Jarvis was making supper, and Bruce had agreed to go to one of the labs with Tony and work with him on something. By now Tony had determined Bruce Banner was smart, which was good because Tony didn’t want to have to explain things to him. Bruce was also patient whenever it took Tony a while to read a difficult word.
Yes, he could read and write. He could also build an engine, and other stuff, if given enough time to figure out the wiring and mechanics – and maybe if he was provided a little help. Bruce was good at helping, and it looked like he enjoyed working with Tony now that Tony wasn’t trying to build bombs in order to escape.
“I’m sorry about the explosion,” Tony said, twisting a wire in his hands.
Bruce glanced at him, quiet for a moment, then smiled. “That’s okay. Nothing bad happened, although I’d be more comfortable if I didn’t have to fear it happening again.” He didn’t say it was dangerous, or that Tony might hurt himself. He simply stated he didn’t like it, and that made Tony nod and agree to not scare him in the future.
“Were we friends?” Tony asked then, after a slight pause.
“Before you…” Bruce started and stopped, hesitating. Most people hesitated, even now that Tony knew what had happened.
“Before I turned into a kid,” he pushed.
“Yes,” Bruce replied, sounding a little bit less stressed. “I like to think so.”
Tony looked up at him, pursing his lips, rolling the wire between his fingers thoughtfully. “I think I would like you – because you’re smart, obviously.”
Bruce laughed suddenly, hard and uncontrollably. When he finally regained control, he seemed almost embarrassed. “I’m… pretty sure that’s what your adult self thought, too.”
Tony grinned, looking down at his work, then back up at Bruce. “What about the Hulk?” he asked. “You said, before… that I was sometimes the only one who liked him.”
Bruce’s face grew serious again and he didn’t look at Tony. Frankly, he didn’t look at people a lot and seemed nervous sometimes. Like he didn’t know what to do, or how to act. “That’s not important right now,” he replied finally.
“Because you can’t turn me back to the way I was?” Tony pressed. “That’s not a good reason. I’m still an Avenger, and after J.A.R.V.I.S. teaches me how to use the Iron Man armor –”
“Tony,” Bruce interrupted him. “You can’t do that. The armor… it’s not made for a child, okay? I know J.A.R.V.I.S. will do what you ask of him, but you’ll just have to wait.”
“Then maybe we should make a smaller armor,” Tony insisted. “One that is my size.” The ones he had seen were big and clunky, and he didn’t really want to go inside one. But he had been told he could fly with the suit, which would be pretty cool…
“Maybe,” Bruce murmured, but it sounded like a ‘no’.
Tony tried not to be upset. He didn’t always get things that he wanted, unless he found a way to do them himself. Leaving the subject of the armor for a moment, he returned to the previous topic. Leaning over his current project, fixing the wires into place with careful movements of his fingers, he said: “I think you don’t like the Hulk very much.” Silence met his words, but he knew Bruce was listening. “J.A.R.V.I.S. showed me that the Hulk comes from inside you – that’s why I’ve never seen both of you in the same place. If you don’t like him, then I don’t think you like yourself very much, and that’s not good. You would be happier if you two got along.”
There was more silence and Tony lifted his head to make sure Bruce hadn’t fallen asleep or something. The man was staring at him, hands mid-air, and Tony frowned at him. “Are you okay? You look like Cap banged you in the head with his shield.” Tony grinned at his own witty words, because that’s exactly what someone would look like after being banged in the head with the shield.
Bruce blinked. “I… uh… Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m pretty sure I am,” Tony said confidently. He still remembered the first time he had seen the Hulk, huge and green. Tony had been terrified back then, and everything had hurt and Jarvis hadn’t been there, but now that he’d had time to observe the situation – and the Hulk on video – he was determined to not be scared by him the next time he met the beast.
Since patience wasn’t very exciting, Tony looked up again and pushed his project away. “I want to see him,” he announced.
“Who?” Bruce asked, then looked like someone had just upended a bucket of cold water on top of himself. “The other… The Hulk?”
“No,” Bruce denied it at once. “Absolutely not.”
“But you said he doesn’t want to hurt me,” Tony insisted – whined. His father never liked it when he whined, nor did Jarvis, but he hadn’t tried it on Bruce yet. “Did you lie?” he demanded then.
“I didn’t lie,” Bruce jumped at his words. “It’s just that… the other guy is a tad unpredictable.”
“But you said he won’t hurt me,” Tony reminded. “If you didn’t lie, then that’s the truth. I’ll apologize to him for screaming at him the first time we met.”
Bruce looked rather agitated, his hands moving restlessly. “It’s not a good idea, Tony.”
