Title: Foxy Bear
Warnings: canon violence, physical child abuse, child neglect, verbal and mental child abuse, canon torture, character death
Summary: Tony Stark is a Guide. According to Howard Stark, Guides are unacceptable in the Stark family. Tony tries to hide and find his own way, losing himself in meaningless sex and focusing his gifts towards mechanical and electronic understanding and guiding. But he knows his Sentinel is out there. Since he was a child he has seen their spirit guide, helping him, keeping a watch over him, protecting him. He just hopes to find them someday so he can return the favor.
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Anthony Edward Stark was a Guide. He was born a Guide and not just through his genetics. Later in his life it was theorized that Tony the traumatic event that had triggered his Gifts into manifesting was that of leaving the safety of his mother’s womb.
Tony just knew that he could never remember a time when he wasn’t online. In early childhood, before anyone realized what he was and how unique his circumstances, he would use the Guide Voice on his nannies to get what he wanted or to get them to leave if he didn’t like them. He always knew that the Stark’s butler/bodyguard, Jarvis, loved him like a son. He also always that his mother sometimes did and sometimes she didn’t. It depended on what self-prescribed medications she had taken that day. He also always knew that his father didn’t. And never had.
Howard Stark was a brilliant man. A genius inventor that had been instrumental in the development of Captain America, both during Project Rebirth in Brooklyn, New York and also in Europe where the man came into his legend, providing him with his uniform and weapons and logistic support. After Captain Steve Rogers crashed into the Arctic, Howard Stark returned to the United States where he was an integral part of the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb.
Both of these events changed the happy, horny, visionary man of the early war years. Howard internally felt a great sense of guilt for the loss of his friend and the tremendous loss of life in Japan from the weapons he created. He wanted to stop any need for such massive loss of life in the future. But he could not see any other way forward than to make sure America had better weapons than anyone else so they could win any wars.
He was often quoted as saying, “Peace means having a bigger stick than the other guy.” He meant it. He designed and built weapons for the United States to use during the Cold War to keep his country safe.
But Howard also spent a lot of time on ships in the Arctic Circle, searching for any sign of Johann Schmidt’s crashed plane and with it, the body of his old friend, Steven “Captain America” Rogers. He wasn’t able to keep him safe like he had promised to do and he felt that the least he could do was bring him home to a proper resting place.
The problem for Tony Stark in these obsessions his father had: he was absent half the year and the times he was home, he was either too busy or too drunk trying to forget his guilt to be a proper father.
Tony grew up in the care of household staff, cared for but not cared about. Other than Jarvis, he was quite alone. His mother, Maria, drank and drugged herself up to forget her loneliness and Howard rarely had time for him.
When he did interact with his father, it was often volatile. When Howard was in his home lab, the door was locked and there was no interaction. If his father was drunk, their interactions were either loud and slightly violent or maudlin and tear filled. It depended on how much Howard had already had and of what type of alcohol when Tony arrived in the room.
Howard rarely actually hit Tony. When on the anger side of the drunken scale, he was more inclined to throw things then use his fists but Tony did garner the occasional open handed slap if he was too close or shove to the chest or back if he was in the way or a glass tumbler or book to the head or body if he was too slow to dodge. Tony learned young to read his father’s mood from across the room before closing to him. He was only seven the last time he was close enough to Howard when the latter was drunk and angry to have hands laid on him. But Tony was stubborn and wanted interactions with his father, no matter what form they took and so never avoided the violent, drunk Howard, though he did prefer the maudlin, nostalgic Howard.
When Howard tipped towards that end of his drunken scale, he would pull Tony close, pet his hair, and tell him stories of Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandos, of Doctor Abraham Erskine and Project Rebirth and the day it succeeded, of Peggy Carter and Colonel Phillips and their post-war efforts to keep peace. Tony learned many stories about S.H.I.E.L.D. as a young boy although his father never called it that or revealed his own part in its formation.
Tony loved these times with Howard. He memorized the stories that he was told and soaked up every bit of information about these people that his father so loved that he could. His favorite stories were of Steve Rogers. Howard never spoke of the deaths that the man had caused, he only talked about how wonderful he was.
“Steve was the perfect Sentinel. Even before he went into that machine of mine and Doctor Erskine’s, he had tried five times to join the army so he could protect the tribe. And once the formula worked and he became the penultimate Sentinel, it was breathtaking to behold him. He drew people to him, to help him protect the tribe and fight the evil that infested the world. Even his spirit animal was amazing, I can’t count the number of times I saw it, a great black bear charging through camp or lumbering onto a plane. No other Sentinel before or since has had a spirit animal that could regularly be seen by mundanes. I’ve never seen another spirit animal and just the memory of that one gives me chills to this day. Steve Rogers was the perfect Sentinel. Try to be like him, Tony, make him your hero like everyone should. He was strong and smart and righteous and oh so moral. Even if you are mundane like me, and not a Sentinel, be like him as much as you can.”
