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All the Days of Our Lives: The Birth of Iron Man

by Elrond's Scribe
AU. Second in a series. This time it's Tony whose life is under a microscopic ey
e. Same characters and pairings as before. Rating for language and because Tony
is after all a playboy. New post-CW version now complete.
Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Hurt/Comfort - Iron Man/Tony S., Pepper P., W
ar Machine/James R., Spider-Man/Peter Parker - Chapters: 11 - Words: 48,131 - Re
views: 167 - Favs: 477 - Follows: 272 - Updated: 8/11 - Published: 12/26/2015 Status: Complete - id: 11692656
URL: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11692656

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
1. Chapter 1: All About Tony, Let's Do This
2. Chapter 2: The Merchant and Death
3. Chapter 3: Jericho
4. Chapter 4: The Iron Scourge
5. Chapter 5: The Press Conference, Etc
6. Chapter 6: Mk II
7. Chapter 7: The Firefighters' Benefit
8. Chapter 8: Gulmira
9. Chapter 9: Obadiah the Traitor
10. Chapter 10: The Iron Monger
11. Chapter 11: Iron Man

Chapter 1: All About Tony, Let's Do This


Welcome back to the Iron Man re-write! Pairings and such remain unchanged, excep
t that I'm seriously considering adding a lovely side dish of Rhodey/May (May Pa
rker). If you haven't yet read my previous fic in this series, go and read it! I
t'll give you a good idea of where the characters all are emotionally, especiall
y in relation to each other.

Oh, and one more thing - I had mentioned Erik Selvig in the original roll call a
t the beginning of All the Days of Our Lives: Captain America, the First Avenger
, but I totally forgot all about him when I wrote out the rest of the story! So
rry, Dr. Selvig. I swear I'll go back and write you into the first one at some p
oint. I did remember you for this one, though!
Of course all rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

It was the evening after the viewing of the origins of Captain America, and once
again all the Avengers both past and present were gathered in King T'Challa's p
rivate entertainment lounge. Wanda was once again seated next to Vision (with wh
om she'd talked long into the night); Vision had posted himself on the couch nex
t to Rhodey, who had insisted on walking again. Tony Stark had a most possessive
hold on Pepper Potts, and Wanda didn't need telekinesis to know at once that th
e two had spent the previous night and most of the following day . . . reconnect
ing.
James Barnes' new arm was still under construction, and this time it was Natasha
Romanoff who had him in hand. Steve, looking equal parts amused, scandalized, a
nd smug, was snuggled comfortably in the arms of Sharon Carter. To Sam Wilson's
left was Peter Parker, who managed to be sitting equally distant from Tony and S
teve. Cooper Barton was very happy to sit on Sam's right, leaving his parents to
do disgusting things like hold hands in a large chair. Bruce Banner and Betty R
oss were in much the same position as Clint and Laura, as were Thor and Jane Fos
ter, Darcy Lewis and Ian Boothby.
His Majesty himself was seated very unobtrusively on the ottoman Vision had clai
med the day before. Nick Fury, Maria Hill, Erik Selvig, Scott Lang, and May Park
er were all seated at various points around the lounge.
So, Iron Man, huh?" said Fury.
"Can't wait, I'm sure," said Natasha.
"I'm actually not looking forward to this, if it's what I think it is," said Pep
per.
"You don't want to watch a movie all about me?" Tony spread his hands.
"Tony," said Rhodey. "Think of where the Suit first came from."
Tony's expression changed. "You know what, we can skip this one as far as I'm co
ncerned."
"Oh no you don't!" said Steve. "No way I'm letting you get off easy on this one!
Anyway, it can't be that much worse than the reports."
Laura had picked up the case marked Iron Man, and now marched it over to the DVD
player. She opened the case and put the disc in the drive, and came back to sit
beside her husband.
"Oh boy, here we go," Tony was heard to mutter.

The first scene to appear was a wide view of desert with mountains in the backgr
ound. On the ground was a dirt road down which rolled a number of military humve
es that were just barely visible, they were so distant and small.
Then, as the scene changed to a closer view of the humvees, a song that Wanda he
ard faintly through Vision's memory as Back in Black blasted through the speaker
s.
Tony grinned and leaned back against his chair, his head bopping to the beat of
the music.
Steve sighed. "Loud rock'n'roll music," he muttered. "It's been a while." Damn,
I've missed hearing him blare it.
Inside one of the humvees, a small silver radio was blasting the song. A hand th
at could only be Tony Stark's held a glass of something yellow with ice in it. I
n the seat next to him and in front of him, two men in military uniforms shot ne
rvous glances at him. Neither of them appeared to have said so much as a word.
Then they saw Tony on the screen for the first time. He was wearing a business s
uit and a pair of sunglasses. He had, of course, noticed the glances he was gett
ing.
"Oh man," sighed the real Tony, having a fair idea of what was coming.
"I feel like you're driving me to a court-martial," he said. "This is crazy. Wha
t did I do? ("Nothing except be yourself," said Rhodey rolling his eyes, awash i
n memories of Tony before Iron Man and the Avengers) I feel like you're going to
pull me over and snuff me. What, you're not allowed to talk?" He addressed the
soldier, a young-looking fellow, in the seat next to him. "Hey, Forrest!"
"We can talk, sir," said the young man.
"Yeah, you're just kind of intimidating at first," said Jane.
"Oh, I see," said onscreen Tony. "So it's personal?"
"Uh-huh," said Scott, who had no great love for Tony Stark.
"Nice to know I still got it," said the real Tony to Jane.
"No, you intimidate them," said the soldier driving the humvee, the only one who
hadn't been shooting glances at Tony.
("See?" said Scott.)
"Good God, you're a woman," said onscreen Tony with interest. "I honestly couldn
't have called that. I mean, I'd apologize, but isn't that what we're going for
here? I thought of you as a soldier first."
Forrest and the man in the passenger seat both looked like they were trying not
to laugh.
"Then women aren't usually soldiers here either?" asked Thor.
"More than in Asgard, from all I hear, but still not that often," said Sharon.
"I'm an airman," said the woman.
"Well, you have, actually, excellent bone structure there," said Tony, peering a

t what little he could see of her face. "I'm having a hard time not looking at y
ou now, is that weird?"
"Nice save, playboy," said Natasha. Bucky's lip curled.
The woman smiled. The two men snorted.
"C'mon, it's okay, laugh!" said Tony, and so laugh they did.
"Just so you jokers know, this is pre-Pepper, all right?" said the real Tony.
"Hey!" cheered Tony.
"Sir, I have a question to ask," said the man sitting in the seat in front of hi
m, twisting around to look at him.
"Yes, please!" Tony gestured with the glass.
"Is it true you went twelve for twelve with last year's Maxim cover models?" ask
ed the soldier.
"All twelve of them?" Sharon seemed a bit surprised (but only a bit).
"This is Tony we're talking about," said Pepper placidly.
Onscreen Tony removed his sunglasses. "That is an excellent question," he said.
"Yes and no, unfortunately March and I had a scheduling conflict, but the Christ
mas cover was twins. ("So twelve outta thirteen," said Steve, rolling his eyes.)
Anything else? You're kidding me with the hand up, right?"
Forrest, who had indeed raised his hand like a student in grade school, asked, "
Is it cool if I take a picture with you?"
"Yes, it's very cool," said Tony graciously.
"Well, that's nice," said Bruce.
"I do nice every once in a millennium or so," said Tony.
Forrest grinned and reached into one of his pockets for a camera, which he passe
d to the other man.
"All right!" said the soldier as he turned on the camera and pointed it while To
ny and Forrest leaned in for a picture, Forrest holding up two fingers in a gest
ure Wanda understood meant 'peace' in America.
"I don't want to see this on your MySpace page," said Tony ("Seriously? MySpace?
How long ago was this?!" said Clint). "Please, no gang signs."
Forrest lowered his hand.
"No, throw it up, I'm kidding," said Tony. Forrest put up the peace handsign aga
in, and smiled.
"You just love to mess with everybody," said Steve, but a flash of humor broke o
ut of his attempt at a scowl.
"Yeah, peace," Onscreen Tony went on. "I love peace. I'd be out of a job with pe
ace."

"Not anymore," said the real Tony with some relish. "Sorry, Apple."
"We aren't sorry!" said May. "This latest iPhone -"
"C'mon!" said Forrest. "C'mon, just click it, don't change any of the settings,
just -"
BANG!
"- ohhh, my God!" gasped May as the humvee right in front of Tony's exploded and
flipped upside down. Bucky had nearly shot out of his seat with fright, and it
took the best of Natasha's reflexes to keep him from trying to jump to his feet.
Vision had grown tense, his jaw clenching, and Wanda could feel anxiety rolling
off him in waves. Even the very collected King T'Challa had started.
"The hell?!" cried Scott, gaping.
Rhodey looked blank and the real Tony sighed. "Looks like the fun's over," he sa
id.
"I'll say!" Natasha shook her head, still grappling with a panicked Bucky. "No,
no, I'm good," she added as Steve moved to get up.
The woman driving Tony's humvee slammed on the brakes and shouted out something
which couldn't be distinguished over the next bang.
"What's going on?" asked Tony in alarm, pulling himself up from where he'd falle
n against the seat. Sounds of gunfire were going off all around.
"Is this HYDRA?" asked Thor, dumbfounded.
"Contact left!" the woman shouted, loading up her gun and setting it in position
.
"No way, with the weapons HYDRA uses, I'd already be dead," said the real Tony.
"Middle Eastern group. Called themselves the Ten Rings."
The woman opened her door and climbed out of the humvee only to be gunned down a
t once.
The soldier in the front seat shouted, "Jimmy, stay with Stark!" and likewise ju
mped outside.
"Stay down!" bellowed James Forrest, shoving Tony down onto the seat and out of
sight from the windows.
"What did these 'Ten Rings' want with you?!" cried Thor.
"It'll come up later, I'm sure," said Tony.
It was only a moment before the soldier whose name they still didn't know was sh
ot down, and Jimmy sat up. "Son of a bitch!" he shouted, loading his gun and get
ting ready to climb out.
"Wait, wait, wait, give me a gun!" Tony protested as Forrest slammed the door.
"STAY HERE!" shouted Forrest, just before he went down with a cry and a bang. Th
e whole side of the humvee was blasted full of bullet holes.
"Yikes!" squawked Peter.

Vision's leg jumped as if he were a human with a tic. Wanda's hand moved to rub
his back of its own accord.
Onscreen Tony reeled back in horror, and looked around anxiously. Outside the ot
her humvees seemed to all be going up in flames. He flung open the door next to
him and jumped out.
"WHAT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?" roared Rhodey.
"What was I supposed to to, stay in there?!" demanded the real Tony.
"ISN'T THAT WHAT YOU WERE TOLD?" bellowed Rhodey.
Onscreen Tony ducked and ran for cover, scooting behind a large boulder nearby.
Fire and smoke was everywhere. Guns were firing constantly, but no one could see
who was actually shooting.
"Bloody mother of hell," muttered Bruce, rubbing his forehead. His heart rate wa
s climbing again.
Onscreen Tony yanked his cell phone out from his pocket and began texting like m
ad.
"Who were you calling?" asked Pepper of the real Tony.
Before he could answer, a small rocket-shaped explosive of some sort went sailin
g through the air and landed on the ground next to his onscreen counterpart. He
glanced at it, and his eyes widened. The label Stark Industries on the side left
no doubt for him what exactly it was, for he had of course designed it himself.
"What's that? What's it do?" demanded Scott.
"Watch and see," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony shoved the phone away and jumped to his feet, but before he had ta
ken more than a step back, the thing went off, blasting him backward and hurling
him flat on his back.
"Whoa!" cried Sam.
Vision's jaw was tight. Wanda thought he had stopped breathing.
Onscreen Tony gasped, blinked, and groaned. He looked down at himself to see a s
tain of blood blooming on his shirt.
"My God, were you hit?" croaked Bucky, twisting around to stare at his one-time
would-be killer.
With a groan onscreen Tony unbuttoned his shirt to the (apparently not so) bulle
tproof vest he was wearing under it. A single large stain was forming on it.
"Big cluster of shrapnel, straight to the heart," grunted the real Tony. "Yeah,
I was hit, Barnes."
Wanda's stomach jolted. Such things were not supposed to happen to Tony Stark. H
e was supposed to be the one responsible for things like this, not a victim of t
hem.
Onscreen Tony lay back with a groan, and the screen went white.

"Oh . . ." moaned Darcy.


The real Tony spread his hands.
"Wait, someone's talking," said Jane to Darcy.
It was true. Though the screen was white and nothing seemed to be happening, a v
oice was speaking rapidly in some tongue that Wanda did not know.
Then the white light began to be filtered by something yellow, a cloth, which di
sappeared just as suddenly as it had begun to appear.
It was a brown canvas sack, and it had just been ripped from over Tony's head. H
e blinked in the sudden light, and tried to look around. Then he noticed the cir
cle of guns with their barrels trained on his neck.
"Oh, for the love of all life," groaned Sam.
The real Tony was staring stonefaced at the screen. Wanda could hear the nightma
res buzzing in his ears.
"What do they say?" asked Thor, clearly shaken.
"I'm sure you'll find out later," said Pepper grimly.
Some feet away, directly in front of Tony, were two men whose faces were complet
ely in shadow, one of whom was holding a video camera steady.
"What the hell are they recording?!" asked Peter incredulously.
"A message," said Pepper.
"To whom?" asked Betty.
"You'll find out," said Pepper again.
Then the shot began to expand, and the Avengers saw that Tony was sitting in a c
hair surrounded by about five men, three of whom were holding him at gunpoint. O
ne of the other two was talking rapidly.
Tony's shirt was gone, and his whole upper body was wrapped in white gauze which
was stained dark red around where his heart must be. Behind them was a curtain
with a half-hidden symbol of what looked like a number of interlocking circles.
"You look like hell," said Bruce.
"Yeah, thanks Doc," said Tony. "You know I tried to tell you about all this thre
e and a half years ago."
"I told you, I'm not a psychologist," said Bruce. "That's Sam's job."
The screen went black, and the words Iron Man appeared on screen in bright gold
letters.
"Tony Stark," came a deep, resonant voice over a loudspeaker in an upscale dinin
g room equipped with large screens and with a raised dais at one end. The words
36 hours earlier, Las Vegas flashed across the screen. "Visionary. Genius. Ameri
can patriot. (Steve quirked an eyebrow at Sharon, who shrugged.) Even from an ea
rly age, the son of legendary weapons developer Howard Stark quickly stole the s

potlight with his brilliant and unique mind. At age four, he built his first cir
cuit board. ("Whoa!" said Jane.) At age six, his first engine. ("Wow!" said Bett
y.) And at seventeen, he graduated summa cum laude from MIT. ("Whaaat!" said Cli
nt.) Then, the passing of a titan. ("Uh-huh," mumbled Bucky rather morosely.) Ho
ward Stark's lifelong friend and ally, Obadiah Stane, steps in to help fill the
gap left by the legendary founder, until at age twenty-one the prodigal son retu
rns, and is anointed the new CEO of Stark Industries."
"Anointed? Seriously, that makes is sound special or something," said the real T
ony.
The audience applauded, and the view rested on the man from one of the pictures
just shown, obviously Obadiah Stane. "With the keys to the kingdom," the voice-o
ver went on. "Tony ushers in a new era for his father's legacy, creating smarter
weapons, advanced robotics, satellite targeting. Today, Tony Stark has changed
the face of the weapons industry by ensuring freedom and by protecting America (
"Huh?" queried Steve.) and her interests ("Ah," said Steve.) around the globe."
The recorded introduction ended, and dais was spotlighted to show a podium and a
man standing in front of the microphone. The words Ceasar's Palace were painted
in beautiful gold letters on the podium, leaving no doubt as to just where in L
as Vegas this was happening.
"Ceasar's Palace, fancy schmancy!" snarked Scott.
"Even now they've gone bankrupt," said the real Tony.
"Hey, that's you!" said Darcy to Rhodey.
"Yep, that's me," said Rhodey.
"As liaison to Stark Industries," said onscreen Colonel Rhodes into the micropho
ne. "I've had the unique privilege of serving with a real patriot. He is my frie
nd, and he is my great mentor. ("That's a laugh!" said Tony. "It's an award cere
mony, what else am I going to say?" as the real Rhodey.) Ladies and gentlemen, i
t is my honor to present this year's Apogee Award to Mr. Tony Stark!"
"An Apogee Award, ooh!" said Maria.
The audience burst into applause, and music began to play. Tony, however, did no
t appear onscreen.
"Where's the guest of honor?" asked Sharon.
Onscreen Rhodey looked out over the audience. Wanda had just realized where Tony
had actually been whenonscreen Rhodey picked up the trophy and said "Tony?"
Obadiah Stane shook his head. The place next to him was indeed empty.
"You weren't there?" asked Thor in surprise. "Where were you?"
"Need you ask?" Pepper rolled her eyes.
"Takin' care of business," said Tony with a grin.
"Do not even. . ." the real Rhodey growled.
Onscreen Rhodey's smile became the smile that mothers wear when little Johnny ha
s just been discovered swinging from the ceiling. Stane hastily rose and came up
to the dais. "Thank you, Colonel," he said as he approached the podium and took

the trophy from the Colonel. He was a tall man, his head shaved and his thick b
eard completely gray. "Oh, this is, ah, this is beautiful - thank you -" he was
gazing over the trophy as he spoke. "Thank you all very much, this is wonderful.
. ."
"My dad calls that a poker-face," Cooper deadpanned, pointing. He was much surpr
ised when most of the adults burst into laughter.
"Well, I'm not Tony Stark," said Stane, and the audience laughed. "But if I were
Tony, I would tell you how honored I am, and, ah, what a joy it is to receive t
his very prestigious award -"
"Which you obviously hate," chuckled Natasha as Stane continued to eye the thing
.
"Tony, you know," said Stane. "The best thing about Tony is also the worst thing
. He's always working."
"He sure -" began Bruce, but at that moment the scene abruptly changed.
Tony was in the casino, playing roulette, surrounded by sexy women in revealing
dresses. His assistant, whom Wanda had learned was named Harold Hogan though Ton
y called him Happy for some reason, was hovering over his shoulder.
"- oh," said Bruce.
Tony had just thrown a pair of dice on the table, and he bumped Happy's shoulder
in victory. "Come on!" he said, and turned around to flirt with one of the wome
n only to be immediately distracted by the next one, who slipped her hands on hi
s shoulders and over his chest as he turned to her.
"We should just . . . stay till morning," he said.
"Working, eh?" asked Thor with a smirk.
Just then Rhodey appeared on the scene, almost directly between Tony and the wom
an. "You are unbelievable," he said.
"This man . . ." said Pepper, but with more fondness than rancour.
The real Rhodey was shaking his head, but secretly he rather missed the good old
days before everything had begun really going wrong for his old friend.
"Oh, no!" said onscreen Tony, as if just remembering the award ceremony. "Did th
ey rope you into this?"
"Yeah," said the real Rhodey.
"Nobody roped me into anything," said Rhodey. "But they told me that if I presen
ted you with an award you'd be deeply honored."
"Yeah, sorry about that," said the real Tony.
"Shut up," said the real Rhodey.
"Of course I'd be deeply honored," said onscreen Tony. "And it's you, and it's g
reat, so what are we doing?" He turned back to the game table. "Uh, we have one
more round and -"
"Here it is," said Rhodey, passing Tony the trophy.

"- there it is, that was easy," said Tony ("Seriously?" said Steve.). "Look, I'm
so sorry -"
"No you're not!" said the real Rhodey.
"Yeah, it's okay," said onscreen Rhodey.
"Look at that!" said Tony, barely giving the trophy a glance before passing it o
ff to the woman in the black dress who had captured his attention before. "That'
s uh, something else - don't have any of these floating around." ("Now you do!"
said Laura. "No, he doesn't, watch," said Rhodey.) He picked up the dice again.
"Give me a hand, will you?" he asked the woman in the black dress, offering her
the hand which held the dice. She gave him a seductive look and blew lightly.
"Ho-ho-ho!" chuckled Bruce.
Sam whistled.
"Okay, you too," said Tony, offering Rhodey the hand.
"I don't blow on a man's dice," protested Rhodey.
"You don't swing that way?" asked Betty of the real Rhodey, also laughing.
"Come on, honeybear!" said Tony.
"I'm not blowing!" Rhodey slapped Tony's hand and the dice went flying.
"Honeybear?! Oh, Tony!" Pepper burst out laughing. Wanda wondered how she could
stomach watching Tony onscreen covered in women in a Las Vegas casino. The woman
had to have the patience of a saint.
"There it is!" said Tony triumphantly. "We've got Colonel Rhodes' rolls and -"
The dice fell, each with a large white dot pointing up.
"Is that bad?" asked Thor. The real Tony shrugged.
Onscreen Rhodey also shrugged. "That's what happened."
"Yeah, well, worse things have happened, I think we're going to be okay," said T
ony without skipping a beat ("Course you'll be okay, you're Tony Stark," said Cl
int). "We'll be fine, collar me up."
As Tony left the casino with all his entourage trailing after him, Rhodey shook
his hand. "This is where I exit," he said.
"All right!" said Tony.
"Tomorrow, don't be late!" said Rhodey as he walked off.
"What's tomorrow?" asked Steve.
"Yeah, you can count on it," said Tony.
"Yeah, right!" said the real Rhodey.
"I'm serious!" called onscreen Rhodey.

"I know, I know," said Tony, and then as he passed by a group of costumed employ
ees he said, "Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's," and casually handed of
f the trophy to the man dressed as Ceasar. "There you go!"
"Oh," said Laura. "Why not keep it?"
"What's the point?" asked the real Tony. "I was gettin' them all the time."
Onscreen Tony walked outside to his black car, his entourage behind him. He was
just about to climb inside when a woman's voice from behind him called, "Mr. Sta
rk!"
Tony turned around to see a very pretty young woman with blonde hair running up,
heels clacking.
"That's not who it looks like, is it?" Scott peered at the screen.
"Yup," said the real Tony dryly.
"Excuse me, Mr. Stark," said the woman, halting in front of the entourage. "Chri
stine Everhart, Vanity Fair Magazine, could I ask you a couple of questions?"
"No kidding," Scott was muttering.
Onscreen Tony turned to Happy.
"She's cute," whispered Happy.
"She's all right?" said Tony, and Happy gave him a nod.
Steve raised his eyebrows. "Aren't the pretty ones -"
Tony stepped forward. "Hi -"
"Hi!" said Christine Everhart cheerily.
"- the ones who hit hardest?" finished Steve.
"You'd know," said the real Tony.
"Hey, okay. Go," said onscreen Tony.
Christine smiled and launched into interviewer mode at once. "You've been called
the Da Vinci of our time," she said. "What do you say to that?"
"Absolutely ridiculous, I don't paint," said Tony without an instant's delay.
"And what do you say to your other nickname, the Merchant of Death?" Her eyes gl
inted at the Appropriate Moment.
The real Tony looked blank, and many things went through his mind - blinding sun
light, dark caves, and hard-faced men with the Ten Rings symbol behind them; a w
eather-beaten Russian with flashing whips; a businessman who spoke with a whine;
Pepper strapped to a machine with orange-glowing skin screaming in pain; a numb
er of Iron Legion Suits in Sokovia; Ultron amid the ruins of Novi Grad; Rhodey's
still face after the fateful fall; Steve Rogers beaten and bloody at the facili
ty in Siberia; the Vibranium shield lying abandoned on the ground; and, oddly en
ough, Obadiah Stane's smile.
"This is one advantage of being out of the limelight," said Sam dryly. "No damn

interviews."
"That's not bad," onscreen Tony was saying with a nod, and he looked critically
at his interviewer. "Let me guess. Berkeley?"
"Brown, actually," said Christine, distinctly unamused.
"Oh, good for you," said Laura.
"She's probably still paying her student loans, though," said Betty.
"Well, Ms. Brown," said Tony. "It's an imperfect world, but it's the only one we
've got. I guarantee you, the day weapons are no longer needed to keep the peace
, I'll start making bricks and beanies for baby hospitals."
"As if," said the real Tony.
"Rehearse that much?" asked Christine, her eyes narrowed.
"Of course!" said Pepper.
"You'd know, wouldn't you?" teased Steve.
"Every night in front of the mirror before bedtime," said onscreen Tony promptly
.
"I'd like to see that," snarked Christine.
"I'd like to show you firsthand," said Tony invitingly.
"Smooth," said Bucky admiringly. The real Tony managed another smug look.
"All I want is a serious answer," said Christine, obviously losing patience.
"From Stark? Forget it," said Natasha.
"Okay, here's serious," Tony folded his arms. "My old man had a philosophy: peac
e means having a bigger stick than the other guy."
"Had he very large feet, then?" asked Vision innocently. It took a few seconds f
or everyone else to make the connection and burst out laughing again. Wanda whac
ked him. Tony clapped his hands.
"That's a great line coming from the guy selling the sticks," the woman countere
d.
Steve, though still enjoying Vision's joke, made a mental note of this. He'd rea
d vaguely about the things his old friend Howard had begun to do after the war w
as over, but it seemed he'd need to go back and read about them again more close
ly.
"My father helped defeat Nazis," Tony leaned forward. "He worked on the Manhatta
n project. A lot of people, including your professors at Brown, would call that
being a hero."
"People who made a direct profit from it," said the real Tony, whose laughter wa
s dying away.
"And a lot of people would also call that war profiteering," said Christine.

"Sheesh," said Scott. "So it's not personal."


"Not with her," said Pepper.
"Tell me," onscreen Tony pulled of his sunglasses and the viewers could see that
he was genuinely annoyed. "Do you plan to report on the millions we've saved by
advancing medical technology or kept from starvation with our teleprompts? All
those breakthroughs - military funding, honey."
"Wow," said Christine. "You ever lose an hour of sleep your whole life?"
"Thousands," said the real Tony offhandedly.
"I'm prepared to lose a few with you," said onscreen Tony.
And in the next scene "Oh, come on, really?!" cried Steve as onscreen Tony and Christine flopped acros
s the bed, the woman already in her panties. Clint, Laura, and May cringed, but
it was too late. The boys were both gawking with wide eyes.
"Hey, Viz, could you see while you were JARVIS?" asked Natasha unexpectedly.
Wanda thought Vision would have blushed if he could. "I couldn't exactly look aw
ay," he said defensively. I refuse to be considered a voyeur, he thought.
Sam whistled again, and Thor laughed and clapped his hands.
"Lucky you!" said the real Tony to Wanda roguishly.
Wanda had learned that the best way to shut Tony up was sometimes to give it rig
ht back to him. "Why yes, I think so," she said, and the others broke into cheer
s, whistles, and roars of laughter.

* * *

And that's chapter 1! Hopefully I'll get this updated tomorrow, or the day after
at the latest.

Chapter 2: The Merchant and Death


Moving right along here!
Fair warning: the internet connection at my house is pretty iffy right now, so u
pdates may be unpredictable for a while.
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

The next scene showed Christine lying across the bed, obviously naked and partia
lly covered by the sheet.
The Avengers and their friends were still giggling at Wanda and Vision, the form
er smirking and the latter having just risked slipping an arm round her shoulder
s. She tensed only for a split second, then relaxed.
"Good morning!" said the voice of JARVIS, startling Christine awake ("HEY, JARVI
S!" shouted Clint and Steve almost in unison.). She pulled the sheet around her
and stared in amazement as the big window by the bed lit up with electronic icon
s showing the time, the temperature, and the weather forecast for the day. "It's
seven AM," the voice went on. "the weather in Malibu is seventy-two degrees wit
h scattered clouds, the surf conditions are fair with waist-to-shoulder-high lin
es, and high tide will be at ten fifty-two AM. . ."
"The Malibu house!" sighed Tony as the view expanded out from the window Christi
ne was looking from. It was a great, sprawling palace of a place (you could hard
ly call it a house) on a high, jutting rock cliff that immediately overlooked th
e sea. "First Suits were built there. Sometimes I kinda miss it."
("The first Suits but one," Vision corrected somewhat wistfully.)
"What happened to that house?" asked Thor uneasily as the words "Malibu, Califor
nia" appeared on the screen.
The scene changed, and Christine wandered throughout the floor of the room where
she'd spend the night with Tony dressed in one of his shirts. "Tony?" she calle
d ("Ooh, first name basis!" said Laura). "Tony? Hey, Tony?"
Christine caught sight of a door with a small blue screen next to it, and walked
up to it. She reached out curiously to touch the screen.
"Shouldn't have -" began Tony.
Instantly it beeped, and the prim British voice spoke again, making her start ba
ck: "You are not authorized to access this area."
"- touched that," finished Tony.
"Jesus," she muttered, taking a step back.
"That's JARVIS, he runs the house," said yet another familiar voice from behind
her. It was, of course, Pepper herself, dressed as formally as she ever was duri
ng a workday. Her bright red hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she was w
earing her most professional smile.
"All hail the Boss!" said Steve merrily, and Wanda joined in the general applaus
e. The real Pepper blushed.
"I've got your clothes here," said onscreen Pepper as Christine turned around. "
They've been dry cleaned and pressed, and there's a car waiting for you outside
that will take you anywhere you'd like to go."
"You must be the famous Pepper Potts," said Christine, coming up to the woman an
d giving her a measuring look.
"You betcha!" said Tony.

"Indeed I am," said Pepper, her smile never wavering as Christine came up to tak
e her clothes.
"After all these years, Tony still has you picking up the dry cleaning," said Ch
ristine, her eyes full of challenge.
"Ooh, burn!" said Sharon.
Pepper was unfazed. "I do anything and everything that Mr. Stark requires," she
said smoothly ("Mr. Stark, eh?" Thor noted). "Including occasionally taking out
the trash. Will that be all?"
"Wow!" said Natasha, impressed.
"And Pepper wins!" said Wanda.
Tony spread his hands. "She always does."
Downstairs in his workshop which none but Pepper and Rhodey had ever seen and ev
er would see, Tony was at work, more loud music blaring and an angry voice shout
ing over the beats, "Sometimes I try to do things, but it just doesn't work out
the way I want it to. And I get real frustrated. And I try hard to do it, and I
take my time, but it just doesn't work out the way I want it to, And then I conc
entrate real hard, but it just doesn't work out. . ."
The real Tony was swaying his head to the beat of the music again.
"Give me an exploded view," said onscreen Tony to a holographic screen in front
of him.
"Compression in cylinder three appears to be low," said the voice of JARVIS as w
hatever the heck Tony was looking at was expanded.
"What's that?" asked Rhodey curiously.
"Log that," said onscreen Tony, just as Pepper came down the stairs behind him w
ith a phone glued to her ear and a blue folder in her other hand.
"I dunno, it never got finished," said the real Tony to Rhodey.
Onscreen Pepper keyed in her passcode on the blue panel by the door, and it open
ed to let her in. The angry voice and the loud beats became much quieter.
"I'm going to try again right now," she was saying as she came in.
"Try what again?" asked Steve curiously.
"Please don't turn down my music," said Tony without looking up.
"I'll keep you posted," said Pepper into the phone, and hung up. Then almost wit
hout pause she said to Tony, "You are supposed to be halfway around the world ri
ght now -"
"Didn't you tell Rhodes -" began Thor.
"Yup," said Rhodey.
"How'd she take it?" asked onscreen Tony.

