Title: Ironmongers and Alchemists
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Archive Rights: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: Tony Stark, Edward Elric, Alphonse Elric, Noa Elric, Nick Fury, Pepper Potts.
Setting: Set after Iron Man 2. Follows the first anime/Conqueror of Shamballa canon of "Fullmetal Alchemist".
Summary: Tony Stark's first consulting assignment for SHIELD introduces him to a peculiar pair of young brothers. The technical challenge they bring him is more than he can resist, and so is their mystery—if only he can cope with having them in his house.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and "Fullmetal Alchemist" belong, respectively, to Marvel and Hiromu Arakawa. I'm just playing with them.
Notes: Almost from the first time I watched Iron Man, the gears of a crossover started turning. In plotting one, I had an advantage over most FMA fans, because I subscribe to the first-anime canon that opens the door to the Elrics living in our world. Of course, there's the little matter of almost ninety years' difference in time periods… but I already had other ideas that would fix that as well.
In part, this is written for the prompt AU: Crossover at Trope Bingo. I must also give props (as usual) to Kristen Sharpe, who helped me toss around a number of the ideas that made this story workable.
"Sir, Director Fury has come calling," Jarvis announced, with the very faintest hint of tried patience in his artificial voice. "And he isn't alone."
With an irritated frown, Tony Stark removed the wrench that was clamped between his teeth, and withdrew his head from under the hood of the Bugatti he was restoring. A quick glance at his watch proved that he had been immersed in tinkering for nearly six hours; it was now almost ten forty-five at night. By any conventional measure, it was a very inconsiderate time to drop by on business—and he knew Nick Fury wasn't the kind of man to make a mere social visit.
Truth be told, if his ego wasn't so nettled by Fury's catty evasions about his qualifications for the Avengers Initiative, he would already have told the man where to go.
"Get rid of him. Tell him I'm out taking advantage of my chance to enjoy the nightlife while Pepper is in New York. And while you're showing him the door, remind him that my consulting hours are between eight and five every other Thursday."
"I already took the initiative of trying to excuse you. He responded by quoting the exact time you arrived home this afternoon. …I gather that SHIELD has placed you under rather close scrutiny, sir."
Tony growled between his teeth, wondering yet again if anything Fury had to offer was really worth the trouble of dealing with him. "Fine. Tell him I'll be upstairs in a few minutes."
Still annoyed by the prospect of the unwelcome visit, Tony did not hurry to meet it. After meticulously putting away his tools, he stepped into the washroom, to clean the black smudges of grease from his hands, arms, and face. Then he put on a fresh change of clothes. Ten minutes had passed before he finally climbed the stairs to his living room, where Nick Fury stood silhouetted against the moonlit view of the Pacific Ocean. He was, to all appearances, quite alone.
"Jarvis, I thought you said he had someone with him," Tony murmured, as he reached the top of the stairs.
"The two gentlemen Director Fury brought with him have found their way to the kitchen, sir."
Well, that certainly sounded odd… and not very promising. With a dubious scowl at Fury, Tony stepped forward.
"Look, Nick, if it's about that brush fire in the canyon, that wasn't on me," he began preemptively. "I just happened to be out testing some new tweaks to the suit, and I heard the cops were chasing an SUV full of heavily-armed bank robbers into the area, so—"
"That's not what I'm here for." Fury turned from the window, his hands folded behind his back. He kept his expression neutral, but there was a wryness in his one eye as he regarded Tony. "I told you SHIELD was interested in using you as a consultant. It's time to consult."
"Uh-huh. Do you ever do anything during normal business hours?"
The spymaster smiled grimly. "Just keeping you on your toes, Stark. You should be getting used to the fact that people don't punch a clock in the line of work you've decided to jump into."
"I can think of a few other things I'd like to punch…" Tony crossed his arms over his chest. "So what is it exactly that you're wanting me to advise you on?"
"It's in your line, believe me… but I think it'll be best if you see for yourself."
