This is my fairytale retelling (Cinderella), requested by @bromocresol0green, who is doing some artwork for it.
I really appreciate all the fairytale suggestions,and I think I’m going to do a few of them. I think Rumpelstiltskin might be on the agenda. ;)
This first part is about 7,000 words, so watch for the cut.
Tony was only six when his mother died. He wished it was one of those memories that he couldn’t forget – the color of the sky, where he was when Jarvis came to find him, what he had for breakfast that morning, or what game he was playing at the time. He didn’t remember any of those things, didn’t even remember the last thing he’d said to her or she to him. All he knew was that she’d left the house in the morning and then never came back. He couldn’t remember her dying, but he remembered what her death did to the house. Everything seemed to grow duller, smaller, and quieter. Dad started drinking (more) and Jarvis hugged him (more), and somehow the sun kept rising and the flowers kept blooming (even her favorites).
He was sixteen and sitting on the floor in the workshop, surrounded by the bits and pieces of a dozen different projects the day Jarvis left in the morning and never came back. The sky was the color of robin’s eggs behind the big-leafed tree outside his window, and he’d eaten nothing for breakfast at all. It was Obie who dropped all his bulk in the chair beside Tony’s desk and said, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, kiddo…
Dad had been away on business for a month already and wasn’t due back for another month.
Just you and me now, son, Obie said.
The tower at the north-eastern corner of the manor house was freezing in the winter, but it caught the wind during the hot summer months and stayed pleasantly cool. Cooler, at least, than the rest of the house, though the nights dropped back into the territory of frigid. The sun always hit his window before anywhere else in the house, so Tony was awake as soon as it got light out. He wasn’t naturally a morning person, but he also couldn’t sleep in anything less than total darkness, and Obie had taken his curtains away a long time ago.
Best to be up and at’em! He’d said, tearing the heavy tapestries down and tossing them over the railing. Stunned, Tony had just watched as the bundles of fabric had dropped through the open stairwell and landed out the floor five stories below with an echoing fwam!
It had been a shock at the time, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. Tony had been moved into the tower (for more privacy) when he was seventeen, less than a year after Jarvis died. He’d been happy enough about the move at first – privacy, and two floors of space to take up with his projects. Two weeks later, Obie had moved Darren Cross and Tiberius Stone into the rooms that used to belong to Tony and Jarvis.
“It’s just easier,” Obie had explained, clapping his big hand on Tony’s shoulder and giving him a little shake, “With all the work they do for your father’s company, I need them close. Now that I’m here looking out for you,” he’d put in.
Tony hadn’t minded at first – he stayed in his tower except for mandatory tutoring lessons in the mornings and afternoons, and they did their work in the office with Obie. It was three months before his tutors had stopped coming around (and Tony had barely noticed, really he didn’t need their help with anything. The only reason they’d been hired in the first place was because it was expected for a wealthy man’s son to be educated). Two months later, Obie dismissed the clean staff, and Tony had ended up taking over the general maintenance of the house (“Your father’s business isn’t doing so well. Someone has to take up the slack. You understand, don’t you?”)
Two years after Jarvis died, Tony’s second floor of curiosities and projects mostly just gathered dust. The sun hit him in the face in the mornings, he stumbled downstairs to help Cook make breakfast and get everything into the dining room, and then went out to feed the chickens, pigs, and horses. He helped Darren and Tiberius get dressed for the day, and did laundry, and swept the porches, and dusted. He washed floors, and beat the carpets, and spent whatever free time he had in between weeding his mother’s garden.
Through all the chores and the mending and the labor, Tony stared up at his tower, where a million and one fantastic things called out for him and went neglected.
“Someday,” he’d say late at night, poking his head up through the trapdoor and gazing tiredly up at the dust cloth covered forms. “The business will pick up, and I’ll have more time for you.”
Tony woke when the sky was still steel gray. The sun wouldn’t be up for at least another hour, and he’d only just gotten to bed sometime around midnight, but he wasn’t going to get back to sleep. He yawned and stretched until his back popped, and then swung his feet out of the bed and into his slippers. The left slipper had worn through at the bottom and there was a thin spot the size of a five gold piece right over the heel, but he kept forgetting to mend it. He pulled a woolen sweater over his pajamas, automatically running his hands down the sides. Jarvis had knitted it for him just before he’d died, and it had stretched enough over the years that it still fit.
