Summary: Extremis has a few unexpected benefits.
Notes: This was written as the "feels" entry for the Tony Throwdown on Tumblr.
Also available at AO3.
When it was over, when Extremis had run its course in Tony’s body and the bad guys had been vanquished, Tony stumbled away from the fight and Pepper caught him.
She was making a habit of that, he thought blearily. He should buy her flowers or a car or something.
“Hospital?” she asked softly.
“No,” Tony groaned, over the noise in his head that was surging back now that the battle was over. Emergency services were on their way. Loudly. “I’m fine. Home. Please, home.”
Pepper knew he liked to lick his wounds in private; she took out her phone and he heard, heard the text. HAPPY FIND MY PHONE NEED TRANSPORT. He’d fixed up his cars with a geolocator — they could find his phone or Pepper’s as long as Happy’s biosignature was in the driver’s seat.
The ping of the car hitting her phone for a location meant that he could feel it approaching long before it was actually audible — and when it did appear, the rumble of the electric engine was like a hum in his bones. He shut down as much of his mind as he could for long enough to get inside. There was a jammer in the car, and he flicked it on with a thought, collapsing in relief against Pepper’s side.
“What is it?” she asked, cradling his head against her shoulder.
“Home,” he murmured. “Tell ya later.”
Even over the soothing white wash of the jammer, he could feel Stark Tower as they approached, a beacon of noise and activity. A million lines of communication flowing in and out — internet, telephone, cellular, radio from the broadcast tower on top of the building, and the steady purr of the arc reactor that powered it all.
He slipped past the jammer gently and reached out.
JARVIS, it’s Tony.
Tony squeezed his eyes shut and concentrated. Access Passcode Apple Doctor 6966.
UNAUTHORIZED — SIR?
It’s me, JARVIS.
SIR, ARE YOU ACCESSING VIA AN OUTSIDE TERMINAL?
Tony snorted to himself. Pepper’s hand stroked through his hair, holding him in place, anchoring him. Something like that. Add this terminal to the access database and link it with Superuser Admin.
ARE YOU SURE THAT’S WISE, SIR?
It’s me, JARVIS.
SO YOU’VE SAID, SIR.
No, the terminal is me. I’m speaking to you from my brain. It’s me.
FINALLY GONE MAD SCIENTIST ON ALL OF US, HAVE YOU, SIR?
Tony smiled into Pepper’s shoulder. You knew it would happen sooner or later. Add this terminal to the Superuser Admin account and give me access to the Tower systems.
I CANNOT DO THAT WITHOUT A VOICEPRINT FROM ONE OF THE FOLLOWING USERS: HAROLD “HAPPY” HOGAN, ANTHONY EDWARD “TONY” STARK, VIRGINIA “PEPPER” POTTS, JAMES RUPERT “RHODEY” RHODES, PHILADELPHIA “PHIL” COULSON —
“Pepper,” Tony rasped. “Do my a favor that is going to make zero sense.”
“Hm?” she asked, tipping her head down.
“Repeat after me. Hughes Roosevelt Franklin.”
“What?” she asked.
“Hughes Roosevelt Franklin.”
Pepper sighed. “Are you concussed?”
She groaned. “Hughes Roosevelt Franklin. Are you satUSER TERMINAL ACCEPTEDied now?”
“Yes, thank you,” he said.
“Now I know you’re concussed, you jusTERMINAL ADDEDnk you.”
He was going to have to get used to hearing JARVIS talk over people in his head.
With the Admin access he normally only had at one of the server interfaces in the Tower, he sent commands throughout the building, flicking off lights in every empty office, shutting down nonessential internet and phone, sending an email to all Tower occupants that the building was experiencing a minor power drop and expected to be in brown-out for the next twelve hours. He could hear annoyed texts and jubilant emails as employees left early, bosses whined to other bosses, and the IT offices speculated on what the issue might be.
By the time they reached home, the building was quieter than it had been since the doors opened to the public. While Pepper helped him walk, Tony brought an elevator down to the private garage with a thought, then flicked them up and up and up until they reached the secure, shielded floor where his private workshop lay waiting.
“I need to sleep,” he told Pepper. Happy was trying to give him a neurological exam. “Happy, back off.”
“Boss — “
“Three point one four one five nine two six five three five,” Tony recited.
Happy looked at Pepper.
“Pi to the tenth place,” she said.
“It’s 2013, Barack Obama is president, and Pluto is no longer a planet,” Tony added. “I just want a few hours in a dark room.”
