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Never Alone

By MadasMoriarty

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At 3-- Her first memory is of waking up crying, her room so black and empty. The monster, green and elven and dressed like her father reaching for her in the dark. And she wants her dad, but he’s down in the basement making toys she’s not allowed to play with, she wants her mother but she’s so far away in places Darcy’s never been and isn’t allowed to go till she’s older, because her father is a great man with great enemies and the world is dangerous for a three year old. So she was alone. So alone and she didn’t want to be but there was no one there to be with her.

The lights flicker on and she looks to the door already reaching for her father but there is no one there. The door is closed and the room is still empty. And then he speaks.

“Are you quite well Miss Stark?” his voice is low and soothing and gentles her sobs more easily than any of the sweets her father would have offered her or the quick affection she would have gotten from her ever rushing mother. It quiets her in the same way the half familiar beat of their mother’s heart soothes an infant.

“Jarfis?” her chubby fingers rub at the tear tracks on her cheeks.

“Yes Miss Stark?”

“Where are you?” She holds her blanket closer, wishing for the weight of a body and the heat of a heart.  There is a short, almost hesitant pause.

“I maintain a presence throughout the house.”

Yes she knew that, her father had explained, Jarvis could see through every camera anywhere, if she ever needed anything, ask Jarvis, if she ever thought there were people in the house, tell Jarvis. Jarvis could take care of it. And at the time, distracted by toys and basking in the attention of her paternal parent that had been enough. But now, with tears still drying in her eyes and fear still keeping her from closing them, she needed something more substantial then ‘he can see you’ she needed to see him too.

“Will you come here?” her voice trembled with hope and new tears prickled her eyes. Another silence, more strained.

“I am here Miss Stark.”

“Where?” She looked around expectantly, waiting for a man to clear the shadows and come where she could see him, hold him, so she wouldn’t be alone anymore.  “Why can’t I see you?”

“I’m afraid I have no physical presence, barring my manipulation of the household.”

At three, even though she was the daughter of Pepper Potts and Tony Stark, she had no idea what that meant. So she said nothing, merely drew her blankets closer and sniffled, burying her head in her pillow, glad for the light.

“I’n all alone?”

This time his reply was instantaneous.

“No Miss Stark. I am here. Though I can offer you no real comfort, I assure you, I am here. “

And even though her heart was still trembling in her chest, and a monster hiding behind her eyelids, with the lights banishing the scariest shadows, it was enough. She still longed for her parents to comfort her, for someone to come and resettle the blankets around her skinny shoulders, but for now, she was comforted.

At 7--- Her mother was home. For the first time in what felt like eternity, Pepper Potts was spending the week with her family, in Malibu.  Darcy was ecstatic. She’d woken that morning and rushed to her closet, she put on her fanciest dress and her pointiest shoes, and she’d waited. Her mother had come through the door hours later in a whirlwind of activity, because even at home, on vacation, she was still working.

Darcy had been given a brusque kiss, her mother had crooned about her height, promised they’d spend time together later, ‘we’ll do lunch’, and promptly rushed to her father’s workshop with a stack of forms that needed signing.

Darcy had waited, certain her mother would never forget her, playing solitaire on the couch until her stomach had growled hungrily.

“Jarvis?”

“Yes Miss Stark?”

“Is my mommy almost done? I’m hungry.”  There was a silence that Darcy was coming to recognize as Jarvis hesitated, she swore she could hear his servos whirring.

“I’m afraid Mrs. Potts is no longer on the premises.  She and sir have gone to an early lunch.”

“Oh.” All the air deflated from her lungs, her whole body going numb at Jarvis’ apologetic words. “Okay.” She considered her solitaire game for a moment before settling the cards on the table. “Thanks Jarvis.” She looked down at her fancy dress and her pointy shoes and felt a rush of boiling hate that made her fingers tingle. Shaking with anger she was fighting to repress Darcy fought with one shoe, attempting to tear it from her foot.

“Miss Stark?”

“What Jarvis?” her voice came out harsher then she intended as she struggled with the strap.

“As your earlier plans have changed I was wondering if you would do me the honor of joining me for lunch.”

“Huh?” brushing at tears she was still denying existed; Darcy looked to the ceiling, knowing her father would tease her mercilessly if he knew. “You don’t eat.”

