Chapter 1: Where Tony Doesn't Let Anyone Know
Of all the people that Charles Xavier would have expected to arrive on his doorstep at four in the morning, it was not Tony Stark.
‘I can feel everything.’ Was all the boy said, only fourteen years old if the papers were to be believed.
Later, it was discovered that young Tony Stark was the most powerful empath anyone had ever seen. It was only a few months after that it was discovered what he could do to other people.
Charles often thought that the physical form was far, far too idolised in comparison to that of the mind. After all — what was the use of muscle when you were sobbing on the floor from a single touch of a fingertip?
That was what Tony could do. That was what made Tony such a brilliant businessman, even without actively using his mutation. He knew emotion, expanded on it, created it, diminished it and by God did he use it.
Charles had never experienced something as breathtaking as the mind of a man who knew the way every human being ticked.
Tony became one of the founding members of the X-Men — after the first disastrous attempt in the sixties. Not that he ever fought, or received a mutant name, but he had a suit, and was present in the back of Charles’ mind every time the team went away to fight. Tony was always watching, always keeping a careful eye.
He was always invited to their meetings, to the school. It was then that Charles truly appreciated Tony’s skills in the art of excuse making.
Their correspondence was a secret, and Charles could never blame him for keeping what he could do a secret from everyone except Charles. It would cause the next Wall Street Crash, Tony had said with a laugh, even though Charles didn’t need his own telepathy to distinguish what he was really thinking.
Howard Stark made Charles’ stomach turn, with his talk of abominations and unnaturalness, especially in front of his own son, and especially because he neglected that son to try and find a relic he had pumped full of chemicals.
When Afghanistan happened, Charles watched and searched from the sidelines, yet found nothing. His fellow teachers said nothing about his weariness — but he knew they were putting it down to old age.
What a lovely idea, to die of old age.
It was not until four years later, that Charles and Tony met face to face again. It was a pity about the audience.
Tony fiddled with the disassembled tablet he was holding, carelessly discarding the unimportant pieces on the table in front of him while he heard the murmured annoyance from whoever else was sat with him.
‘Tony, stop before Clint puts an arrow through your eye,’ glancing up after Natasha spoke, Tony saw a coolly irritated Clint flicking a minuscule screw from his jacket. He glared at him vehemently. Either way, Tony didn't take it too seriously — he could feel the amusement slowly filling the air around him.
Natasha turned her head abruptly, as if she was waiting for something. Sure enough, her precognition was spot on; Fury barged through the door in a crescendo of noise, and though no one in the room jumped, Tony could feel their surprise hidden beneath their unmoved exterior.
Fury was, strangely, worried and tense. Usually, he was confident and angry and just a little bit more laid back when around the team.
Even Steve’s emotions stood to attention when Fury spoke, and Tony sniggered.
‘Mutants,’ he said, making eye contact with all of them, even though when he came to Bruce the smallest slither of guilt seeped out of him. ‘They’re our problem now.’
‘How so?’ Steve asked, brow creasing into a confused frown. Natasha looked at him.
‘He hasn’t made it past the seventies yet, Director.’ Steve looked bashful. ‘You might have to elaborate.’
‘He got a bit caught up in the Cold War,’ Tony injected, looking up from his phone, dismembered tablet littering the conference table. ‘Couldn’t get past the politics.’
Steve’s shoot of annoyance and then acceptance ran through him, but neither he nor Tony said anything.
Impatiently, Fury rolled his eyes. ‘Everyone hated all mutants, then only some people hated mutants, and now everybody hates about a quarter of mutants.’
‘There’s a mutant group called the Brotherhood that believe mutants should rule over humans,’ Bruce elaborated quietly, putting his pen behind his ear as he always did when nervous.
Tony remained quiet and still, only his thumbs moving as he pretended to type code. He could not and would not get involved in mutant stuff, he wouldn’t let his little trick be revealed. He was perfectly content to let everyone carry on thinking that his power was a large inheritance, thank you very much.
‘Why are they our problem now?’ Clint asked, uncomfortable. ‘I thought they kept to themselves. I thought they wanted to keep to themselves.’
Fury stood, holding the edge of his chair as he did so. The window behind him, which was without a doubt some kind of apocalypse-proof glass, was transformed into a knock-off version of Tony’s own holographic screens. Huh.
Pictures of the destruction wrought by the Brotherhood’s attack on some town near to Xavier’s school that Charles had already told Tony about blinked, annoyingly swift, into existence. Fury was anxious, and as he turned to the team, a sense of foreboding filled him as he set eye upon Tony.
Ah. That would be Howard’s ever-so-loving legacy of mutant hating. Stark Industries had never quite been able to shake that image, and consequently had never had any mutant applicants to hire to get rid of the stigma.
And Fury thought Tony had inherited that view. It was almost laughable — almost, if it weren’t for the severe daddy issues and general other-people-issues that it had left Tony.
‘The Brotherhood have attacked a load of towns close to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters — otherwise known as the world’s only school exclusively for mutants. Nothing too serious; couple of blown up buildings, minor casualties. But, Magneto and his guys are getting closer and closer, and Xavier’s asking for some help. He’s got a hell of a lot of kids to protect and not enough people to do so.’
The team looked at each other, each assessing the other. Natasha looked cool and collected, game face on as she accepted the mission. Protect the kids, guard the school. But really? She was just a little bit scared of being surrounded by people who could easily overpower her, no matter her tricks or her Widow’s Bites. Clint mirrored her feelings, with some kind of child-like curiosity edging it, anticipating the revelations of people who could perform all manner of nonsensical tricks — no wonder he ran away to the circus.
Bruce was hesitant and worried, at the thought of being surrounded by small, helpless human beings that would be as fragile as porcelain to the Hulk. It was written all over his face, too, one of the beauties of Bruce. Tony was used to polar opposite faces and emotions, but Bruce was all parallels. Steve held nothing but an undercurrent of anger at the thought of some group attacking children, the righteousness rolling off him in waves, and a dash of curiosity and concern. He felt interested, yet far, far out of his depth.
Tony himself was a kaleidoscope of different feelings. He was worried that he was going be found out, cautious that he was going to do it himself, overjoyed and anxious simultaneously at the thought of seeing Charles for the first time in years, a feeling of longing that had never quite left him, anyway, since he had helped create the X-Men, but never fought alongside them. If there were any regrets in his life — and there should be quite a few — that was one of them.
And then, there was the overpowering fear of confronting the part of his life that he had kept hidden from anyone and everything, the very building that was almost the material representation of his fear. It was too much — but Tony was never a coward, and he would fight his own demons a hundred times over, willingly, if it meant nobody would ever find out about about his … gift.
It was only when Fury spoke cuttingly to Tony that he managed to pull himself out of the vacuum of everyone else’s and his own emotions.
‘Is this going to be a problem for you, Stark?’
Oh. Apparently, the whole team was staring at him. Tony scrambled for a reply. ‘No,’ he said, deceptively easy with a raised eyebrow. ‘Why should it be?’
Fury shook his head, and Bruce spoke up, fiddling with the cuff of his shirt anxiously. ‘We all know about Stark Industries’ history with mutant rights. It isn’t pretty.’
‘What happened?’ Steve asked quickly. ‘What does Stark Industries have against mutants?’
Tony turned in his seat, decision made. He smiled. ‘Mutants are historically volatile — they’re a liability, especially in weapons manufacturing. Steal their lunch and poof, there goes the plant.’
The disappointment rolled off of them all in waves. Even Fury.
Tony had never felt such an all-encompassing shame.
‘You are repulsive,’ Natasha spat as she stood abruptly and left the room.
It was nigh on unbearable, being in such an enclosed space with people that felt so hostile towards him. It seemed to seep into the very metal of the jet, eclipsing all other feeling that might have occurred. It gave Tony a headache.
He had never before wished so much to be enclosed in the suit; to be out of sight and mind to them, to fly by himself and without having to feel their confused and disappointed and angry glares on him for the duration.
The flight wasn’t long — barely forty minutes — but it felt like a lifetime.
‘ETA five minutes, guys,’ Clint called from the front, piloting the jet. ‘Cap, just got a message from Xavier — non-offensive arrival. Doesn’t want to freak out the kids. No shield.’
Steve nodded, and tucked his shield under his seat. He looked at Tony, and his mild expression turned sour with a scowl.
‘That means Iron Man too, Stark,’ He ground out, while Bruce looked at Tony through soft but yet somehow unyielding eyes.
‘You know, Tony, I really wouldn't have put you down as the prejudiced type.’
Tony shrugged, and Bruce looked down. Tony wished he could say something, anything, just to get rid of the abject disappointment from Bruce.
Refusing to look out of the small window to his right, Tony relied on the quiet commentary of Natasha, acting as copilot, as they gradually landed. His blood pumping, the soft and clean touchdown onto the manicured grass seemed to reverberate throughout his body, and as the gentle vibrations of the plane ceased, he realised that it was not the jet making his hands tremble.
Unbuckling themselves, the team rose, straightening their rumpled clothing, Tony joining them by righting his tie and making sure the lapels of his suit were as sharply cut as they were when he first put them on. The wide door opened onto a grassy plain, and Tony refused to look beyond it to see the people that stood there. The people that should have been his team — could have been his team, once upon a time.
The steps came down, and Tony’s team, his present, current and only team, began to dismount from the jet. Tony went to join them, but a petite yet dangerous hand gripped his shoulder painfully.
Natasha forcefully turned Tony to face diagonally, her face close to his as she whispered. ‘Don’t you dare do anything against those children,’ she leant back, ‘they get enough at home. I will not have you endangering their safety here.’
‘Safety?’ Tony spluttered, eyes widening with the growing sincerity of Natasha. ‘What the hell do you think I am?’
The grip on his shoulder was released as Natasha turned to leave. She turned her head and looked him in the eye, intensifying her emotion. ‘We’ll see.’ She replied after a pause, assessing.
Tony was motionless for a moment, struck by the harshness of her. Then he moved.
The rest of the team were talking with the X-Men; dressed down and looking nowhere near as intimidating as they had done on the footage Tony had seen previously, and from what Charles had sent him. There were many of them; all with different appearances, some of which made it evident that their mutation was a physical one.
Striding over, Tony saw Steve casting a shadow over Charles, and he felt an overwhelming need to see the man who had provided him with his first, truly accepted home. He edged around Steve, and stood so close to him that he was forced to move out of the way. ‘Tony,’ Steve hissed, but Tony ignored him, though he felt a slither of happiness that he was being called by his first name.
‘Professor Xavier,’ Tony said, a real smile on his face as he felt similar happiness from Charles. Charles looked up at him, with an almost emotional expression, though he was clearly trying to mask it.
‘Mr. Stark,’ Charles replied, shaking the offered hand from Tony. At his touch, Tony felt a surge of beautiful expression and emotion from Charles, and consequently everyone Charles had come near in the last four years. It was so vast and yet so intimate, the feeling of the very heart of a person split open to Tony as if it were his own personal diary to peruse at his leisure. The intensity of the flood forced him to close his eyes for an unknown amount of time, smile softened at his lips as the familiarity and wonder of seeing Charles and of truly, fully utilising his mutation came back to him for the first time in years.
Charles, knowing what had happened, simply smiled in that frustratingly elusive way of his —apparently, only a second or two had passed.
‘Please, call me Tony,’ Tony said, regretfully letting go of Charles’ hand. ‘Mr. Stark’s my father, and we all know how much he isn’t welcome here.’
Steve sucked in a sharp breath from behind Tony, and the rest of the congregation turned to stare at him. Never uncomfortable in the spotlight that had stalked him since birth, Tony concentrated wholly on Charles, because if he were honest, it was only his opinion that really, truly mattered to him.
‘Indeed,’ Charles chuckled in that way of his, manoeuvring his wheelchair that Tony had built for him — but probably needed an upgrade by now — over to the others. ‘Here, let me introduce you to the team,’
Following the soft whirring sound, they crossed the gap between themselves and the others. The mutants straightened, and looked ready for some kind of fight at his approach. Wariness almost oozed off of them, which was similar to the Avengers’ — though they were also, heart-warmingly, worried for Tony too.
‘This is Ororo Munroe,’ Charles said, gesturing to a dark skinned woman with short, bright white hair. She was soft and accepting, with a hard nearly unnoticeable edge to her. She was welcoming, yet worried.
Tony shook her hand as Charles went on. ‘Next to her in Jean Grey, and Scott Summers — all three are some of my teachers here.’
Smiling, Tony shook the hands of both of them; Jean a pretty petite woman, with Scott standing protective and slightly in front of her, with brown hair and a ruby coloured visor across his eyes. Both were on edge and holding back something, though what Tony couldn’t tell.
All three murmured a greeting, seeming hesitant — though Tony could hardly blame them and was, in fact, quite surprised at their generally kind greeting of him. He wasn’t sure he would be equally as courteous if he were in their position.
A small cluster of what were perhaps teenagers stood off to the side, emulating the normal kind of uncertainty and general insecurity Tony felt from teenagers universally.
‘And here we have Kitty Pryde, Rogue, Warren Worthington and Bobby Drake.’ Kitty was a jumpy, small girl, with a cheery face and unfailing optimism — but she was also a realist, who saw more than most because of her happy exterior. Rogue was all darkness and sharp edges with mistrust and sadness clouding over all other emotions; Bobby was anything but, his feelings defined and to the point; anger at injustice and wariness at the unknown. Warren, however, posed an interesting character when faced with Tony. He was angry and scared, mostly, and his face showed just that, eyes wide and jaw straight and heavy as he looked at Tony.
‘Hey, Worthington,’ Tony said, a stroke of memory befalling him. ‘Your dad that, uh, guy? Industrialist? Not nice?’
Warren’s smile was twisted, and his large jacket despite the mild weather twitched. ‘Yeah, you got him. Guy who thinks mutants should be cured.’
