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Sunday, August 9th, 2009 11:38 am
Title: Lethewards: Chapter Four: New World Order
Rating: R
Fandom: Marvel - 616
Pairings: Primarily pre-slash Steve/Tony, but with several platonic relationships, as well as references to past relationships and a few minor relationships
Part word count: 3910
Genre: Drama, angst, hurt/comfort, character study
Warnings: These are warnings just this part, seeing as they may change from part to part. Please see this post for overall fic warnings Talk of mental illness, violence, not entirely accurate depiction of Congressional hearings
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters and make no profit from them
Part Summary: The registration act is up for review and the super-human community comes together.
Thanks: My beta [personal profile] autolobotomysuicide and being absolutely fantastic. [personal profile] jazzypom and [livejournal.com profile] pandanoai for their adivce and beta work, as well as cheer leading. And last but not least, [livejournal.com profile] oddwildflowers for being an amazing cheerleader.
Author's note: Please, please, please see this post for a list of overall fic warnings and for background information/changes from canon.
As always, thank you for all the kind comments. New parts Sunday and Tuesday.
Believe it or not, we're nearly done, only two or three more parts after this to complete the first 'book' of Lethewards.
Previous Parts: Prologue Chapter One Chapter Two part I part II Chapter Three part I part II part III part IV part V




Chapter Four:
NEW WORLD ORDER





"I'm here to see Tony Stark."

"No shit."

Maria stood at the front door hand on her hip, inspecting the mousy-looking man in a suit.

"Does he know you?" because she sure as hell didn't.

"No ma'am. I'm here on behalf of the House Committee on Superhuman Activities. I need to speak with him."

Maria looked at him a moment longer before stepping aside to let him in. She led him to Tony's workshop where he had holed himself up for the past couple days, working on Jim's new arm, plus a few additions to make up for whatever had happened between them.

"Mister Stark," the man started before Maria could say anything.

Tony jumped a little. He turned his head, blinked when he saw the two, then set down what he was working on.

"Yes?"

The man walked over to him, pulling an envelop from his inside jacket pocket. He handed it to Tony.

"You're requested to testify before the House Committee concerning the execution of the Superhuman Registration Act."

Tony opened the envelop and looked at the thick packet of papers. He scanned them, then looked up.

"And by requested, you mean forced."

"Yes sir. The information on which you will testify is there. A car will come pick you up on the morning of May Fifteenth and will take you to Washington DC."

"Yeah, all right," Tony looked displeased, "I can read."

"If you have any other questions..."

"No. You can go."

The man nodded. Maria watched him go, making sure he actually got to the door. Then, she turned back to Tony. He was looking down at the paper still. When he finally looked up, it was with a bitter smile on his face.

He held up the paper, "I got served."

Maria walked over, "What do they want you to talk about?"

He laughed a little, "The successes and failures of the Act."

Maria could read between the lines -- his successes and failures. She put a hand on his shoulder.

"It's only for a couple hours," she said gently, "You can do that."

Tony said nothing. He sighed, setting the paper down on his workbench and returning to what he had been doing.


---

When Steve received the final plans from Tony, he had been stunned. Every detail had been thought of, to a point where there were alternative solutions in case the original didn't go over well. And Steve had kept his end of the deal, spreading the word and getting heroes from both sides on board. It had taken nearly two months, but by the time the Act came up for review, the meta community showed up in Washington in full force.

Steve wanted to watch the testimony, but the room was too crowded for him to get in. Reed and Jim had gone yesterday, speaking on the practicality of the Act and the effectiveness of the Initiative respectively. Carol was in there now being asked about the enforcement of it. Tony was slated next and Steve after him.

Carol's testimony had run long luckily because Tony had yet to arrive. Steve searched the crowd. Tony was only late if he had been distracted by Iron Man business, and there was no way that had happened today. In Steve's mind, that left only two possibilities: Either Tony wasn't coming or something had happened. But of course Tony was coming -- he was under house arrest. A subpoena was easy enough to enforce if the guy couldn't leave his home. Which meant something had happened.

