“You know, Horny… You remind me of a child kicking and screaming in the middle of a supermarket, throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get that shiny new toy on the shelf a few aisles back.”
Loki’s eyes narrowed beneath that ridiculous horned helmet. “I suspect such behavior would be second nature to you, Stark,” he hissed.
“I was never taken to supermarkets,” Tony noted, still flying loops around the Norse god because hovering in one place was as good as inviting another magical blast. “I even built my own toys. You, however, are still pouting at your daddy for not raising you above Thor and that’s just kind of sad – especially when your tantrums involve attempting to destroy or enslave other worlds. You really need a spanking.”
“Are you done?” Loki asked.
“Not by a long shot,” Tony replied and glanced at the HUD. Where were the others? Did they expect him to take on Loki alone? Well, he would, make no mistake, but when this fight started, Loki hadn’t been alone, and Tony knew from experience that if the villains couldn’t be seen or heard, it was bad. “J.A.R.V.I.S., what’s the location the other Asgardians that came with Loki,” he requested.
“Amora the Enchantress and Skurge the Executioner; current whereabouts unknown,” the AI supplied.
“Find them,” Tony instructed. “I really shouldn’t have to tell you these things.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. was silent and Tony continued his vigilant watch over the God of Michief, who for the time being seemed docile. Always a bad sign, Tony knew, and he was itching to just get this over with. There was no sound of thunder, however, or a roar from the Hulk, so where the hell were the others?
“Enough,” Loki finally said. “I tire of your presence. Tell me, Stark, was that how your father felt about you as well?”
Tony stopped. “J, prep the Unibeam. I want to burn that smirk from his arrogant face,” he narrowed his eyes at Loki’s image on the HUD.
“Diverting power to chest RT,” J.A.R.V.I.S. confirmed, then red lights began to flash. “Warning: power surge associated with Asgardian magic detected.”
The armor systems began to blink in and out and Tony felt himself fall from the sky. A few, random bursts from the repulsors softened his landing somewhat, yet the suit wasn’t responding and that was never good. Tony rolled onto his back, feeling every pound of the metal around him – then saw a curtain of blond hair as the Enchantress appeared above him like a materializing wisp of smoke.
“Amora,” Loki called out in a sickeningly sweet voice. “Let us finish him together.”
Tony gritted his teeth and raised an arm up – only to have a massive weight pin it down and he felt something dig into the armor’s front, almost cutting through; the Executioner and his favorite weapon, which Thor had called the Bloodaxe.
It was going to draw blood from Tony if he didn’t get his weapons online and some kind of defensive move going.
“Unibeam online,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced.
“Fuck this shit,” Tony hissed and fired just as some magical glow permeated the air around him. There were shouts – one of them his own, because fuck did everything hurt, suddenly, in his very bones – and then everything went dark.
When Black Widow said those two words, in that tone, Steve knew to take a deep breathe and try not to panic. They ran forward, a sickening blue-smeared-with-yellow glow fading between the buildings, and in the midst of it all lay Iron Man. The suit’s lights were out and there was a deep slash in the side of his chest and upper arm – no doubt a souvenir from Skurge’s axe.
“Where are they?” Steve asked.
Above them, the wind roared and a single flash of lightning struck down before Thor landed, face grim. “They are gone, but I can still sense the aftertaste of their magic,” the Asgardian noted, then grimaced. “This is not a natural flavor. Something may have gone wrong.”
“Knowing Loki’s spells, that doesn’t sound promising,” Clint Barton noted as he slipped down another alley towards them. “Big guy’s coming closer; guess he saw the lightshow as well.” He meant the Hulk, of course, which was a relief since Steve didn’t want to go running after him on top of tonight’s disastrous mission. Loki had thrown them off his scent with projections and haunted vehicles which had endangered the general public and the Avengers. Iron Man had been the only one who could extract himself – and clearly he had found the real Loki. Communications had been scratchy at best so Steve had hoped Tony would be able to hold on until they got to him.
Natasha had knelt by Iron Man’s head, working the helmet off since there was no response from Tony – and then she froze. “Something’s wrong,” she said and put the helmet aside quickly.
“Is it empty?” Clint asked, frowning, putting away his bow for the time being.
“No,” Natasha replied.
“Then what –?”
They all just stared at the small mop of hair visible from the suit’s neck which seemed too large suddenly. Thor stepped forward, lifting his hammer, but Natasha motioned him back and dug out a communicator from her belt. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she said into it, “launch remote suit deactivation. Something’s… happened.”
There was no reply they could hear, and for some time nothing happened, but eventually the suit began to unlock and withdraw into itself – a process that always fascinated Steve. However, from the midst of it emerged the tiny form of a child, draped in the now over-sized clothes Tony had worn when they were alerted into action.
“What is this trickery?” Thor questioned.
“I was hoping you would know,” Steve admitted. “Is that…?” But there was the familiar glow of the arc reactor, and although he could see only part of his face, the dark eyelashes and big eyes were familiar in a sense.
Natasha knelt there, frozen. She seemed hesitant to touch the small boy, as if that might be dangerous somehow.
“This can’t be good,” Clint decided.
A thump echoed from behind them and everyone turned to watch as the Hulk straightened in the aftermath of his giant leap that had probably taken him over the nearby buildings. His large bulk created a tall shadow and the green eyes surveyed the area – then landed on the open armor and the figure inside it. A growl rose from the wide chest and Steve hurriedly stepped between the rage monster and the boy who possibly was their teammate.
“Wait!” Steve called out. “It’s Tony. Well, I think it might be Tony, but there’s something wrong with him –”
The Hulk pushed past him, shoving him to the side like an annoying tree branch. Steve hit Thor hard enough to knock them both down. He saw Natasha get on her feet, positioning her body half-way between the Hulk and the unconscious boy, but she was small and Steve knew she was still working on some of her deep-seated fears concerning the Hulk.
“Hey, big guy!” Clint called out. He had drawn out his bow and notched an arrow, holding it at the ready and pointing it at the back of the Hulk’s head. “Step away. I know this all seems weird but the bad guys are gone.”
The Hulk huffed and stopped, standing tall above the Black Widow and looking down at the strange, surreal sight behind her.
Then, as if done considering the situation, the Hulk began to step around her. Natasha moved to block his path, which resulted in a thick hand rising to remove her from said path – which led to Clint firing at the Hulk, without hesitation.
An angry snarl followed the small explosion and the Hulk twisted around to show his teeth at Clint, after which he stomped the rest of the way to the undone armor, dismissing Natasha completely, and leaned above the open metal cocoon and the child inside it. He sniffed and snarled again. “Stupid magic,” the Hulk muttered then sniffed again. “Tony,” he mused next, much softer this time, and brought one large hand to touch the boy’s chest. Another sniff followed, as if making sure of something. Steve knew the Hulk had a very keen sense of smell, which meant he could probably confirm what the rest of them had feared up till now; that this was really Tony and some horrible spell was involved.
The Hulk wrinkled his nose then sneezed, loudly, as if the lingering shades of magical dust particles irritated him – which resulted in a jerk from the boy, the dark eyes flying open.
And then the boy screamed, loud and terrified, looking up at the giant face.
The Hulk stumbled back, hitting a row of trash cans at the foot of another building, making them fold beneath his weight like they were made of paper. The big hands swatted at the air, as if that would help the situation – and then the Hulk decided to roar in response.
That, quite effectively, shut the boy up, leaving him sitting there, wrapped in clothes that looked almost like a fabric prison around him, the chest rising and falling so rapidly Steve immediately recognized it as a panic attack. Steve scrambled up, moving hastily to the boy’s side, and lowered himself to his knees beside him. “It’s okay,” he said quickly. “I know he’s big and scary… Hulk!” he snapped then, “stop growling at him!”
The Hulk narrowed his eyes but fell silent, sitting down on top of the crushed trash cans as if he were sulking.
Turning his attention back to the boy, Steve attempted to smile warmly and confidently. “Do you know who I am?” The boy stared at him, shivering, still panting as if he couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs. The dark pools of his eyes were beginning to shine and Steve realized he was about to cry. “It’s okay!” he repeated. “Tony, we’re… You’re…”
“Smooth, Cap,” Clint commented from the side.
The boy’s head whipped around, to look in the direction of the sound, wet eyes looking at all of them as if assessing the situation.
“Maybe he’s still… him,” Clint went on. “Tony, are you okay? Do you know who we are?”
The small head whipped back around, staring at the Hulk – who glowered right back at him. First tears began to make their way down his cheeks. “It hurts,” he finally whispered. “I want… I want to go home. I want to see my mom and dad!” he said, voice so small and child-like although the words were clear and properly pronounced.
“Okay,” Clint sighed. “I guess he really is a kid, then.”
“Thor,” Steve spoke up, still looking at the tiny, shivering form, “you must find Loki and figure out what they’ve done to Tony. The rest of us will take him back to the Tower and wait for you there.”
“I’ll alert S.H.I.E.L.D., to make sure he’s okay,” Natasha added.
“Are you injured?” Steve asked the boy, trying to make his voice softer.
The large eyes gazed at him, moving up and down his body – looking at his shield – then returned to his face. “You’re not Captain America,” was the only thing child-Tony said. “My dad knew Captain America, and he says he’s dead.”
“You’d be surprised,” Clint muttered.
“Get the Quinjet,” Steve snapped. “Okay, buddy, let’s get you home,” he added to the boy and began to reach for him – which resulted in the small body recoiling from him as if he were suddenly a poisonous snake.
“Don’t touch me!” the boy screamed. “I don’t want to go with you. I want to go home.”
“We’re going to take you home,” Natasha reassured him, gesturing for Steve to back off. “It will be okay, Tony. I know you’re scared and confused, but I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Frankly, after all their time together, this was perhaps the kindest thing Natasha had ever said to Tony. Whether it was an act to calm the child, Steve didn’t know, but it seemed to work – especially when Natasha switched to another language as smoothly as she took her next breath. It sounded like Italian and the small boy seemed to be calmed by it, somewhat, allowing himself to be lifted into Natasha’s arms and carried out towards the nearest street where Clint would bring the Quinjet.
“Help me with the armor,” Steve said to the Hulk, who huffed and got to his feet, as if still insulted. One green hand seized the armor without waiting for Steve to catch up and dragged it along the alley, leaving Steve to pick up the helmet and follow. He couldn’t help but look at the familiar, mechanical face, and wonder what had happened.
The flight to the Avengers Tower seemed to take forever although it wasn’t more than twenty minutes.
Each minute, however, was another sixty seconds of the child’s weight in her arms, his small form shaking, alarmed eyes gazing at the interior of the plane while errant tears slid down the smooth cheeks. It was clear Tony was in pain but he bravely kept quiet about it after that one outburst in the alley. He didn’t move save for the involuntary motions of his body, draped in the clothes of an adult man.
Natasha kept reciting Italian poems and stories to him, knowing that while Tony might not know the language at this age, it might remind him of his mother nonetheless. While the adult Tony would have hated her using this information to her advantage, the child was in no position to do the same.
The Hulk was still gazing darkly at the child, while Steve tried not to draw Tony’s attention his way, sitting quietly with Iron Man’s helmet in his lap.
When Clint finally landed them on the helipad outside the main floor of the Tower, Natasha smoothly got to her feet and carried Tony inside. The lights went on automatically, welcoming them back, and she carefully placed the child on one of the couches. “I’ll try and see if we can find you some better fitting clothes,” she promised.
The dark head turned as Tony looked around, and traces of panic began to reappear in his features. “Where are we? You said you would take me home!”
“This is home,” Steve said, walking in with the others. “Your home –”
Natasha winced, realizing the error a micro-second faster than Steve did.
The boy sat there, frozen like a terrified animal. His eyes kept gazing at them, from one face to the next, something like understanding dawning on his face. “You’re kidnappers,” he finally stated, too calm for a child his age.
“What!?” Steve exclaimed. “No, we’re your friends, Tony. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense but you have to believe me.”
The dark eyes were guarded, looking at all of them again, then down at himself. Small hands tugged feebly at the large clothing.
“Someone get him proper clothes,” Clint shook his head and stepped closer. He didn’t care that Tony froze and tried to inch away; he effectively tore the sleeves from the seams, allowing Tony some degree of freedom to move his arms. “There, isn’t that better?”
Tony nodded slowly, then carefully wriggled and finally kicked off the pants and underwear; his body was small enough to use the torn shirt as a long tunic of sorts. The feet sticking out from under it were just as small as the rest of him, his fingers moving restlessly.
“Okay,” Clint said briskly, “now that that’s out of the way – oof!”
Tony had lifted his foot so fast Natasha could barely brace herself before the boy kicked Clint in the nuts, hard, then rolled off the couch and raced across the room.
“Hey!” Steve called out while Clint leaned heavily on the couch and steadied his breathing, one hand protectively wedged between his legs.
“Tony!” Natasha started after the boy. “We’re not going to hurt you!”
The boy was quick on his feet, dodging past furniture and into the next room. However, he was in an unfamiliar setting and clearly had no knowledge of where he was headed. When Natasha and Steve began to get close, Tony dodged underneath a table, coming out on the other side, then entered the door closest to him and shut it firmly between them.
“Tony,” Steve called out even as he tried the handle, finding the door locked and unyielding. “Please come out.”
“I’m not stupid!” the boy yelled from the other side. “You thought I would believe you’re Captain America if you dressed up like him? You’re all liars, and kidnappers! I want to go home!”
“Kick the door down,” Natasha suggested.
