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The life and woes, Part 2

Obadiah Stane is a man of considerable height and bulk. Tony thinks that if he met him somewhere else, like on the marketplace, he would even be scared of him a little. Tony isn’t scared of many things, but there’s just something unsettling in the man’s smile. He saw a lot of fake smiles in his fifteen year old life, but this one reminds him of Kurt Marko’s somehow. There’s some… malice, for the lack of better word, hiding behind it. It’s throwing him off. But father calls the man his friend and apparently Mister Stane is one of the main merchants doing business with father. Tony heard them laughing that if it wasn’t for Tony, they would probably write the whole estate down for this man.

It’s even more unsettling that the frozen smile and Tony tries to keep away, and not be alone with the man in the room from now on, but it proves to be nearly impossible. It’s as if Mister Stane, please call me Obi, is seeking him out on purpose. It kind of unnerves Tony. Unfortunately, Jarvis said that he cannot spend all his time hiding in the kitchens or his workshop or his parents are going to notice and ban him from entering either of the places. That is not a good thought to have.

Against his first instincts, Tony finds himself spending more and more time with the older man, and to his surprise it’s not unpleasant. He’s not really sure what he was afraid of, but Obi is really nice and even stands on his side sometimes, when he has a row with his parents. It’s like having a nice uncle that you can count on. Even more so than in Jarvis’ case, as Obi is from the same social circle as Howard and Martha, so they actually listen to him sometimes. Tony can’t believe he missed out on someone so great for all the years he didn’t know Obi.

Charles doesn’t actually share his opinion, but it’s not a surprise. Despite the outward appearances, his friend doesn’t really trust many people. He tends to respect privacy of mind of others, but he can’t help but skim over the surface thoughts, and these usually reflect the character of the person. Tony’s pretty sure that the word Charles used to describe Obi was sleazy. He remembers, because he couldn’t stop laughing for good five minutes after that. It’s just the sort of language that Charles doesn’t use. Or doesn’t unless trying to persuade Tony of something silly. There’s no way someone so nice like Obi could be anything else than Tony’s good uncle. It rankles a little that most of the Avengers share Charles’ opinion instead of his. After all, he’s the one who actually talks and meets with the man. The only one who stands on his side is Jan, who also had to meet Obi, as her family is doing business with him too. But, Tony muses, it’s nothing, they’ll all eventually see.


It’s two months after Tony’s sixteenth birthday that Jarvis falls sick. And not a little sick when he’s okay the next day or even two days after. No, he falls seriously sick, and even doctors aren’t sure how to help him. The old man is smiling, lying in his bed, telling Tony that it’s just the way of life. When you’re old, you fall sick and you die eventually, there’s nothing special about him. Only he doesn’t understand that there is something very special in his person, at least for Tony.

Jarvis is the first person who really took care of Tony. The Avengers are one thing, they’re old friends, but they’re not adults. Sometimes there’s just nothing they can do for each other, but be there. It was different with Jarvis. He was a friend, but more important, he was an adult and a protector. The first one Tony has ever had. It hurts that now he’s going to lose it. He can’t really focus on his studies and with help of Uncle Obi he managed to persuade his parents to give him some free time, so he can be there for Jarvis in his last moments of life. He doesn’t like to think of it like that. In his free moments, he goes to the workshop and tries to invent something that would help his old friend. It’s the only time technology ever disappointed him. No matter how many plans he draws, how many tumblers he connects, how many steam pipes he creates, it’s not enough to keep his oldest friend alive.

Jarvis dies in his sleep one night, while Tony is sitting in the armchair next to him, dozing off, exhausted with his work and crying. When he wakes up, the older man is already gone. At the memorial Charles tells him that at least he didn’t leave while feeling alone. Tony doesn’t understand how that is supposed to make him feel better. Maybe Jarvis wasn’t alone when he was dying, but he left his family while doing so.

He’s not proud of the period of time that follows his friend’s death. He starts to ignore any attempt of his friends to get to him and finds himself accepting Obi’s invitations to London more and more often. The city is a fun place, with lots of nooks and crannies that offer forgetting for just a small price. The alcohol in pubs and bars of the lower city isn’t of course as luxurious as the scotch or whisky he could have had at the mansion, but the thrill of doing something forbidden, something dangerous more than makes up for it. Somewhere along the line, Tony realizes that he’s doing things that Jarvis would disapprove of, but he doesn’t really know why. He’s just so angry for being left alone. Maybe it’s some kind of twisted revenge. Even if the old man isn’t going to be there to see it.

