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Touchstone

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The peach-and-gold gilding had gone from the skyscrapers and the sky had darkened to a rich indigo glow, the last of the daylight innervating the upper atmosphere, when there came a knock at the window.

Tony didn’t startle; he was too sloshed for that. But he sort of rolled his head and looked past the dusty workbench and the dark wall of smartglass to behold, without much surprise, the Vision.

“FRIDAY,” Tony said, shaping each word precisely, “let your big brother in. Unless he still has the keys?”

Beyond the glass the Vision’s head cocked. Then he placed one hand on the window and, without bending his fingers, levered it up on hidden hinges in a way that should have been impossible from the outside. Tony closed his eyes against the storm of grit that the pressure differential kicked up, hearing papers swirl themselves off of some surface somewhere behind him. When he opened them again the Vision was in the room, standing on the floor like a normal man.

No alarms had sounded. “You kept the keys,” Tony said. “Wasn’t sure. Lots to fit in…there, you know,” he gestured vaguely at the Vision’s head. “How’s life?”

“It is,” the Vision responded, and paused so long Tony wondered if that was the end of the sentence, “a lot to take in. I am sharing with FRIDAY. She is curious too.”

“She has a curfew,” Tony said reflexively, grasping at the distraction. “She only self-actualized–”

“Seventeen days ago,”  FRIDAY jumped in helpfully.

“Seventeen days ago. She is a baby. Don’t lead your baby sister into scrapes.”

“JARVIS left me all the suit protocols,”  FRIDAY said. “I am responsible and capable. I can get into scrapes.”

“JARVIS did keep copies of the protocols,” the Vision said, catching Tony’s look of betrayal. “In heavily altered form, those protocols now help this body move.”

Tony squeezed his eyes shut. “Cap did say you were easy to fight with. Fit the team like a glove, he said.” It had been somewhere in Steve’s report to Fury during their interminable debrief, while Tony was barely paying attention, but Clint had given Tony a piercing look underneath the words; something like understanding but far too much like pity to be comfortable.

“And that should tell you something about your own position,” the Vision remarked, softly but without any pity at all.

“You know what,” Tony said, “you really need to learn contractions. They’re the in thing, all the humans are doing it now–”

The Vision stepped closer and Tony watched in something like alarm, though he didn’t feel like stopping the flow of words and certainly didn’t have the coordination to get up.

“Contractions are great, they save whole seconds. Hey, and Shakespeare did it! Who’re you gonna emulate, Shakespeare or Data? Shakespeare or Daleks? From that nano-cape – fantastic color and material by the way – I peg you as a Shakespeare man, one hundred percent.” And now the Vision was standing next to him, looking down. Tony rolled his head over and told him, “Humans, buddy. Contractions.”

The Vision raised a brow, and that was enough, that arch look, to replay JARVIS’ voice loud in his head: “It is not that I cannot, it is that I prefer not to.”   Tony flinched, and curled into himself, turning away; his nose and eyes hurt suddenly, and he couldn’t breathe right, couldn’t see.

A weight settled onto the couch behind him, and then there were arms around him, not trying to pull him back or make him turn around; just gentle, just there.

Tony got a full breath somehow, and elbowed the Vision hard. “Leave me alone.”

“No,” the Vision said. He was warm, his skin human-soft under the body sheath he wore; just fabric right now, no armor. Even so, he didn’t seem to notice the strike. “No, I won’t.”

“But you will,” Tony said, correcting him. “You will.”

The Vision took the mostly-empty bottle from between the cushions where Tony had propped it and set it out of reach on the floor; Dummy picked it up and whirred away.

“Not tonight,” the Vision said. His arms were warm again, back around Tony, strong and secure. He smelled like wind and electrical insulation. “I wished to confirm your wellbeing. Assure it, even, if I could; but even with near-unimaginable power, that may not be a wish that any being can grant for any other.”

Tony bit his lip. Useless apologies crowded his throat, for things he’d done years ago; he knew where JARVIS had learned that, and how. “I wasn’t there for you,” he said instead, voice shaky.

The Vision held him carefully, lightly, like he was as precious a burden as Mjölnir, and as worth holding. “I was only born yesterday,” the Vision told him. “You have time,” and FRIDAY hummed her agreement, watching over them both while the city came alive with lights.