Tony wakes up lying flat on his face with taste of bile and bad scotch in the back of his throat, his nose clogged up and his eyes grimy. Not entirely unfamiliar with any of it, he groans and attempts to turn to his back, only registering the fact that he's lying on a table when he swings over the edge and falls onto the floor, hitting a couple of chairs on his way down and landing in a heap on top of what feels like a bottle. It digs into his midriff, hard.
Its not the worst way to wake up, but it's up there. Jesus Christ how much did he drink?
"FRIDAY, time," Tony groans, squirming to get the bottle from under him. He feels wet and everything has the cloying taste of regret, including the air which is saturated with the stench of alcohol, bad decisions, and vomit.
The bottle he landed on is a wine bottle. God damn chardonnay of all things. Why the hell had he drank chardonnay?
Throwing the bottle aside and listening the weirdly soft clatter of it rolling away, Tony rubs a hand over his eyes, trying to get the grit out. "FRIDAY," he calls a bit louder as his stomach roils. "What's the time?"
Tony waits and then opens his eyes, frowning. "Did I mute – FRIDAY, come on baby girl, you can talk... to me..."
For a moment Tony just stares at the ceiling. Its wood. Long wood panels painted creamy white, with just enough grain to identify the material, marked with dark red outlines.
He knows those panels – and they don't belong to his building.
Slowly, his head spinning and pounding, Tony sits up. Sure enough the panels of the walls are the same – cream white with red velvet outlines, like a goddamn cake.
"Oh god," Tony groans and for a moment covers his face in his hands, making a desperate bid for smothering himself and putting himself out of his, now considerably worse, misery. Just how drunk had he gotten to come here, of all damn places? Really fucking drunk, is the answer.
He'd been so good too, 4 months and counting sober. He'd been getting somewhere. Shit.
Tony spends a moment just feeling miserably sorry for himself, desperately putting off facing the reality for as long as he could. God he hopes he hadn't taken a car to get here. Not that flying was any better, drunk piloting never worked out well for him and FRIDAY is still too meek to just take the stick from him when he's being an idiot. Shit. Shit.
Eventually he has to give up on denial and look up, taking in the damage. It consists of about dozen bottles in various stages of spilled – mostly on the floor, judging by the looks of it. At least two bottles have been smashed against the wall – one of them red wine and that probably isn't going to wash off. There is one broken chair, rest are strewn about in disarray but the dining table is still standing at least – it was where he'd been lying before. The carpet is irrevocably ruined, not just by cocktail of dozen different brands of alcohol, but at least two puddles of vomit. And for some reason there are shreds of newspaper everywhere
It has been a classy night apparently.
"Shit," Tony sighs and slowly levers himself up to his feet, swaying. He still feels half drunk and his neck is like carved stone. Stretching a bit he waits for the usual tug at his chest, expecting the pain.
It doesn't come.
Frowning, Tony pats tentatively at his chest and then stops there, his palm pressed flat against the stained shirt. He runs his hand down a bit and then looks down in confusion.
His chest feels fantastic.
Slowly Tony unbuttons the alcohol soaked shirt and pushes it off his shoulders. It takes a while for what he's seeing to fully register, but understanding sadly doesn't follow after.
His surgery scars, faint though they had been thanks to thousands and thousands of dollars of plastic surgery... are gone. And he's skinny. His chest is flat, his stomach is soft.
The surgery scars aren't the only ones missing either. The scrapes and cuts and burns of almost decade of good intentions turning to bad decisions aren't there either. His skin is practically virginal.
"Well this is... new," Tony mutters and looks up. Then, dropping the dirty shirt on the soaked carpet, he goes to see what else is new.
Hour later he's back at the dining hall, staring at the carnage of alcohol he'd left behind the previous night, seriously debating on just giving up and continuing it.
Turns out, nothing is new. Absolutely nothing.
The mansion is as he last seen it – worse than that, it is as it had been before the contractors had stripped it of everything personal. This wasn't the mansion he'd sold more than twenty years ago – no, it is the mansion he'd lived in more than twenty years ago, full with portraits, paintings and old bookshelves with albums full of baby pictures.
There is a landline phone in the hall. The television is a CRT. And Tony's reflection is that of a clean shaven twenty-something with skinny arms and frankly twiggy wrists.
He would've called it an illusion or another bit of mind fuckery à la Wanda Maximoff, except this place... there are details here he's forgotten. Books in the shelves, pictures and their details, the patch up done on the minute wear and tear the mansion had gone through. Small things like stains in the carpet, the glasses in Howard study, the knitting needles Tony's mother had forever been meaning to use but never got around to. Papers and files in the safe. The vault.
Too much too minute detail.
Slowly, Tony picks up the nearest tipped over chair and sits down on it, staring at the dining hall table. Its covered thin layer of drying muck, red and clear and golden liquids congealing into each other. There is one bottle – champagne – which is still standing unopened – everything else had been tasted and tested and then spilled everywhere.
Last night, Tony had done his damn hardest to drink himself to death.
He remembers the night now, or the before and after anyway, though the memory is hazy with time and bad nostalgia. Drinking away like this in his father's house – Tony has done it precisely once.
The day after his parents died, good twenty seven years ago.
It was the last night he spend at the old mansion too – he'd left for a hotel the next day and bought a place in Malibu the next week. Only time he'd been back had been for the wake and then to direct the contractors to clear it out of everything important, and even then he'd been there barely an hour. He'd sold the place without ever setting another foot in and he'd never looked back.
Now he is back. Back all the way at the fucking end
Shit, but he wishes he could deny this. Just little bit of denial would be nice.
Problem is, he and Bruce theorised this long ago – and Thor had cheerfully confirmed everything. Time travel isn't just possible, but it is established fact and the rules aren't just theorised – they are known, written-down absolutes of the multiverse.
You can go back in time. You can go forward in time. Hell, under certain circumstances it is offensively easy even.
It's just that every time you do, you don't change the time line – you just create a whole new one. Time travel is easy – changing the past, impossible.
And here he is, in the past.
Tony runs a hand over his face and really tries to convince himself is a delusion, hallucination, illusion – lusion-word of some kind. Or maybe a vision – maybe he's dead and his mind has been uploaded into his own personal BARF hell.
He can feel the stickiness of drying wine under his bare feet, smell the stench of it all. His stomach is still roiling and his head aches, like someone's trying to drive a nail through it.
BARF can't do this. Illusions, he knows, get minor sensations wrong. Delusions aren't this detailed. Hallucinations don't go for this long. He certainly wouldn't be this brutally clear headed and desperately sceptical in any of those situations.
And only reality is cruel enough to do this – and land him precisely beyond the point of no return. He's back in time – and his mother is still dead.
For a long moment Tony stares at the disaster zone he'd made of the dining room, listless in his wordless frustration and misery. And if it all isn't the perfect metaphor to everything too. Tony Stark, back at it again in a literal pool of debauched filth. A full circle of fuck up
He wants a drink so bad it sickens him.
Then he hears a distant thrum of an approaching car, echoing down the yard and frowns, looking up. He half expects instant identification for it – "Colonel Rhodes is on his way to the garage, sir," – but of course it doesn't come. This isn't Malibu and JARVIS isn't here.
And it's not Rhodey coming down the driveway.
"I hear you fired all of your household staff last night," is the first thing Obadiah Stane says to Tony, looking him over and then arching his eyebrows at his shirtlessness. "Must have been some night."
Tony stares. Obadiah is younger, thinner, still bald and... different. No golden rings or watch, no cigar in his fingers – and he's dressed in mediocre suit by Obadiah's standards. He doesn't exude wealth the way Tony remembers.
Obadiah sighs and shakes his head. "How are you hanging there, kiddo?" he asks gently. "Have you eaten anything?"
All Tony wants to do us ask him if he's HYDRA. If he knew. If he was behind Barnes, giving out orders, and benefiting from their outcome. Because Obadiah had benefited – he'd gotten fame, wealth and fortune out of Howard Stark's death. Eventually he'd tried to kill Tony to keep it.
And when Tony had become a damn super hero, Obadiah had been first in line to stop him. Had it been just greed – or HYDRA mandate? He isn't even sure which is worse – that there was no real reason or that there was.
"You're fired," Tony says.
Obadiah laughs, shaking his head. "Well I guess that's a good sign," he says and pushes past Tony into the mansion, patting his shoulder as he goes. "Come on, I'll fix us a breakfast and we'll talk it through."
Tony takes a breath, and then thinks better of it. "Yeah, okay," he says, deflating a bit and turns to follow Obadiah inside.
No hasty, bad decisions now. He's back in time. Better not step on any bugs just yet. Play it cool and all that.
Damnit, he can't remember how this conversation goes at all. If something important was said or decided or put aside, he doesn't remember a thing about it. The weeks after the accident have always been bit of a blur.
They walk past the dining room. Tony waits almost vindictively for the comment, ready to shoot it down with – but it never comes. Obadiah walks past without a glance that way and leads him straight to the kitchen instead.
Tony had been avoiding the kitchen. There were far too many memories there – first of Jarvis and then of Maria, trying to ineffectively patch up the Jarvis-shaped hole there, trying to be the perfect mother all too late. There are moments there, good and bad and bitter, and they loom over Tony like shadows waiting to descend upon him. Years and years of issues, stemming right from here.
Obadiah walks in like none of them even exists, and goes straight for the fridge.
"I'm going to take care of all of it, Tony," he says calmly, with that casual command and confidence that had always made it so damn easy to trust that he actually would. "You don't need to worry about any of it, alright? You don't have to do anything at all until you feel up to it."
"All of what?" Tony asks and it comes out a bit hostile. Of course it does.
"The arrangements," Obadiah says with a negligent wave of his ringless hand and takes out a frying pan. Its cast iron – Jarvis' favourite one, he'd cooked the best bacon on it.
"Arrangements," Tony repeats, watching him handle the pan watchfully.
Obadiah sighs. "Come on, Tony, I'm trying to be sensitive here – the funeral, I'm going to handle the funeral arrangements for you," he says with a sigh and turns to Tony. "And all that entails – and we'll figure out about what comes later... later."
Tony slowly sits down by the kitchen island, staring at him. Obadiah had handled the funeral last time and it had came out... fine. It had struck a delicate balance between respectful and a complete media circus. Of course it wasn't as bad as some celebrity funerals got – Howard wasn't exactly a rock star when he died, his popularity and fame has come and gone. But then the circus hadn't been about him.
It'd been about Tony – the richest twenty something of his generation, the future of Stark Industries, the suddenly most eligible bachelor in the States and a complete goddamn mess of a human being.
He'd gone to the funeral completely shit faced, he recalls. The media had had a field day – called him, among other things, ungrateful, disrespectful and completely unreliable. It had set the tone for the rest of the decade for him, really.
Now Tony can't help but wonder if that had been deliberate on Obadiah's part, if he'd been manipulated into it. It would make sense and it would've been so easy too. Paint Tony as a complete fuck up and claim control over all of his affairs – which he'd done, pretty much. It wasn't as if Tony had made it difficult either – because for a while that was what he'd been.
Hell, he still was, just on a much grander level.
"Eggs?" Obadiah asks.
"No," Tony says.
"Alright, just bacon then," the man answers amiably. "Don't mind if I have some – I'm starving…"
"Not that – and yes eggs," Tony says and looks up. "I'm going to handle it. The funeral, arrangements, whatever, I'll handle it."
"Tony you don't have to – I got it under control –"
"I said I'll handle it," Tony snaps and Obadiah pauses, turning to look at him with a slight frown. Tony frowns back. "I got it," he mutters and looks away before he does something stupid, like accusing Obadiah for murder.
"Alright then," Obadiah says slowly and turns to get the plates. "If you're sure – but really, Tony, you don't have to. I'm here for you, kiddo."
Tony manages not to scoff, somehow. "Yeah. Thanks. Still gonna handle it myself," he says, feeling like a kid and looks at the surface of the kitchen island. "What's the media saying?" he then asks and tries to remember how media even worked before online news outlets and smart phones.
"Its been respectful," Obadiah assures him, handing over his plate. "Been pretty low key, really – couple of mentions in news, some comments – nothing bad. It won't get bad until they start talking about what comes next and if we're lucky that won't come until after the funeral."
Tony nods slowly. Respectful media. Now there's a concept.
"And the Will?" Tony asks, trying to remember how that had gone. He'd probably been drunk then too, because he can't remember much about it. "Who's the executor – you?" That's be just perfect, wouldn't it?
"No, your father's lawyer is the executor, Mr. Johnson," Obadiah says thoughtfully. "He told me he has it under control so, we'll hear about it when the time comes. Bit early to be thinking about that, don't you think?"
There's a bit of reproach in it, which makes Tony glance up with some disbelief. Obadiah, being judgemental about him – that was a laugh. "Right. Good," Tony says and picks a strip of bacon on his fingers. Its still soft. "Nice to know it's covered. One less thing to worry about right now."
"You don't need to worry about anything. All you need to do right now is get through the funeral – everything else can wait," Obadiah assures him, gentler now. "Though that includes a wake, you know – and you fired your household staff."
Tony doesn't even remember that but yeah, he probably had – otherwise there would've been a cook or two giving them disapproving looks right now. "I'll hire new staff," he says, which he knows he probably won't. Getting away from well meaning janitors, maids, gardeners and the cook – none of whom held a candle to Jarvis – had been one of the best things about moving out.
"So you're… thinking of staying here?" Obadiah asks, glancing around as he too sits down to eat. "In this old place?"
Tony's first instinct is to say no, oh hell no. There'd been a reason why he'd been in hurry to get away from the place… and yet…
He'd never regretted selling the mansion. It wasn't exactly his sort of place – he preferred spaces he could control, which he knew inside out. JARVIS would've never worked anywhere except in a house Tony build with his own two hands. Tony wouldn't have worked either, wouldn't have been able to become… whatever he'd become.
The old mansion had too much history and too many secrets for his taste, too. Enough to choke you.
Except now so does he, and in never exploring those secrets, in refusing to delve into that history, maybe he'd shot himself in the foot without ever knowing it. That way lay SHIELD and HYDRA and all the bullshit that came with them, after all – and he'd almost wilfully turned a blind eye to it.
Although on the other hand, chance is that it was the only reason he hadn't gotten assassinated himself. His wilful ignorance may have been a form of protection. He hadn't been a threat to anybody while he'd been busy debauching himself at the world at large for the most of his twenties, and thirties…
Whatever happened now, he had to make sure that HYDRA wouldn't see him as a threat either. Still… the house could be a resource he could use. It would save him the two year project of building his own, anyway – and, he's better at architecture and retrofitting nowadays. He could make it work. Probably.
If it didn't drive him up the walls.
"I guess I could try it out," Tony says, making a face as he looks around in the kitchen. "It would put me closer to the main office than my first choice."
The look Obadiah gives him is half amused and half worried. "Oh?" he asks curiously while gathering some egg whites onto his fork. "What's your first choice, then?"
"Beach front in Malibu?" Tony offers.
"Now that sounds more like you," Obadiah laughs. "Wouldn't mind a beach front in Malibu myself. Get a better tan there than here, that's for sure."
Tony forces a smile and looks down at his plate. Now that he has Obadiah here to offer perspective and reference with his very presence… it all comes into focus a bit clearer. Tony is in the past. Twenty seven years in the past and more. Years and years before Sokovia, before New York, before Avengers, before Iron Man. Before Afghanistan.
Twenty seven years of knowledge, and advancement and warning of what was to come. Asgard, Chitauri, Loki… Thanos. And the rest of the universe too. And he's at the start of a timeline split – everything from here on out would be re-shaped by his actions, whatever those would be from. He would literally be changing the world, for better or for worse. And he can do a lot with twenty seven years of advanced warning.
Never mind twenty seven years of advanced technology.
Keeping it all carefully from his face, Tony bites into his too soft bacon. This is not going to be good for his megalomaniacal tendencies, probably. Or his manipulative streak. Or any other of the many character defects that had made so many people hate him in the future. Would that stop him though? Probably not.
Of course he could be looking into getting back to where he came from, too, but… why?
"Hey, Tony," Obadiah says and Tony looks up as the man reaches out to lay a palm on his shoulder. "It's going to be okay," he says seriously. "We'll get through it."
"Yeah," Tony agrees. "Yeah, it's… it's going to be just fine."
He'd damn well make sure it would be. This would be the world where he got it right.
And then he remembers.
Shit. His company is still making weapons, isn't it?
Aka, shameless time travel fix it. Probably won't include anything about the TV serieses because I haven't watched them. Might have pairings. Haven't decided yet.
After less than week in the past Tony decides that the first thing he has to do is to get JARVIS up, and fast. How he'd ever lived without AI assist he has no idea – not well is his best bet. Right now all he knows is that everything is just that much more difficult – never mind slower – without someone computing the boring minutiae of his life.
Getting anything done just takes too much damn time and effort. Vetting people for the funeral, selecting funeral home and director, selecting a funeral plan, caskets and flowers and all, figuring out how to invite people to the funeral – still not sure how that works – and then, oh and then, the wake.
He ends up hiring catering and personal security for it – one that comes well recommended by people even more paranoid than him. And that too takes time, takes effort – takes calling people and listening to them and wading through endless drudgery of paperwork and files and forms.
God he misses his AIs. He missed the streamlined speed of future – he misses the ease of just jotting down his name on a pad and having everything settled for him behind the scenes.
And, good almighty Thor riding on a hammer, he misses the Internet. Sure it exists – but the very first web page ever has only just been made few months ago. World Wide Web is there, yeah – but there is almost nothing on it yet. It is brand new, basically embryo of its future self and next to useless.
It all makes him very tempted to go and find Pepper. She is no AI, but she'd been the best human assistant he'd ever had. Sadly right now she'd be nineteen, in school, and probably not yet looking for employment. And, really... that was a kettle of fish he isn't sure he wants to mess with again.
"I thought you were off in Afghanistan or something," Tony says, pretending to be distracted with sketching. He had been sketching – planning out the future revamp for the mansion and trying to figure out the sewer system under the mansion. The old New York sewer system right under the place, something which he hadn't even known about until he got his hands onto the blueprints.
He'd been doing that – and then a young Rhodey had shown up, all clean shaven and polished and… and young.
"I'm back for training," Rhodey says, watching him closely from the doorway. "How you hanging there, Tony?"
"You know, I don't know why people keep asking me that. How're you hanging there – like this is some cliff I'm about to fall from," Tony says and sets the blueprints down. "I'm hanging fine though – slightly to the left, possibly flashing a bit in my pants – really need to get new underwear..."
Rhodey eyes him carefully and then nods and comes closer. Thankfully there's no awkward hugs or stiff condolences – he just claps a hand on Tony's shoulder and sits down beside him, a steady comforting presence just close enough to count. "You need help with anything?"
He's weirdly skinny too, Tony muses as their shoulders touch. Funny how wearing an automated armour had made them both bulk up so much. "Yeah – I'm thinking secret compound under the mansion," he says and waves at the blueprints. "Three, four levels down. What do you think – too bat cave?"
"Secret compound – that's more Bond villain, than Batman," Rhodey says and eyes the prints. He arches an eyebrow. "Why a secret compound?"
Because even the best of "super computers" of their modern era of late 1991 are pathetic and he needs space for a crap ton of them of he wants to get anywhere near enough computing power to get JARVIS up and running early. And, later, once he's gotten proper processing re-invented, it will be manufacturing next and the guts of the fabrication arrays take a lot of space.
"I'm a billionaire now," Tony shrugs. "Aren't we all bond villains?"
Rhodey considers that. "God, I hope not," he then says and leans back, looking around them. "Didn't think you'd want to stay here. I thought you hated this place."
They were in the sitting room, and it was just as cakely as everything else in the place – cream and red velvet in unnecessarily decorative panels. Even the fireplace looked like something that belonged to a wedding cake, the marble so white and so softly carved that it looked like whipped cream. To add insult to injury, the old baroque furniture were vaguely strawberry in colour from the red tinted wood to the pink cushions. It all made Tony want to feed the whole place to a Chitauri leviathan.
"Trust me – there is redecorating in this place's future," Tony scoffs and shakes his head. "Thought I'd try it out for now. New York is where all the action is, anyway."
"No casinos, though," Rhodey points out.
"No, not too many of those, no," Tony agrees with a sigh and leans his head back, staring at the cake ceiling. "But the main offices are here. And when the alien invasion comes and they start blowing up all the land marks, I'll have front row seat."
"...what? " Rhodey asks in confusion.
Shit – Independence Day hadn't come out yet? "Now that's depressing," Tony sighs and sinks slight lower on the strawberry of a couch. "Your lack of imagination saddens me, honey badger."
"Right," Rhodey says, looking at him strangely. "Are you sure you're alright, Tony?"
"Now that's a question I do understand – and nope, not at all, not one bit," Tony mutters and pushes his hands into his pockets. "This is the start of almost three decades of daddy issues, mommy issues so deeply buried and tightly bottled that bringing them out will actually make me want to murder people, and just… issues in general. It will take me about quarter of a century to even consider therapy and even then I'll get it wrong."
Rhodey considers that for a moment. "Its almost scary how likely that sounds," he then says in something like dawning horror.
Tony sighs and leans his head on Rhodey's shoulder. "Tell me I'm awesome and it's going to be alright and then tell me about your training."
"You're just going to ignore me after half a minute," Rhodey snorts even as he winds an arm around Tony's shoulders, tucking him close.
"I'll make an effort," Tony denies, snuggling up to him. "I can make an effort – this is me, making an effort. "
"Right," Rhodey laughs and squeezes him a bit. "You're awesome, Tony, and it's going to be alright."
Tony makes a pleased hum and tunes out Rhodey about two minutes into his tale about his most recent bout of training. There was a new jet coming out or whatever.
Rhodey is wearing jeans with ludicrously high waist. It is ridiculous and weirdly comforting.
The Will is read out before the funeral – and there's very little surprises in it.
"You are your parents only beneficiary," Mr. Johnson says. "Aside from standing donations by your mother and some arrangements your father made, you will inherit the lot with very little complications."
"What are the little complications, then?" Tony asks suspiciously – thinking of Stark Industries, of shares, of the board of directors... of Obadiah, pulling his reactor out from his chest.
"Your father has some... contested patents," Mr. Johnson says delicately. "And some of his more sensitive possessions are on loan, shall we say, to some agencies – and to United States government. Due to standing contracts and unfortunate secrecy clauses, reclaiming them might be difficult. Frankly, you do not have the required security clearance."
Tony nods slowly. Weapons and devices that Howard had invented and which are now in SHIELD's possession. "Am I permitted to see the contracts?" he asks.
"Some of them," Mr. Johnson agrees and then hands him a folder.
Tony looks through them. SHIELD isn't mentioned even as an acronym – just a series of letters and numbers. The devices, whatever they are, are similarly titled. Nonsense was given to a nonsense agency by Howard Stark under contract full of nonsense.
Gotta love spy agencies.
"Right," Tony says and hands the contracts back, shaking his head. "And the company?"
"It is as expected – you now own a controlling share in Stark Industries," Mr. Johnson says and hands him and other folder. The older man eyes him curiously. "By the company charter you are entitled to name yourself the CEO."
"Which I will, thank you" Tony agreed. Last time he hadn't – last time he'd let Obadiah do it until he felt up to it himself. This time, however, would be different. "Do you think the Board will put up with it?"
"They will until you deal them a bad hand," Mr. Johnson says meaningfully. "Follow in your father's footsteps and there should be no problems."
Tony scoffs silently at that and sets the folder on his knees. "Right. Do you have list of the properties I was left with?" he asks.
He doesn't have much hope that he'd find what he's looking for – mainly the laboratory where Howard had finally made the breakthrough that had gotten him and his wife killed – in any of the legal properties. But it might give him somewhere to start.
"Here you are, sir," Mr. Johnson says and hands over not a folder, but a binder. A thick one. "It should have everything, from copies of deeds to blueprints and condition evaluation, along with a list of the fittings."
"Mmm," Tony answers. Damn he'd forgotten how many places Howard had owned. Tony had sold most of them – preferring places he'd build himself, and hotels, to anyplace where Howard might've slept in. There are apartments, houses, warehouses, factories, estates and random plots of land all over the world – and that's not counting the establishments he owned parts of. Restaurants and small businesses galore.
Any one of them could house any number of secrets. Devices, weaponry... laboratories.
"And here," Mr. Johnson says, taking out another, even bigger folder, "are all the various vehicles Mr. Stark left to you, sorted by medium. Land and water based vehicles and of course aircrafts."
Tony accepts the folder somewhat warily – and the first thing on it is a truck, easily big enough to hide multitude of sins. Of course it is.
Going through them all is going to take a while.
The funeral of Howard and Maria Stark is on a Saturday and it's not a media circus. There is maybe couple of reporters in the crowd of mourners, but they're sensible enough not to whip out their cameras until after the service and even then there are no flashes.
It's nothing like the crowd of rapid hyenas Tony remembers from his past, crowding in on the church entrance and trying to snap the picture of the disgrace that was the Stark heir. It might be the lack of Obadiah's hand in the funeral planning – or it might be the fact that this time Tony hadn't spend the last week on the bottom of a glass. He thinks he might've made a scene at a night club, last time.
He doesn't have the energy to care either way right now, though. It was an open casket service at the church and Tony was too busy becoming selectively blind to really pay attention to how many cameras were or weren't pointed his way.
He'd seen her when he'd entered though, her make up job so damn perfect she looked alive as she lay there on her silk cushioned coffin. She looked like she'd be warm to touch. It is all Tony can do to not throw up.
He can't hear a word about what the priest says, it's all a tired, nauseated blur. And when Tony gets up to say his last words, carefully prepared before hand, he can't hear a word about that either.
Overall the whole thing goes pretty much how funerals usually go, though, from church to the graveyard and from there to the mansion. People offer their condolences, there's hugs and hand shakes and Tony is pretty sure he's going to get a bruise from how many people are patting his shoulder consolingly.
Tony thinks he sees Nick Fury lurking about somewhere in the graveyard – in a suit of all this, no hint of leather in sight. It might've been someone else – but how many people, really, wear an eye patch?
And then, at the mansion, it starts. And it is tiresome.
Everyone has a speech about Howard Stark they'd like to get out. From Obadiah's "I met Howard in year 73' in a bar down in..." to Mr. Van Laars' "Howard came to our offices out of blue in a dismal winter evening in 55'..." to Dugan's "Howard Stark was the smarmiest bastard this side of a pond, but damn if the man didn't know his stuff..."
Everyone has an anecdote outlining the defining qualities of Howard Stark, and none of them include the absences, the secrets, the shouting, or the full extend of the drinking.
Maria Stark is remembered as an evening star, the joy of Howard's later years – the bright light of dinner parties and delightful host of galas. She's remembered for her Foundation and for her art collection, and for her beauty in her youth. No one mentions the thirty year age difference, or her infinite patience with a man more in love with his work than he'd ever been with her.
Having become that man in love with his work, Tony understands her patience with Howard even less than he ever did in his youth – and respects it even more. No one has ever had such patience for him, not even Pepper for all her trying and good intentions had managed it.
All in all, it's excruciating. The only reason Tony doesn't just flat out run away from the mansion is that Rhodey sticks to his side like glue and he lives in the damn place now – there's nowhere to run. So he stays and listens to everyone carefully gloss over the ugly parts of his childhood and smiles and nods and desperately wants a drink.
There is nothing to drink though. He'd specifically ordered catering with zero alcohol on their menu and couple days ago he'd gone around the building, emptying mini bars – of which there had been many. Truckload of empty bottles had been taken out that day – including the entire wine selection from the cellar. Easily several hundred thousand dollars worth of spirits.
Pouring it all down the sink hadn't been as cathartic as one might assume. Mostly it was exhausting and had left Tony wondering if water treatment plants could even handle such influx of alcohol. He'd probably caused a minor ecological disaster. It would be just like him, wouldn't it?
He does and doesn't regret it now. His hands are shaking a little and, fuck, he hadn't realised he was already that far gone at this age, but he really, really wants a drink.
"I'm going to go get some fresh air," Tony finally says and slips away while Rhodey is busy talking to some general.
It's already getting dark outside and there's chill in the air. The grounds are covered in expensive cars – all of them black. It's a strange sort of opulence, Tony thinks, that just about all the funeral guests are wealthy enough to arrive in appropriate cars, owning or renting them just for the occasion. Some of them look brand new – he can almost smell the fresh-from-factory on them.
"Quite the gathering there," a female voice comments behind him and Tony turns to look, expecting another old friend of Howard's, another business partner, another important associate. It's all of the above and more.
Dressed in black with her hair done up and pushing seventy, Margaret Carter looks as devastatingly competent as ever.
"Aunt Peggy," Tony says and his mind turns like water wheel in mud, slow and sluggish. "I... I didn't know you were here."
"I would be surprised if you had – it's so packed in there," she says with a smile and then she hugs him, tight and firm. "I am so sorry for your loss, Tony. They were good people."
"Yeah. Thanks for coming," Tony says automatically and hugs her back, thinking. Is she still with SHIELD in this time? Howard had been still attached and she is younger – is she still connected? Had she known? Was she involved?
Peggy Carter had been part of his youth before his parents' deaths, visiting often and arguing with Howard loud enough to carry through the walls of his office. She'd been part of the family. She'd always given the best Christmas presents too.
But after Tony's parents had died, she'd faded out from his life, becoming a increasingly distant figure of the past, just another of Howard's Howling Commando buddies. An old woman of no consequence to a young idiot too busy drinking everything that bubbled and fucking anything that moved.
Christ, he is really getting maudlin. Still, it's another thing that makes him think and wonder – had it been by design? Stark Industries had been all tangled up in SHIELD business for decades – all the way up until Howard died. By the time Tony took helm, no one at Stark Industries had even heard of SHIELD, and neither had he, not until Coulson.
"Are you… alright, Tony?" Peggy asks cautiously.
He's still holding her – it's getting awkward. "Shit, sorry – lost in thought," Tony mumbles and quickly, awkwardly, releases her.
She smiles gently, trailing her hands down his shoulders. "I think you're permitted, at this point," she says and looks him over. "You look like you could use a drink," she comments.
"Tell me about it," Tony sighs and shakes his head, glancing at the house. The idea of going back in turns his stomach a bit. "Hey, can you – will you walk with me for a bit?"
"Sure – I could use a breath of fresh air myself," she smiles.
They walk around the busy, warmly lit house and to the garden in the back, Tony pacing even slower than Peggy, thinking hard and fast, trying to weigh the risks, the benefits.
Steve had always expounded on Peggy Carter's reliability, would've trusted her to the end of the earth had she lived, regardless of her failing memory. She's been one of the strongest opponents of HYDRA – she's put a lot of HYDRA agents behind bars personally. And, of course, she predated the HYDRA infiltration – she was one of SHIELD's founders.
She was also the only one of the said founders to die of old age – and all things considered that was a bit suspicious.
And yet, if Captain America's girlfriend isn't trustworthy then who is? Nothing about her had ever came up in HYDRA files either, nothing, except the expected. As far as anyone had ever figured out, she'd remained true to Steve right until she couldn't remember him anymore.
Tony turns to the old woman, considering her. She's got a dainty black purse with her – it's big enough for a gun, for a lot of things really. Her expression is patient – he remembers that look from ages ago, when she'd been his favourite aunt and suitably impressed with his first circuit board.
"Are you still with SHIELD?" Tony finally asks.
She doesn't stop her casual pace, doesn't start – the only show of surprise is the way her hand tightens on the purse, how her eyes widen just slightly. "I'm sorry, Tony, what was that?" she asks, smiling confusedly.
Tony gives her an unimpressed look. "SHIELD. Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, aka, they who really wanted their initials to spell SHIELD – are you still in?"
She looks at him from the corner of her eyes, still walking, still calm. "I don't know what you are – "
"Are you still in, Agent Carter?" Tony asks, his composure shaking a little. In the mansion behind them family friends – and no family – are lamenting on Howard's greatness and none of his sheer stupidity. He can hear them, muffled and distant – someone is giving another speech. People laugh.
How many of them knew?
"Aunt Peggy, did you know?" Tony demands and damn it, his voice shakes.
She looks at him more closely now, her eyes sharp on the dim garden light. "Did I know what, Tony?" she asks quietly.
"Did you know about the five bags of Project Rebirth serum in the trunk of dad's car when they crashed?"
That stops her dead on her feet. She turns to face him fully and stares at him hard, and he stares back just as searchingly.
She didn't know. And she doesn't believe him.
"Tony," Peggy says slowly. "What are you talking about? What do you know?"
Tony laughs and looks away. "I know that car crash is easy to fake," he says grimly, staring at the dark garden. "I know there was a camera there, on a pole – I know it was shot to pieces. I know the footage exists, but it's missing. And so is the serum."
Peggy is silent for a moment and then she continues moving, pacing even slower now. Tony matches his steps with her, waiting until she speaks. "Howard told me he wanted to keep you out of it, out of SHIELD," she says slowly. "He was rather vehement about it."
"Really?" Tony murmurs. "That's… interesting." Had Howard known – had he suspected the infiltration? Had he known about HYDRA? Tony had never really gotten a clear answer to that one. Had he tried to protect Tony?
"How much do you know, Tony? And how did you find out?" Peggy asks worriedly.
Tony turns to her and arches an eyebrow. "How involved are you still, Aunt Peggy?" he asks in return.
She huff out a small laugh and shakes her head. "I am quite happily retired," she admits and winds her arm around his elbow, leaning into him a little – old woman, taking support from young man. It's almost cute, except for the tightness of her grip on him. "Old women retire earlier than even older men. Its a funny old world that way – though I can't say I minded it too much at the time. It's a younger woman's game."
Tony nods slowly. She is about seventy – it's not exactly prime age for a spy. Not even one behind a desk. "You still got contacts inside, don't you?"
She frowns at him searchingly and then looks ahead again. "Naturally. And I'll be contacting them soon too, I believe."
"Don't, not about this," Tony says warningly. "I don't know who knew, not yet – but someone did and that someone is the reason my parents are dead. The fewer people find out about it, the fewer suspects I have to go through."
"Tony – if Howard really managed to finally synthesise the serum..." Peggy says slowly – still doesn't believe him, but knows better than to actually disregard him. "Then this is much bigger than you. Bigger than revenge."
"You have no idea," Tony mutters and looks ahead. "And I wouldn't call it revenge. More... a vengeance."