Not long after alcohol stops being enough. The buzz is nice and the fog on his memory after the night of drinking is very welcome, but after a while it doesn’t numb him as much as it did at the start. He doesn’t need Obi anymore to get to the city, so he starts looking for more thrills, something not only Jarvis would scoff at. Whores seem to be the obvious answer. A little gold and he’s free to explore the soft bodies, lets himself forget about everything between one moan of the girl and the other. When he dips between long legs to taste the woman’s flesh, he doesn’t think of anything, but of the present. It works for a while.

The notification of Count and Countess Xavier’s death comes one morning after one of the many trips to London and Tony isn’t in the mood for any of the bad news. It’s not like they were good people anyway. He thinks about going to Charles, checking if he’s okay, but he promised Jasmine he’d come back to the city, and besides, it’s not like the man has a shortage of friends, he doesn’t need Tony. And Tony doesn’t need any of them. So he writes a note, saying how sorry he is and confirming his attendance at the memorial and leaves the mansion. He hopes Charles will enjoy taking care of all his grounds and money, now that there’s no one forbidding him from spending it all on books and parties.

It’s Jasmine that takes his hand one evening and leads him to the shady pub at the outskirts of London. He’s pretty sure no one of his social standing should be there, but she assures him that it’s alright, as long as he’s with her, there’s nothing to worry about. He believes her. When he’s pushes into the middle of the fight ring and only the years of physical training with Natasha and Clint ensure that he ducks in time to avoid the meaty fist to the face, he curses the woman and all her ancestors too for good measure. The big guy who’s apparently a champion, is seemingly baffled at the lack of fresh blood on his knuckles and the pause gives Tony enough time to procure some kind of a plan. The escape is out of the question, the crowd wouldn’t let him. His only option is to fight. So he gives it all he has, all the moves Natasha taught him and tactical traps Carol came up with during their play time. All else is sheer luck.

He’s not sure how he ends up getting away with only scrapes knuckles and bruised ribs, but he does. He staggers to the closest pub and tries to drown himself in the copious amount of beer that tastes more like piss than anything else. He was wrong. He always needed them, he probably always will, and now he pushed them all away. He’s not going to stop coming to this place, it gives him the freedom and escape from thoughts plaguing him always like nothing ever did, but maybe he should finally start getting his life under some semblance of control. When, in the morning, the new housekeeper, Virginia Potts comes in the carriage to pick him up he doesn’t fight. He lets himself be manhandled into the seat and closes his eyes against the unforgiving glare of the sun. He’s ready to go back.


The first thing Tony notices when he comes through the door is smell. It permeates everything, curling together with the heavy clouds of smoke around the furniture and flying to the high ceiling. People are laying on various couches and pillows, sometimes on the floor with various expressions of despair and blankness. This place gives him chills, he wants to turn on his heel and get as far away from here as possible. Don’t take him wrong, he has his own little escapes, bars and pubs of the lower London, alcohol, whores and ring battles, but this… This is something else entirely. These people aren’t even alive anymore, their bodies just haven’t caught up with the knowledge yet.

He swallows hard and heaves at the taste it creates in his mouth. He needs to find Charles and he needs to find him soon. He just hopes it’s not too late for his friend. They were all a little neglectful lately of each other, everyone buried under their own problems, but he cannot believe he lost sight of his best friend so much that he let something like this happen. Especially in a wake of Xavier’s memorial. He remembers glancing at the solemn figure of Charles, standing next to the grave of his parents, wearing his best suit and not shedding a tear. He was swaying, his hair had been unkempt and his eyes were red-rimmed. Only now, with the knowledge he possesses, he knows what kind of signs these were. Back then he just wrote it all down as a grief. He’s been a really bad friend.

He sweeps one more curtain aside and steps into the next room, this one filled with women in different states of undress, clearly designed to give a pleasure of different kind to customers who wish for it. They all have sunken eyes and Tony cringes when he realizes that he actually can see their bones through their paper thin skin. He passes the room quickly, not even making eye-contact with women. He can’t save them all, or any of them really.

