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The Sun and the Moon

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Tony often wonders what's the worst thing of the shitty situation they are currently in, and it's indeed a tricky question. The arrival of vampires caused a lot of shit, but what was the worst of it?

The answer depends on the person, actually. Some people would say the worst is that humanity is clearly not strong enough to face the vampires, so they now feel vulnerable and incapable of protecting their families if they're unfortunate enough to be under attack.

Others would say the worst is that vampires dominate most of the globe now, and that the cruelest of them are used to organizing human trafficking or selling human slaves to allow the vampires who want it to possess their own “blood bag”, as they like to call them.

But that's not the worst, for Tony.

The worst is that vampires believe they're superior to them: they think humans are their belongings, some vulgar weak preys they can feed on whenever they feel like it. Humans are just seen as meals, incapable of being dangerous.

Tony had been the first to prove them wrong.

Well, technically, he had not been the first man to resist against the Vampires Invasion, but Tony is one of the first to really damage those monsters with his own weapons and technology. He's called a hunter, meaning a human who can vie to vampires, who decides to fight them.

He's a hunter like the rest of the Avengers.

Nobody knows how vampires arrived on Earth. There is no solid explanation. Vampires most likely just came out of nowhere, many, many years ago. They have many names: Night Creatures, Creatures of the Moon, vampires...

Tony, or even his great-great-great grandfather weren't even born when the first vampires appeared and began to spread like wildfire. They had brought destruction wherever they went, leaving corpses behind them.

Sadly, humanity's first reaction had not been fighting back or defending themselves to preserve their species, but fear and desperation. Tony can't totally blame them for being panicked.

Vampires are indeed terrifying. They're faster, stronger and smarter than humans, and the most terrifying element about them is that nobody knows where they're from, so almost all suggestions and hypothesis are subject to approval, even the oddest.

Some say they come from the Dark, that they're demons, that they're the children of the Devil, others claim that they're living dead, that they're cursed, toxic, or literally the living representation of Evil...

For years, people had thought vampires were flawless. They had spent most of their time running from vampires instead of trying to find a way to fight them, that's why vampires so easily gained ground and began to dominate cities, and the human race in general.

That didn't take them a lot of effort, in fact, and they quickly became numerous, to such a point that today the town, where Tony and the rest of the Avengers live in, is one of the last cities that's still led by humans. That's rare, nowadays.

And Tony has to work harder if he wants to keep it that way.

“When was the last time you've eaten, Tony? You know... Gulping down real food, ” Clint's voice interrupts his gloomy thoughts, as the archer enters the lab and approaches him.

Tony doesn't even have to turn around to know that Clint holds a plate in his hand, and has a look of disapproval on his face. God, he almost looks and sounds like Steve, and one Steve is enough.

“Honestly?” Tony nonchalantly shrugs, as if it doesn't matter. “I have no idea. The sun will go down soon, we have to be ready.”

“Alright,” Clint signs, but he doesn't insist. “I'm your personal waiter then, you should feel honoured: Pasta.”

Tony has to admit the plate smells delicious, and his stomach starts to rumble. He's hungry. He sends a shining grin at Barton as he takes the plate. “Thanks, Legolas.”

Clint stays quiet for a time, letting Tony the time to enjoy his meal as he takes a few bites, but he soon finds out the way to carry on his reproach. “Tony, you need to take care of yourself, or-”

“Don't you have more interesting things to talk about?” Tony stubbornly interrupts him, and the message is clear: he doesn't want this conversation to continue.

“Alright...” Clint gives up, and he changes the subject. “You've got something for me, then?”

Tony smirked. He can talk about his weapons, and they both know it. “Maybe... I don't know if you deserve them, though. I hope you were a good boy...”

Clint lifts an eyebrow. “I've just brought you a delicious plate...”

“Fair enough,” Tony grins. “I'm feeling generous today, anyway. Thirty more for you, ” By saying that, Tony opens a large drawer, and retrieves the new arrows he's just finished making.

He hands them to Clint.

Now gathered in the archer's hand, Tony watches these sharp arrows with pride. These were his creation, he has even carved his initials into them. He had always been doing that, actually, despite the team's multiple reproaches about it.

Yes, he knows that it's mostly his ego talking, that it's a provocation, but he can't help it: he wants these bloody bloodsucker bastards to know that somewhere, a mere human being is able to defy them and endanger them.

Most of the vampires already know who he is and how he looks, but he doesn't really care. He had accepted to be a target a long time ago, the second he had decided to fight those demons instead of kowtow like most of the humans.

Tony had always been a fighter, and he had never believed that vampires were invincible. He knew vampires could bleed. And if a creature can bleed, it means it can be killed.

The point had been to figure out how they could be killed.

And thankfully, time and intensive research, little by little, revealed their weaknesses, or at least some of them, such as the fact that they are weaker in full sunlight, and that some specific weapons are able to harm them, and even kill them if they're plunged into their frozen, still heart.

The kind of weapons doesn't matter. It can be arrows, knives or stakes, but the material is important; the only weapons that can endanger a vampire are made of ash tree or aspen, just like the arrows he has given to Clint.

The second Tony had been certain of how effective these weapons were, his personal lab had been totally dedicated to the creation and the distribution of these specific weapons throughout the city, and that hasn't changed ever since.

That's their town's most precious means of defense against those monsters, so Tony cherishes them.

“They're lighter...” Barton notices, looking at his new arrows for a time before carefully stuffing them in his quiver.

“Yep,” Tony nods. “They'll be faster this way, and don't worry,” He winks. “They're still solid.”

“I don't doubt it,” The archer smiles. He knows how talented Tony is. “Ready for tonight?”

“Born ready,” Tony wriggles his eyebrows. “I'm Iron Man, remember? Also known as ''The Fighter Against The Dark'', ''The Light in the Dark'', but my favorite is definitely ''The Savior of Human Race''. I like how that sounds. It totally fits me, in fact. These people got it right,” Well, he is just saving his city for now, but that's something.

They both start laughing, despite how nervous they actually are, deep inside. The Avengers had always been acting during the night to chase vampires away from their city, because that was when the demons would loom by to feed themselves.

Yes, even if the town is constantly protected by the Avengers, it doesn't prevent small groups of vampires from coming here. The oldest vampires are able to get through Tony's protective shield around the city. The older a vampire is, the more powerful and strong he becomes.

Clint opens his mouth, but he doesn't have the time to say a word, as another voice, more serious than theirs, cuts him off. “You deserve all of these titles, Tony...”

That's Steve Rogers, alias Captain America, one of the Avengers' best recruit.

“Oh my god, Cap,” Tony pretends to gape, pressing his hand against his chest in mock shock. “Have you just complimented me or was it a dream? Please, tell me it was not a dream!”

A tiny smile crosses Steve's face. “Don't get used to it.”

“Too late.”

Steve is right, though.

It was Tony who brought hope in this small, isolated town. It was Tony who managed to protect people and to give them the opportunity to fight back, thanks to all of his created weapons. And thanks to the Avengers, who have the mission to protect the city, people feel safer.

However, even though he's done a lot for his town, Tony wants to do more.

A part of him wants to be able to distribute his weapons all over the world, in order to give the entire human population the opportunity to defend themselves against this dreadful threat, but another part of him, far more lucid than the other, knows it is an utopic wish.

The world is in chaos, mostly dominated by vampires, and Tony doesn't have enough resources to expend his weapons throughout the whole world. He knows he has to just protect his town and its population for now, and that's already a lot of work.

“Where's your sword, Cap?” Clint asks, leaning nonchalantly against the wall.

Steve calmly corrects him, for the thousandth time perhaps. “It's a shield.”

“Yeah, but you use it to cut heads off, so it's more a round sword than a shield...” Barton sneers.

Decapitation is the other efficient way of killing a vampire, and it's Steve's speciality. He doesn't like decapitating people, even if they're technically not people anymore, only heartless monsters, but his quick shield, when he's thrown, manages to cut through the air, so cutting heads off is easy for him.

Steve's attention was back to Tony, and he frowns, with his typical I-am-so-disappointed-in-you look. “You do not look good, Tony...” Steve's voice is still calm, polite and gentle. No rudeness or vulgarity, as always.

Tony rolls his eyes. “You're so nice to me, Cap.”

“Well, he was nice... He could've said you look like crap,” Barton comments with a smirk, but Steve stays serious, as usual, and his worried eyes are still on Tony. “You kept working on the preparation, didn't you?”

“Bingo,” Tony says, and he points at them. “By the way, you two need your injection,” The product in question is a sort of vaccine Tony had been working on for mounths. Basically, it would make your blood toxic for the vampires who tries to drink it; your blood would be undrinkable.

However, this preparation, even if it's a genius idea, has many problems, the worst of them being that it doesn't last long, which means that even if you inject it, you are not protected forever.

It usually stays in one's blood a few days, and then it is needed to inject it again. Tony has to find a way to make it permanent.

“What's the matter with it?” Steve frowns, and even Clint becomes serious. They all know this product could be the big chance to save humanity: indeed, if the humans' blood becomes undrinkable, the vampires wouldn't have any reason to attack mortals, and they would die in the process.

Vampires need blood to stay ''alive'', after all.

“The... ''vaccine'' is fine, actually.”

“But?” Clint asks.

Tony rubs his face tiredly. “But I need to make it permanent and I need to modify it to suit all people's blood. We don't all have the same blood, between blood group-”

“So, you think there'll be bodies who would reject the injection...” Steve warily guesses, and Tony doesn't blame him for being mentally tired. It's frustrating to have a solution at your fingertips, but not efficient enough to make a difference.

For now.

“Yes. And-”

“Guys?” Natasha's voice comes out of their connected earpieces. They all shut their mouth and look at each other with a sense of gravity. They know what it means.

Natasha has spotted vampires.

Some vampires are here.

“What do you see, Natasha?” Tony calmly asks, even though his blood is literally boiling inside his veins.

Natasha, alias Black Widow, is most of the time the Avengers's scout, meaning she's constantly covering the city to spot vampires during the night. To spot them efficiently, she uses her technological watch that can detect a heartbeat.

After all, all of the vampires are dead, so their heart doesn't beat.

She had refused the injection the second Tony had suggested her. She had said that she's supposed to go unnoticed, and vampires would smell that her blood is different if she accepts the injection, and that would alarm them. This means her blood is always drinkable, contrary to the other members of the team.

Tony respects her deeply for that.

That's brave of her.

“Seven assholes, near the city hall,” Natasha quietly says, seething with anger. “They've spotted their snack already: it's a woman and a little child, probably hers. They're in black but one of them is wearing a green hood. We've already met them: it's Mordo and some of his followers. You guys need to kick their asses once and for all. I can interv-”

“Natasha,” Clint firmly shakes his head, worry clear in his voice. “You can't go alone, you don't stand a chance against them.”

“You've always underestimated me-”

“Are you sure they're alone?” Steve hastily interrupts her, and they hear her sigh. “I can't be 100% sure, but there's no one except them. We have to act.”

Steve's features are twisted in worry, and it doesn't help. Tony knows Captain America is cautious and careful, so he must be afraid of a possible trap.

And to be honest, it's possible.

“These bloody bloodsuckers think that here is their personal restaurant...” Natasha snaps. “We need to stop them, guys.”

“You have to wait for us, Nat,” Clint demands, but the second they hear a short but sharp chuckle, they know Black Widow won't obey. That's not surprising. “I've got guns, I can shoot them... I won't miss.”

