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15 January 2015 @ 07:25 pm
MCU AU: Crossed Wires (Part One)  
Title: Crossed Wires (Part One)
Characters: Tony, Howard, Jarvis, Stane, Maria, Peggy, dæmons
Rating: PG-13
Warnings/Triggers: swearing, bullying, a child running away, assumptions of kidnap and worries related to it, family dysfunction/drama, brief reference to the non-tragic death of a spouse
Spoilers: Basic ones for the structure and past of the Stark family as laid out in the Iron Man movies, and Captain America related media
Pairings: Howard/Maria
Word Count 6,177
Summary: Tony runs away from school, leading Howard to realize just how out of touch he is with his son.
Author's notes: As always seems to be the case, this stemmed from conversations with joonscribble, because she brings all the plot bunnies to my door, apparently. A big thanks to her for nattering with me and allowing me the borrowing of Dejeni and some of her headcanon.

This is a very long story, for which I apologize. I didn't worry too much about keeping the POV switches of equal length or number, and Jarvis decided he'd step in for a random part at the end, so apologies for the sort of odd narration style, too. I've split it into two parts, but both parts are still long.

It's set in 1978. Tony is 8 years-old, and Howard around 58 years-old, I'm guessing, and Jarvis probably around 60? The MCU dates are very flimsy.

For reference: Dejeni (A raccoon), Haddie, and Kinga (a maned wolf). Demira is unsettled, and so changes form several times, but her mentioned favourites are hummingbird, otter and platypus.

Knowledge of His Dark Materials is not required. All that's necessary to know is that, in this world, humans' souls live outside of their bodies in the form of animals. There's an excellent primer here.

This is part one, part two is here



It turned out, it was much easier to run away from boarding school than Tony would have thought. If he'd known how easy it would be, he would have done it much sooner. In books, kids were always stuffing their comforters to look like they were still in bed, and shimmying out windows on ropes of ripped sheets, and sneaking through the woods in the middle of the night while their dæmons warned them about being naughty.

Tony left Alton Academy on a Tuesday afternoon, in broad daylight, by walking out the front gate.

It was a very sudden decision. He didn't plan it. He hadn't woken up that morning with the intention of going. But at 1:52—on his way to the science building for a class with kids who were four years older than him and hated him, having had his face rubbed into a wall and a mud puddle by one of those kids, and having once again not had a single person to sit with at lunch because his classes were either with children who hated him for being four years younger and smarter than them or two years younger and smarter than them, not to mention the children who were the same age as him but he didn't really know because he wasn't in any classes with them—he'd had enough. He knew if he stayed one second longer, he was going to explode.

“Where are you going?” Mim asked, shifting from the tiger she'd been trying to defend herself as into a hen to land on his shoulder. “You're going to be late.”

“I'm not going,” Tony said. “I'm leaving.”

“Leaving for where?” Mim said.

“I don't know,” Tony said. “But I'm going. I don't want to stay here any more. It's pointless. It's not like I'm learning anything. I could teach these classes, Mim. They don't even want me in them, not even the teachers. It's boring. I'm bored. I'm done. I hate it here. I'm out. I need to leave. Even for a few days. I'm going crazy here.”

“Couldn't you call someone and tell them you're not happy?” Mim suggested. “Maybe they'd let you have a few days away. You could call your mom. Or Jarvis.”

“C'mon, Mim, they're never going to let me just take time off school because I don't feel like going,” Tony said.

“But it's not the same,” Mim said. “It's not that you don't feel like going. It's that...it's —” She made an exasperated noise. “It's awful! Maybe they don't know it's awful. Maybe they think it's not awful. Maybe you should tell them.”

“They won't listen,” Tony said. “I said I didn't want to go here to start with and they didn't listen. I said I wanted to stay in California, but they said I had to come here. If they were going to listen, they would have listened already.”

Mim shifted into a hummingbird and flew backwards in front him. “But where are you going?” she said. “You can't just go with no plan.”

Tony was relieved that she wasn't trying to stop him. “I'll walk into town,” he said. “I have money. I'll buy a ticket somewhere. Or just hide out. No one's in the penthouse, I could go there.”

Mim flew in an excited circle. “Do you remember when you came and stayed there with Jarvis? That was fun,” she said. “I wish you could live with him, instead of boarding.”

“Yeah, well, no one wants me home with them, so it's just you and me,” Tony said. “I'll figure it out.”

