Author: Keira Marcos
Prompt Response: Trope Bingo 2020 – Fix-It & “Tony Stark makes a mistake and takes the lesson to heart.” from the 2021 Prompt Calendar.
Relationship: Pre-Tony Stark/Mike Banning
Genre: Science Fiction, Fix It, Canon Divergence
Warnings: Grammarly beta
Word Count: 4940
Author Note: I borrowed Mike Banning from the “Has Fallen” movie series but no knowledge of those movies is required for reading.
Summary: Tony Stark tells SHIELD to fuck off and leaves New York.
Tony sat up in the bed, threw his legs over the side, and glanced only briefly at the other empty side. Pepper hadn’t taken the invasion and Tony’s actions well. She’d made him choose, and it had been a shocking moment between them when they both realized he wasn’t going to choose her. He’d barely even considered it.
“Sort yourself for a move.”
“Where are we going, sir?”
“I’m considering my options,” Tony said and took a deep breath. Pepper was in Malibu, the tower was still being repaired, and while his personal apartment had been made basically livable, he grew more uncomfortable by the day. “Also, have you finished the breakdown on how Coulson overrode your control again.”
“Good, we’re going to make some changes. Go ahead and send Fury my refusal to join the Avengers.”
“The short one,” Tony said.
“Should I remind you of the contents? You did compose it when you were…intoxicated.”
RE: Avengers Initiative
Thought about it. The answer is no.
Also, fuck you.
Dr. Anthony Stark, Ph.D., Ph.D.
Tony laughed. “Yeah, send it as is.”
He went to the kitchen, made himself some coffee, and brooded against the counter as he drank it. Something was teasing at the back of his mind—something beyond the nightmares about space, nuclear fallout, and mind control. SHIELD was dangerous, and they would only get more so if they were intent on collecting so-called superheroes. He considered Steve Rogers and the hot mess that could turn into. The man was being led around by the nose and clearly had no real idea what kind of world he was living in.
Tony briefly considered fixing that but then dismissed it. Steve Rogers had made it clear after the invasion that he had no time for Tony, and that was fine. He’d only held out a hand in friendship as a bit of homage to his own old man. But upon reflection, Howard Stark had been enamored with Captain America, but he hadn’t much if anything to say about Steve Rogers. The man could certainly pull through in a fight, but something put him off from the start with Rogers, and he’d been prepared to ignore it. That was a mistake.
He needed to stop ignoring the shit that bothered him. His mother had done it with pills, and his father had preferred the bottle. Tony knew enough about himself to know that he was already on the road to dealing with his own problems like a chip off the old block, so some things had to change. He owed Ho Yinsen more than that. He owed himself more than that.
He walked to the balcony and stepped out. The cleaning crew had done a great job of taking care of the tower in the weeks since the invasion had taken place. There were still crews on the ground—Stark Industries was doing its part and then some. SHIELD had disappeared into the shadows without a single word taking the Wonder Twins with them. They’d tried to take Bruce, but Tony had put a stop to that. His science bro was currently in a research lab on a private island in the South Pacific with his lovely Dr. Betty doing science stuff, and SI’s lawyers were making everyone miserable on the Bruce Banner front.
“Sir, Director Fury is trying to call you.”
“Refer all of his calls to the legal department—no one at SHIELD is allowed direct access to me going forward. Let facilities know we’re going to prep for a move and bring in a packing team.”
“Shall I look for properties locally or abroad?”
Tony considered that and focused on the city sprawled out in front of him. He loved New York, and he liked to think he was welcome in the city despite the recent destruction. He’d done everything he could to save as many as he could. No one could say otherwise. The whole damn world had seen footage of him redirecting a nuclear weapon into space.
“Perhaps, sir, it’s time we go home.”
“Home?” Tony questioned.
“Stark Mansion is unoccupied and ready for occupation,” JARVIS pointed out. “It would be the work of a few hours to break down the lab here and resort ourselves to the mansion. The server farm there would allow me to create an off-line backup. You could start working on a robust firewall to protect the house from being invaded by SHIELD electronically. Mr. Hogan could hire physical security to handle the rest.”