Tony stood up and walked over to him, taking one of Bruce’s tense, sweaty hands and pulled him to the clear space in the middle of all the tables and equipment. He remembered the Hulk was big, so he would need room. “You’re sweaty,” Tony commented, smirking. “Stop fidgeting and… transform!” he ordered, grinning even wider. “Transform! Get it? Like the robot toys, comics and TV show.”
“The other guy isn’t a robot,” Bruce mumbled. “This is a horrible idea.”
Tony looked up at him expectantly, taking a step back to give him more space. “Your eyes are already green,” he noted – and they were.
Bruce closed them, inhaled deeply, as if trying to steady himself, then suddenly he was growing in every direction, his clothes tearing – maybe Tony should have told him to strip, but shouldn’t Bruce have thought of it on his own? – and in a matter of seconds the enormous green being stood in Bruce’s place, looking around and then down at Tony.
“Hi,” Tony offered, a bit uncertain suddenly.
The Hulk huffed and leaned down, to get closer to him. Tony backed away, just to be safe, feeling his hair move back and forth as the creature inhaled. “Tony,” came a grumbled word which Tony could almost feel in his stomach.
A bit more confident, Tony moved closer again, then reached out to touch the face because that was the only part of the Hulk he could reach. The green eyes went almost cross-eyed trying to look at him, and Tony laughed at the expression. The Hulk frowned, probably not getting it, and Tony tried to calm down. “I promised Bruce I would apologize for screaming at you before.”
“Puny Banner wasn’t there,” the Hulk muttered, fingers clutching the air before curling into fists. Clearly the big guy didn’t like Bruce much, either.
“No, but you were, so I’m saying I’m sorry,” Tony pushed on.
The Hulk narrowed his eyes, considering his words, then nodded. “Accepted,” he rumbled. “Hulk sorry he scared Tony, too.”
Tony nodded sagely. In good light, the Hulk was still big and menacing, but not as scary. And didn’t every boy his age hope they had a giant monster for a friend, to beat up anyone who dared to bully them? Not that Tony was like most children his age, but he guessed this was another cool thing about being an Avenger.
The lights flickered, suddenly, making them both start. The Hulk growled at the room and stood a bit taller, yet still slightly hunched over Tony. The lights flickered again and Tony took a step closer to the large form. He wasn’t afraid of the dark, not really, but there was something strange about the situation.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” Tony called out after a few seconds. “What’s going on?”
“Alert,” the AI responded a few, long seconds later. “The Tower is being attacked.”
“Attacked?” Tony repeated. He thought he heard an explosion somewhere, but he could be imagining it.
“Who is it?” the Hulk asked – or snarled, rather.
“The Serpent Society seems to be involved, but the sensors indicate a possible presence of magic.” Lights began to blink around the lab. “Mr. Stark, may I ask you to return to the others before… Warning, breach in progress.”
Tony didn’t imagine the explosion this time around. The entire room seemed to shiver and he looked at the far wall. Pieces of plaster were falling to the floor. “J.A.R.V.I.S., turn off the lights!” he ordered.
The lights went off, leaving them in darkness save for the dim light of the arc reactor. Tony reached out and found the thick-skinned leg of the Hulk. “Move back,” Tony ordered.
“Hulk smash snakes,” the Hulk proclaimed.
“I know you will, but go and hide for a moment.” Another blast echoed through the wall and Tony could hear something breaking.
“Hulk doesn’t hide –”
“We’ll surprise them,” Tony offered. “Just stay really still and quiet in the darkest corner.”
A loud huff stirred the air but the Hulk moved back, and Tony faced the wall he had seen shaking earlier. Nervous pain sat firmly in his stomach.
“Sir, I must protest,” J.A.R.V.I.S. started.
“Mute,” Tony ordered, and silence filled the lab, save for the constant banging and the Hulk’s breaths. It was a mere two minutes later when the far wall crumbled, letting light in, and Tony could see shapes coming through the opening. Some of them looked fairly human, while others were rather snake-like.
Tony decided he didn’t like snakes all that much.
“Loki’s information was correct,” one of them hissed. “Look at that; little Tony Stark. I could eat you for breakfast!”
“But you won’t,” Tony challenged the villain – whoever it was. It didn’t matter.
“And why is that, little boy?” the same villain taunted him, slithering forward; it didn’t have legs, only a snake-like body from the waist-down.
“Because I’m Iron Man,” Tony declared.
A roar of laughter met his words, some of the villains doubling over. Tony glared at them until they caught their breaths. “So, where’s your armor, Iron Man?” another one of them taunted. A woman, big and ugly.
“It’s being refitted,” Tony lied. “But I don’t need it. Want to know why? Because I’m also an Avenger. And an Avenger is never alone.” An uneasy silence followed and Tony smiled, pointing a finger at the lot of them. “Hulk!” he called out, and saw most of the villains jerk slightly at the simple syllable.
