Hello!

Welcome back to the next story in my 'Understanding the Real Hero' series. I said I would start posting today and I am delivering on that promise!

Unfortunately, due to real-life events, I did not manage to get most of this story finished before posting which had been my aim in taking a month break. Unfortunately, my 4-year-old cat had to be put to sleep, and it really broke me. During this year, because I was having to shield because of Covid-19, she was a great help to my mental health. Unexpectedly she got ill at the start of this month and by the time we knew anything was wrong it was too late to save her :( I'm still struggling with it now and my writing output has slowed.

I am currently writing the 2nd chapter to this story. I should be able to keep a weekly update. However, when we reach the end of this story, I may have to take another break again to be able to give myself time to write a bit more. I have also returned to work last Thursday and it may drain me for a few weeks as I try to get back into the routine.

These were all events I did not anticipate. Nevertheless, I wanted to post today and at least I have the first chapter ready to go! This story begins straight after the end of the first one with Tony and Wanda returning to the viewing room.

Please do, enjoy!


Understanding the Real Hero: Iron Man 2

One

They arrived back in the viewing room to find the others conversing in groups. Everyone stopped talking when Tony and Wanda entered. Tony stuffed his hands in his pockets and crossed the room and resumed his seat on the end of the left sided sofa. He leaned back, waiting for the others to join him.

Rhodey sat beside him and to everyone's surprise, Wanda decided to sit next to Rhodey.

"Wanda? Are you okay?" Steve asked hesitantly.

She nodded, her long tresses falling about her face. "I am. Why do you ask?"

Clint frowned. "It's really convinced you, hasn't it? That movie. 'Cos you've never sat close to Stark before."

Wanda sighed. "I hated him because I believed he killed my parents. I was wrong to do so. And," she swallowed the lump in her throat, "we need to be a team if we are going to face whatever is coming."

A dubious expression crossed the archer's face. "You believe Stark? Two hours ago, you hated him. Now suddenly you believe there is something coming that makes him create murderous A.I's to defend us?"

Wanda pursed her lips. "I misjudged him without knowing the full facts. He's still made mistakes – we all have. We can forgive each other but not Stark?" She shook her head. She lowered her gaze. "We need to start healing the cracks between us, if we can."

"Wanda's right," agreed Steve. "We have this opportunity, let's make the most of it." He patted Clint on the shoulder. Steve lowered his voice so only the Archer could hear him. "I'm sure we will get to the bottom of Tony's belief there is something coming. We'll learn the truth about Ultron too. And, Tony will learn why the Accords are not for us, but why they are suited for him."

Clint chewed his lower lip, but nodded reluctantly. He sat at the other end of the right-hand sofa, with Bucky next to him. Steve perched in the middle, with Sam sitting beside him. Natasha slipped in close to Sam with Thor and Bruce ending the row on the other sofa. Vision sat beside Wanda.

"Disc is already in," said Sam.

"What is this one called?" enquired Bucky, reaching for the case and turning it over. "Hmm, Iron Man 2. Ok… doesn't really tell us much what to expect."

Natasha glanced at the cover. All it showed was a picture of Tony and Rhodey in their armour with their face-plates down. She could guess what this movie might show, and she was certain Tony knew what events in his life would be covered. Not that he was saying anything about it.

Sam held up the remote. "Everyone ready?"

"As much as I am going to be," muttered Tony. Despite the general positive reaction, he'd received for his transformation into Iron Man, he was sure this next movie was going to cover the events of the Expo, and he knew those few weeks hadn't been his greatest. He was proven right a few minutes later as the movie started. "Here we go…"

The city, Moscow, covered in snow appeared onscreen. The voices of Tony Stark and Christine Everhart could be heard, the words he had spoken at the press conference at the end of the previous movie.

"Starting right where we left off," mused Bruce. "Are all these movies going to follow on from one another closely?"

Tony doubted it but it was the voice which answered.

No. All of the events over all of these movies cover a long period of time. This movie only begins here because it is important to the narrative.

Inside a darkened apartment within a dilapidated building, Tony Stark's face appeared on tv, announcing to the world that he was Iron Man.

The camera panned back to an older man lying on his back in bed. As Tony declared himself Iron Man, the man called through the front door of the apartment, for Ivan. Ivan leaned against the front door, bottle in his left hand. He turned as the older man coughed. Ivan was middle-aged, hair past his chin, and a beard and moustache decorated his face.

Clint winced. "He does not look like he's had a fun life… Looks rough."

"You don't recognise him?" asked Natasha, surprise flickering across her face. She'd told Clint all about the time she had been undercover at Stark Industries and the resulting mess with Vanko. She was surprised Clint didn't recognise the man onscreen, especially since he had seen photos of Vanko in the SHIELD files.

Clint scratched the back of his head. "He looks vaguely familiar… Maybe you showed me his photo once?"

"I did," she noted.

Ivan approached the bed. The man – his father, Anton Vanko – struggled to breathe, spoke in Russian and told his son that it should have been Ivan on the tv in Tony's place.

"Really, why?" asked Steve.

"You'll see," advised Tony.

Ivan told his father to not listen to the tv. Anton apologised, and that all he could give him was his knowledge.

"He's dying," realised Wanda.

A slight cough and Anton died. Visibly distraught, Ivan Vanko took a swig of vodka, tears shimmering in his eyes as he yelled out his grief.

