- Alternate Universe
This is a sequel to Families.
Tony spend the rest of the day in one of the labs he had been allowed to use, looking through the crates he had received from Cardiff and taking some of devices apart. Tony hardly minded that there had obviously been a preselection about which devices to give them access to. He was definitely going to insist on being allowed to visit and see their base but for now he was kept busy enough with what they’d been sent. That he got to study them together with Rhodey was the cherry on top, reminding him pleasantly of their time at MIT together, back before his parents had died, before they had been murdered.
Rhodey did insist that they take a break and go have dinner with the others. Tony figured it was probably for the best, otherwise someone would have probably come looking for them. He really didn’t want to go back to threats of having his tablet turned off if he didn’t take care of himself properly.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” Erik asked at dinner. It was obviously addressed mostly to those not teaching or not teaching any of the core subjects that required them to teach at least two lessons per day.
“Nothing definite,” Tony said. “I was thinking Rhodey and I could continue working on the devices.”
“I have a day off, so Alex and I plan to catch up, perhaps go out on a date,” Hank said.
“Vision and I are going out as well,” Wendy said. “There’s an exhibition that seems interesting.”
“Some of the kids who have the afternoon off want to go into town. Marie asked me to drive them,” Logan said.
“Jim Ellison and Bair Sandburg will come to visit tomorrow, presumably early in the afternoon. Hank, Alex, it would be good if you could be there as well to greet them when they arrive but afterwards you are free to continue with your plans,” Charles said. “Tony, they would like to talk to you, see how you’re dealing with your abilities.” He waited for Tony to nod, then turned to Rhodey. “Colonel, I believe you already met them in Washington?”
“I did, yes. Seems they’re checking on all the Sentinels and Guides who came online because of Thanos. Many are in the military or law enforcement, so there was talk of offering training for them all at once or at least in groups. The brass is interested, of course, since it means losing them for less time than if they had to figure it out on their own or if each of them got individual training.”
Tony frowned, worried for his best friend. “But you’re training here. Did you not get along with them?” he asked.
“No, that’s not it. I told you yesterday, I requested to get my training here.” He nodded to Scott, Chares and Erik. “They were happy to agree, hoping to get a closer relationship with the X-Men, I expect.”
Charles shrugged. “It’s not unexpected. Now that mutants and other enhanced are known, it’s also in our own best interest to be on good terms with the military.”
Of course their plans got derailed. Tony really should have started to expect it by now. It was not fair.
They hadn’t been back in the lab after breakfast when he felt the gentle brush against his mind that signalled that Charles would like to talk to him mentally. It was only recently that they had agreed that Charles could do this, like he did with the others, instead of calling him on his phone or sending Peter Maximoff to tell him but they had been worried that Tony would be triggered, considering the way Wanda had used her abilities to abuse Tony. Tony sighed and put down the device he’d been fiddling. He sent back a brief acknowledgment like Charles had taught him.
‘Doctor Banner and Prince Loki are here. They requested your presence, since you are one of the more well-known signatories of the Accords.’
Tony sighed again. ‘I’ll be right there.’ He gave the work bench where Rhodey had just taken apart another device a last longing look, then stood up. “Charles asked me to come up for a moment. I’ll be right back.”
“Want me to come along?” Rhodey offered.
“No, it’s fine. Hopefully it won’t take long.” Hr was happy to see his science bro again but it could have come at a better time.
“Hey, Brucie. Reindeer games,” he greeted when he entered Charles’ office. The two were sitting in the visitor chairs opposite Charles’ desk. Erik was standing behind Charles’ chair, watching them carefully.
“Tony, hey. How are you doing?” Bruce asked. “You’re looking well.” He was looking very well, in fact, better than Bruce was used to seeing him. It was only now, seeing Tony so happy and relaxed, that he realised how stressed out he had been before. It made him feel even worse for having fallen asleep when Tony tried to talk to him.
“I am. It’s great here. You look like you’re enjoying your stay with the Asgardians as well.”
“It’s good to see you catching up,” Erik interrupted, “But I believe you have a reason for showing up unannounced.”
“We are here on my behalf,” Loki replied. “My… Thor’s uncle will be leaving the planet on a few diplomatic missions soon and has asked me to come along. Considering my actions here on Midgard while under Thanos’ control, we figured it would be best to let you know, so there will be no misunderstandings.”
“Leaving the planet?” Tony repeated, curious.
“Yes, we will be travelling to the other Realms, in preparation for when we are ready to re-establish Asgard,” Loki replied.