"Like a champ," said onscreen Pepper, not even needing to ask who 'she' was.
"If a gal chooses to have a one-night stand with Tony Stark -" said Darcy.
"Why're you trying to hustle me out of here?" asked Tony still not looking at Pe
pper.
"Perhaps you've got someplace to be," said the real Pepper.
"Five bucks says it's her birthday," said Natasha to Steve.
"You got it," said Steve.
You've lost your money, Captain, came Vision's amused thought. But he said nothi
ng out loud.
"Your flight was scheduled to leave an hour and a half ago," said onscreen Peppe
r.
"It's funny, I thought with it being my plane and all, that it would just wait f
or me to get there -"
"Not the point," complained Rhodey.
"Tony, I need to speak to you about a couple of things before I get you out of t
he door," Onscreen Pepper brushed a stray tendril of hair from her face and stra
ightened the folder.
Why did I take that bet again? wondered Steve.
"I mean, doesn't it kind of defeat the whole purpose of having your own plane if
it departs before you arrive?" asked Tony, finally turning around.
"What about your appointment?" asked Sharon.
The real Tony shrugged. "So I was late."
Three stinkin' hours, thought Rhodey grumpily. Wanda stifled a chuckle.
"Larry called," said Pepper, choosing to ignore him, which was probably very wis
e. "He's got another buyer for the Jackson Pollock in the wings - do you want it
, yes or no?"
"For the what?" asked T'Challa, who had been following the references pretty wel
l up to this point.
"A painting, your Highness," said Vision.
"Is it a good representation of his spring period?" asked Tony, bending down to
wipe something.
"Um, no - the Springs was actually the neighborhood in which he lived and worked
-"
"So?" said Tony dismissively.
"- not 'spring' like the season. I think it's a fair example, um. . .I think it'
s incredibly overpriced," Pepper gave her final opinion.
"How pricey is overpriced?" asked Scott curiously.

"Don't ask," said Rhodey and the real Pepper in unison.


But onscreen Tony said, "I need it. Buy it, store it." He got up and moved to an
other part of his workshop.
"Of course," muttered the real Pepper.
"Okay," said Pepper, her lips twitching into a smile as she marked something dow
n in her folder and walked after him. "The MIT commencement speech -"
"Is in June," said Tony. "Please, don't harangue me about this stuff." He reache
d a counter next to a small cabinet and began preparing himself a bit of somethi
ng.
"Doing the old place a good turn?" said Clint.
Tony smirked. "Way of putting it, Legolas."
"Well, they're haranguing me, so - I'm gonna say yes?" inquired Pepper.
"Deflect and absorb, don't transmit back to me," said Tony, turning around with
a small cup.
"You drink all day and you can still function," said Bruce.
"Kind of . . ." said the real Pepper.
"I need you to sign this before you leave," Pepper was rearranging her folder.
"What are you trying to get rid of me for? You have plans?" asked Tony.
"Did it matter?" asked the real Pepper.
"As a matter of fact, I do," said Pepper, opening the folder and held out a pen
to Tony.
"I don't like it when you have plans," said Tony, looking as if he seriously mig
ht protest against whatever Pepper was planning to do while he was gone.
"What he said," the real Tony pointed to the screen.
"Ooh, jealous Tony!" said Clint. The real Tony scowled at him.
"I'm allowed to have plans on my birthday," said onscreen Pepper.
"Pay up," said Natasha, and Steve paid up. Actually Sharon had slipped the fivedollar bill into his hand, as he'd had no cash on him, but Natasha pretended not
to notice.
"It's your birthday," Tony had obviously forgotten.
"You forgot her birthday!" said Maria in amusement.
"Yes," said Pepper.
"I knew that - already?"
"Yeah, okay, I've gotten better," said Tony.

"A bit," said Vision.


"Yeah - isn't that strange, it's the same day as last year," said Pepper.
"Well, get yourself something nice from me," said Tony, looking and sounding unu
sually sincere.
"Aw," said Sam indulgently.
"I already did," said Pepper.
"And?" Tony pressed.
"Oh, it was very nice," said Pepper. "Very tasteful. Thank you, Mr. Stark."
"You're welcome, Ms. Potts," said Tony.
"'Pre-Pepper,' eh?" Thor raised his eyebrows.
"Shut up," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony drank from the cup and put it in her hands. "Okay," he said, and o
ff he went to get ready.
A sleek, silver sports car went tearing down the road, followed at a frantic pac
e by a black sedan.
"Who's that behind you?" asked Peter.
"Good ol' Happy," said Tony.
"His old bodyguard, we call him Happy," said Pepper. Wanda could see that she wa
s not the only one who thought this nickname was unusual.
The silver sports car, which Tony (of course!) was driving, pulled into the lot
of his airport next to his plane with a flourish (the kind that always seem to r
equire a screech). The black sedan, driven by Happy, pulled up beside his a mome
nt later.
Wanda took a moment to notice the Stark Industries logo all over everything in t
he scene (the plane, the office building in the background, and a little brick w
all on a green lawn) before seeing the form of the unfortunate Colonel Rhodes st
anding at the top of the stairs to the plane, staring balefully down at Tony thr
ough a pair of sunglasses.
"Hey, ya good?" called Tony to Happy as he climbed out of his car."I thought I l
ost ya back there!"
"You did, sir!" said Happy ("Tony speeding, what a surprise," said Natasha), goi
ng round to the back of his sedan to fetch a newly pressed business suit out of
his trunk and the small silver radio that had been in the humvee in the earlier
part of the video. "I had to cut across Muholland."
"Ah, I gotcha, I gotcha!" said Tony, and he walked up to the plane with Happy tr
ailing behind him.
"What's wrong with you?!" huffed Rhodey from the top of the stairs, flinging up
his hands.
"What?" asked Tony, unconcerned.

"Three hours," said Rhodey.


Steve's eyes rolled round in his head.
"Three hours?!" Cooper gaped.
"Oh, you operate on CP time?" snarked Sam. Vision wouldn't tell Wanda what this
meant, so she had to pry at Sam a bit and promptly blushed.
"I got caught doing a piece for Vanity Fair," said Tony as he sprang up the step
s.
Fury, Bucky, and Clint guffawed in unison.
"For three hours - for three hours you got me standing here," snapped Rhodey as
Tony passed him to go into the plane.
"You are not right," said the real Rhodey, shaking his head. "You are just not r
ight."
The real Tony was smirking, an expression which Wanda had not seen him wear for
months before the Accords were ever on the horizon.
"Waiting on you now," said Tony, stepping into the plane. "Let's go, come on."
Happy came after him, burdened with the radio and the suit. Rhodey turned with a
n aggravated sigh and marched in behind Happy.
"Mh, mh, mh," said the real Rhodey.
"Wheels up, rock and roll!" cried Tony's voice from inside the plane.
There was a brief shot of the plane lifting into the air, and then the viewers g
ot their first look inside. An attractive stewardess in a blue suit with a blue
hat perched jauntily atop her blonde head was pouring Tony something. She smiled
at him as she did so.
"Whatcha reading, platypus?" asked Tony of Rhodey as the stewardess walked away.
Rhodey did indeed have his nose buried in something - at any rate he wasn't look
ing at Tony.
"Nothing," said Rhodey, still not looking at Tony.
"Come on, sour patch -" Tony began.
"Not sour," said Rhodey.
"Don't be mad," Tony finished.
"Has every right," said Clint, spreading his hands.
"Told you, I'm not mad," said Rhodey. "I'm - I'm indifferent, okay?"
"I said I was sorry," said Tony as another attractive stewardess, a brunette thi
s time, came up to him with a smile and a "Good morning, Mr. Stark."
"Oh, did you?" Pepper arched an eyebrow.

"Yes, I did!" said the real Tony.


"Told you, you don't need to apologize -"
Tony looked up at the stewardess, gesturing comically. "Hi - I told him I was so
rry -"
"- I'm not mad -" continued Rhodey.
"You are, not like I blame you," said Natasha.
"Hot tap?" asked the stewardess.
"- cause I'm indifferent right now," said Rhodey.
("I'm tryin'," muttered the real Rhodey.)
"Yes, please," said Tony, and the woman handed him a rolled up cloth napkin befo
re she walked out of sight.
"It's just, I know you don't respect yourself, so I know you don't respect me,"
said Rhodey (in which assessment, as Wanda knew quite well, there was a disturbi
ng amount of truth). "I'm just your babysitter -"
"Do respect ya," Tony protested.
"- and so any time you need your diaper changed - thank you - let me know and I'
ll get you a bottle, okay?"
"That's a good 'un!" said Sam.
The brunette stewardess had returned with plates and another napkin for Rhodey,
and Tony hailed her. "Hey - heat up a sake, will you?"
"What's a sake?" asked Peter.
"Yes, Mr. Stark," said the stewardess.
"No!" protested Rhodey. "What are you talki - we're not drinking, we're working
right now!"
"Japanese wine," said the real Tony to Peter.
"You can't have sushini without a sake," said onscreen Tony.
"I love sushini," said Natasha randomly.
"And you are constitutionally incapable of being responsible," said Rhodey as th
e brunette stewardess walked out and the blonde stewardess walked back in with a
bottle.
"That's true enough," said Bruce.
"Looks too much like regular sushi to me," said Steve.
"Hey! You my Science Bro or what?" demanded the real Tony of Bruce.
"It would be irresponsible not to drink," said onscreen Tony. 'I'm just talking
about a nightcap -"

"Hot sake?" asked the stewardess of Tony with a smile.


"Yes, two, please," said Tony, and the stewardess began to pour from the bottle
into his glass.
"No, miss, I'm not drinking," said Rhodey as the stewardess began pouring into h
is glass too. "I don't want any."
And then Tony and Rhodey were sitting together on a sofa with a screen playing s
ome kind of music video behind them, Rhodey obviously quite drunk. "- and that's
what I'm talking about, when I get up in the morning, and I'm putting on my uni
form, you know what I recognize?"
The real Rhodey buried his head in his hands, the real Tony burst out laughing.
"What? What do you recognize?" asked Fury, also laughing.
Onscreen Tony took a drink and looked patiently at Rhodey.
"I see in that mirror that every person that's got this uniform on got my back!"
"That's gotta feel - oh, ha-ha-ha!" Clint also began laughing.
For at this moment it became apparent that three stewardesses were dancing for t
he men's entertainment, with their shirts tied above the stomach and their short
skirts showing plenty of leg. Tony was obviously trying to watch the women, but
Rhodey wouldn't let him.
"Hey, you know what," he said to Rhodey. "I'm not like you, I'm not -"
"No, no, you don't have to be like me," slurred Rhodey. "But you are more than w
hat you are, you just can't see it -"
"That made no sense!" giggled Jane.
"Can you excuse me if I'm a little bit distracted here?" Tony gestured to the wo
men.
"No - no, man, you keep being distracted right now -"
There was another brief shot of the plane beginning its descent, and then anothe
r of a military base buzzing with humvees, soldiers in uniform, and crates and t
rucks. The words "Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan" appeared on the screen.
Oh boy, here we go, flashed across Tony's mind.
"Uh-oh," said Steve.
Tony walked out of his plane and came down the steps to meet a small waiting cro
wd obviously made up of the top-ranking officers. He was now wearing his busines
s suit.
"General," smiled Tony, and he shook the hand of a grizzled man with dark sungla
sses.
"Ah, then you can be respectful!" said T'Challa.
The real Tony's jaw dropped as his friends laughed.
"Welcome, Mr. Stark," said the General. "I look forward to your weapons presenta

tion."
Then Tony turned to the man standing beside him, a man of obviously Middle Easte
rn origin, who spoke no English, and shook his hand as well.
And then Tony was standing in front of the expectant military audience, which in
cluded Rhodey. "Is it better to be feared or respected?" he asked rhetorically.
"I say, is it too much to ask for both? ("Not for me!" said the real Tony. "Or t
he Avengers," said May.) With that in mind, I humbly present the crown jewel of
Stark Industries Freedom line. It's the first missile system to incorporate our
proprietary repulsor technology. ("Hey, your Suits have repulsor tech, don't the
y?" asked Darcy. "Thought you were in poli-sci," said the real Tony.) 'They' say
the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I p
refer the weapon you only have to fire once. That's how dad did it, ("The hell?!
" muttered Steve.) that's how America does it, and it's worked out pretty well s
o far. Find an excuse to let one of these off the chain -" he pointed aside to w
hat looked like a smallish triple rocket sitting on a base. "- and I personally
guarantee you, the bad guys won't even want to come out of their caves."
He gestured with his hand, and the rocket began to move, cameras facing up, tips
pointing toward the sky. First one, then the next, and then the third of the ro
ckets zoomed into the air. In mid flight, smaller rockets burst out of the large
ones, followed by yet another stream of even smaller rockets, all of which went
flying a safe, far distance away.
"Geez, how about the good guys?" asked Clint, sitting back and shaking his head.
"For your consideration," said Tony as the rockets began to fall far behind him.
"The Jericho."
He spread his hands as the explosives lit up the desert with fire before darkeni
ng it with smoke. An explosion that must indeed have echoed the force of the cru
mbling walls of Jericho shook the ground, and a cloud of dust nearly engulfed To
ny and his audience.
Wanda shivered a little. She was fairly sure the Jericho missile hadn't been use
d in Sokovia, or she'd have known; but even an onscreen explosion of that magnit
ude still triggered unresolved trauma of her own that she didn't want to think a
bout.
"The Freedom line?" mumbled Steve skeptically.
"I knew it, I knew it," grumbled the real Tony. "I knew the word 'Freedom' would
get you, Rogers."
Onscreen Tony opened a large case with his logo on the side. A large tray of gla
sses and two bottles of expensive-looking wine rose out of it automatically, and
Tony took a glass and poured himself some of the wine. "I'll be throwing one of
these in with every purchase of five hundred million or more," he said, gesturi
ng with the glass as the military men came behind him to enjoy their share of th
e goods. "To peace!" he raised his glass and drank from it.
"To war," muttered Pepper.
Then onscreen Tony pulled out his phone - a slider, of all things.
"Okay, what is that?" asked Scott, pointing.
"Most secure lil' thing in the world at the time," said Tony.

"Tony!" said Obadiah Stane, appearing on the screen of the phone. He seemed to b
e in bed, and Wanda remembered that it must be the middle of the night back in A
merica if it was daytime in Afghanistan.
"Obie, what are you doing up?" asked Tony.
The real Tony and Pepper and Rhodey all exchanged glances. The thoughts drifting
from all three of them - and from Fury and Hill - nearly gave away the rest of
the story.
"I couldn't sleep till I found out how it went," said Obie ("That sounds odd," s
aid Clint). "How'd it go?"
"Went great," said Tony, walking up to one of the humvees. "Looks like it's goin
g to be an early Christmas."
"Hey!" cheered Obadiah. "Way to go, my boy! I'll see you tomorrow, yeah?"
"Why aren't you wearing those pajamas I got you?" asked Tony as he swung himself
into one of the humvees, for Obadiah did indeed appear to be shirtless.
"Goodnight, Tony," said Obadiah, and hung up. Tony collapsed the phone.
"More weirdness," said Peter.
"Hey, Tony!" said Rhodey, running up to Tony's humvee just before he took off.
"I'm sorry, this is the fun-vee," said Tony, leaning out the window with an impi
sh smirk. "The humdrum-vee is back there," he indicated the back of the line.
"Hey, I'm cool with the humdrum-vee," said the real Rhodey even as the others sn
ickered.
But omscreen Rhodey said, "Nice job," before he stepped back from the humvee as
the driver (the lady airman!) started it up.
"See you back at the base," said Tony, and he closed up the window.
And then there came the shot that they knew was coming, of all the humvees in a
line riding through the arid desert. This time it was cut, showing only the humv
ee blowing up.
Vision's leg jumped again. Wanda was in the act of reaching for his thigh when s
he checked herself. The gesture could easily be misunderstood.
"And, fun's over for real this time," sighed the real Tony.
Then onscreen Tony was fading in and out of consciousness, in some dark place wi
th one bright light shining almost directly in his face.
"Where -" began Thor.
"Cave," said the real Tony briefly.
There were voices shouting, once again in a Middle Eastern tongue Wanda didn't k
now. Hands with surgical tools were cutting him open and plunging into his flesh
and pulling out little bits of something that gleamed dark with blood.
"Is that shrapnel?" said Laura, horrified.

"This was the surgery?!" cried Bruce.


And then onscreen Tony screamed in pain - making both Peter and Cooper jump - an
d kept on screaming.
Bucky drew a hand across his forehead as the screams of a hundred other voices e
choed in his memory. Wanda heard them, and shivered. Vision was staring at the s
creen, eyes huge with guilt as if the whole thing were somehow his fault.
"Oh, my God," Steve rubbed his neck. "Oh, my God."
Pepper was shaking, and Rhodey's lips were tight.
"WITHOUT ANESTHESIA?" roared Sam. "THEY CUT YOU OPEN WITHOUT -"
The real Tony was silent. He was not truly looking at the screen - flashes of re
d-rimmed, pain-filled memory were washing over him, and Wanda shied away from th
em (his memories and Bucky's together were rather overwhelming).
Then came a glimpse of something round being placed in his chest.
"Good thing I had a tetanus shot that year," said the real Tony. The emotionless
, distant voice in which he said all this while the horrific memories tore throu
gh his mind made Wanda shudder again.
"In a goddamn desert cave," Scott was muttering.
And then, after a few torturous seconds that seemed like far longer, the surgery
was over.

* * *

Whew! Even the re-write for that last scene was tough. Anyway, please let me kno
w what you think of the edits!
And oh yes, for those of you who may not know, Sam is referring to Colored Peopl
e time (don't you go repeating that!), and to the running cultural joke about ho
w (in America at least) we black folks tend to be late to everything . It's raci
st, but unfortunately it's also true.

Chapter 3: Jericho
Unreliable internet and everything, here's a timely update!
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

The Avengers and their friends watched as onscreen Tony lay on a cot, his chest
wrapped with blood-soaked bandages (Bruce grumbled imprecations under his breath
) over which was draped a loose black sweater. A narrow tube was coming out of h
is nose. He started awake, breathing heavily, and looked around. He gagged sligh
tly, and his hand went up to the tube.
"Don't do it, don't do it," said Sharon.
Tony began pulling on it, and it came sliding out. And out. And out. And out.
"Oi!" groaned Thor.
A quiet "Ew!" was heard from Peter.
The real Tony's nose twitched.
Onscreen Tony grunted in pain as the end came up, and ripped the surgical tape o
ff the bridge of his nose.
Wanda resisted the urge to scratch her own nose. Steve, Rhodey, and Jane didn't
bother.
Then Tony turned his head and saw a cup of water on a table by his bed. His hand
clenched and unclenched before he managed to stretch his arm out toward the cup
, but he only succeeded in knocking it to the floor. He coughed.
Vision sighed. Now that the surgery was over his immediate panic seemed to have
receded, though he was still tense and upset.
Some feet away, a slender, elderly man was shaving in front of a small mirror, h
umming peacefully. Tony seemed to notice him.
"Who's that?" asked Cooper.
"Name's Yinsen," said the real Tony shortly. Wanda began to see the beginnings o
f the origins of Iron Man as they were, written in blood and fire.
Onscreen Tony attempted to roll over, but something stopped him. An electrical c
ord coming out of his chest was attached to something, and it wasn't long enough
to allow him much movement.
"What'd they hook him up to?" asked Bucky of Natasha, clearly dreading the answe
r.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," said the man in front of the mirror. He had
a quiet, scholarly look and manner.
Tony rolled back over to look at the thing he was hooked up to, and then the vie
wers saw for the first time what it was.
"Is that -" spluttered Peter.
"A car battery?!" cried May and Betty in unison.
"Christ," muttered Scott, rubbing his forehead. "A car battery."
Onscreen Tony tugged at the cord in alarm, gave a cry of pain, and discovered it
s other end was buried underneath the bandages. He began tearing them away frant
ically, only to find what the other end of the cord was attached to: a round rus

ty metal disc just larger than a man's palm was sitting in his chest right over
his heart, held in place with five large screws.
"What is that?!" cried Jane.
"Electromagnet," said the real Tony flatly.
Onscreen Tony lay back, gasping, his eyes wide with panic.
"All that rust - that thing's a death trap," grumbled Bruce.
Tony sat on the floor of what seemed to be a dark cave, the man who'd cautioned
him earlier, Yinsen, appeared to be cooking at a small fire.
"What the hell did you do to me?" croaked Tony.
Yinsen looked up. "What I did?" he said. "What I did was to save your life. ("By
sticking a big dirty magnet in him and hooking him up to a car battery without
fucking anesthesia?" muttered Steve, but only Sharon and of course Wanda heard t
his.) I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left. And it's heade
d into your atrial septum. ("My heart," said the real Tony in answer to the ques
tioning looks. "That's what the magnet was for.") Here, want to see?"
"That's really impressive for having been done in a cave in the middle of the de
sert," Scott commented as Yinsen held up a small glass milk bottle with the lid
screwed on tight, and Tony, who had been looking at the rust-covered electromagn
et, looked up. "I have a souvenir!" said Yinsen, and he tossed Tony the little b
ottle. "Take a look."
"Saved my life with a bunch of old junk," said the real Tony as his onscreen sel
f caught the container and looked inside. There, indeed, were little fragments o
f shrapnel.
"Lovely," said Pepper with a shiver.
"I've seen many wounds like that in my village," said Yinsen. "We call them the
Walking Dead, because it takes about a week for the barbs to reach the vital org
ans."
"I like that show," said Sharon rather distantly.
"What is this?" asked Tony, gesturing to the metal circle, the cords.
"That," said Yinsen. "is an electromagnet hooked up to a car battery. And it's k
eeping the shrapnel from entering your heart." He smiled.
"So he truly did save your life," said Thor.
"Still, you know, a mother-flippin' car battery," said Clint.
"Only an engineer could have done it," Natasha.
Onscreen Tony zipped up the sweater without a word, and caught sight of a small
surveillance camera nearly invisible against the dark rock on which it sat.
"That's right," said Yinsen, following the direction of his glance. "Smile!"
"You're on candid camera!" drawled the real Tony.
"We met once, you know," Yinsen went on. "At a technical conference in Bern."

"Don't remember," mumbled onscreen Tony.


"Do now," said the real Tony. "A lot happened at that conference."
Yinsen chuckled. "No, you wouldn't. If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have be
en able to stand, much less give a lecture on integrated circuits."
"I've not met many mortal men who can hold their drink like you can, my friend,"
said Thor.
The real Tony actually smiled a bit.
"Where are we?" asked onscreen Tony dully.
Yinsen had just opened his mouth to answer when a door at the end of the cave wa
s suddenly unbolted from the outside. A voice started shouting.
"Oh God, what now?" muttered Bucky.
"Come on, stand up!" hissed Yinsen, hurrying over to Tony. "Stand up!" He pulled
Tony to his feet as whoever was outside the door began to open it. "Do as I do!
" he said emphatically. "Come on, put your hands up."
Wanda couldn't help thinking how dispirited the man must be to do so exactly as
he was told without even a remark.
The door opened just as Yinsen's and Tony's hands went up.
A small crowd of armed men came into the room, and Tony's eyes widened in horror
. "Those are my guns," he said in disbelief. "How did they get my guns?"
"How did they get your guns?" asked Jane anxiously.
"Bought 'em," said the real Tony darkly. "Merchant of Death, remember?"
"Do you understand me?" said Yinsen. "Do as I do!"
One of the men stepped forward, spread his arms, and spoke in tones of welcome a
s he stepped forward.
Tony looked nervously at Yinsen.
"He says, 'Welcome, Tony Stark, the most famous mass murderer in the mistory of
America'," Yinsen translated as the man spoke on (it was a bit of a start for Wa
nda to hear someone from a completely different country calling Tony Stark almos
t exactly what she'd called him most of her life). "He's honored. He wants you t
o build the missile. The Jericho missile that you demonstrated."
"No!" cried Bucky in horror. The real Tony was shooting him measuring looks.
"That was what they wanted from you?" cried Thor.
The man passed Yinsen a photograph which Yinsen passed to Tony with the words "T
his one." It was indeed the terrible thing that Tony had so proudly presented ea
rlier that day, when the world was right and Tony was aggravating his friends wi
th his immaturity.
"Yep," said the real Tony to Thor.

Now Tony's eyes darted from the picture to the man who'd made the request. And h
e said in that immovable tone that Steve in particular knew only too well, "I re
fuse."
"Shit!" said Sam.
"Oh, Tony!" groaned Pepper.
And then Tony's head was shoved into water.
Vision jumped, making Wanda jump too.
"The reports didn't say anything about torture!" yelped Steve, looking over almo
st angrily at the real Tony.
The look on Tony's face was more than answer as to why. T'Challa gave him a deep
ly measuring look, and Wanda could see that the King was adjusting his initial a
ssessment of Tony Stark.
Onscreen, the men yanked him upright, and he gasped for air before they shoved h
im back into the water again. The electromagnet in his chest sparked, and his bo
dy spasmed.
"Holy shit," muttered Bruce.
Vision was beginning to shake again. Tony noticed.
"Hey - Hey, Vision," he said. "Stop blaming yourself. It's over, okay, I made it
." Barely, he added mentally.
There came a brief glimpse of a man standing silently, watching the whole proced
ure without a word.
"Tony!" came the faint voice of Pepper through Tony's memory as he was yanked up
right once again.
The real Pepper sneaked a rather wide-eyed look at the Tony beside her.
Onscreen Tony's captors put the sack over his head and hauled him off through a
perfect labyrinth of stone passageways till at last they came out from the mouth
of the cave into the harsh desert.
The brown sack was pulled off Tony's head, and he blinked in the blazing sun as
his eyes adjusted to the sudden light. Then he saw that the cave was surrounded
by an a bustling encampment of makeshift tents. Armed men were calling to each o
ther in various languages.
"Is this Ten Rings group still around?" asked Jane.
"Not as far as we know," said Maria.
Tony and Yinsen were shoved unceremoniously down from the cave and into the camp
. Tony's gaze was arrested by a great pile of crates and explosive rockets under
a tent nearby. All of them wore the logo Stark Industries. Their creator looked
none too well already, but he seemed just so much the sicker for having seen th
em in the hands of enemies.
Merchant of Death, Merchant of Death, rang through the real Tony's mind.
The man who'd done the talking spoke to Tony again.

"He wants to know what you think," said Yinsen.


"He thinks it looks good, boss," drawled Fury sarcastically.
"That guy's not the boss," said the real Tony, mainly to distract himself from w
hat was happening on the screen.
Onscreen Tony had recovered his composure a little. "I think you've got a lot of
my weapons," he said steadily. Peter cast a glance back at the real Tony.
The man spoke again, gesturing from the pile of Stark goods to their maker.
"He says they have everything you need to build the Jericho missile," said Yinse
n. "He wants you to make the list of materials."
"He just refused," said Rhodey.
With another sweeping gesture, the man spoke again, a demanding note entering hi
s tone.
"He says for you to start working immediately," said Yinsen ("Demands, demands,"
said Darcy). "And when you're done, he will set you free."
"Oh, yeah, right!" snorted Steve.
The man smiled and offered Tony his hand. Tony smiled back and shook it. "No he
won't," he said in a tone that much belied the smile.
"No, he won't," Yinsen agreed.
The smile and the handshake obviously convinced the man that they had a deal, an
d he grinned, as if to say, See, that wasn't so hard, was it?
Then Tony glanced off to the side, and some distance away stood the man (he was
bald, interestingly enough) who had been standing watching Tony's torture sessio
n in silence. He was watching Tony intently.
"There's the boss," said the real Tony, pointing. "Raza, I think."
Back in their little section of the cave, Tony sat in grim silence with Yinsen n
ext to him. "I'm sure they're looking for you, Mr. Stark," said the surgeon ("Ye
ah, we were," muttered Rhodey). "But they will never find you in these mountains
."
"We would've, eventually," said Rhodey.
"No, you wouldn't, not before getting shot down," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony was silent.
Yinsen leaned forward. "Look," he said. "What you just saw - that is your legacy
, Stark. Your life's work, in the hands of those murderers. ("My work is always
in the hands of murderers," said the real Tony distantly, and Wanda shoved back
the memory worst day of her childhood with a monumental effort.) Is that how you
want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark?" His
voice rose. "Or are you going to do something about it?"
"The Speech," said Sam.

