Chapter 1: Popcorn & Green Blankets
It starts with Bond (or, Natasha and Tony bond).
It started because JARVIS had locked him out of the workshop — which was not cool, Tony had been in the groove, on an upswing in productivity with Barton’s latest suggestions for his arrows, and a breakthrough in an improved wing design for Wilson. A break now would achieve nothing.
Then JARVIS had asked Tony to tell him what day it was.
The AI knew that if Tony answered wrongly, Pepper’s Rules would fall into place, all the workshop would be locked down, and Tony wouldn't be allowed back to work unless he had eaten something, showered, had a nap of longer than twenty minutes, or he got another adult to sign off on him continuing to work.
Tony swore it was still Saturday — a nice work weekend!
There was no way it was Monday, it had to be a conspiracy.
Thor wasn't in the Tower this week, and he couldn't find Steve either. Bruce refused to open his lab door to sign off on Tony working, which was just hurtful. Clint - the bastard - at least had the excuse of being suspended from the approved list after that last incident to say no and return to his target practise.
Romanov was back from a solo mission though, and depending on how the mission had gone - Tony should check up on that - she could be feeling indulgent. There was a possibility that if he presented his case and appeared put together and not been-up-since-Friday that Romanov might, just might, let him work a little longer.
So Tony had stomped off to his room to clean up.
Freshly scrubbed and in clothes that didn't smell of engine oil, Tony checked with JARVIS where Romanov was, and headed to the living room. Humming quietly, Tony paused suddenly on the threshold.
Natasha was curled up on the large sofa, entirely swaddled in a green blanket, only visible from the nose up. She had her eyes trained on the TV, but Tony bet she’d noticed his presence.
He’d never seen her use the TV before, or do anything other than training in the gym. Tony had assumed she just kept to her suite, notoriously private, which Tony could understand. It had him curious about what she was watching now though.
“Is that…” Tony held back the bizarre urge to laugh. “Is that From Russia with Love?”
Natasha turned her head like an owl, those eyes shooting daggers in the dark, daring Tony to say more.
So, of course, he had to, “Not too on the nose for you?”
A fuzzy orange sock sailed through the air and clocked him between the eyes. Tony caught it as it fell, and couldn’t help the twitch in his lips threatening a smile. On the nose. Who knew Romanov could be funny? He hadn't even seen her arm move out of her blanket burrito.
With sock in hand, Tony all but threw himself onto the sofa with his teammate, making Natasha bounce, still wrapped up in her blanket. “Can we watch Casino Royale after this?”
Natasha scoffed, eyes already back on the TV. Tony copied her, smiling at the screen. One minute he was watching Tatiana Romanova seduce the famous British secret agent, and the next he was waking up with his head on a folded green blanket.
He was too busy smiling down at the orange sock still in his hand to remember to ask about the workshop.
“Ohmygod,” Tony abruptly switched direction from the kitchen, clutching an empty mug.
“Shh,” Natasha hissed, eyes glued on the screen.
“That’s True Lies,” Tony flapped a hand.
He didn't take his eyes from the screen as he scrambled over the back of the sofa, nearly braining Natasha with a flailing foot. She just grabbed his ankle with a sigh and shoved him away to the other end of the sofa.
Feeling brave - or stupidly tired - Tony tugged at the edge of her blanket. His feet always got cold. Natasha only pulled it tighter around herself, making him pout, but she didn't threaten to kill him or anything, so Tony thought he was growing on her. She’d even said something almost complimentary about his performance on their last Avengers mission.
“C’mon, Romanov! Sharing is caring.”
“Get your own.”
Too tired to dig out another blanket, and not wanting to go and risk coming back to find Natasha had disappeared on him, Tony curled around his empty coffee mug in the corner of the sofa and returned to watching the TV.
“Do you do that when you're talking to someone?” Tony asked. “Imagine how you’d kill them in that moment?”
“Only when they annoy me.”
“Have you done that with me?”
Natasha’s lips curled the smallest bit.
“Could you kill me like that?”
There never seemed to be anyone else who watched a movie with Natasha.
Other than Tony. Unless he was missing other movies. He wouldn't put it past her to watch movies separately with the individuals on the team, gauge their reactions, read a little more into them. It was Natasha though, her secret agendas had secret agendas. JARVIS said otherwise though, and Tony was aware that he’d become increasingly paranoid over the past few years.
He was making efforts not to be like that with his teammates. It wouldn't be right not to assume the same of them. Anyway, Natasha hadn't stabbed him in the neck again or anything yet.
Tony clutched a bowl of popcorn as he sat. Natasha raised an eyebrow, but didn't shift out of her green blanket cocoon. Tony already had his cheeks stuffed, munching on the salty popcorn. “What? You want some?”
He didn't expect an answer.
They’d only been doing this movie thing a few times now since that first film. Always Tony joining Natasha. He’d set up an alert now with JARVIS, and Natasha had to know because JARVIS had to ask her permission to call Tony. And she seemed to keep letting him join her. There wasn't much talking between them, but the quiet company was a nice change sometimes for Tony, not bombarded by demands from the company, or equations and designs bubbling in his head, or bots pouring him toxic coffee. It was nice.
Natasha didn't answer, returning her focus to the TV. It wasn't like they couldn’t easily keep up with the plot. Natasha had put on Spy Kids, and Tony was determined to make it a marathon. But Tony still saw her eyeing his snack now and again.
The next time Tony made popcorn, he brought two bowls, and Natasha snaked an arm out of her blanket cocoon to pick at her portion.
“I'm not- I can leave, you know. If you want?” Tony said quietly in the dark.
Natasha didn't say anything. She rarely looked away from the TV on nights like this, but today was the first time Tony had hesitated on the threshold when JARVIS had informed him Natasha had started a movie up in the living room.
She’d had a fight with Steve, about how he was digging up info on his no-longer-dead best pal. Tony hadn't been around to hear most of it, but he got the gist when he stumbled across them at the tail end of the argument.
It seemed to have been started because Falcon had come back injured after stepping into the middle of a surprise fight between Hydra and the Winter Soldier. Alone. Natasha thought Steve needed to pull back, wait Barnes out, stop hunting him down. Steve thought they needed to go in, get Barnes out, he was in danger.
Tony had skittered off when Natasha’s jaw had done That Twitch and Steve had lifted his chin just so. They’d been buddy-buddy since DC, Tony hadn't really seen them clash over anything like this before. Even on mission plans. Natasha was clever enough to usually get things turned to her liking without raising her voice, and Steve was Cap, few people argued with him anyway.
Except Tony, really.
It had made him second-guess sitting on the sofa tonight with Natasha, but only because she was emitting such an aura of Do Not Touch that it was physically impossible for Tony to shuffle any closer. He’d sat unusually quiet on his end through most of the movie, only half paying attention.
For the last half hour it had occurred to Tony that maybe she hadn't wanted company. That he’d been imposing himself where Natasha wanted space to simmer and cool off. But leaving suddenly now didn't seem right, because what if Natasha did want company? Or maybe she didn't want his company? Barton was probably still awake somewhere, someone always was, he could message JARVIS to go get him—
“He reminds me of someone.”
Tony nearly jumped at her voice. “What?”
“Muir,” Natasha said, jerking her chin at the screen, still not looking away. “Reminds me of someone.”
Confused but not about to press a Black Widow, Tony tilted his head at the TV. “His face…”
“Mmm,” Natasha frowned.
Tony hadn't seen Spy Game for a while, the early 2000s was a busy time for him. But if Natasha wasn't encouraging him to leave… “I bet we could come up with a better code name than Dinner Out.”
“Us?” Natasha’s mouth pinched. “You think we know each other well enough to do that?”
Tony shrugged, slouching back, “We can always make a start.”
They didn't say anything else as they finished the movie, but as the credits began to roll, Tony felt a soft poke of a blanket-covered foot to his thigh.
“Name us,” Tony said. “Go on. I bet you already have names for us.”
“You’re only pushing because you want the codename Tinker.”
“Well it’s an apt description!”
“‘Idiot’, is more apt.”
“Cap would get Soldier, I suppose. Who’s the Tailor?”
“You do know that none of those codenames are good things in the film’s context.”
“Yeah, but this is just for fun!”
“There are more of us than there are codenames.”
“Then let’s make some up.”
“Shut up and watch the movie.”
“Think that could be us, when we’re older?” Tony asked, fighting Natasha for the end of her blanket again. He was determined this time. Just enough for his feet.
“What?” Natasha didn't even seem threatened by his attempts at blanket-thievery.
“Retired and Extremely Dangerous,” Tony huffed, releasing the blanket to fall back on his side of the sofa. He noticed the smug smirk on her face in the light from the TV.
“You think we’ll get to retire? Alive?”
“Well, that’s a horrible way of looking at life.”
“We live dangerous lives.”
“No, seriously, you think we could be like that?” Tony asked. “It’d be kinda cool. Retired and scattered, across the globe, pulled out of retirement and back into the fray of things for our friends, because we weren't ever really retired anyway, and we all kick ass still despite zimmer frames and false teeth. We’ll be an OAA, Old Age Avenger.”
Tony was grinning to himself a the mental image he was conjuring.
Cap throwing the shield, and having to stop because he’d thrown out his back. Clint with bi-focals, squinting with every shot but still not missing. Romanov, just as deadly and dangerous and beautiful as Helen Mirren was in RED. Thor- okay, Thor probably wouldn't age like that, but Tony had no problem imagining him still fighting and grinning and laughing beside all his aged teammates. Would Hulk turn grey, or would he maintain the dark hair, despite Bruce getting streaks of grey already? An old green man angrily yelling at the clouds.
And Tony, maybe he’d have to pilot the suit remotely by then, but he’d still fight the fight. He couldn't imagine himself doing otherwise.
“We’ll be friends?”
“Won’t we?” Tony’s smile slowly dropped at the blank mask Natasha had as she looked at him. “…Aren’t we?”
She didn't say anything else, eventually turning back to the TV.
Tony turned back too, folding his arms across his chest, tucking into his corner of the sofa. He told himself not to feel hurt, it shouldn't be surprising, he always seemed to get attached much quicker and deeper than the other side of all his relationships.
It was like school all over again, the hot embarrassment and bitter ache, as Tony realised that who he considered a friend, was not.
He shook it off. Romanov was a teammate still, he couldn't let things get awkward. Couldn't afford to. What if he compromised a mission or a fight just because things got awkward between them? Friend or not, Tony couldn't bring himself to accidentally endanger her, or himself, or the team, over something so stupid as his feelings—
Tony flinched as something soft landed on his feet.
Hesitantly, he looked across the sofa, but Natasha was still focused on the screen, absorbed it seemed in the movie. Looking down, Tony had to control the sudden urge to grin stupidly, he could feel his mouth wobbling as he tried to contain himself.
A corner of her green blanket had been untucked to cover Tony’s perpetually cold feet.
If he stretched his toes a little, he could even feel someone else’s fuzzy-socked foot.
Natasha glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and must have pulled a muscle with how big an eye roll she did.
Tony mimed zipping his mouth, his mouth stretched in a ridiculous grin, as they turned back to the movie.
“Are you ever gonna put Casino Royale on?”
“If you're good, maybe.”
“I’m always good.”
There are so many things Tony wants to say when they're watching Salt, but despite popular opinion, he doesn't actively have a death wish. Natasha’s smirking like she knows what he’s thinking, and Tony doesn't doubt it. Russian sleeper agent who turns because she gets emotionally compromised? So many things.
He’s literally biting his tongue though, holding it back.
It’s probably because he’s trying that Natasha does what she does.
Tony wouldn't be that insensitive a dick as to talk about those images of little girls being trained, innocence stripped as they're given new identities, new missions, new weapons. He doesn't know a lot about Natasha’s past, but there are enough things commonly whispered about her and others like her, as well as what you can read between the lines in her sparse file, for Tony to know that his childhood was a walk in the park compared to Natasha’s.
But, c’mon, the Russian lady used spider venom, Tony was dying to say something about that.
He chewed on his lip, trying to ignore Natasha’s smirk and focus on the film.
He wouldn't give in.
He was gonna be the bigger person here.
Natasha shifted on the sofa, stealing some of his popcorn. “I think I had an alias called Salt once.”
Tony squashed the squeak that came out of his mouth, but Natasha heard, and he was treated to that smile of hers that pursed her mouth to fullness and pulled up on one side. He petulantly kicked at her foot, and she kicked him off the sofa.
It was fine, he’d taken the blanket with him, and Natasha was still smiling.
“Hey, guess what. Guess what guess what guesswhatguesswhat—”
“Spangles said I did a good job last mission.”
“I know, Tony, I was there. Breathe.”
“Yeah, but do you think he said it like ‘yay! Good job!’ or ‘good job, not!’? Cos honestly, Romanov, that dinosaur is really hard to read sometimes. And I don't know if I should have JARVIS mark this date down in the calendar as significant or not, his deadpan is literally so deadpan it’s basically dead, how do you—”
“Have you been experimenting with caffeine supplements again.”
“What? Why would you say that?”
“Because you were speaking so fast I literally didn't get a word of what you said.”
“It’s a profitable market, Romanov! All those scientists out there, needing this precious fuel in a more convenient vessel. It’s a gift to humanity! To the world! To science! Jane and Darcy already volunteered to try some of the stuff out!”
“You’ve reached human testing?”
“I tried it.”
“You’re not human.”
“Right! I’m a scientist!”
“Okay, I think it’s time for scientists to sleep. Bed. C’mon.”
“The movie isn't finished!”
“We can finish Bourne when you're not vibrating in your seat.”
Tony jumped at the sudden voice, jolting him out of his work binge. He blinked at the ‘shop door, and saw Natasha glaring at him through the glass, wrapped up in her green blanket, bright orange sock on the foot tapping impatiently on the floor. “Huh?”
The door hissed open before Tony could tell JARVIS not to, and Natasha stomped inside like she owned the place, blanket trailing the floor behind her. She looked younger like this, Tony thought, and he glanced at her one bare foot. Natasha still hadn't asked for her sock back since that first night.
She paused to scan the bit parts strewn across his desk, the disassembled pieces of Clint’s last grappling hook arrow.
Natasha clicked her tongue, “He’s fine.”
“Personal leave,” Natasha insisted. “And it wasn't a fault in the equipment. Barton was just an idiot.”
“It’s that simple?”
“He still broke his arm.”
“It was a hairline fracture,” Natasha huffed. “He’s just using it as an excuse for a little longer time off.”
Tony frowned, “Why? I thought he hated Medical.”
“He does, but I wasn't lying when I said he was taking some personal leave.”
“A little R & R.”
“Something like that.”
Tony nodded, fiddling with the wrench in his hands as he glanced at the parts again. “I could still add some more length to the rope, I've got an idea for a more compact polymer. Barton’d like that.”
A hand tugged the wrench from him, and Natasha set it on the workbench, careful not to disturb the bits and pieces spread out. “Tomorrow. Tonight we’re watching more Bond.”
He let himself be towed out of the workshop by the strong hand on his wrist, careful not to tread on the blanket, while JARVIS turning the lights off behind him. Tony thought some dramatic explosions and snarking rants about shitty gadget might cheer him up a little. “Casino Royale?”
“How about Dr No.”
Tony snorted, and Natasha’s hand gently squeezed his wrist.
The TV was on as usual with them now, but Tony hadn't even glanced at the screen since he’d joined. He hadn't touched his popcorn, or stolen some of Natasha’s blanket.
Natasha was aggressively working her way through her own snack, eyes glued as always to the screen, apparently set on ignoring Tony’s grinning face. Like that was gonna work.
She grunted, mouth full, chewing loudly and unapologetically.
“A lullaby, huh?”
The chewing stopped, and those green eyes shot at Tony with deadly warning. Good thing he liked to live on the edge.
“Maybe instead of this we should watch Beauty and the—”
He got a face full of popcorn and a bruise on the forehead from the bowl, but it was completely worth it.
Natasha snorts halfway through the movie, eyes lighting up, and Tony is immediately intrigued. He nudged her knee with his, “What?”
She smirked, “Budapest.”