He half expected some alarm to sound when he passed through the gate, or someone to come in and pluck him up and force him back into class. But no one did. No one even noticed him going. Just like everywhere else, no one noticed what Tony Stark was doing.

So, why not do what he wanted?




Howard was in a board meeting, which Dejeni liked to refer to as a 'bored meeting'. She hated them, and could barely sit through them. She was always working on something under the table while he listened and pretended to care what everyone had to say, even though, when all was said and done, he'd just do what he wanted to do anyway. There were benefits to having consultants, but there were also benefits to following your instinct. It had only gained him success in his life so far.

Dejeni tugged on his pant leg and he glanced down to look at the diagram she was modifying. He nodded his approval, and she went back to work again. Howard realized there were people looking at him, and that he'd missed something.

“Personally, I don't think moving back the release date will have much effect on the final product,” Stane said, helpfully allowing Howard to catch up. “That's just my two cents.”

“You're right,” Howard said, quickly. “You're right. What you're asking for isn't possible. We'll be ready to start production on the 15th, pushing it back only loses us money we could be making in the meantime. It's not going to get better than it is. You're wanting a 2.0 before we've even seen how the 1.0 is...going to...”

He trailed off as his eye was caught by his secretary at the boardroom door. She was making little, frantic 'over here' gestures. He made a 'go away' gesture. She made an even more frantic 'over here' gesture. Dejeni climbed up onto the back of Howard's chair.

“What's going on?” she asked.

“I don't know,” Howard said. “It looks like I'm going to have to find out.” He smiled. “Excuse me for a moment, please.” He rose and stalked to the door with Dejeni on his shoulder. “What?”

“Mr. Jarvis is on the phone, sir,” his secretary squeaked. Her mouse dæmon peeped out apologetically from her bun.

“Tell him I'm in a meeting and that I'll call him back,” Howard said, impatiently. “This isn't worth interrupting about.”

“He said 'now', sir,” his secretary said. “He said it was worth interrupting.”

Howard frowned. Jarvis was not the sort to be demanding. The most aggressive he ever got was a particularly pointed cough. 'Now' was not like him.

“You better see what he wants,” Dejeni muttered.

“Excuse me, gentlemen, I'll just be another moment,” Howard said to the room. He stepped out into the corridor and strode down to his office, hitting the speaker button on the phone. “Jarvis? What's going on?”

“Please forgive the intrusion, sir,” Jarvis' crisp tones said. “I have received a phone call from Alton Academy.”

“Who?” Howard said.

“Tony's school,” Dejeni said.

“Oh, yeah,” Howard said. “What's he done?”

“Master Tony did not arrive to his afternoon classes,” Jarvis said.

Howard rolled his eyes. “Well, let them give him detention or something,” he said. “He's not going to fail for missing one class. He could practically teach some of them.”

“I'm afraid his whereabouts are currently unknown, sir,” Jarvis said. “He failed to report for class and does not appear to be on campus.”

Howard felt a little unease crawl up through the annoyance. “You're saying he's missing?” he said. “Why is he missing?”

“I don't know sir. But I'm afraid none of the possibilities are particularly pleasant.”




Running away was fun! Mim hadn't been totally sure it was a good idea, but once they started to head down the side of the road to town and she remembered they weren't in science class—with all the jerks who asked if Tony needed a book to sit on, or teased Mim for not being settled yet, or accidentally-on-purpose spilled his chemicals, or knocked his projects over—she'd cheered up. She'd shifted into a horse and trotted around to relish the freedom.

They were on the bus now. It had been really easy to buy a ticket. The seller was lazy, and barely looked at Tony when he asked for one. They were lying low in their seats, and had gotten a few looks from other passengers, but it wasn't a busy time for commuters. Tony had told the only person who inquired that he had to go home for a family emergency, and that seemed to satisfy their curiosity.

Tony had taken off his school tie and stuffed it into his backpack. His face looked a little grim from where it had scratched against the brick wall when Danny pushed him into it. Mim had given it a few licks to clean it up, but it looked sore.

“Once I get to Harrison, I'll buy a train ticket into New York,” Tony said. “And then once I'm in Grand Central, it'll be easy to get to the penthouse.”

“Won't they look for you there?” Mim asked.

“No one will even notice I'm missing for awhile,” Tony said. “And they'll start looking around the school. Mom is in California, and Jarvis is at the house. Dad could be anywhere.”

