2017: MCU- Thawing Winter’s Soul

Title: Thawing Winter’s Soul

Author: penumbria

Fandom: MCU

Summary: Set in the Visions of My Soul ‘verse. Tony Stark sees visions of his soulmate, the Winter Soldier.

Warnings: description of assassination and torture and murder (Winter Soldier), self hate, drug abuse, child abuse/neglect, implication of desire for child sexual abuse (but nothing actually happens)

Author’s Note: This was supposed to be part of my entry for 2016’s Extreme Big Bang but I never finished it. I may go back to it someday, it is plotted but who knows when. It was written before Civil War came out and I won’t be changing it to fit what was revealed in that movie about Howard’s and Maria’s deaths.

Chapter One

Tony Stark was a genius. From the age of four when he first made a working circuit board, no one could deny this basic truth. At first, Howard Stark was thrilled. His child was his legacy. But then Tony showed he was smarter than Howard himself. Tony didn’t understand why his father had suddenly turned from being proud of him to being absent at best and abusive, verbally and physically, at worst.

Tony was a genius with science, with mathematics, with engineering. But thanks in large part to the early life lessons taught by Howard Stark, Tony was an idiot at emotions and human interactions.

Tony had influences other than Howard, to be sure. But Maria Stark and Edwin Jarvis could only do so much when Howard went from being Tony’s idol to his bete noir. Tony never quite trusted an adult after Howard turned on him in anger and jealousy.

The problem was that Tony could see he was deficient in this area of his life. Even as a child under ten, Tony couldn’t figure out how to make friends, how to reach out and trust others would want to be around him without needing a handout. It baffled him. And Tony hated not understanding something.

Tony was advanced academically but there was one area where age was a factor in the schooling of a child. It depended not upon intellect but upon emotional and bodily maturity. The subject: soul mates and the yearly vision quests that accompanied them.

As a young child, Tony was told bedtime stories by Jarvis about the Ancient Greeks and Greek gods. How people used to be beings with four arms, four legs, and two faces. How the gods grew fearful of humanity’s power and how Zeus smote them, dividing them in half, and tossing them to the four corners of the world. How people searched for their other halves, their soul mate’s to connect once more and be whole.

Tony thought they were just myths, primitive man’s attempt to understand the forces of the world they didn’t have the mental capacity to grasp. As he grew older, he discovered in a way, that was correct. Most didn’t believe Zeus had anything to do with it, nor did people once have connected bodies. But the common belief was that people came up with this story, passed down by Plato, to explain the visions and pulls towards those who were a perfect match to one’s soul.

Before his jealousy took over, Howard explained to the young boy, barely out of toddlerhood, that somewhere in the world, the person who was the other half of his soul was waiting and if he could find them, they could change the world, they could be great together. Tony learned years and years later, his father’s soul mate had gone missing, thought to be dead, before they ever met, and that Howard had searched for any sign of him for decades, never finding him but always having very odd visions.

Maria explained to a nearly pre-teen Tony that soon he would reach bodily puberty when he had his first ejacualtion containing sperm and sometime during the year following that event, he would fall into a ten minute vision. During this vision, which would occur on his soul mate’s conception date, he would see through the eyes of his other half. He wouldn’t be able to do anything, he would just be a passenger, but he would see what his other half saw. These visions would hopefully give him clues that would enable him to find his mate so they could bond.

Obadiah Stane, Howard’s business partner and the man who acted as Tony’s surrogate father in many things after Howard’s descent into drunken abusive behavior, told Tony that soul mates were not something that made life perfect. Many people never met their soul mates, or lost them, as Howard had done. When your soul mate died before both mates were in puberty, Obie told young pre-teen Tony, the living mate would see visions of storm clouds, black and grey, ominous and terrifying.

Peggy Carter, a friend of Howard and Jarvis and like an aunt to the young genius, told Tony that those storm clouds only lasted for one or possibly two years. The pre-teen learned that the greys and blacks were an indication of the death of the mate but that thereafter, their mate would be reborn and the visions would be of beautiful rainbow clouds until the mate reached puberty and was old enough to have visions of their own. This was to protect the younger mate from indecent advances.

And a Tony, almost old enough for his first vision, fourteen and sexually awake, though a virgin, was told by his best friend, James Rhodes, aged nineteen, that if he had met his mate before they both reached puberty and therefore were old enough to bond, he would not have a vision. Rhodey explained, since he knew firsthand about this issue, that instead you would feel a pull towards the direction of your mate for those ten minutes and you would be awake and aware, able to follow the pull. Rhodey confided in the young teen that he had never been able to narrow it down enough to find his mate, but he always hoped someday he would.

