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Del Rion [userpic]

Nonage (page 1)

Story Info



Title: Nonage

Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)

Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)

Genre: Drama

Rating: T / FRT

Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Nick Fury, Edwin Jarvis, J.A.R.V.I.S., Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor.
Supporting cast: Loki, Amora the Enchantress, Skurge the Executioner, Serpent Society.

Summary: Loki’s idea of an – unintentional yet effectively hilarious – practical joke is to turn Tony into a 5-year-old. The remaining Avengers soon realize they may not be able to handle the boy-genius. While Thor hunts his brother down in order to turn Tony back to his older self, the rest of the team seeks help from a man who, in the past, was more of a father figure to Tony than Howard Stark himself: Edwin Jarvis.
Complete.

Written for: My card in Trope Bingo’s Round 1 (square: “kidfic”)

Warnings: Language, fandom-related violence.

Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures… in short: everyone but me. This is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, no profit made.

Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)

Feedback: Very welcome.


About Nonage: What was supposed to be a short-ish, perhaps a slightly cute fic, somehow ended up as anything but. (Well, I hope there are still some cute moments; you, the readers, will be the judges of that.) Also, I have no idea where most of this stuff came from. My brain is a strange place and keeps coming up with things I hadn’t originally planned (some of which are quite brilliant, however, so it’s not a total loss).

MCU hasn’t really offered us much in the way of Tony’s childhood. As such, this is one version of my own headcanon that Edwin Jarvis was part of Tony’s childhood/youth, and J.A.R.V.I.S., the AI, is named after the man.

I’m also aware there’s a big black hole of certain people missing from this fic (Pepper, Rhodey). Since this is some time to the future, we don’t know where they stand… Okay, let’s just agree that the Avengers didn’t want to tell Pepper Potts that Tony just got turned into a 5yo, ok?


Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.

Nonage



~ ~ ~




Written for my card in Trope Bingo’s Round 1. Square: “kidfic”.





Nonage



“You know, Horny… You remind me of a child kicking and screaming in the middle of a supermarket, throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get that shiny new toy on the shelf a few aisles back.”

Loki’s eyes narrowed beneath that ridiculous horned helmet. “I suspect such behavior would be second nature to you, Stark,” he hissed.

“I was never taken to supermarkets,” Tony noted, still flying loops around the Norse god because hovering in one place was as good as inviting another magical blast. “I even built my own toys. You, however, are still pouting at your daddy for not raising you above Thor and that’s just kind of sad – especially when your tantrums involve attempting to destroy or enslave other worlds. You really need a spanking.”

“Are you done?” Loki asked.

“Not by a long shot,” Tony replied and glanced at the HUD. Where were the others? Did they expect him to take on Loki alone? Well, he would, make no mistake, but when this fight started, Loki hadn’t been alone, and Tony knew from experience that if the villains couldn’t be seen or heard, it was bad. “J.A.R.V.I.S., what’s the location the other Asgardians that came with Loki,” he requested.

“Amora the Enchantress and Skurge the Executioner; current whereabouts unknown,” the AI supplied.

“Find them,” Tony instructed. “I really shouldn’t have to tell you these things.”

J.A.R.V.I.S. was silent and Tony continued his vigilant watch over the God of Michief, who for the time being seemed docile. Always a bad sign, Tony knew, and he was itching to just get this over with. There was no sound of thunder, however, or a roar from the Hulk, so where the hell were the others?

“Enough,” Loki finally said. “I tire of your presence. Tell me, Stark, was that how your father felt about you as well?”

Tony stopped. “J, prep the Unibeam. I want to burn that smirk from his arrogant face,” he narrowed his eyes at Loki’s image on the HUD.

“Diverting power to chest RT,” J.A.R.V.I.S. confirmed, then red lights began to flash. “Warning: power surge associated with Asgardian magic detected.”

The armor systems began to blink in and out and Tony felt himself fall from the sky. A few, random bursts from the repulsors softened his landing somewhat, yet the suit wasn’t responding and that was never good. Tony rolled onto his back, feeling every pound of the metal around him – then saw a curtain of blond hair as the Enchantress appeared above him like a materializing wisp of smoke.

