Waking up in an alley is a dog. Waking up in an alley as a dog is even more so.

My first few minutes were spent trying desperately to snap out of whatever drug or coma-induced hallucination this was. When even biting my new furry leg until I distinctly smelled blood didn't work, I shamelessly started crying and begging to whoever was listening to deliver me from this strange new reality. When that failed, I kind of had a mental snap and just laid down and shut off for a few hours. Then Animal Control showed up. Just as well, my leg was probably infected. It was an alley I had spontaneously appeared as a dog in.

A week later, I was sort of numbly resigned to whatever hell or spontaneous reincarnation or prank by a passing ROB my life had become.

How to describe what it's like to go from a human body to a canine one? I could write a whole book about the world of difference between my subjective experiences as both. Except I didn't have opposable thumbs anymore and couldn't write a word. I'll leave you with the basics: colors were weird, my nose was stronger and more reliable than my sight, and I kept tripping when I was allowed in the yard because walking on all fours just didn't feel natural yet. Don't get me started on the tail, that was just weird.

I will say this: I ended up at one of the good shelters, wherever the hell I was. I got legit medical treatment for my leg wound, 2 meals and constant access to water each day, and an hour-long walk in a fenced-in yard for exercise. But otherwise, I basically spent every waking and sleeping hour in a cage some arbitrary size for a giant-breed dog.

I still retained my human mind, obviously, and with it my understanding of English. And while it was a bit of a learning curve to rely more on my ears and nose than my eyes as my main anchor for my senses, I could hear a whole lot of what the handlers and volunteers said when they were in my range. I gathered that I looked like a purebred Newfoundland, which raised some questions about how I'd ended up in an alley with no collar. I had no obvious medical issues or diseases according to the vet, apart from my healing leg. The only barrier between me and adoption (which apparently was the only way out of the shelter for a dog like me besides euthanasia or natural causes) was my size and age. I wasn't a puppy; I was 140-ish pounds and 28 inches of domesticated wolf.

Months passed with my monotonous shelter life. Every now and then someone who didn't work there would peer in my cage or watch me as I walked around the yard. But I never got picked to become someone's pet, other dogs getting that privilege if the visitor was in a good mood.

One day, like any other, there was suddenly a big fuss from the staff. I picked up a lot of nervousness and excitement in the air. And that was another thing: I could smell emotions now. Working out which was which took some time, but I had nothing better to do but decode the strange new sensory input from my turbocharged schnoz and work out which configuration matched which mood.

Finally, the door to the cage area opened and I heard the guy I was pretty sure was the boss of the whole shelter talking animatedly. "I do hope you can find the right companion for yourself today, Mr. Stark!"

"Yeah, well, you never know," said a noncommittal male voice with undercurrents of sarcasm.

"I'll be available to answer any questions you may have!" the boss man said, sounding like he was meeting a celebrity or something.

"Cool beans," said the newcomer, probably this 'Mr. Stark'.

I sighed, but got up and sat down at attention. I didn't have high hopes, but this guy might be my ticket out of this well-intentioned but dangerously dull prison I found myself in. Best to make a good impression, and I'd grown up in the military in the life I'd had before it turned into… this. Parade rest was the way to go in my mind.

I heard the sound of footsteps, a fast, light gait. Probably not a fat guy, then. I distinctly heard Mr. Stark mutter under his breath "Damn Obie for talking me into this shit. Good PR, my ass."

The steps neared my cage door and I regarded the man who stepped into view. Short, not a midget but definitely under 6 feet. Had some elaborate goatee from what I could see, along with a full head of feathery hair. I smelled some kind of cologne that was much less offensive to my nose than the Axe body spray some of the male volunteers preferred. He was wearing a 3-piece suit, the fabric smelled like nothing I'd encountered in this life as a dog so far. Might be silk, this guy kinda reeked of money. Not literally, but one look at him made me certain that he was the type who could buy cars the way I used to buy newspapers: daily and with pocket change.

He blinked and tilted his head. "Huh. You're a big one."

I made a noncommittal whine, just acknowledging the obvious.