Tony really didn’t like the idea of the soulmate thing. It was all mystical bullshit and he had decided by the time he was seven that he was an atheist. He believed in science, in math, not in magic and though there was an entire branch of science devoted to trying to understand the mechanism behind the visions and the bondings, it was more junk science than not. The only part of it that Tony found to be hard science was the medical information; people’s brain waves changed during vision trances, people with the tug actually had temperature differences in their central torsos during that time, during the initial bonding period, incredibly high levels of specific hormones and chemicals were released into the bloodstream, called a bonding high.

Tony knew he couldn’t avoid the whole thing. No matter how much it made him uncomfortable. Give Tony a machine and he could take it apart and put it back together better than before, give him a challenge to design or build, and it was done. He wasn’t sure about this emotional thing, though. In his mind, he continually wavered between what he wanted to see or experience during his fast approaching “vision”. Sometimes, Tony hoped to see a clear vision that would lead him to this person who would love him forever.

But Tony wasn’t sure he understood what love even was. His father was supposed to love him, but he hurt him. His mother loved him but she spent more time on her charities or in her room passed out from pills than with him. Jarvis loved him but he was paid to be Tony’s butler/nanny/bodyguard. Obie and Peggy loved him but they weren’t around much.

So, Tony sometimes hoped for an obscure vision that would never lead him to his mate. He figured even if he did find them, he’d screw it up, like his dad always told him he would, and they wouldn’t want him.

Tony often mused that it might be better if he only saw the storm clouds or even the rainbow clouds, so he would have more time to figure these messy emotion things out. He could make an AI to help him, a learning system that could teach him as it learned about emotions. That was an idea. He could harness real science to study inexact ideas.

And it would be even better if he only felt a tug. That meant he didn’t have to fall into a trance, just ignore the sensation and get on with life. But what if his mate really was perfect for him? What if they really would care about him and be there and want to be with him? Maybe a full on vision with a name and address would be best, after all. Tony knew that such a thing was incredibly rare, especially for a first vision. It required high levels of luck to be able to even see such details in a vision at all. Very few people knew their exact conception date and time, to be able to ensure that they were doing something that would lead their mate right to them, if they even wanted their mate to find them at all.

But Tony still hoped, except when he decided that he would rather not be bothered with a mate until he could grasp the concept better. But a mate could be an amazing thing but they could hate him like Howard. Tony’s mind couldn’t come to a final decision on the matter and the teen really hated the whole idea!

Tony sat on the floor of the closet of his small private lab at MIT. It was an odd place for him to be, he mused. But the issue was that he was about to have his first soulmate vision thingy and even though he had been feeling the extremity pain for the past half hour or so that preceded the visions as a warning, he had ignored it. He had been in the middle of a project and the pain hadn’t even really registered with his focused mind. Even though he knew it was coming and when since it had happened at the same time for the past week. But he had been working in the lab for over nine hours and hadn’t realized that.

Rhodey was out of town so he wasn’t there to pull Tony out of the lab at reasonable intervals or to warn him when something came up. Tony hadn’t even realized it was the same time as pain time from the last week until he had fallen over from the leg extremity pain when he went to change position. He had checked the clock once he realized he was feeling the phantom pain and it had been two minutes until the end of the period.

Until today, that just meant continuing on with his normal routine or work or whatever. But on day seven, it meant the vision, ten minutes of standing still, or sitting still, or lying still, or just unmoving (except against gravity if you were like in mid-motion at the time). And Tony had no desire to be caught by anyone in such a ridiculously vulnerable position and he had no time to get to the approved campus vision rooms or even to a bathroom stall.

So, Tony was sitting on the floor of the closet. It was at least a decent size closet, he had room to stretch his legs out. Then again, he was short. But he’d grow! He was only fifteen. And as Howard always said, look at Steve Rogers. He was short and tiny and puny, even, and look at what he became because he kept trying. So, Tony would grow. He’d only just hit puberty, obviously, since this was his first vision. And boys didn’t hit a real growth spurt and their adult heights until their later teens, typically.

But the vision was about to start. His first vision, like, ever, and he still wasn’t really on board with the whole idea but he’d try to figure stuff out. He was a Stark. He could do anything he put his mind to. And his mind could come up with a lot to be put to. Or whatever. Grammar wasn’t really Tony’s thing. Math, yeah. Science, well, duh. Even some social studies to an extent, history and all. But English? Spelling and grammar? Not exactly. He wasn’t an idiot about it but he figured that there was no need to stress over the proper forms when he was alone and talking aloud or even more, when he was just in his own head.