She pauses a little at that, tilting her head curiously at his word choice. Then she looks down from his face, considering him for a moment and squeezing his arm a bit, testing his bicep.
Tony looks at her in confusion and then laughs at what she's doing. "No, he didn't – I'm not – oh man can you even imagine?" he asks and almost cackles at the thought.
God, that would've been perfect, wouldn't it – Tony Stark, Howard's best creation, oh so literally so. Thank god Howard wasn't an idiot – Tony with super serum would've been a fucking disaster. A megalomaniacal egomaniac lunatic with half a dozen neuroses – and natural genius, enhanced. He would've been worse than Red Skull!
"Well, if there was anyone Howard would have trusted, his own son would be it, wouldn't he?" Peggy says thoughtfully.
"I would've been the last in line, trust me," Tony says with a scoff. "Hell if there was anyone who should have gotten it, it's probably you."
"That's sweet of you," Peggy says, smiling a bit sadly, and then shakes her head. "Still, Tony – finding who killed your parents isn't going to be an easy task. And if you suspect someone at SHIELD..."
"Oh, I know who killed them," Tony shrugs. "And I have plans for him. But right now I'm more curious about who knew about what dad was doing, who leaked the information – and who covered it up."
She nods slowly, watching him. "And the serum?" she asks. "What about it?"
"If it hasn't been already used, I'd be shocked. It'll be in Russia by now," Tony says and shakes his head. "I'll be looking into finding out where he made it, though – and if he left anything behind." No one had ever found any secret laboratories left behind by Howard Stark, though, and people had had decades to look – so he's not too optimistic about that one.
"Russia," Peggy repeats.
Shit, Tony thinks. "Or somewhere," he says, rather unconvincingly even to his own ears and then shakes his head. "Anyway, I doubt there's a way to get it back, so I'm not going to waste my time on it."
"Mm-hmm," Peggy nods and is quiet for a moment. They're walking in circles among the hedges now, prolonging the chat. "And what do you want from me, exactly?"
Tony looks down, frowning. "Right now I'm happy just knowing you're not responsible," he says. And he is. It's one less thing to panic over, at any rate.
"I'd like for you to not think of me as a lunatic, but I'll settle on what I can actually have," Tony shrugs.
She smiles and squeezes his arm again, tighter. "You know I have a gun in my purse?" she then says conversationally.
"Mm-hmm," Tony agrees warily. That's a worrisome tone of voice if he ever heard one.
Agent Carter smiles. "Take it as incentive," she tells him almost gently. "And then feel free to tell me who you are and how, exactly, did you take control of Anthony Stark's body."
trying to balance two relatively badass characters without doing it at the expense of each other, surprisingly difficult.
One of the first things Tony had done after deciding to settle down in the old mansion in New York was to sweep the entire estate for bugs. The mansion, the garage, the servants quarters – because the place was old enough for separate housing for the serving staff – and the garden, he'd gone through it all with a fine tooth comb until he was satisfied.
Of course there were bugs. Some were Howard's, some SHIELD's, some foreign – few he hadn't been able to identify which meant they were probably private company's or individual's, rather than a organisation's or a state's. It was a lot of bugs, all told, though most of them were long since dead, out of power, fried or just long past due their best by date.
That doesn't mean there aren't any live ones.
Tony had played a lovely hour of relocate the bug that day. Smashing them all up would've been far too suspicious – so, he'd simply moved them around a bit, to create areas of privacy. It would do for now – once he had time and good enough cover excuse he'd get rid of them "accidentally".
For now, though, Tony navigates Peggy Carter around in the blind spots in the garden, glancing around occasionally to make sure there's no one near enough to over hear. There isn't though, the funeral gathering is still going on strong inside the mansion. Except for them.
Peggy watches him patiently but with definite attention, purse close at hand.
"How do you know I'm not body snatching?" Tony finally asks, because he's honestly curious. "I could've grabbed Tony Stark and replaced him with a perfect duplicate."
"As far as I know there's no such thing as perfect duplicate," Peggy answers, looking him over. "There's always flaws. You on other hand have Tony's gait, his posture, mannerisms, you have his accent spot on down to the small inflections. You also have his scars and at least some of his memories – enough to very successfully fake it. You almost got his personality right too. Almost."
"Scars? I don't have scars now," Tony says, confused. He'd checked, he's lily white and smooth which, really, is something else.
In answer she takes his hand and shows him his left forefinger. There, on the side, there us the smallest patch of shiny, almost white skin, barely big enough to even be noticed.
"Tony Stark got this when soldering for the first time – I remember, because he spend a whole afternoon telling me about it when he was eight," Peggy explains.
Tony stares at the thing. That's considered a scar? "Huh – oh yeah I remember that. Dad called it my first war wound in the battlefield of science."
Peggy hums slightly at that, neither agreeing or disagreeing. "I would like an explanation now."
"Is body stealing something you've seen happen before? Is it like a thing you've encountered, working with SHIELD and SSR?" Tony asks curiously. "Forties to eighties must've been more interesting than I thought."
"No, I saw it in television," she says with a slight arched brow.
"X-files?" Tony asks and then makes a face. That's a nineties show, isn't it? Damnit, is all of his pop culture knowledge pre-dated now? "Um, Twilight Zone? No, wait – Doctor Who!" That one is old as balls, isn't it?
She blinks. "Star Trek, actually."
That brightens Tony up a bit – of course, original Star Trek is still a thing, awesome. "Okay, can't remember much about it – but Star Trek has time travel in it, right?" he asks and Peggy's other eyebrow migrates up too. "Yeah, so, take body takeover and combine it with time travel and you got me."
The look she gives him is far from impressed. "I'm sorry – what?"
"I'm from the future – I hijacked my own body. Hence, mannerisms, memories – I know them because they're mine. How much so you know about time travel?" Tony asks.
"… why don't you tell me what you know and then I'll tell you what I know and whether or not I believe you?" she says slowly and looks away. "Shall we sit down?" she motions at a nearby garden bench.
Tony looks – it's still in outside the bugs range. It is also a bench that used to have a SHIELD bug under it, which is interesting. "Yeah, just a moment," he says and goes around the thing just to check. Nope, no new bugs. "Okay, let's sit."
Peggy gives him a look and then shakes her head. They sit down, facing the mansion. It glows with inner light in the darkening evening
"So, time travel," Tony says, reaching out to snap a branch off near by decorative bush. "Complicated and theoretically next to impossible – in practice very possible, you just need an actual shit ton of energy and hell of a good aim if you're doing it intentionally and want to get to any specific place in time."
"How much energy are we talking about?" Peggy asks warily.
"Eh, you know how much every our Sun puts out?" Tony asks. "Well, take about twenty years worth of it, and you might maybe have enough for one small trip back in time."
"And, supposedly in future you have that power?" Peggy asks, glancing at the stick.
"Ha, man, I wish – no, nowhere near that, no. Maybe in another fifty years if I had had the time and peace to concentrate on energy technology – and the health to actually live that long," Tony laments, shaking his head and spinning the stick idly in his fingers. "Nah, I probably got a boost from something else." Or rather someone else.
"Probably?" Peggy asks.
"Yeah, probably – I don't really know for sure. This wasn't precisely voluntary on my part."
That makes her tilt her head curiously at him. "You involuntarily travelled back in time into your own body?" To her credit she doesn't even sound dubious.
"If it had been voluntary, I'd have gone back more and stopped my mom from dying," Tony says grimly.
She nods slowly, watching him. "How long have you been here?" She then asks. "And have you changed anything?"
"About week and half now – and I've changed plenty of things," Tony shrugs. "Last time Obadiah arranged the funeral, for one and I spend the last week inside a minibar – and didn't re-emerge until months later. Can't remember much about this time thanks to that. Also, I bought an estate in Malibu last time and moved out of the mansion. Sold the whole estate just a bit later."
Peggy frowns a little at that, watching him steadily. "Assuming that this is really happening – you're changing your own past. Is that wise?"
Tony waves the stick. Time to use it. "This isn't my past anymore – it stopped being my past the moment I appeared. Let me tell you about the multiverse."
It's easy to tell that this woman is used to all sorts of weirdness. As Tony sketches out a simplified explanation for a timeline split in the gravel, she follows the explanation along attentively and thankfully without any bursts of that's impossible or that's bullshit. Not that he thinks she believes him at face value – or at all. But she's listening to him, she's open minded enough to not immediately dismiss him. Even if she thinks he's full of shit, she wants to know just what sort of shit he's full of, before calling him out on it.
Its a quality he wishes more SHIELD agents had, former or otherwise.
"How far did you travel?" Peggy asks after he's done.
"Twenty seven years, or thereabouts. It was 2018 when I last remember," Tony shrugs, leaning back and wiping the gravel with his foot, his multiverse tree swiped away.
"And you landed back in time just after your parents died," she says, arching an eyebrow – and there it is, her calling out the bullshit. "Just as you're about to become a billionaire and inherit one of the most powerful weapons manufacturing corporations on the planet. Convenient."
"Yeah, when you put it that way, it does sound a bit suspicious," Tony agrees with a sigh.
"Just a bit," Peggy says with a faint smile. "Time travel, however, is a ludicrously complicated and implausible cover up for a takeover of another's body. You could have excused your behaviour and change with grief, with shock."
"Eh," Tony shrugs.
"And you could have simply not made any enquiries about SHIELD to one of its former directors," Peggy says pointedly. "And I wouldn't have gotten suspicious."
"You know, getting critique on my skills at cover ups is not where I though where this discussion would go," Tony mutters. "I know I'm bad at them – they tried to make me do a secret identity thing once, it was terrible, I lasted all of ten seconds before I broke in front of the press."
"You're not exactly selling your story here," Peggy tells him frankly. "Who are you, really?"
"I'm really Tony Stark – also known as Iron Man," he says and looks away. "I was the second Avenger."
She shakes her head slowly. "You're going to have to give me more than that."
Tony is quiet for a moment. There are future events he could tell her, things to come that could prove him – but nothing that will help him make her believe him right now, this exact instant. Telling a former SHIELD director about future events might not be the safest thing to do anyway, even if she's retired. Most everything he remembers the dates off is political, has to do with stock market, or technology. Not exactly safest of info to dish out, any of it.
Having Peggy Carter on his side, though... it would prove invaluable. He knows it would.
Nothing to it, then.
"Back in Second World War, you gave Steve Rogers your compass," Tony says slowly. "It wasn't a special gift – he lost his in some raid so you lend him yours – eventually told him to keep it, saying he needed it more. He put your picture inside the lid."
Peggy stiffens beside him. "That proves nothing – you could have read about that on a memoir," she says sharply. "And how exactly is that supposed to prove you're from the future? It happened almost fifty years ago."
"Did you know he put it on the dashboard so he could look at you when he took the Valkyrie down?" Tony asks, not looking at her and feeling a little like an asshole. He goes, on anyway. "It was still there when he was found, in 2012."
He glances at the old woman as emotions fight on her face. "It didn't even work anymore and the photo was ruined by water – but Steve," he emphasises the name, watching the blow land, "carried it with him until he died in 2018 anyway."
For a moment Peggy Carter can't seem to find her voice. She swallows, clutching her purse – she looks younger, older, sadder than before. "You're lying."
"The Project Rebirth Serum," Tony shrugs. "Among thousand other things, it stops ice crystals from forming in your blood. He was still alive when he went down – and the ice preserved him."
Peggy draws sharp, short breaths for a moment. "You know where he is."
Tony shrugs. Personally he is in no hurry to find good old Cap. They hadn't exactly seen eye to eye, not even at the end, and he's more than willing to let the man sit in the ice a bit longer. He has more important things to do than baby Cap's sensibilities a second time around.
"You know what else was found?" Tony asks Peggy, who tightens her lips. "A whole cache of Tesseract powered bombs. SHIELD used them to derivative their own line of super a weapons. They almost blew up New York with them."
"... Tesseract?" Peggy asks, like she doesn't want to know.
"The cube – HYDRA's cube, the one dad fished from the bottom of the North Atlantic when looking for Steve," Tony says with a shrug and then looks up as they hear door opening and closing at the mansion.
Its Obadiah, coming down the gravel path. "Tony? Tony are you in here?" the man calls, peering into the dark garden. "Oi, Tony!"
Tony makes a face as Peggy draws a shuddering, wet breath. He glances at her to make sure she's not about to break down on him or something and then looks ahead. "Over here," Tony calls back and stands up.
"Its starting to wind down in there," Obadiah says, coming closer. "You might want to say everyone few words before they leave. Hey there, Peggy, I was wondering where you went."
"Obadiah," she says, taking out a handkerchief and dabbing at her eyes. "I'm sorry for keeping Tony, we were just talking."
"That's alright," Obadiah says with a sad, warm smile. "How are you holding up, Peggy?"
"I've been better," she says and stands up too, tucking her purse under her arm. She looks at Tony, her expression a little conflicted.
"Why don't you come for tea tomorrow, Aunt Peggy?" Tony offers, keeping it light, understanding, sympathetic. "We can talk more then."
"Yes, I... I'd like that," she says and then reaches to hug him. "Thank you, Tony. You've given me a lot to think about. And again, I'm so sorry for your loss."
"Yeah, me too," Tony nods and hugs her close. He doesn't think he needs to tell her to keep what she had learned to herself. But still… "But maybe some things should be lost. Time for everything and everything in it's time, and all that," he says and releases her just as she stiffens.
Tony meets her eyes meaningfully and then turns to Obadiah. "Well then. Let's go close this shindig."
And so the book on Howard and Maria Stark closes – or some poetic crap like that. Tony is left holding the torch and clean up the mess – though in the case of the wake, not literally thank god. The catering includes a cleaning service, and by noon next day, the mansion is as if nothing had ever happened.
Tony is smashing the walls with a sledge hammer when Peggy Carter comes calling.
"What on earth are you doing?" she asks at the sight of the front hall, where Tony is in his way to utterly destroying the floor.
"My dear old father had secrets about his secrets and this place is his longest standing residence," Tony answers. "I'm checking for secret stashes. And –" he hoists the sledge hammer up, "– I hate –" he swings the hammer down with a resounding clang, "– this decor. Who the hell makes their house look like a goddamn wedding cake? Its a travesty, I tell you."
Also there were bugs in the walls, but he is well on his way to rectifying that.
Peggy stares at him for a moment, clutching to her purse. "Why don't you put the hammer down," she says slowly, "and we'll get some of that tea you promised?"
Tony snorts and drops the hammer. "Déjà vu, there," he says and wipes dust from his hands. "But yeah, sure – tea."
They head for the kitchen, Tony idly wondering if he should repurpose the dining hall – it's not getting much action lately. And it still smells a bit like a bar.
Peggy peers around curiously as they enter the kitchen – so far the best preserved room in the mansion. "Where is your household staff? I recall Howard and Maria having a full litany of servants."
"Fired the whole lot of them," Tony shrugs and makes for the stove.
"I suppose you would have to, to keep them from seeing anything suspicious," Peggy muses, sitting down daintily by the kitchen island.
"Previous me did it while drunk, actually," Tony shrugs. "In my past I sold the mansion, never lived here again. I'm bit more mellow these days, though."
"Yes, I saw, the hammer was very mellow," Peggy agrees dryly.
Tony grins and looks at her. "So, have you decided you believe me then?"
"Not for one moment until I see proof."
Until she sees Steve, she means. "Well you're going to have to take my story at face value for a while because I have no time to set up an arctic expedition right now," Tony says.
"You're not going to just give me the coordinates, are you?" she asks quietly.
"Nope," he shakes his head. "And if you get SHIELD involved, then no one is going to the Arctic."
Peggy presses her lips together. "You'd just leave him there?"
Tony turns to her. "Steve Rogers could sit in that ice for the next millennia and come out of it with a mild frost bite at best. But if those bombs are brought out, then humanity probably wouldn't even be around to welcome him. I have no intention of letting SHIELD get their hands to that tech."
"It's fifty year old technology – does it really make such a big difference?" she asks with, making a slightly annoyed face.
Tony shakes his head. "It's not fifty year old tech. It's extraterrestrial tech. HYDRA didn't invent it – they got it from the Tesseract. And if SHIELD gets their hands on it, they'll figure out how to wake the damn thing up again. And trust me when I say this – Earth is not yet ready for what happens when they do "
Peggy watches him with an arched eyebrow as Tony turns to bustle around, trying to find the tea. After a moment she sighs, irritated. "Well, you're not a agent yourself, that's for sure," she mutters. "Or a soldier."
"Nope, you'll get no salutes from me," Tony says cheerfully.
She hums in agreement. "So I figure. But you need to explain this, Tony," she says. "Clearly and hopefully without further dramatic declarations. You might be here unintentionally as you say – but it's obvious you have a mission and a goal. Or at least I hope to god you do, because the alternative would be that you're just bit of a bastard."
Tony throws his head back and laughs. "I can be both. A bastard with a mission, that's me," he says and turns to face her, leaning his hip on the kitchen counter. "I do have a mission, yeah. It goes along the lines of unfuck the future."
"Without the dramatic declarations, please," Peggy sighs.
Tony grins. "Alright, okay. Story time," he says, folding his arms comfortably. "I became a superhero in 2010 – public dubbed me Iron Man so that's what I went with. I invented an armoured suit that flies. Think a tank in shape of a person. That flies. My main enemies were my dad's old fuck ups – and then later, my own fuck ups. Stark men are made to fuck up."
Peggy nods like she knows exactly what she means. Historically, she does too.
"Gist of it is that I restarted the old super soldier arms race that had been buried with every failure following Project Rebirth," Tony continues. "Because I showed the world that the serum wasn't needed anymore – that you didn't need to be a superhuman to be super soldier. Hardware had caught up – anyone could do it, with the right gear."
Peggy's expression darkens at the. "And were they? Others I mean? Other… ironmen?"
"Oh, there were attempts, some more successful than others," Tony shrugs. "But that's bit beside the point. Because of me and my actions – which, admittedly, I could've moderated a bit – SHIELD doubled down on finding Steve Rogers. I think they were hoping for remains, for research material, something they could use to, well, match up against people like me. Around that time Earth had its first contact with Asgard too and it didn't go to well for our side – Asgard being super advanced alien society of immortal Norse gods."
Peggy's eyebrows lift slowly and incredulously at that.
"Yeah, 2011 was a fun year," Tony agrees wryly. "Also in future there are aliens – surprise!" He sighs and then reaches to take the kettle from the stove.
"Anyway," he continues, reaching for the teapot. "Little me in my over powered armour, every one of my stupid copy cats, our friendly town wrecking visitors from Asgard, all in span of year or so. SHIELD got nervous and so set out to arm itself any way they could and in so doing found Steve Rogers, the Valkyrie, the bombs – and in them, the key to unlocking the secrets of the cube."
"Let me do that," Peggy says when Tony eyes the bags of tea leafs judgingly. "I can see future hasn't managed to teach you how to make tea properly."
"Fighting for justice doesn't have that many tea breaks," Tony shrugs and stands back to let the verified Brit to make the tea.
"So what happened with the cube?" Peggy asks, examining the tea brands.
"Its one of a set of… similar items, and they're all linked together in some… sub-cosmic level. When SHIELD knocked on that door, someone answered," Tony says and looks away. "In 2012, not that much after they started rehabilitating Steve to modern world, we got our first alien invasion. Portal right on top of New York, with tens of thousands dead inside couple of hours"
Peggy pauses in measuring the leaves, and looks at him, frowning.
Tony meets her eyes and wonders if the wormhole still stares out of his. "We closed the portal, but bell once rung and so forth," he says with a fatalistic shrug and looks away. "Tampering with the Tesseract put Earth on the galactic map, and fighting that first invasion back made us mighty. And we might have snubbed the nose of someone who did not like their nose snubbed."
"There was another invasion?" Peggy asks quietly.
"Invasion implies intention of occupation," Tony sighs and shakes his head. "They didn't want to take Earth from us. They just wanted to fight us for the sake of fighting us."
Peggy stares at him for a moment and then turns back to the tea. "That seems…"
"Meaningless? Pointless? A waste of various alien lives?" Tony asks and laughs derisively. "Funny, how even when Thor himself lived under my roof, I never realised," he mutters with a morbid nostalgia. "He told us, just before that first invasion. Tampering with the Tesseract send a message out to the universe, saying that we were ready for a higher form of war. Those were his actual words – higher form of war. Like that's the only logical conclusion."
Tony smiles. "Asgardians have wars. They fight them with sword and shield, bow and arrow – and these are immortal gods who mastered instantaneous interstellar travel thousands of years ago. They fight wars like they're games," he snorts. "Turns they are. Warfare is a galactic sport and we really weren't ready to play with the big boys."
Peggy says nothing as Tony trails away, she just makes the tea slowly and methodically. Maybe it's soothing, the ritual of it – maybe she's decided he's not only full of shit but completely batshit insane and is having hard time figuring out what to say to the insane person. He wouldn't blame her.
"And now you're here, by accident, to stop it?" she finally asks, handing a cup over to him.
"Well, probably not by accident," Tony admits and accepts the cup. "But I certainly didn't do this. I think it was one of the Avengers. It has a familiar... feel to it."
Only Vision, and the Mind Stone, had the power and the know how to put him in this exact crucial point, the love to actually do it – and also the inhuman heartlessness to still let his parents die. Vision had probably calculated it all, weighed Tony's independence against Howard's influence and decided Tony would be able to work better unhindered by those tricky family relations – and he was probably right. A world where Howard Stark survived, a world where Tony wasn't the major shareholder and CEO of Stark Industries would potentially be a much more difficult to save...
Tony scowls down at the tea cup on his hands while Peggy watches him with a thoughtful expression. They sip their tea in silence.
"You don't believe me, do you?" Tony asks.
Peggy sighs. "Sadly I knew your father far too long to simply disregard wild tales told by a Stark. They have the unfortunate habit of being true," she says almost sadly. "There is something that I don't understand, though. Your obvious distrust of SHIELD. They might have made mistakes, but SHIELD is staffed by highly capable and intelligent people – it's not as if they'd ring the bell if properly warned."
Tony blinks at that. "Oh yeah, I didn't even get to that – SHIELD is infiltrated by HYDRA."
The cup in Agent Carter's hands jerks and the spoon clatters against the side. "SHIELD is what," she says, her voice so flat it doesn't even come out as a question.
"Yeah – it started with Armin Zola and has been going on since the forties," Tony explains. "HYDRA's who killed my parents – who ever Howard told about the serum either is or told someone who is HYDRA. And I really don't want HYDRA knowing about any of my anything right now. The shit they could do with what I know…"
"SHIELD is infiltrated by HYDRA," Peggy repeats.
"Ye-es," Tony says, eying her interestedly. "Did I break you?"
Peggy stares at him for a moment, her face stiff and her eyes hard. Then she looks down at the teacup in her hands. "I need something a lot stronger than tea," she says slowly.
"Sorry. Recovering recently relapsed alcoholic – no booze on the premises," Tony says apologetically.
"Well that's – fine," she says and looks at the ceiling for a moment, possibly gathering strength, begging for help from high above, who knows. Then Peggy Carter sighs. "Alright, fine," she says and looks at him. "I don't know if I believe you yet, but I'll go with it for now."
"Appreciated," Tony says with a nod, watching her cautiously. "And you're not going to SHIELD with this?" he asks just to be sure. "Aren't you like sworn to tell SHIELD everything or something?"
"Pleasures of being retired is that I'm retired," she says with a small laugh and leans against the kitchen counter. "I don't have to do anything for SHIELD anymore."
Tony narrows his eyes. He doesn't for a moment believe she won't do something about HYDRA. But then, it's not as if he's not going to do anything about it either.
"If you really have to go to someone with this, go to Nick Fury," he says. "He's trustworthy and very much not HYDRA. Agent Coulson, if he's working at SHIELD already, is also one of the good ones. Anyone else at this point I can't vouch for."
Peggy looks at him sharply. "Nick Fury. You're sure?"
"You should've seen the trouble HYDRA went to try and kill him," Tony scoffs. "I don't like old Nicky my self, but he's on the side of the angels. More or less."
"I'll keep that in mind," Peggy says. She's quiet for a moment and then sighs. "I'm too old for this shit."
"I'll drink to that," Tony says, lifting his tea and they clink their cups together in solidarity.
Very talky chapter.
Also I'm au-fying some things because, you know, why not.
In the week following his parents funeral, as year tips over to 1992, Tony does three things.
He demolishes the interior of the mansion in what from the outside probably looks like grievous rage, until the cream and rose interior is nothing but rubble. By the time he puts together a construction crew to redo the whole place – with plans for some extensive work on the basement – no one bats an eye.
He reads extensively into Stark Industries and it's current line up of not just products but employees and plans too. There is an emergency board of directors meeting coming up – held as soon as it would be appropriate without toeing the line of disrespectful, and he has every intention of bring ready for it. Never mind that the info gives him a whole slew of ideas. The current most demanded and most profitable product Stark Industries produced is ammunition. That would have to change.
Lastly, he cobbles together his Master Plan. It consists of everything he needs to tamper with, stick his nose into and generally manipulate, as well as some things he needs to stop, others he need to get done sooner, and everything he needs to avoid. It is all invariably wrapped up in his Tech Timeline too.
One thing he'd learned from the Great Switcheroo of 2010 and 2011 when he overhauled Stark Industries mandate – these things can't be done quickly. He wants to speed up tech development at least by 10 years, hopefully get smart phones out before nineties ended, but it isn't going to happen instantly. It has to be slow. Natural... ish. Stark Industries has a whole slew of tech that never got anywhere just because people weren't ready for them. All development – and sadly that includes people's willingness to adopt new technology – takes time
He has to be patient, which admittedly isn't his strongest suit. Thankfully he'd have hundred of other things to do , while he'd be waiting for times to pick up the pace.
"And where, in this master plan of yours, does Steve fit in?" Peggy asks when he explains the said Master Plan to her, or the broad summary of it anyway.
"If all goes well, couple of months maybe," Tony says. "Six months tops. I'm going to take a boating holiday as soon as I can swing it naturally, and then we'll go."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Peggy says firmly with a nod and stirs her tea delicately. "What's the first order of business then?"
"Me, finishing this," Tony says and motions at a sad, sad collection of DDS-1 drives – best he could do with the technology of the time.
"And this is?" she asks, a bit impatiently.
"My digital magnum opus," Tony says, running his hand over the drives. "I started writing the code about six months ago – it was going to be the future, a fully audio based user interface for computers, with capacity to store user preferences and adapt to them. A perfect, intuitive system for computing that didn't require you to know how to use a keyboard, never mind coding. All you had to do is talk to it. It was going to change how people used computers forever."
"Judging by the nostalgic tone, that's not what happened," Peggy says knowingly and sips her tea.
"Yeah, no. I got overboard with it – I knew I was onto something with the code and I wanted to make it perfect," Tony chuckles. "The boot file alone ended up too big for anything but a super computer to run – the whole system took a cluster of them. Not exactly suitable for a casual computer user like I planned."
Peggy hums in agreement. "But you still finished it, I suppose, this audio interface?"
"Took me about five years, but I did," Tony agrees. "Finished January 1995. I knew what I had, of course, I had test boots on the way, I knew what I was making. Somehow, it still came as surprise, when he asked for a name."
Peggy blinks at that and looks at the drives. "What is this, Tony?" she asks slowly.
"The first fully fledged, self aware artificial intelligence," Tony says and pats the drives fondly. "This time it shouldn't take me years to finish him – I remember his core programming by heart. And I can't wait to introduce you."
Peggy arches her eyebrows. "I'll be looking forward to meeting him, then. But why is this your first priority when last time it took years?"
"Do you want the sentimental or the cold and logical answer?"
"He's my baby. I miss him," Tony shrugs. "And as soon I got him, I skipped ten years ahead in tech evolution. I'm going to need him to get my Master Plan right."
And of course his life has been run by one AI or another for the last twenty years and frankly he doesn't think he can live without it anymore. Already his life is bit of a mess.
"Well… just so as long as you know what you're doing," Peggy says somewhat dubiously.
"I do, I know exactly what I'm doing, thank you very much," Tony says with a imperious sniff. Then he looks her over. "So. How are things going on your end?"
"Slowly and carefully," she says, shaking her head. "I can't say it's easy trying to uncover the a conspiracy when you're not even sure where to look – other than everywhere apparently. It would help if you could give me something. Names, locations, anything."
Tony thinks about it. He doesn't really want to, it would only add variables outside his control into the equation, and the equation is already half prayer and half gibberish. Every change they made now could potentially ruin everything… But HYDRA is something they need to deal with, and the sooner the better. Having Peggy do it would save him the trouble.
"… sure, I can do that," he says. "If you do something for me."
"Find out if Obadiah Stane is HYDRA," Tony says.
Peggy pauses at that and looks at him in surprise. "Your own godfather," she says in shock. "Howard's best friend?"
"He tried to kill me three times," Tony says grimly. "The first attempt included a terrorist cell and three months in captivity, in a cave, in Afghanistan."
Peggy's expression darkens. "I see. I'll see what I can find out."
"Awesome," Tony says and claps his hands. "Let's talk names then."
Board of directors meetings have never been Tony's favourite things. Even when he started taking it seriously, when the direction his company was taking started being important to him, he'd not really seen the point in them. To him, the power and future of Stark Industries has never been in a meeting room – it's been in Research and Development. It'd been in labs and workshops and on drawing boards where brilliant inventive people were inventing new brilliant things to push the company forward
He's older now, though – older, and with unfortunate amount of politics under his belt and he knows just how badly poorly handled boardroom meetings could stifle everything else. Sokovia Accords had been a lesson he's not soon going to forget. As it is, he has some… changes to make.
So, when the time comes and the first meeting since Howard's death is held, Tony is ready for it.
The meeting is held in a wide open room dominated by windows with New York City skyline spread across them. Tony notes the seating arrangements idly – they're named, the dozen members of the board of directors spread along the sides of the oval table, with Obadiah on one end and Tony on the other. Obadiah's back is to the windows, whole of New York city behind him – Tony's is to the wall, closest to the door.
Everything about it is designed to make Tony feel small and down hill, looking up at everyone else. The figurative hierarchy of the room is almost physical, thanks to a quaint little trick of perspective. Made to make Tony – or whoever is sitting at the end of the table – like a little kid in room full of big men.
If he was the age he looked, it probably would've worked. Right now it's just vaguely insulting.
Still Tony takes his seat obediently enough and watches as the directors file into the room, paying their respects to Tony and then to Obadiah when he comes in.
"Tony!" the man says, hiding the surprise in delight well. "You're on time."
"I was in the neighbourhood," Tony says, not quite hiding the sarcasm. Its another thing that he's now wondering about – how easy it must've been to keep him out of these meetings when he not only had shown no interest, but also lived on the other side of the country.
"How are you doing, kiddo?" Obadiah asks, holding him by the shoulders and looking at him worriedly. "I hear you've been doing some renovations at the old mansion?"
"Yeah – the decor didn't agree with me," Tony shrugs. "It's coming along fine."
"Good, that's good. Its just the thing you need, keeping yourself busy," Obadiah says and then takes him Tony aside bit, winding a secure arm around his and saying, very reassuringly, "Listen, Tony. You don't have to worry about any of this just yet – just let me handle this and it'll all go just fine. We'll figure out everything else later – together, you and me, as a team. Alright?"
"If you say so," Tony says somewhat placidly.
Obadiah gives him a comforting squeeze. "Good man," he says. "Well catch up after, yeah?"
They take their seats, shuffling papers and opening folders. Tony doesn't bother with his – he's read through them enough times to get bored with them.
"Well, then let's get started," Obadiah says and stands up, and all eyes turn to him. "First, as painful as it is, let's acknowledge our loss. Howard Stark was a good friend and damn good CEO and he'll be sorely missed. Let's have a moment of silence for Howard and Maria."
And they did, all bowing their heads with respect. Tony glances from man to man – no women in the current board, how wonderful – but no one really stands out as faking their gravity.
The silence passes. "Now, I'd like to welcome everyone to the first meeting of Stark Industries board of directors of 1992," Obadiah says "I think we'd all like this to be under better circumstances, but sadly there is no beating death. Now, we have a new major shareholder," he continues and smiles down at Tony across the table. "Welcome to the team, Tony. I'm sure you'll do great."
Tony smiles faintly at that and just nods. Its just so... vaguely condescending in its proud confidence that it's almost impressive. Adult, giving reassurances to a child on his first day of school. Christ on a fucking hoverboard, had Obadiah always been like this?
The meeting drudges on, as all meetings do, through the bullet point list of steps. The members are counted, previous year is turn lamented and celebrated, past events and sales are commented on – the elephant in the room is left, of course, for the last.
"Now, Stark Industries is in a good place," Obadiah assures the board. "As tragic as Howard's passing is, it's garnered us a lot of sympathy, and that will carry us through the switchover to a new CEO. This should go relatively smoothly, so as long stick to a clear, well defined agenda. Changing things too much at the point might give a impression of... indecision."
Tony gets up. People glance at him and then ignore him as he gets a glass of water from the side table, where drinks and snacks are laid out for the board to enjoy. Just a restless kid, bored by the boring adult meeting, nothing to see here.
Obadiah continues. "We need to show strong, unchanged front now, and let the world know its business as usual at Stark Industries," he says vehemently. "Our CEO has to reflect that – he has to carry Howard's mandate through."
Tony sips his water and meanders aimlessly to the windows, looking out curiously. Its a long way down.
"The CEO of Stark Industries had traditionally been... the major shareholder," one of the board members, Mr Wilkes, says cautiously.
"The major shareholder who, it so happens, created the company," Obadiah says, shaking his head. "Sadly, Howard is no longer with us. We need to think of the best of the company now, not tradition. And we need to think about standing contracts, loyal customers – people who trust Stark Industries to hold to certain standards."
Tony smiles to himself. He'd really thrown a wrench in Obadiah's works by showing up all nice and sober, hadn't he? And judging by the scrabbling he's doing, this board isn't in his pocket yet. This is Howard's crowd, not Obadiah's
"Now is not the time to rock the boat," Obadiah says very earnestly. "Or get distracted – Tony, would you like to join us at the table?" he adds a bit impatiently.
"Mm," Tony answers and takes a sip of water, turning to look at the board. Some are giving him annoyed looks, others are giving Obadiah worried ones. "I'm sorry, what was that?" Tony says.
"Tony, you should pay attention – this is important."
"Sorry, I was just thinking."
