Fifteen year old Tony bit his lip uncertainly as he stared at the bold SHIELD statement in the midst of their networks; Dear any hacker who's made it this far,
we'd like you to work for us. Specifically the Avengers. As a tech helper, since all of them are hopeless. Please submit your entries to ShieldWorkHacker hotmail . com.
Well. That was... interesting.
He tugged on the string of his large, stained dark blue hoodie and stared at the words harder, forcing them to imprint into his mind. His hand twitched towards the cup of coffee (a rare treat he was only able to afford once a week) and he frowned in disappointment at the last bitter dregs, which offered no solution to his predicament.
Ok. Cons. He was a kid. Was that even legal? And he'd be working for them in person- he'd have to interact with people. Oh, the horror. Not that he wasn't perfectly capable of interacting, it was just a bit hard to get through a conversation without insulting people- which again wasn't a problem except he'd have to see them again and again. And seeing them in person would also bring feelings for him out, and those were bad, bad things, be they hate or pity or even like because that would leave to betrayal when they got bored, which hurt.
But just a bit, because he was used to it now.
And again, the fact he was a kid; they'd want to put him back in the system the second they found out. He'd have to lie about having a family or something- he'd work on that later.
Pros. He'd hacked into the SHIELD database, of course, and knew they were sheltering some of the greatest minds in science under their roof. Dr Banner, Dr Foster, and occasionally Reed Richards when the great man deigned to grace his presence on those mortals... just the thought of meeting such scientists made Tony drool. Another pro; the pay. Something he desperately, desperately needed. Since his last laptop had crashed he'd had to work of public computers which while preferable because they screened his location it also meant he had to save everything on the internet- an unreliable method at the best. His shitty apartment was almost at the end of the lease and he was barely keeping up on payment. Not to mention that his usual jobs on the internet- improving online security, designing bugs, etc.- were fast running out, for some reason he couldn't fathom.
But Tony was an impulsive kinda guy. He discarded all the thoughts and set about making designs for ideas for the Avenger's tech, for his 'entry'.
Ok. As coincidences went, he'd thought about this quite a bit. He crafted a blueprint- just a sketch- for improving Hawkeye's arrows- explosives? Net which erupted when hitting warm flesh? Trackers mixed with sedatives?- he put the formula in for that. And an earpiece that would stay in the Hulk's ear when he transformed- though Tony first needed to know how coherent Hulk was when in that form, since it would be no use if all he had was grunts and HULK SMASH! And maybe for Captain America some unrestricting armour. Like, the guy might've been superpowered but he went around in spandex for god's sake.
Less than an hour later he was done. Tony saved the blueprints to the file and set about hacking into the SHIELD database (again) He needed to put this somewhere they couldn't miss, yet that would demonstrate his skill. Hopefully that would make up for his age. Tony put a code in that let him bypass the firewalls, navigating through the walls of code and into the central 'brain'. He put a loop in there which quickly opened up a hole in the defences, sending another long string of code in that would allow him administrator's access.
Well. That was easy.
Tony saved the file, marking it in big letter's; MY ENTRY FOR THE JOB, and put his contact details underneath the blueprints. He backed out of the system, cautiously and systematically erasing any trace he had been there but the file.
Then he noticed the trackers onto him.
They were small lines of code intruding where he was, disturbing the process and working to pinpoint the location. Tony panicked and sent ten lines of pure destructive code into the system, pressing enter with frantic fingers; then gasped as the entire system went off line.
Ah well. Those highly paid techies would sort it out quickly enough. He'd keep his (modified) phone on him at all times in preparation for when they would contact him. Which they would. To offer him a job. (Hopefully.)
Tony stood up in the library chair- he was in a public library, which was just about to close- and crumpled up his coffee cup, swinging a backpack over his shoulder and chucking it (the coffee cup, not the backpack) in the bin when he passed. Navigating his way through the maze of bookshelves Tony exited into the New York drizzle, pulling up his hood as he started walking through the slowly darkening streets to his apartment, key cold in his hand, phone clenched in the others, face down against the cold. If he got this job, first thing he was spending the money on was clothes. A thin shirt, ragged jeans and a ripped hoodie weren't gonna last him the winter. The lanky teen climbed wearily up the stairs to his apartment, unlocking it with frozen fingers and going in, keeping the light off- electricity bills, these days, god- and stumbling over empty pizza boxes.