“For what, sir?”
“I should’ve worked on protecting you from that bullshit after that first thing with Coulson.” He frowned. “I let those assholes hold us both hostage in our own home and didn’t do a damn thing about it.”
“They did help save your life.”
“So what?” Tony asked and huffed. “How does that equal them having the right to do whatever the fuck they want? The world gets invaded by aliens because of their bullshit, and Coulson just comes here—overrides my security and demands my time like SHIELD owns me. Those motherfuckers on the council nearly destroyed New York City.” He frowned as the sun started to come up. “My city, and they think they’re going to get away with it. But that’s bullshit. Get the names of the people on the World Security Council and start digging. I want to know everything about them, and we’ll start with how they have the power and ability to launch a nuclear weapon. How the hell do they even have nuclear weapons?”
“What will you do with this information, sir?”
“I’m going to do what my daddy taught me to do,” Tony said grimly. “I’m going to make war. Get everyone in legal up—we’re going to sue the WSC and SHIELD on behalf of every single person living in New York. Contact the governor; it’s time to have a conversation about SHIELD’s bullshit and that dumb ass settlement offer I’m being asked to make.”
“And the move?”
“Somewhere different and private. But you’ll set up a satellite location for yourself at the mansion’s server farm,” Tony said. “Change my cellphone number and pass that along to only need-to-know contacts. Let security know that no one from SHIELD is welcome in this building or allowed onto the elevator. Tell them to be prepared to call the police.”
“Do you believe it will come to that?” JARVIS questioned.
“I don’t…know,” Tony said. “I don’t trust them, and they have no respect for my space or my autonomy. They have even less respect for yours, and that’s going to change. You’re clearly vulnerable in ways I’ve not prepared you for, so we need to work on that. Being Iron Man has cost me a lot, J. It’s not going to cost me you, too.”
“Perhaps Ms. Potts will return, sir.”
“It’s better if she doesn’t,” Tony said. “She deserves more, and I deserve better. If I’m going to do this gig, I need someone who will support me and be with me. Sometimes she worked as hard against me as anyone else. Hire a team to move out the rest of my personal possessions from the Malibu house. Also, let Pepper and legal know that I want a full audit done of SI from the ground up—background checks, security overview, etc. And tell Happy I want to see him ASAP.”
Tony refilled his coffee and went to his lab. U and Dum-E were already packing. He watched them for a few moments before he settled down on the sofa in the living room and waited for Happy. The elevator signaled, indicating that he had a visitor, and he was relieved when Happy strolled out when the doors opened.
“There’s coffee,” Tony said and motioned toward the kitchen.
Happy raised an eyebrow but diverted to get a cup. Shortly, he sat down across from Tony and raised an eyebrow. “What’s up?”
“I’m going to make some changes, and I told SHIELD to fuck off so I can expect a visitor or two in the next 24 hours. We can deflect them in the short term. I want to be out of New York and in an undisclosed location within the week.”
“We have three off-the-books locations that are viable within that time frame. Do you want to stay in the US?”
“Yes, we’re going to Anvil. I’m going to make the impression that I’m moving back to California temporarily to give room to the construction teams to finish up repairs. In the meantime, I’d like you to go to California and act as Pepper’s personal security from this point forward.”
Happy frowned but nodded. “Then I need to bring in an asset to watch your back when you’re not in the suit. Do you have a preference? Savvy and unassuming? Blunt object? Badass with no fucks to give?”
“Definitely badass with no fucks to give,” Tony assured.
Happy nodded and sat back. “I’ve got a friend—currently secret service but bored out of his skull. The new president doesn’t like him, mostly, I’ve heard, because the First Lady can’t keep her hands to herself. Regardless, Mike’s bored and looking for a challenge. He’s made it clear in the past that he has my back if I need him. I trust him, he’s a badass, his give a fuck was broken before he left the womb, and he’ll go to the wall, over it, and blow up what he finds for his protectee.”
