Chapter 1: Chapter One Responses
Alright, so first question:
What does category 6 switch mean? How many categories are there? What are the categories of doms and subs? (Sorry that’ll probably end up being a lot of information. :P You don’t have to answer all of it.)
Dr. Strange replied:
Ah, a sensible question about things that matter like how to sort and categorize things. Excellent. Let’s get to it.
Now, traditionally this universe has ten cateogrizations:
1-3 denotes submissives (with 1 being someone exclusively inclined toward submission)
4-7 denotes switches (the higher the numbers go, the more inclined towards domination that switch is, and vice versa with submission)
8-10 denotes dominants (with 10 representing someone exclusively inclined toward domination)
*So-called ‘true’ dominants and submissive (those with a 1 or 10 ranking) are extremely rare.
Historically these categorizations were made based entirely on bloodwork (hormone levels spike when an individual turns 14.) However, they are now made based on a combination of physical and social/psychological investigations. Clint Barton was ranked according to the newer system; his ‘6’ represents slightly elevated levels of hormones associated with domination, but it was largely his psychosocial profile that really solidified that classification.
I should note that in recent decades, there have been broader challenges to the ranking system. Those identifying as ‘un-oriented’ (analogous to an asexual mode of identification in other universes) have begun to rally around calls for legalizing a ‘0’ classification. Trans-oriented individuals, or those whose hormonal make-up is strongly unaligned with their psychosocial orientation, are also lobbying for a change to the classification system that privileges self-identification and makes mandatory hormonal testing optional.
The deceased Tony Stark was a category 1 submissive. And a category 10 dick (though apparently I’m not supposed to vocalize such thoughts about a dead person.)
And second question:
Hello! I have a question for the doctor :D (may have more later, but just one right now) Whatever you can tell us without spoiling would be appreciated. I'm curious as to how the Infinity War ended in the non-bdsm verse, and what situation that verse's Tony is going to be coming out of. #askstrange
Dr. Strange replied:
Ah yes. Glad someone is remotely concerned about the fate of the universe. Now, I can’t say much on this topic directly, but I can show you something brief.
“He knew who I was.” It was the first time anyone had broken the silence in hours, and it was a mark of how distressingly used to this new world order Steve had gotten that he was surprised it was Tony. The man didn’t say much these days; oh he worked, just as obsessively as he had when he’d survived down in the workshop for days on a steady stream of energy bars and caffeine. The joy of discovery and creation that had once driven Tony to babble incessantly for minutes or even hours on end, though? That was long gone. Turned to dust, like everything else. “Thanos.”
“So fucking what, Stark. Did he ask for an autograph or something too? You want a congratulations because the Big Bad gave you a personal shout-out?” Clint snapped. He was staring at the pictures of his wife and kids again, Steve knew it without even bothering to look up. That was all Clint did these days, when he wasn’t barking at each of them in turn for not yet having a fully-developed plan to reverse the Snap and its after-effects.
It would have been easy to fall into the same trap as Clint, blinded by anger and grief, and dismiss this as another self-important and largely irrelevant interjection from Tony. But if Steve had learned anything from this whole mess—Ultron, the Accords, Thanos—it was that Tony was almost always coming from someplace good, right, even when his execution ended up terribly flawed. (And those issues with execution were in no small part Steve’s fault; Steve and the rest of the team, who hadn’t ended up as much of team at all to Tony, in the end.)
“When we fought, he didn’t recognize me until about halfway through. When he did, he said my name. Like—like we had a history, like he…knew me. Said I wasn’t the only one ‘cursed with knowledge.”
“If this is another ‘I was right’ speech—”
“Clint, shut up.” The harsh words weren’t surprising, there were plenty of those to go around these days. But the fact that it was Natasha barking them while jumping off the piece of wrecked lab-bench she had been sitting on to get right in Barton’s face, that was shocking to pretty much everyone, particularly Clint himself. Tony graced her with a nod and even a small quirk of his lips. (Even in the midst of all of this, Steve spared a heartbeat or two to acknowledge that he was achingly jealous of Nat for that exchange.)
“I think we need to go back further than we thought.”
Chapter 2: Chapter Five Responses
#AskStrange Hello doctor! I have a question about the status of subs. IIRC, according to the Author, subs are in principle equal to everybody else. However, some elements in the story make me wonder if that's true in practice: Howard's total rejection of Tony's orientation; Tony's hiding it for years; and Pepper's mention that people loved him in part because of his being a sub. Are subs in actuality discouraged from following challenging life paths, and those who do especially admired?
While the Author is, in many cases, wildly fanciful, on this particular topic she is correct. Submissives, particularly True submissives, are generally very highly regarded. Howard Stark, however…well, perhaps showing you would be more expedient.
(The Author asks that I provide a content warning for allusions to child neglect, alcohol abuse, and something she calls “Howard Stark’s A+ Parenting.” I can only hope the latter is sarcastic. As annoying as his spawn is, I would not consider Howard Stark a model for adequate parenting.)
Tony loved workshop days the most. The rest of the time his Dad had only a few settings: physically gone (searching for Captain America), mentally gone (booze was usually the culprit on these occasions), or emotionally gone. The latter times were the worst, because Howard would be there, right in front of you, and he might even be sober, but he might as well have been thousands of miles away. Those usually happened during the big fundraising events Tony’s Mom put on, though Howard had also been known to check-out during kiddish milestones he considered beneath his son, like piano recitals or elementary school ‘graduations.’
He didn’t let Tony down into the workshop very often, either. Tony, he said, was too easily distracted, more likely to break something or taint the results of an experiment than to actually add anything of value. But every once in a while he would find Tony, pull him away from whatever he was doing (which had included school a couple of times, usually leading to screaming matches between Dad and Mom later) and bring him down to the shop.
The shop was the best place in the world. There was always something incredible happening; Dad would work on new designs for the shield (for when he found Cap), and he’d talk to Tony about vibranium and everything that made it such a unique, unreproduceable substance. Or he’d work on his flying car, which was going to be perfect one day as soon as he stabilized the repulsor technology. Or he’d make new weapons that helped keep kids like Tony safe in their beds at night. Tony liked all of those things, but what he liked most of all was how his Dad was down here: attentive, happy, alive in a way he never really seemed to be anyplace else.
Today wasn’t exactly the same. Howard hadn’t planned on bringing Tony down here, but one of his regular assistants had needed to go home to attend to his submissive. She was classified at a one, which meant sometimes she had very high needs. Most people talked about subs, especially subs classified that close to True status, in hushed, reverent tones. But when his Dad explained why Damien had had to leave, it didn’t sound like that. He sounded…sorta mad, or grossed out, maybe, like that time Tony had presented Mom with a collection of rare insects.
“Is it bad? To be a sub like Marnie?” For a long time Howard didn’t answer. And he did have a tendency to ignore questions he thought were beneath him, so Tony had already accepted it and moved on to thinking about something else when Howard sighed and put down the soldering iron he was using.
“Not…bad, but just. Well, remind me what you know about evolution, Tony.” Obediently, Tony spouted off everything he could remember about monkeys and Darwin and finches and natural selection. Howard gave no visible signs of approval (of course he didn’t, Tony was six, of course he should probably know more than this), but he didn’t yell or demand Tony leave the lab and return with a better answer, so it counted as somewhat of a victory. “Now, would you say it’s a desirable trait for people to need each other as much as True subs and Doms do, Tony? For them to not be able to function, for their muscles to stop responding to their brains and their minds to become frantic, just because they aren’t spending enough time in their headspace?”
Tony has long since learned that sometimes his Dad’s questions are a trap, and this definitely felt like one of those times. Because before now, Tony would have said he thought it sounded kind of nice, the way that different orientations worked together, making individuals stronger together than they were apart. The thought of knowing someone that way, being known in return, he was too young to really know much about the details of what it would entail, but as a concept, the notion that there might be someone out there like that for him had been a comforting fiction on the many days and nights he spent mostly on his own.
“No?” he guessed.
“Personally,” Howard continued as if Tony hadn’t spoken (a good sign his had been the right answer), “I think True subs and Doms are uncommon because orientation is a trait that’s just dying out. And in my book that’s a damn good thing. No one should have to rely on anyone like that. People…they disappoint each other. It’s what we do. We hurt each other and leave each other and end up on the bottom of the goddamn ocean, and…well, it’s just better to stand on your own two feet, boy.”
“What…what if when they test me…what if…” Tony trailed off, unable to finish the sentence. He didn’t want to grow up to be disappointed by someone! Or even worse, be a disappointment. He’d done plenty of that already. Howard laughed.
“What if you’re a True, you mean?” He nodded, and his Dad threw his head back and laughed again, already turning his attention back to his work. “Boy, you got nothin’ to worry about. There hasn’t been a Stark that’s been anything but a middle-scale Switch in decades.”
That, Tony told himself, was a relief.
Ah, a series of questions that happen to include me! A far superior topic than Tony Stark.
Will there, at any point, be some in-character acknowledgement of the various MCU... let’s call them “poor choices”?
I can only assume you refer here to the so-called ‘Civil War.’ (Or to Stark’s affection for Stark Raving Hazlenuts?) In both cases, the answer is most definitely yes. The type of relationship the Avengers must be able to at least convincingly affect to the public would be, to my mind, impossible if their various ‘issues’ from the other universe are not discussed.
Not that I envy them. Discussing emotions with Tony Stark? Ugh.
How are you doing in this universe, Doctor? We’re the Sanctuaries still attacked? Do you have administrative support? Running a planetary magical defense network seems like it would make you too busy to pick up the mail and the groceries, even if you got to collaborate or team-teach with alternate-universe versions of yourself. Who I am not sure you’d actually like, competent and professional though you all are. Not everybody gets along well with themselves.
The sanctuaries, while facing minor attempts at invasion, never incurred the same degree of damage in this verse, no. Loathe though I am to admit it, this is in large part because the Titan never got the chance to collect the infinity stones. He was eliminated from play early on thanks to the Ultron technology.
Sadly, I am still forced to supply my own groceries. Wong never purchases the right kinds of cheese.
Actually, trying to think of other characters got me massively distracted by “what on earth would Wade Wilson’s classification be? Or Venom’s? And how would the X-men integrate into what MCU tweaked about the Maximoffs?”
On principal I refuse to devote any mental energies to Wade Wilson. He once attempted to ‘ship’ me with my own cloak I am too distracted by even attempting to consider his orientation to attend to the rest of this question.
Finally, Doctor, are you able to say if any Marvel characters not in the main MCU will be present, either as background reference, cameo, or other role?
There do seem to be a few characters from what the Author refers to as the ‘comics-canon’ floating around. While most will not have major influences over the plot, I do anticipate their being mentioned and occasionally cropping up.