“I’m staying with Thor in Norway for the time being,” Bruce said. “That way I can explain to him things he might encounter as King of Asgard here on Earth. Turns out Loki is more familiar with Earth than Thor.”
“You are?” Tony asked.
Loki shrugged. “I have always enjoyed travelling. The Mad Titan sending me after the Space Stone wasn’t the first time I was on Midgard.”
“You have already informed the UN and Norway of your intent to travel, I take it?” Charles asked.
“We have, yes. They have agreed that we may travel for diplomatic reasons without it impacting our status as refugees,” Loki said.
“We figured it would be better to let the X-Men as the major organised team of enhanced heroes know in person why Loki is leaving, instead of risking rumour and suspicion when it gets out that is no longer in Norway,” Bruce added.
“I also wanted to drop off a copy of the information Asgard’s mages supplied the UN with about how the theories behind magic, to make you Midgardians more comfortable with its use,” Loki said. He pulled out a stack of papers and put it on the desk. He nodded to Tony. “You showed interest in a proper explanation during the meeting with Strange about Thanos’ interest in the Infinity Stones.”
“Thank you,” Tony said, pleasantly surprised. “I’ll have to take a look when I have a moment.”
“We appreciate your forethought and will pass it on as needed,” Erik said.
Bruce recognized it for the sign that the meeting was over it was and bit back a wince. It seemed Rhodes wasn’t the only one who wasn’t quite ready yet to forgive him for abandoning Tony to take the brunt of the blame from the other Avengers and the public after Ultron. “Of course, we don’t want to keep you. We did show up unannounced.” He tentatively smiled at Tony. “Perhaps we could catch up via video call sometime when you’re free?”
Tony beamed. “Sure, we’ll figure out a good time, what with the different time zones.” He turned to Erik and Charles. “Rhodey’s waiting downstairs in the lab, so if there’s nothing else…?”
“Go on, Tony,” Erik said, smiling indulgently.
“Have fun,” Charles added.
Ellison and Sandburg arrived about an hour after lunch, as agreed. The Sentinels and Guides were waiting for them outside. Tony had had JARVIS and Friday look them up back when he had first come here and learned about Sentinels and Guides but he hadn’t seen any pictures. Jim Ellison was still looking quite fit, considering that he had recently turned 60 and had been an Army Ranger and later police Detective. His hair was receding rapidly but there was a sense of power still emanating from him. His Guide, Blair Sandburg, was at least a head smaller than him, with shoulder length brown curls, only just beginning to grey. His bright smile just put Tony at ease, stronger even than when he had woken up after Siberia to Alex.
“Welcome, my friends,” Charles greeted them. He and Erik came forward to shake their hands. “I hope the drive here was okay?”
“Yes, better than flying, that’s for sure,” Ellison replied.
“You remember Alex and Hank, of course, and Colonel Rhodes you’ve met in Washington,” Erik said.
“We did, yes,” Blair confirmed. “You seem to be settling in here quite nicely. I was a bit worried, considering how territorial Sentinels can get.”
Jim smiled at his Guide. “Let’s at least go in before you start lecturing, Chief.”
“Sure, sure,” Blair agreed.
“King T’Challa and Doctor Strange are not here yet, they’ll arrive within the next couple of days for their training,” Charles said.
Alex and Hank took their leave for now, promising to join them all for dinner, while Erik and Charles led the way to one of the sitting rooms. Jim stopped outside. “Actually, Chief, how about I go outside with Rhodes for some tests of his control over his senses and you can concentrate on Doctor Stark.”
“You are suggesting tests?” Blair laughed. “That’s a new one.”
“Well, I’m not the one having to do the tests. That makes all the difference.” Jim looked at Rhodey. “If that’s okay with you, Colonel?”
“Sure. And call me Rhodey, please.”
The others watched them leave, then sat down around one of the lower tables. “I’m impressed, Doctor Stark, you seem to be doing well with your new abilities,” Blair said.
“How can you tell?” Tony asked. “And you can call me Tony.”
“Most Guides have emphatic abilities,” Blair explained. “The degree to which they are able to recognize others’ emotions varies, some can only pick strong, general emotions, not much different to someone reading the atmosphere in a room, and others can pick up details to the point that they can almost read minds. You are hardly reaching out, that means you are already quickly gaining control over your new abilities.”
“He is learning very quickly,” Charles agreed. “We’re working on his ability to project emotions.”
“Projecting?” Blair asked. “That’s impressive but a hard ability to master. Any other abilities you’ve noticed? Visions perhaps?”
“Visions? You mean like precognition?” Tony asked. “That exists?”