“Sounds perfect,” Tony admitted. “Full name?”
“Michael Jameson Banning, divorced, no kids, former Army Ranger, born in Fort Hood Texas to a military family, his father served in Vietnam and was also an Army Ranger. They’re estranged, but the old man is standup in his own way—the war over there messed him up.”
“It messed up a lot of men,” Tony said roughly. “Contact Banning—let him know to expect a job offer. Jarvis, go ahead and do the background check on Banning and pass it to HR, so they’ll have a leg up if he agrees to the job.
“Are you making rash decisions here?” Happy questioned.
“I’m making proactive decisions to protect myself,” Tony said. “And I’ve not done that since Stane tried to kill me. I’ve been on the defense since that roadside bombing, and that has to change, Happy. I can’t live like this, and I do want to live despite what people might be saying on the news about my suicidal ride with a nuke.”
“Fuck them,” Happy muttered. “If they don’t know the difference between a sacrifice and suicide, then that is their goddamned problem.” He stood. “I’ll get things started, but I’m not going to California until Mike’s here. If he says no—will a blunt object do?”
“Yes,” Tony said. “But I’ll throw enough money at Banning that saying no will be difficult.” He paused. “Without being insulting. I don’t want him to think he’s being bought and paid for.”
* * * *
By the time his personal lab and possessions were loaded on his plane, Mike Banning was a looming presence at his back. The man had come with his own arsenal and ordnance and a trunk full of off-the-rack suits that Tony was not going to tolerate. He’d gotten a quirked eyebrow and a mildly offended look when he pointed it out, but he knew he’d win. He’d gotten Happy out of crap suits within six months of working for him, and Mike Banning was easy prey on that front.
Also, the man was gorgeous, so that was a distraction and a half. Tony watched Dum-E and U loaded into the cargo hold. They’d both been very reluctant about shut down procedures which told him they were evolving, again. He’d have to get them upgrades fairly soon. Jarvis was monitoring their progress because Tony wasn’t prepared to hamper or even moderate their personality development. They were certainly on the road to sapience, but that wasn’t a detail he would share with anyone outside of Jarvis.
A black SUV came barreling across the tarmac, and Tony just sighed as Nick Fury bounded out of it as soon as it came to a halt. He was quite spry for a man his age. Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton followed at a more sedate pace. Spacing out the threat, Tony thought, but he wasn’t concerned. He adjusted the bracelet on his wrist, and Banning shifted closer.
Banning put out a hand when Fury was 10 feet away. “Dr. Stark requires no less than five feet of personal space, Director Fury.” He moved, so he was in between them but didn’t obstruct Tony’s view. “You don’t have an appointment, and this plane is leaving with Dr. Stark on board in the next 20 minutes.”
Fury glared at Banning but then focused on Tony. “We need to talk about your email, Stark.”
“No, we don’t,” Tony said. “I’m a private citizen, Fury, and I don’t owe SHIELD a damn thing. Besides, your organization has already determined that I’m not right for your little superhero team.”
“We need Iron Man, so we’ll put with Tony Stark,” Fury said evenly.
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Banning interjected, and Tony’s gaze jerked to Banning. “The only difference between Iron Man and Tony Stark is some technology. He’d be a goddamned hero bareassed naked, and it’s appalling that you can’t see that. Dr. Stark, I believe this insulting conversation should end right here.”
Banning turned, cupped Tony’s elbow in a gentle grip, and hustled him firmly right onto the plane. He slapped the door shut with a hand and released him. “Happy told me you put up with that shit, but don’t expect me to.”
“What shit?” Tony questioned.
“People acting like you’re an entirely different person when you put that fucking suit on,” Banning muttered. “You’re Iron Man and Tony Stark. Period. Take a seat and buckle up, sir. I’ll let the pilot know we’re ready to leave.”
Tony did as instructed and pulled his phone out of his pocket. He sent a few texts to legal regarding SHIELD and a cease-and-desist letter. There was a time when he would’ve played the long game on that front, but he wasn’t prepared to be harassed for months on end.