“What?!” Tony’s eyes darted between her and the screen. “This is like whatever the hell happened in Budapest?”
“It just reminded me of something.”
Tony growled, slumping back into the sofa with a huff. “Cruel, Romanov. Tease a man like that. I will find out what happened in Budapest.”
Natasha snorted again, at him this time, Tony knew it. She turned to drop her feet in his lap, and Tony scowled but didn't deny her a foot-rub. Her heels were dangerously close to his groin, and she was still dealing with a strain to her shoulder from an awkward catch from Iron Man last mission. He owed her. Natasha hummed, and Tony kneaded one foot as he glared at the screen.
“I need a date.”
Tony froze, pulling the stylus from his mouth as he turned to gape at Natasha.
He’d been a little behind on the SI front the last month, since they’d cracked another Hydra code and there’d been an upsurge of missions taking down their bases. Natasha hadn't minded the work as long as he kept quiet.
“I- I can make some recommendations? Glasses, tea, green, ring any bells?”
Natasha rolled her eyes, and the gesture was so familiar from her that Tony relaxed a little. “I need you.”
Tony pressed a hand to his heart, falling backwards in a pretend swoon, “This is all so sudden, Romanov—”
“You dance, don't you?”
“I need a dance partner for a mission.”
“You know I’m one of the most recognisable faces on the planet. My being there is in no way gonna help you with your stealthiness.”
Natasha looked at him like Tony was stupid.
“You… want me to be recognised?”
“I need your name to get into the place I want,” Natasha admitted with a shrug. “And I need you to use that pretty face to draw all the attention. I’ll have a disguise, but you never know.”
“Ah, I knew you only wanted me for my body!” Tony crowed, a delighted grin on his face. “Do a little dance? Make a little love? Get down tonight—”
He could see Natasha’s mouth twitching as she held back a smile. “Please. And I know it’s not me, you want to ‘get down’ with tonight. You in?”
Tony could only gape, spluttering out his denials, hoping his face wasn't as hot as it felt.
“See?” Natasha tapped one of his burning cheeks, a small pleased smile on her lips. “Pretty.”
“Where does he even go?”
“I'm never gonna put Casino Royale on for you if you interrupt every movie like this.”
“Seriously, Nat,” Tony whined. “Where does he go? It can’t be a solo mission every time.”
Natasha huffs, rolling her eyes and turning to face Tony, JARVIS automatically pausing the film. “What are you talking about?”
“Barton! He goes away every few weeks even without injuries,” Tony whined. “What’s up with that?”
“Missing your fellow man-child?”
Tony shot her a deadpan look, chewing his popcorn obnoxiously loud in the quiet room. He could out-wait Natasha. He could. Natasha would answer him, and not because he missed Clint or anything. It was… it was worry. Plain worry. Tony was just worried over their bird-brain and his safety. It couldn't be safe for him out alone like that all the time, especially with how they were hunting down Hydra right now. A single Avenger out alone, it was risky.
“Relax,” Natasha said, turning back to the screen. The movie picked up where it left off. “Barton’s careful. He needs the time away.”
“What? Does he go to his nest or something?”
The edges of Natasha’s mouth twitched, but she didn't give anything else away with her expression. “Or something.”
It wasn't the first time Tony had been waiting in the living room before Natasha.
“Hey,” Tony offered a shaky grin, waving weakly from where he was huddled in one corner of the sofa. Tony’s face was pale, eyes open wide over the dark bags under them, and his hands were trembling. The TV screen was still blank.
Natasha only barely paused in the doorway at the sight. She had been heading for a late night snack, before returning to her books in her suite. It took only a second for her to readjust her plans, and quickly dart back out of the living room.
She returned in under a minute, green blanket draped over one arm. Tony waved at her again. “Hi, again.”
Natasha huffed, dropping onto the sofa and nearly squashing Tony in his corner, pushing and shuffling him to her satisfaction, ignoring his confused squawks that faded out as she tucked them both under her green blanket. Tony blinked at his covered knees, and Natasha made herself comfortable.
As the quiet continued, Tony’s shallow breaths began to slow to match Natasha’s, and she could feel his body stop trembling as much. She said nothing still, did nothing but sit there with him and breathe, until she at last felt Tony lean back into her.
“Mmm,” Tony grunted, not quite resting his head against hers, but not quite resting his head against the back of the sofa either.
Tony shook his head, sweaty hair flopping on his forehead. “Something funny?”
Natasha nodded, and JARVIS wordlessly started up Johnny English on screen. Tony hardly paid attention. He watched the sun crawl into the sky to begin a new day, the yellow brightness lighting up the dark dark starry sky from his dreams, the warmth of the Russian assassin at his side banishing his shivers from the cold tight grip of space.
By the time Steve arrived in the kitchen to start making his pre-run breakfast shake, Tony had shaken the terror from his eyes, even if he hadn't managed to leave the sofa. More like he hadn't been let off the sofa, the only time he’d tried to escape and hide away after the first movie had ended, Natasha had pressed a strong hand on his knee, and he hadn't felt the urge to try and leave again.
She soundlessly rose to her feet, ignoring Steve’s questioning looks as she tucked Tony properly under the blanket, before she left for the kitchen. Tony was learning that Natasha always came back though, and didn't panic at the loss of her presence.
When she came back, she set a mug of coffee on the table in front of him, and sat back with her own tea on the other side of the sofa. Tony smiled and picked up his mug.
“I could make one of those.”
Natasha threw a popcorn kernel at his head without looking, but it did little to shut him up. Tony had practise of that by now, he managed to catch about half the popcorn she threw in his mouth these days. This was a near miss though, and Tony frowned at the kernel as it rolled down his chest.
“I bet I could!” Tony insisted. “And none of that ‘blue is glue, red is dead’ shit. I could make the best battery in the world, no way is there a red is dead moment if I—”
“Stark, this is Mission Impossible,” Natasha groaned. “I have no doubts you could make a better—”
“But really, there are better ways he could’ve gone up the side of the Burj Khalifa. If you gave me five minutes, I’d—”
“He’d slip from the gloves! I mean, and no back ups?”
“Could’ve used some sort of harness at least so you don’t lose the freaking- like that! So you don't lose the gloves like that! A goddamn string even! Or better yet, proper cording. Or maybe magnetics? Hey, that’s an idea—”
“Mmm?” Tony looked up from the screen, the latest rendering of a more fitted undersuit, better response and interface with the armour. “Assemble?”
“Not quite, Sir,” JARVIS said, an amused note to his voice. And that never got old for Tony. Never failed to amaze him.
“Agent Romanov has invited you to a viewing of Casino Royale,” JARVIS said. “She says to tell you this is for your recent good behaviour.”
“I'm always good!” Tony cried, but he was already grinning and shutting down his workspace.
“In the context in which she conveyed her sentiments, I believe she meant it regarding Sir’s miraculous lack of injuries attained in the last Avengers mission.”
Tony blew a raspberry at the nearest camera, waving to the bots as he left the shop. He skipped up the stairs, grinning in excitement. At last! Natasha had finally deemed today the day to give in and watch that Bond movie Tony had been pestering her about.
He froze as he reached the living room door though, skidding to a stop just out of sight.
“-haven’t seen this one.”
“It’s the first one with Craig.”
“Ah. A continuation…?”
“No, a new timeline. Complete reboot.”
“You enjoy Bond?”
“It’s practically a comedy.”
“For you, I can see that.”
Tony peered around the doorframe to see Natasha already curled up in her blanket, but she was turned around to face to Bruce over the back of the sofa. The physicist was looking just to the side of her as they spoke, fingers twisting the hem of his shirt into terrible wrinkles.
“You’re… you can join us, if you like.”
“Me and Stark,” Natasha said, eyes soft on the physicist.
Bruce was hesitating, looking around the empty room instead of her, but when his eyes were finally caught on her, he was stuck. Bruce gulped. “I wouldn't want to intrude…”
“You can ask Stark when he gets here,” Natasha said. “I don't think he’s ever turned down your company though.”
Bruce gave a bashful chuckle, a fond look on his face that made Tony’s chest hum like it still had the reactor. “Hasn’t got bored with me yet, no.”
“Oh, I wouldn't think you at all boring.”
Tony bit his lip to hold back any sound he was dying to let out as he watched Bruce study Natasha, and Natasha study Bruce, a tension faint but palpable in the quiet air.
The silence broke as Bruce cleared his throat.
“I was going to make some tea. Would you like a cup while we wait for Tony?”
“Thank you. Lemon, and two—”
“Two sugars, I remember.” Bruce offered a small smile before disappearing into the kitchen.
Tony practically pounced on Natasha from the doorway, leaning over the back of the sofa and grinning shamelessly in her face. “Remember, no sudden spikes in his blood pressure or you’ll have a green guy to match the blanket. So I'd save the first base stuff for the next date—”
She grabbed Tony by the shoulder, hissing, “It’s not a date!”
“It’s not not a date either.”
“You’ll be here.”
“No, I won’t.”
Natasha’s eyes widened. “Yes, you will.”
“Are you still afraid of him?”
“Then this is for you two.”
“You’re the one who wanted to watch this movie!” Natasha insisted, but her eyes kept darting to the kitchen.
Tony covered her hand in his, smile softening. “And we can watch it another time. I can go finish up my work. Another time.”
Natasha held his gaze as they listened to the quiet sounds of water boiling and Bruce moving about in the kitchen. Slowly, her grip on Tony’s shoulder lightened, and Tony set her hand down in her lap. Her pale cheeks turned slightly rosy as Natasha glanced again to the kitchen.
“Don’t worry. JARVIS is still around to chaperone.”
She growled and snapped a hand out to smack him, but Tony ducked away, suppressing his laughter into whistling chuckles as he darted to the doorway.
“You’ll be great!”
“I’ll remember this, Stark!”
Natasha might have meant it as a threat, possibly, but Tony heard the fondness in her voice, saw the twitch in her cheek that meant she wanted to laugh or smile but was holding it in, saw the brightness in her green eyes. He waved as he slipped out of the door, Natasha still frantically waving a fist at him.
Tony headed back down to the workshop, feeling no regrets on missing out on the movie. There was always next time. He was sure he could convince Nat that this counted as good behaviour again.
So this won't have any set posting schedule I don't think. More when-inspiration-strikes, or when-stumped-by-main-story. Now that this is out, I'll start working on the sequel proper to Smoke and Mirrors :)
Chapter 2: Auntie Angie
Peggy takes her godson for a night out.
Following Tony and Peggy's theatre date in Chapter 7 of Smoke and Mirrors.
Prompt from ScienceandFantasy - "Auntie Angie"
“Oh my gosh, he is adorable!”
Tony stared up with wide eyes at the woman, as he clung to his Aunt Peggy’s hand. The woman looked strange, but that was probably a lot down to the fact that she was still half in stage make-up and a wig cap, as well as a fat suit. Tony didn't really know where to look, nowhere seemed polite, and he wasn't supposed to stare Jarvis told him, but he couldn't help it.
“Always did have the best taste in men, English.”
“The best,” Peggy agreed. “Angie, this is my godson Tony Stark.” She turned to him with a smile, squeezing his hand. “Tony, darling, this is my old friend Angie Martinelli.”
“Only in how long I've known you, of course.”
“Pshh!” Angie was grinning though as she pulled off the wig cap, caramel brown hair falling free. “Let me just get out of all this mad costume, and we can go get something to eat while you tell me what you thought about the show. And you be honest with me now.”
“Isn't it a little late for dinner?”
“Dessert, then. Even better!”
“I deserve a treat after all this work! What do you think, Tony?” Angie asked, looking at him in the vanity mirror. “Is it too late for ice cream?”
Tony ducked his head a little, but couldn't help shooting a cheeky look to Peggy, who was already sighing like she knew she wouldn't win. “I like ice cream.”
“Perfect!” Angie crowed, clapping her hands. “I knew you were a smart cookie. English, could’ya give me a hand with this fat suit, I can’t quite reach.”
Peggy moved to help, huffing as she reached for the zipper as Tony turned away, face burning. “Mrs Fry was never this big.”
Tony grinned as he imagined the look on Peggy’s face, probably rolling her eyes but smiling too. But he remembered how hard she’d laughed watching the show when Angie had waddled on stage as the formidable Mrs Cook. He wandered around the dressing room, keeping his back to the women as he poked at a grey-haired wig on a head bust, peered closer at the tartan dress that was part of Angie's costume, touching the lacy collar.
There was a deep sigh from behind him, and a muted thump. “Goodness, that thing is heavy!”
“I expect you’ll get more used to it after a few more performances.”
“I hope so! I swear, it wasn't that heavy in rehearsals. Let me just put on something pretty and we can go. I want something sweet and terrible for my waistline.”
Feet padded across the floor, and heels clicked closer to Tony. He looked up at Peggy as they listened to Angie mutter away as she changed her clothes. She ran a hand through his hair, and Tony leaned into the touch, making Peggy smile.
They spun around to see Angie all dressed up in a belted blue jumpsuit. She moved to Tony’s other side, curling her fingers in the crook of his elbow with a grin.
“How’s about it, handsome? Feel like sharing a banana split with me?”
Tony felt his face heat up at the exaggerated wink Angie shot him, but they were all smiling, and they were going out for ice cream, so he didn't feel embarrassed for long. She wasn't like what Tony had expected, Angie looked older like Peggy but acted half her age, and as Angie led them out of the theatre to a hole-in-the-wall joint that apparently served the best milkshakes, humming a tune as she went, Tony couldn't help humming along too.
She noticed, and slid her hand down to link with Tony’s fingers, pulling him along to dance the rest of the way there while Peggy followed them with a soft smile. Tony yelped as she dipped him in front of the little eatery, with applause from Peggy.
Angie shuffled him inside to find a booth while Peggy went to order, saying it was her treat for the premiere night. Tony sat across from Angie, freezing under the toothy grin she had. “Uh-”
“So tell me what you thought of the show,” Angie said. “I'm up for any constructive criticism. Hit me with your worst, sugar pie.”
Tony wanted to tell her that he thought the show was awesome, it was so funny, the hero got the bad guy - even though he thought the hero could've still been a lady like Peggy - the songs were gonna be stuck in his head for the next week at least, and he’d lit up from all the parts that were straight from the stories he loved from Peggy, but what fell out of his mouth was- “Sugar pie?”
“Would you prefer something else?”
Tony shook his head, and Angie tapped her chin in thought.
He giggled and shook his head again.
“Cotton candy? Butterscotch? Cookie dough?”
“I thought we were here for ice cream,” Peggy said, bemused, arriving at the table and sliding into the seat next to Tony.
Tony leaned against her, pressing his smile into her shoulder, “I think she thinks I'm some sort of food.”
“Well you're just so sweet I could eat you up,” Angie shrugged. “I can’t just call him Tony all the time when he’s clearly so much more!”
Peggy pressed a kiss amongst Tony’s curls, “She’s not wrong. If I know Angie, she probably won't stop until she figures out a name for you. I don't think she’s called me Peggy in years, when she can call me English instead.”
A server arrived with a lot more ice cream than Jarvis would approve of for Tony this late in the evening, not that he could care right then. Angie dove right into her banana split, sighing first at the taste, before groaning dramatically from brain-freeze.
Peggy clicked her tongue, “Actors.”
Angie waved a hand at her, focussing again on Tony, “C’mon, cupcake, give me your honest review. If I can’t take it, I’ll have your sundae, fair warning.”
Tony laughed as he pulled his glass closer, stuffing a huge spoonful in his mouth, and immediately suffering his own brain-freeze, much to Angie’s delight, while Peggy despaired of them both.
Later on, in the taxicab back home, Tony slumped against Peggy’s side, sleepy despite his belly full of ice cream, he lifted his head and tugged at her hair, twisting the brown and grey curl around one finger. She rubbed his back, making him even drowsier in a dirty trick that Tony knew he was going to be all but asleep when she handed him back to Jarvis.
“I like Angie,” Tony said. “She’s fun.”
She’d waved and blown kisses earlier when she said goodbye as she stepped into her own taxi, leaning out of the window a little to keep waving to English and Cupcake. There had still been a smudge of chocolate sauce at the corner of her mouth, but she didn't seem to mind.
