Steve continued to back away from the rising water as he stared out in the direction Pietro had gone. For the first time in a long time, he didn't know what to do. He had no idea where Scarlet Witch would've sent her father. The twins didn't seem like a threat anymore, but they certainly made things more difficult before they left.
Behind Steve, a very normal voice stated, "Oh, we're sinking. That's… fantastic."
Banner held up his shredded pants with both hands, smiling sheepishly at Steve when he turned. At Steve's confused head tilt, the doctor gestured at the rising water, "The… the other guy doesn't swim. It's basic physics, he's got too much muscle to stay afloat."
"Hulk's afraid of water?"
Banner risked letting go of one side of his stretched slacks so he could climb the stairs that led to the helm. It was the highest point and the only part of the boat left dry. "Wouldn't you be if you couldn't swim? I'd recommend you follow me. The undertow will suck you down in a heartbeat."
"How did you get here?" Steve asked as they climbed.
Water rushed in to cover the last of the lower decks. It splashed against the sides of the communications tower, the surf darkening the legs of Steve's uniform. The ship was going down faster with the majority of it underwater. Steve peered up to the top of the tower to try and calculate how much time they had left. It wouldn't be much, a few minutes at the most.
As the tower slanted forward, Steve leaned on the rail to keep his balance. He put a hand on Banner's elbow to steady him since the other man had to keep a grip on his pants, "I mean, if Hulk's afraid of water..."
They turned the corner of the stairs and entered the command center. Equipment was scattered everywhere. Bits of blackened technology hung out of displays and cabinets. All that was left of the windows were jagged teeth of glass rimming the sills.
Banner scanned the area for exits, "The other guy didn't take over until I got here."
"But Fury called, said you were missing. You usually don't vanish unless you lose control."
Casting a glance over his shoulder, Bruce pushed open a door that was labeled 'Roof Access', "I knew he'd stop me. In the city, I'd do more damage than good against the rioters, but you two needed a hand out here. Besides..." he held the door for Steve to pass by him and offered a weak smirk, "the other guy said we had to help. For once, I happened to agree."
The ocean air tugged at them as they stepped out onto the roof. A radio antenna drooped over the side, the base dark from an explosion like the rest of the tower equipment. Water spread out a few stories below them, rising quickly. From above, Steve could see the churning, frothing pull of the undertow. It circled the boat in a wide swath. Every direction he turned, the sky was clear. If anyone was headed their way, they were still far off.
A white spec in the distance drew Steve's eye. Small though it was, the shape suggested it was a boat. Banner pointed out to it seconds after Steve spotted it, "Actually, that's the speedboat I... borrowed. We'll never get out to it. The current around the ship is too strong."
Steve held out his shield, his gaze determined, "Bet I can."
Banner took the shield automatically, catching his pants as they slid down his hips. Adjusting his hold so the shield was strapped over his arm, Banner shook his head, "Betting is not ideal here. What am I going to tell Tony if you can't? Oh yes, I let your husband jump into massive undertow because he thought he could do it. He'd shoot me... and then I'd hulk out and he'd probably shoot me some more." Bruce waved his free hand dismissively, "Let's just not do that."
"You got a better idea?" Steve braced his boot against a broken electrical box and leaned out. If he jumped far enough, he'd miss most of the current.
Stripping off his gloves, Steve handed them over to Banner as well, "I should be back with the boat before you go under."
"That's comforting," Bruce mumbled with his arms full of Steve's gear.
Steve had to get back to Tony. He repeated it in his mind, he HAD to get back to Tony. The billionaire couldn't deal with losing both members of his limited family on the same day. Steve wouldn't put him in that position, he knew Tony would erode his liver in less than a week with liquor. The team needed them and Tony needed him. No matter what he said, Tony Stark was not impervious.
Steve hurried to the high end of the slanted roof, planning to use to angle to his advantage. He grabbed the edge and settled into a crouch as he considered the leap.
Stepping out of his way, Banner shook his head again, "This is a bad idea."
"We'll have to face the undertow either way."
"That doesn't help. It's still a bad idea."
