So still not the sequel to A State of Mental Extremes, but it's something else I was working on. I'm not sure how long the sequel to aforementioned story will be, but it's looking to be long again.
In any case, this particular story is something different from what I usually do. I'm experimenting with a different writing style, so if it's weird that's why. I hope you enjoy. It's a wing!fic and I haven't seen many of these around in this fandom.
EDIT (02-17-13): I can scarcely believe it, but this story has been translated into Chinese by the lovely mjollmur! The link is on my profile because I can't put it in here.
The Winged Soul: It wasn't until he was three that he realized he was different and no one else could see the wings.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own The Avengers.
IF something is UNDERLINED, it's supposed to be a strike-through. The site won't let me do it, so I'm substituting an underline for an strike-through.
The Winged Soul
He'd always been able to see them. He thought it was normal, which was why he never asked his mother or father what it was like to fly or when his wings would finally be strong enough to lift his weight. If he had, his father would just tell him to figure it out for himself and his mother would simply smile vaguely and tell him it would come in time.
It wasn't until he was three and he reached out to touch his father's wings that he realized he was different. Instead of looking down at him and stretching his wings out to be more accommodating, his father shuddered and pulled back from his touch, wings shifting out of the reach of his small hands. Perplexed but not giving up, he reached out to touch his mother's, only to receive a similar shudder and resulting in her leaving the room.
Tony couldn't understand. Why didn't his parents want him to touch their wings?
When he asked why, he'd simply received bemused looks and small smiles, his parents commenting on his resourceful imagination. His mother's wings brushed up against his father's, feathers going through each other rather than rubbing the way Tony knew they should.
If he hadn't been a genius, Tony might have just marked it off as being a fluke. But since he was, he knew that he was different. After that moment, he began looking and observing, noting that he was the only one capable of seeing these wings. But he was still a toddler, meaning that he didn't exactly understand was going on even if he was a genius.
So he simply watched and paid attention, his own small wings rubbing against each other soothingly as he did his best to pretend that he was normal.
Howard Stark's wings were a stormy bluish-gray, tapering off to darker colors toward the tips. They spanned about eight feet at full extension, not that he'd ever actually fully extended them. The measurements had been taken by Tony when he was six and tracking his father's movements around the house. At that age he had already done research into birds and knew that an eight foot wingspan was nowhere large enough to be able to lift a man of Howard's stature.
Maria Stark's wings were a beautiful downy brown, interspersed with a few black feathers. Her wingspan was six feet and the structures looked extremely delicate. The feathers seemed so soft that Tony thought they would be like a pillow. Not that he could actually tell, considering that after the third time he'd tried to touch her wings and gotten another violent shudder in response he'd never tried again.
Tony's own wings were a beautiful and striking reddish-gold with snowy white tips. The rest of his wings was patterned with red and gold feathers to create a beautiful symmetry. His wings were still maturing, but they were far larger than any of the other children's wings he had seen. He'd yet to try and fly with them, since after the first time he crashed to the ground almost instantly (he'd been five and in retrospect he knew he should have waited longer).
As the years passed, Tony began to work out the rules of the wings only he could see. He could feel his wings and those of the ones he touched, but no one else could. They didn't even notice when their wings brushed through each others', which was quite the contrary for himself. When he touched someone, he could feel something of what they felt. The same happened when someone brushed against his own wings. It was a horrendous violating feeling that made him feel sick and understand just why neither his father nor his mother could stand having him try to touch their wings. It led to him holding his wings close to himself, making sure that they didn't brush against anything they shouldn't because even though everyone else's wings brushed through objects like they were mere shadows, his own wings were solid and could knock things over.
Or at least they were solid to him, because no one else could see them, even though they might brush against them and not realize what they had just touched because there was "nothing there". This solidity was a problem when he couldn't control how they moved, as he frequently knocked things over and got into trouble because of his "clumsiness". It led to him working hard on refining his motor control to the point that he didn't even have to think about shifting his wings out of someone's or something's way.
The fact that his wings were solid meant that he had to deal with clothes. When he was little it didn't seem to be much of a problem, but as he grew older it did. Anything that went over his upper body was a problem because of his wings. Logically, he knew that they weren't actually there, because he'd clearly worn clothes before without any slits cut into them. But his logical mathematical brain insisted that since he could feel them and use them, they were there and thus couldn't be covered with clothes unless he made holes for them (and that would raise questions, because who else cut holes in the backs of their shirts?).
It took several months and quite a great deal of pain before he figured out how to make it work. Although his wings' natural state seemed to be solid, he could make them temporarily intangible to go through clothes. Then it was simply a matter of ignoring the uncomfortable feeling of clothes going through his wings. It took him more time to figure out that his clothes had to be well-loved and something he enjoyed wearing before his wings could go through them painlessly. This was something of a problem as he was still growing and couldn't love clothes within five minutes of procuring them. So until he stopped growing, he resigned himself to being in some discomfort (or extreme discomfort) for a number of years.
Discomfort aside, having wings he could feel was amazing. When he was ten, Tony began teaching himself how to fly. It started with him climbing a tree and jumping. That led to him spraining an ankle when his wings failed to sufficiently brake his fall. It took him several months before he tried again, considerably more careful now that he knew what could go wrong. He did it under the cover of night, when no one else was liable to see him.
As the years passed, Tony found that his wings were larger than everybody else's, even when compared to adults bigger than his slender frame of six feet one inch after he finally stopped growing. This might have had something to do him constantly exercising the muscles and actually using them to fly, but he wasn't going to draw any conclusions without proper proof.
Devouring all the books on birds he could find, he soon became an expert capable enough of rivaling any ornithologist.