"I shouldn't do anything," said Tony. "They're going to kill me, you, either way
, and if they don't I'll probably be dead in a week." The bleak hopelessness in
his voice made it nearly unrecognizable.
"Well then," said Yinsen. "This is a very important week for you, isn't it, hm?"
"It sure was," said the real Tony, and he smiled.
"Oh?" Thor looked hopeful.
Onscreen Tony's eyes glinted.
And next moment men were bustling back and forth inside the cave where Tony was
being held, and Tony was giving directions with Yinsen translating. "This is goi
ng to be my work station," Tony was saying. "I want it well lit. I need welding
gear, I don't care if it's acetalyine or propane. I need a soldering station, I
need helmets, I would like a smelting cup, I need two sets of precision tools. .
."
"You're not actually building the damn thing, are you?!" cried Clint.
The real Tony's glare was crushing. "Not answering that, Birdbrain."
"So what are you doing?" asked Steve.
"Shouldn't be too hard to guess, Rogers," said Tony.
T'Challa sat up straighter. "It was then, was it not?" he asked.
"It was then, your Highness," said Tony. Peter's eyes widened.
Steve sat back and shook his head. "The first Suit, in captivity, in a cave."
In the next scene Tony was unscrewing the base of one of the long explosives. "H
ow many languages you speak?" he asked Yinsen.
"A lot," said Yinsen. "But apparently not enough for this place. They speak Arab
ic, Urdu, Dari, Pashto, Mongolian, Farsi, and Russian."
Wanda felt a bit overwhelmed. Learning even one additional language had been a c
hallenge for her. It did not help to reflect that Natasha and T'Challa probably
knew that many languages.
"Where'd this group even come from?" asked Laura.
"Who are these people?" asked Tony, pulling out the guts of the thing.
"They are your loyal customers, sir," said Yinsen dryly. "They call themselves t
he Ten Rings."
In a control room in another part of the caves, the man who had spoken to Tony e
arlier (not Raza) watched Tony and Yinsen work.
As Tony unscrewed and opened one of the big main Jericho rockets, Yinsen squatte
d beside him. "You know, we might be more productive if you include me in the pl
anning process," he suggested.
"And we might not," said the real Tony.
"And we really might," said Bruce, who'd had the dubious pleasure of working wit

h Tony on more than one occasion.


"Uh-huh," said onscreen Tony, and he punched the rocket to get it open. He pulle
d out part of its insides, and from them he extracted a tiny piece of metal. "We
don't need this," he said, and threw the rocket part over his shoulder.
"What's that?" asked Yinsen, bending over the miniscule piece that Tony was now
holding.
"That's palladium," said Tony. "Point one-five grams. We need at least one point
-six, I'm going to need you to break down the other eleven."
"Palladium?" Peter blinked. "That doesn't go in the Suit, does it?"
The real Tony smiled at him.
"O!" Peter's eyes went wide with amazement again.
"O what?" asked Cooper from the other side of Sam.
In the control room, the watchers were getting restless. This time subtitles app
eared on the screen as they spoke.
What's he doing? asked one.
Working, said another one, coolly.
"Hey, you're not wrong," said Darcy.
At his work station, Tony gathered some ground stuff of a deep, metallic red int
o a bowl. He put the smelting cup into the red stuff, and gave it a tap.
And then Yinsen lifted the cup out of the fire with a pair of smelting tongs, To
ny hovering over his shoulder. "Careful, careful," he said. "We only get one sho
t at this."
Bruce pointed. "Is that -? You know, why do I keep being surprised?"
Scott was also looking reluctantly impressed.
"Relax," said Yinsen, turning to follow Tony back to the station with the little
bowl of red stuff. "I have steady hands. Why do you think you're still alive?"
"Because you're a brilliant surgeon, maybe?" suggested Sharon.
Tony put the car battery down on the table, and Yinsen began to pour what must b
e the melted palladium into the bowl.
"So what do I call you?" asked Tony as Yinsen poured.
Yinsen smiled, probably in amusement at introducing himself for the second time.
"My name is Yinsen," he said.
"Hello, Yinsen," said Natasha.
"Yinsen," said Tony. "Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too," said Yinsen as he lifted the now empty cup.
And then Tony lifted a slender ring of the palladium, now cooled and hardened, f

rom the red sand-like stuff with a pair of tweezers. He looked it over, and plac
ed it inside a protective frame. He began welding pieces of copper wire to the f
rame, bit by bit.
"What were you saying this was?" asked Jane of Bruce.
"It's -" began Bruce.
And then, there it was, sitting on the table, a small, circular object that glow
ed brightly. The lights around Tony flickered and the battery to which he was co
nnected began to sputter.
"- the Arc Reactor," said Bruce.
"Well, damn!" said Steve.
"Ooh," breathed Yinsen in wonder, bending over the small marvel. "That doesn't l
ook like a Jericho missile."
"That's because it's a miniaturized Arc Reactor," said Tony. "I've got a big one
powering my factory at home. It should keep the shrapnel out of my heart."
"But how the hell did you shrink it?" asked Scott, half aloud.
"But what could it generate?" asked Yinsen.
"If my math is right, and it always is, three gigajoules per second," said Tony
evenly.
Laura whistled.
"That could run your heart for fifty lifetimes!" said Yinsen.
"Yeah," said Tony. "Or something big for fifteen minutes."
"This is it!" said Rhodey. "Guys, this is it!"
Tony spread a number of crumpled sheets on his table and showed them to Yinsen.
"This is our ticket out of here," he said in a low voice as Yinsen looked over w
hat looked like drawings and plans for random pieces of what could be taken for
a Jericho Missile.
"What is it?" asked Yinsen.
"Flatten them out and look," said Tony, and once Yinsen did so, an image came to
gether through the multiple layers of paper.
"There it is!" said Thor in awe.
"They've come a long way since then, haven't they?" said Natasha.
"You bet," said Tony, eyeing the screen critically.
It was bulky, obviously huge. It was rudimentary. It looked (in comparison to th
e newest Suits) as clumsy as a boulder. But there was no mistaking it - the firs
t Iron Man Suit.
"Impressive," murmured Yinsen.
"You're tellin' me," said Sam.

On a screen, the surveillance crew saw Tony and Yinsen outside one night. Tony l
ay down on his back with one leg slightly elevated, they discussed something bri
efly, and Tony got up again, As he rose, they saw the Arc Reactor glowing in his
chest as he and Yinsen walked back into the caves.
"What the hell were you two doing out there?" asked Natasha.
"Discussing leg plates," said the real Tony briefly.
Onscreen Tony and Yinsen were playing backgammon. "Still haven't told me where y
ou're from," said Tony.
"I'm from a small town called Gulmira," said Yinsen, and he smiled. "It's actual
ly a nice place."
"Oh, Gulmira!" said Fury.
"Gulmira," said the real Tony with a nod.
"Got a family?" asked Tony.
"Yes," said Yinsen. "And I will see them when I leave here. And you, Stark?"
The real Tony got an odd look on his face. Wanda saw an image of Yinsen, lying o
n his back and partially trapped under a large sack, flash across his mind.
Onscreen Tony looked up briefly, and shook his head. "Nah."
"So," said Yinsen, looking at him keenly. "You're a man who has everything, and
nothing."
Onscreen Tony looked up without a word, but his face was answer enough.
"Well, not nothing," mused the real Tony. "Kind of, but not really."
That night, the big thug who seemed to do all the footwork approached the door o
f Tony and Yinsen's quarters with about half a dozen men behind him. He stopped
them right in front of the door and pulled open a small sliding tab. Through it
he saw Yinsen working at something. Satisfied, he shut the tab and turned around
with a nod to his men, and they all strode off to another part of the cave.
"What's the point of all that when they can just look at the surveillance camera
s?" asked Sharon.
"Probably under orders," said Tony. "Raza was sharper than they were."
Then there came a view of Tony's work, pieces of what would be the Suit scattere
d over his workspace. Tony himself was at work with a powerful woodcutting machi
ne, safety goggles over his eyes. Then he attached a narrow tube to a small gree
n can.
In the control room, the watchers were clearly uneasy. It doesn't look anything
like the picture, complained one.
"Oh, so not completely daft," said Thor.
Maybe it's been modified, said another.
"Sure about that?" asked Fury.

The tail is wrong, argued the first dissenter.


It's just backwards, said the second man.
"Yeah, they're clueless," said Steve.
But some time later, Raza watched the screens, the ring glittering on his finger
, as Tony swung his leg, encased by metal and wires.
"What? Did you forget you were on camera or something?" asked Rhodey.
"Couldn't entirely help that," said the real Tony.
The men came barging once again into the workshop, Tony removing his goggles and
ceasing his work as they came in. This time Raza was among them; they all made
way for him.
"Oh no!" said Pepper. "This can't be good!"
Both Tony and Yinsen already had their hands behind their heads as Yinsen advanc
ed on them.
"Relax," said Raza in perfect English. Tony lowered his hands. Raza's eye was dr
awn to the Arc Reactor, and he walked up to Tony and parted his shirt to get a g
ood look at it. "The bow and arrow," he said without looking up. "Once was the p
innacle of weapons technology."
"Still packs a punch if used right," said Clint.
"Every weapon was innovative once it first came along," said Betty at the same t
ime.
Raza's eyes now flickered to Tony's face, and he paced away. "It allowed the gre
at Genghis Khan to rule from the Pacific to the Ukraine."
"Yeah, and it stayed that way for, what, a century and a half?" said Darcy scorn
fully.
Raza picked up something from the work station and put it back down. "An empire
twice the size of that of Alexander the great, and four times the size of the Ro
man Empire."
"Yeah, but they held it together longer," said Bruce.
By this time he had paced back to Tony again. "But today, whoever holds the late
st Stark weapons rules these lands."
"Yeah, yeah, Merchant of Death, I got it," said the real Tony, trying to sound f
lippant as usual.
He had wandered over to another table and was looking over Tony's plans. Tony an
d Yinsen exchanged glances. "And soon," said Raza, turning around to gaze at Ton
y. "It will be my turn."
"Keep dreamin', buddy," said Rhodey.
Raza walked back up to Tony again, and stood looking at him. His next words were
not in English, and addressed obviously to Yinsen, not Tony. Why have you faile
d me? he demanded.

"He knows!" squawked Bucky.


We're working, Yinsen protested. Diligently.
"Well, they are working," said May, sounding rather strained.
I let you live, said Raza, turning and walking toward him. And this is how you r
epay me?
"Nice to know what's going on this time," said the real Tony, but his jaw was ti
ght.
It's very complex, said Yinsen as Raza came right up beside him. He's trying ver
y hard.
Onscreen Tony was watching uneasily.
On his knees! barked Raza suddenly, and two armed guards forced Yinsen down.
"Oh, no, not Yinsen!" wailed Jane.
You think I'm a fool? said Raza dangerously. I'll get the truth. He picked up th
e tongs and reached into the fire with them.
"Oh, dear," muttered Vision fretfully.
"Shit, shit, shit," muttered Steve anxiously.
We're both working, Yinsen tried again.
Raza turned around, and in the tongs was a glowing piece of coal. Open your mout
h, he said.
"Son of a bitch!" groaned Scott.
"What does he want?" asked onscreen Tony uneasily.
You think I'm a fool? asked Raza again. He grabbed Yinsen's head and held the to
ngs in front of his mouth. Wanda recoiled. What's going on? he asked. Tell me th
e truth.
"Oh, God," squeaked Pepper.
He's building your Jericho, said Yinsen.
That angered Raza. The truth, he said again, his voice rising.
He's building your Jericho, repeated Yinsen.
THE TRUTH! screamed Raza.
He's building the Jericho! shouted Yinsen.
"Don't kill him, don't you kill him!" Sam was muttering angrily.
Tony had caught on, language barrier be damned. "What do you want, a delivery da
te?" he asked, stepping forward. All the other men shouted and lowered their wea
pons. Tony stopped and held up his hands.

"I tried," said the real Tony.


Onscreen Tony looked from them to Raza. "I need him," he said.
The coal glowed bright as Raza held it in front of Yinsen's mouth.
"Good assistant," added Tony.
The Avengers caught their breath.
Raza gave him a measuring glare and dropped the coal. "You have till tomorrow,"
he said. "to assemble my missile."
He threw the tongs aside, and walked out of the room, his men following him.
Wanda blew out her breath, in company with most of the other viewers.
"What happens tomorrow?" asked Steve warily.
The real Tony sent him a long look. "Think about it."

* * *

As always, thank you all so much for your reviews and please continue to leave t
hem!

Chapter 4: The Iron Scourge


Y'know, I call myself a Tolkien fangirl primarily and yet I haven't updated The
Seventh Avenger in forever . . . should I change my penname or something?
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

Tony was working again.


With one hand he held the piece of metal steady, and with the other he was forgi
ng - clang, clang, clang, went the hammer.
"I don't know why it surprises me that you'd be a fair smith," said Thor.
"I don't know why that is, either," said the real Tony as his onscreen self dipp
ed the thing in a bucket of steaming water, lifted it out with tongs, and set it
to dry.
Yinsen looked up as he set it down, and the viewers could now see that it was a

mask, with two large eyeholes and a row of smaller holes for the mouth.
"All right!" cheered Peter with a grin.
Then a large breastplate was fitted to an equally large back piece. Tony put his
jacket back on, a pair of protective gloves went on his hands.
"I wish I could have helped you build that," said Vision quietly.
Tony spread his hands. "Hey, you - or JARVIS, whatever - helped me build every o
ther one up until Ultron ate you."
"I know," said the android. "But this was the very first."
Tony arched an eyebrow at him, but the smile that tugged at his mouth was not un
kind.
Yinsen helped onscreen Tony put on the breastplate and back pieces. "Say it agai
n," he said as he got the arm pieces on.
"Forty-one steps straight ahead, then sixteen steps, that's from the door, fourt
h right, thirty-three steps, turn right," said Tony without pause.
"Wait, how did you learn the layout?" cried Jane. "You had a bag on your head."
Fury, Maria, and nearly all the Avengers just looked at her.
"Right, surrounded by SHIELD here," muttered the astrophysicist. "Par for the co
urse."
In the control room, Raza went to the screen to watch the production of his miss
ile. He frowned, looking angry, when he could not see Tony or Yinsen from any of
the screens.
Where is Stark? he growled to one of his men.
He was here a moment ago, said the man, looking nervous.
Go look for him! barked Raza, and the man left.
"Running out of time here," muttered Bruce anxiously.
"Relax," said the real Tony.
But Raza remained staring at the screen while his followers ran to follow his or
ders. He could just barely see Yinsen, partially hidden by something large, from
one of the screens.
The men went racing up to the door of Tony and Yinsen's workshop. "Yinsen!" bark
ed one, yanking aside the tab. "Yinsen!"
"Caught!" cried Steve.
"Not yet!" said the real Tony.
"Say something!" hissed onscreen Tony to Yinsen as the man yelled.
"He's speaking Hungarian," protested Yinsen. "I don't -"
"Than speak Hungarian," said Tony.

"Oh, yeah, just start talking in a language you don't half know!" snarked Clint,
flinging up his hands. "Cause that always works."
"Okay, I don't -" Yinsen gestured helplessly.
"What do you know?" asked Tony.
Yinsen shouted a reply to the men outside, twice.
The man outside shouted again, and this time the view showed an explosive wired
to the inside of the door.
"Oh boy!" said Scott.
The foremost of the men nodded to his comrades, and they pushed the door in.
There was a bang and a burst of fire, which knocked the assailants backward.
"Boom!" said Sam.
"And that's the beginning of it!" said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony looked nervously over his shoulder.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon," Bucky was muttering.
In the control room, one of the screens went grainy with a buzz and then complet
ely dark and silent as its camera was destroyed.
"Busted!" said Natasha.
Raza yelled to his men, and more of them went charging out and down toward the p
risoners' quarters. He picked up a walkie-talkie and shouted commands into it.
"C'mon guys, I know you two can do this!" said Betty.
"How'd that work?" asked Tony.
"Oh, my goodness!" said Yinsen, putting the last pieces of the Suit in place. "I
t worked, all right!"
"That's what I do," said Tony.
"Oh, and so humble too!" said Thor.
"Let me finish this," said Yinsen.
"Finish it later," said Tony. "Initialize the power sequence."
"Good God," cried Scott. "It's gotta load?!"
"Okay," said Yinsen, bending hastily over an old laptop.
"That thing is older than Wanda!" said Natasha.
"Now!" snapped onscreen Tony.
"Hey, best I had on hand!" said his real counterpart to Natasha.

"Tell me, tell me!" pleaded Yinsen.


"Function, eleven," said Tony, and Yinsen punched the keys. "Tell me when you se
e a progress bar. It should be up right now - talk to me, tell me when you see i
t -"
"There's no way this can work!" Steve blurted out.
"Yes," said Yinsen as over the lines of code a progress bar appeared on the scre
en of the laptop. "Yes, I have it."
"Good!" cheered Bruce.
"Press Control, I," said Tony.
"I, got it," said Yinsen, punching the keys.
"I, Enter," said Tony. "I, enter, come over here and button me up."
"It had to be buttoned?" asked Pepper incredulously.
"Okay," said Yinsen, punching the buttons and hurrying to finish fastening Tony
into the Suit. Slowly the progress bar began to load.
"Hey, I built it in a cave with a box of scraps!" said the real Tony to Pepper.
"There's no way that thing can load in time!" cried Bruce in dismay at the same
time.
The men rushed through the caves, shouting; Tony glanced frantically at Yinsen a
s the yells came closer.
"They're coming, they're coming!" Cooper's leg was jumping with nervous exciteme
nt.
"They're coming!" hissed Yinsen as he worked.
"It doesn't have to be pretty, just get it done," said Tony.
"Hurry, hurry, hurry!" chanted Jane.
"They're coming. . ." said Yinsen, still fastening.
The men went tearing along a passageway.
"Now make sure the check points are clear before you follow me, all right?" said
Tony as Yinsen took a look at the progress bar, which was only about a third of
the way loaded.
"We need more time," said Yinsen, turning back to Tony. "I'm going to buy you so
me time."
"No! Stop! Come back!" wailed Thor.
"Stick to the plan!" shouted Tony as he ran off. "Stick to the plan!"
But Yinsen had grabbed up a weapon from the floor where the men had been blasted
backward earlier, and fired it into the air as he ran down the passageway.
"Not the doctor again!" Scott flung up his hands.

The real Tony didn't speak. Wanda glimpsed the memory being replayed in his own
mind, Yinsen vanishing from his sight for what would be the last time - but one.
"Yinsen!" shouted onscreen Tony, and when there was no reply from Yinsen he turn
ed in dismay to look at the laptop screen. The progress bar was only about half
full.
"Are you fucking kidding me?!" bellowed Steve.
"Yinsen!" wailed Darcy.
"It's not loading! It's not loading!" cried Peter.
"It is loading, it's just loading slow," said Bruce anxiously.
The men went tearing down the corridor that led directly to the place where Yins
en and Tony had been held; but a moment later they all went running in the oppos
ite direction, howling. Yinsen came running after them, firing the gun and shout
ing.
"No don't, please don't!" moaned Laura.
Yinsen came to a halt when he reached the opening of the caves, for there in fro
nt of him were over a score of men, all with their weapons trained on him. Raza
was standing among them.
"No, no, no, not Yinsen! I liked that guy!" protested Rhodey.
In the room where the Suit was, the progress bar finally filled up.
"FINALLY!" howled Cooper.
The laptop beeped, and the dim lights started flickering before going out comple
tely. There was a great metal clanking.
"The Suit drained the power?" asked Fury.
"Not much power to begin with," said Tony.
Half a dozen of Raza's other men were just making their way to Tony's workshop,
passing their fallen comrades as they approached the door. They hesitated, obvio
usly apprehensive and unwilling to go in. They held their weapons ready, and one
by one they tiptoed in. They passed the remains of Tony and Yinsen's work, whic
h by now could not be mistaken for the makings of a missile.
Once again, the viewers held their breath.
At the end of a metal tube, a gloved hand stirred.
"Oh!" cried Vision, eyes flying wide.
A bright light came on behind the head of one of the men, who turned to look.
"Wait for it. . ." said the real Tony with a smirk.
The Suit came to life. Tony dealt the man a blow which sent him flying backward
with a cry.
"At last!" Sam blew out his breath in relief.

"All right! Let's go!" cheered Peter.


The men who were standing outside the doors fired wildly inside, and then stoppe
d and waited.
"You're all doomed, guys," said Maria gleefully.
One of the men had just spoken to the others (probably something like "Let's go,
") before the Arc Reactor lit up again, and the Suit came to life just beside th
em, knocking them out of its way. They fired at it, but could not damage it at a
ll.
"In a cave, with a pile of scrap metal, in captivity and under surveillance," St
eve was shaking his head in disbelief.
Then Tony straightened up, and began to walk. Step by step he made his way forwa
rd, heedless of the gunfire from the soldiers who were now backing away from him
. He knocked them aside out of the way as he passed them.
"Look how clumsy that thing is," scoffed the real Tony. "It was heavy, too."
"Looks like it does the damn job," said Fury.
"It did that," Tony admitted.
The men fled before him as he clanked after them in pursuit. They ran to another
set of doors and shut them, hoping to stall him, and stood on the other side, w
aiting fearfully.
"They really thought they could -" began Thor.
One of their number was left on the other side of the doors. He banged on the do
ors and howled at his fellows, looking behind him in terror to see the Suit clan
king up to him.
On the other side of the door, the men heard their compatriot's howls, and then
they were silenced as something crashed into the doors with a bang, bang, bang.
"Here it comes!" said Scott, rubbing his hands.
Just as the men began to lose their nerve and turn to flee, Tony broke down the
doors and flung them aside. His arm got stuck in a crevice of the rock as the me
n began to flee, and he had to stop to tug it out.
"Aw, hell!" said Bruce.
"See, that's what I mean," said the real Tony to Fury.
One of the men noticed and ran up to Tony to shoot him. But the bullet glanced o
ff the helmet with such force that it rebounded and killed the shooter.
"Whoa!" said Clint.
Tony yanked his arm free, and stalked forward.
In another part of the cave, Raza loaded his own gun and went to stand by the mo
uth of the cave. A few feet away, Yinsen lay coughing and choking, partly buried
under a pile of rice sacks.

"Oh, not the doctor!" protested Thor.


"Not this again. . ." moaned May.
Tony turned the corner and came into view. "Yinsen!" he shouted.
"Watch out," called Yinsen weakly, but Raza had already fired. It was a part of
what was to have been the Jericho missile, and so the shot was really a small ro
cket. It sailed into the wall next to Tony, who managed to move aside before it
went off.
"And, my turn!" said the real Tony with grim relish.
"Get him good!" said Sam.
Then onscreen Tony raised his arm, and fired his own blast from it, sending Raza
flying back into the cave wall behind him with a howl.
"That's more like it!" cheered Rhodey.
Hastily Tony knelt by Yinsen and pulled the rice sack from on top of him.
"Stark," panted Yinsen.
"Oh, no," moaned May.
Tony lifted his mask. "Come on," he said. "We've got to go. We've got a plan, we
've got to stick to it."
"This was always the plan, Stark," said Yinsen, his voice growing weaker.
"You didn't say so!" said Jane nearly in tears.
"C'mon, you're going to go see your family," said Tony. "Get up."
"My family's dead," said Yinsen, his voice sinking to a whisper (Thor slumped ba
ck against his chair). "I'm going to see them now, Stark." His breathing grew la
boured. "It's okay. I want this."
Tony seemed to accept this. "Thank you for saving me," he said quietly.
"Don't waste it," said Yinsen. "Don't waste your life." Then his breaths ceased.
Steve threw a strange look at the real Tony over his shoulder, and Wanda glimpse
d Erskine's death through his memory as Yinsen went still.
Onscreen Tony lifted his head, and looked over his shoulder.
"Oh, it's on now!" said Rhodey.
Outside the cave, there were men gathered with weapons, waiting for Tony to come
out.
"Yes, wait for your doom to come down upon you!" said Thor.
It was the glowing Arc Reactor that became visible first in the darkness of the
cave's mouth. Then the rest of the Suit came into view, pausing outside the entr
ance.
"Holy shit!" squawked Clint.

It was their first full view of the Suit. It glinted dark silver in the sunlight
, and for all that the Suits built since were certainly sleeker, more advanced,
and better fitting, the original Iron Man was intimidating in a way that most of
the other Suits could not be. It towered high above the heads of the men of the
Ten Rings, its forbidding mask staring down on them with death in its empty eye
holes.
"It's like the Dragon-Helm of Dor-lmin!" said Ian, and then went rather red. Nerd,
he thought at himself.
But Sharon's head jerked around. "It is, a little bit!" she said.
To give the soldiers their due, they did their duty faithfully. They began to fi
re, steadily and truly, their bullets glancing off the armour like so many plast
ic pellets. Tony just stood and waited for them to fire all their rounds at him.
"Wait, aren't you going to do anything?" asked Rhodey.
Then Tony said, "My turn." And he raised his arms.
Hell yeah!" Bucky pumped his single fist in the air.
Streams of fire rained down from the arms of the Suit, dousing anyone within rea
ch. Instant pandemonium reigned over the camp, men running this way and that to
avoid the flames. Tony set fire to everything, but most of all to the great pile
of his weapons.
"Really lighting it up, aren't you?" asked Steve.
Then, one of the men made his way up to a station from the mountainside above To
ny and began raining bullets down on him. From other relatively safe positions o
ther men started firing.
"Uh-oh," said Sam.
Tony staggered, and sank to his knees. The outer plates of the armour were begin
ning to fall off, leaving the internal tanks and cans exposed. He let another st
ream of fire from his undamaged arm, but then the pile of explosives began to go
off.
"Oh no," said Vision.
In the midst of the ruckus, Tony flipped a red switch on the underside of his le
ft arm. The Suit propelled into the air just as a mass explosion began down belo
w.
"It can fly too?!" asked Peter in amazement.
Great clouds of fire and smoke went sailing up toward the sky, and for a moment
it looked like Tony must certainly have been killed.
"Not exactly," said the real Tony.
Then up came the Suit, zooming out of the destruction, and it directed its fligh
t away from the remains of the encampment.
"Sure looks like it to me," said Pepper.
The Suit lost power with a sputter, and Tony plunged toward the sand with a yell

.
"Oh, never mind," said Pepper.
A moment later when the sand cleared, there was Tony in the middle of the wreck
of the Suit. He pulled off the remaining pieces with a grunt. "Not bad," he mutt
ered.
"Not bad at all!" said Steve.
"Are you okay?" asked Peter.
"Sorta," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony stumbled across the sand, his jacket over his head to keep off the
sun.
"You don't look okay," said Bruce.
"Yeah, okay, I'm trying not to get sunburned and my heart's failing," said the r
eal Tony. "What else you wanna know?"
Just as he came to the top of a high ridge and was about to go down the other si
de of it, a helicopter roared over his head.
"YES!" roared Steve.
"Was it you?" asked Thor of Rhodey.
"That was me!" said Rhodey.
"Hey!" roared Tony, waving madly. "Hey!"
The copters circled and came to land as Tony fell to his knees, his hand raised
with two fingers pointing up.
"Peace, guys," said the real Tony, and Pepper smiled.
Five men came running out of the copter when it landed, and one of them lifted h
is helmet as he neared Tony. "How was the fun-vee?" Rhodey asked.
"Oh, it was. . .fun," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony, exhausted and covered with drying blood, managed a weak smile.
Rhodey reached Tony and clamped his hand down on his shoulder. "Next time you ri
de with me, okay?" he said, and he drew Tony into a fierce hug.
"How long had it been?" asked T'Challa.
"Three months," said Fury.
The US Air Force One touched down, Pepper and Happy waiting for it in the airstr
ip. Pepper's eyes were flushed and her makeup was running.
"It was a long time, wasn't it?" said Laura.
The real Pepper sighed. "It was a very long time."
The ramp lowered, and inside the plane Rhodey pulled Tony to his feet and suppor

ted him as he slowly walked down the ramp. He looked worlds better than he had l
ooked when Rhodey had found him in the desert, but still not quite himself. His
right arm was in a sling.
It was odd, after seeing the frowning tower of metal that had been the first Iro
n Man Suit, to watch its maker picking his steps and leaning on the arm of his f
riend as he came home.
It was Natasha, sitting by Bucky as she was, who began clapping first. Peter joi
ned in heartily, Vision a bit clumsily, and one by one the other Avengers quickl
y followed in rapid succession.
As medical personnel came running up with a stretcher, Tony scoffed, "Are you ki
dding me with this? Get rid of that," with a dismissive gesture toward the stret
cher.
The real Pepper rolled her eyes. "Some things don't ever change."
Onscreen Pepper smiled through her tears as Tony walked up to her. "Hm," he said
. "Your eyes are red. Few tears for you long-lost boss?"
"Aw," said Sam and Clint in unison. Clint got slugged by Laura (who knew more th
an most about long periods of waiting for her hero to come home).
"Tears of joy," said onscreen Pepper, staring as if she could never stare enough
. "I hate job hunting."
"Yeah?" Steve lifted an eyebrow at Pepper. He had always been fond of her, as on
e eventually had to be fond of anyone who could keep Tony in line like she could
.
"Yeah, vacation's over," said Tony, and in another moment he and Pepper were in
the back seat of a car with Happy in the driver's seat.
The real Pepper's eyes lit up. "The press conference!" she cried.
"Yup, the press conference," said the real Tony.
"Where to, sir?" asked Happy.
"Take us to the hospital please, Happy -" began onscreen Pepper.
"No," said Tony.
"No?" said Pepper, turning and staring at him.
"No is a complete answer," said Tony immovably.
"And he always thinks it's all the explanation you need," said the real Pepper.
"Hey, I was on a mission," said the real Tony.
"Tony," protested onscreen Pepper. "you have to go to the hospital, the doctor h
as to look at you -"
"What would they have done with the Arc Reactor, though?" asked Jane.
"Fair point," conceded the real Pepper.
"I don't have to do anything, I've been captivity for three months," said Tony.

"There are two things I want to do. I want an American cheeseburger, and the oth
er -"
"That's enough of that," said Pepper, turning away. Half the room burst into gig
gles.
"- is not what you think," said Tony patiently. "I want you to call for a press
conference, now."
"Call for a press conference?!" Pepper seemed completely shocked. "What on earth
for?"
"Hogan, drive," said Tony. "Cheeseburger first."
And Happy drove off at once.
"You and your cravings," said Fury to Tony. "Every time you get out of a tough s
pot, you gotta eat something."
"Yeah, Cap jumps out of stuff, I get hungry after missions," said Tony.
"I don't think that's the same thing," said Vision.
When Happy pulled up to the curb, a number of well-dressed people were standing
waiting to meet him. They began to applaud as soon as they saw the car, and Obad
iah Stane sprang forward, arms outstretched.
"Look at this, eh?" he cried, pulling open Tony's door, and then as Tony stepped
out still working on his first cheeseburger he flung his arms round the younger
man's neck. "Oh, Tony!" He pulled back to look at him. "You didn't meet me at t
he hospital!" he said.
"Nope, no hospital," said the real Tony.
"Nah, that's fine," said Tony hastily, and he turned around and fished his other
cheeseburger out of the bag that Happy had just walked up to him.
"That could have been . . . interesting," said Pepper. The real Tony smirked at
her.
"Look at you!" Obadiah rubbed onscreen Tony's arm. "Oh, you have another burger?
"
"Why do you say that?" asked Steve of Pepper.
"No, I don't!" said Tony as he began to walk inside.
"C'mon, he's been kidnapped, let him have two cheeseburgers if he wants them," s
aid Darcy indulgently.
"You getting me one of those?" asked Obadiah.
"Thanks, Lewis," said the real Tony. "And no way!" The last words were directed
at the screen.
"This is the only one left, I need it," said onscreen Tony, and took another lar
ge bite of his first one.
He was still eating when he and Obadiah entered the conference room. "Hey, look
who's here!" called Obadiah, as the reporters saw him and began to applaud.