“But what if he's in the New York HQ?” Mim said. “Then he'll be really close.”

“He'll still not be at the penthouse,” Tony said, firmly. “He sleeps in the apartment at the HQ when Mom isn't in town. He won't be there. And I'm only going to stay there until I figure out where I'm going to go.”

Mim shifted into a squirrel and clambered up on the seat in front of him. “Where are you going to go?” she asked.

“I don't know,” Tony said, with a thoughtful frown. “Somewhere.”

Mim brightened. “Maybe you could visit Peggy,” she said. “She likes you. She'd understand.”

“She'd turn me in to Dad as soon as she saw me,” Tony said.

Mim rested her chin on her paws. “I think you need a better plan,” she said.

“Yeah. Well, I'll think of one,” Tony said.

“I think you need to think of one soon.”




Stane had insisted that he could hold down the fort. “Your family is more important than this crap, Howard. Go find your son. I'm sure it will be fine.” Kinga had given Dejeni a reassuring smile and reiterated that it would all be fine.

Dejeni was not sure it would be fine. In fact, she was very slightly worried it wouldnot be fine. Jarvis suggested they form a sort of base of operations at the house, so that all calls could be directed there and they could work together to sort the problem.

Jarvis stood erectly in the doorway when the car pulled up the drive, Haddie at his feet. Dejeni hopped out and Howard followed, stalking up to the porch.

“Anything?” he called, as soon as he was in earshot.

“I'm afraid not, sir,” Jarvis said, apologetically.

“Dammit!” Howard said. “That school is in the middle of nowhere, how the hell would someone get him out of there with no one noticing?”

Jarvis took his hat and removed the coat from his shoulders, folding it neatly over his arm. Haddie gave Dejeni a polite and calm nod hello, though Dejeni could see the anxiety in the wag of her tail.

“I don't know, sir,” Jarvis said. “The school is very insistent there was no one suspicious on campus.”

“Yeah, well, they aren't going to admit that they fucked up, are they?” Howard said. “When did they last see him? How long has he been gone for?”

Jarvis moved forward to open the door to Howard's office for him. The phone was placed dead center in the desk, along with a notepad and an urn of steaming coffee, the same tools Jarvis placed there when Howard had an all-nighter to pull.

“He was in the dining hall at lunchtime, and his roommate says he returned to his dorm to prepare for the science lesson after his first afternoon class,” Jarvis said. “Two students reported seeing him on route to that lesson. This was approximately 2PM. He was not seen after that time period.”

Howard glanced down at his watch. “That was what...four hours ago? When did they know he wasn't there?” He sat down at the desk and started to make notes on the pad. Dejeni climbed up to supervise.

“He didn't arrive for the evening meal,” Jarvis explained. “Up to that point, it was believed he'd merely skipped class. Inquiries were made, and then a search done. He was not found. The school rang the emergency contact number, which connected them to me. I phoned you immediately after ending the call. The school was intending to ring the police, but they wished to know if any of his family had heard from him. I agreed with their plan to notify the authorities. I thought it best to get a head start, even if it proved to be unnecessary.”

Dejeni picked up a paperclip and started to bend it out of shape. She needed something to do with her paws; they were restless. She preferred to be doing something.

“Right,” Howard said. “Well, they'll have covered some ground by now, I guess, but not much. There's been nothing about a ransom? No calls?”

“I would have mentioned that, sir,” Jarvis said, and Haddie's ears twitched with insult.

“Right, of course,” Howard said. “Okay. So, were there any signs of a struggle or—anything?”

“As far as I'm aware, there weren't,” Jarvis said.

Howard's fist curled up on the desk. “Tony wouldn't let himself be taken without a fight,” he said. “He would have shouted and kicked and bit. Demira would have raised holy terror. I've seen her do it—I've seen you try to get him to go to bed.”

Jarvis shifted and made a polite coughing noise. “If I may, sir,” he said. “There is the possibility that he left voluntarily.”

“With kidnappers?” Howard said.

“No, sir,” Jarvis said. “I meant that he might have run away.”

Dejeni stopped playing with her paperclip. It hadn't occurred to her at all that Tony might not have been abducted. She'd been terrified of them hurting him, demanding ransoms, what they might do if they did or didn't get the ransoms.

Her relief was short-lived. Even if he ran away, he was still on his own, somewhere, without anyone to protect him and no one to ensure his safety, even if only to ensure it for their own gain.

