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Neither Scythe nor Cloak

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Phil blew at the steam rising from the mug in his hand, watching his sister sit across from him at the ornate steel table holding their food. She was people watching, her fingers idly playing with the rim of her drink as she chewed on a small bite of an oddly colored apple slice. Most people found her tendency to be looking in another direction when speaking to you unnerving, but he had known Penny for more than twenty years and was used to the 'extra sense' her animal side gave her and allowed for her to be aware of more than what was in front of her.

"Are you sure they will understand?"

The question wasn't exactly a non-sequitur given that it had been a topic at the forefront of both their minds, but it had nothing to do with their conversation beforehand of the cases she'd been assigned to lately; the abrupt departure from the topic of conversation was also something he was used to with her.

He sat his mug down and picked up a brilliant metallic green looking beetle with his fork and inspected it before biting off the head with a measure on nonchalance that would terrify the junior SHIELD agents, "Fury will more than like become a slight bit more paranoid, but that's of little consequence. Stark, and Banner with him no doubt, will try and dig up as much information as possible. Thor I don't think will react at all, for all we know they have an aesir equivalent. Captain Rogers . . . I am unsure about, though I doubt he'll have a horribly extreme reaction, he has and is working with odder characters. Natasha will probably just see it as a resource for one more biological weapon to use on assignments, possibly an avenue of intelligence gathering."

He popped the rest of the beetle into his mouth, savoring the crunch and taste as its insides seemed to melt across his tongue. He didn't know how they did it, but this café the two of them had found continued to amaze him with their ability to treat and cook their insects just right so they retained their crunch without making the exoskeleton particularly brittle or bitter.

"Ol' Red?"

His lips twitch in his normal interpretation of a grin before he took a drink of his Oleander tea, "Please don't refer to Agent Barton as a dog from a country song. For one, I'm certain his other half has nothing to do with the family Canidae, let alone the class Mammalia. And two, he's like us, he's either just never pushed hard enough, been afraid or unsure of his gifts, or they're not as strong as either of ours." He shifted slightly, his ribs and right lung stretching uncomfortably with the echo of an ache nearly completely healed, and poured some more of the sauce they were given onto his plate before dipping another beetle, this time a brilliant orange, into it and nibbling at its legs in an almost delicate manner.

His completely black eyes caught her copper ones, "Personally, I believe it is the first option and the fact that he has no information about his . . . extraneous abilities. Instinct has always led the both of us to disguise our unique attributes and I doubt he's much different; he just never met a person like himself as we have. Also, we had the benefit of the knowledge passed to you before you father's demise."

Penelope hummed in acknowledgement and flashed him a grin filled with three rows of sharp teeth, the top two framing the bottom between them, as she leant across the table to spear three of the insects on his plate with a single jab of her fork, her eyes flashing in the sunset behind him, "Well, my dear, dear, brother, I advise you explain it to him before you do anyone else. Hopefully, in the course of telling him, the two of you will stop dancing around whatever it is between you and I'm not saying that because you're beginning to drive me crazy with the pheromones you exude every time you talk about him, but because I love you and want you happy, too."

A disbelieving eyebrow rose as he wiped at the corners of his mouth with the cloth napkin before he threw it at her and the perfectly innocent smile she was trying to pull off, his response to her comments positively droll, "Why, thank you for the concern sister-mine, it's always nice to know you care."

Her laughter was rough, low, but in no way musical as she placed the amount owed for the meal on the table and they stood, the two of them walking through the partition blocking off the outdoor part of the café from the sidewalk. It was a companionable silence as she walked him back to the building SHIELD had been placed him in during his recuperation, despite the two of them knowing the reprimands they were going to receive for walking out of the hospital and right off the grid without checking with Phil's superiors. Two blocks before they had too, they turned into an alley and without breaking stride walked a few steps from the realm of the dead and into the land of the living, emerging a street closer to the SHIELD building and not a single camera catching them fading into sight in a gradient of grey to color, translucent to opaque.

Stuff like that was second nature and it was because they knew those things, the blind spots in their constantly recorded technological world, that gave them the edge that made them the best at their jobs.