With that, Fury turned and set off toward the kitchen, clearly taking it for granted that Tony would follow. In spite of the size and complexity of the house, he seemed to know exactly where he was headed. This rankled Tony—but it didn't surprise him. The man was a spy, after all. He had probably memorized the entire floor plan of the place before he visited the first time.
Like the rest of the house, the kitchen was a marvel of ultra-modern technological precision. Tony had even designed its appliances himself, the better to integrate them with Jarvis' systems. Although a large and lavish dining room stood down the hall, the kitchen also included a simple nook with a table and two chairs; a convenience for nights like these when he was working late, and wanted a quick, solitary snack that wasn't of the liquid variety. This was where they found Fury's two companions.
The first figure Tony noticed was standing, partially turned from the doorway to lean over the table. At his initial glimpse of this person's rather short stature and long blond braid, he thought he was looking at a girl—but that misconception was quickly shattered when the guest turned to look at him. The refined features half-veiled by long golden bangs were young, but unmistakably masculine. At Tony's guess, the kid must not have been more than twenty-four.
He also had to be some kind of emo goth punk, Tony concluded. Apart from the long hair and the glint of a stud in his left ear, he was dressed in sleek black garments, with a red leather jacket lending the only color to his attire. But the gothiest-looking clue of all was the strange symbol Tony had glimpsed on the back of the jacket: a snake coiled around a cross. It looked like something cultic.
When the young man turned, he was in the middle of taking a bite out of a sandwich—and it had obviously just been slapped together from the ingredients laid out on the table behind him.
Not unreasonably, Tony took umbrage at the fact that his fridge had been raided by a total stranger. He was about to voice his objection… but he faltered when he looked at the eyes that stared unapologetically back at him over the bread crust. They were a vivid yellow color that he was fairly sure nothing but a cat had ever been born with.
So the kid was also using those freaky fashion contact lenses. Oh, yes… definitely goth. Probably thought he was a vampire, too.
It was only belatedly that Tony noticed the second man, who was seated at the table. He was the same age as the first, or perhaps just slightly younger, with a facial structure so similar that they might have passed for twins—except that this one was far more clean-cut. His short, neatly-trimmed hair was light brown, and so were his very normal eyes. His much plainer clothing consisted of jeans and a white button-front shirt. In short, he looked every bit as conventional as his companion looked edgy.
"Tony Stark, I'd like you to meet Edward Elric…" Fury gestured at the gothy freeloader, and then the normal kid. "And his brother Alphonse. Both of them are SHIELD special agents."
That news caught Tony by surprise. He would have pegged the two as college students; but then, some of the best hackers in the world were even younger than these two. Neither of them looked especially physical, so SHIELD must have enlisted them for their brains, and computer skills were the most likely intellectual assets for people of their generation.
The gothy one, introduced as Edward, slowly lowered the sandwich from his mouth. Tony noticed offhandedly that the left hand in which he held it was bare, while the right hand hanging relaxed at his side was clad in a black leather glove. He looked their host up and down, direct and appraising and almost challenging, before he tersely spoke just one word. "Hi."
"Good evening, Mr. Stark." Alphonse stood up, rising to a height that was noticably taller than his brother, and stepped forward to extend his own hand amiably. "I'm pretty excited to meet you. I've been following your work for a long time."
"Yeah, I get that a lot…" Tony accepted the handshake bemusedly. The truth was, he hated it when kids of their age gushed to him about what an inspiration he had been to them all their lives. It made him feel old.
He eyed Fury sidelong as he reclaimed his hand from Alphonse's surprisingly firm grip. "So, what—is SHIELD recruiting at college campuses now? Or did you find that one at a rave?" He tilted his head toward Edward.
Fury rolled his eye and drew a breath to respond, but he was beaten to it by Edward. The young man let out a huff and slapped the sandwich down onto a plate, freeing both of his hands to be planted on his hips. "I see you've got all the tact everyone says you do."
