Chapter 11: Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Battle Strategy
Tony has to say, if not for the parts of it still on fire, Puente Antiguo would not be very interesting.
"No! Shoo! Get out! I found it first. This is mine. Fly away, engineer."
Well, to be fair, it also has a small astrophysicist trying to bat at the armor with a ... box of Pop-Tarts? "Um? Hello?"
"No, no, no. I said goodbye. This is not a Beatles song. I'm telling you to leave. Shoo! Scram."
"Yes, I understand that. I'm just a little confused on the execution. What are the vile pastries supposed to accomplish?"
She stops at that and glares at the box. "It's empty."
"Oh." Because, really, what else is he supposed to say?
She stares at the apparently empty box of Pop-Tarts for an awkward minute. Her hair droops forlornly. "My intern stole my coffee, and she won't get me any more Pop-Tarts."
And apparently Darcy has become evil.
"I don't even like Pop-Tarts," Dr. Foster complains. "It's just that they're convenient and provide sugar highs."
"Understandable." He nods. Things have been ingested that he regrets, like hard-core regrets. Like that time he kept drinking the mold. That was awful. "Especially in the absence of coffee."
"You need to leave," she orders, brandishing the box again.
"You've got a one-track mind, don't you?"
"Seriously, Stark. Get out. I don't know what you want, but I had my research stolen once this week already, and I will not stand for that shit again."
"Whoa. Not here to steal. Here to acquire. Here to fund. Here to help."
She squints at the face-plate. Yeah, he's not lowering that until she puts the box down. His bruises have bruises. Becoming a superhero at his age was not his best idea ever.
"I'll have complete autonomy?"
"I'll even fend off SHIELD if you want." Lies, horrible, horrible lies. He might have his legal team fend them off. But he's probably going to make Pepper do it.
He would shrug. He really would, but the armor isn't made to do that easily. "Look, Doc, one of my talents other than actually doing ridiculous feats of engineering, having no shame, and being full of arrogance, is that I can recognize talent. I can recognize things that will be useful. And I will do a lot to acquire and keep those things. And I do even more to keep the people. So, name your price."
"Fine." She sags a little like she'd been trying to keep the bottom from falling out. She even sets down that stupid box. "You'll have a position for my intern, too. I'm sure you've apprised yourself of all that happened here."
"Of course." Well, he had after Coulson told him there was an alien artifact that fell in Puente Antiguo.
"She's smart," she says. And Tony's confused because she's defending Darcy. She leaning forward and getting into the armor's space. Not exactly the best idea, but he likes it because she's fighting to keep Darcy.
He smiles. "Jay, release armor locks." And he steps out of the whirring armor to offer her a placating hand.
She takes a step back and narrows her eyes. "Mr. Stark."
"What part of your contract are we discussing first? Sounds like we're discussing Ms. Lewis first." Because, yeah, he has to play this game still. Although Darce probably wouldn't mind if her boss knew the truth.
"She's integral to my work."
"Really? Because a second ago you were complaining that she cut off your supplies."
"No. She's important."
"Her background is in poly-sci."
Well, that's one way of putting it. Bafflingly, that way of putting it also comes with bonus hugging of the damn Pop-Tart box to her chest. Tony decides to ignore that in favor of further banter.
"Oh really? Does she know that?"
"She wants to help me find Thor."
He almost wishes he had a chair and a whip to fend her off with. Well, the suit should impede her if she goes completely feral.
"Your super hot alien god boyfriend? Why wouldn't she? He might not know that for the majority of the mortal population, monogamy is a thing. Like one of the biggest things."
"Darcy thinks he's crazy."
"I've looked into Ms. Lewis' background. That wouldn't really be a deterrent." Which kind of made Tony insanely furious or possibly furiously insane because, dammit, his little girl had been raised better than that. Even if he hadn't done most of the raising.
"She's my friend. She believed in me. And I didn't stand up for her."
"What do you mean?"