Steve opened his mouth to argue and heard Barton's voice on his speaker, "I leave you two alone for five minutes and you sink a freighter. Go figure."
"You're late," Steve took a breath and slid down to where Banner stood. He put his gear on quickly.
"Sorry, honey, got caught up in a revolution. I'll get you some flowers to make up for it."
The SHIELD plane screamed in from the west. Its engines tilted down as it settled in to hover above them. Romanov stuck her head out of the open hatch and shouted something back into the aircraft before she dropped a ladder. The plane lowered closer to the roof so they could reach.
Steve climbed up first, making sure Banner managed to get on behind him. In the passenger bay they found a team of CK's waiting for them. Steve nodded to them, but they raised their guns as Bruce reached the top. The doctor stared at them with blank confusion before his face became guarded in a way Steve hadn't seen in over a year.
Steve stepped to block Banner and raised his shield, "Stand down. Bruce isn't going to hurt anyone."
The commander Steve recognized from the field motioned with the barrel of his gun. Steve warily watched the movement. "He disobeyed direct orders to stay on base," the man's pockmarked face twisted into sneer. "He put the mission at risk and must be reprimanded for it. Now, where is Erik Lensherr?"
"Reprimanded? He saved my life by coming out here today. This is ridiculous. Where are you getting your orders? Fury would never-"
"Director Fury is not in charge anymore. The Council has taken over command of SHIELD," the CK agent cut in.
Clint twisted in his seat in the cockpit and Natasha crossed her arms over her chest. "What? Is he serious?" Barton yelled over the engine noise.
Steve straightened up. Bone tired as he was, the news made him rigid with tension. The Avengers were Fury's pet project. They were HIS team and took orders from no one else in the field. The director understood them and how they fit together as a unit, Steve didn't want to report to anyone else. Steve didn't know much about the Council, but he knew they'd ordered the nuclear strike on New York City during Loki's invasion. He didn't want anything to do with them.
Steve jutted his chin out, returning the commander's sneer with a scowl of his own, "Director Fury already takes orders from the Council-"
"And frequently chooses to go against their decisions. They're simply removing the middle man." The pockmarked blond finally lowered his gun and his men followed suit, "Speaking of which, they want to see you when we get back to the carrier. We'll escort you to the meeting, Captain. You can tell them how you lost Lensherr."
Steve's glare intensified, but he knew better than to engage. If a single stray bullet caught Banner, the plane wouldn't be big enough for any of them. He gently urged the doctor in front of him and into the cockpit.
Bruce took the chair next to Clint, who looked a bit battered. Steve mentally amended that, they all looked battered. Natasha's leather-enforced costume had rips down the legs and across the shoulder while Clint had bloody, red abrasions from fingertip to elbow on his left arm.
The flight back was spent listening to the reports of his teammates. Magneto's words of revolution had spread far and wide. The riots were concentrated around New York, but there were riots all across the country. Thor and Wolverine had jumped from one fight to the next in the Burroughs until SHIELD's backup arrived. As far as Clint and Natasha knew, everyone had survived their encounters.
Steve leaned with his hands on either chair as he listened. According to their narrow intel, Clint knew that Cyclops's fight didn't go well. He was one of the last to receive assistance and Rogue was being treated at SHIELD's medical facility.
Closing his eyes, Steve thought about the massive changes they were about to face. Mutation was no longer a state secret. With Lensherr's spark, they'd made themselves known and Steve could only imagine the retribution that would follow.
Clint easily maneuvered the jet onto the helicarrier's landing strip. Deck crew swarmed out to latch it in place, their neon orange vests flapping wildly in the engine exhaust. Two CK agents flanked Steve as he left the cockpit. He glanced between them, feeling a lot like he was being taken to be court marshaled.
Natasha put a hand on her gun, her lips pressed together with disapproval. At Steve's slight finger gesture she fell back a step. He directed his voice at Bruce, "Go stay with Tony until I can get there."
"A-Alright," the doctor answered.
Steve strode through the aircraft carrier with his head held up and his brain on high alert. The Council's CK agents were everywhere. Steve saw the identifying patch on every man standing guard. They were at the major intersections and posted at the doors. They made him edgy, even more so now that Natasha broke the classified barrier and told Steve who they were.
