful feeling washed over him. It was a high not unlike when he flew in his suit for the first time-- the thrill of the act coupled with the giddiness of total freedom. He felt as if he had been plunged headfirst into an ocean of euphoria, lost in the sensation.

He wasn’t aware of the light dying away, nor the way he collapsed once it was gone. He barely registered the voices around him nor the fabric he was gently wrapped in. He let his mind float for a while, riding out the last waves of ecstasy before beginning to slowly come back to himself. Tony felt the haze in his mind lifting slowly, and after a while he was able to bring his mind back online. He slid his eyes open, not aware he had closed them to begin with.

Hadrian smiled when Tony open his eyes and saw recognition return to them. “There you are. You’ve been out of it for about five minutes. Are you alright?”

The genius blinked, silent for a moment before he finally declared, “I haven’t had a high that intense since MIT. Another hit please.”

Various laughs erupted from the group, and Hadrian couldn’t help but grin. “Yep, he’s fine.” He helped Tony sit up, and Bridget handed him a cup of water. “I must applaud you, though. You actually managed to shake Ulysses’ legendary control over his emotions.”

Ulysses sighed deeply before looking over to Tony, who had turned his head towards him. “Seen this done a few times. First time I’ve witnessed something like that. I…” He turned his gaze away. “I worried.”

“I’m sorry if I scared you guys.” Tony looked down at his lap, finally noticing the fabric pooled in it-- Ulysses’ duster. He silently held it out to the sniper, and he dipped his head in thanks as he took it back. From the gratitude in his eyes, he could tell the masked man was glad that he hadn’t brought unnecessary attention to the gesture. He let Hadrian help him to his feet, leaning on Minowa for support briefly. “How long until we know the results?”

Minowa looked towards where Dorian and Zevrael were watching two seperate screens. “Only a minute or two more. Once Dorian and Zev were sure you were alright, they started analyzing what they found. Apparently, they were caught completely off guard by what occurred.”

Tony’s mouth pulled into a small frown as he looked at Minowa. “I just noticed the lack of Klingon in your speech. Care to explain?”

For a moment Minowa looked slightly offended. “Klingon?! I spoke in the ancient and noble tongue of Dragons!” She huffed through her nose for a moment as she collected her thoughts. “When Alduin and I become separate entities for any length of time, I return to a fully human body. Upon reabsorption, it takes a while for the language to return to me in its’ full capacity, even though my body changes immediately. I can still use my Thu’um, but everyday usage is a bit scrambled.”

The man’s brow furrowed for a moment. “Your Thu’um? What’s that?”

The question gained him a slightly toothy smile. “Later, Anthony. I wouldn’t want to destroy the room.”

“Fasta vass!”

The shocked cry from Dorian snapped everyone’s attention to him, and they watched as Dorian waved over Zevrael with a shocked look on his face. The elf frowned in confusion as he joined his husband to read the screen. Moments later his own eyebrows rocketed into his hairline. “Fenedhis…” He breathed for a moment before looking towards the group. “Lethanavir, you need to see this.”

The Master of Death wasted no time in rushing over to them, worry creasing his face. Once he reached them, he waved his hand in an arch to cast a privacy barrier. “What is it? Is something wrong?” He asked once it was up.

Dorian drummed his fingers on his crossed arms nervously. “Not wrong, per se… more like ‘unprecedented’, maybe ‘unbelievable’.” Seeing the confused look on Hadrian’s face the mage sighed and gestured to the screen he had been at. “You should see for yourself.”

Hadrian nodded and stepped up to it as Zevrael shifted away. His eyes quickly scanned the data. After moment he looked towards Zev, confused. “That’s not so bad. We’ve seen variations of that.”

The silver haired elf shook his head slowly, his face pale and eyes wide. “Not that, Lethanavir. On the next page.”

That caught the emerald-eyed man’s attention and he turned back to the screen. Thirty seconds later he inhaled sharply, shock lancing through him. His gaze shot to both Zevrael and Dorian, who had come to stand next to his husband. “Is this accurate? One hundred percent?”

Dorian nodded in affirmation. “The equipment, runes, and systems were checked before the test, as protocol dictates.”

“Which means there is an infinitesimally slim chance it’s wrong.” Zevrael finished solemnly.

Hadrian ran his fingers through his hair while stealing a glance towards the group he had left. They were all watching him intensely, but none more so than Tony. The poor man looked worried and anxious, bordering on fear. After taking a moment to compose himself and compartmentalize the new information he turned his gaze to the married couple. “Come, we should rejoin the group. It would be cruel to leave them waiting.” The duo nodded and Hadrian waved his hand again, dismantling the ward. He approached the group with a measured gait, and they stood to meet him. “I apologize for the wait. However, before we discuss the results I wish to summon one more person. They may have some answers regarding what we found.”

Minowa was watching the man suspiciously. She had Tony pressed closely to her, and she could feel the man trembling. “Who do you plan on calling on?”

The Master of Death heaved out a long breath. “I suggest you brace yourselves.” He turned around with his back to them and looked towards the ceiling. “Mortis! I require your presence!”

Immediately a chill swept through the room and the lights and machinery flickered. The shadows seemed to stretch and darken as a smooth, cultured voice echoed through the space. “Well now, it’s rare you directly call upon me.”

“Mortis, I am in absolutely no mood for your shenanigans.” Hadrian barked, his emerald eyes beginning to glow again. “Front and center now.”

The voice sighed before the shadows twisted and warped slightly before the Master of Death, pulling back after a moment to reveal Mortis. “Greetings, my master.” He bowed low to Hadrian. “You found the anomaly, I assume?”

Hadrian’s glare intensified. “I don’t think the word ‘anomaly’ is quite strong enough for this, Death.”

Tony’s eyes snapped to the well dressed man. When he imagined death, he always visualized a being draped in a black hood and robe, skeletal hands gripping a scythe engraved with bodies and skulls. Something surrounded by smoke and shadows and souls of the damned… The last thing he would have pictured was this aristocratic gentleman. Unable to stay silent any longer he blurted out “Would someone please explain to me what the hell is going on and why Death is a well-dressed dandy instead of all doom, gloom, and scythe?”

Absolute silence met the question as everyone turned to look at him with various degrees of shock, amazement, or amusement on their faces. Zev in particular was shaking and biting his lip in an effort to not lose his composure. Mortis beat him to that though when he laughed heartily. “I like him, Master. We’re keeping him.” He declared with a grin.

A sigh escaped Hadrian as he pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses. “I’m glad you approve Mortis, but that doesn’t explain the current situation.”

Mortis calmed himself, and a more serious look crossed his face. “No, it doesn’t. I take it you haven’t told him yet?” Getting a shake of the head from Hadrian, he turned to Tony. “First, I would like to personally welcome you to the Reapers. My Master is quite picky about candidates, so you should count yourself among the best.” He took a moment to gather himself. He wasn’t used to dealing with Hadrian’s inner circle directly, or anything living for that matter. The physical manifestation of death knew he had to approach this carefully, and after a second or two he continued. “You came into some rather… unique powers, Anthony. First, you’ve gained something called technopathy. It’s a unique form of electrical/telekinetic manipulation that allows for physical interaction with machines. However, in your case you have the capability to mentally interface with computer data. Think Doctor Who and the Sonic Screwdriver, only… you’re the Doctor and the screwdriver. Simultaneously.”

The new Reaper could only blink and gape at Death for a few seconds. “... So I’m Neo from the Matrix now?” He finally managed to ask.

“That’s an accurate comparison.” Death paused again before slowly starting again. “However, that isn’t what caused the shock.” He looked towards Dorian and Zevrael, who approached them with a physical copy of the results and handed them to Hadrian. “The moment you were brought to this place, we experienced what can only be described as a pulse. Something that passed over the threshold between the physical realm and the realm of the dead was powerful enough that the entire Nexus felt it in one way or another.” He turned his gaze back to Tony, who was beginning to pale. “Imagine my surprise when that something was actually a someone. Namely, you.”

“But I don’t-- I didn’t--”

Mortis held up a hand to stop his babbling. “I’m well aware, Anthony. It was not meant as an accusation. When I checked in to see what had happened, I realized the force that caused it was dormant, couldn’t be tapped into. The realm still felt and acknowledged it, which I’m not surprised by. It would have stayed that way, except for the fact that there was a variable that was unintentionally overlooked during your Claiming.” For a moment, he shifted his gaze to Minowa. “Minowa, you were Anthony’s Center during the process, correct?”

The ebon-haired woman’s brow furrowed as she nodded. “That is true. Why do you ask?”

“The Claiming draws on both my Master’s power and the soul of another Reaper to bring another into the fold. However, you failed to take something into account-- the value of the aforementioned variable.” He proceeded to fix Minowa with a knowing look. “Minowa, how many souls did the Claiming draw from?”

The blank look on Minowa’s face was instantly replaced by shocked realization. “Fuck...” She whispered, absentmindedly running her fingers through Tony’s hair. “I… I didn’t even think about that.” Seeing the confused look on Tony’s face she quickly elaborated. “When a person acts as a Center during the Claiming, their soul provides the necessary boost and anchor to complete it. I’ve never acted as a Center for anyone before you, so I didn’t even consider that my rather… unique circumstances would cause a problem. To put it simply, I’m not the only inhabitant in my body. Long story there, details later. The main point Mortis brought up just now is that the Claiming didn’t just pull from my soul-- It pulled from the other tenants linked to me; And there are, quite frankly, hundreds of them. Not only that, but every single one of them is a dragon soul, which are several times more powerful than a human soul.”

Seeing Tony attempting to put that into quantifiable terms, Hadrian finally said “The normal power from the Claiming is like a Nova from a white dwarf star.” The genius whirled around to stare at him. “But because of Minowa’s involvement and those other souls…” He held up the papers he had taken from Dorian earlier, “Yours was more like a hypernova.” He waved his hand and summoned several plush chairs and couches, and everyone seated themselves. Before he could move to a seperate one, Tony felt himself being tugged down beside Hadrian. “The power you came into is not one we’ve seen before. It’s called Transcendent Thaumaturgy.”

Ulysses’ eyes widened before narrowing at Hadrian. “Dominus, don’t beat around the bush. Call it what it is.” He sat back as everyone turned their attention to him, his own eyes still locked on Hadrian’s. “Meta-magic; mastery of any and all magical, mystical, and supernatural forces. No laws, no restrictions, no limits.” He looked over at Tony now. “Your will is your reality.”

“But if that’s the case…” Bridget turned wide eyes to Tony. “Then wouldn’t that make him practically a--”

“No.” Mortis cut her train of thought off with a shake of his head. “Anthony is not suddenly a God. The term we would use is ‘Warden’, someone capable of defending and protecting the power in question along with the people and places they care about while utilizing said power to its’ fullest potential.” He looked towards Tony, who seemed like he was about to start protesting about having such power. “You would not have such a thing within you, dormant or otherwise, if you did not have the capability to wield it responsibly and the desire to do good things.” He said plainly, cutting off any arguments he may have had.

Tony sat back, his face drawn tight with worry and every muscle in his body tense. He nearly jumped out of his skin when someone put their hand on his shoulder, and a quick glance up revealed Minowa. “I know you’re worried and doubting yourself. You feel unworthy.” She pulled Tony to his feet, planting herself in front of him with her eyes boring into his. They flared and glowed as if lit by fire from within. “Hi mul, fahdoni. Hi fen zind, neh faas.” The subtle use of her Thu’um washed over him and every hair on his body stood on end from the rush of power.

Bridget grinned brightly as she stepped up next to the Dragonborn. “You can do it, and we’ll be there every step of the way!”

Ulysses joined the group, nodding as well. “Got your back, Amicus.”

“Us too!” Zevrael bounced over with a wide smile, Dorian following behind at a more sedated pace. “You’re one of us now, Lethallin! Can’t get rid of us that easily!”

Tony looked to each person individually, uplifted by the show of support and belief. He looked over at Hadrian and Mortis, the former smiling brightly at the group and the latter with a knowing smile. He reached up almost absentmindedly to touch the mark on his chest, revelling in the swell of home and family that filled him. Finally, a smile crossed his face as he looked up at them with a determined glint in his whiskey brown eyes. “Well, when have I ever backed down from an insane idea? Let’s turn me into Gandalf!”

Chapter Text

“Hello Tony-”

“-master of magic-”

“-creator of chaos-”

“-emperor of elements-”

“-Just letting you know-”

“-Master Hadrian wants to see you.”

Despite the fact that his concentration had been thoroughly shattered, Tony couldn’t help but snort with laughter as he cracked one eye open. “Don’t you two know better than to interrupt my meditation?”

The male with emerald eyes and blond undercut hair grinned at this. “You did indeed, oh great and powerful magician-”

“-but did you really expect us to listen?” His sister finished, her silver eyes filled with laughter and ebony ponytail swaying merrily at her mid-back.

Anthony rolled his eyes in mock exasperation as he flipped himself right-side up and lowered himself from the ceiling of the training room. “I suppose I should know better by now... Or I could make it so the door handles shock you every time you enter without knocking.” He smirked at Corbin and Ravyn, the twin managers of the training room.

Ravyn gasped dramatically, clinging to her brother. “He would lock us out of our domain!”

Corbin threw his arm over his eyes, wailing loudly, “Oh the cruelty, the humanity!”

Flicking his wrist Tony doused the two with a jet of water from above them. “You two are ridiculous.”

The two jumped to salute him, still dripping wet and grinning like loons. “Guilty as charged!” They chimed with no shame in their tone.

“Good thing I don’t need to remind you. I'll go see the Chief and leave your domain in peace.” He brushed by them, absentmindedly drying them as he did so.

As he walked, Tony thought back on his time with his new family. Hadrian had said from the very beginning that time didn’t follow the same rules in the Nexus, but it was still unsettling when the Chief had approached him and told him he’d had a productive year. Upon seeing his worry Hadrian had quickly explained that the Nexus existed in a kind of ‘dead zone’. It didn't matter how long he spent with the Reapers, because time barely flowed at all here. He could potentially leave a world, spend what equated to a thousand years in the Nexus, and still come back seemingly only a few days after he had left. The knowledge went a long way to soothe his fears, and if he was being honest he wouldn’t have traded his time with his fellow Reapers for anything. He had formed strong relationships within the ranks, and could definitively say they would stand with him no matter what. They had helped him heal, supported him unconditionally, and cheered for him when he made progress. No matter if the progress was in his powers or his mental health, they were happy for him.

He could say, with absolute certainty, that the Reapers were his family. And he wouldn’t trade them or what they had done for him for anything.

~

Minowa had taken him under her wing from the very beginning-- literally some days. She usually had a relaxed state of mind, an aura that calmed anyone who was in her presence. Everytime he came to her with heightened emotions, she wouldn’t speak at first-- she’d simply pull him down next to her before resting his head in her lap, threading her fingers through his hair. He found it therapeutic to just sit there and let his emotions level out in the presence of someone so tranquil in being. She would always ask if he wanted to talk about it after a while. Most of the time he agreed; Minowa was the first and oldest Reaper under Hadrian’s command, and that plus several lifetimes worth of knowledge and experience made her a good source of wisdom. However, if he responded with a negative she wouldn’t push. She was content to sit there and help anchor him if that was what he needed.

He also found himself enchanted by the tales of her homeworld, Nirn. He would often seek her out to listen to her recount the history of the place, to learn of the people and places and lands she loved so dearly. The Dragonborn told him of her destiny, and the battle in the land of the honored Norse dead against the world eater, and her victory over him. She was capable of reality manipulation due to her Claiming-gift, and she often utilized this while speaking by warping the area around her to mimic her memories and provide visuals. However, a time came when he asked about things that happened before she had been born. After only a few minutes of hesitation, Minowa had introduced him to Alduin. The dragon had mellowed greatly in the years he had been bound to the Dragonborn, and was more than willing to add his own input to the tales and history.

Tony thought that was how she always was-- serene and full of the wisdom of several lifetimes experienced vicariously through the memories of hundreds of souls. That notion was shattered when she came back from a mission in her homeworld that had gone horribly wrong, in the worst way possible. That was when he learned that the calm persona that was so normal for her was actually the eye of a storm akin to the red spot on Jupiter. Minowa didn’t get angry often, and when Tony learned of what had happened, about the countless children who had been so carelessly slaughtered for simply not being a specific race, and the near catastrophic destruction and gargantuan death toll left in the wake of her resulting anguish and fury… he understood why.

She didn’t get angry often because she couldn’t afford to.

This realization didn’t stop him from seeking her out immediately after. He had found her in the training room, ripping into a hellish landscape riddled with practice dummies. He wasted no time in appearing in front of her and parrying the next blow. Minowa had stopped dead, her glowing crimson eyes focusing on him. Tony had stared right back, and after a moment he said “I heard about what happened.” He looked deeper as if he weren’t just talking to her anymore. “Give me everything you’ve got.”

What followed was a fight that shook the Nexus with the intensity of the blows being traded and the raw emotion behind every attack. Tony never fought with intention to hurt, staying mostly on the defensive to allow Minowa to burn away the anger and pain that was coursing through her mind and blood. Only once he knew she had worked through her energy and emotions had Tony allowed himself to collapse to his knees, heaving in breaths from the exertion. He had only been training with his powers for just over two months-- he was actually impressed he had managed to hold out for as long as he did. He recovered his stamina quickly and pulled himself to his feet, striding over to where Minowa stood stock still, pulling in deep breaths of her own. She had looked up at him as he stopped and observed her silently-- words weren’t needed to know he was asking if she felt better. Minowa had responded by straightening her own stance and reaching to pull him into her arms, silently conveying her gratitude and relief.

Spars between the duo were far more common after that. Neither was afraid to hold back.

~

Tony always compared Bridget to a school nurse, flitting here and there and everywhere to make sure the people under her care were well taken care of, reassuring them when it was called for and scolding them when they were being stubborn. Tony had once been lucky enough to witness the latter while not being on the receiving end. He had been sitting in the large communal lounge after a day of training, chatting amicably with another Reaper when the blond woman had stalked into the room with a thunderous expression on her face. Her eyes had found Ulysses, whose back was to her and didn’t realize she was on the warpath until she was grabbing him by his ear and yanking him out of his seat. As she dragged him away she ranted at him about ‘untreated bullet wounds’ and ‘the dangers of infection in the post-apocalyptic Mojave’ along with ‘you may be a Reaper but infection is still a risk you dumbass’. A few seconds after they exited the room everyone then heard her indignant shriek of, “WHAT DO YOU MEAN ‘THE BULLET IS STILL IN THERE’?!”

Blinking, Tony had turned his attention back to the Reaper who was casually sipping from his bottle of sparkling water. He had simply waved his hand and said “You’d think he’d have learned his lesson after the last dozen times. Ulysses is a stubborn fuck, though. You have to be, living in a place like the Mojave wasteland. Still, you’d think he’d learn after 50000 years... ” Tony hadn’t asked any further questions and returned to his own drink.

He had been on the receiving end of her rants too. After the first few times though, she began to suspect there was more going on than just him being stubborn. The next time she dragged him in she sat him down on the bed as usual, but instead of reprimanding him once she was done treating him she sat down on the bed next to his and had a calm discussion with him. The change in demeanor helped him lower his guard enough that he was able to admit that he was so used to looking after himself because the people he trusted to help him before had all left him in one way or another. It was practically second nature to him, but Bridget worked with him on learning to trust again.

Progress was initially slow-- Tony’s behaviors were deeply ingrained into his psyche, and breaking the habits ended up becoming a team effort. It helped that Bridget was willing to speak with him on topics that didn’t involve his health-- a potential crack in his armor showed up when the genius learned she and Minowa were from the same world, albeit different cycles. Minowa was from an iteration where the Dov were present in the world, but Bridget’s variation lacked the race entirely. He learned that Bridget was the current Archmage of the College of Winterhold-- basically the Headmaster of Skyrim’s school of magic. Her Masteries focused on Restoration, Alteration, and Conjuration, though she mostly focused on her White Arts. She further explained that she had Alteration and Conjuration as backups in case she was attacked-- Skyrim was a beautiful, but harsh mistress after all.

Four months in, they finally had a breakthrough. Bridget had been restocking her potion cabinets when Tony came through the door, holding his wrist close to his chest with a grimace on his face and eyes on the floor. Bridget had stopped short, eyes locked on Tony. He hesitated for only a moment before looking up at her and softly saying “I think I might have fucked up my wrist.”

The healer hadn’t said anything at first, instead walking over to him and holding out her hands so she could check it. For a moment, Tony’s eyes flickered between her hands and her face as if he expected her to rescind the silent offer. Finally, he had slowly pulled his wrist from his chest and held it out for the amethyst-eyed woman to check. She gently grasped his hand and cast a diagnostic spell, revealing several broken bones. She had him sit as she summoned a numbing potion and gave it to him to drink. He did so, even though his hand shook slightly with anxiety. She set the bones and mended them once she was sure it wouldn’t cause him pain. She finally sat back so Tony could test the limb, waiting on the verdict. At first, he seemed almost blindsided, like he had expected a different result. He turned and rotated his wrist every which way, and as he did a look of wonder and hope spread over his face. When he finally looked up at her, Bridget had felt tears well up in her eyes when she saw something in his eyes that hadn’t been there before-- trust.

Tony didn’t have to be coerced into visiting her after that. He was more than willing to walk there himself.

~

Ulysses had discovered Tony drunk off his ass and barely coherent during one of his rough days a few weeks after he had arrived at the Nexus. The sniper hadn’t said anything, instead effortlessly lifting Tony into a fireman’s carry and taking him to a bed. Tony was confused when he woke up and found himself not in his own room, and when he went to investigate he was accosted by a woman with long brown and blue hair, eyes that shifted between several different colors, and clothes that looked like they belonged more at a nightclub involving glow sticks and pounding bass. She had handed him a drink that completely removed the symptoms of his hangover before pulling him into a comfy living room, where he found Ulysses and another man he didn’t recognize eating breakfast. A plate had been pressed into his hands as Ulysses introduced the others as Aria and Craig, his lovers. Admittedly, Tony had been confused how he ended up in a bed in their living quarters, and enquired about it as he ate the breakfast handed to him. Craig informed him that Ulysses had found him ‘shit-faced’ and brought him back so they could watch over him.

The trio had then sat down with him to talk about the habit. Instead of the scolding and consternation the genius had come to expect, they had offered compassion and understanding. As it happened, all three of them had dealt with inner demons or vices at one time or another. Aria had become addicted to a drug from their world-- something called Med-X. When Tony enquired, the woman told him that it was a pain reliever of sorts, and that she had needed to take it at first to recover from being shot in the head. The scar in the middle of her forehead that she revealed booked no room for argument whether she was serious about the kind of injury. However, after the wound had fully healed and no longer caused her pain, Aria found it almost impossible to stop taking the drug. She had been afraid of the pain returning and comfortable with the lack thereof. Craig, after a bit of gentle encouragement from his lovers, told Tony about the massacre at Bitter Springs, the death of his wife Carla, and his part in both. The drinking that sprung up in the wake of such trauma was something Tony could definitely sympathise with. Ulysses had committed some pretty heinous acts before he met Aria or Craig, things that still weighed slightly on him no matter how much time had passed. Unlike the other two, he didn’t elaborate, nor did Tony press for information. The momentary haunted and hollow look in the sniper’s eyes was enough to deter any questions.

The genius had sat in a kind of somber attentiveness as they spoke, and when they were done he had asked why they had divulged their stories. Craig was the first to speak. “Because if we can overcome those things, no matter how hard it was, so can you.”

Aria had nodded at his words before turning her attention back to Tony. “We want to help you. No one should have to suffer like we did-- like you do. You deserve to be free of that pain, just like us.”

Ulysses had added, “Don’t need to fall back on drinking. Family will catch you before then.”

The conversation resulted in weekly meet-ups with the trio for what equated to therapy sessions. Though initially slow to open up to them, Tony began to form a fellowship with the group over shared understanding of pain, struggle, and recovery. Craig became a close confident in regard to pain-- guilt had been a primary theme of his life for a long time before he was found by Aria. He told the genius, “Aria and Ulysses finally helped me understand that holding onto my guilt wouldn’t erase the things that happened. I needed to accept them, take the lessons I learned, and move forward. Carrying around the emotional baggage was only hurting me. I keep the good times I had with Carla close to my heart, but I needed to let it go-- let her go. I’m grateful ‘Ses and Aria were there for me.”

Ulysses was more of a quiet support, a stable presence against the turbulence of Tony’s emotions and memories. Whenever Tony happened to backslide, the sniper never judged or snapped or degraded his previous efforts. Instead, he would sit with Tony and help the man to parse through what had caused the stumble. His willingness to actively listen and work with the genius instead of lecturing him like so many others had done encouraged Tony to pull away from the bottle as a means of coping, slips becoming less and less frequent. Ulysses still remained supportive and calm each time it happened, and on the day Tony sought him out before he started drinking, the dark-skinned man had pulled the genius into a rare hug. Considering it was ‘Ses the gesture came from, Tony was content and happy with that-- It spoke volumes that words could never match.

Aria provided a far different service-- she gave Tony a coping mechanism and the space to use it. During one of their weekly meetings she brought up her Claiming-gift-- sonokinesis. She had offhandedly mentioned using her gift to augment her music before stopping mid-thought. The sudden cheshire like grin that crossed her face had initially made Tony nervous, especially when she grabbed his hand and pulled him to a part of the suite he had never been in with Ulysses and Craig following behind. That trepidation had swiftly turned to shock and awe when she threw a set of double doors open to reveal a room with wall-to-wall instruments of all kinds. She had commanded him to pick an instrument and she would teach him. Tony had wandered the room in a haze before stopping at the strings section in front of a violin. He admitted to them that some of the best memories he had of Anna Jarvis involved her playing violin for him. Aria had proceeded to take the violin from its’ place on the wall and pass it to him. He was then immediately thrown into his first impromptu lesson, which proceeded to become an every-other-day activity. To his own wonderment, the lessons became a therapy all their own. He could channel all the emotion into the strings of the instrument, expressing them in a manner far more positive and meaningful than drinking. Aria herself was also thrilled and exuberant when he began channeling his omni-magic into his playing to produce visual effects. Aria’s lovers would often join them and bring their own flair with their Claiming-gifts. The combination of ‘Ses’s umbrakinesis and Craig’s photokinesis resulted in stunning illusions and shadowy effects that coupled spectacularly with Tony’s magic.

Several months into this arrangement Hadrian had walked in while they were doing so, stopping their practice inadvertently. The Master of Death had blinked in shock for a moment before a brilliant grin had split his face before asking Tony if he wanted to try something new. Tony had agreed and the ebon-haired man instructed him to close his eyes and begin playing by himself. The genius did so and after a few seconds Hadrian then instructed him to think of his happiest memory and use it to fuel his magic. A minute into him doing so he felt something pull from his very being, and Aria’s gasp prompted him to stop and open his eyes. A thirty-foot-long transparent serpent sat in front of him, head turned in his direction and cocked curiously. Despite the shock from the sudden appearance of the snake, Tony couldn’t help but reach out towards the glowing blue figure in a kind of awed reverence. The snake pushed its’ head against his hand shocking the man with the solid feeling of scales.

The feeling of a surge of magic drew his gaze to the others in the room. Three more animals burst into existence in front of Aria, Ulysses, and Craig. He learned later that they were creatures from their homeworld. Craig had a creature called a nightstalker-- a terrifying hybrid of the spliced DNA of a coyote and a rattlesnake. The creature Ulysses had was a humanoid being known as a tunneler, small parts of the blue taking on a teal color-- apparently it had a form of bioluminescence in real life. Aria’s looked like a tarantula hawk spider wasp, only several times bigger with red eyes and a stinger that looked more like a dagger. Aria explained later that it was a ‘Cazador’ and proceeded to describe it as ‘the result of an unholy night of debauchery between Satan, a demon entomologist, and a harem of angry hornets’. Tony decided not to probe further, especially when he saw her lovers nod in agreement.

Looking over to Hadrian for an explanation, the man had simply smiled and said, “That’s your patronus, Tony-- like Bridget’s Savos. You summoned that with you happiness.”

Aria jumped to him and wrapped her arms around his neck as she rambled with elation, joined by a much calmer Craig who also hugged him. Ulysses stepped behind him and put his hand on his shoulder with a smile on his face. The enormous serpent coiled around them protectively and Tony felt tears roll down his cheeks as he reveled in the feeling of family and home.

Once again, he pulled on the memory of their celebration of him being sober for three months and a smile stretched across his face. No one cared to point out how the serpent glowed just a little brighter in that moment.

~

Walking in on Dorian and Zevrael during a moment of intimacy was bound to happen eventually. Tony had heard many, many accounts of it happening to various Reapers, so he had been expecting it… That didn’t make it any less jarring when it finally occurred. He had walked into their lab to enquire about a result of the scans from right after his Claiming. He was not at all prepared to find the duo skyclad, Zev bent over a table with Dorian behind him. Tony had apologized and beat a hasty retreat, but not just because of the embarrassment. Seeing the duo together had brought feelings to the surface that Howard had… ‘trained’ out of him. When the two came to find him later to find out what he needed they found the man in the middle of a panic attack. The conditioning from his father was warring hard against his own needs and desires, and the ensuing identity crisis left his room a wreck from his magic lashing out. When Dorian found out about what Tony’s father had done, he had gone visibly white with rage. When tendrils of fiendfyre began to curl around his body Zevrael had summoned a torrent of ice water and dumped it on the mage’s head. As the Vint spluttered and shook the liquid out of his face and hair, the elf had turned to Tony and informed him that Dorian had experience in what Tony had described.

Tony helped dry Dorian with his magic as the brunette expanded on that tidbit. The genius had gotten physically ill when the mage explained the blood magic ritual Magister Halward had considered using and the possible implications of what would have happened if it had gone wrong. Zevrael had further added to that when he explained that his clan had issued him an ultimatum: ‘leave the shemlan or don’t bother coming back’. Zevrael had refused to give up his love for the man, and Clan Lavellan had carried through with the threat-- if he was ever seen near their camp, he would be shot on sight.

Upon being inquired how they dealt, Dorian had at first snarked, “I left-- I enjoyed the allure of pariahood.” He quickly grew serious though and answered, “In truth, it was hard. But I knew forcing myself to be something I wasn’t, to be someone I didn’t want to be… It would have festered inside of me, like poison. I wasn’t going to let my father dictate my life, my choices. I refused to sacrifice my happiness for his ideal plan, his legacy.”

Zevrael nodded at that. “At first, the loss of my clan was devastating. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t be happy for me, for the fact that I found ma vhenan, my heart. It floored me that they were so willing to force me to choose between my love for Dorian and them. It was never my intention to betray them, yet that’s what they saw it as. As time went on though, I realized they had no right to try and dictate what made me happy. They weren’t living my life, they weren’t feeling my emotions. So why was I letting them control me like that? They had made their choice-- that was on them. But I wasn’t going to let their views, their misguided beliefs, their hatred keep me from someone that brought me so much joy.”

“In summation, Fratris” Dorian looked Tony in the eye and in an uncharacteristically serious voice asked “Why are you letting a man over two decades dead keep you from your happiness? Why are you continuing to give control to someone who doesn’t have the ability to hold your leash anymore?”

Zevrael drew the genius’s gaze after his husband spoke. “You are Tony Fucking Stark. You are a billionaire, a genius, a philanthropist, and one of the most selfless and caring people I have ever had the honor of knowing. Whose business is it regarding who you love, what gender you prefer? They aren’t living your life! You be you, be happy, and love whoever you want and to the Fade what the bigots think!”

Dorian reached forward and put his hands on Tony’s shoulders. “Be who you want to be, not someone others want you to be.” His face suddenly scrunched up for a moment before he added on “Unless you want to be a dragon. That might be pushing it a bit far.”

“Don’t let Minowa hear you say that!”

Despite the seriousness of the past few minutes, Tony couldn’t help but laugh along with the duo. It took a few more talks with them to fully accept the part of him he had been forced to lock away. He considered it a victory when, a few months later, he found several magazines with… questionable content laying on his bed and didn’t feel the least bit ashamed about the fact that no one saw him for the rest of that night.

He didn’t have to ask who left them when he finally emerged. The knowing and gentle smiles on the faces of the Pavus men told him all he needed to know.

~

Tony managed to pull himself from his memories just as he was approaching the door to Hadrian’s office. He pushed them open without much thought before stopping short at the scene in front of him. The Master of Death was on one knee with his hands on the shoulders of a young girl, no older than eight or nine. His face was drawn with worry, and he was speaking in gentle tones trying to calm the girl down. The child had black hair covering half of her face, her one visible silver eye filled with tears, frustration and fear clear in every line of her face. She was wearing a simple white dress that brushed the floor and long sleeves that covered her arms and part of her hands. She was speaking very quickly, and it took Tony a few seconds to be able to catch up with what she was saying.

“-- they keep hurting him and he doesn’t deserve it and what they’re doing is wrong and I want to stop them but I can’t!” The girl was sobbing, her arms wrapped tight around herself as if trying to provide herself with comfort.

The emerald-eyed man hushed her gently, rubbing her arms. “Calm yourself, child. I need you to take a deep breath, okay sweetie?” The young girl hiccuped quietly and nodded.

Tony’s heart broke at the sight of the child so obviously distressed. “Chief, what’s going on? Is she okay?” He asked, drawing the attention of the duo.

Hadrian’s eyes softened and filled with relief. “Anthony, your timing is perfect. Come in and close the door behind you.” Tony did so before he conjured up a pair of comfortable chairs. “Thank you Anthony, much appreciated.” He picked up the girl and set her in his lap as they sat. “Anthony, I’d like you to meet Hela. She’s the Goddess of Death in your home world.”

The genius’s eyebrows rocketed into his hair as he gazed at the deity. “She’s-- This kid can’t be more than nine! Why would she be saddled with such a thing??”

Hela sniffed and looked toward him, the hair shifting away from the other half of her face. This revealed that half of her face was naught but bone and decayed flesh, her eye replaced by a single pinprick of glowing emerald light in the socket. “Odin banished me to the realm of the dead because he thought I was a monster, and because of who my father is.” She answered softly, the pain on her face too poignant not to be seen despite the state of the skin.

Tony’s mouth fell open in shock. “He what?!” He snarled, his magic surging in reaction to his righteous indignation. He immediately felt a tendril of Hadrian’s aura embrace him, helping him reign his power in.

The Goddess looked on in awe and trepidation as the brunette wrestled his emotions back under control. “I know who you are…” She whispered, catching the man’s attention. “Lord Hadrian, are you sure…?”

“I’m certain, Hela. Let’s explain what’s going on, okay?” Hela nodded and the Master of Death looked back at Tony. “Anthony, think back to when Loki attempted to take over Earth. Did you notice anything strange during that time involving the god of mischief?” Seeing the confusion on his Reaper’s face Hadrian elaborated. “Think back to when he threw you out the window. Do you see it clearly in your mind?” Tony closed his eyes and nodded after a moment. “Good. Now think back to after the invasion, when you found him beaten into the floor of the penthouse.” The genius nodded again. “Compare those two versions of Loki. Notice anything?”

It only took a few seconds for Tony to realize what Hadrian was referencing. “Son of a bitch…” He whispered in shock as his eyes snapped open. “His eyes were blue when he threw me, but when we found him after the battle, they were green. He was mind whammied just as much as Barton. Someone, something else was using him as a puppet.”

“And a scapegoat.” Hela confirmed, drawing his gaze again. “Asgard was so willing to place the blame on him for what happened. They didn’t question him, they didn’t give him a trial or a chance to defend himself. Then after Thor got his help with the Dark Elves Odin was happy to throw him back in his cell! He doesn’t even care that the guards are hurting him!”

Tony leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. “That is fucked up in so many different ways… Shit, they’re torturing an innocent man.” There was a moment of silence before he looked back up staring into the middle distance. “I don’t understand, though… why are you so concerned about one person?” Suddenly he sat straight, eyes locked unerringly on Hela. “... Unless he means something to you.” He said after a moment as the pieces all clicked into place. “And given the fact that your magic looks and feels so similar to his…” He stood slowly from the chair to move to Hadrian’s and knelt down so he wasn’t looming over the girl. “You’re Loki’s kid, aren’t you?” He asked softly.

Hela nodded, eyes watching Tony warily. “His only daughter.” She rubbed the tear tracks from her face. “Papa has done some bad things, but he’s always been loving to us-- to me. Even after Odin banished me he came to visit when he could.” She looked up at the genius with desperation in her eye. “He just wants to be acknowledged and told he’s worth something despite living in Thor’s shadow. He didn’t want the throne, he never wanted to rule-- He just wanted to be accepted and appreciated! Asgard barely tolerated him-- they mocked his magic claiming it was a woman’s tool, and scorned his intelligence simply because he felt that not every battle was won with strength!” She squirmed in Hadrian’s arms so she was looking Tony straight in the eye. “They’re hurting him, and he’s done nothing wrong but ask for kindness! He doesn’t deserve their hate!”

For a moment the only sound that was heard was Hela’s rapid breaths hitched with tears. Finally Tony’s voice cut through the quiet. “You’re right. He doesn’t deserve that.” The genius rose to his feet, steel in his eyes. “Chief. I was considering talking to you about finally going back.” He cast his gaze to the Master of Death who rose with Hela on his hip. “It looks like I need to make a detour to Asgard’s prison cells first, though.”

Hadrian dipped his head in agreement. “I had a feeling you would say that. I won’t lie, Anthony-- I’ve been expecting you to bring this up for a few weeks now.” The smile that pulled at his lips was full of love and pride. “You’ve healed the wounds in your soul, and the Reapers and I are so, so proud of the strides you’ve made. Make sure you never forget that, and that you always have a home and family to come back to.” He swept to his desk and picked up a tablet. “You are more than ready to go back. Having said that, remember the conversation we had about Thanos a while back?”

“He’s what drew you to my world to begin with.”

The Master of Death nodded as his face became grim. “Indeed. He is a threat that has the potential to cause a catastrophic amount of damage and death, and he must be dealt with before he can carry out his plans.” He turned back to Tony. “Normally I wouldn’t even entertain the notion of doing this… But I have full confidence in you.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. “Anthony, I need you to be my Right Hand in this matter.”

Tony inhaled sharply at the statement. When Hadrian was forced to intervene in a world, he would send a Reaper to actively carry out his will and spearhead any plans to eliminate the threat-- that person was known as the ‘Right Hand of Death’. Under normal circumstances, the ‘Right Hand’ would be a High Reaper, someone who had been working with Hadrian for many years. Minowa would be one of those people, along with one or two whose names he'd only ever heard in passing. There were a few others, but they were rarely around. Pulling himself from this thoughts the brunette had to ask “Why me? It’s not that I’m not grateful for your confidence, and I know I’m in a much better place than I was before… But why not Minowa or someone with more experience?”

“This is not a mission I would even consider putting Minowa in charge of. Your world and Tamriel are vastly different, and she would be inefficient trying to lead in such a situation. You know the people, the culture… You know what you’re walking into. However, she will be on a team with you. I am not sending you into this alone. Minowa is being assigned as your Second in Command; she’ll be good for strategic advice against the likes of Thanos as well as an additional heavy hitter. Bridget will be monitoring the health of the team-- no need to bring back germs to the Nexus. It can get into other worlds that way… which was a nightmare the first time it happened. There are some mistakes you only have to make once.” He scrolled down the tablet in his hand after setting Hela down on the floor. “Craig and Ulysses are your scouts. With their abilities, they can easily get in and out of places to bring you intel. Aria’s omnilingual skills will be invaluable if this conflict extends to other realms. Dorian and Zevrael will be staying with you most of the time-- They’re your security detail.” His eyes snapped to Tony as the man made to protest. “You’re the only one who has the ability to go toe-to-toe against the Mad Titan and come out victorious. That can’t happen if you get hurt. Humor me.”

A sigh escaped the genius as he conceded Hadrian’s point. He could see where the Chief was coming from. And honestly, it wasn’t that much of a struggle-- the Pavus couple were good company and capable of matching his level of sass. “Alright Chief. When do we plan to pull this jailbreak?”

The Master of Death placed his hand atop Hela’s head of ebon hair as he replied, “As soon as possible, preferably. I’ll summon you all to the briefing room when you’re ready.”

The Reaper cast his eyes to Hela for a moment before looking back to Hadrian. “Call them now. I can have someone bring my stuff to the compound, but if what I’m hearing is any indication, we need to break reindeer games out ASAP.” He staggered when Hela surged forward to fling her arms around him in a desperate hug. She babbled out ‘thank you’ several times and Tony reciprocated the hug after a moment of shock. A few seconds later the genius suddenly went stiff before pulling away, looking over the girl with an odd look. “Hela, you said Odin banished you to your current residence.”

The girl nodded with a sad look in her eye. “Helheim, yes.”

Tony’s brow furrowed as he reached out to her arm, but didn’t touch it. He could see magic at work there wrapped tight around her wrists like handcuffs, and it only took him a moment to work out the purpose. “That son of a bitch bound you there.” Hela’s defeated nod caused a fire to light in his heart. He looked over at Hadrian, who was watching with interest. “Chief, do you think it’s possible for me to…?”

“You are magic’s warden. It will yield to you, no matter the source.”

“Good.” Tony turned his eyes back to Hela, determination clear in his eyes. He took Hela’s wrists into his hands, allowing the magic within him to surge and seek out the binding magic cast on the girl. Upon locating it, his magic broke the spells, and Tony saw the magic fall away from her a moment later.

Hela gasped in shock and pulled her hands away, staring at them. “You… did you just…?”

“Call the others, Chief.” The brunette gently swept Hela into his arms before turning to Hadrian. “It’s time to go home.”

Chapter Text

“So you all have the story straight?”

Bridget nodded as she swung her pack onto her shoulder. “We’ve gone over it several times, don’t worry.”

“And we’re set to return 24 hours after I left, right?”

The healer straightened and took a moment to pull the genius into a hug. “Tony, relax. Everything is going to be fine, you’ll see.”

Tony sighed and nodded. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I just don’t know who’s going to show up once we get there. Depending on who it is, they’ll realize something has changed within a second or two of seeing me.”

“Considering we’ve chosen to go with the idea of ‘honesty is the best policy’, I’m sure we’ll be fine if one of your allies finds us.” Aria put a hand on Tony’s shoulder while using the other to shift the strap of the bag resting on her hip.

“And if it’s not an ally?”

“Then we find out if they’re an enemy or if it’s just a coincidence. If it’s the latter, we send them on their way.” Minowa replied distractedly while checking the blade of her favorite dagger. “And in the unlikely event that it’s an enemy…”

Craig and Ulysses, who had been standing to one side simultaneously deadpanned, “We shoot them.”

The sound of two sets of feet hitting the floor at a run caused the group to turn. Zevrael and Dorian came careening around the corner, both wearing messenger bags. “Ir abelas, Lethallin!” Zevrael skidded to a halt in front of Tony with a grin. “We forgot something in the workshop and had to run back for it.”

Dorian approached Tony and pressed a box into his hands. Arching an eyebrow he opened it to reveal a thin metallic black disk with the symbol of the hallows carved into it, two inches in diameter and thin as a dime. Tony looked up at the duo in confusion. “Press it against your bare chest with the engraving facing out, right over your mark.” Dorian urged him.

Tony shucked his shirt off and took the disk into his hand. It was lightweight and held no other decorations other than the engraving. Giving Zevrael and Dorian one last confused look he did as instructed. The befuddlement shifted to shock when the symbol lit up white-blue. He let go of the piece, but it remained on his chest.

The elf was grinning ear to ear. “Okay, now for the best part. Give it a double tap.”

Slightly apprehensive, the genius did so. Moments later the glow from the symbol began to expand across his body, engulfing him after a few seconds. It finally died away to reveal a sleek, streamlined version of the Iron Man armor he had taken to Siberia with the arc reactor replaced by the engraved disk. Several sections of the armor were now black, and odd grooves were carved into places along his arms and legs. The HUD finally lit up and the genius found himself face to face with the grinning faces Dorian and Zevrael.

“What, did you think we were going to let you go back without your greatest invention?” Dorian snorted as if the very idea itself was distasteful. “Perish the thought!”

The elf was practically bouncing on his feed. “How is it? Dori’ and I have been working on it since Ulysses brought us the pieces of your old armor. It doesn’t pull power from an arc reactor anymore-- it’s pulling from your magic! It's just a basic model for now, but it's a project we can work on together!"

Tony was silent as he pressed the disk and retracted the armor. Before Dorian or Zevrael could react the man threw himself at them and hugged them as tight as he could. The couple wasted no time in returning the gesture. “We weren’t anticipating going with you when you finally went back, and we wanted you to be as safe as possible,” Dorian reassured him in a soft voice when the man finally pulled away.

“We’re glad we get the chance to, though.” Zevrael bumped against Tony’s shoulder. “After all, someone needs to balance the broody scale!”

The brunette laughed wetly at the sentiment while he wiped the tears from his face. “It’s amazing you two. Thank you.” He took a few deep breaths to center himself before turning back to the group. “Okay, everyone ready to get this train to crazytown a-rollin’?”

Aria grinned and replied for all of them: “Choo choo!”

They all quickly stepped up on the platform amidst chuckles of amusement. Minowa input the coordinates before joining them and a moment later they were swept away in a surge of darkness and shadows. A moment later they fell away to reveal the bunker in Siberia. Tony wasted no time in casting warming charms on his family. As the group took a moment to acclimate themselves, he looked towards where he had been found barely alive. He slowly stepped towards the indent in the snow, kneeling when he reached it. He looked towards the shield, briefly remembering the pain at having it slammed into his chest. He reached for it, lifting it with him as he stood.

The group had finally noticed their leader’s actions and were watching him curiously. Tony remained still for a few seconds before he reached to the right and drew a vertical line through the air. A glowing white light followed his finger, and the genius wasted no time in stashing the shield in the pocket dimension he had opened up. He closed it and turned to face his family, and they smiled at seeing the content and calm look on his face. “Rogers was a piss poor leader and even worse friend. I hope I do a better job than his half-assed attempts.”

Minowa smiled at him, her crimson eyes flaring with power. “Wherever you lead us, Zeymahi.” She told him, her voice resonating with Alduin’s. The others nodded along with their words.

“Then let’s get to work. I’m activating my homing beacon soon, and we have a few things we need to accomplish before then. Bullseye and Deadshot, I need you both to keep an eye out for anything living, let me know if people show up.” Craig rolled his eyes at the nickname and Ulysses arched his eyebrow in his direction before they walked away. “Firecracker, these bodies need to be disposed of. I have no doubt that if the wrong people found out about these failed super soldiers they wouldn’t hesitate to swoop in and take them.” Despite the seriousness of the request Dorian couldn't help but grin at the spin on the nickname he had in Thedas. “Cryo, help him get them outside… burning flesh is not a pleasant smell.” Zev saluted him with a smile before he followed his husband. “Songbird, get into those computers and see if there’s anything still on them. If there is, use your judgment about whether it should be saved or destroyed and act accordingly.” Aria nodded with a grim look before striding off.

Bridget looked at him when they were finally alone. “What about Minowa and I?”

Tony turned to the duo. “Boomer, I’d like for you to stay here and watch over everything for a few minutes. Medic, you need to be on standby to do some serious healing. I’m breaking our resident God of Mischief out of the slammer.” He gave an errant wave of his hand, and a hospital bed and table were quickly conjured. Bridget nodded sharply and began to lay potion bottles and medical supplies on the table. Minowa nodded to him and jerked her head to one side, indicating for him to go. The genius waved a hand over himself to shift his clothes to the long sleeved black coat that Hadrian issued for missions. The Hallows symbol stitched in gold on the back marked him as the leader, and the hood could conceal his face from any light. His black pants were tucked into black military style boots that were enchanted to make no sound. The black fingerless gloves on his hands had the golden hallows stitched into the fabric. The coat was unzipped enough so he could easily get to his chest piece in case of an emergency. He turned to Minowa and Bridget, eyes serious. “I’ll be back. You know how to reach me.” He quickly flipped the hood up before reaching for his magic. It surged to meet him, and he directed it to find Loki. It took only a few seconds before he felt it lock onto the God. He cloaked himself from detection and allowed the magic to pull him to his destination. The darkness surged around him for a moment before he silently landed in a dark and damp stone prison. He briefly cast his eyes around the place before striding towards the pull.

The sound of cries of pain made him break into a run, and when he found the cell his entire being froze for a moment. Loki was chained to the wall, his back to the door and completely naked. He looked gaunt and pale, his hair greasy and limp. His back was striped with whip marks that bled terribly. The three guards in the cell laughing drew his attention, and a cold fury swept through him when he saw the spiked whip one was holding. Unable to simply observe any longer, Tony phased through the wall itself completely bypassing any protections on the door. He subtly cast several spells of his own to prevent outside notice and keep his magic from being discovered or lingering. The moment he was done, he unleashed the deathly aura that all Reapers shared, holding nothing back.

The temperature immediately dropped to near freezing, a feeling of dread and terror sweeping through the room. It stole the breath and chuckles from the lungs of the guards, the whip clattering to the floor. They turned to find the source of the disturbance and came face to face with Anthony, his glowing, fury filled amber eyes the only thing visible from the darkness of the hood. Black smoke surrounded him, adding to the effectiveness of the image. There was a moment of absolute silence before Tony’s cold voice shot through the room. “The Master of Death sends his regards.” Without giving them a chance to reply, Tony’s magic washed over the guards and plunged them into a sleep that would take days to awaken from.

Loki had grown still as the powerful and intoxicating magic slammed the room. Strangely enough, the magic that seemed to terrify the guards wrapped around him and soothed the agony his body was in, caressing him gently. The voice that spoke was vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t muster the mental energy to identify it. A few seconds later, the power pulled away, causing the injured god to whimper as the pain returned.

Tony heard the sound and stepped past the guards to unlock the shackles around Loki’s wrists. As he did, white hot rage flashed through him when he felt the blocks on Loki’s magic. “That bastard.” He hissed in a trembling voice. Taking a deep breath to reign himself in he spoke quietly to the shaking God. “I’m going to remove the shackles. I’ll help you sit down, then I’ll see what I can do about the blocks.”

Loki nodded, numb from the emotional shock he was beginning to feel. He felt his wrists being freed and began to collapse before a pair of gentle hands caught him. He was gentle maneuvered into a sitting position facing his savior and blinked in confusion at what he found. Finding his voice for a moment he managed to croak out “Odin bound me… can’t be removed… except by him…”

“Like Hell they can’t.” Tony growled, his magic rising to meet his needs. “Odin may have powerful magic, but that won’t stop me.” The power rushed to Loki and found the source of the blocks. It wrapped around them and after a moment shattered them entirely. Loki choked out a cry of shock as he was reconnected with his magic and didn’t notice his illusion flicker for a few seconds, revealing his Jotun form before shifting back.

The Reaper was barely phased by this and continued to strip away the curses Odin had placed upon the god. He channeled a bit into closing the whip marks on Loki’s back, halting the bleeding, and once he was satisfied he sat back. “Alright, that will have to do until we get you to Medic.” Loki blinked in confusion before yelping as Tony swept the God into his arms. “Hold tight, this can be a bit disorienting at first and I don’t want you passing out on the way.” A moment later the darkness surged up to surround them again, falling away a moment later to deposit them in the bunker again.

Bridget had been standing by waiting for him to get back. She strode forward as the duo appeared, grabbing a blanket to cover Loki while Tony gently set the emaciated and pale man on the bed. “Good evening, your Worship. My name is Bridget, I’m the team healer here. I’d like to take a look at your wounds and see if I can heal some of them. Would you be alright with that?” She smiled charmingly as she covered him, giving off an air of gentleness and compassion. Loki nodded, staring at her with wide eyes. “Thank you your Worship. I’ll try to make this as painless as possible.” She raised her hands and allowed her healing magic to surround him to diagnose the damage.

As she did that, Minowa came up to Tony. “Zeymahi, how bad was it?” She asked, turning her burning ember eyes to Loki for a moment.

Tony was silent for a moment. Finally, he growled “Those guards are lucky to have their lives. I was so, so tempted Boomer. It was…” His hands clenched into fists so tight his knuckles were white.

Loki looked over in shock at the sheer rage in his voice. Finally he managed to ask in a raspy voice that caught the duo’s attention, “Why… why did you save me?”

Though the God couldn’t see it, Tony’s eyes softened at the look on his face. “You’re an innocent man who didn’t get the chance to defend himself before being judged. You were being tortured, and that will never be okay in my book.”

“How do you know of my innocence?”

Tony didn’t reply verbally. Instead, he reached out his hand and summoned a relay corridor in front of him. “Chief, we’ve got him. Send over the kid.” He called into it, waiting until he felt the magic within before allowing it to drop.

Hela blinked at her surrounding before turning to see her father on the bed. “Papa!” She shrieked with joy, sprinting over to him to fling herself into his arms. “I knew it, I knew he could save you!”

Loki had reached out reflexively to catch his daughter, even as shock lanced through him. It took him a moment or two to process what was happening even as Hela continued to babble away-- Then he was wrapping his arms around her small frame, burying his nose in her hair and sobbing with joy. Tony looked towards Minowa and jerked his head in an indication to leave. The woman nodded and strode through a nearby door to give them some privacy.

They sat there for several minutes before their attention was drawn to Bridget, who had cleared her throat. “Hela sweetie, I need to give Loki some medicine and heal his ribs. Can you hop down for a minute?” Loki seemed reluctant to let go of his daughter and reassured him. “Don’t worry, Hela isn’t going anywhere. She’s no longer bound to Helheim.”

The goddess of death nodded enthusiastically with a grin on her face. “Yep! He broke Odin’s enchantments!” She pointed towards Tony, who had been watching the scene silently.

The ebony haired god looked over at him in shock and allowed his daughter to slide from the bed and run over to him. “... You saved her?” Tony nodded sharply, running his fingers gently through Hela’s hair. “... Who are you?”

A sharp laugh escaped Tony before he flicked his wrist outwards, allowing the coat he wore to melt away. As the hood fell away he locked eyes with Loki and smirked. “Hey there, Rock of Ages.” He snarked, waving casually to the gaping man. “Bet you weren’t expecting me.”

“Fratris, don’t be so dramatic. Leave it to the professionals.” Dorian sniped at him as he casually sauntered through the door with Zevrael a step behind him. “The bodies have been taken care of.” He informed them, his face becoming solemn.

The brown eyed man nodded at this, his expression grim. “Good. Where’s Songbird?”

“Still working on her job, Lethallin.” Zevrael piped in. “She’s going over everything with a fine tooth comb.”

A smile crossed Tony’s face as he nodded. “Good to know she’s being thorough. Is everyone ready for me to activate the beacon?”

Minowa stepped back into the room. “Craig and Ulysses are in position. Whenever you’re ready, Zeymahi.”

Tony nodded and pressed his palm against the disk in his chest. He held it there until he felt the pings. His eyes flared and glowed blue as he activated his technopathic abilities to keep track of the signal, watching for the moment someone picked it up.

As he did so Bridget turned back to the God of Mischief. “While he’s doing that, let’s see what we can do about your injuries. I should be able to heal most of the damage myself, but I’ll need to give you a potion for your organ damage. Organs are tricky business, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take unless in dire circumstances.” She rested her hands over his body and they lit up gold again.

Loki felt the breath stall in his lungs as the full strength of her healing magic surged through him, not as potent or wild as Tony’s but filled with a soothing gentleness that swept away the pain. He looked up at the healer to observe her, the golden blond hair that was tied back in a ponytail and the striking amethyst eyes that watched the progression of the healing like a hawk. Looking deeper for a moment he saw her magic shining from within her, violet and gold swirling together and rising up willingly to meet her needs. He didn’t realize he had been staring until she was withdrawing the magic with a sigh, and he quickly looked away.

“That’s a good start.” She chirped with a smile before reaching for the table and scooping up a few vials. “Alright, your Worship. I need you to take these. This,” she handed him the first, “Is a nutrient potion. This will help begin to mitigate the effects of not being able to eat properly. God or no, your body won’t be capable of handling too much food right now. You’ll get one of these at every meal for a while, but that one will help start the process.”

The ebony-haired man eyed the liquid for a moment before removing the cork and knocking it back like a shot. He was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the taste wasn’t terrible.

“Good, now this one is skele-gro, and you only need a sip.” She poured a small amount into a cup from her pouch. “This will take care of your bones and make sure there’s no residual damage that could cause injuries later on.”

Loki took the cup without hesitation and did the same as before. He choked when the taste hit him, but forced himself to swallow.

Bridget cringed and nodded. “Yeah, that one’s unpleasant. I’ve tried everything I could think of to make it better, but nothing seems to work without altering the effects in some way.” She pressed a bottle of water into his hands and allowed him to drink. “Okay, this one will help with the internal damage to your organs. No name for this one yet, we’ll think of one. Take the whole thing.” She waited until he was done before picking up the last vial. “This one is optional. This is Dreamless Sleep. It allows your body to sleep deeply without the worry of nightmares or memories. Considering the condition Tony found you in, I would suggest it. I would only give you enough for a full eight hours, no more.”

“There’s a reason for that. It can be addicting.” The duo turned to see Dorian forming small orbs of white fire and positioning them in the room to provide light. “Fratris almost had that happen.”

Zevrael had been stacking their bags to one side and looked up at that. “Can you blame him? With all of the trauma he experienced and the lack of support for dealing with it…” He let out a soft huff and threw his silver braid behind his head again as he straightened. “I’m glad we were able to help him in that regard.”

“Nonsequiturs aside, you really do need the rest, your Worship,” Bridget told Loki, pulling his attention back to him. “You’ve been through a terrible ordeal, and I’d wager you haven’t slept well in some time. Or slept at all. Sleeping will also give the potions the chance to work better. The skele-gro has the potential to cause some discomfort as it heals your bones.”

The God eyed the bottle warily, nervousness in his eyes. He jolted when a body sat in his lap and he looked down to see Hela curling against his chest. “Don’t worry, Papa. They won’t hurt you, and they won’t let anyone hurt you again.”

The conviction in his daughter’s voice went a long way to soothe the God, and he allowed Bridget to give him a dose. His eyes immediately began to droop, and within a few minutes had fallen asleep completely. The healer smiled kindly at the small family and helped Hela settle in beside her father, draping another blanket over them both.

That was the scene Aria walked in on, and she smiled at the picture they made. “Will he be alright?” She asked softly as she came up beside the healer.

“He’ll be on nutrient potions for a while, but that’s about it in terms of physically.” The blond woman rubbed her face. “Emotionally and mentally however? That’s a different story. He’s been tortured for a long time, and that will need some serious therapy to help him overcome.”

The brunette nodded, a solemn look on her face. “Makes sense.”

“Got it.” The group turned as Tony’s eyes faded back to brown. “Someone found the signal. I’m not sure who, and I don’t want to dig too deep just in case. We’ve got an hour, maybe two before they show up.” He flicked his wrist to summon his patronus, and the basilisk sprang into existence in front of him. He turned towards Tony, cocking his head curiously. “Yinsen, take a message to Deadshot and Bullseye. ‘Signal found, ETA one or two hours. Stay sharp’.” The serpent nodded and shot off towards the message’s recipients. “We need to keep Loki hidden until I’ve had a chance to explain why he’s here. According to what everyone knows, the last time he was on Earth he tried to conquer it. We need to explain that he was having his strings pulled just as much as Barton and Selvig.”

Bridget nodded sharply. “Understood. We won’t say a word.”

Aria dipped her head as well before looking up towards the ceiling. “I suppose all we can do now is wait.”

Chapter Text

Craig and Ulysses stood on opposite sides of the entrance to the bunker, motionless as statues with their eyes sweeping the landscape. It was nearing the two hour mark since Tony had sent his message, and the two snipers were on high alert for anyone or anything approaching the bunker. Their rifles sat within arm's reach, ready to be pulled at a moment’s notice. Neither was taking chances-- they wouldn’t let anyone hurt their new brother.

Craig was the first to notice the deviation from the scene they had been observing. He looked towards Ulysses who nodded, signaling he had noticed it too-- the sound of a jet engine. Craig quickly summoned his nightstalker, Kimball. “Take a message to Glitch. ‘Company’s here’.” Kimball bounded away and the man turned to his partner. “I’ll take care of them. Go deeper, cover me just in case.” Ulysses nodded and strode deeper into the bunker, cloaking himself in shadows and positioning himself so he still had a clear line of sight with his gun.

The jade-eyed sniper turned his attention back to the landscape in front of him just in time for a quinjet to come into view. He positioned himself so he could be seen, leaning casually against the wall with loosely crossed arms to appear as non-threatening as possible. The jet landed and the hatch opened to reveal a redheaded woman followed by a man with dark, curly hair and glasses perched on his nose. Craig recognized the woman from Tony’s descriptions-- Virginia ‘Pepper’ Potts, one of his most trusted confidants and current CEO of Stark Industries. The second was a bit of a surprise. Bruce Banner was toting a bag with what Craig could only assume was medical supplies. Thinking back, the sniper remembered that Tony had told him Bruce had dropped off the grid after what happened with Ultron, but had recently reestablished a minimal line of communication with his fellow ‘science bro’. The duo approached swiftly but stopped dead upon seeing the sniper. The man dipped his head towards them. “Looking for Tony?” His dry tenor carrying easily to the duo.

Pepper’s eyes narrowed at the strange man. “And if we are?”

Craig straightened his stance, motioning for them to follow. “He’s further in. Bridget’s probably doing one last scan on him to make sure he’s okay.” He strode into the bunker, his sharp hearing picking up on the duo following him. “Not gonna lie-- he was in pretty piss-poor shape when we found him.”

“What do you mean?” Bruce asked, taking a mental inventory of his bag in preparation to help his friend.

“Rogers and Barnes abandoned him.” Ulysses’ deep voice caused Pepper and Bruce to jump. He stepped from the shadows, pinning them with his brown eyes. “They hurt him-- didn’t just leave physical wounds.” He rumbled as he fell in step beside Craig.

The group fell into silence as they continued. Finally, they reached a doorway, and Craig motioned for Pepper and Bruce to enter. “In there. ‘Ses and I need to get back topside.”

The duo disappeared a moment later, and Pepper was the first to enter the room. Her eyes immediately locked on the blond woman approaching her with a gentle smile. “Good evening, Ms. Potts. I’m Bridget Ivorsen, I’ve been helping Tony recover from what happened. He had to leave for a moment, but in the meantime I’d like to go over the damage we noted when we found him, along with his current condition. Would that be acceptable to you?”

Pepper immediately liked the woman’s no-nonsense attitude, especially regarding her friend’s health. “I would appreciate that, yes. Would Dr. Banner be welcome as well?”

The amethyst eyed woman smiled widely and dipped her head. “Of course. Tony has spoken very fondly of you, Dr. Banner. I know he’ll be happy you’re here.” She reached for a clipboard next to her and began to flip through the pages. “We found Tony about 24 hours ago, and he had already been exposed to the elements for a few hours. His armor was in very poor shape, several shards embedded in his chest. Most of his ribs were broken, and his sternum was in several pieces. He had the beginning stages of hypothermia, serious bruising in multiple places, a concussion… To speak plainly, he’s lucky we showed up when we did-- he would never have survived those injuries otherwise.”

Even as his eyes flickered green Bruce was moving to support Pepper, who was trembling. “How did he, then? That would need surgery to fix, several of them.”

“You would be correct that under normal circumstances that would be required. Because of the severity of his injuries though, we opted to take him back to our home-- We had the necessary facilities there.” She shifted her weight to one foot and fixed the duo with a look. “In the essence of full disclosure, we did use magic, a healing branch of it. I understand you both have reservations about such, but he would have died otherwise.” Before they could protest Bridget pulled out a picture of an X-ray done of Tony’s chest from the clipboard and passed it to Bruce.

The doctor’s eyes roamed the picture, studying it with a clinical eye. After a moment he sighed and shook his head. “She’s right, Pepper. Healing from this normally, if at all, would have needed a miracle.”

The redhead took a deep breath and locked eyes with Bridget, her gaze steely. “Where is he, then? How do we know you're telling the truth?”

As if summoned, Tony stepped into the room from a nearby doorway while wiping his hands with a towel. He had changed into a Black Sabbath t-shirt and clean jeans, his black combat boots still on his feet to keep out the cold. He had a black sweatshirt on, unzipped so the t-shirt underneath could be seen. Sounds of shock from both Pepper and Bruce caused him to look up with wide eyes and blink in shock. Bridget simply smiled and jerked her thumb towards him. “How’s that for proof?”

Pepper was already across the floor and throwing herself into his arms, hugging the man with all her strength. Tony hugged her back, reveling in her presence after having been gone for a year. Until that moment, he hadn’t been aware of just how much he had missed them. He looked over Pepper’s shoulder to look at Bruce, who was approaching at a far more sedated pace. As soon as he got close enough Tony pulled him into the hug as well, ignoring the yelp of surprise the Doctor gave.

They stayed in the hug for a minute before finally pulling away, and Pepper looked him over as if checking for any additional hurt. “Tony, what happened? FRIDAY said your tracker went offline, we were so worried--”

“Easy, Pepper.” He said softly, grabbing her hands to still her. She looked up at his face, and he smiled in a way she’d never seen before. “I’m okay. There’s a lot I have to tell you, but I have people I want you to meet first.” He looked over his shoulder and called out, “Coast is clear guys, get in here!”

“Finally!” Dorian was the first to saunter through the door, a roguish grin on his face. His husband was a step behind him. “I thought the syrupy reunion would go on forever!”

Zevrael reached over and smacked his love, a disapproving frown on his face. “Vhenan! Be nice!”

The dark haired man chuckled as he sauntered up next to Tony. “Sorry, Amatus.”

Aria bounced through the doorway with a bright grin. “Is this them, Tony? Wow, her hair really is like strands of solidified fire! I thought you were being dramatic!”

Pepper shot a look at Tony who in turn groaned and glared at Aria. “Really, Ari’? I said it once, and you remembered?”

“But it’s so true!”

Tony snorted and shook his head. “Where’s Minowa?”

The group paused and looked at each other. “She… seemed nervous about coming in.” Zevrael said softly, fixing the man with a knowing look.

Understanding dawned on Tony and he sighed. “I’ll be right back.” He turned and walked through the door the others had come out of, finding Minowa leaning on the far wall with a stony look on her face. “What’s going on, Minowa? I’d like you to meet the people who came.”

The Dragonborn looked up at Tony with worry in her red eyes that she couldn’t quite fully hide. “I am… unsure if that would be wise.” She reached up to touch one horn as if to emphasise the point.

“Hey, none of that.” The man strode over to her and put his hands on her shoulders. “You led the team that saved my life. That will earn you some brownie points right out the gate.” Seeing her still hesitating he added “One of the people out there is my science bro, Bruce. I told you about him, remember?”

Minowa perked up, curiosity in her eyes. “Yes, I remember. He is here?” Tony nodded and the woman let out a slow breath. “I… I will follow you, then. I will admit my curiosity towards your fahdon.”

“That’s the spirit!” Tony grinned and turned on his heel to re-enter the room, the ebony haired woman following a few steps behind.

Bruce had been talking with Dorian and Zevrael when the Hulk suddenly perked up in his mind. The doctor tensed for a moment, waiting for any anger. He was shocked when the feeling of calm curiosity came across instead, and he turned to find what had elicited such a reaction. Tony was striding from the doorway with another figure behind him looking somewhat wary. His breath caught sharply when he saw her onyx horns and slit pupiled eyes the color of hot coals. The Hulk stirred again, the curiosity now laced with excitement.

The duo approached the scientist, and Tony swept a hand towards Minowa. “Brucie-bear, this is Minowa. She led the team that saved my life. Minowa, this is my fellow science bro Bruce Banner.”

Minowa cleared her throat and looked up a the man, her crimson eyes pinning him. “Drem yol lok, Bruce.” She said, dipping her head deeply. “Zeymahi speaks fondly of you and your krifsilruth.”

Tony couldn’t help but chuckle at the flummoxed look on Bruce’s face. “To translate, that first part was a traditional greeting. Zeymahi means ‘my brother’, and krifsilruth is a combination of the words krif, battle, sil, soul, and ruth, rage. She’s basically talking about the Hulk.”

“Geh, zu’u.” She turned her attention back to the doctor. “You are strong to be able to balance both sides within yourself. It is no small thing.”

Bruce gave a small huffed laugh, running his fingers through his hair. “More than you know.”

Minowa laughed that time, drawing his attention back to her as she shook her head and closed her eyes for a moment. They opened again, glowing brightly as if lit from within. She grinned, showing off one of her fangs before her voice, resonating with Alduin’s, replied. “We would understand far better than you believe.”

Unbeknownst to the scientist, his eyes flickered green for a moment as the Hulk pressed against his conscience. “I guess so.” He murmured.

“Tony, did I hear that right?” The group turned to see Pepper approaching them. “She led the team?” The redhead gestured to Minowa.

The ebony haired woman nodded, eyeing the other warily. “I did, but it was not just me-- Ulysses, who you met briefly, and Bridget were with me as well.” A moment later she found herself being pulled into an enormous hug by Pepper. The Dragonborn blinked, feeling clotheslined from the sudden display of affection and gratitude.

“Thank you.” Pepper murmured into her ebony locks. “Tony is precious to me, and you all saved him. Thank you.”

Minowa didn’t hesitate to hug her back after that. “He is grah-zeymahzini. He is precious to all of us.”

Tony smiled at the crimson-eyed woman as they pulled away. “That term means ‘my shield brother’.”

Bruce watched the interaction curiously. “You all speak like you’ve known him for longer than a day.”

The group stopped entirely, looking at each other. Eventually they all looked at Tony who sighed with a small note of defeat. “Because they have. The place they took me for healing… Time doesn’t flow the same there.” He gestured for the others to pull over the chairs he had conjured earlier. “You should probably sit. This explanation could take a while.”

-

“Wait a second-- you said he called himself ‘Master of Death’??”

“Yeah, that was my reaction too.”

“And he has magic?”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

-

“Tony, you realize this confirms the existence of the multiverse, right?”

“I’m well aware, Bruce. Did you think these guys are from Earth??”

“Well, I thought it might just be a mutation… Especially with your horns, Minowa.”

“No. More like battle trophies.”

“I’d take this Earth over ours any day.”

“Aria, your Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland brought on by nuclear war. Of COURSE you would.”

-

“Wait, so this ‘Claiming’ thing basically gave you magic powers.”

“Yes.”

“Oh terrific. Any other surprises we should be aware of?

“Would this be a bad time to bring up I can connect to the internet with my mind now?”

“... What.”

-

“You’ve met DEATH??”

“Yep. His name is Mortis.”

“Death has a name??”

“I was more shocked at his outfit! No black robes, no scythe, no bones… He was wearing a fedora, Pep! He carried a cane!”

“You can’t deny he pulls it off smashingly, Fratris.”

“He does, and it annoys me to no end! How can death look so good?!”

“A mystery for the ages, Lethallin.”

-

“Wait. You’re bisexual? Since when??”

“I always have been. Howard… heavily discouraged that side of me.”

“It’s a damn good thing your father is dead.”

“Why do you say that, Bruce? Because you’d kill him yourself?”

“No. Because I’d sic Hulk on him.”

“I like him more and more, Zeymahi. We’re keeping him.”

-

“Holy shit!”

“Yeah, that was my reaction too.”

“That is a very big snake.”

“Dirty!”

“DORIAN I WILL KILL YOU.”

“Healer’s Oath, Bridget! Healer’s Oath!!”

-

“I just realized I’ve been clean for six months. Someone remind me to tell FRIDAY to get rid of the alcohol at the Tower and the Compound when we get back.”

“We could have Cici bring it back to the Nexus. I’m sure they would appreciate it.”

“That’s fine. Just as long as it’s away from my sobriety… Pepper, what-- OOF!”

“Wow, she knocked him right off the chair!”

“Bridget, please make sure he doesn’t have a concussion from that flying hug.”

---

Pepper sat back in her chair, observing the man in front of her with a critical eye. It sounded insane, all of it. Yet she’d seen the truth with her own eyes, the power the group around her wielded at the tips of their fingers. She could also see the love and loyalty they had for her friend, the fierce protectiveness in the way they positioned themselves around him. And she could see the joy in Tony’s eyes, the lack of tension in his shoulders and face that had always been present before. A small smile quirked at her lips when she realized they were a better team than the Avengers had ever been. His old team had constantly used him and berated him and blamed him for so much. These people around him rallied to him and supported him as much as he did for them.

“I know it feels like free falling down the rabbit hole, but I swear everything we’ve told you is true.” Tony said after a few seconds of silence had passed.

That pulled the redhead’s attention to him and she wasted no time in standing and pulling Tony into a tight hug. “Tony, this is the happiest and most alive I’ve ever seen you. I’d have to be a fool not to be grateful for what they’ve done for you.”

Tony laughed quietly and tugged a strand of the woman’s hair. “And you’re no fool, Ms. Potts.” He cleared his throat and stepped back. “There IS one more thing.”

Bruce nodded towards him. “It can’t be any more shocking that what we’ve seen so far.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Dr. Banner.” Bridget warned him. “Just before we came back, Master Hadrian was visited by Hela, this world’s Goddess of Death. As the Master of Death, Hadrian is basically the boss of all deities with death as their domain. She was extremely distraught, and we found out her father was imprisoned for crimes with extenuating circumstances surrounding them.”

Minowa nodded as well, eyes flaring again. “They gave him no chance to defend himself or even speak. His guilt was assumed.”

Pepper’s blue eyes narrowed at them. “But that’s against the law no matter where you are.”

Tony snorted and replied bitterly, “Well for as magically and technologically advance they are, Asgard sure has a pretty shoddy justice department.” He ignored the looks of shocked realization as he began to pace, his nails digging into his palms hard enough to draw blood. “They gave the guards free reign to hurt him! They were torturing an innocent man!”

A moment later Minowa was next to him, gently coaxing his hands into relaxing. “Drem, Zeymahi.” She murmured gently to him, allowing Bridget to heal his hands as she spoke. “Your friends do not know the circumstances.”

Tony took several deep breaths as the healer took care of the crescent marks in his flesh. “Barton was having his strings pulled by Loki, but no one seemed to notice Loki was having his pulled too. For claiming to love his brother so much, Thor doesn’t seem to know Loki’s eye color!”

Bruce sat up straight in his chair when a memory was pushed to the forefront of his mind-- Hulk being confronted by Loki before the God had been beaten into the ground. “Oh my God.” He breathed, drawing their attention. “He’s right. His eyes were blue when Hulk fought him at the tower, but green after the battle was over.”

“Loki was not the puppet master here.” Tony confirmed. “The one who was really behind it all is actually the entire reason the Chief took notice of our world to begin with. His name is Thanos, and he’s more dangerous than reindeer games ever was.”

Zevrael snorted at that. “Considering he wants to wipe out all life in the universe to please his ‘Lady Death’, I’d say that’s an understatement.”

Pepper closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “So Loki has been innocent the whole time. That’s… a bit of a shock.”

A sheepish grin crossed Tony’s face as he added, “This would probably be a good time to mention I broke him out and brought him here and he’s currently passed out in a room 30 feet that way.” He pointed towards the doorway he’d come through a few hours prior.

“... I’m sorry, what?”

Before any more could be said a soft voice called out to Tony and they turned to see Hela standing in the doorway, looking curious and wary at the same time. “Hey, come on in. Did you sleep okay?” Tony opened his arms to the girl, and she wasted no time in moving over to him and allowing him to situate her on his lap with her head against his chest. “Pepper, Bruce, meet Hela Lokidottir, the Goddess of Death. Hela, this is one of my best friends, Pepper, and my science bro, Bruce.” The dark haired child looked over at the duo and waved while giving a soft ‘hello’.

Pepper had been ready to go off on a rant about the age of the girl, but her heart melted at the scene Tony and Hela made. A soft smile of her own crossed her lips as she greeted the child. “Hello, Hela. It’s nice to meet you.” The young girl smiled at her and Pepper had to fight down the urge to coo at the adorable scene.

Any further conversation was suddenly cut off by Ulysses’s tunneler popping out of the doorway. Bruce and Pepper yelped, but Tony ignored them as he stood with Hela on his hip. “Glory? Does Ulysses have a message?”

The tunneler nodded before the man’s voice came through. “New group on the approach. Unsure of motive, extraction recommended.”

“Shit.” Tony turned to his group, who had already risen from their seats. “Bridget, get Loki ready to move. Aria and Zevrael, grab our bags and take Pepper and Bruce topside, have the jet ready to go. Have Craig and ‘Ses cover for you, then make sure they board.” Seeing the reluctant look on Pepper’s face he quickly soothed her. “I have people with me, they’ll make damn sure I get out. My team wouldn’t let anything happen to me.” He gently passes Hela to her, who proceeded to grip the woman’s shoulder. “Take Hela with you. Get her on the jet.” Getting a nod the man waited until they were gone before turning to Minowa and Dorian. “Minowa, cover Bridget as she moves Loki. Dorian and I will follow behind you.” Minowa nodded, eyes glowing like embers. Bridget came through the door a moment later with Loki’s bed and Tony waved his hand over it so the wheels disappeared, allowing the bed to float freely. The Dragonborn took one end and helped the medic guide it through the doorway, leaving Dorian and Tony left. Tony took a deep breath before turning to Dorian, who was watching him curiously. “Dorian, take a count of ten, then torch it. Leave nothing behind.”

The grin that split the mage’s face was simultaneously maniacal and delighted as he summoned his fiendfyre snake into his hand. “Fratris, it would be my absolute pleasure.” The duo backed up to the door was as Dorian pushed more power into the fiendfyre serpent, increasing its’ size. Getting a nod from Tony, he counted down the allotted time before he tossed the flame into the center of the room. They didn't wait to see it start consuming the bunker before they turned and ran like hell.

They burst out of the entrance as Bridget and Minowa were securing Loki. The two men sprinted up the ramp and Tony barked “Get this bird off the ground! We don’t want to get caught in this!” The hatch closed a moment later, the engines whirring to life. As they lifted off, the genius breathed a sigh of relief. “Ulysses, Craig, did you happen to see who showed up?”

“Yeah, we caught a glimpse of the pilot’s uniform.” Craig confirmed, setting his rifle to one side. “Looked like the symbol for that group you were talking about before, HYDRA.”

Instead of getting upset like Bruce and Pepper thought he would, Tony simply smirked. “Oh, THIS I have to see. Can we get a visual below?” A moment later, a window cover opened on the jet so they could see outside. As they watched, the HYDRA agents approached the bunker with weapons drawn. One peeked into the darkness of the entrance and was met with a face full of black flames in the shape of a snake. The fire from the creature continued to consume the bunker as the agents either ran for their lives or tried to confront the beast, only to be burned to less than ash. “Not gonna lie, that is VERY satisfying to watch.” The genius turned his attention to the pyromancer next to him, who looked undeniably smug. “Let it go for a few more minutes then cut it.” The mage nodded as Tony moved away from the window to take Hela from Pepper again. “Let’s head back to the compound. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.” He turned to take the controls to the quinjet before pausing and turning back to Pepper. “First, though… where is Rhodey?”

Chapter Text

“Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes? You have a visitor.”

Bridget smiled and nodded her thanks as the nurse walked away. She turned that smile to Rhodey as she stepped through the door. “Hello, Lieutenant Colonel! My name is Bridget Ivorsen. Tony has told me quite a lot about you.”

The man in the hospital bed eyed the blond woman with suspicion. “Tony’s never mentioned a friend with the name ‘Bridget’.”

“No, I would imagine not.” The woman in question closed the door behind her as she pulled out the phone Tony had given her. “It’s a long story, but he had me bring you this so you could call and verify it with him yourself.” She passed the phone over to him before sitting down in a chair in the corner of the room.

The man in question immediately dialed Tony’s number, and it was answered after only two rings. “Bridget, did you find Rhodey?”

A breath exploded out of Rhodey in a relieved laugh. “Yeah, she found me.”

“Rhodey! Fuck, it’s good to hear your voice. I was so worried…” Tony’s voice on the other end of the line trailed off with a slight hitch. There was shuffling in the background and a male voice the black man didn’t recognize was heard. “Yeah, I’m okay. So I take it you have a lot of questions, platypus.”

“The list just keeps growing, it seems. First and foremost, who is this woman who brought me the phone?”

“Her name is Bridget. She’s… a doctor. But she uses magic to fix things.” There was a pause as Tony gathered his thoughts. “I wouldn’t be here without her, Jim-- she saved my life.”

Hearing his name caused the paralyzed man to sit straighter. Tony rarely used his real name-- hearing it meant the conversation had just taken a turn for the deathly serious. “She saved your life? When?”

“Can you put me on speakerphone?” Rhodey did so, and Tony called out to Bridget. “Hey Bri’, you have the papers, right?”

The amethyst-eyed woman pulled the folder in question from her coat. “Of course, Tony. I wouldn’t forget them. It concerns your health, and his, after all.”

Tony’s sigh of relief could be clearly heard. “Sorry, just making sure. Jim, the papers Bridget’s about to give you detail the damage she found on and in my body when she and her colleagues found me.”

“Found you?”

Bridget nodded, passing the folder off to Rhodey. “In Siberia, yes. They’re very comprehensive, they’ll tell you most of what you want to know.”

There was silence for a few minutes as the man flipped through the pages, eyes taking in every detail and mind cataloging every scrap of information. Finally, he threw the folder onto the bed in front of him. “Steven Grant Rogers, you son of a bitch.”

“Rogers is on several people's shit list right now, don’t worry,” Tony told him, only to be cut off by a female voice in the background. “No Aria, you cannot rupture his eardrums.” A disappointed ‘aww’ was heard even as Tony turned his attention back to them. “Look, the point is that all of that damage? The woman standing in front of you healed it, all of it. I’m hoping she can take a look at your spine…”

There was a pause as Rhodey turned to consider the woman who was standing to the side, hands behind her back with a soft smile on her face. “... You trust her, Tones?”

“With my life, Jim.”

“Alright Tony, but you owe me an explanation when I see you.”

Tony sighed with relief. “Absolutely. Whatever you want, Sour Patch.”

They spoke for a few more minutes before hanging up, and Bridget took a step closer to the bed. “Before we get started, I need to know if you consent to me using my magic on you. Tony didn’t have the option when I first found him-- it was literally 'do or die'.You have the option of saying no.”

Rhodey felt some of the tension brought on by the idea of magic fall away. That this woman was willing to ask before starting did a lot to put his mind at ease. “You have my consent.”

Bridget smiled and dipped her head. “Thank you, Lieutenant Colonel. Let’s see what I can do.” She stepped closer to the bed and the comforting gold glow surrounded her hands again. She held them over Rhodey’s body, allowing the diagnostic magic to sweep through him. She allowed it to continue for 30 seconds before cutting it. “It looks like I can fix it, but not here. It would require a place where we’ll be uninterrupted for a while, and one other person.” She looked up at the black man, a grin on her face. “But it can be fixed.”

Rhodey nodded, elation written all over his face. It fell after a moment though. “How do I get out of the hospital, though? I doubt the nurses would let me leave after being admitted so soon.”

