*shrugs* so each chapter's going o be roughly 7 pages?

Let me know what you think.

Chapter 2—Steps Along the Way

It isn't as difficult as Tony had feared it would be to get his parents on the same page.

It's much more difficult even getting them on the same freaking book, however, and they still can't see him. He doesn't know if he'll ever be seen.

He shrugs, and puts that thought aside.

Howard had tried to delete him as a virus, at first, and there had been talk from Maria about getting a priest into the building for an exorcism, but Tony hadn't known them for his entire life for nothing.

He didn't think his dad believed that he was really, fully his son, but Tony's knowledge and willingness to work seemed to be enough.

But his mother believes, at least.

He thinks it might be because it's just easier to believe than it is to face the fact that he died.

As it is, nothing much changes around the Stark household…

Only now Tony appears more absent than even Howard.

Only now, to fight that appearance, there was now some sort of monitor or screen in every part of the house.

Life moved on.

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

Tony likes Jarvis.

Retired from the British RAF, and champion boxer for three years running, his move to the US of A was timed perfectly.

The guy is hired to 'look after Tony', and as the world at large is under the impression that an accident has damaged Tony Stark enough that he's refusing to address the public, it's hard to argue with that.

The guy is maybe a year older than Howard was, hair receding a bit more, certainly, and Tony gives him a month to get into the hang of things, of getting used to the run of the house while his parents took hold of the public aspect of the company, before deciding to let him in on the little secret.

The reason, he'll reflect later, that he decides to keep Jarvis on as a permanent caretaker, is because instead of freaking out or going into complete denial over everything, Jarvis simply looks around the monitor room that Tony had laid claim on, and said, "I suppose this means I won't have to clean up after you like your father."

When Tony stayed silent from surprise, the man raised an eyebrow at the monitors.
"What with the lack of body, sir?"

Honestly, the guy was a hoot.

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

The world grows, and technology with it, and Tony can go farther, go faster, see so much more, and he loves it.

He's got more toys to work with, he's got more people to connect with as more and more communication shifts technologically, and he's there with his dad making things in a way he's never been able to do before.

Tony doesn't really need sleep—when he goes too fast, gets too immersed in the tech around him and pushes beyond their current abilities, his head gets a bit overheated, and there tend to be power outages besides—and that leaves him time to move forward.

Stark Industries experienced a bit of a stock drop when Tony suddenly disappeared from the social scene, when he seemed to suddenly shift from social butterfly to more-than-proverbial-hermitage, but he'd let just enough of the accident to be released that most people think he's hiding because of scars and possibly the inability to walk.

Stocks go up after that possibility gets leaked, as there are quite a few quadriplegics and amputees around, and Tony's name is on almost two thirds of the patents, and it's a weird mash-up of flack for not 'standing up' for himself and going on with his life, and kudos for pumping out even more of what was being referred to as StarkTech despite his supposed injuries.

Tony starts looking into the making and manufacturing of synthetic limbs out of curiosity, and finds that in most cases there's not much being done.

Wheelchairs are getting better, better cushioning against the severed limbs being replaced is getting looked into, and yet Tony looks at the designs and thinks, I could do better.

And the spark of an idea niggles at the back of his mind.

Lieutenant Greg Mattheson has lost his left leg almost all the way to the hip, and after he's given permission, Tony has his people sent to the hospital to take measurements.

Measurements of his remaining leg, of how big his foot is, the distance between his hip to heel, hip to the top of his knee, hip to the bottom of his knee, distance from the tips of his toes to his knee, measurements around his ankle, calf, thigh, knee…

Mattheson takes all the pictures and measuring with some bemusement, and when Tony needs more measurements later it's just as much of a laugh for him and his fellow amputees the second time around.

The third time around there's slightly less laughter, and more stunned silence, as Jarvis shows up with much of the same team to present a functioning mechanical limb to the Lieutenant.

Tony is glad that he likes it, is glad that he's started up a department devoted to this, to looking into more efficient and useful prosthetics, but thinks it could be better.

Even as he watches the man sit for a mold to be taken of his stump—the last step (ha) towards getting him on his feet (ha)—he thinks that the shape could be better, it could be shifted to take weight better, it could be shifted to be lighter with different materials, the pressure points that should allow for some independent movement in the limb—the ones that had required he sit in on a few physiotherapy courses just to see quite how pressure in that part of the leg were meant to react—could be more efficient…

He thinks and he thinks and he thinks about all the ways it could go better, and then he sees a man looking at the slightly staggering Lieutenant with some awe and envy, and sends a message to Jarvis's pager that he should ask the other man—ironically Colonel Connor Armitage—if measurements could be taken of and about his arm.