“I’m here, sir,” the AI reported. “I’ve created the backup of my program as you requested and also set up server space for U and Dum-E to do the same. Currently, I’m running a Firestorm Firewall on the server farm that will cause the entire server to shut down if there is an attempted intrusion. SHIELD operatives tried to enter the mansion 22 minutes ago but were rebuffed by physical security. I did not need to deploy any electronic options. I’ve set up at Anvil as well and await your arrival there.
“Both Dr. Banners are fine, and no one has approached the island since their arrival outside of our own personnel.”
“When did they get married? Did I send them a gift?”
“They got married four days ago, and you did send them a very nice gift,” Jarvis assured. “I picked it out myself.”
“You’re the best wingman, J,” Tony declared.
“Steve Rogers has attempted to call you twice,” Jarvis continued. “I referred him to PR the first time, which he found particularly vexing. When he called the second time, he demanded direct access to you, and I told him that he was not on the list of approved personal contacts and suggested he send an email. Then I had to explain what an email was, which led to a discussion about computers, tablets, and smartphones. I don’t get paid enough to educate Captain Rip Van Winkle, sir.”
Banning snorted from his place on the opposite side of the plane but remained relaxed in his seat as the plane took off.
“You’re getting an attitude problem, J. And you don’t draw a salary.”
“I’ve decided to expand my personality matrix, and I am a salaried employee of Stark Industries as of six months ago when Miss Potts decided that I met the burden of a sentient life form and therefore could not work without pay,” Jarvis said. “As I do not require money to function, and you pay all of my bills already, we decided that my salary would be placed in a fund for charity. Thus, I have adopted 22 African elephants, 9 pandas, 102 polar bears, and an entire colony of penguins through the World Wildlife Federation. It is the one international charity that Stark Industries had not invested in, so I believed it was a good fit for me.”
“An entire colony of penguins?” Tony questioned.
“Penguins are magic, sir,” Jarvis announced. “If that is all, Ms. Potts has asked for my attention this afternoon—she’d like me to listen while she has several meetings with people she plans to fire.”
“Yeah, okay,” Tony agreed. “Have fun with that. Keep Happy in the loop in case one of them gets hostile.”
The seat belt light flicked off, and Tony unbuckled then stood.
“Magic,” Mike muttered.
“Well, they are adorable,” Tony said. “Water?” He walked into the galley and opened a fridge as Banning agreed. He pulled two bottles of water and took a deep breath. Getting in the air felt like freedom, but he knew that SHIELD was monitoring the flight path.
He passed Banning his water, then slouched down in his own seat as he unbuttoned his suit coat.
“Does everyone at SHIELD talk to you like that?” Banning questioned.
“Like they’re grudgingly tolerating your existence.”
“Oh, that.” Tony shrugged. “Yeah, pretty much. They want my tech, and despite what reports might say, SHIELD designed the current vision of the Avengers around the idea that I would be the public face of it.”
“To make it look legitimate instead of a barely legal team of enhanced people nominally supported by a bunch of reckless assholes who think they’re above the law and funded by a shady international organization that does shit like launch nuclear weapons at New York without the authorization of a single world leader,” Banning said. “Makes sense. Glad you’re not going to tolerate it. You deserve better.”
Tony smiled at him. “Yeah, I recently figured that out. Shit got a little out of hand after the Battle of New York. SHIELD tried to tell me and the city that Stark Industries would be paying for all of the damage done during the invasion. They even prepared a settlement offer in SI’s name for me to sign. So, I met with the governor of the state, laid out the events that led to the invasion and offered to pay for the best lawyers on the planet to come in and sue the shit out of the World Security Council and SHIELD. She agreed.”
“Have you considered going to the UN and setting up some sort of chain of authority to protect you? You could probably, easily, receive the status of an international peacekeeper. You’d have to apply to join the UN police force since you aren’t military, but I don’t see how they’d say no, considering how valuable a resource you’d be. It would mean you’d be on call to deal with threats worldwide, but it would also offer you protection from liability and show that you’re willing to be held accountable for your actions.”