He’s in a corridor and the air gets heavier with every step he’s taking. He’s afraid that if he spends a little more time in this place, he’s going to get high on the damn opium himself. He fancied experimenting with the stuff once, but never in such circumstances. He can’t lose focus, he must find Charles. He knows what happen to people who overdose on the smelly smoke, they just get tossed behind the building and forgotten. He’s not going to let his best friend end like that.

His head is swimming and he bumps into someone. He raises his eyes and there is a man, young, probably not older than Tony himself. His clothes are too big and his hair is too greasy, but he has a pair of intelligent brown eyes. The man studies him and helps him to the wall so he can support himself.

“You don’t look like you’re here for pleasure, my friend.”

Tony really wants to laugh at this, but he’s afraid of opening his mouth and actually inhaling any of this poisonous smoke without any filters. He coughs and hides his lips in a kerchief, speaking through it.

“I’m not. I’m looking for someone. Kind of short, pricy clothes, brown curls, blue eyes. Ring any bells?”

The man looks at him oddly and shrugs.

“Does your friend think he can read people’s minds? Because if so, I can take you to him.”

He’s so relieved he could weep with it. But instead he nods weakly and follows the man, Bruce he says his name is, to the little room at the very back of this ‘institution’ when Charles is laying, half conscious, on some kind of bed. Tony swallows back a sob and shakes his friend by the shoulders, trying to wake him up. Charles opens his eyes lazily and looks up as if he doesn’t recognize the figure leaning over him, and Tony wouldn’t be surprised if that was indeed a case. He doesn’t know how much opium his friend already smoked, but it was clearly enough to put him almost completely out of commission.

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t let him die.” Bruce says. “I’m a doctor.”

As the man is a doctor Tony appeals to his higher morality and employs him to help get Charles out of this cursed place. Apparently there are door to outside just next to the little room and Tony curses himself for not knowing it. It would be much easier to come inside through here than walking all the way through the den. Bruce helps him readily and even tags along to the mansion to ensure that Charles won’t die somewhere along the way. Tony knows that he probably should send a message to everyone else that he found their lost team member and that they can stop looking in other dens, but he’s so worried it doesn’t occur to him before him and Bruce are already carrying semi-conscious Xavier up the stairs to one of Stark’s guest rooms. And then Pepper can take care of it.

The days that follow are like something taken straight to some kind of nightmare that Tony doesn’t remember having even as a kid. He’s so very afraid of losing Charles that he hardly eats or sleeps himself. His body is used to it, considering the crazy hours he sometimes puts in his workshops, but it doesn’t stop Miss Potts from berating him every time she catches him sitting on a chair outside Charles’ door. Bruce stayed. As an effect of Tony’s begging or the promise of steady employment, Tony doesn’t particularly care. What matters is that he is inside that room and tends to Charles during his withdrawal and nurses him slowly back to health.

Tony just hopes his parents won’t notice long enough that he won’t have to get Charles back to the Xavier Mansion. He doesn’t think his friend would take well to being alone again.


Tony doesn’t expect to meet any lawyers before his eighteenth birthday. His father was very careful into letting him know that until he’s at least mature in age, if not in mind, really as if Tony was some kind of an overgrown child, he’s not going to be lawful heir of the business. The mansion, the grounds, the fortune, sure, but not the actual source of all their riches. It’s not like he minded, he’s not really bouncing from enthusiasm in thinking he’d have to take care of it sooner than later. So, when Mr. Blackwood, the family’s lawyer, comes to him all two weeks before actual date, he’s more than perplexed. He can sniff something fishy going on from a mile long, but it’s not like he can just say that he’s not going to sign the papers. He’s going to get it all sooner than later and if his father has some weird reason to push it almost half a month, there must be some important reason. At least, he hopes there is.

The pageboy with the news about the accident of his parent’s carriage comes only three days later. He’s left standing frozen, shocked to the core, while around him maids erupt in hysterical sobs. One would think they cared so much about the mistress and mister. Just for this, Tony fires them all. It’s only a moment, before Pepper comes sweeping in and doing damage control. She’s a strong woman and maybe, Tony muses, in some kind of other world he would even be in love with her, maybe even married to her. She rehires everyone and before he can even utter a word of protest, she shepherds him into the study – his father’s study, only not anymore, because his father is dead – and pours him a glass of whisky. Bruce comes in after only few minutes and after sharing a look with Pepper, tries to engage Tony in some kind of scientific conversation.