Tony took this to heart. He strived to be worthy of the man his father gushed over. Tony knew he wasn’t going to be a Sentinel and by the time he was five he realized that he wasn’t mundane either, which to his logical young mind left only one possibility. He was a Guide. But he also knew never to reveal this fact to Howard. He had heard Howard’s rants when drunk about Bucky Barnes, Steve’s Guide, or so everyone assumed, whose death had caused Steve’s essentially kamikaze death. Howard felt that Steve would have looked harder for another way if he wasn’t in deep bond loss when he had to take care of the explosives on the plane.
And when Tony was 13, he discovered he was correct in his secrecy. It was then that his father took him for the new genetic test to determine Sentinel genes, active, latent, dormant, and of course, Guide genes, active, latent, or dormant. When the tests came back showing that Tony was an online Guide, Howard reviled Tony as useless, worthless and that he could never be anything but a waste. He would never be a proper Stark and he would never be a hero like Steve Rogers and he had better stop pretending that he could be. And from that point forward, unless they were in public, Howard Stark never said a word to his son, other than to berate him and revile him.
Tony struggled with the sudden flood of negative emotions that permeated the house whenever his father was home and began to turn his mind inwards. He used his Gifts but only passively. And he escaped to college at age 15, the genius mind he had inherited from his father showing itself all his life and allowing him this respite from his now toxic home.
Just as much as Tony was a Guide, he was a genius. He had an intrinsic aptitude for math and science and an ear for languages, as well. As he grew up, Tony would tinker with machines which he found around the house, whether a toaster or a vacuum cleaner or a clock radio. He would take them apart to see how they worked and then put them back together. As he got older and gained more knowledge he would put the things back together in a more efficient way.
To Tony, it was a way to connect with his father even when his father was on one of his trips. Tony knew his father was a genius and an inventor, and although he was not allowed to be in Howard’s workshop, Tony was nevertheless able to feel close to Howard if he was working when Howard was.
Tony was 4 years old when he created his first working circuit board from scraps of broken ones around the house. Howard never even looked at it but Jarvis praised him and encouraged him by buying him a set of delicate screwdrivers.
When Tony was 8, he created an improved version of a car engine. It was incredibly fuel efficient and cars using it could drive 90 miles in the stop and go city traffic per gallon. On the highway or rural roads where there was more continuous driving, the fuel mileage was closer to 120 miles per gallon. Howard only knew about this invention because Jarvis had presented it to a contest for Tony and he had won, causing a huge fuss in the auto industry and gaining young Tony Stark his first patent. A magazine came to interview the youngster and also interviewed the industrialist, who simply put on a front as if he had known about it all along but wanted his son to stand on his own and not depend on Howard.
Tony was 13 when he developed his first rudimentary Artificial Intelligence. It was eight months after Howard had discovered Tony’s Guide genes and Tony had been forced to turn his Gifts inward to preserve his own sanity from the dark and toxic emotions in his home. Unless he was spending time with Jarvis, Tony would not use his empathy. And even then, he would only open his shields if Howard was out of the house.
Tony had spent eight months turning his genius towards building an intelligence that wouldn’t hate him for his genetic gift. He had begun work on the AI when he was 11 but had never been able to work out how to get it to work as more than a simple if/then program. After Howard’s near disownment, Tony discovered that if he focused his Guide Gifts, his empathy and understanding of the human emotional construct, to the computer program as he indulged his genius, he was able to understand the coding on a different level.
Tony had his final breakthrough when he was nearly 14 and used it to create a helper bot, basically an arm on a pivot with cameras and microphones throughout. He didn’t give the bot a human voice but he did give it the ability to communicate with electronic noises like beeps and clicks and whirrs. He named the bot DUM-E, a pun on the word dumb (since he could not speak) but also as a private nod to the beloved stories of his childhood and the Howling Commandos, specifically Timothy “Dum-Dum” Dugan, the loud and brash Bostonian marksman.
“Jarvis, Jarvis, I finished him! He’s working! Come see!” Tony called as he entered the mansion’s kitchen. He knew that he and the butler/bodyguard were alone in the house, Howard having left on an expedition to the Arctic three weeks before and not due back for at least another month, (the only reason Tony had felt safe enough to use the tools in his workshop) and Maria away at a spa for a week.
The British man looked up from the vegetables he was slicing, and laid the knife down on the cutting board. “Give me five minutes, Master Tony. And then you can demonstrate your achievement.”
The man picked up the sliced carrots and diced onions from the counter and placed them in a nearby casserole dish before turning to the refrigerator and removing a bottle of milk and a can of soda.
He handed the soda to the young teen and took the milk to the half-prepared dinner. “Tell me what I’m going to see while you wait.”
Tony flipped the soda open and perched on a stool that was next to the breakfast bar near the wall. He took a drink and sighed. His legs swung as he tried to determine how much to dumb down his explanation. Jarvis was smart but sometimes Tony would ramble and get too technical for him.