Blair shrugged. “I’ve learned to rule nothing out. But I was talking about visions of spirits. Both ghosts and whatever spirit animals are.”
“No, not outside of seeing my own spirit animal,” Tony replied. The idea of seeing ghosts rather freaked him out.
“It might just be because I’m a Guide and a Shaman, we don’t know for sure, even after 20 years.” Blair paused, then, after a brief glance at Charles, he continued: “Did you want to stay here and train with Charles? You can also join some of the other Guide I will be training in Washington.”
Charles held his breath. He remembered only too well how scared of him Tony had been at first, scared of his ability after what Wanda Maximoff had done to him. It wouldn’t surprise him if Tony preferred Blair as his teacher. He was grateful for his husband when he covertly reached over and took his hand.
“I’d be grateful for some pointers and I have some questions to your dissertation but otherwise, I’m happy with Charles as my teacher,” Tony replied.
Charles relaxed. He gratefully squeezed Erik’s hand.
‘I told you he would come to trust you,’ Erik told him.
Blair nodded, unaware of or at least willing to ignore Erik and Charles. “Sure, ask away,” he told Tony.
“It’s… it’s about bonding.” Tony briefly looked to Erik and Charles. “I talked to Alex. He said that the actual bonding requires both to accept the other as their other half. Does that mean both have to be… I mean, do the feelings for one another have to be mutual?”
Blair frowned, considering how to answer. Then he sighed and said: “No, I’m afraid not. It’s a mutual decision but does not necessarily require mutual feelings. It’s possible for one to trick or pressure the other to agree to a bond, just like it’s possible to trick or pressure someone into a romantic or sexual relationship. It shouldn’t be done and is not a healthy relationship but it happens. Those kind of bonds are also not as strong as in an equal, healthy relationship and might break.”
“In your dissertation, you wrote that Sentinels have an instinctual drive to protect,” Tony protested.
“It is but it’s also a matter of how they define their territory and how to best protect it.”
Tony grimaced. “‘The safest hands are our own.’”
“In the worst case, yes. Sentinels and Guides, we’re still human. We’re just as susceptible to corruption as any other person.” Blair briefly closed his eyes. Now he regretted agreeing to let Jim distract Rhodey. He’d rather had him close for this. “Back when I first met Jim and we started exploring his senses, when we were still inexperienced in both our abilities and our bond, I met another Sentinel. She… well, it turned out that she was a criminal. When I refused to help her, to bond with her, she killed me.” He ignored the way Tony drew back in shock. “Jim was able to bring me back through our preliminary bond. It’s what started me on the path of a shaman.”
Tony sank back in his chair. He had expected that it was possible but he had not expected to have someone confirm it because of personal experience. Knowing that Rogers had come online as a Sentinel, he had wondered if things might have been different in Siberia if they had both been online already. He still wasn’t sure if he’d have wanted the answer to be yes or no. Hearing Bair’s story, he didn’t think it would have changed anything.
Blair hesitated a moment, wondering if he should tell him. But, considering what he had heard about how he had come online, perhaps it would be helpful. “She was only able to hurt me because I was not just inexperienced with Sentinels but because I was pretty much unaware of my own abilities.” He looked to Charles, waiting to see if he was okay with telling Tony. Erik, he suspected, knew as well, just like Jim did. They did not keep many secrets in their bond. “We know now that a strong Guide is able to render a Sentinel dormant. Obviously it should only be done if there is no other way, either because they are a danger to others or because they cannot control and cope with their senses. I could do it, in an emergency, as could Charles. As could you, I think.”
“Why do you ask about the feelings being mutual?” Charles asked after a moment. Tony expected too much of himself as it was, he didn’t want him to start setting himself higher expectations about his abilities, just because everyone was certain he had the potential to be very powerful. He had hoped that Tony had moved on from feeling that he needed to bond at any cost, regardless of his personal happiness.
Tony looked down and picked at non-existent lint on his pants, avoiding all their gazes. “I haven’t exactly been lucky when it comes to love. Either they’ve dated me to get information, money or fame or they only wanted part of me.” He shrugged. “I just want to have an idea if a bond requires a Sentinel to want all of me.” Pepper had been the first person he had dated who had not wanted to gain something from dating him and even then it had not worked out between them because Pepper could not deal with dating a superhero, someone she knew might not come home one day.
Blair reached out, stilling Tony’s hand by covering it with his own. “I can’t see the future but I’ve met many Sentinels and Guides these past months. I’ve seen a number of them find someone to bond with, even when they had bad past experiences with relationship, even when they had already resolved themselves to being alone. I’m certain you’ll find a Sentinel.”