It took Tony four days, but he managed to rid the town of those asshole hobgoblins who were running around making a ruckus of themselves by destroying all the bottles they could find.
Now, he just wanted to go home, make a nice bubble bath, read the scandalous life of one Ms. Jane Austen, and sleep for 48 hours. It was quite a bit of time since the sun had set and currently, as Tony was walking through the town, the majority of them were long asleep in their beds and even outside candlelights were blown out. That left Tony with only a sliver of the moon and the stars to guide his path to the edge of the forest where his little home was located. It was a crisp night, though not so much that the cold sunk into his cloak.
Tony’s internal clock passes over midnight when he finally comes within sight of his modest abode, but not even twenty steps away, warning bells start going off in his mind. The air is calm, collected, and too quiet. Someone managed to bypass all security, even JARVIS’s own personal touches, to get inside his home. There’s the silver-lining that any enemy Tony may still have won’t know the extent of JARVIS’s powers, as Tony’s faithful familiar oozes warning to him through their personal bond.
Unfortunately for JARVIS, Tony has always been too curious about challenges for his own good. Which, in his defense, is how he got JARVIS as a familiar in the first place. So far, Tony has a 100% success rate with risking it and getting the biscuit. He can almost hear his familiar’s mentally sigh as he turns the knob and steps inside.
“Hello, hello. I was unaware that you were expecting anything J, old boy. You should really communicate these things better-”
A shadow lunges from the corner behind Tony and even though he was already expecting it, if he wasn’t completely in tune with JARVIS’s senses, his heart would likely be bleeding all over his new Persian rug. As luck would have it, with JARVIS’s eyes, Tony ducks, twists and rolls so that he ends in a crouch that faces his mystery opponent.
As soon as he’s right-side up, he throws a flash of magic and then adjusts the sunglasses over his eyes to see through the blinding light.
The intruder, who is built more like a tank than an assassin, dodges the flash with his own extraordinary instincts, and Tony grumbles when he sees the other person has goggles that must be countering Tony’s magic. He really would rather not have to use any dangerous magic to capture this person and risk the home he’s built, but if the need arises he won’t hesitate.
He always would much rather not be killed so...
“No chance we could talk about this?” Tony ventures with a half-smile. JARVIS snorts and darts to another vantage point that is of the whole room from the top of the bookshelf in order to assist Tony better.
Two knives, both strategically timed and placed so one aims to sink into Tony’s left eye-socket while the other sneaks in the previous’ shadow to go for his jugular, is the only answer.
Tony dives to his right immediately as he lobs a quick bubblegum glue spell a few steps in front of the assassin before Tony’s body smacks the ground, not quite managing to roll with the impact.
His left arm stings some, but it’s likely only bruised and with his adrenaline pumping he’ll be fine.
His opponent’s right leg gets stuck from foot to knee in the gum substance and is sufficiently distracted enough that Tony stands and gives himself as much space and cover between them as possible.
Obviously, close-combat would fall heavily to the other’s favor and it’s still too dark inside for Tony to get a good look at where weak points in his armor would be.
The man straightens himself and pulls out a knife the size of his forearm to presumably cut himself loose and Tony’s eyes flicker to the wall behind him. If he wants to survive this, he’s going to need to get to the runes that hold his soul magic children.
Which are behind his opponent.
Who in Tony’s distracted state, has pulled out more small knives and a silencer gun, obviously deciding to kill Tony and then free himself.
Tony lunges behind his desk as more knives are thrown his way, he barely has a moment to breathe before he has to crawl towards the couch because six plops of bullets going through wood can be heard above and behind him.
He risks stopping and throwing up a shield that spans ceiling to floor, wall to wall, and shimmers blue in the dark. He actually worked really hard on the aesthetics of his house and would really like it not to be destroyed, if possible.
Although again, he would also really like to not die.