“Indeed not. But I would not be remiss to a little noon time conversation. If you are amicable, of course.” The coffee pot clicked on, the smell of green tea sweeping through the kitchen to linger at the edge of the lounge. At the same moment AC/DC came on over the speakers, just loud enough to hear.

Darcy giggled, offering a watery smile to the nearest camera.

“I would be delighted Mr. Jarvis.”

“Wonderful. Thank you Miss Stark.”

“Thanks Jarvis.”  This garnered no reply and she went and collected her tea from the kitchen, and one of the ready-made sandwiches her mother kept stocked in the fridge.

When her parents returned an hour later, her mother was frantically apologetic, while her father took all the blame and both promised, ‘hand to hear- well, arc reactor’, to spend dinner together. They spent it eating pizza in her father’s workshop, while Jarvis helped her win at trivia ‘cheating! No AIs allowed’ and Dummy tried to steal the question cards. She hardly saw her father for the rest of that week, and her mother went back to work three days early, but that was alright, Jarvis was always just a word away and she never spent her lunches alone.

At 9--- She had it circled on her calendar. In thick, bold, Iron Man red. December 6th, Pensgate High School Science Fair. She’d banished her father and mother from the third garage, setting up a work station between the Porsche and the black Lambregini and spent every spare moment of her day working. Keeping her project carefully hidden and in Jarvis’ unwavering care.

The day of the fair she’d smuggled it from the house under a garbage bag, though her father hadn’t surfaced from his lab in three days and her mother wouldn’t be back from her conference until two. She didn’t want to take any chances. Jarvis and the bots had all wished her luck, but Darcy didn’t care if she won, so long as her parents were there to watch the work would be worth it.

She won anyway. Her automated P.A. had been head and shoulders above her classmates, following her around a small square of the gymnasium, writing all the notes she dictated to it verbatim and printing them through the slot in its back, or offering to e-mail them to a preprogrammed contact. Her teachers had all ‘jokingly’ begged for one, and the judges had gotten the whole school clapping. But Darcy had her whole attention on the gym doors, waiting for one of her parents to burst in, her father with a drink in his hand, her mother with a swarm of assistants. They stayed closed. Darcy carried the trophy home herself, the P.A. bot on a leash behind her.

“Congratulations Miss Stark.” Were Jarvis’ first words to her when she came through the door, all the lights coming on and Metallica taking up chorus in the living room. “Might I suggest a celebratory ice-cream?”

She offered the AI a smile, tossing her award on the couch before settling beside it, her project left at the door.

“Thanks J. Maybe later.”

“Of course Miss Stark.” The kitchen light flickered off. “Shall I make room on sir’s award shelf for your prize?”

She shook her head.

“Jarvis, where ARE my parents?”

“Sir has just returned from an assembly in downtown and is currently in the workshop making repairs to Mark XII. Missus Potts was called away to Japan on urgent business, she’s expected home in a few days. Shall I call her for you? I’m sure she would be interested to know of your success.”

“Yeah alright.” Darcy leaned into the couch as the sound of a phone ringing replaced Metallica on the speakers.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Ring.

“You’ve reached Virginia Potts, leave a short message and someone will get back to you within the week. Tony, if this is you, I don’t want to know. Whatever happened I’ll deal with it later. And if you’ve broken another tower, I’m going to kill you.”

Beep.

She motioned for Jarvis to disconnect and went to collect her robot from beside the door.

“Is my dad doing anything dangerous?” A pause.

“I’m sure sir will find some way to make it so but nothing fatal at present. Shall I inform him you intend to visit?”

“No. I’ll surprise him.”

“Very good Miss Stark.”

She found her father bent double with a flame too near his face as he attempted to repair his armor, muttering angrily, ‘Doom and his tinker toys’, his music blaring at half volume. He didn’t look up when she came in Her attempts at conversation were met with distracted noises or not at all. When she held out the metal structure in her arms for inspection she’d gotten half a glance, ‘scrap heaps over there’ and a request for a power drill.

Any enthusiasm she might have felt that morning left her. Retrieving the drill she’d retreated to the elevator, mumbling about dinner, which garnered more of a response then anything so far even if it was a dismissive hand gesture. She slumped against the lift’s cool glass siding as soon as the doors had closed, staring at the machine in her hands with bitter contempt. All that work, all those hours… and all it’d gotten her was a small painted cup and glares from all the high-schoolers she’d outdone.

