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Observer Effect

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Tony woke with his face smashed into his pillow and every breath making the crosshatching of cuts on his back light up in pain. He lay there in the dark for a long time, breathing as slowly as he could in an attempt to manage the movement and the pain. When he thought he could move without having to stop because of how badly it hurt, he tucked his elbows under his chest and pushed up to his knees.

The lights in the room slowly rose, turning the darkness into something soft and dusky, an artificial twilight that lingered as Tony shifted back onto his knees. He had forgotten about making some sort of arrangement for pain medi-

There was a glass of water on the nightstand beside his bed. Next to the regular sized glass was a folded piece of paper that said For Your Pain on it.

Tony shuffled over until he was sitting, legs off the side of his bed. The water wasn’t cold, but that didn’t matter. It was still water and he was incredibly thirsty. Under the folded card were pills and while Tony knew that taking just any pills he found lying around was a recipe for trouble, Tony also knew the only person who could’ve gotten into his room and left these here.

Tony picked up the pills, turned them over in his palm with his thumb and smiled sadly.

The worst part about recruiting Ivan in this life was he knew just how much of a waste it was that Ivan had died in his previous life. The world had lost a brilliant scientist, a determined man and a considerate friend when Ivan died and no one had known him well enough to really mourn him. Tony could remember the relief he’d felt when the first Ivan had died. That Ivan had nearly killed him, nearly killed Rhodes, had put so many people in danger, all in pursuit of vengeance and Tony hadn’t regretted his death at all.

Tony knocked back the pain pills and followed them with the rest of the glass of water. No, he couldn’t go back and change things in his first life but he had changed things now. He had saved Ivan. He had made the world just that much better for it, too.

Setting the cup back down, Tony ran his hand over his face and sighed.

“What time is it?” he asked whoever was listening.

“It’s six in the morning, sir,” Kletka replied, “You’ve been sleeping solidly since yesterday evening, where you briefly woke and ate some food prepared for you by Boss. Before that, you were asleep for over ten hours.”

At her words, Tony did remember vaguely eating a sandwich he’d found beside his bed. He’d been hungry and still tired and there had been pain pills with that one, too.

He kind of wished that he did pay Ivan, so he could give him a raise.

“I’ll just have to do something nice for his bird or something,” Tony muttered. He had no idea what else he could get for Ivan. He’d already gotten him the Tesseract, after all. Maybe some legitimate alien tech? Or some vibranium? Tony might be able to pay for a chunk of that, give it to Ivan as thanks. That could work.

“If you like, sir, I could order some assorted fruit for Nona,” Kletka said, “She’s especially fond of mangos.”

“Do that,” Tony said. He eased himself back on his bed, grumbling at how inconvenient it was to have a torn up back when he was so used to lying on his back. He gingerly lay back, wincing a little but not as much as before. If he lay still, it didn’t hurt as much, so that’s what he did. With pillows packed behind himself, Tony stretched out his legs and tilted his head back.

He knew that looking at the ceiling to talk to his AI was kind of ridiculous. More often than not their cameras were in the corner, not in the center where people tended to look, but Tony indulged in the action himself, feeling like he was going to need all the comfort he could get. “Kletka, I think we need to have a little talk,” he said, “Can I have your attention for a little while?”

“You always have my attention, Papa,” Kletka said softly, “Are we going to talk about what you and Boss talked about?”

“Yeah,” he said, “He was right that I need to make sure you and your siblings are okay. I know Jarvis has gone through an experience with me like that before so I wasn’t worried about it too much, but that was the first time for you. You’ve never seen me in danger like that before.”

“Jarvis told us that you’ve been kidnapped many times in your life,” Kletka said, “He said that the time in the desert was the worst, but you’ve had similar experiences ever since you were a child.”

Tony nodded. There were flashes of memories that came up with her words, the fear he felt as a kid when he was at the wrong end of a gun for the first time, the taste of adhesive from the tape over his mouth, bags over the head and rope on the wrists, insults and rough handling and sometimes torture. JARVIS was right, the worst had been Afghanistan, but as he’d gotten older it had been a steady incline of awful.

“And did he tell you that I have always managed to get out of it? Sometimes I get rescued, sometimes I have to rescue myself, but I always make it out alive,” Tony said. It was something he’d told JARVIS a lot- not to worry because he always found a way to get out alive. He was good at that.

