The studio lights burned her retinas. She felt like her face was shellacked into place and her hair was stiff as a plank. But she had to do this. She had to go on stupid Wake Up USA to address the leak of Project Renaissance.

The sound guy finished affixing the mic to the collar of her jacket as the assistant producer approached her.

"Alright, Miss Stark, when we come back we'll be going to you. Do you need anything? Water, coffee?" The young man asked in a nonchalant tone. He worked for one of the most watched morning shows in the country, so he met new celebrities every day. It helped, actually, that he wasn't fawning over her like some people did. Made the situation more normal - well, as normal as it could be.

Due to her last name and fame-seeking brother, Eliza was no stranger to the spotlight. She'd simply chosen to avoid it as much as possible. Now, it was unavoidable. Ever since the news broke about the project the media had made some pretty insane assumptions about her. That she'd grown wings, that she was dead. It had only been a few days, but she knew she had to do damage control if she wanted to maintain even a semblance of normalcy in her life.

"No, I'm fine, thanks," she dismissed him as someone in the background called a thirty second break. One of the hosts of the show, Jeremy Something-or-other, made his way over to the comfy chair across from hers.

He didn't say anything to her, just adjusted some note cards on his lap and chatted quietly to the AP.

"Five seconds back," someone said and Jeremy snapped to attention, looking directly into the camera with the big '2' on top of it.

"We're back with a very special guest, sister to the one and only Iron Man, Eliza Stark. How are you today, Eliza?" He asked, addressing her for the first time.

Eliza plastered a smile on her face and replied, "I'm doing well."

"So Eliza, if I may be frank, you're here today to discuss the file that came to light with your name involved," he said.

"Yes, Project Renaissance."

"So you admit your involvement?"

"Jerry, that experiment is the only reason I'm alive today," she said, matching his condescending tone with one of her own, "So yeah, I guess you could say I was involved."

"What exactly was the experiment?"

"Exactly what it says in the file. It's on the internet for all to read."

"Yes, but I'm sure you're aware that the CIA has been cleaning up the mess that Black Widow made by redacting and, indeed, removing much of the information that leaked," he said, his pen held as if poised to take down her response.

She straightened. This little man with his gelled hair and spray tan wouldn't intimidate her. "And I'm grateful for that. The file contained some very personal information, which is none of the public's business."

"The goal was to create genetically predestined super soldiers, correct?"


"And are you a supersoldier now?" He asked with a smile, his tone suggesting playfulness that Eliza didn't reciprocate. Sure, she was pissed at Natasha for releasing SHIELD records, but it was a necessary move. This wasn't a time to be coy or playful. HYDRA had infiltrated SHIELD and, according to the recently released file on Project Renaissance, had tampered with the serum Eliza had been injected with.

She returned his playful smile, making sure to add an edge to her tone, "That's none of the public's business."

The host raised his eyebrows, "You don't think the public deserves to know if there's another enhanced human being strolling around the streets of DC?"

"I think it's my personal medical information and I didn't consent to having it released."

"I understand that, but was this experiment successful?"

"If you're asking whether or not I am a Captain America clone, you can clearly see that I'm not. I don't have super strength or a deep sense of patriotic duty."

"So Project Renaissance had no effect? It was a failure?"

"I'm not saying that," she answered tersely, refusing to give another inch to the pompous man sitting across from her. He questioned her like a bad lawyer during cross-examination - did he even prepare for this interview at all, or was he just trying to rattle her?

"Alright, I'll let you keep your air of mystery. Speaking of supersoldiers, you were seen at Captain America's bedside multiple times this week. Care to explain that?"

"Captain Rogers and I are friends. I was visiting a friend in the hospital."

"You two were also seen together quite a bit right after the Battle of New York, is there something between the two of you? Something romantic, perhaps? Love among the super-powered?"

"I thought this was a news program, not a gossip column," Eliza snapped. Her friendly smile fell from her face and she was ready to put up her dukes. Pepper had warned her to stay calm on television, to not let the host goad her or press her buttons.

"And we thought you were an author, not a super soldier."

Too late.

"I am no soldier, seeing as how I have no military record." Eliza declared, staring at him with as much ice as she could muster. The newscaster shifted uncomfortably, but maintained his stiff smile.

"Miss Stark, thank you so much for coming," he said, the segment ending.

"Thanks for having me." If her words had been knives, she'd have cut him to ribbons. Her lips curled into a self-satisfied smile and the Executive Producer shifted the focus back to the main anchor desk.