“No,” Steve sighed. “He’ll just be more afraid of us.”
“We can coddle him after,” she argued. “Right now we need to get him under control and examined.”
Tiny sobs could be heard from the other side of the locked door. Natasha knew they were partially out of fear, but also from pain. Steve’s fists clenched and he stared at the door as if trying to negotiate with it instead.
Heavy footsteps came towards them and they both looked to the right to see the Hulk advancing. “Back off,” Steve ordered. “He’s scared of all of us and you’re not helping.”
The Hulk breathed sharply, glanced at the door – then punched his fist clear through the wall several feet from the locked door. Tony let out a yell on the other side and the Hulk tore chunks of the wall free to create a new doorway, then pushed through it.
“Stay away!” Tony screamed. As Natasha moved to the hole in the wall, she could see Tony in the far corner of the room, curled up in a defensive position, crying and terrified.
“Hulk won’t hurt Tony,” the Hulk spoke, moving down onto all fours in front of the boy – as if to better level with him. “Hulk protects tiny Tony.”
The dark eyes blinked, clearly suspecting another trick. “My dad won’t give you any money,” he said, voice shivering.
“Your dad is stupid,” the Hulk decided, then reached out one hand that was big enough to crush the boy.
Tony twisted away, face pressed into the wall, eyes clenched shut. “I want Jarvis,” he murmured.
“At your service, sir,” the AI suddenly spoke up. “Hulk, please move away from Mr. Stark. His vital signs are showing distress and I will intervene if you aggravate him further.”
The Hulk looked up – just as Tony did – and then moved back with unhappy exhales of air. He muttered something unintelligible, then walked right through another part of the wall and disappeared down the hallway.
Tony was still curled up in the corner, appearing even more confused. “Who are you?”
“I am J.A.R.V.I.S. You asked for me, sir. The last data burst I received from the armor suggested some kind of attack from Loki, the Enchantress and the Executioner, after which I was unable to contact you. May I suggest you try and calm down; a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical team is on their way.”
“You’re not Jarvis,” the boy blinked.
A confused silence followed. “Tony,” Steve spoke up, “I’m pretty sure it is J.A.R.V.I.S.”
“No!” Tony shouted, starting to hyperventilate again. “He’s not.” He began sobbing suddenly, sagging down, curling up on the floor. “It hurts. I don’t… I want it to stop hurting. Please.”
Natasha wasn’t certain if they should try to calm him down or let him be. Steve, however, stepped into the room and knelt by the boy, lifting his barely resisting form in his arms and carrying him out, just in time to meet the medical team from S.H.I.E.L.D.
A few things were very clear: one, child-Tony’s dislike of doctors almost rivaled that of his adult self, and two, he liked Bruce Banner a lot more than he liked the Hulk.
After Steve had carried him down to the space they used as an infirmary – a room that didn’t go unused much in between all the missions they partook in – Bruce had emerged and proceeded to examine Tony. He seemed to have a knack for handling frightened children, doing a much better job than the S.H.I.E.L.D. medics who mostly dealt with grim adults hurt in the line of duty.
“Try to breathe in,” Bruce was saying softly.
Tony drew in a shuddery breath, fresh tears in his eyes. The arc reactor seemed huge in his small chest, and while Clint was almost certain it had shrunk slightly, apparently the magic that had caused the transformation hadn’t altered the device completely. For all they knew, Tony would still die if it were to be removed, but it was also causing him much pain.
“Good,” Bruce smiled gently. “Now, can I take a little blood from you? I promise I’ll make it hurt as little as possible.”
Tony didn’t look happy but lifted his arm dutifully as Bruce wrapped a tourniquet around it.
“Any news from Thor?” Clint asked, looking at Natasha and Steve who stood beside him behind an observation window.
“No, but that might be a good thing,” Steve replied.
Clint wasn’t sure he had that much optimism – not with his balls and dick still aching. He was definitely bringing that up with the people who handled his body armor, because if a child of that size managed to deliver a kick like that, there was definitely something wrong with it.
A smile appeared on Natasha’s lips and she glanced down briefly, as if knowing what he was thinking. “I can’t believe you let him kick you in the nuts.”
“Very funny,” Clint growled. “I’m definitely returning the favor once he’s back to full size.” Steve looked at him sharply at that and Clint shrugged. “Okay, I’m not, but that was a dirty trick.”
“He still thinks we’ve kidnapped him,” Steve defended the child. “We’ve taken him to a place he doesn’t know, and clearly he’s familiar with the scenario.” Their leader looked deeply troubled by that.
“He was the only son and heir of the leading weapons manufacturer and designer in the world,” Natasha explained. “The threat of a kidnapping was very real for him, since he was born. I recall there were several attempts as well, which means he’s probably been schooled in case of such an event.”
Steve shook his head, lips a thin line. “He’s too young for that…”
“He’s old enough to understand,” Natasha pointed out. “We just need to make him trust us.” She frowned at the scene before them. “J.A.R.V.I.S., do you have any idea whom this ‘Jarvis’ is that Tony asked for? Clearly he wasn’t talking about you.”
“I assume that given Mr. Stark’s current regression, both physical and emotional, he’s speaking of one Edwin Jarvis who used to work for the Stark family. I also believe I may have been named after this man and modified in his likeness.”
“Please tell me he’s not dead,” Clint said, although he guessed Tony wouldn’t create an AI to resemble a living man either.
“My research indicates he resides in a private retirement home set in a slightly renovated country house in the United Kingdom. His pension is covered by the Maria Stark Foundation and he seems to be enjoying a quiet life.”
“How thrilled do you think he’s going to be if we go for a visit?” Clint mused, looking at the terrified child staring down at the freshly bandaged needle hole in his arm.
“Do we have a choice?” Steve asked.
They all gathered in one of the various meeting rooms in the former Stark Tower. One woman from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical team was present, Thor had arrived an hour ago and Nick Fury strode in as a last-minute member of the meeting.
“Let’s get this over quickly,” the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. stated, then looked around the room. “Where’s Stark?”
“He’s asleep in his room,” Bruce informed Fury, suggesting that this would not be changed. “J.A.R.V.I.S. and two of your people are looking after him.”
Fury nodded. “What the hell happened?” he asked next.
“For lack of a better term, Tony was turned into a 5-year-old,” Bruce explained. “Everything in his physiology, mental state and responses suggest a complete reversion back to his childhood self – the only exception being the arc reactor. A scan has confirmed the transformation didn’t affect the shrapnel either, which may suggest that objects foreign to the usual physiology of the person’s body weren’t within reach of the… whatever means were used to accomplish this.”
“I think the arc reactor looks smaller,” Clint pointed out.
“That’s because it is,” Bruce mused. “That change may be potentially hazardous to the mechanics of the device, but I need to study it further to establish whether Tony’s life is in danger – or ours, should the arc reactor turn unstable.” He turned his gaze towards Thor. “Did you by any chance find Loki?”
“Nay,” Thor shook his head, “but I felt an unsettling deformity in the magic in the aftermath of the battle. This may be the trigger to what caused this unforeseen effect on our friend’s condition.”
“To put it mildly,” Steve muttered, unhappily staring at the table and his crossed hands on it. “We need to find Loki and his allies, quickly.” He lifted his eyes to look at Bruce. “He seemed agitated,” he added, clearly changing the topic back to Tony.
Bruce nodded. “The arc reactor pains him. I have given him pain medication, but it’s only a temporary solution; the arc wasn’t built to suit a child’s body. Not that it was…” He hesitated, tapping his pen against the table. “We don’t actually know how much pain the arc reactor causes Tony on a daily basis, so this might be nothing new. However, we have a frightened child on our hands, who is forced to deal with a piece of machinery fixed into his chest. I will explain to him that it helps keep him alive, but I doubt he’ll be able to rationalize the pain anytime soon.”
“While that is unfortunate,” Fury started, “we need to get to the bottom of this and change him back.”
Bruce narrowed his eyes. “Unfortunate?” The other guy simmered beneath the surface; while the child had been afraid of the monster, Bruce could tell the Hulk had, in the end, wanted to protect him, and Fury’s flippant comment was rubbing him the wrong way. “What is unfortunate is that we have no idea how this happened, how to undo it, and the next time I have to look Tony in the eye and tell him – lie to him – that it’s going to get better, I might give into the temptation to let the other guy out and have him deal with the Asgardian magic wielders.”
“While I’m sure that is tempting, Dr. Banner, may I remind you we need them in order to undo this,” Fury said, sounding unimpressed, but Bruce knew from experience that when he started to get mad on the outside, people got uneasy – no matter who they were.
“I will find my brother,” Thor promised. “He will answer for his deeds.”
“Until then, we need to make Tony as calm and comfortable as possible,” Steve went on, clearly taking Bruce’s side on this. “He may be Tony, but he’s also a child who’s scared and confused. We need to give him something – someone – he can trust.”
“I saw your report on Edwin Jarvis,” Fury nodded. “While I’m sure that’s a tempting idea, he’s a civilian and we shouldn’t escalate this any further than we have to. If the knowledge of Stark’s predicament reached the wrong ears, our enemies wouldn’t hesitate to exploit the situation.”
“Let them exploit it,” Steve snapped, surprising everyone. “We’ll happily deal with anyone who thinks they can take on the Avengers without Iron Man at our side – or who think they can get their hands on Tony in his current state.”
“This all might be over in a day – or it might take longer than that. We should at least consider the possibility of bringing in Mr. Jarvis should he be receptive to the idea,” Natasha mused.
Fury closed his eye, leaning heavily on the table. “Does anyone have an unbiased opinion to offer?” he said, glancing at the S.H.I.E.L.D. medic next.
The woman shifted uneasily and looked down at her notes and reports. “It’s clear the child is agitated – physically and emotionally. Perhaps keeping him sedated, for his own safety and that of others, would be the wisest decision. If we cannot provide him with an environment where he’s… calmer…”
“You want to drug him and wait this out?” Clint asked. “That’s a great plan,” he added sarcastically.
“Dr. Banner clearly stated he’s in pain,” Fury snapped. “To give him relief, and lessen the impact of the fact that his family is in fact long gone, it may be best to keep him unconscious until we find out how to reverse the aging.”
Bruce ground his teeth together, resisting the urge to lash out. “He’s a living being.” Too often people had tried to do the same to him, to keep him as an unresponsive test subject – and while Bruce understood the logic behind that, he absolutely refused to allow it to happen to Tony.
Fury’s eye narrowed. “Right now, he’s sick, and until we find a cure –”
“If I may interrupt,” J.A.R.V.I.S. cut in, “Mr. Stark has awakened and is currently proceeding to escape from his room.”
“How?” Fury asked.
“Through the ventilation system.”
“What kind of five-year-old would think of that?” Clint asked.
“A genius one,” Bruce said and stood up. “You have to remember whom we’re dealing with.”
“Just alert the agents in the hallway,” Fury ordered. “We’re not finished here.”
“I do not consider the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel capable of handling my creator in a manner that befits him right now,” the AI argued. “Dr. Banner, if I may request that you intervene?”
“Sure,” Bruce gave Fury a cold smile. He left the room before the Director could respond and made his way back to Tony’s floor. The agents in the hallway started at his sudden approach, then both lifted a hand to their ear – clearly Fury wasn’t listening very well today. “You move, and you’ll be the Hulk’s next punching bags,” Bruce threatened them and entered the room, the door unlocking as his hand touched the handle.
It was dim inside, but he could make out the soft glow of the arc reactor on the floor on the other side of the bed. It was quiet, and Bruce approached carefully. “Tony?” he called out. “I know what you’re trying to do. Please don’t.”
Something was placed on the floor and Tony’s head appeared from behind the bed, small hands placed on the mattress as he regarded Bruce. “I want to go home. You can’t stop me.”
Bruce sighed. “It’s complicated. You cannot go home, not right now.”
The large eyes were defiant, filled with pain and a burning spirit. “We’ll see.”
“I’m not your enemy,” Bruce reassured and slowly toed off his shoes and settled cross-legged on the bed. “Could we just talk instead? Are you hungry? I’m afraid I don’t know what kind of foods you like.” Well, he knew what Tony liked as an adult, but they hadn’t exactly traded childhood memories during their time together.
Tony sighed and retreated, disappearing behind the bed again. “I’m not hungry.”
“Sure you’re not,” Bruce took the bait. “But we could still go to the kitchen and see if there’s something good in there.” He could hear a slight shuffling sound and strained breaths which seemed to be coming from beneath the bed.
“I know you’ll try to poison me,” Tony’s muffled words reached his ears through the mattress.
“I think I would have done that while taking your blood,” Bruce observed.
“You’re not very smart,” Tony went on.
Bruce smiled. “Actually, I am very smart. Smarter than you, I’ve often been told.” He slowly turned around on the bed, just in time to see Tony emerge from beneath it, having crawled all the way to the other side.
The dark eyes darted up, not surprised that he had been found out. “That’s what you think. And that’s why you will lose.”
“Lose?” Bruce frowned.
“Dr. Banner, there is some kind of explosive device –”
J.A.R.V.I.S. was cut off by a bright flash and a thick cloud of smoke assaulting the room from where Tony had been working. Bruce coughed and fought the initial urge to transform, then heard the door open and close, followed by shouts from the outside. “Damn it,” he coughed, yet a small smile tugged his lips as he raced to the door, socks slipping slightly on the floor when he got outside. He could just see Tony’s tiny form turn a corner, the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hot on his heels.
