Characters: Edwin Jarvis, Tony Stark, Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, Ana Jarvis, daemons
Warnings/Triggers: swearing, references to alcoholism, factory accidents (very mild references to wounds)
Spoilers: Generalized for the Stark family's backstory in the MCU
Pairings: Jarvis/Ana, Howard/Maria, Peggy/Her Husband
Word Count 6,751
Summary: A factory accident, a medical conference, and an 'indisposed' nanny adds child-minding to Jarvis' list of professions for the day. Thankfully, he gets a little help here and there.
Author's notes: This is Part Two. Part One can be found: here.
Edwin had managed to get Master Tony fed and down for a short nap before Mrs Carter arrived for tea. He and Haddie sped through the bits and pieces left of what they needed to accomplish that day and had things well in hand by the time Master Tony started to chatter on the baby monitor again.
Haddie supposed Mr and Mrs Stark wouldn't be upset at all if Edwin hosted tea at the big house, but Mrs Carter always came to the Jarvis Residence for tea, so that's where they would be today as well. Master Tony ran ahead as they crossed the drive and slipped on an icy patch, landing hard on his hands and knees. Miss Demira gave a loud, distressed cry, and Edwin and Haddie jogged over.
Master Tony looked up to Edwin, and Haddie could tell how Edwin reacted was going to change how Master Tony reacted.
“Oops!” Edwin said. “You took a bit of a tumble there, Master Tony. That was very silly.” He smiled and crouched down. “I'll give you a hand getting up again.” He held out his hand to Master Tony, who grabbed it and got to his feet. “Good lad. We always have to get up after we take a little fall. No point in staying on the ground! Let's see, any damage?”
Miss Demira investigated Master Tony's knees while Edwin looked at his hands. Master Tony was a bit dirty and wet from the snow, but his legs were okay. Edwin brushed some gravel from Master Tony's hands. There were a few little nicks there.
“Ouch, Haddo,” Miss Demira said, holding a paw to her.
Haddie gave it a lick and nuzzled her face. “It's all right,” she said. “Just a little nip.”
“Does that sting?” Edwin asked Master Tony. He nodded. “Blow on it, it will make it feel better.” He demonstrated blowing on his own hands.
Master Tony blew on the palms of his hands, and Miss Demira turned into a monkey to help him.
“Why did you tell him to do that?” Haddie asked.
Edwin blinked at her. “I've no idea,” he said. “It's the first thing that came to mind. I think Mum used to tell me to do that, didn't she?”
“Yes, but you realize that was just a trick to distract you?” Haddie said. “It doesn't work.”
“Master Tony doesn't know that,” Edwin replied, with a smirk.
Master Tony made his way safely into the house and was soon toddling around exploring, sore hands forgotten. Edwin took out the tea service Mr Stark had given him in 1961 for his twenty years' service. 'It's not just you and Ana's China anniversary, it's ours too!' he'd said. Mrs Dejeni's energetic scampering over the table over the years had done a number on the tea set Edwin and Ana used, and they were running a bit low on unchipped cups at the time. In fact, Mrs Dejeni's cracking of the sugar bowl came suspiciously close to the receipt of the gift, and Haddie wondered if Mr Stark would have chosen a different one (or one at all) otherwise.
Edwin said that was cynical of her, and then Haddie felt bad. Even if she thought she was correct. She was still very fond of the tea set, though, whatever the motives had been.
Master Tony and Miss Demira helped load the cake tray with biscuits and treats, stealing some in a fashion meant to be sneaky but was so blatant that Haddie could only laugh at it.
“We have to warm the teapot,” Edwin explained to Master Tony. “Or when we put the boiling water in it will crack. Nowadays, of course, most china is much sturdier, so we don't have to worry as much, but it's still proper manners. Take note of that.”
Master Tony took a bite of the biscuit Miss Demira was hiding under her wing for him and nodded.
Mrs Carter arrived precisely on time, as one might expect of her. Master Tony ran to the door at the sound of the bell, Edwin hot on his heels and scooping him up as he passed him.
“My goodness, look at the welcoming committee today!” Mrs Carter said, smiling at Master Tony. “Two very handsome gentlemen to greet me, what will I do?”
“Hello, Mrs Carter,” Edwin said. “How was your trip in?”
“Oh, fine,” Mrs Carter said. “You always ask that as though you expect me to have fought my way through a crowd of assassins to get here.”
“I don't think that's an entirely unlikely scenario, Mrs Carter,” Edwin pointed out.