“Bullets don't kill vampires,” Steve argues.

“I know,” They can hear Nat's smug smile in her voice. “but I do think that getting shot in the knee would be painful enough to make them bellow.”

Tony can't help the tiny smile dancing on his lips, but Steve does not seem amused in the least. He thoughtfully rubs his chin, narrowing his eyes. “They've come a few times in the past, and they've never killed-”

“So what?” Tony grits his teeth. “Just because Mordo and his followers don't kill their fucking meal, it means they're friendly?”

Steve blinks, a little taken aback by Tony's harsh reaction, but he still replies with a calm tone. “That's not what I said.”

“I hope so. I don't care if they kill or not: human beings are not bloody meals.”

“Yep, I agree with Tony,” Natasha says. “And I never thought I would actually say that sentence.”

“Didn't you consider the fact that it can be a trap?” Steve finally expresses his fear, sounding a little annoyed. “Vampires know we are here, they know we will intervene and Mordo has already fought us before. Tony, we're a threat to them.”

“Oh, it's probably a trap,” Tony coldly replies. “But I don't give a shit, they need to be stopped, ” Before the group can react, Tony walks towards his armor, and he announces. “Suit up, guys! We're going to kick Dracula's ass.”

OoO

“Please,” The blond woman is more sobbing than talking at this point, but it doesn't seem to shake Mordo. The vampire keeps holding her firmly by seizing her arms, his face illegible and cold. He's far stronger than a mere mortal, so her pathetic struggles don't even make him budge.

He manages to pin her against a wall and she's totally at his mercy, but he stays still. He doesn't lay a hand on her, and he doesn't bite her neck.

Not yet.

He has to wait.

Wait till they arrive.

He remembers how difficult it had been just to wait.

Mordo is one of the oldest vampires in existence, and he had learned many years ago how to put his blood thirst under control. It had been hard, very hard at first, but he had gotten help, at a place called Kamar-Taj.

The Ancient One, his former mentor, had helped him to channel his strong impulses, to live with his demons.

He's not the only one who's suffered, though. Practically every single vampire who wants to control himself must learn painfully how not to be driven by his thirst for blood.

And Mordo, with time and patience, has succeeded. Now, he can wait, be calm and collected, instead of throwing himself on his prey like a wild, starved beast to suck blood, and tearing throats apart.

Thinking of the Ancient One makes his throat suddenly dry. Her betrayal is still hard to accept.

“Oh my god, please...”

“Shh...” Mordo tries to soothe her. He doesn't want her to be terrified. “Stop crying, it's going to be OK. I'm not going to kill you. I'm just going to feed myself,” He's not lying. Mordo is many things, but he's not cruel with innocent people.

He doesn't kill his preys unless he has to. He only kills if it's necessary or by revenge, but humans, for the most part, are harmless and have done nothing to him. He actually needs humans to keep living, so why killing them? It would be a total waste.

Without human blood, a vampire perishes.

“No... No...” Of course, she doesn't seem to believe him.

Great.

Mordo forces himself not to roll his eyes. “You need to relax, it's not a big deal. You have to see that like... collecting,” This seems to calm her down a bit, because she most likely didn't expect this.

Mordo carries on. “When you take a piece of fruit from a tree for example, you don't destroy or kill the tree, you just take from it to feed yourself, it accepts to give you what you need. It's in the natural order of things. That's exactly what I'm doing right now.”

The woman stays silent for a moment, gaping, but when she sees one of Mordo's followers bringing her child closer, she starts panicking again, and she yells. “No! My child, my child, he's... not him, not my child, oh please-”

“We're not going to hurt your child,” Mordo snaps. He casts a warning glance at his followers, and he orders them. “And we're not going to use him.”

One of his followers tilts his head to the side, obviously confused by this demand. “Master?”

“He's too young,” Mordo explains. “If one of us tries to feed on him, he probably wouldn't survive the blood loss,” His tone turns into something darker. “So, nobody touches the kid, even if you want to. Got it?”

“Yes, Master,” They all agrees, bowing respectfully at him. His followers are far younger than him, but not stupid. That's good.

Mordo nods.

“But with due respect, Master,” One of them says with a shaking voice, glancing at the woman. “I thought we were not supposed to feed ourselves tonight, but to wait for the A-”

“I know that,” Mordo lifts an eyebrow, grinning a little at the woman. “But that doesn't mean I can't have a little snack,” He half-opens his mouth and let his fangs lengthen for all to see.

The woman's eyes widen in fear, and she swallows, her entire body shaking. “What... What are you... waiting for...?” She manages to stammer.

And then, the tiny grin widens on Mordo's cold face. It promises violence. “We're waiting for the Avengers.”

Chapter Text

Mordo wastes no time. The second he finishes his sentence, he widely opens his mouth, bringing his long fangs out. Ignoring the woman's terrified shriek, he pierces her neck just where the flesh is tender and he drinks.

He vaguely hears a strangled gasp and a moan of pain from his victim, but he doesn't care. Her futile struggles and her panicked sobs don't stop him either. He feels her blood filling his mouth, and he closes his brown eyes, allowing himself to ignore his surroundings just for a short time and he enjoys this.

Nothing matters when he's drinking blood. The world around him fades away and he only focuses on the delicious, unique taste of human blood inside his mouth that overwhelms all his senses and his thoughts.

It becomes his only reason of living.

He's careful not to cause unnecessary pain, and not to tear the woman's throat apart with his teeth. He needs the woman alive. He also doesn't let blood coming out of his mouth and dribbling down his chin as he drinks.

Only brainless, wild vampires drink blood that way.

He's so engrossed that the alarming voice of one of his followers seems far away, so it takes him longer than necessary to react. “Master!”

With an annoyed growl, Mordo withdraws his teeth from his prey's neck, and turns around to glare at his follower who had dared to interrupt him. He's about to ask him harshly what's happening, but a sudden gunshot cuts him off.

The gunshot is followed by a cry of pain, and Mordo sees one of his followers – the one who was holding the kid – drop to his knees, his both hands pressed against his knee. He sees, at the corner of the eye, the woman's child running towards his savior while heavily sobbing.

Mordo can't help but rolling his eyes at this dramatic entrance, but a part of him, the savage and dark one, is thrilled by the Avengers's arrival.

The party can begin...

“Hello, boys!” A self-assured, feigned joyful female voice breaks the silence, as the kid takes refuge behind her legs. “Oh, sorry, am I interrupting something?”

Mordo smirks at the red-haired woman in front of them. He admits deep down that he's impressed by her guts: she's just a mere mortal, and he can smell that her blood is not protected. She's vulnerable, and they all know that mere guns are not enough to stop a vampire.

Yet, she proudly stands, ready to fight them and protect the child. She quickly moves her head down to the boy, and meets his terrified eyes.

“Run,” She whispers to him, and she gives him a quick, reassuring smile. “We'll take care of your mum.”

The child hesitates for a second, but he ends up obeying. The vampires don't make a move to catch him, and they can feel the blond woman's relief: she believes her son is safe.

“You know...” Mordo purrs, slowly using his thumb to wipe away a drop of blood from his bottom lip. “It's rude to interrupt someone's meal...”

The woman – Natasha, that's her name – firmly points her gun at him, and her hands don't shake. She lets disgust twist her beautiful features as Mordo keeps the woman near him. “It's also rude to eat a person's neck without asking permission, Mordo... Didn't you get the memo last time? We don't want you here.”

“Oh, it's quite obvious.”

The vampire who's been shot manages to pull the bullet out of his knee with a groan of pain, and he lets the gunshot wound close by itself, gritting his teeth and glaring up at Natasha.

Black Widow isn't shocked, but it's still a strange sight: the wound magically closes itself and disappears as if it never existed. Then, the vampire stands up.

Natasha holds his gaze defiantly, but she still hopes the rest of the Avengers will come soon. She won't live for long otherwise.

“Where are your friends?” Mordo asks innocently.

Natasha forces a laugh. “Oh, they're boys. Always late...”

“I see...” Mordo grins. “Well, it would be a shame if they're too late to help you, wouldn't it?”

The second he says his threat, two of his followers throw themselves at Natasha. With her human, but still very efficient, reflexes, she manages to shoot at one of them in the belly despite his inhuman rapidity, stopping him in his tracks, but the second one reaches her and violently grasps her hair.

She can't help but yelp as her head is violently being thrown back, but before the vampire decides to snap her neck or drink her blood, a sharp arrow goes through the attacker's hand, making him let go of her.

Clint has arrived.

“Don't touch her, freak!” Clint angrily shouts.

He shoots another arrow, this time aiming at the vampire's heart. The creature easily dodges it, and he bares his teeth at him. The arrow is still stuck in the palm of his hand.

He's about to attack the archer, but Steve Rogers is now standing between them and he hits him with his shield, making the vampire stumble back a few steps. Thanks to the super soldier serum, Steve's strength is close to vampires'.

While Rogers is pushing the monster back, Clint helps Natasha getting up and he checks if she's OK. He gives her an arrow she can use as a dagger.

Mordo has been quietly watching their arrival, smile on the lips. Everything goes as plan, that's good.

Now, his target needs to arrive, and then he'll have the revenge he's waited for so long.

He'll finally make Iron Man pay for all of his friends he has killed.

Mordo had been patient. He's been coming here a few times with some of his followers, pretending to come here to find a human. He knew the Avengers – and consequently Tony Stark – were living here, and he knew they would intervene and try to chase him away from their territory.

His true purpose had not been to seek blood, but to see the Avengers's mode of attack and strategies, to be able to create the best trap afterwards.

And it looks like he'll succeed.

Mordo feels the blond woman move near him, trying to run away to join her son, but he easily stops her by grabbing her neck.

The three Avengers continue fighting, but the vampires surround them, baring their teeth. They're trapped. The moment the Avengers believe they're lost, an explosion sound draws everyone's attention, and they breathe easier.

Tony is here.

Tony Stark, in his red and gold armor, flies at full speed towards them. Elevated, he stretches his arm in front of him, and fires at the vampires surrounding the three Avengers to disperse them.

The contents of his fires are toxic for vampires. They're made with the same component as the preparation, the ''vaccine'' that's currently coursing through his veins, and through Clint's and Steve's. It can't kill vampires, but it's painful and unpleasant for them.

Four vampires are touched by Tony's fires, and they end up screaming. They put their hands on their face as their flesh burns, and they send a desperate look to Mordo, silently begging him to help them.

Mordo grits his teeth. He can't stand to see his friends suffer, especially because of Tony Stark who've brought enough destruction already. It takes one glance at his intact followers for them to understand what Mordo wants them to do.

He needs Tony on the ground and not in the air, otherwise he won't be vulnerable.

The followers hasten to join him and they take over, grasping the woman's arms to prevent her from leaving, letting Mordo attack.

Mordo looks at Tony flying, and he gathers speed. He's so fast he can't be seen by humans, but it doesn't prevent Tony from trying to aim at him and firing.

Mordo avoids the fires. He knows that if he's hit, he would be too injured to put Tony down, and his vengeance would fall through.

When he's close enough, he jumps in the air. Understanding what Mordo wants to do, Tony's eyes widen and he tries to soar to be out of reach, but it's too late.

The vampire manages to grasp his armoured foot, and with incredible strength and despite Tony's fire power, Mordo pulls down and he manages to bring Iron Man down with him.

