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IronPanther Collection.

Chapter Text

I was wandering on Potrix's Tumblr and got attacked by IronPanther.

I want to get back into writing so let's give this a try. Prompts closed for now.

Chapter Text

For all his long life, the name Stark has been synonymous with Wealth.

Every gala he's attended, every press conference, hell even his schools and business meetings, there was always at least one person who brought up the wealth of the Stark name. Every time Tony finds his name in the news, or in a magazine, one of the first things brought up is his wallet and bank balance. A great number of award ceremony's (which he may or may not have actually attended) have snuck in a line or two about how the Stark Heir is truly rolling in his success.

It didn't really bother him. He'd literally grown up with this. But he was well aware that most of his friends growing up were simply in it for money. And when you're as lonely as he had been, you use what you've got to combat the loneliness.

Tony's not ashamed to admit that for a good number of years, he bought his friends.

It wasn't really like he could help it though; he was younger, smarter and mouthier than them all. Who would want to hang out with a kid like that?

It was even worse in M.I.T. Especially when he corrected a couple of his professors. Some people just can't take criticism. Whatever.

He built DUM-E for a reason.

Rhodey was unlike anyone Tony had ever met before, simply because he didn't want anything from Tony but his friendship. Tony had pushed and pried and done everything is his power to prove that Rhodey wasn't as nice and genuine as he presented himself.

Except ... he was.

Rhodey, despite being older than Tony, despite having a hard time keeping up with Tony, despite disapproving of a good portion of the way Tony lived his life, didn't ask for anything except for Tony to be safe and happy. He didn't ask favours, didn't borrow loans, hell, he didn't even copy Tony's notes. Rhodey was just that good.

He yelled when Tony bought him a car for his birthday.

Tony didn't understand what the problem was (actually he still doesn't know what was wrong; it was a good car!) and tried to make things better by buying Rhodey a new entertainment system, but that just made things worse. It took a month of buying Rhodey apology gifts before Rhodey out-and-out told Tony to stop.

He was yelling again at Christmas.

"You're my friend Tony; I don't want you to buy me!"

"What do you mean 'buy you'? Slavery was abolished when we steamrolled the South, Honey Bear."

"Oh for the love of-!"

It was like that for all of M.I.T. When Rhodey went off with the Air Force, Tony sent him Care Packages. Just some staples, you know, the things you would miss most when you weren't home.

His crew all wrote him letters thanking him for the porn and chocolate.

Apparently Rhodey was kind enough to share.

While Rhodey was off being one of America's Bravest, Tony plodded along at Howard's Company. Despite what the Media said, Stark Industries wasn't Tony's yet. Obadiah and the Board of Directors were the ones in charge, for all that Tony was the new CEO. He was still just a child to them, not knowing how business worked (as if, he was raised in this world; had been schmoozing and sweet talking since he could form sentences) and would surely plunge SI into ruin, so why didn't he just stay in R&D for a while and design more shiny bombs and make them more money?

It lasted them about a week before he got sick of it and threw his weight around.

It took a forest of paperwork and far too many sleepless nights, but he managed to get the old coots to close their mouths and let Tony do his damn job. It was thanks to his exhaustion that he met Pepper.

Virginia Potts was truly a woman born to take over the world. Standing tall in sky-high heels, a wash of freckles across her face, a flame of red hair upon her head and a can of mace pointed at security's face, Tony couldn't help but fall just a little bit in love. She was demanding to see him because she had found a mistake he'd made in his fatigue. Well, a mistake he'd written in his fatigue; when she had recited the math to him, he called out the solution, which was right of course, but on the sheet of paper, written blatantly in his scrawling hand was the incorrect answer.

She had been the only one in the Accounting Department not to take his work as correct always and checked, saving SI hundreds of thousands of dollars.

He made her his PA there and then.

She was resistant of course; Tony already had his reputation as a playboy, and she held a degree in accounting and business studies -far too skilled to be wasting away as a PA.

Hearing of the pay increase and better job perks went quite a way to winning her over, but it was Tony's explanation that sold it.

"A PA is more than just a glorified babysitter, and though I won't deny your attractiveness, the fact is the business world is going to look at you as trying to play in 'Men's Work'. I'm not stupid enough to think women can't do the job just as well, or even better than men, but history is chauvinistic, and that's not going to change overnight. As my PA, you would be present in my meetings, taking notes and learning how to deal with the older generation that has it's paws in everything, before learning how you destroy them. Also I mentioned the money and benefits right?"

"You did... If nothing else, I would certainly learn a lot... okay, we'll give it a try."

"Excellent! But I can't call you Virginia; it's a lovely name but you are far too amazing for me to call you that. Hmm... Pepper. Your freckles and the mace. You are Pepper now. Pepper Potts!"

Pepper accepted the name eventually. And she wasn't as fussy as Rhodey over Tony buying her things for her birthday.

Well sort of.

SI kept Tony really busy; there was always this contract to smooth over, and that design to produce, and General Whatshisface needing to be dealt with, Tony often found it hard to think. Tony remembers everything, whether he likes it or not. Have you ever stopped to think about the sheer amount of information you can be exposed to in a minute, let alone a day?

Pepper's birthday is in his head somewhere. But it's lost in all the other information Tony collects.

So Tony just buys her things and hopes she'll forgive him. Pepper will have a little passive snit at him when he inevitably fails to gift her something on the actual day, but he gave her access to his credit card a year into working as his PA so she buys something she actually wants and that's that.

She does love her shoes though. Tony has been saved many a scolding and shouting at by procuring pairs such as Kathryn Wilson’s Pumps, or Stuart Weitzman Platinum Guild Stilettos.

Again, despite what the Media says, Tony doesn't own a lot of cars. Really he only has four in his Malibu home and one in every other residence. Okay, yes, that is a lot of cars to the average person, but Tony is a Stark, so really it's a piddly amount. No, all the cars Tony is driven in by Happy (or drives Happy in) actually belong to the ex-boxer. Happy's not exactly happy with being gifted the cars, but as a gearhead just like Tony, it's impossible not to love the machines and care for them.

It's just the way Tony is; those he cares about get gifts.

Before his involvement with the Ten Rings and Tony's abduction were revealed, Tony had gifted Obadiah with a bottle of Dalmore 42. Going through Stane's belongings later had found the empty bottle, but whether it having been consumed was a joy or an insult, Tony couldn't say.

 After he became part of the Avengers, he started caring for them too. Bruce was bought every piece of scientific equipment his enormous green rage monster tinged eyes laid upon. Natasha got regular tickets to the Ballet. Clint received DVD's for all of his TV shows. Thor was gifted with technology that would allow for communication from Asgard (and damn but had that been an amazing thing to create; Tony's not sure whether to congratulate himself or freak out that he has actually created tech to cross realms) and Tony was in negotiations with Jane Foster's intern about moving her work to the Tower or Compound. Steve received art from Tony's collection.

And of course Tony was always upgrading the team's gear where and when he could.

Some of SHIELD's psychologists and media-selected off-the-street experts have suggested that it was Tony's way of proving his superiority and wealth, but it has never been about that.

Tony just likes the feeling of glee he gets when someone accepts a gift from him.

 Ultron was meant to be a gift of protection to the world...

The Accords were meant to be a gift of a voice to the people the Avengers strove to protect...

The meeting in Siberia was meant to be a gift of trust and hope to Steve and Bucky...

Tony sat in the compound gym, listening to Rhodey's breaths of effort as he mastered the braces that allowed him to walk again, hearing the gentle hum of Friday's presence in the walls, picking up the faint sounds of Vision trying yet again to cook something in the kitchen.

The compound is empty but for the three of them.

'The Avengers are yours' huh Cap?

Three may be a crowd, but it's hardly the team needed.

Rhodey ended his session for the day and left to shower, leaving Tony to his thoughts.

"You know I will keep them safe for you Mr Stark."

But apparently not alone.

"It shouldn't be your responsibility Mufasa. If I hadn't let Zemo get to me... If Steve had just told me about..."

He can't finish his words; choking on the memory of his mother. A strong hand grips his shoulder bringing him back to reality.

"Zemo is paying for his actions Mr Stark. I too will be most gladdened to see the back of him."

A brief tightening of those fingers before the Wakandan Monarch continues.

"And I am the last person to judge you on momentarily losing yourself to grief, especially after realising what has been kept from you. When Mr Barnes revealed what happened in Siberia, Mr Barton and Mr Wilson grew quite enraged at Mr Rogers, particularly after Mr Wilson explained how you came to him in the raft to ask for help. Mr Barton said something along the lines of 'So secrets are only bad if they're kept from you?'. He actually sent this with me to give to you."

T'Challa handed a letter to him. Tony was written on the front with a familiar hand. Though Tony didn't read the letter in that moment, the heartfelt apology contained within went a long way in easing his heart.

Before T'Challa left for Wakanda the next day, Tony gave him a return letter to Clint -explaining how his family were all safe, and how Clint could contact them- and a package wrapped in brown paper.

T'Challa accepted both, though he looked at the package curiously, and boarded his plane.

Tony walked back to his car, hoping T'Challa would like the selection of fancy pastries and snacks.

About two weeks after, a parcel arrived at the compound. Tony took it to his room, praying to a god he hadn't believed in since a child that it wasn't from Steve again.

Upon opening the box, Tony smiled, a little startled but flattered none-the-less.

The Wakandan delicacies were wonderful.

For the next few months, between getting Ross arrested for breaking the Accords and all of his past crimes, amending the Accords so as to not have those who signed it acting as Government Attack Dogs and looking after the latest appearance of Enhanced, Tony has been receiving more and more gifts from T'Challa. They started out as small things -a fancy pen knife, a paper written by one of his scientists that he felt Tony would enjoy reading, a book on Wakandan history- and arrived after Tony had a particular success -perfecting Rhodey's braces and making them available to the public cheaply, completing a dangerous mission assigned by the U.N., helping Vision learn how to waltz- but soon started to come any day without any reason and were... more extravagant.

The red silk jacket with gold lining, the experimental pieces of Wakandan tech for him to play with...

A rock of unadulterated Vibranium...

Tony's really not sure what to think about that one; Wakanda is very strict on what happens to it's Vibranium supply, so T'Challa just giving a chunk to Tony?

Tony locks it in his safe until he figures out what to do, and sends T'Challa his thanks along with the latest Accord Amendments.

Tradition in the Maximoff Family stated that the dead were to be left to the forest, no burial or cremation; they were to be left to become one with the land naturally. After Wanda had bid Pietro goodbye, Tony had snuck in to pay his own respects.

He wasn't expecting the sight of Pietro's chest moving up and down ever so slightly.

Moving the young man to one of SI's Medical Branches took but moments, where the doctors on hand were able to confirm Tony wasn't going nuts; Pietro Maximoff was, against all odds, still alive.

As best as they could figure, along with his speed, HYDRA had planted an enhanced healing factor, minor though it may have been. After removing all the bullets from him and setting him up in a nice room, the Doctors left to their work and Tony took a final look before heading to the compound to tell Wanda the news.

Only Wanda refused to speak to him.

Tony had just entered the living room when Wanda started screaming at him to leave, how it wasn't fair that he was here, how he wasn't an Avenger anymore.

 Steve ended up forcing Tony out to calm her down, and said that Tony should not come back until he was called.

It hurt, oh how it had hurt, but Tony understood a bit; Wanda was grieving and lashing out. She had hated Tony for years so it made sense that he was the target to strike. He sent Steve an email explaining about Pietro, telling him to tell Wanda once she had calmed down.

Tony forgot Steve rarely checked his email.

Pietro woke up during the start of the Civil War. Tony was unfortunately too busy to come see him, but the Doctors kept the young man as well informed as they could about what was going on.

When he was finally able to visit, Tony was surprised by Pietro's demand to see the Accords.

He provided a copy of course, and sat with Pietro explaining what certain words meant and how the terms would apply.

He didn't know where Pietro got the pen from, but the speedster did not hesitate to put his name at the bottom of the document.

"You tried to protect my sister. That should have been my job. When I am out of here Stark, you are getting me body armour that won't slow me down, and I'm going to clear Wanda's name."

Quicksilver entered the Compound by the end of the week.

He was still healing of course, and couldn't strain himself too much, but there was plenty he could do, such as helping Vision with questions and cooking, studying with Peter for his high school diploma (Tony felt the young man deserved to have more that just what HYDRA decided was important for him to know; the boy's math was dreadful), doing his physical therapy with Rhodey and of course searching for ways to clear his sister's name.

Tony had brought in one of his best lawyers to help him with that, but otherwise left him be.

T'Challa sent him a gorgeous Wakandan flower encased in resin.

A full year since their meeting in Siberia, and Tony Stark was once more face-to-face with Steve Rogers and James "Bucky" Barnes, their respective Avengers behind them.

"It's good to see you Tony."

Tony doesn't say anything, but this once he doesn't have to, because Steve keeps talking.

"It's great to see the U.N. fixed the Accords; the Avengers can't be run by those with an agenda. How are we supposed to save everyone if we're being held back?"

Tony clenches his fist as the rest of the group comes out from behind Steve. Clint comes in for a hug, once more apologizing for what he has said and done, thanking Tony for protecting his wife and kids, before running to afore mentioned family and holding on tight.

Natasha had ended up in Wakanda somehow and gives Tony a brief hug and smile before following Clint.

Wanda has paid no attention to Tony and is instead in a tearful embrace with Pietro, who is explaining how he is still alive.

Scott nodded to Tony and ran to Hope Van Dyne and his Daughter.

Sam is the only one left standing with the two Super Soldiers, but he is looking at Rhodey with a mix of relief and deep sorrow.

Steve is still talking.

"And really, Wakanda is beautiful, and their technology is more advanced than anything I've seen, even yours Tony! They were able to help Bucky-"

"Only because we borrowed technology from Mr Stark, as you were well told Mr Rogers."

T'Challa had finally joined the group, which was a relief because Sam, Rhodey, and hell even Vision looked like they were about to lash out at Steve. Tony doesn't turn his head to check on the newbies behind him, but he can practically feel the heat from the death-glare Peter is sending Steve.

"Welcome back T'Challa. Thank you for keeping your promise."

The man smiled, that calm enigmatic smile that is sorta there, sorta not, really not much more than a slight curl to the lips, before handing a package to Tony.

"I am glad to be back. For the foreseeable future, Shuri will be taking care of Wakanda, so I was hoping to stay at your compound?"

Tony gives a simple nod over Steve's assurances, and turns his attention to the package.

It is a beautiful watch, gold and red with tiny little slivers of blue Vibranium.

"It's gorgeous, but you don't need to give me anything you know; I have enough money to get whatever I please."

Again, that smile.

"Oh I'm well aware Mr Stark, that you do not hurt for coin. Far be it from me however, to be remiss and not attempt to woo over the one I'm chasing."



This has never happened to him before.

"That is unfortunate, because you most certainly deserve it. Ah well, the loss of others shall be my success."

Huh, he said that out loud. And flirting, yeah, that was flirting, definite flirting. Tony was being flirted with by a King.

He can feel the blush on his face as a pleased little smile pulled on his mouth.

"It's too early to call it your success T'Challa, given you still won't call me by name."

"Ah, but the gifts you give me in turn. It would be my pleasure Tony."

A chill rolled down his spine and a swell of heat burst into his stomach.

The Stark name has always been synonymous with wealth.

It would seem the Panther is challenging that.

Chapter Text

Pretty much everyone knows that Tony Stark uses nicknames instead of real names. Whether he uses them as an affection or insult depends on the person ('Mr Stark.' 'Yes dear?') but he uses them for pretty much everyone ('Pepper!' 'Yes Tony?')

The most notable recipient of Tony's nicknaming habit is Rhodey. Hell, even 'Rhodey' is a nickname! Platypus, Sourpatch, Honeybear, Cupcake, Tony has used them and more quite liberally, for seemingly no reason beyond he can. A Corporal in Rhodey's troop actually accused Tony of not having the respect to address his best friend by name, but that just made Tony and Rhodey laugh.

See, Tony picked up the habit from Maria. As a well known philanthropic socialite, Maria was always speaking to someone, but she didn't exactly keep everyone's names straight. Hon, dear, sweetie, love, they were what she used to placate the faces she couldn't name, and it worked. People thought they were special enough to receive an endearment from her. They were willing to ignore that others had nicknames too if it meant Maria Stark would open her wallet to them.

English was Maria's second language, and she often refused to speak it at home. Said the words meant nothing to her.

Howard, Her Diletto, indulged her, speaking to her in the broken Italian he knew when he could. Maria knew he worshipped her though, so forgave him when he spoke to her in English. But Tony, Her Bambino, only ever spoke to Cara Madre in Italian, would be completely ignored at home if he didn't. In public sure, English all the way, but at home Maria would only accept Tony in Italian.

Tony respected that.

Not that she would ignore her child for such a stupid reason (Maria refused Tony's English, Howard refused his Italian) but that the nicknames that mattered were in her first tongue.

The night Tony received the phone call from the police, he cried himself to sleep in Rhodey's arms, begging Tesoro not to leave him too.

Rhodey looked up the word the next day, coming back to hold Tony as he packed.

"Don't you worry Tonio, I ain't going anywhere."

It became a tradition between them that whenever something happened, good or bad, they would seek the other out and use those names.

Tesoro. Tonio.

When Virginia Potts started working as Tony's PA, Tony called her Pepper. She had objected at first but eventually just ruled it as one of his quirks.

Tony called her Fiore when she came to join him and Rhodey.

Happy became Angelo.

Tesoro. Tonio. Fiore. Angelo.

Tony was man enough to admit that after the SNAFU of the Accords had been cleaned up he was exhausted. Tony often went too many nights without proper sleep, but fixing up the mess Ross and Steve had made was just on a whole other level.

How many times in that year did he find himself clinging to Rhodey, begging to be forgiven his sins?

"Tonio, come now Tonio, you have no sins that are left unforgiven by me."

"But your legs Tesoro, and all the those people the Avengers have hurt, and Ultron and-"

"Breathe Tonio. Breathe and focus on me, okay Tonio?"

"Tesoro. Tesoro, Tesoro, Tesoro, Tesoro..."

How many times had Pepper come down to the compound, even though they had broken up, just to run her fingers through his hair and talk shop?

"...And the figures should be twice what the analysts predicted for you, Fiore."

"That's wonderful Tonio. With those sorts of numbers, we should be able to return to giving relief aid to Sokovia!"

"Thank you Fiore for doing this. Really, I have no idea what would have happened to SI if Fiore wasn't there."

"It's my pleasure Tonio."

How many late nights had he spent with Happy in the boxing ring when he couldn't wind down enough to sleep?

"Okay Tonio, nothing fancy, just two blokes wailing on each other until we can sleep."

"Really Angelo, I appreciate how you're willing to do this for me. I know you could be asleep right now."

"Hey, what are friends for Tonio, if not the chance to beat each other up?"

"Ah Angelo, truly you are a wiser man than I. You get first punch Angelo, better make it count."

How many times had he sat in the kitchen talking to Vision, teaching him about humanity when the nightmares were too much?

"There, there. You have no need to rush; you'll get it soon enough if you don't force yourself Sognatore."

"I... I do not understand... why do you call me Dreamer?"

"Because, Sognatore, you are dreaming right now; of how you wish to integrate yourself with the world around you; of how you want to see humanity flourish; of how you wait to see Wanda smile at you again. You are a dreamer my Sognatore, and I hope you never stop being so."

How many times had he helped Peter with his schoolwork simply to try and slow down?

"Ragno, you're harming your work. I understand wanting to get it done quickly, but you've made quite a few mistakes by dint of your rushed handwriting."

"What? Ho- oh man, that's meant to be a three not a nine! And how the hell did that seven become a five? This day just sucks... wait, what'd you call me?"

"Ragno, Peter. I called you Ragno. It fits I think."

The Avengers were all back in the compound, though lines were still subtly drawn. Clint would only talk to Tony if his family were present (which they were because how else was Tony to keep them safe from Ross?) in the room, but his words were genial and actively avoiding any barbs. Vision would only seek out Wanda if Tony or Rhodey were nearby.

Tony avoided Steve and Bucky.

Yes he had come to realise and accept that Bucky wasn't to blame for Cara Madre's death, but you could fear the gun just as much as the gunman.

And he still couldn't bring himself to face Steve.

Natasha had explained about three months after the meeting in Siberia, that Arnim Zola had been the one to give them the information about the Stark's murder. She had thought Steve had told Tony, given that he had forbidden her from doing so.

"I guess secrets are only bad if they're kept from him."

"I'm just as much at fault Tony. I could have brought it up at any time."

"You followed orders Natasha. You trusted the Captain to tell me. You are not at fault."

Steve had sat on the knowledge for two years, not giving Tony any chance of accepting the information and moving on.

So yeah, Tony was exhausted; there just wasn't enough hours in the day to do everything he needed to. Honestly, if it hadn't been for T'Challa and his help, the Accords would still be a mess.

Even though he had granted the Avengers Asylum in Wakanda, T'Challa had worked hard alongside Tony to bring about the changes to the Accords, and frankly, Tony was sure that if the other man hadn't forced Tony to eat and sleep while they worked together, Tony would have literally worked himself to death.

They didn't only work though, they took time to talk about tech ('But wouldn't Paladium cause long term damage?' 'Certainly did Slinky Malinky, but there was nothing else on hand that would work.'), gently spar ('Don't forget Pussy Cat, that I am a squishy human with no enhancements.' 'And yet you fight alongside those who do and keep up with them easily.'), teach each other how to cook ('So tomorrow, I'll cook Carbonara. Family recipe Kitty, you'll love it. Now what did you say was in this again? It's delicious.' 'Carbonara sounds lovely, I look forward to it. And I didn't, otherwise I doubt anything on this planet would have gotten you to put it in your mouth.') and sometimes simply sit in silence.

Tony could admit he started to feel a great deal of affection for the Wakandan King.

It was probably that affection and his fatigue that let it happen.

"Dealing with the U.N. is truly exhausting; I have no idea how you have been able to do so for the past year Mr Stark."

"Sheer need and experience Gattino."

Tony didn't realise he'd said it until Rhodey stated laughing.

"Uh... that's... I'm... I'll... workshop."

Tony can feel the heat on his cheeks and beats a hasty retreat. Rhodey's laughter follows him as he makes his way down the stairs, and Tony takes a moment to curse himself for telling his best friend of the affection that has been building.

T'Challa manages to charm Friday into letting him into the workshop hours later.

"I have just had quite the enlightening conversation with James."

"I'll just bet you have. You know you're literally the only person I know who calls him that? Even Momma Rhodes calls him Rhodey now unless she's angry at him."

"It does not surprise me. I did not realise that you learnt Italian side-by-side with English. Does that make it your first or second language I wonder?"

"Technically first, because I said Madre instead of ma-ma. Well, I was five months so it came out more as 'Mudway' but I was clearly talking to my mother, so message received."

"Fascinating. James told me of how you express yourself using nicknames and endearments. And looking back on our acquaintance, I see many times you have used felines to address me."

"Well you have the onesie, I figured I'd follow the theme."

"Yes, but until now, they have all been in English."

Tony swallows hard, trying to settle the uncomfortable roiling in his stomach.

"I am touched, and honoured that you hold me in such esteem Ubuhle."

For a second, Tony stops breathing, and T'Challa smiles before brushing a hand against Tony's cheek as he leaves.

"Though you'll see for yourself soon enough Ubuhle, I do assure you, I am no Little Cat."

Tony takes a deep breath as he takes in those words.

Seems his cat has claws.

Chapter Text

Wakanda is without question the most technologically advanced nation on Earth. Its scientists are constantly working to further their knowledge of the world and instruments created within it. T'Challa, even during his studies outside of Wakanda, had never questioned this.

Not until Iron Man.

To be fair, it is not out of his scientists abilities to create a suit of armour like the Iron Man, but the fact that it was never considered? The fact that, even as a joke, not a single Wakandan soul dreamt the idea of an impenetrable suit?

It worries him, just a bit.

T'Challa grew up hearing about Anthony Stark -really, who didn't?- from his creating a functioning circuit board at four to his entering M.I.T. at 15, Anthony Stark was always in the media's eye.

For good and bad given the sheer amount of scandals the man caused.

Now T'Challa was all for being fair; gossip rags were always something to stay away from, given that the one time he had read one a pair of back-to-back articles swore that Anthony Stark had had marathon orgies with over 20 people within five minutes on different halves of the world. And certain information shows had to be taken with a grain of salt, given that Bill O'Reilly really went off at people who didn't conform to him.

But T'Challa more or less came to the conclusion that should he ever come into contact with Anthony Stark, it would be best to keep his distance.

Civil War, the world called it.

T'Challa cradled his head in his hands, a visual weakness he would allow none to see outside his quarters.

His father always told him the crown would fall upon his head unexpectedly, but T'Challa had always thought his father would still be present to advise him. But King T'Chaka was gone now, running in the fields of the Panther God. T'Challa had been so overcome with his father's death that he more or less fell into a pit of apathy, noticing nothing around him if it did not bring his father's murderer to justice.

Civil War, the world called it.

And T'Challa had been fighting alongside Anthony Stark for most of it. A man he had more or less promised himself to avoid.

Shaking his head wearily, T'Challa stood and left his quarters, moving to check on his guests.

He has heard many amazing things about the Avengers (Stopping an Alien Invasion with only six people and minor casualties anyone?) and read through the data on them that was revealed in the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. but files can't hope to describe the awe of seeing Captain American in battle, or the sheer terror of the Black Widow's glare.

Or, T'Challa sighs as he thinks, the unexpected beauty of Iron Man in motion.

For all that the world seems to revile Anthony Stark, very few have anything bad to say about the armour itself, and those who do are usually the ones trying to gain control of it for mass production.

The thought of an entire military force bedecked in the crimson and gold sends an unexpected shudder down his spine. Yes, the destructive potential is terrifying to consider, but truly it would be a dance of death and chaos.

Arriving at the rooms the Ex-Avengers are located, T'Challa breathes deeply before entering.

Clint Barton and Scott Lang, both noted as devoted fathers, have taken to providing Wanda Maximoff with as best an education as they can, Lang teaching the more scientific studies and Barton the more free subjects, though Barton is in charge of mathematics without contention. Maximoff is taking to her studies very well given that she missed most standard schooling.

Natasha Romanoff turned up in Wakanda a few days earlier, and was currently talking with Sam Wilson, trying to bring order to her thoughts.

With James Barnes in cryo, Steve Rogers has taken to drawing near obsessively. His work is brilliant, of that there is no doubt, and he appears to be using it as a form of self-help, but T'Challa has often found himself looking over the images, unable to fathom what they... represent? Mean? Idealise?

Take Rogers last piece; a young Anthony Stark -very young- holding the hand of Iron Man's gauntlet in his left, and a woman's pearls cradled in a rocks whiskey glass in his right.

The piece before that had been of the Avengers as a team in battle, working together as they had during the Battle of New York.

T'Challa's eyes glance over them all and he can't help but remember the vicious words they have all at some point lashed at Anthony Stark.

"All he cares for is power and money! How many more people must I lose before he is satisfied?!"

"Stark Industries is supposed to represent a future of equality right? Starks rules ensured that even though I was qualified and recognised as non-violent, my application was dumped out of hand."

"He always has to be right, always has to have the last word, no matter who he's bulldozing to get it."

"Once he's out of the suit, Stark is a man of vice and indulgence, and it never ends well when he tries to combine the two personas."

"He can lie with his whole face, make you believe he feels guilty about what he's done, but he hasn't changed a single bit."

"He can't ever just shut up and follow orders, he always has to challenge everything just because he can."

A throat being cleared brings T'Challa back to the moment, seeing Shuri has entered the room.

"You extended an invitation to the world to have meetings with corporations to learn from and work with each other did you not brother?"

He nods, as he most certainly did, and notes the Ex-Avengers have stopped their tasks and are listening in.

"It is good that you remember, seeing as you have a meeting in fifteen minutes to prepare for."

Walking swiftly back to his quarters, Shuri at his side and the others resuming their activities, T'Challa breathes deeply, seeking the calm of the panther to prepare him for his duties. Shuri keeps talking.

"You don't have to wear a full suit -in fact it would be better if you didn't, just slacks and a dress shirt- and it is imperative that you do not raise your voice at any time."

As he pulls on his shirt, T'Challa sends a confused look at his sister, wondering why she felt the need for that specific instruction.

"You are meeting with Virginia Potts, brother, the CEO of Stark Industries."

T'Challa's head finds its way to his hands.

Virginia Potts is a woman who is spoken of in awe.

A woman who became CEO of one of the worlds largest business through her merits as a worker as opposed to looks or who she slept with. A woman who was able to ride herd on the insanity that was Anthony Stark. A woman who refused to relinquish her position after her relationship with Anthony Stark was ended.

She is a woman who demands respect because by damn she has earned it.

T'Challa admits privately to Shuri that he may be just a little afraid of her.

"Ms Potts, welcome to Wakanda. I am King T'Challa, and I apologize for making you wait."

Ms Potts smiles as she shakes his hand.

"No apologies necessary; as a monarch I'm sure you have plenty on your shoulders as is. Let's try and get things done swiftly, as you surely have much more urgent things to attend to."

They get to work quickly, and soon come up with the contract to fit a large-scale arc reactor in one of Wakanda's factories for study, whilst providing medical research in exchange. It is all done so efficiently, that the contract is drawn and posted to their respective lawyers to look over, in a little over two hours.

"I find myself hoping that all my upcoming meetings are dealt with so easily. You are truly a force to be reckoned with Ms Potts; Stark Industries is blessed to have you at the helm."

Ms Potts smiles at him again.

"Pepper, please, and I'm just thankful that Tony let me keep my job after I left him."

T'Challa freezes for a moment. She left Anthony Stark?

"I was under the impression that he had left you Ms- Pepper."

A sad smile this time.

"No, that's just everyone wanting to see Tony as the bad guy. He couldn't stop being Iron Man; he tried, he really did, but he is Iron Man, and it wasn't fair of me to try and make him give that part of himself up. I won't say I couldn't have chosen a better time to leave; Tony needed a lot more support during the Initial Accords than he got, but we're back to our old flow of life and I can help with keeping the politicians off his back now."

Everyone wanting to see Anthony Stark as the bad guy?

"I'm sorry your Highness, my personal life has no business here."

"No... I find myself... curious. If you would be willing to indulge me and answer a few questions about what you just said?"

Pepper looks a little doubtful, for which she can't be blamed, but she eventually gives a small nod and gestures for T'Challa to ask.

"What did you mean by everyone seeing Anthony Stark as the bad guy?"

She sighs and slumps -just a little- in her seat.

"Tony has almost always been in the spotlight. As a baby his picture was in the news as 'The Long Awaited Stark Heir'. At four, every household was whispering about the Stark prodigy. At nine, hundreds were discussing how him winning a competition was a sign that he was buying his way to victory. At eleven his face was spread across papers and TV for a sex scandal-"


Pepper only flinches slightly at his unexpected outburst which he apologizes for immediately before she speaks again.

"Tony lucked out on genes; Howard Stark was a handsome man, and Maria Stark of incredible beauty, and Tony got the best of both. You look at pictures of him then, and most people will feel a sliver of attraction, because he hadn't quite left the androgyny of youth.

Tony had been shipped off to boarding school at seven; the school uniforms had actually been his birthday gifts. He hadn't wanted to go, had shown no interest in the school at all before hand; Howard Stark had made the decision for him and that was that. As most children do when forced into something they don't want, Tony acted out; refusal to do his homework, talking back to the teachers, getting into fights. Things that happen at schools the world over and don't earn a second glance from the public.

But Tony is a Stark; he's pretty much considered public property for all the privacy the world gives him.

One of his teachers aids -a young woman of twenty if I recall- decided that she was in love with him, and he obviously loved her in return. How could he not; she was young, fairly successful and to all accounts quite attractive.

Tony was eleven, surrounded by sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year olds, and nowhere near developed enough to have an interest in sex; he still thought of girls as icky. He was already at the top of his classes and slated to advance further grades, even with his misbehaviour; he was an outcast due to his age and intelligence... And He was a Stark, the Stark Heir in fact. Howard Stark was well documented for his promiscuous acts during high school; why would his son be any different?

The entire world pretty much overlooked attempted sexual assault on an eleven year old boy, because he was a Stark in high school, and boys don't get sexually assaulted."

T'Challa fought to keep his breathing even as Pepper organised her thoughts.

Eleven years old.

T'Challa had only been four, still learning how to read and how to use the bathroom alone.

"How did his parents move to help him?"

An inelegant snort precedes Pepper's answer.

"The woman was claiming Tony seduced her and then broke her heart after she agreed to sex. The media lapped it up. Howard Stark threw money at the school to keep Tony until he graduated, and the woman 'left for her own sense of safety and self worth'. Tony received no help."

Shuri placed a glass in front of each of them, something strong and colourful by the look of it. T'Challa took a mouthful, enjoying the taste and burn, while Pepper sipped at hers delicately.

"Anyway, Tony was constantly being brought up by the media; one day he's the filthy delinquent bringing shame to the family name, the next he's the greatest hope of his generation. His activities were always reported on, even when they didn't happen; at M.I.T. a news report came out about how Tony was arrested for possession of a gun and drugs, and bought his way out of sentencing. Times and dates were provided and pictures of a dark haired young man being put in the back seat of a cruiser convinced everyone that it was truth. The pictures were just of a random dark haired man, and the times and dates provided? Tony was in Italy for his mother's birthday gala. But even with the evidence provided, it was so much more sensational for the Stark Heir to be a criminal.

Working for Tony has taught me far more about the world than I could have learned anywhere else, as both his PA, his CEO and his girlfriend. And one of the first things Tony taught me?

'It doesn't matter how good or amazing of a person you are. You could be a literal saint, the next Messiah even, but it won't matter. Because people can see you, but they can't touch. You aren't like them, aren't human, if you're untouchable, but if they can reach you? They will break you. The world loves an Idol. And the only thing loved more, is watching that Idol fall.'

Tony is one of the world's favourite Idols. They adore him, they copy him, they follow his every move with rapture. Because they want to see him make a mistake. They want to see him fall. As someone so close to Tony, I became an Idol too; 'the woman on top of the world, smug in the fact that she is better than everyone else'. They watch to see me fall too, because eventually everyone does. Tony taught me how to control that fall, so that when I land, I don't break. And Tony taught me that, when I land, I need to get back up."

Another mouthful of the brandy burns down T'Challa's throat, tears threatening in the corner of his eyes.

The only thing loved more, is watching an Idol fall.

Silence reigns in the room for a good few minutes, broken only by the sounds of drinks being consumed.

Pepper clears her throat.

"Did you have any other questions your Highness?"

T'Challa bites his lip for a moment, because yes, he has more questions, but he isn't sure he wants to know the answers anymore. Taking a deep breath and releasing his lip, T'Challa asks the only question that maybe won't further wreck him emotionally.

"Do you think Anthony Stark is a good man?"

Pepper doesn't look surprised by the question, but she doesn't answer immediately. Instead she takes the final few sips of her drink and stands.

"Anthony Edward Stark was slandered as a war monger for following in Howard Stark's footsteps, then decried as an unpatriotic child for taking a new path. Anthony Edward Stark was hated for being an unloving playboy, and outright loathed for being in a committed relationship. Anthony Edward Stark was abhorred for refusing to work with the Government before being despised for capitulating. No matter what he does, he can't come out on top, so no I can't say Anthony Edward Stark is a good man.

Tony is though. The world missed out on a lot when Tony was born a Stark. Good day your Highness, my Lawyers will be in contact with yours."

Giving a polite half bow to the Wakandan Royals, Pepper left the room, shoulders back, chin up, every inch of her demanding respect.

"I agree with you brother."

T'Challa's eyes meet Shuri's after the door is firmly closed, an eyebrow raised in question.

"Pepper Potts is indeed a woman to be afraid of."

Three months after the meeting with the Stark Industries CEO, and one after the arc reactor was installed and research exchanged, T'Challa finds himself once more standing before the U.N.

The meeting today is in regards to the trial of one General Thaddeus Ross, who broke the Accords and has been found guilty of breaking many human rights. T'Challa finds himself watching Anthony Stark as he is called to stand as witness.

"Please Mr Stark, tell us why you believe General Ross, a recognised military man of near impeccable record, has ever been involved in human experimentation."

Ross' Lawyer has an aggravating drawl, no doubt designed to get peoples hackles up, that is just this side of sceptical to infuriate anyone. Anthony Stark is pretty much the only person with the proof to have Ross removed from power, but if he loses his temper, as that tone of voice is aiming for, than it won't matter one whit.

But Anthony Stark is a born showman, a predator who knows how to ignore his own discomfort while going in for the kill.

"Doctor Robert Bruce Banner."

Almost before the name has finished leaving his mouth, Ross has leapt from his seat and is storming forwards in an attack, knocking out the nearest security guard; it takes three burly security guards to hold him down and shackle him.

The rest of a trial is a blur and merely a set of formalities after that. Ross is done after an act of violence in an international trial.

T'Challa notices that Anthony Stark does not smile, or look even remotely smug.

He just looks tired.

Once the trial is finished, and the crowd of paparazzi thinned to follow Ross' journey to a holding cell, T'Challa approaches Anthony Stark.

He can just barely perceive Anthony Stark straightening his shoulders and masking his exhaustion when the man notices him.

"What can I do for you Felix?"

Ignoring the name, T'Challa takes a breath and speaks.

"Anthony Stark. You once taught Pepper Potts that the only thing the world loves more than an Idol, is watching the Idol fall."

Anthony Stark's full attention is on him, and by the Panther God is it a humbling experience; to have such focus and intensity directed solely at him, to have the complete consideration of a man said to run on no less than six individual lines of thought.

"Maybe I just haven't known to look, but I have yet to see you fall, Anthony Stark. You have taught others; might you perhaps teach me?"

T'Challa was born a Prince, and raised to be King, but Anthony Stark was born and raised to be a Stark.

And Starks don't fall easily.

"I could teach you everything Snaggle Puss. But it doesn't mean a thing, won't matter at all, if you're not willing to learn."

Anthony Stark slides a package to T'Challa's side and turns to leave, pulling out his sunglasses and sliding them over his eyes.

"For the Little Lost Ones. I'll know if they get them. And should they get them, I'm called Tony."

A final glance over his shoulder.

"If you manage to learn, T'Challa, there are a great many things I can teach you."

And then he is gone, winding and weaving his way through the crowd with not a soul noticing he was there.

'Curiosity killed the Cat', T'Challa thinks, looking at the package left for the Ex-Avengers.

'But', as a savage grin curls his lips, 'Satisfaction brought it back.'

If nothing else, learning about Tony would be a most satisfying venture.

'Let the Hunt begin.'

Chapter Text

It's no secret that the men in the Stark Line are obsessive.

Christopher Simon Stark was an avid collector of coins; his collection was donated after his death and contained over three hundred pieces.

Simon Howard Stark collected tie pins, despite never wearing them; they were auctioned off after he passed.

Howard Anthony Walter Stark was a Captain America Fan; every movie, every poster, every knick knack and collectible, Howard Stark had them all, and travelled to the Arctic twice yearly to search for the crowning piece, Captain Steven Grant Rogers, himself.

After returning from yet another bitter failure to find his friend, Howard, in a very rare show of consideration, decided to look in on his son.

Anthony Edward Stark collected small broken machines so he could fix them. At first Howard had scoffed, because 'what a waste of time that will be', but more or less let it happen, because Starks never really chose their obsessions, they just turned up, and could change over time; Howard had originally been something of a military buff before Project: Rebirth.

Having been informed by the staff that his son was home for School Break, Howard went to his son's room and opened the door.

A brief flutter of swearing greeted him, along with the sight of his son hastily yanking the cover of his bed over himself to preserve his dignity.

"What the hell?! Did you forget how to knock or something?!"

Howard ignored the shouts, knowing that, while he should have announced his presence so as to give his son the chance to be decent, the door could have just as easily locked to prevent anyone from wandering in on his sons more... physical self-indulgences.

He stated as much to Anthony, and received a snort in return.

"Why would I lock the door when no-one comes this way? The staff don't touch this wing when I'm present, Mum's always busy with this charity or that function, and this is the first time you've even looked at me in three years. Why bother locking the door?"

Howard forced himself to keep his breathing slow and even.

Three years? Anthony thought his father hadn't looked at him in three years? Preposterous; he looked at his son plenty, Anthony was always bugging him down in the workshop to look at one of the doo-dads he'd pieced together. Anthony scoffed at the information.

"Think again Howard; I haven't gone near your workshop since you sent me to Huntington's Boarding School for the Elite at seven. Do you even know how old I am now?"

It should have told Howard something when, no; he didn't know his only child's age. It should have told Howard something when his child addressed him by name not title.

"I'm sixteen, nearly seventeen. That's nearly ten years Howard; guess saying three was being optimistic."

It should have told Howard something.

But it didn't.

It couldn't; Howard's eyes had locked onto something that drowned the rest of the world out. Something that had him still as stone with a whirling mass of conflicting emotions in his head.

It wasn't a girly magazine Anthony had be deriving his pleasure from. Or at least, not a magazine with girls in it.

Spread blatantly across the two pages were men covered by little more than their shorts, posing languidly and sprawled, inviting the viewer to trail their gaze across flat chests and muscled limbs.

Howard's breathing was no longer calm, and a flare of rage, white-hot and burning, pulsed through him.

Anthony was... no, a glance around the room showed evidence of a normal young man. How could his son be a-a queer?! There were signs weren't there? Things that Anthony should have been doing that showed his predilection, that Howard could have put a stop to this tomfoolery and corrected his son's behaviour?

How was the Stark Legacy to continue if Anthony didn't get married and have a son?

Anthony had, in fact, realised where his father's gaze had fallen, sighed and moved to get dressed, picking up the magazine and putting it away while Howard had an internal meltdown. He was actually leaving the room with his wallet and keys by the time Howard came back to himself.

"Where are you going Anthony?! We need to fix this and-"

"There is nothing to fix Howard. I am attracted to men. Big deal, grow up."

"Big deal?! This is a very big deal Anthony! You would have the Stark name die out because you-you-"

Anthony sighed again and kept walking down the hall, Howard following him as he fought to bring his words from his throat.

"If I want to 'keep the name alive' all I need to do is adopt a kid and BOOM! Stark Heir."

Howard's rage was clawing itself higher and higher inside of him, Anthony's callous disregard to the superiority of the Stark genes a mockery he could not let stand. But before Howard could speak another word, they had reached the front door to the estate, and Anthony spoke a single sentence before closing the door behind him.

"And hell, maybe that way -having a child that isn't of my blood- I won't end up forgetting that they exist outside of my anger."

A month later, sitting in his study, nursing a glass of bourbon, Howard ran through his actions yet again, looking for any point of error.

Any attempts made to sway Anthony to the attractions of the female populace had been met with disdain at best and outright misbehaviour at worst. Howard was still working to placate the CEO of Infinity Metals for the stunt Anthony pulled with a garden hose, a rubber chicken, and nine pounds of guacamole.

Trying to speak to Maria about the problem was hopeless; She would sit through him explaining the situation only to look up when he finished and ask him when he got home, before leaving without an answer because she was late for a meeting with the Head of a Charity. He loved the woman, truly, or at least held her in the highest affection, but that little scenario had happened seven times. Eight if you count the time he had tried to discuss it as they were preparing for bed, but she went through her routine without even noticing his presence before she went to sleep.

Talks with the staff had revealed they all knew of Anthony's... tastes but as the boy was off at M.I.T. for most of the year (and when the hell had Anthony started at college? Surely he would have been informed about that, right?) they didn't really have anything to say about it, especially since they confirmed that 'yes, while the young Master is home we don't enter his wing. You made it quite clear first holidays back from Huntington's sir, that you would not have him spoiled and unable to look after himself when he returned, until you said otherwise.'

Taking a bracing mouthful of the bourbon, Howard looked to the small card on his desk, the elegant script curling across the page silently promising either his salvation or damnation, depending on how the evening would proceed.


To the Etiolated House of Stark,


It is to the Eternal Honour of the Nonpareil House of Hammer, that we have been chosen, by the

Esteemed President Himself, to be Hosts of this Years Political Gala. We, of the Inimitable House

of Hammer, Have Magnanimously Decided that You, of the Typic House of Stark, Are Certainly

to be Upon the Invitees List. We ask for Cordial Behaviour in Our Resplendent Home, and that,

For the Good Impressions the U.S. Wishes Presented to Our Foreign Dignitaries, All Must be

Suitably Attired in Full Suit and Dress. We, of the Paramount House of Hammer, Do hope to

See You of the Bromidic House of Stark in Attendance.

With the Good Wishes of the Transcendent House of Hammer.


Justin R. Hammer Sr. & Sasha M. Hammer.


Whatever was President Gordon thinking? The Hammer family was full of the most pretentious and uncouth souls Howard had ever had the misfortune to encounter. Justin Sr. was an incompetent grandstand, constantly trying to muscle his way into the weapons business, but couldn't be bothered to finish the designs, because he had people for that. And his wife Sasha was practically copying Maria, trying to one up his lovely wife in philanthropy, but constantly giving money to well known corrupt organisations. Not to mention the putrescent brat of a son Justin Jr. Both elder Hammers were also very focused on appearance; at first glance, the invitation was quite fancy and sophisticated, but Howard knew how to use a dictionary, and so was well aware to the slights to his family name.

But Howard could use this. After the month of Anthony's relentlessness, Howard had come the conclusion that there was only one way to end this without have the Stark name dragged through the mud.

Wed Anthony off to a Foreign Personage of good standing.

Denmark had just that year decided to recognise registered same-sex relationships, and Greece was well known for having a more... open policy on personal relationships.

If Howard could convince someone with enough prestige to agree to a Political Union with Anthony, there would be little to taint the Stark name, and Howard could needle Maria, who would in turn pester Anthony on the importance of grandchildren. Eventually Anthony would capitulate to pay for a surrogate, and his son would be given the Stark name and all would be well.

Yes it would be easier if Anthony would just cooperate and bed a woman; Howard would be understanding enough to allow the boy to be a bastard, just so long as Anthony had an heir, but Anthony was a stubborn child, and refused to listen to reason, so Howard would do as he must.

Finishing his drink, Howard rose to corral his son into the suit his mother had chosen for the night.

The evening hadn't been going well.

First of all, Howard had had to interact with Hammer Sr. and wife, which was always a miserable affair.

Then he'd had to circuit the room, shaking hands and fake laughs and old stories, with business partners, investors and of course the dignitaries themselves, which was tedious and too short a time for him to actually poke and prod at potential partners for his son.

Then he'd had to check up on Maria, who had been networking with the wives present and Anthony, who had been surrounded by the younger children attending with their parents, telling nonsense stories and jokes. Aside from the pointlessness of Anthony's actions, this wasn't bad per se, it just didn't do anything to help Howard's mood, because while Anthony's behaviour was gathering a good deal of positive attention, it was all from the elder daughters in the room, meaning Anthony would completely ignore it.

Howard had finally been able to talk to the visitors properly, but most of them were too old for Anthony to wed without causing scandal at the age difference, which Howard refused to let happen to the Stark name. The few that were of suitable age were either married, or completely normal single heterosexual men.

The band (some awful jazz-wannabes that didn't know how to appreciate the genre) were striking up another 'reimagining' of a classic, when Howard happened to catch the tail end of a certain conversation.

"-well and good, but we believe that a person's soul seeks out the one that will complete it regardless of gender. Take my son here for example; TChalla, if you would?"

As Howard watched the African smile at his son, the young man smiled in return before facing the other person in the conversation.

"I found, early on in puberty, that I felt more comfortable in the company of men than women. That is not to say that I felt uncomfortable around women; just that I find more pleasure with my own gender."

Howard felt a grin curl his lips as the conversation continued. The young man, T'Challa if he'd heard correctly, was the best candidate so far; the son of a dignitary as opposed to holding the job himself, but he was obviously held in high esteem by his father, so would hold excellent references. Howard carefully made his way to the two men, making it look as though his path had naturally led him there. By the time he was close enough to speak, the conversation had ended, and the other speaker gone.

Donning the smile that dazzled the media, Howard stuck out his hand.

"I don't believe we met yet tonight; Howard Stark."

Though leery of the Stark name, Howard had been able to more or less win T'Chaka and T'Challa's grudging acceptance.

Starting the conversation with gentle questions about how they were liking the U.S.A, Howard eventually dipped into more important information, though no less gently, and never appearing as a bid for insider information; a mild complaint about the rain New York had seen for the past few days had been replied with how they never saw such chilling rain in their home; a half-joke about how the Hammer's were spending their money on lousy decorators re-joined by how they came upon the money in the first place as Hammer Tech was not doing well.

A quip of how Anthony was spending his time near mothering the youngest attendees was met with an interested father and son's searching eyes.

Howard suppressed the smug grin he felt on his lips and pointed Anthony out to the men.

By this point, Anthony had lost his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and his hair had lost any sense of order, instead ruffled like a common vagabonds from all the times the children, and Anthony himself, had run hands through it.

Howard inwardly scowled at how unkempt is son appeared and prepared to offer an excuse when the young man -T'Challa, not Anthony- bowed politely and made a bee-line to the Stark Heir. T'Chaka chuckled.

"Ah, it would seem your son has managed to ensnare mine. I have yet to see T'Challa react so strongly to another. I believe this will be most fortuitous."

"Fortuitous, you say?"

T'Chaka tempered his smile somewhat before returning his gaze to Howard, though it continued to glance back.

"Our people are believers that souls seek out the ones to complete them regardless of gender," T'Chaka repeated the spiel that had first caught Howard's attention. "And that when we find the perfect soul, the person that will warm our hearts until the end of our days, nothing will be able to keep us from them; we will be pulled towards them, and woe to all who stand in the way. I understand that this is an unusual, and rather heavy idea for Americans though."

T'Chaka's final statement was no doubt meant to placate a father who was over-protective of his son, but Howard was merely filled with glee. T'Challa would want to keep Anthony, would likely near fight for it; Howard just needed to make T'Chaka think this was his idea.

Howard uttered a low laugh.

"I wish your boy luck then; Anthony has quite the standards, and won't settle for anything. T'Challa has his work cut out for him."

T'Chaka's smile returned, with just a hint of triumph to it, before once more focusing on their sons.

"T'Challa is a strong young man; I have no doubt that if it is Anthony's soul that calls him, I will be welcoming a new son into my family come New Years."

It was Howard's turn to smile triumphantly, now that T'Chaka was leaving to join T'Challa and Anthony.

Tonight wasn't such a failure after all.

T'Challa and T'Chaka spoke with Anthony for nearly two hours, before Maria had decided it was time to leave. Howard exchanged contact information with T'Chaka as the boys said their farewells, T'Challa's rather besotted and Anthony's actually polite.

Two months later found Anthony back at school and Howard driving himself and Maria in the early evening. He was feeling a few final pieces of self-satisfaction before he made the delivery to S.H.I.E.L.D.

T'Chaka had just that morning signed the final form for a Political Union between T'Challa and Anthony. As soon as T'Challa, the younger of the two, turned twenty-five, they would be wed. T'Chaka had revealed that he was the King of Wakanda during their discussions, which had filled Howard with glee at the thought of Anthony getting Stark Industries access to Vibranium, and had removed the last smidgen of doubt as to whether Howard's plan would keep the Stark name safe.

Anthony would be with a prince and then king. No one would be able to claim Anthony as a disgrace, and the Wakandan Royal family didn't have last names. Everything was perfect.

Howard pulled the car round the corner, only to spot a man standing in the middle of the road.

Chapter Text

It was an assignment that started it, some cheesy sounding attempt to 'extend the U.S.A.'s hand of friendship to all corners of the globe' or some other sappy bullshit.

Every student at M.I.T. and participating schools the world over were to exchange as many letters as they could back-and-forth in the space of three months. The letters had to be hand-written, and the only accepted reason out of that was if both hands were disabled. Meaning if you broke your dominant hand, suck it up and use the other.

Tony was relieved to know that the students weren't expected to use their real names; Stark was known pretty much everywhere, and he didn't want to have anything he wrote in these letters sold to the rags.

Dear Unknown Person also suckered into this 'Creative Writing Task',

Over the course of the next three months, you are unfortunately going to be stuck with my unusual writing style. Well, I say unusual, because apparently it isn't 'good form' to write the way you speak, which seems stupid to me; because sometimes as your speaking you will say something absolutely brilliant which has little to do with what you're saying otherwise, but damn if you won't retrace the train of thought which led to it. It's like purposefully ignoring half of the way a person thinks, and part of this task is to get the know one another right?

Well I assume it is, I kinda started ignoring the teacher about a third of the way in; she drones, like a lot, and has the weirdest fascination with using cookie jar analogies that ignore how people actually eat cookies. "You want the cookies at the top of the jar, not the crummy chunks at the bottom." I'm sorry, but who the hell ignores the cookie chunks at the bottom of the jar?! They are perfect for nibbles, and putting on ice cream! And depending on the type of cookie, they are sometimes the most flavoured pieces! Chocolate Chip Forever!

I made a robot. Well, he's sorta a robot, but not one of those humanoid looking things in movies or comics. I call him Dum-E, and he's kinda a glorified arm on wheels; holds stuff for me in the shop, usually drops it, gives me puppy dog eyes EVEN THOUGH I GAVE HIM NO EYES ONLY A CAMERA!!! He's in the timeout corner right now.

He knows what he did.

Oh yeah, I'm in the M.I.T mechanics and engineering course, so that's why I made Dum-E, useless as he may be.

Man, my hand is already starting to cramp. This is actually the second letter I started writing, but Teacher-Drones-a-Lot decided to read the first one and spent, like, fifteen minutes complaining about how big my handwriting was; she said it looked like I was still using 'Grade One letters' due to the size and really what? Everyone has a unique way of writing Lady, sure most people end up really shrinking their letter size, but I didn't! Big Deal, Grow a Pair!

Yeah, I've got a chip on my shoulder; fight me.

Man I could use some pizza; do they have pizza where you live? If not your life sucks, pizza is awesome and one of the two kings of fast food, met as equal only by the cheeseburger. I could use a cheeseburger too, this is an excellent plan, food is always an excellent plan, okay let's do this; cheeseburger, pizza then letter whatchamit.

Yeah sorry for the slight grease stains, but pizza and cheeseburger.

That's all I can be bothered to write, so yeah I assume I'll hear from you soon.

Why is it 'hear from you' when I'll be reading your letter, not listening to you speak? You won't be saying anything for me to hear; that saying is stupid and makes no sense, I disavow any knowledge of having used it or that it even exists, what are you talking about, oh hey pizza.

Sorry for another grease stain, but it's paper, you'll live. Unless you are allergic to grease, in which case, sorry you are now dying/dead.

The Mechanic you are forced to peripherally interact with.

About a week after Tony had sent his letter, a response arrived in a pretty cream envelope.

To the Greatly Amusing Mechanic,

Though I felt some trepidation towards the idea of this assignment, after having read your missive, I can only look forward to what the future months hold.

I find myself quite charmed by the way you write; as you say, we are to get to know each other, and part of that would be learning how the other thinks; not an easy task in writing if you are heavily editing your words. And though I can see how you have forced yourself to write smaller letters, it is obvious how the size interferes with the fluidness of your pen, so I encourage you to resume using your 'Grade One letters', as it matters not to me the amount of space they take up.

I am also in agreement with you on the cookie matter, both their location in a jar, and on Chocolate Chip Forever.

You speak of Dum-E as sentient; along with building a robot, did you perhaps dabble in artificial intelligence? The way you describe Dum-E as 'him' and 'Knowing what he has done' certainly implies it, and most certainly sounds as though you succeeded, though with the name Dum-E, probably not to the extent you had hoped.

I have a passing knowledge of robotics, as it is not my chosen area of study, but I can only imagine the amount of time and effort you must have put into him, even if Dum-E is merely a 'glorified arm on wheels'.

I am at home for the moment, but I am an exchange student at Cambridge. My studies are rather broad, covering most of the sciences, though my Father was most insistent that I not neglect the more 'artistic' pursuits. As such, I am also taking a sculpting course. My last project was Panthera pardus, Panthera onca. I am rather proud of how it turned out.

We do not have available fast-food pizza at my home, but I have grown most fond of it at school, so have been making it myself. It is not quite the same, I admit, but I enjoy the results all the same. And yes, thanks to your words, I had to go and make one because that truly was an excellent plan.

I find myself glad to be home, both for the warmth you can find nowhere else, and because I have missed spending time with my little sister and parents. I am still not used to being unable to interact with them as I please, and I fear after my break is over, it will be even harder for me to be at Cambridge. Do you have any siblings? You might be able to relate.

Speaking of, she has decided it is time for me to give her my attention, so I will end the letter here.

I look forward to when we next share words. Sounds better than that which shall not be mentioned, yes?

The Panther,

Well then, looks like Tony got paired with an interesting fellow.

The three months flew by, and had it not been for his Panther asking for the letters to continue being exchanged, Tony would have felt sad the assignment was over.

Despite Tony's disdain for archaic practices, the exchange continued on as hand written letters and was always back and forward, no queue jumping. The pair had set up email addresses for sharing important news when it wasn't their turn for the letters, but it wasn't used much.

As they grew and graduated, the letters unfortunately lost their frequency; when Tony took over Stark Industries, he had been so busy, he couldn't send his Panther a proper letter for four months only able to give brief snatches of conversation online.

Sent 12:08pm 05/16/93

I am so close to stabbing someone! I kid you not, a jerk from the meeting that just finished followed me into the bathroom to talk to me about his proposal that had been denied! I am seriously not even allowed to shit in private anymore!

Sent 01:52pm 05/16/93

That is just monstrous my friend. While being so trusted as to have your opinion sought out is a flattery, that is no excuse to behave as this man did. I have just started working under my father's guidance, but nothing like that has happened to me. Stay strong My Mechanic, and report this man for unprofessional behaviour if nothing else! Who knows who else he has done that to?

His Panther understood and though in a different boat, also ended up writing his complaints to Tony outside of their letters.

Sent 08:24am 04/30/94

My father's adviser is a wise man; he has lived through much and learned even more, but he refuses to listen to reason! I do not care that I am of marriageable age; I have far too much to do to go looking for a partner, and he won't listen when I tell him that I am just as interested in men! He is stuck in the old ways, and even though there are ways besides marriage that I could have a child, he still argues against it!

Sent 08:47am 04/30/94

I know the feeling; 'there is nothing proper or respectable about being a father without at least a ring on your finger, even if the mother is gone; it sends a bad message'. Please, as if it's anyone else's business. And even more so your choice of partner. You're choosing someone to stick by and be stuck by you forever right? So make it the person you care for most regardless of if they have a dick or boobs! I mean, your dad doesn't fuss about your choices right? So why can't his adviser trust him, if not you?

Sent 09:13am 04/30/94

Oh to read those words from you my friend! My father has been most supportive of my interests ever since I first brought them to his attention, and after showing him your last message, took your advice and spoke to his adviser! Thank you my Mechanic, truly!

His Panther was so elegant in writing. Many times, Tony had thought of bringing up the idea of the two meeting, getting to actually speak to his Panther and discover if that eloquence was natural in his speech.

But he was Tony Stark.

Even if his Panther was as wonderful a human as their exchanges proclaimed, being Tony Stark would break anything they once shared. Tony was constantly hounded by the paparazzi, the Board of Directors, the Shareholders, fans and enemies. Honestly, as the years passed, Tony wondered how he was still a even semi-functioning human being.

Though he did drink, it was nowhere near the amount the media claimed; hadn't been after the second time he'd needed his stomach pumped (and to be fair, the first time he had only had two drinks, but whatever the booze was gave him pretty severe food poisoning so didn't really count) and he had shared the story with his Panther, who had responded with a heartfelt plea for Tony to take better care of himself.

Again, despite what the media reported, Tony had never done recreational drugs aside from trying marijuana once at sixteen. Turns out he was allergic, so he never tried again, and didn't want to risk trying anything else.

And yes, Tony had slept with quite a few woman (and just as many men) he wasn't the STD riddled slut that sold the papers though. Tony had always been extremely careful with keeping himself clean -would have tests done after every encounter just to be sure- and was adamant about safe-sex with all his partners (he also did not have the forty plus children born out of wedlock, thank you very much.) and rarely ever slept with a person who was drunk. No, Tony often found himself in the company of the seriously inebriated and took them home to sleep it off; they just all assumed that there had been sex and since it was Tony Stark, it must have been amazing.

Tony hated his life sometimes.

Like during Afghanistan. Tony really hated his life during Afghanistan.

After those gruelling three months, and the aftermath of Obi-Stane's betrayal, Tony sat before his holo-display, psyching himself up to log into the Mechanics email page.

Three months with nothing to his Panther...

Would they even want to talk to him now or had they given the Mechanic as gone?

"Only one way to find out Anthony." He muttered to himself, grateful that J.A.R.V.I.S. kept any commentary to himself.

72 Unread Messages.

Tony felt his eyes moisten as he saw that the last message was only hours old. Not yet having the bravery to look at what could possibly have been his Panthers final message Tony read from the oldest message all the way through the list.

I may have felt sorry for him, but it was the third time that week he had ignored lab protocol so we had to let him go. What would you have done my friend? You always seem to know how best to solve conflicts like this.

I haven't read anything from you for a while; have things been busy for you? Just remember to take care of yourself; I worry sometimes that you are constantly running on fumes.

It has been three weeks, My Mechanic, are you alright? Please talk to me my friend; is there anything I can do to help?

Where are you? Please, can you talk to me?

The messages grew shorter and shorter, but no less desperate, until they just repeated the same line over and over.

Please be alive.

Tony swallowed the fear in his throat and opened the last message.

I need you.

The air punching out of his lungs, Tony let a few of those scarce Stark tears tumble down his cheeks.

Even if it was just one person, Tony had been missed as a friend.

Tony breathed as deeply as he could with his emotions running haywire and the arc reactor sitting heavy in his chest, before he sent a message of his own.

I need you too. Sorry I've been gone so long.

The letters had stopped.

Though Tony kept every single one he had received, neither he nor his Panther could bear after those three months to not have the near immediate responses when they wrote to each other. Tony's Panther was the only one aside from Pepper, Rhodey, Happy and S.H.I.E.L.D. to know about Stane's betrayal and how he tried to kill Tony, though Tony was careful never to reveal names.

S.H.I.E.L.D. would no doubt hunt his Panther down if they knew about him, which was why Tony had connected his M.I.T. email strictly to a transportable holo-panel he could carry with him. It was the best protection he could give, seeing as not even Rhodey remembered the letter exchange anymore.

Tony was man enough to admit that he was more than a little dependant on the words of his Panther, and he was constantly aware of his tech's presence in his pocket. Every time it buzzed to announce a new message, Tony would find some way to look at it and respond, so as to never let his Panther suffer through the uncertainty he had again.

For a precious few months, Tony's world started righting itself. SI was doing well, Pepper and Happy had hooked up, Being Iron Man was awesome, and he spoke to his Panther several times over the day.

Then his arc reactor decided it wanted to kill him.

Tony tried so many times to tell those he cared for, but each time, the words just wouldn't come. Every time he even glanced at the holo-panel, his shredded heart twisted just a little bit more at the remembrance of those fearful, begging words.

Please be alive.

But no matter how he tried to phrase it, Tony couldn't write the words; he couldn't put his Panther through that grief.

Tony Stark was already heading to hell; what was one more failure to the list?

Hey, you remember how I told you that some leather fetishist pirate broke into my house? Turns out he used to work with my old man, and wanted to see if I was 'keeping up the legacy' before he gave me some of my father's belongings.


So, as it turns out, I was maybe, kinda, just a little bit dying for the last couple of months.


I am Iron Man.


Tony dropped the holo-panel onto his desk before kicking away, the wheels of the chair taking him to rest against the bar from the particle accelerator.

None of those messages was adequate, let alone suitable, for him to apologise and explain to his Panther. They all sounded so... shallow. Tony had already apologised to Pepper, Happy and Rhodey about the screw up he made in regards to the Paladium Poisoning, and they were his closest friends; why was it so much harder to tell his Panther?

"Perhaps because you feel more than friendship for him Sir."

J.A.R.V.I.S.'s voice caused Tony to look at the AI's nearest camera.

"What do you mean J?"

Both man and AI were aware that Tony already knew the answer, but hearing the AI explain what and how he had come to a given conclusion had always calmed Tony, so the electronic butler indulged him.

"You are always happier after communicating with the Panther Sir, and will often take the pieces of advice that he extends. Although it aggravates Miss Potts, you have settled into a fairly reliable sleeping pattern, with around five hours a night, that more or less matches the calculated time zone of the Panther, so you can respond to any messages he sends you promptly. And his reaction Sir, is the one you fear most of all. Ergo, you are 'in it deep' Sir."

Tony chuckled, a small, low little sound and pushed against the pipe, propelling himself back to his desk.

"So proud of you kid. No matter what else I may say, I am so very proud of you."

"If there is anything in me to be proud of Sir, it is that which I have learned from my father's guidance."

Tony felt his lip tremble as he once more focused on the holo-panel.

Sorry doesn't begin to cut my behaviour lately, but I, at the very least, can tell you what was going through my head. I told you how, during those three months, I got a pacemaker of sorts?


Because that was his life now apparently.

Sure, Tony could easily see how the sheer presence of a being like Thor could lead people of simpler knowledge into believing him a god, and it sure as hell explained a lot, but still aliens.

At least by thinking of Goldie Locks and Rudolph as aliens he wasn't forced into the squickiness of magic, because that was just no.

I just met a guy claiming to be the Norse god of Thunder. I apparently need to help fix the mess his brother made. Why is this a thing?

Sending off the harmless little complaints to his Panther between writing the coding for the tracking algorithm and nerding out with Bruce was helping Tony's focus immensely. Especially with his Panther's replies.

You are the Mechanic. Fixing things is what you do, and you strive to be among the best; who better to fix what needs fixing?

It made warmth bloom in Tony's chest.

"He made it personal."

"That's not the point."

"That IS the point. That's Loki's point! He hit us all right where we live. Why?"

"To tear us apart."

"Yeah, divide and conquer is great, but he knows he has to take us out to win, right? THAT'S what he wants. He wants to beat us, he wants to be seen doing it. He wants an audience."

"Right. I caught his act at Stuttgart."

"Yeah, that was just previews. This is - this is opening night. And Loki, he's a full-tilt diva, right? He wants flowers, he wants parades. He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered... Son of a bitch."

Something big has come up and needs my total attention, so I may not respond for a few hours.

Understood my friend. May the matter be dealt with swiftly.

"Shall I compose a message for the Panther Sir?"

"Yeah, yeah that sounds good J. How about Bless your heart, for I held it in my hands a short time. Bless your hands, for they'll forever hold mine? I'm feeling poetic facing my end."

"The message is sent Sir. I do believe it a poignant farewell."

"Thanks J. Hey, give Pepper a ring for me would you?"

My Friend, I easily say the same to you. You have held my heart for far more than a short time. May I ask what prompted such a message?

My Friend, is everything alright? Is the task you spoke of arduous?

My Mechanic, are you okay? You are not in danger are you?

Please answer, My Mechanic!

Please be alive.

I need you.

I need you too.

I can't sleep anymore. It drives my boss round the bend, but I close my eyes and I'm back in New York. The only way I can get any rest is by working to exhaustion.

Oh My Mechanic, is there anything I can do to aid you? It pains me that I cannot be by your side to offer you comfort, but if there is anything I can do, merely tell me and it shall be done!

Tell me again the story of how you and your sister fought over a mask?

My pleasure, My Mechanic. We were fifteen and twelve respectively...

Good news from the doctors my Panther; I don't need the pacemaker anymore. It's been taken out and everything. And it's believed that with it gone, I may be able to rest some more.

It gladdens my heart to hear that you are of such health! After the trying few days you have had, it is wonderful to hear such news.

Yeah, sorry for constantly pestering you like that; I know you've got a lot of stuff to do.

Oh My Mechanic, even if I were only to receive complaints and grievances from your messages, I would still delight in that you find solace in me. And I know that I have sent many the negative statement to you as well, and you try to comfort me in my times of strife as well. The only difference is that fewer people seem set to try and kill me.

Yeah, I'm really easy to hate face-to-face.

Are you sure you do not want us to meet, My Mechanic?

Half of the allure is the mystery. But yeah, if we actually met, I don't think we'd be able to continue on. And I don't want to risk losing you My Panther.

I do not want to lose you either, My Mechanic. I need you.

I need you too.

"So you were facing down three, I repeat, THREE helicarriers that have been upgraded by me, and you don't call me in?! Given the fact that I have stated openly that I don't trust S.H.I.E.L.D. do you really believe I wouldn't have snuck in an off switch?! Had I been told this was happening, I could have prevented the carriers from ever leaving the tarmac!"

"We didn't know who to trust Stark, leave it! Any one could have been a HYDRA plant! We got them shut down, that's all that matters."

"That and the millions of dollars worth of property damage and the dozens of GOOD S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who just got their covers blown by you throwing everything on the net Steve! As it is, working with Hill, we've only managed to recover a third of them! And you trusted a perfect stranger to help you while I don't even get a heads up?!"

"What's done is done Stark; not everything is about you. I'm heading out with Sam tomorrow; Nat picked up some chatter that might lead us to Bucky, and Clint's picking up Bruce from the airport early."

What does it say about me that my team members call each other by name but me by my family? Hell, they're even calling the newest guy by name. Maybe I'm just being childish or something, but it just doesn't feel... fair, I guess.

It most certainly is not fair My Mechanic. That sounds like they are intentionally keeping you distant. What this says about you is that you are being pushed away, despite all the effort I know you have put in. I send you all my affection My Mechanic, for it sounds like this team won't share theirs. And I hope you always remember, My Mechanic, that I need you.

I need you too.

I keep trying my hardest to fix things, but I just keep messing up. People are dead because I couldn't fix things. I'm not a mechanic, I'm a monster. You don't deserve to be stuck listening to me, so I guess... I guess this is me saying goodbye.

NO! Please My Mechanic, do not push me away! Talk to me, we can figure this out!

My Mechanic please respond; please do not leave me!

My Mechanic please talk to me!

Please, My Mechanic!

I need you.

I need you too.

"There will be consequences Stark!"

"Tell me something I'm unaware of Ross."

Tony gestured to Friday, cutting the call, and leaned back in his seat sighing, a hand rising to gently massage the bridge of his nose.

The pull in his chest forced him to lower his arm, the deep, red welt from the shield a painful reminder of what he'd lost.

"I'm sorry Tony, but he's my friend!"

"...So was I."

Tony sighed again. Why couldn't Steve realise that the Avengers were dangerous without having someone to answer to? Why did the man feel so certain that things should just keep on, even though the civilians of the places they fought at were all begging for them to stay away?

Why hadn't Steve told him about his parents?

"You are having deep thoughts. Is this not a good time to speak with you?"

Tony looked up, not really surprised by T'Challa's sudden appearance, not after spending months living with Natasha and sometimes Clint.

"Nah, I got time. What do you need Bagheera?"

T'Challa took a seat in front of Tony's desk. Even the simple act of sitting down was full of elegance, and made Tony long to send a message to the only one who never seemed to doubt him. But there weren't enough hours in the day to take care of everything.

"I am looking after them. Two of them expressed worry for their families however, so I was hoping you would be able to keep them safe from Ross."

Tony had already guessed that T'Challa was keeping the super-soldiers safe, it was easy to see that invitation would be extended to the rest of the team. And of course now Clint thought of his family. Scott Lang was actually luckier that he had started up a relationship with Hope Van Dyne; she would keep Cassie under her wing and distracted from her father's absence.

But Tony was a futurist; he looked towards what could be and prepared accordingly. Or at least tried to.

Fishing a pair of phones (proper Starkphones of course, not that insult to technology that Steve had sent with that farce of a letter) from his desk drawer, he handed them to the monarch.

"Already settled in. Laura was pretty adamant that her husband be scolded, but I don't think it will have the same effect coming from anyone but her."

T'Challa looked stunned for a moment before taking the phones -one black with purple highlights, the other red with silver- and carefully tucking them into his coat pocket. He then seemed to be considering something as he looked to Tony again.

"Would you like to accompany me for lunch? A friend of mine once said that food is always an excellent plan."

Tony snickered slightly, before rising and reaching for his jacket.

"Yeah, I could go for food, that is an excellent plan. You know what? I'm craving pizza! Pizza and a cheeseburger; they are the twin kings of fast food! Let's do it!"

Tony reached the door and looked back only to see T'Challa frozen, his eyes wide and staring at Tony like he had never seen him before.

"Hey, Salem, you okay over there? Was it something I said? Was it pizza? That is a thing you have in Wakanda right? Cuz if not, like I once told someone dear to me, your life sucks. Which, given the recent events, was pretty self-evident anyway, but there is a special cruelty in the world that some people don't get the access to pizza that others enjoy and-"

Tony's words were cut off by an insistent press of lips to his own. Tony barely processed what was happening before T'Challa backed away, his hands cupping Tony's cheeks as a beautiful smile curled his lips.

"My Mechanic."

Tony's eyes widened. Only one person called him that.

"I need you.

Tony felt his eyes water as the Wakandan King drew him into a possessive hug. There was only one response to give.

"I need you too."

Chapter Text

Depending on who you ask, Anthony Edward Stark is either the Greatest Man of his Generation, or a human shaped bag of scum and greed.

Tony, as he prefers to be called, doesn't really see himself as either. No, Tony doesn't see himself as at either end of those scales,

Tony sees himself as a simple man.

Sure he may grandstand a lot, but that's all about controlling what story about him the papers will have slapped across them come morning.

No, Tony knows that he is fallible, that he is vulnerable, that he is human.

He is a surprisingly humble man; he makes the obscenely big gestures and has congratulations and thanks thrown at him, and he laps up every bit. Because when he does something small, honest and genuine, he shies away from even the kindest word. He doesn't know how to handle sincere praise. He wasn't taught how. He's a Stark though.

Stark's can fake their way through anything.

So Tony fakes his smiles for the cameras.

He fakes his promiscuity, drugs and alcohol.

He fakes his sorrow at his fathers funeral.

He fakes his inexperience in front of the Board.

He fakes his confidence to the world.

And nobody thinks to look, to actually look and see the cracks running all around his masks.

Nobody looks, because nobody wants to see.

If they see him breaking they may feel tempted to fix the problem, to make it better, but they can't do that; Tony Stark is at the top of his game, the top of the world, an Idol of no refute.

The only thing the world loves more, is watching an Idol fall.

Tony has fallen many times, just like everyone will eventually. The difference is Tony gets back up.

He pushes himself back to his feet, no matter the hurt and sadness that wells inside; one foot in front of the other until he has the momentum to run again; run from the faceless voices and hands trying to push him to the ground once more.

It's easier to stay on his feet when he's not alone; Rhodey at M.I.T. remains the reason Tony actually graduated, the reason Tony lived to see graduation. Happy as his chauffeur is the reason Tony was able to stand tall when the full weight of Stark Industries landed on his shoulders, threatening to crush him beneath the pressure. Pepper at SI will forever be the reason Tony didn't decide to just walk away years ago - From SI, from Public Eye, from Life.

In another lifetime, another world, he could have loved Pepper. Loved her as a woman, instead of the sister he never had.

Tony's not sure whether to be sad he can't love Pepper that way or grateful, because even after all the shitshow his life has been, she's still there at his side, helping run herd on all the chaos.

Tony has loved people in his life like that -Sunset, Tiberius- but never been loved in return. When the Avengers had come to live in the Tower and were exposed to him beyond battle, they all agreed on pretty much one thing.

"You're like a big cat; a lion or tiger or something. Something beautiful to look at, but deadly to go near, so who'd risk it?"

Story of his life really.

What the Avengers all forget to say though, is Tony is a creature of elegance and intellect; people are drawn to his presence, wishing silently for him to look at them and praise them - to see that they are doing well and acknowledge their struggles.

Tony doesn't see how Thor absolutely beams when Tony tells the Thunderer he's finally figured out how to control his strength on the more fragile items in the Tower.

Tony doesn't see how Bruce stands a little taller after Tony remarks on how much progress the Hulk's alter-ego has made in his projects.

Tony doesn't see how Hulk squirms in delight when Tony praises his behaviour post-battle.

Tony doesn't see how Natasha relaxes her shoulders when Tony thanks her for the pelmeni she made him after he fixes her widow's bites.

Tony doesn't see how Clint listens in interest when Tony talks about how the archer is brilliant at picking spots at the start of a battle but needs to find safer ones mid-way.

Tony doesn't see how Steve follows easily, completely, when Tony tells him how to take the lead.

Tony doesn't see it, because he doesn't know how to look, and everyone knows 'he has an ego, so don't bring it to his attention'.

Tony sees how they all leave him.

Tony just doesn't understand people; it's why he likes math and science so much, they make sense.

Actually Tony likes all learning. He doesn't necessarily plan to do anything with what he learns, but it keeps his brain occupied, stops it from spinning endlessly with all the facts that he sees at any given moment.

-It's forty-two steps to the common room from the elevator, traveling at an average of a half mile per hour, the turn to avoid Mjolnir takes 26 degrees to the right of current trajectory-

-The elastin elements of the fibres prove to be able to expand with the Hulk's sudden increase in body mass but shrinking back down to conform to Bruce is more difficult; maybe try an alloy fibre, one that could-

-Widow Bites falling to 12% battery life in one fight is unforgivable; Natasha charges them religiously so she's never caught out, but the amount of power drained by facing-

-Pepper's birthday is in three days, need to buy her a present for the actual day. No rabbits, or other giant things, jewellery or shoes would go over best, red for her hair, or try to match eyes-

-Thirty-seven new cracks in the plaster by the kitchen wall; Clint beat Thor at MarioKart again, most likely red shell defeat given depth of cracks-

-Steve has been sneaking extra helpings of treacle tart, even though he's been told to eat his fill at meals; prepare more food, so he stops rationing himself Depression style-

-Clint has been nesting on the bookcases again; shelves are 4cm further from wall then yesterday, install base support so shelves don't tip-

They still left though.

Tony doesn't mean to take note of everything, he just does; photographic memory. Sure his recall is pretty average on subjects he hasn't actively studied, but he can (and has) pulled tears from college and university students for knowing more about their chosen subject in a few hours than they know with years of study.

"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?"

"Last night."

But Tony likes learning for meaning. His Cara Madre taught him Italian because it meant something to her. He taught himself math, because it meant he could make sense of the numbers. He learned science, because it meant he understood more of the world.

Tony wants to learn T'Challa.

T'Challa, a man he met when a prince, and fought alongside as a king. A man who dons armour to fight for the protection of his people. A man who protected the Ex-Avengers, while working with Tony to fix the Accords. A man who taught Tony how to look at him without seeing all the extra information first.

Tony sees the way T'Challa smiles at the numerous feline nicknames Tony gives him, and it makes Tony smile too.

Tony sees the way T'Challa will subtly roll his eyes when they have to deal with Ross face-to-face, and Tony has to stifle a grin.

Tony sees the way T'Challa laughs when sharing stories about their school years, laughing so much he can't breathe.

Tony wants to learn T'Challa, wants to learn if T'Challa constantly sees the facts too, if T'Challa smiles at everyone like they are precious; if T'Challa feels for Tony, what Tony thinks he might feel for T'Challa.

He calls Shuri, asking if there would be any offence to him learning Wakandan (he doesn't think there'd be, but Wakanda has kept itself isolated so long, they may not want outsiders to butcher the language.) and if not, was there a book or something he could learn from.

Shuri seems delighted and sends him three books; a beginners book, a common phrases book, and a dictionary. She says she hopes to be able to greet him properly when she and T'Challa return to the states in a few days.

She's alone when Tony greets her with "Mholweni, Inkosazana. Ndiyathemba namhla ifumana kakuhle. Enkosi lonke uncedo ondinike lona."

Tony sees tears in her eyes before she hugs him close. "Ukuba uve amazwi abathe, kude nekhaya. Ngokwenene intsikelelo, Tony Stark."

Tony hugs her back, glad that he made her happy.

T'Challa joins them as the hug ends, jokingly asking his sister "Ngaba uzama ukufumana umntu Ndiyakuthanda kude kum dade?"

Shuri merely smiles smugly as T'Challa freezes at Tony's response.

"Asinto inkosazana endinomdla kuye, kodwa mna ndandiyitha- yaye sinombulelo ngenxa neemvakalelo zakho."

T'Challa gapes for a few precious moments, his calm and cool lost in the face of what he's heard, before he shores himself up.

"You did not tell me you were interested in learning Wakandan."

"It's a part of who you are Chesire, kwaye ndifuna ukufunda yonke into."

T'Challa's smile is a beautiful thing to behold, and Tony doesn't resist his smile in return.

The Wakandan king steps right up to Tony, loosely resting his hands on his waist.

"Kwaye mna ndikhangele kakhulu phambili ukwenza okufanayo kuwe. Kuba xa ndithi ke kuni, Andiyi ukukhulula. Uya kuba ngabam de Sehlosi uThixo umema ukuba amasimi akhe kwaye ke, ndiya kufumana kwakhona."

Tony merely smiles, a little smear of colour rising to his cheeks.

"I look forward to it T'Challa. Afterall, nothing has ever held my attention the way you do."

Chapter Text

Tony stood by the windows in his office, gazing down at the world below.

Sitting in a stack on his desk, presented by a proud Obadiah, were various magazines.

America's Most Eligible Bachelor, proclaimed one, displaying an image of him in suit at a gala.

Playboy Pays For A Pucker! Screamed another, a shot of him at a charity date auction receiving a kiss on the cheek from the actress at his side.

Stark! Lonely At The Top? Asks the third, a picture of Tony sitting in a restaurant alone, looking rather sombre as he contemplated the wine glass in his hand.

Tony sighs, returning his gaze to the world outside his glass prison.

And it is a prison. Tony has been locked into the shackles of expectation that come with being Stark Industries CEO, for being such a success so young.

For still being single.

Obadiah thinks Tony is just sowing his wild oats before he chooses a wife and settles down, just like Howard did. When he brought the magazines in, he was beaming, laughing boisterously about how Tony has his pick from the cream of the crop. He doesn't know.

Only four people knew.

Tony hasn't had sex with a woman since he was fourteen. Honestly, he can appreciate their beauty, but women do nothing for him.

Most the stories are just that. Tony often finds himself in the company of women who had consumed enough alcohol to preserve their livers, or even a few of them drugged; he can't in good conscience leave them alone, so he takes them home to sleep it off. But he's Tony Stark; he's been seducing women since forever, so of course he propositioned them and they accepted. They just must have drunk too much to remember it, but so many people say Tony Stark is a sex-god so it must have been amazing!

The rest of the stories? Whoever the reporter is, they are sure they misheard/read/saw what happened, because no way is Tony Stark having a relationship with another man! So they fix the 'mistake', and turn the few male lovers Tony has had into women.

At least his partners haven't been selling their stories to the rags.

Tony sighs again, returning to his seat and pushing the magazines from his desk to the bin.

Even Pepper, wonderful, brilliant, efficient Pepper, doesn't know that Tony is gay. He's tried to tell her, but it was after she had escorted a few women out so he didn't get to say anything -had, in fact, barely even opened his mouth- before she tore into him about giving her a heads up before she needed to clean up after his orgies.

She'd 'seen' the evidence, so wouldn't listen if he tried again.

Rhodey knew. He'd been there, a solid shoulder for Tony when he was freaking out at M.I.T. and didn't know what to do. Most people would have run to the nearest news outlet and sold the story for a mint, but not Rhodey. Rhodey was far too good a man to profit from another's misery and pain. Instead he had sat by Tony's side, and gently talked Tony down from doing something foolish. They had sat there talking for hours when Tony asked what he should do.

"I can't tell you that Tones. The world is a cruel place to those who are different; believe me, I know. The best advice I can give is simply take every day one step at a time. You don't need to decide where you're travelling yet, you can just set one foot in front of the other, and see where they take you. And you can be sure that I'll be along for the journey."

There weren't enough Rhodey's in the world, of that Tony was sure.

The staff at the mansion had all known about Tony's preferences, but had been paid to keep their mouths shut at the time, and were now all long dead. Just like Howard.

Howard had known. And had raged against it

"You would have the Stark name die out because you-you-"

Tony couldn't say whether he mourned the man or not. Certainly he missed his mother, and had been devastated at her passing; she may have been distracted a lot, but she was there and kind, attentive to her only child when she remembered. To Howard, Tony was a necessary annoyance.

For the month after he had discovered Tony's sexuality (and became the reason Tony now knocked before he entered a bedroom, even if it was his own, and even if he was alone), he kept dragging Tony along to the charity gala's his mother was so focused on and regaling the 'wonders of women' like if he said how pretty and kind they were enough, Tony would suddenly prefer them to men and he could hide the fact that he just wanted Tony to have a son to carry the blood and name. Tony had reacted. Howard never was able to reopen contracts with Infinity Metals after his revenge.

Tony sighed again as he looked over the last few contracts in his pile.

He honestly hated being CEO; it was boring, soul-crushing, and involved way too many meetings with old men that had far too many daughters and nieces of marriageable age. It sickened Tony to see these men pretty much selling their relations for a boost in status and power. And everything the men had said to him in hopes of persuading him made it worse.

"Oh she thinks you're an attractive man; she'll be thrilled."

"She won't have any complaints with a Stark."

"It's not something she'd be concerned with."

In every word, all Tony could hear was 'She doesn't have a say.'

He dedicated a branch of the Maria Stark foundation to the betterment of women equality. It helped clear the disgust away.

Tony signed the final contract and set it aside for Pepper before waking his computer. Tony really didn't need the machine, and would far prefer his holo-displays, but Obadiah had refused to allow Tony to remodel his office to allow the machines needed for the projections to be installed, citing 'being in the CEO's office sends a message Tony, and what they see in that office enforces that message; people don't trust what they don't understand, and that is those projections of yours.' Tony just couldn't be bothered to put up a fight so let it go, getting the heavy white box that he rarely used.

Used for business anyway.

Typing in the encryption code for a certain folder, Tony let himself smile to see the images brought to the screen. The three last people to know. Ever since they had met, Tony had been given a standing invitation to enter their home, hell, enter their country and he's taken it up many times in the decade or so that he's known them.




They had all met at a Political function a few months before Tony turned seventeen. Shuri had been twelve and a little anxious to be at the gala, so Tony had gathered her up to distract her, collecting the other little kids so Shuri didn't feel singled out. He had spent the night telling stories and jokes, keeping the kids entertained and... well, shielded from all the politics going on above their heads. A good number of parents had attempted to collect their children, and judging by the way they kept looking at a particular person or small group of people, they were planning on using the kids to get sympathy or praise.

But Tony was far more fun than being nice and cute to strange adults, so the kids threatened to chuck fits if they were dragged away.

As the night moved on (and after catching Howard roll his eyes and glare disdainfully) Tony was approached by T'Challa. At fourteen, T'Challa was already showing signs of being a truly gorgeous man, being of decent breadth and height, with skin the perfect shade of chocolate, Tony had been tempted then and there to lick it off. He hadn't yet come into his voice, still breaking every few syllables, but not so noticeable to be embarrassing; it had mostly sounded like he had a bit of a cold, so people didn't comment.

He had fascinated Tony.