Tony frowned, and turned to look at Charles. Charles looked at him regretfully, sadness enveloping him.
‘Thought you’d be on his side, bub,’ a gravelly voice came from behind Tony. The man it came from matched his voice perfectly; he wore worn clothes and had an abundance of hair, a perpetual scowl on his face and a cigar that wasn’t even lit glued to his fingers. ‘We all know what the Stark’s think of mutants.’
The air seemed to turn cold as the rugged newcomer spoke. Tony turned fully, facing up to him.
‘Yeah, well, I’m not my father.’ Tony replied coolly, rolling his shoulders. He looked back to Charles. ‘I’m sorry, who’s this guy?’
Charles looked at both of them in the same way a headmaster would at two misbehaving children. ‘Tony, this is Logan. Logan, Tony.’
Logan looked Tony up and down in a way that was uncomfortable and angered him, almost as much as the amount of anger Logan was emitting, animalistic and raw.
‘You’re the one with the metal suit,’ he said, as the others uneasily went back to their idle small talk. Only Charles and the teenagers carried on watching their exchange.
‘Yes,’ Tony replied solidly, bitingly, feeling guarded and protective of himself. The brief echo of a warning filled with worry appeared momentarily in the back of Tony’s mind, and he made an effort to reel in his effect on others. Apparently, he was making them twitchy.
‘Sorry to break it to you, but I don’t think that fancy suit of yours is gonna be much use against a guy who can bend metal.’ Logan looked pleased and felt vindictive.
Curling like smoke, Tony had to choke back a retort that would have destroyed everything he had kept a secret ever since he was fourteen years old. Instead, he settled for a charming, preying grin and a dangerous glimmer in his eye.
‘Well, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve.’
There was amusement from Charles and confusion from everyone else. Tony didn't care.
To the confusion of everybody else and the happiness of Tony, Charles asked him to come to his office once they had finished their dinner in the main hall with the rest of the staff and students.
‘Sure,’ Tony had replied, making an effort to look confused at the way he was singled out, enjoying the inside joke himself and Charles had shared since he was fourteen and scared and desperate and lost.
The office was everything Tony remembered and so very Charles. It was old wood and old money, unyielding yet with bumps and nicks that made the furniture inviting and warm. Deep bookshelves and thick curtains, both well cared for and well used, the books worn but loved. The floorboards were marred with the odd stain here and there, and the odd gap that opened the bottom of the room into who knew what, with scratches both shallow and deep — the room was just as Tony had remembered it, and there was even evidence of his own presence in the gouge mark where he had flung some kind of heavy, antique box years upon years ago.
‘Tony,’ Charles said warmly, sitting not behind his desk but beside it, in order to be closer to Tony, something that made Tony’s poor little needy heart soar. ‘It’s good to have you back.’
‘You too,’ Tony choked out, almost winded with the feeling of belonging. ‘I’m sorry we haven’t spoken in a while. There’s been … a lot.’
‘I know,’ Charles replied, hands clasped in his lap, relaxed. ‘The Avengers … you’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of them.’
‘No, I mean … after Afghanistan, I should have visited, I should have done something —’
‘Oh, Tony,’ Charles said, a swelling of guilt coming from him that was completely unfounded and horrible. ‘I should have come to you. You were held captive in a cave, Tony, to go on social visits after that — and that thing in your chest —‘ He stopped, looking distraught. ‘I have been a terrible friend, Tony. A horrible one.’
Tony could not even begin to comprehend how Charles had reached that conclusion, let alone confess to Charles how very wrong he was. Before he could even make a noise of disgruntlement, Charles spoke again, face changed and looking almost completely different from a moment previously — though Tony knew better. Of course.
‘I need to know what you’re planning on doing about your mutation — no, Tony, no one can hear us. You proofed this room, remember?’ Tony felt embarrassed by his reaction; head looking around urgently, panicked expression and protest on his lips. Charles simply smiled. ‘But — your mutation. Clearly, nobody knows. Tony …’ Seriousness filled the room, suffocating him. ‘You are going to, inevitably, come up against Erik. Magneto. What will you do, Tony? He is a manipulator of metal, the master of it, how could you possibly stand a chance?’
The question was left hanging in the air, and this time Tony could not explain away his thoughts. He could not talk his way out of this as he had for so many things previously.
‘I don’t know,’ he said nonchalantly, zoning in on the carpet beneath his feet. ‘Maybe a coat of plastic would do it. Something durable, but still —’
‘The man used the iron out of a living man’s blood to escape prison, Tony. Please, don’t humour me. Don’t think so little of me that you assume you shall be able to worm your way out of this as you have before. Don’t think I don’t know why you haven’t come and fought with me beforehand. Don’t make me say it aloud, Tony.’
Thoroughly cowed and truly scared, Tony’s gaze finally, reluctantly, drifted up to Charles’. His oldest friend, the man who had given him the love and support where everyone else in his life had sadly neglected. There was so much empathy in those eyes that Tony nearly wept.
‘Your time has come, Tony. You must tell them. All of them. You cannot hide the greatest part of yourself forever.’
‘The greatest part,’ Tony repeated, nearly snarling. ‘It’s not great, Charles, it’s a curse, a burden, whatever other dramatic word you can think of for something that I do not want.’
Charles sighed. ‘Tony —’
‘No!’ Tony turned on his heel, standing anxious and unsure eight feet away from the man. ‘I hate it. I feel everything, if I want to or not, and I don’t want it. I’m tired of hiding, Charles, but I don’t want to see their faces, anyone’s faces, when they know I’ve been messing with their heads, that I know them and that I will always know them. I want it to stop.’ He sat, suddenly exhausted, collapsing into the chair like a dead weight.
‘I don’t want it anymore, Charles. I never wanted it. I don’t know what to do.’
He couldn’t bear to see Charles’ face, he did not want the pity that was so obviously going to be there. Tony simply wanted to go.
‘There comes a point in everyone’s life, Tony, where we must choose our own direction. We have to make our own choices, and decide when we want certain things to come to light. Otherwise, we may not have the option of choice. We may be forced to reveal ourselves.’ Charles paused, forcing Tony to look up before he would continue. His face and feelings were blissfully blank, and Tony struggled to remember the wonderful feeling of using his power he had had earlier that day. It seemed like a distant memory; too good to last, before the reality of his mutation came back to him.
‘Let you decide for you, Tony, because otherwise it might be too late.’
When Tony returned to his room, he found Bruce waiting for him. ‘What did Xavier have to say?’ He questioned.
‘Something about the security fittings,’ Tony replied.
In the light of day, Tony felt considerably more light hearted and receptive to the nostalgia that followed him at every step. It hardly even had an affect on him, the way that the considerably inflated student population whispered and pointed and hid every time he walked past.
He didn’t need to hear or see them — he could feel their presence just fine.
The dining hall was just as he remembered it; old, wooden and as imposing to walk into this time as it had been the first. The rows of tables and chairs that filled the room — making it oddly dense for Tony, who had last seen it vast and nearly empty — were occupied with children of all ages. There were some that hardly looked like they had entered Middle School, whereas some could be mistaken for college students.
One thing that had remained a constant through the years was the teachers’ table, though now it was much more populated. One notable addition was a man completely covered in bright blue fur. Tony felt he should know him, somehow.
Tony walked through the rapidly silencing hall, the aisle in the middle feeling more like death row than the ten second walk it really was. He passed the small group of teenagers that he had seen and spoken to yesterday; they smiled hesitantly as their friends looked on curiously. The teachers’ table, with its spare seat on Charles’ right and Steve’s left was very much welcome.
Shuffling into his seat, Tony dived for some food to quell the silence. The volume of the hall, though not quite extinguished by his entrance, picked up again to its previous volume. Steve turned to talk to Natasha, who laughed at what he said, and Charles turned to Tony.
‘Have you had time to think about last night?’
‘Jesus,’ Tony replied. ‘Are you going to give me detention if I say no?’ Charles merely held Tony’s gaze, intense and ponderous.
Sighing, Tony put down his fork. ‘Fine; yes. And I may have overreacted. And yes, I know I have to tell them. Everyone. Just — I need time.’
‘I wish I could give you all the time in the world, Tony, but Magneto is coming … I’m not going to echo what I said last night, but you know.’
‘Why the rush? Who says I need to tell them before Magneto crawls out of the woodwork?’ Charles looked at him, feeling unimpressed. ‘Okay, fine. Maybe the metal suit answers that question.’
‘I’m not going to repeat everything that I said last night, I trust your memory serves you well.’ He picked up his knife and fork delicately, as if they had feelings. Which Tony knew, of course, that they didn’t. ‘Besides, we need to talk about updating the security systems.’
‘Now we’re talking,’ a swell of delight in Tony mirrored that in Charles’ though he felt happy for a different reason, one that Tony couldn’t quite place. ‘I was thinking about that before I came here, and I think the answer might be in Silicon and Graphite. Both are conductors of electricity, you know? Well, kind of in the first case, but whatever — I made an element before, I can figure something out. Either way, you can’t have a security system without electricity and considering the main conductor is metal, we’re in a bit of a situation, like, I don’t know, Steve here faced with Barney the Purple Dinosaur,’ Tony grinned and turned his head to look at Steve, who was still talking with a mildly confused yet interested Natasha about something old and dated from his childhood.
‘I take it you need a place to work, then.’ Charles said with a smile, amusement evident as he looked at Tony.
‘Would be handy, yeah,’ Tony agreed, standing as Charles moved to exit his position. He glanced over to Storm, who had been sitting on his other side.
‘Would you be able direct Doctor Banner down to the labs once you’ve both finished your meals, Ororo?’ She smiled warmly, nodding, with that familial feeling oozing from her as usual, a fluttering of warmth that she had been asked.
Tony was led through countless hallways, some of which even he had never seen before, before reaching an unassuming dark-wood door. Charles tapped in a code on a keypad that was to the right of the door, and scanned a fingerprint into a small and old fashioned pad next to the numbers.
‘You really need new security,’ Tony muttered, unheard by Charles, as a whirring noise followed the clicking of the number keys. The door slid, instead of opening as one would expect, with a quiet murmuring. The singular colour was an all-encompassing white; blinding and cleaner than anything Tony had ever seen. It was less of a hallway and more of a tunnel, rounded and nearly endless, strange to see something so other-wordly in the old-fashioned setting of the mansion. Very flashy.
With a fizz of proudness, Charles didn't even bother to gesture as he directed his chair into the white abyss, and though slightly indignant, Tony followed obediently.
‘You know,’ Tony said absently, head cocked to the side and finger twitching as he walked beside the comforting whirr of the wheelchair, ‘the way we’re talking about my … talent, you’d think it was a nuclear bomb, not just being able to make people feel a little down every now and then.’
Rolling to a stop, Charles looked up to Tony with great sadness and knowing. ‘Oh Tony,’ he sighed, unpatronising but softly, gently. ‘There has never been a man, nor woman, in history who has ever done anything unmotivated by emotions. Not a single one.
‘Our feelings are something we are born with … our nature. And we both know what power comes with being able to control nature.’
Charles rolled on and Tony dumbly followed, until the blank rooms morphed into windowed and bright labs furnished with all kinds of delicious equipment.
He was introduced to a blue, furry man called Hank McCoy of whose work Tony greatly admired both in science and politics, though he could hardly stir a warm greeting as he thought about what Charles had said.
No matter how much he’d joked about it, Tony had never been more glad that he’d never had the desire to become a super villain.
Chapter 2: Where Tony Decides He Might As Well Tell A Couple Of People Since They've Already Found Out
I whacked on my 'Sing Along Songs' playlist, sat at my desk, and have been writing this until now, 2:17am. So, any typos/mistakes of any kind? Totally cheesy music and sleep deprivation's fault.
Also, RIP Robin Williams. So, so shocked and upset right now.
There was nothing quite like completing a project, Tony thought, as he looked at the camera on the table constructed entirely out of non-metallic substances. He struggled to remember everything that it was actually made out of, and could hardly be bothered to look at the list that was lying somewhere on the table.
Tony looked to his left, and saw Hank slumped over the desk with his head resting in his arms. His exhaustion was rolling off him. With a stick of testing plastic, Tony poked him as hard as he could, a sharp spike of annoyance following sluggishly afterwards.
‘You think it’ll work?’
Hank stared at him, and it was still piercing, even through all of his… fur. ‘If it doesn’t work, I’ll make it work.’ It wasn’t confidence as such, more a kind of exhausted determination, fuelled, most of all, by the express desire of sleep and some kind of recognition from the other adults in the mansion. They expected something brilliant and ingenious; Tony could tell that Hank was of the same persuasion as him — under no circumstances would he allow himself to be a disappointment to others if he could help it.
But mostly, it was just stubbornness.
‘So… now we hook it up?’ Tony looked carefully at Hank as the man’s head shot up in indignation. His eyes narrowed, and although there wasn’t any malice, there was a confusion and unease that made Tony want to shiver.
Hank remained blissfully unaware of the fact that Tony could feel him, and continued in the manner he had for their entire time together; polite camaraderie that stretched no further than their mutual genius.
‘Sure,’ Hank said, eyeing Tony carefully. ‘Though I’ll run it through the machine to see if it can be duplicated easily—’
‘I’ll do that,’ Tony interrupted quickly, ‘you’re tired, I’m all right for a couple more hours. Go get some rest or something.’
‘Um, well… okay,’ Hank said slowly, looking suitably tired and mildly worried. ‘You know how to use the equipment?’ He felt relieved as Tony simply looked at him and raised an eyebrow. Muttering an admission of some kind, Hank removed himself from the stool and wandered out of the room, glancing back in a concerned way before giving in to the fact that, yeah, he was really tired — the fogginess clouding his emotions was something that Tony knew all to well around Pepper and Rhodey.
