Orders from the Director
After the Raft Escape, Steve led his group back to Wakanda. There they were met with Natasha coming to seek shelter from the storm. Everyone was sure when the said storm this caused died down they could go back with no problem. They should have realized it was only their leader that felt this way. For some reason or another, even the seasoned members of the group fell victim to his belief. It was not to be.
T’Challa had told them there had been a situation and that they were free to go back to the New SHIELD HQ. At first, they thought they were in the clear. The young king shot that down really quickly saying that he didn’t know the details but that SHIELD knew they were in Wakanda and unless he wanted not only an upset country but an upset world, he would return the Ex-Vengers back to SHIELD, there was some sort of emergency. The way he worded it made it seem that he was even unsure of the detail but SHIELD confirmed the rogues would not be going to prison. There was that at least.
With Wakanda coming out of isolation like it has if there was anything to cause trouble with this transition it would be the rest of the world finding out he was hiding fugitives. Not only that, he was threatened with economic collapse as well…with the world than against them, Wakanda would lose some of their valuable contracts. Not even Vibrainium would be able to help out their country if that was the case. Saying that he would see them there before returning to his own country, T’Challa gave them time to prepare. They had entertained the thought of trying to flee but with the Dora’s…there was more a chance they would leave in body bags.
The flight there was nothing to write home about. Well, unless you accounted for the tenseness of the situation. There was something about the whole ordeal that made them all uneasy. One thing that they thought about was if they could explain their side, it might not be as bad as they were all thinking. Looking at it that way, made them feel a little bit better. There had to be a few people in the ranks that would sympathize with their plight.
When they landed, the whole group was escorted to the New SHIELD building in black unassuming vehicles, T’Challa and his guards included. The rogues were asked to leave their belongings in a locker that would be locked. Their stuff would be safe in there. So they did. Not happily but right now if they showed some compliance it may be what they need if they end up in a tight spot. Showing they were willing to listen may help in the long run. Why they only thought of this now was surprising for many.
It was then they were lead one room that was odd. It looked like an observation room but they were on the side of the glass that could be seen through. It also took up the entire wall and on the other side there was a small table but was big enough for 6 chairs to comfortably sit around. They were in a part that didn’t have anything to sit on, leaving them standing. That was kinda rude to do to guests but maybe there was a good reason for it.
Still, it was odd and had them all thinking but then someone who they never thought they would never see again. Turning their attention to the door they saw…
“Phil…” Clint said with a small smile on his face. A smile that was not returned by the man they had thought was dead.
“That is Director Coulson,” Phil replied swiftly with a cold tone. The tone he had made the spy twins recoil a bit. That was not a tone they were used to hearing. It was clear that the man didn’t want to be there but why? He had been their handler and was supposed to be dead…then again, so was Fury but that didn’t stop him. T’Challa had also picked up on the behavior as his bodyguards moved closer to his side.
“Of course, Director, are we here to help you somehow?” Steve asked. After all…there was some sort of emergency. He thought it was a good thing that Phil was Director or SHIELD now. Phil was his biggest fan, so of course, he would listen to Steve. With Phil on their side, they would surely have a better start at beating the Accords.
“No, I am here to reign you in. You didn’t want to sign the Accords and committed several felonies in the process of your retaliation. So simply, you aren’t fit for hero duty. Yet, they will admit you have skills that may be useful in the future. The solution was to bring you here.”
“The Accords would have tied our hands,” Steve complained hoping to find compassion in Phil, “We would have been at the beck and call of the government. We shouldn’t need a piece of paper to save people.”
“You had no problem with SHIELD doing the same,” countered Coulson, “The funny thing is the UN isn’t even a government but SHIELD was part of the US government. Given that fact your argument is invalid. Now, I have had to pull a good few strings but you work for SHIELD once more and will continually be monitored.”
“Stark is gonna love that,” grumbled Clint. They were all still a bit shocked at what was going on but this was Phil…of course he was on their side. They just would have to play this game for a little bit, maybe they were being watched and they just had to play their cards right.
“And that means what Barton?” Phil asked sharply, it caused Clint to flinch. The man still had pull over the archer because Phil had been his handler for so long. Collecting himself quickly he explained his thoughts.
“You know how well he plays nice with others,” Clint began explaining, “He doesn’t. He is going to complain and whine. Serves him right though.”
They all noticed the way Coulson’s eyes narrowed at them. Something wasn’t right. There was something that the Director wasn’t telling them. Even the visiting royalty could pick up that more information was being kept from them but obviously it was something that should have been known. What did Phil expect them to already know? It was of enough importance that it caused their former friend to treat them so coldly. Something that they probably should have known…what was it though?
“Dr. Stark doesn’t work with SHIELD,” Phil stated simply and the Rogues were getting a little too smug. They thought it was a good thing for them. So he had to put them in place, “He was the only one from the original team that has been accepted on to the UN Global Task Force - Superhero Division. They do take into account he is a busy man, so they don’t ask him for ridicules things. They only ask him for missions when they need him.”
“What do you mean by ‘ridicules things’?” asked Widow. She was curious. Obviously, Phil had interrupted some information incorrectly to be this hostile with them. The woman was not only sure of that, she felt there was something else amiss. She was also aware it had something to do with them. Phil was not warm to them, the redhead missed her friend dearly. What happened to the man they knew?
“Oh, nothing much. But things like ‘mandatory team bonding exercises’ and dealing with you gear even though you were still with SHIELD at the time, SHIELD could have aided with the gear.”
“Tony is the best. It isn’t like we asked for that much, Ph- Director Coulson,” Steve stated changing his terminology to something more respectful when he was leveled with Phil’s glare.
“Do you also run the R&D department of Stark Industries, Mr. Rogers?” asked the man, “Are you responsible for thousands of employees having jobs to feed their families? Making sure you bring out new and better items for people to buy so your employees can eat? What about the Galas he has no choice but to attend to better the business and for charities? Or heading the relief efforts in the areas you all caused damage? How about consulting for SHIELD he had done at that time? That takes time and is more important than your ‘Bonding exercises’. On top of that dealing with you arsenal when you demanded. Do you have any answers for those?”
Obviously, Steve didn’t. The man was actually put into stunned silence. He knew Tony had had a lot to do but he didn't realize just how much. He never openly complained about doing everything except for when they dragged him out of the lab. Everyone else was in a similar state. It was now obvious when Steve thought one way, so did the rest of them..nothing but a flock of sheep. How they hell had Tony managed all that? The billionaire was doing more than they originally thought. It was enough that it startled a low whistle out of Lang.
T’Challa only hung his head…he could figure the amount of free time the billionaire had and it wasn’t a lot. How did this team never notice? Did they have such preordained notions about the man they couldn’t see what was in front of them? If that was the case all of their actions now made sense…they were blind to how everything really works. Oh, he could feel a headache coming on.
“He could have said he was busy,” Steve answered but it sounded weak. Somehow, he knew it wasn’t going to be a good argument either.
“I know he did several times and you guilted him into your little activities anyway. You are not a very good team leader if you prioritize your own needs over those of your team members, Mr. Rogers. In fact, you are no longer a team leader, you have compromised judgment and are not worthy of having people follow you.”
“Did I stutter?” Phil asked casually.
“There are no ‘buts’ in this, Mr. Rogers,” Phil continued without so much as a blink, “Now, the last thing. You are also legally barred from seeing Dr. Stark. All of you will be in contempt of court if you purposely seek him out as well. He will also not be aiding you on the battlefield as the UN will not have one of their Task Force Members harassed. After all, that was one of the conditions we had to follow so we could get you back.”
“Are you serious?” Clint blurted out.