Bridget hummed for a moment, thinking. Suddenly she snapped her fingers with a ‘got it’. She turned to a corner of the room and raised her hand, and a relay corridor opened up. She stuck her head through, ignoring Rhodey’s sound of shock for a moment. “Craig! I need you for a second!” After a few moments, she pulled back and another man stepped through the corridor. Craig had ditched his armor in favor of a black t-shirt and camouflage cargo pants tucked into black combat boots. His signature shades and red beret remained firmly in their places; the sniper refused to part with them. “Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, this is Craig Boone, a friend of mine.”

Craig immediately snapped out a smart military-style salute, falling into old habits from his time in the NCR. “It’s an honor to meet you, sir.”

“At ease.” Rhodey blinked at the exchange once he realized what had transpired. “You a military man?”

“Yeah. Was a sniper, honorable discharge. I doubt Bridget brought me here to talk, though.” He turned his attention to the woman.

Bridget nodded in affirmation. “I can help heal his spine, but getting him out of the hospital would be a pain.”

The sniper snorted, rolling his eyes behind his shades. “Lots of red tape, endless bureaucracy, not to mention his involvement during the events in the ‘civil war’... calling it a pain would be an understatement.” He thought for a moment, brow furrowed. “We have a few options. We could make it seem like he was never here to begin with, that he got taken to another hospital. We could… compel a discharge, say something about treatment elsewhere. We could leave an illusion, but that runs the risk of being discovered for what it is.”

There was a moment of silence as everyone thought. It was suddenly interrupted by a flux of energy, followed by the opening of a gold portal rimmed by sparks. Craig quickly rendered himself invisible moments before a man in blue robes and a red cape stepped through, brow furrowed in worry. Bridget’s mouth dropped open as the portal closed. “By the Nine, you have the same facial hair as Tony!”

The man blinked at her for a moment. “You mean Tony Stark?”

“Yeah! Wow, that is uncanny! Tony would have a damn field day.” She cleared her throat after a few seconds, embarrassed by her outburst. “Sorry about that. I’m Bridget Ivorsen, I was talking about treatment options with Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes.” She held her hand out the man to shake.

He took it, and their eyes widened when they both felt magic surge within each other. The man eyed her and spoke again after a moment of consideration. “I’m Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme and Master of the Mystic Arts. I detected several surges of foreign magic recently and decided to investigate.”

“I’m guessing Bridget’s was most recent,” Craig asked, dropping his illusion. A moment later he found himself pinned to the wall by a line of eldritch magic. He grunted in pain but forced his body to relax, trusting the healer to be able to de-escalate the situation.

“Dr. Strange, I apologize if Craig startled you.” Bridget pulled Stephen’s attention to her. “We’re here on behalf of Tony. I specialize in restoration magic, and he wanted to see if I could do something for Rhodey’s spine. Craig is my ally and friend-- we were discussing how to get Rhodey out of the hospital and back to the compound. He has previous experience in the military and the bureaucracy surrounding it.”

Rhodey nodded as well. “I can vouch for that.”

Stephen eyed her for a moment before turning his attention back to Craig. “Do you two know something about the other magic fluxes?”

“We do, but can we discuss that once we have Rhodey out of the hospital?” Bridget asked. “Tony is eager to have his friend walking around again. I promise we’ll explain what we can, but this isn’t the place to do it.”

There was a moment of silence before the line dropped from Craig, allowing him to move freely again. “I can recommend he be taken elsewhere for treatment. I may not practice anymore, but my word still carries weight in the medical world.”

“We’d greatly appreciate that,” Rhodey said softly, grabbing the folder from before back. He replaced all of the papers before handing it back to Bridget, who tucked it into her coat again. “Let’s get out of here. I hate hospitals.”

“I don’t blame you, sir.” Craig dipped his head to the man. “I’ll head back to the others and let them know you’re coming.” Craig opened the corridor before turning back to them. “Bridget, let me know when you’re on your way. See you all soon.” He stepped through and allowed the gate to close behind him. He took a moment to take a few deep breaths before tilting his head up. “FRIDAY, where’s Tony?”

“Boss is with Aria right now. She’s discovered the wonders of online shopping and the joys of having anything she might need right at her fingertips.”

Despite the current situation, Craig couldn’t help but snort with laughter. “Sounds like her alright.” He closed his eyes to think for a moment. “Is there a room somewhere I could use? Something with open space?”

“There’s a conference room two floors down that’s unoccupied.”

“Thanks, FRIDAY.” He quickly took the elevator down and the AI directed him to the room in question. Once inside, he fished a combat knife out of one of his boots and nicked his finger. Moving to the center of the room he drew the symbol of the hallows with the blood that welled up from the cut on the floor. He stepped back a few steps as the symbol lit up and began to glow white.

A moment later, the spectral form of Hadrian stood over it, brow creased with worry. “Craig, is everything alright? Is Tony doing okay?”

“He’s fine, boss. We might have a situation though. Seems we inadvertently caught the attention of Dr. Stephen Strange.”

Hadrian’s brow rose. “The Sorcerer Supreme? Interesting…” He thought for a moment, eyes distant. “It could be advantageous to make him aware of the threat Thanos poses. He would be an extremely strong ally for Tony and yourselves.” He closed his eyes for a moment before they popped back open. “Wait a moment, it just occurred to me. The Reapers have encountered the practitioners of the Mystic Arts before. In the 90’s there was an alien war that happened on Earth that was kept very hush hush. I sent a small team of Reapers down-- the Skrull posed a unique kind of threat I wanted to keep an eye on. They weren’t doing more than scouting, but they ended up working with the Sanctum in New York. If we’re lucky, they’ll recognize my symbol.”

Boone sighed softly and nodded. “Neither Bridget nor myself were displaying our symbol when we met Doctor Strange. Should we display when he arrives?”

“That would be preferable. In fact, could you summon Tony here for a moment?”

The sniper wasted no time calling up Kimball and sending him off. It was only two minutes later when a corridor opened and Tony stepped through. “Chief, hey!” He grinned at the Master of Death, stepping up next to Craig. “It’s good to see you again!”

Hadrian smiled brilliantly at the man, dipping his head. “It’s good to see you as well, Tony. Are you settling in alright?”

“Yeah, I’m doing fine. It’s a bit of an adjustment, but I’ll be fine.”

A snort escaped Craig as he bumped his shoulder against Tony’s. “And on the off chance you have a bad day, don’t forget you have us.”

Tony grinned and bumped him back. “I know that. That’s why I’ll be fine.”

“I’m glad you’re doing well. Don’t forget you can contact me if you need to ask me anything, or even just to talk.” The man pulled over a chair and sat down. “Tony, Craig has brought something to my attention.” He quickly filled the Right Hand in on what had transpired.

Tony nodded along and asked questions for clarification when needed. Finally, he said, “If he’s working on helping get Rhodey out of the hospital, he’s golden in my book. And hey, the Avengers are kind of short members right now. Maybe I can get Merlin to join us.”

The Master of Death began to laugh, much to the other two men’s confusion. “I apologize. Merlin was actually a real figure from my original home, and the comparison was amusing.”

The genius snorted as well before becoming grim. “Chief, Pepper brought something up on the flight back. I was badly injured in my encounter with Rogers and Barnes, but came back even better than when I left for Siberia. There’s going to be a lot of talk and a lot of questions.”

The emerald-eyed man nodded and sat back. “I’ve actually thought about that. Your world has already encountered magic before, so it would not be so far fetched to tell the press you utilized a healing branch to treat your wounds. Perhaps stress the fact that without it, you would have died. If you’re feeling brave, release the pictures of your injuries and the video of the fight.”

Tony took a deep breath and nodded, reaching up to rub his chest. The flare of love and comfort from his mark helped center him. “I think that might be for the best.”

“Whatever you decide Tony, we’ve got you.” The sniper next to him said softly, grasping his shoulder gently in his hand.

“We’re all right behind you, Tony,” Hadrian affirmed, reaching his deathly aura out to him. Despite being in two separate places in reality, the genius still felt the energy embrace him.

The man in question nodded, reveling in the feeling of home and protection and support surrounding him. After a minute or two they pulled apart. “FRIDAY,” Tony called up to the ceiling. “Contact Pepper and have her schedule a press conference regarding the events of Siberia and the Accords a few weeks from now.” He grimaced suddenly. “The Accords need to be revised and revisited. It was a good idea but needs tweaking. But to do that…” He closed his eyes for a moment. “Thaddeus Ross needs to be out of the picture.”

Hadrian nodded in agreement. “You’ve accumulated enough blackmail on him that it would put him away for a long, long time. If it reaches the hands of the right people… say, the other representatives on the council and the president himself… That would go a long way.”

“That’s what we’ll do then. Craig,” Tony turned to the sniper. “Could Ulysses plant the information?”

“Absolutely. He’d relish the challenge.”

“I’ll have him do that then… And I actually have a job for you, if you’re up for it-- not immediately, mind you-- but I need to keep an eye on Rogers and the rest of the rogues, make sure they don’t continue causing an inordinate amount of damage.”

Craig nodded, a smirk quirking his lips. “I can do that. Let me know when you want to start that.”

Tony’s mouth twisted into a smirk of its own. “Can do. For now, could you let the others know we’re going to have company soon?”

“Of course.” The man nodded and bade Hadrian goodbye before leaving his team leader and the Master of Death alone in the room.

Hadrian smiled at Tony as the man turned towards him. “You’re a natural at leading people. That will serve you well as you rebuild the Avengers.” He stood and banished his chair. “How are your resident God of Mischief and Goddess of Death?”

“Loki is recovering well. Still sleeping, even though the potion wore off a while ago. Bridget thinks it’s because he hasn’t slept well in so long that his body is compensating for it now. Hela woke for about an hour and had something to eat before going back to her dad.” He tilted his head up. “Speak of which, FRIDAY, do we have a floor ready for them?”

“Ms. Potts made me aware they were coming and I arranged accordingly, Boss.”

“That’s my girl.” He turned his attention back to Hadrian. “I should probably make sure everything is moving along as scheduled.”

The Master of Death nodded. “Of course. Don’t forget, I’m only a summon away.”

Tony smiled brilliantly at the man and nodded. “Thanks, Chief.” The specter of Hadrian nodded before flickering out, the symbol on the floor fading into nothingness. Tony immediately made his way to the elevator. “FRIDAY, gather all of the material we’ve accumulated on one Thaddeus Ross and have it ready in both physical and digital format to give to ‘Ses.”

“Two steps ahead of ya, Boss.”

“Atta girl!”

---

“So you know what you have to do?”

Rhodey blinked at the scene he rolled in on. Tony stood in front of a black man dressed in a sleeveless duster and a strange mask on his face, several thick folders being pressed into his hands as well as a small unassuming metal case. He had a massive rifle strapped to his back, and Rhodey was stunned when he realized it was an AMR of exceptional quality. Tony looked damn good as if he had lost several years worth of age from his body. His face was grim as he stepped back to regard the man, his eyes filled with determination.

“Of course, Amicus.” Ulysses replied, tucking the folder into his coat. “Everything will find its’ place… leaders, figureheads-- they’ll have the truth.” He glanced over in the direction of Rhodey and Bridget. “Your friend is here-- I’ll take my leave.” He turned and swept from the room as Tony turned to see them.

“Rhodey!” Tony’s eyes and face lit up with a brilliant smile as he strode over to the man, leaning over to embrace him. “It’s good to see you, platypus. You have no idea…”

The paralyzed man didn’t hesitate to return the hug. “I’m glad you’re okay, Tones.” He said softly, pulling away after a while.

Tony nodded and wiped his eyes, trying to stave off the relieved tears threatening to fall. “Me too, Rhodey. Bridget, did you find out if you can help him?” He asked, turning his eyes to the blond.

“It can be done, sir.” She replied, nodding. “I’ll need Minowa’s help though. The energy required…”

“No problem. First thing, though, I owe Rhodey an explanation.” He turned his eyes upward. “FRIDAY, is everyone gathered?”

“They’re all there, Boss.”

Tony nodded as he took the handles of Rhodey’s wheelchair. “Perfect. Let them know we’re on our way up.” He pushed the wheelchair to the elevator FRIDAY had ready for them, and as they began to ascend he turned his attention to his best friend again. “I thought Dr. Strange would be with you.”

Bridget piped in, “He had to run back to the Sanctum for a while, but he said he’d meet us later tonight. I’ll join you all in a few minutes, I want to change into something more comfortable.”

The genius nodded at that. “That should give us enough time to get through a chunk of explanation. Don’t take too long changing.” The elevator dinged and Bridget stayed in the elevator as the other two exited.

Zevrael was the first to approach him. “Welcome back, Lethallin!” Zevrael greeted Tony with a grin. “Pepper ordered pizza, that should be delivered in an hour or so.”

“That sounds perfect, thanks, guys.” The group in the common area was spread out in a loose circle, and Tony positioned Rhodey so he could see everyone as Zev flopped down next to Dorian. “So, introductions first. Guys, this is Rhodey, my best friend since MIT.” Greetings were called out with a wave or two thrown in. “Rhodey, from the right and going around, this is Minowa, she led the team that saved my life.” The Dragonborn looked over from her place on the floor and gave a respectful dip of her head before leaning back and allowing Bruce, who was sitting behind her on the couch, to play with her hair and horns again. She had switched her armor out for a red tank top and black mid-thigh length shorts. Her feet were bare, giving her the appearance of wearing as little clothing as possible while still remaining tasteful. Around her neck was a black velvet choker with the symbol of the Hallows dangling from it. “You’ve met Craig, and next to him is one of his lovers, Aria.” The woman grinned and waved while Craig gave him a salute again. The woman refused to change out of her raver clothes until she found a style that caught her eye, but she had ditched her shoes. Her forehead was covered by a piece of black cloth with the Hallows embroidered in shimmering blue on it, hiding her scar from view. The male was dressed in the same clothes as earlier with the addition of dog tags stamped with the Hallows. “You briefly caught a glance of the other one earlier, Ulysses. He’s doing a task for me, he’ll be back in a few hours. And next to them are Dorian and Zevrael Pavus.” Zev grinned and wiggled his metal fingers towards Rhodey from his place next to his husband and Dorian smirked and gave a lazy wave. Dorian had wasted no time changing out his robes for other clothes when he realized the kind of variety there was on Earth. He was now proudly sporting a black t-shirt with the words ‘let’s get one thing straight’ in bold white letters, and under that were even bigger rainbow letters stating ‘I’m not’. A pair of sinfully tight skinny jeans hugged his hips, ass, and legs, and a pair of gold and black high-tops covered his feet which were resting on the ottoman in front of him. An ear cuff in the shape of a snake was twined around his right ear, and the man was bound and determined to add to his collection once he got some piercings. Around his right wrist was a gold cuff with the symbol of the Hallows again. Zev had on a long-sleeved white shirt with the words ‘elf lives matter’ on it in a font that seemed to come straight out of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and a pair of plain black pants. Over the shirt was a sleeveless cardigan of swirling blues, and a pair of black fingerless gloves adorned his hands. A simple silver ring on his right middle finger sported the symbol of the Hallows, the left ring finger taken up by a wedding band that matched the one on Dorian.

Rhodey blinked at the ragtag group, trying to sort his thoughts out. He finally turned his gaze to Minowa. “Tony said you saved his life?”

Minowa cracked one crimson eye open to look at her shield brother. “Anthony, you know it was more Bridget’s doing than mine.”

“You led the team. Give yourself some credit.”

The woman snorted, shaking her head as she closed her eye. “That is not the same.”

Rhodey shot her a look. “Like hell it isn’t.” He barked, causing Minowa’s eyes to shoot open fully and snap to him as she sat straight. “You helped save my best friend’s life. I don’t care how small a role you think you had, Tony is still standing here because of you. That deserves as much credit as anyone else’s part.”

Minowa looked completely stunned, blinking at the man for a few seconds. Finally, she relaxed back against Bruce again. “I… will think on your words.” She said, dipping her head towards the man.

The conversation stopped for a moment as a corridor opened up and Bridget stepped through. She was now dressed in a flowing blue sundress with a white lace trim, a white wide-brimmed beach hat sitting on her head as her blond hair fell loose in waves around her head. On a delicate silver chain around her neck was a pendant of the Hallows. A pair of simple white sandals sat on her feet. She had several folders held against her chest, and she smiled at the group as the corridor closed. “Sorry I’m late, everyone! I hope I didn’t miss anything.” She chirped.

“No, you’re right on time. We were just about to start explaining.” The group rearranged themselves so Tony sat on a plush armchair surrounded by his family, either sitting or standing. Dorian and Zevrael stood at his right while Minowa stood at his left, Bridget sitting next to her on her left. Aria sat to the right of the Pavus men with Craig standing behind her. The sight was almost awe-inspiring and Rhodey couldn’t help but draw parallels to a king flanked by his most trusted, his court. As he, Pepper, and Bruce situated themselves in front of them Tony took a deep breath. “Better settle in, Platypus. You’re in for a wild ride.”

Chapter Text

“You don’t do anything by half, do you Tony?”

The man in question snorted as he looked over the rim of his glass of sparkling water at his best friend. “Not really my MO. You know that by now.”

The Lieutenant Colonel chuckled and shook his head in exasperation. “Yes, but this is taking it to an entirely new level. Still,” he cast his gaze to the room and the people within it. “These people are obviously good for you. I haven’t seen you this happy since early MIT, and even that’s debatable.”

Tony let a small smile quirk at his lips as he looked to his team as well. The explanation had taken at least five hours, and the pizza had been quickly devoured as the time rolled by. They were now waiting on the chinese takeout that had been ordered, and the group was working out a cooking schedule. Ordering out would get old very quickly, and most of the Reapers actually enjoyed cooking or baking to some extent. Craig, Aria, and Zev were damn good cooks in a variety of different cuisines, and no one would touch a grill if Ulysses was on hand for fear of losing their fingers-- he was very possessive of his title as grill master. Bridget and Dorian were both well known in the Nexus for their baking skills. Tony himself had a very serious weakness for the cheesecake brownies Dorian made. Minowa was the outlier of the group-- turns out cooking wasn’t a skill dragons really needed to know or learn. She was willing to retrieve ingredients, but left the creation to her teammates. They were content with that arrangement and were grateful for her willingness to even go to other worlds to retrieve what they needed. “They’ve been good to me. For the first time in recent memory, I feel like I’m part of the group and not just…” Tony waved his hand, struggling for a moment. “... an outsider.”

A soft chuckle caused the duo to turn their gaze to the person on the other end of the couch Tony was sitting on. “Your old team has no idea what they’ve lost.” Loki said softly, looking over at them. “Fools, all of them. You are much better off with these people anyway. Their love for you is very real and very strong.” The god and goddess had come looking for Tony an hour ago, and it took some coaxing from them all to get him to join them. Pepper had offered to help Hela find some better clothes and Hela’s exuberance at the idea had been impossible to say no to.

“Even a blind man could see that.” Rhodey agreed, dipping his head to the trickster god. It had been shocking to hear about Loki and the situation surrounding him, and he had been admittedly suspicious at first. Watching the man interact with his daughter (Loki had a daughter, who would have thought?) helped put those fears to rest. Loki absolutely doted on her, and Hela was always happiest when near her ‘papa’. His attitude was also quite different than before. This Loki was quiet, content to sit and observe the goings on around him as he recovered. He was full of razor sharp wit and incredible intelligence, but lacked any of the former malice he used to have.

The elevator suddenly dinged and the doors slid open to admit Pepper and Hela, the latter immediately running over to Loki and Tony to curl up between them. She was now wearing a green t-shirt depicting Loki’s signature horned helmet and the words ‘I do what I want’ and a pair of black leggings with simple black sneakers. A soft emerald green beanie was perched on her head, helping hold her hair in place. Loki relaxed into the seat as he rubbed her back, content to have his daughter close to him.

“Hey kiddo, did you have a good time with Pepper?” The genius grinned as he leaned over and gave her knee a gentle squeeze.

“Yep! Pepper is really nice! She helped me pick out lots of clothes!”

Pepper smiled indulgently down at the young goddess. “It was my pleasure, sweetheart. Tony, can I talk to you for a moment?” She lead them to a corner away from the rest of the group. “Tony, Hela has been around for a very long time, but she has the mentality and mannerisms of a nine year old… How is that possible?”

His whiskey-brown eyes became somber as he sighed. “Odin banished Hela to Helheim, unable to leave or interact with anyone outside of that realm unless they came to her, and the only ones able to enter freely were the dead. Loki could get to her, but he couldn’t stay long before he would have to leave. From the spells I found and broke on her, when Odin bound her he added something to stop her from aging normally, physically or otherwise-- maybe in an attempt to keep her from growing more powerful and eventually escaping. She’s been trapped at nine years old and isolated for centuries. Hopefully my breaking that hoodoo will allow her to grow a bit.”

Their conversation was interrupted by a corridor opening in the room and Ulysses stepping into the room. “It’s done. Should be hearing about it soon-- news travels fast.” The man rumbled, sliding his mask off to allow his lovers to kiss him when they approached him.

“Any complications?” Tony asked, turning to fully address the man.

The sniper shook his head as he set his rifle and mask to one side. “No problems-- they never knew I was there... Picked up some information, though. Might be useful, might not. Came from Ross.” He tossed a thumb drive to Tony, who snatched it out of the air with his magic.

“Great job, ‘Ses. Knew you were the right person for this.” He stashed the drive in his pocket for perusal later. “Anyone know where Bruce and Minowa are?”

Dorian and Zevrael popped their heads up from the paper they were scribbling on as they tried to sort out menus. “Our resident Dragonborn is in the meditation room with him. They asked that they not be disturbed for a while. They should be up soon, it’s almost 6:30.”

Sure enough a corridor opened moments after the Chinese arrived ten minutes later. Minowa stepped through with Bruce following behind her at a leisurely pace. “Good evening, everyone.” The dragonborn greeted them as she retrieved a plate. “Are we still waiting on the arrival of the Sorcerer Supreme?”

“Dr. Strange? Yeah, he said he’d be here around this time. Give it another few minutes.” Tony replied with a smile.

Bridget smiled as she waved her chopsticks in the air blithely. “Well, if he shows up soon he can have some Chinese—Mara knows we ordered enough!”

Laughter echoed around the room before everyone fell into their own conversations. Tony sat back for a few minutes observing, his heart swelling with joy at the easy camaraderie between everyone. Even Loki was being included, having been pulled into a conversation with Minowa and Bruce. He seemed unusually comfortable around the Dragonborn, but Tony chalked it up to the aura of calm that surrounded her. Bruce was also surprisingly kind to the God of Mischief-- mutual respect, maybe. Loki regularly glanced over at Hela, who was sitting with Bridget and Aria as they helped her pick out things for her new room from the internet. Craig and Ulysses were leaning against a wall not far from them, silently taking in the proceedings. Tony caught Craig glancing at his female lover with Hela on her lap, a strange look of longing on his face. He made a note to talk to the NCR sniper later before looking towards Dorian and Zev. Zev was engaged in a lively discussion with Rhodey, who was bent nearly double in his wheelchair from laughing so hard, tears streaming down his face. The elf looked absolutely delighted at the reaction and Tony had to smile when he realized Zev was actively trying to make his best friend happy. Dorian stood not too far away, his own posture relaxed as he spoke to Pepper. From what he could hear the two were engaged in a friendly conversation comparing fashion trends between Earth and the Tevinter Imperium. Tony had a suspicion his wallet was about to take a serious hit, but the fact that he had the support of one of his best friends was well worth the cost.

The room went quiet when FRIDAY alerted Tony to Stephen's arrival. “Send him up, FRI.” Tony told her before turning to his group. “Marks showing, everyone?” His team nodded, pointing to their various body parts or jewelry. Loki tilted his head in curiosity at the symbol. “Long story, Reindeer Games. Do you and Hela want to be here when we're explaining?”

Loki allowed Hela to curl up in his arms as he thought. His attention was drawn to Bridget as she sat next to him on the couch. “We won't let anyone hurt you, you know that right? You and your daughter will be safe if you stay.”

The God nodded as he held his daughter tighter. “I... I would like to be here to listen.” He admitted.

“That's fine. This is a safe haven, and I won't allow anyone to attack us here.” The genius' eyes filled with a determined light and seemed to flicker to a glowing orange color before becoming brown again. From the corner they were sitting in, Ulysses’ eyes narrowed and Craig tilted his head in curiosity. “Brucie-bear, you good?” The brunette turned his attention to his friend who once again had the Dragonborn seated between his legs on the floor.

The scientist looked down at Minowa, absentmindedly running his fingers through her hair. “I'm fine right here.” He finally said. The Dragonborn gave a small smile and a rumbling hum of pleasure at the answer.

Tony nodded at that, biting back a grin. He would have to interrogate his science bro and the Dragonborn about their behavior later. After a second or two he turned to Pepper and Rhodey. “Guys?”

Rhodey shook his head. “I'm beat, Tones. It's been a long day, I need to get some sleep.”

Pepper smiled sweetly at Tony. “I have some paperwork to get done-- Stark Industries won't run itself.” She hugged the man tightly. “I'll be in my office downstairs. I'm only a call away.”

Tony hugged her back. “Thanks, Pepper. Sour Patch, let me know if you need anything.”

The duo nodded before moving to the second elevator. As they left the Reapers of the group quickly arranged themselves as to appear as non-threatening as possible while still being able to leap into action at the first sign of trouble. Loki and Hela took a seat close to Tony, trusting the Right Hand to protect them. And wasn't that ironic-- the God of Mischief trusting an Avenger to protect himself and his daughter. Tony couldn't fault him for it, though-- he had managed to break through enchantments cast on both Loki and Hela with incredible ease, despite the ones on the Goddess of Death having been around for several centuries at least. His attention was pulled towards the elevator as it opened, admitting the Sorcerer Supreme.

Stephen took two step into the room before freezing, caught off guard by the number of people waiting there. His eyes found Loki and he visibly tensed. The sound of a throat being cleared drew his attention and he was pinned by the amethyst eyes of the healer from earlier.

Bridget rose to her feet and dipped her head to the Sorcerer Supreme. “Stay your hand, Sorcerer Supreme. You do not have all the information. Loki and his daughter have called for Right of Asylum, thus any attack on them will be considered an attack on us.” A tense silence passed before Stephen nodded his concession.

“Wow Bridget, I didn't know you had it in you!” Tony grinned at Bridget as he stood to greet Dr. Strange.

The blond woman smiled as she buffed her nails on her dress. “As an impartial healer, it was necessary to know. Some people in Skyrim didn't like that I was willing to heal anyone who came to me for aid.”

Minowa snorted from her seat between Dr. Banner's legs. “It became less common when people found out you had the backing of the Dark Brotherhood.”

Bridget laughed at that. “I think they were more terrified of the fact that the Dark Brotherhood member hanging around the College was also capable of killing people by shouting at them.” The Dragonborn simply shot the restoration master a grin that contained far too many teeth in response to that.

The conversation was cut off when a flurry of red launched at Tony. He flailed for a moment before he realized what he was being accosted by. “Strange!” He yelped as the Cloak of Levitation wrapped around him, almost as if cuddling him. “Call off your enchanted Snuggie! Dammit Dorian, stop laughing!!” He proceeded to yell the last part at the pyromancer, who had fallen out of his chair cackling.

Stephen's eyes had gone impossibly wide at the Cloak's behavior. “I've never seen it act like that.” He finally admitted as he moved forward to try and help the genius.

Tony suddenly went very still. “Wait, what?” He twisted his head to look down at the Cloak. “You have a name??” The laughter that had started up around the room stopped as the Cloak wiggled. “Wait, hold on. You don't have a name, per se, but you have a... preference??” Another pause. “... Levi? Why Levi?”

The Sorcerer Supreme's breath exploded into a shocked noise, catching the room's attention. “That's the Cloak of Levitation, it's an ancient and powerful artifact. You can understand it?”

The genius blinked at the question. “I... guess?” He turned his attention to Aria. “Songbird, you're the language expert here. Can you understand it?”

Aria's eyes narrowed as she shook her head. “Tony, I didn't hear the Cloak make any noise indicative of any language.”

“Neither could I Anthony, and I have the Allspeak.” Loki looked down at Hela, who also shook her head with a 'me neither'.

The blood began to drain from Tony's face. He turned to the Sorcerer Supreme, eyes impossibly wide. “Wait, can't you understand it?”

Stephen shook his head, brow furrowed with confusion. “I receive... feelings, I suppose. I'm able to deduce what it's trying to communicate from those.” Levi left Tony to curl around the sorcerer again. The blue-eyed male stroked its' collar, brow furrowing after a moment. “He thinks you’re... familiar?” Stephen looked over to the genius confused.

Tony shook his head, running his hand through his hair. “Don't look at me, I wouldn't know why I would feel familiar to it.”

Ulysses' eyes studied his brother as the genius sat slowly in the seat behind him. “Amicus, a suggestion. We need answers-- won't find them here, too many unknowns. Should call Dominus, he may know.”

“I agree with Ulysses.” Minowa said gently, moving from her spot with Bruce to stand behind Tony, rubbing his shoulders. “The Dinokthur may have the answers we need.”

Tony's brown eyes shifted to Stephen, still unsure. “Does the Chief even make house-calls?”

“If the need is great enough.” Craig looked towards Dorian and Zevrael. “Dorian, could you send the signal? Zev, if you have some of that calming tea on hand, now would be a good time for a pot.”

Zev immediately moved to the kitchen, and Dorian held his hand out expectantly. Craig immediately pulled the knife from his boot and passed it to him. The mage moved to a blank wall before scoring his palm. He drew the symbol of the Hallows on the wall before pressing his palm to it-- the hand print signified the need for the physical presence of the Master of Death. He held his hand out for Bridget to heal as the mark lit up white, pulsing rhythmically.

Stephen inhaled sharply at the symbol when he saw it. “I know that mark. It was in one of the books in the Sanctum. There was very little written about it, but it was implied that those who knew the mark and carried it on their person were allied with a powerful force.” His eyes snapped to the group as a whole. Minowa smirked and tapped the choker around her neck. Bridget fingered the pendant on her chest with a grin. Aria fixed her headband-- the symbol had managed to get flipped to the inside somehow. Craig held up his dog tags, and Ulysses turned so the back of his duster was showing the symbol stitched into it with military green colored thread. Dorian flashed his wrist, and Zev peeked in long enough to show off his ring. “Amazing... Anthony, you have some very interesting allies.”

“Allies? Dear sir, you are mistaken!” Dorian arched an eyebrow before turning to the genius.

Tony calmly tapped the plate against his chest once, just so it lit up and shone from under his shirt. As the Sorcerer Supreme stared in shock Tony sat back and said, “I wouldn't call them my allies... I'd call them my family.”

Whatever would have been said next was cut off as the mark on the wall suddenly flared brilliantly. The center expanded into a black, swirling vortex, and a moment later Hadrian stepped out of it. He looked around at the scene, his gaze drawn for a moment to the God of Mischief who bowed his head in respect for the Master of Death. Giving his own brief nod he turned his eyes to Tony. “Anthony, what's going on? You wouldn't have physically called me here if the need were not great.”

The genius nodded, smiling at the Master of Death despite the emotional turmoil he felt. “Chief, thanks for coming. We've had some weird things come up... We don't know how to explain it...”

Stephen had his eyes locked firmly on the new figure. For some reason the man was setting off every magical red flag he had. The level of power he was giving off was sending chills up and down his spine, and his aura was inky black like the void with smatterings of green sparks dispersed throughout. Levi appeared curious about the newcomer but was also giving off a mix of awed and terrified vibes. Something about this man was mind-blowingly dangerous, doubly so if Levi's reaction was anything to go by.

“Do any of those anomalies have to do with our new friend?” Hadrian's words drew the attention of the Sorcerer Supreme. “It's a pleasure and an honor to meet you, Dr. Strange.” Hadrian gave the man a respectful bow. “I am Hadrian Black, the Master of Death.”

Strange had encountered many powerful forces in his life, Dormammu and the Ancient one being the most obvious. This man had just beaten them both, hands down, in a matter of moments. And Stephen didn't doubt Black could back up the claim. One simply didn't make statements like that without being able to prove it. “The honor is mine, Master Black.” The Sorcerer bowed back to the man.

Zev came back into the room a moment later holding a tray with several cups on it along with two bowls with wrapped sugar cubes and travel creamers. “Good evening, Lethanavir!” He chirped as he set the tray down on the counter. “Two lumps and a dash of cream in your tea, yes?”

Hadrian smiled brightly and nodded. “That would be perfect. Thank you Zevrael.”

The silver-haired elf smiled as he prepared the Master of Death's drink. “Everyone come get your tea! Dr. Strange, would you care for a cup?”

The sorcerer gave the cup a wary look as the others reached for their mugs. “I'm not sure that would be wise...” He held up his hands which were covered by his gloves yet still visibly trembling.

Bridget sat down her own mug as she moved in front of the man. “May I? She asked, holding her own hands out. The sorcerer paused before removing the articles and allowing the Restoration Master to take his hands. The healer's brow furrowed as she examined them. “I see...” she murmured after a moment. “Tony, could you grab Dr. Strange's mug? Half full, please.”

The genius nodded, also grabbing two lumps of sugar and a travel-sized creamer. He also discreetly cast a spell over the mug to keep it from spilling at all. “There, you should be fine. You won't regret it-- Zev's tea is the best.”

Stephen gave the genius a thankful smile as he reached for the drink. The moment their hands met, a powerful wave of magic surged through the room, bringing with it a bright kaleidoscope of colors and light. Hadrian's head snapped towards the duo, eyes wide behind his silver-framed glasses at the sudden flux of energy. Several varying noises escaped the Reapers as the bond between them all flared with power, Minowa's voice resonating with several others’ for a moment. Tony and Stephen had frozen, eyes wide in shock as they felt their auras reach for each other and touch briefly, bringing with it another flash of colors and light. The phenomenon lasted only a few second before it died away. The mug shattered on the floor as Tony collapsed to his knees, heaving great breaths at the sudden sensory overload. Stephen himself wobbled a bit before also falling. Levi fluttered in a panic between them, strangely distressed for a supposedly inanimate object.

Hadrian was on his feet and at their sides in a matter of milliseconds. “Bridget!” He barked to the blond who had backed away for a moment. She was by his side in a moment, seemingly knowing what her Master needed as she helped Tony rise long enough to help him sit back. She gently removed the shards of porcelain that had managed to end up in his knees when the mug had broken before his own fall. As she channeled healing magic into the gashes to close them Hadrian turned to Stephen. “Dr. Strange, are you with us?” He asked, snapping his fingers in front of the sorcerer's face.

It took a moment before Stephen blinked, seeming to come back to himself. “What... just happened?” He asked as he looked up at the ebony-haired man.

“Loathe as I am to say, I'm not entirely sure.” The Master of Death admitted, absentmindedly beginning test of the Sorcerer's awareness. Strange followed along, still reeling from what had happened.

“I might have an idea, Lord Hadrian.” Several eyes turned to Loki, who had stood with Hela on his hip. “I've not seen such a display in several hundred years, but... That looked remarkably like a soulmate recognition.”

Craig inhaled sharply as Ulysses' eyes widened. Aria looked towards the group with wide eyes. “I don't understand-- Ours was nothing like that! I don't think we even had a clue until we were Claimed!”

Hadrian sat back on his heels as he thought. “Because it's not the same. You three share a Triquetra Bond-- a single soul split between three people. What Loki is suggesting is the meeting of two souls who are completely compatible with each other.” He turned his attention to Tony, who looked torn between listening to Hadrian and looking towards the Sorcerer Supreme. “This isn't something I would have picked up on. I deal with souls, yes, but I'm not in charge of their creation. If I had known, I would have made you aware. You know that, correct?”

Tony nodded, his heartbeat finally starting to settle after the event. “I know, Chief. You don't need to tell me.” He finally turned his attention to the Sorcerer who was staring at him unabashedly. There was a moment or two of silence before he announced, “I think we need to extend the timetable of this pow-wow. Zev... we're gonna need more tea. A LOT more.”

---

Tony stood on a patio overlooking the compound, staring up at the stars as he tried to organize his thoughts. They were taking a break from explaining things for a few minutes to allow everyone to regroup. He had entertained the notion of going down to his workshop to tinker a bit, but waved it off after a moment. Right now what he needed was a chance to organize his thoughts and feelings. Three days-- he had been back from the Nexus for three fucking days, and already things were getting crazy. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes to think. There was so much that needed to be accomplished, and despite the time that he now had all the time in the world to do them the genius could still feel the stress beginning to build in his mind. Then to top it all off was what had happened with Stephen.

“Anthony?”

‘Speak of the devil…’ The genius turned to see the Sorcerer halfway through the door, looking at him. “Hey.” He greeted the man quietly, dipping his head.

“Do you mind if I join you?” Stephen asked, his voice soft and hesitant. The Reaper tilted his head in a jerking motion to come out, and he stepped out fully onto the patio area closing the door behind him. “I wanted to see if you were well.” He told the brunette, moving to stand beside him. After a moment he realized he could feel Tony’s magic hesitantly reaching for his, but the genius stopped it before it could get too far. And boy, wasn't that a shock to find out-- Tony Stark, technological genius, had access to magic now. He wordlessly reached out his own aura in a silent invitation and gave a small smile when the brown-eyed man allowed his own to mingle.

Tony stayed silent for a few seconds before turning to face the Sorcerer. “I almost said 'I'm fine'... Three days back and I'm already falling back on old habits.” He ran his fingers through his hair with a grimace. “This is a lot to take in.” He finally admitted.

Stephen nodded, his heart constricting at the lost look on the man's face. “From what I’ve heard so far, that’s an understatement.” He finally said, his blue-green eyes locking with Tony's amber as he looked up.

The Reaper searched the Sorcerer Supreme's face, inwardly debating with himself. Finally he swallowed and said, “This whole soulmate thing... what do you think about that?” He averted his eyes, mentally preparing himself for the rejection he felt was coming.

“Honestly? I never thought such a thing existed before. Never really crossed my mind.” Stephen told him as he gazed at Tony. After a moment he slowly continued. “Knowing what I know now though... It has an appeal to it.” He looked across the complex, missing the stunned look Tony gave him.

There was another moment of silence before Tony spoke again. “I’m not very good at relationships...” His voice was just above a whisper, drawing Stephen's attention again.

Strange couldn't help but give the genius a smile. “Neither am I.” He paused again, debating. Finally, he turned and slowly held out his hands to Tony. The genius stared at them in shock for a moment before looking back up at his face. “We could work on it together, though...” He offered, the gentle smile still on his face now laced with hope.

For a moment Tony was frozen to the spot. He felt torn between wanting to accept the man in front of him and take a chance and refusing out of fear of being hurt again. He suddenly felt a brush of something against his conscience-- something akin to Hadrian's aura, but more primal. Words echoed in his head, barely more than a whisper.

'You stand on the precipice of something amazing, Anthony. Do not be afraid to leap.”

Tony swallowed and looked down at Stephen's hands again. Finally, he slowly reached his own hands for the Doctor's, letting the man grasp them gently. He felt his magic swell with something akin to joy and a small but genuine smile crossed his face as Stephen's lit up. “Yeah. I'd like that.” The smile then widened a bit. “And hey, at least we'll have fun on the way.” He snarked, trying to diffuse the serious atmosphere a bit.

The Doctor laughed at that, the tension from before falling away. “Yes, I daresay we will.”

The duo chuckled at that, unaware that a dapper, ebony-haired figure with two feathers in his hat stood watching them from the roof. He smiled as he watched the duo conjure a pair of chairs to sit and talk. Honestly, Mortis had a tiny soft spot for his Master's newest Reaper. After all the struggles he had been through in his life, he deserved some happiness of his own. Casting one last look at the two, whose hands were still linked, the physical form of Death returned to the Nexus in a swirl of darkness and shadows.

Not far from the spot where Mortis had been there was a ripple of light before Hadrian came into view, grinning like a loon. “I always knew he was a softy.” Chuckling under his breath, the Master of Death cast a pleased look towards Stephen and Tony before silently slipping away.

Chapter Text

The residents of the Compound quickly fell into a comfortable, if not chaotic, routine. Each Reaper seemed to claim a space as their own, being found there more often than not. In the wake of Roger's actions, Minowa had completely remodeled the gym and training room with help from Tony to better suit their needs in both the physical and magical aspects of their lives. She took a great deal of vindictive pleasure in incinerating the multitude of punching bags Steve had accumulated while in the process of doing so. When not there she was with Bruce down in his lab, or in the meditation room. Tony had yet to ask if there was something going on between them, but he would get around to it eventually. Bridget could also sometimes be found in Bruce's clinic discussing biology and modern medical practices. She had also claimed the clinic as her domain, and before long it was stocked to the gills with her own remedies. A lab down the hall had been re-purposed for experimenting with and brewing potions so said clinic would always be stocked. Another room had been commandeered by Aria and outfitted with sound dampening acoustic panels and turned into a music room. Tony was dragged there the day after the remodeling was finished and presented with an electric violin. Now whenever Tony wasn't in his workshop or the common area, the best bet would be the 'music hall'. Ulysses and Craig had taken one look at the shooting range that had been set up for Clint before commandeering the room and renovating it beyond what Tony had set up. When not there, the men could be found speaking while working on various screens, pinpointing potential threats and designing new defenses for the compound. Tony trusted their judgment enough to let them work on the project without too much oversight. Zev had taken it upon himself to act as a kind of Secretary to Tony. Because of his experience with Dorian and, by extension, the politics of the Tevinter Imperium, he was an excellent wordsmith and could write speeches and memos of exceptional quality even under pressure. The job also acted as a cover so people wouldn't know he was acting as the man's bodyguard. Despite the fact that she had gone back to the Tower, Pepper found herself working with Dorian planning for the upcoming press conference while he was also working through the politics surrounding the amendments to the Accords. The mage admitted to Tony at one point that he had popped back to Thedas for a while to discuss the subject with a good friend, Josephine. After reading through what they had created, Tony was considering asking Dorian to set up a meeting between himself and the ambassador. The thought of both her and Pepper working together was enough to give him pause for a while. If the two ever met, the world would be under their control in a matter of days in a bloodless coup.

Loki and Hela had also settled in at the Compound, fitting in surprisingly well with the rest of their dysfunctional family. All of the women adored Hela and she thrived from the positive attention she received. When she started calling Aria, Bridget, and Minowa 'aunt', they had varying reactions. Aria had cooed at the young Goddess and given her a hug. She was thrilled to act as a positive female influence to the 'young' girl. Bridget had blinked at the title for a moment before she smiled at her and placed a kiss on her forehead. The blond had really grown to love her, watching her progress with pride as she recovered from her time in Helheim. (The fact that her pride also extended to Loki was also obvious, but no one wanted to risk their neck enough to mention it.) Minowa, on the other hand, had frozen for a moment before looking over at Loki as if seeking his permission. Loki had simply smiled and nodded-- the Dragonborn was a patient and calm presence, but he knew she had protective instincts that would drive her to kill anyone who threatened her 'nestmates'. Finally, Minowa had turned back to Hela and gave her a hug and a kiss on her forehead. She approached Loki later and announced that she had claimed Hela as 'nestmate'. The woman had essentially placed Hela under her protection and, by extension, the protection of the Dov. Loki was over the moon with relief, secure in the knowledge that his daughter would be safe no matter what.

A rather calm morning a day or two later was interrupted with the return of Vision, who managed to accidentally scare the shit out of Dorian. After calming down the duo and putting out the resulting accidental fire, Tony sat down with the Android and had him watch the footage of his talk with Rhodey. After watching it he had immediately floated off to talk to Loki. For a brief moment, Tony was afraid they would come to blows over the events of New York. Upon finding the duo baking in the kitchen talking like old friends those fears were put to rest. They were quickly replaced by fears of getting fat-- who knew the God of Mischief could bake so well??

Rhodey had been healed up a day or two after the official meeting between himself and the Reapers. The man was thrilled to be able to walk again as was Tony. The genius himself had been working tirelessly to improve War Machine, the lingering memories of the airport driving him to protect his best friend from any further harm. The two had shared a long hug and a few tears when Rhodey walked down to the workshop, spine completely healed and movement restored-- the tears were summarily ignored in favor of allowing the duo to work through the emotions they were feeling. He, Craig, and Ulysses got along quite well, bonding over their time in the military, or at least military-style groups.

Stephen was also a common figure seen in the Compound, mostly in the company of Tony. They constantly snarked, sniped, and ribbed at each other, confident in the knowledge it was all in good fun. Stephen was content to hang around Tony's workshop and talk with him as the genius worked on his various projects. The conversation topics ranged from 'getting to know you' style questions to friendly philosophical debates. They had yet to delve into deeper, more personal topics, knowing there would be ample time to do so later. Stephen noticed early on how touch starved the genius was because of his childhood and began making subtle moves to mitigate the damage. When Tony was simply sitting working on a tablet or computer screen, the Sorcerer would come up behind or beside him and casually touch him in a gentle, non-threatening way-- A brush against his shoulder, a gentle rub of his neck or back, a touch against his hand. Levi enthusiastically helped in that regard, often floating over to drape off of the man as he worked and keep him warm. Although initially wary, Tony very quickly grew to appreciate the gestures. He had observed that Stephen often had trouble using a fork, and on days he was over for dinner the Sorcerer would find the food on his plate being cut up before being given to him. It was a gesture that meant more to Stephen than Tony could possibly know.

For a few weeks, things were relatively calm. However, the Reapers were well aware that it wouldn't last for one reason or another. The arrival of a letter to the Compound finally shattered the peace and brought everyone back to reality.

---

The sound of a phone buzzing while playing a short clip of ‘Back in Black’ brought Stephen out of the book he had been nose deep in. He looked towards the StarkPhone Tony had given him in case of emergencies with confusion clear on his face. He pushed his chair slightly away from the table as he answered it. “Tony? Is everything okay?”

"Stephen, this is Rhodey." The Sorcerer Supreme sat straight in his chair, apprehension lancing through him. “Look, we need you here. Tony got some kind of package, and whatever was in it... He's pissed. Or upset, or maybe some combination of both. I'm wondering if you might be able to talk to him, find out what's going on.”

Stephen had surged to his feet the moment he heard he was needed, almost knocking over his chair. The motion attracted the attention of Wong who looked up startled. “Where is he? Should I just portal straight to him?” Strange asked, completely focused on the phone call.

“He's in his lab, but I'm not sure if a portal is a good idea. Maybe do it just outside the lab then knock.”

The Sorcerer Supreme pulled on his sling ring as Levi settled around his shoulders. “I'll be there in a moment or two.” He hung up the phone and held up his hand to open the portal.

“Stephen!” The call from Wong caused him to pause and look over at the Librarian. “What is going on? Is there a problem?”

The Sorcerer paused, staring at the librarian whom he considered a close friend. After a moment he said “In a way, but it's a personal matter. I'll explain everything when I get back.”

Wong nodded, eyeing the man in front of him. “Does this have something to do with your frequent trips away from the Sanctum recently?” Stephen nodded and Wong hummed. “Very well. No portals in the library, though.” With that said the man sat back down with the tomb he had been perusing. Stephen sighed and rushed out of the library, barely waiting until he was past the door before opening his portal and stepping through.

Rhodey was waiting on the other side for him. “Strange, thank you for coming so quickly.”

“Of course. Where's Tony?” The man gestured to the door leading to the lab. It was shut and locked tight, the shutters on the viewing windows shut as well. Stephen approached the door cautiously. “FRIDAY, could you pipe me through to the lab?” He called up to the ceiling. A moment later it clicked on. “Tony? It's Stephen.” He called, keeping his voice gentle. “Can I come in? Or can I at least send in Levi? I know you're upset, even if I don't know why, and I just want to make sure you're okay.”

A few moments of silence followed before the door to the lab clicked and slid open. Stephen gestured for Levi to go in and the Cloak did so, making a beeline for where Tony must have been sitting. After a second his voice quietly called “You can come in, Stephen.”

The sorcerer looked towards Rhodey and the man jerked his head in a 'go on' motion with a relieved smile before walking away. Stephen slowly entered the lab, letting the door close behind him. His eyes quickly found Tony curled up on his couch in the far corner of the lab with Levi around his shoulders. He calmly approached the genius who looked up at him with a mixture of hurt, anger, and relief in his brown eyes. “Hey.” Stephen greeted him, lowering himself onto the couch. After a moment of hesitation, he opened his arms, an open invitation that gave Tony the right to choose the comfort offered.

Tony barely hesitated before shifting so he was pressed against the sorcerer's chest with Levi still around his shoulders. Stephen's arms wrapped around him and he felt the man rest his chin on his head with his nose buried in his brunette locks. Tony was content to stay like that for a few minutes, thankful that his soulmate didn't try to push him to talk about what was going on. Finally, after ten minutes he spoke. “I got a letter.”

“From who?” Strange asked as he held Tony's head against his chest, allowing the sound of his heartbeat to soothe the genius.

“Rogers.”

Silence reigned for a few seconds. “I see. Are you willing to share this letter?” Stephen asked, his voice still calm. There was a nod against his chest before Tony gestured to the floor a few feet away. A moment later a paper floated into his hand which he then passed over to Stephen. The Sorcerer sat back to read while still running his fingers through Tony's brown locks. The silence that fell over them was broken after a minute or two when Stephen's icy voice cut the room. “Is he serious?” The level of disbelief, disgust, and venom in his tone was both terrifying and awe-inspiring. “This has to be the biggest load of shit I've ever read. 'The Avengers are yours, maybe more so than mine'? He seems to have forgotten that he took most of the Avengers with him to become international fugitives! Not to mention this line-- 'I know I hurt you'. That man left you to die in a bunker in Siberia after turning your chest to shrapnel and disabling your suit!” His arms tightened around Tony at the mention of it. He had seen the x-rays taken of his soulmate's chest, and they were nothing short of chilling. If Minowa, Bridget, and Ulysses hadn't found him he would have died in that bunker completely alone, freezing and in absolute agony the entire time.

Tony felt Stephen's magic flare with agitation and he reached out his own to calm him. “Hey. I'm still here.” He pulled the sorcerer's attention back to him as he pulled away to look him in the eye. “I don't need them-- I have the Reapers, my family. I have Pepper and Rhodey, and anyone else I'll pull together for the new Avengers.”

Stephen nodded before reaching up to brush his fingers against Tony's cheeks, rubbing his trembling thumbs along his cheekbones. “And you have me.” He said with a finality that brought a smile to Tony's face.

The moment was interrupted when FRIDAY spoke. “Boss, President Ellis is on the line. Should I patch him through?”

Casting a confused glance at Stephen the genius replied. “Go ahead, FRI. Audio only, please.”

A moment of silence passes before a new voice came through. “Dr. Stark?”

“President Ellis, always a pleasure to hear from you.” Tony smiled at the use of his title. Most people seemed to forget he had several PhD's... not Matthew, though. It was why he used the President's title-- respect was a two-way street, after all.

“Likewise, Dr. Stark. I hope you're doing well this morning.” There was the sound of papers being shuffled around. “I have news you may wish to hear. Secretary Ross is being arrested for several violations of human rights, war crimes, blackmail, and a whole host of other charges. I wanted to inform you of his removal from the Accords Committee as well as his inevitable removal from his position as Secretary of State.”

Tony shared a knowing and gleeful smirk with Stephen. “I appreciate the update, President Ellis. I'm sure whoever is hired in his stead will be able to pick up the slack with no problem.”

“I'm certain they will.” The tone of voice from Matthew Ellis was full of sarcastic humor. “There is something else I wished to bring to your attention. The Avengers that were imprisoned on the Raft have escaped.”

Tony froze for a moment. It was only when he felt Stephen's arms wrap around him from behind that he spoke again. “I see. You have my thanks for bringing this to my attention, President Ellis.”

“They were your teammates-- I believe you have a right to know.” More shuffling papers. “I apologize, Dr. Stark, but I'm going to have to cut this short. The sudden vacancy left by Ross requires my attention.”

“Of course, I would imagine so.” The two quickly bade each other goodbye before the line cut out. There was a moment of ringing silence before Tony spoke again. “FRIDAY, call everyone to the common room, Bruce and Loki included. After that, start cracking the encryption on the USB Ulysses brought back. I've been putting it off, but it's high time I start setting things in motion.”

Stephen gave Tony a gentle squeeze before pulling away to allow the Genius to begin striding around the room, gathering various papers, tablets, and boxes on a nearby cart. “Do you need me to do anything, Tony?”

“I do, actually. I'll cover it when we get upstairs, but right now I just need to grab things.”

The sorcerer immediately moved to help him, and before long they were in the elevator headed up. It finally opened to admit them into the Common Room. The Reapers were waiting for the duo, all of them focused and ready for anything. “I've just been contacted by President Ellis on two matters.” The genius announced as he started organizing the cart full of things on the counter. “First, Secretary Ross is being arrested on at least two dozen different charges and has been ousted from the Accords Committee and, soon, his position as Secretary of State.” He glanced over at Ulysses. “Bravo, Ulysses. You did your job very well.” The sniper dipped his head in thanks before Tony continued. “The second matter-- The rogue Avengers have escaped the Raft.” He held up his hand to stall any outbursts. “Yelling about it won't help anything. Instead, it's time we start focusing on several different jobs that need to be accomplished. Spring break is over, everyone-- back to the grind.”

“What do you need us to do, Zeymahi?” Minowa asked, eyes shining with anticipation and determination.

“I have individual and group assignments for you all. Minowa, I want you to go through the list of potential recruits and select the most promising. We need to start filling out our ranks again, we're a little short right now. Once you've done that, have FRIDAY locate their most frequently visited spots.” He passed her a tablet that she took with a sharp nod. “Bridget, I want you to figure out a way to test any recruits that come through on their physical and mental well-being. We don't need another repeat of Avengers 1.0 happening. Physical shouldn't be too hard, mental and emotional will be. I trust your judgment on this, though. You've been at this a long time.”

“I'd certainly say over several thousand years is a long time...” Bridget arched an eyebrow at Tony as she took the tablet offered. “Dr. Banner, would you be willing to help me?” The doctor nodded with an 'of course'.

“Dorian, I need you to get in contact with Pepper, get an update on the status of the press conference with her. I need to know if we should use the footage from Siberia and the x-rays. Did you finalize the amendments to the accords? Good, send those over to Zev. On that note, I need you to play secretary for a while Zev. I need emails written to several people about various things-- I had a list made, FRIDAY can send that to you.” A StarkPad was handed to them both. “Craig, Ulysses, figure out where the Rogues went and watch them-- one at a time, figure out shifts. I don't trust them as far as I can throw them, and I don't want to be caught off guard. Report anything out of the ordinary or any unusual movement.” The snipers nodded grimly as they made to move away. “Ah-ah! Wait a second, I have presents to hand out in a moment. Before that, though...” He turned his gaze to Loki who was watching him with head tilted. “Loki, I’m not forcing you to help us, but I'd like it if you could work with Stephen on something. The Reapers have protection against any mental voodoo that might be used on us, but everyone else who is going to be working with us-- you, Stephen, Bruce, any new Avengers-- they're not. I need something that can protect against most mind-altering magic. Maximoff has that capability, and I refuse to allow anyone to be defenseless against it.”

“The God of Mischief and the Sorcerer Supreme working together?” Loki grinned over at Stephen, eyes glittering from the prospect of a challenge.

Stephen smirked as well. “I'm sure we can come up with something.”

“Glad to hear it.” Tony paused for a moment. “Loki, would you be willing to let Aria watch Hela?”

The ebony-haired God paused before looking down at his daughter. The Goddess smiled up at Loki in return. “I'll be okay, Papa! Auntie Ari’ and I will have fun together!”

Aria smiled at the girl before turning her gaze to Loki. “You have my word-- I will not let anyone touch a single hair on her head. I will kill them before it happens.”

Maybe it was his daughter's trust for the woman, maybe it was the conviction in her voice-- the result was the same. Loki took a deep breath before looking at his daughter again. “You know how to call me if you need me?” The young girl nodded before jumping down from the couch and wrapping her hand around Aria's. “She is my only daughter, one of my precious children. Keep her safe.” He told her, his eyes filled with a light that was both threatening and desperate.

Aria paused for a moment. “ONE of your children?”

Tony stopped dead at her words and his gaze snapped to Loki. The God nodded, his eyes filled with sorrow. He pointed at the God and said with finality, “You and I are having a chat about that later. If what I found on you and Hela was any indication, Odin has probably done some serious damage to your kids, and I'll be damned if I let it continue. FRIDAY!” He yelled to the ceiling, missing the stunned look on Loki's face. “Put that on the list, make it a high priority.” He turned his eyes to Aria again. “That's your job, by the way-- you guard that girl with your life. See if you can figure out where Reindeer Games' other kids might be.”

“Two are on Asgard.” Loki blurted out, drawing their attention. “Sleipnir and Fenrir. Jörmungandr is here, on Midgard. Where I don't know. He was hidden from my sight.”

“Duly noted. Songbird, you know what to do.” He turned back around to the counter for the boxes. “I've been tinkering with these for a few days. Let me know if they work out.”

The boxes turned out to have gear in them. Bridget's was a storage device with a copy of every accurate medical journal that had been released to date, compiled in the hope that it would be helpful in her work. Dorian and Zev had received what looked like wireless earpieces that ended up being full heads-up displays-- 'google glasses done right' Tony called them. It would allow them to communicate effectively with others and each other while keeping their hands free. Craig and Ulysses received beautiful, custom-made sniper rifles. Tony was quick to point out a setting on them that changed the ammo type. Enchantments on the guns conjured whatever round the setting was on and immediately reloaded once fired. The spells negated the need to carry ammunition, and the two men were visibly impressed by the work. Loki was stunned when he too was handed a package. He was confused by the pendant strung on a leather cord. It was a silver disk with the symbol of the Hallows superimposed on an intricate runic array. “Not only does that declare you under our protection, it will also hide you from anyone looking for you while you're out of the Compound. They're also enchanted to drop you at a panic room in the Compound if the correct passphrase is said.” A similar pendant was gently placed around Hela's neck. “These can't be removed by anyone but you, and only of your own free will. So whatever you do, don't take them off. I’ll have more made for your other kids as well.”

Loki looked at his daughter's pendant, then to his own, then back to Tony. “I... Thank you, Anthony. I don't know how to repay you for your kindness towards myself and my children.” He was quick to place it around his neck, fingering the disk with a kind of stunned reverence.

“I didn't do it so you'd be in my debt, but I appreciate the sentiment. The passphrase is on a paper in the box. Both of you memorize it, then destroy the paper.” Tony turned his gaze to Minowa. “Yours is still being tweaked, Boomer. Rest assured though, it's going to be awesome.”

“I've no doubt, Zeymahi.”

The genius smirked and nodded. “Alright, you all have your jobs! Come on, chop chop!” There was a flurry of movement as people either took the elevators or opened corridors. As the room quieted again Tony turned to his soulmate, pulling one last box from his pocket and enlarging it. He paused for a moment before passing it to Stephen. “I made this while at the Nexus... something to keep my skills sharp.” He looked up and locked his eyes with Stephen's blue-green orbs. “The Chief has already given me permission to give it to you. You’ll understand when you see it.”

Stephen blinked curiously as he looked down at the box. He gently removed the top to reveal a 12-inch tablet unlike any he’d seen before. The screen reminded him of one of Tony’s holo screens, but the frame around it was covered in shrunken, yet deeply complicated runic arrays and symbols. He gently brushed his fingers over the screen and the display rippled before displaying a search box. “Tony, is this a new tablet model?” The sorcerer asked, looking up at Tony curiously.

A brilliant smile crossed Tony’s face. “That’s the only one of its kind. Do a search for a spell you’d like to know about.”

The sorcerer nodded and quickly typed in ‘healing’ for the hell of it. To his shock, a list populated the screen with an enormous scroll bar indicated many other entries. He picked a random one and the cover of a book popped up. Stephen quickly realized he could open the cover and read through the pages like a digital book. “Tony, what is this?” He asked, eyes wide.

Tony grinned with excitement. “It’s an e-reader that’s linked to every book on magic the Chief has ever collected.”

Loki choked in shock. “Anthony, you just gave him what equates to the grimoire of the Master of Death! Do you have any idea how valuable such a thing is??”

“I said the Chief gave me permission...”

Stephen was frozen, staring at the tablet in his hands. Hadrian Black had been alive and traveling through the multiverse for countless years, and this tablet was linked to the magical knowledge accumulated from such. Not only was it a priceless resource, but it was also a sign of trust from the Master of Death himself. “Tony... this is...” He struggled to find the words to express the overwhelming gratitude. He gently set the tablet on the counter next to him before taking Tony's face in his hands again, staring at him as though he had just pulled the moon from the sky for him.

Tony swallowed at the intensity of the look he was getting. Stephen was looking at him like he was the most incredible thing he'd ever seen, his striking blue-green eyes full of an emotion the genius couldn't quite pinpoint. Unable to help it he found his eyes dropping to the sorcerer's semi-parted lips. 'It would be so easy to just--'

“Boss!” FRIDAY'S urgent voice caused the two to jump and pull apart, the moment broken. “I finished with the thumb drive-- You need to see this.”

A screen flickered to life above the table to the right and Tony cast one last look at Stephen before heading to it. Stephen looked after him, unable to take his eyes off the genius.

Loki looked over at the man, an enormous shit-eating grin on his face. “You, Sorcerer Supreme, have got it bad.” Stephen didn't even look over when he waved a hand and opened a portal beneath Loki's feet. The god gave a yelp of shock as he fell and the portal closed behind him.

A second or two later Tony reeled back from the monitor. “Fucking shit!” He whipped around and threw his hand out to open a corridor. He stuck his head through and shouted, “Bullseye, Deadshot, change of plans, I need you both front and center NOW!”

Hearing the urgency in Tony's voice the Sorcerer strode forward to rub his shoulders as he pulled away from the corridor. “Tony, what's going on?”

Moments later the two snipers burst from the corridor, uniforms swirling into existence as they did so. “Stephen, I need you to open up a portal to this address.” He tapped the screen so the Sorcerer could read it. “Bullseye, Deadshot, rifles out, look alive.”

Numbly Stephen looked at the address then did as he asked. “Tony, what's the goal here?”

Tony looked through the portal at the small farm on the other side. “Barton's sister and her kids live in that house. Ross had a hit taken out on them, though I don’t know how he found out about where they live...” He double tapped his chest plate and the glow enveloped him again. Moments later, his new armor had surrounded him and the glow died away. “I need you two to go ahead, make sure the area is secure. We'll be right behind you.” The two snipers nodded and vanished through the portal, cloaking themselves as they stepped through. “Stephen, are you with me?” He asked looking over his shoulder at the Sorcerer, who was storing the grimoire in a pocket dimension.

“Always.” The duo stepped through, Tony absentmindedly waving his hand to cloak them from detection. He led them to the edge of the treeline and stilled, every muscle in his body coiled to leap into action at a moment’s notice. Stephen allowed his eyes to search the property, feeling for any magical presence as they waited.

It was a very tense few minutes before Kimball came bounding over to them. “Area is secure, four people inside the house-- one woman, three children.”

Tony flicked his wrist and Yinsen sprang into existence. “Deadshot and Bullseye-- Keep an eye out, we’re moving in for extraction.” The basilisk shot off, and Tony flew towards the house with Stephen hot on his heels. He landed on the porch and knocked urgently on the door as he willed his helmet away.

There was a tense moment before the lock clicked open and the door was swung open. Laura took one look at the man on the other side of the door and her eyes went wide. Tony cut off any words about to be said with a wave of his hand. “Miss Barton there's a lot to explain, but right now you and your family are in grave and immediate danger. I have people watching the property right now, but I don't know how long we have.”

Laura was a smart woman, knew how to look for lies and deception. Right now, Tony Stark was absolutely serious about his words. “I'll get the kids.” She murmured, nodding. “How are we getting out?”

Stephen had been standing in the background and finally stepped forward, raising his hand in greeting. “I'm going to open a portal back to the Avengers Compound so there's less chance of being attacked in the open.”

The woman nodded before calling for Cooper and Lila. They came running but stopped when they saw Tony and Stephen. “Cooper, Lila, I need you to grab your emergency bags.”

Cooper's jaw clenched and his face went hard. Lila's eyes filled with fear and tears. “Are we in danger, mom?” She whimpered.

Tony's heart broke and before he knew it he had slid to his knee in front of the girl. “It's gonna be okay. I won't let anything happen to you, your siblings, or your mom.” He looked at Cooper as well, his eyes alight with conviction. Just before the boy looked over, Tony's eyes flickered burning orange before fading back to brown.

Cooper stared hard at him for a second before nodding sharply, pulling his sister's hand to lead her up the stairs. Laura gave a tiny smile as Tony got back to his feet. “I didn't think you liked kids, Mr. Stark.”

The genius quirked his lips up in a smile of his own. “Eh, I decided the little hellions aren’t so bad after all.” He quickly became serious again. “How can I help? Do you need to get stuff together?”

“I just need Nate and his bag, as well as mine.” She started to move forward but a hand on her shoulder stopped her.

“Stephen and I've got this. Stay here, stay away from the windows, keep an ear out for anything unusual. Where is your bag?” Getting the location from the woman he led Stephen upstairs and pointed out Laura’s room. Stephen entered it and Tony swept into Nate's room and quickly scooped the child into his arm before levitating his diaper bag into his other hand. He heard his soulmate come in behind him and turned to the sorcerer. “Got the bag?” He asked as he rested the child on his hip. Stephen nodded as he held it up. “Okay, let’s find the other chicks and get out of here.” They quickly located Lila and Cooper, herding them to their mother.

As they were doing one last check Kimball phased through the door, prompting a gasp from Laura. “Glitch!” Craig's voice called, “You've got a jet inbound-- F22 from what we can tell. You need to get out now!”

Stephen was already waving his hand and opening a portal. “Go, go!” Tony ordered and the family raced through. Tony summoned Yinsen again as he stepped through with Stephen and Nate. “We're clear, get out of there!” Stephen slammed the portal closed, and Tony let out a sigh of relief, unconsciously holding Nate closer.

Laura and the older two children were staring at Tony shocked, which then was redirected as a corridor opened and Craig and Ulysses ran through. “Made it!” Ulysses grunted as Craig shut the corridor.

“And not a moment too soon.” Craig nodded, straightening the beret on his head. “Dunno what kind of payload they were using, but they sure as hell weren’t looking to take prisoners.”

Tony heaved a sigh of relief as he turned to Laura. Seeing her knees shaking he subtly conjured a chair behind her before motioning for one of the men to help her sit. They did so as Stephen summoned chairs for the rest of the family to relax in. Laura sat with a stunned look on her face, only snapping out of it when Nate began to fuss. Wordlessly Tony handed the toddler back to his mother. “Ulysses, Craig, good job.” He said seriously as he turned to the snipers who stepped around the seats to face him. “Without you both there, this could have ended very poorly.”

That caught Laura's attention and her eyes snapped to the two men she had barely noticed before. “You were the ones watching the property?” She asked, drawing their attention.

Craig nodded and tilted his beret. “Yes, ma'am. Craig Boone, it's a pleasure to meet you.”

“Ulysses.” The other sniper dipped his head but didn't say anything more.

Laura looked ready to burst into tears, and her kids looked no better. “Miss Barton, if you'd like I can have someone show you to a room. Once you've had a chance to rest and recuperate we can discuss where to go from here.” The woman agreed and the two snipers agreed to show the way. Once they were gone Tony slumped into a chair after dismissing his armor. A deep sigh escaped him as he felt the adrenaline starting to wear off.

“Tony? Are you alright?” Stephen knelt in front of his soulmate, worry lining his face. Levi fluttered over to rest on Tony’s shoulder and pet his head.

It was a second or two before the genius replied. “I don't know. I'm trying to figure out how to incorporate Laura and her kids into life here-- The chicks might get along well with Hela, so that's a plus...” The genius cracked open an eye for a moment. “Speaking of, wasn't Rock of Ages with us before this started? Wonder where he ran off to...” Strange suddenly coughed, looking away. Getting an odd look from Tony he stood and waved his hand. After a second a horizontal portal opened up a few feet above the floor.

A moment later, Loki fell through and his shouting was cut off as he connected with the carpet. After a moment the rumpled god lifted his head, flipping his horribly windswept hair back. He glared with incredulous outrage at the Sorcerer Supreme and screeched, “I have been falling for thirty minutes!!”

A few moments later, Bruce paused what he was doing in his lab several floors down to look over at Minowa. “Do you hear laughter?”

Chapter Text

“Loki, Boss needs to see you for a second.”

The god of mischief paused in his conversation with the woman in front of him and looked up to the ceiling. “I’ll be right there, thank you FRIDAY.”

“Duty calls, hm?”

His green eyes slid back down to Laura Barton. After the woman had been caught up on the most recent events she began to integrate herself into life around the Compound. When she finally got a hold of Loki she slapped him once before considering the matter closed. The duo now had a tendency to sit together for tea and gossip when time allowed. “It would seem so.” He set his mug down before standing. “Do let me know if you hear anything about the press conference today. I’m curious to know how these mortals will react to the knowledge that their dear Captain is not as righteous as they had first believed.”

Laura gave a tinkling laugh even as her eyes lit with malicious glee. “Of course. I’m going to enjoy watching it.”

Loki gave his signature smirk before striding away, following the directions FRIDAY gave him to locate Tony. He was led down to the lab, and he gave a gentle knock on the door before striding in.

Inside, Tony was standing behind Minowa helping her attach something to her head. “Dammit Boomer, stop squirming! I need to make sure this won’t restrict your horns!”

The woman in question huffed and stilled. “I still do not understand the point of this armor, Zeymahi.”

“You’ll find out. Just give me a second.” He fiddled with the piece a bit more before nodding sharply and stepping back. “Alright, let’s take a look.”

The woman stood, and Loki’s eyebrows shot into his hairline at the imposing figure she made. She was now wearing a tight fitted suit of armor with a similar feel to the Iron Man suit. The look of the armor was vastly different, though-- black and gray plates covered the body, spikes and ridges giving the metal a sharp, intimidating appearance. The random jagged lines of glowing red and orange gave it the appearance of being cracked to reveal fire within. The suit included an impressive and intricate helmet shaped like a dragon’s skull, her horns accenting the intimidating piece perfectly. “Most impressive, Anthony.” He said, drawing the duo’s attention.

The genius grinned. “I haven’t even shown you the best part.” He waved his hand and opened a corridor. “Come on.” He led them through it and they emerged on the grounds of the compound, blinking at the sudden change in light. “Minowa, you always bemoaned the fact that you can’t fly without showing your wings. Well… I might have a solution for that. FRIDAY, if you wouldn’t mind...?”

Minowa tilted her head in confusion but was distracted when something in the suit shifted and wing-like appendages extended from her back. They clearly functioned on a repulsor mechanic, like Tony’s suit. He’d figure out how to incorporate flapping into the next iteration, but for now, he hoped this would work. She gawked at the addition, realization beginning to light in her eyes.

“I know it’s not like you’re real wings, but I hope this will help for now…” Tony stepped forward to teach her how to use the new additions but stopped dead when they fired up and she took to the sky with a loud whoop of joy. He stood gawking after her, watching her flip and dive around with a grace he had come to associate with flying using her real wings. Finally, he let out a chuckle, shaking his head. “I should have known. Flying comes as naturally to dragons as breathing or speaking.”

Loki was smiling widely as he watched the woman. “You’ve given her a great gift, Anthony.” He watched as she rocketed up high before the repulsors cut, and she began to freefall. He put his hand on the genius’ shoulder to stop him from activating his own armor. The instinct was proven right when they flared back to life and she pulled out of the dive with an elated cry. “Being unable to express that part of herself… it can be hard. You’ve taken those bindings off of her with this. She will be much happier from now on, I guarantee you.”

Tony was grinning widely as he watched the Dragonborn zip around like there was nowhere she’d rather be at that moment than up in the air. After a moment his eyes flickered blue as he linked to her armor. “Hey Minowa, I know you can hear me. We can go over the details of the suit later-- you enjoy yourself for right now. Got something to discuss with Loki anyway. Let FRIDAY know when you’re done, she’ll help you learn the basic ins and outs.” The woman paused her flight for a moment to wave to the duo on the ground before racing away. He smiled after her for a moment before turning to the god of mischief. “So, two things. First I wanted to check in with you on the progress you and Stephen have made on protection against mind-whammy.” He began, leading them on a walk around the grounds.

The god of mischief snorted at the choice of terminology. “Stephen and I have agreed that a glyph or rune of some kind would be best. We’re still debating on the matter of how to incorporate said protection-- I believe a tattoo of sorts would be best, but Stephen has reservations about such. He believes something wearable would be more advantageous, but a piece of jewelry or clothing could be forgotten or removed. A tattoo or mark would be much more difficult to circumvent.”

“Well let me know what you two decide and we’ll go about making it happen.” They continued in silence for a minute or two before Tony spoke again. “So, the other day you mentioned having more than one kid.”

Loki’s smile fell and he sighed. “Yes. I have four children. Sleipnir is my oldest. He can take the form of an eight-legged horse, and currently resides in Asgard. Odin is currently using him as his steed.”

Upon hearing that the brown-haired man tripped over his own feet, and it was only Loki’s quick reflexes that kept him from ending up on his face. “He what?? Damn, that is fucked up. I thought Howard was an awful person, but this… wow. This is an entirely new level of disturbing and degrading.”

A warm feeling filled Loki at the genius’ reaction. He cleared his throat to continue. “The other on Asgard is Fenrir, my third born. He prefers to take the shape of an enormous wolf. He…” The god swallowed, closing his eyes to fight back tears. “He is bound on an island by dwarven made chains-- Gleipnir. They are supposedly impossible to break. They also…” A tear ran down Loki’s face despite trying to bite back the emotion. “They pinned his jaw to the ground… by shoving a sword through it.”

The surge of magic that followed that sentence froze Loki in his tracks. Tony turned to him with fury written all over his face and his irises glowing a burning orange. “Do you know where he is?” Tony asked, his magic crackling around him with the force of his ire. Loki nodded, stunned at the imposing figure he made. “Good. We’re going to retrieve him.”

“Now?” Loki breathed with hope.

“Abso-fucking-lutely.” The genius replied before waving his hand, summoning his uniform. He held out his arm for the God and the ebony haired man didn’t hesitate to wrap his hand around the bicep. “I need you to get an image in your mind of your kid… got it? Good, hold onto it.” His magic rose within him, and the duo was swept away in a flurry of darkness and shadows. A moment later, they found themselves on an island sparsely decorated with trees. Not far from them was a clearing, and they entered it to find the massive wolf pinned and chained to the ground. Tony snarled in rage at the condition of the animal, not to mention the obvious signs of starvation. “I swear if I ever come face-to-face with Odin, I will kick his ass to the Nexus and back.”

The words alerted Fenrir to the presence of others and he growled weakly in warning. Loki was quick to move into his sight, and the growling ceased instantly only to be replaced by soft whines. “Oh my son…” He whispered, placing a tender kiss on the wolf’s head. “I’m so sorry…”

Despite the situation, the affection between the duo brought a tiny smile to Tony’s face. “Loki, can you try and keep him calm? I’ll see what I can do about the sword and chains.” The god nodded and spoke in soothing tones to Fenrir. Tony circled them, noting the magic woven into the pieces. He felt his stomach lurch violently at the sight of the weapon shoved through Fenrir’s jaw. “Reindeer games, are you good at healing?” He asked when he’d managed to swallow down the nauseous feeling.

The man in question nodded. “Indeed. I learned much about healing from Frigga and Lady Eir.”

“Alright, I’m going to get rid of this sword. I need you to be waiting to heal, just in case it starts bleeding.” The god nodded and repositioned himself by his son’s jaw. Tony wrapped his hands around the grip of the weapon and focused on the enchantments, breaking them one by one as not to overwhelm Fenrir. Finally, when it was only the sword left, he began to disintegrate the metal from the grip down. He did so slowly just in case the removal caused pain or bleeding. As the blade disappeared completely, Loki channeled his own magic into the wound to stop the brief well-up of blood, and Fenrir was soon barking weakly at his father, already relieved by the freedom. Tony quickly moved onto the chains, observing them for a few more minutes. Finally, he spoke again. “They enchanted them against breaking, but those dumbasses only limited it to physical weapons and magic.” He held out his hand, and suddenly his glove was replaced by the gauntlet of his armor. “Let's see how well it holds up to this.” The repulsor whined before Tony unleashed a blast at full strength at the chains. The links it came in direct contact with disintegrated, and the ones surrounding them were reduced to molten slag.

Loki wasted no time in helping the genius remove what remained of the chains, and with a relieved howl Fenrir began to glow brightly and shrink in on himself. A moment later Loki was cradling a naked 14-year-old teen in his arms, tears of relief running down his face. Fenrir cracked open one bright yellow eye and gave them a weak smile. “Hello, dad.” He whispered.

That just made the god cry harder, and Tony summoned a water bottle and helped Fenrir take a drink before also summoning a blanket to wrap around him. “Hey Fenrir, good to meet you. I'm Tony, but we can save full introductions for later.” He caught Loki’s attention with a gentle tap on his shoulder. He handed the blanket to him and as the god wrapped his son Tony opened a corridor. “Loki, take him back to Bridget. He needs urgent medical treatment. He may be resilient, but this…” He gestured to Fenrir’s emaciated body trailing off. The god of mischief nodded and stood with his son in his arms. He opened his mouth to thank Tony but the genius shook his head. “You can thank me when we have all of your kids safe in hand. I’ve warded him against detection, get going.” Loki gave him a nod and rushed through with Fenrir held tight to his chest.

Remembering what Loki had told him about Sleipnir, Tony spread his magic out to find the steed. He quickly locked onto the magical signature and allowed the darkness to sweep him to the location as he had done for Loki. He found himself in a well kept stable and wasted no time in following the gentle pulses of his magic. Sleipnir’s stall was easy enough to navigate to, and the Reaper wasted no time phasing right through the door. Sleipnir stood in a corner looking weary and dejected, a bridle strapped tight to his head and the bit stuffed in his mouth. “Well, that’s just rude.” Tony snorted, dropping the detection spells for Sleipnir alone, and the horse immediately turned its’ head to stare at him. He lowered the hood so the stallion could see his face. “Hello, Sleipnir. Your father sent me to break you out.”

<My father?>

Tony froze for a moment, eyes going wide. “So we’re just going to ignore the fact that I’m hearing you in my head for a minute here. But yeah, I’m helping Loki break all of his munchkins out.” He reached for the bridle again. “We can discuss it later. Let’s get the hell out of this place before I either kill Odin or cause mass chaos by summoning the most random and destructive things I can conceive.”

<I would enjoy both of those immensely.> Sleipnir replied as he placed his head in Tony's outstretched hands.

It only took a moment to break the spells and enchantments. Tony quickly but gently pulled the bit and bridle off of the stallion and he whinnied with elation. He began to glow and shrink, and a moment later Tony was helping to support the now 18-year-old man with black hair and soulful brown eyes. A flicker of color drew his eyes to Sleipnir’s hands and he belatedly noticed the rainbow hue of his fingernails. “Good to meet you, Sleipnir.” Tony grinned at the man as he focused on his face again. ‘Damn, even hunched over he has to be taller than me.’ Without much thought, he waved his hand to dress the man in a basic t-shirt and sweatpants.

The male smiled back brilliantly. “Well met, friend. Thank you for your assistance, and for the clothes. But I should probably inform you that Loki is not my father.” Seeing the confused look on the genius’ face Slei’s grin turned mischievous as he managed to stand straight. (Shit, yep, he wasn’t just taller than Tony-- he was taller than Loki by at least a few inches.) “He’s my mother. Shapeshifter and all that.”

Tony felt his brain blue screen for a moment before shaking his head in a soft reboot. “Okay, yeah, I’m not going to think about the implications of that right now. We should get going before someone comes to find you.” He waved his hand and conjured a corridor. He made to step forward before pausing and glancing at the door to the stall. A grin of his own lit his face before he waved his hand, a message scrawling itself into the wood. The laughter from the duo echoed as they stepped into the corridor and it shut behind them.

‘Odin:

I don’t know if Asgard has something like contraceptives, but if so, I suggest using them in the future.

Yours truly,

A better parent than you’

---

Tony sighed as he watched Bridget tend to a sleeping Fenrir, her brow pinched with concentration as she worked to mitigate the damage his imprisonment had caused. Bruce was monitoring his vitals, relaying what he was seeing to the woman as she worked. Loki stood nearby, his arms wrapped around Sleipnir in a desperate hug. A small smile crossed Tony’s face when he saw the nearby door fly open to admit Hela who sprinted across the room to Sleipnir who pulled away from Loki and knelt to catch the young girl in a tight hug. Loki joined them a moment later, tears of joy running down his face. The scene was both heartbreaking and touching-- Loki had been separated from his children for countless years, and the way he held tight to his family clearly showed that. One more and his family would be complete. And Tony was absolutely determined to see it happen. His eyes flared orange for a moment as he watched the family-- he would not let them be broken apart again.

He only turned from the window when he heard a portal open behind him, and he turned to see Stephen stepping out of it. The sorcerer didn’t even wait for it to close fully before he was pulling the genius into his arms. “I thought you had work to do at the Sanctum today?” Tony asked softly, smiling slightly as he felt Levi join in on the hug.

“Dr. Banner asked me to come by as soon as I had a moment,” Stephen replied softly as Tony melted into his arms. He buried his nose in Tony’s hair, content to hold the man close for the moment. His eyes flicked up to the viewing window. “Which ones are they?” He asked Tony without pulling away from him.

“Sleipnir is the one with Loki. Fenrir is on the bed...” Tony buried his face in Stephen’s midnight blue robes. “It was… Stephen, he had a SWORD through his jaw. He looks like he hasn’t eaten a good meal in his life.”

The sorcerer’s arms tightened around Tony as he gazed at the ‘young’ man. “He’ll have love and support in spades here. It will be easier with his family around him as well.”

A sigh escaped the genius. “They’re still one short. Jörmungandr is somewhere on Earth, but Loki couldn’t find him. Odin’s work again, I’ll bet.”

“Do you need help?” Strange pulled away to pin Tony with his blue-green eyes. “I know you won’t rest until they’re all reunited. You’re not one to abandon a project.” He added with a knowing smile.

“I would appreciate that. Jör could be anywhere on Earth, and I don’t know what I could be walking into.”

Stephen nodded. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Alright, I’ll pull up the location and we can see where it ends up.” Tony took a deep breath and extended his magic again. He felt it lock on after a second or two and reached for Stephen’s hand. The sorcerer slipped off his gloves and linked his hand with Tony’s. A moment later Stephen let out a snort. “Is it bad?” Tony asked, glancing at his soulmate.

“It appears our Midgard serpent is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Not in the water-- looks like a cave system dug into the Mariana trench. ”

Tony gave a choked laugh. “So, good thing we didn’t just portal there.”

Stephen nodded in agreement. “If I open a portal into the caves, the pressure difference would cause havoc on both our bodies and the environment here.”

Tony hummed in thought. “What about an airlock mechanic of sorts? I use my magic to create an air pocket and gradually increase the pressure to what would normally be found at that depth. You open a portal while we’re still in the pocket and I keep it up while we get Jörmungandr. We re-enter the portal, close it, then we adjust the pressure again.”

The sorcerer blinked in shock before he grinned with delight. “That’s absolutely brilliant. Your genius knows no bounds, does it?”

“Any scientist worth their degree would have thought of that.” Tony tried to deflect the praise. Without waiting for an answer he led them to an empty room with a wide open space not far from the clinic. He closed and sealed the door before raising the pocket. “Alright, increasing the pressure now.”

