Actions

Work Header

A Kiss and I will Surrender

Chapter Text

He wouldn’t have believed it if wasn’t staring him in the face.

After the whole snafu with HYDRA infested SHIELD—oh boy, he called it from day one. Fury’s secrets did have secrets—he fucking knew it and star-spangled golden boy chewed him out for taking the initiative to dig through all the muck in Mad Eye Moody’s backyard.

He was fine with the fact that Capcicle would rather not work with him unless it involves alien ass-kicking or end of the world scenarios. Tony’s a genius for Thor’s sake. He could take a hint.

 However, he and Cap got along better somehow after facing Thor’s bat shit-crazy, drama queen of a brother. They formed a tentative bond, along with the other members of the super-secret boy band.  Start to a beautiful friendship and all that.

 Still, as mentioned the bond was tentative, meaning not official or stable enough for them to be actual friends or teammates.

 How else would he find out that Cap and Natasha took on SHIELD/HYDRA on their own and not bothered to alert Tony about it? Or ask for his help? Granted, they were both SHIELD agents, but c’mon, Tony was a fucking SHIELD consultant. He had contracts with the agency! The repulsor tech on those damned helicarriers were Stark patented!

He and JARVIS (his brilliant boy—lost, killed and stolen from--no, not from him; it was all Tony’s fault. He was reckless. He was no better than Howard; he let JARVIS down—no, no, no, stop, stop, stop! Rhodey said you did it all because you wanted to protect the world from those things you know will come, you were desperate..lies, no, no, no lies..) could have come up with countermeasures to make sure those helicarriers and Zola’s algorithm never saw the light of day.

Apparently, they would rather the Internet have a field day with all the classified data from SHIELD/HYDRA (SHIELDRA?) files and let actual SHIELD agents that do good be compromised than call in the team’s tech guy.  The blatant lack of trust was as insulting as it was painful.

And throw the whole fiasco with his Skynet-murderbot of a child that left a certain witch grieving for her Roadrunner brother and a whole city crumbled to dust in—well, let’s just say that the friendship thing was treading on thin ice.

This one though?

This takes the cake, the bacon, the trophy, the championship belt, the plaque, the prize, the consolation and the round girls, all of them.

 For once, it wasn’t Tony unwittingly burning parts out of their little friendship and salting the ashes.

 

Tony was sitting in his workshop and going through all the files he had FRIDAY pull out of the SHIELD hard drive he accidentally found on Cap’s desk. He was just about to call in Cap for a test run of his new gear; Steve was out though, he never bothered with asking FRIDAY because he wanted to surprise the guy and he didn’t mean to actually snoop around.  The blasted thing was still plugged in Cap’s unused laptop, dammit, clearly his lectures about files safety were all for naught.

Seeing the contents, he wished he never let curiosity win against logic when one file caught his attention inside the folder regarding the Winter Soldier—who turned out to be Cap’s not-actually dead war buddy, Bucky Barnes. These bastards. There must be something in the water in Brooklyn during the '40s.

 

ASSET MISSION REPORT: DECEMBER 16, 1991

MISSION OBJECTIVE: RETRIEVAL OF SUPER SOLDIER SERUM CREATED BY HOWARD STARK

PARAMETERS: STAGED ACCIDENT, NO WITNESSES

MISSION STATUS: ACCOMPLISHED

 

He did not bother reading the whole report. From just a few sentences, he already had the complete picture.

Hydra had my parents killed.

Steve knew.

He probably knew ever since he and Natasha brought down SHIELD.

They used his best friend to kill my parents.

He even had a copy of the mission file, must have been saved from the data dump—it wasn’t part of the files released online.

And he didn’t tell me about it.

 

“Boss?”  there was hesitation coloring FRIDAY’s Irish lilt.

“Yes, baby girl?”

“Do you want me to continue?”

FRIDAY must have noticed his reaction when he saw the date. Sweet child.

“Yes.” His breath shaking a little before he added some casual confidence in his tone to show some semblance of normalcy, “Continue copying all the files from this drive and secure them in a folder within our private servers. Pull all the stops, FRI and make sure no one can access except me. Please delete this shop footage, as well the one with me from the way to and fro Cap’s room.  I don’t want anyone knowing about this.”

“Yes, boss.” 

A couple of minutes later and he returned the drive in the exact same place he found it. With FRIDAY’S help, he ran into no one before going back to the lab.

 

Decades of blaming Howard for his mother’s death, all wasted on Tony numbing himself with alcohol, sex and drugs. Their deaths left both Tony and the company in Obadiah’s hands. Obie was all fine with his godson destroying himself (only showing restraint when it affects the company’s stocks) so long as Tony was functioning enough to churn out weapons that could be sold to the highest black market bidders. Spinning tale after tale of how what Tony did was all for the goodness of the world and in the interests of the people. I believed him... I believed him and loved him like a father as much as Howard made sure I could yet he ripped my heart out and betrayed me.

The manipulation and betrayal only left him even more embittered with Howard and drowning in the blood of thousands of innocent people killed by his weapons.

 

 Then, this thing showed up.

 

All along dear ol’ dad was innocent of the blame Tony so vehemently laid at his feet. His mother’s death, Tony’s downward spiral into drugs and alcohol induced debauched numbness, the blood of lives lost from his weapons that filled his lungs with every gasp as he kept on trying to breathe…

 

Gulmira, Yinsen, Charles Spencer, Wanda's family, Sokovia...JARVIS...

 

The absolution was not as cathartic as it should have been.

 

Barnes killed his parents.

Barnes was both Steve and Howard’s friend, more Steve’s than Howard’s but fuck.

Barnes knew Howard.

Howard made the gear and weapons for The Howling Commandos.

Howard thought of him as a friend.

His parents died at the hands of his father’s friend.

 

Barnes was Howard’s favorite next to Steve. Howard even bought Tony a Bucky bear, which was basically the only gift he had ever received from Howard on his birthday. Tony grew up hearing (alongside the never-ending Captain America stories) how quickly the amazing Sergeant Barnes mastered any gun or rifle Howard threw his way and how the good Sergeant gave commentaries on how to further improve them. Hell, those commentaries were Tony’s own Ten Commandments when he designed his own firearms.

Out of Howard’s favorites to compare Tony to, he was the one Tony actually liked because Barnes was just equipped with skill, charm and wit. He had neither Cap’s special serum nor his infallible morals.  The comparison made Tony feel that maybe, if he were to play his cards right, like the Sergeant, he could be enough. A hero in his own right.

 

Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes.

Steve Rogers’ best friend.

Captain America’s right hand man.

One of my heroes.

The Fist of HYDRA.

The Asset.

The Winter Soldier.

My parents’ murderer.

 

Tony wanted to throw up.

 

Steve.

Why didn’t he tell me?

I am his friend too.

(Am I, really?)

I deserved to know.

Is he working up the courage to tell me?

Will he ever tell me or let me live my whole life believing they died in an accident?

Is it to protect Barnes?

 

Tony hurled the mug in his hand into the wall opposite him, bursting into a fireworks display of coffee and ceramic.

The bots made their way over to him, whirring and beeping with worry.  DUM-E’s claw extended, his camera examining Tony’s face.  Butterfingers gestured to the mess their creator made asking what’s wrong. U just settled for sidling up to Tony in an effort to give comfort.

“Boss, I believe it is best…if we tell the others about this.”  FRIDAY chimed in, pausing slightly unsure of how Tony would react to her suggesting otherwise of his earlier command.

His sweet baby girl, she should not be seeing her Daddy in distress. It’s clearly stressing her out and frays her young system.

Her brothers too, but they’ve had years of seeing Tony like this and this was the only way they knew how to provide comfort.

“I’m afraid we can’t do that just yet, baby girl.” Tony replied, caressing each of the boys' arms.

“Boss, this upsets you and you need someone to lean on. Keeping things bottled in will only make it more difficult to move on.” The soft clicks of her accent sharpening as FRIDAY groused,” The scans show increase in levels of stress hormones and heartbeat, clear signs of anxiety.”

 

Dearest Thor, she was now obviously pulling advice from psychology sites online.

 

“Sweetheart, I know you mean well. But this, is something Daddy has to process first before I proceed to the next step.”

“What next step would that be?” 

Oof. Ouch. Okay, he had been setting himself up for that without his notice. He could totally see her raising her non-existent eyebrow sharply in his mind. 

“I don’t know yet, FRI. Just…please, let’s keep this between us for now. Until, until we come up with something.”

Tony heard the clear reluctance she was feeling when she almost mumbled her ever-present, ”Yes, Boss.”

“Thank you, sweet girl. Please be patient with me, okay?”

He left the lab and went straight to his room at the very least it would only be FRIDAY seeing his breakdown. His boys were disasters (DUM-E more than the younger two) like their father, they would probably be bursting a resistor or something in panic. In DUM-E’s case, accidentally setting himself or the whole workshop on fire.

He stepped into his shower without stripping and sat on the floor, letting the cold sprays blast and sluice along the turmoil inside him. He gave up alcohol for Pepper, like how he gave up the drugs for Rhodey long ago. He didn’t have anything now to numb him to everything apart from the cold. Maybe, HYDRA had it right after all, they froze Barnes to keep him compliant and managed to keep him that way for decades. Freezing would stop the flow of chaos (he's already agreeing with an idea from fucking HYDRA goddammit...he's just so fucked up) in his head. Although, FRIDAY didn’t seem to be warming up to the idea. Bad pun, oh yes...

“Boss, I’m patching a call to Colonel Rhodes—“

“Stop. Don’t call Platypus.”

“But, boss—“

“End call and mute.”

Freezing his thoughts and feelings would make it stop from hurting.

He knew about Steve and Wilson’s efforts in searching for Barnes,

I'm the one funding  and providing tech for it.

He would be able to face Rogers without falling apart.

Rogers would most likely bring Barnes back to the Compound.

Expecting that Tony would welcome them with open arms and still be unaware of that dirty little secret of his.

By all means, bring him here Rogers. I'll be waiting.

A wry, cutting grin began slipping into Tony’s lips at the thought.

 If the all-American paragon of justice and virtue, can keep a deadly, dirty little secret then so can Tony Stark. Howard, Obie and your Bucky set me up to live a life full of lies after all.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Icy gray eyes quickly flicked over to the glass wall of the establishment across the street.  He was just making his way back to the apartment from a quick trip to gather supplies, when he noticed someone watching him. His enhanced eyesight catching a familiar figure, nearly undetected from where they were hiding.

There.

The black man from DC was at a table inside the coffee shop whilst pretending to read the provided newspaper.  

He stopped by a newsstand to grab some paper to stall and plan his next move, not giving a slightest bit of hint that he noticed the man. He had to give it to the other man, it took him longer than the last time to notice that he was being watched.  It was almost smart of him to choose a table near the back of the shop and avoiding the corner to not be too suspicious and using the other customers for cover as well.

Almost.

However, if that man was here, that also meant he was here watching too.

 

Damn sons of bitches just won’t leave me alone.

 

He turned away from the newsstand after paying for the paper, still acting as though nothing was unusual. He knew the street in the next block was going to be lined on both sides with stalls and filled to the brim with shoppers today. He could shake them off there and make for the narrow alley behind the bookstore to reach the apartment. He only needed to keep his eyes peeled for the blond man while looking at reflections in the windows.

As though being summoned by the slightest thought, he noticed the aforementioned man was tailing him a few meters away towering over majority of the passersby. Probably from the pub he just walked by earlier. He would’ve sighed at the utter lack of finesse the man was currently exhibiting when it comes to tracking if it wouldn’t clue the blond in that he knew he was being followed. At least, the black man tried to be conspicuous about it.

It’s going to be an ambush.  And a predictable one at that.

He could hear the blond’s voice in his head, the blond was holding a map and giving instructions to a group of men…soldiers… about storming HYDRA’s safe house in…in… Bácsalmás? No, he minutely shook his head. It was somewhere in Italy, and he gave a similar plan.

 

Remember the objective is to capture. We will divide into groups to keep low, one will have the main sight of the targets up front, the other one will be on this side of the hills for round up in case the targets get jittery and try to slide out of sight. They don’t have much choice with the terrain on the other end, unless they want to fall off a cliff and it will be quick to get away on this side. Let’s give them a warm welcome. The rest will close in from the back to lock them in on all sides.

 

 Before the blond got close, he rounded up the corner and started weaving through the throngs of people in the busy market.  When the blond realized what was happening, he began walking faster and narrowly avoiding running into someone, and a stall or two. Along with a few slides in between the crowd—He put the blond’s companion who somehow managed to catch up to them and tried to come up him in front, near a man who was in similar clothing as he, thus mistaking the man for him—he got into the narrow alley, not before he heard the blond yell for him and the other curse in frustration,

“Bucky! Sam, did you see where he went?”

“Sorry Cap, but your buddy’s one slippery bastard. Fuck, he was so close! How he got me to think that other guy was him I’m not even sure. If I didn’t know any better I’d say Barnes was making fun of us.”

He nearly scoffed at the black man’s jabbering.  If it only took a little crowd and a bit of misdirection for them to get into a tizzy and lose a target, then they had no business in tracking people to begin with.

If they were under HYDRA, they would've spent hours in the chair for mistakes like that.

 

He already locked the door of the shabby studio he was hiding in when he noticed he still had the paper in his grip.

Huh.

He placed his haul in the slightly battered refrigerator and sat at the table, paper still in hand.

Might as well, not like I got to actually read it.

Plastered on the front page, covering most of it was the picture of a man in an obviously expensive suit with artfully tousled hair, a playful if slightly smug smirk and distinctive facial hair.  He had to blink for a moment at what he was seeing, his hands tight and nearly ripping the paper into tatters.

 

 You were dead…your skull caved in beneath my fist, you were gray, rasping and pleading for help…you were dead, she called you over and over before I snapped her neck. You were dead…

 

He tried focusing on the paper again, somehow only making it worse as he properly recognized the man.

 

No.

No, not dead, not this one.

Never this one.

 

Anthony Stark. 

The Avenger.  

Iron Man.

Her son.

 

She called for her husband repeatedly, but as the bones in her neck were crushed—with her steadily slipping will and her remaining breath—the last thing she uttered in a wispy prayer was ‘Tony’.

 

His eyes glided over the man’s face, carefully taking in every feature. Despite having the coloring and features similar to those of his father's, Stark was somehow more hers than his. It was in the almost feminine softness of his jaw masked by the strategic beard, in the shape of his mouth and his doe eyes framed by long dark lashes.  Her eyes.

He could remember how her eyes briefly met his as she said her prayer. There was no fear, no hatred, only desperation but not for her own survival nor her husband’s.  Her son’s.  It was as though she was begging, praying for someone to save her son (he wasn’t delusional enough as to presume she was praying for him); from what, he did not and will never know.  Yet, it was always there. Her unspoken plea.

 

Tony.

Tony.

Tony.

Tony.

 

For decades, he would hear her whisper—loud over the never-ending cries and screams—in his head whenever he managed to rid himself of even a bit of the blank numbness provided by the cryo chamber and seared into him by the chair. Always praying.

 

Tony.

Tony.

Tony.

Tony.

 

Now that he was free from both, the voices were getting louder. The screams, her husband calling for ‘Sergeant Barnes’, the sickly, little blond boy that kept yelling "Bucky"  and her prayer.

Looking at the man now, he could tell her fears were, but not entirely, unfounded. Yes, the man was a high priority and threat level target to HYDRA; nearly died in some cases, however, Stark now encased himself in a suit of armor created by his own hands to protect himself and those he held dear.  Stark didn’t need to be saved. He was fine with saving himself and others just as well.

 Or maybe, it wasn’t Stark she wanted to be saved.

Who is it then? Her husband?

 

Him? 

 

I don't need your salvation.

 

A small bubble of incredulity nearly escaped his chest at the thought. The audacity of this woman. Who’s going to save him? Her son, her Tony, her precious little prayer?

 

Will Stark even think of it if he ever finds out the truth?

 

“I don’t need you.” He sneered at the beatific face staring back at him, “never did and never will. I don’t need your mother to keep reminding me to need you either. ”

He didn’t even realize he was breathing heavily until the gasp he let out when he inhaled. He worked on getting his breathing back to normal for a few beats before looking back at the paper. His efforts were all moot when a choking laugh truly escaped him.

 

Apparently, someone upstairs was not done fucking with him yet.

 

There in the paper, next to Stark’s immaculate image were the words that would surely damn him, getting wet from the tears unknowingly streaming down his face.

 

Iron Man Tries to Commit Suicide: Tony Stark found bleeding and unconscious in the bath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Steve was still upset after they got back to the hotel from when he saw Bucky earlier. Bucky slipped past them, yet again. He immediately crashed into his bed, staring blankly at the ceiling as Sam went out to get food.  He knew from what Natasha told him and with first-hand experience that the Winter Sol—no, Bucky was capable of disappearing without a trace. He just couldn’t help but feel anxious and helpless right now. They were so close…so close to getting his best friend home with them. However, Bucky seemed to have no interest in doing so.

  He got the fact that Bucky was confused and probably scared ever since his escape and Project Insight (Steve was not naïve nor was he stupid, despite what some people might think) but, they were not HYDRA.  They’re nothing like those scum of the Earth. Bucky had to know that.  He, himself bore witness to Steve, Sam and Natasha’s efforts to bring HYDRA down back in DC. He and Sam were here to take Bucky home, to help him. Bucky remembered Steve, he broke through his programming and he pulled Steve out of the river.  It was all a blur and he was losing grip on his consciousness then, but Steve knew what he saw, something metallic—the arm—reaching for him under the water. It had to be Bucky.

No. It was Bucky.

Steve refused to believe otherwise. He just didn’t understand why his best friend was so adamant in avoiding him when he just wanted to help him to get his life back on track; to let him know Steve got his back. Like how Bucky had Steve’s ever since they were kids—brothers in all but blood. Was he threatened about being with the Avengers? Was it part of his conditioning? Did Bucky think that they would hurt him? Kill him? He did things under HYDRA’s control but it wasn’t him. Bucky would rather die than do all those things they made him do. The Avengers would help him, if he would just let them.  It’s what they do, they help people, save them. They would see where Steve was coming from, Clint for sure would; he had been on that side of the road before. He was turned against his colleagues and humanity when Loki clamped his poisonous fangs down into the archer’s mind. There was no hesitation whatsoever from the team to help and forgive him. Now, he was an integral part of their little—and steadily growing, if Tony did not stop with bringing these little Science punks back home—family. Steve smiled with a shake of his head.

 The time when Tony brought Harley into the Compound came into his mind. The engineer had introduced the kid during a team lunch that luckily had all members attending. Apparently, Harley-from-Rose Hill-Tennessee (as Tony introduced him) helped Tony during the Mandarin debacle and would be attending a high school near the Compound, thus, Tony offered to house him. Sam and Clint made quips about the gossip rags finally being right about how Tony kept his secret children out of sight. Tony just huffed and rolled his eyes in that scarily intricate manner that Steve sometimes feared his eyes would stay that way, drawing a laugh from the others. Harley on the other hand, just leveled two grown men—two Avengers—with a look (nearly bringing Natasha’s to shame) before drawling, dry as a desert,

Is that what you two do on your down time? Gossip? Does it include tea?”

The look of shock on both Sam and Clint’s faces and the laughter that followed were hilarious. Tony had a field day with lording over the other two the fact that they got their asses handed to them by a teenager.  That was not counting Spider-man, Peter-from-Queens, who came in months after Harley into the mix. Though he was not staying permanently in the Compound, he and Harley got along like a madhouse on hellfire. The Compound was their very own kingdom whilst the residents lived in constant amusement and fear of being the target of their little pranks whereas Tony only looked on but talked them down when they got too far—like the doting father, Tony would vehemently deny to his grave that he was.

The team was consisted of the most welcoming people in the world. Accepting Bucky into the fold would not be an issue. With those in mind, Steve was certain he was on the right track, he knew in his gut that all he needed was to talk to Bucky and calm him down and he would listen. He could see his friend being part of their family. Bucky and Steve were each other’s family back then, and now that Steve found another one in this new time, he could have Bucky be a part of it—part of Steve’s family like always.

 He didn’t kill Steve back in the helicarrier and Steve got through to him. Bucky, deep down all those horrible, awful things HYDRA did to him, still knew Steve. He must have regained some of his memories back if he could recognize Steve, yet why was he was still trying to avoid them? What was Bucky trying to do on his own? With HYDRA scattered in the wind and mostly in hiding, they would be after him and surely do their damnedest to corral their rogue Asset.  Steve scowled at the thought.  Like hell, that was going to happen. Steve lost him when Bucky fell from the train and now that Steve knew he was alive, Steve would protect him. He would not let Bucky suffer anymore. If Bucky wanted to know about himself again, Steve was more than willing to lend him a hand. He, overall, was the person that knew James Buchanan Barnes the most.

