"You're going after the Ten Rings again aren't you." Kara asked from the doorway of Tony's lab. She hated that her orders from Asgard had made it impossible to help him fight the terrorists and made it illegal for her to explain why beyond being saying "She had been forbidden to fight Earth's wars for them." Luckily she had a recording from Brainiac that said pretty much that from her Uncle Jor El for Tony to see. The message was actually recorded for Kal El but it was close enough that she didn't need to out Asgard which she was still forbidden to mention to Humans.
Tony looked up and shrugged. "I'm still in the planning stages. I got some new intel that suggests there are a few of the higher ups still hiding in a town full of civilians. They are trying to recruit new members and rebuild. Not sure how I'm going to attack it without them getting caught in the middle of it, but I'm working on it."
Kara nodded and watched as he tried to figure out how to go it alone for a few minutes before she went back to her lab, but left the doors open.
He had been at it almost an hour when he finally threw his coffee cup at the wall. "Damn it."
Kara walked back into the room and watched him cradle his head in his hands. "You can't do it without the civilians getting killed." Kara told him sadly as she looked over the map. "They've embedded themselves too deeply."
"I need a way to clear that one building mostly." He said pointing out the apartment building sitting on top of the weapon depot that Tony wanted to blow. "The buildings around that one are mostly two levels, shops with apartments above. If I blow this building just right it will collapse straight down and bury the weapons."
"They would just dig them out later." Kara reminded him. "It's not like Jericho missiles will explode if you drop a thousand tons of rock on them."
Tony looked back at her. "I know. But I can get a team of friendlies in there to get them first, or blow it sky high before they come back."
Kara breathed deeply and looked at the map on the display. "Civilian shields are the hardest to overcome." She wished she had the knowledge to fight this kind of battle, but at the same time her hands were tied. She couldn't go after the Ten Rings herself without a huge amount of backlash.
"I'll find a way." Tony's face hardened with determination.
Kara left him to his plans. His obsession was something she agreed with but couldn't get involved in because she was hiding from SHIELD and because public perception was important to her remaining safe from other governments. Killing humans would mean SHIELD would have to start truly hunting her instead of trying to talk to her and other more paranoid governments would hunt her to stop her from becoming a weapon to be used against them.
Two days later Tony was knocking on her door, liking very un-Tony-like. He looked like he needed to talk to her and was uncomfortable about the topic. He shoved both hands deep in his pockets of his jeans.
"What would you say if I asked you to help me with the Ten Rings?" He asked her seriously. He looked like he was trying to figure out how to tell someone they were dying. He looked a mix of angry with the tightening of his eyes, and his fingers fidgeted in his pockets.
Kara lifted a brow as she looked at him. "As Kara Stark, I'd love to, but you're not asking for Kara's help." She looked back down at her computer screen, waiting for Tony to continue.
"What if I was only asking for you to help civilians while I took out the bad guys?" He asked her uncertainly.
Kara looked up sharply and stared at him a moment before giving him a huge grin. "That I can do," She told him happily.
Tony looked relieved and sat himself down on a stool on the opposite side of her work table. "So the problem was the building. It's filled with families and embedded with terrorists. They live among the tenants."
Tony went on to explain that she would need to move families out of the building one family at a time and he had figured out which ones needed to be moved and which apartments had terrorists in them.
"The problem is that a couple of the terrorists have their families in the building." Tony told her.
"So save the children but leave the adults?" Kara asked him as she looked over the building. It was doable for her.
Tony looked a little surprised. "What about the mothers? It's kinda customary to 'save the women and children'."
Kara looked at him in puzzlement. "You're aware the wives of two of these terrorist are on the international watch lists as terrorists themselves, are you not?"
Tony waved that off. "That's because they are known to travel to places their husbands can't go." Kara gave him a look waiting for him to clue in. Tony looked back at her and began to fidget once more. "They're moms, their kids are going to need them, and they should be punished for their dad's choice to be terrorists."
Kara shrugged unconcerned. "Better to get rid of all the terrorist influences while they are young enough to learn better."
Tony looked at her with confusion. "You're all about saving the innocent and that." He told her with his brow crunched. "Why are you against saving the women?"