"Erik. He didn't understand that she's smart in her own right. I'm pretty sure she's been fiddling with my equipment. After SHIELD dismantled it, it was a little trashed at first, but I think she fixed it while I was sleeping. She likes being underestimated, but she shouldn't have to deal with being looked down upon."
Tony grins at her. "Cool. She likes building things?" Because he likes that she still likes that. And it's kept her close-ish. He's always gonna be the one with best toys.
"Yeah. She must have been addicted to K'Nex."
"Yeah," he sighs. Because she had been. Those and all the other toys he'd had in the shop.
"Tony!" And cue Darce.
Jane starts at her familiarity. "You know Tony Stark?"
"Shoo, Jane, go back to your impression of a broody dragon. I have somethings to go over with Mr. Stark."
Jane huffs but does walk off.
"Is that gonna cause problems for you?" He asks, grinning because his baby girl is okay. She survived the insanity of a showdown between alien god brothers throwing down in small-town America.
"Please," Darcy says with a roll of her eyes, "she's barely gonna remember that she met you let alone the impossible fact that I know you. What are you doing here?"
"Heard there was a Royal Rumble."
"So you thought you'd come check up on me? You couldn't even travel like a normal person? You had to bring the suit?"
"Wait, it's not -"
"No," she says, waving him off. "I can't believe you. You thought you'd just show-"
"Darcy, hold on-"
"Ah, Mr. Stark." Coulson's voice cuts through Tony's protest. And seriously, he wants to finish a goddamn sentence. "Thank you for being so punctual. However I must formally disapprove of the open poaching."
Darcy blinks between the two of them. "Oh."
Tony shrugs, trying magnanimous on for size. "Agent called me. Asked me to come out. I'm a SHIELD consultant now. Also," he turns to glare at Coulson, "SHIELD does not dictate who I do or do not poach."
She raises an eyebrow at the last. Yeah, that probably sounded a little too fanboy. She rolls her eyes at his grin. "Cool, Tony. So what did you think of Jane? You can't have her."
"You need to feed that woman. And why not?"
"If I gave her any coffee or food right now, she wouldn't sleep. Because you would take her to your lab and we would never see either of you again. Either the science would be beautiful and you would both die from exposure and starvation or you would kill each other over a cup of coffee. I have absolutely no idea which I find more likely but either way the carnage would be terrific."
"Oh. Well, yeah, I mean, science." He's not really sure what kind of gesture he makes, but it's definitely indicative of 'up'. "Science that could lead to love and or orgasms. I need to do that kind of science more often."
"I said death not-"
Coulson rains on the parade. "As interesting as your sideshow is." Darcy flinches at that. Well, that's new. There's a story there. Tony doesn't like Darcy having stories with Coulson. "We do have an appointment, Mr. Stark. And I have no interest in waiting even one month for this appointment. So, Miss Lewis, if you'll excuse us?"
She grins at him. "Nope," she says giving it an extra pop as she leans against Tony.
And thus commences a battle of the ages. Which Darcy can apparently win. Great. It's not like he ever wanted to win an argument with her ever again.
Coulson shakes his head. "Fine, Mr. Stark, we need you to have a chat with General Ross."
"Ugh. Thunderbolt." Darcy mutters, pulling a face.
"I did ask you to leave. But, yes, Thunderbolt. We need-"
"This about Harlem?" Tony interrupts.
"Harlem?" Darcy casts him a wary look. "What happened to Harlem?"
"It's a little worse for wear. There was a showdown there, too. Banner and someone else?" Tony raises an eyebrow at Coulson.
"Doc's back in the states?" Darcy grins at him.
"She knows about Banner?" Coulson is actually confused. He glares at Tony who smirks before turning to Darcy. "Why do you know about Banner?"
She rolls her eyes and pats his shoulder. "Dude. I was at Culver for undergrad, too. I was in his last class before his accident. Who was the other guy?"