Tony couldn't imagine his own Mom acting like that, and even Ana and Aunt Peggy were usually very neat.
“I thought you would."
“When can we see her again?”
Peggy grinned, holding Tony closer, “She’s coming for dinner tomorrow.”
Tony cheered through a yawn, and just like he expected, he was practically sleepwalking when Peggy passed him over to Jarvis at the house. It was only when he was brushing his teeth that Tony realised that Angie hadn’t been the only one with chocolate still on their face, and Peggy hadn't said anything to him either!
Still... he didn't really mind matching with his new Auntie Angie.
Chapter 3: What happened to Jack?
Since AC was cancelled and we may never know what happened to Jack, where would he be in Carter Cousins? Like, did he die in the 40s? Was he a colleague? Was he a friend? Did he come to SHIELD with Peggy and the others or what? Did you fit him in anywhere in your fics/headcanon? I feel like he's one of those redeemable characters so i really wanna know what you think!
Oooh, well I like the idea that he lived, that Jack Thompson was too stubborn to die. Not that the recovery wasn’t long, or the injury minor, but he was literally just coming around to being a more proper friend to Peggy and Daniel…
Thompson was played as very much a man of his time, who knew what privileges he had, who desperately held onto them. All that character development was wonderful to watch especially because it wasn’t all in one direction. He went forwards and backwards, played for himself and then played for the team, redeemed himself and damned himself equally. I personally found him to be one of the most frustrating characters, but I’ve never had to like a character to like how a character was created.
I expect Jack Thompson held onto his Chief position in the SSR as soon as he was fit, straight back into it, snapping at Peggy and Daniel all throughout his convalescence in LA until he returned to NY and found himself almost missing the couple. Almost. At least in NY there wasn’t so much undermining his authority, though it got a little boring sometimes with no one needling him all hours of the day like a know-it-all, especially pulled off of most field duty due to the gunshot wound to the chest - the scarring is terrible, and most days it hurts just to breathe, though it doesn’t stop Jack from yelling at his underlings if they need it.
But even though the SSR isn’t a quiet job, their relevance dies a slow death, fewer recruits, more lay offs, closing down offices. Jack had looked after the East Coast while Peggy and Daniel handled the West Coast until more and more cases were turning over to other agencies, the SSR becoming a relic of times past to be relegated to the history books with Captain America.
Howard and Peggy found SHIELD when the SSR finally ends, to fill a similar need in a new world and a new war, and she sends Jack an offer to join along with her wedding invitation. He attends the wedding and declines the job offer. Jack knows he works well with Peggy and Daniel, but Stark was another thing, and he didn’t want to work with that man ever again. Besides, the need to work in that kind of agency wasn’t burning his blood like it was for Peggy, it was just a job he got because of connections Jack’s father had, and he pulls on those strings old and new to land on his feet once again. Jack gets a job at a prestigious military academy in Virginia, and has fun exercising his lungs as he barks at the students.
Over the years he keeps in contact with the Sousas, even sees them on occasion, though those meet-ups are never planned and almost always down to some sort of new crisis. Jack’s officially out of the game, but he’s still a willing asset for them with good political pull.
It gets harder to keep up with the Sousas as time goes on, even when they join him on the East Coast, as they deal with more sensitive material than he’s privy to now, and Jack is bitter about it sometimes, misses those glory days. He’s in the periphery of their lives, in their stories, that frustrating, annoying man that came through for the Sousas in the end, but not without having the last word. But he’s successful himself, works his way up onto the board of directors to another better military academy.
Jack meets a woman, has a child with her, marries her, and then falls in love with her. In that order.
He’s not a great father, Jack knows this, a little too strict, a bit hands-off, growing a bit too dependent on alcohol over the years - but so do most men, Jack tells himself, his Dad wasn’t any different. Connie is a wonderful mother though, and Jack finds himself actually content with his place for the longest time, secure where he is. The Thompsons are generally happy and a perfectly average family in their neighbourhood, churning out two boys and two girls.
His days are filled with Little League and mad family vacations across the country and Jack is just a little disgusted with how domestic he’s become, but also strangely proud. The catch in his breath when he watches his children set out into the world has less and less to do with that old gunshot wound, though he never cries, Connie does that enough for the both of them.
Jack’s eldest boy joins the Army, goes to fight a war in a country half a world away and returns in a coffin, too young, too soon, and Jack falls into the bottle a little harder. They all do. The Sousas attend the funeral, and it’s the first time Jack has seen them in a long time, and the two couples share happier stories of their children over too much whiskey.
Jack’s older daughter meets her husband in college, and follows him to Africa, because she never shook that love of animals from that heart she got from Connie. He gets lots of photos in the mail and very expensive phone bills keeping contact with her. He does cry when he’s told he’s a grandfather, they name the baby after his late uncle, and Jack decides to retire.
His younger daughter takes over his seat on the board of directors, daring the old men like him to push her out, and Jack has to call Peggy to apologise a lot. She’s got his temper and his drive, and as Jack and Connie grow older, it’s she that insists on looking after them until they pass, pneumonia too much for Jack’s lungs at this age, and Connie not long after.
His youngest boy followed Jack’s steps to Cornell, settles in New York, joins the NYPD and starts a family. A girl and a boy. Jesse is a quiet girl with an artistic flair no one else in the family shares. Eugene is an athlete, a fast football player, who earns the nickname ‘Flash’.
Chapter 4: Hands
So, I usually message you this but I thought I'd try this way too! I got another idea for a prompt. I wanted something like a happy memory of Tony's about his mother and maybe another where Howard actually tries and maybe succeeds a little to connect with Tony without being awful to him just once? Maybe, possibly?
Tony stretched his fingers wide. They didn’t stretch very far. He could do basic mechanic tasks with these small hands, was already becoming used to the sight of black grease under chipped nails, bandaids from Jarvis’ overenthusiastic care for each and every scrape, the faint smell of metal on his skin now, hair getting a semi-permanent cowlick from where he pushed up his safety goggles.
Not like his Mom’s hands.
Mom’s hands were always clean, soft soft skin, a little shine on her nails from polish that never chipped, fingers cool but not cold when they ran through Tony’s hair. The only jewellery she wore on her hands was her wedding ring, a simple gold band that was always warm whenever Tony ran a finger over it.
He thought his Mom’s hands looked pretty. Not like his. Especially on the piano.
Some afternoons, when he was left to his own devices, when Dad was at work and Mom was on the phone and Ana and Jarvis were out shopping, Tony climbed onto the piano bench and brushed his fingers over the black and white keys. If he was brave, he pressed down, but the piano seemed too loud when he was alone, and he didn’t know the tunes his Mom did. He’d never paid attention to which keys she pressed or when, because whenever Mom played he wasn’t really watching her hands as much as he was listening to the music.
Dad said he didn’t have time for lessons because he had more important stuff to learn. Maybe when he was older. Tony usually just stretched his hands over the piano as far as he could and hummed, pretending for a while, the music playing in his head.
“What are you doing?”
Tony jumped. “Mama!”
His Mom stood in the doorway, looking at him strangely. “Tony?”
Tony squirmed in his seat and said nothing, embarrassed for no clear reason.
But his Mom started to smile, and she moved to the piano. Tony started to slide off the piano bench, but those soft hands stopped him, and she sat next to him instead. “Did you want me to play something?”
Tony bit his bottom lip, couldn’t quite work up the courage to say anything.
His Mom seemed to guess what he wanted to say anyway. “Or did you want to play something for me?”
“Don’t know how,” he mumbled.
“I could show you.”
Her lips pinched, but she didn’t look upset. “How about something simple? I’m sure my smart boy could quickly learn something easy to play for me.”
His face warmed, and Tony nodded, eyes fixed on her fingers as they spread across the keys, paying close attention. He could learn something, he could play the piano for his Mama.
“Just watch my right hand,” she said, and Tony nodded again.
Elegant fingers pressed down, and her left hand was pressing keys too, but Tony stuck to following her right hand. It took a second for the tune to register, and he let out a small gasp in recognition. His Mom smiled a little wider.
“My bedtime song!” Tony crowed, grinning widely.
“Sing along for me then, and afterwards I’ll sing while you play.”
Tony leaned into her side, still watching her hands on the piano. “Fa la ninna, fa la nanna, nella brachia della mamma…”
Tony clenched his hands. They were still squishy with what Ana called (cooed) puppy fat. He couldn’t even see his knuckles clearly unless he made tight fists. Still all soft and pudgy baby hands, with stumpy fingers and delicate skin. Delicate skin that seemed to tear at the smallest thing, which was more annoying than painful, now that Tony was allowed occasional supervised time in Dad’s workshop.
Not like his Dad’s hands.
Dad’s hands were tough and strong, the palms and fingertips rough with callouses from his work, scars all over, he didn’t even flinch when he burned himself, and rarely bled when he cut himself on a sharp edge of metal. And they were clever hands too, able to do even the most complicated and small and delicate of work while Tony watched from the side.
Ever since that first circuit board, Dad had seemed almost happy to supply Tony with some old scraps to play around with, an old toolbox to store his things, or go over Tony’s tuition homework when he got stuck. He wasn’t allowed to do more yet, because Jarvis and Peggy said he was still too young, but Dad did let him sometimes hand him tools when he was in a mood to work together, but that was a secret, and it still made Tony smile to think he had that secret with his Dad.
Probably not for much longer though, Tony thought sadly, looking at the beads of blood dripping down the side of his hand. He’d fumbled the pliers Dad had asked for, clumsy like his Dad wasn’t ever, and they’d pinched, and Tony had dropped them, and now… blood. Annoyed more than pained, because Tony knew when Jarvis saw a cut like this there would be no sneaking down to the workshop with Dad for ages.
“What are you doing?!”
Tony jumped. “Dad!”
His Dad was sat at the workbench, hand still outstretched for the pliers as he gaped at Tony, eyes magnified with the goggles. He shoved them up into his hair. “Is that blood?”
Tony squirmed where he stood, and another tiny red drop fell to the floor.
His Dad suddenly moved, surging across the ‘shop and picking Tony off his feet, wide hands spanning his entire ribcage as he set Tony down by the sink in the corner. He turned the faucet on and stuck Tony’s hand under the running water, holding it there even when he flinched at the cold and the sting. Tony blinked quickly to stop any tears spilling out. “Sorry.”
Tony thought his hands looked even smaller and stupider next to his Dad’s like that. “I dropped the pliers.”
His Dad looked away from their hands, eyes bugging a little as he looked at Tony in an odd way. “Son, a tool is a tool. We have enough money to buy a thousand like it. You know what’s irreplaceable?”
Tony shook his head, staring up, waiting for this new lesson.
“These,” Dad said, shaking Tony’s hand a little, before pulling a clean cloth from under the sink. “You’re gonna use these to build everything. You cannot afford to damage your hands.”
“You hurt your hands all the time,” Tony pointed out.
“That’s all part of it,” Dad said. “You just gotta remember to take care of your hands after so it doesn’t interfere with the work.”
Tony nodded seriously, holding the cloth to his hand as he watched his Dad pull out a First Aid kit. They moved back to the workbench, and Dad hooked an ankle around his stool to wheel him closer. He held Tony’s hand over their knees.
“Pay attention. Can’t build anything if your hands aren’t working.”
“Couldn’t you just build another hand?” Tony couldn’t help asking. “Like a spare? A robot one?”
His Dad smiled a little wider. “Still need your hands first to build a spare one.”
Tony’s hands were shaking a little as he stepped out of the blinking lights from all the cameras. The reporters had been nearly shouting with their questions, too garbled over each other for Tony to understand, too fast for Tony to answer. The photographers had been jeering for Tony to turn this way, or look that way, look over here Mr Stark! and Tony had just felt dizzy from everything, heart galloping in his chest.
Soft cool fingers ran through his hair, and Tony’s lungs finally worked and he could breathe. Trimmed nails gently scratched his scalp, and Tony shut his eyes and revelled in the darkness for a moment.
Another hand, wide and heavy, dropped onto his shoulder and seemed to squeeze the tension out of Tony. Strong fingers pressed into the muscles, and Tony opened his eyes again, ready to carry on.
“Rhodey, I thought you were going to make him stick to the cards.”
“I tried! It’s Tones, what do you expect Pepper?”
The voices were different. The hands too. Tony smiled anyway.
Chapter 5: Singalong
Tony and Sharon prepare a birthday surprise for their Aunt Peggy.
Prompt request from @music-is-the-voice-of-the-soul - “For the little Sharon and Tony one I was going for the whole singing with each other cuz the part where you had Sharon talk humming whole Tony sang was just adorable”
Sharon stuffed the fingers of one hand in her mouth to muffle her giggles, her other hand held tight in Tony’s as he led her through the house, up and up and up, deeper into the big mansion. They stopped at every corner, Tony shushing her loudly as he check for anyone passing by.
Mommy had walked by once, and Tony and Sharon had ducked behind a side table to hide, Tony squashing his smile in Sharon’s hair as they waited for her to pass by.
“C’mon,” he whispered, another corner clear as they hurried down the corridor. Tony finally stopped at a door, opening it and motioning Sharon through. “Quickly! Quickly!”
She ducked inside and oohed at the room.
It was a study - there were lots in the mansion - bigger than the others, emptier too, drop cloths covering most of the furniture. It smelled old and stuffy inside.
“What are we doing here?” Sharon asked once Tony had closed the door behind them.
He grinned, moving to one of the covered furnishings. He pulled the drop cloth off with a flourish, that sent them coughing from all the dust it sent in the air.
“Sorry,” Tony coughed again, kicking the cloth into one corner. “Didn’t think that through.”
Sharon stared at what Tony had revealed though. It was an old gramophone, still and silent but still quite beautiful to look at. She touched the needle. “Are we gonna listen to some music?”
“Close,” Tony said as he ducked down and rifled through the box on the floor by the gramophone stand. “I had something special in mind for Aunt Peggy’s next birthday.”
“A surprise!” Sharon was grinning now too.
“Exactly, and I need your help - aha!” Tony pulled out a record from the box, and started setting it up to play. “How do you feel about a joint present? Unless you’ve already got her something.”
“No, I wanna share a present with you.”
“I hoped you would.”
“What is the surprise?”
“We-” Tony said, flicking the switch for the gramophone to play, music starting up and filling the room. “Are gonna perform a little song for Peggy. And if you feel up to it, maybe even a dance too.”
“I know this song!” Sharon cried.
Tony snatched up her hands, spinning them around the room, “I hoped you would! You remember all the words?”
“So you want to do the dance too?” Tony twirled Sharon around, making her dizzy. “I think this’ll have Peggy laughing. The others too.”
“Okay, let’s sing along first, and then we’ll figure out the steps.”
Sharon beamed up at Tony, “Who’s strong and brave, here to save the American Way?”
“Who vows to fight like a man for what’s right night and day?” Tony sang back.
“Who will campaign door-to-door for America.”
“Carry the flag shore to shore for America.”
“From Hoboken to Spokane.”
Tony ducked down, forehead pressed to Sharon’s as they sang together, hand-in-hand, the music wrapping around them.
“The Star Spangled Man with a Plan!”
I don't quite know where all this fluff has come from, so be prepared for anything
Link to Tumblr post
Chapter 6: Christmas 2012
Christmas in 2012 was a more stressful time than usual for the Legacy family members.
Sort of a half-fill for the "Legacies reactions to the dangerous stuff Tony does" prompt
December 22, Washington, D.C.
The front door opened, and Michael bustled inside, shaking the snow from his hair. Evie shuffled in behind him, having used his bigger frame to shelter from the snow, a shopping bag in her arms.
“Mom, we’re back!” Michael called out, pulling off his hat and scarf while Evie ducked around him to get to the kitchen. “Couldn’t find the cookies you wanted, but we got the tea—”
A scream shook the house.
Michael’s feet were moving before he thought about it, and he wasn’t the only one. He almost collided with Evie rushing into the living room with wild wide eyes. They squished through the doorway together, freezing at the scene they found.