Tony drops hard to the ground, and he grits his teeth to prevent a groan of pain from coming out. He feels Mordo trying to straddle him to keep him still on the ground, but Tony doesn't let him.

He takes a stake from the forearm of his armor, and he tries to stab Mordo in the heart.

The vampire stops Tony's hand holding the stake a few centimeters away from his chest by taking his wrist, and he squeezes, making Tony let go of the weapon that goes a few meters away from them.

Tony curses.

Damn it!

Mordo smirks, but Tony recovers quickly and he suddenly aims at Mordo's belly.

And then he fires at full blast.

The vampire doubles over, and Tony takes advantage of that. With the help of his strong armour, he kicks the vampire away from him. Mordo stumbles a few steps back. His hands are pressed against his stomach, and his face is twisted by pain.

Tony breathes easier for a second, but at the corner of the eye, he sees movement, and his heart almost skips a beat. Another vampire is rushing towards him, all claws out.

Tony sees Steve throwing his shield towards him to stop the monster, but he misses the vampire's head.

Tony doesn't think. He gets back on his feet and he rushes towards the stake on the ground. It's only a few meters away. He can do it, he can be fast enough.

Please, make him reach the weapon before the vampire gets to him...

He throws himself at the stake with a cry, as he hears the vampire getting closer and closer to him. The second Tony's hand grasps the weapon, he brandishes it in front of him like a protective shield and closes his eyes.

He doesn't even have to move further. The vampire, by throwing himself at him, impales himself on the stake. Right in the heart.

The vampire gapes, his face close to Tony's. He tries to take the weapon out of his chest, but it's too late. His heart is stabbed. His veins slowly become black, and his usually pale skin turns green.

The vampire falls to the ground, and he doesn't move anymore. Tony stands up with shaking legs, and he takes a few steps back to join the other Avengers, trying to calm down his breathing.

The vampire is dead.

“No!” Mordo yells, and he feels his eyes burning, but he forces himself to repress his tears.

He is seething with anger. He feels his hands shake, and the savage part of him wants to massacre, to cause a dirty, memorable blood bath.

Not yet... He forces himself to calm down. He will have his revenge, that's why he came here after all, but he has to stay collected and calm.

And then, he runs. The Avengers fear that he's going to attack them, but Mordo doesn't seem to care about them for now. He rushes towards the vampire's corpse, kneels down near him, and he closes the dead body's eyes.

Mordo barely notices that none of the Avengers try to stop him or attack again.

All of them, vampires and Avengers, are frozen in place, as if time stopped. The Avengers seem to respect Mordo's grief, even Tony himself. It's hard to tell in his case though, because his helmet covers his face.

Maybe they let him because they all already lived that pain, or maybe because they're too stunned to react. Indeed, the Avengers probably don't expect vampires to grief.

“For how long...” Mordo whispers, and his voice sounds hoarse, almost broken. “For how long will you bring death, Tony Stark?” He stands up, and glares at Tony. “You've killed so many of my kind that I can't even keep a list of your murders. Most of them were dear to me...”

He points at his follower's dead body, and he shouts. “He was a good man!”

“Good man, my ass!” Tony clenches his fists. He doesn't believe what he's hearing: he's the murder, now? “I've just killed a monster who was attacking me!”

Mordo's heart hurts. His follower wanted to protect him...

“Oh, and you want to keep a list?” Tony continues. “That sounds fun, could you also list all the human vampires killed without even a second thought? It will keep you busy for a long time.”

Mordo's rage prevents him from understanding the man in front of him. Stark has to pay, has to suffer.

He doesn't want to kill Iron Man, death would be too merciful. He had thought for a long time about what could be the worst to live for a proud man like Tony, and he knows exactly what he has to do.

Mordo chuckles darkly. “You hate vampires because you think they kill without thinking, and yet that's exactly what you do: you murder without thinking about who you're killing,” He growls. “You're not better than the vampires you hate, Iron Man.”

This casts a chill. No one speaks for a moment, even Tony stays silent. It's hard to tell what Tony is thinking of, as his face can't be seen, but Mordo's sure he's hit a nerve.

“That's enough playing,” Natasha hisses, and Mordo can't stop his wild smirk. “At least, we agree on something, Hunter.”

Without warning, Mordo rushes towards the sobbing woman, and he takes her by the throat, cutting her air off. Her feet don't touch the ground anymore. “Don't move!” Mordo shouts and all of the Avengers freezes and look at him with fear.

They know Mordo's capable of killing her, especially when he's that furious. Now, he doesn't care who's going to get hurt. “Don't you dare move a muscle, or I cut her throat!”

Mordo exults. He knows he's won, he knows he's got the advantage.

“Well, well, well...” He mocks, baring his teeth. “It seems we have reached an impasse.”

OoO

“And then he says to me, If I'm so incompetent as you say, maybe it's because I have a terrible teacher,” Stephen forces a laugh to show how stupid he thinks this reply is. “Do you believe that? It's my fault now if he's not able to follow my orders-”

“Stephen...” Wong interrupts him with his usual blasé tone. He enjoys the silence that follows his speaking in the library, and he continues when he's sure he's got Stephen's attention. “My head is making enough racket without your help.”

He massages his temple, wincing at his headache.

It seems to shut Stephen up for a short moment, and Wong carries on, opening two books of his office. “Translation: I don't care about your quarrels with Peter. It must be the third of the week, anyway.”

“The fourth, actually...” Stephen mutters under his breath. He crosses his arms against his chest and he sighs.

That simple act of sighing would've looked weird if they were not in Kamar-Taj. Indeed, vampires don't breathe, so they don't need to sigh, but at Kamar-Taj, most vampires keep their human reflexes, such as sighing when they are bored, sad or relieved.

Vampires of Kamar-Taj are not very liked by other vampires, especially extremists who want to sever all ties to their past life as a human, because they don't want to be associated with mere human beings who are ''inferior'' to them.

Yet, every single vampire used to be human. A vampire is actually a human who's been turned into a vampire by another vampire, and some of them truly want to forget that.

That's pathetic.

“I'm just... annoyed,” Stephen continues, rubbing his face with his shaking hands full of scars. “Peter's made a lot of progress lately, he has managed to control himself more than once in the past few weeks, but... It's still fresh and new for him... He can easily relapse.”

Wong softens. “You're not annoyed. You're just worried about him, that's different,” Stephen sends him an indignant look, and Wong forces himself not to roll his eyes.

Stephen doesn't like being told that he cares about people, even when it's obvious. He prefers to be seen as a cold, uncaring asshole, and Wong doesn't know why. Despite their recurrent arguments, Peter and Stephen share a strong bond, nobody can say otherwise.

“Look, Stephen...” Wong tries to reassure him, even though he understands his apprehension. “Peter's fight against his blood thirst is far from being over, but he's on the right track. The kid's strong, and he has you by his side to help him, so he'll be fine.”

“Yeah, maybe...” Stephen doesn't really sound convinced, but his features are less tensed than before.

Wong purses his lips, and he closes his books. “He's lucky to have you, you know... Most of us didn't have the chance to have someone by our side at the beginning of our... transformation.”

Stephen can't hide his surprise. Wong's not used to giving compliments, after all. A half-smile crosses Wong's usually still face, and he turns around to put his books away on the shelves. “You take your role very seriously, Stephen. It's good, and rather cute if I'm being honest.”

Stephen narrows his blue eyes. “What's that supposed to mean?”

Wong stops what he's doing in favor of looking his friend straight in the eye. “You care about him.”

“I don't...” Stephen scowls. “I'm his Transformer, it's perfectly normal that I help him, it has nothing to do with attachment.”

The librarian just lifts an eyebrow.

To turn a human into a vampire, the human in question must die and have some vampire blood in his veins at the moment he kicks the bucket. The turned humans are called ''Transformed'', and they have their own ''Transformer'', meaning the vampire who shared his blood with them to turn them.

The Transformer and his Transformed share a specific bond, because they have the same blood. If they see each other a lot, the bond grows: They can feel each other's emotions, and for the strongest of them, they can influence each other's emotions, feelings, and even thoughts.

Most of the time, it's the Transformed who's manipulated.

However, having such a strong bond growing is very rare, because most of vampires hate their Transformers and do their best to run from them. But it's not the case with Peter and Stephen. The second Stephen turned Peter into a vampire, he stayed by his side and showed his wish to help him, and Peter accepted him.

Stephen feels responsible for him, but there's more than that. He cares about the kid, and Peter sees him as the father he never had. They've known each other for years.

That's why their bond is that strong.

“Really?” Wong replies. “Most of the Transformers don't give a shit about their Transformed, and you know that. I mean: Did you get help from yours?”

It's a rhetorical question, Wong knows how merciless Stephen's Transformer is.

Oh, he doesn't know who he is, so it's a supposition, but a supposition he's practically sure of. After all, Stephen never talks about his Transformer or about his past, and his silence is enough to understand that Stephen does his best to forget.

And seeing Stephen flinch only reinforces Wong's supposition. Stephen's Transformer must have been a monster with him.

Wong hates knowing that.

“Let's talk about something else,” Stephen clears his throat, and he suddenly put a photography on Wong's office. The impact's been harsh, despite Stephen's fragile, shaking hands. “Were you aware of this?”

Judging by the tone of his deep voice, he already knows the answer, and it doesn't please him. Wong barely gives the image a glance. He knows very well what this is about.

The picture in question shows a slave-market, photographed from above. We can see a huge stage made of wood in the center where all the humans are presented and exposed. They are a dozen.

A massive crowd of vampires, in front of the stage, looks at the humans like their future properties.

All of it is organized by a strange man in front of the crowd, surely a vampire as well. He's really skinny, and his ashen pallor makes him ugly and almost disfigured.

Wong knows who that is, but he doesn't share his knowledge with Stephen: he's called Ebony Maw, one of Mordo's acquaintance since he has left Kamar-Taj.

The human slaves look a terrible sight. Weak, deathly pale for the most part, they are firmly tied up, their hands cuffed above their head. They're shirtless, so we can clearly see their dirty and bloody torso full of bite marks and cuts.

If they're shirtless, it's because it allows the vampires who're interested to taste a few of them, to choose the slave, their future personal "blood bag", they prefer. Indeed, human beings don't taste the same.

“Where did you get that?” Wong asks.

“That's not the point, Wong,” Stephen frowns. “But if you truly want to know, I've got contacts, even out of Kamar-Taj... This picture was taken two days ago, and my contact said to me that this is happening every night, at the same place.”

Wong says with a calm voice, although he's disgusted by what he sees in this picture. “There's nothing new here... I've heard that more and more slave-markets become established... It's alarming, but nothing new.”

Stephen's jaw clenches, and his eyes hardens into anger. “And it didn't occur to you to just... I don't know, share this detail to us?”

Of course, Stephen would be indignant about it, and the librarian couldn't blame him. “This image has been taken a few kilometers away from Kamar-Taj," Stephen explains." And it is said there are two more slave markets, near this one...”

“You must focus on Kamar-Taj, not what's happening in the rest of the world.”

Stephen growls. “Who cares about Kamar-Taj when this is happening?! We have to do something about it.”

Wong almost chokes. “We?”

“Yes. I refuse to stay here, twiddling my thumbs, whereas this is happening.”

Wong hears the stubbornness in Stephen's tone, and that doesn't reassure him at all.

“Look at them, Wong; they're reduced to slaves, and they're sold! They're beaten, famished, tortured, and treated as properties just to satisfy vampire's selfish desires. Humans are not inferior, and they do not deserve that... Nothing deserves this treatment... It's barbaric.”

