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In Another Life

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Tony drops the phone. His entire body stiffened and his mind felt numb. His fingers tingled with emotion and he could faintly hear Jarvis asking if he was still on the phone. Yet Tony couldn’t will his arms to pick up the phone again. Everything had been going so well. He was at boarding school where his dad couldn’t bother him. In the back of his mind, Tony feels a pang of guilt at that thought. Tony thinks about the last time he talked to his parents. It had been Thanksgiving Tony had argued with his dad again. At this point in his life, Tony had been so used to arguing with Howard and used to the thought that his life would never be his own and it would be whatever Howard wanted. He couldn’t even remember what they had argued about but it had ended with door slamming and no goodbyes.

Tony feels himself move slowly to the outside of the main office building of his boarding school. He vaguely feels gratitude that he doesn’t see anyone he knows in the hallways. He doesn’t think he can say it. My parents are dead. His limbs felt heavy like he’s moving through water. He doesn’t even realize he’s crying until he’s out the door and staring at the black car waiting for him outside.

He spends his ride in a haze. A couple of times his hand twitches towards the mini bar in the car he knows is fully stocked but he decides Jarvis is probably dealing with enough, he doesn’t need a needy drunk Tony on his hands too.

The next moment of clarity he has happens while he’s at the front door of his house and Jarvis opens it. Tony falls into Jarvis’s welcoming arms and sobs like he’s a five-year-old with a scraped knee again. Except everything hurts so much worse now.

By some act of Jarvis magic, Tony finds himself in a comfy leather chair, vaguely remembering it in his head as being his father’s, with a mug of Ana Jarvis’s special hot chocolate in his hand that tastes like childhood. He’s so heavily entranced in nostalgia and all the Christmases that his parents missed but the Jarvises didn’t that he barely notices when Obie occupies the chair across from him. Obie looks more tired than usual. He has dark bags under his eyes and the wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes are more pronounced due to stress. Of course, he’s stressed. He must be planning what to do with the company now that Howard is gone and on top of that planning the funeral. Tony fully trusts him to do what’s best. He was Howard’s best friend and the second best part of Tony’s childhood after the Jarvises. Obie must have noticed Tony’s gaze on him because he puts down his glass of scotch and meets Tony’s eyes

“I don’t want you to worry about anything, you hear me, Tony? I’ve got it all under control,” Obie said in a tone softer than he’s ever heard before. It’s a bit more discomforting than Tony would like to admit. Obie usually had a deep voice with raspiness from all the expensive cigars he smokes. He wasn’t afraid to use whether it was to have words with Howard or be just a little on the scary side of business with competitors. A part of Tony would give anything to hear and to have something familiar. Unlike the hot chocolate he has even though it’s not quite Christmas yet and sitting on his dad’s favorite chair without getting yelled at.

Another darker part of Tony, that was too much like his father, longed for the glass of scotch Obie had put down. The seductive light brown liquid reflecting the fire from the fireplace had an alluring aura and a taste that he longed to have burn down his throat and dissipate all his feelings. Those thoughts were all erased when he felt a familiar hand run through his hair gently.

“Come on sweet boy. Get some rest and I’m sure you must be very tired,” Ana Jarvis’s Hungarian accent rang like music in his ears. He hadn’t heard it in months and it soothed him in a way nothing else could as Ana ushered him to his room.

Tony puts his empty mug next to Obie’s still half full glass of scotch and walked the hallways that still had the familiar scent of his mother’s perfume lingering in them to his room and the soft music from her piano.

In the morning, Tony sat at the table eating breakfast with Obie sitting to his left. He looked more well-rested than he had been yesterday. Tony silently couldn’t help but wonder if it had been Obie that had been called by the police, if it had been him who looked at the dead body of one of his longest friends and identified it. It was kind of insane that it had been a car accident of all things to take Howard out. Tony always secretly thought that one of his dad’s enemies would finally catch up to him or a freak lab accident would be the end of his father.

“Tony,” Obadiah’s voice took him out of his thoughts. “Somebody will come by later to read your father’s will. I’m sorry it’s so soon. I really do wish you had more time to process but we need to give an official statement to the media soon concerning the company and the board is starting to get antsy as well. Don’t worry it’ll all be a very private thing. Just me, you and a few shareholders and people from the legal team at Stark Industries.”

Tony nodded numbly. It hadn’t really hit him that he would never see his mother again or hear her voice or even be yelled at by his father again. Even though he wouldn’t particularly miss that last one. At least it was good that things were moving along quickly he longed to back at boarding school where he had built a life for himself without his dad’s name involved. Most people didn’t give a shit that he was Howard Stark’s son or expected something from him because he was Howard Stark’s son. But that also meant no one gave a shit about him. No one made an effort to be his friend or continued his conversations. Well besides Hope Van Dyne but she initially only talked to him to see if it would piss off her dad, who was a known rival of Tony’s dad.

