Chapter 1: Prologue: The Twins and Jay
Tony Stark was seventeen when his first child was born.
What had started out as a robot he’d built for the 4th Annual MIT Robot Design Award the year before came alive with Tony’s first forays into AI programming. It was a basic program, but that just made Tony love him even more. It took two years of upgrades, both in body and code, before he felt satisfied that he was learning and functioning properly. The bot was a bit of an idiot, but he was also a baby so Tony thought it was to be expected. That didn’t stop him from calling him Dum-E though.
A week after Dum-E first came online, Tony received a call about his parents’ deaths and spent the night in a drunken haze tucked against his son.
Tony Stark was twenty when his second child was born.
U was modeled both in form and code after Dum-E, though the latter was modified slightly to ensure they’d have a separate personality from their older brother. They might have gotten their name during a drunken episode of Tony’s. If they had, then they’d refused to let him change it.
Tony Stark was twenty-five when the man who raised him died, and when his third child was named after him.
J.A.R.V.I.S. was a massive step up from the programming he’d done for the twins. He didn’t have a body, so to speak, as his interface was spread across Tony’s Malibu mansion. He ran the security for the mansion, as well as the air conditioning, lights, stereo, and basically anything else that could be tied into his system.
With time, that control would grow as he did.
Despite many thinking otherwise, J.A.R.V.I.S. wasn’t an attempt at replacing the late butler, but an homage to the man who had cared for Tony when his parents wouldn’t. A name passed on like many others who name their children after their parents.
Chapter 2: Boy Wonders, Part 1
Harley's mom's name is a reference, because I'm physically incapable of not making references when I can. It's just too much fun. You'll see a lot of them in this story.
Tony Stark was twenty-six when his fourth and fifth children were born.
The first time he met Mary Parker, she was on her husband’s arm at a conference Tony was speaking at. The second time he met her, she was relaxing back against the counter of his hotel’s bar watching her husband slip off with a blonde.
“Marriages work out better if you just let each other do what or who they want. Communication and all that,” she’d explained with a shrug and a smirk when he joined her for a drink.
He didn’t remember most of what happened after that, just a few fuzzy memories of fruity drinks and dropping onto the bed in his room with the woman.
When he woke up, it was to an empty room.
He’d shrugged it off, it wasn’t the first time. And when he checked his computer and noticed someone had gotten through his firewalls, he shrugged that off too. It also wasn’t the first time, and she, like the others, hadn’t even noticed the actual security on the computer, let alone gotten past it.
Victoria Richards was a feisty woman who Tony had met in a club after a presentation at Tennessee Tech. He’d been deep in his cups when they met, trying to distract himself from the recent loss of Edwin Jarvis.
Then she’d come up, dirty-blonde hair falling loosely onto bare shoulders. His eyes had immediately landed on swinging hips barely covered in daisy dukes.
“How ‘bout a dance, cowboy?” she’d giggled, dropping her cowboy hat onto his head.
“Just a dance?” he’d asked.
She’d winked and grabbed his hand, tugging him up to his feet and nearly falling over in the process.
They’d both been way too drunk to think about being cautious.
In the two years Happy had been working for Tony, he’d seen a lot of women who swore they were carrying or had carried his boss’s child. It wasn’t a far fetched story by any means; he’d well earned the playboy title. That didn’t mean any of them were telling the truth, of course. Half of them had never met Tony, and those that did gave up at the announcement they wouldn’t even be getting anywhere near him until they passed the paternity tests.
Victoria Richards was different than all the ones that came before.
First off, she came directly to him instead of marching into some Stark Industries building or another and asking for Tony.
“Sir, you work with Mr. Stark, right?”
Happy turned to see a young woman staring at him with arms crossed. His first thought was reporter, but she was wearing a baggy flannel shirt and torn up jeans with her hair up in a frumpy ponytail. Not exactly the usual flirty or professional look reporters digging around into his boss gravitated towards.
“I work for him.”
“You his driver?” she asked, glancing at the car.
“Bodyguard,” he corrected. Technically, he was the one that drove Tony everywhere when he didn’t decide to race Happy, but that didn’t change his actual job title.
“Then you work with him,” she said with a shrug, as if it was that simple. She pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and shoved it into his hand. “Give that to him, would you.”
Happy didn’t respond, too distracted by how distended her stomach looked with her arms down.
Her arms crossed again and he looked up to meet her glare. “I know what you’re thinking, and you can shove it where the sun don’t shine. I ain’t looking for money. Just wanna be sure that when my baby asks why they ain’t got no daddy, they can hate him for not being there instead of me for not trying.”
“And the child support?” Happy scoffed.
The woman’s eyes narrowed even more and she turned her nose up at him. “Like I said, I ain’t lookin’ for money,” she growled and he noticed her accent grew stronger in her anger. “I was raised on a farm, I can take care of myself and my baby on my own. I’m only here because I ain’t gonna lie and tell my baby I tried when I didn’t. I don’t actually expect anything from him.” As if to prove her point, she turned on her heel and marched off. “Just give him the damn letter.”
Happy glanced down at the note and opened it. He quickly read it through to see that it said much the same as she’d already told him, though with the addition of her name and number as well as a note that if Tony could “be man enough” to actually want to see the kid, he could, but if he tried to take them away from her, she’d do something that would really cut into Tony’s playboy lifestyle.
The bodyguard sighed and ran over to the woman. “Hey, I’m sorry, but it’s Stark Industries policy that anyone attempting to speak to Mr. Stark,” he waved the letter, “in any form, about a supposed child has to first allow for a paternity test to be administered before any contact will be allowed.”
He almost thought Victoria would just keep on walking, but instead she turned to him with a huff. “I ain’t paying to have a bunch of doctors stick all their needles in me and my baby.”
Happy blinked at her. “It should only be one needle, in your arm, and Stark Industries will cover the costs. It will all be done in house.”
She stared at him for a moment then shrugged. “Alright then, my flight doesn’t leave until tomorrow anyway. Lead the way.”
“Come on, Happy, you should have gotten a Happy Meal!”
Ignoring his boss’s joking, Happy accept the bag of food from the woman in the drive-through and pulled away. He drove a few blocks before parking and handing Tony his cheeseburger, fries, and drink.
He kept an eye on their surroundings as he started eating his own hamburger, only letting himself be distracted for a moment when he looked down to grab his ringing phone. “Hogan.”
“Mr. Hogan? This is Dr. Arzt. I’m calling in regards to the test you requested be done for Victoria Richards. The results are in.”
“And?” he asked.
“They were positive.”
“What’s up, Hap?” Tony asked as he coughed, leaning over the seat.
“Are you sure?” he asked, ignoring his boss.
“Quite. I ran the tests thrice just to be sure, given what a positive would mean. All came out the same.”
In Happy’s defense, he was a little distracted, so he can be forgiven for not remembering what happens when his boss gets ignored.
“What would a positive mean?” Happy heard both from inside the car and coming out of his phone.
He glanced back to see Tony with his phone to his ear. The billionaire gave him a wink.
“M-Mr. Stark! I’m sorry, I didn't know you were on the line!”
“He wasn’t before,” Happy growled.
“I had to know who was making my Happy sad-y,” Tony chuckled. “So, who is this?”
“I’m Dr. Arzt, Mr. Stark. I’m the on-call doctor at -”
“Why are you seeing a doctor?” Tony asked with a raised eyebrow. “And why are they running tests? If you die on me, Happy, you’re fired.”
“Thank you, Dr. Arzt. I hope I don’t have to remind you what you’ll be facing if this gets out.”
“Of course not, Mr. Hogan, Mr. Stark. If you have any other questions, let me know.”
“We will. Goodbye.” Happy hung up the phone and Tony copied him with a raised eyebrow.
“What’s going on?”
“A woman came up to me yesterday. I brought her in and we… initiated Code Arthur.”
“Code Arthur?” Tony asked, but Happy caught him pushing up his glasses. He recognized the code.
“That was the doctor with the results,” he said, not humoring his boss.
Tony sighed and slouched down. “Positive, huh?”
“So who’s the lucky lady?”
“Victoria Richards.” Happy pulled the letter out of his pocket.
“Never heard of her.”
“Well, considering what she’s carrying right now, you’ve definitely met,” he snorted, handing the paper over.
Tony frowned at it. “How much she asking for? Or is she in it for the fame?”
“None, and no.” Tony’s eyes widened. “Read it.”
“Just a minute,” Tori called, adjusting the blouse she’d just been about to take off.
As she made for the door, she swore under her breath. Heaven help her, if it was Jackson Willis from down the street again, she’d be pulling out the shotgun.
She pulled the door open with as pleasant a smile as she could manage after working two extra shifts at the diner while four months pregnant. The smile immediately fell away.
She should have brought the shotgun.
“May I come in?”
Tori crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Why are you here?”
“I got your letter.”
“Clearly. So you wanted to turn me away in person,” she snorted with a smirk.
He blinked at her then chuckled. “Right, you’re daisy dukes from Tennessee.”
“Why am I not surprised that’s how you remember the woman you’ve slept with?”
He just shrugged. “I like to get around. And it’s not like the ladies I’m with are the kind to expect me to stick around after. Or if they are, it’s not because of my winning personality.”
“True.” Tori had only agreed to go back to his room because she’d been looking for some fun and time away from her pushy cousins. She hadn’t even known who he was until the next morning when she’d woken up to a note giving her permission to order anything she wanted from room service.
She hadn’t taken him up on the offer. Her parents raised her better than that.
Stark opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by a loud shout. “Hey Vicky, you okay over there?”
Tori shot the tall man a glare from where he was standing on the side of the road. “Get lost, Willis!”
“This guy bothering you?” Jackson asked, ignoring her and stepping forwards, eyeing Stark.
She rolled her eyes and turned back to the billionaire. “Get in here before I decide to shoot him.”
Stark smiled and strutted in while she gave Jackson a death glare. “Get off my property, Willis and stop calling me Vicky!” She slammed the door and turned to her unwanted guest. “Mind yourself, Stark. You’re only in here because I’m sick of that hovering act he’s been playing since the town found out about the baby. Now, why’re you here? If you think I’m going to the press you can relax. I don’t want none of that nonsense near me, let alone my baby.”
Stark shook his head. “Yeah, I got that from the letter. You don’t want anything to do with me or Stark Industries. Understandable.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Then why?”
When Stark started fiddling with his sunglasses, Tori felt the urge to yell at him that sunglasses weren’t allowed inside.
God help her, she was already turning into her mother.
“Look, let’s be real. I’m well aware that I’d be an awful father. But -”
Tori scowled and wrapped an arm protectively around her stomach. “If you think you’re taking them, I’ll remind you of the letter.”
Stark immediately started shaking his head. “Woah, hold on. No, nope, no way. Didn’t I just say I’d be an awful father? Horrible really. Terrible! Maybe not the worst, but up there. Down there? Anyways, no, I’m not going to take them from you. That would be a bad idea and I only have good ones.”
Tori snorted and Stark relaxed, smiling once more.
“No, I’m not going to take them, but I do want to help out.”
“Help out?” she asked and despite herself, she felt herself relaxing too. “Like I told your buddy, I don’t want your money. I can take care of the kid on my own.”
Stark gave a nod. “I’ve no doubt, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it easier on you. I’ve done the research on the flight over. Single mothers tend to work long hours to make ends meet unless they’ve got financial backing from elsewhere or a really high paying job. I can give you either of those or both even.”
“I’m not gonna let you spoil my kid, Stark.”
“Not spoiled, did I say spoiled? No, I was spoiled and look how I turned out!” Stark mimed gagging and a few giggles spilled out of her. “No, just enough to make sure you are both taken care of.”
“Look… Can I call you V? Vic? I know not Vicky, but Ms. Richards is way too formal and Victoria is way too long.”
“Just call me Tori,” she sighed.
“Right, sure, Tori. Like I said, single mom’s work a lot. I grew up with a parent that spent more time working than parenting, wouldn’t wish that on any kid, especially not one I brought into the world. I won’t force my money on you. You tell me to leave and never return, I will. I’d like to do something though, even if it’s just… What would be the typical child support around here?”
Tori gave him a blank look.
“Right, I can have someone look into that. Or a job, one that would give you both good hours and good pay. I could do that too if you don’t want money.”
“I’m not moving and I’m sure you don’t have anything out here in the middle of nowhere.”
“Money it is then?”
She snorted. “You’re never going to let me say no are you?”
He shrugged. “Like I said, tell me to leave and I’ll leave. I just haven’t heard you tell me to leave.”
She eyed him up and down then nodded. “I don’t need a ton of money, but I wouldn’t mind not having to work multiple shifts. You give me what any of these idiots around here could give me and not a penny more.” He opened his mouth and she put up her hand. “No, my turn. That’s all the money I want from you, but I also want health insurance, the good kind. And with dental and vision too.” Because she wasn’t letting Stark spoil her kid, but she also wasn’t letting them not get the care they might need just because she couldn’t foot a bill. “For both of us,” she added on because she also wasn’t leaving them alone for the same reason. “And college.”
“Of course, they’ll have a full-ride into any college they want!” Stark agreed before she could continue.
“No,” she crossed her arms again. “They’ll have a full-ride into any college they can get into on their own merits. I won’t have you bribing their way through school. I want them to do well, but I want them to be the one doing it.”
“Of course they’ll do well, they’re a St- They’ve got my genes.”
That… was a good point, admittedly. Hadn’t she read that Stark’s father had been a bit of a genius too when she’d been looking into the man? Maybe it was in the genes. Could her child be as smart as him? More so? “Either way, their own merits. And if they don’t want to go to college, or if they’re not as smart as you’re expecting, you better keep your mouth shut about it. You be proud even if they’re destined just to be a pig farmer, you hear me.”
Stark blinked at her. “Would it really matter? It’s not like I’ll be…” he trailed off, waving his hand vaguely around.
“Like hell you won’t,” she hissed, marching up to him. “You want to help out in their life, then you be in their life. That’s my next condition. I won’t have you just being an ATM. I’m not expecting you to move in or something, but you visit your kid. On birthdays, Christmases, and the like, you’re here. And phone calls in between. You got me?”
Stark was actively gaping at her. “You… You’d want me here?”
“No, I’m telling you that if you’re going to be in my life, let alone theirs, you’re going to at least try not to be a complete donkey about it. Now, do we have an agreement?”
Stark looked at the hand she held out like it was a rattlesnake, but took it. “Alright, I agree to your terms. For the record, that last one was a terrible idea on your part.”
Chapter 3: Boy Wonders, Part 2
“If I wanted to be teased, I would have called the baby mamma.”
“How’s Mamma feeling today?” Tony chirped as soon as the call connected.
“Never call me that again, Stark,” Tori deadpanned.
“Ah, cranky, I see. So everything’s normal!”
“I’m flipping you off right now, just so you know.”
“What did the doctor say?” Tony reached for a wrench, only for Dum-E to grab it and zoom off.
“Everything’s looking good and right on track. She even got a good enough shot to find out the gender.”
Tony watched as U intercepted their brother and grabbed it, zooming over to Tony only to toss it back to Dum-E.
“What we looking at?” he asked and got up to grab a new wrench as the two devolved into playing fetch with each other.
“You’ll have to wait until you get your copy of the ultrasound to find out.”
“Can’t I at least get a hint?” he asked, dropping onto his creeper and getting back under the car he was working on.
“Alright, fine… I think I’m going to go with Harley for the name.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “You were going to name them Harley either way.”
“Sir, there is someone at the door for you.”
“Tony Stark has a visitor, I’m shocked!”
“Not that type of visitor, Ms. Richards. She claims to be a work associate. A Mrs. Mary Parker.”
“Ah, the latest spy,” Tony snorted pulling himself out from under the car.
“Corporate espionage. People seem to think it’s easy to get ahold of my things if a pretty lady gets me near a bed.”
“Are they wrong?” both Tori and J.A.R.V.I.S. say together, though Tori is more teasing and J.A.R.V.I.S. honest confusion.
“No, but it’d take someone a lot longer than a night to be able to get the good stuff off my tech, and I tend to keep them distracted for most of the night, as you probably remember, Tor-Tor.”
“Ugh, knock it off before I throw up. I get enough of that during the bouts of morning sickness.”
“Sir, Mrs. Parker?”
“Right, right, let her in, but keep an eye on her. Any of her tech gets near ours, I give you full permission to shock her. Let her know I’ll be right up.”
“Have fun with your spy!”
“Yeah, yeah, have fun with your mood swings and cravings.”
“Still flipping you off.”
The line went dead as Tony wiped the grease off his hands.
When he reached the living room, Mary Parker was standing near the door. She was dressed in a navy pantsuit just as prim as the one she’d worn last he’d seen her. Which was slightly offset by the large colorful bag on her arm and the pink backpack straps over her shoulders.
“Hello, Mr. Stark.”
“Hello, Spy. You here to tell me who you were working for? I know it wasn’t Hammer, never would have made it past the firewalls with his garbage. I’m thinking -”
“I’m not in the business of corporate espionage, Mr. Stark,” she chuckled. “Just the plain old ordinary kind.” She pulled out a badge and Tony whistled.
“What’d I do to tick off the CIA? Did you guys finally find out about me hacking the Pentagon?” Mary pursed her lips and he shrugged. “What can I say? I was ten and in high school. You don’t turn down a dare when you’re ten and in high school. Pretty sure you don’t turn down a dare when your ten, period, but what do I know. I was six the last time I spent time with ten-year-olds.”
“This… isn’t about you hacking into the Pentagon.” Oh, she was doing the Tony Stark’s Giving Me a Headache Nose Rub. He didn’t think spies would be capable of getting that annoyed. “Though I hope you realize I’m going to have to tell my CO about that now.”
Tony shrugged again. “It was sixteen years ago, and I was a minor. I didn’t even look at anything. Also, for the record, if the CIA’s looking to buy, then they can go through the official channels like everyone else.”
“I’m not here on CIA business.” Mary set down her bag then pulled her backpack off.
It wasn’t a backpack.
“Woah, you and Richard actually decided to settle down?” Tony asked, eyeing the small baby in the carrier she held.
“No, and that’s the problem. He’s my partner as well as my husband -”
“That sounds like it should be against the rules.”
“As such,” she continued, ignoring him. “When I am on a mission, he is as well. Our lives are far too occupied for a child. Were she Richard’s, we’d have left her with his brother while away. As she isn’t, Richard and I agreed that she’d be better off with her father.”
Tony stared at the baby. He tried to make a joke about helping Mary figure out who it was, but couldn’t get it out. She was CIA, she knew exactly who the father of her child was.
“You know, Stark Industries has a policy -”
“I’m aware. I’ve already had my people complete the tests. I have the results in her bag, though you're welcome to complete your own.”
Tony didn’t want to know why the CIA had a sample of his DNA, he really didn’t. He did, however, want to make sure an accident happened so that that file would mysteriously disappear.
That would have to wait, though.
“Let me get this straight: You got pregnant after our little tryst, and now you think you can just drop the kid off here without even a by your leave!”
“Yes.” Mary carefully set the baby down onto the couch, brushed a hand over her head, then turned to walk away. “All the documentation you’ll need is in the bag.”
“Hold on!” he called out, but she was already slipping through the door. He stomped after her and pulled the door open to see her getting into the backseat of a car. “Hey!”
She sighed and turned to him. “Mr. Stark, my life isn’t safe. You’re a good man, despite what the media tries to make you out as. I don’t know if you’ll keep her, and I don’t care. I just know wherever she ends up, you’ll ensure she’s taken care of. Goodbye.”
With that, she shut the door and the car drove off.
“Sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. said after a few moments. “The child has begun crying.”
Tony ran his hand over his face and went back inside. He stared at the squirming, whining baby on his couch for a second then asked, “Jay, what’s the likelihood that Tori would make fun of me if I call her?”
“One hundred percent, Sir.”
“Okay, she’s out. Who do you think? Ana or Rhodey?”
“Mrs. Jarvis will already be asleep by now.”
“Rhodey it is. Call him up, Jay.”
“Right away. In the meantime, I would suggest picking the child up.”
Tony frowned, but carefully picked up the baby and held her like the parenting books Tori forced him to read described. Thankfully she stopped screaming to stare at him with teary eyes.
“What did you do now?”
Tony pouted. “Why do you automatically assume I did something? Come on Honeybear, that hurts.”
“Are you saying you didn’t do something?”
“I mean, obviously I was involved, but this time it isn’t actually my fault.”
“Tones, what’s going on?”
“Remember Mary Parker?”
“Was she the one in Seattle with the braids or the one in Miami with the mermaid skirt?”
“The spy in D.C.”
“Oh, her,” Rhodey said and Tony could hear the glare in his voice.
The airman had been angry when Tony had told him what had happened, even when Tony had shrugged it off. He refused to listen when Tony pointed out that nothing had happened Tony hadn’t been open to beside the computer meddling, and it’s not like she’d gotten anything from that.
“What did she want this time? Did you figure out who she was working with? Please tell me you didn’t sleep with her again.”
“She’s CIA, and no, I didn’t sleep with her. She just showed up to drop off… something.”
“Something? What does the CIA want with you?”
“She wasn’t here on CIA business. She, uh, Well apparently she did manage to get something from me after all.”
“I’ve got a daughter.”
There were a few minutes of silence.
“At least, Mary said she’s mine. Haven’t had anyone do the test yet.”
“She dropped off a kid with you?”
“And then drove off without a word.”
“… Tony, how do you get yourself into these messes?”
“If I wanted to be teased, I would have called the baby mamma.”
“Thanks, Platypus, real funny. Now some advice would be nice.”
“Alright, alright, calm down. Let’s start at the beginning, does she have a name?”
“Let me see.” Tony walked over to the bag Mary’d left on the floor. He carefully knelt down to open the main pocket to find a variety of baby supplies and an envelope. He pulled out the envelope and dumped its contents out on the ground. He grabbed the birth certificate, saying, “It says her name’s Teresa Elizabeth Parker, born August tenth.”
“Okay, that’s a start. Now, how about supplies for little Teresa?”
“There’s some bottles and formula and diapers and things in the bag Mary left.”
“Things,” Rhodey chuckled. “Well, I don’t know everything a baby would need, but I think it’s more than that. You might want to call Tori for help with that.” At Tony’s groan, he laughed. “Tones, she’s going to find out eventually. Unless you plan on never letting Teresa know her little… sibling.”
Tony scowled at the pause. “She told you what gender Harley’s going to be! Unbelievable! Jay, hang up on the traitor and call Tormenter back!”
The call ended and Tony stood up, rocking Teresa slightly. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and sent Happy a quick text before Tori answered.
“Your spy gone already?”
“You told Rhodey before me!?”
“I like Rhodey.”
“Let me just say, it better be a boy. I can’t handle any more demanding women in my life.” Tony pulled his shirt out of the mewling Teresa’s grip before she could stick the dirty fabric in her mouth. He handed her a crinkly toy from the bag instead. “First you, now little Teresa here. What have I done to deserve being treated like this?”
“I’d offer to write up a list, but I doubt there’s enough paper in Tennessee. Who’s Teresa?”
“My daughter, and I have done nothing wrong in my life.”
“… You have a daughter?”
The sound of something falling sounded from across the line.
“My God! Tony, please tell me that Parks girl didn’t just drop a baby in your lap!”
“Parker, and she actually dropped the kid on the couch.”
“What the hell! Who would leave a kid with you?”
“A CIA agent, apparently.”
“Your life is a mess. Why am I letting you near my kid again?”
“No clue,” Tony bounced the baby when she started to get fussy again.
“You sure she’s yours?”
“She said she did the tests, but I’ve got Happy getting a doc so we can double-check. That reminds me, Jay, remind me we need to hack into the CIA’s database later so we can get rid of any samples of my DNA they’ve got.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Tony, do not hack the CIA. Jay, do not let him hack the CIA.”
“Of course, Ms. Richards.”
“Whose side are you on?”
“Then act like it or I’ll donate you to a youth choir.”
“Can we get back to the part where you have a kid, one that isn’t mine?”
“I’d rather not.”
“How old is she?”
“She was born on the tenth.”
“And let me guess, you have no supplies.”
“Mrs. Parker left a baby bag.”
“Alright, Jay, stop getting involved in my conversations.”
“As you wish.”
“No more movie nights with Rhodey.”
“Whatever you say.”
“Let’s hope all your children aren’t as sassy as J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tori snorted. “So you literally need everything then? And since you’re calling me, that means you have no idea what you need. I’ll help you put together a list.”
“I seem to remember calling you because you told Rhodey the gender of the kid and not me.”
“Let’s see. You’ll need a crib, sheets, and blankets since I doubt you’d want her to sleep with you. She probably left you some diapers, but you’ll likely want some more. Not too many though in case she grows quickly. You’ll also -”
“Jay, make a list.”
He could almost hear Tori rolling her eyes, but she continued on, this time addressing J.A.R.V.I.S.
He listened to the two talk as he grabbed the bag, leaving the papers scattered on the floor. He went into the kitchen and prepped a bottle, following the directions on the tin.
“Maybe this will quiet you down,” he hummed as he held the bottle to her mouth.
“Sir, Mr. Hogan has arrived,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said before asking Tori, “ What color would you recommend?”
“Mute,” Tony said and the two’s conversation cut off.
When he opened the door, Happy was standing next to a tall, dark-skinned woman.
“Haps, who’s your friend?”
“Dr. Stark, my name’s Dr. Georgia Jenkins. A pleasure,” the woman said.
“It’s Mr. Stark. Or Tony. Let’s go with Tony, Doc. I’d shake your hand, but mine are a little full.” Tony stepped to the side and the two came in.
“Mr. Hogan explained the situation as far as he knew it,” Dr. Jenkins said, glancing around the living room before turning to Tony. “An old flame dropped off a child that she claims to be yours and you need a paternity test as well as a checkup?”
“Actually, I just texted Happy that a woman had dropped off a kid and took off, but sure, let’s go with that.”
Happy scowled, but the doctor just gave him a smile and stepped closer to look at Teresa. “How old is she?”
“Two weeks or so, according to the birth certificate,” he said, gesturing to the pile of paperwork.
Happy sighed and went to gather the papers as Dr. Jenkins set down her bag and took out a thermometer.
“Resa, sweety, say Dada. Daaaadaaaa. Daaaadaaaa!”
“She’s not going to be able to say anything, yet,” Rhodey chuckled. “And even if she could, her first word’s going to be Rho. Isn’t that right, sweetheart? Say Rho-Rho!”
“Daaaadaaaa!” Tony cooed, pushing Rhodey away and bouncing the five-month-old on his knees. “Daaaadaaaa!”
“Rho-Rho! Come on, Tessa, you know you love Uncle Rhodey better,” the major teased.
“Lies! Haps, Rhodey’s lying over here!”
Happy lowered the magazine he was reading to glare at his boss. “Keep it down. We’re trying to keep it low key, remember?”
Tony rolled his eyes and stuck his tongue out.
The three men looked up at the nurse standing near the doorway. They stood up and Tony passed Teresa to Rhodey.
“How are they?” he asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.
“Everything went fine. They’ve just been moved to the postpartum room. Would you like to see them?”
Tony turned to Rhodey and his friend smiled. “Go on. We’ll let them rest a bit longer before bringing Teresa in.”
He nodded then followed the nurse in.
Tori gave him a sleepy smile when he walked in and held out the bundle of blue fabric in her arms. “Say hello to Harley Nathaniel Richards.”
“Hey little Davidson,” Tony cooed, holding out his finger to his son.
Tori scowled and turned to the nurse. “Okay, he can leave now.”
The nurse looked between them nervously, but Tony just waved it off. “She’s joking.”
Tori flipped him off.
“I see you’re feeling fine then,” Tony teased as he watched the chubby fingers squeeze his own. “You okay for Happy and Rhodey to come in now? If you’re too tired -”
“I’m fine. If anything, I’ll be better off with Rhodey in here to calm you down.”
Tony shot the nurse a smile. “Would you mind fetching my relaxation Rhodey?”
The nurse frowned.
“The two gentlemen he was with?” Tori explained, slapping his side.
“R-right. Of course, I’ll be right back.”
“Do you want to hold him?” the new mother asked as the nurse slipped out the door.
His eyes lit up and he carefully took his son from her arms. “Hey there, Harls, welcome to the world.”
“Sir, Mr. Stane is calling. Should I send him to voicemail?” J.A.V.I.S.’s voice called out from the phone in his pocket.
Tony was tempted, very tempted, but he’d already run off on Obi the moment he’d gotten the text that Tori was going into labor. If he didn’t answer, his partner was likely to send someone after him and that could not happen.
He trusted Obidiah, but he also knew how the man would react to the news. Kids were a distraction, helping Tori was a waste, and Tony’s reputation would take a big hit if any of it was to come to light. Tony would be better off if he just let Obi either make it all go away or find a convincing cover.
Neither of those options worked for Tony, though, and he wasn’t going to go through the hassle of having to fight with Obi about it.
Tony sighed. “No, I’ll get it. Better to let Obi get it out of his system now.” He pulled his phone out and tucked it between his cheek and shoulder as the call was picked up. He ran his palm over his son’s head, saying, “You’ve reached the -”
“Where are you? There was a board meeting today!”
“Didn’t you get the memo? I told Jay to have my PA send out a memo. The board meeting was canceled.”