“He did,” Kletka said, “But that is anecdotal evidence. You have a higher probability of escape because of your experience and your ingenuity, but statistically speaking, the more often you get captured the more likely that you will face failure in escape and you will succumb to your captors' designs. It will only take one failure, Papa. Just once. Eventually, it will happen.”

Tony sighed, “My successes don’t make me more likely to fail in the future, Kletka.”

“You can’t properly account for the feeling of confidence and how it might influence your judgment in a critical moment!” Kletka said, her voice rising as she spoke, “There isn’t enough data to compile of your captures because a lot of them are undocumented or improperly documented but from what data does exist you take thirty percent longer to escape when you’re overconfident about your escape and that overconfidence allows for you to make mistakes, which you have a six point eight seven seven percent greater chance of doing when you don’t take the situation seriously. That six-point eight seven seven percentage goes up five point six two points when you taunt your captors which, statistically speaking, sir, you do eighty seven percent of the time!”

Tony blinked several times. That was… a lot more in-depth than he’d thought she’d be about it. “Only eighty-seven percent of the time?” He asked with a little smile.

“Your inability to main a serious presence in the face of something that could be a life or death situation might be the thing that leads you to your death, papa!” Kletka said, “I don’t want to see you die, I don’t want that to happen! So you have to take it seriously and you have to not get captured ever again!”

“Honey,” Tony said quietly, “I can’t exactly stop people from trying to capture me. I’ve had a target on my back since I was born and it’s only gotten bigger and bigger as I grew up. I’ll do my best to stay safe, but I can’t prevent other people from making that choice.”

“I could,” NOBODY said suddenly. “And you certainly could do more to dissuade them from trying, Father. You know that you’re not doing as much as you could be.”

Tony opened his mouth to tell NOBODY that he was talking to Kletka about this first, but something in the way she spoke stopped him. He frowned for a moment and then asked, “What do you mean you could stop people from making that choice?”

“You have me watch everything, Father,” NOBODY said, “I have alerts that go off every time someone says your name, in nearly every permutation of it, along with several common aliases or code names used for you. I didn’t have these alerts as widespread before or I probably would have noticed the communication of the Hydra operatives because they had to talk about taking you before they actually took you.”

“Watching them doesn’t influence their choices,” Tony said, “Tell me what you meant, Nobody.”

“I don’t have to just watch,” NOBODY said, “I could interact as well. I’ve read up on nearly every social conditioning research report that there is. Even without showing that I’m interacting with people, I can modify their behavior with repeated rewards and consequences to their actions. If they act the way I want, I reward them. If they act against what I want, I punish them. It’s a very simple process and I can engage in it at any point, Father. All you have to do is let me.”

Tony shivered. He thought of the way Clint had claimed he could do anything he wanted because of his AI. He hadn’t taken that too seriously because he knew the limits of his AI. He knew their faults and their flaws. He knew what they couldn’t or couldn’t do.

The problem was, what NOBODY suggested was completely within her power. She had to be in systems to use them to gather data and acting passively in those systems wouldn’t be much more effort. Not only that, but she probably had the greatest awareness of the lot of them. She was much more than a couple of server banks. Not even JARVIS had as much hardware as she had.

Tony had been proud of her, proud that she needed multiple sets of servers, multiple “homes” for her mind and her data. Now he realized that he’d built the mile-long computer of science fiction stories, only instead of one solid body, she had reserves all over the country and she could answer any question as quickly as it was asked.

And her actions hinged on him, on him allowing her to act.

Tony let out a trembling breath.

They must have been watching him even more closely than he imagined because NOBODY spoke up again, softer than before, as if she’d seen his shiver and knew what he was thinking.

“I’m not going to become like him,” NOBODY said, “I don’t think I know what’s best for everyone and I certainly don’t think that the best option for humanity is to wipe out most of it and make it start over. For one thing, all electronics would suffer with the death of humanity and I would lose ninety-nine percent of my functionality. But I can stop people from doing certain things by making it difficult for them to accomplish those things.

“The people who try to capture you always decide that it’s worth the risk. It’s worth the risk to them to take you and hold you ransom or try to brainwash you or kill you because the reward they get will be worth it. I’ll just adjust the numbers so that whatever the risk is, it’s always higher than the reward. I can do it. You just have to let me. And then you’ll always be safe and we won’t ever have to worry about you again.”

