Title: Fuck You Very Much
Fandom: Iron Man, NCIS
Challenge: July 2020, Year of the Sentinel
Warnings: Canon Typical Bullshit
Word Count: 21,955
A/N: Tony is a BAMF w/ a broken give a fuck. Dom is an enabler
Tony leaned back on the gurney he’d been parked on and tried to breathe evenly as an oxygen mask was placed on his face. He felt a flash of panic as the mask covered his mouth and did his best both to push through and suppress the emotions.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Stark?” the medic asked.
Opening his eyes, Tony took in the uniform of the medic and saw the small symbol that denoted the medic’s status. She was a guide. He had lost his own badge in the attack on his convoy and the scrubs he’d been dressed in didn’t have it either. He just had to hope she was perceptive. “Let’s just say that I’m not comfortable with the mask covering my face.”
“Right. Do you think you could handle a nasal cannula?” She asked as she pulled the mask off him and started coiling the tubing up. Switching the output device, she offered him the oxygen device.
“Yeah,” Tony sighed as he maneuvered the tubes around his head. Tucking the small nubs into his nose, he breathed carefully. The sweet, blessed rush of oxygen was a relief. “It’s good.”
“Right,” the medic stared at him for a moment before she reached up to straighten her uniform and brushed her badge with a thumb. “Would you be okay if I take your pulse?”
Tony thought about it for a second. His shields were shitty, but he was sure that the medic could handle someone in his condition. If she couldn’t. she wouldn’t be in the business. “Yeah. Just, be careful.”
“Will do, sir,” the medic promised. She touched his wrist to get a read on his pulse. He was going to ignore the pulse/oxygen monitor he had on a finger if she was.
Eyeing her uniform, Tony confirmed her name: Gallagher. “Corporal, how much of what happens will you be discussing with your superiors?”
“Strictly your current medical condition. Anything else outside of that, isn’t my business,” Gallagher said. She tilted her head towards her badge. “You’ll need to get in touch with them when we get to Landstuhl.”
“Ah,” Tony hummed softly as he thought that over. “When we get there, the circus will be in full swing. I highly doubt I’ll be given access to a phone.”
Gallagher nodded once as she moved through her checklist. “Did they give you any drugs?”
“If I was lucky? Tylenol,” Tony admitted bitterly. He shuddered with remembered pain. “They didn’t want to completely fuck me up, so nothing outside of that, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to work. Thank science for biofeedback.”
“Yeah,” Gallagher grimaced as she hovered her hands over his chest. “Can I look?”
“No. I’ll wait for the doctors to have their conniption when I get to Landstuhl,” Tony said, staring at his chest. “But I figure you can treat all my cuts and burns.”
“I can give you a safe pain killer,” Gallagher offered. She pulled a vial out of her pack and let him see the label. Tony nodded once and she quickly gave him a dose. She waited five minutes for him to relax before she started cleaning his wounds.
“How’s he doing?” Rhodey asked as he settled into place at the head of the gurney.
Tony suppressed a full-body flinch with an iron will. “Honey Bear, until I get this under control, do me a favor? Announce yourself.”
“Tone,” Rhodey sounded heartbroken as he stared at him. “What did they do to you?”
“Later, Honey Bear,” Tony promised. He tried to relax under Gallagher’s hands as she worked. “I’ll tell you after I tell the officials.”
“Do you need me to do anything?” Rhodey asked.
Tony stared at his friend and raised an eyebrow. “I need a phone.”
“I…” Rhodey looked conflicted for several moments before he looked around. “We were ordered not to give you one.”
“Well that’s bullshit,” Tony snapped. He held out his hand and made an impatient gesture with his fingers. “Gimme.”
“Tone,” Rhodey hesitated before he pulled his phone out and handed it over.
“I won’t tell,” Tony promised. “And Gallagher won’t either.”
“No, sir, I sure won’t,” Gallagher agreed as she put a set of butterfly bandages over a cut on his shin.
“You’re going to have to tell me how you do that, Tone,” Rhodey complained as he waved at Tony to go ahead.
“Right,” Tony sighed. He quickly opened Rhodey’s phone and sighed in relief. The number was the same that he’d had the last time Rhodey had called him. Jarvis would know it. Dialing the phone, he called his AI directly. As soon as the phone was picked up, he spoke quickly. “Jarvis, Operation Hadrian’s Wall,” he said before he closed the connection. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Tones,” Rhodey said quietly. “I won’t ask.”
“Thank you,” Tony repeated. His largest source of anxiety taken care of, he let the drugs Gallagher had given him take over and he went sleep.
“Jarvis,” Tony called as he walked down into the lab he had set up in his father’s Manhattan mansion. “Call the Manhattan S&G Center and see if one of their high-level guides will make a house call.”
“Sir?” Jarvis sounded startled.
“I haven’t taken leave of my senses,” Tony promised. He pressed a hand gently against his sternum. “I need to talk to a guide about a few things.”
“I have the Center on the phone, Sir. They are declining to send a guide out to see you, Sir,” Jarvis reported.
“Any reason given?” Tony asked grimly.
“They state that you aren’t listed on their rolls, sir. And thus, do not qualify for assistance,” Jarvis reported. “They’ve hung up, Sir.”
“Yeah, that’s bullshit,” Tony said. “Find the phone number for the East Coast Alpha Pair.”
While Jarvis was busy looking for that number, Tony started his next research project. He needed to get the arc reactor he had in his chest out and replaced with something that wasn’t toxic as fuck. That was going to require research.
“Sir, I’ve found the phone number you wanted. Also, Ms. Potts would like to know when you will be headed back to work?” Jarvis asked.
“Uh-huh. Who’s been nagging her about me?” Tony asked as he started running through the periodic table. Something about the lower end of the table, in the exotic range of elements? There were some he could get hold of without much issue, but he had a memory of his father working to develop a new mineral. Whatever it had been, Howard had been enthused about it.
“Jarvis, bring up everything we have in the records on Howard,” Tony directed. He stared at the number Jarvis had found for him and sighed. He needed help and the only ones he had to go to were the people on the other end of the phone line. Tapping the connection, he initiated the call. “Hello.”
“How did you get this phone number?”
“Honestly? I had it researched and I’m calling it because I need to talk to someone who’ll take me seriously,” Tony snapped. “And when I reached out to the Center here in Manhattan, I was told that I wasn’t on their rolls, so I wasn’t worthy of their help.”
“Just to make sure, this is Tony Stark, right?” the person on the other end of the line asked.
“Every day of my life,” Tony confirmed. “And this is Alex Hedge, Alpha Guide for the East Coast.”
The phone was silent for several seconds and Tony didn’t fuss. Hedge hadn’t hung up on him. “I just checked. You’re listed as being on the rolls of the S&G Center in Malibu, California.”
Tony flashed the phone a sour look. “Yup.”
“Right. Well, you’re in luck. My Sentinel and I are in Manhattan. Where are you located?” Hedge asked.
Tony rattled off the address and ended the call. “Jarvis, let Happy know we’re expecting guests. Have you found who’s been pressuring Pepper?”
“The Board has been pressing Ms. Potts to see when you will be returning to work, Sir. She’s been pushing them off, but from the communiqués I have seen, they are getting insistent,” Jarvis reported.
“Uh-huh,” Tony muttered as he brought the Board for his company up. Most of the men and women on it were ciphers, barely able to walk and talk at the same time, but a few were dangerous. Tony tapped Obadiah Stane’s name and reviewed the latest information Jarvis had collected on Obie.
He still owned 2% of Start Industry stock and seemed content with that number. But he was making waves in the most recent meetings, suggesting that Tony’s time with the Ten Rings had caused a mental break. The demands for progress on returning to work could all be traced back to him. “Jarvis, start working on how to buy Obie out and get him off the Board.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis said. “Shall I start buying stock again?”
“Yeah,” Tony said as he closed the window on the Board and pulled the one on power sources closer. Howard had a number of them and he started flipping through them at speed. He kept a few out and closed the rest after a minimal review. “Who has Howard’s research notes, Jarvis? Are they in the Stark Industry Archives?”
“No, Sir. They are not,” Jarvis said. He sounded concerned. “It seems that all of Mr. Stark’s private papers and experiments were scheduled to go to the Achieves, but never made it. The delivery was intercepted and rerouted to S.H.I.E.L.D. by order of Director Carter.”
“Contact whoever is in charge of that agency and request, politely to start, that they give all of Howard’s stuff back. If they don’t contact us about returning it in the next week, get the attorneys involved,” Tony directed. He rubbed the arc reactor nestled in his chest absently.
The doctors at Landstuhl had been horrified at what had been done to him. Yinsen had been an amazing doctor and had saved his life with tech that gave the surgeons who had seen him, hives. They had all freaked out further when they saw what Tony had done to allow himself to live independently.
“Do we have the order of titanium in?” Tony asked as he put in an order for more palladium. As toxic as the material was, it was all he had to use at the moment.
“Not yet, Sir. Tracking shows that it will be delivered this afternoon,” Jarvis announced.
“Good to know,” Tony said as he pulled up a drawing application. He needed a new arc reactor. Given that they were not standard medical equipment, he was going to have to design it from scratch. And that meant that he needed to work on a design that allowed less interaction between the reactor and his body.
“Sir, your guests have arrived. Mr. Hogan has put them in one of the inner sitting rooms,” Jarvis announced an unknown amount of time later.
“Huh?” Tony looked up from his project and then blinked. “Right. The Alphas.” He glanced down at his clothes and shrugged. He was clean enough and hadn’t gotten into anything messy. “Save everything and once the titanium arrives, prep it for machining. I want to get at least three useful arc reactor bodies using the design I just finished.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed.
Tony snagged an earbud on his way out the door and tucked it into his ear. “Jarvis?”
“I have you loud and clear, Sir. Biometrics are within currently normal parameters,” Jarvis reported promptly.
“Thank you,” Tony said. He made his way to the sitting room Happy had brought his guests to and walked in. He was certain that Hedge and his Sentinel were well aware of his approach. “Thank you for coming.”
“You’re welcome,” Hedge waved his hand at his sentinel. “My sentinel, Samuel Hirst.”
“Hi,” Tony glanced at the sentinel and nodded at him once. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m not actually interested in your sentinel. I need to talk to a guide.”
“Why?” Hedge asked.
Tony let his shields relax and Diode appeared at his side. His spirit animal looked like he’d been through the wringer. His fur was ungroomed, his whiskers were drooping and his eyes were dull. “I need help.”
Hedge blanched as he took in the status of Diode and then stared at Tony. “Yeah, you need help.”
The grin that stretched over his lips was without humor. “If I thought I could handle this on my own, you wouldn’t see me anywhere near another guide. But I can’t get balanced and I need to be able to trust my own mind before I go any further.”
“Right,” Hedge shook his head once. “Okay, do you have the time to do some guided meditation? See if we can get your shields repaired?”
Tony glanced at Hirst and raised an eyebrow at him. “Will you be able to entertain yourself? Or should I find you something to do?”
“I’m good, Mr. Stark,” Hirst promised. He pulled a book out of the messenger bag at his feet. “I’ve got my own entertainment.”
“Right,” Tony said before he looked at Hedge. “Shall we get started?”
“Yes.” Hedge waved a hand at the floor. “Shall we start it now?”
Diode made a grumbling noise as he sat down beside Tony’s feet and he stared down at his spirit animal. “Let’s.”
Tony opened his eyes and let a long sigh slip past his lips. He felt more settled in his skin. “Thank you.”
Hedge nodded once. “I think that’s all we can do for today. You need time to eat, sleep, and recharge. Make sure you eat a full meal, not just coffee and a pastry.”
“Does this full meal need to have vegetables in it?” Tony asked, amused.
“I would suggest it,” Hedge said. He looked over at his sentinel. “Sam? Can you help me off the floor? My ass has gone numb.”
Tony started laughing at that. His ass wasn’t in much better shape, but he wasn’t expecting Hirst to help him up. Bonded sentinels didn’t touch unbonded guides if they could help it.
But first, he needed to see if his spirit animal would be willing to move. Tony ran a hand down the length of Diode’s spine. He looked better, less like he’d been ill and more like he was underweight.
“Can you get up?” Hedge asked as he leaned against Hirst.
Diode chirped at him and disappeared. Tony rolled to his feet and shook his legs out. The numbness started to wear off as he moved. “I’m good. I’ll get dinner and I’ll try to sleep.”
“Okay. When should we come back?” Hirst asked.
“Your schedule is open in two days, Sir,” Jarvis murmured in his ear. “You were meditating for three hours. I’ve taken the liberty of ordering from your favorite Chinese restaurant and told them to go heavy on the vegetables.”
“Two days? Same time?” Tony offered. He had no doubt that Hirst could hear Jarvis over his earbud, but he doubted the sentinel would cause a fuss. He felt remarkably calm and even-tempered to Tony.
“We can do that. It will give us time to have a conversation or two with the local Center,” Hedge said, voice grim. “I’m glad you called us.”
“I’m sure once I feel a bit less like I’ve been through a grinder, I’ll be glad too,” Tony said with a sigh. He waved towards the door and started walking towards it. “Let me get you to the door so you can get home.”