Jumping to his feet, Tony can see bullets flying against the shield in front of where he is and bounce away. Both his and JARVIS’s vision are blurry through the shield, but Tony recognizes the dark anti-magic energy surrounding the newest knife his assassin pulls out from nowhere.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Tony can’t help but cry out just after his eyesight shifts back to his own, as he assumes JARVIS is on the move with a plan. “Is his clothing enhanced with pocket-dimensional magic?” Tony stands there, scrambling for an idea, while he watches the shadows of the man stalk towards him.
Turns out JARVIS’s plan was to toss one of Tony’s lightning-in-a-bottle at the man once the shield goes down, electrocuting the man. Which goes fairly well for them once JARVIS executes and causes quite a shocking surprise for their assassin.
“J, no,” Tony whines. “Those took me seven hours for each to get the lighting inside them.”
“Sir. I think the present situation calls for a little sacrifice,” JARVIS chastises him in an alarmed voice. “Now go wake those lugs up while you can!”
Tony pouts but makes the dash for the runes, while JARVIS keeps a close eye on the other man fighting off the aftershocks of voltage.
He smacks the palm of his hand the wall to wake Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers up from their rest.
Better safe than sorry, as his mama used to say, which is why Tony goes for the aggressive approach of releasing all three at once.
A bright icy blue glow crawls up the wall from Tony’s hands that light up the runes’ spellwork as they go. A familiar tug of Tony’s magic leaving his body, mixed with his previous exhaustion, is enough for shadows to start dancing over his vision, despite the adrenaline rush of being attacked.
Tony catches movement from JARVIS’s eyes as well as the familiar's warning and turns towards the man.
With the new light, Tony is quite aware of three very important facts: just how very impressive the man’s broad shoulders are, that he has at least a head of height on Tony, and the fact he is covered head to toe in Tony’s own creation of enhanced kevlar woven with a delicate balance between magic resistance fabric and protection spellwork.
You’re not suppose to have that, Tony thinks before three animals rip from the walls and launch themselves at the man.
Tony watches as the afterglow of the spell illuminates the man, surprisingly graceful, fighting his three children at once.
Dum-E, bless his fire-breathing heart, had enough foresight to not come out in all his twenty foot glory, but even at his six foot length, he’s deadly with his pension for fire and powerful snaps of his jaw that drives the intruder back.
U is a small but fierce honey badger that keeps the man on his toes with her own swipes from her claws and stops him from being unable to do much besides dodge.
Tony kind of regrets having Butterfingers out, really he wasn’t thinking about how much damage a full grown male polar bear was going to do to the tiny shop, but he can’t deny the intimidation factor of having a full grown male polar bear charging at you and roaring in your face.
He watches for a few moments longer, still dizzy from the high of using so much magic at once, before forcing himself to get up and finish capturing his intruder.
With his children distracting the man, Tony has enough time to build up a containment spell that will end this fight sooner than later. Eyes closed, he holds his hands over the arcane symbols of his heart and focuses on gathering magic from the Earth around him. He starts with murmuring his request in a low tone and at first, the ground fights to keep itself closed, the air is stubborn, and the water clings to sleep, but Tony continues his soft pleas for assistance and it only takes a moment longer before the world around him shudders as it releases its energy.
Tony pushes through the euphoria of magic rushing into him, focused on repeating thanks and pulling as much of the magic as he can hold into. Once the air starts whipping around him and his feet begin to leave the ground, Tony opens his eyes and visualizes atoms slowing down around the assassin until there’s a thick block of ice encasing him, but holding back the magic so that the burst of energy will speed up the process.
“On my signal sir,” JARVIS informs Tony and then makes a high-pitched whistle that doesn’t translate even with their familiar-magician bond and the other three disperse to the corners of the room, leaving Tony to release the magic without worrying about friendly fire.
The man tries to dodge, but the ice claws up his form too fast and he ends up freezing in place mid-sidestep. The man tries to struggle, maybe alarmed to be able to breath inside the ice, but to no avail, although Tony swears he can hear the faint cracking of ice, which shouldn’t be possible.
Tony blinks out of the shared senses, and claps twice, lighting up the lanterns that line the top of the shop in a soft orange glow to survey the damage of the evening.