“Aunt Peg, please,” Hal was holding Peggy’s wrists as the old woman howled again and wrenched about on the chair. “You’ll hurt yourself if you carry on!”
“No!” Peggy sobbed. “No!”
“What happened?” Michael cried, moving to gather his Mom up in his arms, already debating whether it was the start of a bad episode and she’d need something to calm her. “Did something trigger her?”
His mind was already sorting through what could’ve caused her to scream like this, still fighting his and Hal’s firm but gentle hold on her.
There wasn’t an anniversary today, though it was a coin-toss whether she’d even remember anyway. She’d taken her medication in the morning, Michael had seen it himself when he’d made her breakfast. And Mom had been, if not better, then no worse, at her last doctor’s appointment not two weeks ago. The home would’ve told him if there was something wrong, Mom wouldn’t have been allowed home with him for the holidays if she was ill. She shouldn’t have such a sudden turn for no reason—
His head shot up at Evie’s stunned tone. She was gaping at something over his shoulder, pale, her blue eyes so wide. Hal was quiet at Michael’s shoulder too, though he was still holding onto Peggy’s wrists. She was crying now, desperately, but not fighting them. Mom curled into Hal’s shoulder.
Michael gulped as he turned to see what Evie was looking at. The TV was still on in the corner, the news on screen.
It showed an aerial view of a beautiful modern white mansion on a beach cliff, a house Michael knew very well. Dread welled up in his stomach. A few other helicopters hovered on screen, before one launched a- that was- that was a missile. Someone had launched a—
They kept firing.
The house… the house was falling in on itself. Falling apart. Falling down the cliffside.
They kept firing—
A piano burst out of the wreckage, taking out one of the helicopters, and Michael felt a burst of hope. Yes, Tony, he was okay. He was fighting back in there. Then why was his Mom still crying?
And that! That was definitely a repulsor blast! Two choppers down!
That last one now, there was only one left, Tony just had to—
The house fell apart under more fire. Cars and glass and metal and debris falling into the rocky cliff face or the ocean below, it all collapsed under itself, and Michael was waiting. Waiting for another explosion, for a figure to burst from the flames or the water, for some sign, any sign.
He waited, as Evie sobbed, turning her face away from the screen.
He waited, as Hal shook his head, the video replaying from the start again.
He waited, as his Mom keened into Hal’s shoulder, a sound of grief and pain and heartbreak.
He waited, as the newscasters solemnly proclaimed that Tony Stark - Iron Man - was dead.
December 23, Derbyshire, England
“Nothing new,” Eliza spat, finger flicking rapidly across the tablet on her lap. She scowled at all the headlines, Iron Man Dead! Mandarin Destroys Malibu Mansion! No Comment from SI! The World Mourns Tony Stark! Iron Man Dead Dead Dead— she threw the tablet across the sofa, scraping her fingers through her hair. She couldn’t read another headline like that.
A hand dropped to rub at her neck, comforting, but doing little to actually tackle the knots of worry in her muscles. She could hear her Mum diligently rustling through a stack of newspapers on the coffee table, a stack that Eliza had wordlessly placed in front of her half an hour ago.
“He’s not dead,” Eliza said aloud to the room.
Her Dad hummed, digging his fingers a little harder into her shoulder muscles.
She tilted her head back so she could see him, and even upside down the worry lines were painted deep across his face. Eliza narrowed her eyes at him. “You believe me, right? He isn’t dead.”
“I do. I believe you.”
“And Tony. You believe him too.”
“He wouldn’t do this to us again, not after New York,” Eliza insisted. “Not twice in one year like that. Tony wouldn’t.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“And if he had… you know… we’d know. We’d know!”
The twins crossed paths in front of the sofa with their pacing, both with a phone to their ears, identical frowns on their faces.
Brian shook his head, shrugging one shoulder, “Potts isn’t picking up.”
“Rhodes isn’t either,” Jack said, still holding the phone to his ear.
Brian wordlessly hit redial and kept pacing, a little bounce in his step to rock the baby strapped to his front, his son blowing spit bubbles in his sleep. Jack shot a sloppy salute before doing the same. And so the twins began the next circuit around a living room that looked unreasonably cheery with the fairy lights considering the mood.
Eliza stomped to the plug socket and kicked the switch, the tree turning dark in an instant. It didn’t make anything better, but it wasn’t making things worse either. Dad stuttered a sigh, and Mum folded a paper and moved onto the next.
“HQ still keeping quiet?”
Sharon shook her head onscreen.
Purple bags hung under her eyes and her blonde curls were a mess about her head. Trip wanted to reach through the screen and comb her hair back into order and wrap her in a hug.
“They’re being suspiciously quiet, as far as I know, but I’m not in DC and I’m supposed to be undercover so no one’s gonna tell me much right now. They don’t want to compromise the mission. I don’t want to either, but…” Sharon huffed. “You’ll probably know more than me right now.”
“Which is just more of nothing. Your parents send their love, by the way,” Trip offered. “Since you’re still not allowed non-personnel contact since you’re on mission.”
“Thanks,” Sharon managed a little smile. “Did they have anything else?”
Trip sighed, “They haven’t got anything new about Tony either.”
Her head dropped.
She was still for so long Trip thought the screen had frozen again with a bad connection, but then her eyes flickered up to meet his.
“We’d… we’d feel it if he was dead,” Sharon said quietly. “Wouldn’t we?”
“I- I think so,” Trip said with a nod. “We felt he wasn’t dead before. We didn’t give up about Afghanistan after just a day—”
“But in Afghanistan Tony was missing. No one was saying he was—”
“Shar, he’s alive,” Trip said. “Somehow, he is. It’s Tony.“
“Then where is he?”
Trip shook his head. “I don’t know.”
Sharon released exactly one pained sob onscreen before steeling it away behind her Agent 13 face, and Trip desperately wanted to reach through the screen to comfort her, but could only press a hand on the small plasma screen.
December 24, Fresno, California
“I fucking knew it! I fucking knew that goddamn idiot—”
“Bree, let go of your brother!” her Dad yelled, trying to get between the two siblings.
In her excitement Bree had grabbed Ken and started shaking him as she yelled in front of the TV, eyes still locked onto the interview with the air stewardess that had been one of thirteen who had been saved falling from Air Force One by Iron Man. Bree only shook her brother harder with her joy. Hana sighed, it was like they’d been raised by wolves.
To be fair to her daughter, Ken was offering no resistance, a stupidly wide grin on his face as he cheered along with her.
“Fucking alive, what did I tell you! He’s—”
“The President has still been kidnapped, this is serious—”
“Tony’ll save him!” Ken insisted, even as Bree shifted to wrap him into a headlock. Their father was sweating and red in the face now trying to separate them, but even he was smiling too. “Iron Man lives!”
Hana despaired of her family, and sternly told her face not to join in and smile, it would only encourage their behaviour.
“I’ll kill him myself!” Bree crowed cheerfully. “He’s like three hours away and couldn’t let us know he’s alive? I’ll kill him!”
And honestly, there were guests!
Hana turned to the woman standing quietly beside her, the only other calm person in all this madness, smiling sweetly at the wrestling trio on the living room floor. “I assure you, this is quite normal of them.”
Raquel turned that sweet smile to Hana, the corners of her eyes creasing, “I know.”
Hana didn’t know whether to feel more relieved or embarrassed. “Is this the family holiday you expected?”
“I don’t really know what I expected,” Raquel admitted.
“And you still want to become a part of all this madness?”
She turned back to see that Bree had both brother and father in headlocks now, laughing a little manically at the screen. Ken was trying to pull her legs out from under her, and their father was just trying to pull free. Raquel’s eyes then dropped down to the small diamond glittering on her ring finger, and Hana saw a light blush stain her cheeks.
The ring had only been given to her this morning after the breaking news.
“It’s fun here.”
Hana nodded, “It certainly isn’t boring.”
Bree looked over her shoulder and shot a wink at them that had Raquel’s blush blooming brighter. Hana wrapped an arm around the younger woman, “You must really love her.”
Raquel beamed, an utterly besotted expression on her face as she watched Bree keep yelling at the TV.
“We absolutely do not deserve you.”
“Yeah, fuck you Fox!”
December 25, Washington, D.C.
“Coal,” Peggy hissed. “That’s all you’re getting this year. Coal!”
Tony smiled on the monitor.
“I am serious, I demand back every present we sent you.”
His smile softened at all the faces squished around Peggy’s to see him on the screen.
“Anthony Edward Stark, don’t you smile like that, I am so angry right now.”
“Love you too, Aunt Peg.”
Chapter 7: Workaholics
Because Rhodey is a gift, but he has a habit of making friends with idiots.
For the prompt from @two-bowls - “Rhodey has to drag his two workaholic friends away to relax a little, a Tony, Rhodey and Pepper brotp drabble.”
Jim stepped into the mansion, vaguely noting that the holes in the walls and floor from Tony’s DIY particle accelerator still hadn’t been filled, and let his feet lead him down the familiar route through the building while he checked the time on his phone again.
He nearly groaned, missing his bed already, not wanting to deal with this right now. But his Mama didn’t teach Jim to back down from a challenge just because it was difficult. Especially for family. And this was probably going to be difficult. They were going to be difficult.
Going down the stairs, Jim sighed when he spotted the lights still on in the ‘shop. He marched over, not even bothering to knock or announce himself, just stepping through the open door with appropriate drama and his game face on.
Not that anyone noticed his entrance. Typical.
There wasn’t even a response. Jim huffed, heading over to the desk to try again.
Pepper was on one side of the desk with files and a tablet, nose nearly pressed to her paperwork, flipping through pages and attacking them with her pen with extreme prejudice, that little scowl sitting in the middle of her forehead. She was holding a stylus in her teeth, had a smudge of blue ink on her jaw, and was still wearing her immaculate skirt suit.
Across from her, Tony had that half-glazed look in his eyes that Jim was all too familiar with from their MIT days, as he stared up at half a dozen holograms. He was in a suit too, but he’d lost the tie, jacket and his shirt was unbuttoned at the neck. He was even wearing his rarely-used and hated reading glasses, which told Jim exactly how long he’d been staring at schematics.
There were a lot of empty espresso mugs between them, and half-eaten takeout boxes. Jim didn’t even want to know how old that food was.
Deciding to start easy, Jim grabbed the back of Tony’s chair, thanking anyone listening that it had wheels, and rolled it away from the desk and across the office. He didn’t even notice, JARVIS being kind enough to wordlessly move the holograms with Tony.
With a big huff, Jim was able to lift the genius in his arms and set him on the big sofa Tony kept in down here. When he dropped Tony on the cushions in one corner, JARVIS cut off the holograms, and Tony blinked.
“Honeybear…?” Tony swayed a little where he sat, exhaustion catching up to him now that he wasn’t fueled by a task.
Jim pointed a finger at him. “Stay.”
Tony just stared hazily back, and Jim went back to the desk. Starting first with gently pulling pins out of her hair, he then crouched to slip Pepper’s heels off, before finally trying to extract the stylus from her teeth. That finally caught her attention, and Pepper startled when she noticed Jim at her side.
“Rhodey,” Pepper was talking around the stylus still in her mouth, but Jim was used to deciphering that. “When did you—?”
“Unclench your jaw, Potts,” Jim said gently, and her jaw dropped, and Pepper seemed very surprised by the stylus she’d been gnawing at. “Okay, now lets go sit with Tony, yeah? You both been at this long enough.”
“Oh, no. I can’t,” Pepper said quickly. “There’s stuff from Legal that have to be processed soon, or they’ll be lawsuits, I think. And there are the patents too from the Expo to go over, and the reports on property damage—”
“You were both still at this when I last saw you,” Jim said. “That was three days ago.”
Jim took Pepper by the hand and led her to the sofa, where Tony was still sat blinking stupidly. Settling between them, Jim tugged the glasses off Tony’s face before pulling the genius’ head to rest on his shoulder, Tony slumping immediately against his side. Then he lifted Pepper’s feet into his lap, giving the sore arches a gentle massage and literally seeing the woman melt into her corner of the sofa.
Nodding to himself, Jim settled in. Unlike the other two, he was already in his comfy sleepwear when JARVIS had texted him asking for assistance, old USAF sweater and sweatpants.
“We good, JARVIS?”
“Thank you, Colonel.”
Tony started snoring right into his ear, and Pepper let out whistling breaths as her head tipped back. Jim looked despairingly at the two of them.
“You are both ridiculous,” he grumbled. “You deserve each other. You do not deserve me. I am a gift. Do you realise that?”
Pepper smacked her lips, and Tony started snaking his arms around Jim, beginning the snuggles he always denied he did when he was asleep.
“Photos already taken,” JARVIS said, a hint of humour in his voice. “Shall I send it to the usual recipients?”
“Yeah,” Jim yawned. “And my Ma too.”
A chirp from behind was all the warning Jim got, before his vision was covered by darkness. DUM-E had yet to quite conquer how to properly tuck people in with a blanket. Jim just closed his eyes, not bothering to pull the blanket off his head. Tony nuzzled his head against Jim’s cheek, and he could feel Pepper slowly migrating to lie across both their laps under the blanket where it was warmer.
“Alarm has been set. I will wake you later in the morning, and the usual breakfast order has been placed,” JARVIS said. “Goodnight, Colonel. And thank you for your help.”
“'Night, buddy,” Jim sighed.
Later, he’d need to talk to his friends about their workaholic tendencies. Again.
But, that was for later.
Chapter 8: Sugar Cookies & Forehead Kisses
Mama & Papa Rhodes
The poor boy’s cheeks were burning as he didn’t quite manage to look at her, uttering a quiet, “Nice to meet you, Mrs Rhodes.”
Roberta’s heart thumped, and she thought oh no. David let out a knowing sigh.
Prompt from ApocalypticPhoenix - “Meet the Rhodes family”
The first time Roberta met Tony was when she went to surprise her son at college. She hadn’t met Tony Stark during orientation or moving in day. The boy had been absent both times. But Jim had called home as promised, with plenty of stories of his new friend.
But then, there had been a torrid stream of scandalous headlines in the news for two weeks about Jim’s roommate, and a mother could only contain so much worry. Not so much about the boy, but the crowds that followed him.
She never figured on falling in love.
It was mid-afternoon on the weekend, a time Roberta knew Jim would be in, no training today for ROTC. The baked treats they’d brought along would be just perfect as a small present for him. They were not a bribe.
She’d knocked on the door and waited, David holding the box of cookies, but after a good minute there’d still been no answer. Just a shut door.
Roberta frowned and pressed her ear to the door. She could definitely hear someone shuffling about inside.
“Hello?” she called through the door.
She knocked again, just as the sound of pounding feet came down the corridor, and she turned to see her son gawking at them. “Mom? Dad?”
“Jimmy!” Had he grown? It felt like he’d grown. And oh, oh she had missed him. Roberta nearly skipped down the hallway to wrap him in her arms.
“I didn’t know you were coming today.”
“Spur of the moment,” Roberta admitted, pulling him down to kiss his forehead, his cheek, all over his precious face. And the boy didn’t try to pull away even though they were in public, he’d learned well enough to indulge her affections like that. Just like his father.
David wrapped an arm around Jim too, smiling so wide his moustache stretched with it, bright eyed as he looked at their boy.
Jim smiled, and Roberta felt for a moment that she’d forgotten exactly when he’d grown taller than her, she swore he was a baby only yesterday. He was still her baby.
“How are you?”
“I’m good, Dad,” Jim said, before that smile wiped away and he glared both ways down the corridor. “C’mon, let’s go inside. I don’t know who might try their luck and show up again.”
“What—” Roberta shared a frown with David as they followed Jim, unlocking his door and hurriedly ushering them inside. She didn’t have a chance to ask more before someone else piped up, voice cracking.
Roberta turned and gaped at the figure on her son’s bed, wrapped up in all the blankets with only the top of their head popping out. For a second, she thought she’d interrupted a tryst with their visit, before her brain registered the young face she was looking at.
She’d forgotten quite how young it was that part of the title ‘young genius’.
Big brown eyes framed in thick lashes, still soft cheeks, dark hair in messy waves that curled around his ears, and an equal expression of shock on his face.