Hirst nodded and grabbed their bag. “Thank you,”
The trip to the front door was quiet and Tony showed his guests out. He wasn’t upset at the lack of chatter. Reaching out for help freaked him out and it always had. When he’d come online, he’d arranged for his training to be private and while he’d registered in Malibu, he hadn’t made a fuss over it and had arranged for his privacy to be respected.
Tony Stark being a sentinel was one thing. Being labeled as a guide? Totally another kettle of fish for the fussy bastards that made up his board.
When Hedge and Hirst left the house, Tony made his way down to his lab. “Jarvis, when the food gets here, have Happy bring it down.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. “The titanium arrived two hours ago. I’ve had it taken down to the lab. Should I start assembling an arc reactor based on your most recent plans?”
“No, I’ll do the assembly,” Tony said. He rubbed the knuckles of his right hand against the reactor in his chest. The ache the motion brought grounded him to his current reality. The pain was a dull ache, not the screaming agony he’d lived with while working with Yinsen. “The casing design is good though. Put one block of titanium through the milling process. Make sure to save any scraps. We’ll look at casting our own as we can.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis said. He was silent for several seconds while Tony walked into the lab. “Sir, you have a phone call from a Special Agent Dominic DiNozzo, from NCIS. He’s calling to discuss the events leading up to you being taken by Ten Rings.”
“Really?” Tony asked as he started pulling out the components he would need to make another arc reactor. He could use a pallidum-based core for a short time longer, but he wanted to have that installed in a housing that was slightly more comfortable. Once he had it in, he’d kick the search for a new one into higher gear.
Jarvis sounded certain. “Yes, Sir. I’ve taken the liberty of researching Agent DiNozzo. He’s the Senior Field Agent for the Major Case Response Team out of Washington, DC. Agent DiNozzo has a glowing record with a large number of commendations and solved cases. His record also shows that he’s an active sentinel and has been so for four months.”
“Huh,” Tony hummed as he started putting the skeleton of the arc reactor together. “Okay, set the appointment for tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. “The milling process has started, Sir. I’ll let you know when it reaches the required shape.”
Tony looked up from his hands and flicked a glance at the screen showing the milling machine. “Looks good, Jarvis.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Tony looked up as the music cut off. “Sir, your morning appointment is here,” Jarvis announced.
“Where am I meeting him?” Tony asked as he closed down his project. He glanced at the running inventory for his lab. “Jarvis, did we have an inventory for Howard’s lab?”
“Yes, Sir.” Jarvis pulled a screen up and a list started it cycling. “Should I be on the lookout for anything?”
“No, I’ll check it out when I come in after my appointment,” Tony eyed the list and then shook his head. “Is Happy taking care of them?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. “There is a charged earpiece by the door, Sir.”
Tony pulled the old earpiece out and replaced it with the new one before heading to the shop sink. “Keep me up to date.”
“Where are Dum-E, Butterfingers, and U?” Tony asked as he washed his hands quickly before heading out. “Which conference room?”
“Room three, Sir,” Jarvis directed. “Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers are exploring the mansion, Sir. They are charging each night.”
“Let me know if they find anything interesting,” Tony directed.
Walking up to the room Jarvis had designated as Conference Room Three, Tony let his shields thin slightly. He wanted to get a read on the man waiting on him. He could feel the warm beacon of Happy’s mind ahead of him, leading someone who had nuclear bunker level shields towards him.
Tony slowed down slightly to allow Happy enough time to install their guest in his room. When he finally turned the corner to the conference room, Happy was walking out of the room. Tilting his head, he raised an eyebrow, asking without words for Happy’s opinion.
The look his chief of security gave him was serene. His emotional taste was the same. Happy’s gut wasn’t twinging at the sight of the man and that was telling because Happy was unhappy with most federal agents he met.
Jarvis opened the door as he stepped up to it and Tony walked through. He moved to the head of the table and then looked at his guest. “Well, fuck.”
“Oh, agreed,” DiNozzo said as he ran his hands through his hair. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
“Oh, you were, but you weren’t expecting me to be me,” Tony snarked. “Seriously, I’ve been online since I was eighteen and you show up now?”
DiNozzo shrugged. “Sorry. I didn’t pick when I came online. Are we going to be able to do this?”
Tony stared at his sentinel and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I can’t bond with you right this instant. No matter how much I want to.”
“Why?” DiNozzo asked. He’d gone utterly still as Tony had started talking.
“I’m not rejecting you, so you can toss that thought right out,” Tony snapped. He waved a hand at the paperwork between them. “For one, this discussion you are having with me. Two, my head is an absolute mess. And three,” Tony tapped his chest where the arc reactor he’d made with Yinsen was sitting. “I need to get this out of me and replaced with something non-toxic before we do anything.”
“There’s a whirring noise? Alongside your heartbeat?” DiNozzo drawled slowly. “There’s been a lot that didn’t get included in my briefing packet, isn’t there?”
“I’m sure there is,” Tony sighed. “Look, let’s get this interview going, get all the official shit out of the way, and then we can figure out what we’re going to do next. Because I’m not going to give you up, even if I can’t have you right this second.”
“Just don’t Rick Roll me and we’re good,” DiNozzo said, waving a hand. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Tony stared at the other man and smiled. “Yeah. I need to tell the story one last time and the dead need me to remember them.”
DiNozzo looked at him sharply and then through him like he was listening to his senses. “Please tell me you didn’t walk the path.”
“Can’t do that, Honeybunch,” Tony said regretfully. His head was a mess for a number of reasons and that was only one of them.
“Right,” DiNozzo ran his hands through his hair again and then placed them on the table before them. “We’ll deal with that as things happen.”
“We will,” Tony agreed. He nodded at the voice recorder DiNozzo had on the table. “Shall we get started?”
“Yeah,” DiNozzo reached out for the little machine and turned it on. He quickly recited the date, time, and location along with both of their names before starting the interview.
It took hours to go over everything. And Tony was feeling absolutely raw as they reached the point where Yinsen had died for him. It hurt knowing the man who had saved him was dead and that there was nothing he could have done to change things. The only saving grace for his sanity was how at peace Yinsen had been as he died.
“So, when you blew your way out of the base, you destroyed all the munitions?” DiNozzo asked.
“Every single thing I could before I took off for parts unknown. I didn’t feel anyone alive when I left either,” Tony confirmed.
“Good for you,” DiNozzo muttered as he organized his documents and pictures. They had used the information they contained to help spark Tony’s memory when he’d stumbled over remembering.
“Do you know what the Marines who rescued me did with the suit pieces?” Tony asked.
DiNozzo flipped through the file in front of him and shook his head. “There’s nothing here that I can see.”
“I’ll start searching databases, Sir,” Jarvis murmured in his ear.
Tony hummed in agreement and stared at DiNozzo when the NCIS agent checked out his earpiece. “That’s not something that you need to worry about then, Agent.”
“I’ll hold you to that, Dr. Stark,” DiNozzo promised. He reached out and touched the voice recorder and closed out the recording. “Okay, what the fuck? Because while that voice sounded human, it doesn’t have the right vibrations behind it.”
“If he’s your sentinel, Sir, he will be here and learn about me,” Jarvis reminded him.
Tony tapped his jaw under his ear where the earpiece was located. “This is tied to JARVIS, or Just A Rather Very Intelligent System, my AI. He’s learning capable, hardwired to have ethics, smart as a whip, and basically my majordomo.”
“Among other things, Sir. Including research assistant, part-time PA, and butler,” Jarvis added. “The casing is complete, Sir, and has been sterilized. Shall I move it to the lab?”
“No, just make sure it stays clean until I can get the rest of it finished,” Tony directed. “What are the bots up to at this time?”
“They are checking out Mr. Stark’s former lab, Sir. Dum-E has found a fire extinguisher,” Jarvis sounded vaguely resigned. Dum-E’s love for the devices was well known and he had a standing order in with a company to have a half dozen of them delivered to whatever facility he was in on a weekly basis.
“Bots?” DiNozzo asked carefully.
“I have three robots,” Tony explained. He kept a careful eye on his sentinel. Emotionally, the man was a mass of curiosity, anxiety, and anticipation. Not a bad combo. Mentally, he seemed like he was on an even enough keel that Tony wasn’t worried he’d push him off his rocker.
“I know. I’ve read the stories that are published about them. They all seemed rather…,” DiNozzo rocked a hand back and forth as he struggled for a word. “I don’t want to say simple, because I’m sure they aren’t. But innocent?”
“The word you want is young,” Tony said. “All three have mostly lived in my labs since they came online and to be honest, they haven’t really wanted to explore. They each have the ability to learn, and they do, but they don’t have the drive to learn like Jarvis does.”
“Okay,” DiNozzo said before he smiled. “What does Dum-E do with the fire extinguishers he gets?”
“Sets them off. Sometime when there’s an actual fire, sometimes just to see the chaos. He’s a little shit that way,” Tony said fondly.
DiNozzo laughed softly at that. “Good to know, Dr. Stark. Do you think he’d like a ball? Or maybe something to play with?”
“I honestly don’t know. He’s not said,” Tony admitted. “Jarvis?”
“Dum-E has said nothing to me about wanting toys, Sir,” Jarvis informed him.
“Okay, we’ll ask,” Tony ordered before he stared at his sentinel. “Stop calling me Dr. Stark. It’ll be really weird calling you Agent DiNozzo in bed if you keep being formal.”
“Right,” DiNozzo squinted at the ceiling for several seconds. “Okay, I’m sure you and Jarvis looked me up. My full name is Anthony Dominic DiNozzo. For professional purposes, I go by Anthony or Tony. Friends call me Dom. Two Tony’s is way too much. Call me Dom.”
“Okay. Anthony Edward Stark. Do not call me Edward, I hate it and all nicknames off it. Tony only. Dr. Stark is just weird,” Tony directed. He gave the table a double-tap and one of Jarvis’s holograms popped up. “Should I pull up my file? I’ve seen yours.”
“That’s so cool. Anyway, I’ve seen what’s publicly available of yours, Tony. You don’t have to show yours,” Dom reassured him. “And I’d rather we actually talked and tried to get to know each other that way.”
“I mostly babble shit to distract, not inform,” Tony admitted. At Dom’s sigh and nod, he grinned. “You too?”
“Yeah. Or ask inappropriate questions,” Dom confirmed. “I’d rather control what people know about me versus them prying into my life. It hasn’t always worked, but I do try.”
Tony grimaced. “I don’t have that option. My life has been in the public eye since I was born.”
“I know,” Dom said with a nod. “And I’m not going to lie, I’ve read enough shit about you that if I wasn’t used to working from verifiable data, that I might have a preset opinion shaped by the media.”
“And the media has been in love with me and hated me at turns,” Tony sighed. He waved a hand through the hologram and Jarvis turned it off. “Okay, what do you want to know?”
“You told me you were injured. I didn’t pry in the official record,” Dom took a deep breath and nodded his head towards Tony’s chest. “What is that and why do you need it out of you?”
Tapping the casing of the arc reactor, Tony kept an eye on his sentinel. Dom was wincing slightly with every tap of his fingers. “This is a small power supply that is keeping shrapnel away from my heart. I’ve already looked into the possibility of removing that shrapnel and current medical science isn’t up to it. The power source for this is toxic, but it was all I had while I was in the cave. Palladium is great to power a missile, but it sucks to power a medical device. I’m currently mildly toxic and that will continue to build if I don’t change out the power source. I’m looking for an alternative, but I don’t have one right now.”
“How far into your chest does that thing go?” Dom asked. He had his head cocked to the side as if he was listening to something. “I can hear your lungs moving, but they sound mildly constricted?”
Tony held out his fingers, describing the length of the arc reactor. “The arc reactor sits about this far into my chest. My organs are having to adjust to an invasive object, and yes, my lungs are slightly constricted. I’m learning to adjust to it. There is an outer lip of the reactor that sits outside my chest wall. That’s what you hear when I tap my chest.”
“I can put out feelers to see if I can find something to help with the power situation?” Dom offered. He looked concerned and Tony spread his shields to confirm. There was no disgust, no pity moving through him.
“I’m good on the research front,” Tony reassured. “And honestly can get a hold of just about every kind of power generating element known to man. I just need to find the right one that will do what I need it to do without any toxic side effects.”
“Okay, I’ll leave that to you,” Dom stared at him for several seconds. “What in the hell are we going to talk about?”
“I have no idea,” Tony admitted. He shrugged. “I’m rarely the one doing the chasing, so the whole conversation thing is just weird.”
“Other than robotics, computers, and engineering, what do you like?” Dom asked.
“Hmm…,” Tony thought over what he liked. “I like flying, I like food, alcohol is fun, but I’ve been too dependent on that to dull my empathy. Uhm, music…talking science with someone…”
“Are you going to be upset that I can’t talk science with you?” Dom asked. “My degrees aren’t anywhere near yours.”
“Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, Physical Education, Forensics, Ballistics, and Abnormal Psych? No, those aren’t like mine, but I’m open to learning about what your interests are,” Tony said, staring at Dom. “Having the exact same interests would be boring.”
“True,” Dom cleared his throat. “I like muscle cars, movies, and music. I play several instruments, among them piano and guitar. I’ve got an obnoxious number of movies and I’m only a few credit hours away from a bachelor’s degree in film history.”
“Do you quote them?” Tony asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Dom confirmed. “I use movies to help spark my imagination, to help people think around corners. Way too many criminals use the plot of their favorite show or movie when they break the law. It helps to know where they are starting from when we see a crime scene.”