 

I’m with you ‘til the end of the line, Buck. You know that, right?

 

He remembered Tony talking about a project of his that according to Sam could shine a light on Bucky’s condition and his PTSD—apparently, that’s what they call shellshock nowadays. Sam was a counselor at the VA after all, and he said that seeing as Bucky spent most of his time with HYDRA under the most extremes of duress, he would surely have it. Most of what Tony said in his yet another Science tangent flew over Steve’s head, but, he knows without a doubt that if Tony was determined to create something that would help heal a traumatized vet’s mind then Tony would or he’d die trying.

 

Just like how determined he was when he created Ultron.

 

Steve physically recoiled from the thought. That and Wanda were also a part of Steve’s dilemma. The team knew that it was all in the past. That they couldn’t do anything to change it. Tony had even agreed to Steve letting Wanda be a part of the team, as a proof, yet he was still wary of her. Sure, there were times that tension would almost rise in between Wanda and Tony, they were nothing more than civil with each other around the others and not as close as Steve really wanted them to be, but, Wanda was trying. Tony, Steve knew, could at the very least take notice, instead of finding excuses to leave when Steve tried to get them to talk. He was aware of how hard it was for Tony to accept what Wanda showed him in those visions that drove him—while dragging Bruce—into creating Ultron, but Tony should understand that Wanda was so young.

HYDRA kept her and Pietro as lab rats, and used them as weapons like they did with Bucky. They were scared for themselves and going against the Avengers was the only way they thought they would survive. During the battle, Wanda lost so much—her home and her dear brother—Steve just had to make Tony see that it wasn’t only him who greatly suffered during that time. Tony claimed to be a man of logic and reason, but if only he would listen to Steve’s reasoning then, he could help them bridge that gap. Tony lost his family at a young age too, he could exercise empathy in order to understand Wanda’s situation. She needed guidance, same as the one Tony so willingly and lovingly gave to both Harley and Peter not the pretense of civility he would hand to her as if she was one of those business suits for whom he had no patience. Steve was almost at the end of his rope with that particular land mine but, for their family he had kept on trying.

Tony had no problem offering a home to those who needed it, case in point: Steve. Yet, Wanda, who needed a true home, he had refused to let in.

 

If Wanda, a kid, who wronged and was wronged by Tony couldn’t truly be a part of the man’s new family, what more the hands that took his actual family away from him?

 

A pained noise erupted from his throat.

 

No.

 

Tony was one of Steve’s friends. No matter how much they would argue and fight, they always found their way back to each other’s side. He would never think of hurting Bucky. Steve kept on repeating the same thing in his head when Tony’s SHIELD dossier popped into his head.

 

Obadiah Stane was Howard’s business partner and Tony’s godfather. He was once part of Tony’s family. The man practically had a hand in raising him whilst running the company Howard left behind. When Tony found out about Stane putting a hit on him and selling his weapons in the black market…Tony killed him.

Stane was family to him until he betrayed Tony and he paid for it dearly. Tony made sure of that.

If he had no qualms doing that to Stane…

What would happen if he found out about Bucky?

Bucky who was practically no one to him, only a footnote in Howard’s role as a weapons contractor back in the war?

Bucky who, as far as Tony was concerned, was only a fragment of Steve’s past that just happened to pop back up?

He would kil—

 

Steve dug the heels of his palms into his eyelids as he squashed the thought.  Maybe if he got Bucky back home with them and Tony managed to help him get rid of the Winter Soldier programming, Steve could tell Tony about his parents. If Tony saw for himself that none of it was Bucky’s fault, that Bucky was also a victim and they became friends then, he’d be less inclined to kill Bucky. Tony could forgive him then. Bruce was the one Avenger that Tony was close to, bar Steve, and he was still hesitant to cause him serious harm—as much harm as one can manage to inflict on the Hulk—whenever he went on a rampage.

 

It doesn’t matter how long it would take Tony get rid of what HYDRA did to Bucky, we have to help Buck. I have to keep this to myself until Bucky gets better. After that, I will tell Tony myself. It’s for their own good.

 

Decision made, with a determined nod he pulled himself up and sat on the bed. He heard the door to their suite close shut. Sam was back, but with the way he seemed to be rushing Steve could only guess that it had nothing to do with food.

“Cap! You've got to see this!” Sam yelled.

Steve almost frantically, went out to their shared sitting room, Sam was looking at the paper in his hand.

“Sam? What’s going on?”

“I didn’t pay much attention earlier at the coffee shop since Stark’s face is essentially the universal logo for the press and I wasn’t actually reading it.” He handed the paper to Steve. “Called the Compound on my way up here, no one answered.”

Brows furrowed, Steve took the proffered newspaper.  What could possibly be so alarming about Tony being in the news? It was a daily part of their lives.

He got his answer when he read parts of the paper and felt the ground being yanked like a rug underneath his feet. It was New York all over again. Images of Tony falling down from the sky in a dead suit, of Tony unconscious and unresponsive when he removed the faceplate from his armor were flashing in his mind.

 

IRON MAN HAD ENOUGH: Tony Stark commits suicide.

 

“Wha—no, but—why?” Steve couldn’t believe his eyes. Tony tried to kill himself. Tony, who loved life more than anyone else Steve had ever met. “Tony wouldn’t…he’d never do this.”

“The ones at the reception were talking about it when I got back. Nearly knocked them over when I grabbed that. He di—"Sam cut himself off when Steve gave him a glare”—It happened the other day.”

Steve quickly handed the paper back to Sam as if it burned him and went to his room closing his door, ignoring Sam’s call.

“Steve—“

 

He needed to call Tony.

He needed to make sure he was alright.

He just found Bucky, he couldn’t lose Tony too.

He’d be damned if he lost another part of his family.

Dammit, Tony.

 

There were small tremors in his hand as he dialed Tony’s number. He spent the few moments that the call needed to connect pacing, his heart dropping to his feet every second it took.

Steve?

“Tony.” he breathed, his chest almost bursting with relief.  He’s alive. Thank God.

“What’s up? I thought you’re going radio silence for a while?”

There was a slight scratch to his voice, that Steve had to think if he had called at the time Tony was asleep. Steve couldn’t summon the guilt for that right now though,

Tony’s alive.

“Cap? Are you okay? Did you and Featheredass 2.0 get into trouble?”

 He winced, Tony was starting to get worried about him. The only thing was, how did one ask another about their attempt to end their own life?

“No, but, uh..well—“

Steve need not worry though because Tony, being Tony quickly put two and two together,

“Uh-huh, so you saw it? The suicide thing?”

“The suicide thing?” He frowned at how blasé Tony was being, almost uncaring of how Steve nearly keeled over with worry for his safety just a few minutes ago.

“Look, Cap. I’m sorry, that came out wrong. It wasn’t really like that.”

“Okay, explain.”

I mean, nothing of the sort happened. I didn’t try to off myself. I was on a roll in the lab like usual and I decided to take a shower before calling it a night—or a day, whatever. I fell asleep in the shower, fell and hit my head. Rhodey found me, minutes later when FRIDAY sent an alert to him in panic. My poor girl. Anyway, we were talking about it—well, I was talking, my Honey bear was yelling—while he was patching me up in one of the common rooms because I wanted to watch a movie after, someone, probably an intern, heard Rhodey say I was unconscious and bleeding in the bathroom and then they posted the story on Twitter and Instagram and the media just ran away with it. The usual jig, y’know. Pep’s handling it. No worries.”

Tony usually gets into accidents in the lab or out of it if he wandered after days without sleep. This one was another of those. Good thing Rhodes found him on time. Concussions were nothing to laugh at. The engineer was babbling a mile a minute, which was also a good sign. The man was like a baby that babbled non-stop when happy, wanted something or given more attention than usual. Not that he’d ever say that to the other man, that was a clear invitation for a repulsor blast to the face.

“Sam called the Compound earlier, no one picked up.”

“Oh, that? The press was still rabid and kept pestering HR, so Honey bear said not to take any calls from outside for now, before Pep releases a statement. Or until my head does not feel like stuffed turkey anymore that I could give the statement myself. So I asked FRIDAY to block them.”

“Tony.” Steve sighed, rubbing his forehead. He should’ve known. Tony Stark was going to be the death of him. Fighting aliens, HYDRA and murderous programs were almost child’s play compared to dealing with him.

“Hey, I’m alive. Not that you asked.”

“Yes, I can tell. What, with you mouthing off to me like I did not just see a news report telling me you just decided not to be yesterday.” He shot back, though the relief he felt was reducing the heat in the rebuke immensely.

“Aww, Cap, you miss me. I’m swooning, shall we inform the children?”

“Stark.”

Yes, dear?

Steve chuckled, shaking head. There was no winning against Tony when he was being like this.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Tony.”

“Thank you, Steve.”

“Are you sure that’s just what happened? Nothing else?”

It took a few seconds before Tony answered.

“Tony?”

“Y-yeah, sorry. I was wiping my nose, I’ve never had snot run down my face since I was a kid. Fuck. I’m fine, Cap.”

“Language.”

A low laugh and some rustling came through the line. Tony probably was asleep when he called. Okay, maybe he was only feeling guilty just now, but c’mon Steve was worried, could anyone blame him?

Steve took a deep breath, he did inform Tony about Bucky when he happened to call anyway.  It was normal for us to inform Tony, it’ll be fine.

Tony, we saw Bucky earlier.”

Another pause before Tony answered,

“Oh? What happened, did you finally get him?”

Steve nearly frowned at the almost mechanical tone, Tony must be really sick, better make it quick then.

“Yeah, but, he got past us again. We got his general location right this time, we’re going to scour the area a bit more to be sure. He might be thinking of getting out of here now.”

Tony hummed in agreement before answering,” Okay. If you want I can have FRIDAY run a facial recognition software and get the footage from every camera in the area, in case he does run away.”

Steve almost choked on air at Tony’s offer, “Thank you.” He replied earnestly.  

He breathed a sigh of relief, he made the right call—help Bucky first, then tell Tony.

“Hey, anything for you Cap. I’ll have FRI send you the results as soon as they come in. Take care, okay? Send Feathers my love. Bye.”

“You too. Get well soon. Bye.”

He turned around when he heard Sam knock on his door, “Come in.”

“Well?” Sam inquired, raising a brow.

Steve sheepishly replied, “I called him.”

The other man let out a snort, “That’s what I was about to tell you before you shut your door to my face, jackass. I was going to tell you to call him since we both know he’ll answer you immediately, since it’s pointless to just believe them rags but no, you just assume the worst and dive head first.”

"Sorry."

“Hmph, so how’s the baby?”

“He’s fine, Sam. Nothing serious. Just hit his head in the shower. Rhodes patched him up.” He answered. 

"I knew it." Sam groaned, rubbing his face.

“He sends his love by the way.” Steve said then chuckled at the deadpan look on Sam’s face.

“Yeah, whatever man. Let’s just eat, I’m starvin'." 

 

 


 

 

 “Are you sure that’s just what happened? Nothing else?”

 

Tony contemplated about telling Rogers what actually happened, what it was truly about but he decided against it. This was their little game after all.

 

Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things. Right, Cap?

 

 Ever since he found out about his parents a week ago, before Rogers and Wilson began their yet another globetrotting crusade in the name of Rogers’s precious Bucky, Tony had developed a fascination with the cold. He would be sitting in the shower with the temperature as cold as he could get, the AC in his room and the lab on full blast, sometimes he would get ice packs and clutch them to his chest while at it. Apparently, another load of fuckedupness could neutralize an existing one.

Yeah, he still couldn’t stand to be in the bathtub or a pool without thinking about water filling his lungs, battery acid burning his hands and electric shocks sparking in his chest but, the cold water raining down on him and the cold air seeping into his skin helped keep him calm. He needed that blank numbness. Freezing the chaos in his head, otherwise he might actually fly off the handle and end up exploding on the snakes he had unknowingly been harboring in his home.

It was also a good thing FRIDAY was too young to properly circumvent any protocols in order to tattle on him to Rhodey, Tony was able to pass it off as a freak accident from one of his building binges.

 “Tony?”

“Y-yeah, sorry. I was wiping my nose, I’ve never had snot run down my face since I was a kid. Fuck. I’m fine, Cap.”

“Language.”

A low laugh escaped Tony as he settled more in his bed. My language should be the least of your worries, dearest.

“Tony, we saw Bucky earlier.”

Tony’s fingers tightened on his phone before he answered dispassionately, “Oh? What happened, did you finally get him?”

He frowned at the slip, hopefully Rogers would just chalk it up to him being sick.

 “Yeah, but, he got past us again. We got his general location right this time, we’re going to scour the area a bit more to be sure. He might be thinking of getting out of here now.”

He almost sighed, if one really needed things done, one must do the job on their own. Fine then.

Tony hummed before answering, “Okay. If you want I can have FRIDAY run a facial recognition software, and get footage from every camera in the area in case he does run away.”

 “Thank you.”

The earnestness in those two words was palpable enough that Tony could see it glimmer in the greenish-blue of Steve’s eyes and feel it glossing over his skin.

 That had been my most favorite thing about you.

 “Hey, anything for you Cap. I’ll have FRI send you the results as soon as they come in. Take care, okay? Send Feathers my love. Bye.” He replied, a wan smile on his lips.

“You too. Get well soon. Bye.”

He chucked his phone beside him on the bed and threw his arm over his eyes. “FRIDAY, baby girl?”

“Boss?”

“You heard all that right? Activate protocol Hell Froze Over and find him. Send the results to Rogers.”

“Do we have to? Mr. Rogers can look for him just fine on his own.”

He had to smile, she now learned what sulking was. That must be from monitoring Peter and Harley, most likely Harley though. Peter was effervescence and sunshine personified, without a mean bone in his body (despite being a menace of a prankster) while Harley, (the brat) was all brood, sulk, sarcasm and spite.

Tony had found it weird that FRIDAY, ever since introducing her to the man, would refuse to call Rogers Captain, sticking only to Mr. Rogers  and even going as far as not use any address when conversing with him sometimes so unlike how it was with JARVIS who had taken an immediate liking to Steve.

Seemed like his girl was not into the big, blond and blue eyed, aw shucks types.

 

“That's because those two couldn’t find a new cereal box unless you help them let alone an assassin with the reputation of a ghost, FRI.”

FRIDAY was silent for a second before she answered with what was like a little sigh,

 “True. Right away, Boss.”

"Atta, girl."

 

 


 

 

Blood red, spindly mist played over slender fingers as green eyes opened and stared at the ceiling.  Wanda laid on her bed smiling lazily as she recalled the thoughts she pulled out of Stark’s mind from the other side of the Compound.

It was all going so well. The man was on his way to his own demise. She didn’t even have to do much more than feed Stark’s self-doubt and mistrust towards the team, he'll do the rest. A little slip of blame here and there, and the team would unknowingly cut him down.  A few words and he’d break, escaping and closing himself in his little lab. He had after all, deep down the intellect and bravado, a very fragile mind. She had nearly succeeded with Ultron, if only that robot did not turn out to be as mad and power-hungry as his creator. Now, she just found the perfect point of where to strike. For her home. For her parents. For Pietro.

You will fall, Stark and when you do, it will be the most beautiful thing I will ever see.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Wanda wandered toward the shooting range where she knew Clint would be. She wanted to talk to him for a bit before he left the Compound to be with his family by the end of the week. She would definitely miss the man and she wanted to ask if maybe, she could go with him. Steve, she was certain, wouldn’t mind. She wanted to see little Pietro so badly.

 He was a big chunk of what made the archer dear to her. Clint was a friend, a mentor and almost a father figure even. Not only had the man accepted and made her an Avenger, he also made sure her brother would never be forgotten. In his own way, he cared for her twin too. When he first showed her a video of the giggling baby wearing a onesie embroidered with Pietro’s name—she could not help but throw herself sobbing into the man’s arms.

As she closed the door quietly, she found Clint with one of the Stark boys, the sullen blond—Harley—teaching the younger blond archery. It was unexpected, because the boy had always been almost scathing with his remarks around adults—usually Sam, Clint and Natasha. He mostly ignored Wanda and pretended she didn’t exist. She would usually do the same thing, unless Steve was around, because she could not put her finger on it but, something about the boy bothered her. While he only kept to snarking at the other three, he seemed to harbor a particular dislike for Steve, being downright rude for no reason at all.

Which should not happen because Steve was the man every boy and other men aspired to be like—unless, of course, Stark had already corrupted the boy’s opinion of Steve in his favor. She wouldn’t put it past that man. Steve, on the other hand, was being so patient with the teenager that Wanda thought Steve ought to be beatified for it.

“Don’t bend your elbow, keep your arm straight or you’ll end up with nasty bruises from the string snapping against it.” Clint instructed carefully, another bow in hand to show the boy the correct stance. “Good. Now, release the arrow.”

The boy did as instructed and the moment the arrow hit the target near its center, he turned to her, prompting Clint to do the same.

“Wanda.” Clint called smiling at her, waving his bow “wanna join us?”

“I’m alright, you enjoy yourselves.” she replied, her eyes landing briefly on the boy that only stared back coolly, not even acknowledging that she spoke. Stark’s appalling ways had truly rubbed off on him. “I was wondering if it would be alright to go with you, when you…” she trailed off, knowing that Clint would understand. She was aware that when SHIELD fell, drastic actions had to be taken to keep Laura and the children safe. Thankfully, most of his records, especially the ones about his family were kept off the books (he and Fury had an agreement, apparently) and only a small number of people knew about them—like the original members of the team and Stark’s friend Rhodes, for example. She knew Clint wanted to keep it that way. It was delicate information to be thrown around carelessly, especially in the life they were leading. Families could be seen as weakness and it would get them killed or hurt. Just like what happened to her dear Pietro.

What was most likely a muted snort came from the boy who was pretending to be more interested in picking more suitable arrows from the quiver standing at his feet. Wanda’s attention snapped to him for a moment and was slightly entertaining the idea of fixing him. It wouldn’t be too hard, it will be good for him and everybody else.

“Stop being a jerk, kid.” Clint huffed when he noticed Harley was now glaring at her and reached up, ruffling the boy’s hair. His height was also something he rubbed in the men’s faces, he was only half an inch short of Sam’s height of 5’10” and growing. Arrogance was definitely something he and Stark had in common.

The impertinent brat did not even deign that with an answer, only went to place his bow and quiver on their respective shelves before mumbling about building a ‘star’ with Peter and going out.

Stark’s sons were almost as detestable as he was. This one more so than the other.

“Brat.” Clint grumbled under his breath with a small smile before turning to her, “What’s up?”

As much as she did not like Clint to be spending time with Stark’s little bastards, she knew Clint missed his own children and being around those two lessened some of that, even if one was insolent and spiteful whilst the other had no sense of tact and blathered about nonsense like there was no tomorrow like Stark.

“I was wondering if it’s okay with you…for me to go with you when you go back to the farm?” She asked slowly, picking on the long sleeves of her shirt. “I want to see Pietro.”

Clint’s face melted into that of understanding, “I’m more than okay with it, Wanda. You know that. But, I gotta tell you, you should clear that up with Steve, though. I did ask if I could take you with me but he told me he's thinking of tapping you along with Nat and Sam for a mission.”

“Really? You want to take me with you?” She beamed at him. She didn’t care much for being called for a mission, it was more important to her that Clint was alright with her seeing Pietro. Missions after all, were just something they did all the time.

“Of course. You can’t always be cooped up here and making googly eyes at Vision.” He replied, leveling her with a pointed look.

Heat crept up her neck at Clint’s sudden comment, “Shut up.” She pouted, making him laugh. It was never a secret between them that she was rather fond of the android.

“Hey, young love. Free country, y’know.” He backtracked, shoulders still shaking with laughter, “Ah…speaking of free country. Heard anything about your citizenship application, yet?”

Wanda frowned, she had almost forgotten about that. That was the reason she couldn’t just wander around the city without being accompanied by Clint or the others. “Steve told me he was working on it. He was going to make Stark have the processing of my documents faster.”

Clint nodded as he considered it,“Hmm. If it’s Tony, it’ll be no problem. He can just grease some palms and you’ll get your papers ready.”

About the only thing Stark was good for, then again his money was all from the lives he had stolen, he might as well use them to the benefit of those he stole from.

“I better go find Steve then.” She decided, walking to the door, “I’ll tell you later.”

“Sure. If he’s really making you join the mission, I’ll just drop by and pick you up after you guys come back.”

“Send me pictures, okay?"

Clint gave her a thumbs-up and went back to shooting targets. She laughed and went out in search of Steve.