“It’s me, Tones,” Jim said calmly. “And my parents.”
“Hello,” Roberta said softly, as Jim sat on his bed next to Tony.
“I didn’t know you were- I should go? So you can have, uh, privacy, or something. Right? I should go,” Tony tripped over his words, nodding as he started to climb out of his blankets. “I’m going.”
Jim grabbed him by the back of his shirt, and Tony fell back in a heap with an adorable squeak. “I did not just chase off those vultures before just so you could just go walk straight into their claws now!”
“Chase off…?” David’s brow furrowed, and Jim puffed up angrily, nostrils flaring.
“The press have been hounding for more news after the whole, you know, the thing with Baintronics—” Tony winced, despite Jim rushing through. “—and someone leaked where we live, but I think we’re getting moved to a new place next week. He’s just gonna hole up in here when he doesn’t have class until then. They’re freaking sneaky, Dad!”
Tony spoke up again, “Yeah, I don’t want to, uh, intrude—”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Jim huffed, bundling the younger boy under one arm as he beamed at David and her. “This is Tony. Tony, these are my Mom and Dad.”
The poor boy’s cheeks were burning as he didn’t quite manage to look at her, uttering a quiet, “Nice to meet you, Mrs Rhodes, Mr Rhodes.”
Roberta’s heart thumped, and she thought oh no. David let out a knowing sigh.
She snatched the box from David’s hands, “Would you like a cookie? David made them, they’re Jim’s favourites.”
Tony blinked at her, but Jim had already taken the box for him, rifling through and neatly stuffing one of the sugar cookies in Tony’s mouth. He lit up as he chewed through the cookie, and Roberta’s heart gave another thump.
“Amazing!” Tony crowed, crumbs spraying everywhere. It was a strangely charming sight, and Roberta had to hold herself back on doling out forehead kisses to a boy she’d just met.
And she saw that little pleased smile cross Jim face as he bit into a cookie of his own. David’s moustache was twitching with a hidden smile too.
“But, really, I can go. I’m sure you don’t want to stay holed up here all day-” There was a sudden pounding on the door, and Tony’s smile stuttered. “Or maybe the three of you should go? There’s that nice diner off campus, Rhodey knows where, they do the best waffles.”
“I think a day inside would be perfect,” Roberta insisted. “Plenty of time to catch up with both of you.”
Jim grinned now, but Tony kept looking anxiously at the door as the knocking started up again, voices yelling his name. Roberta glared at the door.
“I’ll just see these people off first, and then we can enjoy the day together.”
“Mrs Rhodes, you don’t have to—”
She politely ignored him. David sighed quietly at her side, “I suppose you could go call Jeannie too, while you’re out there.”
Roberta blinked at her husband, confused.
His moustache fluttered, “She should know you’ve gone and got her another brother. I think she’ll like it, you know she never liked being the youngest.”
“Oh, you!” she swatted at him, ignoring his smug look, before heading to the door to go do some yelling. Jim was snickering into the cookie box now as Tony’s spluttered.
“Really, Mrs Rhodes, they’ll only harass you—”
“Don’t bother, son,” David said, planting himself on the other side of Tony on the bed. “It’s easier to just let her do her thing. Here, have another cookie.”
“I, er- thank you?”
Chapter 9: After Ana
He didn’t look at the headstone. Rarely did. Not at the blank space left under Ana’s name (space for another name). Not at the dozens of little stones all left on the site. Not at the grass that had started to grow thick again on the ground.
“I love her still,” Jarvis said suddenly. “I love her.”
From an anon prompt - “Jarvis and Tony after Ana dies”
It was quiet.
Not that it hadn’t been quieter before. The house had always had something of an air of silence to Tony, even when it was full of people, voices seemed to get lost a lot of the time. It was too big a place, really, for their small family. But they were Starks, and a mansion was pretty much expected of them.
Tony had learned to drown out the silence by going out a lot.
The only part of the house that seemed immune to that silent quality, was the kitchen. There had always been something bubbling on the stove, or the ticking away of the oven, or the whistle of the kettle, or the squelch of the washing up sponge, the clink of silverware… There was noise.
There was Ana.
Tony would almost always find her in there.
Now though, now it was quiet there too.
He wasn’t unfamiliar with loss, with putting on a black suit and holding a stoic expression at a funeral. It had only been a few of years ago that he’d stood over two graves as his parents were buried after all.
But this time had felt different to Tony. Not only because this was Ana, someone who had a hard-to-label but irreplaceable space in his family (in his heart), but because even though there had only been one grave, it had still felt like Tony was burying two people.
Jarvis spent a lot of time at the cemetery.
Tony had commissioned for a beautiful bench to be placed opposite Ana’s headstone, so Jarvis wouldn’t have to stand the whole time, or sit on the grass. His bones couldn’t handle that nowadays. And he was sat there again when Tony arrived.
He didn’t say a word as he sat down next to Jarvis. He said nothing as he tucked a blanket across the old man’s legs. Nothing as he linked their arms. Nothing as he held Jarvis’ stiff hands and rubbed circles on the stiff joints.
Nothing at the wet gaunt cheeks.
Nothing about his own either.
Leaning his head on Jarvis, pressed knee to shoulder against him on the bench, Tony still thought he could feel pieces of Jarvis slowly slipping away.
He didn’t look at the headstone. Rarely did. Not at the blank space left under Ana’s name (space for another name). Not at the dozens of little stones all left on the site. Not at the grass that had started to grow thick again on the ground.
“I love her still,” Jarvis said suddenly, tearing apart the quiet. “I love her.”
“I miss her,” Jarvis said. “Every day.”
Tony felt his throat grow hot, and he turned to hide his face against Jarvis.
Jarvis’ shoulder trembled under Tony’s forehead.
“You can’t just go without telling me,” Tony said, talking about more than just today’s wandering off, kettle still boiling and tea bag left in the mug in the kitchen. “At least a goodbye.”
Because Jarvis was going to go, probably too soon for Tony’s liking, but he couldn’t do anything stop that. Jarvis belonged with Ana. One without the other felt more wrong than the silent kitchen in the mansion.
“I promise, Tony.”
Tony nodded, satisfied if not happy. “… I miss you both.”
“Don’t be. I’m being stupid.”
“You have never been stupid.”
Tony lifted his head, “Oh yeah? Well, what about the time with the roller skates?”
There might not have been a smile on his face, but when Jarvis turned to look at him, properly in the eye for possibly the first time since the funeral, there was a familiar glint that made Tony’s insides ache because he would miss this one day too soon. He wasn’t ready.
“Or the tree that one time? Or the time with the—”
“Yes, you’ve made your point very well,” Jarvis said, thin lips quivering.
Satisfied, Tony closed his eyes to avoid looking at that beloved name inscribed on stone as he settled his head back on Jarvis’ shoulder. “Tell me about how you met Ana.”
“You’ve heard that story a hundred times.”
“Yeah, but it never gets old.”
“Hmm,” Jarvis took one of his hands back to gently run it down the tie he was wearing, pale green with a pattern of little hummingbirds. “Well, it was in a tailor’s shop, and I saw the most beautiful tie…”
Chapter 10: Induction
Michael and Hal have a talk with Agent Romanov.
Natasha stood by Tony’s bed, arms folded and mouth pursed shut, as she looked at the two conscious men in the room.
Hal had dropped onto a chair on Sharon’s side of the bed, watching Natasha carefully over the sleeping duo. Michael was perched at the end of the bed, using the other chair as a foot rest, the turn of his head daring Natasha to mention her own lack of seat now.
Had they expected her to leave? After all her waiting to see Tony, Natasha wasn’t leaving any time soon. Especially not in the face of such childish methods as trying to exclude her. She was a Black Widow, she’d lived through much worse than staying on her feet indefinitely.
Michael jerked his chin at the door, eyes on her, the message perfectly clear.
Natasha stared blankly back.
Michael’s mouth quirked with something like amusement, and he slid his feet off the chair, nudging it toward her.
Natasha stood firm, feet still planted.
Michael’s mouth stretched a little wider and ducked his head, eyes settling back on the sleeping pair on the bed. Natasha was wary at such easy acceptance, but she didn’t have long to feel that way.
Hal stood from his seat. “You left him.”
She made sure she didn’t twitch as she met his eyes. “He told me to.”
Hal’s eyes narrowed on her, sharing a glance with Michael, “Tony sent you away. He actually told you that. In words. From his mouth.”
“He told you without words? How does that work?”
“He was an idiot, that’s how,” Natasha couldn’t help hissing, sparing a moment to glance at the genius obliviously sleeping away between them.
“And you still left.”
“He forced my hand.”
“He pushed you away…” Hal blinked. He turned to Michael. “He pushed her away.”
Hal turned to stare at her again, “Huh.”
After another minute, Hal nodded too, and relaxed back in his chair.
The acceptance was more unnerving than Natasha had anticipated. “That’s it?”
Hal shrugged, flattening out a wrinkle in the blankets. “Oh no, not at all,” he said. “But it’s enough for now. Michael only needs to know you want to stay for Tony, and I only need to know that you’ll come back after he chases you away. Besides, Rhodes trusted you to help lead the rescue. That says a lot.”
Natasha slowly reached out to the free chair by Michael’s feet and sat.
“Anyway,” Hal continued. “We’re not the ones you should really be worried about.”
“Nah. I mean, we’re protective of him, of course,” Hal said easily. “But we’re nothing on the youngsters.”
“They’ve grown up with Tony always there, knowing he would do anything for them,” Hal explained with a smile on his face. “And we’d do the same for him, obviously, but let’s just say there are limits to what we would do, if only because we know how such actions might upset Tony. The younger ones, well… they have remarkably fewer reservations. The zealousness of youth.”
Natasha eyed Sharon, innocently curled up on the bed with Tony.
“And there are a lot more of them than you might think, Agent Romanov,” Hal smirked. Michael finally looked up again, a smile on his face that was all teeth.
“Welcome to the family.”
Chapter 11: Special Delivery
Clint opened the front door and just stared dumbly for a minute. "Stark?“
"Barton,” he said, grinning that blinding white smile, eyes hidden behind glasses tinted blue today.
“What are you doing here?”
“I was in the neighbourhood.”
Clint leaned against the doorframe, looking behind Tony to see a surprisingly low-key dark blue sedan parked in the driveway. “In the neighbourhood?”
Tony waved a hand, “Eh, Tennessee, close enough.”
“You just happened to be in Tennessee.”
“Seeing a friend. He missed my birthday, and I’m hurt you didn’t remember either.”
“Been a little busy here myself,” Clint drawled, pulling at the front of his shirt which was damp at the shoulder from baby spittle.
“I know,” Tony grinned again, pulling out a slim rectangle of clear glass that Clint assumed was the latest Starkphone. “I’m also here on assignment. Romanov wants a better look at Traitor Baby. Apparently the vid you sent made the little guy look fat.”
Clint wasn’t sure what to address first - that Nate apparently looked fat, that Tony was doing Nat’s bidding, that he was calling Nate ‘Traitor Baby’, or the fact that— “Nat showed you the video?”
“She showed everyone the video,” Tony shrugged. “She’s very proud. Even though he’s a fat Traitor Baby.”
“He’s not a—”
“Are you gonna let me in?”
Huffing at the billionaire, Clint stepped to one side, sweeping one arm out dramatically. But Tony didn’t move. “Stark.”
“Yeaaah,” Tony stretched the word out, scratching at his beard, looking less than utterly confident for the first time since he’d arrived on Clint’s porch. “So I have some things for you in the car too.”
Clint frowned. He was pretty sure Nat had already managed to forward anything of his he’d forgotten when he’d left.
“New stuff. Tech. Mine, obviously,” Tony rattled on. “Just, thought you could use a little security upgrade? Keep the family safe. You never know who could just come waltzing up to your front porch. Minimal stuff, I promise, very few lasers.”
“Very few,” Tony said, in what Clint assumed he thought was an assuring tone.
Clint scrubbed a hand down his face, wondering if this was Nat too, putting Tony up to this. She was a worrier at heart, though she’d deny it. “We don’t need a security upgrade.”
“Well, I mean, I know you’re here now, but you can’t always be—”
“You’ve already installed it, haven’t you?”
Tony cleared his throat, mouth twitching.
Clint grabbed him by his jacket lapel and tugged him through the door with a sigh, “Stay for dinner. You can take down your little security fence after—” He grinned at Tony’s indignant squawking at calling the Stark tech a little security fence, of all things Barton, have you no respect? “You’ll have plenty of time to take pictures of Nate before you go.”
Clint was bouncing Nate on his knees as he kept an eye on Lila drawing at the table, when there was a knock at the door. She shot to her feet and skipped to the front of the house before Clint could remind her she wasn't supposed to answer the door, shifting Nate into one arm as he scrambled after her, heart pounding, it could be anyone—
"Okay, that was a no on lasers, but I got you- wait, you aren't Barton. Not the one I was looking for anyway."
The relief that shot through Clint was almost as startling as the panic had been. He had to lean against a wall for a minute waiting for his pulse to calm, slipping a knife back into his boot.
"Are your parents home?"
"Yeah," Lila trilled. "Are you staying for dinner again, Mr Stark?"
"It's spaghetti tonight. I'm gonna help Mommy make the meatballs. They're really good."
"I'm sure they are, but I wasn't—"
"You can sit next to me."
"Thanks, but I—"
Clint wasn't sure how it happened, but an hour later his daughter had somehow talked Iron Man into dinner again.
He was feeding Nate a bottle of breastmilk as he watched Tony help roll meatballs in his kitchen, bracketed on both sides by Laura and Lila, with Cooper watching the tomato sauce bubbling beside them. The only thing keeping Clint from calling Nat to demand why Tony was back again was that he didn't want to miss a moment of the utterly priceless befuddled expression on the genius' face, as Lila enthusiastically praised him again on how perfectly he'd managed to shape his meatballs.
"So," Clint cleared his throat. "You said something about no lasers?"
"Yeah," Tony nodded, accepting another scoop of raw meat from Lila. "You said you didn't like them last time."
"So I got rid of 'em, and it's just the darts now."
"Yup," Tony said, handing over a finished meatball to Laura to add to the pan. "I left the lights so it still looks like lasers, extra deterrent, but they aren't harmful. Unless you're epileptic. You aren't epileptic, are you?"
"No, none of us are," Clint said. "But Stark, it wasn't just the lasers I had a problem with."
Laura hummed, "I think we've got enough now. Lila, put the rest of the meat back in the fridge."
Tony shuffled over to the sink to wash his hands, "What was the problem then?"
"The fact that there was suddenly hi-tech attack fence surrounding the farm," Clint said. "If you were going for subtle, that wasn't it."
"But the camouflage..."
Clint shot him a look as he lifted Nate to one shoulder for burping.
A thoughtful look crossed Tony's face, which was just worrying in another way. "So you're saying more subtlety needed."
"That's not what I'm—"
"Set the table please, boys," Laura said, adding the pasta to a pot of boiling water.
Cooper started dumping plates into Tony's arms as the billionaire blinked after her. "Did she just call me a boy?"
Clint looked over his shoulder at Cooper standing on the porch, a load of grocery still in his arms. "Yeah?"
"I think there's someone in the house."
Instantly, Clint dropped what was in his hands, including the eggs from the crunch that sounded, and reached into the trunk for his emergency sidearm. He turned to Laura, "Get back in the car. If I'm not back in five minutes, you know what to do."
He left her hissing angrily at him by the pick-up, passing Cooper on his way into the house. Clint kept quiet easily, falling into each step rolling from heel to toe, crouching slightly as he moved. The door was still ajar from Cooper opening it, and it swung open without a squeak. The lock hadn't been forced, and there weren't any other signs of an intruder that he could see from the door, so he stood still for a moment just listening.
There was just faintly a clatter from downstairs.
Heading for the basement door, Clint was silent as he made his way down the stairs.
Someone was muttering lowly at the foot of the stairs. It didn't seem like they'd noticed Clint's approach, so he grabbed the bannister and hopped over it, landing light on his feet with his weapon already trained on—
"Jesus fucking Christ!" Tony yelped, clutching at his chest as he stared down the gun in Clint's hand.