Steve had a growing sense of worry in his chest. The mass of reporters, metas, and protesters made it hard to tell if he had already arrived and Steve just hadn't noticed. He spotted Peter, camera in hand and press pass around his neck. Steve walked over to him casually, hoping not to draw attention to either of them, considering Steve was something of a celebrity again.

"Have you heard from Tony?" He asked over the noise of the crowd.

Peter shook his head, "I haven't talked to him since I went to the house. I think maybe --"

There was a shift in the crowd. The reporters started to buzz and people started to get out of the way. Steve moved to try and see what was going on.

What was going on was that Tony Stark had just arrived. Crisp, expensive-looking suit and tie, dark sunglasses, a leather suitcase in hand, and Bethany Cabe at his side, their fingers laced together. He looked like he had at his prime, like nothing had happened.

Peter clicked away on his camera and Steve couldn't help but smile as relief fell on him.

Tony passed reporters throwing questions at him without a second glance. He reached where Steve and Peter were standing and smiled. He held out a hand and Steve took it, grinning. Tony patted his shoulder and Steve could see under the sunglasses that he winked at Peter, who responded by taking several pictures.

"You ready for this?" Tony asked. He sounded calm, collected.

Steve nodded, "We've got signatures from nearly every meta we could find and even a few commitments for funding."

Tony raised an eyebrow, "You've really pulled this together."

"Only because the plan was so good," Steve grinned, but he saw Tony's own smile faltered slightly.

"Yeah, well, I should get in there," he said quickly, "Maybe if they know I'm here, they'll let Carol off the hook."

He hurried off before Steve could say anything else. Peter poked him in the shoulder.

"They set up a spillover room with closed circuit TV if you want to watch."

Steve nodded and they headed in. They waded through the crowd that had formed there as well, standing room only, until they got a good view of the large screen that currently had Carol's face on it. She was saying that resources had been spent on fighting heroes rather than criminals, thus skewing the spending costs. This apparently struck something with a number of people in the crowd because some scattered applause followed.

Steve looked around briefly, only then noticing that he was standing next to Bethany. She seemed to notice as well and smiled.

"He seems like he's doing better," he said.

Beth gave a shrug, "I think he's just in his 'zone.' He was freaking out this morning because none of his suits fit him any more. Had to run out and get a new one."

That probably explained why they were late. Tony looked so collected when he arrived, Steve never would have guessed.

Carol was excused and she looked immensely relieved. The Committee decided not to break before the next witness, meaning Tony was up.

Steve felt himself tense when Tony sat at that table and raised his right hand as he was sworn in. Tony's jaw was set and it was obvious to Steve he was bracing himself. He stated his name and what made him an expert on the subject on which he'd be testifying (Steve couldn't help but notice the 'formers' in his titles: "Former Avenger," "Former Director of S.H.I.E.L.D."), then began his testimony.

"At its core, the Registration Act is good," -- this caused Steve's stomach to leap and angry noises to come from the gathered crowd -- "but it is fundamentally flawed beyond the point of repair. We need a way to hold superheroes accountable for their actions. We need to train the people who don't understand their powers. But the solutions presented by the Act have been poorly executed and have hurt more than helped.

"The way the Act presented it, being meta, having powers, became a stigma. It became something shameful, something that should be hidden. Children were taken from their homes, parents were taken from their families. People who were once looked up to and idealized were made criminals.

"During my time in Forty-Two, I met a kid named Tomas. He was fifteen when he entered Forty-Two and he'll be there until he's eighteen. His crime? Being unregistered. Not because he didn't want to register -- in fact, he looks forward to it once he gets out -- but because his parents wouldn't let him. They didn't want the neighbors to know they had some freak as a son." -- this caused some hubbub in the crowd, people whispering to each other -- "The Act provides a registration system and a training program, but it does not provide a support group, a safe-haven for people like Tomas.