“Why would he have run away?” Howard asked.

Oh, and there was that, too. What would make him run away?

Jarvis shifted once more. “Have you read the letters Master Tony wrote from school?” he asked. “I leave them on your desk.”

“Yeah, I read them,” Howard said. Dejeni raised her eyebrows at him. “Some of...I read a couple of them. I have them to read...they're...” he opened a desk drawer. “They're right here. I was just waiting to find the time.”

Jarvis' distaste was politely hidden, but Haddie's expression was openly scolding. “I receive letters from him as well,” he said. “Did you find anything out of sorts in yours?”

“No,” Howard said. “No, it said fine. The food's fine. The kids are fine. The bed is fine. The teachers are fine. Fine, everything's fine. That's why I didn't read any more of them, they all just said 'fine'.”

“Yes, sir, mine were similar,” Jarvis said. “And, when, sir, in your life, have you ever known Master Tony to use such a neutral adjective as 'fine' about anything? Everything is 'awesome'. Or 'cool-city'. Or 'to the max'.”

Howard looked to Dejeni accusingly, as though she should have picked up on that, when he was the one who'd barely glanced through the letters at all. She glared back, refusing to take the blame for this.

“But if he wasn't happy, why wouldn't he have said something obvious?” Howard said.

“Perhaps he didn't wish to bother anyone,” Jarvis said.

That didn't seem much like Tony, who loved to bother everyone. The number of times Dejeni had to scurry around Demira when she was trying to get attention or wanting to help while at the same time being no help was uncountable.

So, maybe Jarvis was just being polite. Because maybe the real reason Tony wouldn't have said anything was because he thought no one would care.




“Look at all the places you could go!” Mim said.

Tony glanced up at the departures board she was beaming at. He was a little too busy trying to navigate his way out of Grand Central without being trampled. They were into commuting time now, and no one was paying much attention to a little kid in their dash to get home. Which was good. It meant that Tony was less likely to be questioned.

“And those places will have more places,” Mim went on. “And those places will have more places. You could go anywhere! How awesome is that?”

“I have to get some proper stuff before I can go anywhere,” Tony said. “I don't have any clothes with me. I'll need money. I'll see how much I have in the piggy bank Dad makes me use to learn responsibility.”

“What if there isn't enough?” Mim said.

“There's the safe,” Tony said, uncertainly.

“You can't take money from the safe, that's the safe money,” Mim objected.

“There's tons of money in there,” Tony said. “Dad keeps it because of the whole stock market crash paranoia thing. He won't miss a few hundred, and that's all I'll need.”

Mim made a disapproving noise. “It's not good to steal,” she said. “Your mother will be upset.”

“Listen, it's not stealing,” Tony said, even though he wasn't really sure it wasn't. “It's borrowing. I'm borrowing from the future. It'll be mine, anyway. I'm the only kid, I'm getting it all. I mean, if they don't disinherit me for running away.”

“But borrowing means you'll repay it,” Mim said. “You don't have a job. You can't get a job, you're eight-years-old. How will you make money?”

Tony did not enjoy all the these questions she kept asking. It was poking all sorts of holes in an otherwise soundish plan. “Once I get where I'm going, I'll sit down and work everything out,” he said.

Mim shifted into a robin to fly up a flight of stairs. “But where are you going?” she asked.

“Somewhere,” Tony snapped. “Stop it!”

“I'm not going if you don't tell me where,” Mim announced. “Maybe you should go back to the school before people know you're missing, and we'll think about a good plan and do that?”

“No,” Tony said. “No. I've already gone, I'm not going back. It'll be fine. Just let me get to the penthouse and get what I need and then I'll know what to do next.”

Mim shifted into a corgi and tried to herd him safely through the crowd of people flooding the station. Tony was almost at the entrance now. It would be better out on the street. He took a freeing breath of cold air, and joined the crowd of people waiting for taxis. Mim shifted into a bellbird as Tony shouted for a taxi. He was ignored.

He tried again.

He was ignored.

“Why aren't they stopping?” he said. “This always works when Jarvis does it. And Dad just stands in one spot and they all come up like he's some sort of god. Why doesn't it work for me?”

“Because you're a kid and you have no money,” Mim suggested.

“They don't know I have no money,” Tony said. “And I do have money.”

“You're still a kid,” Mim said.

Tony tried for several minutes to get any taxi to stop for him, but they didn't. He tried getting into one waiting and was told to 'go back ta your mom and dad, kiddo'. No one wanted to take him.

