Category: AU, canon divergence, terminal illness, resurrection, cheacter death
♦ Fic-A-Week Project 2014 - Week 29
♦ When I Grow Up... - The Adventures of a Young Tony Stark Part 3
Notes: I struggled to figure out if I should warn for stuff in this story and ended up with what you see in the category section above. Possibly this story IS depressing (I made myself sad), but it does has a slight uplift to the end. The whole idea came along when I realized Tony can't let go, can't help but change the rules when he doesn't like them.
Word count: 1,525
Just because you find that life's not fair, it
doesn't mean that you just have to grin and bear it.
- Mathilda - the musical
Tony is forty one the day Charles first tells them that he's been diagnosed - with terminal cancer. It's the day where Erik trashes the basement training room and Tony quietly tells everyone he can't be reached and locks himself up in his lab. Neither he nor Erik have ever been very good at dealing with emotions - especially not their own.
At 3AM, Tony has an idea (after the schematics of five inventions and far too many cups of coffee to keep count of). At 3.30AM, he looks up from his blueprint and wonders briefly, if maybe he's tinkering with things he shouldn't be. A moment later, he shakes his head and goes back to work.
When they said terminally ill, Tony thought they would have, at most, a few weeks and he works overtime, tinkering with this and that, tweaking the plans until he's sure they'll work. Although it's not like he can test it on anyone. It's all theory, but it's what Tony is good at, always has been.
It's what Charles has continued through the years to tell him in words, and Erik in deeds.
It turns out they have almost a year, and Tony gets new ideas, keeps adding this and that and in the end... he has what he was aiming for - with all the bells and whistles. When the day comes and Charles ends up in hospital, on life support, Tony silently watches as most metal in Erik's vicinity melts without him even noticing. Tony silently sets his plan in motion, asking JARVIS to keep it quiet. JARVIS, who Tony programmed to be a know it all, apparently, tells him that it's not a thing he should do, but Tony tells him to stuff it.
He's not good at letting go, and furthermore, he doesn't want to.
The transfer is done seconds before the body finally gives in and Tony leaves his brother to grieve, because he can't handle grief himself and he knows Erik doesn't do well with it either. Charles always told them that they were terribly stoic people and that bottling up your emotions was never a good idea.
Tony has learned this, to a certain point. Now he channels his grief, anger at the world and general inability to let sleeping dogs lie, into his newest project.
Four months later, blue eyes flicker open and Tony is hit with the familiar inquisitiveness of his uncle's mind. A moment later, because Charles has never been slow on the uptake, uneasefearnaseadisappointment hits him as well.
"Tony, what have you done?" The voice is familiar, but there's a tremble to it that tells Tony that his programming of the mind and vocal cords is above and beyond what he'd hoped for.
Tony puts his hand on the bare shoulder, staring down at his uncle Charles, who looks back at him in mild horror and surprise. The body is perfect. Muscular as Tony remembers it before the cancer, strong, broad shouldered.
"Tony, why would you do this to me?" Charles asks, voice deceptively calm. It's so much like the Charles Tony's known most his life. The man who supported his choices when he'd been in doubt, the one who'd been at his graduation alongside Erik. The one who'd held him when they had heard the news of Howard and Maria's accident.
Charles' disappointment with him hits as hard as Erik's anger does. And the subsequent four months; his brother doesn't talk to him, doesn't answer calls, emails or IMs. It takes Charles sitting him down and explaining to him that Erik had come some way in dealing with his grief and Tony creating a new body for Charles' mind has torn open those scars again and Erik will deal with it, but Tony has to give him time.
All the while, Tony tries to work through Charles' disappointment. The man inhabiting the new android body has a lot to come to terms with. There's the gap in his memory of the time from his death to re-awakening in Tony's lab. There's the fact that he has hair, which apparently freaks him out a bit - because he keeps running his hand through it. And there's the fact that, for all his hard learned control of his telepathy, it apparently takes relearning in this new body. Tony initially offers to program his mind with mental walls, but the look of hurt on Charles' face makes him leave the lab for a while - leave well enough alone.
Eventually, Charles asks him to take the hair away, because it makes him feel strange seeing his image in the mirror with... hair. Tony doesn't ask if he's sure. He knews better than to argue with Charles.
Months later, Erik comes to him, late one night while Tony's hanging over his computer in the lab. He doesn't say anything to Tony for a long while, just stands there, right inside the door, silent and foreboding.
Tony doesn't initiate the conversation. He knows Erik better than that. Normally Tony will run his mouth when he's nervous, but in this case, he has assured himself that he's done the right thing. Seeing Charles walking about, in a strong, immortal body, only strengthens that notion.
When Erik finally talks, Tony listens, because he cares, because he respects his stubborn older brother and because he owes Erik this - and Charles as well, because Charles has told him, more than once, that he needs to be patient with Erik. And maybe it's finally sunk in. As it is, this is one of the few times where he and Erik touch, hold each other and cry. Tony understands why Erik is upset with him and what he's done, and he thinks, no, he knows that Erik understands why Tony did what he did.
Because Tony can't let go. He let go of Maria and Howard, who had never been as close to him as Charles and Erik have over the years.
When Erik moves to leave, both of them red eyed, he stops at the door. "Did you ever consider what would happen to Charles when I die? When you die?"
Tony sits down on his chair, taking a deep breath. Erik knows the answer to this question is 'no'. Erik leaves without waiting for an answer, the pain in his slumped shoulders is enough to tell Tony the whole story.
That night Tony takes out blueprints that he made a few months earlier. He'd shelved them when Erik had stopped talking to him. Now he's looking at them again.
When, years down the line, Erik dies, Tony captures his mind as he did Charles'. This time, however, he loads it into a computer matrix and asks Erik, if he wants to be let go or if he wants what Tony is offering him.
Charles is by his side, silently not looking at the computer, tears reddening his eyes (because Tony doesn't do things by half - Charles' body might be artificial, but it works as well as any body does).
Suddenly Charles reaches out and puts his hand on the monitor, breathing in deeply. And Erik finally speaks to them. Asks Tony to do one thing for them. If Erik is taking the offer of a new body, a second chance - that Tony build in an automated aging process - they don't want to survive forever. And Charles promises Erik that if Erik goes first, then Charles wants to be able to end his own life.
Tony blinks rapidly. He's not going to start crying, he's far too old for that, but... he turns to Charles and the man is watching him intensely. Charles has long since mastered this body's abilities, and there's no bleedthrough. Nodding, Tony agrees. Of course he does. And no matter what they might think, he does understand. He's impulsive, but he believes, deep down, that this is the right thing to do.
The world isn't ready to lose these two men, he isn't ready to lose them.
Don't kill me, he thinks, wondering if Charles will hear him. Hits a button and a frosted glass wall slide to the side, revealing a pod with an inanimate body resting in it. It's a replica of Erik's body a few years back. When he was still lean and strong, brown hair only just gone white. Still capable of winning most fights, physical or powered. Hell, he could've kept up with Tony's team - in most cases probably outdo them - Erik's always been sneakier than any of them put together.
Like when he built Charles' body, he's taken the mutant abilities into account and this body is as powerful as the one they put in the ground next to Charles'.
Tony turns his head and watches a single tear roll down Charles' face. Tony doesn't say anything, just puts his arm around Charles' shoulder and leans into him.
"JARVIS, begin the procedure," Tony finally says, and the glass wall goes completely white as a countdown starts.