Perhaps what was most noticeable about the wings (other than the fact that people couldn't see them) was that while some people had wings that clearly belonged to a specific breed, others couldn't be so clearly defined. There were all sorts of colors as well. One woman he saw had wings that resembled a sparrow's, only they were a bright purple. His mother's wings were that of a sparrow's, but he couldn't find his father's breed in any book, only noting that they were that of a predator's. As for his own wings, they were powerfully built, but the unusual coloring had him at a loss for what kind of wings he carried.
But that was fine. He didn't need to know.
In any case, what was even more curious was how he could tell what people were feeling without touching their wings. It was all in the twitches of their feathers and how they moved the appendages. Growing older and wiser meant he became well versed in the art of reading how people felt simply by studying their wings. It was how he knew his mother was depressed even when her face was continuously stoic, because her soft wings would give the impression of drooping. It was how he knew that he should leave his father alone, because his wings would tighten and quiver with something resembling disappointment anger.
And Tony… Tony began working on stifling his own natural reactions. He hated that even when he could stop himself from flinching whenever his father snapped at him, his wings would betray him by jerking backwards as if trying to dodge a blow. It didn't matter that no one else could see them. What mattered was that he could and it vexed him to have such obvious tells (and what if someone else like him came along which was improbable, but not impossible?).
But when his parents died and he only had Obadiah with dirty gray wings and an eight foot wingspan to rely on and couldn't cry or scream in public (because what would the paparazzi say?) his wings would flutter and flex in grief and pain in a way that he couldn't express verbally because…damn it, he didn't even like Howard.
And it was the last time, he swore, staring with dry eyes at the caskets as they were lowered into the ground (empty, empty, because what could be recovered if a plane went down in the middle of an ocean and in an ironic twist of fate only the wings could be salvaged?). He wouldn't be so weak again.
Obadiah Stane's wings were the dirty grimy gray color of unwashed windows. They were simultaneously meticulously groomed and tattered at the edges, a paradox that Tony had never been able to understand. An eight foot wingspan and with powerful muscles, they curled around Tony whenever Obadiah held him close threateningly protectively. And then they were curling over him like a lover's arms when he ripped Tony's heart right out of his chest—
James Rhodes Rhodey had the powerful wings of a bald eagle. He was Tony's best friend and even when he pretended to be annoyed at Tony's antics he never was because his wings would quiver in amusement. His wingspan was nine feet and Tony didn't know why they were larger than Obadiah's or Howard's, but when Rhodey found him they enveloped Tony and he felt oh so safe.
Pepper Potts's wings were that of a Cuban Emerald hummingbird, so delicate that they looked like they would snap if Tony would throw a pencil at them. But he'd seen them quiver in fury and pure stubbornness when she stood her ground and knew that they were far stronger than they looked. They were petite, spanning only six feet. Much like herself, her wings were constantly in motion, never ceasing their fluttering. And Tony thought that he could love her, but she kept him at arm's length, flittering out of his reach every time he tried to touch her wings, because people meant for each other gained some of their partner's colors, he'd seen, and he wanted that.
Tony's wings were reddish-gold with white tips and spanned sixteen feet. And they remained tucked close to his body except when he was in private and never revealed his inner emotions because that was a tell and tells were dangerous a weakness.
"Goddamn it, Tony, don't do that!"
Establishing a reputation as a drunk playboy was difficult when one couldn't really get drunk or have sex. That said, Tony still managed because – hello – genius here! In any case, he had sex a grand total of three times (or tried to) and got drunk two times.
The first time he tried to have sex was at MIT with this cute girl she had blue jay wings that spanned six feet, and it was an epic failure. She ran her hands over his wings and he accidentally brushed his fingers through her feathers. The end result was both of them stopping because of nausea.
The second time Tony tried having sex was also the first time he was drunk. That was on purpose, because he thought that maybe being drunk would help. Unfortunately, being drunk meant that his fine motor control was shot to hell and led to him crashing into everything around him with his ridiculously large wings. It also didn't help one iota with the actual act of having sex, as the girl with vibrant pink wings that spanned six-point-five feet he made out with and was going to do the deed with was just as drunk. The moment their fingers brushed over each others' wings they were rushing to the bathroom to be violently sick.
The third time was basically a repeat of the second, as Tony thought that maybe it was a fluke. Sadly, it wasn't. He never saw the guy with wings like a hawk and a seven-point-two feet wingspan again after the incident.
In the end, that left Tony resigning himself to being miserable alone for the future. Anyone he brought home with him ended up sleeping in a guest bedroom and lying to their friends about the amazing sex because they thought they were the only one he hadn't had sex with. It just led to the whole thing snowballing and him getting a reputation of a sex god.
The only person who probably knew the truth was Pepper because she dealt with the women after the night. And he loved her for it because she never brought it up even though he was a miserable failure who would always be alone and no he wasn't emo what do you think?
It was in Afghanistan when Tony learned what happened to wings when people died. He'd just stumbled out of the vehicle when he saw the body of the young soldier who had wanted to take a picture with him. His wings which had been navy blue and seven feet wide were no longer there. It looked so wrong that Tony had to look away, unable to repress the flinch his wings gave.
Then he was hiding behind a rock and there was a bomb and he was hit. Pain flared across his wings, but that wasn't where the blast had centered. He was bleeding from his chest and the sun was so bright—
He woke up to blinding pain and nausea and fear what seemed like scant seconds later. Someone was digging into his chest, but that didn't seem as important as what was happening with his wings. People kept touching them, brushing through them, stumbling over them, and it was nightmarish because every time it happened he could feel a horrible jolt inside his being and it was like he was being violated.
It wasn't until someone pressed what felt like a wet rag to his nose that he unwillingly dropped into unconsciousness, right wing twitching feebly as someone stepped on it.
Yinsen's wings were an odd mixture of white and black, white feathers stretching out from his shoulders but darkening to black toward the tips. They were the average span of eight feet, but seemed special regardless because he treated Tony like he was normal and not a spoilt billionaire who'd gotten in over his head.