CK translated to Cape Killer. They were the men trained to deal with fallen heroes. Steve had no idea there was a unit designated for such a purpose, but he doubted that even Fury had the clearance for the information. The CK's clearly belonged to the Council, making Steve feel like a prisoner in a place he used to call home.
They passed by the mess hall and Steve caught a brief glimpse of his friends and comrades. His eyes caught on Thor as they walked him past the wide, plate-glass windows. The Asgardian looked angry and it only seemed to increase when he saw the CK's escorting Steve. Wolverine stood and took his cigar from his mouth. When Barton and Natasha joined them, Clint started explaining, but Steve was left staring at bare wall as they passed beyond the windows. He heard Thor's angry retort, though he couldn't understand the words.
The agents led him deep into the ship and into a small room with six vertical screens. There was a desk at the head of the room with paperwork spread neatly on the surface. A pen lay on top of the page with a red seal stamped on it. As the CK's took up posts on either side of the door, Steve walked into the room slowly. He left his cowl on and kept his shield ready, not sure what to expect.
All six screens flashed with SHIELD's logo. It rotated once, the edges of the eagle gleaming like metal, and then shadowed figures appeared on each screen. They were all different and Steve scanned them with apprehension. He couldn't see their faces, only their folded hands on their desks and the hints of suits and blouses. One man tapped an expensive pen on the desk in front of him, clearly impatient or angry.
The man to the far left spoke first, "Was your mission successful, Captain?" His voice painted the picture of his face: older, probably scowling, but definitely American.
Their primary concern was recovering Annika. Steve doubted that these people cared about that. Reverting to the behavior he would use for any superior, he kept his responses tight and simple, "Lensherr was not recovered. He was wounded in the fight and the mutant codenamed Scarlet Witch used her abilities to teleport him to an unknown location."
They all made displeased sounds, some 'harumph'ing and others letting out snorts of air that were contemptuous. Steve stood taller and grit his teeth. His attention strayed to the paperwork on the table. He couldn't read it from where he stood, but there was something ominous about it. It looked like some kind of contract.
"We expected more from you and Mr. Stark," a woman near the middle sat back in her chair and all but vanished in the shadows. "Perhaps your emotional involvement with each other and that girl-"
"That girl is my daughter and I would go to any length to ensure her safety, but the mission was still my priority. Lensherr's escape was unavoidable. He will resurface and-"
The woman snapped, "Do not interrupt me, Captain. Your command of this team has already been drawn into question. I would suggest that you show respect to the Council if you expect to remain an Avenger."
Steve shut his mouth, his eyes burning with everything he wanted to say. He wanted to know why Fury had been removed from his position and why the Council thought they needed an army trained to destroy heroes. They weren't going to give him any answers. Natasha knew more than she should, but she always did, and Tony could get the rest of the information for them. For now, Steve stood at attention and stayed silent.
A man with a heavy Asian accent picked up where the shadowed woman left off, "The loss of Lensherr was unfortunate, but not the reason you are here today. In light of the recent events, steps are being taken to assure riots of this nature will not occur again. Before you is a document we would like you to sign."
Steve stepped forward to pick up the top sheet as the Council member continued, "As the head of the Avengers, being the first to sign would set an example for other super powered and altered individuals. We must find a way to coexist and this documentation will allow SHIELD to monitor individuals such as yourself..."
Steve didn't hear the rest. As he scanned the details on the page in his hand, a frown creased his face. He picked up the next sheet and kept reading. The farther he got, the more knotted his stomach became. He raised his head, "This requires that my identity be released to all government officials and mass media if 'deemed necessary'. I'm an agent of SHIELD. My identity is a state secret for good reason."
The American at the left said, "Consider your husband's open approach to his identity. It allows-"
"Tony never should've released that information. It's caused us more problems than good. People know where we live, where to find us, the name of our daughter. We're targets."
A third Council member, British, if Steve had to guess, responded quickly, "Your identities would be held on file almost exclusively for government use. We don't want our heroes under threat, we only want records of their abilities in case something... goes wrong."