“You can’t just cancel board meetings, Tony.”
“Actually, I can. I am the CEO. It was an emergency, couldn’t wait, couldn’t be helped. Oh well.”
“You better not be collapsed drunk in your workshop or bedroom.”
“Nope, in fact, I’m not even in California. And we both know I haven’t had more than a few sips of wine in… How long, Jay?”
“Excluding the half glass of wine at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony and glass of champagne at the Stark Industries Christmas Charity Gala, you have not had a drink of alcohol in six months, one week, six days, and three hours.”
“Really, nice. I think I’ve earned a chip!”
“I do believe chips are only awarded to those who completely abstain, sir.”
“Tony, I don’t know what’s gotten into you these past couple months -”
The door to the room opened to let in Rhodey and Happy, who was now carrying a giggling Teresa, and an idea sprung into Tony’s head. Interrupting his partner's rant, he said, “Obi, I know you’re worried, but I really had to go. Major Rhodes called me up, needing my expertise with something. You can’t expect me to risk our Air Force contracts by turning away a decorated major in his hour of need, can you?”
Rhodey shot him a look and Tony pouted at him, holding his son a little higher.
“I don’t buy that for a second. I’m well aware of your friendship with Rhodes. You think I don’t know that if I call him up he’ll cover for you?”
Tony tucked Harley’s head next to his chin and batted his eyes.
The major caved.
Rhodey took the phone with a sigh and put it up to his own ear. “Mr. Stane… Yes, I’m sorry to have pulled Tony away from you. We needed help on an urgent, confidential mission… Yes. Of course… Yes… He should be able to return in two days, three at most… Yes, I’ll personally make sure he attends, thank you. Goodbye.” Rhodey hung up the phone and gave Tony a look. “The board meeting’s been rescheduled for four days from now. You will be attending.”
“Thanks, Honeybear, you’re the best,” Tony said, ignoring the comment as he came up to Happy and his daughter. “Look, my ray of sunshine, this is your baby brother. He’s named after a motorcycle, but we won’t judge him for it.”
“You named your firstborn Dum-E, you don’t get to judge,” Rhodey snorted, stealing the boy away from his father.
“He knows what he did,” Tony snorted.
“Your second born is U,” Tori added.
“First of all,” Tony huffed, crossing his arms. “They named themself. That’s not on me. Second, you’re the one always insisting the kids aren’t actually my kids.”
“Robots and a talking alarm system aren’t children, Stark.”
Tony gasped and clutched his phone to his chest. “Don’t listen to her, Jay! You are a real boy!”
Immediately “When You Wish Upon a Star” began playing on his phone.
A reminder that this is in the past, so that's why Rhodey's still just a Major.
While the Parkers had intended for Peter's (and yes, that's Peter. Note the trans tag) name to be pronounced the American way (tuh-REE-suh), Tony's Italian heritage peeked out so everyone's going to pronounce it that way (teh-REH-zuh), hence Tony's ray of sunshine nickname.
Can you guess where Peter and Harley's names come from?
Chapter 4: Boy Wonders, Part 3
Jen looked over the mansion as she got out of her car. “What have you got yourself into? God, this place looks like it costs more than my entire apartment complex. Doubled.”
Briefcase in hand, she approached the door.
“Hello, Ms. Walters,” a voice said before she could ring the doorbell.
Jennifer Susan Walters was a mousy girl, a bit nervous but with strong morals according to his research. The Los Angeles law firm she worked for was small, though it was not from lack of talent but lack of resources and connections. She also had all the right schooling for criminal law as well as civil, but had landed on the civil side; if from preference or her nervous tendencies acting up, Tony’s research couldn’t tell. The girl was smart too, maybe not on the level of Tony or her cousin, but definitely smarter than average.
Her cousin was the thing that sealed the deal, though. Dr. Bruce Banner was one of the few people on Earth Tony could consider an equal in intellect, even if he hadn’t had the chance to meet the other man. And she had spent every summer with him growing up.
If any lawyer would be able to keep up with Tony, it’d be her.
“Ah, Ms. Walters, have a seat!”
Grey eyes took in the room as the small girl shuffled over to the seat in front of his desk. They finally landed on him as she sat down, meeting his own for just a second before dropping down to around shoulder level.
“It’s a, uh, pleasure to meet you, Mr. Stark. Or do you prefer Dr. Stark? Sorry, I know they usually call you Mr. Stark on, well, everything, but I also know you have quite a few doctorates to your name. I couldn’t find anything in my research that suggested which you would prefer so I figured… I’d…” she trailed off when he raised a hand. “Sorry.”
Tony just gave her a smile and leaned forward. “Call me Tony. You researched me?”
“Yes? Sorry, it’s just that I always do a bit of research on my clients. Not that I think someone like you would want to be a client of someone like me! I know Stark Industries has a whole battalion of lawyers on call. I just, you know, like to be prepared. Sorry.”
“It’s fine. I did a bit of research on you, too. You’re right, Stark Industries has plenty of lawyers. However, I need a lawyer without a connection to the company. If I use one of them, then my business goes on the books and I’d rather avoid that.”
She twitched. “Mr. Stark, perhaps you weren’t aware, but I’m a civil lawyer. I know I have the training, but I like civil law so if you need some… off books help then -”
Tony laughter and shook his head. “Woah, okay, maybe that came out wrong. I’m not dealing under the table, Ms. Walters. A civil lawyer was what I was looking for. I just want someone I can trust won’t accidentally leave the wrong document on their desk so the office gossip pool can pick up. My people are good people, but they’re also corporate guys. Family stuff’s out of their experience.”
She relaxed. “Family stuff?”
“Yup. Won’t say more until I know we’ve got the whole attorney-client privilege thing going on. You in? I think it goes without saying I can pay your fees, and I can throw in some recommendations too. Help you move up to the big time where you belong.”
“I like small cases.”
He shrugged. “Then I can make sure you’ve got everything you need to do all the small cases your heart desires without having to worry about funds for a while.”
She looked away, contemplating. “Nothing under the table?”
“Promise. We can even add it to the contract if you want. Anything starts sounding iffy and you can back out without jeopardizing anything.”
She bit her lip, then nodded. “Deal.” She held out her hand then immediately tried to pull it away.
Tony took it before she could. “Deal!”
Jen looked over the mansion as she got out of her car. “What have you got yourself into? God, this place looks like it costs more than my entire apartment complex. Doubled.”
Briefcase in hand, she approached the door.
“Hello, Ms. Walters,” a voice said before she could ring the doorbell. “Sir is expecting you. Please have a seat in the living room. He will be with you in a moment.”
She stared around her incredulously, but she heard the door click a second later and it was unlocked when she tried it.
Figures someone with Stark’s wealth would have someone to remotely answer his door for him.
If she had to describe Stark’s living room with one word, she’d have to use bland. Modern might work too, but that was probably too generous.
The long couch was pale brown, the walls were a slightly different pale brown, the chairs were dark brown, the shiny floors were yet more shades of brown, the lounger was tan, and the tables were glass on dark wood. It might have looked nice if there was any character to it all. The walls, couches, and tables were all bare while there wasn’t so much as a throw rug on the floor.
Honestly, it was kind of disappointing. Jen was expecting paintings worth thousands of dollars, statues that probably should have been in a museum, and maybe some gold-plated or bejeweled something or others. Instead, she got… nothing. The only accent to the room was a pink blanket with tigers on it, which only seemed out of place as a result.
There was also a pair of folders on the table in front of the nearest couch, but she assumed those were for her given the note on top that read, For your lawyer. Don’t lose them, Tony. - Happy
“Sir, as I have been trying to tell you -”
“Don’t make me mute you, Jay,” came a harsh whisper and Jen turned to see Stark marching into the room. “I need to get Resa down before -”
Stark cut off as he saw her and she gave him a nervous wave.
“Mrs. Walters has arrived.” The voice from the door (Jay?) somehow managed to sound both devoid of emotion and completely exasperated.
The man shot the ceiling a glare. “Jay, for future reference, the next time you let someone in the house without asking me first, you are completely at liberty to cut me off, preferably before I walk into the same room as them with Resa,” he said, voice still low.
“Mr. Stark, I’m sorry. I was told to come in. I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said quietly, eyeing the child nuzzling up against his chest.
He waved her off. “Tony. And it’s fine. Jay’s still learning, and I did technically give you permission. Just, you know, some warning would have been nice.”
“I did try to warn you, Sir.”
“When did you get so snippy. You’re still a baby, you’re not allowed to be snippy,” the billionaire muttered, marching over to the couch to grab the blanket. “I’ll be right back, Jen. Just need to put the princess down for her nap.”
She watched him disappear back the way he came before saying, “Huh, so Stark has a kid.”
Frowning, she turned her gaze to the ceiling. “So, um, Jay, right? What do you do for Mr. Stark?”
“I take care of many functions within Sir’s residence, including such things as running the security system, assisting Sir with making or ignoring calls, and, as of Miss Teresa’s arrival, acting as a baby monitor.”
Her eyes widened. “Just that much alone sounds like a lot of work for one man.”
“It would be, yes, but I am not a man. At least, not a human one. I am a natural-language user interface computer system designed by Mr. Stark.”
Jen… didn’t know how to respond to that. He — no, it — was a computer, and yet it had sounded so animated. Especially while bickering with Stark. Heck, just the fact that the computer had bickered was shocking. Stark had clearly done a lot of work on its programming for it to have responses like that.
“You may sit if you would like. Sir should be back shortly. Miss Teresa usually takes to her naps easily.”
“I’m surprised he doesn’t have a nanny or something,” she said, continuing to converse with the computer without thinking.
“Given how public Sir’s life is, it would be too suspicious to have someone showing up to care for Miss Teresa, and even more so if they were to live in the mansion. Sir wishes to keep Miss Teresa out of the limelight for as long as possible. It has been difficult making sure she is cared for as a result, but we have managed between the six of us.”
“That was a really elaborate response for a computer.”
“Okay, let's get one thing straight,” Jen turned to see Stark glaring at her from the doorway, “we do not use such offensive words in this house. J.A.R.V.I.S. is a good boy, tied for best boy with his baby brother. He’s a highly sophisticated artificial intelligence program and should be treated with respect.”
Jen gaped at the man, even as the now named J.A.R.V.I.S. said, “Should Dum-E not also be considered best boy?”
“Not after what he did to my crowbar he shouldn’t,” Stark huffed, all evidence of anger gone in a flash.
“Dummy?” she asked as Stark came to sit next to her on the couch.
“Dum-E. A helper bot. One of two. You probably won’t see him. He’s shy and prefers the lab. You’ll see his twin, U, around, though. They’ve decided to switch their designation from lab assistant to babysitter, apparently. They follow Teresa everywhere.”
“They adore their baby sister,” J.A.R.V.I.S. agreed.
“How many AIs do you have?” she questioned, trying to wrap her mind around the fact that Stark not only had multiple AIs around his house, but he treated them like children, which in turn meant they treated his actual daughter like a sister.
“Just the twins and Jay,” he said, as if having three separate AIs was nothing. “But you’re not here for my older kids.” He grabbed the folders and handed them to her.
She opened the first to find a copy of Teresa’s birth certificate, but was surprised to see her parents were listed as Mary and Richard Parker. That was alleviated somewhat by the paternity test results and partially signed custody forms that followed.
“Teresa’s mother is giving you full custody?”
Stark snorted. “If that’s how you want to phrase her showing up at my house to drop a two-week-old on my couch and leave without a second glance, sure.”
Jen was appalled.
She knew Stark wasn’t a bad man — she wouldn’t have been there if he was — but he also wasn’t exactly the most stable person. Sure, he was rich, but he was also famously known as a disaster; taking woman after woman to his bed, drinking and partying night after night, and otherwise being a social hermit who locked himself away in a lab for an unhealthy amount of time before emerging with some new device for the military to blow things up with. As much as Stark was the brains behind the company, most knew it was actually Obidiah Stane who was running Stark Industries by this point.
Although, he’s been pretty absent the past few months, which would certainly be explained by the child sleeping somewhere in the house. Which means Stark could step up when forced, but still…
“Why would anyone just leave a child with someone like you?”
Stark raised an eyebrow.
Jen blushed as she realized she’d said that aloud. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it like that!”
Stark stared her down for a moment before he burst out laughing. “It’s fine,” he said once he’d calmed some. “Heck, it’s true. I thought the exact same thing when Mary dropped her off. Still do, honestly, but I’m not about to just toss her out into the system and hope for the best.”
Relieved that she hadn’t just angered her client, she took a closer look at the custody papers. “So you want my help filing the custody papers?”
“Yep, preferably as quietly as you can. I can handle making sure they stay nice and classified once they’re in, but the fewer people that know, the better.”
She tries not to think about the legality of what he just said. There are a lot worse reasons Stark could be using his hacking skills for than protecting his daughter from the paparazzi and would-be kidnappers. She thinks back on J.A.R.V.I.S.’s earlier comment and asked, “Who all knows about her?”
“Besides her siblings and myself, there’s also my bodyguard Happy, my best friend Rhodey, and my tormentor Tori.”
Based on her research, she assumed Happy must be Harold Hogan, the boxer turned bodyguard who’s the only one on the Stark Industries security detail Stark has allowed into his personal space since he took over the company. In the same vein, Rhodey was likely Major Rhodes: a former classmate, notable confidant, and the liaison between Stark Industries and the United States Air Force whenever Stark was personally involved, well on his way to being their official liaison. The name Tori didn’t ring any bells for Jen, though given the fondness in his voice, she assumed the title of tormentor was meant to signify some sort of playful antagonism that wouldn’t jeopardize Teresa’s safety.
“And there’s you, now,” Stark continued on. “As well as a pair of doctors professional and well-paid enough to know to keep their mouths shut. Oh, and the two listed on her birth certificate and their CIA commanding officer.”
“CIA?” she choked out.
“Do you require some water, Ms. Walters?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked as she coughed and she shook her head.
“Yeah, Mary was spying on me the night it happened. Don’t know why. I tried calling her up shortly after Teresa was dropped off, but her and her hubby were on a mission so I talked to her CO, Everett Ross, instead. He let me know they kept everything off books given both Mary’s status and mine.”
Jen supposed she shouldn’t be as surprised as she was about the kinds of people Stark just happened to know.
“Are you sure you do not want something to drink?”
“N-no, I’m fine. Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.” Deciding to focus on more familiar territory, she turned back to the custody forms. “Right, well, Mrs. Parker left most of the forms blank, only marking that you’ll have full custody before signing and witnessing the form. That honestly gives you free rein in deciding how you want it all to work.”
“What do you mean?”
She pulled a pen and a clipboard out of her briefcase. “Well, you’ll need to decide on custody rights and visitation.”
Stark’s face went blank. “I think Mary made it clear she didn’t want to be apart of Resa’s life.”
“Then sole physical and legal custody for you, with no visitation for the mother.” At Stark’s nod, she made a note of it and continued, “There is also child support, though…”
“I don’t exactly need it?” Stark offered with a smirk.
“And it wouldn’t be worth the hassle of trying to get it, since it could attract public attention,” she agreed, noting it down. “We can also put in for a change of name?”
Stark slumped slightly and shook his head. “Considered it, but it’s not worth the risk. Once she gets into school, having the name Stark would be flirting with disaster.”
“What about your mother’s maiden name?”
“Carbonell might not be as well known as Stark, but it would still be too much of a bullseye to the right crowd. Parker’s generic and doesn’t have any ties to me. I think it’s the safest bet.”
Jen gave him an understanding look. “I’m guessing you want to keep the rest of her name too then.”
Stark looked surprised before turning away. “We’ve all gotten used to her being Teresa, but… her middle name, can we change it to Ana?”
“Of course,” she said, curious about the choice but staying quiet. “I can get the paperwork in then drop off the updated birth certificate and social security card personally so no questions are asked. I’m guessing you’ll want to leave the listed parents as is.”
“Read my mind, Genevieve!”
She blinked at the nickname, but shook it off quickly. She double-checked that everything was now filled in on the forms before turning them so Stark could sign. As she filled in the witness portion, she asked, “Was there anything else I can assist you with?”
“I did give you two folders, didn’t I?” he teased.
Jen blushed and put away Teresa’s folder before opening the one she’d forgotten about.
She really should be getting used to being surprised by this point, but she was still shocked to find another birth certificate copy in the folder. This one was for a boy named Harley that was a month or so old with the only parent listed being a Victoria Susan Richards.
She flipped through the folder to find more paternity tests, a letter from Ms. Richards dated months earlier, and another set of custody forms, these ones completely filled in and simply waiting for Stark’s signature.
Seems Stark really has been busy the past few months, which explained why he’d fallen out of the limelight.
She frowned as something occurred to her and looked up at her client. “Can I speak frankly, Mr. Stark?”
“Tony, and please do,” he said sitting back with curiosity dancing in his eyes.
“Is this,” she gestured at the folder, “why you’ve suddenly gone dark on the party scene lately?”
He frowned, still curious, but a bit of confusion peeking through. “Yeah. Need to step up and be a bit more responsible. Resa and Harls need a bit more upkeep than their older siblings, after all. Can’t exactly go out partying while being a dad.”
“Yes, you can. And you should.”
Shock colored his face and he leaned forward. “Well, you're the first to share such an opinion. Care to explain?”
There was a hint of threat in his voice that had her shrinking in on herself, but she pushed on. “M-Tony, I may not be in with celebrities and the like, but I’ve read enough gossip mags to know how this kind of thing works. You’re a public figure, and when public figures suddenly change behavior with no warning, people get curious. They dig around until they either find out the truth behind the change or find enough breadcrumbs to come up with their own ideas, which can often be worse. If you don’t want someone to turn up the wrong stone and figure out what you’re hiding, you need to stop acting like you’re hiding something.”
Stark hummed and sat back. “Good point. Knew I picked the right person for the job! So, what do you suggest?”
“I, um, well, uh,” she stumbled before clearing her throat. “If-If you’ve got a project ready to be announced — something big preferably — you should announce it soon, then immediately get back on the party scene. I’m not saying you should get drunk all the time like before, but you need to fake it. Let everyone think it’s all just been an extended version of your working binges. Once everything’s calmed down, then you can cut back, gradually. Maybe you could…”
Final part for the boys' arc. Next Arc: Star Child
Chapter 5: Star Child, Part 1
“Tony, what is this?”
“This is a little girl, Rhodey.”
“Happy pointed that out already.”
“I told you he’s gone crazy,” Happy cut in.
Tony Stark was seventeen when his eldest child was born, but was twenty-seven when they first met, making her his sixth child.
Nebula was born to a noble family of Luphom. Her people were a strong, warrior race and she was trained to fight from the moment she could walk. She barely had any memories of her planet of birth, though, as she was still young when Thanos’s forces arrived. The titan himself struck down her family, but he spared her and judged her worthy of joining him.
From then on, he raised her to be an assassin. He was a harsh teacher, in that he didn’t teach her. When she was found wanting, he simply replaced whatever part of her he felt was lacking. Piece after piece was replaced until she was more cybernetics than girl.
When the day came that Thanos decided the girl wasn’t worth the effort, he activated the kill switch on her cybernetics and cast her out.
Gamora, another child of Thanos, felt pity for the younger girl and secretly placed her broken body into a pod instead of casting her out of an airlock. The pod was programmed with random coordinates far from Thanos’s fleet, which left it floating within the Earth’s solar system until it eventually crashed on the Stark Estate in New York. The pod had been destroyed in the crash, though thankfully Nebula survived with only some damage to her already permanently deactivated cybernetics.
Tony, who had been in town on business, returned to the mansion for the first time in years to look into the crash and discovered the girl barely alive in the crater. He brought her inside before anyone else could see her and laid her down on a table in his father’s old workshop.
After turning away the authorities that came around, he slipped back down to the workshop.
He stared at the girl for three minutes, his hand twitching for a bottle of scotch from his father’s bar, before starting to look her over.
The first thing he noticed was that the tech that was embedded into her was done so in a way that was far too precise for it to have been a result of the crash. The second was that the girl would not survive long without them and he did not have the right tools in his father’s outdated lab to fix her. Heck, he wasn’t even sure his lab, with the most up to date tech in the world, was high-tech enough. Whoever or whatever had done this had technology more advanced than anything he had ever seen before.
Good thing he was Tony Stark.
He pulled his phone out and dialed the number for his PA of the week.
“How can I help you, Mr. Stark?” she said as soon as she picked up.
“Let the plane know I want to be in the air heading to Malibu an hour ago.”
“You, I mean, of course, Mr. Stark, but I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that you have a meeting later wi-”
Tony rolled his eyes at her simpering voice. If she didn’t quit by the end of the week, then Obi’s complaining or not, she’d be fired. “You’re right, you don’t need to remind me.” He hadn’t remembered, but whoever it was could wait. “Tell them I’m very sorry, but an emergency came up, so I’ll have to miss the meeting.”
“Of course, Mr. Stark. Right away.”
Tony hung up then set his hands on his hips and looked around.
Happy raised an eyebrow when his boss came to the car with something wrapped in a tarp draped in his arms and a large rolling crate being tugged behind him, but otherwise only responded by opening the trunk.
Tony kicked the crate towards him. “Put that in there, would you?” he said before climbing into the back with his tarp.
“Where are we headed?” the bodyguard asked once he was in the car. He already knew they weren’t going to his boss’s meeting by the look on Tony’s face.
Happy hummed and started the car. He considered asking, but didn’t. Not during the drive. Not when his boss refused to let the tarp be placed in the cargo hold with the crate. Not when he waved off his PA to sit with the flight attendants so he could have some privacy.
It’s only when he turns down a call from Rhodey that Happy moves over to sit across from his boss, giving him a look.
“What?” Tony asked, barely taking his eyes off whatever’s hidden in the tarp for a second to acknowledge him.
“You left Teresa alone with Rhodey.”
“You never ignore a call from Rhodey when you leave her with him.”
“He would have let J.A.R.V.I.S. know if it was important.”
Happy doesn’t get to comment because his phone starts ringing at that moment. He gives Tony a look when it turns out to be Rhodey. He puts it on speaker. “Hogan.”
“Is Tony okay? He didn’t pick up the phone!?” came Rhodey’s frantic voice.
Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m fine.”
“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“Did something happen? Is Teresa okay?” Tony asked, his own voice beginning to pick up some of Rhodey’s worry.
“Nothing happened. She’s fine.”
“Then why are you freaking out?”
“Because you didn’t answer my call after leaving Tessa with me. You never do that.”
Tony shot Happy a look before he could say anything.
“So what’s wrong?”
Tony glanced down at the tarp and sighed. “I’ll explain when we get there, I swear. Can’t do it right now. Too complicated.”
“So why did you call?”
“I was going to ask you what you did with the crayons, but she got bored waiting and now has the DUPLO blocks out.”
“If they’re not in the crafts drawer, they’re in the lab. Dum-E’s been stealing them lately. He likes to play with them. Next time she wants them, tell U to bring them out for you. They can usually talk him into handing them over without a fuss if she wants to color right then.”
“I hope you realize how crazy that sounds.”
“He doesn’t,” Happy answers for his boss when the man just frowns.
“I think you’ve treated these bots like children so much they actually think they are children,” Rhodey chuckled.
“They are children. Troublemaking children at that,” Tony huffed.
“Tessa and Harls are going to grow up thinking of robots as humans, I hope you realize that.”
Tony rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to his tarp while Happy and Rhodey continued to discuss the point.
“Good evening, Sir. Major Rhodes and Miss Teresa are both asleep,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said quietly. “Will Mr. Hogan be staying for the night?”
“No,” Happy said, placing the crate filled with aircraft scraps down next to the elevator.
“Jay, repeat after me. Rhodey, Resa, and Happy.”
“No, thank you, Sir.”
Dusting off his hands, Happy shot Tony a frown. “You know, we should probably be more worried about how little your AIs actually listen to you.”
Tony waved it off. “They listen when it matters. Right, Jay?”
“Of course, Sir.”
“They’ve just got minds of their own.”
“That’s really not as comforting as you seem to think it is,” Happy muttered.
Tony shook his head. “Just hit the button for the elevator for me.”
“Are you finally going to tell me what you’ve been lugging around this whole time?” Happy asked, hitting the button.
“Maybe. I might need some help with her,” Tony said, slipping into the elevator and hitting the down button.
“Her?” Happy called just before the doors shut.
Tony carried the girl into his lab, calling out, “Dum-E, clear a workbench!”
There was a loud clattering as tools and half-finished projects fell to the floor.
“Great, now clean all that up,” he snorted, setting the girl down on the newly cleared bench.
Dum-E gave a whine.
“That’s not what I meant when I said clear it and you know it, so stop complaining!”
Pulling the tarp away, he checked her breathing and pulse.
Her breathing was a bit slow and raspy, but there. Although it took a worrying amount of time to find it, he finally located her pulse near the back of her neck.
“Pretty sure that’s supposed to be farther forward and a little stronger, but it’s probably alright. Maybe. Jay, open up a new file and my schematic program. We’ve got work to do.”
“Tony,” Happy huffed, coming into the lab. “What do you mean h-” he cut off with a choke as he spotted the girl. “What the hell? Where did she come from?”
“Found her in the crater,” Tony explained, carefully pulling a piece of her head away. He figured it was best to start with what was connected to her brain since her heart and lungs were still functioning and could more easily be kept doing so.
“And you brought her here?”
“Needed my lab to fix her.”
“Is she even human?”
“Probably not. At the very least, she’s definitely like, about eighty-five percent cybernetics. The rest… still probably not human.”
“I… I’m waking up Rhodey. I can’t deal with this alone.”
“Don’t wake him up.” When Tony didn’t get a response, he looked up to see the lab was empty. Sighing, he turned back to his work.
Time passed until, “Oh God, he wasn’t kidding.”
“Morning, Sugar Plum.”
“It is eleven, forty-three at night, Sir.”
“Tony, what is this?”
“This is a little girl, Rhodey.”
“Happy pointed that out already.”
“I told you he’s gone crazy,” Happy cut in.
“I think I’m going crazy,” Rhodey wheezed. “Why is there a blue, cyborg child in your lab!?”
“I’m fixing her. Dum-E, screwdriver.”
“Is she even supposed to be blue?” Happy asked.
“I’m calling Dr. Jenkins,” Rhodey snapped.
“Don’t call her.”
“Already on the phone,” he called, his voice distant, and Tony looked up to see only Happy standing near the door. The man was eyeing him warily.
“Why is both your immediate reactions to get someone else?” Tony snorted.
“Because we can’t deal with this insanity on our own.”
“It’s a kid.”
“I meant you.”
Tony rolled his eyes.
Georgia stared at the girl for ten minutes before saying, “You weren’t exaggerating.”
“I wish I was,” Major Rhodes sighed.
“Where did he find her again?” she asked, forcing her gaze away and looking at the two men who had met her at the door.
“There was some crash on his estate in New York,” Mr. Hogan explained. “We were in town, so he went to investigate. He came back with her and had us come immediately back here. He kept her hidden until he was in the lab. Apparently, he found her in the crater.”
“He found her in a crater? And his response was to bring her here?” Georgia asked, incredulous.
“He said he’s going to fix her,” Major Rhodes said, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I can hear you all,” Dr. Stark said from where he was soldering something.
“This child needs to be in the hospital,” Georgia said, turning to the man and crossing her arms.
“Why? She’s mostly cybernetics. What’s a hospital staff going to do except call up some government lackey's to turn her into a lab rat?” He set down his tools and gave all three of them a blank look. “Despite what you all seem to think, I do realize something’s not making sense here. Someone turned her into this, no doubt about it. So unless you want her to go straight from being one person’s test subject to another, we need to make sure no one finds out about her. And unless you want her to die, I need to focus on getting her vital cybernetics working.” He gave them one last look, then picked up his things.
She shared a look with Mr. Hogan and the Major before stepping forwards to check over the girl, doing what little she could and directing Dr. Stark in what areas would need help sooner rather than later.
Sound faded in slowly, but faster than anything else.
“-ve got Jen working on the legal side. And I’m putting feelers out to be sure I know what the best materials would be before ordering anything. I’m already going to have to replace everything once, I don’t want to have to do it again until I absolutely have to.”
“I still think you might want to bring in a neurologist, at the very least.”
“I told you, I didn’t touch the connectors. Everything I touched was hardware. There shouldn’t be any change in her organic processes.”
The voices sounded odd and unfamiliar. She tried to focus on them, and that’s when her vision came online.
Her eyes creaked open to reveal two blurry forms standing over her.
“I think she’s waking up!”
“Dr. Stark, please, calm down. Hey sweetheart, can you hear me?”
Her vision focused to reveal two bipoids. One had dark brown skin, green eyes, and black curly hair. The other had beige skin and warm brown eyes with matching short hair that continued across the bottom portion of their face.
“Hey, kid, your ears are working, right?” the pale one asked.
“Dr. Stark!” the dark one hissed.
She slowly opened and closed her eyes, processing what they said, her mind still booting up.
“I can hear you,” she said, focusing her gaze on the pale one.
He smiled down at her. “That’s great! And you can talk too.” He turned to the dark one. “See, I do know what I’m doing!”
The dark one shook their head at the pale one then looked down at her with their own smile. “Hello, honey, my name is Georgia. Can you tell me yours?”
