AN: So there's not a whole lot I can say. There was a family emergency over the holidays that required my attention, but here it is, the new chapter! I want to say Thank you to everyone who sent messages, eagerly awaiting this next update.
Note, during the confrontation at the end, some sensitive subjects are discussed in an argumentative format. Although Steve has been in the present of nearly a year at this point, several of the intricacies of the courts, the justice system and the "War on Terror" still escape him, thereby shaping his views. Please be warned.
The room came to a freezing halt, and Tony drew himself up, like a wary dog, shoulders tensing and back straightening as he leveled cold blue eyes on the rest of the team. No one moved or said anything and Tony was about to turn on his heel when a soft hand touched his shoulder. He looked back, coming face to face with Marcie's mask and he sighed, the unspoken message loud and clear.
With slightly twitching fingers he gripped the mask's muzzle and gently pulled it away, revealing his expressionless face and he could feel the unease floating off the rest of the team as they looked at him. "Rogers. Barton. Romanov. Banner. Thor." He greeted each with a formal nod and received varying looks of what, achingly, looked like despair.
Brad had once pointed out to Tony, years ago just after he'd taken the company over, that Tony had two faces. Tony-in-front-of-the-media and Tony-at-home. For years they'd only seen Tony-at-home, warm and happy, always with a quick joke and a warm smile.
Brad hated Tony's media appearance. With the fake smile and cold eyes, the meanly sarcastic, cutting words, he just wasn't Tony that way. It was his default attitude for people he didn't know and didn't trust. Tony never really trusted you until he smiled for you, really and truly, that small, warm expression that Brad cherished more than anything.
The Avengers had gotten a brief glimpse of that, months after they'd moved into the tower. And now they were back to this, the Tony who would smile as he handed you a new product, but would never actually mean anything with any sincerity.
"I'll see you all back at the tower, I have some...business to attend. Unless of course you're uncomfortable living with me now. I'll have your things delivered if that's the case." Silence was his answer and he sighed a little, having not expected a response. "We'll talk about this later." It was such a rapid fire delivery, made in a voice of ice, that none of the team had a chance to respond before Tony was gone, the rest of the team behind him.
The ride back to the tower was quiet for the small group of assassins and their leader. Everyone had pulled off their masks, removed contacts and was talking quietly amongst themselves. The small group, along with Kelly's husband and sister, accompanied by the husband and daughter of the sister, were all staying at the tower until the funeral, while everyone else was in hotels on Tony's dime. The tower, when they arrived, was dark but for a soft white night light in the halls.
They split to go to their individual rooms, and Brad tugged Tony along to the master suite. Inside, they completed their nightly ritual, devesting each other of chain and leather armor, which was hung on a rack in the closet, and linen clothes before climbing into pajamas. Brad, once he'd fallen into bed, noticed Tony's frozen form and sighed. The other man was obviously too keyed up to sleep.
"At least lay down for a little bit." He murmured, already half-asleep. "You've had a long day and you're still healing." Tony nodded and fell into the bed next to Brad, heaving a loud sigh as he relaxed. Brad intertwined their fingers, murmured good night, and fell into sleep, aware that he'd wake up alone in a few hours.
True to his predictions, when Brad awoke at half past midnight, Tony's side of the bed was empty, but still warm. He hadn't been gone too long, then. "Jarvis, did he sleep at all?" he asked, rolling out of bed and scratching his chest.
"Sir slept for one hour and forty-three minutes before he was awoken for reasons unknown. He is now with Agent Barton, in his lab." Brad blinked slightly. He'd been aware that Barton had known about Tony's secret but he, as Anatassia and Marcie had, had feared that the performance at the Hydra base would sour Barton on Tony. But maybe not.
Deciding to take the round-about way to check on his wayward lover, Brad stumbled down to the communal kitchen which was, thankfully, empty of everyone but himself and Inari. He stopped to the scritch the little fox behind the ears and then went to the cupboard, pulling down two mugs and a few tea bags.
He set some water to boiling and was about to turn around when a voice came from the other side of the kitchen. "How long have you known?" The voice asked and Brad turned to see Natasha standing the other doorway, arms crossed and face blank. Brad snorted and looked at her.