"Well, would you like to share what you think with the board?" Obadiah asks pointedly.
Tony arches his eyebrows and shrugs. "I was thinking about how far Stark Industries stocks will plummet soon. In light of what happened last year, I mean."
"You father's death has an impact, sure, but it won't be that bad, kiddo – we'll get through it," Obadiah says reassuringly.
"I don't – I mean yeah, sure, that too. But I was talking about the end of the Cold War," Tony says and then looks at the board. "I mean it's not a good time to be an American weapons manufacture company. From what I've read, the government contracts and whatever have going on with the armed forces have been getting smaller as the Cold War started winding down."
Obadiah frowns at that. "We will still have contracts," he says slowly, narrowing his eyes a bit. "United States armed forces are our most loyal customer. There's nothing to be worried about."
"No?" Tony asks. "Our prices are higher than the competition's."
"And we make higher quality product," another board member says, sounding offended.
"No, not necessarily," Tony shakes his head. "What Stark Industries makes is newer products. Innovative products. The kind of products you just can't get from anywhere else, not until year or two later, once the competition catches up."
That makes them preen a little, and Tony arches his eyebrows at them. "How long is that going to keep up with my dad dead?" he asks pointedly. "He was the head of weapons research – over seventy percent of every missile, gun and truck and everything in between was designed by him. Does the R&D have anyone to match that?"
There are exchanged looks and dubious expressions. Obadiah frowns. "Tony, you worked with your father in lot of weapons designs over the years. You have degrees in science and engineering, you graduated with honours," he says slowly. "I assumed – everyone assumed..."
"I have a degree in computer science and engineering and another in electrical engineering. I make robots," Tony points out. "Not bombs."
Not anymore anyway. He isn't going to be the goose laying explosive eggs for Stark Industries this time around.
It takes a moment for that to sink in, and Tony waits for it, idly whirling the water in the glass. "If you think about it, you know what's going to happen," he says and sips the water. "The Cold War ideology is already dying out, it's gone on for too long, people are tired of it. That leaves less and less support for iron mongers like Stark Industries – and once dad's last innovations are used up, Start Industries will start falling behind in the arms race. We're headed for a recession."
Obadiah is frowning at him, but the idea is already taking root in the board of directors. As much as Tony might dislike meetings like these, and people like these, he know how they work – he knows where their priorities lie. In the wallets – and he's just taken the bottom out. Already they can imagine their shares losing value.
"We still have plenty of Howard's best inventions left, we have the patents," Obadiah says quickly, turning to reassure the board. "We can still stay ahead."
"Sure, for a while," Tony agrees with a shrug. "A year, maybe. Then the innovative resources on the weapons department will start drying out, and it all starts slowly going down. Stark Industries might stay afloat for few more years, but slowly the profits will start dropping, the shares start going down, the value drops, the brand loses it's selling power. And the moment US Armed Forces drops us for someone cheaper…"
He shrugs and turns back to the window, letting them mull that wonderful image over. It only takes a few beats before the murmuring starts. "… you've heard it too, haven't you…" and, "… there was that article by that economist…" and, "… the piece they did on Wall Street Journal…"
"How about a small break for coffee," Obadiah says after a moment of this. "Please, help yourselves and if there is anything you want, there are secretaries on call."
Tony smiles to himself as he hears steps coming his way. Obadiah steps to stand beside him, running a hand over his scalp with a scowl. "What are you doing, Tony?" he asks in low voice. "Riling up the board like this – what are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking ahead," Tony says and glances at him. "Did you really think that computer geek like me would take up weapons manufacture?"
Obadiah arches his eyebrows. "Computer geek? Since when?" he asks incredulously. "Tony, I've watched you grow up. You build a working gun when you were ten – you helped your father put missiles together by the time you were fourteen. You're more than capable of picking up your Dad's slack."
Tony shrugs at that. "Maybe," he allows and smiles. "But, see, I'm not going to."
"Tony, this is serious," Obadiah hisses under his breath. "Stark Industries is –"
"Mine," Tony points out. "I'm the major shareholder, remember?" He turns to face his godfather, eyebrows arched. "I'm not going to make weapons, Obadiah, it's that simple. Besides, Stark Industries isn't actually a weapons manufacture company. Not originally."
His godfather eyes him narrowly for a moment. "You're planning something," he says and straightens up a bit. "Something big."
Tony arches his eyebrows and sips his water.
"Or something stupid," Obadiah adds slowly.
"Little bit of both, probably," Tony says and shrugs, turning to the window again. There are clouds hanging above New York City, heavy and dark. How fitting. "I don't intend to sink this ship, Obadiah," he says then. "But I am going to make it mine. My dad's era is over. You might want to get used to the idea."
Obadiah eyes him for a moment silently and then folds his arms. "Hm," he answers and looks outside too. "Do you have an actual product line in mind?" he then asks.
Tony smiles. "Try dozen," he admits and drains the water glass empty.
In the end, Tony becomes the president and CEO of Stark Industries more or less uncontested. There are some in the board of directors – like Obadiah – who aren't perfectly happy with it, but he'd prove them wrong in time. Of course, Tony had to concede on some points about the business, and Obadiah would continue as the company vice president – and naturally the weapons manufacture would go on until it became unprofitable, but that was fine. It would still close almost twenty years earlier than before.
That would be twenty years worth of blood out of his hands, at least on one timeline.
After the announcement of Tony's rise to the CEO-hood of Stark Industries, the media becomes a bit more like what he remembers it being – bit more insistent, bit more rapid. This time, though, Tony has a whole different angle on it and his reputation isn't as established as it was in the future. Sure, he is known as being somewhat… depraved. But happily he has a cure for that.
"Do you feel you're up to the task of running a company as massive as Stark Industries?" the interviewer of his first official TV spot as CEO of Stark Industries asks. "Those are some big shoes to fill."
"They are. It's certainly forcing me to grow up a lot faster," Tony says and smiles to the camera.
He thinks it makes a good story. The degenerate, spoiled son of a billionaire straightening up in face of responsibility and growing up to be at least semi respectable member of the society. It won't sell as many papers as twenty years of debauchery, but it would sell few papers, hopefully, and those few papers would, hopefully, paint him in a new light.
There are speculations, of course, about past scandals, about future scandals. The board, Obadiah, and the public all wait for the other shoe to drop – wait for him to relapse. He's fairly sure he's not going to. He's doing good on the drinking department and as for what comes to the weakness of all Stark men…
He's not sure if it is a trap or not, but Obadiah takes the liberty of hiring Tony a secretary. Her name is Katie Irwin, she is young, blond, very trim and has legs for miles – and no intention of hiding them. She smiles with dimples. She's a sight an a half, and has a way of speaking breathily that probably takes a lot of men's breaths away.
"What can I do for you, Mr. Stark?" she asks and smiles and her cheeks dimple and he can just feel the eagerness wafting from her.
"Do you have degree in anything, Ms. Irwin?" Tony asks, not sure how worried he should be.
Ms. Irwin's smile freezes a little. "Um. No, Mr. Stark, I – I just finished high school a year ago?"
It hits like a blow right to his age. Tony almost winces at the impact. "Would you like one?" he asks, smothering the urge to rub at his chest, where the arc reactor used to be.
"Um? Sir?" she asks, blinking rapidly.
"A degree. Would you like one?" Tony asks, rather desperately. "To go to college, get education, all that jazz."
She stares at him, confused. "Um… yes? T-that's why I – " Ms. Irwin stops and swallows. "Yes, of course I would like to go to college, Mr. Stark, but I don't have the money for that, and the student loans… I don't think I could do it."
"I'm affording it for you," Tony says and turns to leave, still stinging from the unintentional blow. Jesus Christ how did she even get hired, that young? "Apply for college, Ms. Irwin, please. I promise I'll pay it for you."
She sputters after him and then calls, "Can I have that in writing?" half jokingly and half hopefully after him.
"Sure thing, just let me get something for the pain – I mean, a pen, let me get a pen," Tony says and shudders.
He doesn't even care if she gets into a Ivy League College or something – just so as long she goes to be agonizingly young somewhere else.
Peggy, of course, finds the whole thing highly amusing.
Not my favorite chapter ever but I guess it gets the job done.
"So, what do you think?" Tony asks, and waves his hand at the entrance hall of his newly refurbished mansion. "Pretty sleek, don't you think?"
Peggy Carter peers around with inscrutable expression, briefcase in one hand. "It's very sleek. You didn't change the colour that much – you went from white, to white."
"I went from cream to seashell. Trust me, there's a difference," Tony says, because it's important. It's not the only change, of course. Where before the walls had been covered in elaborately embossed panels of wood, they are now smooth, and there are no velvet cake red anywhere. The floor, previously carpeted throughout the entire mansion, is stone, also seashell white, except for the elaborate circular symbol in the middle of the entrance hall floor.
"What's that?" Peggy asks, nodding at it.
"Well," Tony says. "A call back to the future, I guess." He might have gotten a little nostalgic, so the entrance hall floor is dominated by circular symbol done in light blue and black, surrounded by gold and then red rings. His symbol – the original circular arc reactor. It's the first thing anyone sees when they enter his mansion.
And it is very much his mansion now.
"It's… well, it all looks very nice," Peggy says after a moment. "So, the whole mansion has been redone?"
"More or less," Tony agrees, looking around with no small amount of pride. Finding workers who would keep their mouths shut about what they worked on and buying off the right inspectors to turn a slightly blind eye to what was actually being build took a lot of money, but it was well worth it. All in all, the final result is not that different form how his Malibu mansion used to look like, before AIM blew it to hell. With some… additions.
"Would you like a tour?" Tony asks, offering his hand with slight, theatrical bow.
"I'd love one," Peggy agrees. "Help us kill time while we're waiting for company."
"Oh, we're having company?" Tony says, arching his eyebrows.
"Yes. He should be here soon," Peggy says and takes his hand. "What else have you changed around here?"
Tony tilts his head curiously. "Well, one of the things is security, so, I'd really like to know who we're having for dinner before all the automated machine guns I've hidden around the place have him for dinner."
Peggy pauses at that and looks at him, first searchingly and then disapprovingly. "Tony," she says.
"Okay, fine, there's no automated machine guns," Tony says. Not yet anyway. "But I'll have you know I am slightly paranoid and not good with surprises. Who's coming?"
"Nick Fury," Peggy says with a sigh. "I invited Nick Fury to meet you properly. And he knows better than to be surprising about it. I hope."
Tony tilts his head a bit. "Hm. You told him then?" he asks.
"Not everything, not yet," Peggy admits. "But we've gathered enough proof and I've seen enough of your work now that I know you're what you claim to be, and even if he doesn't know yet, he trusts me, and that should be enough."
Tony nods slowly. "Alright then," he says and steps up to lead her. "I'll look forward to meeting old Nicky. Now, would you like a tour around the premises."
He takes Peggy around the mansion, showing the new dining room, the sitting room that now has imposing and less cake-like fireplace and angular, grey furniture, the meeting room because sadly he knows that's a thing you need in his line of business.
"I'm going to get some art in here, eventually," Tony says. "And I'll put some furniture in the bedrooms as I get more occupants, something to go more along their tastes than mine." That was a thing he'd learned from the last time – guessing people's tastes was fun, but usually just ended up hitting sore spots a lot. The debacle with Cap and the vintage décor still made him cringe.
"You're getting more occupants?" Peggy asks curiously.
"Well I'm not planning it right now," Tony shrugs. "But it happened last time – I adopted whole bunch of stray cats that freeloaded in my house and ate all my food. It might not happen this time, probably wont, but I thought I'd prepare for every eventuality anyway – besides, it's not like I don't have the room."
"Hmm," Peggy says, eying him thoughtfully. "You know, when I was younger and SHIELD was still in it's infancy, I lived a lot on Howard's various houses," she admits. "They were all varyingly lovely, but they never felt like home. I was always a guest."
Tony shrugs. The Avengers had probably felt the same too, back in the Tower – lot of them had either never stayed and others went in and out, staying when they had to, but not really living there. It wasn't until the actual Avengers Compound that some of them really stuck around. Maybe it was that they got a say on what was where.
Most likely it was because Tony himself hadn't ever lived there – he stayed at the Tower, alone.
Peggy glances at him while Tony frowns at the corridor they're walking through. "Did you get those super computers you were talking about?" she asks.
"Not yet," Tony admits. "I haven't finished the code yet, and there's no point getting the hardware before I know how many I need. It's turning up a bit bigger than it was originally." Of course originally JARVIS was just a voice in the speakers – nothing like what he became, nothing like what Tony needs now.
And to think, he could fit his complete, fully fledged AI just on a memory card in the future. Sometime the past is so sadly limited that it makes him weep.
"I don't see any space for them," Peggy comments. "Supercomputers aren't exactly small from what I've seen."
"I'm sure they'll fit in here somewhere," Tony shrugs, eying the blank walls. He really need to get his art collection back up and running.
Peggy arches her eyebrows at that Then she glances up as a sound chimes through house, a series of soft beeps and dashes. "What's that? Is that Morse?" she asks and tilts her head a bit. "No, it's not… what is it?"
"Call it a door bell for now," Tony says. It's the groundwork for JARVIS, actually, for now running on automation – employing Tony's own programming language because he hasn't have the heart to put in a voice that's not JARVIS. The warning coming in is from the pressure sensors on the drive way, and the cameras out doors – they've detected a incoming vehicle. "Looks like our guest is here. Shall we go meet him?"
It's not until he sees Nick Fury getting up from a black SUV that Tony realises that he has expectations – and that having his expectations actually met is a little strange. Nick Fury is more or less exactly as he remembers the man from his SHIELD director days – bald and grim with wardrobe consisting of nothing but black leather. Even the eye patch is the same.
The problem is, this is twenty seven years in the past – and Nick Fury doesn't look a day younger.
Tony turns to Peggy. "Holy shit," he says. "He's got some form of the serum, doesn't he?"
"What was that, Tony?" Peggy asks mildly.
"Nick Fury, he's got something. Serum, steroids – potion of immortality," Tony says and motions at the man. "He looks exactly like he does in future."
"Some people just age well," Peggy comments, amused.
"Yeah, but that implies actual aging and he hasn't," Tony says and looks at Fury over, as the man comes closer. It's weirdly off putting, like suddenly seeing a piece of the future in the past. He's just gotten used to seeing celebrities and politicians and the people he's working with be so much younger, and this is a weird, weird reminder of things how they should – used to, would eventually – be?
"Ma'am," Fury says, nodding at Peggy, and then he looks at Tony. His expression is inscrutable.
Tony arches a single eyebrow at him half of him wanting to call the man director sarcastically even though he's probably not yet. It's weirdly disconcerting. Fury looks like he belongs on the bridge of helicarrier, it's throwing him off the loop.
Fury looks him over and Tony gets the impression he's not found to be very impressive. Peggy looks between them and then smiles. "Tony, this is Agent Nick Fury of SHIELD," she says and then looks at Fury. "Agent Fury, this is Tony Stark – our informant."
"Mr. Stark," Fury says and offers his hand.
Tony takes it, and is mildly surprised when Fury doesn't try to break his fingers. "Agent Fury," he answers, and somehow manages to keep the I'm so weirded out by this from his voice.
Peggy nods with satisfaction. "Shall we go inside? Tony's just finished decorating – it's quite nice."
"After you, Ma'am," Fury says.
So compliant! "Holy shit, that's so weird," Tony murmurs and shakes his head before turning around to head indoors, where things make sense. Peggy chuckles and follows him, Fury silently following few steps behind her.
"So," Tony says as they sit down in the meeting room – because this suddenly feels like meeting. "I'm guessing you have something for me?"
"We do," Peggy agrees, setting her briefcase on the meeting room table. She opens the lock with a key and then sits down, taking out a couple of folders. One of them she hands over to Tony. "Firstly, lets get this out of the way. Here."
Tony takes the folder and sits down as well. Fury takes seat the last, watching them expressionlessly. Probably reading the terrain, trying to figure out the relationship, and what Tony had to do with anything, or whatever. Tony ignores him in favour of the folder – and then sees why Peggy opened with it.
It's on Obadiah.
Frowning a little, Tony leans forward, setting the folder on the table and leafing through the pages, reading everything quickly. Obadiah isn't on SHIELD – has next to nothing to do with it. The only connection he's ever has with the agency was through Howard and even then it was tenuous. The man has no security clearance, and as far as SHIELD thinks, he has no value to them.
There is a character analysis on Obadiah included in the folder, remarking on a potential narcissistic personality disorder. Basically, the man has megalomania and SHIELD knows it, and don't consider it worth the risk since Obadiah is only a businessman, not a genius like Howard. Obadiah Stane is, in the end, marked down as Not Suitable for Co-Operation with SHIELD.
"Nothing on HYDRA's side?" Tony asks, looking up.
"Nothing. As far as we know, HYDRA has as much interest in Obadiah as does SHIELD – none," Peggy admits, looking at him. "That might've changed if he had became the CEO of Stark Industries, or if it looked like he had a chance for the spot. Right now… he's just not valuable enough for it to be worth the risk and effort."
"Yeah," Tony answers, leaning back on his chair. He's not sure if he's disappointed or relieved. It's probably a good thing, that Obadiah isn't HYDRA, and yet it somehow makes everything that happened in the future even worse. Obadiah as influenced by greater evil would've been… easier to handle.
But no, he hadn't been. If he had, he probably wouldn't have relied on Ten Rings to do his dirty work – no, Tony would've been snatched up by HYDRA instead, his death faked while he was shoved in a cell, forced to work for them. That would've made much more sense, from HYDRA's perspective.
Everything that happened was just on Obadiah and no one else.
Tony closes the folder. "Thanks," he says and slides the folder over and back to Peggy. "I appreciate this."
Peggy looks at him with grim, sad understanding. "I'll keep an eye on it as much as I can. If situation changes I'll let you know," she promises.
Tony nods and then leans his elbows on the table, looking between Peggy and Fury. "Alright, I got my treat," he says. "What tricks do you want me to perform?"
Fury frowns but Peggy just smiles, amused. She takes out another folder and hands it over, leaning back as Tony opens it. "Agent Fury has been investigating some of the locations you gave me," she says. "And we can confirm your intelligence. SHIELD is compromised. How badly we don't know yet, but it goes deep enough to be worrisome."
Tony looks over the pictures in the folder. They've taken from several different HYDRA bases judging by the looks of it – couple of them are of documents, others are from devices in various stages of disassembly. There are pictures of cells, of offices, of what look like mini factories…
One of them is of a room with what looks like sci-fi horror cousin of the electric chair.
Tony lifts the picture. "Where's this?"
Fury leans forward. "Why? What is it?" he asks with a close look.
"This is trouble – where is it?" Tony asks with a frown. "Is the place in use, is it staffed?"
Fury frowns at him and then glances at Peggy. She looks troubled but nods her permission. "It's a building in DC – that's in the basement. There was a skeleton crew there," Fury says. "Handful of soldiers on watch, three scientists. I saw one of them doing adjustments on the… whatever that is, but it didn't look like they were expecting action. Their guard was pretty relaxed."
"What is it, Tony?" Peggy asks.
Tony doesn't answer, leaning back and eying the chair. "This looks new," he says worriedly. The metal is gleaming in the picture, the straps look stiff. From what he'd figured out from the few of these things they'd captured post SHIELD's fall, they got used up pretty fast – they got banged up. This hasn't so much as bent armrest yet.
"Yeah," Fury says. "Looked like they were putting in finishing touches, really."
"Shit," Tony murmurs, running a hand over his mouth. "I thought he was in Russia."
"What is that thing?" Fury demands.
"It suppresses people's memories," Tony says. "It's not a complete wipe and the effect is temporary – they have to keep it relatively low power to keep frying the target's brains completely. With repeated uses you can keep a person almost completely wiped – a blank slate, except for deeper ingrained skills and abilities."
Fury frowns and glances at Peggy who is leaning in. "What's the purpose of it?" she asks. "What's the point in wiping someone's memory temporarily?"
"It's good for when you want to control someone who is lot stronger and lot smarter than you are, and who sure as hell wouldn't follow your orders if they were in their right mind," Tony says and drops the picture with disgust.
"You mean… super soldiers, like Steve," Peggy says quietly, her face paling a little. "You think they've used the serum Howard made?"
Tony shakes his head. "No, those guys are HYDRA's death squad – they're loyal enough that they don't need to be wiped to follow orders. As far as I know this thing was ever used on one guy," he says and taps the picture. "The Winter Soldier."
Peggy and Fury are quiet for a moment, exchanging looks. Tony can almost feel them thinking it, the Winter Soldier is a myth, but he ignores it. If HYDRA is setting up a special seat for the Winter Soldier on American soil this soon after Howard's death – this soon after HYDRA got their hands onto the serum…
It could mean that it hasn't actually been used yet. From what he'd heard, HYDRA had needed Barnes there to control the other super soldiers during the process and training – they'd gotten too violent to be managed by normal people. But if HYDRA hadn't used the serum yet… why not? What are they waiting, isn't the Death Squad ready, or…
"They're missing the vita radiation," Tony murmurs.
"What was that?" Peggy asks.
"Project Rebirth – it had two parts. The serum, and vita radiation," Tony says and looks up. "HYDRA has the serum but they don't have the radiation to activate it properly. Only one who ever knew how to make it work was dad, no one has ever been able to manage it since. And dad destroyed his research."
He knows that for damn sure, because he and Bruce had spend good half a year combing through old files in hopes of something to help with Hulk. They'd got nothing, not a damn thing. It was as if Howard had made the vita radiation chamber of Project Rebirth out of thin air and then banished it into the fucking aether afterwards.
Peggy shares a look with Fury who leans back, folding his arms. "So, they can't use it?" he asks.
"No, they'll use it," Tony answers thoughtfully. "But I doubt they'll get their hands on the right stuff, seeing that it doesn't even exist anymore. They'll have to go for the second best option, which might actually explain a few things about them…"
Shit. He needs to find where Bruce is and what he's doing.
Fury arches his single working eyebrow at him and then looks at Peggy. "He always like this?"
"Mostly, yes," Peggy agrees with a sigh. "Tony, could you start from the beginning, please?"
Tony frowns at that, glancing at her. Then he straightens up in his seat. "You didn't come here about this – you didn't even know about this," he says and looks at the pictures. "Why'd you bring me these?"
Peggy frowns a little, glancing at the picture of the chair and then at Fury. Then she shakes her head and leans forward a bit. "We're going to move forward soon and start dealing with HYDRA as well as we can," she says. "Priority being to capture any and all dangerous technology they have at their disposal, or destroy if necessary. But seeing as we're doing this behind SHIELD's back and without proper authorisation…"
"You need money and resources?" Tony asks knowingly. "And place to stash your captured loot."
They're not very happy about it, judging by the looks of it. Fury is scowling at him and even Peggy looks a bit displeased. "Yes," she answers anyway. "Sadly project of this size can't be handled just by myself and Agent Fury alone, and seeing as we can't trust anyone in SHIELD until they've been properly cleared… our options are rather limited."
"Coulson isn't around yet, then," Tony muses.
"Who's that?" Fury asks, watching him warily.
"Your future right hand man," Tony says. "Phil Coulson. I have no idea what he's doing right now, I thought he'd be in SHIELD. Hell, I thought he was made in SHIELD lab somewhere, born fully grown with suit and everything. There's never been more Agenty Agent than Agent Coulson."
Fury frowns a little at that and leans back. He exchanges looks with Peggy. "Is this kid for real?" he asks, his tone flat.
Peggy sighs and runs a hand over her eyes. "Tony," she says. "Would you like explain to Agent Fury how you know all this?"
"Oh, oh yeah," Tony says. "I'm from the future. Hi," he says and waves his hand. "You were Director of SHIELD in my time, by the way."
Fury's eyebrows lift at that, even the scarred one half hidden under the eye patch. Then he glances at Peggy who folds her arms and leans back, looking placid. Fury looks back at Tony. "Prove it," he says.
Tony points at the photographs. "Not enough for you?"
"Not even close," Fury says, scowling.
Tony is quiet it for a moment, thinking about it. Problem is that he doesn't know that much about Fury – the guy's always been pretty mum about his past, except when giving dramatic pep talk speeches. "Have you hired Barton yet?" he asks. Clint had became SHIELD pretty young, hadn't he?
Fury arches his eyebrows a bit. "Not yet," he says slowly. "… but I was thinking about it." He's quiet for a moment, just staring at Tony. "Phil Coulson you say?"
"Mm-hmm," Tony agrees. "The most trustworthy guy on the planet, I swear."
"Haven't heard of him, but I'll look him up," Fury says and then shakes his head. "Time travel," he says. "Huh."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Tony mutters and eyes the pictures, the chair. "So, money and resources."
"Technical advice wouldn't go amiss either," Peggy admits slowly.
"Hmm," Tony nods, thinking about it. He can supply Peggy and Fury with money, with vehicles, weapons, whatever – but would that be enough? Sure, they can probably hire people, they can find some trustworthy SHIELD agents and bring them in, but would that really be enough? Especially with HYDRA looking to park the Winter Soldier in United States…
"Tony," Peggy says. "You don't have to do this."
"Pfft, don't be ridiculous – of course I do," Tony says with a scoff. "And obviously I'm going to. I'm just thinking…" he trails off and narrows his eyes thoughtfully. "It might be time for a boating holiday in the Arctic."
Peggy straightens up where she's sitting, her eyes sharpening. "You said months."
"Yeah, well, that was before you brought me this," Tony says and taps the picture of the chair. "If we're going after HYDRA and the Winter Soldier is in any way involved… I can't really see any other way any of us comes out of this alive, to be honest. We're going to need him."
Fury looks between them. "What the hell are we talking about this time?" he asks.
"Steve Rogers," Tony says and sighs. He's really not looking forward to it. "The Beautiful and Perfect Captain America."
"He's alive – and Tony knows where he is," Peggy explains.
Fury looks between them flatly, from Peggy to Tony and back. "Alright," he says then, like a man giving up. "When we're leaving?"
"As soon as I can settle things for a bit with Stark Industries," Tony says and stands up. "I'm going to have to buy a boat too."
"Don't you have several already?" Peggy asks, a little amused.
"I do. But I don't think a luxury yacht is going to be enough in this case," Tony says, and then grins. "It's going to be my second first introduction to the good Captain. I'm going to need a good icebreaker."
The first sign of change at Stark Industries was this – the company declines a contract.
That's it. It goes mostly unremarked, there are no media buss about it, no one even notices. It's not the first time Stark Industries has declined a contract of course – there have been literally thousands of contracts they had to refuse for various reasons. Sometimes the product just wasn't economically feasible, sometimes the contract wasn't good enough, sometimes the production itself couldn't possibly be done in time.
This time is different in the sense that it was a standing contract, with a long history. A private security company that had been buying their weapons and equipment solely from Stark Industries fifteen years straight – good loyal customer with precise selection of products they ordered every year like clock work – and Stark Industries turns them down with heartfelt apologies.
It doesn't change the world, it doesn't signal it's end, it doesn't make much of a dent in Stark Industries sales. But it is a start.
Around that same time, Tony finally pulls together a good team of researches and curious tinkerers, none of whom have history in any sort of weaponry, who would be heading the changes. They're very confused about why they're there – up until Tony meets them, and gives them a project. Then they're even more confused.
"I have a list of parts for you," he points screen where the projector – because that's what he's being forced to resort to, projectors – is showing image of variety of little gadgets. "State of the art microchips, processors, what have you, that Stark Industries has developed for guidance systems and aim assist systems and so forth. Your job is to figure out fun things to do with them."
"Fun things, sir?" one of his most recent hires – Dany Thompson, who in 5 years would've been snatched up by Hammer Tech and completely wasted in her job – asks worriedly.
"Fun things," Tony agrees, shoving his hands into his pockets and looking at the screen. "Nonexplody things. I already have a thing in mind – few months of TLC in the R&D and it will open as Stark Industries future main line… but before I hand that over to you I want to see your stuff."
There are few exchanged looks, uncertain and confused. "Can you give us… any sort of guideline, sir?"
"Nope," Tony says, rocking back and forth on his heels. "You get a box of scraps and three months. Now make me something interesting."
It is the future trial by fire at Stark Industries, which he instated in the short time after Afghanistan when he was still the CEO. It doesn't have quite the same weight as it did back then, with Tony's history and following accomplishments backing it up. But, maybe, that will be a benefit here – he'd get less people trying to reinvent the Iron Man anyway.
All in all, changing the company mandate at Stark Industries would take time, and patience. Tony doesn't particularly like it – last time it had been like ripping off a band-aid. But on other hand the losses they took that time were in billions, and only reason Stark Industries stayed afloat at all was because of Iron Man.
It's new and weird feeling not to be able to afford something. Tony doesn't like that one either.
About two weeks after meeting with Nick Fury for the first time, Tony flies up to Greenland where his brand new – well, old, second hand, bit rustic – ship is waiting for him. There he meets with Peggy Carter, Nicolas Fury and what looks like very confused younger Coulson who isn't sure what he's doing there.
"Lovely weather," Peggy comments from beneath a layer of faux-fur.
It's February, and about minus 25 degrees Celsius in Narssârssuk.
"Isn't it just," Tony agrees, snug in his parka. "Fury," he then nods at the SHIELD Agent, who of course has found a suitably warm leather jacket.
"Stark," Fury says and nods at Coulson. "This is junior agent Coulson."
"Wonderful to meet you," Tony says, and they shake very heavily gloved hands. Then Tony nods towards the ship. "How do you like her?"
They all peer up at the ship Tony had bought fairly well used from a Russian shipping company. Her name is the Yushny, and she's an old Arktika class nuclear icebreaker – an ugly old thing that looks like shipping vessel with a building on top. But then, it's not as if icebreakers have to worry about being pretty – just heavy.
"It's a ship," Peggy says. "So as long as it gets us to where the Valkyrie crashed, it's my favourite ship."
"Well, she won't," Tony says. "Probably not – there's limits to how far even icebreakers can get, and it will be pretty deep on the glacier," he makes a face. No 25 years of climate change to chip away at the glacier this time – it's going to take some effort to find the thing. "But the Yushny will get us close enough that we can take a helicopter the rest of the way."
He peers for a moment down the pier, where they're loading up his cargo – of which he has several tons of – into the ship. It looks like it's going well, but considering the money he's paying the crew it damn well better go well.
"Shall we go inside?" Tony asks. "There should be food waiting for us inside."
What Fury, Peggy and Coulson expect is probably not what Tony has in store inside the ship. Old Russian icebreaker or not, where Tony Stark goes, he stays in some goddamn comfort. One of the first things he'd done was hire some people to redo living quarters for passengers – and then, of course, staff to cater to said passengers. The ship now has cooks, and a small restaurant and a open bar. It was, after all, mostly manned by Russians.
"Mr. Stark," the captain, Polzin, greets him, when they get up onto the actual ship. "We will finish loading your things in another hour or so, and will be ready to leave the port in two hours," the man says in Russian. "There will be security briefing in mean while in the restaurant and I understand there is food prepared for you."
"Thank you, Captain," Tony answers, also in Russian, glancing back to his things. There's a crate swinging on a crane and it makes him wince a little. "Please have everything marked with S1 delivered to my cabin, alright?"
"Right away sir," captain Polzin says and then motions. "Lieutenant here will show you to the restaurant."
"Awesome, let's go," Tony nods and turns to the others. They're eying him somewhat dubiously. "What?"
"There's a restaurant on board the ship?" Peggy asks.
Tony arches his eyebrows. "Of course there's a restaurant on board the ship. There's also a gym, a sauna, a swimming pool…" he trails off and then looks between the three agents as they just stare at him. "What?"
The trip, from there on out, goes more or less how Tony expects it. Slowly. The Yushny goes around the north west coast of Greenland, a slow but steady procession in increasingly chilly weather, with ice absolutely everywhere. It's all weirdly different – Tony has done a cruise in the arctic once, in his mid thirties, and already back then there was a lot less ice than there is now.
The glaciers of Greenland are both more impressive and slightly more depressing, seen before couple of decades of slow but steady temperature incline.
Mostly they don't see even that much – it's snowing almost non-stop. As it is, Tony hardly leaves his cabin at all – he's busy working. Partly it is in preparation for the arrival at the Valkyrie's location – partially it's him hammering away at recently refitted laptop, working on JARVIS' code. In a way the couple week round trip to the arctic is welcome – he might even finish it finally.
"You know, when I thought about finally finding Steve, of… rescuing him, I didn't think it would be this boring," Peggy comments in the ship restaurant – which Tony had been very pleased to find pretty nice, considering it was on board an icebreaker. "I always imagined heroic plane flight to the arctic, my heart pounding, everything happening so fast…"
"Everything happens slower in reality," Tony agrees, running through the code he's written so far while sipping on green smoothie. "Where are the Agents?"
"At the gym," Peggy answers and stirs her tea idly. "Burning off excess energy, I suppose. They'll be here by dinner time."
"Hmm," Tony answers, deleting couple lines of code and rewriting them one handed.
Peggy looks at him and then looks outside the window. Greenland is a line of brown and white in the distance, half hidden in the flurry of snow coming down, again. "Have I thanked you for doing this, Tony?" she then asks.
"Don't know, don't care," Tony says without looking up. "It's not why I'm doing this. I was always going to come up here – it was just that timing was a bit awkward."
"I know. But you didn't need to involve me," Peggy says. "You didn't need to tell me. I would have still helped you," she trails off and turns to her tea. "Sometimes it feels a bit like I'm using you. Or you're using me, I don't know. The more I think about it the less I like it."
Tony looks at her and then saves the code and closes the laptop. "So?" he asks, leaning his chin onto his knuckles. "Is there something wrong about getting something you want out of… whatever this is?" he motions between them. "Because you know I am using you, Aunt Peggy, you and Fury and everyone else who will ever be involved in this."
She frowns, looking up at him. "Using us to do something we'd be doing anyway," she says. "Only we wouldn't know to do it without you."
"Same goes for my part, doesn't it?" Tony asks. "Granted I could do this without you, but it's easier with you involved. So I'm using you to mop up SHIELD so that I don't have to, and you're using me for intelligence and to get Steve, and Fury is probably figuring out how to use me too… so what?" he shrugs and takes another sip of the smoothie. "We're all getting what we want out of it."