"We need a system governed by ourselves, not by the assumptions of people who have not lived this life. We need a system crafted by people who understand the stresses and dangers these powers present. The Registration Act laid the groundwork for this but for it to be effective, we must work together. A partnership has equal amounts of give and take and we must work to achieve that balance before our country can truly be secure."

There were a few hesitant claps, but if seemed mostly like people were surprised by the turn around.

"Here comes the hard part..." Beth mumbled beside him.

"Why did you originally choose to suppose the Act?"

"At the time, it was the best alternative. Time has shown otherwise."

"Did your time in Forty-Two have any bearing on your turn around?"

"No, however I do believe my illness would have been caught sooner if there had been some kind of support system. The percentage of superheroes who develop mental illness is startling."

"Why do you think that is?"

"I'm not an expert on mental health. Obviously. But I would venture to guess that the stressors involved with being a superhero play a role."

"If the Registration Act had never been passed, do you believe you would have been better prepared for the Skrull invasion?"

At this, Tony hesitated.

"I don't believe there was much, at the time, that could have prepared us for the invasion --" there were several people who shouted foul things at this and apparently there were a few in the room with Tony because he visibly flinched -- "However, I do believe the response would have been better coordinated and more effective if the heroes hadn't been fighting each other."

"Knowing what you know now, would you have supported the Act?"

"No."

Tony's testimony lasted nearly three hours. They asked about how registered heroes were utilized by S.H.I.E.L.D., the effectiveness of the Initiative, the response to the Skull invasion, and his personal experiences in 42. He hesitated when they asked what he personally would change about the Act and Steve suspected it was because he didn't want to give himself away as the architect of the alternative Steve would be presenting after him.

Tony stepped into the lobby and was thronged by reporters. He looked startled, slightly put off. Beth pushed through to him and waved them off. He said something to her quietly and she nodded in reply.

They waded through and Tony put his sunglasses back on. They passed Steve and Peter on the way out.

"Good luck, Cap," he patted Steve's shoulder.

"You're not staying?" Steve was surprised.

"Naw, can't spend all my brownie points in one day," he smiled casually, "Plus I already know what you're going to say." He patted Steve's back again and they headed out.

Steve went in twenty minutes later. He gave a speech on why he had opposed the Act, then offered the alternative. It would function like the Avengers Council, a self-governing body that would hold trials and determine punishment for its members. In addition to state-sponsored teams, it would create teams of its own and place them in strategic locations around the country rather than spreading them thin. It would be privately funded and would work with H.A.M.M.E.R. to find a balance and keep the country -- and ultimately the world -- safe.

It seemed to be well received by the Committee. Steve gave them copies of the plans, then answered questions for an hour and a half before the hearing ended.

Steve had been the last witness, meaning they would spend the rest of the week reviewing the testimonies and deciding if the Act was worth keeping. Steve held out hope that the Act would be struck down, but his faith in the system had been shook the moment it first appeared on the Floor.

He exited the Capital and was greeted by cheers from the gathered crowd. He was taken aback and he felt he knew briefly what Tony had experienced when he had been mobbed by reporters. He waved a little nervously.

It took him nearly and hour to get through the mass because it seemed like everyone wanted to say something to him or shake his hand. When he finally made it back to his hotel room, he collapsed back onto the bed.

Above all the planning, petition signing, speech writing, and sweaty palms, waiting was the hardest part of the whole process. The first night was restless. The next day was spent seeing the sights with Peter, Sam, Clint, and a couple of others who were here for the hearing. After that, they decided to go to a museum a day until the Committee was ready to release its initial findings, keep themselves occupied, trying not to think about the outcome.

They were running out of museums when they finally got word. By the time they had arrived, the crowd had reformed. Steve pushed through to the spillover room, this time to watch the press conference.

Tony was already there, Beth, Pepper, and a man dressed in a yellow and black costume. It took Steve a moment to recognize him as Henry Hellrung, the actor who had played Tony back on the old TV show. He remembered hearing that Hellrung had been recruited into the Initiative.