Chapter 3: Chapter Six Response
Hello Doctor, firstly thanks for your answers, even when the topic of the questions is not enjoyable/interesting for you. I'll have to admit to a morbid curiosity about what happened with Wade Wilson and your cloak, but I wouldn't want to put you ill at ease. So here is a still personal but hopefully less charged question: what's yourclassification in this verse? If that's not too indiscreet of course.
I would need something with at least the strength of Asgardian mead to be willing to discuss Wade Wilson. However, personal questions in general are perfectly fine; I can hardly blame you for finding me compelling. In this universe I was initially classified as a category 8 dominant. After becoming sorcerer supreme, however, my classification shifted slightly (a rare but not unheard of response to sustained interactions with magic in various forms.) I am now a category 6 switch.
Chapter 4: Chapter Seven Response
Major Content Warnings for this Ask Strange response: This chapter depicts D/s Steve in the immediate aftermath of D/s Tony's death. There is nothing overly graphic about the conditions of Tony's demise itself beyond a mention of the Avalon protocol. (This is a theory originating (I believe? correct me if I'm wrong on this) from fandom that Tony likely has protocols in the suit allowing it to keep fighting in the event of his death, and not inform the team until after the immediate danger has passed.) While it isn't explicitly stated here, BTW, my headcanon is that Tony had actually meant to take this protocol out of the suits and just didn't get around to it in time; he was not being deliberately cruel to Steve or anyone else.
As you might imagine, Steve is raw and broken and overwhelmed here. If you need to give this response a miss, please feel free to do so. Its only function plot-wise is to confirm that D/s Tony is indeed dead.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
hi Doctor! thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. I don't recall seeing this in the story so far (although I may just have missed it, in which case, apologies for taking up your time), and it may be too spoilery, but can you talk a bit about how Mark 2 (aka D/s Tony) died? I tend to be suspicious, and I've found that just because other people in a story believe somebody is dead, that isn't necessarily the case. :D
Ah yes. While it is a very Stark-like thing to do, the dying-but-not-really-dying shtick, I'm afraid this universe's version of Tony Stark is indisputably deceased. But no need to take my word for it: take a look for yourself:
It wasn’t the first time a member of the team had tried to appeal to Steve. In the last two hours alone Natasha, Thor, and Phil had all attempted to get him to leave Tony’s workshop. Natasha’s had, unsurprisingly, been the harshest approach; she’d reminded Steve in no uncertain terms that as the team’s leader, he had responsibilities beyond his own grief. Thor had, equally predictably, been the gentlest. He’d spoken of what it was to face the prospect of living for millennia, to know that not just individual people but entire civilizations could live and die in that time. Coulson had taken the middle ground, speaking not of himself but of Tony. Tony Stark, he’d reminded Steve, had been above all else a futurist, a man committed to looking forward and not back. He wouldn’t want Steve wasting away in the bowels of the Tower, unwilling to face the world.
None of it had worked. Because Steve himself didn’t want to be down here. It was unbearable to be surrounded by such a dearth of evidence that Tony had been alive so recently—the open holoscreens, the dunce hat he’d left on Dummy that morning, the half-diassembled upgrade to a piece of War Machine’s left shoulder that lay on top of one of the long tables. (Tony would never finish it. Would never complete any more projects, or go to that gala next week on Steve’s arm. Wouldn’t ever fight alongside Steve, or kiss him when the battle was over and both of their systems were still surging with adrenaline. He’d never anything, not ever again.) The only thing more unendurable than staring at all of these traces of Tony in this space that he’d loved best in the world was the thought of leaving and returning to find them all carefully hidden away, like Tony had never existed in the first place.
“Go away, Buck,” he muttered dully. Once upon a time Steve never would have thought himself capable of speaking to Bucky this way. Even though things would never be the same as they had been before Bucky’s fall and his subsequent time as the Soldier, Steve treated their end of the line promise as a near-sacred vow. (Not unlike the one he’d made to himself to protect Tony from anything and everything that might seek to harm him. Apparently he’d be failing everyone who mattered to him in one day.)
“Steve, you need to see him.” Steve didn’t bother responding at all to that heart-stoppingly cruel demand, but this didn’t stop Bucky from reaching down and pulling Steve to his feet. As soon as he was level Steve took a swing at the other man, and not the careful, restrained blows he hit the team with during training. He put nearly all of his strength behind it—but he hadn’t counted on the impact of this much pain combined with its physical symptoms (especially dehydration.) He swung wide, overbalancing to try to keep himself steady, and Bucky made easy work of catching Steve’s arm, pressing it against his back and shoving him against a wall. “We done with this now or you wanna go another coupla rounds, Stevie?”
“Fuck you,” he grunted, trying and failing to sweep Bucky’s legs out from under him. Bucky pressed him harder into the unforgiving concrete, his breath hot and fast against Steve’s neck. (Tony would be cold by now.)
“You need to see him. I’m not trying to hurt you, goddammit Steve, but I know you. If you don’t see his body you’ll convince yourself in a few weeks, a few months on the outside, that he’s somehow still alive. That this has all been some kind of terrible mistake. And the fact that it’s Tony and he’s been declared dead before, not to mention how generally insane our lives are with shit like this…that’ll feed the denial. You’ll be waiting for him around every corner, sure you're about to hear him laugh, see him smile.”
“Then let me hope! Is that so fucking terrible? I have lost—everything, Bucky, over and over again. I used to think of myself as a dancing monkey, a puppet in this silly nationalistic show—annoying, sure, but ultimately worth it because it got me where I needed to go. But Captain America is so much worse than that. The serum…all it’s ever brought anyone is death. Erskine, you, Peggy, all of our friends, and now—and now…please. If you’re right, then just let me have the hope, alright? It’s gotta be better than this.”
Somewhere in the middle of Steve’s rambled plea, Bucky’s restraining grasp had turned into more of an embrace. (For the briefest and most shameful seconds of his life, he hated the other man for not being Tony Stark.)
“I can’t do that, Stevie. I made a promise.”
“Not to you. To Tony.” Especially given how Tony had died (the Avalon protocol, Steve might never forgive him that even in death) it shouldn’t have surprised Steve that Tony had prepared for this moment. Tony’s orientation had never once made him afraid or unwilling to go behind Steve’s back, or right in front of his face, and do what he thought was right. (Beautiful, insolent, perfect submissive.) “He made me promise, Stevie, that if there was even a shred of hope left that I wouldn’t let you give up. I swore that if he was missing, or if the evidence we were given could have more than one meaning, that we’d never stop looking, never abandon him to something like what he faced in Afghanistan.” (Tony had dreamed of that cave just a few nights before, curling into Steve’s chest and begging for assurance that he’d really made it out.) “I also swore that when it was over, without any doubt or possibility that he could be saved, I would be the one to take you in to see him. Even if it made you hate me. I promised that man, that man we both loved, that I would force you to see him with your own stubborn eyes, so that one day you’ll be able to accept it. And Stevie…I know you. However lapsed your relationship to religion and all of that is now…you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t tell him goodbye.” (Goodbye. How could he ever hope to say something so mundane and final to someone as singularly remarkable as Tony? There had to be something better, some way for language to accommodate the immensity of what they had lost.)
Steve said what he did next because he had to. Because Bucky had to understand that little Stevie Rogers, the one who could do this all day, get up as many times as he’d been hit, no matter how brutally, had died right alongside their submissive. He didn’t know yet who had taken his place, but if he was to be stripped utterly of the right to hope, he wouldn’t permit the team to imagine he was capable of making it out of this with his soul remotely intact.
“I’m not gonna make you break a promise to him. But don’t kid yourself, Buck; I will never accept this.”
Even though I had a version of this scene outlined ages ago, it still kind of broke me to write it.
In happier news, there will be new chapters for you great unfinished symphony and my other active series tomorrow. Hooray! Here's to (hopefully) being back on a regular posting schedule after a couple rough weeks.
Chapter 5: Chapter Eleven Response
Prompt: OH! Also #AskStrange PLEASE tell me more about Ultron's ethics training. *puts on nerd hat*
I've unearthed a draft version of the syllabus Drs. Stark and Banner used for the course and provided it below. While they undoubtedly should have taken more of my suggestions, the end result was...admirable.
Ethical Intelligence: A Study in Artifical Intelligence, Morality and Humanity
Department of Research and Development, Stark Industries
Instructor: Drs. Bruce Banner and Tony Stark
Office: Stark Tower, Workshop Level B-21
Office Hours: Wednesday, 5:00-7:00 or by appointment
Keep this course outline with your class notes. You will need to refer to it frequently for important information on reading, assignments, exams, grading practices, and class policy.
Course Description and Aims
The existence of the Ultron technology is predicated on the supposition that artificial intelligence can and, under the correct circumstances should, be regarded as sentient and feeling beings capable of meaningful contributions to global security, communication, and wellness. However, this recognition also necessitates an understanding of the system’s moral and ethical responsibilities to other beings.
Using a range of philosophical, cultural studies, humanities computing and feminist/critical race scholarship, as well as popular culture case-studies, this course explores the obligations humans and machines hold to one another. Core themes of the course include an exploration of pain and empathy, shared responsibility, and acting within a context. By exploring this topic from such a wide array of directions and perspectives, our aim is to present human-machine interaction not as a singular script or process, but as a dynamic and ongoing relationship shaped by mutual respect, shared goals, and informed decision making.
To this end, our general course objectives will focus on:
- Understanding Context-AIs will learn how to identify the social, political, geographic and economic contexts that shape the data they gather, and also how to establish a context for their own communication.
- Participation in Critical Dialogue-AIs will learn how to treat their interactions with and about humans and other AI systems not as one-way deliveries of information, but as an ongoing conversation. This will involve an emphasis on the development of shared and accessible forms of communication.
- Evaluating Risk and Reward in Global Security Scenarios-AIs will learn how to efficiently and safely participate in decision-making about global security scenarios.
- Ethical Design-AIs who have completed this course as well as a probationary period will eventually gain limited access to their programming. As such, this course includes a unit on incorporating ethical decisions into AI design.
Course Policies and StructureRequired Texts
The readings we’re examining in this course can be found freely online, or using Dr. Stark’s institutional credentials at MIT. As this is a course dealing with a range of genres and media formats, we may periodically be viewing films or media clips. These count as core, required texts and will be addressed in essays and other in-class writing activities.
There is no final examination in this course, because it’s bad pedagogy (
and Tony doesn’t want to grade them.) Instead, AIs will complete a capstone project involving an annotated bibliography, a written report about a case study, and a mock security scenario presentation in which the AI will have to respond in real-time to a pre-determined situation relevant to their research.
Summary 15% Short Essay 20%
Proposal and Bibliography (10%)
Case Study (35%)
Further information and instructions about all assignments will be posted to Stark Secure Servers far in advance of the assignment deadlines.
Evaluation Criteria and Grading
Students will be offered letter grades for all assignments in this course. Please review the MIT conversion chart for grade value equivalencies. You will be given substantive commentary on most assignments and that commentary will explain the grade and highlight areas and means for improvement.