Steve dropped the paperwork onto the table. None of it seemed right. The last registration he could remember was for Jewish individuals. Once their identities were on file, they were systematically hunted and destroyed. The past repeated itself and Steve could see it happening with remarkable clarity.
Turning away from the screens, Steve said, "No."
"Captain, when this procedure is written into law you won't have a choice. Better to sign it now and be the example for your fellow-"
"No," Steve gripped his shield and looked back at the Council, "My example is this: We have rights. It doesn't matter if someone is a mutant or human that happened to stumble into power. We have rights and forcing us to reveal ourselves is not going to happen."
"When it's law-"
"I'll fight it."
The Council went quiet and Steve stalked to the door. As the CK's moved to block him, he snarled, "Move or I will move you."
After exchanging glances, the pair stepped out of the way. Steve strode past them and headed for the hospital wing, the words of the Council circling his head like dark birds.
Tony stared at the doctor with a vacant expression. He understood what he was saying, but some part of him refused to believe it. He'd been waiting for news for over an hour, pacing the halls in his armor. Now that he had a doctor standing in front of him, he couldn't think.
Pushing up his tortoiseshell glasses, the doctor leaned in, "Mr. Stark, did you hear me?"
The air felt stale in his lungs. He took a shuddering breath and asked, "You're sure? She could come out of it, right?"
His chest tightened and the ache he'd felt since the fight with Magneto doubled over on itself, magnifying and building. He numbly watched the doctor open a folder with his daughter's name taped to the front. The scotch tape was peeling at the corners. Gramme was embroidered on the pocket of the doctor's jacket. Tony had met him a half-dozen times and never noticed his name.
Dr. Gramme lifted a report from the folder, his tone regretful but professional, "I'm sorry, Mr. Stark. I've been over the results twice. There's no brain activity. In a coma, there would be minor activity that shows that the mind is still working. Those are the cases where a patient has a chance of recovery." He held out the report for Tony to see, flat lines spread across the sheets in various colors. "As you can see, there is no activity. Annika is in a vegetative state. I'm sorry."
Tony's knees went weak. Detecting his emotional state, the armor locked to keep him from falling. His head swam. His chest throbbed, pain shooting through his extremities. He wasn't sure if it was true physical pain or just a response to the news. It didn't matter. The only thing he could focus on was the fading image of Annika's smiling face. As the armor released its locks, he leaned against a wall for support.
Banner came down the hall in a jog. He was in a fresh pair of scrubs, but hadn't bothered to get his spare glasses from the locker room. Tony barely registered that he stopped to talk to the doctor. He could hear their voices, but he couldn't understand them. Suddenly, Bruce's worried face was in front of him. His lips moved and Tony caught the word "shock".
"…Tony?" Bruce said for possibly the fourth or fifth time.
Tony lifted his eyes, his hand closing loosely over Banner's arm. It was a failed attempt to ground himself. He couldn't feel anything through his glove. There was no body heat to nail down at least his sense of touch. His vision blurred.
Banner's words were obscenely calm, his fingers deftly removing his gauntlets and searching for the release catch on the shoulder plates, "He's bleeding massively. Get him to an operating room."
His skin chilled where the armor was peeled away. Everything underneath was soaked red. Shoulder, chest, he didn't know what it was. He coughed and robotically ran his hand over his mouth. As the doctors and Bruce stripped off enough armor to put him on a gurney, Tony called for his daughter. He thought he heard her answer, a faint cry in the gathering dark.
The television was muttering incessantly on the wall. Tony slowly opened his eyes. Recognizing the chrome and white walls, he knew he was in SHIELD's medical center. Tucked into the corner of the room was a television smaller than most of his computer monitors, the few he had left. There were two people on split screen arguing about something called 'Registration'. They kept flashing statistics and yelling how the president would approve it even if Congress turned it down.
Tony let his head fall to the side. Steve slouched in the uncomfortable bedside chair, several days' worth of stubble on his face. His husband was asleep for now, but Tony knew any sudden move or sound would wake him. The blond had the ears of a fennec fox, even if they weren't as large.