“But we need Tony. He has been a member of the team and working without him is hard,” Steve pressed forward. They needed to be a full team to operate properly. Without Tony information was not quick and they had made several errors. He was actually going to walk over to Phil when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Looking over, it was Wanda, who had been quiet this entire time. She was a little bit wide-eyed and shook her to indicate that going over to Phil would have been a bad idea.
It was then he noticed the other SHIELD agents in the room. There was only two but they knew better than to question them. There were two petite brunettes in the room. One gave off the aura of icy efficiency and the other of pure power. Neither of them was to be messed with. That was enough to keep the blond captain standing still.
“You should have thought about that before you lied to him for several years about his parent's murder and nearly beat him to death. Not to mention leaving him in Siberia where he was sure to perish if it wasn’t for my people tracking him. I am sure he feels that he will be safe in your presences, let alone, working with you. You never once thought being honest with him would do you any good, huh?”
That was a low blow but seeing Steve recoil as severe as he had meant clearly Phil had not lied. This turned the rest of group to turn to their default leader with various expressions of betrayal, surprise, and anguish. The blond captain couldn’t help but looked ashamed cementing that he indeed was guilty of what Phil said. No one could believe it…T’Challa couldn't even believe it.
“Steve…” Clint said with some strain in his voice.
“I thought it was for the best…if he didn’t know…then when he found out…he attacked Bucky…I was only trying to stop him…not hurt him. I-I didn’t want that…”
“Bucky killed Tony’s parents…” murmured Natasha. There were a few sharp breaths that he heard. Okay…so his team was probably not going to be happy with him after this.
“No-” Steve began but was interrupted by Phil again.
“James Barnes physically killed Howard and Maria Stark,” Phil stated simply, “We know he was brainwashed by Hydra and was a puppet for a long time but that doesn’t change the fact of what happened. After all, if the shoe was on the other foot and say Colonel Rhodes was in Sergeant Barnes place, brainwashed and used as a killing machine, and Dr. Stark hid your parent’s murder from you because it was his best friend who did commit the murders, how would you have taken it?”
Steve froze, he never thought of it that way…if he had found out his mother had been assassinated like that…he would have been furious…oh, he was now starting to see the picture. That someone you trusted going behind your back like that and then finding out the way he had. No wonder he attacked but still, Bucky was innocent! Yet…in that scenario, Rhodey would also be innocent and the blonde former Captain wasn’t so sure he would feel anything but hatred for the man.
“Now, if you would have told him about it right away, he would have had a very different attitude. I mean, yes, it has been over a year but he had come to realize that Barnes was, in fact, a victim. Where he doesn’t feel safe around the man, Dr. Stark was beginning to look for someone able to help him before he was told not to. After all, a victim should not have to deal with the culprit. Taking this into context it would mean that Dr. Stark would not have been fighting against you over Barnes. Hmm, interesting how that works now isn’t it?”
“Who told him to stop?” If there was anything that could help why was it not being allowed. He wanted Bucky better! Tony was probably the only one who could figure out who could help. Nothing against the King of Wakanda but Tony was Tony for a reason.
“His therapist. With what you all have done to him, he finally broke and went to see his again. Now, that he has the time. He was getting help after the incident in Afghanistan but when you lot came along he no longer had time. They told him that he has no obligation to help Barnes and that if he does it shouldn’t be because he feels like he has to…whenever that changes to ‘wants to’ he will have everyone’s full support on that decision.”
They truly never knew that. Tony had been seeing a therapist…his problems were that severe he knew he needed help. How had they missed something that big? Knowing Tony he must have tried to continue the sessions when the Avengers came along but must have given up when he could no longer find time. They had stopped him getting help for something like PTSD. How…how could they have done something like that?
T’Challa internally cursed and looked to his Dora bodyguards. They were much better trained than the Widow and the faces were schooled in but looking into their eyes he was met with the inner turmoil he felt. There was so much they had not known about ‘Tony Stark’ that they were finding out. It was the most horrible way to go about it too. They would have preferred to hear it from him after gaining his trust…but he had not been high enough on the list to do that. Now they know the man could have died in Siberia. He had been trying to get help for his afflictions. He was actually the ally they wanted…
Phil wouldn’t let them linger on that too long. This was to be messy and keep them rocky ground…making them all the easier a target. Yet, it was time to end this. The Director has a busy schedule on his hands and this was taking far too long for his liking. The small beep on his wrist watch clarified that the time he had was running out.
“Now,” the director stated, “I know this is a lot to take in but there is the main reason we got you back was that we had options that would keep you in check. At least until you could be trusted but even then we are bound to keep you here.”
They didn’t know what hit them but there was a sudden pain in their neck. Reaching up, they pulled out a slightly oversized dart. Obviously, it was used to inject something into them but they didn’t know what that was. Phil, being the master he was, had kept them distracted enough that they never once registered the panel in the wall that had opened up. Clint and Natasha barely caught the retreating gun barrels as they were quietly pulled back into the walls.
“What you see was the delivery device for a small remotely trigger explosive. If you even think about trying anything, it can be remotely triggered making your head explode,” the cold female spoke up, “It cannot be removed except by surgery…yet, we will have to trust you before allowing you those services.”
“You are no longer heroes,” the Director spoke sharply, “You will be working for SHIELD till your last breaths. So your titles have been stripped. You are given a code that you have to memorize and be called by your last names until we have worked out proper code names for you.”
Behind Phil, projected into the wall was their newest designation…they were nothing but tools now.
Rogers - 87248677-747
Barton - 87248677-232
Romanova - 87248677-627
Maximoff - 87248677-96
Wilson - 87248677-789
Lang - 87248677-7345
“I would like to say I would have left it before it got to this point but I am a petty man when pushed too far,” Phil stated as he straightened out his suit. As he turned to leave only stopped by an outburst from his former idol.
“What did we do!?” Cried Steve. He was so lost. How could Phil have done this to him? To them? To the team he helped put together?
“I think I will let you try to figure that out on your own. Now if you, excuse me,” Phil said as he exited the room.
That made the entire room freeze. They had to have done something to Phil personally. Oh…shit. There was no other reason he would have treated them like the scum of the earth. The only problem was they couldn’t for the life of them figure out what it was. They were so stunned they didn’t notice that T’Challa had left them. Not like they could have done anything without risk of losing their heads…quite literally.
A few minutes later they were drawn to a door opening beyond the one-way window.
T’Challa was asked by the woman who radiated raw power if he would be sticking around as there was going to be an explanation for everything or if he wished to leave. After all, he had done his part by bringing the fugitives back to SHIELD. He was curious and if he had the option to stay he would. He was then directed then to an adjoining room.
Inside he found the Director of SHIELD standing before another window that was the same as the other. It took up the whole wall again…he could only imagine how many of these walls were real when it came to looking at the room with the table in it. The king was startled from his thoughts by the voice of the Director that was a lot warmer than the one he had heard in the other room.
“Feel free to sit down, Your Highness,” Phil said softly, “I have nothing to go after you for…well, save for leaving a man behind but I am thinking Rogers had more to do with that than anyone.”
“Correct…he had told me Dr. Stark was fine,” T’Challa stated, taking a seat, “Turns out he was misleading me.”
“You are not the only one who was misled,” Phil replied just as soft. Before the young king could comment further the sound of a door opening drew their attention.
“So this is one of the rooms for New SHIELD,” a British voice chimed with a male tone connected to it. In walked a brunette male, his eyes were obscured by a pair of sunglasses that had the ‘Union Jack’ printed over the top of the lenses. He had a communicator still on with the mic close to his mouth. He was dressed somewhat casually; blue jeans and a long sleeve black button-up. “They don’t even have cameras up or anything…probably don’t even have the listening devices in place.”