All assignments will be submitted electronically to the Stark Secure Server by 11:59 PM on the stated due-date. Completed assignments should follow CSE formatting.
Stark Industries is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. AIs are urged to familiarize themselves with samples of University Codes of Student Behaviour (freely available online at any major institution) and avoid any behaviour which could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence. Academic dishonesty is a serious offence, and a violation of the central themes of the course.
Term Work Reassessment
Should you have any grievances concerning term work grades, you must discuss your concerns with the instructor. If the problem is not resolved after that a meeting with the instructor, AIs are encouraged to direct concerns to J.A.R.V.I.S., who will make the final decision on all grading disputes.
Week One: Introduction
Introduction to the Course, Ultron System Activation Tests
Week Two: Current Human/Machine Relations and Dilemmas
Justin Leiber, “Can Animals and Machines Be Persons?”
Neil M. Richards and William D. Smart. “How Should the Law Think About Robots?”
Cynthia Breazl and Rodney Brooks, “Robot Emotion: A Functional Perspective.”
D. Chalmers. “The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis. “ Journal of Consciousness Studies.
Week Three: Obligations and Ethical Co-Existence
Judith Butler, “Precarious Life: The Obligations of Proximity.” (Available through the Nobel Prize Museum, here)
Sustan Sontag. Regarding the Pain of Others.
Ronald Sandler (ed.) Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
James H. Moor. Four Kinds of Ethical Robots.
“The Trolley Problem.” The Good Place.
Week Four: Context and Values
“Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Dangers of a Single Story.” Ted Talk, available here)
“Harry Surden. “Values Imbedded in Legal Artificial Intelligence.” University of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper
“Cathy O’Neil. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.
Week Five: The Limits of Data as Knowledge and the Importance of Collaboration
Short Essay Due
John Searle. “What Your Computer Can’t Know.”
Davide Valeriani, “Humans and Machines Can Improve Accuracy When They Work Together.”
Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star. Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences.
Dave Gershgorn, “If AI is Going to be the World’s Doctor, It Needs Better Books.”
Dr. Stephen Strange (Tony, stop crossing his name out! He’s doing us a favour here.)
Week Five: Design
Karen Hao. “Giving Algorithms a Sense of Uncertainty Could Make Them More Ethical.”
Heather Knight, “How Humans Respond to Robotics: Building Public Policy Through Good Design.”
Video. “The Ethical Robot.” Available here
Guest Speaker: Dr. Helen Cho
Week Six: AI and Global Security
Dudu Mimran, “The Cyberspace Arms Race: Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Security.”
E. Yudkowsky, “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk.” In Global Catastrophic Risks, eds. Nick Bostrom and Milian M. Cirkovic.
B.J. Strawser, “Moral Predators: The Duty to Employ Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles.” Journal of Military Ethics
Guest Speaker: Col. James Rhodes
Week Six: Application Practice
Proposal and Bibliography Due
AIs will spend this meeting reviewing and responding scenarios on The Moral Machine (linked here) as well as the case studies compiled by the instructors in the course.
Week Seven: Security Presentation
Case Study Due
Chapter 6: Chapter Fourteen Responses
Content Notes: The second of the Doctor's responses contains mention (not graphic) of recurring miscarriages and struggles with fertility.
That second response also contains some Endgame spoilers and some super crucial divergences from that movie, as well as a stretching of some of the rules the movie establishes surrounding how the Soul Stone works.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
For Ask Strange , did MCU Tony have Harley and Peter and Morgan? Would they miss him? Did this world's Tony have them?
The version of Tony Stark we see in this narrative never resumed a romantic relationship with Pepper Potts following their break-up after the events leading to the creation of Ultron. As such, Morgan Stark was never born.
Both Peter Parker and Harley Keener, however, remained a presence in his life. I have witnessed firsthand the fact that both mourn him deeply. Colonel Rhodes and Ms. Potts have been charged with their care in his absence (not legally or officially, but via elaborate ‘Care and Feeding’ documents Mr. Stark ensured were part of his will), and they are both doing the best they can. Truthfully (and I hope I can trust you to keep this quiet) I do feel I owe Stark as much protection as I can give to those he considers his own, so I am doing what I can for both boys from a distance.
If you're not too busy protecting our reality (thanks for that, by the way) and have time to answer questions, I'm so, so very curious as to what led to MCU Tony ending up in the D/s universe and how it effects the outcome of events in the MCU 'verse. Rather, what actions landed Tony in an alternate universe and to what end? Was it an accident, intentional or some combination of the two? He seemed pretty sure he was dead at first which is telling, but we're talking about Tony Stark here so anything's possible.
Your gratitude is much appreciated. While I am unable to share all of the events that landed the so-called MCU Tony in the D/s universe, this glimpse should prove to be particularly enlightening.
Tony didn’t go into Howard’s notes looking for it. He wanted that made clear, even if he never re-told this story outside his own head. Originally, he’d been creeping around this corridor only because a comedy of errors worthy of a sugar-high Dummy had prevented he and Steve from gaining access to the Tessaract for several days. One time there had been too many people around; during another attempt everyone present in SHIELD HQ had been evacuated and searched because Pym had found out about the missing particles. (Thank god Steve had apparently learned some subterfuge since his days of hiding sensitive intel in vending machines; no one had suspected the two new guys.) As a result of Pym’s (admittedly justified) paranoia following that episode, a lot of the more sensitive tech had been moved to a new location: a private but rarely used laboratory of Howard Stark’s.
Tony also wanted it known that he overcame a lot of temptation when he’d finally managed to break in. Howard’s notes on his contributions to the super-solider project were there, for fuck’s sake. Tony could have finally figured out what the hell Vita-Rays were, or whether St—Rogers had been pulling his leg about that portion of the experiments all along. And Tony had walked by them, determined to stay focused and avoid any of the catastrophes that tended to be the result of allowing his curiosity free reign.
When Tony had finally found the Tesseract inside a safe keyed to Maria Stark’s birthday (a sentimental detail he was still surprised by), it had not been alone. There had been another notebook. He’d taken it out because it had been stored with the case, so it had seemed logical to assume that whatever was inside was related to the power stone. (Plus, if Tony was being entirely honest, he still got kind of a thrill over encountering bits of his dad’s handwriting. A stupid, sentimental thing he should have grown out of by now, but losing a parent young did things to you.)
Except that when Tony opened the book, it barely looked like Howard Stark’s machine-precise handwriting. It was messy and frantic, the letters smudging and running into one another and drifting suddenly off the lines. Howard did many things drunk, but keeping written records wasn’t usually one of them. There was something different about this book. Tony knew that before he realized that the messy sketch on the first page was of a uterus.
“Oh Jesus, Dad, do I want to keep reading this?” No one answered, of course, but talking out loud made it slightly less horrifying to make it through his dear old Dad’s notes on human reproduction. The first few pages were at least fairly general, describing what made for an optimal uterine climate, what the acceptable range for sperm motility for conception was, and records of what Tony was fairly certain were records of early experiments with IVF. (At least he hoped they were just records of others’ experiments. Howard had been good at many things, but to the best of Tony’s knowledge reproductive biology had not been one of them.) The fourth page was where things started to become horribly clear. It contained a list of five dates, all in the mid-late 1960s. Beside each one were more dates, this time in weeks. 8 weeks. 6 weeks. 14 weeks. 9 weeks. 10 weeks. Next to the last one was a large amber stain that Tony was certain was whiskey.
It was a list of miscarriages. Maria and Howard Stark had lost five children, the last roughly 4 months before Tony would have been conceived.
Tony didn’t want to turn the page. He didn’t want to imagine a man he had laughed and joked with just this afternoon in this much pain, and he definitely didn’t want to let himself wonder how Howard still could have ended up feeling so indifferent towards his own son when he’d fought so hard to help bring Tony into the world.
He did turn it, and things got so much worse. There was a different sketch, this one of a circular orange object. Underneath, in printing so messy it took Tony close to two minutes to decipher, Howard had written ‘The God Stone.’ The next page elaborated on this rather melodramatic title, which turned out to perhaps not be nearly dramatic enough.
Stone recovered in Wakanda during routine mining of Vibranium. The Wakandans do not appear to have knowledge it was there; arrived with the shipment used to create Steve his shield.
Have exposed Stone to extreme heat, cold, as well as numerous stress tests for durability. It appears virtually indestructible, and appears to emit a form of energy that I cannot accurately measure or gauge. But I can feel it. And I’m obsessed. Can’t eat, can’t sleep, not until I find out what it does.
There were pages and pages of experiments that grew increasingly desperate. And then Howard had apparently cracked the case…by taking a nap.
Fell asleep holding the Stone. Woke to find myself in an unfamiliar landscape; it was so obviously a dream, and yet nothing like one. I was still holding the Stone, and a voice spoke to me, hard and bitter and unyielding. It told me the Stone required sacrifice. If it was to give life, I must first lose that which I loved. I tried to reason with it. I already have lost so much, Maria and I have been trying for so long…it wasn’t interested.
In my other hand, Cap’s shield appeared. I stood on the brink of a precipice, and I knew without any explanation: if I released the shield, Captain Steve Rogers would be lost to me forever. I would never find him. If I did not, Maria and I would never have a living child.
I let it fall, clattering over the side of the cliff and down into an endless darkness. I woke screaming, and sure of precisely what I would need to do. The Stone had shown me how to use it. I should have been elated, and yet I already wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I could have gotten Steve back this way. Even if he’s dead, I’m certain the stone could bring him back.
That last regretful note was dated right around the time that Tony would have been conceived. Or could he really call what had apparently brought him into the world conception, when really he was a product of the Soul Stone as much as Howard and Maria Stark?
A heaviness settled on Tony. It wasn’t learning that Howard had chose him over Steve and immediately regretted it; that was actually a relief. Tony had been doomed to disappoint Howard Stark before he had ever even been born. It was nothing he could ever have controlled or fixed if he’d just said or done something different. For once, Tony’s Daddy issues were not even close to his biggest problem.
Like a good futurist, he simply knew now what was going to happen next. There was no way to change it, even if the past decade of fighting and clawing and scratching his way to survival hadn’t made Tony weary beyond measure. He was a part of the Stones, could never have existed without them, probably should never have existed at all. The best he could hope at this point was that when the gauntlet came to him (and it would, he knew that now regardless of the team’s current plan to have Bruce/Hulk handle it) Tony would make it count.
Eek. Hope you all liked it. For those interested, MCU Tony's storyline was inspired by a pre-Infinity War fan theory about Tony having ties to the Soul Stone. Even though they turned out to be horribly wrong I loved those theories, and I wanted to experiment with what it might have meant for them to be right while still keeping some aspects of Endgame relatively intact. The storyline is also inspired by the Iron Man comics. Without getting too spoilery for those who want to read them, Howard and Maria Stark's troubles conceiving are canonical.