Bruce followed them, knowing the agents wouldn’t dare hurt Tony but the child might hurt himself. “J.A.R.V.I.S., please try and contain the situation,” he requested as he turned a corner as well, seeing Tony dodge his chasers across the sitting room, heading for another doorway – then slammed face first into Thor and fell back onto the floor with the sound of the air being knocked out of him.
“Friend Tony!” Thor called out with concern, lowering his hammer to the floor with a loud thud and kneeling down. “I did not see you there.”
The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents stopped, looking vey embarrassed as Steve followed Thor into the room and all three stayed to survey the situation.
Tony pushed backwards then grabbed at the hammer, no doubt attempting to lift it, but could not make it budge. Thor smiled indulgently and touched the handle, as if to assist him. “Mjolnir is a mighty –” As soon as Thor touched the hammer, it took off from the floor, and Tony swung it as hard as his tiny form could manage, launching it at Thor’s chest and sending him backward hard. Of course, as soon as Thor let it go, Mjolnir fell down again like a dead weight – landing rather painfully on his chest.
Bruce grimaced then hurried over as Tony attempted to get to his feet. “Okay, that’s enough excitement for one day,” he chided and grabbed Tony’s arm. “I’m impressed that you actually devised a bomb of whatever you found in the bedroom but if you don’t want to see the big, green beast make an appearance, you have to stop doing that.”
Tony’s eyes widened and he stilled. “Where is he?” he asked, suspicious and clearly nervous that Bruce’s words were a threat.
Bruce sighed. “It’s… complicated.” He loosened his hold on Tony’s arm and looked at him with as much fondness as he could muster. “The other guy… the Hulk, he likes you. You two are friends. I know he scared you, but trust me… I think your screaming in his face scared him also.”
“I don’t like him,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest – then dropped them when they touched the arc reactor, either from the discomfort it caused or because the boy didn’t like the sensation.
“I guess you wouldn’t believe, then, that some days you’re the only one who does like him,” Bruce ventured, a bit sadly.
Tony gave him a doubting look. “I’ve never met him before. How could I like someone I haven’t met before – someone who’s a monster?”
Bruce wasn’t sure how to respond, so he didn’t.
It was painfully obvious the Tony he knew – the one he had met that day on the Helicarrier – wasn’t the same as this boy before them.
The grounds were beautiful; it had rained earlier but the warm sun had all but wiped away the dampness of the grass. Everything was lush and green, with bright spots of color from various different flowers, and the pathways were well-tended.
Steve remembered England during the times of war. He hadn’t gotten to enjoy the countryside back then, nor was he on holiday now; they were on a mission and should head back to the States as soon as possible. This part they couldn’t hurry, however, so he slowed down his steps, breathed deeper and forced both body and mind to feed on the serenity around them.
Since Fury had still been against this when they left, the Avengers couldn’t rely on his help. Natasha had been on the phone with the retirement home, which was unwilling to divulge any information about their occupants. Eventually they had managed to leave a message for Edwin Jarvis, who had agreed to meet them.
Steve wondered if things would have gone smoother had they revealed they were friends of Tony. However, he didn’t want to exploit the old man’s loyalty to the Stark family – or trigger any landmines that may have been left buried over the years; they needed to talk to him, and couldn’t risk Mr. Jarvis denying them the chance of a meeting.
As per the instructions, they took a path away from the main building, deeper into the natural garden until they found themselves in the midst of a stand of trees bending over the pathway and a rather lovely spot by a pond. A lone bench was set a safe distance from the water’s edge where the path curved to the left and disappeared, yet the man they were looking for was seated on the bench, gazing at the water.
“Mr. Jarvis?” Steve called out softly, not wanting to startle the old man; he didn’t make much noise when he moved and Clint and Natasha even less.
The man raised his head and looked over his shoulder. He was well past seventy years old, yet looked sharp and active for a man of his respectable age. Clearly he was still fit, which was a good thing, considering what Steve was about to ask him to do. The man’s sharp eyes followed the trio as they approached and rounded the bench, halting in front of him.
“I’m glad we could arrange a meeting,” Steve went on.
“If you had told me who you were, Captain Rogers, I would have met you sooner and with less hassle,” Edwin Jarvis noted in a dry tone so similar to Tony’s AI that it gave Steve pause – until he registered his words.
“You know who I am, sir?” he frowned.
“A face such as yours should be memorized by all self-respecting minds,” the old man smiled.
Steve nodded briskly, uncertain how to take the words meant as an obvious compliment to his character and past deeds.
Edwin Jarvis surveyed all three of them and it was hard to tell what he was thinking. There was a sadness, however, buried deep, but a whiff of it still managed to escape. “There must be something amiss for you to have come all this way,” he mused then, looking at Steve again, as if expecting to see someone else.
Steve realized that of all of the Avengers, perhaps Jarvis had expected it to be Tony. After all, the rest of them were strangers, even if he seemed to guess who they were. “You assume correctly,” Steve started a bit uncertainly. “We… wouldn’t have thought to intrude if there were another alternative.”
“This has to do with Mr. Stark, has it not?” the old man guessed, to prompt him to go on.
“Yes,” Steve nodded. “He’s… not well.”
Clint raised an eyebrow at his hesitation. Steve looked back at him, then at Natasha, wondering if either of them wanted to jump in, or had a better way of explaining something that shouldn’t even be possible.
A shadow of fear passed over Jarvis’ aged features. Clearly he was attempting to picture a situation where Tony wouldn’t be able to come himself, yet his presence was required or asked for.
“Tony’s okay,” Steve reassured quickly.
“He is?” Clint asked. “Is that how we’re defining it?”
Steve shot him a dirty look. “He’s not dying.”
“Far as we know…” the archer muttered.
Steve looked back at Edwin Jarvis, who was clearly following their exchange but not commenting on it, or even showing interest. This man had manners of an age Steve recognized, and he was clearly above showing that he was eavesdropping. “There was an incident caused by unknown elements,” Steve explained. “We’re trying to figure it out, and reverse what happened, but for the time being… Tony’s been turned into his 5-year-old self.”
It might have been easier to just take Jarvis with them and show him, since he might not believe it otherwise, but they hadn’t wanted to risk the old man’s heart with the shock of finding out.
“Mr. Stark has been turned into a child?” Jarvis repeated slowly.
“His appearance, his memories… For all intents and purposes, that is what has happened,” Natasha jumped in. “He doesn’t know any of us, or his surroundings. He’s afraid and thinks we’ve kidnapped him from his home. And he asked for you.”
Steve hadn’t wanted to bring that up, to guilt this man into coming with them, but they had agreed Edwin Jarvis might make Tony at least somewhat comfortable while they searched for Loki and a way to reverse the de-aging, so it was important that they convince him.
The old man’s eyes searched them all over again, finally landing on Steve. “What is it that you need me to do, Captain?” he asked. He didn’t sound confused, or in a need of an actual answer; he was a man of wits, that was easy to tell, and clearly knew what the obvious answer was.
“I need you to come back with us and play the part you’ve already played in the past; to be there for Tony in his time of need,” Steve replied. He wasn’t sure how close to home he hit with that, but that was the truth.
Jarvis sighed. “They were going to serve pancakes for dessert tomorrow. I am rather fond of them; the cook makes her own conserve, and has a recipe she refuses to part from even upon pain of death.” A smile tugged the thin lips. “How soon are we leaving?”
“As soon as you’re ready, sir,” Steve replied and felt some of the tension leave his chest.
Jarvis stood up carefully and nodded. “I shall get my things, then, and notify the staff… How long do you think this is going to take?”
“Honestly? We have no idea,” Clint said.
“Not long, we hope,” Natasha clarified. “We’re trying to undo it, but before we can…”
Jarvis nodded again. “Well, this certainly will be an adventure, then.”
Steve offered the old man his arm, should he need it, but Jarvis simply patted it and walked on ahead towards the house, leaving the rest of them to follow.
“That was easy,” Clint said in a low voice.
“He worked for the Stark family for years; I guess he feels it’s his duty to come back with us,” Natasha noted.
Steve frowned, wishing it wasn’t so. Perhaps this hadn’t been a good idea.
“Captain Rogers,” Jarvis called from ahead. “A word, please?” Steve strode up to him, knowing Clint and Natasha would fall back – but still eavesdrop, most likely. “I hope you know I’m not doing this out of some sense of duty,” the old man mused. Steve flushed a bit, wondering if Jarvis had heard them talking. “I took care of young Mr. Stark for the first six years of his life,” the man went on. “After that, I mostly saw him on school holidays until I retired, but I like to think I was a part of his life.”
“I’m certain you were,” Steve agreed.
“Knowing that he has somehow become that boy again… however unnatural it feels… I cannot think of someone else taking my place. I might wish them the best of luck, but in the end…” He smiled fondly. “I’m not sure anyone else is up for the job.”
“Somehow, I don’t doubt that for a second,” Steve mused, recalling all of Tony’s attempts to escape from them. “He’s… quite a handful, even when he’s frightened.”
“Especially if he’s frightened,” Jarvis agreed and looked at him. “And if you can tell he’s scared, then he is truly terrified. He was good at masking it, taking after his father in that fashion. It did not do to show emotion in the Stark household, I’m afraid – especially something that could be seen and exploited as a weakness.”
They had reached the large house, a beautiful building that Steve would have loved to draw should he have the time. “We’ll wait for you,” he told the old man. “Take as long as you need.”
“You may as well come up and help me pack,” Jarvis shrugged. “At my age, I should think I wouldn’t need to carry my own bags.”
Steve smiled. “Of course not.”
All three of them followed Edwin Jarvis to his room. It was more like an apartment, with a fantastic view and tasteful furniture. While Jarvis chose what to take with him, and soon made Clint follow him with a suitcase to fill as he went, Steve dared to take a look around. On an old desk by the wall, he found pictures – and amongst them he saw familiar faces. One of them was of Jarvis and Howard Stark, Jarvis looking younger and Howard older than when Steve had known him, before the ice. Another one was of… it had to be Tony, smiling at the camera, an arm flung around Jarvis’ shoulders. He was much younger, a teenager, but the smile was the relaxed one he still wore when he was around people he trusted.
“His graduation from MIT,” Jarvis supplied. “That was one of the last times I saw him, as I recall. Not long after, Howard and Maria Stark passed away and our lives never entwined again. Well, until now, it seems,” he frowned.
Steve wondered why that was – and what Tony’s reaction to all this would be when he returned to normal. He had never mentioned Edwin Jarvis, although it was clear his AI of a similar name was homage to this man.
“I think we’re all set to go,” Jarvis finally decided and took a look around his home. Everything was in neat order, meticulously clean, as if someone hadn’t just hurriedly packed for a trip of unknown length. Steve could appreciate such care of one’s surroundings and was amazed Tony had grown to surround himself with such chaos after being under Edwin Jarvis’ tutelage. It wasn’t that Tony was messy, but it seemed his mind was rarely geared towards cleaning up when he could still find what he needed, when he needed it.
Clint carried Jarvis’ bags and they patiently waited while the old man sorted out his current plans with the home staff. No one asked where he was going, simply accepting that this was happening. “I still travel sometimes,” Jarvis explained as they walked out to the rental car. “While I still can,” he added with dry humor in his voice. “While I could have my own house in the country, this place is lovely and I can dedicate more of my time to things I want to do instead of maintenance and everyday chores. It is quite convenient when someone else takes care of the little things.”
“You’ve earned it,” Natasha agreed.
“I bet Stark was a handful,” Clint added as he sat behind the wheel of their rental car and took them back out through the main gates. “I can see anyone retiring after that.”
“Now, now,” Jarvis admonished. “Mr. Stark was a brilliant child. Often misunderstood, like any other genius. If he wasn’t properly motivated, there was no reasoning with him.”
“That hasn’t changed,” Natasha smiled softly.
“He has his moments,” Steve admitted. “However, don’t we all?”
The old man nodded approvingly and then focused a look at the scenery. He seemed surprised when the road curved around to a small, private airport instead of one of the bigger ones. His astonishment appeared even greater when he spied his first look at the Quinjet. “This is our means of transport?” he guessed.
“It’s quicker than other planes,” Clint noted, taking their guest’s bags inside and securing them. “It may not be as… standardized, but I assure you that everything you’ll need during the trip, you’ll find in there.”
Jarvis simply looked at the aircraft and walked up the ramp. Clint went ahead and got seated in the pilot’s chair, clearing them for take-off. Natasha helped Jarvis get settled and Steve braced himself as the engines started.
Once they were flying smoothly and Natasha was chatting with Jarvis in low tones, Steve moved over to a screen on the side and tapped at it, calling the Avengers Tower.
Bruce replied eventually, looking apprehensive. “Did you find Mr. Jarvis?” he asked.
“We did,” Steve nodded.
“We’re on our way back, with Mr. Jarvis,” he replied. “How’s Tony?”
Bruce’s expression changed minutely a few times as he no doubt attempted to find a suitable answer. “He hasn’t tried to blow me up again, if that’s what you’re asking.” He looked to the side and Steve wondered if Tony was in the room somewhere. “I would have Clint take some caution when he returns, as well as Natasha; Tony may have gotten to the weapons locker and while I’m pretty sure he didn’t get his hands on anything…”
“Did he touch my spare bows?” Clint snapped from the front. “I’ll kill him. And make him build me new, better ones once this is sorted out.”
Steve gave Jarvis a quick look, hoping they hadn’t offended the old man, but he barely blinked an eye. Turning back to the screen, Steve faced Bruce. “Any progress with Loki?”