Penelope left him in front of the nondescript building with a fleeting grin and a half hearted wave over her shoulder, her hands shoved deep into her fitted slacks as she walked away and down another alley with a blind spot half way in the shadows, fading from color to grey, opaque to translucent, all over again. Phil sighed and looked up to the building that was currently his residence, medical staff no doubt worried and infuriated by turns, wishing he could disappear into the grey tinged world filled with muted colors of blood and the delicious 'Adams Family' styled food.

It had only been two weeks since his injury, since the battle, but he was fine; he just wished he could convince them of that.

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Clint understood keeping one's secrets, he had enough of his own that he perfectly understood, but sitting there watching as question after question voiced by Stark or Banner or Rogers is ignored and brushed aside until 'later' is making that part of himself he often ignores throb and pulse more and more with the frank desire to know. Usually his curiosity about things unrelated to the current mission or what R&D is coming up for him next is minimal. But Coulson. Phil. Phil is one of those few things that makes that desire to observe, to watch, know, and finally catch him like he's prey flood his mind and body with need of all different sorts.

What he'll tell Coulson, Phil, later is that Fury ordered him to keep an eye on him, on the building and make sure none of the enemies he's gathered through the years finds out that Phil is recuperating and vulnerable.

It's a lie.

As it is, he has the perfect vantage point; tall enough to see both of the two entrances into the building, but close enough to see details if he needs to recall them.

He'll never say that the reason he's there is to be as close to the man as he can without smothering him or letting on that he'd been not just worried but had privately despaired after he'd been told of his death. Their relationship was both complicated and infuriatingly simple all at once. Coulson was his handler, he gave him the information for his missions and debriefed them when they were over; he even participated in some of the missions. But he was also a man, a man with a sharp biting wit and a dry sense of humor you only noticed if you saw the corners of his eyes crinkle in hidden amusement, who liked crap TV, and had more compassion than he'd ever seen in anyone. He was the man that alternately ate chocolate and powdered donuts and gave him the soft barely felt comforting touches to the tips of his fingers or the small of his back he didn't even know he needed.

There is a tension that's been pulling tighter and tighter between the two of them the longer they've known each other, but he doesn't want to admit he's fuckin' scared out of his mind of making their simple/complicated relationship just complicated because complicated hardly ever ends well.

No one's ever really stuck around for complicated before.

Sighing through his nose he settles more comfortably in the nest he's made, his eyes tracking the various people walking obliviously along the streets below him. His phone vibrates softly beside him and his eyes widen significantly when he sees the message left from Tash, but they narrow seconds later to assess the people coming out of the building, trying to spot the two he knows must come through either of the entrances.

Of course Det. Coulson would disappear with Phil in tow, for all they knew she wasn't even his sister.

The second text that came not a minute later caused him to huff out a tremulous laugh before he scrubbed his other hand through his hair as he gripped the phone in the other. Phil really had to stop doing shit like this; he didn't think he would be able to handle it if the other man really did go missing so soon after just getting him back. Fury and the medical staff supposed to be taking care of him were going to be pissed, hell so was the Cap. And he thought he and Stark were bad about accepting medical treatment, who would have guessed Phillip Coulson would just as soon as fly the coop as they would?

The message on the phone was still open when he sat it down on the jacket laying beside him as he settled himself back in to watch for Phil and has sister. It read, "They'll be fine, he left a note. Whether he's still fine when he returns is another matter," with a picture of the note beneath it, 'Gone for lunch with Pen, paperwork to check out AMA is filled out on the bedside table, will return within two hours. Agent P. Coulson'

It was going to be a long two hours; Phil was always punctual and would appear within the timeframe he specified, it was when he didn't that you knew something was wrong.

An hour and thirty-seven minutes after the note was found, Clint saw the familiar grey he was so used to seeing out of the corner of his eye, except this time when he turned to face it, it didn't disappear. Instead, his breath caught in his throat as he watched as the two specters continued walking down the alley and began to solidify and gain color; not only had that not happened before, the two would-be specters were Phil and Penelope Coulson. He watched as Phil's sister grinned at him before waving over her shoulder and walking into another alley, disappearing the same way they had appeared.

Phil had been a ghost, for just those few moments before he had become solid and full of color and life, he'd been a ghost; nothing more than wisps of intangible grey that curled around and flowed like smoke and water, something muted and vague. His breath came in sharp short pants, his brain not really processing as he watched the man he—he loved walk resignedly back into the SHIELD building. Phil had been a ghost, had been something like a ghost, and walked from what he assumed was death and back to the living. It was something Clint had always been tempted but too scared of getting stuck there to try.

