- Alternate Universe
This is a sequel to Families.
Tony hesitated in front of the door to Alex and Hank’s room, warring with himself whether to knock or not. He could just ignore it. Really, they were a family, had been for a while, so surely it must have been his imagination. Right? But his mind just wouldn’t shut up about it, so he finally knocked.
It took a moment, then Alex opened the door. “Hey, Tony. Come on in. I was just talking to Hank.”
“I can come back later,” Tony offered at once.
“Nah, it’s fine, Hank wants an early night. He has another meeting early in the morning, then he’s coming back home.” Alex dropped back down on the bed and motioned Tony over to the desk. At first glance, it seemed to be Hank’s desk. Alex, Tony had found, preferred to do the administrative part of his job at the Institute in the teachers’ lounge, not in his private rooms.
“I wanted to ask about bonding. I mean, I know all of you are bonded but how does that work? Bonding I mean.”
Alex grinned and nodded. “Yeah, I guess you’re not interested in asking Erik and Charles for The Talk.” He leaned back on his hands. “Not that a bonding is necessarily sexual but it is intimate. It’s pretty similar to a romantic relationship, you find someone you just… click with, someone you feel a connection to. It’s pretty common that a Sentinel and Guide will form a preliminary bond at that point. It means that they will respond better to the other and feel a desire to be close.” He gave Tony a self-depreciating grin. “This part seems to happen unconsciously. I have yet to meet a Sentinel-Guide pair who didn’t realize only in hindsight that they had started forming a bond. The actual bond happens however requires them to consciously choose the bond and their counterpart. It’s… it’s like you’re recognizing them as your other half and the bond is a way to always stay connected.” He frowned, trying to find better words to put it. “Does that make any sense? It happened pretty much on instinct for us, so we never had to really try to explain it.”
“I think I get it.” Tony nervously rubbed his hands on his legs, unsure how to bring up what was actually made him seek out Alex above the others. Perhaps he should have gone to one of them after all?
Alex leaned forward, growing serious at the way Tony was acting. “What’s wrong, Tony?” he asked.
“At breakfast this morning, when Charles told me that they think I’m ready to bond, Scott seemed… different. He left so suddenly. Or perhaps I’m just imagining things. It’s just…” Tony trailed off, not sure how to put it into words.
Alex sighed, running a tired hand down his face. “Shit. Of course you picked up on it,” he muttered. He looked back up at Tony. “That’s not meant as a reproach,” he clarified quickly. “It’s a private matter, so I’d ask you not to bring it up with the children, but you should know so there are no misunderstandings. It’s not that Scott has problems with Sentinels and Guides. He accepted my new abilities and my bond very quickly, sometimes I think even more quickly than I did.
“You remember we told you that sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between abilities caused by a mutation and abilities people have by coming online as a Guide or Sentinel, especially with some mutants. Logan has more acute senses than a baseline human, more feral instincts and can has been able to help Guides in distress but we don’t know if they are due to his mutation or if he’s a partially dormant Sentinel.”
“Dormant?” Tony repeated. “What does that mean?”
“It means that the abilities as a Guide or Sentinel are there but are basically inaccessible. Sentinels and Guides come online when there is a need and a triggering event, most of the time a period of high stress. That can be isolation or being in danger. If the event is traumatizing, it can lead to the memories and the abilities being temporarily or permanently suppressed. We can also go dormant if we reject our abilities. Again, it can be temporary or permanent and we have no way of knowing if the abilities won’t resurface unexpectedly at some point. It’s why, when those of us aware of Sentinels and Guide encountered a newly online one, we encouraged them to train and get control over their abilities, even if they prefer not to actively use them.
“Logan has few memories of his past before he met us. What we know is traumatizing enough to qualify as reason to go dormant.”
“I guess it’s hard for him to know his boyfriend went through that but why does that make him react to bonding like he did?” Tony asked.
“When Logan first came he, there was an instant attraction between him and Jean. Scott fears that Jean might not be a telepath with telekinesis but an online Guide with telekinesis and that her and Logan are compatible and might bond if and when Logan recovers enough to come online again.” Alex sighed again. “Things were getting better between them a few years ago but then Logan was replaced with the Logan from an alternate timeline.”
Tony stared at him, certain he must have misheard. “An… an alternate what?”
“You’ll need to ask Charles or Hank or someone for the scientific details, I didn’t really understand that part, but things had happened that had led to a catastrophic, apocalyptic future. Mutants were being hunted down, killed and experimented on, all on order from the government. Then they found a way to send back his consciousness to his bodies in the 70s to change what had happened. It worked but after he did what needed to be done, his consciousness was transported back into the present, just that things were obviously changed now. In that other timeline, the three of them had never dated, only Scott and Jean had been together. What’s worse, Scott and Jean had been killed. Logan never told us how but he might have told them what happened. Either way, they’re still finding their feet in their relationship now. But it does mean that Scott’s insecurities are back and the talk about your bonding was an unexpected reminder to him.”
“What should I do? Should I keep quiet about bonding?” Tony asked.