The idea grows in his mind.

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

Tony figures out a voice-modulating software right about the same time as his dad hits a slump.

Howard had so many ideas, but not too many ways to connect them, no idea where to start on them, and despite having looked at them himself Tony was stumped as well.

He's working on the vocal-software because he has an idea on the go, but t doesn't have anything do to with anything important. They still get funding form the military to make weapons, and for a while that seemed to make them happy, but stress form the war was… well. It just wasn't that great at getting the creative juices flowing.

Civil war or otherwise, war wasn't great.

Tony didn't have to worry about much himself—no need for food, hardly any need for sleep, and he'd already gotten that dying business out of the way, and that cut out disease from the equation—but that didn't meant that it wasn't still going on for everyone else.

But there are only so many ways to make a thing that shot out bullets, especially with how short on materials everyone was.

What materials they did have were needed by the Other Guys, and vice versa, and Howard wouldn't be getting many more chances to go searching for Rogers if things continued.

Tony sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He kind of hoped his software was even remotely close to a stage where he could just finish up a few parts and be able to have real(ish) conversations with people again, because he loved his mom but sometimes she didn't know quite what to say to get him to snap out of his funks.

Howards eyes started straying towards the liquor cabinet, mind obviously shifting courses, and Tony scowled, "C'mon dad, you can have booze on the brain later," and swiped a hand in his direction. It wouldn't connect, and it would leave his hand feeling a bit chilled, but he needed to feel like he was showing his disapproval in some way—

"YEOWCH!"

His hand did pass through Howard's head, mostly clipping through his ear, and he'd jerked back like he's been shocked.

Eyes wide and looking around, rubbing his ear, Howard didn't see Tony's flailing, because he did not mean to do that, not that it wasn't neat and reassuring that he could still interact with people, but he didn't want it to be quite so shocking.

But Tony did see when his confused searching suddenly stilled, eyes going focused—not on Tony, but focused inwards—and some idea obviously took root in his brain because he immediately pulled a sheet of paper closer, and started writing.

Confused himself now, Tony peered over his shoulder at the equations, and just watched for a few minutes.

When what Howard was thinking started to take form on the paper, Tony's eyes widened, and a grin slowly grew on his face.

"Oh," he murmurs, baring his teeth, "that is brilliant. That is fucking brilliant."

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

He keeps an eye on the project—something that seemed very similar to the wonders of Captain Nemo's vessel, minus library—Tony has to keep most of his attention everywhere else.

Experimenting, Tony had tried swiping a hand through various people's head to no real effect, except in a few cases he's come to refer to as the 'Eureka's.

If someone's focusing on something, or actually doing something steadily, the head-swipey thing doesn't work. If they're dazed or looking off into the distance, or slowing down in what they're doing, or even remotely distracted, it's got a 60% chance of happening.

Once he'd narrowed down the variables, he'd tried it on a rough hundred people of varying ages, he also figured out that it helps if he knows the sort of person they are. Or at least what they're interested in. But it doesn't matter much.

The thing is, apparently when he punches people through the head, they have a little over half a chance of getting inspiration for something. Usually something good. He's usually impressed when he sticks around the Science guys and engineering groups, but he's impressed too when one lady rushes to go and get her paints out, and hey, he wasn't a huge artsy guy, but he could appreciate it.

It was also nice to see that he and his dad hadn't been the only ones to go rushing off when they had an idea, sometimes (many times) ignoring food, water, and rest in order to get all the thoughts out.

So now he has a reason to get out of what is turning into the most technologically advanced sub-basement at least in the USA, and he's not so arrogant to think that it's his head-punching that seems to knock productivity and innovative technology to a higher gear, but he's sure he's done enough to earn a pat on his back.

In the papers he hears about new tech somewhere in Russia, something that might kick his voice modulating gear to the level he needs, so he leaves a couple of messages for his mom (calling her Maria in case the message was intercepted), and setting it up in code on his dad's computer—he was much more likely to read that than the written word.

And he's off.

Instead of taking hours upon hours, the trip takes him maybe 30 minutes.

He thinks he could have gotten it down to 20, but there was an entire section of the map that had practically no tech beyond a crotchety radio tower, and he'd actually had to fly to get past that part.

Well—he said fly, but it was all about the magnetic and electric currents in the air and in the earth and really all you needed to know about it was that it was actually really fun and he was probably just going to fly back on his own.