"You seem to know how to sit already. Can you roll over?" he asked, probably joking.

Determined to wow this rich guy with my human-level intelligence in a much furrier package, I laid down and then rotated a full 360 degrees to the right before sitting up again.

"Huh. I'll be damned," Mr. Stark said, sounding a smidge impressed. He squatted down and reached a hand partially through the cage bars. "Can you shake?"

I plodded over until I was right in front of him. I deliberately brought up my right paw and laid it in his grip.

"Nice to meet you, big guy," Mr. Stark said.

I looked him in the eyes and tried to turn up the cuteness to 11. I couldn't take another day of laying on a scratchy blanket or staring at the same 4 walls or walking in one yard that reeked of dozens of other dogs' piss and shit. I needed to get out of here. If I had to jump through a fiery ring to get adopted, I'd do it at this point.

Mr. Stark looked at my doggy face and seemed torn between pretending he was unaffected and dissolving into a pile of goo. Ah, a tough type. I pulled out the big guns and hit him with my best smile.

"Alright, alright, you're adorable, I get it," Mr. Stark grumbled. He let go of my paw and held out his fingers. Taking my cue, I sniffed and then licked the digits. An involuntary smile crossed his lips, until it vanished and he stood, withdrawing his hand. He turned towards the side. "What can you tell me about this one?" he asked the shelter boss.

The administrator hurried over to Mr. Stark's side and gave me a glance. "Oh, this one's a male, approximately 3 years old. We're pretty sure he's a purebred Newfoundland. They found him in an alley without a collar, he's been here about 7 months. We haven't had a peep of trouble from him, he appears to have received extensive training. Our best guess is that he was bought from a breeder by a family, they underestimated just how big he was going to get, and abandoned him when they decided he was too much trouble or not what they wanted. It's a sadly common occurrence, especially in this area."

"Shame. Anything special about Newfoundlands? I'm not the dog expert here," Mr. Stark asked with self-deprecating humor.

"They're believed to originate from the Newfoundland region of Canada, hence the name. They were bred as working dogs for fishermen. With their double coat of fur and muscle, they can jump into the water and drag nets or rescue anyone who falls overboard with little trouble. They have a reputation as gentle giants, very friendly and obedient, great with children and other animals," the shelter guy rattled off. Big surprise, he was a dog nerd.

Mr. Stark hummed in thought. "Any health concerns I'd have to worry about?" he asked. I perked up. He wouldn't be asking that question unless he was considering the adoption route, right?

"Hip dysplasia is common for the breed, especially at older ages. On that note, as a giant breed, they naturally have a shorter lifespan than smaller breeds. He probably only has another 5 or 6 years left, given he's fully grown. They shed year-round and will require frequent or even daily brushing. Given they evolved for icy waters, Malibu might be a bit hot for him. Dehydration will be a concern in summer or on long walks. And he's not fixed, we leave that up to the owner here. Otherwise, this guy is healthy as can be! No issues according to his last visit to the vet," the shelter guy said, clearly trying to help sell me to Mr. Stark. I hoped he'd get lots of good karma if it worked.

"He got a name?" Mr. Stark asked.

"We don't assign names, it just confuses the dogs if they get adopted and the family changes it. It'd be up to you, Mr. Stark," the boss guy said. Mr. Stark looked at me and I turned on the eyes again. Come on, Mr. Suity Man, get me out of here. I'd fetch the newspaper, do tricks, poop on command, anything to get out of this doggy jail. I'd even do dog shows if you want, how hard could a mobility course really be?

Mr. Stark hummed in thought. "... Sid. Sid Stark. Work for you, big guy?"

I'd long since decided that acting too smart wouldn't necessarily get the men in white coats called on me, but why take chances? So instead of nodding, I just gave a short, medium volume bark and wagged my tail.

"I'll take that as a yes," Mr. Stark grinned. "Can't believe I'm doing this, but I'll take him."

