Chapter 1: Encounter in the Woods
Tony wasn’t sure what he was seeing.
All he knew was that the woman walked into the clearing just as the HYDRA twins tried to speed away, swung a metal poke, and then, with a sickening crack, the two of them went flying. Pietro screamed as he went down and Wanda went flying in a blur of colour. She hit a tree with yet another sickening crack. She dropped to the forest floor and didn’t move.
Pietro tried to push himself up but cried out in pain.
‘I wouldn’t try movin’, bub.’ A man with greying hair walked out of the woods, carrying a bald elder man on his back. ‘Your kneecap’s shattered.’ He lowered the man to a particularly large rock.
Tony looked over at the woman in question. She had streaks of grey in her brown hair and hazel eyes. With a displeased twist to her lips. ‘I saw that coming, but I’m still disappointed.’ She turned. ‘All right. Who can tell me what he did wrong?’ There was a pause. ‘Rebecca?’
‘He didn’t try to jump over it?’
The voice sounded like it belonged to a child. Tony moved, away from the team and soon saw an uncomfortably large number of children, slowly moving forward.
‘That was mistake number one.’ The woman tossed the rod over her head to the younger-looking of the two men. ‘What was the mistake that got his sister killed?’
The kids were slowly moving into the clearing now and Tony felt the Hulk move around, watching them curiously. Tony counted nineteen children walk over to the woman. They looked around nervously, but quickly drew their eyes back to the woman. Tony glanced over at the Avengers. Most of them looked surprised and, really, only Clint looked concerned at the presence of the children. Natasha, on the other hand, had a shrewd look on her face.
Tony didn’t like it.
Then the answer came back from where the two men were. ‘The way he was carrying her.’
The woman smiled, looked over and clicked at the twentieth child. ‘Very good, Laura. The way he was carrying her.’
Tony looked back over and saw an 11-year old in jeans, a denim jacket and wearing unicorn shades had come up next to the younger-looking man and was holding onto his hand. He had moved over to Pietro, kicked him onto his back and was using the pole to hold him in place. There were enough physical similarities between the two of them – despite him being Caucasian and her being Latino – that Tony would feel comfortable assuming they were father and daughter.
The woman went on to explain. ‘Despite popular romantic notions, carrying a woman bridal-style,’ she flicked a finger and the smallest child wandered forward, and she then lifted him up in that way, ‘is the most dangerous way to carry or rescue someone – especially in super-speed. It’s much safer,’ she then shifted him, ‘to carry someone either against your chest or fire-man style.’ She then demonstrated. ‘As this keeps them securely to you, minimises the damage they could potentially take and dramatically lowers the likelihood of them flying out of your arms.’ She then put the child down again. ‘Thank you, Jonah.’
The kid grinned and stepped back.
‘The mistake was hitting him in the knee,’ Cap said, shooting the woman his cultivated “Captain America is disappointed in you” look.
The woman paused and then turned and looked at him like he was crazy. The man with the kid cocked an eyebrow. The older man, who was evidently paralysed from the waist down, scrutinised him. The woman then turned and inclined her head. ‘I was rather under the impression that they were trying to kill you.’
‘They were just misguided kids,’ Steve said. ‘They—’
The woman and the father both scoffed, almost in unison, cutting Steve off. The woman gestured to the pre-teens. ‘No, no. These are kids.’ She then used her forefingers to point at the HYDRA twins. ‘Those two are in their twenties, you condescending piece of shit.’
The paralysed man suddenly spoke up. ‘It seems his best friend has been brainwashed for 70 years. He thought he could get Miss Maximoff to erase the damage from his mind.’
‘That’s stupid,’ one of the boys said. ‘She was trying to kill you. Why would she help you?’
Steve pretended the kid hadn’t said anything. Instead, he looked at the paralysed man. ‘How did you know that?’
‘Uh, uh, uh!’ The woman stepped forward, moving directly between Steve and the other man. ‘You were asked first! You don’t get to avoid a question just because you don’t have an answer.’
Another voice joined them as someone else walked into the clearing, this one was Russian accented. ‘Because, according to Ethne, he’s too lazy to engage in either critical thinking or self-reflection.’
Everyone turned and looked. A dark-haired middle-aged man in a dark suit was leading others dressed similarly into the clearing. The subordinates immediately moved over to the HYDRA twins. The leader walked over to Lennie, pulling something out of his pocket and handing it over. ‘You must be Lennie Alice.’
‘I am,’ she said. ‘And you are?’
‘Kolya Zima, Russian intelligence.’