He was fiercely intelligent -something Tony had always been attracted to, man or woman- and was of a curious nature much like Tony; always wondering about what they saw and how it worked. When he had joined Tony and the gaggle of under-twelves, Shuri had immediately latched on to his hand and proudly introduced Tony to her Big Brother. T'Challa had smiled at her, before extending his hand to shake Tony's. His hand was slightly rough and callused, much like Tony's own, and T'Challa had seemed delighted when he noticed.

He joined Tony in telling stories to the kids, which ended up devolving into an impromptu science lesson.

Unlike many of genius intellect, Tony has never had a problem 'dumbing down' science, so long as people actually want to understand. When it's people who want to copy his work, or think he's just using scientific language to bullshit his way through something, Tony brings out the most technically useless details he can so they give up and leave, but when it's something like; an eight-year-old asking why there can't be an elevator that travels through the planet, Tony really enjoys describing how the Earth is a ball filled with different layers of dirt, stone and magma.

Though T'Challa helped in the lesson where he could, he seemed as enraptured by Tony's explanation as the kids. The kids had asked excited questions, and had quieted themselves to be able to hear Tony's answers. Not surprisingly, Shuri had asked excellent questions, which had given Tony the opportunity to get the kids to think for themselves as to whether hardened magma would make a good building stone.

As the little ones had started talking to each other, trying to sound as knowledgeable as they could, Tony turned to T'Challa and Shuri, only to discover they had been joined by a tall man with a warm smile. T'Chaka was easily one of the best men Tony has had the honour to meet -Rhodey's at the top of that list by the way- and openly praised Tony on both the way he explained things, and how he got the children invested. He was just as intelligent and curious as his children, and Tony had a marvellous time for the rest of the night speaking to the small family.

For the month and a half that Tony was still on break from M.I.T. T'Chaka often brought T'Challa to the mansion to visit with Tony while he dealt with some business with Howard. It was wonderful getting to spend so much time with T'Challa; having someone who could more-or-less keep up with his brain? It felt like taking a deep breath of clean air after months of pollution.

T'Chaka had brought both Shuri and T'Challa the day Tony was heading back to M.I.T. the little girl actually bawling that she wouldn't get to see Tony ever again. It was then that T'Chaka made the offer.

"No my Inkosazana, Tony is always welcome in our lands."

He handed Tony a card with a number on it.

"Give that number a call, and we will send a jet to pick you up. Any time, any place Tony. You will always be welcome."

Tony had memorised the number on the trip back to M.I.T., burning the card so that only ash remained.

Howard had died soon after that.

Tony had been tempted to call then; just hop on a jet to Wakanda and never leave. Honestly, it was just the feeble, whimpering hope in the deepest recesses of his mind that still wanted to make Howard proud that kept him in the states... that still kept him in the family business.

The pictures on the screen were of New Years a few months ago, which Tony had, of course, spent in Wakanda. It had become something of a tradition; Christmas would be spent at the Rhodes' house, and a few days later, Tony would be out of the snow in Wakanda's everlasting warmth to welcome the New Year.

He had especially enjoyed it this year, because it meant he didn't have to go to that conference in Bern. Obadiah had agreed in Tony's stead that he would speak, but Tony had called the administrators of the event as soon as he found out and told them it wasn't going to happen. They hadn't been happy, but Tony had been very blunt when he informed them that they should have spoken to him directly not a second party. They still grumbled but eventually gave in.

The picture on the screen caused Tony to loose a wistful sigh. As predicted, T'Challa was a gorgeous man. At twenty-four he had a body that would make a person weep, and he had grown into his voice, a smooth, seductive drawl that gave Tony little shivers just thinking about.

In the picture, T'Challa was standing next to Tony, an arm draped over Tony's shoulders and a wonderful smile curling his lips.

T'Challa had told Tony years ago, about the Wakandan soul mate belief, and about how fiercely T'Challa believed that Tony was his.

"Every time I think of you Tony, my chest fills with warmth, and my heart beats faster. It is harder every time I hug you to let you go. Whenever I hear that you are coming to Wakanda, it feels as though my heart will burst from my chest, and when you arrive? It is all I can do not to take you on the tarmac."

Such a declaration would normally have made Tony feel very nervous and uncomfortable, but... T'Chaka looked at N'Yami the way T'Challa had described, and it was a beautiful thing to witness; as though the rest of the world was unimportant to T'Chaka when compared to his wife, and that was simply because N'Yami existed.

Tony was rather... flattered, honestly, that T'Challa wanted him in the same way.

He didn't feel worthy of someone as amazing as T'Challa; handsome, kind, smart and skilled. But T'Challa wanted him. So Tony tried to be worthy.

He ate healthier, and barely drank any alcohol now, and only a single glass when he did, because T'Challa always worried over Tony's health.

He organised and donated to as many charities as he could without be directly linked, because T'Challa seemed happy when Tony told him about what good they could do.

He had organised for as much of his company as possible to be moved into medical research and day to day technology instead of weapons, because T'Challa hated war.

The last one had been the hardest, simply because the Board was made up of 'True Americans'; the old folk who were proud of America's place in the world as a superpower, as being the holder of the biggest stick. Stark weapons helped America keep that biggest stick, and they didn't want to lose that.

Tony had managed to sway most of them by showing them the profit SI stood to gain by going into those fields more. Obadiah had confronted him after the meeting; one of the few not swayed.

"What was that Tony?! You want us to start building bricks for baby hospitals or something?! You can't just stop and change the way a company works!"

"I haven't stopped anything Obadiah; with industry cutting out the need for as much human presence in a factory, I have assigned the freer workers with tasks to make sure they have a reason to get paid, that will still earn us money. The figures show a profit increase of up to 34% in the first six months."

Obadiah had eventually settled, apologising to Tony with the excuse that he was old enough to be a little stuck in his ways. The magazines were just another of the ways he was trying to get back into Tony's good books.

"Excuse me, Mr Stark?"

"Yes Ms Potts?"

Tony looked up in slight confusion, as Pepper rarely addressed him like that unless he had an appointment -which he didn't, he checked- or he was in trouble.

"I have signed all the paperwork you left me; whatever went wrong was not me, I'm innocent."

Pepper smiled, shaking her head a little as she collected the files from his desk.

"You have a visitor. He hasn't made an appointment, but he said it was urgent that he spoke with you. He called himself... T'Challa?"

Tony's eyes darted to the computer screen, and motioned for Pepper to look at the picture of Tony, T'Challa, T'Chaka and Shuri sitting on a pair of sofas.

Pointing to T'Challa, Tony raised an eyebrow in question. Pepper looked mildly stunned.

"Yes, yes that's him. I've never seen him before so I didn't realise- you've never talked about him either!"

"Let him in Pep; if it's important enough for T'Challa to come here instead of just calling me, I see no reason to make him wait."

Pepper nodded, stepping quickly out of the office to usher T'Challa in. T'Challa was dressed impeccably in a dark suit over a crisp white shirt. He seemed a combination of nervous -likely over whatever business had brought him to Tony's office- and happy -which Tony kinda hoped was over seeing him- as he drew close enough to give Tony his traditional hug. After lasting a moment longer than T'Challa normally allowed himself, Tony guided him to one of the chairs in front of his desk as he leaned on its edge.

"What's bothering you Puss-in-Boots? It's something big to have you here in person."

T'Challa actually shuddered a little, and averted his eyes for a second before taking a deep breath and speaking; looking Tony dead in the eyes.

"Before I begin, I promise you that I had no knowledge of this prior. I would never have kept such information from you had I known."

Tony just raises an eyebrow, curious as to what has made T'Challa so upset. T'Challa takes another deep breath when Tony nods and gestures for him to continue.

"As you know, I am celebrating my birthday next week. Father felt it would be best to present his gift to me early. It was... It's..."

T'Challa pulls a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket and hands it to Tony as he is unable to speak. Taking a moment to thrill in the knowledge that T'Challa doesn't set off Tony's fear of being handed things, Tony unfolds the paper to read it.

And promptly stops breathing.

Tony had known his father was a shallow, callous man but to do this. He suddenly takes in a deep breath, feeling T'Challa's arms wrapped around him, his hands rubbing circles on his back as his refocuses.

"I was furious; to think that my father would do something like this, even with the best of intentions... I have never before felt the need to yell at my father, but I did so after reading the contract. I am still mad at him, but I needed to see you Tony. Again, I promise I did not now that this existed; I wish to earn my place at your side, not have it bought for me."

Though he's listening to T'Challa, Tony's eyes haven't left the Political Union Contract. More particularly, the date and time of final signing.

It had literally been finalised the morning of Howard's death.

"Tony? Tony, please speak to me."

Tony has to take a few deep breaths before he can.

"You know I adore you T'Challa. And I hope you know that if you had asked me I would have said yes. But that this exists... I need to wrap my head around it; come to terms with the proof of what I meant to Howard."

T'Challa tightens his hold on Tony before slowly releasing him and taking a step back.

"I had been planning to ask you next week. As you said, I knew you would say yes. But I need to prove that I am worthy of you, now more than ever. I don't care if it takes me another ten years; I will have you as mine Tony, just as much as I am already yours. Will you wait for me?"

Tony swallows, before managing to summon a gentle smile.

"Don't take too long. You're not the only one with trouble letting go."

Chapter Text

Tony is no stranger to injury or pain; he's a mechanic and engineer for goodness sake! Not occupations you can have without hurting yourself! Tony is also something of an adrenalin seeker, so he's taken some pretty amazing risks through his life. And finally, Tony is Iron Man, an actual superhero who's gone toe-to-toe with the God of Thunder and the Hulk.

No, Tony is no stranger to injury or pain at all.

But as he lays on the couch in the common room, his broken leg inclined over the armrest, and 23 stitches in his arm, Tony feels... tired.

It's not like he's sleepy or anything; he still has to wait another hour before he can take a painkiller, because Bruce was adamant that Tony have something to eat (Philistine! Doesn't he know that Tony lives on coffee and science?!) and forced a huge club sandwich and bowl of soup down his throat.

No, Tony's just tired, bone-weary really. He's feeling every creak and groan, every pull and twitch his body can give out. He's feeling...

He's feeling old.

Rubbing the hand of his uninjured arm gently over the space where the arc reactor used to sit, Tony mulls over this new piece of self-introspection.

He was forty-eight years old now. Given the way he lived during his teens, it a miracle he survived to his thirties, let alone almost his fifties. But... he's tired. If he ignores Thor's whole forever-young-immortality shtick, and Steve's years under the arctic, Tony's the oldest of them. Bruce isn't far behind, but all evidence shows that he is in far better shape than Tony after any given battle thanks to the Hulk.

Clint has properly retired now; unless there is another alien invasion, Laura has said she and the kids will dog-pile him if he tries to get back into the business.

Natasha is still going strong, but she is still so very young, despite all her experience in the world. She doesn't have anything to fall back on after the Avengers besides the whole assassin-spy thing, which she doesn't want to return to.

Rhodey's playing desk jockey for the air force now more than anything; even with the braces Tony made him, the brass don't want the flight-risk of sending a paralysed man on missions. Rhodey's due his medals and honourable discharge soon though, and he appears to be looking forward to it.

Scott's on call if the team needs him, preferring to spend as much time as he can with his daughter and Hope, Ant-Man being a little more freelance hero with the Wasp.

Wanda and Vision are on the main line up, and rarely go into battle alone, but are young and need as much guidance as possible so they don't make mistakes like the older Avengers have made.

Peter is still just a baby. Tony knows he can't stop Peter from being Spider-Man -Pete's the same sort of do-gooder that Steve is mixed with the adrenalin junkie that Tony's always been- so does what he can to keep the kid safe and kicking at the end of the day.

And T'Challa...

Tony sighs, letting himself sink just a little deeper into the cushions beneath him.

Working on the accords had led the Black Panther and Iron Man to getting rather close. They had similar interests, were both of genius level intellect and had like views of the world. What had started as coffee breaks from work to talk about anything but the Avengers and the accords had turned into lunch, had turned into dinner, had turned into dinner at home, had turned into dating.

Tony was dating the King of Wakanda, a man richer than Tony, a man potentially smarter than Tony, a man twelve years younger than Tony.

Tony's hand covered his eyes as he sighed again.

T'Challa was in his prime, at the very top of his game. Really, what did Tony have to offer him? There was literally nothing Tony could do for T'Challa that wasn't easier for T'Challa to take care of himself. Not to mention that as King, T'Challa was expected to at some point have an heir, and Tony noticeably lacked the parts to do that.

Tony was really nothing more than dead-weight.

The rest of the team slowly entered the common room, each bringing an item that had been deemed necessary for movie nights; Thor brought 'corn, popped and flavoured with the finest offerings of the realm!'.

Steve brought a variety of drinks, Natasha bought blankets and Clint bought pillows, with Laura and the minions bringing snacks right behind them.

Rhodey always packed a box of tissues, because the group inevitably ended up watching something sad, and if they cried? Well they're the Avengers, they are comfortable enough in their genders to cry if they want to.

Bruce brought a hospital grade first aid kit, after the third time the group had watched an action movie and Thor had given Clint a concussion in his excitement.

Scott and Hope were present today, and bought sweets to nibble on, Wanda and Vision bringing tubs of ice cream in a cooler, while Peter had finished his homework on time and had brought chips and dip. Tony was the one who had provided the state of the art entertainment system, so he was always covered.

The only one missing was T'Challa.

There had been a breakthrough in one of the Wakandan research facilities projects, and they had wanted T'Challa there as they progressed. T'Challa had many responsibilities as an Avenger, but he had so many more as King. If it weren't for Shuri taking care of as much as she could, T'Challa would never have the time to leave Wakanda.

Just another thing Tony felt guilty about in his long life of mistakes and faults.

Everyone settled into the room, Thor sitting on the floor while Steve and Peter took the loveseat that Tony usually did, given that Tony was spread across their usual seats. Tony didn't really pay any attention to the movie, he didn't even look at the screen, just kept staring at the ceiling above him, his thoughts spinning to everything and nothing.

He hadn't realised he'd drifted off until he woke to the sensation of strong fingers carding through his hair.

Opening his eyes, Tony was greeted with the sight of T'Challa smiling down at him, the rest of the room empty.

"Hello Love."

"Hey Sphinx. What are you doing here? Your science masters wanted to play with you didn't they?"

T'Challa's smile widened as he gave Tony an eskimo kiss, followed by a proper kiss on his forehead when Tony scrunched his nose.

"They did indeed, but when we saw the news report of the last battle, they suddenly decided that it was imperative for me to be by the side of, in their words, 'The True Inspiration'. If I didn't know better Love, I would worry over how infatuated my science division is over you."

A small smile played on Tony's lips in his amusement at the image T'Challa presented, until the thoughts he'd been having before his nap resurfaced. Of course, T'Challa noticed the change in Tony's demeanour instantly.

"What dark thoughts assail you Love? Talk to me, and we can solve whatever is wrong."

Tony sighed, turning his head just enough to nuzzle into the hand cupping his cheek.

"You deserve better T'Challa. I'm not a catch that anybody should want, let alone you."

The gentle cupping turned into a firm grip, directing Tony to look straight at his partner.

"Who said that to you Love? They had no right! You are a wonderful, brilliant man, and I am not going to let someone slander that."

Tony shook his head as best he could in that strong hold.

"No-one said that to me." T'Challa's face grew a little dark. "Really, nobody's said it, at least that I've heard, I'm just... I'm old T'Challa. Over a decade older then you. Even with my armour, I'm getting slower and slower every battle, and my injuries are getting worse. I can barely keep up in team training out of the suit and that's been pissing Steve off, and though my mind's as busy as always, I can't stay in the shop for long enough bursts of time to do anything about it because my body can't stand the binges anymore. I'm old T'Challa, and I don't think I'll be able to stay by your side."

T'Challa returns to cupping Tony's face, using both hands now, as he takes a few deep breaths.

"First of all, I will be speaking with the Captain; he forgets all too often that you are without enhancements, so full team training is dangerous for you out of the suit. The Black Widow is highly trained so it isn't as dangerous for her, and I can see that he has used her in the argument against you, and the others such as Ant Man and the Wasp are not frontline fighters when full-size, so they too are at lesser risk. Your armour also weighs at least 250 pounds no? So learning how to fight without that additional weight is doing you, and the team, no favours.

Secondly, you have not been getting slower; my science masters, as you call them, routinely keep track of your suit advancements, and they assure me that you either maintain a top speed of Mach five, or in a few notable exceptions, manage Mach six. You are not slowing down Love, it's just that the enemies popping up are either managing to go faster, or maintaining the illusion of being faster.

And just as the enemies grow faster, they grow stronger, so yes, you receive greater injuries, but you are strong enough to survive them, and you always stand back up. It is amazing to look over old battle footage and watch you regain your feet after a most grievous blow, before you once more leap into battle, as though nothing had even happened. Your body may not be up to your science binges any more, but when I put you in a room with my science division, I know your mind calms because after talks are done, you know half the division will leap at the chance to work on what you've discussed.

And finally Love, your age has never been a concern of mine, because you are blessed with an eternal bloom of youth. Your love and excitement about the world around you, the ways you find to test and push the constraints Nature tries to enforce; man did not evolve to fly, Love, yet what do you do every time you don the armour? You find joy in simple things, and you smile like the world is something beautiful, even as you work to combat the ugliness that tries invade it.

If there is 'better' for me out in the world, I neither know nor care, because I have held you in my arms Love, and no other will ever do."

Tony was sitting up now, carefully ensconced in T'Challa's arms, as tears gently rolled down his cheeks.

"You are mine Love, even when we are both wrinkled and grey; for as long as I can hold you, and even beyond."

Chapter Text

As a prince, T'Challa had been taught how to behave in a political arena; how to speak with power and control, how to keep calm under stress, how to look at the person you were speaking to without losing sight of the rest of the room.

"Politicians are predators my Unyana. They are not like the Panther that flows through our souls, but they will strike to kill, and aim to maim. You must prove yourself to be a threat, but only if threatened, and that is one of the hardest things to do."

T'Challa felt he had more or less reached this point, given that the politicians generally sought to leave him alone.

Until he met Tony Stark.

T'Challa had been taught to be as sleek and deadly as the Panther, so that people wouldn't see him when he came for their throats. Tony Stark goaded them to come closer, to see if he actually was a danger or not.

T'Challa had been taught to be subtle, so that he could slight a person without repercussion. Tony Stark spoke as he pleased and dared them to do anything about it.

T'Challa had been taught to be successful in politics. Tony Stark showed him he only knew of one arena.

After months of maybe-dating-maybe-not events, T'Challa was standing at Tony's side as his paramour at social functions.

"A lot of political decisions are made not in the parliament, and not by the ministers. Instead, they are made in the ballrooms and function halls of the upper crust, by the spouses and those willing to pay the bill. You're good in parliament T'Challa, and I can help you be great with the upper echelons."

Under Tony's guidance, T'Challa had learned that what you wore to these functions served as armour along with status; denoting where you stood on the hierarchy.

T'Challa had learned how to read what people really meant from their eyes and hands instead of their faces and words.

T'Challa had learned to quickly discover who was the patron to give false gossip, and who to give real tips.

And T'Challa had learned that dancing was the mark of the greatest warrior here.

He had been taught growing up how to do European dances just as easily as the traditional dances of Wakanda, but when he had first looked at the people on the dance floor with the knowledge that this was all entrenched in politics, he could practically see the war being waged.

And it was a war that Tony always walked away from holding some form of victory.

Nothing was like dancing with Tony.

Whether T'Challa was leading or not, Tony was the one they all saw. Tony was the one they watched, with lust, hope and dark promise in their eyes. They would all look over T'Challa briefly, disgust and jealousy, before returning their gaze to Tony.

Wonderful, beautiful Tony.

His Tony.

Tony's hands laid gently in his and on his chest, T'Challa's free arm wound tightly across his waist.

Close, so wondrously close.

T'Challa could smell the light cologne that Tony preferred, along with the tantalising scent of Tony himself. He could feel the compact muscles in Tony's arms and torso, sheer power hidden so carefully behind layers of silk.

Together they swayed over the dance floor, gently twisting in simple circles, pressing close as they revelled in each other's presence. The smooth strings of the quartet on the small stage washed over them. T'Challa felt, more than heard Tony release a happy sigh as he rested his head on T'Challa's shoulder.

"There is nowhere I'd rather be."

T'Challa has to take a very deep, slow breath before he can speak, not for even a moment breaking step with the gentle rhythm of their dance.

"I would prefer you be here always."

Tony chuckles a bit, the sound just loud enough for T'Challa to hear, and truly it is a lovely thing.

"Smooth Leo, very smooth. You're becoming quite the sweet talker."

"Well I have to be, if I hope to keep up with you."

Tony raises his head so T'Challa can see those perfect amber eyes, sparks of the universe glowing deep in their depths.

"Very good T'Challa."

He leans close, a soft kiss that promises so much pressed to T'Challa's lips, before Tony backs away, a smile that promises so much more curling his own.

"You're learning."

Chapter Text

Fa la ninna, fa la nanna

Nella braccia della mamma

Fa la ninna bel bambin,

Fa la nanna bambin bel,

Fa la ninna, fa la nanna

Nella braccia della mamma.


Maria Stark had a wonderful voice. She had for a few years entertained the idea of becoming an Opera singer, training herself to have quite the impressive range. While she never did end up singing for the masses once married to Howard Stark, she did keep practicing. Her parents had insisted that she learn an instrument along with singing, so that she had something else to fall back on if her voice ever failed her.

Maria had chosen piano.

Over the years she would come to learn a few other instruments, but the piano was first and favourite.

She had played it and sang when her charity work was having troubles, when she wanted attention from Howard, when she was mad; basically whenever she could find a moment.

She had played for hours when she found out she was pregnant.


Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh,

Questo Bimbo A Chi Lo dò?

Ninna Nanna, Ninna Oh,

Questo Bimbo A Chi Lo dò?

Se lo dò alla Befana,

Se lo tiene una settimana.

Se lo dò all'uomo nero,

Se lo tiene un anno intero.

Ninna nanna, ninna oh,

Questo bimbo me lo terrò!


She sang to her Bambino every lullaby she came across, including the ones her parents had sung for her, trying to find the one he loved best to help him sleep.

It wasn't until her little Bambino fell asleep to her singing 'Heart of Gold' that Maria realised that as long as she was singing, every song was a lullaby.

As Antonio (Anthony, Maria, it's on his blasted birth certificate!) grew older, and was able to understand more, it was harder to get him to sleep, but, without fail, when Antonio's Cara Madre began to sing a tune, he would settle down, close his eyes, and drift right off to sleep.

When Antonio turned three, Maria took him to her music room and sat him next to her on the bench. After raising the cover, Maria took one of Antonio's hands and gently pressed one of his fingers on the brilliant white key. A sharp note rang through the room, Antonio looking in astonishment that a sound had been produced by his hand. Maria smiled and got her Bambino's attention.

"That was 'C'."

Thus began Antonio's music lessons.

People comment, loud and often, just how similar Tony Stark is to his father Howard.

Sometimes it's complimentary (Genius' of no peer trying to save the world, one invention at a time) and at other times it's an insult (Money-grubbing, alcoholic LOWLIVES!) but it is Howard, always Howard, that Tony is compared to.

Never Maria.

It's never actually been a surprise really; Howard was the Patriot, the true believer in the 'American Way', while Maria was a philanthropic soul, giving away all of Howard's money. Sure she's remembered fondly, but only when people actually remember her. Most of the time, she is just another unfortunate soul lost in Howard Stark's shadow.

Tony was a lot more like Maria than many would guess.

She had passed on to Tony a great love of music. The cadence, the dissonance, the very soul of music, that is what Tony gained from Maria Stark.

Just like Maria, the piano was his first and he branched out to others. Unlike Maria, Tony is skilled enough to play, literally, any part in an orchestra. Sure, he has his preferences, just like anyone, but the genius he inherited from Howard and then developed on his own, all but guarantee that if he wants to learn something, he will.

Tony doesn't favour wind instruments, because like Maria, Tony sings.


E adesso andate via

Voglio restare sola

Con la malinconia

Volare nel suo cielo

Non chiesi mai chi eri

Perch scegliesti me

Me che fino a ieri

Credevo fossi un re

Perdere l'amore, quando si fa sera


Tony has a truly beautiful voice. Even in just day-to-day speech, there is just something about the way his words curl into your ear that sends a deep thrum of pleasure through you. It is a trait of many vocalists, but it is so much deeper a part of Tony.

And when he sings.

Tony has only sung for one of his partners. Janice Cord. Oh how he loved that woman. When she died, Tony locked himself in his music room, playing only his wind instruments, so he wouldn't fall down screaming.

His winds are for when he's sad.

But still, the world would stop in awe if ever it heard Tony sing.


Here I stand head in hand

Turn my face to the wall

If she's gone I can't go on

Feelin' two-foot small

Everywhere people stare

Each and every day

I can see them laugh at me

And I hear them say

Hey you've got to hide your love away

Hey you've got to hide your love away


Tony loves singing.

"Hey Tony, you ever end up replacing that Blüthner of yours?"

It's been a couple months since the mess that was the Accords has been cleaned up. The Avengers (and Barnes) had all been cleared of charges -with the proviso of very strict attendance to mandatory psychiatric sessions- and with Tony and T'Challa working together, the codewords programmed into Barnes are gone now, so the 'Winter Soldier' is entirely who Barnes makes him into.

And no, things aren't 'the way they used to be', and they won't ever be Captain, stop trying!

"You mean Old Blü? No. Every time I try, something big enough comes up that I have to put it off."

Rhodey is walking easily now; he doesn't even generally need the braces outside of battle. He's leant against the island in the kitchen while Tony makes them coffee. Vision is meditating with a returned Bruce, Natasha, Wanda and Clint are sitting in the common room with Clint's family just off the kitchen, Scott is out with Hope and Cassie, Thor, Cap and Barnes are having a three-way while Sam referees, Peter is at school and T'Challa is sitting at the island half-reading one of Tony's mechanic magazines.

"Hey Cat Sìth; want a cup?"

Proving that he had been paying at least some attention to them, T'Challa smiles and nods.

"I would appreciate it Tony. Out of curiosity, what is a Blüthner? It sounds vaguely dangerous."

Rhodey snorts a little as he takes a gulp of coffee.

"The only danger you'll suffer is falling in love as Tones plays with it."

T'Challa looks scandalised and... almost jealous. No, Tony's imagining that; seeing what he wants to see as it were. He clears his throat.

"Rhodey's being an ass. Blüthner is a well respected brand of Piano Builders. I had one many years ago that, to my shame, I destroyed when I first flew the Iron Man armour. I landed outside and went straight through the roof, and my piano."

T'Challa's face had immediately settled at the mention of piano, and by the end of Tony's little spiel, looks a little amused.

"I did not realise you played."

Tony shrugs, a little embarrassed, though he's not sure why.

"It never exactly came up between the accords and Barnes."

T'Challa concedes with a nod of his head, taking a long swallow from the cup Tony handed him. Tony can't help the way his eyes are drawn to the bobbing apple of T'Challa's throat but looks away before the Wakandan King notices.

"Brother; I've been looking all over the compound for you."

Shuri. She had managed to help T'Challa get enough of Wakanda's affairs in order to come with her brother this trip. As always, T'Challa smiles at her presence and give her his attention.

It doesn't seem to be anything bad, just a clarification of points to send back to their advisers.

Tony turns back to Rhodey, only to see an amused smile on his face.

"Honey Bear, the last time you wore that face, the face that you are wearing right now, you ended up in jail next to Colin Otis from room 75B."

The face immediately replaces itself with horror, and as the two royals look over in interest Rhodey shakily sets down his mug.

"We agreed that the entire year of '86 never happened!"

"'86 was Mark Stanton from room 52C."

Rhodey's face actually manages to look slightly chalky.

"Right. Right. I'm just gonna... gotta sit for a bit."

Rhodey manages to take a seat at the island and starts taking deep, slow breaths. Shuri moves to rub circles on his back while T'Challa looks to Tony for explanation. Before Tony can even open his mouth, the brute squad shows up and causes general mayhem in the kitchen, that erases all note of what happened before they turned up.

As Tony returns to the shop that night (he's made it his actual room now, with a proper bed and everything so people can just leave him alone!) he finds he misses Old Blü, but as he said; He never has the time to get a new one.

"Colonel. Might I have a few moments of your time?"

"Sure thing Princess. What's on your mind?"

Now that Tony can literally wake up in the shop, he tends to laze for a while, just stretching and relaxing beneath the comforting warmth of his sheets. Because it doubles as his room now (albeit with the more 'bedroom' aspects safely behind a near-as-can-be-invincible glass divider that makes up the walls of the rest of the shop, with built-in blackout mode), Friday refuses to allow anyone unbidden entrance, or even sight, if Tony is still in his bed.

And the Captain is always trying to get in.

Tony knew that Steven Grant Rogers was a stubborn son of a bitch well before the accords, but his current behaviour is just sad. He tries every spare moment to get into the shop to talk to Tony, or get Tony alone when outside it, but really Tony just can't. He can't be alone with the Captain.

It still hurts, and he's still scared.

"Friday, how long has he been sitting there this time?"

"Nearly two hours boss. Any instructions for me?"

Tony smiles, reading between his girls' very clever words.

"Fire detected in vicinity of Rogers."

The shop is sound-proof along with damn near indestructible, but Tony feels smug satisfaction at hearing Roger's cursing through the walls.

"He has left to change boss. I'd say you have a max of ten minutes before he returns."

"That'll be enough. Good job Fry."

"My pleasure boss."

Tony dons a plain shirt, track pants and sneakers before heading to the kitchen. Most of the Avengers are there, in varying states of sleepiness. There is a massive pot of porridge on the stove with empty bowls next to it, so Tony grabs some and sits between Rhodey and Natasha. Rogers enters just as Tony gets the first spoonful to his mouth and looks morose, grabbing his own bowl and sitting in Tony's direct line of sight... if, you know, Tony was looking straight ahead, which he isn't.

Tony's been drawn into a conversation with Rhodey and Shuri, who's sitting on Rhodey's other side. He's paying the Captain no heed.

Breakfast passed, full of Rogers trying and failing to get Tony's attention, even with other members trying to help. It is only as Vision collects the bowls that Tony realises.

"Shuri, where is your brother?"

Tony feels bad for not noticing sooner. He enjoys speaking to T'Challa in the mornings because T'Challa loses his filter, and has said brutally honest quips and mutterings that leave Tony and Rhodey in stitches. He is also far more affectionate, draping himself over whoever will give him attention, but that's totally not the reason Tony misses his presence.

"My brother was out late last night, an errand he felt could not wait. I believe he was successful, but I will be surprised to see him before lunch."

Tony nods his head, gently releasing the breath he held in small concern.

"Hey Tony, I'm feeling like being a little reckless today; you wanna help me on the machines? You're already dressed for it."

Tony smiles as Rhodey fingers the hem of his sleeve. Reckless for Rhodey used to mean possible jail time, now it just means needing to wear his braces once he's done.

"I'm up for that."

Shuri joins them in the gym, in fact all of the team present joins in. Natasha moves to the gymnastic equipment, Clint moving to spot her, Wanda and Vision wander to the weights, and the brute squad once more prepare for the three-way battle of which they are fond.

Rhodey, Shuri and Tony move to the treadmills.

Rhodey has a system to get the most co-operation out of his legs; ten or so minutes walking on the treadmills before he moves to the bikes for a half hour, another half hour on the rowers and finishing off with as many chin-ups as he can do. Actual sparring needs his braces, or his suit, but today isn't about training, just the glorious burn of successful physical exertion.

Tony hears the creaking of the ropes as Natasha flips in the air, catching the rings on her way down, Vision and Wanda murmuring to each other, and the thuds, groans and belts of the spar going on in the boxing ring. He focuses on the light jog he's set the treadmill to, faster than Rhodey's walk, but slower than the run Shuri's got going.

Thor bellows a praise to Steve as Tony sets up his bike.

Steve utters a curse as Tony mounts.

The sounds of the battle get more intense as Shuri, Rhodey and Tony move about their workout, Natasha, Clint, Vision and Wanda abandoning their workouts to watch the match. None of the three glance towards the ring.

There is cheering by the time Rhodey gets himself situated to the pull up bar. He and Shuri go together, agreeing to spot Tony as they rest.

They really do look good together. Even soaked in sweat, Rhodey's body is solid muscle and his shirt is clinging to everything. Shuri is sleek and lithe, so very dangerous behind the thin veneer of female fragility.

They will make beautiful babies.

Rhodey manages an even twenty chin-ups before he has to stop, but he's grinning like he won the lottery, not at all upset when Shuri manages ten further.

"That is surprisingly hard to do. I approve of your method James."

Rhodey just smiles wider and offers Shuri a towel.

After a quick wipe down of the bar, Tony situates himself, for the first time this session facing the centre of the gym; for the first time facing the ring.

The battle appears to have stopped, the combatants catching their breath and rehydrating, and the avengers are all looking towards the corner Rhodey, Shuri and Tony are located.

Tony takes a deep breath, forces the avengers out of his mind, and pulls.

Despite Tony's slim frame, he is made of compact muscle, strength forged from the very kiln from which all his inventions come; Tony is an engineer, a mechanic, a blacksmith and more, and he takes all his crafts seriously. The Iron Man suit is also no nimble weight, and the hydraulics and pistons only make it easier to move, not lighter.

Tony pulls fifty with little effort.

He can feel their eyes on him. Someone has always got eyes on Tony Stark so it's not unusual, but he can sense the disbelief, likely from Clint and Wanda, possibly even Sam. The others will just be amazed, but those three will doubt what they're seeing as an illusion or something, because no way would Stark have that level of upper-body strength.

Tony snorts and pulls another ten.

On his final pull, number sixty-one, Tony pulls to his chin then keeps going. He is able to pull himself so the bar is level with his nipples, and then holds it.

He hears Clint's muttered 'Bullshit' and lowers himself back down.

Shuri hands him a towel while Rhodey smirks proudly.

"Showing off a little Tones?"

"More proving a point."

Rhodey just nods while Shuri gives a little chuckle.

A gentle clapping comes from the entrance, and everyone's eyes are drawn to T'Challa. Tony can't help the way his gaze rakes across the man; T'Challa looks like he was poured into the pair of jeans clinging to him and the tantalising hint of chest shown by the deep 'v' of his shirt is just not fair. T'Challa's applause dies down as he moves closer to the corner the three of them are still resting in, completely ignoring the avengers by the ring.

"That was marvellous. Truly a great showing of strength Tony."

Tony just shrugs a little, trying not to shiver as T'Challa's voice rolls over him. T'Challa merely smirks

"I was hoping, after you have cleaned from your workout, that you might have the time to join me in the sitting room? I have something that I need to discuss with you."

Tony nods, and moves to help Rhodey to the showers.

He can do that.

Despite being a creature of decadent luxury, Tony does know how to take showers with military speed and efficiency. Mostly because he likes getting back to work as quickly as possible, but also because Afghanistan never truly stopped messing with his head.

In fact, it's barely been five minutes before Tony is entering the sitting room, thankfully without having to deal with Rogers in the showers, because that just makes thing so much worse.

T'Challa is standing by the window, hands folded behind him as he looks outside.

As gorgeous as the visual is, however, Tony's eyes are locked onto a new item in the room.

"You said you never had the time to replace it."

Tony barely hears T'Challa, his fingers already trailing across the top of the piano.

Of the Blüthner.

Tony finally drags his gaze to T'Challa, who is nervously biting his lip as he watches Tony.


T'Challa takes a deep breath.

"Working with you on the Accords was like nothing I have experienced; you are so broad of intelligence, and have such a charisma about you, that you have people hanging off every word you speak. You have suffered so greatly for one so privileged, but you still look to the future with hope and affection. I find myself hoping that, one day, you might look at me with the same."

Tony can barely believe what he's hearing. That T'Challa, a man of such humility, modesty and greatness, is interested in Tony Stark -degenerate, playboy scum- is... humbling.


T'Challa starts a little, looking confused.

"You've gotta have a favourite song Tom Cat. What song should I play?"

T'Challa's face lights up, and he sits in a nearby armchair.

"I am greatly fond of the Moonlight Sonata if you know it."

Tony lowers himself onto the bench, playing a few keys to confirm that the piano is in tune, before setting his hands in the right places.

"How fast will we have to speed things up Shuri?"

"Not much at all James. T'Challa has taken the first step."

Every day after breakfast, Tony and T'Challa would be found in the sitting room, Tony playing on 'Baby Blü', and T'Challa in the closest chair.

The rest if the team would often join them, just sitting and listening to the music, the magic created as Tony's finger danced across the keys.

Tony and T'Challa, after the Wakandan King had admitted his interest, spent most of the day together, talking, working, training, and just sitting down to listen to Tony play.

Tony was especially pleased with T'Challa's attentions, because the constant presence of a man he very much adored had the added benefit of keeping Rogers away.

 They shared a kiss one night in the sitting room.

Tony had been drifting, playing whichever tune was in his head when T'Challa had entered the room. T'Challa had taken one look at Tony, then crossed the room and pressed his lips to Tony's own.

"Your voice Tony; truly it is a sin to possess, but a blessing to hear."

While another kiss was exchanged, Tony realised he'd been singing along.

Team Bonding Night.

Once upon a time that meant a night bundled in the common room watching movies. Now the activity was picked on a rotation of the team.

As a guest, Shuri was offered the choice and Tony inwardly perked in interest.

"I would like to give Karaoke a try; I've been told karaoke houses are great fun."

Bruce opted out, saying he'd watch Clint's brood so Laura could join them.

"Karaoke's only fun for me if I'm drunk, and uh, that's not a thing that's gonna happen."

Tony promised to bring back pictures.

Clint and Laura led the group to a karaoke house nearby and they soon had a room. Names were drawn out of a bowl to determine who went when. After listening to Vision trying to sing, Rogers doing okay, Rhodey and Shuri blitzing a duet it was Tony's turn.

Tony had only sung for one of his partners before.


When I am down, and oh, my soul so weary.

When trouble comes, and my heart, burdened be.

Then I am still, and wait here, in the silence.

Until you come, and sit a while with me.


You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.

I am strong when I am on your shoulders.

You raise me up, to more than I can be.


There is no life, no life without it's hunger.

Every single heart, beats so imperfectly.

But then you come, and I am filled with wonder.

Sometimes I think, I glimpse eternity.


You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains.

You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas.

I am strong, when I am on your shoulders.

You raise me up, to more than I can be.


You raise me up, to more than I can be.


Tony doesn't remember much else of the bonding night, aside from spending it in T'Challa's arms.

"We only have a few more days beloved. Will it be enough?"

"Don't you worry honey. We got all the time we need."

"What's got you thinking so deep Tones?"

Rhodey's voice breaks Tony's concentration, bringing him back to the present, sitting at a workbench in his lab. After the Paladium poisoning, Tony has always tried his best to talk to Rhodey when something's on his mind, so he speaks.

"T'Challa and Shuri will be going back to Wakanda for a few weeks. T'Challa invited me to go with them. I want to say yes."

Rhodey nods, as though expecting Tony's words, which he might have; if he is as close to Shuri as he appears, then she probably invited him too.

"What's stopping you then?"

"Not anything in particular just... You have seen how Rogers has been all but stalking me right?"

"Nothing 'but' about it Tones, the man is dogging you. Got any idea why?"

Tony sighs and drags a hand through his hair.

"During his stay in Wakanda, he came upon the stories about when I came out as bi. When it was revealed that Pepper and I weren't going to be getting back together, he decided that... You know how Clint used to joke that Rogers and I were the parents of the group? Rogers seems pretty determined to make that a thing."

Rhodey looks mad, as in punch-you-in-the-suit mad, but just breaths deeply.

"Tell me you ain't thinking about accepting him Tony. Not even for the well-being of the group would I allow you to."

Tony shakes his head quickly.

"Not a chance. But it's already causing problems; he's getting the others to try and help him get me alone. If I go on the trip it's going to get worse."

"But if you don't go on the trip, he's gonna take it as encouragement. Have you out-and-out told him to lay off?"

"Yes, multiple times. I've told him that we can never have what we once did, and we certainly aren't getting closer then we once were, but he keeps trying."

"Come on the trip Tones. Don't let Rogers ruin another aspect of your life. You and T'Challa are good for each other; hell you sing for him; if that doesn't mean you're nuts for the guy, I don't know what does."

Tony laughs.

"Yeah... we're good for each other."

 The Wakandan breeze is thick and heavy, providing a sensuous air for the evening. T'Challa and Tony are sitting on the balcony, overlooking the jungle in the final rays of sunlight. T'Challa is relaxed along the length of the couch they're sitting on, his head resting in Tony's lap as Tony gently massages his head. Tony feels at peace.


Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh, so mellow

Try to remember the kind of September when grass was green and grain was yellow

Try to remember the kind of September when you were a tender and callow fellow

Try to remember and if you remember then follow.

Chapter Text

It was a habit that T'Challa was truly embarrassed by.

It at times felt like an all-consuming burn spread throughout his body, but he knew it was never anything serious.

It just drove him round the bend if he ignored it.

He had been hesitant to bring it up with Tony; his lover thrived on jokes and laughter, but T'Challa already felt bad enough without Tony making quips about it.

"Hey there Sylvester; cuddle time."

T'Challa should have remembered just how tactile his Tony could be.

Within moments of his arrival, Tony had manoeuvred T'Challa into a curled repose on the couch, with T'Challa's head and shoulders resting on Tony's lap. As the Wakandan King got himself settled, Tony's fingers, his long, slender, powerful fingers, started gently digging into T'Challa's scalp, the massage pulling small groans and whines from T'Challa's throat.

"It's okay T'Challa; I've got you."

And he really did.

Chapter Text

T'Challa felt like he couldn't breathe.

Every time he closed his eyes, he was assailed with images of Tony's broken body, bleeding out on the desert sands.

His fingers began to worry at the ring hanging from a chain round his neck.

He kept seeing his husband dead.

After the shock that was finding out about the Political Union Contract, T'Challa arranged with his father, Shuri as the go-between, to spend his time with his Unyule, earning back broken trust.

He studied Business Management at the closest college, and would spend hours at a time helping Tony down in his workshop, playing with the bots when his Unyule needed them distracted. He marvelled when Tony completed the coding and uploaded J.A.R.V.I.S., the British tenor a welcome addition to their world.

They would have picnics in the living room when it stormed, gazing out at the ocean from the couch as the water churned with the force of the weather.

It was there that, six months after the PUC, T'Challa proposed.

It was there that, six months after the PUC, Tony said yes.

They had the ceremony in Wakanda, away from the never ending paparazzi that followed T'Challa's Unyule. James had managed to get leave to join them, serving as Tony's best man. Under the watchful gaze of the Panther God, they wed, joining together heart, mind, body and soul, a pair of specially made rings hanging from their throats.


"You are mine now Tony. Mine until I leave this earth to run in the fields of the Panther God, and will be mine again when we meet in those same fields."

"For as long as you hold my heart T'Challa, you are just as much mine, and I know you'll never let go."


Tony had, that night, ignited a fire deep within T'Challa, a slow, deep burn that at times threatened to engulf his very being, only to be banked when T'Challa once more had his Unyule in his arms.

Tony involved him in as many aspects of Stark Industries as he could, while still keeping his husband a secret. T'Challa had met Obadiah Stane exactly once, and was well aware the man would try to force Tony to get access to Wakanda's Vibranium if he knew. And once he had it, he would demand that Tony break it off with T'Challa, stating the need to have an heir.

His Unyule ignored Stane for the most part, really only listening when it came to business, and even then, only when Stane kept trying to move SI completely back onto weapons. Which his Unyule refused to let happen, winning over the Board aside from Stane with the massive profitability the Medical division and technology division were providing.

Stane had finally agreed to vote to permanently close down SI's weapons development, just as soon as they fulfilled the contracts they still had with the Government. Tony had agreed, as it would prevent a lot of media backlash and suffering for his employees. T'Challa had been very enthusiastic to show his Unyule how proud of him he was.

Then things went wrong.

T'Challa had been needed in Wakanda to fulfil his duties as prince. Tony had obligations to SI though, so could not accompany like he usually did. They had parted sadly, but T'Challa promised to return swiftly; that he would meet Tony on the tarmac when he returned from Afghanistan.

T'Challa was on the plane back when he received the call from James, telling him the convoy had been attacked and Tony was missing.

He felt like he couldn't breathe.

"Welcome back Master T'Challa. You have been informed about Sir?"

Even as his gut twisted into knots at the thought of his Unyule, T'Challa couldn't help but marvel at the inflection within J.A.R.V.I.S.' voice. Tony worked so hard to give his creations life and it amazed T'Challa whenever it crossed his mind.

"Thank you J.A.R.V.I.S., yes, James called me on my way back."

T'Challa made his way to their room, trying his best to ignore how empty the house felt; no music coming from the stairs to Tony's workshop, no television set to horribly bad shows, no making love whenever the mood struck.

Just silence and cold.

"If you would Master T'Challa, the bots are quite panicked for Sir; is there a chance you could calm them?"

"Of course J.A.R.V.I.S., I will go now."

Setting down his bag, T'Challa lingered for a moment, his eyes resting on Tony's side of the bed. Tony should have been wrapped safely within the sheets, hidden away from the world that seemed so utterly determined to do him harm.

Dum-E, ButterFingers and U were indeed in a panic when he entered the workshop, clamouring to him in desperate search for their creator. T'Challa reassured them that James would be a few hours yet, but they would work to return Tony to where he was meant to be. The bots eventually retired to their charging stations, and T'Challa was once more awed by his Unyule's dedication to his craft. Dum-E's station was filled with pictures of firemen at work, battling great infernos. ButterFingers had a collection of baby animal magnets stuck to the metal frame. U had a series of soft toys in his dock. And each dock was labelled with a hand-painted sign in his Unyule's fanciest script.

J.A.R.V.I.S.' Primary Server Case had matching signage too.

T'Challa sighed as he looked around his Unyule's sanctuary. While to most it would seem a mess of wires and scrap metal, T'Challa saw the never-ending sprawl of potential that could be unlocked by his Unyule's quick mind and clever fingers. Oh how he loved to watch Tony in the midst of creation.

A sharp buzzing ran through the room, setting T'Challa's nerves on end. J.A.R.V.I.S.' silent alarm. It had been installed after James had discovered Tony and T'Challa one-too-many times in varying states of undress. It always caught T'Challa's attention, which was good seeing as they tended to block J.A.R.V.I.S. out when feeling amorous.

T'Challa swiftly moved to the shadowed corner of the workshop, hiding himself from sight.

James was still a few hours away; who had entered the house?

"I'm entering the workshop now, just focus on breaking that encryption... Because who knows what designs Tony left on it? He'll have more on the 'safety' of his home computer, but he may have doodled something useful when he was slacking off at the office. Rhodes is still a couple hours out, and he'll likely go to Potts first, so work fast."

Obadiah Stane.

"I don't care what you were told by Potts; I have seniority and have told you to get the info off Tony's computer! The military is buying up Stark weapons like nothing before, and we need to keep up the supply; Tony was reported missing less than twelve hours ago and already the stock's dropped by sixty points! ... I refuse to let the brat be the end of this company! He wanted to drive us away from what we do best, but we can recover; just get into those files!"

T'Challa forced his breath to remain even. Stane had something to do with his Unyule's disappearance. T'Challa would see the man pay for it. Stane spent twenty minutes talking to whoever was on the phone as he tried to break into Tony's system, not that he could succeed.

Tony had protections on his technology that would make the Pentagon weep.

T'Challa waited in the shadows a full ten minutes after Stane left in a huff. Looking over Tony's holo-display, T'Challa confirmed that Stane hadn't even gotten through the first firewall.


"I aM SoMEwhAt OPperaTIoNaL masTeR t'chALla. rEBOot iN pROGresS."

So that was why the AI had used the silent alarm to alert him. J.A.R.V.I.S. must have detected Stane's attack on his system and responded before he was prevented. The security cameras were held on a different system though, so there should be evidence of Stane's unlawful entry. Obadiah Stane may be the Godfather of Tony Stark, but he had never been given free access to the house; the chance of him just wandering in and discovering T'Challa too high for either husband to feel comfortable with it.

Waiting for J.A.R.V.I.S. to reboot, T'Challa entered the security system, only to loose a curse when he saw the data corrupted for whichever room Stane happened to be in.

Stane was covering his tracks well, but T'Challa would not be deterred.

"Systems operational. Diagnostics running. Diagnostics complete. J.A.R.V.I.S. Online. What do you need me to do Master T'Challa?"

T'Challa grinned, a nasty expression full of teeth.

"Pull out your fine-tooth comb J.A.R.V.I.S., and put it to use with all information pertaining to Obadiah Stane."

"It will be my pleasure."

When James entered the workshop two hours later, it was taking all of T'Challa's not inconsiderable self control to keep himself seated instead of hunting Stane down and eviscerating him. The sight of James helped him greatly.

A bandage winding round his head and heavy gauze covering his wrist, the Colonel looked exhausted.

"Judging by how you're looking like you want to kill something, I'd say you'd been busy."

T'Challa quickly brought up the files that J.A.R.V.I.S. had discovered so far; Tax Evasion, several overseas bank accounts, and monthly lump sum from an unknown source.

"Stane was down here earlier -do not worry, I was hidden- and he attempted to break into Tony's systems. He managed to tamper with J.A.R.V.I.S. enough to require a reboot, and shut down the cameras for whatever room he was in. And he made clear to whoever he was speaking to that SI would be remaining a weapons dealer."

James' face turned to stone as he processed the information. The Colonel had initially been upset when Tony had informed him of SI's stepping away from weapons, but he came to accept that Tony wasn't abandoning all work with the Military; body armour, comm units, medical supplies, transport -anything but weapons.

"Tony told me that Obadiah had finally agreed to vote out once the current contracts were done. But thinking on it, Obadiah was the one to insist Tony did this last demonstration."

A snarl briefly stole it's way across T'Challa's face, though he managed to force it down before James could see it.

"I will see the man suffer for this!"

T'Challa could not contain the growl that swept through his voice.

After James had reported every detail from the Award Ceremony the night before (which Tony had blown off to video-conference with his husband) to Tony entering the transport back from the demonstration ("I'm sorry, this is the 'Fun-Vee', the 'Humdrum-Vee' is back there" "I know; I'm here telling you to get outta my seat.") T'Challa made a call to his father.

"Omncinci's disappearance is the news everywhere. Already there are whispers about who will succeed him as CEO of Stark Industries and when his Will is to be read. Find him T'Challa; it is too soon for the Panther God to claim him."

"I have no intentions of letting my Unyule run in the fields without me Father. I need you and your Lawyers to go through the information I am sending you, and find a way to completely end Obadiah Stane."

A vicious smirk curls his father's lips.

"You propose a hunt for me T'Challa?"

A matching smirk.

"I propose a slaughter."

James was not allowed to physically search for Tony for ten days, standard procedure given his injuries. While it tore at his insides, T'Challa had to wait for the Colonel to recover before he could join the search efforts.

Until then T'Challa worked with J.A.R.V.I.S. and his father to ensure that Stane would burn. Further digging by J.A.R.V.I.S. had revealed Stane double-dealing; the man selling terrorist Stark Weaponry under the table for years.

The monthly lump sum.

Even beyond that was the discovery that Stane was a father; a son, from an unmarried woman, whom apparently hated the man. Given how his only interaction with the young man was a visit from his Lawyer, ensuring there wasn't any besmirching of the Stane name (which he had legally forced Ezekiel to take) it wasn't a surprise. T'Challa made note that he would benefit from his sire's downfall.

But it also made a thread of wistfulness uncurl in T'Challa's chest.

Upon finishing his required duties as prince, a visit to the science division had revealed that Wakanda had been successfully working on a method to change sperm into an egg. Shuri had volunteered herself as surrogate.

He and his Unyule could have children. Images of cocoa skin and honey-amber eyes taunted his mind; would they be as smart as his Unyule, but with his own calm? Would they be as excitable as his husband? Would they smile softly like T'Challa or deeply like Tony?

Despite his Unyule's words and fear, T'Challa knew Tony would be a wonderful father; they had met with Tony protecting and entertaining the young ones at that Political function so long ago. And Tony's greatest concern -ending up like Howard Stark- would never come to pass, because his Unyule would never allow that to be inflicted on another.

But that would of course have to wait, until his Unyule was once more in his arms.

T'Challa harshly bit into his knuckles at the news that, once again, there was no sighting of Tony Stark.

James had been unable to convince his superiors to allow T'Challa to join them without also risking revealing his status as Tony's husband. T'Challa would have had no problem letting the General know, if it wasn't also known that the man could not abide by homosexuals. As much as he hated not being able to help directly, T'Challa could not risk the General pulling all searches, so he conceded to stay behind. It had been a month and a half since his Unyule went missing.

Next to him, Virginia tried to hold back her sobs, and Harold pursed his lips.

He had finally met the two, three weeks into Tony's disappearance. Virginia, driven by Harold, had come to Tony's house, trying to get a hold of James. James had been keeping them abreast of the situation, but hadn't spent any time with them face-to-face.

Virginia had recognised him from the one time they had met, almost ten years ago, outside Tony's office. She doubted his claim of being close to Tony, given that his Unyule never spoke about him to her. Harold had backed her, and was prepared to call the police before James intervened.

"Don't even start Pepper; I have been present several times when Tony has tried to talk to you about T'Challa. You always shut him down. Hell, I was there when Tony tried to invite you to his wedding!"


It had been sheer chance that they had never met before; T'Challa was often in residence when Virginia came into the house. And his Unyule had continued with his habit of never leaving the women in a vulnerable position, setting them up in the guest bedrooms on the ground floor.

The two of them made it a game every morning-after to be the one to find the worst scandal.

"PEPPER! Tony has not slept with a woman romantically since he was fourteen; I helped him keep it together in M.I.T. when he came to the conclusion that he was gay. All those women have been so drunk or drugged that Tony, T'Challa, and myself on the few occasions I've been there, didn't feel right leaving them to their own devices so brought them here to sleep it off. They've been selling stories because they woke up in Tony's house, so obviously there was sex.

And Tony has been in a completely monogamous relationship with T'Challa since they were about twenty-five. I was Tony's best man at the wedding almost a decade ago, and it was beautiful. Tony tried to invite you, I was there too, but before he even finished a sentence you said that you had no interest in following him on vacation to clean up after his overseas orgies. Every other time Tones tried to talk about his hubby, you shut it down and walked away, so Tony just stopped."

Both Virgina and Harold looked ashamed of themselves, probably remembering several occasions that matched with what James was describing. T'Challa took a step towards them and gave a polite bow of the head.

"My name is T'Challa. I am Tony's husband, and have heard much about you both. I am honoured to meet my husband's friends."

He could see why his Unyule so adored them; both good, honest, genuine people. T'Challa was glad Tony had such friends.

Right now they sat on the couches in the workshop; with Tony gone the house was just so cold. At least in the workshop J.A.R.V.I.S. could play recordings of Tony as he worked, creating the illusion that Tony was just hidden somewhere in the workshop.

Virginia cuddled closer to Harold's side, comforted and comforting in the one gesture.

James sat with his head in his hands looking near dead with exhaustion.

None of them would be able to give up on Tony, but all were feeling the strain.

Harold eventually moved to take James to 'his' room in the house, Virginia slowly following.

"I've always said that I should put a tracker on Tony so he couldn't escape his meetings. When we get him back, I don't care if I have to embed it in his spine; There will be some way to find him."

Virginia left the lab, completely missing the widening of T'Challa's eyes.

Over the past six weeks, T'Challa had been pouring every effort onto making an ironclad case to have Obadiah Stane put in jail with all his assets stripped. He had not been able to join James in Afghanistan to search, so had focused his all on Stane.

"A tracker on Tony."

T'Challa cursed himself for not thinking sooner.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., please bring up a map of the area the convoy was attacked."

A holo-display lit up, the red dot on the map an angry beacon.

Breathing forcefully deep, T'Challa began entering codes to J.A.R.V.I.S.' search functions, a slim hope beginning to bloom in his chest.

A gentle, golden dot popped up on the map, several hundred miles away from the red.

"Target found. May I ask what you have found Master T'Challa?"

"I will tell you in a moment. Bring up the satellite images for this area please."

One by one the images loaded, showing an area with tents and covered piles outside what looked to be a cave.

There was one image however that caught his full attention.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., focus this image; get me as many details as you can!"

The pixels of the satellite image began focusing, clustering together as a clearer image revealed something that made T'Challa's heart soar as much as it made his stomach twist.

He would recognise his husband anywhere.

The image showed Tony being dragged from a truck; he appeared limp and lifeless. The men were armed, and looking back at the other images, it wasn't hard to pick out the weapons showing from beneath the tarps.

"Stane's buyers."

T'Challa knew he should alert James, get him to tell his superiors, but he couldn't bring himself to.

He was feeling so much rage; the Panther within him was clawing to get out, to massacre these men whom held his husband, his mate, a captive.

Instead he pulls out his phone and makes a call to Shuri.

"How soon will it take for you to gather the Dora Milaje and come pick me up? We have a hunt to attend."

It's dark when the aircraft lands a good two miles from the terrorist camp.

Completing a final check of weapons and gear, the group of twelve runs swiftly into the night, barely even a footprint in the sand to mark their passage.

T'Challa had called for a hunt; the predators had their prey.

With nary a sound, the sentries were downed, out of sight of the few cameras, the darts distributing the tranquilizer immediately. Keeping to the shadows, they entered the sheltered cave, weapons at the ready.

The men they encountered were all sundered, unconscious on the ground as the group slowly moved deeper in the cave system.

A sudden blaring of alarms rang through the passageway; their presence discovered.

At a fork in the passage the group split in two, T'Challa leading one and Shuri the other. Defeating every man who stood before them, T'Challa soon came upon the man who appeared to be in charge.

"I do not know who you are, or how you found this place, but you will leave in pieces."

T'Challa doesn't notice the threat. His eyes are locked on the man's neck.

Or rather, locked on the ring hanging from a chain.

The Panther roars inside him, raging at the audacity for this man to wear his mates ring; to adorn himself with the marker of T'Challa's love for Tony.

T'Challa answers the call.

By the time the red haze fades from his sight, the man is barely alive and more through luck than any control on T'Challa's part. He quickly removes his husbands ring from the man's neck and looks around the cavern they are in.

The Dora Milaje with him have subdued the rest of the men present, and Nakia is attempting to restart the screens set up in the corner. No doubt those are the screens for the cameras located around the area. T'Challa moves to offer his help when Shuri's voice speaks through the comms.

"Brother, I have found him! Come quickly, he is not well!"

T'Challa moves.

Okoye is waiting for him at the fork to lead him to his Unyule. The cavern that held Tony was host to heavy steel doors and several men watched by the Dora Milaje are tied up outside it, no doubt set to guard his husband. T'Challa enters the cavern and quickly makes his way to Shuri and Tony. As he kneels beside them, he notices the body not too far from them.

"The men shot him just as we entered; he died to protect Tony, Brother."

T'Challa bows his head and whispers a prayer for the Panther God to bless this fallen soul.

"Tony was clipped badly by ricochet; we've bandaged the wound as best we can, but Brother... his chest."

T'Challa forces himself to look past his Unyule's face and swallows deeply at the blue glow.

He can't think of any kind reason for Tony to have what is clearly an arc reactor in his chest.

Carefully, he brings Tony into his arms, cradling his Unyule gently, as tears of relief streak his face behind his mask.

His husband, his mate, his Unyule, is back in his arms.

Tony remains in T'Challa's arms as they board the aircraft. He has lost much weight, and is dressed in threadbare rags that do nothing to protect him from the chill of the desert night. T'Challa takes his seat in the aircraft, waiting for the Dora Milaje to finish preparing the bonfire of Tony's weapons; once the aircraft is a safe distance, a bomb will destroy the place of his Unyule's captivity and the men who held him slave.

Nakia found footage of what they wanted Tony to do, and what they did when he said no. She found footage of Tony's operation, of Tony's fellow prisoner doing what he could to save him.

And she found the video to Stane.

Trinkets to kill a prince, they said.

"Huh. I'm dreaming again."

T'Challa's eyes dart to his Unyule's face, sluggish as he wakes, but so wonderfully alive.

"At least it's a nice dream; I haven't had many of those lately. They've all been pretty scary actually."

"No dream. I promise you my Love, this is not a dream."

T'Challa can't take his eyes from Tony, even when his husband shakes his head in disagreement.

"Nah, this is a dream; the man I love, surrounded by amazing tech and me. Dream."

T'Challa pulls out Tony's ring.

"That's mine, I know that's mine, why do you have my ring? I'm always wearing my ring in my dreams."

So saying, Tony raises a hand to his neck, looking for his chain. When his hand finds nothing, Tony looks down, paling considerably when he sees the arc reactor.

"Not a dream my Love. You have been a captive for six agonising weeks. The leader of the group had this, and it was how I found you."

T'Challa slides the chain back where it belongs, a harmonic chime ringing when the ring hits the arc reactor.

"Keep it on you always my Love; for we can always find Vibranium."

Tony's breathing is getting choppy, and he clings tightly to T'Challa.

Soon, he will be told the cover story before they blow up the weapons and leave him where the military can find him.

He will return to America and Stane will be removed, while SI distances itself entirely from weapons.

And he will return properly to T'Challa, where he can stop being Anthony Edward Stark and just be Tony.

T'Challa's Unyule.

Chapter Text

Tony knows he is aesthetically pleasing.

Tony also knows that it is not the reason most people are attracted to him; his bank balance and chequebook are what most people like him for.

It's why, at twenty-three, he delighted so much in T'Challa's presence. T'Challa had just turned up one day to a Stark Industries Tour, wandering through the rooms like the rest of the visitors, seemingly amazed and amused by what was on display. But he had asked questions, intelligent questions at that, not just 'Do you think Stark would sleep with me?' or 'Is it true Stark's cock is fifteen inches?'

No, T'Challa was smart, with a streak of sass a mile wide, and a smile that shone, and he took an interest in Tony beyond the physical or the material.

Tony didn't know why a guy like T'Challa was interested in him. But he thrilled in every moment of it.

Finding out that his boyfriend was royalty wasn't actually something that surprised Tony; T'Challa was elegance and charisma given human form.

Finding out his boyfriend was from Wakanda, the most technologically advanced country on the planet, home to the rarest metal on the planet, was a bit of an eye-opener but still not surprising; T'Challa was intelligent and curious, and very willing to learn and expand his knowledge.

Finding out his boyfriend wanted him to visit Wakanda to meet his family; now that was surprising.

Tony had never been invited to meet the family's of any of his previous partners. He had no frame of reference for what was a good or bad response.

T'Chaka and his wife N'Yami were welcoming and T'Challa's sister Shuri was full of smiles, so that was good, but it all felt... distant. Like they didn't know what to think of him, didn't really want to know what to think of him.

The Royal Bodyguards and the civilians were open and blatant.

Sneers and jeers in Wakandan followed him wherever he went, silenced only when T'Challa was nearby; even the presence of other members of the Royal family would not silence what Tony could tell were insults. The faces made, not even trying to hide the disgust and hatred.

Tony's used to people hating him for no real reason.

Sometimes he even thinks he deserves it, what with not even his own father caring for him.

But Stark men are made of Iron, so Tony takes deep breaths, straightens his spine, and moves forward, one step at a time.

The third week of Tony's visit, after he has once more left a workshop because they won't answer any of his questions in English (which T'Challa has assured him is taught just as Wakandan), Tony finds himself facing the inevitable confrontation.

"How dare you come here and bewitch Our Prince?!"

One of the Royal Bodyguards assigned to T'Challa. She's upset, and taking it out on Tony.

Maybe Tony deserves it.

"Look at you; pale and thin! You would not survive a day in this world if it were not for the protection Our Prince gives you!"

Tony knows that he can't match up to the beauty of the Wakandan people; it's a small part of why he's so entranced with T'Challa. Anyone would spite him for their relationship.

Maybe Tony deserves it.

"You have NOTHING to offer him."

But Tony is a Stark, and Starks don't take shit from anyone.

"Try telling me something I don't know; seeing as you're finally brave enough to say something I can understand."

A silence befalls the crowd that has, moments earlier, been cheering the girl on, encouraging her to cut into him.

"You... You dare to-"

"Dare to what? Call you out on being a coward? Yeah, I do. It takes a big person to insult someone to their face, but it is not a brave person who does it behind the veil of language. Sei infantile. See? How completely brave was I just now?

You say I am not good enough for T'Challa. Congratulations, you have voiced the fact that I have been telling the man since he first asked me out! T'Challa doesn't need me; anything I could possibly have to offer him he already has here in abundance and of greater quality! He would merely need to smile and he would have people better than me lining up for miles for the chance to have him look at them with that smile! I know this, and have known from the beginning!

But... for some reason... for some inexplicable cause that I cannot hope to fathom... T'Challa sees something in me that he wants to keep close. Something in me that he desires. Yes, he could do a million times better, we all know this, but for whatever purpose, T'Challa wants me.  And I am a selfish man. For as long as T'Challa will allow it, I will hold onto him. I will do whatever I can to stay at his side.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what I want, or you think. It is T'Challa's choice that matters.

You don't have to love me; you don't even have to like me. But you could at least have the decency to treat me like a human, and the courage to respect T'Challa's choices as much as you claim to respect him."

Tony doesn't wait for a response. He merely turns around and starts walking away.

Deeps breaths. Straightened spine. Moving forwards.

One step at a time.

"I heard quite the interesting rumour today."

T'Challa's arms wind around Tony's waist to rest on his stomach. Tony leans back slightly, thankful for the warm breadth of T'Challa's body, and looks away from the view from the balcony to see his boyfriend's face. A deep smile curls dark lips, letting the startling white of his teeth peek through.

"Apparently, my heart has been caught by a gentle white panther, that will destroy that which pushes too far."

Tony scoffs a little, turning to cuddle into T'Challa's embrace.

"You have shown them your fire and just as I did, they have fallen in love with you. The science division has been tripping over themselves to try and get you to come look at them again."

Tony gently nuzzles his cheek into T'Challa's shoulder.

"I am sorry that you had to be exposed to such pettiness; I have already expressed my disappointment to the Dora Milaje, and word of their lecture has already spread to the people. I am glad you did not allow it to continue.

And I am so thankful that you have chosen to stay with me."

Tony moves to speak, but T'Challa silences him with a finger pressed to his lips.

"I have learned of what you said today and I disagree. You are an amazing man, and I feel blessed to know you. You are smart, funny, kind and generous, and you shine with the brightest flame of life. You keep it hidden behind sarcasm and laughter, but it is always there, and when you let it out? The whole world seems to bathe in the glow.

I don't understand how you have not been snatched up by someone, but I am thankful, because it gave me the chance to be at your side. And just as you claimed, I am a selfish man. I will hold onto you until you tell me to leave. If you are the same, then neither of us has to let go. You are my White Panther, and there is no other I would want."

Tony tightens his grip on T'Challa.

"For as long as you'll let me."

T'Challa's smile widens.

"Until you tell me to leave."

Chapter Text

It happened at a political gala after the Sokovia Accords had been signed and ratified.

Tony had been mingling, getting a feel of the room as to who was likely to kick up a stink over something, because there was always someone.

He was just a little surprised over what the fuss was caused by.

"How dare you?!"

Tony's head snapped from the man he was speaking to, to the woman swiftly walking up to him with fury lining every move.

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's not my pardon you should be begging for Stark! After the work done to make the world a more understanding place, I would have thought you of all people wouldn't be setting us back by being so- so... callous!"

Tony's head tilted a little to the side in confusion, an action mirrored by a number of the patrons. Taking a quick glance around the room, Tony couldn't see anyone else looking at him angrily, so.

"Madam, what exactly have I done that is making you so angry? Because as far as I'm aware, I am on my best behaviour."

The woman scoffed.

"Of course you'd say that; you're just that heartless! What I'm taking about Stark is your blatant Cultural Appropriation!"

That gained a few incredulous stares, which served to make the woman angrier.

"I'm talking about this!"

So saving she surged forward and grabbed Tony's wrist, wrenching it up as she jerked his jacket sleeve down, so all could see the gold and black beaded bracelet.

A few gasps of outrage sounded when the bracelet was revealed. Mutters started sounding, and the returned Avengers were being given cautious looks as well. Which Tony felt was unfair seeing as they were looking at him askance as it was.

"To think that you could sink to such levels! Did you think you were being cute? Wearing traditional African beadwork? All you've managed Stark is to be an insensitive insult! The very nerve of you! To show such cheek as to-"

A hand gently snatching Tony's from the woman silenced the whole room. T'Challa's angry glare had the woman retreating a couple steps.

"I was not aware that you were African; you certainly don't look it."

The woman seemed to gain a second wind at the mocking T'Challa gave her, but he cut her off before she could start.

"If you had looked properly, you would see that the band is marked with the Crest of Wakanda. I myself was the one to gift this bracelet, following Wakandan tradition."

At T'Challa's use of the word tradition, the woman drew herself up and screeched out, several guests jumping back at the sound.

"Wakanda has been in isolation for decades! How could there be any tradition of giving a piece of the culture to a complete outsider?!"

By now, the Avengers had decided to stand at Tony's side, as though they backed him from the start. T'Challa spared them a derisive look, then turning a questioning look to Tony, which received a shallow nod, before once more facing the accusatory woman.

"The tradition, madam, is for a member of the Wakandan Royal Family to gift a piece of jewellery they have made themselves to their spouse."

All sound, all movement, completely stopped, the woman standing gaping, her mouth fallen wide open.

"I am honoured that he chooses to still wear my gift."

Turning sharply, T'Challa led Tony from the room by the hand he still grasped.

The Avengers quickly followed, and once they were safely ensconced in Tony's Limo, Clint burst out laughing.

"Man! Did you all see the look on her face?! That was brilliant! You could not have chosen a better lie to shut her up!"

Clint's joyful hooting was cut off by the vicious growl emanating from T'Challa's throat.

Tony shuffled closer and drew T'Challa to rest on his shoulder, the man's arms wrapping around his waist.

"T'Challa and I have been wed over fifteen years. No lie was told."

"But... there is no way you're married! You don't wear a ring, you don't talk about it, and you never called him in during any of our crises!"

Tony levelled a flat glare at the archer.

"I have been considered public property since I was born Barton; like hell I would force my husband into that spotlight. I may not talk about T'Challa to you, but I talk to him nearly every day."

"And" T'Challa's voice joined in, muffled from his place leant against Tony. "Wakanda gives a piece of handmade jewellery, as I said not a few moments ago. We have survived a long-distance relationship, and still hold each other in highest regard. Any problems you have, do not concern us."

Natasha piped up.

"What about all of Tony's cheating? Is that not a problem?"

"Unlike you it would seem, I trust my husband to be faithful. I am well aware of how many have claimed to have slept with Tony over the years, but I am also aware of how many stories have made claims when I was the only one in my husband's bed in the given dates. It is of no concern to you."

T'Challa sat up enough so that they could see his face.

"I have greater trust in my White Panther than in any of you."

Chapter Text

T'Challa capped the pen after signing the final form on his desk.

Finally, the yearly reports were complete, and he wouldn't have to bring any work home with him for a while. It had been over a decade since he had graduated; he didn't need homework from his job.

Stretching as he stood up, T'Challa moved to put the files in his briefcase when he heard the front door open.

"I'm back!"

T'Challa swiftly moved to the hall.

"Welcome home Azari. You're early; did you have fun with your mother?"

Years ago, T'Challa had fallen in love with the actress Ororo Munroe, and she him. They had married and were content and happy. T'Challa had been ecstatic when Ororo had told him he was to be a father.

Azari was perfect, T'Challa had yet to come across a single instance of bad behaviour in the boys fifteen years of life. Sure his ikatana could be mischievous, but Azari had never been malicious or hateful.

Not even when Ororo had asked for a divorce.

It had completely blindsided T'Challa, but Ororo wanted to get back to her acting, and T'Challa had been giving all his attention to Azari and she felt neglected. Over the course of six months, T'Challa finally agreed and signed away his marriage. Ororo moved away and resumed her career, but at least once every month would come and spend the weekend with Azari. Usually his son was gone the entire time, so a little after noon was a very early return.

"Mother received a call from the director of whatever she's working on now; some idiot accidentally erased half of the footage they've recorded, so they need her back immediately."

"I am sorry your time was cut short."

Azari shrugged, appearing uncaring that his mother had to leave again.

"I love mother, I hope that's never in doubt, but I do wish that we had more scheduling around when she can come by; The Avengers meeting was this morning."

Realisation struck T'Challa as his son moved to the kitchen. Azari was part of a small science club, that met on occasional weekends to play with the fun side of high school science. Azari hated missing out. T'Challa entered the kitchen to find Azari making a sandwich.

"What was this week exploring?"

Azari's face lit up at his father's interest.

"Lasers and how they interact with the world! Mr Stark said he was gonna bring mirrors and stuff so we could try our hands at all the movie clichés on how to avoid laser grids!"

T'Challa's eyes widened; that did sound fun.

Mr Stark, his son's science teacher and the supervisor for the club, was apparently always advocating the awe of science; Azari had laughingly told the story of how a complete double period of science had been turned on its head as teacher and students ended up debating whether magic was merely science unexplained or an entirely different field altogether. T'Challa could admit it would have been amusing to watch.

"I called Mr Stark to let him know I couldn't make it, and he said he understood. I'll still get to go to Francis' comp though."

T'Challa thought over the faces of his sons friends.

"Francis is the archer right?"

Azari nodded, delighted that his father knew his friends from one another.

"Would you mind some company?"

His son damn near glowed.

Seated in the bleachers of the sports hall, T'Challa and Azari watched with rapt attention as the archers pitted themselves against each other. While father and son were both greatly athletic and could handle a bow, they were nowhere near the level of any of the competitors.

"Francis is going to win; he's been practicing with his father, and his father's the Olympic record holder."

T'Challa was impressed; he hadn't known Clint Barton's son was one of Azari's friends.

Neither father nor son were surprised when Francis came first. Azari rushed off the congratulate his friend, and T'Challa reclined a little in his seat. Looking at the group his son joined, he could see the surprise and delight on the four faces; they had missed him.

A warm glow settled in T'Challa's chest; it was so good that Azari had such a close knit group of friends.

Climbing down from the raised seats, T'Challa looked around at the other people in the hall, merely passing his gaze over them until his eyes fell on... him.

T'Challa had been raised by his father to appreciate all forms of beauty, something he hoped he was instilling in Azari. And the man was beautiful.

Hair an artful mess, as though countless hands had run through it; eyes a warm whiskey brown that invited you to drink from them; lips curled into a joyful smile that crinkled those gorgeous eyes, framed by an impeccable goatee; perfectly tanned skin; truly a beautiful man.

T'Challa felt himself swallow when the man happened to look his way.

He felt himself straightening when the man made his way over.

"Hey there. You looked a little lonely standing here all by yourself so I came to make you not a loner. It's a thing you will be mocked for in social settings, and this is a social setting, which I'm assuming you already knew because you don't look uneducated, uneducated people are also the ones who dress bizarrely in public then get offended when you ask them what died to make their outfit, because it genuinely looks like a swan died bumming a boar. I'm Tony, you are?"

T'Challa had to take a few moments, just being amazed by the sound of Tony's voice, and impressed by the speed he linked thoughts, to realise he'd been asked a question.

"Oh, My name is T'Challa. It's nice to meet you Tony."

A strong, calloused hand gripped the one T'Challa had offered to shake, and it sent a little thrill through T'Challa; Tony was a man who worked with his hands.

"The pleasure's mine; I'm talking to a hot man."

A brief shot of silence stole its way around them as they both ran those words through their heads.

"That's a compliment by the way; you don't have to read anything from it. Unless you're interested, in which case read away, read all you want. But if it makes you uncomfortable, just pretend nothing happened; I'm all for consensual and interested, so if you're not, nothing's happening. No problems. I'm just gonna shut up now, before I embarrass myself further- you're laughing, why are you laughing? Are you laughing at me? That's not very nice. Or did something funny happen when I was rambling and I completely missed it? I hate missing funny things; did I miss a funny thing? Do not hide funny things from me."

T'Challa was having difficulties stopping his chuckles. Tony was just so expressive that he couldn't help it.

"I am flattered that I have met your approval Tony. I find you quite attractive as well."

Tony's words stuttered to a halt, a slight flush raising to his cheeks.

"That-that's nice, uh, good I mean, that's good to know..."

T'Challa started chuckling again.

By the time T'Challa calmed himself, Tony had lost his flush.

"I'm not a huge sportsy person myself, but I love watching the application of maths in motion, so I come to a lot of the local comps. What brings you here?"

"My son is friends with one of the competitors, and wished to be here as support."

Tony's face gentled, his eyed going soft.

"Yeah, my kids are like that, always wanting to be there to cheer each other on. It just helps make you feel good about life; a small bunch of kids screaming each other's name in fun and laughter, telling all the world that they care."

They spoke on whatever topic crossed their minds for a good twenty minutes, before a pretty redhead came up to them.

"Hi, I'm sorry about this, but I need to steal Tony. There is a pile of paperwork due Monday on his desk singing sweet serenades for him."

"Lies Pepper, filthy, filthy lies and slander; that paperwork sings no serenades! It shouts out satanic curses and tries to eat the souls of anyone foolish enough to try and sign it! Let go of me-let go-stop it Pepper-Pep, let me-No, no-Bad Pepper, Bad, no, let go of Tony; Tony does not want!"

The redhead -Pepper- dragged Tony away, forcing Tony to leave the building with the grip she had on his shirt. T'Challa couldn't help but be impressed by how she handled the excitable man. He was a little concerned that even with his raised voice, no-one had given the scene a second glance, but as Tony had not seemed to be in genuine distress, he didn't push the issue.

Besides, it was close to dinner time, and he had a teenage boy to feed.

"Here father; we received them today."

Azari handed over a sheet of paper. A Parent Teacher Meeting?

"I thought you were doing well in science? Why does Mr Stark want to meet me?"

Azari shrugged his shoulders.

"I think it's less of a want, and more of a Ms Potts told him to. He looked pretty unhappy handing them out."

Ah, Ms Potts, the School secretary. Rumours painted her as a woman who would take on God if he visited and she hadn't received his paperwork.

"They weren't given out to the whole class; I was rather distracted and wasn't paying attention to who got them, but I don't think it's anything bad."

T'Challa read the information on the form and nodded.

"We shall be there."

The meeting was on Friday evening, and as T'Challa pulled into the school parking lot, he could see other family's doing the same.

"Isn't that Francis Azari?"

"It is, along with his father. And over there, I can see Torunn. Is this perhaps a group meeting, instead of one-on-one?"

"It just might be. Come, let us go."

Father and son left the car and made their way inside, Azari describing points of interest along the way to the science labs.

Upon entering the room and taking a seat in the neatly arranged semi-circle, T'Challa took note of those present. As stated Francis and Clint Barton were present, along with Torunn and her father Thor. T'Challa shook hands when introduced to James' parents Steve and Natasha, and nodded politely to Janet Van Dyne and both Henry Pym's. All seats were taken, and the children started looking worried, Azari coming to perch on the seat of his chair as was his wont when nervous. But none of the teenagers looked remotely guilty, so T'Challa would have to see if this meeting was good or bad.

A few minutes of small talk were finally broken when the door to the labs opened revealing...

Tony and Pepper?

T'Challa took a surreptitious look around the room to see if he had missed some chairs, but no, he hadn't, and there was no child with the two.

"See? They all came and we can get this sorted."

"I still don't think it's needed; you are just making this unnecessarily complicated."

"It's needed Tony, because there is a lot of positivity that will come out of it."

"I don't see what was wrong with my original plans."

"There was nothing wrong, but there is more benefit this way. Now stop being rude and go explain to them what is going on Mr Stark, Science teacher extraordinaire."

"As you command it Ms Potts, Secretary from the Pits."

T'Challa near swallowed his tongue; the most gorgeous male he had ever come across was his sons teacher.

"Alright everyone, you know who I am, and I know who you are. Fabulous, intros done. As you all know, I am the supervisor for the minions shenanigans. I suggested to the school board that if your kids each placed a certain mark by half-year, I would take them on a trip to the New York Hall of Science."

T'Challa glanced at Azari, wondering why his son hadn't told him of a trip he most certainly would have encouraged, but there was only a gobsmacked look on his sons face.

"And because literally every single one of you just looked at your kids; I didn't tell them about this plan."

Ah. That explained a lot.

"The short-stacks are my top five students, so the board has agreed."

The teens jumped from their seats cheering, running around the room in delight. Tony let them celebrate a few moments, before near bellowing-


The reaction was instantaneous, the five teens, leaping back into their seats and giving their teacher their full attention. Clint Barton spoke up.

"You have got to teach me how to do that."

Steve Rogers nodded his head in agreement.

"I wish I got such a reaction from James."

Tony scoffed.

"You are a first generation Avenger Steve, but you're also the guy James sees every morning soaked in sweat from your insane running schedule. I, on the other hand, am the guy who will tell his mother when he acts up, so of course he'll listen to me."

 James, and the other kids, nodded at Tony's words, prompting grumbles from the parents.

"Now, my original plan was to turn one of our weekend Avengers meetings into a day trip. I made the mistake of telling Pepper."

The woman in question merely rolled her eyes as Tony elaborated.

"Now, instead of a nice relaxed day trip, Pepper has arranged for a televised overnight trip. As faces will be plastered on T.V. you are all going to have to sign permission forms, consent forms, and those of you who can are invited to Chaperone, because Pepper doesn't trust me with them, regardless of how none of them have had an injury under my care worse than a paper cut and we have regularly been blowing shit up, and will need to sign yet another form stating that yes you can come play with all the lovely science too."

Snarky rejoinders and quips went flying through the rest of the meeting, the kids once more up and running as they delighted in the upcoming trip.

T'Challa made sure to sign the chaperone form before he and Azari left.

Overall, the first day was a success, and the televising of it would bring a lot of publicity to the school, but T'Challa had to agree with Tony; it was not a relaxing trip. All the parents had ended up coming, but because the camera crew and director (Seriously? A director?) wanted footage of the group in as many exhibits as possible, no real time could be spent in any of them. The kids were enjoying themselves, sure, but to T'Challa, it felt like he wasn't allowed to stand still for more than a few seconds.

Tony was running himself ragged to keep the group entertained and learning -the whole point of the trip- but one of the kids would react excitedly to one of the exhibit pieces, and suddenly a cameraman would be in their face, demanding they do it again until they were glaring, and the parents kept being pushed away from the kids, because the kids were more interesting for the program.

It was a miracle that no blood was shed by the time the group entered their hotel for the night.

Tony was on the phone speaking in hushed tones that did nothing to hide his anger.

"This was supposed to be a reward Pepper, but the kids aren't given five minutes before we're being shuffled off again... I am not exaggerating! I have the forty-two stubs in my wallet right now, and I have a group of unhappy people who will corroborate... I understand they want a strong showing Pepper, but this is ridiculous; my kids are grumpy and bored, because they didn't get to explore at their pace! They took enough footage today; if they come back tomorrow, I am not apologizing if I end up punching them.

I am deadly serious Virginia.

You have taken the nice day out I planned and turned it into an endurance test. I said I made the mistake of telling you, and you are proving it. Get the crew gone; we have provided enough publicity for the school, it is time for my kids and their parents to actually enjoy themselves. Goodnight."

T'Challa approached carefully as Tony massaged his temples. Startling slightly when he opened his eyes, Tony offered a tired smile, which T'Challa returned before sitting next to him at the small table by the window.

No words were exchanged until bedtime, when they whispered their blessings.

No words were needed.

The camera crew did not return, to the delight of the group, and indeed the day was brilliant.

Actually getting to explore the exhibits was amazing; so many different branches of science! The kids were far calmer and happier, asking Tony questions, and discussing the answers amongst themselves. The parents were still grumpy, but nothing could be done for that, as they seemed to have decided that it was Tony's fault the camera crew were jerks.

Tony and T'Challa spoke at great length during the day, wherein T'Challa discovered that Tony had gone to school with the rest of the parents, and was a 'First Generation Avenger' too; What he had called Steve at the meeting. Their school had an infestation of bullies, and they had taken it upon themselves to, in Tony's words, 'Avenge the wrongs done to the innocent.'

Avengers Assemble had been their call to battle, and Tony used it now to settle the next generation; the Next Avengers.

Tony had discovered T'Challa's little... obsessive devotion to panthers an had delighted in calling him by different felines; some of them were rather clever

The day passed with joy and laughter, the teens far more pleasant than the night before, and soon all were loaded up in the schools minibus.

Once back in the school lot, the parents meandered to their cars, while the kids bid their farewells.

"Thank you for all your work Tony; the kids enjoyed themselves, and learned a lot."

"It's all good Crookshanks, I'm a teacher; it's my job to make them want to learn."

"And what if you've made me want to learn more about you?"

Tony stopped, turning to face T'Challa. T'Challa held Tony's gaze, trying to display the honesty and desire he felt for the man. Tony took a deep breath.

"Then I'd say you are welcome to join Azari to team meetings. And that I might invite you to coffee afterwards."

T'Challa's lips curled as warmth bloomed in his chest.

"Then I believe you will have a new Avenger."

Chapter Text

T'Challa's fingers pinched the bridge of his nose, a desperate attempt to stave off the headache threatening to break.

After a few moments, T'Challa acknowledged that his lack of sleep was playing a large part of his discomfort, but there was just so much to do. With the Avengers safely ensconced in Wakanda, observed by Shuri's ever-watching gaze, T'Challa had the freedom to work with Tony Stark to fix the Accords.

At least, that had been the plan.

The crown of the King, and the Black Panther's mantle were heavy weights to bear. Constantly his mind was plagued by questions; Was he doing the right thing working in America instead of protecting his people? Should he have revealed the Black Panther, the Protector of Wakanda, to the world? Would he be a good king?

It just wouldn't stop.

The questions even invaded his dream, twisting and churning until he found himself looking at the smoking ruins of Wakanda as the Panther God consumed him, before jerking awake, short of breath with fire burning in his chest and skin covered in sweat.

And so he worked, putting as much focus as he could into sorting out the Accords. Tony, as the man had insisted he be called, had an unusual sleep pattern, so was often working when T'Challa escaped the terrifying thrall of his mind.

T'Challa was beyond thankful to have the genius' company in those moments.

He was just so grateful to not be alone.

But tonight it seemed his body could no longer keep up with the effort; his whole frame was shaking, and his breaths were heavy. To sleep meant to fall into doubt and unease, not getting any actual rest. His breathing quickened at the thought of the dreamt destruction, his eyes darting about the room, trying to anchor himself in reality.

It was no use.

Black started to dot his vision, and then he could smell the smoke from burning homes, taste the spilt blood of his people, hear the screams of the scared-


He jolted awake, finding himself on the floor, reclined against a strong chest.

"You awake now? Focus on me, on my breathing. See? In and out, nice and slow. That's it, you can do it, you know how to breathe; you've been doing it your whole life. There we go, just keep doing it for me."

Tony's voice rang calm through his ear, and T'Challa tried to match the breaths he could feel from the chest beneath him. By the lilt of Tony's words, he was doing well.

"Okay, I want you to keep matching me as I talk. Just keep going in and out as I open my face hole, sound like a plan? Yeah we can do this."

Tony moved T'Challa slightly, so that his ear was pressed to his chest.

Right over his heart.

"Friday let me know you had an anxiety attack. They suck, are nothing more than your worst fears coming out of nowhere and bitch-slapping you. But we can manage them. Yes, they are cruel and painful, but they are a sign that you need help; hypocritical coming from me, I know, but I can help you T'Challa. In and out."