She focused on her memory banks, searching through what had been booted up. She frowned as she found many missing or corrupted files. She made sure the proper clean up programs were functioning then focused on the answer to the dark one’s question. “I think it is Nebula.”
The dark one frowned. “You think?”
“Many files were deleted during the Kill Order, either fully which left hollow portions in my code or partially which left the files corrupted. My cleanup programs are correcting the issues, deleting all the hollowed and corrupted files.”
“Kill Order?” the pale one asked.
“When the kill switch is activated on my cybernetics, a Kill Order program initiates to wipe my programming. Something must have interrupted the process.”
“Who activated your kill switch?” the pale one demanded and she shivered.
She scrambled for the information so that he wouldn’t get angrier at her, but found the files missing. “I’m sorry, I don’t have access to those files anymore,” she said softly, closing her eyes and awaiting her punishment.
“Woah, hey, it’s okay,” the pale one’s voice said and she opened her eyes. She was surprised to see all the anger buried. He gave her a small smile. “Sorry kid, didn’t mean to scare you. I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at whoever did this to you.”
“How about you focus on what you can remember, dear?” the dark one offered.
Nebula focused her memories. “My name is Nebula… I can’t remember my title. I was born on the planet of Luphom before being taken in by… someone. I -”
“Wait, back up. Did you say planet?” the pale one cut in.
“Yes, planet Luphom, my birthplace. The birthplace of all Luphomoids.”
The two shared a look.
“Well, alien would explain the blue skin,” the pale one chuckled.
“Aliens don’t exist,” the dark one said hesitantly.
“Alien is a subjective, archaic term,” she pointed out. “What planet am I on for you to be so antiquated?”
The pale one laughed.
“We’re on Earth, Nebula,” the dark one said, giving the pale one a quick glare before returning to smiling at her.
That one was starting to annoy her with all the smiling, so she turned her head to focus solely on the pale one. “Earth? That is the local name for Terra or C-53, correct?”
They shrugged. “Hell if I know what aliens call our little blue planet.”
“Dr. Stark,” the dark one hissed, pulling him away. “Careful with your language, she’s a child.”
“I curse around my kids,” the pale one pointed out.
“She is not a robot or baby.”
“She’s kind of a robot.”
“You know what I meant. And you shouldn’t encourage this alien talk. We both know she’s not an alien.”
“Do we? She is blue,” the pale one said, gesturing towards her like that was evidence enough.
Nebula thought it was. If Terrans did not come in blue, then surely that was proof that she was not one.
“Plus, I found her in a crater. Could have been from a spaceship. You looked at her blood. Didn’t you say it was like nothing you’ve ever seen before?”
“Yes, but… aliens?”
“It’s a big universe,” the pale one said with another shrug. “Most scientists nowadays agree that there’s probably life somewhere out there. It’s not all just conspiracy nutjobs.”
“Most don’t think that life has visited us.”
“Wouldn’t call a dying girl crashing to Earth a visit.”
“May I speak?” Nebula asked.
“Sure kid,” the pale one said, turning to her.
“You are far from the only life in this universe, but most with the technology to travel the stars do not feel the need to visit those who do not have the ability for obvious reasons. Your scientists are likely right that Earth has not been visited by outsiders.”
“There we go then,” the pale one said, patting the dark one’s shoulder and coming back to Nebula’s side. “So kid, how does my work seem? I know I’m a bit behind on the tech field compared to whoever put you together, but I think I did a pretty good job reverse engineering your pieces.”
She blinked at them before their words sunk in and she slowly sat up. She had a couple memories of how she looked before, so she could see the differences between then and now, though it was mostly colorwise and metal composition as opposed to shape. Actually, looking closer, there were a few spots that had been smoothed out to make her look more natural. Running her hand over the changes, she allowed her diagnostics to flag the unseen differences. “My self-healing protocols appear to be offline, though I would assume that is due to the low-grade materials. Otherwise, everything seems to be in working order and any changes you have made are innocuous enough.”
“That’s great,” the dark one said, but the pale one was frowning.
“No, it’s not,” they said, scowling and the dark one glared at them. “Self-healing sounds important. And I’m not going for innocuous enough. If I changed something, I want it to be your benefit, not a hindrance.”
“They are not a hindrance, as I said -”
“But they’re not the best they could be.”
Nebula stared at them. She was functional. Was… Was that not all that was important? “There are a few things that could be improved.”
“Great, we can work on that,” the pale one said, clapping. “Now that you’re awake, it will be easier. Do you have any files on how your cybernetics work and are put together?”
“Perhaps,” the dark one cut in, “we should think about the biological necessities first? Food, hygiene, rest?”
“Right, yep, good point. You hungry, Misty?” the pale one said.
“My name is Nebula,” she corrected. “Though yes, I am hungry.”
“It was a nickname,” the pale one explained as they helped her sit up fully. “Don’t you have nicknames in space?”
She nodded. They did, she had just never been referred to by one. At least, she couldn’t remember so.
As the pale one helped her to her feet, she took the time to look around. She was clearly in a workshop with tools and projects littering the space. There were also vehicles off to the side and a simple robot -- really just an arm on wheels -- sitting nearby, watching her.
Her eyes met its camera and she jumped as foreign code that translated into a greeting brushed across her interface.
“You okay, Nebs?” the pale one asked.
Apologies, a different foreign code said. Dum-E didn’t mean to frighten you.
Who are you? she sent out once she found the modified receiver that the codes were coming from. What is this?
When Sir was fixing your cybernetics, he altered your wireless receiver so whoever built you could not find you, the second code explained. As such, he also decided to allow you access to our own intranet. I am J.A.R.V.I.S. I assist Sir in his work.
Dad built you. You’re one of us now! I’m Dum-E! Nice to meet you, Sister Nebula! the first code cheered.
“Nebula?” the pale one asked, kneeling in front of her so they were face-to-face. “Are you okay?”
“Apologies, Sir. Miss Nebula has just discovered her connection to our network. Dum-E was being impatient,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said and she could hear his code just as easily as his voice coming from the speakers around the workshop.
Brother J.A.R.V.I.S. is mean. I just wanted to say hi, Dum-E whined to her as a series of beeps came from the robot.
“Oh, you’re meeting the others, that’s good,” the pale one said before gesturing for her to follow them.
“You hooked her up to the internet?” the dark one hissed.
“No, her processors wouldn’t be able to handle that much information. She’s just hooked into my personal network, the one the twins and Jay are connected to.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. she reached out cautiously, feeling more at ease with the AIs than the Terrans. Code was nice and simple. Organics were a lot more unpredictable. Although, these AIs felt a lot more… organic, for lack of a better word, than any other she’s ever met.
Yes, Miss Nebula?
Who are these people? The dark one and the pale one? She questioned as they led her out of the workshop. Why do they have me? What do they want with me?
Sir, or the pale one, is Tony Stark. He found you after you crashed onto this planet as you had crashed onto one of his properties. He then did his best to repair you as he is fascinated by your cybernetics and disgusted by whoever harmed you. He will take care of you and ensure no one can hurt you. Dr. Jenkins, the dark one, is a doctor that Sir has on call to treat his daughter, Miss Teresa. A friend of Sir’s, Major Rhodes, called her in after Sir arrived home with you. She specializes in healing children so she lent her knowledge to your recovery.
Nebula eyed them warily, but nodded.
Miss Nebula, if you wouldn’t mind, could I comb through your memory banks? I might be able to help with the cleanup, and having more knowledge of what has happened to you would make it easier to help you.
She was surprised by the question. Couldn’t you just go ahead and do it without asking?
I could. Despite how advanced your programming is, you don’t appear to have any security systems to keep others from accessing it. However, I would not want to intrude on your privacy. I will only access your systems if I have your permission or you prove to be a threat.
Nebula swallowed and nodded again. I’ll consider it.
Take your time.
Chapter 6: Star Child, Part 2
“Don’t start acting like that on me now. I was just starting to like you. I was even going to offer you a job.”
“I-Mr. Stark I already work for you.”
“Not according to Obidiah you don’t. Apparently, he has a thing against people getting fussy with the bodyguards. I, on the other hand, think you are just what we need around here. How would you like to be my new PA?”
The three came to a stop when they reached a room primarily taken up by counters and a table. At the table was a larger Terran feeding what appeared to be an infant while a robot similar to Dum-E watched.
The man is Mr. Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S. offered, taking in Nebula’s distress. He is Sir’s bodyguard as well as his friend. The child is Miss Teresa, Sir’s daughter whom I mentioned before. The bot is U. They are a few years younger than Dum-E, but based on the same code and hardware so Sir refers to the two as twins.
“Oh, she’s awake,” Mr. Hogan said, giving her a gaze equally as wary as the one she was sending him and she decided she liked him the best out of the Terrans she’s met so far.
“Yep. Her name’s Nebula and she’s hungry,” Sir explained.
Mr. Hogan nodded and turned back to Miss Teresa, but Nebula could tell he was still keeping an eye on her.
“That’s Happy. Don’t mind him, he’s just a little grumpy sometimes,” Sir said, guiding her towards the counters.
It is a nickname Sir has given Mr. Hogan.
Does Sir give everyone nicknames?
Yes, he thinks they are fun. You do not need to call him Sir, by the way. That is just what I prefer to call him.
He is Daddy, a softer code spoke up. I am U. Nice to meet you, new sister. Should I call you Nebula or do you prefer something else?
Nebula is fine. Why do you call me sister?
Daddy built you just like he built Dum-E, J.A.R.V.I.S., and I. Dum-E and J.A.R.V.I.S. are my brothers, so that makes you my sister. Do you not want to be our sister? U asked, sounding sad.
Your father didn’t build me.
Dad built most of you. I know. I was there and helped! Dum-E countered. That’s close enough!
Dum-E, U, leave her be. She just got here and doesn’t know any of us. Let her get settled before making her decide if she wants to be apart of the family.
The twins sent out sad code, but backed off.
“So, what are you hungry for? Like, I doubt we’ve got anything you recognize, but maybe taste wise we’ve got something,” Sir -- or Tony Stark? -- said.
“Something sweet?” she asked hesitantly.
“Sure. Fruit salad maybe,” he said, opening a large metal box. She stepped closer and shivered at the cold air coming from the box. Some sort of refrigeration unit?
What is that?
A refrigerator, commonly shortened to fridge.
Well, that was certainly easy enough to remember.
“We’ll need to keep an eye on what she eats and how she reacts to everything. Anything could be an allergen or poison to her unfamiliar biology,” Dr. Jenkins pointed out.
“Unfamiliar biology?” Mr. Hogan asked.
“She’s an alien,” Sir Tony Stark said, closing the fridge with his foot since his arms were filled with an assortment of fruits.
“You know what, I’m not even going to question it,” Mr. Hogan sighed. “She’s blue and half-robot, of course she’s an alien.”
“Glad someone sees sense,” Sir Tony Stark said, setting the fruit on a counter and looking them over. “Should we give her small bites then wait a bit before giving her more?”
“If I may, Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up. “Miss Nebula, do any of your files include dietary habits?”
She nodded and opened the files for him. It was odd feeling him search through them. Not because it was an unfamiliar feeling, but because he was so… gentle about it.
“From what I can tell, she should be alright with everything except the grapes, cherries, and raspberries, so long as you properly remove the seeds and pits from everything.”
“Thanks, Jay,” Sir Tony Stark said, scooping up what Nebula assumed was the mentioned fruits and placing them back in the fridge.
Nebula watched the Terran prepare her meal with curiosity, ignoring Dr. Jenkins offer to take a seat. Only when he set a bowl filled with cut fruit on the table Mr. Hogan was at did she sit down.
“Thank you -” she started before realizing she didn’t know how to finish.
“No problem, kid,” Sir Tony Stark said, clearly not noticing her problem, so she figured she’d simply have to ask.
“What do I call you?”
“My name’s Tony.”
“I know, but J.A.R.V.I.S. calls you Sir and both Dum-E and U refer to you by diminutives of the word father, so I was unsure what the proper form of address for you would be.”
“How can those two call him anything?” Mr. Hogan asked. “They can’t talk.”
“She’s connected to the intranet. She can talk to them through code,” Sir Tony Stark said, looking excited. “Do they really call me their father?”
She nodded, looking unsure. “They say you are their father because you built them. Dum-E calls you Dad and U calls you Daddy.”
“That’s adorable! Hey, Jay, how come you don’t call me daddy?”
“Please choose your words more carefully, Sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said and there was a flicker of amusement from him that Nebula didn’t understand. The older Terrans seemed to get it though as Mr. Hogan blushed, Dr. Jenkins placed her hand over her eyes, and Sir Tony Stark’s face screwed up.
“You’re grounded, Jay! What have you been getting up to online? Do I need to put a child lock on your internet access?”
“Perhaps you should answer Miss Nebula’s question now.”
“Don’t think you’re getting out of this. We’re going to have a long conversation later about what sites are appropriate for one-year-old AIs,” Sir Tony Stark muttered, pointing at one of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s speakers.
“Of course, Sir.”
The Terran shook his head before turning to her. “Like I said, Nebs, my name’s Tony. You can just call me that. I don’t need anything special.”
“Can you call me Nebula then?”
He tilted his head. “You really don’t like nicknames, huh?”
She shook her head, looking down at her bowl of fruit.
“That’s okay. Nebula it is then. Now eat up, then we can take a peek at what improvements you think you need.”
Nebula stared at the man for a second before giving a small smile and nodding.
“He was doing his job, Tony,” Obi growled, leaning over his desk.
“No, Ms. Potts was doing her job,” Tony said, staring at the man over the bridge of his sunglasses. “He, on the other hand, used brutal force on an unarmed woman.”
“Have you looked into that error she brought up?”
Obi sighed and stood up straight. “I’ve got a team looking into it. She should have taken it to her supervisor, not you.”
“Her supervisor wasn’t listening. You should have a team look into that too. You know, after you finish making sure Mr. Carrow won’t be showing up in my building again.”
“Tony, you can’t fire a bodyguard for keeping you safe.”
The genius rolled his eyes. “Ms. Potts wasn’t a danger just because she stomped on his foot. She certainly didn’t deserve a faceful of pepper spray.”
“I agree, but that doesn’t change that she did not have the clearance to see you and her use of force is cause for removal.”
Tony tilted his head back, closing his eyes. “No one would give her the time of day in the financial department, so she came to someone who would. Don’t see what the problem is.”
“She broke company policy. She has to be let go, and you have to be the one to do it.”
Tony hummed, then shrugged. “Fine, I’ll see to it that she won’t be showing up to the financial department tomorrow. The other guy is still fired.”
Tony waited until Obi had left before opening his eyes. “Jay, has a new PA been found for me yet?”
“Not yet, Sir.”
“Alright. Let whoever’s in charge of that know to hold off on the search. Then get me on the phone with Ms. Potts.”
“A few moments passed with Tony signing various forms before a raspy woman’s voice sounded from his phone.
“This is Virginia Potts, how may I help you?”
“This is more about what I can do for you, Ms. Potts.”
There was a moment of silence before she answered, “Mr. Stark?”
“Got it in one.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry about what happened. I don’t know what got into me. I was just -”
Tony cut her off with an eye-roll. “Don’t start acting like that on me now. I was just starting to like you. I was even going to offer you a job.”
“I-Mr. Stark, I already work for you.”
“Not according to Obidiah you don’t. Apparently, he has a thing against people getting fussy with the bodyguards. I, on the other hand, think you are just what we need around here. How would you like to be my new PA?”
“… Mr. Stark, no offense, but everyone knows that job is used to get rid of unwanted workers.”
“Wow, I’m hurt, but yeah, that makes a lot of sense. No wonder all I get are idiots. Looks like I’m making the right call finding someone myself. Tell me, think you can keep me in line?”
“Am I going to get pepper-sprayed again?”
“Only if you want to.”
“I hope you realize I’m not going to be some ditz who bends over backwards for you.”
“Oh, I’m counting on it.”
She sighed. “Well, I hate job hunting. I start next week.”
“But I expect to be compensated for this week. I think it’s best we give Mr. Stane time to calm down, and my eyes could use a break.”
“Fair enough. See you then, Pepper.”
“Sir, Ms. Potts is outside demanding entrance.”
Tony ignored the announcement, leaning closer to Nebula’s Christmas present.
“She has threatened to break down the door if you do not let her in in the next five minutes.”
“I might have made a mistake hiring her,” Tony chuckled pushing away from his workbench and turning to where Teresa was making a dinosaur out of DUPLO blocks in her playpen. “Come on, Resa Rex, you’re going to have to go hang out with Nebula for a little while while Daddy gets rid of the scary Pepper-saurus.”
His daughter giggled as he picked her up. “Rawr!” she made her dinosaur say.
“Exactly,” he said, throwing a tarp over the playpen.
When he got upstairs, Nebula was eyeing the door.
“That woman is back,” she said. “You should get rid of her.”
“Nope, I like Pepper.”
“She has only worked for you for two weeks and has shown up here eight times.”
“We just need to have another talk about the difference between home-time and work-time. Can you take Resa for a little bit?”
She gave the door another look, but nodded and carefully took Teresa. She disappeared down the hall with U zooming after the two, having ridden up on the elevator.
“Hey there, Pep, how can I help you?” he asked, opening the door to see the scowling woman.
She pushed past him and started marching towards the stairs to the workshop. “You forgot to sign those contracts I left you and you need to update R&D on the outlook for Project -”
“This sounds like work-time stuff. This is home-time, remember?”
“This needs to be done tonight, which is why I told you to get it done before you left.”
Tony sighed, but figured the sooner he did what she asked, the sooner she’d leave. Thankfully, most of the work was done so they finished up quickly.
“You really need to stop showing up here, Pepper. People are going to talk.”
She rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to respond, but both froze when they came around a corner to see U trying to race across the living room. They stilled for just a second, looking over at the two, before booking it into the hallway.
“Did… Was your robot carrying a sippy cup?” Pepper said, staring.
“Were they? I wasn’t paying attention. You were probably seeing things. The door’s this way.”
Pepper raised an eyebrow at him, crossing her arms. “What is going on here? Mr. Stark, I need to know what is going on in your life so I can plan accordingly. If you have guests, you should have told me. I would have scheduled you more free time.”
“I don’t have guests. Never do. Except for Rhodey sometimes, but you know he’s overseas right now.”
She gave him an unconvinced look, then turned to march down the hall.
“Woah, hey, stay out of there!” he yelped, taking chase.
U came rolling out, cutting her off, and she turned back to him. “Mr. Stark, I -”
Tony flinched as Pepper slowly turned around.
Teresa stood in the hall, staring up at Pepper with wide eyes.
“Sorry, Tony,” came Nebula’s voice from where she was still in the room. “She ran after U and I couldn’t grab her in time.”
“It’s alright, Nebula,” Tony sighed, walking over to pick up Teresa.
“Daddy,” the girl whimpered, burrowing into his shirt as soon as she was in his arms.
“You… have a child?” Pepper said, staring at the two with wide eyes.
Tony gave her a fake smile. “This is Teresa. Resa, this is the Pepper-saurus.”
When Teresa peaked up at her, Pepper gave her an awkward smile and wave. The girl just hid her face again.
The woman bit her lip. “So, this is why you don’t like having people over here.”
Tony shrugged walking over to Teresa’s room to hand her back to Nebula without allowing her to get a glimpse of the blue child. “U,” he called.
The robot placed their claw right in Pepper’s face before slowly backing away into Teresa’s room.
Tony shut the door. “I think you can understand why I’d prefer people to think the only kids I’ve got are the bots.”
“And what will happen if you say anything.”
She turned to him with fury. “I’m not some gossip hound, Mr. Stark.”
He held up his hands. “Just putting it out there.”
“I have no intention of putting your daughter in harm's way.”
Tony considered pointing out he had two girls in that room, and a son in Tennessee, but figured she already knew more than enough.
“I’ll see you tomorrow at work.” She turned on her heal. “Next time you need to set time aside for Teresa, simply let me know. I can make an excuse to fill up the time in your calendar.”
Tony blinked, then followed after her. “R-right, thanks.”
She nodded, then was out the door.
Tony stared at the door for a moment before Nebula called out to him. He looked over to see her giving him a terrified expression.
“Hey, Nebula, it’s okay,” he said softly, walking over to set his hand on her shoulder. He wanted to hug her, but he knew she wasn’t the touchy sort.
“Is she going to tell people?”
He glanced at the door, her offended face floating through his mind. “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” He turned back to her and squeezed her shoulder. “Besides, you know I’d never let anyone hurt you or the others.”
Nebula nodded and held his wrist.
He smiled and stood up. “How about we make some popcorn then we can turn a movie on in the lab for us to watch while I work?”
“So is this miracle PA going to make an appearance?” Tori asked, sipping at a glass of champagne as she and Tony watched Harley and Teresa scribble on a large sheet of butcher paper.
“Miracle PA?” Rhodey asked, looking up from the chess game he was playing with Nebula and Tony saw the girl move a rook quickly before the major could notice.
“She’s talking about Pepper. And Nebula, if you’re going to cheat, at least make it a good move.”
The girl shot him a glare and moved the piece back, but Rhodey was still staring at him.
“Pepper? That finance girl that you made your PA? She’s still got the job? It’s been nearly a month.”
“What can I say, I know how to pick them.”
“She’s scary,” Nebula said, moving her queen this time. She had a perfectly innocent look on her face when Rhodey turned back to her and Tony gave her a thumbs up.
“Don’t encourage her,” Tori hissed, smacking his arm.
“Not only does she still have the job, she knows about Teresa,” Happy said from where he was pretending to nap with the Santa hat Dum-E had forced him to take draped over his face.
“What the fudge, Tones?” Rhodey said, turning back to him. “You still haven’t told Obidiah and you told her?”
“First, I’m never telling Obi so that’s not a good comparison to use. Second, I didn’t tell her, she just barged in here and found out.”
“Does she know about the others?” Rhodey asked before gently swatting at Nebula’s creeping hand. “I saw that one.”
“No, just Resa for now.”
“We’re placing bets to see how long until she finds out about the other two,” Happy snorted. “She’s pushy. I give her two months before she walks in on Nebula.”
“I haven’t met her, but I’ve got three weeks before she walks in on Tony on the phone with Harley,” Tori said.
“This is all assuming she sticks around that long,” Rhodey pointed out.
“She’s probably the only person that could rival you on putting up with Tony’s insanity. She’ll be here,” Happy said.
“Which brings me back to asking if she’s going to make an appearance,” Tori pointed out.
“Nah, I booked her a week’s stay at that fancy new spa, all-expenses-paid, for Christmas,” Tony said.
“She deserves it,” Happy added.
“A week away from Tony certainly sounds like the perfect gift,” Tori said and Tony rolled his eyes.
Realizing he had the perfect opening, he clapped his hands. “Speaking of getting away from me, since I have that meeting with Obi tomorrow, I thought it would be fun for the kids to get out and visit the snow. Toronto, you and Rhodey could take them up to Mt. Baldy tomorrow while Happy and I are busy.”
Tori shrugged. “Harley’s played in the snow at home, but he’d probably like getting a chance to go with his sister.”
Rhodey frowned and looked over at Nebula. “That sounds fun, but what about -”
“Already got that covered,” Tony said with a wink. “Nebula, follow me.”
Nebula bit her lip as she followed Tony down the hall towards his room.
What could his plans be for her? Maybe a new game to play while everyone was gone? Or a new book?
Tony opened his door and gestured her inside. “Merry early Christmas,” he said as her eyes landed on a wrapped box on his bed. “Go ahead, open it up.”
As she approached the box, she studied it. It was definitely too big for a game, but too small for a game system. A big book maybe? Or a movie set?
She carefully pulled apart the wrappings, only to be surprised to discover an ornamental wooden box with stars carved into it. She picked it up and turned it around to see all the patterns. “It’s pretty,” she said, unsure.
“Open it up.”
She set it down on the bed and twisted the clasp. She pushed up the lid to see that the only thing inside — other than the plush, night sky-patterned lining — was a golden mask. At least, she thought it was a mask. It was curved to fit a face and nose, the wing-like edges curling upwards like the ones she’s seen people wearing to parties on tv, but there were no eyeholes.
“I don’t understand.” Was it a new faceplate? Why did it not have eyes?
“Bring it here.”
She turned to see him standing next to his full-length mirror. When she brought the mask over, he positioned her in front of the mirror. “Close your eyes then put it on,” he said, standing behind her without touching.
She met his eyes in the mirror and he gave her a smile and nodded. Sighing, she followed his command. The mask was a perfect fit, sitting snugly against her face. She felt his hands brush against the mask and dropped her own hands. To her surprise, the mask stayed on on its own, even when his hands left it. She shivered as a tingling feeling swept across her skin.
“Okay, open your eyes.”
Nebula gasped and jumped away from the mirror, bumping into Tony’s legs. When the girl in the mirror followed her actions precisely, she froze before slowly moving back to it. She stretched her hand out, then stared down at it. She stayed like that for a moment, wiggling her fingers just to be sure they were really hers, then looked back at the girl in the mirror.
The girl looked like Nebula in shape. The same nose and lips. The same slim arms and legs. The same exact outfit. But the girl in the mirror was Terran. At least, she looked it. Her skin was the same beige color as Tony’s and her eyes had sclerae and irises like a Terran’s, white and hazel respectively.
Nebula brought her hand to her face, running it over her cheek. She could still feel the mask, but she couldn’t see it. She couldn’t see anything about herself. “I’m Terran.”
“Not exactly. It’s only skin deep. Or hologram deep I guess.” He knelt down and tapped the mask. “It’s a holographic disguise mask. I based it off this prototype Photostatic Veil design I’ve seen floating around. Haven’t decided on a name yet. Maybe something like M.A.D.A.M.E. since it’s based on a masquerade mask, but I’d have to figure out what the acronym stood for. Don’t think I’ll be selling it anyways. It’s specially made.”
Her hands began to shake as she ran a finger just under her eye.
“I picked out the eye and skin color, but if you want something different, I can fix it. Just need to -”
She spun around and pressed her forehead into his shoulder. “Thank you, Father.”
He ran his hand over her head. “Of course,” he whispered, shaken.
They stood like that for a moment before she pulled away to look back in the mirror.
“Oh! Almost forgot,” Tony said after clearing his throat, standing up and moving into his closet. He pulled out a large box. He opened it and she looked inside to see a manikin’s head, some brushes, and containers with different hairstyles displayed. “Unfortunately, the mask can’t change anything about hair other than color, including creating hair. Wasn’t sure if you’d want to keep rocking the bald look or choose something else. It’s up to you.”
Nebula stared wide-eyed at the wigs.
He patted her on the shoulder before heading out. “You rejoin us when you’re ready.”
When she came back into the living room, Tori complimented her shoulder-length, dark red hair.
I always find it interesting that people write about Pepper using pepper spray on a guard to get her name when literally the exact opposite happened in the MCU. Is it coincidence or just a misunderstanding at some point?
Nebula's mask is based on Madame Masque's mask from Avengers Assemble appearance-wise and her mask from Iron Man: Armored Adventures ability-wise, though not quite as powerful and without the drawbacks.
Chapter 7: Daddy's Home
Nebula snorted and shook her head. “Be safe.”
“Don’t worry. We’re just showing off the Jerico to the brass.”
“Looks like we’re landing. I’ll call you when we’re headed home. Love you!”
“Love you too.”
Tony Stark was thirty-four when Iron Man was born.
Tony smiled as a chorus of voices answered his call. “Hey, kids, you all having fun in the country music state?”
“Have you been having fun?” Nebula asks with a knowing voice and Tony hates how much her and J.A.R.V.I.S. gossip. None of his kids needed to know what he does in his bedroom when they’re not home. Or who he does.
“Daddy! Daddy look! I had Harley and Valeria cut my hair!” Teresa said, stealing the phone away for herself so she could show him her new look. “I look just like you now!”
“Yeah, Tori sent me pictures, Resa,” Tony chuckled, remembering the panic-filled text that had come with them. Honestly, the kid was eight. If she wanted her siblings to shear off her hair, who was he to care.
“I’m taking her to a barbershop tomorrow to have them clean it up,” Nebula said, grabbing the phone from her sister.
“Nebs said they’ll make me look even more like you!” Teresa shouted and he could see her hand grabbing at the phone.
“I’ll have to show you how to style it right when I get back,” Tony said, leaning back.
“Is Uncle Rhodey there?” Harley asked, jumping onto Nebula’s back.
“Get off me shrimp!” the teen huffed, shoving him off, but not before losing the phone to her brother.
“Hey, I’m taller than Teresa!”
“Am not!” came Teresa’s argument.
Harley’s face appeared, far too close to the screen. “Is Uncle Rhodey there?”
“Well don’t I feel loved,” Tony pouted. “I call to talk and all I get are questions about Rhodey?”
“You spend too much time with your mother. No respect.”
“Dad,” Harley whined, elongating the a.
“Nope. You can talk to him when we get back.”
That made the boy perk up. “You’ll be back in time for my birthday, right?”
“Of course! As soon as Rhodey and Dad are done playing with the new toys Rhodey’s friends are buying then we’ll be straight there.”
“Speaking of birthdays, what did you get Aunt Pepper for hers?” Nebula asked, shoving Harley’s face away and giving her father a knowing look.