“Well, it is a new building. I would expect it to be more on the sterile side of things,” another male voice stated walking into the room. He was wearing robes that made him look out of place in the modern world. The bright red cape standing out profusely as well. He also had brown hair with streaks of silvery white by his temples and gray eyes.
“Sterile I could understand, bland is another thing altogether,” a female stated before entering, She was decked out in her uniform and looked as if she had just come off work. She was military and they couldn’t see what rank but with how she walked, it must have been relatively high. She was blonde with blue eyes that accessed the room evenly. Like she was looking for something.
“Joey, Carol, Stephen, be nice…we were invited here after all,” the familiar voice and image of Tony Stark entered the room. He looked well, well enough that is. You could tell he was tired but it wasn’t as severe as when the ‘Civil War’ happened. Even before then…the man constantly looked tired since the Avengers had come into his life.
“Oh, Tony you know we teasing,” Carol said as she motioned everyone to the table. May as well have a seat, they didn’t how long they were going to be there after all.
“I know, I know but Maria asked for me here. You didn’t have to come you know,” Tony stated simply, “It’s Maria, I would have been safe.”
“It’s SHIELD,” Stephen corrected, Maria Hill or not they were still in a SHIELD building, “As a member of the GTF, Tony, you didn’t need to come here…the fact they wanted you here was enough for us to worry.”
“Seriously, the last time you had anything to do with SHIELD, you became the walking dead,” Carol stated with a shrug. They all knew what an association with SHIELD had a drastic negative effect on the man. In public settings he still pulled it together and looked fine but seeing the man in private when no one was looking…they could see the wear on him. It wasn’t them who was spying on him but it was documented by someone called ‘Co-pilot’. They seemed very concerned about the well-being of Tony Stark and had documented his decline whilst dealing and working with the Avengers.
Only Tony didn’t know that. It was found by various secret agencies all over the world after the whole Ultron Debacle and ‘Co-pilot’ had never updated again…It was what made the governments not go as severely after Stark as they had planned. They still held him accountable though. Yet, seeing the man in that much duress…that is when the Accords really began making some headway. If Tony Stark, an Avenger himself, could be pushed around by the other Avengers, no wonder something like Ultron happened. It was because of messy work that under normal circumstances Tony would have never allowed. They didn’t go out of their way to try and protect the man, he could do that himself but the Accords would have allowed the UN to step in if there was a need or if this was going to become common and happen to other Superheroes, Avengers or otherwise. After all, they were still people inside the hero facade and had human problems.
Few people were ever privy to that information. Joey knew because he was a spy but was only informed after he befriended the billionaire while on a job together. Carol was told roughly the same way, after seeing that Tony was mainly walls and masks. Stephen was informed by Carol at a later date. It wasn’t so that they would be nicer to him but to keep themselves in check from asking too much of the man…he had a problem saying no to things after being pushed around so much by people who he was supposed to trust.
“Your support is overwhelming,” Tony deadpanned back getting Carol to laugh a little bit and bringing her out of her thoughts.
“We’re just worried about ya, mate,” Joey said taking a seat himself.
“I know, it’s strange,” Tony stated while crossing his arms on the table and resting his head. He was overly tired today and that was one of the reasons the other three wanted to come. Tony would not be in a state to take care of himself if the need arose.
“I do believe that is my title,” Stephen piped up getting a slightly muffled laugh out of Tony himself.
“You know that wasn’t what I meant,” chided the billionaire lightly. There was no heat in the statement but Tony was going to get the last word. Turing his head to the side to look at his…Friends? Teammates? Workmates? They didn’t spend much time together as they all had their own things to worry about but it was that weird middle ground between acquaintances and friends he guessed. He knew he trusted them at the very least. “How about we change the subject to something more interesting while we wait. Any new news?”
Carol didn’t have too much to say. It had been relatively calm in her neck of the woods. The same could be said for Stephen…although a few of the trainees he and Wong had been training left something to be desired. Leave it to Joey to make the conversation take a left turn on red.
“Not much happening that is notable but since the topic is now open, I am interested in why you keep turning me down for a date, mate,” Joey said with as much grace as he could muster taking the conversation from work to personal.
“Huh?” was as good of a repose as Tony could muster as his head shot up and his eyes were wide. Carol and Stephen just kinda smirked. Leave it to Tony…everyone else that had worked with the two saw the flirting Joey had done. Where Tony had flirted back, the billionaire wasn’t as invested in it.
“Didn’t even note I was interested?” the Brit asked clearly not understanding how the genius hadn’t noticed.
“I thought you were joking…” Tony murmured. Well…there is the self-esteem problem that everyone was now aware of. Everyone in the know that is. So more or less the GTF and some of the UN, like two people, kept it secret that was. Joey though kept right on trucking trying to get more information.
“Really? I thought it was because of the ring around your neck.”
“How?” Tony questioned as his hand shot up to his neck. There was nothing there…nothing out in the open though. Palming through his shirt, Tony felt the ring still there and calmed down a bit.
“I’m a British Spy, love, I see more than many,” the stated with a cheeky grin.
“I am surprised. I had two spies under my roof for a period of time and they never found out…guess I have to concede to that remark,” the shocked billionaire muttered.
“I am also impressed. It is hard to get one up on you, Tony. That is amazing,” Carol stated.
“Promise ring?” asked Stephen turning the conversation back to the ring. He was interested in what had the normal ‘playboy’ unwilling to date someone who clearly had romantic intent.
Tony debated for a minute but these people had always been upfront with him…and it isn’t like it mattered too much anymore. It was mainly his inability to move on but…he did trust them to an extent. May as well show that.
“No…I was married…” taking the ring out from under his shirt. A simple gold band.
“Married? Truly?” was all Carol could get out as the other two men were more stunned than she was. This was something new and what many had thought was unbelievable. Tony Stark. The one if you looked up playboy, you would see his picture next to the word had been married. It was past tense though…what happened?
“Yes…he died but I could never move on.”
“He?!” came the response from all three of them, getting Tony to laugh a little. The shock was thick in the room. The billionaire though was getting uncomfortable. This was obviously not something he was used to talking about but he forged on. After all, he did trust them and they trusted him…openly, with no strings attached. It was nice.
“Surprise, surprise, I was married to a man,” the genius stated, his eyes distant like they were looking over a memory, “It wasn’t going to be recognized in the US so we never told anyone. We were married in a location that was more tribe based…where two men being joined as one was not something terribly uncommon. It was a medicine woman of a tribe that married us. Not only was it not going to be allowed in the US, he was in love with his job and I could never ask him to leave it. There would have been dangers as well with his job and myself being a billionaire…it was very risky. We could have been used against each other.”
“How long? How long were you married?” Carol asked. She would admit she was a closet romantic. Looking at the men around the table they probably were as well. This was something they never expected to find but looking back with how many masks the man wore…this was just one of many secrets.
“We were married for nearly 20 years,” answered Tony laughing a little and low ‘ohhh’ that came from the three.
“What did he do?” Joey asked.
“…” It was obvious Tony was uncomfortable talking about the subject. He looked as if he wanted to but the place they were in was not one that provided comfort. Stephen reassured him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Worry not…there is no one here that shouldn’t hear,” the Sorcerer promised him. That was enough for the genius to nod while swallowing a breath. Strange wouldn’t lead him astray. If there were people that needed to know, he knew they were right in front of him.
“He was a SHIELD agent. Very few people knew. Not undercover but he did do some of that from time to time. I never wanted to put him in danger…just sneaking out to see each other was hard enough on both of us. I had to pretend to sleep around, so no one would be the wiser, but I was so lucky there were many people willing to cover for us, some of them other SHIELD agents. Pepper was enthusiastic to cover for us when I could trust her enough to tell her.”