The wings of his captors were ill taken care of, tattered, and appeared to be in permanent stages of molting (not that the feathers were ever visible on the ground if they were molting). (Tony had never molted, but it just so happened that one time he'd taken out a stray feather and left it in his office. Never again, because when Pepper had picked it up in curiosity – why then? Because it was no longer attached to him? – he had felt so sick and violated even though he was in a completely different room that he had to excuse himself from his meeting to go throw up.)
Tony's wings were dark in the cave and he couldn't see how they looked without stretching them out and that would cause problems in the tight space filled with odds and ends. But they'd been unharmed in the bomb blast and that was all that mattered. His body was another matter, what with an arc reactor in his chest to stop him from prematurely croaking. Yet beggars couldn't be choosers and Tony wasn't dead so that was a disappointment achievement.
Three months trapped in a dark, dimly lit cave in the middle of Afghanistan left Tony restless and itching to get out and fly. As it was, he was unable to do so. Not only that, it was incredibly difficult to keep them out of the reach of his captors, meaning he was violated more than once and it was a violation because their feelings (souls?) were so hideous that he could scarcely stop himself from vomiting.
It made him all the more determined to get out because no one forced Tony Stark to do something he didn't want to do. He was a freaking genius and not going to be held captive by a bunch of idiots who couldn't even tell when he was building a suit and not the Jericho.
It was laughable.
The suit went on so easily over his wings that it was like he didn't even have anything over them. Was it because he'd made it personally?
Not that the question mattered, because Yinsen had gone and he needed to go after him.
But in the end he was helpless and watched the man die before his eyes, seeing his beautiful wings disappear as if they had never been.
It was with vindictiveness that he destroyed every single crate of his weapons before blasting out of there, wings finally unfurling as he was in the open air. The suit was too heavy for them to do much good; it was all he could do to stabilize his erratic flight and make sure he didn't just crash headfirst into the desert.
When he extracted himself from the remnants of his suit, he finally got a look at his wings for the first time since he'd been in the cave. They were no longer the gorgeous reddish-gold they had been for all his life. They were now as black as the night, so black that they gleamed when the light hit them just right. The only thing that had remained the same were the feathers at the tips: still as white as the freshly fallen snow.
Tony felt sick looking at them, no longer the familiar striking bold colors that had defined his personality. Now they were the distinctive colors of a raven, a bird associated with bad omens.
Closing his eyes, Tony curled into himself, hand pressed over his arc reactor. His newly colored black wings shielded him from the harsh rays of the hot sun and he knew that if he opened his eyes he would see their enormous shadows over his small figure like that of an avenging angel.
He had to get out of the desert. He had work to do.
The way the Mark I suit had fitted over his wings like it wasn't even there wasn't a fluke. It happened again with the Marks II and III, confirming his suspicion that if he made whatever he was wearing, it would fit over his wings with no problems. That led to him taking a crash course in making clothes, though that took a back seat to his designing of the suits because it was so much more important.
And with his experiences in Afghanistan, Tony suspected he knew what the wings were. It put a whole new meaning to Obadiah's wings and Pepper's frail yet strong wings, so like her personality that Tony admired and loved. It was why he wasn't that surprised when it turned out that Obadiah had filed an injunction against him and ordered a hit on him and stolen his heart, leaving him to die and when Pepper stayed by his side even though his behavior became increasingly erratic and she discovered what he was doing and she got the information as to what Obadiah was doing.
Then there was the fight against a poorly modified version of his suit with Obadiah in it and Tony found himself almost dying again.
It was when Tony met Agent Coulson of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) that he realized he wasn't the only person capable of seeing wings. Coulson never told him, but it was with the way the agent held his own wings a neutral cloudy gray and spanning only eight feet close to his body just like Tony that he knew. He also casually stepped around and over others' wings, smoothly shuffling to the side whenever one came too close to brushing against him.
All were mannerisms that Tony had adopted. But Coulson had one striking difference: his wings moved in accordance to his emotions. It was what told Tony that the man was annoyed regarding Tony's outing of his secret identity, even though his face was outwardly blank.
It was this and the way Coulson's wings were too small for him to fly that had Tony wonder if he really could see wings or if it was just wishful thinking on his part. Then Pepper made an offhanded comment as to why the agent had slits cut into his clothing on the back and Tony knew.
Agent Coulson's wings were a neutral cloudy gray, nothing like the horrible grimy looking gray of Obadiah's. It probably meant that he was neutral and open to ideas – not that Tony was a shrink. His wingspan was half that of Tony's, a disappointment considering that he could see wings and should be able to use his own just like Tony could.
Nick Fury's wings were that of a golden eagle's, a dark brown that matched well with his skin tone. They were powerfully built, but only nine feet wide. They were folded rather inconspicuously, much like Fury's own preference to remain hidden in the shadows, but fluttered in annoyance whenever Tony made a snarky comment. It was amusing to see his effect on the outwardly emotionless man, showing that he hadn't lost any of his charm.
Tony's wings were still as black as the night (and his armor was red and gold in remembrance), but growing stronger as he used them in accordance with his suits. He was particularly fond of taking headers off buildings only to end up soaring above everything else.
The drooping state of his wings was what alerted Tony to the palladium poisoning from his arc reactor. They began dropping feathers everywhere, they looked dull in the light, and just seemed very sorry for themselves indeed. The feathers were the worst problem, because he couldn't just leave them lying around. But he also couldn't find every single feather that was dropped, especially when he went out (which was awful, because people kept stepping on them), which led to him applying some sort of sticky substance that would prevent them from falling out until he hit the showers.