“No, I suppose not,” Mrs Carter said.
Haddie wagged her tail to greet Mr Takeo, who smiled in return, and they touched their noses to one another.
“It's nice of Mrs Carter to come,” Haddie said.
“It's kind of Mr Jarvis to pretend that she didn't invite herself,” Mr Takeo replied.
“Hey-hello,” Master Tony said, waving his hand. “I'm Tony.”
“Yes, I know,” Mrs Carter said. “We've met before a few times, but you probably don't remember. You meet a lot of people, I bet. I'm Peggy. Your daddy and I are good friends.”
Master Tony pointed down to the floor. “It's Mim."
“This is Takeo,” Mrs Carter said.
Miss Demira marched up to Mr Takeo to say hello, and he nudged her with his nose.
“Please come in, Mrs Carter,” Edwin said. “Kettle's just boiled.”
“Excellent,” Mrs Carter said. “I'm afraid I couldn't get a Victoria sponge on such short notice, so I've brought scones instead.”
“You didn't need to bring anything,” Edwin said. “Just your company.”
“Well, we can eat the scones when my company starts to wane,” Mrs Carter said.
Everyone retired to the formal sitting room, where Edwin had set-up the tea service at the table. Mrs Carter took her usual seat, and Edwin put Master Tony on the floor. He toddled up to Mrs Carter and smiled at her.
“That's a lovely flower in your pocket,” Mrs Carter said. “I didn't know the dress code was formal, or I would have put on my best frock! Who gave you that flower?”
“It's Tony's,” Master Tony said, patting the flower with pride. “I maked it.”
“Did you indeed?” Mrs Carter said. She held out her arms and Master Tony hopped right into them. Mrs Carter settled him on her lap. “That's a carnation. Pink ones signify a mother's love. I like camellias--those are my favourite. Those mean perfection, a quality I have in spades, of course.”
Haddie sat herself down by Edwin's foot, where she usually sat, and Mr Takeo placed himself near her to chat. Miss Demira scampered about him and shifted into a little hyena. It must be the first time she'd taken that form, as she lifted her paws to look them over and tested her tail out.
“I'm pretty,” she said, and tried pouncing about, but had trouble with her smaller hindquarters and stumbled. She looked through her front legs to her back ones and raised them up and down a few times, then tried again.
Mr Takeo gave a soft chuckle. “I see she's getting the hang of shifting now,” he said. “It was about this age that the children's dæmons really started to explore new forms.”
“Yes, she's starting to show off now,” Haddie agreed.
“Dejeni will be disappointed. I think she hoped Demira would stick to favouring raccoons for a while longer,” Mr Takeo said. “She says it's 'easier to deal with'.”
“She still likes to be a raccoon--and an otter, like Mr Tomor,” Haddie said. “But she's taken to platypodes of late, as well. Mr Tomor finds that very amusing; I gather that was a favourite form of his. She's also enjoying being rather cheeky monkeys too, aren't you Miss Demira?”
Miss Demira pounced on a pillow and wrestled with it, making high-pitched growling noises and then collapsing in a heap on top of it.
“I do miss the children shifting sometimes,” Mr Takeo said, wistfully. “I couldn't be prouder of how they settled, of course, but it was always so entertaining to watch them explore.”
“How are they?” Haddie asked.
“Oh, very well, thank you,” Mr Takeo said. “Off having adventures and lives of their own, now.”
“Does that make you sad?” Haddie asked.
“Sometimes,” Mr Takeo said. “But it's also very rewarding to see that they've been raised well and are making good choices, or dealing with their mistakes on their own. I do sometimes wish I could keep them at home forever, though.”
Miss Demira made another attempt to attack the pillow. Mr Takeo rose and trotted over.
“You need to improve your technique,” he said, giving her a playful nudge with his nose. He flattened his ears back and lowered his body to the ground in a skulking pose. “Try this.”
Miss Demira mimicked her but was a little excited and her tail waved around behind her.
“Mr Takeo, please don't rile her,” Haddie said.
“That's the best part about other people's children, Haddie,” Mr Takeo said. “You can rile them up all you want.”
Jarvis held the filter over Mrs Carter's cup and poured the tea into the milk already in the bottom of it. He added the sugar as she liked it and passed it over. She had to reach around Master Tony for it, as he was well-situated in her lap now.
“Did you receive any further word on the factory accident?” Jarvis asked. “I still haven't heard from Mr Stark, and I haven't had time to put the wireless on to hear if the news has anything more to add.”