"Back from the dead!" said Natasha.


"That's what we do best around here," said Maria.
Tony made his way up to the podium through a crowd of eager photographers and we
ll-wishers.
Pepper remained at the back of the room, watching Tony and obviously wondering w
hat on earth was going on.
"Ms. Potts," said an achingly familiar voice. Phil Coulson was standing beside P
epper. "May I speak to you for a moment?"
"Coulson!" said Clint. "How ya doin'?"
"His team still kicking around out there?" asked Sharon curiously.
"Oh, they've lost a couple members and they've dealt with some shit, but yeah, t
hey're still there," said Fury. Clearly he wasn't willing to say more in the pre
sence of foreign royalty.
"I'm - I'm not part of the press conference -" Pepper pointed. "- but it's about
to begin right now."
"I'm not a reporter," said Phil Coulson. "I'm Agent Coulson with the Strategic H
omeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division." He offered her a car
d.
Bucky looked from Steve to Natasha, eyebrows arched. They both nodded at him. Sh
it! he mouthed. He had never heard the SHIELD acronym pronounced aloud before.
"Wait, SHIELD wanted to consult with Stark before the Suit was in the equation?"
asked Scott.
"That's quite a mouthful," said Pepper, but she took the card.
"Mm-hm," said Bucky, nodding.
"Why do you think we all say SHIELD?" asked Maria in irony.
"I know. We're working on it," said Phil.
"You know," said Pepper. "we've been approached already by the DOD, the FBI, the
CIA -"
"The FBI? Seriously?" scoffed Sharon. "That's asking for trouble."
"We're a separate division with a more specific focus," said Phil with the same
inscrutable smile. "We need to debrief Mr. Stark about the circumstances of his
escape."
"I'll put something in the book, shall I?" said Pepper.
"Good thing I did," said the real Pepper.
"Thank you," said Phil.
Just then Obadiah's voice wafted up from the microphone at the podium. "Okay, le
t's go ahead and get started!" he said.

"Oh, boy!" Sam leaned forward.

* * *

As always, thanks to all my reviewers, and please keep on reviewing!

Chapter 5: The Press Conference, Etc


Just got this one published on time!
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

"Ah. . ." Obadiah trailed off, and looked down in some bewilderment at Tony, who
had just sat down on the dais in front of the podium and was actually reaching
into his pocket for his second cheeseburger.
"Hey, would it be all right if everyone sat down?" asked Tony. "Why don't we jus
t sit down? That way you can see me and I can -" He lifted the sandwich. "- litt
le less formal, you know -" And he took a large bite of sandwich.
"You were serious about those burgers," said Natasha, amused.
"What'd you expect, Romanoff? Me after a mission, remember?" said the real Tony.
All the press people looked quizzically at each other, and slowly made their way
down to the floor. Obadiah came round from behind the podium and sat next to To
ny.
Rhodey came up beside Pepper. "What's up with the love-in?" he whispered.
"Wait and see," smirked Steve, who had seen the footage.
"Don't look at me," said Pepper. "I don't know what he's up to."
"Nor did we," said the real Rhodey. "Talk about dropping a bombshell . . ."
Tony whispered something to Obadiah, and Obadiah whispered back. All that could
be distinguished was Tony's reply of "I never got to say goodbye to my dad."
(Bucky gulped again.)
"Oh, we're going there, are we?" asked Laura.
"Here it comes!" said Peter eagerly.

"Here what comes?" asked Thor.


Tony raised his voice. "I never got to say goodbye to my father," he began, and
in the audience anyone with a camera or a recording device turned it on. "There'
s questions that I would have asked him. I'd have asked him how he felt about wh
at this company did - if he was conflicted, if he ever had doubts - or maybe he
was every inch the man we all remember from the newsreels."
"Oh, Howard," muttered Steve reproachfully, but he made sure Tony couldn't hear.
"What happened?"
Onscreen, Obadiah's head was bowed in consideration. Pepper watched, as ready as
anyone to hear what could possibly be coming. Rhodey's lip twitched.
"I saw young Americans killed," Tony went on. "By the very weapons created to de
fend them and protect them." Obadiah's eyes slid to his face. "And I saw that I
had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability."
"Did you think it was better than that before?" asked Scott wryly.
Tony eyed him. "As a matter of fact, I did."
Three or four reporters' hands went up at once. "Mr. Stark?" they said nearly in
unison.
Onscreen Tony pointed at one of them. "Okay, Ben."
"What happened over there?" asked the reporter.
"A lot," said the real Tony.
"Iron Man happened!" said Cooper.
"I had my eyes opened." Tony's voice rose and he stood up and went behind the po
dium. "I came to realize that I have more to offer this world than just making t
hings to blow up. ("Lucky us!" said Clint, without sarcasm) And that is why, eff
ective immediately, I am shutting down the weapons manufacturer division of Star
k International -"
The crowd went wild. Hands and shouts went up all over the room. Pepper's jaw dr
opped.
On the couch, Bucky's jaw dropped too. He looked at Natasha, who nodded with def
inite relish.
"Whoa!" muttered Sharon, impressed.
"That was when you stopped making weapons?" asked Thor of Tony in amazement.
T'Challa smiled, and Peter was beaming.
Onscreen, Obadiah sprang to his feet and rushed to the podium.
Tony was still speaking. "Until such a time as I can decide what the future of t
his company will be, what direction it should take -"
"Okay, okay," Obadiah was not-so-subtly pushing Tony away from the microphone. "
I think we're going to be selling a lot of newspapers - Tony, thank you -"

"Oh, he and Tony are going to have a talk, aren't they?" said May.
"Yep!" said the real Tony. "We are going to have a talk."
"- one that I am comfortable with, and is consistent with the highest good for t
his country as well," finished Tony as he walked away from the podium.
"Yep, total bombshell," said Maria.
The look on Rhodey's face was hard to decipher. He seemed to be equally shocked,
proud, and let down all at once. From the real Rhodey Wanda heard fragments of
'the conscience talk' that had always fallen on deaf ears before that day.
Obadiah attempted to take over the situation while hiding his own evident surpri
se. "What we should take away from this," he said ("Is that SI's switching marke
ts!" said Scott). "is that Tony's back! ("Oh, I'm back all right!" said the real
Tony.) And, ah, that he's healthier than ever." ("He's got his mind right, if n
othing else," said Rhodey.) The scene began to change as he spoke. "We're going
to have a little, ah, internal discussion, ("Ha!" said the real Tony) and we'll
get back to you with a follow up. . ."
Outside what seemed to be the main Stark Industries factory, Obadiah came rollin
g up on a segway with a cigar in his mouth. "Where is he?" he asked Happy, who w
as standing next to the parked car.
"Segways only look cool when certain people ride them," said Natasha.
"He's inside," said Happy, coming to take the segway presumably where it belonge
d as Obadiah climbed down from it.
"You saying you can't make one look cool?" asked Sam of Natasha.
"Not tall enough," said Natasha.
Obadiah took the cigar from his mouth, pulled out his keycard, and swiped it at
the door, which beeped and let him in.
The Arc Reactor prototype that powered the facility made the others gasp. "Wow,
that's big!" cried Bucky involuntarily.
"He did say it powered his factory!" said Maria.
Onscreen Tony was standing by the railing that surrounded the big Arc Reactor, s
taring into space.
"Well, that went well," said Obadiah sarcastically, the cigar back in his mouth.
"Oh, swimmingly!" said Pepper.
"Did I just paint a big target on the back of my head?" asked Tony.
"You bet you did!" said Rhodey.
"Your head?" Obadiah walked behind Tony to the other side of him. "What about my
head? What do you think the over and under of the stock drop is going to be tom
orrow?"
"Why didn't it occur to me that there was going to be money involved if you went
through with this?" Steve smacked his forehead. Wanda herself was thinking alon
g the same lines.

"Cause that's not how your brain works," said Sharon. "No reason it should."
"Ah, optimistically, forty points?" onscreen Tony guessed halfheartedly.
"At minimum," said Obadiah, coming round behind him again. Clint whistled.
"That's not how Tony thinks either though," said Pepper to Steve. "He just likes
to make things."
The man in question merely shrugged.
"Tony," said Obadiah. "We're a weapons manufacturer, we make weapons."
"Not anymore!" said the real Tony, with relish.
"Obie, I just don't want a body count to be our only legacy," said onscreen Tony
, turning around to face Obadiah fully.
"Can't be that simple," Bucky was muttering.
"That's what we do, we're ironmongers, we make weapons," Obadiah repeated.
Tony was having none of it. "It's my name on the side of the building -"
"Which means exactly nothing, so far as I can tell," said Thor.
"And what we do keeps the world from falling into chaos," said Obadiah.
"Or helps to keep it in chaos," muttered Natasha, and though she didn't look at
Wanda, she thought of her especially.
"Not based on what I saw," said Tony, staring his partner dead in the eye. "We'r
e not doing a good enough job. We can do better, we're going to do something els
e."
"Like what, you want us to make baby bottles?" snapped Obadiah.
"That's what you said to Christine!" said Jane merrily.
But Tony said, "I think we should take another look into Arc Reactor technology.
"
"Hey, sounds like a great idea!" said Bruce. "Let's learn a little more about wh
at's keeping me alive!"
"Ah, come on!" Obadiah scoffed. "The Arc Reactor?" He paced away, gesturing to t
he prototype in front of him. "That's a publicity stunt! Tony, come on, we built
that thing to shut the hippies up."
"Ha!" said the real Tony scornfully, and Wanda began to be interested. It had be
en in the making that long?
"That's not quite my recollection," said Vision, startling the others because he
'd been quiet now for quite some time.
"It works," said onscreen Tony.
"Yeah, as a science project!" said Obadiah, pacing around behind Tony again. "Th
e Arc was never cost-effective, we knew that before we built it." ("Why did they

build it, then?" asked Thor curiously.) He looked up again. "Arc Reactor techno
logy. That's a dead end, right?"
"Wait, isn't one kinda right there, like powering the plant or something?" asked
Cooper.
A smirk turned the corners of onscreen Tony's mouth. "Maybe," he said.
"Huh? Am I right?" Obadiah pressed. "We haven't had a breakthrough in that for w
hat, thirty years?"
"He knows!" said Steve, pointing.
"What'd they say?" Tony turned around to face Obadiah again.
Obadiah tried to look innocent.
"Not bad, Rogers," said the real Tony, though he didn't quite make eye contact.
"Could you have a lousier poker face?" asked onscreen Tony. "Just tell me, who t
old you?"
"Turncoat, by the way," said the real Tony to Rhodey. Rhodey held up his hands.
"Never mind who told me, show me -" said Obadiah.
"Rhodey. Rhodey or Pepper, it's Rhodey or Pepper," said Tony.
"Wasn't Pepper," said that individual.
"I want to see it," insisted Obadiah.
"Okay, Rhodey," said Tony, unbuttoning his shirt.
"Yeah, I know, there was a lot that shouldn't have happened around this point,"
said Rhodey.
Obadiah looked around, as if to make sure no one was watching, as Tony's chest w
as bared. There sat the Arc Reactor, glowing as bright as the core of its much l
arger predecessor.
"There it is," said Bruce.
"What's your deal, anyway?" asked Darcy of Obadiah, as if he could answer her.
"He must have found out he wasn't going to change my mind at that point," said T
ony.
Obadiah gave it one look, shook his head, and hastily began buttoning Tony up ag
ain. "Okay, ah, okay," he muttered, glancing around again with a nervous chuckle
.
"Hard to change your mind on much of anything," said Fury. "You think folks call
you Iron Man just 'cause you built a Suit?"
"If I didn't know better, I'd call that a compliment," said Tony.
"It works," said onscreen Tony firmly.
Obadiah gave him a considering look. Then he put his arm round Tony's shoulders

and leaned in toward his face. "Listen to me, Tony," he said. "We're a team, you
understand? There's nothing we can't do if we stick together. Like your father
and I. Tony -"
That seemed to annoy Tony. He leaned away from the older man. "I'm sorry I didn'
t give you a heads-up, okay?" he said ("No, I'm not," said the real Tony). "But
if I had, we -"
"Tony, Tony," Obadiah pulled Tony even closer to his head. Tony turned his face
away. "No more of this ready, fire, aim business, you understand -"
"That was dad's line," said Tony flatly, and he offered Obadiah a wide smile tha
t did not touch his eyes.
"Awkward," said Betty.
Obadiah removed his arm from Tony's shoulders. "You've got to let me handle this
," he said as he and Tony began to walk away. "We're going to have to play a who
le different kind of ball now. We're going to have to take a lot of heat, and I
want you to promise me that you're going to lay low."
"Wa, wa-wa, wa-wa-wa-wa," said Tony, flapping his hand open and shut. Giggles ri
ppled around the lounge, and Wanda saw Charlie Brown cartoons dancing across the
back of nearly all the Americans' memories.
The next scene, oddly enough was of an episode of Mad Money, a show that Wanda h
ad only rarely watched and had never heard referenced by the other Avengers with
any respect. T'Challa alone had never seen it before, and he was quickly discov
ering that he had in fact missed nothing.
"Please don't judge us by this, your Highness," pleaded Steve, grimacing.
"Stark Industries," the host, Jim Cramer, was saying dramatically, jabbing his f
inger at the camera. "I've got one recommendation. Ready? Ready?" He punched a b
utton on something that said "Sell-sell-sell!" He spun back around to face the c
amera. "Abandon ship!" An icon of two angry cartoon grizzly bears roared across
the screen. "Does the Hindenburg ring any bells?"
"The Hindenburg?" asked Thor, ruffling his brow. "The airship that caught fire?"
"Yes, Thor, and no, it's not funny - what, why are you watching this foolishness
?" asked Sam in surprise, turning to Pepper.
For on a backless chair in some lounge or other of Tony's Malibu mansion, Pepper
sat watching the show. She sighed in annoyance as an obvious movie-scream (Wand
a found movie-screams hilarious) rang from the TV along with a fake crash.
"Reactions to the press conference," said the real Pepper dryly. "Wasn't my choi
ce."
"So here's the new Stark Industries business plan!" roared Cramer, and he picked
up a baseball bat and slammed a coffee mug to pieces. Wanda began to think she'
d missed nothing by not watching the show. "Look! That's a weapons company that
doesn't make weapons!" And there came noises of guns you might hear in a video g
ame.
"Oh, go find some real news, can't you?" said May.
"Real news? Who does that?" said Fury.

"Pepper," came Tony's voice from the StarkPad in front of that individual, makin
g her start a bit and look down. "Um, how big are your hands?"
Nearly everyone except for Vision, Pepper and Tony choked with scandalized laugh
ter. But the moment was rather ruined for Wanda, who of course had an idea what
was coming. Vision merely wore an enigmatic smile.
She turned down the TV and pressed the icon that indicated Tony's 'call.' "Uh, w
hat?!"
"How big are your hands?" repeated Tony.
"Seriously?" said Sharon. "She's your secretary."
Pepper blinked. "I don't understand - why -"
"Get down here, I need you," said Tony.
The real Tony and Pepper both smirked. "Not that kind of job," said Pepper.
"No?" said Bruce, arching an eyebrow.
When Pepper keyed herself into Tony's workshop, a shirtless Tony was reclining o
n a chair next to a rather ominous-looking monitor, to which he was connected by
way of three cords - one red, one blue, and one white. He was holding another A
rc Reactor that looked slightly different from the one he was currently using.
"Oh, this is much worse!" said Thor.
"Hey," said Tony, looking over at his secretary as she entered.
She hesitated when she saw what was going on, obviously not having expected this
, and then slowly began approaching the chair.
"Yes, definitely worse," said the real Pepper. "Well, at least I only had to do
it once."
"No!" cried Peter. "You aren't going to help switch them out, are you?"
"Let's see them, show me your hands. Let me see 'em," said Tony as Pepper made h
er way over to him. She lifted her hands as she came up. "Oh, wow," said Tony. "
They are small. Very petite, indeed. I just, uh, need your help for a sec -" he
looked down distractedly at the Arc Reactor he was holding.
"Yep, it's a situation, Tony just asked for help," said Rhodey.
"Oh, my God," breathed Pepper in astonishment as she caught sight of the Arc Rea
ctor already inside Tony. "Is that the thing that's keeping you alive?"
"Gorgeous, isn't it?" said the real Tony.
"I'm just glad you're not wearing it anymore," said the real Pepper.
"It was," said onscreen Tony. "It is now an antique. This -" he lifted the secon
d Arc Reactor. "Is what will be keeping me alive for the forseeable future. And
I'm swapping it out for an upgraded unit, and I just ran into a little speed bum
p."
"Speed bump?" asked Scott suspiciously.

"Speed bump?" asked Pepper in some apprehension. "What do you - what does that m
ean?"
"Can't be good," said Steve.
"Nothing, just a little snag," said Tony. "There's an exposed wire under this de
vice -" He reached down with his free hand and clicked the first Arc Reactor, sl
iding it out of what the viewers could now see was its metal casing. "- that's c
ontacting the socket wall and it's causing a little bit of a short - it's -" He
jerked out the Arc Reactor, disconnecting the short cable at the back of it from
the socket wall with a snap and a buzz that made everybody start a bit.
"Sheesh," muttered Clint.
"Fine," finished Tony, handing Pepper the Reactor.
"Wh-what do you want me to do?" asked Pepper.
"Put that on the table over there, that is irrelevant," said Tony.
"Oh, my God," groaned Pepper as she put down the thing and turned back to Tony.
"I just want you to reach in," said Tony. "And you're just going to gently lift
the wire out -"
"Uh-oh," said Peter.
"Is it safe?" asked Pepper anxiously, peering down the socket wall and up at Ton
y's face.
"Yeah, it should be fine," said Tony. "It's just like Operation ("We'll show you
later," said Pepper to Thor and indirectly to T'Challa), you just don't let it
touch the socket wall -" he indicated the sides of the hole. "- and it goes beep
-"
"I wouldn't call it a beep," said Clint.
"What do you mean, Operation?" asked Pepper.
("You never played it?" Rhodey asked the real Pepper.)
"It's just a game, never mind," said Tony. "Just gently lift the wire. Okay? Gre
at."
He shot her a look that indicated he was probably just as nervous as she was.
"Yeah, just lift out the wire," said Scott. "Easy, no hassle."
"Okay," Pepper started lowering her fingers into the socket.
"And right then is when it hit me," said the real Pepper as her onscreen cringed
and pulled her hand out. "You know, I don't think I'm qualified to do this -"
"No, you're fine," said Tony reassuringly. "You are the most capable, qualified,
trustworthy person I've ever met." He looked into her worried face. "You're goi
ng to do great."
"Adorable moment totally ruined by the fact that somebody could die right now,"
said Rhodey.

"Hey, she did it," said the real Tony. "Why do you think I'm here?"
Onscreen Pepper just looked more worried.
"Is it too much of a problem to ask?" said Tony. "Because I really need your hel
p here -"
"Yeah, I'm just dying," said the real Tony.
"Way to motivate her!" Jane grimaced.
"Okay, okay," Pepper seemed to be recovering her nerve. She took a deep breath a
nd prepared to plunge her hand into the socket again.
There was a sucking sound of some liquid. Exclamations like "Oh my God!" and "Wh
at the hell?!" and most of all "Ew, ew, ewww!" went up around the lounge.
Wanda gagged a bit as the memory of the feel of the slimy liquid prickled over P
epper's hand.
Onscreen Pepper was grimacing and wincing. "Oh, there's pus!" she squeaked.
"Pus?!" cried Bruce in alarm.
"Not pus," said the real Tony.
"It's not pus," said onscreen Tony. "It's an inorganic plasmic discharge, it's f
rom the device, not from my body -" His back arched, as Pepper seemed to have go
t to the bottom of the socket.
"Discharge from the device?! That's even worse!" said Bruce.
"It smells!" wailed Pepper.
"Blech," Steve gagged.
Wanda felt a bit nauseous as the smell came through Pepper's nose.
"Yeah, it does," said Tony as Pepper's hand began moving and twisting. "The copp
er wire. The copper wire, you got it?"
"Oh yeah, the wire," said Natasha. "Kind of forgot with all the pus-not-pus."
"Okay, I got it, I got it," squeaked Pepper, her hand obviously closing around s
omething and then beginning to lift.
"Okay - you got it? Now don't let it touch the s-"
NIZZZZ! went the device.
"Mother-umm!" Bucky squawked.
"AGH!" screeched Thor, jumping.
"-IDES, ides -" yelped onscreen Tony. "- when you're coming up, that's what I wa
s trying to tell you before -"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," said poor Pepper, directing the wire away fro
m the metal sides as she lifted it out.

"Oh boy, okay," breathed Steve. "Oh, man."


"- now just make sure that when you pull it out that you don't pull out the magn
et -"
A donut-shaped magnet came sailing out of the socket, dripping a clear, slimy su
bstance.
"There is goes!" said Vision.
"It's dripping!" shouted Peter at the same time.
The monitor began beeping madly.
"- at the e-end of it - that was it," said Tony as the monitor began beeping mad
ly. "You just pulled it out - okay, I was not expecting that -"
"This can't end well!" whimpered Jane.
"Jesus Christ," muttered Fury, his eye flicking over to the real Tony.
"I can't look," said Rhodey, his hand over his eyes. "I can't watch Tony die aga
in."
"I got nine lives, I'm fine," said the real Tony.
"I hope you've got more, because if not you're on your last," said the real Pepp
er.
"Oh God, okay," onscreen Pepper was obviously trying not to panic. "What do I do
, what do I -"
"Don't put it back in, don't put it back in!" said Tony sharply as her hand bega
n to descent toward the cavity in his chest. She hastily put it down beside the
first Arc Reactor and turned back around. "What's wrong?" she asked, seeing the
lines in Tony's face and hearing the monitor screaming.
"Oh, nothing," said Tony. "I'm just going into cardiac arrest ("Heart attack?!"
roared Thor.) because you yanked it out like a tout -"
"Dear God," said Bruce in a voice like prayer.
"What?!" wailed Pepper. "I thought you said this was safe!"
"Note to self: when Stark says anything is safe, do not believe him," said Natas
ha.
"We've got to hurry," Tony handed her the other Arc Reactor. "Take this, take th
is, we gotta switch it out really quick. . ."
"Can't believe I'm watching this," said the real Tony.
Pepper took the Arc Reactor. "Tony - Tony," she said. "It's gonna be okay -"
"Just put it in!" hissed Laura.
"Is it?" grunted Tony.
"I - I'm going to make this okay," finished Pepper.

"C'mon! Just do it!" said Rhodey.


"Give her some credit, she's trying to calm him down," said Bruce.
"Let's hope," said Tony as Pepper bent over him. "Okay, you're going to attach t
hat to the base plate, and make sure you -"
The cable connected with another nzzz!
"YEOOOW!" yelped Tony, making everyone jump again one last time.
"And it's over!" said the real Tony.
"It's over?" said Jane.
As the wild beeping subsided and Pepper let the rest of the new Arc Reactor down
into the socket, he took it from her. "I got it, I got it," he said, and clicke
d it in. "Nice."
"It's over," said the real Pepper.
"Well, whoop-de-do, that was fun," said Clint, rubbing his forehead.
Onscreen Pepper stood with wide eyes and dripping hands. "Are you okay?" she bre
athed.
"I feel great," said Tony, and Pepper sagged with relief. "Are you okay?"
"Not so much," said the real Pepper.
Onscreen Pepper groaned, and Tony burst out laughing.
"Don't ever, ever, ever ask me to do anything like that, ever again," said Peppe
r.
"And I didn't!" said the real Tony.
"I don't have anyone but you," said onscreen Tony suddenly, staring up at Pepper
with unexpected sincerity.
Pepper gazed back at him for a moment.
"Aw!" said Natasha.
Rhodey began making kissing noises. Tony aimed a punch at him.
The right side of onscreen Tony's face puckered. "Anyway," he said, and he sat u
p and pulled off the monitor wires and climbed out of the chair. Pepper quietly
wiped her hands.
"Moment's over," said Steve.
"What do you want me to do with this?" asked Pepper, picking up the old Arc Reac
tor.
"That?" said Tony dismissively. "Destroy it. Incinerate it." He tapped on the ne
w unit.
"Hey, that thing's a technological miracle," said Bruce. "Just because you upgra
ded it doesn't mean -"

"You don't want to keep it?" asked Pepper.


"Pepper," said Tony. "I've been called many things. Nostalgic is not one of them
."
"Have to agree with you on that," said Rhodey.
"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?" asked Pepper.
"That will be all, Ms. Potts," said Tony.
"Oh, just start the smooching already!" said Clint. "Honestly, Stark, you're as
bad as Cap."
"I resent that, Katniss," said Tony.
Steve just sighed and shrugged. He couldn't argue.
And he turned to one of his robots, who had actually been hovering over him all
the time he'd been sitting in the chair. "Hey, Butterfingers," he said as Pepper
turned and walked away, still holding the Arc Reactor reverently. The bot follo
wed his hand. "What's all this stuff doing on top of my desk? That's my phone, t
hat's a picture of me and my dad - right there, in the garbage." He looked up af
ter Pepper, his fingers drumming absently on his new Arc Reactor.
The real Tony indulged in a small, secret smile.

* * *

Bruce is in biochemistry, nuclear physics, and gamma radiation. Betty teaches ce


llular biology. Erik and Jane are astrophysicists. The Arc Reactor appears to be
outside of everyone's area of expertise except Tony's, and perhaps Scott's.
As always, thanks for all your support! It helps keep the updates nice and regul
ar.

Chapter 6: Mk II
Fair warning, I might not be able to update tomorrow. I should be back by Monday
, though.
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

There was a brief shot of a military plane taking off, and then of Rhodey giving

a demonstration to a line of new cadets inside a military hangar. "The future o


f air combat," he was saying. "Is it manned or unmanned? ("Please don't say unma
nned," said Clint, and Wanda glimpsed papers' worth of statistics.) I tell you,
in my experience, no unmanned aerial vehicle will ever trump a pilot's instinct,
his insight - that ability to look beyond the obvious and discern its outcome or a pilot's judgment."
"You got it," said Rhodey.
"Colonel," said the voice of Tony, and there he was, walking up to Rhodey from s
ome other entrance. "Why not a pilot without the plane?"
"That was it, wasn't it?" asked Peter eagerly, pointing.
"That was it," said the real Tony.
Onscreen Rhodey grinned and gestured. "Look who fell out of the sky, Mr. Tony St
ark!"
"Ah, the Suit becomes official now!" said Thor.
"Speaking of manned or unmanned," said Tony as he shook the hand of one of the c
adets. "You've got to get him to tell you about the time he guessed wrong at spr
ing break. Just remember that - spring break, 1987, that lovely lady you woke up
next to, what was his name?"
The cadets laughed.
So did the Avengers (all except for Rhodey, and May and Laura - Clint looked fai
rly resigned). "What's this, Colonel?" asked Vision mischievously.
"Don't do that," said onscreen Rhodey.
"Later," said the real Rhodey with a sigh.
"Was it Ivan?" Tony went on.
"Oh-ho, it's like that!" chortled Scott.
"Don't do that, they'll believe that," said onscreen Rhodey. "Don't do that."
"So it didn't happen?" asked Sam.
"Yeah, it happened!" said the real Tony, grinning.
Wanda tried to un-see the indistinct but very interesting memories coming from t
he military man.
"Okay, okay," said onscreen Tony. "Pleasure meeting you," he added to all the st
ill-smiling cadets.
"Give us a couple of minutes, you guys," said Rhodey.
"Here it comes," said the real Tony, and the real Rhodey sighed again.
As the cadets walked off and Tony turned to him, Rhodey added, "I'm surprised. I
swear I didn't expect to see you walking around so soon."
"Yeah, maybe he should still be resting," said Bruce significantly. The real Ton
y cut him a sideways look.

"Well, I'm doing a little better than walking," said onscreen Tony, smiling a bi
t.
"I'll say you are," said Pepper.
Rhodey folded his arms. "Really?"
"Yeah," said Tony, and his eyes gleamed with the quiet excitement of an artist w
ho has just embarked on what he knows to be his life's work. "Rhodey, I'm workin
g on something big. I came to talk to you - I want you to be part of it."
"Wow, in on the ground floor!" said Jane.
"Not quite," said Vision.
Rhodey smiled with relief. "You're about to make a whole lot of people around he
re really happy," he said. "Cause that little stunt at the press conference - th
at was a doozy."
"You have to understand," said the real Rhodey in response to the looks that he
was getting from those not already familiar with the situation. "Tony was always
saying crazy things just for shock value."
Onscreen, Tony hesitated. "This is not the military," he said. "I'm not - it's d
ifferent."
Rhodey frowned skeptically. "What, you a humanitarian now or something?"
"Ha!" snorted Scott.
"I'm gettin' there," said the real Tony wryly.
"I need you to listen to me," began onscreen Tony.
"No, what you need is time to get your mind right," said Rhodey, worry evident i
n both his face and his voice.
"He thought I had PTSD," said the real Tony.
"Yeah, I had reason, you were in captivity for three months," said the real Rhod
ey.
Onscreen Tony pulled a grimace that was probably supposed to be a smile.
"I'm serious," said onscreen Rhodey.
Tony nodded. "Okay," he said softly.
"That was my chance," said the real Rhodey.
"Life gives second chances, War Machine," said Natasha.
Still looking anxiously at him, Rhodey began to walk away. "Nice seeing you, Ton
y," he said, and he went to join the cadets.
"Thanks," said Tony, his face full of disappointment.
No one spoke, but a few sighs weaved throughout the lounge.