Behind Tony the shadows moved, and he felt the Hulk pressing closer to him, like a sentinel filled with rage and power. He heard snarls and angry huffs of air, a crack of knuckles, and the air almost radiated with barely contained tension.
“Smash them,” Tony ordered with a smile on his lips.
The Hulk took off like a missile, roaring as he went. Tony briefly saw the villains trying to duck out of the way but the Hulk caught them all, pushing them back through the hole in the wall and out into the open. Tony quickly followed, scrambling over to see what was going on, then stopped quickly as he realized the hole reached all the way outside the building, leading to a deadly drop. As he peered over the side, he couldn’t see anything, but he could hear the Hulk so he knew he was fine. Well, at least the Hulk was fine – the others, probably not so much.
“Tony!” a voice yelled, and a door opened somewhere to his right. The lights flickered back on and Jarvis crossed the room, concern written all over his face. “There is an attack –”
“I know,” Tony grinned. “I just ordered the Hulk to smash some baddies! It was awesome.”
Jarvis halted, carefully peeking out through the hole in the wall, then pulled Tony back from it. “Well, while I may not agree on all points…” He pulled Tony out of the lab, back up to the main floor. The lights were going a little crazy everywhere and something that had to be alarms were flashing in each touch pad mounted on the walls. The Avengers were nowhere to be seen, but as soon as Tony caught a look at the outside world, he could see they were busy fighting more of the snake-like villains. Not that most of them resembled a snake, which was kind of disappointing.
“We must find a safer place,” Jarvis mused, then started as a body smashed through the glass windows. It was one of the snakes, the one who didn’t have legs; the villain rolled around, shaking its head, then noticed Tony and Jarvis. A grin appeared on his face – a human face – and the arms rose. Tony hadn’t noticed it earlier but there were nasty looking blades, one per arm, that curved out of his wrists, reaching past his fingers. The danger was becoming very real, very fast.
Captain America suddenly swung inside through the broken window, in full costume. The shield went flying, striking the snake-man down, and Cap moved to the side to catch it on the rebound. His eyes moved up in an instant, spotting the two of them. “Jarvis, get Tony out of here. We’ll take care of this.”
Tony felt the old man’s grip tighten around his hand and he was pulled out of the room and over to a stairwell. Jarvis took them up one and a half floors before it was obvious the Englishman was winded and tired. “We’re safe here,” Tony reassured, stopping. “We can rest for a bit. No one will look for us here.”
Jarvis nodded shakily and leaned heavily on the wall.
Tony looked up and down the stairwell. He wished he knew what was happening outside, and whether they were actually safe. Not that he really wanted to be close to the battle; he hadn’t felt all that confident after the Hulk left his side, and clearly those snake villains didn’t like him. Tony couldn’t remember why that was, or if there was even a reason, but he knew better than to stick his neck out there and hope they would leave him alone.
A loud bang made Tony jerk his head around and look down the stairwell. It sounded like someone was pounding on a metal door, trying to break it down. It went on, continuous and furious. Tony swallowed in anticipation – then started as someone touched his shoulder. It was just Jarvis, though, signaling that they should keep moving.
They climbed higher and finally got to the floor with Tony’s private quarters. They were allowed in – perhaps by J.A.R.V.I.S. – after which the door locked firmly behind them. The banging had still been going on when they left the stairwell and Tony hoped that whatever it was, it would give up.
Jarvis was looking around, listening. Outside, the battle was still going on. Lightning flashed – which meant Thor was there, Tony had learned – and several explosions could be heard in succession. The entire building shivered, just slightly, and Tony was suddenly scared. No place seemed safe…
The door they had just come through shuddered as something slammed against its other side. Both Jarvis and Tony looked at it, then the older man began to guide Tony away, to another room. “Quietly now,” he mused in a quavering voice, and Tony was certain Jarvis, too, was afraid.
Before they could find a safer place – was there even one? – the door buckled, one hinge torn free of the wall. Claws wrapped around its edge, fighting to remove the obstacle, and while Tony had no idea what was on the other side, he knew it wasn’t good. Jarvis hurried him further into the room when wood shattered and metal whined, then something was coming at them, all claws and a lizard-like body, with a tail that looked part mechanical. It didn’t have a mouth, but its eyes narrowed at the sight of them and claws dug deep into the carpet.
Jarvis pushed Tony to the side, taking the impact of the lizard-man’s lunge, which sent the old man down to the floor, hard. Tony looked up, eyes wide, as the villain turned, looking at him, beginning to advance, taking its time.
