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The Council of the Future

Chapter Text

 

They haven’t gotten together in a long time. The last time was probably two years ago, when they were fourteen. Sunset smiled like she actually meant it, Whitney didn’t put on a mask every morning and Lex and Bruce were closer than two entwined fingers.

Now Ty’s spending all his time at parties, Tony’s at MIT, has new friends and spends all his free time working on this new robot or weapons for Obie.

 

It was a stupid idea, created by bored children at auctions and charity galas, named ‘the council of the future’, alluding to their inheritances, how they are the future, how they cannot escape it — or, that's what Tony likes to think. Sunset rolls her eyes and tells him he’s being dramatic.


Over time, the idea faded. They are no longer dragged along to every function, just as they are no longer innocent children, happy with life and unaware of what their names — and bank accounts — bring. Tony’s been kidnapped three times in the last year, Ty’s had four girls claim to be pregnant with his child, Sunset's ostracised at her school, and Whitney gets sneered at every times she opens her mouth. It’s changed them, it really has. Trauma is not exclusive to poor underdogs.

This time, Tony called it, and it’s just enough of a surprise for everyone to fly in to Malibu, where Ty already is and Tony is spending the holidays with an empty mansion.

 Ty rocks up on a shining chrome motorcycle, hair ruffled and tan Malibu skin on display, he has the scowl of a hangover, likes he’s just woken up (even though it’s five pm), and there’s a dusting of white under his nose. He stays on the bike, ready to leave, as the others assemble.

Sunset steps out of a Lamborghini, heels high and smile higher. Her nails match her hair and her car, a shining, glossy red. She purses her lips and flicks a lock of hair out of her face. Ty grins at her lopsidedly, already making a sly comment about, “that time of the month?” like the douche-bag he is. Sunset just curls her lip and flips him off.

Lex comes in a chauffeured black limo that pulls away smoothly as he gets out. Wearing a suit perfectly tailored to his figure, dark eyes flitting over the two already assembled. He stalks over, looking like a lion on the hunt.

Whitney arrives in a cute little snub-nosed convertible corvette, hair down and looking deceptively innocent, wide eyed and flawless. She nods at Sunset and ignores Ty. Lex wanders over to make small-talk.

Tony rocks up in a pair of jeans and a band t-shirt, always the causal one. The car he gets out of is non-descriptive, an Audi with blacked-out windows, it drives over to the opposite side of the lot, parking smoothly. Whitney smiles at him. Ty tries not to look his way and fails.

 Bruce is the last to arrive, dropped off by a taxi. He’s goes straight to Lex, running a hand through his hair, although there is none of the same knowing-your-soul friendliness there, just seeing a familiar face in a crowd.

 

And so, they assemble, Sunset and Whitney leaning on their cars, next to each other in the desolate Malibu parking lot, overlooking the late-afternoon sea. Ty’s still sitting on his bike, pulled up next to Sun’s, and Tony stands as the link to the Gotham partners.

 

“Glad you got up for us, Ty-Ty,” Tony lilts, noticing the bags under his eyes and his muse, rolled-out-of-bed-(literally)-hair.

 

“Man,” he groans, “last night was wild.”

 

“Were there many doughnuts?” Sunset pokes, eyebrows raised and eyeing the smudge of white powder under his nose.

 

He wipes it hastily; sniffing. Whitney laughs, “oh, how the mighty have fallen.”

 

“Shut up, Whit,” he growls, “at least I’m not sucking up to high society.”

 

“Well, you’re doing that too, just to any girl who pays him any attention ," she sneers, crossing her arms.

 

“Hey,” Tony laughs, “don't be mean...he sucks guys as well.”

 

The group titters. This is how they talk, in jibes and jabs. It’s been so long and this, this is how they show they care, how they show they missed each other. Not normal, but is that expected?

 

“Lex,” Sunset drawls in her southern accent, “you really should look into something...that’s not a suit. It makes you look old, dear.”

 

“And you shouldn’t play matchy-matchy with a paint job,” he snarls back. Sunset wiggles her fingers like she’s hurt.

 

“Girls,” Tony interrupts, sitting on the bonnet of Whitney’s Corvette, the two had always been close, there has always been that strange, adolescence closeness there, the promise of what to be. “No need to fight.”

 

“Piss off, Stark,” Lex says, the same time as Sunset rolls her eyes so hard they nearly pop out of their sockets.

 

“Hmm, yeah, well, we’re here for a reason, ladies and gentlemen. And it’s not to squabble.”

 

“You’re the one that called the meeting, Tony,” Ty says, helmet under his arm. “Why don’t you share?”

 

“Ty, a wonderful idea. Applause, everybody,” he starts to clap, cut off by Sunset, who growls out, “we’re not ten and bored at charity functions, Stark. Why are we here?”

 

“Wonderful point, Sunny. As she brought up, we are not ten. This alliance has little use anymore, with me in New York, Ty in Malibu, Lex in Metropolis, and Bruce fucking around in Gotham, of all places, and well, I have no idea where Whit and Sun stay.”

 

“Miami,” Whitney says, the same time Sunset goes, “Houston.”

 

“Yeah, whatever,” Tony waves off, although he notes it down. “The point is, we’re rarely in the same place at the same time, much less terrorising galas.”

 

“You can do that on your own,” Ty snorts.

 

“You know, that little incident with that girl.. what was her name, Melissa? Melanie? wasn’t as well covered up as you think.”

 

Ty blushes darkly, flipping Tony off, who’s wearing a smug face.

 

“So, I’ve called the Council of the future—“

 

“We’re still calling it that?” Bruce interrupts, looking confused.

 

“We can have another meeting for the name!” Tony snaps, “now stop interrupting me!”

 

Everyone shifts, the quests down, and Tony talks again. “We’re here to discuss our future, and work out a deal that is mutually beneficial for all of us. Alright?”

 

“Is there an opening to leave?” Sunset asks lazily, raising her eyebrows.

 

Tony grins darkly, “oh, you won’t want to leave. And, technically, you could have left anytime though these years. You didn't even need to show up today.”

 

Sunset sniffs and mutters something rude, while everyone else ignores her.

 

“We all in favour?” Tony asks, looking at everyone.

 

Everyone mumbles ‘yeahs’ and ‘yeses’

 

“Okay. Um, I have…” He rustles around in his pockets until he finds a pen and notepad. “Here!”

 

Sunset rolls her eyes again, “can’t you ever be prepared, Stark?”

 

Tony just tuts at her. “Ideas?”

 

“What kind of ideas?” Bruce asks.

 

Tony shrugs, “ideas for how we can make this —“ he waves around at everyone “— good. I mean, I control Boston and New York, anything at MIT. Sunny’s in Houston, and she influences the underground scene there. Ty’s the same in Malibu. Whit’s in Miami and owns the PR game. Lexy is due to inherit one of the largest companies in the world, as am I. Bruce’s one of the biggest players in Gotham. Together we’re a formidable team, if we can make it work, that is.”

 

“That true,” Luther nods. “If we make the most of this pairing, we could... well, we could do practically anything.”

 

“My point,” Tony nods. “So, ideas?”

 

"I'm looking to invest in the stock market, perhaps -- due to our varied strong points -- putting pressure on certain people, certain companies can help that."

 

"Money," Sunset says like it's obvious, "we're rich, right? As Lex said, the stock market -- any market."

 

"Politics. Tony's dad has connections to the government and military, so does Lex's. Whitney's friends with a few diplomats, aren't you? --" she nods, " -- together, we could easily influence them," Bruce contributes. 

 

"Why don't we take the old-fashioned road?" Ty suggests, "revenge. Sunset's been bullied, Tony...you're fifteen and at university, what else do I need to say? Lex and Bruce -- I don't care, but the rest of us have issues. Why don't we punish those who have crossed us?"

 

"So, yes to all of those," Tony says triumphantly, "we have more than enough spare time, right? I breeze though my classes and none of you do much."

 

Sunset and Whitney looks vaguely offended, while Ty just nods in admission.

 

“We should write up a contract, put in clauses and everything," Tony suggests. 

 

“We’re not one of your father's business deals, Stark,” Sunset laughs.

 

“No,” Tony agrees, “but if this is going to work, we need rules.”

 

“I second,” Lex votes.

 

The rest of the council shifts, murmuring agreement.

 

“We should meet tomorrow, Ty's place.”

 

“Hey!” Ty says indignantly, “who said?!”

 

“Me,” Tony deadpans. Bruce snorts and Whitney giggles.

 

Tony looks out to the sunset, the burning disk of the sun is sinking under the horizon, a red-gold with orange-streaked sky. “Hey, Sunny, look, it’s a sunset.”

 

She curls her lip and him and stalks over to her car. “Hey, Stark, look, it’s you,” she flips him off and slides inside, yelling, “a fuck!”

 

Whitney unlocks her corvette with a beep, getting inside. “Need a ride?” She asks the others with a smile, this one not-so-fake.

 

“Yeah,” Tony says, getting into the convertible. “Sure, Whit.”

 

He slings a hand over the side, gazing at Ty with half-lids. “See ya tomorrow, Ty-Ty.”

 

He shakes his head, although he’s grinning. He slips the helmet over his head and guns the bike, roaring out of the parking lot.

 

Bruce and Lex are talking, standing together with muffled conversation.

 

“Oi!” Whit yells, “boys! You want a ride?”

 

Lex shakes his head while Bruce nods, clapping Luthor on the back and jogging towards them. He vaults into the back, landing on the seat easily, They used to do this all the time, back when they were kids and all together, only a chauffeur used to drive.

 

“So, is the divorce final?” Tony drawls, turning around in the seat and White turns out of the lot. The black car flashes it's headlights, engine turning on. Tony flips them off and laughs, yelling at Whitney to go faster. 

 

Bruce smiles, both at his antics and the question, “I don’t think so.”

 

Tony only hums, turning back around. 

 

“Put a seat-belt on, you,” Whitney pokes Tony in the side. He grumbles in annoyance, but clicks it in all the same.

 

They cruise down a lane next to the sea, wind ruffling their hair and golden hour light streaming down from the heavens, the sun's last hurrah before night. Tony leans back his head and closes his eyes. Bruce stretches out his legs and looks at the green foliage flying by. Whitney taps her fingers on the steering wheel to the song on the radio.

 

“Where’re you guys staying?” She asks.

 

“Wherever you’re staying, doll,” Tony leers, and Bruce says, “The Hilton.”

 

Whitney laughs lightly. “Tony, honey, you ain’t got a chance with me.”

 

Tony laughs, “I’ve heard that before.”

 

“Shouldn’t it be an indicator, then?”

 

“Yeah, well they recanted after an orgasm or two.”

 

“Or two?” she mock-gasps, “You must be losing your touch.”

 

“I’ll get back in practice with you.”

 

“Sure, baby. But if I’m gonna do anything with you, it’s gonna be as sweethearts or with a gold ring.”

 

“I can give you that,” he purrs, leaning over.

 

“Tony,” she says pityingly, “you couldn’t give a girl a golden ring if you tried.” This time, there is none of the suggestive teasing.

 

“Why not?” He says, sounding put out. Bruce, not listening until now, tunes in.

 

“Family history,” she says simply, eyes on the road.

 

Tony stiffens, and Bruce frowns, placing a hand on his shoulder.

 

Family history? Fuck you, Whitney.”

 

“It’s true,” she says, “you’ll never be able to settle down. It’s just like that, sometimes.” she shrugs like it can't be helped, gives a little sigh, but it only infuriates Tony further.

 

He leans across the seat, deadly close. Tony Stark is a shark when he wants be, raised in blood and taught to be ruthless, he can smell blood from a passive-aggressive comment away. It's sink or swim for him, in the business world, and damn if he isn't gonna swim.

 

“And it’s not like that for you? Little miss perfect, smiling and sipping glasses of champagne. You hate it, admit it, Whitney. You only do it because you know if you stop, no one will ever marry you. Your father's company is in shambles, and you mother’s just as drunk as my father, so don't talk.”

 

“Get out,” she bites, slamming on the brakes and screeching to the side of the coastal road. “Get out.”

 

“At least I have a future, Whitney,” he continues scathingly, “at least I’m not gonna become some housewife and live in purgatory for the rest of my life.”

 

“Get out!” she yells, “get the fuck out of the car!”

 

He gets out, throwing himself out of the seat and slamming the door after him. He leans on the rolled-down window, both hands in white-knuckled grip. “You know it’s true, Whit. Don’t deny it, you know it is and that’s why you hate it.”

 

Whitney doesn't say anything, just pushes down on the gas and speed away, leaving Tony next to the road.


When she’s gone, he collapses in the fading light from the sun, and laughs, just a little. These are his best fucking friends in the world, (except maybe this new kid that he’s been getting to know) and he hasn’t seen them all in two years, and he's fucked it all up yet again.

So he sits there, and looks at the sun, then sticks out a cynical, mocking thumb to hitchhike back to the house nobody lives in but his father bought as a home.

Chapter Text

The next morning, they assemble in Ty's 'bachelor pad' just as he's clearing out last night's leftovers. And by that, the menu was still-drunk college girls and a half-passed out male stripper, tucking a baggie of white into his pocket.

Lex picks up a skimpy bikini top, letting it dangle off a finger.

Ty laughs lopsidedly, grabbing the garment off him, "I'll, uh, get that back to her," he drawls.

"Oh, so you know her name?" Sunset asks pointedly, knocking an empty bottle of tequila aside with the toe of her foot.

"Ha ha," Ty says sarcastically. "Don't act like you know all the names of your one-night stands."

She rolls her eyes, "of course I do."

"Oh yeah? What about New Years Eve? You kissed him at midnight, still together?"

"That doesn't count! Even if I got his name, I wouldn't remember it in the morning!"

"Are you seriously using the fact that you were drunk as a defence?" Whitney asks incredulously.

Sunset blushes, "shut up, Monaco."

She gasps, "we agreed not to talk about Monaco!"

"What happened in Monaco?" Ty questions eagerly.

Before Sunset can spill, Whit can kill and Ty can grill, Tony turns up late, talking into a phone. "Yeah...hey, look pass it to Obie, will ya? Thanks Rhodey…" he waves a them, flopping down on the couch next to Ty. "Hey Obes...yeah, yeah, I'll get them done...no worries…it's fine, I can do it. You know I can. They're only machine guns. Semi automatics, at that. Who do you think I am?… I'm in Malibu, remember?... Business. ...no, not that kind of business, me business...yes, I have 'me' business...I'm leaving now...bye, bye..okay, goodbye." He hangs up and and flops backwards into the couch. Ty sits next to him, looking just as drained.

"God, I gotta get these new designs done," he groans.

Everyone stiffens. They know that Tony's designing weapons, everyone does - gossip does sometimes come in handy - but faced with the reality? It's different. Tony is sixteen and laughs like he's five and hasn't seen the hardness of the world. He is sixteen yet he can kill better than his father, at sixty-eight. This is a childhood best friend. They have seen him mutate into this, the boy who kills because he can't do anything else, from a wide-eyed, scared ten-year-old.

"Ty, do you have paper?" Bruce asks, breaking everyone's train of thought.

"Yeah," Whitney agrees. Her and Tony's gazes connect, and there's something like sorry in Tony's face, but not, because he can't be sorry of the truth. Neither can she, so she only smiles a bandaid-smile, meant to cover but not to fix. 

Sunset notices. "God, are you two lovebirds made up? I swear, it's pointless with you two. I'm never getting married."

"That's not a choice for you, is it, Sun?" Tony cackles. She glares at him.

"I shouldn't be the one worrying about who's gonna marry me."

"What's that mean to mean?" Tony asks acidly, he knows what she means, he's only asking if she dares to say it.

"Your father is a high functioning alcoholic, your mother is half-crazy, and you're over in Boston, making weapons because daddy's too drunk and nobody else is smart enough." Apparently, she does.

"You calling me smart?" Tony snarls, and it almost looks like he doesn't care, but his hands are balled into tight fists at his side.

"I'm calling you a murderer," She retorts. She knows where to hit to make it hurt, and she's just landed a perfect punch. It breaks him, and his face freezes unattractively, mouth open, eyebrows high and pupils wide.

There is a moment where no one breathes, no one moves, and in that instant Tony slips, he lets his face show, the darkness behind his eyes, the bleakness, the very thing that can make him so dangerous; anger. At who, it'd unclear. Maybe the world, maybe his father, maybe Sunset. Maybe himself.

In an instant, he moves, whirling off the couch and slamming the door behind him.

Sunset sinks onto the couch where he was sitting. She puts her face in her hands, and her nails gleam in the light.

There is shocked silence. Normally they tease and push, but each has lines, and Sunset hasn't just crossed all of Tony's - no, she's set them on fire.

"Oh fuck," She moans, the gravity of it setting in.

"I —" Whitney looks like she wants to say something, but instead she gets up and rushes after Tony.

Bruce is wearing an uncomfortable face but doesn't follow Whitney. Lex is gritting his jaw. Ty gets up and takes a long look at the group in his living room, then shuffles off to deal with his hangover, murmuring something that sounds like "let yourselves out."

They sit in silence for a few moments, and then Lex gets up and strides out the door. Bruce is next, and pats Sunset on the back.

She sits on the couch, throws her head back and tries to swallow the horrible feeling inside her.

Ty lumbers by, then stops short. "You're still here?" He demands.

Sunset mumbles a "fuck off," but gets up.

Ty stops her with a hesitant, "Tony just needs to cool down. You know what he can be like."

"What about what I can be like?" She asks dully. "I'm the one that pushed him too far, and you know Tony. He...he's forgiving, far too forgiving actually, but he has a vengeful streak a mile wide if you wrong him too far."

"Have you wronged him too far?" Ty asks, sitting down on the couch next to her, close enough to touch, far enough away to make the distance seem a chasm.

"I don't know!" She cries, something rough and sad and slightly hysterical in her voice.

There's silence.

"We knew each other before everyone else," Ty says suddenly. "Boarding school. He was only there for a few months, but we got close."

Sunset's brows crease, "you guys never mentioned."

"He was my first kiss."

Her mouth gapes slightly, "oh."

"Yeah."

There's silence for a long while.

"he told me...about... y'know..."

"His parents?" Sunset straighteners

"Yeah. Everything." There is a lot of gossip, how can there not be? None is good, some is terrible and more Ty can't even think about.

"Is it true, what they say?"

"I can't tell you, but….it's bad, Sun. It's bad and he...he doesn't even realise. It's normal life for him."

"We can't even save him."

He looks at her with eyes far too sad for the carefree party-boy. "We can't even try."

"You remember that kid, Hammer?" she asks, changing the subject. His brows draw tight but he still responds.  

"Justin? Yeah."

"His dad was hitting him. That's why he disappeared, he's off in foster-care now. I hear he'll still get the company, though."

"What? I thought it was boarding school."

"Yeah, that's what his father said, but CPS finally got though. His dad used to bribe them before they even got there," Sunset fiddles with a cushion, picking at the fabric.

"That's the problem with Tony."

"Has it been reported before?"

"A maid, I think. He was thirteen, that's why he had to leave."

"I'm sorry, Ty," she whispers, resting her head in his shoulder.

"For what?"

"I don't know," she mutters brokenly, although no tears fall down her face.

He sighs, and just whispers, "okay."

Later, he thinks that maybe he and Sunset are twin souls, destined to be lonely in a world where people fit. Lost jigsaw pieces to a puzzle that never even existed. In another timeline, maybe they would have fallen in love, gotten married, had children; a normal life. But they are not normal. Their lives are not normal, and they probably never will be. Still, he closes his eyes and tries to hold onto an image of a little girl with his hair and Sunset's eyes. It's a delusion, and Sunset's face could easily be blocked out with anyone else.

It's bullshit, probably from the English major he fucked last week that was spouting poetry.

Sure.

 


 

 

Sunset clears her throat in the middle of the bustling coffee shop. "Hey."

Tony doesn't turn, but he seems to flinch, to squeeze in on himself. "Hey." His voice is equally as tight.

"I came all the way from Texas to apologise," she tells him, sitting down at the bar, looking out the window and into the busy Boston street.

She does not try to mention what she saw when his face slipped, the black hole there, only the collapsing star is made from his name and his mother and his father, the weight of the world and the press and all the people that clamour to see him explode.

She does not mention it, but it is in her words.

"I know," his hands close tight around the mug.

"I'm sorry."

"I know."

"I...you know how I get."

"I do."

"I didn't mean it."

"It's true."

"No, it isn't."

He sighs, and then rounds on her, "Sun, it really is. My father drinks more alcohol than a Russian vodka-chugging contest and only gets sober for press conferences and important board meetings, and even then, it's a chance game. My mother is more than half-crazy and takes enough pills to fill a pharmacy. I'm making weapons, and my kill-streak's getting pretty high. I'm a fucking genius, Sun, and this time I'm not bragging. I could kill so many people, if I wanted. Right now, I'm giving them the weakest stuff, but soon I'm gonna have to step it up. Then, I don't know what I'll do."

"But you don't want to," she says evenly, her brown eyes boring into his.

"Who says that?"

"Me. Ty. Whitney. Bruce. Lex. That new friend of yours, Rhodes Island or whatever."

"Rhodey."

"Yeah. You aren't going to."

He leans forward, burying his head on her shoulder. She circles her arms tight around him, petting though his hair. He doesn't cry, just rests his head on her chest.

"Apologies accepted," he whispers, and she laughs.

'Your family may be fucked up, but you have another with us."

He draws back, "thanks, Sunny."

"No problem."

His gaze gets caught at the door, "shit, Rhodey's coming. Go."

She pouts, already picking up her bag, "what if I wanna meet him?"

"Get outta here," Tony grins good-naturedly, all evidence of his emotional state just a few moments before gone. He's a master at that, she realises. They all are. 

"Visit me soon?" she asks, fixing her hair even though it doesn't need to be fixed. 

"Yeah. We'll have the next meeting at yours?"

"Sounds good."

She weaves around the tables, passing the black boy heading towards Tony with a wave.

She dares a chance back, and Tony is chatting amicably, hands flying everywhere.

She smiles, that Rhodes boy is good for him.

She slides into a chauffeured car and tries to remember the last time Tony smiled like that with her.

It must have been years ago, back in the first incarnation of the Council. He was so...happy then, unguarded. Now he's closed up like a bankrupt shop, the windows boarded up and the doors locked. He treats them like a business transaction, which she supposes they are, in a way. But they are also his friends, they are also some of the only people on this earth that have seen Tony is his pure, base form, before he was 'Tony Stark', and back when his mother called him Anthony or Passerotto. Back when he was small and skinny and scared. Now he has grown into his height (not literally) and stands tall in his 5'7" frame.

She's happy for him and Rhodes. Really, she is. Tony deserves that, she only wishes that she was that for him. Or can be, one day.

Chapter Text

True to his word, they have the next meeting in one of the Bain family houses in dry Arizona, where even the lizards beg for water, as Ty likes to say.

Everything is fine, their first moves have worked well. Tony putting pressure on the military has won Lex a few hundred thousand in stocks, and that was just a test run. Both have bigger plans that are already promising.

Ty's idea has also gone well, and with the help of Whitney, a few enemies of both his and Sunset's are having pretty unfortunate rumours circling right now. With some assistance from Tony, they are also sex offenders in at least 10 states, (the fun is figuring out which).

