Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: December 1986
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Howard Stark, Maria Stark, Tony Stark, Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U)
Summary: During the Christmas holidays, Howard and Tony get into an argument. Luckily the bots are there to comfort Tony afterwards.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: My card on Trope Bingo’s Round 2 (square: chosen family)
Warnings: Domestic violence (involving a minor), drinking problems, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
Feedback: Welcomed with open arms.
About Propinquity: There are days when I feel kind of sorry for the man that is Howard Stark – and on others, I don’t feel sorry at all. Tony sure doesn’t seem to have a lot of love for the man, in the movies, and I’m playing on that here.
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.
Written for my card on Trope Bingo’s Round 2 (square: “chosen family”).
Tony should have known going home for the holidays would be a mistake.
Everything had started out just fine: a little interview for a paper, showing off his bots, DUM-E and U, talking crap about all the great things in his life, and then going upstairs for a nice family dinner.
The problem with that equation?
There were no ‘nice family dinners’ in the Stark family.
As soon as the reporters left, Howard hit the bottle hard. He had already been sipping earlier, being in a jovial mood, telling everyone who cared to listen how proud he was of his son’s accomplishments at MIT, but all that came to a jarring halt when the curtain closed and Howard Stark had a moment to indulge the bottle and brood.
Tony looked over at his mother, who much like his dad was sipping from her drink way too frequently and staring off into space. Soon enough they would find something to disagree on – another fundraiser or a pointless party, or Howard’s most recent flirt with someone who wasn’t his wife – and Maria would leave.
Perhaps it was Tony’s unusual presence at the table or just a stroke of luck, but Maria eventually rose from the table without an argument having preceded it. She took her glass of wine with her, briefly stopped behind Tony to kiss his hair and wish him good night, then disappeared.
Howard scoffed. “That woman is spoiling you.”
“I’m not home enough for her to spoil me,” Tony disagreed.
His father’s eyes narrowed at him. A drunken gleam was already in them.
“I’ll leave soon enough,” Tony informed him before Howard could think of a comeback. “Few more days and I’ll be out of your hair for another semester.”
Howard’s lips pursed and he swallowed the rest of the amber liquid in his glass, then poured himself more and added an ice cube to the drink from a bucket on the table.
Tony’s eyes watched the ice bob in the alcohol. “Keeping the Stark name afloat,” he muttered.
“What did you say?” Howard’s head snapped up.
“Nothing. I’m done,” Tony added and moved his chair back from the table, getting to his feet. “I’ll be in the shop,” he announced – not that anyone would care.
When he entered, Dummy and You both looked up at him. Their programming – or rather, their understanding – was still very basic. The idea was that they would learn through interaction, and that meant Tony would have to spend time with them. That suited him just fine: “You guys are way better company than that drunken relic upstairs,” Tony mused as he sorted through his toolbox for something that would catch his interest, but found nothing.
Dummy came over to nudge his elbow, and Tony reached back to pat the mechanical arm, then pushed it gently away. “I don’t need anything right now.”
Something slammed in the room above the workshop, and Tony looked up sharply. His father was clearly on a rampage, and Tony moved back to the workshop door, grabbing a screwdriver as he went and slid it through the handle; there was no lock on this side, but he didn’t need his father barging in, in the state and mood he was in.
For a bit the slamming and scraping of furniture – accompanied by occasional crashes of something breakable – came from above, then disappeared. Perhaps Howard had left, to go to town. Tony envisioned him passed out in a gutter somewhere, but knew that would never happen: his father surrounded himself with people who made sure such embarrassment couldn’t happen; he might be a drunk, but he was also a Stark.
The workshop door suddenly jumped as someone tried to pull it open. Tony started and backed away.
“Tony!” Howard yelled from the other side. “Open this door, right now.”
“How about you go to bed and sleep it off!” Tony shouted back defiantly.
“You’re under my roof, boy,” Howard growled with another jerk of the door. “As long as that is the case, you’ll do what I say.”