“Jarvis!” Tony wasn’t certain which one he meant – the AI or the man. Both, he supposed. A clawed hand rose, aiming at his head. Tony curled into a ball, trying not to cry.
Before the claws landed, the room seemed to explode: pieces of concrete and furniture flew everywhere and then there was a whine and a hot blast, then a thud of something soft hitting something harder. Tony dared to peer up, finding the spot the lizard-man had just occupied now empty. Looking further, he saw the villain lying on the floor on the other side of the room, attempting to get up.
Glancing over his shoulder instead, Tony’s eyes went wide, this time not with fear, although that still thrummed in his chest; this was admiration and stunned silence, looking at Iron Man standing there, one arm raised, the palm glowing bright with the repulsor at the ready. The lizard didn’t make a sound as it pushed itself up, studying the armor, then attacked it. Iron Man shot again, square in the villain’s chest, then moved out of the way, grabbing it by the neck and smashing it into a wall repeatedly until it didn’t move again. The claws, which had attempted to scratch the armor, relaxed and went still.
Dropping the lizard-man, Iron Man turned around and strode over to Tony. The boy blinked, pushing himself up to his knees. “J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he asked, just to be sure.
“Indeed, sir. I apologize for taking control of your armor, but time was of the essence.” The AI’s voice sounded different, coming from the speakers of the suit, but it didn’t matter.
“That’s okay,” Tony smiled weakly. “You… use it very well.” He moved he gaze around the room, seeing a gaping hole in the floor that had been blown there from below just moments ago.
A groan reached his ears and Tony whipped around, moving up and over to Jarvis who lay on the floor, looking dazed. The man looked at him and touched Tony’s face. “I’m okay,” Tony reassured before Jarvis could ask. “Can you get up?”
“Give me a moment,” Jarvis replied, then finally begun to lift himself up until he was in a seated position. He looked up at the armor, a brief frown on his features as if he were thinking hard. Iron Man stood still, as if asleep, but the repulsors were still glowing. The old man looked over at the unmoving villain. “What is that thing?” he mused.
“That is Death Adder – a member of Serpent Society. He has been taken care of for the time being. However, we are not safe here; the Tower systems have been compromised and are being blocked by an unknown source. I suspect magic is involved.”
“I don’t like magic,” Tony declared.
“Indeed,” J.A.R.V.I.S. hummed.
As if on cue, the building shivered again. Lighting struck down viciously a second later.
Jarvis began moving, hoisting himself up with a groan. “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he stated. “Open up the armor.”
“Sir?” Iron Man cocked his head slightly, no doubt mimicking human confusion.
“You will take Tony out of here and keep him safe until the situation is over,” Jarvis ordered. “He will be safe in the suit and you can control it, correct?”
“Yes,” the AI replied.
Tony looked nervously at the large suit, but didn’t argue. He stood up and as the armor opened, pieces unlocking and moving to the side in a fashion that were designed to let the pilot out, Jarvis stepped closer. He picked Tony up with some effort and placed him inside the suit, which slowly began to close again. It was uncomfortable because Tony was too small and could barely hang onto anything. Before the armor could close all the way around him, Tony jerked. “Jarvis! What about you?”
“I will be fine,” the old man reassured. “These villains want nothing from me. You, however, are at risk – and I believe J.A.R.V.I.S.’s first operative is to protect you.”
“You are correct, Mr. Jarvis,” the AI replied.
“Take care of him,” the man murmured, patting his hand against the closing pieces of metal.
“But –” Tony tried before being enclosed in darkness. The air was fresh inside the armor, regardless of the confined space, and Tony shifted nervously. A faint glow came from above, and he guessed it was where his face should be. He contemplated climbing up when his entire world tilted forward and he was pressed painfully against the inside of the suit. It felt like gravity wasn’t working right and he realized that maybe they were flying. A muted sound of breaking glass reached his ears but otherwise the sound of engines – repulsors – filled the space and Tony just tried to pin himself in place and not slip into a more uncomfortable position.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.!” he called out eventually. “We can’t leave Jarvis. You can protect him, too.”
“Mr. Jarvis’ logic is sound; your wellbeing is the first priority to us both.”
“But I’m safe inside the armor. You can take us back,” Tony insisted. “We have to help the Avengers.”
“I’m afraid –”
“Take us back!” Tony ordered. “You can… fly this thing, and shoot, and protect me at the same time. I want to go back and help!”
“Sir, I cannot let you do that.”
“But you have to do as I say, and I say we go back and help the Avengers,” Tony decided. He might not be able to do much, but J.A.R.V.I.S. as Iron Man could, and Tony was going to be a hero one day, which meant he couldn’t fly away now just because he was scared.