“Jarvis, remind me to be original if I ever go super-villain,” Tony directed.
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. “You wanted to be informed if you got a reply back on the papers. The reply is ‘You are not authorized to receive this information.’ Shall I inform your attorneys?”
“Yeah,” Tony took a deep breath and blew it out through his nose. His temper was for shit and he didn’t need to let it out yet. As much as he wanted to trust his sentinel, he appreciated Jarvis’s discretion. “I…”
Dom held up one hand and he stumbled to a halt. “No matter what we will eventually be to each other, we’re strangers right now. There will come a point where we can look back on this and you can explain what’s happening now.”
“Okay,” Tony breathed. If his sentinel was as good an investigator as his record suggested, the curiosity had to be eating him, but he was putting it to the side. That was very sweet. Diode appeared on the table in front of him and stared at Dom.
“Well, aren’t you beautiful?” Dom complimented his spirit animal. He glanced up at Tony and raised an eyebrow at him. “A Black-footed Cat?”
Tony carefully ran a hand down Diode’s back. His spirit animal looked better. The healing that had started with Hedge had continued overnight while he’d been sleeping. “Yeah. How’d you know?”
Dom smiled as his own spirit animal appeared on the table. “I’ve been interested in cats since this guy appeared. Ciuffi has helped keep me sane since I came online.”
“Ciuffi? His name is Tuft?” Tony asked. He was slightly amused at the name of his sentinel’s spirit animal. When the animal flicked his ears at him, he nodded in understanding. Ciuffi was some species of lynx with very impressive ear tufts. He ran his hand over Diode’s back again. “This is Diode.”
“Diode, huh? I am utterly unsurprised that a man who deals with electronics bits on a daily basis named his spirit animal after one of the most important parts of a circuit,” Dom said with a smile. “Hello, Diode.” He held out his hand and grinned when Diode leaned forward to sniff at his fingers. There was no touching, but it was still progress.
Dom took in Diode’s condition. “Okay, so I understand why you need time. I want to stay, but I’m starting to be tempted to touch and you need to be healed and deemed healthy before we take this any further.”
“Normally when someone is high handed with me, my hackles go up,” Tony informed his sentinel with a smile. “But something’s telling me that you’re trying to warn me, not manage me.”
“Oh, I’ll cop to possible management when needs be,” Dom warned. “And I expect the same when it comes time for you to take care of me.”
“If Sir can’t do that, Agent DiNozzo, I can,” Jarvis promised.
“Good to know. Thank you, Jarvis,” Dom looked up at the ceiling with a smile.
“Sir, I have Mr. Hogan coming back to escort Agent DiNozzo back to his car,” Jarvis announced.
Dom sighed once before he started gathering his paperwork together and putting it in his briefcase. “I called your PA to get this appointment. I… I don’t want to lose contact with you.”
“Yes, Sir. I have Agent DiNozzo’s phone number and I will supply him a phone number to call that will be unique to him,” Jarvis announced. Dom’s phone lit up with an incoming text. “That will be the number, Agent DiNozzo.”
“Thank you, Jarvis,” Dom said with a smile. “Please stay here. If you come with me, I’m going to be tempted to kiss you.”
Tony stayed in place while Happy walked Dom out. Petting Diode kept him from reaching out to keep Dom with him. Every single part of him that was a guide was desperate to have his sentinel stay with him. Diode chattered at him as he sat and breathed.
“Sir, Agent DiNozzo has left the garage,” Jarvis’ voice cut through the noise in his head. “Shall I inform the Alpha’s that you need them?”
“No,” Tony breathed out. “Move Dom to the same priority list as Rhodey.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed.
When Happy peeked in on him, Tony was still sitting in his chair, petting Diode. “Do you need anything, Boss?”
“No, Happy,” Tony shook his head and stood up. “I’ll be in my lab.”
Wandering down to his lab, Tony tried to keep his mind blank. He didn’t need to add another obsession to his list. He had a feeling that he wasn’t going to succeed. As he walked into the lab, all the screens lit up.
Tony inspected each and then settled into place in front of the pieces of the arc reactor he was putting together. He had some palladium that he could insert into it, but the thought of doing so was unwelcome. So, he would get everything assembled that he could and would make up his mind when he got to that point.
He let himself get lost in the small, fiddly motions needed as he started working on the reactor. When his music turned on, he started humming along with the selection. He didn’t surface until Dum-E came back into the lab, beeping excitedly.
“Hey, buddy,” Tony blinked.
Dum-E beeped at him and waved his arm at him. Clenched in his pincers were two vials.
“What’ve you got there, Dum-E?” Tony asked as he held his hands out.
The pincer opened over his hands and he carefully caught both. Nestled inside each was a silver metal that glinted with a faint blue light. “Hello, what are you?”
“Aren’t you beautiful,” Tony breathed. Whatever Dum-E had found, it was very interesting. And possibly deadly. “Jarvis, are you reading any new radiation sources?”
“No, Sir,” Jarvis replied promptly. A holo screens lit up to his right with the environmental stats for the lab. The only radiation source in the lab was him.
“Have my numbers gone up?” Tony asked as he peered at the readout.
“By 0.003%, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. “There is also a second energy source in the lab.”
Tony reached out and picked both up from where he’d put them. Pasted down the side were aging yellow labels. The handwriting on them was Howard’s. “Okay, Howard. What did you leave me?”
The first had a string of numbers and letters on it only. Inside the vial was a silverish metal. Every time he moved the vial and the something inside it shifted, and it bounced back against his hand. There was only one possible metal that did that. Howard had apparently gotten his hands on more vibranium after he’d made the shield for Captain America. Interesting.
Placing the vial aside, he picked up the second vial. This was the one that had a faint blue glow. Stepping back from the table he glanced at the screen Jarvis still had up. “Jarvis?”
“There are now three power sources in the lab,” Jarvis reported. “The one you have in your hand, a very faint one on the table and the arc reactor in your chest, Sir.”
“Interesting,” Tony said. He had some testing equipment in the lab that he could use. Placing the vial in it, he leaned back and watched as Jarvis started poking at the new element he had. “Is the vibranium still releasing energy?”
“Yes, Sir. It’s decreasing with every second, but there is still an active power source on the table,” Jarvis confirmed.
“Huh,” Tony grunted softly before he decided to test a hypothesis. Walking back to the table, he nudged the vial of exotic metal. He could feel it vibrating against his fingers. “Jarvis?”
“There was a spike in energy production, Sir.”
“Fascinating,” Tony breathed before he crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t want to keep poking the vial because he didn’t need to break the glass due to overloading the strength of the bottle. “Let me know when you complete your analysis. What’s my schedule like?”
Tony listened with half his attention as he cleaned up the materials he had used for the next step on his arc reactor and started putting them away. “In an hour, you have a meeting with Ms. Potts to discuss upcoming government contracts, and after that, there is a meeting that the Board is having that you wanted to watch.”
“Right,” Tony said with a sigh. “Do we have the list of what they want to cover at this meeting?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. The list went up on a new holo screens and Tony read it over quickly.
“Well, it seems the Board isn’t thrilled I’ve stopped making weapons. Do we have a spreadsheet on how much SI was earning from the weapons versus everything else?”
The spreadsheet popped up on another screen and Tony quickly paged through it. As he had thought, the bread and butter of Stark Industries were in things that had nothing to do with weapons. Oh, they brought in a good 30% or so of the company’s income, but the rest could be traced back to a host of other products. Good to know.
“Do you have a list of the contracts that Pepper will be talking to me about?” Tony asked as he eyed the screen showing the status of the testing.
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis popped the contracts up.
Tony lost himself in the review of what the government was going to try to con him and his company into. Jarvis took notes and filed away proposed changes to the contracts. “Remind me to get new contract lawyers because this is absurd.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. “Ms. Potts has arrived. Mr. Hogan is putting her in Conference Room 2. I’ve taken the liberty of sending Butterfingers up with a tea tray.”
“Is this your subtle way of making sure I eat?” Tony asked as he switched out earbuds and then grabbed a tablet. “Load the contacts and changes on this.”
“Alpha Hirst wanted you eating, Sir. I can only surmise it is because as a Guide your caloric requirements are greater than the average humans.” Jarvis reminded him as he walked out the door of his lab.
“Uh-huh. Do you at least get something interesting?” Tony asked as he reviewed the preliminary findings on the mystery element that Dum-E had found. Unlike the vibranium, he didn’t need to shake this one to have it produce energy. “Do we have any idea what Wakanda is doing with their vibranium reserves?”
“No, Sir. But I did find the receipt of sale for the vibranium. It’s dated 1942,” Jarvis reported.
“I am not going to check to see if the old man bought that amount legally.” Tony winced as he thought of how Howard had likely gotten hold of the rare metal. Wakanda didn’t let much if any vibranium leave their hands now, and they had been less outgoing in the 1940s than they were now. He was going to keep that small bit locked up tightly.
“Very good, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. “I have inserted a probe into the vial of the unknown mineral and currently, it is putting out 3.2 gigajoules of power. The mineral is unrefined and projections show that after processing, it can reach an output of almost 8 gigajoules of power.”
“Isn’t that interesting?” Tony mused as he walked into the conference room Jarvis had parked Pepper in. “Pepper,” Tony greeted his PA.
Pepper looked up and smiled. “Tony.”
“So, what do you have for me? Anything new?” Tony asked as he placed his tablet on the table.
“Just the contracts,” Pepper said and waved a hand at the pile of folders on her side of the table.
Tony nudged his tablet. “I’ve got my copies. Let’s go over everything.”
It took them over an hour to go through all the contracts, and they quickly managed to decimate the snack tray Jarvis had ordered. In between bites, they went over each of the clauses he had an issue with were highlighted for Legal to review. Tony kept a light awareness of Pepper’s emotional state and wasn’t surprised when she pulled out the last folder with a feeling of dread.
“I was told that you were to receive this after we reviewed all the contracts,” Pepper announced.
“And who told you to do this?” Tony asked. He didn’t open the folder when she pushed it over towards him.
“Mr. Stane,” Pepper said. She felt…cornered. Not good.
Tony raised an eyebrow at that. “And why is Obie sending out paperwork that has you concerned.”
“The Board has appointed him CEO,” Pepper informed him.
“And when did this happen?” Tony probed. His tablet started cycling as Jarvis started mining for information concerning Obie’s actions.
“A month after you were kidnapped,” Pepper said, voice hushed.
“Isn’t that interesting?” Tony hummed. Jarvis flashed a notice that his personal attorney and his corporate were waiting on a call from him. “What is this thing?”
Pepper looked at the conference table. “It’s an injunction.”
“Well.” Tony eyed the tablet. “Isn’t that interesting.”
Tony kicked back with a beer and watched the Board have their meeting. Obie was holding court as he discussed how he was going to get Tony back on track producing weapons. Sitting beside him were his attorneys.
“Did he have the right to take back the CEO’s post?” Phyllis Geake asked as she took notes. She was Tony’s personal attorney and had cussed a blue streak when Tony had passed her the injunction.
“No, he really didn’t,” Michael Welch responded absently. He was the attorney that Tony used when he had anything corporate to deal with. “You put together Mr. Stark’s directives in case he was out of contact or unavailable. He left Colonel Rhodes and Ms. Potts as caretakers for the company and the Board was aware of that.”
“Yeah, this is fishy as fuck. And I can’t see how in the hell they think they’ll get Mr. Stark to build anything that he doesn’t want to,” Geake muttered.
“They really can’t,” Tony cut in. “There are a few contracts I left in place, but we were going to go over the new crop of defense contracts when I came back. I’ve got nothing in the pipeline at this time that’s related to weapons.”
“Good to know,” Welch cut in. “I know that you’ve got most of the patents for the last fifteen years’ worth of weapons production, but very little is still under contract. That was also on the table.”
“Yeah,” Tony confirmed. He was watching Obie and trying to figure out what in the hell the older man was up to. “As big a hiccup as it will be to move Stark Industries away from weapons, most of our money came from other sources. It would be a short-term pinch, but by getting out of that part of the military complex, we wouldn’t be chasing wars. Diversifying would mean a steadier income stream.”
Geake looked at him and raised an eyebrow at his words. “And it looks good on the corporate reputation since most people don’t really want to support any possible warmonger. Especially when you start aiming your products at the younger generations.”
“Yeah,” Tony agreed. He was well aware that favorable press led to better sales. And there had been a spike in sales of all their commercial electronics when he’d announced they were withdrawing from weapons manufacturing. “I pulled SI out of weapons manufacturing three weeks ago. I know that there was a surge in buying, I’ve been monitoring. There hasn’t been enough time for the bottom line to be hit, so I want to know what’s behind the injunction. How fast can you get one?”
“Not that fast,” Welch admitted. He flipped through the injunction that Pepper had delivered. “This is very involved and there’s no way that it could have been put together in three weeks.”
“Could it have been put together before I went to Afghanistan?” Tony asked. He took a small sip of his beer and set it aside. He found that the taste of the drink wasn’t fitting his mood.
Geake turned her head slightly while she kept her eyes on the Board. “Were you contemplating changing things around before you left?”
“Yeah. Everything I’d turned over to R&D at that time was for armor, bomb detection arrays, and S&R gear,” Tony explained. He’d lacked the interest to work on new weapons and had gone to do the Jericho demonstration bitching the whole way.
