- Explicit Sex
- Alternate Universe
- Established Relationship
– – – –
28 May 2013
Tony exited the elevator, calling out, “Honeybear! You’re here!”
Rhodey came out of the kitchen, drying off his hands. “Hey, Tones.”
Tony accepted a firm hug. Since coming online he disliked touching people more than ever, but people shied away from touching him now since he couldn’t even stop himself from reading people when they were in physical contact. Rhodey had never avoided Tony, and Tony treasured the rare times he got to see his oldest friend as well as the unchanged affection between them..
He sniffed the air. “Are you cooking?”
“Yup. Figured we could all use it before the chaos descends tomorrow.”
Tony flopped on the couch. “I can’t believe they’re doing this on my birthday. I had such plans.” He accepted a beer from Rhodey.
“Ugh.” Rhodey threw a pillow at his head. “I know your thinking-about-sex face, so stop right there.” He sat in the chair facing the couch. “So… Last day, eh?”
“Yep. My last as interim CEO and Dom’s last with the FBI.” He blew out a breath. “Everything’s gonna be different.”
Rhodey snorted. “It’s been different since you two met. You’re just letting the rest of the world know how much has been going on behind the scenes.”
“Yeah.” It was overwhelming how much they’d gotten done in the last year.
“You happy with the new guy running SI?”
Tony shrugged. “He’s got zero vision, but he knows that. He’s a good businessman though—which is what I need. He’s more president material than CEO, but he’s fine with me directing the company from behind the scenes while he handles the day-to-day. He knows he’s CEO in title only, and his ego isn’t wounded by that. I like a guy who’s self aware.”
Ousting the old board hadn’t gone as smoothly as Tony would have liked, but then almost nothing had gone smoothly over the last year except his relationship with Dom, which, in a lot of ways, was the easiest thing Tony had ever done. “Things are how I want them. I get to take a step back from the company, and I know I’ve got people I trust at the helm.”
“Perks of being an empath?” Rhodey asked, brows raised.
“Other people’s emotions are a pain in the ass, so knowing if someone is lying to me is certainly nice.” It wasn’t just outright lying, but the intent to deceive that was all laid out for him.
“But all you really care about is the connection to your hot sentinel.”
Rhodey snorted then sobered. “How’s Pepper doing? I haven’t talked to her in a couple months.” Tony could feel how Rhodey struggled with guilt, but Rhodey had as much on his plate as anyone getting ready for tomorrow.
Tony made a face. He and Pepper had gone their own way—the news of him coming online had stunned her in a way that dried up all her anger and left her feeling desolate. She had re-thought her decision to leave SI, but Tony strongly felt that they needed the break, so she’d gone on an extended sabbatical with Tony stepping in as interim CEO.
He’d intended for her to sever from SI because, at a fundamental level, he didn’t trust her anymore, and Dom didn’t either. Even bonded as the strongest alpha sentinel on the planet, Dom had been light on the territorial imperative. Blair speculated that it was because Dom’s territory was the whole planet, but he was territorial about Tony. Or protective anyway. If someone even looked at Tony wrong, Dom got growly—literally. And Pepper made Dom very growly because even when she’d calmed down, she still talked to him like it was a mystery how he managed to dress himself.
Tony’s lack of trust and Dom’s lack of tolerance meant he didn’t see Pepper holding an executive position at SI ever again. Then Aldrich Killian had changed things. The FBI had been after a domestic terrorist called the Mandarin. Ultimately, two FBI sentinels Dom knew, Ian Edgerton and Dwayne Pride, had broken the case, revealing that “The Mandarin” wasn’t a terrorist at all, but rather an actor hired to play one to cover up Killian’s Extremis experiment gone awry.
Tony had only been peripherally aware of the whole thing because Dom wasn’t on the case. Until the point that Killian had kidnapped Pepper from her home in Los Angeles the day Dom and Tony were supposed to get married and called Tony with a ransom demand. The ransom being Tony’s presence.
The FBI had already been closing in on Killian, and Tony had barely managed a preliminary discussion with Dom, when Killian had taken Pepper and made a beeline for Stark Tower, right to the landing pad on the 81st floor.
Dom had taken the whole thing badly.