There came a brief shot of Tony's mansion by the sea, and then of Tony's hands b
rushing over his holographic keyboard.
"JARVIS, you up?" he asked.
"GOOD MORNING, JARVIS!" shouted Bucky and Natasha and Peter and Cooper all toget
her.
"For you, sir, always," said the refined voice of the AI.
"You don't even sleep as an android," said Pepper to Vision.
Tony gazed over his two screens, one of which showed an image of the original Ir
on Man Suit and another full of code. "I'd like to open a new project file," he
said. "indexed as Mark Two."
"I do not require sleep, Miss Potts," said Vision. "Unlike Mr. Stark." He looked
significantly at Tony.
"He's got you there," said Pepper as Tony spluttered.
Onscreen Tony used a small remote to move the Iron Man image from the screen of
his computer to a holotable behind the desk.
"Damn, if you had that kind of tech back when people were using flip phones and
sliders -" Clint shook his head.
"Shall I store this on the Stark Industries Central Database?" inquired JARVIS.
"Nope!" said Jane cheerfully.
"Honestly don't know who to trust right now," said Tony, getting up and enlargin
g the image. "Till further notice, why don't we just keep everything on my priva
te server?"
"Working on a secret project, are we, sir?" said JARVIS, and Wanda could have sw
orn she heard a conspiratorial note in the bodiless voice.
"You got no idea," said the real Tony.
"Indeed not," Vision agreed.
Onscreen Tony moved some part of the image from the whole and threw it in a holo
graphic trash bin. "I don't want this winding up in the wrong hands," he said. H
e spun it around and threw another part in the recycle bin. "Maybe in mine can a
ctually do some good."
"About the only thing I've created I can actually say that about," said the real
Tony grimly.
"Hey, what about the Arc Reactor?" asked Ian. "Aren't they getting ready to buil
d that into cars?"
Tony brightened considerably.
Far away in the desert, a number of men with protective masks were digging up th
e remains of Tony's Suit.
"You have got to be kidding me," said Bruce

"Aw, hell, they're gonna try to remake it!" said Bucky


One of them picked up the mask, and held it up as the sand poured from it. He tu
rned and called out to someone.
It was Raza turned around to look, and the viewers could see that the right side
of his bald head was all blistered and burned.
"Good work, Iron Man!" said Pepper. Tony gave her a high five.
Raza shouted a command to the man which must have meant something like "bring me
that", for the man with the mask walked over and handed it to him. Raza held it
up, studying it closely.
"Yeah, good luck!" said Rhodey.
In the workshop, Tony was at work on what was clearly the beginning of a new Iro
n Man Suit, specifically the "boot" - that is, the portion that covered the foot
and ankle. Dum-E was helping, or trying to help.
Apparently Dum-E was rather a sub-par worker, for Tony was scolding it relentles
sly (enough to make Wanda feel quite sorry for the bot).
"Next," said Tony. "Up. Not in the boot, Dum-E, right here. You got me? Stay put
. Nice." He lifted his head. "You're of no benefit at all. Move down to the toe,
I got this. Okay, I'm sorry, am I in your way?"
Peter was laughing quietly (so was Wanda, she couldn't help it).
"Sheesh, poor Dum-E," said Darcy.
"He always talks to - uh, to Dum-E, like that?" asked Steve.
"Dum-E was built twenty-five years ago," said Vision.
"So why don't you replace him?" asked Betty of Tony. "I mean, you created an AI
with a whole personality of his own; a more helpful robot shouldn't be a problem
."
"I dunno, the other ones were U (just the letter U, not you the pronoun) and But
terfingers," said Bruce before Tony could speak.
"Up," said onscreen Tony again, and then, "Screw it, don't move. You are a trage
dy."
"I can't believe I'm even asking," said Scott. "But, ah, does Dum-E ever get its
feelings hurt?"
"Him - his feelings," said the real Tony. "And no."
"Yes, on occasion," said Vision at the same time.
"Figures," said Scott.
Onscreen Tony blew the dust and crud off his tool and set it down. Then he opene
d the boot.
The next scene seemed to be shown through the camera of another of his bots. Ton
y was wearing a boot on each foot and guards on his arms. He was holding two met
al handlebars in one hand.

"Okay, who put these videos together and how did they get footage from U?" asked
the real Tony.
Wanda assumed U was the bot holding the camera they were looking through.
"Okay, let's do this right," said onscreen Tony as he stepped carefully backward
onto a large grid on the floor made of black squares with grey lines.
"Hoo boy!" said Rhodey.
"Start mark, half a meter and back to center." Tony reached the middle of the gr
id and blew out his breath. "Dum-E, look alive," the bot clicked to attention. "
you're on standby for fire extinguisher safety. ("Fire extinguisher safety?!" cr
ied Thor) U," he pointed at the camera bot. "roll it."
"No worries, Thor," said the real Tony.
"I'm worried," said Thor.
The two bots got to work, and onscreen Tony took a handlebar in each hand. "Acti
vate hand controls," he said, wriggling a little bit to get comfortable and beca
use he was probably nervous.
"We're going to start off nice and easy, we're going to see if ten percent thrus
t capacity achieves lift. In three, two, one."
"Boom!" said Steve.
The hand controls came to life with a split-second surge of power that propelled
Tony into the air. His feet flew up over his head and he banged into the ceilin
g. He fell with a crash.
The Avengers were equally divided between laughing and wincing. "You okay there?
" asked Clint in spite of himself.
"I'm fine, Daddy," said Tony. Laura and Cooper both thought this was hilarious;
Clint scowled.
Dum-E blew a cloud of steam at onscreen Tony.
Back at his computer, Tony adjusted the arm portions of the Suit, and reviewed t
hem at the holotable. He slipped his arm inside the digital tube, a ball of ligh
t fitting comfortably in his palm.
"And that is the first flight stabilizer," said the real Tony.
"So it pushes down while the - uh - flight rays in the boots actually push you u
p and let you fly?" asked Darcy.
Tony winced. "Did you just say flight rays in the boots, Lewis?"
Onscreen Tony had just fitted the metal skeleton on his arm and was examining it
when Pepper keyed herself in to the workshop. She was carrying a coffee mug on
top of a box. "I've been buzzing you," she said. "Did you hear the intercom?"
"No, of course not," said the real Pepper.
"Yeah," said Tony distractedly. "Everything's - what?"

"Obadiah's upstairs, what would you like me to tell him?" asked Pepper.
"That I'm busy," said the real Tony.
"Great, great, I'll be right up," said onscreen Tony. He straightened up, the ar
m inside the metal-and-wire casing held out with a stabilizer sitting in his han
d.
"I thought you said you were done making weapons," said Pepper, setting down the
box and the coffee mug.
"Define 'weapon,'" said the real Tony. Pepper and Rhodey rolled their eyes.
"It is," said onscreen Tony rather breathlessly as he leaned forward to push a b
utton with his free hand. "This is a flight stabilizer. It's completely harmless
."
"I wouldn't say -" began Vision.
The stabilizer came to life, blasting Tony backward into something with a bang a
nd a crash.
"- harmless, exactly," finished Vision.
Onscreen Pepper covered her ears and winced.
"I didn't expect that," came Tony's voice from the floor.
"I was," said Rhodey. "Crazy scientist."
Tony jogged up the stairs to what seemed to be a lounge, all evidence of his wor
k gone, the Arc Reactor glowing brightly. Someone was playing the piano.
"Salieri?" asked Maria, surprised. "Who plays? Oh, Stane."
"How'd it go?" asked onscreen Tony of Obadiah.
Obadiah smiled and continued playing.
"He's better at setting the mood than I thought," said the real Tony thoughtfull
y.
"How's that?" asked Sharon sharply.
Onscreen Tony looked down and saw a box of pizza on the coffee table. Pepper was
sitting on the couch nearby, busy at her laptop.
"That bad?" asked Tony, eyeing the pizza box.
"Just because I brought pizza back from New York doesn't mean it went badly," sa
id Obadiah, his eyes on the sheet music in front of him.
"Usually it did," said the real Pepper. "Comfort food, you know."
"Uh-huh," said Tony, sitting down and opening the box. "Sure doesn't. Oh, boy."
He pulled out a slice and began to eat it.
"That was good pizza," said the real Tony rather longingly.
"Wait, he flew a pizza from New York to California? Wasn't it cold?" asked Coope

r.
"It's pizza from New York," said Sam. "I'd eat it."
"Would have gone better if you were there," said Obadiah, getting up from the pi
ano.
"Uh-uh," said Tony. "You told me to lay low, that's what I've been doing. I lay
low, and you take care of all of it."
"Hey, come on - in public, the press," said Obadiah, coming over to join Tony by
the pizza box. "This was a board of directors' meeting."
"Oh, that sounds ominous," said Scott.
"It is," said Pepper.
That made onscreen Tony sit up. "This - this was a board of directors' meeting?"
he asked.
"The board," said Obadiah. "is claiming you have post-traumatic stress. They're
filing an injunction."
"They what?" Bucky blinked.
"The people who helped Stark run his company took legal action to prevent him fr
om going through with shutting down weapons manufacturing," explained Steve pati
ently.
"A what?" Onscreen Tony gaped.
"They want to lock you out," said Obadiah.
"Could they do that?" asked T'Challa skeptically.
"Actually no, because Obie and I owned the controlling interest," said the real
Tony.
"Why?" demanded onscreen Tony. "Because the stocks dipped forty points? We knew
that was going to happen."
"Wait," said Scott, frowning. "So the only person who really could've locked him
out is -"
"Fifty six and a half," said onscreen Pepper absently.
"Whoa!" said Clint.
"It doesn't matter," growled onscreen Tony, turning to glare at the woman. "We o
wn the controlling interest in the company."
"You and Stane," said Thor shrewdly.
"Uh-huh," said Scott.
Wanda began to get an idea where this was going. This was going to be very inter
esting.
Obadiah sighed and shook his head. "Tony, the board has rights too," he said pat
iently. "They're making the case that you, and your new direction, isn't in the

company's best interest."


"The nefarious 'they'," said Steve. "He's the one who filed, isn't he?"
"You catch on quick, Spangles," said the real Tony.
Spangles, not Rogers, went through Steve's mind before he could stop himself.
"I'm being responsible," snapped onscreen Tony. "That's a new direction? For m for the company?"
Obadiah's eyebrows arched incredulously.
"Well, yeah, it was," said Rhodey.
"He couldn't have thought filing an injunction would stop Stark from going throu
gh with it," said Betty. "Weren't you two partners for a solid thirty years?"
"I mean, me on the company's behalf," said Tony, looking toward Pepper for suppo
rt, but her face was blank. "being responsible for the way that -"
Pepper sighed.
"Screw it," muttered Tony, getting up and grabbing the pizza box.
"Where exactly were you in all this, anyway?" asked Laura of Pepper.
"Oh, I was all over it," said the real Pepper. "I think you'll find out."
"Hey, come on!" protested Obadiah as his younger partner strode toward the stair
s that led down to the workshop. "Hey, Tony - Tony!"
"I'll be in the shop," said Tony over his shoulder.
"Hey, hey, hey, - Tony, listen -" Obadiah caught Tony by the shoulder and turned
him around. "I'm trying to turn this thing around ("That you are!" said Sam.) b
ut you've got to give me something. Something to pitch 'em. Let me have the engi
neers analyze that," he pointed at the Arc Reactor ("No way!" cried Peter indign
antly). "You know, draw up some specs -"
"No," said Tony flatly.
"What were they even going to do with it anyway?" asked the real Tony rather sco
rnfully.
"It'll give me a bone to throw the boys in New York!" Obadiah's voice rose.
"No, absolutely not, this one stays with me," Tony's voice also rose. "That's it
, Obie. Forget it." He turned for the stairs again.
"Well, then, this stays with me," Obadiah snatched the pizza box from Tony. "Go
on, here, you can have a piece. Take two."
"How generous of you," said Clint in amusement.
Tony came back and took another piece of pizza, said, "Thank you!" and marched o
ff down the stairs.
"Mind if I come down there and see what you're doing?" called Obadiah.

"He never let anyone down there," said Pepper.


"Except for you, and Mr. Stane on occasion," said Vision.
"Goodnight, Obie," said onscreen Tony as he vanished.
And then Tony was back on the grid, standing in front of U again. He was now wea
ring the boots and the arm covers. "Day Eleven, test," he said. ("Oh, dear," sai
d Vision.) "Thirty-seven configuration two-point-zero. For lack of a better opti
on, Dum-E is still on fire safety. ("Hey, c'mon!" said Sam. "Go easy on him.") I
f you douse me again -" pointing sternly at the bot. "- and I'm not on fire, I'm
donating you to a city college."
Erik and Betty both arched an eyebrow.
"You two were at Culver, don't look at me like that," said the real Tony.
Poor Dum-E lowered his arm in protest.
Tony leaned forward, knees slightly bent. "Okay, nice and easy," he said. "Serio
usly. . .just going to start off with one percent thrust capacity. In three, two
, one. . ."
The lifters in the boots and the stabilizers in his hands roared to life, liftin
g him into the air. His arms flew out as he fought to maintain his balance. He r
ose about two or three feet off the ground and hovered there, the rays from his
boots occasionally throwing him slightly sideways.
"Hey, they did it!" said Rhodey, and one by one the Avengers began to applaud.
"All right for Tony and JARVIS!" said May.
Vision opened his lips to speak.
"Bro," said Rhodey. "We get it - you're not JARVIS. Just take the credit."
"I was only going to say 'and Dum-E'," said Vision. The real Tony snorted.
Then, after a few minutes, onscreen Tony came down with a thud, landing on both
feet with his arms still stretched out. "Okay," he panted.
Dum-E moved its arm, and Tony turned and looked at it.
"What now?" asked Fury.
"Please don't follow me around with it either," said onscreen Tony. "Cause I fee
l like I'm going to catch on fire, spontaneously. Just stand down. If something
happens, then come in."
Dum-E folded itself down meekly.
"Hey, he's being vigilant, which is not a bad thing to be around you in inventor
mode, from what I can see," said Clint.
"And again, let's bring it up to two-point-five," Tony braced himself again. "Th
ree, two, one . . ."
His boots lifted him into the air again, and he turned on the flight stabilizers
once he'd lifted a few feet off the floor. He began moving around the workshop,
which Wanda noticed for the first time was actually in his garage (if one could

call it a garage). The flight rays in the boots seemed slightly outside Tony's
control; he had by now drifted over toward his row of cars.
"Oops," said Rhodey.
"Those look. . .expensive," said Maria unnecessarily.
"Okay, this is where I don't wanna be-ee!" said onscreen Tony. "Ah, not the car,
not the car. . ." But he was moving forward over the row of cars. "Yikes. . ."
"Uh-oh," said Sharon.
Then the flight rays carried him over in the direction of his work station, incl
uding his desk which was covered with papers. The papers began to blow.
"Those look important!" said Jane.
But the real problem now seemed to be that Tony was headed directly for the wall
. He thrust one of his hands out in front of him, and his flight began to carry
him backward.
"Eek!" said Steve.
"Eh-heh. . .could be worse, could be worse!" said onscreen Tony as he managed to
steer himself back over the grid. "We're fine. . .okay. . .we're good. . ."
"So far. . ." said Rhodey.
He brought his arms by his sides as the boots began to power down. He turned off
the flight stabilizers as he descended, and once again came down feet first on
the black grid. He staggered a little as he landed with a thump.
"Hurrah!" said Thor.
Onscreen Tony steadied himself and turned to look at Dum-E. Dum-E raised his arm
and pointed his blower at Tony.
"No, AH-AH-AH-AH!" cried Tony, hand thrown out. Dum-E subsided with a most mourn
ful little squeak.
Mingled chuckles and "Aww"s weaved through the lounge.
"Yeah," said Tony. "I can fly!"
"Booyah!" said the real Tony.
And then the viewers got their first look at the Mk II. It was a plain silver, o
bviously unpainted, but everyone easily recognized the Suit this time.
"All right! Now we're talking!" said Rhodey.
"JARVIS, you there?" asked onscreen Tony as the mask went on.
"At your service, sir," said JARVIS.
"Listen to him, all proper and deferential," said Laura.
Inside the helmet, bright lights began flashing as icons appeared on the screen
that was the inside of the mask. "Engage heads up display," said Tony.

"Check," said JARVIS.


"Import all preferences from home interface," said Tony, and the eye-screens lit
up, showing the garage in front of him.
"So that's what it looks like in there!" said Steve. "I did wonder."
"Will do, sir," said JARVIS.
More icons sailed in front of Tony's eyes and examined the view of the car and v
arious items in the workshop.
"That looks hard on the eyes," said Fury.
"Not really, especially once you get used to it," said Rhodey.
"All right, what do you say?" asked onscreen Tony.
"I have indeed been uploaded, sir," said JARVIS. "We're online and ready."
"Ready to go?" asked Cooper, perking up.
"Yep!" said the real Tony with a grin.
"No," said Vision at the same moment.
"Can we start the virtual walk-around?" onscreen Tony requested.
"Importing preferences and calibrating virtual environment," said JARVIS.
"Run a check on control surfaces," said Tony.
"As you wish," said JARVIS.
"Was that English?" asked Steve cautiously.
The plates on the surface of the armour began to move, adjusting themselves from
the legs up, as Tony flexed his hands within the Suit.
"Hey, remember when Cap marched those Allied prisoners into the Italian camp, an
d Nat said she really was into the music cause it was so Steve?" asked Sharon. "
Well, this music feels like Tony Stark."
"Yeah!" said Rhodey. "It's I-don't-give-a-damn, it's vodka in the morning, it's
- it's -"
"It's driving in a Camaro with the top down, wearing sunglasses," said Pepper.
"Yeah, that!" said Rhodey.
"Test complete, preparing to power down and begin diagnostics," said JARVIS.
"Uh, yeah," said Tony. "Tell you what, do a weather and ATC check and start loos
ening in on ground control."
"Weather? Are you going outside?" asked Thor excitedly.
"Sir," JARVIS' voice took on a reproving note. "Terabytes of calculations are ne
eded before an actual flight is advi -"

"JARVIS," said Tony. "Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk. ("And sometim
es you should really walk first!" protested Vision.) Ready in three, two, one."

* * *

Thanks again for all your reviews! Please, please keep them coming!

Chapter 7: The Firefighters' Benefit


Yeah, sorry it's late. Life happens, y'all.
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

The Suit lifted off the ground, both feet together, and began to glide as Tony l
eaned forward to steer it. It picked up speed, zooming through the driveway out
of the garage, and he was flying.
"Oh, yeah!" Rhodey pumped his fist in the air.
"The first time is always the best," grinned the real Tony.
"What, flying?" said Rhodey. "You bet!"
Vision was shaking his head. "There was so much that could have gone wrong," he
was muttering.
"Ooh, YEAH!" cheered onscreen Tony as he zoomed out into the night. "Woooo!"
"Now this one can fly!" said Betty.
"That looks like wicked fun!" sighed Peter enviously, though his eyes were glowi
ng with excitement.
The Suit turned and twisted as it zoomed through the air, making onscreen Tony g
asp.
"Whoa, easy there, easy!" said Clint, laughing.
Onscreen, Tony managed to steady his flight a bit. "Handles like a dream," he sa
id as he flew through the air, circling Malibu.
"I used to settle for so little," said the real Tony, making most of the others
roll their eyes.
"Stark, you built a Suit that can fly," said Thor. "Seems like a good starting p

oint to me."
As he came near
distance away,
ew of two small
m cone, and the
im.

the city, an icon on his screen zeroed in on a Ferris wheel some


and from there it focused even further, allowing Tony a prime vi
children in one of the seats. One of them was eating an ice crea
ice cream had just fallen out of the cone onto the seat beside h

"Aw, man, not the ice cream!" said Steve.


"Kodak moment!" cried Sharon at the same time.
Tony zoomed over the city's sparkling lights, and then he tilted his flight upwa
rd through a cloud. "All right, let's see what this thing can do," he said (Visi
on sighed, and seemed to be fighting the urge to roll his eyes). "What's S. R. 7
1's record?"
The altitude record for fixed-wing flight is eighty-five thousand feet, sir," sa
id JARVIS resignedly.
"No! Seriously?" Bruce flung up his hands.
"Why're you surprised?" asked Maria.
"Records are made to be broken," said Tony. "Come on!"
The Suit zoomed straight up into the sky.
Bucky shook his head. "Steve's not this bad," he muttered. Natasha smirked at hi
m.
"What?" asked Tony in response to the looks and eye-rolls he was getting.
"Sir," said JARVIS. "There is a potentially fatal buildup of ice ocurring."
"Ice?!" cried Pepper in alarm.
"Keep going!" cried Tony. "Higher!"
"Higher?" cried Thor. "Are you out of your mind?!"
"Yo, maybe high altitudes aren't the place to be breaking records!" Sam suggeste
d.
The Suit began to fail as the ice crusting over it reached the helmet. The light
s blinked and went out, and the Suit began to plummet toward earth.
"You all just lost power, didn't you?" asked Rhodey, gesturing between Tony and
Vision.
"How's he not dead yet, pulling stunts like this?" grumbled Bucky at Natasha, wh
o just shrugged.
"We iced up, JARVIS! Deploy flaps!" shouted Tony.
"You're out of power, JARVIS is offline," said Bruce. There was indeed no reply
from the AI.
"JARVIS?" called Tony sharply.

"It wasn't my fault," pleaded the Vision. Onscreen Tony had by now fallen throug
h the clouds and the lights of Malibu were speeding nearer and nearer.
"No one's blamin' ya," said the real Tony, spreading his hands.
"I should hope not!" said Pepper.
"C'mon, we've got to break the ice!" cried onscreen Tony, and he scraped the ice
off one of his leg plates and turned it.
"JARVIS is not on," said Peter, pointing.
"Wait for it. . ." said the real Tony.
Flaps unfolded themselves from the arms and back of the Suit, slowing the fall j
ust long enough for it to regain power and flight while still in the air.
"Yeah, okay, that looks like a decent safeguard in case you ICE UP!" said Steve
in exasperation.
The flight rays roared to life, and Tony sailed almost directly into a line of t
raffic, causing the drivers to swerve and blare angrily.
"Oh my God!" said Pepper, flinching.
Onscreen Tony gave an exhilarated laugh as he flew upward.
"Hey, I made it!" grinned the real Tony.
"Barely," said May, and her eyes flickered to her nephew.
Tony slowed down as he approached his house, folding his arms down and de-poweri
ng his flight rays as he hovered just above the roof. "Kill power," he said.
The Suit crashed through the roof, through the ceiling of the lounge, through th
e piano, through the ceiling of the garage, and down onto one of Tony's many spo
rts cars with a crash. The other cars' alarms all began blaring.
"Oops," said Sharon.
"And there's the car," said Clint.
Dum-E blew on the Suit to thaw it, and Tony's head went back as soon as the neck
was free.
"Still an awesome first flight!" said the real Tony. "Got no regrets."
The Tony onscreen walked over to his work station, out of the Suit
ack pressed to his forehead. He caught sight of the coffee mug and
h was actually wrapped in brown paper) that Pepper had brought him
evening. He absentmindedly picked up the mug as he walked past his
turned back around to look at the box.

with an ice p
the box (whic
earlier that
desk. Then he

"Hey, what's in there?" asked Rhodey.


"Hush," said Thor, who was thoroughly enjoying himself.
There was a Post-It stuck on top of the box with the words "From Pepper" written
on it. Tony removed the note and tore off the brown paper.

It was not really a box at all; it was a glass case, and inside was the old Arc
Reactor in a frame on top of a short stand. On the casing around the reactor wer
e engraved the words "Proof That Tony Stark Has A Heart."
"Aww!" said Natasha. "Isn't that nice!"
"That's really thoughtful, Pepper," said Laura.
Pepper blushed.
A slow smile spread over onscreen Tony's face.
Rhodey made kissing noises.
"Shut up," said the real Tony, but he was also smiling at the memory.
In Afghanistan, two Ten Rings men argued over the construction of the pieces of
the first Iron Man Suit while Raza looked on with a critical eye.
"Just when it was gettin' good," said Peter in disappointment.
"We knew this was going to happen," said Tony. "Not like they had the tech to ac
tually get it right."
A lingering view of the metal mask transformed into a digital mask on a computer
screen in Tony's workshop. "Notes: main transducer feels sluggish at plus forty
altitude, hull pressurization is problematic." He shifted in his chair. "I'm th
inking icing is probably a factor."
"Ya think?" said Fury.
"A very astute observation, sir," said JARVIS, obviously in a Mood. "Perhaps if
you intend to visit other planets we should improve the exosystems."
Wanda giggled. Scott mock-reeled back in his chair, hand pressed over his chest.
"Do have a care with that razor wit!" said Thor, much delighted.
Vision seemed surprised. "My, was I so clever?" he said.
"Who made you again?" asked the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony just leaned back in his chair. "Connect to the sys co," he said. "
Have it reconfigure the shell metals. Use the gold titanium alloy from the serap
hin tactical satellite. That should ensure a fuselage integrity while maintainin
g a power-to-weight ratio. Got it?"
"I'm not going to ask," said Clint.
"Yes," said JARVIS, having apparently got over his Mood. "Shall I render using p
roposed specifications?"
"Thrill me," said Tony.
The television in the corner caught his attention. An announcer was speaking: "T
onight's red hot red carpet is right here at the Disney Concert Hall, where Tony
Stark's third annual benefit for the Firefighter's Family Fund has become the p
lace to be. . ."
"Oh, the benefit!" said the real Tony, waggling his eyebrows at Pepper, though W

anda could detect mixed recollections of the event.


"Yes, the benefit," said Pepper, beginning to laugh.
Tony cocked his head in interest. "JARVIS, we get an invite for that?" he asked.
"I have no record of an invitation, sir," said JARVIS.
"Not invited to your own shindig?" asked Sam. "Gotta be a reason for that."
Tony picked up the damaged mask of his second Suit and looked it over, putting i
t on his face while the announcer spoke on. ". . .hasn't been seen in public sin
ce his bizarre and highly controversial press conference. ("And what a controver
sy it was!" said Pepper dryly.) Some claim he's suffering from post-traumatic st
ress and has been bedridden for weeks. ("How ignorant tongues wag!" said Thor.)
Whatever the case may be, no one expects an appearance from him tonight."
"Oh, you jinxed it," said Darcy. "He is so going to show up."
The real Tony gave her a thumbs up.
Onscreen Tony smirked at the television, just as a new image flashed onto his co
mputer screen. "The render is complete," said JARVIS.
"A little ostentatious, don't you think?" asked Tony, for the image was indeed a
ll in bright gold.
"No you didn't!" said Rhodey.
"What was I thinking?" said JARVIS. "You're usually so discreet."
Vision raised his eyebrows as the lounge, Wanda included, broke into laughter.
Then onscreen Tony caught sight of a very new-looking, very old-fashioned car of
his with an open top. It was black, with bright red flames painted on it. "Tell
you what," he said. "Throw a little hot-rod red in there."
"Discreet, as he said," said T'Challa, still chuckling.
"Yes, that should help you keep a low profile!" said JARVIS (Vision shrugged his
shoulders equitably), but he made the requested coloring adjustments in the ima
ge. "The render is complete," he said when it was through.
"Hey, I like it!" said Tony. "Fabricate it, paint it."
"Commencing automated assembly," said JARVIS. "Estimated completion time is five
hours."
"You had the assembly process automated after one successful trial?" asked Peppe
r.
Onscreen Tony pulled out his Bulgari watch and looked at it. "Don't wait up for
me, honey," he said, and went zooming off down the road in a silver sports car w
ith a nameplate which read STARK4.
He pulled up alongside the curb of the concert hall, and climbed out. He was onc
e again wearing a business suit that looked like it cost at least five figures.
Obadiah Stane was being interviewed. "Weapons manufacturing is only one small pa
rt of what Stark Industries is all about," he said. "Our partnership with the fi

re and rescue community. . ."


"Well, he's good on TV, if nothing else," said Betty.
"He is that," said Pepper.
Obadiah paused and turned his head as people all around him began screaming in e
xcitement. Tony Stark was striding up the steps the red carpet.
Cameras began flashing at once as Tony passed them by. "Tony! Remember me?" said
one of the women.
The real Tony wisely kept his mouth shut, but Wanda could see that he did vaguel
y recall her.
"Sure don't," said onscreen Tony as he strode past her without a second glance.
"You look great, Hef," he slapped an elderly gentleman with a cigar on the shoul
der. The man turned around, probably to reply, but Tony was already gone.
He marched straight up to Obadiah. "What's the world coming to when a guy's got
to crash his own party?" he asked.
"A world of backstabbers," said Laura. "I'm sure there was a reason Stark never
got an invite."
Obadiah chuckled, looking Tony up and down as if he couldn't quite believe it. "
Look at you!" he said, plastering a grin on his face. "What a surprise."
"See, this is what I don't get," said Clint, pointing. "How did he screw around
behind your back when he couldn't keep a straight face?"
Onscreen Tony just nodded and smiled. "See you inside," he said, and turned to g
o inside.
Obadiah caught him by the shoulder. "Hey, take it slow, all right?" he said. "I
think I've got the board right where we want them."
"Ah, the royal 'we'," said the real Tony.
"You got it," said onscreen Tony. "Just cabin fever, I'll just be a minute," and
off he went.
Obadiah looked after him as he went.
Inside, Tony went up to the bar. "Give me a Scotch, I'm starving," he said to th
e bartender.
"Mr. Stark," said a voice beside him.
"Hey, look who's back," said Steve, for it was Coulson again. He was smiling aga
in - that smile behind which could lurk anything, as anyone knew with an intelli
gence agent.
"Yeah?" said Tony, turning around.
"Agent Coulson," said that gentleman.
"Nice ta meet ya," said the real Tony.
"Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah," onscreen Tony gestured with the glass. "The guy with the

, uh -"
"Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division," said Cou
lson.
Scott arched his eyebrows, and looked at Fury, Maria, Sharon, and Clint from the
corners of his eyes.
Tony whistled. "God, you need a new name for that," he said, and took a sip from
his glass.
"SHIELD is a good acronym, and it works as a short name," said Pepper. "The imag
ery is really evocative too."
"That's by design," said Fury.
"I hear that a lot," Coulson was waying. "Listen, I know this must be a trying t
ime for you, but we need to debrief you. There's still a lot of unanswered quest
ions, and time can be a factor with these things. Let's put something on the boo
ks - how about the twenty-fourth, seven p.m. at Stark Industries?"
But Tony was no longer paying Coulson any attention. He had spotted Pepper, some
little distance away near the dance floor, in a light blue satin backless eveni
ng gown. Her vibrant hair was all in ringlets around her shoulders and she was o
bviously wearing a full face of makeup.
"Ooh, look at that!" said Scott.
"That's actually not the best look I've had, I don't think," said the real Peppe
r critically.
"Pepper, you look fine," said Tony. "Don't self-deprecate."
"Did you just tell me not to self-deprecate?" said Pepper.
"Tell you what," said onscreen Tony, automatically shaking Coulson's hand but wi
th his eyes still on Pepper. "You got it, you're absolutely right. We'll, uh. .
.I'm going to go to my assistant," he pointed at Pepper. "And we'll make a date.
"
Thor shook with silent laughter.
Tony crossed the room and came up behind Pepper. "You look fantastic," he said.
"I didn't recognize you."
"You didn't recognize her because she looks fantastic," said Clint. "Really?" An
d as the real Tony opened his mouth he hastily added, "Don't you call me Daddy a
gain!"
The real Pepper mouthed 'well done' at Laura, who smiled smugly.
Onscreen Pepper turned at his voice and gaped in astonishment. "What are you doi
ng here?" she asked.
"I'm avoiding government agents," said Tony.
"Government agents?! Damn, that stings!" said Maria rather offended.
"Are you by yourself?" asked Pepper.