He dropped his arm, "What the hell are you doing creeping in my basement, Stark? ... Is that my power drill?"
Tony looked down at the power drill that was indeed in his hand. "Oh, yeah. I forgot to pack mine. I'm just borrowing it."
Clint just shook his head. "What are you doing here?"
"You said you wanted more subtlety," Tony said, in a tone that said Clint was clearly an idiot for even asking, even though he was sure he wasn't the idiot in this situation. "This will be completely hidden from outside eyes."
"I really don't think I asked for... whatever this is."
"A secret escape tunnel."
"Are you serious?" Clint didn't know whether to be more excited or exasperated. A secret escape tunnel sounded kinda cool. It would've been nice to be asked about this first though. It was his house.
"Well, I was just gonna go with panic room, but then you're basically just trapping yourself if there's an emergency - not a good idea with our kind of enemy - so I thought 'escape route' instead," Tony said. Then he pointed to one corner, "You've got some rot in the walls, by the way. I noticed when I was taking measurements. I brought a sealant Stark Relief uses, I can fix this right up while I'm here."
Huffing as he decided to leave Tony to his own devices for the moment, Clint headed back up the stairs, only to find himself staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
"Laura," he sighed tiredly. "You're not supposed to come after me. That's not what we agreed on."
"You didn't come back," Laura said with a shrug, unapologetic as she rested the shotgun on her shoulder. "Is everything okay?"
"It's just Stark," Clint said. "Got it in his head that we asked for a secret tunnel."
Her lips curled up, and Laura's dark eyes sparkled with suppressed laughter. "Really? Is he digging it himself?"
"This isn't funny," Clint insisted. "I nearly shot him, he can't just keep turning up like this."
"You know, if you'd said yes to his security fence, you'd probably have known he'd turned up. And don't pretend like you didn't like the idea of a secret tunnel. I know you."
"It's your own fault," she said, stepping around him to join Tony in the basement. "You fed the billionaire first. You know not to feed strays, or they'll just keep coming back after that. Hi, Tony!"
"Laura," Clint hissed after her now. "Don't encourage him!"
"Go tell the kids it's safe," she yelled up the stairs at him. "And go get more eggs. You broke 'em, you buy 'em."
Clint could feel a headache coming on.
Coming home with Lila and hearing Tony's voice was becoming less and less of a surprise, and that was a sad truth, Clint thought. On the other hand, Lila was obviously delighted, tracking dirt into the house. Clint followed at a slower pace with her bags, and found them around the coffee table.
"I'm not certain, but I believe there's the other little Barton under all that mud."
"I had soccer practise."
"Oh?" Tony said, in that particular tone that told Clint to expect some top quality soccer equipment for an eight-year-old girl to 'anonymously' arrive in the mail soon.
"I got picked for first line," Lila said, little chest puffed proudly.
"That's great," the billionaire said, a smile on his face.
Lila didn't dare sit on the sofa with Tony in her dirtied state, not risking her mother's wrath, but she stood close by, beaming. Cooper was on Tony's other side, fiddling with something that Clint couldn't see in his hands. It was shiny though, so probably another present from Tony.
Laura joined him at the doorway with Nate in her arms, smirking that smirk she did when she knew something he didn't.
"Did he bring a new present again?"
"Wristband." Clint raised an eyebrow, surprised at that. "They also double as homing devices and emergency alerts. Tony was just explaining the features before you got back. Apparently, he realised that since we do occasionally leave the house, it might be better to have some form of portable protection - since you said no to the fence and tunnel."
He heaved a great sigh, "What did Nat say to him to have Stark so paranoid for us?"
"Nat?" Laura tilted her head. "You think Natasha's putting him up to this?"
Clint nodded, hesitant, less sure now that Laura's smirk was only growing. She was probably laughing at him in her head.
"I already told him it was a bad idea," Laura said. "The kids're more likely to forget to wear them often than not. Or lose them. He was pitching ideas with Coop about alternatives."
She was definitely laughing inside at him, Clint was sure of that. He wasn't sure what expression he had on his face, but Nate apparently found it hilarious too, giggling as he was in his mother's arms. Outnumbered on all sides, Clint went to retrieve his daughter from bragging to Tony about her soccer skills because, ohmygod, she was perched on Tony's knee and definitely dirtying his several-thousand-dollar suit with mud.
"C'mon, Lila, shower time," he said, herding her to the stairs.
"Can Tony stay for dinner?"
"Your mother probably already asked him."
At least sometimes Tony turned up at opportune times. Just your local billionaire babysitter to the rescue.
Meaning Clint didn't have two extra children to watch - and probably pick up the flu - at the doctor's, waiting for baby's latest checkup. Laura had Nate in her lap as they waited for their appointment, and it was the perfect time Clint felt to ask about that smirk she always had about Tony nowadays.
"What do you find so funny about Stark always showing up?"
"I can't believe people call you Hawkeye."
Laura sighed, "Seriously, you really do see best at a distance. Do you still believe it's Natasha making Tony check on you all the time?"
"Why not?" Clint shrugged. "He doesn't have any reason to do all this stuff."
"You were on the same team."
"Yeah, and now I'm retired from it."
"I mean, doesn't he have other important things to do?"
Laura shook her head at him. "I think he misses you."
Clint felt like she'd sucker punched him with that statement. "Me?!"
"Not you specifically, but, honey," she shot him a soft look. "I heard all about your shenanigans in the Tower from you and Nat. I know you liked it there. Tony obviously liked having you all there. And now..."
"You're saying he misses having the team around," Clint said. "He's so lonely that instead of just dropping by the Compound in New York, where he lives, Stark decides to fly all the way out here—"
"To see his fellow Avengers retirement buddy, yeah." Laura turned to wipe at the spit on Nate's chin. "Who he probably worries about. All alone. On a farm in the middle of nowhere. Without backup."
Clint stared at his boots as he thought back over the past visits under a new light, thinking about all the gifts Tony had made and brought since they'd both retired... "Huh."
Laura patted him fondly on the cheek, "Birdbrain."
"Please tell me that's not a robot bird."
"It's not a robot bird," Tony answered immediately. "It's your new home security system. Like a guard dog, but with wings!"
"I think I'd prefer a dog."
Tony pouted, but it didn't last long. Cooper rounded the corner and lit up at the machine that had been set on the dining table, and Tony preened. "Woah!"
"See, that is the correct reaction to my tech," Tony said.
"Is it a thinking robot?" Clint hated asking, especially watching Tony flinch minutely, but he pushed past the discomfort, because he had to think of his kids first. Besides, Tony was already shaking his head.
"There's no AI," Tony assured him, keeping watch as Cooper poked and prodded the metal bird. "No independent action or learning protocols. It's just a surveillance device."
"Okay. But, why?"
"Laura said you guys might forget a wristband or stuff," Tony explained. "So I thought, what about something you don't have to remember in the first place? This little guy will just follow you, stealthily, when you leave the house."
"Not just stay at the house?"
"You're all more important," Tony said easily, and it warmed Clint a little, honestly. "Besides, this little guy can and will scan the house for explosives or threats before you return. In case anyone other than me left a present for you to come home to."
"Right, but what if we went to several different places at once?"
Tony frowned. "Well, I put priority on the kids, but you're saying you want more birds. Like a whole flock?"
"No, that's really not—"
A squeal interrupted Clint, and Lila almost body-checked him to get to the metal bird. "Daddy, can we keep him?"
She didn't bother waiting for an answer, following her brother, as Cooper carried the robot out to the living room to show Laura and Nate. Tony's eyes followed them, soft in a way Clint hadn't seen often. A smile with no hint of smirk was even playing around his mouth, as he watched Lila carefully guide Nate's little baby hand down a metallic wing, with Cooper keeping a careful eye on his siblings. There was something almost nostalgic in Tony's expression.
"You're surprisingly good with kids."
Tony turned, and the more familiar smirk slipped on again with a shrug. "Kids are easy, y'know? You can usually tell what they want. It's the adults that are harder to figure out, gotta keep on your toes around them."
It was a bittersweet view that made Clint infinitely grateful for his farm in the middle of nowhere. A place to let his guard down in a way that Tony didn't seem to have so easily. He bumped Tony's shoulder with his own, "So what I'm hearing is that Laura and I have free and willing access to a billionaire babysitter on the regular."
The smile came back. "Sure, Barton."
Natasha arrived at the farm on Christmas morning, bearing vodka for the adults, and an actual sack of presents for the children from the team, like she was Santa's most deadly helper elf.
Lila was nearly vibrating with joy the whole day, jumping from present to present in a cloud of torn wrapping paper and tinsel. Cooper was quieter but no less happy, already starting in on a stack of new books that he'd received. After dinner Natasha was slumped contently in her chair at the table, Nate a warm weight in her lap. Clint decided today was a resounding success, perfectly low-key and intimate, as Natasha preferred. He wondered though...
"Stark get you a good present?" Clint asked, as casual as he could.
It was apparently useless, since Natasha quickly snapped her focus away from the baby chewing on her necklace, and turned to share a significant look with Laura. "What makes you say that?"
"Like you don't know."
"You know I only act as though I know everything."
Clint rolled his eyes at her, "C'mon."
A gentle curl pulled at Natasha's lips. "He got me a good gift."
"Should we be expecting another surprise visit from him?"
"How should I know? It's not like Stark tells me everywhere he goes."
"He could tell me when he's coming here at least," Clint huffed.
"Maybe he doesn't call ahead because he doesn't know if he's welcome," Natasha offered, carefully avoiding meeting his eyes.
Yet another thing for Clint to think about. No doubt Natasha's own gift to him - a headache.
Laura was laughing at him from the porch, and she wasn't stopping no matter how fierce Clint made his glare. The woman was immune, unfortunately, she had been for years.
"I wondered why gathering more wood was taking so long."
Clint stuffed his phone back into his pocket. "It's nothing."
"You've arranged playdates for the kids before," Laura giggled. "Surely you can arrange your own?"
"That's not what I was doing!" Clint cried. "I was- I thought I got a text, is all."
"And we're grown men anyway, it's not called a playdate. It's a hang out. Or something."
"It's just that he hasn't been by in a while," Clint insisted, scuffing his boot on the icy grass. "I was just checking on him... The kids miss him."
"You know it's normal to worry about your friends too."
"I know that!"
"Alright," Laura said, but she was still grinning as she turned back into the house. "Just let me know if you need me to schedule your playdate for you."
"It's not a playdate."
If Clint stomped into the house fifteen minutes later without the chopped wood, and pointedly announced that Tony would be dropping by next week to see the kids, it meant nothing. The wood would have gone flying anyway, if Clint'd had it when Lila tackled him with an excited scream at the news.
The next time Tony visited the farm, he didn't bring anything other than himself, but left with his ears still ringing from the warm farewell.
"Bye, Uncle Tony!"
At least this time, Clint could be the one laughing at someone else. Who knew Tony Stark could still blush like that?
The day after Valentine's Day, Tony appeared unannounced again, and immediately dropped to the floor to play with Nate. He didn't look anyone else in the eye, his shoulders never quite shed their tension, and he hardly said much at all. Clint didn't even need Laura to shoot him warning looks to keep his own trap shut around Tony.
"Alright, what's up with him?" Clint asked at a whisper as he buttered slices of toast in the kitchen.
Laura absently stirred the soup, darting glances over her shoulder into the living room, as if checking whether Tony could hear them or not. Clint was a little insulted, he was a spy after all, stealth was part of his training and he could actually control how loud he spoke.
"I know you have some idea."
"You must have noticed too," Laura said, huffing at Clint's blank stare. "Romance is really not your forte, is it? No wonder it took so long for you to get a date with—" He hissed at her to be quiet this time.
"What's it got to do with romance? Stark get stood up or something?"
Laura was looking at him with truly pitying eyes.
Clint's eyes went wide. "No shit. I thought Pepper—"
He ducked as Laura threw a spoon at him, before throwing her arms up with a frustrated groan. "Seriously?"
"But why come here, then? He's playing with a half-gnawed set of blocks and covered in baby spit right now. That's like the furthest thing from romantic."
"Exactly," Laura said, grabbing a ladle to dish up the soup. "He wants a distraction."
"Oh." Clint returned to spreading butter. "Okay, but he could've called first. I coulda gotten a six-pack or something to share. I thought he was calling first now."
"He did. He called me. We talk too, you know."
"You?" Laura ignored Clint as she started carrying bowls over to the table. "Since when did he have your number? What do you talk about? How long has this been happening?"
Laura patted his shoulder as she took the plate of toast from him, "Don't be jealous now. He asks about you each time."
"I'm not jealous!" Clint squawked.
"Besides, Tony's been really great helping Cooper with his Chem," Laura said with a shrug. "You know that's not either of our strong suits."
"Get the cheese out from the fridge, will you?" Laura asked, heading out of the kitchen. "I'm gonna grab one of your shirts for Tony. We can't let him eat lunch covered in baby spit."
Clint stared at the butter knife in his hand. "What is happening with my life?"
Lila grinned up at the camera, leaning against Clint as he held Nate up on his feet in his bunny rabbit onesie, waiting for Laura to take a picture. Cooper was sniggering next to his Mom, eyes trained firmly on Clint.
More specifically, on the rabbit ears headband Lila had stuck on his head. "To match, Daddy!"
"Laura, this better not get out—"
"Aaaand sent to Natasha."
"Mom, if you send that to Uncle Tony, d'you think he'll come for Easter?" Cooper asked.
"Laura, don't you dare—!"
Tony did come, but he didn't wait for Easter. And he didn't come alone.
"That was back in January, Stark."
"I knew that."
"I'm going to have to ask."
"You said!" Tony insisted, waving one arm for emphasis, the other holding Nate to his hip. "Last year!"
"I said what last year?"
"That you'd rather have a dog."
Clint dropped his face into his hands. He was almost certain that whatever he'd said had been a throwaway comment, but there was now a dog yipping in his front yard, jumping excitedly between Lila and Cooper and Laura.
"I mean, you already had the house, the white-ish picket fence, the two-point-five kids," Tony continued. "Just needed a dog to complete the picture. I always wanted a dog. Or any pet."
"Is it a robot dog?"
"Nope. Real flesh and bone dog, that is."
"And this isn't another attempt at home security?" Clint asked, looking up again.
"No," Tony shook his head. "Well, not explicitly for home security. He'll be good for keeping an ear out when you can't, but he's missing an eye. You'll have to have eachother's backs."
The dog was on its back now, enthusiastically receiving tummy scratches from little fingers, and writhing quite happily on the grass. Clint had to admit, it did make for a happy picture. "Where did you find him?"
"He escaped the pound and tried stealing my pizza slice before he was caught again."
Clint had to laugh at the image his brain conjured at that. "And that made you think of me specifically?"
"Apparently," a delighted grin slid across Tony's lips. "The pound said his name was Arrow. You can change that though."
Clint chuckled again, because of course Tony Stark would nearly lose his pizza to a runaway dog and go rescue him from the pound for a friend. "Well, he's lucky he ran into you."
"He's lucky I'm fond of sharing my food."
Tony ducked his head, a pleased smile softening his face. "Sure."
Chapter 12: Bad News
In the middle of trying to explain an important document to his uncooperative team, Tony gets some very unpleasant news.
Takes place during CA:CW.
“I have to go.”
Tony bit back a growl watching Steve shoot out of his seat, tossing the Accords onto the table and leaving without another look. He was about to call him back, when he felt a light nudge on one side. Natasha shook her head the slightest bit. Her serious face was on - this whole mess was a serious face inducer - but she’d backed him up, so Tony let it go.
“Doesn’t seem fair to continue if Cap’s not gonna be here to ‘debate’ his point some more,” Tony tossed out, rounding the table and picking up the Accords.
It was a thick volume of papers, heavy in Tony’s hands, not only in the physical sense. There was a weight as he looked at the printed cover, something big and dark and dangerous pressing down on his shoulders, keeping him up all nights, draining Tony…
He tossed the Accords to Sam as the others were leaving the room too. “Talk to Cap. We’ve got better chances of control if we’re actually at the table, you know? And try reading it, maybe, before you tap out.”