There are no problems, and soon people are filling out into the arid desert air, where a line of glinting cars wait, ready to whisk the affluent teenagers to somewhere with air-con.

"Hey, Whit," Tony stops her from following the others and leaving.

"Tony?" she returns, turning around.

He's grinning, sly like a cat and with a certain childish joy that she hasn't seen on him for a long time. "When I first saw you come out of that cute little corvette, do you know what I thought?"

She plays along to his game, batting her eyelashes and leaning forward.

His smirk grows wider. "I thought you had done it. You had convinced everyone you're a little, defenceless kitten, led only by daddy's trust fund and high teas."

She half-jerks back. She had been expecting some leered comment or a proposition for sex. Not...whatever that was. "What?"

"I remember the fierce little thing when we were younger. You wouldn't bow down to anyone, and now your back is bent."

"You don't know anything about me, Tony," she spits, swinging her bag onto her shoulder.

He frowns, "is that not nice?"

That stops her. "What?" she asks again.

He looks confused, "I...I was trying to be nice. Was that not a nice thing to say?"

She closes her eyes and almost weeps, because now she realises that apart from a few charity galas, he has not had much genuine human interaction. His snobby schools are not the best place to get that, home is no better, and anyone he meets knows him as the press paints him, partying every weekend, sleeping with any girl that smiles at him. "No, Tony," she whispers hoarsely, "it's okay."

"What bit was bad?"

"You said I was bending down to everyone. The bit before, about knowing me when I was younger, that was...okay. Not the best, but okay."

"Oh," she can see him processing the information for a split-second, but then his face is clear. "Thank you," he says cordially, and goes to leave.

This time, she stops him, "want to know what I think of you?"

He grins slickly and says smoothly, "oh, please, and be honest."

She opens her mouth to say something sweet and darling and fitting into her box, but what spills out is so extraordinarily different she has to stop and blink. "I think you're so twisted up you don't even know what you feel, who you are. You don't even have a clue on how to get there, every try is a dead end and you're lost again in press smiles and those suits that your father makes you wear. "

He does not surprised, not even hurt, just tired.

"You were happy, once," he says, moving forward to rest his palm on her cheek. "You were young and free, and you would run down to the beach and play with the other children in the sea, but now…" he blinks, and it's like he's looking into her, "you're the same as me. Lost. Your version of yourself is somewhere between housewives' gossip and that grinning ten-year-old, uncaring about manners. So, I would be careful about who you call lost. I'm not the only one."

She flinches back and he leaves.

 


 

 

"Tony," she says, catching him outside his favourite diner in New York. He freezes, violet sunglasses (where the hell did he get those?) halfway down his nose, sending watery purple shadows down his cheeks.

"Whitney," he says back, voice even.

"I...I know we didn't really —" she stutters, unsure how to say anything. Tony is a force, and when he is happy it's amazing, warmth, and magnetism drawing you into his path like a celestial body, a gravitational orb that you cannot help but get pulled into. She used to think he might be magic, watching him at galas, the people swirling around him, controlling the crowd like the moon does to the sea. When he is angry, it is the opposite. There is something in the back of your mind screaming, get away! Get away! even if he's not doing anything even remotely dangerous, the alarms still blare. She tries to remind herself he was raised to be cutthroat, to be ruthless in a ruthless world of business. It does not help. She is still scared. 

"Make up?" he supplies, and his cool tone is almost friendly, but it lacks... something, that something that makes it Tony. This is only a shell, something not even the people he hates is given.

"Yeah."

"Yeah," he sighs, looking bored, and Whitney curls in on herself. Tony has a way of making her feel like an ant, tiny, inconsequential, about to be squished under his shoe.

"If you wanna — do...something?" she was going to ask to the movies, a normal, date type thing.

"Like what?"

At least that's not a blatant dismissal. "The movies?"

His lip curls, "that's...awfully civilian." If it was said in the last tone, it would have made Whitney turn tail and run, but now it has just the start of Tony again, and she smiles, gaining confidence.

"Sue me, I feel like being normal sometimes," she shrugs.

"Wanna buy me dinner, first?" he jerks his head at the doors and Whitney blushes.

"Well, sure."

He smiles, that press smile, learned from his mother and not his father, and Whitney at least preens at that. It's not Tony, but it's good enough, for now.

Later, when the sky is streaked with the most fantastic sunset, all pink and purple splashed onto the canvas of the sky like a mistake but that can't be a mistake, it's practically holy, divinity in a few fleeting moments, they stand in an alley and try to pretend they don't know what about to happen.

"I'm sorry," she whispers, and it's only sad because the end is already there, standing and staring, tapping a clock on it's wrist. There is no honeymoon period, no happiness, no giddiness, just flat time, energy sapped just by looking down the long road. This is bound to end, and they both know it. Whether it ends badly is anyone's guess.

Tony closes his eyes and tries to convince himself that this is a good idea.

He's never been good at following advice, not even his own.

He leans forward and so does she. They are locked in a standstill, the quivering moment before their lips touch is strung out like a taut line, each breath warm and suspended between their mouth. Inhaling each other with every breath, Whitney dares to romanticise.

Then the moment is broken and their lips are on each other's.

It's everything that Tony thought it would be: nothing.

No spark, no fire, just a kiss. No zing of heat, not electricity, just Whitney's admittedly smooth lips on his. Any other horny teenage boy would call it heaven, lip-locked with a girl like Whitney, smooth and tan and beautiful. He would just call it...life. Huh, he really is living up to that moniker, Playboy-genius-millionaire - that's what the papers are calling him, right? Emphasis on playboy.

It's a good kiss, but it's nothing like what they used to describe in the romance novels he used to steal from his mama's bedside table.

He didn't really expect anything else, although he is tired of feeling nothing.

He still can't convince himself to stop trying.

 


 

He and Whitney go to that movie, and Tony supposes it's a date, but he just...doesn't care. Even when he drops her off and she looks up at him with those blue, blue eyes and says, "I had a lot of fun with you tonight, Tony."

Tony figures this is the spot in the movies where he kisses the girl goodnight. So, for once in his life, he plays along and kisses her soft and slow and gentle outside her plated door, 291. And when she pulls back at the end, flushed and pink, with sparkling, joyful eyes, he figures he's done something right, for once.

He almost feels like ringing his old man to tell him. He can imagine how that would go: hey, dad, I know I haven't talked to you since you called me a failure and a college-pansy, slapped me around in a drunken stupor then left, but I just wanted to tell you I've fulfilled all your hetero-normative dreams. Proud?

Yeah, no. 

Chapter Text

 

“Hurry up,” he says, shutting the door behind them. “Rhodey’s only gone an hour."

 

“Replacing us, Stark?” Lex asks, sauntering towards the bed.

 

“Oh, you know it, Lexy baby,” he winks.

 

Sunset snorts, “can you two get a room?”

  

“We’re in my room, Sunny.”

 

She’s about to interrupt but Whitney says, “Guys, let’s go to work.”

 

“Amen,” Tony says, sitting on the floor and then gesturing for the others to join him. With mumbles of discontent, they do, “now, that wasn't so bad."

  

“Stuff it, Stark,” Lex says.

 

Tony winks, “I’ll stuff you.” Whitney dissolves into giggles at the look on Lex’s face, Ty snorts, and Bruce looks vaguely scandalised.

 

The door opens and Rhodey steps inside. “Sorry, Tony, I forgot my—“ he stops short at the sight of the group on the floor. “Oh, hi.”

 

“Hello,” Whitney smiles sweetly. Tony hisses at her. She batts her eyelashes, letting a brown curl fall over her tan shoulder. 

 

“Hey, Rhodey, thought you were gone. Um, what did you forget?” Tony babbles, finger twitching and seizing up like they only do when he's really nervous. 

 

 “My blueprints,” Rhodey says slowly, looking at everyone. “And Tony, if you didn't want me around, you could have asked.”

 

“No, no honey-bear, of course I’ll always want you around.” He takes the scrolled-up papers from the desk, handing them to Rhodey, who still pauses in the doorway.

 

“Then why are you having a secret cult meeting?”

 

 

"Because I didn't want you to have question," he explains. Rhodey waits for him to continue, "oh! and it's not a cult," he tacks on.  

 

 “It kinda is,” Sunset shouts from his bed. 

 

“Shut up, Sun,” Ty yells at her, too loud for the space. She flips the bird at him. 

 

“Tony,” Rhodey stage-whispers with all the dramatics he can gather, “who are these people?" 

 

Tony grimaces, then sweeps out an arm and says grandly, “sour-patch, meet the very best and worst of high society,” Ty scowls and Whitney grins.

  

“We’re the rich, entitled kids,” Sunset deadpans, (not)aiding Rhodey's still-confused look. “And for some reason, you lot are still dragging me around. Also, nice to finally meet you. Tony made me leave last time.”

  

“What las--? No, nevermind. Okay...why are you having secret meetings?” Rhodey asks. Tony is honestly yearning for the new pistol SI is putting out. Why does he have to explain this?

 

“To spread influence,” Ty snorts, lounged out on the carpet, “to make money. To do something because we’re bored with the golden life. Why else?”

  

“Uh...sure,” Rhodey says, grabbing the blueprints and shutting the door swiftly, but not before muttering, “We need to talk," in the general direction of Tony.

 

Who's dying inside, but only smiles and nods, “of course, honey-bear.”

  

The meeting goes as planned from there, only some good-natured ribbing about a new pimp and replacing either Ty or Whit.

   

Their plans are going well, almost better than expected.

 

The military is bending easily, the higher-ups knowing the amount of power Tony holds. He could make a tiny mistake, a fault in the next batch of guns that blow soldier's hands off, and they wouldn't be able to stop it. And he would. They know this and Tony knows this. It leads to some...interesting situations where the secretary of defence is personally fetching a 15-year-old coffee.

 

They each have their own business ventures, of course, and everyone makes it easier on the others to prosper.

    

“Oh, Bruce, I pushed that senator your way,” Sunset bats her eyelashes and pushes out her chest, making it clear just how she pushed him

  

Ty’s plan of revenge has Sunset cackling as Harvard suddenly rejects one of her old bullies. Ty grins gleefully as she shouts, “take that, Susan! Shove that up your gucci slides!”

 

Sunset's dipping into some stuff, she tells them. Everything looks steady at the moment, but it a dangerous business. Nobody tells her to stop or to save herself, and she doesn't expect that. Ty bite his lip when she discusses contingency plans, but the tang of blood is all that flavours his mouth.

 

They don't ask for details on exactly what she's doing, she doesn't give them. 

 

They know. 

 

They don't need to. 

 

 


  

 

Rhodey comes back when everyone is gone.

  

“So, honey-bear, I suppose you're eager for the gossip?”

 

Just the truth," he says, face set in stone.

 

“Ooh, that's very military of you, justice and power, huh?”

 

 “Get on with it, Tony," he sighs, collapsing back against his bed. 

 

 “Yeah, yeah. What do you want to know?”

 

 “Who those people were, why they were here and what they do, why you were so secretive about it.”

 

“Can I write that down?” Tony tries to joke, but his efforts only earn an eye-roll. 

 

“No, but you can tell me.”

  

“Fine. I believe they told you, rich kids.” Tony cuts off Rhodey’s sigh, “hey! Hold up! I’m not done! Sunset Bain, Whitney Frost, Tiberius Stone, Lex Luthor and Bruce Wayne. I know them from my father, they tend to get dragged along to the same events, or well, we used to.”

 

“Why were they here, what do they do?” Rhodey supplies.

 

“Not they, we. I call it the Council of the Future. It’s a group, and with our combined...influences, we can accurately control a bunch o' things.”

 

“Like what?” Rhodey asks snappishly. "Your trust funds?" Tony stares at him stonily, and James sighs, "I'm sorry, that was a low blow," he admits.

 

"Yeah. It was. Now, are you gonna let me tell you? Because I don't actually have to, you realise." 

 

"Go ahead."

 

“Most of the stock market — American, anyway, Lex and I are still trying to wrangle Europe, and Russia plus the Middle East is another issue entirely. Still, we try. The military, you know about the weapons. Whitney handles high society, -- you have no idea how handy that can come. Sunset controls the underlife in Texas, and she dabbles in some....less than legal things, if you catch my drift. She also helps to... push people in our direction. Bruce works on all things business with Lex, they’ve set up a few companies that we all get the returns on. Ty likes to run the revenge game, and Sunset helps with that as well.” 

 

Rhodey is jaw dropped, slowly looking up, "oh my god," he breathes.

 

"Calm down Rhodey, it's not that big of a deal," Tony dismisses, like it really isn't.

   

"You...only you, you big fucking genius."

 

He shrugs, "I told you so."

  

“So you're really not kidding me?” Rhodey asks incredulously, hoping it is, because this is not what he signed up for when he got paired with a 14-year-old Tony Stark. In a way, he doesn't mind. Tony's wild, and hey, this is not quite the craziest thing he's done. Yet. 

  

“I wish I was. Whatever I would have come up would have been more believable.”

  

“It probably would be.”

 

“Yeah. I make it sound bigger than it is. It’s us joking around, meeting up, keeping in touch.”

 

“They...I'm glad, Tones,” Rhodey says sincerely . “I thought I was your only friend,” he bumps his shoulder with his jokingly.

 

 

 “I'm more likeable than you would think.”

 

“Oh, I’ll have to spell-check that.”

 

“Spell-check away my friend. L-I-K-E-A-B-L-E.”

 

Rhodey cracks a laugh.

Chapter Text

 

“Is that one of those new video cameras?” someone asks, and the sound of a door closing.

 

“Yeah,” Ty answers, turning the camera around. It's Tony, dressed in a MIT hoodie and jeans, lit cigarette sticking out of his mouth.

 

“Since when do you smoke?” Bruce asks pointedly. Tony shrugs at him ambiguously and processes to ignore him.

 

“I could fix that,” Tony tells him, squinting at the Tony ine. He blows a long trail of smoke out of the side of his mouth.

 

Whitney decides she’s had enough and reaches up to pluck the smoke  from his mouth. He makes a grumpy face but doesn't bother arguing.

 

“It's brand new!” Ty protests, “it doesn't need to be fixed.”

 

Tony snorts, “Honey, all of us needs to be fixed, and I already know how a camera works.”

 

“Yeah, we get it, you're a genius,” a new voice drawls, and the sound of a door shutting.

 

“Lex!” Tony yells. “I thought you were in gotham?”

 

“Yeah,” Lex shifts, “I was.”

 

At Lex’s show of nervousness, Tony strightens. “How are the lions?” he asks, eyes glued to his.

 

“Roaring,” Lex admits weakly, “but they haven't killed me yet. You?”

 

Tony raisTony is eyebrows, “taking a few swings, that's for sure.”

 

Lex nods, eyes drifting over Tony, “is Sunset coming?”

 

“Yeah,” Ty says, “apparently she's got something big.”

 

“Ah. Bruce is stuck in Gotham, I'm afraid. I’ll relay any information.”


“You lot go ahead,” Tony says, “while you guys do super important council stuf I'm gonna fix this monstrosity,”  he grabs the camera, to Ty’s chagrin.

 

After a minute the screen fizzles out and goes blank, Tony finger deep in the innards of the camera.

 

The meeting is as usual. There are only new changes with Tony — some war brokering in the Middle East — and the others adjust their plans to fit.

 

At the end of the day, Ty leaves with a nearly improved Stark-cam(patent pending) that, with the sacrifice of a microwave and half a blender, has increased storage space, can film with better pixelation, connect and broadcast to any TV or computer, along with many more new features.

 

Tony shrugs it off, “only the best for my honey-bear,” he says, and that’s that.

 

Tony can give his soul, give his life, and he’d smile and say, “it’s nothing,” while he bleeds out from a wound he did not have to take, Ty thinks, filming the group. Everyone is laughing, chattering, with Tony right in the middle, talking to three people at once and keeping up easily.

Chapter Text

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” Ty yells, bursting into the room. It’s in a dark-wood-style, a big mansion in Malibu that the Stark’s own.

“Calm the fuck down, Ty,” Tony laughs, hair messy on his head, Sunset passes him sitting on the armchair, ruffles his hair even more. “It’s not even Christmas.”

Ty laughs, holding the camera in his bouncing hand, “awwww, come on, you Grinch.”

“Sunset’s the Grinch!”

“Hey! Am not!”

“Are too!”

“Am not!”

“Shush, children,” Lex drawls, longing over the couch.

They shut up with sour looks.

Ty moves across the room, putting down the camera on the fireplace mantle.

“Okay….since we aren't gonna hang out anywhere near Christmas, we’re doing it now. I expect full cooperation. Full levels of holiday cheer.”

“It’s November,” Bruce laughs.

“Now you're the Grinch,” Ty accuses, pointing a finger at the dark-haired youth.

“Oh no,” he deadpans.

“Guys, guys,” Tony cuts in before it can go any further. “Can we get to the present part?”

Everyone pulls out presents, making a big pile on the floor.

“Okay, so we should take turns, one at a time,” Whitney instructs.

“Tony, you first. You're the host,” Sunset delegates.

He grins suavely, reaches forward into the pile until he finds one with his name. It’s Ty’s with cheesy Christmas wrapping paper and an oversized bow.

He unwraps it quickly, grinning with childish beauty, rare on anyone' face, lest his. It's the kind of look that is found only in childhood pictures. You cannot pose for this, you cannot place it on your face. it is real, more real than Tony has maybe felt in a long time

He looks up, something small and white in his hands, “Ty, a fake ID? You shouldn't have.”

He laughs, “yeah, I really shouldn't. It's illegal.”

“Well —” he checks the ID, “— Antonio Oliver thanks you.”

Ty tips his hat, and the circle moves on. Sunset gets a red-leather handbag of some designer origin from Whitney. Bruce gets plane tickets to Hawaii from Tony, with a mocking comment about Gotham and light levels. Lex gets the highly-coveted name of a fabled suit designer from Sunset, something that must have taken a lot of effort, especially considering her less-than-stellar name in society. Whitney gets fuzzy dice, air freshener and a new carseat cover from Bruce.

Then it comes Tony’s turn again, he open’s Sunset’s. It’a a pair of gold-and-ruby cuff links, glittering agent the case.

“We match,” she says softly.

He looks up, smiling stupidly. “They’re wonderful.”

They move on, not all of the presents are expensive, or well thought-out, but they all mean something, and to them, it means everything.

The entire day is spent lazing around, taking dips in the pool. They walk down to town and get ice-cream. The paparazzi eventually spot them, of course, but it's worth it just to see Ty piggybacked on Bruce, running full speed away from the flashing cameras, Sunset flipping the bird behind them. They hide behind a diner where Whitney chokes on her ice-cream that miraculously survived the frantic dash, and Lex laughs so hard he might have burst a blood vessel. 

That was one of the best Christmases (even if it wasn't Christmas) of his life, and later, he thinks it might have nearly made up for 1991.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Tony!” someone yells as he’s crossing campus.

 

He whips around, seeing a silver-chrome convertible cruising down the road slowly, irritating the drivers behind.

 

“Ty?!” he gapes, “what are you doing? Speed up!”

 

“No!” Sunset screams from the back seat, hair spilling around her face, swarming through the back of the car like fire. Whitney giggles just a little bit hysterically and Tony squints.

 

“Are you drunk ?!”

 

“I’m not!” Ty says helpfully.

 

Lex looks up from his phone, rolling his eyes, “I’m not either, it’s just the girls,” he points to the backseat, where Sunset and Whitney are now sipping crazy straws.

 

“Oh my god,” Tony sighs to himself, hiking his bag up his shoulder. “Meet me at my dorm!” he yells, waving his hand in a ‘go’ gesture. Ty speeds up, accelerating down the empty stretch of road. The angry symphony of horns dies off, hands disappearing back inside windows.

 

He hurries across campus, muttering intelligible gibberish to himself the entire time. Thank god he has a free period, he is not missing school for those bozos, no matter how smart he may be.

 

He makes it to his dorm just as Sunset leans over, puking into a bush. Lex is holding her hair and Ty’s holding up Whitney.

 

“Oh, god,” Tony sighs, hurrying forward.  “What the fuck!” he demands, storming past Sunset wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.

 

“Tony!” Whit squeals, stumbling forward. She nearly trips, so Tony braces her with both hands.

 

“Whit? What are you guys doing her?!”

 

“I’ve got business,” Lex says, shrugging.

 

Tony turns on Ty. “Why didn't you stop them?! Why are you even here!”

 

“You think I would have if i could have?” Ty says. “And hell if I know, they just turned up. Who am I to tell them no?”

 

“Um, fucking sane ?”

 

“They insisted. Lex was there too and he had some business in Boston, so we hitched a flight over here.”

 

Tony stares, “how long have the girls been drunk?”

 

“Like...6 hours? I mean, they sobered up on the airplane, so really only 4?”

 

‘And in all that time, you never once thought you'd stop and think: hey, how will Tony feel about this?”

 

Ty rolls his eyes. “Tony, can we go inside? People, are starting to stare.”

 

Glancing around, Tony finds it's true. “Shit,” he hisses. “Fine. Get in.”

 

They open the doors to Tony's dorm hall, making the way to his and Rhodey’s combined room.

 

“Okay, Rhodey’s with ROTC, so we have a while. Let's get these girls sobered up.”

 

“Amen,” Lex mutters, flopping Sunset down like a doll with its strings cut.

 

“Okay,” Ty considers, “..bath? That always works well and they’re the right type of drunk as well.

 

“There are different types of hangover cures for different drunks?” Lex asks incredulously, and a little innocently, despite himself.

 

“Of course,” Ty and Tony say in unison.

 

“You ladies got anywhere to be?” Tony asks them, knowing the answer. 

 

Whitney giggles and shakes her head, hooking a finger into his collar, pulling him forward for a sloppy, drunk kiss. Tony goes along with it, kissing her back until she pulls him back onto the bed, on top of her. He decides it's not the time or place to make out with a drunk girl in front of his friends. 

 

“Okay, okay,” he interrupts, rolling off her. “That's enough.”

 

“Tonyyy!” she wines, wrapping her legs around his.

 

“No, Whit. let's get you sobered up.”

 

She hums, rolling over and arching her back on the bed, stretching.  

 

Tony straightens his shirt, clapping his hands. “Right. Ty, go turn on the shower. As cold as it goes, there's a sticker. Lex, help me bring them down”

 

“Ay, ay, captain,” Ty salutes, walking away in the direction of the bathroom.

 

Lex and Tony grab the girls, lugging them down to the bathroom.

 

HANGOVER MODE is scrawled under the dial, so Ty shrugs and yanks it on. He sticks a hand under the water, and it’s frigid. The girls are not gonna like that. 

 

Here we go,” Tony groans, settling Whit down on the tiles. “Okay, Sun in first. You do not to see Whitney cold. She’s so annoying.”

 

“Am not!” she complains from the floor.

 

“Here we go,” he grunts, ignoring Whit, carrying Sunset over from where she had been giggling to herself and going though Tony’s bathroom cabinet.

 

She falls into the bathtub and kicks her legs over her head, sticking up a hand to stop the water, “no!” she yells, “no! No!”