Kara snorted and gave him a look that said he was missing the point. "I'm talking about only saving the innocent. Just because they are mothers and women does not make them innocent. I also suggest you reevaluate some of the children. Three of those 'children' are also known terrorists." She told him pointing at the screen that had three of the kids outlined in red as terror threats themselves.
"They're kids!" Tony exclaimed angrily.
"Tell that to the families of the people they have already killed." Kara replied calmly. "They are child soldiers and believe me they are going to be impossible to reverse that training."
He gasped. "How can you be so cold?" He stared like he had never seen her before.
Kara looked back at him and narrowed her eyes in annoyance. "I grew up torn between a pacifistic culture and a warrior one. The pacifists were wiped out and the warrior culture lives on peacefully. Those kids have grown in a warrior-terrorist culture. I understand them better than you do with your Western Philosophy and moral upbringing." She replied as calm as if they were talking about the weather. "They are trained killers, and they are not going to stop by being placed with 'loving' families. They are more likely to kill their new families and run back to their terrorist handlers." She told him honestly.
"I don't kill kids." Tony told her sternly.
"Merchant of Death," Kara replied with a raised judgmental brow.
Tony's face drained of color and he turned and marched away with his fist clenched.
"If I may Ms. Stark… That was rather harsh." JARVIS said to her once Tony had stormed out of the room and down the hall.
"With the way he blows things up one of these days he's going to realize not every death caused by his crusade is over the age of eighteen and actually a bad guy. I get that he tries to minimize the collateral damage, and I do commend him for it, but if he keeps this up, he needs to know what he is doing. I don't want him to become the Thor of Midgard." She explained to JARVIS with an air of defeat.
She hated that she'd had to do that, but Tony was drinking his own Kool-Aid. He needed the wake-up call. He was killing terrorists and there were a few of the dead already in the innocent column of his tally, even if he hadn't faced it. But his definition of innocent was going to make things worse for him down the line. If women and children who were firing on him were considered innocent there was also the possibility that he wouldn't fire back, freezing up and getting himself killed.
"Understood Ma'am," JARVIS replied before going offline. She knew JARVIS would relay her reply to Tony once he calmed down and was in a mood to listen.
It didn't surprise Kara that she heard from Pepper before she heard from Tony again. She'd been away for a few days with a mine collapse in South America. Pepper had asked her why Tony had been rip roaring drunk and cursing her name the whole time before finally locking himself in his lab redesigning his suit once more to include more armor to protect his chest and weapons systems designed to destroy buildings.
"This new suit could take down half of Las Vegas!" Pepper had pointed out to her through the video call chat.
"Or an entire Middle Eastern town?" Kara had thrown back.
Pepper had sat back and sighed heavily. "He's going to go back." She looked so worried that Kara closed her eyes.
"Yes, and like always he won't be alone." She told her quietly.
"You've been going with him?" Pepper sat up straight and looked shocked.
Kara nodded quietly and stared at Pepper through the screen. "I don't interfere, but I do make sure he makes it home."
Pepper's eyes filled with tears. "Oh my God… Why didn't you tell me? I've been a basket-case every time he goes out!"
Kara chuckled darkly. "Because if you weren't a basket-case every time he might realize he was being shadowed and do something even more risky than he already does."
Pepper shivered and agreed. "You have a point."
Kara looked at her and gave her a lonely sad smile. "He'll get home."
"I trust you to do whatever you can." She replied before she signed off.
Kara sat back and sighed deeply. She wanted to go in a wipe out these bastards herself, but was held back by the fact that she couldn't declare herself against the Middle East, which is what the perception would be if she helped Tony. It was already bad enough that she was 'allied with Iron Man' in the press.
"That's not me anymore." He had said as he walked into her lab a week after he had stormed out.
Kara gave him a look that suggested she disagreed. "You don't make weapons for warmongering idiots anymore, so Merchant is done with, but you still deal death." She reminded him. "As long as you admit this truth than you are who you wish to be, a warrior always knows what and who he is. Do you know who and what you are Tony?"
"I don't murder children!" He stubbornly glared at her.