It didn’t escape Tony’s notice how Natasha backed up from the men. Nor that Logan stepped back from Pietro and just let the men work.
‘Uh huh. So, I guess these two had bounties on their heads,’ Lennie held up the envelope she’d been handed, ‘and this is it?’
‘That’s about it.’
‘Okay.’ Lennie folded what was clearly a cheque up and pocketed it. She looked over to where Pietro was being handcuffed as his knee was tended to, and Wanda was just wrapped up in a body bag and carried away. ‘Now, I can see you know how we ended up here.’
Well, this was getting interesting.
‘I do. I was told.’
‘Why you?’ Lennie asked, inclining her head.
‘I’m one of the Transcendent Souls,’ Zima said. ‘We were trialled for transcendence and, as such transcend death. You kill us, we just reincarnate.’
‘For what purpose?’ the paralysed man asked.
‘To keep the Infinity Stones from falling into a single person’s hand.’
Thor made his opinion known. ‘Heh.’ There was a mocking curl to his lip.
Zima then smirked at Thor for a second. ‘Asgard. Haven’t moved an inch socially, technologically, or economically. Still think they’re the most superior race in the universe.’
The father snorted. ‘Cute.’
The grin fell away from Thor’s face as he realised they were mocking him.
‘So what’s an Infinity Stone?’ the father asked.
Thor went to open his mouth, no doubt to either make some remark about how they wouldn’t understand or explain it in a way that’d leave them none the wiser. Zima lifted his hand and in the next instant something came whizzing through the woods and into his hand. It moved so fast that Tony didn’t see what it was until it stopped in his hand and he lifted it, holding it between his thumb and forefinger.
It was the Mind Stone.
‘This.’ As soon as Zima had it in his grip, his eyes had started glowing orange.
‘You could do that the whole time?’ Tony asked curiously.
‘Only when the Stone is outside its casing,’ Zima said. He walked over to the stretcher where Pietro was stretched out on and took a grip on his jaw. Pietro’s eyes bugged and he made a few choked sounds but, when Zima let him go, he slumped.
‘What...?’ Pietro began to ask.
‘I took your powers away,’ Zima said before turning back to Tony and letting his men carry the Sokovian away. ‘The casings are designed to hide the stones but, unfortunately, they also make it impossible for us to just summon the stones into our hands if someone finds and begins using one. That’s why, in our last lifetimes, we couldn’t just repossess the Tesseract from the Red Skull despite the fact that three of us were German and one of us was Austrian.’
‘They were the enemy!’ Steve insisted.
Tony rolled his eyes. ‘Have you done any research on what happened directly after the war?’ Obviously he hadn’t, or he’d realise just how many people were unaware of the true extent of what Hitler and his Nazis were doing.
Steve glared at him. Tony frowned, guilt beginning to gnaw at him.
But it was suddenly cut through.
You needn’t feel guilty, Tony. That is a legitimate question.
Tony looked over and saw that the paralysed man was looking right at him with a compassionate expression.
Tony tried it. You’re telepathic?
I am. My name is Charles Xavier. The truth about Mr. Rogers is that your father was looking at him through rose-coloured glasses. The man is very loud with his thoughts. I had no intention to read his mind, but I heard it from miles away. That is how we knew you were here. I can also assure you that he did not know your father all that well. The most prominent memories he has of the man are when he gave him things. I imagine your father knew him just as well.
Oh, so Steve screamed his thoughts out.
So what? He’s always having a go at me because I give him the impression he didn’t know dad as well as he thought he did?
We might wish so, but no. From what I’ve picked up, he dislikes you because you embody all of the changes of this century that he is uncomfortable with: social, economic, and technological. Added to the fact that you are similar to Howard Stark, but you are not Howard. All of his efforts thus far have been in an attempt to make you behave less like your father, and thus make interacting with you easier for him.
That was weird. As far as Tony knew, he’d never behaved like Howard. Then again, Steve had known Howard before D-Day...before he’d grown disillusioned and angry at the world...before he turned to alcohol for a coping mechanism. According to the details he’d found in the Data Dump, there had been a period like that. Howard started turning into the man Tony knew in the fifties.
You went that deep?
By his surface thoughts, I judged him to be a threat to the children, so I went that deep, yes. Lennie and Logan are both aware of it.
Tony looked back at Steve, who was back to giving him the “Captain America is disappointed in you” look. There was something in his thoughts that made an aged telepath consider him a threat to children? If this was fiction, he’d call that a plot twist. As it was, it was something he’d have to put some serious thought into. Maybe Cap had been on a pedestal for far too long.
