Actions

Work Header

Best Kept Secret

Chapter Text

They’ve seen quite a few things in their day. Granted, their day is only eight-years-old, but they’re not your average kid. Your average kid doesn’t just up and run away at Christmas time with no idea where they’re going, except ‘away’. Well, not as far as they know. It’s not like they know that many people, except the kids they’ve been forced to grow up with, and those kids hate them. Whatever. They’re leaving them behind, finally.

All their plans are suddenly blown right out the window when something weird falls out of the sky. For a second, they can’t decide if this is just them or if what they’re seeing is real. That is, until a truck swerves out of the way for it. That doesn’t necessarily convince them that what they’re seeing is real, but it does spur them on to go investigate. They look both ways before crossing the big road and then dash across to hide in a copse of trees, not far from where the thing landed. As they watch, the thing opens up and… a man… sits up out of it. What the hell ?

The man gets up out of whatever that thing is. The first thing they notice about him is this glowing thing in the middle of his chest. None of this makes any sense. Their curiosity almost wins out, sending them forward to ask what the hell is going on, but right as they’re about to exit the trees, the man lifts up the thing he got out of and pulls a chain out of its back. He then proceeds to drag the thing along with him, through the snow, towards town.

This is then how they end up temporarily abandoning their plans to run away. They keep a loose tail on the man, sometimes losing him when they get stuck in the snow they aren’t tall enough to step out of. At those times, they do their ‘trick’ and put themself a little farther forward. They try not to do it too often, though, because they don’t want to risk getting too sick and losing the guy. The man stops at the diner the orphanage mothers bring them to sometimes for ice-cream, to steal the poncho off the wooden indian outside and use the payphone. Should they sneak closer to listen in? They might find out more about the strange man. Quietly, they wade through the snow and hide in a shadow behind the phonebooth, between the low wall and the thing the man was dragging - which, they see now, is like a scary suit of armor. Concentrating hard, they imagine being completely invisible. This is just a shadow. There’s nothing there.

“Pepper, it’s me,” the man says. “Got a lot of apologies to make and not a lot of time. So, first off, I’m so sorry I put you in harms way. That was selfish and stupid and it won’t happen again. Also, it’s Christmas time… and the rabbit’s too big. Done. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry in advance, because I can’t come home yet. I need to find this guy. You gotta stay safe. That’s all I know. I just stole a poncho from a wooden indian.”

By the time he comes back out to grab his suit, they’re holding back vomit. He drags it off fast enough for them to get a little farther out of sight, despite being invisible, and lose the disgusting mash potatoes and sausage they’d been given for lunch. They drop the shroud and jog after the man. They trek through the snow for quite a while, their legs getting tired from being dragged through the thick slush, but the man just keeps going. He must be really fit. Eventually, though, he sneaks into someone’s garden shed. They hang back, making sure the man isn’t seen. Out of their backpack, they pull a can of Monster energy drink they bought the last time they were in town. They down the entire can and their heart begins racing immediately, which means it’s working.

They envision the entire building as it was before the man went inside. Dark, undisturbed, the doors shut and locked. In front of their eyes, it changes. The edges of their vision warp a little, but, as usual, there’s nothing there when they look directly at it. With a deep breath to steel themself, they step through the mirage and after the man.

The inside of the shed is pretty cosy. They also notice that they’re losing energy fast, their heart beating slower and slower with each passing second. This may have been a waste of an energy drink, but they’re curious. Up close, the man looks a little banged up. Also, really tired and maybe even a little grimy. The thing in his chest is round, with a triangle in it. They really want to know what it is.

“Hey, Mister? What’s that thing in your chest?” they ask, pushing their ever-slipping ski hat back out of their eyes.

He jumps out of his skin, jabbing himself in the arm with something. He says a word the nuns told them never to say and their eyes go wide. They feel their eyes getting heavier.

“Where did you come from? Is this your house?” the man asks.

They yawn. “No. I was runnin’ away, and then you fell out of the sky in your suit of armor.” Pulling their backpack off their shoulders, they go for another energy drink.