There was a brief period where I was left alone in my cage, my new owner and the shelter worker probably off to cover paperwork and any fees. Anticipation of getting out of this place made each second drag. Finally, a female volunteer opened the door and quickly put a collar, leash, and a little neckerchief that read 'I GOT ADOPTED!' around my neck. I eagerly followed her through areas of the shelter I'd never been before, until we reached what looked like a waiting room or entrance area. Another man, much bigger and stockier than Mr. Stark, was in a cotton suit waiting. "This is Sid. You work for Mr. Stark, right?" the volunteer asked.

"Yes, I'm his bodyguard and driver," he said with a polite smile. I smelled he was calm, not a trace of nervousness, and also a bit turned on. Well, the volunteer was about an 8/10 in my opinion, so I couldn't blame him. I noted that Mr. Stark really was loaded or a VIP if he had an actual bodyguard on retainer. One who didn't seem nervous around big dogs, which put him ahead of a good half the people I'd met in this life and that was at a freaking dog shelter.

"Well, here you go! Just tell him what to do, he's a smart one. If he doesn't listen, it's 'cause he doesn't feel like it, not 'cause he doesn't understand," she told Mr. Bodyguard. She handed over the handle of the leash, gave my ears a quick scratch, and left the room.

"So, you and I are going to be seeing a lot of each other," the large gentleman told me. "We're going to call you Sid, got it? I'm Harold Hogan, but everyone calls me Happy. Be a good boy and I'll sneak you people food when no one's looking, got it?"

Mentally labeling this guy's look, sound, and smell as 'Happy' in my head, I gave him a doggy grin.

"Pretty quiet for a dog, aren't ya?" he chuckled. "Big one, too. And hairy. When I pictured the Boss getting a dog, you weren't what I expected. He's not a basic white girl, but I was expecting one of those little yap dogs you can carry with one hand if he picked one at all."

I tilted my head and gave a curious whine. I wanted this guy to keep talking, I'd take all the information on my new dog dad I could get.

"Boss is rich, just so you know. Like, crazy stupid rich. You're going to have a pretty cushy life, the billionaire's pet. I'm almost jealous, I'll probably be driving you to the doggy spa and he just might take you on his private jet and everything. You lucked out with him," Happy said.

Billionaire named Mr. Stark with Happy the driver/bodyguard. That rang a bell. Not that this guy looked anything like Jon Favreau or Mr. Stark like Robert Downey Jr. Coincidence, or was this some transmigration shit? Hell, I was a dog now. Spontaneously waking up a dog in the MCU was actually easier to swallow than spontaneously waking up a dog in the real world, at least to my mind. I wondered at what point in the timeline I'd shown up, assuming this even was Earth-199999. Given the vast, infinite multiverse, I couldn't rely on any of my old memories of the movies as irrefutable.

The man who just might be Tony 'Iron Man' Stark walked into the room. He nodded at Happy and crouched down to look me in the eye. "Well, Sid, it's official. You're my legal responsibility now. I can't promise I'll always be around, I'm a pretty busy guy. But I'll take care of you for as long as you're around, that work for you?"

I leaned forward and licked his nose in answer.

He chuckled and reached up to give me head scratches. "You really are a smart one. Maybe that says something, that I managed to find the dog version of me. Let's get you a few essentials, then I'll show you around your new home."

I followed Happy and Tony out the double doors and into a parking lot. We walked up to what I'm pretty sure was a legit Rolls-Royce. Wow, I felt fancy just looking at the damn thing. They opened the back door, and I obediently hopped up onto the leather seats. I sort of compacted myself into the back-left seat, my head brushing the roof of the car. Tony got in the back-right seat and closed the door, holding my leash while Happy walked around and got in the driver's seat.

"Let's go to a Petsmart or something, just to get the basics. JARVIS can order the real stuff or we can take a trip after finding out what the dog scene in Malibu looks like later," Tony told Happy.

"Got it," Happy nodded, turning the keys to start the car. Sweet air conditioning started to blow throughout the car. Thank God, I'd been baking just in the brief time we'd been in there. Curse my lack of sweat glands and all this dense fur.

The car started to move, and I felt my balance get seriously tested in a sitting position. Hoping I wasn't being too familiar too soon, I turned and laid down with my head resting on Tony's thigh.