Stephen can't help but think about Mordo, and his heart squeezes. He's sure Mordo would've approved this if he knew. Well, maybe he already knows that's happening...

Maybe he wouldn't approved the unhuman life conditions of the slaves, but he's always defended the idea that humans are made to be vampires' meals. It's in the ''natural order'': just like the antelope must be eaten by the lion, vampires must feed on humans.

It's the food chain, according to him.

“I know it's barbaric,” Wong purses his lips. “But we have to-”

He can't finish his sentence, because a timid, but curious voice interrupts him from behind. “What's barbaric?”

They both turn around, and they face without surprise Peter Parker, smiling shyly at them at the entrance of the library. Stephen quickly hides the photo from the kid's sharp eyes, putting it inside his pocket.

Seeing all eyes on him makes Peter blush and he's now nervous. Stephen feels his frozen heart melt in fondness. The kid's adorable. It's impressive how a dead teenager is more alive than some humans who are still breathing.

“Oh! Err...” Peter stammers. “Hello, and no! I was not listening to your conversation in secret at all, I'm just passing by, and...”

“Why did you come here?” Stephen asks, but he doesn't sound annoyed.

Instead of responding, Peter gently touches his chest near his heart, and the answer is quite obvious: He felt that Stephen was upset, so he decided to come and see if everything was OK. Of course, he doesn't know why Stephen is upset, and it's better that way.

Peter doesn't need to know about this... human trafficking.

That doesn't explain why he's hiding something behind his back, Stephen suddenly realizes. “As touching as it is, what are you hiding?” He asks, intrigued.

Peter blinks. “Oh!” He says, as if he had forgotten he's been carrying something. As Stephen rolls his eyes, the kid shyly holds a blood bag out to Stephen. “For you, Grandpa. Peace offering. And I know it's been a while since you've eaten, so...”

Stephen almost fails to hide his fond smile.

That's kind of Peter.

He takes the blood bag from the kid, and opens it. He starts drinking it, closing his eyelids. Stephen feels his fangs lengthen.

He takes another sip and effortlessly stops, giving it back to Peter, as if he's been drinking mere syrup. The teenager doesn't say anything and accept the blood bag back, but he's still impressed with how easily Stephen controls himself.

He hopes he'll manage to do the same and be as nonchalant with human blood as Stephen, one day.

“Try to take only three sips of the blood bag,” Stephen demands. “Slowly. OK?”

“Slowly, I know,” Peter rolls his eyes, but he still smiles. Contrary to Stephen, he doesn't mind showing his emotions. “You've already said that to me a million times. You ramble... You're getting old, aren't you?”

Wong smiles, as the kid chuckles at his own joke. Then, Peter becomes serious again under Stephen's cold and serious gaze, and he stares at his mentor with unsure eyes. He's not sure he can do it.

Three sips...

“You can do it, Peter,” Stephen says, reading the uncertainty and the fear on the teenager's face. “Remember what I've said; slowly, calmly, without haste.”

Peter nods. He takes a deep breath, perfectly knowing he doesn't need it, but it helps him focus. He starts drinking, carefully following Stephen's command.

Slowly, calmly, without haste.

Slowly, calmly, without haste.

He mustn't be controlled by his thirst, he must be the one who controls it. He must focus. It's hard, but it's feasible. Three sips. God, it's not enough. It's not enough. It's not enough...

“Peter, stop.”

Stephen's deep and firm voice is enough to snap him back to reality, and Peter manages, not without difficulty, to take the blood bag away from his mouth. He gasps for breath, winces and trembles a little, as Stephen hastens to take the blood bag from Peter's hand to put it out of reach just in case.

Peter closes his eyes, and breathes for a time to calm himself, and Stephen lets him. All vampires have their own technique to fight against their thirst: Some like running for hours, others like Peter, prefer breathing like a human, forcing air inside their usually empty lungs.

Little by little, Peter stops breathing, meaning he's calmer, and his fangs retreats.

“I did it,” Peter's small voice is so full of joy that Stephen himself smiles a little. “Yes, you did. That's good, kid.”

Peter crosses his arms, and now that he's fully recovered from his little breakdown, he makes a face. “I'm not a kid anymore, Grandpa. I'm 19.”

Stephen decides there's nothing wrong with a little bit of teasing. “True,” He purrs, smirking almost nastily. “But you still look like a 14 year old teen, a cute little kid with a squeaky voice who can't even frighten a kitten.”

A vampire keeps the same appearance they had the moment they died, and Peter died when he was 14, so he'll always keep this appearance.

Peter narrows his eyes, but he's not angry. He knows it's just teasing and Stephen's way of having fun. “Oh, really?”

As Stephen nods with a smug grin, the kid playfully smirks, and he suddenly throws himself at his mentor with a feigned angry cry. Not prepared by this disloyal attack, Stephen loses his balance and they both fall on the ground.

Peter is laughing, but even if Stephen is obviously having fun as much as Peter's, he's not laughing or smiling. He just silently fights back, trying to dominate the kid and wrestle him down on his back, but it's not that easy.

Indeed, the kid isn't really strong, but he's far more agile than any vampires of Kamar-Taj, that's why it's difficult to defeat him. Peter is careful not to hurt Stephen's hands, though. He knows they're fragile, and Stephen appreciates it.

“No fighting in the library!” Wong yells, sounding totally fed up, but his annoyed shout is mostly covered by the kid's laugh and the noises they make with their struggle.

Suddenly, Stephen is brought down hard on his back. The lower part of his body is blocked by the kid's legs, and his wrists are held as well. He can't move anymore. Peter's thriumphant face stands above his own. “I won, grandpa!”

“Not at all,” This time, Stephen can't prevent an amused smile from crossing his face, just briefly. “I just let you win, kiddo, I didn't even struggle,” Peter chuckles. He puts his legs away and straightens, allowing Stephen to move again.

His mentor continues. “I didn't want to give you a whipping; you would've cried about it for days.”

“Sure,” Peter grins from ear to ear. “Keep telling yourself that, I won't burst your bubble. I'm just better than you, that's all.”

Stephen viciously tackles the kid, making him violently crash to the ground. Any mere human who would've fell this hard would've been suffering from a head injury. But of course, Peter's far more resistant than mortals.

“What were you saying?” Stephen teases with a smug tone, getting up and taking the kid's hand to get him back on his feet.

“Err, nothing,” Peter blinks. “You're better than me... That's what I wanted to say, it was a slip of the tongue.”

Stephen shakes his head with a smile, and Peter recovers quickly. He glances at Stephen's pocket, and before the adult can react, he steals the picture from him.

“Peter!” Stephen protests, but it's too late.

“What is it?” Peter asks maliciously, but as his eyes lay on the picture, he quickly loses his smile. “Oh...” Disgust colors his features, and he winces. “Oh my god...”

“Yeah...” Stephen sadly confirms, but before he can develop, Wong intervenes coldly, talking to Peter. “Your wonderful teacher over here wants to play the hero and free the humans. You know, on his own, that's not crazy at all...”

Wong crosses his arms and glances sternly at him. “Please, Peter; convince him that it's a shitty idea, maybe he'll listen to you.”

Peter doesn't say anything for a while. He's looking at the picture, frowning darkly at it, and when he finally looks up, he asks Stephen with his usual gentle tone, although he sounds serious, which is quite unusual. “Where is this happening?”

“This one is near Kamar-Taj,” Stephen answers. “I can totally go on foot.”

Peter nods, and then he asks Stephen with a hopeful face. “Can I go with you?”

“Are you two serious?” Wong asks, exasperated, but the two of them totally ignore him. God, there's not a good one in the lot...

Stephen doesn't refuse immediately, but he doesn't seem thrilled by this proposition either. “Peter... It'll be dangerous.”

Peter isn't offended, he likes Stephen's protective side, but that doesn't mean he will give up easily. “Yeah, precisely! It's dangerous, so if you're stuck and surrounded by enemies, in a super dangerous situation, I'll be here to help you.”

Stephen opens his mouth, but the teenager carries on. “And we should bring more vampires with us, we can't free the humans alone.”

“Better and better...” Wong rubs his eyes, but he's still ignored.

“Peter-”

“Look,” Peter firmly interrupts his mentor. “I have powers, OK? I need to use them to do good things, and freeing innocent people from sadist bastards, that's a good thing. I can help, please just let me help, let me do something!”

“''Powers''? Really?” Stephen raises an eyebrow, almost amused. “We're not superheroes, Peter, we're vampires. We're cursed,” God, if only he could see the world with innocent eyes like Peter, it would be wonderful.

Peter shrugs. “I know that, but who cares? We're strong, fast, and we can totally do a lot with these abilities. I can help.”

“And could you share your plan?” Wong asks with sarcasm. “Oh, that's right! You can't because you don't have a solid plan at all! You just want to rush into things...”

The pair finally pays him attention, and when they look at each other again, they share a knowing look and a quick smile, and Wong knows he's just lost against these two.

“We'll think of something on the way...” Stephen smirks, and Peter nods with excitation. He's glad Stephen accepts him to come.

“Stephen,” Wong hisses through clenched teeth. “Are you kidding me-”

“I'm going to see if other vampires want to come with us,” Stephen announces nonchalantly, and he walks towards the exit, followed closely by Peter.

“Stephen!” Wong snaps. “You must tell the Ancient One what you are planning, and she won't agree!”

“I don't care,” Stephen doesn't even turn around or stop to answer his friend. “I'm free and I'm a grown-up, Wong. I don't need the Ancient One's permission to do something that has literally nothing to do with Kamar-Taj.”

Wong almost tears his hair out. Stephen has a good heart, but he's also stubborn and defiant. He doesn't care about the rules when they don't please him. But despite his disobedient and daring nature, the Ancient One trusts him.

Wong tries to reason with him, although he knows it's almost impossible. “Your action can have dreadful consequences on Kamar-Taj-”

This time, Stephen loses his patience. He glares at Wong, and he slowly bares his teeth. “So what?! We decide... not to do anything? Like fucking cowards?” Stephen's not screaming, but his voice shakes with repressed anger.

Wong wisely stays silent.

Even Peter doesn't intervene.

“What's Kamar-Taj's philosophy again, Wong?” Stephen carries on, bitter and almost scornful. “I'll tell you what our motto is, because I believe you've forgotten it: ''Every life matters, and must be treated with the importance it deserves. As a vampire, a cursed being, a Night Creature, I'll treat mortals as my equals. I'll treat animals as my equals, and I'll treat my fellows as my equal.'' Staying hidden in our safe little cocoon and ignoring what's bothering us is not treating humans as equal and honoring the importance of life. It's the opposite, in fact.”

With that, Stephen slams the door behind his back, letting Wong alone in the silence of the library and his messed-up thoughts.

Chapter Text

“Well, well, well... It seems we have reached an impasse.”

The Avengers look at each other with an apprehension they fail to hide. It's obvious that their confidence is gone. All that's left is the terrible feeling of being trapped, of having no option available.

Mordo is smart. He stands just behind the woman, so she covers most of his body. He's out of reach, and his followers surround him protectively, which means that even if the Hunters manage to hurt him or kill him with a lucky shot, the other vampires would murder the woman themselves.

Tony starts to admit that Steve was right and that he should have thought more before rushing headlong into danger. It was obviously a trap, and now, they're in the middle of it.

Great...