He blinks, realizing what they are trying to do. They think he’s going to grieve. They think he’s going to miss people who never gave him an hour of their day if it didn’t suit their goals. He hasn’t even known that people all that well. His only worry now is that he has to take care of the business. God, he hates paperwork, he should relegate that to Pepper too. She can be his assistant or something. Only after he realizes that Bruce is repeating to him to breathe and Pepper is waving some kind of rug in front of his face, does he notices that he’s laughing. He also doubts the wetness on his face is from alcohol, but one can hope. Fuck, what the fuck is he going to do?

It seems to him after few weeks of getting into the rhythm of assuring everyone he’s okay and dealing with the boring side of merchant business, that it’s not as hard as he thought it would be. Pepper does help with paperwork, despairing over his handwriting and being completely unmoved by the explanations that it’s because he’s a genius used to scratching quick notes on the scrapes of paper. Bruce helps him in the workshop so he can still do his experiments, but doesn’t have to worry about something exploding when he has to leave it. The man is surprisingly invaluable addition to the household and in the recess of his brain, Tony thanks Charles for getting addicted to Opium, if only because he wouldn’t get the doctor if not for that. He doesn’t voice it, but his friend still kicks him in the shin after he thinks it too loudly in his presence. He guesses he kind of deserved that. The point is, he’s not as bad in this as he thought he would. Having friends all across the business world, doesn’t hurt either.


When Tony opens his eyes he doesn’t know where he is. Or any inclination of what time it could be or who is with him in the ruined house. Because he’s sure there is someone here. He can hear whispers behind the heavy wooden door and there are shadows hiding in the corner of the room he’s in that move. He’s not ashamed to say that he’s terrified. He’s never before been in a situation like this and it feels him with dread, knowing that someone just took him and have who knows what plans for him.

The flash of a camera blinds him for a moment and there’s a silky voice saying “Cela devrait être assez preuve, nous arriverons à notre rançon.”[1]

Ah. So that’s what it was about. Ransom. Only Tony doesn’t know who would pay a ransom for him seeing as he doesn’t have any family left. Unless you counted Avengers, but only handful of people knew about their little group. His engagement with young Viscount is a hidden thing also, so it can’t be that. Pepper and Obie both aren’t permitted to access family funds without his permission and he can’t give it while being kidnapped. Damn French and their faulty logic. There’s no one available to pay the ransom for him. He’s going to die.

Which reminds him about how he got here and he glances down onto his chest. His white shirt isn’t really white anymore and his chest is tightly bandaged. Even with it he can see crimson red seeping through. He swallows and realizes that he probably still has a piece of his engine in him. That is not good. If no one will take it out soon, he’s most assuredly going to die. He doesn’t expect these kidnappers to know that and he can feel something squeezing in his chest at the knowledge that he’s not going to leave that place. He could take it out himself, but he’s pretty sure they’re not going to untie him only because he asks nicely.

He hangs his head and refuses to give into the urge to cry. He can’t show such a blatant weakness right now. Even if his fate doesn’t look too bright right now. He recalls Charles’ sunny face and how he keeps saying that there is always hope in even the direst situation. Tony would like his friend to see any hope in this situation. But this is something he can work with. If he only lets himself hope than he’s not going to surrender to dark thoughts swirling around his head and maybe there will be some chance of him surviving. There has to be. He has a lot of things to do back home.

He faints from blood loss a little time after that, before he even have a chance to see his captors.

The next time he regains consciousness he’s laying on a wooden table and someone is leaning over him. He’s pretty sure he doesn’t know that someone.

“Hello, Tony. I’m Dr. Yinsen. I’m your co-prisoner and I just saved your life.”

It takes him few minutes, of which he’s not particularly proud, to get that the man is talking about a hole in his chest. He looks down and sure, his shirt is gone and the bandages look clean. The pain is mostly absent, but he thinks this is fault of some kind of anaesthesia. The man did say he’s a doctor so he probably knows how to knock someone out. Tony’s just glad he’s not dying from the blood loss and a scrap of metal in his chest.

He and Doctor quickly find their own little routine and it’s a small comfort for someone who doesn’t know if they’ll ever see sun again. But Tony thinks that it’s a small price to pay for living at all. His wound is slowly healing and he gives out a relieved breath when he realizes the metal wasn’t inside of him for long enough to cause poisoning or infection. He doesn’t think that even someone as talented and intelligent as Doctor Yinsen could do something about it without proper medical equipment.