The fabricator was laughably easy to control, and Tony was free to let his mind wander as he pulled and pushed and typed into the machine.
However much he would rather of not, he had to think about revealing his little party trick to everyone else. At the very least, his team, but there was really no point in trying to keep it from any of Charles’ lot considering the team thought loudly and they were in a building for an unprecedented amount of time with young mutants who couldn’t yet control their powers.
Simply the concept of letting anyone know after so many years brought Tony to a standstill. For so long he had simply… blocked the idea out. He had drilled it into his head since he was a teenager, tell no one, tell no one, tell no one, tell no one. It was like some kind of sick, self-deprecating addiction. And now? It was the time to speak up and choke down his own pathetic fears, because there was going to be no circumstances under which Tony would be forced to tell anyone about his mutation.
A loud bang sounded, followed by the groaning of the fabrication machine as something in it went wrong. Tony jumped out of his skin and then promptly froze as there was a stuttering jolt, and quiet whirring and a quick stop.
Not thirty seconds later, a replica of the camera Hank and Tony had built clattered into the deep metal tray from the rubber exit, and Tony sighed in relief. He picked it up and turned it around, and other than a few slightly loosened joints and minor denting to the body of it, the camera seemed fit to work. Now, of course, they only had to figure out how many of the non-metallic security cameras they needed, and how to link them up and make them work individually simultaneously.
How … mundane and boring and Tony was going to go and wander around before he had to start working on that. He was going to map out where to put the cameras, he decided — or that was the most plausible excuse he could think of, anyway.
Without a thought in his mind, his feet led him through the wooden corridors before he found himself at perhaps the only place of significance in the mansion that he had not yet visited — his room.
Well — it was probably some other kid’s room, now, and they would probably be amazed that this had not only once been the great Tony Stark’s room, but also the Professor’s childhood room, when the manor was still a residential place filled with passive aggression.
A definite invasion of privacy though it was, Tony opened the door. None were supposed to remain unlocked, anyway, but nevertheless it felt as though he had just broken into the place.
The walls remained identical to how they were when Tony himself had lived there. Perhaps there were a few more bumps and gouges out of the wall and the wooden panelling, but that was to be expected in a school specifically for children with mutations of all kinds. Tony could even name a couple of the larger and more violent looking marks — odes to the creation of Dummy.
A messily made bed, with the plain navy duvet thrown over it in what looked like a rush was pushed against one wall, and another that wasn’t made at all was against the other. It was strange — Tony had never had a roommate when he was here. Decoration around the room was typical of teenage boys, not to mention the state of the floor, or the lack of sight of it thereof.
All in all, the room seemed to have merely gained another occupant and updated to the recent times. Clearly, AC/DC no longer held it’s position of reverence next to the window. Shame.
Tony was just about to turn to leave, already feeling guilty for invading the two boys’ room, before he suddenly remembered something. He had, so many years ago, hidden a note, in the gap between the window frame and windowsill. The hole was so tiny it was hardly a hole and more of a joinery fault. What was in the letter was something Tony couldn’t remember for the life of him, but what he did know was that he was in the room with it and there was just no possibility that he wasn’t going to read the note.
It was harder to get to the note than he remembered, and it seemed that his fingers were fatter now than they were when he was a teenager. Once he finally clawed it out of the woodwork, he stared silently at the paper, crumpled at worn from it’s decades old hidey-hole. Did he really want to bring back one of his most depressing memories, having to leave the mansion?
The paper was unfolded, but before Tony could read anything, the door creaked behind him, as it had always done, and he stuffed the paper into the window crevice as quickly as he could before turning around.
It was the girl that Tony had met when the team had first arrived. Not the springy one, but the quiet and broody looking one. Rogue.
‘What are you doing in here?’ She said suspiciously, and rightfully so. Tony squeezed the last corner of the paper into the gap while she crossed her arms.
‘Well what are you doing here?’ Tony replied, smile coming easily to his lips, however wooden it was.
‘That’s — this is my boyfriend’s room,’ Rogue answered stiffly, and it was clear through both her face and his mutation that she was struggling to be polite to supposed authority when she knew — or she thought she knew — that he hated her on a genetic level.
Pausing before speaking, Tony picked a piece of cotton off of his sleeve. ‘I’m scouting places to put the new cameras, if you must know.’
She looked even more doubtful. ‘Why not just put them where the old ones were?’
Ah. Tony hadn’t thought of that.
‘School’s changed around a bit,’ he said, or lied, and Rogue narrowed her eyes, distrust rising, before apparently letting it go in lieu of an easier life.
‘Okay.’ She said, ‘didn’t know there was going to be cameras in the rooms now. It’s a bit intrusive, isn’t it?’
‘I was looking at the grounds,’ Tony lied, again, and that was probably laughably obvious considering the view from the window that he knew so well was of trees, and nothing else.
Rogue was stunned, almost as if she couldn’t comprehend why Tony was saying the things he was — which wasn’t all that uncommon in his life.
Coolly, Rogue looked at him. It was so chilling and full of anger and resentment that Tony looked away quickly.
‘Do you mind…?’ She gestured to the door, ‘I’m meant to meet Bobby here when his class ends… which is now.’
‘Sure, sure,’ Tony replied, walking quickly out of the door, not even looking back. He could feel her eyes on his back anyway, even if it wasn’t for the pure suspicion that stalked him out of the room and into the swelling with students hallway.
He had to get that letter back. For the love of God, he had to get that letter back.
Tony tried not to panic in his life. His job, even before Iron Man, had been stressful enough as it was without the panic of deadlines and meetings and conferences and galas. Panic was a definite no-no in his life, and yet it was, in the last few days, a constant.
Especially when that letter was in that room.
It was the middle of the night. He shouldn’t be wandering around a mansion that he was meant to know absolutely nothing about other than looking around for the last day. Tony was going to get that letter back.
Everything was eery in the dark. The school was doused in complete silence, uncharacteristic and soulless it seemed. Shadows were everywhere, and though the wall lamps cast some kind of warmth over the now harsh walls and paintings that dotted them, it wasn’t enough to provide Tony with any semblance of comfort.
He was through the door and in the room before he knew it, rushing in worry to get to the window sill. Relieved and sighing, he nearly tore the letter as he yanked it out of it’s hiding spot. It was then that he felt he could breathe the figurative sigh of relief. The room looked exactly the same as it had just hours earlier, though now it was occupied by two slightly smelling teenage boys. Smiling softly, Tony reached out to touch the peeling edge of a poster, reminiscing and feeling regretful that he couldn’t somehow return to the time when he was happier and could be truly all of himself for the only single time in his life.
The millisecond the tiniest contact with the thin, ripped paper was made with Tony’s finger, so lightly he couldn’t even register it, a shock of emotion poured into his as quickly as a stab wound. It filled him with such hatred and pure rage and sadness that the urge to hit something and take it out on someone overwhelmed him.
Wrenching his finger away from the poster, an act which was so hard he honestly questioned whether it was magnetised in some way, the feelings were gone and left only the murky imprint of themselves behind. The urge to throw up his own innards overcame Tony, bitter and terrible, and he could barely make it out of the room, shutting the door as silently as he could manage, before spewing all over the polished wooden floor.
Stumbling, he leaned against the wall bedside the door, praying that he had not woken those on the other side. There was no noise, so he hoped he had, for once, been lucky.
Shaking though he was, Tony managed to balance himself on his own two feet. The thought did not cross his mind to contact Charles mentally rather than physically, and he wobbled uncertainly to the Professor’s room.
Thank God it was only nearby.
The door opened without even a sound of indication on Tony’s part. Charles looked terrified.
‘Charles,’ Tony muttered, wiping the side of his mouth. ‘I just — it was a poster and I touched it and —’
‘Tony,’ Charles said softly, smoothly, making Tony feel so relieved and safe, ‘it’s okay, it’s fine — just don’t touch anything, okay? Tony, listen to me carefully, don’t touch anything,’
Nodding rapidly before he could no longer do so for fear of emptying what little was left in his stomach all over the Professor, Tony stumbled to the armchair, resting his clothed elbow on the side table. He held nothing except from his own forehead, which was slightly damp from cold sweat, in the sudden shock of his mutation’s exposure.
‘I’ve never — this has never happened before, Charles, never —’
‘I must admit that I suspected something like this would happen once you returned,’ Charles digressed, looking both guilty and tired, though that could be the early hour.
Tony asked him what he meant in the pathetically weak, rasping tone that his strained throat was simulating. ‘You’re surrounded by mutants, for the first time in years. Psychologically, that’s got to have some kind of effect, whether you’re prepared before or not. Which you most certainly were not, Tony,’
There was a rattling pause, where only Tony’s harsh breathing and the soft sound of mechanics in Charles’ wheelchair was heard. ‘I felt everything he was…’ Tony said, into the gloom. Charles hadn’t turned on any lights in the panic. ‘It was a poster, and I — I don’t know —’
‘The only reasoning I can think of, Tony,’ Charles spoke slowly, as if he was only just processing his own thoughts, ‘is that, perhaps, because your power has increased… larger objects are not so different to smaller ones. Like air particles.’
‘No,’ Tony denied, ‘it was like residue, from when he’d touched it before. It’s like it was just staying there.’
Charles looked contemplative. ‘We shall have to look into this further,’ he said eventually, hand resting comfortingly on Tony’s shoulder. ‘In the morning,’ he carried on, ‘with fresh minds.’
‘We don’t have much time,’ Tony insisted, pleading almost. ‘Magneto’s coming, soon, isn’t that why you called the Avengers?’
A tender and simple smile came over Charles’ face, and the remnants of the poster incident dripped from Tony’s mind. It made space to sense Charles, to feel his innate kindness and want to help, his guilt over Erik and his protectiveness over all of his students, new or old — now directed at Tony.
‘I will always have time to help you, Tony. Don’t forget that.’
Mysteriously, Tony’s vomit had been cleared from the hallway by some unknown entity. He was thankful, though slightly embarrassed about the fact that he had left it there in the first place. And, of course, embarrassed again that he was thinking about such trivial things when there was a maniac who could control magnetic fields heading straight for him. With his followers closely behind him.
Despite the sick-enigma, Tony was sitting in one of the various common rooms that had been loaned out to the team for the duration of their stay. The letter had been pushed to the back of his mind, now that it was safely in his hands — the matter that now occupied his head was the poster incident.
He had felt it on a lesser scale throughout the day; little things like cutlery and a cushion seemed to form an emotional connection with him. Tony thought, maybe, that it depended on the person — or people, who knew, really — in which case, paper-kid needed some anger management.
Nevertheless, unknowing of Tony’s inner turmoil, Cap had called for a strategy talk, which was about as interesting as it sounded. Tony did not pay any attention, before his name was barked loudly.
‘What?’ He asked, crossing his arms, looking at Steve in a manner he hoped portrayed his boredom.
‘Are you listening to anything anybody is saying in this meeting? At all?’ Righteous in his anger, Cap was the picture of the propagandised version of himself. He was mirroring Tony’s stance, hands crossed and frown on his face.
‘No,’ Tony said abruptly, trying as hard as he could to blank out Clint’s rush of breath and Bruce’s disappointment. Natasha’s glare burned the side of his head.
‘I know you don’t care about mutants, Tony,’ Steve said bluntly, standing now with his foot tapping nervously against the carpet, jumpy and reflecting his feelings, ‘but these are kids. Some of them are eight, Tony. Even younger than that, maybe. I just don’t understand why you hate mutants so much.’
‘It’s in his blood,’ Natasha said primly, as if Tony wasn’t there. ‘His father was less than forgiving. You could go so far as to say Howard Stark shaped the anti-mutant campaign.’
Steve looked crushed. ‘Howard — he never said… never showed any signs of —’
‘Once again, you show your amazing judge of character,’ Tony said, angry that his father was now being brought to the front of his mind when he had other, far more important things to think about. Angry that he was the subject of a conversation being spoken as if he wasn’t even there.
‘Tony,’ Bruce said warningly.
‘You know what?’ Tony continued, ignoring Bruce in favour of speaking his mind, ‘I’m sick of Howard Stark being dragged into everything, okay? Yes, he’s my dad. He clearly did an amazing job of it too, but let’s not go into that because he’s been dead for more that two decades, yeah? Dead. He does not affect my opinion. What I say? Surprise, surprise, it’s me. I’m being horrible to mutants. My fault. I am not a goddamn mouth piece for a bunch of decaying bones. All right?’
As the rest of his team was shocked into a brief silence, Tony walked out, pulling a blank screened tablet from his pocket to justify his leave just a little bit more. Strategies never helped, anyway.
Sure enough, Steve began talking again just as Tony left the room. It didn’t take much for them to dismiss Tony, after all.
‘Now, Thor might not be able to come until tomorrow afternoon, so in the event that he isn’t here, I think we should use this…’
Tony did not interact with the team for the rest of the day. Instead, he found solace in the Professor’s office, due to the poor weather outside, fiddling with any and all electronics he could find while receiving updates from Hank about how the cameras were doing. Apparently, they were holding up well against magnets, which was pitifully the closest they could come to simulating Magneto’s powers.
The peace of his tinkering was disrupted when the door opened with a violent bang — Logan was holding the door out for Charles, who was followed by Rogue.
Logan and Rogue looked suspicious as to why Tony was present, and felt as much too. However, Rogue’s suspicion took on more of a curious edge, whereas Logan’s was overbearingly hostile. No surprises there, then.
Charles was merely happy to see Tony, an acceptance of which he was unused to even all these years after first meeting Charles. It was hard to accept being wanted by someone, even after Charles, Rhodey and Pepper.
It was annoying that she was abroad. Even if he couldn’t tell her about his mutation, her comfort would have meant an exponential amount to him. Foreign countries and they bad signals — at least she was out of the way by hundreds of miles should Magneto come to visit.