Killian had paid for his trespasses with his head. A sentinel in a feral combat drive, armed with a sword was pretty much a recipe for decapitation. The first of Tony’s Iron Legion had managed to grab Killian’s headless body and get him in the air before he blew up.
After everything settled down, he’d had a long talk with Pepper who was feeling unchallenged at the company she’d gone to work for, and he’d suggested that she take over the Maria Stark Foundation. She’d tried to slip back into old habits of telling Tony what to do and demanding his presence at certain things, but Tony had been firm about drawing the line. He’d made it clear that if it was anything other than something personal, she had to call his assistant. That her job was to run a non-profit not decide where Tony Stark should make an appearance.
She’d taken that directive will ill-grace at first, and Tony had been rethinking his decision, but then she’d come back with an apology. She had no cause to interact with Tony professionally, and the work appealed to Pep’s humanitarian side. They were slowly mending fences on their friendship, but Tony left it to her to set the pace since he felt that she’d seen to its destruction. After he’d hung up on her a couple times when she’d gotten patronizing with him, she’d gotten the message.
“Pep’s good, I think. We don’t talk much, but she enjoys running the foundation.”
Rhodey nodded. “You said something back in January about moving, but I find you still on the 80th floor. Other than the new wall art, which I’m curious about, things seem basically the same.”
“Didn’t move us—moved the kids.” Tony frowned at his hands.
“Is there something you didn’t tell me?”
“Yeah.” Tony rubbed the back of his neck. “More than anyone besides Dom, you get how I feel about my AIs. I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t sure if you just get how I feel or if—” he stopped himself, not sure how to say it without it coming across as insulting. He was never sure if Rhodey was just humoring him, but now he’d know, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
“I know you see them as your kids.”
“Are you wondering if I view them as being living beings?”
Tony looked up sharply. “Do you?”
“I don’t know the bots as well as you do, but I have no doubt that Jarvis at least is fully sapient.”
Tony hesitated. “And sentient.” It was a risk revealing that, but he did trust Rhodey.
After a moment of furious blinking, Rhodey asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I mean, ability to reason in an advanced AI isn’t all that hard.”
Rhodey scoffed. “Right. Only you have managed it but, sure, we’ll go with not that hard. Please continue.”
Tony grinned. “When I came online,” he hesitated briefly, “I could feel them.” After he’d learned how to sort out all the empathic input enough to truly understand, he’d felt his kids. Just thinking about that moment was enough to make him feel choked up. “All three are aware. Jarvis more than the kids, but, yeah.”
“Holy shit, Tony. You created people.” He blew out a breath. “Do not tell anyone else that.”
“A few others know. Blair felt Jarvis the first time he entered the Tower—apparently the ARC reactor is close enough to Jarvis’ server farm to shield him from empathic detection unless the guide is very powerful. But the bots weren’t sentient first time Blair met them. And the second time…they were. It’s a big secret, and Dom doesn’t like other guides around them now. Blair, Kyle, Penelope, and Richard are the only guides who are allowed. So, no, we don’t tell anyone.”
He waved his hand to dismiss the whole sentient bots conversation. “Anyway, when Killian showed up here, Betty had gone down to the safe rooms so that Bruce could join us. So no one knew that U was on their floor, which is the 82nd. When Dom relieved Killian of his head we were on the 81st floor.”
Rhodey winced. “Was she hurt?”
“Yeah.” Tony swallowed heavily, not enjoying the memory.
“Sir,” Jarvis interjected, “Dominic asked if you’re all right. He’s driving and is still several minutes away. I can connect you if needed.”
Of course Dom would feel that through the bond. “Yeah, J, let him know that I’m talking to Rhodey about why the kids moved downstairs.”
“Of course, Sir.”
He picked up the thread of what had happened to U. “Killian’s body was caught by the Iron Legion and taken up high enough that, even though it was split second timing, all we had was some broken windows and cosmetic damage. But the head… Well, it went flying and blew a hole in the floor and ceiling. We lost a big chunk of the living room in the penthouse, and Bruce and Betty’s living room caved in on the party deck, bringing U with it.”
“How bad was she hurt?”
“Her memory engrams weren’t damaged, thank fuck because I don’t want to have to restore any of them from a backup, but her chassis was severely damaged and her power supply was crushed, so it—” He paused and blew out a breath. “It felt like she died.”