Then Fury had to come and practically place him under house arrest so he rediscovered vibranium. It wasn't too much of a surprise to find that Natalie Rushman was Natasha Romanov, as her vibrant red wings fading to brown at the tips alerted him to the fact that she wasn't normal. It was why he had gone behind Pepper's back to assign her as his PA so he could keep an eye on her.
Ivan Vanko's wings were a sea gull's. Appropriate considering that he was very fond of working on things that weren't his own. They were also tattered and ill taken care of, but Tony's own wings were a match for that so he couldn't say much. They were nine feet wide, but kept tucked close, as if the man wanted to hide his true persona.
Justin Hammer's wings were a sea gull's as well. His were meticulously groomed and constantly preening themselves. His wingspan was only seven feet, which made Tony ridiculously smug.
Natasha Romanov's wings were blood red. Then he noticed that they weren't just red. The tips faded from red to a light brown that provided a striking contrast. Her wingspan was seven feet, but unlike Hammer's constant preening she kept her wings subdued. They were also the only sign that she wasn't as emotionless as she tried to make herself out to be. It was also the sign Tony had that she wasn't really Natalie Rushman, because they never responded to the name the way they did when Fury called her Natasha.
Tony's wings were a dull black and constantly dropping feathers. It wasn't until after he found a new power source for the reactor that they returned to their hue of a deep black. When he looked at himself in a mirror after the entire fiasco was over, he realized that they were now streaked with faint lines of silver, not at all like the white feathers at the tips.
When he and Fury sat down to talk over the Avengers Initiative after he had mostly recovered from the palladium poisoning, Tony found himself blindsided by the assessment.
"Sociopathic?" He flicked his eyes up to meet Fury's impassive visage. "You…you're seriously calling me a sociopath?"
Fury raised his eyebrows. "It's a reliable assessment."
"From whom? A therapist who hasn't met me?"
"He's met you and has given me his assessment on your character." Fury's wings rustled slightly as he leaned back in his chair more comfortably. "Read on."
Wetting his lips, Tony looked back down at the file, seeing that Iron Man was recommended. It was only when Fury told him to look again when he realized what had just been pulled.
"Tony Stark not…not recommended? That – that doesn't make any sense. How can you approve me, but not approve me?"
There was no sign of discomfort from Fury at the accusation that he was profiling Tony into two personas: one that was accepted and one that wasn't. If it was possible, it made Tony dislike him even more.
"I am Iron Man. The suit and I are one."
And when Fury had the audacity to tell him that he would be kept on as a consultant, Tony felt like throwing the consolation offer back in his face, holding his wings stiff in restrained anger. It wasn't until two seconds later that he realized he could use this offer for his own ends.
And if he got a bit of revenge at the same time, well, he was only human.
He and Pepper weren't a couple, no matter what the tabloids said. They'd gotten very close to it, but the taboo against touching his wings had stopped them from taking their very close friendship to anything deeper. Pepper didn't know why Tony had an aversion to being touched on his back, but she accepted it. As of now, they were incredibly close friends, which would result in lots of gossip surrounding their possible romantic relationship.
It probably didn't help that they spent a lot of nights (evenings) together, especially after he handed over the reins of Stark Industries into her capable hands. Point – Agent Coulson entering Stark Tower one night after he finally installed the arc reactor powering it and finding both of them toasting to the success.
Yeah, nice and cozy and domestic. Not that Tony would know, of course.
The only thing that was out of the ordinary was the way Coulson's feathers were ruffling in agitation. Feathers were sticking out at odd angles and they were tensed, signs that something had gotten the agent riled up and worried.
Then Tony was handed a file on the Tesseract and told he was on the Avengers Initiative.
The first time Tony saw Loki he was instantly struck by the fact that the man had no wings. And he was clearly alive. It was utterly inexplicable for one moment until he remembered that this was a Norse god and it was quite possible that they didn't have wings. He was an asshole in any case.
Steve Rogers's (Captain America) wings spanned thirteen-point-eight feet and were pure white except for the tips, which were black. They were the largest wings Tony had seen on any person except for himself. They seemed rather droopy, almost as if the man was perpetually depressed.
When Tony saw Thor for the first time after the god had kidnapped Loki off the Quinjet, he realized that there had to be a different explanation for Loki not having wings. Because Thor had them – giant apparitions of electricity that crackled with energy. Then Tony realized that they weren't always there. The moment Thor calmed down, they disappeared so that he resembled his smaller brother. So there was a different explanation behind that.
Bruce Banner had no wings. It was something that made Tony blink in surprise until he remembered the footage he had seen of the Hulk's enormous green wings that spanned twenty feet. Evidently whatever mutation Bruce had gone through because of the gamma radiation resulted in only his Hulk form having wings. Since Bruce didn't have wings, it took Tony about ten minutes after he met him to realize that the man could also see them. It was only because of how he kept sidestepping everyone's wings when walking that let Tony know there was another person capable of seeing wings.
Maria Hill – Fury's second-in-command – had wings of a dark blue that faded to black toward the tips. They spanned six feet, but were coiled with hidden strength. They blended in with her subdued yet dangerous persona.
Tony's wings were still black and held close to himself in an effort not to knock into anything that would break. It was with great effort that he prevented them from twitching when in Rogers's presence. For some reason, they kept moving and Rogers was an asshole, but why did he like find it impossible to hate him?
Of course, everything went to hell after all the Avengers were brought into one room with Loki sitting in the cage that had originally been built for the Hulk. Or at least it did for Tony.
The first thing that went wrong happened when Tony walked behind Rogers's chair to introduce himself to Bruce. For some reason, his wings began to stretch out to Rogers's, which were also unfurling to meet his. He quickly pulled them back before they could brush, not looking over as that would be a tell and there was nothing to see.
The second thing to go wrong happened after he introduced himself, and from an unexpected source.
Thor had come right up to him, a broad grin plastered on his face. "Anthony Stark?"