"So, really, off the record," the anchor asked, trying to seem nonchalant, "do you have superpowers?"

"Go fuck yourself," she said simply, plucking the mic off of her lapel and rising to her feet. She tossed the mic pack on the table in front of her and didn't care that she looked like a drama queen as she strode out of the studio, her heels clacking as she went.

The elevator doors opened and revealed her brother, leaning casually against the back and clapping his hands.

"Excellent performance, Lize, if you're not nominated for an Oscar I'll be shocked - shocked!" he taunted as she entered the elevator and pushed the appropriate button.

"The first time we see each other in almost two years, and those are your first words?" she taunted back, looking at him through narrowed eyes.

He didn't hesitate in throwing his arms around her, pulling her to him. She didn't miss the look in his eyes. It was the look he'd had the morning after their parents died; deep, unflinching pain beneath a flicker of relief - relief that she was okay, that she was still breathing and whole.

"I missed you, Tony," she said, returning his hug with equal fervor. Indeed, she had missed her brother while she was away. She had wanted to contact him so many times, but couldn't think of anything to say or any way for him to not trace the call.

Another big part of it was the fact that she now remembered the night their parents died with unpleasant clarity. She knew a detail about that night that Tony would never know, that she didn't want him to know. Not until she'd figured out what it meant first.

"Oh, kid," he said into her hair, "you have no idea."

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too."

The siblings went back to her hotel room and ordered an extravagantly expensive lunch from room service. While they waited, Tony pulled out a Stark Pad and began casting files all over the room. Eliza recognized them as a bunch of files from SHIELD's records, unedited and copied directly from the web.

She poked the air in front of her, browsing through some of Natasha's more devious deeds when Tony called for her attention.

"Eliza, look at this," he said. His tone was calm, but when she turned to face the holograms on his side of the room she could see the worry creasing his face. He looked old for his age.

She scanned the open file hanging in the air until she saw a familiar name and face.




The photograph was from when he was a young man, and he wore some sort of helmet that covered his hair and the sides of his face. He looked...villainous. His kind blue eyes held a fire that she'd only seen in him a handful of times.

She read through the description as fast as she could. Newspaper articles about the shooting of JFK, how he was imprisoned and then escaped with help. Words like, "mutant rights" and "terrorist" sprang out at her until she found a video clip. She didn't hesitate in playing it.

The young version of Erik was soaring above a crowd in a packed stadium, his hands outstretched as if he were proselytizing to them. It was an old film strip, so she couldn't hear what he was saying. He stopped a bullet in its tracks, said something else, and then closed his eyes in concentration. A second later, the stadium started shifting. People panicked and ran, but Erik kept at what he was doing. The stadium lifted, giant cracks quickly became jagged smiles of broken concrete with silver rebar teeth sticking out at odd angles.

Once the stadium was about ten feet off of its foundation, Erik pushed it laterally and she paused the video. She didn't want to see what happened next; she had a sickening feeling that she knew what happened. What his goal was. She'd caught glimpses of it in their training, but she never thought he would be capable of this.

"Thirty five people died that day," Tony said, pulling her back to the present, "All because some guy with superpowers and a God complex decided he was superior."

Eliza whirled on her brother, heat boiling in her veins.

"He's not like that. There has to be an explanation for this," she insisted, more to herself than Tony.

"So this is the guy who's training you?" Tony asked. His hazel eyes had narrowed on her and she could see him running the numbers in his head.

"Yes, but he isn't like that. Not anymore."

Tony sent her a doleful look, but shrugged and flipped his hand, changing the display to a recent photo of the mansion. "Suppose he's gotta have changed if he lives with all those kids."

Eliza's blood ran cold. He knew about the school. No one was supposed to know except Fury.

Tony continued without her response. "Fury sent me the coordinates before he," he said raising his hands to make air quotes, "died."

"You don't think he's really dead?"

"Sneaky fucker like Fury? Hell no. Probably holed up somewhere waiting for the dust to settle."

"You can't tell anyone about the school, Tony. Not Pepper, not Happy, no one. If that information fell into the wrong hands-"

"I get it, don't tell HYDRA where they could find a bunch of little test subjects. Good plan."

"I'm serious, Anthony," Eliza said sharply, gripping his forearm with all the strength she could muster. "No one knows."