Phil was like him.

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Phil brushed off all of the doctor's and his staffs' questions with apparent ease, blithely moving through their tests they were putting him through without any visible strain. It was thoroughly vexing them as he shouldn't have been as fit and healthy as he was just yet. He obfuscated his way through Maria Hill's questions and returned Director Fury's glare with an impervious bland face that didn't change despite the escalating strength of the glare leveled at him, making them hold all of the inquiries for later. Facing Captain Rogers and Natasha's disappointed and angered faces were more difficult to deal with, especially since Natasha was a good friend and the Captain an old idol he still held high esteem for, and even more daunting were all of the others standing behind them. Oddly enough, or perhaps not when he was able to think on the matter later on, Stark, Banner, and Clint had understanding mixed with their ire at his disappearance.

Phil couldn't help but want to let out the sigh that built up in his chest at their confrontation, but he'd been Agent Coulson too long and the exasperated teen who'd once rolled his eyes and sighed with regularity was buried deep beneath his training and experience, his lips twitched instead and only Natasha and Clint noticed and understood its significance, Stark merely filing it away to puzzle out the meaning of it later. Instead of saying something about being his own person, Phil merely straightened his clothing, a blue button down with the sleeves rolled up and black jeans which was definitely something none of them had seen him wear before, and said, "I'm fine, healthy actually and able to move without any pain or impediments to movement, and I felt like getting lunch with my sister. I wasn't under any orders to stay put and she didn't know that I hadn't been discharged yet, so do not blame her. I apologize if my leaving distressed you."

Stark snorted before pulling out his phone, "Never would have guessed you'd be an unruly patient Coulson. It's nice to know you're not the mindless automaton I thought you were." He flashed a sharp grin at him, eyes filled with mischief, before he walked away. Pepper just sighed with an exasperated smile of her own as her heels clicked loudly in the mostly silent room as she walked to him, a question in her eyes. With a discrete nod she smiled and pulled him into small hug before bussing him on the cheek and handing him a key card for Stark tower, "All of the Avengers have their own floors in the tower, including you. Tony muttered something about not trusting SHEILD and you know him, he likes hording all of his things in one place. The only reason Rhodey isn't living there is because the man is as stubborn as Tony and has known him longer than any of us. Congratulations, you're now part of the Tony Stark collection of important humans, he'll irritate you and harass you but it's his way of showing he cares. Thankfully it comes with perks like tech yet to be released and a robotic butler with a cunning and dry sense of humor."

The others in the room laughed at that and even Phil couldn't hold back the chuckle at Pepper's assessment of Stark's behavior, "I doubt I have much choice in the matter, knowing Stark he's found all of my bolt holes and the two apartments I stay at most frequently and moved all of my stuff?"

Pepper nodded, "I'm sorry about that. Tony had already had your leases canceled and most of your things moved before I even knew what he was doing, and this was mere hours after learning you were still alive." Phil just let his lip quirk up again as Pepper patted his arm and left to follow her beau.

Captain Rogers let out a rather explosive sigh as he pinched at the bridge of his nose, his eyes closed in consternation. When he looked up his eyes were stern and his voice full of authority, "Next time, leave more than a written note. Call or--" Phil almost saved him from floundering but the Captain rallied his strength and continued, "Or text. Something more immediate at the very least. As Ms. Potts insinuated, you're part of us and we just got you back after thinking you dead. I may not have known you long but you left one heck of an impression and we're not ready to let you disappear again so soon or suddenly."

Phil nods at him, his back a little straighter though he'd deny it if you pointed it out, and the Captain leaves, Natasha standing in place as he brushes past her. Her right eyebrow is quirked up high, her gaze fierce and intent and her arms crossed tightly before they relax and she walks towards and then past him, her finger tips brushing against his bicep in acceptance of his apology. He brushes his own against them before their no longer touching and he knows they're going to be fine, even if she will grill him later about his disappearance and how he did it.

Bruce has a crooked grin on his face as he watches the others leave and when they can no longer hear Natasha's footsteps he speaks, "Can't be a time bomb without one of the vital chemicals needed for the reaction. Well, not as lethal a time bomb, at least." Phil gives the doctor a small smile and nods at him as well as the man walks away. It feels good to be considered part of the mixture to make their 'time bomb', really good actually, and he's not quite sure how he went from the background support character to one of the integral components but he isn't fighting it.