Chapter 7: Chapter Sixteen Responses
These replies include some details about how Dom and sub drop work in the D/s universe. If you want to skip that, stop reading after the first reply.
So, this hasn’t officially been an Ask Strange request, but a few folks have asked for alternative perspectives where team members have reacted to finding out about things their MCU counterparts have been up to. This vision of the Doctor’s will set up that series; if there are specific things you’d like to see the team responding to in follow-ups, you can let either myself or Doctor Strange know.
Though the stiff formality of Tony’s request for an appointment had given him pause, Phil is ultimately grateful for the warning it provides about the other man’s arrival. While what he was doing was not technically illegal or unethical, his actions also weren’t something we would have chosen to advertise to Tony.
With a harried gesture, he closed all the open windows containing evidence of his (well, the team’s, really, but Phil was the one in charge of keeping the records up to date) current project: piecing together the pieces of this new version of Tony Stark’s life.
It hadn’t actually been Coulson’s idea, though he really should have thought of it. No, it had taken Bucky Barnes storming into Phil’s office a few weeks ago to set things in motion. Furious and devastated in equal measures, Barnes had ranted for close to an hour about learning that while his counterpart had still killed Howard and Maria Stark, Tony’s version of Steve had chosen not to inform of this fact, resulting in a physical altercation that had left Tony half dead at Steve’s hands.
Phil’s first reaction had nearly been to laugh. It was utterly absurd, unthinkable, to imagine. Particularly after he and Tony had first gotten together, it had been all Steve could do to push past his Dominant instincts to protect and shield in order to strike Tony during training exercises. They’d worked through it, of course, because Tony would never have stood for team leader taking it easy on him, but still the notion of a Steve willing to incapacitate Tony, compounding the unspeakable error he’d already made by concealing vital information from Tony sounded like a version of Steve Rogers that Phil would have had very little interest in knowing. (A few weeks ago Phil never would have thought such a thing possible, which was a mark of just how bizarre this other universe seemed to be.)
“It just…none of it makes any sense,” Phil had ranted, forgetting momentarily that as Bucky’s handler it was his job to be listening, not adding to the other man’s stress. “And it’s not like I expected him to drop his life story at our feet, but getting it in bits and pieces like this just makes it all the more challenging to put it all together into something coherent. Steve texted me something from Wakanda the other day about watching that no one makes any gestures or comments that would suggest a willingness to try to choke Tony, which—” Bucky growled, low and guttural, an echo of the ugly feeling that that message had left churning in Phil’s gut. And when Bucky spoked, the clipped, harsh tone of his voice suggested hints of the Solider.
“What kind of system?”
“Keep track of intel. Construct a timeline once there’s enough to go on.”
It felt wrong, in some ways, the idea that Bucky was proposing. They were treating Tony like a mission or a mark about whom they needed to secretly gather intel. Even if the methods were similar, though, the goal wasn’t the same. None of them were in this to force Tony to share more than he wanted, or to somehow hurt him with this information; just the opposite. If they didn’t want to risk unnecessarily triggering Tony, or force the man to constantly repeat memories that were at times deeply painful, then everyone needed to have access to the same information at the same time.
With JARVIS’s help, creating the actual system turned out to be the easy part. What Phil hadn’t anticipated about this plan was the fact that it effectively turned him into the team’s priest/therapist/confidante as it pertained to all things regarding Tony Stark’s other (far inferior, they had universally decided) team.
Steve was the first to come in. He still wouldn’t reveal how he’d managed to gather any background at all about Tony while he’d been on the other side of the world, but he reported that the development of Ultron (which all of them had been able to gather from Tony’s rather extreme reaction had ended rather badly) had coincided with mental attacks from the Scarlet Witch that Tony had never been asked about and had never elected to share with his team. Tony had also revealed that the wound on his abdomen, which Bruce had reported to all of them, had been caused by Thanos stabbing Tony with a piece of his own armour.
Phil had thanked Steve and sent him on his way, aware that Tony seemed to be about the last thing Steve wanted to discuss these days. (At least he was in the Tower now. It was a step forward, however small.)
Natasha came a few days later. She’d insisted on reviewing the information Phil had already compiled, keen eyes roving over the screen seeking out patterns and connections that just weren’t there to make yet. He could feel her frustration, felt it himself every time Tony responded differently than they expected or said something that just didn’t quite make sense.
“The first thing I should say is that he told me something in confidence, and I won’t be sharing that until he gives me permission to do so.” And if that wasn’t enough to make the intense curiosity that made Phil so good at his job go haywire…but what else could he do but agree?
“As long as your assessment is that that information does not mean he is at any risk of harming himself or others, I have no objection. We’re all going to develop individual relationships with Tony that might not mature at exactly the same pace.”
Natasha had then reported, in the flattened tones Phil recognized from plenty of after-action debriefs, that in Tony’s world he had faced the Mandarin alone, with some aid from Colonel Rhodes. (No wonder Tony always looked to his friend so much in this world; increasingly it sounded like Rhodes and Pepper had been his only constants.) Phil added that under the category that specifically tracked divergences in major Avengers-level threats, right below ‘didn’t know Steve was head of SHIELD until told.’
“He shouldn’t have been alone.” Natasha herself had seemed surprised by her words, and the fierceness of the outburst; given that it was the first time Coulson had ever seen any kind of emotion creep through when Natasha was in mission-mode, he couldn’t blame her. But it left Phil feeling warm and satisfied to see such concrete evidence that Natasha was growing attached to Tony, protective even.
“He won’t be again, Natasha. I can’t promise much when it comes to him; things are too new, there are so many variables…but I give you my word that he will never be alone again.”
Phil was not a man who made promises. If love, as Natasha so often claimed, was for children, then promises were for the kinds of adults who were practically begging to be manipulated, who valued the illusion of assurance over accuracy and truth. They weren’t in the business of promises. He had only ever made one before that day, when he’d recklessly sworn to a young Clint Barton who had been bleeding out in a forest after a mission gone horribly wrong that Phil would bring him home safely. Natasha was the only other person in the Tower who knew that story, who was aware what a promise from Phil Coulson meant.
Now he would have to live up to it. The second Natasha exited his office, he was staring back at the information they had collected with renewed focus. (What the hell happened to you, Tony?)
#AskStrange Hey Doc! Was wondering if you could give us some insight on exactly how subdrops work and what causes them in this alternate universe? Do subdrops work in the same why they would in the MCU, usually happening after an endorphin crash after an intense scene or it’s something more emotional and mental? Maybe a little of both? Thanks!
Ah, excellent. Another question rooted in science and reasoning. Sub-drop in the D/s universe is fairly similar to that of the so-called MCU. Endorphins play a huge role in both; the corresponding physical symptoms of a sharp endorphin crash (decrease in body temperature, tremors, and feelings of fatigue) are thus common indicators of subdrop in both universes.
The major distinction between the two universes is the presence of the hormones subtonin and Dominin in the D/s universe. The hyperstimulation of the a submissive’s anterior cingulate cortex (which, as Dr. Banner outlined in the sixth chapter, produces an intense desire to please others) can last for up to 24-72 hours, so most submissive need to remain close to their Dominants, particularly after an intense scene. They also require varying levels of praise and assurance. In the absence of these things, the submissive may experience a severe panic response, or attempt increasingly dangerous ways of proving themselves to the Dominant.
Likewise, the hyper stimulation of a Dominant’s amygdala means that if they feel they have failed to provide adequately for a submissive, they are prone to depressive episodes and other severe emotional responses.
Chapter 8: Ask Strange Live Posts
Collected posts from the AskStrange event on my Tumblr
Content Notes: One of Strange's replies includes mentions of disordered eating (specifically, starvation as an adult and forced overeating as a child.) If you want to avoid, skip the part of Strange's answer beginning "As for Stark's food issues" and pick up again at the start of the next question.
#askstrange Will we ever find out if living in this new dimesion is affecting Tony's biology?
Ah, an excellent beginning with another sensible, scientific question. Truly, you readers give me hope for the future…well, most versions of it, anyway. (There’s always one where Deadpool ends up ruling everything, or I end up *shudder* teaming up with Peter Quill.)
And yes, to answer your question, the impact of his new setting on Stark’s biology will be revealed in time. However, his current unwillingness to have any medical testing performed on him suggests it shall likely take time for the Avengers to win that kind of trust.
I am sorry if I am doing this wrong I don't know how Tumblr works. I love your story. I guess I would Ask Strange about maybe some perspective on how Bruce, Clint, and the others feel science wise about Tony's ability to Sub when he doesn't have some of the hormone driven things established in Universe. I also would love a little more exploration of the food issues and trauma of Thanos and the stones... Tony doesn't seem concerned about any Thanos related crisis in this Universe?
I too (and the author) occasionally feel mystified by Tumblr, but I have received your questions!
I feel your first question shall be better answered through a brief view into the minds of one of the individuals you mentioned. Here it is:
The Avengers did, occasionally, still manage to surprise Phil. Like when Clint managed to get through a mission without declaring that something ‘looks bad,’ or Natasha allowed herself to baldly demonstrate kindness in a way she doesn’t typically outside of scenes.
Other things were entirely predictable, especially to someone like Coulson whose work was so much about pattern recognition. Bruce Banner showing up in Phil’s office the day after the team’s conversation about Tony submitting definitely fell into the latter category. Coulson had the document charting everything they knew about Tony open before Bruce had even stepped fully into the room.
“The bloodwork,” he said, in lieu of a traditional greeting. There was simply no point; Bruce at least tried to be more polite than Tony tended to be when he was focused on a problem, but the result was usually that he lost track of a conversation midway through and the whole thing took five times longer than just getting down to business.
“The bloodwork,” Bruce agreed. “Why would he have reacted so strongly? He let me provide aftercare the other night so I don’t think, I mean, I hope it isn’t just a matter of trust.” Phil shook his head, enlarging several of the points on the chart.
“My best guess is that it has to do with one or both of these things.”
Bruce stared at the words ‘Infinity War’ and ‘Submission’ for several long moments. Then he gestured to the first, a jerky, imprecise movement that suggested perhaps the Hulk was closer to the forefront than Coulson had realized.
“You think he could be…what, sick or something?”
“I think we know almost nothing about how the Infinity War ended in Tony’s universe. Nothing except that when he first arrived here he thought himself to be dead, and believed me to be some kind of guide through the afterlife. And I am correct in believing that the wound in his side was not severe enough to substantiate this conjecture, no?” Bruce shook his head definitively.
“Absolutely not. I think it was when it first happened, Tony said something about it getting infected multiple times, but by the time he got here it was on its way to healing properly. All I’ve done is help it along and prevent the infection from reoccurring.” Looking every bit the absent-minded professor, Bruce pulled a pen from behind his ear to chew on. “And of course submission in this context means you think that it’s possible that this universe could be impacting him physiologically. It would be highly unlikely, but he did go down incredibly fast yesterday. Even our…the other Tony, I really don’t know if even he was that responsive, and if you believe half of what they say about Trues…”
Phil had given this particular element of Tony a great deal of thought ever since Bruce had made similar claims about his reactions the previous evening. They knew so little about cross-dimensional travel that there was simply no way of gauging how likely or unlikely the kinds of changes Bruce was talking about really were. And certainly that kind of metamorphosis would solve many of their current problems.