As he considered how to explain without having the model in front of him to demonstrate with, a snow white fox appeared on the breakfast bar next to Tony’s hand where it curled around the soda can. The fox was twice the size of an arctic fox in the wild, about two feet at the shoulder when standing and his tail was a foot and a half long, though it was currently curled around its body. If the fox actually allowed itself to have true weight, it would likely weigh around 10 pounds. But since this was Tony’s spirit animal, it typically seemed to weigh only about 4 pounds when he held him or when he sat on Tony’s lap or shoulder.
Tony grinned down at his companion. “Hey, Naali. How’s the spirit plane today? Cold? Snowy? Or just blue and glowy?”
The fox huffed at him, finding his silliness amusing. He climbed up Tony’s arm and perched on his shoulder as the teen drank more of the cola and watched Jarvis cook. “You know how I’ve been spending spare time trying to crack the code of an artificial intelligence computer?”
“Of course. You’ve been working at that coding for years.” Jarvis said without turning from the stove where he was browning ground meat. “You finally worked it out?”
“Yeah. I just had a breakthrough last night when I was meditating. Naali and Jock were both there and I met them on the spirit plane and I watched them as they – well, I’d call what they were doing playing if I saw humans do it, so that’s what I’m gonna call it. They were playing in the snow, burrowing under and tossing it at each other and rolling around in it and stuff. And I can always tell how happy they are when we’re all in their plane, their home. Not that they mind coming here from what I can tell, but they really love home, I mean, it’s their home. And I just understood that all life, all intelligent life, needs something to call home. For most, it’s a place, a house, an apartment, a city, a country, on the broader scale. And I don’t mean a place where they live, where their body physically resides. I mean, someone in jail, wouldn’t consider that their home even if they are under a life sentence. No, a home for their soul, their heart, where they feel connected. And I realized that for some, home isn’t a physical place. It can be a person. They travel around a lot or they just – I mean – their soul, their emotions are tied to that other being, not to where they are from. I think – I mean – I have this place inside -,” Tony put his left hand on his chest and rubbed lightly at a spot near his heart but not quite directly over it.
“It’s empty and it aches and sometimes it burns but not like a fire but like I’ve been outside too long in the middle of winter. And I know that it’s where my Sentinel should be. And it eases a bit when Jock is around and I know it’s because he’s my Sentinel’s animal, a part of them, and I know that if I ever find them, that space will be filled and whole. And that person, my Sentinel, will be my home, my place of peace, no matter where I’m living. I don’t know if I’ll ever find them since I can’t even register what with Dad erasing all evidence of my status from everywhere and bribing the one doctor who knew to keep their mouth firm shut on the matter but I could just stumble across them, ya know? And I think Jock visits so often because my Sentinel knows I need the connection to them.”
Jarvis looked over his shoulder and smiled sadly at his young charge. “I’m sure you’ll find them someday, Master Tony.”
“Yeah, yeah – anyway, when I realized that, I realized the missing link in the coding. I needed to provide a home for the A.I. It needed to understand the concept of home and family and emotions, even if it can’t exactly feel them. It needed to be able to at least rudimentarily get them. And just floating in front of my eyes, there on the spirit plane, I saw the equations and coding mapped out and wrote it down as soon as I came back to myself. Then this morning I input it and it worked. It – no, he – is rudimentary, sure. But he understands. I gave him a name and I – gave him a family, a home in a person. Me. I – I identified myself to him not just by name – I told him, I – well, I’m his father. And he understood me. And believed me. I could tell. I could – feel it.”
Jarvis straightened from placing the casserole dish in the oven, closed the door and came over to Tony. The older, balding British man put his hand on the young inventor’s shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful father to him.”
The two men, young and old, walked out of the kitchen to the lab in the basement. The middle of the floor was clear but for two things, at least to Tony’s eyes. To the right side, lounged a large form, pure white, about 7 feet tall when standing on all four legs, about 5 feet when sprawled on his stomach like now. His long 10 foot length took up nearly the entire free area of the floor. He was round but muscled and if he fully manifested, he would weigh nearly 1,800 pounds. But when he wanted to comfort Tony and sprawled on him, he only felt like 20 pounds at most.
The giant polar bear yawned and Naali jumped down from Tony’s shoulder and ran over and climbed on “Jock’s” back. Tony didn’t know what his Sentinel had named the bear, but when it started coming around regularly when he was 5 or so, he decided he didn’t want to just call it polar bear, or seem to anyway, so he named it Jääkarhu, when they are alone but always refers to as Jock when talking to Jarvis, the only other who knows Tony is visited by a second spirit animal.
The two animals turn their heads to look at the large piece of equipment taking up the rest of the floor space in the lab as Jarvis walked towards it. It was a large arm with pincers on the end and jointed in several places. It was an a rolling assembly and as its inventor approached, Tony pointed to the cameras in various places on the bot, most notably within the pincers where the “palm” of the hand was.
“Jarvis, meet DUM-E. DUM-E, this is Jarvis. He takes care of the house – and me.”
The bot lifted its arm and used it to peer closely at the Englishman, turning it this way and that before bobbing it up and down, it’s sensors beeping cheerfully. Jarvis laughed at its antics.
“Very nice to meet you, DUM-E.” He turned to Tony and smiled broadly. “Well done, son.”