Tony started off on a tangent about the idea of being so uptight that you used completely proper language when you were musing in your own mind when his mind changed it’s position.

Tony was no longer seeing the interior of the dark closet with the light filtering in from around the closed door. Instead he was looking at a pane of glass that was covered in frost. Either that or it was frosted glass. But Tony didn’t think the frosting was deliberate. It didn’t have the consistent look of industrially made frosted glass. It looked like a somewhat curved piece of window glass, maybe, but exposed to extreme cold. There were sections that Tony could see that were less coated with the ice than other areas. But even on those areas, he couldn’t see through them. Even if the ice was thin enough, Tony could tell that it was pitch dark on the other side of the glass. There was nothing to see. And his soulmate wasn’t moving. Tony came to the conclusion that he was seeing what was on the other side of his mate’s closed eyelids. They were either asleep, or unconscious in some manner.

It worried Tony. He didn’t think anyone would sleep in that kind of condition if they had any other choice. Unless they were maybe an Eskimo or something or it wasn’t really a window but a screen showing a fake scene, like a computer monitor but it was big and curved and Tony didn’t think it wasn’t real. So, an Eskimo or someone who was crazy enough to live in frigid conditions. The other possibility was one he didn’t really want to focus on since he wouldn’t know for sure for a year or maybe more. If his mate was unconscious, and add in the weather, the ice, the cold, the window, then they likely were in an accident. The curve of the glass wasn’t quite right for a car window but it could be a windshield on some models of car or even a custom van window. Or it could be the windscreen for a small plane. Or much less likely, it could be some sort of glass bottomed boat that was upside down and not underwater, or at least, the glass bottom wasn’t underwater because there was no water between Tony and the glass. There could be some on the other side, he supposed, if the boat was upside down and just under the surface or something but it was just really kind of outlandish as an idea and there needed to be so many variables just right, that Occam’s razor likely applied.

Before Tony could muse more on what the was seeing, he was no longer seeing it. The young genius sighed and clambered to his feet. He pushed the door open and entered his lab, eyes wincing from the sudden bright light. Well, I guess I’ll find out if they were rescued next year, assuming they aren’t an Eskimo, instead. If I get visions of black storm clouds, I’ll know they died, probably in the next few minutes from now. Nothing I can do about it. If they are in trouble and crashed some kind of vehicle, there were no clues to help me send them help. I don’t even know if there was a vehicle, let alone what kind or where, other than it is cold enough to frost the window heavily. Nothing I can do about it, either way. Back to work, we’ll see next year. And even then, if they survive, I won’t know if I was right about a crash.

Tony lay on his bed, his hands linked behind his head and his legs crossed at the ankle. He had been in pain for the past twenty-five minutes and had felt the full discomfort the entire time. It had started at the end of his last class of the day and rather than heading to the lab like he had planned before the pain began, Tony decided to ride it out in the comfort of his own bed this year, rather than on the floor of a closet.

The vision of his mate in a frozen wasteland hadn’t really impacted Tony over the past year. Granted, he found himself thinking of his mate and their situation at random moments but Tony was brilliant at pushing away emotional issues and burying them, so he never obsessed over the vision. He was still curious about whether they were alive or dead. And he had found himself using the “he” pronoun when thinking about the vision. He didn’t consciously recall anything that would lead to the knowledge of his mate’s gender but he could never think of them as “she”. It had made Tony wonder if it was his subconscious telling him his sexual orientation rather than any vision knowledge.

Tony found women attractive and could certainly get it up to sleep with them. He was sixteen but women had been coming on to him since he was twelve. Granted, he couldn’t actually do anything about it until a year ago, but they still approached him. Gold diggers all, obviously, and pedophiles in the bargain but Tony liked sex. He liked the physical sensation of orgasm, duh, but the best thing about good sex was that he could turn off his brain following the orgasm. Or, more accurately, he could slow down his thought processes.

He didn’t think he had any emotional attachment to any of the women he had slept with, they were good lays and there were some repeat performances, but mostly it was just physical release, for him and for her. Most of the women would have loved it if he had fallen for him, after all he was the golden goose – er, gander – who laid the golden eggs. The analogy didn’t quite work since he was a guy and regardless of weird genetics going on and that movie with The Terminator and Danny DeVito, men couldn’t get pregnant. But still, the idea was sound.

Tony didn’t think he was ugly by any means. He had an attractive face and his body wasn’t bad but he was young and not high school dreamboat material. And the women he slept with weren’t even in high school. No normal woman in college (or older) would find a fairly scrawny sixteen year old boy as the best idea for a relationship.