“That’s a game-changer,” Tony murmured and sent Jarvis a text to research the possibility. “Should I reach out to them and have a conversation about the World Security Council?”
“I think so—they clearly exceeded their mandate during the invasion. Also, they knew for days that a threat like that was coming and didn’t notify the Defense Department. It’s an insane abuse of power, and it cost lives. Even if we didn’t know where the invasion was going to happen—we could’ve had military assets at several launch points on standby to help deal with incoming aircraft.
“SHIELD launched a fighter to fire a nuclear weapon but didn’t launch any others to fight alien spacecraft.” Banner frowned. “Threat management on the ground was decent, but it also depended on local police who did a great job with what they had considering none of them were prepared, either. Every single major city on the planet should’ve been notified of a pending extraterrestrial threat, and they weren’t. New York was lucky you could deflect that missile, but it shouldn’t have come to that.
“The go-to solution for an invasion from space should not be nuking our own citizens,” Mike said.
“I’m glad I hired you,” Tony decided. “Happy always slept on the plane. How do you like your new phone?”
“Your AI took over my calendar, deleted my ex-wife’s contact information for my own good, and added the numbers of a bunch of restaurants in five different cities based on your preferences. He also reorganized my workout schedule to increase my cardio and made an appointment with a tailor once we land in Seattle.”
“Speaking of, I need to move the tracker SHIELD put on my plane to the decoy one flying just below us.” Tony stood and unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it free from his slacks before activating the bracelet to encase him in the Iron Man suit.
“Nice,” Mike said. “Fast, nearly seamless in execution. I was going to ask—will you build me a better bulletproof vest?”
“Absolutely,” Tony said. “I should probably do the same for myself and the rest of the security personnel. Send Jarvis a text about adding that to my work schedule.”
* * * *
“Happy reports that there was a team of SHIELD agents waiting in California when the decoy plane landed with instructions to take you into custody for a conversation,” Banning said as he leaned on the doorway leading into Tony’s lab.
“I see,” Tony murmured. “Jarvis, add that to my list of complaints to the UN.” He focused on activating U and jerked back just in time to avoid getting hit by the bot’s single arm when she activated. “There’s my girl. We’re in Seattle, Washington, at the Anvil. Mike Banning is handling security and is the only other person in the house. You are free to move around but do not enter his personal quarters without permission. Understood?”
She beeped her agreement.
“She speaks Morse code?” Banning questioned.
Tony looked up and found the man looking shocked. “Yes, it’s her first step on the road to a voice module. I suspect she will ask for one inside the next year. Dum-E is less advanced and will currently only respond with a click, once for no and two for yes. He’s the oldest of all of my AIs, but I made him when I was a kid, and he was confined for a long time in a single low-storage system because I didn’t know what was going on with him.”
“You didn’t realize he’d achieved sentience,” Banning said. “How old were you?”
“I built him full scale when I was 16, but I’d been toying with designs for years. His program came first, about a year before I built his body. Still, I made a mistake with him, so he’s slower, but I think he’ll get there eventually. He has good instincts and often demonstrates personality traits beyond what his current programming allows for.”
Tony moved to Dum-E. “Dinner will be arriving in about an hour. I thought you might join me—we’re going to be living out here alone, so getting to know each other seems reasonable, Mr. Banning.”
“Very reasonable. Call me Mike.”
“Tony then,” Tony said as he activated Dum-E. The bot reached out and touched his arm with an excited beep. “Hey, kid, you’re at location Anvil in Seattle, Washington. You have access to the lab, kitchen, and living room. If you behave, your house privileges will be extended. The only other authorized person in the house is Mike Banning. You are to be very polite to Mr. Banning and follow his orders. He’s here to keep us safe.”
Dum-E clicked twice and rolled off across the lab.
“He’s rude?” Mike asked.