Tony turned slightly in Thor's direction, noting that Bruce shifted slightly to stay out of reach of his wings (interesting). "Tony, actually. What can I do for you?"
"It is an honor to meet you, Anthony." Thor shook Tony's hand once very firmly. "All of Asgard knows of you."
Tony kept his face blank and stopped his wings from puffing up in anxiety. That wouldn't help at all. "That so?"
"You are a legend among my people—"
Tony cut him off, seeing Bruce's confused face out of the corner of his eye: "Tell me later?" He smiled charmingly. "We've got a meeting here."
"Of course," Thor said just as Fury arrived, wings sweeping behind him (making a grand entrance, though no one could see aside from Coulson and Tony).
It was after the meeting that Tony and Bruce went off to the tech room to find the Tesseract and the agents Loki had brainwashed.
Tony was setting up his own supplies as he asked, "So how long?"
"What?" He could see Bruce looking back at him in the glare of the screen.
"How long have you been able to see them?" Tony turned to face him. "The wings," he clarified.
Tony raised an eyebrow, unfurling one wing to reach toward Bruce. Before the feathers brushed against him, Bruce shuffled back, leaning against the table. "That wing."
"You can see them, too?"
"And so can Coulson, but he doesn't know I can." Tony drew his wing back, resettling it against his back.
"So then you can see"—Bruce's smile was self-deprecating—"what a freak I am. No wings, see?" He shrugged, spreading his hands slightly in demonstration.
"Not technically true." Tony wandered around to Bruce's back, playing with a small plastic bag. "The big guy's got them. 'Bout twenty feet long and really green. Blueberry?" He offered the snack.
Shrugging lightly, Tony pulled the packet back to himself, throwing back a couple of blueberries. "So how long?"
Bruce stared at him for a long moment. "After the other guy," he finally said. "That's when it started. You?"
"Always." Tony gave a mirthless smile. "Nice to know you're not crazy, huh?"
Bruce smiled tentatively, a bit more relaxed than Tony's own. "Yeah."
They got on like a house on fire after that (well, not really, since nothing was set on fire, though that would have been nice). It was all fine and good until Tony poked Bruce in the side with a little electrical stick and Rogers snapped at him to stop that, wings fluffing themselves.
Tony arched an eyebrow. "Here's a word for you, Cap: relax."
Wings ruffling angrily, Rogers's eyes narrowed. "Not everyone's like you."
Tony didn't flinch, focusing on keeping his wings from puffing up threateningly. "A genius?"
There was a flash of something through Rogers's eyes before he said, "Emotionless."
And ouch. For some inexplicable reason, that hurt. His wings quivered, rippling as the sharp spike of hurt lanced through him. It took more effort than Tony thought it would to get them back under control. Rogers's wings fluttered once in what might have been guilt, but didn't seem quite right for that.
Forcefully keeping his wings still, Tony gave as good as he got, resulting in Rogers leaving, wings held stiffly in what was clear determination.
That was when Bruce asked quietly, "Why do you keep them so still?"
Tony didn't have to ask to know he meant his wings. "How do you know I'm really not just a sociopath?" Because that was what Rogers had meant with "emotionless" and his wing tips ached with something he couldn't identify.
"I know you're not." Bruce's voice was steady without a hint of uncertainty.
Tony spent a long moment scrutinizing him for any hint of a lie and, finding none, turned to his work. Eventually, still feeling Bruce staring at his back, he said, "Everything's a tell, haven't you noticed? The less you show, the less you can be manipulated." He shot Bruce a mirthless smile over his shoulder. "You're lucky in that aspect: nothing to show."
There was a short moment of silence as Bruce returned to his own work. "No," he finally murmured. "I'm really not."
Tony said nothing, fingers flying over the screen as JARVIS worked in the background on breaking into S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Vultures, the lot of them! Show the slightest weakness and they pounce on it!"
When Fury showed up later with Coulson in tow to ream him over for breaking into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mainframe, Tony was mildly surprised (putting it lightly) when Rogers also showed up mere moments later, touting a weapon from his illicit search. Then Romanov and Thor popped into the room, the former intent on getting Bruce somewhere else.
The argument over Fury's motives was already sparking tempers in the first few minutes, though Tony couldn't figure out why his wings wouldn't stop twitching in aggravation. He managed to calm them down until everyone started arguing at once and he was in the middle of a snipe fest with Rogers, the other's wings fluttering back and forth like he was about to attack.
No matter what he did, his wings were quivering with restrained anger. He was unable to determine why because he was better than this and could hide his tells.
Then Coulson cut into the argument, his voice firm and his wings unfurling with a snap, looming threateningly (it would've been more threatening if they hadn't simply been eight feet wide). "That's enough." For some reason, his eyes were on Tony.
"Why are you looking at me?" Tony asked, raising an eyebrow. His wings twitched upward in response to Coulson's threatening stance and he forced them back down. "I didn't start this."
"Everyone calm down," Coulson said, eyes not leaving Tony. His wings were puffing up in that way that meant he was gearing up for a fight which didn't make any sense and suddenly Tony got it.
"Oh wow." Tony folded his arms, leaning back on his heels. "So you were the one who gave the assessment of my character? Tell me, Agent, what was it that made you decide I'm a sociopath?"
"You play the game well, Stark." Coulson had that mild smile on his face even as his wings were fully unfurled and he stepped forward, wing angling slightly to cover Fury, Thor, and Romanov behind him. "But there are some things that can't be hidden."
And his eyes went to Tony's black wings, which were largely still except for some twitching at the tips which seemed to be angling toward Rogers. That small movement was all that it took for Tony to straighten, drawing his wings into himself when instinct demanded he show Coulson just what he was dealing with.
"Maybe not lucky after all," Bruce said softly, garnering a quick glance from Tony before his eyes went back to Coulson.