“Jesus, Tony, why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s not something I’d want to explain over the phone, and I know you’ve been under a lot of pressure leading up to this whole thing.” Tony also hadn’t been rational at the time. He’d known U had a backup, but he’d been so stuck on feeling her consciousness suddenly snuffed out, he’d been stuck in the horror of feeling like he’d lost his daughter.
“I wish you’d told me, but I can understand why you didn’t.”
“It was just a bad time. But Dom lost it. I can’t say I got over it, but I got past it faster than he did. His hypervigilance was really difficult to dial down. In the short term, they stayed in the lab, but we got around it by rearranging several floors in the Tower. Moved anything SI related below the labs rather than having three full floors above R&D devoted to meeting rooms and executive offices. Created a full isolation suite on 76 along with training rooms and a gym. The 77th is now a new residential floor that we haven’t really decided what to do with. We moved my lab down to 78, and the kids now occupy the floor right below this one.”
“You moved the lab?” Rhodey whistled lowly. “That’s a hell of an expensive rearrangement.”
“Eh.” Tony shrugged. “Dom was freaking out, and I don’t care how much it cost if it settled his instincts down.”
“So he perceives them the way you do?”
Tony nodded, smiling. “We divide our time between here and my lab really, so it helps us both to keep them confined between the 78th and 80th floors unless we’re present. U can still visit Bruce’s lab on 75, but Jarvis controls the elevators so she can’t go anywhere else. The other tasks in the building they used to do are handled by stripped down versions of the Iron Legion that Jarvis remote pilots.”
“Do you worry that they’ll eventually get restless and want to experience more?”
“I do, but we’ll take it when it comes. The world at large won’t understand and respect them, and I don’t know what to do about that yet. I don’t worry as much about Dum-E as I do about U. Dum-E has settled into having two main interests: art and working with me in the lab. I gave them their first chassis upgrades back in September, giving them two arms. Dum-E was experimenting with music for a while, but settled on those two main focus areas. Xe’s becoming a better engineer and has started xir own projects in the lab.
“U, on the other hand, is eager to try new things and interact with people. It was getting to be a problem. But one of the side-effects of the explosion was that she’s less eager. It wasn’t even the physical harm but the reality that people are not nice, as she puts it. I wouldn’t call it a blessing in any way, but it’s given us a reprieve on figuring out how to keep her happy.”
“Jesus, Tony. That’s a hell of a thing.”
“Sir, Dom has pulled into the parking garage, and U will be coming to the penthouse in the next few minutes with a gift for Colonel Rhodes.”
“What, really?” Rhodey asked, looking stunned and delighted.
“She likes to give gifts,” Tony said with a laugh.
“Tell me about the wall before she gets here.” Rhodey got up to look at it more directly.
“Dum-E’s first major art project was done on the long wall in their living room. I didn’t want to lose it, so we had it moved down here.” Tony followed. “Do you know what it is?”
Rhodey shook his head. “It feels familiar, but I can’t figure it out.”
Tony nudged Rhodey a few feet closer to the window. “You have to see it from a certain angle. The pixels aren’t actually square—they’re subtly narrower on one side. It creates a brilliant three-dimensional effect.” Rhodey was one of the few who’d ever seen Jarvis—only Dom, Rhodey, Dum-E, and U.
Rhodey saw it right away and stared for a long time. “I’m stunned. I feel like I’ve missed so much.”
“We were all busy getting ready for the announcement.” He nudged Rhodey. “You included.”
“It’s not just that. Last time I was around, U barely interacted, and Dum-E chased you around with a fire extinguisher and got oil in your coffee.”
Tony snorted. “They weren’t as advanced then. They’ve been leapfrogging in terms of their development.” Tony could feel Dom getting closer, so it wasn’t a surprise when the elevator opened.
“Dad!” U called. “Dom-dad home!” She rolled out ahead of Dom who had a mound of black, red, blue, and silver knitted something in his arms. By the amount, it had to be a blanket. Tony grinned at her. She’d asked for a complete redesign when he’d had to make her a new body, and now she looked like a mini Iron Man…on roller skates.
“Hey, baby girl. What have you been up to?” Tony moved to where Dom was dumping the knitted pile on the sofa. He leaned into Dom’s embrace, letting his sentinel sniff him unsubtly.