Cap then said in a completely level voice, ‘At least I’ve never lied to my teammates, Tony.’
At that moment, the little girl next to Logan made a disgusted sound.
‘Yup,’ Logan said. ‘You’re gonna get awful used to that stink, Laura. When someone makes a decision to lie, their brain releases a chemical. Our mutation means that we can smell it.’
Zima then slapped his hands over his heart in exaggerated shock. ‘The Paragon of Virtue, lying?! Oh, say it ain’t so!’
Laura looked up at her father. She spoke in Spanish. Tony was surprised to hear her asking if lying was a bad thing to be doing. The other children all looked just as curious and wandered over to Logan to hear the answer. Logan looked thoughtful before answering. ‘Some lies are bad. Some lies are necessary. And some of them are just necessary in the moment.’
‘Like Eden?’ one of the children asked.
‘Like Eden. The nurses told you that lie to get you to leave a place that was dangerous to you. When Charles ran the school, he lied about what kind of people attended and worked there, because that kept all of us safe inside the walls. What this is about is an unacceptable lie.’
And that, Charles said into Tony’s mind, is the other reason he treats you as he does. He’s been lying to you, and he doesn’t want you to learn the truth.
Chapter 2: Don't Fall on your Face
Steve's attempt to talk himself out of this just digs his way in deeper.
Lennie was almost amused to see the redhead spy blanch when she heard that Logan and Laura could smell lies. From what Lennie had seen when she’d scanned each of these peoples’ futures, telling lies was so integral to the redheaded woman’s character that she legitimately didn’t know how to survive when stripped of that ability. She was a spy assassin. Lies and deception were her bread and butter.
Wait until she found out that both of those two were virtually immortal.
Lennie was actually curious as to why some of her visions of Logan’s future showed him looking younger. She’d thought what was happening to him was a natural phenomenon. Perhaps it wasn’t. And getting away from the source had led to the mutations regaining their strength. With a bit of luck, maybe even Charles’s seizures would stop.
She knew Stark and the Hulk were the only ones close enough to hear what Logan was saying to the kids. Them, she would explain it to. Zima seemed to be already aware of what was going on, judging by his reaction to Logan revealing that Rogers was lying. And now Rogers attempted to avoid the subject.
‘Look, we don’t have time for this! We have to stop Ultron.’
Zima lifted a hand again and something else came tearing through the woods, but this was much bigger, it knocked down trees, and it swore bloody murder. Instead of catching it, though, Zima flipped his hand around for “stop” and what appeared to be an oversized metal robot – not anywhere near as big as the sentinels, thank God – stopped in midair. It seemed to try to struggle.
‘Your body is made entirely of metal,’ Zima said. ‘I have metallokinesis. You’re not going anywhere. As for your consciousness...’ He lifted the Infinity Stone. ‘Well, let’s put that right back where it came from, shall we?’
Then the glow in Ultron’s eyes was drawn out. The sentience was drawn right back into the Infinity Stone.
‘What are you talking about?’ the archer demanded. ‘I thought it was Stark’s program!’
‘Ultron, maybe,’ Zima said, not breaking focus as he continued draining it out. The Mind Stone would even overwhelm attempts to escape to the internet. ‘But this thing existed in the Mind Stone prior to that. It just appropriated the name and stated intention.’
‘Of course,’ Lennie said, ‘if you’d listened to him, you’d know that.’ All the quips about “Stark’s killer robots” she’d foreseen had led her to backtrack to find the source and discover that little gem. She injected just the right amount of sarcasm into her tone. ‘But what would he know? He’s only the engineer!’
‘Well, he shouldn’t have kept it secret!’ Rogers insisted.
Note to me: All I have to do is set verbal traps and he’ll walk right into them. ‘Then if you’re so against secrets on the team, perhaps you’d like to share the one you’ve been keeping?’
Rogers’ face paled as Kolya dropped the now empty shell that was all that was left of Ultron and pocketed the Infinity Stone. Once again, he tried to evade. ‘The Infinity Stone shouldn’t be left in just anyone’s hands.’
Lennie put on her best “mom” voice. ‘Don’t change the subject, sonny-boy. Now, either you say it or I will.’
‘You don’t understand!’ Rogers insisted.
‘No, I don’t agree with you.’ Lennie glared at him. ‘I understand. I understand that your friend was brainwashed for the better part of 70 years to be the super-soldier assassin known as the Winter Soldier. I understand that you’re afraid of the reaction that this piece of information may incite. I understand that you hate what your 70-year ice-nap cost you, and you see your BFF as a link to the past you lost, and you are not willing to give that up. I understand that you think if you can get him to “remember you”, you can just brush everything HYDRA did to him under the rug.’