Tony sighed. "Never take your grief out with alcohol. It just makes you bitter." He'd spent quite a few years after his parent's deaths drinking himself into oblivion.

"Talking from experience, aren't you, Stark?" Clint noted, a slight edge to his voice.

Tony bristled. Clint was still not one hundred percent happy with him. "How would you take it if you lost your family in tragic circumstances? Would you get on with your life?" asked Tony. "What would Clint Barton do?"

The Archer glared back at the Inventor. "I would make sure who did it suffered for it, either by killing them myself or ensuring they never set foot outside prison walls ever again. I would never forget them but I'd move on with my life."

"That's if they were murdered." Tony narrowed his eyes. That was too close to home, and he couldn't help noticing Steve's flinch. The Captain was clearly remembering Tony's reaction after he'd witnessed his own parent's murder and what he had attempted to do with Bucky. "What if your wife was driving and crashed the car? What would you do then?"

Clint paused, and frowned. "I'd…"

Tony had caught him. "Well?"

"I'd probably…" Clint's voice got lower and lower with each word. "Drink. Drink until the pain went away." He bowed his head, almost feeling regret over what he had said to Tony.

No apology was forthcoming but Tony took gratification from it. He could tell from Steve's reaction that he was clearly worried how the others would react when they found out about Bucky killing Tony's parents.

Tony couldn't help but feel the Captain deserved it.

The scene changed to Vanko pulling out old blueprints for an Arc Reactor from Stark Industries. Written along the bottom were the names of the Project Designers: Anton Vanko and Howard Stark.

"Howard worked with the Russians?" Steve whispered, surprised.

"Vanko was a respected scientist," explained Natasha. "At the time."

"What happened?" queried Steve.

"You'll find out," Natasha intoned.

As Vanko began to cut through metal with sparks flying everywhere, the camera panned over a wall of news articles about Tony Stark throughout his life, following him from his MIT years until his latest announcement of 'I am Iron Man'.

Rhodey frowned. "He really was obsessed with you."

"He was…" Tony grimaced. "It was my father they hated… but it seemed to transition to me when I made progress with the Arc Reactor, probably even before then." He could understand to some extent. Anton Vanko had been involved with the original Arc Reactor. Tony had benefited from his work whereas Vanko's own son had not. After being ejected from the United States, the Vanko's lives had become ones of squalor, unable to maintain a good quality of life, unlike Tony who had grown up in luxury and had been able to benefit from it.

Ivan took the heated piece to the table and started to hammer it, the noise continuing as the camera panned over the blueprints.

Sitting at a desk, and surrounded by dozens of ancient computers all running coding at once, Vanko fiddled with wiring as a white bird hopped within the workspace. More shots of the Arc Reactor on magazine covers appeared, followed by Vanko feeding his bird from a glass.

Very slowly, it became obvious that Vanko was creating a miniature Arc Reactor. He flicked a switch and the lights went out as the Reactor lit up. Vanko's smile of triumph gleamed in its light. He laughed in glee as he lifted the completed Arc Reactor up to the light.

Sam winced. "Taking a guess creating an Arc Reactor is going to be a bad thing for you?" he asked Tony.

"It's not spoiling anything if I say yes," shrugged Tony.

Rhodey smirked. "Wait till you see when he's in front of Senator Stern."

"One of HYDRA's?" Steve perked up.

"Not that we knew it at the time, Steve," reassured Natasha. "They were behind a lot of things." She glanced at Tony. "HYDRA wanted the Iron Man suits. They were trying to acquire them in a legal way."

"HYDRA doesn't do anything legally," snarled Steve.

Bucky frowned. "Actually, Steve, they do. HYDRA spent years infiltrating world governments. For them to gain power they had to do things legally to get there."

"How can you defend them?" Steve was gobsmacked.

"I'm not. I'm stating the truth," said Bucky. "I was with HYDRA for years. I think I know how they work more than you do. You may not like it, but HYDRA took its time. Even when things didn't benefit them in the short-term but did so in the long-term, they still went for it, especially in politics. They were shrewd, and they wanted Stark's suits, but knew there was no way for them to get a hold of them." The former Winter Soldier appraised Tony. "They had plans of their own to acquire them."

Tony wasn't sure how he felt. "I'm guessing they had multiple plans for me?"

Bucky nodded. "Politically… assassination… capture… All sorts of things. You were a big target of theirs. One of the biggest threats against them."

"I suppose we all were big threats to them," inclined Clint, leaning back.

"Out of all of us here they were mainly worried about Stark, Thor and Hulk." Bucky grimaced. "I do not recall them ever mentioning you… A guy with a bow and arrow isn't much of a threat to HYDRA."

Tony smirked, enjoying the relative lack of importance Clint was to their enemies. He wasn't even considered a significant threat.

Clint glared at the former Winter Soldier. "Surely Cap was on their radar too?"

Bucky shrugged. "They had me. Plus, Steve was already working for them as part of SHIELD. They pretty much controlled where he went on missions. All of you were employed by them under the guise of SHIELD. Stark was the loose cannon. All of you were doing their bidding for years without realising it."

Natasha nodded slowly. "It's true. We were."

"But I was still an Avenger…" pointed out Tony. "I was still on the team."

"But you didn't listen to orders most of the time," noted Natasha. "You may have been on the team but you were not a true member of SHIELD. Not like the rest of us were. You, Bruce and Thor were the biggest threats to HYDRA because you did not work for them directly."