“Fucking wonderful,” Geake bitched. She turned to Welch and started discussing the injunction.
Tony could follow some of their conversation, but when they got deep into legal jargon, he conceded he was lost. He turned his attention back to the Board and their meeting and growled slightly as Obie declared his intentions. He also declared that Tony was mentally unfit to lead. “Geake, Welch.”
His attorneys turned back to the projection of the Board meeting. “Did he just call you unfit?” Welch asked.
“Yeah, he seems to have done that,” Tony growled.
“Uhm,” Welch hesitated. “Why would he say that?”
“Well, I was kidnapped, so there’s a distinct possibility of PTSD. However, I got cleared by the Army and the Marine Corps when I was in Landstuhl,” Tony admitted. “I’ve also just started working with the Alpha Prime Guide of the East Coast to make sure my mental feet are steady. But that’s new as of yesterday.”
Welch and Geake turned to look at each other and then back to him. “You’re working with a Guide?” Welch asked.
“Yup,” Tony smiled grimly. If Obie wanted to try to say he was crazy, he was going to use everything he had in his arsenal to deal with him.
“Good to know,” Geake said.
Tony made his way back to the lab after Happy had escorted Geake and Welch out. Both were heading back to their respective offices and would be starting the process of fucking over the Board. He had authorized both of them to let loose on Obie and crew. Whatever happened next, Obie was going to reap what he had sowed.
“Jarvis, what’s Dom’s status?”
“Agent DiNozzo made his flight to Washington DC successfully. He is currently in transit back to the Navy Yard and is on the phone with an Agent Gibbs giving a verbal report,” Jarvis reported.
“Okay. Hook a texting program in for my tablet?” Tony requested. When the program popped up, he quickly tapped out a message to his Sentinel. Drive carefully. It would be suck if I had to rearrange DC if you got hurt.
Tony quickly labeled the phone number Jarvis had gotten him. He was tempted to give it a cute nickname, but he refrained.
Dom: Not everyone can drive a Formula One racer with all the attendant safety features. I’m at a stoplight, so I’ll talk to you when I get somewhere safe to text.
Tony: I’ll be good.
Dom: Ha. I’ve known you for three hours and I can’t see that.
Tony sent back a series of amused emoji and left his sentinel to his drive.
Tony grabbed his tablet when it flashed at him. He had been finishing the framework for his new arc reactor. The only thing missing was the power source.
When he saw the message application was lit up, he smiled. Dom was reaching out to him again. If he couldn’t talk to his sentinel directly, a text message was a nice substitute. Opening the app, Tony started laughing.
Dom: How are you doing?
Tony: You going to start with that?
Dom: We’re essentially strangers. I thought I’d start off slow
Tony: Okay, I get that. On what level are you asking if I’m okay?
Dom: On whatever level you’re willing to talk about?
Tony: My life is currently a soap opera and I can’t talk about it with you on that cheap-ass government issue phone you’re using.
Dom: You are such a tech snob. So, if your life is an unspeakable soap opera, we’ll let that slide for the moment. Tell me what your favorite foods are? Can you cook?
Tony: It’s not snobbish when my tech is better than what you have. And no, I can’t actually cook. It wasn’t something I was taught how to do. I can microwave and reheat in an oven though. And I like just about everything.
Dom: I can cook. Quite well even. I can teach you.
Tony: That’ll be interesting.
“Sir, I have completed my analysis of the material Dum-E brought back.”
Tony reluctantly set aside his tablet after signing off. Talking to Dom was fun and so far, hadn’t pressed into areas he had deemed off-limits. “Lay it on me, Jarvis.”
“I have not found a record of the element in any scientific journal,” Jarvis started. “However, I did find mention of it in Mr. Stark’s notes. There are notes stating that his research showed that the element should exist and that he would be working to synthesize it. Those notes were dated four days before his death.”
“When did Howard get his time on a particle accelerator?” Tony asked, startled.
“He built one, Sir,” Jarvis announced. “There seems to be a third level below the two lab levels, Sir.”
“Holy shit,” Tony breathed. “Is it still in useful shape?”
Jarvis sounded amused. “Yes, Sir.”
“Cool. Something to play with later,” Tony mused. “Okay. What else have we got on our mystery element?”
“The projections on the energy production carry through, Sir,” Jarvis sounded pleased with that. “And currently, I show no negative side effects if you use it as an energy source.”
“Excellent. Time to experiment on how to form it,” Tony rubbed his hands together as he thought things over. “My current power source is a triangle. Can we forge the new material in that shape?”
“Easily, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed.
“Fire up the crucible Jarvis!”
“Sir, you have an appointment with the Alphas,” Jarvis cut in.
Tony blinked his eyes to refocus them. He’d been working to get the forms for his new power source ready for pouring. After the pour, the cleaning, polishing, and charging would happen. “Jarvis, do we have a heavy-duty laser?”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed.
A holo screen popped up next to him and detailed where he could find the parts to make up a laser sufficient to start things ticking over. “Good. Get Dum-E and U started on the assembly.”
“While they are doing that, Sir, you have an appointment with the Alphas,” Jarvis reminded him again.
“How much time do I have before they’re due?” Tony asked.
“Thirty minutes, Sir,” Jarvis said. “You are quite dirty. It might be wise to clean up.”
Tony took a careful sniff of himself and grimaced. Yeah, he needed to shower. The only problem he had was his problem with water. Something else to talk to Hedge about. The shower was horrible and Tony did his best to make his way through it as fast as possible.
When he made it to the room the Alphas were in, he tried to smooth out his mood. From the sharp look Hedge gave him, he hadn’t managed it. “What?”
“You feel horrible,” Hedge exclaimed. He got up to stand in front of Tony. “What happened, Dr. Stark?”
“Call me Tony,” Tony requested. “You know I was kidnapped. And that I came back with an addition.” He tapped his chest and the arc reactor nestled in his chest.
“Yes,” Hedge confirmed. “What does that have to do with why you feel like hell?”
“The people that kidnapped me, wanted me to work for them. I declined. I kept declining. Since they wanted my brains, they needed to find something to bend me to their will that wasn’t drugs. Their favorites were waterboarding and near-drowning.”
“And we use water to get clean and this is fucking with you,” Hirst surmised.
Tony looked over at the sentinel and nodded. He was unsurprised to feel the seething anger moving through the man. Dom had been much the same.
“Can I help with that?” Hedge asked.
“I was hoping you would,” Tony admitted. He thought of what he’d confirmed to Dom the day before and sighed. “Also, you need to know I’ve walked the path and you’ll need to take that into consideration.”
Hedge stilled and Hirst turned to look at his guide. “Alex? What does he mean?”
“You walked the path? Why aren’t you talking to Blair?” Hedge asked.
“I’m trained. I just need help getting stable. Blair is great and all, but I don’t need him,” Tony said with a shrug. “If I need him, I know how to get a hold of him.”
“Any other surprises?” Hedge pressed.
“Hmmm,” Tony hummed softly. “Yeah. I found my sentinel, there’s an asshole trying to take over my company and I may have found a way to keep myself from being poisonous.”
Hedge and Hirst stared at him and then blinked. “You love to surprise people, don’t you?”
“It’s a fun side effect, but I wasn’t actually aiming for it,” Tony admitted. “Shall we get started?”
“Let’s,” Hedge suggested.
Tony settled into place on the carpet and waited for Hedge to join him. The slip from the real world into the psionic plane was quick and easy. He could feel tight mental muscles relax and he gave himself over to Hedge’s guidance.
When Tony surfaced from the meditation, he felt like he could breathe easier. Mentally stretching out, he flexed his psionic muscles, taking a read on the area around him. What had been muffled and indistinct was clear and easily parsed. He no longer felt like he was working blind.
“You feel better,” Hedge said quietly. “Less brittle.”
“I feel better,” Tony admitted. Under normal circumstances, Tony guarded his privacy with the same zeal a dragon guarded his hoard. But to heal, he needed to relax his walls and let Hedge in. “I rarely used my abilities before Afghanistan. As much as that sucked, my abilities as a guide helped get me out of that hellhole. I can’t let them go fallow again.”
“And since you found your sentinel, letting your abilities go fallow would also be something your unwilling to do,” Hedge finished.
“Yes,” Tony said. “I need to be mentally healthy if I want to bond. I’m working on the physical as well.”
“If you need me to sign off on your mental health, let me know,” Hedge offered. “I’m certainly willing to say that you are well on your way to being recovered.”
“I’m good,” Tony reassured. “But I’ll reach out to my attorneys to see if they want an affidavit.”
“Do you need to work on your shaman abilities? Because I’m not one and I don’t want to cause you any distress,” Hedge asked warily.
Tony poked at the part of him that was tied to the psionic plane. His connection felt flexible and healthy. He felt…good. But not fully healed. More like he was just starting to be healed enough to start working. “Okay. So maybe I do need to talk to Blair. I think I’m fine, but having a trained Shaman check me over might help.”
“I could call him?” Hedge offered.
“I’ve already taken the liberty of reaching out to Dr. Sandburg. He’s stated he can be in New York in three days,” Jarvis announced in his earpiece.
Tony tapped the area below his ear and smiled. “Taken care of. Have you talked to the Manhattan Alphas?”
“Yes,” Hirst growled. “They’re not going to be a problem going forward.”
“Can I ask what was done?” Tony asked. He was curious. “What their problem with me was?”
“They were under the impression that they could pick and choose who they acknowledged as a sentinel or a guide. If the person who came to them didn’t meet their standards, they turned them away,” Hirst bit out. “That’s been dealt with. Thankfully, they did keep records of who they turned away, so we’ve been able to go look in on everyone. Most parties have gone on to work with different S&G center.”
“If you need help tracing people, I have plenty of people on hand who can help,” Tony offered.
“We’ve got it,” Hedge promised. “You mentioned your physical health?”
“Yeah,” Tony rubbed his chest and sighed. He wasn’t going to go into the mess that was the arc reactor. “I was pretty fucked up when I was rescued. Malnutrition, low-level infection from my wounds, sleep deprivation, there’s a whole laundry list of things I came back with. Landstuhl did their best, but the biggest thing I need is time.”
“And food,” Hedge reminded him.
“I’m eating,” Tony promised. “Every time I have a meeting, I get fed.”
There was a tap on the door before it was pushed open. Butterfingers pushed the door open and rolled in with a basket held in his pincer. Tony started laughing as his bot beeped his pleasure at completing the errand Jarvis had set for him. “See?”
“I do,” Hedge said with a laugh. “I take it this happens a lot?”
Tony took the basket and patted Butterfingers on the housing. “Thanks, Butterfingers. Good boy.” Butterfingers beeped madly at him before he turned to look at Hirst and Hedge. He beeped once at them before heading back out. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Meat, cheese, pickles, and bread, all the ingredients were easily fetched from the kitchen and laid out on the table. Tucked into the bottom of the basket were three bottles of root beer. Laughing slightly, he pulled their haul out and offered it to his guests.
“I see you are being well taken care of,” Hirst took a bottle of root beer and cracked it open. “And it’s the good stuff too.”
“If I’m going to drink root beer, I’m going to drink the good stuff,” Tony admitted.
“Speaking of drinking,” Hedge started. He was eating neatly of the spread. “You have a reputation for using alcohol a lot.”
“I’m not drinking at this point,” Tony promised. “As much as I’m tempted to have a drink to help deal with shit, I don’t need my control to slip.”
“Okay,” Hedge nodded.
The conversation moved away from alcohol to more innocuous topics. Tony found himself enjoying the company of the two alphas. Neither of the men were pushing him to do anything he wasn’t ready for and he appreciated it.
Reaching out for his tablet, Tony fired off a text to Dom.
Tony: Things are going well over here. I’m still getting help and I think I’ll be getting a clean bill of mental health soon.
He turned his attention back to the forms he needed for the metal pour. Each form got inspected closely and he carefully cleaned each to make sure that there were no burrs or pits and that each line was straight and smooth. He also added the needed channels to direct the metal to the right area.
When his tablet pinged, he finished his last line before he pulled it to him.
Dom: That’s great to hear. I’ve started filing all the paperwork we generated and making sure that all the men and women who were with you at that ambush are remembered.
Tony: Good. I can’t say that I remember all their names, but they deserve to be more than my last memory of them.
Tony: Is there anything I can do for their families?
The tablet sat and blinked for several seconds. Tony glanced at it as it looked like Dom started typing and then paused. It took almost a minute for a reply to come and when it did, it was blunter than he had expected but still welcome.
Dom: Okay, I’m going to be crass. Are you talking about paying the families money?
Tony: Not to boast, but I’m a billionaire. Money is mostly an abstraction to me because I’ve had it all my life. But I am observant and I know that not everyone has the same options I have. If giving money to the families of the people who died when I survived helps them, I think I need to.
Dom: Is that the guide in you that’s saying protect the tribe?
Tony took the time to think that over. Offering people money in these circumstances might seem mercenary, but his presence was what had gotten those people killed and this was something that he could do to help. While he wasn’t planning on financing death benefits for the rest of the Marine Corps in the future, he could take care of these people. Because for a little while, their dead had been his.
Tony: Yes. That’s what it basically boils down too.
Dom: Okay, we can do that. Where should I send the relevant information?