‘Logan,’ Charles said warningly, as the man nigh-on growled at Tony. It was the same tone in which Bruce had been speaking to Tony in a lot lately, he noted.
‘Sorry, Chuck,’ Logan replied, sounding the least amount of sorry he possibly could. He still glared at Tony as he took a seat at the guest end of the oaken desk.
Rogue sat next to Tony, an alternative choice that sent a spark of protectiveness run through Logan. He seemed to twitch as she made herself comfortable, or as comfortable as she could ever look. The girl looked forever anxious, always twitching those ugly gloves of hers and making sure her hair covered her ears. He wandered why, absently, deciding it wasn’t important in the face of other matters.
The air was muggy and heavy in the room, the rain and sudden interceptions of heat and sun making the inside warm and humid as the weather outside cycled through the seasons. It didn’t seem to matter how many windows they opened; the air stayed the same and the flies came into the building, irritating everyone as they went.
One such fly happened to land neatly on the hem of Rogue’s glove, nestled in-between the gap of the glove and her top. She didn’t notice, concentrating on as much as she could earwig the conversation between Logan and Charles.
‘Um — you’ve got a fly —’ Tony said, not seeing the wide-eyed look on the girl’s face before it was too late. The fly, perhaps unhappy at being disturbed, buzzed off, leaving Tony’s finger touching Rogue’s skin in a way that was eerily similar as the poster incident the night before.
The contact produced the most painful experience that Tony had ever had, including open heart surgery without anaesthetic. It was as if his arm was being dragged from his body, an inherent part of him splintering off and being transferred to the girl sitting next to him. He could not even scream, gasping for breath was all he could do as his mind flicked through all the knowledge it had on trying to make what was happening to it stop.
The scream came from Rogue. Immediately afterwards, she began shouting; ‘I’ve killed him! I’ve killed Tony Stark!’ Logan and Charles jumped into action, running or wheeling over as fast as possible. Pure panic was emitted from all in the room, overwhelming Tony’s senses and making Rogue all the more hysterical as she apparently felt what he did. Meaning, everyone.
Though the experience was over quickly, the phantom pain did not leave nearly as mercifully quick. It lingered like a slow, smouldering burn, dampening but not nearly as fast enough as Tony willed it to, not dampening so fast that Tony could think coherently.
‘I don’t — what happened — he should be dead, I — I felt so much —’
Logan swore as he realised the magnitude of what had happened, and Tony barely even felt the emotions chasing themselves around the air in the room — confusion, dread, shock and fear — before he collapsed.
Chapter 3: Where It Starts Unravelling, And Tony Might Just Let It
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Of all the things that Tony expected to wake up to, it was not the peering, wide eyes of a dark haired teenage boy. Unfortunately, it was what Tony did wake up to, and he did not even have the energy to react properly — he groaned and moved his head to the side slightly, before even that made his stomach lurch and careen dangerously to the oh-my-god-i’m-going-to-be-sick area.
‘He’s awake,’ said the too close to recognise face, eyes vaguely glancing upwards, looking at something Tony couldn’t hope to see.
‘Thank the Lord,’ came Charles’ voice, Charles and his beautiful, melodic, soothing, familiar voice.
Tony’s thoughts, somehow, could not make it to his mouth correctly — their transition into the spoken word was hindered somewhat by his lack of control over facial muscles. Spasming slightly, it must have taken him an embarrassing minute to force the words out of his mouth, which primarily felt like it was stuffed with cotton balls.
‘Wha’ ‘appen? How ‘id I en’ up ‘ere?’
A silence followed his speech, and had Tony not been worrying about the thundering headache that was threatening to make his brain implode, he might have wanted to throw himself from the window in mortification. It was one of the many times he wished he could not feel the overriding emotion of confusion around him.
Charles, Tony could tell through the foggy, congealed mess of his brain, was full of namely three things — relief, astonishment and foreboding.
It was, perhaps, then, that Tony would later consider to be the moment that he truly, deeply realised that he could not keep his mutation hidden forever. He had let something slip. Though he was unsure of exactly what his mistake was at the moment, the same foreboding that was increasingly filling Charles was doing the same to Tony.
Just who was he about to reveal his greatest secret to, he wondered serenely, in a daze that was not caused by the headache or altogether the bodily pain. Who would he, by pure chance of them being in the correct position and the prime time, speak aloud that which he had kept his most closely guarded aspect of himself?
Whoever they were, they were a lucky teenage boy indeed.
‘Rogue can absorb others’ mutations with a touch. If she touches a non-mutant, however, the overriding probability is a coma, or death — which explains her distress at your contact.’
The single thought that ran through Tony’s head as he felt two pulses of realisation shoot like racing horses across his skull was shit.
Why had he cared so much about a fly?
‘Excuse me?’ Logan whispered hoarsely, though it was more from shock than a wish to be discreet. The throaty, hushed sound was accompanied with a muted sense of surprise and a large amount of disbelief. As always with Logan, anger was simmering in the very back of his head, with the sense of loss that even Tony had failed to figure out.
‘Tony Stark is — oh my God —’ The teenage boy said, mind almost painful to feel with the blaring alarm and shock emanating from it.
‘John, would you be so kind as to get —’
‘It’s Pyro —‘
‘Pyro. Pyro, would you please get Mr. Stark a drink of water. Tell nobody of what has happened.’
‘Yeah Professor, I’ll be right back,’
There were hurried footsteps and the bang of a door as John, or Pyro, left the study and, presumably, went to go and get some water. Tony clawed himself into a sitting position, feeling uneasy and exhausted.
With his righted stature, Tony could suddenly feel a wealth of emotion, and the most be could feel was the overpowering feeling of anguish from Rogue. He sympathised with her, he felt the guilt of using his own mutation, or what he learned from it, to influence innumerous situations to his advantage for the good of impressing others was similar to what the poor girl was feeling now.
‘It’s okay,’ Tony said slowly, almost wincing at how weak his voice sounded. ‘It was my fault, you didn’t mean to do it.’
There was a small amount of shuffling around, and what he thought was a quiet murmuring. Tony could not remove his gaze from the fine red carpet, squashed down from decades of children crushing it underfoot.
‘Do you really feel that?’ Rogue replied, he voice oddly shaky. ‘All the time?’
‘Yes,’ Tony said, shoulders shrugging minutely. The room seemed to still, until Logan spoke with a gruff chuckle that did not annoy Tony — after all, he could feel the lack of amusement from Logan easily. Rather than that, there was a growing unease and anger.
‘Tony Stark’s a mutant,’ he muttered in disbelief to himself, though the rest of the room heard him loud and clear because of the utter silence elsewhere.
Apparently, there was something else written on Logan’s face — Charles said his name with a warning tone, but it did not seem to have any effect on the man.
‘Why didn’t you do anything?’ he said, and the anger that was clearly on his face was shown, suddenly, to Tony. ‘You have that huge company of yours, you’re famous, why’d you sit back? You’re ashamed, bub? Get over yourself —’
‘What would you rather me do?’ Tony asked, seething, finding no reason to hold back now his biggest secret had been thrown out into the open like it was nothing, like he hadn’t spent every waking moment since he was fourteen trying to conceal it. ‘With my father? You heard what he did to that couple of mutants he found working for him? Do you know what he wrote into everyone’s contracts?’ Reeling back, and pulling himself to his feet in fury, Tony stared, wobbling slightly, at Logan. In his peripheral vision, he saw Charles rubbing his face in dismay.
In a tone that Tony knew betrayed derision on top of his anger, he recounted the exact words that Howard had written into everyone’s contract. ‘Section four, part a; In the interest of the safety and health of both the subject and their colleagues, any apparent mutations that set the subject apart from the normal genetic structure must be subject to medical examination in order to ensure complete safety of all parties involved — you think he wouldn’t do that to his kid? I was his, he owned me, he didn’t need a contract to stick needles in my gut!’
Tony didn’t need to look up from the ground to know that all occupants of the room were staring at him. It was such a kaleidoscope of emotion that he could barely identify any over the singular dominant one; shock. But, himself? There was a weight dragging his stomach to the polished wooden floor, his head was pounding, his ears were screaming, blood was coursing through his veins at a rate he had not experienced since the wormhole incident.
‘Perhaps we should take a seat,’ Charles said, though Tony could not quite see his face. He didn’t want to. Nevertheless, it was with disgruntled noises from everyone else that Tony forced himself, wobbling and tilting, to edge towards the nearest chair which was just to the right of Charles’ desk. Tony forced himself to look at the man’s face — it was graver than it had ever been, and there was no need to feel the weariness that he felt emanating from Charles that he did when it was written so expressly across his body.
‘I know that you must have some questions,’ Charles said calmly, though Tony knew he was feeling anything but, ‘however all I ask is some degree of politeness. Logan.’ Logan grunted, his anger momentarily quelled. Charles continued. ‘Tony came to me when he was fourteen. He had been suffering from severe mood swings for several years, but only then realised that they were not his own emotions he was feeling.’
‘I thought I was schizophrenic,’ Tony said quietly. ‘That, or I thought I was going completely mad.’ Rogue shifted at that, uncomfortable in every conceivably way.
‘I don’t care about how you got here,’ Logan said, painfully blunt, ignoring Charles’ admonishment. ‘I just wanna know what you can do. Who else knows. Useful stuff.’
Tony sighed and rubbed his hands across his face. He had been preparing for this moment for a long time, the moment in which he would tell somebody other than Charles about what he was capable of. And he had never imagined it would be to a feral man who literally called himself the Wolverine, and a scared and insecure teenage girl with a similarly bizarre name. At least Charles was present, he supposed.
‘Nobody else knows except Charles, and they won’t until I tell them,’ Tony said firmly, not needing any verbal reassurance after he felt two quick bursts of easy acceptance. ‘I’m an empath … I can feel what other people are feeling, and I can make them feel things too. Bottom line is that I can influence emotions.’ Tony paused, thinking about the previous night. ‘I can feel stronger when I’m actually touching someone, but recently I’ve felt emotions through other materials. But I’ve never had that until now.’
Logan released a wave of breath an sat back, while Rogue’s face was the picture of worry, let alone her emotions.
‘You really should tell them,’ Rogue said softly, with a haunted look in her eye. ‘They — your team, they would understand.’
Tony laughed, a shrill sound both thanks to his previous collapse and the hysteria of the situation as the secret that he had held so close to his chest was slowly leaking out of it, while he was so helplessly and completely out of control. ‘What, that I’ve been a hypocrite for the last few decades? That I could control their minds if I wanted to? They wouldn’t understand me. Please. That’s the last thing they’d do. Trust me.’
Tony tried to ignore the leap of sorrow from Charles as he strode unsteadily out of the room.
He spent the next week or so moping. After the first day he could no longer convince himself that he was doing anything but. He could feel the worry coming off of everybody, but he considered it selfish to think that even some of it was directed towards him; John, or Pyro as he insisted, had seemingly disappeared from anywhere on the grounds of the mansion and, indeed, the face of the earth.
The little incident with Tony was the last sighting of him; initially, Tony thought that he had run off to sell the story of Tony Stark being a mutant, but after the first few days that idea had long left his head. After all, all the kid needed to do was make a few well placed calls as soon as he left the mansion and it would be front page news as soon as the newspapers were physically able to print it.
Consequently, Charles had no idea why John had run off. The mansion was the best place for any young mutant to be in the country, a safe place for them to be everything they were born as, and should be — who knew why he had left.
The effect of John leaving certainly left a lasting effect on the kids in the mansion, and maybe it was that which lowered Tony’s mood even further; being surrounded by so much confusion and worry and sadness was not only exhausting but difficult to shake off himself.
The team, of course, assumed that Tony was simply sulking at having to be in the presence of so many mutants. Either way, the arrival of Thor after he had finished whatever Princely duties he had to fulfil in Asgard quickly put their minds elsewhere. Thank God.
Tony had chosen his own room as his most recent spot. He had previously been skulking around the higher and more unused couple of floors of the mansion, and the classrooms when they were empty of irritated children and teenagers and their teachers. Tony, today, didn’t have the heart to move from his room, barely being able to get himself dressed as he dwelled on avoiding Charles, a way to tell his team (because it was going to happen, and soon, even Tony had to admit that to himself in light of the inevitable fight with Magneto) about his little talent, as well as dodging all five of them trying to coax him into attending a meeting with them.
Tony hadn’t had any contact with Rogue and Logan, and he had no desire for it. All he was thankful for was that they had kept deathly quiet about his mutation.
The creaking of the wooden door made Tony move immediately to the doorway, and it was the large form of Thor that blocked the bright daylight from the corridor. ‘Tony,’ he said, with a small smile, ‘The Captain has asked me to convince you to attend our most recent meeting. He says it is quite vital.’
‘You know what I’m going to say, Thor,’ Tony replied, sighing, throwing himself into a seat on the edge of his bed.
‘I told Stephen as much,’ Thor said back, grinning, feeling a small amount of amusement and worry, ‘though I cannot help but wonder why you have been hiding yourself recently.’
‘Oh, didn’t you know?’ Tony asked sarcastically, smiling in a way that he thought would come across quite psychotic, ‘I hate all mutants, can’t stand to be around them. They’re freaks of nature, you see.’
He closed his eyes in a parody of relaxation while inside he felt himself recoil at his own words, feel sickened at his own actions. How would he ever justify what he had said for so many years when it was about his own kind? Thor, meanwhile, mirrored Tony’s position, seating himself at the bottom of Tony’s bed, dropping his hammer with a large thunk on the floor beside him. It would probably leave a dent.
‘You are lying.’ He stated, gaze steady upon Tony as his eyes flew open.
‘What?’ Tony said, staring at Thor and shamefully caught off guard by the man’s feelings of certainty in himself. It was rare that Tony felt such solid emotion, let alone in regard to self-confidence.