“Woah, you can’t drink that,” the man says, coming out from behind the workbench and reaching out for the can in their hand.

“No, no. I gotta, or the picture goes away,” they say, holding the can out of the man’s reach.

“What picture?” he asks.

“You first,” they press. “What’s that in your chest?”

“Electromagnet. There’s a whole box of them on the table,” he says, pointing over his shoulder.

“What’s it do?” they ask, opening the can now.

The man grabs for it again, getting it this time.

They glare at him, but it’s hard at this point, their eyes super heavy. Outside, they can feel the mirage slipping away, coming down in patches. They turn back to the door and try to put some more energy into the image by touching it, but this drains their energy faster.

“Mister, please? The drink! I need the drink, or the picture goes away!” they cry, reaching back with one hand for the drink.

“What picture?” he asks again, louder this time.

“The picture of the shed! Before you got here, it looked empty. I’m makin’ it look that way, so no one finds us,” they say, their knees wobbling.

“How?” the man comes closer, reaching a finger towards the small wrinkle in the air they’re holding onto. As he touches it, his finger warps, too, like a funhouse mirror.

“I’m gonna pass out,” they slur, still reaching for the can.

The man gives it to them this time, eyes fixed on his warped finger. They down the can in four gulps, their heart starting to race again. Right as their energy comes back, though, they can feel it starting to drain again. They can’t keep this up. It’s too big. They’ve never had to do one so big before.

“Kid, how are you doing this? What is this?” the man asks, finally pulling his hand away and fixing his gaze on them.

“Can I let go now? They’re gonna find us. I don’t have another drink,” they ask.

“Yes. It’s okay. I wasn’t hiding. Were you?”

They let go. Nothing looks different, except everything looks different. Like when you stare at a room through a window. The glass warps it in a way you can’t really explain. They go to lean against the one door of the shed. The man comes to stand next to them, still staring down at them. They rub at their eyes.

“I was runnin’ away. I shouldn’t even be here. They’re probably lookin’ for me,” they say.

“Who’s “they”?” the man asks.

“Nuns. From the orphanage. I didn’t wanna be there no more, so I packed my bag and left. Are you gonna send me back, Mister?” they ask.

“Nope. One condition, though? Tell me what the hell that just was,” the man bargains.

“My ‘trick’. ‘S what the nuns called it. I don’t know how I can do it - I just always been able to. I can make things look or be a certain way, however I want. The people at the orphanage didn’t like it. I wasn’t supposed to use it there,” they recount. Standing out here in the cold is making them super sleepy and their toes and fingers are starting to go numb.

“Does it make you tired?” the man asks.

“Sick. The drinks help for energy, or I throw up somethin’ awful. Can we go inside?” they ask, peering up at him from under their ski hat. It’s slipping down their forehead again.

He leads the way in and they step into the warmth gratefully, wrapping themself super tightly in their coat. The man hands them the poncho from the indian and they wrap themself in that, too.

“So, who’re you? What does the electromagnet do?” they ask, once they can feel their extremities again.

The man is, once again, doing something to his arm. They go closer to see.

“The electromagnet powers that,” the man says, flipping the head of the lamp to something behind him. They move around him slowly, to find the suit of armor sitting on a couch, looking for all intents and purposes like a man. They approach it slowly, apprehensively. This thing is weird - far too weird for them, which they guess is rich coming from them. “As for me, I’m Tony. You got a name?”

“Nope.”

They reach out a small hand to touch it, but pull it back in a flash when the metal is freezing cold. Giving it a last wary look, they turn back to the man. He’s finished with his arm and is now staring at something on the table. They wish they were tall enough to see.

“You can have this back, if you’re cold,” they say and hold the poncho out to Tony.

“I’m good. What do you mean you don’t have a n-”

“Freeze!”

Both their heads snap to the door, where another kid is standing, brandishing a potato gun. They grin to themself.

“Don’t move,” the kid says.

Tony lifts his hands in surrender. The kid turns the gun on them and they lift only one hand, ready to send this little twerp flying right back out the door.

“Kid? Best… not,” Tony says, looking at them with raised eyebrows.