The walls were lined with mould, filth and large sheets of paper pinned up, covered in scrawled code and blueprints and ideas. A saggy mattress sat in the corner, covered forlornly with a blanket. A grimy window let in little light from outside- he should really clean that sometime, but never got round to it- and a door led into the kitchen.
He didn't go in there, because it would be full of depressingly clanging cupboards lined with dust, and a fridge he didn't even know why he kept since all it had harboured (for three months, two days and five hours- what? He was a genius!) was a can of beer he was saving for desperate times.
Home sweet home.
Tony had a history of being abandoned.
First, his father, Howard Stark. Yeah. The former brilliant owner of the most successful weapons company in America. That guy who was found ten years back as a child abuser. He'd killed himself when his reputation went down in shatters, and left everything in his will to Obadiah Stane. Tony Stark, the victim of four years of child abuse, had been put into the system with no living family left. His inheritance all turned over to Obadiah, he turned into one of the nameless orphans who struggled through the system with the help of drugs and alcohol and most of the time ended up doing the same thing as Howard Stark.
Before that was Maria Stark, who had cut all ties to her husband and child and flew off to Spain to make a new family.
Though, Obadiah wasn't that bad. He'd watched over Tony and came to visit him occasionally. He was Tony's best and only friend, come to think of it. Though he'd made it clear Tony wasn't receiving any help from him- even though the company Obie had used to be his father's- Tony was used to that. He appreciated the fact Obie didn't disappear. There was a text every few weeks, a call every few months, a precious visit once or twice a year.
Enough for Tony to latch onto him and see him as the only one who would ever care for him. Even if Obie refused to help.
After Howard, the abandonments came thick and fast, in the form of foster families who pushed Tony away after deciding his brilliant mind and sharp comments and cutting wit and often insulting sarcasm were sweet and all, but not really a child's best qualities, and sorry but could they have a girl or something instead? Like he was just a fucking dog- no, not even that, just a pile of clothes they could try on and decide they didn't like, return without a blink of an eye.
Friends at school had, funnily enough, also come thick and fast. Then he'd skipped one year, and another, then another, until he was a child in a midst of youths, and cleverer than them all, and all his old friends abandoned him, and everyone in his new classes didn't want to be with him. They hadn't turned on him, exactly- just excluded him. He was worth only fucks and so threw himself into becoming the school's lone wolf and slut.
Funny combination. But it suited him.
All the while he developed his computer skills and engineering abilities, as well as expanding in the world of science- submitting a few works under a pseudonym, even getting a glowing review once from Dr Banner himself. (He'd done a little happy dance in the middle of history at that and gained a new position as school weirdo. Which helped with school's lone wolf but wasn't really an improvement.)
Then he'd got a scholarship into a posh, rich-kids-only high school. Younger than them all. A poor system kid in a world of snobs.
And the torture had started. He'd lost his natural charm and fallen into insulting everything and everyone. Experience taught him it helped him keep his pride, and it got the beatings over quicker. He was still the school slut, of course; some things never changed, and no one could resist that kid with a dirty mouth and wicked good in bed, and they didn't have to worry about things like expectation with him because he was the outsider, the kid; he didn't have feelings. Of course.
He graduated high school at fourteen. Three months later- he had no money to go to college, was not old enough to be let out of the system, had nothing to do but sit around all day and get fucked by social workers who'd heard his slut status by then and wanted a go. Oddly enough, it was his fellow orphans who held some measure of respect for him, maybe because they had been through such things themselves, and so they limited themselves to beating and bullying which was actually a good thing since it taught Tony how to fight street-dirty.