“Amora,” Loki called out in a sickeningly sweet voice. “Let us finish him together.”

Tony gritted his teeth and raised an arm up – only to have a massive weight pin it down and he felt something dig into the armor’s front, almost cutting through; the Executioner and his favorite weapon, which Thor had called the Bloodaxe.

It was going to draw blood from Tony if he didn’t get his weapons online and some kind of defensive move going.

“Unibeam online,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced.

“Fuck this shit,” Tony hissed and fired just as some magical glow permeated the air around him. There were shouts – one of them his own, because fuck did everything hurt, suddenly, in his very bones – and then everything went dark.

- - -

“Oh, no.”

When Black Widow said those two words, in that tone, Steve knew to take a deep breathe and try not to panic. They ran forward, a sickening blue-smeared-with-yellow glow fading between the buildings, and in the midst of it all lay Iron Man. The suit’s lights were out and there was a deep slash in the side of his chest and upper arm – no doubt a souvenir from Skurge’s axe.

“Where are they?” Steve asked.

Above them, the wind roared and a single flash of lightning struck down before Thor landed, face grim. “They are gone, but I can still sense the aftertaste of their magic,” the Asgardian noted, then grimaced. “This is not a natural flavor. Something may have gone wrong.”

“Knowing Loki’s spells, that doesn’t sound promising,” Clint Barton noted as he slipped down another alley towards them. “Big guy’s coming closer; guess he saw the lightshow as well.” He meant the Hulk, of course, which was a relief since Steve didn’t want to go running after him on top of tonight’s disastrous mission. Loki had thrown them off his scent with projections and haunted vehicles which had endangered the general public and the Avengers. Iron Man had been the only one who could extract himself – and clearly he had found the real Loki. Communications had been scratchy at best so Steve had hoped Tony would be able to hold on until they got to him.

Natasha had knelt by Iron Man’s head, working the helmet off since there was no response from Tony – and then she froze. “Something’s wrong,” she said and put the helmet aside quickly.

“Is it empty?” Clint asked, frowning, putting away his bow for the time being.

“No,” Natasha replied.

“Then what –?”

They all just stared at the small mop of hair visible from the suit’s neck which seemed too large suddenly. Thor stepped forward, lifting his hammer, but Natasha motioned him back and dug out a communicator from her belt. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she said into it, “launch remote suit deactivation. Something’s… happened.”

There was no reply they could hear, and for some time nothing happened, but eventually the suit began to unlock and withdraw into itself – a process that always fascinated Steve. However, from the midst of it emerged the tiny form of a child, draped in the now over-sized clothes Tony had worn when they were alerted into action.

“What is this trickery?” Thor questioned.

“I was hoping you would know,” Steve admitted. “Is that…?” But there was the familiar glow of the arc reactor, and although he could see only part of his face, the dark eyelashes and big eyes were familiar in a sense.

Natasha knelt there, frozen. She seemed hesitant to touch the small boy, as if that might be dangerous somehow.

“This can’t be good,” Clint decided.

A thump echoed from behind them and everyone turned to watch as the Hulk straightened in the aftermath of his giant leap that had probably taken him over the nearby buildings. His large bulk created a tall shadow and the green eyes surveyed the area – then landed on the open armor and the figure inside it. A growl rose from the wide chest and Steve hurriedly stepped between the rage monster and the boy who possibly was their teammate.

“Wait!” Steve called out. “It’s Tony. Well, I think it might be Tony, but there’s something wrong with him –”

The Hulk pushed past him, shoving him to the side like an annoying tree branch. Steve hit Thor hard enough to knock them both down. He saw Natasha get on her feet, positioning her body half-way between the Hulk and the unconscious boy, but she was small and Steve knew she was still working on some of her deep-seated fears concerning the Hulk.