Rogers was frozen, his jaw working. He then pressed his lips together.
‘I don’t agree with you. There are hundreds of victims whose families deserve to know what happened to those people. Just because you’re uncomfortable with it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. And you don’t get to decide how he feels about it. You don’t get to decide whether or not he deals with what his body was used to do. And you certainly don’t get to decide who knows about it.’ Lennie narrowed her eyes. ‘You could have played this straight, but you waited far too long. No one will believe you didn’t intentionally hide it when it comes out now.’
Zima frowned. ‘You mean he didn’t tell him?’
Lennie looked at him. ‘Nope. I’ve already seen the final consequences of that. It’s not pretty.’
‘How not pretty?’
‘Think the absolute worst.’
Zima pulled a face and then he looked at Rogers. ‘You know, we’ve got the list back at HQ. I’d be happy to have it publically released.’
Rogers glared at him. ‘You wouldn’t dare.’
Zima smirked. ‘Rogers, I am Russian, not a gobsmacked American. Try me.’
‘That’s none of your business!’ Rogers snapped.
‘You made it my business,’ Zima said. ‘When you decided to conceal all those murders, you made it my business. I may be in the world of federal law, but it is still the law. And I should say the Winter Soldier would fall under Federal Law.’
‘It wasn’t him, it was HYDRA!’ Rogers insisted.
Lennie inclined her head and then looked at Zima. ‘Sorry, I’m a fitness trainer by trade but isn’t it aiding and abetting a terrorist organisation to cover up their crimes?’
It was entirely amusing to watch Rogers’ eyes bug.
‘Yes,’ Zima said.
Lennie looked back at Rogers. ‘Not much of a thinker, are you? Of course, that explains how you’re in this mess in the first place.’
‘Why are you pushing this so hard?’ Steve demanded.
‘Because he has a right to know,’ Lennie said, ‘and they have a right to justice. That doesn’t go away just because you’re uncomfortable with what happened.’
‘We don’t know that for sure!’ Steve insisted.
‘Irrelevant.’ Zima waved it off. ‘If you were as morally upright as you say you are, you’d have said it as soon as possible.’
Rogers flinched. ‘I have no obligation to say anything.’
‘You disparage Stark for “keeping secrets”, and yet insist you have no obligation to say anything about this?’ Lennie scoffed. ‘On the contrary, you do. You have an ethical and moral obligation.’
Because, from the way Zima was talking, Rogers was clearly one of those assholes she’d long ago dubbed “front-pew hypocrites”.
‘No, I don’t.’ Rogers certainly made himself sound right. But the problem was that this concept was older than he was. It was older than Lennie was. It was even older than Logan was.
‘Yes,’ Lennie firmly told him. ‘You do.’ She folded her arms across her chest. ‘In some American states, you are not guilty of any crime yet, and in some you are. But the moment you actively begin trying to stop the legal proceedings, you would then breaking the law.’
A mulish look came over his face. ‘Then the law is wrong.’
‘Not in this instance.’ Lennie inclined her head. ‘But I can see you’re not going to change your mind and you’re going to keep pushing to keep this under wraps.’
‘And what’s that mean?’
‘It means I’m gonna say it.’
‘It’ll probably be better if I say it,’ Zima said. ‘After all, all you’ve got is your word. I have hard evidence.’
Lennie nodded her head in acquiescence. It wasn’t like talking to the X-Men, wherein her credibility was high and she was well-known to them. The only ones who trusted her here were the children and the two remaining X-Men. Zima then turned to Stark and started walking over to him. Rogers suddenly grabbed his shield and flung it at the Russian’s head. Lennie rolled her eyes as Zima merely raised a hand and stopped the shield in midair.
Mr. Stark pulled a face. ‘Rogers, you can’t fling your shield at a man’s head just because he’s going to say something you don’t want him to.’
Lennie pulled a face. ‘Why do I get the feeling he’s gotten away with this kind of jackass behaviour for far too long?’
‘Because he has,’ Mr. Stark said.
‘Right.’ Zima pushed his hands in his pockets. ‘Well, the thing he doesn’t want you to know is that since the Winter Soldier was confirmed as a real assassin rather than an urban legend, it was discovered that he was held, conditioned, and trained in Russia. That made it our business to investigate him. We soon found a list of his victims, as well as the names of the HYDRA handlers over the years.’