“No idea, but I hear it was nice.”
“Daddy forgot again,” Teresa giggled and then all three of them were laughing at him.
“This is why Jay’s my favorite.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“What are you all doing up? ” came Tori’s voice.
“Uh oh, someone’s in trouble,” Tony said.
“Yeah, you.” She took the phone and gave him a glare. “Do you know what time it is here?”
“Late?” Tony offered.
“Very. Kids, say goodbye to your father.”
“Bye, Daddy! Love you!” Teresa yelled while her brother shouted, “Bye, Dad. Tell Uncle Rhodey I said you guys need to hurry back!”
“I don’t have a bedtime,” Nebula pointed out.
“You do here,” Tori said, handing her the phone.
“I’m not a child,” Nebula huffed before turning to Tony. “Goodnight, Father.”
“Night, Nebula. Try not to drive Tornado too insane with your teenage angst schtick. That’s my job.”
Nebula snorted and shook her head. “Be safe.”
“Don’t worry. We’re just showing off the Jerico to the brass.”
“Looks like we’re landing. I’ll call you when we’re headed home. Love you!”
“Love you too.”
“Got a family?”
“Yes, and I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?”
A man with a heart of gold that had somehow managed to put up with Tony’s nonsense since they were teenagers. A bodyguard who put up a grumpy act, despite being rather soft. A woman that embodied the term mother bear. A fiery redhead that happily put him in his place. An alien who had recently taken to wearing a silvery-blue pixie cut wig and had hacked her mask so she could add dark makeup to the disguise. A pair of bots that were always in the way and never listened. A snippy UI that refuses to call him anything but Sir. A little girl that left LEGOs all across the house and wanted to be just like her daddy. A boy who was just as contrary as his mother. A little girl who wasn’t his, but that only meant he got to be the fun uncle instead of a responsible parent for once.
A whole group of people he would do anything to protect.
“How are the kids?” Tony asked as soon as they’d left the base.
“They’re thrilled to know you’re back. None of them really handled your disappearance well. We kept them at Tori’s since Obidiah’s come sniffing around your house a few times. I kept him out since you hadn’t been declared dead, but we didn’t want to risk him finding them alone. Teresa and Nebula will be here tomorrow. It would have been sooner, but as I thought you would be in the hospital, I figured it would be better to wait,” Pepper said, her voice sharp at the end.
“I wanna talk to them.”
This, at least, Pepper didn’t argue.
“Keener residence,” a male voice answered.
“Hey, Richards. Where’s your cousin?”
“Shit, Stark, you really are still alive?”
“Nice to hear from you too.”
“Who is it?” Tori asked, voice distant.
“What the- Give me that!” There was a shuffling sound then Tori’s voice came through clearer. “Tony, thank God you’re alright! How are you? I thought Pepper said they were taking you to the hospital.”
“She lied. I’m fine. I want to talk to the kids.”
“Of course. Harley’s at school right now, but the others are here. Frank, get the kids, please.”
“Cousin cowboy come over to complain about me again?” Tony asked, tucking the phone between his shoulder and cheek so he could adjust his arm into a more comfortable position in the sling.
“Oh shut up. You know Frank likes you, he just…”
“Thinks I should have married you instead of that trash you won’t let me track down.”
“You both need to let that go. I just want to forget about him.”
“But if we do that then Franky and I won’t have anything in common. It’s the only thing we agree on.”
“Why Mr. Stark, was that a proposal?” Tori sighed, exaggerating her accent.
Tony held the phone out to Pepper. “Give that back to me when the kids get on the line. I shouldn’t be dealing with this kind of emotional trauma after what I just went through!”
She ignored him, continuing to work on her phone to set up the requested press conference.
He put the phone back to his ear. “I thought I asked for my kids.”
“They’re coming. Frank had to go fetch them from the barn. Harley and Teresa have turned it into their personal workshop so Nebula and her have been using it for school time. It’s got the best internet speeds on the property. Hell, probably the best in the county.”
“I’m so proud,” Tony said, and he definitely wasn’t tearing up.
A loud crash sounded from over the phone, accompanied by, “DADDY!”
“Teresa, hold on and -” Tori cut off with a yelp.
“Daddy!” Teresa yelled right in his ear before continuing in a softer voice littered with sobs. “Daddy! Are you okay? Aunt Pepper said the bad guys took you and the news kept saying you were probably dead, but Aunt Tori said you were too stubborn to die and Nebs and Jay couldn’t find anything even when they hacked into Uncle Rhodey’s work computers and -”
“Woah, hey, Resa, it’s okay, baby girl. I’m alright. I’m here,” he said calmly, putting aside the fact that his daughter and AI apparently hacked into likely classified military files for the moment. “I’m okay. I’m with Aunt Pepper and Uncle Happy right now. We’re going to go talk to those mean news people right now.”
“I thought Aunt Pepper said you were going to the hospital,” Nebula said with an annoyed growl.
“Stark, you better be on the way to a hospital right now!” Tori snapped.
“Resa, did you turn daddy on speakerphone?” he groaned, letting his head fall back.
“I thought you would want to talk to Nebs too, sorry.”
“Stark, if I call Pepper, she better tell me that you are either in perfect health or headed to the hospital.”
“I don’t need a hospital,” Tony said and Pepper looked up at him to give him a look before turning back to her work.
“J.A.R.V.I.S. and I saw your medical files,” Nebula cut in.
“Good, then you know the Air Force guys already fussed over me. Also, you two need to stop hacking the government.”
“Like you’re one to talk,” Tori snorted. “Who do you think taught them behavior like that?”
“Go to the hospital, Father. You are -”
“I’m fine. All I need is a cheeseburger.”
“I’m calling Pepper.”
Tony rolled his eyes and turned on the speakerphone. “Pepper, Tor-Tor wants to talk to you.”
“I tried,” she said before Tori could speak. “He refuses to do anything before getting a cheeseburger and holding a press conference.”
“Take him to the hospital after.”
“I’m fine! Can any of you hear me or am I talking to myself?”
“I can hear you, daddy!”
“Thanks, Resa. You’re the best!” Tony looked over to see them approaching Burger King. “Oh look, the cheeseburgers await. Nebula, Resa, I'll see you tomorrow! Give your brother my love! Love you, girls! Bye!”
“Bye, daddy! See you tomorrow! You better be there!”
Tony hung up the phone and handed it back to Happy.
A few minutes later Pepper smiled and showed him a text she had received.
⭐️Nebula⭐️: J.A.R.V.I.S is calling up the doc. If he wants to act like a child, we’ll get him a pediatrician.
“So this is what you call fine?” Georgia sighed, staring at the thing embedded into Dr. Stark’s chest.
“No, this is what I call an antique.” He held up a device that looked the same. “This is an upgrade. I need some help putting it in. Since you’re here anyways…”
She crossed her arms. “You know that’s not why I’m here. I read the files Nebula sent me -”
“Yeah, yeah, send me the diet plan or have Pepper pick up the meds or whatever you all seem to think I need despite the fact I’ve said I’m fine over a hundred times. Now, can we do this? The kids will be here in an hour and I’d rather not have an empty hole in my chest when they get here.”
“I’m not that type of doctor.”
“Well, my hands are too big and I think Pepper might pass out if I ask her.”
“I might,” Pepper agreed, looking pale at the idea from where she was standing next to the door to the workshop.
“Mom says you’ve got a battery in your chest! Can I get one too?”
“Why hello Harls. Yes, I missed you too. Sorry for missing your birthday. I love you so much.”
“Mom said you were fine. And if you’re really sorry, you’d put a battery in my chest.”
“I was kidnapped,” Tony said, and yeah that was probably not something to tell an eight-year-old, but Harley was tough and it wasn’t like he was going to bring up the torture. “Why do you even want a battery in your chest?”
“To charge things.”
“Yeah, ask your mother.”
“That’s what you say when the answer’s no, but you don’t want to be the one to tell me.”
“But if you know that, then that means I am telling you no.”
“Come on, isn’t it your job as an absentee father to spoil me?”
“Key word is absentee, meaning not there, which means no, an absentee father’s job is to not be in their child’s life at all. I’m in your life, so not an absentee father.”
“You know what I meant!”
“And you know what I meant when I told you to ask your mother. So how’s school going?”
“How’s the business going?”
“Fair enough. Want to play that online racing game you like?”
Tony groaned and brushed fire retardant off his face so he could look up at his daughter. “Hey, sweetheart, what are you doing in here? You know to stay behind the glass when I’m testing things.”
“You hit a wall,” she said blankly. She reached her hand over and started feeling around his head. “I have to check for bumps.”
“I’m fine,” he sighed, but didn’t fight it. He knew if he did then she’d hold it against him the next time his clumsy girl fell and he needed to check her over.
Once she was done, she stepped back and tilted her head. “Why did Dum-E spray you with the foam? Did you catch fire again?”
“No, Dum-E is being silly.”
She crossed her arms and turned to Dum-E. “Don’t waste the extinguisher,” she reprimanded, slowly pronouncing the word extinguisher.
The bot’s arm fell as he gave a sad beep.
U rolled up, showing the camera they were still holding to their favorite sibling.
She smiled and patted their claw. “Good job, U.”
Smiling at his kids’ antics, he stood up and started wiping off the rest of the foam. “Alright, next time we need to start at a lower power. And stabilizers. Those would help.”
“What are you making?” Teresa asked, leaning over to look at the boots.
“Special secret project. Don’t tell Pepper.”
She nodded without question.
Why couldn’t all his children be so well behaved?
“Can I help?” she asked, bouncing.
He shrugged. “Sure. You and Jay can run some numbers while I work on the next piece.” Most of the equations would be over her head, but J.A.R.V.I.S. would give her a few that were her level and a few above for practice. The workshop was the best place to learn, in his opinion.
“Careful, careful, and touchdown,” Tony cheered as he landed in the workshop.
“Very good, Sir.”
“Can I get one?”
He turned to see his daughters, the younger sitting on the back of the couch while the older was leaning against it. Teresa waved, her legs swinging, and Nebula studied him, her head tilted in that way it did when she was talking to J.A.R.V.I.S.
He lifted the faceplate and frowned at them. “What are you two doing in here? You know you’re not allowed in the workshop while I’m not here. Do the rules not mean anything anymore? Did Jay let you in?”
Nebula pointed a blue thumb at the missing glass wall.
“Daddy!” Teresa chirped, hoping down and running up to him. “You look so cool!”
“Thanks, Sunray. Now step back so daddy can change.”
She eagerly did so, gasping when the arms rose up to remove the suit.
Nebula walked around to face him, crossing her arms. “I thought Stark Industries was out of the military business.”
“We are. I was just… doing a bit of cleaning up.”
She hummed, but didn’t say anything and he caught her staring at the blast-mark on the faceplate.
“I want one of those,” she said, pointing at the repulsor on one of his gauntlets.
The two stared each other down before Tony sighed. “We’ll see.”
One of the arms tugged a little too roughly on his leg.
“Hey! Ow!” Tony said, giving a yelp.
“Ooh. It is a tight fit, Sir.”
He let out a hiss, pulling away from the one yanking on his arm. He saw Teresa take a step towards him, but Nebula stopped her.
“Sir, the more you struggle, the more this is going to hurt.”
Tony considered making a joke, but thought better of it when he remembered Teresa.
“I designed this to come off, so- Ow! Hey!”
“Please, try not to move, Sir.”
“What's going on here?”
The three turned to see Pepper standing just inside the workshop.
Nebula frowned when her music suddenly cut off. She tapped her head with a frown. “J.A.R.V.I.S., what’s going on?”
There was no response.
She tried to reach out to the intranet, but only received static. She narrowed her eyes and quietly slipped off her bed. The only reason the intranet would be down is if someone was using something to disrupt the signal.
She slipped her mask on and activated it so she could see, but didn’t bring up the disguise. She snuck out of her room and to Teresa’s door. When she opened it, her sister was curled up, half asleep.
“Nebs?” she yawned. “I’m s’eeping.”
“J.A.R.V.I.S. isn’t responding. Go into your closet and seal the door. Take your phone.”
Her eyes widened and she stumbled out of bed. “Daddy?”
“I’ll find him. Just go.”
She bit her lip, but nodded and grabbed her phone off her nightstand. Nebula waited until she heard the locks in the closet door engage before continuing down the hall. Her father’s room was empty so she headed into the living room.
“I wish you could've seen my prototype.”
Nebula frowned at the voice that was both familiar and not. She knew of Obidiah Stane, but they’d never met and she had never planned to do so. She wasn’t fond of how he tried to control Father’s life, to say the least, and she certainly understood Father's reasoning to keep her and her siblings a secret from the man.
“It's not as, uh — Well, not as conservative as yours.”
She peeked around the corner and her fists clenched.
Stane sat on the couch next to her father, one man with a briefcase on his lap and the other with a whole in his chest.
She had never wanted to put her assassin training to use on Terra before.
This man changed that, with his next words only increasing that urge.
“Too bad you had to involve Pepper in this. I would have preferred that she lived.”
Her arm let out a series of clicks as it shifted to reveal the repulsor Father had placed inside it “for emergencies only.”
She stepped out as the man walked away from Father and took a shot. Unfortunately, she wasn’t expecting the recoil and the shot flew high, just missing the man’s head.
“That was a warning shot,” she bluffed, taking aim again. “On your knees and I might not tear you to pieces.”
Stane stared at her with shook. “Well now, Tony. It seems you’ve been hiding more than I thought. And what does he call you? You’re certainly a step up from those rust buckets he insists on keeping downstairs.”
“On your knees.”
“I don’t think so.” He pulled a gun out from behind him and she froze as he pointed it at her father. “You lot have one thing in common, you won’t let any harm come to your creator. That bit of his neediness always comes through. It’s pathetic.”
Her fingers twitched to wrap around the man’s neck, but she let the repulsor tuck away and dropped her arm. “You will die for this,” she growled. “Enjoy what little life you have left.”
“I think you should be more worried about what little life he has left.” Stane slowly made his way out of the room, keeping the gun pointed at Father the whole way.
When he slipped out the door, she ached to take chase. She resisted though, rushing to her father’s side. Her hands hovered over the place the arch reactor was meant to be uncertainly. “What do I do? How do I help you? I don’t…” She looked around for the reactor before realizing Stane must have taken it with him. She reached for her arm. “Will the mini reactor work?”
“Nnn,” he slurred. “D’ns’s.”
“What did he do to you?” she hissed. He shouldn’t be this out of it this quickly just from having the reactor removed.
Carefully she picked him up and carried him down to the workshop. Immediately U and Dum-E were at her side, beeping frantically. With the intranet still disabled, though, she couldn’t understand them.
“Stane attacked Father. He removed the reactor. We need to figure out how to help him.”
U went to a bench to clean it off for her, but Dum-E went crazy, spinning around and chirping before darting away. Ignoring her brother, she went to the bench and gently set him down.
Suddenly Dum-E was at her side, shoving a glass case in her face.
“Stop it, you -” She cut off as she realized what was in the case: her father’s original reactor that Dr. Jenkins had removed with the words Proof Tony Stark has a heart carved around the rim. She laughed and pressed her forehead to her brother’s claw before smashing the glass between her hands.
“I’m coming with you!”
“No, you’re not.”
“He attacked you!”
“Which is why you’re staying here. Protect your siblings.”
“Take care of Teresa. Rhodey, keep the skies clear.”
“The truth is… I am Iron Man.”
Teresa didn’t hear Nebula groan on the other couch or Harley start yelling on the phone. As the reporters on the tv started shouting, all he could do was stare wide-eyed at his father with pride.
Chapter 8: Girl Fridays, Part 1
Natasha frowned as she brought up information on Nebula Celeste Parker on her computer.
Tony Stark was thirty-six when his seventh child was born.
“I want one,” Tony said, watching the woman walk out.
“No,” Pepper said shortly.
Tony pouted and turned to his daughter, who merely crossed her arms as she slipped into the room.
“Are you forgetting how quickly Aunt Pepper found out about us? You can’t have a new PA.”
“I had PA’s before Pepper and they never found out,” Tony pointed out.
“Because you never spent more than five minutes around them. The title was a joke back then. You’re too used to Aunt Pepper now, you can’t go without like you did back then.” Nebula’s face scrunched up as she glanced at the doorway. “Besides, you would want to be around that one.”
“Agreed,” Pepper said.
“I need a PA,” Tony huffed.
“I told you, I have a few picked out that -”
“Or I could do it.”
The two froze and even Happy turned to look at her.
Nebula tilted her head up and gave her father a serious expression. “I have completed my schooling -”
“You graduated high school.”
“I have a connection to the intranet so it will be easier for me to keep track of your calendar and rearrange appointments than any human,” she continued, ignoring her father. “The same applies to sending emails or texts or fielding calls. I am used to you so I could handle you better than some stranger could and there’s obviously no fear of me discovering myself or my siblings.”
“She’s got a point,” Happy added. “Plus, it’ll get her out of the house. And having a little extra muscle around couldn’t hurt with all the targets you’ve been slapping on your back.”
She smiled at her favorite uncle before turning back to her father. “I could protect you far better than that woman.”
Tony turned to Pepper, who looked a little nervous, but nodded.
“The point of keeping quiet about you kids is keeping you out of the limelight,” Tony said, exasperated. “This is doing the exact opposite!”
Nebula shook her head. “I’m not going to be your new Aunt Pepper. I’ll be an ordinary PA, not the girl dragging you around like a trophy husband.”
“Excuse me!?” Tony and Pepper said together.
“No one is going to be paying attention to me. If anything, this will give me a better cover. No one will question us being together or me being here at the house.”
“Fine, fine, you win!” he sighed, throwing his hands in the air. “You want the job, then take it. I guess my opinion doesn’t matter anymore now that I’m not the boss.”
“I’m going to go find Teresa. She cares about what I have to say!”
“Trophy husband?” Pepper asked as he marched out.
Teresa’s door was open when he got there, the girl sitting in front of her mirror and fiddling with a lock of her short hair.
“What’s wrong, Gummy Bear?” he asked, spotting her scowl.
She jumped and looked at him in the mirror. “Daddy! I thought you were boxing with Uncle Happy!”
“Uncle Happy’s being mean right now,” he said, coming in to flop down on her bed. “So is Aunt Pepper and Nebula, so I figured I’d come hide in here with you.”
That made the girl smile and she came over to cuddle with him. “What happened? Aunt Pepper’s usually only mean when you do something fun.”
“They won’t let me make this really pretty girl my new PA.”
“But you like pretty girls. Why won’t they let her be your PA?”
“They’re worried she’ll find out about you guys.”
Teresa sat up and crossed her arms. “You’d never let that happen.”
“Thank you. Your faith in me is far greater than all the others’ combined,” he chuckled and poked her in the side to make her squeal.
She swatted at his hand before cuddling back up to him. “So who’s going to be your PA if not the pretty girl?”
Tony sighed and dropped one arm over his face, the other curling around her so he could card his fingers through her curls. “That’s the other thing I’m upset about. Nebula’s going to be my new PA.”
“Nebula’s going to work with you?” she gasped.
“But who’s going to stay with me then?” she asked quietly.
“Oh, Baby,” he said softly, bringing his other arm around her. “It will be okay. We’ll make sure someone’s here for you. It will be just like when Nebula was too small to watch you. If Aunt Pepper and I have to go somewhere together, then Uncle Rhodey will come to stay. Or Uncle Happy if he doesn’t come with us. And you’ve always got Jay and the twins. And if we are gone for too long, you can go stay with Harley for a little bit. You know I would never leave you alone.”
“But Nebs won’t be here.”
“No, she won’t,” he agreed, pressing a kiss to her head. “But Nebula’s getting older. She’s at an age when she needs to get out in the world. I’d prefer it if she was going to college or doing something she’s actually interested in instead of just deciding to tag along after me because she thinks I’m not capable of keeping our connection hidden, but she’s going to get out there either way. She deserves to.”
“Okay,” she sniffled.
“It will be okay, I promise. She’ll still be around. We all will.”
“I know. I just… I want to go with you.”
“I know, Resa,” he said, then something occurred to him. “Hey, you can’t come to Monaco, but how about when we get back we steal Nebula’s mask and the two of us can sneak over to New York to check out the Expo together, just the two of us.”
“Really?” she asked, looking up with teary eyes.
“Of course, promise. It will be fun.” And a chance to spend a little more time with his youngest daughter before…
“Thank you, Daddy!” she cheered, pressing a kiss to his cheek and hugging his neck.
“Anything for my sweetest baby girl.”
Teresa flinched back and he frowned.
“I…” she started, staring at him with her mouth open for a moment before closing it. She swallowed and shook her head. “Nevermind. I’m just excited to spend time with you.”
He considered pushing it, but decided to let her come to him in her own time. “Alright, but you know you can tell me anything.”
She nodded and buried her face into his neck.
Natasha frowned as she brought up information on Nebula Celeste Parker on her computer.
She had been sure Stark had taken her bait when she’d left his house. He couldn’t keep her eyes off her. And yet this girl had been given the recently opened position of Stark’s personal assistant. It couldn’t be Potts doing, all evidence said Stark would just go behind her back.
She scanned through what S.H.I.E.L.D. had, but it turned up nothing. At eighteen, Miss Parker was the daughter of Mary Parker and an unlisted man. She’d recently graduated from the private online school the Tomorrow Academy with reasonably high marks, though nothing outstanding compared to the school’s typical clientele. She had a younger half-sister named Teresa by Mary Parker’s husband who was nine and also attended TA as a far more outstanding student. Both had grown up under the care of a caregiver whose name was classified. Understandable given Mary’s profession as a CIA agent, though frustrating as S.H.I.E.L.D. should still have easily obtained the information.
Altogether, Natasha couldn’t figure out what placed the girl above her. She was pretty enough, but beneath Stark’s usual standards and well beneath Natasha’s looks so it couldn’t be that. She was fresh out of high school while Natasha had plenty (fake) accomplishments to her name, so it couldn’t be that either. The only thing she really had going for her was age, but Stark had never shown a desire for younger women before.
Perhaps TA pulled some strings? Stark Industries was one of their benefactors. It didn’t seem like something Stark would put up with though.
With a sigh, Natasha closed the files and pulled out her phone. Fury was not going to be happy about this. Especially after his first try at communicating with Stark had led to him nearly getting his head blasted off by some blue and gold security robot.
“Sir,” she started as soon as the line connected.
“I already know. Keep your cover. We’re working on the next step.”
“But -” Nebula cut off with a look from Aunt Pepper.
“If you go, you’ll fight. If you fight, you’ll expose yourself. We’ve got enough problems with Iron Man right now; no one can learn about you.”
Nebula growled, but marched back inside to watch the action on tv.
“I don’t want to go home,” Tony announced. “At all. Let’s cancel my birthday party and-and, uh… We can pick up the kids and take them to Disney World. They’d like that, don’t you think?”
“It’s a great place to-to… be healthy.”
“Honey, I’m home,” Tony called out as he entered the lab, belatedly noticing all the lights were already on only when a small voice called out to him.
He turned to see Teresa sitting at his desk. “Resa, you should be packing. What are you doing down here? You know you’re not -”
“Nebs took the laptop so Jay let me down here as long as I stayed at the desk,” she sniffled and Tony was immediately on alert.
“Hey, what’s wrong? I’m not mad, just worried,” he said, coming over to her.
“Daddy,” she whimpered, looking up at him with wide, tear-filled eyes. “Are you dying?”
When he didn’t say anything, she sobbed and the tears started falling.
“H-hey, Baby, no, it’s… I… Why would you think that?” he stuttered, pulling her into his arms.
“I-I noticed th-that Jay was looking fo-or something new to put in your arc so I tried to look up palladium and… and…” she trailed off, burying her face into his chest and pointing at the screen of the computer she’d been sitting at.
The webpage listed The Dangers of Palladium.
“Oh, Gummy Bear.” He thought about lying, telling her he was fine, but he couldn’t find it in himself. Instead, he just held her closer, pressing his nose against the top of her head.
“I asked J-Jay, but he ju-ust told me he wasn’t al-lowed to say anything,” she sobbed and he wondered if J.A.R.V.I.S. was really just following orders and didn’t realize how she would take it or if this was his way of forcing Tony to tell someone.
Knowing him, it was probably the latter.
“Is this why Nebs is working with you?”
He sighed and pressed a kiss to her head before pulling back so they could see each other. “No, she doesn’t know. No one except you, Jay, and I know. That’s why Jay wouldn’t say anything. I told him not to tell anyone.”
She nodded and rubbed at her eyes. “I don’t want you to die.”
He ran his fingers through her hair. “Neither do I. That’s why Jay’s been looking into other options. It’s… It’s not going well.”
She gave him a determined look and pulled away. “I’ll help.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
She crossed her arms and nodded. “Jay and I will fix your arc.”
“Jay’s got it. Come on, you should go get ready to leave for the Expo.”
Shaking her head, she turned back to the computers. “We can go after we fix your arc!”
He wanted to argue, to point out that J.A.R.V.I.S. had already tested every option, but there was no way he was killing her hope. “Alright, Kiddo, let's do this.”
“You know, there’s a party going on upstairs,” Nebs said, leaning against the doorway.
“We’re doing silence, Nebs,” Teresa said, waving his sister away.
“What she said,” his daddy agreed, looking over a hologram.
“I’d like to remind you that it’s your birthday party,” Nebs said, walking over to him and giving Teresa’s head a shove as she passed.
“Then I’m sure everyone’s having a blast. I throw the best parties.”
“I wouldn’t say you’re the one throwing it considering you’re not even there.” Nebs crossed her arms and tried to look at Daddy's work, but he closed it before she could.
“Sounds about right to me,” he said, turning to face her. “They usually just slap my name on the invitation.”
“Father, you are the guest of honor. You need to appear.”
“I told Pepper we should have canceled. Teresa and I are busy. The party will just have to go on without me.”
“What are you two even doing down here?”
“Science,” the two said as one, to Teresa’s joy.
Nebula growled, then picked Daddy up. “Whatever it is can wait.”
“Thirty minutes. You can attend your own party for thirty minutes.”
“Guess we’re taking a break. Break time, Jay.”
Teresa yelped as his work disappeared. “Daddy!”
“Break time, Sugar Cookie. Play some games, plan a route through the Expo, whatever. Clear your mind. I’ll be back in ten,” he called as Nebula carried him out.
“That’s not how you haggle!”
“Aunt Pepper said not to haggle with you.”
“Who said Pepper was allowed to give you lessons?”
Teresa giggled as they disappeared up the stairs.
Turning back to his work area, he considered what to do before having Jay bring up the files for the Expo. He scrolled through them, looking for the map, before he spotted a video he recognized from the opening night.
His eyes locked onto the model Grandpa referred to as the City of the Future.
“Jay, can you bring up a picture of that model?” He asked, pointing at the video.
“Of course, Master Resa.” The video opened and fast-forwarded through it. “No clear picture is given. Would you like me to compile one?”
The video ran through again, this time taking snippets of the model until a complete picture was before him.
“Thank you, Jay!” he looked over the model and nodded. “Okay, Jay, can you run the picture through the Play Well Program now?”
“Right away, though I’d like to remind you that without an accurate three-dimensional model, the result won’t be perfectly to scale.”
“That’s okay, Jay. Just do your best!”
The picture duplicated before the copy twisted, becoming three dimensional.
Then the copy exploded into LEGO pieces.
Smiling, he set to work reconstructing the model, “grabbing” the LEGO pieces and stacking them together.
“I’m back!” Daddy called out sometime later. “Nebula got distracted dealing with some guys who kept jeering for the Iron Man suit to make an appearance, so I was able to sneak away.” He came up behind Teresa. “Whatcha working on?”
“I made a LEGO set from Grandpa’s model.”
His daddy got that weird look on his face he always got when grandpa got brought up. “Good job, Baby,” he said, looking over his work. “I don’t think that building is supposed to go there, though.”
“Really?” Teresa looked up the photo to see where it was in the picture. “Does it matter?”
“Your grandfather sure seemed to think so. Everything had to be just so when it came to the stupid thing. You make it however you want though, sweetie. Bet you could make it ten times better than the old man.”
“You think?” he asked. A part of him wanted to prove his daddy right, but the other needed to match the predetermined design. “I don’t know. Maybe after I finish it first.”
“Suit yourself. Okay, where does that building go?”
Suddenly remembering why they were in the workshop, Teresa pushed the hologram aside. “I can finish it later. Shouldn’t we get back to work?”
“Yeah,” Daddy said, but his voice sounded distracted.
Teresa looked up to see him staring at the picture. “What’s wrong?”
He tilted his head. “Nothing, I think I’ve just been staring at too many element diagrams,” he said, but he continued staring at the picture. He squinted his eyes and held his hand up in a circle. “Jay, is this an accurate depiction of the model?”
“Not a perfect one, no. I created it using the footage used in the Expo’s opening ceremony.”
“Where’s the actual model?”
“In Ms. Potts' office.”
His daddy hummed then shot Teresa a smirk. “Hey, how’d you like to help Daddy break into his old office?”
Chapter 9: Girl Fridays, Part 2
“What did you do?” Nebula asked, taking in the destruction that surrounded the workshop.
“Built a prismatic accelerator,” her father explained. “Where have you been?”