Tired of life, Tony disappeared. Lived on the streets a good half a year, enough to gain street smarts, and lose half his body weight. Then he decided to something about it and got a load of fake ID's, set up a hacker alias, rented an apartment. Started a new life. A shitty life, but a new one. His own. In his spare time Tony hacked into ultra secret government networks and found out dirty national secrets of utmost importance. And when hacking SHIELD- a shortened version of a long name Tony could never remember, led by one Director Fury, deputy Coulson, top spies also members of the Avengers- Natasha Romanoff and Clint Barton- he'd found an invitation for any hacker who got right into the heart of the network to work for them.
He was pretty sure it was a trap. So he hacked into the orders bit and made sure it was an actual, real offer. Then waited around.
And waited some more.
And finally, that day, he'd accepted.
It would be a huge turn point in his life. And so many others. A life changing decision.
Or maybe just another opportunity to get hurt.
The next day he got a job, was arrested and met the usual prejudice about being a kid. Not in that order.
They contacted him, with a long text; Thank you for replying to our offer, Mr Jarrod McJones. Also for crashing our systems. We will be with you shortly. This held many significant messages. The first; they knew who he was, they knew everything about them. Or at least, that was the message they were trying to convey, but unfortunately for them they happened on Tony's fake twenty year old identity so they didn't score intimidation points. The second; a sense of humour. He could work with that. But also a subtle threat. And the last sentence- we will be with you shortly.
They were going to get a pinpoint on his location, through his phone or something, and as expected here was a black car pulling up outside the building. The tinted windows and polished sheen with no keyed marks in the side gave it away as a car not from the neighbourhood and there was a guy with shades inside of it- typical agent profile.
As expected. Not welcome, but expected.
Tony brushed his arms down and straightened his hoodie. He thought for a moment before sliding up his hood, putting his face in shadow, and touched the knife strapped onto his leg with tentative fingers- in case things got nasty. Which they almost always did. Then he opened the door, locked it and double locked it behind him, made sure all the safety procedures were there- an electric shock on the door knob if a hand with fingerprints not matching his was there for more than five seconds, a shrill alarm that went off if you didn't first put a pin through the hinge to stop it, a flood of water that came down if someone stepped outside his door for more than ten minutes. Which got him in a lot of trouble with some guys who had stopped there to smoke, but what could you do?
No, it was not paranoia. It was... caution. Or something. Just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you, after all.
He gulped, fingered the knife again. Touched the cool screen of the phone in his pocket. Then took the stairs, two at a time, to meet the SHIELD agent. And hopefully get a job. And hopefully not be killed for crashing their system. And hopefully not be discarded because he was kid. And hopefully not found with a knife- which, in hindsight, was not one of his better ideas, because he could be arrested if found with it. And hopefully-
It was a shame Tony had never put much stock in hope.
Yeah, he was in shit.
Coulson exited the car with a hand clenched around a pistol as he scanned his surroundings.
A crappy area to live in, to be sure. The gaunt faces of beggars peered out, white and hopeless, from the dirty shadows. The streets were covered in litter, and a smell hung almost tangibly- of cat piss and bird shit and human sweat and blood and puke. The buildings rose desolately out of the gloom, hard concrete walls smeared with grime. And yet, here he was, looking for someone to work for him. And also to arrest.
The hacker was cocky. But brilliant. His blueprints looked hurried but some raw manifestation of talent; his codes that had bought the system down for a few hours were beautiful long pieces of destruction, or so the techies claimed; he was bold, perfect. And also the only guy ever to answer the SHIELD's offer of a job, buried in the system, from so long ago most people had forgotten it (or been killed). They definitely wanted him on SHIELD's side- look at the damage he could do!
They were aware, of course, that Jarrod McJones was an alias. But it was better to let the man, whoever he was, underestimate them, and that was the identity that owned the phone. And all they had. They didn't have a face, or even a description; just a name and date of birth, which if it was right meant the guy was twenty, but was probably wrong. It was likely he'd be much older judging by his level of experience and skill.