Mr. Stark’s head jerked in surprise. ‘Why would Steve want to keep that from me?’
The man in question started to charge at Zima. Lennie held her hand out. Logan tossed her back the pole and, timing herself, she swung it. The pole swept his feet off the ground and Rogers flew face-first into the dirt and twigs. She then pressed the end of the pole to the base of his skull, putting him in only just enough pain to make him stay down.
After all, Lennie was very experienced in dealing with unruly super-powered people.
And, at least this way, Tony Stark’s reaction would be tempered.
The archer sighed. ‘You know the more you lash out, Cap, the more guilty you look.’
‘I should say so,’ Zima said from where he and Tony had been watching the whole thing. He then turned back to Tony. ‘The thing about that list of victims was that both of your parents were on it.’
It was out.
And Mr. Stark was responding exactly how she’d expected.
Lennie just wished he’d been told in a more secure environment.
Chapter 3: The Truth is Out
Keeping a secret like that has consequences.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The words sank in and Tony felt like his entire body went cold. Time seemed to stop. All that existed for him were those words: The thing about that list of victims was that both of your parents were on it.
Then Cap tore him back to reality. ‘It wasn’t Bucky!’
Tony spun and glared at him. Lennie, looking like she’d like to kick him, pulled the metal pole from the back of his head and hopped back very quickly. Rogers tried to take a swing at her too, and she’d clearly known that. She was out of the way fast. Tony paid no attention to anyone else. He just glared at Rogers. He’d known. The prick had known and he’d actively tried to stop Tony from finding out.
That meant it was true.
‘How long have you known, Rogers?’ Tony demanded, his rage making his voice go flat.
‘I didn’t know it was him!’ Rogers insisted, suddenly looking very much like the proverbial deer caught in headlights.
‘Don’t bullshit me!’ Tony snapped. ‘How long have you known?!’
Rogers hesitated. ‘...Since Washington.’
A year...a full year and then some. He’d known all that time and he’d chosen to say nothing. Tony’s mind flashed back to his father, constantly singing Rogers’ praises...How devastated he’d be to learn just how little he meant to the man he’d considered the Second Coming of Christ. His mind flashed back to his mother...who’d never done anything but love a couple of assholes who never deserved it; who couldn’t take five minutes to get along.
And now to his new understanding of how they’d died.
Tony’s eyes darted around and he caught sight of those kids.
Those kids...who clearly had no idea of right or wrong. They didn’t know where the line was because Charles, Lennie, and Logan were trying to teach them that. Logan had to tell them about grey areas when it came to lying. And this entire exercise was clearly a morality lesson for them. They’d wanted to show the kids why they should never do what Cap did. And that meant that Tony couldn’t turn around and kick the crap out of Cap like he wanted to.
While that was his emotional knee-jerk response, it wasn’t the right thing to do.
And kids learned through example.
Tony took a few deep breaths and tried to suppress his more violent impulses; to get control of his temper.
Thor, probably unintentionally, helped. ‘This explains why you could not lift Mjolnir, Captain.’ He lifted the hammer in question. ‘When one’s parents are murdered, they have the right to seek justice. You have actively denied Son of Stark that right. You then condemned him for keeping secrets when you yourself were keeping a secret you had no business keeping. This all rendered you unworthy.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘On Asgard, the son of the victims would, in fact, be entitled to put the perpetrators to death himself.’
Steve blanched. ‘I told you it wasn’t Bucky.’
‘I was not speaking of your friend,’ Thor said coldly. ‘We do take brainwashing into consideration.’ He looked at Zima. ‘Transcendent One, you said you knew who was in control of the soldier at the time?’
‘It’s on record.’ Zima then flicked a phone up to his ear, spoke into it for a few minutes and then lowered it. ‘At the time of the Starks’ deaths, the Winter Soldier’s handler was a man called Vasily Karpov.’
Tony nodded to himself. ‘Vasily Karpov? Right. I’ll track him down, but first.’ Tony lifted his head and glared at Rogers. ‘My father made you what you are today. He may not have mixed up the serum that turned you into a mountain, but he did create the machine that injected you in the safest possible way. He designed your Captain America outfit, he flew you out on your first mission, and he gave you the shield.’ Tony then plucked the shield in question out of the air. ‘Speaking of which, I’m taking this back. It was lent to you by dad for the war. Then I let you keep it for this superhero shtick. And this is how you repay us?’
‘Tony, the shield is mine,’ Steve insisted.