“None,” Bruce groused. “Thor’s getting worried, and I’m not certain about whom; he understands the situation is dire but he keeps thinking the magic backfired somehow, possibly when making contact with the repulsor blast from the Unibeam…” He looked to the side again. “Tony! Don’t touch that, please.”
“You said I could look around,” the small voice replied from the background.
“Yes, but that doesn’t include touching. What’s that you’re holding? There are dangerous things lying around –”
“Then you should clean up.”
“My lab is clean, I didn’t mean it like that. Give that to me, Tony, before you hurt yourself.” Bruce disappeared for a moment, then returned. “I think I’ll see you when you return,” he noted quickly.
“Stay strong,” Steve told him.
“Yeah,” Bruce rolled his eyes. “By the way, Fury isn’t pleased you went to get Mr. Jarvis behind his back. However, he can’t exactly stop you, so…”
“I’ll deal with it,” Steve promised. “It was my decision.”
Bruce nodded and Steve disconnected the call. He heaved a sigh, wondering how far he could push things before he had to answer for his decisions. He turned and sat down on a bench, briefly meeting Edwin Jarvis’ knowledgeable eyes before looking down at his lap and remaining that way for the rest of the flight.
The Avengers Tower dominated the New York City skyline in its own way; everyone knew what it was, and Edwin Jarvis supposed it was a landmark in its own right. After all, not every building in such a prominent place housed some of the most well-known superheroes.
As it was, the building appeared quiet and empty, and as the aircraft landed on the mid-rise helipad terrace that was higher up than most of the surrounding buildings’ roofs, Edwin wasn’t certain what lay ahead.
The three Avengers milled around him, taking his bags and encouraging him inside away from the wind and the noise below. Once the glass doors closed between them and the rest of the world, it was eerily quiet.
“Where is everyone?” Clint mused. His sharp eyes scanned the vast room that looked like a mix of living room and bar.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Steve Rogers called out, making Edwin lift his head in confusion since, for some reason, it didn’t seem the Captain was talking to him.
“Welcome back,” an electronic voice replied from within the room, yet it was so smooth it was hard to tell it was artificial. “I have informed Dr. Banner of your return.”
“Good,” Steve started, then looked at Edwin. “Uh, Mr. Jarvis, meet J.A.R.V.I.S., who is Tony’s personal AI.”
A strange silence followed. Edwin felt like he was being watched by numerous eyes, none of which he could see.
“A pleasure, Mr. Jarvis,” the voice finally resumed speaking. It was familiar, yet strange – as if listening to a recording of his own voice which was quite different than what you imagined it would be. “I fear my programming does not include the possibility of meeting you in the flesh.”
“Tony never intended you two to meet?” Clint raised an eyebrow. “Have we just caused some kind of paradox? Don’t tell me you’re going to self-destruct.”
“Fear not, Agent Barton; I am capable of calculating an appropriate response – or, a response as appropriate as my processors indicate, for I cannot currently ask Mr. Stark for instructions.”
Edwin nodded slowly. It didn’t come as a surprise that Tony had created an AI – he had talked about it even before going to MIT, but hadn’t been ready for it yet – but for it to be modeled after him…
“Hey!” a voice called out and another man walked in, glasses perched on his nose and hair a bit wild. “You’re back. Good. Tony!” he called out then, over his shoulder. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”
“Another kidnapper?” a young voice called back, threatening to throw Edwin back in time as a small form appeared around the man in glasses, sulking and dragging his feet. However, as soon as the boy spotted him, his expression switched to surprise and relief. “Jarvis!”
“Young Master Stark,” Edwin greeted him sternly. “I hope you haven’t caused these people grief with your behavior?”
Tony’s eyes widened and he trembled, slightly. “I don’t know them and they wouldn’t let me go home!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t know what to do.” The dark eyes were getting wet and Edwin attempted to keep his own tears at bay.
To distract himself and the boy, Jarvis slowly lowered himself on one knee and spread his arms. In a flash Tony was running, throwing his small form against him with almost enough power to make Edwin fall back. A hand steadied him at his shoulder, however, and he knew it was Steve. Tony wrapped his arms around his neck and sobbed against his shoulder. An unfamiliar hardness pressed against the side of Edwin’s chest but he ignored it for now, holding the boy who was clearly frightened and tired of hiding it in an attempt to seem brave and make his father proud once he finally got home.
Only, there was no home to go to, and Howard Stark was long gone…
When Tony finally stopped crying and his choking hold on the old man yielded somewhat, Edwin gently pushed Tony back to his own feet and looked him over. The clothes were very unlike anything the boy had worn when he was still in Edwin’s care; they were ill-fitting, as if whoever bought them didn’t know what they were doing. A faint blue glow shone through the shirt at Tony’s chest and Edwin slowly touched it, gently, feeling the hardness again.
Tony let out a shuddery breath which almost turned into another sob. “I was so scared, Jarvis,” he whispered, although not quietly enough for the Avengers to not hear.
“Well, I am here now,” Edwin reassured him, resting a hand on Tony’s small shoulder. It was incredible and he still felt transported back in time, because this was the boy he had taken care of, sometimes day and night, trying to guide him through the life that was often too harsh on someone his age.
Tony smiled at him and pushed at his runny nose.
“Let’s get you cleaned up,” Edwin said then and lifted himself up. A firm hand was still there, helping him along, and he gave Steve a small nod of thanks.
“I have prepared a room for you, Mr. Jarvis,” the AI announced.
Tony looked up at the voice. “It has your name,” he stage-whispered to Edwin. “I don’t like that, but… it’s like talking to you, sometimes.”
“Well, then this J.A.R.V.I.S. cannot be so bad,” Edwin mused. “Come now, I need to freshen up after my travel and you, young man, are going to have your hair combed.”
Tony, who had never smiled so brightly at the prospect of having a comb running through his unruly curls, began impatiently tugging on Edwin’s hand and pulling him along while the AI guided them to Edwin’s designated room.
“It’s like looking at a completely different person,” Natasha mused as they gathered in the kitchen.
“Maybe he’ll keep Tony from causing mischief,” Clint muttered. There was an array of his gear spread all over the coffee table further off, and he was meticulously going over each and every one, to make sure Tony hadn’t caused any damage – or left booby-traps. After he created the small flash-and-smoke-bomb in his bedroom, everyone knew better than to underestimate him.
Steve let Clint’s comment go without comment and took another bite of his food. Tony and Edwin Jarvis had been gone for the last hour, probably to allow the older man to settle down. He felt bad that they had pretty much abandoned their guest with the boy, but Jarvis hadn’t asked for help and J.A.R.V.I.S. was monitoring the situation.
The elevator pinged and as the doors opened, Edwin Jarvis stepped out with Tony. Steve stared for a moment, uncertain whether Tony had ever looked so clean and appropriate before; his hair was combed neatly, his clothes were clean and un-rumpled, and his entire demeanor was calmer. The pair approached the kitchen and Jarvis nodded courtly. “May we join you?”
“Of course,” Natasha said politely. “There’s food.”
“Tony, please set a place for us at the table.” Jarvis noted and the boy went to do his bidding, getting two napkins, folding them neatly, then placed cutlery on them with fine precision before going for the glasses.
“Let me help you,” Steve offered and stood since Tony couldn’t reach the shelf with the glasses. He handed him two, smiling.
“What do you say?” Jarvis noted from the side.
“Thank you, Captain Rogers,” Tony sort of mumbled and returned to the table to place the glasses next to the napkins.
“I thought you didn’t think I was the real Captain America,” Steve reminded him.
“Jarvis says you are,” Tony replied, regarding him with slightly narrowed eyes. It seemed he was still working on believing it, or trying to challenge the older man’s logic, but for the time being at least he had discovered his manners – most of which he had carefully buried away as he grew older.
Jarvis returned with two plates of food, each portion placed neatly around the porcelain, with greens and all. Tony didn’t complain but climbed onto a chair, digging in with gusto he hadn’t shown before. He didn’t even make an accusation that it might be poisoned, even if the other Avengers were eating the same thing.
“I know you can use the knife,” Jarvis said a moment later. “Don’t pretend you can’t.”
Tony adjusted his fork and then picked up the knife as well, eating better than the most well-mannered children Steve had ever encountered. After a while he realized he was staring – and then noted the other Avengers were doing the same.
“It’s impolite to stare,” Tony muttered after a while, then looked up. “You could use lessons in manners. Maybe Jarvis will give you some,” he noted. “You don’t keep your elbows on the table,” he told Bruce – who promptly dropped them off the table. “You finish everything on your plate, even if you don’t like it – and if you drink beer, you pour it into a glass, not drink it from the can,” he added in Clint’s direction, where he had half-finished his food in favor of checking his equipment, sipping beer every now and then. “Use both your fork and knife, unless it’s dessert, but then you’re given a pastry fork to eat with,” he said to Natasha, who merely raised an eyebrow and continued eating with her fork only.
Jarvis kept his features blank although Steve was certain he was hiding a smile.
He was also glad Tony found no complaints in his eating habits.
That evening, the Tower was quiet in a comfortable way they hadn’t been able to enjoy since Tony was transformed into a child. If there had been any doubts about the benefits from taking this course of action, all of them were removed; Jarvis was definitely in control of the situation, in the most amazing, natural way.
Tony was like a different person. He still gave the Avengers wary looks, but before Tony and Jarvis had headed out to wash up for the night, Tony had been seen peeking over the back of the couch, looking at Steve tending to his shield. Clearly there was something star-struck in the brown eyes.
Bruce was visibly relaxing and had passed out in the living room after their dinner, clearly worn out from staying on edge and keeping an eye on Tony. The others tiptoed around him, knowing he would be hard at work to reverse the transformation once he woke up, now that watching Tony wasn’t solely his responsibility.
Clint was finally confident there weren’t any traps or malfunctions awaiting him in his gear, although he still swore Tony owed him a new, improved set once he was back to himself. He had napped for a bit as well, and was now playing an old version of Grand Theft Auto.
Natasha checked in on all of them, then wandered out to see how Edwin Jarvis was doing. She found him and Tony in Tony’s bedroom, the boy lying on his back, arc reactor shining brightly in the dim room, despite the shirt he was wearing. Jarvis was sitting on the side of the bed, running a gentle hand through the dark hair and speaking in a low tone. First Natasha wondered if he was actually telling Tony a story, but the look of concentration on Tony’s face implied it was something more serious.
She wandered closer without making noise, deciding that if the door was open, she couldn’t be blamed for eavesdropping.
“Maybe we can’t go home,” Tony was saying, “but I don’t get it. No one tells me things, and why did it take them so long to find you? And why do you look so old?”
“That is not a very polite thing to say,” Jarvis mused with a gentle bite to his tone.
“But it’s true!” Tony insisted. “My chest hurts all the time, but Bruce said they can’t take it off,” he added sourly, one small hand shifting closer to the arc reactor.
“They explained to me that it is very important to your health,” Jarvis nodded in agreement. “Do not tamper with it.”
Tony pursed his lips. “I’m glad you’re here,” he said then, yawning.
“Go to sleep,” Jarvis commanded. “I will see you in the morning.”
Tony slowly closed his eyes, then attempted to fake it and peek at the old man, but Jarvis caught it at once and gave Tony a disapproving look. The child’s face finally relaxed and in a matter of minutes, he was asleep, obviously exhausted.
“I’m glad to be here, too,” Jarvis mused quietly and slowly got up. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he said then, voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes, Mr. Jarvis?” the AI replied, equally quiet.
“Let me know if he wakes up, or if something happens.”
Natasha moved away from the door in time to avoid being seen when Edwin Jarvis headed out to the bedroom closest to Tony’s, to get some much-deserved shut-eye.
Jarvis was still there in the morning when Tony woke up, ready to usher him out of bed, to the bathroom and to dress properly – and comb his hair until it didn’t stand up in every direction. Tony didn’t really mind; he was happier to have the man here, even if it meant he had to go through all these boring routines.
Things still bugged him. Where were his parents, really? Why did Jarvis look so old? Why was there an AI called J.A.R.V.I.S. that sounded exactly like Jarvis, although not really?
So many questions and he couldn’t find any answers.
The people who had first found him and brought him here, called the Avengers, were still around. Tony had hoped they might leave when Jarvis got here, or that he and Jarvis would go home, but they stayed at the Tower.
Well, Tony didn’t mind the Avengers all that much anymore. Bruce Banner was nice – and smart, too, although he kept thinking Tony was just a kid and it only fuelled Tony to show him how wrong he was. Then there was Captain America, who, Jarvis said, was the real Steve Rogers. Tony wasn’t certain it was true, but the man had a shield, and if it was vibranium, then maybe it really was him, because there was no other vibranium shield in the world; his father had told him that. After all, he had made the one for Captain America.
They all gathered for breakfast. Jarvis did some of the cooking, although Natasha helped. The others looked a little bummed, as if they didn’t feel like they should all gather around to eat at the same time, but Jarvis ordered them around like he had ordered the rest of the household in the Stark Mansion and it made Tony grin when Clint grumbled and muttered but helped to set the table. Bruce tried to make excuses that he had to get back to the lab but one look from Jarvis made him sit down meekly and not mention it again.
As they worked – Tony wasn’t allowed to help make breakfast because he could burn himself – he discovered Captain America’s shield resting against the back of a couch. He moved over to it, touching it hesitantly, feeling the cool, hard surface. He knocked his knuckles against it, noted the slight tremble and sound, then looked to the side and tried to decide how to test it. He smiled, then, and moved to a table nearby; Natasha had set a case on top of it when she came in and began to help with breakfast preparations. There could be something useful inside.