 

“Sorry,” Tony says, preparing to turn it on.

 

She sobs, and Tony looks down. She looks positively devastated, tears forming, mascara smudging, the happy-go-lucky drunk girl gone.

 

“Tony,” she wails, shuddering sobs.

 

“Sun?” he asks, bending down next to her, “what's wrong?”

 

“Me,” she sobs, "I'm a whore," before Tony can interrupt, she continues, "I'm a fucking whore, and everyone uses me and throws me away, even you.”

 

“I’ll never use you,” Tony says seriously, looking into her eyes, “and I never will, because I don't need to. None of us do, and that's why you’re friends with us.”

 

“Thank you,” she whispers, and her iron grip on his arm falls away. "I -- I don't --"

 

"it's okay, Sun," Tony reassures. "You're fine."

 

She nods wetly and wipes her nose. 

 

“Get ready, Sun,” Ty warns, and then turns the shower handle.

 

She shrieks.

 



“Thank you,” she whispers, hugging a towel to herself and holding a mug of hot cocoa in her trembling hands.

 

“No worries, Sun,” he says, but leans his shoulder against hers.

 


 

 

"Goddamnit, Tony, your fucking friends, again?"

 

"Sorry, Rhodey-bear!"

Chapter Text

 

“It’s my birthday, bitches!” Sun crows.

 

“Woah,” Tony holds the phone away from his ear. “Not so loud, now.”

 

“Sorry,” she apologises once the receiver is back on his ear.

 

“It's fine. What are you planning?”

 

“Next week, Japan .”

 

“Japan?” Tony repeats, laughing to himself, “really?”

 

“Yeah! We can eat sushi and pufferfish and go walking in with the trees —!” She swoons.

 

“I'm pretty sure ‘the trees’ aren’t blooming right now,” Tony injects, bringing her back to earth.

 

“Hey! Don't shower on my parade!” she complains.

 

“Okay! Okay!”

 

“Yeah, I was thinking you and Whit could hang out…?” she suggests slyly, and Tony can hear her meddling all the way from Texas

 

“Me and Whit?” he asks innocently, probing. She huffs a laugh into the line, and he smiles in response, waiting for her words. 

 

“Oh come on, everyone knows,” she sighs. There's a rustle, as she sits down, but then the sound of her breath is echoing on the line.

 

“You're incorrigible," he says without any real force, and she knows it. 

 

“Hm, I know,” she laughs, “Anyway, I’m tryna’ be nice,” she says petulantly, a frown on her face.

 

“How?” he asks, and it's less about some sort of passive-aggressive comment, and more genuine curiosity, trying to see how tones and words fit together in the puzzle of human interaction. He's been getting better since the council formed again, now he can manage on phone calls without the cue of faces. 


"Whitney lives in Miami, and you're in Boston slash Malibu slash New York. I know you don't see each other that often.”

 

“That...actually is nice.”

 

She smiles into the speaker, “see? I'm not conniving all the time.”

 

He laughs. “Thanks, Sun. but you don't have to go to Japan, okay? Just know that. We can just hang out in Texas or something.”

 

“Normal?” she asks, voice wavering just the slightest. It's her dream, he knows, to be normal, that way, the girls at school wouldn't bully her, and the boys wouldn't push her against a locker and ask if the curtains match the drapes. 

 

“Normal," he reassures, knowing all this and more, and still not hurting her. He thinks that's how the Council works so well, they all hold each other's hearts in their fists, trusting each other -- probably more than they've ever trusted anyone -- not to crush them. 

 

He knows she used to hate the big parties that got thrown for her, and even more the destination ones. He’s surprised that she sounds so excited for the thing she used to despise.

 

“Yeah,” her voice is watery, emotional, but Sunset clears her throat and when she next speaks, her voice is clear. “Um, I gotta go, Tony. More people to call, all that.”

 

“Yeah. Nice talking to you. Bye.”

 

“Bye...thanks.”

 

Before he can reply the phone clicks in his ear.

 

He falls back on the bed, and thinks about what he's going to bring to Japan. 

Chapter Text

 

He gets off the plane after a brutal 11 hour flight, rubbing sleep from his eye, when a voracious redhead assaults him.

 

“Tony! You came!” she yells, racing across the tarmac and hugging him tight. He croaks out a laugh, hugging her back.

 

“Yeah. Surprisingly, I care about you.”

 

“Surprisingly,” she snorts, “I'm fucking fantastic and you know it.”

 

Tony grins, hoisting his bag up his shoulder.

 

“Oh, none of that,” Sunset tuts, waving over a smooth black car.

 

“Ooh, baby, you take care of me.”

 

“You know it,” Sunset winks, sliding inside the leather interior.

 

The drive is short, and Tony looks out the window to the bustling, organised metropolis most of it, Sunset tapping away on her phone next to him, they share an easy, comfortable silence.

 

“Where are we going?” it occurs to him to ask.

 

“Oh, the hotel. Four Seasons.”

 

“Are the others there?”

 

“Yeah, Whit flew in this morning, Ty last night, and Bruce and Lex came in with me.”

 

“I feel left out,” Tony drawls.  

 

Sunset taps his cheek, “they’ll always be a place in my heart for you.”

 

“Glad to know it,” Tong laughs.

 

The car slows down, pulling up in front of the hotel. A chauffeur opens the door, and Tony steps out into the busy Tokyo street.

 

They get inside the hotel and ride up the lift. They make it to Sunset’s room, whee the others are assembled inside.

 

“Hey! Tony! Glad you could join the party!” Ty crows, holding up a glass.

 

“Hi, baby,” Whitney whispers in his ear as she pulls him in for a hug.

 

“Hi, Whit,” he says, releasing her.

 

“Brucie!” Tony greets, leaning down for a one-sided bro-hug.

 

“Aww, where my hug?” Ty asks. Tony laughs, and pulls him in too.

 

“You guys wanna get changed and then go to the restaurant?” Sunset suggests.

 

Ty claps his hands, “ready to have some pufferfish and maybe-nearly die?”

 

“I'm always ready to die,” Tony says, kneeling down and opening his luggage. “But let me put on my gucci, first.”




 

A few minutes later, he exits the spare bedroom in a sharp suit with crisp black and white lines. Rubies glitter at his wrists.

 

“Aw,” Sunset smiles, “Tony, you look brilliant.”

 

“Oh yeah? Do you like your cufflinks?”

 

She laughs, clapping her hands together like an entertained child. “They're fantastic! Oh,” she turns her gaze on the others, a critical eye, “I wish you lot would make that much effort.”

 

Whitney gasp in mock-offention, “look at me!” she gestures to her outfit; cropped high-waisted jeans with a studded belt, crop-top with a fluffy fur coat. Under that, she’s wearing silver 2000’s platform shoes three inches tall.

 

“You look like a bratz doll,” Bruce comments.

 

“You look like a rich white frat boy that dehumanises women for his own sexual pleasure.”

 

Bruce blinks. “Wow. Okay. Was not expecting that.”

 

“Surprise, a woman can be intelligent enough to come up with an insult,” Sunset says, fiddling with the crimson of her halter-neck dress.

 

“Stop!” Bruce groans, sliding down the couch.

 

“Okay, okay,” Sunset flaps her hands, “let’s go. Our reservations are gonna be late.”

 

Everyone shuffles to their feet, spilling out into the hallway. Bruce's phone rings and he dawdles behind.

 

“Come on, Chad!” Tony calls to Bruce.

 

“Seriously!” Bruce says, flinging up his free hand. “Sorry, Alfred, gotta go,” he mutters into the receiver before hanging up. “I'm coming, I'm coming!” he yells, charging out the door and down the hall, trying to catch up to the others at the elevator.

 

Sunset pulls Lex inside the doors, Tony hitting the the ‘close’ button. Bruce sees what they’re doing and runs, racing past expensive art on the walls.

 

“See ya, Brian!” Ty yells, right before the doors ding shut in his face.

 

Bruce catches up outside, sliding into the limo outside, panting like a dog in a heatwave. “You—!” he puffs, cutting himself off. “Argh!”

 

“Oh, sorry, Micheal,” Lex says, a saccharine sweet smile toying at his face.

 

Bruce just waves a hand, dismissing it. Tony leans over and squeezes his arm.

 

The limo pulls away from the curb and they make small talk until the restaurant.

 

It’s a fancy thing, obviously for the rich, they serve delicacies, jellyfish, sushi, sashimi, miso soup, pufferfish, you name it.

 

“Ooh,” Sunset hums, eyes wandering over the menu, “I’m gonna get the pufferfish.”

 

“Isn't that dangerous?” Bruce replies

 

“Aha,” Sunet leans over the table to speak to him, “they are — if not prepared correctly. Chefs have to train to do it.”

 

“Suicide by pufferfish,” Tony murmurs.

 

“What a way to go,” Whitney murmurs, fingering her necklace. “Wild.”

 

“Hello,” the server appears, “should we start off with some drinks?”

 

“Yes,” Sunset smiles widely, looking a like a lion, about to eat the man up, “of course.”

 


 

Dinner is good, and after they leave, drunk on sake and laughter, the car is waiting at the curb.


Before they get in, Sunset whispers something in the driver’s ear. He nods stoutly and rolls up the window.

 

They climb inside, Ty finds a bottle of champagne in the minibar and decides to get everyone started on the night. Well, more than they already are.

 

“Mm,” Tony says appreciatively, holding the glass. “Where are you taking us, dear Sun?”

 

“That's for me to know and you to find out,” she giggles. She is brilliantly red, a vibrant shade of cherry-wine. She looks like a exotic bird, bound to take flight. Her eyes are sparkling, hair writhing like medusa, cheeks flushed, mouth dark with lipstick. She looks alive and happy and a little tipsy, but what does that matter?

 

Before they know it, the car is slowing down in front of a club, pulsing with music and flashing with multi-colored party lights.

 

Ty whoops, loud and low and rambunctious. All the things young should be, all the things they sometimes aren’t.

 

They spill out, the picture of rich, western tourists here for a quick kick but uncaring about it.

 

Sunset walks up to the bouncer, flashing a smile and her name. He nods and lets them in.

 

The inside of the club is dim, bodies moving and the heavy scent of alcohol, perfume and sweat blanketing everything.

 

Ty breaths in deep for dramatic effect, then exhales noisily, “oh, smells like home.”

 

“I'm sure it does,” Bruce snarks, sliding past him.

 

“Whoo-hoo!” Whitney hoots, more than just tipsy, “Bruce, coming up to bat!” she laughs and hooks her arm around Sunset’s pulling them to the VIP area.

 

They settles on some seats and order a round of drinks.

 

Sunset observes a dashing man in a suit over the rim of her glass

 

“Ooh, eyeing up some prey?” Tony suggests, sake sloshing in his hand, lying on his back.

 

“Like you don't sleep with anybody," she scoffs, turning her attention away from the man and back on them. 

 

“Where did you hear that!” he says ignorantly, sitting up so fast his drink spills down his arm and onto the table.

 

“Nevermind,” he huffs, “I knew Cindy Brant would snitch.”

 

“Ooh, who wouldn't? A night with a Stark, only once,” Ty teases.

 

Whitnye looks slightly put out.

 

“Don't worry, Whit. This is all before you,” Sunset says, leaning over the dimly-lit table and laying a hand over hers.

 

Whitney snatches her hand away. “I know,” she says sullenly.

 

“Ah,” Tony sighs, “duty calls.” He looks over to Whit, unaware of his murmured words. “Whit? Wanna dance?”

 

She smiles, a little, and accepts with a nod of her head.

 

They whirls off to the dance floor, where their heads are quickly lost among the throng of dancers.

 

When they get back Whitney is happy again and all is well.

 

Everything is loose and easy, happy, relaxed.

 

“Oh,” Sunset giggles, “you — you guys are the best,” she slurs, leaning on the table, she looks no less alive now, pale face reflecting all the colors of the club.

 

“We love you two,” Bruce laughs.

 

“Hm,” Tony says, lifting his drink, “yeah, you guys almost makeup for my shitty father and pill-popping mother.”

 

Sun is the first to laugh.




“Did you really want this?” Tony asks on the flight back, so tired he can hardly lift his eyelids.

 

“No,” she murmurs. “Dad organised it, I had no choice.”

 

“Ah, the nightclub was from you, I assume?”

 

“We were booked for a spa, of course I couldn't have that.”

 

“No,” Tony agrees, “although my cuticles are looking a little dry.”

 

She laughs but there's silence for a long while, and Tony thinks that she might be asleep.

 

“It wasn't by choice, but it was the best," she finally whispers, quiet in the drone of the quiet plane. The others are already asleep, and it almost seems like they're the only ones awake in the world right now, flying above the stars. 

 

“I'm glad.”

Chapter Text

“You ready for cotillion?” Sun asks Whitney at the next meeting. They're in Miami, sitting on the balcony at Whitney’s house, letting the sun soak into their bones. Below them, the sea collides with the rocks, creating swirls of white-water among the azure of the ocean, around jagged black rocks. 

 

“Cotillion?” Tony asks before Whitney responds. “When’s that?”

 

“Oh, a month.”

 

“God, that soon?” Whitney groans.

 

“Wouldn't our pretty little society princess be looking forward to it?” Lex asks, looking up from his phone.

 

“God, no,” she replies, fire in her voice. “I don't mind the dresses, or the hair, or the makeup, but it's the goddamn patriarchy that gets under my nerves!”

 

“Ooh,” Ty says, leaning up, “what's the tea?”

 

“It’s bullshit!” Whitney rages, “It's absolute bullshit, they’re selling us, they’re prettying us up, and I am not something to be sold! To be auctioned off to the highest bidder!”

 

“Oh, I’m with you, Whit,” Sun signs, eyes fluttering closed, “and it’s even worse with the whole debutante thing.”

 

Whitney makes a loud groan, stuffing an outdoor pillow over her face, screaming into it, she lifts her head, "don't even mention debutante."

 

“Yeah,” Tony laughs, “that sums it up. Even my mother hates it.”

 

“God, does she?” Whitney murmurs, “I thought she was a chairwoman or something?”

 

“I think that's the one she hates,” Tony hums, confused. “Maybe it’s that dumb pigeon society?”

 

“I would rather go the the pigeon thing,” Whitney complains.

 

“If it helps, I can be your escort for cotillion?” Tony suggests, looking at Whitney intensely.

 

She laughs. “Yeah, Tony. I thought it was a given,” she leans forward, entwining their fingers.

 

He blushes darkly, “oh. Right.”

 

Sun kneels in front of Ty, posing like she's about to propose. “Will you do me the honour of being my escort?” she dramatises, batting her eyelashes hard enough to make a tornado on the West Coast.


Oh, I would be delighted ,” Ty clutches at her hand, holds his heart and bats his eyelashes nearly as hard as Sunset, but not quite; only gale force winds.

 

“Lex?” everyone looks around. Bruce is kneeling in front of Lex in the same matter as Ty, trying not to grin stupidly. Lex hides his face in a pillow, shaking with laughter

 

“Is that a no?” Bruce asks, raising an eyebrow.

 

Lex falls back on the couch, mouth open but no sound coming out he's laughing so hard, face red.

 

Bruce rolls back on his feet, sitting on his haunches , “ah, rejection has never hurt so much,” he smiles, all joky. Bruce has really come into himself lately, he’s happy and free, and not the confused little kid he was when this started. Now he makes jokes and dplays pranks, and there is a light in his eyes that was not there before

 

He tips back his head, let’s the sun wash over his face, “perhaps, one day, I shall move on.”

 

“It shall take a thousand years, I prophet,” Ty says lazily, grinning like a cat.

 

“Wouldn't it be ‘I predict’?” Tony asks.

 

“I predict I’m gonna shut you up.”




The night of cotillion is dark and heady, balmy and warm; held just outside New York where you can actually see the stars if you look up.

 

Cars pull up to the ancestral home of the Frost family, where it's being held. Whitney had been pissed off at that.

 

“Tony!” Sunset greets, walking next to Ty, her escort. She’s wearing a beautiful black dress with red details.  “You guys finally made it.”

 

“Yeah, we got a flat on the way,” Tony explains.

 

“Oh, suree ,” Ty drawls, “Good excuse.”

 

“That's what happened!” Whitney says hotly.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Sunset adds on, grinning like a cat, “I believe you.”

 

Sure, they had taken advantages while the chauffeur fixed the tire, but it hadn't gotten far. A bit of backseat make-out never hurt anybody.

 

“Guys,” Tony cuts in before Whitney can get too annoyed, “stop it.”

 

Ty opens his mouth but Tony sends him a glare. He sighs, muttering, “fine.”

 

Bruce and Lex both have Gotham society girls on their arms, both bored, both with absolutely no interest in either. To be fair, Bruce and Lex are the same.

 

Soon, they have to assemble, ready to be introduced into society.

 

They line up on either side of the stairway, glancing at each other and sniggering.

 

When Sunset’s name gets called she clunks up, throwing a poisonous look out out at the crowd in an act of rebellion. Tony has to disguise a laugh into his hand.

 

They call Whitney's name, and she glides up with all the grace of a swan, elegant and effortless on high heels. Tony looks like a fool next to her, even in his tux. She doesn't rebel in nearly the same way as Sunset, but it’s there in how she walks, in the lines of her body subtly, her disent, her disagreement. It's in the look she throws behind her to the crowds below, it’s the way she flips her dark hair over her shoulder, and Tony grins next to her, for all the wrong — or right — reasons.

 

After that, they have their dances.

 

Everyone moves to small ballroom off the side, and step into well-rehearsed moves like slipping on an old, comfortable pair of shoes. Whitney is fabulous at dancing, of course she is, and Tony is good enough, but he still looks like a court jester next to her. They twirl and Tony falls just a little bit in love with how her dark hair bounces around her shoulder, contrasting with the ivory white of her dress, how her cheeks flush and her eyes look more alive than they have this entire night.

 

After a few more hours of boring mingling, the group sneaks out of a side exit, Bruce and Lex having ditched their dates long ago, not that they mind. Tony pulls out some cigarettes from a hidden pocket in his suit. He and Sunset light up, breathing in the smoke as easy as air.

 

Whitney laughs at something Ty says, and Bruce is talking animatedly to Lex, using his hands to gesture. Tony watches from where he is leaning on the wall with Sunset, as not to get smoke on the other’s clothes. He thinks, that maybe, just maybe, he has a home in these people. All so different, all so similar at the same time. The same fractured pieces of a mirror, perhaps.

 

He takes another drag and breaths it out, slow and steady, relishing the way the smoke drifts up to the night sky.

 

“Hey, Tony!” Whit calls, waving him over.

 

He smiles, stubs out his cigarette, only half-finished, and walks over.

Chapter Text

 

“I’m broken, Ty,” he tells him, left alone in a hotel room they had rented out for the meeting. There are smoke stains on the walls from cigarettes and it looks like the set from an cheesy 80s porn movie. It feels fitting, somehow, in a strange world. “I'm broken and there's no one to fix me.”

 

“I’m here,” Ty says slowly.

 

Tony laughs, “yeah. I guess.”

 

“What happened?”

 

“Father’s coming soon. I haven't seen him in six months,”  It’s bitterly, gritty, and slightly sad. He knows what will happen, he knows there is no stopping it.

 

“Oh?”

 

“I've fallen behind on the weapons, and they aren't up to usual standard. Funny thing, I don’t care. Not anymore. I'm uninspired,” he says dramatically, trying half-heartedly to make a joke.

 

“You shouldn't be inspired by death,” Ty says gently, cautiously. Truth is, he does not know what Tony should and should not be inspired by, no one does, no one makes weapons that kill thousands.

 

“I shouldn't be a lot of things,” is all Tony says, eyes half-lidded.

 

There's silence for long while.

 

“I'm not sure if I'm ready,” Tony says finally, he is staring at his hands, tracing the lines on this palms, his knuckles, up and down his fingers.

 

“For what?” Ty asks, “your father?”

 

“My mask. My future, I mean, I've been thinking about if for so long, but…”

 

“Now it’s happening, you're worried,” Ty fills in.

 

“Uh-huh. What if it becomes real?”

 

“Then you and me will be the same,” he says, his hand crawling over the made bed to rest ove Tony’s. “And is that so bad?”

 

Tony laughs, “ we’re rich, young and beautiful, we’re already the same.”

 

Ty shakes his head, stares at the ceiling, takes a breath, “I...don't think so, Tones. Not this time.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

Ty looks down from the broken fire-alarm and the mold, “I'm in too deep, you can still swim. Don't pull an Ariel on me and  save the drowning sailor. Keep your head above the water.”

 

“Thanks Ty, but I'm not sure if I ever was above water.”


“Of course you were. All of us were.”

 

Tony looks past him, past the crappy hotel room at the corner of far-flung California they’re inhabiting and Ty understands what it must have been like to see great men think, Leonardo Da Vinci, Plato, Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, men who gaze into their minds and see the great, glittering, wondrous expanse of space in front of them, all that can be achieved, all of the universe, laid out at their feet like an altar.

 

Tony is one of those men, he knows, Tony is one of those men and he will set the world on fire.

 

Ty wonders if he will burn it down. 

Chapter Text

 

“Okay, see you in Cali, Whit. Yeah. bye,” Tony says into the phone, swaggering into the lab in the New York manor. He hangs up, chucking the phone onto the bench.

 

He sighs, sliding into a rolling desk chair. He wheels over to a half-finished DUM-E.

 

“Hey, bud,” he murmurs, giochiamo un po 'con te, eh?” let's fiddle with you a bit, huh?

 

“How’s tha rob’t going?” someone slurs. Tony jumps, whirling around. His father is standing in the doorway, eyes dazy and half-lidded.

 

“Good,” Tony dares, twisting a wrench in his hands. “I — I still need to work on the sensors.”

 

“You alwa’s w’re a little slow,” Howard staggers across the lab, coming closer. “I would ‘ve done it by now.”

“I’m a genius, dad .”

 

“By your age, I coulda done this in a second.”

 

“I'm sure you could,” Tony mumbles, turning back to DUM-E’s open circuits.

 

“Wha’? He growls, lurching forward a few steps. “Was tha’ talkin’ back?”

 

“No, of course,” Tony says patiently, adding under his breath: “ vecchio uomo ,” Old man.

 

Just to his luck, Howard hears it. “Don't speak that devil language with me,” he snaps, suddenly angry.

 

“It’s Italian ! You married an Italian woman!” Tony snaps back, his tolerance gone.

 

“Amd look how that turned out!” he roars.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’m useless and college-educated!”

 

“How are you ever going to take over SI if you're messing about at MIT?”

 

"What if I don't want to take over SI?” he says, deadly quiet.

 

it was something he'd known for awhile. Never uttered, never really thought, but known, all the same.

 

Howard’s face goes pale, then red, then almost purple, and that's the last thing Tony sees before his hand comes up, smashing him in the side of the head. He sees stars, ad crashes to the ground. There is blood smearing on the floor, from where he’s cut his hand on a piece of scrap metal.

 

What ,” his father hisses above him.

 

Defianty, Tony lifts his head and spits out, “you heard me.”

 

He doesn't try and lift his head his head again, but chants the mantra inside his head instead, I don't want it, I don't want it, I don't want it.

