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Observer Effect

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Ivan considered his options.

Since he’d had a heads up about the influx of people, there was a lot more food available in the morning than usual. Not that there had ever been a lack of food, of course, Ivan just had to mention he wanted something and Kletka would have it ordered, delivered and put away in the kitchen within a few days.

Now he stood in a full kitchen, scratching at his short beard and wondering if he really wanted to make breakfast for all of these people. He didn’t mind so much making food for Natalia. She was…different than the others. Independently important to Tony and pretty. Not that Ivan did or said much about the prettiness part of her besides look.

He knew better than to try and touch something that would likely burn him. He’d learned that lesson early on as a child.

Barton was an extension of Natasha, clearly there to help her recover, and so he definitely deserved breakfast.

It was the other two that Ivan wasn’t so sure of. Yes, there was the inherent implication that one should not let aliens, literal aliens from outer space, run around on their own. They did insane things like bother people in the middle of the night for leather armor or camp out at a diner for six hours for a ‘feast’. Would they have information that was useful to Ivan? Possibly. Maybe.

Was that possibility high enough to warrant the effort it took to make them breakfast?

Possibly not.

As he opened the fridge the peer inside, Kletka played the incoming phone call sound and said, “Ms. Potts is on the line for you, Boss.”

What convinced Ivan to make enough breakfast for everyone, at least to start with considering the size of the appetites of the aliens, was that he wasn’t sure enough about what they knew and how much they would share. Might as well curry good favor from the start, just in case.

He pulled out the eggs and some other things from the fridge, “Put her through,” he told Kletka when he was out of the fridge.

One of the cupboard doors turned into a video screen for the call. Ivan looked up, not at all surprised to see Pepper Potts was calling from her office in California. It was a little earlier there than he expected her to be at the office, but she had a tight look around her eyes that said she’d had trouble sleeping. Ivan understood that look well. “Ms. Potts,” he said kindly in greeting.

She gave him a slight smile. “Good morning Ivan. I heard Tony made it back to the menagerie last night?”

Ivan nodded, “He and his entourage. Last I saw, he was resting in his rooms. Kletka keeps an eye on him.”

“How is he? How does he look?” She leaned forward slightly, “Jarvis just tells me not to worry but I can’t help it. The last time he was taken somewhere-” She closed her eyes. Ivan saw her throat work with the words she swallowed and then she opened her eyes again and said, “Do I need to visit and speak to him myself? Or can you tell me more about what happened?”

“He is injured,” Ivan said. He continued about making breakfast as he carried on the conversation. There was no reason to waste time. “Nothing broken, nothing vital removed. He can still walk and talk and function as normal. With some proper rest and food, he will recover well.”

Pepper closed her eyes again and nodded. Her shoulders relaxed somewhat. When she opened her eyes again, some of the tension had eased from her expression, “I’ll leave the recovery in yours and Kletka’s hands. Tell him that things are fine at the Industry and I’ll handle anything that comes up. I’ll probably give him a few days to settle in and then call him myself.”

“Natalia was also injured,” Ivan added, not sure if Pepper had even known Natalia was involved. “She participated in his rescue and fought off a-” he paused, not sure who or what, exactly, she’d fought.

“An enhanced individual,” Kletka supplied from overhead, “A super soldier.”

“What?” Pepper gasped.

Ivan tossed eggshell into the trash and rinsed his hands, “Kletka, explain what you mean.”

“During the rescue, Natasha engaged in a standoff with an operative known as the Winter Soldier or the Asset. He is a highly trained assassin with enhanced physical and mental capabilities as a result of natural genetic gifts, a permutation of stolen super soldier serum from World War II and the extensive training he underwent both for the American military and Hydra. The Winter Soldier is considered a super soldier in the same vein as Captain America.” Kletka explained. Ivan’s hands stilled as she spoke. Pepper’s face drained until she was pale as paper.