“Get up, lazy bolts,” Tony said, nudging his toe against the Dum-E’s curled form. He leaned down to feed a handful of coal into the artifice’s burner, and then screwed off the water cap, popped a funnel in the opening, and carefully poured a bucket of water into the tank.
Dum-E rattled as he warmed up, his joints squeaking as he stretched his armature. Obie would probably murder him if he ever caught Tony smuggling the bits of coal up, but Dum-E didn’t need much. He was a very efficient creation, the first artifice that Tony had gotten to work independently of commands.
In his corner, Dum-E whined for oil. Tony checked the cabinet for the bottle and gave it a shake. It rattled softly. He sighed. “This is the last of it, buddy. I’ll try to get you some more later.”
Dum-E stretched his arm out and did his best to stay still while Tony drizzled the last of the oil into his joints. His wheels squeaked when he rolled out of the corner, but he moved well enough. It was the base of his arm that was the bigger concern – Tony winced when the artifice stretched up to take the broom off the hook and the joint briefly stuck. He put the oil can upside down over a dented tin cup, hoping that he would get a little more out of it before he had to go downstairs.
Dum-E didn’t complain about the stuck joint, and started swishing the broom around the room. He may have been an energy efficient creature, but he was not a very effective maid. Tony perched on the edge of the desk and watched in amusement as Dum-E trundled back and forth over the cramped space, the twigs of the broom just barely brushing over the planks, and mostly just hitting everything except the floor.
The sky over the mountains was starting to turn gold, and it would hit his tower window in less than twenty minutes. He left Dum-E to his swishing, slid into his chair, and picked up his screwdriver. A palm-sized artifice sat under a cloth, belly-up. He’d rescued a handful of useable gears out of the clock Darren had thrown against the wall the day before, and one of them should be just small enough to get his little artifice moving.
Dum-E stopped his interpretive cleaning long enough to meep derisively when the artifice’s legs started moving. Tony closed her tank and gently set her on her feet. She looked like an oversized ladybug, steam drifting up from the two ports on her back, her entire body rumbling with the force of the water boiling under her shell. Dum-E waved the broom at her, and then huffed out a puff of steam and rolled away when she didn’t respond.
“You’re beautiful,” Tony told her, but she just started turning circles on the desk, showing no signs of understanding.
The sun crept through the window and fell across his new artifices’ patchwork body, highlighting all the mismatched parts. She continued her mindless circle on the desk, and would probably keep at it until she ran out of steam. Tony sighed and picked her up. Her legs kept churning, and Tony realized that the first two were twisted a little – which explained the constant circles. He set the artifice bug inside a box where she could safely make circles all day, and then moved the box under the desk.
“Friday,” he said, watching her trod along in her circle. “I’ll call you Friday.”
Predictably, she didn’t respond. Just as predictably, Dum-E hooted at him in obvious disapproval.
The irony of it was that if Obie would just give him time to work on his experiments, they could be running the house practically hands-free. With better materials, and better tools, and more time, Tony could build an army of artifices to clean the house, a whole system of moving parts to help Cook in the kitchen, a machine that could wash dishes for him, even artifice waiters to serve meals and set the table. They could have doors that answered themselves and could identify guests by name to whatever room was needed.
Instead, Tony was on his hands and knees scrubbing the entryway floor with a rag and bucket of gray water getting grayer by the minute while Darren and Tiberius argued in the office. He kept his eyes pointed at the floor, but his head was up in his tower with Friday, hammering out how to fix her front legs and designing the magic that would give her life. Maybe a voice. He’d been working on voices for a long time, but the best he’d been able to manage so far was Dum-E’s beeps and chirps.
It was difficult to give life to smaller, more complex artifices. Making them move was one thing – child’s play, any watchmaker could do it. Giving life was the work of an artificer, and Tony was the best. Could be the best, if he could just get off the damn floor.