‘You do not feel that way towards mutants, Tony.’ Thor smiled a genuine smile, the first Tony had seen in days. ‘I do not begrudge it, but you Midgardians often forget that I am a Prince of Asgard. I have been raised to be able to decipher people since I was a child. You often tend to forget that I am hundreds of years old, too,’ he finished wryly, looking down at his hammer.
‘Sorry,’ Tony said automatically, glancing down uncertainly. Thor laughed.
‘All I am saying is that I am not so easily fooled as you might think. You might even be able to trick the Director, but I think that my experience gives me more than a little ability in knowing when somebody is lying, however long they have practiced it.’
Uneasy, Tony immediately wanted to change the conversation. He spat out the first thing that came into his head, wincing when it slipped from his lips.
‘Do you have mutants on Asgard?’
Thor considered his question, thoughtful and calm. ‘Not that I am aware,’ he replied, slowly. ‘Though we do have magic. Perhaps that is the outlet to these kinds of energy in my home world.’
It was definitely an interesting notion, the idea that there was the same energy in all of the worlds Thor had told them about, simply conducted in a different manner. But one thing was the same, Tony thought grimly, and that was that the recipients of this ability, right down to Tony and Loki, had been ostracised for it. Loki had gone down a path not at all dissimilar to that of Magneto and his followers — a thought that scared Tony right down to his bones.
‘How do you feel about mutants, Thor?’ Tony questioned again, carefully, gauging Thor’s emotional reaction. Far too often Tony knew that people’s emotions were infinitely more truthful than their verbal or physical responses.
Thor was feeling a strange sense of calm, and even stranger was his feeling of calm knowing and anticipation. It was then that Tony knew — Thor knew he was a mutant. He couldn’t tell how much he knew, or for how long, or anything else, but the patience that Thor held and the easy, lazy assurance of himself which Tony supposed came from being royalty spoke of nothing but him knowing Tony’s deepest secret.
‘I think that they are a very misunderstood people,’ Thor said slowly, eyes carefully resting on Tony’s face. ‘And I think it is important that their gifts are cherished and not viewed as freakish. It never bodes well, and yet nevertheless, throughout the millennia, no race has ever learnt not to fear what they do not understand.’
A silence settled over the conversation, thoughtful and on the cusp of awkwardness but not yet veering over the edge into it. Tony’s entire body felt slack, breath rushing out of him and back slumping as he took it all in.
‘What can you do?’ Thor asked him curiously, and Tony didn’t feel in the least bit shocked or surprised. They both knew, now, that Thor had easily sussed out Tony’s situation.
‘I’ll show you,’ Tony answered, looking at Thor deeply, ‘let me try something though,’ and he pressed his palm flat to the duvet cover.
Tony had never felt something so intricate in all of his life. Even the inner workings of Jarvis, the complicated coding and perfect wiring and engineering did not come close to the rush of feeling the remnants of everything this duvet had experienced. Of course, it was Tony’s own feeling, since it was his own bed — but now he could feel Thor and what Thor felt, a blur that he could barely understand.
He didn't want to hurt him, and so Tony opted for a simple wave of calm, perhaps the easiest emotion to influence because it just got rid of everything else and didn’t need to work with any other emotion. As soon as Tony had even thought about pushing calmness through the sheets, Thor’s entire posture had relaxed, his eyes closed, posture falling slowly an breath becoming slow and deep. He held it for a matter of seconds, and then let it go — the difference was stark, Thor was now bolt straight and breathing fast, staring at Tony in what he had an inkling of was wonderment.
The success of being able to channel through an object as well as feel through it filled Tony.
‘Incredible,’ Thor muttered, still staring unnervingly at Tony. ‘Emotions, yes?’
‘I think the word is an empath,’ Tony replied, looking down at his clasped hands in his lap. ‘Influence, making, controlling emotion … and apparently channeling it through objects too.’
Thor was silent for a long time, his gaze boring painfully into Tony’s right temple. When he finally spoke, he was sincere. ‘For a person who can do such things with feelings, you are blind to the feelings of your team towards you.’
And that, Tony thought, was his biggest flaw of all. Understanding what everyone else thought of him — it seemed that he was too preoccupied with their emotions that he could not sort out his own.
I hope the interaction with Thor is okay. I wanted him to be more taken seriously than he is in a lot of stuff; he's the heir to Asgard, hundreds of years old, and a prince. Respect Thor, dammit. I hope it wasn't rushed and unrealistic though, I just feel like he would know these things.
Anyway -- I hope you enjoy this severely belated update, and I hope the next won't be too long in the making.
Chapter 4: Where Tony Begins To Realise His Secret Isn't A Very Well Kept One
I'm sorry. Oops. It's been a year. But it's here and that's all that matters, right guys? *laughs nervously*
There was only meant to be one update left - but it got too long, especially in comparison to the others. So, 4/5 it is!
It came slowly, carefully, that Tony began to integrate himself back into the folds of the team. They had been staying at Charles’ for a month and a half now, and it had taken Tony half a week before he managed to mull over what Thor was saying and extend the olive branch to the people that were supposed to be his teammates.
It began with the little things – appearing at one or two meals a day, silently eating alongside them and trying to ignore the looks he was receiving from them and let alone anyone else in the room. Then, he progressed to nodding and maybe stopping for a sullen chat whenever he crossed paths with them, whatever their reaction, and then he even turned up at the meetings that he knew ran like clockwork every other day at exactly the same time.
The office space that Charles had loaned to them was not only comfortable, but overbearingly familiar to Tony – it was where he spent much of his pastime when he was younger. The old science section of the library had been cleared of all of its occupants long before the Avengers took over the space, but Tony thought he could still see the dent he left in the wall when he decided to propel a nail at the wall with his very own handmade nail gun.
It was this memory, and those like it, that spurred Tony more than anything to start making amends with his team – and yet that did not mean, under any circumstances, that he was going to stop avoiding Rogue and the Wolverine any time soon. He didn’t like the way they looked at him, and either way, the complete difference in the way they treated him now was far too suspicious.
In terms of the reason why they were there in the first place, Magneto had recently been terrifyingly silent with his machinations. It was updates – or lack of – like these that Tony had been missing out on by not going to the meetings. Magneto seemed to be waiting, biding his time, organizing or planning. All of which meant something bad, something which could possibly put the lives of many innocent people at risk – not that Tony claimed to be one of them.
It was after the meeting in which Steve had detailed yet another plan in case Magneto attacked a certain part of whatever wing of whatever building, (just because Tony was showing up now didn’t mean he was enjoying them in any way), that Natasha cornered him. Well – she held his shoulder softly with her small hands and guided him softly to the side. Bruce and Clint looked back, concerned, yet carried on walking towards wherever they felt the need to be. Thor was nowhere to be seen and Steve was muttering absently to himself.
‘Let’s get a coffee.’ was all she said, and Tony was almost willing to comply, feeling her calm and patience and the undercurrent of suspicion in her. It was soothing, having her feel something other than distrust towards him as she had for so much of their time knowing each other.
‘If you’re buying,’ Tony replied with a smile slipping easily as water onto his face. Natasha didn’t reply, just as he had expected.
For an ex-Soviet spy, you would expect her to be far less predictable than she was.
They walked through the halls at a leisurely pace, Tony feeling strangely at ease with the way that Natasha herself felt — she was calm, which was usual for her, but she was also content in an odd way. She was not quite smug, but she was something very similar to it.
They managed to find a quiet spot on a large window seat that faced towards the front of the house, and Tony stared absently at the driveway winding off into the distance towards the gate while he sipped his coffee. He decided he would let Natasha speak first, because after all, she was the one that wanted him there. After one or two sips, and an unwarranted feeling of contentedness that Tony was sure was purely from the coffee (he struggled to contain his grin) Natasha’s face and torso finally turned fully towards him.
‘When I wrote your personality profile for Fury, I knew you were hiding something. Nobody can be that controlled when they’re doing so many spontaneous things. Not that they were all that spontaneous, really Tony, were they?’
He knew it would be coming soon — being under observation for so long would undoubtedly cause a blip to appear on Natasha’s radar. She took another sip of her coffee, eyeing his steadily, watching his reaction.
‘You’re a mutant, aren't you? That’s what you’re hiding?’ Tony could only feel a certainty to her, and with that, he knew there was no option. He was tired of hiding something that was such a big part of himself from the rest of his team. Something that he had kept secret for so long was only done so through a large and purposeful amount of distance placed between himself and exactly the kind of person Natasha was; which was a well trained and obscenely observant spy. He really had no idea how she had figured out his secret, but even if he could feel her emotions, that never meant that he knew her methods of procuring information. Sometimes, it was easy to forget her day job when she was scrabbling over which character to play on a videogame.
‘What makes you say that?’ He tried, though he knew, even before the spark of amusement and the upturned eyebrow that showed nothing of the feeling he felt within, that it was a lost cause. He was merely delaying the inevitable, it seemed.
‘Fine,’ Tony admitted, ‘you’re right. Your super spy instincts are in superb condition, really, they’re tip top. I’m so glad I could be of service,’
The bubbling feeling of success, he was guessing at being proved right, seemed to linger in the air around them both, radiating out of Natasha like a signal. She looked at him with a softer expression, something more endearing to her face. She perhaps looked the most unguarded Tony had ever seen her — though he knew she would become stony in face and emotion as soon as she knew what he could do. Just because it was inevitable didn’t mean that he didn’t dread it.
‘I would jump to something tech related straight away, maybe something electrical, but I don’t think that’s it,’ Natasha pondered.
‘Nope. That’s all me, sunshine,’ Tony replied with a grin on his face. It might have looked more like a smirk, or strained, or saddened, but he tried. He tried to channel his old self that was present before Iron Man, but it was becoming infinitely more hard to do.
‘What is it?’ She replied promptly, slight smile on her lips even though it was more of a quirk, more of a jaunty angle if anything.
‘I — well,’ Tony stumbled over his words. It was hard to find the words despite having practiced this with JARVIS hundreds of times. ‘It’s more of an emotion thing. Like, I can feel your — um — feelings … empathy. That’s what Charles calls it.’
He couldn’t feel Natasha over the cacophony of his own emotions. He felt nervous like he never had. Tony Stark did not get nervous, after all.
‘Can you control others’ emotions?’ She asked quietly, and Tony stared at his coffee in his lap which sat at a rather dejected tilted angle.
‘I can.’ He replied warily, carrying on quickly. ‘But I don’t. Sometimes I can feel past emotions through objects too, but that’s kind of recent thing. Very recent, actually.’
‘I don’t need to ask why you haven’t told anyone else,’ Natasha commented with a sad, wry smile, ‘your father wasn’t the most open-minded person in his time, was he?’
‘That he definitely wasn’t.’ Tony replied, and the bitterness that he always felt when his father was mentioned bubbled and spat up his throat. ‘God knows what he would have done if he found out what I could do — actually, I think I have a good idea —’
‘So was this the mystery elite boarding school you attended?’ She interrupted, and Tony wondered if he was not the only one who could sense emotions in the world. Her head was tilted to the side and her hair fell over her shoulders unevenly because of it, a curious pose and one that he could feel reflected on her insides too.
‘For a bit, yeah,’ He replied, looking down at his fidgeting foot. ‘I bribed the school my father sent me to to conveniently keep me on their records for a few years. Well, I bribed the admin staff. I say staff; it was a little old woman — could hardly use Word Processor and didn’t know PowerPoint existed, let alone notice if someone was stealing information from the school databases.’
Natasha smiled, looking amused that he had always been this way. ‘Tony,’ she said, ‘as long as you’re not going to make me fall in love with Wolverine, I really don’t care about your mutation. I mean, I’m annoyed that you haven’t told me before because the tactical advantages are endless, and really I’m a little bit jealous because body language can be so subjective, but honestly? I — well. I think you know the rest.’
And he did. Tony did know the rest. He could feel the calmness, the acceptance, and even the slight annoyance as she had pointed out. There was excitement at the prospect of something completely new, a curiosity that had always rotated around Natasha like the planets to the sun. If there was two things that Natasha was, it was bitterness and curiosity; a strange mix, but Tony had met far odder combinations. It was refreshing to have somebody replicate what they felt in their words. In a world of business which had eclipsed all other elements of Tony’s life, the mirror image of emotions and words was alien.
‘So, tell me about this feeling through objects thing,’ Natasha asked, and Tony found himself more than willing to provide an answer. Or, as much of one that he could provide, which was more theories and complete and utter guesswork.
They talked for what must have been half an hour, the coffee long going cold or being drank, the weather progressing on the other side of the glass from moderate to gloomy with the coming of clouds. It was only then that, in an absent few seconds of companionable silence, that Tony had the sinking feeling in the pits of his guts that there was something, desperately important, that he was missing.
They all stood in Charles’ office, clustered around without much allowance for movement. Despite the grandeur of the house, it was still old, and therefore lacking in the open plan and minimalist designs that they were all used to. Perhaps Tony had spoiled them all with his tower.
The air was thick with tension, settling over Tony like a particularly muggy day. He felt it all the more because of his little gift; the nervousness and the anger and the tension.
Bobby was particularly saddened and angry today, Rogue rubbed the top of his arm comfortingly, looking upset that she couldn’t do more for him.
‘What does everyone suggest we do now?’ Steve asked, from the right hand side of Charles, who was sitting, as ever, behind his desk. There was a shift in the mood that was too broad to properly identify, but it was enough for Tony to feel, long with everyone else, the metaphorical emotional shrug of helplessness.
‘We do whatever we can,’ was Charles’ sombre reply. ‘We turn this school even further into a fortress, we protect the children here above all.’
‘I will walk the border,’ Thor said, a grim quality to his face that was not often seen. ‘I can withstand more than many present here.’