"Aw, you're a cuddly one, aren't you?" he cooed, getting soft the way he hadn't in the shelter where a stranger could witness it. He reached up to pat and rub my head, and raised no objections to me using his leg as a perch. I did my best not to drool on his expensive pants. My eyes got half-lidded as I just soaked up the nice temperature and warm, nimble fingers playing with my fur. I could get used to this pretty quickly.

The car stopped and Happy said "We're here, boss."

I lifted my head so Tony could get up, and he opened the door. I carefully hopped out onto the asphalt when he prompted, and saw we were in a shopping plaza straight out of a postcard or commercial. Well, if we were in Malibu, what did I expect?

Tony held my leash and we all went into a Petco. I appreciated all the new smells and sounds after over half a year of boring sameness day in, day out. Well, some more than others. I stayed faithfully at Tony's side, never letting the leash actually be needed. Happy got a cart and we went shopping.

"Wet or dry food? You had dogs growing up, right Happy?" Tony asked.

"Every breed is different and every dog is an individual. But generally speaking, wet food is better than dry food. Fewer carbs, which dogs have trouble digesting, and the water keeps them hydrated. More expensive, but you don't need to worry about that," Happy reported. "And given his size, he can probably eat 2 or 3 cans as opposed to just 1 like a smaller dog would."

"How often is he supposed to eat?" Tony checked even as we made our way to the food aisle.

"Breakfast and dinner every day, if he skips a meal it's a warning sign he's sick. Treats for training or just when you feel like it," Happy answered.

We got to the food and Tony, whether as a boujee dude or just conflating price with quality, got a dozen cans of the most expensive brand of wet food. We got a food and water dish set, and a poop bag dispenser that could attach to the leash. Then it was the toys. I did my best to communicate my preferences. Squeakies were a hard no. I liked the silent chew toys though, especially the brief game of tug-of-war I got into with Tony when he offered me one end of a rope. We got a quick checkout, then it was back in the Rolls.

A longer drive later, Tony led me out onto what looked like the porch of some ultra-modern mansion. A quick glance around showed we were at the end of a driveway that could count as its own road, and the sound and smell of the ocean was strong. Looked like the cliff mansion from the movies to me.

"Home sweet home, Sid," Tony said. He gently tugged on the leash, and I followed him to the front door. It opened without him having to take out any keys. Well, between JARVIS and whatever gate security he had, he probably never needed to carry any. We got into an expansive foyer, and Tony spoke to apparently thin air. "JARVIS, this is Sid. Keep an eye on him at all times, 'kay?"

"As you wish, Sir," came an English-accented voice from nowhere. I had to fight hard not to jump. I did let loose a scared whine. I really hadn't been braced for the invisible butler.

"Oh, sorry Sid. That's JARVIS, he runs the house. You can't see or smell him, but you'll be hearing him a lot," Tony said. "Um, not like you really understand what I'm saying. Hope you get used to him," he added, a bit lamely.

I gave a doggy smile, hoping to reassure him.

"Anyway, time for me to get out of this monkey suit. Stay, okay? Stay," Tony told me before detaching the leash and then walking off to the spiral staircase set up around a waterfall feature.

I obediently stayed in the same spot until he came back, now in a t-shirt and jeans and very comfy-looking socks. Wonder if he'd mind if I stole one just to rub my face on the softness. "Happy's parking the car. Let me give you the nickel tour. Follow," Tony said. I began to shadow him as he walked around the deceptively large mansion. He went from the top-down, taking us floor by floor. There was a top floor that was all bedrooms, a ground floor that included everything from a living room to a kitchen/dining room and a home gym, and then the basement. Tony opened a reinforced glass door and let me into what looked like a mix of a luxury garage and a mechanic's workshop.

"This is where I spend most of my time when I'm not at work," Tony told me. He seemed the type to include dogs in conversation, even though I had no way of really communicating back. I appreciated it more than I would dead silence, that was for sure. "JARVIS, put on my music. Pull up the plans for the Jericho. And prepare a Dogs for Dummies cheat sheet so I don't make any stupid mistakes with Sid here."