Not as bad as he thought—he’ll need to replace the sleep-a-by sprouts that were knocked over and crushed, his baby tomatoes will need to be transplanted into new pots, and he lost all but three of Pepper’s candles. The desk, of course, has holes through the front, but if he puts that side against the wall, it shouldn’t be too noticeable. He’ll have to collect the knives stuck into the walls, and rework his protection spells to stop this incident from repeating itself. He sees smudges of dried blood where, presumably his new friend had disarmed the fear spell as well as on the ceiling where he disabled the screeching alarm.
Tony turns his attention away from his shop and to the captured man, who stills his struggling after he notices Tony’s eyes on him. With the man stuck in his spell, not that Tony isn’t still on the tips of his toes in case the impossible happens and his assassin is loose once more, Tony walks closer to find clues of who the assassin might be and who might have sent him. As he passes Dum-E he scratches behind the grey dragon’s ears, to which the dork makes happy gurgling and releases unhelpful puffs of fire into the air. Then Tony almost gets knocked over by Butterfingers, who bumps against his frame, for attention. Tony stops to give the white fur on the polar bear’s chest a good scruff, eyes not off of the threat, but seeing the 600kg mass turn into goo almost distracts him.
U is the only one of them who’s attention is fully on the stranger and she’s running circles around the ice and grumbling at the lack of assassin she can attack. Tony chuckles at her antics and pokes her with his foot until she relents her harassment and goes to join her brothers.
With no other distractions, Tony walks around his captive and notes that while the kevlar is similar to his own design he made specially for Rhodey’s elite guards, there are nicks and holes in the spelling that you would never find in his own work. However, the similarity is close enough that it leaves a bad taste in his mouth.
Someone is playing in his sandbox.
He finishes his circle, eyeing the man’s goggles and mouth protection that are digging into sunken cheekbones. There’s a slight tremble in his form and Tony can feel a... wrongness to the man’s energies. They’re haywire, clashing against themselves and horribly off balance.
“Who are you,” Tony says more to himself than his visitor.
“Sir. May I advise you to step back and use better eyes?”
JARVIS’s voice definitely doesn’t make Tony jump away in surprise from a man who is clearly trapped in ice. He sends a glare over his shoulder but ultimately chooses to heed his advice.
“Okay J, show Daddy.”
JARVIS, of course, doesn’t dignify Tony’s request with a response, but does indeed show Tony what to look at by actively sharing some of his own demonic magic. It’s a process that puts the greatest strain on their bond. JARVIS has to be careful not to overwhelm Tony’s human abilities as demonic magic is a double-edged sword which allows Tony greater abilities, but may also drain his magic, life-force, and soul dry.
Like all things magic, there needs to be a balance.
“What the”― Tony’s vision narrows down to three colors; black, red, and white, where he is dumbstruck by the amount of chains tied to the man before him. Beneath the mountain of chains is the assassin’s life force, burning bright despite each red chain draining energy from it. The chains pulse as if alive, sucking energy from everything they touch. Starving.
No human, no being, should be alive, much less be able to move with the effortless manner he did and have that much chaos weighing them down.
And if Tony doubted the abuse the man was being put through, what wrapped around the man’s body stated it clearly.
There was a chain around each wrist, one wrapped up and inside the jacket of the left arm, one for each ankle, a third around his throat, another hidden by the mask to completely cover his mouth, a gnarly one that connects from inside the chest to the throat, and, lastly, one that is coming from who-knows-where-outside of the house and disappears right into the back of the man’s head.