But Tony was a millionaire, his father’s company was huge and Tony was the only heir. Women wanted the payday that being with Tony could provide. And he knew that the ultimate goal was a baby. The women were savvy enough to know that a proposal from a sixteen year old minor wouldn’t hold up but a Stark grandchild – that was a whole other ballgame.

Thus, the reason Tony always wore a condom and also the reason Howard had perfected male birth control medication. Well, that wasn’t really Howard’s wheelhouse but he had hired the scientists who had done it and told them what he wanted researched. It had come onto the market to huge sales and very limited side effects when Tony was eleven. And as soon as he started getting erections that actually went somewhere, Howard had gotten his son onto it. So, even when women claimed they were on birth control, Tony was covered. That made him laugh, ‘cause his cock was covered in a condom (no matter what they swore) and his sperm was covered in the medication. The medication kept the sperm from being viable, there was no genetic material in them.

But since he hadn’t been able to think of his mate as a her, and he had realized this fact consciously, Tony had begun looking at other men. Surprisingly, or maybe not so much considering the no male pregnancy reality of life, Tony hadn’t really had many guys come onto him. There had been a few but it had been during parties where everyone was drunk and the guys had basically just been looking to get off and not caring who with, if they even could tell that Tony was Tony by the time they were that drunk. And Tony had taken the opportunities as they presented themselves and learned that he loved giving blow jobs (and was awesome at it as he had an incredibly minimal gag reflex). But Tony had never bottomed. He had fucked a couple of guys, always safe sex, but never let anyone fuck him. He found the idea intriguing – hello, prostate – but he felt that it required a level of trust and the only one he had that much trust in was Rhodey, who was completely and totally straighter than a ruler.

Only one man had ever approached him as more than just wanting a night of orgasms. And he wasn’t exactly a gold digger. But he definitely was a pedophile. And he was always very sly about it, and had been since Tony was six or seven. Most kids that age wouldn’t have picked up on the nuances and at first even Tony had been unsure (thanks in large part to his issues with emotions and human interaction) but after some research, Tony had understood. He wasn’t sure if Obie was actually a full-on pedophile (meaning he wanted young boys regardless) or if it was just Tony.

Tony’s research led him to the understanding of Obie’s grooming behavior regarding Tony’s actions. And he let him do it, some. Nothing sexual, no touching other than what was appropriate in front of others for Tony’s age at the time, but some of the verbal and emotional pushes, Tony allowed. He knew he shouldn’t, he understood that Obie’s behavior was wrong and Tony was determined that he wouldn’t let him go farther than being like family, but Tony was so needy for a father type figure. And he understood that about himself. He hated it. But he knew it was true. And Obie was so – caring and nurturing – sort of.

But Tony could also see that Obie wanted more than beloved uncle or father substitute. And if he could tie Tony to himself through sex, Obie wasn’t just a random fuck, he was Howard’s business partner, he was always going to be around. If Tony let the relationship happen that way, Obie would have an in with both Starks – best friends with the father, lover of the son.

And in the past year, Tony had found himself tempted. He thought about it when he was alone and horny. Never when Obie was in the vicinity but in the dorm, yeah, Tony had wondered. He hated psychology but he knew that his issues with Howard drove him more than was good for him. Tony had thought about giving into Obie’s obvious wants but had decided, with his actual brain rather than his dick, that he wouldn’t do it. Not now when he was still legally off limits. If he let Obie have what he wanted while a Tony was still legally a child, he would have something to hold over the man but Obie would have that same blackmail and knowledge to hold over Tony and Howard. He would just have to threaten to tell Howard and Tony would be putty in Obie’s hands. And Tony knew it and he knew that Obie knew it, too. Tony would never out Obie if it happened because he wouldn’t want Howard to know about it. Daddy issues!

So, Tony was smart about it and decided that while he might indulge once he was legal, he would keep things familial until then. Obie would just have to live with the disappointment of not getting Tony’s underage ass.

Tony was jarred out if his musings on his sex life and deliberate self cock-blocking when he entered the vision trance. Tony’s first thought on seeing what his mate was seeing was ‘Thank God it isn’t storm clouds, he isn’t dead’. His second thought was ‘He is a guy.’

Tony saw a jungle around him, or at least it looked what Tony thought a jungle would look like. He couldn’t’ feel the temperature so it might be a thick forest or something. His mate was sliding through the trees and vines and plants with a shocking ease. He wasn’t cutting them down, he was weaving in and out, pushing them out of his way, bending below them, jumping over them, swaying from side to side around them. His right arm held a long barreled sniper rifle, with a silvered scope and a stock made of what looked to be a light wood.