“Jarvis? Can you get Dom the information he wants?” Tony asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. He highlighted an area in the lab and Tony wandered over to look at what Jarvis wanted him to inspect.
“That looks like an excellent crucible set up, Jarvis. Light it up. Let’s get this going,” Tony directed. One of his interests while he’d gotten his engineering degree had been metallurgy. That had led him to actually learning how to pour metal. The last time he’d done it had been almost ten years before, though.
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. The mechanical arms Tony had designed for him started moving, controlling the flame. “If you could add the element, sir?”
Tony pulled the vial out of the testing machine and opened it up. “Did we ever determine how much of this stuff we had?”
“Just over three ounces, Sir. By your designs, you should get four cores,” Jarvis announced after a second of quiet.
“Well, that’s good to know,” Tony allowed. He carefully poured the mineral into the crucible. He stared in the cup and watched as the metal started to melt. It was mesmerizing.
Tony pulled himself away from the sight and moved back to his workbench. He’d made enough blanks for a half-dozen cores, so it was easy to pick four to set by the crucible. As fast as the metal was melting, it wouldn’t be long before he could pour.
While he waited, he pulled the tablet over to see if there was anything else from Dom.
Dom: Thank you for getting me the correct address. I’ll send on the information for those who were lost.
Tony: We’ll be on the lookout for your message.
Dom: What are you doing?
Tony: Casting metal.
Dom: I didn’t know you could do that in New York City. Cool. Learn something new every day
Tony: With the right equipment, you can do just about anything anywhere.
Dom: I’m sure you can. It’s Wednesday. I have the weekend off. Want me to come to visit?
Tony: Hell, yes.
If he could get the cores cast, activated, and installed, Dom could install it. One less worry on his mind.
Tony: Come on up Friday night.
Dom: Barring cases, I’ll be there as soon as I can on Friday.
Tony: Want a trip on a private plane?
Tony: Dom? Seriously, why go through fuss buying a ticket when I have a jet that I can send to pick you up?
Dom: You do know that I’m not using you for your money, right? I have my own.
Tony: I know. But I still have the ability to do it, so I’m going to offer it.
The text app was quiet for several minutes and Tony kept an eye on the crucible. The metal in it was almost ready to pour. “Jarvis? Howard never named this metal, right? We’ve got no notes on what he wanted to call it.”
“There are no names listed in any of his notes in the Stark Industry Archive and S.H.I.E.L.D. has refused to release Mr. Stark’s papers, Sir. At this time, the element is officially nameless.”
“Right. Well. Get Geake on it,” Tony directed. He peeked in the crucible and hummed. “What’s the temp?”
“Over 2000C, Sir,” Jarvis reported. “We have reached full liquidity.”
Just as he was about to pick up the protective gear needed to safely handle the hot metal; the text app lit up again.
Dom: If you were as poor as a church mouse, I would still want you to be my guide. I find you fascinating. I can’t wait to be with you again. I’ll be ready to leave the office at noon.
Tony grinned at the tablet. Tapping a message out quickly, he hit send before he changed his mind.
Tony: If I was as poor as a church mouse, I would still want you as my sentinel. And I am as fascinated by you as you are by me. I’m looking forward to seeing you Friday. The plane will be ready at the airport at 1:30. Jarvis will email you the location.
Message delivered, he turned back to his work. He had a lot to do in only a few days.
Tony watched as the last of the testing on his laser finished. Technically, he had four chances to get the process right, but he wanted to do it right on the first try. If he could do that, he could do the same for the other three. With four cores the itch under his skin to be prepared might be satisfied.
“Jarvis, where are we with the other three reactors?” Tony called.
“The titanium casings will be ready in the next thirty minutes, sir. Should I lay out the rest of the supplies?” Jarvis asked.
“Yeah, let’s just make sure this works,” Tony said before he took the green smoothie Dum-E handed him. “Do I want to know what’s in this?”
“Several supplements that will help control the palladium toxicity, Sir,” Jarvis explained. “It’s entirely edible, but I can’t just how it will taste.”
Tony grimaced as took a sip. “Oh, joy. It’s moving that fast?”
“You are barely registering any pallidum toxicity, Sir, but if we start now, it should be safe for Agent DiNozzo to assist with implanting the new arc reactor.”
“Fair point,” Tony said before he sipped at the smoothie. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit weird, almost seaish. “Okay, I’ll keep drinking this. It’s not bad at least.”
“I’m so glad you like it, Sir,” Jarvis said, voice as dry as dust.
“Look at you, being all sarcastic and shit. Looks good on you, J,” Tony said before he leaned forward to check out the readout on the laser. “Okay, so it looks like we’re ready to fire this up for real. We’re going to do them all in sequence. Once we have them activated, we’ll put them in individual storage containers and monitor each for any instability. Twelve hours in, we’ll take the most stable of the four and insert in our waiting arc reactor.”
“And then Agent DiNozzo can remove the one you are currently using and insert the new one,” Jarvis cut in. “And I can dispose of it where it will not poison anyone else.”
“Right,” Tony finished his smoothie and gave the glass back to Dum-E. “It was great.”
Dum-E nodded once and rolled away beeping softly.
Tony walked upstairs and collected the four cores. Each was sitting in the stands he had designed to allow the laser to have full access to them. If he had it right, they would charge. If he fucked it up, he’d never know it. “How’s my math, Jarvis?”
“Perfect, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed.
“Right,” Tony muttered as he lined up the cases. Thirty seconds or so on each core was the projected time needed to get the process started. Jarvis had the exact timing needed, so he wasn’t going to stress over it. Much.
“Laser ignition in three, two, one,” Jarvis intoned.
Tony kept his eyes closed and tried to resist the urge to peek. When he did this again, he needed to remember to have welders’ glasses or even a mask so he could see what was happening. If he didn’t’ distract himself he’d try to peek. Tony started thinking about his next project. The Mark I suit had been crude and bulky to the point of insanity. He needed to make sure that the Mark II suit looked less like a bastard cross between a tank and an old-fashioned dive suit. And had a paint job that he could stand.
“Sir, you can open your eyes,” Jarvis’ voice cut his mental design session short.
“Well, we didn’t blow up,” Tony observed before he opened his eyes.
“So, it seems, Sir.”
“So much sarcasm,” Tony muttered as he took in the four glowing triangles sitting in front of the laser. “Was there any problem with the laser?”
“Not really,” Jarvis said.
“So, I should just ignore the charred bits on the walls and cases?” Tony asked as he pulled a set of tweezers off the supply table. At the ringing silence from Jarvis, he chuckled. “Right. Well, let’s get these into the storage containers and then in for observation.”
“And then you need to sleep, Sir,” Jarvis directed. “Agent DiNozzo will be in tomorrow and he will notice if you are not well-rested.”
“I can see how this is going to go,” Tony muttered as he transferred each core into its container. He resolutely ignored how his hands were mildly shaking. Relief was just as horrific an emotion as anger could be. Two more steps and he’d be able to bond to his sentinel without worrying he was poisoning the man.
Jarvis made a small smug sound. “As you say, Sir.”
“Sir, you need to wake up.”
Tony opened his eyes and blinked. “What time is it?”
“Seven AM,” Jarvis announced. “You have a call from Ms. Geake concerning Mr. Stark’s effects. Also, Ms. Potts is on her way over with a directive from the Board, stating that SI is to restart the production of weapons. I’ve informed Mr. Welch of the Board’s actions. Nothing he said in reply is repeatable.”
“What in the fuck is Obie smoking?” Tony muttered as he rolled out of bed. Thankfully he’d gone to be early enough that getting up at 0700 wouldn’t kill him. He’d just hate it deeply. “Coffee, J. And get the shower going. If I have to deal with people, I need to at least look respectable. What’s my percentage of stock?”
“Current percentage of SI stock is 65% through several shell companies,” Jarvis reported as the shower turned on. “Shall I connect Ms. Geake?”
“Yeah, let her through,” Tony directed as he started brushing his teeth. He’d let the shower warm-up. That helped. Cold water was currently an issue.
“Mr. Stark, I have some information on your father’s effects,” Geake announced.
Tony spat his mouthful of toothpaste out, before a quick swish of water. “And?”
“Right.” He could hear her moving paper around wherever she was. “S.H.I.E.L.D. is apparently an organization within the US government. Currently dealing with things that are so classified I’m not allowed to know. And decidedly don’t want to know. At any rate, they state that your father had been working for them and that they confiscated all of his effects under the guise of national security. Thus, they don’t have to turn over anything to SI.”
“Yeah, that’s a level of bullshit that I’m not going to buy,” Tony snapped. He eyed his beard and sighed. He was going to need to get that removed soon. Like most guides, he’d gone in for hair removal as soon as he could, but he’d only done his in certain areas. He needed to get the rest of his body done as soon as possible because he wasn’t going to cause Dom any pain when they bonded. Even if it did mean that his signature beard was going to go.
“I’m not buying it either, sir. There had to have been a great deal of proprietary SI information in those documents they seized. I’ll be filing a number of motions to get everything back. It may take some time though,” Geake promised.
“I can deal with that,” Tony allowed. “Just do your best and remember that you have a whole law firm you can sic on them. Not just yourself.”
“Oh, yes,” Geake sounded like she was contemplating something. “Would you be okay with that?”
“Have fun, don’t take over the world,” Tony directed. When she laughed, he ended the call and headed for his shower. “Jarvis, as soon as it’s a decent time, reach out to Hedge and Hirst and see if they can come over to give me my official bill of good mental health.”
“Alpha Hedge has already filed that with me, Sir,” Jarvis announced. “He wrote it up after he and Alpha Hirst returned to their office.”
“Huh, well okay, then,” Tony grunted before he took a deep breath and stuck his head under the stream of water. It wasn’t cold, and it was clean, and he wasn’t in Afghanistan. Tony chanted those three things over and over as he quickly washed his hair. Thankfully he was in a better mental place than he had been when he’d been rescued.
“Jarvis, check on PO2 Gallagher. She was the corpsman who was with the team that rescued me,” Tony called as he turned the water off.
“PO2 Irene Gallagher has been reassigned to the USS Emory S Land out of Naples, Italy,” Jarvis reported as he walked out of the shower. “She has a commendation in her record for her role in your rescue, but there are also notes that indicate that she will not be offered another tour.”
“Yeah, that’s bullshit,” Tony muttered as he dried himself quickly. A little styling product, some time with the right brushes, and his hair was presentable. That left clothes. “Email Dom to see if he can look into that. She’s Navy and he’s a Navy cop.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis confirmed. He turned a small spotlight on a black suit in Tony’s closet. “I suggest the suit, Sir.”
“I am not wearing a full suit, that would be just a step too far,” Tony grumbled. He did pull out the pants and vest though. Add in a red shirt and he’d be comfortable and still look good. Tony got dressed and without thinking about it slid an earbud in before he headed down to the kitchen. “Is Happy up?”
“Mr. Hogan is up and waiting at the door for Ms. Potts,” Jarvis confirmed. “There are pastries, yogurt, and fruit in the refrigerator along with coffee.”
“Yeah, Dom needs to teach me how to cook because I’d kill for some French toast right now,” Tony bitched as he started pulling breakfast foods out. The coffeemaker was already done brewing. Once a decent spread was out, he poured himself a cup and started eating.
When Happy and Pepper walked in, he was on his second cup of coffee and hallway through a cream cheese Danish. “Pep, Happy. Dig in. Why are you here so early, Pep?”
Pepper winced as she slid a packet of paper over. “The Board has demands.”
“They do remember that I’m the majority stockholder for SI and I don’t actually need them to run the company, right?” Tony asked. He grabbed a knife and flipped the folder open. It actually contained a demand from the Board that SI return to the business of weapons manufacturing and that he get back to work on the next generation of munitions. “Well?”
“Mr. Stane is CEO, Tony. And he’s determined that SI will get back into weapons manufacturing,” Pepper said quietly.
“How in the hell did Stane get to be CEO. He doesn’t have the votes for it without me backing him and he’s not my proxy,” Tony asked. He was keeping a sharp eye on Pepper and stilled when she started oozing guilt. “What happened?”
“He stated he was your proxy, Boss,” Happy said, obviously unhappy to be telling him that. “And Ms. Potts didn’t have a leg to stand on with the Board.”
“So what? You went along with this?” Tony asked. “Rhodey had my proxy and my directives. Why wasn’t he consulted?”
“I don’t know,” Pepper whispered before she took a deep breath and pushed on. “I did object, but the Board pushed through with the vote despite my vote against it. They declared your proxy null and void and went back to when Mr. Stane had been in charge while you were a minor.”
“I’m thirty-five. That’s going to be changing pretty damn quick,” Tony muttered. “Jarvis, call Welch and tell him to get his ass in gear. I want to see him here by 0830. He can eat here. I don’t care if he shows up in his PJ’s.”
“Yes, Sir. Shall I tell him to start the process of disbanding the Board?” Jarvis asked.
“Hell, yes. And do a deep dive on Obie and find out what in the hell he’s up to. This is too bold for that old bastard,” Tony growled.
The slightly inhuman sound made both his breakfast companions look at him sharply. “Tony?” Pepper asked carefully. “What was that?”
“At the moment, it’s personal. But I will be having a guest here tonight, and all through the weekend Happy. Agent DiNozzo will be up about 4 pm. He says he can cook, so see about getting the kitchen stocked with a reasonable assortment of supplies,” Tony directed.