They tuck their hand back into the pocket of their jacket, feeling miffed. Probably for the best, though. They’re really tired.

“Nice potato gun,” Tony says to the other kid. “Barrel’s a little long. Between that and the wide gauge, it’s gonna diminish your FPS.”

The kid fires the potato gun and smashes a jar on a high shelf to bits. They then make a face at Tony, like they know what they’re doing.

“And now you’re out of ammo,” Tony comments.

“What’s that thing on your chest?” the other kid asks.

“An electromagnet,” they announce proudly. “It powers the suit of armor. Right, Tony?”

“What they said,” Tony says, nodding at them.

The other kid gives them an annoyed look. “What suit of armor?”

Tony steps aside to show them. The other kid’s face breaks into a smile and they lower their potato gun to move closer. “Is that Iron-Man?” they stammer, but get out eventually.

“Technically, I am,” Tony responds.

“Technically,” the other kid says, stuffing a newspaper into Tony’s hands, “you’re dead.”

“Valid point,” Tony says, scanning the front page.

“What’s Iron-Man?” they ask.

Both the others turn to stare at them, Tony in awe and the other kid in confusion. They shrug in response and go in search of someplace to sleep. The shed isn’t a shed after all, but workshop. In the back, they find an old car. Even though the outside is pretty rusty, the inside seems cosy and warm enough. They get in and curl up on the backseat.

“Hey, you can’t be back here,” the other kid comes to yell at them.

“I’m tired. I’m just sleepin’,” they say, without opening their eyes.

“Well, sleep someplace else. Are you with him?”

“Yeah. Yeah, they are,” Tony answers. “Let ‘em sleep a while. I’ll be here, working, to keep an eye.”

“Fine. Just don’t break anything,” the other kid grumbles the last part so only they can hear it.

“Not anythin’. Just your nose,” they mutter.

They’re woken up what feels like hours later, well-rested, but stiff from sleeping in a ball. They sit up blearily, looking up at Tony. He silently hands them a bowl of cornflakes. Taking it, they scoot over to give him some room to sit next to them. He gets in and they eat together.

“Did you fix it?” they ask, after their third mouthful.

“Still busy. It’s gonna take a while. You still tired?” He takes another bite, letting the flakes crunch between his teeth.

“Nope. I should be fine, if I don’t do the trick again,” they say, a stray drop of milk dripping onto the poncho they’re still wearing. “I never did one so big before. It was too much.”

“Kid, you said you were in an orphanage. Is it here in town?” Tony asks, giving them a sideways look.

“Yep. By the church on Old Mill. Catholic, run by nuns and Father Lewis. Father Lewis is nice enough, but the nuns all hate me. Kids, too,” they recount, bitterly.

“Well, no one seems to be looking for you. So, I have a proposition,” Tony says.

“Pitch.”

He smirks when he continues, “How about, once I’m done here, you come home with me? Back to New York. See, I’m not just a mechanic. I’m also kind of a scientist, and I think I might be able to help you not get so sick from your trick anymore.”

“You want me to be a lab rat? In New York?” they ask, giving him a look.

“Pretty much, but it’ll be a sweet gig. You can get outta here, get some new clothes, a decent bed to sleep in, proper food and even a haircut. Plus, we can figure out this thing of yours. Doesn’t seem so bad, does it?”

They refocus on their cereal. “Mister, you had me at “New York”. I’ll letcha put me in a cage if it meant gettin’ away from those nuns.”

Tony chuckles at that.

“No cages. Promise.”

“Okay. When do we leave?” They lift the bowl to their lips and slurp down the leftover milk.

“Another week or so. Will you be okay, sleeping here in the car?” he asks.

“Mm-hm. Maybe just a pillow, if it’s not too much trouble,” they say, wide-eyed. They never dared ask for anything in the orphanage, the nuns constantly reminding them that they should just be grateful they hadn’t drowned them as a baby for being such an abomination, such an affront to God.

“‘Course. A blanket, too. Harley - the boy that was here last night - is bringing us some after school today. Shouldn’t you be in school? How old are you, anyway?” Tony asks, slipping back outside. He stretches once he’s on his feet. They wonder when last he’s slept.