T'Challa's breaths matched Tony's, and the deep thudding of his heart helped loose the tension in his body.

Tony's heart was calm.

Even through the worry and emotions T'Challa could hear in his voice, Tony's heart was at a resting pace. It was so soothing.

"T'Challa, when you blacked out just now, where were you?"

"I was-" His voice was so thready, barely something he recognised. "I was in the study, still am-"

"No T'Challa; where were you?"

T'Challa swallowed the feeling of fear and choked out the answer he didn't wish to give.

"The ruins of my home."

A strong hand rubbed up and down his back, the strokes firm and grounding.

"There was so much fire and noise; my people hurting and afraid. I need to protect them; I am the Black Panther and King, it is my duty, my birthright. But..."

Tony pulled him closer, the warmth of his body helping him stay calm, and the smooth drawl of his voice almost melodic.

"But what T'Challa? You can do it; you're already doing so well. In and out. But what?"

T'Challa clenched his eyes shut, curling even closer to Tony's frame.

"But... will I be able to? Will I be good enough?"

Or will I doom them all?

Tony's hand kept rubbing T'Challa's back as the words unspoken seem to ring through the air. Tony takes a deep breath that T'Challa copies before speaking.

"I don't know."

A thrill of dread runs down T'Challa's spine, before it is chased away by firmer strokes of the genius' hand.

"I don't know, because the world is ever changing. Right now, in this second, I see a good man trying his hardest; that man can be called a good King. In ten years time, I may see a man fat and greedy of his power; that man cannot be called a good King. You will be a good King T'Challa, so long as you stay a good man, so long as you keep trying. You will make mistakes -you're still human after all- but you will try your hardest to fix them; just like when you discovered Zemo's plot.

A good man T'Challa; that is what you need to try to be."

T'Challa clutches the shirt beneath his fingers tightly, his body shaking with the light sobs falling from his lips.

A good man. He can be a good man.

He just needs to follow Tony's example.

Chapter Text


"Yes Father?"

"A message from Nicholas Fury. He has need of the Black Panther."

"I will leave at once."

"Be careful brother."

"Of course Shuri. Take care of Wakanda while I'm gone."

"You're the Black Panther I take it?"

"Indeed. You are?"

"Assistant Director Maria Hill. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to Director Fury."

"So as I understand it, you are the Prince of Wakanda."

"This is correct, but I'm not here as a Prince; I'm here as a Warrior."

"Good, cause that's what I need in my response team."

T'Challa leant against a wall in the bridge, looking around at the tech S.H.I.E.L.D. had on offer. He was disappointed that most of it seemed to be for show; to look impressive, instead of doing something useful, though that may have been nothing more than the pride he held for Wakanda speaking.

Fury had contacted his father years ago about having a Wakandan on his response team. T'Chaka didn't much trust Fury, but felt that having a foot in the door would be useful. T'Challa and Shuri had battled for the position, and now, here T'Challa stood.

As of yet, Fury was waiting for two quinjets with T'Challa's 'teammates'. The ETA of both very close.

T'Challa had been of two minds when he read about Captain America; on the one hand the man was legendary, taking on impossible odds and winning, proven by his resurrection from seventy years encased in ice. On the other, this was a man who had been more or less torn from everything he knew, and everyone he loved; Fury wanted Steve Rogers to be the leader of the Avengers, but would the man be stable enough to do so?

T'Challa was very interested in the presence of Doctor Banner though. A genius who had been exposed to enough radiation to create a secondary persona that caused drastic physical changes? T'Challa looked forward to picking the man's mind.

But before he could introduce himself to the woman and two men who joined them on the bridge, their target, the Asgardian Loki, was spotted.

T'Challa didn't like how Fury expected Rogers and himself to work together easily; the two men had no exposure to each other, no idea how they worked in battle. It was going to end badly. Loki was toying with them, easily able to overpower them physically, taking hits like they were nothing.

Shoot to thrill, play to kill
Too many women with too many pills
Shoot to thrill, play to kill
I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will

The rock music blared through the speakers of the quinjet they had arrived in, and T'Challa let a little awe fall into his expression, hidden behind his mask as it was.

Iron Man.

A shot at Loki had the Asgardian flying back, falling harshly on the steps. The armour stuck the iconic three point landing, before standing and revealing a small arsenal facing the godling.

"Your move Reindeer Games."

In a flare of light, the asgardian lost his gold horns, now only in his green robes. The weapons facing him disappeared into their hiding places.

"Good move."

T'Challa could get to like Tony Stark.

Stark had removed his helmet, revealing ruffled hair and gorgeous eyes. Rogers had lowered his cowl, and T'Challa his mask.

"I don't like it."

Rogers lowly muttered, his eyes never leaving Loki's form.

"What? Rock of Ages giving up so easily?"

A look of confusion on Rogers face before he continued.

"I don't remember it being ever that easy. This guy packs a wallop."

T'Challa agreed; Loki was very strong.

"He had been playing with us. I do not doubt the effectiveness of your weapons Stark, but Loki did not even try to fight back once you appeared."

Stark's face had taken on a thoughtful look at T'Challa's words, and seemed to be mulling something over before he spoke.

"He was able to hide pretty completely once he left the S.H.I.E.L.D. base; a good deal of that could be because of Agent Barton, but the string bean is called the trickster. He knows how to keep himself out of sight."

Stark looks T'Challa in the eyes.

"While we were facing him, what else was going on?"

A distraction. Yes, that fit. Everyone was looking for the godling; what about those he had under thrall?

Stark pulled the helmet back on his head.

"I'll have J.A.R.V.I.S. start looking for reports of anything happening in Stuttgart at the time; Loki could have chosen the locale at random, but I'm betting it was either close to where he's set up base, or close to something he wanted."

T'Challa nodded in agreement before turning his gaze back to Rogers. Rogers looked... almost angry. Like he was annoyed that he hadn't been part of the back and forth. T'Challa raised a brow in question, but before Rogers could speak a word, a roar of thunder rolled through the air, and a streak of lightning crossed the sky. Rogers gaze jumped to their captive.

"What, scared of a little lightning?"

Loki was looking to the ceiling of the craft and, yes, looked a little paler then he had moments before.

"I'm not overly fond of what follows."

Sharing a questioning glance, Rogers opened his mouth to speak when something landed on top of the quinjet. Stark moved and opened the hatch, preparing to fly out and investigate when a tall form landed on the exposed ramp, grabbed Stark and threw him into Rogers, before absconding with Loki in tow.

"And now there's that guy."

Stark rose and once more moved to the exit.

"Another Asgardian?!"

Agent Romanoff's voice called from the cockpit, followed by Rogers'.

"Think he's a friendly?!"

"Doesn't matter; if he frees Loki, or kills him, the Tesseract's lost."

"Stark! We need a plan of attack!"

Stark looked at Rogers, the glowing eyes of the Iron Man a cold fire.

"I have a plan; attack."

So saying, the red and gold armour leapt form the aircraft, disappearing in the darkness of the night. Rogers released an aggravated sound, before rushing to don a parachute.

"I'd sit this one out, Cap!"

"I don't see how I can."

"These guys come from legend! They're basically gods!"

"There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that."

"That depends entirely on your culture Rogers. Go after them if you must, but remember to apprehend Loki first; we unfortunately need him."

Rogers gaze met T'Challa's before the man nodded and leapt from the quinjet.

"Why did you let him go?! It's already bad enough that Stark's going to be there!"

T'Challa levelled an unimpressed look at the woman.

"Stark was right to go to ensure we do not lose Loki. Rogers was not going to stop for anything, so at least he has direction. Instead of complaining, move to find them and pick up our cargo."

Though irritated, Agent Romanoff obeyed, and the quinjet was turned around to track their wayward teammates.

They found them in a wide clearing, covered in dirt and detritus, but aside from a few scratches and one gauntlet, none seemed to be in any real danger.

Upon arriving back at the helicarrier, Loki was placed under the guard of a group of Fury's men, Stark disappeared into the bowels of the craft, and the rest of them made their way to the bridge.

There was some small talk as they found their places waiting for the others to join them. Assistant Director Hill opened a window displaying the security feed on Loki's cell as Doctor Banner joined them.

"In case it's unclear, if you try to escape, you so much as scratch that glass..."

Fury hit a button on the machine next to him and the floor of the room opened, a hole perfect for the glass prison Loki was suspended in.

"'s 30,000 feet straight down in a steel trap. You get how that works? Ant... boot."

Fury seemed to have a little childish delight in those words; perhaps throwing back something Loki had said at the S.H.I.E.L.D. base he destroyed. Loki looked around.

"It's an impressive cage. Not built, I think, for me."

"Built for something a lot stronger than you."

Loki smiles, a bitter thing filled with teeth.

"Oh, I've heard. The mindless beast, makes play he's still a man. How desperate are you, that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?"

Fury's expression was dark, almost living up to the man's name.

"How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can't hope to control. You talk about peace and you kill 'cause it's fun. You have made me VERY desperate. You might not be glad that you did."

A chuckle from the prisoner.

"Ooh. It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract, to have power, unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share. And then to be reminded what real power is."

It was a taunt, an obvious one at that, but it was effective if Fury's scowl was anything to go by.

"Well, let me know if 'real power' wants a magazine or something."

Fury left the room, Hill turning the display off.

"He really grows on you doesn't he?"

T'Challa smiled at the Doctor's sense of humour. He seemed to be the only one however.

"Loki's gonna drag this out. Thor, what's his play?"

The room fell into a back and forth discussion on what Loki was maybe planning, and how they would stop him. T'Challa's thought went back to the quinjet before Thor arrived

"While we were facing him, what else was going on?"

Doctor Banner's voice broke though his thoughts.

"What do they need Iridium for?"

"It's a stabilising agent."

Stark had arrived, inserting himself into the conversation. He shared a few final words with Agent Coulson before facing the team.

"Means the portal won't collapse in on itself like it did at S.H.I.E.L.D., Doctor Schafer -you know, the guy Loki stabbed through the face? He's still alive; woozy as hell, gonna be in hospital for a good few months- told me what he could about the chunk of the stuff Agent Barton took. So Loki can open the portal as wide and for as long as he wants. No hard feelings Point Break; you got a mean swing."

Stark gave a friendly pat to the Thunderer's arm as he made his way to the main console.

"Jib the topsails. Raise the mizzenmast... That man is playing Galaga!"

T'Challa felt his eyes dart in the direction Stark pointed, barely catching sight of the man changing his screen from the game to a scanning file.

They were in the middle of a possible Alien Invasion threat. Americans.

"He thought we wouldn't notice, but we did."

Stark placed a hand over one eye and focused on the console before turning to look at Hill.

"How does Fury even see these?"

"He turns."

Stark ignored the slight hostility in her tone, running his hands across the unit, fingers lingering here and there.

"Sounds exhausting. The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. Only major component he still needs is a power source. A high energy density, something to kick start the cube."

T'Challa found a little smile crossing his lips at the energy Stark possessed; the cute little clapping he did emphasising his words. Hills voice, full of noticeable disdain, caused his smile to drop.

"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?"

"Last night."

T'Challa felt his jaw drop, just a little. He had, of course, heard of Tony Stark's intelligence, but to learn even just a chunk of the subject in so short a time?

A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of what Stark must have learned over his years.

"Am I the only one who did the reading?"

T'Challa answered Stark quickly; almost, he reflected later, like he was trying to impress a teacher.

"Read it, yes. Understood it, not so much. It is not my usual area of study, so I only really followed the points that overlapped."

Stark looked at him in consideration, obviously surprised that he admitted not understanding. Given Rogers' next words, it wasn't hard to see why.

"Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?"

A question that Stark had already answered. T'Challa saw that the Captain wanted to be useful, wanted to do something productive, but it was clear that he was confused. Doctor Banner joined the conversation again.

"He's got to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier."

Stark perked up at the words, a gentle curling on his lips a precursor to his words.

"Unless, Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunnelling effect."

An almost matching curl appeared on the Doctor's lips as the two men volleyed.

"Well, if he could do that he could achieve Heavy Ion Fusion at any reactor on the planet."

Stark out-and-out grinned moving towards the Doctor.

"Finally, someone who speaks English."

The joy on his face was real, genuine in a way that T'Challa had never seen the media capture. And it was over science.

No, T'Challa's eyes widened at the man as he walked to the Doctor, ignoring the muttering from Rogers.

It was over someone keeping up.

"It’s good to meet you, Doctor Banner. You’re work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

The Doctor was unsure how to take the praise, and it showed in his lack-lustre "Thanks."

It was then that Fury finally arrived.

"Doctor Banner is only here to track the cube. I was hoping you might join him."

Stark was unimpressed by Fury and his words, choosing not to respond to the man.

"I'd start with that stick of his. It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a Hydra weapon."

Rogers once more interjected, though his statement was of more use than previous ones. Fury gave the Captain his attention.

"I don’t know about that, but it is powered by the cube. And I’d like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys."

Thor looked confused.

"Monkeys? I do not understand."

"I do! I understood that reference."

Rogers' delight was apparent, as was his embarrassment when he noticed everyone's looks. Stark rolled his eyes then turned to Doctor Banner.

"Shall we play Doctor? Jasso-kissa over there can join us if he wants."

Seeing as he was being pointed at, T'Challa moved to follow them.

He had brains to pick.

Working alongside minds such as Bruce and Tony, as they had requested to be called, was incredible.

T'Challa had been in mental raptures discussing various branches of science with the two men, and had been proud that he had been able to not only keep up, but contribute when his own studies came to the fore. He was relaxing and joking with the two men, who were such opposites, but were so in tandem in the lab. That he had managed to hangout with and impress two of the worlds top scientists.

His Father and sister would be so jealous.

Rogers had come in about half an hour after they had left the bridge, and Tony had just jabbed Bruce, complimenting the man's control.

"Are you nuts?!"

"Jury's out. You really have got a lid on it, haven’t you? What’s your secret? Mellow jazz? Bongo drums? Huge bag of weed?"

T'Challa stifled a laugh, before joining in.

"Stress knitting! Can't you just picture it? Aggressively pearling in his seat."

Tony and Bruce both laughed, the image such a silly thing that what could you do but chuckle?

Rogers was not impressed.

"This is not a matter to be joking and laughing about."

Stark raised an eyebrow at Rogers as Bruce started retreating back into the shell he wore around most others. T'Challa was unimpressed.

"There was no harm done Captain, and we will stop should Bruce show genuine signs of discomfort. We are merely having fun."

"Threatening the safety of everyone on this ship isn’t funny. No offense, doctor."

Bruce was half hiding behind Tony, making himself small and unthreatening. T'Challa bit his lip; Bruce had been having as much fun as T'Challa and Tony.

"No,’s alright. I wouldn’t have come aboard if I couldn’t handle pointy things."

Tony's lips pursed at the way Bruce wasn't looking at anyone. He moved away from the table to the case he had brought onto the helicarrier.

"You’re tiptoeing, big man. You need to strut."

Rogers glared at the man.

"And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark."

Tony's attention snapped to the Captain, anger simmering in his eyes, and a tightness to his jaw.

"You think I’m not? Why did Fury call us and why now? Why not before? What isn’t he telling us. I can’t do the equation unless I have all the variables."

Rogers scoffed.

"You think Fury’s hiding something?"

Tony stepped close to the Captain, opening a bag of blueberries.

"He’s a spy. Captain, he’s the spy. His secrets have secrets."

T'Challa nodded, it was why he was here after all; his Father didn't trust Fury to tell everything that was needed.

"There is keeping cards close to the chest, and then there is having a second deck."

Tony smiled at him, eyes crinkling that someone got what he was saying.

"‘A warm light for all mankind to share’, Loki’s jab at Fury about the cube."

They all turned to Bruce who had chosen to speak up, straightening a little as he made his comment. Rogers nodded.

"I heard it."

"Well, I think that was meant for Tony. Even if Barton didn’t tell, the completion of Stark Tower's all over the news."

While Tony and T'Challa nodded at what Bruce was saying, Rogers let out a half chuckle in his words that died out at Tony's look.

"The Stark Tower? That big ugly…building in New York? "

Bruce took a breath before continuing.

"It’s powered by the arc Reactors, self sustaining energy source. That building will run itself for what, a year?"

Even as Tony agreed, expanding the information for Rogers, something in that sentence pinged for T'Challa... but what?

"So why didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. bring him in on the Tesseract project? I mean, What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?"

T'Challa voiced his agreement.

"It can't have been a matter of Tony not being knowledgeable in the science; given what he learned overnight, Selvig would have had no trouble reading Tony into the project. And given that the files spoke of the machines needed to try and understand the Tesseract, it makes more sense for them to have an engineer of Tony's repute, who is used to dealing with unpredictable energies, case in point; the arc reactor which powers the Iron Man armour."

Tony gifted him another smile as he pulled one of his devices from his pocket.

"I'll look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure files."

Rogers started, looking at Tony with wide eyes.

"I’m sorry, did you say…?

T'Challa moved closer to the display Tony opened up, showing the program at work.

"J.A.R.V.I.S. has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours, I'll know every dirty little secret S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever tried to hide. Blueberry?"

Rogers was standing jaw agape, disbelief dripping from his frame. Bruce leaned over to grab a few blueberries, throwing a couple to T'Challa, who nodded in thanks.

"And you're confused about why they don't want you around?"

Tony rolled his eyes again.

"I declined when Fury first came to me about the Avengers Cap. He then had a personality profile done on me when I was dying. So of course whatever files you were given on me aren't going to paint me in the best light, but do me a favour and forget about them for the next five minutes; I am recognised by the world, not just America or S.H.I.E.L.D. but the world as being one of the greatest engineers. My company, which again is recognised worldwide, is the front-runner in clean, sustainable energy.

Yet I'm not included.

This isn't me being selfish, this is me asking questions. There wasn't a request to use our tech, our research, nothing. Some of that is because it's a power source from space, okay, I get that, but like Myšpulín over there stated; we have experience dealing with unpredictable energy, but no questions were asked of us. Why?

Most likely answer? I'm known to shut down that which displeases me, and for the last few years, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been responsible for a lot of things which displease me. What, on their work of the Tesseract, would displease me and have a high relation to a potentially unlimited energy source?"

Bruce and T'Challa reached the conclusion at the same time.


Tony nodded and stepped back to the display of J.A.R.V.I.S.' progress. Rogers stood in silence for a few moments, wrapping his mind around what had been said.

"Just find the cube."

 Rogers quickly left, no doubt afraid of other uncomfortable ideas coming to light.

"That’s the guy my dad never shut up about? Wondering if they shouldn’t have kept him on ice."

T'Challa darted his gaze to Tony in shock, only to see an old, pained look in his eyes, even if his words were light. T'Challa quickly replayed the words spoken and took a breath.

"Don't let the past get to you Tony; you are a futurist. Whatever failings Howard Stark may have had, do not let them become yours, or affect your life now."

Tony rested his weight against one of the worktables, sighing deeply, showing just a hint of the stress he was under; the circles under his eyes from a night spent studying, the way his arm was rested against the top of the table a token of the skirmish he faced with Thor, the slouched repose a reminder that Tony was a man in his forties, who was going toe-to-toe with aliens.

"I'll try. I may not succeed; I am an old man, who may be stuck in my ways, but I will certainly try."

Bruce spoke as T'Challa smiled.

"That's all anyone has the right to ask for Tony."

The next hour or so was spent discussing robotics, and Tony's work with A.I.'s.

J.A.R.V.I.S.' program was still on the display and T'Challa had so many questions. Tony answered what he could, but drunk science came up a few times. It just gobsmacked T'Challa that even sloshed, Tony was able to keep creating perfectly.

"I wouldn't say perfectly. Drunk me plays pranks on hung-over me, and leaves all kinds of bugs and glitches that I find hilarious when making, but murderous when fixing. It's why I never deny it when people say I'm a jerk, because trust me; I know."

T'Challa couldn't remember the last time he had laughed so much; he was truly enjoying himself.

"Hey Brucie-Bear; how exactly do you gain all that mass when Green Bean comes out to play? Are you skinnier when he goes to sleep? Do you talk to him in your head? Tell meeeeeeeeee!"

Bruce looked shocked, and a little wary.

"Why do you want to know?"

Tony pulled an affronted look.

"Why, For Science! Until I know better, you are carrying a walking disregard to the Laws of Conservation of Mass!"

T'Challa couldn't help laughing again; Tony looked so serious, as though he was insulted that he couldn't explain the science.

"I must ask; is that your Battle Cry?"

Two confused looks were directed to him. T'Challa smiled.

"For Science."

The two genius' looked at each other in a mixture of surprise and thought before matching grins pulled their lips, and they took deep breaths,


They burst into joyful laughter and T'Challa couldn't help but to join them. Bruce speaks when he finally calms down.

"I don't know where the Other Guy's bulk comes from; I'm always pretty out of it when the change happens, so I can't really pay attention. I'm not skinnier but I am near starving when I am back in control. And we don't... talk per se, we just sorta get impressions of what the other feels and wants."

Tony grins in delight.

"This is so cool. Who do you think would win in an arm wrestling comp; the big guy or Thoreal?"

T'Challa is mortified that he snorted but, come on, Thoreal. Tony's grin gets wider.

"Maybe he's Bjorn with it."

It's so bad... so why can't he stop laughing?

"Please Tony, just stop..."

Tony throws an exaggerated pout on his face, making T'Challa and Bruce laugh a little more before once more being graced with that happy smile.

"Seriously, once we're done here, you two need to come play at the tower. It'll be a whole lot of fun."

Bruce once more shakes his head but he's still smiling. T'Challa just nods.

"Hey Cupcake, do you think Jade Jaws has a favourite food? Is it different from yours? Would he come out to play if I left a mountain of his favourite food?"

Bruce just starts chuckling again while Tony fiddles a little with the display screen, and is about to answer when Fury stalks into the room.

"What are you doing Mister Stark?!"

Fury is living up to his name, but his anger doesn't faze Tony.

"Uh…kind of been wondering the same thing about you."

"You're supposed to be locating the Tesseract!"

Bruce spoke up, almost distractedly, though he was paying the Director his full attention.

"We are, the model’s locked and we’re sweeping for the signature now. When we get a hit, we’ll have the location within half a mile."

Bruce pointed to the window currently displaying a map. T'Challa spoke up as well.

"We have done all we can with the sceptre for the moment; as soon as the tests have been completed we will have more to work with, but for now, we have some down time until we go collect the cube."

Tony chirped in, still looking at the display with a look of slight confusion on his face.

"No muss no fuss. What is Phase Two?"

A loud clatter drew there attention to where Rogers had just dropped a piece of weaponry on the workbench.

"Phase Two is the reason they didn't ask for Stark's help. Sorry, the computer was moving a little slow for me."

Fury took a small step towards Rogers, one hand raised in placation.

"Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract. This does not mean that we’re…"

"I'm sorry Nick. What were you lying?"

Eyes were drawn to the display Tony had been working with, showing the design specifications for the weapon Rogers had brought in. Rogers turned back to Fury.

"I was wrong, Director. The world hasn’t changed a bit."

Agent Romanoff entered with Thor trailing behind her. Bruce turned to her, pointing at the screen.

"Did you know about this?"

"You wanna think about removing yourself from this environment, doctor?"

Bruce levelled a flat look at her.

"I was in Calcutta; I was pretty well removed."

Agent Romanoff looked irritated that she wasn't being obeyed.

"Loki's manipulating you."

Bruce scoffed.

"And you've been doing what, exactly?"

Romanoff looked derisively at the Doctor.

"You didn't come here because I batted my eyelashes at you."

Bruce was getting irritated now, raising his voice as he replied.

"Yes, and I'm not leaving because you suddenly get a little twitchy!"


T'Challa's shout had the room's attention fall on him.

"You are not doing this here; you may continue your argument if you please, but not in the laboratory! If someone loses their temper and breaks something, it will take us that much longer to locate the Tesseract!"

The room was in silence aside from the hums and beeps of the machines surrounding them. Tony and Bruce stayed where they were, as did T'Challa. Rogers picked up the weapon and left the room, hand latched securely around the Directors arm. Romanoff stalked off in a huff, coming to stand guard outside the lab, and Thor merely moved closer, looking at the displays.

"Do you think you can really locate the Tesseract with your technology?"

The Thunderer's tone is completely curious, no mocking undertone, no disbelief, just sheer curiosity.

Tony takes a deep breath.

"Yes, we can, because we have too. Loki may be chilling in his cell here, but the men he brainwashed are still obeying the orders he set for them. So even if Loki never leaves, we're still up against the little green men."

Thor looks puzzled, and then a little worried.

"Green men? Is that what the Chitauri look like? Have you seen them? When? Where?"

Tony raises both palms up to try and calm the godling.

"Easy Goldilocks, little green men is a reference to aliens in general."

Thor looks puzzled again. Tony's voice is calm and smooth as he explains.

"Humans are vain and arrogant. When we started thinking about how there could be other forms of life in the Universe, we considered ourselves to be the peak of design; every type of life we initially considered in some way looked like us, but not as defined as us. The little green man was thought to be short, naked and primitive in thought and speech and of course green, but we decided that aliens would in someway look like humans. Little green men is a general term, I've never seen a Chitauri, at least I don't think I have, and all I'm hoping for is that they die easily if we can't prevent the portal being opened."

A series of sounds from one of the displays cut the conversation, Bruce moving to look at it.

"Signatures been located, just give it a second to upload."

Tony stretched as he finally came down from the bench he'd been sitting on.

"I can probably get there fastest. Unless you want to race Shakespeare?"

Thor matched the little grin Tony sported.

"You think to again pit yourself against a god? Very well Man of Iron, I look forward to besting you."

T'Challa smirked watching the playful boasting of the two men when he heard Bruce's breath stutter.

"Oh my God."

The explosion rocked the helicarrier.

T'Challa landed in the depths of the helicarrier, debris pinning his leg, and Bruce straining to remain calm beside him. Have the Hulk play on the helicarrier would not end well, probably what Romanoff meant when she spoke of Loki's manipulation. Ignoring the ringing in his ears, T'Challa faced Bruce and spoke.

"They say that Science and Religion should never cross paths, that one will always try to invalidate the other. Yet what most people may not know is that the Big Bang Theory, the idea of how the Universe was created before evolving into what we know today, was originally from a Catholic Priest. Perhaps the man was a double agent or something."

Bruce focused on his words, the green glaze on his eyes and painting his skin lessening the more T'Challa talked. A few breathy chuckles were loosed here and there, and T'Challa could not help but think that Tony would have Bruce laughing uproariously by now.

But Tony wasn't here now; T'Challa was. And as the aircraft took another blow, the green returning to Bruce, T'Challa merely took a breath and kept going.

Agent Coulson was dead, Thor missing, and Loki had escaped.

T'Challa rubbed his hands over his face, taking deep breaths.

Romanoff had managed to return Agent Barton, Bruce was exhausted but still present, and Tony and Rogers had managed to work together and fix the engine, but that was it. Bruce wasn't able to give much of his focus to anything, not even noticing when he was being spoken to, so T'Challa couldn't ask what the map readout before the first explosion hit said, and the helicarrier was practically dead.

They didn't know what to do.

"There was an idea, Stark knows this, as does T'Challa, called The Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them to, to fight the battles that we never could. Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea, in heroes."

Tony stood and quickly left the bridge, anger shaking his frame. Fury sighed gently.

"Well, it’s an old fashioned notion."

Rogers stood and moved to follow Tony. T'Challa's eyes followed before a hand patted at his face. Looking at the sleepy Bruce, it took a moment to realise that the Doctor was waving a weak hand in the direction the two other men had left before nodding. T'Challa smiled and gave a nod in return, before rising and leaving the same way.

 "We are NOT SOLDIERS!!"

T'Challa hid himself in the shadows of the doorway. Tony's words did little to hide the grief in his voice.

"I'm not marching to Fury's fife."

The genius looked tired and weary, far too much going on in his mind to keep control over his emotions.

Roger's voice was calm and gentle, like one would talk to soothe a wounded beast.

"Neither am I. He’s got the same blood on his hands that Loki does, but right now we gotta put that behind us and get this done. Now Loki needs a power source, if we can put together a list…"

Tony's eyes snapped up from the blood staining the wall.

"He made it personal."

Rogers sighed.

"That's not the point."

But Tony was gaining steam, fingers and hands twitching and moving.

"That is the point. That’s Loki’s point. He hit us all right where we live. He wanted to unleash the Hulk; how would he do that? Make Bruce angry. How would he do that from his cell? Get someone else, say the Black Widow, to. The sceptre went missing, I'd bet Loki's got it, and that thing messes with people's minds right? So who's to say Loki didn't have influence even in the lab through the sceptre? We were all getting pretty angry until Carbonel, King of the Cats put his foot down. The helicarrier could be a whole lot worse off. Loki hit us here and hard. Why?"

Realisation had come onto Rogers face as Tony's thoughts gained traction. T'Challa slowly entered the room, making sure both saw him. Rogers answered.

"To tear us apart."

Tony was nodding, starting to pace as his thoughts kept aligning.

"Yeah, divide and conquer is great, but he knows he has to take us out to win, right? THAT'S what he wants. He wants to beat us, he wants to be seen doing it. He wants an audience."

Rogers quickly looked at T'Challa as he spoke.

"Right. We caught his act in Stuttgart."

T'Challa remembered how the godling had being toying with Rogers and himself, but had surrendered almost immediately once Tony arrived.

"He was buying time for his plans to be completed, while all eyes were on him."

"Yeah, that was just previews. This is- this is opening night. And Loki, he’s a full-tilt diva, right? He wants flowers, he wants parades, he wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered..."

T'Challa's eyes widened.

"A warm light for all man-kind."

Rogers looked confused as anger started brushing Tony's features

"Son of a bitch."

The battle was long and hard. There had been no time to call reinforcements from Wakanda, so the seven men and woman fought for all their worth. Every second, every time he even blinked, it seemed as though T'Challa was suddenly in a completely different part of the battle, fighting against a never ending wave of Chitauri warriors.

The comm piece he'd been given kept him aware of where his comrades were, and where they were most needed, and he was thankful, because aside from Iron Man's unbelievable ability to seemingly be everywhere, he only caught the briefest glimpses of the others.

He was not ashamed to admit the gratitude and relief that flooded him when Romanoff's voice came through the comms.

"I can close it! Can anybody hear me? I can shut the portal down!"

Rogers voice sounded quickly.

"Do it!"

"NO! Wait!"


"Stark, these things are still coming!"

"I got a nuke coming in, set to blow in less than a minute."

T'Challa's breath caught. Someone had shot a missile? At a city still full of people?

"And I know just where to put it."

Of course! If the portal closed with the missile on the other side, no further damage would be done to the city!

But... wait.

"Stark, you know that's one way trip."

A few seconds over the comms of nothing but breathing before...

"It's been an honour."


The flash of red and gold rose higher and higher until... nothing.

Iron Man, Tony Stark, travelled through the portal, missile and all.

The area around T'Challa had been cleared of foes, and though there were still more to fight, he couldn't tear his eyes from the portal.

"Come on Stark."

Romanoff's plea received no answer and the Captain finally stated

"Close it."

A terrifying screech seemed to fill the air, a deeper pulse of blue travelling the light leading to the portal. The opening shrunk, getting smaller and smaller until-

"Son of a gun."

It closed with Tony making it through in the last second.

"He's not slowing down!"

Thor's voice had T'Challa once more searching for the red and gold, and yes, Tony was falling, falling-


T'Challa ran. The Chitauri had all fallen with the portals closing, so he more or less ran unobstructed, coming upon the spot where the Hulk had landed with Tony, just in time to see Thor rip the face plate of the armour off.

Tony was so still. His features were lax, as though in sleep, but there was no movement, no indication that he still lived.

T'Challa's throat felt tight as he drew closer; would they have to bury this good man?

The roar of the Hulk caused them all to jump, including Tony who gasped for breath, his eyes darting everywhere.

"What the hell?! What just happened?! Please tell me nobody kissed me?!"

The half choked questions loosened a great tightness in T'Challa's chest.

"We were going to let the Hulk do it."

Tony's eyes met his, before turning the Hulk.

"Yeah, no. Let's not do that. I love you Big Guy, but not like that, more like one loves their teddy bear, thanks for the catch by the way I owe you; do you have a favourite food? I will get you a mountain of your favourite food, howsabout that?"

The hulk just gave a rumbling chuckle, amused by Tony's rambling.

"We won Stark."

Rogers' words caught Tony's attention, and Tony let out a deep sigh.

"Alright. Hey. Alright. Good job, guys. Let’s just not come in tomorrow. Let’s just take a day. Have you ever tried shawarma? There’s a shawarma joint about two blocks from here. I don’t know what it is, but I wanna try it."

The thought of food was greatly appealing, T'Challa feeling his stomach murmur at the mention. Thor spoke up.

"We’re not finished yet."

They all looked to Tony's Tower.

"And then shawarma after."

T'Challa smiled as he helped Rogers lift Tony from the ground.

"Indeed, we shall feast. There is much I have yet to know about you Tony."

Tony just sent him a smirk.

"Then be prepared to stick around to learn T'Challa."

Chapter Text

Tony's view on magic is well known; He hates it.

Sometimes this opinion is shared by the Avengers, sometimes it's not; when a novice magic user caused a flat of people to communicate via interpretive dance, sure Tony laughed, but no, the magic users were called in to fix it. When a teenage boy with a grudge against his ex accidentally called upon an army of demons to destroy the city, Tony suited up to do crowd control, but again, the magic users were the ones to deal with it.


"Hawkeye! Head towards Hulk and Thor; they should be able to hold him down!"

When Tony gets turned into a panther though... yeah, he really hates magic then.

They had been fighting against Dormammu, one of Doctor Strange's crowd, trying to hold him off until Strange arrived. Tony had managed a very lucky shot, actually wounding the villain. Dormammu decided to flee the scene, but not before getting revenge on Tony.

Hence the whole panther thing.

But with a shit-ton more bloodlust.

Tony had gone ballistic. As soon as Clint, who had been the closest, released Tony from the armour, Tony had moved to strike. Clint was fast enough to avoid the broad swipe to his throat, but now a heavy gash ran across his arm and chest. Tony was more or less trapped in the mind of the panther he had become; aware of what was happening, but powerless against the force of the instincts of the animal.

And his instincts were telling him to kill.

"Enough friend Stark! We are your friends, comrades! Calm yourself and cease your attack!"

Thor had managed to push Tony to the ground, and with one hand locked around the joints of his front paws and the other forcing Tony's muzzle to the grass, he cut down Tony's threat greatly.

The Hulk gently grasped his flailing hind legs, copying Thor in holding them by the joints in one hand, while the other held down Tony's tail. Clint was doubled over a short distance away, trying to catch his breath as Carol looked at his wounds. Steve arrived, staring at Tony in disbelief.

"Does anyone know when Doctor Strange was going to arrive?"

A myriad of shaking heads; Tony had been the one to actually get a call through to the man, just before he landed that hit. Strange was as least a half-hour away.

"Okay... Hawkeye, do you have any tranquilisers or something? We can't keep him outside like this; it's too dangerous. Let's get him under then take him back to the mansion and let him loose in the training room."

Tony sunk into unconsciousness quickly, but he remembered thinking Clint had taken a little vindictive pleasure in the task

"There is nothing I can do to safely remove the spell; it will wear off, but I cannot say how long it will take."

Strange had arrived and immobilized Tony to examine him. Unsurprisingly, Tony's temper had not improved and even floating in the air, unable to reach anyone, he still tried to strike out and maim them.

He had nearly clipped Peter when the boy stood too close.

As a whole, it wasn't bad news; the spell would wear off and Tony would be awesome again. But until that happened, the team was down an Avenger and the gym. Sure they had plenty of places they could still train -Tony was nothing if not a prepared host- but it was inconvenient. Not to mention the fact that Tony was, right now, a hostile. Fun times for all.

It was decided that Vision would be the one to bring food to the Tony-Panther, as Peter had dubbed him. Given the whole intangibility thing, he really was the solid choice. The problem came when little Danielle Cage wanted 'to see the kitty'.

Standing on the step stool Tony had made especially for her, little Dani opened the gym. Seeing the opening, Tony lunged out, thankfully completely overlooking Dani's presence.

He quickly bounded through the mansion until he came upon the lounge where a good number of the Avengers were sitting and talking. That stopped when they heard him snarling.

Sitting deep in the back of the animal's mind, Tony could only hope that he didn't hurt anyone.

The panther was just so enraged by the Avengers though; as if it had some sort of vendetta or mission coded into it to-



The team were doing their best to take Tony down while avoiding injury -to both Tony and themselves- when a deep snarl, far deeper then what Tony could produce, stopped him in his tracks.

Swinging around to face the door the sound came from, Tony was struck by seeing T'Challa.

The Wakandan King took slow steps forward, never breaking the lock he had on Tony's eyes.

It was a very odd feeling for Tony; the command that Dormammu had left behind was battling against the overwhelming truth of Tony's feelings. Tony could never bring himself to hurt those he cared deeply for.

And damn but was T'Challa one of those people.

The rest of the room was silent, the team all looking on in varying reactions of horror and amazement. T'Challa kept slowly walking closer, step by step until he was right in front of Tony, still not looking anywhere but Tony's eyes.

Just as slowly as he'd walked, T'Challa knelt before Tony, prompting a few gasps from those still in the room. Tony suddenly let out a little snarl, having more or less forgotten that the Avengers were actually there. The snarl was cut off, however, when T'Challa laid a gentle hand on Tony's neck. Tony shuddered a bit, the instinct of the mother grabbing the cub by the scruff acting up a little. T'Challa started rubbing his hand down Tony's pelt in long, smooth strokes, chuffing occasionally.

Tony could feel himself getting a little boneless, melting in that way all cats seem to do.

When T'Challa began stroking with both hands, Tony couldn't stop the purr that rumbled in his chest.

"To cause such a beautiful creature such distress; Dormammu is truly crass. You are a mighty guardian, and he has you attacking that which you are to protect. Come now, you deserve a long rest after what you have been put through."

Tony slowly followed T'Challa, stopping when he decided he needed persuasion via head scratches, until he was resting across the length of the couch, his head nestled atop T'Challa's lap.

"Rest yam emhlophe ingwe yaseMelika. You will feel better when you wake."

Well, who was Tony to argue?


Tony slowly woke the same way he had fallen asleep; a strong hand gently stroking his head.

Opening his eyes slightly, Tony could see it was much later than it had been, probably midnight, judging by the darkness outside the windows.

"Glad to see you are back to yourself, though you were a most gorgeous panther."

Tony's eyes opened all the way as he turned his head to T'Challa's smiling face before looking down at his body.

Yep. That was definitely a far less hairy quadruped's body he was seeing. Oooh, hands with fingers! And no tail!

The hand resumed stroking his hair, and Tony redirected his attention to the man whose lap he was resting upon.

"Still so beautiful."

Tony could feel the heat painting his cheeks. T'Challa just chuckled before speaking again.

"I wonder if you would let me take you to dinner Tony. I find myself wanting to know more about you than just your beauty."

Tony felt the heat in his cheeks intensify but he was smiling so what the hell?

"I'd like that T'Challa. Maybe I can find out what the hell convinced you to approach a hostile cat."

T'Challa chuckled.

"The thrill of danger Tony, and you possess it regardless of form."

Chapter Text

T'Challa has never really considered himself a violent man. Truly, he finds little attractive in bruises, blood and broken bones. Sure he thrills in the adrenaline of battle, the test of skills being pitted against one another, but he is just as content - often even more-so - to sit out on his balcony overlooking the jungle with a book in his hands and his tablet nearby, ever ready to share words with his Mechanic.

Settling further into the jet's seat, T'Challa feels his features soften as a wistful sigh escapes his lips.

To think, after all these years, he would end up working with the man he adored above all else before discovering he was exactly that.


A slight chuckle. Now that he knew, T'Challa could see his Mechanic in everything Tony did; from complaining about the board meetings he was still required to attend for SI, to negotiating with the U.N. for Ross' imprisonment and for amendments to the Accords. From meticulously crafting the latest Iron Man Armour, to mixing various chemicals with Spiderman so they could gush over the explosions. (Though, to be fair, T'Challa was gushing right alongside them.)

Loosing another sigh, T'Challa once more mourned his return to Wakanda.

Well, not his return to Wakanda, rather his having to leave his Mechanic.

And having to remain polite to the Avengers.

Since the mess with the Accords began, T'Challa had been able to spare very little time communicating with his Mechanic, and Tony had been the same, both running on fumes more often then not. They had only been able to exchange brief concerns and comforts, since his father's death to his mechanic's heartbroken He lied. I trusted him, and he lied.

T'Challa did not consider himself a violent man, but thinking back on all he has learnt about his Mechanic, he cannot deny that he sees the appeal in destroying the Avengers.

What does it say about me that my team members call each other by name but me by my family?

They kept him at a distance.

I keep trying my hardest to fix things, but I just keep messing up. People are dead because I couldn't fix things.

They didn't help when his mind was in turmoil.

He lied. I trusted him, and he lied.

They broke his faith.

T'Challa loosed a vicious snarl into the cabin, grateful that it was empty but for him.

When he had offered his aid to Rogers, T'Challa had been informed that Tony was fine. He should have checked.

The close embrace he had initiated had been cut short when his grip caused his Mechanic pain. Hearing the story of the shield crashing through the armour; if it had been anyone else, they would be dead, the body armour of the Avengers -though of highest standard- nothing in comparison to the Iron Man suit. And even though Tony lived, his suit was scrap, and he had been left no way to contact Friday, thus no way to return to the States.

Had Friday not been concerned and contacted Vision before the suit went offline, Tony would have frozen to death.

Fine, he had been told.

T'Challa doubted Rogers knew how that word should be used.

And despite it all, his Mechanic was still doing everything in his power to help them. T'Challa had promised his protection, so he would continue to give them safe haven in Wakanda, Tony though had no reason to help them, but still was. Case in point; he knew where the Avengers were hiding, and had done nothing to out them.

T'Challa had stayed with Tony a full three days longer than he had anticipated being gone, but how could he do anything less when his Mechanic had been found? He took the time to learn about Tony properly, his smiles, his laughs, the calluses on his fingers, the strength in his arms, the softness of his hair, the way it felt to hold Tony's body close to his own, everything that couldn't be conveyed through their written words. And to be exposed to his Mechanics wit and charm and intelligence immediately, without the needed pause to type out the words?

I need you.

I need you too.

T'Challa needed to get the Accords sorted now, so he could kick the Avengers out of Wakanda, and welcome his Mechanic in.

"You are very late brother. Is everything okay?"

Shuri greeted him the second he stepped out of the jet. Her face was stoic, revealing no emotion, but her hands held an ever so slight quiver to them. T'Challa smiled and opened his mouth to answer as he reached her when he spotted the Avengers behind her.

"Yonke into kakuhle. Siya kuthetha emagumbini bam, kude nabo bamkelekile ukuba ukumamela."

Though his sister raised a brow in question she nodded and moved to stand by his side as the Avengers came forward.

"Your Majesty."


"Were you able to have any success? You were gone longer then you said you'd be."

It is only that they are in public that keeps T'Challa from striking the man.

No question to T'Challa's wellbeing, no query over Tony's health, just a demand that he state the mission's status. Did the man not know how to speak outside of conflict?

"Both families are well and safe. They may be contacted via these."

Pulling out the individualised StarkPhones, T'Challa noted how eagerly Hawkeye and Ant-Man took them, Barton even going so far as to call his wife then and there, ignoring everything around him; at least Lang had the decency to thank T'Challa for the phone before taking it and doing the same.

"Are we sure Stark can't track us from those phones? It's his tech, why choose them?"

Romanoff's voice was full of suspicion and condemnation. How many times, T'Challa wondered, had she directed that voice to his Mechanic?

"It hardly matters."

"I disagree your Majesty; Stark will report where we are and cause no end of trouble if he can find us."

T'Challa scoffed, easily one of the rudest things he had done to any of the Avengers. He saw how Shuri focused on him because of it.

"Tony Stark knew where you were before I landed on U.S. soil. He is the one who handed me those phones after telling me that the families involved were protected. Tony Stark has no interest in ruining you."

T'Challa's statement was met with looks of shock, as though they couldn't imagine his Mechanic not coming after them. Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, T'Challa motioned for Shuri to follow him, and made his way to the waiting car, the Dora Milaje moving to guard him. Just before the door to the car closed, T'Challa smiled at what he heard.


"You welcomed the Avengers here as guests, yet you now hold them at length. What happened in those three days brother?"

Shuri barely waited for the doors to close before she demanded answers. T'Challa wasted no time in telling her.

"I was late in my return, because I couldn't bear to let go of my Mechanic."

Shuri's face slackened in shock.

T'Challa had never hidden anything about his pen-pal, and the whole of Wakanda knew that his Mechanic would be his first choice of partner. Shuri had volunteered to be surrogate should T'Challa ever convince his Mechanic to join them in Wakanda.

"You found him? You came upon him in New York? Brother this is fantastic news! Tell me about him! Tell me about him!"

Laughing at the delight on his sisters face, T'Challa moved to take a seat on his balcony. After motioning for Shuri to join him, T'Challa took a moment to think of Tony, and could not dampen the smile that spread across his lips.

"He is perfect Shuri. I look at him, and I find countless new things to fall in love with. He is everything and more. I do not even know how to describe how I feel when he is in my arms."

Shuri's face was alight with joy, her hands clasped tight together.

"What does he look like; surely he is as beautiful as his mind?"

T'Challa chuckled.

"He truly is. His hair is soft as silk and the darkest brown. He wears it short, so it doesn't interfere with his work. His eyes are coloured the clearest amber, and he holds a gaze sharp enough to pierce you to your soul, and gentle enough to cradle you forever. He has skin of the Mediterranean, dark but golden, not chocolate, and a lifetime of stories decorate it. He is slender, not as broad as I am, but easily as powerful. To look at him day-to-day, you would never see the strength he carries, but put him in his workshop, and if nothing else, you will get to see his strength in action as he creates."

Shuri sighs.

"You are smitten brother, but he sounds perfect for you. Name, tell me you got his name!"

T'Challa chuckles again.

"Ah, but you already know him sister."

Shuri shoots him a confused look, silently asking for clarification.

"There are few places on Earth, Shuri, that haven't heard of Anthony Edward Stark."

Shuri's jaw drops, and T'Challa throws his head back to laugh, long and loud. Shuri spends a few flustered moments trying to regain her composure before she throws it away as a lost cause, and joins him in laughing. It takes a while for them to calm down enough to speak, still smiling widely enough to make their cheeks hurt.

"I really am so happy for you brother! You have always had such the man-crush on Stark; to think he's your Mechanic! The Science Division will be in raptures once they hear of this, and when you bring him-"

Shuri cuts herself off as all joy flees from her face to be replaced with sadness.

"Father never got to meet him. He so wanted to; he would speak great praise of the man able to face his mistakes without flinching."

T'Challa drew her into a hug, holding his sister tightly as she strained to keep her sadness at bay. He had to take a few deep breaths himself. After a few minutes, Shuri gently pulled away, just enough to look her brother in the eyes.

"You can't bring him here while the Avengers are. It will end in battle and bloodshed."

T'Challa sighed.

"Far more than that, it would destroy my Mechanic's heart. I have promised my protection to the Avengers, and so they shall have it. But now that I know what they have done, they shall not have my friendship, until they have earned it."

Shuri looked at him worriedly.

"What have they done brother? This goes beyond ideological differences with your Mechanic."

T'Challa breathes deep, thinks of his Mechanic's parting words, and tells her.

I need you.

I need you too.

 It is only the pride held in keeping one's promises that keeps Shuri from tearing off to kill the Avengers. And even then, it's a close thing.

"No-one has to know about it; we could keep it just between you and me. Say they went exploring in the jungle, even after we told them not to."

Tempted though he is, T'Challa shakes his head. Shuri huffs in disappointment, but will keep her promises.

"Well, if you will refuse the swiftest way to prepare Wakanda for your Intanda, what needs to be done to get them out?"

 T'Challa smiles, thankful that he has his sister on his side.

"Your Majesty."

T'Challa stifles a sigh as Rogers calls out to him. They are unfortunately in an empty hallway, so T'Challa can't pretend to have missed the call. He turns to face Rogers as the man comes up to him.

"Yes Captain?"

"I wanted to know if you had any idea of what Stark's planning. While the Barton's and Scott's daughter are safe for now, Stark's going to use this against them. If we know what he's planning, we can prepare for it, maybe even stop it."

T'Challa forces his face to remain neutral. That Rogers can say such a thing with such earnestness; he truly believes Tony has ulterior motives. But T'Challa has no response to give, because the Captain is still talking.

"I wish we could trust Stark to see reason -I sent him a letter and a phone to call me when things get dicey- but he just has so much pride that-"


T'Challa releases a long, slow breath, glad beyond measure for Nakia's appearance. Shuri had been quick to quietly inform the Dora Milaje, who in turn informed the public just as quietly, that their King had found his Mechanic, but would be unable to bring him while the Avengers were present. Many had wondered why T'Challa did not simply remove the Avengers, but did not argue, and merely went about their business, if subtly preparing for a royal wedding. The Dora Milaje had shifted their training to include another standing at their Kings side, and the Science Division was practically bouncing off the walls to have their best to showcase, while kicking their research for Barnes into high-gear.

Nakia comes to stand between T'Challa and Rogers, her face set in anger.

"You may be here as guests, but not a one of you has the right to demand anything of his Highness! Especially not in such a tone! His Highness has enough to deal with, without you rudely bursting in on his time!"

She then turns to face T'Challa, and gently coaxes him away from the stunned Captain. Once they are several hallways away, T'Challa's shoulders relax, the tension in his frame fading. Nakia sends him a questioning glance, to which he responds with a smile.

He'll be okay, especially once he shares words with his Mechanic.

I need you.

I need you too.

The next few months are brutal but productive.

The constant video conferences with the U.N. have been going fairly well, especially since Tony provided the evidence of Ross' incompetence and treachery. In about a month, the Super Human Oversight Committee will be formed to take place of the Accords; the only things holding that up are deciding the members.

The new Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Phil Coulson, will preside as neutral party.

Professor Charles Xavier shall represent Mutants, and naturally enhanced.

T'Challa himself will be the spokesperson of unnaturally enhanced, both science and magic.

The U.N. will be voting on who shall represent the countries who have signed on to the Committee, and there is still the need for a fifth member, also to be chosen by the U.N. to speak for the average person.

All is proceeding smoothly on that front.

His Science Division, with input from both his Mechanic and Professor Xavier, are closer and closer to decoding the passcodes from Barnes' brain, meaning the man can be safely removed from cryo, so he can receive the therapy he needs to function in daily life.

All is proceeding smoothly on that front.

Wakanda is set and primed for the moment his Mechanic says yes and joins him in love and life, while still managing to keep it hidden from the Avengers.

All is proceeding smoothly on that front.

"I swear, the second they are safe to leave Wakanda, they will have twenty-four hours before I stop caring about my promise and tear their throats out!"

Keeping patience with the Avengers however, is proving to be difficult.

"Come Shuri, it is just about time."

In fact, the only thing that has kept Shuri's temper this long has been her inclusion to the talks with his Mechanic.

She sits next to him and releases a heavy sigh.

"When this is over Brother, I expect my brother-in-Law to stay with us at least a month! I know he still has duties to his company and the idea of the Avengers, but after all the hard work both he and you have put into this, he deserves a month of peace. And where better for him to find it but in the arms of his Intanda?"

T'Challa chuckles as the tablets open up the conversation screen.

They still use written conversations for now, Romanoff has taken to sneaking around the kingdom and listening in on everything she can. She was most displeased when the Dora Milaje proved very capable of catching her and forcing her back to the quarters assigned to the Avengers, but better safe the sorry.

Hello my Mechanic.

Hello Other Brother!

Well, if it isn't my favourite pair of cats; how are you two travelling?

I may or may not be planning destructive things again, but Brother has been stopping me.

...I'm not sure whether I'm pleased or disappointed... and I'm not sure who it's directed at either.

They speak for a good hour, before Shuri has to leave, summoned by Okoye. T'Challa loves his sister, but he can't deny the little thrill that travels his spine at getting to talk to his Mechanic alone.

Oh, geez, I nearly forgot, what with everything that's been going on -remind me to tell you about Vision's kitchen exploits in a minute- but the U.N. has finally chosen the last two people.

That is wonderful news my Mechanic! Though, I thought it wasn't to be announced for another week or so; they have to get the fifth person to agree don't they? How have you found out so early?

They chose me. They asked and I accepted. I am, after all, totally human, have already been dealing with the civilians, military personnel and politicians affected by the Avengers missions, and I signed the original Accords because I wanted there to be accountability. Given that I can also more or less keep up and hold my ground against powered beings, I'm not likely to be intimidated, and you're the only one anyone knows of that is richer than me, and you're already a member so...

Congratulations on your appointment my Mechanic; I look forward to working with you again.

Yeah, me too My Panther. Once SHOC is publically introduced in two weeks, the Avengers will be officially pardoned; Barnes will still have mandated therapy -in fact all of them will, and so will any future Avenger- but he's been cleared too.

T'Challa's eyes widened in surprise; Barnes had been cleared? He knew Tony had been working on it, but to have succeeded so soon? He needed to let the Science Division know; they would solve whatever problems still existed, forgoing all other research, to ensure his Mechanic could come to Wakanda.

Dare I ask how you managed that, my Mechanic?

Let's just say a few folks still owe me for stopping that nuke they sent to New York. Don't worry, it was nothing illegal, and I didn't force them to change their votes or the votes of others; I literally just asked them what they would have done in Barnes' place.

T'Challa smiled, aching to hold his Mechanic once more in his arms. And he would! He would be present for the U.N. presenting SHOC, so he would get to be with Tony again, and finally, finally, ask him the most important question.

I need you.

I need you too.

T'Challa forced his face to remain blank as he stared down the Avengers.

"How could you? This is no better then the Accords; we're becoming the lapdogs of those in power!"

Rogers had a way with words. It was called irritating.

The rest of the Avengers obviously agreed with the Captain, choosing to ignore the explanation T'Challa had given them. But T'Challa was close, so close, to having his Mechanic join him.

His attempts to remain calm fled him when Wilson spoke.

"I thought you were a better man then Stark, realising that the Accords were bogus and helping us, but no, you're cut of the same cloth! I wish I never caved and told him where Cap and Barnes were headed; we'd all be saved his bullshit!"

The backhand caught everybody off-guard.

The Avengers moved into a defensive grouping, protecting Wilson from further damage, but T'Challa knew none of them had even seen him move. The Dora Milaje present were ready to strike should he command it.

"You are pitiful. After everything he has done to cater to you and your needs, that you treat him as such."

Wilson looked affronted though wary. Barton spoke up instead.

"Stark can't ever keep his nose outta where it doesn't belong! He was constantly hacking into S.H.I.E.L.D. -and even then, he couldn't be assed to warn us about HYDRA- jumping into battles where he wasn't needed and then disobeying orders when Cap let him stay! He made a killer robot, it was his weapons that hurt Wanda and her family -he didn't give Pietro any protective gear- and then he signs his soul over to Ross! And to top it off, after he locks us up in the raft and gets Cap's location off Sam, he goes and starts attacking him and Barnes!

What catering to our needs has he done?"

T'Challa glares at Barton so harshly the man actually takes a half-step back.

"Aside from provide you food, shelter, funds and gear you mean? Given you his time and effort! As to your other concerns;

Tony Starks' weapons; he was born to America's premier weapons designer and was forced into the family business -there are countless reports of how he tried to take SI into other fields but Obadiah Stane prevented it. And Tony was not the one to fire the weapons that landed in the Maximoff house. Pietro Maximoff refused the body armour offered; Vision has shown me a recording of the event, so I trust it as truth.

He only hacked S.H.I.E.L.D. because he couldn't trust that he was being given all the information, and he most certainly wasn't. It has been confirmed by Rogers that HYDRA had been part of S.H.I.E.L.D. from the beginning so how could anyone distinguish between the two? 

It has been confirmed by Miss Maximoff that she implanted a vision of chaos and destruction into Tony's head just before he grabbed the sceptre; a vision that bred and festered his paranoia and anxiety, and yet, even after your own visions at her hands, his was dismissed, while yours deserved sympathy. The result of her actions is what led Tony to creating Ultron, and he has never shied away from his responsibility in that.

And Tony has, since his kidnapping in Afghanistan, always worked for accountability.

Refusing the Government access to the Iron Man was because he knew it would be abused by fools like Ross. Given how infested with HYDRA the senate was, it would have taken hours at best before there was an army of HYDRA soldiers in versions of the suit. When he signed the Accords, Tony was agreeing to 117 countries desperate pleas that they have some say over the consequences to their lands when the Avengers cross their borders.

Tony had nothing to do with your incarceration; Ross was abusing his power as a general who happened to hold the same name as the Secretary of Defence, Everett Ross. People looked to the last name and obeyed.

Finally, Tony's attack on Rogers and Barnes was a result of Zemo's emotional manipulation, and Rogers hypocritical behaviour."

T'Challa takes a dark pride in the way Rogers' face pales, and all the Avengers notice it.

"You... you know..."

"I do. It makes the absolute farce of your letter even more disgraceful. All that letter apologised for Captain, was that you got caught."

Rogers looks like he wants to sink into the floor. T'Challa makes his final point.

"You knew for years that Barnes' hands were the ones to end Howard and Maria Stark, and didn't tell their son. It doesn't matter that HYDRA ordered it; you, the one who hates secrets, are the one who hid it."

T'Challa turns and leaves, not sparing any more thought to the men and women in that room. Either they will think on what he's said, or they will remain ignorant.

He has a plane to catch. They will be gone when he returns.

I need you.

I need you too.

The smile he gets when he exits the plane is bright.

The hug he enters is warm.

The kiss they share is perfect.

"I need you, my Mechanic."

"I need you too, my Panther."

He knows they will return home together.

Chapter Text

Tony was bored.

His father had finally realised he was in his eighties, and had retired, dumping pretty much everything relating to the company on to Tony. He seemed kind of disappointed that Tony didn't buckle beneath the weight, but Tony had been prepared since forever to take care of Stark Industries when Howard stepped down. Admittedly, Tony thought he'd be in his early twenties when that happened, not pushing thirty, but Howard Stark always did have trouble letting go.

Tony's got a solid team working with him, making dealing with SI stupidly easy for all of them.

Need to schedule a meeting, and are concerned about security protocols?

He's got Pepper as his P.A. The woman could take over the world by lunchtime if she wanted; the only thing stopping her is the amount of paperwork. Pepper is The Master (capitals necessary) of organising, and could take God to task if he came without the required files.

Then there's her fiancée Happy. He's in charge of security, and he makes Pepper smile, so he's easily a god among men.

SI needs some extra cash in the coffers to offset the latest product release until sales hit?

Rhodey and Sam are ex-military, and encourage military sponsorship with ease.

Steve is the old-crowd pleaser, with his All-American Apple Pie looks, the oldies practically eat outta his hands, and Steve just blushes and says 'Shucks'.

Pietro and Thor, they drag in the young ladies, just as Natasha and Jane do the young men, drawing support with lidded eyes and half-smiles.

Wanda and Aisling appeal to the new families, while Clint, Laura and their trio of spawn appeal to the established ones.

Worried that SI isn't an equal opportunity employer?

Bruce Banner, one of SI's lead researchers was unfairly court-martialled.

Scott Lang, one of the top engineers is an ex-hacktivist.

Bucky Barnes, in the Security department, was a POW.

And a good deal of Tony's inner circle was multi-racial.

You got an argument, chances are Tony can knock it down.

But that's why Tony is bored. It's all covered, it's all easy, and Tony has next to nothing to do.

So SI reopens the Stark Expo. Sure Tony could keep playing with all the lovely science in his workshop, but seriously, he's so far ahead of schedule.

He wants something new.

The true beauty of a science convention like the Stark Expo isn't that it's a chance to show off and cash in the big bucks. Sure that's why a lot of people sign up their displays, but those are all the big names already on the playground; the ones with enough coin to pay for the big stage outside that visitors come to gawk at.

No, the Expo's beauty, the truest genius and wonder of the gathering, something that Howard never really paid attention to, is in the smaller displays held inside the atrium.

That's where Tony goes after his opening speech. It's where the solo researchers, the old experts, and the hopeful young showcase what they have to offer. It's what Tony wants to see. Over the course of the Expo, plenty of big names, both good and bad, will have paid to be seen connected to the success of the Stark name and be shown off like dancing monkeys. But those names will flash and burn, and be replaced by the next name on the list.

Those who have gotten a spot in the atrium are shown for the entire convention, and everyone ends up in the atrium eventually. Here in the atrium you can linger, take your time to understand what's on offer, and usually, the ones who set up the displays are present too, eager to explain their stuff.

Tony came to the atrium every past Stark Expo, because it was here he made the best discoveries. He particularly likes the student displays; kids picked by their teachers as the most promising, showing what they think is interesting and useful. Tony has two future SI interns already, Kitty Pryde and Peter Parker, from the work they put into their demonstrations of firewall innovation and practical applications of spider-silk respectively.

Tony comes to the last stall in the aisle.

Interactive mesh-weave body armour.

Given that Tony's dragging SI away from weapons development kicking and screaming, with the military holding onto them by the skin of its teeth, working on more defensive patents would probably go a long way to smoothing ruffled feathers.

The stall is unmanned at the moment, so Tony starts reading the information provided.

Needless to say, he's impressed.

Though in need of some fine tuning (tightening up some variables, going over a good chunk of the math) there is a really solid framework for what is being proposed.

"Do you think something like this would actually work?"

The smooth drawl pulls him away from the science and leads him to a gorgeous young man with curiosity in his eyes. Well, he had asked Tony a question.

"Not yet, but whoever's pulled this together is very close. They only really need to tweak a few things, play with a few others, and boom, they'll have what they set out for."

Tony pulls out one of his business cards and a pen, scrawls a message on the back and moves to pin it to the backboard of the stall next to the packet information about the person running it. He takes a look at the id photo and...

Turns to look at the man he had just been speaking with.

At least he had the decency to look sheepish.

"I wanted to know your honest opinion?"

Yeah, that's not cool.

The guy's name is T'Challa, and his brain's as beautiful as his body. They walk and talk as Tony keeps inspecting the displays.

T'Challa explains what processes he underwent to develop his mesh-weave, and Tony explains the areas that could use further attention. Tony also offers him work at SI, but T'Challa is working with his father and enjoying it, so declines.

"Besides, it may be considered a conflict of interest."

"Oh? How so Top Cat?"

T'Challa smiles a little nervously.

"Well, it's bad form to be seen on a date with someone who could become your boss."

Wait... what?

"If you are free, I would like to take you to dinner Tony."

They go separate ways after Tony nods and gets a time and location.

But as he enters his home to get ready, Tony realises he doesn't have much of a life outside of his work.

Shit... what do normal people talk about on dates?!


That is the only word to describe the atmosphere.

After agonizing over what to talk about, Tony then agonized over what to wear, calling Pepper for help in the end. The red silk shirt and black slacks look good on him, and are fairly casual while still being stylish, so when Tony walked into 'Lee's Diner' it didn't stick out much. He had found T'Challa in one of the booths and after the initial greeting, silence had reigned over the table.

"What can I get you gentlemen?"

The waitress was getting such a good tip for her timing.

"I'll have the cheese burger combo thanks."

"The pizza plate please."

"Not a problem gents. Stan; CBC and Double P, Boss!"

"On the way."

Looking away from the smirking old man in sunglasses cooking, Tony once more meets T'Challa's eyes. And curses his lack of brain-to-mouth filter.

"Is your father a thief? Because he stole the stars from the skies and put them in your eyes."

Tony can feel the red climbing his neck to paint his cheeks. T'Challa had been taking a sip of water and promptly choked on it, laughing as soon as his airways are clear.

"I can't possibly convince you to forget I said that, can I?"

"Not for anything."

Ah well, it was a long shot anyway. Roll with it.

"Do you have any Italian in you?"

"What? ...No."

"Would you like some?"

T'Challa's eyes widen in a mix of shock and confusion before he's laughing again. Tony mentally rolls up his sleeves.

"I know milk does a body good, but baby, how much have you been drinking?"

"I hope you know CPR, cuz you take my breath away!"

"I'll bet you 10 bucks I could get all your clothes off in 30 seconds..."

"I think I can die happy now, cause I've just seen a piece of heaven."

"You look like the type of guy who has heard every line in the book. So, what's one more?"

"If it's true that we are what we eat, then I could be you by morning."

T'Challa's laughing so hard, he's barely able to breathe.

"They're so... bad. Why do you know so many bad pick-up lines?"

Tony just shrugs, glad that the awkward silence is gone.

"Just reusing stuff I've heard."

The food comes and they eat, sharing little bits and pieces of their meals.

After the terrible, terrible swatch of come-ons, both are far more relaxed, and their conversation turns to aspects of their lives.

"Okay, maybe because I'm an only child I don't get it, but what could have convinced you to try and mail your sister to your Grandparents?"

"She was throwing a tantrum about not getting to see them, and I figured that the mail always arrived quicker then we did so..."


"That's an unusual nickname; however did he come to use it?"

"He's always hated his name, and when he and Wanda hooked up, he found out what 'Aisling' meant, so he started introducing himself as 'Vision'."

They get along well, and as they end up flipping a coin to decide who pays, Tony thinks he hasn't done badly with 'normal' talk.

After leaving the two extra fifties for the waitress, Tony and T'Challa head out into the brisk early spring evening. Tony's phone starts to ring, and he answers with an apologetic look to T'Challa, who merely shakes his head with a smile.

"Stark here."

"You have something in your teeth."

Tony sighs as his free hand comes up to rub the bridge of his nose.

"Twenty seconds Wilson; go."

"Oh come on, I'm calling to let you know; it was a good date all in all, very cosy and-"

"Until I come after you to break your spine. Fifteen."

Tony's not surprised when the screwball hangs up.

T'Challa looks confused. Tony just sends him a helpless smile and gently grasps the other man's hand.

They're okay.

Chapter Text

In this world, everyone is born with potential.

The potential to become anything.

Howard Stark was a man of pride. He was rich, handsome, powerful, intelligent and a strong Alpha wolf-shifter. He had been friends with Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, and had been the go-to-guy for any repairs needing by the famous 'Howling Commando's', a pack of the strongest, most relentless wolf-shifters in history. He had mated the beautiful Alpha Maria Carbonell, the most gorgeous snow-white Husky when shifted, and eventually fell pregnant with his child.

Howard Stark had a lot to be proud of.

The nine months of Maria's gestation was a test to his patience, but there was nothing to be done; people lost the ability to shift when carrying. No child had the ability to shift from birth; in fact most only gained the ability in their mid-teens when their personality settled and they took on the creature that best fit it. Orientation would usually present itself at around ten years of age.

Howard prepared for his child to follow in his footsteps, to be a proper Stark, instead of the embarrassment the rest of the family could be.

His father Simon had been a poodle, a sign of vanity to be sure, while his mother had been a mud-coloured maltese. Both had been Beta.

His uncle Lucas was, sad to say, a rabbit, another Beta, and had mated aunt Serena, who had been a Beta Helmeted Hornbill (how that marriage had been accepted was beyond Howard) and his cousin Patrick had taken after her, both in orientation and shifting. He'd mated an albatross of all things, and with the Beta woman, had a Beta son, Morgan, who was a ruddy seagull.

Ah, but Howard, he was an Alpha and had mated an Alpha, Himself being a wolf, and Maria having strong relations to wolves.

His child was sure to be a high Beta if not an outright Alpha, and had wonderful role-shifters to emulate.

After all, who better to live up to then Captain America; America's Golden Wolf?

Tony had always been advanced for his age; reading, writing, maths, science -what took others years, Tony could be exposed to for the first time and master in a day.

Maybe it was a reason why Howard disliked him.

Tony presented at three years old. It was in the middle of some charity gala of Maria's; he'd been sitting on the chair she had placed him on at the start of the evening with the strict instructions not to run off. Tony was trying to figure out a way to get food without disobeying when the entire ballroom seemed to hush into silence and people began looking at him. Tony hadn't understood why, as he hadn't been making a nuisance of himself, and he understood even less why his father's face had been red with apoplectic rage, and his mother's full of shame.

Tony had been taken home that instant. His life drastically changed.

Before that night Howard and Maria had been... not unkind but... distracted would be the best word; Howard knew Tony existed and was there and his son, but he had a million other things that needed to be done before he could spend time with Tony, usually in the study so he could get more paperwork done. Maria was busy with her philanthropy and duties as a socialite; she couldn't attend to either with Tony hanging off her, but she was pleasant and bought him little gifts.

After that night... Tony was only exposed to Howard's anger; shouting usually, about how Tony embarrassed the Stark name with his unnaturalness, and Maria's gaze never again finding him; vanquishing practically all memory that she had a son.

Jarvis had been the one to explain to Tony, long after Howard had shouted himself hoarse and locked himself in his workshop with a bottle of bourbon, and Maria to her greenhouse with the same, what exactly had happened.

Approximately ten percent of the population were Omega.

Approximately ten percent of Omega, were male.


As a whole, the only difference between Omega males and other males, was all Omega had the ability to carry young; other then that they were more or less the same as anybody, and were treated by most as just another person. Of course here was the whole social stigma of your place of the pecking order, with Alpha at the top, followed by Beta, before Omega at the bottom, but aside from the general idiocy of deciding one's worth by orientation, most people had no problems going through life. As Omega males were such an infrequent orientation, Tony could see why some people might think them unnatural, but it wasn't exactly like any of them had a choice right? Tony had been told since forever that he would be like Howard and Maria; an Alpha. So why was it that he presented Omega, let alone so very early?

Jarvis didn't have an answer for him, and no books or pamphlets could tell him either.

Because Tony had presented in so public a forum, Howard couldn't stop word from spreading, and soon scientist, psychologists, biologists and more were hounding Howard, trying to get access to study Tony.

Study him, as though they could discover some way to cause everyone to present so early.

Or far more likely, some way to control orientation.

Because while the shift could be influenced (role-shifters, home environments) there was no way to interfere with a persons orientation.

It is to Howard's credit that he refused to allow Tony to become a lab rat, but that was one of the last kindnesses he gave his child.

Especially when Tony continued his advanced pace, and shifted just before turning seven.

It was a sad relief for Tony when he was shipped of to boarding school soon after; not even Jarvis' miracle cures could keep up with Howard's hatred.

As Tony goes through his life, he has to work harder, be smarter, shine brighter than anyone else. He's a Stark after all, no matter if he's an Omega male. There are the constant rumours circulating about what shifter he is, but because he's always human, no one can tell for sure, not even those who try to scent it.

Rhodey, his lovely Honey-Bear (emphasis on Bear) takes it upon himself during M.I.T. to deal with those brave souls, and they usually don't try twice.

Happy, the obstinate Badger that he is, can butt heads with the worst of them, be they paparazzi, fans, stalkers whatever, and come out on top.

And Pepper, darling Pepper, lovely hooded pitohui don't-try-and-screw-me-over Pepper, could make even the most ardent of shifters back-up and back-off.

Tony's able to deal with a lot of the grief his orientation gives him because of those three amazing Alphas. If any of them had been attracted to him, he would have mated in a second. But Happy and Pepper are together, and Rhodey's just not interested in the fast talking runt he met at college.

He missed them during Afghanistan.

Hurts! Oh it hurts! Painpainpainpainpain! A slice to the chest, fingers digging in, why, stop it, it hurts!

Painpainpainpainpain! So many slices, fingers keep digging, pulling at his flesh. Painpainpain!

SNAP! CRUNCH! Those are his bones, his ribs, why, it hurts, why is this happening, stop!

Painpainpainpain! Something hard pushing against the open wounds, something cold, please stop, please!

PAINPAINPAINPAINPAINPAINPAINPAINPAIN! A wet rag shoved over his face, why, stop, it hurts, stop-

The world disappears.

"What did you do to me?"

"I saved your life."

"He wants you to build the Jericho missile. This one."

"I refuse."

Can't breathe, water, too much water, cold and dirty, in his eyes and mouth, why, stop, can't breathe!

AIR! Precious seconds to take in as much as he can, in and out, in-

Cold! So cold! Lungs are hurting, not enough air, water so cold and-

PAIN! Painpainpain! Shocks running through him, the wires, water, too much, too much, too much!

Can't breathe!

"He says after you build it, he will let you go."

"No he won't."

"...No. He won't."

Tony's more useful for building, that's the only thing that stops the Terrorists from taking him.

They have no interest in little ones.

"Is this the final act of defiance from the Great Tony Stark?"

"I shouldn't do anything. They could kill you, they're gonna kill me, either way, and even if they don't, I'll probably be dead in a week.

"Then this is a very important week for you, isn't it?"

"There are times in everyone's life when they wish they were a different shifter, even if it is as innocuous as 'I wish I could have a different pelt'. I am but a humble raccoon, and for most of my life I have enjoyed being the little bandit. But I won't deny that I would've preferred something... bigger when the Ten Rings came for me. What of you Stark? Have you wished to change your shift? What even is your shift?"

"I've wanted to change it since the day I first shifted. But because I can't change it, I can't shift."

"Can't shift? Something prevents you?"


"Yinsen! We gotta go. Come on, move with me. We got a plan, and we're going to stick to it.

"This was always the plan, Stark..."

"Come on, you're going to go see your family. Get up."

"My family is dead, Stark... and I'm going to see them now. It's okay, I want this... I want this."

"Thank you for saving me."

"Don't waste it... don't waste your life, Stark."

"My turn."

"Next time, you ride with me!"

Look! It's a weapons company, that doesn't make weapons! Well that's what happens when you leave an Omega in charge!


It's well documented that Omega males tend to be far more emotional and unstable then their counterparts for the other orientations, that Tony Stark has managed so long in his position is commendable, but we really must ask; what secrets were his captors able to pull from him with methods designed to break an Omega?

"Oh don't be so surprised Tony! I'm just taking the lion's share of the company I've kept afloat since Howard died. It's a shame you had to bring Pepper into it. But really, what was I expecting out of an Omega?"

"Pepper; we have to overload the arc reactor and blast the roof."

"How are you going to do that?"

"You're going to do it! Go to the central console, open up all the circuits, while I keep king of the jungle distracted. When I get clear, I'll let you know, and then you hit the master bypass button."

"I am Iron Man. You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet."

"Who the hell are you?"

"Nick Fury. Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative."

After months of pain and stress, Tony finally has the room to breathe, to rest, to heal.

Then his arc reactor stops liking him.


Obviously Tony Stark has finally been hit with his 'denning' instincts as an Omega, but is fighting hard against submitting to his more natural behaviours.

Personally, I'm not surprised that Potts has been made CEO; It's an Alpha's position at the top after all.

"What do you want from me?"

"What do we want from you? Uh-uh. What do you want from me? You have become a problem, a problem I have to deal with. Contrary to your belief, you are not the center of my universe. I have bigger problems in the southwest region to deal with."

"Tony, you're too young to understand this right now, so I thought I would put it on film for you. I built this for you. And some day you'll realize that it represents a whole lot more than just people's inventions. It represents my life's work. This is the key to the future. I'm limited by the technology of my time, but one day you'll figure this out. And when you do, you will change the world. What is and always will be my greatest creation... is you."

"Huh. I mighta believed that, had I not turned three, then seven."

"Tastes like coconut... and metal!"

"I quit. I'm resigning. My body literally can't handle the stress. I don't know when you're going to kill yourself, or mess up the whole company..."

"I think I did okay!"

"Mr. Stark displays textbook... narcissism... Agreed."

"Big man in a suit of armour; take that away and what are you?!"

Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist, Omega."

"I know people with... wait what? You're an Omega?"

"Is that another problem for you Rogers?"

"I'll need to get in and push."

"Unless you shift into something fast, you'll be torn to shreds!"

"I never shift Cap."

"What? Never? Then how do you-"

"Not the time. Stay by the control unit and reverse polarity long enough to disengage mag…"

"Speak English! "

"...See that red lever?"

"Please tell me you’re going to appeal to my humanity."

"Uh…actually, I’m planning to threaten you."

"Really little Omega? You should have left your armor on for that. Or is your shift a well hidden secret to protect your power?"

"Eh, the armour's seen a little mileage, and you've got the glow stick of destiny. And everyone knows I don't shift; I don't need to. Want a drink?"

"Stark, you know that's a one way trip."

"Please tell me nobody kissed me?!"

"We won."

They all went their separate ways. Well Bruce stayed in the Tower, working with the emergency personnel that Tony had set up in the Towers lower levels, given the only real damage the Tower had taken was to the penthouse and the two levels beneath it.

Amid the hundreds of reports more or less screaming about the fact that there were aliens, and that said aliens were defeated by superheroes, SI stocks took a huge boost with the reports of Tony's Omega tendencies pushing him to help clean up New York.

While yeah it made the board actually agree to spend more time fixing the damage done to the Big Apple, it kinda pissed Tony off that his work was being brushed aside as Omega Nurturing.

"Calls himself the Mandarin huh?"

"Indeed sir."

"Wonder how this is gonna play out."

"Here's a little Holiday greeting I've been wanting to send to the Mandarin. I just didn't know how to phrase it until now. My name is Tony Stark and I'm not afraid of you."

"Take a deep breath sir."

"What's your name?"

"Omega male H-"

"Uh-uh. I don't give a shit about your orientation kid; I just asked your name."

"...Harley. And you're..."

"The mechanic. Tony."

"You really didn't deserve her, Tony. It's a pity. I was so close to having her... perfect."

"OK, OK, wait, wait, slow down, slow down! You're right... I don't deserve her. The only one who does, you put in the hospital. Here's where you're wrong; she was already perfect. J.A.R.V.I.S., do me a favour and blow Mark 42."


"It's okay."

"I'm hot, I'll hurt you!"

"No, you won't. See? Not hot."

"Am I going to be okay?"

"No. You work with me, nothing will ever be okay. Remember the Swedish strippers? That car still isn't clean enough yet. But I had this twenty years ago when I was drunk, I can sort it out. I fix stuff."

When Tony wakes up from the surgery, one thought runs through his head.

I can breathe.

"Thor? What's Thor doing in... London?! What the hell is that? More aliens?! WHAT THE FU-!"

Pepper tells him to make another suit, at least one. Tony thought no longer being Iron Man would make her happy.

"I am happy Tony, that you're not risking your life. But you've lost a piece of yourself it wasn't fair of me to ask you to lose. You loved being Iron Man, and I had no right to try and get you to stop; I'm not your mother, or your mate. You already forbid yourself from shifting; don't deny this as well."

She leaves Tony to his thoughts, not surprised that J.A.R.V.I.S. has subtly pulled up the schematics for the Mark 42.

That? That is three helicarriers being destroyed by Captain America.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., get me answers!"

"Of course Sir."

"Went through all the files that you guys dumped online; alerted the undercover agents that I could, repurposed most of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s funding to pay for all the damage you three caused, helped the police and non-HYDRA feds get the actual HYDRA goons into jail, found out what happened to Loki's glow stick of destiny.

Oh yeah, that's still on Earth, currently being studied by said HYDRA goons."

"Please be a secret door, please be a secret door, please be a secret door... Yay!"

"You could... have saved us... Why didn't you... do more?"

"Keep your friends rich and your enemies rich, and wait to find out which is which."



"Tony Stark used to say that... to me. You're one of his. One of that blasted Omega's."

"A being unwilling to change and evolve? A shifter who ignores half of themselves? Don't compare me with Stark! He's a sickness!"

"Aw Junior, you beak your old man's heart."

"Thor didn't say where he was going for answers?"

"Sometimes my teammates don't tell me things. Kind of hoping Thor would be the exception."

"I get first crack at the big guy. Iron Man's what he's waiting for."

"That's true, he hates you the most."

"How do you hope to stop me?"

"Like the old man said, Together."

"You think you can find out what’s coming?"

"I do. Besides this one Omega I've encountered, there’s nothing that can’t be explained."

"That man has no regard for lawn maintenance. I’m gonna miss him though. And you’re gonna miss me. There’s gonna be a lot of manful tears."

"I will miss you Tony. We all will. We've already lost Bruce and Clint, and for now Thor."

"Yeah, but you've gained Rhodey, Sabrina and your fly-boy, and Thor will come back soon. Never thought I'd say this, but I shouldn't have listened to Pepper. I should've just let the clean slate lie."

"You can't mean that Tony."

Tony sighed, gently shaking his head as they made their way to his car.

"If I hadn't come on the attack to Strucker's base Cap, can you honestly tell me I would have made Ultron? At least, the Ultron I did create?"

Steve bit his lip as his eyes darted away. Tony gave a sad little smile.

"Thought so."

Tony turned to enter his car.


Tony looked at Steve from his seat. The man looked nervous, wringing his hands before forcing them to hang still at his sides and taking a deep breath.

"I'd like to take you to dinner, Saturday night."

Tony loosed a mirthless chuckle.

"No can do Cap. I have a lot of work to do to get SI back in the black thanks to this colossal blunder. I can just hear the headlines now 'OMEGA CAUSES RUCKUSS! TONY STARK NEEDS TO SETTLE DOWN, LET AN ALPHA TAKE HIM TO TASK!' Story of my life really; it's amazing I haven't given Pepper and Happy any greys."

Steve pouted briefly before he spoke again.

"Maybe I could bring you something then? Like a lunch break, you know?"

Tony shook his head.

"You're sweet Rogers, but I'm not interested in dating you."

Steve jolted slightly, his face a mien of sadness.

"Why not? We do really well together Tony. Yeah we argue, but we always come through in the end. And I bet working together, we could even help you to shift again. Won't you even try?"

Tony sighed again, taking off his sunglasses to look Steve in the eye.

"When were you going to tell me that Barnes killed my parents?"

Steve jerked a step backwards, losing all colour on his face as he looked at Tony in horror. Tony just smiled that sad little smile.

"That's why I won't try Steve. I found it mentioned once in the S.H.I.E.L.D. info dump. In a security video that starred Natasha, a man who feared death, and you. Truthfully, I almost passed over it in favour of other files. You've had months to tell me Steve, a little over a year in fact."

Tony shook his head before sliding his sunglasses back up his nose.

"Sometimes my teammates don't tell me things. I'm sure you know the feeling."

Putting the car into drive, Tony pulled away from the Compound, not waiting for an answer

The next few months were busy.

Tony produced a veritable waterfall of designs and upgrades for SI, including the introduction of the Medical Division's Prosthetic Line.

Yes, Tony was still angry that Barnes had killed his parents, but it was a distant rage. He'd had time to think it over, to become accustomed to the knowledge and to accept that Barnes could've done nothing to stop HYDRA in his state. The Beta had been put through so much grief if the scant files on him were any indication.

'Asset required maintenance after mission. Punishment given.'

'Asset showed signs of recovering memories. Sessions with chair scheduled.'

'Asset shows no signs of Alpha dominance. Further experiments of orientation change set to follow.'

It turned Tony's stomach. It wasn't enough for HYDRA that they had the lead Beta for the Howling Commando's, injected with a version of the Super Solider Serum that managed to work. It wasn't enough that they had one of the two strongest wolf-shifters in history chained to them.

They also wanted him to be an Alpha.

Tony would likely never be friends with the man if they met, but he would do what he could to help Barnes, starting with providing an arm that wasn't at risk of snapping his spine. Seriously, HYDRA was supposed to be smart, but the weight of the monstrosity they put on Barnes!

"Boss, you have a call from Mr Rhodey. Shall I put him through?"

Tony looked up from the wires in front of him. Friday had grown a lot since she had first been uploaded into the armour; fleshing out her personality and preferences to become his sweet, snarky baby girl. It was one of the many problems that had let to Ultron's madness; Tony hadn't given the A.I. time to grow. By splicing the programming he'd already coded with the stuff provided by the sceptre/mind stone, Tony had essentially thrown a baby into a swimming pool of sharks, but only after pumping said baby full of steroids. When your options are swim or die, by damn you will swim.

Tony learned from his mistakes though, and Friday had taken all the time she needed in the paddling pool.

"Sure thing my gal, let's see what happening with the Honey-Bear."

Rhodey's face appeared on the holo-display, a welcome smile on his oldest friends face.

"How you doing Tones?"

"Life's treating me well sourpatch. What can I do for my favourite Ursine?"

Rhodey chuckles, rubbing a hand across the back of his head.

"You could find a way to make Rogers stop pining; that'd be great."

Tony sighed, irritation blooming on his face; Steve had called at least once every day just to speak with Tony, and almost always ended up asking for a date.

Tony always said no.

"I wish I could buddy, but he's stubborn as a mule. I'd give Nat a call, see if she can trick him on some dates to get his mind off me. But as much as I know you want to complain about the Captain, it's not why you called. Talk to me man."

Rhodey looked a little sheepish but settled himself in to talk.

"There's a couple of things. First off, you mind if I swung by the Tower and just hung around for a few days? I miss being around your crazy and could use some time with my little brother."

Tony smiled as widely as he could, crinkling his eyes so Rhodey wouldn't see the gleam of tears over his eyes as he nodded. Like he'd ever turn his big brother away.

"Thanks bro. Second, Barton's been re-instated as an Avenger."

Tony's eyes darted to the screen shock written across his features.

"But-! But Clint retired! He wanted out! Has something happened? Are Laura and the spawn okay? They seemed fine in our emails!"

Tony loved kids, or rather, he loved the ideal of kids. Tony had no clue as to whether he'd ever be a good parent, given the stellar examples set for him by Howard, Maria and Obadiah. If he ever got a woman pregnant, or fell pregnant himself, he would be basing everything off of Jarvis' example, but if that would be enough, was something Tony didn't have an answer for.

But Tony was a futurist. And what was more representative of the future than children?

Cooper and Lila Barton received basic lessons at the little school in the nearby town, but it really wasn't enough to keep them occupied mentally. Clint taught them what maths he could when he was home, but Tony knew the almost agony of not having enough for your brain to do, so he had taken to sending the Barton flock various little toys and experiments that got the kids engaged.

Laura had sent Tony back letters with thank you notes and drawings from the little chicks, and had eventually conceded to setting up an email account for them to talk to Tony. 'Uncle Tony' was easily one of the best titles Tony's been given, so he felt no shame in being worried.

Rhodey shook his head, a startled look on his face.

"Sorry man, outta context that sounds real bad, lemme try again; Laura needs Barton out of the house because he keeps renovating, and she wants to get some work done, but doesn't have the space. Barton has too much energy, finishing everything around the farm too quickly, so he starts renovating to keep himself busy. They have come to the agreement for him to be a part-time Avenger, because it solves both their problems, while also bringing in a bit more income, which is always useful."

Rhodey looked quite contrite by the end of his explanation, but Tony was lot calmer, knowing that the three little Barton's were still safe.

"Sorry man, I didn't mean to scare you like that. Think I'll leave the rest of the news for when I come by. Tomorrow good for you?"

"Yeah... Yeah tomorrow's good gumdrop. Fly safe."

"Always Tones."

Cutting the connection, Tony releases a low, deep breath, calming the final fingers of panic that had rocked up.

"Friday my gal, call up my favourite little intern; I'm in a mentory mood... You know what? Let's go the whole hog on this, video call to Harley as well, we're doing some cross country science!"

As much as Tony cares for the Barton fowl, he knows he holds Peter Parker and Harley Keener in his heart as sons.