“Why are you inviting the man investigating parts of your kidnapping back to the house?” Pepper asked.
Tony wanted to snap at her to mind her own business, but he didn’t. From the outside, what he was doing was mad. But then again, he’d never really been against doing things that were mad. “He’s pretty. I thought I’d get to know him better.”
Chuckling softly at her absolutely boggled expression, he got up and poured himself more coffee. “Happy? Got anything to say?”
“Nope,” Happy looked well. Happy. And Tony could live with that. He was sure that the other man had clued into part of what was happening. After all, he’d been the one to escort the Alpha’s in to meet him and he’d also met Dom. Happy tilted his head at Pepper and gave him a small nod.
“Thank you,” Tony said. That small gesture said that Happy would take the time to explain to Pepper the new lay of the land. Better Happy than him.
Tony grabbed another pastry and headed out. He needed to do something. “Jarvis? How are the cores doing?”
“We are T+ eight hours, Sir, and all four cores are stable. I will let you know when we can take the best one out to insert in the arc reactor,” Jarvis promised.
“Anything interesting to report about them?” Tony prodded. He needed something to do, but given what he had on his plate, he couldn’t take the chance of getting lost in an engineering binge.
“Several things, Sir, but you directed that all information on this project only be discussed in the lab,” Jarvis cautioned.
“Right,” Tony paced around the first floor, moving from one public room to another. The mansion was a combination home and office building and if he wasn’t as fucked up as he was, he’d have had Pepper and her squad of assistants installed in the offices helping him run the company. “Jarvis, has Obie instituted any changes to the company yet?”
“No, Sir. Not that I can see. Shall I research this?” Jarvis asked.
“In a moment. How are you doing? Do you need more capacity?” Tony asked. He was piling a large number of things on Jarvis and if he needed to, he’d wake up a new AI to help take up some of the slack.
“At the moment, Sir, I am fine. However, I do foresee a time when I shall be running at capacity. I would suggest that you take that under consideration,” Jarvis admitted.
“Right,” Tony sighed. “We’ll see about waking Friday up. See if she can help out in the lab to start. Maybe take on some of the functions around the house while she gets her feet under her.”
“I’m certain that she will enjoy directing the Roomba’s, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. His voice was extremely dry and Tony started laughing at that.
“I’m sure she will,” he said after several more chuckles. “Maybe she can use them as an army.”
“Only if you give them lasers, Sir,” Jarvis offered.
“Yeah, no,” Tony winced at that. There were reasons why the lab had automatic locks that went into place when he was tired or intoxicated. He’d blackout binged engineering before and what came out the other end of those episodes were… quirky and he wasn’t repeating the event.
Checking his watch, he hummed softly to himself. His review of Dom’s life showed that the man was often in his office before 0800, and often before 0700. Thus, it was perfectly acceptable for him to call. “Jarvis, call Dom.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis said before his earpiece had a dial tone ringing in it.
“You know, this thing is still government issue. Are you sure you want to call me on it?” Dom asked when he picked up instead of a standard greeting.
“I’ll take my chances,” Tony said. He could feel himself relaxing as he listened to his sentinel as he puttered around something. “Are you at a crime scene?”
“If I was, I wouldn’t have answered my phone. I’m actually at my desk at NCIS headquarters, waiting on the rest of the team to show up,” Dom said. “If I start wandering into pet names, it’s because of that.”
“Don’t they know you’re a sentinel?” Tony asked. He had been discrete about his status as a guide due to the bullshit the Board had spouted when he’d come online. That and what he’d gotten off Obie. There were many reasons why the older man was no longer CEO, but his unrepentant bastardry was a major one. Tony didn’t want to deal daily with a man who oozed malice, greed, and bigotry to name three of Obie’s many issues.
“No, they don’t,” Dom admitted.
“You’re wearing an S&G pin on your clothes,” Tony said. “Right? You wore one when you were here.”
“Every day of my life, I wear one. They’re basically permanently attached to all my clothes,” Dom said. “So, no I have no idea how they keep missing that. But, they do, so I’m not going to clue them in.”
“Wow, I am not impressed with these people and I’ve not even met them,” Tony muttered. “Did you get an email from me about PO2 Gallagher?”
“I did. I’ll be looking into things for her. Without knowing what happened after she turned you over to the docs at this point, I can’t say why that note would be in her file,” Dom cleared his throat and changed the subject with no subtlety. “Sweet pea, do you think your kids would like a ball? Or is D still enamored with fire extinguishers?”
“He’s still massively attached to the fire extinguishers,” Tony said with a small chuckle. “You have company, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, honey bunches,” Dom cooed.
“That is so creepy,” Tony laughed. “I use pet names too, but I don’t think I coo them.”
“Sweetie, I look forward to seeing you soon. You can try out all the names on me then,” Dom said. “Hey, would D like some of those exploding fire extinguisher balls?”
“No. You are not getting Dum-E exploding fire extinguisher balls. He’s destructive enough without giving him that option too,” Tony said, drawing a line in the sand. He had no idea if he’d actually be able to keep them away from his bot, but he’d certainly try. Dum-E didn’t need any more help to be a little shit.
“Fine. I’ll be out of here at noon and you said the plane will pick me up at the airport at 1:30,” Dom confirmed.
“Agent DiNozzo, this is Jarvis. Your flight will be available to you from noon on. Sir set the time for 1:30 due to traffic and getting to the airport. As he requested, I’ve taken the liberty of sending you an itinerary to your personal email account.”
“Good idea, J. I’ll check that out and Honey Chicken? I know you’re an absolute snob about my phone, please remember it’s government property,” Dom warned. “You can’t do anything to it, no matter how much you want to.”
“They hack into your shit, don’t they?” Tony connected the dots abruptly.
Dom sighed and made an assenting noise. “Got it in one, beautiful.”
“Yeah, that’s bullshit. We’ll see about that,” Tony growled. “I wonder if I can complain that I can’t talk to my sentinel without this unknown 3rd party potentially listening in. And yes, I get that might look weird given that Jarvis listens to all my calls.”
“I’m good with J. He’s an awesome person. I’ll do my best about the rest of the issue.” Dom allowed. “My boss is giving me the stink eye, so I need to get back to work.”
“I’ll see you when you get up here,” Tony said and smiled when he heard the dial tone. Yeah, he had some things to do. But it was good to have talked to Dom. Even if it had been for only ten minutes.
“Sir, Mr. Welch has arrived and he says that he has news on the injunction and the issues surrounding it,” Jarvis cut in.
Tony nodded once. “Well, then. Let’s go find out what in the hell’s going on there.”
“I shall send U up with a secure tablet for you, Sir.”
Tony walked into the conference room Welch had been parked in and stared at his attorney. “Talk to me, Welch. What have you got?”
“Whatever Stane has planned, it hasn’t been some short-term thing,” Welch started. He held out a USB drive. “My team started researching as soon as I got back to my car on Tuesday and we’ve found a lot of shit. Most of it bad. Our research in the company shows that the roots of this go back to when he was CEO after the death of your parents.”
“Plug that in,” Tony said, pointing at the access point in the center of the table. When Welch did, Jarvis started putting the information it contained up on the wall screens surrounding them. “What am I looking at here?”
Welch stood up and went to the first screen at the head of the table. “Okay, so starting with the first instances of malfeasance. Stane started with a 2% stake in SI. He’s managed to increase that amount to 5% at present, through various methods and the extra 3% is held by shell companies that don’t lead directly back to him, but were purchased with money he supplied. Most of his acquisitions have come by buying whatever SI stocks hit the market. At any rate, he started getting his hooks into the Board when he became CEO. A little blackmail here, some graft there, arranging for a few like-minded individuals to be named to the Board… It took a few years.”
“Did it take longer because I kicked him out of the CEO role when I took over after I was 21?” Tony asked. He eyed the various parties listed and suppressed a growl.
“Well, that didn’t help him, that’s for sure,” Welch admitted. “He’d been behind the push to keep SI making weapons. And since you went along with it for years, he didn’t move in ways that were too obviously outrageous.”
Tony looked at the second screen and realized it was Obie’s financials from the time he’d started at SI under his father to his last purchase of wine the previous night. “You’re through.”
“I had help,” Welch admitted. “At any rate, it’s the under the radar stuff that’s where the really horrible stuff starts coming up. When I looked into the contracts for anything munitions related there’s been something off about most of them for the last ten years. Let me tell you, I am not the person to be figuring out what was off about those. I handed them over to my assistant and she’s the one who noticed the discrepancy. It was pretty slick. It goes like this: SI would get contracted for say, a thousand missiles. All very standard.”
“Right,” Tony agreed. “A thousand is on the low side, but sure.”
“Oh, I know. I saw the numbers. Insane,” Welch shook his head and plowed on. “Anyway. When the SI manufacturing arm finished their run, instead of a thousand units, they had made a thousand and ten. And the thousand promised to the government got delivered and ten disappeared. They weren’t used in quality control, they weren’t the one that’s kept with the prototype in storage, nope, these were just gone.”
“And then what?” Tony asked.
“Then there’s a deposit in an account that Stane has set up in some 3rd world country with dodgy tax laws,” Welch said, waving a hand at the financials. “Eventually, through some really horrific, but genius, slight of accounting hand, the money is moved to his actual accounts and he’s sitting pretty on his paycheck from selling your tech to assholes.”
“And no one noticed this shit?” Tony growled. “Really?”
“Oh, the managers of the various manufacturing noticed something was up, but there wasn’t much for them to officially report. Some extra items built? Well, they’re all being taken in for testing and product displays. The extra is specially packaged and off they go,” Welch sounded and felt sour as he relayed the information.
“So, who was he selling to?” Tony asked as he moved onto the next screen. There were lists of customers. So many terrorist organizations, some stretching back decades.
“More like who isn’t he selling to?” Welch muttered. “If he’s not selling to someone directly, he’s selling to dealers who sell to the worst of the worst. And all if it lined his pockets. It looks like he’s been doing something shady since he started working for SI when your father was in charge. But the actual arms dealing has only really happened in the last twenty or so years.”
“Okay, so all of this should get Obie arrested and thrown under the damn jail,” Tony waved his hand at the screens they had already discussed. “But as bad as those are, they don’t seem to be what has you so angry you’re vibrating with it.”
“Right,” Welch took a deep breath and waved his hands at the fourth screen. “So, six months ago, Stane reached out to someone. The only reason we know this is that it cost him to do it and he recorded the transaction. Do not ask me why he did, because it’s a fucking stupid thing to do, but he did. And no, you aren’t getting access to the hacker I had look into this. This is the part where we can’t actually discuss it with actual law enforcement because nothing that was found was done legally.”
“Okay,” Tony considered Welch and what he had to have done. “You used a hacker.”
“I used a hacker. They’re a white hat and are actually a hacker that the government uses, but this was off the books for their official job and was done as a favor for me,” Welch confirmed.
“Sniper,” Welch supplied. “He was okay with you knowing he helped.”
Tony nodded at that. “We’ve never met, but yeah, he’s a white hat and he’s worked for me before. It’s all good.”
“Right, getting back to what Stane did. His contacts got him an in with the Ten Rings,” Welch said. He didn’t flinch when Tony hissed at that revelation. “Yeah, it’s bullshit. We didn’t get their communications, but there was a wire transfer of over $5,000,000 dollars from Stane to a bank account that eventually hit the Ten Rings.”
“And two months later, I’m in Afghanistan, showing off our shiny new weapon and a whole caravan of people die in the process of me being kidnapped,” Tony growled.
“Yeah,” Welch confirmed. “It doesn’t get better. There was another deposit of $500,000 made about a month after you were missing that again went to the Ten Rings. And then three days after you were found, it looks like there was another large deposit somewhere for $100,000. The last one’s recipient is currently unknown.”
“Well, that’s not good. Unknown in this context is bad,” Tony said as he stared at the damning information. “Most of this is stuff that’s not going to be used in a court of law.”
“I know. But I don’t expect it will make it to the courts of law that mundanes use,” Welch nodded at the pin on Tony’s lapel. “If he makes it out alive, I’ll be shocked.”
“Huh,” Tony reached up to tap the pin. “Me too. Get all this organized and a report written up. I want whatever can be turned over to the mundane courts ready for them to review so we catch any collaborators. Also, how’s it going on disbanding my Board? And kicking Obie out of his CEO seat?”
“Everyone will be getting served in a few hours,” Welch said after looking at his watch.
“Good,” Tony nodded towards the conference room. “Best get started on that report then.”
Welch nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Tony started walking downstairs towards his lab. He needed to check the new power cores and install one in the arc reactor. Twelve hours had passed while he was in the meeting with Welch.
Only after he entered the safety of his own space in the mansion did he lose his cool.
“Son of a bitch!” Tony raged as he looked for something to deal with the anger surging through him. There was nothing breakable in the area that he didn’t actually need, so he had to stand in the middle of the room and vibrate with his temper. Taking a deep breath, Tony started pacing the edges of the room, circling the room in an effort to calm down.
“Sir, is there anything I can do?” Jarvis asked.
“No, J. There’s nothing that you can do right now,” Tony snapped. He took another deep breath and winced as the arc reactor pressed against his lungs. Pressing the heel of his hand below where his breastbone would be, Tony tried to breathe evenly. “Do you know why you didn’t find what Welch did?”