“I’m eight. Don’t go to school. Nuns taught us in the orphanage, but I wasn’t allowed to know too much. I snuck books from Father Lewis’ library, though,” they say. They reach for their backpack where they’d dumped it at their feet the previous night. Out of it, they pull a thick, hardcover book about space. They like the pictures.

“What you got there?”

“Book about space. I’m readin’ about black holes now. They’re so interestin’. Did you know time slows down around ‘em? Relativity means that time runs slower and so we age slower and everythin’. Did you know that?” they ask, excitedly.

Tony looks at them not all that differently to how the orphanage mothers used to look at them. Like they’re some kind of alien. Maybe they are. They sure look like one - at least because they’ve never seen a single other person that looks like them.

“Who, uh… who taught you about relativity, kid?” he asks, at last.

“No one. I read it in the book. I think it’s a textbook. I thought the Catholics banned this sort of thing, but Father Lewis had tons of books like this,” they say, finding their bookmark (a flat piece of calcite they found on a field trip once) and flipping open the book to read some more. Seems like they’ll be here a while.

Tony saunters off, back in the vague direction of his suit.

Most of their time together is spent in silence. They read, while Tony tinkers. In the evenings, Harley joins them. He doesn’t seem to like them very much, which is nothing new to them and they pay him no mind. At random intervals, Tony asks them weird questions, like what the third law of thermodynamics is or the mechanics of relativity. They always answer him enthusiastically. No one has ever paid them this much attention that wasn’t to scream at them. Every once in a while, Harley interjects to ask something or other about the Iron-Man suit or make some comment about what Tony should add to it.

“Hey, Harley?” they say one night, sitting cross-legged on the couch the suit used to sit on. They don’t look up from their book, being right in the middle of a super interesting part about binary star systems.

“...Yeah?”

“If school is so bad, why do you go?” they ask, turning the page.

“Because I have to. Kids have to go to school,” he sneers, like he thinks they’re an idiot.

“I don’t,” they say.

“Yeah, you do. It’s illegal for kids not to go to school. Don’t you know anything ?” he scoffs and leaves.

“H-” Tony starts calling after him.

Asshole… ” they mutter, turning the page.

“What’s his problem, do you think?” Tony asks, fitting another panel of the suit back into its socket.

They shrug, bored and wanting to focus on their book.

One night, Tony takes them all on a little field trip. He says he needs to check out something in town, but he doesn’t feel comfortable leaving them in the shed by themself, so they have to come with. Harley looks miffed, as usual. They and Tony swap hats, Tony helping them fold their hair up under the cap and being shocked to discover it’s even longer than it looks. He doesn’t question it, though. They’re told to keep the bill of the hat pulled low over their eyes, to keep them out of sight.

In town, they head straight for the memorial of the soldier who committed suicide by blowing himself up. They remember Father Lewis praying for him at breakfast one morning and mass one evening. They remember thinking how sad it was, but how they’d sort of understood how the soldier must’ve felt. It made them uneasy hearing the other kids and the nuns talking about the soldier as a selfish coward. Of course, they didn’t understand. They didn’t know what it was like to hate yourself. Lucky assholes.

On the way, Harley keeps pressing Tony to talk about New York. They aren’t entirely sure what about New York Harley wants to know, but he seems pretty excited to know it. Then, he asks Tony about the ‘Avengers’, which makes them peek up at Tony from under the hat. Tony looks like he’s freaking out and Harley won’t stop asking him. He actually looks like he’s about to yell, so they take his hand. His response is to stare down at them. They raise their eyebrows at him, making to let go, but he grabs tightly onto their hand and they keep walking.

They reach the memorial, which is also the site of the tragedy. It makes them sad, which makes Tony edgy again. So, they focus on not being sad. They think about movies and the butterfly nebula and other things that make them smile. He calms down again, his grip relaxing on theirs.

“So, what’s the official story here?” Tony asks. “What happened?”

They let Harley take point on this one.