The presence of the kids, and the knowledge that their eyes were glued to them, kept Tony from decking the asshole. ‘Uh, yeah, no. This shield is worth quite a few billion dollars. It was loaned to you in good faith, not given. You’ve broken that faith so I’m taking it back.’
‘Tony,’ Rogers gave him the “Captain America disapproves in you” face, ‘your father gave me that shield so I could help people. Do you really think he’d approve of you taking it away over one little misstep?’
Tony snorted. ‘You’re only right insofar as that Howard would dismiss you covering up his murder as a “misstep”.’ He said the word with heavy scorn, ensuring that the kids got the message that this was far more than a mere misstep. ‘But we Starks are very good at taking abuse that gets heaped on us. You and most of this...team have certainly taken advantage of it in the past, haven’t you?’
Behind Rogers, Natashalie’s eyes tightened, before quickly darting over to Logan and Laura. Yeah, she knew where this was going and she knew any attempts to lie her way out would be caught by the two of them. Clint winced, while Thor looked almost adorably confused. The big oaf was probably so used to treating people like that that it never occurred to him that there might be something wrong with it.
Tony went on relentless. ‘But mom was involved. I may have doubted that my father loved me, but I never doubted that he loved her. Dad would have been hurt by your casual dismissal of his murder, but he would have also forgiven you and decided you had to have a good reason. But he would never have done the same knowing you dismissed mom’s murder.’
‘Tony...’ Steve began.
‘No.’ Tony let his eyes scan over the rest of the “team”. ‘All right. Who else knew?’
Hulk shook his head.
‘I did not,’ Thor said.
‘Me neither,’ Clint said.
Natasha was silent a little too long. Tony scoffed and glared at her. ‘Figures.’
Natasha lifted her chin and gave a defiant look. ‘I thought it would be better coming from Steve.’
Tony cocked an eyebrow at her.
Clint groaned. ‘Nat! Not helping!’
‘Huh?’ Laura looked curious and looked up at her father.
‘That’s a half-truth,’ Logan said. ‘It’s true, so she’s not technically lying, but that’s not why she didn’t tell him. You can less smell those and more see them. We’ve obviously pushed her outside of her comfort zone.’
‘I’m not entirely happy to learn that someone’s “comfort zone” is lying,’ Charles said.
‘Oh, please,’ Tony said sarcastically. ‘That’s how I met her.’
Natasha narrowed her eyes. ‘Not everything is about you, Tony. Maybe if you toned down your ego, you might see that.’
Lennie’s immediate reaction to that was to laugh.
Zima sneered. ‘I present you the result of the Black Widow Program: limited and predictable. It’s why it was abandoned.’
Tony nearly laughed himself. Especially when Natasha’s eyes widened in offence.
One of the kids asked, ‘Huh?’
‘What you just saw there,’ Lennie said, ‘was a diversion tactic. She’s trying to divert attention off of what she did wrong by attacking Mr. Stark. This is a way that people try to avoid taking responsibility for things they really should be answering for. And they should never be allowed to successfully divert.’ She then turned to Natasha. ‘So...the truth. Why didn’t you tell him? You knew that Rogers hadn’t, correct?’
Natasha looked like she’d sucked a lemon. ‘...I didn’t know for sure.’
‘Yes, you did,’ Laura said.
Tony had heard the expression “smell a lie” before, but this was on a new level. And he loved it.
Lennie nodded and looked at Zima. ‘So, what’s the training of a Black Widow?’
‘Well, they are spies,’ Zima said. ‘But they are primarily assassins. The Black Widow became as such because she killed all the other girls training alongside her. Their modus operandi is “seduce, manipulate, kill”, and they’re taught that.’
Logan made a sound in his throat. ‘So...she thought she could use it against him later?’
Natasha went tense.
‘Wow.’ Tony sneered. ‘You really do have no soul. Well, I’m sure you two will enjoy making your own way home.’
It was almost pathetic how Rogers looked stunned. ‘What are you saying?’
‘I’m saying “walk home”. I’m sure Natashalie’s got enough contacts to do it.’ Tony turned his back on them and started walking away.
‘Isn’t that a bit harsh?’ Clint asked.
‘You’re welcome to join them,’ Tony said.
‘The answer is “no”. It’s not.’ Lennie threw her two cents in. ‘Basic lesson: when you abuse your privileges, you can expect them to be taken away.’
Clint winced but nodded.
Tony then decided to entirely ignore them and turned to the other three. ‘You guys can come with, if you want. I’m not sure how you ended up here but, somehow, I don’t think it was intentional.’
Lennie nodded her head. ‘Just incredibly lucky.’
Or unlucky, depending on your point of view.
