|t⎊ny stark (cutsthewire) wrote in thedisplaced,|
@ 2020-02-18 16:48:00
Tony was working on the Maleficent problem. He was. It’s just that he wasn’t having any success at it. All attempts to locate the Mistress of Evil—scientific, magical, and combinations thereof—had failed. He had not heard about her crashing the love fest in town until after she’d gone, and now they were basically left pondering ways to summon her for a trap of their own making. The situation was alarming, but not yet critical.
Until she started messing with the kids.
Until she started messing with his kid.
Morgan had gotten away. When Maleficent’s goon had tried to abduct her, she had deployed her defensive armor, and emergency protocols had quickly made the goblin regret his decision and retreat. An alert had been sent to both Tony and Peter, and when Iron Man arrived outside the school where the incident had happened, it was to find the child energetically reenacting the foiled kidnapping attempt for her brother. Rather than scared, she felt like a superhero. Her relative calmness in light of the ordeal should have helped put Tony’s mind at ease.
With Morgan safely in Peter’s hands and the both of them bound for home, Tony took off in his armor in pursuit of the escaped goblin. The town was almost entirely overrun by forest, which made locating his quarry more difficult. With the aid of his head’s up display, he was able to locate the creature. The knowledge that it might be a transformed townie kept him from fully acting upon his anger. Deploying a tracking dart was simple enough. As was hitting a second one that darted out in front of him. And the ravens who encircled him and tried to thwart his efforts received trackers as well. He didn’t have any real confidence that this would work, but doing nothing wasn’t an option. It was time to end this.
The change happened fast. Like someone had thrown a switch and all the anger and frustration and hope and love and bitterness and longing and humor, all the emotions that coexisted to make Tony Tony vanished. Oh, he thought simply. Then quickly ran scans to try to ascertain where the magic that had done this to him had come from. It seemed to come from everywhere. The trees radiated with magical energy and his scanners could not trace the source. But his trackers were sending a signal. It was possible that they would lead him to Maleficent, given time. Or not. Either way, he no longer had reason to be in the woods. And so he returned home.
He made his entry quietly, his face calm and expressionless. Morgan was the first to greet him with a hug thrown around his legs. “Did you get him?” she asked, craning her neck to look up at him.
“Yes,” Tony replied, looking down at her for a brief moment, before stepping out of her embrace. His attention momentarily switched to the display on his nanotech glasses before returning to his daughter. “Time will tell if my efforts have been successful.”
“Is this like the thing with the missing pets?” Peter asked. His brow was furrowed, clearly worried. He hadn’t let Morgan out of his sight since the incident, little more than an arm’s length. He noticed the way Tony stepped out of Morgan’s hug but hadn’t quite put together something was wrong yet. “Should we go to school tomorrow or do you want us to stay home?”
Julia had activated the Lake House’s security protocols once Morgan and Peter returned home and told her what was happening. She had been reading the network in the other room, trying to distract herself from waiting for Tony to get back. She was visibly relieved to see him back home.
“Did you find out anything new?” she asked. “Morgan wasn’t the only target. There were other kids taken, too. Others attempted.” She held up her phone to signal where she got the information from.
Tony walked further into the room, leaving Morgan standing confused by the door. “I suspect as much,” he replied to Peter. “Assuming the appropriate precautions are observed in route, it’s reasonable to assume you will both be safe at school.” Not the answer that Tony would have given had he been fully himself.
“I did not see any others or I would have intervened. I employed tracers on Maleficent’s minions. If it’s possible for them to lead me to her, we'll know soon enough.” He reached his work table and activated it to show the data from his trackers in a holographic window.
“Uh, okay?” Peter frowned and picked up his sister in his arms, holding her close.
Julia watched Tony’s apparent lack of concern with a frown. “Hey, Peter, why don’t you take Morgan upstairs?”
Their eyes met, Peter weighed if he wanted to leave Tony alone without an idea of what was going on, but his need to protect Morgan from any grown-up discussion won out and he listened to the hedgewitch. “Come on,” Peter said to Morgan. “They need to work on their plan.”
Peter’s eyes were trained on Tony as he started up the stairs. It was like nothing had happened. One moment, he was a pissed off and terrified parent, and the next? Way too calm. Maybe Tony was just that angry.
Julia waited until Peter and Morgan were gone before she spoke, “Hey. What happened out there?”
Tony observed Peter’s concern, but lacked the empathy to even attempt to put the teenager at ease. Instead, he watched Peter and Morgan leave without a word. Once alone with Julia, he was matter-of-fact in his answer. “I was hit with a spell of some kind.” No joke about magic forests or peacocks. “It’s cut off my ability to feel emotion." The change had been abrupt. Like suddenly going completely deaf in the middle of a rock concert. "No doubt in anticipation that I would no longer feel the need to protect my children. It did not have the intended effect.” He still had his reason, and any reasonable father would protect his young.
“Oh,” Julia exhaled. “Shit.” Her brows knit together in concern. Putting her hands up in a series of fluid gestures, her fingers created a window to look through, trying to determine what happened. “Can you fake it?” Julia asked. Peter was old enough to understand, but Morgan? Julia was thinking of her when she asked. If Tony could fake it until a real solution was found, that might work.
"Unlikely." To illustrate his point, Tony tried to smile, but without the feeling in his eyes to match, it was a hollow expression. He could attempt to vary the tone of his voice to emulate his true self. But without the emotions that animated him, that fueled his sarcasm and his playfulness, it would be an empty gesture.