 


 

 

She made her way to one of the common rooms in hopes of finding Steve but instead found both of Stark’s bastards along with Peter’s friend, building Legos. Peter and Harley both turned to her as soon as she stepped inside the room, Peter standing up and awkwardly greeted her whilst Harley only returned to checking pieces of small, colorful blocks on top of the table with muted disdain slipping into his carefully blank expression.

“H-hello, Miss Maximoff.” Peter grinned as he sat down.

“Hi, Peter.”

"Uh yeah, Miss Maximoff, this is Ned Leeds, my best friend. Ned, meet Miss Maximoff." he introduced the other boy accompanying them. This one was familiar as he would always be around the Compound whenever Peter was here but, she never did care to ask about him, though.

“Maximoff?” Peter’s friend, Ned croaked as he stared at her, “As in Wanda Maximoff? The Scarlet Witch?”

Wanda narrowed her eyes at him—however, the boy only seemed to be surprised to meet her instead of afraid. That’s new.

She gave him a small smile, opting to play along. Not that the boy would have known. “I am she.”

“Wow, nice to meet you, Miss Scarlet Witch. I heard from Peter that you have like these super cool powers! You know, like force fields and lasers and stuff!” Ned babbled excitedly, ignoring Peter yanking on his arm and Harley huffing at his exuberant nattering. She glanced at Peter with a small frown. Information about their abilities should not be something he gossiped about, even with a friend. It'll put them in danger. She’ll have to inform Steve of this and have Peter reprimanded because if it were left to Stark, nothing would ever come of it. He spoiled both Peter and Harley like milk mixed with vinegar, turning them rancid like him.

“Ned’s not going to spread stuff around. He and Peter may have the dumb bitch disease for the most part—“Harley said to her, looking her dead in the eyes.

“Hey!” Peter and Ned indignantly squawked at the same time.

“—but even they know what to do to keep people safe.”

“You’re such a jerk, man.” Ned moped, slumping in his seat.

“Tell me about it. I don’t know why Mr. Stark puts up with him.” Peter agreed, flinging a piece of Lego at the older boy.

“It’s because we’re connected.” Harley intoned to the younger boys smugly and crossing his arms.

 Peter rolled his eyes and then immediately prattled when he remembered Wanda was there, “I’m sorry, Miss Maximoff. I really don’t know what’s up with him today.”

“It’s alright. And it’s Wanda, please. He’s right anyway. About you two knowing what’s important to keep people safe.” She replied giving Peter a saccharine smile. If only Steve wouldn't be mad at her, she'd have taught the brat a lesson he'd never forget.

 

Speaking of Steve, he showed up from the hall a few moments later and gave all four of them a warm grin when as he came over to where they gathered. Steve still seemed a bit tired from his last trip with Sam two weeks ago. The poor man was so stressed about his wayward friend, if only he'd let her help him.

“Hey guys, what are you doing?”

“We were just talking. And I met Peter’s friend.” She answered and turned to the aforementioned friend, “Ned, was it?”

“Yes, ma’am!” the boy nodded, almost preening “Hello, Cap.” He gave Steve a salute that the man indulgently returned.

“Hey, Brooklyn.” Peter chirped and gestured to the table, “we’re just about to finish building the Death Star.”

“The Death Star?” Steve repeated, obviously confused as to what it means which made Harley scoff in quiet disbelief.

“It’s from Star Wars. You know, that movie series Mechanic kept telling you about? The one you also kept telling him you’ll watch but never did?” He drawled with the slightest bit of sneer.

The rest of them froze, Steve looking like someone backhanded him with a cast iron pan before he schooled his face into a neutral expression. The friendly, albeit awkward atmosphere from earlier disappeared like light sucked in by an avaricious black hole.

“Harley!” Peter swiveled to the other boy and snapped, “what is wrong with you?!”

“What? I was just telling the truth. He’d know if he actually did as he said.”

“You didn’t have to be so rude about it!”

Ned tried to get in between them, “Uh, guys..please don’t fight.”

Wanda’s eyes narrowed as she turned to Harley, calling on her powers “You insolent little—“

Steve grabbed her arm before she could even take a step, “Wanda, don’t…it’s fine. He’s just a kid. He didn’t mean it.”

“But, Steve..” the energy inside her did not manage to come out as she turned to him, “he’s being disrespectful to you.”

Steve shook his head at her, “Let it go, Wanda.” And to the impudent brat, “Sorry, Harley… I didn’t mean to make it seem like I was just saying it to get Tony off my back. I got really busy with the missions, is all. Maybe, we all could watch them for the movie night? When Tony gets his schedule cleared before we leave for a mission, we could set it up. I do need to catch up on Tony’s pop culture references after all.” He said with a small reassuring grin.

Wanda felt her fists clench in anger. Why did Steve have to be the one to apologize for this cantankerous imp’s behavior? If anything it should be Harley apologizing to Steve who had been nothing but kind to him despite of his attitude toward the man.

Of course, this was Stark’s bastard, nothing else should be expected when the boy only clicked his tongue, “Whatever.” then turned to Ned, “Fix your side of the puzzle, Ned.” obviously dismissing the both of the adults.

“Uh..y-yeah, okay..” the other boy scrambled to sit on the couch, clearly grateful to have an excuse to avoid the tense atmosphere.

“Quit being dumb! Apologize to Cap and Miss Wanda, now!” Peter suddenly yelled at Harley, grabbing a throw pillow to hit the latter with it. Well, look at that. At least one of Stark’s bastards attained some manners.

“Hey, hey...Peter, it’s alright.” Steve placed a hand on Peter’s arm and took the pillow from him, “He must be having a rough day. We all get that sometimes.”

“But, Cap…he—“

“I know, Queens. But you can’t just hit him, y’know. Even with a pillow. He’s not like you and me, he’ll get hurt.” Steve almost murmured, lightly squeezing the boy’s shoulder.

It was not something everyone talked about but, it was clearly a bit of a sore spot between the boys--Peter being enhanced and Harley being a regular kid. Harley would always gripe about not being able to join missions despite being older and he could handle weapons just fine. Insecurity runs in the family, she mused. It would seem that the boy was a Stark through and through after all.

An inscrutable look flitted over Harley's face before settling to its usual lightly disdainful veneer.

“I—I’m sorry, Cap.” He turned to Steve with mournful big brown eyes. Steve, like all the others whenever Peter did that, promptly melted and ruffled the boy’s hair. That on the other hand, was what Peter learned from Stark. Acting like a pitiful pup and batting his eyelashes to get what he wants.

“It’s okay, Queens. I’m not offended. Get back to your puzzle. I need to talk to Wanda about something.”

With a shaky nod, the boy went back to his task.

Pulling Wanda along with a gentle hand on her arm, Steve threw a distracted, “See you guys later” to the boys and left the room.

She could no longer hear the boys’ chatter when they’ve reached the end of the hall but she could tell they were still within the range of Steve’s enhanced hearing, as shown by his sudden flinch (that he tried to hide from her) like he was slapped in the face with a wet towel. When they have reached the balcony, a long way from the boys, she looked inside Steve’s mind to check what he heard that was enough to gather such a reaction.

 

I can’t believe you, Harley. Why would you embarrass Brooklyn like that?” Peter sighed, “And all because of some movies, really?”

“What did Captain America do to you, anyway? I mean, we should expect that he didn’t know Star Wars ‘cause he’s like…old, but, y’know…” Ned chipped in, “He’s a great guy…c’mon, dude. He’s CAPTAIN. AMERICA.”

“So what do you want me to do? Let the fact that he lies to Tony’s face all this time, slide?”

 

There was something in the tone of Harley’s voice that made Wanda think he wasn’t just referring to Steve forgetting about the movies. He said Steve was lying to Stark all this time. What on earth could Steve possibly be lying to Stark about?

Then it hit her. Could it be? Was it possible that Harley somehow found out about Steve and Stark’s parents? If that was the case, then that would explain why he was so hateful towards Steve and the others. She would have to read his mind later at dinner to confirm that.

“Wanda.” Steve called, “are you still with me?”

“Uh, yeah. Sorry about that.” She replied with a small grin.

“It’s fine. I’m actually sorry about earlier with Harley. I didn’t mean for you to witness all that. He’s a good kid, he just had a hard time dealing with being away from his Mom and sister. Also, he’s a teenager—Tony said teenagers nowadays act like the whole world is their enemy then mellow out when they got older. I guess he would know a thing or two about that.”

Of course, it would always be because of Stark's influence over the children.

“It still does not excuse what he did. If Pietro were here, he would have fed that boy some soap.”

At the mention of her brother, a sympathizing look took over Steve’s eyes, “Wanda—“

She shook her head, “I don’t blame you..”

Stark is the one at fault, if not for him, her Pietro would still be with her.

“He did everything he could to save lives at that time. He died a hero. He was an Avenger.” She continued, looking over to the wide spread of green land in front of them.

“He was.”

A moment passed by when she brought up the reason she was looking for him to begin with, “Steve. I was wondering if I could go see Clint and his family? He said it would be a great for me to be out of the Compound for a bit.” She asked with a small smile.

Steve returned hers with a shaky one and she found her answer, “Stark wouldn’t let me go.”

“No, no. That’s not it, Wanda. I’m sure Tony would agree to that visit, it’s just—“

“Then what? Is it because of my lack of US citizenship? I am a refugee, Steve and my country was destroyed.”

A sigh escaped Steve, “I didn't mean it like that, Wanda." He said holding her hand, "I was just thinking maybe we could postpone your visit for a bit. I got a lead on Rumlow that I've been waiting for, for months and we could really use your help. And it’ll be a good way to see if all our practice will be paid off in the field.”

“Oh." Clint did mention that, she'd forgotten because she was so eager to see Pietro, "Okay..I’ll go with you. Just promise me that as soon we finish the mission you'll let me go with Clint.”

“Of course. That's good then, we’ll be on our way in two days.” Steve patted her head and began making his way to the hall.

“Steve?”

“Hmm?” he stopped and looked back at her.

“About my citizenship...do you have any information on it?”

Steve hesitated for a bit before replying, “I still haven’t heard from Tony. But he did say that he has his team looking into it.”

“You do know that’s just his way of saying he won’t do it.”

“Wanda—“

“You’ll get him to do it, right? You won’t let me get deported, you won’t let them throw me away?” she looked him in the eye, “I don’t want to leave.I don't want be alone anymore.”

Steve closed the distance between them and hugged her, holding her head under his chin, “I promise you, kid. Nothing will happen to you. You’re family. I won’t let them do that to you, Wanda. You’ll stay with us.”

"Promise?"

"Promise."

 


 

 

After her talk with Steve, Wanda went back to her room. She grabbed her phone from her bedside table and texted Clint. She told him about Steve’s arrangement for her visit to his farm and the news about her citizenship. He told her he’d have a room ready for her and sent her a video of Pietro babbling at Laura.

Wanda had replayed the video for the third time, smiling and touching the baby’s face on the screen, when she realized something.

She hadn’t heard people’s thoughts at some points throughout the time she was outside her room earlier.

Hearing people’s thoughts were just something she had to deal with like flies that kept flying around fruit, but she learned to ignore them. They were still there and never really went away but with practice, they ended up being gibberish she could ignore, letting her focus and hone her skills in picking up the thoughts she really wanted to hear.

She thought back to the times she had complete silence earlier, only her own thoughts forming inside her head.

The first one was when she found Clint at the range with Harley, then at the common room with Peter and his friend…her magic did not fully manifest when she called on it earlier too. She was only able to pick up Steve’s thoughts when they left for the balcony…

She sat back up on her bed with wide eyes when she noticed the pattern forming. That inscrutable look she saw earlier came to mind. The reactions to her thoughts and answering them before she could put them into words…

 

No.

It was impossible.

 

Try as she might to deny it, all those instances pointed to it.

Harley Keener, like Peter Parker, was also an enhanced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Clint decided to go back to Missouri earlier instead of the weekend as was originally scheduled.

Good for him.

It would be nice to have that.

Sometimes it made Tony feel a bit envious. Barton had a wonderful family waiting for him at home. Beautiful children and a loving wife that help him put the horrors of fighting for the world he wanted to keep safe for them away from his mind. Tony thought of what his life would’ve been like if he wasn’t Iron Man, if he wasn’t Tony Stark.

Then, he’d look at Rhodey, Pepper, Peter, Harley, Happy, May, FRIDAY, his bots and  then think of Yinsen…of Maya…his mother, Ana and Jarvis, both man and AI.

They wouldn’t be a part of his life if he wasn’t either of those.

It was humbling.

Moreover, even if the circumstances of how some of them became a part of him weren’t ideal, he would always be grateful.


 

Tony was pulled from his maudlin thoughts when he heard Peter arguing with Harley beside him. They were at dinner and everyone attended while Vision was serenely watching over them from a chair and reading a book. It was a pity May and Pepper couldn’t make it. May, because she had to cover for someone else’s shift at work and Pepper was in Japan for a four-day conference. Also, there was still that awkwardness between him and Pepper when they decided to call it quits and just stay friends.

Dinner was a bit weird this time around. For one, it wasn’t the great mishmash of takeout that they usually have but an honest to goodness home cooked meal of beef pot roast and mashed sweet potatoes. Tony was actually joking when he told everyone earlier after arriving from SI that he’d show up instead of staying in the lab if they won’t be having takeout that night. Well, it would be a waste of good food if he didn’t, so he let himself be dragged out of the workshop by two pesky teenagers.

Rogers should really consider opening a restaurant if the superhero gig wasn’t working out for him anymore. Roasting Rogers had a very nice ring to it. Two, Maximoff looked like she was trying to hide that either she was constipated or sucking on a very sour lemon, which was unusual considering she most of the time looked unconcerned about things.

“No, it’s not! What’s so stupid about making my own fighting style?” Spiderling argued, chucking pieces of carrots from his plate at the boy next to him.

“Yes, it is. You don’t have to ask me why I think it’s stupid. It just is.” The older boy calmly replied, leaning back against his seat a bit and using his plate to catch the edible projectiles. “And stop pretending you’re annoyed just to avoid eating carrots, dumbass.”

Rogers sighed before passing the mash to Romanoff who was sitting next to him, “Boys, not at the table. Queens, stop playing with your food and Rose Hill, language.”

“Sorry, Cap.” Peter mumbled while Harley just huffed.

“It’s really great that you’re thinking of developing your own fighting style though, Peter.” Romanoff interjected, immediately dissolving the tension by playing mediator—like usual. “I’m guessing it’s very spider themed?” She gave him a small, almost fond smile.

“Well, er—yeah. Spider-man, y’know. Maybe I can get some tips from the Black Widow? Team Spider and all?”

“Sure. Wanna start tomorrow?”

“Yes!”

“Good luck with that, kid.” Rhodey laughed at Tony’s other side, his mirth increasing when Peter grumbled unintelligibly.

 If Tony didn’t know better he’d say Romanoff was only trying to get the kid to lower his guard down right at the beginning so he’d agree to have her help him and make it easy for her suss out weaknesses in the yet to be developed fighting style. Maybe she was or she wasn’t, no one really knew with the Widow.

“Really?” Tony joined in, leaning over Harley to look at Peter, “Is this from us watching the Immortal Dragon the other night?”

Wilson snorted at that before digging into his second serving of mash after Romanoff passed it on to him, “You wanna be the next Bruce Lee, don’t ya?”

“No?” Peter replied sounding a bit unsure much to the amusement of the adults.

“Yeah, right.” Harley grunted, stabbing at his roast. Brat was even sulkier than usual and it was worrying Tony because who knew what was going on in his head. “You wouldn’t stop yakking about how awesome Jeet Kune Do would be with mixed with Spider attacks.”

“Did anyone hear him say ‘yakking’?” Tony mused out loud much to Peter’s delight and causing Rogers to chuckle.

“I did!” he said to Tony before snickering at Harley, “You talk like an old person, Keener.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Parker, it’s just that my vocabulary is not only consisted of ‘uh…er…umm…well..’ like yours do.”

“You take that back! I don’t talk like that.”

“You actually do, Pete.” Tony chuckled, giving Harley a fist bump. “Anyway, what’s this new amazing martial art going to be called?”

Peter smiled sheepishly before proudly proclaiming, “Spider Fu!”

A second or two and the whole table erupted into laughter except for Maximoff who only gave a slightly deadened laugh and Vision, who just gave them a grin whilst shaking his head.

“Hey!” Peter yelled crossly, pouting at everyone at the table.

“I told you, it sounds dumb! It sounds like ‘Stupid You’!” Harley sniggered

“No, it doesn’t! ‘Stupid You’ is not even valid because we already have a Dum-E and U!” Peter puffed, one of his arms flailing.

“True.” Harley shrugged and turned back to his food.

Tony blinked, that was strange. Usually they would be yelling and teasing each other back and forth to exhaustion. It took Tony two seconds to process what just happened before letting out a yell of his own.

“Hey! You two leave Dum-E and U alone!”

The boys only laughed while he scowled at them, “Damn brats.”

Rogers, of course caught on to that “Language.” He singsonged, smirking at Tony.

“Can anyone please pass the roast?” Rhodey cut in before another argument ensued, his hand already waiting for the platter.

Maximoff, who was beside Wilson, glanced at Rhodey before using her powers to lift and move the platter toward him from the other end of the table. Most of the occupants of the table appeared unconcerned while Tony had swiftly looked away from the red mist flowing from the witch’s fingers to avoid the flashback of unwanted memories. Or he would have if he hadn’t noticed the look of surprise on her face, as if she expected something else to happen.

What was that about?

“Thank you.” Rhodey told her when the platter reached him, before glancing at Tony. He had already told Rhodey of his discomfort with Maximoff randomly using her powers in the Compound, he had told Rhodey of what she did to him after all. Even if his best friend agreed with him, the man was a consummate professional and would not cause a scene at a time like this.

“O-of course. You’re welcome, Colonel.” She replied like her mind wasn’t into it before sneaking a glance at Tony’s way.

He frowned, was there something on his face? He carefully checked his reflection on the side of his knife.

“Nothing. There’s nothing on your face.” Maximoff answered for him and he barely managed to hide his flinch.

He was aware that she couldn’t help hearing what people around her were thinking but he was still wasn’t comfortable with it and when she came to the Compound she promised Rogers that she’d try to control it. Her hearing his thoughts made him feel violated especially considering how they crossed each other’s paths. However, even if they were not exactly close, he could tell that the way she was looking at him now was rather peculiar.

Something was wrong.


 

Maximoff wasn’t one to be afraid for no apparent reason. Sure, there were times she’d been terrified like when they fought Ultron or when Bruce threatened to snap her neck like a toothpick but, there wasn’t anything to be afraid of during a simple dinner. Especially if she was being afraid of him—out of the suit at that. Tony wasn’t egoistical enough to think he could take her on without one. The suit maybe powerful enough to take down aliens, however it wouldn’t be able to withstand powers derived from an Infinity Stone. Hell, she could destroy him even with one.

“Wanda.” He prompted, squinting at her, “Are you, okay?”

She only continued to look at him like she was seeing him for the first time and was getting paler than usual. Okay, now he was getting worried. “Wanda.” He tried again, this time firmer.

Only she seemed not to hear him and instead turned to Rogers, sounding like she couldn’t understand what was happening around her, “Steve, think of something.”

“What?” Rogers, on the other hand, hastily stood up and moved to her end of the table as if seeing her in distress pained him something good. “Wanda, talk to me.”

“Just think of anything, please.”

“What do you mean?”

Vision floated from his perch towards them, “Captain, I believe Wanda wants you to think of something because she wanted to be certain if she could still hear everyone’s thoughts.”

“Why would she want to do that?” Wilson asked, “I mean, you do know that we all know she can read minds, right?”

“What do you mean if she could still hear everyone’s thoughts?” Rhodey followed, already standing up from his seat. “Are you saying her powers are not working correctly?”

“Is she going to be okay? Maybe, she’s not feeling well or something?” Peter—ever the caring one—curiously asked; standing beside Harley, who in turn, looked at Wanda as though she had grown a second head,

“I thought she’s not able to stop hearing our minds at all?” he intoned quizzically with his brows furrowed.

For some reason, the witch’s attention riveted to them and made a move like she was going to lunge at the boys and Tony felt his heart drop and shatter at his feet.

No, no, no, no…

 He, Rhodey and Peter immediately went in front of Harley, who recoiled and tried to make himself as small as possible. Luckily, the grip Rogers had on Maximoff’s shoulders were tight enough to stop her from getting up from her seat.

“Wanda, calm down kid. The boys didn’t mean to be nosy, you’re a teammate. They ‘re just worried about you.” Wilson said, his tone calm but firm, obviously putting his experience as a counselor to use. Thank whatever was out there because outside of Rogers and Barton, she also seemed to listen to him, relaxing a little.  She still looked at the boys searchingly like she was trying to make sense of them, though.