“How did he die?” Stephen questioned, sadness coloring his voice. This was going to be harder…from the small amount of information, they got it was clear to see how in love Tony had been. This was going to be a question that would tear the billionaire up.
Just as the Sorcerer predicted, the light left the geniuses eyes. It was then that Tony withdrew onto himself a little bit. He was obviously upset now. More than he had been earlier. Earlier it was just discomfort that colored him, now it was devastation. His breathing had become ragged and it was obvious he had started fighting back tears
“I lost him…in the Battle of New York…when Loki took siege upon the city…I was never able to bury him…”
“Oh god…Tony, I’m so sorry…” Carol stated as she stood up and came around the table to give the billionaire a hug…a tight one at that, her friend was hurting and there was nothing else anyone was going to be able to do for him. It was also a measure of how that memory to this day devastated him. He hugged her back. The normally ‘no touchy’ billionaire hugged Captain Marvel back with as much strength as he could muster at that moment…and tears burning in his eyes.
Carol looked at the other two men in her company as she was patting Tony’s back, trying to help him in his moment of grief. The two were saddened and part of them wished they had never brought it up… Though the fact that Tony had willingly told them showed how much he had trusted them with these memories that continued to break his fragile heart, that was worth a lot more but not at this cost.
Back with the rogues, they watched wide-eyed. They hadn’t noticed the other SHIELD agents that had come into the room to keep them in check…This was part of what Phil had planned it seemed. He was going to rip them apart emotionally with everything they had done to Stark. They were going to see what they had truly messed up…but how was this affecting Phil?
There was a moment of stunned silence as they let the information wash over them. Tony Stark had been married…to a lowly SHIELD agent who was killed in New York. That set off so many alarms in the Ex-Vengers head. They never knew. None of them have ever stopped to think. With how many walls Tony had up around his heart and how many masks he had worn, no one in the Avengers ever thought…
“Did you know?” Sam asked stunned.
“No…none of us did…” answered Steve with awe in his voice. How harshly he judged the man only to find out that playboy exterior was just a lie to protect his husband? That took more bravery than Rogers had given the man credit for. Which was stupid seeing that Stark flew a nuke into a portal. Looking at everyone there…they all looked varying degrees of upset.
Clint and Sam had shared looks of disbelief. Wanda looked like she wanted to call Stark out as a liar but Steve guessed she could feel his sorrow if the tears silent tears streaming down her face were anything to go by. Scott looked ashamed because he knew nothing about the man…Natasha, however, had a look of calm, be it upset, calculation on her face, as if she had been trying to figure out if this was true.
“It clears up why he was displaying signs of mourning…I never knew. Even when I was undercover around him. It makes sense though. He had a long time to practice hiding it,” Natasha was going over what she knew. Obviously, she saw that Tony was telling the truth to what they guessed was his new team. She was she thinking when she gasped, “Oh no…”
“What is it, Nat?” Clint asked being taken from his thoughts.
“Clint…we could have known his husband, we could have worked with him…Phil could have known him…”
That hit Clint like a ton of bricks. They could have been working with Tony’s husband for years and never known. Phil may have been one of the few who had known him, who worked with him…was friends with him. There were a bunch of agents that perished during Loki’s attack. Hell, thinking about it, Clint could have been the one to-…the one who had killed him too. That made the archer pale significantly. If he had killed Tony’s husband…someone who had been a friend to him maybe… There was too little information to go off of right now but it was still a possibility. A possibility that made him sick.
No wonder Phil was pissed. Phil may have been friends with Tony’s husband…may have been keeping tabs on the billionaire to make sure he was okay. So he, of course, would have known everything that happened. This was a lot worse than they originally thought. Phil didn’t get misinformed…he was doing this because of what they had done to Tony.
The young king and his guards were silent and wide-eyed at what they were hearing. There was so much they didn’t know about the billionaire it was sickening. He had been married to a man and had to pretend to sleep around and have drunk parties just to make sure no one could draw a parallel to his love. Here was a man who cares so little about his reputation and more about the safety of his beloved one.
How many people took him at face value? How many scorned him because he had to hide who he was? How many used him to for their own means not knowing the truth? There were so many questions that needed answers. Yet, were they the answers they were entitled to receiving? With what they had assumed…no, they weren’t that was something they would have to work for.
Looking to the director, T’Challa noticed the sorrow and regret in his features. The type of emotions that could only come from knowing. Did the Director’s previous harshness stem from the fact he knew that Tony Stark was not who he seemed? That beyond the masks he wore was a battered but loyal heart who could not move on, even knowing his husband had perished? Did he know the one that died?
“Did you know?” asked the young King. It was vague and encompassed all of the questions burning within him but the man before him seemed to understand.
“Yes…yes, I did,” answered the director with softness to his voice.
“You never stepped in?”
“I couldn’t…I was severely injured to a point that I couldn’t remember much of anything about the attack on New York, let alone anything else,” Phil stated, “By the time I had figured it out…it was too late. I had my people looking over Tony, making sure he stayed safe…well, as safe as you can for Tony Stark.”
So…something had happened to the Director that stopped him from helping Tony directly. Some injury caused him amnesia that delayed him in personally stepping up to the plate and intervening. That clears up a lot. His display of emotions were probably from the fact he couldn’t have done anything. That no one had planned for it was disturbing but no one ever plans for an alien invasion…
“You are friends then?” T’Challa asked with a little amusement from the last statement. It was true, Stark was not known for his personal safety practices. He was, however, one of the best to have on your side because he did care for the safety of others.
“You could say that…” there was a tiny smile on Phil’s face that had a trace of fondness for Tony. At least the man had people in his corner no matter how distant they were.
“Am I interrupting something?” a new voice with a stern edge asked. It wasn’t an unfriendly edge but as if it were something that had been ingrained in the voice for so long it had become part of it.
Getting himself under control, Tony broke away from Carol. Grinning a little at the newcomer, the genius relaxed. He could recognize that voice anywhere. Standing up, having the blonde help him a little, the Billionaire walked over to the former SHIELD agent and did what many thought was the unthinkable. He gave Maria Hill a hug…one that she returned! Her presence was unthreatening but she was still the figure of control and authority.
“Maria, I see you are abandoning me?” Tony joked as he looked her over. She was wearing a new suit and had a SHIELD logo on the shoulder. The woman looked good in her element.
“I do love my job with you, Stark,” Maria said with some light fondness in her voice, “but I got offered a position here. There is someone who would be more than willing to take my old position, they’ll be here in a little bit.”
“Oh, back to Stark now, huh?” He added a bit of drama putting the back of his hand to his forehead, “You spy types, always flip-flopping.”
The group smiled at him as Hill brought him back to the table. She sat on what was the free side of him where the rest had sat to Tony’s right, Hill sat on his left. Looking over the group that had come with Tony she was a little surprised to see who they were. Captain Marvel, Dr. Strange and Union Jack…all members of the GTF-SD. Tony was going up in the world.
“So…The GTF?” Hill asked. She had been away from the company fro a while. Taking an extended leave to take care of things after the ‘Civil War’. She still sent emails to Tony checking up on him a couple times a week…but he never said something about this.
“Trust me, I was surprised too,” Tony stated, “I didn’t think I qualified for it but I apparently was the only original Avenger that did. Blew me out of the water. But it is a lot easier with my work schedule. I have been on top of work and meetings so Pepper is happy…happy Pepper means I keep my head. Rhodey and Vision still run the Avengers which are growing in number now. It is flourishing.”