There were a few minutes of silence as Tony focused on increasing the pressure at a slow but steady pace. As much as Stephen wanted to reach out to his soulmate, he knew doing so could cause the genius to lose his concentration. But that small furrow that formed between his eyebrows, the way he bit his lower lip in concentration, the flicker of movement beneath his closed eyelids… by the Vishanti, Stephen wanted to reach out and just--

Tony sighed, pulling the sorcerer back from his thoughts. “Alright, we’re at the right pressure. Could you open up the portal? I don’t want to try and use a corridor and risk screwing up the airlock.”

“Of course.” The spinning orange portal opened moments later to reveal a large, nearly pitch black cave. The duo stepped through and Stephen conjured a ball of light in his hand. “Tony, where to?” He gestured to the split in the tunnel.

The genius reached for the link again. “This way.” He conjured his own light and made it float over his shoulder before leading deeper into the dark. Five minutes later he stopped when he came to a drop off into a very wide pit. He peered over the edge and cringed at the perceived depth. “The beacon leads here, but…” He backed away from the edge and turned to Stephen. “Any ideas, Stephanie?”

The sorcerer barked out a laugh. “Stephanie?? I think we need to think up a new nickname. You know, something like…” He suddenly trailed off, eyes growing very wide and paling as he looked past the genius. “...Tony.”

“I’m flattered you want to use my name, but that would make things awkward in the bedroom.” The genius snarked before noticing the look on his soulmate’s face. He swallowed hard as the realization set in, and he turned around very slowly. He found himself staring into a pair of enormous slit-pupiled green eyes with black sclera. There was a moment of absolute silence as Tony utilized every breathing exercise he could think of to keep himself from freaking the actual fuck out. From the size of the head alone, the dark green snake had to be a hundred feet long at least. Finally, he was able to take a steady breath, plaster on a media grin and say, “Jörmungandr Lokison, I presume.” The massive snake stared at him for a moment before dipping his head in a nod. “Oh good. I’d never go in the ocean again if there were other snakes in the water as big as you.”

<Ha! I like you, little human. It’s not that interesting down here anyway.>

“Okay, yeah, this is nuts.” Tony threw his hands in the air to the confusion of Jörmungandr and Stephen. “Stephen, did you just hear him speak?”

The sorcerer’s brow furrowed. “I heard him hiss, but no speech.”

Tony ran his fingers through his hair in agitation as he began to pace. “First Levi, then Sleipnir, now Jör. I haven’t cast any magic on myself to help me understand languages, nor am I reading minds. Levi doesn’t even have a mind I could conceivably read with any magic I know!”

Stephen reached out and caught Tony’s hands. “Hey, we can figure it out together once we get back. Right now we need to get Jör out of this place.”

<That's not going to be easy to do.> Jörmungandr lowered his head so the tip of his nose rested on the ledge in front of them. <The spells that keep me bound and hidden here were cast by the Allfather. That's magic not many could ever hope to match.>

“Well, then it’s a damn good thing you’re in the presence of the Sorcerer Supreme and someone who’s already pissed on Odin’s parlor tricks multiple times. Hold still, let’s see what I can do.” Tony rested his hands on Jörmungandr’s snout and set about breaking the spells. He shredded them like paper within a matter of seconds and stepped back with a triumphant grin. “I rest my case. Rest nothin’, my case is in a watery grave.”

Jörmungandr slid forward a bit onto the ledge before he began to twist and shrink. It wasn’t long before a human knelt where the snake’s nose had been. He appeared 16 years old with long seaweed-green hair fell in front of his eyes, the appearance of which had been taken from his snake form. He attempted to rise to his feet but only succeeded in falling over. “Walking may be a problem.” He admitted, looking up. “It's been a very long time since I have had the luxury of legs... Or any appendages, for that matter.”

“Wow, you actually admitted you need help. Loki has issues with that.” Tony chuckled as he clothed the teen with a wave of his hand. He wasted no time in scooping Jör into his arms, casting a weightlessness charm on the teen as he did so.

Jörmungandr chuckled as he settled into Tony’s arms. “Yeah, father was always rather stubborn in that regard.” His face soon fell and his tone became solemn. “I can't blame him, though. Oftentimes his requests for help were met with suspicion and consternation.”

Stephen shared a look with Tony. It sounded like Loki’s and his entire family had gotten the short end of the stick. “Well, he won’t have that problem with us,” Stephen reassured the teen as they began to make for the portal again. “Most of us know what it’s like to experience that to some extent.”

Jörmungandr hummed as they walked towards the portal. Once they had passed through he looked to Tony again as Stephen closed the portal behind them. “Did I hear you right, earlier? Is… is my older brother here?” He asked softly, looking vulnerable and hopeful.

Tony gave the body in his arms a gentle squeeze. “Not just him-- Fenrir and Hela as well.” He shook his head to halt any questions. “Let me concentrate on my spell for a second. I don’t want to mess this up and end up getting someone hurt.” He concentrated for a few minutes before he finally dropped the spell in the room. “You ready to see your family again, Jör?” The teen nodded eagerly and Tony led them out of the room, Stephen bringing up the rear. No one noticed when they entered the clinic and Tony grinned at the opportunity. “Somebody order a second born?” He called, catching the attention of Loki, Hela, and Sleipnir. He heard Jörmungandr snort in laughter and Stephen sigh with fond exasperation behind him.

They were immediately surrounded by the trio, crying and relieved and happy to be reunited. Tony lowered Jör into a bed next to Fenrir’s then stepped back to allow them some space. He smiled at the picture they made, glad to have reunited them at last. A tap on his shoulder had him following Stephen out of the clinic, and he soon found himself wrapped in the arms of the Sorcerer Supreme. “Loki has his hellions back… I’d say it’s been a productive day.” He murmured more to himself than anyone else.

A soft laugh escaped Stephen at that. “You reunited a family long separated. You should be proud of yourself, Tony.” The genius nodded against his chest. “Tony, I have a theory regarding being able to understand Jör.” His soulmate pulled back to look up at him. “It would require a trip to Kamar-Taj to confirm, though. It’s the home and training ground for the practitioners of the Mystic Arts.”

Tony sighed softly and nodded. “Later. I want to talk to Pepper about the press conference and check in with the rest of my team first.”

“Of course. When do you expect to hear from Ms. Potts?”

Half a second later Tony’s pocket began to vibrate and play ‘Run the World’ by Beyonce. Stephen tried to muffle his chuckles as the genius calmly routed the call to his head. Hooray for technopathy! “How’d it go, Pep?”

“Brilliantly. The public is infuriated at Rogers. It helps that there were several doctors and surgeons that came forward after the x-rays were shown and confirmed their validity and the seriousness of the injuries. Any doubt about the story very quickly died after that. Social media is practically exploding with the calls for blood-- In fact, #JusticeforTony is currently the number one trending tag, the second being #TeamIronMan.”

Tony couldn’t help but smile a bit at that. “Good to know we have the backing of the public. Did anything about the Accords come up?”

“Only briefly. I made it clear that there would be a conference later regarding the Accords and the amendments made to them, but now was not the time.”

“Brilliantly done, Pep. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Pepper laughed on the other end. “Honestly, Dorian was a great deal of help as well. He recommended using all of the evidence we had-- better for the public to have all of the facts from the beginning.”

The genius gave a soft sigh and closed his eyes for a moment. "So the video from the bunker..."

"While the public now knows about the truth of Howard and Maria's deaths, we only showed footage from the fight. Dorian refused to even consider showing their deaths-- that's a choice for you and you alone to make."

That caused Tony to pause. “Was he at the conference?”

“Only in the capacity of the 'Avengers PR Manager in training'. It's not a bad idea, though-- I swear Tony, that man could be standing on the sidelines of a crowded social function not doing anything and still draw attention.”

Tony laughed out loud at that. “That certainly sounds like Firecracker.”

Stephen smiled brilliantly as he watched his soulmate speaking with Pepper. From what he could hear on his end, things had gone well at the conference. He couldn’t help but adore the way Tony's eyes sparkled with laughter and joy, appreciate the way his lips pulled into a bright smile as the tension melted from his features… again, he found himself having to restrain himself from reaching for the genius.

“Alright, keep me posted. Will that be all, Ms. Potts?”

“That will be all, Mr. Stark.” Pepper replied in a fond tone of voice before ending the call.

Tony smiled brilliantly as he turned to Stephen. “I managed to break the internet without being present at the press conference.” He announced with an undeniably smug aura.

Stephen laughed at that. “You manage to do that at least once a year.”

The duo chuckled for a moment at that. There was a moment of quiet before FRIDAY called out to them. “Boss, Minowa just sent me the completed list of potential recruits. Did you want to look over that?”

“Later, baby girl. I’m taking my wizard out to dinner to celebrate tonight.” He turned to Stephen and held out his hand. “Shall we, Dr. Strange?”

The sorcerer stripped off his gloves and wrapped his hand around Tony’s. “Lead the way, Dr. Stark.”

Chapter Text

King T’Challa of Wakanda was angry. No, he was absolutely LIVID. His steps were hard and purposeful as he swept down the hall in search of the rogue Avengers. A mere step behind him was his sister, Shuri, the two royals flanked by eight members of the Dora Milaje. “Shuri, you brought a copy of the footage, correct?” He asked, not bothering to look over at her or slow his gait.

“I did. What are you planning, brother?” Shuri sped up so she was beside him, fiddling with her kimoyo beads for a moment.

“I must get answers first. Rogers assured me that Dr. Stark’s condition was good and I took him at his word. Clearly I was wrong to do so.” A moment of silence passed before he spoke again. “Afterwards, I would like to try to get in contact with Dr. Stark. I owe him an apology if nothing else.”

The Princess smiled widely at that. “I would like to be there when you do so. I believe an exchange of information and ideas would go a long way to smooth over tensions.”

Despite the grim atmosphere, T’Challa couldn’t help but smile at his sister’s enthusiasm. “Of course. I believe he would appreciate the chance to pick your brain, and you his.” His face became solemn again as he looked forward. “Later, though. There are more pressing matters at hand now.”

It was only a few minutes later when the group entered the common area of the suite that the rogues were housed in. Steve was sitting on a couch with Natasha chatting amicably with Sam, Clint and Wanda curled up on another not far away from them. Scott was leaning against a wall staring out the window, eyes thoughtful and far away. Their attention snapped to the king as he and his entourage entered the room. “Your Highness.” Steve stood to greet them, a smile on his face. It quickly fell when he saw the looks he was getting. “Is something the matter?”

“Indeed there is. Stark Industries aired a press release you need to see.” T’Challa jerked his head towards the nearby T.V., and Shuri stepped forward to pull the footage up. The T.V. flared to life a moment later.

-

“... Thank you Garrett. We’re here live at Stark Industries awaiting the arrival of Virginia Potts, Stark Industries CEO, who has an update on the status of Tony Stark. Mr. Stark has been missing from the public eye since the events surrounding the split of the Avengers, and many have been worried about his health and well being. Today’s press release promises answers for many questions that have been posed by the public.”

It was less than thirty seconds later before Pepper Potts stepped onto the dias, followed by a man that the Rogues didn’t recognize. His dark hair was styled impeccably, hazel eyes lined with just enough kohl to make them pop and shine. the Armani suit he wore was black with a gold pocket square tucked into it and he carried himself with the grace and poise of one raised in high society. He moved to one side as Pepper stepped up to the podium, the noise that had erupted at their arrival quieting as she did so. “Thank you all for coming.” She began, her voice carrying over the group of journalists and reporters. “There has been speculation regarding the wellbeing of Tony Stark, and I will be providing answers for several questions that have come up in the wake of his absence.” Behind her, the man was setting up two hologram projectors, one on each side of the podium. His face was carefully blank as he did so, revealing nothing of what was about to be discussed and shown. “In the aftermath of the fight at Leipzig Airport, Mr. Stark pursued Steve Rogers and James Barnes to an undisclosed location in Siberia, Russia in an effort to resolve things without further confrontation. A fight ensued and Mr. Stark was grievously injured. The injuries he sustained would have been fatal were it not for the intervention of an ally who, at this time, will remain nameless. They and Mr. Stark have agreed to release the medical report that was compiled, and it will be posted on the Stark Industries website after the conference is done. For the moment, we are going to give you a brief look at the x-rays taken. ”

The holographic displays on either side of Pepper flared to life, and the scans taken of Tony’s chest were displayed a moment later. Several gasps were heard, one person dry heaving for a moment. They certainly painted a grim picture and the implications were clear to everyone.

“As you can see, Mr. Stark’s sternum was shattered almost beyond repair and most of his ribs were broken or cracked in some way. He also suffered head trauma and internal bleeding in multiple locations. Fortunately, Mr. Stark is on the mend and should be back in the public eye after a period of recovery.” She turned to the man and held out her hand, and he pressed a folded piece of paper into it. As she unfolded it she announced, “The person who has been taking care of his recovery has also requested I say a few words on their behalf.” She cleared her throat and began to read.

‘While Dr. Stark’s injuries were most grievous and life threatening, I would like to assure everyone that he is on the mend and will make a full recovery. He is eager to return to serving the public and would like to thank everyone for their understanding in this matter. He is receiving the best treatment possible and his progress will be monitored closely. Thank you all for your continued support, and we will keep the world informed of his progress.’

Pepper folded the paper again, placing it on the podium. “In the wake of these most recent events, Stark Industries has decided to open a new branch of our research division dedicated to medical technology. More information will be available at a later date as details are still being discussed.” She looked over the crowd with sharp blue eyes. “I would personally like to assure the public that I have seen Mr. Stark recently, and that his recovery is going well. I would like to open the floor for questions now.”

The crowd of reporters and journalists immediately erupted, shouting over each other and clamoring for attention. This kept up for a full ten seconds before a piercing whistle brought them to a standstill. The man who had entered with Pepper stepped up beside the podium, lowering his hand from his mouth. “My, but you all are so eager for answers.” He drawled, drawing the attention of the entire room within moments. “Now then, here’s how this is going to work. I’m going to choose those who have their hand up quietly, and you will stand and ask your question. Miss Potts reserves the right not to answer, and security will remove any troublemakers.”

Pepper smiled at the man thankfully and dipped her head. “Thank you, Dorian.” She turned to the group in front of her once more. “I would like to introduce Dorian Pavus, future PR Manager of the Avengers. Questions about the future of the Avengers should be kept to a minimum, as there will be a conference about the topic later on. Dorian, if you would…”

“Alright everyone, hands up!” He waited a moment before pointing to a woman towards the front. “You, in the red cashmere scarf.”

The woman stood and dipped her head towards him in thanks. “Pauline Anderson, CNN. What is the projected time period for Mr. Stark’s recovery?”

“Because of the quality of treatment he’s been receiving, we believe it should take no more than two months. We are not at liberty to discuss what that treatment entails, but rest assured, he will make a full recovery.” Pepper replied. The woman nodded with a relieved smile and sat.

“The man in the middle with the black suede gloves.”

“Felix Elizondo, BBC World News. Has Mr. Stark had a hand in the recent amendments we’ve seen to the Accords?”

“I can tell you that he has been working to make sure the Accords are fair to all parties involved. There is a conference in the works regarding the Accords, so questions about them should be saved for that time.” The man sat with a thoughtful look on his face as he scribbled something on a small pad.

More questions were fielded, ranging from the future of the Avengers to how Tony’s injuries would affect the running of Stark Industries. There were also inquiries about reparations towards the countries directly affected by the Civil War. Each question was handled with grace and eloquence, and when Dorian was called upon to answer a few questions, his wit, charm, and charisma had the press wrapped around his finger in a matter of minutes. Finally, the man pointed to a blond woman in the front.

“Christine Everhart, WHiH. I would first like to personally express my relief that Mr. Stark will recover from his injuries, and I look forward to the day he comes back into the public eye.” She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. “However, the nature of Mr. Stark’s injuries, not to mention the severity, raise very serious questions about what transpired after the battle at Leipzig Airport. Why is it that the United States government was so quick to condemn Steve Rogers for what happened?” One could hear a pin drop in the silence that fell over the room as she took a small step forward.

“What exactly happened in Siberia?”

For a moment, neither Dorian nor Pepper answered, instead looking at each other as if having a silent conversation. Finally, Pepper looked forward again with a stony, cold expression on her face. “When Mr. Stark followed Rogers and Barnes to Siberia, they were presented with a video taken during the events of December 16th, 1991-- the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark. This video will not be shown, but I have been given leave to disclose the contents.” She took a deep breath to center herself. “Howard and Maria Stark’s deaths were ruled as accidental; the result of a car crash. In truth, they were targeted and assassinated that night by James Barnes, who was a POW under HYDRA control.” The room once again exploded into noise that was quickly silenced by Dorian. “The footage we’re about to put up is not for the faint of heart, and we recommend all underage audiences abstain from watching. Viewer discretion is heavily advised.” She turned to Dorian and gave him a sharp nod. He pulled a phone from the inside of his suit and tapped it a few times, and the screens flared to life again.

The press watched with trepidation as Tony demanded answers from Steve, and felt their hearts break for the genius when Steve admitted to knowing. They watched as the man, overwhelmed with grief after witnessing the murder of his parents, lashed out at the Captain and was then beaten within an inch of his life. The footage taken from the Iron Man armor switched to a recording taken by what could have been a security camera, and they watched as a national hero left Tony behind, badly injured and alone, without a single look back.

The clip finally stopped, the lights came back on, and it was several seconds before the room exploded with deafening noise. Pepper and Dorian stood silent, waiting for the room to settle enough to be heard. It took well over two minutes for that to happen, and Pepper was finally able to speak again. “Along with the various charges being made against him regarding the events surrounding the media dubbed ‘Civil War’, Stark Industries will also be pressing charges upon Steven Grant Rogers for obstruction of justice regarding the events surrounding the deaths of Maria and Howard Stark, and the attempted murder of Anthony Edward Stark.”

In the hubbub that followed, one person silently raised their hand. Dorian whistled to silence everyone before pointing to the man in question. “Josiah McCormick, MSNBC. Given James Buchanan Barnes’ status as a prisoner of war, will charges be pressed against him for the murder of Mr. and Mrs. Stark?”

“The short answer is no. James Barnes will not be held responsible for their murder on account of lack of criminal responsibility. As a prisoner of war for over 70 years, he cannot be held accountable for his actions due to the brainwashing he experienced at the hands of HYDRA. The same holds true for James’ response to the events surrounding the ‘Civil War’. Instead, Stark Industries will be discussing possible treatment for Sergeant Barnes with the Accords Committee and the UN.” Pepper gave the room a once over before announcing, “That concludes today’s press conference. Thank you all for coming, and look for an announcement from Stark Industries regarding the date and time of our next conference.”

The volume in the room skyrocketed again as Pepper gracefully moved from the podium, striding away with Dorian hot on her heels. The feed cut to a newsroom with a man and a woman sitting behind a table.

“I don’t even know where to begin with this release. What do you think, Alice?” The man leaned forward in his chair, casting his eyes to his co-anchor.

The brunette took a deep breath as she gathered her thoughts. “Well, I’d start with the actions of Steve Rogers. What did he stand to gain by injuring Tony Stark in such a brutal manner, and why would he leave him to die? Even if Rogers didn’t think the injuries he inflicted were that serious, Stark had no way of contacting anyone for help. That behavior doesn’t seem befitting of Captain America, right Garrett?”

“Right you are, Alice. Steve Rogers was a member of the United States Army, and even 70 years ago they encouraged the idea of ‘no man left behind’. The fact that he did so raises serious questions about the quality of his character. Along that same vein is his denial regarding his knowledge of Howard and Maria’s deaths. Rogers only admitted his deception when Stark called him out on it, and if his reaction is any indication, Rogers knew for quite some time.”

Alice nodded at that. “Then there was Roger’s reaction to Stark lashing out. I mean, Stark just watched his parents being murdered by a man who was less than ten feet from him. Given the circumstances, I don’t blame him for trying to hurt the person who knew his parents had been killed and lied about it to his face. I can’t imagine what Stark was feeling in that moment, and the intensity of the grief he must have been feeling makes what Rogers and Barnes did worse. Then there’s the fact that Rogers is Enhanced, so he’s noticeably stronger than a baseline human. Yet that didn’t stop him from attacking Stark, and with the very shield Howard Stark made.”

Garrett’s eyes narrowed as something else occurred to him. “Actually, let’s focus on that for a second. Rogers slammed that shield into the arc reactor until it died. What if that reactor had still been in Stark’s chest? Remember, he had it removed late December of 2012, but what if it had still been there? That thing sat six inches deep in his chest and weakened the stability of his sternum and ribs. If the reactor had still been in his chest, Roger’s attack would have killed him.”

The brunette anchor started to speak again, but something seemed to catch their attention. “Hold on folks, it seems we have breaking news coming in. Let’s go to commercial while we get the details. We’ll be right back, everyone.”

-

“WHAT THE FUCK, STEVE!”

The super soldier had no time to react before Sam’s fist was colliding with his face. He reeled back as his hands flew to his nose as it began gushing blood. Sam stood over him, shaking his hand out with a thunderous expression. “You told us that he attacked you and Barnes! You said he was fine when you left! You assured us he would be able to get out!” He flung his hand towards the TV in a wide, angry motion. “And if THAT wasn’t enough, you left him behind! I don’t care what kind of argument you have with someone, you never leave a man behind!”

Wanda snorted from her place next to Clint. “What does it matter? Stark is a murderer. It’s no less than he deserves.”

Sam whipped around to her, snarling slightly. “Zip it, buttercup! It’s not about whether you think he’s a murderer, or whatever bullshit you can come up with! One of the most important things you’re taught in the military is ‘no man left behind’! I guess that’s something HYDRA never taught you, huh?!”

“Hey, don’t talk to her like that! She’s just a kid!” Clint rose from his seat, moving over to block Sam’s view of Wanda.

“Bullshit! She’s 25 years old! I don’t know how you all got it in your heads that she is a helpless little girl, but I’ve had enough of it!” Sam stormed from the room without saying another word or even glancing in Steve’s direction. A moment later he was followed by Scott, who had a lost but horrified look on his distinctly pale face.

Before Steve could recover from that shock, he found an irate redhead in his face as he held his nose, looking up at Natasha Romanoff. “You said you’d tell him. You promised me you wouldn’t keep it from him.”

“He was trying to kill Bucky! I couldn’t let Stark hurt him!”

Natasha’s glare was nothing short of deadly. “He took that suit-- an earlier version of it-- through a wormhole. He’s faced down aliens, robots, and GODS in that suit. If he wanted you dead-- either of you-- you would have never walked out of that bunker.”

Wanda huffed and stood from her own seat. “Well now Stark knows how it feels. Serves him right after he’s killed so many people.”

Clint nodded in agreement. “At least with Stark laid up we don’t have to worry about him snitching to Ross about our location. Seems like a fair trade to me.”

Before anything else could be said, their attention was drawn by the TV again as the commercials ended and the news team came back on the screen.

“Welcome back everyone.” Garrett greeted the audience, a few papers spread before him on the desk. “We have an update on the destruction of a small farmstead in Waverly, Iowa. A week ago we reported on the sudden and violent destruction of a family home in Waverly, though we had no further details at that time. We’ve just received new information that alludes to this having been a deliberate attack. The analysis of the debris left behind by the explosion hint at this having been the work of a high-grade military weapon, a hypothesis that is further supported by this video shot near the scene.”

A clip taken from a cell phone was shown on the screen, the lens focusing on a swift moving aircraft passing over the house. The clip stayed on the plane until a violent explosion rocked the area, the phone being turned in time to see a fireball erupt into the sky. The footage shook and wobbled as the owner began to run in the opposite direction, cutting out a moment later.

“While the plane has not been identified yet, many have noticed its’ resemblance to a United States fighter jet. The search continues for the family that was known to be living there, however it is believed they perished in the attack. Anyone who has information regarding the ongoing investigation is encouraged to come forward.”

Whatever would have been said next went unheard as the room descended into chaos. Clint let out a wounded, wordless cry of shock and pain, throwing himself towards the TV. Natasha intercepted him halfway there, tackling and pinning him to the ground as the archer began thrashing and screaming obscenities and denials. Looking up at the screen as she kept Clint from escaping, a whisper of Laura’s name formed on Natasha’s, followed lips by a string of something in Russian. Steve had risen partly out of his own seat, caught between trying to comfort the archer or taking control to try and restore order of some kind. Wanda was looking between them all, one of her hands covering her mouth in what appeared to be shock.

T’Challa blinked at the sudden outburst of emotion from the archer, looking between him and the TV. A subtle prod from Shuri shifted his attention to the witch. Though she appeared to be upset by the news, the king could read people well enough to see the subtle nuances between her expression and posture. She might look upset but she wasn’t truly, she held herself too relaxed and calm for that.

After a few seconds, the fight seemed to completely drain out of Clint and he began to sob brokenly. Natasha quickly shifted from pinning him to holding him against her chest, whispering to him in Russian as he continued to cry. Steve looked between them and T’Challa, an uncertain look on his face while continuing to hold his hand to his broken nose. Taking the initiative the king swept forward, catching the attention of the Black Widow when he did so. “Take him to his room. Stay with him.” He said to her, compassion shining in his brown eyes. The woman nodded and stood slowly, carefully helping Clint to his feet and bracing his taller frame against hers protectively. Two members of the Dora Milaje followed the pair silently to make sure they made it there without any problems.

“Why does she get to go with him? He needs me!” Wanda protested, a pout appearing on her lips as she looked from Steve to the other two still in the room, crossing her arms slightly against her stomach.

T’Challa turned his attention to her, his face maintaining a mask of blank neutrality despite his suspicions towards the witch. “If Mr. Barton requests your presence once he has calmed down, you will be allowed to see him. Until then, I would suggest you both return to your designated bedrooms. That the confrontation between yourself and Mr. Wilson resulted in you getting punched is worrying, Mr. Rogers, and I would ask that you and your team stay in your rooms until such time comes that things have calmed to an appropriate level.”

Wanda huffed indignantly and turned on her heel, storming out of the room when she saw that the Wakandan king wouldn’t be dissuaded. Steve moved to follow her immediately but he found his path was blocked by two of the Dora Milaje. “She shouldn’t be alone right now, she’s just a kid!” He protested strongly, turning back to face T’Challa and Shuri with a slight frown.

“I’m sure Ms. Maximoff will be alright until things cool down. Now please return to your own room, Mr. Rogers,” T’Challa replied politely but firmly.

Steve opened his mouth for a moment as if to argue, then paused and finally he shook his head with a sigh. He left the room a few moments later, another member of the royal guard in pursuit. A silence fell briefly over the room for a blissful moment before Shuri turned to her brother. “What now?”

T’Challa remained silent for a moment, organizing his thoughts before he turned to the remaining guards. “Have someone posted outside each of their rooms and make sure they’re not detected, not even a whisper. I do not trust them to not try and disobey my request for them to stay separated within their rooms, all save for Romanoff and Barton. Make sure Lang and Wilson are made aware of my decision as well.” The group saluted him and all but one departed to carry out his orders.

Shuri fell in step beside her brother as they left the room. “Perhaps we should call Dr. Stark and show him the recording I took. It would also give you a chance to apologize to him.” The last part was emphasized as the princess gave T’Challa a pointed look.

A deep sigh escaped the man. “Yes, Shuri, I am aware that I owe Dr. Stark an apology, now more than ever. I believe it would be best to admit my involvement in Siberia and of my impulsive offer to Barnes and, to a lesser extent, Rogers. I took Rogers at his word, and Dr. Stark almost died for it. I am beginning to realize that he is not the man everyone believes him to be.”

Shuri turned her head to look at T’Challa. “Are you talking about Dr. Stark or Mr. Rogers?”

“Both of them.”

---

The clicking of heels upon tile brought the conversation in the communal lounge to a halt and the Reapers and other residents of the Compound looked up to see Pepper enter the room with a worried and exasperated look on her face. “Tony, Laura, we have a situation.”

Laura, who had been holding Hela on her lap and reading to her, handed the little girl over to her father and moved immediately to join Pepper and Tony. “What’s wrong?” She questioned, keeping her voice low, not wanting to alert the kids if something was wrong.

Pepper didn’t verbally reply, instead setting her tablet on the table and sliding it over to them. Tony didn’t even have to read it, the picture saying more than enough. He groaned and ran a hand down his face.

“Shit. I knew we forgot about something.”

Chapter Text

“Welcome back, Tony, Laura. How did it go?”

Laura merely groaned in reply, reaching down to pull her heels off and flinging them into a corner of the common room. “The press asked a lot of questions that I didn’t want to answer, and they didn’t want to hear ‘no’. So, about normal, I’d say. At least, I think it was since that’s the first time I’ve ever spoken to the press.” Sinking into the nearest chair, she relaxed into it in relief.

“Oh trust me, they can be a lot worse.” Tony flopped into his own seat, a lazy grin on his face. “You handled yourself like a champ out there, though.”

Loki laughed slightly as he carried over a full cup of coffee for Tony and an iced tea for Laura. “Of that, I have no doubt. Though judging by your children, you are a strong woman in your own right.”

A startled laugh left Laura and she impishly blew a raspberry in his direction. The action was so unexpected that Loki couldn’t stifle a full, deep laugh at the sight. “Flatterer. Where are the kids right now anyway?”

“I believe Lila and Hela are still in the midst of ‘a very important lesson about tea parties’ and that they were not to be bothered,” Zevrael answered while stepping out of the elevator, a grin on his face. “Sleipnir is sitting with Jor and Fen reading stories to them. They seem to have taken a shine to Brian Jacques.” Thinking for a moment, the elf’s grin grew before he continued. “Bridget has Nate with her since he went down for a nap while you were out. Cooper is actually spending time with Dorian-- he saw Vhenan summon ‘Dora and asked to see more magic.” Seeing the confused look on Laura’s face, he elaborated. “‘Dora, whose actual name is Pandora, is Dorian’s Patronus. The Reapers use them as messengers, and they take on different shapes for each person. Though sometimes I think that peacock is as vain as he is considering how much time she spends arranging her tail feathers.”

Tony smirked at the elf and arched an eyebrow. “Come off it, Zev, you love that man to death.”

Zevrael sighed longingly at that, knowing it was true and smiling softly. “That I do, Lethallin.”

Before anything else could be said, FRIDAY’S voice cut in without warning. “Boss, you have an incoming call from Peter.”

“Go ahead and patch Underoos through, FRI.” A moment later Tony’s eyes began glowing with a bluish tint. “Hey, Pete! What’s swingin’?” A moment later, the relaxed smile began fading from his face as it took on a more worried look. “Whoa, slow down, Peter. What’s wrong?... What do you mean ‘May’s gone’?” There was a long pause before Tony spoke again. “Okay Peter, where are you now? The apartment? Good. Now I need you to listen to me, Peter. Lock the apartment door, then go to your room and stay there. Do not come out unless I call you from my number and tell you I’m standing outside. I’ll be there as soon as possible. Take a few deep breaths, I’m on my way.”

Zevrael stepped into Tony’s line of sight as the blue faded from his eyes. “Do you need me with you, Tony?” Concern made his piercing blue eyes appear wider than normal, the silverette absently biting the left side of his lower lip.

The genius nodded sharply in reply, waving his hand to summon his basic Reaper gear, and the elf did the same. “I’ll open a corridor near the building. I’m gonna cloak both of us-- whatever’s going on, we don’t want to alert anyone who might be watching.” Zevrael nodded and stepped up beside Tony in preparation. “Loki, Laura, please humor me and go find the kids. Get them all in one room and keep them together until we get back. Call me paranoid, but something about this feels off.”

Loki offered a hand to Laura, and she allowed the god to help her to her feet, worry in her own eyes as she stood. “Stay safe, Anthony, Zevrael.” He told the duo before swiftly leading the woman from the room to find their children. At least most of them were in groups, his boys being together in one room with Sleipnir reading to them while Lila and Hela were playing tea party with each other.

It was a matter of moments before the corridor surged up around Tony and Zev, depositing them moments later into a darkened alley in Forest Hills, NYC. Tony waved his hand to apply the cloaking spell before leading the elf into the building. They swiftly ascended the stairs and strode down the hall, stopping outside the door to the Parker’s apartment. “Hold on a second. I need to check something…” Tony’s eyes flared blue, a frown appearing on his face moments later. “Thought so. The building’s bugged. FRIDAY, loop the feed first, then find out where all of these are broadcasting to… Thanks, baby girl. Call Peter for me please.” There was a brief silence. “Pete, I’m outside. Come to the front door and unlock it, but don’t open it.”

A few seconds later, they heard movement and the sound of the door’s lock being turned. Once Tony was sure FRIDAY was looping the feed, he pushed the door open on his own, dropping the cloaking spell on himself and Zev as soon as they were inside. The moment the door was closed, Tony found himself being tackled in a hug by Peter. “Easy Pete, I’ve got you. You’re okay.” He murmured as he held the slightly shaking teen close to himself, rubbing his back gently. He looked up at Zevrael for a moment to say, “Zev, search the place for anything that might tell us what’s going on. Be as thorough as possible.” The elf nodded sharply and stalked away to complete the task. The genius held Peter close for another few minutes before pulling away to get a good look at his face. “Okay Pete, start from the top. When was the last time you saw May?”

The young teen sniffed and wiped his eyes with the cuff of his sweater. “A-About four days ago. I got a text from her saying the hospital was keeping her late that day, and I didn’t think anything of it. I went to Ned's house this morning, and when I came back...” He choked and his doe-brown eyes filled with tears again. “She… Everything of hers was…” Tony pulled the chestnut-haired boy against him again and Peter burst into tears, unable to articulate the problem.

Fortunately, Zevrael came down the hall a few minutes later with the answer. “Tony, this place shows no other signs of occupation besides Peter. It’s like her very presence was erased.” After a moment of hesitation, the elf approached the duo and gently began to run his fingers through Peter’s hair, trying to provide some measure of comfort.

Tony gave Peter another squeeze before gently pulling away from him. “Pete, let me go talk to FRIDAY and see what I can find out.” He gestured for Zevrael to come into the teen’s line of sight. “Zev, stay with Peter while I’m doing this, do not let him out of your sight.”

The elf nodded and gestured for Peter to join him on the couch as Tony slipped down the hall. After a few moments hesitation the teen sank down next to him, small tremors still wracking his body. “Don’t worry, Peter.” Zev reassured him with a gentle smile, opening his arms in silent invitation. Sniffing hard, Peter allowed himself to snuggle against the older male that Tony obviously trusted, letting the comforting touch ground him, soothing some of the rawness that he felt since this had begun. “Tony will do everything in his power to figure this out.”

From his place in the hallway, Tony smiled softly for a moment as he heard his fellow Reaper reassured Peter. A moment later, he was all business again, his eyes once more glowing with blue-tinted light. The world fell away and the genius found himself face-to-face with the glowing green ball of light and code that made up FRIDAY's core programming. “ OK baby girl. Let's start with a facial recognition scan across all of the security cameras within the city.”

FRIDAY's core hummed for a moment before her voice rang out again. “Boss, there was a woman matching May's features on security footage at John F. Kennedy airport yesterday.” Several windows seemed to form around the two showing the various shots mentioned.

Tony nodded after only a moment. “That’s her alright. What was she doing at JFK?” More importantly, he wondered why she would go to an airport without saying a word to Peter. It made no sense to him, considering how much she loved him.

“It looks like she boarded a plane headed to London, Boss.”

“What the hell? Why would she do that?” Tony tilted his head with a worried yet thoughtful look on his face.

FRIDAY answered that for him. “I did a search regarding Ms. Parker,her most frequently visited locations, and her workplace.Boss, I found this in the servers at the hospital.” The AI spoke hesitantly, a reminder of how young she truly was compared to JARVIS.

An email opened in front of Tony, and he quickly skimmed through the message. “Let’s see… May Parker will no longer be working with us… job offer… sad to see her go… we wish her all the luck in the world…” Then he paused as one part in particular stood out at him. “Her new employer will be sending men to pick her stuff up sometime during the day. We ask that you not disturb them or ask any questions regarding May’s new position or company.” Tony flicked his fingers and the email flickered away. “FRI, pull up the surveillance footage of the hospital, highlight anyone that isn’t a regular employee or patient.” The AI did as he asked, and he observed the windows for a few minutes. A man came into view that caused Tony to suddenly pause the feed. “I know that guy-- he’s a SHIELD agent.”

“The bugs around the building are broadcasting to a location I have tagged as a SHIELD safehouse.”

Tony growled in anger and he thrust his hand out to banish the windows around him. “If SHIELD is involved in this, then you can bet your ass Fury had something to do with it. Give me the coordinates of the safehouse, FRI. We’re going to get some answers.” Once he had an affirmative answer from FRIDAY, Tony allowed himself to return to reality. He blinked a few times to reorient himself before moving back to the living room. “Look alive, gents.” He called, drawing the attention of the duo curled up on the couch. “I don’t have a full idea of what’s going on, but I can tell you SHIELD is involved somehow. We’re gonna go pay them a visit and get some answers. Sound good?”

Peter nodded and stood with Zevrael. “Mr. Stark, do you know if May is okay?” he questioned, his voice wavering slightly.

The genius took a deep breath to steel himself. “Pete, I found footage of your aunt boarding a plane to London from two days ago. A note from her workplace said she took a new job, but didn’t say where.” The heartbroken, agonized look from the teen compelled Tony to pull him into a hug. “We’re going to figure out what the hell’s going on, I promise.” He looked up as Zevrael approached them. “Zev, if I give you the coordinates to the safehouse, could you get us there?”

The silverette nodded in reply, rubbing Peter’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. “Of course, Lethallin.” Tony swiftly sent FRIDAY a message to send the elf the information. Zevrael activated his heads up display, and after a moment he nodded. “Alright, I’ll need to cloak us first.” He shot the genius a meaningful look-- ‘you’re the one with the magic here.’

Tony shot him back his own look-- ‘I know.’ He pulled away from Peter, using his thumbs to wipe the tears from Peter’s face. “Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, kid.” He ordered him softly. As Peter did that, the genius motioned for Zevrael to call up the corridor. The darkness surged up around them and Tony used the moment of darkness and confusion to hide them from detection. The corridor fell away a moment later to an unassuming two-story building among lush green foliage. “You okay, Pete?” He asked, giving the teen a quick once-over.

The teen was looking around with wide eyes, his jaw hanging open. “That-- what... What was that?!”

Zevrael smiled indulgently at the young teen, running his fingers through his hair again. “Later, Pete.”

“Zev’s right, kid. Let’s go find Director Spy and play interrogator. Cryo, let’s take the cloak down. I want these guys to know we’re coming.” Tony stood, giving an inconspicuous twist of his wrist to make them visible. He nudged Peter in Zevrael’s direction and waited until they were standing shoulder to shoulder before striding up to the door and letting himself in, bold as brass. “Nick-y, I’m ho-ome!” He shouted into the house as the elf and teen joined him.

Less than thirty seconds passed before they found themselves surrounded by SHIELD agents with weapons pointed in their direction. “Stark.” Fury himself stepped forward, his eye trailing over his companions, lingering for a moment on Peter. “It seems rumors of your recovery time were inaccurate.”

Tony gave the man a sharp smile at that. “And rumors of your death were greatly exaggerated. But that’s neither here nor there.” He turned his head to Zev for a moment and gave him a sharp nod. “Cryo, if you would…” The elf nodded in reply and raised his hand, clenching it into a fist. Moments later, the temperature of the room plunged and the agents found themselves encased in ice up to their shoulders. As they cried out in shock, Fury drew his own gun and pointed it at Zevrael, only to have to drop it as the metal turned blisteringly cold. “I think you know why we’re here, Fury.” The tone of the genius’s voice was just as cold as the ice around them as he turned his attention back to Nick.

The director was looking at the trio with an unreadable expression on his face. He stayed silent for a few seconds before giving a deep sigh of resignation. “You’re here about May Parker.”

“What did you do to her?!” Peter moved so he was standing next to Tony. “She wouldn’t have just left without saying goodbye! She wouldn’t have just abandoned me!”

“We know your aunt found out about you being Spiderman.” Peter’s face went white with fear, but the director continued. “Our intention was to have the memory of such removed from her mind in an effort to keep her, and you, safe.” His eye slid shut for a moment. “Something went wrong, though. Instead of just forgetting Spiderman, her memory was irrevocably altered in such a way that she doesn’t remember Peter.”

Tony wrapped his arm around Peter’s shoulders as the teen began to shake. Whether it was from fear, anger, or something else he didn’t know. “So you, what-- decided to send her away?! Did you even think about what this would do to Peter?!”

“She’s alive, and at least she’ll be out of harm’s way. Being Spiderman doesn’t exactly allow for familial security. She’ll be able to lead a normal life without the dangers of your enemies coming after her.” Nick spoke calmly, as if he hadn’t just ripped Peter’s world out from under him.

An anger unlike anything Tony had ever felt rose up within the genius. He knew what Fury was trying to do-- trying to deflect the blame of his mistake in such a way that it could be seen as an advantage, then manipulating the reason for the decision so it rested solely on Peter. He was seriously considering decking the director. Peter had no such reservations though, and a ‘crack’ echoed in the room as the teen’s fist collided with Nick’s face. The force of the hit sent the man sprawling on the floor, clutching his now broken jaw. Tony lunged forward and grabbed the teen, pulling him into a tight embrace. Fortunately, the young man seemed to have only one good punch in him before the emotional roller coaster of the past few days caught up with him. He collapsed against Tony, sobbing brokenly in agony and grief.

“You are a fool, Nicholas Fury.” The icy voice that cut the room caused Tony to look up. Zevrael was stepping around Tony and Peter to stand in front of them both, righteous anger in every line of his body. The genius was confused for a moment before it clicked.

Zevrael Pavus was one of the most compassionate and positive people Tony had the pleasure of knowing. He could light up a room with his mere presence and could bring a smile to the face of the most somber of men. However, there was one thing he didn’t tolerate, under any circumstances whatsoever.

He was not, and would never be okay with the tampering of an unwilling person’s memories. Especially not when he knew what it was like.

Fury wasn’t facing Zevrael Pavus, now. He was being confronted by the Inquisitor, and Inquisitor Zevrael Lavellan had never pulled his punches. He sure as Hell wasn’t going to start now if the ice creeping up his right hand and the frost forming over his left was any indication.

The elf’s eyes were like chips of ice as he stood over the director, spikes of ice beginning to form around his feet from the strength of his ire. “Who are you to make a decision such as that? What authority do you have to decide a person’s fate in such a way? Did you not think of the consequences of such a thing if it had worked? Did you not consider the possible repercussions when it went wrong? Yes, May Parker is alive and well. But what of the nephew she left behind?” Zevrael gestured behind him to Peter, who was watching the elf in shock from his place in Tony’s arms. “Your actions have rendered him without a guardian and have cost him the only family he had left! And for what, Director?” Zevrael drew himself to full height, the temperature of the room dropping even lower. “You’ve done grievous harm in your misguided effort to make things ‘better’. Did you not consider that, perhaps, your way is not always the best? You could have had her relocated to the Avengers Compound, or Stark Tower. You could have asked her to join you, offered protection in return for her help. There are thousands of other things you could have done, but you just had to do it your way. I hate to inform you, Fury, but your way cost a teen his remaining family, and that you tried to cover it up does not shine a flattering light on you or your associates.” He looked around at the agents, still encased in ice. “I would recommend you all look carefully at where your allegiances lay. Nicholas Fury was willing to do this to a woman he’s never met. Is it too much of a stretch to think he wouldn’t do the same to you or your families?”

“Cryo.” Tony’s soft voice drew the elf’s gaze to him. “I’ll take it from here. Take Peter back to compound, I’ll join you guys soon.”

Something in the genius’ eyes gave Zev pause, and after a moment he nodded his agreement. He helped Tony maneuver the teen into a standing position before pulling Peter into his arms. Peter unconsciously clung tight to the elf and allowed his presence and warmth to ground him. The silverette nodded to Tony before the darkness of a corridor surged up around them and swept them away.

Tony ignored the gasps from the agents around him as he turned his eyes back to Fury, who was struggling to stand. “You fucked up, Fury.” He started, his hard voice drawing everyone’s attention. “Here’s what is going to happen going forward. You left that kid without a guardian, so I will be taking custody of him. Not you, not some random member of your not so secret boyband-- me. He’ll be safer with us than anywhere else, and he’ll have a support system to help him cope with what you did to him. You and your SHIELD roadies are going to stay the fuck away from us. If I catch wind of you doing something like this again, if I hear even a whisper of you skulking around me or mine, you won’t be dealing with Tony Stark. You’ll be dealing with the Merchant of Death.” Tony turned on his heel and strode towards the door. “Oh, and that ice should be gone in a few hours. Hope none of you need a bathroom before then.”

As Tony closed the door to the house behind him he heard one man groan, “Dammit, why did he have to say that?!”

---

Stephen stepped through the portal into the compound, a small smile on his face at the feeling of coming home. “Good evening, FRIDAY.” He called up to the ceiling in greeting. “Can you tell me where Tony is right now?”

“Good evening, Dr. Strange. Boss is in the music hall.” She remained quiet for a few seconds as the sorcerer began the trek down the hall. “Doctor, I’ve been authorized to make you aware that Peter Parker will be staying at the Compound indefinitely as of this afternoon. Boss can tell you more.”

The doctor sped up his steps as confusion and worry tugged at his heart. It was a matter of minutes before he was pushing the doors to the hall open, Levi shooting inside before he could stop him. The violin music that had been playing immediately stopped with a yelp that had Stephen laughing as he approached his soulmate.

Tony was wrapped up in the artifact, his violin floating in the air beside them after having almost dropped it. He pat the collar of the cloak with a grin on his face. “Hey Levi! How’s my favorite enchanted snuggie?” The cloak squeezed around him and the genius laughed. “That’s good! You keeping Gandalf safe for me?”

“He’s doing a fantastic job.” The Sorcerer Supreme declared as he finally got within reaching distance of the man. Levi unraveled from the genius so Stephen could pull Tony into his arms, resting his chin on top of the shorter man’s head. “FRIDAY told me we have a new resident.”

The brunette nodded at that, letting the beat of Stephen’s heart soothe his agitated nerves. “Yeah. It’s a mess and a half, Stephen. The poor kid…” He sighed and stood, summoning a corridor to the patio where they had talked before and leading Stephen through. They sat and Tony began recounting the events of the day, thankful when his soulmate took his hand and began rubbing gentle circles on the knuckles to help ground him.

For the most part, the Sorcerer Supreme stayed quiet, only speaking up to ask clarifying questions. At the end the blue-eyed man pulled Tony into his arms in a comforting hug. “How is Peter right now?” He finally asked.

“Honestly? I’m not sure. He told me he’s at least happy she’ll be safe, but I know it’s hurting him a lot more than he’s letting on. I admit I’m a little out of my league here-- the Reapers have all agreed to help and take care of him, and the guardianship papers should be pushed through in a day or two… but I don’t know how else to help him.”

Stephen hummed in contemplation. “Well, the Reapers are all adults. Having Sleipnir, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir might help, seeing as they’re all his age, or at least close to it.” He felt Tony suddenly go still in his arms, and the sorcerer pulled away to see a grin slowly forming on the genius’ face.

“That gives me an idea.”

---

“Hello, Keener residence! This is Holly speaking!”

“Holly, it’s Tony. Listen, I have a favor to ask of you…”

Chapter Text

Tony smiled brightly at the sight of the quinjet coming in for a landing not far from him, very glad that the Keeners had been able to fly here. Holly had agreed to come out to the Avengers Compound for the weekend with Harley and Hannah, especially after she had heard the reason why he wanted them there so suddenly. The genius planned on offering the single mom a job at either Stark Industries or the Avengers Compound-- now that he had a second chance at life, he planned on keeping his family and those he held precious in his heart close at hand. One of his most precious was…

 

“Tony!!”

 

A laugh escaped Tony as he caught 15-year-old Harley midway through his flying tackle hug, squeezing him in return while smiling down at him. “ It’s good to see you too, Harley! How have things at school been going?” Tony had his doubts that the bullying had gotten better despite Harley’s previous claims that things were ‘fine’, though he didn’t want to push him too hard. The teen didn’t reply, instead burying his face in Tony’s chest and clinging to him like his life depended on it. “Harl’? What’s wrong?” The curly-haired blond shook his head, refusing to answer verbally. Tony looked up as Holly approached them with Hannah in her arms.

 

Holly smiled sadly at the sight. “He saw the SI press conference on TV,” she explained softly, shifting her daughter on her hip a little.

 

Tony let out a huffed breath and held the teen in his arms tighter for a few seconds. “Harley, please look at me,” he finally said, pulling away just enough so the teen could do so. Harley reluctantly pulled back to show his pale face and his blue eyes that were a little watery with tears. Tony smiled reassuringly down at the teen. “I’m okay, Harl’. I’m actually better than I’ve been in years. I’m safe and I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” He pulled Harley back into his arms, smiling wider when the teen hugged him again and just as tightly.

 

“I am a little curious, Tony. The press conference said you’d be out of commission for another two months.” Holly looked the genius over as she set down Hannah, watching with a smile as she ran over to her brother to join the hug.

 

Without missing a beat, Tony easily scooped the 7-year-old into his arm and perched her on his right hip, Harley moving to the other side. “The press only got part of the information,” he explained softly. “I’ve been healed up for a while now, but it had to be done with magic.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “It was… Holly, it was bad .”

 

Understanding lit in the woman’s soft brown eyes. The genius was saying it was bad , but what wasn’t being said for the sake of her kids was that it would have been fatal .  “I’m just really glad that you’re better now. That’s what matters.”

 

Tony nodded in agreement, relieved that the woman understood the subtle message. “Yep, I’m at 125% capacity now!” He gestured for Holly and Harley to follow him, keeping a giggling Hannah on his hip as they did. “Let me give you guys a quick tour of the Compound. It’s early enough in the morning that the other residents will either be sleeping or in the middle of their morning routines.”

 

Tony took them through the building, pointing out the various areas and rooms to the delighted family. The family as a whole had jumped when introduced to FRIDAY, but the AI had quickly won them over with her gentle Irish lilt and dry humor. The music hall prompted a squeal from Hannah and she asked to learn to play piano from her mom. The genius made a mental note to bring it up with Aria when he saw her next. Harley pouted when he was told he would get a chance to see the labs later, but brightened when Tony told him there was a project he wanted to work on with him. The genius was glad the family liked the compound so far, and he was hopeful that it would be a selling point for Holly taking a position closer by.

 

They were entering the communal common room when a portal of gold sparks opened in the middle and Stephen stepped through, carrying two travel mugs of coffee. The portal closed as he called out, “Good morning, Tony. I brought coffee.” A moment later he noticed the small family with his soulmate. “Hello, you must be the Keeners.”

 

Tony set Hannah down so he could take his mug. “Yep, this is Holly, Harley, and Hannah.” He pointed to each person individually before taking a sip of his drink, enjoying his favorite drink of all time. He didn’t know how he would function if there was a sudden shortage of coffee in the world.

 

The sorcerer nodded and gave them a small bow. “A pleasure to meet you all. I’m Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, Master of the Mystic Arts…”

 

“...And my undoubtedly better half.” Tony chimed in, slipping his unoccupied hand into Stephen’s with a grin

 

The sorcerer snorted at that with a fond smile and shake of his head. “You flatter me, Tony. Ms. Keener, how do you take your coffee?” Stephen arched his eyebrow at the woman. Upon being told ‘sugar with a splash of milk’ he waved his hand over the beverage before levitating it over to her. To her credit, the woman didn’t even balk at the floating cup and simply snagged it out of the air and took a sip. “Have you checked in on Peter yet?” He asked the genius who was now pressed against his side, gazing at his mug in worship.

 

Tony took another sip and nodded. “Still sleeping when I peeked in on him at 7:30. He slept most of yesterday though, so I would imagine he’ll be up soon.”

“I’ll check in on him while you finish your tour. Want to take Levi with you?” The collar of said cloak seemed to perk up, and upon getting a nod from Tony fluttered over to settle around the genius’ shoulders. “I’ll let you know how he is. Enjoy your tour, guys.” Without thinking about it, Stephen bent down and brushed a kiss against his soulmate’s head before leaving the room, unaware of how Tony had frozen and blushed at the sudden touch. “FRIDAY, is Peter still in his room?”

 

“He is, but his vitals indicate he’ll be awake soon,” FRIDAY cheerfully reported.

 

Stephen hummed as he used his sling ring to open a portal directly to Tony’s suite. Peter had chosen to stay close to the genius, and the sorcerer couldn’t blame him after what had happened with May. After inquiring about the teen’s culinary preferences, he set about preparing breakfast for them-- no doubt Peter would be ravenous once he woke up fully. Tony had mentioned to him about Peter’s need to eat a lot due to his metabolism being enhanced after the spider bite. Sure enough, the brown-haired teen stumbled into the common room just as Stephen was setting the plates on the table. “Good morning, Peter,” he quietly greeted the younger, feeling a little guilty when Peter jumped a foot in the air despite Stephen’s soft voice. “I have some breakfast here if you want some.”

 

“Who are you?” Peter asked, eyeing the sorcerer cautiously, though he did notice that the other had the same facial hair as Tony. Just because his spidey-senses weren’t going off didn’t mean that this stranger was harmless or had good intentions. After all, despite what had been done to Aunt May, his senses hadn’t responded to Nick Fury. In his mind, the man was no better than Captain America with how he believed he had the right to disrupt people’s lives as long as it suited his purpose.

 

The sorcerer lowered himself into his own chair, waving a hand so Peter’s was pulled out as well. “I’m Stephen Strange, Tony’s SO. He’s in the middle of giving a tour right now, so I figured I would check in on you and keep you company.” He gestured for the teen to sit again, and after a few seconds of consideration, Peter cautiously lowered himself into the chair. The first bite was slow and wary but once the teen realized how good the food was, he began eating more rapidly, having not had much of an appetite since May had disappeared. The sorcerer hid a smile behind a mug of tea, pleased that the teen was at least well enough to enjoy a meal. “So while Tony is finishing his business, is there anything you want to do today?” He asked as the dishes were levitated to the sink.

 

The brunette remained quiet for a bit, eyes far away as he thought. “I… don’t know.” He finally admitted, bowing his head slightly as he spoke. “I know my whole life was just turned upside down, and I feel like I should be upset, angry, sad… I should be feeling something , but right now…”

 

“It feels like a bad dream.” Stephen stood and gestured for the teen to follow him, and he brought them to the nearby couches where they could relax.

 

Peter nodded as he sank into the seat of one of the couches, Stephen sitting on the opposite side. “Yeah. I just… I’m hoping I’ll wake up and everything will be back to the way it was, but I know it’s not possible, and my head is having a hard time wrapping around that…” He looked over at Stephen after a moment, eyes haunted and sad. “Do you know what it’s like to just… have the world fall out from under you?”

 

For a few seconds, Stephen closed his eyes and just breathed. Finally, he opened his eyes, his blue eyes locked on Peter’s. “Do you know what my job was up until May of 2013?” The teen looked confused at the sudden line of questioning but shook his head. “I was a neurosurgeon, one of the best in the world. It was rewarding to save lives, and I loved the fame that came with being the best. Doctor Stephen Strange was one that everyone in the medical field knew.”

 

“If you were the best, why did you stop?” Peter asked, his head tilted in slight confusion.

 

Stephen didn’t reply verbally, not at first. Instead, he lifted his hands and gently pulled off the gloves. He observed them for a moment before replying. “I was in a car accident, a bad one. My hands were badly injured, and I still struggle with nerve damage to this day.” He held up his hands so the teen could see the way they shook and trembled despite him not manipulating a single digit. Peter’s eyes widened at the implications even as the Sorcerer continued. “Having that taken away from me… Losing it in the way I did? The only way I can describe it is ‘traumatizing’.” He slipped the gloves back on before sitting forward, his blue-green eyes full of an understanding that could only be shared between kindred souls. “So yes, Peter. I know what that feels like.”

 

Peter was silent for a few seconds before tears started to well up in his eyes again. “I just…” He curled in on himself and his voice began to tremble and hitch. “I miss May. She was the only family I had, and she was always so supportive of me-- even if my activities as Spiderman scared her.”

 

There was a full minute of silence cut only by small sniffs from the teen. When the sorcerer spoke next, the question caught Peter off-guard. “Would you change it if you could?” The teen looked towards him with a stunned look on his face. Stephen sat forward, eyes piercing and intense and expression deathly serious. “If you had the option, or a way to undo it, would you?”

 

“It doesn’t matter regardless. Fury said it couldn’t be fixed,” Peter replied tremulously, his eyes full of pain and sadness.

 

“Not by any means SHIELD has.” Stephen reached within his robes and tugged on the cord around his neck to bring the Eye of Agamotto forward. “This is the Eye of Agamotto-- it’s a relic capable of turning back time, be it relative to the world or an individual person or thing. It could be used to undo what was done to your aunt by doing just that.” For a few minutes, Peter looked between the Eye and Stephen, face rapidly flipping through expressions.  The sorcerer could tell that there was a war going on in his mind and that the teen needed a chance to process everything before making a decision. Stephen was content to sit and wait for him to do so, understanding that such a choice needed this kind of consideration. After all, it wasn’t something to decide lightly or on a whim.

 

Finally the teen took a deep breath and looked into Stephen’s eyes. “Could you… is it possible for you to find her first? I want to see…” Peter paused for a moment before also adding, “And I know that Mr. Stark is busy, but… I…”

 

“It’s okay, Peter. I understand. FRIDAY, if you would…” Once he got confirmation that the genius was on his way up the sorcerer began to murmur under his breath as he waved his hand in a figure eight pattern, a silver, mirror-like disk beginning to form in front of them.

 

By the time Tony arrived, the silver ‘window’ had formed completely and Stephen was in the middle of locking on to May’s location. “The Keeners are with Laura and her chicks, so we’ll be okay for a while.” Tony gently tugged Peter into his arms for a brief hug as Levi rejoined his sorcerer. “Stephen, are we almost ready?” The genius asked as they pulled apart to face him.

 

After a moment, the blue-eyed male nodded and waved his hand. The smoke in the window clearing away to show May sitting at a desk in what appeared to be a hospital, chatting with a coworker, a smile on her face. Peter choked and reached out for the surface, but Stephen’s hand on his arm stopped him. “If you disturb the surface, the spell will break.” He explained softly, and the teen nodded in understanding before continuing to watch. They saw a man approach May and ask her a question, and she blushed and nodded with an enormous grin. He held his hand out to her and she took it, allowing him to help her stand. The man smiled and kissed her cheek, prompting a giggle out of her.

 

Peter swallowed hard around the lump in his throat and croaked, “She looks so happy… I haven’t seen her like that in a long time…” Neither adult responded, not wanting to influence the young man one way or another. After a moment, he continued, his words hesitant but still audible. “If you turn back time, I’ll have her back… but she’ll always be in danger, and she’ll always be worried…” The teen closed his eyes. “Right now… she’s happy. She’s safe.” After a moment, he looked over at Stephen. “Is it possible to see her future if… if she stays like this?” A murmured word and another wave shifted the image again. May was again sitting behind the desk, but the man from before was standing behind her rubbing her shoulders and speaking softly in her ear. After a moment May nodded and he helped her stand, revealing she was at least a few months pregnant, looking radiant as she smiled joyfully. A wedding ring glinted in the light when she raised her hand to twine it with her presumed husband’s lovingly. “Oh May…” Peter choked, a tiny smile crossing his lips even as tears began to roll down his face. “You found love again…” The smile fell from his face, and both Tony and Stephen could see when the teen made his decision. “I can’t take that from her… I can’t-- won’t-- be that selfish.”

 

Tony came up behind Peter and rested his hand on his shoulder. “Are you sure, Pete?”

 

Tear-filled brown eyes were turned back to the scene, Peter hurting deeply inside but knowing what he had to do. “I’ve never seen Aunt May that happy… and after what happened to Uncle Ben… No.” He closed his eyes, steeling himself to the decision he was about to make. “She deserves the chance to love again, to have a family, and be safe. If the price is her memory of me…” After a few moments, he raised his shaky fingers to his lips and kissed the tips. “So be it. I’m not worth her losing this future... Her husband a-and her baby.” He looked at the figure of his aunt walking towards the exit of the building hand-in-hand with the man. He reached towards the spell again. “I love you, May.” He choked out, then with a finally whispered ‘goodbye’ ran his fingers over the surface, dispelling the spell in a shower of silver sparks.

 

Tony immediately moved to hug the teen who proceeded to collapse against him, sobbing heartbrokenly. Stephen tucked the Eye beneath his robes again before joining them, wrapping his arms around both Peter and Tony at the same time. They were content to stay there for a while, the two adults providing the comfort and security that the grieving teen so desperately needed. When the tears finally started to slow and the sobs quieted to sniffles, Tony spoke again. “Peter, I want you to know something.” The teen pulled away to look at him, wiping tears from his face. “No matter how we got here, I’d rather have you in my life more now that anything else I might have had without you in it.” A smile tugged at the genius’ lips as he ruffled Peter’s hair. “You’re stuck with us, Pete. And we’re not going anywhere.”

 

Stephen nodded in agreement, pulling the teen into his own arms and Levi wrapping around them both. “You’re not alone, Peter. Whatever you need, we’ll always be here.”

 

As Peter was pulled back into the arms of the two men, he realized the pain he was feeling didn’t hurt quite as bad as it had before.

 

---

 

Natasha sat on Clint’s bed by the archer’s side, silently running her fingers through the short blond hair on his head as he lay still, dried tears upon his face and pillows. The man had barely moved during the past several days, nor had he said a word. Given the news they had received, the assassin couldn’t blame him-- the prospect of Laura and the kids being killed was horrifying, and becoming more and more likely as the days went by. She hadn’t heard anything from or about her fellow rogues either, and she was beginning to grow anxious, not to admit a little angry with Steve. He knew that farm and who lived there, yet he had not said so much as a single word of sympathy to Clint since they’d been asked to stay away from each other after the fight. Part of the spy couldn’t help but feel that if it were Barnes who was missing and presumed dead, Steve would have actually done something about it, just as he had back during the war when he had gone to rescue Barnes the first time after hearing that his squad was taken prisoner. As long as Clint needed her, though, Natasha would stay where she was.

 

A sudden knock on the door prompted her to look up, yet Clint barely reacted to the sound. The handle turned and T’Challa entered the room quietly. “Your Highness.” She greeted him, dipping her head respectfully.

 

“Ms. Romanoff, Mr. Barton.” The king greeted them with a nod. “I have news of your family-- they are alive.”

 

It was a matter of moments before the spy was shooting from the bed, Clint not far behind her, afraid to hope but desperately wanting it to be true. “A-Alive? How? Are you sure?”

 

T’Challa nodded and gestured to the monitor in the room which flickered to life, showing a clip of Laura speaking to a member of the press without the sound. Clint reached towards the screen with a look of profound joy and relief on his face, visibly relaxing at the sight. Natasha covered her mouth with one hand, her carefully crafted mask cracking for a moment at the sight of Laura alive and well. “According to your sister, Mr. Barton, they were rescued by members of the New Avengers at the behest of Tony Stark.”

 

Clint’s head snapped towards T’Challa, blue eyes wide in shock. “Stark? He saved them… saved my family?”

 

“Indeed. Your sister was adamant that if it had not been for the information he and his allies found, they would not have survived. The hit was taken out by now ex-Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross, who was recently incarcerated on several charges involving violations of human rights, war crimes, human experimentation, and he will be facing attempted murder charges from this.” T’Challa fell silent for a moment, thinking. “Though it hasn’t been confirmed, many believe that Dr. Stark is the one who provided all of the information that led to Ross’s downfall.” The king crossed his arms loosely over his chest, fixing them with a pointed look. “I find it curious that your team was so convinced Dr. Stark was working with Thaddeus Ross. The evidence gathered so far clearly speaks to the contrary.”

 

Natasha and Clint looked at each other, silently conversing in a way that only the long-time partners could. Finally, Clint turned his eyes back to the king. “Thank you, your Majesty, for letting me know about my sister.”

 

T’Challa nodded and left the room with a murmured farewell. Once the door was closed, the duo turned to face each other again. “What do we do, ‘Tasha?” Clint finally asked softly. “I feel like I’m coming out of a fog... How were we so wrong about Stark-- Tony?”

 

The redhead shook her head, her eyes far away. “It doesn’t matter, at least not for me or Steve.” She finally replied with resignation in her tone. “We both betrayed and lied to Stark, and those are things he doesn’t forgive. That I trusted Steve to tell him is irrelevant because I never checked to see if he actually had told Stark.” She lapsed into silence for a moment before continuing. “There’s a chance Rogers decided against telling Stark at all. Maybe he was being a coward, maybe out of fear for Barnes’ life… Hell, Maximoff might have convinced him that Stark couldn’t be trusted to not attack Barnes.” She let out a huff of air and sat with Clint on the bed again. “She’s been getting unbearable with how she’s always whining about not being able to see you.” The redhead closed her eyes and leaned back against the headboard. “I’m honestly surprised Steve hasn’t demanded that we all cater to her every wish because she’s ‘just a kid’. It’s beyond ludicrous at this point, especially since Wanda has ‘perfect’ control of her powers until she conveniently doesn’t.”

 

Clint blinked at his partner and tilted his head in genuine confusion. “I don’t understand-- why would I want to see Wanda? I only knew her for two weeks at most before I retired; we’re barely acquaintances.”

 

Natasha opened her mouth to reply before she froze, a look of dawning horror and realization crossing her face. A moment later, the former assassin snarled a long string of Russian and surged to her feet.

 

Maximoff had been messing around in Clint’s head, her Clint-- her everything . The only one who knew everything about her and still believed in her, who had fought to bring her into SHIELD instead of ending her life as he had been sent to do. He saw beyond how her ledger dripped with red, saw past the body count her actions left behind. He was the only one who showed her how to live beyond what the Red Room made of her and she would be damned if she allowed this to continue.

 

“I am going to kill that Scarlet Bitch!”

Chapter Text

Whiskey brown eyes watched as Stephen carefully opened a portal in the common room, trying in vain to calm the anxiety that had made a home within his chest. “Please be careful, Stephen...” He said softly, reaching out and taking his soulmate’s hand for a second.

 

The sorcerer snorted, affectionately brushing his lips against Tony’s head. He had taken to doing so more frequently after the first time, and the way the genius blushed each time would never get old in his opinion. “I’ll be fine, Tony. It’s just a minor threat from a neighboring dimension. I should be there and back in time for dinner.”

 

Tony swallowed hard, trying to will the heat in his cheeks away. He shifted his gaze to Levi, who was settled around his soulmate’s shoulders. “You keep him safe, alright?” The cloak fluttered and puffed up, wrapping one corner around the genius’ hand. “Thanks, Levi. I know he’s in good hands with you.” The relic ruffled his hair and the genius yelped in indignation. “That you don’t have hands is besides the point, you crazy enchanted snuggie!”

 

A laugh escaped from Stephen as he pulled Tony into his arms, holding him close for a few moments. “Enough, you two. We’ll never get out of here at this rate.” He dropped another kiss on Tony’s dark curls before pulling away. “I’ll be back soon, I promise.” He stepped through the portal and waved to the genius as it closed.

 

Tony sighed despondently, already feeling the absence of his soulmate. FRIDAY spoke up after a moment of the inventor not moving. “Cheer up, boss. Since Stephen’s gone, you have a chance to work on that project for him,” she reminded him in a happy tone.

 

“That’s a good point, baby girl. Alright, to the lab!” He bounced over to the now open elevator with a grin, his good mood restored at the reminder. “Where are the others right now, FRIDAY?” He asked as it began to descend.

 

“Would you like a rundown of the full list starting with non-Reapers?” Tony nodded so she continued. “Pepper is at the Stark Industries office in New York City-- she’s in the middle of a meeting with the board, discussing the details of the new R&D department. Rhodey is meeting with Craig, they’re brainstorming defence ideas for both the tower and the compound. They’ll be sending you their notes later. Loki and his family are getting one last check up from Bridget and Bruce. Loki is almost back at perfect health, same with his magic. Fenrir will need to take it easy for another week but is no longer confined to a bed, and Jörmungandr will need a few more sessions of physical therapy. Laura is with them as well. Cooper and Lila are with the Keeners in the kid-friendly media room. Peter is helping to supervise them, they’re in the middle of watching ‘Big Hero 6’ at the moment. Vision sent word that he’ll be visiting within the next week-- his classes at Harvard are going very well, he said.”

 

The genius grinned brightly at the last update. “I wondered how he was doing! Has he told you what he’s majoring in?”

 

“He has, but he asked me to keep it a secret for now.”

 

Tony sighed as if put out, but the smile never faded from his face. “Fine, let him have his secrets. What about the Reapers?” he questioned curiously.

 

“Bridget’s in medical, like I said. Minowa is in the training room with Aria-- it appears they’re trying to make it so Minowa’s attacks don’t accidently blow out a wall again.”

 

Tony barked with laughter as he entered his workshop, the lights fully turning on and various monitors coming to life the moment he stepped inside. “Let them know that I’ll get with them later to figure out a solution. Actually… FRIDAY, make a new project for me, title it ‘Outdoor Training Field’.”

 

There was a pause for a few seconds before the AI responded. “Done boss-- they said ‘thank you’ and that they’ll come find you later. Ulysses is doing his shift watching over the Rogues. He said he has something to report to you directly when his week is done. Zevrael and Dorian are in Zev’s office, they’re looking into schooling for the kids. Peter has opted to commute to school from the compound, but Laura and Holly are still on the fence. They’re also drawing up a contract for Holly’s work at the Compound.”

 

“Good. Have them send it to me when they’re done. I want to make sure housing is included in whatever they write.” The genius flicked his wrist, bringing up a screen with his most recent project. “How do the numbers look on this, FRI?”

 

Several portions of the screen lit up as she replied. “With the current setup, the gloves should help reduce the shaking in Stephen’s hands by up to 87%.”

 

Tony smiled brilliantly and reached out to spin the display slowly. “Alright, let’s get these bad boys built and we’ll see how they hold up to stress tests. If we get good results, I’ll see about spelling them with the charms I had in mind.”

 

After that, time seemed to melt away in the wake of building the gloves and managing the other projects he had going at the same time. He wasn’t sure how  many hours had passed by when he heard the sound of a portal opening behind him. He smiled and stood to greet his soulmate happily.

 

“Boss, wait--!”

 

Something collided with the back of his head, and the genius staggered for a moment before something wrapped around his waist and pulled him backwards through a portal. The last thing Tony saw before his vision went dark was an unknown dark-skinned figure looming over him, a smirk of triumph on his face.

 

---

 

“Minowa, Boss just got taken!”

 

The head of the Dragonborn snapped upwards at the AI’s words as they brought her out of her thoughts, shock showing clearly upon her face. A moment later she surged to her feet, sheathing the dagger she had been sharpening and calling her armor to her. “Sound the alarm, get everyone to the common room now . Was anyone else targeted?”

 

“No, it was only the Boss.”

 

The ebony-haired woman nodded sharply at that. “Small mercies, then.” She summoned a corridor as alarms began to blare throughout the Compound. She found herself in the room as everyone else’s corridors were springing into existence, and she pulled up a screen as the other residents began to appear. Loki popped in with the Bartons and Keeners a moment later, Bruce sprinting into the room a few seconds behind him. “Loki, have your kids been sent to the panic room? Do they have their pendants?” Loki nodded at both questions.

 

Holly looked around, brow furrowing. “Where’s Tony? Didn’t he hear the alarm?”

 

“No. He wouldn’t have. FRIDAY, bring up what footage you have.” The screen next to her flickered to life, displaying the security footage of the workshop. The assembled group gasped as Tony was struck over the head and dragged through the portal. “This happened less than five minutes ago. The abducter’s magic is similar to Stephen’s, so it is safe to assume whoever took Tony is affiliated with them in some way. Whoever it is, they’ve made a serious mistake in taking him for more than one reason.”

 

The other Reapers nodded at that. “Tony’s smart and he’s resourceful.” Bridget kept her words vague so those not in the know wouldn’t be tipped off. “He’ll be able to hold on until we get to him.”

 

Minowa nodded in agreement before turning to the group again. “As Tony’s second in command, it falls to me to issue orders for now. Laura and Holly.” She turned to the two mothers. “I want you and your kids to join Loki’s brood in the panic room. It’s heavily warded, and it would take a miracle of the nine Divines for anything to get in there without our say so. Peter.” She paused for a second, seeing the pallor on the teen’s face and knowing why he had a look of fear in his eyes. “Peter, I want you to go with the other kids. Zeymahi would send me to the Soul Cairn if I let you come with us. Loki, Bruce, stay with them. We would take you with, but we don’t know what kind of space we’re going into, and I’d be FAR more comfortable if they had someone capable of bolstering the magical defences if need be.” Loki nodded quickly in agreement, Bruce quickly working to round up the people in question. “Reapers, full armor. I’m not taking chances with our brother’s health and safety, we’re hitting with everything we’ve got. Bridget, get your portable med kit just in case. Aria, Craig, contact Ulysses and get him back here. I don’t care that he’s watching the Rogues right now, I doubt they’re going to cause any major problems before we get back. Zevrael, Dorian, one of you needs to figure out how to contact Stephen. If you have to call his phone every 20 seconds to get his attention, do it. The other one needs to get a lock on Tony’s location. Do you all understand?” The group as a whole nodded. “Good. In that case--”

 

“Minowa!” FRIDAY’S voice cut in before she could finish. “This video just showed up on youtube as a live stream!” The screen flashed again, a video beginning to play on the screen.

 

The group gasped as a whole when they saw Tony kneeling on the ground, bound with faintly glowing chains. His head was dipped low, blood trickling down the side from where it had been impacted. A strange glowing glyph was set into the floor beneath him, the light pulsing an ominous red. After a few seconds a new figure came into view-- green robes similar to Stephen’s fit snugly  upon his body, his lips crooked into a malicious smirk. “To think,” He purred, stepping into the genius’ personal space and grabbing his chin to force him to look up. “The thing that will draw my target out the easiest is nothing more than a jumped up boytoy. I honestly thought he had higher standards than this.” His voice was barely more than a whisper, but the sentiment was still heard by the Reapers of the group.

 

Tony’s eyes flashed in fury, but he made no move to escape the grip or even struggle. The man’s grin became almost gleeful with his inward animosity. “You can’t even defend yourself. Recovery time can be such a pain, isn’t that right Stark?” This time the words were fully and clearly picked up by the camera. Without waiting for an answer he pushed the genius’ face away and turned to address the camera. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a demand for ransom, nor is it a political stunt. This video is for one person-- you know who you are. If you want Mr. Stark back, you’ll come find me. You will do so alone. If anyone is with you, or if you fail to come…” The dark-skinned male moved behind Tony and pulled a dagger from his belt, pressing it to Tony’s neck directly over the jugular. It was a clear threat, and it made everyone in the room stiffen. “Oh, and in case that isn’t incentive enough for you…” He waved his other hand, and several numbers flickered into existence above them before beginning to tick down. “You have twenty four hours to comply.” He waved his hand, and the feed abruptly cut out.

 

You could hear a pin drop in the absolute silence that followed. It was finally broken by Minowa, who’s voice reverberated with at least three others.

 

Get. Stephen. Here. NOW.

 

---

 

A sigh escaped the sorcerer as he finished closing the rift in front of him, Stephen somewhat  unsure why such a small thing had required the aid of the Sorcerer Supreme. It was finally done, though, and he could head back to Kamar-Taj for a few minutes to talk to Wong before returning to be with his soulmate. With a pleased smile on his face, Stephen quickly opened a portal and stepped through, giving his body a few seconds to adjust to the thinner air in Kathmandu as it closed behind him. “Wong?” He finally called, sweeping through the halls towards the library. He stepped inside and immediately had to duck back as something went flying past his head before thumping onto the carpet.

 

“That infernal thing hasn’t stopped ringing for the past three hours, Stephen!” Wong snapped as he approached the Sorcerer Supreme, who had moved to retrieve the phone that was playing ‘Ice Ice Baby’. “I don’t know who’s been so desperate to call you, but if I hear that song or ‘Insomniac’ one more time, I will throw that thing in a hell dimension!”

 

Stephen’s eyebrows rocketed into his hairline. “Those are Zevrael and Dorian’s ringtones but why would--” A moment later ‘Insomniac’ began to play, and the sorcerer was quick to pick it up before Wong could carry through with his threat. “Dorian?”

 

“Thank the Maker! We’ve been trying to reach you for hours!” Dorian’s voice sounded torn between hysteria and relief.

 

The blue-eyed man snorted in amusement. “So I heard. Wong was about to have an aneurysm if he--”

 

“Stephen, Tony’s gone.”

 

The words died in the sorcerer’s throat as liquid nitrogen surged through his veins, all traces of amusement fading immediately. “What the hell do you mean he’s gone?” Wong, who had been walking away, stopped dead at the words and tone, turning back to face his best friend.

 

“He was taken right out of his workshop. Whoever it was uses the same kind of magic you do, and whatever he’s doing… You need to come back now , Stephen, because we can’t find him.”

 

The phone hit the carpet again, and Wong moved so he could support the now violently trembling sorcerer. “Stephen, breathe. What’s going on?”

 

Stephen didn’t reply at first, instead fighting to calm the sudden fear in his heart. “We need to go to the Compound.” He finally managed after a few seconds. “Someone abducted Tony.” Wong immediately grabbed up Stephen’s phone and open a portal to the destination. They both passed through and the Sorcerer Supreme smiled gratefully at the librarian. “FRIDAY, where is everyone right now?”

 

“They’re in the common room, Stephen.”

 

“Thank you, FRI. I’ll explain later, Wong.” The blue-eyed man immediately opened a portal to the common room. “What’s going on?” He barked out as they stepped through. A sudden shocked noise came from Wong and he turned to find Ulysses with a pistol aimed at the man. “Easy, Ulysses. This is the Kamar-Taj librarian and my best friend, Wong.” The sniper grunted and stored his pistol at his words.

 

The duo were approached by Minowa as he walked away. “My apologies for that, Master Wong. The abduction of one of our own has put us on edge, as you can tell.” She held out her hand to the man. “Minowa Norddahl, Field Commander of the New Avengers.”

 

Wong took it and inhaled sharply when he felt her aura. “You’re a Reaper.”

 

The woman blinked twice in bewilderment before nodding sharply. “Indeed. We must concentrate on the matter at hand, though.” She gestured for the duo to follow her, and she led them to a holographic screen. “FRIDAY, if you would?”

 

The video began playing, and Stephen immediately growled when he saw his soulmate bound. “That’s a magic suppression spell combined with a magic scrambling spell under him. No wonder you can’t find him.” A moment later the man came into view and Stephen outright gasped. “Mordo??”

 

Burning crimson eyes snapped to him. “You know that man?”

 

Wong nodded and gave those present a quick rundown on everything that had occurred with Dormammu, the Dark Dimension, and the Ancient One. “After everything was done, Mordo disappeared. This is the first we’ve heard from him since.”

 

The Sorcerer Supreme had to swallow down the bile rising in his throat. “And you’ve had trouble locating them?” He aimed the question at Minowa without looking away from the screen, stomach lurching violently at the sight of the knife against his soulmate’s neck.

 

“Indeed. Of everyone here, I am second only to Zeymahi in terms of magical prowess. Yet I am still having difficulty pinpointing his location.”

 

Stephen began to pace, completely ignoring the other Reapers joining them in the room and speaking in hushed tones. He stopped when Levi suddenly tugged on him, drawing him out of his thoughts. “Not now, Levi.” Instead of settling, the cloak pulled on him harder, causing him to stumble over to a nearby counter. He opened his mouth to reprimand the cloak when he noticed the abandoned tablet on the counter. Levi began to gesture from the tablet to Stephen and then to the Reapers. It was a matter of seconds for the sorcerer to realize what the relic was trying to say. “Levi, you’re a genius!” His exclamation brought the room to a halt and he quickly opened a portal to his pocket dimension and retrieved the spell compendium Tony had gifted him.

 

Dorian’s eyes widened at the sight. “Hel-lo, that’s the Grimoire! I wondered what Tony did with it after it was completed.”

 

“He gave it to me with the blessings of Lord Hadrian. Maybe something in here can help us find Tony.” The man muttered under his breath as he tapped and swiped the screen, eyes flying over the text there. After a few minutes he spoke again. “I found a scrying spell that seems like it would work. The only caveat is that it’s accuracy isn’t very good at first, but the longer you hold the spell, the more it can zero in on the person in question.” He showed the tablet to Wong, who quickly read through it as well.

 

The Reapers looked at each other for a moment, debating. “It’s the best idea we have right now. How long would it take?” Minowa asked, turning her attention back to them.

 

Stephen read through the spell once more. “The setup should only take a few minutes and it says we need something important to the person you’re trying to find as a focus, something deeply connected with them. The stronger the connection with the focus, the faster the spell can pinpoint the location.” After a moment the sorcerer’s eyes lit up. “Wong, could you get this set up? I have an idea about what to use.”

 

Wong nodded and gently took the tablet from him. “Of course. Would you happen to have a room I could use?” He posed the question to the rest of the room. Aria waved for him to follow her, and he fell into step slightly behind her as they left.

 

“Levi, would you mind going with one of the others?” The cloak bobbed before floating over to Dorian. The pyro looked at the cloak with an appraising eye before engaging the relic in a one-sided discussion about Tevinter fashion and the similarities between the Cloak and something he had seen a fellow magister wear once. Stephen smiled at that, knowing the mage was only running his mouth in such a way because he was worried, probably even scared. The way he was talking so fast and changing the type of fashion every few seconds put him in mind of a full Peter Parker ramble. After a moment of observing everyone in the room, Stephen swept out, asking for FRIDAY to light a path to where Wong and Aria had disappeared to. He entered the room to find the duo waiting for him. “Are we almost ready?”

 

Aria nodded and tilted her head. “What are we using as a focus?” she questioned, blinking her eyes once as she looked at the two men

 

Stephen took a deep breath before pinning them with his sharp blue eyes. “Me, actually,” he stated firmly, knowing that Wong wouldn’t like it but also believing that it was the best choice.

 

Sure enough, the librarian opened his mouth to tell him to stop fooling around. Fortunately, Aria raised her hand to stop him. “That just might work! I’m no expert on magic, but you would have the deepest connection out of any of us because you are his soulmate!” She quickly ushered him into the center of the room before moving out of Wong’s way.

 

The man approached Stephen and fixed him with a look. “We are talking about this later.” He swore, the tone of voice indicating that it was not a suggestion. Stephen simply nodded in reply. “I’m serious, Stephen. Not just about the soulmate thing, but about who exactly your soulmate is and how important he is.” Before the Sorcerer Supreme could ask Wong what he was referring to, the magic flared within the librarian’s hands and Stephen slipped into a peaceful daze.

 

---

 

“It’s been three hours. How much longer do you think this will take?”

 

Ulysses looked over at Craig as the man paced the length of the common room. “Hard to say… trying to fill the hole of one magic with a peg from another… Something needs to change-- peg or hole. Takes time.”

 

His partner groaned, flopping down next to him. “I know, I know. But we’re kind of on a time limit here…” His eyes went far away as he gazed out the large windows of the common room. “Do you think Glitch will be okay?” He finally asked, his voice smaller than Ulysses had ever heard it before.