“Hey, big guy!” Clint called out. He had drawn out his bow and notched an arrow, holding it at the ready and pointing it at the back of the Hulk’s head. “Step away. I know this all seems weird but the bad guys are gone.”

The Hulk huffed and stopped, standing tall above the Black Widow and looking down at the strange, surreal sight behind her.

Then, as if done considering the situation, the Hulk began to step around her. Natasha moved to block his path, which resulted in a thick hand rising to remove her from said path – which led to Clint firing at the Hulk, without hesitation.

An angry snarl followed the small explosion and the Hulk twisted around to show his teeth at Clint, after which he stomped the rest of the way to the undone armor, dismissing Natasha completely, and leaned above the open metal cocoon and the child inside it. He sniffed and snarled again. “Stupid magic,” the Hulk muttered then sniffed again. “Tony,” he mused next, much softer this time, and brought one large hand to touch the boy’s chest. Another sniff followed, as if making sure of something. Steve knew the Hulk had a very keen sense of smell, which meant he could probably confirm what the rest of them had feared up till now; that this was really Tony and some horrible spell was involved.

The Hulk wrinkled his nose then sneezed, loudly, as if the lingering shades of magical dust particles irritated him – which resulted in a jerk from the boy, the dark eyes flying open.

And then the boy screamed, loud and terrified, looking up at the giant face.

The Hulk stumbled back, hitting a row of trash cans at the foot of another building, making them fold beneath his weight like they were made of paper. The big hands swatted at the air, as if that would help the situation – and then the Hulk decided to roar in response.

That, quite effectively, shut the boy up, leaving him sitting there, wrapped in clothes that looked almost like a fabric prison around him, the chest rising and falling so rapidly Steve immediately recognized it as a panic attack. Steve scrambled up, moving hastily to the boy’s side, and lowered himself to his knees beside him. “It’s okay,” he said quickly. “I know he’s big and scary… Hulk!” he snapped then, “stop growling at him!”

The Hulk narrowed his eyes but fell silent, sitting down on top of the crushed trash cans as if he were sulking.

Turning his attention back to the boy, Steve attempted to smile warmly and confidently. “Do you know who I am?” The boy stared at him, shivering, still panting as if he couldn’t draw enough air into his lungs. The dark pools of his eyes were beginning to shine and Steve realized he was about to cry. “It’s okay!” he repeated. “Tony, we’re… You’re…”

“Smooth, Cap,” Clint commented from the side.

The boy’s head whipped around, to look in the direction of the sound, wet eyes looking at all of them as if assessing the situation.

“Maybe he’s still… him,” Clint went on. “Tony, are you okay? Do you know who we are?”

The small head whipped back around, staring at the Hulk – who glowered right back at him. First tears began to make their way down his cheeks. “It hurts,” he finally whispered. “I want… I want to go home. I want to see my mom and dad!” he said, voice so small and child-like although the words were clear and properly pronounced.

“Okay,” Clint sighed. “I guess he really is a kid, then.”

“Thor,” Steve spoke up, still looking at the tiny, shivering form, “you must find Loki and figure out what they’ve done to Tony. The rest of us will take him back to the Tower and wait for you there.”

“I’ll alert S.H.I.E.L.D., to make sure he’s okay,” Natasha added.

“Are you injured?” Steve asked the boy, trying to make his voice softer.

The large eyes gazed at him, moving up and down his body – looking at his shield – then returned to his face. “You’re not Captain America,” was the only thing child-Tony said. “My dad knew Captain America, and he says he’s dead.”

“You’d be surprised,” Clint muttered.

“Get the Quinjet,” Steve snapped. “Okay, buddy, let’s get you home,” he added to the boy and began to reach for him – which resulted in the small body recoiling from him as if he were suddenly a poisonous snake.

“Don’t touch me!” the boy screamed. “I don’t want to go with you. I want to go home.”

“We’re going to take you home,” Natasha reassured him, gesturing for Steve to back off. “It will be okay, Tony. I know you’re scared and confused, but I won’t let anything happen to you.”