The opening chords to "You Shook Me All Night Long" began to play on speakers at a tolerable volume. A legit hologram appeared over some central workbench. My doggy eyes couldn't properly focus on the floating images, but context let me know it was probably to do with the Jericho missile. More evidence for the MCU theory, or at least a very MCU-like AU.

Tony got absorbed in the project, starting to talk to JARVIS in scientific techno-babble I barely recognized as English. Given I was off the leash and had received no commands, I decided to just go exploring. I nosed my way around the garage, getting the lay of the land. I heard something move, and looked over my shoulder just in time to feel searing agony from my tail. I let out a yelp of pain.

"Sid?!" Tony called. He rushed over, and saw the problem. "Oh, crap, DUM-E ran over your tail, didn't he? DUM-E, look alive! You can't go running into my new doggo! Watch where you're going!"

The robotic arm on wheels let out a kind of self-loathing chirp and lowered, as if it were sulking at its creator's reprimand.

"Same goes for you, U, Butterfingers!" Tony called to 2 other robots. He knelt down and did his best to soothe me. "You okay, Sid?"

I let out a grumbling whine, but I licked his face to let him know I wasn't traumatized or anything. He kept petting me for a minute or two, then yelled at his robots again before going back to the hologram thing.

Now extra wary of dumb and/or blind machines running into me, I went back to exploring the basement level of this palatial home I would now be sharing with Tony. When I'd sniffed every surface, I decided to walk back over to him and just lie down, watching my new owner work. I observed him move and talk and manipulate the hologram for over an hour. He wasn't still for more than a second or two, constantly doing something as he got lost in the intellectual challenge of making the most powerful non-nuclear missile system in history.

When the pressure in my bladder was getting particularly strong, I got up and tried to get Tony's attention by batting his leg.

"What is it, Sid?" Tony asked, looking down at me.

I gave my most piteous whine and tried to make my cute, expressive dog face convey "I gotta go potty" as best I could.

"I don't speak Dog, sorry, give me a better clue," he said.

I chuffed, the closest thing I could get to an annoyed sigh in this new body. I got balanced on all fours and deliberately lifted one of my back legs, resisting the urge to urinate.

"Oh, you gotta go?" Tony blinked.

I lowered my leg and gave a short bark, like when he named me.

"Got it, got it. Sorry, never had to worry about someone's bathroom schedule before," Tony apologized. He jogged over to the ramp out of the garage and I followed him back out to his driveway and expansive lawn. "Go nuts," he told me, waving at all the manicured grass.

I trotted over to the nearest bush and happily marked my territory. I stepped a few steps away and squatted, making sure my poop pile was clearly visible against the grass. I walked back over to Tony.

"Huh. That was surprisingly painless. You really are well-trained. Or smart. Or maybe both," Tony mused. He led me down the ramp back to the workshop. "Say, J, can you pull up a list of dog tricks? Order them from easiest to hardest."

"Right away, Sir," said the intelligent program. The hologram changed, though I still couldn't focus on the light properly with my canine eyes.

Tony read the list and worked his way through all the stuff I hadn't already proven I could do. "Play dead," was easy, I even let my tongue hang out and held my breath. "Jump," and "Beg," were a bit more athletic, but easy enough. Then he got to the complicated stuff. "Sing," Tony prompted.

I had 15x as many vocal chords, how hard could this be? Going with the first thing to pop in my head, I did my best to whine in tune and belted out the chorus of the AC/DC song that had first played when we entered the garage.

"Hot damn," Tony blinked. He found a screwdriver and laid it on the ground a few steps away. "Sid, fetch," he ordered.

Easy-peasy, the hardest part was picking it up with my mouth before handing it over to him.

"Okay, let's make this harder," Tony said to himself. "Stay," he ordered and then walked off behind me. He returned in front of me. "Sid, find."

Alright, a bit of a tall order, but I was game. I followed my nose to shadow Tony's scent trail through the garage. I found the screwdriver tucked around a corner, picked it up, and returned it to the man.

"This is getting spooky," Tony mused.