He wasn’t sure if the sound J.A.R.V.I.S. made was a sigh, but he felt the suit move again, turning, plunging in a different direction, making Tony slip forward in the confined space. He decided to pull himself further up and wriggled towards the glow, pushing his arms in the holes where they should be and planted his feet firmly against the sides of the armor, attempting to anchor himself in place. He could see a screen now, the source of the glow, numerous symbols on it – and a view to the outside. They were coming closer to the Tower again, and he could see the Avengers fighting several villains.
Cap’s shield flashed through the air, hitting a villain who had been among the ones attacking the lab – the one with no feet. Thor was in the air, battling some woman, while the Hulk was matched by a burly man with an axe and Natasha and Clint were dealing with the rest of the Serpent Society along with Cap. Tony wasn’t certain if the situation was under control, but he braced himself as J.A.R.V.I.S. halted mid-air and fired several shots at the serpents.
The battle halted for a few seconds as each side noticed Iron Man’s presence in the air. He was too far away to see their exact expressions, but one of the villain snakes blasted some kind of energy beam at them. Tony let out a yelp – then felt J.A.R.V.I.S. smoothly navigate them to the side, avoiding the attack, launching a miniature missile in return, blowing the snake off-balance and out of the fight.
A few more blasts tried to catch them but the AI was good at maneuvering the suit, eventually taking them down to the helicopter landing pad where Captain America met them.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.?” the man asked carefully.
“You assume correctly, Captain,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Avengers!” a voice snarled out loudly. Tony craned his neck to see as Iron Man lifted its head. Several stories above them, in a broken window, stood a figure clad in green and gold. “I tire of this game. Where is Stark?”
“Who’s that?” Tony asked in a whisper, although he knew no one could hear him but the AI.
“That is Loki, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“Brother!” Thor bellowed. “Stop this madness at once. It is time you helped us right the wrong you’ve caused –”
“There is nothing to ‘right’,” Loki snarled back and shifted, grabbing for something – then Jarvis was there and Tony’s eyes widened in fear. Jarvis was too close to the edge, and Loki was clearly debating throwing him to his death.
“Let me out,” Tony ordered the AI.
“I cannot do that, sir,” the voice argued. “I promised Mr. Jarvis to keep you safe –”
“I have a plan,” Tony lied. “Just let me out of the armor, please.”
“Where is Stark?” Loki asked again. “Hiding under the bed?” He laughed, as if amused by his words. Tony didn’t think it was funny – especially since the underside of a bed wasn’t any safer than any other place right now.
“None of your business!” Cap shouted back. “Let the man go, or you’ll have to deal with me next.”
“Give us the boy and we’ll let you have your old man,” one of the snakes demanded. “We might even consider keeping Stark as a pet…” The snakes cackled, although most of them were too injured to properly stand. “Or maybe we’ll just feed him to Cottonmouth like a baby rat!”
“Let me out,” Tony ordered again, banging against the inside of the suit for good measure.
J.A.R.V.I.S. hesitated, clearly, but he was also programmed to do Tony’s bidding so he eventually began to open up the armor, allowing daylight to pour into the darkness. Tony shifted, trying not to slip down, awkwardly climbing out of the armor. Cap, who was still standing beside Iron Man, started and looked at him, wide-eyed.
“Tony! Get back into the suit!”
“Ah!” Loki called from above, his voice not as loud as it had sounded inside the suit. “Young Master Stark graces us with his presence.”
“Let Jarvis go!” Tony demanded.
“Or what?” Loki challenged him, voice mocking. Tony was old enough to be able to tell the difference, and he hated it when people did that with him, as if he wasn’t smart enough to know.
“Or you’ll regret it,” Tony shouted back.
He was aware of people staring at him, including the villains. Behind him, he heard the armor lock back into place, sealing itself shut once more.
“Are you threatening me, child?” Loki asked, voice dropping while not getting any less loud, which was kind of strange. Like in a theater. Maybe he should get a job in one should he ever stop being a villain.
“Just making promises,” Tony lied. “Let Jarvis go, or I’ll have the suit beat you up. That would be very embarrassing, I’m sure, since there’s no one driving it.” Well, other than J.A.R.V.I.S., but the AI knew what he meant, probably. “And then I’ll have the Hulk sit on you!” he added for good measure.
Loki stared at him from the heights, then almost fell over laughing.
“Let me kill this insect,” the blond woman who had fought Thor snapped, hovering in the air as if by magic. Well, J.A.R.V.I.S. had said there was magic, so maybe she was using some.
“Yes, Amora,” Loki agreed. “We will kill him now; I’ve had enough of his insults for one day.” And with those words, he shoved Jarvis back into the building and sent some kind of bright blast right at Tony. Captain America moved in front of him, shield up, taking most of the blast which threw him back, almost taking Tony with him.