Tony didn’t recognize it which told him that it was either custom made, still in testing and not on the general market, or from another country and brand new enough that this country hasn’t seen it yet. Tony was the son of a weapons manufacturer, he had been able to shoot a gun before he could walk (almost) and he could recognize all major makes and models by the time he was five. He actually designed and built a working model of a new handgun when he was seven. The patent was in his name and it was still a Stark Industries best seller.

The man’s left arm was what truly caught Tony’s attention. It was metal, or at least the material certainly gave the appearance of metal, and it definitely wasn’t a glove or armor of some kind. The way it moved, the way his hand moved, his metal hand, as he parted the vines, it was a prosthetic. It was beautiful. Every time it came into view, Tony mentally salivated over it.

Before his mate arrived wherever he was heading, Tony once again saw his ceiling above his bed. Tony jumped up and hurried over to his desk. He pulled out drafting paper and sketch paper and pencils and began drawing both the sniper rifle and the arm from memory.

As his deft fingers outlined the arm, Tony realized that his mate was some kind of deep cover agent of some sort. Tony figured that whatever accident he had seen the year before had cost his mate his arm. Or most of it. From what Tony could see the prosthetic went well above the elbow which made it likely that the whole arm was metal. And an injury that catastrophic, no matter what country the soldier worked for, it would get them medically discharged. But agencies like the CIA or KGB or MI-6, they might create a prosthetic and get their operative back out in the field. Deep, deep, deep black ops kind of shit.

When Tony finished his renderings, he knew that he didn’t know the gun and he knew that he could make his mate a better prosthetic arm. He didn’t know what the one he had seen was made from but the way that it was constructed and the way it moved and the way his mate reacted as he maneuvered it, Tony could improve it. He needed to do more research into neurology and nerves and stuff because that arm was no dead weight. It had moved like a regular arm. But he could make it better.

Tony knew that while this year’s vision had again given him nothing to work with as far as finding his mate went, it would have a much larger impact on his life than his first vision did. Tony had a new project and was determined to have it as a gift to his mate when they finally met. And Tony was confident that they would. He was a Stark man. And Stark men got what they wanted.

Tony lounged on the sofa in his bedroom at the mansion in Manhattan. He was spending a long weekend at home after a difficult project was just completed. Howard and Maria were supposed to pick him up at the airport when he got in but they had been running late so Tony had hired a car instead.

Howard and Maria had been spending the past month at the “cottage” on Long Island and Howard had a brainstorm the night before and had been up for hours hashing it out. Tony understood. He had done the same plenty of times and it wasn’t like Tony didn’t know he wasn’t a priority in Howard’s life.

So, Tony was waiting for his parents to make their way home to the city so they could go to a fundraiser the next night and make like a happy little family while they raised money for one of Maria’s charities and raised Howard’s public profile and likeability. The press was guaranteed to be out in force to cover the event, especially as Tony hadn’t attended many in the past few years due to his college life.

But now, Tony was actually relieved that Howard and Maria weren’t home yet. Twenty-eight minutes before, Tony had been in the middle of eating some dinner that Jarvis had made when he had felt the first tingling pains that quickly escalated. It was that time of year and Tony’s newest vision was about to begin.

Tony had spent the last year working on robotic prosthetics and auditing classes on neurology and human physiology. The lack of knowledge inherent in most of the classes was distressing to the young genius. He knew that his mate’s arm moved like a real arm. To improve its function, Tony needed to understand how the obvious robotics interacted with the physiological components.

The arm was designed, ready to be put into production but Tony couldn’t actually test his theories without a human test subject and he would never be able to get clearance to do it. So, he kept tinkering and learning and tweaking the design, waiting until his mate was finadable. Of course, Tony hoped that tonight’s vision would make that findability an immediate thing. It would be awesome to see his mate eating dinner at the cafe around the corner or walking in Central Park. But Tony doubted his luck was that good. He was more likely to see the ceiling of his mate’s bedroom as he slept, or a book he was reading in his living room, or another walk through a jungle on some super secret mission that showed no hints of location.

Tony knew it was a ridiculous waste of time and brainpower to even wonder before the vision began but a part of him couldn’t help it. His optimistic side that he got from Aunt Peggy and Jarvis was at war with the pessimistic side that Howard and Obie had instilled in him. The point became moot as the pain disappeared and Tony was viewing an oddly uneven viewpoint.