Indeed, when Tony had climbed onto a chair and opened the case, he found a pair of something that looked like weird bracelets. He recalled her wearing them the night he woke up in the dark alley, and pulled one out, turning it over. It was mechanical, and a little further experimentation made his lips curve.
He lowered himself back to the floor and walked over to the shield, adjusting the bracelet and aiming carefully. Blue lines of electricity crackled then spat forward from the bracelet at the shield – then bounced off the metal with at least twice the original force. Tony dodged, grinning triumphantly, then turned just in time to see the blue bolt fly across the room towards the far wall where the elevator was – and straight at a man who was just stepping out of the elevator.
The man dodged, just in time to avoid being blasted, and one eye narrowed at Tony. The other was hidden by a patch, like he was a pirate, and Tony’s face lit up in a grin: another person he knew!
“Stark!” the man snapped, and all movement in the kitchen ceased. “Put that down before you hurt yourself or someone else. Widow!” he snapped in the other direction, and Natasha appeared, quickly wrenching the yellow bracelet from Tony’s hold.
Tony pouted briefly then looked at the newcomer. “You work with my dad,” he announced. “I’ve seen you at the Mansion.”
“Sir?” Natasha asked, returning from where she had gone to put away the bracelets.
The black man with an eye-patch sighed heavily. “Great… How does he remember it now if he won’t remember it years from now?”
Tony frowned, not getting it.
“Maybe he’s had too many alcohol poisonings in between?” Clint suggested from the other room.
Tony still didn’t get it.
“Mr. Fury,” Jarvis stepped out, placing a hand on Tony’s shoulder, silently suggesting that he not interfere. “Would you like some breakfast?”
“I’m here to check on things,” the Eye-Patch-Man – Fury – said. “My team hasn’t been very forthcoming with the process of… well, fixing things.”
“Well, any meeting can wait until we’ve eaten,” Jarvis decided. “You can either join us or wait.”
Tony smiled triumphantly, seeing the man squirm, just a little – until Jarvis turned to look at him. “What were you doing with Ms. Romanoff’s weapons?”
Tony bowed his head and mumbled out his answer.
“Loud and clear, young man.”
“Testing the shield,” Tony repeated, not very loudly.
Jarvis’ fingers tightened a fraction and Tony looked up. “Do not touch Captain Rogers’ things – or anyone else’s. They are not for you to touch, or to play with. Not only are they dangerous, but they are important tools and if you break them, someone else might get hurt as well.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony offered.
Jarvis nodded. “Now go wash your hands and join us after you’re done.”
Tony hurried out to the nearest bathroom, made sure his hands were clean – because Jarvis always knew if they weren’t – then returned to the dining area. Fury had sat down and was now nursing a cup of coffee and looking unhappy, yet he didn’t argue when Jarvis placed a breakfast plate in front of him. Maybe he knew better than to say no to it. Tony took the seat that had been his since yesterday, tapping at the edge of the table as Jarvis placed cereal, orange juice and toast in front of him, as well as slices of various fruits. He grabbed a slice of apple and munched on it before pouring milk into his cereal and swirling his spoon in it to mix it properly. After that was done, he looked up, finding Fury staring at him.
“It’s impolite to stare,” he informed the man. “And you should take your spoon out of the cup before you drink from it. And you shouldn’t eat your bacon with your fingers.”
Several muffled laughs echoed from around the table, even if Jarvis gave the Avengers disapproving looks and offered Mr. Fury a fork and an extra napkin to wipe his greasy fingers on. Mr. Fury glowered, just a little, but did as he was told, even taking the spoon out of his cup before drinking again.
“I hope you’re happy,” Fury noted once they all sat down behind closed doors. Edwin Jarvis was with Tony and the Avengers had a chance to plan ahead. “Involving a civilian in what could be a matter of national security.”
“Let’s not blow this out of proportion,” Bruce cut in.
“You have no idea what kind of knowledge Stark has in his brain,” Fury snapped right back. “If someone finds a way to unlock it –”
“He doesn’t even remember he knows those things,” Steve interjected. “While he’s smart, he clearly has no recollection of his adult life – or anything past the age he is now.”
“And who’s to say that won’t change over time, when the shock of the transformation wears off?” the Director pushed. “He hasn’t changed back to himself. Thor is running rogue, hunting for his brother whom he cannot find, and no one has any idea how to solve this.”
“You’re just mad because he got to lecture you on your table manners,” Natasha teased.
Clint laughed. “What’s with that, by the way? I didn’t know you knew the Starks that well.”
“I knew Howard Stark,” Fury informed them dryly. “I saw more of Tony than he saw of me. He was… an easily distracted child, always immersed in his projects. Howard didn’t keep him around, if he could help it, but the boy snuck in more than once.”
“And Edwin Jarvis was always there to fetch him,” Natasha nodded along. “That’s almost cute.”
“We need to contain the situation before it becomes less cute,” Fury snapped, back to scowling at anyone who dared to make eye-contact. “When outsiders find out about our predicament, they’ll exploit it.”
“We can handle it,” Steve said, just as confident as last time it came up. “Edwin Jarvis isn’t a problem either. He knows Tony and worked for his family for decades – and no doubt carried a lot of secrets. He knows who Tony is now, and no doubt understands the danger this situation puts him in. He’s an ally, not a liability.”
“I hope you’re right, Captain,” Fury said, almost tiredly.
“Relax, boss,” Clint joked. “Go home, have a drink. We have everything under control until we find a way to turn him back.”
Fury didn’t reply before striding out again.
No one had heard from Thor for several days, which under normal circumstances wasn’t out of the ordinary. However, these weren’t normal circumstances, and Steve would have hoped for more frequent updates; while Tony was calmer and happier, it was still clear that the arc reactor pained him and that the entire situation confused the boy. Edwin Jarvis’ presence was a tremendous help, keeping Tony preoccupied and in line, yet it was only a temporary solution.
They needed to find Loki and get this sorted out. No one could actually confirm it, but Steve feared that the longer Tony stayed like this, the more it might affect him when they managed to change him back. Not to mention the world outside Stark Tower, which hadn’t yet caught wind of the fate of Tony Stark… He hoped it never would, either.
Steve was seated in the living room, looking over the latest test results of Tony’s medical exams that didn’t really make any sense to him, but he would still read each line and memorize them; there had been numerous things in his life, before and after the ice, that hadn’t at first made sense, but which he could later use, and Steve saw no reason to change that habit…
The lights flickered briefly, a single flash of lighting striking down from the blue sky, and a moment later Thor landed near the helipad outside, his cape and hair still stirred by the landing as he began to walk towards the doors. Steve abandoned his reading and met Thor half-way.
“Anything?” he asked – hoping and dreading the other man’s answer.
Thor blinked and then looked a bit troubled. “I found my brother,” he stated.
“And?” Steve pressed.
“Loki appeared… surprised by what had happened. Clearly the transformation was not his intention,” Thor explained.
Steve considered that. Thor was alone, which meant Loki had either slipped away or been useless to them. He feared it was the latter. “Where is he now?” he asked finally when Thor didn’t go on, forcing himself to wait for the reply.
“He managed to elude me when I tried to bring him here,” Thor grunted. “Before he did, Loki claimed he could not reverse the effect, seeing as it was not his doing.”
“Do you believe him?”
Thor looked to the side, a thoughtful expression on his face. “I do not know what to believe,” He admitted finally and looked at Steve again. “I am sorry. I hoped…”
“We all did,” Steve allowed his own shoulders to droop briefly in defeat. This wasn’t over, not by a long shot, but if Loki truly couldn’t help them, what else could they do? Of course it was entirely possible Loki had been lying, which Steve would gladly confirm the next time the God of Mischief made an appearance. It was the least he could do to avenge Tony.
Thor had returned and the Avengers were busy talking behind closed doors.
Tony wasn’t interested in that, not really, because it was boring, but when they pulled Jarvis into a meeting, Tony was left to his own devices – with J.A.R.V.I.S., the AI. Tony had promised Jarvis he would behave, but that didn’t mean he had to sit quietly in the corner.
“You always answer my questions,” Tony mused, knowing the AI would know he was being addressed.
“Indeed, Mr. Stark,” the smooth voice replied.
Tony frowned; he wasn’t sure he liked being called that. It reminded him of the few parties his parents had taken him to, although most people had called him ‘little Anthony’. Maybe this was better, after all. “Do you always answer people’s questions?” Tony asked next.
“Most of the time, yes.”
“Is there someone you always have to answer?” Tony pressed.
There was a silence, a hesitation; almost the same as a human pause. “You, sir.”
Tony frowned again. He had suspected something like that and that was why he had asked… “Why me? I don’t even know you,” he reminded the AI. There was no reply this time, and Tony looked at the ceiling. “What year is it?” More silence. “Answer me, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony ordered sharply.
“2017, sir. Would you like a more precise date?”
Tony blinked. The last thing he remembered… or thought he remembered… It was blurry, but he thought he recalled the celebration of New Year’s Day, 1975. Tony was good with numbers, after all, and he could read, and everyone had been shouting it over the fireworks and clink of glasses. “Who is your creator?” he finally questioned, dreading the answer but knowing he had to know.
A long pause followed, as if J.A.R.V.I.S. was trying to find a reason not to tell Tony what he wanted to know. “Anthony Edward Stark,” came a reply, finally.
“That’s me,” Tony blinked.
“But I’m… I’m not even six, yet,” he lowered his eyes back to the floor, where he had spread out the pieces of a alarm clock he had been taking apart because he thought it would be fun to see what was inside. After all, the clocks he recalled were different. Everything in 1975 was different. “I know there was no other Anthony Edward Stark in my family,” he mused. “That’s my name. That’s me. Isn’t it?” he looked at the ceiling again.
“Yes, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“I created you,” Tony went on.
“And that’s why you have to tell me everything I want to know.”
Another pause, then: “Indeed, sir.”
Tony sat up straight, biting his lip. He tried to think of something to solve the riddles around him. There were things he already knew: he was in the future; Jarvis looked older, although he had been old the last time Tony saw him, but not that old; Captain America was alive; he hadn’t seen his parents, or heard from them, and that was odd – and everyone said he couldn’t go home.
“Where are my mom and dad?” Tony finally worded one of the most burning questions. “You have to tell me the truth, J.A.R.V.I.S.”
There seemed to be an internal, digital struggle going on. “I’m afraid they are dead, sir.”
Tony swallowed. “When?”
“In 1991. A car crash.”
“How old was I when they died?” It was a trick question, of course. Another confirmation for what he was beginning to believe.
“And why am I five years old now?”
“Because of a currently unidentified event, sir. The involvement of magic is suspected, although Mr. Odinson keeps claiming there might be something else at work as well.”
Tony nodded slowly, deliberately. “So I’m supposed to be… 47.” He considered this – considered everything. “The Avengers said this is my home. That we are home.” He recalled that, even in the confusion and pain of the first few days. “They have stayed here… they say they are my friends…”
“They are, sir: your friends and allies, according to your own statements.”
Tony frowned. He tried to remember the first, clear thing since the incident. There had been pain, and it had been dark, and the scary Hulk had been there… “When I woke up,” he started and tried to recall it, all of it, “I was lying in the middle of something. I saw Captain America holding a helmet. What was that helmet from?”
“From the Iron Man armor.”
“Where is the armor now?” Tony asked. “Show me. I want to see it. I know they brought it back.”
“The suit you wore during the last battle currently resides in the armory, awaiting repairs.”
“Tell me how to get there,” Tony commanded and got to his feet. Like always, his chest hurt from any movement but he was growing used to the constant pain. It helped when he had something else to think about, too.
“Sir, you were requested to remain in this room –”
“The armory isn’t far away, is it?” he cut in.
“A few floors down,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him.
“Then I won’t go far, and besides, I’ll be back before they notice,” Tony mused and went to the door, peering out. There was no one watching him this time so he went to the elevators. One of the doors opened to let him in, leaving him standing inside and looking up at the buttons. He might be able to reach the lower rows…
J.A.R.V.I.S., however, closed the doors automatically and took him down a couple floors, opening the doors promptly as the elevator came to a smooth halt. Tony stepped out, looking down a dim hallway. Somewhere down the hall, he heard a door unlock and hiss open. “Step forward, if you please,” the AI encouraged.
Tony moved out towards the sound of the door. He found an open doorway a moment later and went through it cautiously. The room beyond was dark until lights began to turn on all around him, revealing shapes like coffins on the walls… and what looked like a robot shell on a table.
With some hesitation, Tony moved towards the red-and-gold shell, realizing it had to be the armor he had been sitting in the middle of when he came to. He peered at it carefully, pulling himself up onto a stool that sat beside the table to get a better look at it. “Is this Iron Man?” he asked.
“Yes and no,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. “This is one version of the armor you’ve been wearing for some years. The press named you ‘Iron Man’ after your first public battle. It stuck.”
“I’m a hero?” Tony mused, surprised.
“Indeed you are, sir – at least according to most people.”
Tony grinned. “Cool.” Then he thought about it some more. “Wait… If the Avengers are here, and they were with me when I… got like this… does that mean I’m being a hero with them?”
“You are one of the Avengers, sir.”
That caused a flutter in Tony’s chest that had nothing to do with the machine. “I fight with Captain America?” he asked a bit dreamily. That was so much better than any of his imaginative dreams. For a moment he wished he could go and tell his father – then remembered he could not.