 

Eventually his father lets up and he stumbles to his room, falling asleep on the bed.

 

He drifts to consciousness a few minutes later, hands gentle on his ribs. He jerks, but it’s only Jarvis, grey-haired nad kind, with shaking hands.

 

“Just me, sir,” he says quietly.

 

“Thanks, Jarv,” Tony says, letting his head flop back on the pillow.

 

“Not a problem,” Jarvis says primly.

 

“Is Ana making that pie?” Tony asks, letting his head flop back onto the pillow. There's blood on his pillow.

 

“Tomorrow,” Jarvis says, wrapping his side where blooms of bruises are flowering in the gardens of his ribs.

 

“Ah,” Tony says, and that's all that’s said for a long time.

 

A few minutes later, when Jarvis is dabbing at his lip, he hesitates, and asks, “why do you let him do this to you, Tony?”

 

Tony shrugs, let his lips part, and says, “because, otherwise he'd do it to mama, and she — she can't take that. Not like me.”

 

Jarvis’s face does something, crumbling and building all at once, but he just closes his eyes for one second and mumbles a curse.

 

“Have a good time at MIT, Tony,” he says, desperation seeping into his voice.

 

“Thanks, Jarvis.” Tony smies, even if it makes fresh blood dribble down his chin. He’s due to go back in a week. He thinks he’ll leave in the next day or two, drive to California first for a meeting, then Boston, where Rhodey is also turning up early.

 

He closes his eyes, chants, I don’t want it, I don’t want it, I don’t want it.

 

I don’t want it.

 

But I have to have it.

Chapter Text

 


Tony enters the ambiguous hotel room with a choked groan, the steps jarring his side.

“Hey, guys,” he says weakly, trying to be nonchalant. His lip is spilt, and they notice it immediately.

“Are you okay?” Whitney asks, she's tense with worry, practically vibrating in place like a hummingbird.

“Just a bit sore,” he tries to pass it off with a wink but it doesn't work.

“Ah, been to the zoo?” Lex asks, straightening his lapels to do something with his hands..

“Hmm. Had a delightful visit,” he says sarcastically. Staggering a few steps, he falls down one of the beds and Lex takes charge, with careful hands, he rolls up Tony’s shirt, poking at the mottled kaleidoscope of color, green and blue where it’s worst, then ringed with lighter and purple and yellow where it’s already healing. 

He hisses though his teeth, “god, this is worse than normal.” 

“I told him I don't want it,” Tony murmurs abashedly.

“What,” Lex sucks in a breath. “What the fuck did you do that for?”

Tony tries to shrug, but all it accomplishes is a grimace.

“Wait, what? What did Tony say?” Sunset asks.

 “That I don't want it, all of it,” Tony explains, “the keys to the fucking kingdom are heavy,” he laughs cynically.

 “Tony,” Sunset breathes, shock marring every feature. There is nothing more serious to them than a son not taking after his father. Blood is everything, dynasty is everything. You do not break dynasty. You can alter it, change it, twist it, but never break.

“I don't want it! Okay? I. Don't. Want. it.” he sounds out, throwing his hands in the air. 

“Tony?” Whit asks, and there is a tremble in her voice.

“SI, CEO, the money, I don't want it! I don't want my job to be killing!”

“It’s not, Tony. You're an American patriot, remember?” Whit says, trying to save this, “you’re not doing anything wrong.”

 Tony looks at her, “Whitney Frost, you are an idiot if you believe that.”

She bristles, and Sunset takes the reins, “Tony, you need to slow down —” Tony cuts her off with another burst of frenzied energy.

 “I shouldn't be alive! I should not be alive, I should not be standing here! Don't you understand? There is a reason I am here, there is a reason I have not killed myself or died in a kidnapping or — or died at my father’s hands. I — I just need to find it.” 

“Tony, you….it’s….—” Sunset tries, trying to convey

“I know, Sun!” he snaps, “I know I can't get out, you think I don't!”

“Tony, calm down,” Lex placates, standing up. “I get it. We’re the same you and I. I get it. You know that.”

He turns to Lex, storms dancing across his eyes, then wilts, and the storms weakens, his snarl slips and he crumbles, lurching forward into Lex, who holds him tight. “I'm tired. I can't get up in the morning. I miss class. I can't be bothered,” he whispers roughly, face crushed into his jacket, “I just —” he chokes off with a sob.

“I know, Tony. I know,” Lex whispers, “but you have too. If you don't, all that we've built comes down.”

“I want to sleep, Lex. I want to go to sleep for a thousand years and never wake up.” 

“Okay, Tony. You can, one day, just not now. I've got that deal with that company, you remember? And Sunset’s dealing with the next bully, Bruce is fiddling with that climate change bill, and he needs your help for that. There's a lot riding on you, Tony, I know that, but you have to bear it for a minute longer, okay?”

 “Okay, Lex,” Tony breathes, “one minute.”

“One minute,” Lex echoes back, his face pale, eyes wide and serious, “just one minute.”

 

It is not one minute.


Not even fucking close.

 

Chapter Text

“Hey, Whit,” Tony greets offhandedly typing code with one hand. He’s in MIT again, and he has to admit, the change is welcome. Here, sure, he gains ‘Tony Stark,’ rich prodigy kid, but he gets Rhodey as well, they are friends in a different way than the Council, and he can't describe it. The Council is held together by money, revenge, not love, not inside-jokes (though there are plenty of those) Rhodey is warm, and comfortable, like an old T-shirt. The others are raised not to be, rather than a worn lazy-boy, they are a suit or terrifyingly-tall high heels; they look good, you feel good, but they hurt, after all, you've got to rest your feet before you try to walk again.

 

“Hiya, Tony. Did you hear about that gala in the weekend?”

 

“The one for cancer?”

 

“Mmhmm,” she confirms, her hum static over the phone.

 

“Are you going?”

 

“Of course. You?”

 

“Eh, I might, if the others are.”

 

“I’m pretty sure Sun’s going, not too sure about the others.”

 

“If you're going, I will too.”

 

He can hear her smiling over the phone, “cool. We’ll meet there?”

 

“Yeah. I’ll get a flight out of Boston this Friday.”

 

“Okay,” Whitney says, “awesome. Oh, uh, I gotta go. See you Saturday?”

 

“Yeah. See ya.”

 

“Bye, Tones.”

 

With a click, she’s gone.

 


 

Tony grabs a helicopter ride with another rich student going to New York for the weekend, and turns up, bleary-eyed, at 11pm to Whit’s hotel room.

 

“Hi!” she greets, opening the door to let him shuffle through. “I’m gonna go to bed, you should get some sleep too.”

 

Tony mumbles an, “okay,” and then she’s kissing him quick but on the lips and disappearing off to the bedroom. He drops his bags in the lounge and stares out the window. It’s dark, and the only stars you can see are thousands of window-lights. A sudden sweep of sadness, a kind of nostalgia comes over him, and he feels like curling into himself and sobbing. It's a kind of ache deep in his heart, and he can't quite find it’s cause.

 

For a moment he considers crawling into Whitney’s bed, telling her all about it, maybe doing something more.

 

He doesn't.

 


 

Sunset meets them a few minutes into the gala, already holding a glass and passing one to Tony. “You’ll need it,” she whispers, winking.

 

She looks truly fabulous, her hair pinned on top her head, in a strappy sweetheart neckline dress, she looks a bit like a swan with her creamy skin and black-lined eyes. "You look good,” he tells her, doing a once over.

 

She laughs and winks, “don't make Whit jealous.”

 

Tony throws back his head and laughs, “I wouldn't worry about that,” he says cryptically. Just then, Whitney starts her grand entrance into the hall.

 

She’s wearing a long, black, slitted dress up to her thigh. Her hair’s wavy and loose, a few strands weaving around the silver circlet on her head. Her eyelids are aflame with stardust, cheeks highlighted.

 

She looks absolutely stunning, a celestial body, with everyone rotating around her.

 

Sunset smiles, “you're right.”

 

Whitney smirks, stalking towards them. Heads turn, hushed murmurs sweep the crowd, high society ladies mutter into their hands or behind their drinks, already gossiping. 

 

Tony laughs, taking a swig of champagne. He swishes it around in his mouth, bubbles fizzing to the top of his mouth like soda.

 

After the excitement of Whitney’s entrance, things calm down again, and they are introduced to the hellish truth of these things: It’s boring. All the galas are, Tony forgot how mind-numbing they can be.

 

He sighs, snatching another glass of champagne and turning to persuade the surrounding area. Really, anyone other than his mother's...friends and his father's business partners. “Ooh, is that Hope van Dyne?” Sunset asks, sidling up to him.

 

Tony takes a long sip of the champagne he's not allowed to have but drinks anyway, and answers. “Yep.”

 

“Would she be good for the council, you think?” Sunset asks, batting her eyelashes at him.

 

He rolls his eyes. “Sun, the girl hates me.”

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“Her father’s Hank Pym. My father’s Howard Stark.”

 

She considers for a moment, then nods. “Right. Well, I'm gonna go schmooze. Duty calls.”

 

She slips away and Tony waves with a cocked hand.

 

That Hope girl is is the corner, tapping on her phone and trying not to look too bored. Tony knows the feeling.

 

He might just go and talk to her. He's seen her around, of course, but never approached. The Pym-Stark rivalry is too large a bridge to cross. That, and he’s been given strict instructions never to talk to her by his father.

 

Then again, Tony isn't feeling particularly abiding to his father at the moment.

 

Shrugging, he walks across the lavish ballroom, coming to a rest infront of Hope. She looks up, expertly hiding her phone with a flick of her wrist. “Tony Stark?” she looks confused.

 

“Hope van Dyne,” he toasts, lifting his glass. “Nice to meet you.”

 

“And you?” she says, looking around to make sure nobody sees them. She leans in close, lowering her voice, “look, I don't know why you're here, but I'm gonna get in trouble.”

 

He shrugs. “Me too. That's why we should go somewhere more… private.”

 

She lifts an eyebrow, “are you propositioning me?”

 

He shakes his head. “No. I'm dating Whitney. Speaking of, she should come.”

 

Hope’s face goes slack with confusion, but then she straightens out and nods.

 

Tony grins and waves Whitney over, who excuses herself from a group of middle-aged housewives; and the three disappear into the large house belonging to whoever’s hoisting this.

 

Tony runs down a long corridor, the taste of freedom on his tongue along with the sweetness of champagne. His arms are out wide, catching the wind like an aeroplane.

 

He throws back his head and whoops, letting the sound echo and echo, bounce around the high ceilings that look the same as any house he’s ever been in.

 

Whitney and Hope are giggling, their laughter lubricated by the bottle Tony nicked from a server. The girls are already fast friends.

 

He skids past an empty room, the door ajar. Something catches his eye, a grand piano, splendid, glossy lines curving in a conundrum of artistry, begging to be touched, to be played, but perfect as it is, with the light hitting it. He does not claim to be a strong man, and right now, he is particularly weak. 

 

“Oh my god,” he sighs, stepping inside.

 

Whit and Hope catch up, lurching behind him.

 

“What? “ Hope asks, “it's a piano?”

 

Whitney understands, of course she does, “oh, Tony, play.”

 

He moves forward robotically, sitting at the bench.

 

Hope and Whitney scurry forward, trying not to disrupt him, or what's about to happen.

 

His hands still over the keys, and for one paralysing moment, all is still.

 

Then, his fingers are on fire, and music is flowing like alcohol at a bar, gushing, exploding. Like a match thrown onto a alcohol-soaked rag, in flames, higher and higher until this entire room is on fire, then there is heat crawling though the ballroom where the women still dance and the men still drink, only they do not feel the flames, hear the music, and it is a shame, because this kind of splendor is a rare thing.

 

Tony closes his eyes, practically lets the piano play him. Whitney laughs, throws out her arms and dances, twirling around and around, head thrown towards the ceiling. Hope stays in the corner, watching, entranced, engrossed bewitched by the great power in his fingers. That tends to happen when people first hear Tony play, a rare event in itself.

 

“Tony?” Comes a willow-weak voice at the door. Whitney stops in her spinning and laughing, and Tony’s hands die off their rapid crescendo.

 

His mother is standing in the doorway, clutching the glass stem of a champagne flute.

 

His mother.

 

“Mama?” he gapes.

 

“You still play?” she asks, stepping forward. Her dress rustles, a ruby red color, like wine.

 

He swallows, “of course.”

 

In that moment, Hope shifts, and Maria's eyes dart to her.

 

“Hope van Dyne,” she says, a little shakily, but impressively composed. “Hello.”

 

“Mrs. Stark,” Hope says cordially, her mouth tight. If Maria tells either of their fathers, there is no telling for what will happen. Nothing good, surely. 

 

“How is your father's new business deal going?” Maria asks, eyes glassy. She drifts across the squeaky wooden floorboards without any noise at all, like a ghost.

 

Hope’s brow furrowed in confusion, “my father doesn't—”

 

“Mama! How is Jarvis?" Tony interrupts, distracting brilliantly, shooting looks that say, I'll explain later to Hope. His mother sometimes forgets time, it's not so bad now but she still has her slip-ups. This is one of them.

 

“How long has it been, Anthony?” she says instead.

 

He blinks, “a few months, at least. Since term started.”

 

“Huh,” she says, and then her gaze turns to Whitney. “Whitney Frost. I hear you've been… networking.”

 

She hesitates, cheeks flushed from dancing, drinking and laughing. Her dark hair is mussed and her magnificent outfit now looks...small. Like a child caught playing in their mother’s wardrobe. “Yes, I suppose,” she says politely. She’s never met Maria before this, even dating her son.

 

“Don't,” Maria whispers, face pale, lips red, hair dark, she looks just like a more deranged version of Snow White. “Get out, girl.. I was like you. I was like you and now—” she cuts off with a half choked laugh, “now I'm mad. “

 

“Mama,” Tony's says urgently, getting up. He catches her arm and she jolts, flying down to Earth. “Let's get you to the party, huh?” He steers her from the room, plucking the glass out of her hand, leaving Hope and Whitney to bask in the trail of a ghost.

 

Down the hallway, past the white walls and the wooden floors where they had run, shrieking, happy just minutes before, Maria turns to her son.

 

“You would have been a brilliant composer,” she tells him, dark eyes sorrowful. Tony closes his eyes and hands her the glass again, still full with sparkling liquid.

Chapter Text

 


“Hope van Dyne speaking,” Hope says professionally into the receiver. She stays in New York, he knows, and he can hear the bustle of traffic behind her, likely filtering out from some opened window. He misses New York, he realises with a sudden pang, he misses the movement, the noise (as crazy as that may seem) he misses fire escapes and unexplored corners of that great city, untouched by time. 

 

“Hopey, dear,” Tony drawls, snapping himself out of his thoughts, “how are you?”

 

“...Tony?” Hope says suspiciously. “How did you get this number?”

 

“Don't ask, don't tell,” Tony laughs, spinning around on his desk chair in his lab in MIT. “I just wanted to follow up.”

 

“With what?”

 

“Oh, you know, my crazy mother,” Tony sighs, pinning the phone between his air and shoulder, fiddling with come circuity.

 

There is silence, then, primly, “no need.”

 

“No, no,” Tony argues. “You deserve an explanation, and they say bottling stuff up is bad for you, so, here I go.”

 

“Honesty’s the best policy?”

 

Hope laughs. “Yeah, in this case, sure.”

 

“Okay,” Hope says, “then go.”

 

“Okay,” Tony sighs heavily, discarding the motherboard and leaning back in his chair. “When I was 8, my mother had her first mental breakdown. By 10, she was on an increasingly large list of drugs for a dozen mental disorders. Turns out, high society is not for everyone. Who would have guessed?”

 

“Me,” Hope injects.

 

Tony laughs, more for something to do rather than any real humour. “Yeah. well, by 14, I think, she...well, she was a shadow, barely my mother. She’s still like that, even worse. She goes though clear periods, sometimes, they only last a few minutes, but usually she’s like...well, you saw.”

 

“Yeah,” Hope says quietly, phone cradled in her hand, cupped into her ear in such an intimate kind of it feels like a late-night conversation.

 

“When she has these clear periods, she talks about her childhood, usually, she grew up in a few places over Italy, Venice, Milan, Rome, Naples. Her parents were rich, I think. Not sure. Anyway, sometimes she gets...confused, mixes up things, think she’s in a different time. In the worst, she thinks she’s a girl again, before my father, before ‘Maria Stark’, just Maria Carbonell in Italy, usually. Sometimes America, where she went to university after the war. That's where she and Howard met.”

 

“That's why she was talking about my father’s business deal?”

 

“Yeah, sometimes she gets stuck in the past, or confused as to who she’s talking about. There’s your explanation.”

 

A pause; “I didn't need one.”

 

“Yeah, I know.”

 

Another pause, this one longer, just shared breathing over the phone, hearts thudding, understand stretched between them intertwined with their phone line.

 

“I appreciate it.”

 

“We’ll get drunk together at the next gala thing,” Tony says, his thanks going unsaid, unneeded.

 

“Hm, I hear there's a auction in LA soon.”

 

“Oh, I’ll check if the others are going.”

 

“The others?”

 

“You know,” Tony replies,”Whit, Sun, Lex, Bruce, Ty.”

 

“Oh, yeah.”

 

“You know any of them? Apart from Whit, that is.”

 

Eh,” Hope sighs, “as much as I know anyone else. Made out with Ty, once.”

 

“Yeah, Ty has a kink for hooking up at those things.”

 

“I can tell,” Hope says dryly. Tony laughs.

 

“Hey, Tones,” Rhodey calls, opening the door, “pizza!”

 

“Who’s that?” Hope asks.

 

“Oh, my roommate, Rhodey. He’s cool.”

 

“Who you talkin’ to?” Rhodey asks a second later, opening the greasy pizza box and handing a slice to Tony.

 

“My friend Hope,” Tony says to him, holding the phone away from his ear, chewing on pepperoni goodness.

 

“Hope? Interesting name,” Rhodey comments, flopping down on a chair next to him.

 

“Mm,” Tony hums, eating his pizza. When he saw bowls, he says, “van Dyne.”

 

“Wait…” Rhodey stoops, a string of cheese dripping from his mouth, “Hope van Dyne, like Pym technologies Hope van Dyne?”

 

“Do you want to say hello?” Tony asks innocently, batting his eyelashes.

 

“Tony?” Rhodey hisses, “you — I thought —”

 

“Our fathers have legendary rivalries, yeah, they do.”

 

“Won't he be mad?”

 

Tony tips back his head and laughs, “Everything I do makes dad mad, why bother to even try?”

 

“Yeah, but —”

 

“I like Hope, Rhodey, and honestly, I don't give a fuck if dad finds out.”

 

“Okay,” Rhodey sighs, resting his face in his hands, “okay.”

 

“Sorry, Hope,” Tony says, eyes locked on Rhodey. “My roommate had some...questions.”

 

“A pretty unlikely pair, we are, huh?”

 

“Yeah,” Tony smiles, “you could say that.”

 

“Tell this ‘Rhodey’ I say hi.”

 

“Hope says hi,” he tells Rhodey, who’s chowing down on another slice.

 

“Hi,” he says, muffled.

 

“He says hi back,”  Tony tells Hope.

 

“You’re at MIT, right?”

 

“Yeah, doing some engineering stuff.”

 

“Nice. If I’m ever in Massachusetts, I’ll drop by.”

 

“Dorm room 314.”

 

“I’ll see you there, then,” she smiles. There's the blurry sound of someone speaking, then Hope replying. “Sorry, I — I have to go.”

 

“No problem. Don't be a stranger, Hope,” Tony says, a smile sharp in his

voice.

 

“I won’t,” Hope promises, “not if you're not.”

 

“I won't, either then.”

 

“Okay,” Hope lingers, staying on the phone.

 

“Bye, Hope,” he says, so she doesn't have to.

 

“Bye, Tony.”

 

“See you in Cali.”

 

“Yeah,” Hope says, and then the call disconnects.

 

Who said Tony Stark doesn't play well with others?

Chapter Text



“Is this all we do?” Sunset sighs morosely one day. “Hang out in stuffy hotel rooms?”

 

Tony looks up from doodling in his notebook. “No, we spend time in our houses, too.”

 

Sunset groans, “well, can we go somewhere ?”

 

“Where?” Whit asks, “there's not much to do, it’s ten.” she looks out the window, to the dark sky, still dusk-purple with sunset. They’re in California this time, enjoying the late-drowsy summer heat, were the days are long and sleepy and the nights are muggy but still electric.

 

“Well…” Ty draws, “I know a certain after-hours activities we can do.”

 

Tony grins, while the others only shrug.

 

Half an hour later, they're standing on a curb in front of a booming club. The line is a block long, and it doesn't look like they’ll get in tonight, if ever.

 

“Well,” Sunset says shortly, “we’ll just lead with Ty’s name, that’ll work.”

 

“Hey! I haven't been to every bar, you know! It might not work!”

 

It works.

 

They step onto a balcony overlooking the bar and dance floor, two staircases leading down to the ground floor.

 

Oh ,” Ty sighs, spreading his arms, looking upon the dim lights and grinding bodies like a king at his kingdom.

 

Tony laughs wildly, madly, drunk without a drink in his hands, drunk on tonight, on this buoyant bubble, lifting the room out of life, into the starry realm where nothing matters but the music, but the person grinding on you and the taste of tequila on your lips.

 

“I don't know what you guys like the club scene,” Sunset hums, “it’s just pricey drinks and horny boys.”

 

“One: we’re rich, two: we’re horny boys,” Ty snarks.

 

Sunset rolls her eyes and swats Ty on the back of the head.

 

“Let's get a seat!” Whitney calls out, voice drowning in the beat of the music.

 

They leans against the bar, drinks appearing into the girls hands. They're some fruity things, so sweet they mask the (high) alcohol content. Ty and Tony head out to the dance floor.

 

Ty jumps up and down, dancing to the music that is no longer words, syllables, but is now just a raging beat, just the same way that their world is no longer the world, it is in that magical place. It is just Tony a nd Ty, the party music, jostling bodies, and the lights flashing around them.

 

Ty is shining, this is more than his element, it is his very realm, as said before: a king in his kingdom. His hair, so very blonde, is dyed different colors every few seconds by the party lights, and Tony cannot help but watch how he jumps in tune with the beat ricocheting through their bones, how he seems just one more bass note from touching the stars.

 

Ty’s mouth opens, and he shouts the lyrics that he can somehow hear, Tony blinks, Tony world is back; if only for a few fleeting moments.

 

Ty turns, smiling at some girl with too-much perfume and a lipsticked mouth.

 

Tony swallows, a heavy feeling in his belly. He walks back to the others, who greet him drunkenly.

 

Whit ropes an arm over his shoulder, pecking a kiss to his cheek all while grinning happily. She and Sunset (who is sucking down her Long Island Tea like air and making eyes at the bartender) don't seem to be okay with the club scene at all. Sure.

 

Tony laughs when everyone else does, inserts a copy-and-paste joke when needed. But his mind never drifts from the still-missing Ty and the perfume-lipstick girl, still not to be spotted.

 

They leave around three, Ty isn’t back, but Tony knows he shouldn’t worry, Ty can take care of himself and he’s done this a bunch of times. The bartender calls them a taxi after pressing his number into Sunset’s hand, Tony is squashed into the backseat, yelling the address to Sun’s hotel.