“I guess this guy named Chad Davis, who used to live here, roundabouts, won a bunch of medals in the army, and one day folks said he went crazy and made… you know… a bomb. Then, he blew himself up right here.” He hangs back, but Tony takes them with him when he walks around the perimetre to press his fingers to the shadows on the walls.

“Six people died, right?” Tony asks, looking back over at Harley.

“Yeah,” says Harley.

“Including Chad Davis?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Yeah,” Tony says, taking them over to sit down next to Harley, “none of that makes any sense. Think about it: six dead - only five shadows.”

“Yeah. People said they are, like, to mark the souls going to heaven. ‘Cept the bomb guy. He went to hell, on account of he didn’t get a shadow,” Harley recounts. “That’s why there’s only five.”

“And you buy that?”

“That’s what everyone says.”

You buy that?” Tony asks, tugging on the hand of theirs he’s still holding.

They shake their head, but so that Harley can’t see it.

“You know what this crater reminds me of?” Harley says.

“No idea. I don- I don’t care,” Tony replies.

“That giant wormhole in, um… in New York,” Harley continues, reverently.

They feel Tony get bad again. His heart starts racing and his breathing becomes ragged. He almost crushes their hand with his, but they’re in too deep with this now and can’t separate their feelings from his.

“Harley, have you ever tried shutting the hell up?” they call across Tony.

“Have you? I wasn’t even talking to you!” he calls back.

“But Tony asked you so many times just to keep quiet about this, leave him alone. Are you stupid?” they say.

Closing their eyes, they take a deep breath and focus on the happy stuff again. They focus hard. Somewhere, they lose Tony and get lost between baby stars leaving the nebula for the first time. They’re so hot, but so new. As they’re about to go inspect one, they’re being jerked around. Their eyes fly open.

“Did it work?” they ask and get a mouthful of blood. They spit profusely, aiming it away from Tony. He slips out of his jacket and then out of his flannel and then tries to staunch the bleeding, which seems to be coming from their nose.

“What did you, you weirdo? You glowed a little and then your nose started bleeding. Big whoop,” Harley says, coming closer to kneel next to them.

They’ve had just about enough of him, though. Tony looks fine and that’s what matters. They pull the shirt away from their face, turn sideways and vomit onto the pavement. With the flannel, they wipe at their mouth. Then, they turn on Harley. “Shut the fuck up, Harley.”

Harley’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates and Tony chokes trying not to laugh. When he finally has himself under control, he turns to Harley to ask him where he might find Chad Davis’ mother. Harley points him to a bar not too far from where they are. He sends the two of them back to the shed, asking Harley to make sure he gets them into bed and to sleep. He doesn’t look keen, but they glare at him until he nods at Tony.

The three of them walk together until they reach a street corner where Tony keeps going and they turn right. He tells them bye and thanks and says he’ll see them later. When he turns to leave, the two kids give each other a look and then go hide behind a parked car. They follow him at a discreet distance, making sure they aren’t seen.

“Why did you glow earlier? What were you doing?” Harley whispers at some point.

“Not now,” they respond, dashing for an alley. He follows close on their heels.

The bar Tony ends up going into has an alleyway right across from it with a lot of shadow cover. The kids duck in there and wait. They’re freezing and super tired and a little sticky from bleeding so much, but now is not the time to be a wimp. Harley comes to stand close to them, which helps with heat. If they didn’t dislike him so much, they’d pull him closer. They can draw a little energy from him.

“Can you tell me now? Or are you going to spaz out like Tony?” he asks, then.

“I don’t know why I can do it. I don’t know what it is. I just know it makes me sick, but it helped Tony. So, I did it. Now, can you please stop talkin’ to me? I’m cold and tired and if I don’t save my energy, I’m gonna pass out,” they chastise.

“Well, what did you do? Did you calm him down?” he ignores them.

“Yeah. Sent him some happy,” they bite off.

“Can you take energy, too?” he asks, coming to stand in front of them. Where he was pressed to their side is now freezing cold.

“Yeah…”

Looking them right in the eye, Harley takes off his glove and holds out his hand to them. They raise their eyebrows at him. He nods a few times.