What was she looking for?

“Vision, is there something going on with Wanda’s powers?” Romanoff turned to the android, latching on to the implication that Wanda may have told him something.

Vision glanced inquiringly at Wanda, who nodded, “She had informed me that she was unable to hear thoughts and summon her powers earlier today.”

“Did she tell you what was causing it?” Rogers probed, as though he’d be able to do something about the alleged loss of his little witch’s powers.

“She didn’t. She said however, that she had an inkling as to what it was and was waiting until now to be certain.”

“Wanda, do you know what it actually was?”

The witch only shook her head and replied, her breath shaking “I-I am not sure anymore. Maybe I was mistaken. It happened repeatedly this afternoon, so I thought I had my answer, now my magic is back. I can hear everyone. It must be something else.”

“What? How is that even possible?” Tony questioned, looking at the young woman like he could find the answer if he stared long enough. Although, he really wouldn’t mind if she had no access to their thoughts sometimes.

Wanda sharply glared at him then snarling, her accent thicker than usual “Of course, you would like that I cannot summon my magic! You like seeing me be helpless!”

Every pair of eyes turned between her and Tony then, Rogers talking to her soothingly like she was a child that was throwing a tantrum.

“Wanda, It’s alright. I’m sure he didn’t mean that. Look, you just heard what Tony was thinking, right? You still can, Wanda. You still have your magic, you’re fine.”

“He wants me to lose my powers, Steve.” She bemoaned turning teary, wide eyes at him.

“Tony.” Rogers heaved a sigh, staring at him with disapproval.

“I didn’t mean lose her powers altogether. I just thought that it would be nice to have privacy sometimes.” He carped, waving a hand in their direction.

“It’s the same thing, Tony.”

“What?” Tony breathed incredulously.

“Stop it.” Romanoff cut in, leading them back to the situation at hand, “This is not going to help Wanda at all. Tony, as much as we all like our privacy, it’s not something Wanda can turn on and off at will. What do you think will happen if her powers failed in the field? Wanda can fight yes, but not as much as the rest of us. You can easily knock her out without a suit if she doesn’t have her magic.”

“He didn’t mean it that way, Romanoff. Do you actually think Tony wanted her to be helpless and get hurt in the field?” Rhodey snapped, almost looming at her despite the fact that he was five feet away.

A tense, quiet moment passed after Rhodey fired the question.

 

Figures.

 

Tony already knew the answer, but seeing it laid out bare and in front of him…

It was like a whole colony of fire ants nipping at the jagged pieces of his already broken heart.

It stung.

So much that he had to keep himself in check so tears wouldn’t fall.

He needed to get away.

 

 Tony’s breath left him in a harsh exhale, his eyes jumping to Romanoff, to Rogers and Wilson back to Romanoff then Rogers, “I rest my case.” He raised and waved both his hands before walking out of the dining room. “I’m going to bed. Thanks for the meal.”

“Tony—“ Rogers began but was cut off by Peter.

“That’s enough, Cap.” He said with a feeble smile, his eyes dim with crushing disappointment.

“Queens, I—“

“Drop it.” Harley muttered, sending a vicious glare their way that even Romanoff actually flinched a little.

Rhodey shook his head at Rogers and company before he and the boys began following Tony out of the room, “Tones, wait up.”

 


 

 

Tony was trembling so badly as he walked away from the others, not even stopping for Rhodey and the boys. He swiftly entered the elevator to his lab and slid down against the wall. He wrapped his arms around himself to stop his body from shaking. He could feel tears running freely down his face. Damn it. He needed the cold. Freezing the chaos, freezing the chaos, freezing the chaos…

 

Four years and still deemed unworthy.

Iron Man, yes. Tony Stark, not recommended.

I know guys with none of that worth ten of you.

Sometimes my teammates don’t tell me things.

 


 

 

After Stark and his followers went out of the dining room, Steve sent Wanda back to her room.

“It’s not your fault, Wanda. You were scared. I’ll go talk to Tony in the morning.” He ruffled her hair before helping Sam and Natasha with cleaning up. Vision walked her back to her room.

“I am glad you are alright, Wanda. If it’s alright with you, I need to talk to Mr. Stark for a moment.” Vision calmly told her as they stopped near her bedroom door.

“Viz, you heard Steve. He’ll talk to Stark in the morning. I’m sure Stark won’t appreciate it if you go see him now, even if you’re worried about him. He’ll get over it eventually.”

“Wanda.  I agree with you that we need to give him time, but you also have to remember. You are not the only one whose feelings got hurt in this scenario. In a conflict, we need to hear both sides before we choose the next course of action. We look for a middle ground.”

“Viz. Just talk to him in the morning.” She pleaded, looking at him with big, green eyes.

“Alright. I will.”

Wanda smiled at him, “Would you like to watch a movie with me?”

“That would be wonderful however, you had a rather stressful day. You need to rest." he said, turning slightly away from her. "I won’t keep you. Goodnight, Wanda.”

Her smile dimmed before she replied.

“I see. Good night.”

Vision gave her a grin before phasing through the walls.

Chapter Text

Peter was walking with Harley out in the yard after the disaster that was dinner.

Harley was picking and throwing random stones at the perfectly manicured lawn. He seemed so upset and Peter knew it wasn’t just because of Mr. Stark locking himself in the lab.

“Alright.” He sighed, “Out with it, Keener.”

Harley looked at him confused like he just told him his Potato Gun Mk II was going to be auctioned at a junk yard, “What?”

“Don’t try to treat me like I’m dumb, bro.” he snapped, “We both know I’m not. Something’s bothering you and it’s not just Captain America being a jerk to Mr. Stark.”

“You know that he’s always been a jerk to the Mechanic.”

“Nice one.” He shot back sarcastically, “Stop trying to distract me, dude.”

Harley only looked at him for a moment before glancing at the Compound, “You’re right.”

“See? I told you—“

“I will tell you, but not here.”

“What? But, why?”

“Just trust me.”

“Okay, you’re acting weird. Weirder than usual, I mean. You’re actually asking me to trust you and—“ he joked.

“Do you want to know or not?” Harley ground out.

He raised both of his palms in surrender, “Okay, okay…but lemme just get this straight. Is this about Miss—“

“Zip it, Parker. I told you not here.”

Peter awkwardly began rubbing the back of his neck, “Fine…where to, then? And how are we going to get there?”

Harley just gave him a smirk before looking at the direction of the Compound’s garage.

Oh, God.

He shouldn’t have asked.

Harley. Driving.

It was that Saturday afternoon all over again, when Mr. Stark tried to teach Harley how to drive around the Compound, with Peter in the backseat. He and Mr. Stark couldn’t so much as look at a car for two days without nausea acting up. Apparently, even his spider sense of equilibrium was no match against Harley’s maniacal driving skills from the Underworld.

He shuddered, making Harley frown.

“Chicken shit.”

“Can we just web sling to wherever we’re going?” Peter whined, deciding not take the bait.

“I’m not going to cling to you while you throw us all over the city, Peter.”

“It’s safer!”

“How the hell is swinging 20-storeys high from one building to another safer than being in an actual car?!”

“That’s because you’re not driving!”

If anything the scowl on Harley’s face just deepened before sighing, “We’re getting sidetracked. Fine. We’ll just call for a cab.”

 

Thank God for small mercies.

 


 

Harley Keener didn’t know when he decided to trust Peter Parker.

 

Out of everyone in the Compound, the only one he trusted was the Mechanic and Colonel Rhodes. It was probably because Peter was the only one his age, the rest were grownups—Vision may only be a few years old but he was wise beyond his years and the witch was an adult no matter how much Steve Rogers calls her a kid.

He could say it was because he missed being around his sister and he also had wanted a brother for a long time. Maybe it was even because he was still looking at the door back home in Tennessee waiting for a father that would never come back, even if he knew he shouldn’t. Not for a man like that. When he met Tony, the man gave him a real father and a brother at the same time.

He trusted Tony Stark with his life. And since Tony trusted Peter Parker with his, he decided he would too.

 

“Stop here.” He told the driver, pulling out a few bills from his pocket and handing it over.

“I seriously need to know how you always get to have extra cash.” Peter mumbled as they got out of the cab.

They walked for a bit before turning into an alley.  The lot behind where the alley ends was a junkyard that spanned for at least two apartment buildings.

“Saving, you should try it. And stop spending too much money on sandwiches.” He replied as he jumped over the fence of the junkyard, Peter following suit.

“Those are the best sandwiches in Queens. Not just in Queens, the best sandwiches. Like, ever.” Peter took in the sight of the junkyard, “Why are we in a junkyard, though?”

“You’ve clearly never had a Tennessee barbecue sandwich. They’re the stuff of legends.” Harley answered, ignoring the question and walking further into the yard.

“Yeah well, I’ll believe you when you bring me one.”

“I wouldn’t even bring the Mechanic a tuna sandwich, what makes you think I’ll bring you one?”

“Jerk.”


 

 

When he felt that they were concealed enough by the mountains of thrashed cars, Harley sat on one of the cars’ hood and turned to the other boy.

“Remember the time Tony tried to teach me how to drive?”

Peter snorted before doing the same, sitting on the hood of the car opposite him, “Don’t I ever. Mr. Stark was grateful it was only in the Compound, we wouldn’t know what to do if it was in a public space.”

Harley chuckled, “And you nearly passed out right? Spider equilibrium not working?”

Peter frowned, gears already turning in his head “Y-yeah. It actually freaked me out because it never happened before.”

He nodded before giving the other boy another push, “Then the witch…” he trailed off.

Peter’s eyes bugged out of his head as he jumped up from the car’s hood, “W-wait…what?! That was you?! H-how, w-when? But she was using her powers earlier, right? Is that why she kept looking at you?!”

“Which one do you want me to answer first?” he deadpanned. Peter and Tony both talked in miles per minute that sometimes sarcasm was the only way to get them to slow down.

“Uhmm…the when and how?” the other boy said, tilting his head a bit.

“Okay. I have several ideas on how it works.” He said leaning back a bit on the car’s hood, “I can’t tell you exact details of how I got it, though. It started to actually show when I moved into the Compound. You have your spider sense when something bad is about to happen right? It’s like the same thing. When I was a younger, I can just sense stuff. Like the time Tony broke into our garage…then hearing stuff like someone’s whispering in my ear. It started around the time my dad got really trashed at the pub then beat me and my mom up. That was the day before he took off and left with the shitty excuse of buying scratchers.” he glanced at Peter to make sure he was listening.

He was.

 “I told my mom about it. She took me to a kiddie shrink and the dude just said it was expected of a kid my age, imaginative and stuff. And there was the bullying at school, the doctor said it was giving me anxiety on top of the one my dad gave me. The IQ just amped it all up; it made sense at the time, so we followed the doctor’s orders and signed me up for therapy ever since. Medications they had me on came after a few years though.”

“They had you on medication?” Peter asked, “So you stopped? Did that happen before or after you got to the Compound?”

“A couple of months before I moved here. I never actually told Mom or the Mechanic about it. The meds weren’t working anymore so I stopped, but kept pretending they still did. The dosage had increased twice in a span of months. I was already taking more than I should, I don’t want to risk it by adding more and stopped taking them. That’s when I realized the meds we’re keeping me doped up, like muting everything I sense and that what I told my Mom before was really happening.”

“Okay. So we got the when, mostly… your dad is a shithead, by the way. But, that doesn’t explain the blocking thingy.”

“Think of your spider-sense. It’s almost the same. When you recognize that danger is near, what do you do?”

“Check it out. I’m a superhero, it’s kinda my job.”

Harley rolled his eyes heavenward. They’re not going to make it anywhere, “Okay, let’s just put away the superhero gig first. When you’re in danger, what do you do? Let’s say someone is going to shoot at you.”

“I sense them.”

“And?”

“I stop them.”

There. Good, now they’re getting somewhere.

“So you stop them right? I think it’s what I do. I just do it on instinct mostly, I guess. I never had much practice and the Compound is risky so I try to do it here.”

“Oh, you’re like blocking our powers or something! And that too! You’re practicing on your own, that’s why you always quote unquote, go to the library! Lame excuse, man.”

“Yes.” Harley agreed, letting the insult slide for now. “I just unconsciously do it though most of the time. I don’t really think about it on the spot. I only notice when it was already happening.”

 “You’re a psychic! You have mind powers like Miss Wanda! This is awesome! You can be with us on missions and you’re going to like block enhanced bad guys and we’ll win much easier!” Peter exclaimed grinning excitedly.

“If I joined missions and ‘blocked’ the enhanced that would also include you, dork. I told you, I can’t control it that well. I blocked your spider balance, remember?”

Epiphany clouded Peter’s eyes then he frowned, “Oh. Right.”

Harley shook his head fondly, a smile playing on his lips. When he said he wanted a brother, he didn’t mean one that was equal parts genius and dumb. Then again, his chosen father figure was the same, so he really had no room to complain.

“That still doesn’t explain Miss Wanda though. She isn’t a threat to us, she’s an Avenger so why were you blocking her?”

“She is, believe me.” He said, nodding sagely at Peter.

“How can you—“

“Before we get to that, let me finish. For example, you know that someone with a knife is in the kitchen, chopping veggies, are they a threat?”

Peter tilted his head with a confused frown on his face “No. They’re in the kitchen, not doing anything but chopping veggies. I mean, my spider senses won’t get all freaked out because of it. So, no, not a threat.”

“But they still have a capacity to be a threat, right? They have a weapon, which is the knife, you know that they can harm someone with that. So you’ll still be careful, even if they don’t intend to use it on you.”

“You mean, like how a serial killer could be hiding in plain sight and they give you the heebie jeebies, and…oh.”

Harley raised his brows.

“Oh! You sense those that can be a threat and immobilize them before even had a chance to be an actual threat! So that’s why you keep asking about my spider sense, they’re almost the same! You sense how something could be a threat even if not actually against you and you stop it when it got close. While I sense the threat when it’s mostly against me and my surroundings shortly before they happen and then I stop it.” Peter nodded in understanding. Then he turned to Harley, “Wait, if it only works on threats, why did you block my spider balance during that drive around the Compound then?”

“That was around the time I started to actively mess with it. Had no idea what it could and couldn’t block yet. I didn’t know it was going to work on you, I wasn’t even planning on doing that.”

 “Okay, you’re forgiven. Then all this means that if you know someone can hurt you, you’ll block the ways on how they can? That’s really cool! If we think about it, it fits the whole anti-social personality.”

“That’s not what you were saying when you were thinking about my driving skills earlier.” Harley grumbled under his breath before adding audibly, “It’s not convenient. Let’s say I go with you guys on a mission, if I can’t control it, I would be putting everyone in danger because I might end up sensing everyone in the field and incapacitating them.”

“Right, control...we have to work on that. Wait, speaking of being in the field, how ‘bout the range? How far can you reach with that?”

“20 meter radius, I guess? Give or take.”

“Good. How about the whispering thing? That means you can read minds too, right?”

“You mean like how I know that you’re thinking of what Liz is going to say right now, if you could tell her, even if you’re trying to process everything that I’m telling you? Yeah.” He shrugged.

“That’s right—hey! No mind reading!”

“Psh. You asked.”

“Anyway, during dinner, Miss Wanda said she could hear everyone now. That includes you right? How did that happen?”

“I can’t say for sure. I was just thinking of how I had to stop blocking her without getting noticed. You know that feeling when you’re peeling a sticker off and you have to be careful that it doesn’t rip in half or leave adhesive behind? It’s like that.”

“You didn’t get noticed”. And your acting was Oscar worthy too. Peter replied rolling his eyes, when he remembered how Harley ‘flinched and hid behind him’.

“Thanks. I take pride in my acting skills.”

“You’re mind reading again! I didn’t say to actually do it! And besides, you can like avoid that right? I mean you did it to Miss Wanda.”

“I can stop people like her from doing it to me and others around me, but not necessarily stop myself from doing that to them. It’s like a one-way mirror.”

“That’s cheating.” Peter scowled, crossing his arms.

“It’s called advantage.” Harley snapped, “Besides, do you actually think I like hearing about how the witch would like to fix me for everyone and how she calls us the Stark bastards?”

“Wait, what? That’s not nice!”

“She never was. Do you think I also like hearing about how Barton and Wilson thinks it’s nice that Tony pays for everything and upgrades their gear for free? How the Widow kept looking for ways to make sure she can twist the Mechanic into doing as she wanted, mostly by rubbing his nose into that ‘not recommended’ crap she wrote for SHIELD?”

“No.” Peter whispered, looking defeated “B-but…why? Why are they like that?”

“Because they’re jerks, that’s why. Don’t even get me started on Rogers.” He snarled, just thinking about how that two-faced son of a bitch was lying about everything to Tony was pissing him off.

Peter didn’t say a thing though, only looking around them with wide eyes, “H-Harley..”

 


 

He wanted to crush the man, pull him apart into tiny pieces before completely pulverizing him.

“Shit. Harley, bro…snap out of it—gah!” Peter yelped as he ducked, shielding himself from the sudden rain of metallic powder.

He didn’t even notice that he swatted the large amount of the grainy debris falling on him away, looking only at his brother in horror, “Oh, God. I-I’m sorry. I-I..I didn’t mean to...Oh, my God.”

Peter immediately jumped up and moving closer to him, “Hey, man. I’m okay. You know we never got to that part that you can actually pulverize things.”

The humor fell flat, and Harley only shook his head, “I didn’t even know I could do that. I usually just try to move them when I’m here.”

“Well, at least now we know. We could—“

“You don’t understand! I could’ve killed you! I’m dangerous, like her! I-I’m going to end up killing the Mechanic too. A-and the Colonel, Miss Potts…everyone..” He almost wailed, hugging himself.

 

What would happen if Tony found out about this?

He hated the witch, if he found out about Harley, he’ll hate him too.

And the secret about Tony’s parents…if he found out Harley knew he’s going to throw him away or leave him behind.

Like his father did.

 

“HARLEY, SHUT UP!” Peter yelled, shaking him, “You didn’t kill me, okay? You’re not going to kill Mr. Stark and the others.”

“But—“

“Hey, I’m sorry for yelling. Y’know, I’m not really supposed to be yelling at someone close to having a panic attack but, it worked on you. So...listen, okay?” Peter gave the older boy a nod before letting him go and they both sat on the ground, swiping away some of the metal dust.

“Look, having great power comes with great responsibility. The Avengers, HYDRA, even the people in the street…every one of us had abilities that could help keep the world safe or destroy it. It’s for us to find out how are we going to use it—and I know, you don’t want to go supervillain right? You don’t really care much about fighting and stuff no matter how much you complain about not being allowed in missions? So, no supervillain gig. And you like Mr. Stark a lot too. You said, he’s like your new father now and people think we’re his sons. That totally makes us brothers, y’know. I like having you as my brother and you like being my brother too, right? We could be like the Team Spider Brothers. That’s sounds legit. You don’t want to fight me too, right? ‘Cause let me tell you, the way you turned these cars to dust, it’s pretty scary…and I don’t think you wanna fight Mr. Stark too, yeah? So—“

“You suck at this psychology crap, Parker.  And why the hell are we Team Spider Brothers if only one has Spider powers? ” Harley groaned, rubbing his forehead.

“I’m just trying to help you, man.”

“Not gonna lie, you had me at the first two sentences.”

“I’m not really good at pep talks like Cap.”

 “Yeah, I know. Thanks. I’m just really….scared.”

“Of what? Dude, you have like amazing powers, I think you can even fight Miss Wanda given time.”

“I don’t want to be like her.”

“You don’t want to be an Avenger? Why?”

“No, not that. I don’t want to use my powers for sick reasons like manipulating people’s minds and emotions so they will kill each other.”

“You mean…like what happened during Sokovia?”

“How did you know about that?”

“I kinda overheard Mr. Stark and Colonel Rhodes talking about it.”

“Colonel’s gonna bite your head off.”

“Please stop. You might end up invoking that to life.”

A chuckle came out of both of them.

“I just don’t want the Mechanic to hate me.”

“Why would he hate you? I think he’ll be happy for you if he finds out—“

“Will he?” Harley cut in, distractedly running his hands through the metallic dust beneath them, “I’m almost the same as the witch. I was fine with just being able to block danger and lifting stuff, but to actually go into people’s minds and destroy things? It’s scary because, what if I lose control? Like just now, what if it wasn’t just the cars and you ended up like this too? I always hear Rogers thinking about how the witch destroyed things because she can’t control her powers. She hurt Tony before using them, he’s always hiding it but I don’t have to read his mind to know that he gets scared when she uses her powers. You saw what happened at dinner right? He doesn’t like her looking into his head. I can stop her, but I can’t stop myself from that. If I think about what would happen if he finds out about this, all I can see is how he will look at me with fear like he does with her, maybe some disgust that he actually is keeping something like me in his home.”