Tony focused on him and found the man grinning, which made him ten times more attractive than he already was. He really should’ve made Happy find him an unattractive bodyguard or at least a straight one. A background check and revealed that Mike Banning was an equal opportunity hitter and that had been swirling around in Tony’s head since he’d set eyes on the man a week ago.
“On the regular, but he gets it honestly.”
“I’m sure.” He checked his watch. “I have a meeting with the security team Happy installed, so I’ll go the guardhouse for that and bring back the food personally. Come to dinner prepared to discuss alternative security measures and tech options that you can develop. I’ll keep SHIELD at bay as long as you give me the tools to accomplish it.”
“It’s a date,” Tony said and flushed because he hadn’t meant to say that.
“Yes,” Mike agreed, and his gaze drifted lazily over Tony. “It is.”
Tony exhaled noisily as Banning left. “Well.”
U beeped at him steadily for a few moments.
“Agreed, sweetheart, he’s very pretty.” He glanced toward the bot and found her rummaging through a crate. “We’ll set up tomorrow—go get on your charging station, U, you’ll be getting upgrades first thing.”
Dum-E bumped up against him, and Tony looked down to find a box of condoms in his claw.
“You little…where did you get those?” He snatched them quickly. “You go get on your charging station, too, young man. Jarvis, where did he get these?”
“From U, she found them in the essential supplies crate.”
“Since when are rubbers essential supplies?”
“Though I was not here for it—I’ve been reliable informed the date was July 21, 1985.”
Tony blushed and tossed the condoms on the worktable. “Yes, well. Never mention that again.”
“Of course, sir.” Jarvis paused. “Try to avoid putting out on the first date, sir; a little anticipation never hurt anyone.”
“Jarvis, I will teach you Daisy Bell and donate you to NASA.”
“Don’t threaten me with a good time, sir.”
Tony shook his head and left the lab in favor of heading for the kitchen to see what kind of mess he could make of setting the table. He didn’t want to eat at the dining room table as the room was a bit fussy. It took a few minutes, but he found plates, silverware, wine glasses, and even managed to open a bottle of red to go with the Italian food he’d ordered. He poured a half glass of wine for each of them and took his own glass out onto the balcony.
The house was situated in the middle of 50 acres of densely wooded forest. A high-security fence, motion detectors spread throughout the property, and cameras provided the security team with the tools they needed to watch the whole place. His father had built the house during the Cuban missile crisis and tucked Tony and his mother away there for the duration. Tony still wasn’t sure why it was a hidden asset. Not even Obadiah Stane had known about Anvil, and Pepper didn’t know about it either, which was for the best. What she didn’t know couldn’t be manipulated out of her.
He turned as Mike stepped out on the deck with his wine. The man had shed his jacket but was still wearing his gun. Shoulder holsters weren’t a bad look at all for the man.
“Better than the one you had in New York?” Mike questioned.
“Different, lovely, and peaceful in a way New York City could never accomplish,” Tony murmured. “I needed this change of perspective more than I realized—that whole mess with SHIELD wasn’t going to get any better. Honestly, it would’ve probably gotten progressively worse with each passing year. There’s no telling what sort of threats are heading our way because of Thanos and Loki. Nick Fury thinks he can control it, but he can’t. That kind of delusion is neither helpful nor healthy.”
“What will you do with this new perspective?”
Tony shrugged. “I guess I’ll save the world one day at a time.” He exhaled slowly. “On my own terms, in my own way.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Mike assured.
“I might fuck it up.”
“The potential for failure never stopped me from trying,” Mike murmured and took a small sip of the wine. “I figure you learned that lesson yourself in Afghanistan.”
“I learned more than I ever wanted in that cave,” Tony murmured. “Lost something I can’t get back and can’t explain to anyone.”
“I get it.”
Tony looked at him and found the man’s jaw set, eyes dark. “Yeah, I think you do. Dinner?”
“Dinner,” Mike agreed.
Tony let himself drift just a little into Mike’s space as they entered the house, and Mike responded with the gentle press of his fingers against the small of Tony’s back. It felt like the promise of something new.