Strangely, the black and silver Iron Man helmet from his graphene suit was perched on the table where they normally kept Jell-o and water. Tony blinked at it, wondering. A thick multi-layered cord connected the helmet to his arc. He brushed his fingers over the uncovered arc reactor, light glowing coolly between his digits.
Rolling his head the other way, Tony took in a soft gasp of air. His frail, ghostly daughter was in the next bed over. The dark waves of her hair spread out around her head like a halo, the only color on the bleached sheets. Someone had taken the time to tuck her in snuggly. Her arms lay above the neat blanket, little more than twigs. It was nearly the size she was when Tony found her over a year ago, malnourished and huddling under a bed.
A series of tubes ran across her, the feeding tube and oxygen mask obscuring her small face. The mask was designed for someone grown since the SHIELD medical staff never dealt with children. Someone had fastened it to her skin with opaque tape.
Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat and whispered, "Annika."
Tony's breath caught and he studied Annika's profile. She hadn't moved, not her lips, her eyelids, anything. It was possible he was hearing things, but it didn't bode well for him. Tony remembered what the doctor said before he collapsed, that her mind was dead. He wondered how much morphine they'd pumped into him.
A hand touched his arm and he jerked. Pain shot through him at the movement, forcing him to cringe and give a faint moan. The hand went to his cheek and a callused thumb stroked over his skin.
"Shh, sit still," Steve told him as he sat on the edge of the bed. "You're torn up pretty bad. You should stay in bed."
Tony collapsed in the pillows and clenched his eyes shut, rubbing his good hand over his face. The other arm wouldn't lift, but the thick bandages padding his shoulder gave him all the explanation he needed. He aggravated his wound to the point that they had to do more extensive repairs. Tony would find out exactly how much damage he'd done to himself later, for now, his mind was caged in grief.
"It's not only your shoulder," Steve said, his intuition always so spot on that he seemed like a mind reader. "Magneto shifted the shrapnel in your chest. The tear was small, but you were bleeding into your lung. They repaired it micro-micro..."
When Steve's brow furrowed in thought, Tony filled in, "Microscopically."
"Yes... that. Pretty amazing stuff," his lack of enthusiasm was at odds with his words.
Steve's hand brushed through his hair and Tony squeezed his eyes tighter. His throat closed at the small show of comfort, reminding him yet again what they'd lost. Choking on his words, Tony said, "Thought I heard Annika. God... please tell me there's news."
Tony lifted his hand from his face and gave Steve a withering look. Instead of apologizing for the poorly timed joke, the soldier pointed at the helmet. The disembodied voice came from the built-in speakers, so soft when compared to the way it filtered Tony's conversations, "Hi, daddy."
Pain pushed aside, Tony sat up abruptly. He swatted away Steve's attempts to get him to rest, asking, "Annika? You... you're in my suit? Why are you in my suit?"
Steve finally planted his palm in the center of the arc reactor and forced Tony onto the thin mattress. Some of the shooting pain subsided as he settled on his back. When he didn't try to get up again, Steve's fingers returned to petting his hair absently.
The helmet was quiet for a few seconds before Annika answered quietly, "It doesn't hurt in here."
"She's stuck," Steve provided, his blue eyes flicking to their daughter's still body. "As far as we can tell, she overextended her power and caused some brain swelling. The swelling has gone down, but she still won't go back."
"What? Why not?"
"It hurts," Annika insisted in a whine.
Steve shrugged, "I can't figure it out. I've spent the last three days trying to convince her, so it's your turn now. Bribes haven't gone well either. I tried ice cream, Nutella sandwiches, chocolate, cannolis from Little Italy... She'd rather stay in there and play chess with Jarvis."
The helmet's eyes glowed brighter, paired with Annika's frustrated huff. Tony knew exactly the way she'd be standing if she was whole, with her little hands balled into fists at her side and her lower lip pushed out in a pout. "I like playing with Jarvis."
Tony checked the cords attaching the helmet to his reactor. The helmet could function without power for approximately an hour, but he didn't know what would happen if it went dead while she was inside. Clearly, Steve had the same concern. He wondered how the doctors worked around it while he was in surgery.