 

“Yes.” The brown eyed man replied with conviction, pulling his fellow sniper against his side in a comforting hug. “Amicus is strong-- we know it. No need to worry.”

 

There was a few minutes of silence as everyone waited for an update. The silence was broken again a few minutes later by FRIDAY. “Guys, Pepper is on the phone.”

 

Minowa looked up from where she had been sharpening her second dagger. “Patch her through, FRIDAY.”

 

A few seconds later, the woman’s deceptively calm voice filtered over the system. “I just got out of a meeting with the board and was immediately assaulted by the most interesting video. Would any of you care to explain?”

 

Minowa didn’t even flinch as she continued to tend to her weapon. “Good afternoon, Pepper. I assure you that it was never our intention to leave you out of the loop. We have Stephen and one of his friends scrying for Tony’s location as we speak, and we’ve been making preparations to go in and rescue him once we know where to go.”

 

Pepper hummed for a moment before replying, “I can accept that. Have you had any luck yet?”

 

“Indeed we have.” Wong’s voice interrupted anything that might have been said, and the group turned as one to where he and Aria were supporting a loopy looking Stephen. “He’ll be fine, he just needs a drink and a chance to come back to himself. Give it about ten minutes or so.” He helped the Sorcerer Supreme sit before turning back to the group. “We tracked Tony to Epirus, in northwestern Greece.”

 

“Epirus? That’s the site of the Necromanteion.” Pepper paused before realizing they didn’t know what she was talking about and elaborated, “The Necromanteion is-- was-- a temple dedicated to Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. From what I’ve seen of this guy who took Tony, I wouldn’t put it past him to be there.”

 

The Reapers all rose to gather in the center of the room. “Pepper, the Accords Committee needs to be made aware of what’s going on.” Minowa suddenly said, brow furrowing in consideration.

 

“I’ve put in a notice with the Committee already-- I did it before calling you. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to receive word back.”

 

The Dragonborn nodded sharply before turning to the group as a whole. “Everyone gather your gear. The moment we get the all clear, we’re going after Mordo and getting Tony back.” She watched as everyone departed before letting out a small huff of breath. ‘Hold on just a little longer, Zeymahi. We’re coming for you.’

 

---

 

Tony grunted in discomfort as he was manhandled to the center of the chamber and forced onto his knees again. If his body hadn’t been in peak physical condition because of his Claiming, the action would have been extremely painful on several different parts of his body. As it was, the stone floors only caused a mild twinge of discomfort. So far, the man who had introduced himself as Mordo seemed slightly unhinged and not a little bit infuriating. The genius watched at the sorcerer moved around the chamber, reading from an open book in his hand and muttering under his breath, considering it a slight improvement since it wasn’t aimed at him this time. He had ranted at Tony for at least two hours about how magic was a dwindling resource, how there were too many sorcerers in the world, all the stereotypical villain-style monologuing. The genius was so, so done by the end of it, and if he had been able to talk he would have taken a leaf out of Zevrael’s book-- ‘blah blah blah, my plan is more evil than your plan… I’ve heard it a thousand times’. Too bad the silencing spell was still in effect. The sorcerer hadn’t even lasted 10 minutes with his sass before hitting him with it.

 

Maybe telling the sorcerer he was ‘as intelligent as Saruman was pretty, with only 12% of the badass villain charm’ was a bad idea. Oh well.

 

Mordo turned to rant at him again and Tony tuned the sorcerer out out almost instantly. He thought about his family at home, whether they knew where he was and if they were on their way. He felt a pang in his heart as he thought about Stephen-- did his soulmate even know he was gone? Was he still on his mission? Was he safe?

 

A sudden surge of magical energy brought him back to the present in an instant. Mordo was casting some kind of spell, but it didn’t feel like anything Stephen had ever cast. Tony associated Stephen’s magic with warmth and light, something that blanketed and protected you. Whatever Mordo was doing felt extremely corrupted and twisted, the exact opposite of how Stephen’s felt to Tony. It was like the magic was fighting against being forced to do something it didn’t want to do, being made to take a shape it was never meant to. He watched in sick fascination as a portal formed in front of Mordo, the dark swirling colors a far cry from the golden sparks Tony had seen before. Within the portal a face formed, rippling and shifting as if made from a liquified form of the darkness surrounding it. The sorcerer gave the being a grim smile.

 

“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.”

 

‘Make that 9% of the villain charm. At least Saruman never summoned demons.’

Chapter Text

The atmosphere amongst the members of the Grecian security personnel was nothing less than tense as they lingered outside the ruins of an old monastery. Their eyes kept shifting around, watching for the arrival of any of the members of the ‘New Avengers’. The Prime Minister had initially harbored misgivings about the team but his concerns had been eased by the knowledge that the new members had no affiliation with the old ones, that they had signed the Accords and would follow them to the letter to the best of their abilities. Knowing that the group was on a strict time limit to rescue their ally and friend, he had granted them entry and sent his own men to back them up if need be.

 

The sun had just set a few minutes prior when the humming sound of unique engines replaced the silence that had settled around those gathered, the group gasping as one when a single suit of armor shot overhead, circling back around after a moment and landing in an empty space. The wings of the armor folded inward as the lone person straightened and the helmet melted backward to reveal Minowa. “Greetings. I am Dragoon, the Field Commander of the New Avengers.” She swept forward to observe the ruins in front of her, tilting her head to the side consideringly. She turned to the man who approached her, curiosity shining in her eyes. “This is a place of historical significance, is it not?”

 

The man dipped his head in affirmation, showing no outward reaction at Minowa’s odd appearance. “This monastery sits atop a ruin believed to be the Necromanteion. Do you know of it?”

 

Minowa nodded sharply in reply. “A place of worship to the god Hades, where the living would call upon the spirits of the dead. A charming notion, I must say.” The sarcasm caused the official to snort slightly in amusement. “Nevertheless, my colleagues and I will endeavor to make certain that it remains undamaged.”

 

Another man approached her, though he moved slower than his superior had. “There is only one of you, though…”

 

“Indeed. They are awaiting my signal. By your leave, then?” The older male nodded, and the woman turned away for a moment. “FRIDAY, you have my location? Good, have them come through.” A moment later a golden portal sparked into existence, causing several people to step back in shock. The Reapers quickly passed through before Stephen closed it behind him. “I will introduce everyone briefly, then we must get to work. This is Sentinel.” Bridget waved with a small smile. “The trio there are Silent Shot, Sonic Boom, and Voidstrike.” Craig, Aria, and Ulysses gestured at each of their names. “Those two gentlemen are Fiendfyre and Shatterfrost.” Dorian and Zevrael called out greetings and waved. “And this would be our acting leader, Doctor Strange.”

 

Stephen stepped forward at his name to shake the hand of the Grecian official. “ You and your superiors have my thanks for your timely response to our request .” He told them, the Greek flowing easily from his lips.

 

The official blinked in shock at that. “ Your Greek is flawless, Doctor, but also unneeded. What can we do to help?” He asked, switching back to English for the other Avengers.

 

“Due to the nature of the one holding Dr. Stark hostage, the best and, truthfully, safest thing for you to do would be to set up a perimeter around the area. Don't let anyone get within 500 feet of the entrance.” The officer nodded and began to instruct his people to move out to keep any civilians from any potential harm. Stephen turned back to the Reapers with a grim look on his face. “Let’s get going. I don’t know what Mordo is planning but it can’t be anything good.”

 

Minowa dipped her head and turned to her family. “Masking on, everyone. We don’t want to give ourselves away and risk getting Zeymahi hurt.” They all nodded and did as she ordered.

 

As they began to descend into the ruins, Bridget spoke up. “This place feels… familiar. You feel the energy, right?”

 

The Sorcerer Supreme never paused in his steps as he allowed his aura to reach out. “You’re right. It feels like Master Hadrian’s aura, which is confusing in its’ own right. Auras don’t really have a feeling, so I’m not sure why...” He trailed off, brow furrowed.

 

Dominus ’ connection with death.” Everyone’s gaze turned to Ulysses whose eyes were scanning the area, taking in every detail even as he spoke. “Leaks into worlds, connects them. Battlefields, sites of tragedies, temples to death deities-- all touched by death, and Hadrian by proxy.”  

 

Craig nodded at his lover’s words. “That makes sense. And most Auras don’t have a particular feeling. I think you can feel Hadrian’s because you’re Tony’s soulmate.” Seeing the curious look he was getting from Stephen he elaborated. “You remember what happened that day you met Hadrian? That flux of power when you and Glitch connected?” He got a nod. “Thing is, you weren’t the only one who felt it. Every Reaper in that room felt it, and every other Reaper in existence felt an echo of it. I’m no expert, but maybe the reason you can feel Hadrian’s aura now is because you yourself are now connected to him. Not to the same extent as the Reapers themselves, but still connected.”

 

Stephen nodded at that, thinking deeply. It would make sense if that were the case. Thinking back, he did recall how the other Reapers in the room had simultaneously felt a change in the bond they shared. It was something he would have to talk to Tony about when they had him back.

 

“Tony??”

 

Everyone’s head snapped towards Zevrael, who had a stunned expression as his hand rested on the head piece on his head. “Alright Lethallin , hold on.” Zev quickly tapped something, and a moment later the genius’ voice filtered through.

 

“Man, am I glad to hear from you guys. I haven’t been able to get through whatever hoodoo Mordo’s got going in here. It’s blocking my magic almost entirely, and my technopathy has been reduced to one bar at most. You guys must be close if I’m able to reach through  and interface with the ear piece, though the magic ward is holding strong.”

 

Stephen looked ready to cry in joy at hearing his soulmate’s voice. “We’re on our way babe, just hold tight. Where is Mordo right now, what’s he doing?”

 

There was a moment of silence before Tony answered. “He’s talking to some sort of… demon thing he summoned. I have no idea what it is, but I heard a name of some kind-- Dormammu, I think.”

 

“He summoned Dormammu?!” The combination of outrage, horror, and fear in the sorcerer’s voice alarmed everyone. “Is he out of his mind?! Tony, can you hear what they’re talking about?”

 

“Barely... Something about making a deal… Demon dude leaves Earth alone, in exchange for-- Oh shi--!” There was a crackle of static as the connection suddenly cut.

 

Stephen swore viciously in Mandarin before turning to the others. “Dormammu is the ruler of the Dark Dimension. He and I have a history, and he would have no qualm about hurting Tony to get to me.”

 

Several varieties of curses erupted from the group as a whole before Minowa took charge again. “Time is of the essence now, so let’s get to work. We need to find the greatest concentration of energy in this place, that’s where they’ll be. I’ve no doubt Mordo will have warded it in some way so we can’t get in-- Firecracker and Cryo, it will be your job to get them down and then incapacitate Mordo once we get inside. I don’t care how you do it as long as it doesn’t kill him. Medic, be on standby to help Glitch-- we don’t know what state he’ll be in. Songbird, you need to keep a watch over Tony and Bridget once we get him clear. Bullseye and Deadshot, weapons hot when we get in there. Our aim is to capture Mordo, but if it looks like he’s going to escape, if you think for even one second that he might make a run for it, take the shot. Merlin, stay with Medic. Tony will want you with him once we get in there, and I am more than capable of dealing with Dormammu.” She held up her had when Stephen looked ready to debate that. “Stephen Vincent Strange, you would do well to remember that while I may look only 24 years old, I am the first Reaper the Dinokthur ever Claimed. I am well over a megaannum old and have the knowledge and power to go toe-to-toe with a being like Dormammu and come out on top.”

 

The jaw of the Sorcerer Supreme snapped shut and he nodded after a moment. He often forgot that all of the Reapers were much older than they looked, especially Minowa. The Dragonborn had been physically 24 when she stopped aging, and that was before she was Claimed. “You’re right. I apologize, I often forget…”

 

Minowa let a small smirk slide across her face. “You are not the first to do so, and you will not be the last. Come, there’s work to be done.”

 

---

 

So, you say this mortal is precious to the Sorcerer Supreme?

 

Mordo nodded calmly, resolutely ignoring the genius thrashing fiercely against Dormammu’s hold. “Yes, they appear to be in a relationship of some kind. Just think of it-- the partner of the one who defeated you, yours to do with as you please, in return for leaving our world be. With so many other out there, surely ours pales in comparison.” Regardless of the fact that Tony Stark had no part in the duty of the sorcerers keeping the Earth safe from Dormammu and could technically be considered an innocent bystander, the sacrifice of one innocent man to save the entire world from an unspeakable fate was worth it in Mordo’s eyes. One life in exchange for billions.

 

Dormammu hummed thoughtfully, turning his gaze to Tony for a moment. “A most tempting offer… What say you, little mortal? Will you be one of mine, then?” After a few seconds of silent flailing and glares shot in Mordo’s direction, the sorcerer rolled his eyes and waved his hand to dispel the silencing spell.

 

“Thank you! First of all,” Tony turned his eyes to Mordo. “You are in for an ass-kicking. Did you think I was alone in that building? Did you not even consider that I have allies other than Stephen?? You are currently aboard the pain train with a one-way ticket to hell, and it’s moving full steam ahead. As for you , Sauron,” The genius switched his attention to Dormammu, “You can take your power and this deal and shove them in your ever watchful Eye of Mordor!”

 

I see now why you had this one silenced. ” The comment was directed at Mordo, who nodded in agreement. “ So quick to refuse… perhaps you simply need… convincing.

 

---

 

Dorian huffed as he hit the ward in front of him again with a fireball. “You holding up alright, Amatus ?” He asked his husband, shooting a brief glance in his direction.

 

The elf nodded as he channeled a constant stream of ice and super-chilled air at the barrier. “I’m fine, Vhenan ! I think it’s about ready to come down. One last hit, at the same time.” He looked behind him at the others who were all waiting with nervous anticipation. “Be ready for anything. We don’t know what’s behind that ward, and that last flux of magic felt anything but good.” Zev turned his attention back to Dorian. “On the count of three.” The duo counted before simultaneously hurling their attacks, and the barrier finally shattered inwardly.

 

Stephen didn’t hesitate to push past the pair the moment the magical shield was broken, leading the way breathlessly. Stepping into the chamber, he had only a second or two to observe the scene in front of him-- Tony being enveloped by a thread of Dormammu’s sinister magical energy stemming from the nearby portal-- before it dissipated, leaving his soulmate limp for a few moments, his kneeling body unmoving and barely responsive. The sorcerer’s heart sank, a cold chill sweeping through his body at the implication of what Dormammu had done.

 

“Ah, Strange, you’re late.” Mordo smiled at the Sorcerer Supreme, seeming to have no care for what had been done to the genius nearby, though his eyes had left the genius once Dormammu had begun. “And here I thought you would never show up. As it turns out, you’re just in time.”

 

Stephen swallowed hard around the bile building in the back of his throat. “What have you done to Tony, Mordo?” He finally managed to choke out, a shiver running through him as he looked from his motionless soulmate to his former instructor.

 

The other sorcerer’s face fell a bit, a spark of remorse flickering in his eyes. “I did what had to be done, Stephen. Would you tell me that the life of one is worth more than the billions I have saved by striking this deal?”

 

“You chose him , though! There are seven billion people in the world, Mordo, and you chose Tony , my partner , the man I love !” A ringing silence filled the room at his shout, even as Stephen took a few steps forward with unbridled fury flashing in his blue-green eyes. “You left the sorcerers because of the breaking of the rules of magic, yet your willingness to sacrifice an innocent to the likes of Dormammu, whom you summoned willingly , speaks volumes about your hypocrisy!” The Sorcerer Supreme’s magic was flowing around him slightly, a testament to the strength of the emotions that he was feeling.

 

Mordo looked torn for a moment, but Dormammu’s voice cut off anything that might have been said. “As entertaining as this is for me, your confession comes too late. Your partner serves a new Master now. Isn’t that right, mortal?

 

For a moment there was nothing but silence before Tony hesitantly stood, somewhat wobbly at first but quickly becoming steadier. At the same time, Stephen felt a sudden warmth beneath his robes, looking down to see the Eye of Agamotto glowing between the folds, a low pitched hum vibrating against his chest. Hope surged in his heart and his eyes snapped back up just in time to see Tony’s eyelashes slowly part, the irises within his normally whiskey-brown eyes glowing a brilliant, burning orange. The genius smirked, crossed his arms and replied with finality, “No thanks, I’ve never been good at serving anyone as ugly as you.”

 

Mordo’s mouth fell open in shock and the ruler of the Dark Dimension sputtered in sheer incomprehension. The Reapers seized the opportunity and surged forward-- there would be no mercy for the duo who had tried to take their brother and turn him evil. The one called ‘Mordo’ might harbor some sort of regret now but regardless, he had kidnapped Tony and offered him up to a demon that he summoned, an extremely evil one judging by the words that Doctor Strange had spoken. With demons, it wasn’t such a surprise that he had accepted Mordo’s offer. Even if not all demons were dark and inhumane, as Zevrael had experienced during his time leading the Inquisition, they seemed to be the majority.

 

Tony yelped when a portal opened next to him and he was pulled through to safety on the other side of the chamber. Finding himself in the protective arms of his soulmate who was shaking slightly as he held him close, the genius basked in the warmth of the concern and love pouring from the sorcerer, his sorcerer for several long moments. After exhaling slowly, Tony pulled back just enough to look Stephen directly in the eyes, one of his hands unconsciously holding onto his robe, and the Sorcerer Supreme met his intense gaze unwaveringly. One lone hand raised, his fingers brushing tenderly against Tony’s cheek since he could not cup it with his crippled fingers, silent words passing between the pair as time seemed to slow down to just the two of them. A moment later, the two moved simultaneously, pressing against each other more as their lips locked in a desperate, tender kiss. The world around them fell away as they surrendered to the heat engulfing their bodies while they remained so close together, uncaring of the chaos and fighting in the wake of the shared love between them. Stephen tugged at the genius’ bottom lip gently with his teeth, prompting a soft whine from Tony as he parted his lips to allow his soulmate further access.

 

A loud cough brought them back to the present and the duo reluctantly parted after Tony pressed just one more kiss to Stephen’s lips. They looked over to see Bridget standing a few feet away, her arms crossed and lips quirked in an indulgent smile. “Save it for later, guys. I still need to check Tony for injuries and residual effects from Dormammu’s magic.” Stephen nodded and allowed Tony to pull away while still keeping one hand wrapped around his. The healer began casting all manner of diagnostic spells on her brother, asking him questions and noting the answers as she did so.

 

From where they were engaged in a mostly one sided battle with Mordo, Dorian and Zevrael shared a wide, knowing grin. “I think Lethallin forgot about the rousing battle happening not 30 feet from him, what do you think Vhenan ?” Zevrael called out to his husband, raising another ice shield to block a half-hearted attack from the sorcerer.

 

“Hush, Amatus ! Let them have their moment! Would you begrudge them their joyful, passionate reunion?” Dorian gasped dramatically even as he was hurling fireballs towards Mordo, who was hard pressed to avoid the sudden barrage that flew directly at his person.

 

Zevrael laughed out loud at that. “I suppose not, my love! After all, ours was very similar after the Inquisition was dissolved!”

 

The pyro nodded in reply, completely unbothered by the magical whip he ducked under. “I seem to recall you coming back from that whole fiasco down an arm and with the most sorrowful look I have ever seen on your face and in your eyes! It was my duty to remove such sadness from you, my darling, beloved Amatus !” Despite their somewhat playful mood, there was an expression of sincerity within Dorian’s eyes as he glanced at his husband.

 

“Fair enough! Shall we finish this while they’re celebrating, then?” Zevrael began to charge ice magic into his hands, Dorian doing the same with his fire from Mordo’s other side. After a few seconds, the elf released a combined stream of ice and snow that quickly formed itself into a large, icy construct in the shape of a deer with twisted antlers that reared up on its’ hind legs before charging at Mordo. Dorian simultaneously called forth his fiendfyre, the snake shape replaced by an enormous phoenix born of flames that shrieked once before diving towards the dark sorcerer as well. The combined attacks landed with pinpoint accuracy, the resulting ‘boom’ catching the attention of everyone in the room for a moment. The dust settled to reveal the badly burnt form of Mordo encased in a thick layer of ice, still alive despite the severity of the attack. Dorian and Zevrael were quick to sweep forward and secure him to make sure he wouldn’t escape.

 

A sudden infuriated roar made everyone jump in surprise and look over to where Dormammu was retreating back to his dimension, an incensed Minowa shouting obscenities in Dovahzul in front of the portal as it practically slammed shut in her face. She snorted furiously, fire and smoke curling in front of her mouth for a moment before she turned back to the others who were watching her in shock. “The fool tried to get into our head.” She growled, Alduin’s voice clearly reverberating with hers.

 

Tony blinked for a moment before a bemused look crossed his face. “Hm, I wonder what would happen if Maximoff tried…” he murmured, not completely serious but not entirely joking, considering what she had done to him.

 

“Tony, no.” Stephen gave a chuckle before he kissed him again. “No setting people up for death.”

 

“Ruin all my fun, will you.”

 

Chapter Text

“Mechanic!”

“Mr. Stark!!”

The Reaper opened his arms quickly to catch the two 15-year-olds who managed to tackle him in a hug simultaneously, holding each teen close. They were joined a moment later by Hannah, Cooper, Lila, and Hela, Tony taking the time to hug each of them and press a kiss to their heads. He murmured soft reassurances to each of them and they finally started to pull away, leaving only Peter and Harley standing close. Pete remained pressed to Tony’s side, unwilling to be separated at all. Harley stood at his other side, shoulders touching and much calmer than before. Tony pulled Peter a little tighter against himself. He could feel the fear radiating from the teen, and he could understand why-- after having lost May, the prospect of losing another guardian so soon would be traumatizing at best.

Laura, Loki, and Holly approached him as well and the women each kissed him upon the cheek. “We’re glad to see you’re okay,” Laura told him as the other woman scooped her daughter back into her arms.

“Indeed,” Loki confirmed quietly. “It’s good that you came out of it relatively unscathed. We were all worried about you.” The green-eyed trickster subtly looked the man over as if reassuring himself that his own words were the truth.

Tony noticed the god’s motion and smiled at him in reassurance. “Mordo didn’t really do much besides a little manhandling and ridiculous speeches, and Dormammu didn’t physically touch me.” He gestured for the group to follow him as he began to make his way towards the meeting room. "You can listen in on the debrief, but I assure you it's nothing really that exciting."

The sound of a completely unamused and unexpected voice made the genius pause. "The public begs to differ, Tony." Turning as one to see Pepper striding towards them down a side hallway, the small group could hear her heels clicking sharply against the title. "Your abduction was caught live on camera and the world is in a tizzy over it. After the recent conference regarding your injuries gained in Siberia, it would be beneficial to let them know you're alright." She finally reached the group and immediately pulled Tony into a tight hug, glad to see that he was truly okay.

Tony moved around slightly so he could hug Pepper while still keeping an arm around Peter. "I am, I promise. To be fair though, I didn't exactly ask to be yanked right out of my workshop.  Speaking of that, though, please remind me later that we need to ward the workshop against further unwanted intrusion, Stephen. There are some mistakes you only have to make one."

"I completely agree, love." The sorcerer agreed, stepping into the space that Pepper vacated and giving his soulmate a brief yet tender kiss.

A sharp bark of laughter caused them to jump apart as Rhodey walked up to them with an enormous grin. "It's about damn time! The UST between you two was suffocating!" He pulled Tony closer to give him a hug of his own. "How do you keep getting yourself into these situations, Tones? It's like you can’t stay out of trouble for more than a week without someone having to come in and rescue you!"

Tony gasped in mock offense and put a hand over his heart dramatically. "Are you calling me a damsel in distress, Platypus? I'm wounded, absolutely gutted! To be compared to a Disney princess, why I never!"

“Whatever you say, Cinderella.”   

Pepper couldn't help but laugh at the indignant squawk that escaped Tony, then became grim again. “We do have to talk about what to tell the public. You know they'll want answers as to why you were taken in the first place, not to that mention Mordo called Stephen out specifically even if his name was never actually said."

"That is something we can go over during the debriefing." Minowa approached them from the direction of the meeting room, Dorian and Zevrael flanking her on either side. "We should also take into consideration that his old teammates will receive word of what has transpired. I would recommend that Ulysses be sent back to his post as soon as we have concluded our business here."

Tony nodded in agreement, his brow furrowed in thought as his own team fell in step behind him.  As they reached the door to the meeting room, he turned and gave Peter another protective hug. "Peter, let me do this debriefing and I'll come to find you in a few minutes. If you want to meet me in the workshop, I have ideas for a few projects I was planning on starting and now have the motivation to do so. Harley, you can join him if you so desire."

The duo nodded reluctantly and each gave the genius one more hug before departing.  Before they could reach the elevators however, Harley steered them both into a side room before closing the door behind him. "The Mechanic was taken right out of his workshop," he bluntly stated with a serious but concerned look on his face, one that was mirrored by Peter, "and we couldn't do a damn thing. We need to make sure nothing like this happens again."

Peter's eyes lit up in understanding and he nodded sharply. "I can't lose Mr. Stark, not after everything else that's happened. What did you have in mind?"

Harley began to pace, stroking an invisible beard. "We can't fight like the adults do-- being Spider-Man doesn't count-- so we have to go about it a little differently." After a moment, a mischievous grin began to slide across his face. "Maybe we don't need to disable threats...  We just need to distract them."

It took a moment for the brunette to understand before a look of unholy glee lit up his face. "Do you know what the best part is in that plan?" Seeing Harley shake his head he continued, "We have the best teacher in the world to call on. Hey FRIDAY," He called up to the ceiling to get the AI's attention, "is Loki done with the debrief yet?"

"Not yet, unfortunately," she replied, "but if you so desire I can have his kids sent in."

"That would be brilliant, thank you."

A few minutes later the group entered, Sleipnir at the front with a huge grin on his face after the brief conversation with Friday. "I hear you two are planning trouble. How can we help?"

Harley gestured for them all to sit around the table and they quickly rearranged themselves to see each other better. "Mr. Stark has a lot of enemies and they clearly won't wait for him to leave to attack him. We need to plan for that possibility so we can defend ourselves and him."

Hela nodded in agreement as she scrambled to climb into Harley's lap. "Uncle Tony is really strong, but he needs someone to protect him, too!" she murmured, looking at the others while cuddling a worn unicorn plushie in her arms.

"Hela is right," Fenrir announced with a dip of his head, his golden yellow eyes piercing through them. "He rescued our family and provided us with a loving and supportive environment, and I have never seen our father happier. It's the least we can do to make sure his home is safe for both him and the residents here."

From his place beside Peter, Jörmungandr smirked and steepled his fingers as he leaned back in his own chair. "And we are the best ones to do that for more than one reason. We are the children of the god of mischief himself--chaos is in our blood." 

Sleipnir nodded in agreement from Peter’s other side. “There are different levels of chaos, though. Lady FRIDAY, could you bring up a list of people in residence at the compound as well as Stark Tower, then a seperate list of known enemies of Uncle Tony?” A moment later, two holographic screens flickered into existence with the requested information. “Thank you. These people,” he gestured to the one with the residents. “We consider allies, acquaintances, loved ones, or shield-siblings. Thus, any mischief against them should be kept to a minimum. If anything, we would use them as targets for potential ideas. Nothing harmful, damaging, or unable to be easily fixed.” He shifted his attention to the second list. “The people on this list, on the other hand, are your main targets. You don’t want to go straight into pranking them, though. Do you know why?” He turned his attention to Harley and Peter, a patient smile on his face.

The duo thought for a moment, looking between each other and the lists above the table. Finally, Peter spoke again. “Because what may bother one person may not affect another?”

Jör grinned and ruffled Peter’s hair good naturedly, prompting a squeak from the teen. “That’s right! Pranks need to be tailored specifically to cause the greatest amount of carnage possible. If you’re targeting one person, you’d pay attention to their likes, dislikes, schedule, and habits. That way you can combine certain elements to cause the maximum amount of carnage.”

“Mass pranks need their own research as well.” Fenrir picked up. “The space the prank is occuring in, possible response, how the group interacts as a whole, bystanders… There’s a lot of work that goes into something like this.”

A grin stretched across Slei’s face again. “Let’s do a little exercise. Pick one of the people on each of these lists and take thirty minutes to list out their likes, dislikes, and habits. Lady FRIDAY, would you bring up any footage they ask for?"

“Of course, Sleipnir.”

 

-

 

Loki sighed as he rapped his knuckles against the door to the room FRIDAY said his children were in. Getting a reply of ‘come on in!’, he pushed the door open and blinked in shock at what he found. His children, Peter, and Harley were in various spots around the room surrounded by a plethora of screens lit up with various lists, pictures, writing, and diagrams. “What are you all up to?” He asked, fully stepping in and closing the door behind him.

“Planning to rain fiery vengeance upon the Mechanic’s enemies.” Harley replied blithely as Hela wiggled out of his lap to run to her father, carrying her plushie happily.

Sleipnir laughed at the confused look his father shot him, even as he bent down to scoop his sister into his arms. “And by that he means we’re planning pranks against Uncle Anthony’s aggressors.”

There was a moment of silence from the god before a shark-like smile crossed his face, eyes lighting up with promises of chaos to come. “Is that so? Would you welcome the god of mischief into your midsts for such planning?”

Peter jumped to his feet from where he had been sitting with Jörmungandr, prompting a chuckle from the world serpent. “Would we ever! We were going to ask you first, but you were in the middle of the debriefing, so FRIDAY asked your kids to help us, and they’ve been really helpful so far! They’ve been teaching us to look for habits and note people’s likes and dislikes, and we have a bunch of ideas so far!”

He was cut off when a laughing Sleipnir pulled him back into his seat between himself and Jör. “Take a breath, little spider!” He ruffled Peter’s hair as he spoke, ignoring the squeak and blush it caused. “We would appreciate any wisdom you would be willing to give, Father.”

“Very well, budge up you lot.” The group shifted so Loki could sit with Hela in his lap, unconsciously taking the head of the table so he could see them all. “So, tell me what you’ve come up with so far.”

 

---

 

“Recording in three, two…” Pepper waved her hand to indicate the camera what rolling a moment later. 

Tony smiled at the lense, a bandage wrapped around his head and an illusion applied to make it look like he had a black eye and a shallow cut on one cheek. “Good evening, everyone. Tony Stark here to let you all know I’m alive and well. I would have attended the press conference myself, but my CEO insists I stay where I am for the rest of my recovery. Fear not, though! I will be up and about before long, but in the meantime, I want to clear up a few questions that are being asked. Namely, the reason for my abduction.” He gestured to someone off-screen for a moment, and Stephen stepped into the shot to stand next to Tony’s chair. “Joining me is Dr. Stephen Strange, who was directly involved in my rescue and has insight into the reason behind my abduction.”

Stephen smiled and dipped his head to the camera. “The man who took Dr. Stark was a former instructor of mine who is now being held in a secure facility to await trial and judgement. He intended to use Dr. Stark as bait to draw me into a fight, knowing I would never leave a team member in his grasp. I was joined by other members of the New Avengers roster and as you can see, we succeeded in rescuing Dr. Stark with minimal fuss and injury.”

The genius gave the man a smile, slightly miffed that they had to hide their relationship for a little while longer. “Yes, and I know you all have questions about the New Avengers and the lineup we keep hinting at. I promise that one of the first things I’ll be doing is scheduling a press release regarding these members… right after I get a cheeseburger.” He grinned for a moment at the callback to when he had been rescued from Afghanistan. “Until then, I assure you that these new members have been thoroughly vetted and have signed the Accords. Once I’m back on my feet you’ll get the chance to meet them all.” He sat back in the chair he was sitting in. “I’ll leave you all with this-- I’m looking forward to working with our new teammates and announcing the future of the medical research division of SI R&D. Ciao, guys!” He made a motion and Pepper cut the feed. “Finally!” He waved his hand and dispelled the illusion, ripping the bandage off his head once done. 

“It’s a necessary evil, love.” Stephen helped the genius to his feet and kissed him gently.

Pepper smiled indulgently at the duo as she gathered up the equipment. “Stephen’s right, Tony. This will help put the public at ease, not to mention show that you’re recovering despite what you went through.”

The brunette nodded and grinned hopefully at his CEO. “Since I filled out the paperwork you also brought over, am I free to go now?" 

In response, the redhead smiled at him and dipped her head. “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

“That will be all, Ms. Potts.” Tony gave the woman another hug before leading Stephen out of the room.

Stephen fell in step with his soulmate and gently took his hand while they walked. “Now that you’re free from Pepper, what do you have planned?” He asked as he looked at Tony from the corner of his eye.

The smile faded from Tony’s face as the genius sighed softly. “There’s something I’ve been putting off that I should take care of now that things have calmed down a bit.” He paused for a moment, unsure how to tell his soulmate that it was something he needed to do alone. 

The sorcerer smiled gently, pressing a kiss to Tony’s head lovingly. “It’s something you need to do yourself. I understand. I need to check in at the Sanctum anyway and make sure it’s still standing.”

Tony sighed with relief and pulled his soulmate in for a tender kiss. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you,” he breathlessly whispered once their kiss ended. “I’ll shoot you a text when I’m free, okay?” Getting a nod from the sorcerer, he waved as Stephen opened a portal and stepped through, finally continuing on once it was closed. “FRIDAY, where’s Bruce right now?”

“Down in his lab. Would you like me to tell him you’d like to see him?”

“No, I’ll go to him.” The genius stepped into the elevator and closed his eyes in thought as it descended slowly. He’d been putting off this conversation for way too long and now that he had a quiet moment, he was going to take full advantage of it and clear the air between himself and his science bro. He heard the elevator ‘ding’ and stepped out as the doors opened. “Brucie-bear? Where are you at?”

There was a soft shuffling sound and the scientist in question came around a corner, wiping his hands carefully on a towel. “What’s up, Tony?”

Tony waved his hand and conjured up two plush chairs, sinking into one and gesturing to the other. “I wanted to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind.” He waited until Bruce took a seat as well before leaning forward slightly and resting his elbows on his knees. “Bruce, you’ve been avoiding me.” He held his hand up when the scientist opened his mouth to reply. “I don’t know if it’s something I did, but if it is I want to know. You’re my friend Bruce, and I’m worried I’ve messed something up, or I said or did something--”

“Tony, stop! ” The emotion within Bruce’s tremulous voice when he spoke brought Tony up short, the billionaire blinking in shock at the pained and heartbroken look on the man’s face. Bruce pulled his glasses off and rubbed his face  before he continued in a soft, hesitant voice. “You didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, it was just the opposite. No, let me finish!” He raised his voice only slightly when the Reaper made to respond. “You.. You were the only one blamed for Ultron, for all of it , when it was also my fault! I ran away and left you alone to deal with the entirety of the fallout!” He shuddered for a moment before the tension seemed to flood out of him, leaving him weary and sad with a few tears unconsciously trickling down his cheeks as he lowered his gaze. “I abandoned you, Tony.” Taking in a shaky breath, Bruce squeezed his eyes shut when more tears escaped. “Even worse, I left you alone with the remaining Avengers despite knowing that they held you responsible for everything that Ultron did and- I didn’t return even when I learned that Rogers offered a place on the team to Maximoff! I’m no better than Rogers and his gang, and I didn’t think you’d really want me around after what I did--”

Whatever he might have said next was cut off when Tony surged to his feet and pulled Bruce into a tight hug. Bruce tensed for a few seconds, unsure how to react before finally relaxing and hugging the genius back. “Bruce, I never, never blamed you. And don’t you ever let me hear you compare yourself to Rogers or any of them again, because what they did was a real offence.” Tony pulled away and held him at arms-length to look him in the eye. “I know why you left-- Maximoff. Why do you think I went back to the Tower once everything was said and done?” He pulled Bruce close again, trying to convey the sincerity of his feelings through touch alone. “You’re my science bro, Bruce, and one of my best friends. Of course I want you around! And if anyone ever tells you otherwise I’ll turn them into a Hulk-sized stress ball!” Bruce broke into laughter at the mental image, and after a few seconds Tony realized the laughter had changed to more crying. “It’s okay, Bruce. I don’t blame you, no one does. You are wanted here.” He murmured reassurances to him, rubbing his back as the scientist clung to him and sobbed with relief.

Finally after a few minutes, Bruce pulled away and wiped his eyes with a sleeve. He gave a watery chuckle when Tony conjured a tissue and handed it to him. “Thank you, Tony. I think I needed to hear that.”

Tony nodded in understanding and summoned his chair to himself so he could stay close to the scientist. “Bruce, do you want to be an active member of the Avengers? You were kind of forced into the role during the battle of New York, but I’m giving you the choice here. You don’t have to fight if you don’t want to, it’s completely up to you.” 

For a moment Bruce simply observed him, thinking deeply and searching his fellow genius’ face for any sign of deception. Finally, he took a deep breath and rested his elbows on his knees, a tension seeming to fall away from him. “No. I don’t want to be an active member. I would be willing to be a reserve, be available for extreme situations… but I never wanted to fight to begin with.”

The Reaper nodded calmly, a knowing smile on his face. “And that’s absolutely fine. On that note, though… I have a job offer for you.” Seeing the curious look on his fellow science bro’s face he continued. “During the press conference two weeks ago, Pepper mentioned that SI is opening a new branch of research and development for medical technology. Would you like to be the director of it?” Bruce’s eyes widened even as Tony continued. “You’re one of the smartest men I know, not to mention the most honest. With you as the director, I would be absolutely certain that the department would flourish and grow exponentially.” He looked up with hope in his eyes. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else as much as I would trust you with this, Bruce.” 

There was a full minute of silence before Bruce softly cleared his throat. “I… If you’re absolutely sure, Tony.” Getting an enthusiastic nod from the Reaper, a small but brilliant smile finally crossed the scientist’s face. “I would be honored, then.”

“Great!” Tony crowed, jumping to his feet and pulling Bruce up with him. “I’ll have Pepper write you up a contract and get the ball rolling! Brucie-bear, you have no idea how glad I am that you accepted-- I know the department will be in good hands with you!”

FRIDAY chimed in at that moment, bringing the duo up short. “Boss, Bruce, Minowa is requesting access to the lab.”

The smile on Bruce’s face widened at that. “Go ahead and send her in, FRI." 

Tony nodded and gave his science bro one more hug. “I’ll leave you to it. If I’m lucky, Pep hasn’t left the Compound yet-- for once I’m hoping Dorian pulled her into another discussion about Tevinter fashion.” Bruce’s laughter followed him out of the lab, and he heard the first elevator open as he stepped into the second. “FRIDAY, is Pepper still on the premise?”

“Indeed she is, Boss. I took the liberty of telling her about your offer to Dr. Banner, and she seems to be pleased with the choice.”

“I knew she would be.” The Reaper replied, a grin plastered on his face as the doors of the elevator opened again.

“She also wants to know if you asked him about potential salary and benefits.” 

Tony paused, face blanking for a second before cursing in Italian and turning back to the elevator. He ran numbers in his head on the ride down again, and once the doors opened he stepped back into the lab without hesitation. He opened his mouth to call out to Bruce before stopping dead in his tracks, eyes widening in shock at the sight before him. Bruce was back in the chair he had summoned, only with the addition of Minowa straddling his lap, the two kissing slowly and tenderly. A grin appeared on Tony’s face as he cleared his throat, Bruce and Minowa springing apart and their heads whipping towards him in shock. “So, Pepper wanted me to ask about salary and stuff, but more importantly… FRIDAY, please inform Zevrael and Dorian that they both owe me $100 a piece, and the Boone trio need to retrieve those power armor specs for me-- I fucking called it!”

A moment later he was fleeing the lab cackling madly as a dagger was hurled in his direction along with several curses in dovahzul.

Chapter Text

There was very little that escaped a sniper’s gaze in life. Every movement was observed, cataloged, and assessed for potential threat and acted upon accordingly. It was because of those very skills and the thousands of years he had to hone said skills that Ulysses caught the intruder that had somehow managed to evade his Amicus ’ security.

 

He had just come off his week of watching the Rogues and had been enjoying some time in the well-hidden tower that had been constructed for him. The ‘Spire’ was warded against detection and acted as a major point of defense for the Compound. Tony had been kind enough to install a few amenities as well, even if the sniper had told him it wasn’t necessary. He had been leaning against the outer wall with a chilled bottle of beer in one hand, casually observing the group on the outdoor training grounds below him. The kids had begun using the space for testing various inventions and chemicals. The frequently volatile results usually brought a tiny smile to his lips, though that smile was nowhere to be found at the moment. The male gracefully knelt and pulled his rifle from his back, lining the sights up with the figure he had spotted stealthily moving towards the quinjet, brown eyes narrowed in complete focus. It took a few moments for the figure to move again, but that was all the time the ex-Legionnaire needed. The bullet tore through the air with barely a sound and found a home directly in the man’s chest, the figure collapsing as he clutched his sternum and flailed dramatically. Ulysses made to target the man’s head before he froze. Black and red suit, two katanas on his back, pistol on each hip…

 

The sniper surged to his feet, opening a corridor as he shouldered his gun again and drew a pistol instead. Keeping it at the ready while he stepped through it and unwilling to take any chances with his own life or the lives of his family in the Compound, Ulysses could hear a male cursing profusely as he moved closer. His eyebrows shot into his hairline when he finally saw the man in question. “ Wilson ??”

 

Wade stopped squirming as the bullet wound healed, looking up from his place on the ground to the sniper towering over him. “Sessie!!” He was on his feet in a moment, hugging the sniper and planting kisses on his cheek through his mask, regardless of the ventilator on ‘Ses’. “I should have known it was you! Your bullets always feel tingly!”

 

It took a moment for Ulysses to regain his bearings before pushing the crazy merc away. “Immunity to Cazador venom-- should have known. Haven’t seen you in a while… avoiding death for once?”

 

“Hm, I’ll have to change that soon! I do so miss Harry-kins and Morty!”

 

Ulysses snorted at the names and shook his head in mild exasperation. “Why are you here, Wade?” he questioned, unable to think of any reason for him to be here.

 

The mercenary’s body posture changed and it took the sniper a moment to realize Deadpool was serious in whatever it was he was about to say. Whatever would have been said was stopped when a portal opened up next to them, however, Stephen and Tony stepping through with armor and magic at the ready. Deadpool was momentarily distracted by the display and gasped comically with delight. “Ooh, nifty! You could make a killing in transportation with that!”

 

Tony shot his fellow Reaper a confused look and the sniper rolled his eyes deeply. “ Amicus , Wade Wilson-- One of Dominus ’ Champions.”

 

The genius allowed his helmet to retract completely as he looked between them. “Champion? I’ve heard that term once or twice around the Nexus, but didn’t bother to ask.”

 

Ulysses jerked his head to the Merc in question. “Reapers are chosen-- end up being closer to Hadrian. Champions… immortal, without the intention of becoming so. Sometimes linked to death in other ways-- titles, mantles.”

 

A snort escaped Stephen for a moment. “Sounds like Reapers and Champions are like cousins.”

 

The sniper thought for a moment before shrugging. “Close, I suppose.” He turned his attention back to Wade. “The previous question still stands.”

 

Again, Wade became serious. After a moment of thought, he reached for his mask to pull it off. His hazel eyes were filled with worry, fear, and anxiety that was too intense to be fake. “One of my closest friends was abandoned and he is dying . I have to try and save him-- I’m all he has now.”

 

Tony froze for a moment, feeling something in his chest still for a moment. “How bad?” He finally managed to ask, and the grim look on Wade’s face and the way his eyes dropped caused the brunette to curse viciously. He thrust his hand out, willing Yinsen into existence. “Yinsen, take a message to Bridget, double time-- ‘Medic, got an emergency, grab your kit and meet us asap. Drop anything else you’re doing’.”

 

The serpent immediately sped away, and it was barely thirty seconds later that another corridor opened and admitted Bridget who was carrying her emergency medical bag. “I’m here, Tony. What’s going on?”

 

The brunette held up a hand, signaling her to wait. “Wade, do you know where your friend is?”

 

Wade grimaced and sighed. “I don’t know the exact location, but he said something about Antarctica…”

 

A sudden surge of deathly aura lanced through the area, and all eyes turned to Tony who had an icy yet murderous expression on his face and fury in his glowing orange eyes. “He was left alone...” Wade nodded. “In Antarctica…” Another nod. “Without a way back.” One last nod. Without wasting another moment, Tony sent forth a strong pulse of his own magic, the force multiplied by the strength of his emotions. It took less than a second for him to lock onto the location, and he turned his gaze to Stephen and Bridget. “Found him. Follow behind me.” Without waiting for a reply, Tony’s corridor surged into existence and a moment later he was stepping out onto a frozen plain of pure white snow that seemed to extend in almost every direction. The lack of any other color meant the genius’ eyes were immediately drawn to the lone splash of red, black, and brown sprawled out a few meters from his location.  Moving towards it quickly, Tony ignored the portal that opened behind him in favor of dropping to his knees by the still, nearly frozen body in front of him. He began rapidly casting heating charms on the man directly and around them all as Bridget knelt by the unconscious redhead’s other side.

 

Wade stuck next to the Sorcerer Supreme, eyes darting from the medic to Tony, then to his friend. “Is Remy going to be okay?” He asked after several seconds, voice uncharacteristically soft and hesitant.

 

Bridget looked up at Tony, her eyes sad and full of grief. “I… I don’t think we can save him, Wade.” She said softly, continuing to pour healing magic into the chilled body despite her words. “He’s been exposed to the elements for too long, he’s barely clinging to life…”

 

A soft choked noise escaped the merc and he dropped next to Tony, grabbing Remy’s stiff hand. “I told him this would happen, that they would do this eventually! I told him to leave while he had the chance!” He closed his eyes, squeezing the man’s hand hard in the hope of getting a response of some sort from his friend. “Come on, Gambit, you’re stronger than this!”

 

Gambit . The name struck a chord with Tony and brought several memories forward at the same time. Gambit was a mutant, a member of the X-Men whose team had been founded by Charles Xavier. All at once, several pieces clicked into place for the genius. Wade had been encouraging Remy to leave ‘them’, and Gambit was a known member of the X-Men. If his deduction was right, and it always was… Remy had been left alone in the middle of the Antarctic tundra by his team to die .

 

Flashbacks to an abandoned bunker deep in Siberia, to pain and ice and blood, betrayal and pain sprung to the front of the genius’ mind, and something deep within Tony snapped .

 

Without realizing it, the glow in his eyes had intensified and now shone brilliantly, a glowing aura forming around Tony that held the same glittering orange shade that shifted like fire, different hues of the orange swirling within it. He failed to notice the sounds of shock and awe that escaped the others present as he pressed his palms above Remy’s heart, the fiery glow rushing down his arms to envelop the nearly dead mutant. Moments later he was plunged into a maelstrom of images, and it took him a second to realize they weren’t images-- they were memories . He was continuously assaulted by feelings of desperation, despair, hopelessness, betrayal, and what few happy memories and emotions there were had been smothered beneath the dark cloud of pain and sadness that hung over his entire life. ‘I thought my childhood was shit, but this… no child deserves this. No one does.’

 

The light around the two males pulsed just once before suddenly exploding into a blinding white that had everyone else covering their eyes for a moment. A few seconds later the aura seemed to shatter outwards as if pushed away from the inside, rushing over the others before dispersing into the surrounding air. It took a few seconds for Tony to blink the spots out of his eyes and his vision came fully back into focus as he heard Bridget gasp in shock. Casting his eyes down, the genius’ mouth dropped open in shock at what he found. The mutant was warm, breathing deeply, alive… and couldn’t be more than 17 years old. Tony staggered to his feet, only for the world to tilt as his vision greyed out. His knees buckled, and the last thing he felt was his soulmate catching him in his arms before everything faded into darkness.

 

---

 

The sound of a door sliding open pulled Tony back to the waking world, and it took him a moment to realize he was in the medical wing of the Compound. As his memories slowly began to come back to him, he heard Peter softly call out to someone.

 

“Hi, Wade! Mr. Stark isn’t up yet if you wanted to know.”

 

The merc snorted out a laugh and Tony connected himself to the Compound’s cameras to see the two without making himself known. Wade was standing over the teen, arms crossed and an unamused look on his face. “Nah, the hot Irish chick in the ceiling let me know. I’m here about you.” Peter yelped as the male pulled him into a sudden headlock, giving him a noogie as he continued. “Would you care to explain to me why I’m only just now finding out about May?”

 

Peter froze for a moment before going limp in the man’s hold. “I… I knew you were trying to help Remy, and I didn’t want to bother you while you were on your mission…” he confessed, his brown eyes growing big as he met Wade’s gaze sincerely.

 

“Don’t be a dumbass, Petey.” The words were spoken gently as Wade released the brunette to sit next to him and pull him against his side, softening at the look the younger gave him. “I knew something was going down, but just because I was helping out Rem’ doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have made time for you.” He pulled off a glove and began to run his scarred fingers through Peter’s hair. “I’m sorry about what happened to her, though… Have you been holding up okay? Are they treating you well here?”

 

The teen smiled and nodded, blushing under the attention from the merc. “Yeah, everyone here has been really nice and supportive… Mr. Stark and Dr. Stephen are always willing to talk and listen, so that helps a lot.”

 

“Good. Remember, I’m always here to listen, too. I’d offer to unalive Fury for you, but I feel like you wouldn’t want that.”

 

That prompted a sudden, sharp laugh from the teen. “No, Wade, I don’t want you to kill Fury!”

 

Wade pouted, but his eyes sparkled with an emotion Tony couldn’t identify. “You know I’d totally do it if you asked… Can I maim him a little, at least?” The teen smacked him in the chest in reply, prompting the merc to gasp and clutch at it dramatically as if he’d been stabbed. “I yield! No maiming!”

 

The duo laughed together for a moment before growing quiet again. “I’m glad Remy’s okay, though… Even if he is younger than before.” Peter stated softly, eyes shifting to another bed where Tony could see the mutant laid out, sleeping soundly. “What’s gonna happen now, though?”

 

The merc sighed deeply, his own hazel eyes shifting to his friend. “I have my apartment on 183rd…”

 

“Wade, isn’t that the apartment near where you not only insisted on walking me to the bus stop, but riding with me on it because that one guy was trying to ask me how much I cost?”

 

“Yeah, Pete.” Seeing the incredulous look on the teen’s face, Wade groaned and ran a hand over his face. “Spiderling, I can take care of myself, you know that.”

 

Peter pulled away from the arm around his shoulders. “I know you can, Wade-- at least, usually.” He gestured in the direction of Remy’s bed. “What about Remy, though?”

 

Wade looked over at the unconscious redhead as well, his brow furrowed in thought. “As far as sleeping goes, he can have the couch and I’ll use the floor. Wouldn’t be the first time…” He cast a pointed look in Peter’s direction.

 

The teen huffed in reply, settling against Wade again and allowing the merc’s arm to slip around his shoulders once more. “Yeah yeah, I know. I still owe you for that, by the way.”

 

“Pete, you don’t--”

 

“Wade, if it wasn’t for you I would have bled out!” Wade held the spiderling closer even as Peter continued, “You didn’t have to help, but you did! You dragged me out of that alley, patched me up, let me crash on your couch, and made sure I would make it home safely!” He hid his face in the merc’s chest, drawing comfort from the steadily beating heart beneath his ear. “You didn’t even know me, but you helped anyway.”

 

The merc sighed softly, squeezing Peter a little tighter for a moment. “I didn’t do it so you would owe me anything. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, you know that.” He looked towards Remy’s bed again after a moment. “As for Remy, my place on 183rd will have to do for now until we figure something else out. Whatever hoodoo Stark did managed to magic Remy back to 17 years old, so him staying on his own isn’t an option. Not to mention that if the other members of the ‘super-secret-boy-band’ find out he’s alive and underage, chances are they’ll try to ‘reform’ him… whether he wants it or not.”

 

“B-But Remy didn’t do anything wrong… I mean, you said he was tricked, right? I think you mentioned that when you were telling me about him earlier...”

 

Wade nodded sharply, his hazel eyes hardening instantly. “That’s the understatement of the millenia, Pete. The thing is, Cyclops and his cronies don’t exactly see it that way. If the good professor was still there, this wouldn’t have happened the way it did. Most of the other mutants at the Institute barely tolerated Remy and they definitely looked down on him being a thief. Never mind that Remy saved Storm despite not even knowing her, just that she was a kid in trouble… then whatever team he was with that brought him to Antarctica found out about the Massacre and they…” Wade leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees, and Peter shifted closer to rub the merc’s back comfortingly. “They’re a bunch of hypocrites… they don’t exactly have clean pasts themselves.”

 

Peter pressed himself to Wade’s side again, a troubled look on his face. “But if Remy doesn’t want to be reformed, they can’t just… force him to be. I mean, doesn’t he get a say in it? He’s not exactly a child, even if he’s a teenager again.”

 

A tense silence filled the room for a moment before Wilson spoke again. “Yes. They actually can.” He rubbed his face with his hand, a worried glint in his eyes. “One of the residents of the Institute, Jean Grey, is a telepath. She could potentially reach into Remy’s mind and… well, ‘reprogram’ him into someone that they approve of.”

 

Fuck that shit .” The sudden outburst from Tony caused the two to jump in shock, and the genius sat up in bed and threw the blankets off of himself. “It was bad enough when Maximoff was fucking around in people’s heads and bringing their worst fears to life. But I’m not going to just stand by and be complacent when someone is in danger of being fucking unmade .”

 

Peter squealed and ran over to Tony as he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. “Mr. Stark, you’re okay!!” He flung his arms around the genius, relief flooding through the teenager as he gave him a wide smile.

 

Wade approached the duo at a more sedated pace with a smile of his own. “Good to see you up finally. We were pretty worried when you passed out after your little light show.” His face became completely serious a moment later. “Whatever it was you did, though, it saved Remy’s life. So… thank you.”

 

The genius held Peter close to himself as he nodded to the merc. “Honestly, I’m not sure what I did either. We can figure it out later though. For now, you and Remy are more than welcome to stay here at the Compound. You wouldn’t have to worry about his safety in terms of location, and if Grey shows up here to try and take him, she’s going to be in for a very nasty surprise.”  

 

“Yeah, I don’t doubt that, Stark. What I’m actually worried about is if they try to claim Rem in a custody battle. If they can’t convince you that he needs to be with them, I have no doubt they’ll take it to court.” Wade started pacing, simultaneously twirling a knife in one hand that seemed to have popped out of nowhere. “They’ve got both the Worthington fortune and Prof. X’s backing them, even if the professor himself isn’t there.”

 

Tony snorted and gently pulled away from Peter. “And I have the Stark fortune along with several eye-witness accounts, not to mention the person in question- Remy- can testify if he so desires.”

 

The merc gave the redhead a sad look. “He won’t. He’s been beaten down and belittled for so long that he just accepts whatever is thrown at him, even when he doesn’t deserve it.”

 

Memories flashed through Tony’s mind for a moment-- a tiny little boy with red and black eyes with a large hand on his small head, a noticeable energy being drained physically by a much older man until the child collapsed, then much later when an older red-eyed boy was finally adopted by a family only to be thrown back out again for the good of the two Guilds, and the genius closed his eyes in pain. “Yeah. I saw that.” He took a moment to organize his thoughts, but before he could speak again a soft hum from the other occupied bed drew the collective attention of the group.

 

Wade was by his friend’s side in an instant, holding his hand and rubbing his thumb along the back. “Rem?” He called softly, eyes locked on the young man in the bed. After a few moments, the redhead’s eyes fluttered open, squinting against the light of the medical wing. “Son of a bitch .” Wade hissed when he caught sight of the color, an icy blue instead of his normal red with black sclera. “Rogue drained him-- his powers-- before she abandoned him… that explains a lot.” The sound of Wade’s voice drew the young man’s attention. “You’re okay, Rem. You’re safe here.” The merc reassured him, giving his hand a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Tony swore softly under his breath before striding off to one side to speak with FRIDAY. Peter heard Bridget being mentioned as he shuffled over to join Wade and Remy.

 

Remy blinked a few times, trying to get his head to quit spinning long enough to respond. “It’s alright, mon ami .” He finally replied in a quiet tone, only to stop at the sound of his own voice. An extremely confused look crossed his face as he began taking stock of his own body, especially the way his clothes seemed to loosely drape over his body, much too big for him now with his hands being covered by the ends of his sleeves. “ Merde! What happened to me??” He yelped, looking back to Wade with shock in his newly widened eyes.

 

The merc huffed out a long breath. “You want the long version or the short version?”

 

Remy thought for a second. “Yes.”

 

“Okay…” Wade began slowly, seeing that the redhead was still a little groggy “Right after I got your call, I tried to ‘borrow’ a jet from a local group of heroes but... That ended up with me getting a bullet shot through my chest. Luckily for me, it was an old friend who shot me and he recognized me before he could pop one in my head. Turns out he’s buddy-buddy with the Tony Stark and the Wizard of Oz. Gandalf portaled us to you, but for a second it looked really... really bad. Then Stark turned into a glow stick and somehow did the same to you, and his glow stick powers gave you the blessings of the fountain of youth.”

 

Remy blinked in complete incomprehension for a moment before starting as Peter popped into view. “TL;DR, when they went to get you, they saved you, but they’re not exactly sure how . We’re working on figuring that out.” He smiled brightly as he plopped down next to Wade. “Hi, I’m Peter. It’s nice to finally meet you!”

 

The mutant’s eyes went wide with recognition. “Peter? As in Peter Parker?” The young teen’s eyes became sad even as he nodded. “Remy is happy to finally meet you, mon ami ! Wade rarely shuts up about you.”

 

Peter grinned brightly even as Wade feigned nonchalance, though the quirk of his lips betrayed him. “Really? Whenever we talk you always seem to come up too!” He shifted forward a bit to gently squeeze Remy’s free hand. “He was really worried about you-- we all were. I’m happy that you’re okay now.”

 

“We’re all glad to see you awake, too.” Tony stepped into Remy’s line of vision, a kind smile stretched across his face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Remy. I’m Tony Stark, but that’s probably obvious.” He sat on the bed next to the redhead’s, keeping his posture relaxed and his facial expression calm. “I know you probably have a lot of questions-- trust me, you’re not the only one. We’re still trying to figure things out, but I promise that you’ll be kept in the loop about anything we find. For now, I want you to focus on your recovery. What you went through is unquantifiably horrific, and your body needs a chance to readjust as much as your mind.”

 

Remy had initially been wary of the genius, but the promise to be kept up to date about his health and the genuine concern for his well-being helped him to relax a little. “Remy will take it easy, Mr. Stark. Thank you for your hospitality.”

 

The genius snorted and shook his head. “Please call me Tony. Mr. Stark was my father, and I’d rather not be referred to by any title related to him.” He leaned forward for a moment, pinning Remy with his gaze. “You and Wade are going to be staying here. You’re safer here than anywhere else in the world for more than one reason, and if the X-Men even begin to attempt to step foot on these grounds, we will know, and we will retaliate.”

 

“Let them try-- wouldn’t make it past the Spire.” All eyes turned to see Ulysses leaning in the doorway. “Good to see you awake… was worried you weren’t going to survive.” He said to Remy, dipping his head to the mutant for a moment.

 

Wade squealed and jumped from his seat. “Sessie! You came to visit us!” He made to hug the sniper and found a .44 pistol aimed between his eyes. A gasp from Remy drew their attention again and the merc grinned widely. “Rem, this is Sessie, he’s the friend who shot me!”

 

The sniper in question rolled his eyes deeply at the introduction as he holstered the gun again. “Ulysses Boone. Work colleague.” He turned his gaze to Tony. “ Amicus , we’re needed upstairs in the common room.” His eyes shifted back to Remy, Peter, and Wade for a moment. “All of us.”

 

The genius’ eyebrows rose significantly as he stood from the bed. “Well that’s not ominous at all. There’s no danger, right?” The man shook his head in reply to the question. “Okay, let’s find out what’s going on.” He turned his attention back to the mutant. “Remy, no matter who you meet upstairs, you are in absolutely no danger here, alright?”

 

Oui , Remy understands.” He made to stand on his own before yelping as Wade scooped him up into his arms bridal style.

 

“Not a chance, buttercup. You’re still recovering, and I’m more than capable of carrying you.”

 

The mutant flailed somewhat frantically in response and managed to escape the merc’s arms, landing on the ground in a rather undignified heap with a wince. “Remy is not some damsel in distress!” He snapped, glaring up at the merc as he tried to calm his pounding heart from being grabbed so suddenly with no warning.

 

Peter stepped in front of him and knelt down. “We know that, Remy. You’re a strong person-- you’ve been through a lot of tough stuff recently that no one should ever have to deal with. We’re not trying to make you feel weak. We want to help because we care about you-- Wade tried to steal a jet from the Avengers to go save you. Needing help doesn’t make you weak, Rem.” He held his hands out in invitation to the young man, who was watching him with an unreadable expression.

 

After a tense moment, Remy slowly reached forward and allowed Peter to gently grasp his own. The brunette smiled brilliantly and carefully pulled him into his arms for a gentle hug. After a few seconds he pulled away and maneuvered the redhead slightly as if to lift Remy in the same way Wade had, and the mutant started to tell him he wouldn’t be strong enough to. The protest instantly died when Peter stood with absolutely no effort with the 17-year-old secure in his arms.

 

Wade chuckled for a moment at the vibrant blush that crossed his friend’s face before becoming serious again. “Sorry about that, Rem.” He said softly, drawing the redhead’s attention.

 

Remy gave the man a smile and slight nod, realizing then that his auburn hair was no longer tied back. “No worries, Wade. Remy understands.”

 

Tony grinned brilliantly at the trio for a moment. “FRIDAY, would you be a dear and alert my better half that we need a portal to the common room?”

 

“Right away, boss!” The AI cheerfully chirped, causing Remy to jump in shock and look around wildly before Peter explained about FRIDAY in a soft voice.

 

A moment later, a sparking orange portal opened in the medical bay and Stephen wasted no time in stepping through. He didn’t give anyone a chance to speak before he was pulling Tony close and kissing him until they were both breathless. He ignored the wolf whistle from Wade and reluctantly pulled away a few seconds later, resting his forehead against Tony’s. “I know you don’t know what happened or what you did my love, but please don’t ever scare me like that again.” He breathed, trying and failing to fully mask the anxiety swimming in his eyes.

 

The genius nodded and kissed Stephen gently in response, flushing slightly. “I’m sorry I worried you.” He softly replied, not pulling away once he had gotten a nod from his soulmate. “Remy, this is Dr. Stephen Strange, my S.O. and undoubtedly better half.”

 

Stephen smiled kindly at the wide-eyed redhead and dipped his head in greeting. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He waved for them all to enter the portal, and they wasted no time in stepping through to the other side.

 

Tony blinked at the sight he was greeted with as Stephen closed the portal behind them. The Reapers were all spread out throughout the room, as well as the Bartons, Keeners, and Loki with his kids. The Reapers seemed almost agitated and the others seemed curious about the summons, doubly so at the behavior of the Reapers. “Whoa, what’s the occasion? I’m pretty sure that I didn’t miss a birthday, or did I?”  

 

From the far side of the room came a calm, matter of fact reply. “No, Anthony, you didn’t.”

 

The genius jumped a foot in the air before he spun to face the speaker, whiskey brown eyes widening in shock. “Chief?!”

 

Hadrian smiled brightly at Tony, dipping his head to his Claimed. “Good evening to you too, Tony.” He held his hand up to stop anything that might have been said next. “Unfortunately, I’m not here for a social call. Have a seat. We all need to have a little chat.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you all for coming so promptly.” Hadrian addressed the group as a whole as everyone found a seat. He smiled at the way Wade Wilson gently took Remington LeBeau from Peter’s arms and settled the redhead next to him on the couch, Dorian occupying the other seat calmly with Zevrael perched on the armrest beside his husband. “I know you all have several questions, especially for those who don’t know who I am. Rest assured, I will do my best to explain things as they come up.”

 

Tony suddenly held up his hand while looking around, noticing that a few members of their family weren’t there. He wasn’t surprised about the Barton chicks and Harley’s sister not being there considering their ages, though he wondered where his science bro was. “Hold on Chief, I just realized-- where’s Bruce?”

 

The Master of Death smiled at Tony and inclined his head towards the elevators. “Dr. Banner is with the children in the theater room watching a movie. No need to potentially frighten them, after all.” Tony nodded in agreement and Hadrian swept forward to the center of the room so everyone could see him. “Allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Hadrian Black, and I am the Master of Death.” He raised a hand to forestall any panic that might have occurred, knowing that his title tended to invoke both fear and a little awe. “Now, I’m not here to kill anyone. My job entails protecting the multiverse from threats that could potentially cause an enormous amount of unbalanced death and stop people who would seek to wield power that they have no business handling. When I find a world being threatened by something of this nature, I send in a team to take care of the problem. If my Reapers could make themselves known…”

 

All at once several hands went in the air, many eyes turning to Tony in shock and surprise when his hand was among them. He gave them a grim smile as he turned his attention to Holly Keener for a moment. “Like I said, Holly… the damage done in Siberia was bad .”

 

“Yes, it’s true. Anthony is one of my Reapers, and the leader of the team I sent to take care of a problem I detected in your world.”

 

Wade snorted loudly from his place next to Rem before snarking, “You mean besides Captain Tightass being alive?”

 

This prompted several snickers and smirks from the teenagers in the room with Loki’s kids in particular looking at the newcomer with respect and glee. Sleipnir called back with a dark smirk, “Maybe we should help pull the flagpole from his ass.”

 

“I don’t know, brother…” Jörmungandr drawled, a shark-like grin of his own stretched across his face. “For all we know, his brand of stupid could be contagious.”

 

Harley gasped in mock horror. “Maybe that’s why none of the Rogues have tried to help pull it out. They caught the stupid bug!”

 

Peter grinned and proceeded to announce, “The Rogues have cooties!!” Hearing more of the snickers, he shifted slightly in his seat and met Harley’s gaze, giving him a thumbs up.

 

“But where did the cooties come from?” Hela asked innocently, tilting her head as she cuddled into her father, sitting on his lap and clutching his shirt with one of her small hands as the other held her plushie close. “Maybe someone gave them the cooties from somewhere outside!”

 

Tony gave a soft laugh and shook his head. “That’s a conversation for another day, okay sweetheart?” Getting a nod from the young girl, he turned his attention back to Hadrian, who had been watching the byplay with a slightly nostalgic smile. “Back to the topic at hand, though… It’s rare for you to make an unannounced visit, Chief.”

 

The smile fell from the man’s face and he nodded. “Indeed, I rarely feel the need to visit my Reapers on the job site. However, I’ve come into the possession of knowledge that concerns you in particular, Tony.”

 

The genius blinked in shock. “Me? Why me?”

 

“During your Claiming, I was made aware that there was… an anomaly from the usual results-- more than one, actually. I initially thought that Mortis was referring to the abilities you gained during it, but that was only part of what he sensed. Recently, several things have happened that gave us vague hints as to what was going on, but it wasn’t until a few hours ago that we had a definitive answer.” Getting a nod from the genius he continued. “Tony, how much do you know about the Infinity Stones?”

 

Tony blinked in confusion at the question, briefly turning his gaze to Stephen and Loki. “I know Stephen has the Time Stone-- saved the world with it and everything-- and Rock of Ages over there had access to the Mind Stone that’s now in Vision, and… you said the Space Stone was in the Tesseract, right?” The god nodded in affirmation, and the genius turned his attention back to Hadrian. “So, I know about one off hand, and the extensive research I did on the Tesseract and creating Vision means I have some experience handling two.” He took a moment to think before continuing. “From what you mentioned in your debriefing before I came back, There are six stones-- the three mentioned above, along with… Reality, Power, and Soul. Let’s see… they can’t be handled with your bare hands-- they’re always in a container of some kind. You know, glow stick of destiny, cosmic cube, fancy bling… don’t know about the others, but I’d guess they’re the same.”

 

“Indeed. For those of you who are still lost, the Infinity Stones are the solidified form of the energies from the singularities of the universe. They are objects of incredible power and very very dangerous in the wrong hands.” He heard Wade cough to cover up Roger’s name and his emerald eyes narrowed in annoyance.

 

Wade shrugged, unrepentant. “What? Considering he claims that the safest hands are their own, I’d be pretty worried if he somehow got his red, white, and blue gloves on one.”

 

“The problem is that someone is looking to collect all of them.” Attention was turned to Tony who stood to see everyone better. “Someone whose end goal is to wipe out life entirely .”

 

Loki swallowed hard and held Hela tighter, guilt swimming in his green eyes. “Thanos.” he hoarsely whispered, unable to look at anyone else in the room for the moment.

 

Laura’s eyes immediately focused the God at the tone of his voice and she quickly stood, moving so that she was kneeling in front of him. “Hey, none of that self-blame, mister,” She said softly, cupping his pale cheek and tilting his head up so he was looking her in the eye. “You were as much of a victim as everyone else. No one here is blaming you, okay?”

 

Cooper hopped off the couch to join his mom, wedging himself between Loki and the armrest to give the god a hug. “Mom’s right, Mr. Loki. I don’t blame you, Lila doesn’t blame you… We all think you’re a pretty cool guy.”

 

The male laughed wetly in reply, moving to hug Cooper back after a moment. Laura sat on Loki’s other side to join them, prompting a giggle from Hela who was still seated on her father’s lap. The stuffed wolf she’d been cuddling fell to the floor as she twisted so she could join the hug too.

 

Several soft ‘aw’s were heard around the room and Wade mimed taking pictures of the scene. Peter quickly whipped out his phone and actually took pictures, and Tony subtly motioned for FRIDAY to do the same, smiling at the sight. From their spot a few meters away, Sleipnir and Jörmungandr looked at each other with wide, knowing eyes, and identical grins slid across their faces simultaneously a few seconds later.

 

Hadrian waited patiently for everyone to settle again, casting his eyes over the others as he did so. He smiled brightly when he saw Rem dozing with his head resting against Dorian’s shoulder, the mage gently running his fingers through the teen’s long auburn hair. Zev was leaning over and whispering something in his husband’s ear, and the pyro nodded and smiled at whatever was said. The Master of Death grinned and cleared his throat after a moment or two, drawing everyone’s attention again. Everyone quickly settled down again and he picked up from where the genius had left off. “What Tony said is true-- Thanos desires to wipe out life entirely in an effort to court his ‘Lady Death’.” The declaration prompted a squeal of ‘EW!’ from Hela, which garnered a number of confused looks from all but her immediate family. “As this world’s Goddess of Death, that would mean Hela.”

 

“Oh Hell no!” Laura barked furiously when she saw how the little girl had scrunched her face up in disgust and even a little fear at the very thought of her would-be suitor, prompting a shocked and somewhat awestruck look from Loki. “First of all, she is nine-years-old ! This Thanos character has no business trying to ‘woo’ anyone that age! Secondly, it’s pretty clear to me-- and all of you, I believe-- that Hela has absolutely no interest in such matters at this time, so he can take his pursuits and shove them! Third, I’m pretty sure grand gestures of love and devotion do not include wiping out all existence no matter where in the galaxy you come from!”  

 

“I never claimed Thanos was smart, Ms. Barton.” Hadrian drawled with an arched eyebrow and a slight smirk on his face at her immediate defense of the little Goddess of Death. “Nevertheless, his efforts put the universe in danger, so I sent a team down to mitigate the problem.” He paused for a moment as if to gather his thoughts. “I knew the location of most of the stones to a certain degree. However, there was one I couldn’t find, couldn’t even discern the location of… not until recently, when someone tapped into its’ power, that one being the Soul Stone.”

 

“Do we need to go after it, Chief?” Tony asked, already mentally preparing himself and making a list of gear they would need.

 

The ebony haired man took a deep breath and slowly released it. “Tony, the person who tapped into it was you .”

 

A ringing silence filled the room as Tony stared at him for several seconds, unable to comprehend Hadrian’s words for several seconds. His eyes drifted to the side and eventually fell on the sleeping Rem. Realization suddenly hit the genius like a lightning bolt as he remembered how Bridget had clearly said the man wouldn’t make it-- Bridget , whose Claiming gift was total mastery of the White Arts, who had tens of thousands of years worth of experience in healing, and who knew when a case was lost. And yet… he was still here, and at least a decade younger to boot. “I… I don’t…” He finally looked back to Hadrian, face pale and eyes filled with worry at the implications of the Master of Death’s words. “ How ?” He finally croaked. “I’ve never even seen the Soul Stone!”

 

“You wouldn’t have, Anthony, because the Stone itself was… for lack of a better term, fused to your very being .” Hadrian gave a soft huff as he ran his fingers through his hair in a nervous gesture. “I don’t know how, when, why, or who, but the end result is undeniable. Essentially, you are the Soul Stone, Tony.”

 

A moment of absolutely stunned silence passed before Tony reacted in the same way anyone else would when faced with such shocking, life changing news-- he fainted. Stephen surged to catch him, almost being pulled over by his soulmate’s deadweight as the room erupted into chaos. The sudden increase in volume startled Rem awake, the couch beneath his hand beginning to take on a brilliant magenta glow as the mutant blinked in sleepy confusion. Wade quickly yanked the teen’s hand away from the furniture to keep it from exploding. Narrowing his eyes, the merc snorted before pulling one of the guns from his belt and firing a round into the ceiling, effectively silencing the room. “I get that this is kind of a shocker, but you guys need to shut the hell up for a second.” He snapped, holstering his pistol easily without looking before turning back to Rem. “Easy, Rem. Reign it in a little. You’re safe here, I promise.” He spoke soothingly to the trembling mutant, noticing his previously blue eyes had returned to their usual red with black sclera. Dorian and Zevrael both rose from their place beside the teen and Wade glanced at them with a slightly worried look. “Rem can charge things with kinetic energy, and that tends to have rather explosive results. He had his powers suppressed so they could be controlled, but I’m guessing that whatever Stark did healed that surgery.” Going uncharacteristically silent for a few moments, the mercenary knew that regardless of his friend’s powers being uncontrollable again, there was no chance he’d let Rem walk back to the one who was really responsible for the massacre. There had to be another way than letting that mad scientist cut into the redhead’s brain again. About to speak again to the abnormally quiet mutant, Wade paused when he saw the pair that had been sitting on Rem’s other side looking at him with concern and compassion.

 

The Pavus men looked at each other and nodded before Zevrael moved into the man’s line of sight, drawing Rem’s attention immediately. “Hey there. I’m Zevrael Pavus, and this is my husband, Dorian.” He gestured to the mage next to him, who smiled charmingly and waved. “I might have a temporary solution to your problem.” He gestured with his hands for a moment, forming a tennis ball-sized sphere of ice in them. “Hold onto this. While you’re charging it, I can use my cryokinetic abilities to disperse the buildup of kinetic energy. It will work until we can come up with a more permanent solution, okay?”

 

Rem looked between the ball and Zev for a few seconds, internally debating. Finally, he reached forward slowly to take the ice sphere, and the duo’s eyes were immediately drawn to how the sleeves of the brown coat fully covered his hands. Seeing the redhead clearly hesitating for a moment as his gaze dropped to said appendages, Dorian slowly reached forward, not wanting to spook the shaken teenager. “Need some help?” He asked softly, hovering above them and waiting for permission. Remy flushed and nodded, and the mage gently took the cuff of the sleeve and rolled it back so his hand was free to take the ice ball without the possibility of charging and exploding the worn trench coat.

 

The mutant blinked in shock as he took it before looking up to the elf. “It isn’t cold… how?” he questioned curiously, having expected it to be chilly considering that it was ice, after all.

 

Zev smiled and winked as Dorian moved to his other side to help with the other sleeve. “Cryokinesis, which I have, isn’t a mutation. It’s an absolute control, meaning if I don’t want that ice to be cold, it won’t be.”  

 

His husband nodded in affirmation as he pulled away from rolling the sleeve up to cast a critical eye over Rem’s young and much too skinny form. “Maker’s breath, those clothes are quite big on you now…” Seeing the younger male flush in embarrassment he quickly smiled brightly to reassure him. “No matter, now we have a reason to get you a wardrobe that’s to your tastes and fits.” Seeing the teen’s stunned look, Dorian’s eyes narrowed as he tilted his head. “Is something wrong?”

 

Red and black eyes were cast to the floor as Rem softly replied, “It’s just… Remy isn’t used to… the kindness or generosity.” The teenager could feel his power seeping out of his fingertips into the ball held, relieved that it was contained so he wouldn’t blow anything up by accident.

 

Dorian and Zevrael glanced at each other once more, sorrow in the elf’s eyes and righteous indignation in the mage’s. “Well! You don’t have to worry about either of those things being in short supply here.” Dorian announced as he stood gracefully and sat next to Rem again, Zev joining him a moment later as he reclaimed his perch on the armrest. After a few tense moments, Rem inched a bit closer and leaned into the mage slightly, though ready to pull away at any sign of him not being comfortable with it. He was surprised when Dorian instead wrapped an arm around his thin shoulders and gave him a gentle squeeze. A moment later, he felt Zev’s fingers gently running through his hair in a soothing gesture and he leaned into the gentle touch unconsciously. Actions meant more to the redhead, especially after a lifetime of empty words and broken promises that were often accompanied by less than pleasant physical things. The pair’s silent comfort felt good and soothed Rem’s need for physical affection, something that far too many in the past took for an agreement for something else.

 

There were a few seconds of silence as everyone observed the group, the Reapers all shooting the Pavus husbands knowing grins. The quiet was cut when Tony’s voice croaked from the floor, “Why the hell is there a bullet hole in my ceiling?”

 

Wade lifted his gaze from making sure that Rem was okay and grinned sheepishly at the genius as Stephen helped his soulmate off the floor and back into his seat. “Yeah, that was me. Sorry not sorry. I’ll pay for the damage.”

 

Tony blinked at the merc before sighing and waving his hand. “Don’t worry about it.” Seeing Wade about to protest the genius smirked and pointed to the ceiling again. “No, really. Don’t worry about it.”

 

Hazel eyes snapped back to the ceiling to see the hole had already repaired itself. “Huh. Nifty. So you have glow stick fountain of youth powers, portals, snake summons, and construction voodoo. Any other cool tricks we should know about?”

 

Almost simultaneously, every other Reaper laughed or snorted. “In for a penny, in for a pound, Glitch.” Craig said with a smirk, Aria nodding along with a grin.

 

The genius glanced over at Hadrian, and the Master of Death dipped his head with a smile. “They’re your family, Anthony. They’d follow you to Hell and back.”

 

“Damn right, we would!” Harley nodded, a determined light in his eye as he resolutely ignored the half-hearted reproach of ‘Harley!’ from Holly behind him.

 

Peter gave Tony a hug from his place at his side. “We’re with you no matter what, Mr. Stark!”

 

Whiskey brown eyes closed for a moment as Tony tried desperately to hold back the tide of emotion he was suddenly feeling. The feeling of Stephen’s hand settling against his shoulder helped ground him, and he clutched at it gently as he looked up into the blue-green eyes of his soulmate. The soft, adoring smile on the sorcerer’s face gave him courage, and he took a deep breath as he faced forward again. He thought for a moment before a smirk quirked at his lips, his eyes lighting up blue for a moment.

 

Wade gave a gasp of delight. “ Oooh , more colors! What’s that one do?”

 

A few seconds later Peter’s Starkphone began buzzing, playing ‘Back in Black’ as the ringtone. The spiderling pulled it out with a perplexed look on his face, glancing between Tony and the phone for a second before finally answering it. “Hello?” There was a moment’s quiet before Peter’s mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. Silently, he pulled it away from his ear and put it on speakerphone, setting it on the table.

 

The group was confused at the action until Tony’s voice filtered through it. “You tell me what it does, Wade.”

 

The merc was at a loss for words for a moment, looking between the phone and Tony, who hadn’t moved an inch since his eyes had lit up. It was Harley who understood first, however. “Holy crap, Mechanic! Are you interfacing with his phone from your mind ?!”

 

“Not just the phone.” This time the genius’ voice came from the speakers overhead, prompting several gasps. “If it counts as tech in any way, I can interface with it. I could, in fact, remote pilot one of my suits like this.”

 

A brilliant grin split Peter’s face at that as he stared at his mentor in fascination and surprise. “Technopathy! Wow! So you can access the internet with your mind?? Do you watch netflix like that? You can make phone calls, but how far does it reach? Could you call Japan from here? Could you access systems in Japan from here?? What about satellites?!”

 

The blue faded from Tony’s eyes and he began laughing at Peter’s enthusiasm. “Easy, spiderkid! Gotta remember to breathe, you know!” He thought for a moment as the teen did so. “To be honest, I’ve never tried reaching a satellite. As for the other questions-- Yes I can access the internet, I’ve never used it for Netflix but I’ll have to remember to try that, and I can make phone calls to anywhere and access any system I’ve encountered so far.”

 

Laura gave a soft chuckle, amazement shining clearly in her eyes at the display. “I’m looking forward to the day someone attempts to challenge the New Avengers using technology now that you have such a useful card close in hand.”

 

“Oh yes, that’s the card in my hand …” He smirked towards Loki and his kids, and they all perked up in realization. “But the best card is the one you keep in your boot.”

 

Remy grinned from his place under Dorian’s arm and nodded in agreement. “Remy knows that for a fact.”

 

“So then, Stark. What’s your hidden card, then?” Wade asked with a grin. “Cuz I’m pretty sure it can’t get much better than that.”

 

That prompted another round of laughter from the Reapers, Hadrian himself chuckling along with them. Tony simply smiled and closed his eyes, brow furrowing slightly. A moment later, the ceiling above them began to twist and shift, the same happening to the walls a moment later. Within moments the group was seemingly seated in a moon-lit grassy field, and Tony held one hand up, palm facing upwards. Several tiny specks of colored light formed in them before suddenly shooting upwards, exploding into brilliant fireworks that took on various shapes. The non-Reapers gasped in awe and delight, and Hadrian himself felt a curl of nostalgia in his chest as a distant memory of redheaded twins flickered to the forefront of his mind. Hela squealed with delight as she leapt off her father’s lap, running around and trying to catch the lights in her hands. One firework exploded into the shape of a fierce looking dragon, but unlike the others didn’t disappear after a few second. Instead it landed in front of them, lifting its’ head to unleash a roar before bursting into several smaller lights that faded after a few seconds.

 

The silence that followed was deafening. Finally, Wade turned back to Tony with a huge grin on his face. “Okay, I stand corrected-- that was amazing. Do it again!”

 

A resounding cheer met his request, and Tony grinned brightly as he summoned his magic forth again, the genius’ heart warm with the love and acceptance from the people he had come to care for so much. Hadrian smiled brightly at the obvious joy radiating from his Reaper and made to slip away before pausing, his gaze having fallen on the wolf plushie Hela had dropped earlier. He scooped it up and moved over to the girl, drawing the attention of a few people.

 

He knelt in front of her, and for a moment they didn’t speak. Finally, Hadrian gave a small quirk of his lips. “Are you happy now, Hela?” he questioned gently.

 

The little goddess nodded rapidly, looking up at the Master of Death with unbridled joy on her face and devotion in her eyes. “I am.” She replied with absolute certainty.