A pair of boots passed into his line of sight and stopped in front of him. Tony sucked in a deep breath and sat back on his heels to look up. Darren stood above him with his arms crossed over his chest, looking down at Tony with one eyebrow hiked.
“Are you going to get that, Mr. Stark?” he asked. His lips pulled into the same nasty smile that he always wore when he said Mr. Stark. Tiberius called him the same thing, as if it meant anything, when it meant exactly the opposite.
Tony just stared at him, confused, until a loud series of knocks came from door behind him. He looked over his shoulder, not sure how many times he’d missed the knocking while he’d been thinking about how to make a door that answered itself.
Darren smirked and walked off, trailing mud across the wet floor. Tony threw the rag back into the bucket with a suppressed snarl and pushed himself up to his feet. He found a page at the door dressed in the sharply tailored red and gold jacket of the palace, his riding boots speckled with mud. He held his cap under one arm, an artifice gun at one hip and a sword at the other with the golden winged helmet pendant on his chest that identified him as a palace servant. He couldn’t have been more than sixteen or seventeen.
“Good day,” he greeted stiffly, casting a glance over Tony’s soaked knees and patched tunic. “I have a dispatch from the palace for the master of the house.”
Tony had given up insisting that he was the master of the house while his father was gone on business. He just opened the door wider and held out a hand. “He’s away on business. I’ll take it to his business partner.”
The page gave him another hard look. “This is a royal dispatch,” he repeated pointedly.
“And I will give it right to Mr. Stane,” Tony said in the same slow cadence. “Look, just give me the letter and I’ll get you a sandwich and some beer, alright? You can sit in the kitchen until he’s read it, and take back his reply.”
The Stark estate was only an hour’s ride from the palace, but judging by the amount of dust on his jacket and face, he’d probably been delivering dispatches all day. He looked back at his horse, a lovely white gelding with mud up to his knees, and his head hanging down in obvious fatigue. The page finally nodded and reached into his satchel to pull out a heavy golden envelope with the royal seal pressed into the flap in deep blue wax.
“Fancy,” Tony observed, drying his hands off on the hem of his tunic and reaching for it. The page visibly winced, but let it go. Tony rolled his eyes. He led the page over the still-wet floor, tracking even more mud across it, and into the kitchen. Cook stood at the massive center island, up to his elbows in flour, working a lump of dough across the surface.
“Sit here,” Tony said, yanking a chair out from the prep table. It was covered in vegetables and herbs waiting to be chopped. “I’ll make you some food when I get back.”
Cook cast a glance over the page, turned his watery blue eyes up to Tony, and then grunted. Cook didn’t talk – the thick rope of scars that looped around his throat and disappeared under his jacket had turned his voice into nothing but a gravelly whisper. Tony had never even been able to get a name out of him, and Howard – unsurprisingly – didn’t remember it. He’d shown up after Jarvis’ death and had run the kitchen ever since.
Tony found Obie sitting behind Howard’s giant oak desk. The room used to be split between his mother’s couches and embroidery, and Howard’s books and drafting table. When Darren and Tiberius had moved in, Obie had shoved the couches into the solar and replaced them with two smaller desks. Everything that had been Maria Stark’s had been thrown out or sold. Tony had only managed to save what he could hide under his vest.
Tony jerked. He’d been staring at the faded carpet under Tiberius’ desk where his mother’s couch used to sit under the window. He tore his eyes away from the carpet and crossed the room to slide the dispatch onto the desk. Obie looked up from his ledger, and up to Tony, and then down to the dispatch.
“You’re looking a little worse for wear, kiddo. You feeling okay?” he asked as he snagged the dispatch and leaned back in his chair. He turned it over, examining the seal.
“Fine,” Tony muttered, but Obie didn’t acknowledge that he’d spoken, and didn’t look away from the dispatch. Tony should have opened it – technically he was the master of the house, he had more right to read his father’s mail than Obie did, but he’d learned from that mistake.
Obie slid a letter opener behind the seal and pried it open, tearing the golden paper in the process. He unfolded the delicate paper inside and read over it. The paper was so fine that Tony could see the lettering through it. He could probably read it if Obie would hold it up to the sunlight.