Oops, had I gone too far? I tried to reassure him with my doggy grin.

"Can you wave?" he checked.

I brought up one paw and moved it sideways repeatedly before laying it back down.

"Alright, if you can do this last one, you can do it all. Can't believe it's even a thing. Follow," he told me, before taking us upstairs. He went up to the living room and opened the Blüthner. He played a simple C scale. "Can you play piano?" Tony checked.

Hmm, this might be tricky. I reared on my back legs and balanced one paw on the playing bench. I looked down at my massive paw and decided I'd have to get creative. I carefully brought my paw forward until one of my claws rested on middle C. I slowly, with deliberation, pressed down until noise came out on each major note in the octave.

"Wow. Say, JARVIS, are dog IQ tests a thing?" Tony checked.

"There isn't an official standard, but there exist a few methods of measuring canine intelligence. One of the veterinarians in Los Angeles I was considering for Master Sid's health needs offers such a test. Shall I schedule an appointment?" JARVIS offered.

"Yeah, I want this shit on record. This is pretty cool, actually. I'm crazy smart, and so's my pet. Funny how that worked out," Tony chuckled. "Thanks for doing all this, Sid. And it's getting late. How about dinner?"

I could eat. I grinned and wagged my tail.

He led me to his dining room, where my two bowls were laid on a plastic mat by the kitchen island. He filled one bowl with tap water and as I lapped that up, managed to find a can opener and scooped a couple cans filled with gravy-soaked masses of chicken into the other. A bit gross to my human mind, and I would cheerfully commit murder for a slice of pizza or any hot food, but it was better than kibble. I scarfed it all down and then just sat at attention while Tony seemed to reheat leftover takeaway for himself.

I heard the front door open and turned my head. The clack of stiletto heels approached, and then a model-worthy redhead in business formal walked into the kitchen. She looked at me with a polite interest. "Tony, anything you need to tell me?" she asked lightly.

"I texted you about Sid, Pepper… didn't I? I coulda sworn I did," Tony replied after a bite of some Chinese dish.

"No, you didn't, actually. I had to hear from Happy. His name is Sid?" she asked. She walked over to sit at the table next to him, though she seemed to keep me in her peripherals at all times. I smelled a hint of fear in her scent. Probably since I was the Sasquatch of dogs. I'd prove I was a harmless fluff ball over time.

"Yeah. Just seemed to fit him. Plus, it's alliterative. Sid Stark," Tony declared. "And he either got raised by the circus or he's the Einstein of dogs. He can do every trick in the book."

"Can he count?" she chuckled.

"Let's check," Tony said in all seriousness. "Hey, Sid, what's 2 + 3?"

Verging into uncanny territory, but screw it, I wanted to impress my owner. I gave 5 short barks.

Pepper blinked and looked at me askance. "That… that is not normal."

"It's me, Pep, did you really think I'd get a 'normal' dog?" Tony shrugged. "Hell, I kinda want to take him to work with me just to see what happens. But I'll save that for after he gets his shots and gets made all pretty. Plus he needs a real collar with a GPS tracker and everything. He's part of my family, now, gotta get the proper bling."

That could be interesting, I mused.

Tony and Pepper got into work talk. I got bored and went to lie across Tony's feet. He occasionally wiggled his toes, which tickled. I dozed off, just letting their voices wash over me. Finally, I heard Tony say "Sid, up," and I moved off him. I came out from under the table, and saw Pepper was walking away. Nice view, I had to say, even if that route was forever blocked from me short of crimes against nature. My celibacy was the most bitter pill to swallow about this new life as a dog. Too dog to bang human women, too human to ever want to stick it in a bitch in heat. Still, I'd protest getting neutered with my life if necessary. I might never get to use them, but I was keeping my balls, by thunder!

Tony put his plate and cutlery in the dishwasher and led me back down to the workshop. I got comfy across his feet and actually managed to fall asleep. I had vague memories of getting up and laying down on his bedroom floor after a quick walk, but for the most part I clocked out for the day listening to Tony talk to JARVIS and occasionally pet my head.