There is a fission of fear and anticipation in his stomach as he and Clint lock gazes and he realizes he's never thought this far ahead, for once hasn't planned anything and doesn't know how to broach the subject he knows they need to talk about. Especially since it's so tangled up with everything that is them; their feelings, their actions towards each other, their relationship, working and otherwise, it's a very messy complicated tangle he's not exactly sure they can ever tease straight again.

He doesn't think he wants to straighten it and undo all of the knots that have been made since.

They've been standing in silence for a good ten minutes when Clint speaks, shattering the tense atmosphere but also adding to the tension at the same time. "It was like someone had lodged an iceberg in my chest when I learned you were dead. I wasn't sure if it was freezing me or burning me up from the inside out, it hurt so much," Phil can't find anything to say to that and doesn't get the chance to even try before Clint is speaking again, "It was like someone had taken that normal familiar chill I associate with you and home and turned it into something sharp and painful, condensed it into a ball of liquid nitrogen and I'd never escape it and the cage it was building in and around me."

Phil doesn't even try to speak this time, he just grabs Clint's hand and mass texts everyone that he was going out for a bit at the same time, dragging the younger man behind him. When they're two streets away, Phil pulls him into an alley and let's go of the hold he has on his otherness and tugs both of them into a world of greys and red and death. When he turns to look at Clint, their hands still loosely held together, the other man's eyes are wide with wonder and a burning red instead of their usual cool blue. He lets go as Clint walks out of the alley and spins around, his sharp eyes taking in everything that is different and everything that's the same, and he feels something tight he didn't know was in his chest loosen as nothing adverse happens to Clint. He'd hoped, no wished, that he was right, that Clint was like he and Penny, but he was never a hundred percent sure and he hadn't realized until just then that he'd desperately wanted him to be, wanted to be able to share all of this with him and more.

Red eyes lock with his and he can almost taste Clint's surprise at the change in his own eye color, where once blue-green looked out now his own eyes were a deep, almost fathomless, black.

"You know, if I wasn't so sure that everything I've seen on Supernatural wasn't a load of shit, I'd totally try to exorcise you right now." He knows they have similar, though not the same, taste in shows so it isn't odd when he hears the comment and can't help it as his lips lift up in amusement in a facsimile of his high school self and shrug, letting himself relax more than he has in front of anyone besides Penny in years.

Clint's eyes widen minutely and Phil finally speaks, "I figured I should explain it to you before I did anyone else. After all, we have a lot in common and," he twitches his fingers slightly, a nervous tick he usually had good handle on, "more that's needs to be talked about between us."

Clint just looks at him before he nods his ascent. "Are you going to explain all," he moves his hand in an arc at their surroundings, "of this and what it has to do with you, me, and Penny first? Or are we going to talk about our . . . Complicated first. 'Cause Phil," a small rose to his cheeks realizing he'd called this man by his given name in front of him for the first time, "I have a feeling either conversation is going to need drinks, the second more than the first."

Phil just looked at Clint for a moment before tilting his head in a direction leading farther away from the SHIELD safe house, "Alright. How about we start with the first, beginning with introducing you to food and drinks here at a good pub I know called Crawlers and we'll move on from there." Clint grinned and slapped his hands together, "Well, it sounds like it'll be interesting if it's called Crawlers, like my kind of place actually. Lead the way boss-man." Phil Just shook his head and began walking, "I'm not your boss here, Clint, especially if we're going to be talking about Complicated."

Clint froze at hearing Phil call him by his first name instead of the usual Barton and blinked a few times before he grinned and began jogging to catch up with the swiftly moving older man, hope bubbling deep in his gut that this was going to go much better than Complicated had ever gone for him before.

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Clint looked around the room from his spot at their table while Phil was up at the bar getting them drinks and something to munch on as they talked. The bar was dark and rough, quiet murmuring and low old rock being the only sound, and ultimately rather dingy if he had to choose a word; it wasn't a place he every really thought Phil would go for. When he thought about Phil going to a bar he thought about someplace elegant, classy, with maybe some smooth jazz playing and a tumbler of scotch in his hand; the dark label less bottles and a basket of something greasy in his hands not quite meshing with the mental image.