Bruce rubbed the back of his head. "I was always on SHIELD's radar though."

"Not after New York," revealed Natasha. "For a long while Fury lost track of you which upset Alexander Pierce. Back then we didn't know he was HYDRA either…"

Steve sagged in his seat. "A lot of people were HYDRA and we didn't know it."

"You cannot change what happened, Captain, only accept it," advised Vision wisely.

They fell silent and the movie resumed.

The screen went dark and the words Iron Man 2 appeared on screen.

The screen stayed black and a man's voice was heard of how high up they were. ACDC's Shoot to Thrill starts to play and the caption 6 MONTHS LATER appeared.

Tony winced. "Ah… The Expo…"

The back of the Iron Man suit was seen as the hatch of the bottom of an aeroplane opened up. Far below was a sprawling mess of lights and fireworks as Iron Man leapt out of the plane, falling briefly through the air before engaging his thrusters and flying down into an arena below and right onto the stage in his signature pose, with dancing girls in scantily-clad dress behind him.

"Dancing girls?" criticised Steve. "That isn't what an audience wanted –"

Tony leaned forward. "Someone from the past claims to know what people of this time would want?" He rolled his eyes. "The world has moved on. It is more acceptable now."

"Besides, most of the people there went to see Tony," pointed out Natasha. "They didn't care about the dancing girls."

Steve frowned but stayed silent.

The crowd went wild as the girls danced. The caption 'STARK EXPO – FLUSHING, NEW YORK' appeared.

The girls stepped back on the stage, as the area where Tony stood began to rise and robotic arms began to quickly dismantle the suit. His helmet was one of the first pieces to be removed and Tony Stark broke out into a wide grin as he looked out upon his adoring crowd. The girls continued to dance as the suit was removed from Tony's body, revealing him to be in a smartly dressed suit. Once free, he bowed to the audience, arms spread wide out to the side.

"Show off," muttered Clint darkly.

"He's playing to the crowd," explained Sam. "It's his public personality. He's promoting the Expo. It's what any of us would do. You saw the first movie. You can distinguish between the faces of Tony Stark, can't you?"

Clint bit his lower lip. "I suppose…" But he didn't finish his sentence.

"I once thought the same," began Wanda, "but even I can see this is an act." She pointed to the screen. "That isn't Tony Stark, Iron Man. That is Tony Stark, playboy billionaire."

Rhodey leaned forward. "Most of you see Tony Stark, playboy billionaire. Even when he isn't the playboy billionaire, you expect to see it."

Steve fidgeted in his seat. He was guilty of it himself.

The stage rotated Tony around, as he pointed out into the audience as the music continued and the girls finished their routine by walking closer to him and facing their palms to him in the gesture he used as Iron Man.

The dancing girls walked off the stage as Tony clapped. The crowd cheered his name and he whirled to face the audience, claiming it was good to be back and asking if they had missed him. A man in the crowd yelled at him to blow something up. Tony noted that he had already done that. He paused briefly before continuing:

Tony frowned. The Expo hadn't been his best moment. It had been his ego going crazy. "Most just wanted to see my tech. They weren't interested in what the Expo had to offer…" If he ever did the Expo again, Tony vowed to change that view.

"I'm not saying that the world is enjoying its longest period of uninterrupted peace in years because of me. I'm not saying that from the ashes of captivity, never has a greater phoenix metaphor been personified in human history." He bowed his head, arms out. "I'm not saying that Uncle Sam can kick back on a lawn chair, sipping on an iced tea because I haven't come across anyone who's man enough to go toe-to-toe with me on my best day!"

"Please tell me you didn't really believe that," sighed Rhodey.

Tony winced. "I probably did at the time. Not now though," he hastily added. "This movie may not show me in my best light… I had… a lot… going on."

"In other words, don't judge you too harshly?" Clint shook his head. "Unbelievable."

Natasha sighed. The report she had written for SHIELD had been based on extenuating circumstances in Tony Stark's life. A lot of the distrust and anger towards Tony from the rest of the team came from that report. Steve had taken it on board as proof of Tony's attitude and personality. She had unfairly judged him. She hoped seeing these events would offer her an alternative look at how he had been whilst she had been assessing him for the Avenger's Initiative. What she had seen from watching the first movie had already proven her report wrong. Yes, he still had some traits which made him unbearable but he was willing to put his life on the line.

And, she knew Tony's stance on the Accords were because he was looking at the bigger picture, about what may happen in the future rather than the present. Perhaps if she had looked past what she had seen and studied Tony more, she may not have made such a big mistake.

Her report had laid the foundations of mistrust the team had with Tony. Potentially, she was responsible for the team's distrust of Tony. Her report had essentially started all of this.

Another woman shouted out she loved him. He turned away from her, waving his hand in her direction. "Please, it's not about me."

Rhodey raised his eyebrows. "Really, Tones?"

Tony had the dignity to remain silent.

The cheering continued. "It's not about you. It's not even about us. It's about legacy. It's about what we choose to leave behind for future generations. And that's why for the next year and for the first time since 1974, the best and brightest men and women of nations and corporations the world over will pool their resources, share their collective vision, to leave behind a brighter future. It's not about us. Therefore, what I'm saying, if I'm saying anything, is welcome back to the Stark Expo." Another big cheer from the crowd. "And now, making a special guest appearance from the great beyond to tell you what it's all about, please welcome my father, Howard."