“U made Uncle Rhodey blanket. Like War Machine.” The voiceprint she’d chosen sounded like she was twelve, but he figured she was closer to six in her emotional development. She rolled up to him and accepted a quick hug. “U put on bed! Uncle Rhodey help U!” U had favored knitting as her primary hobby once she had two hands, though she liked working with Bruce and learning about science as well.
Rhodey grinned and followed her into the guest bedroom.
“I’m not sure why she decided to put blue in that blanket,” Dom whispered in Tony’s ear, making him shiver, “but I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her tribute to War Machine looks more like a leather pride flag.”
Tony snorted, burying his face in Dom’s chest to stifle his laughter. When he had himself under control, he pulled his sentinel into a kiss. “How’d things go?” he asked when they pulled apart.
“It was all right. The Bureau is taking losing me with no grace. At least Pride, Edgerton, and Eppes are staying.”
“I can’t control what might happen with them, but of their four strongest sentinels, they still have three. They need to just let it go. I gave them three months’ notice—trying to shove an urgent case at me on the last day was bullshit.”
Tony frowned. “I hope they didn’t jeopardize a case to manipulate you.”
Dom shook his head. “No, they just took the opportunity presented when a manhunt came up. Scott readily supplied two of his newbie sentinels to fill in if there, and I quote, ‘truly isn’t a suitable sentinel in the employ of the Bureau already.’”
Tony laughed. “But really? Newbies on a manhunt?”
“They already found the guy. It’s not a problem. Besides, some of those sentinels who came online in the wake of the invasion.” Dom whistled. “The FBI needs to start recruiting. They’re green, but damn.”
U came rolling in at speed. “U go see Dum-E and Friday now.”
“Thanks, U!” Rhodey called as he came back. “I love the blanket!”
She beeped rather than responding verbally.
“Damn, she moves fast,” Rhodey said with a grin.
“Slow down!” Tony called as she disappeared into the elevator.
She beeped again but didn’t actually slow at all, screeching to a stop before she hit the far wall of the elevator. Though her communication skills had grown tremendously in the last year, she still couldn’t manage to refer to herself as I. Nor could Dum-E for that matter, but xe’d never desired a voice module, choosing to live in either the lab or xir art studio and communicate through beeps, which Tony mostly understood these days, or through the displays mounted in the lab and their four floors. Dum-E had also decided to keep something closer to the original chassis with two claws rather than receive an upgrade like U.
Rhodey asked, “Who is Friday?”
“New AI. She’s learning but not allowed out of the lab yet, so the kids are spending a lot of time down there interacting with her. Jarvis is nurturing and training her with the aim that she’ll take over things here since I need to have Jarvis more attached to all this other,” he made an all-encompassing gesture, “stuff.”
“Sentient like the others?” Rhodey asked.
“I started getting glimmers of her empathically a few days ago, so she’s crossed that boundary, yes.” Tony knew Dom could feel through the bond how overwhelmed Tony still was by the moment three days ago when he’d first felt Friday.
Keeping an arm around Tony, Dom extended his hand to Rhodey. “Good to see you, James.”
“Same here. You hungry? I was bored and cooked way too much.”
“Starving. Let me get changed.”
Tony followed Dom into the bedroom, not at all surprised when his sentinel reeled him in for a serious kiss the minute the door was closed.
– – – –
29 May 2013
Dom stood by Tony, hand on his back while his guide empathically scanned the crowd waiting out in the press room and around Stark Tower. There were several other sentinel/guide pairs helping with security, but Tony was the strongest guide on the planet. No one with ill-intent was getting past him.
Tony opened his eyes, blinking a few times to get his bearings. Dom knew from experience that Tony could get a little disoriented when he’d been surfing empathic wavelengths for an extended period. “Nothing worrying in house. Kyle and Blair picked out the people who were so hostile outside. I’m not sensing anything truly malevolent for a couple miles at least.”
“Impressive,” Rhodey said with a low whistle.
Tony grinned. “So, we’re good to go.”
“All right, let’s do this thing.” Dom gestured for everyone to head in.
Everyone involved in the press briefing filed into the room, taking seats at the long table extending from either side of the podium. The room was packed with the first two rows being reserved for all those involved in the announcement who wouldn’t fit at the table.