“But isn’t it equally possible,” he mused aloud, “that he just needs it that badly? From everything he’s said it’s not like submission doesn’t exist in his own universe, it’s just not something he ever practiced before. And with everything he’s been through,” Phil waved to the rest of the chart, “it’s conceivable that we’ve just gotten really lucky, that he needs to be cared for in precisely the ways we desperately want to care for him.”
“Hulk sit on Tony until he give answers?”
They had all grown used to the closer relationship with that Bruce and Hulk were working on developing, but this particular entrance still made Coulson jump, then laugh aloud and wish he could take Hulk up on his proposal. It would certainly make compiling this document more efficient.
As for Stark’s food issues (CW for disordered eating, forced overeating and starvation), I shall share this directly since I doubt he will ever be able to spell it out clearly for the Avengers. Life as the child of a wealthy, popular family in the 70s and 80s meant that Tony Stark was frequently provided with multi-course meals too rich and plentiful for a child. However, ‘politeness' dictated that he clear his plate. Since that point, Stark developed a disdain for large, sit-down meals, preferring to ‘graze’ or avoid eating altogether, particularly during periods of high stress or emotional turmoil.
Stark then, of course, faced starvation during his misadventures in space. The result of these two conflicting patterns of disordered eating is an ongoing tension within Stark. Some times he becomes desperate for food, fearful on an unconscious level that it may disappear again. Otherwise, he still usually prefers to pick at food throughout the day; Dr. Banner has already picked up on the latter, but is unaware of the cause.
This wasn't an official #AskStrange request, but several folks mentioned wanting more information about the Pepper/Clint conversation in Chapter 21, and the Doctor obliged with this vision.
Pepper paced the entrance to Avengers Tower until one of the security guards on duty, a twenty-something army vet named Henry who had been invalided out after an injury to his left leg, came out to gently inquire if she was actually going to enter the building or not.
“It’s just, you keep triggering the automatic doors, Ms. Potts, and Mr. Thompson has to stand up every time and he has a pretty bad hip, see, and—”
“Of course, Henry, I’m sorry. Yes, I’m coming in. I just needed to work myself up to it, i guess.”
“I feel that way about seeing Director Rogers some days too, Ms. Potts,” Dylan confided in a conspiratorial whispers. “He’s a very kind man, but still he’s…well, Captain America.”
Captain America was rather the least of Pepper’s worries, but the real source of her anxiety wasn’t exactly something she could share with one of the Tower guards, so she nodded in what she hoped came across like a commiserating way.
Having actually entered the building, Pepper thought she was through the worst of the stress. Once she decided on a path, she usually didn’t struggle to remain committed to it. Then a red-faced and furious Clint Barton met her at the penthouse elevator.
Of all the Avengers, Clint was the one she would have expected such a cool welcome from the least. He always seemed so easy-going and calm, particularly when compared to the many higher strung members of the team. But there was nothing relaxed about the way he towered over Pepper, leaving her just enough room to step out of the elevator without getting caught in the doors. The use of physical intimidation, even if unintentional, was galling, especially given the garbage she was facing at SI. She deliberately stepped into his space, crossing her arms.
“This isn’t a good time.” (Yeah, no kidding.) Pepper glanced passed him, seeking and finding Tony sprawled across the couch. There was something she couldn’t quite place about his body language, and sure it was odd that he didn’t at least shout a hello to her himself, but if Tony was here and clearly available, it seemed like nothing but a territorial power play that Clint was attempting to refuse her entry.
“Well that’s unfortunate, Clint. Really unfortunate. I do know something about shitty times, as the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation. And so does Tony, actually, so I could really use his help with this.”
“Pepper, we’re in the middle of…”
“What, watching Cupcake Wars?”
“Aftercare,” he hissed. Surprise and worry and frustration and about a dozen other responses left Pepper momentarily stunned. Since when was Tony subbing for these people? Could he even sub, when last she’d heard the entire issue was that he didn’t fit into the orientational classification of their universe?
Pepper did not like being surprised. Pepper especially did not like being surprised when it came to Tony Stark. She had trusted one version of him to these people years ago; she’d had little choice, with Tony practically half-dead from sub-dep and Pepper herself unable to assist him. And then, as the Avengers had begun to provide for more and more of Tony’s needs, he and Pepper had fallen away from one another. It had been gradual, so slow that she thought she was imagining it at first. There hadn’t been a fight, no dramatic scene on one of their parts. They’d just begun to call one another less; then her visits to the Tower became more infrequent, and focused on business. Before Tony had died, they hadn’t spoken in weeks, and her first thought when she’d heard the news was how much she regretted allowing the distance to grow between them, so that she couldn’t even remember the last meaningful thing they’d talked about.
It wasn’t going to happen again. She didn’t know everything that had gone on between this Tony and his own version of her, but Pepper knew they had been close. He still looked at her like the other Tony had in the early years of their friendship, with so much admiration and open affection, but also a hint of regret. Like maybe there were things about their relationship he wished he could erase as much as Pepper yearned to have fought more to keep Tony in her life.
“I am genuinely sorry to interrupt a development I had no way of knowing about. And I can try to make this quick, but you also know that if you force me to leave he is not going to take it well, regardless of what headspace he’s in.” Clint glared, but probably more for the sake of it than anything else. He knew she was right.
“We need to have a conversation some time soon about boundaries. You can’t just—”
“Yeah, I think there are several things we should say to each other,” she snapped. Clint turned back to glance at Tony, and for just a few seconds his features softened, frustration morphing into concern and something almost resembling awe. And that, far more than his attempts to make her feel unwelcome, made her flush with guilt.
Still half-focused on Tony, the other man finally stepped backward several paces, allowing Pepper to make her way into the penthouse proper.
“You have no idea how sorry I am to disturb you both, Tony, truly.”
Chapter 9: Chapter Twenty-Three Responses
Content Notes: The first 'vision' relies on a cut subplot from Endgame involving Natasha running an orphanage for kids left parent-less by the Snap. The vision takes place after Nat's death, and as such may be triggering for those who have faced traumatic losses of parents or other caregivers. Skip down to the next question if you want to avoid.
The second 'vision' involves a portrayal of D/s Tony being outed as a sub without his consent or (much) prior knowledge. Again, avoid this vision if this is a triggering area for you.
Also, the portrayal of Christine Everhart is also very much a nod to dixiehellcat's wonderful Wordsmith verse!
#askstrange simple question but how long has it been since mark II’s death? And was wondering how is MCU without Tony? Did that version of Steve ever love Tony romantically and is his way of grieving similar to YGUS Steve?
Ah, excellent factual inquiries. (Well, at least to start.) The D/s universe is nearing the second anniversary of the death of their Tony Stark.
As for Captain Rogers in the so-called MCU, well…it is probably for the best that I show you. Thinking about Stark in a romantic context always leaves me wishing for some kind of decontamination shower.
Steve was selfish in grief. He’d spent enough of his life in mourning for people, for whole worlds, that he knew it to be true. Oh he could get through missions fine, but the second they were over, when he was Steve Rogers and not the Captain, he didn’t even bother trying to prevent the way it took him over, seeping away at his kindness and his hope and his joy and leaving nothing behind but dust. (Dust had haunted Steve long before Thanos had turned half the living world into it.)
When Clint had returned without Natasha and they’d seen the hollow, shattered look on his face, Steve had welcomed grief like an old friend. He hadn’t tried to convince the team her sacrifice had been worth it, or that now more than ever they needed to commit to this fight to honour her memory. Natasha had been young and smart and vital and strong and now they didn’t even have a body to bury with dignity. Steve didn’t want to find any comfort in that no matter how courageous her actions had been. He was sick of seeking comfort in the cold, empty arms of loss.
Once, Tony had thought Steve to be selfish in his grief, too. After Coulson, he’d stormed away, refused to take solace in being hailed as Phil’s fellow soldier. We aren’t soldiers, he’d spat. So when it was Tony who came to Steve as he sat staring blankly out at the haunting beauty of their setting, so eerily silent with half of the sounds of the natural world absent, he was grateful.
“Someone needs to tell her kids.”
Steve wanted to argue the accuracy of the description, wanted to protest that the hundreds of children who had found themselves orphans in the wake of the Snap didn’t belong to Natasha. Not because her orphanage hadn’t been valuable—of all of them, Natasha’ contribution to the post-Snap world had undoubtedly been the most meaningful. Those kids worshipped Nat, sought out her unique pairing of quiet comfort and brutal honesty, the way she never softened the harshness of their reality even while she held them through tears and read them stories and tucked them into bed. Steve wanted to force those words back into Tony’s mouth and beg him to keep it closed because how could Steve have forgotten that they weren’t the only ones who had lost Natasha today. They weren’t her only family.
“I’ll do it,” he said, unsure even as he rose to his feet and wiped his eyes if he’d actually be able to manage the task. After a brief, critical glance at Steve, Tony seemed to come to the same conclusion. He shook his head, already in the process of turning on his heel to go do the job himself. Then he stopped and looked back at Steve, something vulnerable and full of a fragile hope Steve hadn’t seen so nakedly clear since before the Civil War.
When this was all over, Steve vowed to himself as he fell in step with Tony, he would tell him. He’d explain how sorry he was for everything, for the War, for refusing to hear Tony’s concerns about Thanos, all of it. With Pepper seeming to be truly out of the picture, maybe Steve could even finally tell Tony about the many sleepless nights he had lost during their separation, regretting the fact that they’d missed their chance. Steve would tell Tony that he’d had so much more than his share of regret and missed chances in his life already, that he wasn’t going to risk it again if there was even a ghost of a chance that the hints of potential he’d sensed between them before hadn’t been one-sided. (When this was all over. When Thanos was behind them and the world restored to normal…he’d tell him then.)
#askstrange If I remember currently and correct me if I’m wrong, but I remember reading an implication that Mark II hid his designation from the team for awhile. If so, how did the the team find out and how did they react?
Ah, yes. I recall the revelation of Stark’s orientation being rather a scandal at the time. Let me show you…
Christine Everhart was not quite the last person Tony expected to see on an otherwise quiet Thursday morning, but she definitely cracked the top ten. SI’s above-board, weapons-free projects were all flourishing, and the Avengers’ last several missions had been flawless, beyond the reproach of even their most cynical critics.