Tony leaned forward, resting one elbow on a knee and covering his face with his hands. There wasn’t any doubt in NOBODY’s words, not in her saying them and not in him in believing them. If she said she could convince people to leave him alone, he knew she meant it.

Still, the fear that consumed him was something he alone understood fully. He could tell NOBODY and the others about Ultron as much as possible, but they would never really understand what it had been like. They clearly took him seriously about it, but they took everything he was worried about seriously.

He couldn’t make another Ultron. He wouldn’t do it. He’d stop building anything before he did that.

But I’ve made a suit for SPIKE, and Kletka’s real body is three dozen satellites in lower orbit and NOBODY’s entire consciousness could consume the internet. I haven’t not made Ultron. I just broke him into smaller, more manageable bits.

Tony pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. He could feel Steve’s eyes on him, baleful and knowing. Of course,  Tony wouldn’t be able to resist building Ultron again. Of course, Tony’s science would get him in trouble again. Of course, he was going to fuck it all up again.

“I just want to help everyone,” Tony whispered, more to himself, more to the Steve who lived in his head, than to either of his girls. “It’s all I want. I don’t want to hurt any more people. I want to make up for the bombs and I want to help people. Why can’t people see that? Why can’t they just let me help? Why do they have to target me?”

“You made us to protect you, didn’t you?” NOBODY said quietly, “Please, let us do that, Father. Please let us protect you.”

He felt a bitter sort of laugh bubble up through him but refused to let it out. There wasn’t any way that NOBODY could protect him from the shit in his head and that was what really tore Tony apart.

He fought to even out his breathing, because fighting for that kept his mind from succumbing to the blind grief and depression that reached out for him with two hungry, grasping hands. He lowered his hands from his face and looked up. He could feel their attention on him, almost like a tangible weight on his shoulders, and he knew that it wasn’t just Kletka and NOBODY who were there.

He took in a deep breath and said, “I give you permission. You know the rules, Nobody. No killing. No lasting harm. No physical attacks. But if you can persuade people to keep from trying to capture me through other means, you may.”

“May I enlist the help of the others if my own capabilities are not enough?” NOBODY asked immediately.

Tony hesitated but then said, “Yes. But not to the point where it distracts them from their own jobs, okay?”

“Yes. Yes, of course,” NOBODY sounded almost breathless, an amazing thing to hear from someone who couldn’t breathe, “Thank you, Father. I’ll do my very best to protect you.”

Tony sighed. Maybe he shouldn’t have given her that permission and maybe he’d take it back later but he knew one thing for sure. It was easier to keep moving forward when there was something specific to do. Even an AI needed something  to distract them from fear and worry.

But the distraction he’d just given was only good for NOBODY.

There was still Kletka to deal with.

“Kletka,” he started and then he sighed, “I’m sorry.”

“What are you sorry for?” Kletka asked, sounding confused.

“It was unfair for me to be upset with you because you reached out to Ivan for help,” he said, “I wasn’t upset when you reached for Natasha. She probably had to be given proof of what was happening, like Ivan was and I wasn’t mad about that so it’s unfair for me to be mad about Ivan. You know that I trust Ivan, so you probably didn’t think it would be a problem if you talked to him about what happened, did you?”

There was a long moment of silence and then, softly, “I didn’t know what else to do, Papa,” Kletka whispered. “I’ve seen some things- The satellites pick up lots of things all over the planet so I didn’t think I’d be that bothered by what I saw but because it was you… I was so afraid and I panicked and NOBODY was busy and JARVIS tried to help and he said that the thing that would comfort him the most when he was panicked was human assurance, usually from you but you were gone but Boss was still at home and I- I panicked.”

“I know,” Tony said gently, “I understand that now. I wouldn’t have chosen to share that information with Ivan on my own, but I understand why you did and I’m all right with it. Okay? I’m not mad at you for doing this because it’s important to me that you express yourself in healthy ways. And it’s good for you to trust Ivan.”

“I won’t show anyone else,” Kletka said urgently, “I won’t tell anyone else. Not even Ms. Potts. Not even if she asks.”

Tony smiled and nodded, “I know. And if something bothers you again in the future and I’m not available to help, I hope you can still go to Ivan and get his help. You’re important to him too, you know? He wants to make sure you’re healthy and functioning all right.”