“She fought-” Pepper started, then stopped, her hands making an aborted motion on her desk. She half turned, looking away. She didn’t have to speak to express her sentiments, though. Natalia had fought someone that strong and had lived to talk about it. And she’d done it to save Tony from god knew what kind of torment at the hands of Hydra.

Well. Ivan had a pretty good idea of what, but no intention to give Pepper any specifics.

“She has a broken leg and arm,” Ivan said, “Perhaps other injuries I am unaware of. I presume that Tony will be overseeing the expense for her medical care.”

“He had Jarvis message me about donating five million dollars to a hospital in New Mexico. Said that they did excellent work but I had assumed it was just him that he was talking about.” Pepper shook her head, as if she couldn’t believe she’d been so foolish, “I’ll have to message him, see what his plans are for her medical care…” Pepper’s voice drifted off as thoughtfully tapped her fingers on the desk.

Ivan resumed his cooking. He’d have to make something nice for Natalia later. Perhaps a more traditional Russian dish, if she was fine with that. True, he could probably just show up with her favorite ice cream and she’d think that was enough but Ivan had done reading on super soldiers (one must, if one was to work with Tony Stark and understand the man). They were terrifying. Their strength could be devastating, turning bruises into ruptures, killing people where a normal human’s strike would just bring down the target.

In the back of his mind, Ivan began to think of ways to deal with super soldiers. There had to be a way to augment the human body enough to fight one without also becoming one. There were no serums left, so becoming one wasn’t a viable option. He could see something like Tony’s suit being useful. If it added strength and defense- If it could withstand a heavy physical assault, that would work.

Ivan wondered if Tony would be upset if he made a suit like that for himself. Just for security measures.

“Ivan?”

He looked up from his egg scrambling and met Pepper’s gaze. She was a fairly pretty woman as well, though Ivan didn’t have the same sort of interest in her as he did in Natalia. She was a different kind of fighter, one that he understood the need for but didn’t much like the concept of. “How have things been otherwise? There’s to be another launch soon, right?” She looked at something on her computer screen and nodded to herself, “Yes, I have it here on my schedule.”

“That would be a good time to visit,” he said. With one hand, he checked the heat of the pan. Not quite ready. “Things will have settled by then.”

“I’ll make a note to visit then,” she said, “You’ve done some really incredible work with these satellites, Ivan. I admit I was hesitant when Tony brought you back with him from Monaco,” Ivan kept his head turned from him so she wouldn’t see him roll his eyes. She had not liked him because of the stabbing, but she’d come around eventually, “but once again his intuition was right. I’m glad that you agreed to work with Tony.”

Ivan shrugged a shoulder, “My work would not mean as much if not for his factories and his planning. We are a good team.”

“You are,” Pepper said with a smile. “Thank you for looking out for him and for updating me on his status. I’ll see you and the others at the launch.”

Ivan nodded and turned back to his cooking as Pepper ended the call. He was smiling to himself, pleased with how things were going. Sure, maybe a party was a bit much for only being halfway through the program, but after this latest satellite, all Ivan had left to do was fill in the gaps with the outer shell. They would be done with the smaller builds, the ones for lower in the atmosphere.

Next would be the larger ones, the ones that would require more intricate work. The ones that would require on-hands attention. The ones that people would have to live on.

Soon. So soon. Ivan would be in space, as he’d always dreamed of being.

 

 


 

 

Clint slows down his stride as he approaches the kitchens. It’s the second time he’s been out of Natasha’s rooms since they got there since it took longer than he thought to settle her down and he doesn’t feel great about leaving her alone for long periods of time yet. He found and salvaged some scrambled eggs for breakfast, the handiwork of Ivan Vanko- or so Natasha told him when he brought them back to her. Now he’s back for more food and some more bottles of water.

This time, the kitchen isn’t empty. He can hear someone cooking something, some voices of light conversation, and a peek around the corner tells him its both princes and Vanko himself. Clint isn’t sure about the guy but Natasha doesn’t have anything bad to say about him so he’ll have to work that out for himself.