Frankly, after all their time together, this was perhaps the kindest thing Natasha had ever said to Tony. Whether it was an act to calm the child, Steve didn’t know, but it seemed to work – especially when Natasha switched to another language as smoothly as she took her next breath. It sounded like Italian and the small boy seemed to be calmed by it, somewhat, allowing himself to be lifted into Natasha’s arms and carried out towards the nearest street where Clint would bring the Quinjet.

“Help me with the armor,” Steve said to the Hulk, who huffed and got to his feet, as if still insulted. One green hand seized the armor without waiting for Steve to catch up and dragged it along the alley, leaving Steve to pick up the helmet and follow. He couldn’t help but look at the familiar, mechanical face, and wonder what had happened.

- - -

The flight to the Avengers Tower seemed to take forever although it wasn’t more than twenty minutes.

Each minute, however, was another sixty seconds of the child’s weight in her arms, his small form shaking, alarmed eyes gazing at the interior of the plane while errant tears slid down the smooth cheeks. It was clear Tony was in pain but he bravely kept quiet about it after that one outburst in the alley. He didn’t move save for the involuntary motions of his body, draped in the clothes of an adult man.

Natasha kept reciting Italian poems and stories to him, knowing that while Tony might not know the language at this age, it might remind him of his mother nonetheless. While the adult Tony would have hated her using this information to her advantage, the child was in no position to do the same.

The Hulk was still gazing darkly at the child, while Steve tried not to draw Tony’s attention his way, sitting quietly with Iron Man’s helmet in his lap.

When Clint finally landed them on the helipad outside the main floor of the Tower, Natasha smoothly got to her feet and carried Tony inside. The lights went on automatically, welcoming them back, and she carefully placed the child on one of the couches. “I’ll try and see if we can find you some better fitting clothes,” she promised.

The dark head turned as Tony looked around, and traces of panic began to reappear in his features. “Where are we? You said you would take me home!”

“This is home,” Steve said, walking in with the others. “Your home –”

Natasha winced, realizing the error a micro-second faster than Steve did.

The boy sat there, frozen like a terrified animal. His eyes kept gazing at them, from one face to the next, something like understanding dawning on his face. “You’re kidnappers,” he finally stated, too calm for a child his age.

“What!?” Steve exclaimed. “No, we’re your friends, Tony. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense but you have to believe me.”

The dark eyes were guarded, looking at all of them again, then down at himself. Small hands tugged feebly at the large clothing.

“Someone get him proper clothes,” Clint shook his head and stepped closer. He didn’t care that Tony froze and tried to inch away; he effectively tore the sleeves from the seams, allowing Tony some degree of freedom to move his arms. “There, isn’t that better?”

Tony nodded slowly, then carefully wriggled and finally kicked off the pants and underwear; his body was small enough to use the torn shirt as a long tunic of sorts. The feet sticking out from under it were just as small as the rest of him, his fingers moving restlessly.

“Okay,” Clint said briskly, “now that that’s out of the way – oof!”

Tony had lifted his foot so fast Natasha could barely brace herself before the boy kicked Clint in the nuts, hard, then rolled off the couch and raced across the room.

“Hey!” Steve called out while Clint leaned heavily on the couch and steadied his breathing, one hand protectively wedged between his legs.

“Tony!” Natasha started after the boy. “We’re not going to hurt you!”

The boy was quick on his feet, dodging past furniture and into the next room. However, he was in an unfamiliar setting and clearly had no knowledge of where he was headed. When Natasha and Steve began to get close, Tony dodged underneath a table, coming out on the other side, then entered the door closest to him and shut it firmly between them.

“Tony,” Steve called out even as he tried the handle, finding the door locked and unyielding. “Please come out.”

“I’m not stupid!” the boy yelled from the other side. “You thought I would believe you’re Captain America if you dressed up like him? You’re all liars, and kidnappers! I want to go home!”

“Kick the door down,” Natasha suggested.

“No,” Steve sighed. “He’ll just be more afraid of us.”

“We can coddle him after,” she argued. “Right now we need to get him under control and examined.”