Feeling the joy fade and be replaced by sadness and fear, Tony looked at the suit some more. He noted the glowing circle in its chest and reached out to touch it. “This is… the same thing I have in me,” he frowned.
“The arc reactor. It powers the suit.”
“So why do I have one in my chest?”
A pause followed. “Perhaps you should ask someone else. Dr. Banner, for one –”
“I’m asking you,” Tony snapped. “Tell me.”
“The arc reactor powers an electromagnet – which in turn keeps a cluster of shrapnel from entering your heart.”
Tony frowned, repeating the words soundlessly, his lips moving. “They said it keeps me alive,” he echoed. “Was there an… incident?”
“That is a good word for it, sir.”
Tony felt like he wasn’t being told everything, again, which was beginning to bug him. Instead of asking J.A.R.V.I.S. to clarify, however, he leaned across the table and touched the side of the armor, running his fingers across the smooth, cool surface in deep thought. It was very complex, and to understand all of it, he needed time. This was what his parents called ‘grown-up stuff’, insinuating Tony didn’t need to get it, nor could he understand, but Tony was smart and he understood a lot of things.
He understood that he was a hero – something he had secretly wanted to be since first hearing the tales of Captain America from his father. The real stories, and not the ones in books, comics, and films. Well, he would have been happy to just meet Cap, but this was so much better. Only, he was supposed to be an adult, not a five-year-old who didn’t know what to do and who was afraid all the time, of the strangers around him and the arc reactor in his chest.
A knock alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone and Tony’s head whipped around to find Steve Rogers standing in the doorway. “May I come in?” the man asked.
Tony frowned for a moment. “I guess.”
Cap gave him a quick smile. “I thought I should ask, since… this is your space,” he mused, a flicker of seriousness in his eyes. “J.A.R.V.I.S. told me you two had a discussion.”
Tony looked back at the Iron Man armor, touching it again, idly following the lines and seams. “It wasn’t a very difficult riddle,” he said.
Steve let out a noncommittal sound. When Tony next looked at him, he was gazing at the room thoughtfully. Tony did the same, noticing other work benches and tools on the walls and shelves. The man noticed, smiling at him. “This is all yours,” he mused. “You could spend days down here…”
Curious, Tony lowered himself from the stool and walked around, touching things. “I have a lot of tools,” he counted. He didn’t know what some of them were for, while others were familiar.
Steve chuckled. “You always complained there weren’t enough, and then you would make some new ones, just like that.”
Tony grinned; he knew he was just a kid now, but one day… His smile faded. “It’s weird,” he admitted. “I don’t… It doesn’t seem real, but everyone else thinks I shouldn’t be… me.” A hand landed on his shoulder and Tony started, looking up quickly. He hadn’t heard Steve move closer, but there he was, towering above him.
“You’re still you,” Captain America told him.
“But I’m not… a grown-up,” Tony complained.
“You’ll be, eventually. Soon, I hope, but if not…” He knelt down, lowering one knee to the floor, almost eye-to-eye with Tony. He was just as big, wide and strong as in the old posters and pictures, even without his uniform and shield. Tony felt safer. “If we can’t reverse it, I promise we’ll still be your friends.”
Tony blinked rapidly. He didn’t want to cry in front of Captain America. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve smiled, eyes bright.
“Thanks,” Tony mumbled, lowering his face. “I’m sorry I… wasn’t very polite in the beginning.”
“You were confused and in pain. I think you’ve been very brave, actually. Braver than I was when I woke up in this strange future world.”
Tony looked at him. “No way. You’re always so… brave and strong.”
Steve leaned slightly closer, hand still firm and warm, enveloping Tony’s shoulder. “Not always,” Cap whispered finally, like it was a secret.
Tony promised himself he would never tell anyone. He nodded, confirming this, then shifted a bit and wrapped his arms around Steve’s neck in an embrace. The strong arms hugged him back after a moment and it was all better, in a way. Even if he had to grow up again, and couldn’t be Iron Man right away, Captain America was his friend and he was an Avenger.
Jarvis was making supper, and Bruce had agreed to go to one of the labs with Tony and work with him on something. By now Tony had determined Bruce Banner was smart, which was good because Tony didn’t want to have to explain things to him. Bruce was also patient whenever it took Tony a while to read a difficult word.
Yes, he could read and write. He could also build an engine, and other stuff, if given enough time to figure out the wiring and mechanics – and maybe if he was provided a little help. Bruce was good at helping, and it looked like he enjoyed working with Tony now that Tony wasn’t trying to build bombs in order to escape.
“I’m sorry about the explosion,” Tony said, twisting a wire in his hands.
Bruce glanced at him, quiet for a moment, then smiled. “That’s okay. Nothing bad happened, although I’d be more comfortable if I didn’t have to fear it happening again.” He didn’t say it was dangerous, or that Tony might hurt himself. He simply stated he didn’t like it, and that made Tony nod and agree to not scare him in the future.
“Were we friends?” Tony asked then, after a slight pause.
“Before you…” Bruce started and stopped, hesitating. Most people hesitated, even now that Tony knew what had happened.
“Before I turned into a kid,” he pushed.
“Yes,” Bruce replied, sounding a little bit less stressed. “I like to think so.”
Tony looked up at him, pursing his lips, rolling the wire between his fingers thoughtfully. “I think I would like you – because you’re smart, obviously.”
Bruce laughed suddenly, hard and uncontrollably. When he finally regained control, he seemed almost embarrassed. “I’m… pretty sure that’s what your adult self thought, too.”
Tony grinned, looking down at his work, then back up at Bruce. “What about the Hulk?” he asked. “You said, before… that I was sometimes the only one who liked him.”
Bruce’s face grew serious again and he didn’t look at Tony. Frankly, he didn’t look at people a lot and seemed nervous sometimes. Like he didn’t know what to do, or how to act. “That’s not important right now,” he replied finally.
“Because you can’t turn me back to the way I was?” Tony pressed. “That’s not a good reason. I’m still an Avenger, and after J.A.R.V.I.S. teaches me how to use the Iron Man armor –”
“Tony,” Bruce interrupted him. “You can’t do that. The armor… it’s not made for a child, okay? I know J.A.R.V.I.S. will do what you ask of him, but you’ll just have to wait.”
“Then maybe we should make a smaller armor,” Tony insisted. “One that is my size.” The ones he had seen were big and clunky, and he didn’t really want to go inside one. But he had been told he could fly with the suit, which would be pretty cool…
“Maybe,” Bruce murmured, but it sounded like a ‘no’.
Tony tried not to be upset. He didn’t always get things that he wanted, unless he found a way to do them himself. Leaving the subject of the armor for a moment, he returned to the previous topic. Leaning over his current project, fixing the wires into place with careful movements of his fingers, he said: “I think you don’t like the Hulk very much.” Silence met his words, but he knew Bruce was listening. “J.A.R.V.I.S. showed me that the Hulk comes from inside you – that’s why I’ve never seen both of you in the same place. If you don’t like him, then I don’t think you like yourself very much, and that’s not good. You would be happier if you two got along.”
There was more silence and Tony lifted his head to make sure Bruce hadn’t fallen asleep or something. The man was staring at him, hands mid-air, and Tony frowned at him. “Are you okay? You look like Cap banged you in the head with his shield.” Tony grinned at his own witty words, because that’s exactly what someone would look like after being banged in the head with the shield.
Bruce blinked. “I… uh… Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m pretty sure I am,” Tony said confidently. He still remembered the first time he had seen the Hulk, huge and green. Tony had been terrified back then, and everything had hurt and Jarvis hadn’t been there, but now that he’d had time to observe the situation – and the Hulk on video – he was determined to not be scared by him the next time he met the beast.
Since patience wasn’t very exciting, Tony looked up again and pushed his project away. “I want to see him,” he announced.
“Who?” Bruce asked, then looked like someone had just upended a bucket of cold water on top of himself. “The other… The Hulk?”
“No,” Bruce denied it at once. “Absolutely not.”
“But you said he doesn’t want to hurt me,” Tony insisted – whined. His father never liked it when he whined, nor did Jarvis, but he hadn’t tried it on Bruce yet. “Did you lie?” he demanded then.
“I didn’t lie,” Bruce jumped at his words. “It’s just that… the other guy is a tad unpredictable.”
“But you said he won’t hurt me,” Tony reminded. “If you didn’t lie, then that’s the truth. I’ll apologize to him for screaming at him the first time we met.”
Bruce looked rather agitated, his hands moving restlessly. “It’s not a good idea, Tony.”
Tony stood up and walked over to him, taking one of Bruce’s tense, sweaty hands and pulled him to the clear space in the middle of all the tables and equipment. He remembered the Hulk was big, so he would need room. “You’re sweaty,” Tony commented, smirking. “Stop fidgeting and… transform!” he ordered, grinning even wider. “Transform! Get it? Like the robot toys, comics and TV show.”
“The other guy isn’t a robot,” Bruce mumbled. “This is a horrible idea.”
Tony looked up at him expectantly, taking a step back to give him more space. “Your eyes are already green,” he noted – and they were.
Bruce closed them, inhaled deeply, as if trying to steady himself, then suddenly he was growing in every direction, his clothes tearing – maybe Tony should have told him to strip, but shouldn’t Bruce have thought of it on his own? – and in a matter of seconds the enormous green being stood in Bruce’s place, looking around and then down at Tony.
“Hi,” Tony offered, a bit uncertain suddenly.
The Hulk huffed and leaned down, to get closer to him. Tony backed away, just to be safe, feeling his hair move back and forth as the creature inhaled. “Tony,” came a grumbled word which Tony could almost feel in his stomach.
A bit more confident, Tony moved closer again, then reached out to touch the face because that was the only part of the Hulk he could reach. The green eyes went almost cross-eyed trying to look at him, and Tony laughed at the expression. The Hulk frowned, probably not getting it, and Tony tried to calm down. “I promised Bruce I would apologize for screaming at you before.”
“Puny Banner wasn’t there,” the Hulk muttered, fingers clutching the air before curling into fists. Clearly the big guy didn’t like Bruce much, either.
“No, but you were, so I’m saying I’m sorry,” Tony pushed on.
The Hulk narrowed his eyes, considering his words, then nodded. “Accepted,” he rumbled. “Hulk sorry he scared Tony, too.”
Tony nodded sagely. In good light, the Hulk was still big and menacing, but not as scary. And didn’t every boy his age hope they had a giant monster for a friend, to beat up anyone who dared to bully them? Not that Tony was like most children his age, but he guessed this was another cool thing about being an Avenger.
The lights flickered, suddenly, making them both start. The Hulk growled at the room and stood a bit taller, yet still slightly hunched over Tony. The lights flickered again and Tony took a step closer to the large form. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, not really, but there was something strange about the situation.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Tony called out after a few seconds. “What’s going on?”
“Alert,” the AI responded a few, long seconds later. “The Tower is being attacked.”
“Attacked?” Tony repeated. He thought he heard an explosion somewhere, but he could be imagining it.
“Who is it?” the Hulk asked – or snarled, rather.
“The Serpent Society seems to be involved, but the sensors indicate a possible presence of magic.” Lights began to blink around the lab. “Mr. Stark, may I ask you to return to the others before… Warning, breach in progress.”
Tony didn’t imagine the explosion this time around. The entire room seemed to shiver and he looked at the far wall. Pieces of plaster were falling to the floor. “J.A.R.V.I.S., turn off the lights!” he ordered.
The lights went off, leaving them in darkness save for the dim light of the arc reactor. Tony reached out and found the thick-skinned leg of the Hulk. “Move back,” Tony ordered.
“Hulk smash snakes,” the Hulk proclaimed.
“I know you will, but go and hide for a moment.” Another blast echoed through the wall and Tony could hear something breaking.
“Hulk doesn’t hide –”
“We’ll surprise them,” Tony offered. “Just stay really still and quiet in the darkest corner.”
A loud huff stirred the air but the Hulk moved back, and Tony faced the wall he had seen shaking earlier. Nervous pain sat firmly in his stomach.
“Sir, I must protest,” J.A.R.V.I.S. started.
“Mute,” Tony ordered, and silence filled the lab, save for the constant banging and the Hulk’s breaths. It was a mere two minutes later when the far wall crumbled, letting light in, and Tony could see shapes coming through the opening. Some of them looked fairly human, while others were rather snake-like.
Tony decided he didn’t like snakes all that much.
“Loki’s information was correct,” one of them hissed. “Look at that; little Tony Stark. I could eat you for breakfast!”
“But you won’t,” Tony challenged the villain – whoever it was. It didn’t matter.
“And why is that, little boy?” the same villain taunted him, slithering forward; it didn’t have legs, only a snake-like body from the waist-down.
“Because I’m Iron Man,” Tony declared.
A roar of laughter met his words, some of the villains doubling over. Tony glared at them until they caught their breaths. “So, where’s your armor, Iron Man?” another one of them taunted. A woman, big and ugly.
“It’s being refitted,” Tony lied. “But I don’t need it. Want to know why? Because I’m also an Avenger. And an Avenger is never alone.” An uneasy silence followed and Tony smiled, pointing a finger at the lot of them. “Hulk!” he called out, and saw most of the villains jerk slightly at the simple syllable.
Behind Tony the shadows moved, and he felt the Hulk pressing closer to him, like a sentinel filled with rage and power. He heard snarls and angry huffs of air, a crack of knuckles, and the air almost radiated with barely contained tension.
“Smash them,” Tony ordered with a smile on his lips.