“Interesting,” Obie said, tapping his chin with two fingers. “The king is holding a three-day festival to celebrate Prince Thor’s successful campaign in the west.” He looked up, seemed startled to realize that he was talking to Tony rather than Tiberius and straightened up in his chair. He gave Tony a patronizing smile. “It should be fun! Two days of sports and events, three evenings of dancing and entertainment.”
“Can I go?” Tony blurted out. He winced. He hadn’t gone along to a ball or gala in several years.
Obie leaned back in his chair once more, tapping the back of one hand with the invitation. “I don’t know, son,” he said finally. “I’m not sure that we can afford to send you to such a big event just for fun.” He shook his head sadly, and pushed himself out of the chair. Tony already wished he hadn’t spoken and was ready to just turn and leave, but Obie reached out and grabbed his shoulder. He squeezed a little too tightly and held Tony out at arm’s length.
“Tiberius and Darren and I will have to put up the expense to go to this thing,” he said, keeping his voice low and sympathetic. “I would rather not, you understand? If it were my choice, I would stay here and outfit you in the finest suits so you could go have fun with your friends. It’s not really my choice though, you understand? I have to keep your father’s business going while he’s gone.”
Tony gritted his teeth and forced out a smile. “I understand,” he said.
“It’s just that this will be a good opportunity to make contacts for your dad’s business,” Obie continued.
“I understand,” Tony repeated, trying to move away.
Obie shook him hard enough to make his head hurt. He stepped back, back Obie moved with him. “Now listen,” he said, dragging Tony in for something that had the same basic shape of a hug, but felt more like being caught in a vice, “You’ve been good and you work hard. You deserve to go. If you can get the carriage mended by the end of the week, maybe it will save us enough gold to get you a suit for one of the balls. How does that sound?”
Tony tried not to feel grateful or excited, but he was both. “I’ll get it fixed,” he said. Last week, just getting to work on the carriage would have been exciting enough, but getting to leave the manor, even for a night? He couldn’t help smiling. “Thanks, Obie.”
“No thanks are necessary, son. Just get the carriage fit for a visit to the palace. Oh, and this thing is next week – make sure you get Tiberius and Darren’s armor polished and mended, and clean the guns, and the sports gear.”
“No problem,” Tony said. It was a tall enough order just to get the beaten-down carriage presentable, mending the mess that those two idiots had made of their armor and getting the ceremonial pistols in working order would be close to impossible. He took a deep breath. “I’ll get it done.”
“Of course you will,” Obie said. He patted Tony on the back hard enough to make him stumble, but Tony turned the momentum in a jog and ran out of the office.
Tony rolled onto his stomach and wiggled out from underneath the carriage. It was creeping toward midnight, his fingers were stiff with the cold, and he was covered from nose to knees in oil, but at least the moon was nearly full. Tony sat back on his knees and looked up at the carriage. It wasn’t his best work, but he was pressed for time and resources. It wouldn’t hold up long-term, but it would at least get them to and from the palace for a few nights.
Scrubbing a hand down his thigh to wipe away the worst of the oil, Tony climbed to his feet. He patted the door fondly – two more days to polish and repaint the carriage and it would pass muster, and just barely on time. A yawn boiled out of his chest that cracked his jaw wide and gave him a head rush. He leaned against the carriage and waited for the dizziness to pass, and then bent over to pack up the tools. He cast a quick glance around the yard – he didn’t expect anyone else to be up, but it would be just his luck that Tiberius would be having trouble sleeping and decide a brisk midnight walk was just the thing. Assured that he was alone, he swaddled an almost-empty bottle of oil in a bundle of dirty rags and tucked them into the crook of his arm.
The kitchen was still warm from the evening meal. As much as Tony wanted to get to bed, the draw of the banked fire was too much to resist. He nudged the tool box under the bench by the door, and set the bundle of rags carefully on top, feeling through the fabric to make sure the can stayed upright. He pumped up a bucket of water and dumped it into the cauldron to warm while he dug the dish soap and the pumice stone out from the cabinet. As long as Cook didn’t catch him, he could scrub off the worst of the oil in the warm kitchen rather than shivering in the yard. The running water system, and probably hadn’t been updated since it was originally installed in his great-great grandfather’s day. He could have updated it to provide hot water on command, but as long as the boilers in the bathrooms continued to work, Obie didn’t see a need for the changes.
