Having Everything yet Nothing
As Tony stormed out of the room, Natasha awaited for the folder to be picked up and the subsequent implosion. She tensed automatically as Steve frowned, looking confused, and pulled the folder closer so he could read it. Clint nudged his chair towards Steve so he could read the documentation over his shoulder. Bruce stayed a polite distance away but Natasha saw him adjust his glasses and squint slightly. She watched them all stonily.
On one hand, they should have been told of Tony's mutation despite its dormancy at the very beginning. It was clear that Fury had kept the file as some form of insurance against Tony. On the other hand, with his past it was no surprise that Tony preferred to keep his ability a secret and with his status as a wild-card, it was understandable that the Director wished to have some form of control over him. But what was done was done, and there was no point in worrying over whether or not it should have happened. It was a question of how the others would react now. Realistically, Natasha knew that none of them were likely to react badly, but that couldn't offset the protective instincts Tony had awakened within her. She felt inexplicably like an older sister taking care of her adorable, hapless younger sibling despite the fact that Tony was as far from adorable as it was possible to be and he was a good seven years her senior.
As Steve read through the first page, Natasha catalogued the deepening of his scowl and the divot between his furrowed brows. She knew it was Steve's opinion that would matter to Tony the most besides perhaps Bruce; he greatly respected and liked their captain, even if he refused to acknowledge it.
Clint was scanning the papers, a completely dumbfounded look gracing his face. It was surprisingly endearing. Natasha could practically hear the gears clicking in his head as his assumptions realigned, moving things around for this new perspective of Tony Stark. His face slowly began to harden in anger and she figured they had started to read the mission reports.
Bruce had always been hard for Natasha to read due to his practice in controlling himself, but she knew enough to know the hard, angry-sad steel behind his eyes was not a good sign for anyone who got in his way any time soon.
Steve looked like he might be sick. Natasha imagined that all of this information would be a radical world shift for him. Howard Stark had been a good friend of his during the war and he'd overlooked Tony as a simple rich, spoiled brat too many times to count. Natasha hoped knowing this would finally allow the whole team to look past Tony's defenses and see the man he really was. God knows she hadn't been able to stand him until they'd been stuck in the same cell by Richardson's men.
About halfway through the folder, Steve finally shoved his chair back. His open face was portraying a complicated mixture of emotions that even Tony might not be able to untangle and examine properly. Disgust. Horror. Sadness. Anger. Disappointment. It wasn't hard for Natasha to guess that he was headed off to the gym to take out his frustration on a couple of Kevlar-reinforced punching bags on the gym deck.
Clint took this as his cue to stop reading as well. He slapped the folder shut, pulled one of the arrows out of his quiver and began to gnaw at it, an old nervous tic that only appeared when he was particularly tense. Bruce looked twitchy and wary. It was understandable and predictable that he'd be uncomfortable with the idea of an empath on the team, no matter how much he trusted them.
"Tony is a very private person. I trust you both to understand that he is the same man he was when we first fought together. A good man," Natasha said as she got to her feet and made her way to the jet deck. There was nothing else she could say here, and Tony needed her support right now.
When she hopped down the stairs from the landing pad to Tony's penthouse, Natasha found him nursing a cold glass of whiskey. She poured herself one of the same and sat down next to him. Nothing was said, but they took comfort in each other's presence. Natasha could only hope it would be enough for him to weather the storm she knew was coming.
It took a week for her to get fed up with them. Watching Thor (recently returned from Asgard), Clint, Bruce, and Steve tiptoe around Tony who did his best to hide from the whole lot of them was unbearable. They were morons, all five of them. Men.
She sprung her trap on Steve while he was distracted by making breakfast. Skulking into the kitchen, Natasha waited until he turned his back to lean against the counter behind where he was mixing up a bowl of muffin batter. "So," she started suddenly, and waited for his reaction.
Steve immediately jumped and twisted around to face her. He relaxed once he realized who she was and graced her with a sheepish smile. "Sorry Natasha, you surprised me. Do you need something?"
Natasha cut to the chase. "You need to talk to Tony. He's certainly not going to come up here and do it himself, so you have to corner him in his lab. Tell him it's all okay. Apologize. Start over and start out on the right foot this time." It wasn't a list of suggestions but orders.
Steve stared at her steadily, carefully masking whatever he was thinking. He could be surprisingly unreadable when he wanted to. Natasha didn't back down and crooked an eyebrow as she waited for a response.
"I…yeah," he sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "I'll talk to him."
She didn't move.
Natasha acknowledged him with a sharp nod and prepared to wait for the results of their conversation. Eleven hours later, Tony finally surfaced from his man-cave to fix himself something to eat. The rest of the team ended up joining him for an early dinner. His cautiousness melted away quickly when the rest of the team made a sincere effort to treat him no differently or better then they had before. The indefinable tension that had Tony constantly at odds with Steve had also lessened considerably, which had a rather pleasant side effect of making everyone else less tense. The atmosphere was open and cheerful as if the airing of Tony's dirty laundry had been a catalyst for the relaxation of everyone's barriers. Despite Tony's relative quiet, it was comfortable. It felt disgustingly like coming home or something equally sappy.
Judging by Tony's amused gaze, he knew exactly what she was feeling. Natasha responded with an exasperated glare. He only laughed.
She couldn't bring herself to get all that mad. She could get used to this domestic calm, really. It was surprisingly nice.