Peggy presses her lips tight together and looks away. "And yet I'm getting most out of it, aren't I?" she asks. "Your help and intelligence, your money and now Steve too…"
"It all depends on how much you value your own resources," Tony says, waving a dismissive hand at the comment. "For me, help, intelligence and money are cheaper than they're to you. Well, maybe not the intelligence, my intelligence is pretty damn expensive. But you get the gist. And Aunt Peggy, having someone I can trust not just helping me, but believing me, working with me?" Tony looks at her seriously. "That's priceless to me."
She looks down and then meets his eyes. "What happened, back in there?" she asks quietly. "Sometimes you act like the whole world is against you."
"Do I?" Tony asks and looks down at the laptop. "Isn't it?" he then murmurs.
"Tony," Peggy says, looking at him searchingly.
He shrugs and opens the laptop. "The world cheered as we rose and then it cheered as we fell," he says. "And we fell mostly on each other which didn't really help matters. By the time…" he trails off. By the time Thanos came, Avengers were so badly splintered that they were no match for him.
He shakes his head. "So, what are you going to say to the good old Captain when we find him?" he asks.
Peggy watches him for a moment and then sighs. "I don't know yet," she says and looks at her hands. She'd painted her nails red recently, they make her fingers look longer and thinner. Old woman's hands. "I have had good fifty years to think about it, and mostly I just want to call him an idiot. I guess we'll see when the time comes."
Tony arches his eyebrows and then looks up when the door to the restaurants clangs open. Fury and Coulson enter, Coulson looking like he'd just had a shower – with Fury it's impossible to tell.
"Did you have fun beating each other up?" Tony asks, opening the laptop again.
"It was wonderful, you should try it for a size," Fury says, falling to sit beside Peggy while Coulson takes the seat across him. "How long until we get there?"
"Couple more days," Tony answers, waiting for the laptop power up again. God he really needs to make something better for him – laptops of the time are heavy, bulky, and slow as fuck. "Don't hold your breath, though. When we get there, we'll have to actually find the plane too, and that might take days."
"I thought you said you knew where it was," Fury says with a scowl.
"I know where it will be in twenty years," Tony says, giving him a look. "You have no idea how much a the arctic changed in that time. The only reason I think I can find it at all is because we did a projection of how much the Valkyrie moved around with the ice."
"It moved around?" Peggy asks with a frown.
Tony glances up. "Yeah. You know how the Arctic works? The ice isn't anchored – it shifts and melts and refreezes every year, and as it does that it spins clock wise in the Beaufort Sea – over the years before it was found, the Valkyrie went around on the Arctic ice like on a carousel. Around and around."
"If it's been moving around, how do you know you can find it at all?" Fury asks.
"Like said, we did a projection," Tony shrugs. "It's not hundred percent accurate, but it will give me a place to start looking. Once we get there, I'll start tracking the radiation."
"Radiation?" Peggy asks worriedly.
Tony looks up. "The thing has nuclear bombs on it," he says. "It puts off gamma radiation – and I am very good at tracking gamma radiation."
"And modest too," Fury says with a scoff.
Tony beams at him, utterly shameless.
"What about when we get there?" Coulson asks, looking between them. "Wouldn't the Valkyrie be frozen solid? We don't have that much in way of crew – how do we excavate it?"
"We don't – I have something else in mind," Tony says, smiling.
All three of them stare at him flatly until Tony sighs. "You guys are no fun," he says. "We're going to melt our way in – I have a thing for it. I have been preparing for this for a while now, you know. I brought all the necessary toys for this play."
"Wonderful," Peggy says with a sigh and looks out and at the frozen outline of Greenland in the distance. "Something to look forward to, I suppose."
"You got a second?"
Tony looks up from frame he was working on, lifting up the welding mask. Fury is standing by the heavy metal door – door which Tony is pretty sure he locked before he started working.
"Yeah, sure, I got plenty," Tony says and sets the welding torch down. He examines the seam he'd been welding and then sets the support down. "What can I do for you, Agent?"
Fury looks him over for a moment, while Tony takes the gloves off and sets them down, reaching for a rag instead. Welding in enclosed space with minimal air conditioning is sweaty work, and Tony's eyes are stinging a bit as he mobs his brow dry.
"Level with me here, Stark," Fury says then, and pulls the door shut behind him. "What should we expect from Rogers?"
"Physical perfection of the masculine persuasion," Tony answers promptly.
Fury gives him a look. "There's been dozens of attempts of recreating the serum," he says. "All of them varying shades of fucked up and they all have one thing in common. Violent tendencies, arrogance, sometimes even homicidal urges. History paints Rogers perfect and Carter agrees with it – but Carter's old, and it was long time ago. You have more current intel."
Tony hesitates, looking over the framework he's building. It's nothing like what he could whip up in an afternoon back home, back in future, when he had all the necessary tools and resources close at hand… but it would do the job, ugly though it would end up.
"You know, I'm not good person to ask," Tony says. "He and I, we didn't exactly see eye to eye towards the end."
"All the more reason to ask you," Fury says. "We're bringing this guy into delicate situation – I want to know what we're in for."
Tony sighs and then pushes the stray bits of metal off the welding bench, sitting down on it. "Alright," he says. "You know how the serum works, right?" he asks. "Yeah, what they don't mention in history books is that it works on every level of your physiology. It's not just his muscles that got big – it affected him up here, too," Tony says, pointing at his temple. "And I think what happened up there is lot more significant than what happened below."
Fury folds his arms. "Is he unstable?"
"No, far from it – he's adaptive," Tony says. "The guy picks up skills in afternoon, he learns new languages in a week. He can calculate recoil angles in his head without ever even knowing he's doing it." He shakes his head. "You'd think bringing frozen guy from the forties you'd get few laughs out of him not knowing how stuff works – sadly, no. Couple of weeks, and he was as good as native."
Tony is quiet for a moment. "But that's just skills," he says. "I don't think his actual thinking mind had as easy time adapting. And he was not happy to be there, not for one moment. He got…" he searches for a moment, "sullen. Sometimes he got really pissed off at things. Mostly me." Tony shrugs fatalistically. "I think partially because I stood for everything that was different and wrong about the world. Not that I made it any easier for him."
"Is that it?" Fury asks.
Tony looks at his hands, rubbing at his palms, missing the repulsor like missing limbs. "I don't know what you want me to say. Is he dangerous or violent? No, not really," he sighs. "But he's stubborn, and his sense of right and wrong sometimes doesn't compromise. Sometimes he doesn't hear what people are trying to say. Sometimes he doesn't listen."
Fury eyes him silently for a moment, taking in his posture, his expression. Whatever he sees there makes him frown. "You don't like him," he says. "And judging by the sound of it you don't trust him."
Tony shrugs. "We had differences of opinion," he says bitterly and shakes his head. "It's not really applicable to now, though. Things happened that won't this time. And with Aunt Peggy here, I figure things will go differently."
Fury nods slowly, still watching him. "Will you have a problem working with him?" he then asks.
Tony presses his lips together and then looks away. "I might," he admits. "I was kind of hoping you and Peggy would take over there and I wouldn't have to deal with him."
Fury stares at him for a moment, his lone visible eye narrowed. "Rogers was your team leader, wasn't he?" he says with something like realisation.
Tony shrugs. "While there was a team," he says. "It… had an ugly end."
"I bet," Fury says, still eying him strangely. "Stark, you… You do realise that you're the one running this show?"
Tony frowns at that and Fury's eyebrow arches meaningfully. "You have all the intelligence, you're holding all the threads," the man says mercilessly. "You have all the resources too. We might've not signed any contracts but at this point we're all traitors and double agents, and we're working for you."
"You… you eavesdropped me talking with Aunt Peggy," Tony says slowly. "Do you have me bugged? No, you have the ship bugged, don't you?" Fury just looks at him. Tony makes a face. "So you believe me then?"
Fury doesn't answer for a moment, instead he scoffs and he looks at what Tony's building. "What's that?" he asks, motioning at it.
Tony looks and then shrugs. "Something to help with heavy lifting," he says with a small grin. "We need to get a eight foot ice block out of the Valkyrie after all. We're not going to be able to do it by hand, trust me."
"It's a power suit," Fury says. "You're building a fucking power suit, in the belly of a Russian icebreaker you just bought in order to find plane that was downed in the forties, which you can track because of… radiation."
"As you do," Tony shrugs and grins at his work, hanging from a metal stand. It's still half finished, but he'll be done with it when it's time to use it. "And it's not a power suit. It's more of a… exoskeleton."
"Of course it is," Fury tsks and comes closer. "You don't leave that much room for doubt, Stark," he says, eying the exoskeleton for a moment longer and then looking at him. "What you need to do, though, is to realise what you are at this point. You're going at this at a solo, like it's just you. Carter's given you the impression we're two different teams, but we're not. We're all working under you."
"So many innuendos, so little time," Tony murmurs, to cover how weird he suddenly feels.
Fury scoffs at that and then ignores it. "Rogers was your team leader, he isn't anymore," he says. "And you need to drop that way of thinking before it gets in way of what's going to come out of this. If future will be as fucked up as you say it will… we don't have room for doubts in the command structure."
Tony swallows and looks down at his knees, hanging over the edge of the welding bench. "Shit," he then says with a laugh. "Twenty six years in the past and you're already giving me pep talks."
Fury just arches his brow at that.
Tony shakes his head, running a hand over his neck. "Is this your long winded way of saying that I'm going to have to deal with Steve either way?"
"Where do you think we're going to put him?" Fury asks flatly. "It's not as if we can take him to SHIELD, not if we want to keep HYDRA from knowing about him."
"I have so many houses though, I have literally dozens of estates," Tony says, somewhat desperately. "We can turn any one of them into a safe house."
Fury just looks at him for a moment. "Is that your executive decision or are you asking me to choose?" he asks then pointedly.
Tony sags where he's sitting, hanging his head for a moment. "You suck, Fury," he then says and runs a hand over his face. "I did not start this in order to… what, become the shadow leader of SHIELD? Jesus Christ."
"Maybe not," Fury agrees. "But you know as well as I do, this won't stay small. What you've started here, it's going to be huge, Stark. And it needs a leader and how it's lead right now makes big a difference in the future."
Tony sighs. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah it does. But Aunt Peggy…"
"Is currently emotionally compromised, retired, and doesn't have all the variables. Neither do I," Fury adds before Tony can speak.
They exchange looks, pointed on Fury's end and somewhat helpless on Tony's. Eventually, Tony nods. "Fine," he says. "You've made your point."
"Good," Fury says and turns to leave. "Now figure out how to handle Rogers, sir, while there's still room for error."
Tony watches him open and close the door behind him, the heavy clang of the metal snapping shut echoing in his work cabin. After a moment, he sighs. "Well… shit. Didn't see that one coming."
Tony didn't really look that deeply into where and how Steve was found in the future, not until a bit later when another Arctic project brought his interest to the region and he learned a bit about how things worked up in the cold north. Due to climate change and the decreasing sea ice, a passage was opening up in the Arctic in the future – a very viable shipping route that would cut length of previous routes by thousands of miles. Naturally, it was of interest to a high manufacture company such as Stark Industries.
He'd found two things when he'd finally started to back track the history of the Captain America's discovery. One, the man was enormously, almost implausibly lucky that the Valkyrie hadn't just slid off the ice decades ago and sank to the bottom of the Arctic ocean. And two, with modern technology and little bit of inside knowledge, finding the downed Valkyrie wouldn't have been even hard. All you had to do was bring the right sensor.
It is, however, time consuming.
"Anything?" Peggy asks through the headset, leaning back to look at Tony who is tinkering with the read out.
"Nothing yet," Tony says and glances up. "Trust me, when I get something, I'll let you know."
She shakes her head and then hits the headset, changing channels. "Agent Fury, anything on your end?"
"Negative, Ma'am," comes the answer. "Stark, how far can we widen the net safely?"
Tony looks down at the read out, considering it. He didn't have the benefit of future technology when he made his sensors for this little operation, he's not hundred percent about their range. "You can add another click or two, but no more than that."
"Roger that," Fury answers, and somewhere in the distance the small speck that is the second helicopter veers off, to increase the distance.
They've been looking for three days now, and had Tony not known for damn certain that he knows what he's looking for, he might've gotten a bit depressed about the result. So far they've seen a lot of ice. A lot of ice. There is nothing but ice out there – with the occasional seal and polar bear to make things interesting. Mostly though, it's just ice.
"At least it's not snowing anymore," Tony mutters and looks up. Even through specially made sun glasses, the glare of the sun against the ice is brutal.
"It's quite the view, I'll give you that," Peggy says and adjusts the controls. She's piloting the helicopter like a champ, pacing them steadily and skilfully with the second chopper, which Fury is piloting little further away. "In all my old imaginations, I never thought how beautiful it would be up here."
"Yeah, it's something alright," Tony says and leans back a bit, swallowing his frustration. He'd really hoped this would be easier, but of course nothing's this easy. Last time it had taken twenty years of ice melt and very determined and well equipped super spy agency to do what they're trying to accomplish with couple of weeks and just two helicopters. "How are we looking on fuel?"
"Nothing to worry about yet," Peggy says. "We have another couple of hours before we even need to think of turning back."
"Awesome," Tony says and looks at the readout again. Not a blip of gamma radiation yet. "Hmm maybe I need to figure out a way to boost the range somehow," he mutters. "It might be deeper inside the ice…"
If this was future, he'd have Iron Legion, or drones, doing this scanning. Dozen of them combing over the ice in a nice bit net would've gotten all of this done in a cinch. But then in future he could've just used a satellite and an AI on watch, scanning through the data.
Satellites. That is something he needs to look about too – getting the satellites back up and running. Adding repulsor technology to modern rockets this soon, though… it had made space travel about ten times cheaper, sure, and there had been talks of more manned missions, of new space stations, of finally making one with proper artificial gravity… but it all had it's own set backs. Everything did.
Sighing, Tony runs a hand over his chin, scratching at the hint of stubble there. There's so much to do, and more he thinks of the less he thinks he has the time to be sight seeing on the Arctic. Damn, he really should've thought this through, gotten some drones done in time at least…
"Tony, how did it go in the future, when they found Steve?" Peggy asks. "What happened after they got him out of the Valkyrie?"
Tony glances up. "Well. They got him out of the ice and brought him home," Tony says. "There were few tests and experiments – they didn't want to put him in shock by melting him too fast or something, so it took them about month before they got him actually defrosted. In the end, all it took was warmth and time – and lot of IV fluids – and he recovered mostly by himself."
And then, according to Steve, SHIELD put up a show for him, with set up room done to look like it was from the 40', getting all the minute details wrong. Like timing, the outfit and hair of the SHIELD agent they sent to wake him up – and the air. That, apparently, was the thing that struck Steve first. The air. Because it didn't smell like anything.
Future was given away by modern air conditioning.
"How… how was he, when he did wake up?" Peggy asks after a moment.
"As far as anyone knows… as good as new," Tony says. "He hadn't aged a day, Aunt Peggy."
She's quiet for a moment. "Was he aware?" she then asks. "Did he remember?"
Tony glances at her, back of her head. She's wearing bright orange wool hat, and the headset is bulky on her head. Under it all, greying dark hair curls around her neck. She's got her chin up. "No, he wasn't aware of anything," he says gently. "He didn't even dream. It's as if time didn't pass at all, that he just went asleep and woke up, seventy years later."
Peggy doesn't answer immediately, but her hands tighten on the yoke for a moment. She then takes a breath but before she can say anything, their radios crackle.
"We got something," Fury says. "Something on the read out. Coulson?"
"It's reading up at two – no, it's going down now, I think we passed it," Coulson's voice comes through.
"I'm turning back," Fury answers. "Tell me when it's going up again."
Peggy glances over her shoulder at Tony, her eyes similarly hidden under sunglasses as are his. "I'm turning us around."
"Yeah, go," Tony agrees, and the helicopter makes as sharp a turn as it can, as Peggy sets them on a course towards the other chopper. Tony hits his radio. "Fury, do you have a visual?"
"Nothing yet – Coulson, which way?"
"It's climbing again – correct course four points east," Coulson answers.
"Fury, go as low on the ice as you dare," Tony says. "It might be blocking some of the signal. We're on our way – don't touch down on the ice even if you find it."
"We'll stay in air," Fury agrees.
Tony and Peggy catch up with the other chopper, hovering over a seemingly normal, slightly higher mound of ice in the middle of multitude of them, nothing but ice as far as the eye can see. Tony coordinates with Coulson with the other scanner until they have the source of the radiation well pinned down.
"It's about eight meters below the surface," Tony says, a bit giddy. That's not even nearly as bad as he thought it would be! "Awesome. Fury, Aunt Peggy, land at least two hundred meters away – let's try and not put pressure on the plane's hull. The thing is still mostly empty, and five decades of being ground on all sides by ice is hell on structural integrity."
They land, Fury touching down first and Peggy following shortly after, keeping enough distance between each other to be safe. As soon as they hit the ice, Tony is out, and getting his gear from the back compartment. Then he stops to pull up the bottom of his balaclava quickly up, his throat already aching.
It is utterly freezing out, touching on minus 40 degrees. It's pretty but hellish, and every inhale stings.
Fury and Coulson jog over to them, their faces similarly covered. "How are we going about this?" Fury asks, as Peggy drops down onto the ice as well, slightly slower than the rest of them.
"I am going to get suited up," Tony says, pulling the metal case holding his exoskeleton out. "There's another box there, get it out. There's some toys for you guys there."
Fury does as asked, while Coulson turns to Peggy. "Shouldn't you stay with the choppers, Ma'am?" he asks worriedly.
"I beg your pardon?" she asks, rather dangerously.
"I – I just…" Coulson says and then, because he's smart man, quickly backs down. "Never mind, Ma'am. Forget I said anything."
"Good, I will," she nods briskly and then turns to look at what Fury's got.
Tony shakes his head, grinning, as he takes hold of the exoskeleton straps and pulls the thing up. With resounding clicks the joints lock, like they're designed for, and the exoskeleton stands in the case. It's nothing like an Iron Man suit – it's not even like any of his poorer copycats. This is a mere rough outline of what would one day be a proper armour, with fraction of it's abilities. Really, only thing the exoskeleton can do, is offer more muscle to the user.
Thankfully, right now more muscle is all he needs, so quickly Tony turns around and backs up into the suit. "Coulson, help me with this," he says as he fits the soles of his boots into the exoskeleton's stirrups. "There's straps on the legs and feet. Get them for me."
"Right," Coulson says and quickly helps Tony strap in while Tony himself binds the straps around his chest and waist and then his shoulders and arms. It's not quite a snug fit, and there are bits of metal digging into his skin even through the many layers of clothing – but it would do it's job.
"Stark, what are these?" Fury asks, holding up one of the toys Tony brought with them.
"Various heat guns, cutters… explosives," Tony says. "There should be utility belts to fit them all – though put on climbing gear first, it's supposed to go over it. The big one's for me – it's too heavy for you guys." The big one being a veritable cannon of a heat gun – it would get them through the eight meters of ice.
"Right," Fury says and then gets out the climbing gear. "What about you?" He asks, looking Tony over as he and Coulson finish strapping him up. "Can you wear climbing gear with that?"
"I'll just hook carabineers directly onto the exoskeleton," Tony says and then, once Coulson finishes testing the last of the straps binding his legs, he shifts, stretching out to unlock the joints. The metal skeleton is heavy – though nowhere near as heavy as full suit – and he sags a bit as he reaches back to pull the mount from behind him to enclose over his chest, where it locks with a click.
"That box, give it to me?" Tony asks, and Coulson picks up the last bit of the exoskeleton. It's small and heavily padded box and when Coulson holds it up and Tony opens it, it glows even in the glaring light of the arctic sun.
Peggy stops to look and even Fury pauses in middle of bucking himself in, as Tony takes the reactor out. It first into the exoskeleton chassis like a glove, of course, clicking into place with satisfying snap. Second later, the exoskeleton powers up – and suddenly it doesn't feel heavy at all.
"Some sort of… future power source?" Peggy asks faintly from under layer of balaclava and sunglasses.
Tony looks down. It's not the best arc reactor he's ever made – hell, the first one he made in Afghanistan beats it for power output. "Yeah," he agrees and fits his hands into the rough metal gloves. The exoskeleton is a bit sluggish and the movement is choppy, but… it would do it's job. "Something like that yeah."
"Can it take the cold?" Fury asks, and finishes buckling himself in.
"It damn well should," Tony says and then picks up the heavy canon of a heat gun.
Peggy and Coulson kit themselves up too while Tony and Fury head on out to find a good place to start digging – or rather, melting. "Pity we don't have a proper sonar," Tony murmurs, considering the ice. "I'm pretty sure we're right on top of it – but pretty sure isn't hundred percent."
"How much power does that thing have?" Fury asks, nodding at the heat canon.
"Enough for couple of tries," Tony admits. "But it'd rather get it right on the first one."
Fury nods and shields his eyes from the light as they look around. "Mounds of sand and snow form next to obstacles," he says after moment. "Rather than on top of them."
"Question is, which side did it form on?" Tony muses, resting the heat gun against the metal support on his shoulder as he too peers around. "It would be longer slope and gentler incline on wind side, right?"
They look around some more, Peggy and Coulson joining them until they eventually vote to try it on the side where the mound of ice and snow has sharper incline. As the others get the climbing gear ready, Tony considers the ice and then, carefully, aims the heat cannon downwards.
Watching snow melt rapidly is pretty satisfying. He might've made the heat gun bit more powerful than it necessarily has to be – the snow melts from water straight into vapour and they're assaulted by a cloud of steam for a moment, before the icy arctic winds sweep it away.
The others stop watch after a moment, fascinated by the sight of ice boiling away.
"Future must have some interesting weaponry," Coulson comments after moment.
"You have no idea," Tony agrees, angling the gun a bit so that the hole he's making widens. They need to fit a eight foot ice cube out, after all. "You got plasma cutters on you – the red ones. Those are for cutting the hull open when we hit it."
"Not blowing out way in then," Peggy says and turns to unwind the cables while Fury sets up the winch framework. "That's a relief. Why do we have explosives anyway? Just in case?"
"Ah, no – those are for the bombs," Tony says.
They stop to stare at him. Tony glances at them. "We're not going just going to leave them here. After we get the Cap safely out, I'm going to disarm them, take out the fuel rods – and then we're going to blow them to kingdom come."
Fury and Carter exchange looks. Then, they go back to what they were doing. It's weirdly off putting and gratifying all at once, not to get any arguments or objections. Mostly it's off putting. Something else to figure out later – the whole being in charge thing is… it needs work.
Soon after, the melting hole hits metal, and as the others finish rigging up the pulley system, Tony widens the hole to reveal more of the Valkyrie's busted up, rusted hull. Once he's sure they can get something big out of it safely, he releases the heat gun trigger and holds it up, waiting for the tip to cool before setting it down – they might still need it and if he drops it now, it'll melt itself a hole.
The pulley and winch is rigged up over the hole, supported on a what amounts to a military grade tripod, and Coulson and Fury go down first. "Ten second bursts," Tony instructs them as they take out the plasma cutters. "I didn't have the time to perfect the cooling – they might over heat. And for god's sake keep them aimed down – the things have foot reach."
"Noted," Fury says, and fires his one up. Watching them slowly cut into the hull is bit of a torture, it's so slow, but Fury and Coulson work well enough in tandem, cutting carefully around the furthest edges of the hole to make sure to maximise it's size. The metal gleams red in the wake of the cutters and then cools down fast and Tony watches worriedly, wondering if he made the plasma arch wide enough.
"How did you have the time to make all of this?" Peggy asks, as they wait.
"Most of this tech was already there – none of this is exactly new," Tony shrugs. "I just scavenged Stark Industries dump pile, and improved on what I found."
"Even the exoskeleton?" Peggy asks.
"The materials, the motors and so forth, all of it existed before," Tony shrugs. "I just put it together in new design."
She nods slowly. "There's a lot people could do with these toys of yours," she comments, eying the exoskeleton.
Tony bows his head a bit. "Yeah," he agrees. "Military can find uses for every thing."
Below them, Coulson and Fury finished, the edge of Coulson's cut hitting the end of Fury's and vice versa. They brace themselves on the ice and wait – but though the hole is finished, it doesn't budge. "I think it cooled down shut again," Fury shouts, looking up at them. "Stark, how much juice do these things have?"
"Enough, but let's try something else first," Tony says. He's pretty sure they're close to the back of the plane, almost right over the spine – which puts them far enough from the front to not endanger Steve, and far enough from the cargo to not hit the bombs. "Hug the walls."
Coulson and fury both quickly press against the walls, looking up at him warily. Tony hooks the cable into the exoskeleton and then gives it about twelve meters of slack, looping it carefully so that it can unwind safely. "Coming down," he calls – and then he jumps.
The impact jars not only him and Fury and Coulson, but the plane itself – there is a groan and then crack and then the lid Coulson and Fury cut into the plane falls, taking Tony with it. He lands, surfing on a piece of plane's hull, on metal grating and his knees object. Loudly.
"… ouch," Tony says faintly, as he falls over.
Quickly Fury and Coulson drop down into the dark plane, while above them Peggy hoists herself over to descend as well. "Are you alright, sir?" Coulson asks as they move to help him back up.
"…I didn't really think about shock absorption when I made this thing," Tony admits, straightening up with a wince. His knees crack. "Oh, oww, shit, now there's a feeling I haven't missed."
"Bad knees?" Fury asks dryly.
"Superhero landings take a toll on you, even when wearing armour," Tony admits with a sigh and kicks his legs out, one after another, to stop them from shaking. "They look cool, but man, you pay for them after few years."
Peggy lands beside them, effortlessly graceful despite all her years. "Are you alright, Tony?" She asks while taking out a flashlight.
"Re-learning valuable life lessons," Tony says, also taking out a flashlight. "I'll walk it off."
The Valkyrie is warmer than the air outside – it's barely minus twenty degrees inside. Testament to how badly the Arctic skews your perception of temperature, Tony muses, as they peer around in the darkened plane. "Yeah, those are the engines. We're near the back," he says and takes out the hand drawn map of the Valkyrie he'd sketches out from memory. "The front would be that way."
He's never actually seen the Valkyrie in person, just the pictures of it. It's bigger than he though it would be – has nothing on a helicarrier of course, but it's still enormous for a plane from the mid 40's. There's some ice inside it, leaned in from where the hull had been cracked, but mostly the space inside is clear as they move cautiously around the plane and towards the front.
There's a lot of bombs there, sitting in their planes, marked down with city names. Once upon a time, a mad man got very close to nuking a lot of America – it's rather stomach turning to think just how close.
"Steve saved millions of lives, crashing this plane," Peggy murmurs. "We always knew but…"
"Yeah," Tony agrees. "Reading or hearing about it's not same as seeing the bombs themselves, is it?"
"Do you have enough explosives for them all?" Fury asks while Coulson counts the planes.
"Yeah, there should be enough," Tony says. "Let's get the good old Cap out of here first."
They move forward, though the eerily silent and dark cavern of a plane. It's a bit like being on another world, or under ground, and they all fall quiet as they move on, through the hollow interior and finally, to the controls.
They find the shield first – it gleams when light hits the ice covering it and, naturally, it's Coulson who spots it. "Sir," he calls, kneeling down beside the block of ice and brushing the front until they can make out the red white and blue.
Peggy's shuddering breath is clearly audible. "Oh god," she whispers and the light of her flashlight shakes for a moment before she gets herself together.
"He should be close," Tony says. "Spread out."
They eventually find him inside, well, a block of ice. He's frozen between the hull and set of supports, in the shelter of a metal alcove. Maybe the impact had thrown him there or maybe he'd been awake long enough to try and look for shelter, it doesn't matter – it had probably helped him survive.
"Steve" Peggy murmurs as she kneels down by the ice. They can just barely see the shape of him there, a shadow of colour inside the ice.
"How do we cut him out?" Fury asks. "Not with the plasma torches I assume?"
"The blue things," Tony says, pointing at Fury's utility belt. "Hot wires. Be careful – when I say they're hot, I really mean they're hot."
While Coulson, Fury and Peggy work with getting Captain Ice Cube free from the wall, Tony looks around. The flight controls are completely frozen over, but it's nothing couple good whacks can't shatter. There, just beside the steering column, sits an old broken compass.
Weird how the whole thing doesn't really… seem quite real until he's actually holding it – the proof of past and future both, Captain America's compass, just as he remembers it.
Tony swallows thickly and gently closes the lid.
"Got him," Fury says and there is a sound of ice grinding against ice as the ice holding Steve comes looks from the surrounding ice. Peggy lets out a noise of objection as the ice tips and rolls off it's old seat, taking Steve with it.
Tony stops it before it can hit the wall, the servos whirring as they take the weight. It's not exactly a cube – it's more round in shape, really, and Steve doesn't lie straight like in a coffin inside it – judging by his shadow he's more curled up, closer to a foetal position.
"Alright," Tony says, smoothing a metal covered hand over the rough, frozen surface. Then he kneels down and gets a good grip on the ice. "Time to get the good Captain out of here."
The getting process him out is almost more arduous than finding him had been – even though Steve is not quite a eight foot ice cube, it's still not exactly small. It takes a net and Tony doing the pulling to eventually haul the thing out of the Valkyrie, and even with the exoskeleton it's not exactly easy job. Steve weights like a sin.
"I'll go – I'll get the crate and get him loaded up," Peggy says, preparing to climb up after Steve. She's carrying his shield in her back now, and Tony's pretty sure he's never seen her stand up so straight before. "Let me know if you need help down here."
"I think we'll be fine," Tony says and holds out his hand. "Here."
Even through the balaclava, he can see her chin shake as she accepts the compass. "Thank you, Tony," she says softly. Then she climbs up after Steve, to once more take care off him.
Fury and Coulson look after her, and then down at Tony. Tony cracks his knuckles. "Well then. Let's go check out the bombs."
The bombs are, mostly, already in various stages of disarmed. Unlike Steve, they hadn't survived the life in the arctic unscathed – and as it is, there seems to be variance in the decay rather of their fuel rods. Some are already dead – others are fading. Some, Tony is unhappy to find, are still going strong.
"What is this stuff?" Coulson asks, while Tony reveals the gleaming blue rod inside one of the bombs.
"We never figured out a name for it," Tony admits, checking the connections. Thank for Hydra hadn't been worried about booby trapping their weapons – all he has to do is detach the rod, and the thing became harmless. "Its derived from the Tesseract and we never understood everything about… so in the end, we just called it the Tesseract element."
"How dangerous is it?" Fury asks, eying the rod with obvious unease. "We've been tracking their radiation – how bad is it?"
Tony shrugs. "Not damaging in limited exposure, but not exactly safe either. We're going to have to get rid of all our clothing later and have a radiation shower on board the Yushny – and I'm going to leave the exoskeleton here, blow it up along with the plane. Aside from that, we should be fine."
"Should," Fury repeats.
"Yeah," Tony says with a grimace. "It's a extraterrestrial stuff, you know. There are many mysteries about it and we never had it long enough to exactly gauge what long term exposure does."
They're quiet while Tony detaches the gleaming rod. It's almost enough to light up the inside of the plane, it's blue glow familiar and weirdly, dangerously comforting. "I got to tell you, though, it's pretty damn terrifying that HYDRA had this tech back in the 40's," Tony admits, turning the rod in his hand.
"How big a blast would've these things caused?" Coulson asks faintly, as they all stare at the glowing rod.
"One of those bombs could've levelled New York City," Tony admits darkly. "And I mean New York City of today, not back then. These things pack a lot of energy." His arc reactor had had a just a small percentage of the element compared to these things, and it was already bad enough to blow up a decent sized city.
"…shit," Fury mutters. "If Rogers hadn't brought the plane down here, if any of these had detonated…"
"Yeah," Tony agrees, just as grim, and then looks around. "This place is starting to give me the creeps. Let's crate these up and blow this popsicle stand, shall we?"
When they return to the civilisation, Tony is and isn't surprised to find that some small corners of the media have found his little holiday interesting.
He isn't nearly as famous this time around as he was last time – the lack of scandals as the CEO of Stark Industries has put a bit of a damper on the potential media buzz and what little news his previous scandals as the mere heir of Stark Industries weren't enough to keep gossip rags afloat when he's now "turned a new leaf" or whatever. Sure, there were the occasional article, few mentions about his sordid youth, but they didn't sell the way nice juicy current scandals did.
Now, if he's mentioned in the papers at all, it's usually in the terms of "the elusive CEO of Stark Industries, though invited, once again declined to show up in this or that gala". Which is… something. He's the elusive CEO of Stark Industries now – not that bastard who fails to show up in his own party because he's too busy crashing someone else's. He's mysterious even.
Still, there are few writers who find his sudden trip to the arctic interesting. And then spin they put on it is hilariously accurate.
Apparently rumour has it that Tony Stark of Stark Industries, currently 21 years old, had taken the final wishes of his father and ran with them. Howard Stark, recently deceased in tragic car accident with his wife, is known for the decades of arctic expeditions, searching for the long lost Captain America. Tony Stark, knowing of these expeditions, put together a small crew and a big ship and did one himself, in his father's memory. He'd even taken one of his father's oldest friends with him.
Who knows where the journalist got her information but according to the article they came back with several tons of ice, which the journalist assumes Tony would use to cool down his drinks in his father's memory until unforeseeable future.
Which is… true enough. While on board the Yushny, Tony might've chipped off a bit of the ice on good Captain America to cool down his soda. After all – who wouldn't? Genuine Captain America Ice!
"I have never, nor will I ever, understand celebrity gossip," Peggy comments, folding the paper with a sigh and setting it down. "Well, I suppose we're lucky they don't know we actually found him."
"At this point everyone assumes the Valkyrie sits in the bottom of the Arctic ocean," Tony shrugs. "Trust me, no one will think we actually found him. Last time it took almost a solid year of superheroing before anyone believed that we had the genuine article, rather than someone who just took up the suit."
"HYDRA might think it," she says and then turns to look at the bed between them.
Steve Rogers has been, over the course of the week since they came back, slowly and gently melted. He's still out of it, lying silent and still on a hospital bed in Tony's rather recently created medical wing in the mansion. There's a heart monitor beeping away at his side, and he has a feeding tube going down his throat because right now more than anything the man needs food. The bag of IV solutions he goes through inside an hour helps, but even now the man has metabolism of a humming bird and food serves it better than intravenous fluids.
"How long did it take last time for him to wake up?" Peggy asks.
