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Spark of Life

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Tony’s feet stumbled as the toe of his shoe caught on the curb as he made his way back into his dorm. He had spent another all nighter in the robotics lab and his body was starting to feel the consequences of it. He was almost finished though and his brain simply wouldn’t let him rest until he was either done or he was too exhausted to see straight. Tony was currently at that second point and didn’t bother even taking off his shoes before flopping face down on his bed and passing out.

It was four hours later that Tony was roused back to wakefulness by the smell of fresh coffee permeating the dorm room. Tony’s eyes blinked wearily as a steaming mug was pressed in front of his face. Without hesitating Tony took hold of the mug and began gulping down the caffeinated nectar from heaven.

“Spend all night in the lab again?” Rhodey asked, watching his young roommate try to drink the whole mug in one go without stopping.

Tony tipped his head back to get the last few drops of coffee before turning his attention to his friend and roommate. It took a moment for Tony’s brain to sort itself out from being sleep deprived to awake and processing but when that moment passed Tony was back to firing off in ten directions at once.

“I’m so close to being finished Rhodey,” Tony said, his eyes shining brightly at the thought of his prized project. “I think I’ve got all the coding just right and the frame is just about done. I should be able to upload everything tonight and I’ll have the very first working AI.”

As Tony talked his words got faster in their excitement and Rhodey, even when shaking his head in mild exasperation, couldn’t stop a fond smile from breaking out on his face.

“I’m sure you will Tones but you’ve also got to take care of yourself too,” Rhodey gently scolded his friend. “You’ve also got to get up and get ready or you’re going to be late for class.”

That caught Tony’s attention and he was quickly shoving his empty mug back into Rhodey’s hands as he jumped off the bed. He was still in his clothes from yesterday so he didn’t have to worry about getting dressed, he would just deal with the stains on them later, and turned his attention to shoving his laptop and notebooks into his bag before sprinting towards the door.

“Thank you Platypus. You’re the best. I owe you one,” were Tony’s rushed words as he ran out the door and down the hallway of the dorm to get to class before the professor marked him late.

He was smart enough to run circles around most of the staff and a few of them disliked that about him. They also disliked that he couldn’t seem to keep it to himself when he thought that a professor was wasting his time and some of the teaching staff took great delight in getting back at the teenager anyway that they could, including marking him tardy and docking points for it when the curriculum allowed which his dad never failed to give him an earful about.

Tony put that thought from his mind as he got to the lecture hall just in time and slid into his seat and instead turned his mind to the robot that was waiting for him down in the robotics lab. He had put so much time and effort into creating the frame that would act as the body and the code that would act as the soul of his very first AI. It was a project that he had put his whole heart into and Tony couldn’t wait to get back down to the lab, run through the final checks, and initiate the upload that would bring his creation to life.

The day passed by like molasses but finally all of his classes for the day were over and Tony wasted no time in heading back to the lab. Technically he wasn’t supposed to be there without a supervisor from a member of the staff but with the amount of money that Howard donated to the college, the instructor in charge of this particular lab was willing to look the other way when it came to unauthorized lab usage by the teenager.

Patting his hand over the claw that would be the arm of his new helper robot, Tony gave a final going over to make sure that every bolt was tightened and there wasn’t so much as a screw out of place. It only took him ten minutes to get those adjustments finished. He wasn’t about to have everything fail at the last minute because he was in too much of a rush to do the final checks. When everything looked just how he had left it last night Tony opened his laptop, hands trembling, and brought up the program that he had coded from scratch.

He wanted an assistant in the lab to work with him since so many refused to do so, not liking being shown up by someone that by all other accounts should just be starting high school and not halfway through their first PhD. That meant that his bot needed to be able to follow instructions but to also be able to learn over time since science was constantly changing and evolving as more discoveries were made. Tony wouldn’t have time to constantly reprogram the bot just because technology continued marching forward. He needed his bot to be able to learn and adapt and grow. He needed it to be a true AI.

There was a lot riding on the single push of a button that would initiate the upload program and Tony could feel his stomach curling with anxiety. Before he could push the button on his laptop Tony reached for his bag and pulled out a carton of cigarettes and lit one up, taking a deep drag from it and letting the nicotine flood through him, calming him down. True he wasn’t technically old enough to be smoking but he wasn’t old enough to drink yet either and that had never stopped him before. By the time the cigarette was half gone Tony felt ready to start the upload that would tell him if everything he had been working so hard on was a success or utter failure.

With a decisive click, Tony pressed enter and sat back as the progress bar slowly turned to green, millimeter by tiny millimeter. While he waited Tony couldn’t bare to hold himself still. Even the calming effect of nicotine wasn’t enough for that. Twisting around on his seat he went back to running his hands over every joint and strut of his bot. If the upload was a success he could see himself upgrading and improving the physical structure of the bot over time so it could have more uses for him once he graduated and was in a lab of his very own.