The teenaged genius son of the world’s foremost weapon’s manufacturer soon realized that his mate was looking through the scope of a rifle, possibly like the one he had been carrying in the last vision. Three months ago it had come out on the general market, or at least, it had been made known to the general market. It was a new Soviet sniper rifle, so that pointed to an issue right there but Tony hadn’t let it bother him. And now, Tony realized as his brain adjusted to what he was seeing in the vision, one of his mate’s eyes was looking through the scope while the other was closed. But Tony still saw what was in front of the eyelid, the barrel of the gun and the road beyond it.

Tony frowned in his mind. The roadway looked familiar, maybe. It was fairly generic, middle of nowhere two lane road with a curve ahead and a somewhat steep drop beyond it but Tony couldn’t shake the nagging feeling of familiarity the sight engendered in him.

Tony quickly became bored when the view didn’t change for several minutes. His mate was simply waiting for something and from the clues the vision provided, Tony could only assume he was waiting for a car to approach so that he could shoot it or the driver. There really wasn’t much of a different explanation there could be for his mate to be sighting continuously down the scope of a sniper rifle at a naggingly familiar, currently deserted roadway.

And then, the roadway wasn’t deserted any longer. A car that Tony knew. He had ridden in that car, he had driven that car, the car that now was being driven by Tony’s father, with Maria in the passenger seat. Suddenly the rifle jerked slightly and the car in the distance fishtailed and went through the metal barrier blocking the drop off. Tony could only watch in horror and shock, unable to even close his eyes or glance away as his parent’s assassin, Tony’s own soulmate, swung his rifle over his shoulder and climbed down from his perch to the ground and started to run toward the crashed car. Tony saw his mate slide down the hill and caught a glimpse of Howard’s body slumped over the steering wheel and his mother’s blankly staring eyes, her body partway through the windshield when the vision ended.

Tony rolled off of the sofa and threw up all over the floor, his entire body heaving at what he had seen. Tears flowed down his face unchecked and his body shook as he descended into physical shock from the mental torment.

Tony Stark’s soulmate wasn’t just a man with a metallic, robotic prosthetic arm who carried a Soviet sniper rifle, Tony Stark’s soulmate used that sniper rifle as an assassin. But worse, Tony Stark’s soulmate wasn’t just a male, Soviet assassin with a metallic, robotic prosthetic arm who carried and used a sniper rifle in his work, Tony Stark’s assassin soulmate assassinated Tony’s parents with that Soviet made sniper rifle!

Fuck!

Tony stood in his (formerly Howard’s) office in the Manhattan mansion and stared out of the window into the dark night. The grounds were softly lit by solar powered lanterns scattered throughout and the city scape in the distance was lit like a Christmas tree, just like every night. But this night, something felt off. Tony didn’t’ know what the itch in the back of his mind was, he was having a hard time staying still. Granted, Tony was often fairly manic but when he needed or wanted to, he could settle and focus. But not tonight.

The past ten months had been – difficult – to say the very least. Tony had gone off the rails for almost seven months straight and he realized that it could have become his life if he hadn’t changed. After seeing his parents’ murder through his soulmate’s eyes, Tony had been adrift. He had needed to talk to someone but at the same time, he didn’t want to tell anyone. He knew, to an extent, who killed his parents, but the world at large believed it was a tragic accident. Even the local police who had done the investigation had that in their files. Tony wasn’t sure if anyone other than the ones who sent the killer knew otherwise.

Except for Tony himself. He could have made a huge stink and let everyone know Howard and Maria were assassinated, though he was fairly sure Maria was just collateral damage. But that would have meant exposing the fact that his soulmate was a killer. Not only would it open up a can of worms regarding the assassination, but it would open a similar can regarding Tony. And he didn’t want that scrutiny. And a large part of him didn’t want to expose his soulmate, either. His logical mind hated it but he couldn’t bring himself to betray the man, not even to Jarvis or Rhodey.

So, Tony had no one to talk to who understood. People gave their condolences, fake and real, Jarvis made him tea, Rhodey gave him beer, Aunt Peggy gave him an album of pictures from the 1940s and 1950s of his parents and their friends, Obie gave him a lecture on stepping up and shouldering the burden of his father’s genius and designing weapons. But no one understood.

So Tony had to cope on his own. Never a good idea. Tony started drinking heavily while alone to forget, then he started to go out and party and drink, then he started to try to drown his memories in sex. Sex with women, sex with men, sex with women and men, threesomes, foursomes, full on orgies, usually while drunk. And when that didn’t work, or at least not once he woke up with a hangover, Tony started mixing the alcohol and sex with drugs: pot, pills, cocaine. He didn’t smoke crack; Tony was a rich, white boy, he snorted lines of coke off of glass tables through hundred dollar bills. But when the highs wore off, Tony was left with the memories of the assassination and his own actions while impaired.

