“Hello,” a blonde man smiled down at a very tiny Tony Stark. Tony had been sitting on a bench outside his school for two hours at that point, waiting for his mother to come pick him up. Usually Jarvis was the one to come get him, but Jarvis was visiting some friends and had told Tony to wait for his mother to pick him up. So there Tony waited…but his mother had not come to get him yet.
The teacher, Miss Heather, had been waiting with him at first and tried calling his mother after a while. Maria had said she was on her way and that it was all right to leave if Miss Heather wanted. Miss Heather felt terrible about leaving such a small child on his own, but Maria Stark had assured her she would be there soon. The school was in a good neighborhood and Miss Heather really needed to go pick up her own child from the middle school nine blocks away.
Tony smiled at his teacher and told her he would just sit there and wait for his mother. He didn’t like it when she frowned. His teacher was very nice and she didn’t need to worry about him. Tony was a big boy and could take care of himself, he told her proudly.
Smiling worriedly down at the little boy, Miss Heather had waited another few minutes before leaving. That had been twenty-five minutes ago and Tony’s mother still had not come to get him. But now there was this man talking to him…maybe he was going to wait with Tony now.
Tony stared up at the man, eyes large and innocent, his fingers clutching tightly to the backpack in his lap. Cocking his head to the side, Tony spoke quietly, “hi.”
The man kneeled down next to Tony, making it easier for Tony to speak with him. Tony didn’t like being so tiny. It made speaking to adults difficult because it hurt his neck. Tony used to just talk to their legs, because knees were at his height…but his father hadn’t liked that. No, Howard had not liked that one bit. He said it was disrespectful. Howard said Tony needed to learn proper manners and must look someone in the eye when speaking with them.
Tony always looked adults in the eye now and used a quiet, polite tone. The pain in his neck was better than the pain all over. Howard had taught him that once and Tony was a fast learner.
“What’s your name?”
Tony bit his lip, unsure if he should answer. Jarvis told him not to speak with strangers…but Howard told him never to disrespect adults. And it would be disrespectful if Tony ignored the man, right? Tony didn’t like disappointing Jarvis, but he didn’t like the pain even more, so he decided to answer.
As soon as Tony said his name the man got that gleam in his eyes that Tony sometimes saw in the eyes of the villains in movies on TV. He didn’t like that gleam. It was scary. But he knew that villains were supposed to be scary, so maybe it was okay.
“Are you now…why are you out here all alone?” The man’s wild eyes darted around, searching for something. Tony was curious what he was looking for but it wasn’t his place to ask questions of adults.
“I’m waiting for my mother. She was supposed to pick me up from school.” It was starting to get late and the cold city wind was cutting through Tony’s thin jacket, making him shiver.
“Oh...you mean Maria?” The man said, eyes still ceaselessly scanning the area. Tony wondered if he would get in trouble for the lack of eye contact. It wasn’t Tony’s fault, so Howard shouldn’t get mad at Tony, right?
“You know my mother?” Tony asked curiously.
The man nodded his head enthusiastically, grinning widely. Tony tried not to cringe when he saw the man’s teeth. They were kind of crooked and yellow and made creepy-crawlies go up and down Tony’s arms. But Tony didn’t tell the man so, that would be rude.
“Yes, she asked me to come pick you up for her.”
The man hopped to his feet, holding out his hand to Tony. “Mmhmm, so we better get going.” Tony frowned in thought, not sure what to do. Jarvis had told him to wait for his mother and this man was very obviously not his mother.
“I don’t know, mister…”
“Come on Anthony, you wouldn’t want to disappoint your parents, would you?”
Gulping loudly, Tony shook his head back and forth. “No, sir.” It was a bad idea to make Howard mad, and Tony was a smart boy who avoided bad ideas.
Tony reached out a tiny hand and let himself be pulled up next to the man. He scampered along, almost losing his balance in his attempt to keep up with the man’s long strides.
The man led him over to an old, run-down car, holding the back door open. Tony frowned, feeling something was wrong. Neither of his parents would be seen in or even be associated with such a dirty vehicle. Howard always stressed that appearances meant everything. The man’s slightly wrinkled suit had made Tony suspicious before, but the state of the car set off all kinds of warning bells.
“Sir…” Tony said warily, trying to back away from the man. “Actually, I think I’ll just wait for my mother.”
Tony yelped when the man grabbed hold of his arms roughly, swiping him off his feet and throwing him into the back seat. Tony’s head hit the door on the other side, and his vision started going dark around the edges.
This had happened before, once, when his father had come home smelling strongly of alcohol. Howard had been mad at Tony for leaving his toys out and threw him into the bookcase. Tony had realized then that it was easier to just give in to the darkness- like taking a nap- rather than fighting it.