Mrs Carter shook her head. “I've heard several conflicting reports,” she said. “Putting together the details common to all of them, I think a machine must have malfunctioned quite badly, and there was some flying debris, perhaps. I heard that someone got caught in it, that something got caught in it, that there was a problem with the materials in it that caused the machine to behave erratically, all along those lines. Nothing official though. The last I heard, there were fourteen injuries, and only three or four of them very severe. No deaths, as far as I know.”
Jarvis nodded. It wasn't the best news, but it could be worse news. A malfunctioning machine was bad for business, but at least no one had lost their lives. As Mr Stark had said, people could be put back together again.
“I'm sure Mr Stark has the situation in hand,” Jarvis said. “Though, I don't know what sort of mood he'll be in when he returns. And it's all so close to Christmas, as well. I hate to think of the families having that sort of stress on them.”
“One thing I will say for Howard is that he will make sure everyone has a good Christmas,” Mrs Carter said. “Even if he has to buy all the trees and presents himself.”
“'Stark Industries looks after its employees',” Jarvis quoted from the manifesto.
“Stark Industries!” Master Tony said, throwing his hands up in excitement. Miss Demira did a little leap across the floor.
Mrs Carter smiled down at Master Tony. “That's your daddy's company, isn't it?” she said. “Have you been there?”
“Daddy has a big desk,” Master Tony said, holding his arms out wide. “You can't touch it. It's Daddy's. Him has blueprints and pens. I visited. Everyone likes me.”
Jarvis could feel a rumble against his leg as Haddie let out a huff of laughter under the table.
“I don't see why they shouldn't,” Mrs Carter said. “You are a delight, aren't you?”
Master Tony nodded. “Nona says,” he agreed. “On the phone, when I say hello.”
“That must be your mommy's mother,” Mrs Carter said, and Jarvis nodded to confirm it. “I hear a lot about her around this time of year because your daddy gets very grumpy when your Nona and Nono come to stay for Christmas.”
Ah yes, that would be having to be dealt with soon. Jarvis exchanged a look of dismay with Haddie. Mr and Mrs Carrera were lovely people, and Jarvis was not sure what Mr Stark found so offensive about them. 'I don't do parents, Jarvis!' was the repeated, if entirely unenlightening reason. Mrs Dejeni acted very strangely in their presence, and the whole thing was awkward. Less so now that Master Tony was around to draw attention away.
“Did you have a nice Hanukkah?” Mrs Carter asked Jarvis. “It was early this year, and I meant to wish you a happy one sooner. I hope you had a good time.”
“It was very pleasant, thank you,” Jarvis said. “It's nice to have the holidays not crossover so much. Christmas is such a busy time for Mr and Mrs Stark with their parties, I sometimes feel as though I have to be in far too many places at once. Hanukkah was very quiet. It was nice.”
“Give Ana my love,” Mrs Carter said.
“I will,” Jarvis said. “And I'm sure she sends it back.”
Miss Demira had decided to be a robin and flew up to sit on the table, knocking the sugar bowl off the side in her wake. Mr Takeo caught it in his mouth before it hit the floor, but, judging from the expression on his face, received quite a few sugar cubes along with it. Miss Demira shifted into an ant and crawled into Master Tony's pocket where she couldn't be scolded. Master Tony looked very innocent.
“Mim is sorry,” he said. “She's an accident.”
Jarvis kicked at Haddie for how loud her laughter was in response to that, though he was having trouble looking stern himself.
“She must have inherited that from Dejeni,” Mrs Carter said, with a solemnity that made it even harder for Jarvis to remain straight-faced.
“It does seem to have a genetic component,” Jarvis agreed.
Mr Takeo put the sugar bowl in Mrs Carter's hand and Jarvis handed Haddie a saucer to give to him to dispose of the sugar in.
“No harm done, though,” Mrs Carter said, putting the sugar bowl back on the table. “Perhaps Mim will watch where she's going in the future.”
Miss Demira poked her mouse's head out of Master Tony's pocket and blinked apologetically.
“She's just busy,” Master Tony said. “So, she doesn't see.”
“Ah, a very common problem,” Mrs Carter said. “We should always look, though, even when we're busy, shouldn't we Mr Jarvis?”
“Yes, Mrs Carter, especially when we're busy,” Jarvis agreed.
Miss Demira seemed to feel she had been forgiven, as she crawled out of Master Tony's pocket and climbed carefully up on the table. Haddie rose to inspect the sugar bowl properly. She was very sentimental about the tea set. Miss Demira scampered over to sit on her nose and nuzzle her in apology.