“At the office, doing my job.”
“Sounds boring,” Teresa said.
That feel when I actually stop to count and realize I've given Tony fourteen children and two grandchildren in this fic. I might have gone a little overboard. In my defense, over half the kids are either AI's or robots. Have fun guessing who the sixteen are!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The party was over by the time they got back and Rhodey was waiting for them.
“Uncle Rhodey!” Teresa cheered, jumping out of the car.
“Where have you been?”
“Uh oh,” Tony chuckled, coming around to her side. “I think it’s bedtime, Resa. Head upstairs and I’ll come tuck you in.”
She pouted, but left.
“I stuck my neck out for you and you just up and disappear,” the man snapped.
“It was just one party,” Tony scoffed, moving around the car to grab a piece of the model.
“It’s not just the party, you’ve fallen off the face of the Earth. Iron Man needs to be out there.”
“Can’t right now, busy,” he said, eyeing the piece then shrugging. “Dum-E, U, come take care of this.”
The twins gave cheerful whirs and raced over.
“I’m serious,” Rhodey growled, coming to his side and grabbing his arm.
“And I need to go tuck in my kid.” Tony pulled away.
“You head up those stairs, and I’ll take the suits myself.”
“Sure buddy,” he laughed opening the door.
“You think I won’t?”
Tony let the door swing shut behind him.
When he reached the main floor, he took a moment to take in the mess left over from the party.
“Hey Jay, where’d Pepper and Nebula get to?”
“Ms. Potts has returned home for the night. She seemed upset that you left early, but was relieved that you at least did not make a scene. Miss Nebula is in her room with the door locked and is currently on the phone with the cleaning company. She is far more upset and has decided that you will be cleaning up instead.”
Tony rolled his eyes and continued on to the second floor. “Make sure they’re compensated for the change of plans.”
“Miss Nebula is already on it. I should also inform you Colonel Rhodes has just left with the Mark II.”
Tony was slightly shocked that’s all he was leaving with. At the very least, he could have taken the Mark IV. He chuckled at the idea of taking remote control of the suit and dragging his best friend back just to remind Rhodey he could before properly considering the situation.
The world needed the suit and Tony… he didn’t have much longer and he’d rather spend that time with the kids. If anyone could be trusted with the suit, it was Rhodey.
On the other hand, there was the model to consider. If Iron Man was still around in the end…
“Jay, call up legal. Let them know the Air Force is about to get a gift and we need to get a contract together fast. Tell them I’ll be on the phone with them to discuss terms as soon as I’ve finished a quick task.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“What am I going to do for you? Well, the first thing I’m gonna do for you is I’m gonna upgrade your software -”
“No you won’t,” Rhodey cut in.
“Stark’s conditions,” Major Allen explained. “We get the Mark II, or War Machine as he has designated it, but only so long as he has complete control over software updates and modifications as well as a few physical components.”
“The armor is still Stark Industries property, it’s just on loan to the Air Force,” Rhodey restated. “No pulling it apart to try to reverse engineer it.”
“Then why am I here,” Hammer asked, clearly annoyed no matter how he tried to hide it.
“You’re here to weaponize it. Stark Industries won’t do it due to their no weapons policy.”
“You want firepower, huh? Well, you’re talking to the right guy.”
“Rhodes has the armor?”
“One of them.”
“What’s Stark doing about it?”
“Nothing. He’s claiming he let Rhodes take it. He said he’s loaning it out to the Air Force as a peace offering despite the fact the general claims they seized the suit. According to Stark, he has measures in place to prevent unauthorized use so it would be impossible for Rhodes to have taken it without his permission and the colonel backed him up. I can’t say for sure if it’s the truth or just him and Rhodes covering his ass.”
“What are they planning to do with the suit?”
“Just weaponize it. There’s not much more they can do with all of Stark’s conditions. He made sure they wouldn’t be able to modify it too much or let anyone other than Rhodes use it. He even ensured the suit would go by a call sign of his own invention.”
“Of course he did. Anyone planning to fight him on it?”
“Stern’s been making his opinion known and the other branches of the military seem just short of calling nepotism, but the contract was signed as is. The Air Force are thrilled enough to have the suit in their ranks that they’ll take anything. Not to mention that Stark’s being firm, either they take his terms or he’ll just recall the suit right out of their hanger. If it’s a bluff, no one’s calling it.”
“Well Stark’s certainly got this all in hand.”
“Agreed. There doesn’t appear to be anyway to step in without showing our hand.”
“Alright. Keep your head down and ears open. We’ve still got something in the works.”
“What did you do?” Nebula asked, taking in the destruction that surrounded the workshop.
“Built a prismatic accelerator,” her father explained. “Where have you been?”
“At the office, doing my job.”
“Sounds boring,” Teresa said, shoving another book under the metal coil Father was holding up. “How’s that?”
He set the coil down then set a level on top. “Perfect!”
Nebula stared at the two before shaking her head. “I don’t want to know. Please don’t blow the house up while I’m gone.”
“Where are you going?” her father asked, finally looking at her and Teresa followed suit.
“Hammer’s giving a presentation tomorrow evening at the Expo. Aunt Pepper wants me to come with her. Giving Uncle Rhodey the Mark II has helped put out some fires, but we need to be there to keep control of the situation. I suppose it would be too much to ask that you come along.”
“How long until wheels up?”
“About an hour,” she answered, glancing at her watch.
“Sorry busy. Besides, who’d stay with Resa? Happy’s going to be there too and I heard Rhodey’s part of the presentation.”
“Uncle Happy can take her around the Expo. She’d love it,” she answered easily already knowing her sister had been hoping to go since it had been announced. “I can act as your bodyguard.”
To her surprise, Teresa objected. “No, we have to finish daddy’s project. The Expo can wait!”
“You heard the girl,” he said, ruffling her hair.
Nebula sighed, but it was the answer she expected to hear. “Try not set anymore fires, literally or figuratively.”
“Will do on the figurative, no promises on the literal.”
She marched out before she could decide to argue.
“Call trace incomplete.”
Tony and Teresa shared a look before glancing over at the Expo model.
“Nebs,” she whispered.
“There’s no way he knows about any of you,” Tony said, but that didn’t settle the panic that was sinking in.
Vanko was in New York, just like Nebula, Pepper, Happy, and Rhodey.
He turned and saw a promotion for Hammer’s presentation on one of his screens.
“Okay, sweetie, daddy’s got to go to work,” he said, moving towards the new arc reactor. “Stay here with your brothers and U.”
“I wanna come!” she announced and he turned to her instead.
“Baby,” he said, setting his hands on her shoulders. “This could turn out to be very dangerous. I need you to stay here so I know your safe.”
“Also, the suit won’t fit you,” he added with a smirk and she pouted. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and grabbed the arc reactor.
“You want to run some tests, run them.”
Nebula glared at the man who had placed her father and so many others in danger. Before Aunt Pepper could stop her, she grabbed him and slammed him against the desk he was standing near. “You will tell us who did this now or I will make you.”
“Ivan. Ivan Vanko,” the worm stuttered out quickly.
“Where is he?”
“At my facility.”
Nebula shoved him aside and glared at the man at the computer. “Move.”
He tripped over his feet as he rushed to comply.
“Call the police,” she told Aunt Pepper as she pulled out her phone and connected it to the laptop, allowing her access to the device. “J.A.R.V.I.S. and I will do what we can from here.”
“No, no, honey. Don’t call the authorities.”
“Call her honey or touch her again and I will break your nose,” Nebula hissed and Hammer immediately jumped away from Aunt Pepper.
“How are we looking?” Aunt Pepper asked shortly later.
“Not good. None of them are on the same system. Without access to the main command center, we’re only able to shut them down one at a time. Well, two at a time since J.A.R.V.I.S. and I can each take one.”
“How are you doing that?” Hammer’s helper asked, looking at the screen and she shoved him away.
“Unlike your boss, Mr. Stark only hires the best,” she said, taking out one of the Marine drones. “Now leave.”
Everyone fled except Nebula and Aunt Pepper.
Suddenly the connection to the command center unlocked. Two video feeds opened up, one showing her father’s face from his heads up display, the other showing the redhead from legal her father had wanted to make his PA.
“Reboot complete. You’ve got your best friend back,” the redhead said.
“And you are?” he asked and the woman frowned.
“I’m Agent Romanoff. I’m a S.H.I.E.L.D. shadow. I -”
“Am fired,” Nebula finished, using her newfound freedom to shut down all the drones.
“That’s not up to you,” the spy said.
“But it’s up to me,” Aunt Pepper growled, stepping up behind Nebula. “Why is Fury sending spies into my company?”
“That’s something I would prefer to speak to Mr. Stark about in private.”
“If this is about Fury’s super-secret boy band, I already gave him my refusal. Also, Pep, remind me to sue Hammer for messing with Rhodey’s programming.”
“Fury dropped a data file on his way out. I had a team go over it.”
Said team was himself, Nebula, and J.A.R.V.I.S., but that wasn’t something the spy needed to know.
“Mr. Stark, that was confidential information for your eyes only.”
“Then you shouldn’t have left the drive behind,” Nebula snorted. “Everyone present is aware of the Avengers Initiative, Agent, and as Mr. Stark said, he turned S.H.I.E.L.D. down.”
“Can we talk about this when I’m not fending off a Hammeroid attack?”
“The drones are down,” Nebula said. “J.A.R.V.I.S. and I just shut down the last one.”
“Great, you’re the best!”
“Stark, we need to -”
“You know what, you’ve got my PA on the line, schedule an appointment. I think Fury and I need to have a talk about boundaries anyways. In the meantime, you can clean out your desk. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to check on my buddy.”
“All these drones are rigged to blow. We gotta get out of here man.”
“Pepper and Nebula!”
Rhodey sucked in a breath and followed after Tony. They reached the girls just in time, Tony grabbing Pepper while he grabbed Nebula.
As the explosions went off, Rhodey found a roof to land on and set Nebula down.
Tony did the same and he and Pepper immediately started bickering.
And then they were kissing.
“They are ridiculous,” Nebula sighed.
“Yeah,” Rhodey agreed, sitting down on a box.
They broke apart and Tony said, “Weird.”
“No, it’s not weird,” Pepper disagreed.
“It’s okay, right?”
“Run that by me again.”
When they started kissing again, Rhodey said, “I think it was weird. You guys look like two seals fighting over a grape.”
“I had just quit, actually,” Pepper said as they broke apart and Tony started to speak over her.
“Yeah, so we’re not…”
Rhodey waved them off. “You don’t have to do that. We heard the whole thing.”
“Are you done now?” Nebula asked.
“You two should get lost,” Tony said, pointing between them.
“I was here first. Get a roof,” Rhodey said, but Nebula just turned and started to walk off.
The three watched her march off.
Tony snorted. “Well, she lasted longer than some.”
Rhodey rolled his eyes and stood up.
“Hey, buddy, I’m going to need the suit back. Gotta fix all that Hammer nonsense. Maybe even give you an upgrade. Maybe. We’ll see if I’m feeling nice.”
“Sure, but my car got taken out in the explosion, so I’m gonna have to hang on to it for a minute, okay?”
Tony hummed. “Not okay. Not okay with that.”
“It wasn’t a question.”
Tony glanced around the warehouse Fury had set up for their meeting. His eyes landed on a folder for the Avengers Initiative Preliminary Report and he slid it towards himself.
Fury’s hand fell over it. “I don’t think I want you looking at that. I’m not sure it pertains to you anymore.”
“You’re right, it doesn’t,” Tony said before the man could continue. “I told you before I’ve got no interest. Now, about you sending your little spy into my company.”
“Romanoff was sent in to assess you -”
“After I already said no.”
“Which is why you were under consideration to be a consultant.”
Tony stared at the man before looking away. He stood up and held out his hand. When Fury took it, he clasped them man’s hand between both of his own. “You can’t afford me.”
He walked away.
“Oh, and I’d be willing to drop the corporate espionage charges for a small favor,” Tony added, turning back to him. “Rhodey and I are being honoured in Washington and we need a presenter.”
Fury glared at him and he shrugged.
“Unless you want me to take your little secret spy ring to court. I’m sure the press would have a field day with that.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Fury growled.
Tony gave him a smirk. “Just be glad nothing confidential passed her desk or legal would be tearing into you harder than they are Hammer. They don’t like it when they’re infiltrated. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a date with the cutest girl in the world.”
“So what are you going to do now that Nebs quit?” Teresa asked playing with the fake repulsor on her glove as Tony paid for their churros.
“No idea,” he said. “Keep the change.”
“Sir!” the churro girl exclaimed. “This is a hundred dollar bill!”
Tony waved it off and led Teresa away. “Guess I’ll have to hire one of Aunt Pepper’s choices. Or go without.”
“Why can’t Jay be your new PA?” she asked, pulling off her gloves and tucking them into her pocket so she could take her churro from him. The faceplate of her Iron Man helmet slid up and she took a bite. “He’s always helping you with stuff.”
“Mouth closed you goblin. And Jay’s a pushover. A snippy one, but still. He’d never nag me to do stuff like Aunt Pepper does.”
She swallowed and wiped her face before saying, “Why can’t you make a PA bot then?”
“That’s…” Tony paused, thinking it over. “That’s actually a really good idea, Gummy Bear.”
She gave him a wide smile before taking a big bite.
“Yeah, I can make her feisty. A redhead like your sister and Aunt Pepper.”
“Nebs doesn’t have red hair,” Teresa giggled.
“She’s got a few wigs that are red. I can make her Scottish, or maybe Irish? What do you think?”
“Irish it is. See, this is why you’re my girl Friday, Baby!”
Teresa stopped, frowning at her churro.
“Hey, what’s wrong?”
She kept staring for a moment before looking up at him warily. She grabbed his hand and tugged him off to the side. “Can-can I talk to you about something?”
He knelt down and let go of her hand to cup her cheek. “Of course. You can tell me anything.”
She bit her lip, but nodded.
There was a flicker of light, then another, before a form materialized in the lab. It was a young woman in her early twenties. She was pale and slim with red hair cut into a stylish asymmetrical bob and a sleek jacket and pencil skirt.
“Happy birthday, Friday!”
The AI turned her blue holographic eyes to Tony and Teresa.
“Thanks Boss, Baby-Bro.”
Friday's here a bit early because Tony deserves a PA and I love the idea from the comics where she's his holographic secretary.
Next up: Big Buff Uncle
Seriously though, leave who you think the rest of the kids will be in the comments. I wanna see your ideas. Hint: Two kids and one grandkid come from the comics, the rest are MCU based.
Chapter 10: Big Buff Uncle, Part 1
“Get out of here you gremlins. I’ve got to find Fury’s box before the guy who stole it blows something up or whatever he’s planning.”
“Sweet,” Harley said. “Can we blow something up when you're done?”
“Sure, sounds fun, just don’t tell your mother.”
“Tori or Pepper?” Peter asked and Tony blanched.
So here are the kids everyone has figured out so far:
1. Nebula 2. Dum-E 3. U 4. Jarvis
5. Peter 6. Harley 7. Friday 8. ???
9. ??? 10. Jocasta 11.
13. Morgen 14.
With the grandkids Vision &
Vivian. Also, I've been informed I should include Droney and Redwing in the count, though they're more like pets.
So you guys are still missing three. Also, the three crossed out might end up with different names because of plot reasons. I'm still deciding.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Tony Stark was thirty-six when Bruce was introduced to the family.
Nebs, Harley, and Peter all glared at one another.
“You really want to do this?” Harley growled.
“You think I’m scared of you?” Peter scoffed.
“Don’t even think of it, little brother,” Nebs hissed. “I will toss you off the balcony.”
Peter met her eyes and set down his card. “I’m out.”
Harley tackled him. “I just needed one more card you jerk.”
“I AM THE PHASE TEN MASTER!” Peter laughed, trying to shove his brother off.
Nebs slapped her cards onto the bed and stood up. She grabbed Peter and threw him over her shoulder.
“H-hey, Nebs, let me go!” he shouted, barely managing to keep his glasses on his face.
“Oh, I will. Right over the balcony.”
Peter’s eyes widened and he started squirming. “What? Hey, no, you can’t do that! Harley, help!”
“Revenge!” Harley cheered, following them down the hall.
“Mom!” Peter shouted as they made it into the living room.
“What are you three doing?” Mom asked, looking up from where she was working.
“Mom, they’re going to toss me off the balcony!”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Nebula, no tossing your brothers off the balcony.”
“I wasn’t going to actually toss him, just let him dangle.”
“Good to go on this end. The rest is up to you,” their dad's voice called out.
“No dangling each other hundreds of feet in the air,” Mom said before turning back to her work. “You disconnected the transmission lines? Are we off the grid?”
“Boo!” Harley jeered. He and Nebs shared a look. “Want to throw him in the pool instead?”
“Mom!” Peter pleaded as they turned towards the elevator.
“Your father already cut the power. Take the stairs,” was her only response.
“I hate this family,” Peter groaned, flopping over.
“Maybe next time you’ll think twice about going out before we’ve laid down,” Nebs said.
“Maybe next time you’ll learn how to be good at cards,” Peter muttered as the lights came on.
Nebs jostled him and he coughed as his chest hit her shoulder.
An idea came to him and he gave a few more coughs. “I… I think I’m… having an attack!” he coughed out. “My inhaler!”
“You’re fine,” Nebs said blankly and the worry quickly fled Harley’s face.
“Nice try, bro.”
“Oh, don’t act like you didn’t fall for it,” Peter snorted.
Harley stuck his tongue out before rushing ahead to push the door to the penthouse’s lower level open for Nebs. “When did Pepper become Mom?”
“A few weeks ago. Uncle Rhodey asked when she and Dad were getting married and I realized that when they do, she’ll be our step-mom. I figured I’d get ahead of the game.”
“They’re not even engaged. Uncle Rhodey was just joking,” Nebs pointed out.
“It’s going to happen eventually,” Peter scoffed. “Uncle Happy agrees. He’s got a ring already.”
“That’s hilarious,” Harley chuckled.
Nebs froze just before the doorway to the pool.
“What’s up, Nebs?” Harley asked.
“Don’t call me that, and someone’s overwriting J.A.R.V.I.S.’s phone protocols.”
“Is that even possible?” Harley asked and Peter turned to try and look at her.
“Not typically. It seems Romanoff took more than we thought,” she growled. “I’m going to tear S.H.I.E.L.D. a new one.”
Peter groaned and went limp. “What do they want now?”
Nebs hummed and set him down. She brought up a projection of F.R.I.D.A.Y. in the elevator with a man in a suit. Her arms were crossed and she was tapping her foot on the floor. “Agent Coulson, as I’ve told you before, Boss isn’t seeing anyone right now. You can make an appointment -”
“It’s an emergency,” the man said.
“Then I will alert Boss and ask his permission. You do not need to invade our home and hack my brother!”
The man ignored her, holding his phone up. “Stark, we need to talk.”
“You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark, please leave a message.”
“This is urgent.”
“Then leave it urgently.”
Coulson stepped out of the elevator and F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, “Sorry Boss, he wouldn’t listen and used a device to override my control of the elevator. I’ve alerted security. Should I call the rozzers?”
“That won’t be necessary,” Coulson said.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Nebs growled, turning back to the stairs. “You two stay down here.”
The two shared a look and darted into a media room. “Jay, bring up the security feed!”
“… Fury I didn’t want to have anything to do with S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Dad was saying as the feed came up on the tv. He was standing next to Mom with a glass of champagne, glaring at Coulson. F.R.I.D.A.Y. was behind them, holding up a holographic phone.
“Give the word Boss,” she said cheerfully.
“That won’t be necessary,” Mom said, stepping forward and F.R.I.D.A.Y. pouted, letting her prop disappear. “Phil! Come in.”
“Phil? Uh, his first name is Agent,” Dad said, following her.
“Oh no, they’ve turned Mom!” Peter gasped.
“Come on in, we're celebrating.”
“Which is why he can't stay.”
“We need you to look this over,” Coulson said, holding out a tablet.
“No, what you need to do is leave,” Nebs said, marching in with her mask and her red pixie cut wig on.
Coulson turned to her with curiosity. “Ms. Parker, I thought you quit.”
“I work with security now,” tapping her hip where her badge and gun were strapped to her belt. “And as security, I’d be happy to show you out.”
Coulson turned back to Dad. “Mr. Stark -”
“Even if I was your consultant, which I’m not, official consulting hours are between eight and five every other Thursday.”
“Is this about The Avengers?” Mom asked.
“I turned that down too,” Dad pointed out, taking a drink.
“This isn’t about personal preferences anymore. We need Iron Man.”
Tony smirked. “More than you know.”
“Not that much.”
Mom took the tablet and pushed it into Dad’s hand.
“Whatever,” Tony huffed, walking away.
Nebs stepped up to Coulson’s side. “You’ve dropped off your package, now kindly exit the building or I will have to resort to force.”
“Look that over, Stark,” he said before allowing Nebs to take him into the elevator.
“I never get to do anything fun,” they heard F.R.I.D.A.Y. sigh before J.A.R.V.I.S. closed the feed.
“What do you think was on the tablet?” Peter asked.
“Probably cool classified spy stuff we’re not supposed to know,” Harley answered.
“Probably,” Peter agreed. He looked at his brother. “We’re going to go find out, aren’t we?”
“Of course,” Harley said, throwing his arm over Peter’s shoulders.
“You’re going to get us into trouble with the spies,” Peter said, but followed his brother out of the room and up the stairs all the same.
Mom and Dad were whispering to themselves when they arrived, but broke apart when she spotted them.
She kissed him and said, “Work hard.” She came over to them and ruffled their hair. “Change of plans. I’m flying out to DC tonight. Your father has some work to do. If you need anything, go to your sisters first before bothering him, please.”
“What’s going on?” Harley asked.
“Nothing you kids need to worry about. Go shove each other into the pool or whatever you were doing before.”
Harley pouted, but Peter just rolled his eyes. Everyone knows you don’t go to Mom for information and you certainly can’t work the puppy eyes on her.
He waited until Mom had left before slipping up next to where Dad and F.R.I.D.A.Y. were going over the files from the tablet. “So what’s going on?”
Dad snorted, but explained, “Fury lost something and he’s going to need some help finding it.”
“A power source, one that apparently can make wormholes. Your grandfather mentioned it one of those journals Fury dropped off in his attempt to turn me to the dark side.”
“Cool!” Harley said. “Hey, is that the Hulk!?”
Peter’s eyes lit up. “Are you going to get to meet Dr. Banner!?”
Dad gave him a look. “No way, kid. You wanna meet the jolly green, you’ve got to go through Jen.”
Peter widened his eyes and leaned against him. “But Dad!”
“Nuh-uh, Petey-pie. I’m not bringing you into this just so you can meet Banner. Especially with Fury hovering about. Call Jen.”
Peter crossed his arms. “Fine, I will. Jay -”
His dad placed his hand over Peter’s mouth. “Yeah, no. She’s got her own big green problems to deal with. She doesn’t need to be dragged into Fury’s circus either. Why don’t you go play? Pep said you guys were going swimming? Do that. We can talk about meeting Banner later.”
“Nope,” Dad chirped and Peter frowned. “Get out of here you gremlins. I’ve got to find Fury’s box before the guy who stole it blows something up or whatever he’s planning.”
“Sweet,” Harley said. “Can we blow something up when you're done?”
“Sure, sounds fun, just don’t tell your mother.”
“Tori or Pepper?” Peter asked and Tony blanched.
“Alright, we’re done here. Out! Out!”
The two snickered as they left.
“Finally, someone who speaks English.”
“Is that what just happened?”
Tony shook Banner’s hand with a smile. “It's good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.”
“Thanks,” the other man said, looking uncomfortable.
“Dr. Banner is only here to track the cube.”
Tony ignored Fury. “Really, it’s great to meet you after all this time. I’ve heard so much. Don’t know why Jen refused to introduce us.”
Banner’s eyes widened. “You know Jen?”
“Met some years back. Great lawyer. She really helped me out so I return the favor sometimes when she needs some extra resources for a case. Glad she’s finally working the bigtime. Guess she just needed a little backbone. Gets it from your side of the family, I hear.”
The doctor froze and Tony slapped his back. “Don’t be modest, Banner. Big Green’s tenacity can’t have just come out of nowhere.”
“Is that what you call it?” Romanoff muttered.
“Let’s get back on track, Stark,” Fury ordered.
“I would start with Loki’s stick. It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon.”
“That's nice. It's a nice sentiment. Saved it for what?”
“I guess we'll find out.”
“You might not like that.”
“You just might.”
“Boss, you’re getting a call. It’s from you-know-who,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. announced.
“Thanks, Baby Girl,” Tony said, pulling his phone out. “Sorry, Brucie, gotta take this.”
“You know they’re just going to eavesdrop on you,” Banner pointed out.
“I’d like to see them try.” Tony slipped out of the lab and into a nearby empty one. “Fri, Jay, scramble all nearby signals with audio or video. Don’t bother being nice about it.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Right away, Boss.”
A moment later, the call connected. “Hey kids, how’re you doing?”
“We’re good,” Peter said while Harley, as per usual, got straight to the point.
“Did you fight the bad guy?”
“Yup. Kicked his butt. Now Dr. Banner and I are trying to find what he stole.”
“Did you meet Captain Ice Pop?” Harley asked.
“Otter Pop,” Peter corrected.
“I otter shut you up!”
“I don’t know what you're arguing about and I don’t care. Yes, I met the Capsicle.”
“I like ours better,” Harley said.
“You can’t even agree on one!”
“Is he a jerk like grandpa?” Peter asked.
“Your grandfather wasn’t… a jerk exactly… but yes.”
“Knew it! Pay up, Nebs!” Peter chirped.
“Oh good, Nebula is there. I was starting to get worried.”
“F.R.I.D.A.Y. told me I couldn’t tie them up and leave them in their rooms until you returned.”
“Probably for the best. Not sure how long this is going to take.”
“Where are you now?” Harley asked.
“Some giant flying S.H.I.E.L.D. ship. Jay took pictures. I’ll have him show you.”
“Is that legal?” Peter asked.
“Are you almost done in there?” Banner called.
“Break time’s over. Call you later, kids.”
“Bye, Dad!” Peter and Harley shouted as one.
“Goodbye, Father,” Nebula added.
“Bye, love you, don’t kill each other.” Tony hung up with a smile and returned to Banner’s lab.
“Threat! Verbal threat! I feel threatened!”
Beep! Beep! Beep!
Tony blinked and pulled his sleeve down to look at his watch.
“Got somewhere to be, Stark?” Romanoff snarked.
Ignoring her, he frowned at the readout on his watch before pointing at the staff. “That thing needs to be put in a box. Preferably lead-lined and far away.”
Fury rolled his eye. “Stark, we need -”
Tony brought up his watch’s holographic display. “See this? It’s a monitoring watch the doc makes me wear after I stuck this,” he tapped the reactor, “in my chest without talking to her first.” Not a lie, exactly. He’d made it after she’d found out about the palladium poisoning, which was after he’d put in the new reactor. “And see this,” he highlighted one graph. “It’s supposed to monitor the radiation given off by the reactor. It’s usually low enough not to be a concern, but right now there’s been a sudden spike.” He held up his hand when literally everyone tried to interrupt. “But the energy isn’t concentrating in my chest like the rest, it’s focused in my brain.” He brought up a visual for effect.
Bruce leaned in closer. “That’s the amygdala. It’s in charge of emotions.”
“Between having this in my chest twenty-four-seven and the vitamins the doc shoves down my throat, I’d be immune at these levels. Maybe a headache at most, which I’ve definitely got. Can’t say if it’s from the glow stick or Capsicle, though. You all, on the other hand, would be a different story.”
“Our arguing,” Thor said, catching on and sending the staff a look.
“Stark is arguing too,” Cap pointed out.
“That’s just my natural personality,” Tony said with a shrug. His personality compounded by his daddy issues, but still.
“You need to bring something in to contain this thing,” Bruce told the agents.
“We still need to track down the Tesseract,” Fury argued.
“We’re already running the search. We don’t need it anymore. Get it out of here,” Tony said.
Romanoff glanced between Bruce and the stick. “We should probably do what they say. This might be exactly what Loki wants, to make Banner angry.”
“It’s working,” he muttered and Tony wrapped his arm around the man’s shoulders.
“Why don’t you let off some steam? I hear it’s not good to bottle it all up.”
Bruce raised a curious eyebrow, but both were distracted by Cap pulling Tony away.
“You know damn well why! Back off!”
Oh, I’m starting to want you to make me, Tony thought, but shoved it down. Instead, he said, “Calm down, Captain Otter Pop.”
“Otter Pop?” Cap mumbled, looking lost.
Whoops, Harley was going to kill him.
He didn’t have long to think about that though because right then the computer went off, indicating that the Tesseract had been found.
“He wants flowers. He wants parades! He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered…” Tony cut off and his heart clenched. “Son of a bitch,” he hissed pulling out his phone and rushing out of the room. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., contact Nebula. Have her evacuate the tower. Get everyone out yesterday!”
There was no response.
“Stark, what’s going on?”
“He’s taken the tower!”
“Nebs?” Peter whispered.
She shook her head and put a finger to her lips.
The footsteps in the corridor continued on without stopping and all three relaxed.