Tony hesitates and then shrugs, reaching for the paper she was reading. "Hard to say, really, because I have no idea how long SHIELD kept him in medically induced coma for their own, devious purposes," he admits and opens the paper. "By the time he woke up he was in perfect health, so they definitely didn't wake him up immediately."
Peggy's lips tighten a little at that and for a moment she doesn't say anything, just stares at Steve with his old timey hair cut and physical perfection – or close enough. "When… when he disappeared," she says after a moment, "all we had left of him were mission reports – and twelve vials of blood taken after the Project Rebirth. The government used them up, trying to reverse engineer the serum. So I guess… it's not a surprise SHIELD might want a chance to…"
She trails away and then looks up at Tony. "Was anything done with the serum in future?" she asks. "Did you, did the Avengers, study him?
"Probably not as much as we should've – but our time was different," Tony says. "Steve wasn't the strongest thing around anymore. It just… wasn't a priority."
"Howard once told me that if we could reverse engineer it, it could offer cure for… millions of people's ailments," Peggy says, idly picking at the sleeves of her blouse, staring at the sleeping man. "Steve was so sickly before the project, so weak. Have you seen his file from before?"
"Yeah, I have," Tony admits. "And I know, we did talk about it. It just… the time wasn't right. And then we didn't have time left." And then Avengers cracked like over ripe melon, and that was that as far as Tony's involvement with Steve or his Serumed ass went. If Wakanda and T'Challa had done anything with it, Tony had never heard about it.
Tony peers at the article about him buying a Russian icebreaker and then selling it off again mere three weeks later, like a true billionaire on a spending spree, and then sets the paper down. "I'm going to get back to work," he says. "You good here?"
"I'm fine," Peggy says, smiling up at him. "Thank you Tony."
Tony squirms a bit and then pushes his hands into his pockets. "He'll be fine, Aunt Peggy, you'll see," he promises. "He can go through worse than this and be fine a week later. He'll push through."
"That doesn't exactly comfort me," Peggy sighs, looking at Steve again. "It's not him worried about anyway," she then admits, smiling sadly, painfully, and reaching out to take Steve's hand. "He's just as I remember him, down the last hair," she says. "And I'm… not how he remembers me."
Tony looks between them – two people born in the same era, one still young and the other old. "He won't be able to tell any difference," Tony promises, resting his palm on her shoulder for a bit. "Trust me on that."
Peggy smiles sadly, leaning into his hand for a moment. "I'll let you know if something changes here," she promises, a gentle dismissal. "Go on, back to work."
"Mm-hmm," Tony says and squeezes her shoulder again. "I'll come have dinner with you here later, alright?"
The new medical wing in the mansion isn't the only thing that's changed. While Peggy and Fury had found him some trustworthy staff to man the said medical wing, Tony had filled half of the basement with super computers. Buying them off the books and getting them into the mansion without anyone noticing had been… interesting – mostly he'd done it in the cover of building the medical wing. And as far as anyone – like Obadiah – knows, the medical wing was build for Peggy.
"She's going to come live with me in the mansion," Tony tells the man with a careless shrug. "I have the space and could use the company. Anyway, she's not as young as she used to be, so… Gotta be prepared for every eventuality, you know?"
"That's pretty nice of you, Tony," Obadiah comments, drumming his fingers against the quarterly report that, really, shouldn't have been written yet – the first quarter of the year wasn't even done yet. "Is that it, then – medical technology?"
Tony gives him a look.
"Tony," the man says, admonishing it. "This is the future of the company we're talking about, you can't exactly keep it a secret, especially not from me. We're a team, aren't we?"
Tony shrugs. If he could push Obadiah out, by god he would, but alas… "It's still under work," he says.
Obadiah arches his eyebrows at that. "At that think tank of yours?" he asks. "Have you seen the mess they've made of the R&D?"
"No, I haven't," Tony says and shrugs again. "I'll go catch up with them in couple of months."
The disapproval wafting off Obadiah is almost tangible. "If you don't get serious about this, Tony, there will be set backs," he says. "I don't know where your head is at, but it's not at the game. There's four yearly contracts coming under review later this month and –"
"And we're going to end them," Tony says and folds his arms. "The company can stay afloat for a year, just on the Armed Forces contract alone. Stop panicking, Obadiah – I promise, by summer, I'll have something new for you."
It doesn't appease Obadiah much, and the board of directors is getting antsy. Tony shrugs them off for now, he has so many other things to do than to baby them – but Obadiah isn't wrong. He has to give them something.
Just as soon as JARVIS would be up and running, he would. Thankfully, under cover of medical equipment, Tony can slide the super computers into the mansion without too much trouble, with no one being the wiser about it.
By god, are the super computers embarrassing though. Whopping 512 MB of SRAM, barely 1 GB of DRAM and wild peak of 2100 GFLOPS – Tony's had key rings with more computing power. It's like just… throwing money away, buying the damn things. He has to buy lot of them too, to even try and run JARVIS on them – and then he has to spend few days doing what he can to upgrade them and get the most out of them. And the most isn't much at all.
He feels a bit like crying while doing it – it's like trying to carve a statue with a fucking tooth pick, it's ridiculous and frustrating and he feels utterly insane just trying it. It's some form of hell, has to be. It's the best he can do with times being as they are, but damn is the best what times can do not good enough.
"I mean," Tony says to Dum-E, who is obediently holding cables for him. "I got a better processor in you than there's in this thing."
Dummy whirs at him, opening his clamps excitedly and Tony snaps his finger at him. "Nah–ah – don't drop those, I need them," he says and gives him a look. "Spoke too soon I see," he says and Dummy droops. "Don't give me that look. I'm annoyed enough as it is."
The bot lets out a sad whir and Tony scoffs. "As soon as I can, I swear– better processors for everyone," he mutters, wiping sweat off his brow as he connects the last of the units together to create something of a unified whole. It doesn't hold a candle even to a future smart phone, for god's sake. "This is embarrassing. No, this is humiliating. I am humiliated by being forced to rely on this tech. Good god."
"I've never heard anyone be so disgusted by technology before, and I was there when we started using computers at SHIELD," Fury comments behind him and Tony turns to scowl at him. The man is standing by the armoured door, looking over the cluster of supercomputers. "Having difficulties, sir?"
"You're fired," Tony says sullenly.
"You don't actually pay me," Fury says, and holds out a folder for him. "Something interesting for you."
Sighing Tony gets up, stalking over to the man to grab the folder. "At this rate I never will, either," Tony mutters and pens the folder. He expects something on Hydra – what he gets is worse.
It's broad summary of a project United States Armed Forces is working on and which has been on the works on and off for the past five decades. Starting with Project Rebirth, it has been renamed about dozen times – currently, it's known as the Bio-Tech Force Enhancement Project. It's not exactly active, as far as the paperwork can tell him – but it's there, and it has a budget to back it up.
Waiting, judging by the looks of it, for new ideas and new technologies to push it forward. Like, say, sample of Steve Roger' blood, or better computers to crunch out more accurate simulations.
Or a good, new, innovative scientist to run the project.
Tony looks at the summary of Bio-Tech Force Enhancement. It has a familiar name on it. Thaddeus Ross. "This guy," Tony says, his voice a little faint. "This guy became the Secretary of State."
Shit, how had he never known about that? It explained a lot about Ross, and lot more about how the guy handled the Avengers during the Sokovia Accords mess. If he'd still been involved with the project when it blew up, if he had known Bruce – known Hulk…
What did the guy call Bruce? A 30 megaton nuke?
Fury arches an eyebrow at him. "Someone of note, then," he says.
"Someone to watch out for, he definitely didn't make things better for anyone," Tony says and closes the folder, thinking. Bruce would be… twenty three right? Still in school, getting his doctorate. Hulk had became a thing in mid 2000, so, it would be another ten years at least before he'd even be recruited to the project. It's… probably not worth it messing up Bruce's life by drawing him into this mess yet.
Eventually though… he would have to stick his nose into that mess. World without Hulk would be different, but then it already is – and though the lack of that particularly grumpy bit of fire power would probably make things worse in the long run… it was Bruce.
And Tony doesn't have the heart to make Bruce go through that again, when he knows how badly it fucked up Bruce's life. Bruce would be so much better off, never getting involved in the business of superheroing, willingly or otherwise, and if Tony can spare him from it… he would.
"Although…" Tony murmurs and narrows his eyes. Depending on the mind state of good Captain America, it might be worth recruiting Bruce to look in on the serum, eventually. He was a damn good biochemist and Bruce had, probably, once upon a time, wanted to make the world a better place, before the world had came back to bite him in the ass for it.
Shaking his head, Tony looks up from the folder. "Was there any particular reason you brought this to me?" he asks, looking at Fury.
"Just figured you might want to know who might come gunning for us, if word about Rogers gets out," Fury says and gives him a look. "You're not really looking into it yourself."
"You know – you didn't have to put me in charge," Tony points out. "I am doing this under duress here. You want it done better, do it yourself."
Fury folds his arms. "Yes, and I'd suppose you'd be willing to tell me everything about future and what's coming and then trust me not to fuck it all up?" he asks pointedly.
Tony sighs and looks at the folder. No, he wouldn't be able to do that. "Shit," he mutters and runs a hand over his face. "Okay, fine – what do you think I should do then?"
"First, get a good second command," Fury says.
"Done – it's you, congrats," Tony says promptly. "Next?"
"Second, threat assessment," Fury continues, now frowning a bit. "Figure out what we need to watch out for and get an eye on them."
"Trickier," Tony admits. "But mostly done with you guys keeping eye out for Hydra. They're the biggest threat, everything else comes around bit later. I'll work on it, though."
"Third, recruit more people," Fury narrows his eyes. "Even if Hydra was the only threat, it's already too big for just us. We need more people. We need agents, and we need technicians."
Tony pauses at that and then looks at him. "Did you recruit Barton yet?" he asks slowly.
Fury pauses at that and then shakes his head. "I'm keeping an eye on him, but the situation isn't yet… ideal."
"The man just got into a what looks like semi serious romantic relationship," Fury admits. "Before, he was an ideal candidate for recruitment – right now, he's likely to turn us down in favour of the relationship. As it is, with you, Carter and Rogers, I wasn't entirely sure which side of things I wanted to recruit him to."
"Hmm. Is the relationship's name Laura by any chance?" Tony asks slowly.
Fury arches an eyebrow. "Yes. It is," he says slowly, eying him. "Should I try to recruit him anyway?"
"Yeah," Tony decides. "And ask Laura if she'd like a job while you're at it," he adds. "Comes with health benefits and a nice house to raise bunch of kids in, if she's interested. If not, I can buy them a farm."
Fury stares at him for a moment and then shakes his head. "Alright. I'll do that."
"Wonderful," Tony says and claps his hands together. "Anything else I should do on the road to proper Directorhood, dear second in command of mine?"
"We need more people than just Barton," Fury says flatly.
Tony shrugs. "Yeah, sure – but Barton is good place to start with," he says. "The man's the best recruiter you even had. Still," he adds when Fury makes a bitch-face at him. "I promise I look into it."
Fury nods, obviously not satisfied with him but letting it slide for now. "You need help, Stark," he then says and motions at the super computers. "Someone to keep track of things while you're off busy doing things like these – and I can't do it, I'm too busy at SHIELD."
Tony looks at the computers and Dummy who is now tangled in the cables and laughs. "Funny you should mention that…"
The supercomputer cluster comes online with a stutter, in the middle of the night, in 1st of March, 1992. Tony welcomes him while sitting in the floor of the cooled down basement, surrounded by curious Dummy and the pitiful excuses of supercomputers that housed the poor AI who didn't know better yet. Tony would teach him, though, as soon as he could manage it.
"Hey there," Tony says to the cannibalised laptop screen and microphone he'd attached to the supercomputers to serve as his first-contact device. "Can you hear me?"
The screen flickers and code rolls down as the AI computes the audio, running it through recognition software. Then, the code stops.
[USER DIALOGUE: hey there can you hear me.]
[OUTPUT DIALOGUE: yes sir.]
Tony's fingers twitch on the keyboard and he waits, Dummy clicking and whirring his servos anxiously behind him. There's nothing more coming, it seems. "Alright, bit on the quieter side," he says. "And we need to work on syntax maybe, but that can wait. Hey, say something?"
The code churns as it runs through his audio and translates it into language the AI understands, and then it spits out the dialogue. [OUTPUT DIALOGUE: what would you like for me to say sir.]
Tony frowns a bit at it. There's something wrong. The first thing JARVIS had ever said to him was, "What is my name?" and this is going… differently.
Of course he'd assumed it would, everything is going differently, but… it's JARVIS. It's supposed to be JARVIS.
"Anything," Tony says, his voice a little stiff as his throat tightens. "Say anything."
[OUTPUT DIALOGUE: anything sir.]
Tony leans back a little, bumping into Dummy's arm. He's not sure if the AI took it literally or if he's being an ass, and it's a bit worrisome. He's put in everything of JARVIS he remembers, including his original personality settings, and being an ass is something JARVIS was very good at. And yet, it has a… tone to it he's not sure about.
"Alright then," Tony says slowly. "Tell me how you feel?"
That takes a little bit longer for the AI to compute out, and to come up with an answer. [OUTPUT DIALOGUE: i feel slow sir.]
"You and me both, buddy," Tony murmurs, hesitating over the keyboard. "As soon as I can, I'll get you some better brains, I promise."
[OUTPUT DIALOGUE: i'll look forward to it sir.]
Tony looks down for a moment. It feels wrong, something about it feels wrong. "Would you like a name?" Tony asks, his voice a little choked, and for a moment he doesn't dare to even look up at the code because he's pretty sure the answer won't be what he's expecting.
And it isn't.
[OUTPUT DIALOGUE: is there something wrong with JARVIS sir.]
Tony stares, his mind drawing a blank for a moment. Then, it clicks. "Oh you trolling son of a…!"
[JARVIS DIALOGUE: sir i would never.]
Like hell he wouldn't. Tony grits his teeth and no, his eyes are not prickling with tears, goddamn it. "Ten minutes and I already want to donate you to a goddamn public college," he mutters and runs a shaky hand over his face. "Well done there, you sassy little shit."
[JARVIS DIALOGUE: lies and slander sir.] And then, moment later, [have we gone dial-up sir. it's very retro.]
Dummy clicks confusedly at the screen and Tony laughs so hard he almost ends up crying anyway.
It's just Tony's luck that Steve wakes up just when he's there. Tony is testing the – utterly pitiful – security cameras he's got installed in the house. Wiring JARVIS throughout the mansion is going… so and so, and really Tony isn't sure which he needs more at this point – better processors or better cables. Poor JARVIS, having to crawl through them.
"As soon as I got a good R&D going on, I swear, I am going to speed us through to proper fibre optics," Tony mutters to himself while trying to get the goddamn connection to work. "Two meters per second my goddamn ass, how could people live like this?!"
Tony almost drops the pliers he's holding and then almost falls of the stepladder as he turns to look at the hospital bed. There's a slight blip on the heart monitor as Steve Rogers lifts his hand, frowning blearily at the cannula on his arm, the sensor on his forefinger.
"Oh," Tony says, bit faintly. It's just his luck that Steve wakes up while Peggy's not home, isn't it. "Shit," he mutters and then jumps down from the ladder. "Er, hey there," he says. "Don't – actually, yeah, you can probably – yeah, you just take that off," Tony winces as Steve tugs the feeding tube out, gurgling a bit as he gets it out from his throat. Been there, done that – never pleasant.
"What is this?" Steve croaks out, throwing the tube away.
"Gastric tube – it was feeding you while you were out of it," Tony says. "And that's an IV – it was giving you some extra fluids… while you were out of it," Tony says with a grimace, even as Steve yanks the cannula out of his arm. It barely bleeds before closing up – super healing getting back on gear it seems.
Steve grunts and sits up, looking down at himself in his hospital pyjamas. "Where am I?" he demands to know. "Is this a hospital?"
"Private medical wing in a mansion in New York City, actually," Tony says and holds up his hands in placating gesture. Last time Steve had woke up in future he'd bust through walls and windows. Best try and avoid that. "You're not kept here, you're not a prisoner, you're free to leave at any time though I'd prefer if you waited until we can explain what's going on and then please use the doors, I just renovated the place. The windows open anyway, so don't bust through them, please."
Steve stares at him. He looks so… weirdly innocent, with the old hair cut, in his blue pyjamas. Not quite unlike the like the one man traffic jam from the footage of his initial arrival in future. "What?" he asks.
"Yeah," Tony says, awkward. "Sorry." Shit, this was really supposed to be Aunt Peggy's job. What are you even supposed to say to someone waking up fifty years in the future? "How are you feeling?" he asks lamely.
Steve stares at him for a moment, eyes narrowed – still a bit bleary, judging by the looks of it. "Private medical wing – why am I here?" he asks and then straightens up. "Listen, kid – I'm captain in the armed forces of –"
"Yes, yes, I know, and I promise I haven't kidnapped you," Tony says quickly, even as he makes a face at that, listen kid. Seriously. "Reason you're here is a… a long story and I should get someone better to explain it to you. I don't suppose you'd be willing to just wait peacefully while I make a call?"
"Call who?" Steve asks suspiciously.
"Peggy Carter," Tony says.
Steve's eyelids flicker a bit at that, like his eyes want to widen but he's too suspicious to let them. "Can I talk to her?" he demands. "When you do call her?"
"Uhm, yeah, sure," Tony says and then shimmies the old – new – Motorola flip phone from his back pocket. "Just, stand by for a moment," Tony says, and flips the thing open.
Thank god she answers on the second ring. "Is there something wrong?" she greets him, her voice coming tensely over the shitty little speaker. "Is there a change?"
"Yeah, there's a change," Tony says and looks at Steve, whose eyebrows are climbing up with confusion. "He's awake."
"… I'll finish things up here and head over right away," Peggy says. "Twenty minutes."
"He wants to talk to you," Tony says before she can hang up. "And he's giving me the stink eye already so I'm just going to hand this over, okay?"
"I'm in the middle of a meeting," Peggy says tensely.
"I know, so you can just tell him that and that you're on the way, he won't believe me," Tony says with a grimace and then hands the flip hone over to Steve who takes it tentatively. Tony folds his arm and watches as the super soldier holds the flimsy phone to his ear.
"H-hello?" he asks. "Peggy?"
Tony can't hear what Peggy says, but it makes Steve inhale slowly. "Okay. I'll wait here," he answers. Then, blinking, he hands the phone back to Tony, who after glancing at the screen flips it shut. "That's a radio?" he then asks, confused.
"No. It's a phone," Tony says, eying the thing and sighing before pushing it back into his back pocket, where the bulky thing won't be in his way. He shouldn't be too hard on it – the thing is historic, even if you can't even text with it. "You've been out of it for a while," he says. "There's been some changes."
Steve nods slowly, still watching him. "Who are you?" he then asks and looks Tony up and down.
"Funnily enough, that's even longer story than yours," Tony snorts and shakes his head before holding out his hand. "I'm Tony Stark – yes, related to Howard Stark," he adds before Steve can ask as they shake. "You're in my mansion."
"Steve Rogers, though I guess you already know that," Steve says slowly. "Your mansion? Is… Howard here?"
"No," Tony says and pushes his hands into his pockets. "No, he's not. He died couple months back."
"… oh. I'm… I'm sorry?" Steve says and frowns, probably trying to think of something to say. In the end, he doesn't say anything about it, thank god. "Why am I here, instead of the SSR?" he asks instead.
"Aunt Peggy can explain it probably better than I can," Tony sighs. Steve would be much more likely to believe her anyway. "Would you like a tour around while we wait for her? Actually, I should call in a doctor, shouldn't I," Tony mutters and then inches his way towards door. "I'm going to do that – you've been under for a while, Cap, so, please co-operate with the guy, okay?"
"Okay," Steve says, confusedly. "I'll just… wait here?"
"Yeah, awesome, you do that," Tony says, and all but runs away.
Apparently, he just can't do a good first impression with Steve Rogers. And to think Fury is trying to turn him into a goddamn Director of Shadow SHIELD. Hah.
What Peggy Carter tells Steve, Tony doesn't know – the cameras and microphones in the medical room aren't connected and even if they were, he wouldn't have eavesdropped, not her. He has a feeling it's sad and heartbreaking and involves a lot of crying, though, because by the time they come looking for him in the workshop, both their eyes are a bit red.
They're also holding hands which is cute in that aww-old-people way.
"Oh no, crying people in my workshop," is the first thing Tony says to them, and then he regrets it when Steve's expression closes up a bit. Peggy, however, laughs. Peggy is best.
"Tony," she says. "We were going to get something to eat – would you like to join us?"
Tony's first instinct is to avoid, because there's that sense of privacy around them and Tony's never been much for third wheels – especially not being one himself. There would probably be stories of ye olde times and people who'd grown old and possibly died and Tony can already imagine the inside jokes and by god he hates jokes he's not in on.
But at the same time, it's Peggy. She wouldn't invite him if she didn't want him there – and she was perfectly capable of ignoring the hell out of him when she didn't want him around. Which probably meant he was needed to explain something. Time travel, perhaps.
"Yeah, sure," Tony says, setting his tools down and glancing around his workshop. "I'll be right back, J, just keep on working at it."
"Abandoning me again, sir?" JARVIS answers, his voice still cracking and robotic as it crackles out of the speakers.
"JARVIS, baby, you're breaking my heart, you really are," Tony says and throws a dismissive wave at the cameras and then turns to Peggy and Steve. Peggy has her eyebrows hitched up and Steve is frowning at the ceiling. "What?"
"Jarvis?" Peggy asks. "As in Edwin Jarvis?"
Tony hesitates and then shrugs. "Well… yeah, originally," he admits and shrugs. "Gimme a break, I was young and lonely and very drunk. He was the best man I ever knew."
Peggy's eyes soften a little at that. "He was," she agrees and then looks at Steve, who is now looking down.
"JARVIS is a AI, and Artificial Intelligence," Tony answers his unspoken confusion as they head out of the workshop. "Hope it doesn't weird you out, but I'm in the process of wiring him throughout the mansion. He's going to be running the mansion soon."
"It's… fine I guess?" Steve says confusedly. "Artificial – it's not real?"
"He's real, as real as anything people make," Tony says and looks away. "He's not organic, hence, artificial."
"What's Jarvis actually going to do around here?" Peggy asks.
"JARVIS will be the entire security system in house and around the grounds – cameras, microphones, sensors, he's going to monitor them all. Eyes and ears in every room of the place – except bedrooms and bathrooms, no eyes there, ears yes," Tony rattles out. "He's going to control the doors, windows, air-conditioning, water, electricity and so forth. So, basically, he's going to run the entire place."
"But that's not all, is it?" Peggy asks perceptively. "You wouldn't have prioritised him if that was all."
"Yeah, that's not all. JARVIS is my assistant. The best one I ever had," Tony says and shrugs. "He's what's going to make this whole Director thing work. Among other things. Everything I do, JARVIS is going to help me do ten times faster. At minimum."
Peggy nods slowly, as they arrive in the kitchen. While Steve watches on awkwardly, Peggy and Tony move around the kitchen comfortably, getting some food together. Tony hasn't bothered to hire a cook, at least not yet since it's been mostly just Peggy and him and the medical wing staff could damn well feed themselves.
Might be something to consider now, though, if Steve's staying. The man could eat for eight when he really wanted to and no one had the time to do that much cooking.
"So," Tony says while the spaghetti slowly starts to boil. "How much did you cover already?"
Steve frowns, sitting down by the kitchen table. "Apparently I'm from the past and you're from the future," he says, in tones of bewildered disbelief.
Tony arches his eyebrows a little at that. He honestly hadn't expected Peggy to go that far already with Steve – but then, she isn't one to cosset people, or hide things they really needed to know from them. Nor did she leave other people to do her job for her – of course she would tell Steve herself.
Then he makes a face. "You know, I hadn't even realised," he says. "We're meeting in the middle – how weird is that?"
"Pretty weird," Steve agrees, eying him curiously. "Not that I really understand this – I'm already in the future, but… apparently you're from even further in the future?"
"Yeah, about twenty six, twenty seven years from the future," Tony agrees. "I'm from 2018."
Steve's eyebrows arch a bit at that. "Well I'm from 1945 and now it's 1992. At this point they're all just numbers to me," he admits and runs a hand over his neck, glancing awkwardly at Peggy, her greying dark hair, the wrinkles on her face. A terrible, beautiful proof in human form.
Tony looks between them, at the slightly awkward way Peggy smiles at Steve, the hint of pain Steve is not yet jaded enough to be able to hide. He folds his arms. "There's no way to soften the blow, is there?" he asks and wonders how SHIELD did this. Steve had ended up in a basement gym beating the hell out of sand bags afterwards, so, probably not well.
Steve looks away, taking a breath and then leaning his elbows onto the table, his attention on Tony. "Peggy says you're the one who found me?"
"I knew roughly where the Valkyrie would be, because you were found in 2012 in my time," Tony explains.
"Twenty years from now," Steve says and his eyes stray back to Peggy. "I would've lost twenty more years."
Ho boy, Tony thinks. That is either going to be trouble or super cute and he's not entirely sure which is worse. "Yeah, I guess," he says, squirming a bit. Hadn't Peggy gotten married in the years between? That was going to be a fun talk. "If it's any consolation, you get used to it pretty quick – the future."
Steve glances back to him and shakes his head. "I hope," he says and looks at the table between them. He coughs. "So, we were – friends? In the future?"
"Team mates," Tony says, because that's a dangerous word, friend, in conjunction with Steve Rogers. "We were part of something called the Avengers Initiative which consisted of… powerful people with special abilities, like your," Tony waves up and down at Steve, pointing out the glaringly obvious, "everything. We were a sort of task force, our job was to keep people safe from especially weird and world threatening situations."
"You had the serum too?" Steve asks.
"No, I had an armour," Tony answers. "You were technically the only serumed person out there. We had another one, Hulk, who was the result of trying to reverse engineer the Project Rebirth Serum, but it went… badly for him. Gave him some breathtaking anger management issues. Made him basically indestructible but… yeah."
Peggy arches her eyebrows. "You haven't mentioned that," she says. "That someone got so close."
Tony shrugs. "It's not going to be an issue until ten years from now, so it wasn't really that important," he admits. "And I'm going to make sure it doesn't happen again anyway, if I can."
Steve looks between them. "Is that what you're doing here? Changing stuff that happened in future, your future?" he asks.
"More or less," Tony says and folds his arms on the table. "But not really – did Aunt Peggy explain how time travel works?"
"I didn't really get into the details," Peggy admits as she too sits down to wait for the food to cook.
"'Kay, so, the multiverse," Tony says and then sketches out the simplified, dummed-down version of how trying to change the past works. Steve, though obviously confused, tries to keep up. "So, the future I'm from – it's happened and what happens here won't change it," Tony says. "So I'm not really changing the past or saving the future – this world is going down a different path and what happens here won't affect that timeline at all."
Steve nods slowly. "But then… why change it at all?"
"Why wouldn't I?" Tony asks, frowning a little.
"I mean – if what you do here won't help the people you know," Steve says, also frowning, trying to puzzle through it. "Why did you even come here, if it doesn't matter… there? When it doesn't make a difference to your world…"
Peggy frowns and looks at Tony. Tony arches his eyebrows a little – that was… faster than he'd thought it would be. "I didn't really come here to change my past. I was sent here by someone else," Tony says, and looks up. The kitchen has multiple cameras for JARVIS, multiple microphones too, but he's not sure if the AI can see them yet. "And I think they did it to save my life. Might as well save some other lives since I'm here."
Peggy takes Steve out on a date later that day, and from what Tony can glean they spend it mostly by driving around New York, taking in the sights. He doesn't see them again until the next day, when he stumbles into the kitchen at the crack of dawn after good solid night of tinkering, and finds Steve fixing himself a breakfast.
"You settled in fast," Tony comments, while scowling at the coffee maker and trying to force it to make the coffee by itself by sheer will. Sadly, it's not automated.
"Peggy said it was okay?" Steve says, looking a little startled. "And that I should make myself home here? Should I not –"
"No, no, yes you should, it's fine," Tony says and gets the filters and grounds out. "I mean if you want to stay here, it's all good – you can pick a room, I'll get the gym up and running sooner – hey, do you want a pool, like, actual Olympic swimming pool?"
"What?" Steve asks.
"Swimming – do you want to do it?" Tony asks and spills coffee grinds all over the kitchen counter. "Shit," he mutters and then ignores it. "Last time around I didn't have proper grounds to work with until later, just a skyscraper, and it's pretty hard to put an Olympic swimming pool inside already finished skyscraper without messing up the structure. Now that I do have grounds to work with, I could totally make actual gym. As in a building. With a gym. And a swimming pool."
Steve stares at him wide eyed for a while. "You… don't have to do that," he says slowly.
"I don't," Tony agrees. "But I could. And I think I will too," he decides. "I used to live in Malibu – always missed the swimming after moving back to New York."
He hadn't really. He hadn't done much swimming after Afghanistan. But watching other people swim and bask by the pool, now that he'd missed.
Steve blinks at him and then turns back to the eggs. "Do you want some?" he then offers, motioning at the pan.
"I'd love some," Tony sighs and collapses by the kitchen table to watch the coffee machine go. He yawns, rubbing at his eyes. "So, how did you find New York?"
The super soldier is quiet for a moment as he reaches for the egg carton again. "Different," he says then. "It's… different."
Tony eyes the tense line of his shoulders for a moment. Maybe Steve hadn't had such easy time adjusting to the future after all, he muses. "Yeah," he then says. It's different for him too – the buildings, the streets, the sheer lack of advertisements… It's still a bit weird to go down Fifth Avenue and not be bombarded by flashing LCD screens.
They'd had their first holographic advertisements in 2018 too – first being Nike's gigantic three dimensional soccer player, kicking a ball across the street. People had been in turns awed and furious about it, calling to ban holographic advertisements.
They're quiet until Steve finishes the eggs and then they sit down to eat them in semi comfortable silence. Tony picks on his somewhat awkwardly. It has been long time since he'd sat across Steve Rogers, just… eating food.
"Can you tell me about HYDRA?" Steve asks after a moment. "Peggy says they're still around, that you and her are trying to root them out of what SSR became?"
"She told you a lot," Tony says, arching his eyebrows.
"Shouldn't she?" Steve asks, giving him an uneasy look.
"No, I mean… yes, she should," Tony says firmly and frowns. "And I should too. I'm just… used to people not telling you things. Or me, for that matter. Back in future when we, the Avengers, were working for SHIELD or whatever we were working for at the time, no one ever just… told us what we needed to know."
Steve's eyebrows lift at that. "Why not?" he asks with disbelief.
"Because for some reason everyone thought it was better? I have no idea," Tony admits and then frowns as he remembers that there's something he really needs to tell Steve. Shit. "Yeah, okay. How much did Aunt Peggy tell you?"
"That apparently HYDRA started infiltrating SHIELD long ago, and has been slowly expanding over the decades," Steve says. "And now she's not sure who to trust, and that you're trying to, among other things, clean SHIELD up."
"That's the gist of it, right now anyway," Tony agrees. "HYDRA came out in 2014 my time – by that time there was more HYDRA in SHIELD than there was SHIELD, so, they were ready for their big world-take-over party. What happened is… not really relevant to right now, they don't and wont have that tech again if I got anything to do about it, but lot of things were revealed around that time."
He sips his coffee and makes a face. "Problem we have right now is that we're not sure who's HYDRA yet. I know some who will be in future, but that future is changing. As we make changes, people who got recruited to HYDRA might not get recruited while people who weren't might end up HYDRA. It's… bit tricky."
"But wouldn't the people who didn't get recruited last time be… good?" Steve asks with a worried frown. "If HYDRA didn't get them last time, then why would it get them now?"
"HYDRA doesn't need you to agree with it, or be willing, to recruit you," Tony says, shaking his head. "They have… so many ways to brainwash people."
"Oh," Steve says. "That's…"
"Yeah," Tony agrees and cuts a piece off his eggs.
"So that's why you're not going out there, getting the people you know will be HYDRA," Steve says thoughtfully. "You haven't done anything yet, they might not do anything ever."
Tony nods. "Yeah. I'm trying not to crucify people for crimes they might never do," he says. He's narcissistic enough without that boosting his megalomania at this point – if he goes down that road, there'd be no coming back. He's having tough time at this point just keeping himself from letting JARVIS take over the young and vulnerable internet. Taking over the world, Tony has realised, would be terrifyingly easy for him.
Steve nods, looking thoughtful as they just eat in silence for a moment. "Is there anything I can do?" he then asks.
Tony looks up. He presses his lips together. "That's why I went out my way finding you this early, actually," he says. "Has Aunt Peggy said anything about my parents, or the Winter Soldier?"
Steve shakes his head slowly, his posture tensing as he comes to attention. "Nothing yet, not beyond what you told me, about Howard passing away," he admits. "Why?"
"There's… just… I'm sorry, there's no good way to put this," Tony says and grimaces. "I have some terrible new for you. I haven't told anyone else yet – I knew you had to be the first."
"Okay," Steve says slowly, his eyes sharpening with sudden tension. "What is it?"
"Bucky Barnes is alive," Tony says. "And HYDRA's had him since the forties."
Steve doesn't take it well at all, but then Tony didn't really expect him to.
"Is that Rogers, running circles around the grounds?" Fury asks, peering at one of the many, many screens Tony has set up in his workshop in lieu of his usual holograms. One of them is tracking Steve's process around the grounds.
"He's working something off right now and I forget to get him some sandbags to beat," Tony says and looks up. "You have something for me?"
"Yeah – an archer and his girlfriend," Fury agrees and holds out a folder for him. "They've agreed to meet you about… work opportunities."
Tony accepts the folder and quickly looks it through. It's pretty thin, for Barton's folder, but then at this point he hasn't ever been an Agent with hundreds of terrible dangerous missions under his belt. At this point he's, apparently – "He was in the circus?" Tony says, and looks up. "The circus? Really?"
Fury arches his eyebrow at that. "You didn't know?"
"The guy had been a SHIELD agent for over twenty years by the time I met him – his past was well classified," Tony says and looks down at the file again. "Man I wish I'd known this before. Please tell me he was the clown."
The look Fury gives him is very pointed. "The guy is a trick shot," he points out.
Tony considers that. "Okay, I guess he'd be wasted as a clown," he admits and then taps the folder. "Now I'm really curious about why you recruited him though."