It takes Tony twenty minutes, not including the amount of times he has to stop to dry heave from the wrongness the chains give off, to see exactly what he’s working with. The ice retreats at his touch, so he can see the high-tech goggles and silencing mouthpiece that turn out to extend down the man’s throat to dig into the soft parts of the joints between neck and clavicle, without giving the man room to attack. Tony figures out he can’t even get close to collar chain or it’s heart counterpart without causing the man pain. When Tony melts the man’s left side enough so that his wrist is firmly within the ice but he can take a knife to peel back the fabric covering the arm, the arm itself is channeling demonic energy and oh... It’s a pure metal prosthetic. Tony can’t even drool over how well designed it is, because it zaps at his magic when he skims a hand over it. Reluctantly ignoring the shiny metal arm, and determined not thinking about how much damage it’s demonic energy is doing to the flesh it is connected to, Tony circles back to the chain shooting out of the back of the head. The skin there is tender but resilient. Tony doesn’t want to know how much damage this chain already did for the nerves in the man’s head—which is arguably the most sensitive area on the body besides the heart to constrict. It’s numb enough for it to be the easiest chain for Tony to remove without causing the man pain. As he takes it out, however, Tony gets an unintentional sneak peek into the other’s mind which looks like it’s been blended into millions of shredded memories and pieces of thoughts. The chains are wrapped around his brain in such a way that Tony feels the dark magic forcing obedience and echoing what Tony can only assume were the man’s last mission orders, considering it’s his very own kill order.
There’s also an under current of whispers demanding the man kill himself in case of capture that makes Tony step back and take a few moments to realign himself away from the negative mindset. When he goes back, he can’t help the tremor in his hands as he works and hums to distract himself from the intoxicating pull of demonic magic.
As soon as the chains release,the man’s shoulders slump with obvious relief. Carrying the weight of a demonic contract, much less one as extensive as the one they just released, is a horrific experience and one Tony was glad to free the man from.
The snap echoes around the room.
“That’s not good,” is all JARVIS can warn, tail twitching side by side from the bookshelf, before the man franticly starts trying to writhe around, the ice does indeed crack as the man’s mouth opens to scream bloody murder, and every single chain left is digging themselves into his body.
Blood begins pouring out of every hole on the man’s head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, as the man continues to spasm and break the ice.
There’s not much time other than for Tony to phase his hands through the ice and kevlar to place both palms directly on the other’s chest and drive as much of his own magic inside the man to stop the advancement of the chains.
It’s a Hail Mary pass that holds true when everything stops moving and all that’s left is Tony struggling to hold the chains back while also balancing the amount of magic he is pouring so as to not end up killing the poor man in an attempt to save his life.
The absurdity of the situation finally catches up to Tony and he can’t help the manic laughter that bubbles up from his chest in a mix of relief and what-the-fuck-is-going-on. Of course the laughter doesn’t help his control for the balancing act, and almost makes him slips his hold on the chains. Thank the gods that the man has passed out, when his body twitches in reflex to Tony being a complete walnut-head.
Also, thank the gods for JARVIS, because while Tony found a very temporary solution for stopping the damage, his familiar is two steps ahead and instructing Tony’s children into making a rough magic circle with Tony in the center.
One by one, by JARVIS’s word, each of them approach and grab hold of one chain and slowly pull the chains back out and to remove as much foreign magic from the body before they start to test the limits of the assassin’s durability anymore. It takes forever because Tony has to remove the precise amount of the magic equal to the amount they’re pulling out to keep the process working smoothly.
“Sir, I really must protest this plan of yours,” JARVIS chastises, but it’s a weak argument. He doesn’t add anything that would be another solution on the end, just protests for the sake of protesting.
“Well buddy,” Tony grits out in between deep breaths, “I hardly think we are working this hard to let the man die, right?”
Tony can’t hear JARVIS’s returning grumbles over the ringing in his ears from the effort to hold everything steady with the last drizzle of magic circling within the man.
Honest to the gods he just wants to lie on the floor and sleep until the next lunar cycle is over.
How simple letting go would be?
It was and is a lose-lose situation.
Tony certainly tried.
He already came this far and fuck it, Tony can feel the man’s heartbeat within himself, he can feel each inhale and exhale from the man’s lungs. The pain and weight of the chains as if he too were carrying― wait what, is all Tony’s mind processes before everything goes black.