So, that’s it. Reading between the lines like she did…or more precisely reading Tony like she did Maria put two and two together. The genius probably thought this was a trial run of some kind and that he would be cut out when he couldn’t fit the mold they were after. That was not how the Global Task Force worked though. If Maria could go back in time and beat some sense into the other members of the Avengers she would.
“Tony, to qualify for the GTF you have to know international policy, of which you do. Must be in good standing with a majority of the UN, which you are. Work well with others, surprise you do that very well and as a bonus you adapt to whoever you work with, with ease. There are very few who can accomplish that,” Carol said with an edge to her voice. As if she couldn’t understand why Tony couldn’t see his self-worth.
“She does have a point. Despite your known reckless personal behavior, your professional one is something to be admired. However, I don’t think that was the moment I walked in on was about that.” Leave it to Maira, she didn’t mince words when she wanted to know something. Apparently, what she walked in on qualified for that ‘something’.
“We were talking about his husband…we didn’t realize it was such an emotional point…” Stephen stated while Joey nodded confirming it all.
“I see…” Maria said a tinge of emotion laced in her words.
“We kind of wanted to know the man…that Tony fell in love with,” Joey said with some awe in his voice.
“He was the calm to my chaos,” Tony said his voice wavering a little, “We balanced each other out perfectly. Everything I made or did I had run by him. He helped me with therapy after Afghanistan. He could talk me down from my worst PTSD flashbacks. He was my rock…even years later, without him, I still feel lost.”
“He sounds like a wonderful man,” Carol said softly. Tony nodded as he took a few deep breaths to steady himself.
“He was…” Maria said drawing the attention to herself so Tony could get himself back together, “I knew him. I worked with him. He was truly a good man.”
“Really?” asked Joey.
“Really,” Tony stepped back into the conversation, “Maria was one of the ones that helped cover for us…including being a few of the girls that ‘I took home’. We became good friends because of it, again we had to hide it. She and a couple other agents were disguised on numerous occasions. Helping myself and my husband out. If they couldn’t go they got one of their friends to help us after getting them to put on the masks, as it were. Many of them were all too willing to help ‘in the name of love’, they would say.”
“Yeah, he even went out and bought us mouthwash on the times where he had no choice but to kiss us in public,” a new voice chimed in, “It was hysterical.”
“Sharon!” Tony exclaimed happily as he turned around to where his cousin was walking in. He was happy to see her. She had been surprisingly distant after everything.
“Hey cuz,” she greeted happily coming up and getting a hug from her cousin. He was still seated but he hugged her around her middle. Burying his face in her stomach as she hugged his head closer. He was faintly trembling against her. Years later and he was still having problems with his husband’s passing. She had heard them in the hall and added to the conversation knowing the conversation would be wrecking havoc on her cousin’s control…remembering some of the happy times would help. Or in this case the funny ones.
“What are you doing here?” He asked bringing her out of her thoughts. Everyone there let the cousins talk. Tony needed a break from the sadness, they were willing to give it to him too. They were better than the ones he had in life before.
“Maria called me in.”
“Going back to SHIELD?”
“No, Maria said she gonna tell you about her trading up positions with someone and I wanted to visit you. So I bullshitted my way to have an appointment here. I wanted to see you!”
“You could have just come over?” Tony said blandly. Really? Leave it to spies to get all complicated.
“Wasn’t sure I would be welcome after what I helped cause…” she said sheepishly. Her regret was that what she had done, even with orders, that it had hurt her cousin. The only thing that got her was for Tony to hug her tightly again.
“You are my cousin…you didn’t know Rogers would do what he did…if you knew he was going to hurt me like that I know you wouldn’t have cooperated. I never blamed you.”
“I’m still sorry though,” regret strongly lacing her words.
“So am I…” his voice muffled by her stomach as he burying his head there for a moment trying to collect himself again.
Everyone at the table knew what had happened in Siberia. All because someone had been tracking Stark, not out of malicious intent but as if to make sure he was going to be alright. They had caught the entire battle on camera…including what happened to Howard and Maria Stark. That information was taken to the UN, specifically the people who had been overseeing the Accords. They had to know so that they wouldn't try to strike a bargain with someone who obviously didn’t value different views to his own.
That is what caused the UN to petition for a group of Superheroes that would follow the Accords and work hand in hand with the UN…that is where the Global Task Force - Superhero Division came into being. Its members were told that the attack on Stark in Siberia was not as clear cut as they were told and if Rogers tried to put the blame on Stark…he was lying. They were not supposed to listen to what he said but keep in mind he is probably not going to be telling them the full truth. They had evidence to prove otherwise.
Tony had calmed down enough to let go of his cousin but she stayed standing next to him…not wanting to be moved from his side. After all, family stuck together and she obviously knew what Rogers had done to Tony. Something she was not going to let anyone repeat. So seemingly in better spirits, the three GTF members pressed forward about this hidden part of their teammate’s life.
“What about the times you took a woman home and it wasn’t a friend or anything close?” Carol asked curiously.
“I would tell them the truth…” the billionaire said while glancing at his ring, “I was married and we needed to keep it secret because of who I was married too. Showed them the ring. They were game for it. I think many of them looked up the others and formed a little group to keep track of things.”
“Then what did you do when you took them home?” Joey inquired, obviously Tony was too loyal to his husband. So now that begged the question…what did they do back at Stark’s home? The man shrugged his shoulders and replied.
“I do have a guilty love of board games. Just not many people to play with.”
“Oh my god, you are such a nerd,” Carol laughed clutching her stomach. That was the most out there thing that he could have said.
“There was the movie marathon a few times,” Tony stated laughing. It wasn’t much of a defense but it was still hysterical. He took women home alright…to sedate his board game addiction. No one would believe it. It was the perfect cover. “Played games, ate crappy delivery food and watched movies. Then when they got tired I let them sleep in the guest room until the next morning and they could say or not say what happened.”
After everyone settled down and Joey looked at Tony with a wistful smile on his face. There was no competing with this memory. It was one that Joey was not keen on tarnishing either. Looks like he would give up on this conquest. He lost to a better man before he even knew the billionaire.
“I wish I could have met him, mate,” Joey said shaking his head, “He was one worth knowing.”
“I wish he was still here…” The emotion still heavy in his voice, “It was because he believed in the Avengers that I stayed with them. I didn’t want to disappoint him. After all, everything I did I ran by him, save for the business decisions, if it was getting worse he could have talked me down from trying so hard…If he was here Ultron may not have ever happened.”
“What do you mean?” Carol asked clearly interested. Ultron was a touchy subject for a lot of reasons but if there was a chance that it could have been stopped they wanted to know. They all knew that Stark wasn’t completely to blame but details were always so vague when it came to that topic.
“Ultron was never meant to be an AI…The Mind Stone highjacked the information and coding and twisted it. When it attacked J.A.R.V.I.S., it must have mimicked some of his base coding.”
“Okay…I still don’t understand,” Stephen admitted. He had heard of the AI J.A.R.V.I.S. but didn’t understand much techno-babble. He was a surgeon after all.
“Ultron was an information retrieval program, not an AI. It was made initially to help probe space after Thor originally popped up, to help mankind figure out a way to survive. I mean if Thor existed what was stopping other forms of life existing. My husband and I oversaw it…But there were too many variables, too many things that could go wrong so we shut it down. Then when Maximoff messed with everyone’s mind…including my own. With what I saw I opened the program back up to see if there was anything I could salvage to help us. Bruce helped me look but we never found anything. I never shut it back down before I did my analysis that is where it all went wrong.”