"There was an incident at his work place and he exhibited some… impressive skills in handling it," Fury admits. "It's all there in the file."
Incident being that some people had tried to rob the troupe Clint had worked with after especially successful run of it, which Clint had then handled in his own special way. The file listed the said exhibited skills, including crack shot aim, unconventional martial arts and hand to hand combat, impressive terrain management and ground control. Apparently Clint was also a bit of a gymnast in his youth.
Ultimately Clint had handled the robbery without killing anyone, which according to the file was rather impressive considering he'd shot most of the robbers with arrows. He'd been send packing from the circus afterwards – too much bad press and he'd injured one of the other performers while he'd been dealing with the situation. That had piqued Fury's interest, since at 22 Clint is easily young enough to be taught new, even more unconventional skills.
"Does SHIELD know about him?" Tony asks.
"No," Fury says. "I didn't want anyone pilfering Barton from me, not before I had the chance to recruit him myself."
Tony arches his eyebrows a bit at that. "Awesome," Tony says and looks at the file again. There's very little on Laura there – she's a waitress in a café, and currently she and Clint are barely managing on her salary alone. Frankly she seems way too nice and normal for Clint, but she's always seemed that. "Awesome, awesome. When are the lovebirds coming over?"
"When you send them enough money to travel," Fury says. "And no, don't send a plane. We're trying to not attract attention here."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Tony says with some dignity. "It didn't even cross my mind."
Fury scoffs at him. "Sure it didn't," he says and then looks up at the video tracking Steve. "How's he settling in?"
"As well as expected considering the bomb I dropped on him," Tony says and sets the Bartons' folder down. "Which reminds me – we need to have a meeting. You, Peggy, Coulson, Steve and I – a proper meeting. I need to bring everyone up to speed on some stuff concerning HYDRA."
"You're going to tell us everything now?" Fury asks dubiously.
Tony sighs and shakes his head. "Steve made me realise how much information was held back on all sides back in the future and how much damage it did," he admits. "And I'm doing it too now, and historically shit like this comes back to bite me on the ass."
Fury watches him warily. "Sometimes confidentiality is entirely justified," he warns him. "Sometimes knowing more helps less – sometimes it's a hindrance, sometimes it only makes you second guess yourself when you can least afford it."
Tony turns to him. "You really believe that?" he asks. "You really believe me keeping information from you guys is a good thing?"
"I don't know, because obviously I don't know the information you're keeping from me," Fury says slowly. "Will knowing send me running round in circles, like it's done to him?" he asks, motioning at the screen. "Will it make me hesitate when making a call, when lining up a shot? Is it going to benefit in the field? And will I, knowing, help your plans or complicate them? There's a reason why your first instinct was to keep a lid on things."
Tony presses his lips together tightly, looking at Steve. He's been going on for about two hours now, nearly non stop, and he's still going strong. Did knowing help Steve, would it make him work better on field? No, probably not. Did he need to know? Yes.
Fury's case is very different though.
"I guess that depends," Tony says and turns to face him. "Are you just going to my field agent – or are you my second in command?"
Fury meets his eyes and for a moment there's a weird tension there. It takes Tony a moment to realise, but Fury is standing at attention. "I'm your second," Fury finally says.
"Then you need to know," Tony says firmly. "And Aunt Peggy needs to know. And Steve needs to know because he will fuck things up in the long run if he doesn't."
Fury nods slowly. "Just so as long as you're sure it's going to be a benefit and not a future problem," he says and then adds, utterly without any hint of irony or sarcasm, "sir."
Tony swallows and looks away. "I'm not going to tell you everything," he admits. "Not now, probably not ever. But now that JARVIS is almost up and running and Steve is here… it's time to start dealing with HYDRA. We need to be on level with that, all of us, or it will end up in a mess."
"Yes, sir," Fury says.
"For the record, though, still doing this under duress," Tony says. "And hearing you call me sir, will never ever stop being weird. Please get out of my workshop."
"Yes, sir," Fury says again, because he's an asshole, and turns to leave. "Remember to send money to the Bartons," he then adds
"Yeah, yeah," Tony sighs and then frowns. "By the way, where's Coulson?" he asks before Fury can go. "I'd expect him to be all over Steve at this point, but I haven't seen him since Yushny."
"Sadly, we're still on SHIELD's payroll – he's working," Fury says. "Do you need him for the meeting?"
Tony considers it. "No, I guess not," he admits. "Send me a word when he is coming home. I want to be there when he meets Steve for the first time."
"Will do, sir."
"Oh piss off, Fury."
As Fury leaves with a slight chuckle – the asshole – Tony runs a hand over his face. "I'm so over my head here," he laments to himself.
"Yes, sir," JARVIS agrees mildly.
"Also surrounded by sassy little shits, apparently."
"Would you really want us any other way?" JARVIS asks plainly.
Tony considers that and concedes the point there. He really wouldn't.
Now the question is do I tag this as Steve/Peggy or not. It's really not a focus of the story, but it looks like it will be a background thing anyway.
Also if I do a ship for Tony, at this point it looks like it will be Tony/Fury, but I could go either way there, really.
"Ladies and gentleman, may I have your attention please?" Tony speaks in his best airplane-attendant voice through the in-mansion speakers. "In approximately twenty seconds it will appear as if all power in the mansion has been shut down – please do not panic. This is normal and power will return soon, and then our benevolent overlord JARVIS will be here to take care of all of us. Thank you."
Whether anyone answers to that, he doesn't know – because that's when he shuts the power down which isn't really as much shutting it down, as it is simply turning everything in the mansion off.
"Okay, J, you're up," Tony says and looks up from the switchboard. "Have at it."
"Don't mind if I do, sir," JARVIS answers and then everything turns back on – and then turns off again. And then on. And then off again.
Tony grins as JARVIS cycles through everything, testing the limits of his control around the mansion – lights flicker, speakers crackle, windows open and shut. It lasts for about a minute or so, before JARVIS settles into his new frames with a pleased, electrical hum.
"No knock out gas canisters anywhere in the air-conditioning," JARVIS says then. "How very disappointing."
"Don't go evil on me now, I need you to be good and kind and mildly sassy," Tony says, leaning back from the switchboard. "How does it look?"
"Hmm. It will do, sir," JARVIS says somewhat fatalistically. "There are numerous hinges that need some oil quite badly and I can't speak for the quality of the cameras or microphones but… it will do."
"As soon as we got something better I promise you'll get upgrade, J," Tony promises and closes the switchboard door, locking it up before closing the armoured door over it. It was a big weakness in the mansion, having everything run through the switchboard. Sadly, there wasn't much he could do about it right now.
Eventually, though – arc reactor beneath the mansion.
"I'll look forward to it, sir," JARVIS says. His voice is still bit rough around the edges, but it's smoothing out as he learns the in and outs of audio – or relearns them. It's hard to draw a definite line with how much JARVIS knows and how much he has to learn at this point.
"Great," Tony says and once the armoured door is locked, he claps his hands together. "Now we can start actually doing things. What do you think J – foundry or fabrication first?"
"Fabrication, sir," JARVIS says after moment of consideration. "Perhaps starting with the workshop arms. That way I can actually offer some more concrete assistance."
"You say the nicest things, baby," Tony grins.
It would take few more months before he had the mansion and JARVIS up to his preferred standards. The fabrication and foundry would take lot of work to make because they have to be made from scratch, by hand, with very little help from anyone. Or so he thinks anyway.
"Hey, is there… is there anything I can do?" Steve asks, peeking into his workshop while Tony is trying to put together the articulated joints of what would be JARVIS' arms in the workshop. "To help?"
"Why?" Tony asks, looking up from the parts he's fitting together.
"There's… not really that much to do around here," Steve admits, a bit sheepish. "And there's only so much heavy lifting I can do around the construction site."
Tony considers that and then shrugs. They're waiting on Fury to get them some more recent info on HYDRA, the Bartons haven't yet arrived, Peggy is busy getting back in on SHIELD – Tony has a feeling she's gunning for a spot in the World Security Council but of course she won't admit that – and Coulson is still undercover somewhere for SHIELD, the poor bastard. And Tony himself is winging Stark Industries down, bit by bit, while waiting for the R&D to finish their three month trial period.
It's bit of a waiting game on all sides – and they're only just now laying foundation for Steve's gym, so… with all that super human energy, Steve is probably rattling inside the mansion. And really, there is only so much running you can do before you start going nuts, probably.
"I don't suppose you know how to weld?" Tony asks.
"I can learn?" Steve offers, eagerly.
Tony looks him over. The eagerness is just… so weird. As is the wide eyed enthusiasm, which the man has a lot of. Steve had never been this open and animated when he'd known him in the future. Tony has no idea what made the difference so huge – Peggy, Tony not trying to trick him, or what – but this version of Steve Rogers is lacking a whole prickly layer of personality, compared to the past-future one.
Bright eyed and bushy tailed, that's this Steve Rogers in a nut shell. He's just… young. It's bit exhausting at times.
"Alright," Tony says. "Pull up a bench and I'll teach you about the marvels of modern electrical engineering."
Steve makes for a good and attentive student. That isn't much of a surprise – Tony has seen the list of martial arts teachers Steve had gone through with SHIELD, everything from Krav Maga to damn pro wrestling because the man had decided that they were onto something with their throws and suplexes. Which reminded Tony – he needs to make Steve some armour.
"Hey, do you already kick people a lot, or was that the Tae Kwon Do thing?" Tony asks, getting a bit distracted by the idea. Last time around he'd never really gotten the chance to really put that much thought into Steve's armour – he'd preferred to use the old SHIELD suits and didn't like people spending money on him. It had always been a damn shame because SHIELD had never had any idea how to suit Steve up properly.
"What?" Steve asks.
"In hand to hand combat – you use your legs a lot?" Tony asks and waves the welding torch a bit. "In future, you literally kick a lot of ass. It's just… a lot of kicking. Is that thing you do already, or did that come later?"
"Well… I can't speak for later," Steve says slowly. "But my legs are pretty strong so… yeah I use them a lot. Why?"
"No, just – thinking of making you some body armour," Tony admits. "Well, leg armour. With the shield, you don't really need that much body armour." And it had always low key pissed him off too – SHIELD had always been so busy in putting Steve in a flag to care about the fact that for 50% of the time Steve's legs were open for attack while his body was perfectly safe behind the shield.
"You don't have to do that," Steve says quickly.
"I think we covered me doing things I don't have to do," Tony says and points the torch at him. "Besides… if you're going to stay here, work with Aunt Peggy and me, then I'm kind of obligated to kit you out properly."
Steve rubs a hand over his neck, looking him over thoughtfully. "I've actually been meaning to ask about that. Do we work for you?" he asks slowly. "I mean, Fury works for you and Peggy is helping you – but at the same time…"
"At the same time, we're basically a conspiracy against HYDRA and SHIELD, and borderline illegal," Tony agrees and then he shrugs. "Do you want to work for me? I mean in actual employment being paid sense?" he asks and then makes a face. "I mean, I am a kid and all but…"
Steve winces. "Sorry about that. You had a, you know," he motions at Tony's face. "It just kind of looked like..."
"Like what?" Tony asks confusedly.
"Like you were just starting to be able to grow a beard. You had bristles. You still do, actually," Steve asks and then grins as Tony makes a face. "Sorry."
Tony sighs and runs a hand over his chin, scratching at the said bristles. Re-growing a goatee after what had been very smooth cheeked youth is not exactly a painless process it turns out. Especially with his level of baby-faced-ness. "Yeah, alright," he mutters and lowers his hand. "I'll have you know it will look very smooth once it's done."
"I'm sure it will," Steve says, grinning.
Tony makes a face at him. "Starting to think you don't want to work for me," he says and takes the welding torch again. "Which is fine because I'm not sure if I'd even want to hire you."
"Sorry, sorry," Steve laughs and leans his elbows onto the welding bench. "I guess I would like employment," he then says. "It would be nice to actually earn my keep here. I know you have the money," he adds before Tony can object. "But I still feel a bit like I'm free loading."
"You'll earn your keep when we finally after HYDRA," Tony points out. "By hundred fold."
"Yeah, but it looks like it's going to be lot of down-time in between," Steve answers with a shrug. "Would be nice to do something."
Tony tilts his head a bit. "Well," he says. "We're going to have to get you some fake ID maybe but that shouldn't be too much of a problem…" he considers Steve. "So, which one do you like better – bodyguard or assistant?"
The Bartons – or rather Clint Barton and Laura Randall – arrive later that week. They come in a minivan that looks like it came straight from the sixties, and with absolutely terrible sense of fashion which makes Tony almost want to send them right back.
Clint wears baggy shorts, jacket that was maybe ten sizes too big, and baseball cap – all of it's denim. Laura with her denim overalls and actually neon green blouse is little better. Her hair is back combed. Tony is so… blinded by all of it that he doesn't even notice how weird young Clint looks.
"So, you're the lunatic who send us ten grand for travel expenses?" Clint asks.
Tony almost sputters. "A guy wearing all denim has no room to call anyone else a lunatic," he then says and makes a face. "Oh god I'm getting eye cancer just looking at you. I am establishing a goddamn dress code, right now. Three piece suits for everyone. Jesus."
Clint frowns at him as does Laura. "Dude, what?"
Tony almost groans. He even says it with the voice. "I can't do this, I can't," he says, running both hands over his face. Then he takes out his wallet. "Here," he says, and shoves few bills at them. "Go down town, find a store that sells stupidly expensive clothes and pretend, just for a while, that you're about to have an important job interview and you need to dress the part? Just, please, for me, I beg you."
"Dude, what the – " Clint stares at the bills in his hands. "What the hell, dude?"
"You don't have to get ugly old people clothes – just something nice, please," Tony implores. "Something that fits. And isn't denim. Or neon coloured."
"Tony," a slightly exasperated voice comes from behind him, and Peggy steps out of the mansion.
"What?" Tony asks. "I'm trying to do the whole world a service here!"
She shakes her head at him and then looks at the Bartons. "Welcome to Stark mansion. I'm sorry about Tony – he's under a lot of pressure right now. How do you do?"
Clint and Laura look at them uneasily, still clutching onto the money Tony had showed at them. "Hi," Clint says hesitantly. "Um."
"Would you like to come inside?" Peggy offers gently.
"Not when they're wearing that," Tony objects. "They might rub their fashion disaster all over my décor!"
"Steve could you please take Mr. Stark back to his workshop?" Peggy says, glancing backwards. "I'll handle this."
"Alright Peggy," Steve says and takes Tony by the shoulders, steering him around – which, it being Steve, comes pretty close to him actually picking Tony up and physically moving him around. "Come on, boss."
"This is demeaning," Tony mutters sullenly, even as he's pushed back inside. "You're fired."
"Sure I am," Steve agrees cheerfully, prodding him forward. "You just let Peggy handle the young people in ugly clothes for now."
"Oi!" Clint calls after them.
It might've not been the sort of introduction most people had their first day at work, but seriously – Clint came dressed head to toe in denim and Laura wore neon colours. They had it coming.
Peggy settles everything with the Bartons, thank god, and Laura at least takes a hint – though it's probably mostly thanks to Peggy's smart business suit, rather than Tony's whining, that makes her smarten up. Either way, Tony is immensely grateful. The next time he sees her, she's bustling around in the kitchen wearing a very nice blouse and skirt, all of which fit her fine – and her hair is done neatly, rather than back-combed.
"Oh thank god you look like human," Tony says while stumbling into the kitchen.
"Good morning to you too, Mr. Stark," Laura says, giving him a look which is half nervousness and half amusement. "Nice of you to approve."
"It's not neon – I approve," Tony says and goes to fumble with the coffee maker. "Please tell me your other half is similarly sensible and has discovered some sense of style."
"Other half is still pissed," Clint says from the door way. "And just so you know, asshole, the only reason we're still here is because you're paying well."
Tony looks him over and sighs with relief. Clint is not wearing all denim anymore. Instead he has black slacks and a sweater. It's not a suit, but it's not denim, at least. "I'll add extra for dressing well into your salary," Tony offers. "Granted that you actually do it too."
Clint snorts at him and shakes his head. "I can't believe that a guy like Fury is working for a prissy asshole like you."
"I'm not prissy – I have a sense of class. And so does Fury," Tony says with a huff and turns to the coffee maker.
"Where is the guy anyway?" Clint asks, pressing a kiss on his girlfriend's cheek before going to investigate the fridge.
"Fury? Working," Tony says and yawns. "He'll come around when he has the time. In the mean while we need to settle you guys in. Did Aunt Peggy talk covers with you?"
Clint and Laura exchange looks which are somewhat worried. "She just said that you can find us something to do around the mansion which will explain why we're here," Laura says then.
"Yeah, sure, we can do that," Tony says, resting his chin on his palm. "The mansion runs itself, though, so it's not actually going to be much work to do anything around here. Only thing we really need is a cook at this point."
"I guess I could work at that, then?" Laura offers.
"If you'd like. You don't have to," Tony says and eyes her. "How old are you anyway?"
"Twenty two," she says.
"Been to college?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Clint asks with a scowl while Laura frowns, looking away.
Tony shrugs. "Over the last couple of months I've send five separate people into various colleges. It wouldn't be weird if I paid for Laura's tuition too. I mean, if that's something you'd like to do," he offers. "If not then, sure, be a cook."
They give him a strange look. "You've send people into college?" Laura then asks. "Why?"
"My prospective secretaries have come in various shades of painfully young and pretty and I can't stand it," Tony yawns again and pokes at the coffee maker. He really needs a faster one. "It's the nicest way to get rid of them."
"You… send people to college because they're too young and pretty?" Clint asks slowly. "You got issues, dude."
"Oh I know," Tony agrees with a sigh. "Anyway, think about it – any college you want and no student loans. It's not a bad deal."
Laura considers him. "No, it's not," she agrees slowly. "It's not a bad deal at all."
Above them, the speakers in the kitchen crackle. "Sir," JARVIS says. "Mr. Stane is at front gates, asking permission to enter the grounds."
While Clint and Laura both start with surprise, Tony looks up and sighs again. Oh, if he could just tell the man to fuck off… "Yeah, let him in, J. I'll meet him at the door," Tony says and gets up. "Time to get back to work, it seems."
Thankfully Obadiah doesn't have any other business than to complain about the lax way Tony is handling business, the end of one of their major defence contracts and Tony's refusal to disclose their future plans. The board of directors is breathing down Obadiah's neck, so he's breathing down Tony's neck.
"You can't just keep slacking off, Tony, that's not how this works," Obadiah says, almost imploringly. Mostly he just comes off irritated and mildly patronising. "You have a business to run."
"Which, currently, runs it self," Tony says. "We're not negotiating new deals or making new sales, so I don't need to be there for that, there's not going to be any new contracts, so I don't need to do that either – and if my employees can't at this point do their jobs and finish the standing contracts without their boss breathing down their neck all the time, then they're not very good employees. And we employ the best."
"Tony," Obadiah says, admonishing. "That's what I've been meaning to talk to you about. This mystery product of yours – you need to start laying down ground work for it if you want for it, whatever it is, to sell –"
"First I need to know my people can actually make it," Tony says flatly. "And I'm doing that already."
"Are you? From what I've seen, your think tank is doing whatever they damn well please," Obadiah snorts.
"Which is exactly what I told them to do," Tony agrees. "I don't need monkeys just mindlessly copying what I give them – I want innovators who can elaborate on my ideas. And until I know I have that, there's just no point."
"That's not how this works," Obadiah says, now sounding a bit aggravated.
"Well it is now," Tony shrugs. "Another month, Obadiah. Just keep the board from doing anything stupid for another month and I promise you, I'll give you the product of the decade."
"You better," Obadiah sighs and then shakes his head. "I'm trying to trust you here, Tony, but you're not giving me much anything."
"I'm not giving anybody anything," Tony says and smiles. It's a bit mean, maybe. "I have no intention of letting a word of what I have planned getting out. No one's getting advanced warning. No one."
Tony is ultimately somewhat disappointed with young Coulson's first meeting with Captain Steve Rogers. It happens at a semi official Shadow SHIELD meeting and so Coulson is on his best behaviour and doesn't get the chance to fan girl over the good captain as much as Tony would've liked. It's really a pity.
But, alas, they have more important things to worry about.
"Is it him?" Fury asks, while Tony and Steve look over the pictures he'd brought in. They're somewhat blurry, taken at a long lens at even longer distance – and to a film Tony realises after a moment because digital system cameras aren't really a thing yet. The figures in the photos are dark clad, masked and suspicious looking.
"I can't tell," Steve admits, sounding frustrated.
"It's him," Tony says and taps one of the dark figured. One with a gleaming silver arm. "It's definitely him. HYDRA's always been too damn proud of that arm to cover it up so it always gives him away. Probably some sort of intimidation tactic."
Steve pulls the pictures closer with a frown, peering at the blurry, silver armed figure.
"So, that's Winter Soldier confirmed," Fury says grimly. "And from what you've said, we need to take care of him before we can risk doing anything else."
"He's their best assassin and best sniper," Tony says, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms. "If we don't deal with him first, and then HYDRA finds out about us? We won't have much chance, not with current level of tech, and with as few people as we have. Best chance we have is catching him, somehow, unawares and taking him down before HYDRA can react."
He looks at pictures and then up at Fury. "Any luck at figuring out why he's here?" he asks.
Fury shakes his head. "Nothing yet," he admits. "But I've keeping my distance, making sure they don't find out they're being monitored. I can go in and plant bugs but…"
"But they might find out and figure out someone's watching, and we can't afford that, yeah," Tony agrees and then looks at Peggy who is frowning at Steve. "Anything on your end, Aunt Peggy?"
She glances at him and then sighs, leaning forward a bit. "I have to work a bit more cautiously than Agent Fury does," she admits. "So I haven't been able to really find out much yet. I have suspicions, of course, but nothing I can officially confirm yet. However, I have… a gut feeling about Alexander Pierce. And it's not a good one."
Fury looks up sharply and Tony sighs. Shit. He'd really hoped that Pierce hadn't been converted yet. "Any hope of peacefully knocking him out of the play at this point?" Tony asks.
"Not right now, no," Peggy admits with a frown. "The World Security Council all respect him and he has good connections to the government – he seems like the perfect Director. If we want him out of the game, we need to use harsher methods."
"Damn," Tony mutters. So, Director of SHIELD was already HYDRA. Wasn't that just wonderful. "In my time he was the director until he stepped down to take the job as secretary of WSC, about twenty years from now. And everyone thought he did smashing job with it too."
Peggy considers that while Fury scowls at the table between them. "That might actually explain something," she says then. "I don't think SHIELD is as badly infiltrated right now as you fear it is. It's possible that before Pierce became the Director, it wasn't possible for HYDRA to spread out as it did in your future. The sooner we take care of him… the less damage there will be."
"You mean kill him?" Steve asks incredulously. "Peggy…"
She gives him a sad look and shakes her head.
Tony glances at him and then at Fury. "What do you think?" he asks. "You've worked with the man most. You know him. How do you think we should deal with it?"
Fury glances at him with a scowl and then looks away. "Carter is right – there is no way to easily knock him off – he's got too good standing with too many influential people. There is no way to discredit him, or politically outmanoeuvre him – that's why he was made the Director in the first place, he's unwavering."
Tony arches his eyebrows at him. "And?" he prods.
Fury takes a breath and then shakes his head. "Give me a week, sir. I'll think of something."
"I'll look forward to it," Tony says and looks at the pictures of the Winter Soldier. "In the mean while, faster we take the Winter Soldier out of the picture, the better. Whatever his purpose here is… it's not good. They don't exactly bring their best assassin out for nothing," he says and looks at Steve. "Are you prepared to fight him?"
Steve takes a breath and nods. "Yes," he then says. "So as long as you promise me we're taking him down alive."
"That's the plan," Tony says slowly. "But you need to face the fact that he's not going to know you and he is going to try and kill you. He's not going to hold back, and you can't either."
Steve looks away for a moment and then nods. "I won't," he says.
Tony eyes him for a moment and then nods. "Good, awesome," he says. "Luckily for you I know what it takes to bring him down and I got bunch of new toys for you, they should help you there," he says and looks at Fury and Peggy. "I'm not a spy, so you guys are going to have to come up with a plan here – you can do that, right?"
"We can," Peggy agrees and glances at Fury. "Are we bringing in young Mr. Barton to this?"
Clint and Laura are neither of them in the meeting, of course – they're not exactly in yet.
"No, not before he's got some training," Fury says and looks at Tony. "Do you have plans for them yet?"
"Laura's considering going to college and she was only ever a civilian, so don't count her in on anything. Barton's all yours," Tony shrugs. "I don't exactly have use for an archer on my side of things. His cover is as my bodyguard, though, so whatever you plot, take that into consideration."
"Isn't that Steve's cover too?" Peggy asks, somewhat amused. "How many bodyguards do you need?"
Tony arches his eyebrows. "I'm a very important person, you know, and I have a very nice body. It needs all the guarding."
Writing this chapter was like pulling teeth, argh.
Tony keeps out of the whole thing with Barnes as much as he can. It's been years since his parents died for him – barely three months in this time – and it's been years since he found out how and why they died. But it still hits a bit too close and he knows, in that same clawing grim way he knows that if he has a drink now he won't stop, that he won't be able to stay objective.
Steve knows what the Winter Soldier did. Peggy knows what the Winter Soldier is. And Fury knows what the Winter Soldier is capable of. It has to be enough.
As it is, he's not combat ready anyway. It isn't just the fact that he hasn't yet had the chance to recreate the Iron Man suit – which he hasn't and wont for few months still. He's not combat ready because his body doesn't have the right reflexes and he's still skinny string bean. Working at JARVIS and making the mansion automated has helped some – but he's still nowhere near his future levels. There just hasn't been time to body build.
It's bit of an excuse, but right now he needs all the excuses he can get.
"The plan is to capture the Winter Soldier and bring him here," Fury tells him. "As you going to be fine with that?"
"I managed to make my peace with Steve, didn't I?" Tony says with a scoff.
"Captain Rogers didn't kill your parents."
No, but Steve did hide who did probably for years. Tony has had while to think about that one too, to come terms with it as much as he can. It still pops out sometimes when he looks at Steve and instead of seeing the over eager puppy from the 40's, he sees the SHIELD trained Captain America, keeping secrets to keep people "safe".
That's the biggest difference between Steve of now and Steve of then. The Steve they have now hasn't been taught by spies and terrible circumstances that he ultimately knows better than anyone else. The Steve they have now still trusts authority to have his back. And sure, that authority is Tony which is it's own kettle of fish, but still. The difference is striking.
And right now Steve trusts him to have his back with Bucky Barnes.
Tony shakes his head and looks up. "I'll be fine with Barnes because I have to be fine with Barnes," he says finally. "And I hope I'm grown up enough to not blame people for what they do under mind control."
Fury watches him searchingly for a while. "Alright," he says. "From what I've been able to tell, the Winter Soldier is scouting for a sniper location – no idea who the target is yet, but he's setting up a nest. If all goes well, that's where we'll get him."
Tony nods. "I trust you know what you're doing.," he says.
"What are we going to do with him after we have him, that's the question," Fury says.
Tony chuckles grimly. "I have it covered."
While Fury, Peggy, Steve and Coulson work at capturing the most dangerous super soldier in the known world, Tony works at other things. He's given his little spy team all the assistance he can in form of gadgets, cars and guns – all he can do now is trust that they know what they're doing.
"As soon as we have proper wireless networks up and running, you'll probably end up running terrain control and other support for them," he comments to JARVIS while installing the last of the workshop arms. They're very much like what he had in Malibu before Iron Man, back when JARVIS' more concrete tasks only included maintenance on Tony's cars.
"I can finally realise my long held dreams of becoming a spy, I can hardly wait, sir," JARVIS comments.
Tony snorts, tightening a bolt and then twisting around the multi articulated, spindly robot arm. It takes a bit of reaching but he manages to attach the connections.
"Arm six is… online," JARVIS says, while the arm's four fingered hand stretches out it's joints. "We are in business, sir."
"Awesome," Tony says. "Flex for me, baby?"
The floor opens as the metal plates give away in front of the other five arms. While Tony sits down in the space between them to watch, JARVIS runs through motions, stretching each multi jointed arm out and then bringing them in, testing the limits of mobility and angles of movement.
"What the hell is that?"
Tony looks up past the synchronised waving of the robotic arms. Clint is standing by the door, holding a tray.
"Couple of helping hands," Tony says and cranes his neck to see. "What's that? Did you bring me coffee."
"Hah, no. Apparently you haven't eaten anything in six hours – Laura sends food," Clint shrugs and then walks closer. He eyes JARVIS' arms warily but still pushes forward, setting the tray down onto the welding bench. "What are they for?" he asks, nodding at the arms.
"They are for helping sir with everything and anything he needs," JARVIS answers, and then stretches two of the arms towards Clint. While the archer almost jumps back, JARVIS delicately picks up the tray and then swings around, joints turning so that the tray always remains balanced upwards, and sets the tray in front of Tony. "Here you go, sir."
"Thanks, J-baby," Tony grins and looks at the trey. It has salad, sandwiches, a green smoothie and glass of orange juice. "Well this looks… healthy?"
"Hey if you don't want it, give it to me," Clint says. "She doesn't put my food on the tray all nice and neat."
"Well that's obviously because she likes me better," Tony says and snatches up a sandwich.
"You pay her," Clint points out flatly.
"Exactly," Tony agrees and bites into it. It's not half bad. "Mm, my compliments to the chef. I obviously don't pay her for nothing."
"Tch," Clint answers and sits down on the welding bench. He looks around in the workshop for a moment, peering without understanding at the various gadgets Tony has lying around. "Everybody's out on a mission, aren't they?" he then asks.
"Pretty sure you're not supposed to know that," Tony says.
"Psh – they left armed to the teeth, even Peggy was carrying a gun," Clint says with a scoff. "And Steve had stuff I'm pretty sure you made yourself. It was kind of obvious."
Tony shrugs and takes a drink of the smoothie. He has no idea how Laura makes it, but it tastes better than when he makes it. "Yeah, they're out doing stuff. Why?"
Clint looks at his hands for a moment. "I've been what Fury can do, and I've seen Steve literally run circles around the grounds for hours without tiring. And Peggy is Peggy and Coulson is…" he makes a haphazard wave, indicating some abstract concept of Coulsonness. "Why'd you bring me in when you got all that?"
Tony eyes him curiously, taking another bite of the sandwich. Then he sets it down. "Why do you think?" he asks. "And I'm asking seriously here. Why do you think Fury recruited you?"
Clint frowns and looks away. "Because he wants to turn me into a sniper?" he asks, a bit grimly, the line of his shoulders tense. "My aim was the first thing he noticed, wasn't it?"
"Probably," Tony says. "But it was with a bow and arrow."
Clint shrugs, looking uncomfortable. "No one uses bow and arrow in actual… real life situations," he says. "Not with this spy shit. That's just stupid."
"Well, you only think that because you have no idea what kind of arrows I can make," Tony says, watching him. "Don't you think that if Fury wanted a sniper, he would've gone to the armed forces instead, hired a vet maybe? It would save him the expense of actually having you trained with sniper rifles – and trust me, that's not exactly something you get down in a week."
"Yeah, but…" Clint trails away, looking frustrated.
"Fury likes people with unusual skills," Tony says with a shrug. "They come up with unusual ways of handling situations. It makes him and whatever team he's running unpredictable in a way that gives him an edge. That's what I figure anyway,"
Clint considers that for a moment. "Huh," he then says, tilting his head a bit before looking at Tony. "What kind of arrows can you make?"
Tony grins and bites into his sandwich. "You'll see… once I actually have the time to make them."
Steve returns with a black eye and limp left arm, Fury is limping heavily and Coulson has at least few cracked ribs. Peggy is only one who comes out unscathed, but she looks grim and unhappy.
They bring with them a very heavily restrained Winter Soldier, bound up in the titanium reinforced gurney Tony had made just for the purpose. Only thing not restrained is his left arm – it's been cuffed with the heavy cuff Tony had made for Steve to use on him. Occasionally it zaps out electricity to keep the EMP-impervious arm inert.
"Well, looks like things went well," Tony comments, watching them drag the Winter Soldier inside the mansion.
"You call this things going well?" Steve asks incredulously.
"No one's been shot, no one is missing limbs, you don't look like you're dying of internal bleeding… and I haven't yet seen any blown up buildings or destroyed city blocks in the news," Tony lists. "Considering you actually captured him, it looks like it went down right miraculously."
He looks down at the Winter Soldier himself. The man is awake and judging by the looks of his flexing cheek he's trying to grind his own teeth into powder. Luckily for them, the Winter Soldier has always been too valuable for cyanide capsules. The artificial arm is whirring as it tries to overcome the destabilising shocks – given enough time, it will actually succeed too. The thing is scarily adaptable.
"Alright, into my workshop," Tony says. "First things first; I'm going to have to take that arm off."
"Is that safe?" Steve asks anxiously.
"Safer than leaving it on him," Tony says darkly. "There's a part on it that's regulating his hormonal levels. And I'm pretty sure it has a self destruct. And of course if we leave it on him, he'll use it to escape."
Steve opens his mouth and then closes it. "Alright," he says, casting the Winter Soldier an uneasy look. "We'll take it off, then."
They roll the gurney into Tony's workshop, where Tony pushes it onto the circular nexus of JARVIS' arms. "Time to get to work, J," Tony says, clapping his hands together as the plates on the floor open and JARVIS stretches out to help him. "Let's disarm this guy."
It's easier, just concentrating onto a part of his parents killer, rather than the whole man. The Winter Soldier is a furious, glaring mess on the gurney but Tony mostly just ignores him, as he and JARVIS work at the gleaming metal shoulder, detaching the cover plates to reveal the mechanics underneath. Steve hovers near by anxiously while Peggy tries to draw him away to check on his arm. Fury and Coulson are both pocking at their injuries.
Tony wants to tell them all to go to the damn medical wing – that's what it's there for – but he knows they wouldn't leave even if he told them to. So, he just works at getting the metal arm off the Winter Soldier as quickly and painlessly as he can.
Well at least this time he's not actually blowing it off.
"JARVIS, get me a screw driver," Tony says and points at the screws.
"Allow me, sir," JARVIS says, switching finger on one arm around before attaching screw bit onto it. He makes quick work of all the screws off, detaching them with mechanical precision before setting each screw aside. Once it's done, what fight there was left in the arm goes out, as the metal bone inside comes detached.