_ _ _
Tony wakes up to a horrid smell as he blinks up at his living room ceiling. His head is pounding, his throat dry, and he can’t place how he ended up taking a nap on the floor. The deja vu back to his more frivolous days is concerning, especially since he stopped drinking six years ago.
“Oh good sir, you’re awake. Our… guest is in the parlor having tea with Dum-E while Butterfingers is keeping U away.”
“Wha-” Tony, always one to rip the bandaid off, sits up far too quickly and has to let the room finish spinning before trying to finish his sentence. Of course, his eyesight focuses right on Butterfingers carrying around a thrashing U in his jaws like a misbehaving cub while he cleans the glass shards with his paws. He watches them for a few moments as U successfully wiggles herself free enough for her to be only hanging from Butterfingers’s mouth by her excessive skin, only for him to toss her up in the air and snatch her around her body again. She let’s a wail of displeasure, and then once more begins thrashing.
“Hmm?” Tony looks over when JARVIS doesn’t answer, and the damn white cat is sauntering away towards the kitchen, tail swishing up high like the cat who ate the canary.
Rubbing his face with a groan, Tony hops up to follow with the slightest feeling he’s forgotten something important. He was dead tired dealing with rascal hobgoblins and he came home to—
Everything connects when he walks inside his kitchen as memories rush back to smack Tony in the face when he stops dead in his tracks at the scene of the man, minus goggles, mouthpiece, and tac gear, who was trying to kill him and is carefully clinking china tea cups with Dum-E.
Tony swears he barely even whispers the word and the man is out of his chair, backing himself into the corner, and curling in on himself in an instant.
“Most eloquent sir.” JARVIS can’t roll his eyes but his voice is dripping with enough sarcasm to make up for that loss. Dum-E, on the other hand, is spewing smoke and fire at Tony, his displeasure much more apparent with his agitated wings and smacking the table with his claws.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m the asshole,” Tony flips off both animals, but guilt over the sheer terror he managed to invoke from the assassin gnaws at him. It doesn’t help that the man is wearing Rhodey’s oversized kitten sweater and a pair of ancient sweats that have lost their elasticity, making the man look more like his MO is killing others with cute-overload rather than conventional weapons and... Oh Boy, that was not a thought Tony needed at the moment.
“Hey there,” Tony says softly, crouching down and slowly lifting both hands in the air to show he’s not a threat. “Sorry about that. I guess we both gave the other a surprise.” Tony makes sure he keeps his eyes locked with the other to telegraph his sincerity.
The man searches Tony’s eyes, then lowers his own to look at the ground in what Tony can identify as submission.
“I’m Tony, what can I call you,” he tries again, feeling like they’re at a tipping point between total disaster and a possibility for this to go well, all things considered.
Several expressions flicker across the man’s face but he says nothing, just glares at the ground until JARVIS strolls on through and plops himself next to Tony.
The man’s eyes are on them, Tony is definitely peeking at him from the corner of his vision.
With Tony’s attention split, whenever he goes to reach over and pet JARVIS, the damn cat easily dodges. Right when Tony finally tries to snatch him up, which Tony knows he hates, JARVIS up and leaves towards the corner but not before swatting Tony with a flick of his tail.
JARVIS stops before him and meows at the man. Not an “oh other people can’t hear him like Tony does so it might come out as a meow or other weird cat noises” but a straight up “I’m a cat and I’m speaking to a precious baby so I’m meowing at you like I’m actually just a cat” meow.
They stare and Tony doesn’t know who’s more shocked at the turn of events, himself or the stranger who apparently befriended all of Tony’s family while Tony was knocked out.
The man glances between Tony and JARVIS, before JARVIS walks forward and nudges the metal hand, which the man snatches away like JARVIS burnt him. This time, the bugger draws out the sound of a meow to be lonelier, more pleading, like the manipulative little devil spawn he is.
Tony didn’t notice he said any of that out loud until JARVIS replies primly.
“You insult me sir. I am simply trying to make our guest feel more comfortable. After all, we have questions and considering you accidentally bonded your lifelines together at the moment. It would be counterproductive to be anything but civil.”