“It's okay,” he told Mim. “I'll just walk. I know the address. I've been there plenty of times. I'll just walk.”

“You don't know how to get there from here,” Mim said. “You don't know all the streets.”

“I'll buy a map,” Tony said.

Mim thought for a moment. “Okay,” she said. “At least that's a good plan.”




“You should call Maria,” Dejeni said.

“No,” Howard said.

“You need to call Maria,” Dejeni said, moving around to get more in his face.

“No, Maria doesn't need to know he's missing until I've found him,” Howard said.

“She needs to know he's missing so she can find him,” Dejeni said, pawing at his sleeve now.

“She's in California, how is she going to find him from there?” Howard snapped. “I can find him myself.”

Dejeni wouldn't let up. She came around to sit directly in front of him and folded her arms in front of her chest. “What if he's actually been kidnapped?” she said. “Are you just going to call Maria after we get his ear in an envelope and say 'oh, by the way, dear, your son is in serious danger, sorry I didn't let you know before they started to chop—”

“Shut up!” Howard said. He didn't need any thoughts of Tony's being harmed in his mind. He needed to be calm and collected about this. He pushed Dejeni back to the edge of the desk. “If we get any sort of ransom note, I'll let her know. If he's run away, I can find him before she hears anything. He can't have gotten far, he's a kid.”

Your kid,” Dejeni said. “You know he's Stark to his bones, do you think he couldn't find a way to get to Timbuktu if he wanted? Maria will know where he'd go, where he'd think to go. Do you know?

Howard closed his eyes and sighed. “No,” he admitted.

He opened the top drawer of his desk and pulled out the bottle of scotch in there. Dejeni made an aggravated noise and leaped on him, biting his hand firmly.

“That won't help!” she said, as Howard howled and shook his hand in pain.

“Fuck! Stop it!” Howard said. “Fine!” He put the bottle back and shut the drawer, taking up his pen instead. His hand started to draw on the notepad without him thinking much about it. A circuit board diagram that would have no practical use. Just something to keep him busy while he thought.

He could call S.H.I.E.L.D. They could have people out all over the country within minutes. It seemed drastic and an abuse of resources. Howard felt a little drastic. He could wait and see if it was necessary. Could he afford to wait?

“I need better intel,” he muttered. “I need more facts.”

Dejeni picked up the stack of Tony's letters and placed them in front of him. “Start reading,” she said.




Tony had decided to go to Malibu. Mim thought that was a good idea. It was the best place to be; the place it was always the happiest to be. It was a long way to go, of course, but he could take the train and maybe his mother would listen to him when he got there. Mim had suggested Tony call her before they left, but he said she would try to stop him. It was best to do it and take the blame once he was there. It would be harder to send him back that way. It would take longer, and at least he'd get a bit of a break in the meantime.

Walking alone in New York with Tony was a lot different than walking in New York with Jarvis and Haddie. They'd done that plenty of times, and Mim realized that she'd never bothered to pay much attention on how they got where they were going. She just followed the bob of Haddie's tail, or, when she was little, rode on Haddie's back. Jarvis would lead them confidently from here to there, balancing packages in his arms and pulling Tony out of harm's way without even looking at him, like he could see out the side and back of his head. Mim had never felt unsafe in New York before, but she felt unsafe now.

Tony made his way pretty easily to the penthouse with the map. It was just like following a circuit diagram—everything led to where it was supposed to go. He snuck past the concierge in the lobby, and used his key to enter the penthouse. He wasn't there long. Just long enough to get some clothes and food, and call and ask about getting to California by train. It would take two days, all together.

“Maybe flying would be faster,” Mim had suggested, trying out being an eagle to see if she liked it better.

“It'll be way harder to get on a plane than a train,” Tony said. “And switching up trains will make it harder to find us.”

He had enough money in his piggy bank for the fare, which made Mim feel much better. She didn't think taking money from the safe was borrowing at all, but Tony's piggy bank money was his to use. It was given to him, and he'd saved it even though it was really hard, so he should be able to use it to do what he wanted.

Getting to Penn Station from the penthouse was more of a challenge than getting from Grand Central to the penthouse. Dark was falling and it was starting to get cold, and Tony needed to take the subway to be in time for the train. Following the subway map was much harder than following the street maps. There were two trains at one of the platforms really close together and so many people streaming in and out of them and Tony boarded the wrong one. By the time he realized it, it had taken him in the wrong direction entirely. Then he was a little lost. He said he wasn't, but Mim knew he was.