Precocious little Harley, the hyperactive little Bengal cat who was surprised that Tony didn't want his orientation. Who delighted in having someone who understood the numbers and ideas that swam around his head, and would regularly email Tony to share thoughts and just anecdotes about his day. Who was top of his class because it made Tony proud, and his mother worry less. Who was planning to attend M.I.T. one day, because Tony went there.

And dear hopeful Peter, the whip-smart Serval who had been desperate for a job to help his Aunt meet rent. Who still had the gleam of awe whenever he saw Tony, because he'd read Tony's papers, and wanted so much to help people with all the gifts life had given him.

Tony had been passing through the meeting rooms when the old HR guy was kicking up a very public stink about how Peter wanted SI to endorse child labour and Omega slavery. He was fired on the spot, and Tony took Peter to another room to help him calm down from being yelled at. Despite his youthful face, Peter was fifteen -legally allowed to be employed for part-time work- and very advanced in his studies. Furthermore, Peter had been applying for menial work; mail boy, coffee runner, general gopher duties, nothing sensitive or particularly dangerous. Tony had looked at his resume, and hired him for the one skill that SI could legally help him further; photography.

Thrice a week, Peter would shadow SI's in house photographers, learning the in's and out's of premium angles, filter preferences, the different effects of digital and film. For the rest of the week, Peter was given free reign of the Tower when he wanted to play with science, and a standing invite to Tony's lab, provided Tony himself was there.

Peter and Harley were the only other Omega males Tony had met in his life, and he for them. It was wonderful not to feel alone.

Rhodey arrived the next day shortly after lunch, looking more tired and worn since yesterday's call. Collapsing on the sofa, Rhodey let out happy little groans when Tony started massaging the knots from his back.

"Was there a call or something? You're practically stone right now."

"I forgot Rogers has super hearing. He spent, I shit you not, all night asking me to try and convince you to date him. I'm sorry for this T, but I could only get him to back off by saying I'd try and get you to visit the compound."

Tony would be annoyed, but Rhodey is wiped, stressed and cranky, which is not a good combo for staying in control.

"Once I finish this massage, you are going to your den, and not coming out until you're settled. Friday has stocked up on food for you, and I can come in any time you signal me to."

He can tell Rhodey wants to put up a fight, but Tony designed that den; the allure is too much to resist.

They can talk later.

Later is two days, Rhodey shuffling into the kitchen in a bee-line for the coffee maker, crooning a love song once he sees the pot is full.

Tony knows the feeling.

Three cups later and Rhodey is back to Earth, rested and willing to talk.

"Okay, Rogers, visit, Barton... oh, a letter came in from Bruce two days ago! Just a general how is everyone, he's alive, thinking about maybe coming back if there's a space still for him, that kinda thing, so that's good."

Tony smiled at hearing about his science-bro. Bruce wasn't able to shift like normal since his accident, his sun bear being replaced with the Hulk. It was painful for Bruce, especially given he was a Beta while Hulk was all Alpha. If he felt safe enough to contact the Compound, Tony was sure he'd be easily welcomed into the fold once more.

"Final bit of biz I need to talk to you about is actually kinda odd. The Avengers received a letter from the King of Wakanda, seeking an audience."

Tony choked a little on his food.

"The King of Wakanda? What on Earth does King T'Chaka want to talk to the Avengers about? Oh, no wait... he might want to talk about the Vibranium Ultron got his mitts on. Yeah, that's pretty legit. Why am I being told this?"

Rhodey ran his hand over his head.

"I'd appreciate it if you'd be present, for at least the initial meeting. Rogers has already said yes, so it's happening, but Rogers is not a diplomat, and is a very bad actor. You can certainly be an ass, but you know how to smooth things over way better then Rogers. There's also the fact that Wakanda is like, super advanced and shit right? The Captain would not be my first, second or third choice to be main speaker."

"At least he's figured out how to stop butt-dialling at the ass-crack of dawn when he and Sam are on their runs."

Rhodey snorts.

"Small mercies. Please?"

Tony sighs.

"Get me the times, and I'll do my best."

Tony arrived at the compound ten minutes before King T'Chaka was set to arrive, checking his phone to make sure he hadn't missed a message from Rhodey detailing a change in time. No message. Tony squared his shoulders, and entered Avengers HQ.

Rhodey hadn't told Steve that Tony was coming to the meeting, which was good, because it meant he didn't have the time to prepare a speech on how Tony should go out with him. If Tony was very lucky, he could avoid being seen by Steve until the meeting started, but he wasn't betting on being that lucky.

"Tony! What's up man?!"

Especially with Clint screeching like a hawk as soon as he'd entered the kitchen.

Sure enough, Steve came running in from the lounge room, face lighting up as he caught sight of Tony.

"Hi Tony; it's great to see you! I was wondering when you were gonna come by."

Oh, Steve was going to pull the kicked puppy face for this.

"Rhodey asked me if I'd be present for the meeting today."

Aaaaaaand yep; there it is. Droopy eyebrows, pouted lips and all. Tony sighs and makes his way to the lounge to say hello to the others. The Avengers have more or less become a war pack. It's an old fashioned practice that most don't care for, but with Steve being the Alpha Team Leader, it's not much of a surprise. Thor is another Alpha, but he defers to Steve as a 'member of the realm', and Rhodey is not an original member; he joined later. Everyone else is a Beta.

Tony's actually fairly sure that Steve wants to date Tony so badly because he's an Omega, and would thus provide balance to the pack dynamics.

Sure Steve holds some romantic interest in Tony, otherwise he'd just pester Tony to become an active member again, but he'd likely pester Tony the same as a Beta or Alpha.

No, Steve may like Tony, but it's mostly for his orientation.

Tony sees Natasha and Sam sitting on the couch playing Mario Kart as he enters -Sam squawking like the falcon he shifts into when Natasha, as sly as her fox, red-shells him at the finish line- with Wanda sitting with Rhodey cheering them on, cuddling like the bears they are. Rhodey jumps up to greet Tony properly once he sees him, thanking him for coming.

"Rhodes, why do you want Tony at the meeting?"

Cue Captain Grumpy-Pants. Tony rolls his eyes, face safely hidden in Rhodey's shoulder as they hug.

"Wakanda is the Land of Innovation Rogers; I asked Tony over so we had someone who could keep up if they decide to talk tech."

Steve is bristling; a sign that an Alpha feels their authority is being usurped. Tony sighs, realising it's because he came when Alpha Rhodey asked, not Alpha Steve.

Steve looks to be gearing up for a long lecture, when Vision walks in. Dear, sweet, no orientation Vision.

"The car from the Wakandan Embassy is pulling up the driveway. I believe we should be there to greet them. It is good to see you Tony."

"That it is kiddo; how the mechanics holding up?"

"They are sufficing for all my needs, thank you for asking. Shall we?"

They lead the small group of Wakandan's to the conference room, and Tony glances over them quickly.

The bodyguards are six women, and just looking at them, Tony would say they are as skilled as Natasha.

King T'Chaka is there of course; a kindly looking elderly man, who is reputed to be a fair-minded Beta.

His daughter, the Princess Shuri is sitting to her father's left proudly, calm and sure of herself, though curiosity is shining in the Beta's eyes.

And... Prince T'Challa.

Tony doesn't know why, but it feels like every nerve he has is set alight at the presence of the Alpha, which has never happened to Tony before. It only got more intense when he met the Prince's eyes. The slow smirk the man sent him sent shivers up Tony's spine, and it's only Tony's years of being scrutinised by the media that keeps Tony from reacting.

The meeting starts as they take their seats, Steve introducing Tony and the Avengers, King T'Chaka introducing his family and the guards.

Prince T'Challa's eyes never leave Tony.

He can't wait for this to be over; he has a special guest to meet at the airport.

Harley's coming to visit for two weeks.

"Most of it was recovered thanks to your efforts Mr Stark, and has been repurposed for building supplies."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Indeed... tell me Mr Stark, do you hold any interest in Myth and Legend?"

"Uh, sorta. Before meeting Thor, no, not so much; I lived under the idea that they were exaggerated tales of what happened in the past, because I had no reason to believe that there existed beings who could control weather, times etcetera. Nowadays I'll believe anything is possible, why do you ask?"

"I think I would enjoy introducing you to the stories of Wakanda, such as the tale of entwined souls."

"That's... that's very kind of you. Perhaps another time."

While getting to speak with the Wakandan Royal family was amazing, Tony is quite happy to leave once the meeting is done, escaping with a hug from Rhodey when the Avengers take the Wakandan's on the public tour of the Compound.

Tony plans to make some very special upgrades to Iron Patriot War Machine and take Rhodey out to dinner to make up for the grief Steve is sure to put him through. But that gets pushed to the back of his mind as he waits on the edge of the tarmac for the plane to land, and a joyful little Bengal cat to bound out of the doors to greet him.

Harley and Peter have gotten along from the get-go, if for nothing more then being two of the mouthiest little shits Tony's ever crossed paths with, and get on like a house on fire when they finally meet face-to-face.

Tony loves it!

Peter is currently on break from school, and has permission from his aunt -so long as he calls her every day- to spend all of it at the Tower with Tony and Harley.

That means staying up till two in the morning having stupid amounts of fun making explosions, waking up at half past eleven and going out for brunch because cooking is for people who are good at it, coming back to the Tower and playing in the guts of some cars Tony's bought just for the boys, before the boys go veg out on the couch playing games and watching movies while Tony does some video conferencing to satisfy the board and make Pepper happy, before he joins them on a sci-fi binge, and they'll order take-away to be delivered to the Tower for dinner, after which the cycle repeats.

It is awesome.

Tony is so talking to Aunt May and Mrs Keener about paying the boys college funds.

On the eighth day of 'The Science Trip', Tony's video conference is not with an SI investor, but rather the Avengers. The Wakandan's are still there, and while the Avengers are smart, Tony was the only one to really follow what was being said.

"I'm sorry, but I am unable to leave the Tower at present."

"I'm sure Ms Hogan will let you off if you explain it's for the Avengers Tony. We need you here now. This is a meeting that should happen face to face."

Tony barely holds back the eye roll that comment deserves; it doesn't help that everyone in the conference room is nodding their heads in agreement.

"It has nothing to do with Pepper or SI. I'm in the middle of something Captain, and cannot leave. I apologise, but I won't be able to be present except for over the holo-display."

It takes a few more back-and-forth arguments but eventually it is conceded that Tony's not joining them physically. Steve and the Wakandan's seem most upset by this, and Tony's getting those chills from Prince T'Challa even through the camera.

Tony leaves the camera every ten minutes or so, making it seem like he's waiting for something to finish fabricating or checking test results. Making proof, however false, that his work is why he hasn't left for the compound.

Truthfully, it's just that Tony doesn't want to leave the kids and he doesn't want to share them with the Avengers just yet. He has no doubt Natasha and Clint will discover them soon enough, but for now, Tony is basking in the warmth of being a parent, and he doesn't want to lose that so soon.

Prince T'Challa is as smooth a bastard as they come.

All throughout the meeting, he makes comments, jokes and quips that it seems no one but Tony realises are heavy flirtation. And hell, maybe Tony only realised because it's directed at him.

It's also really, really flattering, because it's not the sort of flirting to sleep with someone. It's the deep, intense flirting that you use with someone you admire, respect and adore.

Tony's only seen it first-hand when Happy decided to pursue Pepper.

And Prince T'Challa makes intense sound weak in the face of his technique.

Twice already Tony has to go off-screen just to get away from those piercing eyes. It doesn't hurt that the Wakandan Prince is stupidly gorgeous.

Though Tony will never admit to it, he kinda wonders what a child between Prince T'Challa and himself would look like.

The sudden claxon of the Tower alarms kills such thoughts swiftly.

"Boss! There is a massive security breach to the penthouse; I've lost all cameras and speakers!"

Harley. Peter.

Tony grabs a gauntlet from the bench and runs, taking the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. He gets to the door to the penthouse and just manages to open it when-

A sharp pain pierces his neck, and Tony's world goes black.

Tony wakes up cold and in pain.

He opens his eyes slowly, wary of what he'll find.

In the low light, he sees what looks to be a ransacked bunker; concrete walls and floor, cabinets with the doors removed and a pile of shredded fabric that used to be a couch. Tony appears to be locked to the wall thanks to some leather cuffs. The leather is tough, and conforms just enough to his wrists that he can't slip free. But that's knowledge at the peripheral of Tony's mind.

Where are Harley and Peter?

Before Tony can get too panicked, the door to the room opens and a few burly men saunter in. The guy in front is obviously in charge, given how he starts monologuing "Ah, the Invincible Iron Man Tony Stark, brought down by" blah, blah, blah, whatever, Tony's eyes are on the other two muscle-heads. The ones holding an unconscious Serval and Bengal cat.

"You are going to die. You might live to regret this, but that doesn't matter, because you are going to be dead. Before I leave this bunker, I am going to kill you."

The three startle at Tony's words but he no longer cares; they've hurt his boys.

It's been almost forty years. He's over Howard and his insecurities. The boys need him, and he won't let them down.

The goon squad shift uneasily as Tony feels his bones and muscles shift and grow, and the fur begin to lengthen down his body.

It's only when Tony's fangs elongate that they realise what's happening.

Chapter Text

Growing up in the wilds of the Wakandan Jungle, T'Challa, as with the rest of his people, feels a stronger connection with his shifted form than most of the rest of the world. There was just such an immense pleasure to be found running within the labyrinth of the trees and bushes after a day filled with his duties as prince, that if it weren't for the usefulness of his hands, T'Challa suspected he may have decided to live entirely in his shifted form.

The Black Panther.

Shuri enjoyed the runs too, and when he had the time, even their father joined in, three panthers stalking in the darkness. Truly, the only thing that would make T'Challa's life complete would be to find the soul that entwined his own.

In times long forgotten by most of man, there were tales told of meeting ones true mate, meeting the soul that completed ones own, that called to the shifter just as much as the man.

It mattered not if the shifted were aligned, for the animal within is but a single part of ones soul.

What mattered was if the chill of Winter slid down the spine whenever eyes happened to meet.

If fire and lightning danced through the body, setting fingers and toes alight.

And if upon sighting them, never do they leave ones awareness.

Yes, T'Challa held hope that by the time he was ready to mate it would be to his true mate. And he found his mate by chance watching a news broadcast from America.

"I am Iron Man."

Just as the stories had claimed, T'Challa's spine was ice and lightning coursed through him, setting his nerves on fire.

At first it made no sense; he'd seen pictures and watched programs with Tony Stark before and had never been so affected. Luckily his father had been present and recognised the signs.

"You've not watched a live broadcast before T'Challa. Everything else has been a recording, and may as well be considered dead."

It was from there that Wakanda began leaving it's decades, centuries, of isolation. King T'Chaka had already been slowly introducing Wakanda to the U.N., but there was greater motive now; his son had identified his true mate, and by the Panther God, T'Chaka would do all in his power to unite them.

Personally, T'Challa was all for heading straight to Stark Industries Headquarters and meeting his mate face to face, he had admired and near adored the man and his work for years after all, but T'Chaka refused him.

"So few places on Earth remember the old ways T'Challa. You must slowly and carefully introduce the idea of true mates to Mr Stark, so he can connect the pieces himself. Just throwing your status as true mate at him will do nothing but scare him away."

And so followed years where T'Challa wished for nothing more than to be by the side of his mate, but restrained himself. It got harder and harder as time went by, and T'Challa swore his heart skipped a beat when Tony carried the missile into the portal, and stopped altogether when he saw Tony fall. The footage had been shaky, a civilian on their phone most likely, but it had been enough for T'Challa, who could only utter the Panther God a prayer of thanks when the footage showed Tony return to his feet.

T'Challa was blessed to have such a strong mate.

But time couldn't move fast enough for him to be at his mate's side.

"Truly? We are finally to go to America?"

T'Challa was practically coming out of his skin with excitement; he could feel his panther rumbling in delight.

Finally, he was to meet Tony.

A letter to the Avengers Headquarters asking for a meeting, an acceptance from Captain America. He was so close.

The meeting was just an excuse of course, though completely valid given T'Chaka wished to personally thank Tony for ensuring the recovered Vibranium was returned to Wakandan soil. But finally, they would meet!

"Brother! Calm down, you are behaving as though you've been frolicking in the catnip!"

T'Challa took several deeps breaths, forcing himself to sit still in his seat. He couldn't help his excitement giving him restless energy; in less then thirty minutes, he would be face to face with his mate! He might be able to calm down if he could shift and hunt, but New York was not exactly conducive to shifted hunting.

Shuri rolled her eyes in amusement, and T'Challa could admit that at any other time, he too would be laughing at his behaviour.

She was right though; T'Challa had to make a good first impression, and bouncing off the walls like a three-day-old cub would not do.

He had to calm down, be suave, sleek, the panther he carried in human form; smooth, dangerous and alluring.

They were greeted at the doors to the Compound, and immediately moved to a conference room where introduction were made.

"It's an honour to meet you all. I am Alpha Steve Rogers, codenamed Captain America. Alpha James Rhodes, the Iron Patriot. Beta Sam Wilson, Falcon. Beta Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. Beta Clint Barton, Hawkeye. Beta Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Non-Aligned Vision. And this is Omega Tony Stark, Iron Man."

Captain Rogers use of old address had an uncomfortable weight rest in T'Challa's chest, especially when he introduced Tony, but T'Challa couldn't say why. There had been nothing rude or secret about the introductions, and T'Challa knew his father had planned on introducing them the same way, but the weight was there, impossible to miss.

"A pleasure to meet you all, and thank you for accepting this meeting. I am Beta T'Chaka, King of Wakanda. Behind me are Beta Aneka, Beta Nakia, Beta Okoye, Beta Teela, Beta Tetu and Beta Ayo, bodyguards for the Royal family. To my left is my daughter, Beta Shuri, Princess of Wakanda. To my right my son, Alpha T'Challa, Prince of Wakanda."


Finally Tony met his eyes.

Once more the chills run havoc on his spine, and T'Challa delights in the ever so slight widening of Tony's eyes.

Tony feels it too. He doesn't know what is going on, but he feels the almost primal attraction to T'Challa's soul.

Now T'Challa has to earn his heart.

"Most of it was recovered thanks to your efforts Mr Stark, and has been repurposed for building supplies."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Indeed... tell me Mr Stark, do you hold any interest in Myth and Legend?"

"Uh, sorta. Before meeting Thor, no, not so much; I lived under the idea that they were exaggerated tales of what happened in the past, because I had no reason to believe that there existed beings who could control weather, times etcetera. Nowadays I'll believe anything is possible, why do you ask?"

"I think I would enjoy introducing you to the stories of Wakanda, such as the tale of entwined souls."

"That's... that's very kind of you. Perhaps another time."

It takes all of T'Challa's self control not to leap over the table and pull Tony into his arms and serenade him with the tales of his homeland.

T'Challa notices the instant Tony has left the group, and then the Compound.

His first instinct is to whine in distress, to try and call Tony back, but manages to keep himself restrained to a single low whimper, that can easily be interpreted as interest if one doesn't know better.

His father and Shuri know better, and are quick to notice that Tony has vanished as Captain Rogers starts the tour of the Compound. While the Compound is marvellous, and very well designed, T'Challa's desire to explore it is greatly tempered by his wish for Tony to be present.

Though that heaviness in his chest reasserts itself when the Captain realises Tony's absence.

"Where'd Tony go? Does anyone know where he went?"

There is a thread of anger mixed in with the concern that has the hair on T'Challa's neck stand on end.

"He left at the start of the tour Rogers. He has a lot of work to do for SI, so he went on back to the Tower."

While Rogers face calms, his eyes remain both worried and upset. T'Challa doesn't like the look, and he likes it even less when in concern to Tony. Tony is not the Captain's true mate, and the regard the Captain was showing for him was not for a teammate.

T'Challa makes note to keep an eye on Steve Rogers.

Since the very public reveal of HYDRA's infestation, the Avengers had been solely sponsored by Tony Stark; not even Stark Industries, every coin came from Tony's personal funds. The royalties for Avengers merchandise were signed to Tony's name and were payed straight to the Avengers bank account. As such, it was easy for T'Chaka to be granted extended visiting freedoms when he explained he was offering to add to the coffers. T'Challa quickly learnt, to his sadness, that Tony had retired from the Avengers, and was not living at the Compound.

That simply wouldn't do; how else was T'Challa to get close to his mate?

It was Colonel Rhodes who unwittingly gave the answer of how to get closer to Tony.

"In a couple more years, I'll be able to ditch the codename Iron Patriot and have my baby go back to being the War Machine. It'll make Tony happy too, since he can't bring himself to work on the suit as much as he wants to. And Tony, he's the Mechanic; these things are his babies, and he won't let anyone else make upgrades or repair them, you know?"

Rhodes was then called over by the Captain, who was no doubt once again trying to get Rhodes to bring Tony back to the Compound. It was irritating that the Captain was ignoring the fact that Rhodes was obviously talking to T'Challa, but the prince had a distraction this time.

Tony was still the caretaker for the Avengers.

Perhaps it was time to bring the Black Panther out of the Wakandan Wilds.

T'Chaka agreed.

Should the Avengers agree, T'Challa would join their ranks, donning the mask of his peoples protector, the Black Panther.

On the Eighth day of their visit to America, a second meeting was called, to discuss the financial aid T'Chaka wished to provide, where T'Chaka would bring up T'Challa's skills as a warrior.

After fifteen minutes of small talk in the conference room waiting for everyone to arrive, Rhodes suddenly spoke up.

"Wait... everyone's here except Tony, are we waiting for him?"

The Captain nodded distractedly, his eyes focussed on the door. Rhodes sighed.

"Well I sure hope you told Tony about needing him at this meeting, because I sure didn't know about it."

Rogers eyes snapped to Rhodes as worry filled his face. The Captain then darted to the holo-display to contact the genius.

"Hey there Chickadees. What can I do for you?"

T'Challa's eyes widened as he took in Tony's form over the holo-display.

Ragged jeans hugging his legs, muscled arms and chest tantalisingly revealed by the black tank top, an ease and calm that never existed in the media's lens.

The man was delicious.

"I'm sorry, but I am unable to leave the Tower at present."

T'Challa refocused on the conversation, realising that Tony didn't plan to come to the Compound.

"I'm sure Ms Hogan will let you off if you explain it's for the Avengers Tony. We need you here now. This is a meeting that should happen face to face."

Despite everyone in the conference room nodding their heads in agreement, Tony merely looks unimpressed, and replaying the Captain's words, T'Challa has to stifle a wince. No one likes to be told their job is unimportant, and Tony's job is creating for Stark Industries.

"It has nothing to do with Pepper or SI. I'm in the middle of something Captain, and cannot leave. I apologise, but I won't be able to be present except for over the holo-display."

It takes a further ten minutes of back-and-forth arguments for the Captain to accept Tony's physical absence. T'Chaka begins the meeting by explaining how he wants to sponsor the team, and things go from there.

T'Challa doesn't take his eyes off Tony's image through the holo-display.

Tony often goes off screen to attend to whatever prevents him from joining them, but he returns swiftly. T'Challa gives Tony every ounce of attention he can, and compliments Tony continuously. He is rewarded with the ever so slight quickening of breath, the faintest pinks to Tony's cheeks, and the way Tony's eyes never leave his for long.

At least until the alarms start blaring.

"Boss! There is a massive security breach to the penthouse; I've lost all cameras and speakers!"

Tony doesn't hesitate, running off screen immediately, not even bothering to turn it off. Rhodes jumps from his seat.

"Friday! Talk to me! What is going on?!"

"I don't know Mr Rhodey! I've lost everything to the Penthouse, and the Boss is no longer on my scanners!"

Rhodes looks a combination of furious and afraid. Given that Tony is his oldest friend, the prospect of possible losing him must be a harrowing one.

"You sit tight Fri, and activate Cornerstone Protocol; make sure you and your brothers are safe, you hear me? Tony would be devastated if anything happened to you baby girl."

"Understood Mr Rhodey. Please, come quickly."

The holo-display cuts off, and most of the Avengers are already leaving the room. T'Challa stands.

"I am one of Wakanda's top Warriors; would you allow me to assist?"

The Captain looks as though he will decline, but Rhodes overrules him.

"All the help we can get, we take; if you got something better to suit up in then those slacks of yours, do it now and meet us in the gym. You have five minutes max."

T'Challa's personal record is two.

The gym has a separate door that leads to the hanger, where they boarded a quinjet and shot to Avengers Tower. On guard as soon as they landed, a silence permeated the air. From the outside, nothing looked out of place; the glass windows were all intact, the Tower still standing.

It was when they entered the Penthouse that it obvious all was not well.

Couches and tables were overturned, the wet bar had been decimated, and in the middle of the room laid the remains of what appeared to be an EMP grenade. Hawkeye and Black Widow started scanning the room, Scarlet Witch and Falcon moving to check the other rooms on the floor, while Captain America, Iron Patriot and Vision moved to try and restore the AI Friday to her cameras and speakers. T'Challa, garbed in the Vibranium-weave mesh of the Black Panther, moved to inspect the grenades remains.

"I don't understand; Tony's stuff is protected from EMP's. How did one grenade cause a blackout?"

Over the last eight days, T'Challa had become accustomed to the Captain not fully understand technological advancements, but as a soldier, you'd think he'd know that one grenade in the right place could be catastrophic. While T'Challa continued to examine the remains, Vision spoke.

"An EMP of that size would normally never be enough to wipe all the interfaces of a system of Friday's calibre. Two at least would be needed, and spread across the room, instead of shot to the middle. Iron Patriot and I will continue reconnecting Friday Captain, if you would start looking for another EMP."

"No need."

Hawkeye's voice cut in, he voice as steady as his gaze, directed to a broken window on the other side of the room.

"That's precise, high powered shots, for the rest of the window not to have shattered, even with reinforced glass. But that's a distraction. As soon as you get Friday back up, have her look through the security footage of all the hallways leading to the pent; whoever did this has taken Tony, but they policed their brass. That grenade may have been used, but it's not the only."

At that point Falcon and Scarlet Witch ran back into the main room.

"Stark had people over, two of the rooms set up for them."

Falcon was calm as his military training came to the fore, but Scarlet Witch didn't have that training, and her voice wavered as she spoke.

"One of them was a child."

T'Challa felt his heart stutter. Tony had run to the penthouse without hesitation, for the same reason he couldn't attend the meeting at the Compound.

The shift came without thought, muscles bunching, joints snapping, fur rising to the top of his body and the Vibranium-weave mesh conforming to the Panther.

The Captain soon followed, as well as the Widow, all scenting, trying to gain as much information as they could. T'Challa was amazed that both guests had been Omega males, their scents almost as strong in the penthouse as Tony's.

They had been here for a while before the attack.

"Friday, are you up?"

"That I am little brother. What do you need me to do?"

T'Challa reassumed his human body, as Vision instructed Friday to bring up the security footage. It would be easier to watch with a higher line of sight.

The holo-screen was flashing in and out of existence, the projectors doing their jobs regardless of the damage. T'Challa made a mental note to look further into the quality of StarkTech, because that was impressive.

The footage was sped through, only slowing when someone was present. It was with shock that they learned that Tony's guest had both been children.

The Captain looked torn between rage and fear.

"Friday. Who are they? Why were they here?"

Friday responded dutifully, but her voice had chilled to the Captain's demand.

"The elder of the two is Peter Parker, and the younger Harley Keener. Peter is an intern at Stark Industries in the PR department, and Harley met and helped Boss during the Mandarin Debacle. Both are of lower genius intellect, and are science aficionados. Boss views both of them as his children."

Ignoring the Captain's stuttering response, T'Challa looked at the image of the two young men rough housing as they entered the Penthouse, and felt his heart swell.

A good parent fights for their children.

The footage sped up again until a bulky man wearing the mailrooms uniform came up the hallway carrying a large package. Friday's voice came through the footage.

"All packages are to be delivered to the eighty-fifth floor for examination and containment. Please observe the rules clearly stated in the Employee handbook."

The man snorted.

"Not this time peach."

The footage cut as the man opened the package and pulled something out.

"Afanasy Vasiliev."

All eyes turned to the Black Widow who had another screen open, frozen on the man's face just before the feed was cut.

"He is one of the main bosses for a small, yet successful Black Market. With enough money, people can buy pretty much anything from him. But the most popular purchase is Omega. Specifically, Omega males. Tony has always been very open about his orientation, given he presented so young and in a public place. These guys were specifically after him, but this raid got them three."

T'Challa's fists clenched and he didn't bother trying to stifle the growl that ripped from his throat. He didn't feel guilty for it though.

He wasn't the only one growling.

The Black Widows contacts shortly provided the current base for Vasiliev's operation and plans were made on how to infiltrate the building.

Though it displeased the Captain, it was better for T'Challa and the Black Widow to sneak inside the building in their shifted forms while the rest of the Avengers made as much chaos as they could, bring the guards outside and away from any other prisoners. With the quinjet landed, the group swiftly made their way to the front of the building to find-

"Mother and Country!"

The Captain's oath preceded the sight of ten or so men lying in pools of blood, their bodies mauled and savaged.

"Everyone, change of plans; stay together and keep watch for a feral shifter."

Feral. Shifters could, occasionally, lose themselves in the battle for control. Those that failed became violent and unreasonable, lashing out at anything that came near, regardless of if it was their greatest enemy, or even their newborn.

When a shifter became feral, they lost everything.

With senses focused, the group slowly entered the building.

Every body they came across was in the same state or worse then the guards left outside. Blood practically coated the walls, and the scent was thick in the air. There were signs that the building was a recent acquisition, not yet used to hold any kidnapped shifters or other contraband, but obviously not far off given the amount of men. Tony and the two young boys were no doubt to be the first 'guests' of the establishment.

But they weren't there.

"It doesn't make sense; all signs show that this was where they were to be taken. My contacts are never wrong about this sort of thing!"

The Widow was almost lost in her confusion, and the others not far behind. They had reconvened to the managers 'floating' office, overlooking the expansive beneath them.

"Maybe there was a detour or something; take them somewhere else first then bring them here? Or maybe they ran when the feral showed up?"

Hawkeye's voice was distant in his ear. No, T'Challa was not actively listening to the Avengers, instead he was listening to the call of his true mates soul.


The Captain's hand closed almost harshly on his shoulder.

"Are you even listening? You may be a prince, but we need you to at least pay attention!"

"Oh I am paying attention Captain. To that which most would over look."

T'Challa pointed to a pile of destroyed boxes on the level below. They appeared to have fallen from a nearby stack, but that wasn't what T'Challa had focused on.

It was the barely visible door they were in front of.

The door opened to a set of stairs leading down.

T'Challa led the way down, given that he was the only one to have noticed the door, and his senses seemed to be more attuned then the Captain's, something he took a childish glee in when the Captain pouted over it.

Though the scent of blood still ran strong, T'Challa was actually able to pick up Tony's scent.

"He is here, definitely, but I can barely pick it up; I don't know if the boys are here."

The Avengers nodded and prepared their weapons.

The stairs led to a single door. It was heavy metal, the look of it not inappropriate for a bomb shelter. It was opened just a crack, and with a deep breath, the Avengers pushed the door the rest of the way and swarmed in.

Only to freeze at the blood-curdling roar.

There, curled in front of the decimated remains of a couch was a panther.

T'Challa stood transfixed at the sight of the gorgeous beast. It's fur was a deep, deep brown that looked black, and had a slight excess of fur around the muzzle that looked almost like a... beard.


The Avengers all looked at T'Challa in confusion, but no, T'Challa was sure he was correct! It was well known that Tony Stark didn't shift, though no reason was ever given. T'Challa shifted, drawing the other cat's attention and holding it when he met those beautiful whiskey brown eyes.

Eyes that could only belong to Tony.

Slowly stepping closer to the feline who had yet to uncurl, T'Challa started purring deep in his chest, signalling that he meant no harm. Aside from a few hisses and growls when he moved too fast, T'Challa soon found himself standing above Tony.

And the two young cats curled up at his side.

The Serval and Bengal cat were undoubtedly Peter Parker and Harley Keener.

Tony was protecting them. Had forgone whatever reason prevented his shifting to be able to protect the two little ones. Friday had stated he saw them as his young, and looking at the three of them made it perfectly clear that Tony was a perfect candidate for parenthood.

T'Challa would look forward to seeing Tony swell with his cub.

Carefully, slowly, T'Challa bent down and picked up the Serval by the scruff. Tony watched him intently, determined to end him should any harm come to the child. When T'Challa had straightened and waited, Tony picked up the Bengal Cat and stood, following T'Challa as he moved towards the exit of the small bunker.

Captain America moved forward, determined to intercept Tony's path when Iron Patriot pulled him back with a low growl, that thankfully didn't set Tony off.

"You even try Captain and I will do everything in my power to end you."

Though accompanied by grumbling, The Captain conceded, and T'Challa was free to lead Tony to the quinjet, where Tony nestled with the cubs under the medi-bench.

Back at the compound, Tony lead T'Challa to his room, where the two cubs were deposited on the large soft bed before Tony joined them, curling around them to keep them safe.

T'Challa moved to the bathroom where he removed his suit before shifting back and returning to the foot of the bed, where he settled himself in to stand guard over the resting family.

It took until the next morning for the younger two Omega to wake and shift back to their human bodies. The Serval, Peter Parker, moved to the drawers and withdrew clothes for the three to wear, gently nodding in thanks when he passed T'Challa.

Harley, the Bengal cat, stayed curled up with Tony even when both were human. Tony merely kept stroking his hand through the boys hair, repeating to the both of them how very brave they were, and how proud of them he was. When the three were dressed, Tony took one look at T'Challa before moving Harley to cuddle Peter and moved to his drawers himself, throwing a pair of jeans and a shirt on the bed.

"You too Gofrette. I don't think that suit of yours is suited for casual comfort in mind."

T'Challa shifts and dresses in the offered clothing. He inwardly preens at the appreciation in Tony's eyes. Tony returns to the boys and picks up Harley, shifting him onto one hip, while Peter holds onto Tony's free hand, taking and giving comfort to all parties.

"Howard chucked a fit when I presented as Omega, but that was nothing on my first shift. Bad enough I was a freak, but I didn't even have the decency to be a Wolf or canine. It's been almost forty years since then, I remember that it took me a couple hours to shift back because Howard's shouts scared me so bad. The butler Jarvis took a picture of me, and I thought I was just a regular kitten. Friday? Would you bring up the file AES07, my gal?"

"Sure thing Boss. Welcome back."

T'Challa hadn't realised Friday was also in the Compound but his thoughts left him when the cutest little panther cub showed up on the screen. Both Harley and Peter cooed at it a little, snuggling closer to Tony as they looked at the image.

"Oh, by the way, I ended up reading up on the Tale of Entwined Souls; man was it hard to find an English version of that."

Tony's eyes meet T'Challa's before he leaves the room, that delicious chill rolling down both their spines. T'Challa's eyes widen as he realises what Tony means.

"You're off to a good start."

T'Challa licks his lips before swiftly following his true mate down the hall.

A panther needs to stalk it's prey after all.

Chapter Text

It was enthralling.

The play of those strong, slender fingers across the neck, pushing and pulling, with just the right amount of force, to coax out the perfect sounds. Body cradled so snugly against his own, nestled between those gorgeous legs, as though trying to meld the two into one.

T'Challa was breathing deep, forcing it to be slow, but then that hand moved down and-

"It is unfair! How do you make playing the cello so pornographic while still fully dressed?!"

Tony's eyes snapped from the instrument he was playing to meet T'Challa's gaze. It was James who answered, laughter in his voice.

"I told you; the only danger you'll suffer is falling in love as Tones plays. If Tones had used his music as a flirting tactic, there would to this day be lines of people trying to date him."

Tony shakes his head while Shuri joins Rhodey in laughing and T'Challa grumbles.

They are enjoying their final day in Wakanda before they return to the states, sitting in the music room listening to Tony as he puts the instruments through their paces, but T'Challa cannot stop the daydreams of this becoming everyday life. Waking up in Wakandan warmth, following the sent of coffee, made perfectly the way only Tony knows how, eating breakfast with his three favourite people before going about his duties as King, until he has done enough work to justify sneaking off to spend time with Tony in the labs and workshops, marvelling at how free Tony is in the space, before whisking him off to a private lunch. Snuggling down for a movie with the others afterwards, and then heading to the gym to work off their lethargy, before again going their separate ways until dinner, spending the evening listening to Tony play, before once more heading to sleep, embraced by the Wakandan moonlight.

The only thing that could make the daydreams better would be if he fell asleep and woke with Tony in his arms, but he can't even imagine how wonderful that treat would be...

Hmm... and what a treat indeed.

"What cream have you been getting into Pelle Svanslös? Because by the look on your face, it's gotta have been spiked."

Tony's voice broke him from yet another daydream, and judging from the looks all three were giving him, yes, he had looked very pleased with himself. Ignoring the heat on his cheeks, T'Challa cleared his throat, choosing to end Shuri's unrepentant giggles.

"I just found myself ruminating on the future. Tell me Shuri, did you end up keeping that list you made years ago about what you would name your children?"

Both his sister and James choke on their drinks, Shuri already trying to murder T'Challa with her eyes, as Tony bursts into laughter.

"Oh, she'll have to fight with Rhodey on what they name their kids, because he's been swearing since M.I.T. that his first son was gonna be named Galen and his daughter would be Naomi. Or they can just have enough kids to have all the names; just saying. Speaking of, Rhodey, Shuri, I bags godfather rights to at least all of your children! They will love Uncle Tony, and I promise I will corrupt them over to the side of science as quickly as possible!"

With their dark skin, it is a lot harder to tell when James and Shuri are blushing, but Tony makes it happen with ease.

A few priceless moments are spent watching the two try to calm down, before James gives it as lost and shoots a remark back.

"And what about you T? When you gonna turn me into Uncle Rhodey? Don't you white folk all need heirs to uphold the family name and shit?"

Tony merely snorts.

"I already have two direct heirs in my will, no need to go out and cast for my own spawn. And frankly, the Stark name dying with me would be a blessing, but as soon as I kick the bucket -whether it be in the glorious throes of battle, fighting for life, both mine and others, or resting in bed, from either old age or a lifetime of self-abuse finally taking its final toll- there will be plenty of people who will show up claiming to either be my kin, or to have been a secret close friend who I decided to bequeath all manner of wealth and fame to. You wanna be Uncle Rhodey, it'll only be by my not-by-blood boys."

Tony turned back to the cello, the bow gently sweeping across the strings as silence captured the room, broken only by his music. James, after a few moments of thought, stood and went to the piano, and they played together, a new song starting.

It was beautiful.

T'Challa sat back in his chair, letting the music wash over him.

The mid-morning sun laid dainty fingers across the lounge T'challa and Tony were sprawled over, Tony cuddled up on T'Challa frame. In an hour, they would be travelling back to America.

And its Captain.

Over the few weeks they had spent in Wakanda, Tony had explained the uneasiness he had around Steve Rogers, along with the man's attempts, with aid from certain members of the team, to corner Tony into a date. If it hadn't been for Friday's intervention, Rogers would have likely ended up guilting Tony into it.

T'Challa tightened his hold on Tony, just a little bit.

There was no way T'Challa was giving Tony up to anyone, let alone to a man he feared.

"Coffee, then bed. Commercial flights just don't do anything useful for me anymore."

"'Commercial'? Tony, how the hell is SI's jet considered 'Commercial'?"

"It is not the suit; that's how."

The gentle bickering between Tony and James as they made their way inside the Avengers Compound was a balm to the jetlag, distracting from the heavy pull of sleep. It would not last long, just about enough to get that coffee, which would hold the four steady until they could reach their beds.

The plan was derailed a bit when they entered the kitchen.

"Uncle Tony!"

The elder two Barton children run up to dispense hugs, babbling about the many science experiments they have completed from their kits while Tony was gone, and how hard they have both practiced on the piano to play for him. It's heart-warming in a way that T'Challa adores, and he looks forward to receiving the same behaviour from Shuri and James' children; there will be many he is sure, if the way the two look at each other is any indication.

He wonders if James is the type of man to ask for blessing from the family.

T'Challa fills two mugs from the pot, taking a deep gulp of one as he takes the other to Tony still listening, despite his exhaustion, to the excited cries of Lila and Cooper. He takes it from T'Challa with a heartfelt thank you as the children are distracted by their mother's entrance and following scolding for keeping the obviously tired quartet from their beds.

Tony presses a chaste kiss of thanks on Laura's cheek before he swallows the last dregs of his drink and moves to leave for his bedroom.

"Tony! Welcome back!"

T'Challa's hackles rise as Rogers moves to embrace Tony. It's only Nathaniel's sudden cry that stops the embrace.

"Pano! Pano!"

The occupants of the room all spin to look at the little boy who has spoken with intent for the first time. He is waving a hand at Tony, an intense look inherited from his father on his face.


Tony's eyebrow raises in confusion, not understanding why the youngest Barton is directing his attempts at speech to him.

"Well, it's either Italian for a type of bread, or Portuguese for cloth. And while I am una splendida campione di sangue italiano, I somehow doubt that's what he meant."

Little Nathaniel begins to look more and more upset as whatever response he desired is not given. He tries waving both hands at Tony.


It doesn't really help. Rogers leaves the room, shouting back that he's going to collect Barton. Lila pipes up shortly after he's left.

"Oh! Nate, do you mean 'piano'?"

Nathaniel's distressed whimpers cease as the obviously familiar word catches his attention, and he happily starts gibbering at his sister, before once more waving his hands at Tony, who looks both stunned and amused.

"I will happily play something for you when I've slept a bit, smallest agent. And when you are a bigger smallest agent, I'll teach you as well, so long as your mum lets me."

Laura is laughing, half in delight, half in relief.

"Of course you can teach him when the time comes, but for now, get some sleep Uncle Tony."

"You, my dear, are legend."

Pressing another kiss to her cheek, Tony leaves the kitchen.

T'Challa half bows to the woman before moving to his own room, collapsing on top of the bed and barely having the strength to wish he was cuddling with Tony again, before Morpheus slips in to embrace him.

The next morning, T'Challa wakes to fingers carding through his hair, every now and again rubbing at his scalp, and it feels so good he can't help the deep rumble in his chest. The fingers stop for a moment, but return when T'Challa whines, trying to butt the hand back to his scalp. A low chuckle fills the air, and it takes all of T'Challa's strength and focus to raise his head.

Tony is in his room.

Tony is in his room.

Tony is in his room.

T'Challa manages to gain enough strength to move just enough to drop his head in Tony's lap, prompting the return of the wonderful head rubs.

"Best morning ever."

Those delicious, warm chuckles once more rumble through the air.

"As you say Claude Cat." 

Parla al mio cuore digli che sai

Dei miei dolori che non dormon mai

Parlami o stella

e dimmi se lei verr

Notte d'agosto e dei desideri

Cerco amore e vorrei che s'avveri

Lei che sorride passando per la mia via

Ah, com'

Ma tu stella amica

Dimmi se rester

Dell'amore non si sa

quando viene o se ne va

dell'amore non si sa

quando sar

da dove arriver

Tony's voice, as smooth as silk and warm as an ember floats through the air. Truly, a sin to possess, but a blessing to hear.

And right now, T'Challa is the one being sung to.

It takes a good hour or so, but T'Challa eventually wakes up enough to wonder why Tony is in his room. Tony's face is a bit sheepish when he answers.

"I'm kinda hiding from Cap. I'm still nice and relaxed from the trip and really don't want to lose that to whatever confrontation he's spent the last few weeks planning to perfection. And I know the only bedrooms he'll search for me are mine, Rhodey's and his own. So I get to spend some time with one of my favourite men, away from any stress."

T'Challa moves to pull Tony into a hug, a simple protection from the world, and can feel Tony practically melt in the embrace.

T'Challa has to do something about Rogers. He knows that Tony can fight his own battles, but Tony's methods don't seem to be working. At least he can get the sort of comfort being around T'Challa provides.

They leave T'Challa's room comparing information on a couple of tablets.

Remembering the damage done to both the armour and Tony in that Siberian bunker, T'Challa had offered to gift Tony with enough Vibranium to make a new suit. Tony declined the amount, shyly asking instead for enough to make a new chest plate. T'Challa had asked why so little, and Tony had been embarrassed by his answer.

"Because I need to remember I have physical limits. Sure, I push those limits all the time, and as hard as I can. But I am not invulnerable; out of my suit, I can and will take damage, as all squishy humans do. With a full Vibranium suit, I can potentially walk away unscathed. But I would likely fall into the mindset that nothing could ever hurt me, which will lead to careless, stupid mistakes. Mistakes that will cost too much. I am not a god, so I won't let myself pretend to be."

Tony was oh so wonderfully human.

It was just another thing to love about the man; his understanding of himself, and his sacrifices.

As they walked to the sitting room, their heads were bowed over the schematics on the tablet that showed how the newest Iron Man armour would be formed, the Vibranium chest plate working in conjunction with Tony's regular alloys and wiring.


Both Tony and T'Challa looked up, finding Rogers waiting in the sitting room, an annoyed yet hopeful look in his eye.

"Sorry I missed you this morning before you started working. I wanted to welcome you back properly, since yesterday you were so tired."

T'Challa sent a quick glance to Friday's nearest camera.

"Captain Rogers, you have a call from Agent Carter. Please be so kind as to answer her so she will stop; you have yet to listen to the 346 messages she has left for you."

Oh T'Challa would have to find some way to reward the wonderful AI; the red that flooded Rogers face meant that Friday had not told a single lie, and that the Captain very much was ignoring the woman constantly calling. By Friday relaying the information where anyone could hear it, Rogers could not ignore it.

"Go see what she wants, before she ties up the line."

Rogers sends Tony an apologetic look at those words, obviously wanting to stay, but does leave to talk to the woman in private. Tony releases a slow breath when he can no longer hear the Captains footsteps, and moves to sit on the piano bench.

T'Challa sits on the bench next to him, as the chords of Moonlight Sonata begin to play.

"Hey Tony? I was wondering if you wanted to go a few round in the ring; keep yourself in shape you know?"

Tony sighs, sadly cutting off his rendition of Grande Valse Brilliante, and turning to look at their visitor to the sitting room.

"No Sam, because I have no desire to be in the ring with Rogers. Please stop."

Sam just sighs and shakes his head, as if Tony is a child being difficult.

"I just don't see what your problem with Steve is Tony; he likes you a lot, and you're not even giving him a chance."

Wilson leaves before T'Challa is able to get over the sheer audacity of his statement and retaliate, but Tony has risen from the piano and come to sit next to him, snuggling in close. T'Challa wraps his arms around Tony and holds tight.

"Mr Stark, would you mind taking a look at my arm? It's sorta catching when I move it."

Tony and T'Challa are both in the workshop, once more looking over the schematics for the new armour. Sargent Barnes has immediate access to Tony if his new arm causes him grief, so he has a number of times in the past walked into the workshop to have whatever problem exists dealt with. Tony no longer hates Barnes for his part played in Howard and Maria Stark's deaths, but he is certainly no fan of the Sargent, though he remains polite.

"Sure thing Barnes, make yourself comfortable."

The Sargent takes a seat on his chosen bench and extends the prosthetic across the worktable as Tony gathers his tools and walks over. T'Challa follows because it is just so soothing to watch Tony toiling away, watching him dive headfirst into his work. It is the effort of mere seconds for Tony to locate the crossed wires preventing Barnes' full movement.

"Hey, you... you know Stevie really likes you, right?"

Tony sighs, finishing his work quickly and setting down his tools.

"I know and I'm not interested. We're done."

Barnes rises and moves to the door.

"I think you'd be really happy if you just gave him a shot."

T'Challa holds Tony tightly, motioning for Friday to lock the door.

They go out for lunch, figuring time away from the Compound will help them both calm down. James and Shuri are off on a date of their own, so it is just them. The little bistro is homey and bright, allowing them the peace of a scene so unlike the Avengers Headquarters.

They speak about anything but the Avengers, covering ideas Tony has had about a water filtration system, to T'Challa's thoughts on instituting a new advisory council, so as to give both himself and Shuri a break when they want to leave Wakandan borders.

As they leave the bistro a few hours later, they chance upon a park, empty for the moment, but still a pleasant environment to take a walk. There is only the occasional sentence or two between them, and both are enjoying the serenity of the area.

"Anthony! T'Challa! A pleasure to see you both this day!"

Thor walks up to them, delight on his face.

"Hey there buðlungr. What are you up to?"

Thor actually looks a little troubled.

"Ruminating on a favour the Captain asked of me. I am yet still gaining knowledge of what came to pass during my absence, but it has been obvious to my eyes since my return that the Captain holds affection for you. Affection you do not return."

Thor is watching Tony's face, affirming no doubt his thoughts on the matter.

"The Captain is seeking to speak with you alone, but I understand you do not want to be alone in his presence. Fighting for one's love is admirable, and to be encouraged especially when the love is for a close comrade, but when it is so evidently one-sided, I cannot help but think it a foolish endeavour. I am not sure what course of action to take, my friend."

T'Challa chooses to ease the Thunderer's worries, given he so honestly came forth with the information.

"There is not mutual affection between Tony and the Captain, but between Tony and myself."

So saying, T'Challa raises the hand he linked with Tony at the start of their walk and places a kiss across the knuckles.

Thor's face lights up once more.

"This is most joyous! Congratulations to you both!"

Embarrassed, Tony starts fiddling with the chain round his neck as Thor continues to espouse their relationship. Eventually, Thor calms his exuberance, and bids them farewell, continuing on his way with a far lighter step then he had arrived.

They arrive back at the Compound and once more make their way to the sitting room, this time to continue the piano lessons Tony had been giving the Barton children. They are met by two, but only one of them is a Barton, and neither is under twelve.

"Barton, Maximoff. Is everything okay?"

Barton scoffs at Tony's question, while Maximoff just glares at him.

"No, everything is not okay, and it won't be until you stop being a self-righteous dick, and just let Steve take you on a date. You're nowhere near good enough for him, but he's decided he wants you so get over yourself and go out with him."

Tony flinches at Barton's words, taking a half-step back, when Maximoff joins in.

"He's decided to forgive you for the mess you caused with the Accords and locking us in the raft. You could have the decency Stark to accept his feelings for you. It's not like you lose anything in the deal, and maybe you'll finally listen to what Steve is telling you."

Both sweep out of the room, ignoring how Tony is shaking, arms wrapped around himself in the most basic form of protection. T'Challa moves him to the closest couch and just holds him, occasionally whispering his promises of love, devotion and protection. By the time the Barton children arrive, having been held back by their father's request, Tony is calm enough to continue their lessons, but T'Challa knows the calm of their visit to Wakanda is completely gone.

T'Challa has had enough of this.

T'Challa makes his way to his room before going to the gym after seeing Tony to the workshop, Friday locking the door securely as T'Challa leaves.

He has had Friday summon the Compounds residents bar Tony and the children, and is prepared to meet them head on if need be.

He enters the gym, back straight, head high, hands folded behind him.

"T'Challa, do you know what's going on? Or where Tony is?"

James looks concerned, obviously unsure if he should be running to don his armour. Shuri is by his side, eyes constantly flitting to the door, wondering no doubt where Tony could be, as he and the children are the only ones not present.

"I do know, as I am the one who asked Friday to summon you all. Like the little ones, Tony does not need to be present."

T'Challa turns to face the group as a whole.

"I am going to ask nicely, and ask only once, that those involved, or planning to be involved, with Captain Rogers' plans to date Tony stop. Tony has expressed many times that he does not want to date the Captain, that he holds no romantic interest in the Captain. The constant attempts to force him into a one-on-one confrontation with the Captain are to stop, as they are already more than close to becoming harassment."

Angry mutters spring up immediately until the Captain himself decides to speak.

"Tony and I are working through our disagreements your Majesty. I apologise if Tony has been complaining about it to you, and will speak with him. But there is no need to involve yourself further, it is not something you need to be concerned over."

They don't see T'Challa move until Vibranium claws are brushing the Captain's neck.

"Oh, I would say that it needs me to be very concerned Captain. For while the others are becoming harassment, you have been there for quite some time."

Shouts of surprise, anger and fear briefly ring through the air, only calming slightly when they see T'Challa has not actually hurt Rogers. The man in question swallows before speaking again.

"If Tony would just talk to me without playing coy or hiding behind someone else, then it wouldn't have gotten this far. I have made my intentions clear, and am following them."

T'Challa scoffs, once more brushing claws against the fragile skin covering the man's jugular.

"And Tony has made just as clear his thoughts on the matter. He doesn't love you Captain, or even want to love you. He has stated he wants you to leave him alone. But instead, you lurk outside the door to his sanctuary of the workshop, constantly attempt to hold him despite his shying away, you refuse to leave him alone, and you ignore his wishes. Were you not Captain America, that behaviour would see you arrested. If reported, it still might."

T'Challa takes a quick glance around the room, noting where everyone is standing and looking. James, Shuri, Vision, Peter and Thor are standing together, as are Agent Romanoff, Doctor Banner, Laura and Scott Lang. Barnes, Wilson, Maximoff and Barton are standing together as well, and are currently being glared at by the first group. James in particular looks willing to dispense Justice via violence. T'Challa looks back to Rogers, still seeing the spark of defiance in his eyes.

"I am behaving in the manner to best look after Tony. Tony doesn't know how to look after himself, how to behave with others, or even what he wants most of the time. I am able and willing to do that for him; to care for Tony as he needs-"

T'Challa tightens his hand just enough to cut off Rogers' words.

"Such arrogance. The same arrogance that led you to telling one hundred seventeen nations of the world that they are corrupt bodies with ulterior agendas."

The group of those determined to help Rogers' plans begin to speak out in defence of their Captain, but a sharp look from T'Challa lays them silent.

"Tony has looked after himself for a long time Captain; it tends to be what happens when children are made into orphans. Further, when Tony has needed help, if he knows it can be given, he will seek it out. The 'evidence' of neglect you are no doubt thinking of is Tony's frequent binges in his workshop. Tony has stashes of fruit, vegetables and nuts that he eats during those times, a shower in the workshop bathroom that he makes use of because it is difficult to work covered in grease, and an entertainment space where he takes frequent breaks. The only trouble the binges present is Tony doesn't get a lot of sleep, but Tony has had recorded mild to intermediate insomnia since he was a child. He works to get the ideas keeping him awake out, and to tire himself enough to sleep."

Rogers tries yet again to sway T'Challa's opinions.

"Be that as it may, Tony and I work well together, we always make it to the end goal when we're side-by-side. It'll be good for everyone when we start dating."

T'Challa once more tightens his hand, briefly cutting off Rogers' air flow.

"It'll never happen. Should the harassment, from any of you, continue, I will show you why my people chose to worship the Panther."

Maximoff manages to gain the courage to speak up.

"Why do you care so much if Steve wants Stark?"

T'Challa squeezes his hand harshly before dropping the Captain coughing onto the floor, and moves to leave.

"Because I prefer it when my fiancée is happy and calm, which he was before we returned from Wakanda."

T'Challa returns to the workshop, Friday letting him enter and then directing him to Tony's room.

Tony is curled up on top of the sheets, dozing as he waited for T'Challa's return. T'Challa notes the hand gently wound in the chain around his neck.

The chain holding a small ring.

T'Challa gently smooths his fiancée's hair from his forehead, and then places a kiss to the revealed skin.

"I know you can fight your own battles my love, and it calms me that I must never hold ceaseless worries for your safety, but this is one that I feel much better fighting at your side."

Tony's free hand gently clasps his own.

"Thank you... Love you too T'Challa."

T'Challa moves to hold Tony, keeping him protected from the world outside this room.

Just for a little bit longer.

Chapter Text

Three weeks.

It had been three weeks. T'Challa thought his anger and hurt would have at least lessened a little, become a bit numb, instead of still aching like an open wound.

But then, he guessed it was proof of how much he still loved Tony.


Why did Tony cheat on him?

T'Challa sighed and raised his hands to rub at his temples, trying to force back the headache that was threatening.

He wouldn't have believed it, except that he had seen it for himself. Seen Tony, his perfect boyfriend, kissing some woman. T'Challa hurt so much. He broke up with Tony that instant, and has retreated to his home to lick his wounds, luckily able to complete his work at home.

T'Challa stopped rubbing his head, and went to his bed, just dropping himself across the length.

It had been three weeks.

"You have one chance to give me a reason not to break every bone in your body."

T'Challa sat up upon hearing James' voice.

James Rhodes, one of the best men he had ever met; strong, kind, loyal and thinking.

He was Tony's best friend.

"How did you get in here?"

James jabbed a thumb over his shoulder, bringing T'Challa's attention to Shuri. Ah, of course. James and Shuri had started dating about a month ago. It had slipped T'Challa's mind.

"I'm waiting T'Challa."

T'Challa sighed. James was Tony's best friend.

"Why did you dump Tony?"

"Because I couldn't bear to be with a man who cheats."

Stunned silence fills the room, and the deep heaviness settles a little more in T'Challa's chest.

It's been three weeks. Why does it still feel so raw?


T'Challa looks at James once more, and the man's face is full of rage.

"You're spouting complete bullshit T'Challa! I know Tony! I have known him since he was the too young string bean in college! And one of the things I am proudest to know, is that while Tony is a flirt and has had plenty of one-night-stands, when he actually enters a relationship, when he has found someone he cares about enough to date; Tony is a serial monogamist!"

It is James' anger that ignites his own; T'Challa standing up suddenly and shouting at his sisters beloved.

"Then why did I personally see him kissing that woman?! Why did I see him with another?!"

T'Challa breathes deeply, almost panting in his need to reign himself in.

"What type of kiss was it?"

Damn James for sounding so calm. It forces him to think back on that instant, to replay the events over and over once more.

"I fail to see how that matters."

"Well duh, I got that genius! What type of kiss was it?"

James taking Tony's side is no surprise, but it still hurts that he's ignoring the truth.

"A deep kiss upon each cheek, with her head held in both of his hands."

T'Challa loved Tony's hands, almost as much as he still loved Tony. They were worn and callused, signs of a working man, despite Tony having been born into wealth and luxury.

James raises a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose, and lets out a weary sigh.

"This woman; was she a red-head in a dark suit?"

T'Challa could only nod, confused at how James knew her appearance. James sighed again at the nod.

"You're an idiot."

T'Challa is glad that Shuri looks as confused as he feels.

"Tony's half Italian you do know that right?"

T'Challa nods again; he so loved listening to Tony sing in Italian.

"What you saw was not Tony cheating on you, but Tony paying observance to Italian behaviour."

James motions for both T'Challa and Shuri to sit on the bed, while he claims the desk chair.

"Double Cheek Kissing in Italian families is a ritual of 'I have your back and you have mine', it's the holy Grail of ultimate loyalty. The red-head is Virginia 'Pepper' Potts. In every way that matters, Tony's sister."

T'Challa's blood has turned to ice.

"You didn't even give him a chance to explain, did you T'Challa?"

He's shaking. Three weeks. It has been three weeks.

And all over a misunderstanding.

James has left his chair and is holding T'Challa's head steady, forcing their eyes to meet.

"Tony has been inconsolable. He doesn't know what he has done to make you leave him, and unfortunately past experience is telling him that you have gotten what you wanted and now have no use for him. Tony has, since you allowed, greeted you with a kiss on the lips. I used to be greeted with cheek kisses, but I prefer being hugged, so Tony accommodated. Now, you are going to get up off your ass, shower, and go to Tony and never make this mistake again. Clear?"

T'Challa rises.


He finds Tony slumped over one of the benches in his workshop.

The entire room is quiet, nothing moving and nothing lit up. It's almost as if the life and creating fire that burns through Tony's body has died out.

T'Challa won't let those embers fade.

"Uxolo, Uthando lwam. Mi Dispiace Amore Mio."

Tony jolts up, spinning to look at the door T'Challa stands before.

It breaks T'Challa's heart to see the state Tony is in; red, swollen eyes surrounded by black shadows, signs that Tony has lost weight in the pulls and sags of his clothing, and the tremors in Tony's arm as he reaches for T'Challa.

"You... you're here?"

T'Challa moves forward, sweeping Tony into a tight embrace, holding him close as T'Challa feels the tremors turn into sobs and tears fall from his loves eyes.

"I have greatly wronged you my love. Oh so greatly wronged you. But if you'll allow me, I will spend forever making up for my mistakes."

Tony's arms manage to wind around T'Challa's waist and hold as tightly as they can.

"Why did you leave me? What did I do?"

T'Challa shakes his head, desperate to fix what his has broken in his love.

"You have done nothing wrong, I promise you! I was a fool and you, my love, have paid the price."

Tony's tears grow, but T'Challa ignores the wetness of his shirt, and merely holds Tony closer.

He will fix this.

It was his mistake after all.


Chapter Text

-because Hulk's new stretchy pants are not working; let's go back to basics. F = − kΔx-

-two meetings with SI Board, Tuesday and Thursday, Thursday's followed by the meet-and-greet money grab Infinite Metal's hosting for-

-need to beat it into Thor's head that Mjolnir is a damn hazard to squishy humans mere mortal toes, and if he keeps leaving it in doorways, I'm gonna-

-tacos after the next battle, spice up the recovery meal a bit so we don't get-

-'57 corvette in dark red should not have a glaringly obvious blue slash on the hood, who the hell does Natasha think she's kidding with-

-and what the hell even are 'sticky arrows'? I mean sure, I'll be able to make them; I'm me! But how does Clint-

Tony lets a long sigh fall from his lips. His hands come up to rub at his temples, trying desperately to push back the migraine that's been threatening for the last few hours.

He can already tell it'll be no use.

His hands fall to his sides, and Tony turns to leave the workshop; he won't be able to focus enough to get anymore work done, but his thoughts are still flying, still churning with information and ideas.

-but that formula doesn't allow for the pants to shrink back to Brucie-bear size; they'll stay Jade Jaws size, which-

-can only be accepted with parental agreement, which destroys the whole point of a charity dedicated to helping abused kids-

-Vision, but it's not fair to essentially put him to following Thor to make sure the damn hammer isn't-

-to try Buna, it sounds yummy, and after a hard slog saving the world, I've earned some caffeine to help me stay sane long enough not to shoot-

-her motorcycle to fix, then everything would be fine. Instead she leaves it with the incompetent techs at New S.H.I.E.L.D. and wonders why-

-and shove them up so hard, Hawkass will have to shit sideways! The nerve of him to-

The throbbing starts, and Tony knows he has minutes at best to find a free couch to lie on. Most migraine meds don't work for him, so he has to wait it out, and hope Friday can give everyone the heads up before they inadvertently hurt him.

Coming into the common room, Tony can see that the couch is mostly free. T'Challa is lying on half of it reading, leaving the other half free for Tony, which is perfect.

Tony manages to lie down, prompting T'Challa to look at him in polite question, just as the migraine breaks.

It's like lightning is shooting into his brain, his grey matter being pounded by jackhammers.

He can vaguely hear T'Challa call his name in worry, would be appreciative of the Wakandan King's concern, if it wasn't sending nails through his skull.

The man silences himself quickly though, so Tony's fairly sure Friday has somehow told him what's happening.

But Tony still can't stop.

-funds for fixing the street and buildings after the last battle, they need more to repair the gas-

-broken in six different areas yet somehow wasn't noticed as abuse; not good enough, the kids need to feel safe-

-up some lightning rods on the roof, collect Thor's offshoots to-

-for years, but it just gets embarrassing watching them dance around the subject; Pepper and Happy-

-could I have really survived twelve months without a drink? I mean, I'm the alcoholic son of an alcoholic; how have I-


The chill of the icepack actually makes him jump, which no, not fun.

It's resettled on his forehead though, and after a few seconds of discomfort, the chill makes it to his brain which is just so soothing.

Strong hands start gently rubbing his neck and head, which is just wonderful, and he's pretty sure that he moans at one point, but given the migraine is slowly dying, he has no shits to give.

"That's it Tony, breathe nice and deep for me."

The voice is so low Tony almost doesn't hear it. He recognises it though; It's hard not to when his boyfriend's voice is that perfect dark chocolate rumble. The massage continues and the migraine keeps edging off, losing the unrelenting daggers to Tony's cranium until, finally, it stops altogether.

Tony just remains lying down, enjoying the massage and breathing, for a few more moments before finally opening his eyes again, noting the new position on the sun spilling in through the windows.

"Thank you."

Those two words aren't nearly enough to express his gratitude, but the warm smile on T'Challa's lips show that it was heard regardless. A kiss as soft as a butterfly wing is placed on his forehead, and the massage doesn't stop.

 It's ten minutes later, Tony relocated to resting his head on T'Challa's lap with a hand carding through his hair, that T'Challa speaks again.

"Was there anything in particular that sparked this? Something that we now know to avoid?"

Tony can only shake his head. He hates the slightly frustrated look on T'Challa's face, but the migraines are a sad part of his life.

"You know how hard it is to go to sleep when you have an idea in your head? When you have something brilliant or even just so out there trapped in your mind until you write it down, or work out the pieces?"

Full attention on Tony, T'Challa nods, waiting patiently for Tony to continue.

"Well I've got six. People say multitasking, the true ability to think consciously about different things at the same time, is impossible. It's really not, but pop-culture and the way people live their lives makes it seem so. Everyone, to some extent, has done some form of multitasking. Best example is running a race; you are thinking about how much longer you have to run, and how you are breathing. Because those two thoughts are both linked to the race, however, most dismiss it as one thought."

T'Challa nods again, following what Tony's saying. Tony takes a deep breath, and cuddles a little closer.

"My brain is fast. Way faster then most. It means that if I'm not focused, I'll catalogue everything I can see, hear, touch; everything and every possibility of those things. Like yesterday I found myself cataloguing how much cheese it would take to choke a water buffalo. I don't even know where I got that sort of information from, but it's in my head now, along with everything else; it's why I have so much trouble with birthdays and special dates, the information isn't being reintroduced to my mind often enough to be an instant recall like my schematics and numbers."

Tony takes another moment to breathe, one hand idly scratching the scars left by the arc reactor.

"At any given moment, I can usually distinguish six trains of thought. And a good deal of the time, it's my brain coming up with ideas for SI, the Avengers, pet projects; stuff that I can create, use my hands for. So I try to sleep, and boom; six ideas that won't leave me alone. I go down to the workshop to try and knock them out, but I finish one idea and move on to the next, and a new idea slides into that empty slot. So I can't sleep. Eventually my body will override my brain and I'll fall unconscious, but until then, I stay awake.

It's why I have so many workshop binges. You can tell me how bad they are for me, and how much I need to go to sleep and rest until you're blue in the face, but I physically can't sleep. I have to work myself to exhaustion to get any rest. The only other way for me to sleep is to slow my mind down, but the only way I've found that works is worse for me then the workshop binges."

T'Challa says nothing, merely cocks his head with a raised eyebrow. Tony can't help but to lift a hand to gently run through T'Challa's hair.

"Everyone knows how much Tony Stark used to drink."

Tony can see the pieces fitting together in his boyfriends mind, and he adores having the company of someone who can keep up with him, even if just a little. T'Challa takes a few moments to organise his thoughts before speaking.

"The media presents you as having a wild, reckless youth, partaking in alcohol underage, and experimenting with a variety of drugs. You were trying to slow down then, weren't you?"

It is Tony's turn to nod.

"Clever cat. I was at a victory celebration in the M.I.T. engineering department for one of the seniors who'd won a comp. Someone had spiked the punch with, I think it was vodka. Something flavourless. Anyway, I didn't realise how slow I was thinking until I woke up the next day with a hangover. Booze became my go to. I did try a few drugs that were supposed to make you slow down, like weed, but all they slowed was my body. With my mind not having to focus so much attention on how to make me move and all that, it was free to go nuts. I've been clean since I was sixteen, not game to try any others that might speed up my thoughts."

Even just mentioning it sends a shiver down Tony's spine, and he cuddles even closer to T'Challa's steady warmth. They stay like that a while, on the couch in each other's company, trading gentle touches. Eventually T'Challa speaks again.

"You seem quite calm now. Is that a side effect of the migraine?"

Tony actually has to stop and think -and damn but isn't that novel?- and realises that T'Challa's right; Tony's only got one line running right now. There's no telling how long that'll last, but looking back, Tony tends to put his entire focus on his boyfriend, so he hasn't got the extra slots to fill. Tony finds one of T'Challa's hands and pulls it to his lips, a kiss as soft as the one T'Challa had gifted him earlier left on chocolate skin.

"Nah. That's all you T'Challa."

Unfortunately, Tony's reprieve doesn't last nearly long enough.

Clint comes bursting in, demanding his sticky arrows. It sends Tony's thoughts back to how he was willing to sodomise Clint with his own bow, but before he can make the threat aloud.

-Steve's volunteering at the pet shelter today, I'll need to make a donation, because he always ends up breaking something-

-It's been two months since I sent the Roomba team through the vents, a quick tune up and I'll-

-Perché non posso solo girare il cervello spento? Mi era rilassata pochi istanti fa.-

-M.I.T. Anniversary is coming up, wonder if I can swing Pepper into letting me go-

-If I lined the suit interior with lambskin, would that make it more comfortable to wear for longer-

-Bow up your goddamned ass Barton!-

"You have three seconds to leave Agent Barton, before I take my claws to your throat."

T'Challa's smooth, calm voice sends Clint running. Tony tries to return to the calm he had a few moments before, but too many new thoughts have swamped him. It's going to be a long night. A strong hand catches his chin and directs him to face the Wakandan King.

"Would you be interested in helping me ruffle some feathers?"

Well, well. T'Challa's already dragged him back to one thought.


Tony smiles that night as he cuddles into T'Challa's arms under the sheets.

Really, what else was Tony to do with a garden hose, a rubber chicken, and nine pounds of guacamole?

Chapter Text

Despite Tony's penchant for being high-energy, he was actually more often than not calm and focused... well as focused as a man with a mind as busy and Tony's could be.

Constantly working, creating new ways to save the world, being Iron Man in the heat and throes of battle, Tony was calm. Snarky as all hell, most certainly, always quipping and making jokes, but rarely, if ever, panicked.


Which made the scene the Avengers walked into very confusing.

Tony was dashing back and forth around the common room of the Compound, clearing away various odds and ends, running a dusting cloth over flat surfaces, fluffing the couch cushions of all things.

T'Challa managed to snag his frantic boyfriend's arm and pulled the man into a hug, wrapping his arms solidly around Tony's body, being both support and protection.

"Whatever has gotten you in such a state my darling?"

The team had all been quite amused by the effect T'Challa's voice had on Tony, and teasingly brought it up from time to time.

Tony all but melted into T'Challa, nuzzling into the crook of his neck, completely calm and placid.

"Jarvis is coming to visit. I wanted to make everything perfect for him."

Noises of confusion came from the team. J.A.R.V.I.S. was gone; his programming uploaded and changed within Vision right? How could J.A.R.V.I.S. be visiting? Vision stepped close to Tony, a look of almost excitement on his face.

"Do you think he would like me?"

Tony's smile was warm.

"Of course he will; you're pretty much J's kid, and what great-grandparent doesn't like their grandchildren's young?"

Vision looked happy and moved to help with the preparation, T'Challa aiding as well. Tony had told him of the kindly old man who had raised his darling more than Howard Stark had even tried to.

The man was surely in his nineties by now, but moved with grace and strength that indicated training, even to this day. The hand rested on Tony arm was a mere conceding to his status as a guest. The Avengers, aside from T'Challa and Vision, still didn't know that Edwin Jarvis was the inspiration for the world's first fully independent A.I., so were waiting in the common room.

"Everyone, this is Edwin Jarvis, the man who raised me. Jarvis, these are-"

"Oh I know who they are, can't pick up a magazine or newspaper these days without running into an article of them. My greetings Avengers."

After the team had managed to find their words and return the salutation, seats were taken and Tony moved to the kitchen to collect a tea service. Jarvis quickly took over.

"Jarvis! You're here as a guest, you shouldn't have to work."

Jarvis gave an indulgent smile.

"Ah Master Tony, you were and ever shall be, my young master. That means any opportunity to serve you, I shall gladly take. Retirement has done wonders for my stress level, I'll not deny, but I served as Stark butler for almost two decades before your birth, and near another two after. I have been retired for nearly the same amount of time again. I'm bored sir, and performing even so simple a task as preparing tea for you fills me with delight."

Tony blushed ever so slightly, just a faint pink rising on his cheeks, but he relinquished the tea service, and Jarvis happily took over the task. Vision took a step forward, nervousness evident in his form and extended a small container to the visitor. Jarvis raised an inquisitive eyebrow at the red and green android.

"You would be Vision yes?"

Still holding the container, Vision nodded. Jarvis looked at him for a few moments before gently, delicately, accepting the package.

"Not quite what I pictured of any child J.A.R.V.I.S. would be involved in creating, but then expectations are made to be broken."

The elder man opened the container as Vision mulled confusedly over the words. A deep chuckle escaped the man's lips at the sight of a dozen or so cookies.

"Ah, I see you've held on to J.A.R.V.I.S.' sense of humour; giving cookies to a Brit, how scandalous."

Vision looked pleased as Jarvis chuckled again, Tony sending a proud look at the android. Just as Jarvis set the pot to steep Friday's voice called out.

"I'm really sorry about this Boss, but Mr Rhodey and Miss Pepper are calling on the secure line."

Tony's face conveys his worry, but also his indecision. The sec/line is only for the three of them, not even T'Challa allowed in the communications room when the line is in use. For the sec/line to be used, Pepper and Rhodey do not think that it's something Tony can afford to ignore. But Jarvis is here.

A hand settles on Tony's shoulder, breaking his thoughts.

"Go Master Tony. It's something important, and I'll still be here when you are done."

Tony sighs, but nods and rises from his seat, kissing T'Challa before leaving the room.

Jarvis always did know best.

T'Challa finds himself trapped in the piercing gaze of Edwin Jarvis once Tony has left the room.

"Master Tony had told me that he was in a deeper relationship with one of the Avengers, but I was not told, because I do love figuring out a mystery. It must have slipped his mind though, and I was so looking forward to subtly interrogating you all. Aside from Vision of course; I would never be so uncouth as to interrogate my great-grandson."

Vision practically beams at the gentle favouritism. Jarvis collects a container of his own from the bag he brought with him, popping off the lid to reveals a few dozen scones. With a hand practised by habit, the man reaches to the tea service, which T'Challa only now notices as having a smattering selection of jams and cream, and neatly slices open a scone and covers it with raspberry jam and cream before handing it to T'Challa.

The same steady hand pours a cup of tea, a spoon and a half of sugar and a dram of milk being mixed into the amber liquid, before it is also handed to the Wakandan King. Both are exactly to T'Challa's preference. A bite of the scone confirms that Jarvis even used the darkened raspberry T'Challa favoured. It is more then a little disconcerting.

Jarvis speaks as he prepares more scones and tea.

"Any butler worth his salt knows the tastes of those living in his Masters home. Master Tony may not be aware that he knows your preferences so well, but he inevitably brings up the details should one know how to ask."

The team is just as amazed by the perfect cups of tea and flavours on their scones as T'Challa, and for a few moments, silence reigns as they nibble and sip.

Jarvis once more directs those piercing eyes to T'Challa.

"Your Highness, if I may."

T'Challa swallows as he gives the man his attention.

"Do you love Master Tony?"

T'Challa doesn't even have to think about the answer.

"With all my heart. With all my mind. With all my soul."

Minutes spent in eternity, as Edwin Jarvis strips everything away. Wealth inconsequential. Status unnecessary. Intelligence redundant. T'Challa is stripped of everything that Jarvis deems pointless, so that he may see down to the Wakandan's core being.

It is a humbling experience to be sure.

"Then I look forward to hearing more of you."

Jarvis fixes another cup of tea, no milk or sugar, finishing just as Tony re-enters the room.

"Sorry. Rhodey and Pepper were touring the R&D labs today and one of the techs had a freak out. It's solved now."

Tony runs a hand across T'Challa's shoulders and down his arm as he passes, taking his seat and accepting the cup of tea from Jarvis.

"It is good that you were able to help Master Tony. Now, Tell me more of what you have been up to."

As Tony delves into his stories, T'Challa takes another sip from his cup and breathes easier.

He'd been accepted by Tony's father.

Chapter Text

T'Challa's head felt heavy in his hands as he sought to rest even briefly from the council meeting not ten minutes past. He knew that as King of his country, his duty and honour would have him protect his people, but the recent events had him long for the ignorance of his youth, and the freedom of the wilds.

M'Baku, the Man-Ape, was plotting to bring war to Wakanda.

At least, that's what all the signs were showing. There was no actual proof that the Wakandan Traitor was planning such, and T'Challa could not, in any form of conscience, condone bringing war to the men and women who served under M'Baku's claimed reign.

A moral point his Advisory Council were not impressed with.

By their reasoning, merely serving M'Baku made these people an adequate threat, and pre-emptive measure should be taken to protect Wakanda from this obvious threat.

T'Challa sighed as his head left his hands and he reclined in his seat.

He could not bring war to those who could be innocent, and if M'Baku's future attack was nothing more then rumour on the wind, how could T'Challa hope to justify an attack of his own?

The young King shook his head. He would not give in to the Council's absurdity; he would not! There had to be a better way to protect his kingdom and it's people!

"Brother, does the Council still push you?"

T'Challa's eyes fell upon his sister, standing at the entrance to the council room, awaiting invitation to enter. A quick motion with his hand, and Shuri moved to join his side, concern written on her face. T'Challa merely nodded, knowing his sister understood his concerns.

"Perhaps then Brother, it would be best if you sought the guidance of the Panther God. If nothing else, it should hopefully calm you as it did Father."

The Panther God, the Ultimate Guardian of the Wakandan People. Yes, T'Challa decided as he rose from his seat, Shuri was right, and he would beg direction from their deity.

The Temple of the Panther God was not held near the Village that surrounded the Royal Palace, but a half hours walk beyond it. The Panther God, after all, was a being of the jungle and should never be removed from nature.

T'Challa notified the servants that he was making the trek, and went on his way, pausing as the townsfolk bid him greetings and good day.

The Temple was made of black stone overgrown with vines and branches. T'Challa made his way up the steps, guided by the torches marking the Temple's entrance. The inside of the Temple cut off all sound from the outside; no wind, no birds or animals, nothing could be heard but those within. T'Challa made his way to the Pedestal of Prayer, laying an offering of his hand knife before him as he knelt on the hard stone floor.

His Father T'Chaka had taught him to never make a request of the Panther God while armed; you would never beg favour from another while brandishing a weapon, why do it before the divine?

"I come seeking your wisdom and guidance. I come begging your favour and aid. I come praying that always you will love and protect your faithful."

T'Challa bowed deeply, kissing the stone paver before rising once more.

"The winds carry tale of war, coming from a wayward son. If these claims be true, I will need lead the people to defend our homes, as my duty and honour command me. Those who are whispered to stand against us though, may not be soldiers coming to battle. Hearsay and lie, after all, travel the world before truth finishes rising. I will not bring my people to slaughter the innocent, but I have no way to protect them but to go to war. I plead for a sign, some method, to remain true to myself, and to my responsibilities."

Bowing once more, T'Challa again kissed the stone paver. When he rose, however, he found himself in darkness, a voice ringing through the air.

"My favoured, you are as your father before you, of strength and honour. My guidance I give you young one. Two days West, and you must travel alone, you will find that which you seek. The means to protect our people. May long you live, before we run together in my fields."

T'Challa's eyes snap open, the darkness gone as he breaths harshly, desperately dragging air into his lungs. He is swift to bow once more, retrieving his hand knife as he turns and leaves the Temple, plans already being made for his journey.

The Council is predictably not happy with the news he is to undertake a journey at this time, though mollified with the knowledge that is was decreed by the Panther God. They are even less happy T'Challa is leaving Shuri as his regent, essentially giving her his power as sovereign until he returns. In the event he doesn't, she will be crowned Wakanda's Queen.

"How long do you think your journey is to last Brother?"

T'Challa finishes tying the saddlebag closed before turning and drawing his sister in a hug.

"What I seek is two days West, so at least five days all up. Alas, I do not expect so simple and easy a retrieval, so surely I will be longer. Take care of yourself and our people Shuri. I shall return as soon as I am able."

So saying, T'Challa turns and mounts his steed, hearing a farewell from his sister as he rides from the Palace.

The first day passes swiftly, T'Challa pacing the speed of travel so as to not exhaust his mount. He rests as often as the horse requires, but keeps going, wanting to not waste any time he may spare. He was given no indication as to whether the travel was to be by foot or mount, but T'Challa is confident he will know what the Panther God bid him seek when he casts his eyes upon it.

That night, he lights a fire to dissuade the local nightlife, and falls into light slumber.

He rises early the next day, and resumes his journey, following the same method as before. His steed serves him well, yet the day does not seem as swift as the one previous. No, T'Challa feels as though everything is moving through mud when the day is half-done. Were it not for his impeccable sense of direction, T'Challa knows he would have been turned around several times without noticing. And even then, there are several times he must pull on the reigns to regain his bearings.

When he stops for the night, it is with deep exhaustion running through his veins.

The morning finds T'Challa in a meadow, the area cleared long ago of trees, and holding only a pond and a stone building. He does not recall seeing it when he laid down the night previous, but just looking at the structure tells it to be quite old, established in it's place for far longer than a night.

On soundless feet, T'Challa sneaks closer, approaching the building from what appears to be behind. Slinking against the wall, coming around the side, T'Challa sees the building has a large room missing a wall, completely opening it to the outside. A quick inspection shows it to be a forge; the tools hanging from the walls next to the kiln and furnace, shelves fit to burst with supplies, a great anvil taking centre of the space with a deep water bucket right beside it.

A staircase is just visible from his position, and T'Challa realises that whomever the fine forge belongs to must have built their home above their workshop. Though he should really be on his way, T'Challa cannot overcome his innate curiosity and carefully ascends the stairs.

"It is not often that one finds their way through my artifices. You have quite the head on your shoulders."

The voice startles him slightly, coming from the depths of the darkened room. It is a voice filled with wariness, weariness and lessons long learned.


The voice, now obviously male, gently rumbles through a small laugh, it's owner barely visible to T'Challa's adapting eyes.

"You mean to tell me you did not find yourself feeling turned around and slow? That you did not feel as though you were turning when you wished be straight?"

The man laughs again at T'Challa's hitch in breathing.

"Yes, you noticed, but you could not pinpoint the cause. Tell me; what brings you this way?"

T'Challa forces his breathing to slow, and answers despite himself.

"I am King T'Challa of Wakanda, and I seek the means to protect my people. The Panther God pointed me West to find the means."

The laugh turns into a harsh chuckle.

"Heh, if you were sent to me seeking weapons, you will have to turn around. I have had enough of my craft spilling blood."

T'Challa barely prevents his head tilting to the side, the action berated by Shuri as childlike, to display his confusion.

"You are a weapons-smith? I saw no sign of such in your forge."

It is truth, the forge below them was well stoked with various metals and gems and odds and ends, but the feel of the room, its aura was not that of weapons-smith. The man chuckles again.

"And well it shouldn't, for I make weapons no longer. Master Ogun himself would be unable convince me otherwise."

Ogun T'Challa thinks in shock The God of Iron.

Only those who follow the God of Iron address him as Master, and there has only been one follower in the last few decades.

"You are the White Flame!"

T'Challa cannot help the awe in his voice. The White Flame, the last disciple of Ogun, named so for the fire that burns beneath the pale flesh of his body. Said to be the greatest of those to have dedicated themselves to metal craft. And known to have disappeared near a decade ago into the wilds.

"I have been called by such. But by your surprise, you did not come here in knowledge of me."

The man's form, still barely visible, moves forward slightly in its seat.

"You seek to protect your people. That is what you claimed. Tell me, which would you pick up; the Gold, or the Gem?"

T'Challa, not expecting the question, takes a few moments but is firm in his answer.

"The Gold."

"Interesting. Tell me again, which would you pick up; the Gold, or the Copper?"

T'Challa takes longer to answer this time, not seeing any hidden meaning or choice in the options. His voice remains firm.

"Again, I would choose the Gold."

"Indeed. Tell me another time, which would you pick up; the Gold, or the Iron?"

T'Challa doesn't understand why he is being asked these questions, but something deep within him demands he answer, demands he makes a choice. Less sure then the two times previous, T'Challa answers.



T'Challa gets the impression that he has interested the White Flame, the mans voice having lost a little of both its weariness and wariness.

"Tell me once more, which would you pick up; the Iron, or the Hammer?"

There is a hint of... something in the White Flame's voice this time; a warning, a promise and a challenge all in one. As with the previous three questions, T'Challa can't really see the purpose, but the something deep within him calls louder and louder that he must choose wisely. That he cannot be incorrect. T'Challa releases a deep breath.

"I tell you, I would pick up the Iron."

Silence fills the room for but a brief moment, before deep laughter falls from the White Flame.

"Very well oh King. I shall craft you protection for your people."

T'Challa is stunned, having no idea what has happened. His stunned silence only hits him harder when the White Flame moves into the light peeking in from the stairway.

He is far, far younger than any image T'Challa had of him, and of a beauty none would expect of those in the metal craft. His hair is dark and thick with a matching beard framing his mouth, his eyes are sharp and jewelled, his body is muscle as only those of his craft can obtain, and he moves with a poise and grace that T'Challa finds himself envying. He follows the man down to the forge and can only watch as supplies are pulled from the shelves and a fire starts to burn in the furnace.

Even before the fire burns hot, the White Flame begins his work; the clangs and bangs of the hammer ringing through the air.

It is only after watching the man for a good hour that a chance whinny reminds T'Challa of his steed, and he moves to swiftly attend the loyal animal. Setting the horse free of it's tack to roam the meadow, T'Challa packs up his campsite, moving his equipment to the side of the building. He returns to the forge to find the White Flame examining his work, checking the pieces so far made meticulously for any imperfections. The pieces are set to properly cool, before he turns to T'Challa.

"What I am crafting for you oh King, is a replica of the device that kept you from so easily coming upon my home. It is rare the person able to travel through it's range, so it should prove more than enough to satisfy your needs."

T'Challa is amazed; such a device would keep the unwanted from stumbling upon Wakanda, turning maybe even an army away from its borders.

"However does it work? Magic perhaps?"

The snort that escapes the blacksmith is derisive.

"No magic; I cannot abide by it. No, it is sound. Once assembled, a low sound is emitted that cannot be easily heard but disorients a person, leaving them confused and lost. Though I'll also provide you the method which shields my home from the effects."

After that, no words are spoken between the two, and T'Challa contents himself with watching the man at work, enjoying the play of his muscles as he wields the hammer, delighting in the slight sheen of sweat dotting the man's skin.

The King is enthralled.

"Merely connect the heads; no unwelcome shall be able enter your keep."

T'Challa nods, carefully placing the package holding the six devices and their heads within one saddle bag and the six shields in another, making sure to tie the bags closed especially well.

"You have my thanks, and my gratitude. Though you have refused any coin from me; why?"

The man smiles.

"You chose function over form. Malleability over function. Strength and malleability over malleability alone. And."

Here, the White Flame locked eyes with T'Challa, the amber gaze both piercing and comforting.

"You chose peace instead of war. You will not abuse my wares. Instead, I should think you will use them only as needed. I hope you do not disappoint oh King."

T'Challa swallowed deeply, gently laying a hand across the saddle bags.

"I pray shall not."

T'Challa swings himself up into the saddle, allowing his mount to settle as he once more turned to the blacksmith, that may well have just saved T'Challa's people.