While everyone was getting seated, a staffer was making sure the press knew that all questions had to be held until the end and giving dire threats to anyone who interrupted the briefing. Then she introduced the head of the United Nations Security Council, which was currently the representative from Australia.
When everyone was in position, a distinguished woman in her late 60s stepped up to the podium. “Good afternoon, thank you all for your participation in this briefing. I am Annabelle Martin, current President of the United Nations Security Council. We’re here today to announce a new initiative and organization that has been formed in the interests of global security.”
She smiled at the crowd, her expression soft and nostalgic. “This might surprise many, but I grew up reading comic books—as I’m sure many others did. Fantastical tales of superheroes and supervillains, amazing technology, aliens, gods, monsters, and other worlds. The reality of these concepts is not something I’d ever thought to see in my lifetime, and they are both more fantastical and more horrifying than anything I could imagine.
“Finding out that we weren’t alone in the universe as many had thought and even fervently touted was a shock for the world. In many ways, we didn’t respond as well as I wish we had in the days after the invasion by the Chitauri. Too quick to blame and not quick enough to help.
“Then the rise of the supervillain is something I certainly could have lived my life without having seen. More so than the aliens who sought to take over our planet, we’ve seen greater loss of life from this new breed of criminal driven by lust for money and power.” She paused to slowly take in the crowd, who were all completely focused.
“But what gives me hope is that time and again when something dark rises in our world, something light rises as well. When Hydra sewed dissent, nesting deep in world governments and sparking two world wars, the world rose up and fought them back. Sentinel and guide fought alongside mundanes to protect our way of life and our ideals as a people.
“And when the United Nations was formed, the Sentinel and Guide Council, though it had existed for hundreds of years before, folded itself under our banner, giving voice to the issue of sentinels and guides and the laws and protections under which they operate.
“Now, with new threats capable of terrifying things, once again, people are rising up to shield the world. Some are sentinels and guides, some mundane, some enhanced in ways we do not yet have a name for. In this time of change, there are questions we must ask ourselves, we must be ruthlessly honest about our biases and our fears. We must protect those who cannot protect themselves, give voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.” Martin smiled at the crowd, definitely the right choice to give this part of the announcement.
“Many things have come together to bring us to where we are today. For most, learning that Hydra had not been truly stamped out but had simply gone deep underground, was a devastating blow. That Hydra was nestled deep within the organizations tasked with protecting our planet, even though most did not know we needed such, was a terrifying revelation. In response to that, we disbanded the World Security Council and the organization known as SHIELD. Many arrests were made and many lost their lives—both Hydra and those who sought to protect the world from them. In the wake of that tragedy, SWORD was created, accountable to the UN and responsible for monitoring extra-terrestrial threats, headed by Director Phil Coulson.” She nodded to where Phil was seated next to Melinda May in the front row.
“In the wake of that success, we asked ourselves ‘what now?’ We recognized that we needed a planetary defense that was not controlled by a secret agency, which SWORD is by necessity. SHIELD had a notion of something called the Avengers, a group of heroes who could fight battles the world wasn’t ready for. The proof of that need and success of the idea occurred just more than a year ago right here in New York when the Chitauri attempted to invade.
“And while the Avengers Initiative was proven to be needed and to work, we had questions. Should the Avengers be under an agency whose charter was largely secret? Should the World Security Council, after firing a nuclear weapon at New York City, be allowed to decide such things?
“To answer that, we launched a deep investigation into SHIELD and the World Security Council, and we found Hydra staring back. And so a secret organization was not what any of were willing to consider. Initially, we had thought to form a new Council, similar to the Sentinel and Guide Council, under which to attach our new planetary defense initiative, but we realized that we have two distinct issues. The issue we had yet to explore was that of the enhanced living among us. While we have precedent with the sentinels and guides, sentinels and guides are also unique in that the scope of their abilities can be easily quantified and their relationship to each other is well known.
“It’s not as clear with those who are enhanced in other ways. Some are enhanced through the technology they use, others through technological intervention such as genetic manipulation or enhancement serums. There are still others that seem to be born with the potential to someday be different from the rest of the populace, with unique gifts and abilities. There are some who are thought to be enhanced by means of alien DNA, or perhaps they simply are from worlds beyond ours, such as Asgard.