“He’s not going to hate you, Harley. You’re not harming people, you didn’t even know you’re blocking Miss Wanda in the beginning. If she was really trying to…” Peter gulped, like that idea was suffocating, “fix you, you have every right to protect yourself. Mr. Stark is not going to hate you for that.”

“Maybe, but if he finds out that I know about—“ Harley bit his tongue, stopping himself.

“About what? What is it?” Peter prompted, looking like an overeager puppy.

“No. I accidentally found out about it when we were working on your web fluid formula at the workshop…I want to tell the Mechanic that I know, but it would also mean that I have to tell him how I did…”

“And what you found out is not something that you should share.” Peter completed the thought for him, “I understand. So what do we do?”

“I will tell Tony about what I found out and how. I don’t know if I could talk to him later in the shop, since we can’t get in, he disabled our override codes. I’ll try tomorrow.”

Hopefully, before Rogers dumps more of his bullshit at the Mechanic.

“Sounds great. Want me to go with you?”

“No, it’s cool. We could talk it out. Maybe, he’ll yell at me the whole time and then we’ll tell you when we get things worked out after we talked.”

Peter chuckled at the image, “That’s settled, then. Now, how about your powers though? What are we going to do about it?”

Both their heads snapped to the wall behind Peter before they quickly scrambled into standing up just as an orange glowing circle appeared.

“That, is what we’d like to ask you boys about.” A voice replied as the glowing circle grew bigger.

“The hell?” Harley muttered, backing away from it.

“Holy shit!” Peter added, grabbing his head with both his hands when they saw two dudes came out of the portal.  “Is that a real portal?”

 


 

 

The taller man with the cape, smirked, “I’m Doctor Stephen Strange, Guardian of the New York Sanctum.” gesturing to his companion, a rather scary looking Asian man “This is Wong, one of the Masters of the Mystic Arts.”

“Did you guys just really came out of that portal?!” Peter squeaked, trying look at the still opened portal behind the men, “Are you guys wizards? Like Harry Potter? Which one of you wields the Elder wand?”

Harley just closed his eyes in defeat, when both of the men frowned. “Peter...”

“We can’t stay here, I’m afraid.” The man with the cape, Strange said, waving a hand to the portal behind him, “We can talk about this in the Sanctum.”

“How do we know you’re not going to do anything to us?” Harley snapped. Like hell, they’d go with these clowns that easily.

“Mr. Keener, I assure you. We have no intention of hurting both of you.” Strange told him calmly, then added with a wince, “That’s why I think you should stop trying to incapacitate me.”

The bald man glowered and immediately came forward, wrists glowing orange.

Both boys tensed, these guys mean business.

“Harley, stop it. I don’t think they’re really going to hurt us.” Peter whispered.

“We don’t know that!” Harley hissed, though he did stop the attack on Strange. How the man noticed he didn’t know. It was also the second time he tried blocking a person, other than the witch, this time more deliberate. If the man can actually resist, how the hell were he and Peter going to escape?

“If they were going to, they should have done so as soon as they came out of the portal.”

 Sharing a look with each other, they gave the wizards a nod before following them into the portal.

If we end up dead, Parker, I’m going to sue you from beyond the grave.

Peter jolted, looking at him “Wha—“

Just think. Don’t say anything.

O-okay, yeah. Fingers crossed that we live through this. This is weird, though.

Strange only glanced at them with a small smile. Harley scowled, this guy could actually hear them.

I admit I can only do it when I feel the need to, unlike you Mr. Keener. My capabilities in the realm of the mind are not as expansive as yours are. Unless, we are considering surgery.

Surgery? Wait, are you an ACTUAL doctor?

Strange did not bother to elaborate on that. When the portal closed behind them, they were in the lobby of what seemed to be a retro styled apartment building. The men brought them to a sitting room with the scary Asian man, Wong, going somewhere before returning with a tray of orange juice and tea along with, surprisingly, a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

“We don’t really get guests as young as you two. Thus, I’m afraid we don’t have snacks you might find more enjoyable, but, I believe cookies are universally liked, so please, help yourselves.” Strange smiled at them, motioning to the tray as the scary dude handed him a cup of tea.

Tea at night.

 Huh.

Peter was already munching on a cookie when Wong handed Harley a glass of juice before he sat down near Strange.

“We detected a great surge of energy from that junkyard earlier.” Wong, said with a no-nonsense tone, his gaze slicing into both of them, “Caused quite a disruption in the flow of forces surrounding the Sanctum.”

 “It was my fault.” Harley said, immediately jumping in the line of fire, looking at both men “I got really angry about something earlier and lost control. I didn’t mean to.”

“No need to be afraid, we don’t want to hurt you. We’re merely there to investigate.” Strange replied and began making another portal to the junkyard, showing the damage to the boys. “You did all this?”

“He didn’t hurt anyone.” Peter answered, fidgeting beside Harley, “It was only the abandoned cars.”

“The cars only or no, having no control over abilities like this is dangerous.” Wong said.

“I know. That’s where our problem lies, Mister Wizard.” Peter grumbled before turning pleading eyes to Strange, “Please, Mister Doctor. We really weren’t hurting anybody. And what happened earlier was an accident, to tell you the truth, before you guys arrived we were planning on how we’re going to work on it—“

“We believe you, Mr. Parker.” Strange interjected, not unkindly, as he closed the portal “As I said, we’re not here to hurt you. We’re here to help you actually.”

“You know who I am?” Peter asked in surprise, “but, how?”

“A web-slinging boy always leaves sandwich wrappers on our roof when his patrol leads him to this area. I make it a point to keep every area of the Sanctum clean.” Wong proclaimed with a huff as Peter began stumbling over his apologies.

“How did you find us?” Harley decided to ask, having enough of the chatter.

Strange and Wong shared a glance with each other before Strange answered, “As Wong mentioned earlier, a surge of energy disrupted the forces that surrounded the Sanctum. Any disturbances can be a threat to the forces keeping our world’s balance. As such, the Masters of the Mystic Arts are tasked to make sure the equilibrium is not disturbed. We followed lingering traces of the energy that came in contact with the forces around the Sanctum and found you both.”

“Did we cause trouble?” Peter asked shakily.

“No, not really. We usually do a reinforcement of the forces around the Sanctum that’s why we stumbled upon the disturbance.”

“You mean like a system bug?”

“Something like that.”

“Wait, bugs get eliminated. If we do happen to be making your software really laggy and show those errors like in the ancient Windows ’95, then you’re going to eliminate us?!”

“Let’s just say that we’re thankful you’re not the bugs we had expected.” Strange answered cryptically as he sipped his tea.

“You said something about you going to help us.”

“And we are.” Wong said, taking a cookie for himself after placating Peter’s stream of ‘I’m sorry’.

“How? You’re not going to take me to some faraway land like Timbuktu, are you?”

Brief silence ensued before the men blinked and then chuckled.

“It would be up to you, if we should.” Strange said after clearing his throat, “We’ll be honest with you two, I have already told you that your abilities in the realm of the mind are far more expansive than mine, Mr. Keener. As such, amplifying them would not be our main concern, it will come to you over time. What we would be after will be control and precision. These are areas we can help you with for the Mystic Arts rely on both.”

“So, making his powers stronger is not something you can do?” Peter joined in holding his own glass.

“One cannot actually just randomly increase someone else’s potential, Mr. Parker. No matter how much guidance was given, it all boils down to the person’s own will to improve and further that potential within them.”

Wong snorted, “Ain’t that the truth.”

Strange only gave Wong a bemused glare at that.

“I’m fine with that. It’s what we really want to figure out after all.” Harley agreed, “So what do we do?”

“I will need to know what areas of your abilities have you tapped into, aside from manipulating objects and that attempt to incapacitate me earlier.”

Harley winced, ducking his head “I usually just lift them, don’t know what happened earlier.

“That’s fine. We’ll figure it out.”

“Like a check-up?” Peter quizzically butted in, “Are you actually a doctor?”

“Yes, I was. I was a neurosurgeon before.” Strange smiled, continuing, “Well?”

“He can read minds and semi-unconsciously block powers.”

Strange and Wong turned to each other before facing the boys.

“Did you say semi-unconsciously block powers?” Wong looked at them like he was seeing a newly discovered specie.

“On whom have you used it?” Strange asked, like he was already putting things together.

“The Witch.” Both boys answered at the same time then Peter adding, “She wasn’t aware of what was happening though.”

“The Sokovian woman? I’m under the assumption that she has mostly the same abilities as you, Mr. Keener. As seen from footage of the missions she took part in. Being part of the Avengers, she had more experience in exploring her powers. However, that is not to say she has great control over them. But, to actually be able to put a psychic inhibitor in her mind without her noticing and doing so mostly on instinct… ”

“It would make sense that he could, seeing as her abilities are not as pure as his.” Wong supplied, “Hers are a corrupted form of the Mind Stone’s energy, not actually hers. She may have a gift for it though, considering she was able to wield it.”

“Pure?” Harley repeated. These guys were losing him quick.

Ain’t that something.

“Remember what I said about potential earlier? Every person has potential. Manifestation of such potential varies in either form or magnitude. I was an ordinary man so was Wong, no ability to conjure portals or anything at all before we came to Kamar-Taj. In there, we learned that we do have potential or a gift you could say, for the Mystic Arts even without knowing about it all our lives. Mr. Parker’s potential had been magnified by the spider bite—“

“How did you know that?” Peter gasped.

“—like the three of us, you too, have potential Mr. Keener and it’s from within.”

“Are you actually telling me I was born with this?”

“How did you know about the bite?”

“Let’s put Steve Rogers as an example. We all know that he was not initially as we see him now, the serum given to him only brought out the potential he already had to begin with. Mr. Parker, all in due time, you don’t have to worry your secret is safe with us.”

“O-okay.”

“So basically, everyone’s potential take on different forms like Peter’s spider thing and my mind powers and how they come out also depends?”

“Yes, Mr. Parker’s was pushed forth by the bite, Steve Rogers’s by the serum. Now do you know when did these abilities start making themselves known?”

 

Of course. It would always run a full circle to his dad.

 

“I, I get it now.”

“Good.” Strange said and stood up, “I’m afraid we have to send you back. Your guardians must be worried.”

“You’re going to send us back to the yard?” Peter asked around the cookie between his teeth, thankfully intelligible enough.

“Even better,” Wong said, conjuring a portal in the middle of the room, “We’re sending you both home to the Compound.”

Strange handed them both a card, “This is my number, give me a call when you decided you want to start with training. We will make a portal for you two at the Compound.”

“I’m included?” Peter squeaked, “I can do some mind power training too?”

“Not quite, Mr. Parker. But, we could work on your sensing abilities further.”

“Really? Sweet!”

They both thanked Strange and Wong then stepped into the portal, arriving at the Compound in seconds. With a last wave to both of them, the wizards started to close the portal and bidding them good night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Tony was going over the schematics of his new armor, after he had calmed down courtesy of the freezing shower and the ice pack he hugged while sitting on shower floor, thinking of how he could improve the new suit. He was trying to come up with ways to boost the mobility of this one like he did with Shotgun and Casanova, but not sacrifice the endurance for heavy hits Hulk Buster and Igor had and without adding extra bulk to the whole suit’s frame. He also needed the firepower the Mark XLV had, after all it was the basis of the new one’s main framework. He could gather what he need from the other five and splice it with Mark XLVI.

He had been scrapping design after design for hours and he didn’t know for how long he had been in the lab after that sham of a dinner, for all he knew it could be morning already.

The universe must have taken a bit of pity on him because FRIDAY alerted him two hours into his freezing induced engineering binge that Rogers and the others had suited up and left for their mission. Apparently, Rogers got a call from his informant that Rumlow was going to resurface the day after tomorrow (their scheduled day of departure) thus decided to move out early. Trust those guys to just go and disappear without so much as a note to inform him—he had only managed to wryly shake his head when FRIDAY showed him the log for the Quinjet. Well, he had walked out on them and set the lab in both lockdown and blackout so he could probably give them this—again.

 On the bright side, that meant he would not be seeing Rogers camped outside of the lab later in order to talk to him. The last thing he wanted right now was to (further) increase his dependence on the cold because his immune system was starting to twig to the fact that it couldn’t actually handle the cold that much no matter what his distressed mind says.

He waved yet another design away from the holoscreen and looked back on the mess that happened at dinner, sipping his coffee. He would’ve tried to use logic and rationalize how he handled the situation, but when he remembered Rhodey and the boys, all the logic just crumbled like a bad line of code.

Rhodey, Tony knew would understand. James Rupert Rhodes had been his rock for decades, his whole damn life would not be complete without the man and he knew Rhodey was stronger than anything life can throw at them both and more. He had seen Tony at his absolute worst and lowest, been around the Avengers enough to see through the glamour of heroism and camaraderie that hid the flaws in their team. Tony could tell it hurts Rhodey to see all of what hides underneath, but loved Tony too much to tell the billionaire to stop doing something he knew made Tony feel like he had done something for good.  A notion, which led him to remember something Pepper once said.

During a simple lunch in her office, after another disagreement with Steve that had Tony  seeking a different refuge, Pepper’s eyes were filled with tears as she told him, that being an Avenger, to Tony, was an addiction of the worst and most fulfilling kind. That’s why he kept coming back irrespective of how it was hurting him. Hearing that from one of the people he loved the most and her crying for it, was a thousand times worse than having his chest ripped open without anesthesia. Nevertheless he wouldn’t, couldn’t, blame her for it because she was right, and he needed to hear that truth he would always turn the other cheek to. Rhodey and Pepper had already told him that he could always help in different ways, but after Afghanistan, Obie, New York and Ultron, they both knew why Tony just couldn’t give up.

 That, and because they also believed in what Tony stood for, they made certain that they would be in Tony’s corner and supporting him like always. Even if Tony, technically, wasn’t an Avenger anymore and was just relegated to the tech guy who also happened to run the Avengers’ bed and breakfast. He was being selfish hurting them both like this and he could never hope to repay them both for everything but he would try his hardest to keep the world safe for them too.

Tony was confident he could face anything with Jim Rhodes and Pepper Potts supporting him, yet all that confidence left him when what he saw when he caught sight of the boys before he got out of the dining room flitted into his conscious. The heartbreak in Peter’s eyes and (yet another) betrayal in Harley’s had truly wracked him with guilt and slowly, viciously shredded him to pieces.

“FRI, baby girl. Can you please check on the boys? See, if they’re asleep. I kinda spooked them earlier. They tend to stay up late watching movies or playing video games to distract themselves when things get uncomfortable.”

Damn it all.

He had no problem with them rubbing it in his face that they don’t and could never trust him, he had mostly accepted it. It was writing on the wall. It was already there just below the surface of the arguments in the helicarrier during New York, the fall of SHIELD spelled that out in the open, Ultron underpinned it and Wanda being here instead of Bruce was the final nail in that hypothetical trust’s coffin. As Rogers and the others continued to shovel dirt over it, did he mourn?

Always.

Would he be able to keep on fighting in spite of that?

could so long as it kept the world safe.

But for them to show that lack of trust in front of Peter and Harley?

Rogers may as well have given him a one-two punch to the sternum with all the power of the serum behind each blow before driving his shield into Tony’s chest. They all knew how the boys looked up to the Avengers—Peter much more than Harley—and yet, they made it clear that they had no reservations with tearing down the boys’ belief in the bonds of the team. That the Avengers were what everyone and the movies made superheroes out to be—group of individuals brought together to save the world and would never let any member of the team down whilst in their quest to keep everyone safe. It was an illusion Tony wanted to keep for the boys. He still wanted them to believe in their heroes and know that they could be heroes on their own too.

Just like how I felt when I was a kid, whenever I hear about—

No.

Don’t think about him now.

 However, Rogers and the others didn’t seem to share his sentiments. They would wipe away the illusion regardless of consequences, if it meant Tony stayed put in the place they allotted for him. It was all Tony’s fault.

Rhodey may have been the one who lit the match that made the ugly truth explode in one of the nastiest ways Tony had known that someday it would, but still. There was a part of him, the one that never really went away, that also believed in heroes. He had expected—prayed, even—that Rogers would at least try to prove him wrong. That he would try to prove them wrong. That he would be willing to dispel the doubt the others had for Tony so the illusion would still be there and Tony could shield the boys from the devastation.

That naïve and self-centered part of him also believed that Steve would make something up so that Tony would have a somewhat valid reason to want to continue holding on to what was left of Tony’s slowly eroding belief in him. That he would stand up for Tony with the same conviction and faith he had when finding a way to excuse Wanda and the others. Even if, at the end of the day, whatever would fall from his lips were just pretty, empty, words.

 

You’ve been lying to me for years.

Lying how we are a team and how much you trust me with your life.

You’re lying to keep what you deem yours safe.

You wouldn’t so much as bat an eyelash when lying for him, for Wanda, for Natasha, for Clint and Sam.

It’s practically second nature by now.

What’s so different this time around, Steve?

 

His throat constricted as thought after bitter thought rang in his head.

 

Because it’s me, right dearest?

The genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist that would never be of the same worth as the people you care about.

I was never and will never be part of what’s yours.

That’s why you can lie to me but not for me.

 


 

 

Tony unconsciously rubbed at his chest and blinked moisture away a few times to focus on the screen in front of him. It was possible that Howard was sneering and rolling in his grave at the same time right now. All because Tony was being weak as usual, unbecoming of a Stark, and how he had the gall to even think that he could also be someone to Steve Rogers.

Thankfully, FRIDAY’s smooth tone interrupted yet another barrage of unpleasant reflections that would surely send him back to seeking the cold.

“Boss?”

“Yes, baby girl?”

“They are currently asleep. Although the trackers in their phones indicated that they have gone out of the Compound six hours ago, Boss. Unaccompanied too, they called a cab instead of using the Compound’s service.”

All previous thoughts already locked deep in his mind, his brows furrowed as he asked, “Where did they go?”

 “The last location recorded had been the junkyard Harley frequents before the signal disappeared.”

The junkyard?

What would those two be doing in a junkyard at night?

He knew about the junkyard the older brat would go to twice a week and Tony just let him continue—after all, when he met the kid most of his inventions were made out scrap materials too and so was Tony’s first armor. He pushed the memories of Mark I back, he just got out of the cold, better not continue on that vein.

Tony thought that maybe the kid just needed some materials, although for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how the hell the kid found his workshop lacking that he would venture into a junkyard, of all places, to search.

He also had no idea why Harley kept telling them he was going to the library, (it was the lamest excuse in the book and he had expected better from one of his little bundles of sass and smarts) when the kid knew well enough that Tony wouldn’t really buy it. Tony could only pray Harley wasn’t having kinky hookups with some girl who lived around the area. The judder that went through him was so strong it actually rattled the mug in his hand and made him set it down on the table.

This was also the first time that Harley brought Peter with him to the yard. Sure, Peter was little dumpster diver 2.0 thus it made sense for Harley have him as a tag along, but for it to be at night and all the adults were going to bed?

Another shudder ran through him at the thought.

 Even Thor almighty could not save him if the brats were truly out there testing their skills in horizontal mambo with some girls of dubious backgrounds. He would not live to see another day if May and Harley’s mother, Helene, found out. And if May and Helene did, he wasn’t sure there would be enough of him left for Pepper to incinerate when the news reached her too.

Please let them stay squeaky clean and keep all the shitty ideas I had and acted on when I was their age away from their minds.

When he had finished sending the plea up into the cosmos, Tony’s eyes widened as he finally sobered from the nefarious thought and had properly processed FRIDAY’s words.

Wait, what?

His hands swiftly flew to the holoscreen to check the records, “FRI, bring up the trace for the last signal.”

Any perfectly sane person would say that he ought to be punched in the face for putting trackers in the brats’ phones because that was invasive and a dick move but, Tony was always a bit paranoid when it came to the people he loved.  Also, if people were to consider the fact that Peter had removed his suit’s tracker a while back and nearly ended up getting drowned during a fight with a guy equipped with Chitauri tech hybrid weapons, he could argue that his reasons were quite sound—Tony hoped that it was enough for some exoneration on his part.

 Looking at the records, it was as FRIDAY said, the boys were in the junkyard last night. The weird thing was that the signal disappeared for around twenty minutes then in a few seconds, the trace showed the boys being back in the Compound. That made no sense because it would take them at least fifty minutes from the Compound to the city proper by car and they had no access to the armors. Even if they did, FRIDAY would alert him or just activate protocols that prevent unauthorized use of the suits. Therefore, it was impossible that it took them only four goddamn seconds to be back at the Compound from the yard.