Tony leveled as good a glare as he got. "In all fairness, kid, you did just walk into my house and start stuffing your face."
The retort earned a stifled chuckle from Alphonse. Apart from that, the more docile brother apparently decided it was best to keep quiet.
"I told you this was a bad idea, Nick." Edward rounded on his superior, jerking his gloved right thumb toward Tony. "This guy's a joke… and I still don't think I want any part of his tech."
"What about my tech?" Tony snapped at once, defensively—more perturbed by the dismissive reference to his work than the insult to his own person.
"Relax, both of you." Fury heaved a sigh. "Stark, the upshot is that Ed here has a need for a certain kind of technology you can provide better than anyone… Yes, I said a need," he reiterated to Edward, as the young man started to protest. "I've been informed by SHIELD R&D that if their technicians have to replace your hardware one more time, somebody is gonna go postal. Stark is the only man around with a chance of coming up with something you can't break—and you're going to let him try."
"Bye, Nick," Edward retorted casually, flopping down into the chair opposite the one Alphonse had been occupying.
Fury wavered for a moment, clearly wanting to say something more, before he finally shook his head in exasperation.
"Handle it," he said flatly to Alphonse, and left the kitchen—giving every appearance that he was on his way out of the house altogether.
Alphonse didn't seem to be daunted by the task he was charged with. He resumed his seat, grinning rather apologetically at Tony. "Sorry, sir. My brother and authority figures… kind of rub each other the wrong way."
"Just based on his first fifteen minutes in my house, I'm wondering if your brother ever rubs anyone the right way." Tony turned to stare hard at Edward. "I don't know what Fury wants me to design for you, but from what I'm seeing so far, I don't think I'd trust any of my work in the hands of a punk kid like you."
Edward let out a snort. The sound had a distinctly bitter, ironic note to it.
"Fine by me." He rose, reaching down beside the table to grasp the handle of a suitcase Tony had not previously noticed—the implications of which filled him with even greater astonishment at Fury's presumption. "This wasn't my idea. Fury was the one who dragged us all the way out here. I've seen your work on the news and in SHIELD reports, and frankly, I don't want anything to do with it—so we'll just be on our way."
"No we won't."
It was Alphonse who had spoken those words. His voice was quiet, yet somehow as solid as a stone wall. He looked up at his brother with a firm and unwavering gaze.
"Al…" Edward ground out impatiently.
"Be serious about this, Brother. Fury's right. The world's getting more dangerous, and you need an upgrade that will stand up to what we have to face now. Someday your life could depend on what Mr. Stark can do for you—and maybe mine, or Noa's, or a lot of other people's."
Whatever meaning that argument might have held for Edward, it caused his face to fall. He shot a brooding, distrustful look at Tony, and slowly lowered the suitcase to the floor.
"Okay. Great. Glad we got that straightened out." Somewhat incredulously, Tony glanced back and forth between the two. "Now does anyone care to tell me just what I'm supposed to 'upgrade'?"
The older brother hesitated, his expression darkening in a different way; but the younger gave him another steady look. "Show him, Ed."
Edward physically winced. A slow breath was dragged into his lungs, and then released. He partially turned to face the table again, his hands moving in front of him, and Tony saw the black glove fall to join its mate on the tabletop.
After another pause, Edward slowly shrugged off the red jacket. As he did so, he turned to face Tony… and even the jaded billionaire genius had to catch his breath at the sight that was exposed to him.
The black shirt Edward was wearing beneath the jacket was sleeveless. On his left side, it exposed an arm that was lean, but far more muscular than Tony would have expected of the slight young man. On his right side, however…
On his right, there was nothing but the gleam of polished metal.
