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Part 01: Tisphone
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Happy had barely stopped the car before the back-passenger door opened and Harry was launching his small body at Tony. The six-year-old clung to Tony as if they had been separated for days instead of just a few hours. Tony didn’t say that, though, because he was capable of thinking before he spoke, regardless of the scolding he had just received from Pepper about how he had addressed the now very noticeable absence of Obadiah Stane at the press launch of the new Stark Tablet. Tony really couldn’t help that he wasn’t concerned about it, even if he wasn’t telling anyone about what had happened that night. Telling anyone would bring even more attention to the child who still figuring out how to sleep in a bed regularly, and everything in Tony refused to allow that.
Harry was his, and he had been since that first brief flash of eye contact in the cave. Tony wasn’t going to let anyone take him; he was going to let anyone hurt the kid any more than he had already been. People-eating shadows or not, Harry wasn’t going to be anyone’s lab rat or weapon. He wasn’t going to be anyone’s tool, not like Tony had inadvertently been for so many years.
None of that stopped Tony from recognizing that Harry’s need to keep him in sight at all times was probably unhealthy. The kid seemed to be under the impression that Tony was going to spontaneously keel over if he couldn’t see him. Given the track record they were building between them, Tony understood Harry’s line of reasoning. That didn’t change that it was an issue that needed to be resolved, especially if Harry was ever going to be able to have anything resembling a normal childhood.
Judging by the pinched look on Happy’s face, today’s trip to the park did not go well. That was not promising. Only Rhodey had been able to get the kid to play, even if only with things that didn’t require other children. If Happy’s silent headshake was anything to go by, this trip didn’t even have that.
“Did he eat?” Tony asked, mostly because Happy had texted that he was going to stop off to get something on the way back to the SI campus. Happy sighed as he leaned on the roof of the town car. Harry snuffled into Tony’s stomach.
“Just the milkshake and a handful of animal crackers,” Happy answered. Tony silently cursed, knowing that the animal crackers were more likely to be in one of Harry’s pockets instead of his stomach. Happy’s eyes darted from the security camera back to Tony’s face. “I packed up the burger and fries. Maybe you’ll have more luck, boss.”
“Yeah, of course,” Tony agreed. He shuffled himself and his cling-on towards the still open car door. Harry reluctantly allowed them to get back in the car. After they were back on the road and Tony had gotten Harry to begin nibbling on his cooling fries, Tony asked the question that Happy had signaled him needed to be asked. “Was there an incident?”
“Not with Harry directly,” Happy said carefully, “and honestly, I’m not certain that we can do anything about it yet. It was that guy from SHIELD—you know, the one that Pepper had banned? He didn’t try to approach or anything, but he hung around, watching. I think it’s what had the kid so worked up.”
Harry laid his head on Tony’s leg, silently derailing any response that Tony could have made. Happy nodded at him through the review mirror. It was probably best not to talk about it around Harry. That was how JARVIS’ advice typically ran. Since JARVIS hadn’t steered them wrong about Harry yet, Tony should probably follow it. After all, JARVIS had done more direct research into child psychology than Tony had had a chance to do.
Maybe Jenny had a point getting the kid a therapist, even if he hadn’t had the courage to open the reading material that she had sent him. But who could Tony trust with the kid? While the few weeks had seen Harry talking more, he still didn’t do well with strangers. Tony had moved them both up to the actual bedrooms but most nights, Harry ended up sleeping with Tony or slipping back down to the nest he had made in the bots’ charging closet. Pepper had been spot-on with her food issues prediction, but Harry had started to show preferences, and just yesterday, he had actually said that he was hungry when asked. He still soaked up affection as if starved but the initial stiffness like he didn’t know what was happening was almost completely gone, at least with Tony and Rhodey. Harry was still hesitant with both Pepper and Happy.
That’s a lot of ground to lose if Tony trusted the wrong person, even before taking into consideration that Harry had at least one active mutation. Tony hesitated to describe the shadows as anything that Harry actually created, no matter how responsive they were to the kid. Analyzing recordings of various events, the shadows stuck Tony as more like an overly eager rottweiler than something Harry could control like his memory thing. The jury was still out on that being a good thing or not, but Tony couldn’t help the shiver of fear that accompanied the idea of what Stane would have done with that.
All the more reason to keep Harry away from outsiders if at all possible.
Harry was asleep by the time they had gotten back to the mansion. Happy was a godsend as he opened first the car door and then the front door. Tony honestly didn’t see how single parents managed. Juggling a kid who turned into a koala in his sleep while fighting with doors sounded harder than figuring out why people even liked eggs.
“You need help getting him to bed, boss?” Happy asked.