“No, you just feel free to ask us about bonding and talk about finding a Sentinel. I mean, perhaps don’t ask Scott for assistance where bonding is concerned.”
Tony smiled, relieved. He relaxed back on the chair. “Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
“It’s not your job to help him there, it’s between the three of them for now, until they ask for help.” Though he wasn’t above kicking their asses if they broke his little brother’s heart just because they couldn’t figure out how to communicate.
The next day found Tony joining Erik and Charles in their office, which had originally been only Charles. Since Tony’s revelation about Thanos, it had become the head office for coordinating the alliances they were all building and strengthening. Tony liked curling up in one of the chairs intended for visitors and work on some messages on his tablet, especially if the other two were also there. This kind of working in companionable silence was something he had a hard time admitting to himself to have been seeking from Howard when he’d been younger.
“T’Challa is coming later today,” Tony said after reading the message from the young king.
“Is he?” Erik said drily. He still hadn’t forgiven the other Sentinel for abandoning Tony in Siberia, though he knew that he had not known how wounded he’d been.
“He decided to get training here after all,” Tony continued. He looked up. “Do you think it’s to reconnect with Ororo?”
Charles’ lips twitched. “I don’t know. Perhaps he’s also hoping to get to know other Sentinels and Guides.”
“The politicians in Washington certainly like the idea of him bonding with an American Guide,” Hank said, entering the office. “I think they’re hoping to get their hands on vibranium that way.”
“Welcome back, Hank,” Charles said. “How was your flight?”
Hank shrugged. “As usual.” The additional space and quiet for first class passengers and adaptation through repetition made it bearable but he preferred their jet and having Alex by his side. “I’m about to go see Alex. I just wanted to drop something off for Tony.”
Tony looked up. “For me?”
“Or more accurately someone, I guess,” Hank added.
“Rhodey!” Tony exclaimed happily when he saw who had followed Hank inside. He quickly dropped his tablet down on the table and jumped up, giving his friend a tight hug. “I thought you wre still in Washington. You’re not having trouble with your senses, do you?”
“I’m fine, don’t worry. I was in Washington but Hank offered to bring me along, so I hurried up my meetings,” Rhodey said.
“The Air Force…”
“…are eager for me to get trained here in my new abilities,” Rhodey interrupted. “They’ve assigned me here for the time being.”
Rhodey smiled at him. “I promise.” He looked to Erik and Charles. “At last if you don’t mind putting me up for a while. If not, I can figure out alternative accommodation.”
“We’re happy to have you here, Colonel,” Charles assured him. “We always keep a few rooms ready, you can stay in one of them.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Rhodey said.
“Yes, thank you,” Tony said. “Come on, Rhodey, let’s go pick a room for you.”
They were just crossing the entrance hall on the way back from dropping off Rhodey’s luggage when someone called “Doctor Stark!”
Tony stopped short, surprised by the unusual appellation, no matter how correct it was. “King T’Challa!” He was surprised to see him standing there, accompanied by two of the Dora Milaje. “We expected you later today! I only saw your message an hour ago.”
“Yes, I’m sorry for not informing you sooner,” T’Challa said. “I was in New York for negotiations with the UN about Wakanda’s re-introduction to the political stage. The agenda for today freed up unexpectedly, so we decided to come here.”
“So you’re only here for today?” Tony asked.
“I’m afraid so, yes. I will have to return to Wakanda tomorrow but I will be back in a few days. Professor Xavier has agreed that I may train with the Sentinels here at his Institute.” He paused. “Perhaps you would like to accompany me? I’m sure you would enjoy Wakanda. I could show you what our scientists are working one?”
Tony smiled. “Thank you for the offer, your majesty.”
“T’Challa,” he corrected.
“T’Challa, then. I wouldn’t want to cause any trouble. I know that your father’s decision was not well liked by everyone. Perhaps in the future I’ll get to visit.” Tony smiled. “Your sister has been sending me some videos and research papers, even after we won over Thanos. Some of their projects really sound quite interesting.”
T’Challa frowned. “She does?”
Tony was worried now. He hoped he had not caused problems by revealing their having been in contact. “Yes. I hope that’s okay? She won’t get in trouble, will she?”
“No, no, don’t worry,” he quickly assured him. “I just wasn’t aware that you were in contact or that you were already getting an introduction to Wakandan science.” He ignored the badly stifled laugh behind him. “Then perhaps when I return we could talk. I would like to learn more about the US. Or perhaps we could see a movie?”
Tony shrugged. “Sure, why not.”
“Good. That’s good. I…ah…”
“Well, we don’t want to keep you,” Rhodey cut in. “Professor Xavier and Mr. Lehnsherr are probably waiting for you already to plan your training.” He turned to Tony. “You mentioned something about some equipment you received from Miss Sato in Cardiff during our last call. Anything interested in there?”
Tony’s eyes lit up. “So many interesting things. I’d love to get a look at their base sometime. Charles and Erik suggested that I should wait before going there. It seems her boss and his lover came online as well and bonded, so they’re likely to be too territorial to bear a strange, unbonded Guide in their territory. Come on, I’ll show you what they’ve sent.”