“So, what have you been up to today?” Mrs Carter asked Master Tony. “While you've been very busy? Have you and Jarvis had a nice day together?”
“I saw Nana, and did cleaning, and I digged holes with Goody,” Master Tony reported. “And I fell down.” He showed his wounded hands to Mrs Carter for sympathy. “Ouch. Jawy maked it better.”
“Jarvis is very good at making things better,” Mrs Carter said, with a warm smile across the table to him. “He makes things better for your daddy all the time, and for me, too.”
“Daddy said 'up, Tony',” Master Tony explained. “Him goes to work. He's important. Mommy said 'bye' before today. She's gone just for now.”
“Is Maria travelling?” Mrs Carter asked.
“She's speaking at a medical conference in Philadelphia,” Jarvis explained. “She'll be home tomorrow.”
“And Nanny has the day off, does she?” Mrs Carter said.
“Nanny is ill,” Jarvis said. “She drank quite a lot of something that make her feel very poorly. She does it quite often, and Mr and Mrs Stark think she needs some help to stop that.”
Mrs Carter gave a slow nod. “Mr Stark doesn't really have much of a leg to stand on, when it comes to drinking bad things,” she noted.
Jarvis knew she had a point. Mr Stark had never been a teetotaller by any means, but Haddie had pointed out recently that his consumption seemed to have increased more and more. Jarvis hoped it was just a bad patch and once his work life settled down he might not need such stress relief.
“Mr Stark's consumption doesn't interfere with his work,” Jarvis said, feeling the need to come to his defence more out of loyalty than belief.
“Yes,” Mrs Carter said. “If it did, he might be better off, overall.”
There was something of an awkward silence uncommon between them. Master Tony's presence made it harder for them to discuss it in great detail. Mr Takeo flattened his ears back to Haddie, who wagged her tail in a friendly response to indicate no harm had been done.
Usually, Jarvis and Mrs Carter spent their teas reminiscing over past adventures, but that was once again made difficult by Master Tony being there. Master Tony didn't seem to feel himself in the way. He drank milk out of the tea cup Jarvis served him and looked for all the world like a proper guest. Master Tony was very at ease amongst adults; Jarvis sometimes worried he didn't have enough contact with other children.
“You can ask him to get down,” Jarvis told Mrs Carter. “If he's in your way.”
“Nonsense, Mr Jarvis,” Mrs Carter said. “It's been far too long since I've croodled a toddler. I'm enjoying myself thoroughly. We're having a lovely time, aren't we Tony?”
Master Tony agreed. Mrs Carter spent the next little while quizzing him on his knowledge, which Master Tony was only too happy to show off. His numbers, his letters, his colours, how his name and Miss Demira's names were spelt, his shapes, and more unusual knowledge such as maths and robotics and the names of various tools.
“Hammers are for hitting,” he said, miming driving a nail in. “And screwdrivers are for turning. Saws are for cutting. You can't use them. Just Daddy.”
Mr Takeo played hide and seek with Miss Demira, who giggled as she ducked around the room and chased Mr Takeo when he found her. Jarvis had to confess he didn't mind having a break from keeping Master Tony entertained, and Haddie didn't seem to mind either, as she lay with his head on his foot.
“You're being very rude,” Jarvis told her. “We have company, you shouldn't be lying down.”
“Mr Takeo will not be offended,” Haddie said. “And I am lying down now because I'm not going to be able to do it once they go home again.”
“It was so nice to see you again, Haddie,” Mr Takeo said, as he bumped his nose to hers at the door.
“Yes, you as well,” Haddie agreed. “I hope it won't be too long before Edwin and Mrs Carter get together again.”
“I'll advise Peggy to ring, if that's the case,” Mr Takeo said. “And you know very well Mr Jarvis needn't wait for her, he can ring himself.”
“He doesn't like to bother her; she does very important work,” Haddie explained.
“Mr Jarvis lives a very busy life, too, Haddie, but it's important for friends to make time for one another,” Mr Takeo said, sternly.
“Yes, sir,” Haddie said.
Mr Takeo grinned and bumped her nose again.
“I'm not sure which one of us will hear from Howard first,” Mrs Carter said to Edwin. “But please tell him I hope it all works out, and, if he needs any help, I'm always available.”
“I will, ma'am, and I'm sure he'll appreciate it,” Edwin said. “Here are the files you asked for.”