“Nah,” Tony answered, automatically adjusting his hold as Harry shifted closer in his sleep. Harry’s arms were around Tony’s neck and Tony just knew that he wasn’t going to have an easy time getting the kid to let go when it came time to set him down anywhere, “I should be able to handle it from here. You’re free to go get yourself some real food. I know that you wouldn’t have eaten either.”
“It’s just weird if he’s not going to eat,” Happy replied, sounding tired despite how it was barely evening. The orange light of sunset made the way he blushed seem more severe than normal. “And if I finish my portion, he’ll offer his, and there’s no winning move there. Kid looks crushed either way.”
“Yeah,” Tony acknowledged. He rubbed a hand down Harry’s back. “Can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same. His eyes are lethal weapons. Go eat now.”
“Yes, Mom,” Happy sassed. “I’ll even include a vegetable.”
“You had better,” Tony threatened. Even as light as he was, Harry was starting to get heavy. As intuitive as ever, Happy nodded and gestured Tony through the front door. Tony took the opportunity to leave the conversation, tossing a last rejoinder over his shoulder. “Don’t think I’ll forget about that Mom comment either. You’re not too old for me to adopt, you know.”
“Whatever, boss,” Happy said with a good-natured roll of his eyes. “Just focus on the kid you’ve got for now. Little guy is enough for anyone.”
Before Tony could reply to that, Happy had pulled the door shut behind Tony. He supposed that was for the best. Harry really did need to be put to bed or at least the new sectional that Tony had ordered for the living room. Then again, maybe Tony shouldn’t let him nap this late in the evening. Didn’t JARVIS say something about stable routines being necessary?
“Hey, JARVIS,” Tony called out as he moved through the hall that opened into the living room, “can you bring up the lights? I need to be able to see enough to not trip.”
“You are a difficult man to get a hold, Stark,” said a voice out of the dark shadows near the patio windows. Tony froze in the doorway, a terrible sense of déjà vu sending flickers of fear through him. In his arms, Harry shifted in his sleep and brushed his forehead against Tony’s neck. The image of Obie removing the reactor from Tony’s chest overlaid itself on the scene like a silent hologram, not helped in the least by how the stranger was standing in the same spot. “Especially when you refuse to let my best agent onto any of your properties in a fit of pettiness.”
“Did you ever think about making an appointment through the appropriate channels?” Tony snarked. “I’ve got the twelfth of never open, just for home invaders who like to lurk in the shadows.”
His eyes instinctively sought out the interface dome near where the patio windows met the stone wall that supported the fireplace and mantle. His stomach untwisted at the sight of the bright green light. He concentrated on that as he slid the hand that he had in between Harry’s shoulders to cup the back of the kid’s neck. Unseen by their intruder, Harry’s hands relaxed their hold a bit. No matter how much this resembled the recent murder attempt by Obie, they still had JARVIS in some capacity. If they had JARVIS, then it was likely that Rhodey and Happy were already contacted. Tony just had to buy them time to do what they needed to.
“And give you another opportunity to threaten to have my people arrested? I think not,” the man countered. He stepped into the dimming light coming from the setting sun outside. The leather duster was a nice touch that screamed either spy or villain, especially with the matching leather eye patch over the man’s left eye. “Mr. Stark, I’m Colonel Nick Fury, Director of—”
“You know,” Tony interrupted, “I just remembered that I really don’t care who you are or what shady organization you lead. If you leave now, I’ll give you a head start before alerting my new security guy. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Big guy. Repulsor rays. I think you’d like him.”
“Ah, yes,” Fury said as if Tony hadn’t just threatened to bat him around some, “Iron Man. That was a foolish thing you did, announcing your identity to the world like that. You just joined a bigger world than you know.”
“You’d be surprised what I know about the world.” Tony’s arms tightened around Harry reflexively. Unfortunately, Fury caught the shift and focused on the boy. Tony watched as emotions flitted across the man’s face, too fast and muffled for Tony to be able to follow them all. Harry trembled a bit, an action that Tony could see that the shadows behind Fury copying. “Why are you here? More importantly, why haven’t you taken me up on my very generous offer let you leave?”
“Mr. Stark, I came here to offer you an opportunity—”
“Are you kidding me here?” Tony scoffed. The recessed lighting along the stairs leading down to the workshop fluxed at the same time that Tony felt Harry swallow hard. “You know who I am. Opportunities are not offered. They are taken.”
“Like you took that boy from his family?” Fury snapped. “Is he just another opportunity taken by the great Tony Stark? What is so special about this kid that keeps you from returning him to his parents now that you’re safely back in the country?”
“I’d love to tell you, Furry,” Tony bit out as he gritted his teeth against the memories leaking from Harry through their points of skin contact. With practice, the kid had been gaining more control over that, but judging by the pain laced under the vocal track of being told how much his pre-Ten Rings guardians had hated him, Harry was too close to a panic attack to help it. That just made it even more necessary to get this intruder as far away as humanly possible. “But I really don’t think you’d understand. Not to mention that I don’t want to. So, last chance to leave before I introduce you to Iron Man.”