“What did she do to you!?” Stephen asked, demand coloring his normally even voice but he was not yelling. He was outraged that someone of magic did that to another without their permission. He knew there was tension between Tony and anyone who used magic. As it turned out he wasn’t used to magic users that weren’t attacking him…Maximoff was one that was initially against the genius. They watched as Tony’s eyes grew distant…
“No one was with me when I flew the nuke into that portal, not even J.A.R.V.I.S., into space…no one ever saw what I did. I saw so many ships on the other side. There were so many alien ships all concentrated on that single little portal. That nuke maybe took out one of them. It stayed with me…and when she messed with my head, there were the Avenger’s, all dead on the battlefield…Rogers was nearly dead when I got to him and he told me it was all my fault, that this would not have happened if I had only done more. After he died I looked to the sky and there was the Chitauri…heading straight at me an-”
“Tony! Tony snap out of it!” Maria exclaimed coming into view. Tony had been setting himself up for a panic attack. Stephen acted quickly talking him down or trying to at least. Keeping his voice firm but steady, talking him through breathing. Sharon was there as well, when Tony had made a grab for her hand she let him. Holding it close to her heart, trying her best to keep calm so her cousin could feel that and talking to him reminding him she had not left, he was safe. It took a few minutes but Tony eventually calmed down. That was a short one…they lasted much longer in the past. Maybe being around people who actually cared for him was something that could help with his problems.
“Sorry…about that…” the man muttered.
“Tony, it’s fine. You are getting better…that one didn’t last as long as some,” his cousin said holding him close.
“Hey, Tony, look at me,” Carol said and the man slowly turned his attention to the military woman, “Tony, that is nothing you need to apologize for…you are a good man with deep scars. If you didn’t have such reactions you would truly be the monster people have accused you of. You have regrets, you have struggles, you are just proving you are human…there would be no one with good sense who would have looked down on you for this.”
There was a minute of silence before the genius spoke.
“Thank you, Carol,” the billionaire said softly.
“You’re welcome, Tony,” she said with a gentle smile.
“Well…seeing as we all got a little distracted…” Maria started drawing the attention to her, “Tony, as I said there was a reason I asked for you to be here.”
“So you have eluded to,” Tony replied leaning into his cousin’s embrace. Sharon tightened her hold on him…they were waiting for something bad. The other three that Tony had brought with him had scooted closer to offer support as well. Maria took a deep breath before continuing, this was not going to be easy.
“Well…something came up a while ago and where I was informed of the situation, there wasn’t a time to tell you and everything had been compromised. Now…please know I have been meaning to tell you but it took a long time for everything to come together…”
“You are scaring me, Maria,” Tony said. Sharon could attest to the slight tremor running trough her cousin again. She was not happy. Where she knew Maria wasn’t trying to hurt Tony or scare him for that matter she was. This was something huge though.
“Tony…we found him…”
“Wha-” Tony turned to her. His eyes wide. What she was saying, it couldn’t be true it just couldn’t. Seeing the hope and pain in those brown eyes steeled her resolve and she pushed forward.
“We found him…but he wasn’t right. He had been experimented on and couldn’t remember anything personal. From what I can gather he was near death when they took him, not expecting him to live but was trying to save his life. Yet, what they did, whatever they did…changed him. It took us a while and when I say that I mean I had to go through a lot of people and get them to help me get him to remember. When he did…he wanted to come straight back to you but there was too much going on. It’s done now though…he’s done with it all…he’s ready to come home.”
The only one who got what Maria was saying was Sharon who could only gasp when the pieces clicked. Tony couldn’t stop the tears blurring in his eyes. His breathing increased as he tried to keep himself together. Part of him didn’t want it to believe it but the other part knew Maria…and she knew how much he had meant to Tony. She wouldn’t lie about this.
“I’m right here, Tony,” spoke a voice Tony Stark was sure he would have never heard again. Wiping around in his chair, he nearly tipped it. There gracing his eyes in that too pristine government suit…was his husband.
Tony rocket out of his chair, Sharon letting him go as shock was on her face as well and headed right for Phil. The man on the receiving end of the tackle was well prepared and bundled the genius in his arms as soon as he made contact. He barely moved from the force but the way both were shaking was enough to show how much the time apart had affected them. The world may have needed them apart but each of them had lost their own world to do that…it wasn’t fair but Phil was there. He was alive…and to his surprise, Tony had waited.
“Shh, it’s alright Tony…everything is alright now,” Phil whispered to the billionaire in his arms as he moved them back to the table. Sitting down in what had been Tony’s chair, he kept the near hysteric genius in his arms and settled the man on his lap to keep contact. Something Tony was not fighting against in any way, shape or form. Sharon was still standing close wiping away a few tears.
“How?” Sharon asked.
“It’s a long story…and I will tell you as much as I can without you being targeted but right now I and just happy to be back,” Phil said hiding his face into Tony’s soft hair for a moment. He was still too well practiced but Maria could tell he wanted to cry in relief as well.
“So…” Joey started, “I take it you’re Tony’s husband?”
“Correct, Phil Coulson, pleasure to meet you.”
“Good to meet you too…kind of concerned it took you this long to come back though,” Stephen responded.
“Trust me, it isn’t because I didn’t want to…” the director stated. Tony had thus far been silent but he must have been trying so hard not to have a complete breakdown.
“I can understand that,” the sorcerer said while gazing at the bundle Phil held tightly against him. It was obvious both of them were still devoted to one another even with their forced time apart. Everything was calm until the most heartbreaking muffled whispers coming from the man curled up against him. Tony Stark, the man with many masks would willing let them all fall while he was around Phil.
“I thought you were dead…they said you were dead…”
“I was close to death,” Phil said rubbing circles onto Tony’s back as he felt the man freeze up in his arms, “They thought I was going to die. To the point they used a very questionable technique to save me. Maria was telling the truth, it cost me my memories and she went through hell trying to get me back. When I did remember…we were into too deep into one of our missions. Before I could come back I had a lot to clean up then I could leave. But I’m done now…five years apart was too many. I’m done with SHIELD.”
Tony’s head shot up at that.
“You love SHIELD, I-” Tony was cut off by Phil placing a finger against his lips.
“But I love you more…you aren’t making me leave. I am leaving for you because I love you more than my work here. I will still be available for consultation but not active duty. If possible Maria and I would like to switch positions.”
“I think we can manage that,” came his husband’s reply. Getting Phil to smile and place a small kiss to his billionaire’s forehead. The moment was precious and would have continued to be precious but there were things that needed to be cleared up. Phil wanted some answers.
“I’m sorry it took me so long but…why didn’t you leave the Avengers when you noticed that they didn’t know you? Didn’t know us?”
“They were my last connection to you…they were the last thing we worked on. As much as I knew I should have left and cut ties…I couldn’t. I knew they wouldn’t have believed me anyway…why bother bringing up the heartache?”
Phil just held his billionaire even tighter. Neither of them cares as they were among people they could trust. No one at the table knew how much time had passed. None cared either giving the two men the time they needed. Yet, nothing was going to last forever and they may as well bring up something good to think of…
“Does this mean you will be getting married, now?” Carol asked with a bit of curious excitement in her voice, “I mean, it is legal in the US now, so…?” The other four had been quiet during the whole exchange but they had brightened up considerably with what seemed to be a positive outcome from this dubious meeting. Now with the prospect of a marriage in the works…they were all anxious on what the conclusion would be.
That was enough to get Tony to laugh a little. He was beginning to settle down from the emotional roller coaster he was experiencing and getting him to laugh would truly help. Laughter was the best medicine in the long run.
“I wouldn’t mind,” Tony said while bringing his head back up to look around the room before returning his gaze to Phil. “Still love me enough to legally marry me?”