 

The ebony haired man smiled, leaning forward to kiss her forehead for a moment. “Good.” He murmured, knowing nothing else needed to be said on the matter. He waved his hand over the wolf in his arms for a moment before handing the now animated toy back to her, prompting a delighted gasp from the girl. “You know I’m only a call away, dear heart.” He gracefully stood again and after giving the child one last pat on her head, slipped away silently. Unbeknownst to him, several eyes followed his movements before a pair of mothers looked back to each other, smiles appearing on their faces and a shared thought between them.

 

‘For being the Master of Death, he’s such a softie!’

Chapter Text

If it weren’t for the seriousness of the situation, the spit take that had just occurred in the common room of the New Avengers would have been hilarious. “I’m sorry,” Tony gasped out as he attempted to dislodge the hot coffee he’d been drinking from his lungs, “but did you just say that Thor has been spotted, baby girl?”

 

“That’s right, Boss. Several news stations have reported different sightings of Mr. Odinson, though they seem to be mainly concentrated in Japan of all places.” The holographic screen closest to them lit up to show somewhat blurry footage of the blond, muscular God of Thunder standing in front of what appeared to be the famous Tokyo Tower. Several teenagers, mostly female, were squealing and chattering to each other excitedly in Japanese as they took several pictures of him with their cellphones. Judging from the half frustrated, half puzzled look on Thor’s face, they must have been saying some very bizarre things. Either that or Thor’s All-Speak wasn’t translating correctly.

 

Aria let out a cackle at one point and exclaimed, “Oh my God, that girl with the bleached hair just asked him if she could have his baby!!”  

 

This prompted a bout of laughter around the table for several moments that was cut off suddenly when Hela whimpered, jumped up from her seat and bolted behind Laura, hiding behind her and shaking while clutching tightly onto her leg. “No, he shouldn’t be here! Make him go away! He’ll send me back!” She sobbed, pressing herself against the woman and shaking her head back and forth frantically.

 

The second he heard the whimper, Loki surged to his feet as Laura knelt and pulled the young girl into a tight hug, murmuring comfortingly in her ear. The God quickly joined them and upon seeing that he was trembling as fearfully as his daughter was, Laura pulled him into her arms as well. “It’s okay,” she breathed, dividing her attention between the clearly terrified and pale pair, a hand on each as she tried to ease the fear that the very sight of Thor had invoked, despite the God of Thunder not being physically present. “I’m here; we’re all here, Loki… Nothing will happen to any of you, I promise.”

 

Tony looked over at Stephen, his jovial nature gone and replaced by fierce determination and not a little anger towards Thor at how frightened Hela and even Loki himself were of him. The genius had seen a glimpse of Thor’s darker nature when he’d been manhandled by the God himself; what in the world had Thor done to Loki and his kids to make them so scared of him? It hadn’t escaped Tony’s notice that Loki’s sons were just as shaken as both their little sister and their parent. Thinking furiously for a moment, Tony nodded mentally before he began speaking.

 

“Babe, please strengthen the wards around the compound to make certain that no one outside of this place can get a read on the magic from Loki or any of his kids. Reinforce the panic room and make it so that it would take the power of three Reapers COMBINED to forcefully get through the wards. Craig,” He turned to the sniper, who stood from his seat with his back ramrod straight and his attention focused solely on the genius. “Make sure Ulysses gets the same instructions I’m about to give you-- the moment you get to the Spire, initiate the ‘Pillow Fort’ Protocol. That will put the defenses in the Compound on standby. On the slim possibility that Thor shows up here asking for help, up the level to ‘Blanket Fort’. The defenses will immediately come online and start revving up, but they won’t actively engage. Should he leave peacefully, knock it back down to ‘Pillow Fort’. However, if the situation turns hostile on his end in any way , I want you to immediately initiate the ‘Containment Bubble’ protocol. Every defense mechanism in this place with come online, and that includes the new additions you, ‘Ses, and Rhodey agreed on the other day. FRIDAY will send the activation codes to your tablets for all three-- do NOT hesitate to use them.” The sniper gave a sharp nod, grabbed up his mug of coffee and summoned a corridor to the Spire.

 

Sleipnir, Jörmungandr, and Fenrir were in their own little huddle, the two elder brothers holding the younger close as he shook and cried as well. Slei and Jör looked at each other, fighting back their own fear and anxiety at the prospect of their ‘uncle’ being so close for the sake of their little brother, though they were genuinely afraid as well. Knowing that their parent was as frightened did not make their fears any less. The trio was startled when they were suddenly joined by several others-- Peter, Wade, and even Rem surrounded them to provide their own comfort.

 

“Don’t worry, we won’t let him take you guys away.” Peter declared resolutely, impulsively hugging the nearest body to him, which ended up being Jör. The brown-eyed teenager nuzzled him reassuringly, giving him a gentle squeeze, determination in his eyes.

 

“And on the off chance that he dares to try, I can always see if it’s possible to kill a god,” Wade added, a dark glint in his eye at the thought of anyone hurting the frightened teens in front of him. The fact that Slei and Jör were actually much older than him was quickly shut down and completely ignored. Seeing their fear invoked his protective nature, the mercenary’s mind already jumping to potential ways to end Thor even as he reached out, giving each a quick hug.

 

Rem nodded in agreement, the protective instincts within the mutant screaming at him to keep them safe and protected from any sort of harm. Ignoring the pressing emotions of fear, pain, and anger that hammered on his mental shields, the redhead instead focused on helping to soothe the fright that flowed so strongly through his friends. These were part of the ones who had taken him in, nurtured him, encouraged him, and loved him without asking for anything in return. Over the past two weeks, he had gotten a chance to meet and interact with everyone living in the Compound, and a few others as well.

 

Despite his initial reservations and fears, they had been nothing but kind and compassionate, and the outpouring of support from them all had thrown the mutant off balance for a while. For the first time in his life, Rem found himself being truly accepted as he was, no ridicule or debasing because of his past as a thief. In fact, when he had told Minowa, the Dragonborn had arched an eyebrow and replied with, “I am the Guildmaster of the Thieves’ Guild in my world, not to mention the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, the most feared group of assassins on Nirn. I killed the Emperor of the Imperial Empire on his own ship and managed to remain completely undetected the entire time. Not a single one of the Reapers are innocent, and you should not feel any guilt for being the same.”

 

It was equally amazing to him to not be labeled as a ‘whore’ or ‘slut’ as Warren had so frequently called him due to his tendency to seek out physical comfort. Never mind that it was less about sex and more about keeping nightmares away, the winged mutant had made his opinion on how dirty and slutty the redhead was known quite well, few in the X-Men coming to his defense since they already believed the worst of him without even knowing him. If it hadn’t been for Logan, Rem didn’t know how long he would have remained there being belittled and shamed for things beyond his control. With getting to know both the New Avengers, along with the Bartons, the Keeners, and Peter, along with Bruce Banner, he could now confidently call each and every one of them a friend. However, the Pavus husbands, in particular, ended up with a special place in the redhead’s heart.

 

Rem was not surprised that his nightmares returned with a vengeance after Wade left for a few days to tie up some loose ends before moving to the Compound permanently. His sleep was disturbed night after night, though when a particularly bad dream had him screaming while he thrashed about on the bed, he had been awoken by voices calling his name. Seeing Dorian and Zevrael there in their nightclothes, Rem had stammered out a quick apology for waking them, wiping his eyes hurriedly with the back of his hand. He hoped that they wouldn’t be angry as some of his former team had been when he woke them during his night terrors. Finding himself embraced tightly by Dorian while Zevrael stroked his back and hair, the teen had been grateful and relieved when the pair encouraged him to talk about what had terrified him in his sleep instead of telling him to shut up as Bobby and Warren had told him to so many times. They listened without censure, staying there until Rem was fully calmed down. The most amazing thing was that when he hesitated after Zevrael asked him gently if he was able to go back to sleep now and Rem shook his head before admitting to the older men that his nightmares generally were worse when he slept alone, Dorian and Zevrael had invited him to sleep in their bed if he wanted, both now and in the future. Unlike Warren, the duo didn’t even bat an eye at his need for physical comfort, already knowing Rem well enough to know that it was by no means a sexual thing that had him seeking out someone to share a bed with but the need to feel safe and cared about. For the first time in longer than Rem could remember since his time as an X-Men, he had slept with no nightmares, waking to find himself curled up against Dorian and using him as a pillow with Zevrael nestled beside his husband peacefully.

 

They had been the ones to sit with and comfort him as Stephen and Tony applied their solution to help with his mutation. The soulmates had explained the entire process in detail beforehand to alleviate his fears-- they would layer several smaller binding spells one on top of another, only stopping once Rem gave them the okay. They would then weave another enchantment around the binding spells that would lock the whole thing in place. Unlocking it would take the combined magic of both Tony and Stephen, and a failsafe was built in so it had to be done without any kind of outside coercion. The teenager had agreed wholeheartedly with the plan, making an off-handed comment about how it was better than what he’d had before. The remark had sparked another conversation with Dorian and Zev later, and Rem felt safe enough to open up to them fully about what he had lived through and experienced. It was only the presence of Zevrael that kept the pyromancer from torching something in his ire, though the fact that Rem needed their comfort at the moment also helped a great deal. When Remy told them about his abduction by the evil mutant known as Magneto and the trial that Magneto had organized for him in Antarctica, his gaze had dropped and his lower lip had quivered, his lean arms wrapping around himself as he continued speaking. The memory of how those who were supposed to be his team had acted during that farce of a trial and their subsequent abandonment of Rem in the frozen tundra brought forth silent tears that flowed down the teen’s face, a sight which broke the hearts of both men as they listened. When they enquired further about the massacre, he had told them about being tricked, and how he had tried desperately to stop the mass murdering that was being carried out only to be stabbed deeply by Sabertooth, brutally and sadistically violated by the much stronger, larger, and older mutant, and then left to die. The pain on Rem’s face made it clear that even though he truly was not to blame, he harbored guilt and shame over the whole ordeal. Not just for being tricked into leading nearly all of the Morlocks to their deaths but also because of what Sabertooth had done to him when he wasn’t able to defend himself from the violent man. Neither Dorian nor Zavrael missed how Rem’s voice had wavered when he mentioned that Sabertooth showed up every once in a while or his lowered gaze as the teen shuddered, tightening his grip on himself when asked if Sabertooth had hurt him more than just that one time in the tunnel before he slowly nodded.

 

What Rem didn’t realize at the moment though was that while the duo had been calm and supportive about the whole thing on the outside, in truth both Dorian and Zevrael were practically incandescent with white-hot rage. Rem had been given no chance to defend himself, despite having been a victim in the whole massacre as well. The actions of the X-Men had left them stunned and disgusted; the knowledge that a sadistic, feral mutant had been sexually assaulting Rem for years enraged the bonded pair. A single glance to each other over the head of the silently weeping teen they were holding close was all the communication that was needed to come to a decision. No one was going to hurt the young man in their arms again. He had been denied justice and closure for so long… and both men were absolutely willing to play judge, jury, and executioner if it meant Rem would finally have some peace of mind.

 

As the redhead pressed himself against Sleipnir to comfort him with a gentle embrace, Rem was suddenly struck with the realization that he was able to reach out to comfort someone without fear of being pushed away, mocked, or belittled. A breath of relief rushed past his lips and his entire being felt like a great weight had been lifted from it. Their strength and love had made him strong in turn. Now he could be strong for the ones that had come to mean so much to him.

 

Tony shot a brilliant, relieved smile towards the supportive group hug before turning back to the other adults. His gaze found Minowa and the genius was alarmed when he saw the black beginning to bleed into her sclera. “Minowa!” He barked, causing the other adults to jump at the suddenness of his tone. The Dragonborn’s eyes snapped towards him, barely contained fury in every line of her body. Tony summoned up a corridor and pointed to it. “Outside training yard-- go work it off.” The woman nodded sharply and stalked through the corridor without a word, something Tony was infinitely grateful for. There was no guarantee that Minowa was currently in full control of her Thu’um, and a single word had the potential to send a grown adult flying.

 

Bridget let out a long breath of relief as the corridor closed, a modicum of tension falling away from her. “I think we should take a little while to decompress and meet back here before the press conference at three,” she suggested, seeing the tension in everyone as she glanced around the room.

 

“I agree with Bridget-- and don’t be late getting back here! Pepper will have our heads if we keep her waiting!” Tony reminded them before leading Stephen away towards his lab.

 

Zevrael and Dorian made to leave as well but paused when Rem didn’t make a move to do the same, the teen’s eyes closed as he briefly winced at the strong emotions pressing against his mental shields. “Rem? You okay?” The elf approached him with worry in his eyes, his husband hot on his heels.

 

The genuine concern from the two adults brought a smile to the redhead’s face. “Rem-- I mean, I’m okay. I just need a few minutes,” he assured them sincerely.

 

The Pavus men nodded and pulled the teen into a brief hug. “You know where to find us if you need us, okay?” Dorian gently tugged a lock of Rem’s fiery hair.

 

Despite the feeling of fear still lurking in the corners of his mind, Rem smiled at the affection from the two men and nodded. He watched as they departed as well before leaning against the counter and closing his red and black eyes again to organize his thoughts. After ten minutes they opened again and the teen glanced over at the clock built into the oven. His brow furrowed as he considered something. “Miss FRIDAY,” He finally called to the ceiling, “Could you please pull up a list of ingredients we have in stock for cooking?”

 

The AI chirped an affirmative and a screen above the counter turned on to display the information Rem had requested. He browsed the list for a few minutes before turning his attention back to FRIDAY. “Miss FRIDAY, could you narrow this list down to just the ingredients necessary to make a meat lasagna and garlic bread?”

“Would you like a recipe as well?”

 

Rem smiled and shook his head in reply. “I’ll be fine with just the ingredients, ma’am. Could you help me find them please?” he requested softly.

 

The AI happily agreed and within a few minutes, the mutant had everything he needed to make the lasagna laid out before him. He quickly fell into the rhythm of prepping the food and spreading sauce along the bottom of the pan. Without realizing it, Rem began to hum softly as he moved from one counter to the next, completely focused on the task at hand. The humming soon became singing as the teenager indulged in one of his favorite drinking songs that never failed to get a laugh out of people. Halfway through he realized someone was singing the harmony during the chorus and he glanced over to see Aria sitting at the counter watching him, a bright grin on her face as she sang along. Despite his initial embarrassment at being caught unaware, he could easily admit to himself that the woman had an amazing voice that seemed to blend well with his.

 

As they finished the song together, Aria laughed with delight and clapped her hands. “Bravo, Rem! Oh, I’m so glad that song exists here as well!” Seeing the curious look the redhead was giving her the brunette quickly explained with a sad smile, “The world my husbands and I come from… It has limited music to choose from. One of the reasons I’m so grateful to be a Reaper is being able to go to different worlds and experience the selection they have to offer.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “The abundance of green is also a plus…” She murmured under her breath, just loud enough for the mutant to hear. “Enough about that though. You have a wonderful voice, hon.” Rem blushed in reply as he layered the noodles in the dish in front of him. Aria tilted her head in consideration before smiling again. “You know there’s a music room here, right?” The mutant perked up in curiosity and the woman continued. “Oh yes, and if you want a particular instrument I could bring it from the Nexus. I, admittedly, am a bit of a collector.”

 

The mutant arched an eyebrow in amusement. “You plan on moving an entire grand piano?” he questioned with a grin.

 

That caused the woman to break out in bell-like laughter. “Fortunately, the Hall has one of those already. Apparently, it belonged to Maria Stark.” Seeing the doubtful look on Rem’s face she quickly reassured him. “Trust me hon, Tony wouldn’t mind if you used it. Did you know he actually can play two instruments? Piano and violin. Sometimes he goes in there to play when he gets really stressed out. He realized that music is a much better coping mechanism than drinking one’s self under the table.” She gracefully rose from her seat to come around the other side of the counter. “Would you like help with prep? I’ll leave putting everything together in your hands, but I can prep ingredients.”

 

Rem paused for a moment, thinking and mentally matching timetables. “Actually, do you know how to make garlic bread?” The woman nodded with an excited spark in her eyes. She started on that, and the two engaged in easy chatter about music preferences. In the lull that occurred while waiting to take the pasta out so the bread could be put in, Remy softly asked, “Mrs. Boone, what’s your world like?”

 

The brunette turned her purple-blue eyes to him, a sad, faraway look in them. She was quiet for a few seconds before answering. “You know how Stark Industries used to have a weapons division that Tony shut down?” Getting a nod, she told him with absolute certainty in her voice, “Our world is what this one would have become eventually if he hadn’t done that.” She looked straight ahead again as she continued to speak. “Keep in mind, timelines don’t line up between worlds. Remember that while I’m telling you this. In the aftermath of World War 2, our worlds took very different paths. In mine, scientists began utilizing nuclear energy to create and power amazing things. What wasn’t invented until at least 2023 was the transistor.” Seeing the realization flash across Rem’s face she nodded. “Our world had nuclear energy powering most of our devices. At least… it did .” She took a moment to straighten the timeline in her head before continuing. “Dwindling resources caused global tension and in winter of 2066, a Communist-controlled China invaded Anchorage, Alaska to try and commandeer the oil pipeline. The USA drove them back… but the peace didn’t last long. On October 23rd, 2077… The Great War happened.” Her eyes took on a thousand-yard stare for a few seconds. “No one is sure who hit the button first-- not even now-- but the result was undeniable. On October 23rd, the population of the world was about 10 billion people.” She took a deep breath to steady herself. “By that same date, the year following… it was 2 million at most. The entire Northern hemisphere was reduced to an irradiated, fiery, post-apocalyptic hellscape .”

 

The red and black eyes of the mutant were wide and filled with horror at the thought of the cataclysmic destruction and gargantuan death toll. Over 9 billion people dead almost all at once… “Then… how did you survive?” He asked softly, on the edge of his metaphorical seat.

 

The woman shot Rem a soft smile. “Because I was born sometime in 2246-- it’s been about 200 years since the bombs dropped. Most of the radiation has dispersed, although there’s still danger.” A frown split her face for a moment. “There’s an area outside of Boston that you wouldn’t dare go into without protective gear if you don’t want to be cooked from the inside within the hour.” She waved her hand dismissively. “My husbands and I are from the other end of the country though. The Mojave Wasteland, just outside of Vegas.” She paused for a moment before continuing slowly. “At least, they are. Me? I’m… not sure. Don’t remember.”

 

Rem looked over at Aria and was taken aback by the look of sadness on her face. “You don’t know where you’re from? Why not?”

 

“I was a Courier, someone who ran messages and packages back and forth from places. I was assigned to bring a package to New Vegas-- that’s what Las Vegas became after the war, but I was waylaid by someone who was working against the intended recipient. He… he took more than that package from me that night.” She raised a surprisingly steady hand to the headband that was a constant in her outfit and slowly pulled it off, revealing a vicious, circular scar on her forehead. “He meant to take my life that night, but what he ended up taking was infinitely more precious… The 9mm bullet he popped in my head at almost point-blank range took my memories .” Seeing the pale face Rem was sporting she quickly covered the scar again. “I’m damn lucky I survived that night, and while I wish I knew who I was back then, I’m grateful to have at least walked away still breathing.”

 

“I don’t know who I am, either.” Rem blurted out, then he blushed when Aria looked over at him, startled. “I was stolen from a hospital as a newborn. I don’t know who my parents were, or if they’re even still around.” He swallowed and dropped his eyes to the floor. “I don’t even know if I was born or created .”

 

There was a moment of silence before Aria moved and pulled the redhead into a comforting hug, resting his head on her shoulder. “No matter your origins, you’re here now, and we love you just the way you are.” She gave him a squeeze before pulling away and gently tugging a lock of his fiery tresses. “Never forget that, okay hon?”

 

Rem nodded, swallowing around the lump in his throat. It still stunned him sometimes how accepting and unconditionally supportive the people at the Compound were. They fell into an easy silence for a few minutes before Aria started singing again, and this time, Rem was more than willing to join in. Maybe it was the fact that they shared similar experiences, maybe it was the woman’s calm, yet no less positive presence that put him at ease enough to do so. Whatever the reason, the mutant was happy to have someone he could share this side of himself with without fear of criticism.

 

Before too long, the counter had two large pans of meat lasagna and a basket full of slices of garlic bread sitting on them, filling the common room kitchen with a heavenly smell. Aria quickly retrieved plates, silverware, and napkins while Remy gathered a variety of drinks. Rem asked for FRIDAY to call everyone to the Common room while the duo set the table and arranged the drinks on the counter.

 

After 15 seconds, a corridor opened up and admitted Craig and Ulysses. They blinked at the spread and looked to Aria, knowing she had a fondness for cooking. Their wife gave them a massive grin and shook her head negative before pointing to Rem. Craig blinked in shock again before giving the teen a smile and pulling him into a one-armed hug and a heartfelt thanks. ‘Ses removed his mask and set it on the counter before shooting a thankful smile at Rem as well, grabbing his shoulder gently with a ‘thank you’ of his own. Rem had been around the man long enough to know that physical affection from the quiet man was rare, so the action made him smile widely. The elevator opened to admit the Bartons and the kids squealed with delight, running to give Rem a hug once told he was responsible. Laura pressed a kiss to the top of his head as the Keeners entered, and as she sat Holly repeated the action as Hannah hugged him as well. Harley grinned with delight and fist bumped the teen. A loud and enthusiastic whoop announced the arrival of Wade, Peter, Slei, and Jör, and the merc skipped over to the table loudly proclaiming how good Rem’s food was and how excited he was to be able to enjoy it. Peter made a quick detour to snuggle against the redhead and thank him before he sat next to Sleipnir and Jör, who also expressed their appreciation. Loki popped into being with Hela and Fenrir, his son making an immediate beeline for the table at the smell of good food while the little girl immediately tackled Rem in a hug, babbling her thanks. Loki gave the teen a brief hug and a whispered thank you before sitting with his two youngest. Bruce and Minowa showed up hand-in-hand (which prompted several grins and knowing looks), and the scientist nodded his thanks with a smile while the Dragonborn said something in Dovahzul that was quickly translated to something akin to ‘your offering is most appreciated and will be enjoyed immensely’.

 

Dorian and Zevrael exited from a corridor a minute later and pulled the teen into an enormous hug. “You know you didn’t need to do this for us, right?” Zevrael asked him, a tiny amount of worry in his eyes. He and Dorian knew that one behavior that popped up in cases like this was the person in question feeling like they needed to earn their keep or repay the person or people who helped them for their aid. They wanted to make sure that Rem hadn’t fallen into the same mentality, especially since they were still learning some of the ingrained behaviors in the teenager.

 

The mutant smiled at the husbands and squeezed them back before replying. “I find cooking relaxing, and I’m apparently good at it. I wanted to do this for everyone,” he assured them sincerely.

 

His words helped the Pavus men relax and they both planted a kiss on his head before thanking him and sitting as well, seeing how Rem blushed, though his smile grew. Rem and Aria began serving the food as they waited for the last two people to show up, and they were passing the garlic bread around when a portal opened up to admit Tony and Stephen.

 

The genius took two steps into the room before stopping so suddenly that Stephen nearly ran into him as Tony stood there breathing in the scent of the lasagna, frozen for a moment as a memory rushed over him suddenly of himself as a child with his mother as she made him his favorite for his 5th birthday He looked towards Aria, who shook her head slowly before she then proceeded to point to Rem again.

 

Rem gave the soulmates a smile, but he was then confused when tears welled up in Tony’s eyes and the genius had to bury his face in Stephen’s chest for a few seconds. Stephen looked just as lost until Tony mumbled something to him that made a look of understanding and sadness cross his face. He gave the now worried mutant a gentle smile and explained, “He said it smells just like the lasagna Maria used to make when he was young..”

 

Seeing the confused look on the teen’s face, Loki stood from his seat close to the redhead and leaned in to explain, speaking softly. “Maria was his mother. His father, Howard, was an unmitigated bastard through and through, but from what I’ve heard of Maria she was a woman of exceptional caliber, someone I would have been happy to have as a parent. Anthony loved her very much.”

 

Rem was silent for a moment as he thought before approaching Tony and Stephen slowly. The genius pulled himself away from Stephen and wiped his eyes with the back of his hand before turning a brilliant smile to the redhead, one the mutant returned a little shyly before hugging Tony, one of the handful of adults that he completely trusted not to hurt him. Tony quickly reciprocated and murmured ‘ grazie ’ in his ear, getting another, wider smile from the teen.

 

Prego , Mr... I mean, Tony,” Rem replied in an equally soft voice, Italian being as easy for him to speak as English due to the many languages he had been instructed in during his training as a thief.

 

Tony smiled brilliantly and the trio finally moved to the table, sitting with the others who all had knowing, happy smiles of their own. Spirits were high as they dug into their meal, and more than one person expressed their awe at how delicious the food was. At one point as the meal was winding down, Laura asked for the recipe so she could try to make it herself one day. Rem blinked and tilted his head in thought. “It’s not written down. It’s in my head, I just…” he flapped his wrist for a moment dismissively. “I find it easier than trying to figure out the weird numbers are with a slash between them are supposed to be.”

 

The conversation Tony and Stephen had been having came to a sudden, grinding halt as Tony turned his attention to Rem, a completely stunned look on his face. “Do you mean fractions??”

 

“Is that what they’re called?” The mutant shrugged, completely unconcerned as he took a bite of lasagna and chewed it before swallowing. “They were never covered in my training.”

 

A feeling of unease began to settle in Tony. “Do you mean school??” The genius’ mind was whirring a mile a minute trying to figure out what the hell kind of school didn’t teach such a simple mathematical concept.

 

Rem shook his head as he reached for his drink, completely unaware of Tony’s conundrum. “No, lessons . Jean Luc had me learning the skills involved in thievery from the moment I came to stay with him. My first assigned theft was only two weeks later and if I didn’t pass, I’d have been punished-- maybe even kicked out.”

 

Stephen shot his soulmate an extremely concerned look before looking back at the redhead. “But what about school? Subjects like science, math, English, history…?”

 

“Jean Luc never sent me to a school of any kind. I had to earn my keep, after all, and if I wasn’t doing assignments I was training. It’s why I never learned those board games that the X-Men liked to play- uh, like Monopoly and stuff like that. I owed Jean Luc for getting me off the street so I had to be useful.”

 

There were a few moments of absolute silence. Then Tony was on his feet, stalking towards the elevator while yelling to FRIDAY to ‘find the fuckwad responsible for this bullshit and get me his name, date of birth, social security number, and any banking information you can find’. Stephen surged to his feet to catch up with the brunette, yelling all the while ‘Tony, no’, and the man yelled back ‘Tony YES’.

 

Rem looked at the others around the table, complete confusion in his red and black eyes. “Was it something I said? I was at the top of my class when I graduated in the Guild.”

 

Wade quickly positioned himself behind the mutant and rubbed his shoulders as he soothed the redhead. “You did indeed, and you should be very proud of that.” The merc shot the rest of the table a sharp look that clearly conveyed his displeasure at their reactions and demanded silence further on. “Rem, go up to my room and take a breather. I’m gonna go talk to Tony and keep him from attempting to financially ruin the entirety of the Thieves’ Guild in one fell swoop.”

 

---

 

The sudden knock on Wade’s door pulled Rem’s attention away from the window he’d been staring out of, and he turned to see Tony standing in the doorway. The man looked sheepish and apologetic, and he gave the teen a hesitant smile. “Hey. Can I come in?” The teen gave a nod and the brunette entered, leaning against the wall near Rem, but not approaching immediately. “Wade made me aware that my behavior earlier upset you.” He paused for a moment, dropping his eyes to the floor. “It was never my intention, I promise. I’m sorry that I worried you and made you think I was angry at you. I swear, I wasn’t then, and I’m not now.” Tony took a moment to organize his thoughts before continuing. “Making sure kids are educated… I’ve always believed that’s one of the most important things in the world. Finding out that someone I care about has had such a vital thing kept from them? It… It may not seem rational, but it feels like I failed, somehow. Like I’m not trying hard enough if such a thing has escaped my notice for so long.” He looked out the window and across the ground of the Compound, missing the look Rem was giving him. “It also bothers me that… Rem, you were with the X-Men for years . How did none of them pick up on it?”

 

“Because they didn’t bother talking to Rem-- to me , beyond giving me mission details, complaining about my nightmares, and the snide remarks from Warren.” The mutant admitted in a small voice. “‘M not a whore, no matter what he thinks…” He whispered under his breath, but still loud enough that Tony caught it.

 

The genius had to pause to take a few deep breaths before replying. “No, Rem. You absolutely are not .” He told the teen with such conviction that it stunned the redhead. Without wasting a second, he straightened and approached Rem, pulling him into a comforting hug once he was close enough. “And don’t worry about the schooling thing-- we’ll get something worked out, I promise. Whether you want to do home-schooling, go to a public or even a private school-- whatever you decide, we’ll make it happen, okay? We’re not going to throw you to the wolves like they did.” Tony’s heart swelled when he felt the teen return the hug and nod against him, and after a few seconds, he moved back a bit to tousle the fiery locks on Rem’s head, earning himself a small smile at the gesture. ‘ It’s amazing ,’ Tony thought to himself as they turned back to the window, his arm slung over Rem’s shoulders with the mutant leaning into the touch, ‘ despite everything life has thrown at him, all the hurt, pain, and betrayal, Rem has such a big heart and capacity for love. I’m glad he has a second chance at life-- it’s time for someone to be in his corner, for once.

Chapter Text

Tony smiled as he cast his eyes around the group in front of him, seeing how they were all standing and watching him with eager anticipation. “Alright, this is it, guys-- the New Avengers are finally making an appearance! Is everyone ready?”

 

Minowa nodded sharply, casting her eyes briefly to the door leading to the stage set up beyond it. They had all decided that an outdoors open panel style conference would be preferable to any other conference method. The stage had been placed directly next to the outside training field so they would be able to showcase their skills if anyone asked for a demonstration. The area they were waiting in was essentially a large, luxurious trailer that had been firmly attached to the stage. “We’re just waiting on Dorian and Rem. The Boone trio are currently making sure the defenses are on standby, just in case-- they'll be back momentarily. Did you complete Rem's mask, Zeymahi ?” She turned her face back towards him, the light catching the metal plates of her armor and making them gleam slightly. She had dubbed the suit the ‘Obsidian Dragoon’ armor, and several variations were being considered between herself and Tony. The current one was meant to be taken into battle primarily, decked out with several features of an offensive nature. The mask covering her face would also help focus and direct her Thu’um so any potential collateral damage would be minimized.

 

Tony nodded and held his hands out, a metal case materializing out of nowhere and dropping into his hands. “Right before we got called to lunch, actually.”

 

“It has all the spells he requested, plus a few more.” Stephen continued from his place at Tony’s side. He was dressed in his robes with Levi hung over his shoulders. The cloak was visibly quivering with excitement, and the sorcerer was trying to soothe the relic by rubbing the collar.  “It will change his appearance enough so he’ll look like a different person, especially his eyes, and will scramble his voice so it sounds almost synthetic. It’s also enchanted so it can be taken off only by certain people, like the Reapers, and only if there’s no outside coercion involved.”

 

“I added something of my own to it.” The group turned to look at Loki, who was leaning against the wall with a small smile of his own. “On the off chance he gets separated from us and is unable to contact us, he has a tracker he can activate with a word. If the enchantment detects that he’s unconscious or injured badly enough that he can’t do it himself, it will turn on automatically.”

 

A relieved sigh escaped Zevrael at the news. “That’s comforting to know. Thank you for thinking of that, Loki.” The god of mischief dipped his head with a dismissive wave, even as his cheeks flushed from the thanks.

 

Bridget nodded with a big smile while making her staff, a beautiful twining length of polished elder wood with a perfectly circular sphere of unblemished moonstone encased at the top, was securely strapped to her back as she spoke. “You all did a good job! I was worried about him being recognized, but I see now my fear was unfounded.” The restoration master had a set of white robes draped around her body that transitioned from knee-length in the front to ankle-length behind her. The piece was covered in gold and purple accents, the purple parts containing runes stitched into them in a thread just a shade or two darker. A hood covered her head as well, and the inside had enchantments woven into it that would help her spot magical wounds as well as physical.

 

The sound of footsteps pulled their attention to the door, and Dorian led Rem through a moment later. The teen was now dressed in a tight black bodysuit, a black coat similar to his original tan one draped around his body. The sleeves had been cut short and a slit ran up the center of the back to allow for freedom of movement. A pair of black fingerless gloves covered his hands to just above his wrists to allow for free use of his fingers to throw things. A pair of black pants hung slightly loose around his legs, tucked into mid-thigh heavy black boots. Two pouches sat on his thighs, enchanted to refill the contents so they were never-ending. One held emergency potions, the other containing several shurikens.

 

The issue regarding Rem’s weapon of choice, playing cards charged with kinetic energy, lay in how recognizable his style was. It was easily solved when they figured out that the mutant could use practically any throwing weapon. The other issue was the magenta glow that accompanied the charge. After serious brainstorming between Stephen, Tony, and Loki, it was Tony that came up with a rather inventive solution. The result-- shurikens enchanted so that magenta glow that normally accompanied his powers would be changed to glow a specific color depending on the secondary effect that would be set off. So far the teen had shurikens that could explode, freeze, electrocute, poison, release smoke, and set fire to things.

 

Whiskey brown eyes sparkled with delight as Tony stepped up to the duo. “Hey Rem, looking good! I know it’s not the best outfit, but your real one is still in the works, so this will have to do for now. Is that okay?”

 

Rem smiled gratefully at the man and nodded. “It’s fine, Tony. I would be happy with just this… but my hair and eyes are still…” He trailed off, absentmindedly reaching up to play with a strand of his fiery red tresses.

 

“We’ve got that covered,” Tony announced and handed the case out to Rem, who took it with an intrigued look on his face. He lifted the lid and pulled out a mask, not unlike the one the Winter Soldier had seemed to favor. Seeing the confused look he was getting, the genius gestured for the teen to put it on.

 

Still slightly befuddled, Rem did so and he felt a tingling sensation pass over him. Whatever had happened prompted a startled noise to escape the group, and he looked to the genius for an explanation. The Reaper waved his hand to summon a mirror, and Rem gasped at what he saw. His normally red hair was now a deep brown and pulled back in a short ponytail, and startled icy blue eyes stared back from his reflection. His facial features had also been altered slightly, but it was enough that the mutant didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. He quickly pulled the mask off, and the features immediately changed back. “Incredible…” He murmured in awe at the mask before quickly pulling it back on. “Thank you, Tony.” He directed the words to the genius, who banished the mirror away. He was momentarily startled to hear the smooth, deep synthetic voice that escaped him, but he quickly chalked it up to another feature of the mask.

 

Tony waved his hand and opened his mouth as if to dismiss the thanks before pausing, which caught the attention of the Reapers. After a second or two, Tony slowly lowered his hand, gave the teen a smile and replied sincerely, “You’re welcome, Rem.”

 

Stephen was confused at the looks of pride and joy the Reapers graced his soulmate with but before he could ask, Pepper pushed the door of the large trailer they were in open, stepping inside and shutting it firmly. “Alright, the equipment is set up and the press is here. We’ll go on in two minutes, alright Tony?” She turned to Tony with a smile, briefly looking around at all of them.

 

“Yep, we’re just waiting for--” At that moment, a corridor opened to admit Craig, Ulysses, and Aria. “Ah, there they are! Looking good, guys!”

 

Aria was now dressed in a brown leather bodice and mid-thigh-length skirt, a short-sleeved duster draped around her body that ended midway down her calves. A decorative belt sat snugly around her waist, her twin pistols holstered to it. A pair of leather boots were laced up to just above her knees with only the barest hint of a heel. The brown gloves on her hands had several runic circles engraved into the palms that would allow for control of her sonokinesis that would bring about new applications. Craig was wearing the most normal looking thing out of all of them, very similar to his original outfit in style but with a few upgrades. The red beret still sat perched on his head, but the shades he was wearing had been upgraded to zoom in on further targets and granted almost pinpoint accuracy. He could also flip through several variations of sight including heat, night, and magnetic fields. Tony and Stephen had also engraved runes into the arms to allow for detection of magical signatures. His rifle remained strapped tightly to his back but two combat knives had also been sheathed to his thighs. Ulysses’ duster had been exchanged for a sleeveless jacket and black scarf. Not an inch of his skin could be seen past the black shirt, pants, boots, and gloves that he wore. Only his eyes and the top of his head were visible, his nose and mouth still covered by a mask, though it was far more advanced than the one he had worn before. A special helmet could be activated at any time that would mold itself over his head and was equipped with the same features as Craig’s glasses.

 

The trio approached Tony, Aria with an enormous grin, Craig with a small smile, and Ulysses with the corners of his eyes crinkled to indicate a smile of his own. “Thanks, Tony! The defenses are armed, we’re ready to go!”

 

The genius nodded before turning back to Pepper, who was watching them with an aura of calm confidence. “After you, Ms. Potts!” He gestured dramatically to the door to the stage, and the woman gave a soft chuckle as she brushed past him. Tony started to follow before pausing and turning back to the team, an excited grin on his face. “Let’s make an entrance, guys.” The team grinned in reply, giving him a thumbs up. They were going to be entering one by one, or in groups in the case of the Pavus men and the Boone trio. Tony had just given them carte-blanche permission to enter in any way they saw fit, and ideas were already running in a few of their heads. Tony turned and left the trailer, closing the door behind him with the grin still stretched across his face.

 

Pepper glanced over at him with a pleased smile on her face. “They’re really good for you, you know.” She said softly, drawing the genius’ attention. “I always had misgivings about your old team-- they used you as a scapegoat and Rogers… well, no need to rehash that now.” She stopped right before the entrance to the stage and turned to give him a hug. “I’m glad you’re happy now.” She murmured before pulling away.

 

Whiskey brown eyes sparkled with joy as Tony nodded. “Yeah, Pep. I am happy.” It was said with conviction and confidence, and the genius could say with absolute certainty that it was the truth.

 

The redhead smiled and turned to the flap leading towards the stage. “I know you are.” Without another word, she pushed it open and stepped onto the stage outside.

 

Upon seeing her the various members of the press rose to their feet and began calling out questions, cameras flashing as the woman stepped up to the podium. The stage also had a long table with several microphones set up for the panel style interview that would occur. There was a large area set up in front of the podium as well, although the press wasn’t sure what it was for yet. Pepper gazed out at the reporters before holding up her hand to call for silence, and the people quickly quieted. “Good afternoon everyone,” she began, her voice easily carrying over the group. “Thank you all for joining us. I know you’ve all been eagerly anticipating this event for some time, and Stark Industries is appreciative of your willingness to wait and allow Mr. Stark time to recover from his injuries. Your patience is rewarded today. Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time in three months, I give you Tony Stark.”

 

The flap was thrown open and Tony strode out, a grin on his face as the press exploded in a cacophony of noise, flashes, and cheers. Tony waved to them all as he reached the podium, Pepper easily stepping back to allow for the genius to take her place. “Hello, world!” He called out as the noise finally died down. “I know you all have several questions regarding the events of the last few months, my recovery, the future of the accords, Stark Industries, and the Avengers, and whatever else your minds have conjured up. Rest assured, we’ll do our best to answer any and all questions that pop up! We do reserve the right to not answer though, so keep that in mind.”

 

He looked out at the sea of cameras and reporters, a smile quirking at his lips. “First, I want to assure you all, and the world, that I’ve recovered completely from my injuries and will be resuming my duties as Iron Man in short order. However, there are those from the original roster-- while not being of the Rogues-- who will not be joining us on the field. First and foremost, Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes has decided to stay to the sidelines as a reserve member in a fighting capacity. Instead, he will be in charge of missions that involve rescue operations and disaster relief.” Honestly, it had come as a shock when Rhodey had requested such. When asked why, the man had explained that ‘this way, you can focus on protecting the world from threats and preparing for what’s coming, and I can help you not spread yourself too thin.’ Tony had agreed with his reasoning but made his best friend promise to call on them if needed, a stipulation the man had wholeheartedly agreed to. “Secondly, Doctor Bruce Banner will be a reserve Avenger only, and will instead be taking on the role of Director of the new Medical Technology R&D department of Stark Industries. Along that same note, Vision has also stepped down to a reserve only. He will be assisting Dr. Banner in his research at SI, and we look forward to having both of them on our staff.”

 

Vision had shown up three days before the conference with his decision, along with a Ph.D. in bioengineering from Harvard. He had admitted to Tony that he had been in need of some distance and time to himself after what Maximoff had done to him, although he didn’t want to pull away from the Avengers entirely. By working with Bruce, he could stay close by and put his new degree to good use. When Tony asked him how he had managed to achieve his Ph.D. so quickly, the android had simply given him a mysterious smile and floated off. Tony didn’t think about it too hard, especially after finding out he had ‘graduated’ with the highest honors. Even if he wasn’t fighting alongside them, Vision was staying close. The genius could easily accept that.

 

“With that being said, I’m sure you all are wondering about the future of the Avengers.” Several nods came from the crowd along with a few murmurs of agreement. “Well, wonder no longer. After a long and extremely thorough vetting process, a new team has been assembled. Every member has signed the Accords and has sworn to uphold them to the fullest extent possible. Now, I’m sure you’re all eager to meet these new members!” A rousing ‘yes’ escaped the press, causing the genius to grin with excitement. “First, I would like to announce that I will be sharing joint leadership of the new team with two others. The first is Dr. Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme, and Master of the Mystic Arts.” A glowing orange portal opened to Tony’s right, prompting gasps from the reporters as Stephen stepped through, Levi billowing dramatically behind him. Tony had to suppress a smirk, and Stephen didn’t even bother hiding his as he turned and bowed to the reporters. “Questions regarding the Mystic Arts themselves or anything related to them should be directed to him during the panel interview.” The press quieted and Tony continued. He was looking forward to the next person. Knowing her, the woman’s entrance was bound to be dramatic. “Joining Stephen and myself is a woman that you’ve never met before, but I consider a trusted friend and ally.” The sound of repulsors caught his attention, and the genius grinned with delight. “Please welcome to the stage Field Commander Dragoon.”

 

A moment later, the Obsidian Dragoon armor shot overhead, causing the reporters to look up in shock. The Dragonborn quickly circled around to hover above the stage, the ‘wings’ of the armor flared out dramatically before landing gracefully to Tony’s left. The wings retracted before the helmet melted away as well, and Tony had to bite his lip when he saw the glow in the woman’s slit-pupiled eyes and the sun reflecting off her horns. She wasn’t hiding her features, proud to stand before the world as a dovah should. She placed a clawed gauntlet over her heart and bowed to them, ignoring the murmurs of shock her appearance caused. “Greetings to you all.” She called, and Tony registered the subtle use of her Thu’um to silence the group in front of her. “I am Minowa Norddahl, and I am both ecstatic and honored to be a part of the team that Anthony has gathered for the sake of protecting the world.” Her calm yet no less commanding voice washed over them, bringing with it a sense of power and pride.

 

Tony couldn’t help the smile that crossed his face as he turned back to the media. “Along with the two beside me, several other members have been added to the Avengers core team. First, I call to the stage Bridget Ivorsen, code-named Sentinel.” The Restoration Master swept onstage from the same entrance they had come out of, foregoing a flashy entrance of any kind. She smiled brilliantly and waved at the media, the genuine joy she radiated immediately putting the press at ease. She moved to Minowa’s left and stood relaxed at her side, the smile never leaving her face.

 

“Now, the next group comes as a trio, their partnership making for an effective team dynamic even on their own. First, Ulysses Boone, code-named Voidstrike.” Several shadows seemed to pull away from the various points around the stage and leap to the left of Bridget, coalescing into a humanoid form. After a moment the darkness solidified into Ulysses, who stood completely still except for a brief dip of his head towards the press, who were whispering about the silent, looming figure. “A man of few words, but his talents are unparalleled… well, except by one person. Craig Boone, code-named Silent Shot.” Out of nowhere, Craig flickered into existence next to Ulysses, lips twitching for a moment at the way the reporters gasped in surprise. He gave a minimalist wave with a soft ‘hey’. Tony smirked at the two men before continuing. “Completing the trio is their lovely partner, Aria Boone, code-named Sonic Boom.” The woman in question swept on to stage from the opposite direction from where her husbands were standing and twirled before giving the press a bow, causing a ripple of laughter from the group. She planted herself next to Stephen, but a moment later Craig moved around the group and pulled her toward where he and ‘Ses were standing, planting her firmly between them.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “You did that on purpose, Aria, don’t even try to deny it.”

 

“Guilty!”

 

This caused another ripple of laughter before Tony continued. “I would now like to call to the stage Dorian and Zevrael Pavus, code-named Fiendfyre and Shatterfrost.” The cry of a bird was heard and everyone looked up to see a phoenix of black fire dive towards the stage from the sky before landing next to Stephen, a moment later being joined by an icy stag with twined antlers that seemed to form from nowhere. A moment later, the fire expanded before dying off at the same time as the Halla exploded outwards into snowflakes, revealing the husbands with matching grins on their faces. “Most of you will recognize Dorian Pavus as the Avengers PR manager-in-training. Don’t worry, he’ll be able to balance both jobs well enough.”

 

“I should say so! Maker knows you’d be lost without me!” Dorian snarked playfully, only to yelp when Zev cuffed him.

 

The elf turned his head and arched an eyebrow at his husband, completely ignoring the murmurs that erupted at the sight of his pointed ears. “Behave, Vhenan .”

 

Dorian chuckled and grinned lovingly at the silverette. “Sorry, Amatus .”

 

Tony snorted in amusement at the duo, inwardly gleeful that the duo didn’t even try to hide their relationship. “I managed to wrangle up a certain merc with a mouth, or as you all might know him, Deadpool. I also happen to know he’s almost vibrating through the floor to get up here, so yes Wade, you can come up now.”

 

The merc immediately skipped on stage and immediately grabbed Tony, twirling him around a few times before dipping him so the genius was almost upside down vertically. “Finally! I was worried you would keep me waiting forever!” Stephen arched an eyebrow at the mercenary, and as he straightened them and let go of Tony, he sent a subtle spark at the man that made him yelp as it hit his ass. “Alright, alright! No need to get sparky, Merlin!”

 

Outright laughter escaped the press at the byplay, and Tony was able to continue once they quieted again. “Our last member of the New Avengers active roster is a man who, for his safety, has chosen to remain anonymous, and will only be referred to by his codename. Maelstrom, if you would?”

 

A shuriken with a glowing gray aura flew out of nowhere, embedding itself in the stage next to Dorian and Zevrael, who barely reacted except to grin. A moment later, the shuriken burst into smoke, and after a second or two dissipated to reveal Rem, who tucked the weapon back into his pouch while distracting the audience with a deep bow.

 

“There you have it, ladies and gentlemen! The active roster of the New Avengers!” Tony spread his arms and spun with a dramatic flourish that had several of the New Avengers snorting with laughter. “Give us a second to get settled, and we’ll get this interview rolling!”

 

---

 

“Well, I don’t think that could have gone any better,” Pepper announced as she smiled at the New Avengers, who were spread out over the furniture in various states of relaxation. “From what I’ve seen so far, the only ones showing any kind of active disapproval are those who are against Dorian and Zevrael for their relationship.”

 

The elf snorted from his place in Dorian’s lap. “I have only one thing to say to those people-- fenhedis lasa .”

 

The water Bridget had been drinking was immediately shot out her nose as she choked and laughed. “ Zevrael Pavus !”

 

“Do I want to know?” Craig asked as he ran his fingers through Aria’s hair. They had all shed their armor, all three of them now dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts. The woman’s head was resting in his lap as she dozed, Ulysses sitting at her feet giving her a massage. It made everyone smile at the love between them. Unlike Zevrael and Dorian’s more open and passionate flaunting of their relationship, the Boone trio was softer, subtler, yet no less devoted in their adoration of each other.

 

Minowa was finally disengaging the Obsidian Dragoon armor, though she kept part of the gauntlets activated as well as the pieces along her back. Ever since Tony had gifted her with the suit, she was rarely seen without at least part of it engaged. The genius chalked it up to the flight capabilities-- now that she had access to them, it would be nigh-on impossible to separate her from them. “I don’t believe we need to know what he said when the intent was clear enough.” The Dragonborn replied blithely as she moved to lean against a wall to observe the room.

 

Stephen and Tony were curled up together on one of the loveseats, the genius practically sitting in his soulmate’s lap. “What about the public, Pepper? What are they saying about us?” Stephen asked, running his fingers through the hair of his unusually silent soulmate.

 

Pepper pulled up her tablet and scrolled through it for a moment. “Right now, #NewAvengersFTW is the top trending tag. From what I can see, we have 94% of the populace approval. Those who are expressing negativity are either Captain America fans, against same-sex relationships, or just looking to troll everyone else.”

 

“So, the standard reaction for literally anything ever!” Wade sang out as he sat on the backrest of a chair, tossing a knife in the air and deftly catching it before tossing it again.

 

Rem sat on a barstool not far from the main group, a furrow in his brow as he unclasped his mask and let it fall away, his features immediately shifting back to normal. Leaning on the nearby counter slightly, the mutant felt his long, red locks fall freely down his back, the teen exhaling audibly as he reached up to rub his temples where a tension headache was building. Not realizing that he was being watched, Rem grimaced slightly, knowing he needed to use his kinetic powers soon, though there was something else that needed to be taken care of first. “ Si ce n'est pas une chose, c'est une autre ,” he murmured, laying his forehead down on the cool wood. It was a good thing that Zevrael and Dorian were facing the other way, along with Wade, or he’d have pretty much all of the New Avengers focused on him and fussing over him-- at the moment, that was part of what was bothering Peter.

 

Glancing over when he saw the teenager resting his head on the counter, Tony’s brow furrowed slightly in concern when he heard Rem’s quiet words that if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. His cheeks looked a little flushed, Rem’s eyes closed as he winced again. The motion wasn’t lost on Tony, who immediately became more alert. “Rem? Is everything okay?” he questioned quietly, leaning over to look at the redhead more closely.

 

It took a moment for the redhead to gather himself enough to raise his head and gesture silently for Tony to join him. The genius quickly did so, Stephen hot on his heels. “Tony, do you know where Peter is right now?” He softly asked once they were close enough, his head tilted towards the pair while not looking directly at them.

 

“No, and it’s actually worrying me,” Tony admitted, resting his hip against the counter with a frown on his face. “He wasn’t with us in the trailer at the conference, and he wasn’t hanging towards the back watching while we were doing the interviews.” The genius did wonder briefly why Rem was talking about Peter when something seemed to be off with him, his eyes remaining on the redhead.

 

Rem inclined his head at Tony’s observations before continuing, smiling faintly at hearing that he was worried about Peter. “Tony… I know you and the others know that I have small empathic abilities that are entirely subconscious,” the mutant murmured, opening his eyes to peer at the soulmates. “Peter… he’s sad, lonely, and a little jealous… Tony, I know that things have been busy recently, but I…  I think he really needs to spend time with you.”

 

Tony’s face went completely pale and he let out a breath as if he’d been gut-punched. “ Fuck , I never meant… I didn’t…”

 

Stephen moved to support the genius as his knees started to shake a little. “Easy, love. Deep breaths. Why don’t we go find Peter now that things have calmed down? I think we’re overdue for some time together, don’t you?”

 

It took Tony a moment to speak around the lump in his throat that had formed from the upwelling of guilt and pain in his heart. “FRIDAY,” He finally managed to croak, “Where’s Peter right now?”

 

“He’s in his room, Boss. Should I tell him you’re on your way?”

 

“No thank you, FRIDAY. Tony and I will portal in.” The sorcerer dipped his head in thanks to Rem before gently taking Tony’s hand and leading him out of the room. They quickly relocated to a room off the main hall and Stephen closed and locked the door behind them. “Tony, hey.” He turned and pulled his soulmate into his arms, tucking his head under his chin. He felt the genius shudder before he began softly crying. “Tony, it’s okay. We had no way of knowing, but we do now, and we can fix it. You can’t fix a problem you didn’t know you had, so don’t beat yourself up. Take a deep breath, you know Peter will freak out if he sees you crying.” He planted a kiss to the top of Tony’s head and held him close as the brunette tried to get his breathing under control.

 

Finally, after a minute or two, Tony let out one more long, shuddering breath before pulling away. He waved his hand to clean the mess from his face and Stephen’s robes before leaning in for one more hug. “Would you mind…?” He trailed off, knowing Stephen would pick up on his request.

 

Sure enough, the sorcerer opened a portal to the suite they shared with the teen. They wasted no time in stepping through to make their way to Peter’s room. They found the door closed, and Tony gently knocked on the door to alert Peter to their presence. “Pete? It’s me and Stephen. Can we come in?”

 

There was the sound of shuffling from the other side of the door before a soft voice called ‘come in.’ The duo wasted no time in pushing the door open to reveal Peter sitting on the bed, back pressed against the headboard with his knees pulled to his chest. A blanket was draped around his body, and Tony’s heart broke when he saw the teen was wearing one of his ACDC shirts. Without missing a beat he swept towards the bed and sat next to the teen, pulling him into his arms in an enormous hug. “Fuck Peter, I’m so sorry.” He said softly as Stephen joined them, sitting on the teen’s other side.

 

Peter felt poleaxed for a moment before burrowing himself between the two men, feeling the dark cloud that had been hanging over him for the past week start dispersing. “How did you know…?” He started to ask before he choked up, tears welling up in his eyes as the ache in his chest made way for relief.

 

Stephen began to run his fingers through Peter’s soft, brown hair as he grabbed Tony’s other hand that was on the teen’s shoulder. “Rem has empathic abilities, Peter. Why didn’t you tell us how you were feeling?” He asked softly, his voice compassionate and lacking any accusatory or negative tone.

 

It took a moment for the teen to respond, guilt stirring within Peter when he realized that the individual he had been resenting was the very person who had been the one to say something to Tony and Stephen about how he was feeling. None of this was Rem’s fault and deep down, Peter knew it. After all, Wade wouldn’t care so much about the mutant if Rem wasn’t deserving of it. “I didn’t want to bother you. You’ve been really busy lately, and I… I really thought I would be okay, but I… I just… I’ve missed you-- both of you.”

 

“No, Peter, no ,” Tony breathed, pulling the teen even tighter to himself and not letting go. Thank goodness Rem had said something to them about Peter-- the last thing that the genius had ever wanted was for Peter to feel sad and alone, especially since what had happened to May. Hearing how quiet the normally exuberant teenager was made Tony feel horrible for not having noticed on his own that something was wrong with Peter. “You will never be a bother, do you hear me? Yes, things have been chaotic for the last few days and we’ve all been dealing with a lot of separate issues all popping up at once. But if you’re feeling sad and lonely, spiderling, don’t be afraid to say something! Day or night, if you need me-”

 

“--or me--” Stephen interjected smoothly.

 

“--or both of us,” Tony cut in again, giving a loving smile to both his soulmate and the teenager he thought of as his son, “you tell us. We’ll always have time for you, Peter…” He took a moment to think before continuing. “Tell you what-- you’re going back to school in a week. We’ll take a few of the days between now and then to do something fun together, and we’ll have alternating Saturdays and Sunday for just you, me, and Stephen. Does that sound good?”

 

Peter nodded and smiled brilliantly at the two men flanking him, glad to feel the depression that had been churning in his chest flee in the face of the love of his two father figures. He relaxed into their arms and remained there as they continued to speak into the night.

 

---

 

Rem let out a long, relieved sigh as the oppressive portion of Peter’s negative emotions finally faded, his mental clarity now mostly dulled by the scotch he had been drinking. The bottle was held loosely in his hand, his eyes wandering the empty shooting range he was perched above nonchalantly. The past few hours had been taxing in several ways, and the alcohol had been the easiest way to take the edge off, if not the most healthy. It wouldn’t reduce his need to charge and explode something soon but at least his headache had lessened somewhat. The mutant did vaguely register the fact that he was, in fact, underage now, but at the moment he couldn’t muster up the desire to really care. And it wasn’t as if anyone else had cared before-- at least, aside from Wade. Jean Luc had actively encouraged the behavior, and the X-Men hadn’t cared as long as he could get the job done.

 

The redhead sighed and closed his eyes, resting his head against the wall beneath his back. He had found the small perch hidden behind a vent grate, fully supplied with cushions, blankets, and a few other things. He had settled into the space with a bottle of Tony’s scotch that had been hidden in one of the targets on the range-- why a $60,000 bottle of scotch was there of all places was beyond Rem, but the mutant wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth. Lost as he was in his musing, the redhead failed to hear two people quietly enter the room, nor the soft voices that accompanied them. After a minute, he took a deep breath and opened his eyes--

 

And yelped as he came face-to-face with a glowing blue peacock inches from his face. He surged to his feet, the sudden change causing the normally graceful teen to stagger, trip, and fall through the grate in front of the vent.

 

When Pandora had entered the vent upon being asked to find Rem, Dorian hadn’t thought too hard about it, merely shifting his position in anticipation of her popping out the same way. What he absolutely was not expecting was the shocked cry from the vent itself before the partially open grate swung open fully and Rem came toppling out. Without missing a beat the mage lunged to catch the teen, Zevrael catching the items that fell out with him. “Well!” He huffed in amusement as he straightened, steadying the teen on his own feet. “I must say I wasn’t expecting that. You’re normally not one to be taken by surprise, Rem.”

 

“Yeah, maybe normally…” Zevrael hummed as he held up the bottle in his hand, eyeing it critically before pulling the stopper off and taking a sniff. “But I would imagine this would impede anyone.” The elf held up the bottle so his husband could see it.

 

Dorian blinked in shock, barely registering how Rem leaned into him, grabbing his sleeve. He opened his mouth to say something but went quiet when Zevrael looked at the other thing in his hand and his icy blue eyes narrowed. He held it up, revealing it to be an open package of cigarettes. For a second, the brunette had to close his eyes and just breathe, finally aware of how how tightly the redhead was clinging to him, the teen slightly unstable on his feet. “ Amatus , please run to the medical wing and retrieve a sobering solution from Bridget. I don’t think this is a conversation to be had while he’s…”

 

“Three sheets to the wind? Yeah, no problem. Take him to our rooms, Vhenan , I’ll be up there soon.” Zevrael opened a corridor and allowed it to sweep him away.

 

Dorian wasted no time in swinging the teen into a fireman’s carry, resolutely ignoring the way the teen gave a giggle at the sudden change in position. He opened a corridor of his own and carried Rem through before depositing him on the bed with a sigh of exasperation. It made his heart ache, seeing the inebriated state the teen was in. It hit a little too close to home, reminding him of the fiery burn of betrayal, and the emotional agony that could only be dulled by burning of a different kind. Thank the Maker he had found Zevrael, and that the elf had been able to help rid him of those destructive habits.  

 

Zevrael stepped through his own corridor a minute later, eyes softening at the conflicted look on his husband’s face. “Dori’,” he called, drawing the brunette’s gaze to him. “We’ll help him, okay? He doesn’t have to go through this alone.” The silverette rubbed his back as he passed the bottle over.

 

“I know, my love. If you could convince one of the most willful men in Thedas to give up his own vices, I’m sure the two of us together can help him.” It took one moment to wrestle the cork out of the bottle and another to coax the drink into Rem. They took up a position sitting on either side of the bed, knowing it would only be a matter of minutes before the potion would purge the alcohol from the teenager. Sure enough, the haze in the redhead’s eyes cleared and he sat up slowly, a somewhat confused look on his face. “There you are,” Dorian hummed, drawing the teen’s attention to him.

 

A moment later, the mage registered that the comforter on the bed beginning to glow a fierce magenta as the mutant’s kinetic power escaped his control. Dorian quickly reached out and lifted Rem’s hands from the fabric immediately just like Wade had the very first time they’d met Rem. Zevrael noticed the telltale glow at the same time as his husband and quickly formed a sphere of ice, offering it to Rem immediately. The teen gratefully took it and promptly began channeling his charging power into the ice ball, fully releasing what he’d kept pent up for too long. Rem knew from the last time they’d done this that Zevrael could keep the ice stable despite his powers being used on it, the teen’s shoulders slumping as he relaxed completely, the headache that had been bothering him completely gone now. “That was much brighter than normal, Rem.” The elf mused, bringing his attention back to the husbands.  

 

“The kinetic energy… I haven’t used my charging power enough recently, and it built up inside me, especially in my head. It builds until I let it out or until I can’t… contain it anymore.” Rem ducked his head, unable to look them in the eye for the next part. He’d been accused of exaggerating how strong his unbound abilities were by certain members of his former team even though he’d been telling the truth and nothing more. “It’s one of the reasons I need-- want -- my kinetic powers bound... If I lost control of my full power… it would level the Compound, and quite possibly the grounds around it.” The redhead wrapped his arms around himself, missing the look Zevrael and Dorian shot at each other. “I hate having powers so strong,” he softly confessed. “Pretty much everyone who finds out uses me as a weapon to point at things, even if I don’t want it to be that way. And it brings me unwanted attention..”

 

“I know how that feels.” Rem blinked in shock and looked up to see Zevrael pulling his outer shirt off, leaving him with only a thin white undershirt. “Rem, do you know how I lost this arm?” The elf held up his left arm and hand, the fading sunlight reflecting off the onyx plates. Getting a shake of the teen’s head, the elf continued, “I was, for lack of a better term, infected with magic that began to eat away at my body. It was contained to my hand for a while and it granted me abilities that no one else had-- abilities that a lot of people were both afraid and envious of. Several people tried killing me for it-- to keep me from becoming too powerful in their eyes, to prove a point, to take back a power they claimed I ‘stole’; basically, any number of reasons that they could come up with. The rest of the world looked to me to fix everything, from the political climate to a giant fucking hole in the sky. And even then, I didn’t get a lot of respect because I’m an elf.” A sardonic smirk quirked at the silverette’s lips as he traced the edge of one of his pointed ears. “Humans saw my ears and immediately labelled me as being less than them, that I wasn’t worthy of their time and attention and that I didn’t deserve the power that I had because of my species. They failed to remember that I never asked for any of it to begin with… but that’s besides the point. Long story short, my power made me valuable, and most people outside the organization I led only saw me for what I could do for them, the influence I had, and the way they could climb the social ladder by being associated with me.”

 

Rem slowly reached out towards the limb before pausing, looking nervously between the arm and his own fingers. Zev smiled and met him halfway, allowing Rem to run his fingers over the metal plates. “So… how did you…” The redhead asked softly, the question trailing off at the end.

 

Zevrael gave him a soft smile and spoke as Dorian moved to take his other hand. “The magic was contained for a while, but… the kind of magic it was-- it was never meant to be handled by someone mortal. The limb had to be amputated to keep it from straight up killing me.” He took Rem’s hand in the prosthetic one and gave it a small squeeze. “You’re not alone in this, Rem. I know exactly where you’re coming from.”

 

Rem swallowed and nodded, gratitude shining clearly in his eyes. Dorian cleared his throat, drawing the duo’s attention to him. “Rem, is that why we found you with this?” He held up the bottle of scotch so the mutant could see.

 

There was a tense moment of silence before the redhead sighed and dropped his gaze to the bed again. “I… It’s Peter.” He suddenly blurted out, causing the adults to blink in shock. “He’s been sad and jealous because Tony has been spending so much time with the New Avengers and taking care of me , and he was afraid of being replaced… He thought Tony wanted to adopt me, but I know Tony has been discussing the possibility of adopting Peter with Stephen.”

 

The Pavus husbands looked at each other in shock. Tony had been contemplating the idea of adoption, and had discussed it with the Reapers and Stephen on occasion, but never in a public setting. “How did you know about that?” Dorian asked, curiosity and surprise in his voice, but not a single trace of malice or anger.

 

The redhead gave them a tiny grin and a shrug. “I’m good at blending into the shadows and not being seen. I was studying sheet music in the Music Hall and Tony mentioned it to Aria… they didn’t realize I was in the corner. And I don’t spread information around because it’s not my business.” Rem took a moment to collect his thoughts before continuing. “And it’s not like I don’t like Tony-- far from it, he’s been amazing and supportive… but he’s dealing with so much right now. He doesn’t need to be handling my problems on top of all that. I’m used to taking care of my problems myself anyway.” He dropped his gaze again, ignoring the tightness in his chest as he continued. “Until I came to the compound it didn’t matter what I did, where I was, or if I was hurt in any way… only Wade cared-- well, one other person too, but they weren’t around all that much. As long as I did what they expected of me, the rest didn’t matter.”

 

“So the drinking… It’s a coping mechanism?”

 

The smile Rem gave them held only sadness as he answered, “Jean Luc gave me my first drink when I was 15. It was training of its’ own-- to learn to control my kinetic charge while under the influence, and to dull down the empathic abilities.” He sighed softly, the memories of those years playing in his head. “Looking back, I know he was conditioning me to become dependent on the alcohol. I’m just grateful I didn’t have my full powers at that point…”

 

Dorian and Zevrael nodded at that before the mage spoke again. “Rem, you know you don’t have to do it alone now, right? Everyone in the compound cares about you, so much. We want to see you happy and healthy.” He reached forward and took one of Rem’s hands, Zevrael taking the other. “Will you let us help you? Please?”

 

The question was barely more than a murmur, but Rem heard it loud and clear. He swallowed hard, tears building up in his eyes as he nodded. He wanted to do better, wanted to make them proud of him. “Okay.” He finally managed to whisper, and was immediately surrounded by the two men holding him in a supportive hug. He knew it wouldn’t be easy going forward-- hell, Wade had attempted to get him to quit with little to no success-- but here, in the supportive environment provided by Tony, the Reapers, and the other residents, the redhead finally felt like he had a fighting chance.

 

---

 

“He found my bottle of Macallan 1926 where ?!”

 

“It was stashed inside one of the targets on the shooting range, Boss.”

 

Tony flopped on the couch beside his soulmate and groaned loudly, shaking his head in disbelief. He, Stephen, and Peter had talked for a long time before being interrupted hours later by Harley, Slei, Jör, and Wade looking for the teen, wanting him to come test some new chemicals with them. Something about the unholy glee that lit in the teen’s eyes, as well as the evil grins everyone else sported told Tony one important thing-- he really didn’t want to know what they were doing. And not even ten minutes after Peter had scampered off happily and he and Stephen had made their way to his lab, FRIDAY had alerted him to a Problem - with a capital P . “How did it even-- no, nevermind. It’s not important at this point…” Burrowing himself into Stephen’s chest, Tony closed his eyes as he felt familiar arms wrapping around him to hold him close. “We have to sit Rem down tomorrow and give him a list of rules to obey. He might have been 34 before, but he’s in a 17-year-old body now. The last thing I want is for him to be falling back on the same shitty coping mechanisms I used to have.”

 

Stephen nodded and kissed the top of Tony’s head tenderly. “We’ll get it worked out, don’t worry love. Though I have the distinct impression that what might be a normal rule by our standards won’t match his, especially considering what we do already know about Rem not being allowed to attend school.” The two sat quietly for a few minutes, basking in the quiet and each other’s presence. The silence was suddenly broken by the genius gasping and sitting straight up in his seat. “Tony? What’s wrong?”

 

The whiskey brown eyes of his soulmate snapped to him. “It’s Rem. He has no legal identity, no birth certificate, and he’s seventeen. He doesn’t even have a legal guardian.” His brow furrowed as his mind flashed through various scenarios. “What happens if the X-Men come knocking?”

 

“Well, first I’d portal Rem to Kamar-Taj before telling them to kindly get the fuck off our property.” The quip had the intended effect of startling a laugh out of Tony, and Stephen began to run his fingers through his soulmate’s hair again. “Don’t worry, love. If they want Rem, they won’t get him back without one hell of a fight from our entire family.” The sorcerer pressed another kiss to the top of Tony’s head. “Though it would probably be in our best interests to solve these issues sooner rather than later. What do you think, my love?” The sorcerer knew that none of those who lived in the Compound were overly impressed or happy with what the X-Men had done to Rem-- a few of them might even be inclined to use bullets and magic to get their points across should that team of so-called heroes come knocking.

 

Tony nodded in agreement before calling up to the ceiling, “FRIDAY, what does my schedule for this week look like?” The holographic screen in front of him flickered to life and displayed a calendar. “Hm… alright, tell the adult residents of the Compound that they have a meeting with me in three days at 5 in the evening. That will give me a chance to lay down the ground rules for Rem and put together a couple of plans. Oh, and send Wade to me tomorrow when he has a minute. I have an idea...”

Chapter Text

Calling the current atmosphere ‘tense’ would certainly be considered a massive understatement in Natasha’s opinion, although ‘thick enough to cut with a knife’ also fell a little short. Her sharp green eyes swept over the other occupants of the common room, cataloging their individual body languages and facial expressions as they sat in relative silence, something that had become commonplace since the events of four weeks ago. With the press release just a month ago regarding exactly what Steve had done to Tony, the rift had never really healed between them. The feelings of anger and betrayal still surged strongly within Scott and Sam while Wanda was still indifferent and Steve remained adamant that he’d only done what he’d had to because Tony would have killed Bucky. Knowing what she had learned about Tony’s character since their arrival in Wakanda, something she had been completely blind to in all the years that she had fought by his side, Natasha knew in her heart that it wasn’t true. If Tony had wanted Bucky dead, he’d be dead and Tony would not have been the one left laying there in that freezing Bunker.

 

Sam was still furious at Steve, though his anger had progressed to the ‘not talking to you’ stage. This was especially true after Sam found out about the deal Steve had refused to sign to keep them out of jail for the events in Lagos. Scott was at that point as well, but the engineer was very quiet in general. He seemed to be doing a lot of thinking, and more often than not both he and Sam were seen together, heads bent together and speaking in hushed whispers. At this point, the assassin wouldn’t be surprised if the two approached T’Challa to discuss a way to make reparations.

 

Even though he knew his family was safe, Clint had decided to keep up the act that they had been killed in an effort to keep Maximoff out of his head. He was curled up against Nat’s side, eyes dull and empty and body practically motionless. His proximity to her also had the added benefit of making Wanda wary of approaching him out of her fear of the Black Widow. The archer had almost had to physically restrain his partner to keep her from murdering the witch the instant she figured out that she had been messing around in his head. He knew that if Wanda had any idea that they knew about what she had been doing, there was a possibility of her making an impulsive, drastic move. They also knew that bringing it to Steve’s attention would accomplish nothing-- he would simply wave them off with the excuse of ‘she’s just a kid, she doesn’t know what she’s doing’. Knowing they couldn’t risk it at that point, they had settled into a routine of Clint seemingly mourning the loss of his family and Natasha being the supportive partner.

 

Natasha’s eyes found the Witch in question, feeling her internal hackles raise at the mere sight of her. She was sitting next to Steve, casually filing her nails as if she didn’t notice the atmosphere of the room around her. She was still adamant that Tony had gotten what he deserved, and Nat noticed that Steve never tried to dissuade her of that fact. She seemed shockingly indifferent about the death of Clint’s family, something that inwardly enraged the female assassin to no end. In the absence of the archer, Wanda had latched onto Steve with her fake pout and innocent child act. The super soldier had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.

 

Steve was stuck in a state of limbo with all but one of his teammates refusing to talk to him for one reason or another. It hadn’t been so bad at first, but then he had tried to ‘bolster team spirit’ by promising to relegate Tony strictly to funding and upgrades once they were pardoned. The statement had backfired spectacularly , with Sam getting into Steve’s face and snapping that the fact that he was still blaming Tony for everything proved that he’d learned nothing before storming away, Scott close on his heels. Natasha had hissed something in Russian before spinning around and stalking back to Clint’s room with the archer keeping close to her, who was shaking the whole time. The instant the doors had closed Clint had broken into howls of laughter. Apparently, ‘you can take the flagpole you have your banner of righteousness hung on and fuck yourself with it’ was hilarious no matter what language it was said in.

 

From then on, Steve found himself blocked at every attempt to engage his ‘teammates’. Anytime he tried to strike up a conversation with any of them, he was met with icy silence, death glares, or people just getting up and leaving without saying a word. Efforts to initiate team bonding were ceased after a week when everyone but Wanda failed to show up three times in a row. ‘Tasha had heard him complaining numerous times that if Tony hadn’t tried to attack Bucky, Steve wouldn’t have had to stop him. She couldn’t help but draw parallels between the super soldier and a broken CD that got stuck on certain tracks. It had gotten so tedious that the spy was ready to smother the man in his sleep.

 

Her attention was drawn to the news report playing on the TV nearby, and she sat straighter when she saw that the stage being shown was set up outside the Avengers Compound. She subtly got Clint’s attention and gestured towards the program in a way that only he could see. She felt him subtly nod against her shoulder, signaling that he had seen it. ‘Tasha reached for the controls and turned the volume up, drawing the attention of the other Rogues.

 

They watched in silence as Pepper spoke before Tony took the stage, his appearance garnering a myriad of different reactions. “He looks healthier…” Natasha murmured, noting the lack of bags under his eyes along with the newly acquired muscle and proper weight. Clint tapped his finger once on her lower back to signal his agreement.

 

“Especially after being kidnapped, what was it, three weeks ago?” Sam mused, tilting his head as he watched with an intrigued light in his eyes.

 

Scott watched the genius take the stage with a grin on his face and couldn’t help the small smile that resulted. “He looks happier too. Like, he’s in a better place mentally than before. You can tell he’s been sleeping better.”

 

“If he’s doing so much better, then he needs to stop being so petty and let us come home.” Steve announced, failing to notice the glares and eye rolls the statement received. They continued to watch until Tony announced the formation of the ‘New Avengers’. “What?! He can’t do that!” The super soldier jumped to his feet with his hand out as if he could reach through the screen to grab the genius.

 

“Actually, he can.” Natasha’s voice drew their attention for a moment, her green eyes cold as she gazed at Steve. “After the fall of SHIELD, he snapped up the rights to the Avengers name and merchandising before anyone else could purchase them. To that end, Tony has every right to use the name because he owns it.”

 

From her seat next to Steve, Wanda sniffed in distaste. “Well, at least they’re called the ‘New Avengers’. Once we get home, Steve can get rid of Stark’s so-called team because he’s our leader.”

 

Anything that would have been said in response to that was cut off as Tony began to introduce the new members. Several shocked noises were heard from the group as Stephen opened a portal and stepped on stage with a smirk and a bow. The assassin took a quick glance at Wanda, taking a measure of satisfaction from the suddenly unsure look on her face. The sound of repulsors drew their attention, and outright gasps were heard when Minowa revealed herself to the press.

 

“What is she?” Scott murmured under his breath, but there was no fear or disgust present in his tone. Instead, there was awe mixed with excitement at the imposing figure the woman made. She reminded him of a figure straight out of a fantasy novel with dragons and magic and epic battles.

 

Sam took a glance at him. “I dunno, but I don’t think I ever want to be on her bad side. The armor is scary enough, but… I’m pretty sure those aren’t contacts or special effects.”

 

They were cut off again as Tony began to introduce the other members. Bridget prompted an appreciative hum from a few, the grace and gentle charm of the woman immediately warming most of the Rogues to her. The sudden dramatic appearance of Ulysses followed by Craig caught the attention of Nat and Clint especially. Right off the bat, they could tell these weren’t just random fighters-- these were soldiers , extremely effective ones. The imposing figure they presented was then shattered as their third member came on stage from the other direction and was promptly dragged between them so the men were flanking her protectively.

 

“Wait, they all have the same last name.” Steve suddenly spoke up, a strange look crossing his face.

 

The group looked back at the trio. “They’re too close in age to be siblings… and their features don’t speak of any kind of familial relation.” Nat mused softly, thinking for a moment.

 

Any further debate was cut off by the flashy arrival of Zevrael and Dorian, and the resulting banter between them. “Dude, Zevrael’s got pointed ears!” Scott was grinning ear to ear at that-- first a dragon lady, now an elf! Stark’s new team was getting pretty badass!

 

Sam snorted at the engineer’s enthusiasm, a tiny smirk quirking at his lips. “Wonder what part of Mirkwood they pulled him from?”

 

The arrival of Wade on the stage prompted an outraged cry from Steve. “Is he really so desperate as to hire a mercenary? He’s killed people for money!”

 

His statement prompted an extremely unamused look from Natasha who replied in a deadpan voice, “Steve, you are sitting in a room at a table with the Black Widow, Hawkeye, and a former US Military member. You killed people in Germany. Wanda killed people with HYDRA . Judging him for having killed people for any reason is a completely moot point.”

 

Scott tuned them out for a moment as he observed Strange’s reaction to the mercenary’s actions. Though it had been quickly covered up, there had been a momentary flash of something like possessiveness in the sorcerer’s face before sending that shock at Deadpool. The engineer filed the information away in his mind for later-- maybe Sam would see the same thing he had when they rewatched the footage.

 

The Rogues watched as a shuriken hit the stage and Maelstrom appeared from the smoke. The male gracefully bowed and Nat’s eyes narrowed in contemplation. The way the man moved so fluidly and held himself-- he’d been through some kind of intense training that brought to mind the years she had spent in the Red Room honing her own skills. From the way Clint subtly tensed against her, he had noticed the same thing she had.

 

“What the hell is Tony playing at?!” Steve cried out indignantly, shooting to his feet again. “He’s trying to make Bucky look bad with that mask! How low can he stoop?!”

 

Sam sent the man a severely unimpressed look. “He’s trying to remain anonymous. That’d be pretty pointless if the world could see his face.”

 

The assassin of the group nodded in agreement before adding, “That’s likely not even his real face-- the mask may be modifying his appearance for further security.”

 

The super soldier huffed as he watched the New Avengers take their places at the table. “Doesn’t matter anyway. Once we’ve been pardoned and back in the USA, we won’t need this… new team . They’ll be dismissed, and things will go back to the way they were before.” he stated with confidence, unable to imagine anything else happening. What Tony had done-- this was why he needed to be kept in check.

 

“They might have,” Sam finally snapped, standing from his seat and turning briefly to the blonde. “Except you seem to have forgotten the small detail that involves you leaving the Avenger’s financial backer to die . Given that Stark seems to have had no problem establishing a new team, what the hell makes you think he’ll accept us back with open arms?!” Without waiting for an answer, the man spun away and stalked from the room, Scott rising to follow a moment later without saying a word to Steve or even looking in his direction.

 

Nat rose as well, Clint pressed against her side. “Face it, Rogers.” She declared coldly, eyes hard and posture unyielding. “Even if we’re pardoned, things will never go back to the way they were. You personally set fire to all of those bridges when you kept the truth of his parents’ death from him, lied about it, then left him for dead.” The assassin gestured in the direction of the TV. “At the end of the day, he doesn’t need us-- not when he has them .”

 

“He has to keep funding us! He has an obligation!” Steve shouted, eyes flashing with anger at the display of insubordination from his team.

 

“Stark doesn’t have to do anything .” ‘Tasha shot back, crossing her arms loosely over her chest. “At no point in time did he sign a contract. He was helping us because he wanted to. Now, any desire he had to do that is probably dead in the bunker where you left him .” Having said her piece, the assassin led Clint from the room, leaving Steve and Wanda alone with the TV still broadcasting the New Avengers in the background.

 

---

 

“It seems Dr. Stark has been busy.”

 

Shuri looked over at her brother, who had a contemplative look on his face. “His new team is impressive. They obviously get along much better than the original team ever did.” Her eyes went to a screen to her left, where the interview was being played again. “They’re also obviously not all… locals, shall we say.” She pulled up two different screens, one with a close shot of Minowa without her helmet, the other focused on Zevrael with his head turned.

 

T’Challa nodded in agreement, eyes sweeping over the duo for a moment. “Whether they are or not, Dr. Stark seems to trust them enough to allow them close.” He turned to a screen on his right, which was replaying footage taken from the common room the Rogues had been in. “It seems our guests are quite divided by the news, though.”

 

“They were divided even before that, brother.” The crown princess corrected him, stepping around him so she could view the screen as well. “I feel that making contact with Dr. Stark is more important than ever now. Not only because of this, but…” She trailed off for a moment, brow furrowing.

 

T’Challa gave his sister a grim smile. “Because of James Barnes.” the woman nodded, prompting a hum from the king. “When I offered him sanctuary here, I was not expecting Rogers and his team to follow as well. In my effort to save him from a potentially cruel and unfair fate, I have done wrong to Wakanda, and to Tony Stark.” He rubbed the side of his face with a weary sigh, exhaustion showing clearly on his features for a moment. “I am not sure how to even go about extending my apology to Dr. Stark when I cannot get through to him to extend it. It would be wrong of me to do so in any other way than a face-to-face manner. And yet…”

 

“And you cannot exactly go to him. If the Captain caught wind of it, he would accuse you of betraying them. I cannot guarantee that he would not attack us if he thought such a thing.” Shuri mused softly.

 

The king nodded in agreement and sat heavily in a chair, head hung as he stared at his hands. “I am at a loss, sister.” He finally said in a soft, hesitant voice. “How do I apologize for the wrongs I have committed? I would not do so in a simple message-- Dr. Stark deserves nothing less than to hear it from my own mouth.” Shuri hummed non-committedly, fiddling with her Kimoyo beads for a moment. After a few seconds, she sat down on the seat next to her brother, leaning against him in a comforting gesture. There were a few moments of silence as the two thought, lost in their own worlds.

 

A sudden beeping sound caused them both to look up in confusion, their eyes landing on a screen that was glitching and distorting strangely. As they stood, the screen suddenly settled on a picture of a silver and red ‘A’, the hole of the letter outlined in black with a black circle in the middle, the entire thing cut through with a single vertical line. A female, Irish voice filtered through the speakers. “Well, that’s a good start in the right direction.”

 

Shuri’s eyes widened when she saw the logo. “That’s the symbol of the New Avengers.” She breathed.

 

“That it is, Princess. My name is FRIDAY, I’m Dr. Stark’s personal AI. I’m the one who’s been keeping you from getting through to the Boss.” Before either sibling could speak, the voice became almost hostile. “Beggin’ yer pardon, of course, but after what was done to the Boss I had to be sure your attempts to apologize were genuine.”

 

T’Challa stepped in front of Shuri so he was in front of the monitor. “They are, and if Dr. Stark means so much to you that you would do this for him, then I would extend my apologies to you as well.” He dipped his head to the screen, unphased by the idea of speaking to a machine. Clearly, Dr. Stark had given his AI a life of her own, and he would do everything in his power to respect that. “I failed to check that Rogers’ words were true when he said Dr. Stark was alright, and he suffered unnecessarily for it. In doing so, I have also caused you and his friends, his allies, undue distress. I cannot take back my actions, only apologize for my oversight and attempt to make reparations.” He bowed to the screen in a smooth motion. “You have my deepest apologies, Lady FRIDAY, for the grief I have caused you.”

 

There was a moment of silence before the AI spoke again. “And the Boss?”

 

T’Challa didn’t raise from his position, but his lips quirked into a smile. “As I said, Lady FRIDAY, I would prefer to tender my apologies to Dr. Stark face-to-face. He deserves to hear them from me directly.”

 

A few seconds passed before FRIDAY spoke again. “Good answer. I accept your apology, your Majesty.” The screen flickered again before the word ‘transferring’ appeared on the screen. T’Challa straightened with surprise in his eyes, and after several seconds the screen changed again to a camera feed of Tony sitting in a chair, all but two of the New Avengers flanking him protectively. Stephen in particular was positioned in such a way that the relationship between them was more than clear.

 

The genius smiled, dipping his head to the king in greeting. “King T’Challa. My darling FRIDAY told me you have something to say.”