There was no way to argue with him. Steve might be a super soldier, but his biology was still pretty human – Tony couldn’t argue with Asgardian genetics, especially since they were considered the Immortal Race. Nevertheless, everyone looked around for volunteers while Thor moved to stand by Charles, squaring his shoulders and looking stony faced.
There was a gruff raise of hand from Logan as all eyes switched to him. ‘Nothing those guys have thrown at me that I haven’t come back from yet.’ Steve nodded in retaliation, and Tony felt really rather amazed that Steve even somehow felt duty. It was not very often that someone held that much devotion for doing anything so completely correctly, let alone in regard to something or someone that wasn’t themselves or anything to do with them. Then again, maybe Tony had been around his fellow businessmen for too long.
‘That’ll do it,’ Clint said with a small grin on his face. ‘Just two immortals and a super soldier manning the boundaries.’ Bruce smirked along with him, discomfort subsiding for the slightest amount of time to make way for amusement and relief that his mind was taken away from the situation at hand for a little bit.
‘The cameras are almost ready too,’ Tony threw out into the room, with Hank nodding beside him.
‘We should have them all up and connected tomorrow,’ Hank carried on where Tony left off. ‘The wiring might be hanging around for a bit but I think we’d all rather get them up and running and worry about that afterwards.’
‘Too true,’ Charles agreed, nodding to them both with a smile. It was a strained one, in his eyes, but the effort was there despite the tension of being responsible for a mansion worth of children’s lives.
Tomorrow came, and the cameras were operative. It was a resounding success with everyone else; the adults walked extra slowly past the live footage while the kids pulled at the exposed wiring and tested its durability.
Tony was sitting comfortably alone in front of the camera feed, contentedly people watching from afar. The door to Charles’ study was opened just a little, and half of one of the wheels of his chair could be seen in the blurred quality of the image. Thor was nearing crossing paths on his patrol with Logan, who was angrily swatting at a wasps nest he had happened across with his spear knuckles, as Tony had taken to describing them. Clint was mooching around in the kitchen, and there were countless teenagers prowling the halls in little clusters of angst and insecurity.
One such ball of angst and insecurity was actually just behind Tony.
He swiveled the chair around to meet Rogue’s gaze. She looked uncertainly at the screens behind Tony, but eventually her eyes drifted back to his face and eyes. Her gloves were clenched up around her fists like she was squeezing the life out of a lemon.
‘Problem? Question?’ Tony asked, thinking, frankly, nothing of the nervous energy he felt from her. He had it far too often from people who were hardly ever in contact with him – it was easy to forget you were internationally famous when you were inhabiting said internationally famous body.
‘I –’ she began, but stopped. ‘I should have come sooner. It was stupid. I was. I didn’t think it was important.’
‘Okay,’ Tony replied, feeling the first sensations of unease creep under his skull that were his own and not from Rogue. ‘What’s it about?’
‘John – I mean, Pyro. He might have – I think –’
‘Do you know where he is? Where he went?’ Urgency was key; he leaned forward in his seat and gripped the arms of the chair so tightly in hurt and dug into his palms in a way that would make them ache after.
‘I didn’t know for sure,’ the wringing of hands intensified, ‘but now I think I do. And I’m sorry. Really sorry. But I think he’s gone to – well. He’s been all bitter and saying to Bobby that he could see a point and then he kept disappearing when we all went to the mall and Bobby covered because John asked him to and they’re friends and we didn’t think it was serious and now Kitty and I are sure because he just went – and I had to tell you because, well, what if he knows about you and – I’m just so sorry I didn’t know what to do –’
‘You think he’s gone to Magneto.’ Tony said slowly, dully. Rogue stopped talking abruptly as soon as he opened his mouth, and now nodded her head wildly.
Staggering was the only word that meandered into Tony’s head and managed to bypass the completely numb crisis that was occurring within it. And of course, to help, a body appeared through the wall.
‘I’m so sorry Mr. Stark,’ Kitty said with rolling sympathy. She seemed to forget that she had just entered through a non-entryway, and that it occasionally shocked some people even if they knew she could do it. ‘The Prof doesn’t know what’s up but he’s expecting you, I just got him out of a book now.’
‘Do you – how long have you planned this for?’ Tony breathed, leaning forward in his chair so far that it was in severe danger of tipping over.
‘Like, a couple of days,’ Kitty replied holding out her hand to him expectantly, a manner that was urgent and worried and concerned. ‘You wanna come with me? It’s quicker.’
‘I don’t think that’s a good idea,’ Rogue put in quickly, glancing with wide, scared eyes between the pair. Tony groaned, and rose up. He held his head. There was too many intense and complex emotions.
‘I’ll walk –’
A boom shook the room, and consequently the rest of the mansion along with it. The sound of crackling thunder, searing hot and so much so that Tony almost thought he could feel it, overpowered the muffled shrieks of the students. At least, Tony knew, Thor was on it. He glanced at the camera feed and saw that, while one or two of the images were rendered useless by the shaking of the walls and the wiring coming undone, they were only in some corridors and much of the views the cameras afforded of the estate were still available. Thank God.
‘You know what?’ Tony said shakily, removing his hand from leaning on the wall cautiously, ‘I think I’ll take that ride.’
Kitty grinned shakily, bright despite the scare. She made a brief farewell to Rogue while grabbing Tony’s forearm in an iron grip. The other girl looked even sallower than before, wringing her palms with a frightened look in her eye that was the same as that of a newly trapped animal. She felt shifty, flighty, guilty, worried and scared.
The small hand guided him towards the far wall. She felt nervous, and Tony felt it explained the babbling as the wall – looking very solid – edged closer and closer to his nose.
‘Try not to move, don’t want you getting caught in these walls. So dusty, it’s literally horrible, and you know one time, I saw this little mousey thing, but it definitely wasn’t a mouse –’
It felt like a kind of weightless melting. He didn’t get the chance to see inside the walls because he was concentrating on not going lightheaded from the sensation. Maybe it was Tony’s own mind conjuring the idea that this felt weirder than it really was, yet either way, he couldn’t wait for it to stop. They flashed through walls and rooms, a steady jog kept in pace in unison, following a path that only Kitty would know being the only one that just simply didn’t have to obey the rules and lines of the walls.
Eventually, she dropped him off just inside the door of Charles’ study. The man didn’t even blink or bat an eyelid, frustratingly mellow.
‘Kinda tingly, isn’t it?’ Kitty commented, smirking. Then she turned to her teacher, who smiled at her kindly. It was always the best element of Charles’ personality, Tony thought, that the man considered kindness and fairness and politeness to others in all situations.
‘I’ll get the rest for you,’ was the passing message as Kitty phased through another wall to their right. Tony blinked.
He turned to Charles. ‘Any idea what just happened?’ Tony questioned, trying to push how he got to the study in the first place to the back of his mind.
‘Not the foggiest.’ Charles replied, looking solemn. ‘Unfortunately, only Erik comes to mind. This old house has stood for hundreds of years; it can’t be anything to do with the structure. Surely we would know if the blast came from inside, wouldn’t we?’
‘Sure we would have known,’ Tony said, feeling a humourless smile cross his lips. ‘About two seconds before our brains got blown –’
‘Anthony,’ Charles admonished him lightly. Tony felt sheepish in response.
‘Before the others get here,’ Charles began slowly, placing a bookmark amongst the pages of the heavy novel he had been reading far too slowly and precisely for the action to be anything but stalling for time, ‘I think you ought to seriously think about telling them. Erik, or whoever is behind the blast, is going to be here for a fight, and I don’t think your suit would end up in a very nice condition if he could get a hold of it. Please, Tony. For your safety?’
Tony thought of the time he flew into a wormhole in his suit. About every other thing he had done with it. And despite knowing that it was most likely the most stupid thing he had ever or likely would ever do, he decided that if he were going to go, it would be fighting in his own hunk of metal. If he could, if there was even the slightest, smallest chance that he could get out of this situation with as little people as possible finding about his mutation, he would simply have no other choice but to give it a shot. He could never forgive himself if he didn’t.
Mutations were nothing to be ashamed of, this he knew. Yet, somehow, it didn’t seem to apply to himself.
‘I won’t go near him, if it is Magneto.’ Tony said resolutely. He desperately tried to ignore the sinking fear and horror that Charles felt, and was probably making no effort to hide from him in a bid to make him listen.
‘You will be crushed if the man gets even a sniff of iron off you.’ Was the steady reply. Charles looked sorrowful and already in mourning.
Scott and Jean rounded the door mere seconds after Charles spoke. They were oblivious to the tension, or perhaps, thought it was merely caused by the suspected explosion – though it was far more “definite” an explosion than up for discussion. Either way, as the rest of them all filtered in; Warren, who looked dismal, Kitty, Rogue and Logan who were all concerned, Ororo with Hank who was muttering about who could have done this – Charles kept enough eye contact with Tony to make him turn away and claim he was looking for Bruce. He passed Natasha as he left the room, directly under the threshold. She raised an eyebrow at him in expectation, like she knew what he and Charles had just been talking about.
Worry finally sunk into Tony’s gut, but he soothed himself with the small glimmer of hope that it was a kid who got lucky enough to not be caught on the cameras while messing around with his powers and not Magneto himself.
It was Magneto. Of course.
The man slunk onto the property with all the subtlety of a predator who knew that it’s prey was exactly where he wanted it. He was surrounded by other mutants – notably Mystique and, to the dismay of them all, Pyro. Bobby was particularly angry at that; the temperature seemed to drop a couple of degrees from Tony’s position just behind him while his hands twitched.
They were all crammed around the surveillance screens, watching the small cluster of mutants position themselves around the doors of the mansion. Magneto stayed still where he was, looking coolly at the front door. Behind him was Mystique and Pyro, yet to his left was a skinny, weedy looking man of about his mid to late twenties. His hair was a dirty blonde, and that was all they could see from the footage.
Magneto raised his arm, and though Tony felt the flashes of fear from others in the room, he could feel the same from the man Magneto was clutching. It was hard not to; panic and fear was oozing out of him.
‘To all of you inside that house,’ was the booming, magnified voice of Magneto, evidently only able to do so through the mutant he was grabbing, ‘this is your one and final warning. Any children inside, any adults, even any Avengers –’ he chuckled at that, ‘please come to realize your true worth. I will not enter into a tirade. I will not try to convince you that I am right. Any that agree with me will not need convincing; they will know that they are better than the majority of people on this earth.’
There was silence. The tension was thick in the air, and Tony could feel what felt like hundreds of bursts of suspense.
A window from one of the dormitories on the wall facing Magneto opened. A dark head popped out.
‘Fuck off!’ It shouted, before slamming the window back into its frame, making it rattle.
Tony barked out a surprised laugh. Kitty and Logan joined him, Clint sniggering. Charles shook his head.
Magneto didn’t seem to react, though they couldn’t quite make out his facial expression, what with the helmet and the grainy footage they were watching his actions through. All he seemed to do was adjust his grip on the man beside him and move his neck in a slow, relaxed circle.
‘You have made your choice. I will not hold back. Nor will any of those that stand with me. But – before we begin,’ Tony thought he could see the flickers of a smile in those pixels, ‘Mr. Stark, I know your little secret.’
All amusement was gone, with the force of a sucker-punch to Tony’s throat and chest. It was all he could do to try and ignore the swells of confusion coming at him from all angles.
‘Tony,’ Natasha said, though he doubted that even she had any idea what she was meaning to continue to say. Bruce’s eyes were on him. Steve’s eyes were on him. All of them were staring.
‘What’s he talking about, Stark?’ Ororo Munroe asked, hands folded across her chest and Scott tilted his head to the side. Clint made a noise of agreement and Rogue’s face was so pale that she looked like the living dead. Tony had only felt such guilt before from when he had realized just what his weapons were doing out in the world.
The noise in the room grew as everyone looked back and forth in confusion and fear. Tony stared at the floor in front of him trying not to absorb what everyone else was feeling and trying to be selfish and concentrate on not bolting or throwing up.
Thor, from the back of the room, coughed loudly. ‘There is no time to discuss what the metal bender may know of our friend. If you would care to look at the images, they appear to be preparing themselves for battle.’
Ashamed, most everyone cast one last look at Tony and placed their attention on the screens, watching as the silhouettes of the attackers moved around.
‘Thor is quite right,’ Charles commented, straightening his back. ‘Erik will not wait for us to stop our bickering. Kitty, I need you to run through the house and let all the students that are still classed as children that they need to stay put in their rooms. Upon pain of two detentions a week for the rest of their stay here. X-Men, you know what to do. Captain, I trust you have a plan of action prepared for this eventuality?’
‘We do,’ Steve nodded grimly, ‘Tony and Bruce are going to be the eyes and ears by the cameras while the rest of us fight on the ground. The Hulk won’t come out unless we’re desperate.’
Immediately, Tony caught Charles’ eye. For once, he couldn’t tell what he was feeling.
If there was a way for somebody to feel completely bored in the midst of a fight going on, this was it. They had barely used the comms; it was all far too typical a set up, and didn’t seem to be full of tactical moves at all on the Brotherhood’s part. Sighing and long used to the emotions coming from inside and outside the mansion, of fear and anger and a strange strain of anticipation of which Tony thought could be what adrenaline felt like, his chin was resting on his upturned hand, wrist bent at right angles, while he watched the cameras.
He was resolutely avoiding thinking about Magneto knowing his secret altogether.
‘Can’t the toad guy see he’s left his back completely unprotected?’ Bruce commented, and Tony’s eyes flicked to a screen to his left, closer to where Bruce was sitting with his arms crossed across his chest. The image showed Clint aiming his arrow in the general direction of the man they’d been referring to as “toad guy” for the last half an hour.