Tony wouldn’t have counted her among that bunch anyway, though she definitely still took every opportunity she could to throw a curveball or two his way. Her last piece had been a thorough and thoughtful dissection of SI’s labour policies, and had ultimately argued that anyone employed by a business owned by an active Avenger deserved hazard pay. Pepper, it turned out, had agreed, and implemented the changes several weeks after the article came out. The two women had even had a one-on-one sit down which he was pretty sure had gone well. (He should really catch up with Pepper sometime soon…)
There was, in short, no reason he could think of for Everhart to burst into his office with a frantic air about her. The woman’s usually flawless hair was tied back in a perilously loose knot that threatened to fall apart any second; she was wearing make up that was smudged and was likely several days old, and instead of her carefully tailored suits she was in a pair of ripped jeans and a t-shirt that looked slightly too big to be her own. He might not have even recognized her if JARVIS hadn’t provided her name when she’d requested access to his personal floor. Before he could even muster a snarky greeting, she was rambling.
“Tony, I didn’t know they what I was looking for. Please, you have to believe me, I would never—”
“Woah, woah, Brown, take a breath and have a seat. You want a drink? Old fashioned, right?” She waved away the offer impatiently.
“Tony, I know that you’re classified as a True submissive. And in just a few hours, so will most of the world.”
That…that, Tony hadn’t been expecting. He’d lived this lie for so long and with such flawless execution that this particular option never even occurred to him anymore when people threatened to expose his secrets (which they did on practically a weekly basis, to be fair.) Ice-cold panic gripped him, the pressure so intense and sudden it felt like it had when he’d first woken up to find half of what had once been his chest cavity taken up by the arc reactor. (Invasive, his insides suddenly on display, he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe…oh fuck, anything anything but this.)
“I didn’t know, Tony, I would never out someone on purpose. I was chasing down a lead about your college admissions paperwork; something seemed off, and I thought maybe your Father had, I don’t know, forged your test scores, maybe? Tried to make you seem smarter than you really were? By the time I realized what it was I was actually uncovering I stopped, I tried to convince my editor to just drop the story, but she just assigned the piece to a new writer and used everything I’d found. All our work is on a shared drive and I couldn’t remove it in time.”
It wasn’t actually the first time he’d had a reporter come to him like this, feeling the pangs of conscience and begging for forgiveness. In the past, he’d always been able to spin the situation to his advantage, leverage their humanity into something favourable for himself or the company down the line. Doing so now, promising Everhart an exclusive if they broke the news first, or maybe having her come out ahead of the story claiming she’d forged the proof she’d found…the options occurred to him, but it was like having the equivalent of an out-of-body experience in his brain. He registered these thoughts, knew they were the smart and practical things to do, but they felt distant and removed from the terror and utter fury that were dominating all of his more immediate mental processes.
“So what, did you come here to fucking gloat?” he spat. “Or did you want forgiveness, maybe? Want me to tell you it’s just fine you’re about to tear my life apart because you didn’t mean to? That would be a bit rich from the woman who wanted me tarred and feather for the mere act of producing and selling weapons just because I didn’t know how and under what conditions each and every one of them would be used. Well I’m not going to give you absolution, Brown. And your sanctimonious ass has no right coming in here and expecting it.”
“I know.” Pepper and Rhodey were two of the only people who knew that short, declarative statements were one of the only ways to cut through Tony’s rants when he really got going. He was so paranoid in the wake of the imminent threat of exposure that for a moment he wondered if Everhart had been spying somehow. Maybe she had sources closer to him than he even realized? (He’d conduct a hardline sweep of the Tower and every other building he had so much as stepped foot in the second she left.) “I just…I can only give you a couple hours head start, but I thought if there were people in your life who don’t know and who you would prefer hear it directly from you, I could at least give you the chance to tell them yourself. I really am sorry, Tony.”
He considered this proposal for all of two seconds after Everhart made a quiet exit. Rhodey and Pepper both knew—Rhodey because of Tony’s disastrous college years, and Pepper because Rhodey had pretty much forced Tony to confide in her once she’d been hired on as his assistant. (He was still pissed about that, but sometimes Tony really needed to kneel or be told he was good, and Pepper always seemed to know. It didn’t feel anything at all like when a Dom would do it, but it staved off the worst of the dep when it got really bad.) The team…if he went to them now, if he took Everhart’s advice and broke it to them personally, he could already predict what would happen. Steve would be quietly concerned, asking questions about Tony’s wellbeing and pretending his True Dom ass didn’t have a vested interest in the answers. Bruce, someone actually informed on the science, would back Steve up, making more pointed inquiries about his hormone levels and other indicators of dep that would be far harder to ignore. Natasha and Thor, though for different reasons, would both be silent in their support. Clint would make a perfectly inappropriate joke, and Coulson would promise any supports Tony needed through SHIELD or outside of it. They’d be kind and understanding and sympathetic and by the end of it Tony would feel so fucking small and worthless that he’d probably leave the damn country and never return.
No, he’d wait this one out in the shop with all the liquor in the Tower, every project he could get his hands on, and the loudest music that JARVIS would permit.
Chapter 10: Chapter Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five Responses
Content Notes: Second response contains brief explicit representation of sex. Third contains Endgame spoilers (including the deleted scenes) and representation of perceived character death (including loss of parental figure.) Read carefully and with attention to your own triggers.
#askstrange: Hey, Doc! What’s Loki’s up to in this world? And what did he get up to (did the Battle of NY happen, did he [attempt to] kill Coulson?)
The events of the Battle of New York were nearly identical to those of the MCU. You are correct, however, to suspect that Phillip Coulson’s role was different. The wound he sustained from Loki was not quite as severe; while Colonel Fury was technically correct when he used the fact of Coulson’s being near death to spur the Avengers on, he ended up making a near-total recovery. (He also punched Colonel Fury for fouling his Captain America cards.)
Loki was released from Asgardian prison when it came to light (through a series of equally important events which I shall not derail here) that he himself had been under mental duress and influence from the so-called Mad Titan, Thanos. Loki still occasionally makes appearances on Earth, but his efforts are far less focused on dictatorial control and more on the kinds of mischief he has been famous on Asgard for for centuries.
#askstrange: so what does a “True” pairing look like? Why does the world care so much that Steve and Tony were both Trues? Would it have been different if one of them was.. one ‘grade lower’ than a True?
Ah, yes. The fundamental contradiction of Trues: they are both nothing special and extremely unique. The deceased version of Tony Stark was correct in arguing that much of the mythos built up around True identification is, essentially, a sales tactic. True orientations are such a rarity that it became easy for them to become little more than a marketing tool, encouraging those outside of those classifications to feel they must make up for a perceived lack through the purchase of jewelry, luxury vacation, cars, etc.
And yet, the mythos is not entirely a fiction. It derives from something deeply real, a way in which the biological and social components of True Dominants and submissive are in near perfect alignment. Perhaps, nauseating though I may find it personally, it is better that I show you…
Even the team, who were far more aware than most of putting too much pressure or focus on Steve and Tony’s True designations, were obviously curious the first night after the two of them had sex. Tony could feel their eyes on both of them as he and Steve tried valiantly to make it through a normal breakfast, seeking out…well, he didn’t know. Rainbows shooting out of their asses? The two of them bursting into a perfectly timed duet? Some kind of supernatural glowing?
He didn’t make it through his pancakes this morning, and from Steve’s faint look of disapproval, Tony guessed that his time before they had some kind of Conversation about eating and rules and shit was numbered. But he had to get out from under those stares, and the weight of the expectations behind them. Because truth was…it hadn’t been quite as amazing as the box had promised. Oh it had been fun of course. Steve was a generous and capable lover, and more confident in his Dominance than Tony had expected. But for all the hype…maybe even because of the hype, he’d felt curiously underwhelmed in the aftermath.
It was almost a relief when Steve was called in to SHIELD HQ that day, despite his having attempted to secure the day off. (The organization was still in shambles, and with such a limited number of people possessing high level clearance, sometimes Steve just didn’t have a choice.) Tony spent much of the day in the shop, ignoring the team’s invites for lunch and blocking the attempts that both Natasha and Coulson made to enter his space. (That would teach them to ruin Tony’s pancakes! And besides, he might have to embrace his submissive instincts on occasion, but that didn’t mean he needed the team checking up on him and hovering like this just because Steve wasn’t there.)
Even despite what turned into a bit of a workshop binge, he still beat Steve to bed that night. He was on the edge of dozing when the noise of heavy footsteps preceded Steve’s entry into the bedroom. (Weird…for a big guy, Steve rarely sounded like it when he walked.)
Steve looked…awful. Drawn and defeated and so painfully young. It was all wrong, the way Steve’s shoulders were slumped, the effort every simple movement seemed to cost him. The sight of Steve staring down at his boots like bending down to untie them would be his undoing set something prickling all along Tony’s skin.
Despite all the hoopla about Trues, submission had never come naturally or easily to Tony. He hated it for many reasons, but the most humiliating one was how often he was incorrect in his guesses about what his Dominant wanted or needed. In some cases it was because he’d been so frustrated and angry to need the submission in the first place that he hadn’t bothered to ask or observe enough about the Dom to have a real sense of their desires or expectations. But even when he’d tried, even when he’d put every bit of his goddamn genius intellect into it, Tony had failed more often than he hadn’t. So he’d chalked it up to another consequence of his forced lack of orientational socialization (thanks, Howard!) and accepted that even when forced to cede to his body’s ridiculous requirements, his role as a submissive wouldn’t be any less of an act than his decades-long impersonation of a Switch had been. But right now—now it was like someone had handed him a detailed, well-written and extremely thorough guidebook, and then illuminated the path ahead of him for good measure. For once, Tony knew exactly what to do next.
He was off the bed and on his knees before he’d even consciously planned to stop feigning sleep. By the time Steve seemed to catch up with the sight in front of him, Tony was halfway done unlacing the first boot, and was urging Steve to lift his foot .
“You don’t have to—” Steve’s exhaustion was threaded through the half-hearted protest, but Tony could hear the cautious excitement there too. It felt like having been listening to a radio turned one or two clicks away from the correct station, only to have someone finally find the right frequency. The buzzing and static were gone, leaving behind nothing but crystal-clear sound. (If it wouldn’t have made him the most pathetic human being ever to live, he might have fucking sobbed right there on Steve’s dusty boots.)
He made quick work of shoes and socks, then methodically stripped Steve of the rest of his clothes, piling all of them neatly on the bench in front of the bed. That was when he finally allowed himself to look at his Dominant, who was staring back at him with not a single trace of the exhaustion that had coloured his features just minutes before,
“Tony.” His name. All Steve whispered was his fucking name, but no one had ever said Tony’s name quite like that, as if those four letters contained all the truth there could be in the world. He slid to his knees again, heedless of everything he knew about how to get there gracefully, with poise and control. Steve’s fingers tangled in his hair, pulling Tony’s head to rest against Steve’s thigh. The muscles that Tony’s cheek pressed against shook with fine tremors, and he spared a few seconds to feel grateful, so fucking grateful, that it wasn’t just him, that Steve could feel it too.
