Title: Heart 2.0
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Iron Man 1
Genre: Angst, hurt/comfort
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Happy Hogan, J.A.R.V.I.S., James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U). Mentioned: Pepper Potts, Obadiah Stane.
Summary: Rhodey sees the arc reactor for the first time on the transport flight above the Afghan desert, J.A.R.V.I.S. and the bots witness it in the safety of Tony’s workshop and help him craft the new and improved version – and Happy gets a hands-on experience when sparring with his boss for the first time since his release from captivity.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Warnings: Mild body horror, referenced canonical violence & injury, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
The noise of the rotors drowned out most other noises. Tony felt delirious, part of him still coming to terms with his rescue from the desert.
He was going home…
Rhodey leaned towards him. “He’s gonna take a look at you,” he called loudly in Tony’s ear, motioning towards another man in tactical gear. He was carrying a bag marked with a cross that indicated medical supplies.
Tony didn’t want that, but his shoulder had seen better days since the crash, and there were wounds that needed to be cleaned before they got infected. Also, it was possible there were a few bullets lodged in his body from the firefight… So, he allowed the medic to start pulling aside his torn clothes, mapping out injuries Tony wasn’t even aware of at this point.
All of a sudden the man stopped and looked at Rhodey. “Colonel?”
Tony looked down to see whether there was something he should be alarmed by, then grew tense as he saw the man holding his shirt open, the arc reactor exposed and glowing in the limited light of the aircraft.
Rhodey leaned in, concern written all over his face. Tony started pulling up his hands even as he saw his friend’s eyes taking in the device embedded in his chest. He pushed at the medic slightly, to get him to move in order to cover it up, but Rhodey was already shifting in his seat again and reaching to interrupt Tony’s attempts.
“What is it?” Rhodey asked. “A bomb?”
Tony threw him a quick look. “Does it look like a bomb?” he challenged. “Don’t touch it!” he snapped at the medic when he could feel fingers ghosting closer to the device. The man bolted back as if he had heard the safety pin clinking to the floor, eyes wide, taking in Rhodey’s expression to confirm whatever action he was planning on taking.
“I don’t know what it is,” Rhodey said, perhaps to both the medic and Tony. “This isn’t the time to be cryptic, Tony,” he ordered.
Tony closed his shirt to hide the arc reactor from sight. “It’s keeping me alive. That’s all you need to know right now.”
Of course, once they landed at the air base and got Tony into a proper military infirmary, Rhodey was all over him for answers:
“They don’t want to touch it in case it blows up in their faces and takes out half the base,” he informed Tony, referring to the medical staff and their fear of the miniature arc reactor.
“Not a bomb,” Tony told him. The lights in the room were almost too bright, making his head hurt. Of course, it could have been any number of things besides the lights, but nevertheless, he was in pain and that made him cranky. “It’s a miniaturized arc reactor powering an electromagnet,” he admitted before Rhodey could demand to have a closer look at it. He knew his friend would recognize the design sooner or later; the blue-tinted glow was a dead giveaway.
He could see Rhodey putting the information together in his head, rotating the pieces until they fit. It didn’t seem like he reached a conclusion he liked, however, because his frown persisted. “Why?” Rhodey asked finally, clearly giving up on figuring out the answer unaided.
“Shrapnel,” Tony admitted.
He didn’t share the memory of those few seconds when his eyes had taken in the familiar design and his own name spelled on the side of the explosive.
“Shrapnel,” Rhodey repeated after him. “In your chest?”
Tony nodded. He didn’t want to elaborate on the death creeping closer to his heart, waiting to pierce it should the chest piece fail.
“We have surgeons here, if you want them to have a look,” Rhodey said slowly. “Or do you want to wait until we get home?”
“It can wait,” Tony said. Returning to the real world, he was suddenly faced with the possibility that they could simply operate on him and pull the shrapnel out. In the cave, that would have meant death, and he had learned to live with the metal bits as if they were a part of him now.
Rhodey’s eyes checked his chest again, although it was covered by a replica of hospital clothes.
“I won’t just drop dead in front of you,” Tony assured his friend. “You won’t get rid of me that easily.”
Rhodey’s nod was stiff. “You had better. I put my job on the line to find you.”
Tony offered him a smile. He didn’t say thank you, because Rhodey didn’t want that; his reward was that he had found Tony – alive – and would get to take him home.