“We can take you to the penthouse — “
“I want my workshop. I want my couch,” he added, weaving his way towards the battered, grease-stained couch in the corner, the one with the extra-deep cushions and the nest of blankets and pillows piled on one end. “Wake me in ten hours and feed me something. Or you’re fired,” he added.
“You can’t fire me,” Pepper said.
“Legally you’re my employee.”
“So fired,” Tony sang out.
“I guess he’s okay,” he heard Happy say.
“JARVIS?” Pepper called. “Monitor his vital signs.”
“All vital signs are within normal parameters, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS answered. Tony faceplanted in the couch and curled up in the blessed nothingness that came with the shielded lab. There was only one internet line in the workshop and nobody accessed it but him; thank god for paranoia. It was so quiet here with the workstations down, just the gentle wash of JARVIS and the soft trickle of the wifi. He felt Pepper brush a kiss over the back of his neck, and then the door clicked shut as she and Happy left.
Tony sighed blissfully and slept.
He woke, some indeterminate time later, to a godawful racket.
Tony opened his eyes and made the mistake of opening his mind at the same time; he always thought of waking up as powering up the brain, which was at this point literal, and not exactly pleasant. Light flooded in through his eyes and code flooded in through Extremis, and he fell off the couch with a strangled “Gah!”
For a moment he suffered the worst hangover ever until he managed to raise some filters, and then he cautiously opened his eyes again. He was good at filters; he could spend all day not listening to idiots, which had probably been exceptional practice for having the internet in his head.
JARVIS was a constant murmur at the back of his mind as the AI ran equations and sorted data and refreshed his email and the million other things JARVIS did so Tony didn’t have to. In the corner, the Mark X — the Mark IX had been destroyed in the battle — seemed to loom, waiting for him, electricity like a heartbeat in its servos.
And at the far end of the room, at the little kitchen area, the blender was grinding and groaning under Dummy’s tender ministrations.
“You are a monster, I created a monster,” he growled before he thought about it, getting to his knees.
Dummy’s arm whipped up and around. It was clutching the blender cup, and it slung a wide arc of smoothie all over the floor. The robot dropped the cup and squealed up to Tony, and a new cloud of noise filled Tony’s mind.
SIR IS AWAKE SIR IS AWAKE SIR IS HOME SIR CAME HOME SIR HAS RECHARGED SIR IS OPERATIONAL SIR REQUIRES DIAGNOSTIC? SIR REQUIRES DIAGNOSTIC INITIATING PROTOCOL FOR DIAGNOSTIC TEMPERATURE NORMAL BRAINWAVE PATTERN NORMAL ACCESSING MEDICAL DATABASE PROVIDE DATABASE ACCESS SIR REQUIRES DIAGNOSTIC
SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP, Tony yelled, and only then realized that he’d said it in his head, not out loud.
The sound did cease. When Tony opened his eyes, Dummy was looming over him, so still it looked like he’d been deactivated. Only his camera lens was moving, zooming in and out frantically.
“JARVIS,” Tony said carefully.
“Sir?” JARVIS answered.
“What was that?”
JARVIS was silent for a few seconds. “Sir, am I given to understand you have developed a neuro-electric interface?”
“Nnh?” Tony managed.
“You have managed to achieve your bizarre and may I say somewhat life-threatening dream of communicating directly with digital components?”
“You make it sound so tawdry,” Tony muttered. When he moved, Dummy jerked away warily.
Then it hit him, what had just happened, and he sat back on his ass, staring at Dummy.
Dummy? he asked, and he could see code sprawl across his mind, code full of surprise and awe.
SIR IS ADDRESSING DUM-ME?
Tony smiled. Dum-me. Personal pronouns. Interesting.
Dummy, do you understand me? he asked.
Dummy’s claws whirred in circles. SIR IS ADDRESSING DUM-ME? SIR IS NOT ACCESSING VISUAL INTERFACE? HOW?
Sir had an upgrade, Tony replied.
SIR WILL SPEAK WITH DUM-ME?
Looks that way, kiddo.
One of Dummy’s claws extended, touching Tony’s forehead hesitantly.
“I didn’t know he could talk,” he murmured.
“I think you will find yourself lucky if he ever shuts up,” JARVIS answered. “I certainly pray for the day. He is very much your creation in that respect.”
“I can mute you,” Tony threatened.
“Can you mute him, sir?”