"The Stark Expo was designed to show off the next great invention, the next ground-breaking technology. Demonstrate the best and brightest of us discovering their talent. It was also a recruiting ground back when my father run the company," explained Tony.

"Though, that particular Expo was about your ego, and you know it," cautioned Rhodey. "Even the military didn't like how you were handling things."

Tony winced. The fact he'd been pulled up in front of Senator Stern the very next day had already been a big hint Tony was on the verge of going off the rails. They hadn't wanted Tony's antics from damaging their reputation. Though as Bucky had succinctly put it, HYDRA had wanted his suits. Tony going off the rails had given them the perfect excuse to try to take his suits legally.

Thankfully, they hadn't succeeded.

Tony walked off stage as the screen behind him started to play a video recording of Howard Stark. Howard leaned on his desk in his office. "Everything is achievable through technology. Better living, robust health, and for the first time in human history, the possibility of world peace. So, from all of us here at Stark Industries, I would like to personally introduce you to the City of the Future. Technology holds infinite possibilities for mankind, -" Howard walked across the room towards a model of the City of the Future. "-and will one day rid society of all its ills. Soon technology will affect the way you live your life every day. No more tedious work, leaving more time for leisure activities and enjoying the sweet life. The Stark Expo. Welcome."

Steve's eyes focused upon his friend. He'd known Howard as a young man. He'd enjoyed his company, respected him. But this Howard seemed far more mature, far wiser. This was a man who wanted to help people, do the right thing. His words on the recording emphasised as much.

Despite what he'd seen in the previous movie, Tony was still selfish. He didn't think of the bigger picture, unlike Howard. Tony had good ideas but he was a terrible team member, especially when he didn't follow instructions. Tony may have thought he was thinking of the bigger picture when it came to the Accords, but he wasn't. The Accords were wrong, Steve knew it.

Becoming Iron Man may have changed Tony as a person but it hadn't changed him completely. He was still not someone Steve would ever aspire to be.

If he could choose, he'd rather have Howard.

Backstage Tony pulled a small device from his pocket – a Stark Medical Scanner – testing his blood. It gave out a reading of blood toxicity test 19%. Tony didn't look pleased with the results but glanced back at the screen as his father finished talking and the crowd erupted into cheers once more.

"Blood toxicity test?" Sam queried. "It's the Arc Reactor, isn't it?"

Tony inclined his head. "Yes." At least Sam had understood right away. He didn't seem to miss a thing. He was very perceptive.

The Falcon frowned, contemplating the new information.

A World News 21 Reporter stood outside the entrance to the Stark Expo where she was reporting live on the events, explaining Tony had just walked offstage and if people couldn't make it that evening, they didn't need to worry as the Expo was going to last all year long, and she would be checking out all of the attractions and the pavilions and inventions from all around the world.

"Didn't even last all year round, did it?" smirked Clint. "You got it all blown up."

"I think you'll find it wasn't me who was at fault there," defended Tony, rolling his eyes.

"How did it get blown up?" Thor asked, glancing between Tony and Clint.

Tony shrugged. "You'll find out."

Happy Hogan led Tony out from the Expo, through a crowd of cheering fans; Tony greeting them as they passed, some even attempting to pass him their number. He signed a few Iron Man photos, rubbed the head of an Iron Man helmet a boy was wearing.

A little gasp escaped Tony's mouth.

Rhodey noticed. "What is it?"

"Nothing," swallowed Tony, not wanting to let on that he now knew the identity of the boy in the helmet.

Happy introduced him to a man named Larry, who wanted Tony to call him. Tony assured him he would. Finally, they reached the exit and Happy commented it hadn't been so bad. He pointed out the new white Audi parked in the centre between several Stark Expo pillars. A woman leaned against the car, wearing a knee-length skirt and a blouse, with her hair trailing down her shoulders. Tony wanted to know if she came with the car. Happy hoped she did.

Steve shook his head. "Inappropriate comments again. Do you always have to think like that?"

"I stopped once I was in a relationship," Tony pointed out. "I'm not as bad as you believe I am. And, I'd like to point out, I did not sleep with anyone after Afghanistan until Pepper and I got together."

"Bit unusual for you," commented Clint.

Tony was about to respond when Wanda leapt to his defence. "He changed. It wasn't important to him anymore."

"It wasn't," agreed Tony. "Sex was rarely on my mind. I still had a public face to keep on. The public didn't need to know something was wrong. I'm sure you've realised by now I am very good with my masks."

She walked forward as they approached, a piece of paper in her hand, and she shook Tony's hand. Her name was Marshal and Tony liked that she was Irish. Tony told Happy he was going to drive, and he enquired where Marshal was from. She told him and he followed it up with wanting to know why she was there. As the car converted into an open top, Tony got into the driving seat.

Marshall was looking for him and he wanted to know what she was up to.

"Serving subpoenas." She held up the letter for him to take.

"Ouch. Not there for a social visit then," winced Bruce.

"What are a subpoena?" asked Thor.

"It's a summons to court," explained Natasha. "You can't ignore it."

Tony didn't. "Yikes."

Happy reached across and took the letter. "He doesn't like to be handed things."

"Yeah, I have a peeve."