“Thank you, Mr Jarvis,” Mrs Carter said, tucking them under her arm. “You are a God among men, some days.”
Edwin blushed and she laughed. She and Edwin pressed their cheeks together and hugged. Master Tony tugged on Mrs Carter's trouser leg and held up his arms to her, not wanting to be left out.
“You go, Takky?” Miss Demira wondered.
“I'm afraid so, Mim,” Mr Takeo said. He nuzzled her and gave her a nip on the ear. “But you were very charming company. Tony is a credit to his mother.”
“What of Mr Stark?” Haddie asked.
“I feel he's owed much less credit and more a great deal of luck,” Mr Takeo said, his eyes twinkling.
Haddie didn't mean to laugh, but she did.
Mrs Carter managed to get out the door without upsetting Master Tony, and he and Edwin waved as she drove off. Edwin closed the door and set Master Tony back on the floor.
“Well, now we have to clean our mess,” he said.
“No!” Master Tony said.
“Yes!” Edwin said, in a matching tone. “It's always best to clean up our messes right away, Master Tony, and not leave them to fester. Then we'll just have to do it later, when we're even more tired. Come along.”
“No!” Master Tony said, taking great delight in being contrary.
“Miss Demira, you should tell Master Tony to help,” Haddie said.
“No!” Miss Demira said, and stuck her tongue out. She giggled and bounded around, hiding behind Master Tony's legs, waiting to be chased.
Edwin rolled his eyes down at Haddie, and she shook her head in reply. They agreed to walk away and see what happened. Edwin began to clear the table, and Haddie put some of the furniture Mr Takeo and Miss Demira had bumped into back in place. Master Tony and Miss Demira joined them after a minute or two of being ignored. Edwin put Master Tony in charge of the spoons and Master Tony carried them proudly to the kitchen, Miss Demira keeping an eye on them in transit.
This proved a poor decision, as once Master Tony had the spoons in his possession, he would not relinquish them.
“No, it's Tony's!” he said, clutching them to his chest. “It's for me!”
“I don't understand how a child with so much is so reluctant to share,” Haddie said. “He hasn't any siblings to take his things, why should he be so possessive of everything?”
“I suspect it's the age more than the personality,” Edwin said. “Though I would point out Mr Stark has the same habit of laying claim to everything he touches as though he were some sort of Elizabethan explorer discovering New Worlds and ignoring all the locals.” Edwin crouched down to Master Tony. “Would you like to wash them yourself? If they're yours, you have to look after them properly. Those silver spoons were a present from Ana for our 25th Wedding Anniversary. She would be very upset to see them soiled.”
“I wash,” Master Tony agreed.
Edwin got a chair for him and put him up at the sink to show him how. Miss Demira took on her favourite otter form, which she liked to assume when she was learning something new.
The spoons were washed. Not well and not without covering the work surface, Edwin, and Master Tony in water.
“I help!” Master Tony said, when Edwin put him back on the floor.
Edwin wrung out his shirt cuffs in the sink. “Yes, Master Tony, you were a great help. Well done.”
Miss Demira did a rather terrifying leap as a duckling from the work surface to the floor and shook her feathers off. “Come swim, Haddo."
“I shall not,” Haddie said. “It's very unseemly behaviour. And I'm far too big to fit in the sink!”
“Be small,” Miss Demira said. She demonstrated how Haddie could do this, shifting into a puppy version of Haddie and then back into duck form. “See?”
“I'm too old to do that now,” Haddie said. “I'm as small as I'm going to get, I'm afraid.”
Miss Demira cocked her head. “I like you."
“Thank you,” Haddie said. “Now, go and get dried off.”
“No!” Miss Demira said.
Jarvis realized that there was little chance of him getting anything else accomplished that day. It would all have to wait until Master Tony had someone else in charge of him. Haddie encouraged him to accept that and not fuss about being behind, and Jarvis did his best to follow that advice.
After the tea set was drying, and Jarvis had changed into something less soapy, he took Master Tony into the parlour and did his best to entertain him until Ana came home. Jarvis didn't have anything on hand for a child to play with, but Master Tony and Miss Demira soon had themselves sorted with various objects around the room, which they began to gather with great purpose.
“What are you doing?” Jarvis asked.
“Fort!” Master Tony yelled, throwing his arms up in joy.
Miss Demira shifted between raccoon and otter forms and built up piles of books and cushions around two chairs Master Tony had moved over.
“You help,” Master Tony ordered, trying to drag an afghan from the sofa. “It's big.”