J.A.R.V.I.S., DUM-E & U
J.A.R.V.I.S. had detected the arc reactor’s output when Tony walked into his home, but the bots lacked such sensors. The AI hadn’t even seen the device – not until Tony sat down in the shop and commenced a scan of his upper body, to prepare for the creation of an improved model.
Once the scan was done, the bots rolled in, cautiously taking in the arc reactor as if it were a new bot being introduced to the family.
“It won’t bite,” Tony reassured them.
Dummy and You kept peering at it from a safe distance despite Tony’s reassurances.
“I believe they know it is vital for your survival,” J.A.R.V.I.S. supplied.
“Did you tell them, or did they figure it out?”
“A bit of both, sir.”
Tony looked at the bots again. “Hey. I’m fine. This is just… temporary,” he said, although he didn’t know that for sure. The scans showed the shrapnel was in deep, and odds were that not even the most skilled surgeon in the world could dig them out without doing more damage than good.
Dummy let out a soft bleep and rolled just a tiny bit closer, claw reaching towards his chest. Tony kept very still – tension making his body rigid as the robot arm drew closer. The tension kept recurring in varying degrees, as if he expected people to snatch it out of his chest or damage it. Both options were unlikely, and he had done much worse himself, hooking the reactor up to power the suit he used to escape the Ten Rings.
The bot drew closer still and Tony made sure his expression didn’t betray the nervousness he felt despite himself. Over the years, the bots had gotten fairly good with expressions, body language and tone of voice, but the smallest stuff still escaped their notice. Or maybe Tony just thought it did; he often talked down to them, as if they were children, and they responded accordingly.
Ever so gently, the tip of Dummy’s claw touched down on the surface of the arc reactor. Tony imagined the faint tap upon contact, and watched as the claw opened, making it easier for Dummy’s cameras to view the device in all of its close-up glory.
You began to approach as well, rolling in beside his twin. They almost butted heads, bodies too big to fit right in front of him, but You still managed to crane his arm and get a good look for himself. He didn’t touch, though, but took in the surrounding scars with more interest than Dummy had.
“Okay, enough,” Tony said at length.
The bots drew back so fast they bumped into each other and almost upended a table.
Tony cringed. “J.A.R.V.I.S., you have the schematics ready for an improved model?”
“Ready for you review,” the AI confirmed.
Tony checked the screen and approved the design.
While J.A.R.V.I.S. oversaw the machines and the manufacturing of the essential parts, Tony busied himself and the bots by collecting an array of tools he would need for the finer details of the new arc reactor. The bots seemed happy to help, their eagerness to assist growing the longer they worked.
Tony put them on cleaning detail when they started to get in his way, just to calm them down a bit, but he supposed he should be merciful since they hadn’t seen him for over three months.
J.A.R.V.I.S. had mentioned earlier that he’d calculated Tony’s safe return at a ridiculously low percentage of 0.25%… Whether the bots had been privy to that information, Tony didn’t know, but he doubted the bots would have been this calm if they’d thought he would never come back.
“J?” he called out.
Tony hesitated, glancing towards the bots. “Good job,” he said finally. It would have been easy to misinterpret it as something related to the current assembly task, and he was fine with that.
“My pleasure, sir,” was all J.A.R.V.I.S. said in return, calm, cool, and collected as always. Under the surface it was quite possibly another story, as the AI’s mind grew ever more intricate over the years, but Tony decided to be shallow and focus on the exterior for now. He was back home and not horribly maimed, save for the glowing plug filling the hole in his chest. It was all manageable with the right attitude.
Harold “Happy” Hogan had never been particularly successful in the ring, but once upon a time he’d saved Tony’s life and that earned him a spot on Tony’s payroll. Not just that, but they could be considered friends, and Happy had often been privy to many of Tony’s public and private escapades.
Despite all that, he was one of the last people to get a glimpse at the device keeping Tony alive.
Happy had not asked about it. Tony was sure he was curious, but the right moment never came up in between working on the armors and navigating the tumultuous waters of his changing priorities.
Eventually though, Tony grew tired of his solitary hours in the workshop and called Happy up for a little sparring in the ring at his gym.
“You sure this is a good idea?” Happy asked.
“Of course it is. I need the workout.”
Happy didn’t look convinced.
Truth be told, Tony wasn’t sure it was the right time either, but he had already come this far and he wasn’t going to back down without fighting.