"What is a sociopath?" Thor asked, stepping around Romanov and incidentally coming closer to Tony.
"Someone who feels no emotion," Coulson said, not looking over. "But they are very good at faking it."
"Then I do not understand. How is Anthony a sociopath?"
Tony started, "You might want to stay out of this—"
"I have skills," Coulson interrupted, finally looking over at Thor. "That's how I know."
And this Tony needed to hear. "What skills? Because tell me: are you an agent or a psychologist? The line's getting kind of blurred here with all the diagnoses going around. What's Rogers over here then?" He jerked his head in the captain's direction. "Chronically depressed with a healthy side dose of anger? Or Romanov? Because I don't see her getting the stink eye from you."
"Coulson—" Fury started.
"It's all right, Director." Coulson folded his arms, wings retracting slightly with the motion although they were still protectively spread in front of Fury. "You don't react, Stark. You make the motions, but no one's home. There are signs even the best actors can't hide." He looked askance at Romanov.
"If you don't trust me," Tony said, "why the hell am I here? Why are you even listening to him?" he asked Fury. "This is a guy that likes cutting slits into the back of his clothing."
"I do that," Rogers said.
Tony couldn't help it: he blinked and squinted at Rogers, craning backwards to get a glimpse at his back. It did absolutely nothing given the eyeful of white feathers that was blocking his line of sight.
"I wasn't expecting that," Bruce said, shifting to lean back against the table where the scepter was lying.
"You didn't see that." Coulson's voice was sharp. "Why not?"
"A misassumption?" Tony suggested, turning away from Rogers. His wing tips ached and shivered. "It's not part of the uniform? I thought, given the wings on the cowl—"
"That's a coincidence," Rogers said evenly, squaring his shoulders. "It's more comfortable this way."
This was priceless. Tony, Coulson, Bruce, and now Rogers? He thought Thor might also be able to see them given how he was politely staying out of range of Romanov's wings, but that was more of a guess.
He was about to say something to the effect of Rogers's mental stability when Thor cut in. "Anthony has my aid if he wishes it. It would not be wise to antagonize him."
"You don't even know him," Fury said, turning to the god.
"All of Asgard knows of Anthony," Thor said, staring down the director. Faint trails of lightning were beginning to jolt out from his back. "He is a legend among my people."
"A legend?" Fury sounded disbelieving.
"Thor—" Tony stepped over to him.
"The only human capable of seeing and using his soul's wings in millennia and you wish to martyr him?" Thor's voice was condescending. "I had not thought that you humans valued your treasures so little."
"That's touching, really," Tony said hastily, aware of all the eyes on him, "but there's nothing special—"
"You should not cast aside your accomplishments, Anthony," Thor reprimanded him.
"I'm a narcissist and a sociopath." His tone was sarcastic on the last word.
"Really?" Coulson stepped toward him, wings flaring.
And this time Tony couldn't stop himself. Coulson stepping threateningly toward him was all it took for his own wings to fully unfurl with a loud (to him) fwap, releasing a small gust that brushed past the others' clothes. His sixteen foot wingspan barely fit inside the room, tips brushing against the walls.
Coulson inadvertently took a couple steps back, wings curling back submissively. Tony realized belatedly that this was the first time he'd fully unfurled his wings when in the presence of someone else who was able to see them and that he hadn't even meant to do so.
Tightening his jaw, he drew his wings back to himself with a snap, pushing a gust of air around the room. "Damn it."
"What the hell is going on here?" Fury demanded, eye flicking back and forth between Coulson and Tony, who had turned to stare out the window.
"How long have you been able to see them?" Coulson asked, indirectly answering Fury's question.
Half-turning, Tony gave him an unimpressed look. "From birth. What do you think? And you let him know about your ability?" He pointed at Fury. "I don't know whether to admire your guts or call you stupid."
"Agent Coulson's ability has been an immeasurable help to us," Fury said sharply.
"If he gets it right." Tony raised his eyebrows, spreading his hands as he did. "Which he didn't." He rolled his shoulders, letting his wings move freely with the motion. Rogers's eyes followed the movement, his own wings mimicking it.
"So you're not a sociopath?" It was amazing how Fury was able to ask that with a straight face.
Tony gave him a look that very clearly read "What do you think?" to everyone in the room.
"Then why?" Coulson was frowning.
Tony sighed, turning fully around in time to see Rogers pull his wings back from where he'd been stretching out to touch Tony's. "Don't, Rogers. Touching other people's wings never ends well." To Coulson: "Single out the best poker player in the room. It's not going to be the one who wears his heart on his sleeve."
"And that's bad?" Rogers asked, wings ruffling in anger but it looked like preening (why?).
Tony looked him in the eye, keeping his wings as still as possible even if they wanted to preen themselves, too. "You tell me."
There was beeping from the tracker, cutting off whatever Rogers would have said. Bruce walked over, sidestepping Fury's bristling wings and Coulson's half-spread ones without hesitating.
"Oh my God." He looked up at Tony, eyes wide.
Then there was an explosion and everyone was knocked away. Glass shattered, but all Tony was aware of was being knocked to the ground and something else enveloping him protectively. It brushed against his skin, making him shiver with the sheer love protectiveness washing through him.
And then it was brushing against his wings and he couldn't stop the full-body shudder from wracking his frame as the emotions were amplified.
He scrambled to get away, unable to deal with the influx of emotions that didn't seem to violate him, but rather just sink beneath his skin as if they belonged. By the time he rolled over to his back, hands Rogers's were on his waist and helping him to his feet.
"Get the suit," Rogers urged, face flushed and pupils dilated. His wings were fluttering excitedly.
"Yeah." Tony stumbled out, wings tucked close to his side, trying to stay ahead so Rogers wouldn't touch him again.