"No entourage, no Happy," said the real Tony.


"Where'd you get that dress?" asked onscreen Tony.
"I -" Pepper looked down self-consciously. "Oh, it was a birthday present."
"Ohhh!" said Rhodey, and he grinned.
"Looks great," said Tony approvingly.
"From you, actually," said Pepper.
"That's what I thought," said Rhodey.
"Well, I got great taste," said Tony.
"And so humble too," said the real Pepper.
"Yes," said onscreen Pepper much amused.
"You, uh, want to dance?" asked Tony.
"Oh, no thank you," said Pepper looking rather alarmed.
"All right, come on," said Tony, and pulled her onto the dance floor. Pepper gla
nced around nervously as she went.
"I could make some wise-crack about consent, but I'm not going to," said Natasha
virtuously. The real Tony gave her the finger.
Onscreen, Tony began swinging Pepper like a pro. She bit her lip and looked as i
f she were torn between enjoying it and also wanting to be a thousand miles away
. She shot him a look.
"I wanna rock with you, all night. . ." sang Jane. Wanda did not understand why
many of the other viewers laughed and applauded.
"Am I making you uncomfortable?" asked onscreen Tony.
"Um, no, no," said Pepper hurriedly. "I always forget to wear deodorant and danc
e with my boss in front of everyone that I work with in a dress with no back."
All the women who were or ever had been in the professional workplace winced inv
oluntarily.
"You look great and you smell great," said Tony.
"Great save," said Laura.
"Oh, gosh," muttered Pepper, looking down.
"But I could always fire you if that would take the edge off," said Tony.
"You know you can't do that!" said Rhodey, laughing.
"I actually don't think you could tie your shoes without me," said Pepper, amuse
d once more.
"Neither do I," said the real Tony cheerfully.

"I'd make it a week," said onscreen Tony.


"Three days, tops," said Natasha.
"Really?" said Pepper.
"Sure," said Tony.
"If that," added Natasha.
"Hey, thanks!" protested the real Tony.
"What's your social security number?" asked Pepper.
Tony danced in silence, clearly groping for the answer while Wanda rolled her ey
es. She looked up to catch Vision mouthing the number sequence. He stopped when
he saw she was looking.
Pepper smiled expectantly. The real Pepper was rolling her eyes.
"You really don't know your own social security number?" said Bruce, laughing.
"Now why would I know that?" asked the real Tony.
"Five," said onscreen Tony at last.
Pepper raised her eyebrows. "Five," she said. "Great. You're missing just a coup
le of digits there."
"Merely a digit or two," said Vision.
"The other eight," said Tony as she laughed. "So I've got you for the other eigh
t."
"Fire her, my ass!" said Rhodey.
On the screen, Pepper's eyes flew back to his, and then she looked uncomfortable
again.
Tony kept looking at her.
"How about a little air?" said Tony.
"Yes, I need some air," said Pepper, clearing her throat nervously.
"The awkwardness!" said May. Peter cut her a please-don't-embarrass-me kind of l
ook.
Phil Coulson stood looking after them.
"More awkwardness," muttered Vision, quietly enough so that only Wanda heard him
.
"That was totally weird," said Pepper. She and Tony were standing outside.
"Totally harmless," said Tony.
"Totally filled with little red hearts," said Clint, shaking his head.
"Shut up," said the real Tony.

"It was totally not harmless, by the way," said Pepper.


"We're dancing, no one's even watching," said Tony.
"Wouldn't bet on that!" said Rhodey.
"Everybody I work wi- no, you know why?" Pepper was obviously upset.
"I think you lost objectivity in there," said Tony. "I think people - just - we
just danced -"
"Lost objectivity?" said Maria with a smirk, raising her eyebrows.
"No, it was not just a dance!" cried Pepper ("It never is just a dance," said Be
tty, sharing a look with Bruce that indicated there was a story to be told later
). "You don't understand, because you're you, and everybody knows exactly who yo
u are, and how you are with girls, which is completely fine ("Obviously it's not
that okay with you," said Laura, not without sympathy) - but, you know, then me
, you're my boss and I'm -"
"I really don't think it was taken that way -" Tony protested, obviously deflati
ng.
"C'mon, how long had you had feelings for him?" asked Sam of the real Pepper, wh
o just blushed again. "A while," she admitted.
The real Tony was looking unbearably smug.
"- dancing with you - no, because it makes me look ("Like a slut," said Natasha
bluntly) like the one who's trying to - you know -"
"Sleep her way to the top, yeah," said Sharon.
"I just think you're overstating it, that's all," said onscreen Tony.
"- and then we're here, and I'm wearing this -" Pepper gulped. "- ridiculous dre
ss ("Not ridiculous, just backless," said the real Tony defensively) and then we
were dancing like that, and -"
She stopped, her voice wavering. Tony's face was for once stripped of all its ma
sks and he was staring at her with the look of a man whose woman is talking far
too much when all he wants is just to kiss her.
"Oh, don't cry!" cried Darcy.
"Whoa, this just got way too serious," said Scott. Wanda couldn't bear that look
either because Tony almost never wore it and it was so very vulnerable and un-T
ony Stark.
Then, as if they didn't realize it, Pepper and Tony each took a tiny step forwar
d. Tony leaned forward and down, and Pepper stretched forward and up. Their bodi
es melded as their heads came together.
"Ew!" muttered Cooper, who was in that awkward stage where girls were starting t
o be attractive and yet were still damaging to one's autonomy.
Wanda looked away, which of course was no good when the episode was playing out
in excruciating detail in both Tony and Pepper's memories.

"Are they going to -?" asked Clint cautiously. Tony looked at him and shook his
head.
Just as it looked like a long, simmering kiss was inevitable, they seemed to rea
lize what exactly was happening. Their eyes met.
"I would like a drink, please," said Pepper.
"Oh, snap!" said Sam.
"Got it," said Tony, and strode off.
"I would like a - a vodka martini, please," said Pepper, staring after him. "Ver
y dry, with olives. A lot of olives. Like, at least three olives." She brushed h
er bangs from her face.
"Olives?!" Sharon grimaced. She hated olives.
Tony marched inside and up to the bar again. "Two martinis, extra dry, extra oli
ves, extra fast," he said. "Make one of them dirty, will you?" He slid a tip int
o one of the tip glasses.
A familiar woman in a black dress came up behind the billionaire. "Well, Tony St
ark," she said.
"Can it be Christine?" asked the real Tony snarkily.
"Hi there!" said Scott.
"Oh, hey," said onscreen Tony, turning as she arrived beside him.
"Fancy seeing you here," she said, her eyes full of challenge just like before.
"Fancy seeing a man at his own party!" said Pepper, raising her eyebrows.
Tony looked at the woman, his jaw twitching as he groped for her name. "Carrie?"
he said at length.
"Nope!" said Rhodey.
"Christine," she corrected.
"That's right," said Tony.
"You have a lot of nerve, showing up here tonight," said Christine.
"What on Midgard is it this time?" asked Thor.
Tony bit his lip, backing slightly away from her and looking around, probably fo
r Pepper.
"I'd rather have been debriefed by government agents," said the real Tony.
"Me too," said Natasha.
"Can I at least get a reaction from you?" Christine pressed, leaning forward.
"Panic," said Tony. "I would say panic is my -"
"Because I was referring to your company's involvement the latest atrocity," sai

d Christine.
"That was it?" asked Pepper, her eyes wide.
"Yeah," said the real Tony.
"Yeah, they just put my name on the invitation, I don't know what to tell you,"
said onscreen Tony.
Her eyes glittered. "I actually almost bought it, hook, line, and sinker," she s
aid, shaking her head as if at her own naivete at believing anything Tony Stark
said.
"What, the press conference?" asked Peter innocently.
Tony's face hardened. "I was out of town for a couple of months, in case you did
n't hear," he said.
"Oh, that's a way of putting it," said Betty.
"Is this what you call accountability?" she asked, and she pressed a few printed
pictures into his hand. "It's a town called Gulmira. Heard of it?"
"Gulmira?" said Thor in a low, dangerous growl.
"That's how you found out, isn't it?" said Bruce.
"That's how I found out," said the real Tony, stonefaced.
Onscreen Tony's eyes flickered to Christine's face at the mention of the name. H
e did not speak, but Wanda felt the memory rising up within the real Tony in a m
ixture of fury and disbelief and loathing.
The photos were of a small, obviously, Middle Eastern village. There were was de
ath and devastation all around; there were men he recognized only too well; and
there was no mistaking what they were carrying.
There was even what looked like a smaller Jericho missile.
"Oh, fuck," said Scott.
"You never let me see those," said Pepper to the real Tony.
"Can you think why?" grunted that gentleman.
"When were these taken?" asked onscreen Tony in a deceptively quiet voice.
"Yesterday," said Christine.
"What?!" cried May. "But how -"
"I didn't approve any shipment," said Tony, looking up.
"Think about it," said Bruce to May.
"Well, your company did," said Christine.
"Obadiah must've sold them!" said Cooper.
"Gold star for you, kid," said Rhodey.

"Well, I'm not my company," said onscreen Tony, and he strode past Christine tow
ard the door.
"Please, do you mind?" asked Obadiah Stane, shooing away eager reporters from th
e carpeted steps as Tony stood in front of him with fire in his eyes.
That look, to Wanda at least, was terrifying because she knew it well. It wasn't
irritated Tony, or even disappointed Tony. This was put-on-the-Suit-and-go-to-w
ar Tony.
That look was terrifying because she knew intimately well how it felt.
So when she heard Thor say, "Someone's going to die today," she knew even withou
t the benefit of Tony's memory that Thor was right.
"Have you seen these pictures?" asked onscreen Tony. "Huh? What's going on in -"
"Tony, Tony," said Obadiah shaking his head. "You can't afford to be this naive.
"
"You honest-to-God had no idea," said Scott, twisting around to look at the real
Tony.
"None," growled Tony.
"You know what?" snarled onscreen Tony. "I was naive before, when they said 'her
e's a line, we don't cross it, this is how we do business.' ("They told you that
?" asked Wanda, rather startled, and the real Tony nodded) If we're double-deali
ng under the table -"
Obadiah put his hands behind his back and looked at the steps.
"Are we?" hissed Tony in Obadiah's ear.
"SI is huge," said Sharon. "Didn't it ever occur to you that your minions might
be double-dealing under the table?"
"I was naive, Carter," said the billionaire.
Obadiah turned to Tony, and gave him a long look. "Let's take a picture, come on
," he said.
"Worst poker face ever," said Darcy.
Obadiah put his hand on Tony's shoulder and turned him toward the cameras. "Pict
ure time!" he said brightly, and he smiled. Tony did not; his eyes could have bl
istered the concrete of the steps beneath the carpet.
"Must have been some interesting pictures," said Maria mildly.
"Tony," murmured Obadiah, smiling down at the cameras. "Who do you think locked
you out? I was the one who filed the injunction against you."
"And the truth comes out!" said Laura.
"What can I say, you guys called it," said the real Tony, with a lethal smile.
"It was the only way I could protect you," added Obadiah, and he squeezed Tony's
shoulders before he walked off.

"So that was what all the let-me-handle-this business was really about!" said Br
uce.
Onscreen, Tony stood in silence, watching his partner turned traitor depart. Beh
ind him, Christine turned and walked back up the steps.

* * *

Well! Please tell me how this one was, it was very rushed.

Chapter 8: Gulmira
I don't even want to think about how late this chapter is . . .
All rights belong to Marvel Studios, as always.

* * *

The next shot was of the corner TV in Tony's workshop. The TV showed a news repo
rter standing in the desert, next to a line of villagers making their way down a
difficult-looking ravine carrying what few possessions they had.
Wanda ruthlessly squashed down the tidal wave of memory that was rising up in th
e back of her own mind at the sight. She had no intention of breaking into the P
andora's box of her own past.
"The fifteen mile hike to the outskirts of Gulmira can only be described as a de
scent into hell, into a modern day Heart of Darkness," the report began. "Simple
farmers and herders from peaceful villages have been driven from their homes, d
isplaced from their lands by warlords emboldened by a newfound power. . ."
Tony sat and watched, twirling with a screwdriver at some part of the glove of h
is new red-and-gold Suit.
Pepper glanced uneasily at the real Tony. So, as a matter of fact, did Vision. T
he real Tony's face very much matched the look of his onscreen self's.
No one spoke.
"Villagers have been forced to take shelter in whatever crude dwellings they can
find - in the ruins of other villages, or here in the remnants of an old Soviet
smelting pot."
"Wondered how they spoke all those languages," muttered Clint.
The flight stabiliser in the palm of the glove began to glow as Tony watched liv

e footage of armed men making their way through the ruins of a town.
"Recent violence has been attributed to a group of foreign fighters referred to
by locals as the Ten Rings," there came an image of none other than Raza himself
standing in the doorway of a stone house while local townspeople fled past him
("I hope that one dies a most painful death," said Thor). "As you can see, these
men are heavily armed and on a mission - a mission that could prove fatal to an
yone who stands in their way. . ."
When the Jericho missile appeared on the screen, Tony's metal-gloved hand clench
ed. He stood up.
Wanda shifted back in her seat.
"The Jericho. . ." said Peter.
"Tony. . ." said the real Pepper.
"With no political will or international pressure, there is very little hope for
these refugees. . ."
Tony walked around behind the couch he'd been sitting on, throwing aside the scr
ewdriver.
"Stark. . ." said Thor to the real Tony.
"Around me, a woman begging for news of her husband, who was kidnapped by insurg
ents, either forced to join their militia or -"
Tony raised his arm, his palm held out in front of him. He aimed it at the other
side of the garage, and fired, causing the viewers to flinch. Then he walked ou
t into the middle of the room, in full view of the glass panels.
"I did wonder how they got demolished," said Pepper absently.
". . .a child's simple question: 'where are my mother and father?' There's very
little hope for these refugees - refugees who can only wonder who, if anyone, wi
ll help them."
Tony gazed into his reflection in the nearest panel. His face twisted with loath
ing, and he fired at it with a blast that brought down all the glass in pieces.
He shattered all the other panels.
The significance of this could not be missed. He was blasting his own reflection
.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" gasped Rhodey, flinging out his hand involuntarily.
"Dear God," muttered Scott.
But then Tony walked onto the black grid.
"Okay, this is better!" said Steve.
The grid began to open in pieces around his feet, and up came the boot and leg p
ieces of the Iron Man Mk III, all red and gold, and fastened over his feet and a
round his legs.
"Wow!" said an awestruck Cooper. Peter's eyes were shining.

Rhodey applauded, and Thor began to cheer.


A large yellow bot reached down with the front and back plates, the Arc Reactor
glowing as the chest plate slammed down over it, and then came the arms and hand
s. Last of all came the sides of the helmet, the mask closing over his face and
the "eye holes" glowing.
There came a brief glimpse of Tony in the Suit, speeding through the heavens.
"You're going to Gulmira now?" asked Sam in surprise.
"Oh, we are going to Gulmira, Wilson," said the real Tony.
And then - Gulmira itself.
The villagers were in flight, screams piercing the air as shots rang out around
them. Armed men kicked open doors of homes and fired into them. They grabbed all
the men who ran past, tearing them from their families, and shoved the women an
d the children to their comrades.
"Oh, for the love of God," muttered Bucky.
"Terrorists," said Maria.
Hurry it up! shouted the one who seemed to be Raza's main thug. Throw the women
in the trucks! Stack the weapons here! Clear all the houses! He pointed. That on
e there! Faster! Faster!
"Thor is getting restless over here," noted Jane.
A family of four with a small girl and a slightly bigger boy was hustled out of
the house that had just been pointed out, all clinging to one another and starin
g around in terror.
Memories of Papa and Mama and Pietro made Wanda's heart clench and her eyes pric
kle.
"Oh no, not the babies," said Rhodey.
One of the children tripped, and all four of them went down. They struggled to g
et up without breaking apart.
Grab that dog! shouted the leader, pointing at the father.
"Oh, no, no!" protested May.
Wanda gulped. Vision looked anxiously down at her, feeling her stiffen.
Onscreen, one of the men grabbed the father as he tried to hurry toward the truc
ks with his wife and children. The man twisted around in his captor's grip to ge
t a last look back at his family.
The boy broke away from his mother and ran toward his father screaming Papa! Pap
a!
Peter went pale, and Wanda saw in his memory the man who was the closest thing t
he boy had ever had to a father, bleeding out on a back street in Queens. My fau
lt my fault my fault was pounding through his head.
Onscreen, the child reached his father and flung his small arms round his neck.

The man tried in vain to shoo him away back to his mother and sister.
Pietro dashed before Wanda's eyes, and she stifled a sob.
What the hell is this? cried the thug. He marched up and grabbed the boy, tossin
g him to a couple of his men and throwing the father to the ground. There he kic
ked him roughly, ignoring the frantic screams of the man's wife.
"Despicable scum," growled Thor, shifting ominously again.
Shoot this dog! shouted Raza's lead thug in disgust. You're all incompetent. And
he stalked away as one of his men grabbed the unfortunate father in preparation
to do just that.
Cooper's eyes filled with tears. He was no longer a child, and the fact that eve
ry time his father left the house could be the last time he saw him had lately b
egun to dawn on the boy. His mother watched him anxiously.
"What the hell do they need to shoot him for?!" cried Scott. "Having kids, or wh
at?"
Onscreen, the children sobbed as their father was forced to his knees and a gun
was pointed at him. Turn your head! bellowed his would-be executioner. Turn your
head!
Papa! screamed the boy.
The memory of the hole in the dining room floor and her own parents vanishing in
to it rose up before Wanda's eyes so that she nearly missed the principal moment
.
For from the screen there came a sound like thunder, and villagers and attackers
alike looked up at the sky to see a red and gold blur descending like a comet.
"YES!" shouted Steve and Sam and Bruce in unison.
"Just in time!" crowed Thor.
Wanda jerked her head up just in time to see onscreen Tony land on his left foot
and right knee, and straighten up to face the man who had just been about to sh
oot. She gave a small gasp, and Vision took her hand.
The man fired vainly at the Suit, which went charging up to him and sent him sai
ling back into the ruins of a house with a single punch.
"Wow!" said Pepper.
"Oh, yeah!" cheered Sharon.
The real Tony smiled with grim relish.
Onscreen Tony began blasting his hand rays at all the Ten Rings men around him o
ne by one.
This proved to be a mistake, for when he turned in the direction of the trucks t
he men were holding their guns to the heads of the women and the children. They
were all shouting at him.
"Aw, man," moaned Steve. "It was just getting good!"

"Hey - cut the wire, remember?" asked the real Tony. This phrase seemed to have
some meaning between himself and Steve, for the latter abruptly rolled his eyes
and shook his head.
Onscreen Tony lowered his outstretched hands, and the rays in them quietly turne
d dark.
Inside the screen of the helmet, JARVIS began identifying all the civilians and
the attackers with icons on the screen. Once all the targets had been identified
, little rows of miniature "guns" rose from Tony's shoulders and shot down only
the armed men, leaving the women and children completely unharmed.
The Avengers, rogue and official alike, could hardly help but cheer (even Clint
and Scott). Tony considered getting up and bowing or some such gesture, but deci
ded his newly elevated status among the Avengers was not worth risking.
The woman who had nearly seen her husband murdered loosened her hold on her son,
who slipped away from her and ran to his father, and his father embraced him an
d did not let go.
Peter discreetly wiped at his eyes, and Sam squeezed his shoulder. Cooper gave t
he older boy a shy smile.
Vision's arm tightened around Wanda, and she scooted even closer to him.
On the screen, the child looked up as Tony passed by him, clearly on his way som
ewhere.
Crouched behind a wall was the man leading the assault, Raza's thug. He whipped
out a phone and began dialing hastily on it.
A red metal fist slammed through the wall beside him, grabbed him, and yanked hi
m back through the hole.
"Shoot that dog!" said Fury with disturbing cheerfulness.
Tony then threw the thug down on the ground in front of the village civilians.
"Scratch that, this is better," said Fury.
Tony lifted himself a few feet into the air. "He's all yours," he said to the to
wnspeople, and then he blasted off into the sky again.
"Strike one for me," said the real Tony.
The civilians looked down at the thug. He looked up at them.
"Night-night!" said Clint merrily. Jane cackled.
Unfortunately, the scene changed just then.
Tony flew over the mountains nearby, and through his screen identified a hidden
Jericho Missile ("Did Stane give 'em that too?" asked Sharon). When he landed at
the site he found it was surrounded by tanks. Slowly he pulled himself up and s
urveyed the area.
Then one of the tanks fired at him. He leaned aside, letting the bullet sail har
mlessly past. He lifted his arm and fired his own shot. As he turned and walked
away, the tank exploded with a fiery bang.

"Boom! You lookin' for this?" asked Rhodey.


"Ohhh!" said Steve suddenly. "I get it now."
Rhodey rolled his eyes at his former Captain. "About time."
There were other men surrounding the Missile. They wasted many shots on the Suit
, which propelled itself up into the air again.
"Suckers!" said Bruce.
Then Tony fired at the base of the Missile. It went up in a surge of fire and sm
oke.
"Good," said Bucky half to himself with a sigh of relief.
Sorry Hank, thought Scott. But I gotta differ with you about the Iron Man Suit n
ow.
A row of trucks with Raza in the passenger's seat of the foremost one rolled up
to the site, and stopped in dismay. They had just time to glimpse the Suit befor
e Tony vanished into the heavens.
"Goodbye and good riddance!" said Steve.
And then the scene changed to what could only be a military surveillance screen,
with a blinking red dot moving along it. "What the hell was that?" asked a gene
ral of the private in front of the screen as the words Edwards Air Force Base, C
alifornia appeared onscreen. "Were we cleared to go in there?"
"The military has to interfere now?!" asked Pepper in amazement.
"No sir," said the private. "They were using human shields, we never got the gre
en light."
"Course they do!" said Maria. "They always do."
"Tell me about it," grumbled Betty, and Wanda caught some very distracting memor
ies from the woman - she nearly shot up from her seat - Ross had done WHAT?! (An
d he'd had the cheek to put her in a straitjacket? After Blonsky?)
"Put me through to the State, they're going to be all over this," said a man who
seemed to have a measure of authority among the others.
"Major Allen," said Rhodey, pointing.
"We've got a bogey," said a private into a phone, staring at his screen.
("Unidentified aircraft?" whispered Thor to Jane, who nodded.)
"Wasn't Air Force," called a voice.
Tony snorted. "No way it was Air Force," he said witheringly.
"Get the CIA on the line," said the major.
"I've got Langley on the line," called one of the men not in front of a screen.
"He wants to know if it's us."
"Nope!" said Rhodey with a smirk.

"No, it definitely was not us sir," called a private.


"It wasn't Navy," said a second private.
"Wasn't Marines," added a third.
"It's a private peacekeeping entity!" said May cheerfully.
"I need answers," said the major. "Could we please get eyes on target?"
One of the privates brought up the image surrounding the moving red dot.
"Seriously?" asked Tony, pointing. "That? That is the best you can do?"
"We're just the military, whatdja expect?"asked Rhodey.
"Get Colonel Rhodes from Weapons Development down here now," said Major Allen.
Tony exchanged a significant look with Rhodey as his onscreen self soared above
the clouds.
Rhodey came into the intelligence room at the base. "We ran an ID check," he was
told. "cross-referenced with all known databases; we have nothing."
"Oh, that's just because it's an entirely new suit of armor that nobody's ever h
eard of before," said Steve.
"Any high-altitude surveillance in the region?" asked Rhodey.
"We've got an AWAC and a Global Hawk in the area," said a private.
"So this thing just appeared out of nowhere?" asked Rhodey incredulously ("Yep!"
said the real Rhodey). "How come it didn't show up on the radar?"
"Too small," said Sam knowledgeably.
"Got a minimal radar cross-section, sir," said another private.
"Is it stealth?" asked Rhodey.
"No, sir, it's tiny," said yet another private. "We think it's an Unmanned Aeria
l Vehicle."
Tony snorted and rolled his eyes, muttering, "UAV, right."
"Colonel, what are we dealing with here?" asked the Major of Rhodey in a low voi
ce.
"Iron Man, guys," said Natasha.
Rhodey's lips pressed together, and he looked down at the table. "Let me make a
call," he said.
"You knew Tony was up to something!" said Pepper to the real Rhodey.
A shrill ringtone sounded inside the helmet of the Suit. "Hello?" said Tony.
"Tony," said Rhodey.

"Who is this?" came Tony's voice over the phone.


"Lot of noise, I couldn't hear very well," said the real Tony.
"Yeah, I know," said the real Rhodey.
"It's Rhodes," said that individual grimly.
"Sorry, hello?" said Tony.
"I said, it's Rhodes," said he, and on Tony's screen his picture appeared surrou
nded by his name, title, and credentials.
"Thanks, by the way," said the real Tony offhandedly to the Vision. The synthezo
id merely sighed.
"Speak up, please," said onscreen Tony.
"What the hell is that noise?" demanded Rhodey, covering his other ear.
"Nuuuffin'," said Clint.
"Oh, yeah, I'm driving with the top down," said Tony. He sounded a little winded
.
"You're a worse liar than Steve," said Natasha. The real Tony squinted at her, n
ot sure whether to be insulted or flattered.
"Yeah, well I need your help right now," said Rhodey, looking up at the screen.
"Funny how that works, huh?" snarked Tony.
"Yeah, speaking of funny," said Rhodes. "We've got a weapons depot that was blow
n up a few clicks from where you were being held captive."
"What a coinky-dink!" said Scott.
("A what?" asked Wanda. "Coincidence," the engineer corrected himself.)
"Well, that's a, uh, that's a hotspot," came Tony's slightly breathless voice th
rough the phone. "Sounds like someone stepped in and did your job for you."
"Sounds like it!" said Sharon.
"Why do you sound out of breath, Tony?" demanded Rhodes.
"I'm not, I was just jogging in the canyon," said Tony.
Thor shot Tony a you've-got-to-do-better-than-that kind of look.
"Jogging in the Grand Canyon?" asked Peter innocently.
"I thought you were driving," said Rhodes.
"Had to say something," said the real Tony.
"Right, I was driving, uh, to the canyon, where I'm going to jog," said onscreen
Tony.
"Yeah, that's believable," said Bruce.

"You sure you don't have any tech in that area I should know about?" asked Rhode
y, his eyes once again fastened on the big screen.
"Nope!" said Tony cheerfully.
"Now why would you think that?" drawled the real Tony.
"Bogey spotted!" called one of the privates, and an only somewhat indistinct ima
ge of the Suit appeared on the screen.
"Whiplash, come in hot," said the major.
"Uh-oh," said Sam.
"Okay, good," said Rhodey. "Cause I'm staring at one right now, and it's about t
o be blown to kingdom come."
"Oh dear," sighed Vision.
"Yep," said the real Rhodey. "Exactly."
Behind the Suit, two planes came sailing up, their flights level with Tony's.
"It's on, folks!" the real Tony.
"Ah, that's my exit!" said onscreen Tony, and he must have hung up at that momen
t. The Suit rolled to the side, one of the planes twisted around to follow him,
and the chase began.
"Ballroom, this is Whiplash One," reported the pilot of one of the planes as he
closed in on the Suit. "I have the bogey in my sights."
"Whiplash One, what is it?" asked Rhodes into his headset.
"I've got no idea," said the pilot.
"No, you don't!" said Tony.
"You've got radio contact?" asked Major Allen.
"None responsive, sir," said the pilot.
"Then you are clear to engage," said the Colonel.
"Hoo boy!" said Clint.
In the air, Tony took a moment to take a look behind him. "Hit it," he said.
The Suit instantly went into supersonic mode.
"Whoa!" cried Peter. "The third one can already go that fast?"
"Bogey just went supersonic," said the Whiplash One Pilot. "I've got a lock!" An
d he fired.
"Inbound missile," said JARVIS inside Tony's helmet.
"THANK YOU, JARVIS!" shouted Steve and Thor and Sam.

Natasha reached out and thumped Vision's shoulder. "You can say you're welcome,
you know."
"Flare!" puffed onscreen Tony, and out came a burst of fire behind him.
"Bogey deployed flares," said the Whiplash One Pilot.
"Yeah, we can see that," said Maria.
"Say, where did the footage for all this even come from?" asked Rhodey.
"You really wanna know?" asked Bruce.
Tony fell a few dozen feet before the Suit picked back up. The two planes follow
ed him.
One of the planes got Tony in its viewfinder again, and at once began to fire sh
ots at it. The shots grazed the metal of the Suit.
"And here we go!" said the real Tony.
"Deploy flaps!" cried onscreen Tony, and the Suit halted completely as the two p
lanes shot past it.
Thor chuckled gleefully.
"Holy -" spluttered the Whiplash One pilot.
"Thing just jumped off the radar, sir," said a private back at the base, staring
as his screen. "The sat visual has been lost."
"Yay!" said the real Tony.
"No way that's a UAV," said the Whiplash Two pilot dryly, looking all around for
the "bogey."
"Nope, too sentient," said the real Tony.
"What is it?" asked the Colonel.
"I can't see anything!" said the pilot. "Whatever it was, it just bought the far
m. I think bogey has been handled, sir."
"Bought the farm?" asked Wanda, who wasn't familiar with the expression.
"Been terminated, basically," said Pepper.
Wanda thought this made even less sense than "knocked my socks off," but she did
n't say this aloud.
Onscreen Rhodes stared at the lost visual. He shook his head slightly.
And then his cell phone rang. The caller ID showed a picture of Tony.
"Oh, now you wanna talk," said Bruce.
"Yeah, I wanna talk, cause the military wants to shoot my ass out of the sky," s
aid the real Tony.
Rhodey glanced around, picked up his phone, and flipped it open. "Hello?"