Every simple action on either of their parts caused the exhilarated thrumming of Tony’s system to intensity tenfold. By the time Steve was fucking him, helping Tony ride his cock by physically lifting him up and down on it (Tony was never going to snark on super soldier strength again holy fuck he wasn’t he wasn’t), they didn’t even need anything so base as language. Words would have gotten in the way of how Tony’s entire system seemed to have rewired itself to predict just what would make Steve gasp and thrash and surge with Dominance so intense that it should have been terrifying.
He would reflect later (much, much later) about what made that particular night what it was. Tony and Steve had scened together before, had fucked just the evening prior, there was no reason in the world for it to suddenly feel like what everyone said about Trues was not just possible, but the most absurd understatement in human history. Except maybe that was the point. Maybe it had only been when they’d stopped trying to prove anything, when they’d been nothing but a submissive trying to comfort his Dominant after a long day, that their instincts had been able to recognize one another for what they were.
That reminds me, I need to ask the Doctor whether Tony's gambit worked, whether his verse's Natasha was returned, and how the team reacted...it may be a bit too soon to ask that, but inquiring minds wanna know, and all that.
Doc, where to you from? This universe? Tony’s original al universe? Or some limbo that is not constrained to a universe? Did Tony succeed in bartering his soul for Nat? Will he ever find out? If you know so much about Tony, which don’t you pay him a visit? Peeping Tom <.< <3
Hey, Doc! If it hasn't already been asked I'm desperately curious about the aftermath of whatever Tony did in his world. Particularly whether he did save Natasha, and how his subsequent loss has affected everyone (especially those who didn't appreciate or listen to Tony as much as they should have). And if it's not too personal, how do you feel about your role in all of this? Obviously you know where Tony is and how he's doing but I can't imagine it's easy when dealing with Tony's loved ones.
Too many of you are loyal enough to Stark that I am choosing not to answer questions about my current location. What I will say, as it pertains to seeking Stark out, is that I have reviewed the possibilities and will intervene if and when my presence will aid rather than regress his progress in his new universe.
I have to admit my own role has left me more conflicted than I had anticipated. I have done precisely as I should have, protecting the Stones, reality, and the greatest number of people possible. Yet I wish there had been another option. Stark’s sacrifice should not have been necessary, and many of those he sought assistance from in the early days of Thanos’s efforts know this, and have no choice but to live with that regret.
As for the fate of one Natasha Romanov…
Natasha was falling, and then she wasn’t. And while she’d anticipated a lot of cruel endings to her life, the mindfuck of that after the cliffside battle for Clint’s life seemed like a little much. She waited for upwards of twenty seconds with her eyes closed, praying that the next part wouldn’t be too horrible. (Her sacrifice had to have counted for something, didn’t it? It must have wiped out at least some of the red still left in her ledger?)
Natalia Alianova Romanova.
Oh great. It always went so well for Natasha when disembodied voices used her full name.
You have been granted a gift, Natalia. Use it well.
She opened her eyes, unable to resist such an absurd claim, and found chaos. Natasha had long ago reached a point in her career where she thought every battlefield looked pretty much identical; swap in different baddies, maybe a new weapon or two, sure, but the mayhem and the screams and the smells of fear and death and blood were usually interchangeable to her at this point.
This…this was different. The scale of the destruction was impossible for her to even comprehend; it stretched in every direction she looked, as far as she could see. There were open portals and the lingering traces of other magic, bodies strewn across the ground with no care or ceremony…several of which vanished to dust in front of Natasha’s eyes.
(Was this her hell? Was she doomed to relive the Snap for all eternity, powerless to stop it?)
The sound of the battle should have been piercing, a roaring, calamitous combination of sounds that heaved and shook the ground. There was nothing but an eerie silence, fractured only by a sudden, gasping sob.
She turned in the direction of the noise and found a collection of familiar figures huddled in a circle. Getting to her feet was more of a struggle than it should have been (Clint always had known her weakest points, and their fight had been no joke), but adrenaline made up for the energy she lacked.
T’Challa. Sam. Scott. Nebula. Bucky. Carol. Steve. Wanda. Thor. Shuri. Bruce. ClintClintClint. Their names tasted like the sweetest honey on her lips as she whispered them soundlessly to herself. They’d made it. They’d done it. They were here, and by some absurd miracle so was Natasha. It was finally over.
And then Clint sank, jerky and unsteady, to his right knee. Before her brain could even begin to process that, T’Challa, a King who knelt to no one, followed. (The cry she’d heard. No. No.) Unwillingly, her eyes began to seek out the absences rather than the presences, but it was not a long search. It didn’t need to be, not when Steve crashed to his knees with painful finality, like he never intended to stand again.
There was only one person on Earth who had ever been capable of making Steve look like that.
That wrenching sob that had cut clear across the battlefield rang out again, and Steve swayed from his crumped position as he was shoved hard enough to send him sprawling. Peter stood above him, mask off, eyes red and furious.
“NO! I’m telling you he’s not—he just disappeared! He could still be alive! Get up, goddamn you, get up!” Steve didn’t speak a reply, very possibly couldn’t, but he reached up and pulled Peter down onto the ground with him, wrapping his arms so tightly around the boy’s slight frame it definitely had to be painful even with Peter’s own enhanced strength. Peter gave as good as he got though, beating his fists against Steve’s chest, kicking and biting and trying everything he could manage to escape Steve’s hold. The sight reminded Natasha so acutely of the children in her orphanage when they tantrumed that it became impossible not to remember just how young Peter really was. (Too young to have lost so much.) “He’s not. He’s not. He’s not.” Peter’s chanted protests became softer, his arms beginning to exhaust themselves. He buried his face against Steve’s dirt and blood-covered neck, weeping.
Clint laid eyes on Natasha first. He made to rise up on unsteady legs, but she shook her head and joined him in kneeling instead. There were quiet gasps from several of the others, but everyone stayed where they were. There would be time for what little explanation she could offer later. Thanks to Tony, they had all the time in the world. (Of course it had been Tony. The one person Natasha had never been able to read correctly, the one who she’d made the mistake of disbelieving and underestimating time and again. The only one who had stayed at the compound with her when it had all fallen apart. She’d so rarely seen Tony clearly, but he’d always seen her, valued Natasha for precisely who and what she was. And now he’d gone and saved the universe, and made sure there would be a space for Natasha within it.)
You have been granted a gift, Natalia. Use it well.
Chapter 11: Chapter Twenty-Six Responses
Content Notes: First response includes representations of physical violence from an enhanced teenager toward an adult, as well as discussion of grieving the loss of a parent. I also want to note that the POV character sounds and likely is vaguely suicidal at the beginning of the response. He's not making any definite plans beyond using time travel, but given that the context of said time travel would be rather different than in the canon, it takes on a different valence here. If you want to avoid the most direct discussions of that, start reading several paragraphs in at "He came to suddenly and violently."
Thanks for sharing, doc, this and the other intel, especially your note about the people who wouldn't listen to Tony earlier having to live with the consequences (that's something I'd love to hear a bit more about, sometime, if you are at liberty to say)
Hey, Doc! If it hasn't already been asked I'm desperately curious about the aftermath of whatever Tony did in his world. Particularly whether he did save Natasha, and how his subsequent loss has affected everyone (especially those who didn't appreciate or listen to Tony as much as they should have). And if it's not too personal, how do you feel about your role in all of this? Obviously you know where Tony is and how he's doing but I can't imagine it's easy when dealing with Tony's loved ones.
My feelings about my own role…well, as one would imagine, they’re complicated. There was little love lost between Stark and I, but I still regretted that this was the only possible ending to his story. He deserved better from this universe.
My own visions are not perfect, especially when I am under the kind of constraints I was on Titan. My initial impression was that Stark would perish during the final battle against Thanos. So initially I was relieved to realize it was otherwise. It is rather difficult to keep the truth of his existence in another universe from those who love and are missing him, and Peter in particular is not making it easy. He and Mr. Keener are secretly (or what they believe to be secretly, anyway) attempting to seek Stark out, correctly believing he is not dead. If they get far I may have to intervene; Stark is correct in assuming that contact between the universes could be catastrophic, resulting in (among other things) both his and Natasha Romanov’s deaths, or even the potential undoing of the team’s success against Thanos.
As to others who have regrets, there are unfortunately many to choose from in this regard.After all, practically no one listened to Stark when they should have.
For now, however, this particular vision should provide some valuable insights about one in particular.
The morning of the memorial, Steve was dozing in a motel room bed. It was a terrible bed even by 40s standards; springs dug into his back every time he moved, and it had a whole series of odors he had to actively work not to recognize. It didn’t really mater, though, because this half-sleep state was the closest he managed to get to actual rest anymore; Bucky had tried to remedy this with several over-the-counter sleep aids, and then some stolen opiates, but the serum burned through everything too fast, leaving Steve vaguely nauseated and even more irritable.
After a few days, even Bucky had mostly stopped coming by. Bucky mourned Tony, and Steve knew he regretted that the two of them had never had a chance to really make peace about everything that had happened in Siberia. But Bucky, like the others, also wanted to get on with the work of re-making the world and his own life, honouring Tony’s sacrifice by not wasting any more time.
For a guy so frequently reminded that he was out of time, Steve felt like he was swimming in the stuff these days. The future he’d fought so hard to preserve was here, laid out before Steve in an endless expanse of unsoiled promise. (He hated it. Hated everything about the idea of a future that didn’t include Tony Stark.)
Bucky knew what Steve was planning. Maybe he wasn’t clear on all the details, but outside of his Winter Soldier persona, Bucky wasn’t a subtle man. His disapproval had been just as easy to spot as the signs of his recent and extremely happy reunion with Sam. (Bucky wanted a future, a life here. He didn’t need Steve anymore, didn’t deserve to be weighted down by Steve’s stagnant refusal to move forward.)
He came suddenly and violently to full consciousness several minutes later when he was hit in the ribs with enough force to make him gasp. Another blow landed against the side of his head, and it was oddly lucky that Steve’s reflexes were as slowed as they were, or he would have responded with lethal force before he could have registered the familiarity of the dishevelled curls in his face.
“Peter? The hell?”
The boy looked exactly how Steve felt: as if he had given up. Except while Steve’s approach to hopelessness had been to languish, Peter was just as full of rage and denial as he had been the day of the battle. Steve caught him by the wrists, but Peter was almost wild in his fury, and he struggled with every bit of his enhance strength. They rolled onto the floor, Steve’s head glancing off the corner of the night-table.
“You’re leaving? I heard Barnes telling Wilson last night—Tony did all this to save the world, to save your fucking friend for you, and you’re just LEAVING him and everyone else? Fucking off to the forties to live happily ever after?” If Peter kept landing blows against Steve’s arms and chest with this kind of force, there was a not improbable chance he’d end up hurting himself; reluctant though he was to use his own strength, he rolled them over and pinned the boy’s arms to the floor above his head. “He would have done anything for you, you fucking asshole! You left him half dead in Siberia and he still would have done anything!”