Tony dodged, small enough to avoid the collision. This was getting really scary now, and he looked up just in time to see the woman called Amora gather some green ball of light in front of her before sending it hurtling towards him. Eyes wide, Tony wasn’t sure which way he should go, because that ball would surely hit him anyway.
There was a faint mechanical whirr and Iron Man took Cap’s place, standing tall above Tony’s form, shooting the repulsors at the swiftly approaching ball of magic. Tony squinted, seeing Amora’s attack slowing down but still coming at them. Then Loki was attacking again, from the side – when had he gotten there? – and Iron Man had to move its left arm to block that, dividing the repulsor power, and Tony knew it wasn’t going to be enough.
“Tony!” someone was shouting, but he was frozen to the spot, unable to move. The armor above him was unyielding, not running away, completely unafraid. Tony wondered if people had ever looked at Iron Man like this, when he was inside it, and felt the same as he did now: that they could believe in him, trust him, and that Iron Man would stand his ground no matter what.
Briefly Tony saw something flare at the armor’s chest, then the repulsors blinked and brightened and a third blast joined the other two, fighting off the magical attacks, so brilliantly beautiful it hurt Tony’s eyes but he couldn’t look away, could almost feel it thrumming inside his body, in his chest, at the same frequency as the arc reactor.
The beautiful moment broke apart, lashing out like a hot whip. Beneath Tony, the surface cracked and gave in beneath him. He heard something like an explosion, pressure blocking his ears, and then he was falling, nothing sturdy left beneath him, only wind whipping through his hair, making his light-blinded eyes tear up and trapping air inside his chest.
He couldn’t scream or cry out when he realized he was falling.
He didn’t get a change to be afraid, either, before an unyielding grip locked around his upper arm, then something hard pushed him to the side, defying gravity, and there was a sound of shattering glass moments before the brilliant light disappeared and Tony crashed into a hard surface, air forced out of his lungs and everything was burning up inside him, as if he were caught in a room with the sun itself.
Tony opened his eyes, and in between blinding spots that swam across his field of vision he saw a familiar faceplate, the eyes glowing bright despite the obvious signs of battle scratched all over it. Tony lifted a hand, touching it, and he stared at Iron Man’s face and his own hand on top of it, covering so much more than he had thought it would and…
It was like someone rebooted his brain. Every thought cleared up, vague memories sharpened.
“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” he greeted, knowing suddenly that there was no one inside the armor – that his AI had done a fantastic job driving it.
His AI…. J.A.R.V.I.S.
“Jarvis,” he echoed, startled, attempting to sit up. Every joint in his body hurt and for the first time he guessed he knew what the Hulk felt like, coming to with Bruce’s clothes still clinging to his form. The armor shifted above him, pushing backwards and off him, kneeling there in a rather awkward manner.
Tony glanced down at himself. The shirt he had been wearing was torn at most seams, he had apparently lost his shoes somewhere during the fight or the fall, and the remnants of the child-sized pants were pressing at the worst places.
He guessed he was in mild shock from suddenly being himself and not a kid anymore. How that had happened, he wouldn’t even try to guess, but he could ask their enemies about that after he was done beating them up. “Okay,” he gasped, struggling to tear off the last bits of clothing, “what’s the armor’s status?”
“External damage suffered in the explosion,” J.A.R.V.I.S. informed him through the speakers of the armor. It sounded funny, unlike his own voice which he had heard from several recordings over the years. “The Unibeam is still recharging and will remain unusable for several minutes.”
“I can see the armor’s still in one piece, so don’t be so dramatic, J. Open up; there’s something I need to do,” Tony ordered.
“It’s good to have you back, sir,” the AI replied.
“No need to sound so disappointed,” Tony teased and waited as the armor unlocked enough for him to slip inside it. He found one of the child’s shoes in there, throwing it to the side before the armor sealed around him, a comforting pressure even against his naked skin. “This is going to be uncomfortable,” Tony noted.
“Can I suggest avoiding an armor breach today?” J.A.R.V.I.S.’s own voice came from the internal speakers.
“I shall take that suggestion to heart,” Tony agreed, grimacing. The undersuit he usually wore wasn’t much, but it did shield his skin somewhat against most things that could penetrate the armor. Today… well, he’d better keep the rest of the damage external.
The HUD came up promptly, showing him activity on the outside. It seemed the remnants of the Serpent Society had joined the three Asgardians in an attempt to defeat the Avengers. No one had come after Tony when he fell, which meant they had either seen the armor save him or considered him a lost cause.