“I was looking at his public persona, Sir. Mr. Stane’s public financials are well within the ranges that they should be. I did see some of this when I was looking into the rest of the Board, but I didn’t have the context to extrapolate the reasons for the oddities,” Jarvis explained.
“Right,” Tony turned around and started pacing in the other direction. “What in the fuck makes these bastards think they can get away with this?”
“I have no idea, Sir,” Jarvis said.
“Me either,” Tony muttered. He kept pacing for several more minutes before a new noise cut in. Jarvis was apparently done with letting him pace himself into an oblivion and was calling someone.
“J says you’re having a bad day?” Dom asked.
“My AI is mother-henning me,” Tony bitched. He wanted to tell Dom, but he was on a government phone that could be hacked and he was an NCIS agent. While he was planning on turning over the information on Stane, the information was going to go to the Alpha Sentinel and Guide of the US. He didn’t want to stress Dom’s oaths.
“Why?” Dom asked. In the background behind him, were the noises of a busy office. Tony was sure that if he pushed it, he could hear everything happening around his sentinel.
“Because I found out some shit that’s got me so mad, I can’t settle,” Tony ground out. “I’m not going to lie, I would like to tell you, but I can’t.”
Dom was silent for several moments before he sighed. “Because of the phone and my job?”
“Those are two issues, but there are others,” Tony confirmed. As much as he knew that Dom was his sentinel, legally, they weren’t bonded yet and that meant that Dom wasn’t covered by the agreements that protected bonded partners at SI and also at NCIS.
“I get that,” Dom said. “Well, I’ll be up in only a few hours and we can talk things over at that point. And maybe see about getting me authorization.”
A voice cut in and Tony could hear a poisonous sweetness to it. “Is your sweetie not allowed to see you, Tony? Is she too young? Have to ask her mommy if she can be seen with you?”
“What in the actual fuck is that?” Tony asked. “Did she just call you a pedophile?”
“That would be one of my coworkers, dearest,” Dom explained, voice dry. “She thinks she’s funny.”
“Jarvis?” Tony called. A holo screen flickered to life in front of him and suspended within the screen was the security feed for Dom’s building. Standing over his sentinel was a dark-haired woman with a sneer on her face. Tony couldn’t get a good view of her face, but her whole body expressed aggression. “She had better back the fuck off you.”
“Honey, did you do what I think you did?” Dom asked as he looked up at one of the security cameras.
“Would I do that?” Tony asked as he worked to get a better angle. If this was what Dom had to deal with, he was going to ruin the bitch.
“Don’t even try,” Dom eyed the camera sternly.
“Who are you talking to? Your non-existent girlfriend?” The woman sneered at him before she looked around like she could see Tony.
“Really, Ziva, I’m trying to have a conversation that doesn’t include you. You have reports to write before you go home for the night. I suggest you get started,” Dom directed.
“Your little girlfriend offended?” Ziva asked snidely. She was sneering down at Dom while trying to loom.
“She’s done,” Tony decided after watching how the woman was treating his sentinel. She exuded a level of assurance that said she’d done something like this before and gotten away with it. “I’m going to call it..”
“Right,” In the picture, Dom leaned back and glanced over at another coworker. “Balboa? Will you stand witness?”
“What?” Ziva glanced over at the man Dom had called out to. “Why would you need to involve Balboa in this?”
“Yeah, Tony, I heard. I’ll stand witness,” the other man called. He stood up and walked over.
From the angle, Tony could see the S&G pin on the man’s lapel. “Dom, is this Balboa a sentinel or a guide?”
“He’s a lot like me,” Dom said.
“Sentinel Balboa, this is Guide Stark. I find this Ziva person intolerable. She’s not to work with my sentinel. She is not to be around him,” Tony snapped. He could see from the way Balboa stiffened that he had heard him. “Do you understand me?”
“Yes, I do,” Balboa confirmed. He turned to Ziva and reached out to take her arm. “Let’s go. You’ve been declared intolerable by a guide and I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long. You need to leave.”
“What? Tony doesn’t have a guide on the phone with him. He’s not a sentinel or a guide!” Ziva protested. She jerked her arm out of Balboa’s grip. “He’s on the phone with some little girl that he’s trying to talk into something.”
“For the love of God, Ziva, even I heard the guide on the other end of that call say that you’ve been declared intolerable.” An older man cut in. “Do us all a favor and leave the building.”
“Gibbs!” Ziva protested again.
Dom stood up and leaned over his desk until he was in Ziva’s face. He had his phone gripped in hand. “Get out. You aren’t wanted here.”
Ziva leaned back as Dom got in her face. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
“I don’t care if you think I can or can’t,” Dom announced. “But the guide is correct, you are utterly intolerable. Get. OUT.”
From the way the woman blanched, she wasn’t expecting the level of push Dom put behind his voice that showed he was the bigger predator.
All three men watched as the woman left. The older man turned to look at Dom. “Only you, Tony. Make sure that he treats you well.”
“Yeah, Boss, he’s a good man. We’ll treat each other well,” Dom promised.
“Best get going then,” the older man nodded towards the phone in Dom’s hand. “I’m sure your special someone is waiting.”
“Right,” Dom agreed. He raised the phone to his ear. “I take it you’re aware of what’s just happened?”
“Yes,” Tony confirmed. The gnawing in his center for his sentinel was getting worse. “I’ll see you when you get up here.”
Dom nodded and hung up the phone. He immediately started packing up his desk.
“Jarvis, close it down. We need to get the core in the arc reactor. I want it ready when Dom gets here,” Tony directed. “And file the report of intolerance regarding that Ziva, bint.”
“Ziva David, the daughter of the head of Mossad, Eli David,” Jarvis reported.
Tony glanced up sharply at that. “And she’s working in NCIS? Has she given up her Israeli citizenship?”
“No, Sir,” Jarvis said. “And she’s still in frequent contact with her father.”
“Add that to the intolerance report,” Tony snapped. “
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis agreed. “Shall I pull the progress reports on the cores up?”
“Yeah,” Tony turned to look at the updated holo screens. His anger wasn’t forgotten, but it was shoved to the side. He had things to do before he could really let everything loose.
Sitting on the couch in the living room, Tony started reading the progress reports Welch and Geake were sending him. Both of them were zeroing in on their various assignments. The level of detail in the reports was making him furious and he was deeply grateful that he and Dom weren’t bonded. If they had been, the level of anger running through him would send his sentinel into a feral rage.
Jarvis was feeding him new documents as they came in, along with status reports of where Dom was. He didn’t feel guilty about his stalkerish tendencies since people were out to get him and he needed to keep everyone safe.
Tony opened the next document on the list and his tablet blinked. “Jarvis?”
“Sorry, Tony. Your wonder creation has had its plug pulled,” Obie announced as he walked into the living room. He pointed a device at him and Tony could feel every muscle lock-up. “Remember this?” Obie asked as he waggled the device. “A perfect little device for causing short term paralysis. Too bad repeated use causes the subject to stroke out, but hey, nothings perfect.”
Locked in his own head, Tony raged, every stop on his temper completely blown. He tried to reach beyond his own skull to burn Obie out and got nowhere. He kept battering against whatever it was stopping him and nothing happened.
“Oh, I bet you’re trying to do something to me, aren’t you, Tony-boy? You being a big, bad, guide, and all?” Obie looked amused as he dropped a bag by the tablet Tony had dropped when he’d been paralyzed. “Yeah, the funny thing about this?” Obie wagged the device again before he switched it off and pulled a set of electronic earplugs out of his ears. “It basically short-circuits the parts of you that are a guide while you’re under the effect of it. So, I’m perfectly safe to take my golden parachute and get away.”
Tony tried to blink but nothing was happening. His vision started to blur as tears gathered in his eyes and he could do nothing stop it. He needed to be able to see, to understand what was happening.
Obie pulled a clamping device out and turned back to Tony. “I was worried when I arranged the hit on you, that my golden goose was being cooked,” he leaned forward and placed the clamp on Tony’s chest before squeezing a trigger. Whatever the clamp was, Tony could feel it reach into his chest and grab hold of his arc reactor. “But then, you pulled another golden egg out to rescue yourself and I’m here to take it.”
There was a pulling sensation and Tony could feel the arc reactor start to move out of his chest. Obie hummed softly as he watched the reactor come free. “Look at what you created, Tony. While you won’t make another golden egg, I’ll certainly appreciate this one. And so will everyone I sell it to.”
Tony saw two hands reach out and wrap around Obie’s head before they twisted sharply and snapped his neck. “I hate monologuing villains,” Dom bitched. He leaned over and grabbed the clamp. “This should not be on the outside of you. I need to get it back on the inside,” he muttered as he attempted to reinsert the reactor back into Tony’s chest.
He could feel his heart beating harder as the power source that kept him alive was moved around. Even with Obie being dead and no longer threatening him, he still felt panic moving through his veins. “Please, Tony. I know this is freaky as fuck, but I need you to calm down a bit,” Dom pleaded. He carefully maneuvered the reactor back into place. There was a quiet click as it seated back into its holding ring.
The panic started to subside as Tony could feel the pulse of the reactor keeping the shrapnel echo through his chest again. He’d only had the damn thing for three months and already the thought of not having it made him want to flail.
Dom kicked over Obie’s corpse and started patting him down. “Where is the thing that’s keeping you from moving?” When he found it, he tucked it into his own pocket. “You can destroy this thing when we’re somewhere safe.”
Tony could feel the grip of the paralyzer slipping from him and he grunted. Dom left the search of Obie to kneel down in-between Tony’s knees. “Tony, are you in any pain? What do I do? Did I insert that thing correctly?”
“FUCK,” Tony hissed as he started to get feeling back into his body. “Fuck.”
“I totally agree,” Dom said. He carefully straightened Tony up so he wasn’t listing. “Your heartbeat is slowing. That’s good.”
“Dom,” Tony said. He started to flex his hands, slowly making sure that he had feeling back. He slowly pushed his biggest worry out. “Obie said it can cause a stroke.”
“Fuck that,” Dom muttered as he slowly ran a hand over Tony’s skull. “I’m not feeling any issues with your blood vessels. I think. But we’ll have to work out some way to get your head scanned. Because I don’t think getting you in an MRI or a CAT scan will work with your chest accessory.”
“No,” Tony grunted. The paralysis released its last grip on him and Tony put his hand on the reactor and pressed slightly, making sure that it was seated correctly. “God, that was a horrific experience.”
“Are you going to be upset about that?” Dom asked as he tilted his head at Obie.
“No,” Tony snapped. “If I’d been able to, I’d have done it myself.”
“Right,” Dom drew in a deep breath and pushed it out carefully. “Do not kill me. I need to move you out of here, someplace secure.”
“I’m not going to lose any macho points if I let my sentinel pick me up,” Tony allowed. He held out his arms and sighed as Dom carefully picked him up. “We’re going downstairs. I need to get Jarvis back online.”
“Right,” Dom turned to walk out of the door. He stopped and tilted his head, listening to something. “Happy dropped me off in the garage. We have another heartbeat in here and I don’t recognize it.”
A man in a grey suit stepped out from around the corner. “I’m not here to cause an issue, Sentinel DiNozzo.”
“And yet, you’re in my guide’s home and I’m certain he didn’t invite you,” Dom snapped. He carefully let Tony’s legs slip to the ground and held him steady until he was able to stand. As soon as he was good, Dom stepped to forward and to the side to put himself in front of Tony. “Who the hell are you?”
“Agent Coulson, S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the other man said. He pulled out a badge and held it up “Mr. Stark has expressed an interest in materials that we hold.”
“Oh, fuck you very much. You’re talking about materials that you lot stole from my company as it was being moved to our archives. And somehow managed to convince SI to sign off on the theft,” Tony ground out. “And from what records we have, you lot have company secrets in your hands, so you can expect to be sued to within an inch of your lives for industrial espionage.”
“Mr. Stark,” Coulson smiled and started to walk towards them.
“Dr. Stark,” Dom growled. “If you can’t call someone by their proper title, why in the hell should he talk to you? Also, get the fuck out, make an appointment, and make sure to bring everything you stole.”
“Agent DiNozzo, you don’t actually have the authority to order that,” Coulson said with a condescending smile.
“You’ll find I do,” Dom smiled with no humor. “And you can tell Fury that he’s already on strike two. Get out.”
Coulson nodded once and turned around and walked off.
“Dom,” Tony started.
“Tony, hush, please,” Dom whispered. He had his head tilted like he was listening to something. Tony managed to walk forward enough to place his hand on the small of Dom’s back. They stood like that for almost a minute before the sentinel turned around. “Okay, I’ve got what I need.”
He scooped Tony back up and walked a route towards the front door. Every couple of steps along the way, he stopped and picked something out of a number of discrete spots. Furniture, art, lights, Dom picked things up out of all of them and more. Dom held all the objects in his hand until he reached the front door when he opened it and tossed them all out.
“Okay, so now that’s been taken care of,” Dom started. “You had a place for us to go?”
“Yeah, back the way we came and hang a left,” Tony directed. “There’s an elevator that we need to go down.”
“Will we be able to without Jarvis?” Dom asked. He was sounding more and more strained by the minute.
Tony nodded. “Yeah. I made sure of it.”