The Hulk took off like a missile, roaring as he went. Tony briefly saw the villains trying to duck out of the way but the Hulk caught them all, pushing them back through the hole in the wall and out into the open. Tony quickly followed, scrambling over to see what was going on, then stopped quickly as he realized the hole reached all the way outside the building, leading to a deadly drop. As he peered over the side, he couldn’t see anything, but he could hear the Hulk so he knew he was fine. Well, at least the Hulk was fine – the others, probably not so much.
“Tony!” a voice yelled, and a door opened somewhere to his right. The lights flickered back on and Jarvis crossed the room, concern written all over his face. “There is an attack –”
“I know,” Tony grinned. “I just ordered the Hulk to smash some baddies! It was awesome.”
Jarvis halted, carefully peeking out through the hole in the wall, then pulled Tony back from it. “Well, while I may not agree on all points…” He pulled Tony out of the lab, back up to the main floor. The lights were going a little crazy everywhere and something that had to be alarms were flashing in each touch pad mounted on the walls. The Avengers were nowhere to be seen, but as soon as Tony caught a look at the outside world, he could see they were busy fighting more of the snake-like villains. Not that most of them resembled a snake, which was kind of disappointing.
“We must find a safer place,” Jarvis mused, then started as a body smashed through the glass windows. It was one of the snakes, the one who didn’t have legs; the villain rolled around, shaking its head, then noticed Tony and Jarvis. A grin appeared on his face – a human face – and the arms rose. Tony hadn’t noticed it earlier but there were nasty looking blades, one per arm, that curved out of his wrists, reaching past his fingers. The danger was becoming very real, very fast.
Captain America suddenly swung inside through the broken window, in full costume. The shield went flying, striking the snake-man down, and Cap moved to the side to catch it on the rebound. His eyes moved up in an instant, spotting the two of them. “Jarvis, get Tony out of here. We’ll take care of this.”
Tony felt the old man’s grip tighten around his hand and he was pulled out of the room and over to a stairwell. Jarvis took them up one and a half floors before it was obvious the Englishman was winded and tired. “We’re safe here,” Tony reassured, stopping. “We can rest for a bit. No one will look for us here.”
Jarvis nodded shakily and leaned heavily on the wall.
Tony looked up and down the stairwell. He wished he knew what was happening outside, and whether they were actually safe. Not that he really wanted to be close to the battle; he hadn’t felt all that confident after the Hulk left his side, and clearly those snake villains didn’t like him. Tony couldn’t remember why that was, or if there was even a reason, but he knew better than to stick his neck out there and hope they would leave him alone.
A loud bang made Tony jerk his head around and look down the stairwell. It sounded like someone was pounding on a metal door, trying to break it down. It went on, continuous and furious. Tony swallowed in anticipation – then started as someone touched his shoulder. It was just Jarvis, though, signaling that they should keep moving.
They climbed higher and finally got to the floor with Tony’s private quarters. They were allowed in – perhaps by J.A.R.V.I.S. – after which the door locked firmly behind them. The banging had still been going on when they left the stairwell and Tony hoped that whatever it was, it would give up.
Jarvis was looking around, listening. Outside, the battle was still going on. Lightning flashed – which meant Thor was there, Tony had learned – and several explosions could be heard in succession. The entire building shivered, just slightly, and Tony was suddenly scared. No place seemed safe…
The door they had just come through shuddered as something slammed against its other side. Both Jarvis and Tony looked at it, then the older man began to guide Tony away, to another room. “Quietly now,” he mused in a quavering voice, and Tony was certain Jarvis, too, was afraid.
Before they could find a safer place – was there even one? – the door buckled, one hinge torn free of the wall. Claws wrapped around its edge, fighting to remove the obstacle, and while Tony had no idea what was on the other side, he knew it wasn’t good. Jarvis hurried him further into the room when wood shattered and metal whined, then something was coming at them, all claws and a lizard-like body, with a tail that looked part mechanical. It didn’t have a mouth, but its eyes narrowed at the sight of them and claws dug deep into the carpet.
Jarvis pushed Tony to the side, taking the impact of the lizard-man’s lunge, which sent the old man down to the floor, hard. Tony looked up, eyes wide, as the villain turned, looking at him, beginning to advance, taking its time.
“Jarvis!” Tony wasn’t certain which one he meant – the AI or the man. Both, he supposed. A clawed hand rose, aiming at his head. Tony curled into a ball, trying not to cry.
Before the claws landed, the room seemed to explode: pieces of concrete and furniture flew everywhere and then there was a whine and a hot blast, then a thud of something soft hitting something harder. Tony dared to peer up, finding the spot the lizard-man had just occupied now empty. Looking further, he saw the villain lying on the floor on the other side of the room, attempting to get up.
Glancing over his shoulder instead, Tony’s eyes went wide, this time not with fear, although that still thrummed in his chest; this was admiration and stunned silence, looking at Iron Man standing there, one arm raised, the palm glowing bright with the repulsor at the ready. The lizard didn’t make a sound as it pushed itself up, studying the armor, then attacked it. Iron Man shot again, square in the villain’s chest, then moved out of the way, grabbing it by the neck and smashing it into a wall repeatedly until it didn’t move again. The claws, which had attempted to scratch the armor, relaxed and went still.
Dropping the lizard-man, Iron Man turned around and strode over to Tony. The boy blinked, pushing himself up to his knees. “J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he asked, just to be sure.
“Indeed, sir. I apologize for taking control of your armor, but time was of the essence.” The AI’s voice sounded different, coming from the speakers of the suit, but it didn’t matter.
“That’s okay,” Tony smiled weakly. “You… use it very well.” He moved he gaze around the room, seeing a gaping hole in the floor that had been blown there from below just moments ago.
A groan reached his ears and Tony whipped around, moving up and over to Jarvis who lay on the floor, looking dazed. The man looked at him and touched Tony’s face. “I’m okay,” Tony reassured before Jarvis could ask. “Can you get up?”
“Give me a moment,” Jarvis replied, then finally begun to lift himself up until he was in a seated position. He looked up at the armor, a brief frown on his features as if he were thinking hard. Iron Man stood still, as if asleep, but the repulsors were still glowing. The old man looked over at the unmoving villain. “What is that thing?” he mused.
“That is Death Adder – a member of Serpent Society. He has been taken care of for the time being. However, we are not safe here; the Tower systems have been compromised and are being blocked by an unknown source. I suspect magic is involved.”
“I don’t like magic,” Tony declared.
“Indeed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. hummed.
As if on cue, the building shivered again. Lighting struck down viciously a second later.
Jarvis began moving, hoisting himself up with a groan. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he stated. “Open up the armor.”
“Sir?” Iron Man cocked his head slightly, no doubt mimicking human confusion.
“You will take Tony out of here and keep him safe until the situation is over,” Jarvis ordered. “He will be safe in the suit and you can control it, correct?”
“Yes,” the AI replied.
Tony looked nervously at the large suit, but didn’t argue. He stood up and as the armor opened, pieces unlocking and moving to the side in a fashion that were designed to let the pilot out, Jarvis stepped closer. He picked Tony up with some effort and placed him inside the suit, which slowly began to close again. It was uncomfortable because Tony was too small and could barely hang onto anything. Before the armor could close all the way around him, Tony jerked. “Jarvis! What about you?”
“I will be fine,” the old man reassured. “These villains want nothing from me. You, however, are at risk – and I believe J.A.R.V.I.S.’s first operative is to protect you.”
“You are correct, Mr. Jarvis,” the AI replied.
“Take care of him,” the man murmured, patting his hand against the closing pieces of metal.
“But –” Tony tried before being enclosed in darkness. The air was fresh inside the armor, regardless of the confined space, and Tony shifted nervously. A faint glow came from above, and he guessed it was where his face should be. He contemplated climbing up when his entire world tilted forward and he was pressed painfully against the inside of the suit. It felt like gravity wasn’t working right and he realized that maybe they were flying. A muted sound of breaking glass reached his ears but otherwise the sound of engines – repulsors – filled the space and Tony just tried to pin himself in place and not slip into a more uncomfortable position.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.!” he called out eventually. “We can’t leave Jarvis. You can protect him, too.”
“Mr. Jarvis’ logic is sound; your wellbeing is the first priority to us both.”
“But I’m safe inside the armor. You can take us back,” Tony insisted. “We have to help the Avengers.”
“I’m afraid –”
“Take us back!” Tony ordered. “You can… fly this thing, and shoot, and protect me at the same time. I want to go back and help!”
“Sir, I cannot let you do that.”
“But you have to do as I say, and I say we go back and help the Avengers,” Tony decided. He might not be able to do much, but J.A.R.V.I.S. as Iron Man could, and Tony was going to be a hero one day, which meant he couldn’t fly away now just because he was scared.
He wasn’t sure if the sound J.A.R.V.I.S. made was a sigh, but he felt the suit move again, turning, plunging in a different direction, making Tony slip forward in the confined space. He decided to pull himself further up and wriggled towards the glow, pushing his arms in the holes where they should be and planted his feet firmly against the sides of the armor, attempting to anchor himself in place. He could see a screen now, the source of the glow, numerous symbols on it – and a view to the outside. They were coming closer to the Tower again, and he could see the Avengers fighting several villains.
Cap’s shield flashed through the air, hitting a villain who had been among the ones attacking the lab – the one with no feet. Thor was in the air, battling some woman, while the Hulk was matched by a burly man with an axe and Natasha and Clint were dealing with the rest of the Serpent Society along with Cap. Tony wasn’t certain if the situation was under control, but he braced himself as J.A.R.V.I.S. halted mid-air and fired several shots at the serpents.
The battle halted for a few seconds as each side noticed Iron Man’s presence in the air. He was too far away to see their exact expressions, but one of the villain snakes blasted some kind of energy beam at them. Tony let out a yelp – then felt J.A.R.V.I.S. smoothly navigate them to the side, avoiding the attack, launching a miniature missile in return, blowing the snake off-balance and out of the fight.
A few more blasts tried to catch them but the AI was good at maneuvering the suit, eventually taking them down to the helicopter landing pad where Captain America met them.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” the man asked carefully.
“You assume correctly, Captain,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Avengers!” a voice snarled out loudly. Tony craned his neck to see as Iron Man lifted its head. Several stories above them, in a broken window, stood a figure clad in green and gold. “I tire of this game. Where is Stark?”
“Who’s that?” Tony asked in a whisper, although he knew no one could hear him but the AI.
“That is Loki, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Brother!” Thor bellowed. “Stop this madness at once. It is time you helped us right the wrong you’ve caused –”
“There is nothing to ‘right’,” Loki snarled back and shifted, grabbing for something – then Jarvis was there and Tony’s eyes widened in fear. Jarvis was too close to the edge, and Loki was clearly debating throwing him to his death.
“Let me out,” Tony ordered the AI.
“I cannot do that, sir,” the voice argued. “I promised Mr. Jarvis to keep you safe –”
“I have a plan,” Tony lied. “Just let me out of the armor, please.”
“Where is Stark?” Loki asked again. “Hiding under the bed?” He laughed, as if amused by his words. Tony didn’t think it was funny – especially since the underside of a bed wasn’t any safer than any other place right now.
“None of your business!” Cap shouted back. “Let the man go, or you’ll have to deal with me next.”
“Give us the boy and we’ll let you have your old man,” one of the snakes demanded. “We might even consider keeping Stark as a pet…” The snakes cackled, although most of them were too injured to properly stand. “Or maybe we’ll just feed him to Cottonmouth like a baby rat!”
“Let me out,” Tony ordered again, banging against the inside of the suit for good measure.
J.A.R.V.I.S. hesitated, clearly, but he was also programmed to do Tony’s bidding so he eventually began to open up the armor, allowing daylight to pour into the darkness. Tony shifted, trying not to slip down, awkwardly climbing out of the armor. Cap, who was still standing beside Iron Man, started and looked at him, wide-eyed.
“Tony! Get back into the suit!”
“Ah!” Loki called from above, his voice not as loud as it had sounded inside the suit. “Young Master Stark graces us with his presence.”
“Let Jarvis go!” Tony demanded.
“Or what?” Loki challenged him, voice mocking. Tony was old enough to be able to tell the difference, and he hated it when people did that with him, as if he wasn’t smart enough to know.
“Or you’ll regret it,” Tony shouted back.
He was aware of people staring at him, including the villains. Behind him, he heard the armor lock back into place, sealing itself shut once more.
“Are you threatening me, child?” Loki asked, voice dropping while not getting any less loud, which was kind of strange. Like in a theater. Maybe he should get a job in one should he ever stop being a villain.
“Just making promises,” Tony lied. “Let Jarvis go, or I’ll have the suit beat you up. That would be very embarrassing, I’m sure, since there’s no one driving it.” Well, other than J.A.R.V.I.S., but the AI knew what he meant, probably. “And then I’ll have the Hulk sit on you!” he added for good measure.
Loki stared at him from the heights, then almost fell over laughing.
“Let me kill this insect,” the blond woman who had fought Thor snapped, hovering in the air as if by magic. Well, J.A.R.V.I.S. had said there was magic, so maybe she was using some.
“Yes, Amora,” Loki agreed. “We will kill him now; I’ve had enough of his insults for one day.” And with those words, he shoved Jarvis back into the building and sent some kind of bright blast right at Tony. Captain America moved in front of him, shield up, taking most of the blast which threw him back, almost taking Tony with him.