“Locate Jarvis for me,” Tony ordered. The security cameras around the Tower pinpointed Jarvis still in Tony’s rooms, Skurge standing guard over the distraught old man. It cut Tony deep to see him, to recall the hazy memories of the last few days from the perspective of the child… talk about confusing. He had no idea how any of this had happened, or how he was suddenly back in his adult form – or how he even remembered his time as a five-year-old – but there it was and the fresh memory of the love he felt for the old man spurred him to fly out through the broken window, up past the battle and right through the already broken windows into the room where Jarvis was being held, knocking Skurge down with the sheer force of impact which sent the Asgardian barreling through the nearest wall.
Tony landed on the floor and looked down at Edwin Jarvis, almost overthrown by the mix of his own adult feelings and those of a child that were still so fresh, close to the surface. No, he wasn’t going to throw himself down on the floor and start bawling his eyes out. “You okay?” he asked instead, offering a gloved hand to help Jarvis onto his feet.
The sharp eyes narrowed briefly. “J.A.R.V.I.S.?” he questioned.
“Guess again, old man,” Tony teased softly, then momentarily lifted the faceplate. The surprise and relief on Jarvis’ face was almost comical and Tony steadied him carefully should his legs become too weak to hold him up. “Hey, it’s okay… There’s some nasty hero-business I have to take care of, so why don’t you wait up here and we’ll… get right back to this,” Tony offered, uncertain what that entailed.
Jarvis nodded weakly and Tony took him to the nearest chair which sat a safe distance from the broken window.
By that time, Skurge had managed to get back on his feet, magical axe in hand. Tony still recalled it striking his armor before he got de-aged, and he turned to the Asgardian with a burning passion to hurt him a little in return. “Come on, bulky, let’s dance,” he taunted.
Skurge came at him hard, and Tony grabbed the arm holding the axe, taking off and pulling Skurge out the window with him. He spun them around in the air and sent the Asgardian flying – right at Amora the Enchantress, who didn’t see it coming as she was busy trying to hit Hawkeye with one of her spells. They both went falling down and Tony dove on, spotting Loki.
“Hey, Horny!” he returned to the insult from earlier, making Loki’s head snap up from his fight with Thor. Tony blasted his face with a well-aimed repulsor, sending him down after Skurge and Amora. Thor looked up at him, wary at first, then a grin appeared on his face.
“Man of Iron!” he greeted.
“Let’s finish this,” Tony decided and moved down to deal with the remnants of the Serpent Society; they had already been taking a beating from the Avengers, but once they realized Iron Man was back in action, they tried to hide in every crack and crevice available. Suffice to say, it didn’t work as well as with their reptilian counterparts.
A few minutes later, Cap had them rounded up while Black Widow bound them securely.
Thor joined them a moment later, an unhappy frown on his face.
“They escaped?” Hawkeye guessed, referring to the three Asgardians.
“Yes. Amora transported them somewhere before I could prevent it.” He looked at Tony next and clasped his armored shoulder. Instead of saying something highly uncomfortable or cryptic, he remained silent.
Cap glanced at him next, as if trying to see past the armor. “Tony –?”
“I’m fine,” Tony replied, not making him guess. “I think that blast reversed the effect of the one before, or something. I’ll give it to you in scientific jargon once I wrap my own head around it.”
The Hulk approached next, climbing up, giving the captured members of the Serpent Society a snarl. Tony grinned behind the faceplate.
S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived at the site a moment later, no doubt alerted at the beginning of the battle. Trust them to get on location after the fighting was done. With the villains secured, they took off again – leaving Director Fury behind.
“Did you miss your ride?” Tony asked.
The dark eye narrowed at him. “Please tell me that’s not an empty suit talking to me?”
“It’s not, sir,” Clint grinned.
“So it’s…” the Director started.
“Over,” Tony quipped then walked towards the disassembly unit. Part of the helipad had been destroyed, which meant a lot of extra work he wasn’t looking forward to, not to mention destroyed lab space and his own room. However, when he spotted Edwin Jarvis just inside the destroyed windows, he guessed it was worth it, in a way. “Jarvis,” he called out, “could I borrow your jacket or something?” he called out.
The old man frowned in confusion.
Tony sighed and started walking, the armor being removed from around his body. At the end of the line, he stood naked, and Jarvis stripped his familiar suit jacket and handed it over in order for Tony to cover at least some of his body. Tony smiled his thanks, seeing some of that dry humor flash in the old man’s eyes.
“Okay,” Clint started, sitting down on the dust-covered couch in all his post-battle grime, “I didn’t need to see that.”
“Didn’t actually have time to run for my wardrobe in the middle of a fight,” Tony defended himself, sort of tying the jacket around his middle.