Coulson's face runs the gambit between pained and resigned. "You're just at the center of every storm, aren't you? He's a soldier named Blonsky that mutated himself with Banner's blood."
"How did he get samples?" Darcy asks with narrowed eyes.
"Three guesses and the first two don't count," Tony singsongs.
"Yes, it was the general. That's actually what I need to talk to you about. We need to get Blonsky on board for the Initiative. I need you to talk Ross into releasing him into our custody."
"Whoa! Back up. You want the guy who turned himself into a knock-off Hulk on the team, but I'm 'not recommended'?" That hurt. He wanted to help, and this Blonsky just wanted power.
"This isn't personal, Stark." And, really? No. That's not okay.
"Fuck you. Of course, it's personal. You want my tech without me in it."
"Tony." He hadn't realized he'd stepped away from the armor and was advancing on the other man until he feels Darcy's small hand on his arm. He turns to see her smiling sadly at him. She winks and pats his arm. He takes a deep breath as she turns to Coulson. She peers shrewdly at him and then beams. "You don't actually want the soldier, do you? SHIELD doesn't even want him, do they?"
Coulson smiles but doesn't actually say anything. The asshole.
Darcy laughs. "Tony, none of the military have ever liked you. Why would using you to talk one of them, a particularly disgraced one, be a good idea unless they didn't really want you to succeed?"
Tony groans. Motherfucker. Of course. "Dammit, you want to use me as a patsy? Why is that a better plan?"
Coulson leans in and lowers his voice. "We need someone who'll make Ross so mad that he won't possibly want to give up Blonsky."
"And who better than America's favorite asshole?" Tony sighs. Well, he has a well-cultivated image.
"No, Agent, it's not like I don't have plenty of ego to go around."
"So, what's the problem?"
"Nothing." At least not now that he knows what he's actually meant to do. "I'm just being difficult. I'd love an opportunity to yank Ross' chain. But I'm taking Darcy."
"She's better at righteous indignation than I am."
"And how do you plan on explaining being accompanied by a gorgeous young woman?"
"My current publicist. My last PA was awful. You're up to that right, kid?" He didn't want to think about that red-headed harpy. He didn't want a new PA, and he is going to refuse one for as long as possible. If he's really lucky, Pep may give him a whole week and a half.
"Of course I can." And the thing was, Darcy is the logical choice. She puts up with him. She can handle him. He couldn't win an argument with her when she was three, let alone now that she's learned rhetoric and critical thinking.
"Stark, this is important. It's not a field trip." Right, off-topic. Agent Agent is trying to wheedle Darcy away from him. Or maybe some more reverse psychology.
"Coulson, I'm hurt. Don't you trust me?" She smiles dangerously at him. Because with Starks reverse psychology just might work.
"Not at all, Miss Lewis. You were raised in the presence of one of the most dangerous men I know."
"Aw, flatterer." Tony grins at him.
"Coulson, I'm a poly-sci major. I can be politic when I want to be. I know generals. I know angry men. I know how to lead them to their graves and get them to lie down."
"Fine, take the girl. But the two of you get to explain to the good doctor."
"Please, she's half-an-hour away from passing out for at least thirty-six hours. I'll leave her a note, but she'll never notice that I was gone. Or I could say I'm going home to check on a sick parent. Because apparently one of them actually was."
Tony tenses. Shit and dammit. "You told her?"
Coulson rolls his eyes. "Stark, this young woman is the closest thing to an in I have with multiple mad scientists I'm responsible for keeping track of. She's made friends with an alien god. And I didn't even know about the thing with Banner. If she asks me a question, I'm gonna answer her."
"It's okay, Tony. I'm sorry I didn't answer on your birthday."
"Tony, seriously, I-"
He waves her off. It was a thing. Now it's not. "Well, we better get this farce under way. Go write your note." He turns away, but glances back at Coulson. "You realize that I could have actually persuaded Ross, right? It wouldn't have been easy, but I can be damn convincing when I want to be."