“To the roof please Jarvis.”

“Miss Stark?”

“The roof.”

“Of course Miss Stark….Might I enquire at your sudden interest in the building’s top?”

“No.”

The rest of the elevator ride was silent.

“Keep the doors open for me Jarvis.” She stepped out into the chill New York wind. Turning immediately to regard the motorized room. “Send the car down to the lobby would you Jarvis? But leave the doors open.”

A strained silence, that sense of whirring servos.

“Certainly.”

She watched the little box descend until she was staring down an empty shaft, the bottom slowly disappearing from sight. She gripped the wall tightly, wondering how her father flew over skyscrapers everyday.

“The car has reached the lobby Miss Stark.”

“Thank you.”

She threw her automated P.A. down after it with all her might. She only vaguely heard the crunch when it hit the bottom. And it did nothing to make her feel better.

“I’ll take the stairs down Jarvis.”

“Of course Miss Stark.”

Her father found her ruined project before dinner, ‘I don’t know how he could have discovered it Miss Stark’ they spent the following meal time rebuilding it and admiring her trophy, ‘we’ll put it next to my Loebner prize, hey Jarvis?’ By the time they were done, ‘Miss Austen’- ‘Because I’m named after Jane Austen she should be too.’ Mark II, had developed a low level personality, voice recognition and cappuccino making abilities. They gave it to her mother when she returned from Japan, and her first prize took pride of place on the mantle for the next three weeks before moving to the overflowing awards cabinet. But by then Darcy had decided to give up engineering. She went into political science instead.

At 13----

“I hate boys Jarvis.”

“Truly heinous creatures, Miss Stark.”

“They’re so stupid.”

“Indeed.”

“Remind me never to like a boy again.”

“I shall make a note.”

Her first boyfriend sent her apology letters, flowers and chocolates for two months after he broke up with her. Despite the fact they had only ‘dated’ because his friends thought it would be a good joke. His car had been repossessed that same week too, despite the fact that his father, a high end divorce lawyer, made the payments. She had received personal apologies from both his parents and his one living grandparent. It had become so bad she couldn’t go to school without him laying his jacket across the rain puddles for her. She’d eventually ‘broken up’ with him and he hadn’t spoken to her for the rest of the school year, and his car had been returned two days later.

“Thanks Jarvis.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean Miss Stark.”

At 15---- She was surprised she hadn’t been kidnapped sooner. It wasn’t like she hid the fact that she was Tony Stark’s daughter. Her father had been very paranoid about it for a lot of years, drilling every known means of survival into her head, ‘This Q-tip can be a weapon. I am dead serious. Ask Tasha.’ , teaching her bomb construction and hand to hand. But it had never happened. And she had almost believed it never would.

But here she was, shivering outside a warehouse with rope burns on her wrist while her father soared back into the half burning building ‘They picked the wrong hostage. I’m going to fucking murder them’, waiting for the medics to arrive. When they finally did turn up they were needed by the kidnappers more than her and after a rudimentary inspection she was sent home to rest.

She woke up crying, her room so black and empty, the monsters with leering faces and cruel hands reaching for her in the dark. And she wants her dad, but he’s down in his workshop getting wasted on scotch. She wants her mom but her plane doesn’t get in for six more hours. Because her father is a great man and has great enemies and the world is a scarier place then it seemed three days ago. And she’s alone, though she doesn’t want to be. But there isn’t anyone to be there with her.

But then. He speaks.

“Are you quite well Miss Stark?” His voice is soothing and familiar and it calms her heart faster than the gentle teasing of her father or her mother’s sympathetic fawning. It quiets her in a way the familiar breaths of their paramour would lull a lover to sleep.

“Jarvis?” Thin, trembling fingers wipe the tears from her eyes.

“Yes Miss Stark?”

“Will you stay with me?” she curls her body tighter, digging her toes into the mattress as she lets her head fall back to the pillow.

His reply is instantaneous.

“Of course Miss Stark.”

“Jarvis? I love you”

Quiet as she falls asleep, though her heart still trembles and the shadows make her cold. No noise but her own breath and the whirring of servos until she’s sleeping once again.

“And I you, Miss Stark.”

END.

Epilogue- She asks Natasha about the Q-tip. The details were horrifying.


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