The director of S.H.I.E.L.D marched down the empty hallway with purpose. Located in the far corners of the helicarrier where only those with the access codes could enter the room, silence filled the space. Those who didn’t have access wouldn’t even see what color the door was, let alone see the hallway that connected to it. Without pressing buttons or using any scans the double metal doors slid open the moment he was inches away from it. He walked further in, passing machines and furniture that was scattered and the kitchen where a boiling pot was steaming, emitting the aroma of cooked broccoli before entering the lab.
“Anthony Stark!” Nick Fury barked when he spotted the one he came to see. He was standing in front of a giant screen that was buddied up by dozens of smaller screens around it and a giant keyboard connecting at the bottom.
Tony Stark jumped an inch in the air. All four of his hooves not touching the floor for a split second. He turned and had the decency to look panicked. “What’d I do now?”
Fury took a moment to acknowledge Jarvis standing in front of a table and stirring a steaming bowl, facing him. “Jarvis.”
He pinned his glare back at Tony, “Mind telling me why my agents are complaining about viruses that are attacking their personal devices and unable to get rid of them?”
“Oh, that,” Tony rubbed the back of his neck. A tell.
“Yes, that. Is this your doing?”
Fury took a deep breath, settling down his nerves that seemed to only react when the centaur was involved. “Elaborate, Tony. I need an explanation.”
Tony shuffled his front hoofs, lifting one and placing the other and repeating the action with his other leg. His tail flicked back and forth, “It’s Vision. He heard those agents talking about… me. He got back at them.”
And there it was. Just like that Fury’s… fury disappeared and was replaced by exhaustion. This wasn’t the first time Vision got protective of the genius and this certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Rumors had been going on about what could possibly be locked inside the room at the belly of the helicarrier, and while some rumors were downright ridiculous (a possible second Hulk trapped inside and studied for future Hulkings) some rumors hit a little bit close to home for Tony’s self-esteem.
“Do I want to know what they said this time?”
Tony looked away and faced the ground, meaning he wasn’t going to get the answer from him. Instead, Fury looked up at the ceiling (even though Tony had said time and time again Vision wasn’t up there exactly), “Vision what did they say?”
“The agents spoke of a hybrid monster who feasts on children,” the cool, accented voice of Vision said. And from the tone Fury figured the AI was still mad about it.
Hell, Fury was mad, too, now that he heard it, and no doubt Jarvis was also. Looking at the centaur he noticed the tense shoulders and the tense hind legs. This was affecting Tony in more ways than one and Fury was not going to let it stand without action. He made a mental note to ask Vision to let the viruses last for an entire week and to have their ringtones changed.
“Vision sign those agents up for double shifts and send them to seven hours of training. I want them worked to the bone.”
“Right away, Director,” replied the AI, and he swore he heard a sadistic tone from it.
“Nick,” Tony whined. “I don’t need you defending my virtue.”
Fury played innocent, “Who said anything about defending? Those agents have been slacking and they need to get in shape. Send a message to Coulson to have stacks of paperwork ready on their desks, Vision. Two week’s worth.”
“Of course, Director. Anything else?”
Fury grinned, “Spam them.”
Tony huffed, “Are you both done? Don’t you have other important director things to do, like actually have your agent’s work on real problems?”
Fury took steps forward, standing next to the centaur and looking up at the multiple screens showing different parts of the helicarrier and a few street cameras from various places of New York. “It’s been a slow week. Seems everyone thought to take a short break.”
“How fitting, considering what happened earlier this week.”
“And how do you know what happened earlier this week?”
Tony grinned, “It was Vision. I had nothing to do with it.”
“I deny such accusations,” Vision instantly quipped.
Fury cut them off, “Tony.”
“Like you could have kept that information from me. I built this helicarrier and the communication system it runs. We knew the moment the first message was sent.”
“And what do you say?” There was no point in trying to argue against the genius. Whether he liked it or not, Tony was going to eventually find out anything new involving S.H.I.E.L.D. There wasn’t much anyone could hide from him, especially when he had a state of the art AI on his side. Instead of fighting him on it Fury had learned to just go along with it. It produced faster results and allowed him to be involved instead of having Tony work behind his back.
“If I can study him uninterrupted I can have him awake in no time. My only concern is his mental state when he finds he’s missed seventy years.”
Fury nodded, “We’ll worry about that. You just get him up and walking. I’ll give you three hours uninterrupted.”