A lead had told them he lived somewhere in this building. Coulson sighed at the prospect of having to open every single door, asking for Jarrod, in a building where everyone was probably a druggie or alcoholic or slut or thug or any other of the lowlifes who inhabited dirt-cheap dirt-dirty (okay, crap joke) places like this. Unfortunately, that was his job; luckily there was a cold, loaded pistol deep in his suit pocket, in case things got nasty. Coulson took a deep breath and stepped into the building complex, nose wrinkling at the new waves of human stink that hit him. He was too old for this. Why hadn't he sent Clint or Natasha or someone just as capable? Oh right, because no one knew but him and Director Fury, and no one would know until they either killed the hacker or enlisted him.
Thinking of the rage in the techies faces when the system failed and they spent every second frantically trying to get it back up, Coulson wasn't sure which option would be best.
He walked along the filthy, beer stained corridor to number 1, and knocked politely on the door. It opened not a moment later, and a naked man, dick in hand, grinned in the dazed way of one intoxicated and sex crazed. "Hey, Jemeniah darling, you're here just in- hey, who the fuck are you?"
"I'm looking for Jarrod McJones." he said wearily, pointedly not looking at the man's body. "Do you know which number he lives in?"
"Of course I fucking don't." the man sneered. "Now fuck off." And he slammed the door in Coulson's face.
Well, he hadn't expected the residents of such a building to be friendly but that was slightly more than disturbing. Coulson moved on to number 2, hoping for the best, the cold pistol preparing him for the worst. He knocked sharply.
Five minutes passed. He knocked again.
The door swung inwards, and a tired face of a woman with a smoke hanging out of the corner of her lipsticked mouth appeared in the crack. "Hello?" she questioned with a quiet voice, slightly slurred and blue eyes glazed with addiction. "Who are you?"
"I was just wondering if you knew what number Jarrod McJones lives at?"
"Jarrod McJones?" she said thoughtfully, tangling the name with a heavy tongue, taking another long drag of the smoke. "Can't say I do, handsome. But you certainly look tired. Like to come in and have the night of your life? For free?"
He didn't even bother to respond and turned away, heading for the next door. She threw a quiet swear at him then closed the door.
Number three got him a black eye.
Number four offered him a threesome.
Number five hugged him tight and sobbed into his shoulder that "Oh, my poor, sweet Barny! You're back!"
Number six intruded on a shouting match between a strong man and a slight woman with a black eye and a tremulous voice. Never one for abusers, Coulson knocked the man out and told the woman to get a life in the nicest way possible.
Just before number seven he noticed a youth in a large, ripped blue hoodie, face shadowed, leaning on the wall and almost pissing himself laughing. "What're you looking at?" he scowled at the boy, taking in his scrawny figure and dirty clothes and deeming him a street rat, or resident of this building.
"Nothing." the boy snorted then composed himself. "You're hilarious, mate. Shoulda taken number two. I've done her, a real fire in bed."
"Fuck off." Coulson growled and started towards number seven.
"Ah, wait. I'm sorry, man. I shouldn't have made you go through that. S'just been a while since I laughed." the boy looked wistful, and Coulson felt a moment of pity- and confusion. The fuck? "Jarrod McJones." he said, holding out a hand. "Or Tony, if you prefer my real name."
"You're the hacker?" Coulson said with incredulity, refraining from taking the hand and looking the kid over again, coming to the same conclusion; street rat, or resident of this building, neither of which was capable of being the fantastic hacker or brilliant designer. He scanned him again, because the kid looked pretty insistent; large, baggy hoodie, far too big, with stains and rips and hanging off the kid's skinny frame. Worn jeans much the same. Trainers made for a man with abnormally big feet and tattered to the point of falling off, bits of rolled up newspaper peeking out the hole at the top; a scrawny body with not much muscle, the beginnings of a nasty scar on his wrist, going up under the hoodie. And the hood was pulled up, casting a shadow on the kid's face, his wary brown eyes staring at Coulson with an almost haunted look hidden behind a smile.
No kid should have a look in their eyes like that. Which was why Coulson didn't go to number seven and ignore the kid just then.
But he still didn't think this was the hacker.