Hands stinging from the pumice and skin pebbled with cold, Tony hurried through the main hall. He could have gotten into the tower from the back storeroom, but it would have been icy cold, and the stairs that far down were rickety. He preferred to go through the second floor passage behind the Coronation Tapestry when he had a choice.
“Did you hear the brat thinks he’s going with us to the festival games?”
Tony froze on the second floor landing. He had his armful of oily rags held against his chest and he was still shivering from his quick scrub in the washing bucket. The sooner he made it upstairs, the sooner he could get into clean clothing and under his blankets the better, but Darren’s annoying bray of a laugh drew him away from the gaudy tapestry of King Borr’s coronation and down the hall to library.
“Don’t worry,” Darren said as Tony drew up to the door. It was cracked open to spill a thin beam of warm yellow light over the faded carpet. “Did Stane tell you about the list of chores he gave him? He’ll never finish everything on time, and even if he did, what the hell does he think he’s going to wear?”
The pair broke into another round of laughter. Tony clenched his teeth – he could hear ice rattling around in glasses and smell his dad’s pipe tobacco. The assholes were sitting in his dad’s library, drinking his dad’s scotch, smoking his dad’s tobacco and laughing over Tony’s clothing? He straightened up sharply to pound on the door, but stopped at the last inch before hitting the heavy oak.
He knew from experience that he couldn’t take them both in a fair fight, and they would have the advantage. If they got into a fight, Obie would restrict him from going to the festival for sure. He’d probably also add it to the list of things to tell Howard when he got back so the old man would have something else to rave about when he got drunk. The best way to shove Darren and Tiberius’ noses in it would be to end up sitting across from them in that damn carriage.
Teeth clenched together so hard that his jaw started to ache, Tony backed away from the door as their conversation turned to making bets on which of them could get Lady Sif into bed. Tony hadn’t seen Sif for almost three years, but the last time someone tried encourage her into bed, she’d sent him running from the palace without his pants and half the court laughing after him. Tony would like to see one of them try.
I hope she castrates you, he thought as he pulled the tapestry back and eased the door to the tower open. It swung soundlessly on its hinges, letting a gust of freezing air into the hall before he made it to the stairs. Silence fell in the hall behind him, but Tony quickly pushed the door closed behind him and rushed up the stairs.
“Got your oil, buddy,” Tony called into the cold bedroom.
Dum-E beeped guiltily and straightened up from where he’d been crouched in the corner. Tony eased around the bed and peered over the artifice’s bulk to see Friday trapped under a scrap of wood set in the fireplace, surrounded by the contents of Tony’s waste paper basket and a dozen broken matches.
Tony blinked. “What do you two think you’re doing?” He set the rags down on the desk and crossed his arms over his chest, looking over the mess.
Dum-E made a vaguely accusatory sound and rolled back from the fireplace. Still trapped under the wood scraps, Friday meeped angrily back at him. Dum-E puffed steam out at her and decidedly turned away. He nudged at the nest of rags and whined piteously.
“You two were trying to start a fire,” Tony realized. “So the room would be warm for me?”
Friday squeaked excitedly, but Dum-E just made a rolling noise and shoved at the rags again. Tony shook his head, unable to help a laugh. He stepped over Dum-E and lifted up the broken plank Friday was trapped under. She picked her way out of the fireplace, tracking soot behind her, her tank rattling out a trickle of steam.
Tony held a hand out for her to climb into while Dum-E made an indignant noise behind him.
“I didn’t forget about you,” Tony promised. He set Friday down on the desk and unswaddled the can of oil. “Let me get the base of your arm, and then I’ll refill Friday’s tank and give you a good cleaning, okay?”
Dum-E graciously gave Tony permission to carry out his plan, stretching his arm out and holding still for the oil. Blowing into his hands to warm up his fingers, Tony carefully drizzled oil into the major joint, waiting for Dum-E to work it around before adding a little more. Friday was just as eager and far less patient for her water, and ended up spattering him with droplets of boiling water in the process. He stifled a hiss of pain, replaced her cap, and gave her a little nudge to get her moving again.