Tony slightly bounced in excitement, “I’ll fire up the suit and have Vision go down. Vision prepare the Mark IV. Now’s the perfect time to test the new brainwave features.
“As you wish, Sir.”
“Vision cancel that,” Jarvis ordered as he made his way to them with the steaming bowl held in his hands. “You aren’t going near any frozen soldiers or test any new armor features until you’ve eaten, Anthony.”
Tony deflated and had the makings of a pout starting, “But, Jarvis -”
“None of that. You have one option and that’s finishing this bowl, only after will you be trying to wake up Captain America.”
The centaur looked to Fury, his eyes asking for aid but he wasn’t going to get any from the director, especially if it involved going against Jarvis. The butler was ruthless. “Don’t look at me. This is Jarvis we’re talking about. Besides, growing boys need their nutrients.”
“I’m forty-two years old!” Tony whined the same old song Fury, Jarvis and Vision were far too used to.
On cue Fury responded with, “You may be forty-two in our years but you don’t look a day over eighteen,” and it was true. Over the years they found out that centaurs, or at least Tony, had a longer lifespan than a human’s. Already he went through forty years and yet appeared so young, looked like an eighteen-year-old human boy. They estimated, with a bit of blind calculation and the fact that Tony went through the teenage rebellious years, that Tony was just shy away from either being considered eighteen or twenty years old.
It was a good thing Fury wasn’t exactly a normal human himself and his body had more years than a typical lifespan. He’d hate to imagine the living circumstances the young centaur would be in, considering he and Jarvis had (for lack of a better word) ‘custody’ over Tony, since Howard Stark kicked the bucket years ago. Anyone power hungry and with selfish intentions would drool at the chance to have Tony under their wing. The centaur was a genius, creative and could invent almost anything if he set his mind to it. Only being held back by human restrictions (meaning that he couldn’t just wander around the streets or even walk around the helicarrier).
Fury made sure to keep those power hungry bastards at bay while Jarvis made sure Tony was cared for as a parent would care for a child. Stark hadn’t been exactly the best adoptive parent around. Scratch that, he was the worst. He only looked at the centaur as an opportunity and took advantage of his name as a claim on Tony. The only good thing Stark had done was provide Tony immunity against unfavorable characters who were curious to study the centaur and ‘make sure he wasn’t a threat against humanity.’ He also provided Tony his name, the one thing that made the centaur happy as he was able to share this with humans.
With a grumble and a pout, Tony grabbed the bowl and began grudgingly eating it. His manners were atrocious. The soup decorated his chin every time he swallowed a spoonful, and Jarvis made sure to inform them all about it. “You may look young but that doesn’t mean you can eat like a child. Honestly, manners were invented.”
Tony flicked his tail back and forth in controlled excitement. “I really want to get started on studying Captain America, Jarvis. I mean, it’s Captain America! He’s waited long enough and I can finally meet him in person, or - well, my armor can meet him in person.”
Fury and Jarvis took note of how Tony’s voice grew small. Hearing the young centaur talk of how he could meet others, new people, important people, his heroes, only to remember of the unspoken rule they were all aware of. How he couldn’t meet them, not in person, not in the flesh, because he wasn’t human, always broke their hearts. The one thing Tony wanted in the whole world, to walk down the streets and be normal, was the one thing he could never have.
Of course, that wasn’t about to stop Tony. If he couldn’t see them as himself he went for the next best thing, wearing a mask and operating it from the shadows. The armor wasn’t exactly the best mask to meet people, but it was perfect for Tony’s style. It showed genius, uniqueness, the right amount of flashy performance and, most importantly for the centaur, it looked human. Robotic, but human, and because Tony loved that armor so much and gave him the freedom he'd always wanted Fury fought anyone who dared try and take it away from him. Those that try are few in numbers and that was to be expected. After all who was stupid enough to go against someone with access to a protective AI? With technology these days there was hardly anything that Vision couldn’t obtain info on.
Fury prayed for mercy for those who manage to anger Vision.
“Rogers has waited seventy years. He can wait a few hours more until you finish. He’s not going anywhere,” Fury said, crossing his arms.
Tony huffed but continued eating without another complaint. He ate slower compared to the start but his excitement was still evident and he practically galloped over to the armor’s controls when he was finished. Fury watched as the controls wrapped around Tony’s front portion of his body. Control gloves were put on his hands and his two front hooves were fitted inside boots. And from the corner of the room where a glass case was located a hissing sound came to be and as Tony took a controlled step forward out came Iron Man from the case, mimicking his movements.