Tony dodged, small enough to avoid the collision. This was getting really scary now, and he looked up just in time to see the woman called Amora gather some green ball of light in front of her before sending it hurtling towards him. Eyes wide, Tony wasn’t sure which way he should go, because that ball would surely hit him anyway.
There was a faint mechanical whirr and Iron Man took Cap’s place, standing tall above Tony’s form, shooting the repulsors at the swiftly approaching ball of magic. Tony squinted, seeing Amora’s attack slowing down but still coming at them. Then Loki was attacking again, from the side – when had he gotten there? – and Iron Man had to move its left arm to block that, dividing the repulsor power, and Tony knew it wasn’t going to be enough.
“Tony!” someone was shouting, but he was frozen to the spot, unable to move. The armor above him was unyielding, not running away, completely unafraid. Tony wondered if people had ever looked at Iron Man like this, when he was inside it, and felt the same as he did now: that they could believe in him, trust him, and that Iron Man would stand his ground no matter what.
Briefly Tony saw something flare at the armor’s chest, then the repulsors blinked and brightened and a third blast joined the other two, fighting off the magical attacks, so brilliantly beautiful it hurt Tony’s eyes but he couldn’t look away, could almost feel it thrumming inside his body, in his chest, at the same frequency as the arc reactor.
The beautiful moment broke apart, lashing out like a hot whip. Beneath Tony, the surface cracked and gave in beneath him. He heard something like an explosion, pressure blocking his ears, and then he was falling, nothing sturdy left beneath him, only wind whipping through his hair, making his light-blinded eyes tear up and trapping air inside his chest.
He couldn’t scream or cry out when he realized he was falling.
He didn’t get a change to be afraid, either, before an unyielding grip locked around his upper arm, then something hard pushed him to the side, defying gravity, and there was a sound of shattering glass moments before the brilliant light disappeared and Tony crashed into a hard surface, air forced out of his lungs and everything was burning up inside him, as if he were caught in a room with the sun itself.
Tony opened his eyes, and in between blinding spots that swam across his field of vision he saw a familiar faceplate, the eyes glowing bright despite the obvious signs of battle scratched all over it. Tony lifted a hand, touching it, and he stared at Iron Man’s face and his own hand on top of it, covering so much more than he had thought it would and…
It was like someone rebooted his brain. Every thought cleared up, vague memories sharpened.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he greeted, knowing suddenly that there was no one inside the armor – that his AI had done a fantastic job driving it.
His AI…. J.A.R.V.I.S.
“Jarvis,” he echoed, startled, attempting to sit up. Every joint in his body hurt and for the first time he guessed he knew what the Hulk felt like, coming to with Bruce’s clothes still clinging to his form. The armor shifted above him, pushing backwards and off him, kneeling there in a rather awkward manner.
Tony glanced down at himself. The shirt he had been wearing was torn at most seams, he had apparently lost his shoes somewhere during the fight or the fall, and the remnants of the child-sized pants were pressing at the worst places.
He guessed he was in mild shock from suddenly being himself and not a kid anymore. How that had happened, he wouldn’t even try to guess, but he could ask their enemies about that after he was done beating them up. “Okay,” he gasped, struggling to tear off the last bits of clothing, “what’s the armor’s status?”
“External damage suffered in the explosion,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him through the speakers of the armor. It sounded funny, unlike his own voice which he had heard from several recordings over the years. “The Unibeam is still recharging and will remain unusable for several minutes.”
“I can see the armor’s still in one piece, so don’t be so dramatic, J. Open up; there’s something I need to do,” Tony ordered.
“It’s good to have you back, sir,” the AI replied.
“No need to sound so disappointed,” Tony teased and waited as the armor unlocked enough for him to slip inside it. He found one of the child’s shoes in there, throwing it to the side before the armor sealed around him, a comforting pressure even against his naked skin. “This is going to be uncomfortable,” Tony noted.
“Can I suggest avoiding an armor breach today?” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s own voice came from the internal speakers.
“I shall take that suggestion to heart,” Tony agreed, grimacing. The undersuit he usually wore wasn’t much, but it did shield his skin somewhat against most things that could penetrate the armor. Today… well, he’d better keep the rest of the damage external.
The HUD came up promptly, showing him activity on the outside. It seemed the remnants of the Serpent Society had joined the three Asgardians in an attempt to defeat the Avengers. No one had come after Tony when he fell, which meant they had either seen the armor save him or considered him a lost cause.
“Locate Jarvis for me,” Tony ordered. The security cameras around the Tower pinpointed Jarvis still in Tony’s rooms, Skurge standing guard over the distraught old man. It cut Tony deep to see him, to recall the hazy memories of the last few days from the perspective of the child… talk about confusing. He had no idea how any of this had happened, or how he was suddenly back in his adult form – or how he even remembered his time as a five-year-old – but there it was and the fresh memory of the love he felt for the old man spurred him to fly out through the broken window, up past the battle and right through the already broken windows into the room where Jarvis was being held, knocking Skurge down with the sheer force of impact which sent the Asgardian barreling through the nearest wall.
Tony landed on the floor and looked down at Edwin Jarvis, almost overthrown by the mix of his own adult feelings and those of a child that were still so fresh, close to the surface. No, he wasn’t going to throw himself down on the floor and start bawling his eyes out. “You okay?” he asked instead, offering a gloved hand to help Jarvis onto his feet.
The sharp eyes narrowed briefly. “J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he questioned.
“Guess again, old man,” Tony teased softly, then momentarily lifted the faceplate. The surprise and relief on Jarvis’ face was almost comical and Tony steadied him carefully should his legs become too weak to hold him up. “Hey, it’s okay… There’s some nasty hero-business I have to take care of, so why don’t you wait up here and we’ll… get right back to this,” Tony offered, uncertain what that entailed.
Jarvis nodded weakly and Tony took him to the nearest chair which sat a safe distance from the broken window.
By that time, Skurge had managed to get back on his feet, magical axe in hand. Tony still recalled it striking his armor before he got de-aged, and he turned to the Asgardian with a burning passion to hurt him a little in return. “Come on, bulky, let’s dance,” he taunted.
Skurge came at him hard, and Tony grabbed the arm holding the axe, taking off and pulling Skurge out the window with him. He spun them around in the air and sent the Asgardian flying – right at Amora the Enchantress, who didn’t see it coming as she was busy trying to hit Hawkeye with one of her spells. They both went falling down and Tony dove on, spotting Loki.
“Hey, Horny!” he returned to the insult from earlier, making Loki’s head snap up from his fight with Thor. Tony blasted his face with a well-aimed repulsor, sending him down after Skurge and Amora. Thor looked up at him, wary at first, then a grin appeared on his face.
“Man of Iron!” he greeted.
“Let’s finish this,” Tony decided and moved down to deal with the remnants of the Serpent Society; they had already been taking a beating from the Avengers, but once they realized Iron Man was back in action, they tried to hide in every crack and crevice available. Suffice to say, it didn’t work as well as with their reptilian counterparts.
A few minutes later, Cap had them rounded up while Black Widow bound them securely.
Thor joined them a moment later, an unhappy frown on his face.
“They escaped?” Hawkeye guessed, referring to the three Asgardians.
“Yes. Amora transported them somewhere before I could prevent it.” He looked at Tony next and clasped his armored shoulder. Instead of saying something highly uncomfortable or cryptic, he remained silent.
Cap glanced at him next, as if trying to see past the armor. “Tony –?”
“I’m fine,” Tony replied, not making him guess. “I think that blast reversed the effect of the one before, or something. I’ll give it to you in scientific jargon once I wrap my own head around it.”
The Hulk approached next, climbing up, giving the captured members of the Serpent Society a snarl. Tony grinned behind the faceplate.
S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived at the site a moment later, no doubt alerted at the beginning of the battle. Trust them to get on location after the fighting was done. With the villains secured, they took off again – leaving Director Fury behind.
“Did you miss your ride?” Tony asked.
The dark eye narrowed at him. “Please tell me that’s not an empty suit talking to me?”
“It’s not, sir,” Clint grinned.
“So it’s…” the Director started.
“Over,” Tony quipped then walked towards the disassembly unit. Part of the helipad had been destroyed, which meant a lot of extra work he wasn’t looking forward to, not to mention destroyed lab space and his own room. However, when he spotted Edwin Jarvis just inside the destroyed windows, he guessed it was worth it, in a way. “Jarvis,” he called out, “could I borrow your jacket or something?” he called out.
The old man frowned in confusion.
Tony sighed and started walking, the armor being removed from around his body. At the end of the line, he stood naked, and Jarvis stripped his familiar suit jacket and handed it over in order for Tony to cover at least some of his body. Tony smiled his thanks, seeing some of that dry humor flash in the old man’s eyes.
“Okay,” Clint started, sitting down on the dust-covered couch in all his post-battle grime, “I didn’t need to see that.”
“Didn’t actually have time to run for my wardrobe in the middle of a fight,” Tony defended himself, sort of tying the jacket around his middle.
Off to the side, the Hulk was transforming back to Bruce, leaving him almost equally naked in his torn pants. The scientist blinked at them, then twice more at Tony, and a look of relief washed over his face. “What did we do?” he asked.
“No idea,” Steve replied, “but it worked. Welcome back.”
“Oh, I wasn’t gone. Not really,” Tony replied, taking a seat on another couch. His body still felt… weird, no doubt thanks to the magical transformation, but he didn’t let it show too much.
“That means you remember you owe me a new set of weapons!” Clint called out.
Tony huffed. “Please, I barely even touched them. If anything, it was an improvement!”
“Can we still give him corner time?” Clint asked the others.
Tony snorted, then looked around until his eyes landed on Jarvis. He swallowed, throat suddenly dry, and the ache in his chest wasn’t all because it felt like the arc reactor had been re-fitted in its casing. “I’m sorry you had to be a part of this.”
“I’m not,” Jarvis mused. “Well, naturally there are things I could have gone without, but all in all…” He came and sat beside Tony, body turned towards him. “It’s good to see you, Mr. Stark.”
“You never called me that before,” Tony mused. “Why start now?”
“I could call you Master Anthony if you’d prefer that?”
“God, no!” Tony balked at it. “Just… less formal, okay? I’m pretty much naked here.” And then he was hugging Jarvis, and he had no idea who had moved forward first, but it felt good and it may have brought a tear or two to his eyes, feelings mixing between those of an adult and a child.
Jarvis patted his naked shoulder and eventually drew back – when he seemed to be certain Tony had his emotions under control. “If you are truly apologetic for all this, then perhaps you would do me one favor?”
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
“Visit your home with me.”
Tony looked away briefly – then remembered it was a bad idea when wherever he looked, there was an Avenger or a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent standing. Finally he looked at Jarvis and offered him a small smile. “I’m sure we can arrange something.”
“Very good, sir,” Jarvis smiled. “Now, please put some clothes on. You’re embarrassing yourself more than everyone else.”
“They can choose not to look!” Tony argued, but got up anyway and made his way to the elevator, wondering how much of his floor had been destroyed. “J,” he called out once the doors were closed.
“Yes, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
It was the day after the battle and Tony’s transformation back to himself. After a good night’s sleep, he felt almost normal, save for some chest aches that were bothering him just a little. Nothing he couldn’t handle, however, and he had a wish to fulfill so a little pain wasn’t going to keep him in bed.
Tony unlocked the wide, wooden doors and stepped inside the quiet building.
“Welcome to the Stark Mansion,” Jarvis declared, moving past him as if he owned the place. He had lived here longer than Tony had, though, so he let the old man run the show as he liked while finding the light switch.
“Okay, not that I’m complaining, but why are the Avengers situated in your Tower while we could be living here?” Clint mused, moving to the head of the five Avengers who had followed them in.
Tony didn’t answer him, busy looking around the dusty hallways.
“Where to begin?” Jarvis mused, already walking forward. “Try to keep up,” he added after a moment. “I’m an old man and don’t have time for standing around.”
Tony snorted. “What are you going to do, tell them horrible stories of my reckless youth?”
“Why yes, Mr. Stark,” Jarvis smiled rather fondly. “They had a surprising opportunity to see your younger self, but in case they got the wrong idea, I must set the record straight. Now, in this room, if I recall, you constructed a mechanical device that was supposed to keep the mice away. Instead, it resulted in breaking crystal glasses within a twenty feet radius due to its high-pitch sound.”
Tony shrugged. “There weren’t any mice around afterwards, either, so no one can tell me it didn’t work.”
“Your mother was quite upset, but she seemed to believe our explanation of a miniature earthquake.”
Tony grinned at the memory.
“Of course, your next upgrade of the device removed the hearing from my right ear for the following two weeks, which I didn’t take kindly to,” Jarvis went on.
Tony offered the others a somewhat sheepish expression.
Steve dared to chuckle.
“I was just trying to help with Jarvis’ girlish fear of small rodents!” Tony defended himself.
“Shall I tell your friends about the Captain America uniform you sewed for Halloween with your own two hands?” Jarvis shot back. “Using your mother’s favorite drapes and two of her dresses?”
Tony kicked at the floor, sulking – especially when Steve raised an eyebrow and moved forward, taking Jarvis’ arm in a sickeningly supportive gesture. “Tell us more,” he grinned – and who was going to say no to Captain fucking America?
Definitely not Jarvis, if the next couple of hours were anything to go by.
However, Tony found that entering his old home wasn’t as suffocating as he had thought it would be, after all these years, and to see six people close to him in such a good mood, he guessed it was worth it.
Tony could always mess with them later, if they harassed him too much about this: if a five-year-old Tony could keep them on their toes, so could he.