Mordo doesn't say more. He just quietly stares at the Hunters in front of him with a cruel glee, and he lets them react. Hearing the woman's panicked sobs and gasps for breath makes it even worse.

It's Tony who pulls himself together first and he does something he rarely does. He retracts his helmet, revealing his furious expression. “Really, Mordo?” He snaps. “You lecture me, and the next second, you make a death threat against an innocent person?”

Mordo narrows his eyes. He admits Iron Man is not wrong, but he sweeps aside Tony's words. “The end justifies the means, Stark. You know that better than anyone. Besides, if you do as I say, nobody will die.”

It's disturbing to hear the vampire's voice being that calm whereas he is almost crushing the woman's throat with his bare hand.

Tony forces himself not to think about that. The woman is going to survive, she can't die... She's a mother, and her kid, who managed to run away, doesn't deserve to live without his mum.

Tony knows how painful it is.

He swallows with difficulty, but his voice stays firm despite his fear. “What do you want?”

“It's simple,” Mordo says. He looks at Tony's friends and he dryly points at them with his chin. “I want your friends to get out of there.”

Well, they didn't expect this...

Clint and Steve gape, and even if Natasha has a better control over her emotions, she still frowns, proving that she's as taken aback as her friends. They don't dare to look at Tony. He's Mordo's real target, they understand that now.

This thought is terrifying.

Tony feels a cold fear clenching his stomach, but he still manages to force a joke through his lips. “Oh, you want a one-to-one meeting with me, Mordo? Great, I've got a groupie.”

“Wait a minute...” Steve darkly says to the vampire, clearly hesitant. “It doesn't make any sense: you let us go, except for Tony... Why?”

Mordo looks at Captain America.

His dark eyes are still full of scorn, but it seems that there is less rage than when he's looking at Tony. Even his voice is calmer. “I haven't planned to kill you yet, Hunter. You and the other Avengers are a threat to my race, and you'll have to be eliminated if you decide to keep killing, but all in good time... Right now, you're not my priority.”

Stark is his priority. First of all, he's far more dangerous than the other Avengers, because he's the one who makes deadly weapons and who's working on this... vaccine that makes blood undrinkable. He has to be stopped, and now is his best chance.

However, if Mordo is being totally honest with himself, he mostly came here for revenge; it's Tony who murdered some of his friends, not the other Avengers. For the moment, they don't interest him.

“We're not going to abandon Tony, you filthy beast!” Clint hisses through clenched teeth.

This support warms Tony's heart, even though that doesn't reassure him. No matter how supportive and caring his team is, he knows he's screwed.

Mordo isn't disturbed by the archer's harsh tone. He calmly raises an eyebrow at him, almost mocking. “That's touching, really... But you seem to miss the point here... If you don't leave, I'll kill her, and then, who knows...” His mouth curved. “We may massacre all of you. Do you really want that?”

Natasha coldly asks. “And how do we know that you won't kill her in both cases?”

“I keep my word,” The worse is that Mordo doesn't seem to lie. “If you decide to leave, you can take the woman with you. I have nothing against her... She doesn't deserve my cruelty. Stark, however...”

“Yeah, we got it, you can't stand me...” Tony snaps.

Mordo stares at Iron Man, and he sneers. “The Savior of Human Race...” He growls as if it was the worst insult of all time. “That's how you're called here, Stark, isn't it? Then prove it. Save this poor, defenceless mother from the savage monster that I am.”

Tony clenches his fists. He can feel his body shake with rage. For a short moment, he forgets that Mordo has the woman's life in his hands and that he can kill her if something displeases him. He insults him. “Bastard...”

Mordo's face doesn't budge, and he asks. “Do you know what I hate the most about you, Stark?” He doesn't expect Tony to answer or to try to guess, so he quickly carries on. “You only fight vampires out of arrogance.”

Tony frowns. “Arrogance?”

“Yes,” Mordo scornfully confirms. “You struggle because your stupid pride can't accept the simple fact that you're inferior, smaller.”

“Humans are not inferior-” Tony starts to protest, but Mordo growls and he interrupts him angrily. “Yes, they are! And there's nothing wrong with that! Nothing degrading! You see that as a humiliating thing, but it's not!”

“Oh, really?!” Tony raises his voice without realising it. “Oh, sorry, I didn't know that being considered as a fucking meal and as an inferior, smaller being was a compliment!”

Mordo bites his lower lip with frustration, but when he replies, the Avengers can't deny the fact that he truly believes in what he says. “Almost every species living on this planet is inferior or superior to another in terms of strength or... something else. It's not an insult, it is natural, and it has to be accepted. Vampires are superior because they're stronger and faster than mortals, so you are preys.”

Then, he points at Tony. “But mortals are superior to other species. That's how it works, that's how Nature works, some species are stronger or weaker than others! But you're so arrogant that you don't stand this idea, to such an extent that you make your blood undrinkable, and you want to eradicate all vampires. That's pathetic.”

“Are you that ignorant?!” Tony doesn't mean to yell, but he's too furious to care. “Humans are massacred, even reduced to slaves in some towns, and you say the problem is my pride?!”

Mordo calms down a little. He loosens his grip a bit to allow the woman to breathe easier. “At least, we agree on something, Stark...”

The Avengers can't hide their surprise. They don't expect Mordo to agree with them about the vampires' cruelty. “Vampires mustn't kill humans, and there are a few of us who don't understand that and are unnecessarily cruel, I admit it. They're wrong.”

“''A few''...” Tony bitterly sneers at Mordo. “I'd say more like the majority... Or all of them.”

Mordo wearily shakes his head. “It's useless talking to you...”

Tony coldly lifts an eyebrow. “We agree again, vampire...”

Mordo bares his teeth. “I've been patient enough,” He brutally tightens his grip on the woman, who gasps and starts sobbing again, and he puts pressure on them. “So, what's going to happen now? It's up to you.”

Tony looks at the terrified blond woman – the mother – and he's made his decision. He can't let a mother die.

He doesn't look at the other Avengers when he demands. “Do it. Leave me, guys.”

As he expected, the team doesn't agree with him at all. Steve is the first one to protest. “Tony, don't...” He rasps. “We need you here, there can be another way-”

“Leave and don't come back,” Tony harshly interrupts him, looking at him in the eye to show him that he doesn't regret his choice and that they won't make him change his mind. “Take the woman with you, and try to find her son as well,” He manages to wink at him. “And keep protecting our city.”

He's proud of himself: his voice hasn't shaken.

The Avengers hesitate, and they seem broken-hearted. Tony can't blame them, it's hard to abandon one of them, especially when they know Tony will be at Mordo's mercy and that they won't be able to help him, if they respect the deal.

They've been fighting together for years, so they've grown good friends.

“Ticktock...” Mordo snaps, meaning he won't stay patient for long. It's only a matter of seconds before he kills the woman.

“OK!” Steve yells, and his face is painfully twisted by sadness and hatred. He gives up. That breaks him, but that's what he does. He doesn't even look at the other Avengers. “We're leaving.”

“Steve...” Natasha starts protesting, almost with a begging tone, but Captain America cuts her off. “We don't have the choice, Nat.”

“That's wise,” Mordo purrs, and with a scornful smile, he violently lets go of the woman, and throws her to the floor. “Take her and leave. Be careful: if you try something stupid now, we kill her, and if you come back before we finish with your friend-”

“They won't come back,” As Tony says that, it's obvious that it's a hidden order. He demands the Avengers not to come back, not to cause more problems.

It's his fault if they're here, after all; Steve had tried to warn him that it could be a dangerous trap, but that didn't stop Tony. Now, if he could save the woman's life and the Avengers's at the same time, he would do it.

He has to make up for his mistake.

The second the woman is free, Steve rushes towards her, and he effortlessly gathers her shaking body into his arm. He sends one last look at Tony, one broken look, and he reluctantly takes a few steps back, followed by the other Avengers.

They know they have to leave. They have to respect Tony's sacrifice.

Tony tries to send them a reassuring smile, but what comes out is more like a tense grimace. He still manages to firmly nod at them, to tell them without words that it's going to be OK.

They have to leave, even if it's painful.

And they do.

They end up leaving.

As soon as they're alone, Mordo's followers surround Iron Man, and they watch their surroundings at the same time, to be sure that the Avengers don't come back.

Tony takes a deep, quivering breath, and he forces his breathing to relax. He feels like a defenceless, trapped prey ready to be shred to pieces.

Oh, he will fight Mordo and his followers as long as he still can. He won't go down without a fight, but he knows that there are too many vampires. He doesn't stand a chance against so many of them. Yes, he's arrogant, but he knows when he's no match.

He looks at Mordo, his chin proudly up. “So... What's going to happen now?”

Mordo smiles. He admits that Iron Man has guts. He respects that. “I'd thought about it for a long time.”

“I'm flattered,” Even Tony's sarcasm attempt feels flat.

“I had thought about killing you,” Mordo carries on. “But death would be too easy and... not really satisfactory,” The fact that Mordo won't end his life doesn't relieve Tony at all. He's sure he would prefer death to whatever Mordo has planned.

“Turning you into a vampire was my second idea: you hate us so much that being one of us would be real torture, that's for sure, but you could kill yourself, and that's not my purpose... You need to learn a lesson, Stark. You need to remember that you are meant to be vampires' meal.”

Tony clenches his teeth, but he holds his tongue, this time. He just glares at his enemy and waits still he ends his monologue.

“And for that...” Mordo's face twists in a savage pleasure as he spreads his arms. “To remind you what your place is, what could be better than being a vampire's blood bag?”

Tony's heart skips a beat. It feels like the entire world collapses around him, because he knows what Mordo is implying, and the simple thought makes him shudder.

No, please...

“No...” Tony can't help but whisper, totally horrified. His defiant nature has just vanished. He is about to take a few steps back, but he's trapped, surrounded by Mordo's followers.

He can't go anywhere.

Mordo calmly continues. “A friend of mine, Ebony Maw, would love to have you among the slaves he sells... I'm sure you'll be a wonderful slave, Stark.”

Tony doesn't want to hear more.

He doesn't think anymore. Pure adrenaline and survival instinct take over. He's not going to be a slave! He's not going to be sold! He's not going to belong to a bloody vampire!

His repulsor hot and ready to fire, he fires in the dark, trying to cause as much damage as he can, even if the vampire manage to dodge most of his fires. He's not hopeful; he knows the Avengers won't come to save him, because he ordered them not to, and he knows he doesn't stand a chance.

He doesn't know if he actually manages to hurt some vampires in his struggle – he must have, because he hears multiple cries of pain that don't come from his mouth – and he continues without a single break, even if he knows he's outnumbered.

Even when his armor is little by little damaged and ruined, he keeps fighting.

Even when he's brought to the ground by multiples hands, he keeps fighting.

He is only stopped when two violent blows on the back of his neck knock him out, and when darkness envelops him.

OoO

“God, that's a terrible plan...”

Peter turns his head towards Stephen in surprise. He isn't annoyed by his mentor's intervention, he just doesn't expect him to intervene as soon as they're about to put the plan into action.

“And you tell me this now? When everything's in place and when the slave-market is going to begin?”

Stephen purses his lips, and he doesn't answer.

The few vampires of Kamar-Taj who had accepted to help them are already in place and ready to act. Unnoticed, they discreetly surround the huge stage where the slave-market is being organised.