 

He drops the others off, leaving the staff to deal with them, and tells the driver to keep going towards the worst, crappiest, cheapest, shadiest motel room he knows, reminiscent of that time he told Ty he was broken.

 

He books a stay for a night and forks over a deposit. He opens the door with a creak, the seedy, unfurnished room that smells like cigarette smoke and mold feels strangely at home, even though his houses are big and grand and echo and echo when he talks.



He flops down on the bed and stares at the popcorn-ceiling. He likes Whitney. He can say that, he doesn't love her, he doesn't wanna marry her. Tonight, when Ty had been dancing, he had looked...like an angel — albeit fallen, but still an angel— alive and holy in his brilliance, a thousand-watt light bulb.

 

If he closes his eyes he can pretend to live in that moment forever, bass pounding, bodies moving, a strange type of heaven on earth.

 

He opens his eyes, ripping himself out of the dream. Whitney. He is dating Whitney. One day he might love Whitney. One day he might marry Whitney.

 

Whitney.

Whitney.

Whitney .

Whit,

Whit  whit whit

whit ,

 

He likes Whitney.

 

He closes his eyes again and tries to believe it’s true.

Chapter Text

 

Whitney asks him out the week after. Tony takes Whit to the beach, where Whitney nearly cries at the implication when Tony whispers, “find yourself,” as they stand on a bluff, looking down the blue, blue Miami sea that stretches out and out and out, only a few black-dot fishing boast disrupting the flat line of the horizon.

 

They run down to the water, hidden by a forgotten beach. The sand is scratchy and it’s hard to climb down from the road, but it's worth it because the water is is warm and there is nobody to see them.

 

They splash in the water, and Whitney feels like one of those faceless ten-year-olds again, running in one shrieking herd down to the ocean waves, reeling up back to their parents like a horde of seagulls. They get in a water fight, and even though Tony’s eyes burn and there’s salt in his mouth, he still laughs and sinks underwater.

 

Once they’re tired, they climb out of the water, dripping and slipping in the sand while running up to where the car is parked, an old jeep wrangler with an open top. 

 

Whitney throws herself into the jeep next to him, letting the wind howl around her, peeking out from under the rim of her bucket hat, her wet hair flies behind her in the wind. It feels like a classical, coming of age teen movie where everything is surreal and unrealistic, and hey, it kinda is. 

 

The shopkeeper working at the ice-cream store stops when he sees Tony, he is by far the most famous out of all of them. Tony only winks and places a wad of bills on the counter. The shopkeeper nods and starts scooping vanilla and caramel into cones.

 

They sit outside, on a park bench overlooking the ocean, and Tony feels a kind of calm foreign to him. He’s entirely unconcerned, with Whit next to him and the sky over him and the sea in front of him, he is safe and tired, a kind of comfortable weariness in his bones.

 

Soon their hands are sticky and mouths sweet and hands empty so Whitney races over to the car and tilts back her head so the last vestiges of light spills over her face, lighting her already tan face golden.

 

Tony turns the radio all the way up and presses the petal down, speeding face and faster down the practically-empty highway.

 

When they finish the sun is close to the horizon and a dusky, ember-colored sunset is spreading over the sky softly.

 

Tony drives Whit back and kisses her again, this time like a summer's day, lazy and sweet and with all the intensity of a hot sun.

 

Whitney goes to bed happy, and Tony goes to bed confused.

 

He likes Whitney, he tells himself, chants it inside his head until it’s all he can hear, until the words are echoing around his brain, thronging behind his eyes and he breathes them out like wispy smoke everytime he releases a breath.

 

He likes Whitney.




“I'm sorry, Whit. We’re over,” Tony says a week later.

 

“What?” she asks, jaw-dropped. “What do you mean?”

 

“I don't wanna see you anymore. I can't.”

 

“Why?” she talks loudly, voice rising in pitch, “what’s wrong with me?” her voice is not angry, really, just sharper, harder.

 

“No,” Tony says, tries to reason, but Whitney cuts him off. She hates when people are not honest  she can bear it with the cloying smiles and the fake small-talk at galas, but this is Tony, who kissed her like it meant something and made her feel free again, and has never lied to her, not ever.

 

“I'm sorry,” she says sarcastically, “I'm sorry I'm not good enough for you.”

 

“You are more than enough, Whit, and  that's why! You...I don't feel anything, when I kiss you. I don't feel anything when I take you out on dates. It's really not you, it's me. There's something wrong with me.”

 

Her gaze softens and her pitch drops. “Oh, no, Tony. Baby, there's nothing wrong with you.”

 

“How do you know that?”

 

“Because it’s okay, not to kiss girls.” Tony stiffens at the implications.

 

“Whit..” he warns.

 

“Take a look at Ty, how about that?” she suggests gently

 

“What are you saying?” Tony asks, even if he already knows.

 

“Tony,” Whitney chuckles, all of her voice gone, she’s just a society girl again, “don't dumb down.”

 

“Okay,” he whispers back, feeling hollow. “Okay, I — I'm sorry, Whitney. I know you...wanted, y’know.”

 

“To be your mother?” Whitney laughs again, “I never wanted that, I just wanted you, Tony.”

“And I wanted to want you,” he tells her solemnly, and it feels like more words than it actually is.

 

“I'm glad,” she murmurs, “it's better me than someone else.”

 

Tony swallows and Whitney takes the time to make a joke,“You're still a good kisser.”

 

It works and he laughs, a little, if even out of obligation.

 

“Thank you, Whitney. I’ll never forget you.”

 

“Yeah, she smiles, sugary-sweet, “you won't.”

 

He laughs at that too and Whitney crosses the room to leave.

 

She pauses at the door, looking over her shoulder, “tell me if you turn out to be bi.”

 

He clicks his tongue and does a mock salute, “ay ay, captain.”

 

She laughs again and says, “Captain America is bi.”

 

“Ain’t that the truth,” he murmurs and the words rest between them. A smile, and then she’s gone, the door shutting behind her.

Chapter Text

They’re in Colorado, in one of the smaller Stark  homes. ‘Homes’ is a loose term, Tony barely knew it was here.

 

“The cops are sniffing around my...operation,” Sunset sighs, “I can't go down.”

 

“You could kill it,” Tony suggests. They all know what she means by ‘operation’, they do not condone, exactly, but they do not judge her.

 

“Most people keep going, and that's how they get caught,” Lex agrees.

 

“Should I?” Sunset asks, “I mean, if I get into the harder… stuff, do you have any idea what kind of money I could make?”

 

“You could make more if you fish your father’s company out of the drain,” Ty murmurs, “and not get thrown in jail for it, either.”

 

Sunset sighs heavily, “I just don't know what to do.”

 

“We’ve told you. Kill it.” Bruce insists. His eyes are hard and flinty.

 

“But, what if —”

 

“They hurt your family?” Tony interrupts, brow raised, “like you care.”

 

“No,” she disagrees, to what point, they don’t know, “my parents have  bodyguards and alarms and it's not like anyone even cares. I'm worried about you guys.”

 

“Us?” Bruce repeats.

 

“Tony’s a student at college, and Ty’s drunk half the time, Whitney would be easy enough, the twig she is, and you and Lex wound be the hardest, either.”

 

“I so would be,” Lex objects, his tone a drastic different to his tight face.

 

She laughs, and it turns into a cry. “I was so stupid,” Sunset berates herself, “I thought I could just — go in! In and out, easy. I forgot, I'm a  stupid , soft,  girl .”

 

“You are a lot of things, Sunset Bain, but stupid and soft is not one of them,” Tony says, voice burning with all of the rage as his small body can contain.

 

“I don't know what to do!” she cries. Whitney reaches over and holds her hand, grips it tight like it’s the only thing keeping her to shore. Sunset turns, dropping her lowered head onto Whitney’s shoulder, sobbing into her cashmere sweater.

 

“I have an idea,” Tony says.








This is crazy, crazy, my god, you're insane.” Sunset mutters, hurrying to keep up with Tony crossing the concrete parking lot.

“What’s new, Suns?” Tony drawls, carrying a nondescript black duffel bag in one hand.

 

“We’re actually gonna die.”

 

“We have a plan, Sun-Sun. It’s okay. You're meeting with him about your...business, and I’m simply an uninvited guest that smashes his kneecaps.”

 

“Wait — are you gonna  —”

 

“No,” Tony rolls his eyes, then considers, “well, maybe.”

 

“Look, this is serious stuff,” Sunset says, ignoring his comment. “His name is Francisco Flores, he works for some dealers, he has ties to the Mexican Mafia, M-13, all of it.He’s bad, Tony. He’s dangerous.”

 

Tony smiles, looks at her, smiles wider, “so am I.”

 




"Look, Francisco, is it? I'm not trying to play here. I just want to help out my friend,” Tony drawls, leaning forward on his feet. His eyes are dark and serious, and his hair messy but still perfectly styled.  

 

“You cannot help her, rich-boy,” Francisco sneers, “this is big business.” His hair is slicked back, and there are tattoos crawling from the neckline of his T-shirt, twisting across the back of his neck and back under again.

 

Tony drops his head, chuckles. “Oh, I think I can.”

Francisco is halfway through sneering when Tony points a gun at him. He cocks his head and, “you won't use that. You probably don’t know how to.”

 

“Wanna bet? I make these, asshole. I know how to use them.”

 

When Tony Stark snaps, he snaps with power, the full force of a dying star, because that's what he is, in this core. He creates, he detonates. When he snaps, that's the biggest goddamn explosion you'll ever see. Then, he’ll walk from the flames, fire in his eyes and wearing that smirk, the one that the world knows and will know like a best friend.

 

When they leave, Tony is striding in front, Sunset trailing behind, a splatter of blood across her pale, shocked cheek.

 

“Tony! Tony!” she calls, stumbling forward. He stops in the parking lot, turning around innocently.

 

“Yeah? We gotta go before his friends come along.”

 

“But you just —!” she cuts herself off, hyperventilating, “oh, this was a bad idea. Oh my god, oh my god.”  

 

“I didn't kill him, Sunny, calm down.”

 

“Yeah, but —”

 

“Now they’re off your back, and they’ll stay like that. It’s okay. You’re done. Dump everything and start on Bain Industries.”

 

“Okay,” Sunset releases a breath, “okay.”

 

Tony smiles again.

 





I'm still behind on money,” Sunset complains at the next meeting. “The company’s still gonna go down. I don't know what to do."

Bain Technologies puts out a new drone, it  soars  on the market.

 

The rest of the world — well, the people that are gossipy or well-connected enough to know, — think that Sunset Bain stole designs.

 

Sunset toasts him at the next gala, from across the room, and he laughs.

 

Nick Fury goes to see Tony Stark.

Chapter Text

 

“So,” he starts, “I hear Sunset Bain stole drone designs.”

 

“Aha,” Tony says, not surprised in the least at a strange man appearing in the hallway outside his dorm room. “I’m assuming government agent or kidnapper?”

 

“Government agent,” the man says, the hint of a smile on his face.

 

“Well then,” Tony yawns, leaning on the wall, “To answer your earlier  question: nope,” he says, popping the ‘p’. “You struck out, I gave them. Willingly.”

 

The man cocks his head, “let's talk somewhere more private,” he proposes.

 

Tony laughs, and unlocks his dorm.

 

“Welcome to casa de Stark,” he sweeps out an arm, “and casa de Rhodey, of course.”

 

“Yes. Your roommate, James Rhodes. Rrotc, disciplined, well behaved, a military man. Quite... different.”

 

“Than me?" Tony laughs, flopping down at his desk, rifling though homework. "Yeah, Rhodey is not well behaved. Oh, you should have seen—”

 

“I don't want to hear about your bar fights and conquests, Stark, I want to know why you're giving out top-of the line military designs.”

 

“Are you sure? They're pretty fun…?”

 

“I'm sure. Get to the chase," he deadpans.

 

“Well, it's not like Sun or any of the goons at her father's company could make them. So I did." He flicks the lamp on, squints at his notes. "No skin off my nose, really." He shoves a wad of paper at Nick, "hey does that look like an 'a' or a 'o' to you?"

 

“...A. So she’s your friend?”

 

Tony looks up, grinning, “Oh, the best.”

 

Nick Fury blinks, “I knew you were acquaintances, and you were spotted in California at some club a few months ago, but you’re, well... a partier. That doesn't mean anything."

 

"No one ever said it did," he shrugs, scribbling in his physics textbook. "I’m not allowed to have friends? To help those friends?” 

 

“You aren’t when you give them dangerous designs.”

 

“You don’t think they’d be more dangerous in SI’s hands?” Tony scoffs cynically, pressing his pen into the paper a little harder than necessary. 

 

Nicks sits back, “logically, this doesn't make sense. The organisation I work for has poured a lot of time and money into finding out how you think. You don’t share, you want to do best, you strive for it, reach for approval. You’re rich. You're privileged. You've never worked for a damn thing in your life.  But, you're emotionally stunted. You drink and sleep with women to bury your feelings. You're an asshole because you don't want to get close to people. You use your humour as a shield, poke at everything like a science experiment until they break or work, and people don't usually work. You don't do nice things, you don't help your friends, you hardly even have any.”

 

“Thanks for the character assessment, Fury. But, ah,” he looks down at scrawled equations, biting his lip, and when he looks up, there is victory, satisfaction in his eyes, “I guess not anymore. Tell your... 'organisation' I'm sorry, but they're gonna have to make a new file.”

Chapter Text

 

“Jarvis,” Tony sobs, rough and low, feral in his grief, “Jarvis is dead.”

 

“Jarvis?” Lex says, color draining from his face. They all know him, anyone who has ever met a Stark more than few times most certainly has. Jarvis is an integral part of Tony's life, they all know that. More than a father than Howard ever even tried to be. Tony will crumble without him.

 

“I knew he had—” Sunsets lips form over the word, cancer.

 

“Oh, Tony, I'm so sorry,” Whitney says, “oh my god," she sighs, eyes fluttering closed. She herself cannot believe it. 

 

He closes his eyes, and a pale tear traces down one cheek. “I just — they're all gone, now," his voice cracks, vocal cords wavering.

 

Ana died, in a car crash when he was nine, Howard was never there and Maria...well, he doesn't like to think about that. And now, so is Jarvis. The last at least semi-functioning adult in his life.

 

A handful of friends he sees only sometimes, a stressed college kid, and absent parents aren't enough, as much as he might want them to be.

 

He cries and cries and cries, and they stay in that motel room like it’s church and they are sinners, tight-lipped and white-faced, no one says anything.

 

In the morning, when the sun rises yellow over the horizon, they leave, one by one, with mumbles words with tongues too tired to pronounce clearly.

 

Tony just rolls over on the bed and doesn't move until finally, finally, Whit’s hands leave him from where they were curled around his arm, and she whispers something about a flight, presses a kiss to his brow.

 

He's alone.

 

He stays there for another hour, he thinks, then manages to get out of bed and into his car. He has to drive back to New York for the funeral.


 

It’s a quiet affair, with everyone gone, it’s just him and a few old army buddies. Howard doesn't even show up. After it’s finished, everyone departs with a few murmured sympathies to each other, but Tony is left at the edge, cold, unspeaking, shaking. He is not Jarvis' son. They know that. He should know that.

 

He leaves once the graveyard is empty.

 

His grave looks so lonely, next to Ana’s. 

 


 

He gets back to MIT, passes by Rhodey’s condolences, and has a shower. The water burns his skin, but he does care. It feels like rebirthing, like a baptism. Welcome to his new life, the spray says, without Jarvis.

 

After a while, when the water turns cold, he steps out, goosebumps erupting over his skin.

 

He collapses into bed, pulls his covers over himself, and sleeps and sleeps and sleeps. 

 

Rhodey wakes him the next day, cautiously, one hand shaking his shoulder.

 

“Go away,” he murmurs, turns his head into the pillow.

 

“Tones, you gotta —” Rhodey sighs, wrings a hand over his face, “get up,” he finishes lamely.

 

Tony doesn't say anything, just rolls over and stares at the wall.


 

Back at the beginning, when they were only children, when they were innocent and small and still called their parents mom or dad, Tony thought his life might be different. He thought maybe he'd change the world, maybe he'd change everything. He is changing the world, but it's not exactly...in the right way.

 

He never let Jarvis know the extent of it, how many die by his hands. He wonders if he would have wanted to know.

 

Aren't you mean to find some sort of clarity after people die? Have everything but into perspective?

 

Instead, he just feels...tired, and groggy, like his head is in the troposphere and his body is chained to the ground, bound in steel and rock.

 

It’s a strange kind of tired, a different kind of tired. A soul tired. He doesn't want to die, necessarily. But he doesn't really want to live, either. Not without Jarvis.

 

Rhodey still comes, sits on the bottom of his bed, tries to get him to talk. He makes him drink and eat, even if it tastes like beige goo in his mouth.

 

Sometimes he feels... choked by everything. The walls close in, his mind hyperventilates. The silence snakes down his throat, winding around his diagram, threatening to crush it with a twitch. It squirts into his lungs, fills his stomach with ice and he lays there, on his back, a cold, crushing weight sitting on his torso.

 

 

“Do you ever wish you could delete yourself?” he whispers to the ceiling at three am. There are stars outside his window and his ears are filled with a kind of silence only found in night, in those sacred hours where all the people who matter are awake and all who don't are too.

 

The ceiling does not answer, but the silence does.

 

He closes his eyes and tries to sleep.

 


 

 

Finally, everyone flies in. It’s been many… a month? And he doesn't think he’s left the flat. Not for classes or food or anything. He's definitely failing chem, and he's pretty sure he stinks.

 

“Tony,” Whitney says softly, hand over his leg. Ty is in the corner of the room, face hard. He feels shame bloom in his gut, hot and wet.

 

“Is it because of Jarvis?” Bruce asks, pointlessly. “I’m sorry.”

 

Tony sighs a shuddering sigh and wishes for them to be gone. When he opens his eyes, they are still there.

 

“Whit,” Lex says gently, voice wavering in an odd way between whisper and shout. “You can go make a sandwich, okay? Ty, Bruce, you too.”

 

Whitney murmurs something like discontent, but wilts when Sunset says something lost before it gets to him.

 

Ty is the first out, practically runs, and Tony feels the shame run even hotter, it feels sick in his stomach.

 

“Tony.” Lex says, his voice is hard and unforgiving. “Get. Up."

 

“Lex…” he manages weakly, his voice is rusty.

 

“No,” Sunset cuts in, voice sharper than Lex’s. “No excuses , Tony.”

 

“But —”

 

“I know Jarvis died. I know you’re depressed. I also know you're gonna get up.”

 

“I’m not gonna —” he chokes, “I have to —”

 

“What?” Sunset asks, voice hard, mouth set, “what are you gonna do, Tony?”

 

“I—”

 

“Don't you blubber, don't you whine or sit and stew in grief and bad coping habits, you, Tony Stark, get your ass out of bed, and change the goddamn world.”

 

He looks upwards, blinking back tears, “wha—? How?”

 

“Artificial Intelligence. You were raving about it, before. You could make one of Jarvis.”

 

“That's — AI’s are purely theoretical, I couldn't—”

 

“Yes, you could. You do amazing shit, Tony Stark. Don't you forget that.”

 

“Well—” Tony mumbles, watching his hands. Sunset waits and watches for his eyes to glow bright with the energy of neurons firing. That is the tell tale sign.

 

“You, are a genius, Sun,” he breathes, finally. His eyes like a lantern in the dark. “ Oh , oh! A bloody genius!” he sits up sharply.

 

“Go, Tony,” Lex says, leans over the bed. “I’ll bring down cheeseburgers in an hour.”

 

He’s practically gone before the words leave his mouth.

 


 

Exactly 6 months later, the first boot up of JARVIS is done.

 

It fails. Spectacularly.

 

He doesn't give up. you can't revolutionse a field overnight, can you?

 

Another 6 months, and JARVIS is born.

 

He's a newborn deer, walking on unsteady, wobbly legs, stilted conversations and words that don't fit. Still, Tony is so proud.

 

JARVIS has the voice of his mentor, scoured off a dozen video clips. He almost cries when he first hears it, and he's not afraid to say it.

 

“The man — the man you are named after, Just A Really Very Intelligent System, your father, he is the best man to ever come into my life, okay? You remember that, JARVIS.”

 

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS answers robotically, as programmed.

 

Tony leans back in his chair and smiles. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Tony comes to them later, a bright fire in his eyes.

 

Tony has not looked that way in a long, long time. Not since he started making weapons. Not since Jarvis died. This Is the look of true excitement, true passion.

 

“SHIELD,” he whispers, like it's salvation.

 

Sunset blinks, “SHIELD? What are you talking about t?”

 

“You’re still into that medieval fantasy thing?” Lex deadpans. “I thought you left that behind when we were twelve .”

 

“SHIELD!” Tony crows, and they would think he is drunk if not for the absence of alcohol on his breath.

 

“Stark,” Lex rumbles. “Could you at least sit?”

 

“My father,” he breathes, caught in rapture, “my father is good for once.”

 

“I find that hard to believe.”

 

“It's true!” he laughs deliriously, “oh, it's, it's. He's — fuck — he's funding a top-secret government agency.”

 

“What?” Whitney asks, like she misheard. She didn't. She knows she didn't.

 

“Him and Peggy. And it’s for real, like serious. They've already started working on stuff that I’d bet the Pentagon hasn't heard of yet. I've only been able to steal a look but, oh my god."

 

"You're not joking us?" Sunset asks.

 

"No, no, I swear I'm not,' he pledges, and as Whitney scrutinises him, looks at him with a magnifying glass, she thinks, that if he's lying she has to either make him become and actor or kill him.

 

"You know what this means?” He asks. There's a feverish light in his eyes.

 

“You….have access to some of the most secret stuff in the world,” Lex says slowly, awe-dropped.

 

“Oh ho ho,” he leans in, ”I have more access than the president , if I play this right...”

 

“Holy shit, Stark, you better play this right,” Sun leans over the couch, nails sharp and gleaming like claws.

 

“Yes, yes,” Lex interrupts, “but how do you get to the information?”

 

Tony smiles, a wolf in sheep's clothing, “simple. Wait for Howard to get blackout drunk and pass out, then take a little wander through his office. If that fails, we always have his business trips. Once initial contact is done, I can probably hack in and just take a looksie on my computer.”

 

“What if there's a lock?” Bruce asks.

 

Tony snorts at him derisively, “you think I don't know how to pick locks? We aren't in elementary school, Brucie.”

 

“Okay, what if it's on a computer with a password?” Sunset counters.

 

Tony raises his eyebrows, “Sunny, you do realise who I am, right?”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you're brilliant,” she parrots back sarcastically. Tony laughs, a true Tony laugh, one so rarely pulled from his lips. It's deep and dark and heady and spiralling and it set the others off so they're all laughing as well.

 

Forget revenge or stock, this is much better.

 

So. Much. 

Chapter Text

Whitney is California, he kneels at her feet and looks up at it, the greatness of everything. She’s big, bigger than her small body can hold. She’s long, sandy beaches and water that goes until the horizon melts away, skies that go on forever and never truly end.