 

Though T’Challa nodded, his mind was instantly on alert the moment he saw the positions the New Avengers had taken around Tony. Everything about their stances, body language, and facial expression spoke of a fierce protectiveness and unwavering loyalty. That the genius seemed unbothered by their actions showed he had no complaints about this, their need to watch out for him. The king knew he was being watched, measured, and observed closely for any sign that his words were false or half-baked, which also meant he had to tread very carefully. “Indeed, Dr. Stark.” The king swept into a deep bow, keeping his eyes firmly on the floor as he spoke. “I have done you grievous harm in my actions. I took Rogers at his word when he said you were alright, when you were grievously injured instead. I am deeply sorry for my negligence in this, and would like to make amends in whatever way I am able to.”

 

There was silence from the screen, but the monarch stayed in his low bow. Finally, a soft shuffling was heard before Minowa’s voice rumbled through the speakers. “We would hear why you have allowed the Rogues into your home before we continue.” Her tone was hard, unyielding in the face of her request.

 

Something about the woman and her voice raised the hairs on the back of T’Challa’s neck. He swallowed for a moment before speaking, never straightening his stance. “It started as offering asylum for James Barnes only. I was unsure that he would be tried and judged fairly, and whether it would even be safe to carry out. His mind is fragmented at best, and his trigger words are still present. He asked to be put back in cryostasis until a permanent solution could be found.” He took a deep breath to gather his thoughts. “I was not aware of Roger’s plans involving the other members of the Rogues until they were at my doorstep. The invitation was never extended to them, or even to Rogers himself. My decision to keep them here was a matter of keeping them close so that the damage they caused in Europe would not be repeated elsewhere.”

 

Minowa’s voice hummed for a moment. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. Pray tell, then-- what have they been doing recently?”

 

“I have footage of their reactions to the press conferences at both the beginning of August and a few days ago. May I send them to you?”

 

After a moment the Dragonborn spoke again, her voice a few degrees warmer than before. “We would appreciate that. And you’ve no need to continue to genuflect.”

 

T’Challa rose from his position as Shuri approached, toying with her Kimoyo beads to send the footage. A moment later, the footage flickered into existence on the screen with the New Avengers, and they watched in silence as the two played back to back. Having seen the video already, the king took a moment to observe each member of the team in front of him. Minowa seemed smug at Scott’s reaction, practically preening under her calm mask. Craig and Ulysses seemed focused on Nat and Clint’s reactions to them, and Aria was grinning madly at the speculation about them sharing the same last name. Sam’s comment on Zevrael prompted a choked laugh out of the Pavus duo and a muttered ‘So Thedas is really Mirkwood now’ from a highly amused Bridget. The comment on Wade caused an explosion of laughter from the group, several eyes glancing towards Minowa in particular. The ebony haired woman had a massive, shark-like smile on her face that contained far too many teeth. Steve’s explosive reaction to Rem caused several confused looks to be passed between them along with a deep eye roll from Tony. The declaration from Steve that he would ‘dismiss them’ prompted a few barks of laughter and several incredulous looks at the audacity of the statement. The Reapers all applauded when Romanoff stood up to Rogers, and for Tony in her own way. That she had the presence of mind to realize that the Rogues were no longer needed and admitted it intrigued them-- every single one of them had seen the brief flash of pain and regret in her eyes before it was immediately covered back up. A glance at Tony showed a hint of conflict on his own face-- Romanoff had betrayed him, twice actually, but it was clear he saw something in her worth trying to salvage. They silently agreed to bring it up with him later before lapsing back into quiet as she and Barton left the room and the footage cut.

 

After a few moments of silence, Tony turned his attention to the New Avengers. “What do you think, guys?”

 

Craig was the one who ended up speaking first. “It’s pretty clear there’s a rift in the team now-- Wilson, Lang, and Romanoff all seem to be on Tony’s side. Rogers and Maximoff are still pretty set in their opinions, and Barton…”

 

“Different.” Ulysses picked up. “He’s acting the part-- grieving the loss of his family, but knows they’re alive.” He tilted his head in T’Challa’s direction, question in his eyes.

 

T’Challa nodded at that, fiddling with his own beads. “The cameras we have in Romanoff’s room picked up footage of when he learned of their survival. Perhaps it can tell us something.” New film appeared on the screen, and the New Avengers watched Clint and Natasha’s reactions to the survival of his family. The sudden exclamation from Natasha caused more than a few eyebrows to raise in shock. After a few seconds, Minowa suddenly straightened and turned to Tony, barking something in Dovahzul.

 

Tony surged from his seat with a curse. “Maximoff has been in his head. He just said he felt like he was coming out of a fog, and I had that same kind of experience when she hit me with her powers.”

 

Excuse me ? ” The sudden infuriated exclamation froze the genius, and he turned back to see Stephen come around the chair with an absolutely livid look on his face. “Did I just hear you say that Maximoff had her slimy magic in your mind ?”

 

There was silence from the man, his whiskey-brown eyes wide and startled. After a moment he got out, “I… never told you? I could have sworn--”

 

“You didn’t tell any of us this information!” Bridget stomped over to him and grabbed him by the ear, prompting a yelp from the man. “Please excuse us for a moment, your highness. I need to do a check to make sure there were no residual effects from Maximoff’s powers, then I need to verbally beat some sense into this dunderhead !” She stormed away with Tony, ignoring his protests.

 

Stephen watched them in shock, his righteous indignation fleeing in the face of the resident Restoration Master’s ire. He opened his mouth to say something before he was cut off by T’Challa on the other side of the screen.

 

“Forgive me for asking, but does she happen to intimidate any of you as much as she does me?”

 

All heads turned towards him as they simultaneously responded with a resounding “Yes.

 

-

 

From where Rem had been in the midst of a paper war downstairs in Tony’s lab, the redhead vigorously nodded at the question of if Bridget intimidated them even though the man couldn’t see him, the teenager’s red and black eyes widening slightly. While waiting for the genius to return so his punishment as a gofer could continue, Rem had engaged in throwing paper balls back and forth with Wade who was currently hiding in a nearby vent, the surrounding area giving clear evidence as to what they had been doing. A hastily constructed trebuchet crafted from the various pieces scattered around had given him the edge in their fight though he had paused at the revelation about what had happened to Tony.

 

In the background, footage of the conversation upstairs had been playing and Rem had dropped the paper ball he’d been holding when he’d heard the mention of the-- as he’d privately dubbed her-- Scarlet Bitch-- using her powers for evil things. It was a little too much for the redhead, who darted over to the vent, jumping up to join the merc who made room immediately, settling the teen in his arms comfortingly. “Want me to go kill her?” he offered nonchalantly, knowing that Rem’s emotions since his de-aging were genuinely that of a teenager and the best way to flip him into a different mood swing.

 

So full of emotion right now- angry that Tony had been hurt and violated like that and upset with himself for how uncertain and afraid it made him feel, Rem choked out a laugh that also resembled a partial sob, fully relaxing relaxing against Wade as he began to giggle uncontrollably. Only the mercenary would offer to kill her to make him feel better.

 

Wade smiled at the genuine laugh that bubbled up from Rem. If Rem was happy, he was happy-- right now, that was what mattered most.

 

He could think of all the ways he would unalive the bitch later.

 

---

 

Bruce adored Minowa to the moon and back. She was a steady presence against the tumultuous nature of his own anger, her calm able to anchor him to the present. The iron control she had over her emotions provided a link to ground his own, and she never got scared or angry if he lost control a little.

 

Right now though, those roles were being reversed, because the field commander of the New Avengers was absolutely incensed.

 

“Let me see if I have this right.” The Dragonborn hissed, pacing from one end of the medical wing to the other, body thrumming with fury and agitation. “Not only has that little folaaskiin been in Zeymahi ’s head, dredging up his worst fears and dragging his mind into turmoil, she has also done the same to my love ??”

 

The doctor nodded but didn’t try to approach her. “It’s why I left. Between that , along with her not being held accountable for her part in the creation of Ultron, for what happened in Johannesburg, for her willingness to aid Ultron as long as it resulted in the death of Tony, and the fact that Steve brought her to the Tower and went after Tony strictly on only her word after everything she had done to us, even when he knew she became a HYDRA volunteer strictly to gain power to murder Tony, and even for what befell her own country of Sokovia because of what she did... Steve and his foolish, moronic ‘she’s just a kid !’ and not wanting her to face any consequences for her past! And knowing that Steve was going to add her to the team no matter what Tony and I said… I couldn’t stay. She…” He pulled his glasses off, a stab of guilt piercing his heart and causing his face to twist into a grimace, “She didn’t just pull my fears to the surface-- she made them a reality, a living nightmare .” He swallowed hard, not noticing that his ebony haired lover had paused her own movements to observe him. “And Tony, Gods, he took every ounce of flak for what happened. Rogers made damn sure of that, conveniently leaving out any part that that… bitch played in it!”

 

Minowa turned on her heel and crossed the room in a few long strides, pressing herself against the scientist’s back and nuzzling his neck. Bruce shuddered once before allowing himself to relax fully into her hold, the abnormally warm puffs of air against his skin helping to ground his emotions again. “You have every right to be angry at her, Diisu’um , after everything she’s done. You have my word, she will not come within a mile of this place or our nestmates.” Her eyes flashed brilliantly for a moment as she growled, “We would kill her before she could.”

 

Green flashed in Bruce’s eyes as he reached for her hands that were wrapped around his waist. The thought of the witch anywhere around the compound, possibly getting even remotely near any of the kids living here- whether they were as young as Nathaniel, who was a little over 1, or as old as Rem at 17- was sending his-- and the Hulk’s by proxy-- protective instincts skyrocketing. “If she touches anyone here, I’ll kill her.” He snarled, the green brightening for a moment.

 

“And I will help you, my love.” Minowa rumbled, rubbing her nose behind Bruce’s ear in an intimate gesture. “For now, still your rage. We must turn our minds to matters elsewhere. The King of Wakanda has called for our aid, and Tony has decided to answer it.”

 

Bruce nodded and took a few deep breaths to settle himself before pulling away from Minowa and grabbing her hand to pull her over to a chair. He sat down, pulling the Dragonborn down so she was sprawled sideways across his lap. “Alright. Just to make sure I have the details right-- Tony agreed to help with Barnes’ trigger words and brainwashing, but only if he does it stateside?”

 

Minowa nodded and rested her head against her lover’s shoulder. “ Zeymahi has agreed to the use of the B.A.R.F. tech, but he is the only one who knows how to use it properly at this time. If it were sent to Wakanda, Tony would have to go there as well, and if Rogers found out, he would never allow either of them near Barnes. Yet the technology is James’ only hope of having a normal life again, free of HYDRA’s conditioning and the fear it brings with it. His memories will remain untampered with, but he will be free of any future incidents.”

 

The scientist nodded slowly, reaching up to absentmindedly play with the woman’s short ebony locks. “I understand him not wanting the risk of being triggered or the fear of it. That he chose to willingly go back into cryo rather than risk hurting anyone else… he’s a braver man than me, that’s for certain.” He yelped suddenly when Minowa shifted so she could nip at his neck.

 

“Such foolish words are not befitting a man of your intelligence, Diisu’um .” Minowa chided him, nosing the bite. “You are as brave as he, let no one tell you otherwise.” She kissed the spot tenderly before pulling away. “Once his pardon is complete and has been processed, T’Challa will awaken him without alerting Rogers and explain this all to him.” She shifted so she was looking into Bruce’s eyes, a gleeful smirk twisting her lips. “James Barnes is an adult and can make his own decisions. Without Rogers trying to act as his false keeper, I’m sure such an arrangement would be appealing to him.”

 

“Pretty sure at this point anything having to do with escaping Rogers is appealing.” Bruce snorted, his deep brown eyes sparkling with mirth. The Dragonborn gave him an amused grin that, to anyone else, would have been slightly demented-- full of sharp lines and too many teeth. For him, though, it was a reassurance that, while the woman shifting her position on his lap wasn’t necessarily human, she was a perfect match for him-- a jagged beauty with a strength of body and spirit to match his own. She straddled his lap and pressed forward to kiss him, and he was unafraid to meet her halfway.

 

“Hey guys, King Kitty just sent us the most awesome-- Oh for fuck’s sake, really?!”

 

Minowa growled in frustration as she pulled away and turned to level a glare at Tony and Stephen, the former of whom was grinning at her unrepentantly from his place in the doorway leading to a private room. “If you try to tell me you only just now finished your examination of his mind, Stephen, I will ‘Unrelenting Force’ you through that wall behind you."

 

The Sorcerer held up his hands, his lips quirking into a smile. “I swear, this was an accident. Tony and I were talking for a while about what I found, and T’Challa sent us a video that I think you’d appreciate. Neither of us knew what was going on out here.”

 

Bruce gave a soft laugh and rubbed Minowa’s lower back soothingly as she huffed and shifted so she was in his lap again. “Later, love.” He whispered to her, prompting an appreciative rumble from the woman. “What’s this video he sent you?”

 

Tony grinned and bounded over to them, tapping on his tablet to pull a video up on the screen before projecting it in front of him. “Check it out!”

 

The group watched as the Rogues sat around a table for what must have been a meal, everyone present but Wanda. Sam and Scott sat as a pair on one side of the table near Clint and Natasha, Steve noticeably isolated at the other end. There were only a few seconds of silence before Wanda suddenly came storming in, hair greasy and skin oily from some kind of residue. She began screeching about how her bathroom had been filled with slippery bubbles when she went to run the shower, and that they’d faded away when she grabbed her shampoo, conditioner, and body wash and escaped the bathroom. She’d then showered in one of the guest rooms, but it only seemed to have made the oily film worse. Steve quickly reassured her that she’d probably picked the wrong shampoo for her hair, that they’d get her a new one. Wanda sniffed and nodded, the duo completely missing the looks the rest sent each other-- confusion, amusement, and in Scott’s case, outright glee. Even ‘Tasha’s lip twitched up in amusement for a moment before her mask slid seamlessly back into place.

 

Minowa was grinning ear to ear, showing off her fangs with the gesture. “Why, how inconvenient for the witch.”

 

“Indeed, it’s such a shame.” Bruce nodded in agreement with a smile of his own. “It would be such a travesty if they couldn’t find soap that doesn’t leave a residue like that.”

 

The group laughed uproariously, completely missing the slit-pupiled green eyes watching them from the ceiling vent. After a moment of observation, they disappeared as a large green and black snake slid silently towards the other end of the wing, dropping down easily once he reached another open grate.

 

“You’re back!” Peter squealed, jumping to his feet as the snake rippled and glowed, changing back to Loki. “Did it work? What did they think??”

 

Loki grinned and gently pat the teen’s head. “It went perfectly. You all did very well.” He looked up as his sons and Harley approached as well with massive grins of their own. “What happens if she uses someone else’s?”

 

“The potion was slipped into every bottle they own.” Slei replied.

 

“It will affect them all then?”

 

“Nope! The potion is keyed specifically to her!” Jör fired back.

 

“And if she brings a bottle from the outside?”

 

“Runes around the bathrooms in the wing will summon potion to the new bottle upon being brought in.” Fenrir replied.

 

“What if the residue wears off?”

 

“Unless she feels like taking an acid bath, not a chance.” Harley snarked, a grin on his face. “That stuff would outlast HER.”

 

“And if it builds up in her hair too much?”

 

“Then the Scarlet Witch will then be the ‘Balding Bitch’!” Peter crowed in triumph.

 

Loki nodded sharply, a fierce grin on his face. “Well, my Harbingers of Havoc, I’d say your first prank is a complete success.” The kids cheered and hugged, bouncing around for a moment before falling quiet again. “That’s just the first one, though. Have you thought about your next prank?”

 

Peter nodded enthusiastically. “We have, and we already got FRIDAY to order what we need!” He gestured behind himself to a large box, grinning as the God of Mischief approached it.

 

Loki lifted the lid of the box and looked inside. After a moment of silence he replaced the lid and turned back to them. “Dare I ask how many are in this box?”

 

All five boys simultaneously replied “A thousand.”

 

The god lifted the lid of the box again briefly. “Are they all different?” The boys nodded again, and Loki grinned widely. “Oh, I love the way your mischievous little minds think. Let’s get to work.”

 

---

 

“Hey Dorian, Zevrael, do you know if Rem is still in the lab with Tony?”

 

The Pavus husbands looked up from where they were sitting on the couch to see Wade standing in front of them shifting from foot to foot. “Rem will be free from his gofer duties tomorrow, Wade. Why?” Dorian replied, setting the tablet in his hands down.

 

The merc sighed with a sardonic grin and shrugged. “The next time you see him, could you tell him that I need my credit card back? I don’t mind if he takes it and doesn’t tell me, but I kinda need it back when he’s done so I can trade out my couch for a bed...”

 

The men stared at him for several seconds in stunned silence before Zev slowly put his book into his lap. “Alright, I have several questions regarding that statement. One, why does he take your credit card to begin with, two, how often does he do this that it seems to be a regular thing, and three, are you telling me you’ve been sleeping on a couch for over two weeks ??”

 

Wade stared back, not entirely sure of what the problem was and deciding to answer the questions in the order they were asked. “Um… The first one, Rem doesn’t have any money,” he explained matter-of-factly. “Jean Luc didn’t give him much when he left the Guild and with Sabertooth lurking around, Rem wasn’t able to do many jobs. I’m guessing he took my card for whatever he wanted to get for the two of you and I know it wouldn’t be something frivolous. And considering what you know of the X-Men, do you really think Warren would give him money like he did the others? Especially when he openly called Rem a whore to his face and suggested he start getting paid for being a slut?” Exhaling slowly to quell his urge to go kill the winged bastard, the merc calmed down enough to continue. “Until you two bought him his clothes after his deaging, I’ve been paying for pretty much anything he’s needed but I’m not always around so I told him he could take my and get what he needs- where did you think his bed here came from and those warm blankets? Rem disliked the cold before Antarctica and that just made it a hell of a lot worse.” Shaking his head, Wade grimaced slightly. “I was going to replace his motorcycle but he has a point about my couch, been sleeping on it for years now. And anytime I had company over, I just slept on the floor and let them have it… Ain’t easy for either Rem or me when he comes in after a nightmare, crawls onto the couch, and then winds up sleeping on top of me, gives me a crick in my back.” Pausing for a moment, he then added, “Been meaning to tell you two that Rem needs to add stuff to his room to make it actually feel like his and lived in. That’s one reason I got him the bed and stuff- to help him cement the idea in his little red head that it’s his room. Maybe a picture, some decks of cards, they’re his favorite things to have on hand. My card will be limited after the bed but once it’s back up--”

 

“Alright, I’m going to have to stop you there for a second.” Dorian got up from the couch, Zevrael hot on his heels. “First of all, you are not paying for a bed-- let Zevrael and I take care of it. In fact, if you bring us a list of things you’d like for your room, we’ll take care of all of it. Do not fight us on this, Wade Wilson,” The mage’s voice took on a stern tone when the merc opened his mouth to protest, “You’ve been taking care of our son for years at your own expense, and this is the least we can do to pay back some of that kindness.”

 

Wade was silent for a moment, his hazel eyes bouncing between the duo. Finally, he lowered his gaze to the floor and mumbled, “Someone had to take care of Rem… I was the only one he had, and he never deserved the shit he got from everyone.”

 

Icy blue eyes softened at his words and Zev reached forward to grab Wade’s hands in his own. “Well, now you don’t have to do it alone, and you have someone to take care of you too.” He tugged the merc towards him and wrapped him in a tight hug, Dorian joining in a moment later. “You’re one of us now, Wade, and we take care of our family.”

 

It took a moment for the man to work past the shock enough to return the hug. “If you insist.” He finally managed to get out, trying to cover up the various emotions within his voice with nonchalance.

 

“And if you wouldn’t mind making us a full list of what Rem might like in his room, that would also be greatly appreciated.” Dorian added as they finally broke away from the hug. “I mean, I would have you simply tell me , but I wouldn’t want to risk leaving anything out, and I don’t want you to have to keep anything off of it.” He turned to pull up a holographic screen before pausing. “You were with Rem earlier… why didn’t you ask for it then?”

 

The merc blinked before snorting with laughter. “I was going to, but Tony came back down…”

 

-

 

“... That is a trebuchet on my desk.”

 

Rem blinked and looked up from where he was trying to wrestle a ream of paper from out of a box so the paper war could continue. “Um… yes?” He replied, straightening to see the genius.

 

Tony circled the construct, looking it over with a critical eye. “ Where did you get a trebuchet?”

 

“Uh… I built it.” The redhead replied, brow furrowing in confusion at the way the brunette was acting.

 

The genius paused, eyes snapping towards Rem. “Are you telling me you could build a working miniature siege engine on my desk with nothing but the scraps scattered around my workshop with absolutely no prior engineering knowledge??”

 

The mutant’s eyes flicked between the machine and the mechanic. “Uhm… I… yes?”

 

A look of absolute delight crossed the Reaper’s face along with a maniacal gleam in his eye, and Rem distantly heard the sound of Wade clamoring through the vents as he beat a hasty retreat from the mad science he could just hear about to happen.

 

Wade wasn’t sticking around for that madness, doubly so when he heard Tony asking FRIDAY to summon Peter.

 

-

 

“... and he got this look on his face when he saw something Rem built… I just want to say that Tony Stark in mad scientist mode is a scary thing to witness.”

 

“Oh good. I’m glad we’re not the only ones who think that.”

Chapter Text

“It’s only been a few weeks and it already went through?” T’Challa was a little surprised but quite pleased at how quickly Dr. Stark had managed to finagle the pardon. He had thought it would be at least two months, possibly more.

 

Tony nodded from the other side of the monitor, a satisfied smile on his face. It had taken a lot of speaking in front of the Council but everything had come around the way they had needed it. “Well... At first, the Accords Council seemed reluctant to even consider such a thing. However, after it was pointed out that James Barnes had essentially been a prisoner of war for well over 70 years, almost everyone was quick to change their stance.”

 

T’Challa nodded in agreement with that-- being a POW was definitely something that made a huge difference for James Barnes to get a pardon, especially since the very man who’d fought for it had lost his parents due to their mind control of the man during his imprisonment. “Given it was HYDRA holding him prisoner and brainwashing him, I would imagine so.”

 

Stepping up beside the genius, Minowa fixed the Wakandan king with a fierce, unyielding look. “Does Rogers know about these recent developments?” She asked though it was obvious to everyone she wouldn’t take a vague answer of any kind.

 

A smugly grinning Shuri answered the Field Commander’s question. “Nope! It seems the television signal regarding anything about James’ pardon is having difficulty getting through to any of the screens in their wing. They have no idea what’s going on.” She suddenly laughed in amusement. “I think their attention is elsewhere these days anyway...” Seeing the intrigued looks she was getting, the princess pulled up a certain video on the screen being shared.

 

The screen showed Steve sleeping soundly in his bed, but the quiet only lasted for about five seconds before a piercing alarm blasted through the room. The super soldier surged from his bed, a furious curse on his lips that made Tony gasp as if scandalized. After a full minute, the alarm shut off, and the blond huffed in aggravation before climbing back into bed. The footage fast forwarded to about two hours later and the alarm blared again, this time sounding like an air horn. Rogers yelled a string of profanities before slamming a pillow over his face and head.

 

Tony gasped again before shouting, “LANGUAGE!”

 

From his space at Tony’s side, Stephen bent double, laughing so hard he needed Tony’s shoulder to stay upright. Minowa had a fierce, vindictive grin of amusement on her face. Tony was grinning and laughing as well, doing his best to support his taller soulmate so he didn’t fall face first into the carpet. T’Challa smiled at the trio, Shuri cackling along with them at his side.

 

-

 

In a room several floors below, the Harbingers of Havoc cheered and high fived each other at another successful prank. Loki smirked over at them, the God chuckling in deep amusement, and after a few moments he cleared his throat to catch their attention. “Are the alarms all in different places?”

 

“Yep. They’re scattered throughout the room so the alarm is coming from a different part of the room throughout the night!” Harley replied.

 

Loki nodded and continued. “And if he finds one and destroys it?”

 

Peter smirked at that. “IF he manages to find an alarm that’s about the size of a button, there are runes under each one that will summon a new one within 12 hours.”

 

“And will they run out at any point?”

 

Sleipnir shook his head negative. “Lord Hadrian taught us a duplication charm that will create a new one the instant one is summoned.”

 

“Will the noise be heard by anyone else?”

 

“Nope! The sound is confined to Roger’s room alone!” Jörmungandr replied.

 

“What if he puts in earplugs?”

 

This caused the Harbingers to pause and look at each other. “Uh… we didn’t think about that.” Fenrir admitted, blushing brightly.

 

Loki waved a hand dismissively, an indulgent smile on his face. “Worry not, there are ways to work around such a thing. Come, let’s see what we can do to fix this.”

 

-

 

It took a few minutes for everyone to calm down before returning to the conversation at hand. “So, Barnes’ pardon has gone through. Would you prefer for him to be awoken sooner rather than later?”

 

Tony took a deep breath and nodded, drawing strength from the gloved hand resting against his lower back. “Yeah. The B.A.R.F tech is ready to go, and… I’m not angry anymore.” He felt Minowa shift so she was pressed against his shoulder. “I’ve had time to think and process, and I realize Barnes… James was HYDRA’s weapon for a long damn time. They were the ones pulling the trigger-- they’re the ones who killed Mom and Howard. He didn’t deserve what happened to him, and he doesn’t deserve my anger and consternation.” A small smirk quirked at the genius’ lips as he continued. “The biggest ‘fuck you’ I can give HYDRA is giving their weapon his life back.”

 

There was a second or two of silence before T’Challa let a small but brilliant smile appear upon his face. “For all that Rogers and Maximoff speak of your selfishness and stubbornness, so far I have seen only a man of great compassion and strength. You are a good man, Tony Stark-- let no one tell you otherwise.” He turned his attention to his sister for a moment, the teen grinning at Tony as well. “Shuri, have the staff at the lab prepare to pull James out of cryostasis.” The teenage princess saluted her brother before running off. “Dr. Stark, I’ll let you know when we have a decision from Barnes.”

 

Tony nodded and bid the monarch goodbye before the screen went dark. He sighed and leaned back into the waiting arms of his sorcerer who kissed the top of his head. “Well, now all we can do is wait.” He murmured, eyes sliding over to Minowa, who nodded in agreement.

 

“Wait for what, Uncle Tony?” The group turned to see Rem pad into the room with a curious look in his eyes.

 

The genius smiled at the teen, allowing Stephen to turn them while not letting go of him. “The pardon for Barnes went through. T’Challa is going to wake him up and present the options to him and we’ll decide where to go from there. Did you just get done with your tutoring?”

 

Black and red eyes narrowed as Rem’s face scrunched up in frustration. “Yeah, I’m getting better in math… I still don’t have a clue why we need fractions, though,” he pouted playfully.

 

“At least you know the term now.” Tony snorted with good-natured laughter.

 

Rem huffed and stuck his tongue out at the genius. “Yeah, but I bet I could still break into your lab!”

 

“Rem, the last time you did that, Dum-E got you with the fire extinguisher.” Stephen gave the teen a deadpan look.

 

This time, the redhead shot him a cheeky grin. “Hey, at least I know better than to borrow a certain sorcerer uncle’s fancy bling.” He waved away any reply they might have given him. “Do you know if the mail’s been brought in yet?”

 

Right on cue, a voice rang out, “Mail call, bitches!” Wade skipped into the room with several bundles of envelopes in his arms. “Let’s see, one for the Gundam pilot, one for Merlin, one for Smaugette, and one for the cutest redhead in the world!”

 

What did you just call me?!”

 

Blushing but smiling warmly at Wade’s words, Rem grabbed the envelope with his name on it and beat a hasty retreat as Wade ‘eeped’ and began desperately trying to dodge the now irate Dragonborn. A moment after he left, he heard the sound of a booming Thu’um , a screech from the merc, and the sound of shattering glass accompanied by Tony’s indignant cry of ‘My window!!’ The redhead giggled softly at the byplay before turning his attention to the envelope in his hands, studying it for a few moments. He quickly ripped it open and pulled the single sheet of paper out, blinking in confusion at the pictures that fell out as well. Giving a sigh of annoyance, Rem bent to pick them up, before he froze in shocked horror. A moment later he scooped them up in a trembling hand, turning his attention to the letter. There was only one person who would have these kinds of photos, and as he read through the words the teen’s face paled dramatically as his fears were confirmed. There was no signature, but there also wasn’t any need for one-- after so long, the man responsible for at least half of his nightmares was back.

 

Rem was frozen completely solid for a moment, thoughts whirling by at a thousand miles an hour and nearly hyperventilating. How had he been found?? The only way he would have gotten that information was if Tony’s systems had been compromised in some way. The thought brought his brain back online a moment later, realization hitting him. He had a family now, a dad and papa and more than a dozen extended relatives who loved him and wouldn’t let anything happen to him. He took a few deep breaths before straightening. It was time he told his family everything he knew about the man the majority of the world knew as genius Doctor Nathaniel Essex, or as Rem knew him, the terrifying Mr. Sinister.

 

A quick inquiry to FRIDAY sent him running in the direction of the sparring room, the teen barely noticing the trek. He shoved open the door with a shaky hand, his eyes immediately finding Zevrael sheathing a set of knives after a sparring session. The elf looked up and smiled at Rem, only for that smile to fall the instant he saw the state his son was in. “Rem? What’s wrong?” he questioned in deep concern. The silverette crossed the room in a few long strides and pulled the teen into a tight hug.

 

Rem burrowed tightly against his dad, listening to his heartbeat for several moments as Zevrael’s strong arms held him protectively. “D-Dad… I need your help, and Papa’s… And probably the New Avengers,” he softly said, managing to keep his voice steady when his spoke, the redhead silently handing over the pictures to his father, one by one.

 

The elf was torn between pride that Rem had come asking for help yet concern that his son had had the urgent need to do so, wondering if this was it; if the last of the redhead’s painful secrets were about to be revealed at last. He and Dorian had noticed that though Rem had spoken of his time with the X-Men, the Thieves Guild, and some of his childhood while he was on the streets after escaping from someone or something known as the Antiquary, he was strangely silent on the mention of his time before that. Not releasing his hold on his, Zevrael kept him close with his right arm while he took the first photograph, his eyes widening immediately at the sight.

 

There, sitting in the corner of a dim, clearly empty room was a tiny child clad in a dingy nightshirt, involuntary tears stinging at Zevrael’s eyes when he recognized the red hair and that unique eye color- crimson and black, belonging to none other than his beloved son. That boy was holding himself, as Rem still did sometimes when something was bothering him, a forlorn expression with sad eyes that seemed focused on the floor, a bracelet of some sort around his right wrist. More than anything right now, the silverette wanted to travel back in time and give that sad little Rem a cuddle and shelter him in his arms forever, no matter the traces of dirt he could see on his much too thin arms, hands, and feet.

 

Swallowing hard, Zevrael took the second picture and instantly had to fight back the urge to be sick. It was the same Rem, a tiny, helpless child that was no doubt in the hands of monsters -- for who else could do such a thing to a little boy whose eyes were wide with fear and terror, his small wrists and ankles shackled to the table with a whole tray full of needles , several having already been used. Two were in the process of being injected into the tiny version of Rem and Zev could see how much it hurt, the pain in those crimson eyes that were so brilliant in the photo that they seemed to almost be a supernova. “Andraste have mercy…” he choked out, unable to stop the tears that time as he squeezed his son hard, aching so badly inside for him. “ Da’len , how I wish… I wish we could have found you sooner, my son…”

 

Taking the final picture, Zev could feel his heart breaking at the sight of the tiny figure sleeping on the no doubt cold, hard floor in that same gray shirt, curled up on himself with nothing, not even a blanket for warmth. There was no bed or mattress, no small stuffed animal to bring comfort in the night if need be, not even a damned nightlight. Instead, a little boy lay all alone in a corner away from the door, his thumb in his mouth, clearly cold since there were goosebumps along his bared skin as he slept.

 

Inwardly, Zevrael thanked Wade for gifting Rem with the warm, velvety blankets that he’d purchased their son when he’d gotten him his bed, understanding now why Rem had a stuffed animal of some sort hidden in his blankets and his deep rooted love of soft blankets. His tactile need for comfort-- after what was most likely *years* of that treatment, it was a miracle that the teen hadn’t simply shut down and become catatonic.

 

It took a few seconds for the silverette to reign his emotions in enough to take the letter Rem held out to him. His eyes scanned over the words quickly, and the aching grief and pain he had been feeling was very rapidly replaced by righteous indignation. His grip on his son tightened to an almost painful point before he spoke in an icy cold voice filled with rage. “FRIDAY, have the New Avengers gather in the meeting room nearest to here. Tell them it’s urgent.” The AI agreed and Zev turned his full attention to Rem for a moment, pulling the redhead close and pressing a loving kiss to his forehead. “I’m so glad you brought this to our attention, Rem. Don’t worry-- your Papa and I and the rest of our family are going to take care of this, okay?”

 

Rem nodded, but grabbed his father’s hand as he made to pull away. “Not Peter.” He pleaded softly, red and black eyes wide and shiny with tears. “He’s… the stuff in the lab… it would scar him mentally. He’s too innocent… he shouldn’t have to…” He struggled for a moment, choking on the lump that developed in his throat. The thought of Peter losing that naivety, that joy that came from having a happy life and childhood because of what they would find in the lab…

 

Zev quickly pulled the teen back into a hug, gently stroking the fiery locks on his son’s head. “Okay, Rem. We’ll make sure Peter stays behind.” Rem nodded against his chest with a relieved, shaky sigh. “Come on, let’s go.” He kept one arm around Rem as they left, the letter from before clutched tightly in the other hand. Even without looking at it, the words seemed to be burned into the elf’s mind.

 

‘I can find you anywhere, Remington. There is no escape from me. Be smart and come back by your own choice, my Gambit, so no one else has to get hurt.’

 

---

 

Tony was pacing back and forth in the meeting room, fury stretched tight across his face. “FRIDAY, do a full system diagnostic. I want to know how the fuck this… bastard found out about Rem being here. Increase firewall strength as much as you can, I want you to make sure nothing can come within a mile of your systems without us knowing.” He tugged on his hair as the AI agreed.

 

Rem watched the brunette with sad, resigned crimson eyes. “He already knows where I am, Uncle Tony. No matter where I go, he always manages to find me.” He curled his arms around himself in a protective, somewhat defensive motion. “To Sinister, I’m his greatest creation and proof of his success in genetic engineering-- he’ll never let me go. Even if I died, he’d probably clone me to bring me back...” The teen couldn’t stifle a shudder at the idea, though he knew it was true. He was considered too valuable by the mad Doctor to be allowed to stay dead. “It’s not even really me he wants; just his creation-- my blood and to add new things to it and see if he can tweak my powers and create new ones.” The redhead pressed himself into his fathers, closing his eyes for a few moments.

 

“Then we have to take him out of the equation entirely .” Craig announced, jade eyes sharp with anger and determination. “If he’s willing to go to these lengths for one person-- threatening and blackmail-- then I’d bet he wouldn’t hesitate to attack us here if he got desperate enough.”

Stephen had one of the pictures in his hand, which was trembling far worse than normal. “He was conducting human experimentation . And on a kid , no less!”

 

Oui ,” Rem confirmed softly. “Don’t know if there were others besides me or how many, but I remember it. My earliest memories have the Doctor in them…” He peered at his papa and clarified, “He’s the Doctor that I have nightmares about, Papa... “ The mutant then looked back at Stephen. “The injections were a near daily thing, I don’t know what he was trying to do with them or if it was related to how strong my charging powers became later, though that was the room I was in until I was eventually sent to the Antiquary. The Doctor didn’t have need of me again until I became a teenager and my powers were so out of control…”

 

Tony let out a growl before striding over and pulling Rem into a tight hug. “I swear we’re gonna take care of this, okay? No way in hell are you ever going back there.”

 

Rem swallowed hard, embracing Tony back. “I-I can’t go back,” he confessed to the genius. “I can’t ever do that again, Uncle Tony… And as I asked Dad, please don’t take Peter! Because… because things are there that even adults will flinch at, let alone someone with such a kind heart. Peter-- I would not have him lose that over me…” Tears flowed down the teen’s face as his crimson eyes met Tony’s orange-tinted whiskey brown ones. “This is one mission I can’t go on; I’m not strong enough to face him…”

 

Bridget stood gracefully from her seat and held her arms for the weeping teen, and Tony passed him off to the Restoration Master. She wrapped her arms around the redhead, gently stroking his hair as she tucked his head under her chin. “Rem, that’s perfectly fine. What you went through in that place is unquantifiably traumatic, and going back wouldn’t do you any good. Come, let’s go find Peter and the others, maybe watch a funny movie. Sound good?”

 

The teen nodded and pulled away from the blond, only to be engulfed in a group hug from several people. “Don’t worry Rem, we’re gonna take care of this.” Aria murmured comfortingly to the teen, pressing a kiss to his forehead.

 

“We’ll make sure Sinister gets what’s coming to him.” Craig agreed, ruffling the teen’s fiery locks.

 

Rem let out a watery chuckle at that. “Not even Scott-the-Dick could kill Sinister.”

 

“Sinister has never faced the fury of the agents of the Dinokthur .” Minowa rumbled, eyes glowing brightly and voice resonating with Alduin’s from the strength of their combined anger.

 

The group pulled away one by one until only Wade was left, and the merc gave Rem a squeeze before pulling away just enough to look the teen in the eye. “No matter what happens, Sinister isn’t leaving that lab alive. You won’t have to worry about him after that, okay?” The teen nodded, and Wade leaned forward to press a brief kiss to his forehead before finally pulling away, pulling his mask over his face.

 

Dorian and Zevrael took a moment to sandwich their son between them, holding him tight. “We love you, little firefly. We’re going to make sure Sinister can’t hurt you again, no matter what.” Dorian promised, Zevrael nodding in agreement. Rem nodded against Dorian’s chest, relishing in the loving contact from his fathers. Finally the trio pulled apart and Dorian turned to Bridget, who was waiting by the door. “You’ll take care of him?”

 

Bridget smiled kindly at the mage. She understood that he wasn’t asking out of doubt of her abilities, but out of love and worry for his son. “Of course, Dorian. Mara have mercy on anyone who tries anything here…” She tilted her head forward, and for a brief moment there was a flash of something undeniably violent in her eyes. “... Because I will not .”

 

Behind his husband, Zevrael couldn’t help but swallow hard. Most people had a tendency to underestimate the blond woman, thinking her a simple healer. What they failed to realize or remember was that, while Bridget’s primary magical strength was in the healing arts, she also had her mastery in Alteration and Conjuration. And those that came against the woman’s summoned thralls tended not to live very long afterwards.

 

Dorian nodded at the mage before gently pushing his beloved son in her direction. Bridget smiled gently as she put an arm around Rem, leading him from the room. The instant the door was closed, the Pavus duo turned back the rest of the team, faces grim. “Let’s go get this son of a bitch.” The mage announced.

 

The group as a whole nodded, and Tony took the letter from the table and closed his eyes. His magic surged around him, rising to his call to seek out the origins of the note. After a few seconds, the genius’ eyes opened, a small flicker of orange shining in them. “Got it. Stephen?” He held his hand out and the sorcerer took it to lock onto the location as well. Once he had done so Tony waved a hand to summon his armor before opening a corridor.

 

It was only a matter of a few seconds for everyone to step through the corridor or through the portal Stephen opened. There were a few seconds of observation before someone finally spoke.

 

Ulysses swallowed hard, an uncharacteristic look in his eyes. The sniper was disturbed . “Just like Vault-Tec… Worse.” He murmured, squeezing Aria’s hand when the woman took it. Craig leaned against him, face tinted green at the sight.

 

Stephen wandered towards what looked like an operating table outfitted with restraints. His eyes drifted towards a nearby table with a variety of needles and medical tools. His hands clenched into fists, uncaring of the pain it caused him. The doctor in him was disgusted, horrified by the prospect of the depravity of the experiments performed on that table.

 

Dorian and Zevrael approached a wall stocked with various bottles, and the silverette plucked one down and glanced at the label. “I don’t recognize this… Um… Gandalf?” He called the sorcerer over, and the man was quick to join them.

 

Stephen took one look at the bottle and gasped in horror. “That’s a high grade tranquilizer-- something that should never be used on humans.” He took the drug from Zevrael, checking it over quickly. “It’s out of date, though.”

 

“Maybe that one is…” Dorian held up another bottle, one that looked much newer and unopened. “... But this one is brand new.”

 

The sorcerer quickly accepted the bottle from Dorian, turning it over as well before freezing. “This… this has Rem’s name on it-- his old codename- Gambit.” He choked, a look of horrified realization crossing his face a moment later. “Sinister was planning on using this on him when he showed up.”

 

A choked sound drew their gaze to Tony, who was standing by a box next to an old TV. The screen was on, a video flickering on the screen. The footage showed a familiar feral mutant entering Rem’s room, coming back out a few seconds later with the younger mutant on his hip. He carried him down the hall, uncaring of the way Rem squirmed slightly, weakly protesting against it and the way the blonde, muscular mutant snapped something that made the tiny redhead cringe and shrink in on himself. It only took a moment for them to realize the Sabertooth in the footage looked exactly the same as the one they had encountered a few weeks prior.

 

Wade swallowed down the bile rising in his throat and croaked, “His healing factor must keep him from aging, just like Wolverine’s…” Studying Rem’s lips and what Sabertooth said in response, the merc’s eyes narrowed behind his mask. “Rem said he didn’t want to go there because it hurts; Sabertooth said that if he didn’t stay still and be quiet that he’d learn what pain truly was…” Exhaling slowly, he looked over at Dorian and Zevrael, hoping to give them some small comfort in one thing he did know for certain. “Victor never… *touched* him like that before that night in the Morlock Tunnels. I hadn’t met Rem at that point, but I wish I could’ve killed him before he ever entered Rem’s life again...”

 

Hearing the pain in Wade’s voice, the Pavus duo moved over to the merc, each placing a hand on his back and nodding solemnly. That tiny version of their son had been through something so horrific that he hardly needed to add anything more traumatic to it, especially since he’d gone through so much. Rem was so strong, to be able to smile and laugh after everything he’d been through and neither Dorian nor Zevrael had any issues killing someone who’d hurt their son. Especially if it meant that Rem never had to worry about the sadistic man ever coming after him again and treating him as if he were something less than human.

 

Tony didn’t say a word. He simply ejected the tape from the player, placing it into the box with the others. He didn’t think about how many tapes were in the box-- couldn’t think about the possible contents. A flash of metal drew his attention, and he slowly reached for the silver bracelet sitting next to the box. He turned over the I.D. tag and he swallowed as he read ‘Project: GAMBIT’ on one side and Name: REMINGTON on the other. He looked back down at the dull cloth it had been sitting on, and his stomach lurched horribly when he recognized the color and material from the video that had been playing not a few seconds ago, as well as the pictures Rem had received. “No wonder he didn’t want Pete here…” He whispered, closing the box after placing the bracelet and shirt inside and handing it off to Stephen, who immediately stored it in a pocket dimension. “Alright,” he addressed the group as a whole, “Let’s do what we came here to do-- Fiendfyre and Shatterfrost, you’re with me. Let’s go find this… fucking bastard, and make sure he can never do this to anyone ever again.” The husbands nodded sharply, eyes filled with promises of pain. “Deadpool, get me every physical document you can find on Rem. Scratch that, every physical document and hard drive. I don’t care if you have to destroy anything else to get to them. I want everything. Dragoon, go with--” He turned to the Dragonborn and froze for a moment when he was met with burning crimson eyes with black sclera.

 

She was too close to a Fracture. ” Alduin explained, eyes flitting around the lab. “ It brought back memories… the Thalmor. ” He sighed and crossed his gauntlets over his chest. “ This place is a den of evil and depravity-- that one would so willingly torture a child for their own gain…” He huffed, a flame curling from his mouth with a puff of smoke.

 

The genius nodded in understanding, inwardly relieved that Alduin had taken control briefly. Minowa experiencing a Fracture at this point would be catastrophic, especially since he wasn’t sure of exactly where they were. If she had lost control, there was the potential for collateral damage in the form of human life. “I get that. I’ve heard stories about what happened with them... Go with ‘Pool, watch his back.” The dovah nodded sharply before joining the mercenary. “Deadpool, this is Alduin. He’s one of the tenants in Dragoon’s head. If you thought her Thu’um was dangerous, then you’d better hope you’re never on the receiving end of his.”

 

Wade looked over at the being, who grinned maniacally at him, teeth sharp and eyes full of piercing darkness. He swallowed hard and squeaked, “Heard and understood, loud and clear.” He shrunk down on himself a little more when Alduin’s smile only widened more.

 

“Alduin, stop scaring him.” Tony arched an eyebrow at the ebony haired being, who simply nodded. “Merlin, I want a list of everything medical in this room-- meds, tools, all of it .”

 

The sorcerer nodded sharply and moved to do as his soulmate asked before pausing. “Rem said he didn’t know if he was the only one this was happening to… if he was Sinister’s only victim.”

 

“We’ll take a look around, Glitch.” Aria spoke up, getting nods from her own lovers. “Go, make sure that asshat suffers.”

 

Tony nodded sharply and he led Dorian and Zevrael from the room. Wade quickly bounced to the nearest computer to dismantle it, Alduin moving to the nearby filing cabinet. Stephen began summoning the bottles from the wall, lining them up on the operating table, and the Boone trio quickly left the room and split up to take different paths and cover as much area as possible.

 

No way were they going to fail on this mission, not with the safety of one of their own at stake.

 

Chapter Text

  • Alduin, Stephen, and Wade

 

Listening as Tony and the Pavus duo departed, Alduin waited until he could no longer hear their footsteps before focusing fully on his task. He turned his glowing eyes on Wade again, jerking his head towards a nearby computer system. “You are far more familiar with these systems than us. I will search elsewhere for what Zeymahu desires.

 

Wade swallowed again and nodded, quickly moving to the first tower. Holy shit , that guy had been living in the woman’s head?! How was she so calm and composed all the time?! Wade was admittedly curious but not enough so that he considered ignoring Tony’s warning. After all, if the genius was giving one, it was usually for a good reason. Pushing the thought to the back of his head, the merc quickly moved to dismantle the computer. He soon found the hard drives in question, and his brows rose in shock once he got a closer look at them. He whistled in shock, drawing Alduin’s attention again. “I’m actually wondering what the hell Sinister’s been up to that he needed four 16 terabyte hard drives in this machine alone …” He hummed, pulling them free of the cords and holding them up for the dovah to see.

 

Judging by your reaction, that is unusual for such a system to have?”

 

Wade hummed as he put the drives to one side. “From what I’ve learned about Mister Sinister, he’s definitely been alive since 1859, right when his true identity, Dr. Nathaniel Exxus, was ostracized for his theories on human evolution and genetic mutation. Of course, he was actually correct but he was considered… strange, pardon the pun, Gandalf, for his beliefs. At some point he became immortal, but computers and such have only been around since about 1974. So whatever he’s got on these drives, there’s a large amount of data considering it’s only from the last forty-something years…” Wade paused for a moment, staring down at the hard drives. Part of him dreaded learning what was on those; seeing that video Tony had pulled up with Sabertooth carrying Rem and the photos from the redhead’s childhood earlier had been hard. It wouldn’t surprise him if a great portion of the information contained inside was about Rem alone.

 

Alduin snorted, tilting his head in the mercenary’s direction. “Immortal? Unlikely. Perhaps he has found some way to increase his lifespan significantly, but nothing that lives can ever be truly immortal. ” For a moment, the red and black eyes became distant, as if remembering something from a long time ago. “ It is one thing to be ageless… but it means nothing if one can still be struck down.

 

“I did kill him!” Wade suddenly snapped, causing both Stephen and Alduin to whip their heads towards him in shock at the deep emotion within the merc’s voice. The hazel-eyed man swung his arm in an arc, knocking the tower clean off the desk and crashing to the floor. “I tried blowing him up, stabbing him, shooting him, decapitating him-- all it got me was a vivisection with no anesthesia! Somehow, that fucking bastard keeps coming back! So if that doesn’t make him immortal, then what the hell does?” He whipped around away from the tower, beginning to pace back and forth, agitation in every line of his body. “It’s different for Sabertooth because I knew he could be killed, and fuck knows I tried, but I couldn’t do it because his healing factor worked faster than mine! I lost count of how many times I got my neck broken for trying! Rem got assaulted over and over again by that asshole, and all I could do was put him back together after every time because I wasn’t good enough to kill him and be done with it!” He finally stopped, throwing his fist at the wall, uncaring of the feeling of his bones cracking under the force of the hit. “I could hold him, let him cry, and wipe his tears away… but I couldn’t make them stop.” The last part was said in little more than a whisper.

 

The mercenary had his eyes closed, trying to block out the images that assaulted his mind, so he didn’t register the fact that someone was in front of him until his hand was being pulled away from the wall. His eyes snapped open to see Alduin in front of him, holding a gauntlet over his broken hand and channeling a restoration spell through it. “That you tried and failed, yet still kept trying, speaks volumes on the quality of your character, and the love you have for your friend. Each time he was broken, you were there for him when others were so willing to turn a blind eye to his pain. ” The black and red eyes of the dovah caught and pinned Wade’s hazel ones as he cut the spell, letting go of his hand. “ You are loyal to him-- it is good. However, you are no longer the only ones looking out for Rem. He has his team, his family, and any who dare harm a hair on his head… ” The eyes suddenly glowed, flashing as if burning with an inner fire. “ We will send them to Sithis, allow the Dread Father to pass his judgment.

 

“Or I’ll send them to a Hell dimension, whichever one is easiest.” Stephen quipped, turning from the bottles in front of him for a moment to address the mercenary as well. “Seriously, DP. You don’t have to do it alone anymore. We’ll all protect Rem with everything we have. And you need to stop blaming yourself for what happened. Nope, don’t interrupt me.” He held one shaking hand out to stop whatever the man had been about to say. “ You didn’t make the choice to keep hurting Rem with human experimentation. You didn’t decide to sexually assault Rem over and over again. We know where the blame for those things falls, and it sure as hell isn’t on you. Do you think Rem blames you for what happened to him?”

 

Wade swallowed and his eyes fell to the floor. “Sometimes I wonder why he doesn’t .”

 

“And I wonder how fast Rem would kick your ass if he heard you talking like that.” The sorcerer shot back, crossing over to where the duo was standing. “ No one in the Compound blames you. Not his dads, not the other New Avengers, and definitely not Rem himself, so put the blame where blame is due and take comfort in the fact that you did everything you possibly could to help him.”

 

The man in question looked between the sorcerer and the dovah , something unidentifiable in his expression as he stared at them with wide eyes. Alduin finally sighed and put a hand on the man’s shoulder, drawing his attention. “ If it is absolution you seek, then know that you already have it from us, though it was never needed to begin with as you have done no wrong. If you desire it from Rem, I would suggest you sit down and talk with him. He cannot give you what he doesn’t know you need.

 

Stephen nodded at the words. “We forgive you, even though we don’t think you did anything wrong.” He then gave the merc a quick once-over. “Although, if you want to make amends, you can stand still for a few minutes while I do a check over on your health.”

 

“But my healing factor--”

 

The sorcerer shot the man a look and deadpanned, “You mentioned being vivisected at least once, and having your neck broken multiple times. I don’t care what kind of healing factor you have, those aren’t the sorts of injuries one recovers from without leaving some kind of mark.”

 

Wade stared at him for a moment, brow furrowed. “Are you qualified to do that? Like, do you know how to examine a human body?”

 

“NOW LISTEN HERE YOU--!”

 

  • The Boone Trio, earlier

 

Aria peeked into another room before sighing softly, shaking her head. So far, she hadn’t found anyone who seemed to be a victim or creation of Sinister’s experiments like Rem had been. For once though, she was glad to have not found anything yet. The idea of a child being treated the way Rem had been made her stomach churn a bit, though she was quick to force the feeling down as she continued down the hall to the next room. “Craig, Ulysses, found anybody yet?” She asked quietly into her coms as she peeked into another room.

 

“Nothing on my end,” Craig replied, the sound of rustling papers picked up by the microphone. “Though not for lack of trying, it looks like.”

 

“And failing,” Ulysses spoke up as well. “Found several lists-- genetic combinations, all failed… Only success he ever had was Rem-- would explain why he keeps kidnapping him periodically… looks like he’s been cloning people as well.”

 

A violent shudder ran through Aria at the mention of cloning, a distant echo of ‘Gary!’ ringing in her ears. Thankfully, a snort from Craig pulled her attention back. “You’d think that the failures would be an indicator for him to maybe stop .”

 

The deep rumbling chuckle that Ulysses responded with was slightly bitter. “Men like that only understand one thing… Amicus is going to deliver the message-- make it loud and clear, so he gets it.” There was a pause before the man hummed again. “Found something-- Sinister was planning to experiment on him again, try and add a new ability… didn’t note what kind, though.”

 

Aria growled quietly under her breath. “He comes anywhere near our little redhead, I’ll stuff my foot so far up his ass that my toes will pop out his mouth.” The declaration prompted a choked laugh from Craig and a snort from Ulysses who also muttered ‘would pay to see that’. It made the woman grin at the fact that despite the current mission and the environment they were in, she could still bring light into the hearts of the two most important men in her life.

 

An odd sound caused the brunette to pause, stilling herself completely so she could better hear and pinpoint the noise. It took a few seconds for her to realize exactly what she was hearing, her eyes widening as dread built within her. It couldn’t be, could it? The woman exploded into movement immediately, her sharp hearing helping to guide her to a lone room at the end of a side hall. She burst through the door and immediately skidded to a stop, her heart lurching in horror at what she found.

 

Within the cool room, an infant with small tufts of blond hair lay inside a plastic tub against the far wall, resting upon what appeared to be a fabric sheet. Clad in nothing more than a diaper and wearing a small metal bracelet with the label Project: CHANGELING, the baby’s little arms and feet moved slightly, the tiny, bared body covered in goosebumps, a faint, tiny whimper of hunger sounding again. On the right heel of the infant’s foot was a visible needle prick, the mark inflamed and red with a deep bruise, and near the tub was a tray full of syringes with different liquids inside of them. Set upon the counter near the clear, plastic tub, there was also a container of infant formula with a bottle, along with a lab book detailing feeding and changing times, along with the progress on training the baby to not cry.

 

Aria felt as though the breath had been knocked clean from her lungs, even as she was sweeping forward towards the infant. She wasted no time in gathering the child into her arms, holding the baby against her chest. The baby wasted no time in trying to snuggle further into the woman’s warmth, and tears welled up in Aria’s eyes at the action, feeling just how cold the little one was. Without even realizing it, she moved so she could lean against a wall, sliding down so she was curled with her knees close, trying to provide the baby with some measure of warmth even as she was reaching for her coms. “Craig, ‘Ses, are you there?” She croaked into it, hoping they would answer sooner rather than later.

 

Instantly, both men were on the line. “Aria, love, what’s wrong?” Craig’s voice came over the earpiece, sounding worried.

 

“I need you both here, ASAP.” She managed to get out before her throat closed up, turning her attention back to the infant even as her husbands were reassuring her they were on the way. Less than ten seconds later, a pair of corridors opened almost simultaneously, the men stepping through with weapons at the ready. Their eyes quickly located Aria, and she smiled tremulously at them and uncurled herself a bit so they could see the infant that was seemingly trying to burrow its way into her.

 

“Oh my God.” Craig gasped in shock, immediately making his way to his wife’s side. “Christ, he’s gonna freeze like that.” He quickly ripped the shirt from his body, holding his arms out for the infant. Aria quickly passed the child, and the sniper wasted no time in bundling the baby in the shirt and cradling the infant so the neck was supported. “‘Ses, can you get a bottle? When was the last time he ate? Or had his diaper changed for that matter??”

 

Ulysses took a deep breath to calm himself down before moving towards the items in question, glancing down at the noted on the table next to the bottle and formula. An unholy fire lit in his eyes as he told them, “Hasn’t been fed in eight hours-- was training him to not cry in the event of cold, heat, hunger…”

 

“That’s disgusting!” Aria hissed, tears in her eyes as she got to her feet to stand next to Craig. “He’s barely more than two months old! How could anyone…” She trailed off, blinking at the infant in surprise. “Craig, did you see that? His eye color just changed.”

 

The sniper blinked and looked down at the baby, who was staring up at him with brown eyes. The infant repeated the action and Craig choked in shock when his own jade coloring was reflected in the baby’s wide eyes. “Yeah, I see.” He whispered, shifting so he could tenderly run a calloused hand over the soft downy blond hair on his head.

 

Something lit in Aria’s heart as she watched her husband being so careful with the infant. She gave a soft, watery chuckle as she reached forward to mimic the motion. “We should probably change him, just in case.” Craig nodded, and they moved back to the tub Aria had found the child in. “‘Ses, is the bottle almost ready?” The brunette called as they set the child down.

 

“Should be done by the time you are.”

 

Aria called over her thanks before turning back to the baby, gently tugging at the diaper on the tiny hips. “Craig, can you get that infernal bracelet off?” She asked as she did so.

 

Craig nodded and gently took the infant’s arm, unhooked the clasp, and pulled the offending metal away. “Looks just like the one we found for Rem…” He looked closer at the tag, even as he rubbed the tiny hand of the child. “Project: CHANGELING, huh? Guess that explains your eye color, huh little guy?”

 

Aria suddenly gave a soft laugh, drawing his attention. “Craig… it’s not a little guy.” She gently caressed the child’s stomach in a loving gesture. “It’s a little girl .”

 

The sniper’s mouth dropped, but before he could say anything he was drawn to the feeling of tiny fingers wrapping around one of his, and he looked back at the face of the infant. The baby gave him an open-mouthed smile and soft gurgle, and something in the man crumbled as silent tears welled up in his eyes. He barely noticed as Aria replaced the diaper, but did look up when Ulysses approached with a bottle. “‘Ses, it’s a girl.” He whispered, pulling off his shades so he could wipe the tears that didn’t seem to want to stop falling.

 

The piercing brown eyes of the man in question softened into a look neither Aria nor Craig had ever seen before, and he nodded before holding his arms out for the little girl. His wife wasted no time in settling the infant into his arms, and Ulysses offered the bottle to the baby who immediately latched on and started eating. He watched her for a minute or so as his husband and wife snuggled up beside him to observe her too. Finally, once she was finished, Ulysses easily maneuvered her to gently pat at her back, a small smile crossing his face once she burped. He returned her to his arms, and she snuggled against him and fell into an easy sleep. The sniper looked up at Craig and Aria, who both had adoring smiles on their faces and simply declared, “She’s ours.” The duo simply nodded their agreement, knowing nothing more needed to be said.

 

  • Alduin, Stephen, and Wade

 

“You were introduced as ‘Doctor Stephen Strange, Sorcerer Supreme’! Nobody told me that you used to be a neurosurgeon!”

 

Stephen huffed in annoyance as he prepared to cast a diagnostic spell for the mercenary sitting in the chair in front of him, looking sheepish. “Well, why didn’t you look it up??”

 

Wade gave the sorcerer an incredulous look. “Merlin, I was sleeping on a couch until recently. The hell makes you think I have a computer or T.V.??”

 

The man blanched for a second, a look of utter horror on his face. “Wait, that couch that Tony incinerated a week and a half ago-- you were sleeping on that ?!”

 

“Yeeeees?”

 

The blue-green eyed man threw his hands in the air. “That thing had Stachybotrys in every nook and cranny! Considering the amount we found, how are you not coughing up blood?!”

 

Wade blinked, tilting his head. “It had what now?”

 

It had black mold in it, you imbecile ! An obscene amount!” Stephen almost continued, but a flash of hurt in the merc’s eyes made him stop and take a deep breath. “I… that was unworthy of me. I’m sorry. I’ve… been told I don’t have the best bedside manner, and… You’re my teammate. Healing factor or no, the doctor in me worries greatly about the health of those I care about.”

 

Stilling in the chair, Wade leaned forward, his elbows resting upon his knees with his focus on the floor, feeling the iciness of his Deadpool personality warring with the deep, deep hurt he was feeling right now. Doctor Strange was a man that he truly respected and considered to be a friend-- and then to be called an imbecile by him, basically meaning that he was ‘stupid’. Just because he hadn’t understood what the man had said? Never mind the fact that said doctor was a genius just like Tony Stark. Once he trusted his voice enough to speak, Wade kept it low enough to try to keep the pain out of it, a lone tear running. “I accept your apology,” he replied, though his gaze never lifted, “and I also pray to God you never call Rem an imbecile because he wouldn’t have understood that word either, he would have most likely wound up in tears from shame, and then you could explain to his dads exactly how you made him cry. He never had the chance to go to college because of Jean Luc, Sinister, and Sabertooth, and I personally couldn’t afford to go, Doctor. So if you don’t mind, please remember that not everyone has been so fortunate to get a full education nor are they geniuses who have learned scientific terms for things..” His voice cracked a little towards the end, indicating his level of upset, the hazel-eyed man’s mask damp with a few more tears.

 

Though Stephen wasn’t one to give out random hugs, he found himself pulling Wade into a tight embrace, heart aching at the fact that he’d hurt Wade to such an extent that the mercenary had actually shed tears. “Wade, I’m so sorry I upset you like that. I never meant to insinuate you were stupid-- I’ve never thought you were, to begin with. What I said, no matter how heightened my emotions, was cruel and callous, and I’ll endeavor to watch myself in the future.”

 

Wade sniffed softly and started to reach for his mask, pausing when he realized it could be seen as a security risk. A moment later, the crackling sound of electricity drew his attention to the side, where Alduin had a fist full of lightning magic in his clawed gauntlet as he eyed the various cameras around the room, which were all sparking and smoking. The dovah looked back to the mercenary and dipped his head with a smirk. Wade nodded and pulled his mask off, shooting the being a grateful smile before turning his attention back to Stephen.

 

Rising from the chair, the merc returned the hug, seeing the pain on the sorcerer’s face and the genuine regret that he held within his eyes. “Thank you, Stephen,” he softly said, giving him a small smile, the remnants of his tears still on his scarred face. “Now… Are you ready to do the scan or whatever, Merlin?”

 

Stephen tightened his grip for a moment before letting the man go, nodding. “Have a seat, this shouldn’t take long.” Wade did as he asked, and the sorcerer allowed the diagnostic spell to wash over him. “Okay, let’s see… remarkably, your bone structure seems to be in perfect condition-- which is incredible, I must say. Let’s take a look at tissue and organs--” The doctor suddenly stopped dead, face paling beyond what would be considered medically safe. “Wade… You…” The man struggled for a moment, eyes flying across the mercenary’s body.

 

Wade tilted his head in confusion before realization lanced through him. “Oh… I take it you found the cancer in my liver, lungs, prostate, and brain? Yeah, I know about it. Healing factor holds it back. It might work a lot faster if not for that.”

 

The sorcerer’s mouth opened and closed multiple times, eye twitching noticeably as he tried to find something to say to that revelation. Before he could, though, a corridor opened up, admitting the Boone trio. Before turning to face them, Stephen grabbed Wade’s shoulder, looking him in the eye. “Bridget, Tony, and I will look at it later-- we will find a solution, I swear.” He turned back to the partners, completely missing the hazel-eyed man’s stunned and hopeful look. “Welcome back, guys. What did you--?”

 

Alduin suddenly growled in fury, drawing his attention. The being swept forward, holding his arms out as the chest plate of the Obsidian Dragoon armor retreated. “Here. Our dovahsos means we run hotter than normal.

 

Ulysses nodded at the being, passing a small bundle to him. Stephen gasped and Wade let loose a string of expletives when the being turned towards them with a baby pressed to his chest. “By the Vishanti, he can’t be more than a few months old!” The sorcerer swept forward to look over the child. “Here, put him on the table, let me check him over-- Levi, would you mind providing some cushioning?” The cloak immediately spread itself over the table so the baby wouldn’t be exposed to the cold metal of the table. “Did you find that on him?” He gestured to the bracelet Craig had clutched in his hand.

 

“Yeah, and it’s a little girl, Merlin.” He said softly, nervously hovering close to the table and holding out a finger to the baby as Alduin set her down.

 

Aria nodded at that. “We found these with her-- only this one was empty.” She passed over a series of syringes, gesturing to the only used one to clarify. “We don’t recognize the technical mumbo-jumbo on it…”

 

The blue-green eyes of the man flew over the writing before Stephen gave a huge sigh of relief. “It’s vaccinations, the first round that children get.” He quickly removed the shirt from the infant, giving her a check. “The bruise on her foot is from the shot, it will heal up just fine. She’s a little skinny, and has a mild case of diaper rash… but other than that, she’s okay.” The Boone trio sighed with relief, and Stephen reached for the shirt to re-wrap the infant. He paused when Levi wrapped himself around the baby, prompting a gurgle of delight from the baby and a smile. “You going to stay with her, Levi?” Stephen asked the relic with a smile, getting a nod from the cloak’s collar while the other corner gently stroked the baby’s head. “Alright, just be careful with her.”

 

The byplay prompted a soft laugh from Aria, who took Levi and the baby back into her arms. “I have no doubt he will.”

 

Where did you find the little one?” Alduin asked, black and red eyes never leaving the girl even as the Obsidian Dragoon chest-plate re-engaged.

 

“Further into the lab. Was alone, didn’t find any other victims.” Ulysses replied, holding out a finger for the baby to try and catch. “Had papers with her-- details of something called Project: CHANGELING. Likely refers to her.”

 

Stephen couldn’t help the small smile that quirked at his lips as the baby gurgled happily again and gripped the sniper’s finger. “Wonder why they chose ‘Changeling’...” He trailed off when the baby blinked, the blue eyes from before now a dark brown and her hair shifting from blond to black. “Ah. I suppose that would explain it.”

 

A snort from the dovah in the room prompted them to turn towards him. “ Now that we know the child is healthy and safe, we may want to turn our attention to a new problem we have acquired. ” Seeing the odd looks he was getting, the being gestured to the open doorway. “ Namely, the fact that Wade just went charging down the hall with his swords in hand.

 

“What-- shit! WADE!!”

Chapter Text

  • Wade

 

Wade barely paused his stride down the hallway as he deftly took the head off another unfortunate henchman that got in his way. Pure rage was written within every line of the mercenary’s body, fury flashing in his eyes as he drew his gun and shot a man that came down from the intersection to his left. His body joined the trail he already had growing behind him, victims missing limbs, heads, full of bullet holes, and one rather unfortunate bastard crushed under a storage cabinet.

 

It was bad enough when Sinister had been torturing and experimenting on Rem. Rem was an adult and had a chance at fighting back, slim though it may be. But the Boone trio hadn’t had an adult with them-- they’d had a child , a fucking infant . A snarl ripped its’ way from Wade’s throat as he sliced another man clean in half, leaving him to scream in pain and bleed out on the floor behind him. When he got his hands on the mad scientist, he was going to find a way to kill the fucker once and for all-- He’d call on Hadrian if he had to, but he wouldn’t let another kid be fucked up by Sinister-- not again. Never again .

 

Something prickled at the man’s senses suddenly, and he whipped around holding his pistol out and ready. “Who the fuck’s there?! Get out here so I can unalive you good and proper!”

 

A smokey cloud rose up behind him, and Wade had only enough time to turn back before it surrounded him completely.

 

  • Alduin and Stephen

 

“What the hell was he thinking, charging off like that?!” Stephen snapped, fear on his face as he summoned his magic into his hands. “Deadshot, Bullseye, Sonic, you and the kid stay here-- Levi, protect them like your existence depends on it!” The corner of the cloak waved in agreement and the Sorcerer wasted no time in sprinting down the hall alongside Alduin. “I don’t care how old that man is, when I get my hands on him he’ll be grounded until Rem is done with school!”

 

Alduin barked out a deep, harsh laugh as the talons in the Obsidian Dragoon boots dug into the floor to allow for a sharp turn. “I am of a similar mind-- unkillable or not, it is not simply unwise but outright foolish to rush ahead without a grah-zeymahzin to back him up. Minowa lost a mentor that way. She is most unhappy with Wade at the moment…

 

Stephen gave a small jump to avoid a limbless corpse in his path. “Wait, is she seeing and hearing all of this??”

 

No, I have been keeping her informed. She is still aware, even if she isn’t in control. ” The dovah clarified, easily skirting around a gutted man. After having to perform his own jump to avoid another body, the being growled in aggravation. “ Cover your ears if you cherish your hearing. ” He commanded Stephen, who immediately did as he was told. The mouthpiece of the armor folded up over his face, and Alduin took a deep breath. “ Fus Ro Dah! ” He roared, the power and magic ripping down the hall and hurling the bodies to the far end, landing all in a pile that almost reached the ceiling. “ Better. Come, let’s find our wayward teammate.” He gestured for Stephen to follow him again, and the sorcerer did while pulling on one ear to alleviate some of the ringing in it that he hadn’t managed to completely avoid.

 

The duo finally burst into a large chamber, spotting Wade taking the top of someone’s head off, the body falling to the floor in a spray of blood. Stephen stepped forward to call out to him when he froze. Wade could be a little violent in his killings-- that much was clear from the trail of bodies he’d left behind that they’d been following. But this… the state of the other bodies in the room spoke to a level of cruelty and sadistic pleasure that he honestly didn’t think the mercenary was capable of. The fact that said man was humming a jaunty tune with a psychotic smile on his face was also a pretty big indicator that something wasn’t quite right.

 

Beside him, Alduin suddenly stood up completely straight. “Stephen, look out--!

 

Wade whipped out a gun, and it was only his teammate’s warning that gave Stephen enough time to dive to the side to avoid the bullet that would have hit him in the chest. “Wade, what the Hell are you doing?!” The sorcerer shouted as he threw up a barrier, another bullet ricocheting off it a second later.

 

The merc tilted his head to one side, the psychotic grin spreading. “I’m sorry, I’m afraid Wade isn’t available at the moment. Please try your call again later.” The voice that came from the man’s mouth was female, chipper, and completely deranged while the hazel eyes held more than a hint of glee.

 

Alduin snarled in fury, sinking into a battle stance. “His mind is not his own, fahdoni . Someone has latched onto him, forcefully taking control of his body. ” The being glanced over at Stephen. “ Defend yourself-- I will free him of their control.

 

Stephen nodded, strengthening his barrier while also wrapping a defensive spell around Alduin. He wasn’t going to argue this time-- as Minowa had brought up before, she was in fact much older than him. However, Alduin was the first dragon, so he was older than ALL of them. If he said he could free Wade’s mind from whoever had their grip on him, the sorcerer would put his faith in that.

 

The dovah turned his gaze back Wade, who cackled and leaped towards him, katanas in hand. Alduin simply took a deep breath, the mouthpiece flowing over his face again. “ Gol Hah Dov! ” The Shout slammed into Wade, staggering him for a moment. Alduin seized the opportunity and snapped, “Kneel!” The man’s knees hit the ground, and Stephen inhaled sharply at the display even as the dragon was stalking over to the figure. “ I do not know who you are, or what your purpose is, but you have made the mistake of attempting to dominate the mind of grah-zeymahzinu , our shield-brother. So, I will give this order only once.

 

The dragon’s eyes flashed like red hot embers, a furious roar ripping from his mouth.

 

GET OUT OF HIS BODY!!

 

The effect was instantaneous. A dark, smokey cloud ripped itself away from Wade, the mercenary collapsing on his side a moment later. There was a second of silence before the smoke lunged for Alduin, surrounding him. The dovah simply grinned, eyes glowing brighter. “ If you are so eager for death, who am I to deny you?” The being closed his eyes, the smirk remaining as the smoke sank into him.

 

Stephen allowed his shield to drop, ears ringing from the force of the last shout. He quickly made his way over to Wade, who was shakily getting back up, clutching his head. “Hey, no, don’t get up. I don’t know what that Shout was, and I don’t know what kind of residual effects it may have had. Sit against the wall, let me check you.”

 

Wade nodded, still looking dazed as he let the sorcerer settle him against the wall. “Fuck, head feels like it was squished by a semi…” He groaned, blinking at Stephen with a pained and confused look in his eyes.

 

“From what Alduin could tell, something was possessing you. Don’t know who or what, but…” He trailed off, gesturing weakly to the scalped corpse to one side.

 

The mercenary blanched at the sight, barely reacting as Stephen cast a spell on him to alleviate his headache. “What the fuck? Are you telling me I did that?? I unalive people, I’ll never deny that, but that’s just fucked up.”

 

“Yes, that’s how we knew you weren’t yourself… which might not have happened if you hadn’t run off on your own, which we will be talking about later.” Stephen gave the hazel-eyed man a sharp look.

 

Swallowing hard, Wade gave the man a sheepish look and a nod before something drew his eyes to behind Stephen. “Uh, Merlin?? Is he supposed to be glowing like that…?”

 

Stephen whipped his head around, finally noticing the fact that Alduin had begun glowing brightly, heatwaves radiating from him and warping the air around his person from the rapidly increasing temperature. He cursed and made another hand motion, sending himself and Wade into the mirror dimension. “I have no idea what he’s doing, but the thing that was controlling you tried to get into his mind to start controlling him…”

 

Wade blanched hard, looking back to Stephen. “She’s trying to control them ??” The sorcerer nodded, brow furrowing in confusion at Wade’s reaction. “Merlin, I heard the stories from when you guys rescued Tony from the Wicked Witch of the West-- Minowa scared Sauron back into Mordor because he was trying to get into her head!”

 

Blue-green eyes widened in sudden realization, and a moment later the light and heat suddenly exploded outwards from Alduin with enough heat and force to produce an impressive ‘boom’ and reducing everything in the room to molten slag, ashes, and charred remains. Stephen had no doubt that if they’d still been in the room, even he would have been hard-pressed to survive such an onslaught, no matter how talented he was in magic. After a few seconds, he brought himself and Wade out of the mirror dimension, slowly approaching Alduin who was simply breathing deeply with a calm smile on his face. “You okay?” Stephen asked softly, giving a puddle from a melted folding chair a wide berth on his way over.

 

The being’s eyes opened, black and red orbs finding them after a moment. “Your concern is appreciated, fahdoni . Rest assured, her will would have never been enough to overpower us. She will not be a problem any longer-- I’m sure the Dread Lord will be more than happy with our gift. ” He smirked for a moment before his eyes found Wade, annoyance flashing across his features. “ The dovahkiin is EXTREMELY displeased at your actions. You and she will be having a discussion later, make no mistake. Your actions were foolish-- you understand this, correct?

 

Wade shrank back from the force of the being’s glare. After the display he’d just witnessed, he was now even less inclined to consider pissing the woman… man… either of them off. “Yeah, I’m smart enough to know when I’ve stepped in it.”

 

Oh, rest assured, she will gladly take you to task… but she won’t be too strict. ” He turned away, waving a hand in false dismissiveness. “ After all… you also have to tell Rem .

 

A laugh managed to escape Stephen as the mercenary went wide-eyed with horrified realization. The whispered, ‘I’m DOOMED’ only made him laugh harder. Alduin simply grinned as he led them down the hall. “Hopefully Tony’s had a more enjoyable time than us…” The sorcerer mused, grinning at the other two.

 

  • Tony, Dorian, and Zevrael

 

“For fuck’s sake, where the hell is everyone?!”

 

Dorian glanced over at Tony, who was retracting his helmet into the rest of his armor. “I’m not sure. I’ve noticed that it looks as though Sinister was packing everything up-- possibly planning to move locations.” He remarked, looking over to Zevrael for confirmation. His husband had far better observation skills than he did, able to pick up on the smallest, yet most telling details that most would overlook.

 

Noticing his husband’s look, the elf nodded in agreement. “He wasn’t just packing up to move-- he was doing it fast , and he planned on abandoning this lab-- possibly destroying it. As for people… He may have already moved them ahead, but it’s far more likely he killed them.” He shrugged at the horrified look Tony shot him. “From what I know of this ‘Sinister’, he seems like the kind of man who wouldn’t want loose ends or would consider people expendable. I wouldn’t put it past him.”

 

Tony grunted, looking forward again. “We won’t give him the chance to do so again. I swear though, I’m about to use my other abilities to find this bastard.” After a few seconds, he growled in annoyance. “Y’know, fuck this. Give me a second, guys.” The Pavus husbands took a step back and stood watch as the genius sent out a pulse of his magic, directing it to find the man in question. After a few seconds, he felt it latch on. “Got him. Come on, this way.” He gestured for them to follow, and they followed behind the brunette a step behind him. A few minutes later, they slowed their gait as they approached a door, and Tony quickly cloaked them so they could lean against the wall to listen in on whatever was being said.

 

Inside of the room, a tall, imposing man with black hair and glowing red eyes was directing the few human workers left in this lab, his face completely expressionless as he spoke. “How many times do I have to repeat myself? This room was supposed to be emptied already, it’s the last left in this wing. I can’t keep leaving the security cameras alone to come correct your mistakes,” Mister Sinister stated flatly. “Gambit will arrive any time now and as soon as he is secured with the tranquilizer and power suppressor, this lab has to be ready for demolition.”

 

There was a quieter question from one of his minions, the scientist exhaling slowly before he replied, speaking as if the recipient were nothing more than a child. “I don’t know how he became younger but-- I know my creation when I see him. There is no room for doubt that it was indeed Gambit that Victor sent me a picture of before his disappearance. Since he has not returned, I must accept that he has perished and I will have to rectify that once everything is up and running in my new laboratory. I already have plans to clone a replacement for him and age him back to his current age. He’s best for keeping my creation alive and aside from his… tendencies , he has never failed to keep Project: Gambit from being a success.” There was no emotion, no pride, nothing in the man’s voice when he spoke of the red-haired mutant, merely a clear sense of ownership in the fact that it was his work that had brought life to the male in question.

 

Tony barely reacted to the words outwardly, but Zevrael and Dorian knew him well enough to see that the man was infuriated by the man’s words. Eyes glowing burning orange, the genius raised his hand and, with a flick of his wrist, erected a set of wards that would keep anyone from entering or leaving the room by any means without his say so, then another one to alert the other Reapers the moment they stepped into the room, allowing his team to find them almost instantaneously. “Dorian.” He called to the mage, holding out his right hand, summoning power into it and turning the grooves in his gauntlet blue.

 

Fiendfire was curling up and over the man in question, who turned enraged hazel eyes towards him. “Light them up?”

 

“No.” The light from the armor was suddenly expelled outward, his scythe falling into his hands a moment later. “Set a few pockets of that stuff around the hall. Once everyone is here… set them off.” He turned his eyes to Zevrael next, who was manifesting a set of ice daggers. “Zev, if you wouldn’t mind making them aware of our presence…”

 

The elf gave him a feral grin, eyes filled with demented glee as ice and frost began to crawl up his arms. “ Lethallin , it would be an absolute pleasure .” He pressed his hand to the wall just before the doorway, and the cryomancer let loose his full power. The temperature in the room instantly plummeted to well below freezing, ice coating the floor and frost creeping up the walls. The lights in the room flickered before the LEDs died, the regular bulbs bursting and shattering in a shower of glass and sparks. A wall of ice formed over the doorway, completely trapping everyone inside.

 

Stilling when the room froze over, Mister Sinister looked over the workers within the room, knowing that it would not take long for the regular humans to die. What a waste of valuable resources but this was not of his doing. “Place the boxes against the far wall and stand back,” he instructed them. It seemed that his masterpiece could surprise him still, for he realized now that Gambit would not be coming. The scientist had failed to take into account that the group his creation was allied with now were nothing like the X-Men by any means and had responded accordingly to remove a threat to a teammate that they cared about. It was a strange notion to a man who felt no emotions but he had seen this sort of loyalty towards his creation from none other than Deadpool. Of course, it had been inconvenient to deal with the mercenary and perhaps killing him would have been easier than simply teaching him painfully that no matter what he did, Deadpool could not kill him. However, the fact that Deadpool was willing to kill to protect his creation filled the void sometimes left when Sinister had need of Victor, so it was… better to let him live to protect Gambit in Victor’s absence. It had been child’s play for Sinister to discover that Deadpool’s body was ravaged by a very deadly cancer that was held in check by his healing factor. That, in turn, gave the scientist the additional benefit of reminding Victor that he was not irreplaceable in that while Deadpool could not kill him due to his healing ability being focused on the cancer, should Victor displease Sinister, he could cure Deadpool and let the man kill him. It mattered not to Sinister and he neither condoned nor approved of what Victor did with Gambit so long as his creation survived. The DNA testing from over a year ago had shown that Gambit’s genes might be adapting to incorporate the healing factor from Sabertooth’s DNA and begin reproducing it without Sinister having done any manipulation for it to do so, something that absolutely fascinated the scientist to the core. He was eager to retest it and see if it was true. While Sinister’s thoughts twisted and turned, the boxes were being stacked neatly by the humans, who stayed out of the way of whatever might be coming.

 

A few seconds after the humans had backed away from the boxes, several things happened at once. Black flames erupted around the boxes, reducing them to nothing more than ash in a matter of seconds, and the humans all suddenly yelped in shock as dark vortexes formed under them, sucking them in before closing as if they’d never been there. Absolute silence filled the room for a moment before another corridor opened up, admitting Tony and a still cloaked Dorian and Zevrael. “Tisk tisk, Dr. Essex.” The genius began blithely, his cordial tone belied by the cold fury present in his glowing orange eyes. “One would think after having lived so long you would learn that human experimentation is a big no-no. Clearly, wisdom doesn’t come with age in some cases.” He set the butt of his scythe on the ground, leaning against it in mock relaxation. “I guess in yours, it came with a loss of morality.”

 

Turning from where he stood to face the intruders inside of his laboratory, renowned genius Doctor Nathaniel Essex, also known as Mister Sinister, inclined his head towards his fellow genius, Doctor Anthony Stark. Of course, the man didn’t have the same doctorates as him but he was a fellow intellectual. “Ah, but there are some things that have come about because of human experimentation, Dr. Stark. I think it all depends on what it is used for,” he replied matter of factly. “And think on this- now that you know my little project, would you truly prefer for him to never exist at all? As for my wisdom- it was I who invented most of the known vaccines- polio, influenza, pneumonia… Those came from me and were distributed by others to benefit the world.” Thinking on the view of morality, the scientist shrugged. “I can’t weigh in on something that my Master removed from me decades ago when he tasked me to undertake genetic experimentation in the first place. I failed to realize that my creation’s new team… You care about Gambit as the X-Men never did; only Wolverine ever bothered to come for him when Victor brought him back to me so that I could ensure that his power levels remained where they were and that he didn’t need another surgery. And, of course, Deadpool was here trying to unsuccessfully kill me. It was unfortunate that I had to demonstrate to him exactly why he should. It was a waste of my time, but at least he survived the vivisection and he stayed conscious the whole time. Victor simply ripped his spine out...” Mister Sinister stopped short, before looking more closely at the three. “You are what happened to Victor, yes? The last I heard from him was the picture he sent me of my creation, a teenager again in a town, and nothing since…”

 

Tony had remained silent during the man’s shpiel. He had been focusing on the man’s soul as he’d been speaking, and what he saw sent chills down his spine. His soul was in tatters , twisted and warped until it barely resembled a human soul anymore. Not only that, but something had been… fuck, it looked as if something had ripped it open and put something… wrong in, something that was not meant to be there. “Yeah, I’m gonna have to stop you there. Whether you created those vaccines or not is a moot point in the face of the fact that you’ve been performing experiments that go against your Hippocratic oath at the very least . Morality or not, that is a law, and if your mind is running on logic alone currently, then you should have enough common sense to understand that. Gotta wonder about that though, seeing as you just casually mentioned both vivisecting and tearing the spine out of a good friend of mine.” He stood straight, lifting his weapon and casually resting it across his shoulders. “As for Sabertooth… nah, that wasn’t me, per se…” He waved his one hand, and Zevrael and Dorian both flickered into view with murderous expressions on their faces. “... That was all them.”