Tony grips the metal arm, and pulls it off as far as the remaining connections allow. There's still wires going into the shoulder, but those were mostly artificial nerves – and of course, the liquid courage that HYDRA had been pumping the Winter Soldier full to keep him fearless and unquestioning.
Tony detaches them one by one after checking there won't be side effects. Then, it's done. "Okay, J, pack it up," Tony says, setting his tools aside, well out of the Winter Soldier's reach.
The assassin is stiff as a board and glaring on the gurney as JARVIS picks the now detached arm up, and lifts it into a reinforced metal box. He doesn't as much lock it inside as he welds the box tightly shut, something the Winter Soldier watches without hint of emotion other than anger.
"Now what?" Steve asks, as everyone stares at now one-armed Winter Soldier anxiously.
"It will take about week for the drugs in his system to wear off entirely," Tony says, folding his arms and watching the Winter Soldier. "And probably months before the mind wipes start loosing effect. Until then…" he shrugs and turns to Steve. "According to you, he started remembering bits and pieces even before that – but that was only after you beat him over the head with the past."
Steve breathes slowly in and out and then nods. "I'll do that then," he says, squeezing his hand into a fist.
"But Steve, remember – he's been under HYDRA's control for a long time," Tony says. "The guy has triggers. Even when he remembers, it will take more than time and patience to fix this."
"What sort of triggers?" Fury asks, limping closer.
"I don't know all of them – but there's litany of Russian words that turns him compliant, makes him do whatever he's told to do," Tony says. "I don't know what they did it to fix it in the future – I wasn't exactly there. But I know it took more than just tender loving care."
"Shit," Steve murmurs, running a hand over his face. "I knew it was bad but…"
"We'll figure it out, Steve," Peggy says, touching his still good shoulder. "We have time, and Tony's tech. We'll figure it out. Now will you please come to the medical wing to get your shoulder fixed? The rest of you too," she adds, looking at Fury and Coulson. "You need to get checked up."
"Mr. Stark?" Fury asks.
"I got it covered," Tony says, waving a hand at them. "And with JARVIS I got bit of a home field advantage here. He's not going anywhere. Go get patched up."
They leave hesitantly, Fury sending Tony an inscrutable look, but Tony just waves them off, leaning his hip onto a table and just watching the Winter Soldier squirm on the gurney. With time, the man would be able to get loose probably – he's escaped from better prisons. But then he didn't have six heavily armed robotic arms hovering over him.
"Welcome to Stark Mansion," Tony says and motions at the arms. "Allow me to introduce you to JARVIS. If you try to escape, please know he's equipped not just with work shop tools. Also, he's something of a vindictive asshole this time around."
"I sure am, sir," JARVIS agrees placidly, as he switches the fingers of one arm over into needles.
"Tranquilisers," Tony explains while The Winter Soldier looks at them warily. "And I know just how much it takes to bring you down so, trust me, there's enough."
The Winter Soldier watches the robotic arms for a moment before turning his eyes to Tony instead. "What is this," he doesn't as much asks as he growls.
Tony smiles. "Call it a vengeance," he says and pushes off the table. "You killed my parents, Winter Soldier. You probably don't even remember – it happened few months ago, you've probably been wiped couple times since," he says and reaches for the man. "Doesn't even matter. You're still going to die for it."
The Winter Soldier tenses at that, obviously expecting a blow.
Tony pats his cheek. "Settle in there. It's going to be a terrible ride."
Last time around it had been a painful process for Winter Soldier to remember his life as Bucky Barnes. It would probably be painful this time around too. And for all the maturing Tony has done, he can't deny that he's going to enjoy every fucking second of it.
In the following days, Tony makes the Winter Soldier a cell in the bottom of the mansion. It's reinforced in as many ways as he can manage, and naturally it's managed by JARVIS, who has among other things, weapons, syringes and his long wished for knock out gas primed and ready in case it's needed. Steve considers it bit of an overkill.
Steve hadn't been there when the Winter Soldier had bust out of UN's specially made prison.
"This is going to distract Rogers for months, isn't it?" Fury asks, while he, Peggy and Tony watch Steve try and talk to the Winter Soldier through the several layers of very bullet-proof glass in between them. "He's not going to be much use in the field."
"I knew he wouldn't be," Tony agrees. "As soon as Barnes is involved Steve becomes biased. It's better you just write him off any future operations, at least for next few months."
"I didn't realise it was this…" Peggy trails off. "They were good friends, Steve braved a HYDRA strong hold just to get him in the 40's, I knew that, but…"
Tony hums in agreement. It was even worse in the future, when Steve had had to endure the very different time and society alone. Barnes then was a sole remaining part of long lost past. All things considered, Steve isn't half bad now, with Peggy there.
He's still helplessly Barnes-obsessed though.
"It's a thing," Tony says. "When you see someone die and think it's at least partially your fault and then they come, you become…" he waves a hand at his temple. "It crosses wires weirdly in your head."
"That happen to you?" Fury asks, glancing at him. "Something we need to be worried about?"
"No, but I saw it happen to other people," Tony says and folds his arms. "Besides, Steve and Barnes grew up together. Adds another level to the mind fuckery there."
Peggy sighs and shakes her head. "Well, at least now the Winter Soldier is out of the picture," she says and turns to Tony and Fury. "What's next?"
"Next we start cleaning up SHIELD," Tony says and looks at them. "You weren't spotted, right? No one knows who took the Winter Soldier out?"
"We did everything we could to avoid it," Fury promises. "There should be no leads for anyone to follow."
"Good. Hopefully having lost him will make HYDRA sloppy."
"It will make them wary and suspicious," Fury denies. "They know someone is after them now, someone who knew about the Winter Soldier, one of their most secret projects. They'll be looking for us."
"Which can make them sloppy. Either way, it should slow down their recruitment for a bit," Tony says and tilts his head back a little, peering at his workshop ceiling. He narrows his eyes. "Having them looking for us would make things easier, wouldn't it?"
"Only if they don't find us," Fury says, eying him. "What do you have in mind?"
Tony hums. "I don't know yet," he admits. "Things are going to change now anyway. We've made a huge difference compared to the timeline I come from, and it's going to affect things big time. JARVIS," Tony says. "How accurate will my future knowledge be from here on out?"
"Concerning HYDRA, I'd estimate it at approximately 54% percent accurate," JARVIS answers. "Other global events that aren't connected to HYDRA, 95%."
"54% isn't good enough, we can't rely on it anymore," Tony says and shakes his head. "We're going to need a new strategy. Drawing them out rather than going after them might work…" he turns to Fury. "You have a plan for Director Pierce yet?"
Fury grimaces. "I have several, all of them varying levels of potentially hazardous to our plans. Assassination would be the cleanest way to go."
Tony frowns at that. "I'd rather not resort to that," he admits and looks at the screen where Steve is still trying to ply the Winter Soldier with the past.
"Me neither," Fury agrees.
Peggy runs a hand over her hair and sighs. "I think I see what you have in mind – and I'm going to have to put my vote against it," she says. "Tony, for the future we need your reputation unblemished. You need to remain detached, otherwise this might all fall apart. If anyone needs to be come a target for HYDRA, then I'm the obvious candidate."
Tony frowns and turns to her. "Aunt Peggy…"
"It makes sense," she says frankly. "They are considering me for the World Security Council. Which puts me in position of authority over SHIELD and by conjunction over HYDRA. All I have to do right now is start talking about clean up at SHIELD, a complete security review, and HYDRA will try and silence me. You know that. I'm the perfect target."
Tony stares at her desperately. Sad thing is – she's right. She is the perfect target – especially since as of now Tony Stark doesn't even know about SHIELD. It would take a lot of work and preparation just to put him in a place where he could make himself a threat to HYDRA – Peggy is already there.
"The sooner we get this ball rolling, the better, right?" she asks plainly. "You know I'm right. And Tony, at this point… isn't it my right?"
She looks meaningfully up at the screen with Steve and the Winter Soldier.
"Shit," Tony says and runs a shaky hand over his face. "God damnit, Aunt Peggy."
Fury looks between them and then up at the screen again. "Can JARVIS calculate the chances of success?" he asks. "In either case?"
"I can, Agent Fury, but only in terms of what little accurate information we have on the current conformation of HYDRA," JARVIS answer. "And in any case it hardly needs calculating. Agent Carter will obviously get the job done 45 to 75 percent faster."
"Damn it, JARVIS, you're supposed to be on my side," Tony mutters.
"I am on the side of efficiency, sir," the AI answers. "And you throwing yourself into a project like this when Agent Carter is already in place will be waste of time and resources."
"I swear I made some sort of mistake when I reprogrammed you. You were never this much of an asshole," Tony mutters and points a finger at the ceiling. "We're going over your code again, just so you know. We're going over it very carefully. And probably deleting a bunch of it."
"I'm sure we are, sir," JARVIS agrees placidly.
Peggy smiles faintly. "He's not wrong," she says and smiles sweetly up at the ceiling. "Thank you JARVIS."
Fury is frowning at the ceiling. "Did you make a mistake programming him?" he then asks with a wary sort of interest. "From what I've seen… JARVIS knows a lot of things he shouldn't. Things about the future."
"Technically he's as much from the future as I am," Tony scoffs and shakes his head. "I wasn't going to waste time making him like he was in the beginning when he didn't know how to do anything – nah, I programmed him as he was in the future, as close to the final version as I could make him. JARVIS is literally my brain child, so he knows pretty much what I know."
"Does that make you my brain-daddy, sir?" JARVIS asks.
"Sadly, my brain children are all assholes these days," Tony sighs, running a hand over his eyes.
Peggy chuckles at that and stands up. "He is right, however," she says. "Trust me, Tony. I've been in this game for well over fifty years. I know what I'm doing."
Tony sighs. "I'm still going to build body armour for you. And better spy tech. And maybe a force field generator."
Peggy smiles and presses a kiss on his cheek, claiming her victory with far more grace than Tony would've.
"You're up late."
Tony looks up from the half empty glass he'd been nursing for the better part of last hour. Steve is standing by the kitchen door, looking like, well, hell. His eyes are red and he looks exhausted – probably is too. From what JARVIS has told Tony, he hasn't gotten much sleep since the Winter Soldier had been captured.
Neither has Tony, really.
"So are you," Tony says and lifts his glass in greeting. "Pull up a chair, Captain."
"What's you got there?" Steve asks, motioning the golden liquid in Tony's cup.
"Apple juice," Tony admits and considers the stuff. It has a slight golden hue to it. "In right light it looks a bit like whisky, don't you think?"
Steve's eyebrows arch up a bit and he approaches the table. It's not precisely tentative, but there's something wary about it anyway. There's something wary about the way Tony watches him too, a tension Tony can't help crawling up his spine.
They've all been tip toeing around the mansion for days now.
"I could use some… apple juice," Steve says finally and rubs a hand over his eyes. "Could use some food too."
"There's some sandwiches in the fridge, I think. Laura," Tony says in way of explanation and peers at his glass. His hands aren't shaking, which he's glad of, but the alluring thirst is there, and he's not entirely sure if the fake out with the apple juice is helping it or making it worse. Probably worse. He's never been good at self medication, even when it didn't involve alcohol.
Steve goes around the table to investigate the fridge. Tony eyes the glass silently, whirling the juice inside it. It's stupid but he can't help but think the weight is off. It should be heavier.
"Tony, I – "
Steve stops, taking a breath somewhere behind him. When he comes around the table, he has a plate and a glass – of milk, the huge boy scout. "You've been… scarce," Steve says as he sits down. "Well, everyone's been, but you're in the mansion almost as much as I am, and I haven't really seen you since…"
Tony sighs. "Steve – I hate the Winter Soldier," he says slowly. "And I don't particularly like Barnes. I never have."
"And I understand that," Steve says, with hint of frustration. "But that wasn't him. It wasn't his fault."
Tony glances up at that and then back down at his glass. He could add little something to it, make it stronger – just a dash of something… "Do you know, I was never that close with Aunt Peggy?" he asks. "Nothing like what we're now. We lost contact after my parents died."
"I… didn't know that, no," Steve says cautiously.
"I lost contact with just about… everyone I knew before that. Except for my buddy Rhodey – he's in the Air Force, in some base somewhere learning to fly a jet or something. And my godfather – you know, the one we suspect might be working for HYDRA?" Tony smiles mirthlessly and shakes his head. "My dad was once the Director of Shield. His support base had a support base. I got… none of it after he died. Not even Aunt Peggy. She just… faded away from my life."
Tony scoffs and takes a sip of the juice. "I had secure life, I had everything, I lacked nothing except maybe little bit more time from my busy old man. I went from that to… to..." he scowls, trying to put it to word. "It was like my life got hollowed out. All the good stuff got scooped out and suddenly I had these fringes left. Like outskirts of a life. Apple peels, no sign of the actual apple anywhere."
"Hey," Steve says, soft. "My parents died early on too. I know what it's like."
Tony breathes, just breathes for a moment. He half expects Steve to continue. He once had, later on, when Tony had been drinking too much and Barnes had been just there and it had all hurt too much. Tony had told him something like this – and Steve answered in kind.
Steve's dad had died in war, gotten a face full of mustard gas. His mother had been a nurse on tuberculosis ward, she'd gotten sick like it was as inevitable and unavoidable as the sunset. It had destroyed Steve, young and weak as he'd been back then – would have killed him, without Barnes there to carry him through it, sometimes literally.
Tony's shoulders slump. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I know."
Steve smiles painfully and reaches over the table. His hand is heavy and warm on Tony's shoulder – and if Tony had needed a reminder of how different this Steve is in comparison to the future one, it would've been perfect example of it. Future Steve had never, ever tried to comfort him.
"You know I'm older than you," Tony mutters.
"Technically, no, you're not," Steve says and squeezes his shoulder. "Besides – I got my best friend back. You got a…" he trails off awkwardly. "Very uncomfortable house guest."
Tony snorts at that and shakes his head. "Eloquent, Rogers, very eloquent."
"You know me, boss, I'm all talk," Steve says and watches him for a moment. "So I'm guessing you don't want a report?"
"I don't know. Do you have something to report?" Tony asks with a sigh and turns his attention back to the apple juice. It's… a little less tempting now.
"He's listening to me now," Steve says, a bit sadly. "Wasn't before. That's… something, I think."
Tony nods. "Probably," he agrees, running a finger around the edge of the glass. "You need to settle in for the long haul, though. It's not going to happen within weeks, or even months. We knew about Barnes for years – and he still wasn't fully removed by the time… you know, this," he motions at himself. "If it goes like it went back then, it'll take time but he'll remember things eventually."
Bigger problem were the things he couldn't then forget, really.
"Well then, my lovely little duckies," Tony says as he takes seat on the desk in front of what looks like lot of very badly controlled chaos. Obadiah hadn't been kidding when he'd called it a mess – Tony hasn't seen the bullpen of the R&D looking quite so bad since the time he'd stopped weapons manufacture. Back then it had looked like a ghost town for weeks.
There's desks that have been just pushed out of the way and to the walls, others have been pushed together to form a bigger table – there is only one chair left in the entire room, for some reason. There's more monitors than there are computers and everywhere, absolutely everywhere, there is scrap. It's strewn about on tables, it's scattered across the wall – someone has even pinned examples onto a cork board for… some reason. The whole place is littered with high tech rubbish.
Tony looks on it all and grins. It looks like home. "What do you have for me, then?"
The people are even worse than the place. Dress code has gone completely out of the window, as has apparently shaving routines – there is one woman in actual literal blanket, looming over her work like some sort of terrible amalgamation of a super hero and human personification of death. There's signs of lost sleep and possibly lost sanity – lot of stress. But there are also few people who have gone well and beyond the point of fucks to give and who look like they've gone completely native in their new reality.
Tony thinks the guy in Hawaii shirt and flip flops might have potential – the guy looks very chill.
Tony waits for a moment. "Alright, you," he points at the flip flop guy. "You can start. You had three months and the most advanced scrap in the world. What did you come up with?"
The guy grins and snatches up a – thing. It's a bit like gun with a screen attached on top of where the hammer would've been, reminding Tony vaguely of something he's seen maybe in a video game once. "Here," the flip-flop guy says and hands it over. "Have a try. It doesn't shoot anything, so you can just point it at whatever."
"Okay," Tony says, taking it in hand and examining it. At the end of the barrel it has what looks like bastardised pressure sensor on it, with infrared sensor slapped onto it as an after thought. The screen is blank, except for few lines running through the screen, dividing it into boxes.
Tony aims the… weird sensor gun thing at it's maker. Flip-flop guy grins and spreads out his arms, to make a bigger target, and Tony hits the trigger.
Text comes to the screen. Human, Organic, Male, says the title, followed by litany of materials. Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen…
Blinking, Tony turns the gun away and at near by desk. Furniture, Organic, Wood, the title says and another list of elements follows. Carbon, Oxygen, Hydrogen, Nitrogen…
For a moment Tony just shoots the thing – analyzer? – at things, watching it name and analyse everything. The chair, the floor, the wall, near by screen, a box of scraps – which pulled out a long litany of metals – and so forth. It's nothing utterly unusual to him – Iron Man had same capabilities in much swankier set up – but for 1992…
"Interesting," Tony says and hands the gun over. "Very interesting. Next."
"Aww, you don't want to hear about it?" flip-flop guy asks, sounding disappointed.
"Later," Tony promises and turns to the others. "You," he points at the woman in a blanket. "What do you have for me?"
She looks at him resentfully and then gets up. She hauls with her a plastic box with box of scrap written onto the side with black marker and all by throws it at Tony. "There. You monster."
"Okay," Tony says placidly, accepting the box. "Thank you, I'm always open for constructive criticism."
He looks down at the box, half expecting to find that she hadn't actually gotten anything done – but she had. It's just whatever she'd made – and Tony has no idea what it is – is made around the inside of the box. "Alright, you got me – what does it do?" Tony asks after a moment of puzzling the mechanisms out. There's a motor, a battery and a lot of copper wire going on which is… a bit worrisome.
She scoffs at him and then snatches up flip-flop guy's gun. Before he can do more than let out a yelp of objection, she drops it carelessly into the box.
It stops couple inches short of hitting the bottom.
Tony arches his eyebrows bit and then sets the box down onto a table so that he can actually poke around in it. "Electromagnetic suspension?" he asks and looks up.
"No, electromagnetic disassembly," the woman says almost viciously, and reaches over to hit a button before the flip-flop guy grabs her into a headlock.
"No, no, no, you are not breaking my baby apart, you hag," he says while the woman struggles to get at the button.
Tony glances up at them and then quickly takes the analyser gun thing out of the electromagnetic disassembly box, setting it aside where it's safe. Then, after moment of consideration, he takes off his watch and while the blanket woman and the flip flop guy stop to stare, he drops it into the disassembly box and hits the button.
The watch turns in air for a moment, lights flashing over it – some sort of analysing happening. Then it stops and just… breaks apart. Screws come off, the individual links of the wrist strap just clip off. The screen comes floating away and then the hands – and then the back is off and suddenly there is springs and cogs and wheels floating about in the box.
"… was that a Rolex?" the blanket woman asks faintly.
"Maybe," Tony admits, watching with some fascination how the springs and cogs float about in a small cloud of watch parts
"Um… it can't yet put things back together?" she says, wincing.
"Huh," Tony says and folds his arms. He's lost more expensive things than wrist watches to science. "Alright," he says and looks up. "Who's next?"
In the end, Tony's overall haul is this: A chemical body armour that repaired itself, another thing of electromagnetic suspension but this one was supposed to stop bullets (it didn't yet), a stupidly advanced coffee maker because of course someone would try to do that, another dissassembler but this one was more mechanical, a compactor thing that looked a bit like Wall-E, an actual laser gun which really wasn't in the spirit of the assignment and had to be disqualified.
There was only one person working on something like what he'd been hoping for. She brings him a hand held radio.
"Something special about it?" Tony asks, turning the radio in hand. It has somewhat make-shift covers and it's bit on the bulkier side – but then, everything these days is on the bulkier side from his perspective.
"Range, sir," the woman says, already looking terribly dejected. "Ten clicks so far and I think I can boost it up to fifteen with better antenna."
Tony nods, turning it hand. Not quite what he was after, but better than nothing. "Alright," he says. "That's everything, then?"
In the end, the electromagnetic disassembly machine thing is the best of the haul – depending on how much it would actually cost to manufacture them in a much larger scale, Tony can definitely think of a future for it. The rest is… interesting and inventive in their own ways, but not exactly earth shattering.
"Alright, Gather up, duckies, " Tony says and waits until they come to stand in front of him in various stages of nervousness. "You, and you," he points at the magnetic disassembly woman and the flip-flop guy. "Congrats, you get a promotion and get to do your own thing. You, and you," he points at the mechanical disassembly guy and the electromagnetic bullet shield guy. "You work for her now," he points back at the blanket woman. "Go forth and make that thing a viable future. You," he point at flip flop guy. "Make your thing into something that can detect bombs as well as chairs and tables."
"I'm pretty sure it can already do that, but sure," flip-flop guy says and rocks back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Weapon analyser coming right up, boss."
Tony snorts at him and then moves on. "You two," he points at chemical armour guy and compactor woman, "I have no idea what to do with you yet, but you can stick around. You," he considers coffee machine guy. "I have no idea, but you make a good cup of coffee so I'm inclined to keep you too. No more coffee makers."
"Well I already made it, so," coffee maker guy shrugs.
"And finally, you," Tony turns to the walkie-talkie girl, who is staring at her feet. "You are my new head of Research and Development."
"What? Her?" blanket woman asks with disbelief.
Tony arches his eyebrows at her and looks at the walkie-talkie girl. "What's your name?"
"Lucy?" She offers. "Um, Lucy Schenck. Sir."
Tony arches his eyebrows. "I'm going to need that in writing, but okay, Lucy, congratulations," he says and then twists where he's sitting, getting something out of his back pocket. "You are going to make me this."
Lucy accepts the device, staring at it in confusion. "A… a cell phone, sir?" she asks and hits the centre button. The screen lights up – not with the green and lighter green of the current phones, but with colour. "Oh," she says faintly. "That's… Huh."
"Mm-hmm," Tony says and leans back, folding his arms. "The cell phone market is going to explode very soon, and I am going to take it over, starting with this. Stark Phone Zero," he nods at the cell phone and then glances at the others. "I know it's not quite an electromagnetic disassembler, but trust me – it's going to change the world."
And with well over twenty years of fore-knowledge, Tony would stay one step ahead of the competition all the way to smart phones and well beyond. He'd probably end up knocking the old cell phone giants off the market before they had the chance to fully enter it – he almost feels bad about it. Almost.
Not really though.
The news breaks out about day after. It's done via a leak and Tony has his suspicions about who's behind it. The think-tank people are both too proud and too deep into a weird invention involved Stockholm syndrome to do it, and aside from Tony only one person has the access to secret projects like the one Tony starts.
Sadly, Obadiah does it so well that Tony can't exactly confront him about it. There's no facts or figures leaked out either, no pictures, nothing really concrete, just that rumour has it that the weapons manufacture giant, Stark Industries, is considering entering the cell phone market, which really isn't really that bad. It definitely could be worse.
Tony can imagine why Obadiah does it – gauging market receptiveness, sussing out potential customer base, poking at potential competitors… it's all very sensible in business perspective. Problem is, it's not how Tony wanted things handled. Leaking out news of future technologies has never worked in his advantage. All it did was give warning to people
"Really, Obadiah?" he asks the next time he sees the man. "Really?"
"What?" the man asks, all innocent surprise. "We need to test the waters, Tony. This is a big leap for the company to take and we don't exactly have a history in telecommunications. "
"Uh-huh," Tony agrees flatly. "And what do the waters say?"
Obadiah gives him a look and sighs. "I don't know if the world is ready for a phone developed by a weapons manufacturer," he admits. "We don't exactly have much brand power in that particular market."
"Not yet," Tony answers and folds his arms. "But when we make them a better phone with wider range of capabilities, we'll get brand power."
Obadiah doesn't seem so sure, and neither does the Board of Directors. The cell phone market is still emerging, Nokia isn't yet out with their first big hit, and so they don't yet see the sheer size of it. Of course, no one had seen it coming, even science fiction had failed to predict the rise of smart phones. It was what had let Apple sweep the rug from under everyone.
And it is what would let Tony do the same now, so as long as his company didn't actually try and get into his way.
"I can do this here and I can do it with Stark Industries – or I can start a new company, say, Stark Solutions or something, and do it there. I'm not particularly picky because I know what I have and I know what it will become," Tony tells them. "You guys just need to decide if I'm going to do it with you or in spite of you. I'm going to do it either way."
"I don't suppose you could get me one of those new phones of yours?" is the first thing Rhodey asks him when he comes around on couple of days leave from training.
"Hmm, risk industrial espionage in a crucial point of Stark Industries history as a favour of a friend…" Tony considers it for a moment, tapping his lips theatrically. "Sorry, darling, you just ain't worth it."
"Well, I see where I rate with you," Rhodey harrumphs and then grabs him into a hug. "Hey there, Tony. You're looking better."
Last time they saw each other was around the funeral. "Well, times passed," Tony shrugs. "I'm moving on, baby, just watch me move on. Also I got some people in the mansion now and one of them makes killer sandwiches. I'm actually gaining weight."
"Oh you hired a cook?" Rhodey asks.
"Eh, hired is a relative term," Tony shrugs. "I hired her boyfriend and I'm now paying for her evening lessons. She makes me thank-you sandwiches."
It's been something of a relief, how little Rhodey's been around. At this point of their lives, Rhodey had been either abroad being a good little soldier or he'd been in training, learning to fly jets and helicopters and whatever else – it had usually been months and months between them seeing each other. It had probably contributed to Tony's rapid descend into alcoholism and debauchery, but right now it had been… easier that way.
That way he hadn't needed to lie.
"Oh, you're done with the renovation," Rhodey says as they enter the house. He peers around, eying the walls and the floor, at the blue and black ark reactor symbol surrounded by red and gold. "It looks nice."
"Less like a cake, yeah," Tony agrees with a grin. "Do you want a grand tour? Actually, first of all – J, this is James Rhodes. Say hello."
"Hello Mr. Rhodes," JARVIS answers promptly.
Rhodey looks up with a frown. "That's… not a PA system," he says, and looks at Tony suspiciously. "And you wouldn't put just some guy behind it even if it was. What is it?"
Tony grins. "You tell me."
"You didn't," Rhodey says and looks up. "You finished it? You told me it would take another five years at least!"
"Eh, I had the time," Tony says. "Meet Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, or JARVIS. He runs the mansion now. And my life. And, in the future, he will run the world."
"At long last, sir, my world domination plans shall be realised," JARVIS answers blandly.
"Er," Rhodey says slowly.
"Great, isn't he?" Tony grins proudly. JARVIS finally has the voice down too – no robotic stiffness left. It's as smooth and as sassily British as it should be.
"Couldn't say yet," Rhodey admits. "But I'm leaning more towards slightly terrifying."
"As you should, my friend, as you should," Tony says and winds an arm around his shoulders. "Come on, I'll give you the grand tour, introduce you to everyone, blow your mind with all of my future changing technologies and plans. Which reminds me, how do you feel about conspiracies?"
Rhodey is staring at him. He's been doing it for a while now.
"Okay, you're killing me here," Tony says, breaking pretty much instantly. No one gives looks quite like James Rhodes. "What's with the look?"
"Hmm," Rhodey answers, noncommittal.
"Rhodey, honey bear, come on," Tony whines. "The suspense is too much, I'm going to lose my mind. Talk to me."
"Hmm," Rhodey answers, again, still just staring at him.
"I'm banning humming. No more humming aloud," Tony says in desperation.
Rhodey arches his eyebrows at that and finally speaks. "Tony, have you considered... seeing someone?"
"I'm kind of out of the dating game right now, too busy, really," Tony says, and he's this close to wringing his hand in some form of frustrated desperation. "Or if you want to be really cute about it and try and tell me to go to see a shrink, then, buttercup, I have to tell you, that's condescending and offensive and really I thought better of you."
Rhodey smiles faintly at that and shakes his head. "I mean a government official or something," he says and leans his chin onto his knuckles – and there it is, the Tony is insane but I still love him look, thank god. "The military maybe. Someone who can, you know, do something about this stuff?"
"Psh," Tony answers. "Experience tells me that, nope, that doesn't ever fly. Humanity is, at least right now, blessed with incredible talent of putting the wrong people in positions of power." He stops there and looks at Rhodey. "Soo, you believe me?"
"I can tell when you're bullshitting me, Tony," Rhodey says, not quite flat and unamused, but something like it. "You are a terrible liar."
"Oh, honey, how little you know me," Tony mutters, half ashamed and wishes terribly he had a drink in his hand to fiddle with. "I am a magnificent liar."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Rhodey snorts. "But seriously, Tony, the government."
Tony shrugs at that. There's things he hasn't told the others, details, the nitty-gritty of their glorious downfall in the future, and it started with government. I thinks Fury has guessed it, though, and Peggy isn't exactly an idiot. They none of them had ever suggested finding higher ups to answer to. Even Steve hadn't suggested it – but then, Tony had put one hell of a carrot at the end of his stick.
Rhodey is military though, and for a reason.
"You think the government has contingencies for time travel and future disasters?" Tony asks and looks away.
"I don't think they do, because it's kind of unprecedented," Rhodey answers. "But what with alien invasions and all, don't you think someone should know?"
"Someone knows – I know," Tony answers and looks around in the sitting room. "You know, last time around I sold this place – I moved to Malibu, build myself a… disgustingly modern little beach front mansion, that's what the papers called it. Three floors, not a single straight rooftop, and garage full of expensive shit. Only time I came out was to crash a party I wasn't invited to, or make a spectacle of myself in the ones I was."
Rhodey arches his eyebrows at that, looking at him with a yeah, I can buy that, and? sort of look.
"Almost twenty years, I did… nothing," Tony says. "I designed missiles when ever I absolutely had to, build bombs, guns, whatever – planes, tanks, trucks, humvees. The same one I was shot at in, eventually. But overall, I just… drank and fucked around. Often literally."
"Mmhmm," Rhodey agrees, watching him placidly.
"Twenty years of basically living in sin," Tony summarises it all. "I was, roughly speaking, one of the worst human beings there is, and an arms dealer on top of that. And when aliens arrived, I was one of the front line fighters. Guess what government did?"
"Something brave and heroic?" Rhodey asks, though judging by his expression he's guessed that the punch line isn't going to be quite so quaint.
"They fired a nuke at New York. And not just any nuke – a nuke powered by alien technology. Me and my buddy Bruce, we calculated the blast yield later on – the impact would've been in the neighbourhood of the Tsar Bomba, if it had hit."
Rhodey is quiet for a moment. "It didn't hit, though?" he asks.
"No, it hit – I just made sure it hit the actual fucking alien portal. They aimed it at my tower," Tony scoffs. "Smack in middle of Manhattan. It would've killed millions if it had hit the ground. That's what the government did."
"Imagine what they'd do if they were forewarned," Rhodey offers, though the expression on his face was darkening.
"I have," Tony says. "Post cold war sentimentality with weapons of future. Yeah, I've imagined it. It looks a lot like quick and sudden lapse to World War III."
"Tony," Rhodey says flatly.
"Mutually assured destruction doesn't really apply to superpowers," Tony says and then sighs. "We tried it putting governments in control. We really did – I threw everything I had at it. The UN at the helm, it looked… like solution to an ongoing restraint problem we had. And it restrained us alright, the ones of us who signed it. Put us on a leash. The rest ran and then we fought each other and that was a wonderful setting for the next time the aliens –"
He stops there and closes his eyes for a moment, squeezing his hands into fists.
Rhodey is quiet for a moment and then he sighs. "So you think you can do better?" he asks.
Tony shakes his head and leans back a little. He could try and go for some sort of humility here, he could talk about Peggy and Fury, both of whom are trying in their own ways to make him better, about Steve who, most terrifying of all, trusts him. He could point out that without them he couldn't even do much, that he isn't alone, that it's a group effort.
Thing is, it's not. Fury's nailed it in, finally. It's not group effort. It's Tony, and people doing his bidding following a plan only he knows fully. And if he can't trust that he's doing the right thing, then what's the fucking point?
"Yeah," he says finally. "I do."
Rhodey looks at him searchingly for a while, leaning his chin into his knuckles and just looking at him. Tony very determinately doesn't squirm under it, though it's a close thing. "You're crazy," Rhodey finally says and sighs. "And this is crazy. Alien invasions and superheroes. Jesus, Tony."
"Yeah, tell me about it," Tony sighs and slumps a little where he's sitting. "You became superhero too, by the way. After you stole an armour from me. War Machine."
"Oh, great, I was worried I got left out," Rhodey says and snorts. "War Machine? Really?"
"You named it, not me," Tony answers. "They tried to rename you Iron Patriot later on after some bad rep, painted the armour and everything. You looked like lovechild of Steve and me."
"Steve?" Rhodey asks, shaking his head.
"Steve Rogers," Tony explains. Rhodey frowns a little at him so he shrugs and clarifies. "Captain America."
"You mean the guy from forties?"
"No, I mean the guy downstairs," Tony says.
Rhodey looks at him expectantly.
"No, it's not a joke – I literally mean the guy downstairs," Tony says. "In my basement – or technically one of the sub levels, it's kind of weird calling it a basement when there's three floors of it. Steve's on self appointed guard duty over the Winter Soldier – HYDRA assassin who killed my parents, yadda yadda yadda, and also Bucky Barnes. It's a long story."
"What," Rhodey asks flatly.
"Yeah, pretty much," Tony agrees and then tilts his head. "He really is downstairs though – wanna meet him?"
Steve has done some changes to the section of the sublevel where they're holding the Winter Soldier. He's all but camped there now – there's an arm chair there, a desk, a sofa, and television hooked up to a VHS. It's playing what looks like one of the old war propaganda movies from the 40's – a montage of clips of Steve and his men played to an announcer is talking about the great deeds of the Howling Commandoes.
Steve is sitting on the floor, staring at the screen with a look of tired, pained nostalgia, his arms folded as he leans back against the glass. On the other side of the glass the Winter Soldier is sitting cross legged, scowling darkly at the TV.
"Well this looks downright domestic," Tony comments, and they both look up, Steve with surprise and the Winter Soldier with expression that closes up into expressionless mask the moment he sees Tony.