Sam shook his head, “It’s a bad deal, Stark, and you know it.”
Tony locked eyes, “You don’t want to mess with Ross.” You're not ready to mess with Ross.
“When did you become the type to roll over for that man?”
Sam dropped the volume back on the table, heading out after Steve. Tony wanted to scream, wanted to yell and shout, when for a second time a light touch stopped him. He turned to see Rhodey, a grim look on his face. Tony’s heart immediately stuttered.
“What’s up, Cookie Monster?” Tony reached out a hand and patted Rhodey on the arm. “Everything okay?”
Rhodey’s mouth was flat, brow settled low. Tony glanced at the phone in his hand, but Rhodey tilted the screen away from him. “FRIDAY’s got a call waiting for you. You’d better take it in your office.”
“My office?” Tony let Rhodey herd him down the corridors. “FRIDAY could've sent it to my phone, I had it on me—”
“No, Tones,” Rhodey shook his head. “Take it in your office. I’ll… I’ll be right outside.”
He was still confused, but Tony went inside easily enough. The red light flashed on the handset, and he pressed the button to take the call off hold. “Hello?”
“Michael?” He almost hadn't recognised the voice, he sounded so hoarse, voice almost scraping across the speaker. “What’s wrong? What can I do?”
“Nothing. There’s- Mom’s gone.”
“Gone.” Tony shook his head. “Did she wander off again? I thought the staff weren't supposed to let her out of bed unsupervised?”
“No. Tony, she’s gone. Last night. The doctors say it was in her sleep.”
For a moment, Tony thought he’d gone strangely blind, as he fumbled and fell into the desk chair. The world seemed to swirl oddly before his eyes and there was a buzz in his ears that reminded him of dial-up tone, like his brain was a computer that had to difficulty connecting with the internet - with reality - a bizarre thought that made Tony want to laugh, but no, now wasn't the moment to suddenly laugh. He bit back the urge, but his heart couldn't seem to decide whether to stop beating or frantically make up for the fact that Peggy’s no longer—
He registered that Michael was crying over the phone.
Wet sniffling sounds poured down the line, and Tony couldn't reach him, he couldn't reach him. He was adrift. This was... Tony should be used to this sort of news, but not Peggy, not her too. Not now.
“She’d been doing okay,” Michael sobbed. “The doctors don't know what happened. It just did. She just... god, my Mom’s gone. My Mom. I'm—”
“Are you alone?” Tony cut across. “Tell me you're not alone there, Michael.”
“No. No, Evie’s with me,” Michael admitted. “She’s calling the others. Hal and the Falsworth twins are off taking... taking care of things.”
“Okay.” Tony stood, bracing his hands on the desk. “Okay, I'm coming over.”
“You can?” There was the smallest thread of hope in his voice, and nothing in the world was going to stop Tony being there.
“Yes.” Tony waved a hand, but FRIDAY was already making arrangements, pulling up the information on a screen in front of him. “I- there are things- I might still have to meet some people, but I’ll be there. I'm on my way, Michael.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Michael hiccuped over the line. “Thank you.”
“Of course. I’ll see you soon,” Tony said, listening absently to the click as Michael hung up.
Then he just sat in his chair, staring at the screen as FRIDAY confirmed the Starkjet was ready for him. He didn't really hear the door open, but someone not him pushed the screen away, and suddenly there was Rhodey knelt in front of him, and Tony found an anchor in the room again.
Rhodey’s face was creased as he looked up at him. “Tones...”
“That was Michael.” Tony’s hand shot out suddenly, grabbing at Rhodey tightly. “My Aunt Peggy, she’s—”
“I know,” Rhodey sighed. “FRIDAY told me. What d’you need?”
Tony realised he was shaking in his seat, and he shuffled forward just enough to press his forehead to Rhodey’s, the grip on him the only thing keeping Tony even slightly calm and semi-present right now. “Don’t- don’t leave me alone? Just for a little bit.”
“I wasn't going anywhere,” Rhodey said, gentle but firm.
“Am I crying?” Tony asked. “I should be crying. There should be tears. Right?”
“I think you’re in shock, Tony.”
“Yeah,” Rhodey said, a hand coming up to cradle the back of Tony’s head, the touch warm, a reminder that Tony wasn't alone, however detached he felt at the moment. “I’m so sorry, kid.”
One moment Tony was in his chair, and the next he was breathing too fast against Rhodey’s neck while the other man held him tight. Why wasn't the air getting into his lungs? There was a lump in his chest, but Tony reached up and confirmed for himself that the arc reactor hadn’t suddenly reappeared, fuck.
“I gotcha,” Rhodey repeated patiently, over and over, as he held Tony. “I'm here.”
Eventually FRIDAY’s voice cut in, soft with sympathy, god she’s growing up so fast, “Boss, I’ve informed the team of your flight plan. Agent Romanov asked if she could hitch a ride.”
A denial was on the tip of Tony’s tongue, he didn't want anyone else to see him in this state, not even Natasha. But Rhodey squeezed his arm, “Is she signing?”
“I believe so, Colonel Rhodes.”
Rhodey nodded, “Let her come with, Tones. I'm guessing you planned to handle the Accords things along with all this, but if Romanov is signing we can let her go ahead as representative at the Vienna meeting, instead of you. She can handle the UN committee for us.”
“Us?” Tony leaned back just enough to meet Rhodey’s sad eyes. “But the UN?”
“I already told you,” and Tony found himself tucked back against Rhodey’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Oh, look, Tony thought to himself as he closed his eyes, there’s the tears.
Chapter 13: The Send Off
Micheal heads off for Basic, and some members of the family are less eager to say goodbye than others.
(From a flashback mentioned in Chapter 2 of Smoke & Mirrors)
Prompt from ScienceandFantasy - “Michael, Mary and Tony flashback”
Mr Jarvis was already in the car outside waiting to drive off, and her parents and Ana were standing in the doorway. But Mary saw that Tony only had eyes for the person right in front of him - Micheal, who was about to leave.
“It’s not for forever,” he reminded Tony gently.
Tony sniffled, curling his hands tighter in Michael’s jeans.
“I’ll be back for visits, and I’ll call home all the time. We can even do letters, if you want to practise your writing?”
Tony dropped with a miserable sob on top of Michael’s feet, pressing his wet face against the denim. Michael turned huge wet eyes of his own to his parents, and Mary watched his chin tremble dangerously. He never could handle it when Tony cried.
Ana bent down to pull Tony off, but Tony only wrapped his arms tighter around Michael’s legs. “Come, édesem, you’ll make Michael late. You know how much today means to him.”
“I can go with you?” Tony hiccuped, looking up to Michael. “I’m small! I can share your bunk!”
“They won’t even notice!” he insisted. “I can try to be real quiet.”
Michael smiled at the offer, and even managed to pry Tony off his legs enough to pull him up into a hug. Mary watched Tony cling tight, hiding his face away as a soothing hand rub down his spine, Michael’s hand almost stretching the whole width of Tony’s back.
Mary snapped a photo with her camera. It was perfect for Michael, a picture with Tony but without the worry of someone recognising his face. She’d make sure to send a copy when she had the film developed.
“What if you forget about us? About me?” Tony cried. “Like Hal!”
“Hal hasn't forgotten any of us, ducky,” Mom said. “He’s just busy settling back in England. He hasn't missed a single phone call now, has he?”
Tony sniffled, but slowly shook his head. Hal never missed the two morning calls home a week. It could just have felt like forever since Tony had last seen him. Maybe.
“But,” Tony turned back to Michael. “M’I still gonna be your Engineer?”
“Of course!” Michael assured him, as he began blinking rapidly, but it only expelled the tears faster. Mary took another snap of their matching wet faces. “You can even send me all your designs if you don't want to do any writing."
“Okay,” Tony said, more a sigh, as Michael gently lowered him back to the floor, picking up his backpack instead. “Wait! Kiss?” Michael didn't even pause, bending down again to let Tony’s chubby hands squish his cheeks as he received a kiss.
When he straightened again, Dad wrapped an arm around his shoulders and started for the door, Mom following, but Mary found herself rooted as she looked at Tony’s devastated little face.
This was supposed to be a private goodbye in their home, just for Tony. Mom, Dad and her would be able to say their goodbyes at the airport, Mr Jarvis offering to drive so they could all just focus on Michael. But Mary couldn't bring herself to take another step, when it meant leaving Tony behind like that, nearly inconsolable already, even in Ana’s loving arms.
She turned to see her brother, her big brother, looking back at her from the doorway, and started to feel her own tears start to prickle in her eyes. “I- I think I’ll say goodbye here too,” she said at last. “Don't want to embarrass myself in public. I leave that to you.”
Mary worried for a moment that she might have really hurt Michael’s feelings - it wasn't that she didn't want to extend goodbyes, to have him linger with them all just a little longer - but his eyes darted over her shoulder already understanding, and he only looked proud of her.
He opened his arms and Mary leapt at him, squeezing with all her strength, biting her lips. "Take care of yourself without me, sap.”
She squealed at the extra sloppy kiss on the forehead she got for that, but Michael was beaming. “Same for you, brat.”
And then he let go, and Mom kissed her cheek, and Dad squeezed her hand, and the front door closed, and a car started, and Mary turned on the spot.
Ana was already holding Tony out to her, a terribly soft expression on her face that made Mary’s face feel warm, but she took Tony easy enough, and managed to smile when she felt the familiar twist and tug of a small hand in her hair.
“Okay,” Mary said, ignoring the wobble in her voice. “Let’s think of something to do until Mom and Dad get back.”
“You're gonna leave too,” Tony’s voice sounded from the crook of her neck. “Like Hal, and Michael.”
She hadn’t even started her college applications, but yes, Mary had plans.
But it would be a few years still until then. A length of time that must feel like forever and tomorrow all at once for Tony. She rubbed a cheek against his dark curls. “I’ll tell you something though, we’ll always come back to you.”
“I'm a scientist, Tony,” Mary said. “I only deal in facts. That’s better than any promise.”
Later, when Mr Jarvis had driven a teary Mom and Dad back home, they arrived to find the remnants of tea and cake on the coffee table, Ana fondly watching Mary go over with Tony how she developed photos from film.
Several ‘We Miss You’ cards were already completed, scattered amongst the teacups, equally covered in hearts and schematics.
Chapter 14: "Nephew"
“You’re his nephew?”
“Of course he is!” Dugan beamed. “Why? What’re you implying? He’s m’nephew!”
This, Jim thought, was a terrible idea.
Prompt fill for @dragons-bones - “Rhodey meets Uncle Dum Dum”
“It’s for you,” Tony said, holding the phone out to Jim, an odd expression on his face.
“Me?” Jim glanced at the clock before taking the phone. He hadn’t been expecting any calls. Most unexpected calls to them were for Tony.
“Yup.” The odd look on Tony’s face had slid to a more calculating one, but he left Jim to his call, easily returning to the middle of the mess of machinery parts that took up most of the tiny living room floor space.
“Don’t make Tony suspicious, just listen very, very carefully to what I'm about to say.”
Jim blinked. “What.”
“Don’t be alarmed now, Rhodes,” the voice on the other end of the line guffawed, a man, who actually sounded amused. “My name’s Dugan, I'm a friend of the Starks.”
“Right, like I'm gonna believe—”
“James Rhodes. Twenty. Parents live in Philly. Top of your class. Tony’s best pal. Tony said you’re to blame for his taste for sugar cookies, and that you've got a spitfire sister who one time rescued him and threw someone clear ass-over—”
“Okay, okay, okay!” That was fairly decent proof that this man actually knew Tony well enough for him to learn of those kind of anecdotes. Jim shot a suspicious look over to Tony, but he seemed happily oblivious of anything outside his tech again. “So why—”
“Need your help, son,” the man said. “But remember - don’t tell Tony.”
Jim walked into the store, eyes quickly scanning the few late-night shoppers about, before slipping off to the office at the back. He’d barely gotten through the door and caught a glimpse of the old moustachioed man reclined on a worn tweed sofa, before he was being shuffled back out again.
“Hurry, now,” Dugan hissed, ducking out of the office as he checked around for who knows what. “Quickly! Quickly! We’ve only got a few minutes.”
Completely confused, Jim followed him as Dugan ducked and weaved between the aisles, apparently avoiding the staff members. They were crouched behind a display of dog food when someone finally stopped them.
A thick arm quickly slung itself around Jim’s shoulders, and they turned on the spot to find themselves faced with a stern-looking man in a moss green shirt, arms crossed. Store manager, his tag read.
“Sir,” the manager said. “I thought you were going to wait in our office—”
“It’s fine! It’s fine!” Dugan insisted cheerily. “My nephew’s here.”
Ah. Well, it would have been nice to know that this was part of the plan beforehand. Jim found himself now under the scrutiny of very beady eyes.
“You’re his nephew?” the manager asked, eyes darting between the pair. The arm around his shoulders tensed, and Jim bit back a sigh.
“Of course he is!” Dugan beamed. “Why? What’re you implying? He’s m’nephew!”
This, Jim thought, was a terrible idea.
Jim’s hand twitched as he resisted smacking a decorated war hero, because that sentence had not been at all convincing. Dugan’s arm was tensing up again, and Jim wondered at how it was that he seemed to get into ridiculous situations more and more since meeting Tony.
The ridiculousness aspect was new. But... he’d always been a bit of a troublemaker.
“S’alright, Uncle Tim. I know I take after my Ma more,” Jim said, smile easy like butter wouldn't melt, as he wrapped an arm around Dugan. “Dad’s in the car waiting for us, so don't worry sir, we’ll take him home.”
“Home?” The manager was still staring at them suspiciously. “Shouldn't it be to the hospital? I thought he was suffering from heart problems.”
Panic shot icy cold down Jim’s spine, but Dugan was already tugging them backwards step-by-step to the exit. “Hospital. He meant hospital.”
“Right,” Oh god, Jim prayed the heart thing was part of the lie. “Taking him straight there. Yup.”
The manager squinted after them as they neared the exit. Jim had a hand on the handle when an alarm suddenly blared from the back. The manager glared as he pulled up his radio, barking angrily into it words Jim never heard, because he was promptly shoved out of the door, being told to “Run!”
Didn't need telling him twice. Jim legged it, Dugan keeping surprising pace with him, running until the sounds of alarms and angry shouting faded, and they slipped seamlessly into a crowded sidewalk.
“What the hell was that?!” Jim hissed at Dugan. The old man was smiling. Grinning. Jim wanted to slap that stupid grin from his face.
“Ah, just a favour I owed an old buddy o’ mine. Store’s a front for sex trafficking and he needed info,” Dugan said, beaming at a giggling baby as they passed it in its pram. “Plan kinda went pear-shaped, I got caught in the office. Old age, you know? Not as quick as I used to be. I needed an exit, and Tony’s the closest one here.”
Jim was still wrapping his mind around the fact the store was a front. He bought groceries there. He flinched a little at the thought. “But, why get me if Tony was here too?”
“Well, he’s too recognisable,” Dugan admitted. “And...”
“Retired, Dum Dum!” Tony snapped. “You’re supposed to be retired.”
Jim was in the tiny kitchen, emptying their ‘dirty’ groceries into a box to donate, while Dugan was on the sofa trying to become invisible under Tony’s disappointed face. “No one was supposed to know.”
“Marcia said you promised her, you know how much she worries.”
“Aww, you already told Marcy?”
Tony crossed his arms. “I called her the moment Rhodey left.”
“How’d you know?”
“You used the Santa voice! You think I wouldn't recognise that? After all those years hearing about how I was ‘nearly on the naughty list’?”
Dugan blinked, “Oh, yeah.”
Tony turned on Jim next, “Don’t think you’re off the hook for this either— why are you throwing out my raisins?”
“You don't wanna know,” Jim shuddered.
“Aww, don't blame Rhodes, Tony,” Dugan said, moving to clap a hand on Jim’s shoulder. “I like him.”