"You wouldn't have wanted to be."
Tony sighs, cursing his eidetic memory and Nick Fury and boy bands on steroids. "I wouldn't be so sure. If the incentive was right." He shrugs and walks away to wait to take his daughter flying.
"Hmmm, the smell of stale beer and defeat." Because, really, this place is a dive even for a dive bar. "Y'know, I hate to say I told you so, general, but that supersoldier program was put on ice for a reason. I've always thought that hardware was much more reliable."
"You always wear such nice suits."
"I hear you have an unusual problem."
"You should talk." The general sneers, leaning back in his chair.
"You should listen."
"Who's you shadow?" Ross asks nodding at Darcy who is unfortunately dolled up in her slutty librarian. Tony takes great offense to having had to think that.
"Publicist. She's new. Trying to make sure nothing blows up." He shrugs. "She's a little hands-on. Not sure if publicist is actually the title Pepper assigned her. Not important. She's furniture as far as you're concerned."
"A little young for you, isn't she?" Ross leers a little at Darcy
"I'm actually in a relationship right now. She really isn't my type." Too incestuous or something in that vein of thought.
"What? Pretty little angel like this doesn't even tempt you? I'd heard those rumors." He sneers, running his eyes over Darcy's tight pencil shirt and dress shirt.
"General Ross." She waits until he's staring straight at her face. "My name is Miss Lewis. That is the only form of address that you need concern yourself with. I am not his date. I am his babysitter, here to make sure he remains dateless. And as such, I am terribly busy."
"Yes, ma'am." Ross smiles. Not actually that comforting, but that's the point. That was the point. Darcy can take of herself. Darcy does not need a knight in shining armor. Even armor as cool as the Iron Man.
"Yeah, well, Ross, I've been sent to see you about a horse." Tony decides even if she doesn't need rescuing, he needs for this meeting to go as quickly as possible.
"You, with SHIELD?" And there's the derision that Tony loves ever so much.
"A consultant." Tony nods.
"Sir, if I might be so bold?" Darcy steps forward, holding a StarkPad with footage of Harlem. Huh, where'd she get that? He didn't have that. He wanted that.
"Please, Miss Lewis."
"General Ross. Our friends at SHIELD are very interested in Captain Blonsky and his future posting."
"Blonsky? I would've thought they wanted to know about the Hulk."
"Do you have a bead on him?" Tony raises a mocking eyebrow, already knowing the answer.
"No." Ross' face crumples.
"Then why would we ask you about Banner? Banner's in the wind. You tried to bring him in, and you spooked him. You cornered him, and Harlem paid the price. So now SHIELD wants custody of Blonsky because you've proved that you can't be trusted with the responsibility of the supersoldier program."
"SHIELD wants Blonsky?" The general snorts derisively. "SHIELD doesn't want Blonsky."
Tony shrugs. "Apparently, SHIELD wants Blonsky badly enough to pay my exorbitant consulting fee to have me talk to you. As you've probably heard I've had a very busy week. SHIELD wants Blonsky. They're forming a team."
"Fury thinks Blonsky's unhinged."
Tony snorts. "You think the majority of SHIELD aren't unhinged? They run around fighting superpowered weirdos and terrorist organizations."
"Fury thinks Blonsky is a mad dog that needs to be put down."
"Fury's not my contact. My contact asked me to convince you to yield custody of Blonsky to SHIELD."
"General Ross, it's very simple." Darcy cuts in, glaring at the seated man. "We need you to release Captain Emil Blonsky into SHIELD custody. There's no call for any rudeness."
"Mr. Stark is being completely honest with you, and you've called his integrity into question. We are here in an official capacity from SHIELD. To be duplicitous in such a situation would be unprofessional."
Ross snorts into his beer. "And Mr. Stark is never unprofessional? Please, woman, he was on C-SPAN the other day calling a senator an ass-clown."