"Known what?" he asked innocently and Brad felt a flash of inner satisfaction when her face, briefly, so briefly, flashed with nerves and fear. But soon she drew herself up again, even that momentary flash of emotion in front of someone she doesn't trust unconditionally angering her further. But she didn't say anything and the silence stretched between them. Brad turned when he heard the water boiling and, as he's poured the water over the waiting teabags, he spoke.
"I've known Tony since we were four years old, when our mentor's brought us together to visit." Was all he said, letting the silence hang so the information could sink in. He knew when it had because she gasped, if only slightly, a sound of barely audible shock.
"You..." She said and Brad smiled, turning around with both mugs in his hands. She was standing a few feet away, staring at him and he smiled, a ruthless baring of teeth.
"You may better know me as Slepkava no zvaigznēm, Assassin of the Stars. I have to thank the people of Latvia for that title. Suits me well, don't you think?" He asked before he brushed past her on the way out, cataloguing her blank face, the anger burning behind a veil in her eyes and he smirked.
This might be fun after all.
Tony hadn't meant to doze off after lying gown with Brad, and truthfully, wasn't too surprised when he woke up from his impromptu nap shortly after. He'd carefully extracted himself from Brad's hold and rolled to his feet, wincing at the pull on the wound on his chest. He couldn't wait for the damned thing to heal. He strippped out of his sleep clothes and into his usual lab clothes, old battered t-shirt and jeans and made his way downstairs.
"Jarvis, fire up the forge. I'm gonna get some work done." He said as he left his room, bare feet silent on the carpet. His AI responded that it was done and Tony nipped into the private kitchen on his floor to snag a cup of coffee, which jarvis had started as soon as Tony had woken up. Once he had the cup in hand, his ride down to his lab floor was quick.
Tony's personal lab, the one he went to didn't let anyone expect his most trusted of people in, took up an entire floor of the tower. Tucked away in the far corner of the floor was the forge, a chunk of the room ready for him at his word to work. Tony had gotten an order yesterday from Marcie that needed to be filled. Nothing complicated, a few bows and swords and a spear. he stopped at the door that separated the forge from the rest of the floor, toed on the heavy work boots, and stepped inside.
The room was hot and the coals in the forge were just starting to change color from the heat, so Tony took the chance to gather his tools. A hammer off the wall, metal ingots, four long strips of Balsaoak. He filled the troughs with water and filled on with slicking oil while lighting the element under the other. he grabbed knives and tongs down and two molds from off the wall, situating them where he could reach.
Satisfied with the temperature of the forge he took one of the ingots and placed it in the center, waiting until it turned orange with heat before pulling it out, placing it on the anvil and striking it until it was longer and thinner than before. A quick dunk in the water, then back on the flames. As he repeated this process he felt himself sinking, deep into the gunmetal grey part of his mind, where no thoughts passed, where he was at peace, deep in a task of instinct.
Tony lost time like this rarely. Occasionally, working on the suit or puzzling over some new equation or another. Sometimes just standing on the roof with Brad or Inari or Pepper, looking at the stars they could see from so high up. Tony almost wished he could do this more often, lose himself so, but he couldn't afford to. Not now. Maybe not ever. The atmosphere of the tower reflected the tension of the revelation of his identity, throwing everyone into unease.
Tony hoped that, with time, the team might get used to it, might be able to push it to the back of their minds and move on with their lives. Well, Tony could hope.
"Stark." The voice pierced the veil of his peace and he whirled, hammer up and ready to strike the intruder, but he stopped short when he noticed Clint standing a few feet away from him, hands up and at his side in the common "I come in peace" gesture. Tony breathed deeply a second before lowering the hammer and taking the metal out of the flames, turning back to his work.
"Katniss." He says lightly, testing the waters with his usual nickname as the rhythmic clang of metal fills the room again. There's silence for a moment before Clint speaks again.
"Ya' know, we never did find you your own nickname." He said casually and Tony felt tension he didn't even know he was holding in his shoulders leech out, entire body relaxing again into his task.
"I guess we didn't." He said, bringing the hammer down once more before dunking it in the trough and then back on the flames. He set the hammer and tongs down, turned around and grabbed the four strips of wood, laying them gently in the now-boiling water of the second trough. Clint watches him as he works and the silence is nice, not heavy and fearful like Tony thought it might be.