Marshal informed Tony he was ordered to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee tomorrow morning at 9am. Tony wanted to see the badge and Marshal double checked with him before she held it up for Tony to see. She asked him if he still liked it. Tony did. He started the car's engine and asked Happy how far they were from D.C. They were about 250 miles away. Tony put the car into gear and accelerated away, tires screeching.

"You drove there overnight?" Sam wasn't sure why he was surprised.

"New car, new wheels. I wanted to run it in," said Tony. "A drive to D.C fit into that."

"Besides, he drives fast. He'd make it in half the time," pointed out Rhodey.

"And breaking the speed limit," muttered Steve. "Rules are made to be followed."

Tony scoffed. "So, I'm not allowed to speed past the speed limit but it's alright for you to ignore the rules imposed by one-hundred and seventeen countries and more? Are you telling me, Captain America, is exempt from the rules?"

Steve went red in the face, puffing out his cheeks. "That's not-!"

Sam laid a hand on Steve's arm. "Our actions say otherwise, Steve."

"You're having second thoughts?" hissed Steve.

"I'm seeing things in a different light," replied Sam. "We could have done things differently, Steve, and you know it."

Steve pursed his lips.

Early morning in Washington D.C, at the hearing, Tony was not paying attention to Senator Stern, instead trying to talk to Pepper who sat behind him in the crowd. Senator Stern banged the gavel. "Mr Stark, could we pick up where we left off? Mr Stark. Please."

Tony turned. "Yes dear?"

"Can I have your attention?"

"Absolutely," Tony confirmed, with one arm still over the back of the chair and slightly twisted in his seat.

Bucky grinned. "That HYDRA Senator deserves to be ignored. He wasn't a nice man."

Tony couldn't resist commenting loudly. "I'm surprised I'm not being got at for ignoring a person in authority, or does it not matter now that we know Stern was affiliated with HYDRA?"

Steve bristled, keeping his lips shut. Tony could be so… frustrating!

"Do you or do you not possess a specialised weapon?"

Tony leaned into the microphone. "I do not."

Stern did not seem to believe him. "You do not?"

"I do not. Well, it depends on how you define the word weapon."

Sam frowned. "As much as I don't want to agree with a HYDRA operative, he is right in that the Iron Man suit is a weapon. I'm not exactly sure how you can define it otherwise. It has weapons on it. Lethal weapons."

"I know," admitted Tony. "But it could also be termed something else, which was how I was trying to define it at the time."

"The Iron Man weapon."

"My device does not fit that description."

Stern leaned forward a bit. "Well… How would you describe it?"

Tony continued. "I would describe it as what it is, Senator."

"As?" Stern queried.

"It's a high-tech prosthesis." Around Tony the audience laughed. "That is… That is… That's actually the most apt description I can make of it."

"It is that…" mooted Bruce. "Fishy waters there, Tony."

"But the media was on Tony's side," added Rhodey. "He was flying high from opening night of the Expo. There wasn't much Tony could do wrong at that time. Even public polls showed they didn't want the military having access to Iron Man. They trusted Tony with it. It was the Government, particularly Senator Stern, that had issues with Tony having the suit."

"If they had succeeded in taking my suits and tech away from me, I'm certain HYDRA would have had me assassinated as soon as possible to ensure I couldn't build another. In fact, if I'd been taken into custody at any point…" Tony trailed off.

"As I said, HYDRA had several plans for you. If they could get their hands on you, they would have done. Ultimately, they needed to take you out of the game. But they had to play their cards carefully," explained Bucky quietly.

Stern disagreed and reinforced his view it was a weapon.

Tony argued back. "Please, if your priority was actually the well-being of the American citizen…"

"HYDRA's priority was never about the people," barked Steve, "it was always gaining power for themselves and making the world they thought it should be."

Stern spoke over him. "My priority is to get the Iron Man weapon turned over to the people of the United States of America."

"To HYDRA," spat Sam. "Not that anyone knew it at the time." He shifted in his seat to look at Bucky. "Not sure if you would know this, but if they had commandeered Tony's suits, would they have gone straight to HYDRA?"

Bucky shook his head. "I don't think so. The American Military would have had the suits but it would have been analysed, and all the data sent back to HYDRA headquarters so they could begin manufacturing their own suits. HYDRA was not ready to face the world yet, otherwise they would have done. They spent years developing Project Insight. They had a lot of plans going on behind the scenes, many of which I was not partial to."

"Wait…" Clint frowned. "War Machine is a part of the American Military. HYDRA must have had the data on the Iron Man suits."

Tony shook his head. "No. They don't. They had the suit for a space of a few days. All the data they collected went to Hammer Industries, not HYDRA. After that I struck a deal to be the one who maintained the War Machine suit. I controlled the servers and all the data. HYDRA couldn't get it."

"And only select people were allowed access to the suit after I bought it to the Air Base," revealed Rhodey. "Myself, the Major and Hammer. None of whom were affiliated with HYDRA. They couldn't access the data. It was kept strictly off record."

"Tony is very good at keeping his data hidden," noted Natasha. "Believe me, SHIELD have tried multiple times to hack his servers."

Tony grinned. "And each time SHIELD tried, I always knew. Not that I ever said. I expected it to happen from a super-secret spy agency."

"Well, you can forget it. I am Iron Man," said Tony sincerely. "The suit and I are one. To turn over the Iron Man suit would be to turn over myself which is tantamount to indentured servitude or prostitution, depending on what state you're in." There was another laugh among the audience behind Tony. "You can't have it."