Darcy draws herself up taller, getting her indignation on. "General-"
"No, Miss Lewis, I don't appreciate being played for a fool. You want Blonksy? Not gonna happen! No way. No how. He's a British national. We're just renting out his room until he can become their headache."
"So, that's it, then? We're done here?" Tony grins at Ross. He knows they're not. They need him madder. They need some damned righteous fury.
Darcy nods. "If the general can't help us, I believe so." She walks past Ross. Too close. Oh, she's giving him just enough rope.
Tony sees Ross decide and then the older man has a hold on Darcy's arm.
"Well, since you've completed your duty, why don't you stay a while? Have a drink with me?"
Darcy's voice has been calm and professional throughout the exchange, but now she turns a cold stare on Ross. "General, I would appreciate if you would release me."
"I don't think so. Hey, Ted, Mr. Stark is leaving without his employee. See him out, if you would?"
"Actually, Ted, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to speak to you boss."
The bartender rolls his eyes and sighs, but he pulls a cordless phone from under the bar.
"Just what do you think you're doing?" Ross protests, standing up outraged and indignant.
"Sir, this is Iron Man. I get the feeling this isn't a fight you'll end up winning."
"Here," Ted shoves the phone at Tony. "Her name is Sascha."
"Oh, even better." Tony grins broadly. "Hello, Sascha."
There's a long pause on the other end of the line, then a long sigh. "Um, hello. Who's this?"
"Tony Stark." He grins at Ross.
"Oh." Yeah, he doesn't blame her for being a little startled.
"Yep. Terribly sorry to bother you, but I need to buy your bar."
She lets out a surprised laugh. But the punchline never comes. "Um, why?"
"Some ass is trying to force me from the premises. He was very rude to my female associate."
"Oh." And now there's a hint of steel to her voice. "You know I've been looking for someone to buy it from me. It was getting to be a little much for me."
"That's great!" He shoots a thumbs up at Darcy who looks up from her phone long enough to roll her eyes at him. "How much would you like for it?"
"To be honest I don't care. I'd take any offer really. This isn't just me wanting you to show up this asshole."
"So, five hundred would do it?"
"Um, a little-"
"No, don't misunderstand. I mean five hundred grand."
"Oh, I couldn't possibly-"
"Well, we'll figure that out at a later date." He picked up a napkin and started writing out a contract. "I'm going to leave the start of a contract here with Ted. Get it formalized and contact the number I leave on the napkin. We'll get all the legalities sorted later. If you could talk to Ted and transfer authority please."
Ted slowly reaches for the phone when Tony offers it. "Does this mean I'm fired?" He asks into the phone. "Um, right. Well, I wasn't really gonna kick Mr. Stark out.
"Yeah, um." He glances at the three focused on him. "It's General Ross. Yes, I know. But he- Right you don't- He, um, harassed Mr. Stark's publicist. Yeah, grabbed her arm and- I was! I was about to call him a cab and ask for his keys!
"Sascha! I swear- Yeah, I know." Ted sighs and puts down the phone. "Mr. Stark, as the representative of Sascha Robles, I'd like to transfer management and ownership of this establishment contingent on the promise of more formal documentation."
Tony grins and slams the napkin down on the bar. "Agreed!" He glances at Ross out of the corner of his eye. "With that said." Tony suck in a deep breath and turns to General Ross. He straightens to his full height, still an inch or so shorter but honestly who cares. "General Ross, as part of my right to refuse service to any patron, I must ask that you vacate the premises."
Darcy takes a step forward to draw the men's focus. "I've taken the liberty of securing a car service for the general. They will take you anywhere you need. They've been secured for the remainder of the day." Her phone makes a quiet ding. She smiles politely at it. "Ah, they've arrived. Excellent service. If you would, General."
Ross draws himself up on his absent dignity. "Ms. Lewis, I'm a general in the US Army. I don't know who you think you're talking to but it sure as hell isn't me."
He takes a step forward at her, but Tony steps in front of her. "General. If you touch her again, we're going to have bigger problems than whether or not you can get Blonsky released into SHIELD custody."