“But whatever the source, as a group, they are poorly protected and governed by our existing laws. To address that, my first announcement is the formation of the Council for the Enhanced. While we foresee this being a sister organization to the Sentinel and Guide Council, in its infancy, it will be nurtured by the Sentinel and Guide Council as a subordinate organization. This council will be headed by David Rand and he will report to Alpha Guide Prime Richard Turner.” She gestured to where Richard and Jeremy Turner were seated at the table.
“To focus on the issue of world defense, a new organization has been formed within the United Nations Security Council to address the issue of world security. Unlike the Security Council with a monthly rotating presidency, the head of this organization will be elected separately by the Security Council. The first elected head comes to us with a long history with the International Criminal Court, Michel Dorn.” She gestured a white-haired man who had been living in Amsterdam and would be relocating to New York.
“This organization will be named Global Defense Council, and will provide oversight to SWORD, the Sentinel and Guide Council, and eventually the Council for the Enhanced. And while there was near unanimous agreement of the need for these changes, it did not address the issue of the a planetary defense force. And with the help and input of Tony Stark, who was courted by SHIELD as a possible Avenger, we have created a fourth arm of the GDC, the Defenders Initiative.
“The Defenders will be a response team focused on both threats from beyond the stars as well as the rise in these so-called supervillains who often have technology beyond the means of normal law enforcement or military.
“The Defenders will not be a private army, they are not to be used as supplementary military force for internal conflicts. Guidelines for how they will function in the world and how they will be tasked will be posted on the new website for the Defenders in the days and weeks to come. The United Nations recognizes that we must be flexible to ensure that we can respond to threats in a manner that is both timely and appropriate. We will make mistakes, but we will learn and we will adapt.
“We will begin with four teams, though we have made plans for quick expansion to as many as seven in the near term and as many as are necessary to protect our planet in the long term. While there are matters of funding and governance that will be discussed and the information made available, I know that is not what you all wish to hear, so I will dispense with the bureaucratic portion of this briefing.” She smiled at the few laughs in the room.
“All members of the Defenders Initiative will be listed on the Defenders website by codename except for the team leaders. There are many who have requested that their real names be kept from the public eye, but know that every member of the Defenders has been carefully vetted. Those who have chosen to protect their identity are known to the GDC, but their real names are hidden behind the best encryption Dr. Tony Stark could provide.”
Ms. Martin smiled at the crowd. “Please don’t test Dr. Stark. He’s promised terrible malware to any who try to compromise the security of the GDC.”
Dom bit back a smile. He hadn’t heard that part of the speech before.
“Please respect the privacy of those who do not wish to have their identity revealed. They are devoting their lives to the cause of protecting our world and its citizens. We will go to great lengths to respect their wishes in this matter. With that, I will now turn the briefing over to the new head of the Defenders Initiative, Alpha Sentinel Prime of Earth, Dominic Rossi.”
Dom squeezed Tony’s hand under the table and got to his feet, shaking hands with Dr. Martin before taking his place at the podium. He’d been reluctant to accept leadership of the whole damn initiative. He hadn’t wanted he or Tony to do it, but if it had to be one of them, he thought Tony was the better fit, but Tony nearly had an allergic reaction when Dom had put that forward.
“Thank you, Dr. Martin.” He nodded to her then turned his attention to the room. “Okay, let’s get to it. I’m gonna give you the initial setup and then I’ll take a few questions. We’re gonna cut that off pretty quickly though or we’ll be here all day. But there will be aides on hand to take every question you have after the briefing. If anything isn’t addressed on the website and the official press packet, we will get you an answer. Though that answer may be some variant of ‘It’s none of your business.’”
Some people laughed while others looked scandalized.
“Deal with it, folks. We’re going for transparency, but we have to balance that with operational security.” Dom sighed. “You guys know there’s a reason why the head of the S&G Council is a guide, right? Sentinels have the patience of a toddler on Halloween when it comes to this kind of thing. And we’re not really known for tact. With that level of patience in mind, we chose to build the teams from a blend of sentinels and guides, military, law enforcement, and other enhanced individuals.