Tiny sobs could be heard from the other side of the locked door. Natasha knew they were partially out of fear, but also from pain. Steve’s fists clenched and he stared at the door as if trying to negotiate with it instead.

Heavy footsteps came towards them and they both looked to the right to see the Hulk advancing. “Back off,” Steve ordered. “He’s scared of all of us and you’re not helping.”

The Hulk breathed sharply, glanced at the door – then punched his fist clear through the wall several feet from the locked door. Tony let out a yell on the other side and the Hulk tore chunks of the wall free to create a new doorway, then pushed through it.

“Stay away!” Tony screamed. As Natasha moved to the hole in the wall, she could see Tony in the far corner of the room, curled up in a defensive position, crying and terrified.

“Hulk won’t hurt Tony,” the Hulk spoke, moving down onto all fours in front of the boy – as if to better level with him. “Hulk protects tiny Tony.”

The dark eyes blinked, clearly suspecting another trick. “My dad won’t give you any money,” he said, voice shivering.

“Your dad is stupid,” the Hulk decided, then reached out one hand that was big enough to crush the boy.

Tony twisted away, face pressed into the wall, eyes clenched shut. “I want Jarvis,” he murmured.

“At your service, sir,” the AI suddenly spoke up. “Hulk, please move away from Mr. Stark. His vital signs are showing distress and I will intervene if you aggravate him further.”

The Hulk looked up – just as Tony did – and then moved back with unhappy exhales of air. He muttered something unintelligible, then walked right through another part of the wall and disappeared down the hallway.

Tony was still curled up in the corner, appearing even more confused. “Who are you?”

“I am J.A.R.V.I.S. You asked for me, sir. The last data burst I received from the armor suggested some kind of attack from Loki, the Enchantress and the Executioner, after which I was unable to contact you. May I suggest you try and calm down; a S.H.I.E.L.D. medical team is on their way.”

“You’re not Jarvis,” the boy blinked.

A confused silence followed. “Tony,” Steve spoke up, “I’m pretty sure it is J.A.R.V.I.S.”

“No!” Tony shouted, starting to hyperventilate again. “He’s not.” He began sobbing suddenly, sagging down, curling up on the floor. “It hurts. I don’t… I want it to stop hurting. Please.”

Natasha wasn’t certain if they should try to calm him down or let him be. Steve, however, stepped into the room and knelt by the boy, lifting his barely resisting form in his arms and carrying him out, just in time to meet the medical team from S.H.I.E.L.D.

- - -

A few things were very clear: one, child-Tony’s dislike of doctors almost rivaled that of his adult self, and two, he liked Bruce Banner a lot more than he liked the Hulk.

After Steve had carried him down to the space they used as an infirmary – a room that didn’t go unused much in between all the missions they partook in – Bruce had emerged and proceeded to examine Tony. He seemed to have a knack for handling frightened children, doing a much better job than the S.H.I.E.L.D. medics who mostly dealt with grim adults hurt in the line of duty.

“Try to breathe in,” Bruce was saying softly.

Tony drew in a shuddery breath, fresh tears in his eyes. The arc reactor seemed huge in his small chest, and while Clint was almost certain it had shrunk slightly, apparently the magic that had caused the transformation hadn’t altered the device completely. For all they knew, Tony would still die if it were to be removed, but it was also causing him much pain.

“Good,” Bruce smiled gently. “Now, can I take a little blood from you? I promise I’ll make it hurt as little as possible.”

Tony didn’t look happy but lifted his arm dutifully as Bruce wrapped a tourniquet around it.

“Any news from Thor?” Clint asked, looking at Natasha and Steve who stood beside him behind an observation window.

“No, but that might be a good thing,” Steve replied.

Clint wasn’t sure he had that much optimism – not with his balls and dick still aching. He was definitely bringing that up with the people who handled his body armor, because if a child of that size managed to deliver a kick like that, there was definitely something wrong with it.

A smile appeared on Natasha’s lips and she glanced down briefly, as if knowing what he was thinking. “I can’t believe you let him kick you in the nuts.”