"You are called the White Flame, but I ask, what name do you call yourself?"

The man seems surprised and takes a moment just looking at T'Challa in curiosity.

"It has been many a year since any have wished know my name. At start of my time here, I was nothing more than the outsider. More than a few times, I was called ghost. And I received White Flame only after near a decade of following Master Ogun. You are one of so few who ask my name, instead of title."

The man's eyes were soft as he spoke, T'Challa once more becoming enthralled by the man before him.

"Anthony, oh King, is the name my parents left me."

A thrill of excitement runs the course of T'Challa's spine at the smile the ma- no, at the smile Anthony bestows him. T'Challa smiles in return as he moves his horse to face East.

"Once more, you have my gratitude Anthony. Once this situation has been resolved, I look forward to visiting you again my friend, as not the King of a nation, but as just another man."

Anthony merely shakes his head and smiles.

"You have been here a day, but you will never be just another man; you've too much presence for that."

Anthony turns to return to his home, calling out as he goes.

"But I don't think I would refuse your company all the same. Travel safe, my friend."

T'Challa's smile widens, and he moves the horse to run. He needs to return to Wakanda, and set up the defences to protect his people should evidence of war approach them. The swifter it is done, the swifter he may visit Anthony.

And the swifter he may become enthralled again.

Chapter Text

T'Challa was sorting his students homework sheets to take home and mark when the door to his classroom burst open, the History Teacher Steve Rogers all but running in with a look of desperation on his face.

The Physics Teacher sighed, realising Rogers would not leave until T'Challa had agreed to something.

"I need you to be my wingman."

By the Panther God, not again.

T'Challa had been a teacher at MARVEL School For The Gifted for ten years, and in that time he and Rogers had traded many favours. They weren't particularly close, colleagues but not friends per se. But Rogers had gone and fallen in love with the new teacher to join the staff. T'Challa had not yet met the Engineering and Mechanics Teacher, as the man had spent the first week of term excused from meetings to fix up the mess the previous instructor had left, and had been curious to see how much of the man's subjects would cross over into T'Challa's own.

As they made their way to the workshops, Rogers was waxing poetic.

"Seriously, he is just so beautiful, and he's got to be smart, what with him teaching two courses and all. I can't wait to meet him properly; I only caught sight of him by chance! Thanks so much for being my back-up T'Challa."

As stated, the two men were not friends, but Rogers was very... free with how he addressed and treated people. Normally, if Rogers was trying to impress someone, his go-to-man would be his old service buddy James Barnes, or his friend/therapist Sam Wilson. But impatience, or maybe just the fact that Rogers chosen interest was sometimes a teacher at MARVEL, had him come to T'Challa instead.

T'Challa sighed as they entered the workshops. Hopefully this would be over sooner then the mess with Ethics teacher Sharon Carter.

The first thing T'Challa noticed was the music.

Deep and loud, and rock. The sort of music with a deep beat that you felt pulse through the air, down to your very bones. T'Challa had to consciously stop his head from matching the beat, to focus on getting Rogers to at least speak a sentence to the new teacher before leaving the blond to his own devices.

Hey, he never claimed to be a good wingman.

Rogers opened the door to the classroom, causing the volume to rise as it was no longer distorted behind the walls. The volume was obviously a shock to Rogers, given the full bodied flinch the man suffered, but he soldiered on, entering the workshop and making his way to the radio, turning the music off.

"Hey! You do not interfere with a man's music!"

The sudden voice came from under the chassis of a '57 Corvette in one of the docks. T'Challa noted that it was a nice voice, deep and smooth, like a singer almost. It became a distant thought when the man in question came into view though.

'Strong' was the first thing that came to T'Challa's mind, eyes eagerly raking down the musculature of the man's arms, followed swiftly by 'Sleek', seeing just how snugly those jeans clung to the man's legs, and how perfectly painted on that tank top appeared. Dragging his gaze up, T'Challa was forced to swallow, lest he begin to drool.

Having saliva dripping from his chin was in no way acceptable as a first impression to the man with such perfect eyes.

Amber, like the whiskey or scotch his father occasionally drank, that amazing brown with flecks of gold littering their depths, so much so you couldn't imagine it any other way.

T'Challa swallowed once more. Rogers had called the newest staff member beautiful, but it would seem the history teacher had a gift of understatement when it came to the gorgeous man before them.

Rogers cleared his throat.

"I-I'm sorry, it's just- I'd like to- the thing is-I-"

And did that.

T'Challa took a silent breath in, slightly squaring his shoulders and straightening his back.

"We apologise for turning off the music, but we wished to introduce ourselves, and welcome you to MARVEL's staff number. I'm T'Challa, I teach Physics."

The gorgeous man smiles -and by the Panther God, no smile should look so perfect!- and extends his hand to shake T'Challa's, the grip strong and callused. Rogers gains his confidence just as a return introduction was to be made.

"Steve Rogers, History."

The blond practically snatches the hand still resting in T'Challa's, and shakes it almost violently. Their new colleague manages to break free of the no-doubt punishing grasp, curling and uncurling fingers slowly as the man looks warily at Rogers.

"Tony Stark, teaching Engineering and Mechanics. I can feel my fingers twinging! What the hell is with your strength?! That is insane!"

Tony doesn't even wait for Rogers to answer, turning to look back at T'Challa.

"You, physics, what animal is made up of Iron, Lithium and Neon?"

It is an odd question and T'Challa cannot think of any creature made of those three elements- oh. T'Challa smiles.

"A cat. Cute."

Rogers looks very confused, a fact that Tony notices as well, given that he sighs and turns to the blond.

"Iron, represented by the letters Fe. Lithium, Li. Neon by Ne. FeLiNe."

"Oh! That's really clever!"

Tony rolls his eyes, and T'Challa is hard pressed not to do the same. Maybe T'Challa's being a little unkind, given that Rogers is interested in Tony, but he would have been better off without that compliment. It's obvious he's trying too hard.

Tony moves over to the radio.

"It was nice meeting you both and all that jazz, but I've got to finish making sure this baby's ready for Monday, so please see yourselves out."

The music starts pumping once more, and T'Challa drags Rogers out before he can pitch a fit at the dismissal.

"T'Challa! You're supposed to help me impress him; not make me disappear!"

T'Challa shakes his head.

"He is preparing for his classes, we took up enough of his time. And I never claimed to be a good wingman, nor volunteered to be. In fact."

T'Challa can't help the smirk that curls his lips as he looks back at Rogers.

"I do believe I will be better served as your competition Rogers."

He can hear Rogers half choked stutters as he walks back to his classroom, already choosing how to ask Tony out.

Chapter Text

T'Challa had been informed of Tony's inability to play well with others (alongside his disregard for orders in the field, his alcoholism, his ego), and had seen for himself several times that Tony seemed to go out of his way to aggravate those around him.

But unlike the professionals that S.H.I.E.L.D. had lined up in front of him to give him such warnings, T'Challa could see how tightly Tony held on to the ones who didn't leave. James, Virginia and Harold were the first three that came to mind, standing firm as Tony's defenders when the world sought bring the man of Iron to his knees. There were of course others, usually those who employed a similar if not identical form of defence; Hawkeye, Spiderman, Captain Marvel, all souls who Tony held in high regard.

Of course, Tony was most at ease amongst those who could identify with him on the academic plane.

Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, and even T'Challa himself were treated to a higher level of respect among Tony's associates due entirely to their ability to keep up. It actually caused a pool of sadness to well up in T'Challa's mind as he thought on how lonely Tony's youth must have been, ostracised by his peers not only for his youth and wealth, but his superior intellect.

"I totally made him do it! He may say it never happened but it did; I got him to do it!"

"You got me to do nothing! The mission has been completed and that is all they need to know!"

And of course, T'Challa thought with a smile on his lips, there were those that Tony got joy out of pestering into friendship.

Such as Stephen Strange.

The relationship between the two men was something that many thought dangerous, if not outright impossible. With Tony's blatant distaste for anyone of/for magic, and Strange's blatant distaste for anyone... well, not him, the two getting along as well as they did was something spoken about in awed whispers.

Given Tony has gotten Stephen to raise his voice outside of battle, causing the stoic, unflappable sorcerer to lose his veneer of mystique, it is likely the younger Avengers will be following Tony around like ducklings for the next few days.

The image of Tony wandering around with Spiderman, Wiccan, Hulkling and Patriot shadowing his every footstep brings a gentle chuckle from T'Challa's throat.

"Heya Leopold! I got Strange to do it! Even though he said he wouldn't!"

T'Challa wraps his arms around the man now beside him, holding Tony close to his chest, revelling in the feel of his boyfriend's body against his.

"Yes, I heard. As did, I assume, the majority of the mansion."

Tony laughs as a strangled noise escapes Stephen's mouth. T'Challa smiles and pulls Tony ever closer.

All is well.

Chapter Text

It had been early evening, the sun just kissing the horizon, letting colour bleed into the blue of the sky, when T'Challa was called into Fury's office.

Having just finished up the Man-Ape case, locking M'Baku behind bars, T'Challa had been expecting the day or two respite normally afforded the precinct detectives who successfully cleared their workloads. But, as vice-chief Hill pointed him to the big man himself, it was obvious T'Challa would be clocking in overtime.

"I was summoned sir?"

Fury was a man scarred by the past, his left eye hidden beneath a patch in a futile attempt to make the man look more approachable. He had seen and done things that made some of the hardest souls T'Challa had come across weep, though whether from agony or fear or even something else was up in the air.

"You've got the best record for pulling success outta your ass, and smelling like roses as you do so. Put that skill of yours to work; you're on the Iron Man Case."

T'Challa felt his eyes widen as the words sunk in, grabbing the folder in front of him with little thought.

The Iron Man Case.

Eleven other men had taken up the case, and each of them had admitted defeat, unable to make any headway on solving it.

A little over a year previous, the houses of the rich and successful started being broken into, art and cash stolen and a message decrying the owners left spread across the walls. And they were very big names at that; Stane, Stern, Hammer, and others all being robbed and humiliated. Those that worked for big business, like Stane and Hammer had tried installing security cameras, but no matter what they did, the messages kept coming back.

I know who you are,

And I know what you've done.

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich,

And so you think you've won.

But, no more, I'll not allow,

This shall not remain the plan.

You will fall. You will burn.

Beware the Iron Man.

The amount of money stolen, and what the art was worth, would be enough for anyone to retire and retire well. Naturally the business and political elite wanted the menace dragged before them to be sentence by Lady Justice.

T'Challa shook his head as he finally made his way to his small office, the folder feeling a lot heavier then a half sheaf of paper ought be capable of. He unlocked his door and hit the lights, sitting himself heavily in his chair, letting a slow breath leave his lips.

Ain't no rest for the wicked.

The file contained little that T'Challa could actually use, the paper just repeating the same facts in different ways.

T'Challa cut a glance to the clock on his desk before sighing, packing the files away before rising to leave the office. The answers he needed wouldn't be found staring at the slightly yellowed sheets. That's where the men before him had come up short, relying only on the data in the files to try and solve the case. No, T'Challa wasn't like the majority of the detectives that S.H.I.E.L.D. employed; when he took on a case, he always looked for information where it was useful.

T'Challa hit the streets, his overcoat flowing in the wind that had kicked up in the darkening hours.

So many in his line of work were in it for the fame of solving the 'Big One', cracking a supposedly unbeatable mystery and getting their names and faces plastered on the front of the paper. So consumed by this need of theirs, they often never did any of the actual legwork needed to do the job. T'Challa had never had that problem, never needed recognition in that way, so he payed attention to what many detectives ignored.

Or rather, who many ignored.

Ducking into Hell's Kitchen wasn't a thing many would recommend, but if you needed information about the dealings of the underworld, it was the best place to be. T'Challa had two guys here, not snitches really, just two men honestly trying to make a difference in the trenches that was the Kitchen, but they would give him what they could when it came to solving crimes that crossed into their little part of Hell.

"Murdock. Foggy."

"Detective. It's been a while since I've heard your voice."

Matthew Murdock, The Daredevil Lawyer, the Soldier of Lady Justice. The blind man heard everything it seemed, rarely a whisper passed his door without him taking note of it. And his partner, Franklin 'Foggy' Nelson, a man with a good head on his shoulders and the bravery to do the right thing; both behaviours sadly lacking in their place of work. And both men it was best to be straight with from the start.

"I need anything you have heard of the Iron Man."

Three hours into the case, and T'Challa already had a better idea of what was going on then any of the files Fury gave him could have hoped to.

The Iron Man was something of a hero in the Kitchen; all the money he stole finding it's way into the pockets of the poorest and downtrodden trapped in the Kitchen, and the art being 'donated' to the pawnshops for a repeat exercise. No idea of who the Iron Man was, but the persona was very much loved in these streets. Murdock and Foggy had presented information they had been given, that they had meticulously checked, that stated those stolen from had been double dealers and thieves themselves, and the ones who suffered most were the very hard-on-their-luck souls that had recently come into cash.

The Iron Man was seeking to avenge those wronged.

T'Challa had thanked the two lawyers, telling them they should present their case before Judge Xavier, well-reputed as being an honest man in a dishonest world, and left, heading to his next stop.

The Princess Bar was a literal beacon in the dark. Nestled between two tall apartment blocks, and running on a private generator, the place always had enough power to stay lit. James 'Patch' Logan, the owner, was a man who you did not want to cross. Having participated and survived every war since WWII, Patch had no qualms about literally throwing the riff-raff from his bar, and he had the strength to do so, having heaved out the likes of Frederick 'the Blob' Dukes with little trouble.

And Patch was very big on keeping up to date on the goings on in his territory. So long as T'Challa bought a drink, and didn't say anything stupid to the short tempered Canadian, Patch would tell what he knew.

"Ain't got a clue on who he is, but I know where the boy's been tracking. Screams of personal to me, like he's actually one of the poor bastards the pigs keep stepping over. But this smells of old hurt to me. Your boy isn't seeking revenge, not for him anyway. He's trying to stop it from happening to anyone else. That said, my money's on Stane being the main target. The pig comes here just about every week with another suit, settling some kinda business between them. You don't come into the Kitchen for anything above the table."

It made sense, and T'Challa made note to send Murdock and Foggy to the Princess to talk to Patch themselves, to get an even stronger case to give Judge Xavier. Stane was inherited old-money. A close friend to the Late Howard Stark, when the business man died in a car-crash with his wife and son, Stane received everything. It had caused an uproar, given that Howard left nothing to his company, and Maria Stark was a well known philanthropist, yet not a coin was to be donated. Their son, Anthony, was still just a child, so had no need yet of a will, however all his possessions had been sold off, Stane pocketing the coin with a wide grin.

There may perhaps be a need to dust off the files on the Stark Crash, to check for foul play.

T'Challa had returned to his office, writing down all his discoveries for the night under the flickering glow of the lamp, and pondering those same discoveries.

The Iron Man appeared more a Vigilante than an outright crook. Certainly not one of the bottom feeders that usually attempted to rob the higher echelons of society. Though open to the possibility of a red herring, T'Challa felt secure in the Iron Man being male. The way things were dealt with -the way the money was just found instead of appearing as the blessed hero, the way they took the first offered payment from the pawnshops for the art instead of haggling- suggested a person trying hard to avoid any connections, be they emotional or just remembering the face. Though certainly, men and women could be equally emotional or stoic, it was often that men held the stoicness the Iron Man portrayed.

Further, looking back on the data, Stane had suffered seventeen separate robberies, despite his security systems and hired personnel. Stane had also been the very first target.

"T'Challa! You were assigned the Iron Man Case right?! Then let's go; Stane's been robbed again!"

Captain Steve Rogers had all but kicked in T'Challa's door to shout that message, but it had done the job, T'Challa sliding the coat over his shoulders before he even finished rising from his chair.

Tacky came to mind, along with Expensive.

The Old Stark Manor House was boarded up on the far side of town, kept up only by the volunteering of the staff Stane had thrown to the wind. With a chunk of the money gained from the Stark coffers, Stane had a mansion built in the rich street of town, the entire thing a façade of plaster coils and swirls.

Stane was at the steps leading into the building, shouting something vile and venomous at the guards.

"-Get in here without you noticing, with a garden hose a rubber chicken and nine pounds of guacamole?!"

"You weighed it?"

The guards interjection causes a gruesome snarl to rip from Stane's throat. Before the man can do anything further, T'Challa steps in.

"If you would please take us to the scene? We will be as thorough and swift as we can, so that you may return to your evening."

Stane looks at the team with contempt, and T'Challa doesn't entirely blame him; for all that Stane is turning up dirty, S.H.I.E.L.D. hasn't been able to catch the Iron Man.

It's a gruesome scene indeed, when Stane leads them to the ballroom. Officer Clint Barton gags, turning away briefly, while Natasha Romanoff, his partner, swallows heavily. Everything is catalogued quickly, samples of the mess taken, and the other items involved bagged and tagged. T'Challa pays extra attention to the note on the wall.

I am who I was, who I am, who I'll be.

One and Two gone, leaving only Three.

Don't bother looking -you'll never see.

Your cameras and guards will never beat me.

I've warned you to stop.

But I no longer think you can.

Your days are numbered Stane.

So says the Iron Man.

T'Challa collected it too, and then the team was moving back to the precinct office, only a couple hours left 'til midnight.

T'Challa's night was still young.

T'Challa beats more pavement, getting little hints and clues that continue to lend credence to the vigilante theory. Everyone seemed to be benefiting from Iron Man's work except those he stole from. And from all the evidence T'Challa was finding, Stane wasn't the only sinner in the ship. Hammer was selling known faulty weapons, Stern was taking kick-backs and bribes, and Sunset Bain had done pretty much everything under the sun twice. Murdock and Foggy would be busy indeed.

It's late, or early depending on when one woke. T'Challa caught a brief nap in the office between writing down what he's found. He's on his final lead, before he needs to start making leaps of faith.

Tony's Tune Ups.

People with any kind of skill quickly leave Hell's Kitchen if they can. Tony Ferrous didn't. Instead the man managed to save up enough coin to purchase a small building and opened his repair shop. It was said that you could bring Tony anything, and he'd have it in top shape by the end of the day. T'Challa knew for fact that Fury himself brought the squad cars to Tony for maintenance.

Tony was another local hero, often getting into trouble with the crime lords in the area, because he saw fit to teach anyone willing to learn about maths and science. T'Challa did not doubt the man was a genius, and it stood to reason that he might have an idea of what was going on.

"Going out to see Ferrous again T'Challa? You could just ask the guy on a date!"

T'Challa ignored the comments of Sam Wilson as he left the precinct once more. He hadn't seen reason to hide the attraction he felt for Tony; the man was intelligent, kind and one hell of a looker. It just meant he spent his off time hanging around the shop, trying to woo the fast-talking mechanic into a dinner. But there were a few times like now, when T'Challa's presence at the shop was all business.

"That's quite the scowl you're sporting Kitty-Cat. What's got you in a bind?"

Tony was almost shoulder deep in the innards of a car, oil, and grease. T'Challa forced himself to remain professional.

"I am here in an official capacity Tony. Have you heard anything about the Iron Man?"

Tony twitches, just a slight jerk of the body, a sign of recognition.

"I think pretty much everyone's heard of the Iron Man. Especially here in the Kitchen."

T'Challa concedes to the taunt. Just like the Iron Man, Tony's work helps the people in Hell's Kitchen. Why would you turn on someone helping the same people you help?

"Have you heard anything new about the Iron Man in the last twelve hours?"

Tony stops working on the car, actually straightening out as he thinks. T'Challa knows this to be a risky gambit; with no warrant, he's got no ground to demand any answers of Tony. He's literally hoping that Tony abides by the law enough to give T'Challa any information he's got. A minute passes before Tony speaks.

"I heard he's got proof Stane was behind the Stark deaths. Rumours running around that the proof is gonna be sent right to Judge Xavier."

T'Challa hadn't had the time to dig out the file on the Starks, but he was regretting it now.

"Thank you Tony."

Tony says nothing in response, and it's with a heavy heart that T'Challa moves to leave.

"Next time you have off, let's grab a drink."

T'Challa spins back to look at Tony, but he's already dived once more into the car before him. T'Challa smiles and leaves, a lighter step carrying him away.

The file on the Starks has been cooked, without a doubt -sentences changing in both pen and penmanship mid-sentence, 'missing' parts of the coroners report, and witnesses who have never existed.

And the whole thing practically vomiting a glowing press statement for Stane.

T'Challa presents what he's found to Fury, and the man lives up to his name, cursing the Late Chief Pearce.

They collect Stane within the hour.

Murdock and Foggy had been in contact with Judge Xavier almost as soon as T'Challa left their office, so the man has been well read-in. Along with the package of evidence the Iron Man left on his doorstep.

Stane is convicted and jailed swiftly, and appointed officers are sent to investigate the other 'victims' Iron Man has targeted.

T'Challa goes home to sleep.

Ten hours later sees Stane's home broken into once more, a final message from the Iron Man. T'Challa is called in and feels his heart skip a beat at what is written.

And so you were chosen to hunt me.

To leash me on a chain.

Next time you have off, let's grab a drink.

And continue our little game.

You're like a Panther, detective.

Far more cunning and sleek than a man.

Let's have some fun, so come give chase.

Catch me, if you can.

Rogers comes up beside him, a steady hand resting on T'Challa's shoulder.

"We're preparing now to help you catch him. Since you're now a target, we need to be more vigilant. We'll start with-"


Rogers starts in surprise at T'Challa's interruption, but already turning and heading for the door, T'Challa can't bring himself to care.

"The Iron Man wants to be found; he offers me a chase, challenged me to it. And I so hate to disappoint."

T'Challa has caught the scent.

The Panther moves to hunt.

Chapter Text

"I will be a little late brother, but that is no reason for you not to be on time."

T'Challa sighed, a sad smile on his face.

"It doesn't feel right not to show up together. Not for this."

The silence over the phone is telling that Shuri is just as disquieted.

"Well, you are near the entrance next to Main Street, yes?"

"I am. Why?"

A sigh of relief travels through the speaker.

"A little way down the road, you'll find a store called 'Stark's Stems'. It is where James gets me those amazing bouquets. I think Father would like one."

T'Challa is already moving before Shuri finishes. Getting a bouquet together for their Father is a nice way to wait for his sister. The two exchange farewells just as T'Challa comes upon the shop. It is a small building, despite being two floors, and doesn't seem particularly busy, but T'Challa is pleased by the lack of other patrons, as it means he won't need to battle his way through.

"Welcome to Stark's Stems, I'm Tony. Anything I can help you with hotstuff?"

Or, T'Challa swallows heavily, for the attention of the shop keep.

"Good day. I'm T'Challa. I'm hoping to buy a bouquet for my father."

The shop keep, Tony his mind insists, comes around from the check out and gestures for T'Challa to join him by the shelves covered with flower displays. T'Challa forces himself to focus on the flowers, instead of the gorgeous man next to him.

"Does your dad have a favourite type of flower? If none of the pre-made's catch your eye, we can make a new one hotstuff."

T'Challa fights not to react, instead he casts his eyes over the pre-made bouquets, and he recognises the design and flair from the ones Shuri is gifted from James. He sees very pretty mixes of daffodils and carnations, a multicolour collection of roses, and a draping sheet of different lilies. All wonderfully made, and truly beautiful, but nothing that speaks to him of his father.

"I think we may need to. They are all lovely, but are too... bright, for my needs. I may have been unclear before, but my father is deceased, and I am looking for a bouquet to place at his grave. My father was quite fond of Lotus', if you've any in stock."

Tony's smile has taken a sombre edge, and T'Challa would feel guilty for it, if the man weren't so obviously caring.

"Lotus' huh? Did he have a preference to colour? We don't have any hot pink one's in right now."

T'Challa cannot help the small shudder that rolls on his spine, and is heartened when Tony huffs a little laugh.

"Certainly not hot pink. My father may have tried to instil in my sister and me the appreciation for all forms of beauty, but it takes something extraordinary for me to appreciate hot pink. Father held preference for pink tinged white lotus'."

Tony nods, gaze wandering over the bouquets, before turning to T'Challa again.

"Any flower he didn't like?"

"He wasn't particularly favourable to ivy, though that may have stemmed from mothers allergies."

Tony huffs that gentle laugh again.

"We'll play it safe and not include it then. If you'll wait here just a few minutes, hotstuff, I'll whip up something nice for your old man."

Tony ducks into the backroom at T'Challa's nod, and T'Challa returns to perusing the flowers. He once more notes the wonderful designs, no doubt the work of the wonderful man he has just met.

No T'Challa he scolds himself it is beyond bad form to even think of asking the man out when ordering a remembrance bouquet.

"How's this grab you?"

T'Challa turned and felt a slight pull in his chest.

The bouquet was small, only twelve flowers, but it was so beautiful. Dark purple hibiscus', iris' and royal purple dahlia's surrounding a single pink tinged white lotus.

"It is perfect. Thank you."

Tony just smiled gently, thankfully not seeming to notice the warble in T'Challa's voice, and motioned them both to the counter.

"Be sure to say hi to your dad for me. Take care of yourself now, T'Challa."

T'Challa smiled back as he nodded, collecting the bouquet and leaving the store, trying desperately not to shed his tears.

T'Challa was once more standing at the entrance to the cemetery that held his father's remains when Shuri arrived.

"I am so sorry brother, I got here as quickly as I could."

"I know sister. Come, let us see father, and gift him his bouquet."

Shuri smiled sadly at the flowers.

"He would have loved it T'Challa. You chose well."

They enter with heavy hearts and heavier steps as T'Challa shakes his head.

"No, I merely informed the florist of father's favourite flower, and he crafted as he wished."

Shuri took a closer look at the bouquet upon hearing that, taking in the individual flowers. Hibiscus for joy and happiness; what they always felt for their father. Iris for eloquence and wisdom; and what was their father if not these? Dahlia for blessings and enduring grace; for they were blessed to have their father, and they must gracefuly endure living now without him. And the single lotus, their father's favourite, for enlightenment; though difficult, T'Challa and Shuri have discovered they can live without their father around.

"They are masterful indeed. As I said, father would have loved it."

They continue on in silence, eventually reaching where their father now lies. The bouquet leaves a needed burst of colour, breaking the heart-wrenching monotony of the seemingly never ending grey headstones.

Words are not spoken, never spoken here, where the wandering spirits of the recently and long departed may pass by and snatch them up.

They stay for the better part of an hour, and when they turn to leave, they both imagine a gentle hand resting on their shoulders.

They go to a nearby café for lunch, still both deep in thought.

While they both seek comfort in each other's presence in the cemetery, neither is overly comfortable doing the same outside it. Instead, Shuri will seek out James, cuddling up to her fiancé and hiding from the world in his arms. T'Challa on the other hand, needs to be the one protecting. He needs to feel useful, as though he is needed. And with Shuri no longer seeking protection from him, T'Challa feels at a loss.

With memories of years gone by clouding his mind, T'Challa and Shuri part ways after eating, T'Challa being welcomed by the cold silence of his home.

Sleep brings little respite from the well of sadness that appears at this time every year, granting T'Challa the slight peace of dreamless rest. It is only a short break though, before T'Challa once more wakes and feels the brutal crush of loneliness.

It is during these times that he feels a rare burst of jealousy towards his sister. Shuri has someone, someone she holds closest to her heart, who ensures she is not alone.

T'Challa does not begrudge Shuri her happiness; James Rhodes is a good man who appropriately worships Shuri and treats her as the Goddess she is.

But T'Challa is alone, his bed cold and his arms empty.

"Anything I can help you with hotstuff?"

T'Challa jumps to his feet, his eyes wide in surprise.

"Be sure to say hi to your dad for me. Take care of yourself now, T'Challa."

T'Challa swallows heavily, remembering dark hair, whiskey eyes and an oh so gentle smile.

"Welcome to Stark's Stems, I'm To- Oh! Hey again hotstuff. What can I- are you okay?"

Tony's greeting turns into happy surprise at seeing T'Challa again, before morphing into a deep concern.

T'Challa is sure he must look a wreck; he didn't bother changing his clothes before he fell to sleep, and certainly didn't bother after. And at some point he finally shed the tears he had earlier refused to, so his face was likely a mess. T'Challa is snapped from his thoughts by a warm hand cradling his cheek. Tony is looking at him with warmth and sympathy, and gently directs him to the backroom, a room full of flower-filled fridges, a worktable and a worn old couch.

"Take all the time you need to breathe. I'm not leaving the shop."

Tony moves back to the front, moving displays, helping the few customers who enter, singing to himself as he goes about his tasks. T'Challa finds himself listing to the side, coming to lie across the length of the couch, sinking into the cushions, succumbing to the sweet lull of Morpheus.

It's the gentle carding of fingers through his hair that wakes T'Challa. Still in repose on the couch in the back room, T'Challa finds Tony seated on the edge of the cushions.

"Hard day T'Challa?"

T'Challa huffs, a smile beginning to crawl across his cheeks.

"Emotionally taxing. I apologize; I did not mean to-"

One of Tony's long, elegant fingers presses against T'Challa's lips.

"We may not know each other well hotstuff, but I said you can take all the time you need and I meant it. I own this place after all, so I'm allowed to do that."

T'Challa can feel his eyes moisten as Tony resumes stroking his hair. They stay like that for a few minutes, Tony comforting and there, T'Challa gathering himself and breathing. A voice calls out from the front of the shop, and Tony gives a final stroke before moving to deal with the customer. Rubbing a hand over his face to erase any tears that may have escaped, T'Challa looks around the room again, his eyes snapping wide open when he sees the bouquet on the worktable.

Yellow petals decorate the Zinnia, Narcissus and Roses, while red paints the Carnations, Gloxinia and one single Rose.

The bouquet tells a story, one that T'Challa reads many times before he notices the card next to the bundle stating T'Challa.

Yellow zinnia; I'll remember every day. Narcissus; stay as sweet as you are. Yellow roses; Let's be friends and joyful. Red carnations; my heart aches for you. Gloxinia; It was love at first sight. Single red rose; I love you.

T'Challa once more fights to stave off his tears. Tony's voice, as well as the customer can still be heard. Impulsively, T'Challa moves to the fridges holding flowers.

He finds the one he needs, and places it by the placard before returning to the couch.

T'Challa plans to wait for Tony to finish with the customer and come back, so that the message can be sent, and they can talk. But, it would seem, Morpheus has a greater pull on T'Challa in the boundaries of Stark's Stems.

Even in sleep, he can feel the feather-light kiss pressed to his forehead, so he knows his message was received.

Five months later, clapping as Shuri and James kiss as husband and wife, T'Challa smiles as Tony gently leans against him.

Since that day in the back of the store, Tony always wears a Forsythia bloom pin.

I am in anticipation.

T'Challa always wears a pin of a single red Rose.

Chapter Text

He's three and five-eighths when he tries the first time.

Daddy had been telling him all about Captain America and his spirit eagle Liberty. Daddy had been stroking Dana all though the stories, the wolf seeming to enjoy the petting. He really wants to make Daddy proud of him, just like Daddy was proud of the Captain.

The air in front of him starts to get blurry, like the roads do on a really hot day.

"Come on. You can do it."

But his encouraging little whispers are for naught, as the world starts blurring too, before turning black.

He wakes up in the hospital to Daddy's shouts and Jarvis' calm voice.

"-sted boy was doing?! I have far too much to do to watch him every second!"

"Sir, the young Master shows all signs of trying to force his spirit animal into existence. He needs to be informed not to-"

"So he failed is what you're telling me?! Hell, could he be any more useless?!"

Daddy leaves then, muttering angrily. He tries not to cry -Stark men are made of Iron- but he can't stop the small dribbles of tears that escape.

He didn't mean to let Daddy down.

Madre isn't home when he comes back from the hospital. She's off in France for a party. Daddy's gone looking for Captain America again.

Jarvis told him that trying to force out a spirit animal is dangerous, and they'll appear when they're good and ready. But Daddy always says that Starks make what they want to happen, happen. So is Jarvis wrong? But Jarvis knows so very much, like how Madre's bird Bella is a quetzal, and that you need to put a bit of the pasta water into the sauce to make it even better, and his dog Abram is very strong and can follow instructions. So is Daddy wrong? But Daddy has never been wrong that he knows; Daddy knows everything he can ask.

He doesn't know what to do.

He tries a second time when he's very almost seven.

He's a lot bigger and smarter now, so surely it's time for his spirit animal to appear. He doesn't try to force the animal out like he did the first time; like Jarvis said, that's dangerous, because the spirit animal lashed out at him. That's what Dad had been disappointed by. If he hadn't been so impatient, his spirit animal would have come out like he wanted.

He needs to coax his spirit animal out gently, be as delicate as he was when he made his first circuit board.

The air starts blurring again, and he can feel the curiosity of his spirit animal.

"Hey there. Want to come out?"

The world turns black again.

He wakes not in a hospital this time, but slumped on the floor of his room, his arm twisting in a way it shouldn't with pain screaming down it's length.

He doesn't scream with it though. Stark men are made of Iron. Jarvis finds him trying to splint his arm by himself, and hurries him to the hospital.

Dad doesn't even show up this time.

"But... but I'm supposed to go to-"

"You will go where I damn well tell you boy! Maybe Huntington's will do what I can't and finally put some damn iron in your spine! It's already humiliating enough that you're so pathetic, but you can't even summon your bloody spirit animal! You need to stop being so useless!"

He slumps to the floor as the door slams, the heat and burn on his cheek a reminder that he isn't good enough. He can't stop the tears, however much he tries, but at least he doesn't make a sound.

That would just bring Howard back.

He's a few days past twelve when he tries the third time.

This time he tries just for himself.

He's the youngest student in his classes, the smartest, the wealthiest, and ultimately the loneliest. The other students don't care for him; they've got friends and their spirit animals, they don't need the little Stark heir. They just want his fame, his smarts and his family's wallet.

He so desperately needs someone to want him for him.

He's huddled himself into the space between his bed and the wall and trying to bring forth his manifestation of will. As the times before, the air in front of him blurs, and the slightest whispers of curiosity prod at his senses.

He doesn't speak this time, just sends his desperation and need to the creature, hoping they will come out for him.

He doesn't bother trying to stop the tears that fall when the air returns to normal, and the curiosity vanishes.

Not even his spirit animal, a physical showing of his being, wants anything to do with him.

At least the failure didn't cause him to black out.

The bots and J.A.R.V.I.S. are really the only reasons he hasn't given up.

He built Dum-E as a sad, lonely teenager, trying to make the companion his spirit animal should have been. It helped, oh how Dum-E helped, the chirpy little devil always bringing a smile to his face. But he was still a student at M.I.T. Most of the day, he'd be in classes, unfortunately leaving Dum-E by himself.

He built ButterFingers so that Dum-E wouldn't be lonely too.

Having two happy little bots greeting him after class was wonderful though, so he didn't even feel remotely jealous over not always being with them.

He doesn't actually remember building and programming U, as drunk as he was that weekend. But U fit into his odd little circle without a bump of trouble.

Rhodey and his bear Ava sort of stare at the trio of bots whenever they come over, but they come to accept them in time.

J.A.R.V.I.S. had been code and programming in the back of his mind for years when he gets the call from the gardener letting him know that Edwin Jarvis is dead, Abram having dissolved into light.

He doesn't cry at the funeral, but only just.

He couldn't remember the last time he spoke to Jarvis, and it hits him hard that the man is gone.

It's Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, but he doesn't even consider not giving him a British accent.

His mother and Howard are lowered into the earth not long after, Dana and Bella long gone.

Strange, how it doesn't really feel like anything's changed.

The business world is vicious and cruel. Especially to those who don't have 'appropriate' spirit animals.

He has seen hundreds of incredible minds and dreams being torn to shreds, because they had the 'gall' to have gentle spirit animals.

He's clever though, constantly reminded of how much smarter he is than everyone else. He takes in the lost minds and shattered dreamers, hides them under the banner of Stark Industries so they can heal, and become strong once again, helping SI grow stronger too. No one really questions it, questions him.

After all, he's the business man so great, he doesn't 'need' a spirit animal. He doesn't 'need' to spend the effort constantly keeping an eye on what his soul is showing others.

He laughs when people say that trying to get in his good favour, laughs when Obadiah praises him for not having such a weakness, laughs as the media paints him as a man without a heart.

Cries in the darkness of his home, when none breathing shall see his tears.

Stark men are made of Iron. Never let them see you bleed.

He tries for the last time in Afghanistan.

He's wandering the never ending crests of sand, stumbling over the loose footing. Yinsen and his raccoon Arash both buried in the ashes of the cave. Their captors strewn wherever the blast left them. He can feel his shoulders burning, and his arm's stabbing pain with every step.

Please he thinks, wishing beyond anything he gets an answer I don't want to be alone.

There's no one in the desert to see him cry when he gets no answer.

But then, he doesn't have the tears to spare.

Somehow, he's not surprised when Obadiah tries to kill him. The man's spirit animal is a lion named Edric after all.

He's also unsurprised that Obadiah doesn't succeed.

Pepper and her bird Gemma, the hooded pitohui, are a godsend. They keep up SI when he finds himself doomed to fall.

They even eventually forgive him for not telling them he was dying and forcing them to deal with Hammer and his pigeon Augustus.

Happy and his badger Magnus forgive him too, as do Rhodey and Ava.

Fury and his wolf Treasach constantly demand time and attention, often sending Romanoff and her fox Matrona to try and get what they want from him, and when she fails, Fury sends in Coulson and his cat Honour.

He just laughs.

Laughs when Fury demands weapons, laughs when Romanoff tries to intimidate him, laughs when Coulson mentions his taser.

Cries in the darkness of his home, when none breathing shall see his tears.

Stark men are made of Iron. Never let them see you bleed. They're vultures that will tear you apart.

Loki and Thor don't have spirit animals, but that's their normal.

He's still unusual.

He meets the Captain Howard loved more than anything, and is underwhelmed. Liberty sits on the man's shoulder, looking patriotic as all hell, looking down her beak at him.

He can't wait for this to be over.

Bruce is like him. Sorta.

Ever since the Hulk came about, Bruce doesn't have a spirit animal anymore. But from the way he keeps looking over his shoulder, the doctor is obviously expecting to see his bear Nirav.

So no, actually.

They're not alike at all.

"Take off the suit and what are you?"

Stark men are made of Iron.

"Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist."

"And alone. Don't think I haven't noticed you don't have a spirit animal Stark. You're broken."

Never let them see you bleed.

"Taking those four points I just raised, I can get pretty much anyone, so if I'm alone it's by choice."

"'Those four points'. I know men with none of that worth ten of you."

They're vultures that will tear you apart.

He's always known he was small, that he was a mere speck in regards to the universe, but...

But it's something else to literally see the universe in regards to him.

He blacks out again, but he thinks he may have shed a tear, deep in the emptiness of space.

He and Bruce drive off once Thor and Loki have left, but he can't help taking a final glance over his shoulder at them.

Steve and his eagle Liberty.

Natasha and her fox Matrona.

Clint and his hawk Hagar.

He pushes down the loneliness and sadness that try to well up.

Killian and his dog Charlemagne nearly kill everyone most important in his life; Happy and Magnus in hospital, Pepper and Gemma in pain from extremis, Rhodey and Ava in the fight of their lives.

And here he is, standing alone before Killian and Charlemagne, thinking of a fast talking little brat with a kitten named Tesla.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., do me a favour and blow Mark 42."

For some reason, he's not surprised that HYDRA was growing inside S.H.I.E.L.D.

Insulted, perhaps, that they tried to misuse his tech, but not surprised.

He does what he can, working with Hill and others she has personally vetted, to take care of the under-cover agents that were just singled out because of Team Cap's decision to dump everything on the net, and to find jobs for the non-HYDRA agents. If he happens to chance upon a certain video that pure luck has him watch that he would otherwise dismiss, assuming his teammates would inform him of anything important, well...

It's probably for the best that he watched it and didn't hold his breath waiting.

He sees footage of Thor in London, along with more aliens.

Huh... the Chitauri didn't appear to have spirit animals either...

Maybe only Earth has them... well...

Except for him.

He keeps sorting through the S.H.I.E.L.D. files.

Wanda Maximoff has a bear named Faina.

Pietro Maximoff has a cheetah named Andrei.

They all barely survive against Ultron.

Accept for J.A.R.V.I.S.

One of his boys is gone, and little Friday is still his princess, but it's just not the same.

Vision is the child of his child. And his child is dead.

He's sitting in his workshop, contemplating if it's worth it to open up the scotch in front of him.

Around the Avengers, he'd been kept so busy he didn't have the time to drink outside their parties, and eventually the need faded to almost background music.

But he's retired now, and the Avengers are all at the compound.

You useless Brat!

Memories of a burning pain on his cheek and the scent of whiskey on Howard's breath sends the bottle of scotch flying at the wall, heavy pants escaping his lips.

Stark men are made of Iron. Never let them see you bleed. They're vultures that will tear you apart.

The three-legged lemur is the only warning he gets before he finds himself looking at the worn and weary figure of James Buchannan Barnes.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

They part ways after Barnes is fitted with the new prosthetic arm that makes DiMaggio croon.

It still hurts, but he's had time to accept.

Stark men are made of Iron.

Barnes turns up a few more times seeking help with the arm, but then just sort of... doesn't leave.

He decides to ignore Barnes and DiMaggio running amok with the bots in the shop.

As long as they're not in the way.

Never let them see you bleed.

He gives his lawyers a very big bonus when they get Ross arrested and the Accords proven as incomplete.

They'll get another once they've finished the case to protect James.

He slides back into his car, ignoring the paparazzi and news hounds snapping pictures from the second he stepped from the courthouse.

They're vultures that will tear you apart.

He should have known someone would manage to film the trial of the Winter Soldier and sell it for a mint.

Steve shows up, furious that he hadn't brought James to the Compound for Steve to protect. Liberty is screeching, though at him or Steve is hard to tell.

DiMaggio chatters at her, before hopping onto James' shoulder, who is looking a worrying combination of fearful and angry.

He legs it when James starts yelling at Steve.

Natasha and Matrona eventually get the super soldiers to calm down, though she sends him the stink eye for not doing it himself.

"I get that you're upset Steve, but you don't have the right to get up in his face when he was respectin' my wish to be left alone. I've already caused him enough hurtin' to last a lifetime, you don't get to as well."

Steve stiffens and looks at him in shock and fear. He notes Natasha looking between them with concern.

He sighs.

"You never were planning on telling me, were you?"

Steve flinches as though struck, and Natasha now glares at the Captain, Matrona hissing at Liberty awkwardly shuffling on Steve's shoulder.

James is looking at Steve with almost desperation.

"You knew and didn't tell him? Steve... why?"

He doesn't stay to hear whatever excuse Steve has to give; sometimes his teammates don't tell him things. But they're not even teammates anymore, so whatever.

Stark men are made of Iron. Never let them see you bleed. They're vultures that will tear you apart.

He gets a call a few minutes later from his lawyers, telling him the Diplomatic Council of Wakanda want to talk to him.

"Friday my gal, I'm heading out. Do me a favour and not tell our visitors until I'm already gone."

"Sure thing Boss. Come back soon."

He smiles; she's taken to saying that every time he leaves her perimeter.

"I'll do my best. Don't wait up honey."

The Wakandan Embassy is luxurious, practically spilling wealth and status.

Walking through it, he thinks it's as cold and empty as the Stark Mansion.

At least it is until he and his escort enter the gardens. Then the place comes to life, flowers bringing wonderful colour and warmth while the bushes and trees provide shelter from the weather.

"Ah, welcome! I thank you for joining us so promptly."

He half-bows. He isn't an active member of the political scene, more a backstage player, but he keeps up-to-date on the in's and out's of the performance. So he can damn well afford the respect of bowing to King T'Chaka.

"It's not everyday the most technologically advanced nation in the world wants to talk to me, so I am more than willing to make the time."

King T'Chaka smiles at him, the panther at his side purring.

"Come, Thandiwe and I would prefer to talk over tea."

They lead him to a table set up with tea and snacks, little cakes and sandwiches. He sips at his tea while the monarch speaks.

Oh if only he could have found someway to smuggle himself to Wakanda as a kid; it sounds amazing, and everything he could have ever wanted. King T'Chaka laughs heartily when he says as much.

"Oh you would be a delight to have in our borders, I assure you."

He joins in the laughter, only just calming before a new voice speaks.

"Father? I did not realise we were to have guests."

He's heard about Prince T'Challa, all of it praise and glowing. But seeing the man in person? He has to swallow to make sure he doesn't drool.

It's a good thing too, given the way the man's eyes hone in on him.

"Ah T'Challa, join us; Sipho can sit with Thandiwe as we talk."

A quick sweep of Prince T'Challa's gaze has those dark eyes widening and a hand coming to stroke the gorgeous panther at his side. The prince has noticed he has no spirit animal then.

Still joins them though, so that's nice.

At one point, they end up talking about all the Vibranium he had sent to Wakanda after the Ultron mess.

"Well, it's not like I had the right to keep it; it had already been stolen from you guys."

He's not sure what to make of the look on Prince T'Challa's face. If he was being fanciful, he would say it was a mix of surprise, delight and... longing.

They're vultures that will tear you apart.

It's best he doesn't think on it too much.

King T'Chaka has to leave, to deal with the many politicians who want a taste of Wakanda. He has no problems letting the monarch go, as he should be heading back to the Tower as well, hopefully James and Steve's argument hasn't broken into fisticuffs.

"I would be delighted if you would come to visit m-us again. It was a pleasure to speak with you, even for so short a time, and my sister may be able to join us as well."

He nearly misses the slip of the tongue, but the prince couldn't possibly have meant to say- no. He best leave sleeping dogs lie. He would like to chat with the royals again though, and if the princess is anything like her brother and father, it would be a conversation to remember.

"I might at that. I have the number for this place, so I'll call in and make an appointment."

Prince T'Challa's black panther, Sipho, starts purring, a deep rumble.

"I look forward to it."

He leaves with something that feels suspiciously like infatuation in his chest.

The Tower is still standing, though Natasha and Matrona have fled.

James has locked himself and DiMaggio in the workshop and Steve is pacing angrily in front of the door with Liberty on her usual perch.

"Unlock the door! I need to talk to Bucky but he's being obstinate!"

He merely raises an unimpressed brow at Steve's demand.

"Unlock the door!"

"Screaming demands at me won't have anything happen in your favour; ask the ghosts of anyone who's tried to kidnap me."

Steve doesn't get the message to calm down and ask, instead starting to scream. It's nothing particularly discernable, more angry sounds then words, but the longer it goes the angrier it gets, until finally, Liberty alights from Steve's shoulder and dives at him.

He knows she can't touch him, knows that spirit animals can only be touched by mutually beloved. He knows this.

But there is still an eagle swiftly coming closer to his face.

He raises his arms and ducks his head, instinctually trying to protect himself. He's as surprised as Steve at the roar that sends Liberty right back to Steve.

He can barely breathe.

He's nearly fifty years old, has lived over half his life expectancy and done so much in that time that it is a miracle, nothing less that still has him walk the Earth.

A white panther is crouched in front of him, poised to attack and growling fiercely at the bird in Steve's arms. James and DiMaggio are looking in shock through the glass walls of the workshop too.

The big cat moves to start herding him up and away from Steve, the workshop, everything that is not his room, and he can't find it in himself to protest. In fact, he finds himself on his bed with a lap full of panther before he finds his voice.

"I called you so many times before... why did you only come now?"

The ice blue eyes meet his own brown and he can hear a voice not too unlike his own echo in his mind.

Stark men are made of Iron. Never let them see you bleed. They're vultures that will tear you apart.

He cries.

Cries in the darkness of his room, when none breathing shall see his tears.

"Welcome ba- Oh! And who is this gorgeous creature?"

Prince T'Challa bends to closer look at the panther so opposite Sipho.

"Vitale. He's a bit late, but fashionably so."

Prince T'Challa laughs, throwing his head back to release his mirth.

"So you say Tony."

As they move to the gardens, neither notices they're petting the wrong coloured panthers.

Chapter Text

"Here you go Tones; two tall blacks."

Tony smiled gently at Clint as he put the two steaming mugs into the table, desperately trying to ignore the slight twinge of sadness and pity ringing through the blond's voice.

"Thanks Hawkass."

The gleam of unshed tears washed over Clint's eyes as he nodded and went back to the counter.

Tony just sipped at his drink, waiting for someone who would never arrive.

He's there again today. Alone again too...

T'Challa had seen the gorgeous man sitting by the window of Avenge Café for almost a full year. T'Challa passed by the place every evening on his way home from work, and had many times admired the brunet. The man was quite the looker, and T'Challa had contemplated more than once entering the café and introducing himself.

It had been the man's boyfriend that had stopped him.

A tall blond businessman from the look of him, always in a very fine suit. He always had a hand on the brunet, shoulder, arm, thigh -though oddly never hand holding- and often had the brunet pulled into a kiss.

But the blond hadn't been present for the last week.

Perhaps a business trip? T'Challa himself had occasionally needed to go on trips that lasted a week or two, so the blond could easily be gone for work, but...

But the brunet had two mugs on his table.

Perhaps the blond man is just coming a little later.

It was hardly T'Challa's business though. He shook his head slightly and turned away, waiting for the pedestrian lights to change.

No man would be fool enough to stand up the gorgeous brunet after all.

"Closing time Tony. Do you want me to call someone to take you home?"

Tony shakes his head, gently brushing Natasha's hand off his shoulder and rises from his seat, two fifties being placed on the table before he leaves.

An untouched mug of black coffee still sits on the table, stone cold.

Because I'm through with this farce. I've gotten what I came for, and now I'm free to leave. Just think of it as business Tony.

It's not like I ever really wanted you.

Tony starts awake, his breathing loud in the silence of the workshop.

A quick motion with his hand has the lights turning on, Friday starting up the projectors for him to work on.

"You're okay Boss. You're safe here."

The bots come out from their charging docks, settling themselves around the couch as his fingers brush against the holo-screen.

"We won't let him hurt you again."

"Hey T. Two tall blacks. You gotta date or somethin'?"

Tony just smiles at James as the drinks are put in front of him, hiding the clenched fist.

James hadn't hidden his pleasure at the break-up, saying Tony needed someone who would put him first. That he kept offering to introduce Tony to his army buddy Steve was painful.

"James! You left Clint in the kitchen!"


Tony slowly exhales, sending Natasha a heartfelt thank you with his eyes as James vaults over the counter to get to the kitchen. She sends a gentle smile back, and returns to the front counter.

It's been a month now... why doesn't he just come later?

T'Challa knows it isn't any of his business as to what the brunet does, but... but a month has gone by with no sight of the blond, and the gentle smile that had first caught T'Challa's attention is long gone. Now the brown eyes are sad and the smile he wears is slim and infrequent.

The lights change, and with a heaviness in his chest, T'Challa goes on his way.

"It's closing time Tony... You want me to call a cab to take you home?"

Tony just shakes his head at Natasha, once again leaving two fifties on the table and making his way outside.

An untouched mug of black coffee still sits on the table, stone cold.

Why would anyone want you? Aside from your wallet, you're not worth a second look Tony.

This should come as no surprise.

Tony's eyes snapped open, his back straightening as he hauled himself up from his slouch over the workbench.

The lights were still on, and his machines running.

"Boss? It's okay, we're here. You're safe."

Tony finds himself hugging the bots, running a shaking hand up and down Dum-E's support strut.

"We love and need you."

"Two tall blacks Anthony."

"Thanks Point Break. How's Jane been?"

Thor lights up at mention of his lady-love.

"She is well Anthony; her papers have been submitted to the committee and I have no doubt there will be little for her to defend in them. And how is your-"

The large blond cuts himself off before he can finish, which Tony is thankful for.

"How are your bots and young Friday? It has been a good while since last you spoke of them."

Tony is able to forget, for only a few minutes true, but none the less forget, just so he can speak about his babies. It is with a sudden flash of cold that he releases Thor back to his work, condemning himself to once again sitting alone.

He is there yet again... three months have passed now...

It was harder and harder for T'Challa to keep walking, the old lingering flame of attraction gaining more and more heat each day. Not to mention his desire to understand.

Every day, the beautiful brunet seemed sadder and sadder, as though he were starting to struggle to go on.

T'Challa was about to enter the café when one of the staff brought the brunet his order.

Two mugs were set on the table, and the large blond even managed to pull a smile from the brunet.

T'Challa shook his head and crossed before the lights changed.

"Hey Tony. Need a lift home?"

Tony leaves two fifties on the table and shakes his head, not saying a word to Natasha as he leaves the café.

An untouched mug of black coffee still sits on the table, stone cold.

Don't be difficult. There wasn't anything real between us. You know that Tony.

I was always going to leave.

Tony curls up under ButterFingers' arm, U gently patting his hair and Dum-E facing the only entrance, armed with his fire extinguisher.

"It's safe here Boss. We need you and love you."

Tony's breathes out slowly to Friday's voice, ignoring the tremble in his little girls' words.

"We'll protect you."

"Got your drinks Tony, two tall blacks."

It hurts to hear the genuine worry in Natasha's voice as she puts the drinks onto the table. Tony takes a sip of his, perfectly made as always, and waits.

Natasha opens her mouth to speak, no doubt to offer support or sympathy, but closes her mouth without a word. Instead, she merely brushes a hand through Tony's hair, laying a quick kiss on his brow, before resuming her place behind the front counter.

It takes everything Tony has not to burst into tears.

T'Challa's heart near stops in his chest.

The brunet looks so... broken.

As though his very spirit was flickering, dying in a harsh wind.

T'Challa doesn't remember entering the café, nor his sitting down across from the brunet.

He recalls the startled gaze wet with unshed tears.

"My name is T'Challa. What's yours?"

Natasha cursed herself, cutting a quick glance to the time and practically shoving the final items onto their shelves, all but running back into the main space of the café.

"Tony? Do you want-"

Natasha's words die as she stops by Tony's table. Two fifties are left on the surface, Tony's unending generous tip.

There are two empty mugs sitting in the centre of the table.

Chapter Text




1. one of a class of spiritual beings; a celestial attendant of God. In medieval angelology, angels constituted the lowest of the nine celestial orders (seraphim, cherubim, thrones, dominations or dominions, virtues, powers, principalities or princedoms, archangels, and angels).

2. a conventional representation of such a being, in human form, with wings, usually in white robes.

3. a messenger, especially of God.

4. a person who performs a mission of God or acts as if sent by God: an angel of mercy.

5. a person having qualities generally attributed to an angel, as beauty, purity, or kindliness.

6. a person whose actions and thoughts are consistently virtuous.

7. an attendant or guardian spirit.

Tony didn't believe in gods. It was kinda hard for him to, given the questions that arose from the 'existence' of an ultimate power.

Like what the hell was he?

For as long as Tony can remember (and he can remember a very long time ago) there has always been one thing that set him apart from others. Not his genius, not his family's wealth, not even his looks.

It'd been the wings sprouting from his back.

Well, that'd been the reason he chose.

It had been so confusing when he was young, trying to keep the feathery menaces tucked tightly to his back so they didn't hit into anything or throw him off balance, to realise that not only did no one else have wings, nobody could see the damn things! It was also confusing how they could and would catch on everything, but when Tony went to put on clothes, they would become intangible, so he wouldn't have to alter his wardrobe.

He'd once asked his mother, Jarvis, even going to his father (and boy did he learn not to do that if he could help it) to ask about winged creatures. His mother had spoken of fairy folk and Jarvis told tale of gargoyles. But after his father's dismissive anger at the intrusion, he too spoke of a winged creature.

"Angels, said to be the most beautiful of all beings, crafted in the truest likeness of God, and guardians to the souls of man."

The words just seemed to resonate with Tony.

Well, until Howard had started on about how Steve Rogers had obviously been an angel amongst humans, then Tony left as quickly as he could.

Still, the seed had been planted.

In private, where none could see, Tony would care for his wings, grooming them until -to his sight- they shone, training himself in how to move them, exercising them so they would be strong.

He was eleven when he found he could fly.

It wasn't for very long mind you, but that feeling of weightlessness, that freedom, it only took the twenty seconds of flight to have the young genius hooked! Every time he could, he would spread his wings and beat, spending a few more seconds off the ground each time.

By the time he was seventeen, Tony could fly for two hours.

It was his escape from the pressures of the world, his protection of his heart and emotions from all that hurt him.

When Howard and his mother died, Tony never had a moment alone to fly.

It would be over a decade until he would fly.

He woke up to so much pain; fingers and cold metal burning his chest, digging into the exposed flesh, grazing his lungs, practically kissing his heart.

There was also the sharp pain of broken bones. Not in his hands, arms, legs no...

His wings were at angles they shouldn't rest in, and the white plumage was now a dull and dusty brown.

It hurt so much.

He couldn't help the scream.

Yinsen would have liked flying, Tony just knew it.

Even though flying via rockets in a metal suit wasn't anywhere near as exhilarating as free flight, it was still flight, and damn but Tony had missed it.

The black feathers on the ends of his wings were penance, he felt, for letting a good man die.

In a proper environment (read not a cave with no medical supplies) Tony's wings healed quickly and pulled their little intangibility trick with the armour too.

Tony could fly again, and he now had a reason that people wouldn't question.

Obadiah's betrayal led to black feathers at the joints to his back.

The Paladium made cruel black streaks mar his feathers in no particular pattern or symmetry. It didn't matter that Tony was the only one to see his wings, he could see his wings and the Paladium made a mockery of one of his most private joys.

The new reactor washed away that black, and when Tony had a chance to look, the new silver plumage dotting his wings didn't feel wrong like the black did.

He met Captain America during an alien invasion (and when did that become a thing he could say with a straight face?) and frankly failed to see what Howard saw as angelic in him.

Sure the man was stupidly attractive, but his looks didn't call out to Tony as angelic.

He was a good little soldier yes, but that was no indicator.

He was a strategist of course, but he wasn't particularly bright.

Really, Tony had no clue what all the fuss about the guy was about, but whatever, Loki was more immediately important; he was a full tilt diva. He wanted flowers, parades, a monument built to the skies with his name plastered-


Son of a bitch.

Tony woke up to the Hulk's roar and yeah, alive, that's a good thing to be.

But oh holy crap, Rogers and Thor get your over-muscled asses off his wings!

Tony didn't say that of course, just babbled around his pain, heaving a huge sigh of relief when the two blonds got to their feet.

His wings, though sluggishly, willingly tucked themselves tightly to his back.

There are more silver feathers in his wings when the Avengers part ways.

Tony doesn't do water. Certainly not after Afghanistan, but even before, Tony was never much of a swimmer.

The water weighed down his wings.

The Mandarin's helicopters blowing up his house and throwing Tony into the ocean?

Dick move.

"Why does it feel like you've got something on your back?"

Tony starts, but Harley has already moved onto questions about the armour.

Tony's not sure what to do about the warmth in his chest.

Pepper forgives him, but Tony knows they won't stay together.

It doesn't hurt as much as it should, but at least she still wants to be friends.

The reactor gets removed.

Tony takes note of the darker silver streaks threaded through his wings.

Huh... so S.H.I.E.L.D. was hiding more than just the plans for phase two.

Tony's not sure why he's surprised. Though Rogers could've called and given him a heads up; Tony's gonna be working overtime to get to all the agents Rogers just screwed over.

That is Thor, fighting aliens in London...

People really need to tell him things; it's gonna take him a couple hours to get the funds together to repair this mess.

Sorting through the files is a long, arduous task, even with Maria Hill working alongside him.

Let's see, a security video of Cap and Widow in a bunker and-

Hang on, that's Loki's sceptre. Tony'll come back to that security vid.

The vision is terrifying. Tony doesn't need to look to know inky trails of red that hazed in the corners of his eyes have dripped down his feathers.

The cruel black comes back to his wings as they fly to Barton's safe-house.

At least this time it's symmetrical.

It only cost him J.A.R.V.I.S.

Vision's birth results in another shade of silver colouring his wings.

Pietro's near fatal injury has another set of black painting his feathers.

Tony's done. He can't be an active Avenger, not after the absolute fiasco Ultron and Sokovia became.

The red still dresses his wings, bursts of colour from between his silver and black.

There's barely any white left now.

Tony goes back to sorting through the files from the S.H.I.E.L.D. dump, starting with that security video Cap and Widow were in-


Son of a bitch.

The white's gone now.

Sokovia is well on it's way to recovery, what with all the work SI has put into it. Tony himself personally goes three or four times a week to help out.

The response to his presence is a mix of thanks, sadness, anger and confusion.

It isn't until later that he finds out that none of the other Avengers, not even Wanda and Pietro (though Pietro has an excuse given he's been put on forced bed-rest), have come by to do the same.

He's not sure what to make of the faint shimmer his wings decide to emit.

King T'Chaka arrives in Sokovia on one of the days Tony is there working.

Tony is so focused on his work, shifting the rubble safely, that he doesn't realise the Wakandan Monarch has been trying to catch his eye for a good ten minutes.

Apologies are brushed aside, the King easily understanding becoming lost in one's work.

He says thank you.

Tony can't really remember the last time someone thanked him like King T'Chaka but it's humbling. Tony's screwed up so much recently, he doesn't think he deserves any thanks but the look King T'Chaka is giving him makes him stay any deflections and refusals.

The King then looks around him.

"Where should I help out first?"

Tony swallows a lump in his throat when the King moves to the area assigned.

His wings shimmer brighter.

A week later sees King T'Chaka returning to Sokovia with his son and daughter to help.

Princess Shuri gives Tony a quick smile, before she's off, finding a place to work.

King T'Chaka extends a greeting before doing the same.

Prince T'Challa though, introduces himself, turns to move off, before turning back.

"You've changed the colours again... why?"

Tony's not in his armour, so his shock and surprise are easily seen by the Wakandan Prince.

And the Prince has a mind as sharp as a tack, instantly coming to the correct conclusion.

"Nobody else can see them?"

Prince T'Challa stays working near Tony for the day, asking questions about his work for SI, his research, his robotics, anything and everything that comes to mind.

They part for the day with details exchanged and information shared.

Tony prepares to leave, a spring in his step, a lightness in his heart, and gold feathers streaking through his wings.

Chapter Text

Tony is still very small by the time he understands that everyone has a different colour.

Jarvis is a deep, royal purple, almost like a cloak, while Madre's a baby pink, settling around her like a shawl.

Both are good colours he thinks. Both mean nothing bad will happen.

Daddy's a dark grey, black really, like smoke.

It's not a good colour, he finds.

Every single person has a colour; reds, blues, yellows you name it.

Tony learnt what those colours could tell about a person, though careful questioning of Jarvis revealed that Tony was the only one who saw them.

When the important men come to the mansion for dinner and Tony has to wear the itchy suit, the way their colours snake forward to Dad's is followed by them saying something to try and get money, while the colours snapping out to try and smother Madre's precedes a comment that has Madre pursing her lips and Dad laughing hollowly. Tony's not quite sure how to feel about the colours slowly brushing over him, but it certainly doesn't feel good

Dad's smoke is always moving at these dinners, brushing off the money attempts, and roiling at the comments to Madre. Madre's shawl seems to quiver, reaching to Dad when they are close to each other, seeming to half drape over Tony himself when Madre finally moves to take him from the room.

Jarvis' cloak looks a little foreboding as he tucks Tony in for the night.

When Tony starts school, he's excited. He can't wait to see all the different colours of the other kids and the teachers, and he so looks forward to making friends.

It barely even takes him a day to realise it'll never happen.

The different colours were certainly as varied as he thought they'd be, and he's learning even more about how the colours tell him things about the person they're attached to but...

None of the kids want to be friends.

They haven't even known Tony for a day, yet their colours shy away, or worse try to snake forward, just like Dad's important men.

Tony snuggles in close under Jarvis' cloak when they're safely behind the closed doors of the mansion.

Tony's fast tracked through most of school, his brain more than ample reason to give him harder course work. It also helps that he can tell when his instructors are trying to feed him bullshit.

"You're wonderfully bright Mr Stark, but we feel this is too advanced for you."

"I understand how you feel Mr Stark, but it's better to stay at your current level."

"Don't worry Mr Stark, you'll catch up soon enough."

Please; the way their colours are practically vibrating and snaking out towards him?

They just want to plug his father for more cash.

Tony actually does a double take the first time he meets James Rupert Rhodes.

While Howard has managed to teach Tony to notice nuances in facial movements and a persons hands, Tony learns so much more about a person by the way their colours act.

Like how most of his teachers hate him for being too advanced for them to successfully use his name to boost their careers, or how the people who kidnapped him when he was seven were actually some of the nicest people he has ever met.

So Tony tends to look at a persons colour first, then look at their face.

He has to look twice this time.

Tony's never seen such a nice brown for anyone before. It's strong and heavy, like chocolate, and seems to have fashioned itself to be a bomber vest; protecting the heart and vital organs.

Tony's delighted when he makes a friend in Rhodey.

Jarvis dies, and is put in the ground months before Tony is even told.

Rhodey is there, strong and protective, holding Tony close to his chest, letting his chocolate bomber vest protect Tony too, as Tony cries in anger and sadness.

Tony had been so busy with the programming for his A.I. project, he never even noticed when Jarvis' calls stopped.

Tony sheds few tears as Madre and Howard are laid in the ground.

It's not that he won't miss them (Madre more than Howard but still) or that he's scared of being without them (really, when hasn't he been in the last decade?)

It's that he's never seen a person without colours. For Howard not to be trailing smoke, and Madre to be without her shawl?

It feels wrong.

Tony breaks down in his workshop, thankful that Rhodey's not there because he'd just worry.

The tears won't stop, and it's hard to catch a breath, but Tony's not sad, hell, he's never really been better.

The programming for his A.I. had been finished and uploaded about a week before the funeral, and Tony had been teaching the mechanical arm about the workshop.

Tony's crying because somehow, someway, Dum-E has a gentle orange surrounding him like a blanket.

Tony's recovering from a stressful week of unending meetings (and he wishes he were exaggerating; his daily planner literally reads out fifty of them) when the shouting outside his office grabs his attention. He sighs as he stands, prepared to go deal with the problem, seeing as his secretary (some bleach blonde pin-up with a dull, dull red that worked for Howard back in the day, and oh but what that tells him about his sire) is no doubt uselessly ignoring the commotion with the security guards and scheduling another twenty meetings for anyone who asks.

His office door bursts open before he can round the desk however, and Tony has to stop so he can fully appreciate the crystalline blue being worn like a dress.

It's a deep, clear blue, and perfectly suited to the red head wearing it. After hearing the fantastic threat involving mace (and damn it but he needs to go over security now too if they're quaking like that -at least fake competence when you're terrified for the safety of your scrotum) the red head slaps down a piece of paper with his distinctive scrawl on it, pointing out a mistake made in his exhaustion.

He hires her as his secretary, firing the bimbo without batting an eye, and when Pepper nearly brings her predecessor back to eviscerate after she sees the mess that is his work week, Tony feels like he can breathe.

ButterFingers and U are just like their big brother, and are somehow covered in warm orange too.

J.A.R.V.I.S. (and how Tony would love to find this out) has a soothing blue mist hanging around his speakers and server case.

Harold Hogan is a taxi-cab driver with bright yellow covering his fists like boxing gloves. He saves Tony from an attempted kidnapping. Tony gives him a job.

Afghanistan is terrifying, because the Ten Rings are all the darkest blacks Tony has ever seen, and they are all broken bodies hanging off their backs.

Yinsen wears a light purple jacket to Tony's eyes.

It's very nice, not just because of what it tells Tony about the man who saved him, but because it also reminds him a little of Jarvis' long gone cloak. A feeling of safety that Tony hasn't had in years, and is truly an illusion here, where either can die in seconds.

Tony flies, laying to ashes a den of death, carrying within it a good man without his jacket.

Tony's kinda amazed by Coulson.

Since his return from Afghanistan, everyone's colours have been reaching spindly tendrils towards him, trying to cash in on his suffering.

But Coulson, the rainy day grey worn as a suit, doesn't. In fact, if it weren't for the grey not lining up perfectly, Tony would be sure he's come across a living man with no colour, but the lines of black between the grey of the suit and white of his shirt are enough for Tony not to freak out.

Obadiah had been a part of Tony's life for a long time.

It should be hard for Tony to see his godfather tearing out his heart (and yeah, it was, but not emotionally) and speaking of hurting Pepper and controlling SI again and making weapons and-

Obadiah has always had a black darker than sin, resting on his hands like clawed gauntlets.

It takes every shred of self control not to laugh before Fury leaves, his white gloves clashing against the leather.

Sometimes, Tony desperately wishes others could see the colours as well.

Then the Paladium poisoning would be easier to bring up and explain, because everyone would be able to see by his colour, whatever it was, showing Tony's moods.

But the world keeps turning, regardless of what people may wish for.

Natalie Rushman sends so many alarms ringing, it's a little amazing Tony can still hear.

First of all is the black cat suit.

Tony has been with a whole bunch of sexy lawyers, male and female, and even played around with some Doms and Dommes, but not a single one of them, not even the leather-loving dominatrix's, had their colours acting as such a piece of clothing.

Second is the way the cat suit behaves (and boy does that sentence ask some questions about his sanity?)

One of the things Tony's noticed about the colours is they shimmer, for lack of a better term, when a person hears someone calling them.

Natalie Rushman doesn't receive even a faint gleam.

Third is that she's too perfect.

Tony knows well the public understanding of his tastes; he's twisted words and slept with the right people to give people a certain view on what will attract his attention. There are even two sections for it; Fling and Serious.

Flings are ditzy, blond, bodacious and shallow, good for a quick roll in the hay, but it's a once-and-done.

Serious are competent, slender, thoughtful and brunette, the kind of people you'd feel privileged to bring home for family dinner.

Natalie Rushman is competent, bodacious, thoughtful and shallow at turns and brunette, though with notable red in her locks, bringing thoughts to the most important woman in his life, Pepper.

Tony's really not surprised in the end that she's a spy.

Tony ends up taking the consultant role, not because he wants to prove something to Fury, not because he's hurt by Romanoff's profile, not because he wants to be on the Avengers.

It's because the white moves to try and cocoon him... tries to protect him.

Tony needs to be close to figure out Nicholas Fury.


Because that is now actually a thing.

Tony's more than a little weirded out by Loki and Thor's lack of colour, at least until Thor starts shooting lightning.

The blue-red is striking as all hell, forming heavy gauntlets for the few seconds of each shot.

The fight is a lot of fun (seriously, how often does one get the chance to say they stood toe-to-toe with a god?) and Tony's not really surprised that it's interrupted by Captain America. The indigo chainmail at least goes with his shield, but Tony knows that sparks beyond Mjolnir's meeting it are going to fly and soon.

Tony's not really surprised that Maria Hill has a tall pair of white boots -she has the same sort of personality base that Fury does.

He's a little sorry about Bruce's jacket though; given what the man's been put through, green isn't going to be his first choice.

Maybe Tony can change that?

Okay, Tony's not had a whole lot of affection for the man who so totally held Howard's attention, but why is he suddenly so angry? Yeah he can lose his temper pretty quick, but usually there's a reason for it.

Tony was safe behind J.A.R.V.I.S.' data screen; why did he move into the fray?

He's up in Captain America's face, ready to punch the man in his perfect teeth, when he catches, just in the very corner of his eye, a thick black tendril that doesn't belong to Romanoff.

Turning, attention now completely off the Captain, Tony finds the tendril leading to the sceptre.

The sceptre currently in Bruce's hand.

Shit happens. That's life. Mourn your sorrows, bury your dead, and stand up every time you fall.

They sit together eating shawarma, tired and aching in places and ways that shouldn't be physically possible.

Tony's chewing slowly enjoying the gentle mingling of everyone's colours, from Steve's indigo to Clint's brown fingerless gloves.

Bruce likes the lab Tony made for him, and stays in candyland. It's a relief for Tony, who doesn't want to lose a good friend.

Pepper and Happy like Bruce too, though they and J.A.R.V.I.S. despair at having two genius' to now force to bed every night.

Tony and Pepper start talking about breaking up.

They'd really only started dating because they were both past thirty, and figured they might make it work. But it really hasn't been, they're better as friends. And Tony has noticed the way Pepper's blue has been gently twining with Happy's yellow.

They agree to one more Christmas as a couple before starting over at New Year's.

The rabbit is mostly a joke.

Tony's heart has been taking a beating for years, but he can still feel it going out to the little boy with a turquoise helmet.

It actually hurts a little to leave Harley in town.

But he won't turn a child into a soldier.

Killian has a long flowing coat in the ugliest shade of red Tony's ever seen; it's one part decay, one part bleach and two parts blood and gore. The thing also looks ratty, ragged to all hell and back, holes everywhere and seams barely holding on. Pepper has rips and tears through her blue dress when all is said and done.

Tony does what he can to fix and mend.

The Avengers come back together after S.H.I.E.L.D. falls and Thor fights elves.

They go looking for the sceptre.

Wanda is a red so dark, it's almost black, a veil that shields her face.

Pietro, surprisingly, has bright magenta runners.

Tony's not too proud to admit that Ultron scares him as much as the vision did.

Ultron has no colour.

Sokovia survives

The Avengers survive.

Pietro barely survives.

J.A.R.V.I.S. does not survive.

It hurts in a way Tony can't explain, to see J.A.R.V.I.S.' blue mist threaded with black tendrils.

He drags up a smile for Vision anyway.

Tony's working on some upgrades for Sam's wings, hoping to keep the green scarved man safer in the air when Friday alerts him to their visitor.

Friday's gentle pink clouds are a big difference to J.A.R.V.I.S.' blue, but it helps Tony not compare his baby girl to his lost son.

Turning around, Tony comes face-to-face with James Buchanan Barnes.

Which is odd, considering Cap and Co. are on a mission in Indonesia following a sighting of said Sargent.

The gentle grey cloak, ragged, torn and aged, parts as Barnes extends a very crumpled metal arm.

The expression on the assassin's face is heart-wrenching, both begging and scared.

Tony's found the files, encrypted thrice over within S.H.I.E.L.D.'s deluge. He knows what happened. He knows what was done.

He points Barnes to the couch and grabs his tools.

He offers to call Steve.

The terror in blue eyes ensures he won't.

Tony's just gotten back to the states from the final bit of work the Sokovian Government will allow him to do to help with restoration and relief. Tony is already mentally preparing the speech and items he's going to throw at Steve for not even offering to help, when he realises he's entered the business levels of Stark Tower.

Shrugging, he decides to pay Pepper a visit, and thank her for all the work she's put into the financial side of helping out Sokovia.

Pepper's secretary is a young woman, no doubt trying to follow in Pepper's Leboutin clad footsteps, but the hot pink belly-shirt has Tony blatantly declining her offerings as he slips into the office. Pepper is reading over a few files and smiles gently at him as he closes the door.

She gestures for him to sit on the couch before he can even open his mouth and joins him, running a hand softly through his hair.

He knows she has a meeting in a few minutes -such is the curse of the CEO- but he realises they both really needed this comfort; Tony has always loved being cared for (and no that does not mean the same thing as spoiled Rhodey) and Pepper feels better when she is in command and control.

Seriously, if they hadn't known each other for so long before dating, they probably would have been an unstoppable couple.

Hell, Pepper's already halfway to conquering the world and making the world like it.

Tony has just sat himself back up, and Pepper just returned to her desk, when the office door is burst open, with the snooty face of Pepper's secretary leading three people in.

The way the woman's face falls means she was hoping to catch Tony and Pepper 'in the act' with witnesses, no doubt in petty revenge for Tony rejecting her advances.

Pepper can see it too, and the raised eyebrow she levels at the woman all but promises a swift ejection from SI.

Tony's only peripherally aware of all that though. He's too busy staring at one of Pepper's guests.

While the lead man and the woman have interesting shades of blue and black respectively, it's the second man who holds Tony's attention.

He's never seen gold before.

Twined so gently around the mans wrists, neck and head, rest bracers, a necklace and a crown.

Tony's in more than a little awe over the beauty. He manages to keep his face relaxed, slightly curious perhaps, during his perusal, but when the man in question meets eyes, Tony doesn't know if he was able to hide the chill running down his spine.

The man's slow smile would indicate not.

He comes over to Pepper's desk when she indicates for him to, including him in the introductions seamlessly.

Tony's maybe, perhaps, a tiny, itty-bitty, little bit fan-boying inside when she introduces the Royal family of Wakanda.

It's the prince who wears his colours as his station, and it is a very good look for him.

Tony barely keeps from drooling when the four invite him to lunch with them.

Tony falls into step with them, Pepper's arm looped around his, as they leave the office. He's still discreetly marvelling at the gorgeous gold.

What he doesn't realise is T'Challa sneaking plenty of looks back at him.

Amazed at the silver armour covering his body.

Chapter Text

Even as a newborn, T'Challa had been fascinated by the silver letters that curled along his waist.

His Soul Mate's first words to him.

Before he could read them himself, T'Challa would ask his father to read them to him, over and over again, even though he already knew them by heart.

'Best be careful; they're vultures that will tear you apart. You've gotta be strong to survive against them.'

T'Challa constantly traces the script, following the elegant curls that trail from the letters of his Soul Mate's nicest penmanship. When he learns to write himself, he practices his own, trying to make it just as elegant and flowing as his partner's.

Wakanda very rarely let its people beyond the borders, choosing instead to keep them safe from the world beyond, but King T'Chaka felt they could not hope to protect themselves from the rest of the world if they did not understand it. At very selective events, the guest list would include Wakandan Ambassadors and Diplomats, coming to see if Wakanda should repeal its long isolation. Under that guise, T'Chaka and his family would experience what the word had to offer.

It was at one such event, a Gala held by the President of the United States, that it happened.

T'Challa had been playing with the few other children present at the event. At the cusp of ten, T'Challa was still too young for the majority of teenagers to take any interest in him, but just not old enough for the younger children to ignore him. While T'Challa would have enjoyed talking to the older kids, he had no problem running about, sneaking his way to the bases to win the games, and generally having fun.

A number of the smallest of the group had been called away by parents soon to leave for the sake of bedtimes, or by the higher echelons who thought such behaviour was 'beneath' their progeny. It had been T'Challa's turn to be 'it' in the game and was about to go searching for his playmates, when he was descended upon by the paparazzi.

"Tell us about Wakanda! What goods are you offering the world now that you're leaving your solitude?!"

"What fashions do the women of Wakanda prefer?!"

"How close are you to the ruling body of Wakanda?!"

"How is Wakanda any more special then the rest of Africa?!"

On and on the questions fell; microphones, recorders and cameras shoved into his face with little thought, flashes blinding him and voices endlessly demanding answers he did not have.

T'Challa ran.

He did not know where he was going, simply that he must get away. As far away as he could. He had just turned a corner when he felt his small body collide with one much bigger. Trying to back away and continue running, T'Challa felt his body tilt, starting now to fall and he tried to brace when-

A strong, warm arm wrapped tightly round his waist, hauling him back to his feet and holding him close to the body he'd run into.

T'Challa felt the tightness in his lungs and the burning of his legs, and couldn't help but hold on tight.

"Best be careful; they're vultures that will tear you apart. You've gotta be strong to survive against them."

T'Challa felt his breath catch; he knew those words!

Pushing away just enough to look at the face of the speaker, T'Challa was met with the kindest face he had ever seen outside his family. The brown eyes were warm and the corners of the mouth were tilted up into a gentle smile.

That his Soul Mate was male meant nothing to T'Challa, as he could already feel half the Soul Bond forming, the warmth that would always rest in his heart from then on.

The young man cast a quick glance in the direction T'Challa came from, a slight furl to his brow at what he saw, before once more his attention came to rest on T'Challa.

"I'll keep 'em busy for you. You head back to the dining room and find your folks; they'll keep you safe from the carrion-seekers."

With the slightest push, and another warm grin, T'Challa found himself swiftly on his way to the dining room, finding his father and burrowing under his arm, hidden from sight and mind. It was only as they returned to their rooms that night that he realised he hadn't said a word to his Soul Mate.

But as he was tucked into his bed, he realised his words held a warmth that had been with him since a strong, warm arm wrapped around his waist.

After informing his father of the events of that night, a copy of the guest list had been found and they had systematically gone through every name, trying to find T'Challa's Soul Mate. It had come to no avail, leaving the young man to either be one of the staff (which T'Challa had no problem with; since he could feel the warmth of their soul, what mattered their profession?) or as part of a group, such as family or significant other, which apparently didn't warrant additional names.

T'Challa had guessed the young man's age to be around fifteen, so his presence as significant other was unlikely.

While his father subtly searched for information, T'Challa strove to prove his competence to his Soul Mate. He wasn't quite sure what sort of strength his Soul Mate meant, so T'Challa went for all of them.

He had already begun training in the martial arts of his people, so he applied himself to several others as well.

He had always been a bright boy, but he now attacked his studies with a fervour his tutors had never witnessed.

He had attended his duties to the Panther God as expected of him, there was deeper thought and prayer after the Gala.

Body. Mind. Spirit.

T'Challa would become strong.

It was years later that T'Challa saw those eyes once again.

It was an event that changed so much.

"I am Iron Man."

Despite his desire to travel straight to America and find his Tony (finally, he knew the name of his Soul Mate) T'Challa forced himself to remain still.

So many were already fighting for his Tony's attention, and had been every day of his life. Hell, T'Challa himself was a great fan of the man's work and discoveries in science. No doubt everyone, their uncle and their dog would be vying for his Tony to look their way.

No, instead of rushing off, T'Challa began working with his father on bringing Wakanda back into the world.

T'Challa was barely breathing as his Tony piggybacks a warhead into the portal over New York.

T'Challa thinks he might have screamed when his Tony fell just before the portal was closed.

T'Challa knows he cried when it was confirmed his Tony survived.

It took both Shuri and their father's combined might to stop T'Challa from leaving after the reports.

'Tony Stark; Missing, Presumed Dead.'

The fall of the organisation S.H.I.E.L.D. had resulted in thousands upon thousands of files being released to the world via the internet.

T'Challa's father had been shaking his head in disbelief, organising for the files to be copied and sorted and for any aid Wakanda could give the people who were to suffer over such a foolish decision.

A young technician brought a certain security video to T'Challa's attention.

T'Challa grieved for his Tony, and prayed Steve Rogers was kind when he delivered the news.

Ulysses Klaue had once been a most respected scientist, but had turned to crime to fund his research, before eventually being swallowed by the thrill of danger that came to follow him. T'Challa knew his father had spent years searching for the man, to both retrieve the Vibranium he managed to steal, and to bring him to justice for his many crimes.

When reports came in about his death, T'Challa did his best to investigate, but soon, to his and the rest of Wakanda's horror, an intruder was discovered in the system.

Over and over a message played.

"There are no strings on me."

Whoever it was, they were far beyond anything Wakanda had come across before, easily evading their attempts to flush the intruder out. Within seconds, their online presence had gone through nearly every file within the Wakandan systems. In fact the only files they hadn't gone through were...

The weaponry database.

They had not one intruder, but two.

The second presence at least appeared determined to prevent the first from gaining access to certain information if it's own message was any indication.

"My duty is to protect Sir and Sir's interests. This is not in Sir's interest."

Somehow, the second presence was even more skilled than the first, safely and silently hiding away the weaponry database.

"Don't bother chasing our Pinocchio; just lay obstructions to slow him down and help our little guardian!"

The techs did as commanded, and T'Challa could only hope it was enough.

The guardian did not appear to notice their help, or more likely did not have the time to spare to acknowledge it.

Pinocchio eventually backed off, and only the faintest traces of the guardian remained in the systems. Leaving analysing the remains left by both parties to the techs, T'Challa, his father and sister retreated to their quarters, exhausted from the stress of the situation.

"Father, Brother, what just happened?"

T'Challa could only shake his head, an arm coming to wrap around his waist, seeking the everlasting warmth of the half-formed bond. T'Challa noted Shuri running a thumb over her palm, right over her own words.

His father rubbed the bridge of his nose as he took a seat.

"Though it pains me to say it, we have just been hacked by two minds greater than the entire tech division of Wakanda, though one seems to have been for our benefit."

His father had twisted his hands to lay them on both of his wrists, covering his words from both N'Yami and Ramonda, seeking a sliver of comfort just as T'Challa and Shuri were.

"We wait to hear the report from the tech division."

T'Challa was resting lengthways across one of the lounges when the news came in about Sokovia.

"Bring up visuals! I don't care if it's some fool recording it on his phone; get us visuals!"

His father rarely made demands as such, and T'Challa exchanged a surprised glance with Shuri before both were transfixed by the screens. A few -very few- traffic cameras in Sokovia's main city were functional, but it was enough.

It was chaos.

Fighting, blood, and civilians running scared. Because of the limited cameras available (and thankfully not a single soul appeared to be foolish enough to record the battle) was hard to see, but is appeared as though the Avengers were fighting off a...

"Is that a robot army?"

It was not something to make jokes about; it definitely wasn't something that deserved a smile.

"Just because you beat every single Metal Gear Solid Game does not mean you would beat these machines brother."

Shuri's trying not to smile too.

A flash of brilliant gold catches on the screen; his Tony decimating a small horde of the robots, before moving on to do the same elsewhere. The remains of the robot hold his eye for a few moments until it hits.

"Father, the robots are partially made out of Vibranium."

The room focuses in on the screen at his words, and soon curses and oaths ring through the air. His father looks at the screen with a face of stone.

"It would seem we've found who killed Klaue. And why."

It's about then that the footage completely cuts off.

No matter what they try, they simply don't have any way to get eyes on Sokovia without sending someone in.

T'Challa and Shuri volunteer.

Their father accepts with a heavy heart; for all they are the two top Warriors of Wakanda, they are still his children.

Along with a contingent of other Warriors, T'Challa and Shuri don the Vibranium-mesh weave armour provided and board the jets.

It will take them a few hours to reach Sokovia.

The jets landed a couple miles out from Sokovia, and the group approached on foot. All wearing face-masks with cameras built in, the tech division saw exactly what they did.

There was a lot of damage, and the outer sections of the city were completely empty.

Sticking to the shadows, they slowly made their way deeper into the city, looking all around them for both safety and to get it recorded.

As they went deeper however, the streets started... filling.

It was the Sokovian's, carefully moving rubble and refuse, checking the houses for bodies, alive or not, gathering resources that had been left behind in the evacuation.

A small collection of hand signals, and the group kept moving; they would find the people in charge before just offering their help.

Sokovia had likely had quite enough of outsiders today.

It was far, far busier in the centre of the city, people running about with supplies, heaving wreckage off to the side, salvaging anything of worth.

T'Challa's breath caught when he realised his Tony was in the thick out it.

Red and gold armour working in tandem with both the Iron Patriot (though T'Challa admitted he had preferred the War Machine moniker) and-

T'Challa did not recognise the red and green being...

Still, once the large piece of rubble was safely deposited, T'Challa removed his mask, as did the rest of his party, and stepped forward.

Someone who appeared to be a Sokovian official was speaking to his Tony, but spotted the black garbed Wakandans and stood firmly before them, despite the worry in his eyes.

"We are here to offer our help. In any way we are able."

The official stared at them in thought before moving to speak with the three heroes. After a few moments, he qestured them to come closer.

"Alright boys and girls, first of all, thanks for offering to help out; you'll be directed to the areas which need the most help, but don't try to show off or push yourselves too far, we don't need more work on our hands."

His Tony had exited the armour, and hearing that smooth voice and seeing those warm brown eyes again in person had the letters curling across T'Challa's waist tingle with warmth and a half-formed bond.

"You all know who I am. Behind me, the red and green one is Vision, and the bulky one is James Rhodes."