The change is instantaneous. They’re even a little warmer. Only a little is enough, though. Taking energy from living things is more potent than from sugar or caffeine - by a long shot. When they put their hand back in their glove, though, they look up at Harley suspiciously. He says nothing, though, and puts his glove back on, too.

“Why?” they ask.

“So you can help Tony.”

Fair enough.

Tony comes running out at some point. His hands are tied behind his back and there’s a lady with a gun chasing him. They want to step out to help, but Harley grabs their shoulder and points out a guy also heading for him from down the street, in the direction from which they came. As Tony dashes for safety behind a car, Harley throws a snowball at the man. He turns on Harley, which is when they throw a snowball of their own, nailing him right in the face. They continue to pelt him, keeping him occupied and away from Tony. At some point, they have him so far down the street, that they turn tail and run.

They outpace Harley, but only because they don’t sink into the slush as easily as he does. As they round the corner they were meant to turn on earlier, there’s a scuffle and a cry. They turn around and find the man managed to grab Harley. He drags Harley off, man-handling him the more he squirms.

“RUN!” Harley screams at them. “ RUN!

They do just that, but not back to the shed. They keep pace, the cold air burning their lungs as it scorches down their throat. The man takes Harley to the reservoir. As they watch, his skin lights up red and he puts his glowing hand against the metal framework holding up the water tank. It starts to warp and melt under his touch. If that tank comes down, that’s the town’s water supply - gone. Like a true hero, Tony appears, then. It’s too late, though, and the tank comes crashing down. They want to run forward to help, but something tells them to stay put just a bit longer. Tony could be drowning, but they’re waiting. What is wrong with them? Is this why the nuns called them an abomination?

But he’s fine. A little wet, but fine. He fetched up against a piece of framework. He seems to be stuck, though, and the man is moving towards him, Harley over his shoulder. That’s when they sneak closer, moving behind the rubble and coming at the guy from behind.

When Tony says “Remember what I said about bullies?”, they strike. With all they’ve got, they kick at the back of the man’s knees. Above them, a bright flash goes off.

“You two, get outta here!” Tony yells.

They grab Harley by the hand and the two of them dash for safety. Behind them, a sizzle and then a thud can be heard. They yank Harley to a stop. He looks at them with wide, scared eyes.

“It’s okay. Let’s just wait a minute for Tony, okay?” they whisper to him.

He nods once.

When they hear the sound of metal clashing against metal, they both sneak back to investigate. The other man is off to the side, dead-looking. Tony is jogging towards them. They both smile. He looks disappointed, but it changes to gratitude when he gets close enough to speak without yelling. He says they’re leaving. Harley needs to go back home. They ask if they can drop Harley off and get their backpack before heading to New York. Tony agrees to it, on the condition that they make it quick. Soon enough, they’re waving goodbye.

On the way, Tony says they can sleep if they need to, but then they tell him about Harley giving them some of his energy and that they’ll probably be good for a little while. He passes them a file he’d retrieved from the bar before taking Harley home and asks them to read it to him. They turn on the car’s reading lamp and get to work. They trip over only one word and that’s because whoever wrote it has atrocious handwriting.

When they finish, Tony tells them to dump the file on the backseat. He makes a call, then.

As he types in a number, they blurt, “Hey, who’s Pepper?”

“How do y-” He sighs. “She’s my girlfriend. You’ll meet her in New York.”

“Is she nice?” they ask, eyes out the window, watching the trees pass by.

“The nicest person in the entire world,” he says.

“Okay,” they say.

He places his call, then, to someone named Rhodey. They listen to him talk, feeling quite content. Life is going to change now. This is what they’ve been dreaming of since they can remember. They can finally move on and be themself. They close their eyes and think about the butterfly nebula again.

KID!

They sit bolt upright and then lurch forward as the car comes to a dead standstill. The seat belt catches them, the part that goes over their chest almost choking them. Throwing their hands out, they don’t even make it to the dashboard before the belt has them pressed back against the seat. Next to them, Tony is hyperventilating again. They throw out a hand and grab his arm, but he shakes them off.

They frown up at him. “I’m tryin’ to help.”

“You need to stop helping! What in the hell just happened?! What are you?!” he yells.