“Wait what- J what do you mean I bonded us?” Tony tries to command JARVIS’ attention, but the mystery man has finally given back his metal hand for JARVIS to sniff, and the traitorous cat’s whole attention on sniffing it, nudging his head happily against it, and then curling himself into the man’s lap and purring up a storm when the man tentatively starts to pet him.
“Traitor,” Tony spits, startling the man once more into stilling himself. Tony rolls his eyes and stands to get some coffee.
“Not you, murder man, that horrible growth of fur that has taken up residence on top of your legs. But-” Tony spots a fresh pot of coffee with a small magic circle below to keep it fresh and steaming, “-there seems to be some… uh… interesting developments since I decidedly took a little nap.”
Tony gets behind the center divide to grab a mug from above the cupboard and takes a peek outside the window while he pours coffee and is greeted by the soft glow of dawn, placing the estimated time of nap between three or four hours.
Turning back to the man, Tony absent-mindedly itches at his left arm. Either he hurt in more than he thought during the fight or the persistent itch in his skin isn’t actually his.
The man is staring down at JARVIS with awe, and Tony immediately feels guilty for having to disturb the peaceful state he’s in at the moment. Contrary to Rhodey, Pepper, and JARVIS’s beliefs, Tony did have self-preservation skills and was able to handle tough situations that required not running away from issues just because they required “work.”
He grabs his mail that JARVIS was always bothering him to sort and made himself to look as non-threatening as possible. Really the fact that he terrifies the other man should have been ridiculous and in a regular situation between assassin and assassee, it would have been.
“So then,” Tony dives right in and feels the man watching him as he flips through the mail and sips at his coffee. “We are in quite the predicament if what I think that fuzzball has just told me, is correct. The good news? The chain that was playing Simon Says in your mind is gone, so you should be free and clear of that particular influence.”
The man doesn’t look all that comforted by the news given, which Tony considers might be due to the fact he has no idea how long the man has been someone’s killer puppet.
“You don’t look like that’s good news… uh… well that asshole loves you,” Tony adds a little unsure of how comforting that might be, JARVIS, being the enormous pain in Tony’s ass, rolls over to expose his stomach for rubs and winks to taunt Tony. The man obediently, but cautiously, gives JARVIS’s belly scratches.
Bastard demonic creature.
“Sir. Now you’re just being childish.”
“Bad,” the man prompts, still looking at JARVIS like the rat of a cat hung the moon, and Tony goes back to casually discarding his mail.
“Bad news is… okay there’s way more bad than good but considering we’re not actively trying to kill one another, more of you not trying to kill me-” the man flinches and Tony backtracks, “The point being. The main big bad news- recently bad news? Bad News is, well it seems… I might have…” Tony trails off, downs his coffee, takes a deep breath, and starts over. “I may have somehow, by total accident, bounded our life-forces together and I am extremely sorry.”
Somewhere in the middle of his ramblings, Tony began pacing back and forth across the small kitchen area.
When Tony finally looks over at the man, he’s surprised to find him finally glancing directly at him and looking way more relaxed than before the bad news.
“Okay,” the man says.
“Okay,” Tony repeats dumbly and then with a little more incredulity, “this is not okay.”
“Okay,” The man responses again and tilts his head to the side, causing Tony to throw his hands in the air and huff out “un-fucking-believable”.
“Well I’m glad you’re so relaxed about going from someone forcibly bonding you to them against their will to me forcibly bonding you with no consent, because we’re going to be spending way more time in the same presence than either of us originally anticipated.”
JARVIS has finally chosen to leave the man’s lap and intertwine himself in-between Tony’s legs to butt up against his calves. Dum-E, obviously also sensing Tony’s rising frustration, slinks out of the room as quietly as he can. Tony notices but focuses on breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth to calm himself.
“Thank you, J.”
“My pleasure, sir. Shall I round up the others?”