It felt so right strange and Tony knew didn't know what was going on.
The tips of his wings tingled.
When the disaster on the Helicarrier was all over and done and Fury had informed them as to Coulson's passing, Tony retreated to the scene of the crime. He found himself staring at the blood stain on the wall for a long moment before he managed to pull himself away to look at where Loki had previously been caged.
His wing tips tingled as Rogers joined him, asking if Coulson had had someone special. And that reminded Tony about his (and Coulson's) inability to be intimate with anyone because of their wings. Always alone but was that so bad? It avoided nasty emotional tangles and no one would ever tear out his heart again.
He didn't understand why Rogers even had to ask; he could see wings, too. But he was committing errors by trying to touch Tony's wings and embracing him protectively, which made no sense because he should know.
But that didn't matter at the moment. What mattered was Loki and what he did. Anything else was secondary even if his wing tips kept tingling. Tony knew Loki's type. He was a bit of a diva himself and knew what they craved. And that meant – son of a bitch!
Clint Barton's wings were that of a red-tailed hawk. They spanned seven-point-six feet and faded to the same blood red feathers identical to Romanov's plumage. Similarly, the brown of his feathers matched the brown of her wings. When Tony saw them together, their wings always stretched out to each other, rubbing against each other with easy familiarity. He wanted that.
He didn't see Loki's wings until he was defenestrated by the god (who mocked him for his ability before trying to brainwash him). Then it was a mere glimpse of blue wings made out of ice that froze the very air around them before he was hurtling downward. It didn't seem very practical to have wings made out of ice, but Thor's were lightning so Tony didn't think gods used them for flying.
The Chitauri didn't seem to have wings at first glance. Then he saw what looked like the remnants of wings. They were mere bones jutting out of their armored backs and looked so wrong and the sight made him want to vomit.
Tony's wings were beating powerfully, lifting him up out of the fatal plunge in time for his suit to assemble around him. And then he was fighting, flying through the air with all the freedom of a bird. And there was no air and he couldn't fly.
Space was beautiful. He'd thought that one day he would be able to see it, but never in this way. You know that's a one-way trip. He could feel gravity tugging on him from the portal and couldn't fly because there was no air. But it was all right. He'd done what he was supposed to do and had succeeded.
It was all right to die let go.
It was a pervading jolt through his being that caused him to jerk awake, chest aching with an unnamable feeling. His eyes flew open and for a moment all he could see was white.
Then he realized it was tickling him and that it was feathers brushing him and that someone was leaning over him. The pure white of the feathers identified the person as Rogers and even if that hadn't been the case Tony would have known for the feeling of love protectiveness and despair enveloping him. His own wings were twitching slightly, spread out against the rubble-strewn ground of New York, and brushing against Rogers's. Rather than repulsing Tony like usual, he ached to bring them closer so that the two of them were shielded from the world, protected by black on white like two sides of a coin, possessing the other's missing puzzle piece.
As he jerked awake, though, Rogers drew away, looking down at his face in relief. "Tony."
"Tony." Not "Stark," but "Tony." He'd only called him Tony once before.
"Please tell me no one kissed me," Tony said, seeing Thor and the Hulk also standing around him past the white feathers of Rogers's Steve's wings.
The joke lightened the mood, but it was what Tony had wanted. Rogers drew back, his wings simply shifting along Tony's, sending shivers wracking through his frame, unnoticeable due to his suit. The feeling was warmth and belonging.
It wasn't the time to bring up the social faux pas of Rogers, given that Loki was still in his tower. (It made him internally crack up to see the dent made in his floor – though Pepper would probably tear her hair out in frustration.) So they took him into custody and that was that.
He couldn't stop his wings from trembling and twitching toward Rogers and he yearned for that warm feeling.
Before Thor left for Asgard with Loki, he drew Tony aside to a corner of the Helicarrier where they had sequestered Loki (again).
"Before I leave for Asgard," Thor said, looking down at Tony, "I wished to tell you what this ability of yours means."
"I see wings."
"Yes." Thor smiled kindly. "They are the representation of your souls. Every person on my world is capable of manifesting and hiding our souls at will. Humans have lost this ability, but there are a rare few who are able to see. You are singular, Anthony. No other human in millennia has been capable of using his soul's wings to fly. Steven, the son of Coul, and the good doctor all possess this ability, but they simply see."
Tony pursed his lips, looking down at his shoes for a brief moment. "Honestly? I wish it wasn't me. I… It's given me a lot of trouble. Despite what the tabloids say, I can't even have sex."
Thor looked momentarily bemused at the mention of tabloids, but let it slide. "It was once that every human could see their wings. This ability has been lost to time. But when it was still known, they used it to find their soul's match." He smiled, reaching forward to clasp Tony on the shoulder. "You have found him, Anthony."
Thor's hand came up to squeeze the junction where Tony's neck met his shoulder, which felt a bit too intimate for Tony's taste, but hey… "I wish you the best of luck, Anthony. Asgard is watching over you."
Despite Thor's best intentions, that sounded way too creepy for Tony's taste. Seriously, he had a bunch of gods spying on his every move?
Legend or not, a guy needed some privacy.
It was a night after Thor left when Rogers showed up in the tower, JARVIS having let him in. Tony was by himself, putting together the plans for the reparations of the tower. He was dressed in an old wife beater and torn grimy jeans; for a change, his wings were relaxed and sprawled out since there was no one to see him.
When Rogers entered the penthouse without JARVIS (traitor) announcing him, Tony simply had a tingly feeling at the tips of his wings alert him to his arrival. He looked up from the holograms he was manipulating, seeing the super soldier approach him, wings brushing each other nervously.
"Can – can we talk?" Rogers asked, stopping at the end of the table Tony was sitting by.