The next few months were ridiculously free of evil megalomaniacs trying to take over the world. Normally such tranquility after a long period of relative activity would have sent Tony spiraling downwards into destructive boredom and irritation. However, the details of founding SHOC were taking up all his spare time. (Sleep? What was sleep?) Something like SHOC required an almost obscene amount of effort to get off the ground. Funding, membership, training, placement, command positions…the list went on and on and on. What it added up to, really was a whole lot of paperwork for Tony. He thought he'd left this shit behind when he made Pepper CEO of Stark Industries. Apparently not. It was like the damned stuff was haunting him.
And then there was Richardson. Nobody had heard from him since the Avenger-X-Men raid on one of his bases, and that was what was worrying Tony. Richardson was unpredictable at best (a side-effect of being somewhat mentally unhinged, he was pretty certain) and without accurate, up-to-date information, it was proving impossible to predict his plans and movements. With a virtual army of rogue mutants at his disposal, that was a very Bad Thing. He'd gone so far underground that nobody from SHIELD could find him. Admittedly, Richardson probably knew all of their methods, which didn't really help. There were too many was to avoid facial and gait recognition even without going into high-tech solutions. Finding someone with Richardson's resources was a lot harder than simply following them.
Within the Avengers themselves, things were more relaxed then a sunbathing housecat. Clint's furious jealousy had faded away down to almost nothing. Thor was cheerful and loud as ever and he made an effort to convince Tony to play the Wii with him. Bruce was still quiet, but he puttered around Tony's lab more often than he had before. Being around Steve was just easier than it had been before with all the things that had been left unsaid between them now out in the open. Steve knew why he had authority and daddy issues by the boatload and as a result was no longer bumbling through a minefield blind but navigating it wisely. For his part, Tony was doing his best not to bait Cap – or any of the other Avengers, for that matter. But mostly Cap. He had no wish to overturn this newfound fragile peace.
The words on his tablet screen were starting to blur in front of his eyes. Tony groaned and rubbed at his temples. He could feel his earlier migraine preparing to return with vengeance.
"Captain Rogers would like you to know he has dinner ready," JARVIS announced.
Oh thank God. Tony would take just about an excuse for a break at this point and Steve's all-American junk food was heavenly. Tony's mouth almost watered as he remembered the milkshakes from last week.
By the time Tony reached the communal kitchen, everyone except for Nat was either eating or in the process of heaping their plates with food. Everyone looked dead on their feet; they were all exhausted from their personal projects for SHOC. Bruce had the utterly delightful job of creating charts and data sets on mutant medical treatment for SHIELD's med team, which would be working with SHOC until they had enough doctors that met their memebership requirements. Thor was partnered with his astrophysicist girlfriend to create a stable method of traveling to and from Asgard. Steve was negotiating recruitment with a superhuman teenage duo – they couldn't have been more then seventeen in the pictures Tony had seen – called Cloak and Dagger. Clint was splitting his time between scouting out possible superhumans and observing whether they were friendly or decidedly not. Nat was acting as a go-between for all the major groups within SHOC, currently the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Avengers.
Tony had already inhaled his hamburger and mashed potatoes and was now poking half-heartedly at his oversized portion of steamed broccoli. Broccoli was evil. The whole species had a masterplan to take over the world by turning humans into mindless health nuts one bite at a time. JARVIS even had a file on it, so it must be true. JARVIS never lied.
Nat chose that moment to waltz (now there was a word Tony had never thought would describe her) into the room, looking rather smugly pleased with herself. Thor looked up and beamed whole-heartedly at her. "What is it you mortals say? The feline that feasted upon the songbird?" he said. Loudly, of course, but it was Thor, so the volume was kind of implied.
Clint snorted around his mouthful of potatoes and corrected, "The cat that got the canary, big guy."
There was no deny that Nat was amused about something. "What's got you in such a good mood?" asked Tony. If he remembered correctly, Nat had been helping the X-Men compile information on Magneto and the rest of the Brotherhood today, which couldn't have been a pleasant or easy task given the number of people involved and their emotional involvement with the subject.
Nat shrugged lightly before settling down with her food next to Clint and directly across from Tony. "It would seem that metal skeletons amplify the effects of the Widow's Bites," she said in a devil-may-care tone that was slightly disturbing coming from Nat. Which was understandable as the things that made her feel so carefree and relaxed tended to fall along the lines of torturing her mortal enemies. (Or origami, but she would never admit it and Tony wasn't stupid enough to tell anyone.)
It took him a moment to figure out what she meant by that, but when he did he agreed heartily with her mirth. "Logan is a dick," Tony agreed, and half-smirked.
"Understatement," Nat muttered into her food. "Misogynistic bastard. Even you were never that bad."
Tony…okay, yeah, he pouted. He was a man-child and everyone had long ago given up and denying that. "I take offense to that. At least I'm not hairy."
Nat rolled her eyes at him. "Eat your damned vegetables, Stark." She emphasized her words by jabbing her fork in his direction.
Fuck maturity. Tony stuck his tongue out at her. "Yes, Mom."
Even Steve, stick-in-the-mud that he tended to be, found their banter at least a little funny. Steve smiled at everyone before launching into a narrative about Cloak and Dagger. Tony half-listened to the conversation around him, allowing the emotions and words of his teammates (friends) to encompass him.
And somewhere in the back of his mind, he dared to think, home.