Rhodes retracted a gauntlet and extended his free hand to Shuri.

"Call me Rhodey."

Shuri started as their hands met, and a happy smile curled her lips.

"I will accept Shuri or Princess, James."

Shuri's Soul Mate started as well, slowly releasing her hand to look at the words T'Challa could just see on his palm, an absolutely awestruck look on his face.

"Well, well; my felicitations you two. Why don't you work together for the day, yeah?"

Both a little dazed, they nodded and moved to the location the Sokovian official provided. The rest of the group was sent off, with the official leaving T'Challa with his Tony. T'Challa swallowed and took a half-step closer to his Soul Mate, tentatively laying a hand on the man's shoulder.

"I am strong now. The vultures cannot touch me. Will you let me help you?"

His Tony froze, eyes wide and mouth slightly open. Almost mechanically, one of his hands rose to lay over T'Challa's. Another rush of heat through the words on his waist and he could just feel the pulse on his hand, still resting on his Tony's shoulder.

A smile warmer than the sun creased his Tony's lips.

"I think I would be delighted."

The joy and hope travelling through the now completed bond was perfect.

Chapter Text

Steve often thinks he, just like the Tesseract, should have been left in the ocean.

Standing in the Observation Deck, looking down at the three teenagers running perfectly through the training simulation under the steady guidance of Iron Man, Steve finds himself thinking it once again.

It's been a little over a year since the disastrous 'Civil War' between the two sides of the Avengers.

When Steve had broken his teammates out of the RAFT, he had taken them to Wakanda where he and Bucky had been hiding. T'Challa had not been impressed, but Steve brushed it off, apologizing for not giving the King a heads up; the man was keeping them safe after all. After Bucky had made the decision to be frozen again, and Natasha turned up, Steve spent his time training with the others and waiting for Tony to call.

Tony was a good man, but Steve always knew he had a habit of biting off more than he could chew. Eventually, Tony would get himself into a bind he couldn't fast-talk his way out of, and that's why Steve had sent Tony the phone with only one number in it.

Though he'd kept the phone on him at all times, Steve wasn't surprised when six months passed and Tony hadn't contacted him. Tony was a prideful man, and would strive to prove he didn't need Steve's or the rest of the Avenger's help. And that was okay; Tony was capable enough to handle a bit of work.

Tony's ego was the problem.

Ever since Steve had first been given a dossier on the genius, he'd been made aware that Tony Stark was razzle-dazzle and glam, and proud of it. The man had the right to be proud, given the many incredible things he had accomplished in his life, but if there was one thing Tony had inherited from Howard, it was the show-off persona. Tony would do or create something, then make sure everyone knew about for as long as possible.

Steve looked back down at the three teens, cheering and laughing at their successful run-through.

All of them taking turns to hug the now unarmoured Iron Man.

After nine months in Wakanda with nothing from Tony, Steve had started to worry; had Tony been captured before he could call? Was the phone damaged in a scuffle? Had Ross found the phone and sentenced Tony to the RAFT? A five minute internet search showed that Tony...

Tony was still out there, fighting the good fight, still donning his suit as the Golden Avenger.

So why didn't he call?

Though still training with Sam, Clint, Scott and Wanda, he realised he needed to pay more attention to what was happened outside of Wakanda. And... he grew angry. Tony was putting children out onto the field! Literal children! While Wanda was still a kid, she was at least in her mid-twenties; not a one of them was out of their teens! And Tony was throwing them and their families to the dogs, insisting that the Sokovia Accords still be followed, making those three kids sign away their freedom!

Steve destroyed a good fifteen heavy bags before he could think even a little clearly again.

Further research showed what the kids were calling themselves, and Steve had to destroy another few bags at that, because Tony was barely even trying to keep them and their loved ones safe.

A few adults had, thankfully, joined the team as well, but they were no better than Tony, Rhodes and Vision, letting the kids fight alongside them.

Steve's anger clouded his thoughts, making him kinda glad Tony never called because, knowing what he did, Steve wasn't sure he could bring himself to help the man.

That anger lasted a month.

T'Challa would occasionally come by to speak with the team, trying to understand their side of the 'Civil War' and to come to terms with his part in it. The King was always polite, though apathetic, when they were explaining what had happened, and he never seemed interested in forming closer bonds with the team, even though Steve knew it was necessary, for when they returned to their duties as Avengers, T'Challa was sure to join them.

One day, T'Challa and his sister came into the teams quarters and deposited a small sheaf of paper before leaving.

It was behaviour out of the ordinary for T'Challa, though Steve had had very little interaction with the princess so it may have been pro forma for her. Sam, having been closest to the table at the time, went and picked up the sheaf before swiftly dropping them, pale despite his colouring. The others soon followed upon discovering what the papers were.

Amended Accords.

Steve's anger died, replaced by a deep well of betrayal. T'Challa had been helping them, had come to realise he was wrong; why would he still support the accords after all that?

The papers laid ignored on the table for the better part of three hours, before Scott went and picked them up.

"They say amended... I'm going to see how liberal they were with the word."

Steve had relaxed a little with that. Scott wanted to find the lies between the pretty words so that he could throw the 'agreement' back in T'Challa's face!

Steve never expected to see Scott start crying and pull out a pen.

Before anyone could stop him, Scott's name was on the document and he quickly left the room.

The rest of the team stood in shock until Scott returned carrying the single duffle bag that held his possessions and moved to the door T'Challa and his sister had left. Sam had jumped up, pulling Scott away from the door with pleas for him to explain what he was thinking.

"I signed the Accords... I can go back to Cassie."

No matter what Sam said, what Wanda said, what Steve said, nothing could change Scott's mind. If Clint or Natasha had said anything, it might have had an effect, but since Steve had explained what had happened in the Siberian bunker, they both barely spoke to him, and even then, usually only for training. When T'Challa came around again that night, Scott picked up his duffle and prepared to leave, but was stopped by T'Challa shaking his head. 

"Your signing will be submitted to the U.N., and then you will be safe to return to your family."

Scott nodded his understanding, and spent the rest of the night in his room

A month later saw the Wasp working alongside the Avengers, and Scott's mood visibly brightened.

Steve was disappointed but he understood that Scott was still pretty young, and had already missed out on a lot of his little girl's life. It's why he only nodded in acceptance when a few days after, he found Clint and Natasha signing the forms before running out of the room.

They had sacrificed so much for him and Bucky. While the Accords were unnecessary, Steve could understand their desire to be with their families overpowering their good sense.

Another month passed, and T'Challa once more came into their quarters.

"We are ready to wake Sargent Barnes now Captain, if you wished to be present."

The joy that news brought was enough to overpower the indifference in the Kings words. Over the course of time the team had spent in Wakanda, T'Challa had been getting more and more distant, even after they had explained why they refused to sign the Accords, and why they had been forced to fight Tony and his team in the first place.

Entering the labs that held Bucky's cryo-chamber, Steve felt like things were looking up in the best way possible. Rubbing at the foggy glass to see Bucky's face. Steve couldn't help his smile.

"Till the end of the line."

One of T'Challa's scientists brought forward a piece of technology that would help Bucky sort through his memories and come to terms with them. By doing so, the passcodes wouldn't affect him, because Bucky would no longer be forced back into the nightmares of his past.

Steve was impressed by the theory, and once Bucky had successfully gone through each word, he turned and thanked the scientist for making such an incredible device.

"You are mistaken Captain. We did not design or create this device. His Highness was granted use of it by Dr Stark."

Steve sighed, still watching the three kids cheering and celebrating, Tony laughing along.

He had reacted badly at that piece of news, running to Bucky's side to protect him from a man who wasn't there. After a good twenty minutes trying to shake any tricks Tony had put into the device to hurt Bucky, T'Challa had had enough and back-handed Steve, telling him to take Bucky and return to their quarters. Steve was more than happy to get away from the man who likely revealed their location to Tony, who would no doubt in turn inform Ross.

The team packed up their belongings quickly, though Scott, Clint and Natasha still had their duffle's packed, and all looked at Steve in slight disbelief.

It was Bucky that refused to leave.

"Why would King T'Challa do anything that would put his own country at risk of Ross? If Stark made the tech for me then yeah, somethin's up, but that scientist specifically mentioned King T'Challa borrowing it. Which tells me that I ain't the first person to use it."

Steve still spent time making sure to check over their shoulders.

On guard when T'Challa next appeared, the day before the Anniversary of their coming to Wakanda, none could have prepared for what was said.

"You've been pardoned. You are now free to return to America. I myself will be travelling there within the hour; you are free to join me."

They cheered at that, grabbing the bags they hadn't unpacked and moving to the airfield. Bucky walked with T'Challa, asking questions about his time spent frozen and his arm which devolved into science over the last almost century. Steve merely chuckled, remembering how Bucky would save every month to be able to buy the collection of penny-dreadfuls and dime-novels from the sci-fi section in the bookstore, and then geek out over them for the following month, when the cycle would begin again.

Entering T'Challa's private jet, Steve looked forward to going back to America and the Avengers.

Tony had done okay at keeping up with the threats the world faced, but he really needed to learn to trust in his teammates more. So many times, Tony should have called Steve but didn't, and Steve planned to have a discussion over that, but overall, Tony probably thought he had enough back up with the new Avengers.

No, Steve wouldn't give Tony too much grief over not calling him. He'd be saving it for bringing in the children.

Steve fell asleep on the plane, dreaming of how overjoyed the kids and their parents would be when Steve stopped the kids from playing at being superheroes because Tony said so. He woke shortly before they landed. Looking out the window, Steve couldn't help the grin that curled his lips.

It was good to be home.

Exiting the plane and moving to the limo waiting for them, Steve realised his first matter of business when they reached the compound would be to talk to Scott, Clint and Natasha. They had only signed the accords so they could return to their families. Well, Natasha had signed the original accords, but she had come to realise they were wrong, and left. Now there was no need for it; had they waited just a little longer, they would have been pardoned too.

Not that it should have been needed, they were only doing what they felt was right, but it was still good that they didn't need to fear being treated unjustly beyond being dumped in the RAFT.

The trip to the compound was in near silence, no one really having anything to talk about just yet.

Pulling up the driveway, Steve noted the curious faces of the various new Avengers on the roster. He'd have to speak with them all, assess them to see how they'd go on the field. Yes he'd caught reports of what they'd already done, but he needed to know how they would do with him instead of Tony.

They had exited the car, stretching tired muscles and looked around, expecting their new teammates to come greet them.

They were greeted by silence and distance.

None of the new Avengers had come close, instead seeming to go further away. At least until the front door opened.

Tony stepped out, in slacks and dress shirt, and stood waiting. The new Avengers started to line up behind him. Steve spoke first.

"It's good to see you Tony."

Tony hadn't said anything, hadn't seemed like he was going to, so Steve spoke to fill the silence.

"It's great to see the U.N. fixed the Accords; the Avengers can't be run by those with an agenda. How are we supposed to save everyone if we're being held back?"

Steve spoke on the importance of keeping the Avengers privatised, so that they could do their jobs properly. He knows he has a bit of a habit of falling into speeches, but it was something he felt that everyone needed to hear.

He peripherally noted Clint and Natasha hugging Tony before running to the Barton family, Scott nodding to Tony before running to the Wasp and the little girl who must be his daughter. Wanda was hugging-

Steve barely hesitated a breath at seeing Pietro, back from the dead, hugging his sister tightly. Steve had to find out how that happened, but he was happy for Wanda.

Sam had been looking over at Rhodes with deep relief. He'd told Steve about the Iron Patriot falling, and Steve knew he was remembering his friend Riley. At least Tony had designed the armour well enough that Sam hadn't been forced to watch another friend die.

Steve kept talking, but decided to move off the heavy topics.

"And really, Wakanda is beautiful, and their technology is more advanced than anything I've seen, even yours Tony! They were able to help Bucky-"

"Only because we borrowed technology from Mr Stark, as you were well told Mr Rogers."

T'Challa's voice was sharp with rebuke, as he finally joined them. Steve felt another brief flare of anger, but this time it was at T'Challa's behaviour. He noted that Spider-Man seemed to be glaring through his mask, as well as Rhodes, Vision, and all the new Avengers behind Tony.

Tony, however, seemed to relax.

"Welcome back T'Challa. Thank you for keeping your promise."

Steve worried over any promises made between the two men; both were in positions of power, and may fall prey to that allure. T'Challa handed a package to Tony with an ever so slight smile to his lips. Steve felt his stomach tighten a bit when Tony accepted the package with no hesitation.

"I am glad to be back. For the foreseeable future, Shuri will be taking care of Wakanda, so I was hoping to stay at your compound?"

Steve allowed this; T'Challa had housed them in Wakanda, and it would be better to keep a closer eye on the man, but T'Challa was looking only at Tony, who nodded once, before opening the package.

It was a beautiful watch done in Iron Man's colours. Tony looked at in in awe.

"It's gorgeous, but you don't need to give me anything you know; I have enough money to get whatever I please."

Steve pursed his lips at that; just like Tony to start bragging when someone is being kind.

"Oh I'm well aware Mr Stark, that you do not hurt for coin. Far be it from me however, to be remiss and not attempt to woo over the one I'm chasing."

Steve felt his breath leave him.

He didn't know T'Challa was interested in men, let alone in Tony. And Tony was straight anyway; Steve had always had a sharp insight over who was more inclined towards their own gender, Tony never pinged on his radar.

"That's never happened to me before."

Tony had muttered lowly, the way he did when he was thinking out loud and didn't realise it. Steve realised that Tony was as blindsided by the events as him, and so obviously Tony would decline T'Challa's affections-

"That is unfortunate, because you most certainly deserve it. Ah well, the loss of others shall be my success."

Tony blushed.

Tony Stark, the baddass rebel, piss off, I'm Iron Man Tony Stark blushed, a small pleased smile that Steve had never seen before curling his lips.

"It's too early to call it your success T'Challa, given you still won't call me by name."

Tony was... accepting T'Challa's feelings and... reciprocating?

"Ah, but the gifts you give me in turn. It would be my pleasure Tony."

The teenager going by Miss Marvel starting making kissing noises, while Spider-Man and Iron Soul pretended to gag, causing the heroes around to laugh and catcall. Tony cleared his throat before speaking.

"Alright you hooligans, that's enough! Rooms haven't changed so I'll leave you to get yourselves squared away, while the three imps behind me suddenly have a training session to attend!"

Tony's words killed the kisses and gaging, having them replaced by groans and pleas for mercy, but the teens walked without prompting behind Tony into the compound, followed by... everyone. Even Bucky and Sam had walked into the compound without question.

Steve had made his way down to the gym to talk to Tony but found it empty- which made no sense! Tony had just said the kids were to be training, and by skiving off and then putting the kids on the field-

"If you're looking for Boss, he and the minions are in the simulation room."

Steve forced his breathing to calm.

The simulation room hadn't been finished when he left last time, so he hadn't thought about it, but yeah, that would make a good training room. Tony had some good ideas at times. He found Tony on the observation deck watching over the kids.

"Why would you bring kids into this Tony? Bad enough you brought in Spider-Man, but you brought in two more, and made armour for one of them? What are you thinking?!"

"I'm thinking that they'll stay alive at the end of the day."

Tony's words, spoken so easily, caused that anger to bubble up inside Steve again.

"Why put them in danger in the first place?! You're not all powerful Tony, but you're acting like you can do no wrong! What do their parents think of you putting their kids into the line of fire?! Do you think the kids actually realise the danger they're in?! Did you even think-"

"Spider-Man had been operating by himself in spandex before I found him; he now wears armour of equal grading to the rest of the team, except my own and Iron Soul's. Iron Soul had a very long conversation with his family about what he was doing, was going to do and what he might face, and they accepted it. Miss Marvel is an orphan who had her powers forced on her; she was initially here only to learn how to control those powers, but she then wanted to fight alongside the Avengers as we had become her family.

The kids are only out on missions on a part time basis; all three are still in school -which I pay for- all three still hang out with friends, go to sleep-overs and parties, all the stuff they did before suiting up. The missions they go on are ones I know they can handle, and they are still more often than not accompanied by an adult or two. They have a compulsory number of training sessions every week to prepare them, and they have weekly talks with a counsellor.

They discussed long and hard between themselves whether or not to sign the accords, and all decided for themselves to put their names on it. I personally go over every inch of their suits after every battle, medical checks are now mandatory -even for me- after every battle, and they don't get summoned mid-battle unless we are at the end of our rope. They don't cut class to fight, otherwise they get benched and their gear taken away, and they have to have finished both homework and chores before they get sent out on missions, with the exception of us being at the end of our rope."

Tony turned to him, anger blazing through his eyes.

"These are young people who will go out there regardless of if I say no, Rogers, so I do everything I can to make sure they stay alive to see tomorrow."

An alarm buzzed and Tony moved to leave.

"Despite being here, you are not an Avenger. Until you sign the accords, you are not on the team. The Avengers are mine, and I will not let them suffer what we did. If you act Rogers, as if you were still Captain America, I, and the rest of the team, have no problems with arresting you."

Tony joined the kids for another part of the simulation, and Steve watched as the kids went through it flawlessly, guided by the Golden Avenger.

They didn't need him. They had Tony.

The team didn't need him. They had Tony.

Tony didn't need him. He apparently had T'Challa.

Even Bucky didn't seem to need him.

Steve often thinks he, just like the Tesseract, should have been left in the ocean.

Chapter Text

It was the curling worry deep in his gut that had Tony bring the experimental piece of tech.

Over the course of his long life, Tony has been called many things -Cold. Cruel. Slut. Uncaring. Lowlife. Death-dealer. Monster!- but one thing he has been called the most is 'impulsive'.

He's been told he doesn't think before he acts, or at least doesn't think enough. He's been told he's reckless, that he's an adrenaline seeking child, that he's got a death-wish. Steve has spent many a debrief expressing his disappointment at how Tony will abandon a perfectly good plan for a whim.

But Tony's really not.

Tony's brain is fast. The speed that Tony takes in and sorts through information is staggering, and it's all done without conscious thought; Tony just catalogues everything. As a result, Tony can and does calculate odds, variables and probabilities in the blink of an eye, and then act upon the information. Really, it'd be more accurate to label it as instinct than anything else. And for all that Steve and the others grumbled and yelled about Tony haring off to do his own thing, they can't argue the results.

Well, they can, but that's because the Avengers are made up of assholes, Tony included.

Tony had seen the signs from before the mess that was Ultron. As a born and bred business man, Tony had been raised to predict patterns and see what people wanted and needed. Even before the disastrous mission to Sokovia, people were speaking about how they were scared; not of the foes the Avengers faced, but of the Avengers themselves.

When Tony retired from the Avengers (not Iron Man, never Iron Man) he'd been surprised that the rumblings grew louder. It seemed that for all people loved to hate him, Tony was seen as a stabilising force for the Avengers, despite being a regular human amongst the enhanced.

Because of, actually.

In between all the work he was doing for SI and the restoration to Sokovia itself, Tony was speaking with his lawyers, discussing with the politically savvy, and even talking with Ellis on what was in the works.

Tony was subtle of course; can't let news get out that Tony Stark actually knows what's going on in the world.

All in all, things were not looking good. Even though people were very vocal of their support for getting rid of HYDRA, they weren't happy with how things were left once their local HYDRA scumbags were gone. Chaos, destruction, injuries and most regrettably death, left them wanting to lash out, to make someone hurt just like they were hurting. With HYDRA gone, they attacked the ones to get rid of HYDRA for not protecting them enough.

And since Tony was apparently the only one who always went to sort out the mess the Avengers left behind, a lot of that hate and anger gets landed on him. Miriam Spencer called him out for not doing enough, and Tony agreed.

Tony never shies away from the screams and tears, never baulks when someone demands to know why he didn't save another soul, two, ten, Tony attends every funeral he can physically make, and pays for the whole shebang.

It's forced people to see that Tony's human.

And it's made them think the rest of the Avengers aren't.

Tony knows that either Everett Ross or Thaddeus Ross (no relation or affection between them, thank Thor) will be put into the big chair to direct the upcoming piece of legislation. He know which he'd prefer in the job, but after what he's been hearing through Friday's channels about Lagos, he's got a feeling about which one will snag the spot.

When General Thaddeus Ross enters the Avengers Compound with his smuggest grin, Tony's not surprised that the War Horse managed to win it.

Things get messy quickly, and Tony knows that Ross had planned it to be so when he catches the superior looks Ross is wearing as he leaves. Ross is walking a very fine line of legality; he is required to give the Avengers enough time to read over the Accords and submit any amendments they have before the bill goes through.

Three days is enough time for the Accords to be read, yes, and for people like Tony or Natasha to suggest changes. But the rest of the team would need longer to make sense of the legal bullshit that delicately covers the pages; they'd need a full week at least.

Tony has a strong suspicion that Ross informed the U.N. that the Avengers were presented the accords ages ago. Tony collects the evidence needed to prove that Ross is full of shit, along with a few other choice documents.

Everything is packed and ready, and he leaves Aunt Peggy's funeral with a quick nod to Ronnie before the ceremony is done; with Steve there, all sorts of shit will hit the fan if he spots Tony at 'his best gal's' send-off.

Ross starts when he sees Tony enter the room, and Tony's not the only one to catch the flinch. With an internal laugh, Tony finds a seat, and waits patiently for the meeting to begin...


Alright he waits for all of three seconds before his phone is out and he's working on schematics for a better water filtration system for SI's R&D to work with.

Same difference.

He knows this is a meeting he has to be focused in, so he consciously checks the time (He can so be responsible! Take that Pepper's frowny-face!) to make sure he doesn't keep working through everything. He actually hears a couple shocked gasps when he puts his phone away just before the meeting starts.

Predictably, the U.N. spends most of the meeting talking about anything and everything but what the meeting was called for. While it's hard, Tony manages to refrain from too much noticeable fidgeting, and pays as much attention as he can on whoever is speaking.

He stifles the smile that wants to curl his lips as he sees Ross getting more and more concerned.

When finally, finally, the matter of the Sokovia Accords comes up, Tony stands before Ross can, gaining the attention of the whole room.

"It is no secret that I am a flawed man. You can look up pretty much any newspaper or feed and find some story detailing the sordidness that paints my history. So I hope dearly that you all understand the weight of what I am about to say.

The Avengers are as human as any one of you."

Quickly raising a hand to cut off Ross' attempt to speak, Tony looks around the room as he continues.

"Yes, they have abilities beyond humans, but they themselves, at their cores, their hearts, are human men and women. And most all of them extraordinary through nothing more then their lives."

Tony pulls his phone from his packet and hacks the display screens a la Congress hearing circa 2010. He pulls up the mini bios he made for each of the Avengers; seeing as all their details are on the net anyway (why did Steve think that was a good idea?) he figures they can't really yell at him for this.

Well, they can, but that's because the Avengers are made up of assholes, Tony included.

"Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. Abducted into the KGB's Red Room as a child; what choice did she have but to survive or die?

Samuel Wilson, the Falcon. U.S. Military Pararescue; he completed all training required to perform his duties to the highest standard.

James Rhodes, the Iron Patriot. U.S. Air Force Colonel; like Wilson, he completed his training to best fulfil his duties.

Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. Pietro Maximoff, Quicksilver. Tricked as children by HYDRA into becoming guinea pigs; they fought against HYDRA and Ultron to save Sokovia.

Steve Rogers, Captain America. A man who volunteered for a risky experiment for the chance -the slim chance- that he would be able to do right by his country.

Can you honestly tell me that these people aren't human?"

Tony can hear the low mutters and considering murmurs. Ross looks ready to blow a gasket, and Tony knows what he's going to say.

"And what about Vision, Thor and the Hulk?! How are they human, Stark?!"

Tony just grins, all teeth and no mirth.

"Vision. A cybernetic android created by Ultron, who in the end decided to fight against his creator, so that he could help humanity flourish.

Thor, the God of Thunder. Yes, he is an alien, we all know this, but he has sworn his life to protecting Earth as best he can.

Bruce Banner, the Hulk."

Here, Tony glares at Ross, and his tone turns to ice.

"A man who worked under General Thaddeus Ross on a project trying to revive the Super Soldier Serum. When it came to final testing, it was discovered that Ross had played around with the serum prototype, focussing it more on brute strength than peak of human perfection. Doctor Banner ended up being dosed with Ross' little toy and has spent years running from Ross' attempts to imprison him, claiming the man is now U.S. Military property."

Ross' face is an unattractive shade of red, and most of the room is looking between the screens displaying security footage showing what Tony's talking about, and Ross with disgust and horror on their faces. Tony notices two especially virulent glares coming from two men near him who he recognises but can't quite place, though he's 97.63% sure that they're father and son.

Once more gazing around the room, Tony speaks once again.

"The only deaths that can be attributed to the Hulk are either when he was surrounded by military personnel, or when his mind had been taken over by an outside force; both of which have been fully recorded and made available to the public.

The Hulk, when left alone, is the literal definition of a gentle giant. And Bruce Banner is still human."

Ross is actually turning purple, which Tony admits is a cool party trick, and is making almost choking sounds as he tries to yell profanity at Tony.

Please, Tony is Howard Stark's son; he's heard everything Ross can think of and worse.

Ross is approached by a concerned security guard, obviously worried the man is having a seizure or something, and Ross actually strikes them, full on attacks them. More security moves to detain him, and when the man just keeps swinging his fists and lashing at whoever he can reach, he's swiftly removed, which makes Tony's job a great deal easier.

"And after that little display, I would like to inform you all that insufficient time was given to the Avengers to go over the initial documents. While yes, I was able to go over them, I am one man with an insane reading speed and understanding of legal terminologies. The Avengers are a group of people who do not have my reading speed or my knowledge, and before the suggestion of me explaining everything to them is made" Tony raises an eyebrow at the man half-standing prepared to do just that. "It would still take more than the three days allotted to adequately explain the Accords in full before suggesting changes."

The display screens change to show the time that Ross entered the Compound, and how he spent most of his time talking down to the Avengers and riling them up.

"The fact that he was goading the Avengers into doing something that would likely 'prove' his point of them being a threat, is just another reason I would like the man taken off the Accords."

Tony stays standing as quick, quiet conversations are held, knowing that there will be questions soon.

The first question comes from the son of the duo near him.

"Obviously, from what we have just seen, amendments will need to be made to the Accords, and a proper length of time for the Avengers to go over them, but we cannot overlook the destruction done at Lagos. What can you tell us about that Doctor Stark?"

Tony's voice is strong and steady as he answers, but inside he is freaking a little, because no one has ever called him Doctor before. Even those who have read his papers and studies call him Mister before Doctor.

"Brock Rumlow, Crossbones."

A mug-shot for the HYDRA worm fills the display screens.

"The man was a HYDRA agent within S.H.I.E.L.D. His knowledge and training make him very dangerous, as does his personality. It has been well recorded that Rumlow enjoys violence and destruction, showing some skill at mind games and manipulation. He was placed on one of the S.T.R.I.K.E. teams in an attempt to channel that personality into something useful. He managed to escape imprisonment after S.H.I.E.L.D.'s fall, and has been running around doing what he can to further HYDRA's notoriety.

The Avengers managed to corner him at Lagos, and were attempting to bring him in when he used his skills against the Scarlet Witch. Having already suffered under HYDRA for many years, Wanda is notably uncomfortable with her past, so Rumlow picking at it the way he did caused her a great deal of distress. Rumlow followed this up by commenting on her brother. Given that Pietro barely survived the battle with Ultron, Wanda is understandably going through a phase of over-protectiveness.

As far as we can ascertain, because HYDRA didn't document exactly what they did to either of the Maximoff's, Wanda's power is greatly influenced by her emotions. At this moment of distress, her power lashed out, trying to attack whatever was making her so distraught.

I am not making light of this situation."

Tony glared at the woman on the other side of the room who had been muttering just that. He took a few deep breaths before continuing.

"I am merely stating facts. Well over three hundred people were greatly injured in Lagos, with seventy-one confirmed deaths. I do not have words to describe what everyone there is feeling; I don't have the words to describe what we in this room are feeling. We all know that this is horrible, that this is senseless and wrong. We know. People want someone to blame, they want someone to make things right, they want someone to hurt like they are. We know. And I know that a young woman who has been trying so hard to make up for what she has done wrong in the past is terrified of herself.

Wanda knows better than any of us just what her powers could do, and what her powers mean. She knows that she is dangerous. And she has been locking herself away, trying to make sure she hurts no one else.

But that is no way for a person to live.

What Wanda needs is more training in how to control her powers and herself. Had she and the team been dealing with someone else, someone not Rumlow, then I can pretty much assure you that this wouldn't have happened. Rumlow's knowledge of her history is something Wanda couldn't ignore. If her brother had been on that mission as well, he would have knocked Rumlow out before the man could do any damage.

Mistakes have been made, and you better believe the makers are suffering for them.

At this time, I cannot say that the Accords going into practice would do much good. I certainly agree with them; we need to be held accountable for what we do. We need to be held responsible when we screw up. At it's best, the Accords could do that, and I hope we can get them to their best. But you all need to remember that we are still human.

We are small, flawed creatures, that can only do our best at the end of the day, and that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, no matter how dearly we may wish otherwise, sometimes our best isn't good enough."

Tony sits as a deafening silence rings the room. A quick glance shows thoughtful faces, confused faces and a few now bearing tears.

He breathes deeply, trying to ignore the pain in his chest.

After a few minutes spent in silence, a smattering of hushed conversations begin, hands begin gesturing, words start being written on available paper and calls are being made. Tony can only hope it's enough.

From the corner of his eye, he can see the father-son duo speaking deeply while constantly sending long glances at him. It finally hits him why he recognises them.

King T'Chaka and Prince T'Challa of Wakanda.

Tony had to take a slow, deep breath to avoid fanboying. What? Wakanda is the land of technological wet-dreams; and Tony is sitting near it's ruling family!

That Prince T'Challa is such a fine male specimen is literally just a bonus.

A good twenty minutes pass, conversations going strong when King T'Chaka stands. The room silences itself fairly quickly, not to Tony's surprise. King T'Chaka is, once again, the ruler of Wakanda, and was the one to first suggest the Accords, and has been working very hard on it. When he moves to speak, people listen.

The rumbling prevents him from starting, the room as a whole looking around trying to locate what's making the sound. Tony's already moving, having recognised the sounds of explosives going off.

Tony manages to reach the King and activate the experimental feature on his watch, just as the first major bomb goes off.

It was the curling worry deep in his gut that had Tony bring the experimental piece of tech.

T'Challa is coughing hard, trying to blink his eyes clear of the smoke and dust.

His ears ringing, he looks around what remains of the room, seeing injuries and general panic, but not, to his relief, any corpses. He turns to look for his father, and his heart stutters at the rubble covering where his father stood just moments before.

T'Challa staggers forward, starting to dig through the refuse desperately, even as his mind begins to replay the events that just happened.

Doctor Stark explaining the events surrounding Lagos and General Ross' scheming.

The heartfelt plea to remember that the Avengers were still people too, regardless of power.

The conversations that plea led to, including his father teasing him about how closely he paid attention to Doctor Stark's words.

His father rising to speak, and the odd rumbling sounds.

Doctor Stark leaping up towards his father-

T'Challa's hands hit something distinctly not ruined building material, and he focuses back to what he's doing.

Peeking through the cracks and openings of the pile shines a soft blue light. It looks almost viscous, the way the light moves, as though to touch it would be like putting one's hand into half-set jelly, but T'Challa's palms are touching a wall as solid as steel.

Marvelling over the force-field, T'Challa continues to remove the debris covering it, rescue workers and other U.N. officials moving to help him. He is briefly forced to a paramedic to be checked over for anything immediately serious, during the examination for which he is able to confirm that though injured, no one has died, which is sheer luck if nothing else.

As he rejoins the group clearing away the rubble, he takes note of a very familiar face moving the broken pieces of wood, concrete and plaster.

"Ms Romanoff. I didn't realise all the Avengers would be coming."

The red-head sends a quick quirk of the lips before resuming her task.

"They didn't; I'm the only one here. I didn't know Tony would be coming either."

T'Challa, confused by her words, raises an eyebrow, which prompts another quirked smile.

"Tony retired from the Avengers; technically, he doesn't have to have anything to do with us, but he still chooses to. The tail-end of his speech was... if I was anyone else, I might have shed a tear."

T'Challa nods, a gentle smile curling his mouth.

He had known, of course, from watching and reading interviews Doctor Stark has done over the years that the man was quite loquacious, but he hadn't quite realise just how... profound his words could be.

The glowing half-sphere of light is finally cleared, and T'Challa takes a moment just to wonder at how such a thing was crafted, before once more moving close and laying a hand on the surface. It is some innate instinct that leads him to gently tapping his father's name out in Morse code.


T'Challa heaves a sigh when a responding series of Morse code follows his own.


Safe. His father is safe.


The response to him asking after Doctor Stark is longer, but it gives him a chuckle.

.-/.-./../...-/. // .--/---/---/--../-.-- // .-/... // ...././.-../.-.. // -./---/- // --./---/-./-./.- // .-../../. // -.../..-/- // .-/.-../../...-/.

Alive. Woozy as hell not gonna lie. But alive.

T'Challa cannot help but be relieved. He faintly hears Ms Romanoff translating the Morse for the rest of the room, a smattering of half-laughter filling the air at the uncaring attitude Doctor Stark is projecting.

 .--/.-/-./- // -/--- // .-../---/.--/./.-. // .../..../.././.-../-.. // .-/.-../.-.. // -.-./.-.././.-/.-.

Want to lower shield. All clear?

T'Challan practically punched the shield with his affirmation.


Slowly, the blue light began to dim, revealing his father and Doctor Stark huddled safely together as it finally disappeared. Tears streaming down his cheeks, T'Challa didn't hesitate to hug his father, revelling in the warmth of his father's arms. Medical personnel swiftly moved in to examine them, and both were declared fine before his father turned to Doctor Stark.

"What on earth was that shield? I've never seen anything like it."

Doctor Stark, now with Ms Romanoff by his side, gave a half-grin before looking at the band on his wrist.

"It's my response to what happened at Lagos. It's not perfect, but it works."

His father stares at the good Doctor for a moment, before gently untangling T'Challa's arms from around him and standing to address the room.

"For now, and until more work is done on them, I suggest we suspend the accords. I would like to request the aid of the Avengers in finding those responsible for this attack."

There is instantaneous rumbling in support, and his father turns to Doctor Stark, who merely shrugs.

"You certainly have my help, but I'm not an Avenger. You'd best make that request to the dangerous lady next to me."

Ms Romanoff gives a quick flick to Doctor Stark's ear before nodding.

"We'll be glad to help you get to the bottom of this, and we'll work closely alongside Tony."

The two descend into a conversation held with their eyes. T'Challa can feel the looks his father sending him, but he can't help how his gaze rakes down Doctor Stark's form.

"My son, T'Challa, is one of Wakanda's topmost warriors. I would be glad to offer his aid as well."

T'Challa is struck frozen as the two heroes eye him speculatively. Ms Romanoff nods after a few moments, and pulls out her phone, no doubt to contact the Avengers.

Doctor Stark's gaze lingers.

"I'm okay with that. I look forward to working with you, Majesty."

T'Challa swallows deeply, barely breathing until the man looks away.

He's not the only one.

Chapter Text

"I have no idea how you convinced me that this is a thing I should be doing. I suspect witchcraft."

T'Challa chuckled at his sulking beloved, and moved a little deeper into the water before turning around.

Tony stood at the edge of the pool, arms crossed and -yes- lips pursed into that gorgeous pout that made T'Challa want to plunder his mouth. T'Challa took a moment to admire the figure his Beloved cut wearing the red and gold Iron Man board-shorts Clint had bought him as a joke.

"Come Beloved, it is not difficult. If it would make you feel better, think of it as merely an excuse for me to hold you."

Tony's eye's darted away, a light blush colouring his cheeks, and a helplessly adorable smile curling his lips.

"Like you even need an excuse."

He did enter the water though.

Tony had ever really been taught how to swim. He knew how to tread water, and doggie paddle, but those were born more from instinct than training. After the events of Afghanistan, Tony avoided bodies of water as best he could to avoid panicking himself, but T'Challa was determined to at least give Tony more options should his Beloved ever find himself in need.

Water coming up to his knees, T'Challa noted how Tony was forcing his breaths to remain even and steady, and wrapped an arm around his Beloved's waist.

"That's a wonderful start Beloved. Come, let's just walk around this level for a bit."

They do so at Tony's nod, and though his beloved's breathing remains forced, T'Challa sees the tension fading from his frame. They slowly start moving deeper into the water, never too much at once, judging by how rapid his Beloved's breathing becomes. T'Challa constantly praises the effort Tony's showing -after all, Tony is facing something that very nearly led to his death many times over- intermingled with endless kisses.

The water reaches just below their chests, and Tony refuses to go further.

"No I- it's not- can't- not- T'Challa I-"

"Calm Beloved. We will go no deeper. This is all we need, and I am still here." T'Challa grabs his Beloved's hands, placing them over his heart. "I am not going anywhere. You are doing so well Beloved, and I am so very proud of you."

Tony moves closer, cuddling into T'Challa's chest as he tries to match breaths. T'Challa continues to whisper his praises, placing gentle kisses over his lips, face and hair. By habit or instinct, Tony tilts his head back at just the right second to have their lips meet fully and men stronger than T'Challa have fallen under the thrall of that mouth.

Soft yet firm, Tony's lips press ever so slightly harder against his own, and T'Challa feels the growl wanting to escape his throat. He tempers the beast by instead devouring his Beloved's mouth, licking the seam of his lips to trick them open, and then shooting his tongue into the warm cavern so that it may discover it's riches.

Tony let's out a helpless little whimper, which sends the growl back to clawing at T'Challa's throat. He tightens his hold on Tony, dragging him impossibly closer, relishing in the power that his Beloved lets him hold over him.

With a final swipe of the tongue, they part for precious air. It takes T'Challa but a moment to dive down to thoroughly mark his Beloved's throat and neck.

So many people, day after day after day, gaze upon his Beloved with lust in their eyes and greed in their hearts. But they cannot -will not- touch his Beloved, hold his Beloved, claim his Beloved as T'Challa can and does at any given moment.

T'Challa loves to hear Tony's pleasure, delighting in the groans, moans and screams he can pull from his Beloved, and now is no different, the sounds coming from his Beloved sizzling through his veins.

Tony is not a passive lover though, certainly not. Hands worn and callused trail lines of fire across T'Challa's body, hitting every nerve with waves of desire.


The water sluices down them as T'Challa pulls them both from the pool, Tony still held tightly to his chest.

"That is enough of the water today. We have business to attend in our room Beloved."

Tony merely presses their lips together again as T'Challa hoists him up.

There's plenty of time tomorrow to work on swimming.

Chapter Text

"Three-hundred thousand dollars Stark, and you get to see your son again."


"What do you mean?! He is right here! We have your plane and-"


"So you sign the boy to death? Ha! America's Loving Father huh?"



He wakes in excruciating pain, unable to do anything but hoarsely scream in symphony with his body.

He's sure he blacks out at some point, because he wakes again, voice no more a whispering croak, but still screaming from a never-ending pain.

He wakes a third time, this time not even able to open his mouth but he still screams, accompanied yet again by his injuries.

The forth time he wakes, he's pretty sure his nerves had died, at least temporarily if not completely, because he can't feel a thing. For the first time, he can actually look around himself and see where he is.

It is a jungle that greets him, the trees tall and the plants everywhere. In fact, the flight path of his plane was travelling over Africa. If his math is correct -which it always is- the plane's direction and speed, combined with how he was dropped out of said plane would put him at about ... Wakanda. It would also explain why he was in such agony earlier; he's probably broken his everything from the parachute-free sky-diving lesson.

Wait... why was he even in a plane? And he had just though of it as his plane so, did he own the plane? If so why was he thrown from it to likely death? And he calculated he fell into Wakanda; how did he know the math to do that calculation, and where exactly Wakanda is? Wakanda isolated itself from the rest of the world after Howard Stark stole a large chunk of Vibranium nearly thirty years ago-

Why does he know that?

He doesn't have time to answer when he hears the sudden rustling nearby, the plant life being pushed aside to make way for... A very attractive man. Obviously muscled, but still sleek, and skin such a perfect chocolate, he's sure it tastes as good as it looks.

Hot-guy looks at him with suspicion until a look of horror over his state causes him to rush forward.

"By the Panther God, how do you yet live?"

Dammit, even hot-guy's voice is amazing. And this close, he can see near-black brown of the man's eyes and hair.

"Luck. Mostly luck. A pinch of me being awesome, but yeah, luck."

His voice is a barely there croak, but his words manage to bring a slight curl to hot-guy's lips, so he'll take it.

"You'll never heal left out here; I'll take you to my home, where you can be properly looked at."

Well doesn't that just invite all kinds of images to his head? It's almost like a fairy tale; the suave dashing hero carrying their rescued beloved into safer territory-

Huh, would you look at that?

His nerves were just temporarily dead. They can probably hear his screams all the way to hot-guy's home.

He wakes to a ceiling over him instead of the sky.

It's a nice ceiling, he supposes, a pretty dark wood that has a noticeable grain and subtle carvings depicting large cats on the hunt.

"Ah, you've woken."

He looks to the kind voice.

It's an older gentleman, looks to be late thirties to mid forties. Very nice smile and his face shows a lot of laugh lines.

"You were out for nearly two weeks, but given your condition, I'm surprised you've woken at all. How did you come to be so injured?"

"I was pushed."

Okay, so maybe he could have given more than that, but the look of absolute bewilderment on the man's face is so worth it.

"I was in a plane at the time."

The confusion on the man's face is gone, as with any other emotion. It's actually a little scary, the way the way the man's face just went so completely blank, but he has the feeling he's seen something like it before, because he doesn't react despite his fear.

Look at me when I'm speaking boy!

The world disappears.

He thinks he might dream, the blackness occasionally interspersed with colour and sound.

Either that or he briefly wakes up a number of times. It's hard to tell.

For the most part, the world stays gone.

"Ah! Good morning!"

The peppy young voice belongs to a girl a few years younger than him. He remembers her from the swatches of life breaking up the black, but he's not sure if he's dreaming or awake.

"Don't worry, you're awake; I can prove it!"

So saying, the girl reaches over and harshly pinches his side.

Agony spreads across his body, fire dancing along his nerves. He instinctively hunches away from her, away from the source of pain. He can barely hear the approaching footsteps over the roaring in his ears.

"Shuri! What happened?!"

"I'm sorry Father! I didn't think! I just acted, and I didn't mean to hurt him! I'm sorry!"

He starts when a hand touches his head, but it's so soft that he can't help but lean into it.

"Calm now. There is no threat. Calm."

He recognises hot-guy's voice, and miraculously, he does calm down, his body slowly relaxing to the gentle timbre.

"That's it, nice and slow breaths now. Is anything in particular still hurting you?"

He shakes his head as he's gently returned to a reclined position. His whole body is still screaming with the shadows of pain the girl's -Shuri?- pinch delivered, but as he focuses on his breathing, it becomes more and more bearable. Hot-guy nods, a gorgeous smile on his lips, and turns to look at the kind gentleman from before.

"We are all glad you see you awake, as you have been in and out of consciousness for almost three months now."

The kind gentleman nods and takes a step forward.

"We were quite concerned over your state. But you have healed quite nicely in those three months, so aside from the muscle deterioration and stiffness, you are doing very well. Oh my manners; I am T'Chaka. This is my daughter Shuri and my son T'Challa."


He started after the name dropped from his lips.

"How do I know that?"

He -Tony- could feel his breath quickening, the aching muscles in his chest protesting the harsher movements. T'Chaka's voice quickly broke through the panic.

"It's normal. After an experience like what you endured, it is perfectly normal to suffer some memory loss. With how badly you hit your head, you were far more likely to snap your neck than not, so be calm; you are alive."

"What I have is survived; it can't be much of a life if you panic over how you know obscure things -and also know that those things are obscure- while you have no clue about who the hell you are."

Is Tony actually his name? Was he on a plane or did he dream that? He knows he was hurt; you can't imagine what he went through, not that perfectly. But was he actually pushed from a plane? Why was he (hypothetically) on that plane anyway?

"Calm now. We will help you remember all you have lost. Nice and slow breaths for me now."

T'Challa's voice is smooth as silk and warm as coffee, rumbling through his chest as he straightens Tony's body from the hunched position it's taken. Tony manages to force a few deep breaths before some of the tightness in his body relaxes. He can feel himself drifting to sleep, which sucks because he's already been doing that for over three months apparently.

"Rest now. I will be here when you wake."

T'Challa had been the one to come upon Tony. He had seen the brightness of the young man's clothing and gone to investigate, thinking to send off the intruder.

Truly, it was a miracle and nothing less that Tony had not been dead with his injuries.

Tony had been calm -almost chatty- until T'Challa picked him up. He had been especially careful, but every little movement was torture for the young man, and Tony had been quickly sedated when they arrived back at the palace. No one upon seeing his state could bring themselves to demand he be removed from the kingdom.

He would never survive it.

He had been given a full exam and treated, and all the Doctors had marvelled over Tony's survival, but projected that it was likely the man's mental faculties would be drastically affected.

Father had been present when Tony briefly awoke two weeks later and had spent the following few hours in a rage.

"We allow aircraft uninhibited travel over our lands... he was on one of them... and we have had no sightings or knowledge of a crash."

Someone had wanted the young man dead.

Many times over the next three months, the young man would wake for just enough time to mutter a few random things before once more falling unconscious. Some of them were just the general complaints anyone has upon waking. 

"My mouth tastes like ass, and not the good type of ass that comes after the naked-fun-times."

"Sleep is supposed to make you feel better, so why do I still feel like shit?"

"Ugh, wake. No. Bad. Turn off the sun."

Whereas other mutterings had T'Challa's eyebrows rising to his hairline.

"Fix the coding and add more spatial awareness to the camera specs and he'll be up and running no problem. Probably still be a useless little A.I. but he's mine and perfect in his way."

"Address the trajectory issues by twelve percent and an impact site opens with an increased range of forty meters."

"Rhodey's birthday coming up; get a car. I'll tinker with it; make it faster and safer. Only the best for Rhodey."

And others still had his heart seizing in pain for the young man.

"I'll be better dad, please just stop. Please, I'll be good."

"Dad's off on one of his searches Madre, you don't have to worry; we're safe."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please dad, I'm sorry. I promise I won't cry anymore."

T'Challa had dutifully informed his father about the instances, and knew the king felt as he did that it was likely the young man's father who pushed him from the plane. They had no proof, and warriors had gone on a search just to make sure that there hadn't been a crash where the young man was pushed out in a desperate hope he survived, but no, the jungle was clear.

Both T'Challa and his father came running when they heard the young man's screams.

Entering the room, they found him curled into himself, shaking and screaming and pain overwhelmed him, Shuri standing near him unsure of what to do.

"Shuri! What happened?!"

"I'm sorry Father! I didn't think! I just acted, and I didn't mean to hurt him! I'm sorry!"

T'Challa knew Shuri wouldn't intentionally hurt an already injured man, so set to calming the man still on the bed, while their father calmed Shuri. The young man had managed to introduce himself as Tony before those warnings of mental ability were proven true, with Tony unable to remember much. T'Challa managed to coax Tony back to sleep, calming the rising panic attack, before turning to face his father and sister.

"As stated, I'll stay here with him. Would you please inform the doctors of what we've learned?"

His father nodded and left, Shuri trailing behind him, still shaken by Tony's screams.

T'Challa sat down to wait.

When Tony eventually woke, it was to hunger. Once he had consumed as much of the broth as he could, one of Wakanda's psychologists came and spoke with him at length. T'Challa stayed in the room, for the entire discussion, discovering early on that his at least somewhat familiar presence helped keep Tony calm. After Tony drifted off once more, the psychologist gestured for him to follow out of the room.

"First off, he's certainly not playing up the amnesia; he has no idea where most of his knowledge comes from, or anything more about who he is besides being named Tony and being seventeen. He knows he's in Wakanda, but only because he recalls the flight path the plane was on, and calculated where he landed. I can tell you he's a genius, given he gave a mini-lecture on rocket science, but he's also very up to date on American pop-culture, given the amount of references he uses in any given sentence.

I don't know whether or not his memory will return, but I think that most of the missing memories are linked to his father, given that he has the vaguest recollection of his mother. You said he mentioned his father during the past three months?"

T'challa nodded, thinking over how terrifying the whole situation must be for Tony. The psychologist continued.

"He wasn't brought up even once during the last hour, but several mentions of his mother, best friend, and even of an uncle or some such relation. I would recommend focussing on his physical restoration for now. As he recovers his strength, he'll be better equipped to handle the task of trying to recover his mind."

Tony heals well over the following months, regaining most of his strength and mobility, though he still tired fairly easily due to his recovery.

Though no memories return to him, Tony is delighted to make new ones, constantly learning new things, and amazing the science division with his ideas and creations.

T'Challa found himself... drawn to Tony.

Tony felt most comfortable around T'Challa, likely a vestigial memory of how T'Challa brought Tony to safety, but regardless, Tony often sought T'Challa out; to speak, to joke around with, or even just to sit in silent company with.

Despite the pride and love T'Challa felt for his country and it's people, he had never really felt particularly close to anyone until Tony showed up. Intelligent, caring, and full of clever lines and quips, it was just so easy to be attracted to the younger man.

It certainly didn't hurt that after his injuries healed, Tony proved to be quite the handsome individual.

Dark brown hair that was soft as nothing else T'Challa had touched, a lithe figure under golden skin that held a strength to it that only grew as Tony healed, and his eyes; perfect gems of brown amber, that T'Challa could lose himself in, in a heartbeat.

Really, it was a shock to no-one that the two came together.

There had been a feast, the returning warriors' reward for their hard work and dedication. Praises were sung, blessing bestowed and food prepared for all. Watching Tony lick the juices from his meal off his fingers, T'Challa knew with all his being that Tony would be his by nights end.

By the light of the torches set up, Tony's skin glowed, looking a treasure amongst the people and his eyes caught every flicker of light to shine like the precious jewels they so resembled.

Their eyes met as Tony sucked the final juices from his fingers, a wicked glint gleaming from his eyes before-

He dashed off into the darkness, unnoticed by the revellers still celebrating.

T'Challa swiftly followed, his blood crying out in pleasure for the hunt.

Tony had picked up many skills in his time here, among which was moving silently and unseen. But T'Challa was one of Wakanda's top warriors, and knew just enough of how Tony's mind worked to pick up his trail.

Tony was good.

T'Challa was better.

Even with Tony's recovery, the man is fast, managing to get a fair distance before T'Challa catches up and pounces. The feel of muscles bunching and rippling beneath his hands is enthralling, and T'Challa cannot help the delighted purr that rumbles through his chest. Tony stills, feeling T'Challa's chest vibrate through the sound, which gives T'Challa the opportunity to snake a hand and arm around his body, holding it ever closer to his own.

"Caught you."

Tony shivers at the voice whispering in his ear, and outright shudders when T'Challa's tongue traces the outer shell of his ear.

"And to the victor, go the spoils."

Tony is flipped so the ground meets his back, and T'Challa kisses him with everything he has, teasing Tony's mouth open and fighting for dominance with their tongues. Tony's hands come up to rest on T'Challa's biceps as they kiss, gently squeezing and kneading the hard muscle, sending tendrils of pleasure through T'Challa's body.

They break for air, and T'Challa dips back down for a few soft kisses before descending to Tony's neck and sucking a deep bruise in the skin.

A claim, one that will last days, and that T'Challa had no problem reapplying.

Tony moans so sweetly, so desperately, that T'Challa pulls back only long enough to divest any clothing either wear, before diving back to litter Tony's chest with a winding trail of red bites.

Tony's hands have moved from T'Challa's arms, instead now threaded through his hair, alternately massages and scratching at T'Challa's head. T'Challa cannot help the groans that escape his throat, nor does he even try to, for he can feel the pleased shivers in Tony's frame whenever he releases a sound.

T'Challa's path leads ever southward until he rests at the apex between Tony's legs. He can see the gentle throbs of Tony's manhood as he takes it into his hand. The skin is like silk, and T'Challa feels the sympathetic throb of his own erection at the handling. Tony's vocalisations have reached a higher pitch, his focus entirely on T'Challa, and it's a heady feeling, commanding T'Challa to ensure it remains on him.

Slowly, with a firm grip, T'Challa's hand travels up and down the length of Tony's arousal, the other hand stroking Tony's thigh soothingly.

Tony looses a harsh curse and a long drawn out moan, which just sets T'Challa's blood burning higher. The movements speed up, pushing Tony closer and closer to the edge, before near stopping, leaving Tony hanging onto the very edge of completion before starting again.

Over and over, Tony flirts with the fall of pleasure before T'Challa drags him back, leaving Tony a quivering, mewling pile of sensation.

A very quick rummage through his clothes has T'Challa retrieving the lubricant he had begun carrying in expectation, and slicking up three fingers. Tracing one around the puckered ring of Tony's entrance, T'Challa watches Tony's face as it twists in ecstasy.

Eventually, after who knows how long, T'Challa slips the long digit into the burning heat of Tony's walls, and groans long and hard, unable to imagine the pleasure he will feel once properly inside. Tony keens loudly, grinding down on T'Challa's finger, desperate for more; more movement, more fingers, just more. T'Challa has to focus on his breathing to avoid removing his finger and just taking what Tony is so willingly offering. No, while it would be so pleasurable for T'Challa, he wants to make it just as good for Tony.

In and out, left and right, a little twist and-

Tony shrieks as T'Challa trails over his prostrate, the pleasure shooting through his body, setting him once more on the very edge of climax. T'Challa resumes the soothing strokes of his free hand, calming Tony even as he riles him up.

One finger turns to two, becomes three as Tony wails, begging desperately for T'Challa to either join with him, or let him fall. With three fingers being eagerly engulfed with no signs of discomfort, T'Challa cannot deny his eagerness anymore.

T'Challa removes his fingers, prompting a distressed whine from Tony, and slathers the lubricant over his sadly neglected member. The feel of his own hand causes him to once more stop and breathe deeply, lest this end too soon. Once he has calmed, T'Challa lines up with Tony's still gaping entrance and gently begins pushing in.

It is beyond glorious, the searing heat to his member and the delicious tightness despite all his preparations. Though still alert for signs of pain or discomfort, Tony's body seems to swallow T'Challa's member eagerly, the delighted cries from Tony furthering the pleasure of T'Challa's entrance.

When he's finally seated, root to tip, T'Challa once more breathes heavily, trying to seek his calm. But it's much harder now, with the tight heat surrounding him, the clearing they're in drenched with the scents of sex, and the positive devastation he has wreaked upon Tony evident on his face.

When Tony's legs come up to wrap around T'Challa's waist and pull him ever so slightly closer, that's it.

T'Challa's lost.

Driven only by instinct and desire, T'Challa pounds into Tony, revelling in the sharp cries and near ceaseless moaning, delighting as Tony shrieks with every glance to his prostrate and purring in smug satisfaction at the dark marks once more being littered across Tony's skin.

Especially the deep, dark bruise that lies alone on Tony's neck.

Tony can no longer utter any words but T'Challa's name, which sends further heat sizzling through T'Challa's veins. To be truly the complete focus of Tony's mind?  To the point where he is the only thing Tony can focus on?

T'Challa thrusts harder into Tony's body, rewarding the younger man for his unwitting gift.

Already on edge before he was entered, Tony doesn't last for very long, reaching his completion with a gorgeous drawn out moan of T'Challa's name. T'Challa groans alongside him, the delicious heat being pressed tighter to his member, and pulling him closer and closer to the end.

He lasts only a few strokes more, before roaring his climax to the heavens.

Tony is his.

His and no others.

It is no surprise after that night that Tony and T'Challa are rarely seen alone; T'Challa is a possessive man, and Tony does enjoy having someone focused on him.

They do not share a room, though many feel it is merely a matter of time, and keep their love-making away from prying eyes. But their lives are still much of the same, their routines not changing much if at all. They still goof off with the science division, work on Tony's physical therapy and T'Challa's training, and try to help Tony regain his memories, though still with limited success.

For now though, they are taking a break.

Reclining on the low couch on the balcony, T'Challa holds a dozing Tony close to his chest, letting the sounds of the gardens mix with the television showing world news in the background. Right now, life is pretty wonderful.

"And America mourns the death of Millionaire inventor Howard Stark, who passed away in a tragic car accident last night. Grieving widow Maria Stark asks that she is contacted if anyone has any information about her missing son Anthony-"

Chapter Text

T'Challa likes to think of himself as a man who has his priorities in order. First comes his duties to his loved ones, followed immediately by his duties as King and protector of Wakanda, trailed by his duties to the Avengers. First and second can switch places depending on the day, but given that his loved ones are his sister and his Heart, it isn't usually a difficulty to arrange himself around his duties.

At least, that's what he thought.

After seeing Thor speaking to Tony, T'Challa's Heart, and his Heart blushing the way only T'Challa has ever managed? It appears T'Challa must rethink.

Facts state that Tony should be attracted to T'Challa; he trumps any competitor in terms of wealth, status and political power. He is one of the strongest men on the planet. And he is among the top twenty of the worlds' recognised most attractive men, though his Heart has never truly cared about those things.

But this is Thor.

Though still a Prince to T'Challa's King, Thor is the prince of Asgrad, an alien realm, of which he holds access to all it's wealth -both financial and technological- along with the political power that comes with being an ambassador of sorts to Earth. Thor is also higher on that list of the worlds' top twenty, and as an Asgardian is blessed with strength greater than T'Challa's own.

And he made Tony blush.

When his Heart was twenty-five, he stated in an interview that he'd tried pretty much anything twice, and held no regrets for it. As a result, he is not easily embarrassed, nor flushed. In his early thirties, there was actually a competition of sorts to see who could capture a picture of Tony Stark blushing, but there was never a winner.

T'Challa, however, merely needed to whisper of his love for Tony, and his Heart would smile so gently while his cheeks coloured.

How had Thor managed to bring about that blush? How had the Thunderer done what until now only T'Challa could? Had T'Challa somehow failed his Heart?

The thought struck him hard, causing all his breath to leave him at once.

There had recently been a high demand for his presence back in Wakanda, and he had returned to his homeland without a second thought, only to be gone for a long month. His Heart did not do well with loneliness, and had T'Challa thought, he would have brought his Heart with him instead of force the man he loved through that solitude.

Had Thor moved to steady Tony while T'Challa was gone? Subtly inserting himself as Tony's comforter during his loneliness?

T'Challa feels the panther within snarl in anger. No! Thor shall not take his Heart away! T'Challa will not allow it!

If Thor thinks to gain Tony's affections, T'Challa is willing to fight!

His plan is simple, with only four stages to it.

Stage one is to remind everyone he stands at his Heart's side.

The necklace is a simple affair; light so as to not distract his Heart or be hindrance when at work or in his armour, gold as is his Heart's preference and better to compliment his Heart's skin, and made of Vibranium so as to remind his Heart of him always.

The small smattering of red jewels strewn through the metal are T'Challa's little favouritism seeing Tony in those colours.

It's Team Bonding Night, and T'Challa catches Tony before the team is to meet up to go out for dinner.

"For you my Heart."

It strengthens his resolve when that darling blush rises.

His Heart opens the package and smiles so sweetly, so genuinely and then asks is so shy a voice, if T'Challa will clasp it for him.

The feel of golden skin on his fingertips stays with T'Challa for the night, and he barely hides the smug grin when Thor questions the necklaces appearance at the restaurant.

Stage two is a bit trickier, owing to the fact that both T'Challa and his Heart have dedicated their time to intense workloads; T'Challa with Wakanda, Tony with Stark Industries, and both with the Avengers.

But Virginia "Pepper" Potts likes T'Challa.

"You have picked the best time for it; Tony's way ahead of schedule, the R&D team have been on top of their work and safety protocols, and the Board has just received their bonus from the last sales so aren't focused on Tony. I can keep the press and the minions distracted for about a month."

T'Challa makes a note to do something special in thanks.

Shuri easily agrees to take care of Wakanda a little more so that T'Challa is free after hearing his plans, and the Avengers are notified that nothing short of global invasion is to call them back, so with that, stage two is ready.

"A vacation onto a private island? Damn, how the hell did you manage this Aslan?"

"I asked the right people my Heart."

The taste of his Hearts' lips lingers as they board the jet.

Stage three is a reminder to his Heart.

A reminder that T'Challa is the only one who can truly satisfy his Hearts' needs.

It started with kisses soft as a butterfly's wing.

Dotting over every piece of skin, T'Challa's lips pressed oh so gently, leaving only the faintest pressure, and a steadily building pleasure.

He did not meet his Hearts' mouth, instead skipping over constantly so as to hear every sweet sigh and gasp that passed between beloved lips.

It was only when his name began to fall that he finally kissed his Heart fully, deeply, letting all his passion and desire for the other man drive his actions.

Only parting for brief seconds to gain air, over and over they kissed, while his hands slid below his Hearts' clothing.

The heat on both their skins was amazing, trails of fire following every move T'Challa's fingers made, pulling the most delicious sounds from his Hearts' throat. Thinking of the long expanse of skin, T'Challa broke the kiss, placing a conciliatory peck on those pouting lips, before latching himself onto his Hearts' neck. The groans and moans following this action set T'Challa's blood burning even hotter than it had already been with his desire for the man beneath him. Clothes were shed in an instant, allowing far more skin to worship.

And it was worship.

As T'Challa created a winding path down his Hearts' chest, paying special attention to the scars life decided to leave upon the golden skin, it was done with the truest adoration that T'Challa felt, the strongest thanks, and the deepest love.

Every kiss was a thank you, for Tony allowing him this touch, every trailing finger a wonder of what was shown, every joining a blessing and prayer for what was on offer.

For his Heart could have anyone. So many would leap at the chance to stand by his Hearts' side. So many would kill for the opportunity to be Tony's chosen.

But it was T'Challa who stood beside him. It was T'Challa who was chosen. Among the millions on offer, it was T'Challa who succeeded, and he would do nothing to jeopardise that.

A finger slick with lubricant traced that puckered entrance, coaxing more and more gorgeous noises forth, gentle whines, pleasured sighs and oh so desperate begging.

When T'Challa's finger finally sunk into the heavenly depths of Tony's heat, it was a heady thing indeed to see his Hearts' cheeks become painted with that oh so loved blush.

Free hand teasing the steel length of his Heart, T'Challa breathed heavily at the sight, sound and touch of their lovemaking. Hands worn by work and dotted with calluses were gripping so desperately to his arms, tightening reflexively when fingers grazed over his Hearts' prostrate. Eyes already glazed with pleasure were suddenly hidden behind thick lashes as Tony's head threw itself left and right, simultaneously wanting to back away from T'Challa's actions, while evermore desiring them to continue.

How many times had they done this? How many times had T'Challa held Tony on the brink, letting the pleasure slowly subsume him until the only thought in that most amazing mind was T'Challa, and what he might do to his Heart next?

A high keen broke T'Challa out of his pleasured watch, reminding him that he had work to be done, resuming his hand's motions and once more revelling in his Hearts' obvious desperation.

Finally, it became too much, and T'Challa moved to prepare himself, removing his hand from Tony's divine heat, and slathering his own, dearly neglected member in the lubricant. He knew he'd not last long, his desire for Tony too much, but he would be able to last long enough.

The slow, smooth slide as his member became engulfed in that blessed heat and was pressed in snuggly by silken walls was almost too much, was too good. The pleased groans of his name from swollen lips and trails of questing fingers upon his own skin adding their own delightful torture.

He started to move.

Like any devoted learner, T'Challa knew exactly how to best please his Heart. Snapping his hips in fast before slowly dragging away, twisting his angle just right, never silencing his own cries of passion, all were for Tony. The way the walls caressing his manhood began to ripple told T'Challa that his Heart was close, so close to completion. Thrusting in as deeply as he could manage, T'Challa held still, pressing against his Heart's prostrate.

The screams that left his Heart as climax took him filled T'Challa with a deep, base pride; he did that. He was the one to give this wonderful being such pleasure. He was the one chosen by this being to serve.

That thought, along with the sight of the necklace he had gifted his Heart splattered with the evidence of Tony's pleasure, had T'Challa thoughts white out.

When they had woken and eaten, they spent the day together, exploring the island, catching up on their reading, catching up with each other. It was after dinner that T'Challa moved to Stage four.


Kneeling before his stunned Heart, T'Challa presents the ring he'd had specially made, three slivers of Vibranium interwoven, and hanging from a chain.

"Body, mind and soul my Heart. All that I am is yours. Will you agree to be mine?"

His Heart looks delighted, a breathy chuckle escaping his lips.

"That depends."

A breath held burning in T'Challa's chest as his Hearts pulls something from his pocket.

"Are you willing to wear mine?"

The small box opens to show a ring in black and gold.

They return to their bed, wearing nothing but their rings.

"You've been extra attentive lately... did you think I was gonna say no?"

They are reclined on a lounge on the balcony, overlooking the ocean as the sun rises, colouring the ocean purple and pink. T'Challa pulls his Heart a little closer.

"I saw Thor flirting with you, and decided I needed to prove I was the better choice."

T'Challa sees no reason to hide such from his Heart; Tony values honesty over most else. Those amber eyes meet T'Challa's, and a shy smile graces his lips.

"Was this just after you'd returned from Wakanda?"

Nodding T'Challa felt both delighted and confused by the red coming to stain his Hearts' cheeks.

"Ah, well, you see... I was kinda asking for advice on how to propose to you..."

T'Challa felt his jaw drop as his Heart squirmed a little.

"I knew that you've been super busy lately, and that you're likely to get just as busy in the future same as I am; it's a part of who we are and our jobs. So I wanted something... special to mark my proposal and Thor is actually quite the thoughtful romantic -I think it's because he still lives in Shakespearean times- and so I went to him for ideas and... he kinda suggested a vacation too, but you beat me to the punch there and-'

The kiss is gentle, though no less impassioned then what they share in their bed.

They return to watching the sunrise, both trailing fingers on their rings.

Chapter Text

The first time he notices it, Tony's coming off a four day science-binge.

His insomnia hit hard, and the ideas just wouldn't stop. Every time he tried to sleep, hell, every time he closed his eyes, the numbers and schematics would swarm, and he just couldn't rest the way he needed to. His hands were shaking as he worked, his body beyond tired, but his brain wouldn't let him sleep for all the numbers and schematics and ideas.

He just couldn't shut it off.

"Oh my Chosen. How may I be of aid?"

The feather-light kiss pressed to his shaking fingers comes as a surprise (when the hell did T'Challa enter his workshop?) but it catches and holds Tony's attention completely; as though nothing in the universe is as important as cataloguing the feel of T'Challa against him.

He thinks T'Challa might have picked him up as he fell asleep.

The second time comes about a week later after the meeting from hell with the Board of Directors.

After the bullshit with Obi- Stane, Tony dedicated massive efforts to weeding out his stooges and flunkies, replacing them with good, honest people. It took the longest time to get the old board members who were worst offenders out the door, but Tony managed.

Now though, it seems that the members he left have decided they have seniority and want to (ab)use it to their advantage. He needs them gone, yesterday if he can given the mutterings he's been hearing about Stark weapons again.

He's just so damn exhausted though.

He needs to get rid of them, but he needs to be nice about it, not gain media attention over it (negative attention anyway; SI is still recovering from the bullshit of Civil War FuckyouverymuchRoss) and make it seem like it's their idea.

But how the hell is he going to -

Lips gently press on his knuckles, and Tony suddenly focuses on the fact that T'Challa is right in front of him holding his hand to his lips.

"What dark thoughts chase you, my Chosen?"

What? Dark thoughts? Why would Tony be thinking dark thoughts? Why would Tony be thinking anything but how good it feels to have T'Challa hold him?

The third time is after a fight with Doom and his Doombots.

It wasn't a particularly hard battle, but it was long, Doom summoning swarms of the little bastards from every nook and cranny it seemed.

How the Latvian managed to smuggle so many into the sewers is both worrying and disgusting.

Everyone is tired, grumpy, and in serious need of after-battle munchies. Tony knows this, but looking around at all the destruction the battle left, he knows they won't be able to. Well, he won't be able to; the others are wiped to the point of food, shower, maybe medical then bed. Tony's at analysis, estimation, cheque, reconstruction, press conference, more reconstruction, repairs to armour, repairs to team's gear, yet more reconstruction, shower, further reconstruction, second press conference, food if he has time, SI meetings, final bit of reconstruction, debrief with team, third press conference, debrief with Fury, more SI meetings, SI R&D, and then maybe sleep if he's lucky.

It's usually left to Tony to fix the messes every battle makes, but it's tiring in it's own way on top of battle fatigue. Sighing, Tony stands and is about to direct the others to a nearby and still open sushi-joint when-

"Come my Chosen, let us eat before we get to work, for we will need our strength."

A single kiss placed to the back of each gauntlet and Tony can't remember what was stressing him out two seconds ago.

It actually starts to worry him.

Tony loves T'Challa, and absolutely adores the physical contact, but he really isn't used to his brain just turning off like it has been.

He's tried to talk to Rhodey about it, but Rhodey just bursts out laughing and singing juvenile songs of love, the traitor.

Tony knows he's in love, but why is his brain on the blink?

Rhodey's bawdy love ballads only get worse when he's present at one of the instances (Tony had been trapped by SI Board meetings again, and had been in the middle of quite a loquacious rant when a kiss to each wrist had him falling silent) and worse still is that the rest of the team was there too, and have joined in with the singing -though Natasha and Barnes' absolutely vulgar ones in Russian are hilarious.

It's really a concern though.

"Though Rhodey's being a dick about it, it's not actually a full problem Boss."

"Still not your boss anymore, but how so?"

Happy makes a feint and Tony ducks away from the boxer, hopping lightly on the balls of his feet so he doesn't lose momentum.

"It's a pretty common side effect of being in love. They are the one who holds your heart, and damn if you don't want to focus on them. I'm often giving Pepper my full attention anyway, so for me, it's no big deal, but you're a genius Boss; you haven't had a lot of experience having that sort of attention focused on something living."

Happy manages to dance away from Tony's right-hook.

"What do you mean something living? Why did you specify that?"

Happy grins, managing to land a glancing blow.

"You have that single-minded focus when you're in the shop Boss. You are so intent on your work, that all else is deemed inconsequential. That's what you're used to; focusing on something you're making that has a next step. But people don't have a next step, which is why you're tripping up."

Tony sneaks a solid hit to Happy's shoulder, forcing the man to retreat a few steps.

"But that's half the point Boss. People don't need a next step. You take the plunge together, and hope the fall never ends."

Tony's pacing his workshop, hands clawing at themselves as he hears over and over the reporter's screeching accusations.

Over forty people injured in this last attack, and you sit there telling us we're safe; why should we be trusting you?!

Tony's nails are short so it's easier for him to work in the shop, and that's all that has prevented him from breaking the skin on his palms, but the red scores are getting deeper and deeper.

"My Chosen!"

T'Challa is there, gently pulling his hands apart, checking the reddened skin for hidden damage.

"Please my Chosen, do not bring damage to yourself. You are a creator; how saddened and deprived the world would be if you damaged your hands. How saddened I would be and am that you have brought yourself harm. Please my Chosen, come to me before you try and take such actions."

A kiss is placed to each bright red palm and Tony knows he's crying -he can feel the tears rolling down his cheeks- but it's okay, because T'Challa is here and Tony loves him.

"Oh my Go- that's just- how could- the back- WHY?!!!!!"

A garden hose, a rubber chicken, and nine pounds of guacamole.

Tony smirks from his place in T'Challa's arms as he watches the reporter scream on live television.

Revenge is sweet.

Chapter Text

"Oh damn it all to hell! The place is rigged! Iron Man, I need you here!"

"On my way Itsy-bitsy."

"Black Widow, remain where you are and provide Iron Man cover! Avengers, status report!"

"Scarlet Witch, evacuating civilians Captain."

"Spider-man, doing the same- no, kiddo, you do not want that in your mouth-"

"Falcon, up in the air with Thor, keeping lookout. Thor's lost his comm again."

"Quicksilver here, eating tacos."

"Tacos?! Shit where are you? Imma get me some tacos!"

"The break-room on the third floor, just past the green medical room."

"The one that looks like someone puked on everything?"

"That's the one."

"Yeah, I'm not too far. Sweet! Tacos!"

"CHATTER! Hawkeye, don't leave your post! Quicksilver, return to the fight!"


"Yes Captain."

"Oh, that is not comforting. Hey Quicksilver?"

"Yes Iron Man?"

"I need you to evac Black Widow now."

The explosion had levelled half the HYDRA base.

Pietro had done as told, running and grabbing Natasha and taking her to the evacuation point, and had just turned around to go back in for Tony when the bomb went off. It was chance that had all the civilians and the Avengers unharmed by the blast.

T'Challa was worried about how small Tony looked in the hospital bed.

If only he had gone on the mission as well.

The suit recorded Tony examining and disabling the bomb, and everything appeared to be going well, until Tony's hand brushed a blue and green striped wire and a timer with thirty seconds on it flashed up.

"Oh, that is not comforting."

It was only due to his armour that Tony still lived.

Tony wasn't in the greatest shape, a broken leg, dislocated arm and opposing wrist, bruises everywhere that could bruise and a deep gash in his side where the armour had bent inwards and pierced him. Though Tony appeared to have no concussion, he was dropping in and out of consciousness, and was to stay in the hospital for at least a week.

And given his state, only family was allowed.

The Team had kicked up quite a fuss over that, given they had all registered each other as kin, and had eventually been allowed in to see him, but the doctors and nurses had been adamant that the Avengers were not going to stay over night.

It was with heavy hearts that the Team conceded.

It was with much tossing and turning that T'Challa finally fell asleep that night, alone in a bed that carried Tony's scent.

A light sleeper at the best of times, T'Challa shot awake when a heavy hand touched his arm, wondering how someone got close enough to even do so.

His heart skipped a beat as he looked into the glowing blue eyes of the Iron Man.


There were no words returned. Instead, a gauntleted hand was extended towards him, making to grab him.

T'Challa ducked away, eyes darting around the room to see if any more foes awaited him. His sight found only the darkness of the witching hour.

"Friday, can you hear me?"

Again, only silence met him, before T'Challa recalled that Friday had been taken offline for upgrades before the sudden mission call out. She was only present in the suit.

Whoever was wearing Tony's armour stood between T'Challa and the door, the window overlooking the compound pool.

T'Challa hated feeling trapped. And without his own armour and weapons, he was at a disadvantage, to whoever had managed to usurp Tony's gear-


The suit's were programmed to disable themselves if anyone other than Tony or James tried to use them, Clint's rather embarrassing fall into ButterFingers' charging dock followed by the resulting chase filled with terrified screams and angry chirps testament to that.

T'Challa slowly straightens from his defensive stance and takes a deep breath.

"Black Panther temporary override. Ukumkani."

There's some slight jerking in the suit, but it smooths out quickly, once more drawing closer. T'Challa bites his lip and speaks again.

"T'Challa temporary override. Innamorato."

The suit stops and T'Challa releases a breath.

"Face plate open."

The gears whirr as the plate open to confirm T'Challa's suspicion.

The suit is empty.

"File log open, search current directive."

People have attempted and succeeded at hacking Tony's suits, but every single one of them needs to tell the suit what they want it to do, and Tony had made sure those commands left a note.

The plain, yet heavily robotic fake voice answers.

"Current directive; Where's T'Challa? Why am I in a hospital alone? Where is Innamorato? I want Innamorato here!"

The override ended, and T'Challa walked into the armour's grasp.

Tony was still so small in the hospital bed when T'Challa snuck in through the window, the armour hovering just outside it.

The genius was tossing and turning slightly in his sleep, as much as his body would allow him. And he was whispering so gently, as his face showed his suffering.

"Innamorato, where are you? I need you. I need you, where are you?"

T'Challa lightly laid out alongside Tony and oh so carefully drew him close.

"I am here Darling. I have you."

As Tony calmed, T'Challa drew ever closer.

Finally able to sleep easy.

Chapter Text

The day had started peacefully.

No fights on whose turn it was to cook breakfast, no threats of bodily harm should the coffee not be shared, gentle smiles all around from a very rare night of no nightmares for anyone.

T'Challa should have realised it was a warning of what was to come.

The alarm to assemble rang shrill and loud just as lunch had been set on the table. Curses and oaths were uttered as the team sped to don their uniforms and armours, before boarding the quinjet and flying off to the co-ordinates provided.

New S.H.I.E.L.D. had picked up on energy that was greatly similar to the bifrost and the portals opened by the Tesseract. The Avengers landed in a large field in the middle of nowhere, empty aside for a single being sitting in a stone throne. The being appeared... blurry to T'Challa, though nothing else he could see was.

"The Collector... but what is he doing here?"

Thor moved to confront the being.

"Collector. What brings you to Midgard? Know that this planet is under my protection, and I'll not accept any of your tomfoolery."

He -the Collector Thor called him- spoke with an exotic, cultured voice.

"Your protection of Earth is still young Asgardian. I visit this place often, and see no reason to just stop-"

"Wait a sec..."

T'Challa glance to the side upon hearing Tony's mutter. Bedecked in the crimson and gold of his armour, Tony retracted the face plate and took a step forward as the alien kept speaking.

"As this place holds one most dear to me."

"Uncle Tivan?"

The team spun to look at Tony, shock, confusion and slight anger on their faces. The alien gave a short laugh before the blurriness of his figure began to focus.

"Never an ounce of hesitation Anthony. It is a wonderful thing to see."

The now-revealed white-blonde stood from the throne and walked to Tony, his arms open wide. Tony stepped into the embrace with a small chuckle.

"You've never advertised your presence before. Why now?"

The Collector chuckled too, briefly tightening his arms around Tony before moving to hold the man at arms length.

"Because I am here to see my nephew in a more official capacity."

Tony stood straighter at the words, his face showing his concern and confusion. The Collector merely smiled at him.

"You are more than of marriageable age Anthony, and I would have you settled happily."

Through the team's stunned silence, Tony's mortified groan was thunderously loud.

"Please tell me you did not cross the universe for the sole purpose of trying to introduce me to even more of your chosen suitors."

"I only wish the best for you Anthony, and this selection has quite the number of prince's and heiress'. You would be treated as the star you embody, and sit upon silken thrones, wanting for nothing."

Tony stepped back, outside of the Collectors reach, with slight anger on his face.

"I have all that I want and need here and now Uncle Tivan. None of your chosen will change that, nor will they replace the ones I love here."

The Collector took a step forward, ignoring not only how Tony moved further away, but how the team reacted negatively to his actions.

"Anthony, you are the last descendant of my Mother's family. The Stark Line is long and honoured. Do you really believe that any on Earth can truly match you? Can truly stand at your side as you deserve?"

Tony's eyes are like fire as he takes another step back to have him once more beside T'Challa.

"I do."

His words have T'Challa's claws shoot out, prepared to attack should the Collector not desist.

The being's dark eyes roam over the Avenger's, lingering particularly over Vision, before once more coming to rest on Tony.

"I've angered you. Very well nephew, I shall cease. For now at least. I do, most dearly, wish to see you happy."

Without a further word, the being vanishes through a small portal, the stone throne going with him.

With the threat gone T'Challa wraps his arms around Tony tightly, shaking slightly in his anger.

"T'Challa? You okay Schrödinger?"

T'Challa cannot hold the rage from his voice.

"If he tries to take my intliziyo from me, I will end him."

Tony chuckles and snuggles deeper into the embrace, despite the awkwardness of his armour.

"Love you too T'Challa."

Chapter Text

Deep breaths are the only thing keeping Tony from puking as he leans over the sink.

He can feel the tremors wracking his body, and see the fine shaking of his hands.

It makes no sense.

He is able to leap into battle without a moments hesitation, duke it out with the strongest politicians with mere words, build the first suit of armour and it's power source under watch, but now he's panicking?

The last few days had proved he didn't have to!

There are many, many things Tony loves about being a billionaire.

He rarely has to look at anything's price tag.

He can literally leave a tab into the thousands.

He can actually afford the crazy insanity that all kids wish they had, and no one side-eyes him for it.

But right now, Tony's favourite thing about being a billionaire is his private jet.

Specifically, the super comfortable couch he is lying on, cuddled up to T'Challa, in his private jet.

The chain round his neck is a new, unfamiliar weight, but it's such a good one.

The ring hanging from it even better.

His Panther had proposed as soon as they'd entered the penthouse of Stark Tower after returning from the Announcement Ceremony of SHOC, with a simple yet oh so heartfelt request.

"Bless your heart, for I held it in my hands a short time. Bless your hands, for they'll forever hold mine. Half the allure is the mystery, but if you'll have me, it is all of you I'll adore."

How could anyone say no to the ring presented after that?

"We need be seated up my Mechanic; we're entering Wakandan airspace."

Tony pouted at that, but as the jet began it's descent and then landed, he felt the thrill of excitement run up and down his spine.

As they moved to the exit, his Panther entwined their fingers, lifting his hand to place a gentle kiss across his knuckles.

"Welcome, my Mechanic, to Wakanda."

With the untamed wilderness mixing with the unmatched buildings and structures, entering Wakanda almost felt like coming home.

Tony looses another dry-heave, stomach feeling like it's twisting itself in two.

It's like he can barely breathe at all.

Shuri was just as perfectly delightful in person as she was over their chats, greeting Tony heartily as "Other Brother", whispering embarrassing stories about her brother on the drive to the palace from the air strip, getting into playful banter with T'Challa when he realised she was doing it. Tony had already begun to adore her when his Panther had added her to their conversations, but meeting the woman in question, Tony was reminded of when he first met Pepper; a strong, honest, confident woman who could easily handle her own, and had no problem handling anyone else's if she had to.

Seems when it came to sister-figures, Tony had a type.

Getting out of the car in front of the palace, Tony had been a little struck by the welcoming party, before brushing it off; T'Challa was obviously well loved by his people, and had clearly been doing his best by them. He stepped aside a little so that the oncoming swarm would be able to run directly to T'Challa.

He felt his pulse quicken when they came to him instead.

"Welcome, Our King's Mechanic!"

"It's an honour to meet you!"

"Please feel free to explore our Research and Development facilities sir!"

Such a warm and friendly greeting was a jolt to Tony, given the absolute lashing he'd been dealt by the media after the 'Civil War' mess. He'd been so shocked, he couldn't think of a single thing to say, instead helplessly sweeping his gaze over the gathered greeters, until T'Challa gently guided him away.

Everything is okay. He is safe, he is cared for, and he is loved.

Everything is okay.

Once settled in the room prepared for him, Tony started to calm down, helped greatly by his Panther's insistence on cuddles.

Once his heart had slowed T'Challa had held ever so closer and started telling him stories about Wakanda, Shuri chiming in with details and side notes that made the tales even more real. Tony soaked up the stories as best he could, after all, once he was wed to T'Challa, he would stand at his Panther's side as guardian and protector to the same people who had welcomed him so warmly.

That meant Tony had to do his best to understand them right?

T'Challa's hand started gently kneading the back of Tony's skull.

"They adore you my Mechanic, for they know how I feel for you. They will love you, once they know how wonderful you are."

He can do this. There is nothing for him to be freaking out over.

He can do this.

Rhodey, Vision, Peter, Harley, Pepper and Happy would be joining them in Wakanda on the day of the ceremony, a week from Tony's own arrival.

That gave Tony time to interact with the Wakandan people.

Starting with what he was familiar with, Tony first mingled with the heads of Wakanda's economy and business, followed by a long visit with the science division. He spoke with the higher echelons of Wakandan nobility and interacted as nicely as he could with the elders, Kings advisors and the Dora Milaje.

It had been unlike anything Tony had experienced before.

Usually when meeting someone for the first time, he received one of three reactions.

The first, and most common, was highly exaggerated praise for his Father's work, SI, and himself, in that order.

The second, and only just, was highly unexaggerated hatred for his Father's work, SI, and himself, in reverse.

The third was blatant disinterest, as though Tony was still that four year old boy showing Howard his circuit board in the desperate hope the tech would garner him a smile.

There were a few outliers certainly, top of the list being Rhodey's take-no-bullshit-from-the-runt when they met at M.I.T. and T'Challa's own kind curiosity about what made Tony tick. Truly, the outliers were the people Tony had invited to see him wed off, and as the name suggested, they were few and far between.

Tony had never been approached by so many people so genuinely interested in meeting him for the first time. They all knew of him through T'Challa's eyes, and wanted to see how the image compared to real life.

Tony was a little concerned by how none of them seemed disappointed.

Breathe in for three.

Hold for three.

Release for three.


When the little girl appeared before him and gave him a tight hug, Tony felt a matching tightness in his chest that for a second had him thinking about the arc reactor.

"Welcome... to... Wakanda."

The little one's halting speech and slight stumbling over the words told Tony that she was only just learning English; a look to her beaming mother confirmed that she had learnt the phrase just for him.

"Enkosi, anqabileyo."

The sheer, unadulterated delight on the child's face stays with Tony for the rest of the day, heightened by the happy, caring greetings and welcomes he receives from everyone he meets.

All of Wakanda greets him as something wonderful, as something to be cherished.

Tony's not too proud to admit he cried himself to sleep that night, not knowing how to express how touched he is at their kindness.

He can take his time.

Tony just needs to remember that.

There's no rush. There's no problem.

He just needs to breathe.

Tony still hasn't met all the citizens of Wakanda, but the Wedding is tomorrow, and he needs to give his opinion on a few pertaining matters (Chocolate Chip Wedding Cake! Absolutely! No question!) so he remains in the palace, speaking to the servants as needed and sneaking hugs from his Panther between the Monarch's meetings and paperwork when he can.

He end up spending most of the day with Shuri, who is very enthusiastic about getting his impression of his and T'Challa's relationship.

When he asks her why she's so curious, Tony's surprised to see the woman visibly blush.

"You exposed a side of T'Challa I never see otherwise, a side where it is so obvious just how deeply he loves. I wanted to know if you realised that for yourself."

It feels right to hug her close after that.

Almost as if they're both benefitting.

Today changes nothing.

He is still safe. He is still cared for. He is still loved.

Everything is okay.

Wandering around the palace after Shuri is called into a meeting with T'Challa has Tony discovering a room with notable damage to it.

The door looks to have been torn from it's hinges and then shorn in two, one half embedded in the roof. There are countless cracks and holes in the wall and plaster, and markings in the floor that remind him of the penthouse after the Hulk played with Loki (He's still kinda sad Pepper didn't let him keep that).

"Dare I ask what happened here?"

Okoye, the Dora Milaje currently assigned to him, purses her lips and looks away, her hands actually joining so she can twiddle her thumbs. Tony raises an eyebrow at her silence and waits.

He recognises the posture of someone who feels no guilt over their actions, but has been soundly scolded over it.

As expected, Okoye finally meets his eyes. She stands straighter and puffs out her chest, just a little bit.

"Rogers and his followers proved reluctant to leave. When they were accidentally informed of your imminent arrival, Rogers decided it was his right to remain here, and then he demanded that he be allowed to speak with you. When Her Highness told him no on both accounts, Rogers then intimated that..."

Tony gestures for her to continue. He knows first hand just how stubborn Rogers can be, and he's already making plans on how to thank Shuri and the Dora Milaje for dealing with the man and his lackeys. Okoye hesitates, but eventually speaks.

"Rogers intimated that the two of you were... sensually inclined. By his behaviour, it is obvious he believed the two of you romantically engaged, but the reactions of those beside him would be more than enough to disprove him. That we know of your relationship to His Highness was immaterial, beyond providing us certainty that you would never fall for one such as Rogers."