Around them, cars honk and brakes scream as traffic comes to a sudden halt. They take their hand back and look down at their knees. Before they quite know how, tears are streaming down their face. This was clearly a mistake. They undo the seat belt and move to get out of the car.

“No! Where are you going?” Tony asks.

“You don’t want me, either. No one does. It’s okay. I’ll leave. Thanks, though,” they say, pulling at the handle, but the door is locked.

“Kid. Hey, kid. I’m sorry for yelling. I didn’t mean what I said. Hey, can- can you just look at me a second?”

They leave the door and look at Tony’s knees instead. He puts the car in gear and they start driving again.

“W-what did I do?” they ask, their voice fading in and out because of the tears in their throat.

“One minute we were speeding along the highway - the next, we were suddenly in the middle of the bridge right outside New York. It looked like we went through a… Well, a wormhole, honestly,” he says, his voice wavering.

They reach out a hand again, looking at him questioningly this time. He takes his right hand off the steering wheel and holds it out to them.

“I’m sorry. I really am! You gotta believe me! I wish I couldn’t do this. It just scares people. I don’t wanna be scary - honest!” they say, trying their best to sound it. They mean this with all their heart.

“I know, kid. That’s why I’m sorry I said what I said. We’re gonna help you out, okay? But first you’re gonna have to spend a few days with Pepper. I have something I gotta take care of. As soon as I get back, we’ll take a look at that brain of yours. Cool?” he says.

He’s calm now. They can feel it. His peacefulness calms them, too. Before they can get too tired, though, they let go.

“Cool. Sorry about the wormhole. I know you don’t like ‘em.”

“Not much of a space person. Not like you,” he says, smiling a little.

“That’s okay. I’m sure you have cool hobbies, too,” they say and he chuckles.

The city is so incredibly big. They’ve never seen anything like it in their entire life. At some point, they undo their seat belt to get on their knees and stare out the window. The lights in the dark are like stars they can reach out and touch. Some of the buildings are so tall that they can’t see where they end and it just looks like a solid wall of steel and glass. With every passing second, they get more and more excited for wherever Tony is taking them.

So, it throws them a little when they pull up outside this ugly, metal tower. This can’t be where he lives. It looks like the tower of that orange businessman the nuns all said is Satan-reincarnate. What’s his name? Come to think of it, they don’t think they ever knew his name.

“Last stop - everybody out,” Tony says, coming to a stop in an undercover parking garage.

“You live here?” they ask, not really all that keen to leave the car anymore. They cross their arms apprehensively in front of their chest, eyes fearful on Tony’s.

“Not really, no. It’s where I have the best lab, though. That okay?” He gets out, only to be immediately embraced by a tall, strawberry blonde lady. The way she grips him, scared and grateful, is what makes them think that this is Pepper.

They let themself out, grabbing their backpack from the backseat. Outside, in the parking garage, they hear the two adults whisper together. They decide to give them a minute.

“Honey, I have someone I’d like you to meet. They’re going to be staying with us for a while. Kid?” Tony calls.

They step carefully around the car, looking up at the tall, super pretty lady. Tony’s hat had come off in the car and a lot of their hair is in their face again. They reach up to move it aside. Pepper beats them to it, though. They’re first response is to jerk away, in case they hurt her somehow, but it turns out alright.

“Your hair is the prettiest color,” she says, smiling a warm, red-lipped smile. She drops down to her haunches in front of them, putting them on eye-level with each other. “Now, what do we call you?”

They shrug. “Whatever you want, I guess. Don’t have a name.”

“We’ll figure it out. You must be exhausted and hungry and you look like you could use a bath. Wanna come with me and then we get you comfy?” she asks, standing again and holding her hand out to them.

Automatically, their head snaps to Tony. He nods at them, giving them a small, but reassuring smile. They take Pepper’s hand.

As she leads them away, they call over their shoulder, “Remember to keep breathin’, alright? If it gets bad, you think of her! You think of Pepper!”

“You got it, kid! Thanks for everything!”

A huge yawn nearly drops their head off their shoulders. They could definitely do with some decent sleep.