So, closing his eyes, Tony drifted off with the hope that Howard wouldn’t be too displeased with him when he finally got home.
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Tony slowly blinked his eyes open, letting out a small whimper when a throb of pain went through him. He reached trembling fingers to the back of his head and wrinkled his nose when they came away wet and sticky. Gross.
Looking around the small room he was in, Tony decided he didn’t like it. The room was dark and cluttered. Tony was curled into a tiny ball in one corner, the only open space in the room. There was dust in the air and it made Tony’s nose itch. It was also cold. Tony ran his hands up and down his arms, trying to get a little warmer, but it didn’t help much. Tony decided he really didn’t like this room. He wanted to go home.
Biting down on a wobbly lip, Tony forced the cries back down his throat and rapidly blinked away the tears in his eyes. Howard didn’t like it when Tony cried. He said temper tantrums were for uncivilized children and he had not raised Tony to be uncivilized. Tony hadn’t known what uncivilized meant.
Often times, Howard used big words Tony didn’t know. But Tony would always just nod his head in agreement with whatever Howard said and then ask Jarvis what they meant later. Jarvis was always very kind when he explained things to Tony, not at all like his father. Tony missed Jarvis.
He wasn’t sure how long he waited there in the dark, but it seemed like a very long time. Almost as long as the timeouts his mother gave him. He usually didn’t mind timeouts. They were supposed to be punishments, or so his mother told him, but it gave him time to think. Tony liked using his mind and so timeouts never really seemed that bad. Timeouts were better than the punishments that Howard gave him.
But even though this activity involved a lot of sitting and waiting like a timeout, it was not the same. Tony couldn’t escape to his little world of science like usual; the wound on his head made it difficult to think. His thoughts were all fuzzy and he had a difficult time just keeping his eyes open.
He could hear voices on the other side of the door. A man and a woman. They were arguing about something. Tony ignored the angry voices and looked around the room more carefully, trying to see if there was anything in there that would make his wait more comfortable.
There was a vacuum and a broom and a bucket with a mop and a bunch of bottles. Tony slowly went through and opened the bottles. They smelt like chemicals, so Tony just set them aside. He eventually found a blanket tucked under a heavy box that Tony had to lean all his weight against just to move. Once he secured the blanket, he sat back down in his corner and snuggled underneath it. His throat felt dry and his tummy growled for food, but at least he was warm now.
Tony’s head wasn’t hurting as bad anymore so he started running through his multiplication tables to pass the time. He was on fifteen by seventeen when the door swung open. Tony had to blink his eyes a lot for them to adjust, his head poking out from under the blanket.
Standing in the doorway was a woman. She was willowy and pale, but she had a smile on her face that reminded Tony of Miss Heather. Tony watched her silently as she crouched down next to where he was curled up.
“Hi, Sweetie. I’m so sorry Leo put you in here. Would you like to come out now?” Her voice was soft and kind and Tony decided he liked her a lot more than the man from before.
Nodding shyly, Tony was surprised when the woman reached out to pull him into her arms. The only one who had ever held him before was Jarvis. Howard and Maria said he wasn’t a baby anymore so he could use his own two feet.
The woman wasn’t as big and comfy as Jarvis but Tony snuggled his face into the crook of her neck all the same. She felt safe. The woman took him into a living room of sorts where the man from before was sitting in a corner of the room, staring at a cell phone in his hands. Sitting down on the couch, the woman ran a comforting hand up and down Tony’s back as he watched the man with wide eyes.
“My name is Jennifer, but you can call me Jenny,” the woman whispered into Tony’s ear. Tony nodded his head to confirm he had heard her but remained quiet, eyes locked on the man.
“I’m Tony,” he whispered, scared to draw attention from the man.
Jenny saw where Tony’s attention was focused and sighed. “That’s Leo,” Jenny continued, “he’s going to be calling your parents and you’ll be home in no time. Would you like to go home?”
Tony thought about that. Jarvis was going to be gone for a week so no one would be at home to play with. Jenny seemed nice enough; maybe if he stayed here, she would play with him. Before Tony could answer, he let out a startled yelp when Jenny ran her fingers through his hair and prodded the owwie there.
“I’m so sorry! Are you hurt?” Jenny shifted Tony in her arms until she could get a look at the back of his head. “Oh goodness, I better clean that up.”