He liked it, it gave Phil more hidden depths that he wanted to explore.

Phil placed his drink in front of him and the basket where they could both reach before he sat across from him sideways in his chair, back against the wall and an arm slung over the chair back, ankle crossed over his knee. The pose was relaxed but he could tell, even without pupils for him to track movement, that Phil was surveying their surroundings, still at the ready for whatever might come their way.

He practically felt it when that black stare landed on him, despite no discernible movement to tell otherwise.

"What do you know about this?" The question is quiet, but sincere, probing him for a starting point.

Clint sat back and looked around the room himself, his gaze never lingering for long as his hands rolled his beer between his hands, "Nothing really. It feels... Right, though, like this is where I've always wanted to go, even though I was scared shitless that I wouldn't be able to go back if I let myself. But we can, right? Go back and forth?"

A small half smile crossed Phil's face as he raised his drink to his mouth, "Yes, we can move between the two and places aren't always the same on both sides either. Penny and I were having lunch a few blocks away from here earlier actually, on the other side the place where we were eating is an electronic store."

Clint 'hmmed' as he thought about that and took his first drink from the bottle in front of him, the skin between his eyes creasing as he didn't recognize the flavor.

"What is this?"

"Let's just say, the only ones who'd probably survive drinking that beside you and myself are the Captain, Thor, and Dr. Banner."

Clint fiddled with an explosive arrowhead as he thought about Phil and the discussion they'd had about their familial backgrounds.

He was perched on ledge outside of the Avengers Tower, one that probably only Spider-man could get too if Clint wasn't more bird than man in some respects.

His blood red eyes stared out at the skyline, his head cocked to the side as his thoughts wandered aimlessly over the conversation and what he'd learned about what he was and was able to do.

"Why did the detective tell us not to touch you? I mean, I know it was because your skin is poisonous, apparently, but why would she warn us? She didn't even appear to like any of us much."

Phil's lips quirked up in a small grin, "Penny is, well, she's very protective of me, just like I am with her, Clint. It comes from making each other our family because neither of us have one of our own, just like you, Natasha, and I. She warned you because she knew how I'd feel if any of you died in my time of weakness, especially you, Pepper, Natasha, and Stark."

"Stark? Really?"

"He gets under your skin after a while, like a virus he infects you and you become . . . not enamored, but at least inured and accustomed to his presence and quirks. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't miss him; the ways he annoys Fury and Hill are just bonuses."

Clint chuckled, "I hadn't realized you enjoy tormenting Fury so much."

Phil's eyes lidded themselves and his lips pulled up into a smirk, "Really Clint, why else do you think I kept you around in the beginning? It always brought me pleasure at seeing Fury react to you more interesting habits then. Adding Natasha to our little team just made that vein in his forehead pulse harder and bigger. I do have to admit to being surprised at how sad I was the first time you went off the grid. I'm afraid you're stuck with me now, once that happens I apparently don't let go."

"That's great, cause I don't think I would have allowed you too, now that I know how I feel is reciprocated; I know I sure as hell don't plan on letting you go."

Clint's red eyes locked with Phil's black and they shared a small smile, the understanding that the Complicated thing between them went both ways.

Clint had to admit that in the short time he'd known both Pepper and Stark he was quite fond of them both, Stark more than Pepper but that was because they both wholeheartedly enjoyed being pains in Fury's backside and running sarcastic verbal circles around Thor and the Captain.

Then again Banner was pretty good at both of those as well.

Pepper and Natasha scared him separately. Together they fuckin' terrified him, and Stark though he'd try to deny it, and he was coming to learn that when you added Phil to the already dangerous mix of redheads you better fear for your way of life and any physical bits of yourself that were vulnerable. The three had proved to be diabolical when left together by themselves, as incompetent junior field agents, reporters, journalists, and photographers soon found, especially those from the Bugle.

With a sigh Clint put away the small explosive, deciding to really concentrate on what he'd come up here to do. Phil had said it was easy to move from one form to the other, it was letting yourself experience the freedom of no longer being attached to the human way of life and human thinking, a simplicity Clint had never had the courage to try before.

With a deep breath Clint closed his eyes and decided to let himself fall.

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Death was compassionate in the times where there was none to be found in men's hearts.