“Sure. How much trouble could they have gotten into?” Tony asks rhetorically right when a crash can be heard from the living room followed by the telltale sounds of scurrying feet. Tony runs a hand over his face. “Scratch that, please don’t even tell me.”
JARVIS gives Tony what he likes to call his “you poor naive human” eyes and promptly leaves Tony alone with the ex-assassin… or the previously-trying-to-kill-him assassin?
“Hmm? What now?”
“My name. You called-” the man, James apparently, motions to where JARVIS has just left through the doorway. “I remembered.”
“I called my familiar ‘J’ for JARVIS and you were able to piece together your name as ‘James’ from just that,” Tony clarifies, sounding more accusing than impressed by how James shrinks back into himself. He nods though, so at least they’re getting somewhere but honestly whatever sick asshole above decided Tony was the person to be taking care of a victim to mind-control, was sure getting their laughs in. Tony hoped they choke on them.
“Sorry. Honestly not trying to be a dick. That’s just amazing that you were able to piece it together that fast and with almost nothing to go on. And that’s good. Really good,” Tony adds the last parts on quickly, and watches James fidget some more in his seat.
“Look,” Tony says, scratching behind his head, “how about we go back to the table so we can both sit and I don’t have to be standing here while you sit, you know? It’s a weird power dynamic that I do not enjoy.”
James looks between the table and Tony, nods, and then immediately stands and blinks at Tony expectingly.
“Oh. Oh!” It took him a moment to understand James is waiting for him to go first and quickly grabs the coffee and goes to sit at the chair Dum-E was previously in. James follows suit, siting where he previously was, and then instantly looks back down towards his lap.
“Coffee?” Tony lifts the coffee pot in emphasis, not that James is looking at him.
James pushes a full cup of tea towards Tony, which makes him blink dumbly.
“You’re going to need to drink this before-” Tony doesn’t even finish the sentence before James takes back the mug and downs, what is likely now cold tea, and then places the mug before Tony again with absolutely no emotion throughout the whole ordeal.
“Okay.” Tony makes a mental note not to make any sort of order or demand when talking with James for the time being. Tony pours him a cup of coffee and ends up almost lunging over the table when James immediately grabs the cup and makes a move to drink the hot liquid.
“Don’t drink it now,” Tony shouts in a panic and then slams both palms over his mouth in horror.
James for the most part just stops and then slowly lowers the mug back down onto the table in front of himself.
“Sorry.” Tony deflates, shutting his eyes for a moment. “I would... um, recommend giving it a moment to cool, that’s all.”
James places the cup back down slowly and then just stares at it. Tony, for the most part, is beyond exhausted now and pushes on in order to get this over with as soon as possible. If by some miracle they get this done and have enough information to set up some solid plan, they’ll be able to rest a little before needing to jump right into finding out who might be after them.
“Let’s just… I don’t think we have the luxury of time, so I’m going to ask you some questions. If you don’t know the answers that’s completely fine, okay?”
Tony watches and waits until James nods to continue, “And if you don’t want to tell me something, you don’t have to, okay?”
That one makes James’s eyes flicker upwards to meet Tony’s for a brief moment and then proceed to flit elsewhere before he shyly nods again.
“Actually. I’ll start off with what I know.” Tony sits back and runs through the past day to figure out where it’s relevant to start.
“I was out for a call, hobgoblins with an obsession for bottles, nothing too unusual there”― Tony rubs his five-day-old facial hair and then sticks his tongue.
“Uhhhhh, came home to you waiting in my house, unexpected and not completely welcomed but we’re good now,” Tony says it lightly and smiles at James in hopes to convey warmth and friendliness, “we’re accidentally bonded and I have the weirdest urge to bounce my right knee right now that I have never had before.”
As soon as he said it, James startles up to lock eyes with him.
“I…” James looks down and frowns at his mug, “I don’t think I’m supposed to like coffee?”
So, maybe they’re sharing habits, that’s not too unusual. Sharing pain and sensations, also will be able to tune out eventually. Tony should probably eventually make sure James is able to master toning Tony’s own weird habits and ticks out. The kiddos definitely picked up some interesting habits from Tony. All in the usual soul-bonding 101. Cool, cool, cool.