Nonetheless, Tony knew that he would have continued to spiral. The drugs likely would have stopped, they messed with his creative genius, but the alcohol and the sex, he knew he would have continued to use them as coping mechanisms, probably for years to come, if not for the next shock to his system. Just under seven months after the deaths of Howard and Maria Stark, Edwin Jarvis had a massive heart attack and died in his sleep. The quiet death of the man who was more his father that Howard shocked Tony back into a measure of sanity. He knew that Jarvis had worried over him, especially his partying after the elder Starks’ deaths, and Tony was convinced that it was at least partly that stress that triggered the heart attack that killed Jarvis.

It was enough to get Tony clean and sober. He stopped partying and locked himself in his workshop for days at a time, living on coffee, microwave meals, and liquid replacement meals. During the first month, Tony had created two siblings for his first bot, DUM-E. He named them DUM-R and DUM-S.

But DUM-R got DUM-E to scrape three of the letters off of his side and left the U. And DUM-S started wearing an empty candy bar box on his arm. He stuck his arm through the hole and wore it like a bracelet. Tony appreciated the bots’ independence and self-naming and so the helper bots became Dummy, U, and Butterfingers.

Then, Tony started work on his ultimate masterwork, a full AI to run the house and to assist in the lab and to be the sounding board he needed, both for design and for life. He made a full learning system with few restrictions and gave him access to modern psychology information and all information on soulmates and visions, as well as engineering and physics and chemistry and mathematics.

When he finally got the system working three weeks ago, he sentimentally named him JARVIS. He told Rhodey it was an acronym standing for Just A Really Very Intelligent System but he knew his best friend hadn’t bought the excuse. He also knew that as time passed, other people would believe that bullshit, even though JARVIS was outfitted with a voice simulator that spoke in an English accent eerily similar to Edwin Jarvis’ own voice. It wasn’t a perfect match but it was incredibly close. But not Rhodey and probably not Aunt Peggy either, though she likely wouldn’t call Tony on his lies. Obie might believe him, he never really understood the dynamics of the Stark household and Tony wasn’t sure the older man even recalled the bodyguard’s name, regardless of the fact that the late Englishman had been a part of Howard Stark’s household since the 1960s. In many respects, Obie was a snob and Jarvis had been a “servant”.

JARVIS was a godsend for Tony’s piece of mind and he was already more settled and had moved from the denial and anger stages of grief which he had been stuck in and onto to acceptance – mostly. Tony still had his moments but that wasn’t unusual. Grief never truly went away and in the past year, Tony had gotten a full load of it, something that he had never really had to deal with before. Pain – yes, abuse (of various sorts) – yes, neglect – yes. Grief – no. But between the deaths of Howard, Maria, and Jarvis, and the discovery of the occupation of his soulmate, the teen had been reeling under the crushing weight.

JARVIS had helped Tony to see the destructiveness and futility of his early coping behavior. The alcohol, drugs, and sex might have made things recede for a while but when the various highs were over, nothing had changed in the underlying issues that pushed Tony into trying to forget. And it wasn’t that Tony hadn’t known that before. He had known intellectually that getting drunk wouldn’t make the things he didn’t want to face go away. But, Tony, genius though he was, was also just turned eighteen.

In point of fact, his birthday had been three days after Jarvis’ death. Tony spent the day in his lab, surrounded by his bots while he worked on JARVIS’ systems and coding. After Rhodey had graduated MIT, he had joined the Air Force and was on deployment. And Aunt Peggy was out of town as well. And Obie was not one to care about things like birthdays and anniversaries.

Tony was well used to milestones passing unacknowledged by other people in his life. Or at least, mostly unattended, unless the press was involved, in which case Howard (before his death) and Obie (then and now) were much more likely to show up. But mostly, birthdays, science fairs, graduations, were all solo events to Tony. Aunt Peggy had been able to be in town for his graduation from MIT but she was the only one. Rhodey couldn’t get leave, Obie didn’t care, and Jarvis, Howard and Maria were dead by then, Jarvis by over a month. Aunt Peggy and Jarvis were the most reliable for events in Tony’s life but even they had other responsibilities that often interfered.

Aunt Peggy was called out of town and out of the country on business at short notice quite often. Over time, Tony had realized that she wasn’t some business superstar but rather something shadier. It wasn’t until he finished JARVIS and sent him searching out info on Howard that he discovered the truth. Aunt Peggy was a spy. She actually was in charge of a spy agency that she and Howard had helped to found after World War II and the dismantling of the Strategic Scientific Reserve (the group that gave the world Captain America). They named it the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. But Tony, being Tony, and having bullshitted in the same way with Just A Really Very Intelligent System, knew that someone just looked for words that fit the acronym SHIELD.