Off to the side, the Hulk was transforming back to Bruce, leaving him almost equally naked in his torn pants. The scientist blinked at them, then twice more at Tony, and a look of relief washed over his face. “What did we do?” he asked.
“No idea,” Steve replied, “but it worked. Welcome back.”
“Oh, I wasn’t gone. Not really,” Tony replied, taking a seat on another couch. His body still felt… weird, no doubt thanks to the magical transformation, but he didn’t let it show too much.
“That means you remember you owe me a new set of weapons!” Clint called out.
Tony huffed. “Please, I barely even touched them. If anything, it was an improvement!”
“Can we still give him corner time?” Clint asked the others.
Tony snorted, then looked around until his eyes landed on Jarvis. He swallowed, throat suddenly dry, and the ache in his chest wasn’t all because it felt like the arc reactor had been re-fitted in its casing. “I’m sorry you had to be a part of this.”
“I’m not,” Jarvis mused. “Well, naturally there are things I could have gone without, but all in all…” He came and sat beside Tony, body turned towards him. “It’s good to see you, Mr. Stark.”
“You never called me that before,” Tony mused. “Why start now?”
“I could call you Master Anthony if you’d prefer that?”
“God, no!” Tony balked at it. “Just… less formal, okay? I’m pretty much naked here.” And then he was hugging Jarvis, and he had no idea who had moved forward first, but it felt good and it may have brought a tear or two to his eyes, feelings mixing between those of an adult and a child.
Jarvis patted his naked shoulder and eventually drew back – when he seemed to be certain Tony had his emotions under control. “If you are truly apologetic for all this, then perhaps you would do me one favor?”
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
“Visit your home with me.”
Tony looked away briefly – then remembered it was a bad idea when wherever he looked, there was an Avenger or a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent standing. Finally he looked at Jarvis and offered him a small smile. “I’m sure we can arrange something.”
“Very good, sir,” Jarvis smiled. “Now, please put some clothes on. You’re embarrassing yourself more than everyone else.”
“They can choose not to look!” Tony argued, but got up anyway and made his way to the elevator, wondering how much of his floor had been destroyed. “J,” he called out once the doors were closed.
“Yes, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
It was the day after the battle and Tony’s transformation back to himself. After a good night’s sleep, he felt almost normal, save for some chest aches that were bothering him just a little. Nothing he couldn’t handle, however, and he had a wish to fulfill so a little pain wasn’t going to keep him in bed.
Tony unlocked the wide, wooden doors and stepped inside the quiet building.
“Welcome to the Stark Mansion,” Jarvis declared, moving past him as if he owned the place. He had lived here longer than Tony had, though, so he let the old man run the show as he liked while finding the light switch.
“Okay, not that I’m complaining, but why are the Avengers situated in your Tower while we could be living here?” Clint mused, moving to the head of the five Avengers who had followed them in.
Tony didn’t answer him, busy looking around the dusty hallways.
“Where to begin?” Jarvis mused, already walking forward. “Try to keep up,” he added after a moment. “I’m an old man and don’t have time for standing around.”
Tony snorted. “What are you going to do, tell them horrible stories of my reckless youth?”
“Why yes, Mr. Stark,” Jarvis smiled rather fondly. “They had a surprising opportunity to see your younger self, but in case they got the wrong idea, I must set the record straight. Now, in this room, if I recall, you constructed a mechanical device that was supposed to keep the mice away. Instead, it resulted in breaking crystal glasses within a twenty feet radius due to its high-pitch sound.”
Tony shrugged. “There weren’t any mice around afterwards, either, so no one can tell me it didn’t work.”
“Your mother was quite upset, but she seemed to believe our explanation of a miniature earthquake.”
Tony grinned at the memory.
“Of course, your next upgrade of the device removed the hearing from my right ear for the following two weeks, which I didn’t take kindly to,” Jarvis went on.
Tony offered the others a somewhat sheepish expression.
Steve dared to chuckle.
“I was just trying to help with Jarvis’ girlish fear of small rodents!” Tony defended himself.
“Shall I tell your friends about the Captain America uniform you sewed for Halloween with your own two hands?” Jarvis shot back. “Using your mother’s favorite drapes and two of her dresses?”
Tony kicked at the floor, sulking – especially when Steve raised an eyebrow and moved forward, taking Jarvis’ arm in a sickeningly supportive gesture. “Tell us more,” he grinned – and who was going to say no to Captain fucking America?
Definitely not Jarvis, if the next couple of hours were anything to go by.
However, Tony found that entering his old home wasn’t as suffocating as he had thought it would be, after all these years, and to see six people close to him in such a good mood, he guessed it was worth it.
Tony could always mess with them later, if they harassed him too much about this: if a five-year-old Tony could keep them on their toes, so could he.