"May I say two things, Elizabeth? First of all, ow," he said, ripping his arm out of her grasp, "You've got some mad grip strength. And two, I'm not going to endanger a bunch of kids. This doesn't go past this room. I just thought you would like to know the truth about your mentor."

"Well thanks for sharing." With a long sigh, she collapsed on the edge of the king bed and fell backward, letting her feet dangle. Her chocolate brown hair splayed out behind her and she played with a strand of it like she usually did while deep in thought.

Thirty-five people died in that stadium. Erik had been protesting, but for what? Mutant rights, she remembered from the file. For a brief moment, she had to admire the cover-up work done by SHIELD or the CIA or whomever had been assigned to that. No one, as far as Eliza knew, used the term 'mutant' on a regular basis unless they were a biologist or worked on a certain reptilian television show. Mutant humans were invisible - and many preferred it that way. For what rights was Erik protesting? What were his demands?

Thirty-five people had died for those rights, and she didn't even know what those rights were.

And Erik - her mentor, the man who helped her understand her gift and embrace it wholly - was responsible. Even if it had been covered up, even if no one ever mentioned it, it had still happened at his behest. He was responsible for the deaths of thirty-five people. And he'd never said a word about his terrorist past to Eliza. Sure, he had mentioned a "wild youth" in the sixties, but it was the sixties. Every young person from that era claimed a wild youth.

Maybe Erik's wild youth involved more crushing buildings rather than pot and free love.

"You think you know someone," she said bitterly, turning on her side and rubbing her stomach as if she'd just gotten punched there. Indeed, she felt a little queasy and regretted the noontime champagne.

"Are you going back? Once you're done here, that is," Tony asked gently, much to Eliza's surprise. With how angry he'd been at her leaving the first time she expected a little more fight out of him.

"I don't know. I'll have to think about it."

"How long do you think you'll be in town?"

"Not much longer. Steve gets out of the hospital tomorrow morning. I was going to help him settle into his new place."

"You mean his old place?"

Eliza smirked and propped herself up on her elbows. Since his apartment had been blown to smithereens and SHIELD wasn't a thing anymore, Steve was moving back into Avengers Tower in New York the next day.

"Yeah. I'm borrowing that sick new Tesla of yours to drive him up there."

"Look out, Manhattan, Eliza Stark's got a vehicle!"

"I resent that. I'm an excellent driver."

"Yeah, just ask my Maserati," Tony sat next to her on the bed and nudged her with his elbow.

"That was one time!" She shoved him back. A smile pulled at the corners of her lips and warmth spread through her heart. No matter that they hadn't seen each other in nearly two years, hadn't even spoken to each other in that time, but they were right back to being Tony and Eliza; Stark Siblings Against the World. It comforted her in no small way to know that Tony would always be there for her, even if she hadn't always been there for him. A pang of guilt hit her unexpectedly.

He'd been struggling after the Battle of New York. She knew it, yet she left anyway. She couldn't help him with the Mandarin or at any point over the last nearly two years.

But that was the thing about sibling relationships. No matter what hits they dealt each other over the years, at the end of the day they were still siblings and the only family the other had.

"I'm sorry, Tony."

"Me too," he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and kissing her temple.


The Next Day

"I think I need to tell you something," Steve said after twenty minutes of silence. They hadn't even gotten out of DC yet, but things had been awkward since the two of them realized they'd be in the car together for the next four hours and two years between their last kiss and now.

"Okay, shoot."

"I think we should play one of those car games."

"Car games?" Eliza looked at him from the corner of her eye. "Like what?"

"Oh come on, you know! Car games! I spy, the alphabet game, zilch dog!" Steve's still bruised face lit up and he smiled at her.

"You're from New York, what do you know about car games?" She asked, entering the exit ramp.

"Bucky bought an old clunker and we went up to the Catskills one summer. One of his girls made us play all kinds of silly games."

"One of his girls?"

"Yeah, he always had a couple hanging around."

She noticed his gaze went out the window, a slight melancholy darkening his earlier brightness.

"I take it he was a ladies man?"

Steve sighed lightly. "He was. But he's not anymore."

"I-I'm sorry Steve. Did he pass recently?"

"I wish he'd passed. It'd be a kinder fate."

Eliza was shocked at the darkness in his tone. Not that he was all star-spangled happiness all the time, but this was the first time she could remember that his tone, his manner, was this bleak.

"What happened? You don't have to tell me if you don't want to, but we've got four more hours on the road and the car games will only go so far-"

"Bucky is the Winter Soldier. He's been...corrupted by HYDRA. Used for years to do their dirty work. If I'd've been here I could've stopped it-"

"Oh, Steve, no. It's not your fault."