Containing Peter’s body only seemed to intensify his anger, so Steve loosened his grip just enough that the boy could feel it and act. In seconds they were both their feet, and Peter had slammed him against a wall. (They would be lucky if they made it out of this without having to pay the motel for structural damages.)
Peter held Steve there and screamed until he was hoarse. He shouted accusations and curses and pleas, jumping from one of Steve’s faults to the next with little in the way of logical transition. None of it was anything Steve hadn’t thought of himself in the last several days, but there was still something particularly horrifying about hearing it all laid out by a desperate, broken teenager. (Tony’s desperate and broken teenager. This child was Tony’s just as surely and completely as any child had ever belonged to any parent.)
“What good am I here?” he asked hopelessly when the latest wave of temper had burned itself out. “I was already lost before. Now, the battle’s over, the world is saved…Peter, I’m tired.” This drew a harsh, bitter laugh which never should have emerged from someone as young as Peter. Steve winced.
“I am sixteen years old and I am about to bury my fourth parental figure. I died trying to save the world before I had even told the girl I like that I have a crush on her. Fuck you you’re fucking tired.” He started whaling on Steve’s chest again, but Peter’s strength was finally giving out, and he forgot to tuck his thumb properly on one of the blows. His thumb broke with an audible crack and Peter howled, collapsing onto the floor. “Agh god. Ow ow ow ow—no don’t you fucking touch me.”
For seconds that felt like hours, he watched Peter writhe on the floor. Steve imagined how the sight would have devastated Tony, what the man he loved would have given to cradle his child, soothe his tears and his pain. But it wasn’t just Tony he saw in Peter now. In the boy’s misdirected anger, his sorrow, his inability to even comprehend the scale of his own loss, Steve could see himself reflected just as clearly as when he’d actually battled his younger counterpart. Tony would never have wanted that for Peter, would never have wished for all the worst parts of Steve to take over his son.
Without another word, without pausing one more second to let himself think about the commitment he was making, Steve spun on his heel, seized the ice bucket, and marched down to the ice machine at the end of the hall. It was grimy enough that he wouldn’t have dared exposed the open wound of anyone who wasn’t enhanced to the contents, but for today it would do. He stomped back to the room, lifted Peter’s hand up onto the bed so it sat above his heart, and shoved it not entirely gently into the bucket of ice. Peter made to swear at Steve, maybe even hit him again, but Steve shook his head.
“We’re done with that now. Keep that in there while I try to find something to use as a splint.” Peter settled for glaring while Steve found the cleanest shirt he had in his bag, cut it into strips, and wrapped it carefully around Peter’s red, swollen thumb. “You’re right about…well, about almost everything. I made so many mistakes with Tony, there are more things that I wish I could take back than you even know about. But you can’t go through the world like this, Peter. It’s not what he would have wanted, to see you twisted and broken and cruel. You know that.”
“The hell does it matter to you?” Peter demanded, hissing as he pressed his hand deeper into the ice. “It’s not like you’ll be around to have to pick up the pieces. Not like you ever are.”
“Maybe…maybe this time I will be. For long enough to make sure that Tony’s kid is going to be alright, anyway. I owe him that much, don’t you think?”
“I’m not your absolution. You don’t get to feel better—”
“No,” Steve agreed quickly, before the kid could get himself worked up again. “I don’t get to feel better, not about him. But I loved him and he loved you, so you’re stuck with me until I don’t think you’re at risk of going all supervillain. Or worse…Captain America.” Peter snorted.
“Fat fucking chance.”
“Fuck you, old man.”
Anyway another question for you or for #AskStrange: to the good Doctor, we’ve been told/shown that the other Steve (MCU Steve) loved Tony and was going to admit his feelings. Did our Tony love his original Steve too? Ta.
Ugh, Stark and feelings. My least favourite combination of words. Now, to your question: my impression is that Stark had feelings for Rogers early on in their relationship, but that they were largely nullified by the events of the Civil War. He believed Rogers to have chosen James Barnes over himself in every possible way, so any romantic interest in the man was, while not immediately banished, certainly tainted.
The two did warm to one another considerably during their sojourn to the 1970s; there was, I believe, a very near kiss at one point. But before that particular spark could be much more than slightly fanned, Stark learned of his ties to the Soul Stone, and after that he kept Rogers at arms-length as best he could, fearing he would not live through the final battle against Thanos.
Hey doc! so I was wondering how Natasha and Bruce are doing after their last scene with Tony, especially Natasha. They all seemed to be pretty shaken up about it and was wondering if after all the aftercare and the soft floffy feelings, if everything was alright with them? are things and feeling always resolved after a punishment or do you still have to work things out after too? and most importantly, did they tell tony what a good boy he was? Thanks!
An interesting question worth exploring from the limited perspective of Stark himself. They did, indeed, inform Stark he had done well numerous times, but as you’ll see, that doesn’t mean they’re not working through the implications of the scene themselves.
The elevator doors had just barely closed when Natasha declared,
“I should have kept him here longer. He might not be ready, and he’ll never forgive me if he drops in public, or—” Bruce wrapped two heavy arms around her waist, leaning down to brush a kiss against the back of her neck.
“He was ready. Any more than this right now and we risk overwhelming him and making him reject aftercare altogether next time. You made the right call.” He steered them, not to the elevator or the stairs, but back to the bedroom in which they’d spent the majority of the last two days. Her sheets still smelled like sex and Tony and a little bit like sugar (Tony had eaten way too many of the pixi-stix Thor had brought him on his first day here), and she fell gratefully into them face-first. Bruce paused only to strip off his shirt before joining her. His chest was warm and delightfully fuzzy with its usual crop of hair, and she burrowed back against him, grateful to be with someone whose Dominance was stronger than her own right now. “You did well, Natasha.”
“It wasn’t enough. Already he’s convinced himself he’ll never need anything like it again, when it’s so painfully obvious that he needs the 24/7 parts of the dynamic way more than anything else.” Bruce hummed thoughtfully, a familiar and comforting sound that reached down inside Natasha two soothe and calm. “I was terrified the entire time, and yet I’m so sure that if we keep moving this slowly we’ll lose him. We need…I don’t know what we need.”
“We need Steve,” Bruce said confidently. “I mean, he's not the only thing, but things will definitely get easier and more stable once we're all together again. Those two are enough to try even my patience, I swear. But Steve is doing a lot better these days. Shouldn’t be too much longer.”
It seemed too dramatic for Natasha to say what she actually thought, which was it better not be, for all our sakes. So she said nothing, throwing her left leg back and overtop of Bruce’s just so she could feel more of his skin on hers.
(They would fix this. They had to. Failing Tony Stark twice was not an option.)
Chapter 12: Chapter Twenty-Seven Responses
No warnings I can think of for this set of replies, but as always, let me know if you have concerns or questions.
what’s up doc? so you must know that the team is compiling info on there other universe counterpart. Do they ever just sit around and talk shit about said counterparts or try to scheme ways to punch them in the face through time and space?
Ah yes. The team does spend a rather disturbing amount of time on this topic. Perhaps I should show you, as they tend to get a bit sloppy for my taste.
It was not really a tradition Phil’s proud of. Hell, it wasn't something he intended to become a tradition at all. It started out as just he and Clint poring over the data they’d collected about Tony’s universe one evening. It was shortly after the archer’s first date with Tony, and Clint was still reeling about the news that his counterpart had a wife and kids.
“I mean, and seriously, to not even tell the team? I get not wanting to spread the news around and make ‘em a target, but no one but Nat even knew? What kind of a douchebag does that, anyway?” Clint took an angry gulp of his beer, scowling at it when it emptied as if the beer had somehow been on the whole ‘conceal other-Clint’s wife and family from the Avengers’ plan too.
“I mean, my counterpart died. Or worse, he didn’t and he went along with some kind of long-con undoubtedly thought up by Fury. So either way, I think I got the worst end of things here.” Clint took issue with this, claiming the fate of ending up on a farm with a secret wife and kids worse than death, and the more they bickered and complained about their alternative selves, the more they drank.
The next morning’s meeting with all of the SHIELD department heads was a decidedly rough one. Steve cornered him after it was over to demand to know where Phil’s head had been at and why he hadn’t been able to recall the exact number of agents in Western Europe when asked. Phil had disabled all active monitoring in Steve’s office and then confessed.
“Clint I got drunk and bitched about our alternative universe selves last night.” He expected annoyance, amusement, maybe even anger. What Phil did not anticipate was what Steve actually said.
“I want in next time.”
Word traveled quickly after that. Tony, who loved being around the team but who was also unused to having constant company, usually took one day a week to spend on his own. This quickly became the team’s time to gather on Phil’s floor and rant about themselves. Sometimes the complaints were funny, such as when Natasha threw a less-than-dignified drunken fit over learning her other self had been blonde for the end of the world.
Other evenings were more subdued, like the one where Thor showed up with a massive jug of Asgardian mead and sadly announced that he was certain enough that he’d brought physical harm to Tony that the two of them had decided to forego any D/s play for the time being.
“Join the club,” Steve commiserated, taking a swig of the liquor for himself. “Remember the part where I didn’t tell him that Bucky killed his parents, and then beat the crap out of him for being upset about it? It’s kind of unbelievable I ever thought it work between he and I, really. There’s way too much baggage.”
Several members of the team booed Steve for this one; Bucky threw a slipper at his head. Phil just took another swig of his own drink (a martini made with some of Natasha’s stash of Russian vodka) and sighed. Tomorrow was going to be another rough morning.
Doc, you are either wilfully obtuse or just sadistic! I ask a question about Tony’s feelings and you blabber on about the Soul Stone! Whaaat? I do not accept your answer, my goodman. What does Tony know about the Soul Stone? How did he know about its link to his life in his previous universe? How did he know before the final battle at the Compound? And what on earth does it have to do with impacting his relationship with Steve prior to the final battle? And don’t go fobbing me off this time.. I know where you live!
Many of these are areas I have touched on in a previous response, so it may be worth reviewing that material. You can find it here under Chapter Six here on the collected replies (the second answer down.)
And for the record, I am both willfully obtuse and sadistic.
Love that the two Tony's have different fashion choices. Dr Strange, has Phil been keeping a list of the "stark" differences
Truly, Coulson’s records border on obsessive. I dread the day Stark ever learns about them; his head may become too large to fit through any standard doors.
His encryptions are impressive even for a mortal, so while I can’t provide a complete overview, I can confirm that his notes include: clothing habits (and current measurements); eating preferences (complete with an itemized list of meals they’ve seen Stark reject or strongly enjoy), recreation/leisure interests, and both confirmed and speculative notes about all elements of Stark’s overall health. There is also what I can only deem a truly absurd shared ‘wish list’ where the team is adding items they intend to purchase for Stark once they feel he will be more inclined to accept gifts from them.