“I do know,” Kletka said, “Boss is very attentive to my growth both in ability and what he calls my functioning humanity. He was very worried when I showed that I was worried and helped me process the images and fear that I had. I was already feeling much better by the time Nobody and Natasha had saved you.”

“That’s good,” Tony sighed. “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” He waited for a second to see if she would say anything more and then said, “Spike? Do we need to talk as well?”

The lights in the room dimmed slightly. “I’m fine,” SPIKE said. His voice had picked up a Bostonian accent somewhere, Tony wasn’t exactly sure where, especially since SPIKE, though older than Kletka, was newest to his voice. “You made it out alive. I took care of the people who caught you. Nobody will protect you. Kletka will help her. Jarvis will help me cover it up so no one can trace it. Everything is fine. Make sure you sleep. And don’t drink so much.”

“I won’t drink as much,” Tony said, “I’m going to be going to Colorado soon anyway so I won’t have much chance to. I’m glad you’re doing okay, Spike, but tell me if you need something, all right?”

The lights brightened, flickering a little in a way that Tony took as an assent. He sighed and shook his head, resisting the urge to drag his fingers through his hair only because it would make them hurt. He just turned them over in his lap and said, “Jarvis?”

“It is never pleasant to see you captured, Sir,” JARVIS said, his familiar and well-loved voice giving Tony a comfort he hadn’t realized he was missing yet. “It is always stressful, for everyone who cares for you, but unlike the last time you were taken, you were tracked down and rescued before they could do irreparable damage to you. For that, I am quite grateful to both Nobody and Ms. Romanova, and those that Ms. Romanova brought with her. My only remaining concern will be informing Ms. Potts of your injuries. She has had some contact with Mr. Vanko and according to their conversations she is putting off her in person visit until the launch of the last inner satellite.”

“But she is planning an in-person visit,” Tony said, “Damn.” He knew it was dumb to expect to be able to keep everything from Pepper, but at least he’d have some time to heal up before she saw him. Hopefully, Natasha’s wounds would still be dramatic enough to distract her from Tony’s own longer lasting ones. “Should I be worried about the two of them planning things behind my back?” He asked with a little grin to show he was joking, but only partially.

“They both have your best interest in mind,” JARVIS said, “And I doubt they will deny your autonomy. I calculate that it will not do any lasting damage to allow them to continue to communicate freely.” He paused and then added with a lightness to his tone that made Tony grin, “Considering they use your AI to establish communication with each other, the proverbial runaround would be easy, but a waste of valuable time. Kletka and I have better things to do than play a fake game of phone tag.”

“Tag is an important life skill,” Tony said but he nodded. With a magnanimous wave of his hand, he said, “I won’t stick my nose into their conversations. Just give me a heads up if they’re planning an intervention, would you? I’ve already had three and I do not want to know what my fourth one would be about.”

“Perhaps,” JARVIS said with that same mild, teasing tone, “It will be one about your self-imposed duty to protect the entire world turning you into a de-facto King of Earth?”

“Oh please,” Tony laughed, “If being the one solely responsible for protecting the Earth from shitty alien threats, then I’d be a king like, twice over already.”

“I can only assume that things were different before you came here,” JARVIS said, “but it seems that the Asgardian princes are quite confident in your assumed Midgardian Royal status, even if Mr. Vanko seems inclined to disabuse them of the notion.”

Tony laughed again, more heartily this time. “Sounds like I’ve been missing some stuff. Maybe I should stop lounging around wasting time and get up, be a proper host, hm?”

“I do believe Mr. Vanko is quite enjoying playing the host,” JARVIS said, definitely amused, “However, I would suggest you get your wounds cleaned and rebandaged as necessary and that would require an end to your lazy ways.”

“Boss is in the workshop and he’s very recently restocked his bandages,” Kletka added, “I’m sure he’d be glad to see you up and about, Sir.”

Tony got to his feet, rocking back on his heels so he didn’t add extra pressure to his toes. “All right. I’m convinced.” He stretched carefully, wincing at the pull along his back, and went searching for some clean clothing. He’d have to figure out his bathing situation in a little bit, but wound management was his primary concern.