Jarvis obliged and draped the afghan over the chairs to make a ceiling. Master Tony and Miss Demira put themselves inside, giggling as they peered out of it.
“Captain Tony,” Master Tony said. “Being brave, like Steve. Attack!”
Miss Demira bounded out in puppy form and leapt onto Haddie, who fell to the ground.
“Oh, no, I've fallen in battle!” she said, putting a paw to her head dramatically.
“Hendrina, that is not—” Jarvis began.
“Attack!” Master Tony said, again, and Jarvis was hit so hard with a hug around his legs that his arms flailed and he fell backwards--thankfully onto the sofa. Master Tony quickly climbed Jarvis as though he were a mountain and flopped onto his chest. “I win!”
“Master Tony, attacking one's allies is very poor form,” Jarvis scolded. “I am not the enemy.”
Master Tony ignored him. “Captain Tony saves the day!” he said, and hopped back down. He and Miss Demira crawled back into their fort and drew the blanket closed.
Haddie was giggling on the floor.
“Do not encourage them,” Jarvis said.
Haddie continued to giggle. “They're just playing, Edwin. You remember playing, don't you?” she said. “You used to be Howard Carter and 'excavate' pharaohs' tombs.”
“I'd forgotten about that,” Jarvis said. “I had to replant all of Mum's petunias. Why didn't I become a great Egyptologist? That was my intent. “
“Because no one cared about Egypt by the time you were old enough,” Haddie said. “And your mother would have died of horror.”
“Ah, yes, that's right,” Jarvis said. “Still, as much as I would like to encourage Master Tony to pursue his interest in guerilla warfare, I think I should attempt to put a quieter game in place.”
Haddie rolled up on to her belly. “Agreed."
Jarvis magically transformed Master Tony's fort into a tent and brought him an electric torch and pillow to have a bit of a camp out with. He gave him some paper and pencils and soon Master Tony and Miss Demira were hard at work on blueprints. Jarvis sat and read, Haddie keeping a weather eye on the tent.
Mrs Stark rang, and Jarvis assured her he was managing fine and gave her all the information he could about the situation and convinced her that rushing home would only indicate that matters were worse than they were. She should carry on as normal with her plans. She muttered something very unladylike about the press and what they could do with themselves, but agreed to stay on until it wouldn't be 'suspicious' to leave.
Ana came home at the usual hour, and Master Tony and Miss Demira were up and on the move as soon as they heard the front door open. Jarvis and Haddie caught up to them in the hall, Ana holding Master Tony in her arms, and Miss Demira buzzing gently as a hummingbird so she could talk to Hesper in Ana's hair.
“Hello!” Ana said. “How has your day been?”
“Interesting,” Jarvis said, dryly. “How was yours?”
“Just fine,” Ana said. “Mr Stark is still away?”
“I'm afraid so,” Jarvis said. “But we'll have one more for dinner tonight, so that will be pleasant, won't it?”
“Yes!” Ana said. “Having guests for Shabbat is always very nice. We should light the candles, so we can start our evening of rest, yes?”
Getting the candles lit in winter was always a bit of a rush, as Ana worked until 4PM and the sun set so early. She never made it home the ideal 18 minutes before sunset--sometimes didn't make it home before sunset at all and had to light an extra candle the following week.
“What?” Master Tony wondered, pointing as Ana circled her hands near the flames and then covered her eyes to pray, Hesper bowing his head on her shoulder. “Nana is sad.”
Jarvis realized Ana did have the pose of someone crying. He'd actually thought that the first time he'd seen her praying. “No, she's just being quiet,” he said. “We have to be quiet for her. Shhhh.”
Miss Demira shifted into a reverent bunny, and Master Tony watched with wide, curious eyes. Jarvis always found the reciting of the prayer very soothing to hear, and he liked the rituals of Judaism, even if he often was an onlooker rather than a participant.
“Now,” Ana said, taking the shawl from her head and letting the match burn itself out on the tray. “Tony will come with me, and we will make some dinner, yes? Come along; you can be my special helper.”
Jarvis let them go off with only a half-hearted offer to help. He and Haddie retired to the living room until it was time to set the table. Master Tony, wearing the pinny he demanded to match Ana's apron, was enthusiastically not providing any help to Ana in the kitchen, Miss Demira equally unhelpful in her cook's kinkajou form. Haddie flopped down on her belly again as Jarvis took a browse through the evening papers.