"Oh yeah, Stark? What kind of problems am I going to have?"
"You're going to have legal problems form here until the end of time. Because my legal department is terrifying." Tony grins to himself, thinking of his latest security breach. "And quite possibly Russian."
Ross frowns. "What?"
Tony laughs, a little manically if he's honest. But really nothing good comes from the shit. "Nothing." He makes a vague waving gestures. He's not really sure what that means either.
"Stark, if you're quite through. Your legal team doesn't scare me."
"That just means that you're a fool." Tony is actually a little surprised to hear the words coming from Darcy. It's what he was about to say or close enough. "This man is ridiculous. His legal team is finely honed and pacing, waiting for the inevitable fight they know they're going to have. If you end up before them." She laughs. "They're going to chew you up and spit you out for wasting their time."
"Listen to me, you little girl-"
And suddenly the general is on the ground grasping his shin and nose. Darcy stands over him and glares down at him. "Excuse you, general. I am grown fucking woman, and you do not get to belittle me based on my gender. I am not your daughter." She tilts her head, expression contemplative. "Even if I were, Elizabeth fucking Ross is a bad-ass. I'm pretty sure she hasn't taken your shit for years. She is successful in her own right and is brave enough to face rage incarnate and calm said rage."
She snorts at him. "And that's in spite of you, you stupid fuck." She rolls her eyes and storms out the bar's front door.
Tony grins at Ross. "Pick your jaw up off the floor. She's something else, isn't she?"
"Who is she really?" Huh, maybe Ross isn't as stupid as he seems.
"That's for me to know, Thunderbolt."
"And me to find out?"
"Not if I can help it."
Darcy looks back in. "General, you car is about to leave. You either get in, or you get walking."
Ross picks himself up with a small groan and as little retained dignity as a man in a uniform can have. He grabs his coat and strides out the door.
Ted sighs. "He didn't pay, y'know."
Tony shrugs. "Put it on my tab."
"She's your daughter, isn't she?"
Tony tenses infinitesimally. He shrugs.
"I thought so. I'm a dad, too."
"Not the best recommendation. Ross is a dad." Not to mention Howard.
"Ross was a genetic donor and a drill sergeant, I'm betting. From what the young lady yelled at him, that is."
Tony shrugs again. "I was more of the crazy uncle, swooping in to have fun adventures and spoil her rotten. I would not have made good father material."
"She doesn't seem to think there's anything wrong with you."
"She's biased. She's also more like me than I'd have ever wished for another human being to be."
"So, what're you planning for the space? Keeping it as is?"
"No, I'm thinking an office building. You have any experience in architecture?" Tony always pushes his luck.
Ted snorts. "The world is small, Mr. Stark, but not that small."
"True, very true. What do you think should be here?"
"A rec center?"
"Hmmm, the community need that?"
"It'd be refreshing. A sort of revival."
"Oh, for a while years ago, there used to be a community watch. They were half a step from vigilantes, but they kept the neighborhood safe."
"Oh, yeah? When was that?"
"Oh, years, back when I was a kid. No one really knew why they did it, but they called themselves the 107th."
The 107th. Of course. Tony rolls his eyes. "Because this is Brooklyn?"
"Because Steven Rogers came from here."
Tony hangs his head. God, this ghost will never stop following him. "How many people here actually know that name?"
Ted grins with a shrug. "You never know. Legends reach far. Enough people remembered that he came from here, and the Army put a statue of him up in the park."
"Yeah, I guess. But he was important. Even he was just a symbol. Even if he didn't come from here-"
"Oh, he did." Darcy interrupts, slouching into a barstool next to Tony. "His old apartment isn't far from here. So what's the word? We done here?"
"Yeah, for now. Remember, Ted, I need to hear from Sascha soon."
Darcy salutes as she follows Tony from the bar. "So, what's the fearsome Ms. Potts gonna think of that?"