“If there is any question,” Phil said placing his hand being Tony’s neck and kissing him firmly. They kept it clean because they were in public and didn’t want to scar anyone but the feel of their other half’s lips on their own was like a coming home of its own. When they broke Phil began speaking with promise. “I’ll make sure we do this as cliché a way as possible. Pick you up at your place, giving you a bouquet of bright red roses wrapped with gold ribbon. Take you out to you favorite high scale restaurant. I’m getting you another ring and I’ll get down on one knee in front of everyone…only for it to be all our friends and family present to witness it…maybe sneak in a photographer to get a few pictures to set the world on fire the next day.”
“Starting to sound like the first time you asked only this one would be public,” the billionaire smirked at Phil, “I even know a photographer who will be more than happy to help out.”
“Sounds like a plan,” the Director stated returning his husband’s grin with one of his own. “Maria? Down to business?”
“Of course,” the woman said with a small smile.
“As Director of SHIELD, I hereby transfer the title and responsibility of ‘Director of SHIELD’ to you if you can’t perform the duties that we discussed earlier, please state it now,” Phil stated professionally.
“I can assure you that I can perform said duties and will keep to the policies and decisions you have made as your time as ‘Director of SHIELD’ in place. I accept the position,” Maria replied with the same tone.
“It is good working with you Director Hill,” Phil said as he took only one arm away from his billionaire and shook hands with Maria. It soon made its way back around his genius.
“It will always be a pleasure working with you Former-Director Coulson,” Maria stated, “I will forward the paperwork to you. For now, I think you should take your husband home. You both need it…it’s been a rough few years.”
“That it has,” Phil replied.
“I second that…who wants to come over to celebrate, crappy delivery food will be on me!” Tony said with happiness radiation from his voice.
“I for one wouldn’t mind but are you sure you don’t want to celebrate a different way?” Joey said but clearly, he did want to give the couple their space.
“That will be later…besides, if I don’t tell Rhodey or Pepper they will kill me. Vision will most likely help them and they will probably be over as soon as they see him on the monitors,” the billionaire explained with his eyes going wide with a shudder going down his spine. Not in a good way either.
“Seeing as I just got you back, I am against them killing you. So I have to say, I am with him on this plan,” Coulson said helping his husband stand up before standing himself, “If you find yourself free Maria I hope to see you there, please let my team know they are welcome to join as well.”
Tony nodded enthusiastically. He for one wanted to meet the crew that brought his husband back to him. Maria was always welcome there too. Seeing the new Director nod made Tony smile a bit before turning to his cousin.
“Shar? You coming as well?”
“Of course I am! I just need to make a couple phone calls and I’ll make my way there. The Tower, right?” she asked.
“Yes, indeed,” the billionaire replied.
“Breaking out the board games?”
“You know it.”
“I am definitely not missing out,” she said smirking at her cousin.
“Anyone else want to come?” Tony asked bad attempt at changing the topic with a grin still on his face.
“I am, I wanna see this gooey side of you, Tony,” Carol stated with a laugh getting the man to stick his tongue out at her. So mature.
“I think I am free,” Strange said with a smirk while standing and looking to Joey who had a positive answer as well.
“Count me in,” the Brit replied as he made his way to the door. He stopped before reaching the door and looked back at everyone in the room. Stephen and Carol were close to him while Tony and Phil were still near the table.
“Let’s go home,” Tony said while reaching for Phil’s hand. Phil met him halfway and smiled.
“Lead the way,” Phil replied lovingly.
Tony’s smile was blinding as he pulled, his husband out of the room and out of building. Carol and Stephen followed quickly with Joey giving a mock salute before stepping out himself. Leaving only Sharon behind with Maria. The blonde turned to the brunette with a grateful smile on her face.
“You know…if you need any help, Maria, feel free to call me,” Sharon stated, “With everything you have done for Tony, I owe you.”
“Phil needed Tony as much as Tony needed Phil. Both of them were shells of their former selves…they weren’t whole. Anyway, I may have to take you up on that favor later, right now…let’s just finish up what we need to. Can’t leave the boys waiting.”
“Don’t I know it. See you there, Director Hill.” the blonde said with a wave before pulling out a phone and walking out the door. The younger woman was just clearing up a few things about her 'appointments'.
That…was not what T’Challa had been expecting…
Not even his accompanying Dora could find the words to describe what happened.
The Director didn’t know Tony’s husband…he was Tony’s husband. That cleared so much up on his previous behavior. He had been seeking to avenge the miss deeds brought upon his husband by the ones he thought would protect him. T’Challa could not fault him for that. The Avengers Team had only used the billionaire. For his money, for his intelligence but never just let him be him.
They listened enraptured by what the billionaire had to say…How if his husband had still been around and was his rock a lot of what happened probably never would. Ultron wasn’t entirely his fault but he took nearly all of the blame. That he was a victim of someone he thought he had wronged and was supposedly a teammate of. How did that affect team dynamics for the better? It doesn’t. Why did Rogers bring her on the team then? For his own purposes. So much of this was never known before.
When they had watched the Director carefully enter the room without a sound, they thought he had more news for Tony. Like what he had done to the ones who betrayed him. Only to have witnessed one of the most heartbreaking and sweetest things to have ever happened. They finally saw all they way through the billionaire’s mask. In the end, he was just a man far too in love to move on when the world had seemingly taken his reason for living away…even putting up with what could be called abuse from the ones he knew his husband cherished.
It would seem as if Fate was being kind to the genius today, his heart being rewarded for all it had gone through. The smile that he shared with his husband…blinding and beautiful. A side of Tony they had never known.
As they were contemplating everything they had just witnessed, they didn’t register the footsteps of the new Director until she was right on top of them. Well, the Dora did. The King was lost in his own thoughts and his little jump was hysterical to watch.
“I am sorry you were not informed of this but I am surprised you stuck around,” Hill stated. Clearly, she was not going to beat around the bush. Then again…she did have a reunion party to get to.
“No, I cannot blame you for anything. I was the one who fell into believing there was not much to Dr. Stark other than what was already known. I was misled by someone I thought could not be as devious as he turned out to be. Which was wrong of me. I am relieved to have some of it cleared up.”
“You have to admit…his masks are impressive,” Maria stated with some pride in her voice. She was talking about Tony but it could also be used to describe Steve.
“How long?” she parroted back clearly not understanding what the young King was implying.
“How long did you know?”
“A long time…before they were married.”
“So, your masks fall around them?” T’Challa questioned. Maria had been more open in the other room but not with them.
“They are some of the few that get to see me for who I am. For I know they won’t use it against me,” Maria replied simply. Where she still had her professional mask up, it had been relaxed around Tony and Phil. They were a couple of the people she trusted with her secrets…after all when SHIELD fell the first time, Tony did everything he could to make sure she would be safe. No one but a good friend goes out of their way like he does.
“I see…may I inquire to a good place to stay for the night? I will be leaving for Wakanda in a few days. Yet, there are somethings I need to do here. Bringing the others in was just going to be part of what I needed to do on this visit.”
“I’ll have someone at the entrance get you the address,” the Director said with a small smile and indicated the lesser SHIELD that would escort them back to the entrance of the building. T’Challa stood and shook hands with the Director as she left through another door. She still had work to do it seemed but their guide just waited until he was given the go ahead and begun leading them back.
T’Challa was escorted out of the building and given the address for one of the better places to stay at in the city. He knew he had a long road ahead of him, the man wanted to make amends with the billionaire he misjudged. Where he was a member of the Avengers, he was not part of the GTF. The two rarely overlapped as well and you couldn’t make a request for certain GTF members either. The process was based on who would be best for the situation…not who you want to work with.
So…he would have to find a way to mend what was sure to be a broken bridge between Iron Man and the Black Panther. He wasn’t going to place himself in what is supposed to be a happy moment for the reunited lovers and their friends. The young King knew he wasn’t going to be welcome there… After all, Philip Coulson knew who he had been harboring, it wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to think that Tony Stark would have known as well…or even be told by his husband.