Reaching out, Tony took the helmet as Steve passed it to him. He settled the helmet on his stomach and held it between his hands. It was strange to connect the face of his armor with his daughter. The line coiled on the bed beside him like an umbilical cord. The thought made him screw his face to the side. He might as well be a blood relative to the girl for how close they were, but the idea of being 'mom' stabbed at his manhood.
Tony shook the notion and asked, "You can't stay in there forever. How am I supposed to teach you new things?"
"I can still learn stuff."
"Not if you're going to do anything hands on. How will we take you to the aquarium? You won't be able to touch the stingrays at the petting pool," Tony argued calmly.
Steve kissed his cheek and stood, "Went that route already. I'm going to get you some water."
"Scotch, please. No ice."
"Not going to happen," Steve replied as he left.
While he was gone, Tony argued semantics with Annika. Once Steve was back with water and something for Tony to eat, he tried to appeal to her logic. He struggled through that for almost an hour before switching over to more bribery, and then he attempted convincing that bordered on pleading. The only reason she would provide was that it was too painful to return to her own body.
Finally, when Tony was struggling to keep a level head through his explanation that physical pain was temporary, Annika said, "That's not it. In here, Momma dying doesn't hurt. I don't feel anything."
Tony and Steve both stared at the helmet. They hadn't considered Raisa. If she was on the ship, the Russian scientist would've fought Magneto with her fingernails to keep Annika safe. Finding Annika in the state she was in should've clued Tony into what happened, but he'd been too wrapped up in fearing for his daughter's life.
"Oh, honey…" Steve started, leaning forward in his chair. He lapsed into silence though his mouth was open as if he wanted to say more. Looking lost, Steve glanced at Tony for help.
Even on pain medication, Tony could put together the rest of the picture. Annika saw it happen, or at least saw the aftermath, which was the only reason she'd push her abilities to the point of unconsciousness. From what Steve told him about how she reacted to seeing Tony injured on the telecast, he knew her emotions controlled her power.
Tony wished he could gather her in his arms and hold her, let her cry. Instead, he sat staring into the glowing, inanimate eyes of Iron Man. "I'm sorry," he whispered, at the same loss of words as Steve. He had to offer her more than that. Wracking his mind, he said, "I lost both my parents when I was a year or so older than you. I know it hurts. It's always going to hurt, but eventually you realize that you will always have her love and she would want you to be happy."
He felt like a hypocrite saying it, but he wasn't going to touch on his father's flippant approach to parenting while he was trying to coerce Annika. Even with his tedious sincerity, she didn't respond. Tony's brow creased.
"Annika? I know this is hard, but staying in your father's machine won't help," Steve offered.
The faint trill of music answered him. It was coming from the interior speakers. Tony recognized the tune instantly, one of the songs from her seemingly endless library of kid's music. This one was 'Down by the Bay', an incredibly silly ditty that inevitably stuck in Tony's head after he heard it.
Tony lifted the helmet to look inside, "Annika, you better not have downloaded all that music onto my internal hard drives. Those are for flight data and video footage."
"Tony, don't yell at her right now," Steve sighed as he straightened up what was left from lunch.
Tony recognized the nervous habit. Steve would clean a spotless room if something was bothering him. For now, it consisted of re-stacking the empty trays from largest to smallest. Ignoring the compulsive organization, Tony argued, "I'm not yelling."
A soft chuckle cut their conversation short. Tony lowered the helmet to rest on his knee as Xavier wheeled into the room. Cyclops came in behind him, looking decidedly tense. With what was streaming through the news stations, Tony couldn't blame him. If they forced mutants to register, it would change the way they lived.
On the other hand, Tony could see the value in keeping track of super human abilities. It had the potential to help mutants too. They could offer training programs for young mutants, teaching them ways to control their power. Since Tony didn't think that was the reason for their visit, he didn't bring it up.
"I hear you have a very unusual problem with your daughter," Charles said with a warm smile.