"Oh, she's gonna be furious, but she'll make it work. We'll set up a rec center through the Maria Stark Foundation."
"Named after the Captain?"
"Oh, hell no. I will throw a fit if that happens."
"You realize it probably will, right?"
"I'm anticipating the fit fondly."
"Right, um, me and Pepper are giving it a shot?"
"Are you asking me?"
"No. I'm- That was a statement."
"Sure didn't sound like one."
"It was. I'm dating Pepper. It's new. Lovely."
"Lots of sex?"
"God, I wish you were less like me."
"No, you really don't."
"I really do."
"If you say so."
"Is this gonna be a problem?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"I think she should know about you."
"Probably. She probably should've known about me the first month after she worked for you when you told me that this was the one. That she was the PA you wanted to die with."
"Yeah, I was so drunk."
"I know, but we still probably should've told her a while ago. Why didn't we? What about this new relationship means so much that we need to change how we deal with this?"
"Are you saying you don't want to tell her?"
"I'm making sure you know what's at stake. You tell her this and you have to explain why this has never come up before. You good with that?"
"After the- After-"
"I get it, Tony. What happened 'after'?"
"She told me that I was all she had. Then I asked her to take out the old reactor. I told her to destroy it but she encased it in glass. She saved my life."
"O- Stane, he took out the reactor. He shut down JARVIS. I crawled down to the workshop to get the old reactor. Hah, Pep and DUM-E, they saved me together."
"Did he bring it to you?"
"Yeah. So, it's okay if I tell Pepper and Happy?"
"Maybe not Happy. I think I wanna tell him myself. I wanna make fun of his nickname when we meet."
She bites her lip. Then something hardens in her eyes, and she gets right up into his face. "I want a suit."
"Um, what?" Because that can't have been what she said. She couldn't ask him that. "You want want a what?"
"You gave Rhodey a suit. I want one, too."
"This isn't a game. These things are dangerous. Rhodey is a military officer. You're- you're a fucking co-ed."
"I'm gonna get roped into this line of work in some way or another. I want to make sure that I can handle anything that comes at me."
"Darcy, you know how you hate rollercoasters? This is orders of magnitude worse than that."
She sets her stance a little firmer. "I'll make my own. I still have access to all your shops. I'm sure I could bypass JARVIS well enough to hide from you for at least as long as it takes to get a good start."
"No, Echo. This is non-negotiable. Anything else. Hell, I'll even teach you how to shoot, but you can't ask this of me. I can't lose you to this."
"No, I'm serious, kid."
"This isn't for you!"
"I hated the suit when you first came out with it. You almost died at least twice. Apparently more than that though. And I couldn't do anything. We've both said it. Dave and Maddie have said it. I too much like you, and I can't stand being helpless.
"I stole some footage from SHIELD. You were great. But you still almost died. Rhodey's suit was hacked but even when he got control back, you guys still almost lost.
"I don't want to be a superhero, but I can't stand being without every resource possible. I'm gonna be in proximity of all the chaos. So this isn't a request, so that I can fight. I'm doing it to ensure I can't get caught in the crossfire. If I happen to make sure that as few other normal people get caught in that crossfire."
Then she just glares at him. Just holds his gaze like only she and Pep have ever been able to do. "So that I can't be used as leverage."
He sighs. "I need you to wait. Just wait until- Fuck. I don't know. I just need you to wait."
"You have one year. I'm not waiting more than one year. Not one second longer."
"I- Okay. I just really wanted to keep you from this particular rabbit hole."
Her gaze softens at that. "No such luck, I'm afraid, Mr Hatter. I'm pretty sure I'm already standing before the Red Queen awaiting my sentence."
He shuts his eyes tight, trying not to see the little girl she used to be standing in front of a throne dripping in blood. "I just-"
"I know, but remember. One year from today."
"Right." He'll do everything he can to break this promise. She's used to it. Tony Stark never keeps his promises. Not even to his daughter.