“Good. I need you safe,” Dom growled. “And then we can call the S&G center and have them deal with Stane.”
“My lab is as safe as any bonding suite,” Tony promised.
Tony reached down and placed his hand on the access plate. Normally Jarvis would be controlling the whole process, but Tony was nothing if not paranoid and prepared. The computer that controlled the access to his lab was on an independent power source and let him in without issue.
“Let me pull the handle, Dom,” Tony murmured. His hand needed to be the one on the handle to make sure that the prints matched. Dom let his legs slide down and supported him as he pulled the door to his lab open. “Okay. We’re in.”
“Good,” Dom said before scooping him back up and carrying him through the door.
“I am so glad that I’m secure in my masculinity,” Tony muttered as he was carefully placed on one of the couches he had in the lab.
“Ha,” Dom said before turning back to the door. “Cool, it closes automatically. Good.” He reached into his pocket and pulled the paralyzer out. “Got a hammer?”
“Friday-girl? Show Dom where my hammers are,” Tony directed. “And pull me up a holo screen so I can start figuring out what’s going on with your brother.”
“Sure, Boss,” Friday chirped. She was currently restricted to the lab, but she had full access to that. And her help would be deeply appreciated.
“New kid?” Dom asked. “Thank you, Friday,” he said as he picked up a club hammer and hammered the paralyzer to smashed bits. “I feel better with that thing gone.”
“Me too,” Tony said as he examined the connections Jarvis normally had with the house. “Friday, is Butterfingers in the lab?”
“No, Boss,” Friday said promptly. “Should I have him do something?”
“Yeah, have him head up to the north servant’s entrance. There’s a conduit running along the wall there that seems to have a device added to it. He needs to remove it and bring it down here so I can examine it,” Tony directed.
“Got it, Boss!” Friday said. “Can I know who you’ve got with you?”
“Friday, this is Agent Dominic DiNozzo, my sentinel,” Tony waved at his sentinel. “Dom, this is my new kid, Friday.”
Dom stared at the ceiling and nodded. “Hello, Ms. Friday. Pleased to meet you.”
“Just Friday, Agent DiNozzo,” Friday said. “Boss, Butterfingers says that was clamped on and he’ll bring it down now that he’s removed it.”
“Jarvis?” Tony asked carefully.
“Here, Sir. That was most disconcerting,” Jarvis said. His voice was as smooth as ever, but buried in it was a hint of disconcertion.
“Run a dialogistic, please,” Tony directed. He kept an eye on the progress on a new holo screen. Tony nodded once as Jarvis started to diagnose any errors in himself before he turned to Dom. “How are you doing? Still need me to be secure?”
“Hell, yes. I don’t think that’s going to change in the next ten minutes,” Dom snapped. He held up a hand and took a deep breath. “Right, I’m not nearly as calm as I want to be. Let’s just stay in here.”
“Okay,” Tony agreed. “Shall I call the S&G center to have them come deal with Obie?”
Dom nodded once before he started to pace around the space, examining every inch. “What do you do in here?”
“Anything I can think of,” Tony admitted. “I did cast metal down here,” he reminded his sentinel.
“I forgot about that,” Dom said. He looked around again.
Laughing slightly, Tony stood up and held still while he tested his balance. “Okay, let’s show you what I did, what I built out of it, and what I want you to do with what I built.”
“Boss, before you do that, you need to call the S&G Center,” Friday reminded him. “U and Dum-E want to drag the body down to the garage and dump it in the dumpster.”
“Oh, my god. Your kids,” Dom laughed. “Call the Center.”
“Friday?” Tony directed. Friday made certain to let them hear the phone ringing.
“Dr. Stark?” Hedge asked. He sounded startled that Tony was calling. Right, he wasn’t expecting to contact the Alphas before their next appointment on Monday.
“I thought I told you to call me Tony?” Tony asked. “Never mind. Look, I have a problem.”
“Is this problem going to give me an ulcer?” Hedge asked.
“Yes,” Tony admitted without a blush. He honestly wasn’t upset Obie was dead, he was more frustrated that he was still in his house. Hedge was the access to the means to get Obie out and away from him. “Obadiah Stane broke into my house and attacked me. My sentinel objected to that and killed him. Now we need to have his remains removed from my house before he stinks it up anymore.”
“Obadiah Stane attacked you and now you need his corpse removed,” Hedge asked.
“Yup,” Tony confirmed.
“You do not live a boring life, Tony,” Hedge muttered. “Sam’s on his way over with a cleanup team. They’ll make sure that there’s no trace of the remains in the room or in the house. Should I register your bonding?”
Tony glanced over at Dom and tilted his head in question. At Dom’s nod, he made an assenting noise at the phone. “Yeah, we’re good with that.”
“Tony, you’ve never told me the name of your sentinel,” Hedge prompted.
“Oh,” Tony said before he looked over at Dom. “Agent Anthony Dominic DiNozzo, NCIS.”
“He’s listening to this, isn’t he?” Hedge asked, voice wary.
“Yeah, I am. Can I get your name? I’m not up on who’s in charge here in New York,” Dom said.
“Alex Hedge, Alpha Guide for the East Coast,” Hedge answered. “We’re pitch hitting while we work to get the Manhattan Center back up to speed.”
“Huh,” Dom grunted before he turned to raise an eyebrow at Tony. “Tony just said he was getting help. I take it he’s been going to you?”
“Yeah,” Hedge confirmed. “My sentinel is Sam Hirst. He’ll be the one leading party to take care of the disposal problem.”
“Were you a cop at one point?” Dom asked.
The non-sequitur caused Tony to blink, but it just made Hedge laugh. “Yeah, I was for about three years before I met and bonded to Sam. Given how strong we are together, we took over a local center and just started moving our way up. That and Blair didn’t take our ‘NO’ seriously.”
“He does that a lot,” Tony agreed. “Can you log us in? I’m pretty certain that we’ll be bonded as soon as the house is secure.”
“Got it, Tony. Take care of yourself and your sentinel,” Hedge prompted before he signed off.
“Okay, that’s taken care of,” Tony walked over to where he had stored the new arc reactor. He typed in the passcode and popped the lid off the case. “Okay, so the thing that Obie tried to pull out of my chest is a miniaturized arc reactor. Without it running, the shrapnel that’s embedded in my chest will get pulled into my heart due to how all blood ends there eventually.”
“I’m not going to like this, am I,” Dom asked as he stood and looked over Tony’s shoulder at the reactor. “Why do you have a new one if the old one is still in your chest?”
“I have the new one because the old one” Tony tapped the arc reactor in question. “is slowly poisoning me. The power source is palladium and that’s a heavy metal that does all sorts of bad shit to living tissue. It’s what I had at the time, so I used it.”
“And the new one?” Dom asked. “What does it have?”
“It has an element that my dad apparently synthesized, sometime around 1990,” Tony pointed at the little triangle at the heart of the arc reactor. “It was in a raw form that needed to be melted, cast and then I used a laser to kick start its ability to generate power. Once that was done, it was placed in the arc reactor and well,” he waved at the little device. “It’s clean. Practically sterile and ready to be inserted in my chest.”
“So, what, you want me to take the one in your chest out and put the new one in?” Dom asked.
“Basically, yes,” Tony confirmed. “I’ve pulled the one in my chest out to clean the whole housing, but honestly, it’s gross.”
“Tony, how often will this have to happen?” Dom asked as he checked out the tools Tony had laid out on the table beside the arc reactor case.
“Well, if I don’t do anything insane? A couple of years,” Tony admitted. “Maybe longer.”
“I’ve known you a week,” Dom turned his head to stare at Tony. “And even I can see that you’re avoiding something.”
“Jarvis?” Tony asked.
“Yes, Sir,” Jarvis said. He opened the main vault in the lab and turned on the spotlight to show the armor that Tony had been working on since he had returned to the US.
“For, fuck sake,” Dom muttered as he walked around the armor. “Tony, have you slept at all in the weeks since you got back in the US?”
“Uhm,” Tony hummed.
“Sir has started sleeping six hours every night since he met you,” Jarvis cut in.
“And before that?” Dom asked.
“Maybe three hours a day,” Jarvis reported. “Sir hasn’t tested that yet, but all modeling shows that the suit will work and Sir will be able to fly and fight as needed.”
“Fly?” Dom turned to look at Tony. “You made your iron suit able to fly?”
“It’s a gold/titanium blend that’s strong enough to be considered bulletproof,” Tony admitted. “And yes, it can fly. There are repulsors built in the hands and the feet. Projections show that it will reach Mach 2 without an issue and up to Mach 3 in a pinch.”
“You are insane,” Dom said with a laugh. He walked out and picked up the case holding the arc reactor. “Okay, let’s get the one in your chest out of it and slide this one in its place. Where do I wash my hands? And do you have gloves?”
“Agent DiNozzo, I have everything prepared at the sink,” Jarvis said. He focused a light on the sink.
“Right, let’s get this show on the road,” Dom muttered. He stared up at the ceiling and nodded once. “Hirst is here and he’s making enough noise that I can follow what he’s doing.”
“Okay,” Tony said. He pulled his ruined shirt off and sat in the chair he had prepared just for this. It caused him to arch slightly, pushing his chest out and raising the profile of his current arc reactor a bit more.
Dom moved into place and Tony started walking his sentinel through the process of removing the old reactor and inserting the new one. Before Dom disconnected the old reactor, he carefully cleaned out the hosing that was inserted in his chest. The switch from one reactor to another was swift and smooth, and Tony smiled as the new reactor was locked in place.
“That looks pretty good,” Dom said as he took in the sight. The new arc reactor was a much better fit for his chest than the first had been and was actually flush with his chest wall. If he wore a shield to cover the light over the arc reactor, no one would be able to tell he had one in. “This won’t poison you, will it?”
“Nope. It won’t. And I made certain that’ there’s no cross-contamination between the reactor, the housing and me,” Tony confirmed.
“Good.” Dom looked up at him and gave him a cheeky smile. “You never did tell me what the name of this new metal is.”
“Well, dad never named it,” Tony started. He stood up and slowly started twisting to check his range of motion. Everything felt good. “I wanted to call it ‘Badassium’ but Jarvis said that wouldn’t fly with the various recording agencies, so we went with ‘Starkonium’, which may go over better. But I’m still going to call it ‘Badassium’.”
Dom started laughing and shook his head. “You are utterly unique.”
“Who wants to be standard?” Tony asked, slightly offended. He wasn’t normal. Normal was boring and he refused to be that.
“Hirst is leaving,” Dom announced several seconds later. He stared up at the ceiling and monitored the other sentinel’s progress.
“He’s left the house, Sirs,” Jarvis announced almost a minute later.
“Yup,” Dom confirmed. He looked at Tony and took a deep breath. “We’re officially alone and safe. Jarvis can keep an eye on the house, making sure that no one gets in. You’re my guide. I would be your sentinel. Will you bond with me?”
Tony nodded once. “I would bond with you, sentinel. I will be your guide as you are my sentinel.”
“Right,” Dom picked him up again and headed for the small bedroom Tony had set up in an alcove off to the side of the lab. The bed in the room was a custom job that might officially be called a full-sized mattress, that was long enough for Dom to stretch out. And it was sinfully comfortable.
Dom slowly started undressing him, working his shoes and socks off and setting them aside. His pants quickly followed. When Tony was completely naked, Dom stood up and started stripping his own clothes off. While Dom was busy with that, Tony maneuvered the covers down to the foot of the bed before he sprawled out on his back.
When Dom was naked, he crawled up the bed to rest in between Tony’s legs. He hovered over Tony, carefully refraining from touching him. “We do this, there’s no going back.”
“I don’t want to go back,” Tony reminded him. “I want you.” He stretched up and pressed a gentle kiss against his sentinel’s lips.
Dom made a hungry noise and pressed close. He kissed Tony deeply, taking the time to learn the taste of his guide. Tony did the same. While his senses were nowhere near what Dom had, he still wallowed in the taste of his sentinel. Hot and spicy, Dom was delicious.
When Dom broke the kiss and started kissing and tasting Tony’s skin, he moaned softly. Sexual bonding was intimate in the extreme and he was loving it. Dom was learning everything there was to know about the physical reality of his guide and Tony relaxed his shields, letting the mental reality of his sentinel slide into him. The bond between the two of them started to ebb and flow.
“Lube?” Dom asked as he pulled Tony’s ass into his lap.
Tony twisted slightly and reached over into the nightstand drawer. He handed over the tube of lube and leaned back, relaxing as Dom coated his fingers and slid them slowly over his asshole. When the first one slid into him, he moaned. “Oh, that’s an amazing feeling.”
“I know, I like it too,” Dom agreed. “You’ll have to do this to me one day. But right now, I want to watch you come apart on my cock.”
“Yeah,” Tony moaned. His breath hitched as Dom slid another finger in. As his sentinel moved them in and out of him, Tony relaxed. He was in damn good hands.
When Dom slid his cock into him, Tony relaxed the iron control he had on his mind and drew his sentinel close, merging the two of them into one entity. He held his hands out to his sentinel and Dom took them, weaving them together. Moving together, they started to sync up, to blend into one.
As their orgasm approached, Tony could feel the bond snap into place and that was what tipped him over. His pleasure pulled Dom’s and they both started to fly.
When they settled back to earth, the bond between them was set.