Chapter 4: Get Moving
Tony does what he does best.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
‘We sure about this?’ Logan asked.
‘I’ve checked,’ Lennie said. ‘Turns out this place is quite different from ours. You guys being mutants isn’t going to work against you. Of course, there’ll always be people who want to weaponise or control people with powers, but the large clump of children will work in our favour. Also doesn’t hurt that we’ve got Tony Stark in our corner. Which reminds me…’ She pulled a slip of paper out of her back pocket. ‘He gave me a list of names of people who have tried to use living weapons in the past.’
Lennie handed it over and Logan unfolded it.
‘Thaddeus Ross, Nick Fury…Why’s it got “under my eye” next to Maria Hill?’
Lennie smirked. ‘Funny story, that. Last year, the Strategic Homeland Intervention and Enforcement Logistics Division – or S.H.I.E.L.D. – was found to be infiltrated by what appears to be a meglomaniacal shadow organisation called HYDRA, basically from inception. Rogers and Romanoff discovered this and promptly dumped all their data online.’
‘What a pair of fuckwits,’ Logan grumbled.
‘Yup. So, Tony was left cleaning that up. Hill went to him for “protection”. Unfortunately, for them, Tony was already deep in the data dump and saw exactly what they were doing. Turns out S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA were the worst ones for using living weapons, and they had no qualms using children either.’ Lennie folded her hands on her head. ‘Barton was pulled in when he was about…fifteen or sixteen.’
Logan clicked his tongue. ‘So Stark knew what they were doing.’
‘Yup, and he knew he was considered a living weapon himself. Unfortunately for Fury, a lot of the burned agents turned against S.H.I.E.L.D. after the fact, and were more than happy to come under Stark’s roof and play by his rules – which meant obeying the law. Hill, however, was always more administrative, so nothing dirty could ever be pinned on her but...she did come here to try and keep Tony from learning too many of their secrets.’
‘Try, being the operative word,’ Logan said.
He’d not only transported them and the children to New York but he’d given them all lodgings on one of his properties. He’d fed all of them and accomodated them more than sufficiently. Of course, Charles could tell that this was a coping mechanism over anything else. For 23 years, it seemed, he had believed his parents’ car accident had been caused by his father drunk driving.
It must’ve been horrible to learn the truth.
Charles, you in there?
Yes, Lennie. You can come in.
The door opened and the century-old seer walked in. ‘So, judging from the lack of seizures, I take it the drug’s wearing off?’
‘Yes.’ Charles smiled. ‘You knew that already. Logan’s mutation is recovering too and that’s far more visible than mine.’
‘Yeah. Just seemed a good conversation starter.’ Lennie plopped down in the chair across from him.
‘You know, Miss Hill tried to get access to this room?’ Charles remarked, a small smile playing at his lips. ‘It was quite amusing how she became more and more frustrated. I expect it won’t be too much longer before she either retreats back to Fury or slips up and implicates herself.’
Lennie snorted and flicked the TV on. ‘I say she’ll retreat to Fury, especially after this.’
‘Ah.’ Charles nodded. ‘The exhumation and examination of the Starks?’
Already, the report was detailing the injuries on their bodies and stating that these were not the result of an accident. Lennie pulled out her cell phone and flicked it open. ‘The best bit is Rogers and Romanoff only just got on the plane back to America. By the time they arrive, they’ll have some very awkward questions to answer.’
‘I would agree.’ Charles smiled. ‘And the children?’
‘There’s reps from about three organisations coming tomorrow,’ Lennie said. ‘Tony thinks he can swing it so we can keep all twenty kids together but seeing as Logan’s the only surviving parent, Laura will definitely stay with him. Turns out Tony Stark is a very good person to have in your corner.’
‘And the impending invasion he asked you to look at?’ Charles asked.
Lennie folded her hands on top of her head. ‘I’ll tell you what, if we hadn’t arrived here, the “Avengers” would have been creamed. You know those people who seem to always have things just fall into their laps? Well, Rogers is one of those. He was unfit to serve so he happened to be observed trying to enlist and making a heartfelt announcement about the need to “do what’s right” by an escaped German scientist during world war two. He happened to get lucky on his first rescue mission saving the entire 107th. He happened to crash his ship into the arctic and have a 70-year ice-nap.’
Charles nodded. ‘And he’s probably ignorant of it.’
‘Please!’ Lennie huffed. ‘From what I can tell, he thinks he wins all the time because he’s a good man fighting for what’s right and good guys always win. There’s no acknowledgement from him, past or future, that those victories have anything to do with support staff or even from Tony Stark – who's the one they can really credit for the victory nine times outta ten. Once again, he’s believing that his “rightness” will win him the day.’