Steve put a hand on Tony's shoulder when he got close. He jumped a little, but smiled when he realized who it was. He looked tired, nervous, not nearly as composed as he had when he gave his speech.

"This is it," Steve said.

Tony simply nodded.

The press conference started about ten minutes later. The congressman that had been designated to speak come to the podium. The room went silent as he began in with the formalities, introducing himself and his fellow committee members, thanking various people. Finally, he got to the reason why they were all there.

"Upon reviewing the testimonies and reports given to us, it is the feeling of of this Committee that the Superhuman Registration Act, as it stands, has been ineffective and should not be renewed..."

A cheer erupted from the crowd. It didn't matter what else the speech contained, the Act had been struck down. Steve felt a surge of energy go through his body. He laughed with joy, slapping a hand on Tony's back. The man gave him a surprised look.

"We did it!" Steve told him, shouting over the cheers of the group.

"You did it," Tony countered, a smile finally growing on his face.

They all started to flood out of the Capital. It was like some kind of party outside -- celebrating everywhere, even a section of the crowd was dancing, music coming from somewhere.

A swarm of reporters rushed in front of his and Tony's path, Peter among them, camera ready. They were shouting for a photo. Steve glanced at Tony, who still looked like he was in disbelief. Steve put an arm around his shoulder, laughing a little. Tony returned the gesture as Pepper and Henry slipped passed them.

It was then that Steve noticed Peter. He was frozen in place. Steve locked eyes with him for a second and he knew something was wrong. Peter made to move, like he was about to say something and that's when the first shot was fired.

At least, it sounded like one shot, but Steve would later look back and realize that several people had fallen all at once -- multiple shots, perfectly timed.

Briefly, it seemed like people were stunned, then all out madness passed through the crowd. Some metas took to the air while others took cover. Steve, who still had his arm around Tony's shoulder, pulled the other man to cover, grabbing a dazed reporter on the way. They ducked behind a marble column as screams came from everywhere.

Steve desperately wished he had his shield. He peeked around the column, getting a brief look at the scene before ducking back as more shots were fired.

"Damn it," he said quietly.

"Oh God," Tony's voice was barely audible over the rush of everything.

Steve looked at him and realized where his gaze went. Hellrung was one of the people down.

"Tony."

"Oh God, oh God, no no no what did I do--"

"Tony!" Steve shook him and Tony look at him finally, though it was obvious he wasn't all there. "You've got to get yourself together," when this didn't seem to do much, he added, "You can avenge him."

At this, Steve could see Tony's demeanor change, jaw set, eyes narrow just slightly. He glanced over Steve's shoulder, towards his fallen friend. He then turned quickly, evidently looking for someone.

Beth was hunkered down by the door briefcase in hand. Tony made some signal to her and she got that same look of determination.

"Kick their asses, Tony!" she yelled as she slid the case over to him.

He caught the case and popped the locks, revealing the Iron Man armor Beth had been wearing. Immediately, the pieces began to move and form around Tony as he stood, locking into place.

Without hesitation, Tony took to the air. Steve watched him, wishing he could do more, but knowing that getting himself killed would achieve nothing. He watched Tony give out orders and locations of possible snipers' nests, Steve couldn't help but be glad that he was getting back in his stride.


---

Thankfully, no one was killed, though 31 were wounded.

"Shitty snipers," Logan had commented.

"Unless they weren't aiming to kill," Bucky countered.

If that was so, then the question was, why? To go through all that trouble, then not actually kill anyone? That didn't make sense to Steve.

Carol, under Tony's direction, had found one of the snipers before he could run. He didn't give out much information. What they got was he was from R.O.A.D., that they were planning the "new world order," and that he could spout religious babble at the drop of a hat. It was immensely frustrating, but he supposed it was better than nothing.