"Look, I'm no expert…" Stern was cut off.

"In prostitution? Of course not. You're a Senator. Come on!" Tony tapped the table, turned around as the crowd laughed, holding his left hand up. Pepper did not look impressed. He mouthed 'no' at her and she shook her head slightly.

"Your lady is not impressed!" Thor noted.

"Making jokes about the sex life of a Senator wasn't the most responsible thing I should have done," admitted Tony. "I wasn't taking the summons seriously. I should have performed more admirably befitting my position. I had been getting more and more careless in recent weeks. But… I hope you may be able to see why I was and understand my reasons, whether you agree with them or not."

"I've learned my lesson from judging too harshly," revealed Wanda. "I'm not going to judge you until I know the full facts."

"Thank you, Wanda," smiled Tony, appreciating her support, a slight tinge of surprise running through him at her words.

Stern adjusted his tie. "I'm no expert in weapons. We have somebody here who is an expert on weapons. I'd now like to call Justin Hammer, our current primary weapons contractor."

"Who is now in jail," said Sam.

"He wasn't the best…!" winced Rhodey.

Tony looked up at the announcement as Justin Hammer settled at the desk to his left. "Let the record reflect that I observed Mr Hammer entering the chamber, and I am wondering if and when any actual expert will be in attendance."

"I'm not apologising for that," stated Tony.

"You'll all see what Tony means," explained Rhodey.

Natasha raised her hand. "I can vouch for that, having met Hammer."

The audience murmured as Hammer laughed, pulling the speaker towards him, and then walked out in front of the desks to face the audience. "Absolutely. I'm no expert. I defer to you, Anthony. You're the wonder boy. Senator, if I may. I may well not be an expert, but you know who was the expert? Your dad. Howard Stark. Really a father to us all, and to the military-industrial age. Let's just be clear, he was no flower child. He was a lion. We all know why we're here. In the last six months, Anthony Stark has created a sword with untold possibilities. And yet, he insists it's a shield. He asks us to trust him as we cower behind it. I wish I were comforted, Anthony, I really do. I'd love to leave my door unlocked when I leave the house, but this ain't Canada. You know, we live in a world of grave threats, threats that Mr Stark will not always be able to foresee. Thank you. God bless Iron Man. God bless America."

"Technically, the suit was a shield," explained Rhodey. "Tony was going out on missions with the army and protecting the American soldiers. He was shielding them to an extent."

"And shooting terrorists," stated Tony matter-of-factly.

Rhodey groaned. "Not the point I was trying to make, Tones!"

Tony laughed. "I know."

Tony was slightly shaking his head, left hand covering his mouth. Hammer sat down. Stern praised Hammer for his words and continued to explain that the committee wanted to invite Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes to the chamber.

Tony was surprised. He hadn't been informed.

"I never said…" admitted Rhodey. "I was told not to tell you. I think they hoped me showing up would throw you off guard and you'd make mistakes that would enable them to have a strong case to take your suits. They wanted me on their side not yours."

Tony had realised this. But now he knew the bigger context to it. Still, they hadn't succeeded in getting his suits, and they never would.

Cameras flashed as gentle murmuring echoed through the chamber as Rhodey walked in. Tony got up to greet his friend, telling Rhodey he hadn't expected to see him here.

Rhodey told him to deal with it and move on. When Tony didn't, Rhodey said to drop it which Tony agreed.

Stern revealed he had a complete report on the Iron Man weapon which had been compiled by Colonel Rhodes, and requested the Colonel to read page 57, paragraph four, for the record.

Rhodey didn't like that. "You're requesting that I read specific selections from my report, Senator?"

Steve frowned. "That's not right. The full report should be taken into account. Not just a small part of it."

Stern confirmed it.

Rhodey continued to speak, further stating his concerns. "It was my understanding that I was going to be testifying in a much more comprehensive and detailed manner."

Stern attempted to reroute the conversation. "I understand. A lot of things have changed today. So, if you could just read…"

"You do understand that reading a single paragraph out of context does not reflect the summery of my final…" Rhodey wasn't giving up as Tony looked on.

"I'm glad you persisted," observed Sam.

"Good thing the cameras were there too," noted Natasha. "The public could see Stern was trying to manipulate the situation to his advantage. He wasn't a very popular Senator. I suspect he only kept on getting elected because HYDRA rigged the system to keep their people in power."

"They did," confirmed Tony. "Once you dumped all their data, I helped to comb through it. Quite a few Senators, on both sides of the political spectrum, were arrested. HYDRA had a big grip within several political parties."

Stern did not relent. "Just read it, Colonel. I do. Thank you." Stern looked smug, as if he had won a verbal battle.

Rhodey opened the file. "Very well." He started to read the assigned paragraph. "'As he does not operate within any definable branch of government, Iron Man presents a potential threat to the security of both the nation and to her interests.'" Rhodey didn't stop there and further elaborated: "I did however, go on to summarise that the benefits of Iron Man far outweigh the liabilities and that it would be in our interest…"

"That was all he wanted?" gaped Sam. "That one sentence?"

"Yup!"

Wanda shook her head. "But you were working with the Government, weren't you?"

"With the military," confirmed Tony. "When they wanted me to be. I wasn't contracted with them. I offered to help when they needed me. I wasn't paid for it either. It wasn't a job; it was a responsibility I gave myself – to protect the people I had once sought to defend with my other weapons. It was the Government that wanted to have more control. The Army were relatively happy I had control, providing I arrived when they needed me to."