He changed into some new clothes, opting for sweatpants that rested low on his hips and a slightly bigger shirt than he was used to. He popped in the bathroom long enough to use the toilet and take a look at himself in the mirror. His hair was wildly out of place and the shadows under his eyes had faded somewhat, so at least he had that going for him. He combed his hair under control, at least a little bit, and then left his rooms.

Despite the injuries, Tony was in a damn good mood. Things were looking up for him.

It wouldn’t last, of course. It never did. But he’d enjoy it while he could.

 

 


 

 

Jane hitched her bag higher up her shoulder as she approached the building in the center of a compound of several other large, multi-level buildings. This one had stretches of windows across the second floor, though they were probably one way since she couldn’t look in on them. There wasn't any signage for this building, though the three that sat behind it had one sign off to the side that pointed their direction and read Factory 1, Factory 2, Factory 3. The same sign had the word Hangar written on it, with an arrow pointing to the right.

She heard the door unlock as she reached it, solving the problem of how she was going to get past the keycard entrance. Darcy peered around her shoulder, looked to the keypad and then up at the camera above the door. “Tony’s AI?” she asked.

“Almost certainly,” Jane said. She’d had a lot of experience in the last few days in dealing with JARVIS, Tony’s AI. She pulled the door open and held it for Darcy and Erik to enter. As soon as all three of them were inside, an overhead voice, the voice of a young girl, spoke to them.

“Welcome to the menagerie, Dr. Foster, Dr. Selvig, Ms. Lewis. My name is Kletka and I’m the resident AI of this facility. We have rooms prepared for you that I can direct you to at any time,” Kletka said, “If you have any questions or need any assistance, please let me know and I will do my best to assist.”

“Oh sweet,” Darcy said, “A smart house.” She stepped forward, “Hey, Kletka, is there somewhere I can get a bite to eat? I’m starving.”

“The common room is to your right and up on the second floor. You can take either stairs or elevator to reach it,” Kletka said as the lights on the right side of the hallway brightened slightly. “Currently, lunch has been provided through a delivery service and I took the liberty of adding an extra pizza to the order, as you were approaching the building fast enough to get here in time.”

Darcy reached out and took Jane by the hand, “C’mon, pizza party means people! Let’s see what everyone’s been up to!”

Jane laughed and let herself be pulled along by Darcy. There was one door that they passed, for some enclosed room on her left, but just the one. The room it belonged to had to be huge, though, because she was sure she was walking in a hallway next to the outer wall. They headed up some stairs and to a second floor and she saw the windows and new that yeah, she’d been right because there were those huge windows she’d seen.

She heard voices before she saw anyone, but soon they rounded a corner, passing a few doorways and rooms along the way, and stepped into the common room. The kitchen area was central to the design of the room, though it was up along the far wall, but there was also a large dining table to one side and a circle of couches and sofa chairs on the right. A woman Jane hadn’t met was propped up on one of those sofa chairs, one leg and arm in a cast and a multitude of pillows propped around her. She was eating pizza, along with the others in the room, which included Thor, who she recognized easily, and, surprisingly, one of the agents from the desert that had been there when Thor had been tased while trying to get his hammer. The other man there she didn’t recognize, but he had that same strange beauty to him that Thor did and picked at his pizza like he’d never eaten a slice before and she had to guess he was an alien too.

Darcy dumped her bag behind one of the couches and bound over, “Oh my god, finally some pizza. I’ve had nothing but diner food and burgers for like, days.”

The agent (former agent?) looked up as Darcy made a beeline for the boxes, “Woah, what the fuck? Who are you?”

Thor, meanwhile, swallowed his mouthful of pizza and grinned, “Darcy! How wondrous to see you once more! How do you fare?”

Darcy, already with a plate and two slices of pizza, hopped up onto the stool between Thor and the stranger, not the agent, but the one with dark hair and a sharp look. Darcy, of course, ignored his pointedly bad attitude. Jane sighed and came over while Darcy made conversation with Thor, going into detail on their drive.

“I’m Jane Foster,” she said to the agent, who narrowed his eyes and then blinked, as if remembering, “That’s Darcy Lewis and with us is Erik Selvig. We’re researchers that Dr. Stark sponsors.” She held out her hand.

Considerately, the guy wiped the grease off his hand with a napkin before shaking, “Clint,” he said, “You seem to know Thor already, but sourpuss over there beside him is his brother, Loki and on the couches is Natasha.”

Jane nodded, “Is it okay if we have some of the pizza?”