 

“And we took an enormous amount of enjoyment in it.” Dorian snarled, black flames solidifying into his armor. “What kind of monster are you that you would condone the abuse, neglect, and worst of all, sexual assault of another person?”

 

Zevrael was just as angry, but his voice came out as a low, cold hiss. “The repeated sexual assault, to boot. Whether Rem was born of a womb or out of a Maker-be-damned tube , he is as human as Tony, or as Fiendfyre.” He eyed the scientist, looking down his nose and sneering. “It’s clear to me why Deadpool has tried multiple times to kill you-- If you are the kind of Shemlan to ignore, even enable such behavior, I see no chance of redemption for you.”

 

“Considering that Deadpool decapitated me, stabbed and shot me in the heart, and then blew me up, I believe that vivisection could be considered self-defence,” Mister Sinister countered first to Tony, looking at the man quite seriously. “Should I have killed him instead? And I didn’t tear his spine out, that was all Victor. Deadpool came after both of us in different locations.” Turning to the man with black flames that became part of his armor, the scientist’s red eyes blinked at the accusations. “I didn’t tell Victor to do what he did, I don’t even understand why he did it to be perfectly honest. I only ever saw Gambit in the lab when I needed him or his blood. The rest of his care was on the others; why trouble myself with caring for a child when I have no such inclination?” Lastly, the scientist looked at the elf. “And he was born from a surrogate after I brought his biological parents’ DNA together-- carefully selected donors. Though if I had known that it would give him powers that would nearly kill him I would have lessened it during his conception rather than give him brain surgery at 17 to save his life and having to repeat it again at 25 so his powers do not give him a brain aneurysm. And your ‘Rem’, my creation, my Gambit, the proof of my genius and culmination… His name, the name I gave him is ‘Remington’.”

 

Glowing orange eyes narrowed in disbelief at the man. “Do you even hear yourself right now?” Tony barked, outrage dripping from his voice. “That is a human being you’re talking about! That is a someone-- not an experiment, not some creation whose sole intent and purpose is to be your lab rat, a living, breathing, feeling sentient being! To make it worse, you’ve done nothing short of torture him!” He whipped the scythe off his shoulders, gesturing behind him in some vague direction. “We saw the tape, Essex! We’ve seen the pictures! We know what you put him through, what you sanctioned, and that kind of shit is why the Nuremberg Code was put in place! What you’ve been doing would make fucking HYDRA balk!!”

 

Mister Sinister really did not understand the reason for all of the emotion coming from Tony Stark, mentally sighing as he blinked and tried to come up with a rational explanation for it. Before he did so, he heard the words about HYDRA and paused. “Not really, Dr. Stark, considering that Baron Von Stucker reached out to me for assistance with HYDRA’s experimentation on children with Loki’s scepter,” he informed the man stoically. “I am renowned in that field and what HYDRA was doing affected the children on a genetic level, though I did warn them that with it being an alien artifact, that they should take better precautions than they normally would. So many wound up dying because they did not listen, typical arrogance…” Brushing the memory aside, the emotionless doctor then went back to his original line of thinking. “Okay… You’re attached to my… to your ‘Rem’-- then I will relinquish him to you and simply make myself a new one… And you can keep him and I will have one and then all will be well.”

 

A sudden ringing, chilling silence filled the room. After a moment, Dorian and Zevrael slowly turned their gaze to Tony. The man had gone very still, eyes fixed unblinkingly on the Doctor in front of him. The Reaper’s breath had stalled in his lungs, though his mind was moving at the speed of light. “It was you.” He finally whispered, the hushed voice still carrying in the absolute silence of the room. “You were responsible for the Maximoff twins.”

 

“For who?” Mister Sinister questioned, not having known the names of the children in the experiment that Von Stucker had been conducting. “I only spoke with Baron Von Stucker and gave him advice on the Scepter that he was trying to unlock for his experiments with the orphaned volunteers from the war--”

 

Whatever the doctor might have said next was cut off when Tony suddenly surged forward with a speed that had Zevrael and Dorian flinching from the suddenness of it, and he had the man pinned to the wall with the blade of his scythe against the man’s throat. “You are a piece of filth , Essex!” He roared, the glow in his eyes consuming them entirely as a corona of orange light began to ripple around him. “Not only were you fucking around with a power you had no idea how to even begin harnessing, you go so far as to suggest that we keep ‘our Rem’ while you just make a new one! Even if you were to regain your emotions, your list of crimes is long, and dripping with the blood of countless people whose lives you just carelessly threw away!” The aura around him surged, bathing the icy walls in bright orange light. “Rem is one of mine , and I will play the part of executioner if it means keeping him safe !”

 

Zevrael rushed over to Dorian as the power surged again. “ Vhenan , we need to summon Hadrian! Tony doesn’t have control over this power yet, and he could lose himself to it!”

 

The mage nodded, holding out his palm for Zevrael to slice with his dagger. “Get ahold of the others while I’m doing this. Have everyone evacuate, but have Stephen come here. As Tony’s soulmate, we might need him.” Getting a nod from his husband, Dorian quickly went about drawing the symbol of the Hallows, pressing his handprint to it without hesitation.

 

The silverette quickly conjured an ice wall between them and Tony, just in time for another surge of power to wash over them and send cracks spiderwebbing through the ice on the floor, walls, and ceiling. He quickly knelt behind it, putting a hand to his headpiece. “Guys, we have a serious problem! Stephen, I need you here immediately, but the rest of you need to get out now!

 

  • Alduin, Wade, Stephen

 

Shatterfrost, what’s going on?

 

Look, there’s no time to explain! Stephen, to me, everyone else, GO!

 

“I’m on my way!”

 

“But what about--!”

 

You are already in enough trouble as it is! Come, we must go!

  • Boone Trio

 

“Are Dorian and Glitch okay?”

 

They’re fine for now, don’t worry Sonic. Just get you and your husbands out!

 

“Us, Levi, and the baby, you mean!”

 

What in Andraste’s name do you mean , ‘the baby’?!

 

“Not now. Give you a full report later-- grabbing the boxes and supplies too. Stay safe.”

 

  • Zevrael, Dorian, Tony

 

Stephen stepped out of his portal and immediately staggered at the onslaught of emotion that seemed to pierce his skull. Zevrael shot to his feet and caught the sorcerer as his knees buckled, gently easing him to the ground. “What-- what’s going on--” He hissed in pain at the overload he was experiencing. “He’s angry-- fuck, he’s furious -- Why--”

 

The elf looked over to Dorian, panic in his eyes. If Stephen was feeling Tony’s anger, then things had just taken a dire turn. The mage turned back to the symbol, pressing his bloody palm to it again. “Stephen, Tony’s channeling the power of the Soul Stone right now. He’s never used it consciously before, though, so we think he’s lost control of it! You’re his soulmate-- you have the best chance of getting through to him and at least bringing him back long enough for Hadrian to get here.”

 

The sorcerer nodded before shakily getting to his feet, Zevrael helping to support him for a moment. He looked towards the bright light that contained his soulmate, thoughts whirring as he pushed Tony’s anger away for the moment. After a second or two, the blue-green eyes of the man closed as he reached out for Tony in the same way the genius’s emotions were reaching into him. He channeled all the love and reassurance he could into the tentative link, not noticing the way the Eye of Agamotto opened and the Time Stone within began to glow and hum under his robes. After a few seconds, the unbridled rage seemed to pause before beginning to pull away, the brilliant glow beginning to fade as well. After a handful of seconds, the anger and glow both subsided completely, leaving Tony heaving in deep breaths while standing over the pile of ash that used to be Nathaniel Essex. The scythe dropped from his hands, immediately dispersing into bright blue sparks and fading before he collapsed to his knees, shaking violently.

 

Stephen quickly approached the man, concern and worry lancing through him as well as relief that his love was okay. The instant he saw the silent tears flowing down Tony’s face, the sorcerer dropped to his own knees and pulled him into a tight hug. The genius broke into sobs, overwhelmed by the events of the day as well as his impromptu use of the Soul Stone and subsequent loss of control over it. “Shh, it’s okay baby. I’ve got you, you’re okay, everyone’s okay.” Stephen gently reassured him, rubbing his back and holding his soulmate tight.

 

Dorian and Zevrael both gave a huge sigh of relief, only to jump when they heard a voice behind them. “What in Merlin’s name happened here? ” The duo turned to see Hadrian striding from the black portal that now sat where the symbol of the Hallows had been. The Master of Death readjusted his glasses before sweeping towards Stephen and Tony, eyes quickly finding the pile of ash that had been Mister Sinister. His ebony eyebrows rocketed into his hairline and the man gave an impressed whistle. “I have to say I’m impressed, Anthony. I’ve never seen someone completely obliterate a soul so thoroughly they can’t be reconstructed.”

 

The genius didn’t reply, simply burying his head in Stephen’s chest as the tears continued to roll down his cheeks. Hadrian observed him for a moment before giving a soft sigh, casting a featherlight charm on the man so Stephen could pick him up. “Dorian, please make a corridor to the Compound for us. I’m going to need a quiet, stable place to help bring him down from what just happened. We won’t be able to have any kind of conversation with him until we get that done.” Hadrian turned back to Tony, gently running his fingers through the chocolate brown locks on his head as he heard a corridor open behind him. “Come on, boys. Let’s go home.”

 

Stephen nodded, falling in step behind the Master of Death. Dorian gently tugged Zevrael’s hand before he could leave. “ Amatus , please take care of your ice. I’m going to make sure if someone comes looking for this place, all they’ll find is an empty crater.”

 

The elf nodded and withdrew his ice, the temperature once again meeting a normal level. Zev gently kissed his mage before pulling away with a soft smile. “I’ll be waiting for you, ma vhenan .”

 

Dorian nodded and he watched Zev pass through the darkness of the corridor, and he turned back to the room and stalked towards the pile of ashes. He summoned a fiendfyre snake in his hand, glaring at the remains of the doctor. “Can’t have any loose strings, can we?” He growled, the light from the fiendfyre making his eyes glow ominously.

 

---

 

Zev looked up as the portal opened to his left, and his eyes widened when he saw Dorian step through, a massive fiendfyre snake consuming the building behind him. Without a single thought or care in the world, he summoned another of the serpents and casually threw it over his shoulder before the portal completely closed behind him. He gave his husband a confident look and nod of his head. “Let’s see them find the remains of anyone in that mess!”

 

The elf stood from his own seat, crossing the room in three long strides to pull Dorian into a passionate kiss.

 

Badass Dorian had always been his favorite Dorian.

 

Chapter Text

“What the hell is going on in here??”

 

The argument that had been occurring between Wade, Minowa, and Stephen ground to a sudden halt as the trio turned as one to see Tony standing in the doorway to the meeting room, a look of confusion on his face. “Tony! Welcome home, love!” Stephen swooped over to the genius, giving him a gentle kiss. “How was your week in the Nexus?”

 

Tony couldn’t help but smile and melt into Stephen’s arms. “Not gonna lie, it was tough. And I have to go back every other night for a month…” He pressed himself against the sorcerer, inhaling his scent as he pressed his face into his collar bone. “And it sucked because I didn’t get to fall asleep next to you… I missed you.”

 

Minowa dipped her head to Tony as they finally pulled away, a smile on her face as well. “Welcome back, Zeymahi . Judging by your reaction, I take it that you are not aware of what else occurred in the lab.”

 

The genius shook his head as he took a seat with the others, grinning for a moment when Levi settled himself around his shoulders. “There’s my favorite snuggie! No, I’m not at all aware. Chief took me back to the Nexus almost immediately after getting back… what else happened? I walked in to hear something about possession…?”

 

“The thing we’re addressing right now is what happened with Wade, Stephen, and Alduin.” The Dragonborn began, turning her burning crimson eyes towards a petulant looking Wade. “Wade went ahead without us and was possessed by a mutant we’ve now been able to identify as Malice. Alduin was able to remove then kill her, but it’s a situation that could have been avoided entirely if he had stuck with us.”

 

Wade threw his hands in the air. “I get that, okay?! I messed up! I still think being grounded is a little demeaning!”

 

Tony blinked, looking between the other three. “Okay, everybody needs to take a breath for a second. As someone who’s just coming into this debate, let me give my two cents.” He turned his attention to Wade first. “So, yeah. Running ahead-- no bueno. I can see you understand that, and honestly? I know where you’re coming from. You’ve never worked on a team before, have you?” The hazel-eyed man shook his head negative, so he continued. “So you’ve been doing the solo-act thing for years. It would be unfair of us to expect you to get those kind of team dynamic right out the gate. The Rogues did that with me-- didn’t bother to explain what was expected of me, or where I was going wrong. I’m gonna nip that problem in the bud right now with you. You and I will sit down later, and we’ll discuss what’s expected of you on these kinds of missions.”

 

The mercenary nodded in agreement, gratitude in his eyes. “If I know what I’m doing wrong, I can at least make an effort to fix it.”

 

Stephen nodded as well, brow furrowing. “I think it would be a good idea for you to have one of us acting as supervision on team missions like this for a bit. Hear me out.” He held up one shaking hand at the incredulous look Wade shot him. “Like Tony said, you’ve not had to work in a team setting before us. There might be nuances you miss or overlook because you just don’t have the experience. I’m thinking we pair you with Dorian and Zevrael-- Zev would be especially good for that because of his past with the Inquisition.”

 

That prompted a rumbling chuckle from Minowa. “He went from being the most wanted person in southern Thedas to leading the armies of the faithful in less than a week, yet he learned very quickly and was a very successful leader.” She dipped her head in a nod. “I am in agreement with this plan. Zevrael is a patient teacher, and will have you caught up soon.” He turned towards Wade, tilting her head to one side in a curious motion. “What do you think, Wade?”

 

Wade took a moment to consider before sighing deeply. “Yeah, alright. I can see the benefit. They’re not going to be my babysitters, though, right?”

 

The question caused Tony to burst out in laughter. “No, Gods no!” He finally managed to choke out. “Mentor, yes, but don’t ever let Zev or Dori hear you call them babysitters!” He sat forward, a massive grin on his face. “They will take it as a challenge.”

 

This prompted a round of laughter before Stephen spoke again. “Wade, I’d also like to bring up what I found during my scans…” He waved towards Tony and Min, and once he got an ‘okay’ from Wade he continued. “I performed a diagnostic scan on Wade while we were in the lab…” He paused for a moment, as if unsure how to continue.

 

“He found the terminal cancer in my lungs, brain, prostate, and liver that my healing factor is holding back.” The mercenary finished in a completely calm tone of voice.

 

Tony went almost completely white, a look of absolute horror on his face. “I-I’m sorry, what?! How bad--?!”

 

Stephen reached over and rubbed Tony’s back with a shaky hand. “From what I saw… If his healing factor went out, he’d be dead in less than a week. We’re bringing it to your attention because I’m hoping between us and Bridget, we can come up with something that can help.”

 

It took a moment for Tony to regain his bearings before a determined look replaced the horror from before. “Absolutely. In fact, let’s also call in Bruce and Vision. The more minds on this, the better. FRIDAY, please send Brucie-bear a message to contact me as soon as he has a free moment.”

“Once you’re done with that, have him contact me . Don’t take too long, Zeymahi , you still have the drives from the lab to look over.”

 

The genius gave her a shit eating grin. “You just want an opportunity to talk to your lover.”

 

“You’ll get no denial from me.”

 

“Okay, I’ll have Bruce give you a call once they’re done, Minowa. Should I have the Boones bring their other finding up?” FRIDAY asked from the ceiling.

 

Stephen nodded at that. “That would be fine, thank you FRIDAY. Wade,” He turned his attention to the merc, who sat a little straighter. “You’re free to go. Tony will come find you later, alright?”

 

Wade nodded and stood, stretching big. “You got it, Gandalf. I’ll talk to you later, Tony.” He gave the group a wave over his shoulder as he left.

 

It was five minutes later when there was a quiet knock on the door before it was pushed open, Aria skipping inside first. “Tony! Welcome back!” She leaned over briefly to kiss Tony’s cheek before bounding back over to her husbands.

 

The genius immediately took notice of the peculiar bag bouncing on her hip. “Aria, why are you carrying a diaper bag??” He asked, arching an eyebrow in confusion. The question was answered when a coo came from the bundle in Craig’s arms, and Tony’s eyes went wider than any of them had ever seen them as he croaked, “Oh. That’s why.”

 

Craig nodded, a small smile quirking his lips as he sat next to Tony so he could see the infant girl. “We found her in the lab… She’s been given a clean bill of health, just needs to gain some weight. She had a bracelet like Rem’s only it said Project: CHANGELING. Pretty sure the reason is…” The baby blinked, and Tony’s mouth fell open when her brown eyes suddenly became green. “Yeah, that.”

 

Stephen couldn’t help but grin at the completely lost look on his soulmate’s face as he reached over to gently run his hand over her head. “What’s wrong, love? You act like you’ve never dealt with an infant before.”

 

“Because I haven’t .” Tony shot back, his hands twitching as if he didn’t know what to do with them. “I’ve never held a baby in my life. Barely interacted with them either.”

 

Aria grinned and bounced over to them again. “Well, now’s a good a time as any to start! Here, hold your arms like this…” She quickly adjusted the genius’ arms, then gestured for Craig to set the baby in them.

 

Any protest Tony might have had died in his throat as the baby cooed happily, and he couldn’t help but smile at the tiny human in his arms. Without thinking about it, he reached out a finger to her, his grin widening at the way she grabbed it. “She’s so tiny …” He murmured in awe, clueless to the indulgent looks he was getting from everyone around the table. “Does she have a name? Rem’s was on the other side of the bracelet…”

 

“No.” Ulysses replied, shifting so he was standing with his lovers. “We gave her one-- Sunniva.”

 

The genius nodded and grinned down at the infant again. “Well then, welcome to the family, Sunny!” The baby cooed again, prompting a chuckle out of everyone. He passed the baby back to Craig, and the sniper took the bottle Ulysses offered him and began feeding Sunny. “Alright, I assume all the proper paperwork has been filled out regarding all…” He waved towards the Boone trio, Sunniva, then in the general direction of the door.

 

Minowa nodded as she stood from her own seat. “Pepper sent over the necessary forms. Most of them went through this morning. T’Challa also made me aware that he has spoken to Barnes, and he has agreed to come back state-side to receive treatment.” A sharp grin suddenly stretched across her face. “In fact, he seemed both adamant to receiving the help and making sure Rogers was not aware of him deciding to do so.”

 

“Great. I’ll shoot him a call and give the all clear for them to bring him home.” Tony stood from his seat as well, taking a moment to wave to Sunny. “Stephen, mind portaling us to the workshop?”

 

The sorcerer nodded, waving a hand to do so. “Do you plan on looking through the drives first, love?” He asked his soulmate as they stepped through, the portal flickering out behind them.

 

Tony thought for a second before shaking his head. “I dunno how long it will take me to get through that stuff… better for me to call Simba now and have that put in motion before I dive into whatever the hell Essex has been up to.” He turned his attention towards a large holographic monitor. “FRIDAY, call King Kitty for me, please.”

 

There was a few seconds of silence before the screen lit up, T’Challa’s face flickering into focus a moment later. “Good evening, Dr. Stark, Dr. Strange-- though I suppose it would be morning for you.” He smiled at the duo, though there was tension around his eyes and weariness in his posture.

 

“Woah, you look like you’ve had a rough day there, Simba.” Though the genius’ tone was cavalier, there was real concern in his whiskey brown eyes as he took in the king’s bedraggled look.

 

T’Challa gave the duo a tired smile. “Well, I’ve been dealing with Rogers for most of the day. No,” He quickly held his hand up at the worried looks he got, “he doesn’t know about Barnes. It would seem as though someone slipped hair removal solution into his shampoo… He’s been complaining about it to me over the phone, but he absolutely refuses to come out of his room-- even for meals. Between that and the alarms that he claims are waking him up at night… He’s looking somewhat the worse for wear.”

 

The news was met with absolute silence for a few seconds before Tony snorted once, which turned into chuckles, and before long he was doubled over laughing so hard he needed to cling to the table in front of him to stop from falling over. Stephen was pinching the bridge of his nose, shoulders shaking with laughter as he leaned on the desk as well. “Pictures!” Tony managed to finally gasp out. “I want pictures the instant he comes out of his room and the others see him!”

 

Seeing the genuine mirth and joy from the two men seemed to relax some of the tension in the king, and he nodded with an indulgent smile. “I’ll tell Shuri-- I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to help you in that regard.”

 

It took another few minutes for the duo to fully calm down, and Tony finally managed to take a deep breath and straighten from where he had been bent over. “Okay, let’s move on before I bust my gut. We’ve got everything ready on this end for Barnes’ arrival, so whenever you guys want to send him this way, let us know.”

 

T’Challa nodded with a thoughtful look on his face. “Perhaps we could utilize Rogers’ predicament and send Barnes while his attention is elsewhere. We could have him on a jet in less than an hour, and he’d be landing at the compound in four. Is that acceptable to you?”

 

Tony looked over at Stephen, who smiled and kissed the top of his head. “It’s up to you, love.” He whispered to him. “No matter what, we’ll all support you.”

 

The Reaper didn’t need to think for more than a second or two before turning his attention to the ceiling. “FRIDAY, put the Compound on notice-- James Barnes is coming home.”

 

“You got it, Boss!”

 

The monarch smiled brightly at Tony, dipping his head in acknowledgement. “I’ll let James know. I am continuously left in awe at the depth of your compassion and generosity, Dr. Stark. How Rogers can claim you are anything else is a mystery to me.”

 

“Stop, you’re making me blush!” Tony waved him off. “We’ll let you know when Barnes is settled in. Or we’ll shoot you a message. Don’t know what kind of hours you keep, but I would imagine getting a call at one in the morning would not make you happy.” The monarch agreed to an email, and after an exchange of goodbyes the line was cut. “Alright! While we’re waiting, let’s take a look at what Essex has been up to.”

 

Stephen nodded, giving the brunette a gentle kiss. “While you’re doing that, I’ll give Bruce and Vision a call regarding Wade’s cancer. Between the three of us, I’d be surprised if we didn’t come up with something .”

 

The genius nodded and pressed one more kiss to Stephen’s lips before moving to the drives, picking all four up and sitting in a rolling chair, eyes lighting up blue as his technopathic abilities came online. Shooting his soulmate another loving look, Stephen asked FRIDAY to patch him through to Bruce, and the AI happily complied.

 

An hour later, the trio were debating between a couple of different solutions when a sharp gasp followed by a crash made Stephen whirl around to where Tony had surged from his seat, the drives having hit the ground at the motion. The sorcerer bid Bruce and Vision a hasty goodbye, and the duo called out their goodbyes before the screen went dark. The sorcerer was barely in time to catch the genius as his knees buckled, Levi quickly moving to support some of his weight. “Tony, baby, what’s going on? Are you okay??” Blue-green eyes swept over Tony as he was guided to the rolling chair again, searching for the cause of his distress.

 

Tony had to focus for a moment on just breathing, mind spinning at the information he’d found on the drives. He’d been prepared for the information regarding the countless experiments Essex had been running. He’d braced himself for the human experiments, the cruelty, the callous way he’d regarded each ‘specimen’. What he absolutely had not been prepared for was what he’d found at the end. “Babe,” He finally managed to croak out, “get Zevrael and Dorian down here immediately. You’re not gonna believe what I just learned.”

 

---

 

Wade leaned against the doorframe leading into the communal rec-room, watching the people inside with a wistful look on his face. Rem and Peter were playing a co-op video game while Sleipner and Jörmungandr cheered them on, an assortment of drinks and snacks scattered across the table in front of them while they played. Feeling more than a little like an outsider, the scarred man turned to leave, stilling immediately when his hazel eyes locked with a very familiar pair of crimson orbs.

 

For his part, Rem knew the moment that Wade had come close and paused at the door, always knowing when the older male was near him. His eyes lifted from the TV to look at the mercenary with a somewhat furrowed brow. Why, of all places, had Wade been so reckless in that lab, of all places? Rem knew how impulsive Wade could be- that was what had sparkled both their first kiss and the first time they had slept together but… Damn it, Wade could have been killed-- or he might have killed Stephen if Minowa hadn’t been there. And yes, maybe his fear, pain, and anger was irrational but the redhead blamed it all on being a teenager again. Everything was so complicated, Rem meeting Wade’s eyes across the room and seeing that they held similar emotions. Before the mutant could decide what to do, the mercenary had swallowed hard before turning and walking back down the hall with his shoulders hunched.

 

A touch to his shoulder caused Rem to look up, and he found Jör standing next to him with an understanding smile on his face. “It’s okay to be upset, you know.” He said softly, prompting Peter to pause the game and join them on the couch, Sleipnir joining them a moment later and perching on the armrest.

 

“Indeed. What Wade did was undeniably foolish.” Slei reached over and began running his fingers through Rem’s hair to relax him. “However, I believe there are other factors to take into consideration in all of this.” Seeing that he had the group’s attention, the godling continued. “Wade cares very deeply for you, Rem. He knows about what you have experienced, especially regarding what Sinister subjected you to. Being in the lab could not have been easy for him, knowing that it was a place that caused you so much pain and suffering. Finding Sunniva there as well, knowing she would have suffered the same fate…”

 

“And Wade’s never worked on a team before, right? The X-Men don’t count.” Peter asked as well, rubbing Rem’s back as he asked.

 

“...I’m used to him being reckless but it usually isn’t in a situation like this,” Rem admitted softly, looking between the three who spoke to him, his eyes bright with emotion. “But he knows-- why there , of all places? The Doctor’s one of the few people who could kill Wade permanently and he knows that.” A lone tear made its way down the teen’s face as he thought of the man who’d been the first to unconditionally love him and whom he loved in the same way. “He can’t die, he just-- I couldn’t … I wouldn’t survive that. Wade has a healing factor but he’s not immortal, no matter what he thinks… And if he thinks I’ve forgotten that, he’s very much mistaken.”

 

The other three males looked at each other for a moment before shuffling around so Rem was on Slei’s lap and the other two were flanking them in a group cuddle. “His behavior and the situation scared you, and that’s okay.” Peter said softly, giving the teen a tight squeeze. “I don’t know everything about what happened with this mad doctor dude, but he clearly hurt you, and the thought of him hurting Wade scares you.” He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. “But Rem, have you talked to Wade about this? Have you told him how much it scares you, how much it would hurt you if something happened to him?”

 

Jör shot the teen a thankful look before turning his attention to Rem. “Spiderling has a point, Rem. Wade may know you’re upset because of what he did, but maybe knowing the full extent of it would help deter him from making such a decision again. He can’t fix it if he doesn’t know the full extent of the problem.”

 

“You need'n't go talk to him right away, though.” Slei tucked Rem’s head under his chin, allowing the beat of his heart to soothe him. “Give yourself time to settle and sort through your emotions and thoughts. That way, once you approach him, you can do so with a clear head and calm heart.”

 

Rem sighed and nodded against the ebony-haired man’s chest. The calm, compassion, and understanding radiating from the group around him made a warm feeling ignite in his chest and helped ground him so he could think clearly. The other three were happy to remain quiet as he thought over the situation, knowing that the best thing they could do for him at the moment was simply be there. After ten minutes, Rem took a deep breath and let it out in a long huff. “Thanks, guys.” He smiled at each of them individually, heart feeling lighter than it had before. “I don’t know what I’d do without you guys…” He admitted, a blush staining his cheeks at the admission.

 

A soft chuckle escaped Slei as he shuffled so he could press a soft kiss to Rem’s fiery locks. “You’re strong, smart, and resourceful, Rem. Give yourself some credit.”

 

“You would have figured it out eventually, with or without us.” Jör continued, pulling Rem away from his brother gently so he could hug the teen as well, pressing a kiss of his own to the teen’s forehead.

 

Peter grinned brightly as well, pulling Rem towards him and squeezing him tight. “We’re glad to be here to support you, though! Whatever you need, you can always ask us!”

 

The blush on Rem’s face had quickly migrated down his neck, but he couldn’t help but smile brightly at the group. He opened his mouth to speak again, but was interrupted by FRIDAY calling out to them. “Guys, Sergeant Barnes’s jet just landed. Harley is going to be joining you all in there, but Dorian and Zevrael have requested Rem join them in their bedroom while the rest of you stay put.”

 

Rem nodded and stood from where he had been cuddled with the others. “Please tell Dad and Papa that I’m on my way.” He smiled at the group on the couch and, after a moment of consideration, gave them all another hug. They called out their goodbyes as he left the rec-room, and the mutant quickly made his way towards his parents’ suite. Less than five minutes later, he was knocking on the door to the room, and immediately Zev called out for him to enter. “Dad, Papa, you called for me?” He slipped inside, smiling at the duo in front of him.

 

Dorian nodded, a smile on his face that didn’t quite hide the nervousness in his eyes. “Yes, we did. Have a seat, Rem-- there’s something we need to tell you.”

 

~

 

Tony smiled at the duo approaching him across the landing pad, two vastly different personalities on display. Princess Shuri was all smiles and boundless energy, wide eyes eagerly taking in the sights around her. James Barnes was quiet and reserved, nervously hunched over and eyes darting to various point he could see as if waiting for an attack. The genius’ brow furrowed at the haunted, hollow look in the man’s eyes and the almost defeated aura he was giving off.

 

“Poor guy looks like he just came out of a Legion slave camp…” Craig muttered from where he was flanking the genius on his left, getting a nod in reply from Ulysses who was standing at Stephen’s right.

 

The sorcerer regarded the man as well, soothingly rubbing Tony’s back as he did so. “Are you alright?” He asked just loud enough for his soulmate to hear, glancing down at the shorter male.

 

Whiskey brown eyes regarded James for a moment before Tony nodded, the smile never leaving his face. “I’m okay, babe… I forgave him a long time ago. He deserves to have his life back… now more than ever.” With that said, Tony finally started moving towards Shuri and James, the smile turning into a grin. “Princess Shuri, a pleasure to meet you at last!” He held his hand out to the woman, and was surprised by the enthusiasm he was met with.

 

“It’s good to finally talk to you face-to-face!” The teen shook his hand rapidly, eyes bright and voice filled with awe. “Your work has always fascinated me, Dr. Stark! I hope you and I get a chance to sit down and discuss technology! I try with my brother, but he just can’t keep up like you could!”

 

The princess’ eagerness startled a laugh out of Tony. “I’d like that very much, Princess.” He then turned his attention to James, who was watching them with a cautious, lost look on his face, shooting glances at both Ulysses and Craig every once in a while. “Sergeant Barnes, welcome home.” He held his hand out for the man, and after a few seconds the male reached for it, gently shaking it as well. “Before we continue, how would you like to be addressed?” Tony asked, softening his voice as much as possible.

 

“James…” The assassin replied in a quiet voice, his icy-blue eyes meeting Tony’s brown for a second. “I don’t deserve what you’re offering-- not after everything I’ve done.”

 

Tony regarded James for a moment before he sighed and shook his head. “James, I forgive you-- I actually forgave you a long time ago, but I think you need to hear it from me. What you went through at the hands of HYDRA… I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. You had no choice in the matter, and that’s something I understand. It may have been your hands that killed my mom and Howard… but it was HYDRA pulling the trigger. You don’t blame the weapon for a crime that the person holding it committed.” The soldier stared at him with a look of breathtaking gratitude, and Tony made an impulsive decision to reach forward and pull the man into a tight hug. “I forgive you, James. It was never your fault, and I don’t blame you.”

 

An oddly wounded sound escaped James, and he wound his own arms around the genius and rested his head on his shoulder as he began to cry. Tony rubbed his back and murmured soothingly too him, shooting Stephen a look and jerking his head to one side, indicating for him to give them some space.

 

The sorcerer nodded in understanding before moving towards Shuri, who had a massive smile on her face and tears in her eyes. “Princess Shuri,” He called to the teen, catching her attention. “Welcome to the New Avengers Compound. I’m Dr. Stephen Strange, co-leader of the New Avengers and Tony’s soulmate.”

 

Shuri’s eyes went wide, and she looked back at Tony for a moment before turning her attention back to the Sorcerer Supreme, a massive grin on her face. “Yes! I knew it!” She squealed, pumping her fist. “My brother owes me so much money!” Seeing the confused look she was getting, the princess quickly elaborated. “After our first conversation, where your whole team was there, T’Challa and I got into a debate whether there was something between you and Dr. Stark. I said yes, but my brother thought you were just being protective. Oh please, can you both be there when I tell him?! The look on his face will be amazing!”

 

A chuckle escaped the man as he nodded. “I’m sure we can work something into our schedules…” The resulting ‘yes!’ turned the chuckle into an outright laugh. Once they’d calmed down, he continued. “Princess, this is Craig Boone and Ulysses Boone-- I’m sure you recognize them as New Avengers members. They’re also head of security here at the Compound. They’ve offered to show you to your rooms.”

 

The princess looked between the two soldiers, the grin on her face spreading. “Very well, lead the way, boys!” As they walked away, she asked, “So, you both share a last name with Miss Aria…”

 

Both men looked at each other before looking back at her and replying simultaneously, “We’re her husbands.”

 

The resulting squeal echoed across the grounds of the Compound. “I KNEW it!!”

 

Stephen chuckled again before turning back to Tony and James, who were finally pulling out of the hug. Tony pat James on the shoulder with a calm smile on his face and compassion in his eyes. “So, why don’t you, me, and Stephen head inside and we can go over everything with you?”

 

James nodded his agreement, eyes much clearer than before and heart far lighter. “Yeah, sounds good.” He followed slightly behind them as they entered the building finally. “So… You and Strange, huh?”

 

“He’s my sexy wizard. Back off.”

 

~

 

“So you found all that data in the lab?”

 

Dorian nodded in affirmation, running his fingers through Rem’s hair as the teen rested his head on his lap. “Yes, we did, along with several other things. We figured since this directly involved you, you deserved to know.”

 

“Fortunately, Sinister won’t be a problem ever again.” The elf picked up, rubbing his thumb over the top of the teen’s hand that he was holding. “Tony managed to obliterate his soul . Lethanavir confirmed it himself and let us know that there’s no coming back from that kind of thing. It’s also the reason Tony’s going to be in and out of the Compound for a little while… he’s training to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen by accident.”

 

Rem gave a soft sigh, melting into his fathers’ touches. “I’m… not sure how to feel about that. I mean, I’m happy I never have to worry about him again… It just doesn’t feel… real .”

 

Zevrael gave a compassionate smile, gently squeezing his hand. “I know what you mean, Da’len . Like, it’s a threat you’ve lived with for so long, then it’s just… gone. That will heal with time.” The smile fell from his face and he looked up at Dorian, nodding after a moment.

 

The mage gave a heavy sigh and gently tugged a strand of Rem’s hair. “Little Firefly, there’s one other thing we found in the lab… something you need to know.” The teen sensed that the conversation was about to take a turn, so he shifted so he was sitting facing them instead laying down. “While he was going through the drives, Tony found documents related to someone breaking into the lab-- someone not affiliated with the X-Men or any of Sinister’s known enemies. They were forced to retreat, but they left behind blood samples that Sinister preserved and began experimenting on.”

 

Rem’s eyes went wide at the thought of someone being foolish enough to go against the doctor. “Someone got into the lab and managed to escape?? Who would be stupid enough to break into such a place??”

 

There was a second of silence before Zevrael answered. “The person was sent by HYDRA, Rem.”

 

~

 

“Wait, a lab? I have… really vague memories of a lab.”

 

Tony nodded at James’ words, a solemn look on his face. “Wasn’t sure if you would… but the initial infiltration isn’t the important part. It’s what you left behind that’s important.”

 

From his spot on the genius’ right, Stephen reached for a tablet on the table, tapping on it for a moment. “From what we found on his hard drives, you must have been injured at some point during the mission because your blood was found splattered in several rooms. Sinister apparently preserved as much of it as possible for use in his work on genetic experimentation. For some unknown reason, he was working to create individuals with extremely powerful mutations-- Omega class mutants. However, Sinister met with failure every time until…”

 

Seeing his soulmate falter, the genius picked up where he left off. “Until that point, he was never successful in his attempts…” Tony took a deep breath and sat forward with his elbows on his knees, whiskey-brown eyes locked on James’ icy ones with a piercing look. “But then he started doing experiments using your blood, thinking that the super-serum HYDRA gave you could be the key he’d been lacking… He finally had a breakthrough when he realized that the only way to achieve what he desired was to make you biologically responsible for half of the end result.”

 

~

 

“So that HYDRA agent’s blood… Sinister used it in his experiments?”

 

Dorian nodded, gently squeezing Rem’s hand. “Yes, but the difference is the outcome.”

 

Icy blue eyes glanced towards Dorian before Zevrael spoke as well. “The agent that HYDRA sent… it was the Winter Soldier, Rem. And whatever they did to him, to his blood… it led to Sinister finally having his first success.”

 

A look of stunned comprehension dawned on Rem’s face, and his mouth fell open. “But-- I’m his first success! Doesn’t that mean--?!”

 

~

 

“Wait, are you trying to say what I think you are?”

 

Tony took a deep breath and nodded, glad for the feeling of Stephen’s hand in his own to ground him. “James, though the methods may have been unconventional… you have a son.”

 

~

 

“Yes Rem. Your biological father is James Buchanan Barnes.”

Chapter Text

 

“I thought I might find you here.”

 

Rem startled a little bit at the unexpected voice that broke through his thoughts, his red eyes turning towards Wade as he shimmied through the vent towards him. The merc gave him a hesitant smile, eyes filled with trepidation. “I know you’re probably still really angry with me-- can’t blame you after the stunt I pulled. But no one has seen you for hours… We were really worried about you.” He settled himself close to Rem, but not touching him directly to respect the mutant’s personal space. “Are you okay?” He asked softly, eyes sweeping over the teen to check for any visible sign of injury.

 

The teen stared at him for a moment, mind moving a mile a minute. Any remaining anger he had towards Wade’s actions at the lab fizzled out quickly, and before either of them knew it he was pressing himself against Wade, holding him in a tight hug as he buried his face in the man’s chest. He breathed in the man’s scent as Wade returned the hug, the familiar smell of gunpowder, metal, and Mexican food easing his chaotic emotions. They stayed like that for a few minutes before Rem finally spoke in a small voice. “Tony found info on my biological dad…”

 

Wade blinked in surprise, tightening his grip on the slighter male. After all this time of not knowing anything about where Rem came from aside from Sinister being involved in it, the merc didn’t even know what to think. Neither of them had ever believed that the truth about the mutant’s origin would ever be known, not after all this time. “Okay… So is that a good thing, or a bad thing?” He asked encouragingly, gently running his fingers through Rem’s hair.  

 

“I… I dunno.” Rem finally answered, brow furrowing. “He’s… Wade, my dad is James Barnes.” The teenager said it as if he didn’t quite believe it yet, his expression speaking volumes to the man who knew him almost as well he himself did.

 

A soft huff and an ‘oh’ escaped the merc as he rearranged them so he could hold the teen more comfortably. “Yeah, I can see why would be a little conflicted,” Wade admitted as he continued to gently massage the teen’s scalp. “Talk it through with me-- how are you feeling right now? Just say whatever comes to mind.”

 

Rem nodded, giving the man a small grateful smile as he relaxed into the gentle fingers within his hair. “I… I’m conflicted.” He eventually started. “On the one hand, he’s my biological dad-- I want to talk to him and get to know him, at least give him a chance. But I’m afraid because he was the Winter Soldier . He’s here to heal and it’s probably hard for him to find out he has a son he never knew about-- not only that but a son that should be 34 years old, but is actually 17. And I’m scared of losing Papa and Dad. I’m scared that if I tell them I want to at least get to know James, they’ll be angry at me and think I’m ungrateful. And what if James doesn’t even want to get to know me? But I want to try…”

 

Wade sat there and listened as the teen spoke, humming and nodding as he continued to comfort Rem. Once the teen had grown silent again, Wade finally spoke. “First, I’m glad you got all of that off your chest. I’m betting this has been eating at you since you found out, huh?” Rem nodded against his chest, a blush staining his cheeks. “So, let me ask you a question. Do you love Dorian and Zevrael?” Rem nodded rapidly, and Wade reached out to stop him before he could kink his neck. “And I know Zevrael and Dorian love you to the moon and back. Finding your bio dad won’t change that one iota for them.” The mercenary paused to think for a moment before continuing. “I think you should talk to them about the way you’re feeling. They can’t help or reassure you if they don’t know how you’re feeling. As for James, I’d say give him a chance. He’s your bio dad so he might want to get to know you. On the off chance that he doesn’t ; well, it won’t change a thing with us-- we’ll always want and cherish you, Rem.”

 

There was quiet for a moment before Rem sighed softly, giving the hazel-eyed man another tight hug before pulling away to smile at Wade. “Thank you, Wade. I feel a lot better.” He admitted softly.

 

Wade smiled and nodded, gently squeezing Rem’s hands. “You’re welcome, Rem. You know I’ll always be willing to talk.” The smile then became a hopeful grin. “Does this mean I’m out of the doghouse, now?”

 

The resulting laugh and hug was all the answer he needed.

 

---

 

“But what if he doesn’t need us anymore, Zev?? What if he has second thoughts about the adoption?”

 

The silverette sighed as he watched Dorian pacing back and forth in their personal living room, heart aching for his husband. “Dorian, do you really think Rem would do that? He loves us, Vhenan , and we love him just as much. I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to get to know James, but in the end, we’re his Papa and Dad. I know he wouldn’t willingly give that up.”

 

Dorian sighed and sat down next to Zevrael, allowing the elf to pull him into his arms. “I don’t want to lose him, Amatus …” He admitted softly, relaxing into the fingers that started carding through his hair. “He may not be of our blood, but I love him so much …”

 

“I love him too, Dori’. We may want to sit down with Rem and talk about all of this-- Maker knows he’s probably having the same fears and doubts as us.”

 

The mage nodded in agreement, but before they could continue FRIDAY spoke to them. “Dorian, Zevrael, Sergeant Barnes is asking to speak with you both.”

 

The husbands looked at each other in shock. “Allow him up, FRIDAY. I think we need to have a conversation of our own.” Zevrael told the AI, standing from his seat and pulling Dorian up with him. “I’ll make some tea. I trust you can show the good man to a seat?” He smiled charmingly at his husband, giving him a small kiss.

 

Dorian nodded with a smile of his own on his face. “Of course, my love.” He watched as the elf padded to the kitchen before turning his attention to where the elevators were, waiting for the assassin’s arrival. After a minute, the doors opened and James stepped out, looking around nervously before his eyes found Dorian. The mage smiled at him and spread his arms in a welcoming gesture. “Good evening, Sergeant Barnes. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

 

The brunette swallowed and dipped his own head in greeting. “It’s good to meet you too. And I prefer James, if you don’t mind.” The last part was said in a softer voice, almost hesitant in tone.

 

The hazel eyes of the mage softened at the unsure, anxious way James spoke. “Of course, James. Come in and have a seat, my husband will be out momentarily with something to drink.” He led the man to a seat close to the windows, draping himself across the chair regally while the assassin sat opposite to him.

 

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me,” James commented as he dropped his icy blue eyes to the floor. “I… I wanted to ask…” The man struggled for a moment, not sure how to voice what it was he’d come for.

 

“You wanted to ask about Rem.” The new voice caused James’ gaze to snap up, and his eyes went wide at the elf that approached him with a tray with three mugs. “Hello James, I’m Zevrael Pavus, and that’s my husband, Dorian Pavus.” He sat gracefully next to the mage, who immediately reached for his mug. “I would imagine it comes as a shock to learn you have a son you never knew about.” Zevrael began as he sat back with his tea, a compassionate smile on his lips.

 

James nodded in agreement, eyeing the mug in front of him warily at first before slowly reaching for it and taking it. “Yeah… Of all the things I expected to hear in that meeting from Stark-- Tony-- the fact that I have a son wasn’t one of them.” He studied the tea for a second before taking a hesitant sip, eyes widening at the flavor before taking a larger sip. “This is really good.” He remarked, looking back at the husbands on the couch.

 

Zevrael nodded with a big smile on his face. “I’m glad you like it. It’s a blend of natural herbs from my home, it has a calming effect on the nerves.” He took a sip of his own, taking the time to gather his thoughts. “So, you’re here about Rem. What would you like to know?”

 

James cradled the mug in his hands, looking down into the liquid within. “I… could I see a picture of him? And can you tell me about him?” He finally asked, looking up at the duo with hope in his eyes.

 

The duo nodded and Dorian gently nudged Zevrael. “Would you run to the bedroom and grab my tablet, Amatus ?” The elf nodded and kissed him briefly before striding away to do so. “First, what has Tony told you so far?” The mage turned his attention back to James as he asked.

 

The assassin shifted in his seat, taking another sip of his drink. “He mentioned that there was some kind of magic that made him younger than he really is… didn’t really go into detail about it, though. Other than that…” James closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath. “He told me what Rem… what my son has been through. It’s one of the reasons I’m here. I wanted to thank you and Zevrael for loving and protecting him and making him happy…” His eyes opened, and there was something undeniably cold and malicious in them. “The other is to find out where exactly I need to aim my gun to make sure that shit never happens again.”

 

There was a moment of quiet before a grin slid across Dorian’s face, and the mage drained his tea before setting the mug down. “James, I do believe you’re going to fit in perfectly around here, and you, my husband and I are going to have a wonderful relationship.”

 

“Fortunately, there are certain ones you don’t have to worry about anymore.” The sound of Zev’s voice drew their attention and the silverette gracefully lowered himself into his seat by Dorian’s side again, a tablet clutched in his hands. “The elvar'nas ghi who sexually assaulted him on a regular basis was taken care of by Dorian and myself. As for the man who had been experimenting on him… Well, let’s just say Tony was less than pleased with his pseudo nephew’s treatment.”

 

James sat straight at that information, eyes widening again. “Wait, Tony killed him??” Getting nods from both, the brunette let out a long huff of breath as his gaze went far away for a moment. “Damn… I owe him so much…” He whispered almost too low for the duo to hear him. He cleared his throat after a moment, looking back up. “So… can you tell me about him?”

 

Dorian nodded and unlocked his tablet, pulling up several pictures and handing the device to James. The assassin’s eyes filled with tears as he was presented with a picture of Rem grinning from his place between Dorian and Zevrael, eyes sparkling with joy and love as he held up a piece of paper for the camera. “That’s the day we adopted Rem,” Dorian told him softly, a loving smile on his face as he thought back to that day. “I must say that’s the biggest grin I’ve ever seen on him. He was so nervous as we signed out the paperwork... I think he might have thought that we would change our minds at the last moment-- that it was some kind of joke and that we were leading him on. I blame what the X-Men did to him for that… Once we got the last piece signed and sent off, it finally hit him it wasn’t a joke, and the look of joy on his face was just… breathtaking .”

 

The brunette swallowed hard, his fingers tracing the shape of Rem’s face. “He… he has my eyes-- the shape, I mean. That’s definitely my nose, too… And the long hair…” He sniffed a little, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Can… can you tell me about him?” He choked softly, looking up at them with hope and longing in his expression.

 

“Of course, James. What would you like to know?”

 

---

 

“Rem, would you mind playing for us?”

 

The redhead looked up to see Aria come into the music hall, gently rocking Sunny in her arms. “Of course, Auntie Aria. Is Sunny being fussy tonight?” He asked, standing from where he’d been studying his sheet music to approach them, smiling at the baby in the brunette’s arms.

 

Aria smiled and leaned over to press a kiss to Rem’s head. “Just a little bit-- we think she’s getting used to a normal eating and sleeping schedule again, so there’s going to be an adjustment period.” The Reaper gently smoothed her daughter’s currently blond hair and cooed to the infant a bit.

 

Rem smiled brightly at them, gently holding his finger out for Sunny to catch for a moment. “Of course, anything for my baby cousin. Anything in particular?”

 

The woman smiled and took a seat in one of the armchairs near the grand piano. “I think I’ll leave it to you, Rem. You always know what’s best for the moment.”

 

A thoughtful look crossed Rem’s face before he brightened, striding towards the piano and settling himself on the bench. He took a breath before his fingers began to glide across the keys, the soothing melody quickly filling the room. It took a minute for Aria to recognize the song, and once she did a few tears welled in her eyes before she wiped them away, concentrating on humming along as she rocked Sunny. She shot a brilliant smile towards the teen, who was focused on his music in a way that showed just how much he enjoyed the craft.

 

Outside in the hall, James leaned against a wall, listening to the music coming from within with tears in his eyes. The soothing melody tugged at his fractured memories, piecing together brief images of his mother playing and singing for him on the rare occasions she could. He swallowed hard and began to shift to move closer, but the sound of movement from down the hallway stopped him. The assassin sank into the shadows, and a few seconds later Ulysses and Craig came around the corner, their own faces lighting up at the music.

 

Craig quickly moved to one portion of the wall and tilted his head up. “FRIDAY, could you activate the one-way window?” He called, and a second later the wall in front of him seemed to melt to reveal the inside of the room where Rem, Aria, and Sunny were. “It’s always nice to see him playing.” He murmured, leaning into Ulysses who put an arm around him.

 

“Can tell he’s feeling better too-- his song feels like hope.” Ulysses rumbled as well, eyes flicking between Rem and his wife, holding their daughter. The love in the man’s eyes was stunning, and they held a fierce protectiveness that had never been there before.

 

The jade-eyed sniper nodded as well, smiling brightly. “I’m glad we found Sunny, ‘Ses. She may have had a tough beginning… but she’ll never be left wanting for love. She’ll never doubt that she has parents who would do anything for her.” His voice became somewhat choked for a second, prompting his husband to tighten his grip on him. It took only a few seconds for Craig to reign his emotions in again, and he pulled off his glasses for a moment and tucked them in his breast pocket. “So,” He called a little louder, a small smile on his face, “You feel like joining us over here, Sergeant Barnes?”

 

There was a moment of silence, filled only by the piano music, before the man in question shuffled closer. “You knew I was there?” He asked softly, looking between the duo nervously. He could tell just by the way the duo held themselves and the strength of their presence that both men had been soldiers at one point or another.

 

“Not much can hide from us… Snipers. You’d understand.” Ulysses replied, beckoning him over.

 

The brunette blinked in shock, even as he moved so he could peer through the window as well. “You know I was a sniper? Was it in my file?” He asked curiously, looking between the trio inside and the soldiers beside him.

 

Craig shot him a knowing smile. “Yeah, but it’s not just that. If we’d been anyone else, you would have been completely undetected. You were standing in a position where you can see and access that end of the hallway there,” he pointed down in the direction of the far hall, “And you stationed yourself right under the air duct.” He looked back towards the music hall, the smile softening. “No judgment here. You’re in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. I get that.”

 

James gave a tentative nod before his attention was pulled back to the music hall as the song came to an end. They watched as Aria rose from her seat, Sunny sound asleep in her arms, and she gave the teen a kiss on the head and a soft, heartfelt thank you. Rem nodded and smiled, whispering something to her before he sat back at the piano, starting a new song as the woman approached the exit. The assassin looked panicked for a moment, but before he could react she slipped from the room, eyes immediately finding the trio.

 

To James’ surprise, she smiled brightly at them. “Of all the songs Rem could have picked, I shouldn’t be surprised that he chose ‘Promise of the World’... I get the feeling he would pull the moon from the sky for her.” She murmured in a soft voice, gently rocking Sunny in her arms. The Reaper approached them, kissing her husbands for a moment before turning to James. “Hello, you must be James. I’m Aria Boone, and this is our daughter, Sunniva.”

 

Icy blue eyes blinked in shock before he found himself creeping closer to peer down at the infant in her arms. A memory flickered to the front of his mind again, his mother coming home from the hospital after the birth of his sister. He could hear her voice echoing softly in the corner of his mind-- ‘James, I have someone I want you to meet. This is your new baby sister--’

 

“Rebecca.” It took a moment for James to realize he’d spoken aloud, and he blushed under the curious looks he got. “I… she… I remembered… when Ma brought home my baby sister.” He swallowed, closing his eyes for a moment. “Her name… I remembered it. Rebecca.”

 

Aria’s eyes softened at the admission, and she passed Sunny to Craig for a moment so she could slowly reach out and hug James. After a few seconds, the sniper tentatively returned the embrace. “Don’t worry, they’ll all come back you you in time. And if you ever need someone to talk to about it… well, I have some experience with missing memories.” James pulled away for a moment to look at her curiously, the woman giving him a half smile before she lifted her band away from her forehead to reveal the scar from the wound she’d received so long ago. James inhaled sharply in realization, and after a moment his eyes softened as well and he nodded. “If you need me, just ask FRIDAY to summon me. I’ll be there whenever you need me.”

 

James swallowed and nodded, overwhelmed with gratitude for the brunette in front of him. “Thanks… I think it would help a lot.” He finally admitted, prompting another hug from Aria.

 

Craig and Ulysses smiled at the duo, Ulysses’ hidden by his ever-present mask. “Came looking for Rem, right?” The latter asked, tilting his head towards the music hall. James nodded, and the sniper turned to the door. “One moment.” He slipped inside and made a beeline towards Rem, who had begun playing again. “Rem.” He called out, catching his attention.

 

The redhead jumped slightly, missing a key. “Uncle ‘Ses, you’re always so quiet!” The teen laughed softly, standing from his seat again. “Is Sunny sleeping okay?”

 

“Deep and calmly.” He replied, dipping his head with the corners of his eyes crinkling with his smile. After a moment, he spoke again. “Rem, you have someone who wants to say hello.” He fixed the teen with a pointed look.

 

It took a moment for Rem to realize who he was talking about, and after a second he took a deep breath and nodded. “I… okay. He can come in.” He paused for a moment, and Ulysses stayed put, knowing the teen had something else to say. “Would… would you, Uncle Craig, and Auntie Aria stay as well?” He practically whispered, looking up through his lashes at the sniper.

 

The brown-eyed man blinked at him before pulling the teen into a brief but tight hug. “Of course.” He gently said, pulling away to smile at the ecstatic look on Rem’s face. He gently tugged a strand of his fiery locks before moving to the door again. He peeked out and gestured them in. “Rem wants us there.” He gently told James, who nodded in understanding.

 

“Familiar presence, I get that.” The assassin replied softly, following the group inside. He took two steps towards Rem before pausing, caught off guard by how similar their features were. It was one thing to see it in a picture, but the real thing, the proof in front of him… James let out a shuddering breath, torn between wanting to approach the teen and not wanting to spook him with a sudden movement.

 

Rem inhaled sharply as well, seeing the similarities between them quickly as well. The eye shape, the nose… the teen felt his empathy kick in and he was momentarily blindsided by the depth and intensity of the emotion from the older man-- the desire to approach him to get to know him, the fear of accidentally hurting him, the hope of having a chance to be a part of his life… the desperate need for acceptance and understanding. In that moment, Rem realized that James, despite having been through so much, wasn’t nearly as broken as others might assume… he was cracked , and Rem wanted nothing more than to help him heal… Just like what the New Avengers, his friends and family, had done for him. Without realizing it, he slowly approached the man, pausing when he was close so he could study the assassin’s face closely. James remained still, though his hands twitched with the desire to pull his son closer. After a few seconds, Rem smiled and reached forward, pulling James into a hug. “I’m glad to meet you, James.” He mumbled against the muscular chest his cheek was pressed against, pouring all the conviction and finality into it that he could. After a tense second, James returned the hug, pulling the redhead closer and resting his chin on his head as tears welled up in his eyes. A few rolled down his face as relief flooded his body at the small action that spoke so much of acceptance and willingness to try.

 

Finally, the duo pulled apart, and James offered the teen a tentative smile. “Did you want to sit down? I… I’d like a chance to talk you you, if you don’t mind.”

 

Rem nodded with a smile and guided the man to a group of plush chairs situated in one corner of the room. There were two sets in the room in separate corners, the other section occupied by the Boone trio and Sunny so they could watch from a distance but not interfere or intrude. The teen guided James to one chair and sat in another close to his.

 

The assassin took a moment to breathe before looking up at Rem. “So… first, I want to make sure that you know… I’m not tryin’ to take the place your Dad and Papa.” He started softly, yet no less resolutely. “I went to talk to them a few hours ago… I wanted to assure them that, while I do want to get to know you, I don’t want to take you from them-- they love you so much, and I’d be a bastard to try to separate you.” He took a deep breath to organize his thoughts. “They… actually encouraged us to talk. I think my threatening to shoot anyone who hurt you earned me some brownie points.” He gave the teen a tentative half-smile at that.

 

The teen gave a startled, wet chuckle at that, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “Yeah, Dad and Papa would definitely appreciate that…” He croaked, gratitude shining in his eyes. He smiled at the sniper and continued, “I’m not used to having so many people defending me…”

 

James’ face fell into something fiercely protective. “Yeah, Dorian and Zev told me that… I wish I could have been there to keep you from hurtin’ and being hurt.” Seeing the look of realization on Rem’s face he quickly explained, “I… didn’t want to accidentally say or do anything that might hurt you… I want to get to know you, and I didn’t want…” He floundered for a second, making a half-hearted hand motion.

 

Rem’s anxious expression melted in the face of the intense desire to defend and protect him the assassin was giving off. “It’s okay… I understand-- you don’t want to do anything that might put that in jeopardy.”

 

James nodded in agreement, a thankful look passing through his eyes. “Yeah, exactly.” He observed the teen for a moment before speaking again. “I… heard you playing piano earlier. It… it sounded beautiful-- brought back a memory of my Ma playin’.” His eyes went far away for a moment before returning to his son.

 

Rem’s eyes went wide, a startled look in them before a smile stretched across his face. “Really? I helped you remember?”

 

James nodded with a small but joyful smile. “She was real talented… pretty much a natural.”

 

“That’s where I get my musical talent…” The teen breathed with shocked joy, eyes lighting up with wonder. “I always wondered…” He thought for a moment before looking back to James, the smile now slightly nervous. “Do you want me to play for you some more?” He asked tentatively.

 

The assassin swallowed down the lump in his throat and nodded. “I’d love to hear you play some more.” He finally managed to say, a bigger smile on his face.

 

Rem nodded and moved to the piano, a song already in mind as he sat. He shot the man a smile as he laid his hands on the keys and began playing, and after a few chords he began to sing along, startling James at the beautiful sound. As he listened to the lyrics, tears began to fill his eyes again, and he couldn’t help the proud smile that stretched across his face as they fell.

 

From the other side of the room, the Boone trio cuddled together as they smiled at the duo. “He usually doesn’t sing along…” Craig mused as he listened.

 

“Must be special…” Ulysses mused, both his and his husband’s attention being drawn to Aria when they heard her sniff.

 

Aria smiled brilliantly as she watched them, her heart swelling with pride and love for her pseudo nephew. “I think he’s playing for both of them…” She grinned at them as the song hit the chorus. “After all… he chose ‘Coming Home’.”

 

-

 

Tony sniffed as he subtly wiped the tears from his eyes, a grin of his own on his face while he watched the security feed that showed Rem playing for James. “FRIDAY, I hope you’re recording this.” He managed to croak out, heart full of joy as he listened to the music filtering through.

 

“As if I wouldn’t, Boss.”

 

The genius laughed at that, grinning brightly towards the ceiling. “I didn’t program you to be sassy…”

 

“Pretty sure she got that from her Dad.” The sound of the additional voice caused the brunette to jump and turn towards the voice, revealing a smiling Wade. “He’s damn good, isn’t he?” The mercenary hummed as he tilted his head towards the camera feed.

 

Tony sighed and nodded, sparing another glance towards it. “Absolutely… I’m glad Mom’s piano is getting some use.” His voice became quiet towards the end, and the feeling of a supportive hand on his shoulder pulled a thankful smile from him. After a second, he took a deep breath and reached for a tissue. “So, what brings you to my domain, Wade?”

 

The hazel-eyed man sat in a swivel chair, Tony taking the one opposite him. “It’s about Rem.” He started, leaning forward so his elbows were on his knees. “He’s been through a shit ton of emotional upheaval in the past month. Like, he went from being in an environment that was nothing short of emotionally abusive along with being kidnapped and experimented on as well as being sexually assaulted on a regular basis to having the most amazing, supportive family who would do anything to protect him, a set of parents who would pull the damn moon from the sky if he asked, friends who would jump to support and defend him in an instant… and that’s not even taking into consideration not having to deal with Sabertooth or Sinister anymore AND finding his biological dad…”

 

The genius listened attentively, running his fingers through his hair and huffing out a breath as Wade paused to think. “Damn, it has only been a month for him. I didn’t even realize…” He cast his whiskey-brown eyes to the ceiling.

 

“Yeah, time freaking flies in this place.” Wade agreed. “I’m thinking that if he had a stable tie to his life before now, it would help ground him.”

 

Tony looked back down, a small smile on his face. “That’s a good idea, especially if it helped him back then too. Just name it and I’ll do my best to find it.”

 

Wade gave the man a grin. This, this was where many people seemed to get Tony Stark’s personality completely wrong. They saw him as arrogant, selfish, egocentric, and disrespectful. The truth was so much different though-- Tony Stark was one of the most compassionate, selfless, and generous people he’d ever had the pleasure of knowing and calling a friend. This was a man who’d opened his home and life for them, despite barely knowing them. He’d sprung to Rem’s defence the instant he’d learned what the X-Men had done to him, and was genuinely outraged at the mere thought of allowing someone to mess with his head for their own gain. Sure, he was sarcastic as hell, but he never used it to hurt or demean the people he loved and cared about. And he did care-- he cared so damn much .

 

He was a man he’d trust with Rem’s life. He was a man he’d trust with his own .

 

The mercenary pulled his thoughts back to the present and finally replied. “Thing is, it’s not a something… I need your help finding someone .”

 

Tony’s eyebrow arched and his eyes lit up at the prospect of a challenge. “This person must have been a real ally and friend to Rem if you’re considering bringing them in. Alright, I’ll bite-- who is it you want me to find, and do you have a clue where to start?”

 

Wade’s grin was nothing short of maniacal. “Weeeeell, given what time of the year it is, I’m thinking we start out search somewhere in Canada...”

 

The genius nodded as his eyes flashed blue as he activated his technopathy. Wade continued to feed him information, and after a few minutes, the genius abruptly returned to himself, staring wide-eyed at Wade for a moment. Then he threw his head back cackling madly. “Wade Wilson, you are a devious son of a bitch. I love it. Let’s do it.”

Chapter Text

Light brown eyes watched attentively as a six-year-old girl bounded around the yard in front of the cabin they were living in, tucked away in the Canadian wilderness and far from any civilization. He gave a soft sigh as his mind drifted for a moment or two, heart panging with momentary hurt. They’d been here for a month and a half, hiding from those trying to hunt them down for their own gain. Unbeknownst to the little girl running around, her father had a secondary purpose for choosing this location. He needed the distance from his previous ‘allies’, needed time to work through his own emotions.

 

Nobody would tell him anything about what happened that led to his pup being taken. They sure as hell weren’t saying anything about why they’d all come back BUT him. Considering how they’d treated his pup… it wasn’t hard to guess what had transpired. And it made him angry-- they’d beaten him down, ostracized him, hurt him… and now it was very likely that they’d killed him.

 

He was pulled out of his dark thoughts when he felt a tug on his hand, and he looked down to find his daughter grinning up at him. “Daddy, let’s play hunter! I’ll give you ten seconds!”

 

A rumbling chuckle came from the man as he knelt and ruffled his daughter’s hair. “Alright, Lex. Start countin’, kid.” A loving, tender smile crossed Logan’s face as he watched her for a few moments before the older mutant went to hide, grateful for each day that they had together. Alexia might be his clone but he honestly considered her to be his daughter, created or not, and Logan was just as protective of her as he had been of the young man he’d done his best to keep safe. That was one reason he had changed her name to Alexia, rather than leaving it as ‘Laura’ or the more hated ‘X-23’. Alexia Howlett was a far different name than Laura Kinney and considering that those who constantly hunted Logan didn’t actually know his last name, it was much safer.

 

“Okay! One… two… three...”

 

---

 

A mile from the cabin, a corridor suddenly sprung into existence, Wade stumbling through it before being followed by a much more composed Minowa. “Jeez, is it always supposed to feel that trippy?” He groaned, leaning against a tree for a second to regain his bearings.

 

Minowa gave a chuckle as she engaged the armor around her, leaving only her head free. The ‘Obsidian’ set had been exchanged for one built with more defensive capabilities in mind that would boost her support Thu’um and magical strength in the Alteration and Restoration fields. The new armor was dubbed the ‘Diamond Dragoon’, though there was little aesthetic difference between the two besides the color of the armor and thickness of the plates. The black was now a smokey grey with noticeable luster, which she attributed to the alteration spells woven into it, and the grooves now glowed a soft white. When asked about the color, the Dragonborn had arched an eyebrow and pointed out that diamonds weren’t always white, and her aim was to defend people, not blind them accidentally. “I had forgotten that the first time you were made to use a Corridor, you were running on adrenaline from the events at Sinister’s lab. You would not have been focused on the feeling.” A plate on her arm lifted, and she rifled through the compartment it revealed before pulling out a vial and tossing it to him. “There. That will take the edge off.”

 

Wade nodded gratefully and quickly took the offered medicine. He let out a sigh of relief as the dizziness quickly faded. “How is it that Takabisha didn’t manage to throw me for a loop, but just stepping through that thing fucked me six ways to Sunday? They could learn a thing or two from you guys…” Seeing the curious look he was getting, Wade explained, “It’s a roller coaster in Japan-- steepest one in the world currently.”

 

The information immediately caused a grin to stretch across the Dragonborn’s face. “Oh? I would very much like to ride this… Takabisha, then.”

 

The mercenary stared at her for a second in stunned shock before groaning in exasperation, pushing himself away from the tree. “Right. Forgot who I was talking to for a second. Freaking crazy woman, freefalling like it ain’t a problem, giving everyone a heart attack…” He grumbled under his breath as he gestured for Minowa to follow him. “I think it’d be best if we split up. Wolfy could be anywhere, and if we show up as a group it might make him nervous.”

 

Minowa nodded at that. “Sound reasoning. My coms are on, you know how to reach me.” The Reaper suddenly flickered out of existence, and Wade realized she’d cast a discrete, high powered invisibility spell.

 

“No problem. Same for me. Good luck.” He called to the empty air, knowing the woman had heard him despite seemingly not being there. With that said, he looked around before starting in a random direction. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take too long to find Logan.

 

A full ten minutes later, something prickled at the back of Wade’s neck, and he slowed his gait to a slow walk, listening closely to the forest around him. After a moment, it hit him that he wasn’t alone, that something had been following him. Thinking it to be the man he’d been looking for, he turned to call out to him, only to screech as he was tackled by a small brown blur. He landed hard on his back and stared in stunned shock at the little girl sitting on his chest. After a second, it hit him that he was staring at what was basically a young female version of Logan, claws and all.

 

The young girl’s grin fell quickly when she saw the man underneath her wasn’t the person she had thought it was. Without thinking about it she said, “You’re not my daddy…” with a confused head tilt.

 

The merc’s mouth opened and closed several times as he tried to find something to say, but was cut off by the sound of the repulsor mechanisms in the Dragoon armor coming towards them, and he turned his head to see Minowa landing a few yards from them, the helmet folding back to show Min looking at them with surprise in her crimson eyes and her eyebrows in her hairline. “Wade, you seem to have acquired a little one.”

 

“Trust me, Min. I’m just as confused as you are.” Wade replied, looking back at the girl who had yet to leave her position on his chest.

 

The brown-haired child looked towards Min, and her eyes went wide at her appearance. The Dragonborn saw the look and quickly disengaged the armor so only the gauntlets, boots, and backplates remained. She gave the child a gentle smile, dipping her head to her. “We’re sorry for frightening you, malkiir . It was never our intention to do so.” She came a bit closer and dropped to her knee a few feet from them. “My name is Minowa Norddahl, and my friend there is Wade Wilson. We’re members of the New Avengers.”

 

“Oh! Daddy told me about you!” The girl grinned at Wade from her spot on his chest.

 

As if summoned by her words, a call of “Lexi!” prompted the group to turn their eyes to Wade’s left, where Logan Howlett was running towards them. He slowed the run as he registered whose chest his daughter was sitting on. “Wade? The hell are you doin’ all the way out here??”

 

The hazel-eyed man grunted as Lexi scrambled off his chest and ran to the mutant. “Looking for you, actually.” He huffed as he pulled himself to his feet. “First though, wanna explain your mini-me?”

 

Logan huffed out a chuckle, scooping the girl into his arms and settling her on his hip. “Her name’s Alexia. It’s… complicated to explain, but basically, she’s a younger female clone of me.”

 

Alexia wiggled in Logan’s grip and tugged his shirt. “Daddy, that lady has horns!” She squealed with excitement, pointing to where Minowa had been observing in the background.

 

The mutant blinked in confusion before turning his attention to the woman in question, freezing the instant their eyes locked. Minowa went still as well, and there were a few seconds of silence as they simply observed each other, warmth and a deepening sense of awareness flaring between the pair that had never before laid eyes on each other. Several long seconds went by as their eyes remained locked together, no words needing to pass between them as a deeper part of themselves met on a metaphysical level. Finally, Logan dropped his eyes in a gesture of submission-- his feral side might not have been as prominent as normal, but right now, that side was screaming at him that, no matter how short and small she seemed, the woman was an apex predator that deserved-- demanded -- respect. He stayed still as Minowa tilted her head silently and approached him at a calm pace, looking between him and his daughter. She studied him with a critical eye before smiling and nodding once. She pressed herself against him and tucked her head under the male’s chin, rumbling softly in her chest. After a second or two, she gently nipped his neck and nosed it, moving back to his chest as he wrapped an arm around her for a few seconds of cuddling.

 

Wade watched the display in confusion, waiting until she was settled against Logan again before speaking. “So, what the hell did I just witness?”

 

“An assertion of dominance between predators,” Minowa replied easily, her crimson eyes sliding to the confused merc. “His feral side submitted to me, and I acknowledged that.”

 

The hazel-eyed man nodded slowly at that. “Okay… good luck explaining this one to Brucie.”

 

That prompted Minowa to pull away enough so she could turn the full intensity of her glare on him. “Bruce and I have spoken on this matter, and he understands why this happens and what it entails. You, on the other hand, do not have the same knowledge, so you would be wise to be silent on matters you have no business questioning.” By the end, her eyes had started glowing brightly, signaling the strength of her other tenants’ ires.

 

Wade swallowed hard and ducked his head, holding up his hands in surrender. “Right, sorry, shouldn’t have said anything, shutting up now.”

 

The exchange prompted a rough laugh from Logan. “You are one hell of a woman to be able to wrangle Wade Wilson.”

 

A sharp laugh erupted from Wade at that and he shook his head. “Oh, it ain’t just her I’m afraid of…”

 

That prompted a sharp smile from the woman in question, and for a moment black bled into her sclera, prompting a squeak from Wade. It was quickly gone though, and Minowa pulled away to speak to them as a group. “You are Logan Howlett, then. It’s a pleasure to meet you-- Wade actually speaks quite fondly of you.” She smiled at the merc for a second, prompting the merc in question to relax. “I am Minowa Norddahl, Field Commander of the New Avengers.” She continued, turning her eyes back to Logan.

 

Logan nodded with a small smile of his own on his face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Minowa.” He replied, receiving a kind smile from the Dragonborn. “This is my daughter, Alexia.” He gestured to the girl sitting on his hip, watching the proceedings with both curiosity and trepidation.

 

“We’ve met briefly. So your name is Alexia, malkiir ?”

 

Lex nodded quietly, studying the woman who had just bonded with her daddy. “Uh-huh…” She replied, her green eyes slowly making their way back to the horns on the woman’s head. She made to reach out to touch them before stopping herself, blushing a bit.

 

Minowa smiled indulgently at the child and moved to one horn was within reach. “Just be careful with them, little one. They are attached to me, after all.” She gave the girl a playful smile at the last bit.

 

The girl nodded enthusiastically, reaching out to run her hand over the protrusions. “Wow! They’re so warm and smooth!”

 

That prompted a gentle laugh from Min, who shot Logan a bright smile of her own. “Your little one is delightful, Logan.”

 

Logan gave the Dragonborn a grateful smile before turning his attention back to both her and Wade, who had come closer. “So, you guys were lookin’ for me for a reason. What’s goin’ on?”

 

After a second or two of silence, Minowa pulled away from the duo to reach into the compartment in her armor she’d pulled the potion for Wade from. After a second or two of digging, she closed it and held her hand out silently to Logan.

 

The mutant looked at her curiously and allowed the item to be dropped into his open palm, and he choked on a gasp at what it was. His dog tags from his past life sat in his hand, despite the fact that he knew where they’d been the last time he’d seen them. “I… these are the tags I gave Remy…” He whispered, his heart clenching in agony at the implication of one of the New Avengers having them. He held them close for a second before freezing, then lifting them to his nose and sniffing. The scent he’d come to associate with his pup was fresh, only a day old at most, and he snapped his now hopeful gaze to the woman in front of him.

 

Minowa dipped her head with a compassionate, knowing smile. “He is safe. Different from the last time you saw him, for sure… but safe, and very loved.”

 

“It’s true, Logan,” Wade spoke up, drawing the feral mutant’s attention. “He’s the reason we’re here. Rem’s had a lot of emotional upheaval in the last month and a half, and if I started that story now we’d be here all night. But Logan… I swear, I’ve never seen Rem so happy and carefree… he’s got a team and family who would kill for him-- have already killed for him.”

 

Logan gave a shuddering sigh of relief, turning his eyes to Minowa only to pause at the look on her face. “Minowa?”

 

The Dragonborn held her hand up, eyes far away. “Quiet,” she commanded in a firm voice, demanding complete silence with her tone alone. After several seconds, her armor fully engaged as she informed them, “We have people headed in our direction at a steady clip-- several helicopters as well. I don’t think they have innocent intentions.” She listened again for a moment, eyes narrowing in anger. “Something about Weapon X… X-23… tranquilizers only, no killing…”

 

“Shit,” Logan swore, pulling Alexia closer to himself. “They’re lookin’ for Lexi and me. They’re the guys from the lab…” He trailed off as his daughter clung to him.

 

“I don’t wanna go back to the lab, daddy!”

 

Minowa was quick to turn to the duo, pressing a comforting kiss to Lexi’s head and nosing along Logan’s jaw. “ No one is going to any lab while I’m standing here.” She swore, eyes glowing brightly as she pulled away from them. She turned to the woods as the sound of helicopter blades came closer. “Let them come. We will show them the full power of our Thu’um .” She growled, voice resonating with several others on the last sentence.

 

Wade quickly pulled out his own pistols, moving towards Logan and Lex. “Logan, let me take Lexi, I won’t let them get anywhere near her. Go help Min fight, but whatever you do, don’t get between her and anything she’s attacking. Just trust me on that.” He saw the confused, incredulous look he was getting, and the merc shook his head. “If it had been anyone else with me, I would have had them take her. But despite the fact that Minowa is scary a hell, I trust her to defend us.”

 

Logan nodded, gently passing Alexia over to the merc. The words coming from anyone else wouldn’t have meant a thing-- coming from Wade Wilson though? You couldn’t get higher praise. He told Lex to stay with Wade and stay out of sight before quickly joining Minowa. He was confused when something was tossed to him, even more so when he found it to be a pair of earplugs.

 

“Believe me,” Minowa said grimly as the voices came closer, “you’ll want to put those in if you value your hearing.” She turned back to the treeline and glared at it, and ten seconds later the first group burst through. She took only a moment to make sure the feral mutant’s earplugs were firmly in his ears before turning back to the group, who had raised their tranquilizer guns towards them both. She inhaled deeply, and the force of a hundred dragon souls surged to lend their power to hers as the mask folded over her face. “ FO KRAH DIIN!! ” The sound of the Thu’um echoed like an explosion through the forest around them and the Shout that was unleashed lanced towards the men with the fury of a thousand mid-winter blizzards.

 

Logan staggered for a moment from the shockwave the Thu’um caused but quickly righted himself, extending his claws and launching himself at the next group with a snarl on his face. The duo fought together in a terrifying display of natural synchronization, one dodging out of the way of another’s attack before finishing off the ones left behind. Logan was finding it hard to fully keep his head in the battle though-- Minowa fought with a ferocity and efficiency that spoke of savage beauty, as if she’d turned killing into an art form. She had a grace that was rare on the battlefield, and she fought with the same skills as one who’d been fighting their entire life. It confused the mutant a bit-- how could someone who looked so young have skills as honed as hers?

 

Finally, Minowa growled and looked to the sky. “I tire of these fools-- they do not even provide a challenge to us!” She turned her glowing crimson eyes to Logan. “Go to Wade and your daughter-- You do not want to be hit with what I’m about to do next.” She waited until he was far enough away before turning to the remaining men and the helicopters. She began channeling crackling destruction magic into her hands while taking a deep breath, the dov adding their power to hers once again. “ STRUN BA QO ! ” She roared at the same time as she released the magic in her hands, a cloak of lightning flashing into existence around her as the sky above them filled with dark, ominous clouds that rumbled and flashed. She channeled another spell into her hands, grinning as she took another deep breath. “ WULD-- ” She suddenly vanished from her spot, reappearing a moment later smack dab in the middle of the rest of the men. She didn’t wait to hear the “ -- NAH KEST! ” That followed a second or two behind her before she flung her hands into the air, releasing the final spell into the air.

 

She’d only ever thought about chaining magic like this in theory. It had the potential to work, but whether it did or not she didn’t know, she’d never had a chance to try it. However, all the pieces were in play here-- The ‘Storm Call’ shout to summon the required energy, the ‘lightning cloak’ spell to center it, and the metal armor being worn by the soldiers and in the helicopters as a target… all it needed was a catalyst.

 

And the ‘Thunderbolt’ spell she had just hurled into the air worked spectacularly .

 

All at once, several pillars of raw lighting crashed down around her in a thirty-yard radius, stopping and starting randomly while wiping out every man and helicopter there in a magnificent display of electricity and blinding lights. She held the spell for a good fifteen second before cutting the magic, bringing the attack to a sudden stop. The silence that followed was only interrupted by the sound of crackling electricity, the still rumbling clouds, and a tree falling over several feet away. Minowa nodded sharply with a pleased smile on her face before turning her attention to the sky again. “ LOK VAH KOOR! ” She shouted to the sky, the Thu’um immediately clearing the skies of the remaining clouds and allowing the sun to shine on the forest again.

 

“Holy shit , Min! That was amazing!!

 

The Dragonborn turned at the yell, relieved to see Wade, Logan, and Alexia coming towards her looking unscathed. She became alarmed when she saw blood splattered on ‘Lex, however, and she immediately swooped forward to check on her. “You’re bleeding, malkiir , are you hurt?”

 

The little girl shook her head with a huge grin as she clung to her father’s shirt. “It’s not mine! Somebody tried to grab me, so I stabbed him!” She held up her hand, and a pair of claws similar to Logan’s slid from the knuckles.

 

Wade flinched a bit and dropped his head. “He managed to get the drop on me-- literally. He climbed up a tree behind me.”

 

“Don’t be too hard on him.” Logan requested softly, drawing the woman’s attention. “This group was way bigger than the ones that usually show up. I’m really glad you and Wade were here… Don’t know if we would have been able to escape this time.”

 

A soft sigh escaped Minowa as she turned back to Wade. “I wasn’t angry, my friend. I was worried about both your and her safety and well-being. And I would imagine it isn’t normal for enemies to drop out of trees.”

 

Wade gave a laugh before leaning in to whisper conspiratorially, “Nobody ever looks up.”

 

The tension was immediately diffused by the laughter that followed, and as it died down their attention was drawn by a glowing orange portal opening up next to them, and Tony and Stephen stepped through with a tied up man floating behind them. “Min, you forgot to close your corridor, this guy... just...” Tony’s words died in his throat at the sight of the group standing in a forest with several scorch marks seared into the trees and ground around them. The wreckage of two helicopters sat to one side, as well as several dozen corpses all still smoking and crackling with lightning magic. Wade was grinning with delight, as was the child in his arms. Logan was blinking in confusion as he looked between Tony, Stephen, and the portal. Minowa arched an eyebrow in challenge, completely unrepentant of the chaos around her.

 

The man floating behind them took one look around and promptly announced, “I surrender.”

 

Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath, taking the few seconds it took to do so to sort through his thoughts. “Minowa, I’m going to need a full report on what happened here to give to the Accords Committee, but give me the TL;DR version first.”

 

Minowa nodded sharply. “We arrived here and immediately began to scour the area for Logan, but were found by his daughter Alexia first. We made contact with Logan and began to inform him of the current goings on, but were interrupted by this group of men who have been actively hunting him and his daughter. They made no effort to explain their reasoning, nor did they hesitate to attack a civilian and child, so I acted within my right to defend against malicious intent without just cause towards a bystander. My use of such destructive magic was born of the desire for efficiency, and I will be undoing the damage once the bodies and wreckage have been removed.”

 

The brief report prompted a sigh from the sorcerer of the group. “While it would have been preferable that you didn’t resort to such drastic measures, you were well within your right to use lethal force in the defense of civilians. Just…” Blue-green eyes swept around the area again before returning to Min. “Maybe less drastic next time.”

 

“Understood.”

 

Logan had been watching the byplay with a small smile on his lips, but was pulled towards Alexia when she pulled gently on his shirt. “What are we gonna do now, daddy?” She asked softly, worry in her eyes.

 

The older mutant sighed and gently pressed a kiss to the girl’s head. “We’ll have to head back to New York, kiddo.” He said softly, a glower crossing his face once Lex’s head was tucked against his shoulder. “I don’t really want to go back to the X-Men, but we may not have a choice…” Logan’s glower deepened into a scowl at the thought, particularly at the idea of exposing his daughter to them.

 

Minowa huffed at that, tucking herself against Logan. “I would much prefer you to stay close. The X-Men have proven themselves to be untrustworthy, cruel, and abusive, and I would not allow you or your daughter to be subjected to their behavior.”

 

“Min’s right on that end,” Tony spoke up, drawing their attention. “Considering what they put Rem through and what they condoned being done to him, I wouldn’t want a kid within a 25-mile radius of that place, or even a grown adult for that matter. Why don’t you come back and have some dinner with us, and you can figure out where to go from there.” A second later, a knowing grin slid across his face as he jerked his head towards the portal. “Besides… I think there’s someone here who would love to see you again.”

 

Logan swallowed hard at the implication, heart jumping with hope. “Are you serious? He’s really alive?”

 

“Alive, happy, and thriving,” Wade swore, nodding.

 

The mutant took a moment to think before nodding, looking to Tony and Stephen for a second then to Minowa who was pressed against his chest still. “I… yeah. I’d like that.” He finally said.

 

The genius nodded with a bright smile. “Excellent! Go ahead and step through with Wade and Min. Stephen and I will stick around here and assist with cleanup. Min, I’ll let you know when to come back through to do your part.” He started to turn away before pausing and turning back. “Also, you and I need to talk once I get home, because this --” He gestured between Min and Logan, indicating their closeness, “-- needs a bit of explanation.”