Tony jumped off Jenny’s lap when she told him to, going slightly dizzy for a second. Jenny helped him get his balance and then Tony followed her to a small bathroom down the hall. Once there, Jenny lifted Tony onto the counter and got out a washcloth. She ran it under some warm water and then started cleaning away the blood in his hair. Tony tried not to squirm or make any noise and just focused on the soothing words flowing from Jenny’s lips. Once she was satisfied the wound was clean, Jenny threw the washcloth in the tub.
Tony glanced over at the toilet, crossing his legs and trying to be still until Jenny said he could move again…but he really had to go to the bathroom. Jenny noticed his squirming and smiled kindly at him.
“Do you have to use the potty, Sweetie?” Tony nodded his head. “Do you need help?
"No, Jenny. I can do it myself. I'm a big boy." Of course he didn't need help going to the potty. Jarvis had taught him how to use the toilet ages ago! Howard said he didn't need a child who couldn't even piss on his own. So of course, Tony had to learn how to use the potty quickly.
Jenny lifted Tony off the counter and set him on his feet. Once Jenny was out of the bathroom- telling Tony she’d be just on the other side of the door if he needed any help- Tony went about his business. Unfortunately, this toilet was a lot higher than the one in Tony’s room. Swallowing his embarrassment, Tony called out for Jenny’s help. She just smiled kindly when he explained his predicament and held him up so he could use the toilet. When she took him to the sink so he could wash his hands and then carried him back towards the living room.
Leo met them in the hallway, fingers twitching at his sides, pupils dilated and bloodshot. His eyes had that glassy look his mother’s eyes got when she swallowed the blue pills, not the white ones.
“Okay, Jenny, it’s time. Bring the boy.”
Tony wrapped his arms around Jenny’s neck as she carried him outside. He wrinkled his nose in distaste when he saw the car again. He didn’t like that car; it had hurt him. But he behaved for Jenny and didn’t make a single noise of complaint when she put him in the back. Jenny buckled him in and then got in the passenger seat. Turning around in the seat, she offered Tony a reassuring smile as Leo got in the driver’s seat.
“We’re going to go to Time Square. At this time, there will be huge crowds there. You’ll take the boy and keep him somewhere close by, go get him some food or something; I don’t care. I’ll make the call and then ditch the phone in case they trace it and then I’ll come get you.”
Jenny nodded her head as Leo started the car up. Tony looked out the window, watching the large city skyscrapers go by. After forty-five minutes of weaving their way through traffic, Leo pulled the car into a parking structure. Leo ordered them both out of the car and Jenny immediately took Tony’s hand in hers once they were outside.
The trio walked out of the parking structure and began the six-block journey to Time Square. Tony rubbed tiredly at his eyes as he trudged along beside Jenny. He was very tired and all he wanted to do was lay down. Two blocks from Time Square, Leo pointed out a cafe and told Jenny to take the boy there before continuing on. Tony let out a sigh of relief when they reached their goal and happily walked into the warm, comforting building. It smelled really good.
“Do you want something to eat, Sweetie?”
Tony scanned the case filled with baked goods and bit his lip when he saw a big chocolate chip cookie. His tummy grumbled loudly and Tony’s mouth watered when he thought of the chocolaty goodness…but it was rude to ask for things of others. Tony should be grateful for what he got; Howard always told him so.
Shaking his head, Tony glared at his growling tummy and ordered it to be quiet. It didn’t listen. Jenny smiled sadly down at Tony and then told the cashier she would like one chocolate chip cookie. After paying, Jenny steered Tony towards a two-person table in the back corner.
“Wow, this chocolate chip cookie sure does look good,” Jenny said brightly as she pulled the cookie out of the paper bag. “But,” she bit her lip and then whispered to Tony in a conspiring manner, “I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it. It’s just too big, don’t you think?” Tony nodded his head. It was a very big cookie. “Do you think you can help me? I don’t want to waste any.”
Howard also told Tony he should never waste things. If Howard was going to spend money on the boy, then Tony had better appreciate it. So Tony nodded his head eagerly, because he couldn’t let Jenny waste food either. What if Howard got mad at Jenny?
“I can help, Jenny!” Tony whispered excitedly, bouncing in his seat in enthusiasm.
Tony and Jenny grinned brightly at each other before Jenny broke off a big piece and held it out to him. Clutching the cookie in his tiny hands, Tony nibbled at the edge of the cookie. He hummed happily as the sugary flavor filled his mouth, his legs swinging back and forth under the table.
For the next twenty minutes, Jenny asked Tony questions about himself. How old was he? Three years, four months and six days. Jenny had looked very shocked by his precise answer. What did he like to do? Science experiments. What did he want to do when he grew up? More science experiments. What kind of movies did he like? Science Fiction. What was his favorite color? Red. Jenny had laughed at that, saying she almost expected Tony to answer ‘science!’ Tony just grinned back at her and told Jenny she was being silly. Science wasn’t a color.