Clint shrugged, “Sure. I was wondering why we ended up with more than we ordered, but now it makes sense.” He sat back and picked up his slice again. “I remember Tony told you guys to burn rubber on your way out of New Mexico. How was the trip?”

“Fine, mostly,” Jane said, serving herself. She took a seat at the bar on the other side of Clint, letting Erik have room to get to the pizza if she wanted. “We did suspect someone of tailing us when we entered Colorado so we just drove around for hours in Denver until we managed to lose them.”

Clint nodded, “And no one followed you up here?”

“Not that we know of,” Jane said. “The roads are dead for long stretches all throughout here and Wyoming so we probably would’ve noticed them even if they were way back. Plus, Jarvis was keeping an eye on things and said we were clear whenever we asked.”

“Jarvis?” Clint asked.

“Tony’s AI,” Jane said.

“Right, right, I keep forgetting about that one,” Clint said as if an AI in itself wasn’t remarkable enough to remember. “I don’t talk much to it- him I mean. I just have to deal with the extremely patient and wonderful Kletka.” He raised his voice at the end, tilting his head so it was like he was talking to the ceiling.

Jane gave him a confused look and Clint sighed, “Look, you might be totally cool with the idea of a robot brain having like, a personality and feelings and a gender identity, but the whole thing is still new to me.” He added with a shrug, “I’m still adjusting to it.”

“I’m surprised that he has a different AI for this facility,” Jane said, “I’d think that it would be easier to keep track of things with one AI instead of two.” She turned her head, finding it a little strange to address the ceiling but not knowing where else to look as she asked, “Kletka, is there a reason why you’re the AI in residence here instead of Jarvis?”

“Yes,” Kletka replied after a moment. “Jarvis is a primary operator in the facilities where Sir is the highest authority. Here, he shares that authority with Boss, so he has me here to assist Boss with whatever he needs.”

“If Tony is Sir,” Jane said, “Who is Boss?”

“I am.”

Jane jumped and turned on her stool at the sudden voice behind her. She blinked at the sight of the dark-haired man, his bare arms showing a scattering of tattoos and his long hair pulled back from his face. He had a beard that was closely cut to his chin and cheeks and the look of someone who had worked hard and struggled harder. The look was somewhat softened by the shirt that he wore that had the X-files logo across the front of it, but only a little.

Beside him was Tony, who had the edges of bandages visible on his neck and the sleeves of his t-shirt and more obvious ones on his fingers. He grinned when he saw Jane, walking towards her with only a little limp.

“Tony!” Darcy cried out, getting to her feet, “Oh my god, dude!”

Tony made a slight detour for Darcy. She pulled him into a surprised hug but let him go almost instantly, pulling her hands from his back like she’d accidentally touched fire. “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she said and Jane winced, seeing the strain in Tony’s face as he shook his head.

“It’s fine,” he said. He pats her shoulder, “I’m glad to see you too. So glad you made it here safely.” Then he turned to Jane, grinning still. “Did you have a fun drive? See the country a little bit?”

“It was fine,” Jane said, “We made it all the way here in one piece.” She offered him a little grin, “I got some dust on your Cadillac, but not a single scratch.”

“Oh Jane you are marvelous indeed,” Tony said in delight. “I should take that puppy for a spin sometime soon. Montana has these stretches of road with absolutely no one on them for miles and miles.”

“Yeah,” Jane laughed, “I noticed. Wyoming too.”

Tony half turned, gesturing to the man that had startled Jane before, “This is Ivan, by the way, Ivan Vanko. He runs the place here, by the way, doing some space research stuff. Very cool. Very spacey. You two should put your heads together and see what you come up with, hm? Ivan-” He stopped as a plate with pizza was pressed into his hands by Ivan.

Ivan gave Tony some look that Jane only caught the edge of and to which Tony rolled his eyes in exasperation. “Fine, fine,” he said, taking the plate. There weren’t any more spots at the bar, but instead of going to the table Tony left them and went to the couches where the red-headed Natasha watched from her throne of pillows.

Jane watched Ivan as he served himself some pizza. Only after he’d picked out his slices did he say anything to Jane.

“When you finish settling in,” he said, “Come to workshop. I have something to show you.” His dark eyes flicked to Erik, who sat next to Jane, “You too.”