"Hi, Rhodey, it's me," panted Tony.


"It's who?" asked Rhodes.
"I'm sorry - it is me," said Tony. "What you're asking about is me."
"No, see, this isn't a game," said Rhodey sternly. "You do not send civilian equ
ipment into my active war zone, you understand that?"
"You used to do that?" asked Clint, twisting around to stare at the real Tony.
"No, I didn't, Dad," said that individual. Clint scowled again.
"It's not a piece of equipment," said onscreen Tony. "I'm in it, it's a suit. It
's me!"
Rhodey opened his mouth to speak, and looked back up at the screen.
"Rhodey, you got anything for me?" asked the Major.
"Sure don't," said the real Rhodey.
Onscreen Rhodes looked up blankly, pulling the phone down from his ear.
"C'mon, don't look like you're hiding something!" said Steve.
"You're one to talk, Captain 'heart on my sleeve,'" said the real Rhodey.
The military planes were in the act of turning around to go back home when somet
hing appeared on the underside of one of them.
The Whiplash One pilot leaned forward to look. It was the Suit.
"So that's where you disappeared to," said Natasha.
"On your belly," said Whiplash One to Whiplash Two. "It looks like a . . . man!"
"Statin' the obvious!" said Tony.
"Somebody has to," said Betty.
Rhodey gaped in amazement as the Suit came into view on the screen.
"Shake him off!" cried the Major to Whiplash Two. "Roll! Roll!"
"This is very bad," Bucky deadpanned. The real Tony gaped at him with jaw swingi
ng, and then burst out laughing, startling the others very much.
Onscreen, the pilot twisted his joystick, and the plane rolled through the air.
But unlike Steve the night before, Tony lost hold before long and went hurtling
through the air with a screech. He crashed into the wing of Whiplash One, which
broke completely off.
It wasn't just the two military men who winced at this.
"Ooh, are you okay?" asked Pepper.
"I'm fine," said Tony. "He isn't." He pointed at the screen

The Suit did indeed seem substantially unhurt, but Whiplash One was not so lucky
. "I'm hit! I'm hit!" cried the pilot.
"Oh no!" cried Thor.
The military men stared in horror at the screen as the plane spun out of control
, smoke streaming from the place where the wing had one been.
"Oh, snap," said Steve.
"Punch out! Punch out!" cried the Colonel.
The pilot reached down for the yellow handle and yanked on it, shooting up out o
f the plane just in time before it blew completely to smithereens.
"Whew!" said Jane in relief.
Still bolted to his chair, the pilot fell through the sky.
"Wait, where's the parachute?!" cried Jane.
"Whiplash One, down," came the report.
"Whiplash Two, do you see a chute?" asked the Colonel.
"Negative - no chute, no chute!" cried the pilot in alarm.
"What happened to the chute?" asked May.
The unlucky Whiplash One pilot was still on the radio, his breathing obviously p
anicked as he tugged on the handle of his chute. "My chute's jammed!" he cried.
"Oh no!" wailed Pepper.
Tony dived down after the falling man.
"You would!" said Rhodey.
"Sir, I've got a visual on the bogey," said Whiplash Two.
"Re-engage," said the Major. "If you get a clear shot, you take it!"
"You kiddin' me?" asked Darcy.
"Major," said Rhodey. "We don't even know what we're shooting at. Call off the R
aptors."
"Nice try," said Laura dryly.
"That thing just took out an F-22 in a legal no-fly zone," snapped the Major ("E
xcuse you, he hit me!" said Tony indignantly). "Whiplash Two, if you have a clea
r shot, take it!"
"Okay! Sheesh!" said Peter.
"You've been re-engaged," said JARVIS inside the helmet. "Execute evasive maneuv
er."
But Tony said, "Keep going!"

"Of all the times to be heroic," Vision was muttering.


Scott looked impressed.
Onscreen Tony caught up with the falling pilot, reached for the parachute handle
, and blew the compartment open. The parachute opened with a flap.
"Hurrah!" cried Thor jubilantly. Not a few others breathed sighs of relief.
"Good chute! Good chute!" gasped the pilot in relief, and a cheer went up in the
California base and in the lounge.
Tony twisted and dived, avoiding the path of the remaining plane.
"C'mon, don't die on us," said Sam.
"Chill, Wilson," said the real Tony. "Nine lives, remember."
Rhodey took a few steps to the side and picked up his phone again. "Tony, you st
ill there?"
"Yep!" said the real Tony.
"Hey, thanks!" said onscreen Tony cheerfully.
"Oh my God, you crazy son of a bitch!" said Rhodey with a gasp of a laugh. "You
owe me a plane, you know that, right?"
"Do not!" said the real Tony.
Onscreen Tony was also laughing. "Yeah, well, technically he hit me," he said. "
So, now you going to come by and see what I'm working on?"
"No! No, no, no, no," protested Rhodey. "The less I know, the better. Now what a
m I supposed to tell the press?"
"Training exercise," said Sharon with a shrug.
"Uh, training exercise," said Tony. "Isn't that the usual BS?"
"Does anyone actually buy that?" asked Scott.
"It's not that simple," said Rhodey.
"Probably not anymore," said Pepper.
The next moment, Rhodey was standing at an outdoor podium in full uniform. "An u
nfortunate training exercise (Bruce raised his eyebrows at the real Rhodey) invo
lving an F-22 Raptor occurred yesterday," he said. "I am pleased to report that
the pilot was not injured. . ."
Obadiah Stane sat on a leather couch in pajamas and a bathrobe ("And now he wear
s 'em," said the real Tony), watching on TV as Rhodey spoke. "As for the events
on the ground in Gulmira, it is still unclear who or what intervened, ("Good sav
e!" said Natasha) but I can assure you that the United States Government was not
involved."
Obadiah frowned.

"Is he onto you?" asked Peter.


"Yeah, and he knows I'm onto him too," said Tony. "It's about to get interesting
."
Interesting was not exactly the word Wanda would have used for what was coming.

* * *

This one for some reason really kicked my butt to write. Is it as good as the ot
hers? Please let me know.

Chapter 9: Obadiah the Traitor


Well, I seem to have got past my writer's block for the time being! I think we'r
e back to regular updates for now.
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.
Warning: a couple of choice words get dropped a bit more often in this chapter.

* * *

Onscreen, Pepper made her way down the stairs to the workshop in time to hear To
ny say "Hey! Ow! Ah-ah-ah-ow!"
"Oh, doesn't the Suit come off easily?" asked Laura.
"It is a tight fit, sir," said the voice of JARVIS.
"They do now," said the real Tony as his onscreen self (onscreen technically but
not yet visible) went on wincing. "Lot of upgrades since then."
"Sir, the more you struggle, the more this is going to hurt," said JARVIS as Pep
per got to the bottom of the steps and stood gaping through the place where the
glass panes had once been.
"First time I ever saw it," said the real Pepper.
Tony was having the Suit removed piece by piece, quite painfully too by the soun
d of it, by a larger robot than Dum-E or Butterfingers.
"Does that robot have a name?" asked Betty.
"Nah," said Tony. "That one's generic."
"Be gentle, it's my first time," wheezed onscreen Tony. "I designed this to come

off, so - ow, hey! - I really should be able - ah -"


"Please try not to move," said JARVIS as Pepper came slowly into the room.
"What's going on here?" asked Pepper.
Tony's head turned at the sound of her voice. The arms of the bot paused.
"Caught red-handed!" said Clint.
"Let's face it, this is not the worst thing you've caught me doing," said Tony.
Wanda cringed as certain images flashed through both Tony and Pepper's minds.
The others didn't need telepathy to imagine what kinds of things Tony meant. Gro
ans and snickers rippled throughout the room.
Onscreen Pepper's eyes widened as she took in the pieces of the Suit. "Are those
bullet holes?" she asked.
Scott's laughter died suddenly. "Bullets can get through that thing?!"
It was night in Afghanistan, and into the new Ten Rings camp a row of black SUVs
came rolling up. Raza approached the foremost one with a couple of guards besid
e him.
"Okay, I hope this isn't . . ." began Steve. SHIELD, he finished in his mind.
Obadiah Stane stepped out of the back seat of the car, flanked by men of his own
.
"Ah," said Steve. "Wait, what?!"
"You were surprised?" asked T'Challa of the Captain.
"Now this is something I wanted to see!" said Tony.
"Stane wasn't merely selling to the Ten Rings, then," Thor surmised with a frown
.
Obadiah walked up to Raza. His eyes appraised the state of the camp.
"Welcome," said Raza.
"A business transaction doesn't equal an alliance," said Jane to Thor.
Obadiah's eyes flickered to the side of Raza's head.
"Compliments of Tony Stark," said Raza, pointing to the damage.
"Hey! Go me!" Tony smirked.
Obadiah's smile was wry. "Well, if you'd killed him when you were supposed to, y
ou'd still have a face," he said.
Raza was clearly not happy. "You paid us trinkets to kill a prince," he said.
"I stand corrected," said Thor.
"Obie always did drive a hard bargain," said Tony.

But Obadiah merely said, "Show me the weapon."


"Not like you can do anything with it anyway," scoffed Betty.
"You'd be surprised," said Tony.
"Come," said Raza. "Leave your guards outside."
Obadiah held up his hand to the men behind him, and followed Raza. As the two le
aders left, the guards stared each other down, clearly ready to go to blows if a
nything went wrong.
"Well, they look friendly," said Cooper. Rhodey snorted.
Obadiah stepped into a tent, and at once his eye fell upon the reconstituted Mk
I.
"There is is!" said Bruce.
"Not bad, considering," said Tony.
"His escape bore unexpected fruit," said Raza, coming in behind Obadiah and goin
g around to a table at the side of the tent.
"So this is how he did it," said Obadiah, folding his arms as he walked forward
to examine it more closely.
"That is how he did it," said Rhodey.
"This is only a first crude effort," said Raza looking around (no one argued tha
t point). "Stark has perfected his design. ("'Improved' is more like it," said T
ony.) He has made a masterpiece of death. A man with a dozen of these could rule
all of Asia." ("Could you set your sights any lower?" said Fury with a snort) H
e looked shrewdly at the American. "And you dream of Stark's throne."
Obadiah, who had been pacing around the Suit all the while, turned and looked ba
ck at Raza, his face for once revealing nothing.
"That means yes," said Pepper.
"My throne, that's a laugh," said Tony deprecatingly.
"We have a common enemy," said Raza, coming forward and seating himself in a cha
ir. ("Now you do," said Sharon.) "We're still in business," he added.
Obadiah was examining the circular hole in the middle of the chest of the Suit.
"Arc Reactor goes in there!" said Clint.
"I will give you his designs as a gift," said Raza, pouring some drink into a cu
p. "And in return, I hope you'll repay me with a gift of iron soldiers." And he
held out the cup to Obadiah.
"He's not gonna go for it, look at him!" said Sam.
Obadiah smiled, and walked up to Raza. He put his hand on the back of Raza's sho
ulder, and there was a shrill, metallic, buzzing whine. Something bright blue gl
owed in each of his ears. A small object which had been hidden in his hand shone
a red light at the back of Raza's head.

"Oh, that little guy," said Tony grimly, and Wanda shivered at the flash of memo
ry.
Raza's body stiffened. His olive skin paled visibly, and a network of spidery bl
ue veins appeared on the side of his head and neck. He tried to move, his redden
ing eyes darting in panic, and at last looking up into Obadiah's still smiling f
ace.
"What the hell is that?!" cried Scott.
"Another creation of mine," said Tony. "US government didn't approve."
"Your government chooses to draw the line in strange places," observed T'Challa.
All the Americans looked wryly at one another, but did not disagree.
Then Obadiah spoke, and the words on the screen translated them into English: Th
is is the only gift you shall receive.
"That's about what I thought," said Sam.
"Technology," said Obadiah in English, straightening and folding down the little
device and taking the cup from Raza's frozen hand as he sat unmoving in the cha
ir. "It's always been your Achilles' heel in this part of the world." ("Sometime
s, not always," said Maria) He pocketed the device and removed the blue things f
rom his ears ("Gotta plug your ears when you use that," said Tony). "Don't worry
," he added as Raza stared at him. "It'll only last for fifteen minutes." He pas
sed his hand over Raza's head as he walked by. "That's the least of your problem
s."
"Evil selling out evil again!" said Darcy.
Obadiah strode out of the tent. "Crate up the armor and the rest of it," he said
to his guards as he walked to his SUV. "All right, let's finish up here." There
was a noise of machine guns going off as he got into the car.
"Wait, is that the end of the Ten Rings right there?" asked Scott.
"Oh, no way," said Natasha.
"Just checkin'," said Scott.
In the back seat of the car, Obadiah was on his cell phone. "Set up Sector 16 un
derneath the Arc Reactor," he said. 'I'm going to want this data masked. Recruit
our top engineers. I want a prototype right away."
"Of the first Suit?" Thor arched an eyebrow.
Pepper swung the door of the workshop open to find Tony once again at work on th
e Mk III.
"Hey," he said as soon as he saw her. "You busy? Mind if I send you on an errand
?"
The real Tony and Pepper exchanged glances. Oh, joy, everybody's got to see this
, have they? flitted through both their minds.
"What sort of errand?" asked May.
Onscreen Pepper's hands were on her hips as she walked up to one of Tony's work

surfaces.
"I need you to go to my office," Tony went on. "You're going to hack into the ma
inframe and you're going to retrieve all the recent shipping manifests." He had
walked over to the tabletop and now picked up a small jump drive, which he hande
d to Pepper. "It's probably under Executive Files. If not, they've put it on a g
host drive, in which case you need to look for the lowest numeric heading."
"That might not be pleasant," said Bucky.
"Not pleasant at all," said the real Pepper.
Onscreen Pepper looked sharply at Tony. He had now walked away and was in front
of his desktop computer, scrutinizing the design. "And what do you plan to do wi
th this information if I bring it back here?" she asked.
"Same drill," said Tony. "They've been dealing under the table, and I'm going to
stop them. I'm going to find my weapons and destroy them."
"That is exactly what I was expecting," said Steve heavily.
"Tony," said Pepper, and she laughed without mirth. "you know that I would help
you with anything, but -" Her face hardened. "- I cannot help you if you are goi
ng to start all of this again."
"Why on earth wouldn't you help do the right thing?" asked Jane.
"Because if you recall, the last time Tony had gotten mixed up with the Ten Ring
s, he ended up missing for three months and almost died," said the real Pepper.
"There is nothing except this," said Tony. "There is no art opening, there is no
benefit, there is nothing to sign." He turned to her, and his face was grim. "T
here is the next mission, and nothing else."
"You have no regard for your own life at times," said Vision to Tony.
"Well, you did," said Tony. "Probably why I'm still alive."
Wanda couldn't help but note the word 'did.' Had Vision been so at odds with Ton
y in her absence? Somehow she wasn't surprised.
"That so?" said onscreen Pepper, looking keenly into his face. "Well then, I qui
t." She threw the jump drive down on the table, and she turned and walked away.
No one spoke. They all had a pretty good idea, from what she'd just said, why sh
e was leaving.
"You stood by my side all those years while I reaped the benefits of destruction
," said Tony, making her stop and turn around in the doorway. "And now that I'm
trying to protect the people that I put in harm's way, you're going to walk out?
"
Vision rubbed Wanda's back.
"You're going to kill yourself, Tony," said Pepper. "I'm not going to be a part
of it."
Scott seemed to have an epiphany. "That's why you guys are on break, isn't it?"
Both the real Pepper and the real Tony turned and looked at him.

"You know what? I'll shut up," said Scott. Sam was laughing quietly at him.
"I shouldn't be alive," said onscreen Tony, turning away from Pepper and sitting
down. "Unless it was for a reason. I'm not crazy, Pepper. I just finally know w
hat I have to do." He looked back at her, his eyes full of conviction. "And I kn
ow in my heart that it's right."
"Not the serious eyes again," muttered Steve.
Pepper was still staring at him. She blew out her breath in a long sigh. Then, a
fter a moment, she came back to the table and picked up the jump drive. "You're
all I have too, you know," she said.
That pulled Wanda up short for a moment, and she took a very cursory look at the
real Pepper. It seemed she was nearly as alone in the world as was Tony.
Onscreen, Tony gazed after Pepper as she walked away.
The real Pepper blew out her breath. "Here goes," she said.
A set of elevator doors opened, and Pepper stepped out of them. She looked cauti
ously around as she walked. All three of the assistant's offices were empty.
"Nobody there, check," said Sharon.
Wanda found herself holding her breath.
Onscreen Pepper pushed open the door to Tony's office, slipped inside, and shut
it behind her.
"Inside, check," muttered Tony.
Pepper cast an uneasy glance over her shoulder as she walked to the desk (which
was of course in the middle of the room right in front of the door) and sat down
in front of the computer. She brushed the mouse, and the screen saver disappear
ed. A Stark Industries logo appeared on the screen, followed by a login and pass
word box.
"Please be okay," pleaded Steve, who liked Pepper very much, as did nearly all t
he Avengers who knew her. "Please make it out of there."
Pepper pulled the jump drive out of her purse and plugged it into the USB port.
A red warning box with the words "Warning: Security Breach" appeared momentarily
on the screen, blinking and blaring quietly. Then a box with lines of code appe
ared on the side, and in a moment the red box turned green and the words "Access
Granted" replaced the warning.
Thor was gripping Mjolnir so hard his knuckles were turning white. Bucky's jaw w
as clenched.
The jump drive brought Pepper straight to a ghost drive, just as Tony had predic
ted, and she clicked the latest file. It opened, and a pile of shipping manifest
documents flashed onto the screen in quick succession. The next file back yield
ed much the same results. But the file after that brought up a number of images
of the Mk I with the words "Sector 16" on top of them.
"Sector 16?" murmured Pepper. "What are you up to, Obadiah?"

"Was that the Suit he was working on?" asked Betty almost in a whisper.
The real Pepper nodded.
But the next file was even more damning. It was a video. Tony was slumped in a c
hair, surrounded by men with the Ten Rings insignia hanging behind them, half a
dozen guns trained on him. A voice was speaking, and the words were not in Engli
sh except for the name "Tony Stark."
"Hey, that's the video they were shooting at the beginning!" said Cooper sharply
.
"I did say it was a message," said the real Pepper. "Listen."
Onscreen Pepper clicked a box and typed "TRANSLATE" into it.
"You did not tell us that the target you paid us to kill was the great Tony Star
k," came the translated words ("So he screwed them just as much as he screwed me
," said Tony). "As you can see, Obadiah Stane, your deception and lies will cost
you dearly. The price to kill Tony Stark has just gone up."
"Wonder what he was originally paying them," said Maria.
Pepper started copying the files, all of them, onto the jump drive at once.
"So!" said a voice.
On screen Pepper started and looked up. There was Obadiah Stane standing in the
doorway.
Betty, May, Jane, and Wanda all shrieked.
"The hell?!" cried Scott.
"Fuck!" spluttered Rhodey.
"PEPPER!" howled Steve.
Tony started visibly, and shot a look at the real Pepper.
"LAY BUT A FINGER ON HER -" bellowed Thor.
"What are we going to do about this?" asked Obadiah as Pepper sat in front of th
e computer, files copying away.
"You didn't say he caught you at my desk!" cried Tony.
"By the time I could have told you, there were other things to deal with," said
Pepper.
Clint groaned. "I don't even want to ask."
Onscreen Pepper watched as Obadiah walked to a small side table on which sat a g
lass bottle with whiskey in it and a few drinking glasses. He picked one up and
poured himself a drink.
Wanda was clutching Vision's arm. Vision was casting anxious looks over at the r
eal Pepper, as if to reassure himself that she had survived the encounter.
"I know what you're going through, Pepper," said Obadiah, his eyes on Pepper as

she glanced back at the screen ("Kind of betting my life that you don't," murmur
ed the real Pepper). "Ah, Tony!" He picked up the bottle and sniffed it. "He alw
ays gets the good stuff, doesn't he?"
"The best," said Tony in a dangerous growl.
Onscreen Pepper just smiled and nodded, and when Obadiah looked down for a momen
t she picked up the paper, which was lying beside the computer, and slid the edg
e over the jump drive.
"Oh, Pepper!" Natasha protested. "Now it's more obvious!"
Obadiah poured a second glass, picked it up, and came around the desk.
"No!" gasped Sharon.
"OhGodohGodohGod," squeaked Peter.
"Hide it! Hide it!" choked Bucky desperately.
Pepper's hand was on the mouse. The last of the files copied. She hovered the mo
use over the top of the screen and clicked "Screen Saver" as Obadiah came and st
ood behind her.
"Ho-ly shit," groaned Bruce, wiping his brow.
"Cuttin' it close there!" breathed Sam.
"Not out of the woods yet," said the real Pepper grimly.
"I was so happy when he came home," said Obadiah, standing so close to Pepper th
at he was almost touching her ("Invasive much?" muttered Betty). "It was like we
got him back from the dead." He moved around and sat down on the desk beside he
r (Tony nearly jumped out his chair). "Now I realize - well - Tony never really
did come home, did he?"
"C'mon, I can't take this!" said Rhodey.
"He left a part of himself in that cave." Obadiah's eyes flickered to the screen
saver, making Wanda squeak. "Breaks my heart."
"Well," said Pepper as he looked back up at her. "He's a complicated person."
"He is that," croaked Bruce.
Obadiah took a sip from his glass.
"He's been through a lot," Pepper went on. "I think he'll be all right."
"C'mon Pepper, get outta there," moaned Tony, his foot thumping the floor.
Obadiah looked over the woman in front of the computer. "You," he said. "are a v
ery rare woman. Tony doesn't know how lucky he is."
"He has to flirt NOW?!" cried Laura.
Onscreen Pepper looked down and tried to smile bashfully. "Thank you," she said.
"Thanks. I'd better get back there." She got up, taking the paper and unpluggin
g the jump drive in the process, and walked toward the door.

Wanda breathed a sigh of relief.


"Is that today's paper?" asked Obadiah, pulling Pepper up short.
"He knows!" said T'Challa, eyes narrowed.
"Yes," said onscreen Pepper, turning around with a smile.
"D'you mind?" asked Obadiah, coming up to her.
"Yes, very much!" said Thor.
"Not at all," said Pepper, handing it back to him. Her hand curled as he took it
.
"Puzzle," he said, matching her smile.
"Right," growled Tony.
"Of course," said Pepper, and she turned and walked through the open door.
"Take care," said Obadiah as she left.
She looked back briefly at him standing in the middle of the office. She glanced
down at the jump drive in her hand as she went.
Natasha was nearly apoplectic with horror. "Couldn't you at least have waited un
til you were out of sight?" she cried.
"She made it!" said Vision at the same time.
"I made it!" the real Pepper confirmed.
As soon as she was out of sight, Obadiah slammed the paper down on his desk and
brushed his hand over the mouse. The screen saver vanished, and up came the desk
top with a box in the middle. The box showed the number 100, and the words "Down
load Complete."
"Oh!" cried Jane involuntarily.
Obadiah ran his hands over his head, and practically leapt to his feet.
Pepper made her way down the stairs, clutching her purse.
"Ms. Potts?" said a voice from in front of her.
"Coulson! God bless you!" cried Steve.
"We had an appointment," said Coulson as she came clicking up to him. "Did you f
orget about our appointment?"
"No, sir!" said Scott.
"Nope, right now," said Pepper. "Come with me."
"Right now?" said Coulson, getting up.
"Right now!" said the real Pepper.
"We're going to have it right now," said onscreen Pepper. "Yep, walk with me."

"Okay," said Coulson, suddenly finding himself nearly running to keep up with he
r (he was not a tall man, and his legs were short).
"This is SHIELD?" asked T'Challa.
"This is SHIELD on a good day," said Fury.
Pepper glanced up and behind her. "I'll give you the meeting of your life," she
said as she and the SHIELD agent passed out of view. "Your office."
Behind and above them, Obadiah Stane stood watching. The very sight of his face
made Wanda anxious now; but she was slightly distracted by the pleasure she felt
from Tony at all the worry the Avengers in general were expressing over Pepper.
"One finger," muttered Thor, gripping Mjolnir. "And I'll make you regret the day
you were born."
"You're a little late on that one, but thanks!" said the real Pepper.
Next moment Obadiah Stane strode into what could only be Sector 16. A group of m
en in white lab coats were hovering around a station on the bottom of the great
Arc Reactor, one of them on the phone. "Yeah, we've been working our best to do
it," he said. "Absolutely, and we're -" The door slammed and he looked up to see
Obadiah walking up. "I'm going to have to call you back," he said, and hung up
the phone.
"He has to have a team working to get it together?" asked Tony scornfully.
All the assistants fled, leaving the one who'd been talking on the phone to face
Obadiah. "Ah, Mr. Stane, sir," he said. "Ah, we've explored what you've asked u
s to, and it seems as though there's a little hiccup - actually, ah -"
"Hiccup?" asked Obadiah, looming dangerously over the unfortunate man.
"What sort of hiccup?" asked Peter.
"Looks like they can't get the Arc Reactor tech to behave," said Bruce.
"Yes, to power the Suit," said the man. "Sir, the technology actually doesn't ex
ist, so it's -"
"Wait, wait, wait, the technology?" Obadiah's arm went around the smaller man's
shoulders and his head came down till his face was about an inch away from the o
ther's ("He really likes to put his hands on people way too much," said Betty).
"William, here is the technology," he said, gesturing with his other arm to the
Arc Reactor in front of them. "I've asked you to simply make it smaller."
"And they can't?" asked Scott skeptically.
"I built it, whatdya think?" asked Tony.
"Okay, sir, and that's what we're trying to do," said William as Obadiah straigh
tened up and gave him a moment's reprieve.
Obadiah came just short of strangling the man. "TONY STARK WAS ABLE TO BUILD THI
S IN A CAVE!" he thundered, poking William's chest with his finger. "WITH A BOX
OF SCRAPS!"
"Damn straight he did!" said Rhodey.

"Well, I'm sorry," said William. "but I'm not Tony Stark."
Tony spread his hands. "I'm the best," he said, and no one felt like calling him
on it.
Onscreen, Tony walked into his lounge just as his cell phone rang. He looked aro
und, and then picked it up. It was Pepper.
He flipped open the phone and put it to his ear. "Tony?" cam Pepper's voice thro
ugh it, and at the same instant a high, buzzing whine sounded in the room as a s
mall device appeared beside his head.
Vision jumped, a real jump like Wanda hadn't seen him give before, and made a ve
ry odd noise like a howl. Wanda knew that everyone else knew quite well that it
was his first attempt at a scream.
Obadiah pulled the phone out of Tony's hand and hung it up. He eased Tony's head
onto the back of the couch. "Breathe," he crooned. "Easy, easy."
"No, no, nonono," groaned Peter.
Tony's reddening eyes followed Obadiah's hand as he tried to keep breathing. Oba
diah held up the little device before his eyes. "You remember this one, right?"
he said as he clicked it off. "It's a shame the government didn't approve. There
are so many applications for causing short-term paralysis."
"Well, I could help you out with that," growled Natasha.
Obadiah got up and came round the couch. He pulled Tony's head around so that he
was looking straight up into his face. "Ah, Tony," he said as he began to pull
the little blue plugs from his ears. "When I, ah, ordered the hit on you -" "Boa
sting about it, are we?" grunted Sam as Tony's eyes widened even further while O
badiah briefly leaned aside and reached into a bag for a tool. "I worried that I
was killing the golden goose."
Wanda almost shrieked again as the memory of what was coming washed over Tony's
mind.
Obadiah put the tool over Tony's shirt where the Arc Reactor clearly glowed thro
ugh the fabric. "But you see, it was just fate that you survived then." He punch
ed the handle, and the tool poked through Tony's shirt straight to the Arc React
or underneath. Tony gasped and choked as the Arc Reactor was pulled from its soc
ket.
"Tony!" gasped Pepper involuntarily.
"No!" howled Thor.
Vision shut his mouth and began to shake.
"You had one last golden egg to give," said Obadiah, his face lit up in the Arc
Reactor's glow. He leaned forward over Tony, the short cable dangling into the s
ocket.
"But the shrapnel!" wailed Betty.
"Do you really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you?" ask
ed Obadiah ("Yes, actually!" shouted Clint). "Your father - he helped give us th
e atomic bomb. Now what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as

you?"
"Howard," said Steve hoarsely. "What did you do?"
Then, with a jerk, Obadiah yanked the cable up, the magnet dangling at the end o
f it.
"The magnet!" wailed Scott.
Pepper was nearly in tears.
The thief held up the glowing marvel before the eyes of its creator. "Oh, it's b
eautiful!" breathed Obadiah, turning it over in his hand. "Oh, Tony - this is yo
ur Ninth Symphony." He sat down beside Tony, still holding the Arc Reactor aloft
. "Oh, what a masterpiece!" he said. "Look at that! This is your legacy! A new g
eneration of weapons, with this at its heart!"
Thor was growling, a low rumble like the thunder that comes when the storm is fa
r away. Rhodey was fidgeting, his anxiety demanding an outlet.
If anyone had told Wanda eighteen months ago that she would be near panic for To
ny Stark's life, she would have laughed in his face. Now she and Vision clutched
at one another for comfort, the presence of the man in question nearby being fr
ankly of very little comfort.
Onscreen Tony choked and gasped, blood leaking from the ear visible on the scree
n, his body clearly fighting to keep him alive. Bruce looked harried, and the re
al Tony was stonefaced again. More nightmares were rising before his eyes.
"Weapons that will help steer the world back on course," continued Obadiah, his
face so close to Tony's that Wanda could feel the remembered breath on Tony's fa
ce. "Put the balance of power in our hands - the right hands."
"He's crazy!" said Sam. "He's out of his mind!"
Obadiah leaned over and stowed the Arc Reactor away in a small case. "I wish you
could see my prototype," he said, smiling down at the genius ("Oh, but I did,"
grunted the real Tony). "It's not as. . . conservative. . .as yours. Too bad you
had to involve Pepper in this. I would've preferred that she lived. . ."
That was the last straw for Steve. "OH NO, YOU DON'T!" he roared. "IF YOU DARE "
Tony's eyes slid over toward the older man as he got up and walked away, his bla
ck case held in his left hand.
"Oh, Tony," moaned Rhodey, and thought he didn't say it, they nearly all thought
it - there's no way he can possibly survive this one.