Tony had just finished telling Jenny a story about a failed science experiment that had turned his hair blue when Leo suddenly charged into the bakery, face red in anger.
“Come on,” he barked, grabbing Tony’s arm roughly and pulling him off his chair. “It’s time to go.”
“What’s wrong? What happened?” Jenny asked with a worried frown, moving to check Tony was all right. Tony just gave her a small smile and rubbed at his sore arm.
“I’ll tell you once we’re back in the car,” Leo growled and then marched away, leaving a bewildered Jenny to pick up Tony and race after him. The walk back to the car was quiet and much faster than before. Tony was glad Jenny was carrying him; he didn’t think his tired legs could walk that quickly.
Tony tried to stay awake, he really did. But this had been a very long day for him and he was just so tired. Finally losing the battle to his drooping eyelids, a young Tony Stark fell asleep.
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“That fucking asshole!” Leo fumed loudly.
"Keep your voice down," Jenny hissed at him, her eyes darting back to see if his exclamation had awoken Tony. She couldn’t believe Leo had done something so stupid and dangerous like kidnapping the boy, but she’d see this through with him because she loved Leo and Tony deserved to be kept safe. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"
“They aren’t going to pay,” Leo bit out.
Jenny frowned at him and crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you mean they aren’t going to pay?”
“I mean precisely what I said. That bastard Howard Stark said he didn’t care what I did with the boy but he sure as hell was not going to pay $25,000 for him.”
“But I thought you said that would be low-balling it. That the Starks are rich enough to pay millions so asking for only 25k would be a guaranteed win.” Jenny really wished Leo would stop using those drugs…they made him do stupid things like this half-cocked plan to get cash quick. She just wanted this whole horrible ordeal to be over with.
“They are that fucking rich, but apparently they don’t care enough about the boy to pay even that small amount for him,” Leo grumbled. “I threatened to kill the boy,” Leo ignored Jenny’s sharp gasp, “and the bastard just said he wasn’t going to pay and then hung up.”
“We aren’t really going to…” Jenny gulped loudly, not even able to say the words.
Leo shook his head, “no, of course not.”
“What are we going to do then?” Jenny asked quietly.
A loud smack sounded through the car when Leo hit the steering wheel in anger. “I don’t fucking know! We can’t keep him, obviously, and we can’t just return him to his parents because we’ll get caught,” Leo bit his lip, trying to think of a way out of this whole mess.
Jenny left him to his thoughts, staying quiet and just trying to keep calm. She would go along with whatever Leo said, as long as no harm came to the boy. The child was too precious and innocent to hurt. Tears came to her eyes when she thought about how his parents had just given up and abandoned him. How could they not care about such a wonderful little boy? Her hand settled over her stomach and she told her future child she would do anything in her power to keep him safe.
“Okay,” Leo startled her from her thoughts. “We are going to drop by a store and pick up some new clothes and hair dye. I don’t think it will keep him hidden for too long, but maybe if we can mask his identity for a bit then it will give us enough time to get away. We’ll dye his hair and dump his backpack and old clothes in a park somewhere. His backpack has some blood on it so maybe they’ll think we actually did kill him. I want you to stay at home and start packing all our stuff up. I’m going to drive the boy to Boston and dump him at a youth home or something and then come back to get you. We’ll drive to the west coast and hopefully put this whole thing behind us.”
“Why take him to Boston?”
Leo shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe putting a little distance between him and home will make it more difficult for them to find him, which will give us more of a head start before they begin looking for us. I’m hoping by the time they find him, we’ll already be half way to California.”
Jenny nodded her head. The plan sounded shaky but at least there was a plan now.
The next few hours were crazy. Tony woke up again when they were dying his hair blonde. Jenny had smiled at the little boy and told him it was just another experiment, like the one that had turned his hair blue. The laughing smile that had lit up the boy’s face made her heart ache.
When Leo said it was time for them to go, Jenny couldn’t help but pull the little boy into her arms. She whispered that he would be going home soon and to behave for Leo. Tony asked her why she was crying and Jenny just shook her head, saying it was nothing he needed to worry about. He wouldn’t be able to understand how terribly sorry she was for doing this to him.
Jenny stood out on the stoop, waving goodbye as Leo drove away with a freshly clothed, blonde-haired Tony Stark.
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The boy was quiet, hadn’t said a single word since Leo began the long drive to Boston. Jenny had made some sandwiches for them and there was a juice box for the boy but he hadn’t touched either.