"Until you started to go a bit crazy, mind," muttered Rhodey.

"Circumstances," whispered Tony back.

Stern kept interrupting to force the Colonel to stop speaking as Rhodey attempted to explain he'd recommended for Mr. Stark to be folded into the existing chain of command.

Tony leaned forward. "I'm not a joiner, but I'll consider Secretary of Defence, if you ask nice." Laughter echoed around the chamber. "We can amend the hours a little bit."

Steve pulled back. "Secretary of Defence?"

"I was joking," pointed out Tony. He narrowed his gaze. "I'm guessing you think I would not be suited for Secretary of Defence?"

Steve wisely kept his opinions to his self, but it was clear from his expression he didn't think such a responsible position should be offered to Tony Stark.

Sam watched the interaction, a curious expression on his face.

Stern pushed on forward. "I'd like to go on and show, if I may, the imagery that's connected to your report."

Rhodey wasn't sure on the Senator's request. "I believe it is somewhat premature to reveal these images to the general public at this time."

"With all due respect, Colonel, I understand. And if you could just narrate those for us, we'd be very grateful. Let's have the images." Stern didn't seem to care.

"Showing potentially distressing images to the general public just to one-up Stark is wrong," grated Sam.

Tony chuckled. "Don't worry. The plan backfired. I already knew what they were going to show and had a contingency plan."

A tv screen to the left showed aerial footage of photos where construction was underway on attempts to remake the Iron Man suit. Rhodey confirmed these had been corroborated by their allies and local intelligence on the ground.

Tony leaned back in his chair, playing with a miniature Stark device.

Rhodey added it was possible these suits were quite possibly operational.

"They aren't," grinned Tony.

Tony leaned across the table, holding his device up, allowing it to wirelessly connect to the screen with the photos. "Hold on a second buddy. Let me see something here. Boy, I'm good. I commandeered your screens. I need them. Time for a little transparency. Now, let's see what's really going on." A little greeting appeared onscreen, welcoming Tony to the system.

There was muttering withing the room at Tony's unorthodox actions as Stern expressed concerned at what he was doing.

Bucky laughed. "You're showing the truth instead of the doctored version of events they had already prepared! That's… brilliant."

"I try my best," bowed Tony.

Tony continued to fiddle with his device. "If you will direct your attention to said screens, I believe that's North Korea."

He pulled up a video of a bulky suit falling over and bullets firing, blood splattering across the screen. The voices in the room increased in volume as shock ran through the room at the brutal images now being shown. Stern ordered for it to be turned off, and Justin Hammer attempted to do so.

They winced.

"This was shown on tv?" gaped Steve.

"It was," stated Tony. "But Stern shouldn't have changed the terms of the hearing. It was meant to be behind closed doors. It was Stern who changed it at the last minute because he thought he could embarrass me in public. He didn't seem to think the tech genius could outwit him."

"He wasn't very smart then," said Bruce.

"I'm just showing the public what was really going on. Stern wanted to show other countries successfully creating their own suits so he could have a case to take mine from me. I had the means to prove him wrong. Granted, it wasn't smart to show such graphic imagery live on TV, but my hands had been tied. He wanted the hearing made public, he had to deal with the consequences. Someone really should have warned him," said Tony.

"I think they tried but a HYDRA lackey wouldn't allow anyone to dictate to him unless it was from someone in his own organisation," grated Natasha.

Tony pulled up a video of Iran where a suit was briefly in the air before crashing and erupting into smoke. Hammer was desperately trying to locate the off-switch.

"No grave threat here," stated Tony. "Is that Justin Hammer? How did Hammer get in the game?"

Justin Hammer was onscreen, instructing a pilot in the suit with directions to turn the suit in. Tony told him to focus up as on-screen Justin told the pilot to give him a left twist, and then to the right. And that was when it went wrong. The suit turned the wrong way and the man inside the suit screamed in agony. Justin could be heard swearing in the background of the video.

"WHAT THE HELL?" Sam leapt to his feet. "How was that man still allowed to be Weapon's Contractor after being shown in that test?"

"Bribes," stated Rhodey. "The Government wouldn't terminate his contract. He did have good ideas for weapons… his execution of them was… iffy."

"He didn't have a good success rate," stated Tony. "And, it helped the pilot did survive, though was paralysed for life."

Sam sat back down, shaking his head.

Finally, Hammer found the plug and pulled it, the screens going dark once more.

The crowd were still muttering amongst themselves at the shocking footage they had seen as Stern lowered his head slightly, covering his face with his hand.

Clint smirked. "He didn't want that footage being seen. Too bad."

"That is what you get when you attempt to mess with Mr. Stark," advised Vision. "If he so wishes to, he has the means to destroying everyone in this room. I remember admiring his tactics as an A.I. I learned a lot from Mr. Stark, some of which has remained with me."

The others looked uneasily at one another.

"Wow. Yeah, I'd say most countries, five, ten years away. Hammer Industries, twenty," informed Tony.

Tony bowed his head. "If only I had considered other factors…" he whispered quietly.

Justin made a point of stating that the test pilot had survived.

Stern tried to take control once again. "I think we're done is the point that he's making. I don't think there's any reason…"

"Now, he's trying to save himself," sighed Natasha.