Turned out, having a fist-sized lump of metal and wiring sitting inside your chest did wonders to limit one’s lung capacity. Tony knew he was still weaker than usual after the three-month captivity, but when the warm-up sweat began to be replaced by perspiration of pure agony, Tony knew he was going to be forced to tap out sooner rather than later.
“You okay?” Happy asked, breathing heavily himself but looking nowhere near as done as Tony felt.
“I think I need a short break,” Tony admitted and slipped to the side. He drank heavily from the bottle of sports drink and mused how long the uncomfortable burning sensation was going to persist in his chest.
Happy warmed up a bit longer, then joined him for a drink break of his own. His eyes checked Tony out, almost cautiously. It was obvious he was having a battle inside his head whether he should say something or not. He knew from experience that Tony didn’t want to be coddled, and would just act out so much more when someone tried to do that.
Well, someone other than Pepper Potts, but he paid her to run his life so she was entitled to do a little coddling once in a while.
Happy opted not to say anything, which surprised Tony to a degree. If his bodyguard-slash-driver didn’t want to insinuate Tony was in no shape for this, he would have taken the easy way and suggest Tony’s shoulder wasn’t yet healed enough for sparring.
It was healed, more or less, although Tony’s tests with the suits were hampering a full recovery.
“Shall we?” Tony gestured at the ring. If Happy wasn’t going to stop him, they might as well get to it and see how long it took before Tony had to make his own excuses for getting out of the ring.
Happy followed him, face tight. It had to be hard for him to not say anything, and a part of Tony would have preferred the other man excuse himself so that he didn’t have to. Happy was probably thinking the same, though, and Tony knew he had brought it upon himself.
They put on their gloves and circled each other. Tony was taking it easy, and Happy accommodated his pace, looking a bit relieved. They exchanged some blows and parries, still warming up, but the longer it went on the worse Tony felt. His shoulder ached, yes, but it was his chest that burned, and every now and then, when he pressed a bit harder, there was an uncomfortable sensation like he was suffocating, whether it was because he couldn’t draw in enough air or because the reactor pressed the wrong way within his chest cavity, he wasn’t sure.
“Okay,” Tony gasped finally, leaning forward, hands on his knees. That made it worse, so he straightened again and checked Happy’s expression.
Happy was most likely trying to look calm and indifferent, but the worried pinch in his brow, bordering on a frown, was way too prominent to keep at bay.
“Maybe this was enough for one day,” Tony said finally.
Happy nodded way too eagerly.
Tony raised an eyebrow at him, just to let him know he was onto Happy’s act.
There was only a small amount of remorse on Happy’s face. “How’s the…?” he started, gesturing at his own chest.
“It’s fine,” Tony said, but obviously his bluff was being called. “It hurts a bit more than I expected.”
Happy had grown wise over the years in Tony’s service and did not question why Tony had insisted on sparring despite that. “Could I… see it?” Happy asked, suddenly emboldened by the situation, and Tony pretended to think about it.
“Sure,” he finally replied, as if deeming Happy worthy of the honor. Mostly it was just to get it out the way, so that they could both move on.
They went to the dressing room, seeing as their workout had come to a close. Tony pretended not to be nervous – it was just Happy. Still, he had never been so self-conscious taking off his clothing as he was when he slipped off his hoodie and then the tank top beneath it, exposing the arc reactor in all its gritty glory.
Happy had seen him in many a compromising position, wearing just about every combination of clothing – including no clothing at all. It had just happened, over the years, never on purpose but often out of necessity to protect Tony or drag him out of a situation that was getting a bit hairy, at least in Happy’s opinion.
Still, the way Happy looked at him now, it felt like it was something new for them both.
Happy’s eyes kept following the rim of the reactor where the scarring was still prominent. Perhaps over the years they would smoothen and fade, but right now they looked angry on Tony’s flushed, sweaty skin. “Does it hurt?” Happy asked. “It looks like it would.”
“Hurt a lot more when they were cutting the hole for it,” Tony joked weakly.
Happy grimaced and looked a bit sick. “You were awake?”
“For some of it.” He didn’t want to reminisce. “It’s better now. The new model is a bit lighter, fits a lot better.”
Happy nodded. “It’s not so bad looking,” he mused.
Tony wasn’t certain whether he was just trying to make Tony feel better, or to think of something to say on a more positive note. Still, it was better than the poorly concealed horror on Pepper’s face – especially after she had to stick her hand in there… It wasn’t Obie’s poorly veiled excitement, either, but Tony didn’t need that.
He had Happy’s understanding, at the very least, and that was okay.