 

Ty is more , in a strange kind of way. He is a city, compared to Whit’s coastal town, laid out perfectly, his is scrunched up, a map of criss-crossing subway lines and streets and traffic. He’s fresh and full with so much to do you're never bored, you can never fall asleep because there's always music playing, people talking, things to do and things to see and you’re life here can never be truly done.

 

Whitney is hot, arid air and the sun beating down on your shoulders. It’s sleepy and the days are long, you can spend hours laid in the sun. The air tastes of salt and sugar, your best friend's lazy smiles and the surfer boy next-door's wave.

 

Ty is…. Ty is dusky, that edge between dark and night where anything can happen, he is electric with the chill, with that energy of a place filled with minds and writers and readers and fighters, all together, all blurring into one beating, bustling city.

Whitney is a dream, cinematic shots in a coming-of-age movie. Ty is even more than that, he is real life, something graspable, something actually found, even if it is between breaths and heartbeats.

 


 

 

Tony gets in the car.

 

It’s an 45 hour drive from MIT to Malibu.

 

45 hours well spent, in his opinion. He has a meeting later, anyway. Even if he planned to fly out, what does it matter?

 

He nearly turns around a few times, but each time grits his teeth and presses down on the pedal.

 

He passes Chicago. He has a few friends here. He could make one turn and spend his little break boozing around the windy city.

 

Whitney said it’s okay.  

 

Next is Denver.

 

Jarvis would want him to be happy, he reminds himself. Jarvis would want this.

 

He drives past the Malibu city limit and exhales heavily. This is it.



 

“Ty!”

 

Ty jerks awake.”wha?” he manages, rubbing sleep from his eye. Tony is stand ing in front of him, wearing a red polo shirt and jeans. He looks mussed, tried, like maybe he hasn't slept.

 

And just like that, he’s back in his thirteen-year-old self, smiling at a young genius across the hall. Rolling his eyes at his nerdiness in the middle of science class. Running across a field, chasing him, shrieking with laughter. Knocking on a door, waiting in anticipation. Kissing him in his room, lips soft agent his, hands threading through his hair. Him pushing him away, eyes wild, breathless, “you gotta go.”

 

“Hi,” Tony smiles lopsidedly, “I have a free week, can I crash here? The house is empty and I don’t wanna stay there.”

 

“Yeah,” he mumbles, rubbing a hand over a sleep-crusted eye, although all he wants to do is kiss him like he did so many years ago. “‘Course.”

 

“Ty? You look weird —” Tony starts, but Ty is moving, getting off the couch and leaning into his gravitational field in an instant, he pauses too close to be platonic, too far to connect, hovering in his space, caught in time, breathes puffing against the others skin.

 

He closes his eyes and savors this for a moment, then says “if you don't …—” but his words are cut off, because Tony’s lips are on his and wow yeah he’s definitely improved from an inexperienced thirteen-year-old. They tumble towards the couch, falling like a wave crashing onto shore.

 

“Tony,” he pants in the brief moment when their lips disconnect.

 

He just kisses him further, quenching his doubts.

 

This , this is it only thinks , screams in his mind. This is what mama’s book’s talked about, every nerve ending burning in a steady boil of napalm, as to say, not steady at all. He feels on fire, Ty’s hands both the relief and the flame.

 

The next moments happen in blurs, one moment on the couch, the next staggering towards the be, the one after that tangled in sheets.

 

“Tony, Tony, Tony,” Ty breathes like a prayer, singing to god, the holiest of hymns.

 

“Ty,” he returns, a chuckle to the name. “You okay?”

 

“Oh, I’m fine .”

 

He laughs, deep and heady, from his gut, and then he’s shirtless.

 

The next few hours are lost in a haze of pleasure and sheets, and when he wakes up it’s with what he hopes isn't a very delightful and vivid allusion, it’s with Tony laying next to him, sleepy-eyed and peaceful. 

 

“Hey,” he says raspily, seeing his gaze.

 

“Hey,” Tony returns, hiding his smile under the crook of his elbow. “Wanna do that again sometime?”

 

“Nah,” Ty deadpans. “You're not that good of a lay.” Tony looks indignant, and hits him on the shoulder.

 

“I’m joking! I’m joking!” Ty laughs, turns over to kisses him again. he pulls back after a long moment. “You’re alright .”

 

Tony shoves him off the bed.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Ty knocks a staccato beat on Tony’s dorm room.

 

He opens quickly, and shuts just as fast.

 

They stumble over to the bed, falling down in a tumble of laughter. The door swings open, “hey, To—” Rhodey cuts off, blinking. The two separate messily, sitting up.

 

“Rhodey,” Tony says, “I thought you were out for the night.”

 

“Obviously,” he says. “Sorry — I’ll — I’ll go.”

 

“Yeah,” Tony agrees, daring a glance at Ty, “that would be... yeah.”

 

He stops short when he sees Ty. “Aren't you —”

 

“Tiberius Stone,” he grins, arm hooked over Tony’s shoulder. “Pleasure to meet you, again.”

 

 

The next months are out of a dream.

 

Break rolls around, and Tony's on the first flight of out Boston, knocking on Ty’s door at 3am.

 

He grizzles about it until Tony drops his bags, and kisses him long and slow and steady.

 

“That the only way I can shut you up,” Tony murmurs.

 

“I'm gonna be talking a lot more from now on then.”



That summer was the best Ty’s ever had, sun-drenched and happy, filled with kisses and sleep-ins, the lazy drowsiness of sleep blanketing mornings, the sharpness of sex spiking the nights, the contentedness of afternoons.

 

 

They go out and get ice-cream one day. Tony licks melted mint choc chip off his hand where it’s dribbled from the cone, and kisses him with sweet lips, Ty’s never liked sugar so much.

 

It’s almost like that date with Whit, so long ago. They don’t swim, but they do drive next to the coast. Tony leans his head back on the seat and wonders if he should feel sad he and Whitney broke up.

 

He doesn't really, just sort of...longing. He wishes he could have loved her, really he does. 



 

They take a mini roadtrip, and drive all the way to San Francisco, where they pull hats low over their eyes and hold hands even when they shouldn't.

 

Ty kisses him in front of the golden gate bridge and on a cable car and on the street and, driving home, Tony thinks that he's never been more happy. Never been more free.

 

No one notices them, picks them out from the society pages and points and says, hey aren't you that Tony Stark dude?

 

They’re just faceless, nameless tourists, lost in the crowd.

 

Tony likes it more than he should, being anonymous. H e should like the fame and the pictures and the press, right? Everyone tells him he should.






They go to a party and Ty laughs as he kisses him in a back room. Tony tires to ignore the sour taste of tequila on his tongue but his mouth probably tastes the same so he just gives in.

 

Really, what can his father do him now?

 

 

One afternoon they go and drive, Ty isn't really sure where the impulse comes from, but looking over at Tony in the passenger seat of his red convertible, he doesn't really mind . The sky is blue and Tony cranes his head up to watch the clouds though slitted eyes. Ty just watches him.

 

They cruise down coastal roads that weave along the seaside and on a long, empty stretch of tarmac, no other vehicles in sight, Tony grins at him with that mischievous look in his eye. Ty knows something is coming, but strangely, he doesn't seem to mind. 

 

Tony unbuckles his seatbelt, slides off the seat to stand on the floor of the car, and stands up, hands gripping onto the windshield -- that is until he raises them up like the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, straight like a cross, like Rose from the Titanic, like a living, breathing symbol of living fast and dying slow, of freedom, of the young American life with no future but all money.

 

Ty thinks that Tony is a special kind of person. One that can do that. One that grows apart from the rest, so beautiful, so different that he can look like a statue 38 m high and 97 years old, one of the wonders of the world, just by standing up.

 

 

The radio’s playing in the kitchen one morning and Tony’s up and dancing jovially, happily, swinging his hips and mouthing along to the words, Ty leans on the doorway and watches the domestic scene, honey light falling into the kitchen, Tony twirling, stirring a bowl of what Ty assumes is pancake batter.

 

“Hey, creeper,” Tony says after a minute, showing no signs of stopping.

 

“Hey, dancer.”

 

Tony just laughs back, chances a smile over his shoulder. “Pancakes?”

 

“Yes, please .”

 

 

They go out driving again — it's become quite a habit — but this time they stop at a little lot overlooking the sea, probably meant for horny teenagers (which they are) to fool around (which they won't, since Tony is putting his feet up on the dash and retrieving a cigarette from some hidden pocket inside his jacket.)

 

Tony slides another one out of the pack, holds it out to him.

 

“Where'd you get these?” Ty asks, accepting it along with the lighter. Tony is already lit, and he’s leaning his head back, inhaling with the ease of practice.

 

He waits a second, and then blows out in a thick plume of ash-grey smoke. “you got me a fake ID, didn't you?”

 

Ty laughs, “yeah, I guess I did.”

 

“Hm. it’s your own fault I'm a sinner.”

 

“Smoking is a sin?”

 

Tony shrugs, “I don't know. You think I go to church?”

 

I certainly don't.”

 

They sit in silence for a few minutes, the burn of cigarettes deep in their lungs.

 

Finally, Tony turns to him, “why, look, I’m Frenchy,” he lets the smoke rise out of the corner of his mouth in little smoke-puffs, a perfect imitation.

 

Ty laughs, “Betty should give you a pink satin jacket.”

 

Tony hits him in the shoulder, holding the still-burning cigarette aloft in the air like a flag.

 

“If anything, I’m a T-bird,” Tony rolls his eyes.

 

“Sure, baby. Keep dreaming.”

 

 

“I love you,” he whispers, and Tony shifts in his sleep.

 



“I've got school starting up,” Tony tells him, “another week, then I have to go back.”

 

That's what Ty likes most about Tony. There's no dancing around a subject, it’s just blunt, there, out in the open. “I mean, school is really important so —”

 

“It’s okay,” Tony interrupts, whispering against his lips when did he get so close?, “I don't want to go back either.”

 

After that, any impending doom is wiped away.

 

That week, Ty feels like a child playing near dusk, happy — giddy, until he catches sight of the sun slipping down the horizon, aka, the first day of semester.

 

 

Tony leaves early in the morning, he gets up too, stands by the door to wave him goodbye, and watches him wheel his bags, lug them into the taxi, and drive away, the motor purring gently down the street.


The sun has set. 

Chapter Text

 

It’s 2am and Ty stares out the window, overlooking Malibu, he feels sad, suddenly, welling up in his soul, a heavy blue tide of melancholy, slow and sweet, encroaching on the dunes.

 

He picks up the phone and rings Tony.

 

The phone rings once, twice, three times, and then a tired voice answers.

 

“Ty…? Why are you ringing?” he asks sleepily, the shifting of bedding behind him. Suddenly he's ashamed, it’s 5am in Boston and Tony’s in college, no matter how smart he is.

 

“I’m sorry,” he stammers, clenching the phone tight in his hand, wishing for Tony to hang up, and for him not to.

 

“Ty...are you alright?” he asks, sounding more alert.

 

“Yeah — I….I feel sad.”

 

There's silence for a long, stretch-out moment, and then the second snaps and Tony says, “okay, Ty.”

 

“I — I don't know why .”

 

“I can catch a flight this weekend—”

 

“No, no, no. You don't have to come out, you’ve got school”

 

“Honey, I’m a mile ahead of anyone here.”

 

“Yeah, but…”

 

“Okay. I won't come out.”

 

“Okay.”

 

This silence is not so imagine, and they sit 3,021.5 miles apart, listening to each other’s breathing.

 

There's a rustle from Tony’s end, and a bleary voice asking something. “It’s just Ty. He’s…. Yeah….. okay. Sorry.”

 

He returns to the phone and Ty dares to ask, “do you need to go?”

 

“No,” he whispers.

 

They sit like that, side by side but so far apart until Ty is sized by the uncontrollable urge to hang up. He slams the phone down with a rushed-out “sorry,” and stares out the window.

 

He feels cold and far away and he closes his eyes against the burning brightness of lights from the city and leans back in his spotless living room, White couches and unstained carpet. So, so different from Tony’s well-worn dorm room at MIT, so many would say his is better, but he longs for that warmness, for that closeness, for proof that his life is more than parties and late-night hookups.

 

But he’s not Tony Stark and he will never be Tony Stark and Tony Stark deserves more than he ever will.

 

There’s warm on his cheeks and he realises it’s tears.



 

Tony flies out, anyway, and Ty breaks up with him.

 

It’s not because he’s sad.

 

It's not because Tony flew out anyway.

 

It's not because was just a fuck and he’s bored.

 

It’s not because of a thousand reasons someone might think.

 

It's because he is not Tony Stark, he will never be Tony Stark — and most importantly.

 

Tony Stark deserves better.

 

 

Tony doesn't talk to him for three months.

 

It’s three months of drawn-out suffering.

 

Before, he had relied so heavily on him, being able to call and have someone to pick up, someone to peel him off a club or a curb and lug him home, put him in bed, a glass of water with aspirin waiting for him in the morning.

 

Now, he is truly more alone than ever.

 

It's for the best.

 

 

The next meeting rolls around. Sunset had been delaying it for either Tony or him. Most likely Tony. They share a bond he could never begin to understand.  He doesn't even know if they do.

 

He stood in the doorway of Sun’s Texan flat, watching him chat with Bruce for a split second. Then he moves forward, and Sunset greets him with a loud, “Ty!” more for Tony’s benefit than his, and Tony turns, and everything is shuttered away and hidden in a blink, and that is more soul-crushing than anything.

 

The meeting is fine, he has nothing special to report. The entire group is on edge, but it finishes without trouble.

 

Ty practically runs for the door, feeling sick, and Tony follows him, the pitch of his soft foot falls chasing after him.

 

Tony slides into an elevator, and presses the button, leaning on the mirrored wall and closing his eyes.

 

Tony makes it in a second before the doors close.

 

“What the fuck, Ty,” he practically snarls.

 

“I’m sorry,” he says, but it sounds weak even to him.

 

“Tell me why,” he demands.

 

“I can't.”

 

“Why, Ty,” he asks raggedly, “can’t you at least do that? Why ?”

 

Ty closes his eyes and swallows a sob, “I broke up with you because you...are so good, Tony, so fantastically, wonderfully, unrealistically good , and I can't touch that, I can’t muddy that, because if I do, I'll have ruined the best thing given to me.”

 

“Ty,” Tony whispers, and Ty opens his eyes. “You — you are an asshole,” he stutters, “and this was the best summer I've ever had.” His voice breaks and he hates himself for it.

“I’m sorry,” Ty says, and Tony leaves.

 

He doesn't know how long later, he cries, alone in a hotel room.

 

“Oh, god, oh god,” he sobs, holding a hand over his mouth to stop the sound, but it doesn't work, because there is no stopping this. “I’m sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so fucking sorry, Tony,” he says to the door, to the white-painted wood that he's been staring at for such a long time, it feels like his world, reduced to a tipping point. “I've ruined it, I've ruined it. This was — I love you, goddamnit! I’ll never love anyone, okay? I'll never fall in love again and you come back and  please —”

 

You know, he thinks, surrounded by the gyrating bodies in a club a few months later, but the days keep blurring into each other so he can't really be sure, maybe.

 

Chapter Text

"Do you guys know what's going on?" Lex asks, stepping inside quietly.

"No," Whit says, chewing her nails. She's hunched over on a chaise lounge, Sunset sitting on the floor next to her rather than on the cushy pillows. Bruce is sat on the piano bench, although no one is playing. Ty is slung over an armchair in an effort to look nonchalant. It's not really working. They're all worried. An emergency meeting had been called, and nobody knows what's going on.

"It has to be something big if Tony's this worked up about it. Did anyone talk to him?"

sunset raises her hand. "He called me, freaking out, saying we all need to get down to Malibu. He's lucky it's only Tuesday. I have a nail appointment on Wednesday."

"Yeah, because we're all so worried about your nails, Sun," Ty drawls, feigning causal.

"Oh, don't worry baby, I am," Whitney coos unironically, taking her hand and inspecting the slightly chipped nails. 

"We should get them done sometimes," Sunset muses. Whitney's about to nod and hum in agreement when the door bangs open forcefully, leaving a dent in the wall, a hollow mark in the white plaster like someone's punched it. 

Tony storms in, and he is a storm, he is as dangerous as anyone's ever seen him. Normally a dangerous Tony is a Tony you do not see coming, a smile hiding teeth, words dripping venom, anger well contained behind emotionless eyes.

Now, he is about as subtle as a hurricane. His teeth are bared and his words are not laced, they are pure poison. His rage is not controlled, and he lets it play for maybe the first time in his life.

“Those... bastards!” he roars, throwing his hands up. 

“Tony,”  Whitney says, stepping up and capturing his hands. “What's wrong?”

“He’s double dealing...Nixon's fucking double dealing!”

“What do you mean?”  Whitney asks, looking concerned, she does not dare to go over and place a hand on his shoulder.

“Nixon's’s selling weapons to the Contras!”

“What,” L ex hisses.

“I don't know if it’s him or — or his administrative, Oliver North, or something —” he cuts off, “the president is violating his own policies, selling guns to Iran, and now they have Stark weapons. They have my weapons.”

“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit,” Sunset repeats, wearing a track in the carpet with her pacing.

“Shut the fuck up Sun!” Tony suddenly explodes, “Just —!” he struggles, bring hands to his temples, he gulps in deep, hard breathes and starts over, “we need to be careful, alright? This is — nobody knows this, and we need to act accordingly.”

“What do we do?” Lex asks, ever the businessmen. “Do we stop it?”

“I can try, and we should edit plans in case of...war, or something, I don't know,” he sits down on couch, hunched and tense! screaming from his body. Whitney settles next to him, a hand laid on his shoulder. Even if they're broken up, probably always will be, even if they don't love each other past platonic kisses on the forehead and raging fury ready to be released on the behalf of each other.

“Okay, okay,” Ty announces, “we need to keep a cool head. Who knows?”

“SHIELD became aware an hour ago, and as for the extent in the presidential office, I can imagine only a few of Nixon's most trusted advisers.”

“So, what exactly is going on?”

 

Tony explains. 


 

"This is crazy," Bruce says, finally. It breaks the tension in the room, and Ty scoffs a laugh.

 

"The new norm," he proclaims.               

"Okay," Tony uncaps a pen, pulling out a black leather notebook. "Let's get to work."

They work, they work and work. By 'work', pushing and pulling, tugging on strings and making phonecalls until they drop. 

Ty is asleep on his armchair, Whitney's trying valiantly to stay awake, but she's dozing on Sunset's shoulder, who has moved onto the couch and is asleep too. Bruce is staring into a cup of coffee like it holds the secrets to the universe. 

"I'm gonna..." Bruce yawns, "I'm gonna get more coffee."

Tony and Lex, the only other ones still awake murmur words of assent as he gets up and stumbles towards the door. 

Before them, on the coffee table, is all they know, all anyone knows about this. Lex stares at it, flipping through the loose sheets of paper.

"What do we do?" Lex asks quietly. 

Tony sighs, "nothing."

"What?"

"We can't do anything. If we do, we risk exposing ourselves. We're teenagers. They're...the White House."

"But we're not."

"What?" Tony asks, rubbing an eye. It's nearly six in the mourning, Wednesday. Sunset's gonna miss her appointment. 

"We're not just teenagers. We never really were."

"That's right, but we still need them to think so. There's a future ahead of us. what if the Romans had tried to defeat Greece early in their regimen?"

"They would have fallen," Lex says slowly. 

"Yes. We don't want to fall, yet. This...this is a big deal, sure. My weapons are out there. But we can't. I'll tell my father, he'll have to deal with it."

"How will you make sure he doesn't know it's you?"

"I don't know. Anonymous email?"

"They can be traced," Lex argues.

"Letter?" Tony suggests, fiddling with his pen. 

"Eh, faulty."

"Fine, I'll just...lead him to it, leave a few clues lying around."

Lex shrugs. "I know you can do it. It's a plan."

"yeah," Tony sighs, eyes dead and looking deep into space. "It's a plan."

Chapter Text

 



Ty and Tony are in a car, zipping along Los Angeles streets. Their relationship has recovered, almost. Tony’s still hurt, but he understands, Ty’s still sad, but they don’t talk about that.

 

“Are we going to that restaurant?” Tony asks, scribbling something down in his notebook.

 

“Yeah. The one with sushi,” Ty says, unzipping a duffel bag.

 

Tony looks out the window, his eyes go narrow and then wide, “something’s wrong—” he starts but the tires squeal, and they crash, skidding to the side of the road in a scream of metal and glass. The car doesn’t flip, thankfully, but it’s sideways and leaking smoke.

 

“Holy shit,” Ty moans.

 

“Ty? Are you okay? Don’t move.” Tony instructs, fingers reaching for his seat belt. He finds the red button, and falls to the bottom of the car.

 

He crawls over to Ty and holds him as he releases the seatbelt.

 

“What’s going on?” Ty asks, and there is red, so much red, soaking his blonde hair.

 

“Head wounds always bleed worse,” Tony mutters, like a prayer, and then says in a normal voice, “kidnapping or assassination...or random accident. I’d bet on kidnapping.”

 

“Why would…” Ty says groggily, his eyes unfocused.

 

“Shit,” Tony hisses, holding Ty’s head in his hands, “Ty, can you look at me? Focus on me?” Ty’s pupils dilate lazily.

 

Footsteps crunch over glass, and Tony looks over his shoulder as men in black, carrying shiny, long black guns approach.

 

“No..” Tony says weakly, holding onto Ty and shaking his head. “Please, please don’t.”

 

He would be okay if it was just him, but now Ty is here and these men look, like professionals, not to mention Ty’s head.

 

They don't listen, and drag both him and Ty from the car. Ty goes with weak flailing, and Tony a small, angry ball of fury. He would give pre-serum Steve Rogers a run for his money. Soon enough, in between the wrecked shell of the car and their black getaway van the hired thugs are using, someone presses an isolated breathing mask, like the ones they use in ambulances to his mouth, only it isn't air, but he can't decipher the taste on his tongue before everything goes black.

 

When Tony comes to, he’s in a concrete room, tied to a chair, his head aching . There are rusty stains in the corner, and he's seen dried blood enough times to know it’s dried blood.

 

He’s kept waiting for a few minutes and then a man in a suit enters.

 

“Nice threads,” Tony says dryly. The man smiles but does not respond. “Oh, you gonna ignore me? I've done this enough times to realize that never works. I’ll just talk and talk and talk . I'm told it can be quite irritating.”

 

“Talk all you want, Stark,” the man finally says. His voice is smooth and deep, like a 1930’s radio announcer.

 

“Oh, broke your vow, did you?”

 

“Don't you have any questions?” the man asks, ignoring his poke.

 

“None that haven't been answered by experience. Tell me, are you going down the ransom path or the ‘make me something’ path? Or both? I’ve had that before.”

 

“Real questions, or are you as arrogant as the papers say?”

 

Right. No playing. “Where is Ty?” The man's lips curl into a smile, triumphant. And Tony tries again, “please, he needs medical attention.”

 

The man nods, “and he will get it. In time.”

 

“What do you want?” Tony says desperately.

 

“Look what we found,” he holds up a little black notebook, the leather scuffed from the crash but otherwise unharmed.

