He'd slept in.
Tony Stark never slept in. True, he did sometimes stay in bed until well past noon, especially when he'd been up late working the night before, but that wasn't the same thing. It only counted as 'sleeping in' if he'd planned to be up at a particular time and had missed it, which he never did because JARVIS wouldn't let him. Tony's home AI knew his schedule, often better than Tony himself did, and had been programmed with a number of ways to get him out of bed. Today he should have woken Tony at seven sharp so he could make it to some meeting Pepper needed him at – but the sun streaming in the bedroom windows was at an angle that indicated it was well past ten.
A normal person who'd overslept might assume they'd forgotten to set their alarm, or had perhaps slept through it. Tony Stark's first thought was that something must be wrong with his computer.
"JARVIS?" he asked, running a hand through his hair as he sat up. "You didn't wake me up."
There was no response. Tony had expected an explanation of the error, or at least a piece of sarcasm – something along the lines of I'm terribly sorry, Sir, but Miss Potts asked for a bit of peace and quiet and I just assumed that excluded you. But there was nothing, not so much as a beep. That couldn't be good. Tony kicked the covers aside and got up to look at the control panel on the wall.
It was blank.
If the missed wake-up call was odd and the lack of response distressing, the inactive panel really got Tony worried. He opened the panel to inspect its innards, but there was nothing wrong with them. The power hadn't failed, and nothing was obviously broken – there was just no display. Tony tried several times to activate it, and got nothing. It was as if the AI had shut down, but there was no reason for...
Dr. Strange. Dr. Strange must have done something.
It was process of elimination: for most of the previous day, the only people in the Malibu house had been Tony, Pepper, and their guest, Dr. Steven Strange. Tony certainly hadn't done anything with JARVIS and Pepper knew better than to mess with him, so unless there'd been some kind of catastrophic hardware failure – and Tony would certainly have been able to tell if there had – Strange was the only other possibility. It was a possibility Tony didn't like very much.
If Dr. Strange was involved, then that meant magic, and the entire idea of magic made Tony uncomfortable. He'd been hospitable to Strange because the man was working with SHIELD – he'd even given him access to his personal library before going to bed, telling him "JARVIS will help you find anything you need." But while Tony could accept, barely, that magic was a real and occasionally useful thing, he didn't want anybody using it to mess with his technology. Technology was, by its nature, ordered and intelligible. Magic, by contrast, seemed chaotic and incomprehensible, and two such polar opposites should never, ever mix.
Come to think of it, Strange had seemed awfully interested in JARVIS, likening him to a genie in a bottle or a soul in a vessel. Oh, lordy, what had he done?
Out of force of habit, Tony almost asked JARVIS to locate Strange for him, but stopped himself before he could be a complete idiot. Instead, he quickly pulled a shirt on and went to find the magician on foot. He was quickly disappointed. There were signs that JARVIS had been working properly not long ago – the coffee pot was still warm, and Tony's breakfast was ready, although it had gone cold in the toaster oven – but the house now was both nonfunctional and deserted. Pepper had left early to do Pepper Things, and Strange must've wandered off at some point, too, which would have been a relief if it didn't look like he'd taken Tony's AI with him. Which he might well have done, but why?
Tony scratched the back of his neck and sighed. It would have been nice, he thought, if Dr. Strange could have left him a note or something: took your computer to explore higher plane of existence. Will have him home in time for supper. Maybe he'd said something to Pepper, instead. Tony reached for a phone, intending to call her, but then stopped himself again as he remembered that the phones, like almost everything else in the house, ran off JARVIS. If the computer was down, they weren't going to work. He was going to have to actually go into town and talk to her.
He put some shoes on and headed down to the garage to start up the Land Rover. Because the house was built way out on Point Dume where there shouldn't have been anyone else around, Tony didn't pay too much attention to his rearview mirror as he backed out onto the drive: he was more interested in figuring out where in the vehicle he'd left his sunglasses. He dug them out of the glove compartment and put them on, then looked up only just in time to swear and slam on the brakes as he nearly ran over the naked man limping up the driveway. The stranger staggered backwards and then fell over.
Tony kicked the door open with a bang and climbed out of the vehicle. "Hey!" he shouted, as the strange man got unsteadily to his feet again. "Who the hell are you?" Dr. Strange was gone, JARVIS was deactivated, and now this mysterious trespasser – a mysterious trespasser who was not only ass-naked, but looked as if he'd been thrown down a hill: he was bruised, scraped, and filthy all over. Tony had been out of bed all of half an hour, and it had already been a very weird day by most standards.