"So your bow." Clint says out of nowhere and Tony smiled briefly to himself. Of course he would ask about the bow.
"What about it?" He asked, using the tong to make sure the strips sat evenly in the water.
"Why a wooden one? And why a longbow? I mean, doesn't that get in the way of what you're doing the rest of the time? Like with the running and the jumping and the..." Clint makes a motion with his hand, a sort of wave and flick and Tony takes that to mean "When he's using his other weapons to assassinate people".
"Why do you think your carbon fibre bow is better, Katniss? Do you think that, because it was machine made by scientists at SHIELD, which, by the way, haven't forgiven you for choosing their bow over mine yet, by a "superior material", that it's flawless? That you get a better shot from it? That, because it has so few, or none at all, imperfections, that it makes it better? It's a lie." He said firmly, looking up from his work again.
Before Clint could respond, Tony was speaking again. "I chose to make my bows of wood because of the imperfections. Because I have to correct all of my shots before I make them, I am a better archer for it. I chose the longbow because of the reach, because of the symbolism it holds." Tony turned and grabbed another strip of wood off the wall, turning back and dropping it into the roiling boil.
Clint stared at him for awhile, watching Tony work with unfettered interest. And then he stepped forward as Tony reached for the strips in the water again.
That's how the team found them the next morning, still sequestered in Tony's lab, hands working carefully over a long strip of wood each, bending and shaping and smoothing it to their wills. Brad had found them last night, but left them alone after seeing them working hard, deciding it was fine for the night. They stood in front of the glass watching.
Tony's speaking something, it sounded like Macedonian, his voice rising and falling as he moved his hands over the strip, knife slowly peeling down the wood. Clint was answering him, voice lower than Tony's own, but following the words like he spoke them all the time. Clint's own project, from what they could see, wasn't as trim or put together as Tony's but it was a reasonable facsimile. Tony stopped and Clint stopped with him and Tony showed him over to a rack on the wall, where three other wood strips were sitting.
Once both strips were on the rack, Tony left Clint to lock it down and went to empty the troughs after throwing a bucket of oil and water over the coals in the forge. The could just make out the tail ends of the conversation as Clint and Tony drew nearer to the doors. "Now we'll leave them in the rack for a day, and tomorrow we will shape them again. We'll repeat for a week, and then layer them with horn to protect them."
Clint was nodding at Tony and Natasha was surprised to see genuine interest in his eyes. When they reached the door, Tony toed of the boots he'd put on hours before and his face lit up when he saw brad approaching with a steaming cup of coffee and a donut. "You're an angel." He said, snapping them up and offering an eskimo kiss in exchange.
Finally he turned his attention to the team and sighed, an actual audible sound. "We should probably talk, shouldn't we?" A few nods. "Alright. Meet me in the lounge. I need to change. Clint, you should too, incase any of the flaking from the bows got on you." The archer nodded and accompanied Tony into the elevator.
Once he'd switched into a more intact version of his earlier lab clothes, Tony wandered downstairs, coffee still in hand. Brad topped off his mug before they went into the lounge, settling into the loveseat and looking at the others.
"So, there's not really much to say, I would think." Brad started and Tony held up his hand and Brad snorted but subsided.
"You have questions." It was a statement in and of itself and the team nodded. "So ask them, but I reserve the right to tell you to fuck off." The expletive was sharp but the team nodded again and Tony motioned his assent for them to begin. Bruce spoke first.
"Your Order, from what we understand, is controlled by the government. they dictate your targets, fund you and protect you from retaliation." He grew quiet and Tony waited for him to continue. "When I was on the run, I got shot and had to hide out in Africa for a month. When i first got there a man in a dog mask stopped me and gave me medical help. And he told me he was a government assassin. Why didn't he kill me?" It was a blunt question and one Tony could understand.
"We've never been ordered after you. In fact, I don't think you've even come across the desk, let alone for an assignment. Dog is just like that, he helps people and to him, you were just an injured civilian that needed help." He explained. Bruce seemed to mull it over and then nodded, a strange but, beatific smile stealing over his face, small though it was.
"Then I don't care." Tony was shocked by Bruce's dismissal of his assassin standing but, not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Tony accepted the acceptance and motioned for the next question. They were mundane, most of them, more questions about his training, where he had traveled and his experiences.