The room was frigid and the wind was making a racket against the windows, but he’d managed to stop up most of the cracks over the winter and it would warm up as soon as he got the fire going. Dum-E stretched his arm up to lean over Tony’s shoulder while he got the fire started. Tony dropped to his stool and watched as the flames flickered over the remains of a broken crate he’d scavenged from the last delivery. As soon as the weight was off his feet, they started to throb. His knees and back quickly joined in. He just wanted to go to bed, but he’d promised Dum-E, so he shoved himself back to his feet and dug a clean rag out of the bin.
“Come here,” he said, sitting on the bed and patting the space between his legs. Dum-E pushed in between Tony’s feet and set his arm gently against Tony’s shoulder. Tony was so tired that he didn’t even notice when Dum-E lifted his arm away until Friday dropped on the bed beside him. She crouched down next to him, blowing steam up toward his face. It smelled like iron, but it was warm. He shivered in response, and leaned closer to her.
“This festival is going to be fun,” Tony said to the room at large. “Who knows what I’m going to wear, but maybe it would be better to go dressed as a servant. Who needs dancing anyway – and then I can go through the booths and maybe pick up some of the components I need. I’m still convinced I can get you a voice, you know.”
Friday chirped, but Dum-E just made an indignant noise.
“I know you can talk just fine without one,” Tony assured him, working the cloth down into a crevice between Dum-E’s wheel and body where dust tended to accumulate and turn into mud. “But it would be nice to hear a friendly voice sometimes.”
Dum-E’s only response was a low whistle. Tony wasn’t done with the cleaning, but the artifice rolled carefully away, nudged Tony’s shoulder with the claw at the end of his arm, and backed into his corner.
Tony watched him settle in, and then eased Friday into her box. “Night,” he said softly, with only beeps to answer him.
The morning of the opening ceremony of the festivities, Tony packed Tiberius and Darren’s sports gear into a case and added it to the pile of luggage in the entryway. Tiberius was in a snit over his boots – which had too low of a heel for current fashion, and Darren had dumped his suitcase out on the stairs four times to complain about what Tony had or hadn’t packed.
Tony was one more syllable away from punching Darren in the face, but kept his mouth firmly closed. He didn’t want to give Obie even the implication of an excuse to leave him behind, and it was obvious that the two older men were trying to goad him.
He packed up the dueling pistols and then hurried everything out to the carriage before one of them could find something else to complain about. They weren’t even staying overnight at the palace, though the sheer amount of luggage suggested a week long holiday. As soon as everything was strapped down, he hurried back up to the tower.
Jarvis had been much taller than Tony, broader in the shoulder and narrower at the hips, but Tony been working to alter one of his suits in whatever scraps of time he could get. He still had a lot to do before the suit would be wearable, and it would never be fashionable, but he’d outgrown the last suit that had been made specifically for him years before. Some extra fabric scavenged from the lining of one of his mother’s gowns, and some trim he’d taken off of one of Darren’s suits when altering it, and it would just about pass for something new. The new fashion was to wear decorative armor plates over formal wear, but Tony would never be able to manage that. If he was lucky, he would just pass as a servant and be ignored. He wasn’t interested in the ball anyway, he just wanted to visit the artificer stalls, and he didn’t need a fancy suit of armor to do that.
“Tony!” Obie howled up the tower as soon as Tony had sat down with the needle again.
Tony sighed, cast a glance over the mountain of work he still needed to do, and considered just ignoring him.
“TONY!” Obie shouted again, voice rising dangerously.
Abandoning the puddle of fabric, Tony hurried to the door and called over the rail, “Coming!” In an undertone, he added, “Not like I have absolutely anything else to do.” He ran the fabric through his fingers and let out another frustrated sigh. “Guess you’ll just have to wait.”