Tony skimmed over the other's nervous body language and the way his wings were reaching out for Tony's, which were reaching back. He jerked them back, pulling them close to his body. "Sure." He looked back at the hologram, collapsing the tower to give a 2-D representation of it on the tabletop. Looking back up, he said, "Let's start with the way you keep touching other people's wings."
Rogers flushed slightly. "It's just yours."
Tony frowned. "Yeah, you don't do that. You should know that."
"I couldn't always see them." Rogers's gaze skittered away to the glowing 2-D image on the table. "It was after…after I woke up that I saw them. I didn't know – I thought I was going crazy until Phil told me he could see them, too."
Tony said nothing about the use of Coulson's name. "Then he should have told you about what to do."
Rogers's blue eyes met his. "They used to be red and gold."
Tony's heart skipped a beat. "What?"
A white wing tipped with black stretched out to Tony. "Phil told me that there were red and gold feathers in the ice with me, but they were black when I woke. I thought it was because I was grieving. Then I saw you." His gaze flickered to the white feathers on Tony's wings. "In the earlier pictures I saw of you, your wings were red and gold before they changed to black."
"You have found him, Anthony."
Mouth dry, Tony was half-standing, hands on the tabletop. His wing tips were aching with something he couldn't identify and yearning to stretch out and make contact with Rogers's, which was still stretched out to him. He didn't want to be unloved alone anymore. And he could touch Rogers and it was so warm and he yearned for it, but he was scared.
Pushing away from the table, he reached out to R-Steve with trembling hands, meeting him halfway and pulling him forward via his old-fashioned brown jacket. Their lips met halfway and he spent one paralyzing moment wondering what to do with his hands, only to melt into the other's sturdy frame as Steve's hands came round to his back, sinking into his feathers.
Moving his own hands around to Steve's back to bury them in downy plumage, he was suddenly filled with a feedback loop of heady warmth and a feeling of home love that he never wanted to let go of.
But he did, pulling away far enough to murmur, "My soul's black." Because wings were the representation of the soul and his were as black as the ill-omened raven.
Steve's grip on his back tightened, pulling him closer. "It isn't. If you look at them right, they're the most beautiful blue I've ever seen."
Turning his head slightly, Tony looked. Within the span of a second, he saw a flash of deep midnight blue as the light hit his feathers. Looking back at Steve, he was met with warm blue eyes and was drawn into a deep spine-tingling kiss, warmth kindling in the middle of his chest as hands stroked through his feathers.
He didn't know what he was doing. His experience with intimacy was limited to three attempts years ago in college – two of which he could barely remember due to alcohol. But Steve didn't seem to care, pressing him up against the table and making a crazy light show for several seconds until Tony's groping hand turned it off (or maybe it was JARVIS being tactful).
Fingernails scraped through his feathers and the bolt of warmth it elicited had him groaning into Steve's mouth, curling his own fingers through the other's feathers, enjoying the shivers that resulted.
Steve pulled back, pupils blown and breathing heavily. "Do you have a bed?"
It took a moment to gather his scrambled thought processes and his wings were sparking with sensation. "Yeah. Back there – oof!" Steve had picked him up and was kissing him again, walking steadily backwards.
Tony pulled back long enough to see that they were approaching the steps. Rather than telling Steve, he pushed forward, giving a powerful beat of his wings to lift them up long enough to make it over. Thank goodness for training with the suit, otherwise he wouldn't have had the muscle strength to make it.
But Steve wasn't kissing him, instead looking at him in astonishment. "What was that?"
Tony grinned breathlessly. "Didn't I tell you? I can fly."
Giving a short laugh that was more air than sound, Steve kissed him once more before turning his attention to making it to the bedroom without crashing into anything. When they finally arrived, Tony was deposited on the bed directly before Steve crawled over him, draping his wings over him protectively lovingly.
They went back to kisses – deep and slow and sloppy – for the longest time, sending tendrils of warmth shooting through Tony and making him shiver with every pass of their wings. Then a hand slipped up his shirt, tracing over stomach muscles and it was such a novel sensation that he couldn't help but shudder.
The wife beater came off first before Tony took off Steve's jacket and shirt. A passing glance showed that there were indeed slits cut into the back, but then his attention was occupied by an open-mouthed kiss pressed against his shoulder.
"You don't have anything cut into your shirt," Steve murmured against his skin.
"Don't need it." Tony turned them around so he was on top, black wings covering every inch and more of Steve's smaller wings. "Doesn't bother me if I make the clothes myself or if I've worn them long enough."
"Mmm." Steve shut him up nicely.
It was long moments later after their pants had also been shimmied off when Tony realized he was crying. Ashamed, he pressed his face into the crook of Steve's neck, overwhelmed with warmth, love, and the feeling of finally belonging.
Steve noticed. "What's wrong?" His voice was hushed.
"Nothing. Just…being an idiot."
There was a pause. Then Tony was pulled into a tight embrace, Steve curling around him and shielding them both with white feathers. "You're not alone anymore."
And he wasn't.
Their wings melted into each other and there was nothing but warmth.
Hours later, they were still wrapped up in each other and under the covers. Their wings were tangled together, white and black intermingling and so intertwined that it was impossible to pick out where one began and the other ended. Even Tony couldn't tell, so closely merged with Steve.
But it didn't matter.
Steve was sleeping, face pressed against Tony's black hair and breath soft and even. There was nothing but warmth and peace coming from him and lulling Tony to sleep.
He brushed his wing against Steve's, closing his eyes against the rush of feeling.
There was nothing but warmth and love, and Tony was finally home.
What did you think? In case you were wondering, the bold was one of the levels of Tony's mind. I've already established in my other universe that he thinks on parallel levels. The bold is my way of expressing what's happening on one of those levels. I hope that came across properly.
Let me know what you thought! I hope you enjoyed it.
Stats: Word Count: 9,822; Pages: 24