Well, at least that completely scratched the wild oats theory out of my list.

Good riddance.

Tony leaned back into his chair and crossed his arms. He shifted in his seat, he’s not feeling good about this. He needs to talk to the brats. Harley was a creature of habit and kept things closer to the vest than most kids his age, for him to break up routine so drastically like this and to involve Peter…something’s not quite right.

Out of the two, it’ll be easier to talk to Peter because the kid’s honest to a fault and could never lie to save his baby face. He’d crack like an egg, and blurt out all the information Tony would need with only a few leading questions. The only problem would be Harley though.

No one could deny that Peter and Harley were close, even if they always looked for ways to piss each other off. Like him and Rhodey, they got each other’s back. If Harley had sworn Peter to secrecy or something like that, then he wouldn’t get anything out of them. For all his naïvete and flustered nature, Peter would not turn his back on a promise and would keep it even at the cost of his own life, Spider-man’s indomitable will and all. If he talked to them at the same time, a threat of grounding both their asses and removing workshop privileges (not that he’d actually go through with them) would not drag whatever this was out of them—he’ll just have to talk to Harley himself.

Ugh, pulling my own teeth with pliers would be easier.

Tony bent his neck side to side and felt some of his bones pop, “FRI, let’s finish up with Mark XLVI and I’ll go up later to have breakfast with the kids.”

“Right away, Boss.”

 


 

Tony could only assume that the ominous atmosphere he had expected to meet him for breakfast as he joined Rhodey and the boys was taken by Rogers and his crew along for their mission because he felt lighter than he did hours ago—and that was without a wink of sleep. Then again, it was only a fourteen-hour binge and was way below his usual standard which meant the assumption was flawed therefore not valid. Though if it were left to Rhodey, he’d surely get a harrumph and a vindictive, ‘Damn straight they took it with them.’

The sun was bright outside and filtered into the dining area’s floor-to-ceiling glass adding to the warm, homey ambiance. Breakfast consisting of pancakes, eggs and bacon was cooked by Vision—who apparently had taken an interest in the culinary arts this time around—guided by FRIDAY who showed him recipes, while Rhodey, the heathen, was reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. The boys were at the table competing against each other on who could stuff their face with more pancakes and Peter was winning by a landslide. Harley really should’ve just admitted defeat since Spiderkid could go toe-to-toe with Rogers and Thor with his crazy metabolism.

The scene was so ridiculously domestic and happy that Tony, for a moment, thought he had stepped into a parallel universe.

Rhodey folded the paper as Tony took a seat beside him, “Morning, Tones.” He then proceeded to push a cup of coffee toward Tony that the genius gratefully accepted. There was no mention of last night, it wasn’t needed, only a declaration of ‘You’re an asshole for locking me out but I love you, still have your back and I just want you to know that’ in the form of Tony’s caffeinated elixir.

“Morning, Honey bear.” He returned and smiled at Vision as the synthezoid placed a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in front of him, “Thanks, Viz.”

Vision gave him a small albeit awkward smile that he returned. Before nerves got the best of him, Tony took a chance and had a loose hold of Vision’s wrist before he sent his attention back to the stove. He could see that Vision wanted to talk to him as well about the disaster last night but unable to voice it, unsure of his reaction. That hesitation was something that Tony was, in a way, happy about. JARVIS was always forward and blunt whenever he figured Tony needed to hear something and Tony loved him for it.

Remembering JARVIS was still painful, seeing and hearing him in Vision was sometimes too much for Tony to bear that there were times he’d find himself looking away. Witnessing these nuances of how different they were no matter how small, was something he (and Vision, he’s certain) appreciated because it enabled him to see more of Vision as his own person.

“I’m okay.” Tony told him in the warmest tone he could muster, because the man’s honest concern warmed him from the inside out, when Vision’s eyes widened a tad at the contact. He was only vaguely aware of the activity around him stopping when Vision clasped a hand on top of his and smiled the widest smile they had ever seen on him thus far.

“I’m glad to know and I hope you stay that way.”

A gruff clearing of throat pulled at their attention and found Rhodey looking at them with a grave expression.

“I’ll also be glad…” he started, “if I may please have another plate of eggs Viz, because this is the best damn breakfast I’ve had in a while.” Sighing as he offered his plate to Vision like a sacrifice to the gods.

Tony, along with the boys, only laughed at Rhodey’s antics with Vision warmly accepting the plate after he and Tony extricated their hands from one another’s, “Of course, Colonel. We could include some more bacon too if you’d like. Fried to a crisp as you prefer them.”

“Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.” Rhodey nudged a grinning Tony with his elbow before gesturing to himself, “See Tones? He’s glad you’re okay but he likes me more. Nobody can’t resist this.”

Tony burst into laughter when the brats finally caught up with the program and made their opinions about Rhodey’s sex appeal known.

“Please just, like, stop!”

“The lies!”

Rhodey only mock glowered at Peter and Harley who continued to snicker and scrunch their noses at him, “Y’all better shut your mouths or I’ll have FRIDAY cut your Internet access off for a week.”

 

His best friend was right about one thing: it was the best damn breakfast he had in a while.

 


 

 

Half the day had passed when he got back in the workshop. After breakfast, he decided to take a shower and a nap but not before noticing how Peter kept giving Harley pointed looks. When he asked, Harley only shrugged and told him he would just go to the workshop later. That was when Tony remembered that he was supposed to be talking to the kids about their trip to the junkyard last night. With a shrug of his own, just to keep up appearances like the two were doing, he agreed and went to his own room.

He was quite absorbed with going over Mark XLVI’s schematics, because he finally managed to successfully synthesize all the features he chose from the other Marks into it, that he didn’t hear FRIDAY announcing someone’s entry.

Soft clacking sounds woke his awareness and Tony found a plate of sandwiches along with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice being placed in front of him on the table. He turned to see Harley moving a couple of steps back, looking unusually pale and jumpy.

“Hey, brat. What’s up?” he moved away from the table and stood up to face the kid.

Harley only bit his lip and nodded toward the sandwiches, “Thought you might be hungry.”

He took in the kid’s anxious demeanor and glanced back to the plate, feeling a knot of apprehension settle in his gut.

“Can you please ask FRIDAY to put the shop on blackout?” the quiver in Harley’s voice was unmistakable.

“FRIDAY, put the workshop on blackout please.”

“Yes, Boss.”

When the inner workings of the workshop were no longer visible to anyone outside, Tony noticed that the kid relaxed a bit. That and the plate he brought Tony was doing nothing for the older man’s own nerves.

Harley brought him a plate of tuna sandwiches.

Tuna sandwich.

It was sort of a thing they had ever since they first met, an unspoken rule, coming from the mix of the crazy situation they found themselves in and the request Tony made that Harley never did get to fulfill—tuna sandwiches meant serious business. And this was the only time Harley brought him any.

So when the kid started to talk Tony panicked and like any responsible adult he manically said,

“Mechanic, I—“

“Please tell me you use protection.”

A nuclear bomb could have exploded in the Compound’s lawn and they both surely wouldn’t notice due to the tense, awkward silence that surrounded them before they got their faculties back in control to speak.

Harley’s eyes nearly fell out of their sockets and red replaced his sickly pallor as he yelped, “What the hell?! Are you crazy?!”

“What did you expect me to say?! You brought me tuna sandwich! Tuna. Sandwich.” He emphasized his point by hitting the side of one hand against the palm of the other on the last two words.

“What the hell’s wrong with you?! I’m sixteen!” Harley volleyed, horrified.

“A lot of people start at sixteen! Hell, I started at fifteen, you can ask Rhodey!” Tony roared back, his arms waving wildly as he did so.

The kid pulled at fistfuls of his golden brown hair and groaned, “Oh my God! That’s not something I need to know! Please just shut up!”

“Well, explain this to me then!” he pointed at the plate that started this ridiculousness.

Harley closed his eyes that clearly said he was asking the Lord to give him strength before taking a deep breath and looking Tony dead in the eye, “Please, listen to me for now, Mechanic. Please.”

“Okay, cool. Go ahead.”

He had almost brushed away his initial panic when Harley intoned, “There are very important things I need to tell you about. I know you’ll be upset because it took me this long to tell you, you have every right to be mad and think that I lied to you, for all of that I’m sorry, Tony. I’m sorry.”

All the quirky amusement from earlier left the whole room and Tony could feel a cold chill work its way up his spine at Harley’s grim words.

Tony.

The kid called him Tony.

He was always the Mechanic and Harley rarely called him by name unless something important has happened.

Steeling himself, he returned calmly, “I need to know what this is all about first before I decide to get mad at you kid.”

Harley nodded then continued, “Remember when we met? How I quickly found out you were in the garage?”

Tony’s brows were drawn to the middle of his forehead as he replied, “Yeah. You threatened me with your potato gun.”

“You’ve only been in there for, what, a minute before I came in.”

“I didn’t really notice someone was home until you kicked the door and accosted me like a little Rambo.”

Harley let out a quiet laugh, “Do you also remember when we drove around the Compound with Peter?”

He couldn’t really figure out where the kid was going with all this but he answered nonetheless, “Yes, Peter and I got our guts rearranged by your evasive driving skills.”

“He got pretty nauseous even though his sense of equilibrium was always keeping him safe from that kind of thing.”

Now that Harley had mentioned it, he also did wonder what happened to Peter’s enhanced balance that day, “He did.”

“And yesterday, the witch had…problems with her powers too.”

There was something in the way Harley said it that made Tony remember some things he had noticed before but did not put much stock in to. First was the lack of nightmares when he fell asleep while watching a movie with the boys in the common room last week, the absence of flashbacks whenever Wanda used her powers so long as the boys were around.

The kid gave him a puzzle to solve and he did love a challenge, yet at the same time, the knowing tone Harley used made Tony slightly apprehensive.

He didn’t like where this conversation was heading.

Pieces were starting to fall into place the longer he thought about it though: Harley being able to find out about him in the garage barely a minute after he got inside, Peter’s equilibrium not working, lack of nightmares when he’s around the boys. Wanda being unable to hear their thoughts yesterday, the way Wanda kept shooting him looks during dinner—No.

His eyes widened when he got it.

Wanda was looking at someone else.

Someone…beside me.

That’s why she didn’t seem to see me.

She was actually looking at...Harley.

The way she tried to lunge at him after he asked about her.

Why would she want to hurt Harley?

Tony gripped the edge of the table when it clicked, Wanda figured that there was something different about Harley and she was threatened by it.

But how would that explain her powers not working during the day and then back in order during dinner?

 “When she’s using them to scare people or something, I kinda make sure she wouldn’t be able to without her noticing.”

His eyes snapped into Harley’s when he realized that the kid just verbally answered his thoughts and he finally got where the kid was leading him. Blue eyes were wide and decidedly afraid as the kid waited for him to respond.

 “Since when?” He could tell he arrived at the right conclusion with the way Harley was looking at him. It was his turn to ask questions now and he did so with the professional tone he used whenever he was faced with a tough board member or a fickle investor.

The kid flinched and murmured, “Like I’ve told Peter—“

“You told Peter.”

It wasn’t a question, still Harley meekly responded, “I told him last night.”

“At the junkyard.”

“Y-you know about—“

“I can’t just let you two go gallivanting somewhere without me knowing.”

“I’m sorry.”

The defeated slump of the kid’s shoulders and the tears running down his face made Tony crack, “Why?” he asked in the softest tone he didn’t even know he could produce.

“Because you hate the witch and I was scared that if you found out, you’d hate me and throw me away like he did.”

It was Tony’s turn to flinch as the grief in the muted reply resonated in the quiet of his workshop like the shell of a shotgun leaving the barrel.

 

‘My mom already left for dinner and dad went to 7-Eleven to get scratchers. I guess he won because that was six years ago.’

 

The lonely bitterness buried beneath the casual, uncaring way Harley mentioned how his father left them finally made itself known years later, hitting Tony with more force than the whole city of Novi Grad falling down on him before he and Thor destroyed it.

 The engineer cursed himself for being too fucking stupid as he swiftly pulled Harley into a hug. For him to not realize that the kid would be affected by getting abandoned by his father just because Harley was always calm and nonchalant was such a mistake. He also wanted to bash his own head into a wall for acting like an idiot because Harley decided not to share something so personal with him until now.

Damn, he’s such an asshole. He had no right to demand anything from the kid that he wasn’t willing to share. It’s not as if he was the only one in the world with a shit ton of daddy issues that everybody else’s feelings should pale in comparison, “I’m sorry too, kid. This isn’t easy for you and I should be more understanding, I’m being an ass instead. And I want you to know, that it’s never going to happen. I’m not going to leave or throw you away just because you happened to be enhanced. I’ll let Peter throw me through walls, let Happy run me over using all the cars in the garage then have Rhodey and Pepper repulsor my ass to hell using all the suits before that happen. Do you remember what you told me when I left to kick the Mandarin’s ass?”

“We’re connected.” a choked laugh colored the kid’s answer.

Tony ruffled his thick blond hair and squeezed his shoulders, “Damn straight. I need you and we’re connected. You, me and Peter. No one’s going anywhere.”

“But I’m like the witch and you hate—“

“Let me clear two things for you, kid. One: It’s true that Wanda and I were never close but, I’ve never hated her. It hurts every time I see her because she reminds me of the people I’ve lost, all the innocent people my weapons have killed—“

“You didn’t kill them. Your business partner stole your weapons and sold them to terrorists.”

“—how lives were ruined because of something I created. How all those things are affecting the team in a really bad way. I see her and think of how her life would turn out to be if I found out about Stane earlier. Ultron wouldn’t have happened if I did. Novi Grad would still be on the map. She would still be with her family in Sokovia and her brother would still be with her—“

“Not everything is your fault, Tony. You’re not God, you can’t control and be held responsible for every single thing in this world.” Harley snapped, looking at him, “If you ever think about crap like that again I will shoot you in the face with PG Mark II.”

Tony smiled. There he was. That’s the brat he knew, “You do know I’m an atheist, right? Then again, Thor did say I’ll fit in well in Asgard. Though at any rate, I don’t think Asgardian fashion would work on me even if my colors are all the rage over there.” He joked.

“Mechanic.”

Good lord, the kid was using the same tone Pepper, Rhodey and Happy used when they think he was being exasperating or obtuse on purpose.

“I know, but really, I don’t hate Wanda.”

Harley gave him a truly impressive unimpressed eyebrow raise.

“I never did, she’s just a little…complicated. I feel no hatred for her but at the same time being around her makes me feel sad and afraid. All because I could still see those things she showed me before whenever she uses her powers. I could just picture the glee in her eyes as she messed with my friend’s mind and think…I had a hand in that. ”

The kid took a second to process that before his lips peel back into a snarl, “Figures, you’d still find a way to shoulder everything she did. I told you everything that goes wrong is not always your fault.”

He sighed and decided to change course before they go into a full-blown argument, “Let’s leave that for later, please? Where was I? Point number two: You two are different.”

Harley looked tiniest bit mollified but still acquiesced with utter reluctance, grumbling “I have almost the same powers.”

“You having similar powers doesn’t mean you’re the same person as her.”

“I—“

“Did you volunteer to be experimented on to have powers like that so you could get revenge? Did you voodoo your way into having a genocidal AI created to destroy the person you hate? Did you unleash a jolly green giant on civilians just because you can? Have you given anyone nightmares so bad they can’t stand the thought of sleep? If your answer to all of the above is no, then, you’re not the same. Maybe I shouldn’t even be saying all of this about her because I am partly responsible for the things she did. Some can say that I’m biased and maybe I am, but she’d been young like you when she got her powers. She had time to figure out what she should do with them—the right thing; help people and keep them safe. She did some bad calls and things purely out of hatred that I know you would never even think of. You’re here telling me that you keep people safe using your powers even when you don’t know the full extent of it. And from where I’m standing, that is a clear difference.”

Harley looked world-weary as he drawled,

“Yeah, but I don’t really control this thing that well. It’s partly subconscious. I just find myself doing stuff. Also can you please shut up with you being responsible for the witch? You’re pissing me off.”

Tony rolled his eyes with a huff. Of course the kid would only pick that out of his rant. Tony was trying to cheer him up here. The brat.

“Fine. So let’s start over. When did this thing of yours start?”

A cautious glance at him and the boy dropped his head into his hands.

Okay. Not in the comfort zone, they could avoid this one.  “You don’t have to say—“

“No. I have to tell you, I told Peter. You need to know.”

With his throat suddenly dry, Tony nodded before releasing him and leading Harley to sit on the floor, prompting the kid to let out a small laugh.

“What is it?”

“Peter…Peter did this too after I told him at the junkyard. Made me sit on the ground with him.”

“Guess he learned from the Master.”

He only got a tired smile for his effort before Harley resumed with the next one on their agenda.

“It’s just fine if I gave you the cliff notes of what I told Peter, right?” he asked, playing with a wrench Tony had lying on the floor near him.

“Yes, sure.” Heart-to-heart talks were things he could handle but, even he wouldn’t be able to bear repeating a teary confession that he’d given Rhodey to Pepper verbatim, it’d be a little embarrassing.

Harley’s eyes glazed like he was looking through Tony as he spoke with a dull tone, “It started around the time my dad left us. He thoroughly beat me and my mom up—“a sharp, quiet gasp escaped Tony, sick with the notion of anyone laying a hand on a child and his mother.

Jesus fuck.

The kid would have been in kindergarten or first grade when that son of a bitch beat them up.

 Tony ran a hand over his face to calm himself down before he had completed a plan for a manhunt in his head. Howard was shitty too, but his old man mostly stuck with vicious verbal punches and the actual hits only came in when he was around the age Harley was when they met, even then, those were not enough to be called a proper beating.

“—after getting wasted at the pub, then left the day after with that shitty scratchers excuse. After that I noticed something’s changed. It started with just sensing things and people like Peter does. Then I began hearing things like people whispering in my ear. I told mom about it and she brought me to a shrink. The doctor told us that it was just a kid thing, hyperactive imagination with a little unfortunate dose of anxiety. Everything was just due to the stress of my dad leaving and the bullying plus the IQ made it worse. Then, they got me into therapy and meds.”

“You’ve been on meds when I met you.”

“Yeah.”

“You’re not taking them anymore, are you?”

Harley shrugged, the awful glaze in his eyes finally disappearing, “I stopped the meds months before I came here because they don’t work anymore.”

“I know.”

It was Harley’s attention that snapped back to him this time, “What? How?”

Tony returned the shrug, “FRIDAY showed me some surveillance feeds of you tossing your not-so-happy-little pills away into the trash before. I would’ve asked but you seemed intent on not letting anyone know. Which, frankly, is something I would’ve done if I were you and I know you don’t do crap without a good reason. So just I stuck to keeping tabs to check if you were having anxiety attacks without the meds and since you didn’t, I also thought they’re not working anymore. I was actually going to ask you to check in with another shrink to see if we can get you different pills.”

The scowl on the kid’s face was almost as terrifying as Rhodey’s, “I don’t want new pills, Mechanic.”

“Yeah, I know, I know. I mean, that’s why you’re not attending therapy right now and getting mental health brochures from Wilson plus self-care books from Rogers.” He said in a placating tone.

Tony only realized his mistake when the scowl on Harley’s face deepened and there was the familiar whine of metal being crushed and glass shattering in quick successions as though being shot by a repulsor. Thank goodness they were well into the lab and surrounded by workbenches, away from the glass and other things.

“Boss? Are you two alright?” FRIDAY’s voice seeped from the speakers after the ruckus stopped, “Should I call Colonel Rhodes and ask for medical assistance to be sent down the workshop?”

“No. We’re fine, FRI…we’re good here. No need to call, Platypus.”

“We still have to make sure none of you are hurt, Boss.”

Thank heavens for FRIDAY, “I know, baby girl. We’ll check in with Rhodey later, so don't send anyone down here. We just need to finish this talk. Is that good?”

A few beats before FRIDAY answered,

“I'll pencil that in just so you don't miss it, Boss.”

He laughed a little at his girl's display of sass.“Thanks, FRI.”

Tony then let his gaze drop to the kid’s hands to find the wrench that balanced precariously over Harley’s fingers earlier now look like paper that went through an office shredder. The pieces of the destroyed wrench looked…er, wicked and were currently defying gravity. He didn’t even need to look at the walls that separate his lab from the rest of the Compound, the sudden increase in lighting just made what he’d find obvious. A quick glance at the bots in their charging stations and he breathed a sigh of relief. They were fine.

Goddamn, the brat wasn’t kidding when he said he’s enhanced.

“I thought you said you believe me.” Harley retorted.