“I'm here,” he said, pointing to a station on the subway map. “So, I need to take this line.”

Mim was in ant-form so she could sit on top of the map and look properly. She scuttled along the route. “No, if you go this way, you'll end up here,” she said.

Tony turned the map a little, but Mim went back to sit where she knew he was. “It was easier on the street, those are just grids, I'll go up and see where I am,” he said.

“You've already done that twice!” Mim objected. “You don't know where you are. You should have gotten there by now. You're going to miss the train to Chicago. You're lost.”

“I'm not lost,” Tony said. “I'm fine. I just need to get my bearings. I'll walk a little more.”

After another twenty minutes, he seemed to be even farther away from Penn station than when he started and the neighborhood was starting to look a little rougher than Mim thought was good. Tony couldn't even figure out how to get back to the penthouse to start again, or to the next subway station.

“This doesn't even make sense!” Tony snarled. “New York is a grid, I don't know why I'm not following the grid when I go down the lines...”

“You should ask for help,” Mim said. “Ask someone who knows.”

“I can't ask anyone, they'll start asking me questions,” Tony said. “I can do it on my own.”

He rubbed his hands together to warm them up. He hadn't had his gloves or scarf with him when he left school, just his coat. He didn't need gloves or a scarf to go between buildings for classes, but now it was getting nippy. None of his outdoor clothes were at the penthouse, so he couldn't take any with him.

“You're going to get cold and sick and die,” Mim said, shifting into an otter and pulling at his sleeve. “I don't want to die. I'm not even settled yet.”

Tony glared at her. “I'm not going to die,” he said. “I'm fine. I might be a bit lost, but I'm not going to die. Don't be stupid.”

Mim put her paws on his cheeks and made him look at her. “You've been at this for two hours, and you've missed the train to Chicago,” she said. “You're lost. Call someone for help.”

“No,” Tony said. “I'll just catch the next train. If I call someone they'll just yell and send me back. What's the point?”

“The point is you're going to be in trouble either way,” Mim said. “I'd rather just be in trouble than be dead and in trouble, which is what's going to happen if you stay here. You've made your point. Maybe they'll listen now that they know how unhappy you are. Call someone for help.”

Tony moved over to the stoop of an apartment building and sat down to huddle into his coat. Mim snuggled up to help him get warm. “Give me another fifteen minutes,” he said. “And if I'm not on the right track then, maybe I'll think about asking for help.”

Mim shifted into a beetle and settled down on his watch. “Okay,” she said. “You have fourteen minutes and 59 seconds.”




Jarvis was right. Tony's letters were off.

Dejeni wouldn't have noticed if Jarvis hadn't pointed it out. On the surface, the letters were positive. Not upbeat, but no one expected a kid at boarding school to have upbeat letters home. But they weren't a wailing moan of a boy on the edge of running away, either. They portrayed everything as acceptable.

But, on closer examination, Dejeni started to notice things. Like that they all sounded the same. Reading them one after another made her see that they followed a formula. Greeting, brief hope that Howard was fine, mention of current events which were all fine, brief mention of the results of the events that had been mentioned during the last letter which were all fine, and then a sign-off. There were no mentions of fellow students, friends, people he associated with, clubs he was a part of, teachers he liked or disliked. They were all letters that could be from anyone at any school anywhere in the world. There was nothing 'Tony' about them, and as Tony was a child who stamped himself on everyone and everything in his world, that was unusual.

“Maybe you shouldn't have sent him there,” Dejeni said.

“It's the best school in the country,” Howard said. “He's a genius. He'd have been bored out of his mind anywhere else.”

“You could have hired tutors and let him stay with Maria in Malibu,” Dejeni said.

“No, he's not going to be some hidden away rich kid with a butler and tutors and a nanny,” Howard said.

“He already has a butler and a nanny,” Dejeni said.

“You know what I mean,” Howard said. “He's not going to be like the Worthington kid—no one ever fucking sees him. He has to learn how to talk to people and be in the real world, if he's going to run any sort of business one day.” His fist curled up on the desk. “I didn't have half of what he has growing up. He's had it all handed to him and he can't even appreciate it.”