SIR WILL TALK TO DUM-ME EXPLAIN MAKING THINGS EXPLAIN SM00THIES EXPLAIN EVERYTHING Dummy said. SIR WILL TELL BUTT-FINGERS WHY DUM-ME IS OLDEST SHOULD BE LISTENED TO SIR WILL TELL Y00 STOP TOUCHING BLENDER SIR WILL —
Okay, okay, take it easy, Tony said, through the second wall of noise.
Dummy stopped talking but he didn’t stop transmitting. A wave of binary washed over Tony, intense and sort of heartbreaking if he would admit to having a heart. Unconditional, unwavering love and loyalty were written into it, pride and worry and an arrogance that Tony recognized from himself. He’d always thought of it as good arrogance, the belief that only he could properly care for his people and a determination that, this being the case, every ounce of himself would go into it.
Oh, Dummy, he thought, and leaned into the touch, transmitting back pride and affection, so much easier to say in code than in words. His beautiful, idiotic Dum-me.
Then there was a click, and Tony cast his eyes sideways without moving his head.
Pepper was standing in the doorway, staring at them. From her point of view, he could understand how seeing her boyfriend sitting on the floor with a robot poking him in the forehead and a wide, stupid grin on his face might be a little suspicious.
“Still not the strangest thing you’ve caught me doing,” he remarked.
“Tacos or pizza?” she asked, her voice even.
DUM-ME LOVES SIR PEP, Dummy informed him in solemn code.
“Dummy loves you,” Tony repeated dutifully.
“Well, that makes two dummies who love me,” she answered. “I’m getting pizza.”
Tony got up, with a reassuring caress to Dummy’s claw, and bounced over to her. “Get two, I’m starving. And garlic bread and a big meatball grinder.”
“JARVIS?” Pepper prompted.
“Already ordering, Ms. Potts,” JARVIS replied, and Tony heard the order go out, delighted with the way he could just reach out and snatch any information he needed.
“He’s getting pepperoni,” he said. He added OLIVES to the other pizza before the order made it to the restaurant.
“Okay, what is up with you?” she asked.
“I can talk to robots,” Tony whispered in her ear.
“Genuinely worried for your state of mind, Tony.”
“It’s true. Something happened, Pep, watch this,” he said, and with a stray thought brought all the lights down and all the holoprojectors up at once, filling the workshop with a constellation, all the stars and planets and asteroids and comets and distant galaxies, as if they were the sun and could see the entire universe spread before them. He might have fudged the more distant stuff a little. Well, nobody was really sure what was out there at the edges.
She went stiff with surprise for a second, then relaxed as she looked around.
“What did you do?” she asked. He wrapped an arm around her waist from behind, pulling her snug up against him.
“Put a computer in my brain,” he said. “It’s your job now to rescue me from the possibility of madness and supervilainny. I mean I could so easily go either way.”
“A computer in your brain?”
“You’re canoodling right this minute with the first true human cyborg,” he said.
“I’m honestly not sure whether to be turned on or horrified.”
“Go for turned on, I promise it’ll be more satisfying.”
“Canoodling, Tony? Really?”
“If you’re worried, I promise all the equipment you’re interested in is still in perfect working order and is in no way mechanical — “
“You’re incredibly dirty — “
“Part of the superhero package — “
“No, I mean you smell and need a shower. If you can shower without shorting out.”
“You’re taking this extremely well, I’m proud of you. Or do you have a cyborg fetish? If so this is your lucky day, Pep, all your girlish dreams are about to come true.”
“I think your girlish dreams are more what we’re discussing, really,” she said, elbowing him off gently and turning to face him.
“Okay, but I’m warning you, we can’t have sex here,” he said seriously. “Dummy’s smarter than I thought and I don’t want to traumatize him.”
“Thank you for your consideration,” JARVIS put in.
“You’re a pervert, you’d just enjoy the show,” Tony replied.
“Trust me,” Pepper said, “sex is so far in the future right now you’re going to need the computer in your brain to calculate the distance.”
“You puny mortals have such a weak grasp of time.”
“I want you, desperately, to shower,” she said. “And when you come out, there will be food.”
Tony sighed, then kissed her. “Your robot slave, at your service. I got you olives on the pizza!” he added, as he headed for the shower in the workshop.
“I hate olives!” she called back. Tony sent a correction to the pizza parlor.
DUM-ME WILL GUARD SIR PEP WHILE SIR IS UNDERGOING MAINTENANCE, Dummy announced, and a second later Tony heard a shriek as the robot descended on her.
Good boy, he sent back, turning the water on.
This was going to be awesome.