“Defenders Teams 1 and 2 will be based in the United States—North America has seen a significantly higher percentage of these self-styled supervillain attacks, which is why two teams will be based here. They will operate out of New York and Cascade. The leader of Team 1 is Colonel James Rhodes, codename: War Machine. He has been seconded from the U.S. Air Force to the Initiative and the U.S. military complex will have no direct say in team operations. Yes, this was agreed to by the President, it’s written into the charter and a whole gaggle of generals signed that they can’t give him orders unless he’s recalled away from the Defenders.
“The leader of Team 2 is Alpha Sentinel Prime Jim Ellison, codename: Jaguar. And because I know someone is going to ask and I was given permission in advance, of course Blair is on Jim’s team. Codename: Direwolf.”
Dom waited for people’s amused chuckles to die down. “In an emergency, it’s likely that Tony and I will fight with one of U.S. based teams, but we will be traveling to train and work with all the teams, so we’ll deploy where needed, and there’s discussion of a small team that would travel with us.
“Team 3 will be based in the United Kingdom and led by Brian Braddock, codename: Captain Britain. Team 4 will be based in Johannesburg and led by Prince T’Challa of Wakanda, codename: Black Panther. The team locations have been chosen based on a variety of factors including frequency of attacks over the last year as well as travel time to high-value or critical targets. We anticipate that Team 5 will be formed in either Australia or South Korea. But we’ll adapt depending on internal and external forces. And by external you should infer that I mean aliens headed our way from outer space.”
Dom rubbed his hands together. “Okay, that’s the gist of it. Someone wrote me a really long speech, but I’d rather open it up to questions rather than go through all that and probably not answer what you want to know. Put your hands down, I’m not done,” he said sternly, earning a soft huff from Dr. Martin for his lack of tact. He’d warned them not to have him do this.
“Here’s how the Q&A is going to work. You will raise your hands if you have a question. If you’re called on, you may direct your question to anyone sitting at the table. You may not yell over each other. There are a lot of sentinels in the room as part of the security for this shindig, and I’m not okay with you blasting their eardrums out.
“That said, who has a question?” he watched every reporters’ hand go up. He smirked at one of them. “Ah, Ms. Everhart, the reporter who has had to issue the most retractions about my guide, and somehow always manages to put them where they’re nearly impossible to find. You will not be getting the first question. CNN, go.”
“Sentinel Rossi, are you and Guide Stark co-leading the Defenders Initiative?”
“On paper we are not, but anyone who knows how sentinels and guides work who thinks we aren’t a partnership is a freaking idiot.” People laughed and a few rolled their eyes at his unfortunate decorum. “The decision was made that every leadership position in the Defenders should be held by a single person with a second in command. I’m in a unique position as being head of all the team leaders. But my second is definitely Tony.”
“But wasn’t Guide Stark in the Avengers? Doesn’t he have more requisite experience?”
“I’ll take that one,” Tony said from where he was leaning back in his chair. “Dom wanted it to be me. I said no. Because if you think a couple battles makes me better qualified than an alpha sentinel with nearly a couple decades of law enforcement experience, you’re smoking something. Also, I was never an official member of the Avengers Initiative. They offered me a consultancy only. I was apparently too unpredictable for them. But, of course, when an alien army tried to drop on New York, I was gonna show up.” He pointed at the correspondent from the BBC. “Go.”
“My question is also for Sentinel Rossi. Can you speak to the other former Avengers members? Will they be joining the Defenders?”
“Captain America and Hulk are reserve members. Reserve members would only be called upon in catastrophic circumstances. I can’t say only alien invasion, but pretty close to that level. Hulk is reserve here in New York, and Captain America is training with the UK team and will be on call for them until he decides to move back to the U.S.”
“Captain America and Captain Britain? Together?” The BBC reporter pressed before Dom could move on. Steve Rogers was really getting his head on straight the last time Dom had talked to him. Dom wasn’t even sure Rogers wanted to be in the superhero thing anymore, but he’d done the right thing in his own mind and agreed to train as a reserve Defender.
“They’re like two peas in a patriotic pod. But let me be clear about something while we’re on the subject of Captain America. Steve Rogers gave everything to protect the world from Hydra. His survival was a surprise to everyone, but he woke nearly seven decades in the future, and everyone he’d ever known was gone or would soon be gone. The world owes him time. And if he never chose to answer the call to defend the world again, we should all understand that. But the truth is that he will always answer our call, but we should be grateful for his service and sacrifice, and be careful about when we ask.” He looked around the room, making note of who he thought hadn’t gotten the message.