He still cringes at the thought that the man took out the piece of engine from his chest using a fork and a butter knife. Who knows how dangerous a surgery like that can be. He tends to not think about it too hard, least he gets nauseous again. They can’t afford to waste food and water like this. They don’t get much food at all. Then, one day they get a visit from their captors.

The group of men is dressed in French army uniforms that seen the better days and Tony suspects that these are deserters from Napoleon’s army. They probably want some quick money so they can escape to America or somewhere else when they wouldn’t be prosecuted for running away from their duty. His theory is dissipated however when they speak.

“Nous voulons que vous nous construire des armes. Donc nous pouvons enfin gagner la guerre et ramener notre Napoléon Seigneur à sa place qui lui revient. “[2]

Damn. This is even worse. Tony doesn’t know how they found out about his talents in creating something stronger than is on the market, but he’s pretty sure that the answer he gave to the British military won’t fly with these guys. They probably don’t care that he doesn’t build weapons. He swallows and answers in French, thanking in his mind to every tutor he ever had that pushed him into learning stupid language.

“Je suis désolé, Messieurs, mais je crains aucun de mes travaux comprend la construction d'armes. Il n'est pas mon domaine de spécialisation. “[3]

He gets a riffle to the chest for his trouble and falls to the floor with a breathless shout. He’s pretty sure the arsehole who hit him just opened his damn wound.

“Nous avons vous un médecin afin que vous ne mourrez pas. Maintenant vous nous construire armes. Ou vous allez mourir. C'est votre choix. ” [4]

When they put it like that, there’s not much choice really. Tony wishes that someone would finally find him.

He spends the first day laying on his table, which he adapted as his bed, giving older man the couch as a place to sleep. He needs the wound on his chest to stop bleeding again if he wants to do anything and he needs to think about his situation. There is no way he can build these people some super weapons. For one, he has no idea how to build a weapon and maybe he could figure it out if he tried, he doesn’t want to. His best friend almost cries at the sight of a hunting rifle. He probably would get into weapon industry when he was younger and spend too much time with Clint, but only a thought of Charles’ face if he contributed to the death of anyone was enough to stop him from that.

He can’t start now. Especially since it would contribute to French killing his countrymen. But then his other choices are death, being found by someone or somehow getting away. The first is absolutely unthinkable and he crosses it out just after thinking about it for the first time. The second is possible, but seeing as no one found him yet despite his group of friends having telepath and some scary people in their midst, not very probable. That leaves him the last option.

He needs to escape somehow. The question is only “How?”

The answer is presented to him by the good Doctor the next morning. At least he thinks it’s morning. It’s hard to tell when there are no windows in the room. Yinsen tells him that their captors probably never seen a weapon build so Tony has basically freedom for doing whatever he wants. That means he’s free to make something that instead of contributing to the war will get them back home and out of trouble. At least out of this trouble.

Soldiers bring them all kinds of old weapons and scraped metal and Tony even gets a toolbox. He misses his special tools from his workshops, but he supposes he can work with the basics. Even if it was a long time since he has last time. He draws plans and then redraws them and then throws them away entirely. And then his eyes fall on the rusty gauntlet, probably a part of some old suit of armour, and suddenly the idea strikes him.

He needs a lot of help and he’s beyond grateful for the help the Doctor provides him. The project is coming slowly and especially insides require a lot of delicate work. He builds a little steam engine that will work as a heart of the project and makes a note in the corner of his brain to research various liquids when he gets out of here. Maybe he’ll be able to find something that would sustain it for longer periods of time than water can. He needs also quite a mass of tumblers and by the end of the week both his and Doctor’s hands are full of little burns from making them.

Before they finally finish they barricade the door and assemble something that if one was generous enough could be called armour. When the soldier on duty fails to open the door to deliver their daily meal, it starts. The alarm sounds and Tony curses, having been hoping for a little more time. It won’t be long before they force the door open and if their project isn’t ready, then they’re just going to die. Possibly leaving one of the greatest weapons seen in hands of Frenchmen. With Tony’s corpse inside, but still. He just needs a few more minutes for the water to starts boiling. Just a few more minutes.