‘I think he’s too preoccupied with trying to take down Natasha.’ Bruce nodded and shrugged in agreement. He tilted his head as they both watched Natasha’s face, which hadn’t changed in the last ten minutes; it was stuck in a mildly disgusted grimace as she fought off both the assumed slimy skin of toad guy and his – tongue.
‘Hang on,’ Bruce leaned forward, ‘Clint’s making the shot.’ Tony twitched his head towards the camera screen as his interest peaked. True to Bruce’s observation, the arrow Clint had been aiming carefully amongst all the fighting and Natasha hit its mark square in the back of toad guy.
‘Yay,’ Tony cheered, one third jubilant and two thirds sarcastic. Bruce looked at his disapprovingly. ‘What?’ Tony said in response, ‘you thought he would miss?’
Bruce rolled his eyes.
Tony went back to watching the screens, the blurs of the people fighting combined with their pixelated images making his eyes sting. There was Steve, fully dressed in his Captain America finery, using his shield to try and corner Mystique; it was such a fair fight that it had become far from interesting to watch in comparison to what else was going on. For every throw or punch of the shield, she dodged and placed a sharp and fiery clip of her own. Steve blocked them continually and magnificently, and landed some of his own when the brute strength became too much for Mystique, who had long forgone transforming into other and was intent on the fight at hand, a snarl on her face mirroring the serious concentration on Steve’s as he tried to pin her down.
Thor was fighting some mutants Tony didn’t know. His hammer was, at the moment, making quick work of them, for that was his main approach considering Storm had already covered the lightening, standing next to Clint on a flat section on the roof and summoning it down upon the battle below.
Jean used her telekinesis as they all had thought, and Scott was amongst it all trying hard to avoid shooting his fellows rather than the Brotherhood. Warren was fighting some other flying blue guy, while Wolverine was a blur of slashing arm movements and animal-like noise, paired with Hank who was, surprisingly, acting in much the same way.
Kitty had abandoned her previous plan – before, she had been running with Rogue, grabbing one forearm and dragging her through people and amongst the crowd whilst Rogue sent people unconscious or threw their own powers back at them depending on the speed of her departure, otherwise known as how-fast-Kitty-decided-she-wanted-to-run. Now, Kitty was breaking up the groups into smaller ones by running through people in attempts to get away from a burly, gorilla-like mutant who Bruce informed Tony was called, fittingly, the Juggernaut.
Really, mutant names were ever so inventive.
In the same strand, Tony looked for Bobby – he and Pyro were locked in an angry fight, which begged the question as to how they were ever friends at all; even their mutations were the complete antithesis of the other. Rogue was fighting an unknown someone, and Tony looked for Charles.
He wasn’t there.
‘Bruce,’ he said calmly, trying to sooth himself more than anything, ‘where’s the Professor?’ Bruce looked at him, looked down, and then looked at the cameras. He seemed to be scouring them. A swell of concern bloomed from him.
‘Uh,’ was the only reply, followed by ‘he’s not on any screens. Ask on the comms.’
Tony bit down the rising panic and pressed a hand to the small button that was veritably glued just behind his ear. Unbidden, he lamented how much that would hurt to take off.
‘Anyone got a location on the Professor?’ He asked the group as a whole, and watched as Clint shrugged while looking directly into the lense of the camera. Chimes of disagreement were added by many others, mostly out of breath pants or shouts from exertion and adrenaline. Charles himself didn’t reply.
‘Shit,’ Tony said, making sure he was only heard by Bruce and not on the comms. ‘Shit!’
‘He’s probably in one of the blind spots, or one that went down when they first – Tony!’
Tony had risen abruptly from his seat, with his hands clenched in his hair. He tried his very best to ignore the feelings of Bruce, of the worry and the fear and, as always, the rage, but he wasn’t so sure that limiting himself to his own terror was too much better.
‘I’m gonna find him.’ He muttered, and Bruce looked thoroughly alarmed.
‘Magneto’s out there somewhere, Tony, you can’t use your suit, you’ll be crushed, and who knows how much metal you’ve got on you now or how much Magneto can even find!’ He was breathing heavily, wild eyed. Tony paid him no notice as he walked away.
‘Tony! What help could you be?! Think!’
Stopping, shuddering, and turning, Tony looked over his shoulder with his torso twisted. ‘Trust me,’ he replied in a grim, foreboding tone, ‘you were all bound to find out anyway, just keep an eye on the screens.’
He could hear Bruce talking hurriedly down the comms as he switched his off.
Chapter 5: When He Gives Up Caring, But Nobody Else Does
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
It was just as battles always were, no matter the way they were fought or the method or the people – vicious and destabilising was the scene that Tony walked into.
It was hard enough to decipher who was who when it was normal warfare, he thought, let alone when all of the people in the fight were super-powered and had the most random abilities that you would have a hard time conjuring up in your head if it wasn’t smacking you in the face a millisecond before you had to react or die of it’s consequences.
Somehow, Tony managed to drown out the shouting that was being beamed right into his ear. He carried on walking, dodging occasionally and keeping quick and close to the inner walls.
Despite what they all seemed to think, Tony wasn’t quite stupid enough to simply wander outside – though he was close enough to idiocy to walk around the circumference of the inside of the building, looking out the grand, high windows. He knew the old building so wall that he could navigate it with ease, the night time walks coming back to him as clearly in the daylight now as they did all those many years ago.
‘Tony, Jesus Christ! Just get back to the damn office!’ Shouted Clint between grunts. There were one or two noises of agreement from those who were not elbows deep in karate chops, or whatever it was they were doing. Bruce continued swearing and counting numbers painstakingly.
‘I’m not even outside,’ Tony murmured, ducking behind a curtain when the Toad guy was thrown against the glass – Charles had clearly reinforced the panes somehow because they barely trembled.
He searched for Charles with his senses, pressing his hands to the walls of the house and soaking up the remnants of the man in the hope of better identifying him amongst the medley of others out there, slowly getting closer and closer to the safety of the mansion.
If there was anything good about this overwhelming new power, it was that he now had some modicum of control over it, given that he actually knew he could do it and that it existed. He imagined each grain of the wood, the tiniest chips and the largest dents in it, the natural rivulets and smoothness, and ran his fingers along them all. Tony pictured all the things the materials he touched had seen over the years, pictured every time Charles had touched the wood and every time he had even brushed past it even in the tiniest, most inconsequential of ways.
Eventually, he gathered a general signature from Charles, one that was common throughout the glimpses, one that Tony hoped he could pluck out from the swathes of pain and anger and a hatred so bad that he thought if he focused on it he would lie down and never get up again.
He found him, eventually.
They were by the long abandoned water feature, that had been maintained and looked after despite its lack of use with actual water. Magneto had twisted it beyond recognition of the little – what, Cherub? Nymph?
The mangled feature, and the piping only partially crushed that led and linked up to it also snaked around in holes and underground until Tony found it pressed innocently against a wall in the library, right by the shelves on the natural world.
Swearing joyously, Tony grabbed the piping, not caring that it could probably sear off the skin on his palm, and concentrated for a moment before running off.
When he arrived, he sprinted past Charles’ chair, with its wheel twisted into a tight ball. Charles was sitting back on the grass, eyes furiously glaring at Magneto.
‘You would hurt children like this, Erik? You have become no better than those you have spent your life hating and hunting –’
‘Shut up!’ Magneto hissed, eyes narrowed beneath that ridiculous helmet of his. ‘Don’t lecture me Charles! You have always been the one with the illusion of equality, with the stupid hope that –’ He stopped, and tilted his head before laughing. He had spotted Tony.
Charles stared for a long moment, the bubbles of confusion and suspicion floating into the atmosphere around him, the fear and upset making way for it. Tony saw him, from behind, and saw him shift his arm away fro his body and grimace. Blood trailed after the extended arm and it made hot wells of anger cloud Tony’s mind so much that he couldn’t even get a decent read on Magneto.
‘You’ve joined us, Mr. Stark!’ Magnet exclaimed happily, lowering his raised hand. ‘I am sure Charles will be delighted! And you, of course, especially considering everyone else is about to join us for this gathering.’
‘Tony,’ came the muttered sound of Charles’ broken voice. It hurt.
‘Why? Why are they coming?’ Tony demanded, furious and tired in the face of the man who had caused so much grief. ‘Why would they come? They’re fighting, they’re getting closer to –’
‘You stupid child,’ Magneto interrupted with laughter in his voice. ‘You think I’m going to harm my own when they do not directly oppose me?’ He shook his head. ‘They are young. Inexperienced. They do not understand the world yet; they don’t even understand their own greatness. They will come to me when they have discovered that I am right, and I will welcome them.
‘I am here to remove those that hurt them by making them believe they are in any way equal to the rest of the earth – the X-Men. They are far too gone to be changed to the right, and they cannot be allowed to continue corrupting others.’
Staggered, Tony took a step back. Magneto could see the confusion on his face, and Tony could feel that he revelled in it.
‘We don’t want to get into that house, we just want to get to you. Why do you think this has been such a long battle, Charles? Why do you think everyone else is coming now?’
Tony’s head swivelled to Charles, who looked devastated. It was testament to the man’s genius that he didn’t even have any visible signs of confusion on his face to try and work it out. He knew Erik Lehnsherr intimately in the way that only people who have known each other for a majority of their lives can.
‘What does he mean?’ Tony said, and then shouted louder; ‘What does he mean?!’
‘The battle doesn’t mean anything much at all.’ Charles replied mournfully. He was staring into the distance, watching as the fighting moved closer and closer, until it was visible who was who. ‘They’re bringing everyone here to slaughter them. So Magneto can slaughter them.’
‘It’s easy to plant a bit of metal on someone, especially something as small as a nail. Even easier to drill it into someone’s body before they even notice, even somewhere vital, especially is you’ve got a lovely little talent like mine. Look at you,’ Magneto said viciously. ‘You’re almost glittering; with the amount you’ve got on.’ Tony’s watch – a Rolex, for God’s sake – snaked its way off his wrist with a fluidity that was mesmerising, twisting itself into a shining length of short rope.
He should have known that this would happen, Tony thought as the rest of them came thundering forward, enveloping them all before Charles shouted in pain and anguish and froze most of them for just enough time that when they came back to their own minds they stayed quiet. As they moved closer to try and distinguish what was happening.
The metal closed softly around his neck like a simple embrace, and he fell abruptly and painfully to the ground. ‘I’m just giving you what you want,’ Magneto whispered, moving closer to Tony’s still, spluttering form, where all he could do was stare and feel. ‘Don’t you remember your little note? This is what you wanted.’
Tony tried to move, the blur of sensation and realisation that that was how they knew about him being him spurring him forward. He brushed Magneto’s foot, but the man tightened the metal around Tony’s throat and it was crushing. His vision was blurry and the black spots were no longer a minority, but the majority of his vision.
With Magneto’s laugh, dark and twisted and even feeling like it was reverberating in Tony’s skull along with his own emotions through the metal that was pressed to his throat, through the power that tied Magneto to the metal and therefore to Tony, he dug his hand to the dirt as Magneto turned and walked towards Charles.
Tony pushed. He pushed the feelings of upset, the feelings of pain and the unfairness of the world and he expanded them within Magneto’s own mind, warping his senses to fit those Tony was relaying into him, enveloping the man in the crushing despair. Magneto’s own emotions of pain expanded, and they sent him to his knees, tearing off the helmet in an attempt, an effort in vain, to subside the pain by rubbing his head. Grey hair fell out in his hands as he drew them away.
The metal around Tony’s neck loosened, but it didn’t stop him falling unconscious anyway. The last image he saw was people and people’s feet, and through them Magneto, tears running down his face and a look of abject horror that Tony couldn’t help but idly, peacefully, wonder what he had been reminded of in his own mind.
The Letter in Pyro's room:
"I’ve been reading about this guy called Robert Plutchik. Most of his stuff is kind of boring but I liked the main idea so I guess I kept on digging around just in case he had something else cool to offer. His gig is emotions and there’s ten rules or something and eight primary feelings that anything can have. I mean, obviously a beetle doesn’t exactly have the same range as humans, but I think he said something about that in those rules that I skim read. I don’t know. I don’t even know whether I believe him. He’s the big scientist and all that but from someone who actually knows these things, I don’t know that I agree. I mean, come on. Clearly everyone has feelings but some people feel that differently to others so it’s almost like reading their mind without all the words complicating things. I kind of feel like the expert here, all things given.
I know that this guy called one of these emotions ‘sadness’. But that doesn’t cover it. I don’t think it will ever cover it. How can you narrow down years and years of being beaten down until you think you’re not worth the shit of anyone’s shoe, to just being sad? Human’s aren’t that easy. He thinks they are, but they’re not. Humans are complicated and nasty and I just want to get away from them and their feelings. I’m not cut out for this, not for any of this, and especially not anyone else’s issues.
Charles told me today that I can stay for as long as I want to. He went a bit soppy and was going on about how ‘I’ll always have a home here’ etc. But I think I’ve stayed here for as long as I want to. In general, I mean, not just in this house. I don’t want to be anywhere for longer than I have been. I think I’ve done my time here, and it hasn’t even brought anyone any sunshine and daisies while I’ve been around. I’m finished."
IMPORTANT: With thought over the past 24 hours, I've decided to shave off a little of the ending and leave it at the battle. For those who are new; Tony's alive, don't worry. I just think that the reactions of the rest of the team and the aftermath, including any possible AUs of this story itself, or just being set in this little world, deserve a sequel.
Thank you. I've finally finished it. Thanks for staying with me -- this is the first even story I've finished and it's taken me a while but I'm overjoyed it's here, though I'm praying you enjoy it and it's up to scratch with what you want.
More importantly - I'm fully intending to dip back into this little AU. Please give me suggestions... I've been thinking about the possibility of Magneto telling the world about Tony's mutation. Bringing Spider-Man into it, because I love him. AU's of this AU. Let me know what you'd like written, if anything at all!