Tony' told them what he could and, slowly, the team seemed to be accepting that Tony was Tony, just with a little something extra. Finally, Tony turned to Steve, who had been quiet all during the conversation. "Steve?" He said. The supersoldier turned to look at him, blue eyes hard and then looked around himself at the rest of his team.
"How can you all be okay with this? He killed half a dozen men right in front of us and then laughed!" He said and Tony could feel himself bristling. He rose to his feet and put the mug down on the coffee table in front of him.
"I've killed hundreds by hand Rogers, and a million more with my weapons, all in the service of my country and my government, all in the memory of my father. So has every soldier who have ever wielded a gun on the battlefield or piloted a plane that dropped a bomb somewhere in the desert. We do what you and the courts can not. We wipe the scum of the earth out of the picture, all so you and all the others can live comfortable happy lives without crime lords smuggling cocaine in baby formula!" His voice was rising.
"And you're not one to talk. How many people died by your hand, by your shield, in the war Rogers? How many families lost husbands and brothers and fathers who thought they were fighting for what was right?" There was a silence in the room and then Steve was on his feet, nose to nose with Tony.
"I fought in killed in a war where millions of people were being killed just because of who they were. How am I not one to talk?" Steve hissed and Tony snarled.
"How did your parents let this happen, Tony? Were you such a terrible child that Howard and Maria dumped you off to be raised by a group of murderers? What would they say today? Hmmm? To see their son like this?" Tony's eyes flashed dangerously and Brad surged forward, snapping his hand around Tony's wrist.
"Tony." He said firmly, trying to soothe the situation before it escalated to physical violence. Tony subsided a little, taking a firm step back and Steve almost sneered at him.
"Is that it?" He asked and Tony snarled again and, before Brad or anyone could stop him, Tony swung out and punched Steve, fist hitting him in the nose. Steve stumbled back, seemingly surprised by the strength Tony had in his one hand and then looked up as Tony towered over him.
"If you ever, and I mean ever, insinuate that my parents, that my mentors and my friends, were anything but the saints and amazing people that they are ever again, I will end your existance. And fuck the consequences!" He shouted.
"I kill the men who kidnap women and sell them for sex against their will. I kill the people who abuse children for their pleasure, people they should trust like their priests. I kill the people who would poison a small town's water supply to make a buck. I kill the people who would see every innocent person dead for their pleasure or for science." He panted, trying to maintain what composure he had left.
"My Zeymah, my brothers and my sisters, we keep the people safe when the courts and government and the police fail. Because that's what we chose to do. Because that's what needs to be done." Tony opened his mouth to begin saying something else, but the sound of little feet pitter-pattering on the carpet, followed by barking pulled him away, his eyes landing on the door.
Standing in the doorway, clutching a blanket to her skinny form, was Emily, Kelly's sister's daughter. Inari was by her leg and it was clear the little girl had just woken up. Judging by the clock, which read just past seven in the morning, she hadn't meant to be up quite yet.
"Uncle Tony?" She whined. "I hearded yelling. Are you mad?" She asked and Tony softened his feature, padding over and scooping the little girl up, settling her on his hip.
"I'm sorry Princess, I didn't mean to wake you. No, I'm not mad, we're just wrestling and we got out of hand." Emily nodded and yawned.
"Silly Uncle, it's too early to wrestle. Mr. Sun isn't even all the way awake." She said and Tony smiled, making a show of looking at the window and gasping.
"So it seems. I have an idea. How about we go and lay on the big comfy couch for a while and I'll put on your favorite violin music and when your mommy and daddy wake up, we'll make banana pecan pancakes? Sound good?" He asked and the little girl gave him a tired, but happy smile.
"Really?" She asked and Tony nodded.
"Really really." Emily smiled and lay her head back on his shoulder.
"Okay." She said, already drifting back to sleep. Tony cast one fond look to Brad and then a blank look at the rest of the team before he left, walking carefully and quietly down the hall, as not to wake his precious bundle.
Brad sighed once he was sure Tony was out of earshot and rose to his feet. "I suppose I need to go shopping for groceries." He said warmly and left the room in a stunned silence.
So much for this being fun.