"I never said you did." Kara told him with a look of compassion. "You are a warrior, but you are not a soldier. That is a very fine line Tony. It is also a hard one to live with considering your crusade."
"Crusade," He scoffed, but his eyes looked haunted. JARVIS had warned her he'd looked into some of his past missions and he'd seen the footage of the aftermath. She'd also made sure he saw the changes six months after he'd cleared out the first villages that the Ten Rings had terrorized. The children were playing in field instead of lined up learning to shoot. The people looked normal and not frightened. She made sure he saw he was making a difference and to prove he was a hero. She was just making sure he knew the cost so they wouldn't incapacitate him later.
There was a reason Kara herself made sure she didn't use her full strength against humans. She had her own limits, and purposefully killing humans was against her personal code. Letting them die was something different. If their actions led to them killing themselves, she was fine with that. While her personal code was against what she had been taught by her mother, her aunt, and the warriors of Asgard had taught her a true warrior fought the battles that needed to be fought. Her aunt had ended up in Fort Rozz after she became an eco-terrorist trying to save Krypton from destruction, she'd learned about that from the database after setting up the Fortress. Knowing the truth now, she could see why her aunt chose that path. She didn't agree with it, but she still loved her regardless.
With Fort Rozz being in the Phantom Zone there was a chance she had survived the destruction of Krypton, but she would be locked forever in the pocket dimension along with everyone else aboard the Space Station Prison.
"Yes, Crusade; lead or take part in an energetic and organized campaign concerning a social, political, or religious issue. You are on a crusade to destroy an enemy that attacked you." She looked at him with a look of confusion. "Am I using the wrong word?" Sometimes Allspeak used the best word to convey an idea, but the context was not correct in current speech patterns.
Tony shook his head. "No, crusade is the right word I guess." He looked hard at her. "Why are you being so difficult about this?" He asked her straight to the point. Normally Tony was very verbose.
She looked at him with a mix of concern and determination. "You do not have a warrior upbringing, but you are taking on the role of one." She explained to him calmly.
"JARVIS already told me that." Tony cut her off. "I want to know why now?"
Kara shrugged and looked down at her hands in her lap. "Before you went in and hit 'military' targets." She pointed the her displays that now had a map and red dots highlighting all the areas Tony had already taken out, and three green dots. "You've avoid these one because of the collateral damage that is likely to happen."
Tony's brows shot up. "You're being a hard ass over my mental health?" He scoffed and waved her off.
Kara looked up with concern in her eyes. "Yes, because the difference between a warrior, or a soldier, and a civilian is; training, both psychological and physical. Neither of which you have undertaken."
Tony scowled at her. "One doesn't need to be a soldier to fight terrorists."
Kara glared back. "No, but they do to kill them, and not have a mental break."
"Obviously not if I'm neither and I do all the time, without breaking." Tony fired back.
Kara nodded. "If you are sure you want to do this one I'll help, but on my terms."
"And they are?" Tony asked with a skeptical look.
"I don't rescue any terrorists, only civilians." She told him point blank. "You want to save those woman and children not on my list, you do it yourself."
Tony smiled and held out his hand. "That I can live with."
The night they had gone in had been a nightmare. Kara got her civilians out easily. Tony had gotten most but the kid Kara had been concerned about had shot him with an automatic rifle when he had tried to get them out, and he started a running gun fight in the hallways when the other heard the shots being fired.
Covering for a few of the people running for the bus that Kara was going to use to get everyone out of the area, she'd had to step between them, and the gunmen. One had shot at her so close that the bullet had rebounded off her jaw and hit him in the neck with enough force to rip open his exterior, and internal carotid arteries spraying her in blood.
Tony had managed to drop the building, and most of the leadership had been killed. Two had gotten into a fuel truck and was aiming a grenade launcher at the bus. Kara had placed herself in the way and braced herself. The fuel truck had exploded when the driver figured he'd ram her out of the way. Kara had walked away without a scratch. She'd calmly picked up the bus and flew it several miles away, before putting it down and heading back to the scene.
Tony's suit had taken a beating and Kara had given him a lift home, even though he was capable of making it. He agreed there was no use in wasting the energy when she was going home too.