Clint rounds the corner, walking with one hand in a pocket like he hadn’t stopped to check things out at all. Vanko is the one cooking, tending some slices of onion and ham on a pan with one eye while he’s slicing up some other things for sandwiches. There’s a stack of sliced bread, cheese and pickles already and now he’s working on cucumber and lettuce.

On the other side of the counter sits Thor and Loki. They’ve dressed down, at least sort of. Thor definitely has, wearing a sweatshirt with small animal pawprints on it while Loki, two seats away, is wearing a button-down shirt. At least they’re not running around in leather, which has got to be both a pain in the ass and pretty rank after a day in the New Mexico sun. Vanko looks up when Clint wanders into the kitchen area and Clint does a double take at his shirt. It’s a faded grey on white and shows Scully and Mulder looking off into the distance with THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE slapped across the bottom.

Clint decides, right then and there, that he and Ivan are going to get along just fine.

“Heyo,” he greets the room at large as he heads for the fridge. “Whats up.”

Ivan gestures with his knife to the head of lettuce he’s cutting up. Loki gives Clint one of those ‘I’m tolerating people just barely right now’ looks that Clint sees from Natasha, like all the time, and Thor smiles. “Good day to you, Clint! How fares the lady huntress? Do her wounds still trouble her?”

“She’s fine,” Clint lies, “She needed a vacation from work anyway. She was getting so stressed out all the time.” He pulls out the couple of water bottles he needs and peers a little closer at what Ivan’s got going on. “Hey, what’s the general rule for meals around here? Is it free for all? Do we rotate? Can we order takeout?”

“You can order takeout,” Ivan says without turning away from the pan on the stove. He’s turning the slabs of ham that sizzle ever so gently, “Tony has a credit line with the shops with menus on the fridge. Order what you like. Just keep in mind that town is half an hour away.”

Clint looks at the three menus on the fridge. One pizza place, one Thai place and some place that apparently can’t decide if they’re Italian or not, from the listed items. “Cool,” he said, thinking he’ll have to order some of those pizzas later. Man, he’s starving.

“Sometimes,” Ivan offers, “I make food enough for others, like breakfast.”

“Nat said you made those eggs I found this morning,” Clint said, “They were good. Thanks, dude.”

Ivan glances at him, one eyebrow raised, tongs poised over the pan. Then he shakes his head and begins to plate the cooked ham slices. He lifts the pan, scraping the caramelized onions out and into a bowl before he puts it back down and puts on fresh ham. “I’m making sandwiches for now,” he said, “You can make one for yourself and for Natalia.”

“Thanks,” Clint said.

Ivan shifts so Clint can get to the sandwich making goods, which he promptly takes advantage of. As he’s piling the slices of bread with whatever looks good, he asks, “So how did you meet Tony, Ivan? College? Some sort of science convention?”

“I attempted to murder him,” Ivan said casually, adjusting the heat of the stove, “But only managed to stab him in the liver.”

Clint wasn’t the only one staring at Ivan, mouth slightly open. Loki blinked, dumbfounded for a second. Thor gaped.

“Why?” Clint asked.

Ivan, the bastard, just cocked an eyebrow at Clint, “Why the liver? I supposed I didn’t want him as dead as I had thought. He was making a convincing offer in exchange for sparing his life.”

“What offer was that?” Loki asked, leaning forward, now interested in their conversation.

“Did you not fear retribution?” Thor asked.

Ivan smiled. “I did not. At the time, all that mattered was that he die by my hand. Tony was the one to show me that there was more yet I wanted.”

“Which was?” Clint prompted.

“Let us say this,” Ivan said with a shrug, “I went there to kill Tony. Tony went there to offer me a workshop, a partnership of sorts. One of us got what we wanted.”

“So you stab him, then you get this place,” Clint gestured to the room around them, “How is it that Tony’s the one who lost on that deal?”

“He did not lose,” Ivan said, “He got what he wanted, for a price.”