“Very funny,” Clint growled. “I’m definitely returning the favor once he’s back to full size.” Steve looked at him sharply at that and Clint shrugged. “Okay, I’m not, but that was a dirty trick.”

“He still thinks we’ve kidnapped him,” Steve defended the child. “We’ve taken him to a place he doesn’t know, and clearly he’s familiar with the scenario.” Their leader looked deeply troubled by that.

“He was the only son and heir of the leading weapons manufacturer and designer in the world,” Natasha explained. “The threat of a kidnapping was very real for him, since he was born. I recall there were several attempts as well, which means he’s probably been schooled in case of such an event.”

Steve shook his head, lips a thin line. “He’s too young for that…”

“He’s old enough to understand,” Natasha pointed out. “We just need to make him trust us.” She frowned at the scene before them. “J.A.R.V.I.S., do you have any idea whom this ‘Jarvis’ is that Tony asked for? Clearly he wasn’t talking about you.”

“I assume that given Mr. Stark’s current regression, both physical and emotional, he’s speaking of one Edwin Jarvis who used to work for the Stark family. I also believe I may have been named after this man and modified in his likeness.”

“Please tell me he’s not dead,” Clint said, although he guessed Tony wouldn’t create an AI to resemble a living man either.

“My research indicates he resides in a private retirement home set in a slightly renovated country house in the United Kingdom. His pension is covered by the Maria Stark Foundation and he seems to be enjoying a quiet life.”

“How thrilled do you think he’s going to be if we go for a visit?” Clint mused, looking at the terrified child staring down at the freshly bandaged needle hole in his arm.

“Do we have a choice?” Steve asked.

- - -

They all gathered in one of the various meeting rooms in the former Stark Tower. One woman from S.H.I.E.L.D.’s medical team was present, Thor had arrived an hour ago and Nick Fury strode in as a last-minute member of the meeting.

“Let’s get this over quickly,” the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. stated, then looked around the room. “Where’s Stark?”

“He’s asleep in his room,” Bruce informed Fury, suggesting that this would not be changed. “J.A.R.V.I.S. and two of your people are looking after him.”

Fury nodded. “What the hell happened?” he asked next.

“For lack of a better term, Tony was turned into a 5-year-old,” Bruce explained. “Everything in his physiology, mental state and responses suggest a complete reversion back to his childhood self – the only exception being the arc reactor. A scan has confirmed the transformation didn’t affect the shrapnel either, which may suggest that objects foreign to the usual physiology of the person’s body weren’t within reach of the… whatever means were used to accomplish this.”

“I think the arc reactor looks smaller,” Clint pointed out.

“That’s because it is,” Bruce mused. “That change may be potentially hazardous to the mechanics of the device, but I need to study it further to establish whether Tony’s life is in danger – or ours, should the arc reactor turn unstable.” He turned his gaze towards Thor. “Did you by any chance find Loki?”

“Nay,” Thor shook his head, “but I felt an unsettling deformity in the magic in the aftermath of the battle. This may be the trigger to what caused this unforeseen effect on our friend’s condition.”

“To put it mildly,” Steve muttered, unhappily staring at the table and his crossed hands on it. “We need to find Loki and his allies, quickly.” He lifted his eyes to look at Bruce. “He seemed agitated,” he added, clearly changing the topic back to Tony.

Bruce nodded. “The arc reactor pains him. I have given him pain medication, but it’s only a temporary solution; the arc wasn’t built to suit a child’s body. Not that it was…” He hesitated, tapping his pen against the table. “We don’t actually know how much pain the arc reactor causes Tony on a daily basis, so this might be nothing new. However, we have a frightened child on our hands, who is forced to deal with a piece of machinery fixed into his chest. I will explain to him that it helps keep him alive, but I doubt he’ll be able to rationalize the pain anytime soon.”

“While that is unfortunate,” Fury started, “we need to get to the bottom of this and change him back.”