Two weeks later Tony had still had trouble sleeping. He kept having nightmares about the kid firing at him. The kid was short so he'd been aiming low and not at the reactor casing. His abdomen had been littered with small bruises when they had returned. The gun had been too close for all the kinetic energy to be disbursed leaving behind small points of annoying pain for about a day.
Kara had stayed in the main house following the mission and had slept in the next room. Every time he woke from the nightmare she had been there with a cup of coffee and an ear for him to bend. It took him all that time to realize she had been predicting this reaction to the mission right from the start.
He sat there and took a sip before he looked at her with a deadly glare. "You knew this would happen."
Kara shook her head. "I didn't know it would be this mission… but sooner or later, yes."
Kara looked down at her cup and sighed. "Because it happened to me when I was training, I didn't kill her but I nearly did." She looked him dead in the eye and glared back. "I look at her like this and I let me emotions get the better of me and I shot right through her armor and out her back."
Tony's eyes popped open in shock and he dropped his coffee mugs to the table top, splashing it all over the surface as it tipped over. Neither of them moved to clean it up or to even acknowledge the coffee now running towards the edge of the table beside Tony.
Kara held his gaze as she kept speaking. "I burned out a piece of her lung that she will never get back, and she has a scar the size of a quarter above her heart. The healers were lucky I concentrated so hard on that one spot instead of her head or I would have exploded her brain inside her skull." Her voice was emotionless as she described the events of that day. "My oldest brother and his friends screaming had made me end the beam which saved her from being cut in half as I turned to face everyone else. It was my other brother who saved everyone else that day. He ran up and placed his hand over my eyes and pulled me away, telling me I'd be alright and I was no longer in any danger to let it go." The intensity of her gaze hardened and became even more intense. "Had he not done so, I would have killed them as easily as any of your higher grade weapons could have killed a large crowd in a market square."
Tony's eyes widened even further as he stared in shock at what he was hearing. "You're not a murderer!"
Kara gave him s disappointed glare. "I am a warrior, I earned my armor. That means I have killed in battle Tony, same as you."
Tony looked confused. "But you just said she lived."
"She did." Kara couldn't help the look of distaste that crossed her face at the thought of Sif and the treatment she received after that incident from most of the warriors of Asgard. "The people I killed were bandits, raiding a protected village. They refused to surrender and they were all killed. I earned my armor that day and a stain on my soul that I refuse to darken any further with human blood if I can avoid it."
Tony sat there and thought about what she said. "Someone did this for you." He finally said as the lesson she had been trying to teach him finally came through. Innocent or not, there was always a price to killing over arresting. As long as he could live with it then he was a warrior, if he couldn't he need to stop trying to be a vigilante hero and just be a regular hero like her. "They taught you your code."
Kara nodded slowly. "At first my foster mother," Kara admitted. Tony began to listen intently, not just because Kara was talking about how she learned to deal with killing, but because this was the most she'd spoken of her past with him. "Then later on the younger of my brothers, they taught me to come to terms with the death I had dealt and how I would handle the guilt. They both taught me to manage my beliefs and create a code I could live with. Mine is a mix of my Warrior upbringing and Krypton's moral codes. I try to take no life, and save those worth saving from having their lives cut short. That code requires me to not fight a war for any reason other than to save civilian lives."
"That's why you wouldn't fight my crusade." Tony smirked with a touch of despair. "It wasn't your war."
She put her hands over his hands and held them as she looked at him hard. "It's your war, and I will stand with you, but I can't fight your demons, only you can. As a fellow warrior I respect this is your fight, your war. I will stand here and be a fellow warrior and not let you fall on your sword if the mental pain overcomes you."
"So you're a shrink too?" Tony asked sarcastically.
Kara was confused it was a term she had not heard before. "I am a fellow warrior who knows the path you must take and will walk it with you."
Tony gave her a condescending smile. "I'll be fine."
Kara smirked at him. "I am glad for my brother's sake I was not this stubborn. In the long run it will help you, but not yet."
'We'll see." Tony got up and started to walk out of the room. "And clean that up will you."
Kara smiled. It was a start.