Tony wondered if he could somehow get back to campus tonight, but he didn’t want to leave the bots, and in order to move them he needed more than just a bus ticket. Cautiously, he moved towards the door, jumping again as Howards banged on it. Quickly, Tony reached out and removed the screwdriver from where it was jamming the handle, and the next time Howard tried to open the door it swung open, sending the older man stumbling back.
Howard regained his balance with some difficulty, leaning on the wall. He snarled and huffed, then aimed a burning gaze at Tony. “What are you playing at?” he asked, storming inside.
“Nothing,” Tony told him. His fingers gripped the screwdriver hard behind his back.
“This is my house,” Howard repeated. His face was sweaty, hands shaky; Tony was certain he wouldn’t have to wait for much longer before the old man passed out, but occasionally Howard held his liquor exceptionally well, if not his temper.
An embittered old man he was, on nights like this; a man who had seen horrible things and couldn’t quite cope with them.
Tony had long since stopped pitying him.
Howard was staring him down, and Tony had a hard time holding his gaze. Sometimes Tony was certain that if he looked long enough, some of Howard’s essence would carry over to him, and he would be bound to repeat his father’s mistakes and shortcomings.
“You think this is funny?” Howard asked – sneered. He grabbed onto the front of Tony’s shirt, yanking him closer.
“Don’t touch me,” Tony snapped, unable to stop himself.
Howard shook him hard, to make a point, grip tightening.
Tony lashed out before he could think – with the hand still holding the screwdriver. It dragged a long line along Howard’s exposed forearm, blood rising to the surface. Howard let go of him, and Tony dropped the tool, taking a step back. “I’m sorry, dad,” he tried. “I didn’t mean to –”
He saw the hand coming, from his peripheral vision, but he wasn’t prepared for it. His father struck him hard and sent him to the floor, teeth rattling, half of his face numb. Howard hadn’t hit him in quite a while – and this time it felt like he hadn’t held back. “Get out!” Howard bellowed. “Get out of my house!”
Tony scrambled up and ran, not thinking. He didn’t want to be hit again. All noble ideas of how he would stand there, withstanding it like a mountain rising from the ocean, were gone. Tears were hot in his eyes as he dashed to the back door of the workshop, pushed himself through before the doors could properly open, then raced across the giant garage before reaching the garage doors and shoving them open to let himself out into the cold night.
He ran halfway across the yard before he stopped, sides hurting, the taste of blood in his mouth.
Tony sagged into the cold earth. He couldn’t feel the temperature drop of the air yet, and if he was shivering, it was for a completely different reason. He tried to hold back the sobs, to not cry because he was sixteen and he’d had all the right in the world to fight back. Howard had no business touching him – not just because he was his father and a mean fucking drunk.
Something moved in the darkness, coming from the mansion, and Tony looked up in alarm, waiting. It didn’t sound like footsteps, however, and after a bit he heard a familiar whir, then spotted dark shapes rolling carefully past trees and leafless bushes: Dummy and You.
“What are you doing out here?” Tony asked.
The bots halted, then rolled closer, carefully maneuvering so that they would not run him over. Dummy reached out with his arm, bumping on Tony’s face, then rested its claws in his hair.
“Did you get a little scared, too?” Tony asked, voice cracking a bit. You let out a low whine and inched closer, too. Tony supposed this wasn’t the best possible way to teach the bots interaction, but right now… “At least I’ve got you two,” he said vehemently. “We’ll go back to school, wrap things up there, and then we can do whatever the hell we please, yeah? The three of us. We’ll be a real family.”
He could choose whom he wanted to keep close, and he would choose the bots any day over his actual blood relatives – neither of which had run after him into the dark night.
The bots let out soft sounds in unison and Tony eventually picked himself up from the ground, took them all back to the garage and decided to sleep in one of the cars. He found a blanket and the leather seat was comfortable to curl up on. Of course he could have gone to his room, avoiding his father the entire way, but the bots couldn’t come up there and he’d rather stay with them tonight. Hell, he would rather stay with them the entire Christmas break than sit in awkward silence with his family.
That sounded like a fairly good plan in his opinion, and Tony smiled, despite the pain in his face. The last thing he saw before drifting off was the bots in front of the car door, standing guard over him.