It was past noon, Tony’s suit was still in pieces, and Tiberius and Darren were getting dressed. They would be leaving in less than an hour, and Tony wouldn’t be going with them. He sat slowly on the bottom stair and put his head between his hands. He’d barely left the house in years, and there would be vendors at the festival with tools and materials and artifices that he wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else.
He took in a slow breath and let it out. It was fine. This was only the first day of the festival. There were still two more. It wouldn’t be so bad – he would have the house to himself, a rare luxury, and Obie might even be too rushed to give him a list of chores before he left. He could spend the night finishing his suit, and be ready the next night. He nodded to himself and straightened up.
Before he could stand up, Obie rounded the corner, saw him, and changed directions. Tony suppressed a cringe and tried to get out of reach, but Obie put one big foot up on the stair next to him and leaned down to grab his shoulder. The weight of his hand forced Tony back to the stair.
“Why aren’t you getting dressed, kiddo?”
Tony bit the inside of his cheek to stop the sharp reply that tried to break his teeth on the way out. He swallowed it down and grit out, “I don’t have anything to wear.”
Obie’s hand tightened on Tony’s shoulder. “Oh, damn, son. In all the hustle I forgot to have the tailor come by.” He snapped his fingers in sudden thought, the sound as loud as cracking wood a few painful inches from Tony’s ear. “I bet I’ll see him tonight at the ball. Why don’t I talk to him and have him send one of his assistants around tomorrow to take some measurements. I’m sure he can alter something for you.”
“Sure,” Tony said tightly. His face flushed with heat and he had to breathe through his nose to keep from shouting that he was doing his own alterations – it wouldn’t do him any good, and he was still hoping to go the next day.
“Chin up, kiddo,” Obie said, patting him hard on the shoulder and then ruffling his hair. “You’re not going to miss anything on the first night.”
Obie straightened up and reached over to fix his cufflinks. He was wearing a lightweight collared shirt that buttoned in the back and a loose jacket to allow for an armored chest plate to be buckled underneath. On Obie’s big frame, the armor plate would look ridiculous, but a lot of court fashions were. Tony let the idea of Obie clanking around a room full of fat, clanking nobles cheer him up and rushed up to the tower before Tiberius and Darren emerged from their rooms in their own ridiculous suits.
“Guess it’s just you and me tonight,” Tony called when he was still on the stairs. He stopped when he heard a series of excited chirps and trills, peering suspiciously up the last few steps to the bedroom. A loud crash heralded the box of spare parts falling off his desk. Tony winced, and crept up the last few steps, peering over the landing in expectation of Dum-E tangled in the bedding again.
He blinked. “What is this?”
Struggling out from under a bundle of fabric, Friday uttered a huffy beep at him. Tony rushed into the room and helped to free her from what turned out to be the remains of a silver scarf that Tony vaguely remembered Obie wearing to a gala the year before. Tony set her down on the bed and stared at the old armor rack. Dum-E plucked at the suit, steam whispering around him.
It was horrible. Between the two of them, they had managed to cobble together a chest plate from the box of spare parts, the pieces crudely joined together with leather straps over the suit that Tony hadn’t quite finished over the day. The lace trim on the cuffs had been glued on, and none of the buttons matched, but it had a crude sort of charm that the rich eccentrics at the ball might just go for.
He covered the circular piece in the center of the chest. It was his power source – eventually, someday, if he could just get it to work. His chest felt tight and he couldn’t seem to stop blinking. He looked at the two artifices, both of them shivering half in excitement and half with the steam in their tanks. “You two did this for me?”
Dum-E whistled and Friday added in several excited beeps. When he just stood there staring at the suit, Dum-E gave him a hard shove to get him going. Tony heard the faint echoes of movement downstairs and hurried to strip out of his dirty tunic while fumbling with the straps on the chest piece. The noise downstairs was getting louder, and Tony hurried into the suit pants, hopping around on one foot to get the waistband over his hips. Nothing fit quite right, and he didn’t have time to put his shoes on. He ended up carrying his shoes with the chest piece draped loosely over his shoulders. Dum-E and Friday hooted at him encouragingly while he clattered down the stairs.
“Wait!” he called from the top of the entryway stairs. Darren was just out the door with the Obie and Tiberius following on his heels. “Wait,” Tony repeated. He was out breath from the run in the heavy armor plating. “I’m coming.”