Thanks again for your support. It's been a wild ride!
Chapter 6: Where Tony Is Finally All Tony
Okay, okay. I get it. You didn't like the old ending. Hope you like this one, at least.
Shout out to the (presumably) lovely Zapuppy, whose comment, for whatever reason, spurred me on to randomly write this in one go today after a God-knows-how-long hiatus from writing.
If you hate this version, sorry. I draw the line at rewriting for a third time.
There were cuts and bruises on everyone he saw. Or, more accurately, there were small slashes and scratches, or uncomfortably deep imprints where a nail or coin had been forced into the flesh.
Tony hadn’t seen any non-mutant since he had woken. He knew Charles’ excuse for them was frail; he knew very well that they were giving him a wide berth for a reason. Some part of him liked to think that they were ashamed, that he of all of them had managed to take Magneto down. It was a vicious little part of him, but it was there.
Charles had told him, kindly, with a hand on his and with soft eyes, that even still, nobody had told his teammates what he was. He held steadfast to his favourite philosophy, that it was up to him to tell people. But Tony wasn’t stupid, by any means. They would know something was wrong with him. His rambling might make some people cry, but definitely not Magneto of all people.
He had glimpsed a curious looking Thor through the small window in the door; he smiled when he realised Tony was watching him back. But he made no move to come into the room. He almost seemed to find Tony staring right back at him a cue to leave.
He probably wasn’t allowed to talk, Tony thought moodily. Tony would be viewed as unpredictable as ever by Cap.
His days continued in the same vein, thought with the notable absence of Thor. Or any of the others, anyway. Charles joined him for at least one meal a day – usually breakfast – and Rogue or Logan made quite a few incredibly awkward joint and separate calls which Tony appreciated nonetheless.
Perhaps the only thing Tony enjoyed about his captivity was the kids that would come and gawk at him. Not only did it stroke his ego considerably, but it allowed him to talk science and maths and books and the world in a way he hadn’t experienced before. He had been way ahead of everyone else his own age when he was younger, and so had never experienced things from a child’s point of view. He found they had a profoundly different mind set whether they were loved or hated by their parents.
He had been in his room for one hundred and eighty-four hours (eight days) when a twelve-year-old girl and her friends came in and demanded his opinion on The Catcher in the Rye.
‘Hate it,’ he said, shaking his head and grimacing, ‘guy’s too much like me when I was younger too. Or, I was like him. Who knows. Who cares, come to think of it –’
A boy’s hair started to turn a deep burgundy. ‘Wow, okay, cool it carrot-top. I didn’t say it was badly written, per se, it just makes me shiver in distaste.’
‘Well,’ another boy replied, glancing uncomfortably at his friend’s orange eyebrows, ‘I thought it was brilliant.’ About half of the group nodded in agreement. Disgruntled protests followed him, and somebody shot a blast of cool air down the back of his top. He screeched. Tony crossed his arms and tilted his head.
‘Okay. It’s like that. Show of hands who actually liked it and who thought it was a pile of –’ Oh God, Clint was in the window. He looked and the kids, who stared at him like he was singing the words of the gospel off the bat. ‘Change of plan. I have a visitor. Come back tomorrow with proper arguments, okay? Let’s have a debate. Should be fun. Right? That’s right, Mr Telekinesis over there, you keep walking. Put my tablet back where I left it.’\
The parade of pre-teens shuffled out of the room, glaring at Clint for his disruption. He looked ashamed and even more awkward.
‘Sorry to break up the crèche,’ he said awkwardly, sidling into the room and closing the door. Tony rose from his chair and started up the coffee machine in the corner. He didn’t offer Clint anything. He ignored his comment.
‘So, clean up must be taking a while,’ Tony noted lightly, pressing the button. ‘Haven’t seen you guys around.’ He heard Clint shift behind his back. Good, he thought, be uneasy.
‘We just finished. I came here to talk to you about what happened.’
‘I’m sure you just finished,’ Tony replied wryly. He knew from his spies – or, nine year olds – that it had taken only a few days before everything was done and the plumbers had already been in. It was cosmetic stuff now, and the kids were excited because they were getting a new vending machine.
He sat back down. Clint looked at him expectantly. He decided he didn’t want to give him what he wanted. No simplicity for that guy.
‘You know the kid with the hair just then? He lives here permanently. Parents don’t hate him or anything, like he’s shown me his birthday cards, but they didn’t want to have to pay off everyone who saw his hair change colour. He also told me they didn’t like what people would think if they thought they allowed their kids dye their hair at ten.’
Clint frowned. He looked about to speak. Tony interrupted him. ‘His name is Harry. His friend, Luca, looks pretty normal, but he can imitate other people’s voices exactly. His parents actually let him go home over the holidays.’ He revelled in making Clint uncomfortable. Some part of him felt guilty, but he overpowered it. ‘Oh, there’s Hannah that was there too. She hasn’t actually seen her parents since she was about seven, I think she said. Not that she cares –’
‘Okay, I get your point!’ Clint shouted over him, looking angry. ‘It’s shit! So why do you act like you don’t care when you do? We know that now but why were you such a dick?’
‘Barton, you chose to be different,’ Tony said, sipping his coffee and staring him down. He stayed calm, even though he could feel his anger and confusion. Clint protested. ‘You did – you didn’t have to accept SHIELD; you didn’t have to be some super spy. You didn’t have to use your bow and arrow trick. You think they have a chance to choose when their hair changes colour for no good reason?’
Clint paused and stared at the bed. ‘Professor X said it was up to you to tell us. We didn’t know what to think, after. But, Thor kind of nudged us down the right path. Bruce sort of figured it out. That you’re a – well. That you can –’
‘Jesus, Katniss, you can say the word mutant. I won’t cry.’
‘We don’t know what you can do but we know that you were nasty about mutants before. And we don’t know why. Cap can’t get his head around it – he doesn’t understand it at all. Bruce is just quiet and Thor won’t tell us anything even though he knows more than he lets on. Same for Natasha.’
Tony understood. He wouldn’t quite understand it either. But he thought about why he had chosen to do this, and he understood himself with clarity that was quite unexpected. He had never been so anti-mutant before he came back here – he hadn’t gone on the marches or anything, but he also hadn’t condemned anyone. Sure, he hadn’t changed the original contracts from when his dad got them written in the sixties or something, but he had tried to stay out of the way. He pretended he had bigger fish to fry. He pretended to be ignorant.
That had been his little barrier, his protection. He was an asshole, but nobody really expected anything better from him. He decided he would just say it straight. He was, really, quite tired of hiding.
‘If everybody already thinks you’re a self-centred ass with a head the size of a country with just enough sympathy for others to half-way fill a paddling pool, why would you break that kind of cover?’ Tony felt tired. ‘I couldn’t turn around and suddenly support the one thing my dad had paid enough attention to, to hate so much.’
Clint looked downcast. ‘But you hate your dad. Wouldn’t it make sense for you to disagree with him?’
‘You’re forgetting nobody knows we didn’t get along.’ Sometimes, Tony forgot that not everybody was split in two, into public and private. He had lived his life in halves only.
Oozing from Clint was a feeling of regret. There were still elements of upset and anger, though it was more of the self-righteous kind, the sort that fuelled charity galas and gaudy events in aid of insert-cute-charity-here. But, it was dissipating. It floated off into the atmosphere like dust.
‘You need to tell Cap and Bruce about this, you know.’ Clint finally said, looking Tony in the eye for only about the second time in the entire meeting. Incident, Tony wanted to call it. He carried on; ‘I won’t ask you what it is you can do and I don’t think I can forgive you for what you’ve said. You said it and you don’t mean it but you still said it. But I sort of understand now.’
‘Fine.’ Tony replied in a clipped tone. It was intentional. ‘I’ll come round tonight.’ He didn’t know where to find them but he would run into them somehow. He hoped he wouldn’t actually find them. ‘Tell them what I’ve said. I can’t be bothered to go over it again. Parental issues aren’t my favourite kind of small talk.’
‘I don’t think it’s any of ours, to be honest,’ Clint grinned back. They’d shared that smile many times.
Tony swung by at quarter to nine in the evening after sullenly wandering the corridors making as much effort to avoid being observant as he could. He regretted his offer, but at least he could move. He couldn’t imagine sitting in the random room he’d been left to sequester away in, waiting for judgement to come upon him.
Natasha and Thor stood against the wall, looking smug, as Bruce seemed to vibrate with nervous energy and Steve held an expression of perpetual confusion. He didn’t seem to understand Tony’s reasoning, and he thought that he never really would. He was too good, too naïve. And Tony himself sometimes thought he couldn’t quite grasp it either.
He felt uncharacteristically nervous. He could feel the same coming off of Bruce, and Steve was mostly apprehensive as opposed to worry. He murmured a greeting and then sat on the old armchair he knew for a fact Clint had filched from one of the common rooms.
‘Hi Tony,’ Bruce said quietly, smiling. Tony could feel the nervousness recede; he found it quite incredible the way in which Bruce managed to have such control over his emotions. It was certainty significantly better than Tony had been for quite a while in his younger years, and he was an Empath for God’s sake.
Tony smiled back in reply. He said hello to Cap specifically. ‘I don’t really know what you want me to say – or, I don’t know where you want me to start. Or anything really.’
‘Tony,’ Steve replied, ‘Clint told us what you said to him. I can’t say I really understand it –’ Tony almost laughed, he could be so predictable ‘—but I think we’d just like the truth now. I can’t agree with how you’ve acted the past months … but we’ve all got to be truthful with eachother if we want to go forward in the right way.’
‘You’re assuming there is a way of going forward.’ Tony replied.
Steve blinked. ‘Of course there is. You’d have to do a lot more than the past few weeks to be kicked off the team at this point. Nothing short of maiming one of us, to be honest.’ He seemed to pause and think deeply for a second. ‘Not that we – I – condone what you’ve said. At all.’ Bruce shrugged.
‘It’s okay, Cap, nobody is doubting your honour,’ he said, rolling his eyes. He didn’t like to think of what would happen if he got kicked off the team, and so he essentially cancelled the thought whenever it sauntered into his head. The reassurance, all the same, was incredibly gratifying.
‘We know Natasha knows and Thor, so please just tell us what kind of weird spell you can cast so we stop feeling like Steve in Macy’s,’
Steve was affronted. ‘You know that was soon after I got out, and I didn’t expect customer service like that –’
‘Could you just start speaking before this goes to schoolyard level, please,’ Bruce asked, eyes tired and hand rubbing his forehead in muted frustration.
Tony agreed with him; he had been in more than a few of those kinds of arguments himself. Loudly, he started. ‘Can I just say it’s not like mind control,’
‘Well that’s a relief,’ Clint put in sarcastically.
‘It’s kind of subtler than that.’ Tony ignored Natasha’s small huff of breath and her amusement and his being in any way subtle. ‘I’m sort of, well – I’m like a radio station. But instead of getting waves I get feelings. Emotions. Not that I actually feel them myself, but I feel other people’s. Does that – does that make sense? At all?’
Tony watched Thor and Natasha watch them. Both had their arms crossed. Clint sat back against his chair and made a small grunt of revelation, and Steve tilted his head to the left and made the furrow of his brow even deeper. He looked like a child faced with algebra for the first time. Not that Tony would really understand that level of confusion.
Bruce leaned forward, elbows on his corduroy – ew – trousers and hands clasping his chin. ‘So, would empathy by the right word?’ He asked slowly. Tony nodded. Bruce pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. ‘That’s … really interesting.’
‘Can you feel us now?’ Clint asked, looking slightly spooked.
Tony nodded again. ‘I can. It’s usually hard to put a name to it though. Feelings aren’t one thing or the other, they’re more of, like, a remix.’
‘Did you just, really, say that –’ Natasha asked from the corner, before Clint interrupted her. She looked annoyed, but didn’t really feel it. She was far too used to it by this point, Tony supposed.
‘You know how useful that could have been when we had to go up against that massive machine thing with that weirdo in the middle of it?’ Clint exclaimed, pointing at Tony. Tony laughed in reply.
‘Yeah it wasn’t exactly the suit that figured it was actually a human and not a robot,’ Clint covered his face and groaned. When he uncovered it, he appeared lined, looking at the ceiling in awe.
Tony turned his body slightly to face Steve. Bruce looked like he was thinking hard, and it was usually that face that prevented Tony from pestering him. He didn’t think he should make this time the exception.
‘I thought it would be something really bad or embarrassing,’ Cap said weakly. He looked – and felt – considerably relieved. Tony felt it too, but then he realised it was actually his own emotion too. It explained why it was so powerful.
‘We thought it would be something technology-based,’ Natasha said, gesturing to herself and Thor. He nodded.
Tony felt somewhat betrayed. ‘You guys have been talking about me?’
Thor looked nonplussed. ‘Of course.’ He said. ‘How could we not. We had nobody else to talk to about it.’ He paused, then added: ‘And at least we can be very covert.’
Steve grumbled to Tony’s left. Clint started making loud accusations and protestations. The mood, being heavy and blanketing over the room, immediately began to evaporate.
Bruce clapped Tony on the shoulder. ‘Does this mean we’ll rename the lab mutant central?’
Tony barked out a laugh. He felt surprised and honoured that they had all taken it so well. Perhaps the realisation that he was a mutant happened earlier, or maybe it was just all in their separate heads and he hadn’t realised. They most likely thought he was some kind of shape shifter, or he was hiding wings or something. Maybe they assumed he had something like twelve extra nipples.
‘Come on, they’re completely different kinds of mutation,’ Tony laughed, rolling his eyes while replying and shifting back to face Bruce, who was opposite him. It seemed to him that Bruce flourished under the challenge. He felt a quick surge of satisfaction come off him as he began to argue back. Biology was, of course, his forte.
On the other side of the mansion, Charles was keeping an eye out. He smiled.