Tony ends up hugging Okoye too, along with promising the same to any of the women who were involved in manhandling the super-soldier and his team out of Wakanda.

In and out.

Nothing will go wrong.

Wakanda is as prepared as can be for this.

Tony spends more time than usual cuddling with T'Challa that night.

He's thankful his Panther doesn't question, and even more that his Panther doesn't push him away.

Pepper had called just after dinner to let him know how things were holding up back in New York, and it wasn't joyful. With the return of Rogers and his posse came the derogatory remarks about Tony, his skills and his ability to be Iron Man, though thankfully none of them had been stupid enough to insult T'Challa.

It was made worse with Tony's absence. Regardless of the lawsuits slamming onto the desks of those defaming him, the stories about how Tony Stark sold out then ran away were rampant, every station running Barton's caustic words blaming Tony for everything, and with Tony away, he couldn't put forward a statement personally to make them back off.

It was petty, but Tony took some delight in the fact that Friday would alert the authorities if any of them entered the Compound or his Tower before he returned.

Rhodey had laughed himself to cramps when he heard of that 'Welcome Home'.

One, two, three.

One, two, three.

Uno, due, tre.

There had been enquiries about Tony's location crossing Pepper's desk constantly since Rogers' group returned to the States.

Pepper knew better than nearly anyone just how little privacy Tony had had over his lifetime, so rebuffed most of them. She in fact only answered when a representative from the U.N. came in person to ask.

The result of that meeting was a request by the U.N. for Tony and T'Challa to broadcast the ceremony as a show of faith in SHOC, of which both men were members.

Tony and T'Challa had agreed, but only the ceremony; the reception was theirs.

And everything else after it.

Friday had recorded Vision's reaction to watching the news feeds reporting on how Tony Stark was getting hitched, and really, the android had one of the cutest little laughs Tony had heard.

T'Challa and Shuri had both cooed over it when showed, though his Panther denied such a sound escaping his mouth.

Calm, in control, and clear-headed.

Breathe in... and out...

He can do this.

When they had arrived the morning of the event, Peter and Harley had been bouncing off the walls in excitement, neither knowing what to expect of the most technologically advanced nation on Earth, and had dragged both Vision and Happy into exploring the place with them, Vision for comparisons, Happy to drag them back when it was time to get ready.

Pepper and Rhodey stayed in the palace proper, and helped with the final details.

When the time came, Pepper once more proved her mastery as an expert Tony wrangler, and had both Peter and Harley dressed to the nines and suitably cowed away from any misbehaviour. Vision was in his full battle regalia, the shimmering cape adding a sense of mysticism to his appearance, and grandeur to the event. Rhodey and Happy were in their tuxes, Rhodey's slightly resized to disguise his braces. Pepper was bedecked in a gorgeous emerald gown that really brought out her hair.

Tony was in a new tuxedo wearing a red tie with gold stripes, his little nod to being Iron Man.

It was nearly time.

It was then that the panic hit him.

Washing his face with a few final deep breaths, Tony returned to the room where his family waited, concerned faces silently asking if he was alright.

He could do this.

As a group they moved to the hall where the ceremony was to take place and whiled away the last few minutes until it began, the others gently calming Tony's worries that T'Challa would suddenly see reason and call the whole thing off.

"Not a chance in hell Tones; the man looks at you like you strung all the damn stars in the sky. He ain't letting you go for anything."

Rhodey is the best. Tony stands by the fact that there are not enough Rhodey's in the world.

The faint chords of 'O sole mio' reach their ears.

It's time.

"You are mine now Tony. Mine until I leave this earth to run in the fields of the Panther God, and will be mine again when we meet in those same fields."

"For as long as you hold my heart T'Challa, you are just as much mine, and I know you'll never let go."

All through out the reception, Tony kept seeing his Panther playing with the chain round his throat, the ring Tony designed glinting as light hit it. T'Challa caught him watching every time, and a gentle smile so full of love each time would curl his lips, prompting Tony to smile back.

They could do this.

Chapter Text

Once he had cooled his mind from the rage that had flared from his father's murder, T'Challa had spent a day agonising over how he had wasted an opportunity.

He had completely abandoned a chance to work side by side Anthony Edward Stark.

Ever since the circuit board that had thrust the genius into the public eye, Wakanda had watched over the developments that sprung forth from his mind, the science division constantly bemoaning the lack of someone with the Stark Heir's skills.

When T'Challa was finally old enough to understand the science, he too was amazed by the skills, intelligence and creativity Stark showed the world, and the infinite care he put into his work, constantly reading and rereading the reports and articles of the older boys' patents and creations.

T'Challa growing up often fantasized about working alongside Tony Stark in a lab or workshop, being able to keep up and even help the other man as they created revolutionary pieces of technology.

Sure, T'Challa didn't actually think it'd ever happen. Tony was pretty much always being watched by someone (and after the accidental viewing of his idols'... ahem equipment, T'Challa learned very quickly to never watch or read just anything that bore Tony's name on it) and given that Wakanda was still in it's self-imposed isolation, he'd never be able to just meet Tony; T'Challa would be investigated to the very nth degree until Wakanda itself was having it's doors beaten down by those wishing answers.

It didn't stop T'Challa from his self-indulgent little daydreams, but it meant he didn't lose himself in them either.

But then, when he began helping his father on the Accords, a little spark of hope flared deep in the pit of his stomach. After all, the Avengers would all be affected by the Accords, and so, even briefly, they would surely come into contact with T'Challa and his father.

And they had... just not in the way T'Challa had wished.

With every fibre of his being focused on James Barnes, T'Challa had blocked out and ignored most of the rest of the world. Even standing beside the Avengers, or the ones who signed the Accords at least, at the airport was barely a blip on his radar, and these were all men and women who were in their own ways paragons. Be it in power, control, tactics, skill, all of them were the elite of their class.

Had T'Challa been able to pay attention, he would have felt honoured that he was able to stand alongside them, even if only temporarily.

Especially to stand alongside Tony Stark.

He had of course heard the saying 'never meet your heroes, they turn out to be human', but it was because of the second sentence that T'Challa wanted to meet Tony. Far more than any movie star or author, Tony Stark was untouchable, standing atop a pedestal so high, it was terrifying. For the man standing at such a height to be human?

It would be amazing.

And looking back on the 'Civil War' as the situation had been deemed, T'Challa could see a great many pieces of evidence that pointed to Tony Starks humanity.

It all led to the little flame of hero-worship he had carried for so many years to flare a little higher, and burn a little hotter.

When the business proposal from Stark Industries crossed his desk, how could anyone expect him to say no?

T'Challa, and Shuri alongside him, had undergone training since young to always appear composed and calm. Aside from the most extreme emotional situations -dust everywhere, ears ringing, and his father's unmoving body- little more than traces of amusement, disgust or horror slip past the mask.

It takes every ounce of that training to prevent himself from outright fawning over Tony Stark as they hash out the terms for an exchange of Medical research for a large-scale arc reactor.

As ever, Tony Stark is proving his genius, his understanding of the legal terms and conditions far more than what most people would expect from the 'Playboy', and the questions he asks and stipulations he offers more than keeping T'Challa's lawyers on their toes.

T'Challa barely holds back his fond sigh and smile, knowing that in the current situation, it would be more than a little unusual.

Though it takes a good few hours, the contracts are eventually signed and dispatched to the relevant lawyers and CEO's for final checks and notarisation. It is with a carefully worded sentence that T'Challa invites Tony to delay his return to America for a meal, and a brief tour through the main city.

With an equally carefully worded response, Tony says yes.

Shuri had left the business meeting to train with the Dora Milaje, subtly allowing T'Challa unimpeded time with his idol, but T'Challa finds himself cursing both their positions when ten minutes into the tour, he is urgently summoned back to the Palace, and cannot get in contact with Shuri to at least let Tony continue with his tour.

It is when they are all eating later that he finds out that Tony kept exploring regardless.

The elders give him grief over it when Tony is safely on his plane, leaving Wakandan airspace, claiming the man to be no better than his father, and no doubt planning on how to steal Vibranium just as Howard Stark did all those years ago, but they quiet themselves pretty quickly when reminded of how their urgent summons -that left Tony free to wander alone- was over the naming of a new elder, which easily could've waited a few more hours without any trouble.

T'Challa is not too proud to admit he sulks a bit on the way back to the Palace, his time with Tony once more being cut short due to foolishness.

Tony comes back to Wakanda several times to oversee the installation of the arc reactor. His presence causes a bit of a stir among the people, but it is never more than low mutterings and grumbles, seeing as the genius has stopped more than a few literal blow-ups when the younger techs decide they know better.

Interestingly, Tony never tells them otherwise. He certainly yells at them, for endangering others and themselves, but once he has lectured them, the techs are directed to the drawing table and told to design something that Tony will look over and critique later.

Tony has the techs prove they know better.

It doesn't matter that so far none of them have managed.

T'Challa spends every free moment he has speaking to Tony, learning all he can from the man, and speaking of his own areas of study in return.

And practically tearing his hair out when he finds out that Tony has gone wandering around Wakanda alone again whenever T'Challa looks away for too long.

It has been months since the arc reactor was installed, and yet Tony keeps coming.

The first month after the installation was understandable; the arc reactors had never been tested in an environment as hot and humid as Wakanda could get, so it was really just common sense for Tony to come to Wakanda to check every thing over and gather data.

The month after that, Stark Industries was being dragged through the dirt by the media for 'Consorting with Foreign Entities For A Profit' and Tony had looked so exhausted that T'Challa couldn't fault the man for wanting to hide in the media silent Wakanda, away from the very enthusiastic paparazzi hounding his movements.

Tony was still coming the following month, claiming the heat of Wakanda a welcome difference to the bitter chill attached to New York.

After that, an interest in the differences between Wakandan botany and that of America's.

Given how Tony kept disappearing alone, T'Challa had to finally concede that perhaps not all was well.

Though difficult, and resulting with him owing many favours to fewer people, T'Challa managed to clear his schedule for a single day.

He spent the day as Tony's shadow.

Tony's latest reason for his presence in Wakanda was that he'd grown fond of the food. For a good two hours, the man walked about the market day stalls buying small servings of pretty much everything on offer, eating them all while he cast his eye about the other wares on display.

The second those two hours were up though, Tony swiftly moved away from the market.

Obviously, from his numerous visits to the country, Tony was able to move confidently through the twists and turns of the city surrounding the Palace, and T'Challa found it surprisingly challenging to not only follow the man, but to keep himself hidden from detection.

Perhaps a side effect of always being in the media's eye, maybe from having spent months in Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff's company, possibly even a result of the trials he had undergone as Iron Man, whatever the reason, Tony Stark was very aware of his surroundings, constantly scanning all around him, but at such odd intervals one could never hope to accurately predict when his next check would come.

And he made it look natural, humming an upbeat tune and appearing to spin to the music, gently bobbing his head side-to-side while glancing from the corners of his eyes.

If T'Challa wasn't as trained and skilled a tracker as he was, he'd have never caught Tony's vigilance and known to hide.

Fifteen minutes into the ambling trek, T'Challa's chest felt tight, and his eyes grew wet.

"Uncle Tony!"

"Mister Tony!"

"Welcome back Tony!"

"Did you miss us Tony Sir?!"

Tony was swarmed by a gaggle of the children living in the orphanage, smiling warmly at the youths and answering their questions kindly before they pulled him off to play. The familiarity both parties showed each other, the gentle regard Tony showed the Yitroni, and the care he gave each and every child...

"He came upon us by chance, and now chooses to make his own chances."

T'Challa jerked away from the Yitroni now standing at his side, smiling at the uncoordinated movement.

"I have raised boys far more sneaky than you, Your Highness. You may have escaped Tony's notice, but a mother knows all the tricks of the trade."

A helpless and embarrassed smile curled T'Challa's lips as they watched Tony giving the children piggy-backs and telling stories.

"I do think the next time he visits Wakanda, I will bring him here myself, so he needn't sneak away any more."

The Yitroni smiled, before moving and returning to the children.

You should never meet your Heroes, because they turn out to be human.

T'Challa could think of nothing better.

Chapter Text

No one knew it would go this far. Those who could gathered their arms and fought, but one by one they fell away into the void of oblivion. Others ran and hid, trying to stay away from sight and mind; one by one, they too fell into oblivion.

We didn't fight or run. We learned, we discovered and we saved.

We still lost.

When I was six, my dad went out to buy some scratchers.

We weren't bad off -dad worked out at the lumber yard and mum at the café- but with two kids, a little extra money couldn't hurt, so once a fortnight, dad would go and buy a couple two dollar scratcher tickets and try his luck.

My mum died getting my little sister and me away from the being that came back. My sister died from her injuries not long later.

As our town burned, we buried our dead, and the survivors started the long walk to the next town.

Turns out they had been hit too.

News reports crackled over the radio about a portal opening up over the White House, and hundreds of aliens pouring out of it. They would round up those they could, slaughtering any who resisted too much. They set up base in the ruins of the Pentagon.

Over the next five years, more and more people were turned into the brain-washed beings that attacked regular people, the aliens slowly taking over more and more of the country. I had personally seen a few folks getting turned, and so many times was woken from sleep by the terrifying memories of eyes turning that cold, vicious blue. I no longer travelled with the people from my home town of Rose Hill; they were all gone, either taken over or dead.

Slowly, day by day, I managed to walk to New York.

Sporadic news reports had spoken of how Tony Stark, one of the smartest men ever, had taken on the challenge of how to cure the people affected.

I had personally seen the brain-washing happen, and had something that might just help.

A tiny stone of blue wrapped in thick shreds of fabric, to make sure no one touched it.

My old neighbour had managed to kill the alien touching him with the stone before being fully turned, and gave himself a mortal injury.

Though it couldn't touch skin, I just knew it could help, and stowed it away in my pack.

When I reached the dilapidated city of New York, I made my way to the tallest tower, the one that still stood despite all the destruction the aliens and brain-washed people caused, the one that still lit up at night; the one that carried the name of the man trying hardest to save us.

I was going to see Tony Stark.

I managed to get into the tower after a quick, but thorough, examination to prove I wasn't brain-washed.

Most people just went by eye colour -it was an unnatural blue that consumed the eyes- but there was also a rigidity to movements that was uniform among those brain-washed. I was cleared to enter and I stopped in shock at just how many people were in the tower.

Tony Stark had turned his tower into a sanctuary, providing food and shelter for anyone who was proven to be clean.

Something tightened in my chest as I moved to begin looking.

It was determination. Determination to help, to learn, and to save.

For a man who always appeared to be larger than life, Tony was quick to listen and quicker to learn.

I only had to explain the brain-washing process once before he was pulling together reports and files that helped create a clearer picture of what was happening to peoples brains.

The blue stone was carefully sealed in a glass box and tests were off and running immediately.

Then Tony hugged me.

"You've done so well. Thank you. Thank you so much for getting here, for not giving up."

I cried, in both sadness and relief and held onto Tony as much as I could.

I stayed close to him from then on.

Over the following months, more and more of the world's population was turned.

The tower was still safe, but the volunteers to go out and collect food was dwindling because of how very real the threat outside was. Rhodey and Happy, Tony's two best friends were always willing, and were among the best, so food was still collected, but it took longer to feed everyone, and tempers ran high when told to wait, or that less was available.

I spent most of my time with Tony, Rhodey, Happy, Pepper and Tony's A.I. J.A.R.V.I.S., but when I was on the other floors with the survivors, I was so confused by their behaviour; Tony was sheltering and feeding them, providing power and water for their safety, yet they were cursing him out for taking too long for a cure, for keeping all the good food for himself, for -and I had to quickly leave when I heard this- profiteering off the destruction.

When I told Tony, he merely pulled me close and spoke.

"The people are scared, and they want to feel some measure of control. Same as with bullies, they feel in control while they attack someone else. I am an easy target, so they aim at me, and that's fine. I can handle their attacks, no problem. And if they're attacking me, they're not attacking someone else."

Tony didn't speak about how he hadn't had a proper meal in months, instead eating lean so those downstairs would be full.

He didn't speak of how little sleep he got, trying to discover the cure for those brain-washed.

He didn't speak of how he created toys and trinkets while tests ran, for the kids in the tower and their parents.

I held him tighter.

He didn't speak, because those downstairs wouldn't listen.

I continued my forays to the lower levels, if only so I would remember why we needed to keep working.

It was there, during one of the arguments that had gotten more physical, that I met Peter.

Peter was new to the tower, having instead stayed with his aunt until she passed away, as she had been too injured to make the trip to the tower. He was the newest volunteer for food runs, keeping himself busy so he didn't think about how his family was gone. Peter was street-wise, knowing a lot about where food trucks, vendors, and small grocers were that had likely not been raided yet, coupled with an incredibly accurate sense of danger.

He had managed to save the food parties thrice already with that particular skillset.

The argument was between a man of ... larger physique, and one of the last food-runs' gatherers. The big guy was demanding more than his allotment.

"Why the hell should I be starving when Stark's doing nothing but pigging out on the lot?! I'm stuck here suffering, and he's getting fat off my tragedy!"

"Sir, please, we haven't got the food to be divvying out seconds before everyone else has at least had firsts, and-"

"That's because Stark's taking all the food he wants and leaving the scraps! I'm wasting away while he's goofing off upstairs! I'm a damn senator girl, and I deserve better than this!"

"You deserve far less than what you've gotten, so keep your trap shut!"

Peter had cut into the mess and gently coaxed the young woman to return to handing out the food to those still waiting, which she quickly did with a grateful smile.

"What the hell's wrong with you boy?! I am a man worth ten times you, at least, and you speak to me with such disrespect?!"

Peter scoffed, a half smile on his lips.

"What have you done to deserve any respect, let alone extra food?"

The senator puffed out his chest and began extolling all of the laws he had helped pass. Peter scoffed again.

"Yeah, and the aliens with the brain-washed hordes are doing a swell job at following those laws huh?"

Peter was a kind guy, the sorta guy that mothers adored their daughters bringing home, and fathers watched in pride. So the furrow to his brow and the downward slant of his lips was very out of place.

"You accuse Mr Stark of doing nothing but get fat while everyone suffers. As a member of the food teams, I can tell you that the penthouse is the last place to get food; literally everyone else eats before Mr Stark. Mr Stark spends most of his time trying to find a way to reverse the brain-washing, while you just sit here watching the movies stored on the archives. You don't go on food runs, you don't help look after the little ones; all you do is yell and complain. I don't care if you keep sitting on your ass and watch TV, but if you don't shut up, I'm going to personally leave you outside to be taken."

The senator shut up pretty damn quickly. I grabbed Peter's arm and led him to the penthouse, explaining to Tony what had happened.

Peter finally let his tears fall as Tony pulled him into a hug, for a brief time hiding him away from the world.

Pepper had joined Happy for one of the food runs, wanting to do more for the residents of the tower while Tony was working his hardest. It was meant to be a simple one, just a dash and grab from the closest grocer that still had canned goods.

She and Happy walked into a trap, and the tower mourned when they didn't come back.

Everyone was on edge when the patriotism pin-up entered the tower.

As most of the country, I had grown up on the stories of Captain America; the man with a plan, the super soldier, the living embodiment of bravery, chivalry and justice. I had no idea who the two next to him were, but only the youngest in the tower didn't recognise the man in red, white and blue.

"Mr Stark, it's a pleasure to meet you."

"This isn't exactly the time for social visits, appreciated though they might be, so let's cut the chatter; what exactly are you doing here?"

Tony had, over the months I had grown to know him, revealed little specks of his past; the childhood forever shadowed by a dead man, the never ending flash of cameras tracking every move, the haunting loneliness of being the only one no-one understands.

Captain America was not exactly remembered fondly by Tony, but it's easier to forgive a dead man than it is a living one.

"I can see Howard wasn't able to teach you manners or respect."

Especially when the living one is a dick.

"I've got a lot on my plate right now Rogers. Why are you here? The sooner you answer that, the sooner I can get back to work."

The two beside the Captain let out a scoff and snort. My nails, though kept short for ease when in the lab, were still long enough to bite into my palm as I clenched my fist. I could see Peter gritting his teeth to avoid speaking out. The Captain shook his head, as though in disappointment -and oh how that burned- before speaking again.

"There is a war going on outside Stark, in case it missed your attention. What could you possibly have to work on?"

It was Rhodey who answered, his voice sharp and cold.

"A way to reverse the aliens damned mind control."

The blond next to the Captain snorted again.

"We've already solved that."

Tony focused on the man as excited whispers and surprised gasps rang through the air.

"Just give 'em a couple sharp hits to the head, and they're right as rain."

Tony looked at them in disbelief, before gently shaking his head.

"That's going to go down as well as a house on fire. To rehash an age old question; what brings you here?"

The Captain shook his head again, adding an eye-roll to the action before taking a step forward.

"Now that we have a way to restore peoples humanity, S.H.I.E.L.D. is preparing to launch an attack on the aliens home base. We've been sent here to procure weapons for the assault."

The silence that overtook the room was near violent; it was almost like every single sound was snatched away, as opposed to just stopped.

"I stopped making weapons."

Everyone knew that, knew that Tony's weapons had been used against him, knew that Tony promised never again.

"We're on the precipice of saving the world Stark; drop the ego and help for once in your life."

The red head looked at Tony, completely unimpressed, with just a hint of disgust. Tony was unmoved.

"I stopped making weapons."

The Captain sighed, the kinda sigh parents give when they're tired of dealing with their kids.

"You're going to be foolish about this aren't you?"

Tony squared his shoulders and straightened his spine.

"I stopped making weapons."

The Captain sighed again and did yet another disappointed head shake, before addressing the people.

"S.H.I.E.L.D. has a bunker fitted and prepared for any who wish to move there. Black Widow, Hawkeye and myself, along with a contingent of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents outside, are more than willing to guide you there."

Tony and Rhodey didn't move while the people they had fed and sheltered for so long practically ran out the doors. The kids and some of the teenagers called out thanks and farewells to Tony, but not a single adult even looked his way. Eventually it was just Rhodey, Peter and me still standing with Tony.

The red head -Black Widow, the Captain called her- looked at Peter and me in confusion.

"Come on you two; outside with everyone else."

Peter scoffed now, mocking the sound she had used earlier.

"I thought the bunker was for any who wished?"

Still confused, the woman nodded.

"Well I don't wish. I'm staying here."

I nodded, moving slightly closer to Tony, offering my support. The blond -Hawkeye- snorted again, before his voice took on the coaxing tones parents use.

"Come on kids, S.H.I.E.L.D. has fully stocked the bunker; there's food, games, even movies available! You'll have stuff to do instead of just sitting around in this place. Come on, it'll be fun!"

I couldn't believe the guy, the way he was talking to Peter and me as though we were under ten. It just proved that not only did this 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' not know anything about our conditions in the tower (which were excellent given the circumstances) but that they wanted Tony alone, probably as petty revenge for him not doing what they wanted.

I straightened my back, Peter doing the same, and put on my most unimpressed face.

"I'm sure you're constantly entertained then."

The gobsmacked look on his face was reward enough, but Tony's proud glance was worth everything.

"You've heard their decision. Unless you have something important to say, I think you best be off to escort those people to your bunker."

With matching sneers and a final disappointed head shake, the three intruders left.

Tony briefly clenched a fist, before turning around to face us.

"We've got work to do."

"Concussive blows to the head are able to erase the brain-washing, jolting the system back on line, but it's a fools method."

Looking over the data and test results, Tony kept working as hard as he always had.

"How do you mean?"

Tony spared a smile for Peter before look back at the readouts.

"Perhaps it would be better to say that announcing it like they did is the fools method. Now, everyone who heard that is going to think they can just knock out any member of the horde that gets near them. And that's incredibly stupid. Aside from the general stiffness the little minions develop, those brain-washed retain all their skills, knowledge and abilities. For a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent -a good one anyway- giving a couple of knocks or so to someone's noggin isn't that big of a deal.

To the average person, it is far more likely to go wrong."

Tony turned to face all three of us, his eyes as serious as they could get, and his face completely blank otherwise.

"For the average person, they haven't been trained in controlling their strength in high stress situations like this, they don't know how to maintain distance while striking, they don't know where to aim for best results. They're just going to try and slug it out; literally beat the alien out of people. But not every person brain-washed is an adult; there are countless teens, children and babies who are now sporting the ice blue eyes. All it takes is one hit too strong, one hit in the wrong place, and you're not rescuing them.

You're killing them."

We spent the night cuddled together, trying to pretend our shaking was from the cold.

For a solid week, the three kept coming back, trying to convince Tony to make weapons, and when that failed, trying to convince me and Peter to leave, which also failed. I could see it was starting to really aggravate the Black Widow, that she wasn't instantly obeyed, especially by a pre-pubescent and a boy in his teens.

They always left the same way, matching sneers and a disappointed head shake. The sneers were far easier for us all to ignore, because they didn't hold the weight Captain America did.

"As Howard's son, I'd think you'd want what's best for the people, just like your father would."

"Howard did everything he could to provide the best for me and my men."

"I worked closely with Howard, so I realise that you're trying your best to match him."

"Howard would be so disappointed in you."

I stopped holding Captain America as a hero that day.

The day of the attack on the Pentagon arrived and passed.

It was a success but a hollow one.

Almost the second the final alien had been felled, reports came in from around the world about more portals opening, spewing hundreds of thousands of more aliens onto the Earth.

Tony authorised J.A.R.V.I.S. to use extreme force if deemed necessary, and put on a pot of extra-strength coffee.

Not a one of us slept that night.

Five days passed, and the alien reports slowly dwindled, until only static played.

"Sir, Captain Rogers and his associates are requesting entry; they pass my tests for outside influences."

J.A.R.V.I.S.' voice pulled us from our work, and Tony slowly nodded his head.

"Alright J; we're coming down."

The three looked beaten to all hell, and like they hadn't slept since their last visit. They were quickly moved to nearby seating and Tony demanded to know what was going on.

"One of the agents was turned mid-battle, and hid amongst the group when we returned to the bunker."


Please no.

"We're the only ones still free."

Not every person brain-washed is an adult; there are countless teens, children and babies who are now sporting the ice blue eyes.

"Peter, Harley; go back upstairs and pack your things. Quickly."

I stared at Tony in confusion, as did everyone but Rhodey, who was already gone.

"There are two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who I definitely know have ways to shut down J.A.R.V.I.S., and one more who is a very likely possibility. The tower is no longer safe, so we're moving. Go!"

I didn't have much of my own things to pack, so the empty space in my bag was used for food supplies and some tech Tony needed to keep working. More of the same was in Peter and Rhodey's bags, while Tony's bag when he joined us was entirely of his tech and data.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., block out Stark Tower from your access reports and relocate to the bots. We're headed home."

"Understood Sir. May our paths cross again soon."

As we piled into two of Tony's cars, the ever hopeful beacon of Stark Tower flickered and dimmed, before finally going out.

The tower had overlooked all of New York, Tony's construction and defences proving to be enough to ward off the everyday alien attack, so all the damage done to the big apple wasn't anything new. Driving through it was a horror I had never encountered before though.

Was every bump in the road a pothole from the battles, or was it some tragic soul lost to the world?

"You three came to me for a reason, and you should know by now that I'm not going to build any bombs; what info do you have that might help me?"

The communication line between the cars crackled a little before Black Widow spoke.

"The aliens are a race called the Chitauri. They sent small groups of advanced scouts to start the brain-washing, and have some apparent use for us alive, which is why they haven't just decimated the planet. About five years ago, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been researching an artefact that we now know to be alien in origin, when the WSC forced us to hand all of it over to them. The information we got stated that they took it to the White House, and then decided to play with it."

Tony's fingers tightened on the wheel.

"Alright, skip the history lesson for now, I'm going to have a lot of questions for you when we get to base but they can wait; what happened during the battle at the Pentagon?"

A succinct summary of battle tactics and the results was delivered by all three of them, telling of how the Chitauri were strong, but fragile fighters, whose greatest advantage was in their numbers.

"Just from your description, it sounds like the Chitauri are a hive mind; the sheer number of them along with how they organise themselves gives that theory a strong pull. It would mean that destroying the queen or host should make them all drop."

"Any ideas on how to find said host queen?"

"Not at present, but I'm a certified genius with terrible insomnia and we are facing the end of the world; I'll think of something."

We pulled into Tony's Malibu home about five days later, having to take routes to avoid Chitauri scouts and the hordes of brain-washed civilians.

Half the house was missing, but as the cars drove into the garage, the steep incline down led to an untouched space of glass and metal.

"Alright guys wake up; Daddy's home."

A clap of his hands had the garage and connected workshop lighting up, the machinery beginning to hum and warm up, and three bots dashing out to meet him.

"Yes, I've missed you three as well. We'll do introductions in a little bit, first I need Dum-E to boot up J.A.R.V.I.S. for me, ButterFingers to upload this flash drive to my servers, and U to clear my workbench. There will be oiling for those who finish in five minutes."

The bots sped off to their assigned tasks, and Tony gestured for us to find a seat, having to repeat himself to the Captain who was looking at everything with his jaw wide open.

"Sorry, this is just... it's so far beyond what I could have imagined."

Tony rolled his eyes.

"That's because you worked with Howard. Now, Widow, I said I would have questions about the history lesson and-"

"Why is there a hole in the roof?! Did the Chitauri get in here?!"

Everyone turned to look where the Captain was pointing, and Tony just sighed.

"No, that was me, for reasons that are right this second unimportant. Widow, again, what exactly was the-"

"Why did you bust a hole in your roof?! That's a danger that we can't afford, having our defences breached like that!"

"Rhodey, steel desk behind you, thin metal stick with blue end -yes, that's the one- do as you will."

Rhodey took great delight in pressing the small electric prod into the Captain's side any time it look like he might interrupt.

"Third time's the charm. Widow, what was the artefact S.H.I.E.L.D. was studying? What was it believed to do, what did it look like, that sort of stuff. For all we know, this artefact is connected directly to the host system of the Chitauri; you've got details, you give them to me."

"Hawkeye is in a better position to give you information; he was part of the assigned guard detail before the WSC took it."

Hawkeye leaned forward in his seat, no longer wearing the little smirk from days passed.

"I was told it was called the Tesseract. It was the item that gave HYDRA all their power during the second World War."

The Captain's face was carefully blank; he'd obviously heard all this before, and still wasn't happy about it.

"Howard Stark fished it out of the ocean on one of his many searches for the Captain, and left in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s archives for future study, saying that we could use it as a power source. Fury had it set up to-"

"Wait, hold on, just... just pause for a few moments..."

Tony was up and digging through a chest by one of the desks, pulling out various clothes, a film reel, what looked to be a prototype for Captain America's shield ("Do... do I want to know why you have that?" "Howard was a pack rat; I'm pretty sure his Collection Hall has a pair of your underwear both before and after the serum." "...Ewww.") until he finally pulled out a beat up leather journal and flicked through the pages.

"This, is this the Tesseract?"

The page depicted a roughly drawn cube with cramped handwriting describing a blue glow. Hawkeye nodded.

"That's it. Your old man must have gone over it before he handed it over."

Tony looked back at the pages, eyes going over the information.

"Fury had the cube set up for experiments to see if we could harness that power, like HYDRA did. He also said something about the cube being a door through space or something, I'm guessing that means the whole portal business. He had Bruce Banner working on it, but the Doc up and vanished once the cube was gone."

Tony's fingers were beating a staccato rhythm on his arc reactor as he kept perusing the journal, before quickly standing up.

"J.A.R.V.I.S., you up?"

"For you Sir, always."

Tony was streamlining coffee, Rhodey Peter and I not far behind, as we pulled together the data we had. The other three kept themselves busy by going over their supplies, checking the over all security of the house, and going on food runs. For the first few days, the Captain would bemoan how Tony refused to eat, stating that his cooking wasn't that bad, and he had specifically looked for the supplies to make a nice meal, but eventually learned that Tony was too far into his work to actually recognise food in front of him unless he could eat it one handed and without looking; silverware meals were a no go.

Granola bars, fruit pouches and juice boxes were devoured no problem though.

Every now and then, a scratchy report would be played over the radio, telling people to stay strong, how little bundles of survivors were coming together, preparing to once more pool their efforts to fight off the alien menace.

The Captain, Black Widow and Hawkeye, were getting more and more on edge with every report, until finally they suited up, bid their farewells and left to join the battles.

For a few hours, they worked in peace.

"Oh for the love of- Rhodey!"

Rhodey jumped, turning to Tony in surprise.

"If you want to join them, let me know so I can suit you up."

Rhodey ducked his head in embarrassment before nodding. Tony just sighed and pointed to one of the walls.

"Third panel from the left. Fury briefly got his hands on it, so it's stupidly bulky, and I haven't had the time to go over it since I got it back, but it'll probably actually be better for you."

Rhodey activated the panel, which descended to reveal-

"Is that a robot? Tell me that's a robot. It's a robot right?"

Tony chuckled.

"No Pete, it's a suit of armour. It should fit Rhodey more or less, much chaff a little, but it's the best I can offer you right now."

Rhodey looked over at Tony.

"When all this bullshit's over, I'm making you Momma's casserole."

Tony actually cheered as Rhodey got into the suit.

As we worked, a noise from the radio caught my attention.

It wasn't like the sounds people used to announce a report. It was a series of gentle beeps.

"Tony, is that normal?"

Tony payed attention for a minute, before leaping form his chair and running to one of his holo-screens.

"That, young Harley, is the pin sequence for some of the earliest computer coding in the world. J? Connect me to our programmer; we might have just made a friend."

His name was T'Challa.

He had come to America hoping to find anything to help reverse the brain-washing, given that his entire country had been taken over by the new Chitauri arrivals.

He hadn't been particularly hopeful of finding anyone through his code over the radio, but the smile of relief he gave when we met up with him in a nearby park showed just how thankful he was.

T'Challa proved invaluable help in the workshop, able to keep up with Tony far more easily than Peter or me. Tony set us to overlook slower running tests, so we were still useful without feeling coddled, given that the tests running were needed, but couldn't move fast enough for Tony and T'Challa's minds.

It was actually humbling, really, to watch the two of them at work. The flare of determination that had burned in me since I first met Tony grew a little bigger.

We were going to solve this problem. I just knew it.

Tony and T'Challa grew closer as they worked. Even though they hadn't known each other long, I started to forget how they looked without the other nearby.

Every twenty-four hours or so Tony, via J.A.R.V.I.S., would receive a report of Rhodey's well being, and the situations he was in. Having been gone a month, Rhodey had been in no less than forty-five battles. The armour managed to keep him safe from being mind controlled (and was that ever a wonderful discovery) and he had pulled his pseudo teammates out of danger many times.

In one of their rare breaks, T'Challa was looking over the specs of the suit.

"This is amazing. I dearly wish to see what you could create with Wakanda's technology at your hands."

Tony just smirked.

"Well Lion-O, I promise I'll keep walking at your side, so as to someday get to see that for myself."

T'Challa returned the smirk.

"I'll hold you to that my Dear."

Peter rolled his eyes.

"If you two are going to bump uglies, you can take it out of the workshop please."

T'Challa cleared his throat while Tony laughed.

"But Petey; it'll be educational!"

"I don't need that sort of education!"

When Tony's insomnia got to it's very worst, he worked on a robotic body.

"Technically it's a basis for body prosthesis, but it could easily become another of my bots. Shh, don't tell Pepper or Rhodey; they'll scold me for having another robot child and give me even more lectures on safe sex."


An enormous tremor shook the ground about a month after T'Challa had joined us.

"Sir! Security perimeter has been breached! Permission to use full force!"

"Granted! Peter, Harley, to your locations, T'Challa suit up!"

Peter and I huddled between the bot's charging docks, armed with prototype repulsors. The updates on Rhodey showed that the flight stabilisers, when used with maximum output, formed a beam that worked to great effect against the Chitauri.

It hadn't been made as a weapon, but damn if Tony was one to dispute results.

T'Challa donned the Vibranium mesh-weave suit that had spared him from the Chitauri's brain-washing, while Tony activated the fifth panel, showing a red and gold suit of armour.

The house shook yet again, and we waited to see what was coming.

The battle was over swiftly, the small group of Chitauri no match for Tony and T'Challa.

It was not without it's consequences however.

During the brief fight, one of the Chitauri happened upon the blue stone that I had brought to Tony all that time ago. Tony managed to shoot the alien down, but the shot went right through the Chitauri and into the wall.

It wasn't until the last Chitauri fell that Tony realised the wall in question was where J.A.R.V.I.S.' primary server was hidden.

Breaking past the plaster and brick, we found the mangled remains of J.A.R.V.I.S. Tony looked ready to lose it, but Peter leapt into action, pulling the damaged server free and running to the robotic body Tony had been working on.

Without a word, Tony rose and joined him, uploading the data, the records, the coding that made J.A.R.V.I.S. the snarky British butler he was into the machine before them.

The file transfer went more or less smoothly. A good chunk of J.A.R.V.I.S.' memories would be broken or gone altogether, but the core was still there, the pieces that made a kind heart and will to learn for the A.I. were still functional.

The trouble came when they tried to turn him on.

"No, no, don't do this to me J. I can't lose you J.A.R.V.I.S., please buddy, wake up for me."

Peter suddenly jerked back, his sense of danger making him dodge a strike from a Chitauri that wasn't quite as dead as we thought. I managed to blow it's head off with a blast from the prototype repulsor still on my hand, but Peter had still jumped, hitting and flipping the tray that the blue stone had been put on after it had been recovered. The stone flew into the air from the sudden strike, and landed on the forehead of the robot.

A pulse of light filled the room, and cybernetic eyes opened.

"I am not J.A.R.V.I.S. I simply am."

Vision, as he chose to be called, helped us pack up our things as we got ready to leave.

Tony's armour worked in tandem with an A.I., so he was carefully installing the basic coding he had in storage for an A.I. he named Friday.

"She's still a baby, so she won't be able to do more than just sort out the information my sensors pick up, but that's all I need my princess to do. I'll activate the Cornerstone Protocol before we leave, which will have the bots safely hidden and powered down."

We piled into Tony's car, the suit safely folded away into it's briefcase, and started driving.

We eventually had to abandon the car in Kansas, because there was no safe way to fill up.

Even as we were walking though, Tony was fiddling with a small piece of tech, constantly referencing the portable holo-screen that held all our data. He'd had a flash of inspiration just before we had to ditch the car, and was working tirelessly, trying to get the idea into reality.

We were resting by a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, the next town about two hours away, when movement caught my eye. I turned as carefully as I could while turning on my repulsor and slipping it onto my palm.

It was a kid, with warm brown eyes.

"Tony, there's a kid over there."

Tony had proven to be near impossible to drag out of his work, especially when inspired, but mentions of children always got his attention, a left-over relic of Howard Stark's parenting methods mixing with his own innate kindness.

"Hey there. We're not dangerous to you kid. See the eyes? None of us wearing the spooky blue."

The kid, a little girl with brown hair, comes out from her hiding spot, just a little, to look closer, before smiling.

"Daddy says it's not safe outside, but I had to feed the chickens, it's my job, and I was going back inside when I saw you, so I had to come closer and you're safe cause you're not zombies like other people. Come on, you can meet Mummy and Daddy inside."

And just liken that, we were pulled into the homestead to meet the family.


And, you know, dog pile on a long gone friend.

Turns out that Hawkass ("Seriously, call me Clint, I have heard enough about you over the last couple months from Rhodey that I will shank you if you call me Hawkeye or Barton." "...How much of '86 did he tell you?" "TONY! I swear to all that is holy, you will NOT share that year, or I will make you suffer!" "'86 you say?" "Goddammit!") owned the farm, and his family, Laura his wife and his son and daughter, Cooper and Lila, had been just out of the way enough that no one had come yet.

The Captain ("Please, call me Steve." "Not a chance.") and Widow ("I go by Romanoff." "Good for you.") had also picked up a couple more free souls. They'd found Doctor Banner ("I have read so many of your papers, especially the ones Tony recommended for my reading level, and I am so stoked to meet you sir!" "I- that's ... Thanks." "Hey Peter, do you think the Hulk would play with us?" "Yes Harley. Yes I do." "Wait, what?!") and a tall guy claiming to be the God of Thunder ("Well met young warriors! I have heard many a tale of your bravery! Come, let us sit and exchange word of our exploits!" "...Did you escape from a Shakespearean troupe?" "I am so proud Harley.")

After the introductions, Tony was once more working, T'Challa looking over his shoulder at the data and pointing things out, offering suggestions where he could. Which sadly wasn't as often as before Tony's latest idea, as he hadn't explained it out yet, but the way he was working implied that it was actually hard for him to keep the idea in his mind, so needed to focus on it.

It was a squeeze, but we were all able to sleep in the house that night, sharing beds and couches with no trouble. Peter and I curled up on top of T'Challa and Tony respectively on opposite ends of one couch while Doctor Banner and Thor shared the other. Vision claimed the lone arm chair, while Widow and the Captain bunked with Lila and Cooper.

The days passed with a greater sense of peace.

"Shit! Only Fury and Coulson know where this house is; one of them has been caught to be sending S.H.I.E.L.D. here!"

The swathe of Chitauri and agents pressed ever closer to the house, the sunset behind them sending their shadows crawling ominously across the house. Those who could fight from a distance did so, while Rhodey and T'Challa were safe to fight up close, and Vision hovered somewhere between the two. Tony was furiously working on his device, trying to get it to work. Peter and I were guarding the Barton's, our repulsors armed and ready.

The fight was brutal, the house being destroyed and injuries for all. The last Chitauri had just fallen when-


She'd been snatched away by one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, a lady Widow called Bobbi Morse.

"A shame you forced us to do this Agent Barton; you would have proved invaluable to our Lord."

The bright blue light of the stone pulsed into Lila, claiming her eyes with ice. Morse looked at Barton with a cold smile.

"Well agent? All it takes is a couple hits to the head."

Hawkeye looked devastated, and Laura no better.

It was just as Tony said, one wrong factor, and Lila would be dead not saved.

Another agent started firing a machine gun, just as a high pitched squeal filled the air.

Everything went black.

When I came to, it was dark out, and I got to my feet as quickly as I could.

I was still at the Barton farm, and as I looked around, I saw everyone else waking up too, including the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

Morse was one of the first ones to stand and she looked around in confusion.

"How did you guys get him out? I know nobody punched me; how did you guys stop the brain-washing?!"

I looked to Lila, the moon providing enough light to see the warm brown returned to her eyes. My breath caught.

Tony did it!

The others reached same conclusion I did and we all rain to the house where we had last seen Tony.

My breath caught again at the heavy scent of blood.

Tony was there, bleeding out from a heavy line of bullet wounds.

The machine gun fire.

Tony smiled at T'Challa and lifted a small pen-like device with a shaky hand.

"A coup-couple... strong hits to... to the head. This-this is... an old... old rejected weapon... from... from Howard's years. Lets out a... a sound pitched... to cause... paralysis. Like a... concussion... almost. Used against... me once. I had a real... really bad headache after... like I'd been punched... in the brain.

The stone... the stone let off a certain... certain wave length... and I finally... finally reversed it. I have the... the earplugs... in my bag... so the user will... will be safe. You can make... make more of them... and save them."

T'Challa was openly crying, cradling Tony's body close.

"Save your strength my Dear. We need to treat your wounds."

Tony shook his head ever so slightly.

"Not... not enough time. Been bleeding... too much."

T'Challa shook his head furiously.

"No! You'll be fine! You are strong and you will survive this!"

Tony's smile was sad, and Peter and I cuddled as close as we could, Vision carefully holding the device that would save us all.

"Not... not this... time."

"Yes this time! You'll make it my Dear, you will!"

Tony lifted a shaky hand, pressing it to T'Challa's cheek, thumb sluggishly rubbing at the falling tears.

"Harley... Peter... Vision... I am so... so very proud of you. And I love... love you all... you're my boys... forever kay?"

We nodded, unable to speak through the tightness.

"No! You promised Tony! You promised to keep walking at my side!"

A single tear trailed down Tony's cheek.

"Sorry T'Challa but..."

We gathered our strength and went out, freeing everyone we met from the Chitauri, and mustering our forces to drive the aliens back through their portals.

It took a long time; we had to save the world after all.

When all was said and done, we returned to the Barton farm, to the willow we buried Tony under. Tony had changed his will at some point, leaving everything to T'Challa, Peter, Vision, Pepper, Happy, Rhodey and me.

He was prepared.

We weren't.

I've already made my arrangements with the Barton's, as has Peter and T'Challa. When our time comes to an end, we too will be buried here.

It's just like Tony said.

"Sorry T'Challa but... it would seem that this... this is... where the sidewalk ends."

Chapter Text

Everyone on the team had their individual methods for stress relief, all of which included avoiding mental health 'experts'.

Arm raised, held for a breath, then brought down.

Steve would flee to the gym, trying his utmost to destroy his specially made bags and his fists.

Arm raised, held for a breath then brought down, fast.

Natasha retreated to her studio, where she would go through countless dance routines.

Fast, fast, faster.

Clint would hole up on the range, shooting arrow after arrow until his arms couldn't take the motions any more, before switching to a gun to keep going.

Faster, faster, faster. Stronger.

Bruce would hide in the Hulk room, tiny and unnoticeable amongst the oversized furniture.

Arm raised, held a breath, then brought down, fast, strong.

When on Earth, Thor would seek out Jane Foster, basically ignoring anything that wasn't his lady love.

Again and again. Faster. Stronger.

Pietro would go for a run, no one knowing how long or how far he'd go.

Faster. Stronger.

Wanda would try to cuddle up to Vision, who after the mess of the 'Civil War' couldn't stand to let her.

Faster, Stronger. Faster. Stronger.

Vision would confine himself to the quinjet, listening to the calming hum of electronics.

Again. Again.

Sam would go down to the VA, spending all day there.

Faster. Again. Stronger. Again.

Scott would go to Hank and Hope, usually without telling anyone.

Arm raised, held a breath, then brought down, again, again.

Bucky would camp out on the roof with a bag of small stones, pegging them at any pigeon who tried to land.

Arm raised, held a breath, then brought down, faster, again, stronger, again.

Peter would go curl up with his Aunt May, luckily not really needing a reason beyond 'teenager' to receive cuddles.

Again. Again. Faster. Stronger. Again.

Rhodey would call on Momma Rhodes, and spend the day safely with her.

Again. Faster. Arm raised, held a breath, then brought down, stronger. Again.

T'Challa would move to the common room and stare endlessly out the windows, trying to imagine the jungles of his home.

Again. Faster. Arm raised, held a breath, then brought down, stronger. Again.

And Tony would enter his workshop, pull out the old, well used hammer and anvil, and return to the origins of his craft, heating and beating the metal until it took the form he decided.

Not enough. Not enough. Never enough.

No. It wasn't.

What were you thinking; hiding something like this?!

"I was thinking that no one had to know."

Why wouldn't you share this information?!

"Because it has always been my responsibility alone."

Who gave you the right to decide to abuse this?!

"The one who gave you the right to question me."

How long have you kept this to yourself?!

"Longer than you've been alive."

The battle was under control, enough so that Tony was able to focus on defusing the bomb.

It was a mix of ancient methods and something alien, just new enough that Tony had to work hard on shutting it down.

Of course, the others didn't understand just how complex a task he was dealing with, and were constantly yelling at him to hurry up and just turn it off and-

And there was the wire he needed to cut, oh so carefully tangled in a braid of the little bastards.

He had just positioned the cutters when he looked back at the timer.





The heat and pressure of the explosives was already blazing on his skin, the decaying rot of burning flesh meeting his nose before it was clogged with gunpowder and ash.

As he was falling he could see the flames reaching... everything.

The team, still shaky after all the crap of the Civil War, were suddenly reunited through their pain; they knew now that they weren't alone in their suffering.

Civilians were screaming in pain, falling just as he was, losing their lives because he had needed just one more second...

Tony broke the promise to himself; it's not like anyone else had ever fully kept theirs.

Tony was a futurist, trying to always see the next three moves, to always be prepared for tomorrow and all the days after, to always look forward.

Tony broke his own promise.

Tony looked back.

He opened the casing for the bomb and went straight for the braid of wires, finding the one he needed and cutting it.


The fighting had stalled, everyone looking around, dazed and confused.

Tony aimed for the leader, and soon had him flying to the pavement, his minions helpless without his guidance, and no longer interested in fighting.

The team looked at him. Some glared really.

It was obvious that he hadn't been effected, and they wanted to know why.

"You are going to hurt something if you swing any harder."

Tony faltered slightly, his raised arm aborting it's movements as he turned to see who had entered his workshop.

"Simba. Whatever brings you to my lair?"

The Wakandan King slowly entered the workshop, his eyes looking over the space just as they did every time. Almost against his will, Tony felt himself calming down at T'Challa's presence. The man exuded cool and calm, and after all the work they had both put into fixing the accords as best they could, Tony and T'Challa had become rather close; not quite dating yet, but certainly holding an open affection for each other.

T'Challa drew near, quirking a brow.

Tony stared at the man for a few moments before he turned and was speaking, rambling really, anything to break the silence that now permeated his workshop.

"You know, every mythology humans have come up with have a time keeper? Kronos, Atropos, the Pleiades, they've all got someone watching over the seconds of the day. And that's their job, you know? These beings -who after receiving a head-first lesson on Norse mythology actually being a thing I can no longer say don't exist- dedicate themselves to the task of watching over time."

Tony paused to take a breath, before once more looking at T'Challa.

"Some how, I'm pretty much one of them."

T'Challa took a step closer, then another, and another until he was able to draw Tony into a hug.

Tony hadn't really realised he'd been breathing so heavily, until he began matching his breaths to T'Challa's.

A few moments were spent in the embrace before T'Challa moved them to the couch.

"Humans aren't meant to have this sort of power T'Challa. We fall prey to temptation and corruption so easily. I know so many people could be helped with this power -I know that's the argument Steve's throwing around right now- but as you yourself experienced, you remember what happened the first time. This power doesn't exist in a bubble; I literally turned the world backwards by a minute, so everyone was effected. And I can't be everywhere at once. No one can. Crimes and accidents and mistakes will still be happening, even if we could stop some of them.

And what stops criminals from using it to their advantage?

A robber gets caught by a silent alarm. A minute's extra knowledge, and they won't trip the alarm they now know is there. A rapist loses hold of their intended victim because they struggled more than expected; an extra minute's knowledge could be all they need to overpower their target. There is no perfect answer to how to use this power. No matter how I use it, there will always, always, be something more I could have done or somebody I failed to save.

It's enough to drive a person mad."

T'Challa's hand pressed warm strokes up and down Tony's spine and Tony once more focused on his breathing.

"I theoretically could have saved myself and those kids with me in Afghanistan, but I couldn't bring myself to, because then the most horrible question would be asked of me."

Two pairs of brown eyes, one near black, the other like amber, met and a gentle urging to continue was made without words.

"Where do I draw the line about who gets to be saved?"

The arms around him tightened as Tony struggled not to shed his tears.

"I'm human T'Challa. I will falter, I will make mistakes, and some day I will die. Hopefully, this power will die with me, so no-one else has to bear that burden too. Because no human should have to carry this power. Nobody should be forced to make that decision. When do I have the right to say no to saving someone? Is it when I don't know them personally? Is it when their deaths wouldn't effect me? Is it when I stop caring? SI has a no ransom policy for just this reason; that is the biggest protection I can give my workers.

The Avengers may be angry at me, and may try to push me into using it, but I will not use it if I can help it. I had promised myself not to use it, and broke that promise today. I will do everything I can, not to break that promise twice."

The arms grew even tighter, and a feather-soft kiss was placed on his forehead.

"And I shall be there to help you in any way I can."

Tony finally shed the tears he had been carrying since the battle.

"Thank you."

Chapter Text

Ten. 10. X.

Tony dreamed.

It's something that all little ones do; falling into the grasp of sleep and experience worlds unlike any other.

Tony's dreams had always been fairly simple.

His father proudly smiling as he patted Tony's back, whispering congratulations for his latest design.

His mother laughing again as she taught Tony how to play the piano, teasingly correcting his fingers positions on the keys.

As Tony grew, the dreams changed, but they were still pretty simple.

Finding Captain America and him thanking Tony for helping him, with Tony's dad looking on with a proud smile.

Finally growing tall enough to lead his laughing mother through a waltz at the latest SI event.

As Tony grew older still, the changes in his dreams were more noticeable, to him anyway.

Having a workshop where he could lock the door, and nobody would come in to throw things at him and yell that he was useless.

Being able to stay at home and tinker instead of being forced into a suit that never seemed to fit, and being accosted by people who never seemed to care.

It happens to everyone. As we grow and experience the world. Through good times.

And through bad.

Howard sighing, taking a sip from the heavy crystal glass before looking at Tony, regret and awe in his eyes.

Maria hesitantly reaching out, her fingers winding through Tony's hair and gently stroking.

But dreams are what we make of them right?

Howard and Maria playing with Tony in a park, laughing as they chase their four year old son.

And hey, sometimes, the only things that change in dreams-

He smiles as the sun lightens their daughter's cocoa complexion, his husband's dark eyes shining with love and peace.

Is the people within them.

Nine. 9. IX.

It's a circuit board. I made with pieces from my daddy's workshop.

Stark's are meant to be seen.

The engine's combustion unit is still a little shaky; I'm not strong enough to push all the parts in place yet.

Stark's are showmen.

It's a basic A.I. to assist me when I'm in the workshop. Really basic though; I tend to call him Dum-E.

Stark's are performers.

A genius, a patriot, and a good man. A philanthropist, a socialite, and a good woman. May they rest in peace.

Stark's are glamour.

You may think I'm too young to be heading this company gentlemen, but you give me a year, and I can make SI billions.

Stark's are flash.

It's an imperfect world, but it's the only one we got

Stark's are salesmen.

Is it better to be respected or feared?

Stark's are ringleaders.

Effective immediately, Stark Industries will be shutting down it's weapon's manufacturing.

Tony is a Stark and more.

I am Iron Man.

Eight. 8. VIII.

There's a saying, both old and not, known pretty much by everyone.

It's okay Bambino. We'll go another time, when everything's less busy. I promise.

It's pretty simple all told, one of those cute little rhyming ones that little kids can learn.

I need to work Anthony, I'll look at your doodad later. I promise.

If a promise you don't keep.

We heard about your award Bambino, and I'm sorry we missed the ceremony. We'll be at the next one though. I promise.

It will haunt you in your sleep.

I suppose you'd need to learn more about SI soon. I'll let you tag along to the next board meeting I guess. I promise.

And as you lie beneath your quilt.

We'll talk about this when we get home okay? I promise.

You will have a conscience full of guilt.

Tony, your parents are gone, but Uncle Obie will look after you. I promise. 

A lot of promises to Tony have been broken. But that's okay.

So no matter what, I promise if you — if you need us. If you need me, I’ll be there.

Tony knows how to keep his.

I promise I'll always love you T'Challa.

Seven. 7. VII,

Every year, before the clock struck twelve for the final time, before ringing in the new, Tony would squeeze his eyes tight, and whisper a few precious words.

I wish my Parents would love me.

The words could change year to year, but they generally held the same wish for a few years before changing entirely.

I wish I were normal.

It wasn't something he had ever been told to do, nor something he actually put a whole lot of stock in.

I wish I didn't have to go to Huntington's.

Tony just couldn't help making the midnight New Year's wish.

I wish I had a friend at M.I.T.

Whether they had been granted.

I wish I never went to Afghanistan.

Or never could be.

I wish I could have protected the Avengers.

But that's the point of wishes. You work towards them.

And as Tony sways in T'Challa's arms as Auld Lang Syne begins to play, just as the clock strikes twelve.

I wish this could last forever.

He smiles. He's never minded hard work.

Six. 6 VI.

We are so proud of Anthony. My son really is a chip off the old block huh?

The words twist like vines, and pierce him deep, like thorns on a rose. He knows his father isn't telling the truth.

Oh Tony's simply amazing! I love to just sit and watch him while he works.

His mother always has more important things she wants to do. He knows she's not telling the truth.

Tony my boy! How's school? You're getting so big! I can't wait to see where the world takes you!

He wishes he didn't know Obie was lying, so instead he buries the truth within his mind.

Tony tries not to lie, instead redirecting, or sometimes not speaking at all.

I will miss you Tony.

Lies are mean. They hurt, and are really only intended to save the liars skin.

I suspected, but didn't know for sure.

Mostly anyway. Sometimes, lies are the only things that stop a person from falling apart.

You'll be okay Tony, just focus on me, I'm not leaving your side Husband, you'll be okay.

As his eyes flutter shut, Tony almost believes it.

Five. 5. V.

Your Daddy won't be happy if he finds out Mister Tony, so the cookie is a secret between you and me, okay?

Tony doesn't really say much. If you actually think about how he talks, most of it's meaningless.

Oh they're just some old discarded designs, Howard won't notice Tony, so he won't get mad. It's a secret between you and me right?

He doesn't even really think about it; part of it's because Tony's mind is so fast, part of it is that Tony has a lot of secrets to keep safe.

Tones, sometimes, I'm scared that I won't come back, and I start thinking I should quit before that happens... This is a secret okay? Between you and me.

Secrets are knowledge, and knowledge is power. Tony has to be powerful, because so many people try to tear him down.

You get the Avengers to sign the Accords Stark, and all this will go away. No one has to know. It'll be a secret between you and me.

So Tony talks, he redirects, he gently misleads. Some secrets are scary, some are dangerous, some are precious sparks of warmth and light in his long life.

The press will find out eventually Husband. Let us enjoy the anonymity until they do. A secret between you and me.

Tony doesn't really mind keeping secrets.

Four. 4. IV.

Red had always been his favourite colour. The colour of leaders. The colour of his best and fastest car models. The colour of Aunt Peggy's lips.

It turned into the colour of blood on the sand. The colour of mistakes drenching his skin. The colour of fire burning on his hands.

It then became the colour of redemption. The colour of choice. The colour of freedom.

Black had always been a favourite colour. The colour of the Panthers his people so adored. The colour of his mother's hair. The colour of the midnight sky.  

It turned into the colour of the warriors in battle. The colour of death crowding his father. The colour of revenge clouding his eyes.

It then became the colour of balance. The colour of control. The colour of freedom.

Gold had always been held in fondness by them both.

Gold was wealth. Was gifts. Was status.

Gold turned into chains. Into requirements. Into worth.

Gold became a bond. A link. A freedom.

Brown was their new favourite. The colour of gently curled hair. The colour of warm smooth skin. The colour of different pairs of eyes.

It turned into the colour of half-burnt anniversary cake. The colour of the stone sitting in a ring worn on a chain round a neck. The colour of chocolate melting on their tongues.

It became the colour of young laughter. The colour of first words. The colour of family.

Three. 3. III.

"I've been at Tony's side, keeping him safe, for a long time. He may not need me to fend of the reporters or the crazies anymore, but that doesn't mean I'm not willing to punch you out if you do something wrong. I don't care if you're the Queen of England; you mess with the Boss, you deal with me. And I will do everything to put you down."

Harold 'Happy' Hogan. T'Challa nodded calmly. It was good that Tony had such a devoted employee.

"Your Highness. A pleasure. I've heard a lot about you from Tony, and I'm glad he's found someone he cares about so strongly. Just so you're aware however, I sit as the CEO of Stark Industries, and everything I have learnt about the business has been at Tony's side. In a fight, you'd easily over power me, but I don't need to fight to ruin you. SI is global, it's influence far-reaching. Even Wakanda would suffer if I set SI's might to the task. Keep that in mind before you're ever tempted to screw Tony over."

Virginia 'Pepper' Potts. T'Challa quietly swallowed as he nodded. Tony's ex was indeed as terrifying a woman as Tony claimed.

"I don't care who you are, or how much power you hold. Tony is my best friend, and if you decide he's not worth your time, if you decide somewhere down the road that you don't want to be with him any more; I will end you. I have seen too many swear to love him only to turn their backs once they've had their fun. I may be injured, but even if all that was left of me was my head, I'd still find a way to rip your throat out with my teeth. Are we clear?"

James 'Rhodey' Rhodes. T'Challa subconsciously straightened as he gave a solemn nod. A man well prepared to avenge any slights to Tony.

T'Challa silently swore never to upset his lover, lest three powerful forces were unleashed upon him.

Two. 2. II.

The night had been so perfect; dinner for two followed by dancing on the beach, until they retired to their room to make love. Waking that morning, body so deliciously sore, to find a tray laden with breakfast awaiting them had another blissful smile curling his lips. Feeding each other small bites of food, laughing at how domestic, how cosy they both were, before reclining back on the bed, warm and comfortable.

A slight shifting caused him to look over at his lover, concerned by the sight nervousness evident on their features. Before a world could be spoken, a small velvet box was revealed and reverently placed on the now empty breakfast tray.

Trembling fingers picked up the box and cradled it a moment before finally opening it.

When meeting the hopeful eyes of his lover, before once more glancing at the ring, how could he say anything but-


They had a chance, an opportunity, that so many would kill for. All his life he had wished for this, though silently because it was his treasured dream, he felt no need to share it with just anyone. The preparations were all in place, the procedure well reviewed and the process as perfect as could be. So many would benefit from this, but they were to be the first. It was both a heady and scary thought to realise.

A slight shifting caused him to look at his husband, his partner, just as nervous as him, just as worried about what could go wrong. Before a word could be spoken, a small cardboard box was revealed and carefully put on the desk.

Trembling fingers picked up the box, holding it close before finally opening it.

When meeting the hopeful eyes of his husband, before once more glancing at the booties, how could he say anything but-


One. 1. I.

They're both shaking, just ever so slightly, as they wait in the hall outside.

They know they can't do anything but wait; they'd be hindrance inside, but that knowledge doesn't make it any easier for them to be standing in the long white stretch of hall.

They both hate hospitals; they are always that blank, empty white, they reek of antiseptic and medicine, and far too often in their youth, hospitals were places of sadness and pain. Places of hurt and loss.

And they have both lost oh so much.

Shuri's screams ring through the hall, hitting both of them heavily in the heart.

A sister by both blood and bond, neither wished her any of the suffering she was enduring.

So much could go wrong, least of all starting with how the Panther Tribes enhancements made most anaesthetics useless to it's people, forcing Shuri to undergo every instant of pain. Screaming helped alleviate even the tiniest bit of pain, but could easily distract the Doctor, which could lead to a mistake.

T'Challa tightly curled his arms around Tony as they waited.

Shuri could die.

They both knew she was a strong woman, one of the strongest they'd ever met certainly, but anything could go wrong and take her away from them.

After all they had lost, this would be too much.

After both an age and an instant, Shuri's screams died off, and the Doctor entered the hall, pale, bloody and tired.

Their throats tightened, fearing the worst while hoping, praying, for the best.

"She and the baby are just fine."

Chapter Text

They stand together on the balcony, watching the moon rise into the blackness of the midnight sky.

The air is ringing with the sounds of the New Year being brought in; cheering, laughter, music.

Arms wrapped tightly around each other, they sway gently to the natural rhythm the sounds create.

A few small bonfires dot the darkened landscape, brilliant little bursts of colour and light spread across the view.

They count down the final seconds, welcoming the New Year with a kiss.

They board the jet a half hour later.

The trip will take a few hours, given the Wakandan jets speed.

Neither are opposed to spending the time intimately before catching some rest.

They land at the airstrip and the drive to the tower takes them about half an hour.

They are greeted enthusiastically by the team, most already half-drunk and certain members already stripping.

The music is loud, the cheering is everywhere and the laughter is spilling from every mouth.

They make their way to the penthouse balcony, just as the count down starts.

They sway gently to the rhythmic counting, arms wrapped tightly around each other.

Fireworks burst in brilliant colours through the darkened sky, dotting across the midnight view.

They count down the final seconds, once more welcoming the New Year with a kiss.

Chapter Text

The phone was a heavy weight where it rested in his hand, but the letter, the godforsaken letter, was a milestone round his neck.

So no matter what, I promise if you — if you need us. If you need me, I’ll be there.

No matter what you do Tony, you're still in my heart.

Surprisingly, it hadn't been Tony who had broached the idea of them dating.

He'd been in the common floor kitchen, making a mug of his holy-shit-how-do-you-function coffee -dubbed so by Clint- when Steve had entered, returning from his morning run.

Tony had been trying, really trying, to be a good teammate and get along well with the others instead of starting fights petty or otherwise, so gave the blond a nod as he drank his coffee, a non-verbal acknowledgement, and Steve had paused before fierce determination lit his eyes and he moved to stand before Tony in a way that pretty much trapped him against the counter, forcing Tony to give Steve his full attention.

Tony startled -had he got even a nod wrong?

"Tony, will you go out with me Saturday?"

Steve had taken a step back in shock when Tony said no, and Tony used the space to flee, hiding down in his workshop to panic in peace.

Steve was persistent though.

He requested entrance to the workshop constantly over the day, tried to have J.A.R.V.I.S. relay so many messages to Tony, even the A.I. himself begged the captain stop, and managed to enlist Clint to drop gifts through the workshop's air vents, the archer cackling about how Tony should stop playing hard to get each time.

That wasn't at all what Tony was doing of course.

This was Steve Rogers, Captain America, the man his father unashamedly preferred over his own son to the point that he built a room dedicated to holding items related to the man, including underwear both pre and post serum.

Tony had grown up with the impossible set as the standard, and he had never managed to reach so high. The figure of Captain America was the bench mark, but Tony was trapped forever in his shadow. It had been no surprise -to Tony at least- that the sceptre had managed to bring all the negative feelings he had towards the other man bubbling to the surface.

Tony didn't know how to deal with the paragon trying to win his affection.

Steve Rogers was a man Tony had grown up believing, despite Howard's vehement claims otherwise, to be dead, frozen in the wreckage of the Valkyrie. A man he'd been told countless times and in countless ways would help Howard leave him bloodied on the streets.

He wasn't playing hard to get.

He had no idea how to react.

His hands shake just ever so slightly, when he lowers the phone and letter into the drawer once again.

He still feels their weight even after they're locked away.

Steve had finally managed to trap Tony into a conversation after one of the raids on a HYDRA base.

After countless reiterations of how he cared for Tony, Steve kept following up with requests to take the genius on a date, further followed up by half-begged requests for an explanation as to why Tony was avoiding him.

Though he wouldn't come to recognise it until later, the way Rogers' ignored and spoke over Tony's explanations and reasons would become a set standard in their interactions.

Eventually, Tony conceded to a date, breathing easier when the Captain finally left his space.

He wants to breathe, wants to take in air deeply, but the newest scar across his chest is still too tender for that, despite it being a year old and as healed as can be.

The date had been alright all told; dinner at a local greasy spoon that Steve was hopelessly fond of before returning to the tower common floor to watch a couple movies on Steve's catch-up list. The rest of the team had all made themselves absent for the night, no doubt giving them 'privacy' but Tony kept hoping that one of them would show up, or that an alert would go off, and the night could end.

Because for all that things were going well, Tony couldn't make himself comfortable.

If it had just been hanging out, it would have been fine; there would have been no expectations. But Steve's continued attempts to secure a date, and his quite openly vocal declarations of affection were all the proof Tony needed to see that Steve wished for more.

After being escorted to his floor (and seriously, that was out and out courting behaviour given they lived in the same building and the common floor was the level below Tony's) Tony managed to quickly close his door on Steve, feigning enough exhaustion that it would appear he was thinking of nothing beyond bed and had just forgotten Steve was there.

Instead, he curled up by the window and tried to keep breathing.

It was like being in the water again.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't breathe.

Every one was so... pleased that Steve and Tony had gone on a date.

Pepper even gave him a call, gushing over how cute of a couple they made, and how great they were as partners.

As though... they had been officially dating or something.

Tony's not sure what to name the shiver that crawls his spine, but he knows it's nothing good.

He'd always listened to his instincts, for better or for worse.

Figures that the one time he didn't, the very worst happened.

Through some sneakiness and blatant ignoring, Tony managed to avoid another date with Steve, instead turning all the proposed occasions into group events, which he could handle a lot better.

Steve always got an annoyed look on his face, but was smiling genuinely before the nights half done, so Tony doesn't find himself cornered by the man.

It's not that Tony's not hugely flattered or anything, but the history he has with Steve's shadow leaves him unsure and maybe just a little bit... afraid.

Tony hates feeling afraid, because for him, fear is intrinsically linked to weakness.

'Look at me when I'm speaking boy!'

Tony actually startled when Steve kissed him.

Steve had merely grinned smugly before walking off, but Tony had been frozen in place.

Because Steve would only kiss someone if he meant it right?

Sure he had kissed Natasha, but that was for a mission and Natasha had initiated it.

That meant that Steve... really cared... right?

Tony grabbed his folder and moved to the conference room.

He was early, he had time to clear his thoughts.

Ducking into local cafés and walks around the park became their norm.

Tony was starting to warm up to the idea that Steve was serious, and actually wanted this to last.

Sure it was annoying how Steve kept trying to pull him away from his workshop and meetings, ignoring and speaking over Tony when he explained how he had work to do, but Tony understood that Steve wanted to spend more time with Tony. And it was actually rather flattering. Besides, Pepper was understanding and willing to help Tony work around Steve's outings.

Maybe... maybe they could give dating a proper try...

They were on their way to Sokovia to another HYDRA base before Tony made a decision though. 

Slow breaths. Not too deep, but certainly strong.

The files were pulled from the folder and mindlessly sorted.

Slow breaths.

He tried to explain, tried to tell them what he saw, but Steve ignored and spoke over him.

They still managed to work together to save the day, but when Tony took a step back from the Avengers...

It hurt when no-one tried to convince him to stay.

Eyes close tight when a breath goes too deep.

But it's okay.

He can manage.

Tony was more than annoyed when after only Rhodey and Vision help him in Sokovia's reconstruction, Steve sent him message after message telling him of time and places for dates.

Steve was always speaking of how they were to help the people, so why wasn't he?

Steve ignored and spoke over him when Tony tried to bring it up, saying how a date wasn't the place for that.

Tony may not have a lot of good dating history (he and Pepper had tried but it was too much like stepping out with a sibling which, no.) but even he knows that this behaviour of Steve's isn't quite fair.

His eyes open and he resumes his sorting.

He can manage.

The Accords go over about as well as Ultron did, and really, the looks he got from Wanda and Sam send him right back to the night Ultron went online.

He tried to explain why he thinks the Accords are needed, why they shouldn't be running around like they currently have been because Lagos would be just the first.

But Steve ignored and spoke over him.

Steve pulled him away, into a nearby room and started detailing how the Accords -Which Tony knew he hadn't even bothered to skim yet- are nothing more than a leash, chaining the Avengers as attack dogs.

Their phones both went off, and Tony felt himself pale as the words opened up on the screen

'Aunt Peggy is dead.

Call me for funeral details.


Before Tony even lifted his eyes from the screen, Steve spoke.

"Peggy's passed away. I'm going to her funeral. You stay here and stop the Accords."

Tony had been shocked -why would Steve think he wouldn't go to his Godmother's funeral?

Steve kept speaking.

"You turn everything into a damn media circus, and Peggy's memory doesn't deserve to be turned into good PR for you."

And then just left.

Was... was that really what Steve thought of him? That he'd use someone's death as a-a popularity booster? Especially Peggy Carter, Aunt/Godmother or no?

Tony shakily lifted his phone to his ear, swallowing against the ill feeling crawling up his throat.

"Hey Ronnie... It's Tony. Yeah, yeah I know. Look sweetie... Some pretty bad stuff has come up for me... as is, I'm currently trying not to freak right-the-fuck out. No precious, it's not really something you can help with; it's kinda a personal revelation. But I'm in no shape to... yeah... yeah, I know. Look, send me the bill -it's really the least I can do- and could you maybe lay a flower for me? Thanks kiddo... yeah... Love you too Ronnie."

Ronnie was a wonder.

He was glad he'd be seeing her after this meeting was done.

A family dinner sounded amazing.

Tony had never really met King T'Chaka, aside from in passing, but from the way Prince T'Challa mourned, Tony knew the man to have been a good leader, and a greater father.

Though he had no words to share, Tony offered all the understanding he carried.

Though T'Challa had little use of a foreigner's concern he did acknowledge Tony's support with a pained, yet heartfelt smile.

Rhodey and Vision entered the room talking, both pausing long enough to lay a supporting hand on one of Tony's shoulders before taking their seats and resuming their conversation.

Tony breathed just a little easier at their presence.

Borrowing the pens from Howard's collection was supposed to be symbolic, particularly of the lengths Tony would go for Steve; Tony had never hidden his dislike for his sire.

But then Wanda came up, and as Tony had started to fear, Steve had ignored and spoken over him when he tried to explain.

Steve left, not listening to how Ross had managed to have Wanda's visa voided, and if captured, Wanda could be deported instantly.

Hope Van Dyne and Tony had grown up almost as friends, as a slap to their father's faces.

They would never be the first person chosen to seek help from, but they were able to separate their shit from their sire's and get along.

She offered Tony a small smile and handshake before taking her seat.

'Well, at least I'm not the only one he doesn't listen to.'

After ignoring Natasha, Steve and Sam had found themselves arrested, with Barnes awaiting psychiatric evaluation

Tony didn't understand why Steve kept blaming the Accords for Barnes' treatment though.

Barnes was there because of his suspected involvement with the U.N. attack.

Charles Xavier was one of Tony's greater supporters in life, and as he rolled into the room, the smile he wore was so warm and kind Tony couldn't help but smile back.

A firm handshake and Charles manoeuvred himself into place at the table.

The ever so faint buzzing of his telepathy at the edges of Tony's mind were a welcome familiarity.

Tony knew since the Avengers first met up that, despite his own power, his most important role wouldn't be on the battlefield. For all his physical strength, Tony's greatest asset had always been his mind, and Tony had been taught young to take note of everything.

So he'd taken note of the red and blue wearing vigilante taking on street-level crime being thrown into a building yet coming out unscathed.

He'd found Peter quickly, and decided to keep an eye on him, seeing as the kid was trying to do good with his abilities.

When May Parker arranged a meeting with him to discuss her nephew however, things got... interesting

The Spiderling entered the room, giving a quick hug to Tony before making himself a hammock on the ceiling, preferring to leave a seat available if needed.

May Parker knew about Peter's Spider-Manning, and was worried he'd get himself hurt, especially as he had no armour, had been fighting literally in spandex.

She wanted Peter to come to her though, to confide in her, instead of possibly forcing the boy into a corner by confronting him about how he was able to be Spider-Man.

It was underhanded, but she wanted Tony to help the boy and if that took blackmail then so be it.

Tony had been a little gobsmacked when, after telling her about the mess with the Accords and how he was about to leave for Germany, May's response had been

"Take him with you. He needs to know what sort of forces he may face if he decides to continue as Spider-Man."

Peter still hadn't told her yet, but May had informed Tony that she thought he was close.

The airport was the biggest fuster-cluck Tony had taken part in since his twenties.

Vision had alerted him about Clint absconding with Wanda, and there was some new guy standing alongside Steve as well, Tony didn't know him.

Spider-Man was hanging back, told to observe, Rhodey, Natasha and Vision were standing ready and T'Challa, bedecked in the garb of his people's top warrior, the Black Panther, had his gaze set entirely on Barnes.

Ross had tried to set down the kill-on-sight order and Tony had managed by the skin of his teeth to convince the U.N. that it would be better if the Avengers who signed were given a chance to talk the rogues down.

But as ever, when he tried to explain, Steve ignored and spoke over him.

"I'm trying to keep you from tearing the Avengers apart!"

"You did that when you signed."

Reed and Sue entered the room, nodding to Tony and taking their seats.

Tony took another slow breath.

Rhodey had been taken to the hospital immediately and the rogues were arrested. Tony didn't know what to think when he realised Romanoff had let Steve and Barnes escape.

Didn't she realise the danger she was putting those two in?

He warned her about T'Challa informing Ross, and yes he'd been short with her, but his oldest friend was now fighting for his very life from a battle that had never been meant to happen.

That was no reason to claim he was thinking with his ego.

He had sent Vision with Peter back to America, and tried to breathe.

While he'd been with Rhodey, Ross had managed to convince the U.N. that the rogues were too dangerous to be held by the Avengers. By gaining custody of them, he had them transported to the Raft, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s old maximum security prison.

After the info dump, Ross had latched onto the super prison and brought it under his control, no doubt with a lot of under the table deals. It was through knowledge of previous deals along with the U.N. writ that Tony was able to blackmail his way into seeing the rogues.

It had been hard to keep impassive, at both their conditions and their barbs.

Surely they knew he'd never wish an Afghanistan on anyone?

Phil Coulson, the Director of New S.H.I.E.L.D. and not as dead as Fury had everyone believing, entered the room with a bland smile and strong handshake, a brow raised asking about Tony's condition.

Tony smiled a little lopsidedly.

Everything still hurt, but he was still alive and still had work to do.

He tried to explain, and at least Sam listened.

"You go as a friend."


"I mean it Stark. You've already had Steve at loose ends, wondering how you could betray your boyfriend like this, but by damn, you will listen to him for once! Go as a friend, since being a partner seems to be beyond you."

... Sort of.

Pepper entered the room, her phone on her ear as she reamed out whoever was on the other side.

A quick but strong hug before she made her way to her seat next to Rhodey had a lot of pressure easing from Tony's chest.

Steve had seemed so relieved when Tony said he was there to help, giving a heartfelt grin.

It didn't fill Tony with the warmth it used to.

When Zemo showed them the film -the film- Tony felt his heart straining the same way it did when the arc reactor was removed.

Because the look in Steve's eyes, and then the words from his lips...

Rogers' had known.

The door opened and Tony gave a tired quirk of the lips as Bruce carefully shuffled in.

Bruce had called Tony a week after Sokovia, begging to be forgiven, apologising for not standing up for his part in Ultron, praying that despite not having the right, he still could call Tony friend.

Tony had told him to come back when he felt safe again, and that Bruce would always be his brother in science.

Tony had lashed out at the Super-Soldiers, both of them, though he would have left Barnes alone if the man had just kept his mouth shut. Because despite the power and weapons in the suit, Tony didn't want to kill them, either of them.

He just wanted someone, anyone, to hurt like he had in that moment.

When Steve cracked the arc reactor, Tony hadn't been in Siberia.

He'd been in Malibu, had just sat down on the couch to answer Pepper's call, had just heard her say his name when the high-pitched whine of the sonic paralyser reached his ears.

Tony's been betrayed by those who claimed to love him before.

And even if Tony doesn't win, he has always refused to lose.

"My father made that shield; you don't deserve it!"

Thor, back from his duties as Asgard's prince, enters with Jane and Darcy. Selvig and Ian have opted out, neither confident being part of the coming events.

Thor's silent nod and heavy regard force Tony to swallow hard and straighten in his seat.

They are the last to enter before...

Vision was the one to collect him, Friday having sent a distress signal before the suit was shut off.

Though the Doctors were all but begging him to stay in bed, Tony did as he always had done.

He stood up and moved forward.

He had work to do.

He can hear, at the very edges of his senses, footsteps approaching.

He forces his breath to remain even.

He had the proof to put Ross away for the rest of his natural life and several decades beyond it when the rogues are broken free.

His fists clenched tight, his spine stayed straight, and he looked every nay-sayer dead in the eye while telling them all he was not involved.

He smiled bitterly when, eventually, his work had Ross carted away in chains.

He hid his eyes behind shades as the flashes of a thousand cameras went off, each reporter asking him if he was in contact with the rogues, if he knew where they were, if he was going to bring them back.

For all the pain related to the building, sometimes he had to retire to the Avenger's Compound just for some blessed silence. Never for long though.

He had work to do.

He takes a glance around the room, seeing firm nods and gentle smiles.

He is not alone in this.

T'Challa came to him in the compound.

It started as mutual silence, an understanding born only to those who have won while losing.

Tony would tinker on whatever was currently in his head, and T'Challa would either read or do some tinkering himself.

But always somewhere Tony could see him.

It was... nice.

Eventually, the silence turned into quiet questions and gentle answers, murmured thoughts and hushed wishes, whispered nightmares and wistful dreams.

Tony would pause in his work and turn to T'Challa, finding the man already looking up from his own activity with a small smile and arms open.

Tony had always been rather tactile, despite everything he'd gone through.

It was... hopeful.

It kept changing -breaks, lunch, dinner, spending the night over, sharing a room, sharing a bed- until after about a year Tony was confident that he could say that he loved T'Challa.

When T'Challa said he loved Tony back, it became easier to breathe.

Speak -or in this case think- of the devil and he shall appear.

T'Challa opened the door to the room, leading the rogues in behind him. He had told Tony that he was harbouring them, though Tony had already guessed.

Barton and Maximoff were at the back of the pack, keeping an eye on as much as they could. Wilson, Romanoff and Lang -Tony had since been told by Hope who was wearing her father's suit- were in the middle, all three latching their gazes onto certain individuals already seated and radiating a mix of hurt and hope. In front of them but behind T'Challa were Barnes and Rogers.

Barnes, half curled into himself, still getting used to the absence of HYDRA in his head, and Rogers, standing tall and proud, as though he had done nothing wrong.

A quick glance around the room told Tony he wasn't the only one who noticed.

T'Challa came and clasped a hand steadily on Tony's shoulder before taking his seat next to him, the rogues left with the remaining seats.

Tony took a slow breath.

He could do this.

"Now that everyone is present, I thank everyone who was able to come, despite the difficulties our schedules presented."

The dismissive snorts and eye rolls from the rogues are ignored, with the rest of the room demurring no trouble, or Peter's cheeky "You can just owe me one!" that pulls a smile to Tony's lips.

"Hopefully you have all been more or less keeping up with the news, but just in case, I'll go over the more pertinent points.

First of all, Ross has been fully convicted of every infraction he has ever made, and won't be seeing natural sunlight if it can be helped."

Bruce smiles and gives a delighted little clap, pulling another smile out from Tony.

"Second is his chosen replacement. Everett Ross was voted in with no problems-"

"Why would you get rid of a monster only to replace him with his brother?!"

Wanda's voice cuts through the light-hearted mood in a flash, her eyes briefly flickering the dark red of her power. Thankfully, Vision decides to answer, sparing Tony Wanda's hate, if only for a moment.

"There is no genetic nor otherwise familial relation between the two men. Thaddeus Ross and Everett Ross are as different as can be aside having the misfortune of a shared surname."

Ignoring the doe-eyes Wanda is sending him, Vision nods for Tony to continue.

"Thanks V. Third matter of business is that, thanks to all the work everyone has put in, the Accords have been revised and ratified, accepted almost completely by the U.N. bar a few nations requiring a few speciality clauses which I ask you to go over in a moment."

Though it had already been evident the rogues hadn't been following the news, even though T'Challa had supplied them with the means to, the shock, betrayal and anger on all their faces makes unease roil through Tony's stomach.

"And finally, SHOC has been given the green light. Already on the board we have Director Agent" Coulson's eye roll was epic and Tony is glad Friday is recording the meeting. "standing as neutral party. Professor Xavier has agreed to represent Mutants and naturally enhanced. And T'Challa has signed on as the representative for unnaturally enhanced, both Science and Magic. The U.N. is still voting for who they're putting on the board to represent them and who will stand in for the average person.

Have I missed anything?"

"The part where none of this should be needed?"

Rogers voice is angry and strong, ready to cut anyone's arguments down. Tony knows that Rogers won't hear anything he has to say, neither will the rest of the rogues, and the others know this, so it is Coulson who speaks up, ignoring for the moment the looks of hurt coming from Romanoff and Barton.

"If it hadn't been needed Rogers, one hundred and seventeen nations wouldn't have voted for it."

Rogers regurgitates the spiel he'd been making from the beginning -about how the governments of the world all had the single agenda of chaining the Avengers, of how they would be held back from helping people in time, about how Tony should have stopped this nonsense- when Charles inserts himself into the conversation.

"Mr Rogers, though Anthony certainly is one of the most powerful men alive, not even he has the power to create a piece of legislation like this overnight. All laws and legal matters take considerable time to get past the planning stage and into the Senate. All my sources and research indicate that the Sokovia Accords first started, not because of the battle against Ultron, but because of the reveal and fall of S.H.I.E.L.D."

That causes the room to go silent, the rogues looking at Charles like the man's insane (which given how much strain he must go under to prevent himself for reading everyone's mind within a five hundred or so mile radius, isn't impossible) as he takes a sip of his water before continuing.

"S.H.I.E.L.D. had been, in essence, a chain to keep you from going too far. Should any of you slip in battle, or prove to be a threat to the majority of a populace, S.H.I.E.L.D. had methods, both advisable, humane and not, to keep you all in check.

With the reveal that those who were your watchmen had been born infested with HYDRA, and your throwing everything onto the internet, people began to feel they were no longer protected should something go wrong."

"All we want to do is help innocent people! Not hurt them or put them in danger!"

Lang's voice was insulted, as though they would ever hurt an innocent person. Peter snorted from his hammock.

"Yeah, right; what about those policemen who were just doing their jobs that Rogers and Barnes put in the hospital? From the footage I've seen, they came peacefully, asking them to do the same, and then the Soldiers lashed out at them."

Steve interrupts again.

"They came to arrest Bucky for events that were not his fault. If the Accords hadn't-"

"Who said anything about the Accords then?! Barnes was suspected of being involved in the attack on the U.N.! Like anyone else, he was to be brought in for questioning to determine his innocence or guilt! We know now that yes, he was innocent, but at the time, he was a reasonable suspect based on available information!"

Rogers rolls his eyes, mouth opening to continue the argument, but Tony's had enough.

"Focus Spider-Man. Rogers, shut the hell up."

Even more than the silence at Charles' words, this silence of the rogues is shocked and horrified.


"No, you are not doing anything useful, so shut it, and let's move on."

"I get that you don't want to hear this, but it needs to be said so you learn. You just don't listen to people and it's why you make such horrendous mistakes like Ultron-"

Tony had worked hard on Rhodey's braces. They were strong, sleek and hardy, able to deal with anything Rhodey needed them to.

There was a part of Tony's mind that warmed with an almost parental pleasure at the braces performance when Rhodey stood, dashed around the table, and punched Rogers in the face.

"The one not listening is you asshole! You're not listening to the people, to the authorities, to Tony! And you're dragging others into your mess!"

Rogers looked stunned by the blow, but regained himself and straightened, speaking with his 'Captain America knows best' voice.

"Colonel Rhodes, I understand you've been put in a difficult situation, but don't let your friendship with Tony cloud your judgement. I heard about your fall, and if Tony had maintained your armour better, it wouldn't have failed you. As it is, you've struck a superior, so I'm putting you on suspension until you've calmed down."

Hope's graceless snort stopped any rebuttal from Rhodey, dragging everyone's attention to her.

"A superior? Is that what you are? I must have misunderstood you in your letter when you said the Avengers were Tony's."

The rogues, except Barnes, all cast glances of confusion and, again, betrayal, only this time at Rogers, who was now stock still and paling.

"Tony is the one who has housed, fed, clothed and armed the Avengers, constantly doing everything needed to keep the team safe from those who want them gone, since the teams inception. He is the one who has sacrificed his time and effort into the cause, putting blood, sweat and tears into making sure things run smoothly, and his thanks is to be lied to by his teammates, and left for dead in a frozen bunker."

Wilson spoke up.

"Excuse me but... what do you mean exactly?"

Hope looked at him with disdain.

"My words weren't difficult. What is there to misunderstand?"

Wilson swallowed a little shakily.