Still, there was work to be done and T’Challa would find a way to make amends for his misjudgment.
The group of Ex-vengers was standing there looking a little stunned. Well, there were two looks that were on people's faces. Stunned confusion, that Wilson, Maximoff, and Lang wore. The other was stunned shock…which were gracing the faces of Rogers, Barton, and Romanoff.
First off they find out that Tony Stark was married to a man for nearly 20 years and the kicker to that it was a SHIELD agent. Then they see the man open with his normal under control blocked off emotions around people they didn’t even know. How he had come to trust them that much was beyond their comprehension but it seemed that the ones he worked with now were very different from the original team. That didn’t compare to what happened after that.
Maria Hill. Tony hugged Maria Hill and lived. In fact, she hugged him back as if he were nothing but an old friend…and HE WAS! Tony had known Maria for a long, long time because she was one of the ones that helped keep Tony and his husband a secret. If there was any doubt that the billionaire was telling the truth it got thrown out the window when Maria confirmed she knew Tony’s husband. That was a stab in the gut because before Tony could have been making convincing talk, it was still an idea that was passed around because none of this made any sense. Now, with this confirmation it made them all feel worse.
If Steve didn’t know any better he would say his life was being crapped on by fate because right after that shocker, there was another one. One in the form of Peggy’s niece and who was apparently Tony’s cousin! Sharon. The one that got him back his equipment. She was even confirming Tony’s stories and hell…there was no one expecting that. How had all these people that they knew, had known about Tony’s mysterious husband? They lived with him and never once figured it out. Tony…Tony never trusted them enough to say anything and they probably wouldn’t have believed him either…
They were piecing everything together and it painted a heartbreaking picture. Tony married to his husband for almost 20 years before he had been taken in the Battle of New York. How they had kept everything hidden with a close group of friends and romantic driven females. Helping him project an image that no one would ever link back to him being a married man. Just to keep his husband safe. He sacrificed his own image and didn’t care what people thought about him too keep just one person safe. Only to loose him.
It made Tony’s choice with the nuke more believable now that Tony would sacrifice himself when he knew his husband was gone…why bother living? But he did…and lived through everything they put him through. They never bothered trying to see who he really was because they never thought he could be anything else. Never thought the masks covered so much. No wonder he kept quiet, they would have never believed him about Ultron, about the being affected by Wanda like he had, what the trip to through the portal had done to him or what had lingered after Afghanistan. Steve had used Tony and his money to hunt his for his friend never realizing how badly the man was hurting and doing more to continue to hurt him.
The shocker was just who Tony’s husband was…it was Phil. Philip J. Coulson was Tony’s husband. The three from the original team felt as if they had been slapped. Not once did they ever suspect that Phil was the one who had been married to Tony Stark. They at first thought it was a joke until everything came crashing down. The way Tony reacted. All his walls came falling down…they heard a tone out of him that they would never have expected him to be capable of. Heartbroken and honest.
Then there was how Phil took the reunion. How calm he seemed on the outside but the two spies that knew him could see the tremor in his form. How tightly he held onto the genius, letting the billionaire cling to him like he was. Phil initiated the kiss and the proposal plans rolled off his tongue as if he had only been thinking the years they were apart. That smile that was reserved for Phil and Phil alone, how they never saw anything like that on Tony’s face.
It was then the realization hit them full force.
Natasha was present a lot and had seen the interaction between the two and to her it felt like a well played dance. She thought it was Tony and Phil doing their best to keep the other from getting in…it was more a dance to keep everyone else from figuring it out. The looks they passed between each other. The slight touches just out of eyesight that could have been seen as something between people that did respect one another but would always push boundaries. Yet as none of those touches had ever crossed that line to be inappropriate, it was dismissed. Natasha read Tony Stark wrong and left him as if he were nothing…
Clint wasn’t there to see them interact…but he should have been able to spot the signs that Tony had been displaying and he did but misread them. He thought it was sorrow for a friend…not for a lover. They way his gaze lingered on photos of Phil that Clint thought came from his surveillance cameras. How his favorite hoody was just the right shade of black…matching what had been Phil’s suit shade. How Tony took his coffee identically to Phil…the archer who could see more than he let on never once saw this. He never connected the dots. How it made him ache to see the interaction knowing how wrong he was and how if Phil knew what he had said to Tony on the Raft…
Steve nearly killed Tony. Left him to die in Siberia. Tony Stark. Howard’s Son. Phil’s ‘Cellist’. Phil’s husband. Phil, his biggest fan. Rogers almost made him a widower. The shock that pulsed through his veins. It was soon followed by fear and regret and illness. How could he have done that to Phil not to mention Tony? How did he not see who he could have injured? How was he capable of just walking away and leaving him in Siberia? What had Steve turned into?
Yet looking to the other two from the original team, they were in the same boat as he was. They all were facing the wrath of Phil Coulson...
Natasha betrayed Phil’s Husband.
Clint threatened Phil’s Husband.
And Steve nearly killed Phil’s Husband.
Maria then entered the room. She stood there quietly as she looked over the group. They seemed more docile than she thought they would be. It was strange to see them so quiet. Yet, once they realized she was in the room with them they all turned to her. looking upon them it was easy to see how young a few of them were.
Sam, Wanda, and Scott were just trying put the pieces together and when Maria stood there…Sam reached out asking for clarification. To which the brunette Director conceded. Letting them know what roles both Tony and Phil were set into when the Avengers were first created. How worried Phil was when Afghanistan happened. How they argued when the man was dying from the Arc Reactor that was keeping him alive. How lost Tony was after Phil had been killed by Loki. How Tony had tried to follow Phil to the grave and how it hurt to wake up each morning without the love of his life next to him.
Maria then went a step further.
She told them of a young Agent and an even younger Billionaire who found companionship in one another and stayed good friends. She told them about how they slowly fell in love but were scared of how not only society would see them but the dangers it would have put the other in. How they were supported by their closest friends to the point of joined matrimonially in another country because that was as close as they were going to get of being married. She told them of the kind soul only she and very few others had known…and how they were going to reveal it to the Avengers…but never got the chance.
“So...I take it you understand what has happened?”
“Why aren’t we dead?” Natasha asked in a hushed voice.
“You seem surprised,” Maria stated plainly.
“You want to know why we are surprised?” Clint questioned back, “We are surprised because if anyone was to touch ‘Phil’s Cellist’ they wouldn’t be left alive. Tony Stark is Phil’s Cellist, isn’t he?”
There was some edge there. Maria saw it as a dare, a push. So she answered honestly.
“He is,” Maria started, “But if what is coming that we think is we need all the troops we can get together. You still have some usefulness. That is why you aren’t dead but Phil Coulson took away your status as heroes. Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Ant-man no longer exist. That is how he killed you. You will be working for us, till the day you die under another identity.”
There was no one there that could deny it. That was the cruelest thing that Phil could do. He put them in a position where they would never work or see Tony or Phil in person again. They didn't even have their names anymore, their status as Heroes that they prided themselves in. He did what he had to to make sure no one could hurt the man he loved any more. Where if things were different, they would have been the ones helping Phil protect Tony…or helping Tony protect Phil…but they weren’t and now were never going to either…
Maria turned on her heels and jerked her head in a direction that told them to follow her. They did without fight or question…the numerous SHIELD agents escorting them was enough of an incentive not to start anything. Not to hurt any more lives.
They never wanted to be tools and fought against the Accords fearing that would be the case…As Maria led them to what would be their living area…they could only think to themselves that Fate had the cruelest sense of humor ever known to man.
…because in the end, tools were all they were…