“I see you found a… suit, Mr. Stark,” Tiberius said, giving him a slow once-over.
“It’s very fashion-forward,” Tony said with as much amusement as confidence, “I think the young crowd is really going to respond to it.” The look on their faces was enough to make up for the cumbersome weight of the chest piece.
“Ah, Tony,” Obie said. His eyes were sharp where they took in the details of Tony’s suit. “I’m not sure that there’s room in the carriage with all the armor we’re taking along.”
Tony frowned. “That carriage could fit six with luggage.”
“Oh, you mean that old piece of crap that your mother bought?” Darren asked with a snort of laughter. “We had to move the luggage over to a rental after that old junker broke down the second we tried to start it.”
“I fixed that carriage myself,” Tony protested, starting down the stairs. He’d started it in the morning to make sure there were no lingering issues.
Tiberius rolled his eyes. “That explains,” he said under his breath.
“I’m sure it was just fine this morning,” Obie said, but the smile on his face was just as smug and oily as the other’s. “But the fact is that we had to call a rental, and it just is not going to fit all of us.”
“Maybe tomorrow,” Darren suggested.
“We’ll see,” Obie agreed, “Though with the money we had to spend on the rental…” He clomped up the steps and reached for the straps at the shoulder of Tony’s chest piece. He examined it close up, tugging the straps into place and unsettling two other plates in the process. He smiled the same oily smile, expression turning amused and pitying.
Obie tipped his head and fingered the gray sash that was functioning as Tony’s belt. “This looks familiar.”
Tony glanced down – it was a strip from Obie’s old scarf cut away from the stain that had prompted him to throw it out. Always quick to smell blood in the water, Tiberius slid up the stairs behind Obie. He reached over the bigger man’s shoulder and snagged a button on Tony’s jacket. He pulled it up to peer at it closely.
“Aren’t you a little magpie?” he asked, yanking hard on the button. It snapped off, clattering musically down the stairs and rolling to stop on the floor.
Tony didn’t need any kind of magic to see what was coming next. Obie backed away and Darren jogged up the steps to join Tiberius circling around him. They reached out periodically to snag bits and pieces that Dum-E and Friday had pulled out of Tony’s scavenge bins. Tony shoved Darren away when he tried to grab the reactor out of Tony’s chest piece, and Darren responded by shoving him back. Unbalanced and heavy with the armor plates, Tony stumbled and tripped on the stairs going up. He fell in a loud clatter of precariously attached pieces falling away.
Always quick to anger, Darren cocked a fist back, but Obie snagged him by the elbow.
“No need for violence,” Obie said calmly. He looked down at Tony with an expression of profound disapproval. “We’ll talk about your habit of taking things that don’t belong to you later.”
“Yes,” Tony snarled before he could stop himself. “Let’s talk about taking things that don’t belong to you.”
Obie arched one eyebrow at him. “I expected better out of you, Tony,” he said sadly. “Come along – we don’t want to be late to the festivities.”
Darren yanked hard on his suit jacket and smoothed his hands over his head as if he had any hair to brush back. Tiberius just gave Tony a superior smirk and they both followed Obie down the stairs and out the door. Tony heard the popcrack! Of a badly tuned steam engine pulling out of the courtyard and then silence.
His breath came in heavy pants and he was only faintly aware of the heat in his wrist where he’d landed badly on the stairs. With a loud shout, he pulled on the straps holding the chest piece on and struggled out of the mess of iron and mismatched pieces, leaving them on the stairs in a heap. Obie had left the door open and the cold air filled the hall. Tony would have just left it open to blow in leaves and dirt all night, but he would be the one cleaning them up the next day.
He ran through the door instead and slammed it hard behind him. The carriage he’d worked so hard on sat in the courtyard, one tire slashed open, and a messy jumble of tubes hanging down from the bottom. He kicked the slashed wheel once, and then again. A spark of pain shot up his leg and he jumped away from the carriage, holding onto his injured foot, and ended up tripping over a loose stone. He landed on his ass in a puddle left over the morning rain and just sat in it.