Tony was pulled out of his groove by a knock on the door behind him. Whirling around, Tony spun to face the man standing in the doorway staring at him. An unfairly attractive man, if Tony was in any state to be judging. The slightly faded jeans and just this side of being too tight T-shirt showing off a strong build was what Tony’s wet dreams were made out of.

The newcomer also made Tony aware of just how disheveled he himself currently was. His hair was sticking up in every direction. The glasses he usually took care to make sure no one saw him wearing were falling off the end of his nose. He was pretty sure that he was covered in oil from his work both tonight and last night since he’d never taken the time to actually change his clothes. The only reason the oil stains might not be showing was because of the black shirt he was wearing. To top it all off Tony was pretty sure that the cigarette hanging from his lips wasn’t that attractive to the stranger whose muscles hinted at all the time he must spend in the gym.

Quickly Tony took the cigarette out of his mouth and laid it down on the table he had been working on so he could give his attention to the hot stranger.

“What?” Tony asked confused, trying to figure out why someone else was in the lab with him. Normally no one came in this time of evening which is why Tony could stay so late into the night without getting in trouble. No one was around to know any better.

“Um, you do know this lab is off limits to visitors right?” the man said as he walked into the lab, looking at Tony cautiously. “Only students are allowed in here and only with staff supervision. I’m going to have to ask you to leave before you break something that someone’s been working hard on.”

Tony’s head reared back in offense. Sure he was younger, much younger, than your average college student and sure he got confused for someone’s kid brother all the time but it was still annoying nonetheless.

“I am a student,” Tony bit out. “This is my project so if I break it then it would be my own fault and I’d have no one to blame but myself anyway. Besides, what are you doing in here if you care so much about staff supervision?”

The man crooked an eyebrow, not sure he believed what Tony was saying but wasn’t willing to call him out on it further just yet. “I’m Bucky Barnes. I’m a TA for Dr. Reed so I’m allowed to be here without a teacher. If you’re a student then who are you and what are you doing in here after hours?”

Tony held his head up high, a confident smirk taking over. “I’m Tony Stark. I’m researching for my mechanical engineering doctorate. That’s why Dr. Reed doesn’t mind me being in here, or well, at least he doesn’t go out of his way to try and keep me out.”

Bucky’s eyes flickered over to the robot and the open laptop with its progress bar slowly changing to green, inching closer to being complete. Tony waited with baited breath to see what Bucky was going to do. Technically the TA did have the right to kick him out if he wanted to but he could also act as the supervision that Tony technically needed if the TA was feeling generous enough. Either way the older student had the power to make or break Tony’s night.

Tony watched carefully as Bucky’s gaze kept going back to the bot and he felt hope well up inside of him that he would be able to get through this upload without being kicked out. “You can stay and watch,” Tony said, hoping that offer was just as tempting to the TA as it would have been to him if their roles were reversed. “Be the first one to witness my genius in action.”

Bucky chuckled at that and relaxed for the first time since coming into the lab. “Fine, I’ll make a deal with you. If your genius works then I’ll forget I found you in here after hours. If your genius doesn’t work you leave for the night without complaint. Deal?”

Bucky stuck out his hand which Tony eagerly took in a handshake to seal the deal between the two of them. Even if Bucky ended up forcing him out of the lab that didn’t mean that Tony had to stop working for the night. The only reason he could see something going wrong at this point was if there was an issue with the coding and he could find somewhere quiet to work out any bugs that he might have missed earlier.

Before Tony had a chance to extol his confidence in his own genius and about not being worried that something might go wrong, he was brought up short by a sudden whooshing sound from behind him. Spinning around both Tony and Bucky looked on in silent horror as the cigarette that Tony had set aside had apparently failed to be extinguished and had caught a greasy rag on fire.

Bucky immediately reached out and grabbed hold of Tony by the upper arm and dragged the younger student away from the danger. That proved to be a good thing when Tony instantly tried to reach out to try and extinguish the fire without properly thinking through exactly how he was going to manage to do that. All Tony knew was that if he set off another fire in the lab, there was no way that Dr. Reed was going to continue overlooking him being in there after hours and then he’d never get his robot completed.

Bucky held firm however, not letting Tony get any closer to the fire. The flame ate away at the rag, the oil stains adding fuel and giving it a greater life to burn higher more rapidly than either boy knew how to deal with. Just as Bucky was getting ready to drag them out of the lab and set off the fire alarm on the way out to prevent the fire from spreading any further, both of them and the fire engulfed rag were sprayed with a heavy layer of fire extinguisher foam.

Tony brought his hands up to try and shield his face while he listened to Bucky sputtering beside him from the unexpected dousing. When the spray of foam came to a stop the fire had been completely put out leaving nothing left of the almost disaster. Tony immediately turned his attention to where his bot had been waiting, worried that some of the foam may had gotten into the joints to gunk them up or gotten on his laptop causing a problem with the upload.