Tony moved away from the window as he mused on what he had learned about SHIELD. It wasn’t as much as he wanted to know but their security was pretty good and JARVIS was still learning how to work around other systems.

The AI was excellent at his jobs at the mansion and the other connections he had to Tony’s home and office but elsewhere was trickier. At home, JARVIS controlled the physical environment, ordered the essential shopping (food, coffee, and workshop materials), corralled Tony into eating and sleeping and getting to meetings more or less on time, (granted it was more less than more but it was better than previously), and most importantly, JARVIS had full control over the mansion’s heavily updated and lethal security systems.

After he came out of the worst of his shock and grief, even while still trying to drown his thoughts, Tony had designed updates to the mansion’s ability to keep him safe. After JARVIS came online, he was fully integrated into the system and his brilliance made Tony feel safer. After all, Howard was assassinated, even if no one seemed to know it but Tony. On this side of the equation, at least. And the Soviet rifle pointed to the idea that it may have been due to his place ad a rich capitalist, not due to his status as a genius and weapon’s designer and manufacturer.

Tony was just as wealthy as Howard, just as capitalistic, and smarter into the bargain. Even when he was almost constantly drunk and hungover, he designed new guns, armor, and even a tank for Stark Industries. Obie had been thrilled at the plans but unhappy at Tony’s behavior and the press.

The Board wouldn’t let Tony run his own company, the one he inherited from Howard that had Tony’s own name on it until he was twenty-one. So, Obie was CEO for the next few years. And Tony just handled research. It wasn’t like Tony even wanted to be CEO. A more boring and mind numbing job he couldn’t imagine. But it was the principle of the thing.

Stark Industries was Tony’s company. He owned seventy-three percent of the shares and there were no restrictions in Howard’s will once Tony turned eighteen and was an adult. But the board refused to acknowledge it and so Tony was shut out for a while.

So Tony designed JARVIS, and the occasional weapon, and let his mind roam on ways to expand the company beyond weapons once he had the actual power. Ideas like intelli-crops, alternative energies to oil and gas that were actually feasible (unlike solar panels that would take up almost one-quarter of the country in order to power half of it, or wind power that was loud and obstrusive and inefficient and created heavy NIMBY protests). Howard and Obie had actually tried to explore the idea over a decade before but the arc reactor at the Stark Industries factory and office in California was more of a gimmick than anything. It was huge, incredibly expensive to make and run, largely due to the fact that the power it generated was highly wasted in the transmission from it to the place where it was needed. Maybe if I could make it smaller, mused Tony.

Before he could really think about the idea, JARVIS broke into his thoughts with a warning. “Pardon me, sir, but there has been a breach in the fence security. I am currently tracking a man heading to the mansion at a surprisingly high rate of speed for someone on foot. He is fifteen feet from the walls at the moment and headed for this room. He will arrive in under a minute and while the glass and the security in the windows should delay his entry, he is heavily armed. And, sir, from my readings, his left arm is not biological. Would you still like me to proceed to fatal measures as my orders are considering these particular circumstances, sir?”

“Shit! Um, no, the left arm is metallic, JARVIS?”

“Yes, sir, based on my scans. And may I suggest that you head to the saferoom, sir, he is about to -”

There was an impact to the window but the “glass” held. But as the assassin’s metal arm began to assault it, Tony knew it wouldn’t hold out forever, not under that amount of pressure. He backed away and as he reached towards the controls to access the safe room, the window gave way. Tony’s mind noted that it wasn’t the glass that broke, which he found impressive, but rather the frame around the glass where it connected to the original house materials.

Tony instinctively hit the floor and rolled, the shot hitting the wall rather than Tony’s head. It bought him a few seconds to scramble behind the desk while the assassin pulled out a knife and approached, his angle cutting off Tony’s route to the safe room and the door to the hall.

Tony backed up against the wall and grabbed the office chair, tossing it towards the man coming at him. The man’s metal arm knocked it aside as if it was a balloon and Tony grabbed one of Howard’s awards from the shelf behind the desk. It was a gaudy thing, oddly shaped but heavy and long. Tony swung it as his killer got close. The man reached out and grabbed Tony’s arm and began to twist when his eyes met his target’s.

Tony saw the golden light show everyone described and panted as the assassin released his arm, grabbed his head, and fell to the floor.

 

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