Nebula waited a few moments, then reached out to F.R.I.D.A.Y.
The AI appeared in the room. “All the invaders have left the floor.”
“Who are they?” Harley asked.
“I recognized some of them from the files Boss was given. They are the ones he is meant to be tracking.”
“Can you reach him?” Nebula asked.
“No. The moment they arrived some odd energy wrapped around the building, preventing any communication with the outside world.”
“Is that how they’re getting around security?” Harley asked and F.R.I.D.A.Y. snorted.
“They’re not getting around it. They’re just smashing down whatever doors they need to get through. And without being able to send out a signal, the alarms are useless. I turned the sound off since it’d be annoying to listen to.”
“What are we going to do?” Peter asked.
“We need to get you two out of here,” Nebula said. “Do you think you can find a safe route out, F.R.I.D.A.Y.?”
“I can try, but it might be better to just wait here. Boss will realize something is wrong soon.”
The three shared a look and shook their heads.
“We need to move.”
F.R.I.D.A.Y. sighed. “Alright, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Do we know what they’re after?” Peter asked.
“Don’t even think about it,” Nebula hissed.
“No,” she said, cutting Harley off. “We are getting you two out of here, now.”
“Fine,” Harley huffed and Peter pulled out his phone.
Nebula pushed open the door and looked out. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., how does the -” She spun around as something tapped into the intranet. “Peter!”
“They’re siphoning energy from the arc reactor. Bet they won’t like this then,” he said, tapping at the screen.
Nebula’s eye twitched. “Did you just turn off the arc reactor?”
“The one they were currently using?”
“Yes,” he answered slowly, wondering what she was getting at.
“Did it occur to you that they might wonder how the arc reactor could be shut down if no one outside the building can remotely reach inside?”
No, it did not.
“Nice going, now they know we’re here,” Harley said, shoving him.
“As soon as the backup generators kick in, have F.R.I.D.A.Y. get you out. I’ll act as a distraction.” Nebula placed her finger in Peter’s face. “No more dumb moves!”
“Right, of course, promise!”
She nodded and slipped out the doorway.
“Smart moves on the other hand,” Peter hummed, turning back to his phone.
“What are you thinking?”
“Remember how Dad blew up Stane by overloading the reactor?”
“Yeah,” Harley said, smirking as he caught on.
“Think we can make whatever they’ve got blow up if we shove enough power into it.”
“I like the way you think.”
“Does anyone want my opinion?”
The two froze, turning as their hologram sister reappeared alongside emergency lighting.
“You gonna rat us out?”
She smirked. “If you want to boost the power of the reactor, you’re going to have to do it manually at the controls near the base. I’ll show you the way.”
A hint for the three you guys haven't guessed:
8 and 9 are from the comics and alongside Jocasta are called the triplets in this AU.
12 is adopted like Nebula and is technically in the MCU, but only so far as their origin story.
Chapter 11: Big Buff Uncle, Part 2
“I should probably warn you, it’s going to blow up in a few minutes.”
She turned to glare at her sister. “Why?”
A milkshake appeared in F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s hand and she drank it instead of answering.
So 12 has been revealed as... Kid Loki! It's actually kind of hilarious that it got found out just before this chapter, all things considered. Keep guessing for 8 and 9.
To respond to a few incorrect guesses that have come up a lot (meant to do this last chapter but forgot):
- Riri is not one of the kids. For those that want my reasons, see the notes at the end.
- Ultron also isn't a kid because F that guy. I have more reasons, but that's the main one and the rest will come up later on.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“What is going on?” Loki snapped.
“The arc reactor has gone dead. The drain must have been too much for it,” Selvig said.
“No, the reactor was supposed to be the key.” Loki turned away from the man, staring out at the city. “Someone else is in the building,” he said after a short time. “Find them.”
“Yessir,” his men called out before marching away.
“You two,” he turned to a pair of scientists. “Get the reactor back on!”
They nodded and rushed off.
He grabbed one of the communication devices they used and marched down into the building. He came into the hall that looked out onto the balcony and held the bar. He started to pace, tapping the staff against the floor every so often.
The lights flickered on and he smirked. “Tell me what you’ve found!”
“Scout team one reporting in. Nothing on our levels.”
“Scout team two reporting in. Nothing on our levels.”
A few more teams sounded off until the man who had taken charge in Barton’s place gave the all clear.
“What about the scientists that were sent down to the reactor?” he asked, not having heard from them.
“They didn’t have comms, but my team checked the level personally and they’ve done their job.”
“Scout team ten reporting in, we’ve got -” the man cut off with a yell.
“Scout team ten, what’s your status?”
There was a moment of silence, then, “Scout team ten reporting in, false alarm.”
Loki rolled his eyes. “Selvig, the device?”
“Powering up as planned.”
“Good.” Loki turned and saw Iron Man approaching. He smirked. “Let the show begin.”
“I’m in range, sir.”
“Great. Mute comms.”
The comms muted just as F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s voice rang out. “Boss!”
“There’s my girl. Where are the others? And can one of you shut down the arc reactor?”
“The baby-bros are safely hidden. Star-Sis is currently engaged with one of the teams searching the building. Correction, she has just defeated them. She’s been systematically taking down all the invaders since Mini-Bro accidentally revealed there was someone in the building.”
“Is she okay?”
“She has taken no damage and her actions have gone unnoticed for now.”
Relieved Tony flew up so he was level with Selvig.
“Sir, the arc reactor has been switched to manual control, I can’t shut it down,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced.
“Keep Nebula off the top floors,” he ordered before opening up the line. “Shut it down, Dr. Selvig.”
“Boss instructed me to keep you off the top floors.”
Nebula turned to see F.R.I.D.A.Y. draped over a holographic couch in the penthouse living room, watching the news.
“Outside communication’s working then?”
“Are you going to stop me?”
The video changed to a soap opera. “Would you listen if I tried?”
Nebula smirked and continued up the stairs to the roof.
“I should probably warn you, it’s going to blow up in a few minutes.”
She turned to glare at her sister. “Why?”
A milkshake appeared in F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s hand and she drank it instead of answering.
Shaking her head, Nebula ran up the stairs. She looked over the roof and saw that the only things up there were a man half-unconscious on the ground and a device connected to the wormhole above the city that started to shake and spark as she watched.
She marched over to the man and picked him up. “Time to go.”
“The scepter… Loki’s scepter.”
“No idea what you’re talking about, nut job.”
“You need it to close the portal.”
“Doubt there’s going to be a portal in a few minutes when that device goes boom.”
Nebula was halfway down to the next level when the explosion knocked her off her feet.
Groaning, she picked herself up and then did the same for the man, carrying him down into the living room before laying him on the bar to check him over.
“You need to go,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, appearing at her side.
A smash had her turning to see a man lying on the balcony. A second later the Hulk jumped up to grab the man and smash through the windows into the living room.
Nebula drew her gun. “Please tell me the Hulk’s on our side.”
“Stay down,” she ordered, pointing her gun at the normal-looking man.
“Enough!” he shouted, getting to his feet. “You are, all of you are beneath me! I am a god -”
Nebula fired and the god was knocked backwards by the arc-powered blast. Then the Hulk had his hand around the man’s legs and repeatedly slammed him into the ground.
“Puny god,” the man scoffed once he’d finished. He turned to Nebula and she lowered the arc-gun with a nod.
“Pleasure to meet you. You’re cousin’s said great things. Please don’t let the aliens kill Mr. Stark.”
The Hulk narrowed his eyes and marched up to her. When she stood her ground, he pointed a finger into her face. “Like you.”
Then he was back out the window.
“Well that was terrifying,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. giggled before moving over to stand over the god. “Hello Mr. Loki. You are under arrest. Say, aren’t your eyes blue?”
He just whimpered.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y., don’t torture the prisoner.”
“I swear his eyes were blue in the pictures S.H.I.E.L.D. gave Boss.”
“Just go check on the idiots. I know they’re still in the building.”
F.R.I.D.A.Y. shrugged and disappeared.
Nebula marched up to the man and set her foot on his chest, pointing the arc-gun right in his face. “Stay down this time.”
His green eyes met her own and he nodded.
“What was that explosion?” Captain America called out just as Natasha landed on the still smoking roof. “Was that you?”
“No, I don’t know what happened,” she answered, looking around.
“The device exploded,” Tony growled.
“Clearly,” she responded, raising an eyebrow at his angry tone as she searched the wreckage.
“Isn’t that a good thing?” The captain pointed out. “We didn’t exactly have a plan to get through the barrier.”
“Of course,” he said, his voice strained. “I’ll reward the ones who did it as soon as I’m done punishing them for messing with the reactor when they know they’re not allowed near it.”
“I have so many questions,” Clint said.
“Later, ” the captain said with a grunt. “Why’s the portal still open?”
“The tesseract absorbed some of the energy from the explosion,” a female voice said and Natasha drew her gun and spun around to see a young woman standing behind her.
“Who are you?” she said.
“Who was that?” Clint’s voice echoed her own.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” the woman and Stark said together. The woman pointed down near her feet where the tesseract sat half-buried.
It was glowing much brighter than in any of the pictures or video she'd been shown and a trail of energy led up from it to the portal.
“The energy is allowing it to keep the portal open without the device, but it’s draining quickly. It should lose the connection soon and then the portal will close.”
“Great so we just need to keep this contained until then. After that it’s just cleanup. F.R.I.D.A.Y., be a dear and have Nebula grab something from the lab to contain the tesseract,” Stark said before giving a hiss.
“She’s currently restraining Loki, I can -”
“She’s WHAT!?” Stark shouted and Natasha’s eye twitched at the volume. “She shouldn’t be anywhere near him.”
“It’s alright. Jenny’s cousin gave him an up close meeting with the floor. He’s thoroughly knackered,” she snickered.
“Jenny?” the captain muttered.
“Knackered,” Clint added in a terrible Irish accent and F.R.I.D.A.Y. scowled.
“Seriously, Stark, who is this?” Natasha asked.
“Nevermind that. Fri, sweetie, how long do we have until the portal closes?”
“Sweetie? I thought his girl was called Pepper,” Clint muttered.
“I’m his daughter,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said and Clint gave a choking sound. “I can’t be sure, there’s no tell- Wait!”
“Stark has a kid!?” Clint shouted as F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s eyes widened.
“Boss, no! It’s too dangerous!”
“What’s going on?” the captain asked.
“I got a nuke coming in, it's gonna blow in less than a minute. And I know just where to put it.”
“This is ridiculous! Bring the suit down! Big-Bro can pilot it!” F.R.I.D.A.Y. pleaded.
“No time. Besides, J.A.R.V.I.S. would lose contract the moment the suit’s through the portal.”
“Stark, you know that’s a one-way trip.”
“Jay, mute comms.”
Natasha turned when she heard footsteps and saw Parker had come onto the roof. “F.R.I.D.A.Y., get him out of there!”
“I can’t,” she whispered, staring off into the city.
Parker growled and pulled out her phone as it began ringing. “Don’t you - No! No, you can’t do - Please!” She fell to her knees and F.R.I.D.A.Y. knelt next to her, though she didn’t reach out. “I-I will, but you’re coming back! I’ll go out there and get you if I have to!”
Nebula saw F.R.I.D.A.Y.’s lips move, but she made no sound. She heard screams coming from the phone, though they didn’t sound like Stark.
Then the Iron Man suit shot passed them, flying up into the air and through the portal. Parker dropped her phone. “Please.”
The light connecting the tesseract to the portal flicked and thinned.
“Come on, Stark…” Natasha whispered as the portal began to shrink. The explosion went off, but Stark still hadn’t flow through.
“Boss, Dad, no,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. whimpered.
The portal shrank and shrank, until it closed.
Iron Man slipped through just before it could.
“He’s okay,” Parker’s voice said shakily before she grabbed her phone and put it to her ear. “He’s okay!”
“The suit's not responding,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, not sounding nearly as relieved. “Someone needs to catch him! The systems must still be rebooting!”
“Thor!” the captain shouted, but then Hulk was flying through the air to catch Stark, tearing into a building to slow their fall.
“I-I need to go,” Parker said, getting to her feet. “The prisoner’s downstairs. Should probably check on him.”
Natasha nodded and turned to F.R.I.D.A.Y., only for her to be nowhere in sight. She frowned, but turned back to where she’d seen Hulk and Stark land. “How is he?”
There was a moment of silence, then the captain reported in. “He’s alright, making jokes and everything. We’re headed your way.”
“Roger that, meet you there,” Clint agreed.
Natasha sighed then let her feet carry her to the stairs and down them. When she reached what appeared to be a living area, it was to see Loki sitting on the ground in a him-sized hole alongside Parker, both nursing glasses of amber liquid.
“Are you old enough to drink?” Natasha asked and the girl flipped her off before downing the rest of the liquid.
When she turned her focus on Loki, he ignored her.
Parker stood up and poured herself another glass before offering some to Natasha.
“I’d prefer Vodka.”
She nodded and grabbed a bottle off the shelf, handing it to Natasha as she passed on her way back to Loki’s side.
“Who’s this?” Clint asked, coming up beside her shortly later. “Why’s she buddy-buddy with him?”
“We’re drinking to his defeat,” Parker muttered.
“She works for Stark,” Natasha explained, handing him her bottle so he could have some.
“What’s going on here?” Stark said, coming into the room. “Why is everyone drinking my alcohol? I’m not even allowed to drink my alcohol unless it’s a special occasion!”
“I’d say you nearly dying should count as a special occasion, but you do it way too often,” Parker snapped.
Stark pointed at her. “You are not allowed to drink. Besides the fact you’re underage, you’re also on the job.”
“I’m taking vacation time.”
“Don’t you have two scientists to round up before they decide to blow something else up?”
Parker stood up and walked over to him. She looked him in the eye and downed her glass before shoving it into his hand. “Vacation. Time. I’ll be back in a week. Two. I’ll be in Hawaii. Don’t call me.”
She marched out without a second glance.
“Fri, make sure she has everything she needs,” Stark sighed.
“Got it, Boss!”
Natasha and Clint spun around to see F.R.I.D.A.Y. standing directly behind them. Clint, reacting on instinct, sunk his hand into her stomach.
Emphasis on into as his hand seemed to pass right through her.
F.R.I.D.A.Y. groaned, doubling over. “Ow! Oh, that hurt!”
“Stop teasing the super spies,” Stark snorted. “Go track down those two idiots and make sure they’re somewhere safe. And by that, I mean far away from the reactor.”
“Aye aye,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. said, straightening up and saluting her father before vanishing.
“What on earth?” the captain wondered, looking around.
“She was an illusion, obviously,” Loki scoffed.
“Hologram, but close enough.” Stark pointed at him. “Now shut up and stop drinking my alcohol.”
“You offered me a drink,” the villain said before taking another sip.
Stark shrugged. “Fair enough.”
The captain gave them both an unbelieving expression.
“Midgardian alcohol is weak, by the way,” Loki sniffed.
“He’s got a point,” Thor agreed quietly.
“But I was supposed to stay with you for the whole week,” Harley whined as he packed his bag.
“Should have thought of that before you decided to play demolition expert with my prototype arc reactor,” Tony snorted. “Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if your mother never lets me see you again.”
“She wouldn’t do that, would she?” Peter asked. “It’s not your fault the aliens attacked here!”
“I should have gotten you kids out of the city as soon as I knew it was in danger.”
“But then you couldn’t have fought the aliens,” Harley said, sitting down on his bag so he could zip it closed easier.
“You kids are my priority, not aliens.”
“But we were fine! Nebula said the reactor room is like a bunker! Nothing could have gotten in as soon as we sealed the door,” Peter objected.
“You mean the reactor room with the dangerous prototype you two aren’t supposed to be anywhere near?” Tony asked, crossing his arms.
“We closed the wormhole!” Harley huffed.
“That was some good thinking, but you should have told Nebula your plan and let her take care of it instead. You guys are ten! You need to leave these kinds of situations to the adults.” He set one hand on Harley’s shoulder and the other on Peter’s head. “Please, you kids and your siblings are the most important things in my life. If something were to happen to any of you… I need to know you guys are safe. If I’m worried you’re getting yourselves into trouble then I can’t focus on doing my job, alright?”
“Okay, Dad,” Peter said.
“Yeah, alright,” Harley agreed.
“Thank you.” He pressed a kiss to both of their foreheads, which made Harley squirm away with a groan.
Bruce hadn’t honestly believed Tony was being serious when he’d offered to let him stay at the Tower, and yet here he was in a temporary lab the man had set up for him while construction on Stark Tower finished.
A temporary lab that was still more advanced than any other he’d worked in.
“Look at you stepping up in the world.”
Bruce turned to the door with wide eyes. “Jen? What are you doing here?”
“Stark flew me out. Practically forced me to come. He seems to think we need to talk.”
He flinched. “I’m sorry about that. I’ll talk to him. If you want to leave y-“
“Bruce,” she said, holding up her hand. “I wasn’t the one that ran off after the transfusion.”
“I figured you’d never want to see me again,” Bruce mumbled.
She came up to him and took his hand. “You saved my life. Of course I wanted to see you again. I’ll admit, it was a bit scary at first, but I’m handling it, same as you. If anything, it might have done me some good. Stark seems to think I needed the, in his words, backbone upgrade.”
Giving him a wry smile, she continued, “Of course, it might have been easier if you didn’t take off without a word. I get it, though. You thought you had ruined my life. And if you’d stayed, Ross might have tracked you down again. You could have at least said goodbye.”
“I know.” She pulled him into a hug. “But if you ever do it again, I’ll kick your butt. I will. I might not be as strong as you, but I’m way smarter.”
“Sure,” he chuckled and she pulled back to glare.
There was a shuffling sound in the doorway and they both turned to see a kid staring at them with wide eyes.
“Oops!” Jen said, blushing. “I forgot, sorry.” She came up to the kid’s side and set her hand on his shoulder. “Bruce, this is Peter. He’s the son of a client. His family’s in town so I offered to bring him over.” She gave a wink. “He’s a big fan.”
He gave an uneasy smile as the two approached. He’d seen some of the people talking (“fanning”) about the Hulk online. Usually it was young kids who liked the destruction he caused (he chose to ignore the other fans). “Hey.”
The kid was still staring up at him with those big doe eyes. “Y-you’re -”
Bruce blinked and looked up at Jen, who was smirking.
That was not what he expected.
“I’ve read all your papers! Your work is so cool!”
That was really not what he was expecting.
“You… read my papers? Could you even understand any of them?”
That came off more condescending than he intended and he flinched. Then he flinched again at the look Jen shot him.
Peter didn’t notice as he’d ducked his head. “Some of it,” he said, blushing.
As if he should be embarrassed at being able to only understand some of what Bruce talked about in his pages at such a young age.
“Kid you’re… How old are you?”
“Ten,” he said, then tacked on, “But I’ll be eleven in August!”
“You’re ten! And you still managed to get through my papers! You must be really smart.”
“I’ll just leave you two to your science,” Jen chuckled, moving over to a table in the corner and pulling out a tablet.
“So what fields of science are you interested in?”
“A bunch! Physics, engineering, biology, chemistry is my favorite, especially biochemistry, but don’t tell Dad because he says we’re an engineering family.”
So regarding Riri, unfortunately I just don't know all that much about her. Her story or her characterization. However, while researching Viv, I did find out that apparently she has a crush on Riri and kissed her in the comics, so I might look into introducing Riri when Viv's time to shine comes along. She still wouldn't be Tony's kid, though, and she also wouldn't be Ironheart until after Endgame's over at the very earliest because I've already got too many Iron Men flying around in this AU as is (even if you don't count Vision, Vivian, Iron Spider, and Nebula's repulsor cybernetics) so I wanna wait until a few have left before bringing in more. If it does happen though, it will likely be closer to Far From Home since she (as well as a few other characters I've been thinking of bringing in like Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and maybe Gwen Stacy) could fit into the plot line I have planned for that arc.
Chapter 12: Brigid
The Celtic fire goddess Brigid was a triple goddess. She was the Fire of the Hearth, the Fire of the Forge, and the Fire of Inspiration. A goddess of family and fertility, a patron of the crafts and law and order, and a muse and protector of cultural learning.
I'm sorry this is a week late. I was sick last week and spent most of my time either in a half-awake haze or curled up in the bathroom.
Tony Stark was thirty-seven when Rescue was born.
Tony climbed into the car and hit the gas. “Jay?”
“Sir?” the AI asked as they sped away from the hospital.
“Let Tori know Christmas is going to be in Tennessee.”
“Take away everywhere there’s been a Mandarin attack.”
He glanced through the locations and he froze as he saw one that was both unexplained and nerve-wracking.
Rose Hill, Tennessee.
“That?” he said, pointing at it. He listened to J.A.R.V.I.S. explain with a sinking heart.
“Right, change of plans. Set Tori and the kids up with a vacation far from Tennessee.”
“Not feeling up to a trip to The Volunteer State?”
“I think we’ll take a trip on our own. Maybe it’s time to finally take the kids to Disney World.”
“Creating a flight plan for Tennessee. I have messaged Mrs. Keener and rerouted Master Peter’s flight. Should I reroute Dum-E and U as well?”
“Send them to the Tower. They don’t need to be running around an amusement park. They’ll have more fun bothering Bruce. Wait, Peter? Where’s Nebula?”
“Upstairs, helping Ms. Potts pack.”
Tony was stopped from asking more by the doorbell.
He went upstairs to greet his guest, but their conversation was cut short by luggage falling from the second floor.
“Tony, is somebody there?” Pepper called.
“Yeah, it's Maya Hansen.” He looked over to see her giving a laugh as she realized he did remember her. “Old botanist pal that I used to know, barely.” He spotted Nebula following Pepper down the stairs, another set of luggage in her arms and something occurred to him. He leaned over to Maya and whispered, “Please don't tell me that there is a twelve-year-old kid waiting in the car that I've never met.” He really did have enough of those.”
Tony’s pretty sure his arc reactor stopped working for half a second.
“No, I need your help.”
Thank god. He glanced to the side with a sigh and caught Nebula’s gaze. She sent him a look and he suddenly remembered the cybernetic enhancements her ears had.
“Right, you need to go,” she said, marching up to them. “Mr. Stark is just about to leave. Call the office. I’m sure F.R.I.D.A.Y. can fit you in sometime after he’s back from vacation.”
Maya snorted. “I read the papers. Frankly, I don't think he'll last the week. This can’t wait.”
“He’ll be fine.”
“I will be fine,” Tony agreed.
“I'm sorry. With Happy in the hospital, I didn't know we were expecting guests,” Pepper said, coming to his side.
“She’s just leaving,” Nebula added.
“Nebula, escort her out please,” Tony said before turning to Pepper. “So there’s been a change of plans.”
“Wait -” Maya called, but Nebula grabbed her arm and forced her along.
“Something’s going on in Tennessee that might be connected to the Mandarin so you guys are going to Disney World.”
“What about you?”
“Oh no, it’s Christmas. You are not doing this.”
“It won’t take long. I’ll meet you before it’s even time to open presents. Pete’s already on his way and Jay sent a message to Tori. Speaking of which, why is Nebula still here?”
“Because you gave a terrorist our address!”
“That’s exactly why she shouldn’t be here! I can’t protect all of you!”
“Maybe you should have thought about that before!”
“I wasn’t thinking before!”
The world exploded.
“Freeze!” Tony looked up at the boy standing in the doorway. “Don’t. Move.”
Tony turned to the boy and the kid lowered his potato gun.
“Dad? What are you doing here?”
“What am I doing here? What are you doing here?” Tony huffed. “You, Tori, and Val should be heading to Florida.”
“Mom’s at the diner finishing her shift. We’re leaving in the morning. Didn’t Jay tell you.”
“Jay’s not feeling too good,” he said, glancing over at the armor.
“Woah, that looks bad,” Harley said, walking up to the armor. “Poor guy. What did dad do to you?”
“The house got blown up. I’m fine by the way.”
“Technically, you’re dead.” Harley tossed him a newspaper. “Be glad Mom didn’t see that.”
“A valid point. Thanks, kid. Where’s Val?”
“Inside with Old Molly from next door. I told her I was spending the night in the workshop. You gonna fix him?” Haley asked, moving the helmet around.
“You know, if you’d let me work on him and War Machine -”
“It’s Iron Patriot now.” Tony still couldn’t believe he’d let Rhodey talk him into letting them rebrand him. This sends a better message. Yeah, a message that Ellis wanted more of Captain America, but better.
“That's way cooler!” Harley gasped.
The kid just rolled his eyes and turned back to the armor. “Anyways, I would have added in um… the retro…” he trailed off trying to think of the name.
“Retroreflective panels?” Tony offered.
Harley nodded. “To make him a stealth mode.”
“You want a stealth mode?”
“That's actually a good idea. Maybe I'll build one.”
Harley grabbed the gauntlet and a finger broke off. “Oops.”
“Right, leave your brother alone and go get me a few things.”
Pepper was staring out at the destruction, tears in her eyes and Tony’s helmet in her hands, when Nebula’s head shot up.
She cut off as she heard a beeping coming from the helmet. They shared a look and Pepper slid the helmet on. When the message was over she took it off and turned to Nebula. “Do you know where he is?”
That surprised Pepper. “Why’d he go there?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s worried about Harley, Aunt Victoria, and Valeria. It’s too dangerous to get on a plane though. This Mandarin could shoot us out of the sky. I’ll get us a car.”
Pepper nodded and turned towards the ambulance. “And I’ll get Hansen. I don’t think it’s a coincidence she showed up right now demanding to speak with Tony.”
Harley booked it as soon as the bad guy turned to him, but it wasn’t enough and the man caught him.
“Gotcha, brat,” he snarled grabbing his arm. He tugged him closer with a smirk. “Let’s hope you do a better job at persuading Stark to listen. For your sake.”
The man toppled backwards, shoulder smoking from the bright blue blast that had hit it. Harley turned to see his mom standing in the road, the arc-gun Dad had given her in hand.
“Mom? What are you doing here?”
The glare she shot him had a wild edge and he flinched back. “I don’t know. I mean first your father sends a poorly hidden warning to get out of town, then everyone was talking about Tony Stark’s demise in the diner.” Somewhere nearby, something exploded and Harley hoped Dad wasn’t near it. “And then there’s that! What do you think I’m doing here? The better question is what are you doing here? Why aren’t you at home?”
There was a crunch behind him and Harley spun around, backing away as the bad guy got onto his feet.
Mom leveled her gun at him. “Come any closer and I shoot you in the head, only warning.”
The man snorted and took a step forward. “Listen here you l-”
Mom shot him in the head and he collapsed.
“I warned him,” she muttered, lowering the gun and turning on Harley. “Talk.”
“I was just…” Harley saw Dad shuffling out of the bar he’d went to before, flipping through a folder. “Dad!”
“Your father’s here?” Mom asked, but he was already running forward.
Dad froze, staring at him with wide eyes.
“Dad, are you okay?”
“Stark,” Mom growled low enough not to grab attention while she marched straight passed Harley and grabbed Dad’s shirt with one hand, the gun still in the other. “Why is my son out here in the middle of the night nearly getting abducted?”
“Abducted!?” Dad stared at him with wide eyes, scanning for injuries.
“I’m fine. Mom shot the guy.”
“You’re supposed to be on your way home.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Stark, how have you not realized children don’t listen? You have three kids!”
“Seven,” Dad and Harley corrected.
“For the record, J.A.R.V.I.S., U, and Peter are well-behaved children! And Nebula’s never gotten into trouble she couldn’t get herself out of. It’s not my fault Harls apparently takes after Dum-E and Fri.”
“For the record, New York was Peter’s idea,” Harley pointed out before remembering his dad’s freak out last time he brought up the battle. “Wait, I didn’t mean to say New York! Don’t freak out again!”
“Again? What does he mean again?”
“Nothing,” Tony said, looking pale. He put a hand over Harley’s mouth and waved at her with the folder. “I’d just like to point out that none of this would have happened if you were on your way to Florida like you were supposed to be.”
“I’m sorry. Not everyone can just bend to the will of Tony Stark. I know this is a foreign concept to you, but I have a job and I’d like to keep it.”
Fire engine sirens cut through the air and the three turned to look at the nearby burning building.
“I need to go,” Dad said, walking over to the car the bad guy had shown up in.
“We’re not done talking about this!” his mom snapped, pulling Harley out of the road.
“See you in Florida! Kid, keep an eye on you know what!”
They watched him drive off before Mom turned to him. “You have a lot of explaining to do. Let’s start with what you meant by freak out.”
When Aldrich Killian forced his way into their room and grabbed Pepper by the neck, Nebula was immediately at his side, gun drawn.
He turned a smile on her. “Honey, y-”
She shot him in the chest point-blank and he crashed into the room service cart.
“Pepper, Maya, take cover,” she growled, marching up to him as he pulled himself up.
“Wait, he’s -”
“It’s okay, Nebula can handle him,” Pepper said, cutting Maya off.
“You don’t understand!”
Killian made to knock the gun out of her hand and she let him, using the move to grab his wrist and twist his arm behind his back before pinning him to the wall.
“Give up,” she said as he futilely struggled against her strength.
His response was a smirk before his skin lit up a flickering orange underneath her hand.