Instead of seeing a disaster where his project was waiting, Tony saw the bot in question holding up a fire extinguisher in its claw. Tony’s jaw dropped in amazed shock and he could hear Bucky give a long, low whistle beside him. Tony had always meant for the bot to be a helper in the lab but he had also thought that it would be rudimentary at best in its first rendition. The fact that upon just having its coding uploaded it was able to perceive the fire and act perfectly in order to put it out was truly incredible.

“Oh my God,” Tony exclaimed, raising his arms up into the air in triumph. “I’m a genius!”

At that the bot let out a high pitched whine and proceeded to fire more foam over both Tony and Bucky until the extinguisher was completely empty before lowering it to the ground and giving another lower pitched whine.

“Or maybe it’s just dumb,” Tony said morosely as he tried to wipe some of the foam off of his clothing.

Glancing over to his side Tony saw that Bucky was in much the same shape that he was, covered in white foam from head to toe. Tony winced, prepared to have the TA yell at him over the giant mess that his robot had just gone and made in the lab. With his luck he was about to be kicked out and never allowed back inside and wouldn’t that just be the worst thing ever.

How would he continue working on his bot? He needed to fix whatever problems existed that made it think it was a good idea to use a fire extinguisher on two people that were very clearly not on fire. He’d never be able to finish his doctorate if he was kicked out and his dad would never let him live down this failure. It was bad enough that the bot he had been working on for so long obviously had some kind of glitch and wasn’t perfect; Howard would really kill him if he found out about this mess which he was sure to if the hot TA reported him to Dr. Reed.

Before Tony could start apologizing and promising to have everything cleaned and fixed by morning and to offer whatever the older students wanted in exchange for his silence Bucky burst out into laughter. The TA was clutching at his sides as he took large gasps of air in between great big guffaws which had Tony’s face heating up in embarrassment.

“Don’t pick on the poor thing like that,” Bucky managed to get out between chuckles as he worked on getting himself back under control. “He was just trying to watch out for his dad after you managed to set the lab on fire.”

Tony’s blush got even hotter at the mention that it wasn’t just the foam that had created a mess in the lab. He could only imagine how much worse everything would be if more than just the rag had caught on fire because of his carelessness.

“Well if you hadn’t have come in here distracting me than I wouldn’t have set the cigarette down like that and caught the rag on fire,” Tony said trying to defend himself as best as he could despite his weak argument. “I think that means you’re half responsible to help me clean things up.”

The mirth still dancing around in Bucky’s eyes didn’t dim in the slightest at being accused of being the cause of the fire. If anything Bucky smiled wider in amusement.

“Tell you what Doll,” Bucky said, leaning into Tony’s space. “I’ll help you get everything in here cleaned up back to the way it’s supposed to be and won’t tell anyone about what I saw if … you agree to grab some coffee with me and tell me all about this clever little guy that you built.”

Tony blinked twice hearing what Bucky was suggesting. This was not at all how he thought things were going to go but he had to admit that he had thought that the TA was hot when he first walked into the lab and there didn’t seem to be a downside to his offer. In fact, it almost seemed too good to be true which should be a warning in and of itself but when had Tony ever been good at listening to those kinds of warnings. Rhodey might have something to say about all of this in the morning but that was a problem for another time. Right now Tony had an offer before him and no intention of letting it slip through his fingers.

“Deal,” Tony agreed, holding out his hand just like Bucky had done when he had made his first offer before everything went up in flames. “Though given that we’re both covered in fire extinguisher foam and we weren’t on fire I wouldn’t be too quick to call my bot clever, more of a dummy right now if you ask me.”

Bucky took Tony’s hand and gave it a quick shake before moving over to a supply cabinet to pull out what they would need in order to clean up. Tony joined in and between the two of them the lab was cleaned up in no time to look as though nothing had happened in the first place. When they were done Bucky watched with rapt attention as Tony went through the shut down process to put his newly awakened bot to sleep for the rest of the night. Who knows what might happen if it was left alone in the lab all by itself.

As the two students headed for the door Bucky held out a slip of paper to Tony.

“My number,” he said. “Call me in the morning and we’ll get some coffee. I’d love to hear all about what you’ve got planned for your dissertation.”

Tony took the paper a tad bit too eagerly but Bucky didn’t say anything about it. “I’ll call you tomorrow morning then.”

With one last smile the two of them parted ways and Tony headed back to his dorm, his steps might lighter than the night before. He was riding high on the success of his robot project working even with the hiccup regarding the fire extinguisher and now he had a coffee date lined up with a hot TA. Things were definitely looking up from the exhaustion of last night and Tony was more than looking forward to the morning and the possibilities that it was sure to bring.