The professor maneuvered around Annika's bed with effortless grace and situated himself between them. Without any guidance from Xavier, Scott picked up the control pad for Annika's hospital bed. He hit a button and the hydraulics hissed a long exhale as the bed lowered. When it was within Xavier's reach, he delicately touched her forehead.
Turning the helm in Xavier's direction, Tony snorted, "Unusual is a bit of an understatement. She's barricaded herself in with virtual chess and We Sing Silly Songs."
The song changed in the middle of a verse, switching over to Six Little Ducks. Tony thought he heard Annika singing along. Since she'd shut off the external audio, it was hard to tell.
Xavier hummed in response, "Interesting. The channels to receive her are open. Perhaps I can give her some guidance. I will need the helmet."
Hesitating slightly, Tony handed it off. He fed the power cord out hand over hand, making sure there was enough to reach Xavier. The mutant bent over the helmet and closed his eyes. Silence built in the room until it was suffocating. Tony picked at the tattered hem of the sheet covering his legs, alternating between watching Xavier and checking on Annika. He worried that the tubes would make her panic if she woke, though her body would be weak after days of comatose.
Steve came around to sit beside Tony, his hand reaching blindly to wind in Tony's fingers. Tony squeezed fiercely enough that the skin around his IV pulled painfully. If this didn't work, Tony wasn't sure what they could do. Their daughter would be an AI, a floating entity that could only exist in networks and on hard drives. Stomach rolling, Tony sat up on his elbow in the hopes to ease his nausea. This time, Steve didn't stop him.
"Logan, you shouldn't let Marie drain so much of your power. You know how she gets," Xavier said with a smirk, not raising his head.
Tony glanced up to find Wolverine leaning in the doorframe. There were shallow marks all over his face and hands, which was unusual considering his ability to heal. Considering Xavier's comment, Tony realized that he must've loaned his ability to heal to Rogue. What he was seeing was the aftermath. Logan's powers hadn't recovered fully.
Wolverine shrugged, "As long as you keep the cigars away from her she'll survive. Ain't nothing wrong with a little attitude in a girl like her."
Dropping his arms to his side with an aggravated sigh, Cyclops crossed over to check the wounds. "She was going to be fine," Scott scolded him with something verging on fondness.
Wolverine didn't comment. He nodded toward Annika, "How's your kid?"
"It's complicated," Tony muttered.
Minutes passed and Xavier's concentration deepened. His brows dipped and shadowed his eyes. Tony glanced at the clock, his toes curling under the sheets. It was taking too long. Cyclops nudged Wolverine's arm and the two men stepped out into the hall. Their quiet conversation never went far from the door, becoming a hum of background noise in the thick silence.
Unable to sit still, Tony flung his legs over the side of the bed opposite Steve. The soldier tightened his grip on Tony's hand and looked up. There must have been some warning in Tony's expression, because he let Tony get out of bed.
His chest burned at the slight increase in his heart rate, but subsided once he was standing. Tony grabbed his IV rack and wheeled it with him as he went to Annika. Steve followed with the chair and the power cord, undoubtedly worried that Tony was going to collapse. Tony let him hover. His poor husband spent days hunched in that chair waiting for the two of them to wake up, he should be allowed to dish out extra coddling until they left the hospital.
Tony walked slower than normal. His body wasn't ready for this and he knew it, but he needed to be near his daughter. He was desperate to hug her and hold her. Keeping with Tony's pace, Steve lifted the cord over the beds and Xavier so it never once jarred loose from Tony's chest.
"Sit down," Steve said when Tony reached the bedside.
Not in the mood to argue, Tony did as he was told. Steve scooted him closer, picking up the chair with Tony in it to move him. Tony rested his good elbow on the bed, leaving his other hand folded limply in his lap.
"Come on, Annika," Tony murmured as he reached out to rub her arm, "Come on, baby girl. Wake up."
Steve stayed at his back, a wall of warmth and worry. His fingers trailed rhythmically along the narrow patch of Tony's skin between his shoulders where the hospital gown didn't quite meet.
"Come on, baby," Tony repeated, his voice heavy.
Xavier straightened and turned his clear gaze to them. Slowly, a smile pulled up the corners of his lips and Tony's heart soared.