The afternoon went by in a blur as Tony caught up with the Jarvises. They were both visibly shaken which was a state that Tony wasn't used to seeing them in ever. Ana and Jarvis were always steady and strong and to see Jarvis’s hair in a state that wasn’t gelled back to perfection and Ana with bags under her eyes really made everything else more jarring and real.

Soon enough, Tony was making his way to his father’s office where seemingly everybody was waiting just for Tony to arrive. He shuffled in the room awkwardly, his shoes making a noise that would only be so loud in such a silent room. The inside of the room looked exactly how Tony remembered. Exactly how his dad had left it. Two proud bookshelves stood next to his father’s desk. Tony knew those bookshelves and how they were filled only with books that had mention of the great Howard Stark in them. The large cushioned chair next to the window, where Tony knew Howard liked to have his afternoon whiskey, was left empty. It’s soft brown leather reflected sunlight and looked accommodating like it was waiting for Howard to sit in it once more.

Like Obie had said there weren’t many people in the room. Just a man in his late fifties who stood behind the dark wooden desk with a briefcase who must be the man reading his dad’s will along with three rows full of people Tony assumed to be Stark Industries board members or from SI’s legal department. There were platters here and there of food that was typically made by the Jarvises for parties. Tony grimly remembered that this was kind of the exact opposite of a party

He sat in between a smartly dressed older woman and Obie, who gave him a sympathetic smile. For the most part Tony tuned out the will reading, instead, he thought of the Jarvises. He hoped that they would still stay. With his mother and father gone and Tony away at boarding school, they no longer had big responsibilities. But if it were up to him, which it is now, the Jarvises would work here forever and retire here with the mansion to themselves. It was the least Tony could give them.

Most of the will reading he listened for was pretty boring. Tony got a lot of property he wouldn’t be able to touch until he was at least 18 and Howard’s majority company shares, of course. He had discussed it with Obie the night before and decided it would be best for Obie to be in charge until Tony became 21 which Tony had absolutely no problem with.

“And lastly, I, Howard Anthony Walter Stark, leave the custody of my only child and heir, Anthony Edward Stark, to one of my most trusted friends Margaret Elizabeth Carter,” the man who had introduced himself as Mr. Summers behind the desk read.

Tony noticed a certain tension that hadn’t been in the room before build up as the SI employees fidgeted and Obie’s grip on the armrest of his chair tightened. Tony hadn’t really thought about who would be responsible for him. He sort of just figured he was old enough and he would go back to school and come back home for the holidays to spend them with the Jarvises and maybe Obie. He had never even heard of a Margaret Carter who was supposedly one of his dad’s most trusted friends.

Mr. Summers, obviously sensing the tension in the room as well, cleared his throat and asked, ”Is there a Ms. Carter present today?”

To Tony’s surprise, the older woman next to him spoke up in a sharp British accent similar to Jarvis’s but not quite the same, ”Yes I am.” The room was still once again as Mr. Summers packed his things back into his briefcase and left. Everyone stayed afterward, taking a chance to eat some of the food and express condolences, that he knew were just for show, to him and Obie. Obie had stepped away towards a corner to speak with the woman who had reintroduced herself as “Peggy”.

He studied her carefully from afar, actually looking at her she reminded him of Ana with a no bullshit type of vibe about her. He could already tell by the way she was making the vein in Obie’s forehead pop out and by her unwavering posture where weaker men had folded before Obie. Her greying dark brown hair sat on her shoulders in perfect curls and her red lipstick shone with light from the setting sun.

Tony didn't know what he was supposed to do. Maybe he could convince Obie to be the one to take him in. Obie didn’t have any family to his knowledge and he wouldn’t even have to live with him and everything would stay the same. Would Obie even want him? The sting of rejection rang heavy in his heart. Maybe he could tell Obie it was just for appearances and that he didn’t need someone to actually look after him. Maybe this Margaret Carter wouldn’t want him. She didn’t know him and he didn’t know her. He doubted she wanted an annoying teenager.

Tony started thinking and couldn’t possibly imagine when his dad could have met this woman. Maybe she was a shareowner in Stark Industries or one of his mom’s socialite friends. Neither of those made sense if she was one of Howard’s closest friends and he had never seen her before. A possibility ran through Tony’s head. What if this woman was an old lover of his dad’s? Or even his mother? He had known his parents had had difficulties in having him. Tony had seen his mother in one of her episodes sob with a small pink dress in her hands and every year on the same day she had “an event” to go to and came back upset and needing twice the regular dosage of her medicines. It made sense to have a child through another woman but to give her custody of him was another level of confusing even for his parents. Well then maybe it was an affair. Howard was never particularly devoted to his mother but then again he wasn’t devoted to other women either. His dad likely knew he didn’t turn heads like he used and instead devoted himself to work.

Obie looked away from her for a second coincidentally meeting Tony’s eyes and waved him over. Whoever she was, he suspected he was about to find out.