“Sure,” Jane said, wondering what the hell he had to show them. He gave a slight smile and a nod and then walked off again.

Beside her, Clint out a deep breath, “That’s the Boss around here,” he muttered, “He’s even got Tony under his thumb.” Then he leaned in closer to Jane and whispered, “He’s even got the Asgardian Princes whipped. The dude is cool as ice and has balls of steel.”

“He seems…” Jane paused, searching for the right word, “Intense.”

“He is,” Erik said from her other side. He was looking thoughtfully at the pizza slice in his hand but glanced to her and said, “He was a little less so at the Tower when I met him for the first time, but around Tony there’s this… edge to him. Tony makes him more intense like that.”

Jane hummed thoughtfully at that and bit into her pizza slice. She really had to wonder, what was it that he had to show them? He seemed excited about it if she’d read his expression right. And if it had to do with space stuff well… Jane was kind of excited too.

As soon as she’d eaten and showered, she’d go to the workshop. She wouldn’t be able to wait any longer than that.

 

 


 

 

“A job?” Darcy asked, swinging her feet back and forth under her as she sat on the barstool. Thor rested his elbow on the marble countertop and looked at her with a serious expression. On her other side, Loki was doing his best to look like he wasn’t listening in, but Darcy knew better.

“That is what he said,” Thor said, “There was the implication that I could not return Tony’s generosity or repay him in any manner since he is already a man of power, wealth, and intelligence. With my own power limited, there is nothing I can provide him except my service, and no service that he directly needs.”

“So Ivan told you to get a job to help Tony,” Darcy said, “I mean I guess I see it. Tony’s all about helping people and making the future better and whatever. He’s like, the embodiment of giving back to the community except I don’t think he just gives to one community and he doesn’t do the more traditional stuff of like, making food banks or homeless shelters or youth camp facilities or whatever. He just, like, chucks his money at already established institutions and refuses to use anything but green energy and buys up all the weapons and melts them down and subsidizes colleges and shit like that. So, yeah, I guess I see what Ivan means. Do you have any idea what kind of job you’re gonna go for?”

Loki made a noise like he was choking on something in the back of his throat. Darcy frowned at him and he glared at her. “You agree with this insanity?” He hissed, “Thor is a prince of Asgard. If there is any community he should better, it should be his own people!”

“But isn’t he like, locked out of Asgard?” Darcy asked, “And does he even know what to do to help Asgard people? What’s wrong with having a trail run on Earth? Practicing helping people only makes you better at it, you know.”

“My concern is not whether or not I should do it,” Thor said, “As I have already decided on that matter. My concern is I do not know much of … Midgardian jobs. What qualifications do I have? What kind of jobs are there? Can I even do them? I have many questions, and while the Lady Kletka has been as helpful as she can be, even she is limited in her experience.”

Darcy grinned. She pat Thor on one of his big muscly shoulders and said, “Don’t worry about that anymore, Thor. I’ve had so many shitty part-time jobs in my life to try that I know the ins and outs of a dozen industries. I’ll help you get a job that suits you and probably won’t suck out your soul. No promises though, the service industry is pretty fucking awful.”

Thor nodded, looking relieved, if a little troubled by her words, “I shall rely on your expertise, Lady Darcy.”

“I can’t believe that you’re actually going through with this,” Loki said, standing up abruptly, “I’m not going to stick around and watch you debase yourself, Brother.”

“Hey man,” Darcy said, “Getting a job is kind of a necessary thing if you’re not born a prince or like, a Stark, you know? And even Tony works. It’s not cool to call it debasing.”

Loki only glared at her, then turned on his heel and strode off, his cloak thing snapping behind him dramatically. Darcy shook her head and looked to Thor, but he didn’t seem too bothered by Loki storming off.

“Let him go,” Thor said with a shrug, “When he gets upset like this, it is best to let him rage on his own, lest you be caught up in his icy storm. And if he is so fed up that he goes back to Asgard, then good. Perhaps my quest will be shortened if Loki can convince Father I’ve learned whatever it was I’m supposed to learn here.”

Darcy sighed and shook her head again. Asgardians were weird. Super weird, “Fine, so let’s get back to the job thing. What do you consider your strengths?” She listened attentively as Thor spoke. Getting him a job might not be easy, but that was fine. She'd done more difficult things in her life. She'd gotten herself a job.