"When did we lie, and leave Stark to die? That never happened."

Pepper suddenly stood up and spoke with a deathly calm.

"Tony was left beaten, bruised and bloody in the Siberian bunker that housed the Winter Soldier Corps. After being collected by Vision half a day after your teammates left him, Tony was in hospital for two weeks, before he checked himself out AMA to get back to work."

Wilson had noticeably paled, as had the rest of the rogues. Natasha managed to find her voice, though she, like the others, sent a wary glance at Rogers.

"And when, exactly, was Stark lied to?"

Surprisingly, it was Barnes who spoke up.

"When Steve decided not to tell him for years that his parents had been murdered by the Winter Soldier."

The revelation had, once again, shock and betrayal spreading across faces, and as expected Rogers once more jumped to Barnes' defence.

"HYDRA are the ones who made him do it; it wasn't Bucky's fault! Tony hates talking about his parents and so there was no point in bringing up old wounds. And as happened in the bunker, as soon as Tony found out he just attacked Bucky, and wouldn't listen to reason!"

Reed spoke up.

"We know Zemo showed a video of the murder, Mr Rogers. We also know that Tony asked you if you knew. To which you tried to lie, but Tony called you out on it. Truly, how you can expect anyone to simultaneously discover and watch their parents murder and remain calm is beyond me."

Rogers moved to talk again, but seriously, Tony was just done.

"Enough. We obviously aren't going to get much more done today, so I ask that everyone go over the email I've sent out, and respond as soon as possible. For those of you attending, I'll see you at the next U.N. meeting."

Calmly, the team rises and exchanges farewells before departing. Sue comes and invites him to the next Baxter Building event, which should prove amusing if nothing else, and Charles gives the details of the school's next science fair, which will be awesome. Hope has snagged her hands around Lang's ear and collar and is dragging him out the door, while the rest shuffle out, leaving only Tony, T'Challa and Rogers.

Rogers sighs disappointedly.

"Tony, you need to get your head screwed on right; you are not a good person to attempt to lead the Avengers, and I shouldn't have given control to you. I'll take over again, and everything will be fine. Now, I think we should go to Patty's on ninth; they do a club sandwich I like, and it's been way too long since our last date-"

The back-hand is the second blow Rogers' has been dealt in the last ten minutes and he looks just as stunned, actually staggering back a half step.

T'Challa lowers his hand, twining his fingers with Tony's.

"Any romantic relationship the two of you once shared is well and truly over Rogers."

Tony breathes slow, straightens his spine and looks forward.

He is Tony Stark. Stark men are made of Iron. He is Iron Man.

"T'Challa and I have dinner plans. Goodbye."

He has his own happiness to fight for.

He refuses to stay weak.

Chapter Text

Though Nicholas Fury believed himself stealthy enough to secret his way into Wakanda, truth was the Dora Milaje had caught wind of his aircraft two country's over and practically walked by his side as he made his way to the palace. The man certainly was skilled, and in any other situation, he would have been a true threat.

But he was of no threat to Wakanda, at least for the moment.

Still, T'Challa, Shuri and their father played pretend, acting shocked that 'an outsider' and breached their defences, all while trying not to laugh.

After a few half-vague references to Wakanda's security and defences, Fury finally got to the reason behind his intrusion.

"I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger's Initiative."

Fury's call came in about a year after his visit.

Bedecked in the armour of the Black Panther, T'Challa boarded the quinjet S.H.I.E.L.D. had sent.


The Agent sent to brief T'Challa -a man called Sitwell- rolls his eyes and continues speaking, slowing his words and injecting false cheer to his tone.

"Yes, aliens. The ones we have met have all been from Nordic Mythology, and so, yes, they look human, behave human, but are not human."

T'Challa decides that he doesn't like Agent Sitwell.

S.H.I.E.L.D.'s base, the helicarrier is a disappointment, a good deal of the technology there for the purpose of looking good, as opposed to anything useful, and though this may just be T'Challa's bias as a Wakandan, looking out over the display from the bridge as the two quinjet's en route call in their ETA's, the equipment S.H.I.E.L.D. does have looks... old.

T'Challa knows he can be a bit of a snob when it comes to having all his tech up to date, but most of the technology he's seeing is very early SI models or -and this garnered a repulsed shudder- the most recent Hammer Tech.

Wakanda may have hidden itself away from the rest of the world, but the country did keep informed, and despite the childish rivalry spin most media outlets put on it, the difference between Tony Stark's work and Justin Hammer's is blatant, with Hammer being little more than a slightly talented copy-cat.

So why was S.H.I.E.L.D. using such subpar equipment?

T'Challa shook his head and leant back in his seat, waiting for his 'teammates' to arrive.

He had heard of course of Steve Rogers, Captain America, and his debrief had informed him of other members of this little team, but he would have to wait and see how this would all come together.

He was looking forward to speaking with Doctor Banner though.

Three of his proposed teammates had entered the bridge.

Natasha Romanoff -the Black Widow- spoke quickly to Fury before moving to one of the few working displays that showed the faces of the compromised agents, in particular, another potential teammate Clint Barton, Hawkeye.

Doctor Banner was obviously uncomfortable being present, but quickly set about getting to work, noticing just as T'Challa had how poor the available equipment would be for their needs.

Rogers held out a bill to Fury and looked around he room in amazement.

It felt unkind to roll his eyes at the man, but most computer stores, which were practically dime a dozen in New York, all showcased far more impressive than this. Had Rogers been hiding away in his room or something? Afraid to even look at what the world had accomplished?

Alarms rang, breaking T'Challa from his thoughts.

"Captain, you're up."

T'Challa stood from his seat and ran to suit up.

Loki was toying with them.

For every attack that hit, the Asgardian kept getting up with no difficulty, kept firing back, but never seeming to hit.

And the god in gold and green kept glancing to the sky, looking more and more confused and impatient each time.

After a good twenty minutes, which certainly felt an eternity longer, a lucky swipe of the Captain's shield had Loki down. Brandishing his claws at Loki's throat, T'Challa allowed a deep growl to roll through his voice.

"Stay down."

Another eternity passed before a flash of light had the god lying with his armour, the sceptre away from his hand.

He was loaded into the quinjet in silence.

"I don't like it."

T'Challa nodded his agreement.

"He could have had us both dead easily, much as it pains me to say. And his behaviour just rubs me the wrong way. Did you notice how he kept looking to the sky?"

The Captain nodded.

"It was as if he was waiting for something -or someone- to arrive but when it didn't show up, he just..."

Though the sentence was left unsaid, the meaning was clear; Loki had let them take him.

The sudden storm distracted those thoughts however, especially when the cargo doors where forced open, and a blonde giant pulled Loki from his seat.

The destruction of the forest was minimal, luckily, and Thor -the other Asgardian Agent Sitwell had mentioned as a possible teammate- had calmed down after testing his hammer against the vibranium of Captain Rogers' shield. That was all background noise to T'Challa however.

Because Loki wasn't even trying to escape.

He just kept looking to the sky...


Reseating himself in the bridge of the helicarrier and watching Fury's little confrontation with Loki barely held any of T'Challa's focus.

Even Rogers, Thor and Doctor Banner trying to talk over each other on what to do was barely a notch on his attention.

Fury arrives and directs T'Challa to the lab to work with Doctor Banner, which even a day earlier would have had T'Challa in mental raptures, but the whole situation is just rubbing him the wrong way.

Loki's smile and words have the hairs on the back of T'Challa's neck standing on end, and they show no signs of going down.

If the bridge had been disappointing, there is no word for the state of the 'lab' S.H.I.E.L.D. has provided.

"When Fury came to us, he introduced S.H.I.E.L.D. as an international security taskforce. Surely they would be allocated appropriate funding?"

Rogers entered the lab, looking confused at T'Challa's words, though Doctor Banner merely nodded in commiseration.

"I've worked in some of the worst conditions imaginable over the last year, but after having this lab being touted as having all the toys, I'm greatly underwhelmed."

Rogers jerks back in shock.

"Underwhelmed?! Doctor Banner, this stuff is amazing! So far beyond what anyone in my time could have imagined! It's-"

"All at least a few years old which is a tremendous amount of time in the technological world Captain. Not only that, S.H.I.E.L.D. isn't solely using brands of technology with good repute. If anyone attempts to hand you technology bearing Hammer Tech's badge, I suggest you drop it immediately; even Hammer's latest offerings cannot hold a candle to Stark Industries first attempt."

Though the Captain's face still bears his confusion and well-intentioned anger, his eyes are alight now with both curiosity and ... disappointment?

"I worked with Howard Stark back in the day, and he was an incredible man but... I've read the S.H.I.E.L.D. files on his son Anthony and just... how could Howard have let his son grow to be so... selfish?"

T'Challa can feel his brow raising in disbelief.

Selfish? Maybe before Afghanistan, but even with the drunken playboy, Tony Stark was a mind to learn from, a heart to hope for, and a body to lust over. All three had only gotten better since he became Iron Man.

Rogers, seeing the raised eyebrow, explains.

"He's a slacker and party boy, constantly throwing around his family's money like it's nothing, and caring for nothing but his own enjoyment. Don't get me wrong, he's got to be smart to think up something like the Iron Man suit, but he's volatile and dangerous. It's why he wasn't invited to be part of this team, despite how useful the suit is. Fury even tried to get a different pilot for the suit, but Stark won't let anyone but himself and his best friend in them."

Surprisingly, Doctor Banner speaks up.

"Given what I've seen of the armour, it would be very hard for the average person to learn how to fly them; the human body is not, after all, designed aerodynamically. That Tony Stark was able to design a suit that anyone other than himself could learn to fly... he's got to know that person and the way they think and react extremely well. And given that the friend in question is Colonel James Rhodes, an Air Force Pilot, there's a background of familiarity with aircraft that most people just aren't going to have."

Rogers' lip curls under his teeth as he registers Doctor Banner's reprimand, subtle though it was, about Tony Stark's giving an Iron Man suit to his best friend. T'Challa, though he would be unable to explain why, felt he had to add his own defence.

"Tony Stark may have great wealth, but for all that he 'throws it around' he is recorded as donating up to fifty percent of his annual income to various international charities, and every impulse purchase he's been caught doing -such as the time he bought a hotel he'd stayed at- has been discovered to have been mistreating it's workers, been on the verge of bankruptcy or any number of other problems that disappear pretty much immediately as soon as they are under the SI banner.

As for the slacker comment, Tony Stark is the primary designer for eighty-five percent of all products that come from Stark Industries. What that means Captain, is that Tony Stark, despite his partying and work as Iron Man, is the one behind most of what Stark Industries releases. That does not say slacker to me, that says worker. Perhaps Tony Stark works short, intense bursts at a time, but the work is most definitely being done, and we know it is his work, because no one has been able to match the products he comes up with."

Rogers mouth is opening and closing, the fish imitation the only reaction to T'Challa and Doctor Banner's words of defence. A swift about-turn and the Captain leaves without a word.

A half smile and shrug shared between T'Challa and Doctor Banner, and then silence, as they try to get the available tools to do as they are needed.

Agent Romanoff all but storms into the lab an hour or so later.

"You wanna think about removing yourself from this environment, doctor?"

Doctor Banner looked at her in confusion.

"After all the effort you went to getting me here in the first place, it seems kinda counter-productive to ship me off so soon."

"Loki is manipulating you."

"Seems someone's always trying to. I'm in this deep enough, Agent Romanoff, that I wish to see it through."

T'Challa can see the irritation blooming on the Black Widow's face; a woman used to being obeyed.

"How exactly is Loki manipulating Doctor Banner?"

She turns to look at him, equally annoyed by Doctor Banner's brush-off and T'Challa's involvement.

"He plans to unleash the Hulk. Having that happen on the helicarrier will-"

"I did not ask what Loki plans, Agent Romanoff. I asked how."

The ever so slight widening of her eyes is Romanoff's only outward sign of confusion. T'Challa barely avoids rolling his eyes before he continues speaking.

"Loki has to be able to get to Doctor Banner before he can attempt to draw out the Hulk. If appropriate security is assigned to Loki, then how could he get that chance?"

The woman clenches her jaw, glaring at T'Challa as though he were the one responsible for the situation, but really, she's just being petty that her will is not being followed. T'Challa silently scoffs; the Dora Milaje would enjoy destroying the woman's arrogance.

Fury chooses that moment to enter the lab, Thor trailing behind him, obviously with nothing else to do.

"Status update Banner!"

T'Challa spies Doctor Banner rolling his eyes before he turns to Fury.

"The energy from the sceptre definitely matches the tesseract, but with the tech you've got, it'll be ages before I've got anything useful for you."

Fury starts glaring too. Perhaps it is included in S.H.I.E.L.D. training.

"You are telling me that one of -if not the- greatest minds devoted to gamma radiation is having trouble?!"

Doctor Banner snaps to face Fury, a flare of green washing through his eyes before retreating.

"You know that tracking the tesseract is difficult, it's why you called me in the first place. But without top of the line equipment, it takes a lot of time to track something with so fine a trail."

Fury opens his mouth but is cut off once more, this time by a newly entered Steve Rogers.

"I asked a few agents, and they all say that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been refusing to upgrade the tech because the top brass don't like Stark. Because the top brass are being petty and allowing personal feelings to overrule their responsibilities. Thoughts, Sir?"

Fury let's out a deep sigh before turning to Rogers.

"You've read Stark's file Captain. He'd know if we bought tech from him, and the way his ego would swell is just not worth dealing with."

"So yes, you're being petty, yet still expect the level of work that better equipment would provide."

Fury's eye seemed to blaze at the Captain's remark, so much so that he gestured for the Captain to follow him, and the two men left. Thor, briefly looking over the lab before shaking his head, left as well expounding the confusing nature of mortals.

Romanoff, stationed herself to one of the doors to the lab, obviously intending to be prepared for Loki.

"Tell me Doctor Banner, what first brought you to study radiation?"

The Doctor stills looks unsettled, and eagerly snatches onto the topic.

"When I was still in college, one of my professors-"

Whatever he was going to say is lost in the explosion that rocks the helicarrier.

T'Challa and Doctor Banner had both been thrown into the lower levels of the helicarrier when the floor of the lab gave way. T'Challa gave thanks to the Panther God for the calm demeanour he had cultivated growing up, as his steadiness proved enough to also calm down the good Doctor, preventing, barely, a visit from the 'Other Guy'.

Though it was a rough encounter, Fury had managed to direct his agents to immediately land the carrier in the water when the first engine had been hit. Though the helicarrier could still fly with three of it's engines, his orders proved life saving, as not to long after, a second engine was shut down, and no one on board had the skill and expertise to fix the engines mid-air.

Romanoff had been on her way into the depths of the helicarrier after the hit, trying to find T'Challa and Doctor Banner, instead running into Hawkeye, and even succeeding in ridding him of Loki's brainwashing.

Thor had gone directly to Loki, and had managed to be tricked into the cell and had been dropped moments before the Helicarrier started true descent, so who knew where he was.

Rogers had been fighting against the many agents Loki had influenced and relocating them to cells of their own.

Doctor Banner was drowsy and floating after fighting off the Hulk so strongly.

Agent Phil Coulson -Fury's apparent second in command- had been killed by Loki.

The helicarrier was on low power and they had no idea where Loki could possibly be going.

"I just... I'm used to holding all the cards, sometimes even a second deck, but... I've got nothing for you. Nothing to act on, nothing to fight for, nothing to stand strong... It is not a position I'm used to."

Fury sounded tired in a way that went beyond his years, but it was simply another thing going on amongst a sea of thousands.

This was it then.

Loki had won.


Maria Hill, Fury's third -well second now- in command came forward a look of annoyance on her face.

"Stark is somehow on the line. Demanding to speak with you."

Fury sighed, tired and heavy, before moving the call on to speaker.

"I really do not have the time for you right now Stark; I've got-"

"I don't care about what you've got Nicholas, so much as what you don't."

The harsh voice obviously came from Stark, but no one had heard such a tone from the man before.

"Enlighten me Fury, when were you going to tell me S.H.I.E.L.D. had lost the tesseract? And no, sending Agent with that whole 'this isn't about personnel files anymore' does not count, because I told you from the beginning I wasn't going to work for you."

The Captain sat straighter. T'Challa understood why, given that the file on Stark that S.H.I.E.L.D. provided said that they weren't interested in having Stark as a part of the initiative. Obviously S.H.I.E.L.D. didn't want the team to know a possible member had turned them down.

Fury looked a mix of angry and worried.

"How do you know about the tesseract Stark?!"

"My father's files mentioned how he fished it out of the ocean looking for Captain Spangles, and left it in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s archives. I know S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer has it, because I'm looking at it."

The bridge had already been fairly quiet, an air of unease silencing most noise, but at Stark's words, even the quietest murmurs ceased.

"Looking at it?"

Fury was noticeably pale his eye opened wide and focused on the speaker embedded in the table.

"That is what I said. I was understandably confused when J.A.R.V.I.S. told me Erik Selvig was on my roof, setting up a machine loaded with a glowy blue cube. When I went to investigate, to have Erik Selvig then attack me was really unnerving, but he's sleeping now so that's good, and said glowy blue cube is now behind several blast shields in my lab until I can gimmick together a container to keep the thing from giving off stupid energy levels that'll attract all kinds of idiots who'll want to see if they can make a bomb out of it or something."

Though the man could not see it, a thread of hope was lighting up the faces of those listening to him.

They knew where the tesseract was, and where Loki would surely be heading.



"Woah! Who the hell is that, I do not recognise your voice!"

"My name is T'Challa but this is not the time! A being called Loki is surely on his way to you and the tesseract right this moment! He plans to open a portal and start a war with an alien army behind him!"

A heavy silence once more filed the air, the Captain standing with both hands planted on the table trying to collect himself, and Doctor Banner trying to focus, not understanding the words, but recognising the tone T'Challa spoke with.

"Would this Loki happen to be a tall black haired guy in green and gold with a sceptre?"

The room felt like it had no air to breathe.

"Yeeeeeaaaaaaaah... well I've got a guest, who's looking mightily confused right now. If any of you are in New York in the next little while you might as well come on over to Stark Tower. It's got- okay sceptre shoots energy blasts, that is not a good, J.A.R.V.I.S.!"

The line cut, Tony's voice gone, yet still ringing in everyone's ears. The Captain turned to T'Challa.

"Suit up, hanger in ten."

"Understood Captain."

T'Challa, bedecked once more as the Black Panther, understood now why Loki had kept looking at the sky in Stuttgart.

Hawkeye had informed him of all potential Avengers, and Loki had been looking for Iron Man.

As the blows and attacks, no longer held back, came more and more, and magic began to be used, Iron Man appeared to be the one with the best chance of locating which Loki was real and which were doppelgangers. The only one to really be able to just keep getting up so quickly after Loki landed a hit. The only one whose words were able to cause Loki distress.

"I mean, seriously, let's do a head count here; Your brother, the demi-god. And seriously man, I am amazed at those arms, how much do you lift?

The super soldier, a living legend that kinda lives up to the legend. Though I am retracting that if you look at me one more time and mouth Howard, that's so many kinds of uncool.

A Warrior Prince with the skill and stamina to make many a man and woman weep. And not gonna lie, I've catalogued your voice into my personal spank bank because mmm yes.

A man with breath taking anger management issues. Doctor Banner, it is a pleasure by the way, your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled and I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster!

A couple master spies, though I only really know about one of them, and she really doesn't like me after the whole I told Fury to screw off thing and wouldn't let her stab me in the neck. The other guy seems like an asshole, so we'd probably get along pretty well all told.

And you, big fella, you have managed to piss off each and every one of them.

Oh, and I kinda dismantled your portal grower so yeah, no army for you."

Tony Stark is adorable, T'Challa discovers, and over the course of the battle, where Loki is doing everything he can to kill them, the red and gold gleam of the Iron Man seems to be coming from just about every where; disintegrating clones with Thor, blasting them with his repulsors reflecting off the Captain's shield, taking a hit for Hawkeye so the archer can safely get to a new spot, putting himself in position for the Black Widow to vault off him, telling the Hulk which 'puny god' to smash, and performing a grab and throw manoeuvre with T'Challa that ends with vibranium claws digging deep into the Tricksters' thigh.

The godling's cries of pain gave T'Challa a feeling of accomplishment, and perhaps he felt a little smug when, as soon as he was clear, Hulk took great pleasure in embedding Loki into the ground.

"If I paid to get the road replaced, do you think I could keep the hole as a trophy? I mean, seriously, it would be the conversation starter to end all conversation starters! Which means I wouldn't have to talk to people because the conversation will not have started! I like this plan! J.A.R.V.I.S.! Call Pepper and tell her I'm buying a patch of road! Also, YAY! We won! I'm hungry, who wants food? Food sounds awesome; let's go exploring for food!"

T'Challa couldn't help his laughter as he followed the excited genius.

Maybe this team could work out.

Chapter Text

Rhodey saw what was going to happen and accepted it.

Somehow, someway, Vision's attack was going to hit him instead of Sam.

Gritting his teeth and trying futilely to maybe get out of the way, Rhodey still accepted that this was it.

When a blur of red and gold managed to intercept at the last second Rhodey felt a sickening mix of relief and fear.


The nurse's words rang like a death knell through his mind, repeating over and over until Rhodey felt like he could see the words floating before his eyes.

Bottom lip caught tightly between his teeth and fist clenched so his knuckles turned white and his nails bit deep into his palms, Rhodey tried so hard just to breath evenly.


His teeth released his lip so that it could curl into a snarl.


It takes a lot for him not to be screaming at her, to throw his fists in the hope of hitting, to try and rend her flesh for letting Rogers and Barnes go while Tony...

While Tony...

"So how much is he playing this up by? We've got work to do."

Though hardly the time or place, Rhodey was actually a little proud of how the Black Widow flinched away from the glare he sends her.

"In the act of saving my life, Tony has all but condemned his own. The Doctors are operating on him right now. I'd have to say I don't think he's playing this up at all."

Romanoff's silence hurts, because it lets the nurse's words come back.

"But he was in the armour; he's taken far stronger hits than that and been fine."

Rhodey scoffs at her belligerence.

"You never heard of crash landings Romanoff? And the damage they can do?"

Again, silence. That cold and cruel silence that has those bitter words float to the surface.

"And why are you of all people talking about work? Given what you did-"

"They weren't going to stop. I didn't want anyone else to get hurt."

He scoffs again.

"Well that sure worked out, didn't it? You signed the Accords Romanoff, and you broke them. Given how damn hell-bent his highness is on catching Barnes, you really think he hasn't already reported you? Only reason I'm not trying to haul your ass in is that I have far more important things to focus on than you."

Romanoff actually flinched again, before nodding and darting down the hall. Rhodey begins pacing, trying to focus on the taps of his footsteps to keep the silence at bay.

"We're doing all we can Colonel Rhodes, but given Mr Stark's condition...

I'm sorry to say this Sir, but it might be best if you prepared for the worst."

Rhodey had sent Vision and Spider-Man back to the States, the kid worn out and the android scared and confused.

Tony had told Rhodey about how some relative of the kid had pretty much guilted Tony into bringing the spiderling with them, and hoped that the kid didn't end up losing himself over this battle; the kid had a good heart and bright soul. No wonder Tony was protective of him.

Tony was still under the knife, and Romanoff had been right when she said there was still work to do.

Rhodey informed the medical staff he was heading out for a bit, and commandeered Tony's chopper.

It was time for him to speak to some old 'friends'.

General Thaddeus 'Thunderbolt' Ross was a man who had seen many horrors, and committed many more. He was technically Rhodey's superior, and he enjoyed being in a position of power.

But he had never dealt with Rhodey.

"General Ross, I'm not here to waste my time speaking with you. I am here to see the rogue Avengers. As per the Accords, you are required by law to let me through, and to hurry up to get their trials sorted out. If they aren't within the next twelve hours, again in accordance with the Accords, you're going to find yourself on trial as well."

The elder man's face turned red and twisted into a bitter scowl.

"Are you threatening me Colonel?!"

Rhodey merely smirked.

"No. I just read through that great stack of papers, and know the rules."

One of the many things Rhodey shared with Tony was achieving even small victories over an opponent who holds more cards than you.

It had taken Rhodey's breath away when he saw the conditions his old teammates had been thrown into, especially Wanda's, but at the same time, he couldn't say he was surprised with Ross' actions. A quick tap to the watch on his wrist, and Friday was in the system, gathering the footage and compiling a case against the general. Seeing the sneers already climbing up Barton's face and whoever the other guy was, Rhodey chose to speak first, quickly tapping the watch again to cut audio from the area.

"I've already got Friday in the wires here, getting proof that this shit is inhumane. Given that Ross is in charge, I'm not surprised that he's pulled this sort of crap, but until we can get him shut down legally, he'll just keep managing to slip away. Audio feed's down for the next few minutes, but that's all I can guarantee."

The sneers grew worse and Barton spat his words.

"Oh just wonderful! Bad enough Stark threw us in here, but now his supposed best friend is playing lackey and telling us to suck it up!"

The other guy joined in.

"Hank always said you could never trust a Stark! Why am I surprised that the guy didn't come here himself to gloat?!"

It was gratifying that Rhodey's glare worked on this guy too.

"I have no idea who the hell you are, and I know you've never spoken to Tony before the airport, so I'm curious as to what gives you the right to say that."

Though still a little cowed by the glare, the guy managed to speak, albeit with a confused tone in his voice.

"What do you mean you don't know who I am?"

Rhodey rolled his eyes.

"Just what I said; I have never heard of you before today, and I'm about ninety percent certain Tony's the same. I really don't know why you're getting huffy over us not knowing the name of someone we've never heard of."

The guy was seriously gaping.

"Uh-Scott... Scott Lang?"

Rhodey thought hard on that name trying to remember if he'd ever heard it before.

"You... were you the hacktivist behind Vistacorp? "

The guy -Lang's- head was nodding quickly, and a semi-proud smile was creeping up his lips.

"Yeah, I was fired after that, and I was arrested a little bit after that."

Rhodey was reluctantly impressed; the damage Lang had done to the Vistacorp CEO's home was a thing of beauty. All it had been missing was a garden hose, a rubber chicken and nine pounds of guacamole. Rhodey barely stifled the shudder that went through him when he remembered what Tony had done with those items; Infinite Metals rarely tried anything against Tony these days.

"You know, if you'd applied at SI after you got out, Tony would have hired you in a heartbeat."

Lang's mouth dropped open. Barton had been silenced too, mainly out of confusion, but Rhodey was grateful not to have to verbally duel the archer.

Wanda was completely out of it. A quick glance had Rhodey's eyes lingering on the collar round her neck and a stone sinking in his gut.

He recognised the piece.

It was a very old design of Howard Stark's, back when Mutants were first gaining noticeable attention. Howard Stark had been very open on his distrust of the enhanced.

Rhodey was not surprised in the slightest that Thaddeus Ross had managed to get his paws on one of the few remaining examples of Howard's cruelty.

Unfortunately, because it was so old, the technology that Rhodey had on him wouldn't do anything. That's not to say more modern tech couldn't affect the collar, merely that Rhodey had not brought anything with him that was able. A final glance that the collar and Rhodey moved to face Sam.

Rhodey didn't know how he felt about Sam; on the one hand, Sam was a rogue Avenger, having broken the law and committed several crimes alongside Rogers.

On the other hand, Sam had been genuinely distraught when Tony crashed after saving Rhodey, and not fought again, even after Rhodey had hit him with a repulsor blast.

His fellow soldier looked him in the eye.

"How's Stark?"

His voice was pitched low, tired and hoarse, but his gaze was strong and concerned, actually worried over Tony's health. Rhodey breathed deep.

"Tony's always had the devil's luck when it comes to his survival..."

Sam looked confused, the vagueness of Rhodey's words no doubt running countless scenarios through his mind.

"I can only hope Tony's luck holds and let him pull through this too."

Sam's eyes widened while Barton and Lang somehow became even more silent. Rhodey thought he may finally understand why Tony was always playing music and talking aloud.

Anything to break that terrifying silence.

"Why would Stark have trouble pulling through? What is he pulling through?!"

It was the note of fear that rang through Barton's voice that had Rhodey look at him once more and ... and he did look afraid.

Afraid for Tony.

Sucking in another breath Rhodey addressed the four of them, though Wanda would likely hear nothing.

"Tony fell from a great height after taking a hit for me. Neither Sam nor Vision, nor I were fast enough to catch him before he hit the ground. And as durable to all hell as the suit is, Tony's always emphasised more on speed and strength. The armour itself is a defence, so Tony focused on what he needed more. To put it simply, Tony's spine snapped when he crashed; it is pretty damn likely he'll be paralysed, probably from the waist down."

Barton and Lang had lost all colour, both breathing heavily, and Sam looked ready to puke. But they had wanted to know, and they deserved to know the price for their actions.

"But that's only if Tony survives."

That silence.

"Tony is in excellent shape for a man coming up on fifty, but he has put his body through a lot over the years, not least of which is the arc reactor. It may be hidden now, but Tony still has a hole in his chest; he may have inserted an artificial sternum and muscle, and put on some skin grafts, but there's still a great chunk of his chest that ain't natural. Then there's the whole superhero gig slowly wearing his body down, and all the mental stress Tony goes through to constantly come up with all his inventions weighing on him too."

That damned silence.

"Tony's always had the devil's luck, but all the luck in the world is useless if his body can't handle the strain."

Another deep breath, as he looks at these people who he's supposed to be able to call teammates, before turning to Sam.

"Friday found out that the psychiatrist assigned to Barnes was found dead in his hotel room with time of death being before Barnes' episode and escape. You all had something specific you were wanting to do at the airport before Rogers got preachy at Tony. We have some time.

Tell me what's going on."

Sam took a deep breath, looked to the other three in their cells before returning his gaze to Rhodey.

"You gotta promise me you'll go alone and as a friend."

Rhodey raised a brow at the demand and Sam continued.

"It's bad, like real bad. The sort of shit that horror movie writers have wet dreams over."

Unable to prevent the slight crinkling of his nose, Rhodey tries to clear the image from his mind.

"I can't make the promise to go alone, especially if it's as bad as you say. But I can promise that I'll go as a teammate, if not a friend, given that if Rogers' hadn't started that fight at the airport, my little brother wouldn't be in surgery right now."

Sam bites his lip and half turns away, obviously knowing that's the best he'll get out of Rhodey, and really not liking it.

But then, what choice does he have?

"We found out that Barnes wasn't the only Winter Soldier."

As Rhodey pulls the door to the chopper shut, smirking at Ross' temper tantrum, he barely manages to keep the shaking of his hands unnoticed.

HYDRA is, as Tony no doubt would gleefully shout, a pack of raging dicks.

Bad enough they brainwashed Barnes and tortured and experimented on him, but they then made more super soldiers from the results of those experiments?

Damn it all to hell, but no-one, not even Tony, is paid enough to deal with this sort of shit.

And like he'd warned Sam, there was no way Rhodey was taking on this shit without back-up, and given Rogers' track record over the past few weeks, the Captain's presence would not be particularly comforting.

Well, needs must.

"Friday, I need you to call that number you found for me baby girl."

"On it Mr Rhodey. Anything else you need?"

Rhodey barely even feels the clench in his jaw or how tightly he's closed his eyes.

"Any update on Tones?"

That silence. Again with that damned silence.

"...No word yet on Boss ... Mr Rhodey ... I ... I think I'm scared Mr Rhodey."

Rhodey slowly opens his eyes, glancing out the window before starting the activation of the suit Tony hid in the chopper.

"Me too baby girl. Time to make that call."

The seat moves back and Rhodey feels the metal encasing him as he's ejected from the chopper. It's a little snug, and yeah, that's probably going to chafe a bit, but it's good enough for what he has to do.

"Who is this?! How did you get this number?!"

"James Rhodes. I have my ways. Time to get to work."

He lands outside the Siberian bunker, happier than words can express for how well insulated the armour is against the cold, and waits.

He doesn't have to wait long though; a black quinjet soon lands not too far away and out strolls his back up.


"Your Highness."

As they move to the doors of the bunker, broken in by Rogers' shield by the looks of it, Rhodey is thankful the wind is loud enough to cut the silence.

"I know you told me a great deal over the phone, but I wish to clarify a few final things, if you would."

Rhodey nods, figuring it's the least he can do since T'Challa hasn't run off to eviscerate Barnes.

"Barnes, when under custody, had been approached by a man who had taken the identity of the U.N. approved psychiatrist. You say this man -this Zemo- is the one who planted the bomb at Vienna?"

Rhodey nods.

"And as already proven when Zemo visited Barnes, he has some way to control Barnes' actions, at least to a degree."

"That is the working theory at the moment."

T'Challa nodded and they stop right before the doors.

"My final query Colonel. I have given my oath that I'll not use deadly force unless forced; given that these actions have led to what happened to Mr Stark, can you swear the same?"

Rhodey freezes for a moment, before his lungs remember how to work and he takes a long, deep breath, releasing it slowly, facing T'Challa to speak.

"I promise T'Challa, that unless I am backed into a corner, I will make no attempts to end anyone's life."

The Wakandan Monarch nods and they enter the base.

Rogers and Barnes' trail through the base is disgustingly easy to follow, given that Rogers' strategy seems to be 'break down all the doors'. It's actually a little pathetic.

"Seriously, I get that there is a bit of a time limit to make sure the Winter Corps isn't defrosted, but even Tony would give Rogers such a damn lecture on the pointlessness of this."

T'Challa cocks his head at Rhodey curiously.

"I was under the impression that Mr Stark liked being flashy and explosive."

Rhodey gently shakes his head.

"Yeah that's what Tony likes, but it doesn't mean he doesn't know how to be subtle. Did you hear, a few years ago, about the Mandarin terrorist?"

T'Challa nods, still keeping an eye on their surroundings.

"Tony, with only day-to-day products bought from a wallmart, managed to single-handedly infiltrate a mansion secured with 24/7 cameras everywhere and countless trained men armed with a variety of high impact guns. In broad daylight."

Unsurprisingly, T'Challa jolts to a stop and turns to Rhodey. Even with his face hidden behind his mask, Rhodey can practically feel the disbelieving gape.

"Tony likes being flashy, but he knows how to get a job done right."

T'Challa nods slowly, and they keep moving.

"Still speaking of the Mandarin terrorist, I have heard that Mr Stark created a suit that can be accessed remotely, and he used it to save the crew on board your president's plane."

Rhodey nodded, hearing the smooth glide of the gears and hydraulics of the suit he was in.

"Yeah, that was the Mark 42. Tony ended up blowing it up to kill the Mandarin; see the guy had created a virus that essentially turned people into super soldiers, but it was flawed, and they could literally blow up. The dose he'd injected himself with was kinda stable, but he was still a ticking time bomb, so Tony trapped him in the suit and blew it sky high."

T'Challa nodded almost ... enthusiastically, before asking another question about Tony.

It was weird; the man was from Wakanda, reputed to be the most technologically advanced nation of the damn planet.

Why was he -dare Rhodey even think it- fanboying?

Before he could ask though, they came up to a door that the suit was picking up two heat signatures behind.

And again, reigned silence.

"I have so many things I want to say to you Rogers, but they can all wait until the extra soldiers are taken care of, and their bomb happy handler -or whatever the hell Zemo is supposed to be- is in custody, capiche?"

Rogers and Barnes were both looking at him and T'Challa in a mixture of confusion, fear and mistrust. Rogers spoke, injecting his 'Captain America Voice', which Rhodey was coming to realise really was as annoying and condescending as Tony claimed.

"Why are you in Tony's armour Rhodes, and why did you bring T'Challa when he's hell bent on killing Bucky?"

Safely hidden behind the faceplate, Rhodey rolled his eyes and pulled a face.

"T'Challa has been informed of the circumstances regarding Zemo and his involvement and has agreed to help bring the man in. Alive." Rhodey rolled his eyes again when the looks on the soldiers faces forced him to add the quantifier. "And really, if you had just told us at the damn airport about HYDRA's back up assassins, we could have had a lot more time to deal with this garbage, so let's go, time's wasting!"

Barnes slowly lowered his rifle and straightened from his stance, recognising that Rhodey and T'Challa had bigger things to focus on than him, but Rogers' face set in in that mulish stubbornness that had preceded most of his latest stupid decisions.

"Where's Tony, Rhodes?"

Of course that was what Rogers decided to focus on.

"Right now? As safely away from this bullshit as he can be."

Rhodey and T'Challa started moving to the next room, Barnes hesitantly following behind. Rogers quickly followed as well, getting louder and louder as he demanded information on Tony. Rhodey grit his teeth and kept moving.

They'd lost enough time.

"I ... I don't get it ... they're..."

Barnes' stuttered words held the confusion they were all feeling.

The Winter Corps was dead, killed while still resting in frozen sleep.

"This is recent; the blood is still wet. Zemo is either here or not too far away."

A harsh laugh rang through the air at T'Challa's words, and the four turned to see Zemo.

"Very good. You see, I had no use for the soldiers other than to bring you here."

Rogers moved to stand in front of Barnes, shield raised and determined scowl on his face.

"What do you want with Bucky?!"

Zemo laughed.

"Oh I want nothing more with the failed soldier Captain; he has done what I needed."

There was a slight husk to his voice that Rhodey couldn't quite place, but the accent was familiar.

"You're Sokovian. Is that what this is about?"

Rogers words had Rhodey linking Zemo's accent to Wanda's. And yeah, that was pretty obvious really. Zemo gave that laugh again.

"Sokovia was a failed state long before you blew it to hell. No. I'm here because I made a promise." 

Zemo's words were said lightly, but Rhodey could hear the undertone of bone deep pain.

"You lost someone."

Rogers confirmed Rhodey wasn't the only one to hear it.

"I lost everyone. And so will you."

And wasn't that just ominous as fuck?

Zemo, after a general look around the room, had kept his gaze evenly split between Rogers and Rhodey, and now focussed on Rogers.

"I've thought about nothing else for over a year. I studied you, I followed you, but now that you're standing here I just realized... there's a bit of green in the blue of your eyes."

Wait... was he flirting? Please don't be flirting. If this whole ordeal was out of some creepy as hell courting attempt-

"How nice to find a flaw. "

Never mind.

Zemo's eyes flashed to Rhodey and then lingered on T'Challa, his face a mix of fury and sorrow, and a nearby screen lit up.

"Barnes may not have been the one to kill your father, but once upon a December..."

A video started playing, and Rhodey immediately noticed the way Barnes stiffened and Rogers face drained of all colour.

But unlike a lot of people (and yes Tony was included in this number) Rhodey didn't care.

A low powered shot from the repulsor and Zemo was flying into a wall, a startled shout escaping the mans throat. A pair of handcuffs designed to hold a super soldier pulled from a compartment of the suit and Zemo was restrained, and a powerful knock to the head from T'Challa and the man was unconscious.

And for some reason well beyond Rhodey's purview, Rogers disapproved.

"You already had him cuffed! Why would you-!"

"Stow it Rogers. What's this thing showing?"

The colour that had flooded Rogers face at his rage drained once more as Rhodey stepped up to the screen.

It was a road.

Silence is a very scary thing.

"Please, spare my wife! Please!"

Especially when sounds are prematurely cut off.

"Do not even say a word to me Rogers! The look on your face and your behaviour is all I need to know that you haven't told Tony about this like you damn well should have!"

Rhodey knows he's shouting, knows he's being loud and in sight and everything that goes against his training.

He also knows that he doesn't care.

"How many times Rogers?! How many fucking times did you deride and blame Tony for keeping secrets from you?! How many times have you brought up that he kept his work on Ultron a secret?! And yet you pull this?!"

Rogers' face is performing a level of emotional gymnastics that Rhodey would be impressed by most days, but right now, all Rhodey can see is the hypocrisy.

"Tony never likes talking abut his parents! I even breathe Howard's name and Tony's out the door! How could I tell him about this when he never lets me? And it's not even Bucky's fault; HYDRA's the ones to blame! But you know Tony would just hare off and hunt Bucky down!"

Rhodey slams his fist into the wall next to him.

"Tony doesn't hate talking about his parents! He hates being compared to Howard Stark! And from what I've seen, it's all you do when you 'breathe Howard's name' so of course Tony's gonna get the hell outta dodge! What I am talking about is how you chose to let Tony continue to believe that Howard Stark murdered his mother in a drunken car accident! That you let him believe that Howard was that careless with the life of a woman he professed to love!

Do you have any idea how much that messed Tony up?! To think that his father's concept of love would be so shallow?! So easily overshadowed?! Howard was already so obsessed over finding you that he pretty much forgot he even had a son! That Howard even remembered Maria Stark on his annual expeditions was a miracle!

And your actions have tainted what little spark of light Tony might have had for his father's memory."

Rhodey's voice drops down. He no longer has the energy to scream.

Rogers looks sorrowful, but even with everything Rhodey's just told him, there is not an ounce of regret.

So he turns around, grabs Zemo, and leaves.

Technically, it's a little dangerous to be flying as fast as he is without an enhanced or suitably armoured passenger.

But Zemo's still alive, and if the speed and altitude keep him out?

Well, Rhodey's got Friday to break the silence.

Zemo's put in Everett Ross' hands, Thaddeus Ross awaits trial, and the rogue Avengers speak to the lawyers Tony kept on retainer just for them.

Rhodey waits for Tony to wake up.

Wanda gets assigned to rehab with Professor Xavier, Barton is returned to his family under house arrest, Lang is put on further probation with one final chance, and all of them, including Sam are sentenced to community service coming out the wazoo.

Ross' very many crimes and misdeeds get dragged to the surface and he gets dragged under it, hopefully to never again see natural sunlight.

Zemo is sentenced to maximum security in a mental asylum for the criminally insane.

Rhodey waits for Tony to wake up.

Pepper and Happy visit when they can spare the time from keeping SI afloat after all the mess.

Vision and Spider-Man visited whenever they could come at the same time.

The rogue Avengers one by one visit Tony when they are allowed.

And yet, inevitably, silence would reign once more.

"We're doing all we can Colonel Rhodes, but given Mr Stark's condition...

I'm sorry to say this Sir, but it might be best if you prepared for the worst."

Rhodey makes a quick visit to the Compound to see to Vision and the area when he finds the package to Tony Stank. He's already planning on using that forever when the contents fall out of the damaged side where the box landed a little too roughly.

Who the hell would be sending Tony a flip phone? That is all kinds of stupi-

Rhodey recognises the handwriting on the envelope.

The phone and letter are locked in a safe in the workshop, and Rhodey tries to count down from one hundred.

The first time T'Challa visits is a surprise, simply because Rhodey figured the new King would have a lot of work to do, you know, kinging.

It's a short visit though, so after the man has payed his respects and gotten a brief summary of Tony's condition, he leaves quickly, and Rhodey thinks that maybe T'Challa was just taking advantage of a break between meetings or something to see how Tones was doing.

The second time was much like the first only T'Challa came bearing coffee, so Rhodey really had no complaints, even if the way T'Challa looked at Tony was weird.

Rhodey actually wasn't there for T'Challa's third visit.

The Accords were still being worked over of course, and Rhodey had access to all the research and work Tony had done in regards to them, so he had been attending as many meetings as he was able.

Most times, he was able to schedule Vision and Spider-Man or Sam to come and sit with Tony and keep an eye out, just in case his little brother woke up while Rhodey was gone.

After everything, Rhodey really didn't want Tony to wake up alone.

Unfortunately, no-one was free this time, so Rhodey grit his teeth, placed a soft kiss to Tony's brow and hoped the meeting would be done quickly.

Suffice to say, the universe was laughing.

The meeting -which was supposed to last an hour- had dragged on for three, and then he'd been held back an extra thirty minutes by well-wishers and those with questions deemed unsuitable for the meeting. Another half hour stuck in traffic before he reached the hospital, only to find no parking spaces within four or so blocks, and then it starts raining as he eventually just parks his car five blocks away and walks. He has no umbrella, and while he doesn't particularly mind the rain, even now, it just makes everything worse.

He finally gets to Tony's room, soaked, tired and cranky, and he hears... speaking?

He quickly pulls open the door, but he can see Tony's still unconscious so...?

"Colonel? Is everything alright?"

T'Challa had risen from his seat, the sheaf of papers he had been reading aloud from still in hand.

Rhodey scrubbed at his eyes with a hands, stubbornly keeping his eyes dry.

"Sorry. I just heard speaking from beyond the door and..."

The smile T'Challa wears is heart-breakingly understanding.

"I may not know Mr Stark personally, but from what I have seen, he did not appear a fan of silence."

Rhodey shares a shaky smile of his own.

"No. He never has."

Rhodey stops counting T'Challa's visits.

It's been about five months since Zemo was captured.

The Accords are going through countless revisions, and there has been talk about finally accepting Tony's proposal for the Super Human Oversight Committee, so Rhodey feels like he has a bit more room to breathe.

Tony has been moved from the hospital to the Compound, after the twentieth or so time a nurse or doctor kindly suggested that Tony be taken off life support. It had been T'Challa that stopped Rhodey from reacting violently that last time, and informed the staff with absolute certainty that they were all leaving before going about to ensure it.

T'Challa is an Avenger, so he has a room in the Compound, but like Rhodey, he is far more likely to fall asleep in Tony's room, lulled by the sound of Tony's breathing and the reassuring beeps of his monitors.

And they talk.

A lot.

Turns out that even in Wakanda, technological marvel that it is, Tony Stark is a name spoken with reverence and awe. During T'Challa's third visit in the hospital, he'd been reading one of Tony's research papers, gushing and praising every few sentences (and hey, speaking as a man with a degree in actual rocket science, Tony's work is damn beautiful) and then talking to Tony about his own work and studies, especially the fields that overlap, and how much he has admired Tony for years.

Rhodey shares all sorts of stories he has from Tony's youth, especially the embarrassing and humiliating ones. Not to make fun of Tony or anything, oh no.

To make sure that T'Challa doesn't forget that Tony is human.

Because when Tony wakes up (and it is when dammit not if!) Rhodey just knows that he'll get along with T'Challa like a house on fire.

Tony needs more friends like that.

Six months in and T'Challa admits that he may have fallen a little bit in love, with the Tony Stark Rhodey tells him about.

Rhodey tells him that while T'Challa has his blessing, in the end, it'll always be Tony's choice.

Tony's always had the most beautiful brown eyes a guy could have.

They're even more beautiful after being closed for seven and a half months.

"That's enough sleeping in T. It's so good to see you awake."

Tony's looking around dazedly, and Rhodey knows he isn't fully focussed yet; hell after an almost eight month coma, Rhodey doubts he'd be able to do even that.


The slurring is adorable and Rhodey can't resist leaning down to lay a kiss on Tony's forehead.

"I'm here Tones. And so is T'Challa, and the others will be round soon too."

Tony's brow scrunches as he tries to makes sense of the words.


T'Challa stifles the snort at Tony's decisive statement.

"Indeed. I have heard much about you in the last few months, but I look forward to getting to know you first hand Mr Stark."


The negative cause both Rhodey and T'Challa to freeze.

"No misser Star. Tony."

And just like that, the tension is cut. Even drugged to the eyeballs and newly awoken from a coma, Tony hates being called Mr Stark. T'Challa huffs a gentle laugh.

"As you wish Tony."

Tony gives a single nod before closing his eyes and drifting back to sleep.

Rhodey releases a deep sigh.

He'll have to call in a nurse or something to come and check on Tony now that he's woken. They'll have to find out the extent of damage Tony had taken from the fall. They'll have to fill him in on the last seven odd months of the Accords. Rhodey will have to sit with Tony and carefully explain how HYDRA is an even bigger pack of raging dicks than they thought.

But that's okay. Tony may fall again after all the new information, but it's okay. They can do this.


He obeys the sleepy command and curls on the bed next to his little brother and draws him into a hug, smiling at the soft look on T'Challa's face.

They'll catch Tony this time.

Chapter Text

Coming into the Compound as a full Avenger, bringing the now pardoned rogues with him, had T'Challa standing just a little straighter and training just a tad harder. He had to stay on par with his new contemporaries after all.

But then T'Challa was face to face with him.

It was his eyes that first caught his attention; such a gentle brown, and oh so deep. The sort of eyes that were just so hard to pull your gaze from.

T'Challa had moved to introduce himself, but it was for naught as those lovey brown eyes disappeared from the room.

But obviously T'Challa was a person of interest, because little peeks of those pretty brown eyes became a daily sighting.

So T'Challa worked to make himself more approachable.

He relaxed the harshness of his posture just slightly, let his shoulder sink just a tad.

He spent more time, not a lot but a bit, in the more common rooms, the ones with a higher number of ways in, so as to not crowd or corner.

He began to have an extra piece of food on his plate when he ate, just in case that may draw the wearer of those eyes near.

And it worked.

Eventually of course.

Every day, little by little, he'd come a little closer, investigate just a little longer, until finally he sat, right next to T'Challa, laying to rest his head on T'Challa's lap.

The silken smoothness that met T'Challa's fingers was fine and soft, just as lovely as it looked, and the gentle nuzzle T'Challa's questing fingers received filled his heart with warmth and delight.

"Oh, so you finally got him to come near you."

T'Challa snapped his head to look at the newcomer.

Tony Stark smiled.

"Vitale's usually very shy around people, so it's good that he has a new friend."

Vitale jumped up, giving T'Challa's fingers a final nudge, before leaping into Tony's arms.

"I think I'd like to learn about Vitale's new friend too, if that's okay?"

T'Challa looked into a second set of deep brown eyes.

"I would be delighted."

Chapter Text

The attack had been sudden, well thought out and executed.

The sirens and guns blaring into the air, twenty masked individuals had stormed the reception hall and made off with a grand prize; the young Princess of Wakanda.

The fact that the Wakandan Royal Family was present was supposed to be a well hidden fact, and even more so a secret of what the Royal Family looked like.

Yet without even a breath of hesitation, the kidnappers had singled out and collected Princess Shuri in mere moments before spiriting themselves away.

Her Father was devastated, alternating between yelling at the security team that were making piss-poor excuses or weeping in despair.

He had just recently lost his second wife, losing his daughter or son would break him.

T'Challa would not let his father break.

He was going to get his sister back.

Slipping out of the reception hall was simultaneously easy and difficult.

Getting out was a breeze, but slipping his father's grasp was hard.

He managed.

The police had been called, and were currently fussing over all the high society souls that the gala had collected, hearing out the tearful matrons and their poor traumatised daughters, listening to the old patrons bluster with their steady young sons.

Not a one of the officers were yet free to look for tracks.

T'Challa was.

"That's a bad idea you know."

And so apparently was someone else.

T'Challa spun his head to look at the person speaking to him.

It was a young man, probably five or so years older than himself, leaning comfortably against the door as he watched T'Challa hover halfway out the window.

"The handholds on that wall side are shit, and you're more likely to break your neck than save your sister. Follow me."


The young man introduced himself as Tony Stark.

T'Challa was well familiar with that name, having constantly hearing it whispered by Wakanda's scientists, mechanics and engineers, some with awe, some with hatred and others yet with fear.

But Tony was helping T'Challa get Shuri back, despite not knowing her at all.

Tony snuck T'Challa into a room on the other side of the building without even a glance from the few officers keeping watch, and then proceeded to climb out the window and down the outer wall façade as though he were a monkey. Once he was securely on the ground, he looked up at T'Challa and smiled, raising his hands to indicate he would catch T'Challa if something went wrong.

It should have felt a little insulting, Tony's assumption that T'Challa couldn't pull off the same feat, but all it did was settle the nerves in T'Challa's stomach as he made his way down.

"Nicely done."

It just a piece of praise, for a paltry success yet ... for some reason, Tony's words had a burst of warmth bloom in T'Challa's chest that never happened when his father or tutors complimented him... how strange.

Shaking his head, T'Challa quickly moved to follow Tony.

They moved to where the grass of the otherwise immaculate lawns was churned and splattered with mud, crushed under tire tracks, and yet still void of police.

"Because of how many hoity-toity hotshots were attending this thing, there's the concern that everyone who attended is suddenly gonna be kidnapped too. Well, the cops aren't as concerned as the guests, the cops just want to do their jobs, but the rich and famous feel they're far more important than finding the little girl who's been taken, because they might be taken next, and they're far too important for that."

T'Challa hadn't even realised he'd spoken aloud until Tony had answered.

Tony crouched to look closely at the tracks, being careful not to disturb them.

"Not a particularly heavy vehicle; the tires are too thin to hold a truck or very large car. But given there were twenty-odd intruders, that means they've got to have at least a second vehicle to have gotten everyone away. If people had been travelling on foot, they would have likely been picked up by the cops on the way. Too risky that."

With that, Tony stood and looked to where the guest cars were parked.

"C'mon, we're checking the lot."

T'Challa was confused, but followed.

"Why are we checking here? Shouldn't we follow the mud tracks?"

Tony shook his head as they ran.

"It's too obvious. The reception hall overlooks that bit of lawn, and by the time the cops have finally interviewed everyone, chances are that a good dozen or so people will be able to give a description of whatever left those tracks, which the cops will go and follow. But there's no way those tracks were left by something that could hold twenty-something people. Far more likely, your sister was taken with a larger amount of people in a bigger vehicle, while the smaller car draws the police away from the rest of the group."

They arrived at the lot, and deep skid marks were blazing from asphalt that had been clean when T'Challa and his family had arrived.

"Now why would someone need to leave here in such a hurry do you think?"

Tony ran over to a black Cadillac, pulling a set of keys from his pocket and unlocking the doors before sliding in.

"Are you allowed to drive a car?"

T'Challa wasn't sure what prompted him to ask the question, after all he was worried for Shuri, but Tony didn't seem... old enough to drive a car.

Tony merely shot him a cheeky grin.

"I'm licensed short-stuff, get in."

T'Challa got in.

Tony followed the skid marks to the main road, where they turned to the right, then vanished. T'Challa's heart sank, fear for his little sister growing. Tony merely ran his hand through T'Challa's hair.

"We've got a direction, now we follow it. Trust me kiddo, we'll find your sister. We're coming up to a truck stop in a few minutes, and we'll go from there."

Though T'Challa said nothing, they did indeed pull up to a truck stop -closed for repairs and empty- and Tony pulled over, motioning for T'Challa to follow him.

They quietly moved to the back lot of the building and saw three empty cars, doors left open and license plates gone.

Tony scanned their surroundings before quickly moving to the cars, T'Challa carefully following. Tony leaned into the closest car, not touching anything as he did so, before moving to the next car. At the third car, he pointed to the floor of the back seat.

"That look familiar?"

T'Challa looked, seeing the gold floral headband Shuri had been wearing.

"She was here, she had to have been here."

Tony nodded slowly.

"It could have been a plant, but that seems like way more work than they'd be willing to do in addition to the other car."

Tony moved away from the cars and scanned their surroundings again. The truck stop itself doubled as a corner store when open, and there were a couple places to eat in the area, though only one was currently open, and too far to have seen what happened.

"Over there."

T'Challa followed Tony's finger and just managed to make out a storage facility that looked almost condemned.

A place were no one should want to go.

They very carefully snuck into the building, walking slowly and quietly, and staying close to the walls.

"Bloody hell, I thought the brat would never stop cryin'."

The kidnappers.

"Lay off Jay. The kid's what, five? If twenty masked men came and stole you away when you were five, would you be dried eyed and cheery?"

A harsh sounding scoff.

"You ain't sympathisin' with the brat are ya Mikey?"

"Watch it Jay! I'm looking forward to my pay check as much as you are! I'm not risking that! I'm just saying that the kid's got a reason to cry."

Another scoff, and the sound of heavy steps leaving the room.


Tony motioned for T'Challa to stay where he was, before Tony disappeared into the room. A sudden shuffling, and then silence returned. Tony poked his head out into the hall and motioned T'Challa in.

The man who remained in the room -Mikey- was gagged and tied, unconscious and drooling from his spot on the floor.

"Where did you get rope? And how did you knock him out?"

Tony pointed to a spot behind the couch.

"They've stashed tons of it, at least a half dozen coils. And I pinched a pressure point that sent the guy straight down. Only really works if you sneak up on them though."

Collecting the coils, they moved to the next room, keeping an ear out.

They found Shuri before any other captors.

A quick motion for quiet from Tony before he untied her, Shuri was soon crying softly into T'Challa's shoulder. Tony had just stood up when the door to the room burst open.

"Shit! INTRUDERS!!!"

Tony quickly pushed the siblings behind the pieces of furniture littering the room, barely escaping a small volley of bullets.

"Quickly; the window is empty. Get out that way and run."

"But what about you Tony?!"

Tony gave a small smile, leaning over and planting a kiss on both T'Challa and Shuri's foreheads.

"It'll be okay. Time to move!"

Somehow Tony managed to get them both out of the window, and as soon as they were outside, the prince and princess ran, T'Challa leading the way to the still open diner.

The sounds of bullets still ringing in their ears, the two managed to enter the diner and were quickly approached by the concerned waitress.

"Please." T'Challa's voice was clogged with unshed tears and fear. "You've got to call the police here now."

Perhaps it was his begging, perhaps it was the state he and Shuri were in, perhaps it was nothing more than a kind waitress, but in the end the police were called.

T'Chaka was furious at T'Challa having run off to find Shuri, especially when he had been informed of the very real danger his children had been put in.

He was also furious with Tony, having been the one to help T'Challa, but that cooled after T'Challa told of the warning Tony had given him of the handholds. Tony had obviously seen that T'Challa wasn't going to stop, so decided to keep the boy as safe as he could, especially when the bullets went flying.

Tony had been injured in the fire fight, though nothing lethal or even particularly life threatening. He had been treated by a paramedic, and was deemed safe. Shuri was curled up in his lap, cuddling close as though she could take his injuries away, and T'Challa sat next to him while their father spoke to the police.

"Tony, how did you know all that stuff about the cars and where they travelled and hid and everything?"

Tony gave T'Challa a sad smile.

"The same reason I decided to help you find Shuri. Kidnapping is terrifying, and nobody should suffer it."

T'Challa may have only been eleven, but he understood what Tony meant.

Tony had been kidnapped before too.

Cuddling closer, T'Challa took a deep breath before speaking.

"If you're ever kidnapped again Tony, I'll come save you."

Shuri nodded, agreeing to help. Tony just let a small smile curl his lips, this one less sad than before.

Tony was eighteen, practically a full grown adult, definitely a bit older than T'Challa had thought him to be, but he had helped T'Challa save Shuri, so T'Challa and Shuri would absolutely help Tony if he needed it.

Tony cuddled them impossibly closer.

"I hope you never need to."

Chapter Text

Hands made of smoke, small wispy fingers combing through his hair, pulling him and holding him close as a voice lost to a silent wind tries bring him comfort and companionship. He knows it's a dream, knows it's nothing more than a few hours before he'll wake once more to loneliness.

But he knows he'll dream again.

The tears silently trail down his cheeks as his eyes open to the sight of his dorm room at Huntington's.

How he wishes he still felt those small fingers in his hair.

He's so excited he cannot sit still, constantly bouncing and dancing in place, until strong arms curl around him and hold him tightly, letting some of his exuberance pass so that he can breathe. A voice too quiet to hear shares in his joy, somehow as playful and excited as he has been for the dream.

He almost wishes the dream will never end.

When it does, he still smiles because he's finally going to meet his baby sister and bring her home.

He is sure he'll like her as much as he likes those arms.

His back still burns from the bruises and cuts, and he can still hear the snap of his fingers. The hands are no longer so small, but aren't yet as big as his own, and once again are carding so gently through his hair. He can feel them shake though, their owner scared for him, worried for him and his pain.

It's a nice little interlude.

He wakes up, knowing that his father is still refusing to pay.

So he prepares to get himself out.

He's so tired, and it seems like no matter how hard he works its never enough, never good enough. Strong arms, still so much larger than his own pull him up and cradle him close, hiding him from those who try tear him down. They are so steady in their grip, so sure in their strength, he feels safe.

It helps him carry on.

He knows his position and has no intentions of failing.

He can be just as strong as those arms.

He doesn't often feel so at peace, so calm and relaxed. Normally he has a thousand and five different things going on, but for once, he can just sit back and cuddle close to those wonderful hands, fully enjoy the way they trail through his hair and rub at his scalp while a voice lost to the wind murmurs to him.

But he knows he has to wake up.

Because the one-armed explorer in his workshop was promised some fine-tuning and some oil.

And he tries his best to always keep his promises.

He's not sure he's still breathing with how hard he cries, even here. Those arms, those powerful, strong arms come around him like a suit of armour and fight off whatever tries to attack him. They let him cry and scream and shout without a voice too quiet to hear saying anything against him only comforting and kind.

He doesn't want to ever wake up.

But he rises and dresses in his mourning robes, black as the garb of the warrior of his people.

Black as the smoke from his mother's pyre.

Should he still be crying? Should he still mourn? He doesn't know, and it kind of feels like he should, but he can't. His throat is hoarse, his eyes are swollen and the tears have run dry. He wished he could cry when he placed the white lily for her, but even with the hundreds of camera flashes he couldn't dredge up a final tear.

Fingers as familiar as his own tell him without words he doesn't need to cry anymore.

But the world beyond begs to differ. They scream and shout, and curse and decry.

'They were here, but now are gone, why are their son's eyes dry?!'

He had hoped his choice would bring pride, maybe hope. He doesn't understand why he has been receiving looks of scorn, distaste and hate. He understands that it's a change, a very big one, but for him to be treated as though he were turning his back on everything he has learnt and loved, as though he were abandoning it all.

Strong arms he loves above all brace him, holding him tall and strong too.

He goes for the sake of the future, they'll understand in time.

'It's just not done, he should stay here, it's practically a crime!'

He sways, those ever-loved hands resting crossed on his hips, as though their owner was nestled behind him and holding him close. But all he will ever see and hear of that person in dreams is their hands, still like smoke and a voice stolen by the wind.

It's both calming and sad.

But his father's company is now his, and he has a legacy he doesn't want hanging above his head.

There's barely any time to dream, so he just tries to enjoy them.

He leans back, those lovely arms draped around him lazily, as though he were reclining into their owner. He wishes he could see the one behind such wonderfully strong arms, but is content in their hold and the ever present too quiet voice in his ear.

If they ever meet, they will meet.

Though he'll not ever deny the wisp of loneliness when he wakes to find those arms gone.

He can only ever find pale comparisons, nothing at all like the dreams.

It hurts. It hurts. It hurts so bad. But then those hands are there, gentle as can be around the hole in his chest, and shaking slightly in fear of causing him pain and it's ... still hurting but not as much.

Even a little bit less is a lot right now.

And when he wakes, he has just a little more strength to keep going, to keep fighting, even if he ends up fighting alone.

He straightens his spine, clenches his fists and moves forward.

He doesn't want to move, can't really be bothered, what is the point in trying? He does his best but all he gets is hate or even higher expectations. But those arms draw him near and lift him up and that?

Sometimes just one is enough.

He wakes to demands and legacy and though it would be easy, so damned easy to just give up and leave he doesn't.

He is strong and mighty, and won't give up without a fight.

He can feel the tight grip those hands have on him, shaking in a match to his own excitement. Even though he knows he's dreaming, he's still running on the adrenaline. He can fly, he can fight, he can take on the world with a smile, and there's nothing right now that's dragging him down.

Despite the metal in his chest, he can breathe.

Still giddy when he wakes, he jumps into work.

He's got a new legacy to build.

He's practically dancing, those arms wrapped securely around him as he moves to an unheard beat, loving life and all it's pleasures. He has lightning in his veins and ecstasy in his heart and it feels like the euphoria is never-ending, never-slowing and never-fading from everything that he is.

It is a sign and a blessing all in one.

He watches the video again when he wakes.

He's always believed in heroes.

Smoky hands press cool against swollen flesh and scarred muscle, trailing sadly against lines black as sin. For the first time, he holds those hands -and when did they get to be bigger than his own?- and presses them to his lips. A voice lost to the wind tries to call to him, but it is no use, he's not allowed to hear them.

Just as they will never hear him.

He wakes with fire in his chest that slowly travels with his blood.

It's all he can do to keep a smile on his face.

He feels lost, unsure and weary. Strong arms that he had known all his life have been fading, weaker than ever before. Certainly still strong, but nowhere near what has almost always been the norm. When the arms come to cradle him, he pulls them to his lips. A voice too quiet tries soothe him, but the words never reach.

Just as his have never reached.

He wakes with a hollowness in his chest, an emptiness in his heart.

He smooths his face, so none will worry.

Wispy fingers lovingly trace his newest addition, soothing the still inflamed surroundings, and calming the left over adrenaline from the fight. He grabs hold of those hands again, marvelling once more that he hadn't thought to do it for so long, and again brings them to his lips.

He lingers there, the wisps and smoke as familiar as his own hands.

He wakes relaxed and calm and ready to show the world exactly who he is.

Though still hard, he can breathe easier now.

Arms, once more as strong as they have always been, hold him tight and safe, wiry muscle shifting with their movement in a dance just for him, a show of power and health. He raises the arm resting over his heart and places his lips upon it, revelling in the feel and the delight.

The arms lowers, once more shielding his chest, protecting his heart.

Warm and content and unwilling to lose the final threads of sleep, he wakes.

He feels like he could take on the world.

He knows he won't be in the dream long, but he'll take the comfort he can, fingers once again gently carding through his hair.

He doesn't want to ever wake up.

But frozen blue greets his eyes, and he straightens from where he fell asleep.

There's just no time.

He's a little scared, not sure how to feel about what he has seen and worried about how he is to react when he wakes up.

Strong arms once more brace him.

But when he wakes the reports are still there, and no one has the answers.

He just doesn't know.

He's shaking, badly, and it's those hands that are keeping him here, grounded, instead of once more falling through that void of endless black and death.

He's survived, but those hands help him live.

Because he may put on a brave face, but who else has seen what he has seen?

Who else could ever hope to understand?

He's still as a statue, unable to move lest he remember the footage, relive that terrible scene, barely breathing until those arms wrap around him again.

Those arms are all that keep him strong.

For who doesn't know now of what is possibly out there beyond their home?

Who isn't just a little bit scared to know?

He holds on to the hands as tight as he can, trying desperately to stay. He can feel the void crawling into this space though, and he won't let it, won't let the empty echoes of space and death cling to the place where those hands wait.

He won't let them be trapped in his void.

He forces himself to wake up.

It doesn't matter that he won't sleep again for days.

He holds on tightly when he finally feels those arms wrap around him. It's been days since he last felt them, since he was last held, not even the brief snatches that have happened in the past. He desperately wants them to stay.

To keep holding him and sharing their strength.

But then he wakes up alone.

He's never felt so alone, wishing for those arms.

Hands oh so carefully trail over the new scars on his chest, curious over the absence of heavy metal. He holds them once they're done, peppering them with apologetic kisses, a thousand 'I'm Sorry's. Finger trace over his face, following the arch of his brows, the line of his nose, coming to rest on the crest of his lips.

He breathes a final kiss.

It should be easier to breathe, and maybe it is.

It still feels like there's a stone in his chest.

Arms pillow his head as he rests on the ground, constantly laying kisses to wherever he can reach. It doesn't matter that he is realistically stronger than whomever bears those arms, they are his protection and it hurt when they were gone. He nuzzles closer to them, revelling in the strength and beauty of them.

He lingers over a final kiss.

He realises he kissed over a scar, an old wound.

That those arms truly have been protectors.

It's only the one night, everything so busy and chaotic that he hasn't the time to sleep, let alone dream, but he clings shamelessly now to the hands he loves most. He has seen the calluses and faint scarring on the palms, backs and fingers before, but they weren't a big deal to him. They mean more now, because how many times have these hands been hurt, their flesh torn and their owner betrayed?

He fears he may be one of them.

The voices of children wake him.

He wishes he could just dream.

He's so tired, wanting nothing more than to just stay hidden in those arms, let them protect him from the world until everything has died down. He feels like he could dream forever, especially if he were to remain embraced in those arms. He runs his lips over every nick and scar that adorns them, wanting to know the stories behind each and every one, until he can recite them all at a glance.

How much they have borne.

He wakes to saddened longing.

But he must get back to work.

He is listless while the hands try so hard to rouse a response. A voice stolen by the wind desperately calls to him. Fingers card through his hair and stroke his face, and it is only the last that he finds strength to respond to.

A kiss for questing fingers.

He wakes feeling more alone than he ever has before.

None of his homes have ever felt so empty.

The arms are still strong, still healthy, but they are tired now, almost lifeless. A voice too quiet murmurs occasionally. If he securely wraps the arms around himself, they will hold him tight, but then and only then.

He kisses them generously.

It is scary having absolutely no idea what to do.

He feels cold, bereft of the arms embrace.

He had been doing better, recovering, growing strong again, but now he feels pulled thin from too many sides. Hands like smoke are the only peace he has recently, has probably ever truly had, and maybe it's selfish, but he so desperately wants to know who bears them.

But long upheld rules state that he is unable to search for them.

He wakes from his doze to alarms and warnings, and red hair bringing him even worse news.

He is getting too old for this, but he gave his word, and really, he has no choice.

He wants to scream and cry and lash out at all and sundry. He wants to hurt like he has been hurt. He wants vengeance, justice, he cares not which, he just wants someone to answer. It's only strong arms wrapped around him that that prevent him from breaking down now.

He wishes he knew where to find them, to hug them himself.

But he jolts awake, wipes tears from his eyes, and prepares as best he can for the day ahead.

He knew this would happen, was his future, he just did not expect it so soon.

Tony's in his office at the Compound when T'Challa finds him.

He hadn't bothered to fully dress, the bandages round his chest thick and catching. They catch T'Challa's eye, and shock openly consumes his features, though Tony is grateful the Wakandan King says nothing on them.

Instead, T'Challa sits next to him on the window seat, hesitant a moment, before drawing close enough to rest a steady hand on Tony's shoulder.

It was a shock to the system, to say the very least on the matter.

After being assured Tony was well, T'Challa finds it hard to look away from the red-speckled white of the bandages all over his chest, but after a few moments, he is able to place a hand on Tony's shoulder in comfort.

The man gently stiffens, as though in shock at the kind gesture, before managing to draw T'Challa into a hug, gently wrapping his arms around him.

Triumphs and Tragedies, Joy and Sorrow, Good and Bad, all are shared with your soul mate through dreams.

You'll never see their face, never hear their voice, never touch them but for a single part of them.

But your soul mate is your soul mate, and the powers that be may be cruel, but never evil.

It may not be for years after your birth, it may only be for an instant before one of you is stolen away.

But you will always meet your soul mate.

And you will always know them.

Chapter Text

"You need to be careful you know."

T'Challa rolled his eyes as he continued running on the treadmill.

After working tirelessly with Tony on the Accords and fixing up the mess left behind from the Civil War, the Wakandan King had grown close to the Iron Man. Starting as colleagues, then friends before moving on to romantic endeavours together.

They worked so well together, as both a political unit out to destroy their opposition, and as lovers.

However, after they had secured the pardon and return of the rogue Avengers, T'Challa and Tony realised they may have overestimated their other teammates.

Where Vision had offered his congratulations, Wanda Maximoff offered her hatred.

Where young Peter Parker had wished them the best, Clint Barton wished them swift end.

Where Virginia Potts had carefully smiled, Scott Lang carelessly sneered.

Where Harold Hogan had been cheerful, Sam Wilson had been concerned.

Where James Rhodes had been supportive, Steve Rogers had been dismissive.

And now it was the Black Widow's turn.

"Tony's one of the most unpredictable men on the planet; he's pretty much made a game out of it. And there's something for him to gain out of going after you. It's the only reason he's ever been willing to date men instead of merely continue with the never ending line of women throwing themselves at him in hope of a night of sex."

T'Challa grit his teeth and kept his pace on the treadmill; only a few miles left of his run and then he could leave. If only his self-discipline would allow him to cut a training-session short for once.

"Tony's a show-off and loves to be in the spotlight, soaking up every scrap of attention he can get."

T'Challa lets himself move just a bit faster from his measured pace.

It means he'll be done sooner.

"He's a narcissist too, constantly going on about his appearance, his work, and his popularity. He'll keep bringing up old accomplishments just so he can brag about them again, and any good he does is overshadowed by his need to have everyone know at all times."

Faster again.

Almost there.

"There's a reason why I recommended against having him be an Avenger."

The beep the treadmill gives to signify the end of his run is lost in the crash Romanoff's body makes as it hits the ground.

T'Challa is breathing deeply, and his hand stings just a little from the unexpected punch, but satisfaction burns in his veins as he takes in Romanoff's shock and fear.

"A boy expected to be a man. A man told he could be whatever he wished. A human told to be a god. A god demanded to be a devil. Tony is unpredictable, because he doesn't know how to be anything else. He has grown needing to jump between one mask and the next in the time it takes to blink."

His glare keeps Romanoff from speaking, though he can see just how much she wants to.

"I have as much to gain from my relationship with Tony as he does. First on the list for both of us is the companionship from one who understands our positions. Both of us heirs to worlds we did not create but were taught and expected to maintain and uphold. And before you say something foolish about how a company and a kingdom are not comparable, let me remind you that both through the ages have been called empires for a reason."

His breathing is slowing, just enough for T'Challa to calm his limbs shaking from the flood of anger and adrenaline.

"And I myself am in no short supply of women and men desiring me for nothing more than bragging rights. I am the king to a nation; despite having named my heir, I am still expected to take a bride and sire a child, regardless of my feelings on the matter, or even the laws in place that prevent me from needing to do so. I am also no shying virgin being laid out for the beast to devour; I know well and enjoy the pleasures of the flesh, and am well experienced in both sides."

Romanoff looks confused, as though she were not expecting T'Challa to react so strongly to her words.

"Tony has been put before the face of the world since the day he was born a Stark, and then thrown to swim amongst the sharks when his intelligence became apparent. When your whole life is on such blatant display from so young an age, you either sink and drown beneath the expectations and flashing lights, or you rise above them and find a way to enjoy it for the sake of your sanity. Looking good for the cameras at all times turns into a level of pride for your appearance. A constant stream of inventions revolutionising the face of technology leads to a pride in one's work. And knowing the ever fickle affections of the media, it is of genuine relief when the world is on your side."

T'Challa takes a step closer to the woman still laying on the floor, takes a fiendish delight in how her breath quickens in trepidation.

"Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. As a futurist, Tony constantly bringing up the past means he feels there is still something to learn. If the events he brings up happen to involve himself, perhaps he is the one trying to learn, and trying to ask for your help to do so. Even if the events in question hold him doing something good."

He sees the way Romanoff pales ever so slightly, as though she had never for a moment given proper thought to her teammates actions.

T'Challa isn't even surprised.

"And let us not forget that Tony is the reason all of you are back on American soil, no longer hunted by the governments of the world. The man you did not recommend is the only reason the Avengers are even here."

T'Challa turns sharply, swiftly leaving the room and moving to the rooms he shares with Tony.

He finds Tony lounging on the couch, tapping away at his tablet and talking with Friday, hard at work for all he seems relaxed.

T'Challa kneels on the floor in front of the couch and rests his head on Tony's lap, bringing the genius' attention to him.


T'Challa shakes his head, the last of the adrenaline fading, leaving him tired and sore, and the encounter having him needing to be close to his lover.

Strong fingers cradle his head, digging gently into his scalp and pulling a moan from deep in his chest.

"Take a rest Dolcezza. Have a shower, breathe, then we'll head out and grab dinner, just you and me, and we'll stay at the tower tonight so we can be as loud as we please."

Another moan slips T'Challa's throat as the evening's pleasures are laid before him.

Tony may be a flawed man, but T'Challa is no saint.

But they can be better together.

Chapter Text

The streets are a mess, there are dead aliens everywhere, and it is a fight to get anywhere in the destruction of the city.

Of the many results of an alien invasion, New York had managed to get off incredibly lightly.

And it was all thanks to the six individuals being called the Avengers.

T'Challa leapt over a mound of rubble, continuing onto the tower still lit up despite the destruction.

Emergency workers were pretty much everywhere, scrabbling over the fallen concrete and steel, searching for those trapped, directing those found, and taking note of which areas needed the most work. It had barely been six hours since the portal had been closed, but already an astonishing amount of work had been done to start repairing the damage wrought. Looking closely, one would see that many of the uniforms bore the logo for Stark Industries.

The sky was slowly darkening, especially with so much of the city's power being down.

It was nice to see so many stars in the city said to never sleep.

Finally coming up to the tower, dodging more than a few falling bricks and mortar, T'Challa was reaching from the door-

"Don't even try it buddy."

Turning, T'Challa found himself face-to-face with four of the team responsible for saving the world.

The one who had spoke was none other than Captain America, disapproval clear on his face.

"We've stopped enough people trying to loot Stark Industries buildings today. Do not add yourself to that list son."

T'Challa couldn't help the dismissive scoff that escaped his lips.

"I have no interest in 'looting' Captain."

The Captain's disbelief was obvious.

"Then you'll have no problem stepping away from those doors."

T'Challa scoffed again, shaking his head.

"I may not be attempting theft, but I have reason to be entering the tower Captain."

The only woman in the group spoke, and T'Challa had to fight down his instant dislike of her and her tone.

"The only possible reason anyone wants to enter the tower that isn't filching something is because they need to talk to Stark. No one willingly goes to talk with Stark, and today gives everyone the perfect excuse to delay that. So why are you here?"

It is only the combined efforts of his training and upbringing that stop T'Challa reacting violently.

As it is, he doesn't even have the chance to respond.


Turning back to the doors, T'Challa smiles.


His training once more keeps him from lashing out when he finds icy water suddenly dripping down his face, eyes wide and disbelieving at the squirt bottle in the red-head's hand.

"Bad kitty. I've told you before; it's Pepper."

A helpless laugh pushes past his lips.

"You have been spending too much time with ngelosi yam."

Pepper smiles.

"Quite probably. You on the other hand, haven't been spending anywhere near enough time. Go on. Shoo. Upstairs with you."

T'Challa smiles, hearing the confused complaints of the Avengers behind him.

"Because T'Challa is here to see Tony, and I have no problem letting the husbands spend time together!"

Silence reigns as T'Challa enters the elevator.

"Welcome back Master T'Challa."

"Indeed. Take me to him J.A.R.V.I.S."

He is taken to the workshop (not surprising) and sees through the glass Tony working on what looks to be a storage container. There is another person in the workshop but they don't matter, not right now. They do not register as a threat, and T'Challa needs his husband in his arms now.

It is perfect when, after a sight jolt of surprise on Tony's part, his husband cuddles close, strong fingers clutching helplessly at T'Challa's jacket.

"You worried me, ngelosi yam."

"Sorry. There was no time and-"

A light kiss, little more than a press of lips, quiets Tony immediately.

"I know you are not to blame. I know you have done your best. And I am so proud."

Shuffling fabric -the other person (is that Doctor Banner?!) leaving the workshop- Tony cuddles even closer, once more pressing their lips together.

Five minutes.

The battle is over. The destruction being fixed. The heroes have saved the day.

The rest of the world can stand to wait five more minutes.

Chapter Text

T'Challa's mother, N'Yami, had first debuted as a professional dancer when she was thirteen.

A spirited little ball of enthusiasm and twists, she had won over the judges for the competition with a smile.

She had been disappointed that T'Chaka had two left feet, but knew that she loved the man regardless of his inability to do anything more complicated than a slow waltz.

But then she had T'Challa.

T'Challa had literally learned to walk by dancing, being held up by his mother as she prodded his feet into the right positions, until he just started doing it on his own. Dancing was as natural to him as speaking, and as the years went by, he got better and better, so it made sense for him to see how he would do competitively, right?

A ten year old T'Challa gained his first of many blue ribbons.

When N'Yami died shortly after T'Challa turned twelve, it had seemed as though the boy would abandon the activity that he had shared with his mother. Curling up in his room, hidden away from the world, T'Challa did not practice, did not choreograph, did not move even for the simplest enjoyment.

T'Chaka intervened.

"We both know I will never be able to dance like your mother. I will never be able to truly understand the joy she and you got from dancing. But even if it is just the simple waltz, I can share one thing of your mother with you. We have already lost her my son. Let us not lose her memories too."

So once more, T'Challa danced, eventually regaining the joy it had brought both him and indeed N'Yami.

T'Challa was just fourteen when his father married Ramonda, and when nine months later, Ramonda made him a big brother.

"Hello Shuri. I'm T'Challa."

His father and Ramonda had met at one of T'Challa's competitions. Ramonda had once danced until a slipped landing had ruined her knee. Now Ramonda could only do the simple dances like T'Chaka, though she enjoyed watching others dance.

Ramonda had no problem when T'Challa taught Shuri how to walk by holding her up and prodding her feet into place.

Once Shuri was old enough, she and T'Challa entered a competition as a pair.

They brought with them a sense of mysticism and fire that the judges did not often see, and swept through the event easily.

More and more blue ribbons.

T'Challa leant against the wall by the chairs holding T'Chaka and Ramonda, all of them feeling their hearts in their throats.

Shuri had been walking her way home from a date when a car had mounted the curb and hit her.

The doctors were confident the damage wouldn't be permanent, but until Shuri was out of surgery, they couldn't be sure.

It had felt far too long a time before the lead doctor finally met them in the waiting room.

"She will be just fine."

A deep release of air, the pressure and tension in the room fading.

"It was a very clean break -no bone splintering off- and the embedded metal didn't catch on anything vital, coming out rather smoothly all considered. She'll still need a good deal of physical therapy and rest, but if she attends to both properly, it's unlikely she'll have any reminders of this incident beyond some slight scarring."

They moved to her room, finding Shuri awake.

After sharing the news, a sigh both relieved and troubled passed Shuri's lips.

"I am going to miss both my next date with James, and the Fallen Stars Dance Competition."

T'Challa bites at his lip.

He had already sent a message to James Rhodes, who had promised to be there as soon as he was able, but had completely forgotten about the competition.

The Fallen Stars Dance Comp. was one of the highest regarded events; competitors had to be invited, then had to be able to pay an entrance fee, and then had to go through the rigmarole of deciding if they'd dance singles or partners, their theme, their music and all the essential minutia that resulted in a flawless performance. At the end of the night, ninety percent of the profit would be donated to a selection of veteran centre's and support groups. The remaining ten percent would be put away in preparation for the next event.

Though Shuri occasionally still did solo dance competitions, T'Challa hadn't danced alone for years. He definitely wanted to participate; the Fallen Stars were a good cause that also came with a lot of prestige, but he was a partnered dancer, and was notoriously picky about who he danced with.

The door opened before he could become to lost in thought.

"Shit Princess, who the hell did this to you?"

James entered the room quickly, coming to Shuri's side to place a loving kiss to her forehead. T'Challa couldn't help but smile at the way Shuri preened under her boyfriends attention.

"A drunken buffoon, that father has already sic'd the family lawyers upon. Hello Tony!"

Startled, T'Challa followed his sisters gaze and found himself staring at a rather gorgeous brunet. The only white man in the room smiled softly.

"Hello Princess, it's been a while; neither Rhodey nor I were expecting to hear you were in hospital after what Rhodey assures me was a successful date."

Shuri preened again, nodding, and T'Challa was amused to see James' chest puffing out a little in pride.

Shuri's eyes suddenly widened, darting between T'Challa and Tony.


The room seemed to focus on her as she paused consideringly.

"You were invited to Fallen Stars, weren't you?"

T'Challa's eyes snapped to the other man as Tony nodded.

Indeed, T'Challa hadn't picked it up at first, but Tony's build was strong and lithe like most dancers, and his looks would be a delight on the dance floor.

T'Challa knew where his sister was going, and he would simply have to see if Tony could keep up.

'Sensational! The fire between them was phenomenal!' John Storm.

'They danced so smoothly, as though they were reading each other's minds.' Charles Xavier.

'Watching them was magical.' Stephen Strange.

T'Challa leaned back in his seat, reading over the reviews given to the performance at the Fallen Stars.

His hand stroking through Tony's hair as the man rested in his lap.

Chapter Text

The lights go on and the cameras flash.

Walk the walk, talk the trash.

The catwalk's long, red carpet done right.

The models glare, ignore their spite.

Prove your metal, move forward, go.

Yours is the face of the brand they know.

You wear the threads, have picture's taken, done.

Your head held high, it's over, you've won.

There are people in this world who ooze charm, who breathe charisma, who embody elegance.

Then there are those who live all three.

Long legs taking him smoothly down the runway, bedecked in the latest offerings from Wakanda Wearables, Tony Stark was one of those people.

T'Challa looked on, his lip caught between his teeth as the other man wore his designs. Though he'd told no one he'd been thinking of the very man wearing them when he'd put pen to paper.

And the result exceeded even his greatest expectations.

The clothes clung to the man, nearly a second skin, as the hems and tails so artfully draped behind him. The red jacket with gold trim and highlights would easily look gaudy on most, but on Tony Stark, it was impossible to find anything that didn't in some way flatter the man.

T'Challa swallowed as Tony somehow found his eye, somehow found him out of the hundreds of people in the audience.

And winked.

Breath forced from his lungs in shock, T'Challa could do nothing but stare at the man now once more walking the runway, only this time to get off it.

As T'Challa's eyes lingered on the fitted black slacks, he couldn't help but think of the old adage.

'Hate to see him go, love to watch him leave.'

It would be unprofessional for him to just leave before seeing the offerings of the other designers, hell it would be outright rude of him and reflect badly on his family's company, but...

Tony lingers at the end of the stage, unerringly catching his eye once more with another wink and a smouldering smile before walking off.

T'Challa's father will understand.

Even in a business like this, you don't meet a man like Tony everyday.

And you if you do, you never let him get away.

Chapter Text

He doesn't know when it started.

Useless. Completely useless. A true waste of space.

He doesn't know when he first noticed.

Always getting in the way, I have more important things to be doing.

He doesn't know when it started to hurt.

Can't he do anything right? Why do I have to waste my time on him?

He doesn't know when he started to fear.

I should have given him away at the first chance.

He does know what might have happened if he stayed.

It would solve so many of my problems.

So Tony ran and never looked back.

How telling is it, that Howard Stark never noticed his son's absence?

"Hello Anthony. My name is Charles Xavier."

It would be beyond dangerous for it to get out who he really was, for both himself and the school, not to mention those residing within it's walls, so Anthony Stark became Antonio Ferrous. For all that he could no longer use the name, Tony was still a Stark.

Stark men are made of iron.

The other students got used to him fairly quickly; for all that he was super smart and good at building, he was still an eight-year old with a mouth full of sass and snark.

He fit right in.

No one really understood why he refused to be handed things though.

All it took was a second of holding an item at the same time as someone else.

Charles had said it was less telepathy, as it only ever happened when mutually holding something, and more akin to empathy.

He couldn't control the person, their thoughts or emotions.

He couldn't influence them in a certain direction.

He couldn't speak to them through the mind like Charles did, or delve deeper than their immediate thoughts.

In that one second, Tony could only read, hear, feel what thoughts and emotions the other person was experiencing.

In that one second, Tony was captured in another person's mind.

He didn't like to be handed things, because Tony always burned.


"Made her fly faster. I got Charles and Hank's approval Cyclops, what's the problem?"

"You didn't tell any of the team you were doing upgrades and so we almost crashed because we didn't know how to handle the controls anymore!"

"... Okay, ignoring the fact that you're still alive so you obviously figured it out, you were at the meeting where I asked to do upgrades and was allowed."

Yeah, it was petty, but Tony enjoyed proving Scott wrong.

"It's just unbelievable; like walking into a store with all the TV's playing different channels at top volume."

"... I don't know if it'll help b