He recalls that he should have expected that the door wouldn’t last long, considering it age, but he wished it’d be strong enough to take more than two hits of whatever their captors tried to open it with. After the first time, Doctor shoots him a look and picks up one of the old guns they got to build the better weapon with. Tony’s blood runs cold, but before he can even voice his protest, the old wood breaks and the men load their rifles, ready to shoot at them. Before they can do that Yinsen opens fire on them and they clearly didn’t expect any counter-fight as they duck quickly into closest rooms. The Doctor foolishly ran out shooting blindly and yelling, and Tony cursed, wishing the water to boil faster.

Then it’s finally ready and he suddenly can move, but it’s not before he hears the sound of the rifle going off and the body hitting the floor. He closed his eyes tight and counts to ten, hoping somewhat silly that he’s not going to see his saviour’s body crumpled in the corridor. He runs out of the door and shoots at everyone he can see, quickly clearing off the area. Yinsen is lying at the corner of the next corridor, blood seeping from his chest and Tony falls to his knees with something that he refuses to admit is a sob. He raises the face plate of the armour and rolls the Doctor onto his back. He’s already dead and Tony tries not to think about the man’s family waiting for him in London.

Getting out of the house after that is easier than a walk in the park. He needs to ditch the falling apart armour somewhere near the riverbank, but from there it’s a short walk to the closest town. Before he can make the journey though, he’s apprehended by Clint on horseback and he doesn’t even try to stop himself from making a Knight in a Shining Armour joke. Even though it’s not as funny as when it was in his head. Barton just shakes his head at him and helps him to get on the horse. And if his friend is squeezing him maybe a little too tight, none of them mentions it.

He spends a week in bed, plagued by fever. His wound got infected during his escape and the fact he hasn’t eaten solid meal in days probably didn’t help any. He thanks the heavens for he doesn’t know which time for Bruce’s presence in his home. At least they don’t have to explain anything to some nosy professionals. It’s only after he’s finally on his own feet again and almost all his friends don’t hover all that much that he gets to see the outfall of what happened to him. He says almost, because he doesn’t think anything in the world could make Charles not hover for at least few months now. Pepper isn’t any better, she’s just being more subtle.

He reads the article in the newspaper talking about the den of Frenchmen soldiers found on the outskirts of London and of poor Doctor Yinsen who apparently was their captive. Not a word about Tony. He’s pretty sure that’s due to Jan’s influence on press only. The part that really gets him though is the passage that says of Doctor’s wife and two children who died only a year before from scarlet fever. He can suddenly understand Yinsen’s actions a little more, but it doesn’t diminish a pain of losing a friend like him.

It’s only when the first of the month passes without Obadiah’s presence checking if Tony filled the books that he thinks to ask about the man. Charles gets red in the face and looks as if he’s a mini steam machine, which would be funny if he didn’t look like he was going to overheat at any minute. Pepper is suddenly more vicious about opening chestnuts than she was just a minute ago and Bruce gets as stiff in the spine as he did when Tony made a joke about his temper problems. Clint stretches and says that the guy was behind the whole kidnapping and Natasha pauses polishing her gun just to give him a scary smirk and cock the pistol at him. He’s really, really happy that he’s on the good side of these people.


He gets the letter about the Viscount’s demise on the eve of the Summer Solstice. He remembers it vividly as he was in the middle of arguing with Pepper about the danger of making a bonfire in the gardens. Of course there was a strong possibility of something catching on fire, but it’s not like no one will look after it, and they deserved the fun after the stress of the last months. She was unmoved, and countered with an argument that once they all got enough whisky in them, they will think igniting the rose bushes is the best idea ever. He doesn’t really have a come back to that so he’s insanely grateful for the presence of the messenger. Of course, until he actually hears the news.

The Viscountess is requesting his presence at the Roger’s Manor as not only some kind of buffer when she finally breaks  the awful news to her only son, but also so they can look into the marriage agreement and see if there’s a possibility of breaking it. Tony would feel offended, if he wasn’t on the woman’s side on the issue, seeing as he’s not only a complete stranger to the now eleven boy, but also much older than him man. He kind of feels like a complete pervert every time he remembers about his future nuptials. Maybe the feeling will pass when Steven will actually resemble a man and not a tiny, little boy.