The kid- Tony- seemed to realise that and pulled a phone out of his pocket, screen cracked but looking much sleeker than the ones on market- as if it had been modified, or something, but that was ridiculous. He turned it on and tapped on something, then handed it to Coulson.
It was a text message. From a contact simply labelled SHIELD. Thank you for replying to our offer, Mr Jarrod McJones. Also for crashing our systems. We will be with you shortly. Precisely the message Coulson had sent.
Coulson narrowed his eyes at Tony, who threw his hands up in disgust. "You still don't believe me?"
"You could've stole it."
Tony stared at him a long moment, then said, "H30R3S900."
"Say that again?"
The kid repeated. Coulson raised an eyebrow. "That meant to mean something, kid?"
Tony gave him that long, are-you-fucking-stupid? stare. Coulson tried not to flinch. "That, you idiotic man, is the code to shut down your entire system. Which my bots discovered last night. I guess you're not a techie."
Coulson ignored the insult and picked up his phone and dialled Jameson, a techie he knew. "Hey, Coulson, I'm actually really busy right now-"
"...How the fuck did you know that?!"
Coulson put down the phone and surveyed Tony again.
Yeah, there was the clothes of a poor kid, the body of a desperate fighter. But in those haunted eyes there was also intelligence. The long fingers twitching and tapping could easily be on a keyboard. He was set determined, and the words that came out of his mouth- though foul- weren't that of a normal druggie. In fact, he didn't even seem to be on anything because the only stink on him was sweat.
"Fine, I believe you- you're the hacker. And the designer of those amazing blueprints."
"Thanks. Do I get the job?"
"No- first you're arrested for shutting down the entire system."
Coulson moved behind the kid before he could react, clapped a pair of handcuffs round him and pulled out the pistol, digging it into Tony's back. He felt the boy stiffen instantly and then try and escape, struggling and stamping painfully on Coulson's feet- he stepped back slightly and the boy wrenched his hands out of Coulson grasp and set off at a run.
Coulson fired a warning shout as Tony tried to open the heavy door to the stairs with his hands cuffed and behind his back. Unfortunately, the kid had far too fast reflexes and ducked out of the way- right into the bullet, which was meant to go widely out of distance of him. It skewed along his arm, bringing a flash of scarlet blood that went up the boy's hoodie and along the corridor. Tony stepped back, stared at the wound, looked at Coulson, wobbled, fell.
Well, at least he was downed. It was only a flesh wound. Not even that. A scratch.
Oh fine, it was a flesh wound.
Coulson ripped the edge of the boy's hoodie off and tied it round his arm, lifting the slight body easily up and beginning to carry him downstairs to the car. It was a testament to what the residents had seen that not a single face peeked out at the gun shot, and (Coulson checked) not a single 911 call was made about it. Which was not actually a testament, only slightly depressing, even more so because an agent of theirs (yes, of course they were going to offer the kid a job- he was brilliant! Just not after they'd scared him a bit) was living there. Which would hopefully change when the kid got his salary and because he probably didn't know how much typical SHIELD agents were meant to get Coulson would have to talk to Fury about cheating him, which the man would undoubtedly try and do- not because he had a tight budget, see, but mostly because the kid would almost definitely insult him.
Yeah. And the rest of the people in the SHIELD building. At least he wouldn't be as bad as Clint- or Darcy, who Thor had insisted he bring over along with Jane- or Natasha, who though not as prone to pranking as the other two made a habit of intimidating everyone (annoying) she came across..
Oh. Wait. Shit.
This kid was going to be working with them.
Would it be so much hassle if he just laid the kid down, just here, and forgot about him? And wiped his memories? And told Fury he couldn't find him? And let everyone else wander along the the delusion the hacker was actually a terrorist group they were still working on catching?
Naw, Fury would see straight through him. With a sigh, Coulson hoisted the kid into the car, slammed the door shut and climbed into the front.
Then he got out again and stared, aghast, at the long, crude scratches someone had keyed into the side of the car.
Well, that was what he got for bringing a car like this to the neighbourhood. Coulson got in again, turned the key, pressed the accelerator and steamed out of there.