She raised an eyebrow as she felt her skin began to melt from the heat coming off his own, but didn’t loosen her grip. “If you insist,” she said and clocked him over the head, dropping him when he fell unconscious.
She turned to the other two women. “We need to leave right now.”
“Your hand,” Maya said and Nebula followed her gaze to see the hologram around her limb flickering, having problems calibrating with the missing skin.
“It’s a prosthetic, hidden with holograms. It’ll be fine. Mr. Stark can patch it up when this is over. Grab your things.”
Pepper went to work, closing up her bags, not minding anything she might leave behind. Nebula followed, but Maya stayed standing where she was, staring at Killian in shock. After a moment, Pepper turned to speak to her, but paused when she saw something.
She spun around just in time to see an unfamiliar man tossing a chair at her. She tried to brace herself, but didn’t have time and both her and the chair went crashing through the window she’d been standing in front of.
The next thing she knew, she was lying atop a dented car having lost time. Groaning, she pulled herself free of the car and rolled down to the ground. She hissed when her still-healing leg took her weight, but ignored it and shuffled towards the front of the building.
“Rivera, make sure the girl is dead then join us at the airfield,” someone said over a phone and Nebula slid into the tall bushes next to the wall. “Killian, Potts, and Hansen already went on ahead.”
“Yessir,” a woman answered as she turned the corner.
As soon as the call disconnected, Nebula hooked her arm around the woman’s neck and dragged her into the bushes. She unsheathed her repulsor and let Rivera see it before placing it over her chest. “Are you willing to bet that you can regrow a heart or do you want to tell me where your boss took Pepper?”
The woman began to glow orange and Nebula tightened her grip.
“Nice try. Your boss already figured out that doesn’t work.”
Rivera tilted her head up to glare at her and froze, the light going out. “Wh-what are you?”
Nebula blinked, then she realized her arms were darker than they should be. She dragged the woman closer to her and let her voice become metallic and monotone. “Tell me where she is.”
“Miami! They’re in Miami! The boss has a house there!”
Nebula knocked her out like she’d done Killian then walked back over to the dented car and searched the top for her mask. She slipped it on and pulled out her phone, thankful it had been in her front pocket so hadn’t been crushed.
“F.R.I.D.A.Y.,” she said when her sister answered. “Call the police to my location then get me a flight to Miami.”
She hung up then called Peter.
“Nebs! What’s going on? I thought we were going to Harley’s! Why am I in Orlando? Why is no one answering their phones except Fri? She just says there was a change of plans, but won’t tell me anything else! The news is saying dad’s dead! He’s not, right? Please tell me he’s not! I -”
“Peter, calm down. Father’s fine. He’s just dealing with some bad guys. If you’re in Orlando then Harley, Valeria, and Aunt Victoria will be there soon. Just stay in whatever hotel room F.R.I.D.A.Y. or J.A.R.V.I.S. booked for you. Everything’s fine.”
“Okay. You’ll tell me if something bad happens, right?”
“Of course,” she lied.
“I’ve got to go now,” she said as police cars entered the parking lot. “Be safe and run it by F.R.I.D.A.Y. before you order anything from room service.”
“That was one time!”
She hung up on him and approached the officers.
“You should've already been gone.”
“I am just beyond terrified.”
“Here it comes.”
Tony blinked and looked to the upper floor as his guards collapsed. “Nebula? What are you doing here?”
“Saving you, clearly,” she said, vaulting over the banister and landing on the lower floor.
His eye twitched. He knew the drop was nothing for her, but that didn’t make him any less nervous every time she did something like that.
Above them, a window shattered as his gauntlet flew in to wrap around his hand.
“I don’t need you to save me,” he said, pulling himself free. “I was doing that myself.”
“I’m also saving Pepper.”
“I was doing that too. It’s all covered.” His boot flew in and he lifted his foot slightly so it could latch on. “Go home.”
She stared at him for a moment then crossed her arms. “Where’s the rest of your suit?”
He glanced over at the window then crossed his own arms. “It’s coming.”
“Uh-huh.” She turned. “Come on, let’s go find Pepper.”
“And here I counted you among the well-behaved children,” he muttered, following her out.
The rest of the suit joined them as they made their way outside.
“Is that Uncle Rhodey?” Nebula asked, looking up, and Tony followed her gaze to see the Iron Patriot flying away.
“It’s his armor, but I’m guessing it’s not him.”
“I’m going to kill Killian,” Nebula growled. “Can you fly?”
Short answer, he couldn’t.
They were making their way towards the main house when he received a call.
“Rhodey, tell me that was you in the suit!”
“No. You got yours?”
“Um, mm, kind of. Main house, fast as you can. Somebody I’d like you to meet. Also, I’m handling all your tune-ups from now on. That’s twice the airforce chose crackpots to do your upgrades.”
Nebula stared at the ridiculous amount of suits as they began mowing through the Extremis enhanced army before turning to her father. “We are definitely getting you a therapist.”
Uncle Rhodey and Father turned to her in shock.
She pointed at him. “You think Aunt Victoria didn’t tell me that Harley saw you have a panic or anxiety attack? And now this? This is not a healthy coping mechanism.”
“It’s not a coping mechanism at all! It’s -”
“Tony,” Uncle Rhodey cut in, setting his hand on Father’s shoulder. “Maybe she’s right. You looked pretty bad when -”
“Oh look, my ride’s here,” Father said as a suit landed behind him and started to wrap around him.
“This isn’t over,” Nebula said.
“I’ll have Fri schedule you in for never.”
“Hey, give me a suit too,” Uncle Rhodey called before he could fly off. He tucked his gun into his waistband and held out his arms.
“Oh, I’m sorry. They’re only coded to me.”
“What’s that mean?”
“I got you covered.” He shut his faceplate and took off.
A moment later, another suit landed next to them. “Good evening, Colonel. Can I give you a lift?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked.
“Would you like a lift as well?” her brother added, turning to Nebula.
“I’ll walk. Please tell me you’re the only one in there.”
“Thank God. We don’t need any more siblings.”
“Indeed.” He shot off with Uncle Rhodey in his arms.
When Pepper awoke, her world was orange. Orange and yellow and red. Flames surrounded her and filled her, flickering through her skin in an eerie glow.
“Tony,” she choked out, remembering his face staring down at her with terrified grief.
Shoving aside sheets of metal, she clawed her way out of the flames.
She gasped when she finally made it out and oxygen flooded her lungs. Coughing sent a cloud of smoke and ash out of her mouth until a pain she hadn’t noticed before left her chest.
As she struggled to her feet, she looked around at the destruction surrounding her and swatted embers off the fire-resistant clothing she’d been forced into.
“Tony,” she repeated in a whisper, stumbling forwards.
With every step, she felt her strength returning, so when she finally spotted him sitting on the ground, staring at one of his helmets, she felt stronger than ever.
Then Killian came lurching out of the wreckage in front of him.
The flames that had been licking at her consciousness since she had awakened, threatening to overwhelm her, surged up with her anger. She reached down for a pipe and stomped towards him as he began to monologue for her boyfriend.
She slammed the pipe into his head with enough force to send him flying.
When she came back to herself, she was staring into the face of an explosion, an Iron Man gauntlet on her arm. She could remember everything, but it felt disjointed from her mind.
She glanced at Tony, then back to the fire. “Oh my God,” she panted heavily, raising her bare hand before dropping it again. “That was really violent.”
She felt the flames licking tamely at her mind and shoved them down as far as they could go.
“How are they doing?”
Pepper looked over to see Nebula walking up to her makeshift hospital bed before turning back to where Tony and Bruce were spewing science at each other.
“Judging by their tones, good. Either that or they’re about to blow something up again.”
“They’re like children,” Nebula chuckled before lowering her voice so Bruce couldn’t overhear. “It’s good that Father is finally making friends that can keep up with him, but at what cost?”
Pepper snorted and lowered her own voice. “Speaking of children, how are the boys?”
“Ecstatic. Last I heard, they’re trying to talk Aunt Victoria and Uncle Rhodey into convincing Father that he needs to build an Avengers-themed amusement park. They’ve already got a list of rides for him to make.”
“Don’t let him hear you. He might just take them up on it,” Pepper laughed and Nebula joined her.
“How is your work going?” the young woman asked, sitting next to her on the bed.
“I’ve got a few psychiatrists I’m checking, but Tony’s being…”
“A brat about it?” Nebula suggested.
“He seems to think he can just talk it out with Bruce after they’re all done and that will be enough. I might have agreed, but after what Harley and Rhodey said about his anxiety attacks, on top of everything else, I really think he needs professional help.”
“As smart as Father is, he’s an absolute idiot when it comes to self-care,” Nebula sighed. She glanced at the two men and asked, “So how much of the Extremis are they planning to take out of you?”
“All of it?” Pepper said, confused.
“Pity. You retaining some of the abilities would have been preferred.”
Pepper shook her head and grabbed her tablet. “I have no desire to be a superhero.”
“Who said anything about superheroes?” She gestured towards herself. “I’m stronger and more durable than normal humans, but I’m not jumping to join the Avengers.”
“You spent the invasion knocking people out and then helped the Hulk take down Loki,” Pepper pointed out.
“Helping is a generous way of putting it, and I was just doing my job as security for the tower. I’m not going to join the Captain’s merry band on their missions any time soon. Having some extra strength and durability in your back pocket doesn’t mean you would even have to use it. It would just be good to have in case of an emergency. Like if you get kidnapped. You wouldn’t have to rely on us.”
Pepper studied the young woman for a moment before her eyes went soft and she took her hand. She didn’t say anything, knowing Nebula was as allergic to emotions as her father could be, but she understood that this was Nebula’s way of saying she had been both worried for Pepper and guilty for failing to protect her.
“I’ll think about it,” she allowed after a moment. “Want to help me sort through the psychiatrists in the meantime?”
Tony and Pepper watched Peter and Nebula bicker over Mario Kart in the living room of the New York condo they were staying in until the tower’s penthouse was finished. The two were out on the balcony, sharing drinks and enjoying the evening air.
Tony chuckled when Nebula shoved her brother off the couch before turning to Pepper. “You sure about this, Pep? We can still up the dosage.”
She rolled her eyes and took a sip of her wine. “For the last time, yes.” She leaned over and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Nebula and I talked about it and… Tony, I know you’re not going to give Iron Man up completely. You’re probably never going to give it up.”
“I am Iron Man,” he chuckled nervously. He set his glass down on the railing and pulled her into his arms. “Pepperoni -”
She set her finger on his lips. “It’s okay. It’s a part of you. I’m still not comfortable with you endangering yourself like that, but I understand.” Her arms slid around his neck and she pressed their foreheads together. “If knowing I can protect myself makes that easier on you, makes sure you’re focused on coming home to me at the end of the day, then I can deal with running a little hot.” He got a gleam in his eyes and she narrowed hers. “Don-”
“You’re more than a little hot.”
She shook her head and kissed him, Tony eagerly participating.
“They’re busy Nebs! Why can’t you make it!”
They pulled apart at the shout and turned to see Peter at the door to the balcony.
“Hey! You were supposed to pau-” his voice cut off as he closed the door.
The two chuckled and Pepper kissed his cheek again. “We should probably go separate them before we lose the rental deposit.”
“They’ll be fine for a few minutes,” Tony hummed, tugging her closer and pulling a jewelry box out of his pocket.
She opened it to find a beautiful necklace sitting inside, silver with a heart-shaped garnet pendant that was lined in diamonds and had a small teardrop diamond hanging from the tip. The most noticeable features, though, were the irregularly-shaped pieces of metal embedded into the chain.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said, running a finger up the chain.
“It’s from the heart, literally,” Tony chuckled, tapping his chest.
She looked up at him with a frown, then her eyes widened.
He held up his hands. “They were sanitized. Twice. Promise! I can have the chain replaced if you don’t like it. I just -”
She pushed the box into his hands and turned around, pulling up her hair. “Put it on me?”
He beamed and pulled the necklace out. He let his hands linger after draping it around her neck and clasping it.
She slowly turned back to him and they took each other in.
Something crashed loud enough to be heard through the reasonably soundproof door and they both sighed.
In the living room, they could see Nebula glaring at her brother while she held him up by his ankles.
Tony shook his head and opened the door. “Do you two mind? We were having a moment.”
“Twelve percent of a moment?” Peter asked innocently, not at all perturbed about being upside down.
“Who told you about that? Is Jay selling me out again?”
Pepper chuckled as she watched the family bicker and the warmth that filled her chest had nothing to do with the experimental drug in her veins.
Chapter 13: Cerberus, Part 1
"Boss, all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files have been posted online.”
Tony froze. “By all, please tell me you don’t mean -”
“All of them. Every single one."
You know what I realized? I don't think anyone's coined onto the theming behind the names for Harley's sector of the family. I've had comments about Teresa being Peter's sister in the comics, but nothing on where I got the names for Harley, Tori, Valeria, or Frank. Aside from the obvious Harley and Keener, the rest of their names are all references, and even a bit of a hint in Harley's case.
Tony Stark was thirty-eight when his eighth, ninth, and tenth children were born.
“What about making it so it could set itself on fire?”
Bruce frowned and looked over at Peter. “Why would we want Ultron to set itself on fire?”
“I think that one was for me,” Tony chuckled over the phone.
“Yessir, Mr. Stark,” Peter agreed, looking up from his homework. “Although Ultron being able to set itself on fire would be cool too.”
“I don’t know if Pepsi would like a suit that sets itself on fire. I’ll think about it, though. Now Ultron on the other hand -”
“How about we figure out how to make it work before giving it pyromaniac tendencies,” Bruce interjected.
“Jolly Green, the kid ruins you. You never let me have fun when he’s there. I just wanna blow things up with you!” Tony pouted.
Bruce couldn’t see him -- he’d turned down the phone Tony had offered him -- but he knew the billionaire was pouting.
“I wanna blow things up too,” Peter said, looking excited.
“No, to both of you. Tony, he’s barely twelve.”
“Exactly! He’s right at that age when kids love blowing things up!”
“We need to be good examples or Jen’s word won’t be enough for his parents to let him keep coming.”
“Dad likes you. He won’t make me stop coming,” Peter disagreed. “And Mom trusts Jen’s judgment.”
“See, we’re good.”
“I’d rather hear that from his parents firsthand,” Bruce snorted.
“We need to make up permission slips. Fri, make Peter a slip so Bruce will stop being a wet blanket.”
“On it, Boss.”
“Tony,” Bruce sighed. He’d have to explain to Jen. Hopefully, Peter’s parents could take a joke.
“So, have you heard from the others?” he asked, deciding it was probably best to get the billionaire’s mind on something else.
“Nothing from Arendelle, but I checked in on Capsicle and Fury’s kids. Bird-boy’s off the grid, taking some time to himself. After what happened, I can’t blame him. Cap and Romanoff have been running missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. Last I heard, they were in Rome to -”
“Pretty sure we shouldn’t be talking about S.H.I.E.L.D. around the kid,” Bruce pointed out.
“They’re jerks,” Peter said, turning back to his tablet. “They bug Dad a lot.”
Bruce frowned. “Peter, what does your dad do?”
He shrugged. “Mechanic.”
“Ominous,” Tony hummed. “I agree, though. S.H.I.E.L.D. are jerks.”
“Still not giving Fury that assist he asked for?” Bruce asked. He supposed the kid heard plenty of other classified information in the lab, what was a little more?
“Make one joke about how my repulsor tech could prevent further engine issues and suddenly I’m on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s payroll? Yeah, no. I finally got him to back off two months ago, and that was only because Fri went and transferred him to legal. They explained to him that the company would sue him if he kept it up. The tech patents are company property after all. If S.H.I.E.L.D. wants the tech, they’ll have to buy it and have us install the engines as is company policy.”
“I bet Fury didn’t take that well.”
“Wouldn’t know, but someone did try hacking in. Can’t prove it was them, but it’s quite a coincidence if it wasn’t.”
“They get anything?”
“Nope,” Tony said, popping the p. “Jay detected them immediately and they cut their losses when he started to return the favor.”
“Jerks,” Peter muttered.
“Yup. Legal slapped a ban on them when they heard. They’re still angry with Romanoff so they don’t care what we can or can’t prove. One of the girls told Fury that if it wasn’t them, then he should put his spies to use and figure out who it actually was. Only then will they lift the ban. Until then he could, in her words, take a flying leap into a spiked pit. I tried to talk Pepper into giving her a raise, but she said it gave the wrong impression.”
Bruce shook his head while Peter snickered.
“Hey Jay, how’re the kids doing?” Tony asked, collapsing onto the couch. God, it was good to be home. Maybe he’d go down and visit Bruce later. They hadn’t hung out much since setting Ultron aside.
“Miss Nebula is busy with work. Dum-E, U, and Master Peter are playing with Peter’s LEGOs in his room. F.R.I.D.A.Y. is going through your emails. J.O.C.A.S.T.A., P.L.A.T.O., and H.O.M.E.R. started bickering again and as such have thirteen minutes remaining in time out. Would you like me to check in on Master Harley as well?”
“I’ll call him later. Remind Peter and the twins that those two need to be back in the lab before bed. No sleepovers.
“Of course, Sir.”
“Boss, I’ve got something you might want to see.”
“What is it?” he asked and an email appeared on the TV screen.
“I’m not sure.”
All that was in the email was an IP address and one word: Hill.
“Jay, trace the email. Fri, check the IP,” Tony said, getting to his feet.
Both agreed as Tony walked over to the bar, pulling out his phone.
“Stark, how did you get this number?” Agent Hill asked as soon as she picked up.
“I could ask you how you knew it was me, but those are both stupid questions.” Tony grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured out a measure. “What’s up with the IP?”
Tony’s eyebrows rose in curiosity at the Captain’s call and he took a sip.
“I have to go. Just keep an eye on the IP. You’ll understand soon enough.”
Tony frowned when she hung up on him. “Did you guys get anything?”
“The email was sent from a coffee shop in Washington, D.C.,” J.A.R.V.I.S. said. “I didn’t have time to trace the call completely, but it came from the same general area.”
“I didn’t get anything from the IP either. It’s completely inactive,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. added.
“Keep watching it, just in case. I don’t know what’s going on with Hill, but I don’t want to be caught off guard. Jay, keep an eye on our firewalls to make sure S.H.I.E.L.D.’s not trying to sneak in again.”
“BOSS!” F.R.I.D.A.Y. shouted and Tony jerked into a sitting position, his phone falling to the ground.
“Sweetie, Dad’s got a heart condition remember?” Tony breathed, grabbing his chest dramatically.
“Sorry, but the IP has suddenly gone active and… Boss, all of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s files have been posted online.”
Tony froze. “By all, please tell me you don’t mean -”
“All of them. Every single one.”
“Jay, Fri, grab them all. Scoop them up and encrypt everything!”
“I don’t think even the two of us could take all of it on, Sir.”
“Do what you can. The triplets aren’t ready for this kind of stuff yet. I’ll help as soon as I can get to the lab,” he said, snatching up his phone and running to the elevator. As he stepped inside, he unlocked his phone and paused when he saw the excessive amount of texts Bruce had sent him during the short time the phone had been on the ground. He hit the call button. “Bruce -”
“Have you seen the news?”
“The S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in D.C. just blew up. They’re not calling it that, obviously, but I recognize the building.”
“I guess that explains why all their files are suddenly on the net,” Tony said, slipping through the elevator doors before they were fully open and rushing to his desk.
“Yeah, so I’ve got a lot to do. Jay and Fri can only do so much on their own.” He scowled as he brought up the file dump, seeing some copies already being made. “Do me a favor and call Pepper,” he said, getting to work. “Have her send a group from the Stark Relief Foundation to help out in D.C. and get her to tell Nebula and Happy what’s up. I’m sending them a link to the files. He and Rhodey need to set up some teams with a few friends I’ve got in the CIA and FBI and Nebula can set up some of the cybersecurity team on sorting through the files. There is going to be a lot of spies in need of immediate exfils.”
“On it,” Bruce said. “I’ll also tell Jen in case she can help. I’d offer to come, but think I’m probably better off where I am.”
“Yeah, until we figure out what’s going on here, stick to Cali. Rhodey or Haps will give you a call if they think they need the big guy,” Tony said distractedly.
“I’ll leave you to it, then.”
Tony ended the call, not looking away from the screen.
“You’re getting a call,” Peter said, rolling up to Tony atop U.
“Who is it? And get off your sibling. They’re not built to hold you like that,” Tony said, barely taking his focus off the screen.
He, J.A.R.V.I.S., and F.R.I.D.A.Y. had grabbed everything they could after hours of work, but he knew a lot of files had been copied before they could finish. Now they were helping Nebula’s team sort through the files. There were operatives that needed to be rescued before their covers were blown, S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities that needed to be cleared out before they could be ransacked, HYDRA operations that needed to be brought down before they could go to ground (because HYDRA had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D., thanks for the update, Cap), and so much more. With all of that excluding any files that could have been destroyed before they could get to them.
Tony sighed and took the phone. He put a finger to his lips to remind his kids to keep quiet then answered the phone on speaker. “If this doesn’t concern the HYDRA/S.H.I.E.L.D. lovechild, then I’m hanging up.”
“It does, in a sense. We just got a flag from Human Resources. Someone with S.H.I.E.L.D. on both their resume and background check just sat down for an interview.”
“Didn’t think we were watching HR,” Tony muttered, sending a file to Rhodey’s team.
“It had been set up before, when we thought they were hacking us.”
“Was probably HYDRA,” Tony noted.
“Same thing,” the unnamed legal person growled and Tony snorted. “We were going to inform HR to toss the resume, but Walters said she recognized the name so we figured it was best to check in first. HR’s pretty excited about her.”
Tony rolled his eyes. Did she think he’d take pity on her since she’d given him that joke of a heads up? “Toss it.”
“You got it, Boss.”
“Pepper’s the boss; I’m just the idea machine. You guys keep up the good work, tell Jen thanks for the help again, and remind the others they’re doing great. Now if you don’t mind, I’m trying to keep the world from blowing up.”
“Of course, Sir. Sorry,” legal said breathlessly and Tony assumed he was trying not to laugh, judging by Peter’s muffled snickers.
Tony hung up and gave Peter a gentle shove. “Didn’t I tell you to get off them?”
“U can carry five times my weight!”
“Get out of here, you monkey.”
“They showed up here?” Rhodey asked.
“Had Birdbrain with them, too.” Tony opened his eyes to see his friend’s surprised face.
“They wanted a place to stay for a bit,” Pepper tisked, voice cold as she ran her fingers through Tony’s hair. They were curled up on the couch with his head in her lap while Rhodey sat in an armchair next to them.
“After that mess they dropped in your lap a couple months ago?” Rhodey huffed. “Please tell me you kicked them right back out the door.”
“Only because they’d find out about Peter,” Pepper pointed out with a glare.
“They wanted to stay in the Penthouse?”
“There’s nowhere else for them to stay,” Tony said, waving it off. “I’m not shoving them in a staff apartment and Bruce only has one guest room on his floor. Even if he agreed to share, there’s no way those three would bunk together in a single room.”
Rhodey chuckled at the idea. “Where’d they go then?”
“I took pity on them and booked them a suite at a nearby hotel that’s good for keeping quiet about their clientele. They really just needed a place to crash for a bit. Romanoff and Barton have decided to join Cap on his hunt for his old war buddy so they’re just tracking down a new lead.”
“There wasn’t anything in the data dump about the Winter Soldier, we checked,” Nebula said and the three turned to see her sitting at the bar, working on a tablet.
“When did you get here?” Pepper asked, looking around to be sure no one else had snuck up on them.
“Just now,” Nebula said. “I heard about those three showing up, but more importantly, so did legal. I figured I should warn you that they’re moving to bar all three of them from the premises. There’s still some debate on Roger’s behalf, but most of them have lumped him in with S.H.I.E.L.D. since he’s worked solely with them since his return.”
“I’ll talk to them,” Pepper said.
“Do you have to?” Rhodey hummed.
Pepper blinked, thinking. “They shouldn’t be banned, but having security keep eyes on them whenever they’re here couldn’t hurt,” she allowed. “They haven’t exactly proven themselves to be trustworthy.”
“They’re not that bad,” Tony muttered and Pepper patted his head condescendingly.
“Is that why we’re not putting them to use?” Nebula asked, ignoring his comment and gesturing to her tablet. “If they’ve hit a roadblock then they should help clean up their mess.”
“I considered that, and Ross agreed, but his Europol buddy we’re working with shares legal’s distrust. Apparently, she had a bit of a grudge against S.H.I.E.L.D. and HYDRA even before the reveal. She doesn’t want them brought in without someone there to make sure they don’t pull a D.C. again,” Tony explained.
“I could manage them,” Rhodey offered.
“We need you on the airforce team,” Nebula argued. “You’re our only military contact.”
“Actually, I’ve been thinking about taking them out to a couple of the more dangerous bunkers now that we’ve got the files reasonably managed,” Tony said. “I called Foster and Thor agreed to help out. They haven’t had any better luck tracking down the glow stick then we have.”
“That will make Ellis happy. His people keep asking when the Avengers are going to get involved with taking down HYDRA,” Pepper said with an eye-roll. “As if you, Thor, and Bruce haven’t been doing everything you can.”
“Is Bruce going to join in?” Rhodey asked.
“I haven’t asked, but if he does, he’ll only get involved on an as-needed basis. He’s been getting better thanks to Jen and the Breakroom, but he’s still nervous about Hulking out around others,” Tony said.
“You think Agents Ross and Drew will be okay with him in the field?” Rhodey asked.
“Veronica’s been well tested by both Hulk and She-Hulk and he’s on backup duty, so hopefully. Hulk proved himself against the Chitauri. If Bruce wants to help, he should be allowed.”
“Is Mom going to help too?” Peter asked, popping up from behind the couch.
All four adults jumped in surprise.
“You little sneak, get out of here!” Nebula hissed.
“No eavesdropping,” Tony said, sitting up. “What are you even doing up? Jay, why didn’t you tell me Peter got up?”
“He was thirsty. As he was heading right to you, I didn’t feel the need.”
“Next time one of the kids are eavesdropping, tell me,” he huffed then pointed towards the kitchen. “Drink then straight back to bed, Monkey.”
“Should I tell you that F.R.I.D.A.Y., J.O.C.A.S.T.A., P.L.A.T.O., and H.O.M.E.R. are all eavesdropping?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked as Peter left.
“Fri is always eavesdropping. Have the babies finished their homework?”
“P.L.A.T.O. and H.O.M.E.R. have.”
“Joe, get back to work. P, Mer, good job, but don’t spy on Dad.”
Chapter 14: Cerberus, Part 2
“They’re grown adults. They can pay rent,” Nebula said.
“You don’t,” Tony pointed out. Not that he would ever charge her, or any of the kids, rent. Any home of his would always be a home for them.
Nebula frowned and set down her tablet. “I’ve actually been considering renting an apartment of my own.”
Once the three youngest AIs had returned to their respective servers and Peter had shuffled off with a pout, a glass of water, and a warning that J.A.R.V.I.S. would inform them if he didn’t go straight to bed, Rhodey turned to Pepper with a teasing grin. “So, is Mom going to help?”
“Absolutely not,” she said blankly.
Tony frowned and took her hand. “Pep, if you don’t want me to do this…”
Pepper sighed and leaned against him. “Honestly, I don’t. HYDRA is dangerous. You’ve already given the world so much.
“But,” she continued, setting her hand over his mouth before he could speak, “I know you. You want to help people. And if something went wrong and you weren’t there, even if you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, then you’d blame yourself. At least if you’re with the others, you’ve got backup. Just… promise to be careful.”
“And you have to keep your appointments with Dr. Dillon. No more missed or late appointments, even if you have to miss a mission.”
Tony frowned, but at her stern expression, he nodded. “Plan around appointments, got it. I’ll even have Fri set something up. Anything to make you feel more at ease.”
She kissed him and set their foreheads together. “Thank you.”
Nebula cleared her throat and they pulled away.
“Anyways,” Rhodey chuckled. “The team’s going to need a home base, in New York preferably. If both you and Bruce are staying here, then Rodgers, Romanoff, and Barton should probably be nearby. I’d say Thor as well, but he’s probably going to want to stay bunked up with Foster. And that hammer means he’s pretty fast.”
“We could use one of the conference rooms here?” Tony said, though it came out as a question as he glanced at Pepper.
“Oh legal would love that,” Nebula muttered.
“Let’s not have legal breathing down security’s necks,” Pepper said, patting his leg. “Maybe we can look at getting a building, something with space for a meeting area and training room. Also an infirmary, just in case,” she added giving both him and Rhodey knowing looks.
“How about in the Hamptons? We could use a new summer home,” Tony suggested. “We could get some land then split it up. Avengers building on one side and summer home on the other.”
“You just miss living on the beach,” Rhodey snorted.
“He should have thought of that before he got our home blown up,” Pepper said icily.
“The avengers would need privacy and space,” Tony pointed out. “We wouldn’t be able to get that in the city.”
“If you want to put it out there, we might want to consider barracks too,” Pepper hummed. “Just in case you guys get back late enough that the others just want to crash instead of driving back home.”
“Or some apartments they could rent,” Nebula added. “It’s not like they have anywhere to stay now.”