Dejeni sighed. “That's not his fault Howard,” she pointed out. “It's not his fault that you're rich and you and Maria combined DNA to make him. It's not his fault he didn't live through the wars. He's eight years old, you're asking him to have way more maturity than is reasonable.”

“When he was six he built a fully functioning machine to catch the tooth fairy,” Howard said. “I don't think I'm asking for anything past his intelligence level. He needs to be grateful for what he has. He can't just run from what he doesn't like.”

Dejeni put her paws up in peace. “We're getting too far from the problem at hand. You need to focus on resolving the situation, you can deal with the why later,” she said. “Where is he? Where would he go? If someone didn't take him, if he ran away, he must be trying to get to somewhere. Tony's not the sort to decide to live in the woods like a Hardy Boy.”

Howard looked over the spread of letters on his desk. “He mentions Jarvis,” he said. “But Jarvis would have said if Tony contacted him, and if he's trying to get here, that means we're in the right spot already. The other place he mentions is Malibu. But...that's literally on the other side of the country. That's almost as far as he can be from here. It would be completely stupid to try to—oh God, of course he would try to.”

“You need to call Maria,” Dejeni said.

“Fifteen more minutes, then I'll call her,” Howard said. “She's in the middle of the Starburst project, it'll take at least twenty minutes for anyone to even reach her in the building, there are so many safety and security protocols in place.”

“Then you can call now,” Dejeni said. She went and pulled the phone off the hook and brought it to him. “And the fifteen minutes will have expired by the time you get her on the phone.”

“He'd need supplies and money,” Howard said, putting the phone back on the hook. “He wouldn't have the means to go across country. Where's the quickest place to go to get what he needed? What allowance do we give him at school? How much money would he have on him?”

“He gets three dollars a week, I think,” Dejeni said. She picked up a pencil and began to calculate. “And he's been there since September 3, which was a Sunday...”

She did some quick work and came up with the amount of money Tony could theoretically have on him, provided he hadn't spent any of it, which was unlikely.

“He's not getting far with that,” Howard said. “Maybe into the city? Yeah, New York, right? He'd go into the city. He would run off into the wilderness, he's an urban kid. Where would he go in New York?”

“Peggy,” Dejeni suggested.

“Peggy'd have called,” Howard said. “He couldn't get out of New York once he was in it, so where would he go to get means to do that?”

“Home,” Dejeni said. “There's money at home. At the penthouse.”

Howard stood up and leaned forward over the desk. “JARVIS!”




Tony was extremely furious that something as stupid as a subway system was ruining his otherwise good plan. If he could just get where he needed to go, it would all be fine. And he knew where he needed to go, and he could see it on the map, and in his brain it all worked, and yet he was somewhere—he didn't know where—and it was cold and dark and the more he tried figure out where he'd gone wrong, the more he couldn't.

“It's been ten minutes,” Mim said. “You have five minutes left.”

Then, “you have two minutes left.”

“You have thirty seconds left.”

“It's two seconds past fifteen minutes. You have to call someone.” “It's a minute past fifteen minutes. Call someone.”
“It's a minute and fifteen seconds past fifteen minutes, if you don't call someone I'm going to.”

Tony put his hands over his ears and tried to drown her out, but she pawed at his chest and nudged his chin. Then she got down and started to walk away, until it hurt, and she kept tugging and he finally stood up and followed her.

“I don't want to go back,” he said.

Mim turned and looked at him. “You have to go back,” she said. “Because you can't live here.” She shifted into a puppy and trotted over. “Call Jarvis. He'll understand the most. He'll help.”

Tony found a phone booth, and dialed the house. His palms were sweaty and he felt like he was going to puke. Mim sat as a canary on top of the phone and gave him an encouraging nod as the phone connected.

“Jarvis Residence,” Jarvis said.

“Jarvis? It's me,” Tony said.

“Master Tony!” Jarvis said. Haddie barked in excitement in the background. “My God. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“I'm okay,” Tony said. He didn't think he sounded okay. His nose stung a little. He hadn't expected Jarvis to sound this weird. Scared or really relieved or something. Something not Jarvis-like. “I ran away.”

“I know,” Jarvis said, very calmly. More like himself. “And where are you now?”

Tony's eyes seemed to be stinging now. He looked around at the grungy streets. “I don't really know,” he said.

“All right,” Jarvis said. “Well, that's a problem we'll have to solve, then. Let's begin in the last place where you knew where you were, and then we'll figure out where you went from there...”



PART TWO-->