“Yeah. A stay in the hospital,” Clint said, “For a billionaire, Tony sees a lot more fucking danger in his day to day than a lot of people, you know? Not a lot of people just get up and fucking kidnapped on the regular, or stabbed by people they want to hire.”  He finished putting together the sandwich for Natasha and put the plate aside, grabbing another one to make his own sandwich.

“This does confuse me,” Thor said, “Tony is a man of importance and wealth on Midgard. He clearly has vassals who do as he instructs and he has the AI who are programmed to serve him, but he does not have servants or guards of any type. Is it not the custom to have such nobles in your society protected from more commonplace individuals who would do them harm?”

Clint blinked. He had to rehash Thor’s words through his head and his brain kept getting stuck on the realization that Thor thought Tony was royalty. He snorted and shook his head, “Tony’s a private citizen,” he said, “What makes him different from every other Joe Schmoe out there is his crazy brain and his money. Really, it’s the money that sets him apart. Without it, he’d not be able to do half the shit his brain comes up with.”

Thor frowned, “Perhaps you have not seen it, but the social customs of your world do bend to Tony’s will, as they would bend to any man of power. Perhaps you do not have princes and kings as we do on Asgard, but Tony is cut of that cloth. He is a leader and those around him obey his rules.”

“Tony’s a dude with millions and millions of dollars,” Clint said, “Born to a family that’s known for building a company that sold weapons for war for decades. If that’s what it takes to be a prince, then for sure, he’s a prince, but no one just obeys him.”

“Your companion does,” Loki said quietly, “She bends a knee to his figurative throne. It is the responsibility of a royal guard to lay their life down for their king and that is what she did.”

“Natasha doesn’t just obey him blindly,” Clint snapped, “It’s not like that.” But he could tell Loki didn’t believe him. “It isn’t. She didn’t just swear loyalty to him for nothing.”

Ivan switched off the stove, removed the pan from the heat and the fried ham slices from the pan. “Tony may lead, but he does not do so as royalty.” He began to plate his own sandwich.

“I think I would know what royalty looks like,” Thor said, “As I am royal myself.” He looked a little too smug for Clint’s liking, but Clint wasn’t sure how to refute it. Tony did have the ability to command people like a prince did and Clint doubted that even the US Senate would be able to make Tony bend to their will and hell, Natasha had faced off with a super strong monster for him and he had those goddamn AI that could see or hear everything.

“Well of course you would see royalty in Tony, since you are royal yourself,” Ivan said, placing sliced cheese on his sandwich, “A dog looks a horse and simply thinks it is a bigger dog. The dog does not understand things outside of it’s relatively limited scope of understanding.”

Clint felt the temperature of the room plummet. Like, actually, physically plummet. His next breath in was cold and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. Every instinct inside of him told him to drop out of sight, to take his food and run, but he managed to resist the urge for one reason. Loki’s icy glare was pinned to Ivan, while Thor blinked at him, as if actually surprised to be compared to a dog.

Ivan didn’t visibly react to the cold temperature, just picked up some slices of cucumber and said, “Tony is not royal. Tony is a mechanic. He approaches his life as a series of problems to fix, not as though he is a gift for those around him to receive. There is nothing divine about him. The wounds that he got that will hinder him the worst are those that are on his hands, for he toils among those of the world who work for a better life and future. Look harder at the man and you will see the truth of it.”

Clint’s mouth opened and he said the first thing he thought of, which was, “You know, horses are actually a lot less intelligent than dogs. They’re bigger, sure, but they can be dumb as a rock.” When Ivan looked at him, he shrugged and said, “Worked in a circus. They kept horses for a few tricks. Now an elephant, those fuckers are intelligent.”

Loki half rose from his seat but Thor’s hand was suddenly on his shoulder, pushing him back down. “You dare,” Loki said, lips pulling back in a sneer, “Insult us in this manner-”

Ivan’s dark gaze settled on Loki and Clint was surprised that the alien prince actually shut the fuck up in the middle of his hissing. “You dare abuse the hospitality of a man I admire for his strength and ethic. Did you think you could come here and do as you please simply because you think yourself our betters for your birth?” He gave a frosty smile, “Eat his food. Live in his home. Wear the clothing he provides. But do not insult him by saying he is like you. I will not let you belittle his worth.”