Leo felt bad for doing this to the kid, but they needed the money. It hadn’t been his intention to kidnap the boy. He had just been trying to see if the boy was lost. But when the boy had said his name…well, all his drug-hazy mind had seen were dollar signs. Jenny had just found out she was pregnant and his job wasn’t going all that great and he was behind on paying rent for the house and…god, he just really needed the money! Kidnapping the Stark child had seemed like a simple enough way to get said money. Everyone in the world knew how rich the Starks were.
What Leo hadn’t counted on was Howard Stark being a complete bastard. What kind of father didn’t even try to get their kid back? Leo shook his head, wondering if maybe he wasn’t doing the boy a favor. Maybe it would be best if the kid wasn’t returned to the Starks, maybe it would be better if he found a new family in Boston. Because man, Leo felt bad for the kid, having such a shitty dad.
About an hour away from Boston, Leo pulled over and reached into the glove box. He took out the fresh needle from his pocket and then went to get the boy from the back seat.
Filling the needle up with a little Dilaudid, Leo hoped that it would keep the kid loopy enough that he couldn’t immediately tell whoever found him what had happened. Leo frowned when he was allowed to inject the Dilaudid into the boy’s arm without the kid even asking him what he was doing. This was the strangest little kid, ever.
Leo got back into the car and continued the drive to Boston. His eyes darted to the rearview mirror every once and a while to check on the boy who was now passed out in the back. When signs for Boston started popping up, Leo sighed with relief. He had grown up in Boston and knew the area pretty well. He hoped that the youth home from his old neighborhood was still there.
Leo smiled when he saw it was and hastily pulled over in front. He retrieved the boy from the back, wrapping him in a large blanket and then quickly strode over to the front door. The boy’s breathing was a little shallow and Leo worried that he might have given the boy too big of a dose. Shaking his head, Leo told himself the boy would be fine.
Depositing the boy on the front stoop, Leo gave the boy one last whispered apology. Leo really was sorry he had made such a stupid mistake and taken the boy, but he couldn’t go back in time. He just told himself that the boy would find his way back home, he would be fine, and now, Leo had his own family to worry about.
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Nurse Bethany startled when she heard a tiny whimper come from the bed. When she looked over, she gasped when she saw the little boy squirming around. He had been in a coma for two weeks now and the doctors hadn’t been too confident he was going to wake up.
When the director from a youth home had brought the boy in, the child had been unconscious. The doctors had run some tests and found a high level of Dilaudid in his system. That combined with the head injury the boy had led to a not-so-good prognosis for him.
“Hi, Honey,” the nurse spoke softly as the boy blinked his eyes open. “Would you like to sit up?” The boy nodded slowly and Bethany helped him prop his tiny body up against the pillows. She retrieved a cup of water for him and held the cup as he took tiny sips through the straw.
“How are you feeling?”
The boy let out a huge yawn and rubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. “Sleepy.”
Bethany smiled sympathetically, knowing he must feel very groggy.
“What’s your name?”
The nurse waited for an answer, but all the boy did was frown. “I…” After a long moment the boy looked back up at Bethany with big watery eyes. “I can’t remember.”
Bethany smiled at him, trying to keep him calm but she was very worried by the answer. “That’s alright. I’m going to go get a doctor and maybe he can help us out, okay?” She waited for the boy to nod before leaving to go find a doctor.
The next two hours were filled with a barrage of questions aimed at the boy and numerous tests. By the end, the boy was left exhausted and the doctor and nurse left him in the room as he fell back asleep.
“So what do you think, Dr. Zu?” Bethany asked once they were in the hallway.
“His head injury is healing nicely and the MRI didn’t show anything to be too concerned about. His vitals are all okay and he seems fine, physically, now that he’s awake,” the doctor informed her.
“And his memory?”
Dr. Zu shook his head, a worried frown pulling at his lips. “I’m afraid he’s lost basically all of his autobiographical memory. He knows objects and words and ideas perfectly well, better than most children his age, actually. But he doesn’t remember his name, where he’s from, who his parents are, or even if he has parents…”
A moment of heavy silence fell over the two before the nurse asked the question that had been on the tip of her tongue ever since the boy woke up.
“So what’s going to happen to him?”
Dr. Zu heaved a weary sigh, massaging his jaw thoughtfully. “He’ll stay here for another day or two so we can make sure he’s okay. Hopefully his memory returns during that time, but I’m afraid that unless someone comes to claim him, he’ll be put into the system. And considering no one has even reported a missing child fitting his description, the chances of someone claiming him are very slim.”
The pair stood there talking for a few more minutes, both expressing their concerns for the unknown boy and wondering what kind of life he was fated to now.