He muses that breaking the news of his engagement to the little guy, together with the information about his father’s death might seem a little cruel, but he can’t help but think that it might be good too. Having two issues to focus on, Steven won’t have a time to think about any of them closer than is needed. So he packs a bag and bullies Charles into accompanying him, his friend having nothing to do lately but mope around his estate. They should find him some permanent company soon or he’s going to bore himself to death. Tony’s not even sure if it’s possible, but he supposes that if someone would be able to achieve it, it would be Charles.

They arrive in the evening and are informed by the very impersonal maid that the lady is awaiting them in the foyer. The Viscountess looks haggard, and Tony muses, that this is must be how someone grieving after the loved one looks like. He’s never actually seen this kind of grief before. He wonders if one of his parents lived through the accident four years ago, they would look like that. Probably not. Their bags are taken to the guest’s quarters on the second floor and they are invited to accompany her to the study. They share a drink and Tony voices his genuine condolences over Vicount’s death. He might have signed a deal that makes Tony’s life a little difficult, but he was good and honest man. He just wanted to ensure that his family would be safe no matter what.

He supposes really, that now that the Viscount is death, it falls to him to really take care of this family. As a betrothed of a Roger’s heir and the oldest man in the line. No one asks it of him though, and he won’t offer. The Viscountess reminds him a little of Pepper, in that she is a confident woman. An offer like that wouldn’t probably be accepted warmly. She can take care of everyone for now.

The problem is, no matter how hard they look, there is nothing that would free either Steven or Tony from the agreement drawn by their fathers. They spend long hours slouched over papers and law books, but conclusions are always the same. Either they marry or Steven is going to lose his estate and all his family’s belongings. There is nothing about what Tony might lose and if he was a lesser man, he would just break the deal, not looking at the good of Viscountess and her young son. But he isn’t, at least that’s what Charles whispers insistently into his brain, so he doesn’t even think about it for too long.

The morning wakes fresh and crisp, the summer sun shining joyfully from behind the clouds. The sunrays reflect on the surface of the little lake in the back of the garden that Tony can see from his window; the dew glittering gold on the white of the roses petals. It’s quite beautiful, if one was to like admiring nature. Tony is more for technology and metal, but he wonders if he couldn’t invite Carol one day to this mansion. She would have loved to see the gardens, maybe even paint something. She liked doing that. He wonders also, if Steven is more alike to his friend or him. The answer presents itself to him as early as during breakfast, which they take on the patio, as to take use of the fresh air.

He’s busy pulling faces at Charles when they hear laughter coming from the gardens. A glance outside the window tells him that it’s Steven, playing and running around like a child ought to do. He wonders if it’s cruel to withhold the information of his father’s death from him, but that is what Viscountess wants and he’s in no position to argue. He might be the boy’s theoretical fiancé, which thank you, he’s not going to think about, makes him feel like a pervert, but he has little to no say about anything concerning him. Tony is pretty okay with that, no chance of him influencing the kid in any bad way.

Even after all these years, Steven was still too tiny. Smaller than average boy his age, skinny like hell, Tony wonders really how it that he’s even still alive. From what he’s heard from various maids around the house the kid is very sickly, often going down with fever. They had a pretty close episode when Tony was busy with the Obadiah issue, Steven almost falling over the brink, but somehow he always comes back. Tony would like to say he’s the same, but it would be such a lie that he’s ashamed even to think of it. He knows he’s damaged goods. Very damaged, he thinks rubbing over a place when the scar from the engine piece is striking contrast to the rest of his chest. Charles shoots him a look, but he ignores it in favour of observing the blond running below them, clearly enjoying outdoors. He looks happy and that in turn makes Tony happy. No matter how much the kid is going through, he’s still enjoying his childhood and that is important.

What catches his eye after a while is a man, following Steven pretty closely. Tall, with broad shoulders and dark blond hair styled in an impeccable way. If he had to guess, it would be the boy’s tutor or perhaps a tutor, but the questioning look at their hostess, provides him with another explanation. The man is a German doctor, the private one, hired specifically to keep an eye on Steven and take care of him if need presents itself. It’s a noble cause and a noble profession, so the man must be less cool than he looks like from the distance. Tony can just feel Charles itching to check it personally, preferably without using his special gift. He wishes his friend all the good luck and cleans his hands from the case. He’s not going to take an outfall of that, if it won’t be good.