Images of Tony piloting the Iron Man were playing on the news. The commentary running on each channel was different -- a hero, natural leader keeping everything under control; a schizophrenic psychopath controlling a walking bomb. The news of the Act getting struck down had been pushed aside in favor of character analysis.

Tony himself had gone to the hospital to check on the wounded, but had been carted off back to Arlington, apparently having used all his 'brownie points.' Steve had wanted to talk with him, but he had run into Maria Hill at the hospital and she passed on the news that he wasn't being allowed visitors other than Beth.

So Steve sat in the waiting room with the Avengers and an assortment of others he had seen at the Capitol that day, waiting for news on friends, trying to figure out what had happened and how it had happened.


Tony, meanwhile, sat in his living room, still shaking. He felt sick -- every time he closed his eyes, he saw the image of Henry laying there and the surge of panic rose in him anew. Beth was rubbing his back, saying comforting things quietly and it helped a little, but not much. There was a knock at the door and Beth let out some annoyed noise before going to answer it.

Tony was left to his thoughts for a minute and he found himself frightened of them. It had been his fault. He had let his weakness get in the way of stopping R.O.A.D., letting them get that powerful. He was the reason why Henry was even there -- he had given Henry his powers, made him join the Initiative --

His thoughts were thankfully cut off by the sound of footsteps. Tony lifted his head and soon realized that this wasn't much better.

"Evening, Tony," Norman Osborn was striding over to him, hands in his pockets.

"Norman."

Osborn extended a hand. Tony stared at it a moment, deciding what to do with it.

"You did good work today," Norman said, as if to clarify.

Tony took the hand finally and shook it, "Thanks. Why are you here?"

Osborn put his hand back in his pocket, snorting a laugh.

"All business, as ever," he left out a sigh, "You've violated the terms of you house arrest."

Tony's mind paused for a moment, then suddenly clicked into gear. He had agreed not to put on the armor.

"To save lives!" Tony was on his feet, face to face with Osborn.

"I know, I know," he held up his hands, trying to sound friendly, "But my hands are tied here, Tony. What I can do, however, is offer you a couple options."

Tony wanted to yell, to hit him, but he calmed himself enough to ask, "What?"

"You can go back to Forty-Two or you can join my team."

Tony laughed, "The Thunderbolts? I'm not a criminal, Osborn."

"No, the Avengers," he said coldly, "And yes, Tony, you are. You attacked the Avengers, you've spent the last six months either in jail or under house arrest. Don't pretend you're any different from anyone on that team because in the eyes of the law, you aren't."

Tony swallowed, trying desperately not to look away, like he was in a stare down with some aggressive animal.

"I'd rather go back to Forty-Two."

Osborn shrugged, "All right. But it won't be the psyche unit this time. You're going to be put in with the general population. If you think you can handle that, then by all means."

Tony gritted his teeth, "I...I'm going to need some time to think about it."

"Well think fast because the offer leaves when I do." As if to prove his point, he began walking casually toward the door.

Tony shook his head, body completely tense. To join the team would be admitting Osborn was right, that he was a criminal, a villain. To go back to 42 was a death sentence and, at some point, Tony might have welcomed it, but not now. He swallowed, feeling his nails dig into his palms as he squeezed his fists tightly.

"All right," he spat out finally, "I'll join your team."

"I knew you were smart," he could hear the smirk in Osborn's voice, "A car will be here to pick you up in the morning. Pack what you need. Welcome aboard."

Tony watched him go, anger staying a tight ball in his chest. Beth entered cautiously.

"Tony?"

Tony looked to her, trying to calm himself.

"Hey, guess what? I get to move back into the Tower," he tried to sound as normal as he could, but he wasn't sure he pulled it off.

"Tony," she put a hand on his shoulder, "I'll go with you."

He shook his head, "I don't want to put you through that. You've done enough."

"It's okay," she said gently, "I can't let you go there alone."

Tony laughed a little. It sounded like she was going to war, and he wasn't sure if that was an entirely wrong assessment.

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