Tony's eyes widened as he took in the prosthetic—because that was unmistakably what it was. He had never seen anything like it. Even the medical-technology branch of Stark Industries, with which he had shared certain carefully-chosen, harmless components of the Iron Man suit's structural designs, had never succeeded in turning out something so… so natural. In its size, shape, and proportions, right down to the palm of the hand and the very tips of the fingers, the limb was an exact mirror of its left-handed fleshly counterpart.
Yet for all that, he was only able to fully appreciate the wonder of it when he saw it move.
Researchers had come a long way since the days of primitive peg-legs and hook-hands. They had developed prosthetics that were incredibly agile and responsive, and could do amazing things. But what Tony was looking at right now, as Edward pensively flexed the arm, and curled the slender mechanical fingers into a fist…
This was still the stuff of science fiction—like something straight off the cover of an Asimov novel. No one Tony knew of had ever developed anything that could respond with such precision and speed, replicating so perfectly the grace of human form and movement.
No wonder Edward had seemed blackly amused by Tony's earlier remark. He didn't need tech to be in his hands—he needed it to be his hand.
Before Tony knew what he was doing, he had grabbed the metal wrist and jerked Edward's arm forward. He cradled its elbow in his left palm, as the fingers of his right hand eagerly explored the visible workings of the joint.
"Yeah, that's what I thought," Edward grumbled. He sounded less than enthused at the manhandling, but Tony barely noticed. His focus had shrunk exclusively to the engineering marvel in his hands.
On closer examination, he could see that the prosthetic had not been gently used. It was dented and scraped in several spots, with tool marks chipping the edges of access panels, and brighter, irregular lines of solder marking places where the metal had been more drastically repaired. Not nearly as bad as some of the damage he had taken to his Iron Man suits… but judging by Fury's remark about SHIELD technicians having to replace Edward's "hardware", the guy must have gone through a few of these limbs himself.
"How is this possible?" he demanded, without raising his eyes from his minute study of the arm. "How are you getting such perfect motion and responsiveness from an arm this complex?"
Edward squirmed. "It's connected to my nerves—so would you mind not pulling on it like that?"
Tony finally looked up, to stare at Edward in awe. "You're kidding me."
For answer, Edward pried the arm from Tony's grip. Huffing out a sigh, he untucked his shirt and peeled it off over his head, to let it drop on the table beside his jacket.
What this further revealed was startling. The prosthetic arm was attached to a port, also metal, that took the place of Edward's entire shoulder. Tony couldn't help wincing as he observed the scars that laced its edges, and the large screws that clearly passed through the skin, attaching the port to the underlying bones of Edward's sternum and ribs. After his inquiring look was met by a halfhearted permissive grunt, his fingers traced up the underside of the arm—more gently this time—and under the armpit, he could just feel the edge of the socket into which the limb was connected.
He tried to imagine what was going on inside there. A machine physically linked to human nerves, translating electrical impulses directly from the brain to the mechanical joints of the arm and hand, resulting in movement as swift and natural as the flesh limb it replaced…
Few things could make Tony Stark feel inadequate—but the fact that someone besides him had achieved this breakthrough was one of them.
"Who made this?" he breathed.
Edward looked away, and Alphonse's gaze dropped to the table.
"It's called automail," Edward said, his voice now very quiet. "The mechanic who made my first automail was a friend of ours."
Tony heard Edward's use of the past tense, the tinge of sadness and regret in his voice. He knew he should try to be tactful and respectful for at least a moment; but all he could really feel was annoyed disappointment, because it probably meant any chance of meeting the limb's original designer was out of the question.
"How long have you had it?"
"You mean, how long since the port was connected." The amputee grimaced. "Let's put it this way: I was eleven years old."
And there really was no way to respond to that—because even without knowing anything about the how or why of this automail, Tony knew the operation to connect it to living nerves must have been spectacularly painful. The thought of a boy that young enduring such a procedure was difficult to imagine.
"Was it… you know… an addition?" he asked, with all the delicacy he could muster, as a reference to a deformity from birth. "Or a…"
"A replacement." Edward finally raised his eyes, with a small, pained smile. It was the first one Tony had seen him give. "And, uh… the left leg, too."