 

“Of course, Zeymahi . I will explain everything later, I swear.” The Dragonborn dipped her head in acknowledgment. Getting a nod and a jerk of the head from the genius, Minowa gestured for the others to follow her, and they were quick to step through the portal to the other side.

 

As the portal closed behind them, Bridget approached them with a soft smile and portable kit resting on her hip. “Welcome back, Wade and Minowa, and welcome to the New Avengers Compound, Logan and Alexia. Is everyone alright?” She ran a critical eye over the duo, looking for any sign of injury. Her eyes quickly found Alexia and the blood on her hands, and she stepped forward with an alarmed look.

 

Wade shook his head with a smile of his own. “I’m fine, Bri. Logan, Lexi, and I didn’t get hit at all. Don’t worry about the blood on Lex, it isn’t hers.” He turned his gaze to Logan and Lex, sweeping his hand towards the woman. “Guys, this is Bridget Ivorsen-- she’s in charge of the Medical Wing here.”

 

Logan dipped his head in greeting to the woman, a small smile on his face. “Pleasure to meet you, ma’am. Don’t worry about me an’ Lex, we’ve got a healing factor that would take care of any wounds. Neither of us was hurt though… What about you, Minowa?”

 

The ebony-haired woman held up one hand as the Diamond Dragoon armor retracted to a pair of simple boots, fingerless gauntlets, and back plates. “I sustained no injuries, worry not.”

 

“That may be so…” Bridget reached into her bag, fishing around for a moment before withdrawing a vial of a glowing blue liquid. “But you still need to take this to mitigate the effects of the magic you used.” She pressed the vial into the surprised Dragonborn’s hands, giving her a hard glare. “Minowa Norddahl, don’t you think for one second I don’t know what you did. You’ve never attempted chain casting before-- it looked good on paper, but you should have tried it in a controlled setting first! I don’t care how old you are, how powerful you are, or how much help you had!” She poked the stunned woman in the chest as she continued. “You don’t go flinging around spell techniques you’ve never tried before on a field of battle, especially when there are civilians involved!”

 

“Actually, Logan and Alexia aren’t civilians, per se…” Wade swallowed as Bridget turned stern eyes on him.

 

“Do you know what happens when a living body is hit by a bolt of lightning? THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS TO ANYONE ELSE!” She whipped back to Minowa, who was blinking at her. “ No chain casting on the field with bystanders!

 

After a moment of silence, a small smile quirked at Minowa’s lips, and she pulled the stopper off the bottle in her hands and chugged it back. “Understood.” She passed the bottle back to the Restoration Master, who huffed and tucked the bottle away. The blond gave each of them a quick check before pulling Min into a tight hug that the crimson-eyed woman reciprocated immediately. As Bridget swept from the room she turned back to Logan and Lex. “She is simply worried. As one who has seen what magic is capable of, she knows how useful a tool it is, and how dangerous a weapon it is. Admittedly, I should have tested it in a controlled setting first before taking it onto the field… she was well within her right to scold me for such a thing.”

 

Logan nodded in understanding, a small smile on his face. “She seems to care a lot… even though she’s a bit of a spitfire.”

 

Wade snorted at that, shaking his head. “Oh, you have no idea… Just wait until she’s chasing you through the compound waving a potion in one hand and a fist full of restoration magic in the other.” A second later, he tilted his head up, resolutely ignoring the confused look he got from Logan and the amused grin on Minowa’s. “FRIDAY, where’s Rem right now?”

 

“Rem is in the music hall with James. Would you like me to call for him?”

 

“Not yet, FRI, but could you tell Dorian and Zevrael to meet us in the debriefing/safe room? Have Holly meet us there as well, please.” He turned to Logan as the AI agreed. “Before you see Rem, you need to talk to Zev and Dori… just, trust me on this.”

 

Logan remained quiet as he followed Wade from the room and down the hall. As they approached the room in question, he finally spoke. “This is about what happened to Rem after he was taken… isn’t it?”

 

“If only it were just about that,” Minowa replied solemnly, face brightening for a moment when she saw Holly coming towards her with Hannah, Lila, and Hela following behind her. “Holly, thank you for coming so quickly. Logan,” She turned back to the taller mutant. “This is Holly Keener, she helps with childcare here at the Compound.” She moved forward, gently ruffling the hair and giving quick hugs to each girl as she continued. “With her are Hannah, her daughter, Lila, the daughter of another employee, and Hela, daughter of one of our allies.”

 

All three girls waved and called out ‘hello’s. After a moment, Hela stepped forward to look up at Alexia. “Hi, what’s your name?” She asked with a smile, missing the proud smile Holly aimed at her.

 

Alexia blinked down at the girl from her spot on Logan’s hip. “I’m Alexia, but I like ‘Lexi and ‘Lex.” She replied softly. She wiggled a little bit, and Logan gently set her down so she was at eye level with the little goddess.

 

Hela smiled brightly at her, holding out her hands to the 6-year-old. “Nice to meet you, Lexi! Do you wanna come play with us?”

 

“Wait, she needs a bath. We can all take a bath together!” Lila suggested, bouncing up beside Hela.

 

Hannah grinned at that idea, nodding rapidly. “A bubble bath!!” She declared, prompting cheers from the other two.

 

Holly smiled indulgently at the children before turning her attention to Logan. “Would you be alright with that? She can always borrow some of Hannah’s clothes-- they look like they’re almost the same size.”

 

Seeing the conflicted look on Logan’s face, Minowa tilted her head towards him to speak softly to him. “I trust her with the safety of the children here, and the conversation about to happen… it is not meant for young ears.”

 

Finally, Logan sighed and nodded, turning back to Holly. “Just so you know, she’s got adamantium claws she can extend from her hands and feet. She’s got control over the ones on her hands… still working on the feet, though.” Holly nodded at that, and Logan took a knee so he was face-to-face with Alexia. “Hey kiddo, you be good for Holly, alright? I’ll come to find you later once the grown-ups are done talkin’.”

 

The young girl nodded with a big smile, hugging Logan tight. “Okay, daddy! I’ll be good, I promise!” She pulled away after a moment, and Hela took her hand and guided her along behind Holly, chatting with her all the while with Hannah and Lila piping in as well.

 

“I think I need a shot of insulin before this meeting starts.” Wade quipped, turning and walking into the room with the others trailing behind her. “Like, damn, they are too cute!

 

“I quite agree, Wade. Although I would think with your healing factor, diabetes wouldn’t be a problem.” The voice that answered belonged to Dorian, who stood from his seat with Zevrael at his side. “So, this is Logan Howlett, then? A pleasure to meet you-- I’m Dorian Pavus, and this is my husband, Zevrael.” He gestured to the elf at his side, who waved with a bright smile.

Logan dipped his head to the duo, shaking their hands briefly. “Good to meet you too. I gotta admit that I’m curious about why we’re in a meeting room like this, though.”

 

In response to that, Minowa waved a hand, and the door shut tight. “Because this room is reinforced against eavesdropping, and is capable of withstanding the full fury of the Hulk at full strength.”

 

The mutant stared at her for a second, dread curling in his gut. “I’m not gonna like what you’re about to tell me, am I?”

 

“Not in the slightest .”

 

---

 

They were right-- he didn’t like it.

 

Logan could feel his feral side clawing at his mental walls, desperate to escape and hunt down the ones who had hurt his precious pup. He’d always known about what Sinister and Creed had done to him, and it infuriated him that he hadn’t been able to help… but what the X-Men had been doing under his own nose-- He took a shaky breath and looked up at the group in the room. “Doesn’t explain why he was taken though… or why they didn't come back with him.” He finally said, looking to Minowa in particular.

 

The Dragonborn dipped her head from her seat a few feet from him. “Indeed not… From what Rem has told us, he was taken to a place called the Citadel for a farce of a trial regarding the Morlock Massacre. The person supposed to be defending him was Warren.”

 

What?! Why would they let Warren defend him when he clearly blames Remy for what happened?! He never tried to hide how much he hated him!”

 

Wade sighed deeply, shaking his head. “I think that’s the exact reason they chose him… Keep in mind, Magneto was the one to set up the trial, not the X-Men themselves. Once Rem’s unwilling part in what happened was brought to light… well… the verdict was passed pretty quickly, especially once Warren refused to defend him and walked out of the room.”

 

There was absolute silence for a moment before Logan snarled, “ What did they do to my pup ?”

 

Minowa sighed deeply, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them again, speaking in a soft tone. “When the citadel collapsed, Rogue took him out into the Arctic wilderness and drained Rem of his powers. She then flew back to the others, they boarded the jet they flew there, and then they left, leaving him there to die.”

 

Logan felt his brain short circuit. They’d left Rem, his pup , behind. They’d left him unable to defend himself alone, in the cold. They’d left him to die .

 

There were several seconds of silence before Minowa suddenly sat up straight, eyes snapping unerringly on Logan. “Everyone needs to stand up slowly and calmly move to the far wall. Now. Do not move until I tell you to.”

 

Wade realized what was going on and nodded to the Pavus duo. “Do as she says. Just… trust me.” The husbands nodded and joined him, confusion clear on their faces as they watched Minowa and Logan.

 

The Dragonborn rose from her seat calmly, eyes never leaving Logan. A moment later, the mutant snarled in sheer, animalistic rage and surged from his seat, stalking towards the door with murder in his eyes. A moment later, Minowa intercepted him, eyes glowing brightly as she grappled him to the ground and straddled his chest, wings erupting from her back and flaring out in a clearly dominant position. < Be still. > She commanded in Dovahzul, the translation echoing loudly through their bond as clearly as the Thu’um woven into the words themselves.

 

On the other side of the room, Dorian and Zevrael inhaled sharply at both the display and the power the use of her Thu’um conjured. “Wade, what’s going on? I’ve never seen Minowa act like this!” Zevrael asked, turning his wide icy blue eyes to the merc.

 

“I wasn’t sure at first myself, but I’ve got a theory,” Wade replied, watching the duo intently. “Logan’s a feral mutant. He’s got this… side to him that’s more animal than human, and sometimes that side takes over and he goes into a kind of berserker rage. Normally, anything that gets between him and his target ends up dead, dying, or destroyed… but he and Min reacted oddly to each other earlier, and now that I’ve had a chance to consider it, I think it’s because she’s Dragonborn. She called their first interaction ‘an assertion of dominance between predators’, and it honestly did remind me of two alpha wolves meeting. Only… she’s not a wolf-- she’s a damn dragon .”

 

Dorian considered that a moment before his eyes widened. “Maker’s breath, he basically imprinted on her, acknowledged her as his alpha. Things never seem to be dull in this place…”

 

Completely ignorant to the conversation happening behind them, Logan writhed in her grip and growled, prompting Minowa to tighten her grip a bit. < Your anger is justified, and your desire to protect your pup from further harm is admirable. But to hunt down the ones who have hurt him alone, without pack, is foolish. Calm your rage for now-- your pup is here, and he is safe and loved. There will be time for retribution later. > The words had been firm and unyielding in the beginning before softening into a soothing tone at the end. Logan stopped moving finally, looking up at her with his eyes still wild, but no longer filled with unbridled fury. The Dragonborn stared back, eyes still glowing and posture calm and assertive as she allowed her wings to relax into a more neutral position. Finally, the mutant made a soft rumbling noise, relaxing his posture and baring his throat to the woman above him. The woman gently let his hands go, moving to run her nose along the column of his neck, gently biting it before kissing the area, pulling back once she was done. < You are no longer alone in protecting your pup. He is part of our pack, and we will keep him safe. > She rumbled softly, the glow finally leaving her eyes a few seconds later. She stayed where she was as Logan calmed completely. After another minute or two, Logan blinked rapidly as if coming back to himself. “There you are.” She murmured gently, drawing the brunette’s attention to her.

 

Light brown eyes stared up at her in stunned shock for a second as Logan’s mind caught up to what exactly had just happened. He’d gone feral, that much was clear… and he could count on one hand the number of times someone had been able to bring him out of that state and still have fingers left over. It was somewhat understandable considering Remy’s empathy and the fact that he considered the redhead his pup. But still, that was only two or three times. So to have a woman eight inches shorter than him with no empathic abilities to speak of but the aura of an apex predator be able pin him to the ground and break through that feral state with little to no effort… After a moment, he blinked again when he registered something different about the woman above him. “You have wings now.”

 

A soft rumbling laugh escaped Min as the appendages in question flared out in a dramatic display before withdrawing back into her body. “I’ve had them for a long time-- they simply remain hidden more often than not.” She finally rose from her position atop Logan’s chest, helping the man get to his own feet once she was up. “FRIDAY,” She called up to the ceiling, “Is Rem still in the music room?”

 

“Rem and James have both moved to the communal kitchen, Minowa.”

 

“Perfect.” The Dragonborn turned her attention to Dorian, Zevrael, and Wade. “You all did exactly as I commanded, and I thank you for that. Come, let’s go find our little redhead.”

 

The group nodded and followed behind her, Logan sticking close to her back. They engaged in small talk as they walked, and Wade couldn’t help but give a small smile when he heard Logan thanking Zevrael and Dorian for taking care of Rem. As they got close to the communal rooms though, the sound of Minowa’s name being called caused them to pause and turn, where Tony stood at one end of the hallway. “A word, if you don’t mind.” He called calmly, nothing in his posture or expression giving away what was going through his head.

 

The Dragonborn nodded in affirmation. “One moment, Zeymahi .” She turned back to the group, smiling slightly at the way Logan’s eyes seemed fixated on the door a few meters away. “Wade, please take Logan to see Rem. I will come to find you all later.” The group nodded, and Minowa took a moment to gently nose Logan’s neck and jaw again before striding towards Tony, who led her in the opposite direction.

 

Wade huffed out a breath at the display before turning back to Logan. “Okay, stay here a moment while I let Rem and James know we’re here. Startling either of them would be a piss poor idea, so just hang tight.” Logan nodded, and the merc swept into the room with a grin on his face. “I’m ho-ome~!” He sang out, catching the attention of the duo sitting at the counter. He immediately found himself with an armful of happy Rem, and he laughed and ruffled the fiery locks. “Good to see you too, Rem.” He looked up as James slowly approached them, a small smile of his own on his face. “Hey, James. Glad to see you’re settling in okay. How did your appointment with Tony go today?”

 

The assassin gave a small dip of his head. “It went pretty well. A little nervous about using the BARF tech… but…” He looked down at his son, giving the teen a smile.

 

“Hey, I get it. You want to be able to be there for him.” Wade finished the unspoken thought. “On that note, though, I brought Rem a present.” Seeing the curious look on James’ face and the excitement on Rem’s, the hazel-eyed man grinned brightly and pulled away, taking a few steps to the side so the teen was visible before turning to the doorway again. “You can come in now!” He called out loudly to the trio on the other side.

 

Dorian and Zevrael stepped through first-- they didn’t want to alarm James by allowing a stranger to step through first. By showing they were allowing Logan to enter as well, it displayed a level of trust the ex-assassin would understand. Finally, Logan stepped through the doorway, and a split second of silence passed where the two mutants simply stared at each other before--

 

“LOGAN!!”

 

The joyful shriek cut the silence as Rem threw himself at the older male, who wasted no time in picking the teen up and holding him close, overwhelmed with relief that his pup was truly alive and well. Rem was babbling with excitement as he held Logan tight, tears running down his face at having one of his biggest supporters holding him again. It was clear to everyone in the room that there was a special bond between the two, and if anyone noticed the tissues being passed between Dorian and Zevrael to wipe away tears, no one was foolish enough to bring it up.

 

Finally, the duo pulled away, and Logan finally got a good look at Rem for the first time. He blinked in shock for a second before saying, “You've shrunk.”

 

Rem laughed wetly, wiping his eyes with his sleeve with a huge grin on his face. “It’s a long story. I’m really glad you’re here, Logan!”

 

The mutant nodded in agreement, pulling Rem back in for a hug. “I am too, pup… I’m so relieved you’re alive…” He managed to get out, his voice gruff and laced with emotions he couldn’t quite hide. Despite being younger than the last he’d seen him, Rem’s scent was the same, and his smile similar if not brighter… and he looked happy, so happy. Clearly, this place had been good for the redhead.

 

Dorian and Zevrael smiled brightly as the two embraced again, and the silverette looked over to where James was standing. He was confused by the vacant, thousand-yard stare the assassin had, and he warily called out, “James? Are you alright?” The question pulled the attention of the rest of the room to the man, who seemed frozen to the spot.

 

The male didn’t reply, attention instead on the vague, grainy memory that had slotted into place in his mind. Finally, after a few seconds, he blinked rapidly, coming back to awareness. “Howlett?” He finally managed, snapping Logan’s attention to him immediately. “Logan Howlett?”

 

Logan stared at the man, eyes cautious and questioning even as he nodded. “Yeah, that’s me.”

 

Seeing how the assassin’s knees were shaking, Wade calmly stepped forward and helped him sit in the armchair behind him. “Easy, James. Deep breaths, don’t force it.” He soothed him, shooting a pointed look at the others for a second. Zevrael immediately moved to the kitchen to make some tea, Dorian taking a seat on a nearby chair to observe the room.

 

Rem looked at Logan for a moment before gently pulling him forward so they were sitting with James and Wade. “Did you remember something, Patris?” He asked the man softly, reaching out to take his hand.

 

After a moment, the sniper nodded. “I… yeah. The Howling Commandos… We got help from a mutant at one point… tough bastard, near indestructible…” He looked up at Logan again, eyes and expression nervous. “I think… that was you. Logan Howlett.”

 

The mutant stared at him for a second before sighing and sitting back. “I wish I could tell ya, bub, but I don’t have any memories beyond a decade ago.”

 

“I wish I could tell you if it really was you,” James replied quietly, eyes drifting down to the table. “I’m only just now getting everything back.”

 

The redhead at his side smiled and squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry, Patris. Between the BARF tech and things like this, you’ll get it back.” He received a squeeze back and a thankful smile from the assassin and Rem grinned before turning to Logan again. “Logan… I’d like you to meet my biological dad, James Buchanan Barnes.”

 

Logan’s eyebrows shot into his hairline, and his gaze snapped between the duo for a second. Before anything more could be said, Zevrael entered the room with a tray of tea and various cookies. The elf smiled kindly to the mutant as he put the tray down before announcing, “Better settle in, Logan. This explanation could take a while.”

 

---

 

“Okay, hold on. I’m not good with the squishy sciences, so could you run that by me one more time?”

 

Minowa groaned in annoyance even as Bruce was laughing from his place on the other side of the holoscreen. “Alright, from the top again. I am Dragonborn. Being such entails absorbing dragon souls upon slaying them. Because of my unique circumstances involving Alduin and what happened during the battle of Sovngarde, I have access to the memories, power, and knowledge contained in those souls. However, it also brought certain dragon-like characteristics forward, like the horns, eyes, and wings on a physical level. Having multiple partners helps ground the power that comes with such circumstances, and I have explained this to Bruce already. Logan’s case is also special in that he has a feral side that submitted to me, and it is in a dragon’s nature to dominate. My acceptance of his submission came as naturally to me as my Thu’um does.”

 

Bruce laughed again at the flummoxed look on Tony’s face, shaking his head in fond exasperation. “Tony, just go with it. Min explained that this was a thing, that stuff like this would happen. I know that doesn’t make her feelings for me any less, and I’m secure in my place in her life.”

 

The words caused the Dragonborn to turn to the screen, an adoring smile on her face. “You will always be one of mine, Diisu’um . Never doubt that.”

 

After a few more seconds, Tony simply sighed and nodded. “I’m moving you to a bigger suite, Minowa. If you’re going to keep collecting people like this, might as well keep them close to you…” He turned on his heel and walked from the room, but after a second or two he popped his head back in. “And you get to tell Logan about his new living arrangements!”

 

“With pleasure, Zeymahi .”

 

“Minowa Norddahl, I see what you did there!”

 

---

 

“Hey guys… where the hell did that thing come from?”

 

Natasha looked up from where she’d been reading, Clint’s head resting on her lap as she did so. She followed Sam’s finger to the kitchen table, blinking in confusion at what sat there. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen one of those floating around anywhere…” She looked down at Clint, who silently shook his head.

 

Scott arched an eyebrow as well, standing from his seat next to Sam to move towards the item. “Maximoff and Rogers have barely been out of their rooms in two weeks… So I doubt this was their doing.” He finally reached out and plucked the item from the table, as well as the note underneath it. “Huh, there’s a note here… let’s see. ‘Hello, my name is Quackers. My siblings and I want to play a game with you! We love to play hide and seek-- come find us!’” A moment later he paled. “‘All… 999 of us’.”

 

Absolute silence met the note before they all simultaneously turned their gaze to the rubber duck sitting innocently in Scott’s hand.

 

Finally, the quiet was broken by an incredulous screech from Sam.

 

“WHAT THE FU--?!”

Chapter Text

Logan was quiet as he watched the interactions between everyone at the table. After only five minutes of observing the group, he could already tell there was a massive difference between the team dynamic here and the one between the X-Men. The relationships here were built on camaraderie and positivity, the desire to build each other up and support each other instead of tearing them down. His eyes slid to Alexia, who was chatting animatedly with Hela, Lila, and Hannah while cutting her food with her claws. No one was giving the behavior a second look though, and the mutant couldn’t help but ponder on the fact that the X-Men wouldn’t have hesitated to reprimand her for doing so before turning their ire to him for allowing it. He snorted at the thought-- he could just hear Warren’s voice sneering ‘what do you expect, being raised by Logan .’

 

“You’re quiet, Grohiiki . Is something wrong?”

 

The man blinked out of his thoughts before looking at Minowa, who was curled up next to him on the couch. The invitation to stay with the Avengers had been a surprise, but not unwelcome one. Here, ‘Lexi would always have friends and support, and he wouldn’t have to worry about the other residents of the Xavier School targeting her in any way. And if he was being honest with himself, the chance to be away from that environment was a blessing, made even sweeter by being near Minowa. Hell if he could explain why he seemed to be so connected with her so quickly, but really? He wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Nah, I’m fine. Just thinkin’ about how different it is here compared to the Mansion. Everyone here is so… supportive.”

 

Minowa nodded, a knowing smile on her face. “That is how a team should be. It does no good to tear down the ones you fight with on the field of battle. Being grah-zeymahzin extends beyond that, to be willing to stand by your allies in all things. That your previous team fails to understand that is a reflection of them.” She gently nosed his neck again, nipping the skin gently for a moment. “You need not worry about them again. You are one of us now-- one of mine .”

 

“I know, Min. But there is one last piece of business I need to take care of with them.” Seeing he had Min’s attention, he continued. “I need to get my stuff from the Mansion, and Rem’s stuff too. I don’t want their mitts all over it, and I don’t trust them worth shit to not tamper with anything.”

 

The Dragonborn blinked before a small smile quirked at her lips, and she nodded. “Then we will go with you. I do not trust them in the slightest, and I refuse to send you into a situation with one such as Jean Grey.” She stood gracefully from her seat, Logan joining her a moment later. “I have heard what that woman is capable of. I welcome her to try and get into our head.” Her eyes glowed for a moment as she gave a sharp, almost cruel grin. “It would be the last mistake she ever made.”

 

“Minowa Norddahl, are you plotting someone’s death over there?” Tony’s voice drew their attention, and the genius approached with Stephen at his side.

 

The innocent smile on the Dragonborn’s face wasn’t fooling anyone, nor her blithe tone of voice as she replied, “Of course not, Zeymahi . There are other ways to incapacitate a person that doesn’t involve death.”

 

The unimpressed looks that got her caused Logan to snort in amusement. “You are not allowed to break people’s minds, Minowa.” Tony deadpanned, arching an eyebrow.

 

“What if they try to target our team and family?”

 

The duo stared at each other for a full minute, and Stephen and Logan shot each other an exasperated yet ultimately amused look. Finally, Tony replied, “Case by case basis, run it by me first.” Minowa nodded at that, grinning sharply. “Seriously though, What are you two talking about over here?”

 

Logan put an arm around Minowa’s waist, and the woman leaned into his touch. “I was just tellin’ Min that I’d like to go back to the Mansion to get mine and Rem’s stuff. I don’t trust them to leave it alone, and I wanna get my motorbike as well as Rem’s.”

 

Tony nodded in agreement with his assessment. “Yeah, from what I’ve heard from Rem, that would probably be a good idea. Two motorbikes though… Min, do you know how to ride?” The woman shot him a blank look, and the genius rolled his eyes. “Didn’t think so. Tell you what, I’ll come with you guys. Apart from James, I think I’m the only one who knows how to ride a motorbike. And I’m not sure James wants to go anywhere outside the Compound right now… nor do I think it’s a good idea to have him anywhere near them. After finding out what they did to his son… yeah, no, it’d be a bloodbath.”

 

A snort escaped Stephen, and he leaned down to gently kiss Tony. “While you do that, I’m going to call Bruce and Vision again. We have an idea on how to deal with Wade’s cancer that may also solve our conundrum with mind control prevention.”

 

“Great! Let me know if you need any input.” He pulled Stephen in for a deeper kiss for a few seconds. “I’ll see you tonight, love.” Stephen nodded and kissed his head with a murmured ‘love you too babe’ before he dipped his head to Logan and Minowa, sweeping away towards the lab.

 

After a moment of silence, Logan gave a soft huff and a small smile quirked at his lips. “That man’s got it BAD for you, Tony.” He pulled away from Minowa a second later. “Let me go tell ‘Lex that I’m headed out. Wouldn’t want her to worry.” He turned and began walking towards the group of girls who had now been joined by Cooper. “Hey ‘Lex!” The girl’s head popped up at the sound of her name, and she squealed ‘Daddy!’ as she ran over and threw herself into his arms. “You makin’ friends, kid?” He smiled down at the child, relieved that she seemed to be getting along with everyone.

 

The brunette nodded with a grin. “Yeah! I made lots of new friends! I’m glad we get to stay here, Daddy!” She proclaimed with a happy sparkle in her eyes.

 

Logan ruffled the girl’s hair, prompting a laugh out of Lex. “I’m glad you’re havin’ fun. Listen, I have to get some of my stuff from my old residence, alright? I’ll be back soon, be good and stay outta trouble.”

 

“Okay, Daddy! I’ll be good!” The 6-year-old gave Logan a big hug before running over to the children who all cheered and welcomed her back.

 

The mutant gave a soft huff as he stood again, a gentle smile on his face as he watched her. He felt someone step up to his side, and he turned his eyes to find Minowa at his shoulder. “Your pup will have love and support in abundance here, Grohiiki .” She assured him, shooting him a knowing smile. “Come, best to do this sooner rather than later.” She turned back to face Tony, who was approaching her with a piece of tech that looked suspiciously like the arc reactor, except thinner. “Ah, is that the new core?”

 

Tony smirked and nodded. “Yep. I think you’re gonna like this one.” She held out her hand, and Tony immediately passed the cylinder over, the multiple colors flickering within casting a soft glow over her skin.

 

Minowa smiled eagerly, holding the other gauntlet out. A moment later, a ‘hiss’ was heard as a similarly shaped disk was released, and she passed it to Tony before inserting the new one. A moment later, the plates of the armor began to cover her again, only now they were black with multicolored flecks in them. Several grooves through the armor glowed and pulsed blue, and Minowa twisted to see herself a bit. “I admit my curiosity, Anthony. What capabilities does this set have?”

 

The genius passed her back the other disk, and as she put it away he began to explain. “I figured that there will be situations where you can’t go in openly showing any kind of weapon. I know you love your daggers, but again, they won’t always be available to you. So this core is made to boost your magical prowess. If you thought your chain casting was devastating before, which I will be coming to find you later to learn just so you know, then this set will make what you did in Canada look like a simple zap from static buildup. Your Shouts of any elemental variety will also gain a boost.”

 

Delightful .” Minowa purred with a massive grin full of too many teeth. “What is this set called?”

 

“The ‘Dark Opal Dragoon’.”

 

Logan couldn’t help but give the woman a once over. “Looks damn good, I’ll tell you that. Suppose you gave her this one because of where we’re goin’?” The massive grin on Tony’s face was answer enough, and the mutant snorted and shook his head. “How are we gettin’ there anyway? Got a jet or somethin’?”

 

That prompted a smirk between Tony and Minowa. “Let me introduce you to a new method of travel, Grohiiki …”

 

---

 

“Okay, what the fuck was that?!”

 

A rumbling laugh escaped Minowa as she easily supported the mutant at her side. “We call them ‘corridors’. They’re a popular mode of travel for several of us in the Compound.” She handed him a vial of medicine to soothe his stomach and equilibrium.

 

Logan easily knocked the drink back, sighing in relief as it took hold. “I’ll just stick to walkin’ thanks.” The Dragonborn outright laughed at that as she took back the vial.

 

“Holy shit, Honey Badger, what era did they pull THIS house from?!”

 

The exclamation from Tony prompted the duo to turn and stare at him for a few seconds. Tony was staring up at the mansion in front of him with an incredulous expression on his face. “It’s just aesthetic. Didn’t understand the reason myself.” Logan finally said, deciding to resolutely ignore the nickname Tony had given him.

 

The genius aimed the look at him. “Aesthetic or not, there’s no need for merlons! Unless you’re staging castle siege themed LARP sessions I don’t know about.”

 

“No idea what merlons are, bub.”

 

Minowa stepped up, rolling her eyes deeply at the genius. “Poor architectural tastes aside, we have a job to do. Let’s just get in, get your belongings, and get out.” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, and as she opened them both men noticed the tiny streaks of black in her sclera. “I do not wish to tempt fate today should one of the fools in this place speak poorly.”

 

Tony nodded, all trace of joking gone from his face and demeanor. Honestly, he couldn’t blame her for wanting to be here as little as possible. “Alright, I understand. Logan, you know this place… lead the way.”

 

The mutant nodded and gestured for them to follow him up to the front of the mansion. They slipped inside with no problems, and Tony subtly looked around as he followed Logan down a series of hallways before stopping in front of a door. “This was Rem’s room.” The mutant informed them quietly as he pushed the door open. The trio silently entered the small, single bedroom, and after a few seconds, the feral mutant growled in anger. “They’ve already been through his stuff-- his CDs are missing, and so is his player…”

 

“Don’t worry about that stuff. We’ll replace it for him if we haven’t already.” Tony reassured him, patting his shoulder. “Min, help him pack everything up, then get my attention. I’m gonna do a little digging myself.”

 

That prompted a confused look from Logan whose eyebrows then shot into his hairline as the genius went still, eyes flashing to a glowing blue. He was pulled away by the feeling of a hand on his arm, and he looked down to see Minowa smiling gently at him. “Later, Logan. Let’s get what we came here for.”

 

The duo did a quick sweep of the room, piling what they found on the bed-- a stack of pictures, a few books, a plethora of card decks, a well-loved bo staff, and a stuffed animal that had been very well hidden. “Alright, the key to Rem’s bike is in my room. Took it once I realized somethin’ happened to him, and I didn’t want to give anyone the chance to fuck with it… namely Bobby or Warren.” Minowa nodded in agreement and the mutant turned his eyes to Tony, who hadn’t moved an inch from his position. “So… how do we…?”

“I’m still aware of what’s going on around me, Claws.” Tony blinked, the blue flickering from his eyes. They landed on the pile stacked neatly on the bed, and the genius’ expression became sad. “Is that all he had?” His voice was soft as he turned his gaze to the mutant standing to one side, and it was clear the brunette was hurting for Rem from the lost look on his face and the almost unnoticeable waver in his voice.

 

Logan nodded, a rough sigh escaping him. “Yeah, that’s everything.”

 

Tony looked back to the bed, and after a second or two of silence, he felt a hand on his back. He looked over to see Minowa standing next to him with a compassionate look on her face. “He is safe now, Zeymahi , and he is loved. He will not return to a place where he is hurt like this any longer.” The genius nodded and took the chance to take a few deep breaths. As he did, Minowa moved to look in the closet, returning a moment later with a cardboard box. She gently packed everything into it, and upon nodding at Tony, it was stored away in his pocket dimension. “ Grohiiki , lead the way to your room-- we’ve everything from here.”

 

The mutant shot Tony another confused look before nodding, leading the way out of the room and closing the door securely behind him. They made it halfway down the hall to Logan’s room before two men turned the corner, and Logan stopped in his tracks, stiffening noticeably. He tilted his head so he could mutter under his breath for the duo on either side of him could hear. “Warren Worthington III and Bobby Drake.” He informed them, eyes cold as he observed them. “Archangel and Iceman respectively.”

 

Instantly, Tony’s attention was locked on them unerringly. He remembered that Warren was the one Rem had said repeatedly called him a whore and Bobby had never hidden his own distaste for the redhead. From the way Minowa’s eyes seemed to flicker with fury, she wasn’t letting her guard down either.

 

Warren was the first to notice them, and he shot them a mix of a smirk and a sneer. “About time you got back. Done having your pity party over him ?” He spat, something truly venomous coloring his tone.

 

“How long do you plan on staying this time?” Bobby shook his head with a roll of his eyes. “It’s hard to call you a team member when you’re never here.”

Logan’s muscles coiled hard as if he were about to lunge at the duo. “Shut the fuck up about Remy, Wings , or you’ll be lookin’ for a new code name by the time I’m done with you.”

 

A warm hand found his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze, and he looked down at Minowa who had a well constructed neutral expression on her face. “Calm, Grohiiki . They are but children speaking of that which they have no understanding of.” She murmured to him, even as a bit more black bled into her sclera.

 

Warren eyed the duo even as he scoffed. “Well I, for one, am glad he’s gone. The only one he really fought for was himself.”

 

A second later, Bobby took full notice of the woman at Logan’s side. “Well damn , Logan, looks like your healing factor is gonna come in real handy with that kinda arm candy.” He leered at the woman, eyes roaming over her figure.

 

Tony’s ire skyrocketed, but before he could move, Minowa smiled blithely at the young adult. “Are you jealous, Bobby Drake? After all, I can’t imagine you could ever give a woman what she desires.”

 

The words prompted a choked laugh from Tony, a snort of amusement from Logan, and a soft ‘oooh’ from Warren. Bobby gaped at her for a moment before a snarl crossed his face. “At least I don’t get my dates killed .” The statement brought dead silence from the hallway, and the brunette continued. “What’s the count now, Logan? Four, maybe five? Oh, wait… they’re not all dead… just scarred for life because of you .”

 

Logan went very still, his eyes narrowing sharply before snarling and lunging at Bobby, claws appearing in a flash. Before anyone else could move further, he was tackled to the ground by Minowa, who pinned him before looking up at the other two mutants, sclera completely black. “You both would do well to leave. ” Alduin’s voice ripped from her, the deep voice filled with a wild fury the likes of which Tony had never heard. “ He is not the only danger here now, and we are tempted to allow him to finish what he started, or better yet, do the job ourselves.

 

Both Warren and Bobby took a step back with wide eyes at the sudden change in the woman. “What the fuck is that?!” Warren asked with a horrified tone.

 

“I told Scott letting him join was a mistake!” Bobby added, even as he stepped back again. “He’s only slightly better than that slut of a thief was!”

 

“Alright, enough!” The sharp voice of Tony was accompanied by him stepping around Logan and Alduin, eyes flashing with unbridled fury. “You both need to leave now . If you think Logan is dangerous, then you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of whatever they will dish out!” He gestured to Alduin, who was now speaking in Dovahzul to Logan.

 

The duo finally took notice of the genius, and Warren blinked in confusion. “Tony Stark? What brings you here? And with the likes of him, no less?” He shot a look at Logan, who had stopped flailing by that point.

 

Tony shook his head with narrowed eyes. “Between outright sexualizing one of my team members, someone I see as a SISTER, and what you said to Logan, I’m inclined to completely ignore that question. But I’m feeling rather… generous today, so I’ll tell you-- Logan came to gather his things because as of an hour ago, he is officially a member of the New Avengers. Minowa and I decided to be good, supportive team members and help him, and I also admit my curiosity about this school. I have to say… I’m not impressed .” He crossed his arms and adopted his Tony-Motherfucking-Stark persona, the one he wore to business meetings and appearances in front of the close-minded fools who thought they were better than him or thought they could control him. “For what it’s worth, you both are free to have your own opinions on other people. What I have a very serious problem with the way you’re speaking about the dead . Between Remy LeBeau and Logan’s prior love interests, it really makes me wonder what the hell kind of morals are being encouraged here. Do everyone a favor-- pull your heads out of your asses and grow the fuck up.” Having said his piece, the genius turned to face Alduin and Logan. “You guys okay?” He asked, looking over the duo.

 

After a second or two of silence, Logan nodded, opening his eyes again. “Yeah… I’m good.”

 

Alduin glanced up at him and started to nod before they snapped over Tony’s shoulder, widening a bit. An instant later, he threw his hand out, a greater ward springing into existence around them as Warren’s voice shouted, “Bobby, no--!”

 

A blast of frigid air slammed over them, and Tony choked in fear as his mind dredged up the memory of a frozen bunker and pain, blood splattered on the concrete, numb, can’t breath can’t breath --

 

A surge of warmth suddenly filled him, driving the memories back with the feeling of home and love, family . The genius came back to himself to find Alduin holding him from behind, supporting him in the kneeling position he’d collapsed into with one arm around his waist, the other hand pressed against his chest where his Claiming mark was. Logan was kneeling in front of him, calmly speaking to him, light brown eyes filled with concern. “-- on back, Tony, you’re okay, you’re safe.”

 

Tony took a few more deep breaths before he nodded, croaking out, “I’m okay. How long--?”

No more than a minute, Zeymahu. ” Alduin responded, voice rumbling and shaking oddly as he continued to hold Tony close. “ Your memories pulled you under for a moment.

 

Logan nodded at that, gesturing around him for a moment. “Min… Alduin… reinforced the… whatever this is, and told me how to help. You gonna be okay? Flashbacks can be a bitch.”

 

The genius nodded and took another deep breath. “It’s been a while since that’s happened… I’ll be fine. Thanks, guys.”

 

Finally, the arms that had been holding him close loosened, and the genius was gently nudged towards Logan. “Good. Stay where you are, the both of you. ” Tony blinked as Logan wrapped an arm around his shoulders, and he finally looked up as Alduin pulled himself to his feet. He waved his clawed gauntlet, allowing the ward to fall from around them. The floors and walls had taken on a frosty appearance, the air a few degrees cooler than it had been before. Bobby and Warren still standing at the end of the hallway, and their expressions were shocked when the trio was revealed to be fine. Alduin’s eyes flicked open, and there was a light in them that Tony had only seen once from either Minowa or Alduin.

 

Are we supposed to be impressed?

 

The voice caused a jolt from all of them. Alduin’s voice was resonating with Minowa’s and two others that Tony didn’t recognize. The dovah turned in a controlled movement, even as his body shook with suppressed rage, the potential energy of a hypernova churning just beneath the skin. “ Was your display supposed to intimidate us? To cow us into fearing you? ” The grin that stretched across Alduin’s face was terrifying-- too many teeth, too sharp, too much cruelty. “ Little mortals, you do not know the meaning of fear. ” He turned to them fully, wings ripping free from his back and flaring out, shadows stretching towards him and darkening in appearance. “ But we… we would be more than happy to teach you. Run , little mortals. ” The grin took on an insane appearance. “ For you are prey now… and we yearn to HUNT!

 

Bobby and Warren stayed frozen for a moment, but as Alduin took a deep breath, they turned tail and ran, and barely made it around the corner before a thunderous roar shook the mansion.

 

YOL TOOR SHUL!!

 

The blast of fire that ripped down the hallway reduced the ice to steam in an instant and blackened the floor and walls within a second. It hit the intersection and blew out the window from the force of the Shout, the sill and frame burned away moments later. The last echoes of the attack died away, and Alduin huffed out a breath of smoke before turning back to Logan and Tony, who were both watching him in stunned shock.

 

After a second of silence, Logan finally spoke. “I probably shouldn’t find that sexy, but God damn .”

 

Tony let out a groan of disbelief as the black bled away from Minowa’s eyes, and she smirked at Logan before pulling her wings in, kneeling in front of Tony again. “Are you alright, Anthony?”

 

“I’m fine now… though I really want to tell those two dicks ‘I told you so’. Seriously, you both heard what I said to them!” Tony allowed Logan and Min to help him to his feet, and he followed Logan down the hall again towards his room as he continued his thought. “I told them point blank to go away or suffer your wrath! But did they listen, nooOOOoo…”

 

Logan snorted as they reached his door, and he briefly reached over to ruffle the genius’ hair. “There’s no accounting for intelligence in this place. ‘S’why I’m joinin’ you guys.”

 

The indignant look Tony shot the mutant at having his hair messed up was quickly replaced by a small smile. “Well, at least you’re smart.”

 

The trio chuckled softly as they entered the room, quickly gathering everything Logan wanted and storing it Tony’s pocket dimension. As they left the now practically empty room, the mutant tossed a key to the genius, and as he deftly caught it Logan explained, “That’s the key to Rem’s bike. I’ll have Min ride with me on mine.”

 

Tony swallowed and nodded, knowing that he was being trusted with something that was precious to both Rem AND Logan. “I’ll be careful with it.” He swore, prompting a knowing smile from Logan.

 

“I know you will. That’s why I gave you the keys.” He gestured for them to follow, pointedly ignoring the small sheen of tears in Tony’s eyes. The feeling of Minowa’s hand in his own, giving it a gentle squeeze, let the mutant know that Min had seen it too. As they approached the foyer again, Logan slowed his gait a bit. “There’s a group waiting for us in the lobby… wait, just four… The little shits probably got Summers and Grey.”

 

“Scott Summers and Jean Grey? Cyclops and Marvel Girl respectively?” Getting a nod and a curious look from Logan, Tony shrugged. “Hacked into their systems while you were working on Rem’s room.”

 

The mutant blinked before shaking his head and looking forward again. “I’ll ask later.”

 

The moment the trio stepped through the doorway, they were approached by a man with a red visor across his face and a woman with flaming red hair. “Logan, what’s this I hear about you attacking Bobby? Between that and bringing strangers here, I think you need to have a few sessions with Jean to get you straightened out.” Scott announced, Jean nodding along in agreement behind him.

 

The similarity between Scott’s expression and the ‘disappointed Captain America’ face made Tony’s stomach lurch painfully. Between that and the knowledge that Jean was capable of ‘reprogramming’ someone, the genius was seconds away from activating his armor when Logan spoke again.

 

“So let me see if I’ve got this right, One-Eye. Wings and Frosty can bring their non-mutant, non-superpowered dates here all they want, but the leaders of the New Avengers are a no go? Fuck off, Cyke, you have no idea what actually went down. Minowa actually stopped me from attacking them, then retaliated when Bobby attacked Tony without provocation. Don’t worry about it happening again, though. I’m done, I’m out… and this time, I ain’t comin’ back.”

 

Both mutants looked incredulous at the announcement, Scott gaping and pale before he looked at Jean. The redhead sighed softly and reached out to touch Logan’s arm. “Don’t say such things, Logan. We worked so hard to get you past your anger… and I know how much you miss Remy. But don’t let that drive you away from your friends.” She made to gently tug his arm for him to follow her. “Come, let’s go talk before you make any hasty decisions.”

 

Logan was quick to yank his arm away from her hand. “Don’t even try it, Jean. I’m done here, and you don’t have the power to make me stay.”

 

Jean sighed again, putting her hand back on his shoulder. “Logan, come with me. You need to sit down with us.” She implored him with wide, soft eyes.

 

Before anyone could react, a clawed gauntlet shot out and gripped Jean’s wrist, yanking it away from Logan. The woman’s green eyes snapped to the side and locked with wild, slit-pupiled ones the color of hot coals with black sclera. “Keep your hands to yourself, mortal, lest you desire to lose them. We will not tolerate your attempts to twist his mind, especially when it is now ours to protect.” Alduin’s voice thundered, gripping the woman’s wrist so hard the bones were grinding together.

 

The words earned Jean twin looks of outrage from both Tony and Logan, and the genius was quick to grab Logan’s arm. “Come on, let’s get out of here before they make any more mistakes that will encourage Alduin to bring the building down.”

 

Jean tried to pull her hand free from Alduin’s grip but stopped when it tightened instead. “I-I was trying to keep him from going feral like he does when he’s upset!”

 

We do not require you to do so. Stay out of his mind. ” Alduin finally pushed the woman away, sending her several feet back. “ And if you value your lives… you will stay out of OURS .” He snarled the warning, eyes flashing and glowing for a moment before he whipped around to follow Tony and Logan.

 

By the time they made it to the garage, Minowa was back in control, and she wasted no time in swinging herself into the seat behind Logan on his bike. “Let’s go. My patience will only last for so long, and I have the desire to burn this place to naught but rubble and send their souls to Uncle Molag.” She growled, burying her face in Logan’s back as she wrapped her arms around his waist.

 

Tony cringed at that as he mounted Rem’s bike. He knew who Minowa was referencing-- Molag Bal, Daedric Prince of domination and enslavement of mortals. For her to even consider such a threat meant that she was reaching the end of her usually very long tether. It was the equivalent of giving their souls to a demon . “Alright, let’s get going then. Logan, can you get us to the main road?”

 

The mutant nodded in reply, and the bikes roared to life, easily carrying them away from the Xavier Institute and the idiots that lived within.

 

---

 

“How did you find the patience to put up with those little fools, Grohiiki ?!”

 

Logan sighed and he held Minowa close to his chest to stop her from pacing. “I left, more often than not. Trust me, I hated being in that place any longer than necessary. I stayed for Rem, though… couldn’t leave him alone with those bastards.”

 

A soft mumble came from Tony, whose head was resting in Stephen’s lap with a warm washcloth over his eyes, his soulmate gently stroking his hair and channeling a calming spell through him. “From what you told me happened, you and Alduin showed remarkable restraint, Minowa.” The sorcerer informed the Dragonborn, his blue-green eyes filled with anger towards the group in question. “Gave my soulmate a panic attack just because he couldn’t deal with being told his dick was small and he was acting like a child…” He growled in anger, gently rubbing the back of Tony’s hand with his thumb as he moved for a moment to cast another warming charm on the washcloth.

 

Minowa growled and buried further into Logan’s arms. “They should not be allowed to taint children with such vitriol. And the woman-- Jean Grey-- for her to warp a person’s mind for her own benefit…” Logan’s grip tightened, and a kiss was pressed to her head, helping her calm a bit. “Something must be done. I would ruin them if I could-- tear their false school down stone by stone, burn the earth and salt it…”

 

“Let’s ruin them financially,” Tony said suddenly, and he pulled the washcloth from his eyes as they looked over to him. “Sorry, I heard someone plotting and had to chime in. How long have I been out?”

 

Stephen sighed with relief as he took the cloth and tossed it onto the table next to the couch. “You, Logan, and Min rode in about two hours ago, and you got into the living room, laid down with your head in my lap, and just… passed out. Logan and Min told me what happened… I figured something would go down, but attacking you?” He growled, the sound only stopped by Tony sitting up and kissing Stephen tenderly.

 

Logan couldn’t help the small smile at the obvious love between the duo. “You said ruin them financially… how would we go about doing that?”

 

The genius sat back to think for a moment. “The easiest thing to start with is Worthington Industries. Their main claim to fame is their aviation technology, followed by experimental alternative fuels. I’ll start pushing SI on the aviation tech end, start cranking out stuff better than anything they could come up with. The alternative fuel part is easily taken care of with the arc-reactor tech. Companies eat up the chance to look good by using clean energy.” He stood from his place and began to slowly pace, a thoughtful look on his face. “As for the school itself… I can’t believe I didn’t think to ask before, but where the hell even IS Professor Xavier??”

 

Logan arched an eyebrow and deadpanned, “Would you believe me if I said ‘galavanting around the universe with his alien empress girlfriend’?”

 

For a moment Tony stopped dead, looking over at Logan to gauge if he was serious. After a second he groaned and shook his head. “To be fair, I’ve seen enough recently that my suspension of disbelief is practically non-existent.” He made to start pacing again before he stopped dead, a look of dawning realization on his face. “But I think the better question is ‘would anyone else believe it’?”

 

The tone of his voice caused everyone to look back at him. “Why do you ask, love?” Stephen asked, standing from his seat as well.

 

“Think about it for a second. Doctor Charles Xavier, a foremost expert in genetics and renowned psychologist, not to mention one of the richest men in the world, is off-world with his alien girlfriend. Do you think Summers and Grey happened to tell anyone where he is, or obtain legal documentation that they’re allowed to use his money? Let me set the stage for you. Someone enquires about the good professor, but no one outside the X-Men knows where he is. He would legally be declared missing, and upon asking Summers and Grey, they would say that they have his permission to use his money. But if asked for proof, they wouldn’t be able to give it. Then if they’re asked if they know where the professor is… how many people are going to believe he’s where you told me he is? So now not only are they under the microscope about using the money of a missing man, they’d also be hit with accusations of having done something to him because they can’t produce any kind of proof on that end either . The fact that they also took over the institute that he was running prior to his disappearance would paint a rather ‘telling’ picture of a hostile takeover.”

 

A soft chuckle escaped someone, and it became a full blown laugh as they turned to see Minowa pull away from Logan, eyes filled with dark mirth and promises of retribution. “Oh Zeymahi , if only you’d been born on Tamriel… you would make an excellent member of the Thieves’ Guild.” She sighed softly, shaking her head. “Regardless, that is a plan that would certainly work. From what I know of Charles Xavier, he was a man beloved by many, especially other mutants. If this story were to reach them… Xavier Institute would very quickly fall out of favorable light.”

 

“It presents another problem, though.” Logan spoke up, brow furrowing. “Any kids that come into mutant abilities come to the school to learn to control their powers… Where would they go if the school was shut down or destroyed?”

 

Tony cleared his throat, an apprehensive look in his eyes. “I… might have an idea on that end. I don’t want to say anything yet, just in case, but let’s just say that this is far from my first encounter with mutants.”

 

Stephen took Tony into his arms and kissed his head. “Whatever you have planned can wait until tomorrow. Hadrian said you can stay here tonight, and I fully intend on actually falling asleep next to you tonight.”

 

“Steph, baby, you’ll get no complaints from me.”

 

---

 

Clint huffed as he staggered into the bathroom, rubbing a hand down his face and groaning in exasperation. He had just had to sit and listen to Maximoff bitch and whine for an HOUR about how her shampoo and conditioner were ruining her hair, how her body wash was causing her to break out with acne, and boo-hoo, life wasn’t fair and it must be Stark’s fault somehow. It also was somehow Stark’s fault that she was gaining weight, which completely floored the archer. How were her bad eating habits a reflection of Tony?

 

Thinking about the genius caused him to groan again. Holy shit, he’d fucked up his relationship with the man, even though it was due to Maximoff being in his head. He’d always appreciated the man’s snark and sass, how animated he was and how quick he was willing to jump to other people’s defense and aid. No matter what Rogers said, Tony Stark was not arrogant, self-centered, petty, or selfish. The good ‘captain’ could go suck a dick-- if they ever got back to the United States, he was fucking groveling , because he didn’t want to lose the friendship they’d had before the witch had started fucking around in his head.

 

And that didn’t even take into consideration the fact that Tony had saved his family. Even after being a major tool to the genius, he’d still gone out of his way to rescue them and keep them safe. Forget groveling, he’d stand by the man’s side for the rest of eternity for what he’d done for them. After all the trouble he’d caused, it was the least he could do.

 

Clint stood in front of the mirror for a second, gazing at his reflection before sighing and tilting his head back. He froze for a moment, eyes locked on the top of the cabinet above him before slowly reaching up for the item he found there. The moment his fingers wrapped around it, music started playing, and he yelped in surprise and pulled back, the item falling into the sink. He gaped at the Batman rubber duck as the music finally registered in his mind.

 

“Dananananananana Dananananananana QUACKMAAAAAN!”

 

When Natasha came to look for him five minutes later, she found Clint leaning against the wall of the bathroom with a musical rubber duck in his hand, laughing his head off.

Chapter Text

“Alright kiddies, gather ‘round and tell us what you’ve been learning!”

 

Harley snorted as he took a seat next to Peter, rolling his eyes fondly at the grinning man at the head of the table. “Mechanic, I’m fifteen, Peter is sixteen, and Rem is seventeen. I’m not sure we count as ‘kids’.” Peter nodded in agreement with his statement, Rem shrugging from his place next to Peter.

 

The whiskey-eyed man laughed and shook his head. “Nope, doesn’t matter to me! If you’re still in school, I’m gonna call you kiddies or some variation of such! Now, has anyone been having any trouble in a particular subject, or in any other way including, but not limited to stress, homework, time management, or bullying?”

 

Even as there were reassurances from most of the younger kids, Harley and Peter shot a look at each other at the last word. Before anyone could enquire, Rem spoke up in an exasperated tone. “I still don’t know why I need to know fractions, Uncle Tony.”

 

Peter turned to the mutant and leaned against him with a bright smile. “Well, if you want to go into something related to engineering in the future, you’d need to know. Or if you wanted to go into medicine-- especially medicine, actually! Those fractions could mean the difference between life and death, so you don’t want to be lacking in that area!” Seeing the incredulous look on Rem’s face, the brown-eyed teen shrugged. “Just a thought.”

 

“I…” Rem cleared his throat for a moment, trying to stamp down the momentary surge of fear. “I don’t think I’ll be getting a degree anytime soon…” He blushed brilliantly and looked down at the tabletop. “And I’m scared to death of doctors.” He admitted softly, only loud enough for Peter to hear. The brunette nodded at that, quickly wrapping the older teen in a comforting hug.

 

Seeing the discomfort clear on Rem’s face, Tony moved to bring the conversation back on track. “Any discussions about college, degrees, or majors can be put on hold for the foreseeable future-- You’ve only been back in school a month and a half. Rem, your tutor told me you’ve been making impressive progress… she also reported you’ve been writing in a very interesting looking pen. One that looks identical to the one that went missing from my workshop about a week ago…?” He arched a knowing eyebrow at the teen, a smirk on his lips.

 

Rem grinned cheekily, inwardly relieved at the change of topic. “I have it on good authority that you don’t have enough evidence to convict me one way or another.”

 

His words prompted Tony to smirk and drawl, “Is that so?” He lifted his hand and flipped his pointer finger up, and the pen in question was plucked out of Rem’s sweater pocket, where it’d been poking out, before floating over to Tony.

 

The teen’s red and black eyes blinked before a sheepish smile stretched Rem’s face, and he rubbed the back of his head and chuckled nervously. “Eheheh… oops?”

 

Tony laughed along with the rest of the table as he tossed the pen back to him. “I’m just playing with you, Rem. I don’t mind if you use my pens.”

 

“Just be careful about what exactly you’re grabbing down there,” Stephen spoke up from his space beside Tony. “Why you decided that you needed a pen that is, in fact, not a pen at all but actually emits a small, yet high-powered laser is beyond me, love. I’d bet that thing could cut through vibranium if left long enough.”

 

Rem looked intrigued and studied the pen intently. “This thing has a laser in it??”

 

The genius shook his head negative. “Not that one. The laser is a new addition. And no ,” He aimed at Harley and Peter, who had perked up at the information, “They aren’t leaving the workshop.” He started to turn back to the group as a whole but stopped dead at the look the duo shot each other again. “And do not even think about doing it to anything outside of the workshop… At least not without me there to supervise.”

 

Stephen groaned softly at the cheers from the duo. “Amendment-- without both of us there to supervise.”

 

That caused laughter to erupt around the table again, and as they quieted Tony spoke again. “Alright, if no one is having trouble, you’re free to go! Not you three,” He pointed to the three high-school-aged teens. “Got one more thing to talk to you guys about. The rest of you, run or I’ll give you even more homework!” The kids all ran from the room all shrieking some variation of ‘no!’, which caused the two adults in the room to laugh for a moment at their antics. Once the door was closed again, The brunette turned his attention to the trio again. “Alright guys, here’s the deal. I need to go somewhere this weekend, and Peter, this is a mandatory trip for you. Rem and Harley, you have the option of going, but I won’t force you into it.”

 

Harley and Rem looked at each other, then to Peter, before looking back at Tony. “I’d like to go, thank you.” Rem replied, scooting a little closer to the younger teen.

 

“Thanks for the invite, Mechanic, but I think I’ll sit this one out.” Harley shook his head with a small smile.

 

Both Rem and Peter grinned at him knowingly. “Probably gonna be talking to his girlfriend!” Peter ribbed him, a knowing light in his eyes.

 

Harley blushed brightly and pushed both of them. “Shut up! We’re just friends!”

 

“Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt, Harl!” Peter quipped with an even wider smile.

 

The teen let out a frustrated noise and threw his hands in the air. “JUST! FRIENDS!”

 

Rem’s smile suddenly disappeared, brow furrowing as he stood from his seat. “Hey, I’m sorry.” He said quietly as he moved to pull Harley into a brief hug. “I didn’t intend to make you upset-- neither of us did.”

 

“Rem’s right. I was just trying to tease you, I didn’t mean to make you upset.” Peter joined in on the hug too, voice soft and expression open and apologetic.

 

The teen nodded in acceptance, a small smile on his face as he hugged them both back. “S’okay. At least you stopped.” They pulled apart finally, and Harley got to his feet. “I’ll leave you guys to talk-- I’m gonna go find Slei, Jör, and Fen.”

 

They said their goodbyes to the teen, and after he’d left Tony turned his attention to the duo at the table again. “So, I’m betting you’re wondering what the details of this trip are.” The teens nodded, and Tony sat back in his seat with a half smile. “It will be you two, Logan, Zevrael, Stephen, and myself driving up to Massachusetts. It’s only about a two, two and a half hour drive, and we’ll be staying over from Friday into Sunday.”

 

“Papa isn’t going?” Rem asked, tilting his head with a small bit of trepidation in his eyes.

 

Stephen shook his head with a small smile. “Dorian and Pepper will be busy with PR details involving the reserve New Avenger’s help in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.”

 

Rem nodded in understanding, a smile on his face. “They’ve been doing really good work… Could I ride my motorbike up??” He grinned at them excitedly.

 

To his disappointment, Tony shook his head negative. “We might have considered it, but you’re forgetting that you no longer have a valid driver’s license. That’s something we’ll work on once we’re back, okay?”

 

The teen blinked at the realization. “Oh… yes, that would be important.” Admittedly, he wouldn’t have thought twice about the fact before. Knowing that it would be important to not only his fathers, but to his entire extended family gave him pause now, and he made a note to work on that to put their minds at ease.

 

Peter laughed softly, bumping his shoulder against the redhead’s. “Well, how are we getting there, then?” He aimed the question at Tony.

 

A Cheshire-like grin spread over Tony’s face. “Oh, I think something you’ll enjoy as much as your bike, Rem…”

 

---

 

“Babe, when exactly did you acquire a Lamborghini Limousine??”

 

Tony gave his soulmate a shit-eating grin at the question, even as Peter and Rem were cheering and running towards the vehicle. “Lamborghini comes out with a limo that has the engine of a sports car and you expect me to not have one? Perish the thought!” He paused for a moment before a nervous look crossed his face. “Logan will be driving, and he’ll be super safe. Are you going to be okay?”

 

Realizing why the genius suddenly seemed so nervous, Stephen swooped in and gave him a firm kiss. “I trust you, babe. I know you would never let anything happen to us.”

 

The genius gave a small sigh of relief and pressed another kiss to Stephen’s lips, one that was interrupted by the arrival of Logan, Minowa, and Alexia. “Don’t worry, Stephen. Even if I’ve never driven anything this fancy in my life, I’m not gonna let anything happen to us.” He turned to Min, who had Lexi firmly in her arms. “Okay kid, I’ll be back in two days. You be good for Minowa, alright?”

 

Lexi huffed with a petulant look on her face. “I don’t want you to go, daddy!”

 

Giving her partner a brief, understanding smile, Minowa pressed a kiss to the top of the girl’s brown locks. “Now now, little one. Anthony and Stephen need his help, and your daddy agreed to help them. It wouldn’t look good if he broke his promise, would it?” The girl shook her head negative, so she continued. “At the same time, he has promised to always come back to you. You know he will keep his promise to you as much as he would for them. So why are you sad, malkiir ?”

 

The child looked up at her with enormous green eyes. “But… if he leaves me behind, I can’t make sure he stays safe…” She finally mumbled in a whisper that they all heard.

 

Logan blinked at her words, unsure of what to say in reply. Fortunately, the Dragonborn saw his struggle and spoke again. “I swear to you that your father will be well protected and cared for by Anthony and Stephen. They are both very strong and will allow for no harm to come to him. But malkiir , you are but a child. A strong, very talented child, but a child nonetheless. It is an adult’s job to look after young ones so that they can grow stronger and learn to protect themselves.” Seeing the conflict on her face, Minowa turned to an empty part of the garage and wave her hand, conjuring up an illusion of two wolves-- an adult and a pup. “Tell me, malkiir . Would you expect the pup to hunt with the adults? It is small and doesn’t know how. They would get in the way, and that could cost them a hunt. Instead, the adult teaches the pup, so that when it grows up…” she flicked her wrist again, and the pup aged to an adult. “...It may add their own strength to the pack and hunt as well. Do you understand?”

 

Lexi nodded at her words, studying the two wolves intently. “I wanna get strong so I can fight with daddy.”

 

A soft chuckle came from Logan as he reached over to ruffle her brown hair. “You will, kid. For now, stick with Min and we’ll talk more about this when I get back.”

 

Lexi nodded at that, and the ebony haired woman took a moment to tuck her head under Logan’s chin, rumbling softly. “I’ll take care of her, Grohiiki . Perhaps some time in the training room would do her some good?”

 

The mutant nodded and pressed a kiss to Minowa’s head. “That’d be great, thanks Min.” The two shared a brief kiss before he bade them both goodbye, finally making his way back to Stephen and Tony. “Alright guys, get in or we’ll never get out of here.”

 

Tony nodded and held the door open for Stephen to get in. “Everything alright over there?” He asked Logan softly before getting in himself.

 

“Yeah, we’re good. Min’s amazing with her.” The genius nodded with a smile before sliding in himself, Logan closing the door behind him.

 

As the limo pulled out of the garage, the group turned to Tony as he cleared his throat. “So, I’m betting you’re all wondering about where we’re going, and why.”

 

Zevrael nodded in agreement, reaching for a bottle of sparkling water on the bar. “You’ve been remarkably tight-lipped about it. I would imagine it’s something very important to you, though.”

 

The genius huffed out a breath, nodding. “It is. There’s something you guys need to know-- something that’s been kept so far under the rug that there are maybe only a handful of people who know about it. The ones that do know are under strict orders to not breathe a word about it.”

 

The group all looked at each other with confused expressions. “Are we talking something world ending, or something personal?” Stephen asked finally, turning his gaze back to his soulmate.

 

“Personal.” Tony took a deep breath to center himself. “And when I say a handful of people, I mean it. This is something that SHIELD doesn’t know about, the Rogues have no idea about, and now that things have happened the way they did, I’m honestly glad we made that choice.”

 

Rem shifted a little closer to Zevrael, eyes fixed on Tony. “Uncle Tony, from the way you’re talking… this involves someone else-- this secret, I mean.”

 

Whiskey brown eyes closed for a moment. “You’re right, Rem. I’ll cut to the chase-- I have a half-sister.” He held up a hand to stop the potential chaos about to happen. “Her name is Emma, and she’s the result of a tryst between Howard and a woman named Hazel.”

 

Stephen suddenly sat up straight in his seat, realization lighting in his eyes as the sorcerer recognized the not so common name of ‘Hazel’. “Hazel and Emma-- Wait, you don’t mean Hazel Frost , do you? Winston Frost’s wife? I had heard that he had affairs, but I never heard about Hazel doing so…” He pinned the genius with a shocked look. “Are you telling me Emma Frost is actually your half sister??”

Tony gave him a smile, nodding. “Yep, she is. We didn’t know until later, though. We were friends, though-- Howard and Winston liked to set up play dates for us. Looking back, both Emma and I are sure that they wanted to set us up…” He laughed when Peter made a face at the thought. “Yeah, I feel you there, Pete. But something happened that, while it didn’t confirm our familial relation 100%, put a very sudden stop to those plans… if they were, in fact, a thing. We don’t know for sure, but the signs were all there--”

 

“Tony, babe, please focus.”

 

The genius chuckled and nodded. “Right, sorry. When I was seven, I ended up getting seriously ill. And we’re not talking a go to the hospital, spend a few days, come back out kind of ill.” The genius’ expression became grim and he took a shaky breath. “No, I’m talking the kind of ill where I had a 24.7% chance of survival.”

 

A solemn hush fell over the limo at that. “What were you diagnosed with?” Zevrael finally asked.

 

Tony closed his eyes at the vague memories. “Acute lymphoblastic leukemia-- ALL.” Stephen inhaled sharply, reaching to grab Tony’s hand. Peter quickly came around to snuggle into his other side, and he wrapped his arm around the teen. “I needed a bone marrow transplant to have any chance of fighting it off. Keep in mind, they didn’t have databases back then for donors-- transplants as a practice was still in its’ infancy as it was. If you didn’t have a familial match… well, your chances were slim. As luck would have it, neither Howard nor Mom was a match…” he trailed off, waiting for them to draw the connection.

 

He wasn’t surprised when Stephen was the one to do so. “... But Emma was .”

 

“Bingo. Emma was basically my only shot at survival. The stakes were also higher because Mom couldn’t have kids after me.” Seeing the shocked looks he was getting, he briefly elaborated, “There were complications during Mom’s pregnancy with me. She ended up getting sick a lot, and she almost died giving birth. The doctors weren’t sure her body would hold up through another pregnancy.”

 

Zevrael’s brow furrowed as he nodded. “I may not have much understanding of what that kind of sickness entails, but the fact is that you were an only child, without the possibility of more, and the heir to a huge fortune and company. That already raises the stakes… It’s a good thing they allowed Emma to help.”

 

A sardonic grin stretched across Tony’s face. “Here’s the thing though-- they almost didn’t . They didn’t want to admit to the fact that Emma was the result of an affair and risk scandal, and there was the chance that Emma would have suffered complications of her own. In the end, it took Obadiah Stane waving a substantial amount of money in their face to allow Emma to donate-- Money that she and I both came to find out later he’d embezzled from Stark Industries.” Tony sat back with a disgusted look on his face. “Honestly though, it came down to Winston not wanting anyone outside of his family, Howard, and Mom to know that Emma wasn’t his. It would have cost them financially because of the scandal that would follow.”

 

The look of outrage on Zevrael’s face was more than clear. “He would put his business and comfort above the well-being of a child??”

 

Tony nodded at that. “Trust me, Zev, there’s a reason Mom was planning on filing for custody of Emma before she and Howard were killed. Out of everyone in that family, the only ones I could stand to be around for any length of time were Emma and her older brother, Christian… and we don’t know what happened to him.” His voice became soft on the last line, eyes going slightly far away.

 

A tense silence fell over the limo, but it was cut when the sound of a throat clearing came over the intercom. “Y’know, I’ve always had a lot of respect for Frost,” Logan said casually. “She’s never been afraid to stand up to Cyke and Jean.”

 

A grin stretched over Tony’s face, causing his whiskey-brown eyes to light up. “I didn’t know you were listening, Logan! You know Emma?”

 

“Sure do. Helped out with a group of students, was instrumental in their recovery. I was wondering why you knew the address to the Massachusetts Academy… makes a hell of a lot more sense now.”

 

Rem tilted his head in curiosity. “The Massachusetts Academy? What’s that?”

 

A grin was shot in the teen’s direction as Tony answered, “It’s a school for mutants, Rem. Infinitely better, though-- what you’ve been through… if Emma found out one of her students was pulling shit like that, she'd rake them across the coals.”

 

Logan’s voice came over the intercom again, this time sounding concerned. “Pup, you’ve heard of the Academy before… In fact, I distinctly remember you flirtin’ with Frost the first time you met her. She seemed more amused with it than anything… offered you a place at the Academy too.” There was silence for a moment. “Rem, you do remember that, right?”

 

The teen shook his head in reply, a lost look in his black and red eyes. Tony, Stephen, and Zevrael all looked at each other as Peter moved to sit with the older teen, wrapping an arm around him. “Logan, maybe speed this limo up a little. I think Emma’s gonna have some words to say about this development.”

 

---

 

“What the hell happened to this school?!”

 

Stephen and Zevrael looked over at the genius, who had an expression on his face that was in equal parts shocked, confused, and indignant. “So, I take it that it’s not normally supposed to be in this kind of…” the elf waved his hand in a vague motion.

 

“... Disrepair?” The sorcerer finished, blue-green eyes scanning the various bits masonry strewn about.

 

Tony turned his eyes back to the others for a moment. “I was here a few months ago! This level of anarchy is news to me!”

 

A huff escaped Logan as he crossed his arms, tilting his head at the scene in front of him. “Yeah, this is definitely a new development. Th'place is usually pristine.”

 

The genius didn’t reply to that, instead marching up to the front doors of the standing building and pushing them open. “Knock knock, Emi!” He yelled into the building as he swept inside, the others following behind him. “Your favorite genius billionaire is here to visit!!”

 

The sound of heels clicking drew their attention to the stairs, and a blond-haired, blue-eyed woman dressed entirely in white smiled as she descended the stairs. Upon closer inspection, the chin-length blond hair actually had brown roots that were identical to the shade of Tony’s hair. A white bandage was wrapped around her head, and there were lingering signs of exhaustion in her stance and face. Despite that, she smiled brightly at Tony and replied, “Antonio, you know I hate it when you call me that…”

 

Any trace of joking died the moment Tony got a good look at the woman, and he seemed to teleport across the foyer with the speed at which he crossed it so he could check her over. “ Sorellina, you’re hurt?! What happened??”

 

“And what the fuck did you do to your hair??” Logan couldn’t help but ask, arching an eyebrow at the sheared locks.

 

A soft laugh escaped Emma, and she grabbed Tony’s hands. “Calm down, mio fratello . I’m alright now.” She looked over his shoulder at the feral mutant, the smile never leaving. “And hello to you as well, Logan. I was unaware you and Antonio were acquainted!”

 

“Eh, ‘S’a recent development.”

 

Tony sighed and pulled the woman in a tight embrace, basking in the loving hug that she reciprocated. “Looks like we have a lot to talk about, Emma.” He mumbled, a feeling of relief surging through him at having his sister close.

 

The mutant nodded in reply, pulling away to press a kiss to his forehead. “Indeed we do, Tony. Come, let’s adjourn to my office.” The group nodded and followed her down the hallway to a bright, well-lit office. Though, some of the light could be attributed to something Tony took notice of the moment he walked through the door.

 

“Emma, there’s a hole in your ceiling.”

 

“I noticed, Antonio.”

 

Why is there a hole in your ceiling??”

 

Emma gave a soft laugh as she closed the door behind them. “Before we get into that, I believe introductions are in order, don’t you think?”

 

The genius shot her an unimpressed look. “ I think you’re deflecting the question, but you have a good point. Very well, Emma, from my left and going around, this is Zevrael Pavus and his son, Remington Pavus.”

 

The elf waved, and Rem ducked his head and mumbled, “Just Rem is fine, thank you, ma’am.”

 

“Then there’s Peter. He’s my ward until the paperwork goes through-- then he’ll be Peter Stark, my son.” Tony said the words with pride that Emma had never heard before.

 

The blond turned to the teen and smiled brightly at him. “So that will make you my nephew, then! Hope you don’t mind having an aunt now.” She was nearly knocked off her feet as the teen tackled her in a tight hug. She immediately reciprocated the hug, shooting a confused look at Tony as she did so. He simply shook his head and mouthed ‘later’. Emma nodded, gently ruffling Peter’s hair as he continued to hug her. “So, can I be your Aunt Emma, Peter?” Peter nodded against her shoulder, pulling back with a bright smile on his face even though he had tears in his eyes.

 

The interaction prompted a grin out of Tony, and he waited until the teen had taken a seat before quipping. “You know, you could always call her Auntie Em inste--”

 

“Don’t even go there, Antonio.” The blond deadpanned, shooting the genius a supremely unamused look.

 

Tony cackled before finally turning to the last two people, who were standing at his right. “You know Logan already, so no need for formalities there. And finally… Emma, this is Stephen.” He reached for and took the sorcerer’s hand, prompting a loving smile from Stephen and an arched eyebrow from Emma. “... La mia anima gemella .” He finished, the words spoken with a love and reverence that it made the sorcerer’s heart ache with love for his partner.

 

Emma looked between the two for a moment, eyes slightly wide as she studied the pair. Finally, she smiled and stepped up to Stephen to press a kiss to his cheek. “Well, it seems we three have to have a separate conversation later, then. For now…” She swept to her own seat and sat gracefully.

 

“You can start by explaining the hole in your ceiling, Emma.” Tony pinned the woman with his sharp, whiskey brown eyes.

 

The woman had the good grace to look chagrined. “Now Antonio, it’s not as bad as you think…”

 

The genius’ expression seemed to harden a bit. “Somehow, I doubt that. The fact that you started with that is actually telling me I’m going to like this even less .” Emma went quiet at that, and shot a brief look towards both Rem and Peter. Tony instantly caught on and shifted his eyes to Zevrael. “Zev, can you take Peter and Rem to the training room? I think Emma, Stephen, Logan, and I need to talk privately for a minute.” The elf had caught on to the sudden change in atmosphere and nodded, quickly getting directions from Emma before gathering up both Rem and Peter, ushering them from the room before closing the door behind him. “ Sorellina , what happened?” He asked, moving to sit next to his sister and gently grab her hands.

 

The blond gave a long, shuddering breath before looking up at Tony again. “Where do I even start, mio fratello ? So much happened at once…” She paused to think for a moment before she closed her eyes. “I… I should start with Adrienne.”

 

“Your sister? What about her?”

 

There was a tense silence before Emma’s head bowed a bit. “She’s gone, Antonio. She was going to reveal us as a school for mutants, our public facade would have been destroyed.”

 

Logan closed his eyes at the realization. “That woulda been a death sentence for the kids.”

 

Emma nodded at his words but didn’t look up at Tony. “I couldn’t stop her, I… I had to…” She choked for a moment, tears welling up in her eyes.

 

Understanding hit Tony like a bomb, and he pulled his sister close as she started crying heartbrokenly. Stephen came around the other side, sitting on the table and comfortingly rubbing her back. It took a few minutes for her to calm down, and Tony started speaking once her tears had stopped. “You did what you had to, Emma. Her actions would have lead to kids getting killed , and she knew that . You had to make an impossible choice, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help you.”

 

“It didn’t matter in the end anyway…” She whispered into his shoulder, silencing the room again. “There was an attack on the school, Antonio. The children, all of them…” She choked again, and Tony tightened his grip on her. “They died trying to protect me, Tony… I don’t know why we were targeted, but they died… I was in a coma for a month...”

 

“Jesus, Em,” Tony whispered as he tucked the blond’s head under his chin. “Where was I, Sorellina ? I would never have left you alone to deal with something like this…”

 

Emma laughed wetly, the pain from the re-opened emotional wound tearing through her. “You were tied up with the Accords, and you were healing from what the dear captain did to you…” She spat the title like it was poison in her mouth. “I didn’t want to put the secret of our relationship in jeopardy…”

 

The genius froze for a moment before pulling away to look the woman in the eye. “No. No, no, no Emma. To hell with the secrecy-- I’ll announce it to the whole damn multiverse if it means you never have to suffer through something like this alone again. What went down here should never have happened, but I’ll be damned if you have to recover alone. We kept it a secret to hide it from SHIELD and the other Avengers, but neither of them are a problem anymore. You say the word, Emma, and I will gladly have Pepper and Dorian schedule a press conference, and I will tell the whole damn world that you’re my half sister.” He gently cupped her face in his hands, gaze never wavering from hers. “You come back with us-- give yourself some time to heal and recover. I, my team, every single person living at the Compound will help you. If anyone tries to give us shit about it, I’ll have Stephen throw them in a hell dimension.”

 

Emma gave the man a tiny, sad smile, even as tears continued to flow down her face. She struggled to say something for a moment before Logan suddenly cut in. “There’s more, isn’t there.” They turned to look at him, and he pinned the blond with a knowing look. “I can smell when somebody’s hurtin’... what else happened, Frost?” His voice was soft and somber, a far departure to his usual gruff timbre.

 

A look of realization flashed across Stephen’s face, and he continued rubbing her back even as he asked, “You mentioned you were in a coma for a month… does it have something to do with that?”

“Yes.” She whispered, reaching up to grip Tony’s hand that was still on her face. “I… Here.” She pulled away from her brother for a moment to reach over the back of the couch to her desk. She grabbed up a picture frame and passed it to the brunette in front of her.

 

Tony took the picture and looked at it for a long moment, eyebrows slowly climbing into his hairline. “... Emma, what?” He finally asked, looking up at her with a stunned look as he unconsciously passed the frame to Stephen.

 

Logan looked over the Sorcerer’s shoulder and snorted in shock. “Huh. That’s either one hell of a funhouse mirror, or there are six of you in that picture.”

 

The joke had the intended effect of prompting a laugh out of Emma. “The teen ones are clones of me. They’re… practically my daughters. They were created from my eggs. They have my powers exactly, and can actually link with each other in a kind of hive mind. They were being kept in a lab, and I went to rescue them when I found out about them.”

 

“Okay, Emma, I’m gonna have to stop you right there.” Tony suddenly interrupted her. “I have several questions, pretty damn important ones. One, where were you taken during your coma? Two, was someone supposed to be protecting you? If so, then three, how did someone manage to get close enough to you to get your eggs?”

 

Emma blinked at the sudden tone from Tony, and after a moment she replied, “I… was taken back to the X-Mansion by Jean Grey when I knocked into the coma by Trevor Fiztroy. I guess they were supposed to be protecting me…”

 

A wave of magic rushed through the room, and Tony surged from his seat with an infuriated look on his face as his irises flashed to orange. “As if they weren’t already on my shit list, this, this right here is the last straw! How dare they pull this shit with my family! ” The orange was suddenly replaced by a vivid blue, and Tony immediately began speaking to his AI. “FRIDAY, baby girl, change of plans involving the X-Men. Push forward the aviation stuff with SI, I want the Worthingtons put out of business as of yesterday . Stage a hostile takeover if you have to! Start spreading the rumors around that the good professor is gone, then find everything you can about the various members-- social security numbers, bank information, DoB, I want all of it, FRIDAY, I don’t care how mundane it is-- and I want you to ruin them . Get a tracker on Jean Grey, I want a collar put on her and under lock and key so she can stand before a judge. For that matter, contact Pepper and tell her I want to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice and whatever other charges we can come up with for this… fucking fiasco! See if you can figure out who exactly it is that took Emma’s eggs-- this was an egregious breach of privacy on so many levels , and I swear if the X-Men knew this happened, or if they allowed this to happen, I will see every single one of them lock up in the Raft for the rest of their lives!” He growled and began to pace the length of the office.

 

Emma was stunned into complete stillness for a moment at the sudden display from her brother. Upon registering what exactly it was that was being said, she rose from her seat to approach him, but a hand on her arm made her pause. “It’s better to just call out to him.” Stephen murmured to her. “He can still hear you just fine.”

 

The mutant nodded and turned her attention back to Tony. “Antonio, the students at the school… they’re children, they’ve done nothing wrong… please, make sure there are at least teachers there…”

 

Tony paused in his stride, turning his head in her direction as if he were looking at her. Despite the unadulterated anger he was feeling for what had been done to his sister, he couldn’t help the pang in his chest for her loving heart, caring for those students even though they weren’t hers… “Logan,” He turned his head in the male’s direction, and the mutant nodded to show he was listening. “Give me some names-- teams or people who weren’t involved in either this or what happened with Rem.”

 

After a moment of thought, Logan replied, “I’d ask Storm-- she overlooked Rem, but didn’t hurt him beyond that. She was leading a team of her own, though, so it’s kinda understandable. On that note, though, Banshee and Nightcrawler would make good teachers. Havok and his team would be good for that-- X-Factor is what they call themselves. Helps that ol’ Alex is nothing like what his brother became.” Seeing the looks he got, the feral clarified, “Alexander Summers-- he’s Cyke’s younger brother.”

 

“And you would trust him with this sort of thing?”

 

Logan nodded without hesitation. “Damn right I would.”

 

The genius nodded at that. “Good enough for me. FRIDAY, you get all of that? Good, I want updates if anything major happens.” The glow faded from his eyes, and he looked over to see Emma staring at him with wide eyes and a completely stunned expression. It took him a moment to realize why, and he sighed deeply once he did. “Yeah… I have some explaining of my own to do.” He was quiet for a second before letting out a long breath through his nose, stepping up in front of her and tapping his head. “It… would probably be easier if you took a look for yourself.”

 

Emma nodded at that, and gently placed her fingers against the genius’ temples. Stephen noticed the complete lack of flinching or fear, and his respect for the woman skyrocketed-- that she could so freely use her gift around Tony after what he’d experienced at the hands of Maximoff spoke of years worth of trust and usage between them. She’d never used her powers against him in a malicious manner, he was absolutely certain of that.

 

There was a second or two of quiet before a sudden chill and darkness fell over the room, and the abrupt change caused Emma and Tony to pull apart, confusion on both of their faces. Before they could speak, a swirling black vortex opened in front of Emma’s desk, and the group turned as one to see Hadrian step through, a grim look on his face. Logan turned and extended his claws only to have Stephen grab his shoulder, shaking his head vigorously with wide eyes. The Master of Death noticed the motion and shot the sorcerer a smile before turning his eyes to Tony and Emma. “I felt someone trying to get into your mind, Anthony. What’s going on?”

 

Tony let out a breath of relief. “You almost gave me a heart attack, Chief… I was just letting Emma look at my memories regarding everything that’s happened over the past few months. Hell knows how many times I’ve had to tell people…”

 

The ebony-haired man looked between them with a furrow in his brow. “Emma-- oh, wait.” He held out a hand, and a black folder with the symbol of the hallows stamped into it with Tony’s full name below it dropped into it in a flurry of silver sparks. He flipped it open and through several pages before pausing and reading one. “Ah yes, your file does mention Emma Frost is your half sister. My apologies.” He snapped the folder closed and tossed it into the air, the file disappearing in another shower of sparks. “Would you like for me to add her as an exception?”

 

The genius nodded at that. “That’d be great, thanks.”

 

“Antonio, what is going on??”

 

The incredulous exclamation from Emma caused them both to turn back to her. “My apologies for that, Emma Frost. Allow me to introduce myself.” Hadrian swept into a bow, a charming smile on his face. “My name is Hadrian Black, and I am the Master of Death. Anthony has recently come under my employ, and I was alarmed when I felt someone trying to enter his mind. I take care of my own, you know.”

 

Emma’s eyes darted between Tony and Hadrian, a cautious look on her face. Finally, she turned back to Hadrian and took a deep breath. “You… if you’re who you say you are, then please tell me-- my students…” She swallowed hard, and her brother pulled her into a hug. “Are… are they at peace? Did they go on to somewhere better?”

 

Hadrian blinked for a moment before realization lit up in his eyes before he smiled. “Most of them, yes.” Seeing the confusion and fear in the blonde's eyes, he held up his hand to pause anything that she might have said. “Marie-Ange Colbert and Angelica Jones chose