Tony knew this better than most now.

Tony was eccentric; he spoke without thinking and threw money around without out a care in the world. But ever since he spent three months in a cave, carving his way out with metal and fire, he also watched the people around him.

He never wanted another person, another friend, to feel that they had to conceal their loss from him, give their life for him when he was . . . When he was so unworthy of that sacrifice.

So now Tony watched. He watched and held his people, the people that if he lost them he could very well go the way of—of Yinsen, giving his life to join them, close.

As he watched his family come together, including the other Avengers now that they were The Avengers, he noticed there was something familiar about Agent and Legolas.

Copperhead, Agent's sister, was the same.

They, all three of them, reminded him of something he'd never admit to—Afghanistan.

He remembered cool fingers brushing across his face as he gasped short breaths, almost distracting him from the pain and ghostly sensations of movement as Yinsen's hands dug within his chest for bits of shrapnel, removing ribs and parts of his sternum for the Electromagnet. The pain of bones being broken, sawed through and removed, had pushed past the Ten Ring's version of anesthesia waking him in the middle of the 'meatball surgery' to keep him alive, those cool fingers distracted him as he bit his lip even as it bled to keep from screaming,

The oddest thing about that time was the shape and feel of those fingers, if anything besides the pain he remembered those the most.

They had changed subtly over a period minutes, always cool and soothing but changing from soft and pliable flesh to hard sharp points that traced goose bumps across his skull. At one point during the agony he'd opened his eyes and he saw her. Him.

The being warped the air around it, sucking all color and life from its surroundings, but it exuded a pervasive aura of cool and calm that kept him from trying to say anything about the being's presence. And he watch in stunned agonized horror as the skin dissolved around its face, revealing bone and glowing effervescent orbs of silver in the black chasms of the orbital spaces in the Skull. The musculature and skin was regrown just as quickly, forming a completely different face, a different sex, a different ethnicity and the site held him captivated until he felt the settling of metal in his chest, pins and screws twisting in to hold it in place and he barely held back the scream before the being spoke to him.

He was one of its favorites, not one of its children but never fearing the looming threat of death that hovered over him, especially when he disregarded his own mortality. He wouldn't be dying, not there, he had too much to do still and they wanted it to be a long time before they saw him in its domain.

It gave him one more parting gift before he finally passed out from pain, exhaustion, and rhythmic push pull of Yinsen sewing his chest cavity closed around the electromagnet chamber in his chest.

He would know when it or its children were near, he'd walked to close to being with them always to not be affected, and he'd have to seek one of its children out to learn, to know what had happened.

Its, Her, final words to him echoed through his mind as much as Yinsen's last, breathed out in a solemn happiness.

"You are a good man, Anthony, you have blood on your hands, yes, but not because of the actions of those with your creations. The blood on your hands is there only because it had to be, I cannot begrudge you surviving when that is all any being truly wants. You will find answers when you have need, be it through myself or my children. You are one of my children now Anthony, saved from leaving before you time, use your new chance well."

"Don't waste it. Don't waste—your life, Stark"

Those words stood out so poignantly in his mind he had no choice really but to abide by both of them.

The flashes of Grey he saw periodically in America, the wailing screams of those passed as they watched the living torn from Life to join them by Terrorist in the East. The first time he'd seen someone he actually knew, Yinsen more at peace with himself since the Cave, a grey specter holding a son close as he watch Tony with a mournful Pride from the other side. The whispered words from his trip to Gulmira, "Don't forget to Live, Stark. Don't forget," haunted him just as much, especially as the Palladium began leeching away his second chance even as he and JARVIS noticed it was taking twice as long for him to die as it would your average human.

Hearing he was Howard's Greatest Creation burned like acid and rage bubbled up behind the Arc reactor, even as he used the diagram left for him to recreate Vibranium via expo model. He was his father's son, but he was more than that; he was Iron Man, forged from blood and sweat and sand, he was a son of the Lady Death, adopted through adversity and his tenacity at ignoring his own mortality even as he fought to maintain it.

Howard was his father but he was his own man.

He was Iron Man.

He was a Child of Death, now.

He had some . . . pseudo-siblings to talk with and he wouldn't be starting with Agent or Merida.

He'd go for Copperhead, She may have denied him the truth of her brother but she wouldn't deny the truth of herself, of him.