Tony's eyes shot down to Edward's left knee, concealed though it was under black fabric. For a moment, it was all he could do to resist seizing the young man's ankle and yanking up his pants leg, to have a look at another such wonder.
Fortunately, the amputee spared him from falling to that temptation. Edward bent down and tugged at a hidden zipper, opening the pants leg to his mid-thigh. This exposed a second prosthetic limb that was constructed in the same manner as the right arm, all the way up to another scar-rimmed port above the knee.
Alphonse spoke up softly. "SHIELD has been studying Ed's automail for a long time. They can build new limbs for him, based on the ones our friend designed—but they've never been able to recreate the nerve connections in the port that make them work." He smiled crookedly. "That was supposed to be kind of a carrot for you, Mr. Stark. If you can figure it out, you're welcome to claim all the rights to automail manufacturing, so you can make prosthetics as good as Ed's available to other amputees. All we want in return is for you to tweak the designs of these limbs SHIELD created, and come up with something a little more… sturdy."
"Uh-huh." Tony couldn't resist a faint smirk of his own. "I've gotta admit, it totally makes sense now why you brought this to me."
Edward snorted and dropped back into his chair, rubbing his flesh fingers across the back of his metal fist. "I just knew you wouldn't be able to keep your hands off this. The profit you could make from patenting automail—"
"Don't be so cynical, Ed," Alphonse chided gently, before turning his big brown eyes to Tony. "So you'll take up the challenge?"
"I'm interested. That goes without saying." Tony frowned. "As for the nerve connections, I'm not exactly a medical doctor. But then, seeing as I did figure out how to plug an arc reactor into my chest…"
"And that's another thing," Edward muttered. "If you're gonna do this, you'd better keep it simple. No repulsor beams, or lasers, or missiles, or any of that other junk you've got your suits tricked out with. All I need is a plain old ordinary arm and leg that have some strength to them, and can take a little bit of abuse. Got that?"
"Geeze, you're gonna make this almost boring." Tony shrugged. "I hear you. No bells and whistles… party pooper."
Edward ignored the jibe. "I'm sure you can't wait to open up my automail, but I'm not ready to be put under the microscope until I've had some sleep. In the meantime, if you want some light bedtime reading, SHIELD's tech-heads sent along the schematics and research files they've put together from their years of torturing me." Metal fingers slid a flash drive out of his hip pocket, and tossed it onto the table.
Tony hoped he wasn't salivating as he pounced on the drive. "Great. I'll give it a look. That oughta tide me over."
"Now how about showing us to a guest room? We've had a long day. When Fury shoved this little scheme on us, we'd only just got back from finishing up some work in Europe."
That gave Tony pause for a moment. Aside from the presumptuous rudeness of the demand, the idea of the brothers staying in his house was a little uncomfortable for him. While he had ample space, he was not accustomed to boarding houseguests… or at least ones who weren't female, gorgeous, and sharing his bed for a night. (And that was out the window now as well, since he had won his Pepper over. She was different. She was the one… and although few would believe his sincerity, he was honestly committed to being faithful to her.)
He did want that automail close by until he could get his hands on it, though. He wanted to be exploring its mysteries right now. He wanted to take it apart to the last bolt and put it back together again, find any possible imperfection that could be corrected, see just how much farther he could advance its designs—and whether any detail of those designs might be worth applying to his Iron Man suits.
"…Right. Guest room." Tony shrugged woodenly, and pointed to the kitchen doorway. "Come on."
Edward unslouched from his chair, pulled on his shirt, and gathered his suitcase and jacket. Alphonse rose as well, picking up a suitcase of his own. The two brothers followed Tony upstairs, to a suite of rooms that was comfortably far removed from his own.
"Basic ground rules," Tony said sternly, as he stood in front of the open door. "Clean up after yourselves. Don't make a lot of noise. And after breakfast tomorrow, you're not allowed to touch my food. Give Jarvis a grocery list, and he'll have whatever you want delivered."