Bruce narrowed his eyes. “Unfortunate?” The other guy simmered beneath the surface; while the child had been afraid of the monster, Bruce could tell the Hulk had, in the end, wanted to protect him, and Fury’s flippant comment was rubbing him the wrong way. “What is unfortunate is that we have no idea how this happened, how to undo it, and the next time I have to look Tony in the eye and tell him – lie to him – that it’s going to get better, I might give into the temptation to let the other guy out and have him deal with the Asgardian magic wielders.”

“While I’m sure that is tempting, Dr. Banner, may I remind you we need them in order to undo this,” Fury said, sounding unimpressed, but Bruce knew from experience that when he started to get mad on the outside, people got uneasy – no matter who they were.

“I will find my brother,” Thor promised. “He will answer for his deeds.”

“Until then, we need to make Tony as calm and comfortable as possible,” Steve went on, clearly taking Bruce’s side on this. “He may be Tony, but he’s also a child who’s scared and confused. We need to give him something – someone – he can trust.”

“I saw your report on Edwin Jarvis,” Fury nodded. “While I’m sure that’s a tempting idea, he’s a civilian and we shouldn’t escalate this any further than we have to. If the knowledge of Stark’s predicament reached the wrong ears, our enemies wouldn’t hesitate to exploit the situation.”

“Let them exploit it,” Steve snapped, surprising everyone. “We’ll happily deal with anyone who thinks they can take on the Avengers without Iron Man at our side – or who think they can get their hands on Tony in his current state.”

“This all might be over in a day – or it might take longer than that. We should at least consider the possibility of bringing in Mr. Jarvis should he be receptive to the idea,” Natasha mused.

Fury closed his eye, leaning heavily on the table. “Does anyone have an unbiased opinion to offer?” he said, glancing at the S.H.I.E.L.D. medic next.

The woman shifted uneasily and looked down at her notes and reports. “It’s clear the child is agitated – physically and emotionally. Perhaps keeping him sedated, for his own safety and that of others, would be the wisest decision. If we cannot provide him with an environment where he’s… calmer…”

“You want to drug him and wait this out?” Clint asked. “That’s a great plan,” he added sarcastically.

“Dr. Banner clearly stated he’s in pain,” Fury snapped. “To give him relief, and lessen the impact of the fact that his family is in fact long gone, it may be best to keep him unconscious until we find out how to reverse the aging.”

Bruce ground his teeth together, resisting the urge to lash out. “He’s a living being.” Too often people had tried to do the same to him, to keep him as an unresponsive test subject – and while Bruce understood the logic behind that, he absolutely refused to allow it to happen to Tony.

Fury’s eye narrowed. “Right now, he’s sick, and until we find a cure –”

“If I may interrupt,” J.A.R.V.I.S. cut in, “Mr. Stark has awakened and is currently proceeding to escape from his room.”

“How?” Fury asked.

“Through the ventilation system.”

“What kind of five-year-old would think of that?” Clint asked.

“A genius one,” Bruce said and stood up. “You have to remember whom we’re dealing with.”

“Just alert the agents in the hallway,” Fury ordered. “We’re not finished here.”

“I do not consider the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel capable of handling my creator in a manner that befits him right now,” the AI argued. “Dr. Banner, if I may request that you intervene?”

“Sure,” Bruce gave Fury a cold smile. He left the room before the Director could respond and made his way back to Tony’s floor. The agents in the hallway started at his sudden approach, then both lifted a hand to their ear – clearly Fury wasn’t listening very well today. “You move, and you’ll be the Hulk’s next punching bags,” Bruce threatened them and entered the room, the door unlocking as his hand touched the handle.

It was dim inside, but he could make out the soft glow of the arc reactor on the floor on the other side of the bed. It was quiet, and Bruce approached carefully. “Tony?” he called out. “I know what you’re trying to do. Please don’t.”

Something was placed on the floor and Tony’s head appeared from behind the bed, small hands placed on the mattress as he regarded Bruce. “I want to go home. You can’t stop me.”

Bruce sighed. “It’s complicated. You cannot go home, not right now.”