“Well, I think that’s about it.”
Tony and James each take a sip of their drinks, perhaps as an unconscious truce in preparation for what they both know will be the harder part of this.
“Do you happen to have any questions I could do my best to answer?” Tony asks, partly in an attempt to stall and partly just to give the man a chance at independent thought. Tony already anticipated the lost and uncomfortable frown that currently paints James’s face, as if he’s digging for something he knows is there but can’t quite grasp it. That anticipation didn’t make the reality hurt any less.
“No,” he says it like an ashamed confession and, oh boy is Tony fighting the urge to give this poor guy a massive hug and just say the upcoming week is cancelled.
Instead, Tony puts on his big boy pants and pushes on for the both of them. They aren’t safe and they don’t know their enemies and are being forced to guard with their backs to each other without any real trust between them. Even if Tony could put himself in that position, he won’t risk JARVIS, the kiddos, or even James’s life on it.
So as gently as possible, Tony asks James what he can remember of himself, if he can remember who might have sent him to kill Tony, and if there is anything he can think of that could help them find out anything about the previous two questions.
Besides his name, James’s memories are rather blank. He was woken, as usual in the cold, given the mission to target Tony, watched him for a week and found the moment to strike when Tony would be exhausted from the hobgoblins. He remembered the fight they had, how he was impressed with Tony’s unexpected skill in combat, being trapped, and then the horrible pain. He remembers waking up unusually slow, but there was the cold from the ice that made him think he was back at debrief until JARVIS thawed him out, got him clothes, and basically shooed him to the kitchen with Dum-E.
Not once does he look directly at Tony while reciting his monologue. He just stared straight ahead into nothingness, reciting the information in short precise answers.
“How-” Tony pauses to clear his throat, “How are you feeling now?”
James blinks out of his stupor and takes a moment to think over the question before he responses, “Confused.”
Tony can’t help that his eyebrows shoot up and he quickly takes another sip of coffee to cover it up. Not because he’s surprised by the confusion, but the fact James took the initiative to say he is confused, to be able to self-identify his emotions. These are big steps and short periods of time.
“That makes sense. Do you know why, or is it a more general confusion?” Tony asks, squashing down his excitement to not cause James any additional stress.
James holds Tony’s gaze and the latter is trying very hard to concentrate past grey-blue eyes, a wicked jawline, a thousand other not-helpful thoughts as well as the openness being displayed to him.
“You,” James starts and then breaks eye contact to look down and his long forgotten coffee.
“This coffee,” he continues and then looks over to the doorway where the background shuffling of familiars cleaning can be heard.
“Them.” Then looking back at Tony, “Everything is… kind.”
Well that’s just heart-breaking. Tony fights the urge to scrub his face right off, along with several other unhelpful ticks, including James’s apparent knee bouncing habit that Tony is sure he doesn’t do even if he feels the urge.
“Listen, our meeting? Nothing of that was your fault or even in your power to control. And that whole shitshow of us being connected—which even accidentally, is my fault and a horrible thing I did to you when trying to help free you from whatever sick fuck did that—, and any of those chains that are still there within you. We’re going to figure this out and I will do everything in my power to remove those chains from you, and definitely my own doing because you deserve that.” Tony has much more to say but one look at James’s shutdown expression stops him there.
“James,” Tony calls softly, placing his hand near James’s metal one - they are not quite touching, but Tony could shift one or two fingers and make it so. Oh and how dangerous that would be, he muses. When James looks at him with clear eyes, he says in his most reassuring voice possible, “because you deserve kindness. You always have and you always will.”
James blinks at him and then looks over Tony’s shoulder, back at nothing.
“Well then, tall, broody, and gloomy, it seems we have an adventure before us,” Tony says gathering the cold coffee pot to put it back on JARVIS’s heating spell and then sneaks a peek at James, who’s rolling his eyes with―Tony would dare to say―the beginning of a fond smile.