He's going faster than a plane anyway—maybe not as fast as jumping from one bit of tech to another, riding on power lines, but still. Pretty fucking fast.

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

A rough week later (Russia was BIG, and there wasn't all that much digital information out there to go on… yet), and Tony had a working model in his head. It may sound cocky to say so, but yeah it was a working model, and putting it together would be the matter of a few hours at most.

The trip home took him two hours, but that's because he flew most of the way there, and he immediately gets to work.

Parts jumping to meet his fingers, electricity sparking, he grins.

He'll tell his parents he's back once he's finished.

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

"Hey I'm ba—ooooookaaaay that's a bit too high, too high, too high, lower, loooowwwer, maaaayyybe a bit too low so where… hey mom? This voice is a bit too high, right? I'm more of a baritone… hmm, hmm, HMMMMMMMMMM okay, sounds about right? Right. Well, I'm back, got what I needed, and look! Or rather don't look, listen! I can talk and you can hear me, and that's a big difference—mom. Mom. You can't cry right now mom. Mom. Maria Stark, what did you always tell me about how society women didn't let their mascara run, and now you're— … I haven't figured out how to make this thing sigh quite yet, but that's what I just did. Mom. Really, yes, I love you too—didn't quite believe that I wasn't, you know, really dead, right? Well then—yes mom. I love you too. I'm here—I'm not in the machine, I'm just making it talk, I can't actually feel those hug—nevermind, of course I do! Yes, I love you. Please stop crying."

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

Realization shifts the first time Tony sees Santa Clause—well, technically it shifted the first time he felt something that was some mix of tech and other stuff, but he didn't realize it was freaking Saint Nick until he flew up above the trees to investigate.

And then it was a game of what doesn't belong with this image.

He'd like to say that the guy didn't exist any more now than he did when Tony was a kid, but it's hard to say that with any certainty when a guy (chubby, red suit, white beard, tattoos, swords) speeds past on a sleigh (festively coloured, filled with bags of toys, equipped with highly developed monitors and aerial equipment and various other tech) pulled by reindeers (fuzzy, flying, pointy antlers and hooves flailing at dangerous speeds) on Christmas Eve.

He stares after it, blinking. "Huh."

And takes a picture.

The thing he was finding was that with every bit of tech he developed, with every upgrade and modification that made things run faster, farther, better, it was like he was upgrading his brain along with it. Shivers up his spine, the lightheaded feeling of alcohol mixing with the euphoria of figuring out a problem, and BAM he was finding more things he could do.

So when he said he took a picture, he wasn't saying he was pulling a huge camera out and setting it up and taking a picture that would then have to be developed and set up, no, he was saying he consciously decided to rewind a bit in his head and send that information to his set up in the basement, because that was fucking Santa Clause delivering presents, and how the hell as this escaped everyone for so long?

It was a commonly accepted untruth. A holiday focused on the birth of a guy who would have actually been born sometime in June historically, designed to get people to spend more money than they have to prove they love their family the most once a year.

Fucking Santa Clause.

Jarvis is cleaning up in the main control area—the only person outside of the family allowed down there—when Tony returns from staring blankly at where Santa Clause once was, and he pulls the pictures of Santa Clause up on every monitor, reexamining from every angle he can manage.

Jarvis, used to Tony abruptly changing the contents of the screens only looks up for a moment before going back to neatening everything. "Very nice, sir. The stars are particularly brilliant tonight."

Tony stares at him.

"Really. I show you a picture of Santa Clause on his sleigh and you appreciate the stars?"

He's about to have his audio program say a such when he pauses, thinks, and instead says, "What do you see in this screen?" highlighting the edges of the screen showing a side view of what was clearly Santa on his sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Jarvis straightens and peers at the screen. Through Tony's head, where he stands right in front of him, watching where his eyes focus—watching how his eyes don't focus where they should.

"Hmm, there's the large dipper, part of the small dipper, and what I believe is Orion's belt… I'm afraid astrology isn't my strong point, sir." He looks at the screens, eyebrows raised and waiting for Tony to either ask him something else or perhaps explain, but Tony doesn't have words for him right now.

He had pictures of the jolly fat man himself, and Jarvis's eyes had slid right past it. No focus.

His eyes slid through like he wasn't there.

He couldn't see him.

Couldn't see Saint Nick… like he couldn't see Tony?

Like he could look through Tony to see the screen?

Tony frowned.

Okay…

So what did Tony have in common with Santa Clause?

.-~-~-~~-~-~.

Anyone see what Tony's idea's are all coalescing into possibly being?