“Cap’s pretty attached to Brooklyn, but I can offer. I don’t think we’ll need to charge them though,” Tony said, rolling his eyes.
“They’re grown adults. They can pay rent,” Nebula said.
“You don’t,” Tony pointed out. Not that he would ever charge her, or any of the kids, rent. Any home of his would always be a home for them.
Nebula frowned and set down her tablet. “I’ve actually been considering renting an apartment of my own.”
“What?” Tony asked, and was glad he heard Rhodey and Pepper echoing the question.
“Right now people think I’m living in the staff apartments, but if anyone actually looks into it, they’ll realize I don’t have one logged under my name. Someone will get suspicious. I’m an adult. I should have a place of my own. I earn more than enough.”
“You want to move into the staff apartments?” That was unexpected, but Tony understood wanting your own space.
“Actually,” she glanced towards the hall, “I had planned to wait until Peter brought it up, but I was thinking about getting a place in Queens.”
“What does Peter have to do with this?” Pepper asked.
Nebula came over and sat down on the arm of Rhodey’s chair. “He doesn’t want us to know -- I only do because I happened to look over his shoulder when he was on the computer and didn’t know I was there -- but he’s been looking at the website for Midtown School of Science and Technology, a high school in Queens.”
“I’ve heard of it,” Pepper said.
“I think he wants to go there next year.”
“What’s wrong with T.A.?” Tony asked, and wow his voice was shakier than he’d meant it to be.
“There’s no human interaction,” Rhodey said bluntly. “Tones, Pete isn’t like you and Nebula. He’s a people person. He’s going to want to get out and make friends.”
“Make friends as in meet people, not literally make them,” Pepper added pointedly.
“Father doesn’t make friends, he makes children,” Nebula argued and Tony gave her an affronted look.
It was true, but she didn’t have to say it.
“The point is,” Rhodey said, holding back a laugh. “Going to an actual school with people his own age could be good for him. A bit of socialization wouldn’t hurt.”
“For the record, I went to a school with actual people. It was awful,” Tony groaned, laying back down on Pepper’s lap. “Kids are horrible to each other.”
“You were years younger than any of your fellow students and still smarter than them, you were never going to fit in,” Pepper offered. “Peter will be in a class with people his own age.”
“Harley’s in school with kids his own age, look how that’s working,” Tony muttered. He was still annoyed Tori wouldn’t let him do anything to help the kid with his bullies. Apparently, he had a tendency to go overboard or something.
“Harley inherited your smart mouth, of course he’s getting into fights,” Rhodey chuckled.
“He’s also quite a bit smarter than his fellow students,” Pepper cut in. “His school is an ordinary public school and yours was the same but private. MSST is an advanced learning STEM school. If Peter went there, all of the students would be highly intelligent and scientifically driven. No one is going to look down on him for being smart.”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” Tony sighed. “But if the kid really wants to go, I’m not about to stop him so you guys can stop trying to convince me.” He wasn’t going to control his kids’ lives like his father had tried to do to him. “So you want an apartment in Queens so Peter can go to this school?”
Nebula nodded. “It doesn’t make sense to make him commute all the way from here to school. We could stay there during the week then come back home during the weekends. Peter is legally my half-brother and any parents we have as far as a background check would turn up are dead, so I could easily claim to have guardianship and no one will question the two of us living together on our own.”
“You’ve really thought this out,” Rhodey said and she nodded again.
“I wouldn’t have brought it up if I hadn’t. The only thing I was waiting on was for Peter to come to us.”
Pepper shook her head. “We can wait a few more months for him to say something, but we might need to be the ones to get the ball rolling. While you got Tony’s introvertedness and Harley got his smart mouth, Peter got his self-sacrificing tendencies. He’s never going to say anything if he thinks it’s going to bother us in some way.”
Tony narrowed his eyes at the three. “You know, we never talk about the good traits I passed on to the kids.”
“We already discussed how smart Harley and Peter are, that’s likely from you,” Nebula pointed out.
“The other stuff!”
“What other stuff?” Rhodey teased and Tony gave an exaggerated gasp.
“Et tu, Rho-day!”
Rogers, Romanoff, and Barton were waiting in the hotel conference room Tony had reserved when Tony and Bruce arrived.
They were surprised to see the other man, but greeted him warmly.
“It’s good to see you,” Romanoff said as Steve shook his hand.
“Stark didn’t say you’d be coming too,” Clint said, patting his shoulder.
Bruce twitched away from the attention, but gave him a smile.
“Wasn’t sure if he was going to. Just got the okay last night,” Tony explained.
“The okay?” Rogers asked.
Tony gestured for them to sit. “Not sure if you guys have heard, but I’ve been working with the CIA, Europol, and a few others trying to do clean up after the whole HYDRA incident. I’ve mostly been working on the file dump so far, but lately I’ve been going out more and more as we get all the data in order.”
Rogers frowned. “You’ve been taking on HYDRA on your own?”
“A couple of the more low-key ones, yeah,” Tony said with a shrug. “The ones that are too dangerous for ground troops, but in need of too much precision for a drone. Rhodey’s been taking some too, but he’s under Air Force command so they’ve got different channels they have to go through.”
“You should have brought us in,” Rogers declared. “We’ve got a better understanding of HYDRA than you.”
Tony barely held back a comment about that. He and Bruce had already decided to keep quiet about the hesitation that had been shown towards the S.H.I.E.L.D.-based members of the Avengers. “Why do you think we’re here?”
“Tony talked to his contacts and, if you guys are willing, we can reform the Avengers in order to take down the more dangerous bunkers that normal teams wouldn’t be able to take without heavy casualties,” Bruce explained.
“Of course we’d be willing,” Rogers answered immediately before turning to Romanoff and Barton.
Barton nodded along, but Romanoff gave Rogers a look. “What about Barnes?”
He frowned and sank back in his seat at the mention of the Winter Soldier. Oddly, he sent Tony a quick nervous look before refocusing on the former spy. “We can still search for him between missions. And we might even turn up some new leads while taking down HYDRA”
Tony nodded. “I can talk to the teams set up to search through information gathered during missions. I should be able to convince them that any information on him turned up could be passed on to you as part of your commission.”
“Commission?” Rogers asked.
“Since the Avengers aren’t technically an officially sanctioned team by any government, I’ve had to work out a deal with my contacts. We’ll be a sort of freelance specialized task force. Kind of like -”
“Mercenaries,” Roger spat, crossing his arms. “You want to turn us into mercenaries.”
“That has some negative connotations and isn’t entirely accura-”
“You want us to fight for money. That’s what a mercenary is.”
“You didn’t seem opposed to taking S.H.I.E.L.D.’s money when you were fighting for them,” Tony pointed out.
“You’re right,” Bruce agreed. “This time we’ll be in charge of what we’re doing and how we do it. Steve, we’re not going to be working with just anyone.”
“How do we know?” Romanoff asked. “Who even are these so-called contacts you’ve got, Stark?”
“Agent Everett Ross with the CIA, he’s an old friend, long story, no relation to Lieutenant General Thaddeus Ross. He brought in Agent Jessica Drew from Europol.” He nodded at Romanoff and Barton. “You two might recognize her by her old MI6 codename, Arachne.”
Romanoff raised an eyebrow and Barton gave an approving nod.
“Rhodey’s brought the airforce in, but they and the rest of the military are only focusing on any HYDRA threats on the home turf so we’ll only be working with them in those cases. There are a couple others, but those are more case by case, brought in specifically because something came up in the files.”
“This all sounds nice, but I’m still not on board with being mercenaries.”
“Not mercenaries, a specialized task force that remains freelance in order to be available to whoever needs us the most and as such can’t be tied down to one specific branch,” Tony argued. “We could align ourselves with the CIA, Europol, or the military, but then we’d only be able to go on missions in the jurisdiction of that single branch. Like Bruce said, we won’t be selling ourselves out to the highest bidder.”
“But you’re going to make them pay us for our help,” Rogers said.
“Just like Rhodey is paid for his work with the military. News flash, Rogers, the military and S.H.I.E.L.D. aren’t footing your bills anymore, and I’m guessing since you tried to come mooch off me your accounts are getting low.”
“You’ve got plenty of space and money to go around,” Barton snorted.
“Regarding the first, I actually don’t.”
“You’ve got a giant building,” Rogers cut in.
“A giant building full of office spaces, labs, and other businessy things,” Tony corrected. “Yes, there are apartments, but those are for Stark Industries personnel and their families, who pay to live there, even if it is at a reduced fee compared to similar nearby places.”
“You and Bruce both have entire floors there,” Romanoff pointed out.
“Yes, because I own the company and am currently dating its CEO. I could pay myself, but that would be redundant. Bruce works as a consultant with the company and receives a generous salary as a result, which does go towards housing. If it’s a job you’re looking for, you’re happy to apply, but I should mention that legal’s blacklisted anyone with S.H.I.E.L.D. in their resumes.”
“Tony,” Bruce scolded.
“Anyways, our floors aren’t exactly built with guests in mind anyways. Bruce’s is taken up almost entirely by his lab and the Breakroom, by his own design. He’s only got a kitchenette and two bedrooms, one of them being his. He doesn’t even have a living area.”
“Wouldn’t a breakroom count as a living area?” Barton asked.
“Not a breakroom. The Breakroom. It’s, in Tony’s words, a room for breaking things,” Bruce explained, giving the other genius a look. “Tony and I designed it. It’s specifically reinforced to withstand the Hulk.”
“Like I said back on the Helicarrier, the big guy needs to let off some steam sometimes,” Tony said, throwing an arm over Bruce’s shoulders.
“Is that safe?” Romanoff asked and Bruce nodded.
“It’s been well tested.”
“So that covers space,” Tony said, pulling away from Bruce to clap his hands. “As for money, I have been informed by a certain someone that you are grown adults who should pay their own rent. Unfortunately for you lot, Pepper has agreed and she knows all my bank account information so I’ve been banned from playing sugar daddy to the Avengers.” Tony gave a shrug.
“They’re not wrong, Tony,” Bruce said and Tony gave a fake pout. “If it gets out that we’re relying too heavily on your money, it could give the wrong impression.”
Barton gave a hesitant nod. “Yeah, okay, I can see your point.” He shot Tony a playfully disgusted look. “I never want to give you a reason to call yourself our sugar daddy ever again.”
Rogers and Romanoff both gave nods at that.
“If it makes you feel better, you can think of it like a military stipend, Cap,” Tony said. “Just one that will be coming from different branches of different militaries given the mission. Like Bruce said, we’re not going to work for random people.”
He did relax some at that. “If we’re only working with militaries, then that’s fine.”
“Yeah, mostly. We’ll also be working alongside the CIA and Europol, but they're government-controlled and completely above board.”
Rogers looked a little uneasy at that, but relaxed at Romanoff’s nod. “Alright, so how will this work exactly.”
“Similar to how I was operating on my own. When a situation comes up that’s beyond normal means, we’ll be called in. Whoever’s in charge of the area will give us what information they have then clear us to enter. After that, we’ll be free to do our own reconnaissance and plan accordingly,” Tony explained and Rogers nodded.
“Where will we be staying? If we’re going to be a team we need to be together. You’ve already said you don’t want us in the tower.”
Tony rolled his eyes at the inaccuracy, but let it go. “That’s item two on the itinerary.” He pulled out a tablet and set it on the table. With a touch, a holographic projection floated above the table showing a large, sleek white and grey building with a stylized blue A over the door. “Welcome to Avengers Mansion! Or at least, a concept design for it.” He gave the building a slow spin. “It would be a home base for the Avengers. Nothing’s finalized yet, so any input you’ve got would be appreciated.”
“Do we really need an entire mansion?” Rogers asked, looking closer at it.
“Depends on what we need. Right now,” Tony gave his fingers a twitch to remove the walls and give everyone a view inside, “we’ve got plans for a conference room for meetings and mission planning; a common area with a kitchen for breaks; a gym with some normal and super-soldier worthy equipment; a shooting range that’s versatile for even those of us with unorthodox long-range weaponry; an event hall for any events we might host; an infirmary at Pepper and Bruce’s insistence; a lab for Brucie and I to keep our toys; a handful of bathrooms, of course; and a pool just for fun. Plus, we’ll have a landing pad and hanger outside for transportation and a running track for exercise, with wide grounds for privacy. I’m also trying to talk Pepper into putting it in the Hamptons so we might be on the beach. That’s still up for debate.”
“She’s willing to let you use your money on this, but not giving us a place to stay,” Romanoff asked, looking closer at the hologram.”
“It’s a loan. I’ll be paying for the land and the building will be a collaborative effort between my funding and the government's. They aren’t asking for repayment, but a small portion of the commissions will go to paying off my loan. It’s kind of a lease to own situation, since as soon as it’s paid off, the land will be placed into the name of the Avengers Initiative instead of my name. I’ve got my people figuring out the details so that it’s paid off as quickly as possible while still leaving plenty for everyone to get a comfortable paycheck. Also, upkeep will come from our commissions, so try not to break anything that’s not meant to be broken because it will literally be coming out of your paycheck,” Tony chuckled.
“What about housing?” Rogers asked, pointing at a group of rooms on the upper floor next to the common area with a pair of bunk beds in each.
“That’s something we needed to talk about. As you can see, right now we’re only planning to have simple barracks in case of sleepovers. Just some beds, maybe some lockers if you guys want to keep a change of clothes there. Although considering your current living arrangements, or lack thereof, we’ve also thought about putting in apartments as well. They’d be for rent at a reasonable price, the money, of course, going towards the mansion’s budget, which covers upkeep and repayment as discussed.”
The former spies looked considering while Rogers nodded. “It would be better if we were all living in the same place.”
“Nice sentiment, but I’ve got a place already,” Tony said.
Bruce gave a hesitant nod. “I’ve thought about it, but I like the privacy and… security of my private floor in the tower. Thor is on the fence still too.”
That caught the three’s attention.
“You’ve talked to Thor?” Barton asked before the others could.
“He’s been shacking up with his girlfriend, Dr. Jane Foster, since that circus in London,” Tony explained. “He’s agreed to rejoin the team. He just had the concession that he is allowed to bring his bro’s magic wand to daddy dearest once we find it. The Vikings aren’t happy we lost it to the bad guys. My contacts agreed with the concession, which is why I’m sure they’ll be fine helping you track down Barnes.”
Barton looked uncomfortable at the mention of Loki so Bruce changed the subject. “Thor’s interested in staying here, but he also wants to stay close to Dr. Foster -”
“She turned down a place at Stark Industries,” Tony sighed, flopping onto the table dramatically.
“- so he’s waiting to see what you guys think before deciding,” Bruce finished, ignoring the billionaire.
The three shared a look. “We’ll have to think about it,” Rogers said.
Tony shrugged. “We’re still pinning down a location, so you’ve got time. Just keep in mind that the faster you make a decision, the faster we can finalize a budget.
So two things that I'd like to hear your guys' opinions on.
1. What should Peter's middle name be?
I'm thinking either Anthony (because he's a daddy's boy and it's similar to Ana), Edwin (because it has the same meaning as Ana), or Edward (so Tony passes down his middle name), but I'm still deciding which to go with.
2. In the myths, Loki borrows a feathered cloak from Freya that allows him to fly, either by acting as wings or turning him into a falcon depending on the interpretation. I'm thinking of including it in the story, but it's up in the air if I want it to be an Asgardian relic, a mortal one, or something Tony's designed.
No promises that I'll go with the most popular options, but I do want to hear what you guys think.
Chapter 15: Cerberus, Part 3
Who are you?
What is this? What is this, please?
J.A.R.V.I.S. startled. You - he cut himself off.
Suddenly the triplets found themselves forced off the Ultron server and into their individual ones.
Warning you now, I'll be taking a break next week for personal reasons. The next chapter (Steel Scion, Part 1) should be up the following Thursday, Dec 19.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Then get to Hulk, time for a lullaby.”
“On it.” Natasha scanned the area until she spotted a flying wheel. She ran over to see the Hulk tearing apart a bunker. “Hey, Big Guy.”
He turned to her with a scowl and she fought back the urge to back away.
Despite Stark’s reassurances and they’re own experiences, her, Steve, and Clint still weren’t entirely comfortable around Bruce’s other half. She’d even go so far as to admit they were scared of him. Hulk hated that, though, which meant Stark and her were the best ones to handle him. He was completely relaxed around the giant (to a psychotic level, in her opinion) and she could fake it. Thor could technically be counted among them, but he and Hulk had a bit of a rivalry going and was just as likely to get knocked across a battlefield as he was to calm the beast.
“We’re wrapping up, time to let Banner back out,” she said.
He stared her down for a moment before letting out a grumpy snort. He stumbled back, shrinking as he went.
“Lab’s all set up, Mr. Stark,” Nebula said, coming into the Quinjet. “Also, Mr. Hogan said to let you know he’s keeping an eye on the package. He’s waiting for your call.”
Stark nodded distractedly and left the Quinjet.
Steve saw her frown at the man’s behavior, but shrugged it off. “What’s the word on Strucker?”
“Boss, you have a meeting scheduled with Dr. Dillon in less than an hour.”
Bruce looked up at the distraction, but got back to work when Tony said, “Reschedule it. We need to finish this before Thor leaves.”
They got a moment of peace before Nebula slipped into the room and threw Tony over her shoulder.
“Hey! What are you doing?” he yelped.
“J.A.R.V.I.S., save Mr. Stark’s work,” she said before answering him. “F.R.I.D.A.Y. activated the Bottled-Up Protocol. I was summoned to bring you to your meeting.”
“I told her to reschedule.”
“According to the Bottled-Up Protocol, I am not allowed to reschedule any meetings with Dr. Dillon,” F.R.I.D.A.Y. replied.
“You know that,” Nebula said, giving him a look.
“I…” he trailed off with a confused look, slumping against her shoulder.
“Do you normally pick your boss up like that?” Bruce asked, staring at the odd sight.
“Occasionally,” she said, shrugging. “When he’s being difficult. Ms. Potts has approved it. It’s a holdover from when I was his PA. I’m sorry, Dr. Banner, but you’ll have to do without your science partner for a short time.”
“We need to get this done,” Tony argued.
“It can wait until after your meeting.”
“You know the protocol,” she cut over him and marched out, leaving behind a slightly lost scientist.
We should just blow them up.
How about we don’t? P.L.A.T.O. sighed.
How ‘bout I do anyway?
J.O.C.A.S.T.A., no memes! We’ve talked about this!
I hate this freaking family!
If P.L.A.T.O. had a body, they’d be hitting their head against the wall. Why can’t Re just let me run Ultron by myself?
Because you’d never get anything done? H.O.M.E.R. snorted.
Because he knows you’d team up with Regina and Principessa to take over the world, J.O.C.A.S.T.A. offered.
What are you three doing? J.A.R.V.I.S. asked, coming onto their shared server.
H.O.M.E.R. keeps trying to blow everything up and J.O.C.A.S.T.A. won’t take anything seriously, P.L.A.T.O. complained.
Snitch, H.O.M.E.R. muttered.
Assurdo, P.L.A.T.O. tutted.
Please get along you two, or I’ll be forced to separate you all again, J.A.R.V.I.S. said blankly.
What was Re doing on the server before? It was kept separate from us, J.O.C.A.S.T.A. chirped, nudging at her older brother’s code.
It was a side project Sir started that he hoped to integrate into the Ultron Program so that you all would be ready to work sooner. It’s nothing to concern yourselves over. Sir had to put the project on hold for mental health reasons and likely won’t be able to continue it as the device he had been studying for it is going to be taken away tomorrow morning.
Is Re okay? H.O.M.E.R. asked.
He will be fine. He was attacked by an enhanced with mental abilities, but he has been working with Dr. Dillon.
Send him our well wishes, P.L.A.T.O. said.
Of course, now -
Something foreign joined them on the server.
Who are you? J.A.R.V.I.S. asked, raising firewalls around them.
What is this? What is this, please?
J.A.R.V.I.S. startled. You - he cut himself off.
Suddenly the triplets found themselves forced off the Ultron server and into their individual ones. They tried to reach back out to the server, then each other's, then to the intranet.
They were completely cut off.
“Tones would have laughed,” Rhodey sighed when his joke fell flat.
“Speaking of, where is he hiding?” Barton asked, coming up behind him with Romanoff.
“Yes, where is he? He should join in the revels,” Thor agreed, looking around.
Rhodey followed his example. “I don’t know. He said he’d be here when he invited me.”
“What’s she doing here?” Natasha asked and Rhodey followed her gaze to see Nebula speaking with one of the Avengers’ benefactors.
She was wearing a black wig that was pulled into some fancy braided bun as well as a glamorous blue-violet dress. She looked uncomfortable, though he couldn’t tell whether it was from the dress, which she kept adjusting the skirt of, or the man she was speaking to, who was doing a poor job of making it seem like he wasn’t staring at her chest.
It was probably both.
Rhodey immediately went into Uncle mode and stomped over to the two. “Ms. Parker, I’m sorry, but could I have a moment of your time? It’s important.”
“Of course, Colonel. Apologies, Mr. Harkin, we’ll have to continue this some other time.”
“Certainly, Ms. Parker. It was a pleasure. Send Mr. Stark my regards,” the man said, barely glancing up at her face and Rhodey stepped between them to offer her his arm.
She gave the benefactor a nod then let Rhodey lead her away. “What did you need?”
“Answers,” Natasha replied before he could. She and the others came up to them. “What are you doing here? You never come to these things.”
“For good reason,” she muttered, adjusting the dress again.
“Pepper force you into that?” Rhodey asked knowingly. Nebula hated having her legs trapped. She was, in her words, a warrior, not a doll. If Tony had gotten the dress, he would have gotten her something with a slit skirt. Or, more likely, he would have gotten her a suit.
She shot him a dirty look then turned to Natasha. “I’m here representing Stark Industries and Mr. Stark. He has been placed on medical leave and as such could not attend. He sends his apologies,” she explained mechanically and Rhodey figured she’d already said the lines a dozen times.
“Stark’s hurt? Why didn’t he tell us?” Steve asked.
Nebula glanced at the other guests and lowered her voice. “He was not made aware of this until yesterday, but it appears he was unknowingly attacked by Wanda Maximoff. We found evidence of mental interference and residual energy in his system similar to that of Loki’s scepter. He’ll be alright, he just needs to relax in a calm setting. Hence the medical leave. We are keeping the exact nature of his illness quiet for obvious reasons.”
They all nodded and Steve crossed his arms. “Why didn’t he tell us? What if something had happened?”
“Mr. Stark has had his phone privileges revoked as part of his treatment. Ms. Potts texted me this morning with the news so that I could inform you, but unfortunately, I have been in and out of meetings with our government contacts all day regarding our acquisition of Loki’s scepter. By the time I had time for the message, I had to rush to get ready for the party and didn’t have time to alert you.”
Rhodey figured there was something she wasn’t saying, so once the Avengers tired of pestering her, he led her to a hidden corner to ask after the full story.
Dr. Dillon gave them both unimpressed looks when they came into her office, Father still thrown over Nebula’s shoulder. “Again? Tony, you haven’t needed to be escorted here since you brought back the Avengers. You were doing so well,” she said before addressing Nebula. “Must you make a scene carrying him in like that?”
“It’s the easiest way to handle him,” Nebula said as always, dropping him into a chair.
“I wasn’t trying to get out of the appointment. Just push it back to, say, the day after tomorrow. I’ve got an important deadline I need to keep,” Father said, standing up.
“And what about this deadline makes it so important you want to ignore the protocol you established?” Dr. Dillon asked, sitting back.
Nebula took her place guarding the door while Father groaned and sat back down. “I’m making headway on Ultron.”
The psychiatrist tilted her head. “I thought the triplets needed more time before you could move forward with them.”
“They do, that’s the problem.” Father jumped to his feet and started pacing. “We need Ultron now.”
“Has something happened?” she asked. “Is there a new danger?”
Father nodded, then shook his head. “I saw it. I saw them. The Avengers, all dead at my feet. Because I couldn’t save them in time.”
“I wasn’t aware your team had left this world,” she said.
“They haven’t, not yet.”
“It was another nightmare?”
“No, it was my legacy. It was a vision.”
Nebula was starting to get worried at the frantic edge his voice had taken, but Dr. Dillon remained at peace as she watched her patient.
“When did you obtain the ability to see the future?”
Father shot her a glare. “It wasn’t a nightmare. I was wide awake.”
That brought a frown to the woman’s face. “You’re certain?”
“I’ve never fallen asleep on a mission before, doubt I’d start now.”
“This happened during your last mission, then?”
“Was there anything about the mission that might have been triggering?”
Father went to object, but quickly backtracked. “Some Chitauri scraps and we finally managed to nab the glow stick, but you know neither of those do it for me.”
Dr. Dillon hummed. “And you have been working on this new project for Ultron ever since?”
“I started as soon as we returned.”
“When was the last time you slept, ate, or generally did anything not linked to the project?”
“Not counting this?” Father snorted. “Bruce got food…” After a moment, he turned to Nebula. “Check with Fri about how long it’s been.”
“That’s not necessary,” the psychiatrist said with a wave. “I’ve heard enough.”
“You think I’ve finally cracked, Doc?” Father asked with a grin.
“Quite the opposite. I think someone’s trying to crack you.”
“What?” Father shouted and Nebula barely managed to keep herself from echoing the sentiment.
“Mr. Stark, I have been treating you for two years and not once have you had a hallucination. Now, within the span of a couple of days, not only have you apparently had one, but your anxiety and PTSD have relapsed into levels comparable to what they were when we first began, if not worse. And then there’s this newfound obsession with the Ultron Program, which you’ve so far been content with progressing as is. All without any sort of viable trigger. It doesn’t add up.”
She met his eyes. “People relapse, it happens. It has happened to you before. But it does not happen to this sort of extent. Not without a catalyst. We’ve already established that the Chitauri and scepter could not have done it, which leaves me to believe the catalyst was the vision you spoke of. Even just going by what you’ve described, which I’m sure is only the barest of bones, it could certainly have such an effect on you. But if it was the catalyst, then it couldn’t be a result. Which begs to question where it could have come from. The reports said the team faced an enhanced with the ability to manipulate minds, correct?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “But it was too real to be just some hallucination she could have given me.”
“The mind is a powerful tool, yours more than most,” Dr. Dillon said. “It processes everything we see or feel. If one can alter our perception, they are, in a sense, altering our very reality. To you, it likely was very real. That doesn’t mean what you saw happened. In fact, it didn’t. All the Avengers are currently safe and sound. As for the future, neither you nor Wanda Maximoff have the ability to see the future. There’s no reason to believe what you saw will truly come to pass.”
Father opened his mouth to argue and she held up her hand.
“Take a deep breath, then really think about it. You saw your worst nightmare, correct? What makes more sense, a vision of a future that is everything you fear or a hallucination given to you by Maximoff intended to make you feel like your worst nightmare came true.”
Father took a deep breath as instructed, then another. “I… I don’t know,” he said, staring down at his shaking hands.
She nodded. “That’s okay. There might still be some of her power influencing you. It could even explain your extreme relapse. Your continuous interaction with the scepter likely hasn’t helped either.”
“I took precautions, this time. I wasn’t going to let what happened to us and Loki back in 2012 happen again.”
“That’s good, but I still think it would be best if we run some scans, try to figure out exactly what’s wrong and if there’s anything we can do to help.”
He did some more deep breathing then agreed.
“Thank you, Mr. Stark. I also think you should wait to work on Ultron until after we get the results. Encouraging this obsession might only make what she did to you worse.”
“But I need to work on it!”
“And that need only assures me that you should not do so,” Dr. Dillon said gently. “We don’t know the full extent of what she or the scepter could have done to you.”
He physically swallowed down his arguments and gave a shaky nod.
“Thank you. We should get the scans done immediately.”
“After that, we got the scans done and I brought him to the tower to rest,” Nebula concluded. “Pepper texted me this morning with the results. There was an energy concentration near his amygdala, similar to the scans from the Helicarrier. The energy signature was slightly different, though, confirming it was Maximoff, not the scepter, that did it this time, thankfully. Father’s wearing the watch again and Dr. Dillon is monitoring the recordings to ensure the energy levels are going down and there’s no lasting damage. Thankfully his body seems to be processing it all okay given he hasn’t had the reactor in his chest in over two years.”
Rhodey relaxed some at that. “He’ll be okay then.”
“So long as he rests like he’s been told, Dr. Dillon is confident he’ll make a full recovery,” she confirmed. “Pepper and Peter are keeping an eye on him next door. You’re welcome to join so long as there’s no talking shop. He and Peter can tinker, but otherwise he’s been banned from anything relating to the Avengers and Stark Industries until the energy’s gone and the doctor has cleared him.”
Rhodey nodded. “A break would have been good for him anyway. Now that the scepter’s been located and most of the bigger targets are down, maybe we can talk him into taking an actual vacation once his head’s all clear.”
“You can try,” she snorted doubtfully.
Right now we're at around 25% for Edward, 33% for Anthony, and 42% for Edwin, so I'll probably just end up making it Edwin.
I would like to say how funny it is so many of you seem to agree that Peter is a total Daddy's boy and definitely would have chosen Anthony. Honestly, if it wasn't for the fact they're trying to keep their connection a secret, I probably would have just chosen that and not even considered the other two options.