The large eyes were defiant, filled with pain and a burning spirit. “We’ll see.”

“I’m not your enemy,” Bruce reassured and slowly toed off his shoes and settled cross-legged on the bed. “Could we just talk instead? Are you hungry? I’m afraid I don’t know what kind of foods you like.” Well, he knew what Tony liked as an adult, but they hadn’t exactly traded childhood memories during their time together.

Tony sighed and retreated, disappearing behind the bed again. “I’m not hungry.”

“Sure you’re not,” Bruce took the bait. “But we could still go to the kitchen and see if there’s something good in there.” He could hear a slight shuffling sound and strained breaths which seemed to be coming from beneath the bed.

“I know you’ll try to poison me,” Tony’s muffled words reached his ears through the mattress.

“I think I would have done that while taking your blood,” Bruce observed.

“You’re not very smart,” Tony went on.

Bruce smiled. “Actually, I am very smart. Smarter than you, I’ve often been told.” He slowly turned around on the bed, just in time to see Tony emerge from beneath it, having crawled all the way to the other side.

The dark eyes darted up, not surprised that he had been found out. “That’s what you think. And that’s why you will lose.”

“Lose?” Bruce frowned.

“Dr. Banner, there is some kind of explosive device –”

J.A.R.V.I.S. was cut off by a bright flash and a thick cloud of smoke assaulting the room from where Tony had been working. Bruce coughed and fought the initial urge to transform, then heard the door open and close, followed by shouts from the outside. “Damn it,” he coughed, yet a small smile tugged his lips as he raced to the door, socks slipping slightly on the floor when he got outside. He could just see Tony’s tiny form turn a corner, the two S.H.I.E.L.D. agents hot on his heels.

Bruce followed them, knowing the agents wouldn’t dare hurt Tony but the child might hurt himself. “J.A.R.V.I.S., please try and contain the situation,” he requested as he turned a corner as well, seeing Tony dodge his chasers across the sitting room, heading for another doorway – then slammed face first into Thor and fell back onto the floor with the sound of the air being knocked out of him.

“Friend Tony!” Thor called out with concern, lowering his hammer to the floor with a loud thud and kneeling down. “I did not see you there.”

The S.H.I.E.L.D. agents stopped, looking vey embarrassed as Steve followed Thor into the room and all three stayed to survey the situation.

Tony pushed backwards then grabbed at the hammer, no doubt attempting to lift it, but could not make it budge. Thor smiled indulgently and touched the handle, as if to assist him. “Mjolnir is a mighty –” As soon as Thor touched the hammer, it took off from the floor, and Tony swung it as hard as his tiny form could manage, launching it at Thor’s chest and sending him backward hard. Of course, as soon as Thor let it go, Mjolnir fell down again like a dead weight – landing rather painfully on his chest.

Bruce grimaced then hurried over as Tony attempted to get to his feet. “Okay, that’s enough excitement for one day,” he chided and grabbed Tony’s arm. “I’m impressed that you actually devised a bomb of whatever you found in the bedroom but if you don’t want to see the big, green beast make an appearance, you have to stop doing that.”

Tony’s eyes widened and he stilled. “Where is he?” he asked, suspicious and clearly nervous that Bruce’s words were a threat.

Bruce sighed. “It’s… complicated.” He loosened his hold on Tony’s arm and looked at him with as much fondness as he could muster. “The other guy… the Hulk, he likes you. You two are friends. I know he scared you, but trust me… I think your screaming in his face scared him also.”

“I don’t like him,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest – then dropped them when they touched the arc reactor, either from the discomfort it caused or because the boy didn’t like the sensation.

“I guess you wouldn’t believe, then, that some days you’re the only one who does like him,” Bruce ventured, a bit sadly.

Tony gave him a doubting look. “I’ve never met him before. How could I like someone I haven’t met before – someone who’s a monster?”

Bruce wasn’t sure how to respond, so he didn’t.

It was painfully obvious the Tony he knew – the one he had met that day on the Helicarrier – wasn’t the same as this boy before them.

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