‘It wouldn’t. Fortunately, it turns out this guy is planning to use the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe.’
Charles smiled. ‘So you called up Mr. Zima.’
‘Well, their job is to protect the Infinity Stones. This guy is going after the Infinity Stones...’ She shrugged. ‘Seemed logical.’
When they stepped into the conference room that was serving as a classroom, Tony considered how impeccable their timing was. See, these kids had never gotten a proper education. And, upon hearing of it, several of his employees had volunteered to help bridge the gaps. Right now the kids were learning how to spell their own names. Lennie had even written up the whole alphabet on the interactive whiteboard.
There were at least six adults moving around the room, helping the kids as they needed it.
Tony looked over at Logan, who was sitting next to his daughter as she bit her tongue and carefully wrote out her own name. Of course she actually had a last name to learn how to write too. Tony was sure the others did too, but Laura was the only one with any access to her last name.
Lennie, across the room helping one of the boys, lifted her head first. Then Logan turned his head and looked. Tony wasn’t sure what had been gotten into them, but he could see the effects of it working its way out of Logan’s system. His greying hair was getting browner and browner, and the heavy scarring he’d suffered was gradually fading.
‘These are the children?’ the child services officer – as woman called Alice Reyford asked.
‘Yup,’ Tony said. ‘Like I said, everything you need to know is on the phone, but you can go around and talk to them if you like.’
‘You okay?’ Pepper asked.
‘Yeah. They’ve confirmed that mom and dad’s causes of death weren’t accidental and they’re digging to see how deep the cover-up went.’ He looked at Pepper. ‘Did you get back in contact with the Transcendant Souls?’
‘Yeah,’ Pepper said. ‘They made some enquires and it turns out that the invasion of New York was sent by someone called Thanos. His name, however, seems to induce fear from whoever’s talking about him. They’re getting ready to go up and confront him.’ She pulled a face.
‘What’s wrong?’ Tony asked.
‘I just found out this girl I used to know is a Transcendent Soul. She got way too much enjoyment out of my reaction.’
The men with her laughed.
‘Well, it actually makes sense,’ Tony said. ‘In their last lifetime, two of the men were German. One of them infiltrated the Nazi party, and one of them infiltrated HYDRA. You grew up in Connecticut, right?’
‘Well...that’s the answer. She’s been living just across the pond the whole time. They figured that was close enough to Howard to keep an eye on things, but far away enough not to draw any unwanted attention. You knowing her was just a coincidence.’
‘Good point.’ Pepper nodded her head. ‘And the kids?’
‘Well, most of the evidence was on the cell phone belonging to the nurse that tracked Charles, Lennie, and Logan down. They turned that over to the authorities. They’ll be making enquiries but they’re unlikely to actually find Transigen and put any of the workers or staff on trial for child exploitation and violations of human rights or whatever.’
‘Why?’ Rhodey asked.
‘Because Lennie and the mutants are from another dimension. I don’t doubt someone else’s hand was in it, but they were all ejected into this dimension. I don’t know who, I don’t know how, but data doesn’t lie. That’s why they won’t find anything outside of that one cell phone, the witness testimony from the kids and those three adults, and any psychological profiles they make on the kids. Transigen just never existed here.’
Rhodey nodded. ‘But we’re not gonna bring interdimensional travel into the conversation, so they’re most likely to just assume Transigen is a HYDRA program.’
‘Most likely,’ Tony said.
‘And where are the kids going?’ Pepper asked.
‘Oh, they’re staying with Charles, Logan, and Lennie. Turns out Charles used to run a boarding school for mutant children. He not only educated them. He taught them control of their powers too. Lennie’s a fitness trainer by profession, but she often helped out around the school, so she’s got the all-clear, and Logan is actually the last-surviving parent of the kids. He also used to serve in the military, which is how he ended up with 105 pounds of adamantium surgically grafted onto his bones.’
Pepper and Rhodey both winced sympathetically.
Tony nodded. ‘Laura has it too, but only on her claws. And the structure is unstable, so they think it’s supposed to grow with her. So they’re gonna keep an eye on that.’
‘And what’s adamantium?’
‘J?’ Tony asked. He smiled as his AI, which he’d managed to revive with some help from Lennie’s precognition, flicked up a screen showing the structure of the metal.
‘Man-made vibranium, Col. Rhodes.’
Let me know if I've missed any plot points, but I think I got them all.