Stephen and Peter, for their part, are still far from the stage, and they plan to join it as soon as the human slaves are shown and presented. Being far allows them to speak without being heard by the already present vampires who, of course, have an extended range of hearing.

They're hidden by the vegetation and the trees, and they have a large view of the empty stage. A massive crowd of vampires in front of it already starts to form, and it gets bigger and bigger.

It will begin soon...

The crowd seethes with impatience, and Stephen can almost feel the strong excitation hanging in the air. He notices that there are lots of vampires, far more than what shows the picture.

Of course, selling human slaves can be... exciting for those who want a ''blood bag'' always at their disposal, and it had always attracted lots of vampires, but this far?

Why are there far more people than usual?

Have they missed something?

Stephen shakes his head to clear his thoughts. He must stay focused, he assumes this is not important right now. They know what they have to do: for the time being, they must get lost in the crowd and pretend to be potential buyers.

Stephen doesn't want to say it out loud, but he's anxious, and Peter can feel Stephen's nervousness through their bond as if it was his own. Thankfully, he doesn't know why Stephen is that nervous, even if it's easy to guess.

Oh, their bond is strong enough to permit them to read each other's mind, but since the beginning, they've always been clear on a few basic rules to respect privacy.

Stephen had always categorically refused to have someone else in his mind, even Peter, so neither of the two can read the other's mind unless he agrees, or influence, or compell the other.

Stephen has no right to take control of Peter and make him do what he wants, and vice verca.

It's been Stephen who had insisted on these rules, to put Peter in confidence and to point out the red lines.

Peter had never asked, but he is smart enough to understand that if Stephen is that categorical about mind reading, it's because he must have experienced it, and it must have been... unpleasant.

Maybe he had been controlled as well, who knows...

Stephen is mysterious and aloof after all. He never talks about his past, so everything is conceivable.

Stephen just allows the feeling connection because it's vague and imprecise. He knows he's not exposed. They are always feeling each other's emotions, it became a part of them. However, the bond goes deeper than just sharing feelings: one could force the other to feel what he wants, but they don't do it either, except if it's impossible to avoid.

Stephen sighs. He is still determined to free the humans, of course, but having Peter with him prevents him from being confident and focused on what he must do.

What if it goes wrong, somehow? What if Peter's hurt, or worse?

“It's too late now, we can't go back,” Peter says with a gentle tone. Then, with an amused smile, he pretends to sulk. “You only say the plan is terrible because that was my idea, anyway.”

Stephen appreciates the kid's attempt to calm him down with his usual light humor, but this doesn't work. He still feels a knot in his stomach. “And you say I'm always making everything about me... You rub off on me, kiddo.”

Peter's smile widens and lights up his pale face, which Stephen doesn't really understand. He's not supposed to be funny or to make people smile...

“True.”

Thinking the conversation is over, Peter turns around, showing his back to Stephen, and he is about to approach the vampire crowd, but Stephen doesn't let him.

Not yet.

He must clarify a few things before going.

“Peter...” He says, and without thinking, he grasps the kid's arm to stop him.

He hasn't been violent at all, but Peter flinches, and when he faces his mentor, a glimmer of fear crosses his eyes. It quickly disappears when Stephen lets go of him and when the teenager understands it's just Stephen, and that no one is going to hurt him.

The adult curses at himself. He wants to apologize, but no words come out of his mouth. God, he knows the kid has trouble with physical contact...

Stephen is not a tactile person, so they actually never confront this problem, and when they fight for fun or for training, they touch, yes, but it's not a problem because Peter is not unprepared: he knows the context, and he expects physical contact.

He can't be surprised by it.

“Sorry...” Peter whispers, shamefully looking down.

Stephen is not a tender person, but seeing Peter's shameful expression softens him. It's not the kid's fault if he had suffered in the past and if it keeps haunting him.

He understands him, he knows what it's like to live with a trauma.

With a harsh frown, he gently taps below the kid's chin to force him to look at him, and he coldly says. “Don't apologize when you have nothing to be sorry for.”

He sees the kid's nervous features relax and a grateful smile slowly comes across his face. Stephen clears his throat. They must go back to the important subject. “Anyway, we must be serious about this mission... It's not a game or training, this is real life. Will you obey me out there?”

Peter frowns. “What do you mean?”

Stephen purses his lips, and he forces his voice to be stern. “If I demand you to run without turning back, to go to safety and abandon everyone behind you... Would you do as I say?”

Peter blinks, taken aback. Sadly for him, he's a terrible liar, he's always been. “Err... Yes, sure, I would obey you,” God, his voice shakes so much that it's obvious he doesn't believe a word of what he's just said.

He must be honest with himself: he wouldn't be able to give up on Stephen or another vampire of Kamar-Taj if they're in danger. And Stephen knows it too, that's why he broached the subject in the first place.

Peter can feel his mentor's annoyance and frustration.

Stephen rolls his eyes, and his voice drips with sarcasm. “You couldn't have sounded more convincing, kiddo...”

Peter winces, but he stubbornly crosses his arms against his chest. “Look, I don't know why you're wasting time with this, I'm not stupid. I know it won't be easy-peasy, but I'll be careful, we'll all be careful, and if one of us is in danger, the other will come to the rescue...”

“That's so reassuring,” Stephen mutters under his breath. Peter can't help but roll his eyes. God, his mentor can be so grumpy, sometimes...

“Why are you that nervous, anyway? You were the most determined on this mission...”

Stephen seems embarrassed. He looks down and he pretends to be fascinated by his hands.

Peter smiles. “Oh, maybe it's because you're worried about me? That's cute, I've always known your soft little heart loves me.”

It's mostly teasing, but Peter knows Stephen truly cares. He just plays the insensible, rude jerk to protect himself and to push people away.

This time, his mentor chuckles and some of his tension leave his shoulders. Cracking a joke finally pays off, Peter is proud of himself.

“In your dreams, kiddo...”

Peter grins. “Vampires don't sleep, Grandpa.”

Stephen's face doesn't budge, it stays cold and illegible, and he rolls his eyes. “You think you're clever, don't you?”

Peter nods with a big smile, and he opens his mouth to reply, but he stops himself when he hears a dull noise. They both look at each other with apprehension.

It's the sound that indicates that the slave-market is going to begin.

The crowd of vampires immediately gets agitated, and they show great enthusiasm: the duo hears their excited shouting, and the vampires whistles. That intensifies when the same man as the one from the picture – the organizer with a disfigured face – appears and comes on the stage.

It's time for them to join the party...

“So...” Peter looks at Stephen with determination. He seems more reassured than his mentor. “Are you ready?”

Stephen scowls. “Why are you asking, except because you enjoy talking for talking's sake?”

Anyone else would've been offended by this rude answer, but the teenager is used to it, so he lightly teases. “Talking with you is always such a pleasure, Grandpa.”

They share a quick smile, and they both head for the stage.

They join the crowd quickly, and they're clearing themselves a path through it to be up front when a mocking, venomous voice behind their back says. “Well, well, well... Look what we have here: Two vampires of Kamar-Taj, the disgrace of our race ”

They stop.

Great, they've been recognized, probably because of their clothes... It's weird, though; very few vampires know the clothes of Kamar-Taj and are able to recognize it, that's why they didn't bother to get changed.

Stephen quickly sends a glance at Peter to silently order him not to get involved. They're vampires of Kamar-Taj after all. They don't have a great reputation, so it can quickly become inflamed.

And Stephen thought he only had to worry about the mission...

He calmly turns around to face the vampire in front of him, keeping a cold and illegible expression. The first thing he notices is that many vampires had anxiously moved to the right to let the vampire who talked to them through, so he must be known to be dangerous.

Great.

Stephen doesn't know him, that's the second thought he has when he sees his face, but something about him is familiar, and it disturbs him. And then his eyes lay on the vampire's forehead. He recognizes the symbol carved in the middle.

It feels like a strong punch in the guts.

It's Dormammu's symbol.

This is one of Dormammu's Transformed. One of Dormammu's servant and soldier.

Stephen does his best to keep his face neutral, but inside him, something breaks, and panic starts to inflate in his chest. He can feel his legs shake and almost give way beneath his weight.

No...

God, what if he recognizes him, somehow? What if he already knows who he is and Dormammu sent him to look for him? What if-

His mind brutally stops racing as he feels something that isn't his trying to soothe him and to suppress his overwhelming panic. He quickly understands that it comes from Peter through their bond, and he accepts what the kid gives to him.

He clings to Peter's rash of calmness as though his life depends on it. Normally, the kid doesn't have the right to influence Stephen's feelings, but this time, it is accepted, otherwise the vampire in front of him would notice he's agitated, and it would look suspicious.

“I'm Kaecilius...” The vampire in question purrs.

He vaguely glances at the curious vampires who noticed them and who had approached them to hear what they're saying. Of course, seeing one of Dormammu's soldier face to face with a vampire of Kamar-Taj, this doesn't happen every day.

It's enough to be a fine distraction while waiting for the human slaves to be shown.

Kaecilius – that's his name – asks, almost with distrust. “What are you doing here?”

It takes more time than necessary for his voice to reach Stephen's ears, but he finally manages to pull himself together thanks to Peter.

He feels the kid's confusion. Of course, Peter doesn't understand why Stephen started to panic that much at the sight of a vampire.

Stephen subtly puts himself between his interlocutor and the kid. “What is it to you?” Stephen internally winces: he didn't want his voice to sound this harsh.

Kaecilius shrugs. “I'm just curious.”

“No,” Stephen rolls his eyes. He knows he should go away from Dormammu's servant and focus on his mission, but his sharp tongue moves by itself. He hates Dormammu and everything that is related to him. “You just want to piss me off by asking me stupid questions... And you're a grown-up, you can find out by yourself: why do we usually go to a slave market in your opinion...?”

Kaecilius knows he is mocking, but he answers the question anyway. “To buy a mortal.”

“Congratulations,” Stephen sneers, sarcastic. “You're far more intelligent than you look.”

The vampires watching them start whispering. They probably don't expect a mere vampire to be defiant towards one of Dormammu's servants. Dormammu is dreaded after all, and his army, maybe even more.

Kaecilius raises his eyebrows at Stephen. He doesn't bother to hide his surprise at that daring tone, and he narrows his eyes, suspiciously. “You? A filthy vampire of Kamar-Taj want to possess a human slave? So, you have finally decided to act as a real vampire, then?”

Stephen gives him a fake smile, and he replies with a dangerous, calm voice. “Why not? I'm tired of blood bags.”

Kaecilius's face is twisted by disgust and scorn. “You know... I've heard a lot of things about Kamar-Taj and its vampires living there... Some of the rumors are funny. Others... not so much.”

A young vampire listening to them shyly intervenes. “What's Kamar-Taj...?”

“Oh, you don't know what it is?” Kaecilius answers, his tone far more polite than with Stephen, which is comprehensible: Kamar-Taj is considered to be the main enemy of Dormammu and his army.

God, Stephen almost regrets coming here, but he couldn't possibly know that one of Dormammu's soldiers would come here, to this vulgar slave-market among many...

“It's a city where vampires and humans live peacefully together...” Kaecilius explains. “And if vampires want to feed themselves, they must drink blood bags...”

A few vampires start to sneer, others seem outraged. Stephen can't help but roll his eyes, and Kaecilius continues with a cruel smile. “Yes, you heard well... The humans of Kamar-Taj donate their blood for the vampires, that's so humiliating for our race,” He glares at Stephen. “We are meant to dominate, not to depend on humans' charity.”