“You think you’re the only superhero out there?” Fury demanded. “You’re not that special, Stark. I was going to invite you to the Avengers Initiative—”
“I am not a superhero at all,” Tony interrupted again, just to aggravate the man some more. He really was as irascible as his name suggested. Seriously, did this guy not actually understand who he was dealing with? Tony had dealt with worst than him when he was younger than Harry was. “I’m just a futurist doing what needs to be done. Which includes getting my kid to eat his dinner, something that he skipped out on earlier because of your agent stalking him. So, if you will show yourself out, Furry, that would be great.”
“It’s Fury,” the man corrected aggressively, “and you should consider your options very carefully, Stark. SHIELD does not deal kindly with terrorists.”
“And I don’t deal kindly with stalkers,” Tony countered. “You broke into my house, subdued my security system in the process, after your agent harassed my kid and got permanently banned from all my properties for it. After the stunt he pulled earlier in the park, I’m sure I can even get a restraining order, too. Keep making threats and I’ll include you in the paperwork, too.”
“Where’s your CFO, Stark?” Fury asked undeterred by how the conversation had to be going sideways for him. “No one has seen him in over a week.”
“Do you not watch the news, Furry?” Tony asked just to see the man’s forehead twitch in irritation. “I don’t know where he skived off to, and I don’t care.”
“It’s Fury, and he’s your godfather, Stark,” Fury reminded him aggressively. His forehead had been joined by a twitch along his jaw. “He practically raised you, especially after your parents’ death. Are you really not concerned that he’s missing?”
“Nope,” Tony replied, drawing out the oh and popping the pee of the work. “As I announced not even ninety minutes ago, I uncovered evidence of irregularities around him, including his connection to my captivity. He disappeared before my official government liaison could process everything to issue a warrant.”
“Sure,” Fury said, “and the fact that he was cooperating with SHIELD and giving us a much different story has nothing to do with his convenient disappearance.”
Tony could only stare at Fury in shock. Surely, the man was not implying what Tony thought he was. First the comment about Tony being a terrorist and now this? SHIELD could not be this stupid. Even for a government agency, this was incredible. Tony would be worried about how close this was to what had actually happened, except for how freaking far it was at the same time. Harry squirmed in Tony’s arms as if determined to stare at Fury as well.
“Hey there, kiddo,” Fury said, taking advantage of having Harry’s attention, “can you tell me your name? I bet your mom and dad are worried sick about you.”
“You’re mean,” Harry said in a flat tone. Tony was surprised that he said anything at all, though, let alone something so close to a challenge and to a stranger. “I’m telling Pepper. She eats mean men for breakfast.”
“Yes, she does,” Tony agreed, not caring if he sounded just as childish as Harry did. “A pirate wouldn’t be very nutritious though, and breakfast is such an important meal.”
“Knock, knock,” Rhodey said as he strolled into the room behind Tony. Behind him was a couple of uniformed officers. Tony had never been so pleased to see any kind of police in his life. “I brought some friends, Tones, because I heard that there was a party happening. Figured they could act as bouncers for any unauthorized guests.”
“Rhodey!” Harry cried, reaching out for him.
Tony let him go as easily as Rhodey accepted the six-year-old. A part of Tony whispered that he should be jealous of how quickly Harry had taken to his platypus. Most of him just understood. For years, Rhodey had been Tony’s rock and safe harbor. Nowhere was as safe as having a Rhodes at his back, and with everything that Tony had been piecing together from the memories that Harry had shared, he could not begrudge the kid finally having that.
“What’s up, buddy?” Rhodey asked as the cops moved to arrest the suddenly silent director. Rhodey bounced Harry a couple of times. “You seem a bit tense. Did the mean man scare you?”
“Uh-huh,” Harry replied, sounding a lot younger than he normally did. Tony was confused for a moment before he spotted how Rhodey had slipped the tip of a finger beneath the hem of Harry’s tee shirt. No doubt Rhodey was feeding him lines. “He was asking me all these weird questions.”
“All I asked was his name,” Fury protested predictably. Tony resisted the urge to gloat as the man took the bait that Rhodey had been getting Harry to lay. The cops clearly were not convinced by the denial. “I have reason to believe that he was kidnapped, and Tony Stark is keeping him from his legal guardians.”
“Officers,” Tony stated evenly, “I have no clue what this guy is on about.”
“It’s okay, Mr. Stark,” one of the officers said. “We were advised by your bodyguard about the whole situation. We’ll take it from here.”
Even knowing that they were now officially at war with SHIELD, it was satisfying watching Fury being dragged out of his house in handcuffs.
Pepper was still going to eat Tony for making her life harder.
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To Be Continued
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