“It is an honor to be compared to royal blood,” Thor said stiffly, his hand still pressing down on Loki’s shoulder. “At least so is the custom upon Asgard. Clearly, royal birth means little to those of Midgard.” He glanced to Clint with a growing frown.

“Hey don’t bundle me with the Russian,” Clint said, “I’m American. We just flipped off our royal masters and kicked them off our soil. The British can keep their ancient queen for forever as far as I’m concerned.”

Unprompted, Ivan said, “We put our royals in a mass grave. The people do not need a king.”

There was a flicker of confusion on Thor’s face that was pushed down under a grim expression. His knuckles where white on Loki’s shoulder but Clint thought that had something to do with the way Loki looked like he wanted to lunge across the counter at Ivan. His hands were, suspiciously, beneath the counter. Clint thought that was very suspicious because he was friends with Natasha.

He picked up the plate with Natasha’s sandwich on it slowly. He might have to make a run for it, if things got prickly.

He wasn’t going to get his legs broken in a fight against Thor or Loki. Even if Ivan was both terrifying and had balls of pure steel. And was probably also some level of commie insane, with the whole kill the royals nonsense.

“Prince or not, Tony is a man of great material wealth and success. Even if I were to offer to pay him back for his hospitality, there is little I could give. I am on a personal quest here and have limited access to the power to which I am accustomed. You do not wish for us to take advantage of him, I can respect that desire,” Thor said seriously, “But what else can I do but accept it in exchange for future favors, or perhaps companionship?”

Ivan looked at Thor like he was an absolute idiot. Clint recognized that look from Natasha too. It was creepy how much everyone could look like Natasha when they were dealing with people they considered to be an idiot.

When the silence continued, longer than Clint was comfortable with, and long enough for Ivan to decide that Thor was actually asking for advice, he said simply, “Get a job.”

“A job?” Thor repeated.

Ivan nodded, “Find work and make use of whatever skill you have. No, you cannot pay Tony back in material wealth, but he cares little for that. He wants to make the world a better place, so get a job and help the community that you are now a part of.”

“Thor will not be on Midgard long enough to become part of it’s community,” Loki said, low and dangerous.

Thor winced, “Loki, I truly do not know how long I will be here on my quest. I must earn my worthiness to wield Mjölnir before I can return home. It might be a long time.” He looked to Loki, who stared up at him in disbelief.

“Father will not make you stay here indefinitely, even he understands how backwards a planet Midgard is. You will accomplish this quest and be able to wield Mjölnir soon enough,” Loki said, “You will return to Asgard soon. I am sure of it.”

Thor gave Loki a patient look, “I am not so sure of it, my brother.”

“You can’t stay here.”

“I must stay for as long as it takes,” Thor replied.

Clint glanced to Ivan, who had gone back to ignoring the princes while he made a second sandwich. At first, Clint thought the two were for Ivan, but he had them on separate plates. Ivan met his gaze and rolled his eyes, as if it wasn’t worth his time to explain to Clint what he was doing if he couldn’t puzzle it out on his own.

Knowing that the only other people in the building were Natasha and Tony, and that Clint had Natasha’s sandwich already, Clint figured he knew exactly who that sandwich was for.

He scoffed and shook his head slightly as Ivan picked up both plates and walked out of the kitchen.

They all had their own way of paying Tony back for his generosity, it seemed.

 

 


 

 

Kletka opened the door for Ivan but didn’t raise the lights in the room much. Ivan navigated the dark room well enough. He put the covered plate on the nightstand beside Tony’s bed and then stood there in the darkness.

Tony was a dark shape under the covers, curled up with his legs drawn up and his whole body covered by blankets except for part of his face and the top of his head. Ivan could see the blue light of the arc reactor against the underside of Tony’s chin. Wordlessly, Ivan turned and left the room.

He had work to get back to. Tony would be fine with Kletka and NOBODY watching over him.