Kaecilius sneers. “Do you blow the humans too? Just to know.”

Laughs and sniggers go all over the crowd.

Stephen clenches his fists and he controls himself not to rip Kaecilius's head off. God, Dormammu's servants are the worst: All they want is to dominate the entire world, and expand Dormammu's control.

They don't mind killing or torturing to achieve their goal.

Stephen opens his mouth, but it's Peter who replies with venom, to everyone's surprise. “Mind your own business and fuck off!”

This doesn't please Kaecilius at all. His features twists with anger, and he grabs Peter's collar. “How dare you, brat! You talk to the soldier of the Great Dormammu!”

The second Kaecilius touches Peter, Stephen sees red. No one lays a hand on the kid, especially not one of Dormammu's filthy rats.

As Kaecilius is distracted with the kid, ready to strike, Stephen brutally takes him by the throat. With his skillful hand, despite its fragility, he manages to squeeze so strongly that it becomes unbearable for Kaecilius who's forced to let go of Peter to defend himself.

Stephen, almost effortlessly, kicks Kaecilius's foot to make him lose his balance, and at the same time, with his hand still around his throat, he throws him away.

It's been so fast, precise and powerful that Kaecilius flies and falls to the ground meters away.

Stephen doesn't even notice the deathly silence that follows his attack. He's focused on Dormammu's servant.

They can almost hear a pin drop.

Every vampire that has followed the scene since the beginning are frozen in place and they look at Stephen with widened eyes full of fear. Even Peter is stunned, and his mouth drops open.

“You try to touch the kid again and I rip your head off,” Stephen coldly growls at Kaecilius, who gets up with difficulty, glaring at him with a burning, pure rage.

Stephen doesn't care about it, he easily holds his gaze. He had seen worse. He manages to hide a grimace of pain as he feels his hand protest.

He doesn't take his sharp eyes off Kaecilius as he gently takes Peter's arms to make him move. “Let's go, kid.”

They quickly move away. They rush at the front to be close to the stage, as they're supposed to do according to their plan. They quickly go back unnoticed into the crowd, even if Stephen knows it won't be over with Kaecilius.

He'll try to seek revenge, or he'll alert his Master. Stephen knows he's in deep trouble, but he'll take care of it later.

All in good time.

He feels the kid's curiosity through their bond, and he's clearly struggling to keep himself from asking questions. Stephen rolls his eyes, and he says with his usual deep, drawling voice. “OK, kiddo. Talk, you're dying to.”

“We agreed that we were not supposed to get noticed, Grandpa...” Peter whispers.

“He started it!” Stephen scowls, and Peter smiles, rather amused. “Who's the kid now... ?”

His mentor doesn't say anything for a while, and then a tiny smile crosses his face. “Touché,” Peter keeps smiling for a second, but then he becomes serious, and when he talks, he's cautious, clearly hesitant. “Stephen... How did you do that?”

“Do what?” Stephen plays dumb, but he knows what bothers the kid.

“You've just beaten one of Dormammu's soldiers! Like that,” Peter snaps his fingers to show how fast it was, and he lowers his voice so that only his mentor could hear what he says. “They're known to be unbeatable! They're trained by Dormammu himself without a break for decades, and you... You defeated him so easily! Legend says that only Dormammu's soldiers can defeat themselves-”

Peter brutally stops, as if he has just thought of something. “Are you Dormammu's Transformed...?” He whispers. He doesn't sound like himself. It's clear that he doesn't believe it. Not really.

Stephen wishes the earth would swallow him up.

It's a question, and the kid has his answer when Stephen looks down. It's clearer than any words, and besides, Peter can feel his shame. Peter's mouth drops open, again.

Stephen is terrified, incapable of saying or doing anything. He expects to feel disgust or even hatred and rejection from the kid, but that's not what Peter feels, much to his surprise.

The teenager is dumbfounded, and a little hurt, but not disgusted. Maybe he wanted Stephen to tell him, instead of discovering it.

“We'll talk about this later,” Stephen rasps, his eyes silently pleading him to understand. “We have a mission to accomplish, the humans will be here any minute now! I'll explain. I promise, but not now.”

“This is why you never talk about your past...”

“Please, Peter,” This time, Stephen is really begging, and it's so rare that it's enough for the kid to pull himself together and nod.

They don't talk for a moment, silently watching the still empty stage. Stephen knows the kid is still thinking about Dormammu though, and how could he not? It's a shocking revelation, after all: his mentor is the Transformed of Kamar-Taj's main enemy.

It's hard to put this aside and stay focused.

Stephen lets him think. He doesn't influence his judgment. When Peter talks again with a shy tone, his voice gets his usual warmth back. “Stephen... This doesn't change anything, you know...”

“Later, Peter,” Stephen snaps.

He doesn't want to hear that, because it can't be true.

He's Dormammu's Transformed, it's enough to be hated and rejected. He has kept the secret for decades. Only the Ancient One knew.

Being far from Dormammu allows him to lose the ugly symbol Kaecilius has, carved into his forehead, because it's a symbol of allegiance, and Stephen betrayed Dormammu a long time ago.

He had thought that nothing could betray him. Naively, he had thought that his past was behind him, that Dormammu wouldn't be able to find him, and that no one would be able to know his secret.

He's been wrong.

And now, he'll probably loose Peter.

Stephen's gloomy thoughts are interrupted when finally, the human slaves are being brought onstage. He forces himself to focus on his task.

The crowd goes wild with joy and excitement, and Peter finds this disgusting: Vampires are happy to see poor chained humans, ready to be purchased like animals. It's inconceivable.

Something is not how it is supposed to do, though. Indeed, all the human slaves must be placed in a straight line, all at the same level. It's how they were placed in the different pictures they've seen, actually.

But this time, one of the human slaves is in front, clearly highlighted.

It's a man, and he's still dressed, contrary to the other human slaves who are already bare-chested. His hands are tightly tied up above his head, and he's bruised. Even if his head is dropped, his chin pressed against his chest, Stephen can see a trickle of blood running out of his nose.

Sweating, his body shakes a little, and Stephen doesn't know if it's because of stress and fear, or because of exhaustion. If he looks closely, he can see the mortal glaring at the crowd. Deep down, Stephen is impressed: it takes guts to do that.

Most of the humans in his position would've wet themselves and would've cried and begged, and no one could blame them.

Peter and Stephen share a confused look.

What's special about him?

The organizer – the disfigured vampire – approaches the man with a cruel smile. He violently grasps his brown hair, and he yanks his head back so that everyone can clearly see the man's bruised face.

“My dear comrades...” The vampire starts his speech. His soothing voice is bone-chilling and it is heard by everyone. The crowd immediately falls silent. “I'm Ebony Maw, for those who don't know me. Hear me... Tonight is a special night, my friends. You have the privilege of seeing the ultimate enemy of our race, and he's now brought to his knees for all to see, willing to serve us and be the worthless slave every mortal is supposed to be.”

Ebony Maw holds out his mangled hand towards the crowd, who's hanging on his every word. “One of you, my friends, will have the chance to possess him, and I'm not going to lie: the price will be high for him...”

This doesn't seem to bother the present vampires in the least. They almost drool.

“That's a personal request, of course...” Ebony Maw continues, baring his teeth. “But I hope that this insolent, little mortal won't be treated with mercy.”

The crowd laughs, and they stop as soon as Ebony Maw raises his hand. “You probably don't recognize him, and it's normal. He's usually flying in a gold and red armor-”

Someone in the crowd boos, while another spits on the floor. This doesn't offend Ebony Maw in the least. That's quite the opposite in fact, as he gives them a disturbing grin. “His real name is Anthony Stark, but he's known as... Iron Man.”

Chapter Text

Tony's blood has never been sucked.

It can sound trivial, but that's a thing Tony has always been proud of, especially as he's living in a world mostly dominated by vampires. With this particularity, he feels unique, out of the ordinary, just as a Hunter should be in his opinion.

He doesn't know how it feels like, actually. Having the soft skin of your neck pierced by sharp teeth, forced to feel your enemy suck your blood for his own pleasure must be really painful, frightening and humiliating.

The worst is that you can't do anything about it, but praying that it will be over soon. You're totally at the vampire's mercy.

Well, now I'm going to find out how it feels like... Tony thinks, and this simple thought makes him feel nauseous.

The shackles bounding his wrists dig into his flesh, and the cold of the night attacks his skin. It's not the worst, though. All eyes are glued to his trapped, shaking and bound form on the stage, and these vampires' gleeful and merciless looks promise suffering and revenge.

Tony is nothing but a enticing and annoying candy that needs to learn a lesson.

He can't run away from this madness, or even defend himself: no matter how hard he pulls on his shackles, he can't break free. His attempts seem to amuse the crowd a lot, in fact. He can't even move his head to look away, as Ebony Maw holds it in place by grasping his hair.

He's forced to watch, forced to stay here for all to see, forced to be humiliated.

Pure hatred boils in his veins. He wants to destroy his ties holding him in place and behead them all, starting with Ebony Maw.

He tries to calm down his heavy breathing as he thinks of a plan to escape, even if he knows, deep down, that he's lost. No one is going to save him.

He has to grit his teeth.

And of course, Ebony Maw's revealing that he's Iron Man makes the crowd react.

“That's Iron Man...?” A confused, but rather excited, voice asks. “It is said that he murdered more vampires by himself than the entire mankind...”

Oh, you'll be next! Tony roars in his mind, glaring.

“Isn't his blood supposed to be undrinkable?” Another vampire says.

Ebony Maw firms up his grip, so his hold becomes painful.

Tony barely manages to hold back a groan of pain, as his torturer answers with a honeyed voice. “You're correct, my friend... With the exception that his blood being undrinkable is not permanent; this... disgusting vaccine in his blood is efficient, but it doesn't stay forever. It needs to be re-injected often... His blood is now at your disposal,” Tony hates the fact that this is true: his blood is not protected anymore...

The vampires all are delighted; a buzz of excitement and approval builds up.

“It's time for tasting, then!” A vampire from the crowd yells, provoking laughs and excited shouts around him. Ebony Maw, with his usual collected face, nods. “Indeed, it is time.”

Tony's eyes burn with repressed tears. Before he can continue to feel sorry for himself and pray that it will stop, Ebony Maw takes his dirty shirt, and he tears it into strips, making Tony shirtless.

“Now,” Ebony Maw whispers in his ear, and Tony can't help but shudder. His enemy grins at the level of his discomfort. “I assume that this is your first time, mortal...?”

“Go fuck yourself,” Tony hisses through clenched teeth, which seems to amuse Ebony Maw a lot. Tony can't even hear himself properly: His heart loudly pounds in his chest.

“That's a yes, then..." Ebony Maw easily guesses. He quickly licks Tony's neck, chuckling when he feels the human shudder again and try to get away from him. “Don't worry; I'll make your first time unforgivable.”

Tony doesn't have the strength to reply or fight back. He just looks ahead, ignoring the vampire next to him the best he can. He tries to stay aloof, but he can't prevent himself from sighing of relief as soon as Ebony Maw lets go of him and takes a few steps away. He relaxes and breathes easier.

“Now...” Ebony Maw addresses the whole crowd again, a cruel smirk dancing on his lips. “I'm sure many of you are interested... Who wants to taste this little mortal first?”

“I'm sure he's tasteful!” A vampire shouts, causing cruel laughs and giggles. “He smells delicious!”