Chapter 15: How It Might Have Gone
To celebrate 2 years since I first posted Smoke & Mirrors, have a look at an early draft of mine, and how the Carter Cousin Chronicles might have gone, if Michael and Sharon and the gigantic Legacy family hadn't consumed my imagination instead...
He was seriously getting too old for this crap.
Bones were aching, whole muscle groups nothing but bruises now, and sweat was stinging his eyes. The sorry state of the suit wasn’t exactly helping either.
Tony shook his head, blinking, focusing on the air in front of him. Breathe.
The sky was getting dark. Tony had lost time. He vaguely wondered how long this time.
The helmet had been ripped off, and nearly every system was fucked, but FRIDAY was still present and mostly functioning - thank fuck - and Tony would make it home, even if the journey was rough. Like that was anything new.
He decided to ignore the fact his flight could be smoother if he planned to leave that shield behind, but Tony knew himself too well to even pretend that he was leaving that behind. It was all he had left now of-
Plan. There was a plan. He had to focus. Fuck, why was it so hard to focus.
He lifted a hand from the ground and realised that the paint job wasn’t melting down the gauntlet. That was blood. Just what he needed. Tony couldn’t even tell where he was bleeding from, though it was dark and sticky, so he probably wasn’t actively bleeding anymore. So, he’d been out long enough for things to start clotting. Perfect.
Everything hurt, and at the same time everything was freakishly numb. Or maybe that wasn’t his body that felt numb. Whatever.
Focus, Stark, for fuck’s sake. What was he supposed to be-
He was pretty sure he managed to say that name aloud this time. Enough for FRIDAY to respond anyway, her voice tinny from the backup comm still miraculously in his ear, despite all the knocks to his head. Tony swallowed, trying to get his tongue to unstick and the ache in his throat to go away.
Everything, everyone else left, but not the goddamned scream in the back of his-
“We’re running on emergency power, boss, all priority to life support.”
Life support? Why did Tony need life support? He was alive, wasn’t he? Alive in spite of everything. Always alive, to suffer through more, again and again-
“Cut it. Call her.”
“Boss, temperature’s only dropping and you’re in a suit of metal. Gotta keep you warm somehow until we get you home-”
“…Contacting Agent Romanov now.”
“Good,” Tony rasped. He needed a drink. Home. What home? “Thanks.”
It was definitely Black Widow piloting the ‘jet right now, and not Natasha, Clint realised this after only a few seconds. There had been that brief hopeful glint of a happier reunion when she’s arrived to break them out of the Raft, but it had been cold blank looks and stony silences the whole time since except for a few clipped instructions as they escaped. The ‘jet was filled with tension, and Clint just missed his friend so much. They couldn’t have been further apart, for all that they were co-pilots right now.
“Are you going to tell us where we’re going?” Sam asked from behind. He was sat next to Wanda, avoiding physical contact as the Enhanced reorientated herself still after the power blockers had been removed. “I mean, I’m glad we’re out of there, but…”
Natasha sat unmoved. Scott nervously shuffled in his seat behind her.
“Are you taking us to Stark?” Clint tried this time, venom in the name.
That got a reaction out of her.
A look of such poison was cast at Clint, he couldn’t help the small flinch.
“What are you doing here?” Natasha asked, and he was stumped.
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean what are you doing here, Barton?” Natasha replied, voice soft and blank and deadly. “When Cap called you, why did you come in? What possible reason did he give you that would bring you here - to become a fugitive. You might never go home again.”
Clint scowled, the pit of anger brewing again since his last sighting of Stark.
“He told me what Stark was doing, that it was wrong. It’d put us under the thumb of people like Thunderbolt Ross. Are you seriously gonna tell me you think that was right? After what he did to Banner? At the very least!”
“No, Cap told you what he thought Stark was doing,” Natasha snapped. “And then he told you Stark was in the wrong. And then none of you asked questions, and none of you listened. Not once when we kept asking you-”
“And when were we supposed to listen, Nat?!” Clint growled. “When Vision was keeping Wanda hostage? When Stark came to arrest us? When he had us thrown in the Raft?”
“At the start. You should have listened at the start. You, of all people, should remember that appearances can be deceiving.”
She turned away, staring out of the window, hands tight on the controls. Clint shared a confused look with Sam, but Wanda was staring at Natasha with laser focus, clear for the first time since they were all imprisoned.
Natasha seemed intent on ignoring them until they arrived at whatever destination she had in mind, and Clint couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t devolve into more pointless but pointed fighting, and he really didn’t want to fight her. Not anymore. Not again. Not Natasha.
Sam broke the quiet. “Where are you taking us, Natasha?”
Her eyes pinched and her mouth pursed, but Clint knew her, she was going to answer them. At least, she was going to answer them, until a burst of static fizzled from the controls.
FRIDAY, that was FRIDAY. Clint stiffened, and the tension ratcheted up.
“Agent Romanov, are you receiving me?”
The AI’s voice was strangely faint against the loud static background, not at all like the crystal clear sound Clint was used to. It made him suspicious.
Natasha flicked a switch, “I hear you FRIDAY. We’re still en route to delivery point. I’ll get back to you-”
“Tony wants to speak to you.”
Natasha sighed, “I have guests right now. I’ll call back-”
“Tony has been incapacitated.” That caught everyone’s attention. “I’m piggy-backing off another quinjet’s communications to reach you as it is.”
“Another quinjet… Cap.” Natasha glared darkly at the clouds ahead. “Did he- Is he listening in?”
“Can’t help that, not enough power, but I’m blocking his responses.”
That explained the static.
“Fine,” Natasha snapped, apparently choosing to ignore any and all eavesdroppers. Clint looked away deliberately, but his ears were fixed on the conversation about to start, a glimpse into the ‘other side’ of the war he’d fought in. “Stark’s status?”
“Alive. Armour is down, reduced to emergency power, all weapons systems offline. The temperature is dropping rapidly, Agent Romanov, and boss can’t get out of the suit.”
“Can’t. He’s- ah, he wants to speak to you.”
“Put him through. And give me his co-ordinates.”
“Sending co-ordinates now.”
Natasha barely glanced at her captive audience as she turned the ‘jet, her slim jaw clenched painfully tight. The quinjet sped up as she muttered, “Always picking up after you boys.”
There was still a lot of anger in her tone, but Clint was more concerned about the fear in the spaces between.
“I have Agent Romanov on the line, boss.”
Tony blinked, shook his head. He’d been staring at the shield again. There wasn’t much else to do though. “Right. Thanks, peaches.”
It was amazing how such a terrifying tone was soothing to him.
“Snookums,” Tony managed not to wheeze on his words. Yay, go him, sounding ok. Not that it would fool Natasha, or that FRIDAY hadn’t already tattled on him. She’d taken an awfully long time to connect the call. Anyway, Tony had his pride. Some of it.
She was such a comfort. Really. So fucking blunt you never realised how subtle she was at the same time.
“And what about your day, honey?”
“I’m dropping the kids off at daycare. Is dinner gonna be late?”
God, he loved it when Natasha played spy with him - codenames, hidden messages, double entendres and spy movie marathons in sweatpants. He missed her. He’d seen her hours ago, and he missed her. All of them.
“Takeout is a bust. They don’t deliver to us anymore.”
“Anyway. How’s the baby?”
“The other kids?”
“Yeah.” They would be. No one was happy. Why would they be? They were involved in a mess that had a lot to do with Tony Stark. No one was happy. No one was left to be happy. They all left.
“Stark, what happened?”
“Told you,” there was a cough caught in his chest that Tony just knew was gonna be a bitch when he finally released it. His breath tasted faintly metallic like it hadn’t in a long time. “Fucked up.”
Like he always did. Like he always did - by trusting the wrong people. Even Natasha had been the wrong people at more than one point, though it had worked itself out mostly again between them. But this time, Tony didn’t think they could work this out. Not after this.
“F-Fucked up.” No, that was not a sob. That was definitely a cough. Definitely.
“…I’m on my way.”
“Good. Awesome. I’ll just sit pretty here.”
“How bad are you?”
Tony took a minute to understand the question, and that should really have been an indication, but mostly his mind was taken up with hurts hurts hurtsowfuck. That cough was still stuck in his chest - unless it was something else stuck in his chest, again - and he still couldn’t tell where the blood had come from, only that he was left sitting in a tacky puddle of it.
“Well, it’s not great, babycakes.”
He heard a deep sigh crackle across the comms, and Tony found it strangely soothing how some things didn’t break, some things were constants. The Earth orbited the Sun. Rock beat scissors. Steve was not Tony’s friend. And Natasha had Tony’s back, in spite of whatever pet names he threw at her. Begrudging, complaining, exasperated and annoyed, but always there now, a comforting shadow at his heels. The spy had a soft spot for Tony.
“Rather not,” Tony sighed, eyes drifting back to that shield. Was that a scratch? No, those were claw marks. He found himself both offended and impressed.
Before he could further ponder how he could to buff out the imperfections on the shield (if he wanted to, not that he did, of course), Tony heard a faint thrumming sound in the air. He turned his neck to look back out into the open Siberian snow behind him, but the armour was heavy and his head hurt. Tony slumped back with a grunt.
“That was quick.”
“What was quick?”
“What?” Tony’s heart picked up at Natasha’s sharp tone. “That’s not- that’s not you?”
“What is it?”
“Hear s’mthing, hang on.”
Tony gritted his teeth and rolled over, huffing as he rested on one side. The suit had never felt so heavy. Closing his eyes, Tony concentrated on the sound from before, muted and thin against the snow outside.
“Engine.” Couldn’t fool a Stark about tech. “Aircraft. Can’t- it’s really not you?”
“We’re nowhere near close enough for you to hear. Stark, do you think it’s-”
“No. No, Cap’s gone.”
And he wouldn’t come back for me. Shuffling creakily, Tony flipped back over. God, each breath hurt like a burn. Was he burning up? He didn’t see any smoke.
“It can’t be Ross. He won’t have beaten me to you.”
“S’what I’m afraid of.”
The humming was getting louder. Large aircraft, then. Tony steadied his breaths. He wasn’t going to appear afraid of whoever was coming. He wasn’t.
Time to put on his oldest armour again. The only one he had still working.
It didn’t take long.
The sound of engines had grown until it suddenly cut out, and Tony listened to the sounds of a lot of boots on concrete getting closer. It was getting harder to hear Natasha efficiently relaying her position over the sounds of his own breathing getting hoarser, each breath rasping in his throat.
For a moment, and only one foolish moment, Tony imagined that it was Rogers back again, to help his- his-…
But that was the problem, wasn’t it? Tony wasn’t his anything.
The idea was tossed out as quickly as it had appeared. Tony didn’t have the space or the luxury right now to entertain stupid childish fantasies. Captain America wasn’t going to turn back around and save him. Besides, the footsteps were getting louder, and he could hear faint voices now, too many to be Rogers.
“They’re almost here,” Tony muttered into the comm.
“Don’t do anything stupid.”
Natasha huffed over the line, but Tony’s attention was caught by a sudden burst of activity as a team of men in black tactical gear entered the room, guns and flashlights up as they swept the room, apparently deeming Tony no threat. He was offended, almost, and forced himself to sit up against the concrete column supporting most of his weight. In the dimming light of day, Tony didn’t think they were here for anything good.
Tony plastered on a bright grin, all teeth, “I don’t suppose you’re here to help me home?”
There was typically no response, as Tony had expected.
“Arresting me then?”
A voice answers from the darkness, clipped and unfamiliar, “That would be quite the dream compared to what’s planned for you.”
It’s all very dramatic as the man stepped forward into sight, Tony has to give him that, but quite frankly in that moment Tony didn’t really care and was more boggled by who exactly was standing in front of him.
“Secretary Rusk?” Tony croaked, holding in that cough that he knew would just fuck up the pain in his chest even more. No weakness, he mustn’t show any weakness. “Ross called in the Secretary of Defence for little old me?”
“No, he did not,” Rusk said simply, beady eyes boring into Tony with uncomfortable intensity. “I thought it was time we two met in person. We’ve been playing this game from the shadows long enough, don’t you think.”
“Come now, Mr Stark,” Rusk smiled with a cold curl to thin lips and no feeling. He lazily plucked at his warm winter coat, smoothed back his dark hair. “I’m quite aware of all the strings you’ve pulled to suppress Project Wideawake.
About as many as I’ve been pulling to bring it forward. There’s no need to pretend ignorance any longer, it’s been a most amusing game of chess between us.”
A chill settles in Tony’s bones that has nothing to do with the brisk Russian air.
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Wideawake, was it?” Tony chuffed. “Sounds like a new brand of super-caffeinated coffee. Sign me up.”
Rusk laughed, a sharp, twisted sound. “Ah, I see. You didn’t know your opponent was me. I’m even more impressed with how far you made it.”
Tony watched as Rusk lifted one hand, a signal to his men apparently to descend upon him. Tony howled in surprise when one of them wrenched his arms up and over his head, the pain in his chest flaring fiercely, before he managed to bite his lip and muffle more pained shouts. Christ, everything hurt, but Tony was getting really worried about his chest now. More than the recent pain, this had been a hurt for days, not unlike his first days with the arc reactor.
They were prying him out of the armour.
There was nothing elegant or gentle about the men tearing Tony out of his suit. There were crowbars and hydraulic tools, and the suit was basically dead already, and Tony couldn’t muster the energy to physically fight back. He was so tired.
They dropped him harshly onto the icy concrete, not helping his battered body at all. Tony feebly turned on one side, curling his left arm closer. Goddamnit what was wrong with his chest?
“Hmm,” Rusk seemed to ignore him, directing his men to carry the suit away. It left Tony alone with him instead. Tony didn’t know what to expect when Rusk crouched down in front of him, studying Tony, casually scratching at his coat collar. “Do you know what I’m going to do with that suit?”
“Get it dry cleaned?” Tony drawled, trying to figure a way out of this shitpit. He thought Ross was bad enough to work with, at least the guy just annoyed and angered Tony. This man, Rusk, there was something dangerous about him, something that frightened Tony in a way Ross never managed.
“Funny. You’re funny, Mr Stark. I never knew.” Rusk pulled the collar of his coat open. “But, as you’ve been stripped of your armour, it’s only fair for me to get rid of mine. Then we may truly speak, face to face.”
It was like something out of a nightmare - Mission Impossible crossed with horror - terrifying, and Tony couldn’t wrap his mind around what he was seeing and at the same time couldn’t look away.
He watched as Rusk peeled off his face.
And under it… underneath his fucking skin it was so much worse.
“Sk-skull,” Tony stuttered, gaping at the sight in front of him. “You’re Red Skull.”
That demonic face stretched into a grin, teeth startlingly white against the red red face, skin pulling wrongly around the bones of his face.
For a minute, Tony just stared at the monster in front of him, trying to accept what he was seeing wasn’t in fact a hallucination nightmare from blood loss or something equally mundane. The rapid Russian swearing in his ear was lending credit to him not dreaming, only because Tony couldn’t imagine Clint swearing like that for Tony. The bird man hated him right now. If even he was worrying about Tony, surely something had to be wrong.
Red Skull was crouched in front of him. That seemed pretty damn wrong.
But Tony pulled himself together, smacked down on his panic, and forced himself upright again, always again, though he allowed his left arm to droop in his lap.
“Did anyone actually manage to die in the 40’s?”
Red Skull straightened quickly, and Tony had to force himself not to flinch at the sudden movement. Fucking hell, Tony was a dead man, wasn’t he?
“I did not die on the Valkyrie,” Red Skull said, the German accent let loose now that he’d revealed himself. “The Cosmic Cube did not kill me like your Captain thought, it sent me across dimensions. I saw strange and wondrous worlds. And I found a new Master. A most powerful being.”
“Sounds… that sounds terrible, honestly.”
Tony watched the Red Skull shrug, turning to walk about the room, Tony deemed no apparent threat to him. About that…
“What do you want with my suit?”
Red Skull’s mouth pulled on one side in a smug smirk as he looked over one shoulder at Tony.
“What do you want with me?”
“You’re to be my martyr, Mr Stark,” Red Skull said simply. “Admittedly, I came here to kill you to carry out your part in my plans, but the good Captain seems to have done my work for me.”