"Whatever we want?" Edward queried, a fiendish glint creeping into his eyes.
Tony resisted an urge to facepalm at himself for using such careless phrasing with a pair of young males. "Look, just be sensible about it. Don't abuse my hospitality."
"We should probably mention that SHIELD will be paying all the expenses while we're here," Alphonse remarked glibly, with a wry smile.
At that, Tony's eyes took on a wicked gleam of their own.
"…Well, in that case, go hog-wild. Order anything you want."
With a satisfied grunt, Edward retreated into the sitting room beyond the door. Alphonse, however, continued to hover at the threshold.
"There was one other thing I wanted to ask you, Mr. Stark. Tomorrow, or sometime when it's convenient—would it be alright if I have a look at your Iron Man suit?" A warm blush crossed his cheeks as he explained, almost bashfully: "I… have kind of a thing about armor."
The request was faintly awkward for Tony. Unlike his abrasive brother, this kid Alphonse was plainly respectful and admiring, but still… Tony was possessive about his work. He rather enjoyed showing off its capabilities to lay people, but the idea of letting a SHIELD agent with as-yet undetermined skills look over his suits made him squirm.
"Well, uh… we'll see about that," he hedged. "You know, I've kind of been in the middle of some major upgrades, so it's not really at its most presentable right now… I'll get back to you."
Rather than look disappointed or annoyed, Alphonse only smiled cheerfully, and nodded. "Great. Good night, Mr. Stark."
After receiving a rather indifferent good-night in reply, Alphonse closed the door. Before Tony moved away down the hall, he could dimly hear the brothers starting to argue about who was going to take which of the two bedrooms that adjoined the sitting room.
With a shake of his head, the billionaire genius started toward his own room at the other end of the house—dazed by the realization that he had somehow found himself babysitting for SHIELD.
"Hey, Pepper. How's New York?"
"Exhausting. Getting clearance for the tower is going slower than we hoped. After the spectacle of Hammer's drones blowing away everything in sight at the Expo, some city officials are having a hard time believing it's safe to put an arc reactor in the middle of Manhattan. I'm trying to arrange some practical demonstrations, but it's not really easy here. I think eventually we'll just have to to fly some of them out there for a tour of the reactor at the plant. It wouldn't hurt for them to hear your sales pitch firsthand, either."
"Sorry. Just looking over some research material… I kind of had a new project dropped in my lap."
"That had better be all that's in your lap.—So what are you working on?"
"Remember, I told you Nick Fury fed me that line about consulting for SHIELD? Well, I guess he was serious. Last night he dropped off a pair of agents who need my area of expertise. I would've sworn they were just Berkeley frat boys or something… but one of 'em is wired up with the two most amazing examples of prosthetic-limb technology I've ever seen, ever. They want me to develop an upgrade."
"Prosthetic limbs? That sounds terrible. Did he serve in Iraq or something?"
"Actually, he said he's been that way since he was a kid, so he must've had some kind of accident. With the capabilities of these prosthetics, though, who knows where he's done field work. I'll quiz them while I'm studying the limbs. Not that I'll get a straight answer… They work for SHIELD, after all. And Edward—that's the amputee—he really has a mouth on him. Having to deal with him is going to be a pretty unfair price to pay for getting my hands on his arm and leg."
"Be nice, Tony. If he lost two of his limbs, I'm sure he's had it rough."
"Yeah. Well. …Alphonse isn't bad, though. Nice quiet kid, if a little too interested in my suits—sounds like he's got kind of an armor fetish or something. Unless getting his geek on about them is just a cover for him to spy on my work. Anyway, at least he seems to know how to handle his brother."
"I hope they're still around when I get back. I would dearly love to see you trying to cope with two college-aged secret agents."
"Oh, don't worry, Pep… I already know this is gonna take a while."