Suddenly, brouhaha shoots up, to such an extent that Tony can't even hear what they're saying. He just knows that the vampires start to argue and get agitated, within an inch of fighting each other.

Tony could have been flattered to see so many vampires ready to fight each other only to taste him first, but right now, he's just terrified. He struggles against his restraints again, without success.

Ebony Maw doesn't seem disturbed by this sudden violence. His face stays emotionless, but he calmly raises his hand to appease and stop the crowd. He doesn't want any wounded, otherwise his reputation would be damaged. “Oh, my friends, don't fight for so little, there'll be room for everyone-”

“I want to be the first!” A deep and self-assured voice intervenes and could be heard over the brouhaha. It freezes all of them.

“I want to be the first to taste him.”

OoO

“I want to be the first to taste him.”

Stephen is surprised by his own words. That's not really according to plan, but he doesn't regret it: Seeing these bloody vampires fight like beasts just to be the first who will torture this poor human was the last straw. He couldn't help himself, he had to intervene.

He does his best to ignore Peter's surprised and alarming look. The kid even tries to grasp his arm to stop him, but he dodges him without a glance.

No one dares to talk as Stephen goes on stage in full view of everybody, except for a few discreet whispers. The crowd immediately recognizes him for being the one who gave Kaecilius a whipping, so no one protests.

Stephen smirks. Maybe this fight with Kaecilius has its purpose, after all...

He looks around to have a clear look of his surroundings. Four vampires – four “guards” – are situated in every corner of the stage. Stephen is not surprised: he knows there is security. These slave markets are big events, after all.

He'll have to take care of them in priority, with the help of Peter and his allies. They're close to the mortals, and they are trained to act if something goes wrong.

Speaking of the other human slaves behind Tony, they seem relieved not to be the center of attention. It can seem cruel, because another human suffers in their place, but Stephen understands them: as long as Stark draws the attention, the vampires ignore them and they are not going to hurt them.

It's a normal reaction.

He then turns his head towards Ebony Maw and he meets his intrigued gaze. Stephen keeps his face illegible, but deep down, he winces: it's not a good sigh when you attract Ebony Maw's attention...

This vampire is deadly dangerous, and far older than Stephen, which means that he's stronger. If Stephen gets involved in a fight with Ebony Maw, despite Dormammu's intensive training, he doesn't stand a chance.

And if you add Kaecilius into the equation...

Tony stops struggling in favor of looking up at the newcomer, a knot in his chest.

He has to say that he's surprised; this one doesn't look like the countless vampires he had fought in the past, but Tony knows better. Behind this clean appearance, there are details that show what kind of monster he is.

First of all, he is deadly pale. It actually highlights his beautiful blue eyes and his sunken cheeks, contrasting with his dark, messy hair. To add insult to injury, Tony sees that his chest doesn't move, and that his nostrils don't flare.

So yes, he's a vampire.

However, despite these unpleasant sighs, he is good-looking, Tony can't say otherwise. He is well-dressed, clean, and he looks more like a civilized human being than the wild beast he's supposed to be.

Mordo, for example, is elegant, just like this newcomer, that's true, but Tony sees the wild beast in his brown eyes, the hatred...

In this vampire's eyes, there is nothing.

One small detail catches Tony's attention: The vampire's hands are totally ruined, and they shake. Large scars cover his hands and fingers.

Tony knows that if vampires are injured, their wound would close itself and would not let any trace, unless ash tree or aspen are used against them. So, it can be concluded that this vampire had his hands ruined when he was still a mortal.

Intriguing...

“You are...?” Ebony Maw asks with his usual purring tone.

“Stephen,” The vampire says without even looking at him. Instead, he glances at the crowd and he asks with confidence. “Does that bother someone if I'm the first...?” Only silence answers him. “Nothing? That's so nice of you.”

He looks at Ebony Maw and smiles at him. “Can I...?”

“Please, do,” Ebony Maw politely says, even if he's a little distrustful, Stephen can see it. He comes close to him, and whispers. “Don't spare him, Stephen. We want to hear him scream, but don't break him. Not while he's still for sale, at least.”

Stephen's jaw clenches, and he doesn't reply. He slowly approaches the bound human. Tony's eyes widen in fear, even if he does his best to hide it.

As Stephen is just a step from him, Tony snarls and he spits at the vampire's feet.

Stephen calmly glances at the spittle on the ground near his feet, and he raises an eyebrow at Tony. “Charming...” He almost sounds amused, which angers the human even more.

“Stay away from me, freak!” He roars, glaring at him.

Stephen rolls his eyes and he comes even closer to Tony, to such an extent that their chest brush. Stephen can feel Tony's heavy breathing on his face, and Tony feels the coldness emanating from the vampire's body.

Being that close can be a form of psychological torture in order to frighten Tony even more, but Stephen has a hidden, different goal: He wants to hide the human, basically act like a protected shild between Tony and the crowd.

And it works: the crowd is too excited to notice that they don't see the mortal anymore. They just see Stephen's back.

“If you only knew how many times mortals had told me that...” Stephen says, lowering his voice in a whisper to keep their conversation private. “Not very original, for the great Hunter you are supposed to be...”

Tony glares at him. If looks could kill... “I swear, you touch me, I-”

“What...?” Stephen calmly interrupts him. “You kill me? That already happened to me, and even though I'm not really a big fan of it, it's not that terrifying when you've already lived it...”

Tony is a little confused. This vampire has access to his skin: He can bite him at any time, no one would stop him, not even him, but he doesn't move. He doesn't hurt him and he prefers to chat.

That's... weird.

“Oh, but you'll stay dead this time, trust me.”

Stephen smiles. “I have no doubt...”

He quickly looks around him to check no one is getting suspicious, and he carries on with a low voice. “Look, I'd love to continue this lovely conversation, but I don't have time. I need you to trust me.”

Tony can't help it: he bursts out laughing. A bitter and nervous laugh. “Me? Trust a vampire? You're funny for a living cadaver.”

The vampire's cold expression finally cracks. Annoyance colors his features. Expecting violence, Tony almost stops breathing, but Stephen shakes his head, and he gently whispers. “I understand you... I know how terrifying it is, Anthony. I know how you feel: you're terrified, so you dig your heels in and you refuse to listen to anyone.”

Despite his soft tone, Tony's eyes burn with anger. How dare he?! He wants to strike the vampire in front of him, but his shackles keep him from doing that. “You don't know squat!”

“I do know...” Stephen frowns. Tony detects no lie in his voice. “I was human once, just like you. And I was at... vampires' mercy as well. Just like you.”

Well, he had been at Dormammu's mercy, which is a bit different, and ten times worse. That's the kind of memory Stephen dearly wants to forget and pretend it never happened, in fact, but seeing this hunter in a similar position makes him remember.

He remembers burning houses, broken sobs and the terrified screams around him as Dormammu's army was wrecking their village.

All the humans living there had been captured, including Stephen. He remembers being confused, just like the rest of them. Indeed, they thought that the vampires would feed on them and kill them. So, why do they keep them alive?

They quickly understood what their purpose were, the second they were brought in front of Dormammu himself: Dormammu wanted to recruit, for his army.

His shaking hands tied behind his back, Stephen had been forcefully brought to his knees at Dormammu's feet, like everybody else. He doesn't know how long he stayed in this position, but it took time.

Dormammu stood in front of the humans one by one, to see if one of them could have the potential to become one of his soldiers. He didn't talk, didn't ask any questions, and didn't ask the human's opinion.

He just... stared, and if he was not convinced, he would feed on the human who failed to pass his test, and he would kill him.

Plain and simple.

Then, it's been Stephen's turn.

Dormammu's harsh fingers took his chin and he raised his head to force him to look up. Meeting these cold, purple, burning eyes staring at him with attention is the most terrifying thing Stephen has even lived, but at that moment, his pride prevented him from being submissive and trembling with fear.

He glared at Dormammu, and he spat at him.

Smack in the face.

At that moment, he thought he would die. He vaguely remembers Dormammu's soldiers growling and ready to throw themselves at him to make him pay, but Dormammu calmly raised his hand to make them stop.

He wiped his face with his hand, and he smiled. A satisfied, cruel grin.

He took Stephen's chin between his long fingers again, and he stroked his lower lip with his thumb, with a mock tenderness. “So much fire...” Dormammu softly whispered, and his deep and rumbling voice vibrated inside Stephen.

Then, Dormammu brought out his pointed and long fangs.

Stephen thought, a knot in his chest, that Dormammu would pierce his neck and suck his blood to death, but the vampire just bit his own wrist, drawing blood.

Stephen blinks, and he shakes his head to be back in the present. “Anyway! The point I'm trying to make is that... They made my life a living hell. I'd be stupid to treat you the same. It would be illogical, don't you think?”

Tony sneers. “Vampires kill humans and see them as inferior beings, even though they used to be human themselves. Beasts like you aren't logical!”

Stephen purses his lips. “What I'm trying to say is that I understand your fear, but you have nothing to fear from me. I'm not going to hurt you, and if you do as I say, you'll be fine,” His voice is sincere, but it is hard for Tony to believe him and be reassured by these words.

Stephen knows it. “Look...” He points at the other slaves with his chin. “You see the human slaves behind you?” Tony can't see them technically, but he still nods, clearly distrustful.

Stephen continues. “You can save them. We can save them, but for that, you need to trust me and do as I tell you.”

Tony narrows his eyes. “And what do you want me to do, exactly?”

Stephen doesn't use words to answer. Instead, he takes a small bottle from his pocket. Tony vaguely sees a weird, yellow liquid inside this bottle, and after the vampire has been certain no one sees what he's doing, he quickly slips it into Tony's pocket.

Stephen ignores the human's confused and questioning look, and he whispers in Tony's ears. “You must throw it on the ground. Hard. Just in front of you," As Tony frowns, Stephen smirks and he gently winks at him. "Trust me, Anthony.”

Stephen doesn't wait for Tony's confirmation.

He takes a step back, and he turns his head towards Ebony Maw, his deep voice loud and proud. “Oh, and didn't you forget something...?”

Ebony Maw blinks, and he cocks his head to the side. “I beg your pardon?” With that, the four guards start to stir and approach the center of the stage. They must feel that something's wrong.

“Oh, I don't know...” Stephen draws closer to Tony, playing nonchalant. “That's just a thought, but maybe we could... ask his permission first, before tasting him...?”

A surprised silence follows his question, and Stephen chuckles, although his expression is not amused in the least. It's twisted with anger and disgust. “Oh, that didn't cross your mind? Oops...” He points at Ebony Maw. “You may be old, but you're still dumb, that's sad.”

Ebony Maw's face darkens, and he hisses. “Don't move-”

“Oh, am I in trouble?” Stephen pretends to be bothered. “So sorry, I didn't mean to offend you! Well, OK, maybe a little-” Before the guards can throw themselves at him to arrest him, he gets a hold of Tony's shackles, and he destroys them effortlessly, with his mere strength.

Tony is free... He's as dumbfounded as the vampires.

“Now!” Stephen yells.

Now that Stephen has the attention of the guards and of Ebony Maw, Peter goes on the stage without being stopped, and he rushes towards the other human slaves to free them. Their allies surrounding the crowd, at the same time, all throw their own yellow bottles on the ground. A thick, yellow and repulsive smoke gets out of the broken bottles, spreads through the air, and it covers most of the crowd.

The vampires start to cover their eyes with their hands, and they seem in pain.

And in the blink of an eye, it's chaos.