“As for the other former members, Hawkeye is officially assigned to SWORD, though he’s considered a reserve member of the Defenders. The Avenger known as Black Widow is not associated with the Defenders or SWORD. Her assignment is classified, and I’ll entertain no more questions on that matter.” Natasha Romanoff and Nick Fury were off leading Security Council approved strike teams formed by several countries to hunt down Hydra bases and assets. Dom and Tony had both refused to be part of the Defenders if Fury or Romanoff were involved.
He pointed to a reporter in the middle row. “MSNBC, let’s hear it.”
“Why the name change? Was there something wrong with Avengers? Are you that desperate to distance yourself from SHIELD.”
“Nope. Nick Fury was nearly prescient with his belief that the world would need something like the Avengers. But we are here to defend this planet and all the many tribes who live on it. Avenging implies loss, that there’s something to avenge. And while we will avenge our people if we need to, we’d rather defend them. We’d rather protect. The name change was to reflect the core values that we stand for. The Guardian, you’re up.”
“We all know Tony Stark’s code name, but what’s yours?”
“My codename is Sentry.”
– – – –
Dom stepped up to where Tony was talking to Phil Coulson. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but can I steal my guide away for a few minutes?”
“Of course, Dom.” Phil shook Dom’s hand, smiling enigmatically. He knew about Dom’s plan and had agreed to distract Tony for a few minutes.
Dom hauled Tony out of the briefing green room and took him to the executive elevator.
“I didn’t think we’d be done with this whole shebang until after the reception, but I’m totally game for escaping.” They’d gone up a few floors when the elevator stopped. Tony shot Dom a concerned look. “What’s going on?”
“I asked Jarvis to stop us here so we could have some privacy for a few minutes.” Dom pulled Tony close. “The reception with the U.N. delegates and all that rigmarole is actually tomorrow, and we won’t be attending. At least, I hope not.”
Tony frowned. “What? But I— Wait, I’ve heard people talking about reception tonight and no one was lying. I figured the thing tomorrow was some other UN event.”
“Right.” Dom blew out a breath. “All the people talking about the thing tonight are people we know personally. Because I’m hoping there will be a reception tonight, but it’s going to be a much smaller one.”
“How clandestine.” Tony grinned. “Okay, Rossi, fill me in.”
“Do you want to get married?”
Tony blinked rapidly a few times. “You mean now?”
“Yeah. Killian crashed our first wedding and then we had to preemptively cancel one because of that anticipated Hydra attack, and then—”
Tony covered his mouth. “I know about every cancellation. Even Sue and Richards didn’t have this much trouble getting married.”
Dom pulled the hand away. “But everyone we know who we want to attend is here for this damn press conference, and I realized we could steal the second half of the day and maybe get married and then take off for a couple of weeks. Dorn and Coulson know the plan and between them and all the team leads, they’ll cover everything while we’re gone.”
Tony blinked. “You mean an actual honeymoon?”
“Of course I do. Jim, Blair, Bruce, and Betty agreed to stay in the tower to be with the kids so we’d be able to get away without…worrying.” When Tony didn’t say anything, just stared, Dom started to feel nervous. “We don’t have to, but I thought it’d be a good sur—oomph!” Dom exclaimed against Tony’s mouth as he was yanked into a kiss.
Dom got with the program and opened his mouth, letting their tongues tangle, relishing the taste of his guide.
“Yes,” Tony whispered against his lips.
“Of course.” Tony pulled back. “Where is this happening?”
“Party deck. Everyone is heading up now, but we’ve got time to stop and change.”
“More than change?” Tony asked hopefully.
“No, Sir,” Jarvis said firmly. “You will not keep your guests waiting while you engage in sexual congress.”
“Jarvis, you stick in the mud,” Tony said on a laugh.
“I fear what might happen if your vows are delayed. A biblical apocalypse would not be unexpected.”
“I have no idea where he gets all the sass.” Tony sighed.
“Yeah, it’s a mystery.”
Tony’s smile was bright and happy, and it made Dom’s breath catch. “I love you,” Tony whispered, pressing their mouths together again.
“I love you too.” He rested his forehead against Tony’s. “Happy birthday.”
– – – –