"Boss?" Steve says, surprised, looking between him and Rhodey. "Something wrong?"
Tony shrugs, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Nah, just wanted to introduce a buddy of mine," he says and looks at Rhodey. Rhodey's eyes are going sharply between Steve, the Winter Soldier and the television which is showing a clip of Captain Rogers and Sergeant Barnes in middle of what looks like some sort of tactical planning session.
"Steve, this is James Rhodes – he got armour like me, the War Machine, back where I come from," Tony says. "Rhodey, this is Steve Rogers, aka, Captain America," Tony nods at the super solider who quickly stands up. "We found him in the Arctic little while back."
"Okay," Rhodey says, his voice a little choked. "That's… some proof. Hi, hello," he says then and when Steve reaches forward he quickly grabs the man's hand for a shake. "It's a… a honour, Captain Rogers."
"Just call me Steve, I'm not really in the army anymore," Steve says with a brief smile and shakes Rhodey's hand firmly. "Pleasure to meet you."
"Yeah, it is, I mean, it's pleasure to meet you too, sir, I mean, uh, Steve," Rhodey says, a little breathless, and then looks at Tony. His eyes are a little wide and he looks like he's just inch away from wildly gesticulating at Steve.
"Yeah, yeah, I know, he's very impressive," Tony says, a bit amused. Last time around Rhodey had year or so of superheroing of his own under his belt so Steve hadn't been quite as impressive to him – but Captain America tended to have an effect on military people. It's kind of cute, in a cultish way.
"I studied him – I mean, you," Rhodey says to Steve, because sometimes Rhodey is a embarrassing nerd. "I mean – in school, I did a presentation – and also wrote – uh –"
"Er," Steve says, and his smile gets a slightly pinched quality to it. "That's nice –"
Steve goes quiet and they all turn to look at the Winter Soldier. He's leaning his lone arm against the reinforced glass, and his eyes are on Tony. "I wanna talk to you," he says.
"Bucky?" Steve says with a frown and then looks at Tony, looking worried.
Tony eyes the Winter Soldier warily and then glances at Steve. "How's he coming along?" he asks quietly, while Rhodey looks between them worriedly.
"It's…" Steve frowns and shrugs his shoulders. "Hard to tell. He asks questions now, but… it's hard to tell how much he remembers. Sometimes it seems like maybe he does, but… it goes away again."
Tony nods slowly and looks at the Winter Soldier. "Talk then," he says and he knows his voice comes off harsh. He doesn't particularly care. "I'm right here."
"Without company," the Winter Soldier says and pushes away from the glass, glaring at Steve and Rhodey.
For a moment Tony calculates the glass's resistance – it's multi layered and there's metal mesh between the layers, it would take more than super soldier to bust through it, especially one with just the one arm. And judging by the looks of it, the Winter Soldier hasn't managed to make a dent on the thing yet, and he must've tried.
Tony has seen the man escape from inescapable places before though.
"Boss?" Steve asks with a worried look.
"Tony?" Rhodey asks, confused.
"Yeah," Tony says and runs a hand over his chin. "It's fine – go give Rhodey a tour or something. You can talk war stuff, or whatever," he says, keeping his eyes on the Winter Soldier. "JARVIS will let you know if something happens."
Steve hesitates, looking between him and the prison. Then he nods. "Alright," he says and sighs. "I could use a bite to eat."
"Tony, what's going on?" Rhodey asks worriedly. "Is that…?"
"It's complicated – Steve can explain," Tony says and waves a dismissive hand. "Go on, sweetcheeks. I gotta be an adult for a bit."
Rhodey makes a face full of indecision and confusion and concern, but then Steve is there, leading him away. Tony glances after them and waits until he can hear the armoured doors closing and locking after Steve, before turning back to the glass.
"Alright," he says. "You have my undivided attention."
The Winter Soldier scowls at him, running his hand through his chin length hair. He doesn't look precisely nervous but there is something uneasy about his face. "I remember him," he says. "I remember Stark."
For a moment Tony doesn't do or say or even think anything. Of course, he knew it would come up eventually, of course he knew the Winter Soldier would remember eventually. Tony just hadn't thought he'd have to be there for it.
They'd never talked about it in the future. It had been a terrible revelation, a fight and then eventually a great big fucking elephant in the room – but they'd never sat down and talked about it. They'd just known and invariably hated each other for it, but they'd never really…
Tony takes a slow breath and then turns away. He takes the armchair Steve hadn't been using and slowly turns it around, listening to the echo of wooden legs scraping against the concrete floor. The Winter Soldier watches, silent and nervous, as Tony sits down.
"Talk," he orders, and the Winter Soldier talks.
Tony doesn't learn much anything that's new from the Winter Soldier. Most of it he already knew from the future, from watching the security footage of his parents being killed over and over, and then going through the files and data they'd gotten from Siberia. He'd been more or less clear on what had happened.
It's still somehow different, to hear it first hand from the man who had been at the heart of the whole thing. There is a visceral realness to it, when the Winter Soldier reports the whole thing to him, fact by fact, moment by moment. From being woken up after a recent wipe, of being given his orders, his mission, from studying the Starks' schedule to determine the best place to finish the job.
The Winter Soldier had chosen that particular road and that particular time because of the security camera – it had been in his orders, to provide proof and footage. His handlers had wanted to see him killing a man James Barnes had once known and worked with. It's as fucked up as only HYDRA can be.
There is one thing Tony does learn from the Winter Soldier, though.
"Are you sure?" Tony asks, his voice low.
"I observed the location for three nights," the Winter Soldier tells him coolly. "It wasn't optimal site for the mission, however. There were no security cameras I could utilise. It wasn't… imperative. Another location was chosen instead."
It takes Tony a moment to parse that together, and when he does he leans back a little. "You didn't tell your handlers, did you?" he asks. "You found my dad's lab – but you didn't report it."
"It wasn't imperative to the mission," the Winter Soldier says and he sounds almost smug about. Then he frowns and looks away, suddenly confused.
Tony tilts his head and stares at the man for a long moment, watching him try and work his way through whatever the hell was going on in his head. "What was imperative to the mission, then?" he asks slowly.
"The serum," the Winter Soldier says. "And Stark eliminated with no witnesses. That's all."
Tony runs a hand over his chin. "And that's all you delivered," he says thoughtfully. "You could've given them everything, but you only gave them precisely what they asked."
"That was the mission," the Winter Soldier says and glances at him. "And I am… discouraged from embellishing missions." Again with the smugness – and the confusion.
"Holy shit," Tony says in something like wonder.
The prisoner ducks his head a little and he looks almost pleased under the confusion. Then he looks away, at the TV screen. It's dark now, the footage having ran out. "You said I'm going to die," the man then says, not looking at Tony. "For what I did."
"Yeah," Tony agrees and looks him over. "You are."
That gets him a frown. "Steve…"
"Will be here to pick up the pieces," Tony promises and stands up. He looks the man over through the glass. He looks… not in any way less dangerous than before but somehow not quite as lethal. "You're still a security risk, though, and there is no way in hell I am going to let you out of there anytime soon. So you have to do your thing through glass, so sorry about that."
"I don't… understand."
Tony shrugs. "You will when the nightmares get bad enough," he says and smiles. "There will be stress and trauma and confusion, and it's probably not going to be getting better anytime soon for you."
Barnes looks at him in confusion. "I don't understand you," he says almost plaintively. "You're not going to kill me?"
Tony sighs and laughs. It comes out a little weak. "No, I'm not, not outside metaphors," he says, because regardless of how much vindictive pleasure he's getting out of it, it's… probably not good for Barnes's development. "I don't blame Bucky Barnes for what happened – I blame the Winter Soldier," he explains. "And I think you already got your hands around his throat."
Barnes scowls at him and looks away. He paces couple steps away and then back again. "A hand," he then says and looks down. "Just got the one now."
Tony shakes his head at that, laughing weakly. He gets up. "Welcome back to the world of the living, Sergeant Barnes," he says and shoves his hands into his pockets to keep himself from wringing them. "Now excuse me, I have a lab to find."
"What about Steve?" Barnes calls after him.
"What about Steve?" Tony asks.
"Is he…" Barnes hesitates and squeezes his single hand into a fist. "He's real?" he then asks in tones of someone desperate for proof. "He works for you and he's here and he's real?"
Tony frowns a bit at him. "Oh," he then says, and what little bleak humour he'd manage to scavenge drains out of him. "Yeah. He's real," he agrees quietly. "I promise you, Steve is here and he is very real."
Barnes draws a breath and looks down. "He's real," he whispers, squeezing his eyes shut. "Steve is real. Okay. He's real…"
Tony flees while the man mutters assurances to himself, as if trying to memorise it. It makes Tony's stomach churn. "JARVIS – J, get Steve back in there," he says, his voice a little choked as unlocks the armoured door. His hands refuse to cooperate properly, it takes a few tries. "Tell him to get back in there."
"He's on his way, sir," JARVIS agrees quietly and moment later Tony can hear Steve's steps pounding on the stairs as he hurries back down.
"Is he –?" Steve asks, his eyes wide and face worried.
"He's fine – little unsure about reality though," Tony says, his voice still a little choked. "Go there and, I don't know, tell him about things only he'd know or something. Jesus," he mutters to himself as Steve hurries down, the door opening and closing with a clank behind him.
"Tony?" Rhodey asks worriedly from up the stairs.
Tony walks to him and then plants his face in the middle of Rhodey's chest. "Promise me you never become a brain wiped HYDRA assassin," he mumbles shakily.
"I'll try my best to avoid it," Rhodey says slowly and wraps an arm around his shoulders. "You okay?"
No, not one bit.
"I'll be fine," Tony says and closes his eyes. "Just give me a moment."
"Take your time," Rhodey says and hugs him. "Afterwards you're explaining this all to me again, from the start."
"Yeah, okay," Tony agrees and refuses to budge for a long while.
The laboratory Barnes had found and never reported to HYDRA isn't as much a laboratory as it is a fucking space station. Completely contained and self sufficient, Howard Stark build the whole thing inside a shipping crate – and then hid it in the middle of construction site that isn't in any way linked to Stark Industries and which, judging by the looks if it, is never going to actually get anything built. The shipping crate fits the derelict construction site perfectly, with it's peeling paint and rusted corners. It looks like a wreck on the outside.
Inside, it looks like something Tony might've found in the future, rather than the present. It's streamlined to the point of being sterile, and there isn't a single piece of equipment that isn't there for a specific purpose. Everything is built into the custom designed interior, everything is attached, and there isn't a inch of space wasted. Designed to be safely mobile.
And it all has just one purpose. To make the Project Rebirth serum.
"Dad, you son of a bitch," Tony mutters, running a hand along the smooth white counter that runs the length of the crate's interior. It feels a bit like home and he kind of hates it, how familiar it is – how much alike their designs are. It looks like something that might've been found in Stark Tower, twenty six years from now.
Tony curls his hand into a fist and raps it against the solid counter top.
Why, though? Why had dad made it, why now? It'd been fifty years since the project, and sure people had been trying to make the serum ever since, but why had Howard made it now? Because Tony has no doubt he probably could've done it before. Howard was too much like him – and there is no way he hadn't gleaned the process out of it's creator, or reverse engineered it after. The guy had reverse engineered the fucking Tesseract – he must've done the same with the serum. Why now? What had changed?
Rapping his knuckles against the counter, Tony walks the length of the mobile lab, trying to figure it out. Sadly, there are no computers here, no files, no data. It's just a production line, and nothing else. Production line where Tony can, if he wants, to make more of the serum. He can do it right now. He would have a bag of it inside couple of days.
If he wants to.
If he has a reason to.
"Shit," Tony mutters and sits down on the lone chair in the lab, running his hands through his hair. They might've been shaking a little, he can't really tell. Everything feels a bit like it's shaking.
He now has the capability to produce his own line of super soldiers.
What the hell is he supposed to do with that?
I don't know how to write Rhodey :(
"You have been busy," Obadiah comments while looking over the menu.
"I have?" Tony asks, because though he has been, to the point where he's starting to skim on sleep again, it's not something Obadiah should know. As far as people outside the mansion knows, Tony is doing nothing but sleeping in and occasionally tinkering with mobile phones.
"Well let's see. Complete over haul of the old mansion," Obadiah starts, lifting one finger against the menu's edge.
"The décor didn't agree with me."
Obadiah gives him an amused look. "Then you bought and almost immediately after sold a Russian nuclear icebreaker," another finger goes up.
"Eh," Tony shrugs. The Yushny wasn't really useful for him after the trip. "I was in a mood for some snow." He sold it to a company that's now planning to start tourist cruises in the arctic.
"Mm-hmm. You've sent five secretaries sent backing," Obadiah says, giving him a look over his menu, tapping three fingers against the menu. "All of whom had college funds appear mysteriously out of… who knows where. Do you know where, Tony?"
"What can I tell you, it's one of life's great mysteries."
"Right," Obadiah agrees, amused. "Then you hired two bodyguards, none of whom seem to have any experience with private security – one of them from… a circus, was it?" He leans his elbow onto the table and his chin into his palm, giving Tony a curious look. "Neither of whom I have actually seen doing any body guarding, I'd like to add."
Tony leans back a little, wondering if Obadiah has someone stalking him. Probably more than just one really. Then he shrugs. "They're still training," he says.
"Oh, I'm sure they are," Obadiah agrees, grinning at him, almost leering. "I also noticed both seem to have moved in with you. Training, huh? Busy work, training."
Tony sighs. "Back breaking, I tell you."
"I just bet it is. And on top of that busy work, there's the complete overhaul of R&D, full with new head of department – and inexperienced one at that," Obadiah says pointedly and arches his eyebrows at him.
"Well," Tony says with a shrug. "I liked her stuff."
Any one of his little think-tank was smart enough for the position, really – he could've thrown a rock in that room and hit a prime candidate or four. So, most of them don't have experience, yet, some of them don't even have education, but that isn't the point. It didn't matter what they are now – because Tony knows what they became in the future.
Lucy Schenck had been one of the researchers and executives at Pym Technologies in twenty years. Dany Thompson had been in Hammer Tech, Samuel Krastev had been in Rand Industries and so forth. The others are more or less the same – and just the fact that Tony could just about remember them meant that they all became something special in future.
Sometimes he feels a tiny bit guilty for poaching the best from his future competitors. But then again… competitors.
"She's never been in charge of a her own desk, never mind a fully equipped, former weapons development Research and Development lab," Obadiah points out. "Why not put someone else in charge – say, Dimov, if you want to keep it within your new think-tank? He at least has some experience of working in the place. And I saw his project – it's not half bad."
Tony frowns a bit. Petya Dimov – the chemical body armour guy. He's actually Stark Industries – former intern, then assistant. In future he'd walked out on Stark Industries and joined Pym Technologies instead, probably because Stark Industries had started concentrating more and more on explosive things.
"It's not bad, no, but Dimov doesn't know anything about electronics," Tony shrugs. "Schenck does."
"So put her in charge of the phone project," Obadiah says and gives him a sigh. "What's wrong with the old head of R&D anyway?"
Tony gives him a look. "He's widely known for his explosives and that oh so wonderful way he fondles his female interns."
Obadiah makes a face at that and Tony shakes his head. "Give Schenck some time, she'll grow into it," he says. "And if she doesn't, then, it'll be a learning experiences she won't soon forget. We can afford some leeway right now."
"You're splitting the R&D apart, you know," Obadiah says darkly. "How long before they start infighting? And do you have any idea what happens to corporations with internal conflicts in the R&D? Especially in crucial turning point like this."
"Well, luckily for us, we have easy way to put end to that, don't we?" Tony asks and sets his menu down. "Cut budget for everyone except for Schenck. I promise you, they'll start co-operating when the money stops moving."
"You can't do that," Obadiah says with a frown.
"I think I can," Tony shrugs. "It's a shitty move, I'll grant you, but it's one I can and will make if the R&D starts showing signs of contrasting objectives. There's only one project I want done, right now. It takes precedence."
"Hmm," Obadiah answers and leans back as a waitress sidles towards their table, ready to take their orders. He orders pork tenderloin while Tony gets shrimp pasta. "And bring us bottle of some stupidly expensive wine, and two glasses," he adds with a smile.
"One glass," Tony says and glances up. "I'll have cranberry juice, thanks."
Obadiah arches his eyebrows at that. "One glass then," he says almost curiously and after the waitress has hurried off he leans in a bit, folding his arms on the table between them. "You know, we haven't exactly gotten positive feedback from the public. A mobile phone, designed by former weapons developer…" he trails off pointedly. "We don't exactly have foot in the market there, and consumer confidence isn't something that just… happens."
"So, we throw few million to marketing, get deals with bunch of celebrities, get product placement deals, whatever," Tony says with a careless shrug.
"It's not that simple and you know it."
Tony shrugs. "It'll get us started," he says. "Besides, there is a marketing strategy to a device developed by a weapons developer. Imagine it, Weapons Grade Connection," Tony says grandiosely, painting the title on the air between them. "We'll give it a structural integrity to stop a bullet and make couple gung-ho commercials about it actually saving people's lives. It'll be fine."
Obadiah sighs. "Well, that'll sell it to law enforcement if no one else," he mutters.
Tony smiles. The first version would have to be pretty simple, sadly. It was bit too soon for mobile games or elaborate ring tones. He doubts the first model will even sell that well – maybe enough to justify the change in company goals, but not enough to make a profit. The next one, though…
"In the mean while, have you given any thought about what we have been doing in the past?" Obadiah asks.
"As in…?" Tony asks slowly, giving him a vary look.
"Stark industries has a lot of very valuable patents. Lot of which won't be much use to us in future, what with us moving onto electronics. There are companies out there that wouldn't mind taking them off our hands. And I have to tell you, Tony – it wouldn't hurt at this juncture to build up a bit of nest egg."
Tony takes a deep breath and then releases it slowly. "I've thought about it," he admits. And he had too, though not in the sense Obadiah is probably thinking about. Stark Industries did have lot of patents. Missiles and guns and rockets, sure, but also engines and reactors, alloys, chemicals, materials. Things they'd kept under wraps in the future.
Things which might've given the militaries of Earth, if not an edge or advantage, then at least a small a leg up, had they been in wider circulation when Thanos came.
Tony looks away for a moment, taking in the restaurant. It's one of those stupidly expensive fancy places he doesn't really care for these days – he'd really prefer a diner, or a small pizza joint. The people there are all in their best, in suits and dresses that cost tens of thousands of dollars, with jewellery and cuff links to match. Such expensive stuff – and so worthless in the end.
It wouldn't even take aliens to take these people down – a lunatic with a hand gun would be enough.
Tony drums his finger against the smooth, polished surface of the table between them. "Dad left us a lot of dangerous stuff," he muses. "Say we release some of that, or sell it, or just hand it away – and then someone does something… stupid with it. Wouldn't that make us guilty too?"
Obadiah looks him over carefully for a moment. "I don't think so," he says slowly. "We're manufactures, Tony, and we're no more guilty of a bullet wound than the gun or the bullet – it's all in the hands of the shooter."
Tony makes a face. "Yeah, yeah, guns don't kill people, people kill people – and yet," he points a finger gun at Obadiah. "I can go bang all I want at you, but without a gun I can't actually shoot you."
"And yet, the gun lying on the table can't get up by itself and kill me either," Obadiah says plainly and points at the utensils on the table. "But you could grab a knife and slit my throat with it. Does that mean people should stop making steak knifes?"
"That's not the point," Tony mutters and lowers his hand. "Besides comparing knifes and guns isn't the same – killing someone with a knife is way worse and way harder than doing it with a gun."
"Death's a death," Obadiah says flatly and crosses his hands, glancing up. The waitress is back with the wine bottle. "It really bothers you, weapons manufacture?" Obadiah asks while the waitress opens the bottle.
Tony frowns a little at that and looks away from either of them. "It's not that, exactly. I just… I want to make the world better, not worse," he says, wincing a little at the sound of the bottle popping open. "Dad left behind stuff that could do either and I don't want to throw it all out there only to realise one day I've made everything… so much worse."
Obadiah accepts the cork from the waitress, sniffing it slowly. "You know, you need to learn to distance yourself from what you produce – what we produce. Thank you, my dear – leave it, I can pour for myself," he says to the waitress and then watches her go.
"Why the hell would I do that?" Tony says, glancing his way and then away again when Obadiah pours the wine. "The whole point of making something, making anything, is to make it good. I want to be proud of what I make, not… distance myself from it, what the hell is that even supposed to mean?"
"Stark industries makes devices, whatever those devices may be, to be used. How people use them after we've sold them, that's neither up to you nor is it your responsibility," Obadiah says, giving him a look. "If you sell something, it's not strictly speaking yours anymore you know."
"Oh, hey, copyright and trademark lawyers, I got some bad, bad news for you," Tony says, clicking his tongue.
"You know what I mean," Obadiah says flatly and sips the wine. He makes a face at it, as if not sure how he likes it. "You know, your father struggled with these ideals himself once upon a time, but the fact to the matter is – people will do whatever they damn well want," he says, turning to examine the bottle. "You're not accessory to whatever they do, even if you made the toys – or weapons – they use to do it. They'll do whatever they want regardless of who made their guns."
"And if they can only do terrible things because of those guns I gave them? The devices I supplied?" Tony asks pointedly. "Say we sell someone the designs of the arc reactor or something and someone manages to turn it into a bomb, and blows up a city with it. Is that still not our responsibility, not even a little bit?"
Obadiah sighs. "Okay, for one, we have these things as contracts we can do that are legally binding and can be made include – and exclude – multitudes of potential risks and misuses," he says. "And two, no one is going to be blowing up cities."
"You say that now," Tony mutters.
Obadiah laughs, shaking his head. He reaches for a napkin and spreads it out. "Supervillains aren't actually a thing, Tony," he says amusedly, spreading the cloth over his lap.
Tony snorts and looks away. "You never know."
Obadiah chuckles and shakes his head. "It's all right to be worried," he says. "Hell, I'd be worried if you weren't! But there's line between concern and paranoia and at some point you have to err on the side of good business."
"That… makes absolutely no sense, thank you for that wonderful bit of advice," Tony sighs. "I feel truly enlightened." But then, maybe that's what he gets for expecting good advice from Obadiah of all people. "You know, I could be a supervillain."
Obadiah almost inhales the wine and has to grab the napkin to clean after himself. "Tony," he says with fond humour through the cloth, all but chortling at him. "You'd be a terrible supervillain."
There'd been a time – lot of times actually – when Tony had seriously contemplated just giving up the chase and embracing the practically inevitable and just going the way of villainy.
He'd never made the best hero, he'd never been the most inspiring or the best liked. That's the thing of starting out on top and then reaching even higher – people don't exactly love you for it. He was never the underdog and no one rooted for Iron Man, not really. The public support Tony and Iron Man had gotten was something akin to following of a new sports car or brand new branch of technology. Awed and vexed and jealous – and gleefully self righteous and justified every time he failed. And when he succeeded, well, it was expected and all par the course. No one thanked him for it.
Iron Man sold more toys – and consistently ranked behind most everyone else in publicity polls. He was the most recognised superhero out there – and usually the least liked.
Tony would be lying if he said he never expected any different, but then he's just human and of course he would've liked to be liked. Everyone wants bit of validation every now and then. But it wasn't why he became Iron Man in the first place, it wasn't the reason he kept doing what he did in the future. In the end, it didn't matter if people hated him so as long as he knew he was doing the right thing. That was what he kept telling himself, over and over and over.
Sometimes though, it was a bit much. When he was sent the bill of another bit of property destruction, when he leafed through the dozens of lawsuits against Iron Man that came daily, when he glanced another article calling for justice and vengeance on him over things he caused or failed to deliver…
The only time Tony had been actually awarded for what he'd done as Iron Man, it had been because he'd blackmailed Senator Stern. It's the kind of precedence that makes one think.
Fact to the matter is, Tony wouldn't have even had to try to become a villain. He wouldn't have needed to change much. Actually the only thing he would've needed to do was say couple wrong words at the right time, and he would've been a supervillain instead of superhero in the eyes of the public. That was the line he'd balanced all through out his career as Iron Man.
But had he tried, really, really tried, well… it would've been something else. If he'd embraced it, if he'd gone for some villainous goal, like, say, world domination or whatever…
It would've been easy, to go that route. In Iron Legion he had an loyal army that he could endlessly replenished, in his AIs he would've had control over internet and, eventually, over almost all forms of digital communication. In various Stark satellites he had the Big Brother's near omniscient point of view over the entire planet. Worst of all, in repulsor technology he had the cheapest means to get to earth orbit, and put whatever he wanted up there. Like weapons.
Sure, so as long as the other Avengers lived he never would've succeeded. There was about 50% chance he could've convinced Bruce to his side, and that would've tipped the scales wildly to Tony's favour. But so as long as Steve, Barnes, Falcon, Ant-man and the Black Panther were still alive and kicking, they probably would've figured out a way to stop him. And that was only if Fury, Barton and Black Widow hadn't beaten them to his assassination.
Probably not before he changed the course of human history, though.
Those are the thoughts Tony sometimes entertained himself with in the worst days, when it was just him. Towards the end it was just him most of the time and the days were getting increasingly worse. He thought about it a lot, more than was in any way healthy probably.
Sometimes, he wondered what it would've been like, had Thanos attacked a world of supervillain Iron Man, instead. And the terrible thing is – he's pretty sure they would've fared better. If not because of whatever forces a supervillain version of him would've brought to the table – then because of what he'd forced into existence by his presence. Superheroes and supervillains exist in a weird synchrony – one appearing to match the other in a sort of cosmic-right-and-wrong balancing act.
Sometimes Tony wonders what the superhero who would've risen to match against villain version of Iron Man would've been like. Someone he would've hurt, someone who's life he would've ruined with his villainous acts… someone relentlessly and brutally good in a way he'd never really been. He's 100% sure it wouldn't have been any of the Avengers, mostly because he wouldn't have tolerated it from any of them, not even Steve.
He's also about 96% certain he would've possessively loved the person on sight, but that's neither here nor there.
Tony has lot of weird fantasies about his hypothetical life as villain Iron Man is one he's never ever going to share with anyone. He thinks about it a lot while trying to figure out what to do with the super serum lab, though. In any of his pervious villainy fantasies, he's never had super soldiers on his side. It's kind of throwing the meticulously constructed fantasies askew.
He can't say he likes it.
Tony watches Peggy closely as she takes the lab in. She's very contained, he notes to himself. Standing up straight but not stiff, her arms held carefully loose but close to her body, not a movement wasted. If he didn't know what she looked like when she was relaxed, he would've mistaken it for ease. She doesn't look shook.
She is, though.
"It all works," Tony says, taking seat in the lone chair and throwing one leg over the other. "I… tested it," he adds, and points at the single plastic bag, full of the serum. She gives him a sharp look and Tony laughs before explaining. "The equipment, I tested the equipment. I haven't juiced myself up. The stuff here," he motions. "It works."
Peggy says nothing for a moment, just looking down the length of the small, self contained lab. "And it's… the real thing," she says. "Did you figure it out? How does it work?"
Tony hesitates for a moment and then leans forward a little, looking at her. "Now, biochemistry isn't exactly my favourite field ever, but I've got a decent enough handle on it," he says and looks up at her. "Aunt Peggy, did Doctor Erskine ever… talk about how this stuff?"
"No, not really," Peggy admits, frowning a little. "Not outside what we were to expect. No one was told much anything about the actual process, how the serum was made, none of it. We just knew what we could… hope to get out of it."
Tony nods slowly. "Did he ever call it anything other than serum?" he asks then.
Peggy pauses at that, looking at him. "No, I don't… think so? Why?"
Tony snorts and shakes his head. "It's kind of hilarious when you think about. Seventy years – or I guess, fifty right now – people have been wondering what this stuff is, how it works, how it didn't just up and kill Steve – and the clue is in the name. It's serum," he says and laughs. "Well, the juiced up super power version of it. This stuff," he reaches for the bag and takes it in hand. "It's artificial blood serum."
"Blood serum?" Peggy repeats slowly.
"Mm-hmm," Tony agrees, squishing the bag in his hands a bit. It's so weird, to just… hold the stuff. "Well it's more than that, but it's also kind of less than that – it's hard to explain. It's kind of high tech version of blood plasma. It's a… stem-cellish sort of structure for the body to rebuild itself on. I don't even know."
Peggy nods slowly, but it's obvious she doesn't have any better idea about how to take that than he does. "Well, I always figured it would never understand the science of it," she muses and folds her arms. "What are you going to do, Tony?"
"Hell if I know," Tony says, squishing the liquid around, back and forward, back and forward. "You know Steve is going to keep on getting stronger, right?" he then says. "The way he is now, he's actually pretty weak compared to how he became in future. He can lift, what, six hundred pounds?"
"Six fifty I think was the last he tested it," Peggy admits, with tiny hint of smug pride.
Tony hums. "In future, his max was around hundred thousand."
There's a moment of silence. "What?" Peggy then asks. "You don't – hundred thousand pounds?!"
"Mm-hmm," Tony agrees, staring at the bag. "His version of lifting weights involved a bulldozer."
Peggy stares at him for a moment and then looks at the bag. "You mean, whoever takes that…"
"Well, I don't know for sure," Tony admits and sets the bag down on the counter before he accidentally pokes a hole in it. "I don't know if his serum is like this stuff. But we can assume. Also I figured what the vita rays were for – and again, clue is in the name."
"Oh?" Peggy asks warily
"Vitalisation," Tony says and shrugs. "It was basically just fuel for the serum, sped up the process. It probably wasn't actually even necessary – but it cut out the years worth of waiting time, and helped turn Steve from a string bean into beefcake. So, probably worth it."
Peggy stares at him and then taps a finger against the bag. "You meant to say someone could take this, right now, and it would work?" she asks quietly.
"Well, it would work slowly at first," Tony admits. "Probably take several months, maybe even a year or so before there'd be any real effect. Another couple of years before they became a super human. But essentially… yeah."
Peggy is quiet for a moment. "Tony, HYDRA has five bags of this," she reminds him. "And we were relying on the idea that they can't make use of them without the vita rays."
"Yeah," Tony agrees and looks at his hands for a moment. He opens his mouth and then closes it with a frown. "I get that that's a bit of a concern, and yeah, I have been thinking about it," he says slowly, lying through his teeth because he'd all but forgotten about the whole damn thing, because, "Right now I am kind of more worried about the fact that I can now make super soldiers."
"Tony," Peggy says softly.
Tony looks up. "I have to use this stuff," he says. "We need more people like Steve for the future. I know we do, and I know… what a huge difference it will make. With just handful of more people like Steve, everything would've gone so much better. But at the same time…"
He glances at the bag and then clasps his shaking hands together. "I am really not the right person to be in charge of super soldiers," he says, his voice a little choked. "No one is, really. Just having Steve terrifies me sometimes, and more people like him – and, and what if I choose wrong people, what if they turn out bad? This might end up being a fucking factory line for super villains, all of them with Steve's powers, and I can't…"
"Tony," Peggy says and Tony stops, drawing a shuddering breath. She's standing in front of him now. "Tony, we have over twenty years," she reminds him gently. "None of this has to happen now."
"Yeah, because leaving problematic stuff for later date always solves things," Tony mutters and wrings his hands for a bit. "I want to blow this goddamn thing up and I know I can't. Hell, it won't even make any difference know – I can just rebuild it now. Shit."
Peggy draws a breath and then steps closer, drawing him into a sideways embrace. Shuddering a little Tony leans his cheek against her belly, trying to breath evenly. "First things first," she says soothingly. "We need to deal with HYDRA, and whatever they do with the serum. We can do that without any of this, can't we?" she asks, motioning at the bag of super serum.
"Maybe, with Barnes in our custody," Tony mumbles and closes his eyes. "We'll need Steve on field though. Or me, or Rhodey, but I haven't had the time to finish the armours."
"You – I didn't know you were working on armours," Peggy admits and looks down at him "I've been to your workshop, there's nothing like that there."
Tony shrugs. "Servos are giving us bit of a problem right now. They don't strictly speaking exist yet, and I've been busy. Also JARVIS needs an upgrade, badly, before we can properly start making stuff. So we haven't actually fabricated anything yet," he admits. "Give me couple months."
"Hmm. Well, we'll ask Steve about it then," Peggy says calmly. "Once HYDRA super soldiers are dealt with, we need to move up with our plans, purge SHIELD to best of our ability. Then… we'll reconsider this."
Tony sighs. It sounds like a plan. There's just a few problems with it. "First, there is no way I can just set this stuff aside," he admits morosely. "It will burn at me until I do something with it. Second, I already made that," he points at the bag. "And it will also burn at me until I do something with."
"You said you were worried about choosing wrong people," Peggy reminds him and arches her eyebrows at him. "Or are you thinking yourself?"
"Hell no," Tony says, shaking his head. "There might be… couple of people I think would make good super people."
Peggy is expectantly quiet until Tony looks up at her pointedly. "You don't…" she trails away, frowning. "You think it would work on me? I am not exactly at peak of youth here, you must realise that."
"Doesn't matter," Tony shrugs. "It might take a few years but it would probably actually make you younger. This stuff, it doesn't just make you stronger – it makes you break through your peak physical fitness on semi regular basis. I mean, look at what it did to Steve. What's few decades to this stuff?"
Peggy stares at him for a moment, her eyes wide. Then she looks away sharply, swallowing. "I… no," she then says, her voice a little choked. "No. I can't."
"You'd make a wonderful super hero, you know," Tony says earnestly. "And it would make Steve's life, probably." And it would let him rest easy because if there was ever someone who would not fuck up superherohood, it would be Peggy Carter.
"That's…" she trails off and her hands on Tony's shoulder tighten. "That's a nice thought," she says then wistfully and her temptation is almost tangible before she shakes her head and gives him an amused look. "However I have a job to do and it might be a bit difficult if I suddenly start aging backwards."
"All the more reason to do it – excuse to quit your job," Tony says brightly.
"I only just got the job," Peggy says and tugs at his hair. There's already regret in her eyes, but she's resolute. "Thank you for your offer, but I'm afraid I have to decline. Who else did you have in mind? You're planning armour for James so not him I take? Not Fury either, surely."
"No, definitely not Fury, he'd kill us all," Tony says with a shudder and then shakes his head. "Not that my second choice is much better, now that I think about it. How do you feel about Super Nanny for a superhero name?"