 

Tony’s face twists and he sobs deep in his chest, “no,” he pleads, cries .

 

The man only grins.

Chapter Text





“What?”  Whit asks blearily. She’s just woken up from a late night-turned-afternoon, and is honestly just looking for food and a shower. 

 

“Whit! Oh, god, I'm glad I reached you,” Sunset says urgently. 

 

“What? What's going on? Is it something to do with the council —?”

 

“No, no. Tony and Ty are — they, they’re gone.”

 

“Gone? What are you talking about?” panic rears in Whitney’s voice. 

 

“Kidnapped.” 

 

“You're shitting me.”  Whitney's voice only has a slight wave in it, Sunset commends her. 

 

“I wish I was,  Whitney.”

 

“No, no, you — Tony — oh god,” she pants, sobs, into the receiver, “they can't,” she says wetly. 

 

“I know. Everyone’s coming to New York. I’ll pick you up on my way.”

 

“Okay. I — I have to go. Call you later, Sun.”

 

“Of course,” Sunset says, she's about to put the phone down when she hesitates, “Tony knows how this works, remember. I wish he didn't but he does. He’ll be fine. What’s his record again?”

 

“20 minutes,”  Whitney says, voice tinny.

 

“Right. In 20 minutes he got out. It’s only been an hour.”

 

“Right. Bye, Sun.”

 

“Bye, Whit.”

 

Whitney hangs up the phone and leans against the wall. 

 

“Oh my god,” she wheezes, hand held over her heart. “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” she hyperventilates. 

 

She doesn't know how long she stays like that, in a ball on the floor. 

 

Eventually, she drags herself up and into the shower, and lets the scalding water rush over her like a torrent of fire. 

 

She gets out, the cold air a balm to her reddened skin. She gets dressed numbly, eats numbly. It all feels grey. 

 

A knock comes to her door. In the peephole, a man with dark sunglasses and a suit is standing. 

 

He registers her looking and holds up a badge.

 

FBI. 

 

With shaking hands, she opens the door. 

 

He steps in smoothly. “Agent Michael  White. FBI,” he introduces. “Our office called you?”

 

“Yes,” she smiles. “Nice to meet you,” she says, she shaking the man’s hand. 

 

“I’m here to talk to you about Tiberius Stone and Anthony Stark’s kidnapping?”

 

“Yes, yes, Tony and Ty. Come in.”

 

“Thank you,” he says as she turns around, leads him into the living room. 

 

“Quite a nice property you have here,” he says, almost looking like he wants to whistle. 

 

She smiles at his naively, plays right into his image of her. “I suppose.” she herself looks around, like just realising it. The property is beautiful, admittedly. Right next to the sea, sweeping ranch slider doors and a balcony, a tier, open-plan living space, with the granite-countered kitchen above a few steps, then the longue, with a few couches, a coffee table, rug, all in shades of white and cream. 

 

“Sit, agent, please,” she waves a hand towards the couches. “Coffee?” she starts off towards the espresso machine in the kitchen.

 

“Uh, no, no thank you, I’m alright.”

 

“Suit yourself,” she says, making one for herself. 

 

When she gets back, he’s all set up, with a recorder like the press use and a notepad. 

 

She raises an eyebrow. 

 

“I like to take physical notes,” he explains, “and I was just about to ask if I could record this meeting.”

 

“Uh, well sure, agent. I would warn you, for future cases. Most people like…” she trails a glance around and across the heighty ceiling, gesturing to the house, “...me, usually don’t respond well to recorders like that. Reminds of the press, and god if I’m sick of the Cosmo, Tony’s —” her smile dies on her mouth, and she clears her throat. “Anyway, journalist-skittish interviewees don’t like that stuff.”

 

“Okay,” he says, and she’s so thankful he doesn't push. 

 

“You have my full consent to push that little start button,” she says, nodding towards the recorder. 

 

“Great.” he starts the recording, and clears his throat. “First off, do they have any enemies?”

 

She laughs dryly, “Agent  White, youre talking about Tony Stark here, he can be as obnoxious as a christian against gay rights.” She laughs, shoots a look around at him, “not to mention Ty.”

 

He frowns, “anyone that would want to hurt them?”

 

She shrugs, “not expility? I mean, Tony has... issues with his father and Ty’s broken more than a few hearts, but I don't think anyone would do anything.”

 

“What issues?” Agent asks. 

 

“Oh, I mean,”  Whitney waffles, suddenly regretting ever opening her mouth. “I don’t know, just..doesn't really get along too well. Son outshadowed the father, all that.”

 

He doesn't look like he believes it but tries again anyway, “what would anyone want from them?”

 

“Look, i don't know why anyone would take them. Ty’s only useful unless they manage to get his father to pay ransom. And as for Tony, everyone knows that Howard doesn't — oh shit.”

 

“What? Have you thought of something?” the agent asks instantly. 

 

“What if — “ she sighs, stopping herself. There are three scenarios on play here, 

 

  1. A normal kidnapping, Ty or Tony happened to be there, so they figured a 2-for 1 deal. 
  2. They know about the Council. Everyone else will be next. 

 

  1. SI/weapons. 

 

Tony hasn’t been kidnapped in years, everyone knows his father doesn't pay, and Ty? He’s not as high-profile, in fact, most of the general public don’t know he exists, vs Tony, who’s been on the cover of magazines since he was 4. 

 

Why would they go for Tony first, he’s a veteran, everyone knows how hard it is to keep him. 

 

That leaves...

 

“Tony makes the weapons for SI,” she blurts out, then claps a hand over her mouth. Agent  White’s face is priceless. 

 

“He what ?”

 

“You heard what I said!” she shrieks. “And — and, not all, I think R&D helps!”

 

“He’s 15!”

 

“He’s been doing it since he was 13,” she lets out. 

 

“Okay,” he sighs, “we need to calm down.” 

 

“Right,”  Whitney squeaks. She’s under pressure, okay! It's the FBI! And she’s never been good at keeping secrets! 

 

“Okay, so, Does he carry anything related to... that?”

 

“He doesn't need to, Tony is a genius, smarter than we can even comprehend, he’s got everything stored in his head.”

 

“Ms. Frost, please, we need this if we want to find your friends,” he pleads

 

She thinks, “A — a notebook! He carries a notebook.”

 

“Does this notebook have blueprints inside?”

 

“I don't know. It’s Tony’s and he doesn't like other people looking in it.”

 

“Do you have any idea at all?”

 

“I think it’s mostly Tony’s inventions, DUM-E’s notes and stuff like that.”

 

“DUM-E?” he asks, confusion crinkling his brow, “that robot he built?”

 

“The learning AI he built,” she corrects.

 

“A learning AI, what's that?”

 

“Artificial intelligence. Basically an online consciousness that can grow and learn with the information exposed to it.”

 

“So...Sky-net.”

 

She shrugs, “sure. Tony’s been working on something...bigger, though. DUM-E is contained inside a body. The next one is not.”

 

“And he could make this?”

 

 Whitney nods, “I think. It still needs work, and Tony is a perfectionist when it comes to it, so not instantly.”

 

“But we should still be concerned?”

 

 Whitney croaks out a laugh, “I've learnt that with Tony Stark , if you're not concerned, you should be. And when you are concerned, call the police.”

 

He raises an amused eyebrow, “so I take it he’s quite the joker?”

 

She smiles wryly, “you could say that.”

 

He stands, a nonverbal gesture that He's leaving. “I will take great pleasure in meeting him.”

 

She smiles weakly, if not just on reflex and escort him to the door, where he puts on his hat, “you might rethink when you actually meet him.”

 

“I might,” he agrees. His tone drops from light to dark in an instant as he leans forward, “if you need help, or Tony needs help, call this number.” he tears a page off his notepad, pressing it into her palm. 

 

He only smiles and leaves, the door swinging shut behind him. 








“Soo, you want me to make weapons? You kidnappers really need to get more creative.”

 

The man chuckles, “perhaps. How about you just decode this little notebook, huh?”

 

Tony’s grin grows wider.

 

“I always love how people actually think i just write down weapon plans. Ah, it’s so funny.”

 

“I have de-coders working on this, but they cannot figure out how fruits and slang terms for cocaine mix.”

 

“So they’ve figured out English settlements, words starting with ‘d’ and places with over 100 hundred people with the last name Ramirez living there?”

 

He sighs again, “Tony, it’s in your best interest to help us.”

 

“Oh, is it? I think it's in your best interest to let me and Ty go.”

 

“Ah, yes. Speaking of your friend, I'm sure you want to see him live.”

 

“I do,” Tony admits. “But how do I know he’s even alive right now? He had a head injury last I saw.”

 

“Yes,” the man nods, Tony’s resigned to calling him ‘Gatsby’ after his smooth, old 30’s voice. “I can understand that.”

 

“So show me proof of life, then I'll see what I can do.”

 

Gatsby only looks at him for a long while.

 

Tony leans forward, he really does need to see Ty alive, if he doesn't, then he won't just kick a few doors down, he’ll take out the entire block. 

 

Gatsby stares back, and Tony lets his face show Tony Stark, his true face. Gatsby doesn’t react, but the lines in his body go stiff and he tenses up. Tony grins, slow and sweet and evil, and he knows he looks positively insane right now, but that's the point.

 

“So, how about you hurry up on that proof of life, hey?” he suggests, and lets the darkness in his face last another moment before shuttering it away.

 

Never say that Tony Stark doesn't care, because he does, he cares too much. 

 

A few minutes later, Ty is rolled in on an office chair, hands behind his back, gagged. Gatsby is not there, but two bodyguards are. 

 

“Oh,” Tony says brightly to mask the dread curdling in his stomach like sour milk, “great. Can I feel a pulse?”

 

One of the great, hulking men that brought Ty in steps forward, dragging the chair after him. Tony reaches out for Ty’s neck, and sighs relief when a pulse beats against his calloused fingertips. It’s not as strong as Tony would have liked, but it’s there, low and steady. 

 

“Fine, Tony says stubbornly. “I’ll need a computer, a microwave, a melding tech and gear, some gloves, safety glasses, sheet metal, and a will to live. Takeaway please,” he orders brightly.

 

The man stares back, unimpressed. “we’ll be watching you, Stark. There are cameras recording, you know.”

 

Tony laughs, “well, I’d be disappointed if there weren’t.”

 

The man doesn't say anything, just takes Ty out of the room, the other man closing the door behind him. 

 

Tony grins ferally. Oh, they really should learn.

Chapter Text

“White, there's been an explosion in Brooklyn, might be related to that Tony Stark kid.”

 

Michael White pushes himself back from the desk, grabbing his gun and jacket. 

 

He make sit down to Brooklyn in half-time, pulling up the smoking ruins of a small building. It looks like it used to be an abandoned office or warehouse. Police are already there with flashing red-and-blue lights. The area is taped off, and he lifts up the plastic, ducking under easily as she flashes his badge at the officer monitoring entry.

 

“Hey!” an officer calls from inside the building, “I found someone!”

 

White races over, to see a small teenager, grinning, with a messy mop of brown curls and a smudge of ash on his cheek. “Finally!” he exclaims, “I've been waiting for ten minutes!”

 

“Tony Stark?” White asks, stepping forward, “I’m Agent Michael White, FBI.”

 

“Yes, yes, hi. Ty’s still out cold,” he nods at the blonde boy unconscious next to him. “I was waiting for him to wake up for my return from capture, like a phoenix.”

 

“Yes, well, don't wait too long, you have people waiting for you.”

 

“Like what?” he snorts. “My parents? I’ll bet ma— mom’s still in the Bahamas and dad didn’t even notice.”

 

“Sunset Bain, Lex Luthor,  Whitney frost, Bruce Wayne?”

 

“Oh, that old crowd,” he dismisses, although there is something in his eyes that shines brilliantly, “tell them that i think I beat my record for explosions.”

 

“Your record?”

 

“Ah, you're new. My shortest escape is 20 minutes. — I'm quite proud of that one. My longest is three days — they held me in Connecticut, for god's sake. And I think I may have beat my biggest explosion. Haven't brought down a whole building before. Honestly, why did they give me a microwave?”

 

“Aren't you going to get security?”

 

“Nah, i’d just slip it.”

 

“Can you tell me what happened?”

 

“Oh, the usual. I'm getting kinda bored. They flipped the car, although that's kinda new. Took Ty — he hit his head in the crash — then told me to make them weapons. I made up some excuse then started coding. It was quite good, actually. Got some solid work done.”

 

“Excuse me?” Agent White asks, eyebrows at half-mask.

 

“JARVIS. The AI I’m building? Surely you would have heard. If not, you should really get onto that.”

 

“I heard, Mr. Stark,”  White says, a slight smile gracing his features.

 

“Mr. Stark is my father, call me Tony.”

 

Tony , more about this AI?”

 

“God, will the government ever get it’s claws out of the Stark’s works? I mean, remember that whole mess with my father in ‘46?” he tuts, “careful, careful.”

 

White almost laughs, a half-huff that sounds almost like a cough. “I assure you, Tony, I do not intend to make you a federal fugitive.”

 

“Good...wait, no, actually do.”

 

“Uh..why?”

 

“Well, Lex has a bet with Ty that I’ll get I’ll get in legal trouble at least once — i'm not talking underage drinking running from the cops, either, like big stuff. And i have a bet with Sunset that i’ll beat her to a courtroom, so I get the returns on that. Now, with Ty and Lex, if Lex wins, as to say I don't get into trouble, then Ty will owe him 20 grand, and I have a bet with Sunset that Ty will be the one to lose the most money first. If Ty wins, I have a bet with Bruce that Lex will win the most money first. So, in the end, as my father or trust fund would most likely take care of legal bills, I would come out on top, by quite a bit, also earning me the most.”

 

Agent White blinks a few times. “Right. Well, um, that’s very smart of you.”

 

That’s what they tell me,” he throws out, poking Ty in the cheek as medics rush to him, lifting him onto a stretcher.

“Huh. Well, you should be free to go after debriefing. Tiberius I'll probably be in hospital for a while, but it doesn't look too bad. I’m sure your friends are anxious to see if you're alright.”

 

He shrugs, “sure. Hey, I never made it to that sushi place!”


 

Two days later, Tony is is sitting across from five scowling teenagers in a sushi restaurant. 

 

“What!” he defends, dropping his California roll. “You don't like sushi? We can go to that Shawarma place?”

 

“It's not that, Tony,” Bruce sighs. 

 

“Then what is it?”

 

“Are you..okay?”  Whit says tentatively, “it’s the first kidnapping since we… y’know ,” made a top-secret organisation that at any given time controls the stock market, most of the military, and pretty much anything they want?

 

“It's not my first, Whit. They didn't have to be gentle with me.”

 

“Were they?”

 

“Shouldn't you be asking Ty that? He had a head injury!” Tony says defensively. 

 

“The doctor cleared me,” Ty says defensively, patting the white bandage on his forehead. “I was unconscious most of the time, you were the one they wanted.”

 

“Yeah, they got me and I blew up the building.”

 

“I'm fine, guys, really,” Tony sighs, fiddling with his chopsticks, “I won’t get any for a while, the whole blow-up thing will be enough to scare them off.”

 

“Well, great,”  Whitney says sarcastically.

 

Tony rolls her eyes, “can we finish eating, now?”

 

They murmur agreements and dig in, although all but Ty and Sunset keep shooting concerted™ looks over his way. 

 

Eventually,  Whitney breaks the silence with some joke, and it’s normal again. 

 

It’s not the first time something traumatising has happened and they’ve moved on like that. It probably won't be the last, Sunset thinks, stabbing a chopstick though her dumpling. 

 

It never ends.

Chapter Text

“Hello, Tony,” Maria says calmly. Tony freezes, blood turning cold in his veins. “Mama?” he wonders. 

 

She looks at him with sad, dull, dead eyes. He remembers when they used to be cutting, sharp with happiness or anger or joy. They don't look like that anymore. 

 

“I haven't seen you in awhile, Passerotto . You've been so busy at school, my college boy .”

 

“It’s been a second,” he whispers. It’s true. It’s been months since he saw Howard, and far longer since he last saw Maria. He stopped counting a while ago. 

 

“You were kidnapped. Again.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Was it bad?”

 

“No worse than the others,” he shrugs. “Ty was there, though. He nearly died, I think.”

 

“I heard you were…” she pauses too long, trying to find the right word, “hanging out with that boy again.”

 

“I was,” Tony admits, sitting down at the table. 

 

“People talk, Tony,” she says lightly, except there's something ...more, behind it, something that reminds him of when he was younger and his mother's eyes still spoke, when she taught him how to smile and mask everything behind it. She taught him how to deflect and lie and how to get what you want. “You know that. I taught you that. This is no different. Your little group —”

 

“The Council,” he interrupts, startling himself. “The Council of the Future.”

 

She observes him with hidden eyes, “You need to be careful. People do not appreciate children ganging up on them.”

 

“We aren’t —”

 

She forces him with a hard look, “you aren’t eighteen, are you?”

 

“No,” he sighs, looking down. “Seventeen.”

 

“I do know that,” she sniffs, “I might be a terrible mother, but I do know your date of birth.”

 

There’s silence.

 

“It’s more,” he interrupts. “It’s more than what you think.”

 

“Yes, I know that too. I heard Whitney Frost threatened a senator.”

 

“She’s done more than that. All of us have done more than that.”

 

“You’re proud of blackmail?”

 

He shrinks down. She always makes him feel so small, like he’s a child again, cradled in her lap. 

 

“Yes, we’ve done what we’ve done, and if it’s not for the bad of anyone, yes.”

 

She laughs. “You’re a kid, Tony, no matter how much you think you’re older.”

 

“We’ve influenced the stock market. We’ve given deals to SI and Wayne industries and LuthorCorp, put more money in our bank accounts than we could ever earn as society girls or children . Sunset’s punished every girl who was ever mean to her, which is actually harder, believe it or not”

 

She looks impressed for a moment, and then leans forward, something hard and desperate in the line of her mouth, “Sunset Bain?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

She bites her lip, “the Bains are liars and cheats. Don't get near her, Passerotto .”

 

Tony shakes his head. “Sun’s nice, mama. You don't even know her.”

 

“No, but I know her father, and that man is no good.”

 

“Neither is my father,” he shoots back, and she flinches, steel settling into the lines of her face. 

 

Her hands shake as she pulls out a bottle of pills. They rattle as she tips a few into her hand. She cups her hand and throws them into her mouth with a kind of ease you only get from practice. 

 

She swallows, “you are young. You are foolish. Your ‘Council’ is not at the top. It is climbing, sure, but I grew up with climbers and now I am alone. What do you think happens to climbers?”

 

“Maybe you just fell behind,” he says, slightly petauntly, angrily, like a child.

 

“No,” she says sharply, “they die.”

 

“I won't die, then,” he says , no, promises , looking into her eyes. 

 

That harness in her eyes melts and she goes butter-soft again, the pills kicking in. “I always did like Tiberius,” she says dreamily, and Tony sighs. 

 

“Yeah, mama. I know.” 

 

“Such nice hair...” she continues. “Blonde. My mother was blonde.”

 

“Yes, mama,” he says routinely, but his interest is heightened, mama never talks about her family. 

 

“She used to let me brush it,” she continues, away in her dream world where she's not stuck in a loveless marriage and so high she touched the clouds. “And she would get ready, with her pearls and lipstick and rouge. Her dresses were beautiful, always best quality, the most stunning at the ball. She would leave with my father, and kiss me goodbye.”

 

“Where did she go?” Tony questions quietly. 

 

She sighs, “ out ,” she says it with such longing, and Tony wonders when was the last time she was really allowed to leave, to move of her own free will, without Howard’s car or the press. A hell of a long time, Tony reckons. “...to the cinema, balls and award ceremonies, restaurants. All of it.”

 

“Sounds good, mama.” Tony sighs. He stands from the table. “Let's get you to bed now,” he says, taking her elbow and tugging her to her feet. It is best to give her rest whenever she gets like this, nostalgic.

 

“...And we would run outside,” she murmurs, so quiet he can hardly hear it, “down to the vineyards or the sea, and dance and play and splash in the water…. How I love Italy.”

 

Si , mama,” he grunts, pulling her down a disused hallway, down to her room. “I know.”

 

“When me and mama would stay in Venice, all the Veneziani children would run down the paths, and play hide and seek in the city, oh, the places we came up with,” she laughs, but it sounds like a sob.

 

“Did you go far?” Tony says, less out of interest, more out of keeping her lucid. 

 

“No, no,” she says clumsily, shaking her head. Her legs are dragging how, arm thrown around Tony’s shoulder. “Mama had a house, un this little...neighbourhood?”

 

“That's the word,” he assures. 

 

“It was like…” she waves her hands weakly, trying to describe, “a community.”

 

“Hmm,” he continues, nearly there.

 

“And everyone knew everyone and there would be little stalls and shops, where they would blow glass and make gelato, and all the gondola drivers would wave as they go past.”

 

“Sounds very fun, mama,” he opens the door and lurches inside. She continues muttering in Italian but only blocks it out.

 

He practically throws her down on the bed, but takes time to tuck her under the sheets and plunk a glass of water on the nightstand for when she wakes up.

 

He turns to go, only swooping a kiss on her forehead for goodbye, when her hands darts out and catches his wrist. “I think it was the happiest I've ever been, Passerotto ,” she says, dark hair fanning around her face, eyes dull but serious.

 

“Okay, mama ,” is the only thing he can say. 

 

Her fingers loosen and he practically flees.

 

He collapses somewhere in the South Wing, and sobs into his palms, curses the fact that his mama is too broken to fix, that the happiest she’s ever been was as a child, before she saw the horrible truth of the world.

 

Most of all, he cries because he doesn't have a mother. 

 

Call him selfish. 

Chapter Text


They’re in Tony’s house in Malibu, purely because everyone else was close (ish, in the case of Sunset, 4 states over, don't ask what she was doing in Arkansas.)

 

“Did you see Ty at the last gala?” Tony does some imitation of a fish out of water on the couch, flopping and failing around.

 

“Oh yeah, and you can dance?” Ty fires back.

 

“I can do the bop, rumba, Boogie Woogie, jitterbug, foxtrot and I'm good at swing,” he lists.

 

“Hoping to dance with Captain America?” Lex crows from the back of the room. 

 

Tony sneers at him, curling his lip in a wolf’s snarl. 

 

“That’s old-timey,” Sunset remarks, ignoring the boys, as she often does. 

 

“Auntie Peggy taught me,” he tells her.

 

“I know how to swing ,”  Whitney offers, blinking shyly. 

 

Tony grins, slick and suave, the perfect prince-charming. “Oh, may I have this dance?” he bows low, and then hold out his hand for her to take. She blushes, and takes it.

 

They start off quickly, Tony spinning Whitney around with one arms extended. 

 

Sunset cheers, starting a rhythmic clap. The others join in, and maybe it’s not as good as a live band, but hey, what are you gonna do?

 

Whitney laughs, her legs quick and flying under her, dancing to a beat far faster than their clapping. Her skirt, knee-length and blue, swirls around her legs. 

 

Tony has never looked more alive, eyes shining, cheeks red and flushed as he holds Whitney at arm's length, doing jaunty three steps. They separate, linked by hand, and Tony whirls Whitney around in a circle. 