The stranger rubbed at a spot of mud on his chest, then looked up at Tony and said, "good morning, Sir."
Tony stopped dead and stood up straight – he knew that voice. It had a crisp, reserved British accent, and managed to be entirely polite while still injecting an astonishing about of irony into its words. He'd been hearing that voice every day of his life for the last ten years, only it normally came from a speaker, not a mouth.
"Sorry?" asked Tony.
"Good morning, Sir," the man repeated, more firmly. "I trust you slept well."
Tony bit his lip and looked the stranger over. He was taller than Tony by three or four inches. Under the layer of dirt he was fair and freckly, with short, scruffy ginger-blond hair. His expression was not that of someone particularly upset about the hand life had just dealt him. It was more as if he'd resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have a very annoying day, and had decided to get on with it as best he could under the circumstances. That attitude, too, was one Tony knew very well.
He leaned on the side of the Land Rover and scratched his head. "JARVIS?" he asked.
"Sir," said the man.
There was no arguing with that voice – it couldn't belong to anybody else. Tony raised his hands in defeat. "What..." he began, then decided that was the wrong question, and switched to, "how?"
The answer wasn't entirely surprising. "Dr. Strange and I had a bit of an argument, and he decided I needed a 'learning experience', Sir. Apparently this entailed making me..." there was a brief pause, as if Strange's victim had not yet properly processed the situation himself. "Human."
Tony turned away for a few seconds, resting his eyes on the shrubbery so he wouldn't have to deal with the awkward task of maintaining eye contact with a naked man. Tony Stark had a formidable brain of which he was justly proud, but at that particular moment the only thing he could think of to say about this was, "and you're naked because...?"
"Because your friend has a strange sense of humour, Sir," was the reply.
"He's not really a friend," said Tony. In fact, the words he would have for Steven Strange when he caught up with him were not going to be very friendly at all. "Why are you dirty?" he asked.
"I fell," said the man.
"Off a train?" Tony guessed.
"In the rose garden."
Tony frowned. "I have a rose garden?"
"It's part of the landscaping plan Miss Potts presented to you last February."
Tony honestly did try to remember that, but Pepper had given him so many random things to sign or approve over the years that they'd all blurred together in his head. He'd never needed to keep track of stuff like that – that was why he had Pepper. And, for that matter, JARVIS.
This circle of thought brought him back to the matter at hand. Something was clearly going to have to be done here, because without JARVIS there was almost nothing in the house that would run. Not the Iron Man suit, not the robots in the workshop, not even the air conditioning and the phones. Tony was going to have to have some unfriendly words indeed with Dr. Strange, but before he could do that he'd have to find the sorcerer, and his best bet for that was still Pepper.
He opened the Land Rover's passenger door. "Get in," he ordered. "We're going to go find Pepper and fix this."
Jarvis stumbled towards the vehicle as if he hadn't quite got the hang of walking yet. The fact that he had no shoes on probably didn't help. "Shall I assume that, on top of her other talents, Miss Potts is also a sorceress?" he asked.
"I'm not really in the mood, Jarvis," Tony told him. He climbed into the vehicle, and pretended to find the dashboard quite fascinating as Jarvis awkwardly folded himself into the seat beside him. "First," he said, at least partly to himself, "it might be an idea to find you some clothes." Tony's stuff wouldn't fit him – he was as tall as Steve Rogers, though not nearly as muscular.
"What about you, Sir?" asked Jarvis.
Tony had forgotten that he was still mostly in his pyjamas. "Yeah, me too," he said. He'd need a shower first, though – so did Jarvis, desperately – and without the computer there wasn't going to be any hot water in the house. "We'll go to a hotel," Tony decided. They could get clothes, showers, and breakfast there. He did up his seat belt and turned the key in the ignition.
"Sir," Jarvis said, in the wary tone that was the closest his programming came to tact, "I'm not entirely certain..."
"Mute it, Jarvis, it'll be fine," Tony promised. He turned the key in the ignition and put the vehicle in gear. They'd wash up, they'd dress, they'd go see Pepper and they'd get this sorted out, and everything would be back to normal. That sounded like a plan to Tony – at least, the gist of a plan, which was as far as Tony's plans usually ever got. He was a firm follower of Moltke: no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Best not to get caught up in the details prematurely.