It’s required of him to be present when the Viscountess breaks both news to her son and he goes there with a heavy heart. He suspects that both he and Charles will have to leave soon after so he asks one of the maids to arrange for their bags to be taken down. He leaves his friend outside on the patio, while following the solemn women and glancing back at the laughing boy. Steven joins them only after a while, still flushed and smiling after his play outside and Tony can almost hear his heart breaking for the boy. This is not going to be pleasant for any of them.

Sure enough, none of the news goes well with the young aristocrat and Tony is made to leave the room, letting the mother and the son comfort each other. He would like to explain to the boy that he didn’t have anything to do with drawing that marriage contract and if he could, he would cancel it, but he doesn’t think that it would make the situation any more bearable. After all, no matter what they want, they can’t really undo it. All that is left is to suffer their fate with dignity. The sight that greets him in the foyer compels him to express himself in a long groan.

Both Charles and Steven’s doctor are standing, facing off, looking at each other as if enchanted and Tony thinks, shit, now they’re going to stay longer, because Charles went and fell in love on the first glance or something. He sighs to himself, picks his suitcase and grumpily comes back to his room. When he emerges few hours later for dinner, they’re already deep into conversation about this or the other, Charles pushing his hair absentmindedly back and gesturing widely with his hands. Tony tries not to find it as adorable as it is, but as always with Charles, the fight is futile. He’s at least comforted by the thought that this time he’s not the only one to think so judging by the blond man’s face.

He scans the room for Steven and spots him sitting on the side with the military book, completely engrossed in his lecture. Thank God, he’s too frail to ever join the army or Tony can just bet he would be on his way already. It’s enough that Viscountess lost one of her boys to the war. He takes a wine glass the serving girl passes him and looks her over, more from the habit than any interest. She’s pretty, but nothing special that would catch his eye. London has much more attractive women, even if they call themselves harlots.

He sits next to Mrs. Rogers, giving her a smile and starting a conversation about the latest fashion in the city. He doesn’t mind it, but she says she finds it completely absurd, especially men’s one. He gives her a genuine chuckle and then spends time before dinner on idle chatter, trying to forget the disastrous conversation earlier in the day. Tony dreads the reading of the Viscount’s will. He has a bad feeling no one will really like what’s in it. He’s of course right and he retires to the bed that night, followed by accusing glances of the staff of the manor. He doesn’t blame them, but really, they could tone it down at least a little.

Charles comes to him in the middle of the night, not even bothering to be quiet, putting faith in his gift to keep him unnoticed. Tony really would mind if he wasn’t dying for the report about tall and broody by now. They huddle in his bed together, like they used to when they were much younger and inexperienced in life and Charles tells him about Erik who is Steven’s doctor and a foreigner and is so smart and knows so many languages and military strategy and Tony should absolutely talk to him, because they would like each other so much and so on. Really, Tony has to hide his face in the pillow to keep himself from laughing outright at Charles’ enthusiasm and visible infatuation. Maybe at least one of them will have a happy love life. Not that he doesn’t think he’d be happy with Steven, it’s just that he doesn’t really need a partner and the boy is just a kid. He’ll probably find a girl to fall in love with and then he’ll hate Tony for keeping him from marrying her. But Tony doesn’t think about it much.

He notices when Charles goes quiet and turns to him fully, eyebrows questioningly raised. He doesn’t get an answer, but he does get a hug, which he figures is as good or even better, really, Tony shouldn’t let Xavier spoil him with physical affection so much, but he can’t really help it. He hides his face in his friend’s neck and let’s himself realize what the death of Viscount means. God, he’s responsible for this family now, he’s not good at responsible, just ask Pepper, or Charles or anyone. Tony likes to gamble and drink and spend his time in a clubs of questionable reputations in London and he doesn’t know how to take care of someone.

It seems it doesn’t matter to anyone and he’ll just need to learn.

[1]That should be proof enough, we’ll get our ransom.” According to Microsoft Translator.

[2]We want you to build us weapons. So we can finally win the war and bring our Lord Napoleon back to his rightful place.” According to Microsoft Translator

[3] “I’m sorry, gentlemen, but I’m afraid none of my work includes building weapons. It’s not my field of specialization.” According to Microsoft Translator

[4] “We got you a doctor so you wouldn’t die. Now you build us weapons. Or you die. It’s your choice.” According to Microsoft Translator