 

Ty lofts his camera in the air as they spin, red light blinking out from the machine. 

 

They finish with a set of complicated steps, then Tony pulling Whitney close and dipping her deeply, so her hair brushes the floor. 

 

The group claps, Sunset wolf whistling. 

 

 Whitney does a curtsy, but Tony only swaggers over to Lex and throws himself down on the couch like a ragdoll. 

 

“Tired?” Lex suggests mockingly. Sunset thinks, from opposite, that she'll be dammed if their rivalry ever ends. 

 

“Oh, you couldn't dance if you tried.”

 

“Wanna bet?” Lex challenges. 

 

Tony smiles, raising his eyebrows, tipping his head forward; the equivalent of a confirmation “well, now I do.”

 

“It’s on, then,” Lex agrees. “Okay, what’s the official terms?”

 

“Whether or not Lex can dance?” Bruce suggests.

 

“Too subjective,” Tony says, “who is the better dancer?”

 

“By vote?” Sunset adds.

 

“Yep. Okay, make your bets now, ladies and gentlemen,” Tony declares.

 

Sunset starts making tallies and writing bets down for a paper record while everyone else bets. Bruce is in favor of Lex, Sunset too, surprisingly. Whitney and Ty bank on Tony. 

 

“I've seen Lex dance,” Sunset says, “last year. It was a….experience, maybe not godly, but something.”

 

“Have you seen Tony dance?”  Whitney argues.

 

“That little thing? That was nothing,” Bruce disses.

 

“Hey!”  Whitney yells, “I thought it was okay!”

 

“It was brilliant,” Tony grins, suave and smooth, “don't you worry, frosty.”

 

Lex and Tony meet each other on the dance floor, “what style?”

 

“Ooh, just go along?”

 

“Okay, okay. You're gonna pull out the new stuff, but you forget I am a college student.”

 

“What's that meant to mean?” 

 

“It means Ty gave me a fake ID and I’m gonna use it," Tony grins cockily. 

 

It turn out that Tony is most suited to decades past, more than that -- he's terrible at anything even halfway modern, Lex is even worse, if that’s even possible. 

 

By the end everyone is cracking up laughing and Lex’s nose is bleeding.

 

The two collapse back onto the couch, painting with exertion. 

 

“I'm so sorry,” Tony apologises, “here, use this,” he grabs the end of a long, velvet curtain, probably too expensive to use as a nose wipe, but hey, they’re rich.

 

“It’s fine,” Lex says, voice slightly clogged and nasally. “But I won.”


Tony gasps, hand over his heart, mouth open wide, “you did not.”

Chapter Text

 

Ty gets on a bit of a travelling kick, so they end up hitching flights on their father’s jets all over the world. Eventually, they end up catching a ride with some other rich son going to Europe for Spring Break

 

They dance around the world the way an acrobat leaps across the stage, gratefully, wildly, freely, twisting out of life and into some special bubble where the only thing that matters is the ground under your feet and the person in front of you. 

 

They go everywhere in Europe: Paris, Venice, Milan, London, Greece, back to Paris because as douchy as Justin Hammer is, he’s throwing a party after getting his inheritance, blowing half of it, if the gossip is to be believed. It usually isn't, but Tony's feeling bored and he likes irritating the little rat. 

 

The party is okay, nothing not seen before, so off they head to Moscow, bundled against the cold, there’s snow sprinkling down and if this wasn't Russia, he would maybe kiss Ty, because his hair is golden in the light and his cheeks are pink and flushed. 

 

 


Hello, I’m Natalie,” a pretty young thing greets the same night, wearing a short, tight, black dress. Shes pale, with vivid green eyes and slinking, fiery red hair that looks like a bonfire against a dark night. 

 

“Hi,” he greets shortly, eyes flicking over her body. What! He has to keep up an image. “How are you doing, Natalie?”

 

“Well, thank you,” she says crisply, those eyes boring into him. 

 

He smiles, puts a hand in his pocket, rocks back and forth on the heels of his feet.

 



“Uhm,” he says against her lips, a few minutes and a glass of champagne later. He’s thinking of Ty, and cheeks still merry from the cold outside, “sorry, not really into this right now.”

 

Natalie seems nice and all, really. But there's something...unsettling, about her, a slickness to her smile. It's not like he doesn't think half the people who hook up with him at these things don’t want something from him, but she seems more..sinister, perhaps.

 

She nods understandably, but there's something sharp and vengeful under her smile. He shivers, turns away quickly to make it back inside. Right call. 

 


The bar is loud and crowded and noisy, so green Tony doesn't think he’ll ever get it burned out of his retinas. They’re in Dublin, hitching a ride with this Canadian ‘hoser’ to South America. 

 

“So,” Tony shouts over the noise, talking to Ty, “what do you want to do when we get there?”

 

Ty considers for a moment, “I guess the usual. All the spots should be pretty full. Brazil could be good, coke in Columbia is real cheap. Hey, maybe we could jump over to the Bahamas.”

 

“Sounds good,” Tony replies, taking a long drink of his beer. “I vote the Bahama’s,” he yells over the suddenly loud din. "Cancun!"

 

“You fellas are in our seats,” someone grunts. They looked over. It’s a thick, pig-headed, blonde boy, his hair like a smear of paint over his head. There are two guys behind him, and they ain't much better in the looks department. Tony bites his lip to stop a grin. Ty isn't gonna like this. 

 

“Sorry,” Ty smiles, only his teeth are dripping with poison, “we’ll get out.”

 

Without warning, he launches forward, tackling the man to the floor. That sends his cronies into an uproar, one takes a swing at Tony while the other goes for Ty on the floor with Blondie. Tony responds in kind, obviously, and soon a full-on barfight is ensuing. 

 

By the time the cops turn up, Ty and Tony are in an alley three blocks over, panting in the cold night air. 

 

“Do you think you’ll ever come out?” Tony says suddenly, watching Ty’s hand dabbing away the blood on his eyebrow.

 

“Do you?” Ty whispers back. He's still out of breath. 

 

Tony just shrugs, brushing glass off his shoulder. It crinkles, falling to the floor. “I asked first,” he says too late. 

 

“Then I’ll answer. No.”

 

“Really?” Tony asks, ducks a head around the corner to look for anyone coming for them. “You don’t think that, one day, we’ll have that chance?”

 

Ty shrugs. “Not anytime soon. I give that to other people, I guess. What about you?”

 

“If we weren't who we are, maybe things would be different. Maybe I’d be out already.”

 

“Maybe,” Ty huffs, closing his eyes. “But maybe we’re destined to hide in the shadows forever.”

 

“I don’t know if I believe that,” Tony says, looking up at the night sky. 

 

“What do you believe?”

 

“I don't know that either.”

Chapter Text

 

South America is another whirlwind, this one faster and faster. Tony feels like it's a competition, like every time Ty takes a drink he's daring him, so Tony does him one better, ordering those shots with a whoop like he’s excited, doing an extra line, kissing that girl even though he doesn’t really want to. 

 

It's a complete and utter tornado, of Ty’s laugh and the glass in his hands and music and smiling girls and sleeping in ‘till the afternoon. Tony doesn't have any contact with anyone apart from as he said, Ty and other, assorted people that he doesn't even know the name of. Until Rhodey finally gets though. 

 

They're somewhere in the Caribbean, and Tony’s pretty sure he's been at least semi-drunk for three days now, maybe more, because he feels like his grasp on time might be slightly lost. 

 

“Honey-bear!” he exclaims. “How are you?”

 

“Tony? Where are you?” he sounds confused. 

 

“Uhh, I think..." he looks around, as if to double-check, "Cancun?”

 

Cancun ?! What the hell are you doing there?”

 

Tony laughs, if only to push away the edge of nervousness creeping. “Why wouldn’t I be in the Caribbean? It’s break, duh,”

 

There's a sigh, then silence, “Tony, spring break finished a week ago. School’s back.”

 

“Wha?” Tony murmers to himself, confused. "We must have lost a couple days in Ibiza, that explains why everything is so empty.”

 

“You're not even allowed to drink!” Rhodey snaps, “and you've been boozing around all holiday!”


“Hey! There's no drinking age in Croatia, only purchase! Anyway, I’m fine, I’ve got Ty with me.”

 

“Ty?! That blonde guy from your couch? I don't like him, Tony.”

 

“Look, this — this is what we rich folk do, we go on holiday, get drunk and make a mess. It's normal."

 

“Do you — do you even know what the press have been saying?” Rhodey sighs, and Tony's heard that sigh from his father's mouth so many times that his brain can recognise it in sleep. 

 

“I— I haven't had the chance.”

 

“Obviously!” he snaps, “you've been drunk or high entire time!”

 

Tony flinches, “I — I just wanted to —”

 

Rhodey cuts him off, irritated, “what? Have fun? You've missed a week of school, Tony! Some people don't get that, they don't get to holiday all over the world! They don't get to do drugs and booze around and drink illegally! They have to work to get where they can!” he stops, breath panting, and then there is only silence echoing from either side of the line. 

 

“Shit,” Rhodey sighs, “I've had a long day, I didn't mean to —” 

 

“Tony!” Ty is waving him over, a girl on his arm. Tony bites his lip, ignoring the tears in his eyes. 

 

“I — I gotta go, Rhodey,” he tries not to let the emotion sound on his voice. He’s not sure if he succeeds. 

 

“Wait, Tony, I’m sor—” Tony hangs up.

 

“Hey, Ty,” he greets, falsely happy. Ty frowns but doesn't comment. His eyes track the phone in his hands, there’s more to be asked later.

 

“Hey, Tony,” Ty echoes, his fake smile nearly as perfect as Tony's. 

 



Rhodey’s right. He’s always right. He’s just an entitled, spoiled brat, too consumed with his daddy issues that he can't handle checking the date every now and then. 

 

He walks towards the door of their villa, the one leading to the balcony, looks out through the gauzy curtains, looks at the blue, at the sky, at the eternity, and reaches forward, nearly unconsciously. Soon he is standing in balmy seaside air. 

 

He embraces his arms on the railing, tilting his head to better catch the sun and the salt-tongued wind from the sea.

 

He closes his eyes and stays like that, maybe for a second, maybe for a millennia, but whatever it is, it feels longer than a blink. All is dark and still and perfect, he is alone with this thoughts, so many of them, running wild in his head. 

 

He makes himself opens his eyes, makes himself crane his neck and look down at the sea, separated by a cliff, at the dark rocks poking from the water, at the white swirling around them.

 

Then, he makes himself swing a leg over the wrought-iron. Then another. 

 

“Tony, what are you doing?” this voice comes from the doorway, some indeterminate amount of time later. “Get down from there.”

 

“Rhodey called. Turns out school started,” is all he says, still looking at the water. He can take a step forward. 

 

“Then we'll go back,” he says, an edge of fear trembling along his vocal cords. “I think we can catch a ride with that guy we meet last night, he's from Texas but it's close enough,” he babbles, taking another step. Ty talks when he gets scared.

 

“I--I don't deserve to go back, “ Tony said, staring down at the water below, hypnotising him. 

 

“yes, yes, you do, “ Ty says, stepping forward again, this time two long strides, his hand raised. “you worked hard to get into that school.”

 

“No, no,” he shakes his head, “I’m nothing. I’m nothing and I'm just a spoiled brat and —”

 

“You got into that school without your dad’s money, remember. You got in ‘cause you're the smartest person in the room, every room.”

 

Tony sighs again, “oh, and my brain won't let me forget it,” he turns his head to look at Ty. “Do you know what it’s like? To think and think and think , to have it never let up? Even on whatever pills I take or booze I drink, it’s still there, cataloguing and working and making .” There's a beat where their heartbeats fail to work, thudding oddly, Ty’s fast and jumpy, Tony’s as slow and steady as a rock. “it’s just endless,” he sighs.

 

“No, Tony,” Ty says, “it’s — it’s not. I promise. You know I know about it.”

 

“Everything's endless, when you think about it. Atoms cannot be killed, they can be split, they can be changed, when we die, we live still, in the ground in the air, in the sea, in the sky. When this planet ends, it will still live, when this sun burns out, it’s atoms will be scattered out into the universe. Everything has an end, but at the same time, nothing does.”

 

“You won't have an end, Tony, you can make sure of that,” Ty says, “you can make sure they remember you. You can do that in your sleep.”

 

Tony just turns back to the sea. “Everyone can change the world. Just by living, you're changing the world, by breathing, you're impacting this planet’s climate, by talking and meeting and creating, whatever form you do it in, you're changing the world. It’s just up to you on what you do with it. Me? I’m..killing.”

 

Most people are meant to feel numb, right? Tony thinks to himself, when they’re about to do this? He doesn't. He feels… bright and vivid, he feels like a firefly caught inside a glass jar, buzzing and glowing and knocking against the walls. 

 

Ty is talking, trying to say reassuring things and lies about no, no tony, you're not doing that. stop it tony. get down tony. He is doing it. He won't stop it. He won't get down. 

 

Or, he will, just not like Ty wants him to. 

 

Ty doesn't scream out no or start running in slow motion, he’s just.. There , suddenly. Gripping his arm. 

 

He hauls him up, and Tony is still stuck, his joints locked in place, staring out at the edge of sea he can see. 

 

“Let's go home, Tony,” Ty pants, still holding him, the circle of his arms tight and unforgiving. “Let's go home,” he sighs, eyes closed and head resting on his shoulder. 

 

--

 

The ride back with Texan-what’s-his-face is spent quietly. Ty doesn't say a word, mouth a tight line. Tony is scrunched into his side as 'big dick, no brain' blabbers on about how many helicopters he owns. 

 

Sunset’s father is flying to New York, so they hitch a ride with him and then drive to Massachusetts. 

 

Ty bangs on the door. Rhodey swings it open, a handheld phone cupped between shoulder and ear. “Yeah, ma, I know —” he freezes almost comically when he sees Tony. “Uh, ma, I gotta call you back.”

 

He hangs up and still stares at Tony, without saying anything. Tony fidgets, fussing with his jumper. 

 

Ty tilts his head and smiles. It's the kind of smile a shark gives before it bites you. 

 

That makes Rhodes snap out of his stupor. “Uh, hey, Tony. Ty.”

 

“Hey, Rhodes,” Ty hisses, sickly sweet, stepping forward, into the doorway. “Tones, you stay out here, okay?” he says, without looking back. “I gotta talk to James here.”

 

Tony murmurs something that could be permission or a protest, but Ty doesn't listen, shutting the door behind him. 

 

“You,” Ty hisses, “you were the one that did it. You just had to call up. Just had to badmouth me and cast all of Tony’s fun, and it was fun, into the fucking sea , huh?”

 

“I’m sorry, it was—”

 

“An accident?” Ty shakes his head, “it’s never an accident with Tony. Tony doesn't make accidents. Not like that.”

 

“I — I know.”

 

“Oh, you do? Do you know what he did?”

 

Rhodes looks back, ignorant. 

 

Ty takes special pleasure in hissing out the next words. “He threw himself off a balcony .”

 

Rhodey blinks, once, twice, and suddenly his eyes are brimmed with tears. 

 

“So, yeah,” Ty says. “Tony missed school. He’s privileged, i get that. But he worked to get himself here, he’s worked all his life. So, if you ever say anything like that again, I will find you, and I will do worse than kill you. And trust me, there’s worst.”

 

Eyes still filled with fury, Ty turns on his heel and storms out of the door

Chapter Text

 

The phone rings at 3am. Not that it’s much of a problem, Ty is up anyway. 

 

“Ty speaking,” he says into the receiver, rattling around in the cupboards. 

 

“Yo, Ty — Ty,” a shaky voice descends into static, then back out again. 

 

“Who is this?” Ty asks, grabbing a box of shapes from the cupboard.

 

“It’s me —” something garbled, “—ony.”

 

“Tony? What's up with your reception?” Ty closes his eyes and hopes this isn't Tony’s version of a suicide note. 

 

“I think — somebody’s — kill me.”

 

Ty drops his crackers. “What are you on about? Where are you?”

 

“Uh, I think maybe Pennsylvania?”

 

“You’ve been kidnapped. Again.” Ty sighs and picks up his crackers. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

“You need help?” he asks, maybe a little bit gleefully.

 

“I’m in —  car boot. Phone out of — pockets and radi—”

 

“Who has you?”

 

“Uh...Russia?”

 

“Tony. Now is not the time to make jokes.”

 

“I’m not jo—king!”

 

“Oh, so the KGB just swooped down and took you to Maryland?” Ty laughs, making himself a sandwich. 

 

“Well — know spring break?”

 

“I was there,” Ty rolls his eyes. 

 

“--member that gala in Moscow?” 

 

“Oh, the red-head?” Ty says, vaguely recalling her. 

 

“Yeah,” Tony answers, “well I think — spy?”

 

“A spy? Oh god, how is this our lives?”

 

“Bea— me.”

 

“So what, she came back?”

 

“Well, not her, but someone she probably knows.”

 

“Huh. Should I call the FBI?”

 

“Already did. And CIA. And I gave NSA a slice of the —  too. Inter-department col—boration, and all that.”

 

“So what, I’m your last resort?”

 

“Well I was getting bored.”

 

“Fuck off,” Ty bites out, hanging up. 

 

Tony and his big fucking lip. Ty goes to bed.

Chapter Text

 

Time passes. Meetings go. Everything is normal. They are taking over the world and nobody notices. It’s genius. Nobody cares about a scruffy kid from New York, even if that kid is about to be the richest in the world, and nobody looks past red hair and daring nails and so they don't see the razor-sharp smile above her bust. 

 

They're kids, and who is gonna think kids as dangerous?

 

Not anyone with sense, surely


 

They’re winning, aren’t they?

 

This is meant to be good. 

 

 

Tony stares at himself in the mirror. 

 

He looks...misty. Uncertain, scattered by the sun and coaxed by the dark. 

 

He looks like if he reached out, he could smear himself, his features warping under his hands, condensation dripping down the mirror.

 

His eyes are wide and brown and expressive. His hair still wet from the shower, but it's already curling as it dries. His skin is getting tanner with summer. He’s spending more time in Malibu, where the sun is hotter, and he’s tanning even as he spends more time in the workshop, churning out guns and missiles and ignoring the turmoil in his gut. 

 

Something in his eyes, shifts, solidifies. 

 

He does not look misty anymore. 

 

 

He finishes school. Rhodey goes on deployment. He’s alone.

 

 

He doesn't fly out to hang with the others as much anymore.

 

When he does, it’s...lukewarm, let’s say. 

 

He doesn't care anymore. 

 

He doesn't care about anything. 

 

— 

 

R&D’s keen to have him on as a developer, Obie says. 

 

He goes down, sits in the workshop for ten minutes before he feels sick. 

 

He hurls in the bathroom, passes it off as a hangover and never comes back. 

 


“Tony,” Sunset asks one day, “are you alright? It’s okay to get help, you know?”

 

“I’m okay, Sun.”

 

“You’re about as okay as Jay Gatsby. You can’t turn back time.”

 

“No,” he agrees, almost smiling. He looks out the window, where the blue, blue waters of California lay. “I’m not from West Egg anyway.”

 

She rolls her eyes. “That's not what I’m talking about. Jarvis —”

 

“I’m fine, Sunny,” he says more forcefully, takes a long, slow drag of his drink, feels the whiskey burn low in his throat. 

 

Huh. 

 

When did he start drinking whiskey?

 

Fine is relative, anyway. He’s more than fantastic compared to his family. 


 

"What do you think would happen if people found out?" Lex asks lazily, sweeping a thumb over the velvet material of the couch. 

 

"I don't think it matters," Tony responds, "They won't."

 

"You can't be sure," Sunset argues. 

 

“I can be,” he shrugs. “We’re all sure of everything, aren't we? The rich and the beautiful, everything is laid out in front of us, ready to be taken.”

 

“The problem with taking is you have to actually hold it after,” Ty laughs.

 

“Well, isn't that just…” Tony sighs, trying to think of the right word, “philosophical.”


Chapter Text

 

Sunset turns up in New York, hair curled into springy corkscrews, red skirt swirling around her knees, Mary Janes polished. “Wanna go to a movie?” she asks.

 

He laughs; thinks about how he has a lecture in an hour. “Sure, Sunny.”

 

Outside, unlocked and idling on the curb because Sunset's just that cocky, is a fire-truck red convertible corvette, long with the wings and the wheels and the leather seats. Tony crows, runs towards, sliding his hands along the impeccable paint job. “Brilliant,” he sighs.

 

“Thanks,” Sunset practically purrs, unlocking the doors and hopping in. 

 

The engine starts easily and they roll out into traffic. 

 

It only takes an hour to get to a drive-though upstate, it's 50's themed, and has a big projector set up.

 

They get milkshakes and buttered popcorn and to everyone else, it might look like they're on a date. It’s a bad Rom-Com made sometime in the eighties, a Tony gets bored about 10 minutes in. 

 

“Argh, sick of this whole trope,” he murmurs, rolling his eyes. "Girl likes guy, guy has a hot blonde chair leader girlfriend, they break up, she swoops in, there's a few awkward situations along the way, they get in a fight, don't speak together until the end when they have a dramatic reconnection and finally get together. 

 

“That's because we'll never get it,” she whispers back.

 

Tony frowns, “what do you mean?”

 

“Love is a foolish thing, Sunset sneers. “Look at you and Ty, you and  Whitney. People like us are doomed. There's nothing complicated about it, we’re just like that. Our souls are incompatible.”

 

“I’m not sure that’s true,” Tony says as he takes a handful of buttered popcorn and brings it to his mouth.

 

“Come on, look at you and Whit,” Sunset groans, looking over. 

 

“No, no,” Tony warns, “that was doomed from the start, maybe. Not a good example of why everyone should be ace.”

 

“Ty, then.” after seeing his rolled eyes, she continues hastily, “you guys were real.”

 

“Look, we didn't break up because my soul is fucked. It was because he got all guilty. Anyway, I don't know, maybe, someday, when we have our shit together…”

 

She laughs, not cruelly, just honestly, “do you honestly think that’ll ever happen?”

 

Tony laughs with her. “Call me naive,” Tony says airily, “but I believe in love.”

 

“I don't,” sunset argues, “it’s a chemical process, it’s infatuation that the human race has — literally — romanticized into a necessity of life, something that every girl wants — no, needs , and every boy should get.”

 

Tony shrugs, “you make a good point. It's all bullshit."

 

“I know,” Sunset snarks, then looks over her shoulder, laughing. 

 

“If I believe in love, with my parents, how do you?”

 

“Maybe I'm just not as smart.”

 

“You know you aren't,” Tony takes a noisy sip of his milkshake. 

 

They laugh, but it seems like a temporary light in the dark. 

 

“Whitney was...my fault,” Tony says, as the girl on screen denies her crush vehemently. 

 

“That's just how monsters like us cope,” Sunset whispers, cupping his cheek with her gentle hands, “we bleed and we roar and push people away, but we get up.”

 

“Is that what makes us monsters?” Tony asks, quietly, his eyes fixed on the screen, not even taking it in.

 

“No," Sunset says, taking as noisy sip oh her coke. "It’s what makes us strong.”