"The point is, you're welcome, I guess," Tony pointed out.

Stern was confused. "For what?"

"Because I'm your nuclear deterrent. It's working. We're safe. America is secure. You want my property? You can't have it. But I did you a big favour." He stood up and turned to face the crowd. "I've successfully privatised world peace." Tony made the peace sign with both hands and everyone in the chamber stood up, clapping and talking all at once.

Tony groaned. This was one of the times he wished he could have changed his actions. "I'll freely admit my ego was out of control there. I was on a high, having won against that idiot."

"I honestly don't blame you," sighed Sam. "Not that I would do it myself."

"Would love to know what HYDRA thought of you after that performance," observed Bruce.

"I expect my approval ratings with them continued to decline…" Tony guessed.

Tony was in his element now. "What more do you want? For now! I tried to play ball with these ass-clowns."

Rhodey shook his head. "And now you are playing to the crowd. This is the 'Tony' people thought he was. He isn't."

Stern leaned forward, angry. "Fuck you, Mr Stark. Fuckyou, buddy. We're adjourned. We're adjourned for today."

"Did he… did he seriously just swear live on tv?" gaped Steve.

"He did," confirmed Sam.

"He got bad press for a few days," revealed Tony. "Then everything else happened and he was forgotten and he could resume his verbal attacks on me…"

Tony put on his sunglasses. "Okay!" Rhodey sat at the table, a glum expression on his face, hardly believing what Tony had done.

"You've been a delight." Stern was not impressed.

Natasha chuckled. "Fury wasn't impressed either with your antics there, but now we know the context and who Senator Stern was… well played, Stark."

"Err, thanks?" Tony wasn't sure if she meant it or not. But he did want to point out he could have done things differently. "Given another chance, I would have changed exactly what I said. I was a bit of an asshat there. Pepper didn't appreciate it either. She left half-way through, not wanting to see me go any further."

"I had noticed she'd disappeared from the crowd," mused Bruce.

"She did give me a hard time after it though," admitted Tony. "On reflection, I should have told her the truth instead of hiding it from her."

"Hiding what?" asked Thor.

"I'm testing my blood for toxicity…" started Tony, waving his hand in the hope the God of Thunder would recognise his meaning.

"You were dying…" whispered Wanda.

"Yeah, I was." Tony's shoulder's sagged. "What was the point of being responsible when I didn't have much time left? That was my reasoning."

There was a discerning silence in the room.

The scene changed to a tv screen in Russia, on one of their news channels, covering the Senate Committee, as Tony walked through the crowd. Ivan Vanko was hard at work with pieces of a suit he was making as Tony continued to talk to the camera, as the Russian newscaster translated his words.

"My bond is with the people. And I will serve this great nation at the pleasure of myself. If there's one thing I've proven it's that you can count on me to pleasure myself." Tony whipped his glasses off as he moved out of camera.

Steve pulled a face but didn't make a comment. Now wasn't the time.

Vanko sat at a desk, twisted a switch and electricity ran up and down long whips he'd created. Then the scene changed to Vanko wearing a contraption, not a full suit, rather a chest piece which helped power the whips. He approached the wall which held many articles on Tony Stark before he cut the tv in half as it showed Tony's face.

Sam leaned forward. "And he's managed to create a working Reactor that no other country could, thereby proving what you said in the hearing was wrong."

"Yeah…" Tony sighed. "It was unexpected…"

"But, to be fair to Tony, Vanko was just as brilliant as him," explained Rhodey. "He had the plans for the original Arc Reactor. No one else in the world did. And Tony had no idea his father had worked with someone else in developing the Arc Reactor. If anyone was going to recreate the Arc Reactor, it would be someone who had the original plans. Not his fault if he didn't know his father had collaborated with someone else, is it?"

Steve inclined his head, agreeing. "I think I can speak for all of us when I say we can't blame Tony for this."

Tony nodded, accepting the support, though he was surprised by it. Perhaps by the end of all these movies they would understand him? Still, they had a long way to go. Settling in to the sofa, Tony returned his attention to the screen.

To be continued...

Please let me know what you think!

Wanda's opinion of Tony has changed and she's willing to give Tony a chance, which is why she's chosen to sit closer to him. She's misjudged him before and wants to make amends.

Tony and Clint's discussion about what Clint would do if faced with the murder of his family is very reminsicent of what Clint ends up doing himself in Endgame. Instead, Clint becomes something worse - killing those he believes are unworthy to still be alive. I think this is a lot worse and it just rankles me that the writers of Endgame believe Clint should survive Endgame because he had a family (even though Tony had a family and the same logic didn't apply to him), even though I feel Clint should have sacrificed himself and not Natasha. His actions in the five years after the snap were appalling. This conversation is a direct link to Clint's future actions.

We know Senator Stern was a member of HYDRA. I do think it is possible they were trying to get the Iron Man suits from Tony legally if they could as they were not ready to reveal themselves yet. Tony was a threat to them who they couldn't fully control, unlike Steve, Clint, and Nat who worked directly for them so they were not considered a true threat in the way Tony, Thor, and Bruce were.

Senator Stern... when he tells Tony, 'F*** you, Mr. Stark', in the movie it is bleeped over but its clear that is what he is saying so I decided to include the actual words.

The next chapter will be posted next Sunday, on the 27th September.

Until then,

the-writer1988