 “I do. I was just surprised with the sudden flexing—“

“Oh my God!”

Both their heads swung to the side when they saw Peter frantically moving towards them, tiptoeing over the pieces of glass. When he reached the two of them, he began running his hands over their shoulders and arms to check for injuries, “Are you guys okay? I was leaning on the wall outside when it suddenly went kaboom and good thing I managed to move away before—“

Tony squinted and took a hold of Peter, making him sit with them, “We’re fine, kid. How long have you been there, Webhead?”

“Ever since I came in. I wanted to come here alone but I changed my mind the last minute.” Harley muttered, offhandedly releasing his hold on Tony’s late wrench and making the chunks fall down with a tooth-numbing clank. The funny thing was he looked surprised at what he just did.

“Show-off.” Peter grumbled at the older brat before looking at Tony, “Did you guys get to work the sitch? We’re all cool now?”

“Not yet.” Tony crossed his arms over his chest, “I still have a lot of questions and since you’re here Pete, you better add your version of the story. Because trust me, if all this don’t check out I’m grounding your asses for life.”

The brats really had the nerve to give him a droll look before simultaneously replying, “Riiight.”

“For. Life.”

They only chuckled before Peter quipped at Harley, “Why is your talk more light-hearted than ours? Like we shed a lot of manful tears—“ Tony couldn’t help but snort at that, “—and you turned a whole junkyard of cars into powder, dude. That was sicker than what you guys have here by the way.” the kid picked up a piece of the wrench and flicked it to a corner of the lab, as if to emphasize his point.

Tony did a double take and blinked, trying to make sure he heard right.

Harley turned a whole junkyard of cars into powder?

“I’m sorry, he did what?”

Peter glanced at Harley as if to make sure there wouldn’t be any outburst before he answered, “Yeah, he got really pissed last night when we were at the junkyard, wait Mr. Stark knows about that already right?” the Spiderling nudged the other…ling who nodded, “okay, cool, then the cars just lifted and went pixie dust! It was kinda scary, but still awesome though.”

Tony shook his head in quiet resignation, “That is sick.”

“I’m surprised you’re taking all of this rather well, Mechanic.” Harley commented dryly.

“We did expect there’d be some more breakdowns, to be honest.”

“Hmm, yeah…it’s really that not surprising. Look at who you’re talking to.” Tony replied in that same insouciant manner he did when he met the Spiderkid, making Peter laugh, “I wear a flying tin can that has more lasers than both Star Wars and Trek combined. I used to work with a living legend, a couple of master assassins, a god who controls thunder and lightning with a magic hammer and another genius who transforms into a jolly green bean who can smash and crush the bad guys with no effort. We fought aliens, our godly teammate’s crazy goth brother and a killer AI that wanted nothing more than put the kibosh on humanity. Throw in the synthezoid who just made you breakfast earlier, this super strong and sticky kid—“Peter yawped as Tony motioned to him, “—and the witch who has mind whammy thingamajig which, as you say, is almost the same as yours…I’m afraid you’re not really going to stand out that much, Mr. Keener.”

Peter raised his fist in the air, “Yes! This is amazing! I told you he’s not going to be mad that you’re enhanced.”

“That actually brings me to the second thing I need to tell you, Tony.”

Tony slumped, shoulders deflating at Harley’s words, “I’m starting to hate you calling me by name, kid. Stick to Mechanic before you give me a heart attack.”

Peter snickered at that but stopped when he realized that Harley wasn’t going along with him, “Harley?”

“Is it okay if you go up to the kitchen, Peter? Please grab me something to eat? I’m kinda starving.” Harley replied without breaking his gaze on Tony.

“Uhh, sure—“Peter moved to stand up but halted when Tony kept a hand on his wrist.

“Stay, Pete.” Peter complied and sat down again.

“Mechanic.” Harley breathed nervously.

“You already told him right? He can stay.”

The kid shook his head stubbornly, “I didn’t tell him about this one.”

“Well, we just established the connection the three of us have earlier. You can tell him too.”

“Uh…I’ll just go.”

Tony and Harley made their stance known with regard to that,

“Please.”

“Don’t go.”

Tony grinned at Harley when he noticed how their answers sounded, “Well, that solves it. He’ll stay.”

Harley unwillingly conceded and waited for the two of them to settle.

"C'mon, kid. The floor's all yours. Pun intended." Tony waved a hand toward him like he would when addressing someone in a crowd during a Stark Expo or a talk he's invited to.

Nerves left from the earlier emotionally-charged conversation and the trepidation of jumping into a new one obviously got the better of Harley when he uncharacteristically blurted:

“I know that it’s not an accident!” 

The billionaire froze. It didn’t take Tony’s genius to figure out what Harley was referring to seeing as the kid was adamant to tell him. 

“Did you read my mind?”

“I didn’t mean to. I swear. We were working on Peter’s web fluid here in the shop and you were thinking about it. How Captain America was lying and keeping it from you.”

An inaudible gasp left Peter as he looked back and forth the two of them.

“Wait, what do you guys mean by Captain America is lying?”

The quiver in Peter’s voice was evident that Tony closed his eyes in surrender. The illusion was getting shattered and it was by his own doing. The irony was unpalatable.

After a deep breath, he told them.

“You know about how Cap took down SHIELD because it was infiltrated by HYDRA, right?” he asked in that newly discovered soft tone and continued when the boys nodded, “Before Nat started the data dump on the Internet, they apparently salvaged some files into a hard drive. I found that drive by accident in Cap’s room when I was looking for him. Because curiosity killed the cat, I checked what’s in it. In there, I found a file about the accident that killed my parents.”

Comprehension was dawning in Peter’s eyes, undoubtedly connecting everything he said to Harley’s first statement.

“HYDRA killed your parents.”

Tony nodded sadly, “They wanted the super soldier serum my dad created. And they sent their best agent to accomplish the mission.”

“The Winter Soldier.” Harley added quietly, his calm face belied by the tremulous tone.

“That’s—“ Peter started, eyes welling up with tears, “Oh God. HYDRA sent Bucky Barnes to kill your parents.”

Tony couldn’t help flinching at the ice that slithered down his spine with the boys’ mention of him.  He pulled the boys into a hug both to ward off the ice and offer the boys a rock to lean on.

“They did.” He murmured into the crown of their heads, hugging the boys tighter than he had ever done.

“HYDRA sent Captain America’s best friend to kill your parents. Brooklyn had known for years and he never told you about it. You had to find out on your own.” Peter whispered dejectedly.

Tony felt Peter’s tears staining his shirt along with Harley’s.

“He wanted to protect the Winter Soldier, didn’t he?” Harley rasped through his quiet sobs, “That’s why he never told you.”

Peter stiffened at that, “Mr. Stark, you’ve been helping him to find Bucky Barnes…”

“I am.” He ignored the ice that came at him again.

“He…he’s using you.”

There it was—the whole, ghastly truth in just three little words.

In that moment, he rejected the siren’s call of the cold and yearned for the warmth. For the first time since finding out the truth: Tony Stark, along with Peter Parker and Harley Keener,  let the chaos inside of him flow freely through his tears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

He had already settled in Bucharest for quite some time after his run in with his personal hunting dogs back in Argentina when he finally let himself look at the news. He had managed to avoid detection as he left for Europe, however it did not mean he could let himself be lulled into a sense of security provided by this new bit of anonymity and concealment. It would be better for him to have a finger on the pulse of things regarding his pursuers, after all they were working with someone who had vast amounts of resources that made it possible for them to track him.

Being in the loop of what was going on around him would ensure that he would not arouse suspicion that could lead to his capture. The information would keep him a few steps ahead. But that part of him, the one that was always ravenous and empty, the one that always demanded to be sated, figured he deserved punishment. He needed to suffer the corollaries of his failure by moving about in the dark and half-blind. Up the stakes, increase the obstacles and see if he would survive. The same way his creators would set him up when they test him—putting him in a mission when they had starved him for a few days after getting him out of the ice and discombobulated from the wipes. He may no longer be under HYDRA, but all the things that they had carved into him were still there.

Those things screamed at the malfunction he had when he read that paper.

Stark was alive and the reports of his own attempt to end his life were false.

He was the Fist of HYDRA, the Asset, the Winter Soldier. He was HYDRA’s best. When they created him, they guaranteed that he would be above everyone else. They reminded him time and time again, that he should be above everyone else. That was how the Asset quelled the fierce hunger that always lingered with gnashing teeth in his gut—by complying and proving that he was what they wanted him to be. Even after HYDRA had created more of him out of their elite death squad, he was still above the rest. They may have been stronger and faster, but the other Soldiers were, ultimately, of no use. They had none of his control, his focus and his compliance as such they were left in the ice. Never even had the chance to prove themselves and were discarded right after their creation. They were failures. With HYDRA, failure was never an option and making the wrong choice was always met with dire consequences.

And he had made a wrong choice.

 


  

He remembered the confusion and disgust that crawled over him that day when he realized that he was mourning. He was mourning a man who did not know him, one that did not possess a spot in his old life—the life ripped out of him by HYDRA, the life he was trying to remember. He was lamenting the supposed death of a man who would have been his target. An unfulfilled mission that his former masters had decided to take away from him and give to someone else.

He had unknowingly let his already tenuous grasp of control loosen with sickening ease. He let himself be weak and crumble in the face of such bullshit. He gave into the delusions his broken mind was producing along with the resurgence of his own tattered memories. He got swayed by a mirage and a prayer then drove himself into failure.

 

He was mourning for someone he would’ve put an end to.

It was laughable and foolish.

It was beneath what his former masters made out of him.

It was unacceptable.

 


 

 

A flash of irritation rippled through him at the thought. He turned away from the flat screen perched at the upper corner of the bar, facing his nook of the small pub he had decided to retire to for a moment before going back to the crappy studio he had managed to slip his way into. The hideout he got with naught but a few bills upfront and an unimpressed look at the pot-bellied landlord that immediately sent the message that he would not be disturbed in any manner within the duration of his stay.

From the news report from earlier, his hunters were caught up in a catastrophe in Lagos. Their mission to apprehend his former colleague, Rumlow, ended up killing eleven Wakandan volunteers and injuring several locals. Rumlow blew himself up while the woman with them, the one with the strange powers, was unable to fling completely the explosion away from the building.

A part of him wanted to shake his head at the utter mess that the mission had resulted in. Someone had clearly messed up and it was going to be a long time to finish cleaning up after such a sloppy work. To make matters worse, placing the blame on the right doorstep would also be a challenge. Unlike on most of his missions where he was alone and operated in the dark, if he failed to comply with any of the given parameters, the handlers would just have him beaten and placed on the chair before sending him back to the ice, whereas the Avengers worked as a team and in public view.

The blond, as the team leader, would most likely be blamed for the irresponsibility exhibited by his team or the Sokovian woman because it was her who propelled Rumlow up near the buildings—the Avengers could all shoulder the blame but for sure, the public would call for the heads of those two first. The Nigerian and Wakandan governments could also hold the US responsible for the Avengers’ actions and cause a strife in diplomatic relations. Diplomatic strifes even just between two countries could affect and raise the hackles of the others, most especially those allied with the ones opposing each other, creating greater discord and would surely result to picking sides and which lead to, more often than not, war. Crossing borders for missions would be harder for the Avengers than it was now. If Wakanda or Nigeria came out to name the Avengers’ actions as paramilitary, it would be a deliberate step on the toes of US.

 

Either way, the Avengers were fucked.

 

There may be a little prick in the back of his mind for the deaths—not for Rumlow’s, though. No, never for Pierce’s other lapdog. Son of a bitch could die over and over in the pits of Hell where the man belonged and he would not lose a wink of sleep. Rumlow had enjoyed seeing the technicians scramble his brain into mush and got off on the fact that he would be punished if he so much as thought of retaliating against a superior. Thus, the man would lord over his strength by beating the Asset in a ‘fight’ in front of and to the amusement of the STRIKE team. The beating was not a problem for him, he hardly felt Rumlow’s hits due to the serum and the man’s favored Taser Rod was nothing compared to the chair. People stronger than Rumlow had beaten him a hundred times worse, therefore it wasn’t his concern.

His problem lied with the indignity of it.

In a sense, it was odd that the weapon that he was would still have a semblance of pride no matter how miniscule. Then again, it wasn’t much of a mystery because HYDRA wanted him to be second to none in their ranks. To get beaten by someone like Rumlow was an insult not only to him but to his Handlers. The only thought that would play in his mind as Rumlow hit him back then was how it was in poor taste and how pathetic the man had to be to stoop so low.

As much as he would have preferred to be the one that ended Rumlow, he had to settle for this. If anything, there was a bit of gratitude in him for the blond man for pushing Rumlow into killing himself. The civilian deaths and injuries were unfortunate and those people did not deserve it but, he would be an idiot if he did not play this into his advantage.

With the public uproar and backlash that would hit the Avengers for this, the blond would cease the search for him for the time being and would definitely be bound to protect his team. That would give him ample time to plan his next move.

However, he still wouldn’t count himself lucky just yet because there was still that one person who could easily put a damper in his plans: Stark.

According to the information he had scrounged up on his way to Argentina, the man was no longer an active Avenger, but he was still working closely with and provides for the team. The Avengers were no longer housed in his Tower at Manhattan, but in a special facility located in Upstate that also came from Stark’s dime. Stark Relief Foundation would immediately be mobilized after missions to help with the casualties and clean up, just like now with Lagos.

He could feel a grimace form on his lips at that.

The man was playing sugar daddy to a rowdy band of enhanced individuals who only brought him nothing but trouble.

If Stark decided to step into the media circus and the political fray to protect the Avengers, then he needed to get his ass in gear and out of Romania. HYDRA was fully aware of Stark’s influence with both the public and several world powers. Providing weapons to the military had secured Stark connections within the US government. Going through proper channels and authorizations, even if it was after the fact, as well as spearheading clean-up for Avengers missions had enabled him to curry favor with the governments of different countries. Including his philanthropic ways that targeted the neediest parts of the globe, making him the darling of the media and public, the man could easily swing the opinion in a way that would ensure the Avengers got out of this shit mostly unscathed. Stark stepping in would free the blond from facing this dirty part of being the Avengers’ team leader and the blond would certainly jump at the chance to continue this demented cat-and-mouse game they have.

Be that as it may, Stark, even with all his power, was not omnipotent.

 


 

 

He could vaguely recall the times he had played chess for money from before the ice. He remembered catching his opponents off guard and seeing how their pieces move in ways that could make or break his strategies. Taking notes of moves and plays he found useful then incorporating them with the ones he had mastered so he’d win. Years of throwing the blond off his tracks had also given him time to observe the Avengers and form insights about how they would most likely approach situations like this.

If this was a game of chess, Stark would undoubtedly be the Queen piece. He was powerful and could have things done single-handedly but not entirely irreplaceable. He could turn the tide in a single move but it didn’t mean that he was required to step in nor was he the end-all and be-all. Hence, the Avengers were operating without him but still had him in the wings. There were others in the board that could also work around to bring favorable results.

The Black Widow for instance, would be a Rook. She could move in straight lines, play along with the law until she needed to change directions, making her much more flexible and useful than the Bishop—which, could be the Falcon. He moves in straight lines across the board unable to shed skins in a snap of a finger and only seeing what’s in front of him, consequently making him either overwhelmingly effective or utterly useless, entirely up on what was necessary. Thus, sometimes Bishops were one of the first pieces to be sacrificed.

And as much as the blond thought of himself as the Knight, fancying himself to be one thinking outside of the box and coming up with unconventional solutions to the problems—he was the King piece. Important on the board when rallying the troops, but cannot really do much and if the whole team lost track of him, they’d lose. He was the one needed to be guarded not the other way around, even with the shield he was carrying. It was obvious with how the Avengers were fine without Stark in the team but cannot afford to lose the blond. Another clue would be how he stuck close to the Widow back when they put a stop to Project Insight. She was needed for castling when things were about to go south or he needed additional defense whilst they were surrounded by the pawns—the Sokovian woman and the one who stepped out of the board, Hawkeye. The Witch may seem like she had no actual weight in the game, only moving when the blond tells her to, but she had tricks up her sleeves that could be deadly to any enemy with en passant. Given proper leverage, the she could change the flow of the game and move up the ranks.

If there were members of the Avengers that he had no clue where the hell he was going to place on the board—it would be War Machine and the Spider-man. Spider-man, at first glance, could be a pawn like the Witch. Like a Knight, Spider-man seemed to come up with ideas on how to move around and with the others unexpectedly. He also had a hunch that Spider-man could be a Rook when an opportunity presents itself. War Machine, on the other hand seemed like a Bishop, an unyielding military and man of the law to the core but knew how to navigate the field while masquerading as a Rook then go in for the kill and attack out of nowhere like a Knight.

War Machine was Stark’s oldest friend and Spider-man, from what he gathered, was his protégé. Which meant that those two would no doubt be aiding Stark should the man really step in the middle of this mess. Keeping those in mind, Stark might end up dominating the whole damn board even without the rest of the team if the billionaire played this properly.

 


He downed the last of the dry malt beer he had ordered and set down the mug, just in time for the coquettish, buxom bottle blonde server that took his order earlier to bring the dinner he asked to be wrapped up.

Ţine, chipeş” She nearly purred and bending unnecessarily lower than she would need to as she placed the paper bag on his table. The loose top of her drawstring blouse endorsing her considerable endowments to his gaze. 

Mulţumesc.” He ignored her antics, not even giving her offer a paltry glance as he stood up and laid some bills along with her tip on the table before going out of the pub. He knew that she wasn’t actually interested in a tumble in the hay with him. Judging by how quickly her vampish smile turned predatory when her eyes alighted on her tip.

He needed to look for a new place to unwind now. Even if it was slightly off the usual context, the server paid him too much attention for his…tastes, for the lack of a better word. Having people being familiar with him, enough to point him out if someone were to ask, was synonymous to painting a large target on his back.

 


 

 

Several minutes after the Winter Soldier went out of the pub, Stefana removed her apron before moving into the backroom. It was the end of her shift but she decided to spend another hour in the pub just in case the man was still around outside because he realized he was being watched. When she got contacted for a job, she never realized it would be this nerve-wracking and dangerous. She wasn’t military, police or even anything of the sort. She was a housewife and a small-time theater actress for fuck’s sake! How in the world was she going to fight for her life if the Winter Soldier noticed something was off with her? Then again, she wasn’t really tasked to apprehend him, only to gather information about his location and report any suspicious behavior.  She was hired for her acting skills and she only needed to confirm the Winter Soldier’s presence in Romania, which was easy enough.

She owed her employer her husband’s life, that’s why she took on the job. If not for them, she would have been widowed when HYDRA was exposed to be hiding under SHIELD. Her husband Ray whom, for years, she believed to be an archeologist and adventurer, turned out to be a goddamn SHIELD secret agent and was under cover in Middle East when it all happened. He was rescued through her employer’s connections when he managed to escape and was brought back to the States. She could remember the sound one of her pumps made as she hit Ray with it repeatedly in both shock and fury when she met him in one of the offices in the airport, arranged by her employer to give them some privacy.

“You lying son of a whore! You told me you were a fucking archeologist and always on the go that’s why you don’t want to have kids! Fucking bastard, you actually don’t want to have kids because you know...you damn well know that one day you will come home to us in a fucking box!”

She was actually in the middle of a vacation with her sister and visiting the Romanian side of their family and helping out with the business for a bit. Her employer wanted to know if the assassin was actually in Bucharest, same as what the reports from his sources said. It was a stroke of luck that the man turned out to be hiding in the same area as and would visit her family’s pub at least once a week.

She picked up her phone and dialed her employer’s number. After a few seconds and a verification of her contact details and identity by his secretary, she heard her employer answer.

“Hello? Yes, sir. It’s confirmed, he’s here.”

Chapter Text

Tony was tired and he was done with the meetings with SI board members in DC and was on the way back to the Compound using the company jet. Pepper had insisted on his presence in the meeting because during that conference she attended in Japan, she got approached by someone he could not afford to lose face with (more than he already had)—Kenjiro Fujikawa. The man was interested in his search engine project, Starkle. Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who wanted to improve Google.

The founder of the powerful Fujikawa Enterprises was not a man to be trifled with. Fujikawa had his hands in a lot of pies in the Asian tech and energy market. Stark Industries needed that extra anchor for their vision of coming up to bat against the electronics giants in the continent to come into fruition—Fujikawa Enterprises being one of the leaders of the pack. If Stark Industries hoped to set up a permanent shop in Asia, they needed to ally themselves with notable companies because even if the Asian populace had little trouble accepting foreign products and brands into their soil, it was a different story when it came to actual companies moving into their territory. Describing it as cutthroat would be likening it to children in the midst of a tug of war.