There was a story about Mr Stark and a photo of him arriving on scene, but it added nothing to what Mrs Carter had already told Jarvis. Machine malfunction, fourteen injuries, two people in critical condition. Mr Stark even quoted the 'Stark Industries looks after its employees' policy, as Jarvis predicted he would.
“You're being very lazy today,” Jarvis told Haddie, as she put her head on his foot.
“I am not,” she said. “I have been very productive. I would like to point out that my charge can change shape and fly, crawl, and jump to places I can't reach. Yours stays on the floor. I had a much harder time of it.”
“My charge is full of Stark genes and a desire to touch every possible thing he can that shouldn't be touched,” Jarvis countered.
“We'll call it a tie,” Haddie said.
“Very well,” Jarvis said.
“But I still think I have it worse.”
After dinner, Edwin took Master Tony back over to the big house once more. Haddie thought Nanny must surely be recovered by now and could take over care, but Edwin didn't feel comfortable with that. Mr Stark had placed Master Tony in his care and Haddie agreed that his duty was to be in charge of that care until Mr or Mrs Stark returned. Haddie didn't entirely trust Nanny not to put herself back in that state again, anyway. If people could learn from their mistakes, alcoholics wouldn't exist.
It was still a little before Master Tony's bedtime, so they went to the parlour to let him and Miss Demira get the last of their wiggles out. Edwin took a seat by the fireplace, and Master Tony and Miss Demira worked together to get the LP player going for themselves. There was a record left on there from the previous evening and The Sound of Music began to blare out from the speakers. Master Tony and Miss Demira danced for a while, but were soon danced out, and came over to Edwin and Haddie.
Master Tony crawled into Edwin's lap, and Miss Demira shifted into a puppy and joined Haddie on the floor, snuggling into her side.
Haddie must have been more tired than she thought, or perhaps it was Edwin's fault, but she fell asleep. She woke up to footsteps and the sound of the LP player turning aimlessly after the record had played itself out. The clock said it was nearly 1AM. Miss Demira was soundly asleep, having at some point crawled under Haddie's ear and curled up. Master Tony lay dozing on Edwin's chest with his mouth open and Edwin's shirt wrapped up in his fist.
Mr Stark and Mrs Dejeni had come in. They both looked horrible. Mr Stark's shirt sleeves were to his elbows and his jacket was missing. His waistcoat was undone. He had a bandage wrapped around one of his hands and both he and Mrs Dejeni were dirty with soot and oil. Mr Stark's hair and Mrs Dejeni's fur were in a similar state of standing on end. They looked exhausted.
Haddie had an instinct to leap up in the presence of Edwin's employer but didn't want to wake Miss Demira. Edwin seemed to be in a similar dilemma. He merely straightened up in his seat.
“I'm sorry, sir, I...I'm not sure what happened. I know Master Tony should be in bed,” he said, in a quiet voice. “We were just about to go and—”
“Stop,” Mr Stark said, holding up a hand. “Don't British apologize to me. I can't handle that tonight. No apologies for things that aren't actual problems.”
Mrs Dejeni came over and lifted her hand to pat Miss Demira, but put it down again. She gave Haddie a tired smile, and Haddie smiled back in sympathy.
“Yes, sir,” Edwin said. “How are things?”
“Copacetic,” Mr Stark said. “It's all okay for now. Not actively getting worse, anyway.”
“What caused the accident?” Edwin asked.
Mr Stark's fist balled up. “Earring,” he said. “Earring fell in the works, fucked up the whole system.”
“I would have thought earrings weren't permitted on the floor?” Edwin said.
“Yep, in the code since 1941 when the girls started riveting,” Mr Stark said. “Hair up, no dangling earrings, nothing that can get caught. Dæmons have to keep their tails tucked in and their fur short. But someone messed up. A guy, freshly pierced. Had a hoop, not too big—we allow that—but he was playing with it 'cause it hurt and it fell out. Into the machine, machine went crazy and—” He made a 'boom' motion with his hands. “Thankfully, someone hit the emergency stop pretty fast, and you remember I put in that system that stops each section individually? And if one emergency stop gets hit, the whole factory shuts down. Worked like a charm, thank God. Could have been a lot worse and injuries weren't bad, except for a couple. Mostly scratches, and bad cuts. Some shrapnel—that's the more serious stuff. Someone's got it in the neck, but she's stable. Everyone's alive and okayish for now. I've done everything I can for them.”