“Oh, yeah, no…” Julia shook her head. It was more uncanny valley than his neutral, emotionless expression. Julia was already wondering what she was going to say to Morgan. Without his emotions, the more Julia studied him, the less he looked like Tony. Like Robert Downey Jr. phoning in a very poor performance.
“I’m going to try something, just… relax.” The thought occurred to Julia that the person in front of her might not have been Tony at all. Like the copies of the pets people had found, except this Tony did not seem sluggish or lethargic. Julia turned Tony toward her, and very delicately placed her fingers near his navel. If it was some kind of forgery, it likely didn’t have a soul. But her fingers came into contact with his shade, lighting the room with his exposed soul. It might have been a mildly terrifying sensation-- if Tony were able to feel terror at all.
Julia looked at it closely, but there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with it either. Nothing appeared missing or tampered with. Very carefully, she guided his shade back into place. Julia tried not to think of how easy souls could be manipulated. Instead she cleared her throat. “There’ve been other curses. I’ll find out if anyone has found a fix for it yet.”
Tony watched Julia work without the usual curiosity he would have shown. "I expect the only way to remove it is to remove the source. Maleficent has so far avoided our attempts to face her. It's time we increased our efforts." His trackers were one way to do this. Perhaps addressing her directly on the Network was another. "What are your thoughts?"
“Um.” Julia blinked. “Honestly I’m a little worried about Morgan. I think maybe I should talk to her and explain what happened. Robo Dad might be harder to take than Iron Brat.” Marina’s nickname stuck. Julia chewed on her lower lip.
“How about you come up with a plan while you’re rocking logic brain, but maybe don’t act on it until I’m done breaking the news?” Julia didn’t think about the fact that Tony’s lack of emotions meant he had no feelings for her. Julia could compartmentalize. For now. Worrying about Morgan made it easier to ignore her own potential for hurt.
Excusing herself, Julia headed up the stairs to talk to Morgan and Peter.
“Very well,” Tony agreed, returning his attention to the holographic workspace.
Morgan was concerned for her father. It wasn’t hard to see that something was wrong with him, but unlike the last time, he still looked like her dad. She was sitting on her bed with Peter, petting a dozing Yen when Julia entered her room. “Is it bad?” she asked. Her lower lip stuck out like she might start crying.
Julia crouched down on the floor and put her hands on Morgan’s. “No, it’s not bad…” Julia was trying to find the best way to explain it.
Peter tensed a little as he waited for the news. His hand was planted on Morgan’s back as if to steady her.
“When your dad went after the people that tried to take you,” Julia continued, “they cast a spell on him. Right now he can’t feel anything, like happy or sad or mad. I think maybe they were trying to make it so he wouldn’t care if either of you were taken, but, it didn’t work. He still is going to look out for you, even if he doesn’t know how to express himself. It’s going to be weird for a while, he’s more robotic than Lady Friday right now, but we’ll fix it. For now he just doesn’t know when to smile or give you a hug but I’m sure if you ask him to, he will.”
Julia watched Morgan’s reaction carefully to see how she would take the news. “We just need to help him. Kind of like if he lost one of his senses like sight or hearing. You going to be alright with helping your dad out during this?”
Morgan followed what Julia was saying very carefully. The calm and reassuring way that she spoke kept her from crying outright, but her bottom lip still trembled. She nodded and looked over her shoulder at Peter. “But how are we going to fix it?” she asked them both. Usually it was her dad that fixed things. Could he still do that even under a spell?
“Your dad is still a genius,” Julia said to Morgan. “He’s coming up with a plan right now. There are other people here working on it, too.”
Julia’s eyes met Peter’s and again they had an unspoken agreement between them.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “Plus Julia is really good at magic. So we’re pretty much covered there.” He gave his sister a squeeze.
“Yes, she is.” There was obvious relief in Morgan’s voice as she said it. She gave a small smile to Julia, but added, “I wish my fairy godfather was here. He would know how to help too.” Her friend Eliot was gone, but not forgotten. She was quiet for a moment and looked down at Julia’s hands on hers. “But what should I do?” Nothing else seemed important knowing that her dad was in trouble.
“Hm,” Julia said. She eyed Morgan seriously as if coming up with a very important mission on the fly. “I think you should try to act like everything is normal. Still tell him how much you love him, still tell him all the normal things you tell him, so that when the spell is broken it’ll be like it never happened. It’s going to be hard. Your dad is pretty weird right now, but I think if the three of us work together we can pull it off. And, if it gets hard, you can come to me, okay?”
Peter nodded along, though he wasn’t sure if this plan was going to work. For Morgan’s sake, he’d try.
“Okay,” Morgan decided. She didn’t know how that would help matters, but maybe something else would come up later. For now, she was just glad to have Peter and Julia. She removed one of her hands from beneath Julia’s so she could take hold of one of Peter’s. “But you aren’t allowed to get cursed,” she told them both.
“I think the only people getting cursed are those going after the goblins or messing with the ravens,” Julia explained. “People leaving them alone seem to be mostly unaffected.” There were the dreams some people were having, but Julia decided now was not the best time to go into that. “You know, we might have to face Maleficent, in order to help everyone like your dad. And Peter is a really strong superhero. Any curses anyone gets are going to be temporary, once we figure this out. That I promise.”
“I won’t do anything unless I really, really need to,” Peter added. He looked at Morgan, “Is that okay?”
Morgan had never actually seen Peter in action. At least not his full Spider-Man glory. They goofed around a lot, but that was different. Still, she remembered the stories her dad used to tell her and so she nodded slowly. “Okay.” She was still for a moment before letting go of their hands and getting up from the bed. She placed a kiss on the top of the still-dozing Yen’s round head and then marched toward the door. “Let’s get started.”