Asian culture may be inclusive in general, it was also tightly knit in and of itself. Forming bonds and acceptance into the fold for outsiders, especially those who could be perceived as a threat to their own, would not be that easy. Connections were almost sacred, thus any contracts and deals made had to be reviewed and threaded on with utmost care unlike with the West where one man’s trash was another’s gain that if one deal didn’t pull through, there would be some other company waiting to capitalize on the rejected proposal. Stark Industries had to be in their A-game because one mistake would spread throughout the community faster than the bubonic plague and that would be the end of it. SI could kiss their chances of leaving a mark in Asia goodbye. He already had managed to schmooze around in India, attending someone or another’s wedding and a party or two putting him in the good graces of some potential business partners. Pepper, who was low key fretting about this particular benchmark for SI, had been mollified with those.

Be that as it may, there was a bit of a problem with this situation with Kenjiro Fujikawa.

 

Tony had landed himself on the awkward side of that equation years ago. A more personal reason that guaranteed him a spot within the old samurai's radar that nearly caused him (and Stane at the time) the entirety of SI.

 


 

Fujikawa, although influential enough in Asia, was only starting to make a name for himself in the West when Howard snagged the man as an investor when Tony was still a teenager. Aside from the money the man was pushing into SI, Howard was actually also interested in Fujikawa Enterprises’ not-so-hush-hush idea at the time about stealth GEVs. A truly ambitious and awe-inspiring project that would revolutionize the military industrial complex for sure. Good ol’ dad was a true blue businessman through and through as such Tony had to admit that it was a juicy idea if SI got their hands on or became a part of that. If they managed to get that to work, SI could sling all branches of the military under their belt. They already had the Army and Air Force in their grasp. With a project like that, the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard would not be looking elsewhere, thinking SI was only capable of outfitting the Army and Air Force, and SI would thrive.

However, Fujikawa Enterprises never got the project to take flight, up until Howard’s death and they did not intend to pass the project off to SI. Howard’s last hurrah in revolutionizing the MIC was kaput.

Tony went from the wayward son of the military industrialist Howard Stark to being CEO of SI almost overnight. He had tons of experience dealing with peacocks in suits and following and tweaking the tune of alpha bullshitery that permeate the air whenever said peacocks were all gathered in one place. However, being the heir and not an actual part of the business—regardless of the fact that he was already designing some of SI’s baddest toys back then, not that Howard went around telling people that—only got him introductions and mostly pushed to meet and mingle with other privileged bastards like him. But, Howard died and that automatically placed him in the same circles and parties as the preening peacocks as well as Fujikawa that it was inevitable for Tony not to meet the man’s daughter, Rumiko.

Brilliant, vibrant, beautiful Ru.

Oh, if there was anything Tony could say about how he felt back then—he’d say he got hit by love with all the force of a freight train. He fell hard and fast. Rumiko was beautiful, funny and there was a practical shrewdness to her underneath the spoiled princess attitude that she liked to show everybody that made something in Tony purr with delight for finally finding someone who understood. He adored Ru from the gloss of her silky, sable hair, to the crinkling of her foxy eyes, to the sharpness of her wit and her childish charm down to the tinkling of her laughter.

 

It was all sunshine and roses, everything was perfect and he couldn’t have asked for more until reality came knocking and punched him back down onto his ass. 

 


 

The whole board could tell how the sudden death of his parents affected Tony even if they never made mention of it. How he went from the exasperating wild, young adult phase that adults would shake their head and mumble under their breaths about into a train wreck. He was crashing over and over again, they wanted to stop him yet they were frozen. The only thing they could do was look and pray for the best.

He got his shit almost back together after meeting Ru. Her father liked Tony, but not as a man for his only daughter. No, he liked and respected Tony for his work and business savvy but not for how he handled his personal life. The man was aware of Tony’s plethora of scandals and stints in rehab, his struggles with drugs and alcoholism. He had been around Tony for most of his late teenage to early adult years after all, though not like Obie had been.

Fujikawa was more than vocal of his disapproval of their relationship. Ru’s own stubbornness to make their relationship work also caused a rift between her and her father, prompting the man to retaliate where it hurts the most. Howard was gone and even if the man never breathed a word about it, Tony was aware that Fujikawa was intimidated enough by and felt indebted to Howard for bringing Fujikawa Enterprises into the Western market, thus never made a move to expand his influence in the company when Howard was still alive.

A few months after the honeymoon phase, though, Tony got himself caught up with work in SI and fighting off scandal after scandal to protect the business. He was forced to cancel dates and if he managed to squeeze time for that he’d arrive late, something that never ceased to annoy Ru because she hated not being punctual. He almost could not keep his eyes open during numerous meetings and he barely had time to breathe, let alone call to check up on her. They were slowly drifting apart and they both could scarcely hold on.

Since Howard was dead and he had a bone to pick with Tony, also bolstered by the fact that some of the shareholders were already retiring—Fujikawa bought shares from other board members to increase his stock within SI despite Obie’s efforts to keep their shares the majority. This created a power struggle that ultimately placed most of the shares in Stark Industries under Fujikawa’s thumb, giving the man control of the company.

The loss also severed what was left of his and Rumiko’s relationship. All the time that he and Obie were scrambling to get SI back from her father, Rumiko was wallowing in her own self-pity and decided that Tony no longer cared for her, ending things between them. And if the loss of his family’s company into the hands of her father and breaking up with him weren’t enough of a slap in the face, she got the idea to sleep with his childhood rival, Tiberius Stone.

Her in bed with his former friend shattered Tony and nearly pushed him back yet again to the bottom of the bottle. He didn’t succumb completely to the call of the liquor though. He did drink but he controlled himself enough to get back on the right track and fought tooth and fucking nail to gain what he lost bit by bit. The undivided attention he was known to pour into his inventions bled into his efforts and it showed with the way the board stopped treating him as a coattail-riding upstart. There was no way for him to know if it was divine intervention or whatever, probably a healthy dose of guilt, because sometime later, Rumiko turned and pushed things around for him to acquire enough stocks and reclaim SI. The old samurai on the other hand, placed the company back in Tony’s hands with no fuss whatsoever that Tony developed a complex and paranoia when it came to him.

Fujikawa was back after so many years, regardless of the fact that he never really and completely removed himself from SI. He was still an investor but contented himself with the minor shares he had been left with when Tony got the company back from him, that it was easy for others to forget he had a hand in SI to begin with. He and Pepper had to keep their eyes peeled for that man.

He had a feeling, however, that the whole thing hadn’t actually been all about his relationship with Ru per se, but more about teaching him on how quickly he’ll lose everything if he let himself get swayed by the mirage of his weakenesses and let others who depended on him down. It may or may not have been that, but whatever the old man’s actual motivation was—Tony soaked everything in and he learned.

 


 

There were some similarities in there that Tony just couldn’t ignore and reminded him of another one of his former flames. It was almost like Sunset Bain all over again. Only with none of the greed and lies, and was actually built with genuine affection and understanding.

Tony grimaced into his glass of sparkling water when his navel-gazing decided to peek again into another one of the giant assortments of issues in his vast collection.

Let’s not swan into that horrific chapter of The Not-so Lovely and Romantic Misadventures of Tony Stark. The Japanese Blossom chapter packs enough punch on its own.

He set the glass down on the mini table in front of him and looked at Happy when the other man cleared his throat.

“I think you need to see this.” Happy then turned the volume up on the flat screen opposite them.

Tony felt his insides squirm and tangle in his gut when he finally processed what he was looking at. On the screen was a WHiH Newsreport coverage of Rogers’ mission in Laos.

 

—The Avengers were in Laos to capture the wanted terrorist and mercenary Brock Rumlow a.k.a Crossbones. Rumlow was the former leader of the SHIELD STRIKE team and was revealed to be an undercover agent for HYDRA following the fall of Triskelion and Project Insight in Washington DC. After getting overpowered by Captain America a.k.a Steve Rogers, Rumlow detonated a bomb he had on himself intending to take Rogers down with him. This, however, was foiled by Wanda Maximoff who came to Rogers’ rescue and used her powers to remove the explosion away from Rogers and the civilians only to end up near a building that resulted in the devastating deaths of eleven Wakandan volunteers and injury of several locals.”

 

Following the report was a discussion between his equal parts favorite and dreaded reporter Christine Everheart and WHiH Newsreport resident political analyst Will Adams about the local and international governments calling for oversight of the Avengers’ actions. In light of this, a question of should the Avengers be allowed to continue as a private organization due to the extent of the damage they leave behind during their missions.

The call for oversight for the Avengers or any enhanced was not a new thing, it had been around ever since Tony became Iron Man. He only managed to avoid answering to the US government for so long by the skin of his teeth. He did that thru his usual pomp and blare, that surprisingly dazzled the attendees and the general public, during his hearing in DC. The fact that he only went after his illegally sold weapons plus letting the War Machine armor stay with Rhodey who was a decorated and respected member of the Air Force.

 This was the exact thing Tony had been fending off for so long whilst in the team.

 


 

He purchased Damage Control from SHIELD after New York. He then worked with the US government to turn it into a joint venture for cleanup and repairs as well as to allay the public unrest. To be sure, he also put Stark Relief Foundation in every case. Things were lighting up and moving away from this specific issue because of that but Project Insight happened and highlighted it again.

He would be fine with people calling him a hypocrite and delusional for avoiding government oversight for so long during his one-man army run as Iron Man and then suddenly turning his back around and being all for it because of what happened in Lagos. But then again, he did clean up after his own missions and fucking purchased a now actual department of the government that specialized in that.

Besides, one must keep in mind that this was reality.  

Sure, the Avengers had an alien pseudo-Norse god, a supersoldier, a Hulk, two master assassin-spies and a suit of armor with firepower enough to put multiple government armies to shame in addition to a multi-billion dollar company to help those in need. Which was all cool in the beginning because they kicked major alien ass and was probably what Mad-Eye Fury envisioned the super-secret boy band to be, but now it was all clearly becoming a matter of should they or should they not.

Should the Avengers barge in on every country that they think need their help?

 Should they be excused when they ignore and trample on international laws because they mean well?

 Should they assume that local governments were too incompetent that foreign intervention for every mercenary and scumbag that showed up with a group or a hint of strength would be needed?

Tony cringed. That one hit a little too close to home when one thought about Tony’s ‘nuclear deterrent and privatized world peace bullshit’ during his hearing in DC. Dancing with Death and nearly marrying her multiple times really opened his eyes and, pardon the pun, sobered him up from his own hubris.

Should the Avengers be the judge and jury, the standard for knowing what is right or wrong?

Should they be above the laws of every land because their strength made them capable of stopping threats never seen before?

 Should they assume that saying ‘we are here to help’ was enough to make the people forget all the horrors from the destruction?

How about the people they have protected? Because let us all face it, the Avengers were mostly of no use when the battle was over. When the bad guy was defeated, they all go home then what?

Should the Avengers not give a damn if the people they left behind still had enough to able to get their life on a semblance of normalcy?

 After every battle, should the people also pay for the damage?

Should the people put another chunk of their hard-earned money into a specialized tax to pay for devastation they had and wanted no part of?

 


 

A single Avengers mission could cause not only injuries and deaths for those caught in the middle of the battle, but also an obscene amount of money in damage that leave a major dent in the government budget of the country they go to. That’s not even counting numerous ruined livelihood owned by the people. Every single one of the Avengers was capable of unimaginable devastation on their own and when put all together?

Sokovia would be the first to answer that question, the country that until now was still shrouded in the debris and remains from the Ultron Offensive even with the help Tony was giving via Stark Relief Foundation.

SHIELD was enough to calm the public down before, even if Fury wasn’t really holding them down and calling the shots. It gave the public a sense of security to know that the Avengers were, in a sense, under a government agency, all thanks to Rising Tide exposing its existence. Still, the undercurrent of unrest after New York never went away and the fall of SHIELD as well as the reveal of HYDRA within its ranks pushed that into the surface. He already had people, okay, just Rhodey really, going around to get the general feel of the political climate in DC after Insight and Sokovia.

Just like how they predicted, the oversight issue came back to bite all of their asses.

And hysterically enough, it was the paragon of virtue that revived that spark and now that spark was quickly growing. Burning down the wick and would come in contact with the bomb that was the Avengers and blow up in all their faces.

 


 

Speaking of his dear paragon of virtue, the man would be a dense wall of tensed muscles when he finds out about this. Rogers maybe the embodiment of what the government wanted to seem like to the public but he had already lost faith in it after SHIELD fell. Regardless of how much he was trying to hide it.

Because, HYDRA.

Tony had already dismissed it as homesickness before but now he wasn’t sure. Rogers was capable of adapting to the new world he woke up in, that was obvious even if he insisted on his ugly khakis and picnic cloth shirts, yet whenever he was faced with something that had a connection to his former life he would disappear.

In a way, they would lose Rogers to whatever part of his past they encounter. He would seemingly revert to, presumably, how he was before SHIELD fished him out of the ice or would just be rendered immobile. He, apart from Natasha and Bruce, had the pleasure of being in close quarters with a newly thawed Steve Rogers during the early days when Fury was still herding them into his fancy flying pen.

Rogers was bullheaded and too full of himself that even Tony, who was a well-known officer, had to expel him from the Arrogant Bastards Coalition. He would not listen to Tony and Bruce reasoning with him about how they had to know what Fury was hiding when he hacked into their databases. Fine, Rogers did listen in a way because he found Fury’s stash of alien tech but still. The man was all for his way or the highway.

Such a shame Tony didn’t finish downloading all of SHIELD’s files because the helicarrier got attacked and Barton released a virus into the system, forcing JARVIS to sever the link. For all their effort though, the only thing Tony’s decryption program managed to recover from the files he did get were nothing important that he had to discard all of them as to not waste space in JARVIS’ servers.

Maybe he would’ve found out about him then if he had more time.

 Tony immediately slammed the lid on that line of thought. Though, he could not help but concede to the fact that this exact brainwave was inevitable. According to Romanoff, Rogers literally froze when his mask got removed during that fight on the bridge in DC. Rogers would’ve let him shoot his head off if not for Wilson and Romanoff driving him away. There was also that niggling in his mind that told Tony something similar happened in Lagos. Tony may be over-reaching here, but it did make some sense with Rumlow being part of HYDRA and apparently, according to the files he had decrypted from that damned SHIELD hard drive, was one of his superiors.

The biggest worry regarding Rogers, however, was not his psychosomatic response to everything from the early to mid-20th century, but the man’s tendency to cover his ears and refusal to see reason if he got it in his head that one of his own was in danger, unfounded or not.

Rogers almost dropped everything just to look for his old war buddy in wherever nook and cranny in the world he maybe after the SHIELD fiasco. Knowing Rogers, if he found the man, no fucking way in hell was he going to let him be incarcerated or get even just a slap on the wrist for his crimes. He’ll punch a way out for his buddy when it came to that. Court of law be damned.

The notion led him to the obvious stress point in Rogers’ psyche when it came to this situation with Lagos.

 

Wanda.

 


 

Tony, like the rest of the Avengers, was not blind. He could see how Rogers treated Wanda like a child regardless of the fact that she was an adult and could take them all down if she so wished. Rogers, as well as Barton, would not hesitate to punch the lights out of anyone who would hurt her, something that would no doubt make the situation worse.

Therefore, Tony had to find a way to keep Wanda out of the scrutiny during the investigation for Lagos. It was an accident on Wanda’s part and they have to prove that. Otherwise, Rogers would be pushed to go on a ‘Please embrace this child’ crusade for her. And for all the selling of war bonds that the man did during the war, he had zero experience in politics. Rogers had all the finesse of an enraged rhino in a china shop when it came to dealing with suits. Forget about stirring the pot, Rogers would fucking smash it against the wall just to get things to go his way.

Proving it was an accident would not be enough for the international community when they were already calling for someone’s head on a platter. Sure as hell, they’d be looking for his, Rogers’ and Maximoff’s. Tony’s because his was the face everyone knew, Rogers’ because he was the team leader and Maximoff’s because, in their eyes, she was the one who killed the volunteers even if it was Rumlow who detonated that bomb. If Nigeria or Wakanda called for oversight, then US would have no choice but to give in because refusal would burn down international relations and give the other two countries ammunition to paint the Avengers as paramilitary.

Wakanda was bringing itself into the eyes of the world after moving away from its dogma of isolationism, thus, the new in thing in the eyes of the world. They were the country of focus at the moment and blood of their people who were only in foreign land to do good were spilled because of the Avengers’ actions. There was also Nigeria that could call foul on the Avengers’ entry in their land to capture Rumlow. The man was technically Nigeria’s problem already because of universal jurisdiction as well as the crimes he had committed over there.

Tony couldn’t help but wince. The stakes were going higher and the team was losing ground. With this trend, he wouldn’t even be surprised if the final verdict would be to dissolve the Avengers or passing on a new law for overseeing the enhanced to appease the world governments.

He pinched the bridge of his nose to stall an oncoming headache.

 

Reviewing the Avengers’ portfolio, there were a lot of parts that the international community could paint as partisan if they looked too closely.

We can’t let the Avengers fall apart.

Not with the threat that looms over us in space.

 

The US could use extraterritorial jurisdiction as an argument if they made a play with Rumlow’s citizenship. On the other hand, citing that would be the US kicking itself in the teeth because the Avengers was a private organization and not under the government. Worse, the international community could slap the US with accusations of the Avengers being a private military company. Which, fuck it all, would be difficult to refute because that’s basically how the team operated for years since their supposed political rampart, SHIELD, was decimated by the team leader himself. Then again, it was nigh impossible for SHIELD to still possess credibility even if it remained standing after Rogers’ HYDRA spring cleaning.

His eyes flicked back to the screen, Everheart and Adams were still in the middle of their debate and caught the image of Thaddeus Ross on the screen.

 

Right, I almost forgot about you.

 

According to Rhodey, the official press release was that Ross was just about to be tapped as Secretary of State when in reality, President Ellis had already decided on Ross’ appointment long ago. Things were looking even more fucked for them.

Ross’ obsession with the supersoldier serum and the Hulk was not something he could overlook. For years, the bastard had been after Bruce and an extremist when it came to the enhanced. He was one of the reasons, aside from that asshole, Stern—pre-HYDRA reveal— that Tony had to play nice with the government as Iron Man and continue on that vein for the Avengers. Ross had mysteriously evaded prosecution for his involvement with human experimentation and Harlem and Tony was going to use all his resources to ensure it would not happen again. The old bastard’s hard on for the Avengers had been throbbing for years, trying to worm his way into seizing control of them—for the Hulk and obviously, the first successful supersoldier, Rogers. Wanda and Vision would be attractive specimens for him too, the rest of them were gravy.

His heart skipped a beat in horror when he remembered Peter and Harley. Ross had no problem using his own daughter as a bait for the Hulk, didn’t blink when it came to experimenting on another human. Could Tony really hope that Ross would spare the boys? With Peter getting stronger as he grew older and would clearly surpass Rogers by miles in the future? With Harley barely scratching the surface of his abilities but already had an edge over Wanda’s?

Now, President Ellis was practically handing them over to Ross in a silver platter like glorified Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce and all. Apparently, experimenting on his own daughter’s boyfriend, the existence of the Abomination and the destruction of Harlem were the most impressive parts of Thunderbolt Ross’ resumé. He was that experienced in dealing with enhanced individuals.

In that case, Tony may as well submit his.

 Wouldn’t spawning a genocidal AI while under duress and technically calling the Chitauri down to Earth by creating a big ass tower powered by a big ass reactor with energy signature same as a fucking space cube hunted down by multiple alien armies be more worthy of the appointment as Secretary of State?

The only bright spot in this raw deal was Bruce being only Thor knows where.

By how things were going, oversight and Ross would be packaged deal for the Avengers. Not just the Avengers, but for every enhanced individual that would show up in the times to come.

 

The enhanced were fighting a war in all fronts now on the ground and they may end up losing before they could prepare for the war that truly mattered.

 


 

He had to do something. If working with Ross meant finding a solution—and secretly moving things around to get that sleazy fucker out of the way—then so be it. He would have to get around Ross’ plans and level things out not just for the Avengers but all the enhanced. He’d be damned if he let Ross turn them into war puppets. He’ll dig and claw his hand into the dirt to make sure whatever was going to be thrown their way was something that would help everyone.

He needed to step into the mess and plan for their next moves. Tony got his list of priorities down pat for now: Rogers, Wanda, Ross.  

Decision made, he had FRIDAY filter through his contacts and take note of those who could help him and Rhodey. He would make the necessary calls later.

He leaned back into his seat and closed his eyes.

He needed a fucking nap.