“Howard's fixed the machine up now,” Mrs Dejeni told Haddie. “The machine that was broken; he fixed it. But the emergency stop just stops, so the other machines had to be cleared and reset and the materials salvaged. We had to do it all by hand—real old techniques, the way we did it back in the War before everything was so automated. Only Howard and about five other people in the whole place knew how to do it by hand. Everyone who stuck around to help had to be taught.”
Mrs Dejeni seemed like she might have enjoyed working by hand. Not the reason she had to, of course. Haddie could see she was upset. But the actual process of doing the work had been enjoyable for her.
“We're shutting down until after Christmas,” Mr Stark said. “We're close to holiday break anyway. I'm paying everyone up and sending them home. All the medical bills are headed my way. The rest I can figure out tomorrow.”
“Mrs Carter was here,” Edwin said. “She asked me to extend the offer of help, if you need anything.”
“It's a Stark problem, I'll deal with it,” Mr Stark said.
“I don't think Mrs Carter draws territorial lines when it comes to helping friends,” Edwin said.
Mr Stark sighed. “I can't think,” he said, rubbing at his forehead. “It's probably best if no one talks to me.” He reached out for Master Tony. “You head home. I talked to Maria, she's already on her way back. She got on the plane right after her speech was done. She'll be here in a couple of hours. I'll take him.”
“I said I'd take him,” Mr Stark snapped.
Mrs Dejeni looked up at him in surprise and scampered over to him.
Mr Stark closed his eyes for a moment. “Please ignore the fact that I'm an asshole,” he said. “But let me put my kid to bed.”
“Yes, sir,” Edwin said.
Edwin stood and carefully transferred Master Tony to Mr Stark's arms. Mrs Dejeni returned to Haddie and looked uncertain about how to proceed, before she scooped Miss Demira up rather haphazardly. Haddie nudged with her nose to help position her better. Miss Demira stirred and so did Master Tony, lifting his head to look at Mr Stark and smiling at him. He looked at the bandage on Mr Stark's hand.
“Ouch,” he said.
“Yeah, I got bit by a machine,” Mr Stark said.
Master Tony leaned over and blew gently on it. “All better."
“Right,” Mr Stark said, confused. “Uh, thanks, kid.”
Miss Demira licked Mrs Dejeni's paws. “Hi, Jeno,” she said.
“Hey, Dem,” Mrs Dejeni said. “Time for bed.”
“No!” Miss Demira said, and flopped over, asleep in a few moments.
Mrs Dejeni chuckled, softly.
Edwin turned the LP player off, and Mr Stark and Mrs Dejeni walked with him and Haddie to the front door.
“Thanks for being a pal today, Had,” Mrs Dejeni said.
“It was no trouble,” Haddie assured her. “Master Tony and Miss Demira were somewhat well-behaved.”
“Huh, you must have the gift,” Mrs Dejeni said. “Howard and Ria'll have to sort out Nanny. Probably won't have anyone for over Christmas. And The In-Laws are coming.” She shivered.
“We'll all throw in together and get by,” Haddie said.
“Uh-huh,” Mrs Dejeni said, sceptically.
“One problem at a time,” Haddie added.
“If only they came that way, Had,” Mrs Dejeni said.
“Cook left some food in the refrigerator, if you're hungry,” Edwin told Mr Stark.
“Okay, I'll look at it once I get the kid to bed,” Mr Stark said.
“I could warm—”
“Go home, Jarvis,” Mr Stark said, his annoyance playful this time.
“Yes, sir,” Edwin said.
Mr Stark ordered him to take the day off tomorrow and, when Edwin tried to demur, he told him if he showed up he was firing him. Edwin backed down and agreed not to come. Mr Stark shook Edwin's hand around Master Tony's sleeping form, and he and Mrs Dejeni went upstairs, Mr Stark pressing his cheek to Master Tony's head briefly as he climbed.
“I should put this away,” Edwin said, looking at the winter clothing Mr Stark had thrown on the floor when he came in.
“It can wait until tomorrow,” Haddie said.
“I'm not to come in tomorrow,” Edwin said. “I'll be fired.”
“Oh no, Edwin, what will we do?” Haddie said, in mock dismay. “How will we ever survive?”
Edwin chuckled as he put his scarf on for the very chilly walk home. “Perhaps I should have become an Egyptologist,” he said. “I might have had led a less exciting life.”
“No,” Haddie said. “I prefer you as a butler. Full-time butler. Part-time adventurer. Occasional child-minder.”
“Not a bad existence, I suppose,” Edwin said.
“No,” Haddie agreed. “Not bad at all.”