"I could've gone back for him, found him in the mountains-"

"Steve, stop!" She yelled. "I know you carry a lot of guilt, but so does everyone! You know about it now, right?"

"Yeah, but-"

"No buts, you know about it now, and we can try to help him."

Steve paused and focused on her for a second. "We?"

Eliza felt a blush creep up her neck, feeling silly that she'd let a 'we' slip. As far as she was aware, they weren't a 'we' even back when there was a possibility of that, however slight it had been.

And there was the school to think about as well. Eliza hadn't made a decision on whether or not to go back yet, but Charles was expecting her back the day after tomorrow. The lump in her throat had yet to abate, and throbbed every time she thought about what Erik had done, who he'd been. A terrorist, she'd learned how to control her gift from a terrorist.

The lump throbbed as she pushed harder on the gas, passing the outskirts of DC and onto the open highway.

She gave a bitter laugh and ran one hand through her hair. "Your best friend turned into a terrorist, my mentor was a terrorist. Small freaking world."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't want to get into it."

"Does it have anything to do with where you've been hiding for the last two years?"

She pursed her lips and her jaw tightened. "Yes. But I can't talk about it."

"Understandable. Areā€¦" he stopped himself and ran a hand over his mouth as if he wanted to hold the words in.

"Are what?"

"Are you...going back there?" He asked in a small voice. Eliza glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and noticed that his hands were fidgeting in his lap, picking at his nails.

He was nervous. In truth, the question made her nervous too.

She swallowed, mouth suddenly dry as the lump throbbed again.

"I don't know," she answered as honestly as possible. "I have...obligations there, but knowing what I know now about - well, about my mentor. And I miss my life here, but I can't just skip out on my-" she caught herself, "obligations."

"I guess I can understand that," Steve said before muttering something under his breath. Though she was curious, she decided to let it go.

A while later, each of them thoroughly embroiled in their own thoughts, Steve sat more upright from his crouched sulking position.

"Eliza, pull over," he said, gesturing to a car pulled over half-in and half-out of the shoulder. Eliza did, and pulled the Tesla up behind the other car.

Steve got out before the Tesla fully stopped, Eliza close behind. A short older woman touched next to the passenger wheel of the small Honda, struggling with the lug nuts holding on the flat tire.

"Excuse me, ma'am?" Steve asked, voice rising above the noise of the light congestion of the highway.

The woman looked up and Eliza immediately noticed her red-rimmed eyes, the lightly running nose, her shaking hands. She was absolutely frazzled, but she looked at Steve with a gaping-mouth recognition.

"You look like you need some help," Steve said, extending a hand down to help the middle-aged woman to her feet. God, he might as well have been wearing a suit of armor and riding in on a white horse. Whether the woman's stare was because he looked like a Greek god or that she recognized him as Captain America, Eliza couldn't tell.

"I-I do," the woman said with a light North Carolina accent. "I was on my way to New Jersey from Newport to visit my daughter - she just had a baby, my first grand baby, and I must've hit some glass or a nail or somethin', now I can't get the damn bolts out -"

Steve held up his hand, "We can help. What's your name?"

"Mariann, Mariann Doolittle," Mariann said, hugging herself as Steve lightly pushed past her and began to assess the bolt situation.

Eliza could tell that the heads of the bolts were old, the steel rusty and about to give way. Steve lifted the wrench to one of the bolts and Eliza put a hand on his shoulder to stop him, "Wait, let me. You go talk to her."

Using the wrench to disguise her powers, Eliza pulled the bolts out and replaced the tire with nary a muscle strained. Luckily, the new tire came with a few new bolts that should last her a while. The new tire in place, she motioned for Steve to take the old one and put it in Mariann's trunk.

The woman thanked them profusely and offered to pay for their help, but Eliza staunchly refused. She did, however, have Jarvis take a note to remind her to send a new car to Ms. Mariann Doolittle of Newport, Virginia.

"How did you do that?" Steve asked when they got back in the car and took off.

"I've got the power to control metal, remember?" Eliza smirked over at him.

"I meant how did you do that without breaking several of her car windows?" He smirked back.

"Training. The time I spent away wasn't for nothing, Steve."

Steve settled back into his seat as Eliza accelerated. "Clearly not."

They were an hour and a half outside of New York, and the tension between them had all but evaporated.