"Get one of the doctors," Steve shouted into the hall.
Tony stood and leaned over her, stroking her hair. His eyes watered, tears falling only once Annika stirred. Tony laughed as her dark lashes lifted. He kissed her forehead and moved back so Steve could do the same.
When she reached up to touch the mask, Tony crooned, "We'll get that off, don't worry. Just be still for a minute."
A pair of nurses in matching gray scrubs hurried into the room. Shooing Tony out of the way and berating him for being out of bed, they swarmed around Annika. They took off some of the equipment, sitting her up to remove the feeding tubes so she wouldn't choke.
While they checked her vitals, tears welled up and spilled down her face. She gave Tony a pleading look, reaching between the nurses for him. It took an act of extreme will, and Steve's arm hooked around his stomach, not to push them aside and gather her against him.
Once they determined that she wasn't critical condition, the medical staff cleared the room and told them that a doctor would be in later. The moment he was loose, Tony sat on the bed and wrapped Annika in his arms. Lifting her into his lap, Tony pressed his cheek against the top of her head. Her face brushed his stitches, but he didn't care. Tony held her as tightly as he dared. Both wept, overwhelmed with joy and sorrow, relief and the lingering tendrils of fear.
Somewhere, in what seemed like another world, Steve thanked Professor Xavier. Tony felt the mattress dip beside him and Steve's arms encompassed them both. His husband tucked his nose behind Tony's ear, his soft, even breaths ruffling Tony's hair.
As unusual and unexpected as this family had been, Tony realized in this moment that it was so much more than he'd ever imagined. He spent years swearing off commitment and the complicated mess of child rearing. Somehow, he'd fallen in and learned, not only could he keep his head above water, he thrived here.
The mechanical whir of Xavier's powered wheelchair made Tony lift his head. He smiled at the mutant and opened his mouth, but Xavier lifted a hand to stop him, "You're welcome. And the donation isn't necessary, Mr. Stark, but if you want her to enroll, I'd recommend you start looking for a house near the school."
Telepathy did streamline things, Tony thought.
"It does. Now, I'll leave all of you to celebrate," Xavier said as he rolled through the door. Cyclops and Wolverine fell into step just behind him, only Scott turning to wave goodbye.
Tony reached for the controls to switch of the television since it was muted anyway. For now, the battle over super human registration vanished from their lives. Annika drew back and wiped her palm over one eye. It didn't help, so Tony used the edge of a sheet to dry her face.
"You scared us, baby. You're going to need to learn how to control that talent of yours," Tony murmured as he rubbed the last of her tears away.
Steve asked, "Apparently we're going to upstate New York to do it?"
With a wince, Tony nodded. He often forgot that informing his husband of major decisions was a good idea. "Why not? You seemed to like the campus and you've never been fond of the tower."
"Oh, you know, I just like to be aware that I'm moving."
Tony made the argument that they could have a yard and more land and privacy, all of which Steve seemed to favor. Mostly, Annika was excited about having an ocean of grass she could run in anytime.
"We could get a dog," Steve suggested, though Tony steadfastly ignored the idea.
Annika distracted them from it very quickly, "Or a sister," she cried with glee.
Tony and Steve went quiet, exchanging a glance. They'd never discussed it. Considering that they could barely keep a handle on one child, Tony started to nix it, but Steve said, "We'll see."
Tony raised an eyebrow and smiled.
So, there was going to be an epilogue, but I'm not so sure it needs unanswered questions are left that way intentionally. Magneto and his Brotherhood will now go on to the third movie in the X-Men series, for those of you following the timeline, and the rest is headed toward one of the more controversial Avengers story arcs.
Really, this is set up for a potential third book, but I'm going to be taking a break (I know I said that last time and ended up writing this right away…) If you want an idea of what the third one was going to entail, think Civil War, meets slash and family drama, toss in my usual love of extreme violence, and somehow find a happy ending because I hate sad ones. Thing is, I'd like to work on some of my original stuff so that continuation may or may not happen at this point. I hope you all enjoyed it what's here, I'm so glad I got the chance to share this story with you.