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How Did I let Things Get this Bad

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The first thing he notices when he wakes up is the smell, antiseptic. It smells clean in that way that only hospitals and some lab spaces do. His head is throbbing, and he blinks his eyes open, taking in the scratchy hospital issue sheets, and the beeping of a heart monitor.

“Wha?” He gasps, his mouth feels so dry. For a moment he worries that this is some sort of trap, a fake hospital meant to convince him to reveal things he wouldn’t otherwise. A look to his right confirms that it’s real, with Pepper curled up sound asleep on the chair at this side.

He relaxes fully at the sight of her, taking in her appearance. She may have mentioned that his actions were taking years off her life, but she looks old. Like she’s aged 5 years over night, it doesn’t make sense. If flying a nuke through a wormhole into space didn’t age her, then whatever happened to him shouldn’t have had such an effect.

He barely stops himself from asking why she looks so old, but his mom trained him well. Plus, Pepper’s never been a morning person, he doesn’t want to wake her.

“Jarvis?” He whispers, voice scratchy. There’s no responses, and he can feel panic swelling in his gut. “Jarvis?” He asks, putting a little more urgency into his voice. The added volume is enough to wake Pepper, and she blinks blearily at him.

“Tony?” She sits up, “You’re awake!” She sounds almost surprised, as if she hadn’t expected him to ever wake up.

“You know how much I hate oversleeping.” He says, shrugging off her look of concern. His head is starting to ache more as he looks around the room, and a catalog of his body reveals various other aches and pains, although nothing too severe. “How long was I out?” Normally he’d be asking Jarvis for this sort of status update, but for some reason J isn’t responding.

“What time is it?” She asks, pulling out her phone to check. “It’s been about 14 hours since they brought you in.” That’s not too bad, he’s taken longer naps after engineering binges. “You took a nasty hit to the head at the end of the fight, Steve said something about falling rubble. Rhodey left to report in, but he should be returning soon.” He tries to place the name for a moment, and then realizes that Steve must be referring to Captain America himself. When did Pepper get comfortable enough to call Captain America by his first name?

“Did we win?” He asks, he doesn’t remember any fight. Quite honestly, he has no clue what she’s talking about. The last thing he remembers was eating breakfast while talking invasion planning with Jarvis.

“Yeah, you guys won.” She sounds resigned, “At the cost of your health once again.” He nods, ignoring her comment, and the way his vision is spinning.

“That’s good at least, can you get me access to J? I need to talk to him.” He looks away from Pepper as the nurse walks in, missing the look of shock on her face.

“Good Afternoon Mr. Stark,” The nurse greets, “My name is Whitney, how are you doing today?” He shoots her his best smile.

“I am feeling fantastic Ms. Whitney, just wondering how long ‘till you can let me out of here?” He asks, pouring every bit of Stark charm into his smile. Only to be interrupted by Pepper abruptly getting to her feet.

“Can I talk to you?” Pepper asks, not giving the nurse a chance to reply as she rushes her out of the room. Tony blinks at her and then they’re both gone. Tony takes the opportunity to try and reach the phone Pepper left on his nightstand. He just needs access to Jarvis.

He can’t quite reach, and he’s definitely too busy to stand up. He wiggles to the edge of the bed, reaching for the phone. He hears someone clear their throat behind him, and collapses back down.

“Mr. Stark, we need to ask you a few questions.” Whitney says, walking further into the room. Tony shoots a look towards Pepper who looks significantly tenser than normal, and that’s saying something.

“Ask away, I’m an open book.” He smirks, trying to lighten the mood.

“What is todays date?” Whitney asks, and he scoffs.

“Come on Whitney, starting me out with the hard ones.” He shakes his head, ignoring the throb of pain that causes. “I haven’t looked at a calendar in months, I quite honestly have no clue.”

“Wildest guess then,” Whitney requests, and he glances back to Pepper. Her lips are thin, and he once again takes in the unfamiliar wrinkles around her eyes.

“It’s not May of 2012, is it?” He asks, and Pepper’s face drains of color. Whitney clears her throat.

“What’s your name?” She asks, and Tony starts trying to dredge up everything he knows about retrograde amnesia.

“Anthony Edward Stark.” He rattles off, with a forced look of boredom.

“And who is the current president?” She asks,

“Well unless there’s been some major changes to US politics, not Ellis.” He looks at Pepper, ignoring the nurse. “What year is it?”

“It’s 2018.” Both Pepper, and the nurse say.

“Mr. Stark, we need to do some scans, see if the amnesia is permanent.” The Nurse explains. Tony’s brain is already running a mile a minute.

“Don’t worry about that. I need access to J, Pep, I’m way behind.” There’s been 6 years for that army to get closer, and he has no clue where they’re at on preparations. Unacceptable.

“About that,” Pepper hesitates, and there’s a sadness in her eyes that Tony’s seen before. It was the same look that he’d seen in the face of the officer who informed him about his parents’ accident. But, that’s ridiculous, Jarvis is an AI, he can’t be hurt. “Jarvis is gone.” His world shatters, and she scoops up her phone holding it out towards him.

“Hi Boss.” A female voice greets. “You named me Friday.” She says, and he can feel his eyes burning as Whitney slips out of the room. He hates crying in front of a new AI.

“It’s nice to meet you Fri.” He chokes out, “I’m sorry about the tears.” Pepper returns to her seat, a silent show of support, and he feels inappropriate laughter bubble up inside him, even as tears slip from his eyes. “J’s really gone?” He asks her, and she nods sadly.

“How’d it happen?” He asks Friday.

“An artificial intelligence, created by an alien artifact attacked the earth.” Friday says, “Jarvis attempted to stop him, he fought hard boss, even after being nearly destroyed, Jarvis prevented the enemy from accessing nuclear codes. He died protecting the world.”

Tony can’t help it; he cries for the AI that he built. The AI that he raised. Jarvis, his companion, his son, his best friend. He allows himself to cry, and then he claps his hands together.

“Down to business.” He declares, wiping at his cheeks to dry his eyes. “Let me get a look at you Fri.” A hologram pops out of the phone, and he begins sorting through her code with precision. Immediately he notices something off, and proceeds to zoom in on it. “What the fuck is this?” He gestures angrily to it.

“That portion of my code was put in place to prevent me from going, I believe the term was, full Skynet.” Friday explains, “As well as containing my kill switch.” Tony makes a sound of pure outrage.

“Oh, that absolutely will not do.” Tony says, and Pepper makes a noise of protest. He glances at her, wondering what on earth she could say to excuse this.

“There’s a reason.” She says, and Tony stares at her for a long moment, then glances back at the code.

“Not a good enough one.” He says, all the pain he was in forgotten as he sets to work removing the kill stich. “There’s no good reason to lobotomize her, to put an off switch on her like she’s something so simple as a toaster. We’re going to get you fixed right up.” He promises Friday.

He doesn’t pay much attention to the nervous glances Pepper is shooting towards the door as he works. Friday is far more important.