* * *

Wow! Forgot how intense these chapters are to write! Anyway, I hope you guys enj
oyed it!

Chapter 10: The Iron Monger


You know what, I've already finished the last chapter (the chapter after this on
e), so I'm going to go ahead and post both of them today. Y'all good with that?
I thought so.
All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

The next shot briefly showed a street somewhere in Malibu, and then Rhodey drivi
ng with a cell phone to his ear. "What do you mean, he paid to have Tony killed?
" he asked. "Pepper, slow down. Why would Obadi - okay, where is Tony now?"
"Quick, Rhodey," whimpered Jane.
"Almost not fast enough," muttered Rhodey.
"I don't know, he's not answering his phone," said Pepper worriedly. She was wal
king out of a SHIELD building flanked by about half a dozen agents, Coulson at t
heir head. "Please go over there and make sure everything's okay. Thank you, Rho
dey."
She touched her earpiece and addressed Coulson. "I know a shortcut," she said.
"Not short enough," said the real Pepper grimly.
Rhodey swerved sharply, and drove off for Tony's house.
"Not short enough for what?" asked Laura, but no one had time to answer her, for
at that moment the scene changed and Tony, obviously clinging to life, flung hi
mself into an elevator.
Vision gasped, and Wanda clutched him.
"I DON'T BELIEVE IT!" bellowed Scott.
Sam clapped his hands to his brow. "Stark, so help me. . ."
"Son of a gun!" Fury shook his head.
Pepper gripped the hand of the real Tony till her knuckles turned white. He look
ed glanced around at the others on grim resignation. No getting out of this, he
thought, vainly trying to squash the remembered nightmares again.
Onscreen Tony slid slowly down the wall of the elevator as it carried him down.
When the door opened, he steadied himself against edge as he hauled himself over
the threshold, every move clearly a terrible effort.
"Oh, Tony!" gasped Steve. "Oh, dear God!"
"Where is he even going?" asked Sharon.

Onscreen Tony pushed himself forward, and his hand just managed to push open the
door to the garage.
There it sat on his desk: Pepper's gift to him, the old Arc Reactor. It was pain
fully far away, but it was there.
"This is how he did it?" cried Clint.
"PEPPER, YOU'RE AN ANGEL!" shrieked Darcy.
Vision wiped Wanda's eyes gently with the edge of his sweater sleeve.
Onscreen Tony fell to the floor, and began to crawl. Bit by bit, he made his way
to the table on which sat the Arc Reactor.
"Holy shit," said Bucky. "Ho-ly shit."
"Anthony Edward Stark -" began Rhodey.
"What?!" barked the real Tony, who in the midst of all the trauma of the remembe
red nearness of death was also highly annoyed at the use of his full name.
Onscreen Tony pulled himself up on a plastic bin and stretched up his arm as far
as he could. His hand came just short of reaching the glass case before he fell
back down to the floor.
"No, come on!" Clint's hand was clenched.
And then came the sound of a peculiar little whine, and down came a robotic arm
with the Arc Reactor in its claw.
"Dum-E!" cried Vision.
"I knew that one was good for something!" said Bruce.
Tony reached up for the case, and looked up at Dum-E, who gave a little concerne
d click.
"It'll be okay, Dum-E!" said Jane through her tears.
"Good boy," said Tony, and he dashed the case against the floor.
"You really are the man with nine lives!" groaned Thor.
Obadiah Stane sat before a Suit which did not seem to be the Mk I, the Arc React
or in his hand as he gazed up at the towering Suit (there were a few growls in t
he lounge at the sight of the glowing marvel). After a few seconds he got up, an
d went up to his Suit (of which very little could actually be seen), and there c
onnected the cable to the center socket and pushed the unit inside. It went in w
ith a click, and there was a mighty rumbling in answer from the Suit.
"That looks like a lot of Suit!" said Darcy, pointing.
"It is a lot of Suit!" said Tony.
There was a little flutter of memory from Vision, though Wanda only glimpsed a g
reat towering mass of metal through it.
Obadiah gazed up at the Suit once more, and he smiled.

Rhodey burst into the lounge. "Tony?" he called. "Tony? Tony!"


"Oh, thank goodness!" said Pepper. The real Rhodey sighed with relief.
Onscreen Rhodey tore down the stairs and into the workshop, and there lay Tony o
n the floor, doubled over next to the shattered glass.
"Didn't you -" began Pepper anxiously.
"Tony!" cried Rhodey in alarm, rushing over to him and turning him gently over.
"Tony, you okay?"
Onscreen Tony's color was already better (though not yet good) and the Arc React
or gleamed in its socket as he gripped Rhodey's arm. "Where's Pepper?" he rasped
.
"He's asking about Pepper, he's fine," said Natasha. "Semi-fine."
"She's fine," said Rhodey. "She's with five agents, they're about to arrest Obad
iah."
"That's not going to be enough," said Tony grimly.
"Oh, no," said Steve.
A silver car followed by a line of black cars pulled up in the No Parking zone o
f the Stark Industries Factory. Pepper and Coulson climbed out of the first car,
followed by all the other SHIELD agents. Pepper keyed them inside, and in they
went in double file.
"This is more like it," said Natasha.
"Section 16," said Pepper as the agents followed her around the large Arc Reacto
r. "Section 16 - there it is."
"He's back there, waiting for them, isn't he?" asked Thor, quite unsettled. The
real Pepper did not answer.
Onscreen Pepper went straight up to a yellow door with the words "Section 16" pa
inted in black letters on the lock the words "Authorized Technicians Only" paint
ed under the window in red letters. She swiped her key, but aside from a soft be
ep nothing happened. She swiped again, with the same result.
"Oh, he coded you out, didn't he?" asked Sam. The real Pepper nodded.
Onscreen Pepper turned around in frustration. "My key's not working," she said.
"It's not opening the door - oh!" For Coulson had held out his hand behind him a
nd an agent had placed something in it.
"Coulson loves those," said Maria, pointing.
"Still sore at you guys for not telling us he was alive for so long," said Steve
, raising a forefinger.
"We only kept you in the dark for about three months after the fact," said Maria
. "And we told you why, too."
Wanda made a mental note to ask Clint or Natasha about this later.
"Wow! What's that?" said Pepper. "It's like a little device - it's like a thing

that's going to pick the lock?"


Coulson had placed the thing on the lock of the door. "You might want to take a
few steps back," he said as it began to beep.
"Uh-oh," said Steve.
Pepper, Coulson, and the rest of the agents all retreated from the door a few pa
ces and waited. Almost immediately there was a small explosion, and the door fel
l open.
"Well, it didn't pick the lock. . ." said the real Pepper with some humor.
Obadiah looked up at the noise, and turned to the Suit, hopping across an aisle
to reach it.
"And here we go," said Pepper.
Wanda did not find the memories she was glimpsing very comforting.
Inside his workshop, Tony was putting on his own Suit with Rhodey looking on in
wonder. "That's the coolest thing I've ever seen," he said.
"That was before I saw a dude shrink and grow," said the real Rhodey. Scott look
ed smug.
"Eh? What's that?" asked Thor.
"Later," said the real Rhodey.
"Not bad, huh?" said onscreen Tony, and then, presumably to JARVIS, "Let's do it
."
He aimed a ray from his hand at the nearest of his cars, the one he'd crushed in
the fall after his first flight, and sent it flying away from him.
"Hey, it's up and running!" cheered Bruce.
Satisfied, onscreen Tony turned back to Rhodey.
"You need me to do anything else?" asked Rhodey.
Tony's mask went down. "Keep the skies clear," he said, and then he powered up t
he flight rays and zoomed up through the holes in the ceilings and into the nigh
t sky.
"Yes!" said Jane happily.
"Damn!" said Rhodey, staring up after Tony, and then he turned to look at the Mk
II, unpainted but still impressive-looking. "Next time, baby!" he said, and he
swung himself into one of Tony's cars and sped away.
"Next time!" said the real Rhodey with a grin. Tony gave him a high-five.
Phil Coulson's face appeared at a window in a door, the other four SHIELD agents
following behind with Pepper. He swung the door open, drew a pistol, and went i
nside very quietly. The others behind him followed suit.
"Oh, boy!" said Natasha. "This is about to get interesting."

They were in what must be the heart of Obadiah's workshop, for it was quite dark
and there were big tubes and pipes and railings and warning signs everywhere. P
epper was looking around anxiously as they went.
Then they rounded a bend, and came upon the reconstituted Mk 1.
"There it is!" said Peter, but both Pepper and Tony shook their heads.
"Looks like you were right," said Coulson. "He was building a Suit."
"I thought it'd be bigger," said Pepper ("A lot bigger," said the real Pepper),
and she looked up at a quiet buzzing noise behind her. Two cables which hung fro
m the ceiling had obviously been recently disconnected from something, and were
still buzzing.
Peter gaped at the cables. "How big -"
"Enormous," said Tony.
The agents split up. Coulson took one agent and they vaulted over the railing ne
xt to them to go one way; another agent passed by a computer screen which showed
various dangerous-looking upgrades to the Mk I Suit.
"That looks pretty menacing," said Darcy uneasily.
Coulson and the agent with him continued to make their way forward.
Pepper was alone. She seemed to be following a trail of dangling still-buzzing c
ables, and she'd come to what was almost a curtain of chains which dangled from
the ceiling.
"Pepper, why don't you have agents with you right now?" asked Betty.
Pepper started around at a slight noise behind her, but as it was very dark back
behind the chains she couldn't see much of anything. She stepped forward to loo
k more closely.
"No, don't!" said Vision.
There was a clang.
A mask lit up at the eyes.
"Oh, SHIT!" shouted Scott.
Something rose up, towering at a colossal height; the viewers only had a brief g
limpse of it.
"It is bigger!" cried Thor in alarm.
The glowing eyeholes of the mask saw Pepper, a target marked in red, who screame
d and ran.
"Not Pepper!" cried Vision.
And then, as Pepper came tearing around the corner and the agents turned, they s
aw it.
"Sweet Jesus," said Clint, recoiling.

The Suit was massive, easily ten feet high, and it swept aside anyone that stood
in its path. The agents fired uselessly, but of course could not damage the thi
ng.
"Holy moly!" cried Cooper. "That's the Iron Monger?!"
"That's the Iron Monger," said Tony.
"Definitely not as conservative," squeaked May.
Pepper was running for her life through the sector, the great Suit charging afte
r her. An enormous metal claw of a hand lunged forward for her, and just barely
missed her.
"If you dare -" snarled Steve.
Tony flew through the sky.
"Hurry up!" muttered Sam anxiously.
"How do you think Mk I's chest piece is going to hold up?" asked Tony of JARVIS.
"The Suit is at forty-eight percent power and failing, sir," said JARVIS. "That
chest piece was never designed for sustained flight."
"It was designed to get you the hell out of that cave!" said Sam.
"Keep me posted," said Tony as he sped through the air.
"Well it did do that," conceded the real Tony.
"Pepper?" came Tony's voice on Pepper's cell phone as she ran out of the Stark I
ndustries factory.
"Tony!" she cried. "Tony, are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" said Tony.
"Obadiah, he - he's gone insane!" said Pepper, pausing to talk to him. "He built
a Suit-"
"I know, listen, you'd better get out of there - get out of there right now!"
But the pavement behind Pepper began to suddenly move and swell upward till it c
racked and broke, and up from a hole in the asphalt rose the Suit, the gigantic
Iron Monger. It stepped out from the hole and towered over Pepper.
"Oh no," moaned Bruce.
"LEAVE PEPPER THE HELL ALONE!" bellowed Bucky, surprising Tony and the real Pepp
er very much. Natasha indulged in a small quiet smirk.
"Where do you think you're going?" demanded Obadiah, his voice amplified and sli
ghtly distorted by the Suit.
Pepper backed away with a scream as Obadiah lifted an arm. "Your services are no
longer required!" he said, and a barrel of enormous rounds on top of the arm be
gan to spin.
Wanda shrieked.

"STANE!"
At the last possible moment Tony's red-and-gold Mk III had come barreling down o
ut of the heavens and sailed directly into the Iron Monger.
"YES!" cheered Peter.
"About damn time!" cried Rhodey.
Too big and slow and heavy to react in time, the Iron Monger was knocked backwar
d out of Stark Industries grounds and onto the busy thoroughfare outside.
"Oh no!" protested Clint.
Tony sailed into the side of a truck, but Obadiah landed on the street in the mi
ddle of an intersection. Cars swerved to avoid the beast of terror, but Obadiah
grabbed a car and threw it over his shoulder as it tried to pass.
"Son of a bitch!" growled Scott.
The other cars began slamming into each other as they skidded away from the chao
s, but one minivan with a woman and her children inside it came to a screeching
halt right in front of the Iron Monger. They screamed in terror as their mother
slammed on the brakes.
"Oh, no, please don't let -" began Sam.
Obadiah clanked to his feet and grabbed the minivan, lifting it into the air abo
ve his head.
"NO! What did they ever do to you?!" howled Cooper.
"I love this Suit!" cried Obadiah as he turned toward Tony, the minivan full of
screaming children dangling from his grasp.
Thor growled, his right hand curled round the handle of Mjolnir. No doubt one bl
ow from that hammer could have reduced the Iron Monger to a pile of twisted frag
ments.
"Put them down!" Tony demanded.
"Collateral damage, Tony," said Obadiah, stamping forward.
"Collateral damage?! You grabbed them!" shrieked Betty.
"Divert power to chest RT," said Tony to JARVIS, lowering his hands.
The chest piece took a moment to power up before throwing out a blast that sent
the Iron Monger flying backward and made him let go of the minivan.
"Oh dear," said Vision. "I'd forgotten the -"
Tony caught the minivan, but his Suit was not as bulky as Obadiah's. He stood wo
bbling under the weight of the car as he tried to hold it up.
"Oh, no," said Steve. "no, no, no. . ."
"Power reduced to nineteen percent," said JARVIS as Tony struggled to hold up th
e minivan.

"Yeah, well I'm not surprised!" said Natasha.


Tony sank to one knee. The woman slammed on the gas, and the minivan came down o
n the ground with a thud. It took off down the highway as Tony clung to the hood
.
"Yikes!" said Clint.
"Lady!" shouted Tony in protest as he began to slide down the hood. "No, no, no,
no, no -" The minivan rolled over him as he slid down to the ground.
"Oi. . ." said the real Tony.
"Ugh!" grunted onscreen Tony as he lifted the back wheels to keep from being cru
shed. Then he rolled over as he let go, and the minivan sped safely away.
"Hoo-boy, that was not fun and oh, what -?" huffed Sam.
For Obadiah was
ook him another
came zooming in
g backward with

charging up the street toward Tony with a roar and a jump that t
teen feet into the air. Just as he reached Tony, a motorcyclist
between them. Obadiah grabbed the motorcycle and sent Tony flyin
it.

"Oh, really?" said Pepper.


A nearby bus had skidded to the side of the road, and now its doors opened and f
rantic passengers began climbing out of it and running away, many of them scream
ing.
Obadiah ran forward and grabbed Tony, flinging him high into the air. "For thirt
y years I've been holding you up!" he bellowed ("No, you haven't," said the real
Tony, and he glanced toward the Vision). Then he threw Tony back down on the gr
ound and stamped on him with his huge right foot. "I built this company from not
hing!" ("You and Howard Stark built it from nothing," corrected Laura) He reache
d down to pick Tony up with his hand, or claw, again. "Nothing's going to stand
in my way!" He hurled Tony into the bus right through the side, which thankfully
was now empty. "Least of all you!"
"Oh yeah?" said Rhodey. "That's Iron Man you're talking to!"
A large projectile opened from the shoulder of the Iron Monger and aimed itself
straight at the ruined bus. It fired an explosive into the bus, which went up in
flames with a bang.
"Oh . . ." gasped Pepper in alarm.
The force of the explosion sent Tony sailing up into the air again, and as he ca
me down his flight repulsors came to life. He went from falling to hovering upri
ght in the air in a moment.
"Okay," said Pepper, relaxing a bit.
"Damn, that was a good one!" said Rhodey.
"Impressive!" cried Obadiah with a laugh. "You've upgraded your armor! I've made
some upgrades of my own!"
And then the Iron Monger lifted off the ground and began to ascend through the a
ir, its flight repulsors using as much force as a small spaceship and letting of

f about as much smoke.


"Oh, scratch the part about the chest piece!" said May.
"Sir," said JARVIS. "It appears that his Suit can fly."
"Statin' the obvious, JARVIS!" said Clint.
"Duly noted," said Tony. "Take me to maximum altitude."
"With only fifteen percent power ("Fifteen percent?!" said Scott incredulously),
the odds of reaching that altitude -"
"I know the math!" snapped Tony, looking down as the Iron Monger approached him.
"Do it!"
"Please don't die again," said Natasha.
And JARVIS obeyed. The Mk III took off toward the clouds while the Iron Monger f
lew up in pursuit after it.
From the lot of the SI factory, Pepper watched worriedly.
For a moment there was a shot of the Iron Monger chasing the Mk II, followed by
a view of a military surveillance screen.
"What? Again?!" cried Thor.
"Sir, you're not going to believe this," said the young private sitting in front
of the screen. "That thing is back!"
"Military interference again!" said Betty. "What a surprise!"
"Get me Major Allen," said his superior. "Scramble the jets."
The private picked up the phone by his desk, but a hand came down and prevented
him. "Not necessary, people," said Rhodey, looking around the room. "Just a trai
ning exercise."
"Good ol' Rhodey!" said Tony.
"No problem!" said the real Rhodey.
"Yes, sir," mumbled the young man, staring up at the Colonel and putting down th
e phone.
Tony sailed up, away from Obadiah, and for a moment it looked as if he might rea
lly be getting away. But then the Iron Monger sped up, and for all its bulk bega
n to give real chase.
"And he's fast!" said Clint.
"Thirteen percent power, sir," said JARVIS.
"Climb!" barked Tony.
"I did try," said Vision to Pepper.
"I know you did," said Pepper.

"Eleven percent," said JARVIS.


"Keep going!" said Tony.
"The Iron Monger is icing over," said T'Challa suddenly.
It was true. As the Iron Monger pursued the Mk III, everyone could now see the l
ayer of ice forming on it. In fact, nearly the whole Suit was iced over already;
only the helmet was relatively ice-free.
This was far better, for it meant that the Iron Monger would give out soon, but
unless it was very soon Tony was sure to run out of power.
The Arc Reactor in the middle of the Mk III began to flicker. "Seven percent," s
aid JARVIS.
"C'mon, ice over already!" moaned Bucky.
"Just leave it on the screen," said Tony. "Stop telling me."
And then Obadiah reached out and grabbed Tony's foot, yanking him down so that T
ony's helmet was on a level with his own. He wrapped his other hand around the n
eck of the Mk III.
Thor jumped to his feet, snarling, and Jane hastily tugged him down - that is, s
he tugged on his shirt until he calmed down enough to sit back down. There was n
o tugging Thor anywhere he did not wish to go.
"You had a great idea, Tony!" bellowed Obadiah as his helmet crusted with ice. "
But my Suit is more advanced in every way!"
"Almost," muttered Sam.
But Tony said, "Yeah? How'd you solve the icing problem?"
"Icing problem?" asked Obadiah as the lights inside his helmet suddenly began to
flicker before going out entirely.
"Icing problem!" Peter confirmed with a nod.
"Might want to look into it," said Tony, and he knocked on the top of the helmet
with the back of his hand. The Iron Monger began to fall, and great indeed was
that fall.
"That's the end of him!" grunted Thor in satisfaction.
"Actually, not quite," said the real Tony.
"What do you mean, not quite?" asked Bruce. "That looks pretty final to me!"
Onscreen Tony hovered where he was, watching the fall of the Iron Monger, until
JARVIS said "Two percent," and the Suit started spluttering and falling short di
stances at a time as the flight repulsors went in and out. "We are now running o
n emergency backup power."
"Oh, crap," said Natasha.
"Whoa!" said Tony as he went down. He managed to land safely on the roof of his
factory, falling onto his knees as he did. He climbed to his feet and said, "Pot
ts?"

"Tony!" cried Pepper with a gasp. "Oh, my God, are - are you okay?"
"I'm almost out of power," said Tony, peeling off one glove of the Mk III as he
spoke and lifting the visor of his helmet. "I've got to get out of this thing. I
'll be right there -"
But a great clanking thud behind him put a stop to that as the Iron Monger appea
red seemingly out of nowhere.
"Oh shit, not you again!" cried Clint.
"Nice try!" said Obadiah as Tony whirled around, mask flying back down.
"What'd I tell ya?" said the real Tony dryly. "No way it could be that easy."
Obadiah aimed a punch at Tony's head. Tony ducked, and flung out his right hand
- but his right hand was bare. He glanced at it, distracted just for a moment, a
nd Obadiah dealt him a blow that sent him spinning backward through the air.
"Is there an end to this guy?!" cried Scott.
Tony landed on hands and knees a few feet away, jumped up, and made a flying lea
p at Obadiah, punching him with his left hand (which was still gloved). Obadiah
caught him by the arm and then grabbed him around the middle of the Suit with bo
th hands. With a growl he began to squeeze.
"Oh, no, no, no. . ." said Sam.
"Weapons status," choked Tony as the plates of metal began bending and twisting
and little pieces of the Suit popped out behind him.
"Repulsors offline, missiles offline," said JARVIS.
"And you're online?" asked Steve in amazement.
Obadiah smiled inside the helmet as the claws of his Suit slowly destroyed the M
k III.
"Flares!" cried Tony, and though there was not enough power left for a real spur
t of fire, there was enough to send a series of sparks at the Iron Monger that m
ade him Obadiah drop Tony as he tried to right his helmet.
"Hey, it kinda worked!" said Rhodey.
"Had to do something," said the real Tony.
"Very clever, Tony," said Obadiah to that individual.
Tony, who seemed to have somehow got around a corner while Obadiah wasn't lookin
g, peered cautiously around it as Obadiah clanked around the roof. His screen wa
s cracked but still appeared to be functioning.
"Potts?" he said again, more quietly this time so Obadiah wouldn't hear him.
"I do declare, it still works!" said Sharon.
"Tony!" cried Pepper.
"This isn't working," whispered Tony. "We're going to have to overload the React

or and blast the roof."


"Well, how are you going to do that?" asked Pepper.
"You're going to do it," said Tony ("Of course," said Laura). "Go to the central
console, open up all the circuits. When I get clear of the roof, I'll let you k
now. You're going to hit the bypass button, it's going to fry everything up here
."
"Wait, all the circuits?" asked Natasha. "That couldn't have been a fast job."
"It wasn't," said the real Pepper.
"Okay," said Pepper, carefully making her way back into the factory, the floor o
f which was showered with glass (in three-inch pumps, no less). "I'm going in no
w."
"Make sure you wait until I'm clear of the roof," said Tony. "I'll buy you some
time." And he ducked out of sight as Obadiah came his way.
"And that's why," said the real Tony.
Inside the factory, Pepper pulled down switch after switch.
"Manually?!" said Maria.
"Yep," said Pepper. "It takes a while, as you can see."
"You're serious?" asked Bucky incredulously. "There's a whole room of switches y
ou have to pull one by one?!"
"M-hm!" said Pepper.
Tony managed to jump up on the back of the Iron Monger. Obadiah growled and trie
d to turn, but he was too late. Tony, clinging to the neck of the Iron Monger, h
ad just got a glimpse of something in the base of its helmet that JARVIS brought
up for a closer look. The words "Weak Point Located" appeared next to the icon.
"Hey, there we go!" said Natasha.
"This looks important!" said Tony triumphantly, and he gripped the thing with hi
s bare hand and yanked it out. The Iron Monger's helmet sputtered threateningly,
looking like it was about to go out again.
"That had to have helped!" said Rhodey.
"Enh," said the real Tony noncommittally.
Pepper pushed a row of square, glowing buttons one by one. Sam whistled.
Obadiah tried to reach behind his head for Tony, twisting from side to side. He
succeeded before long, and threw Tony right onto the glass panes that were direc
tly above the middle of the large Arc Reactor below.
"C'mon, Pepper . . ." muttered Betty, quietly enough so that the real Pepper did
n't hear her.
Pepper twisted a row of dials.
Up on the roof, the chest pieces of the Iron Monger folded back and its helmet o

pened to allow Obadiah's head to emerge.


"There you are, you scoundrel!" snarled Thor.
"I never had a taste for this sort of thing," said Obadiah, looking down at the
Mk III helmet that the viewers had not before noticed he was holding. "But I mus
t admit, I'm deeply enjoying the Suit!" He crumbled the helmet to a twisted lump
of metal and threw it next to Tony.
Tony raised his head to look up at Obadiah.
"You finally outdid yourself, Tony!" said Obadiah as the Iron Monger clanked for
ward. "You made your father proud!"
"Do not bring Howard into this!" muttered Steve hotly - but he made sure Tony di
d not hear him.
Tony climbed to his feet, no doubt ready to begin another assault, but at that m
oment Pepper pushed the last buttons and flipped open the cover of a large red o
ne.
"It's ready, Tony," she said. "Get off the roof!" Tony heard her through the cru
mpled helmet next to him.
"How's he going to do that?" asked Laura.
"It's still working?!" cried Peter at the same time.
Obadiah smiled at Tony, and began shooting out all the glass around Tony's feet.
Tony held up his arm, but nothing in it was working. He started to fall as the
glass under his feet broke, and he clung to the metal bars for dear life.
"No, not again!" cried Bruce.
Pepper screamed as a shower of glass came down on her, for she was now directly
under the spot to which Tony was clinging.
The real Tony looked over at Pepper as if just realizing what was happening. "Fo
rgot to ask," he said. "Were you okay down there?"
Pepper gaped at him. "Was I okay down there? How about were you okay up there?"
Obadiah continued to shoot out all the glass, sending another rain of shards dow
n on the unfortunate Pepper. She looked up, and saw Tony dangling many feet abov
e her.
"Tony!" she screamed.
"How ironic, Tony!" cried Obadiah. "Trying to rid the world of weapons, you gave
it its best one ever!"
"Ouch," said Scott.
"Pepper!" bellowed Tony, his eyes fixed on his enemy.
"And now," said Obadiah. "I'm going to kill you with it!"
"No, you're not!" said the real Tony, startling the others a bit. He was now act
ually smirking.

Obadiah lifted his arm, and shot a small missile that exploded at the side of th
e roof (actually quite a distance from Tony).
"Uh, what?!" said Steve.
"You ripped out my targeting system," said Obadiah, taking another step forward.
"Oh, that was what that was!" said Jane.
"Time to hit the button!" shouted Tony down at Pepper.
"Oh no, seriously?" said Sharon.
"You told me not to!" wailed Pepper.
"Hold still, you little prick," said Obadiah, lifting his arm again. This time t
he missile bit off a piece of the roof behind Tony - somewhat better, but not mu
ch.
"Stane's never gonna hit him, is he?" asked Natasha.
"Just do it!" shouted Tony.
Vision passed his hand over his eyes.
"You'll die!" howled Pepper.
"Been there, done that," said the real Tony.
"But still!" cried the real Pepper.
Obadiah took aim again, and this time (though he still didn't hit Tony) the expl
osion caused Tony to lose hold with his bare hand. "Push it!" he shouted.
Pepper punched the button, and raced away from the station as the Reactor came t
o life and filled the room with charges that could have individually powered a h
ouse each. Then it sent a blast of power up to the roof which blasted Tony aside
and struck the Iron Monger's smaller Reactor.
"Whoa!" shouted Sam.
Obadiah gave a cry as the resulting shock sent a bolt of electricity into the he
avens, causing a streak of lightning and a clap of thunder.
"Now if that didn't finish him -" huffed May.
But Obadiah was dead before the Suit even began to fall, clanking its way down t
hrough the factory into the great Arc Reactor. There was a burst of flame that n
early caught Tony as he rolled away from the hole in the roof.
"Don't tell me . . ." said Rhodey.
Then, slowly, the air cleared. Tony lay unmoving, the Arc Reactor flickering fee
bly. "Tony!" came the voice of Pepper, and whether it was an echo of memory or r
eally her voice no one could tell.
"Please . . ." begged Thor.
The Arc Reactor went out, and the screen went dark.

* * *

See you all next time! Thanks for all your reviews and please, please keep revie
wing!

Chapter 11: Iron Man


And we have come to the end! This one is comparatively short.
As ever, I own nothing. All rights belong to Marvel Studios.

* * *

On the screen of a television, a press conference was being streamed live. Rhode
y was standing at the podium, the same one from which Tony had delivered his fat
eful company turnaround statement after Afghanistan.
"You've all received the official statement of what occurred at Stark Industries
last night," Rhodey was saying. "There have been unconfirmed reports that a rob
otic prototype malfunctioned and caused damage to the Reactor. Fortunately, a me
mber of Tony Stark's personal staff. . ."
But the view was now moving
on was behind a couch where
eing attended to by Pepper.
a picture of Tony's Mk III
night before.

outward, and the viewers could see that the televisi


Tony was currently sitting reading a newspaper and b
The headline ran, Who is the Iron Man? and there was
that somebody had taken during the street fight the

"So that is where the name first came from!" said Thor.
"Hey, that's a good picture!" said Natasha. "Wonder who took it in the middle of
all that craziness."
"And there you are, looking like nothing ever happened to you," said Rhodey to P
epper and Tony.
"Iron Man," said onscreen Tony experimentally. "That's kind of catchy. It's got
a nice ring to it. ("It does, dudnit?" said Clint) I mean, it's not technically
accurate, the Suit's a gold-titanium al-loy -" he winced as Pepper pulled a band
age off the bridge of his nose. "- but it's kind of evocative - the imagery, any
way."
"Almost as evocative as SHIELD," said Darcy dreamily, and Wanda suddenly wondere
d who had named SHIELD. If the name had been Peggy Carter's idea . . . she stole
a look at Steve.
"Here's your alibi," said Phil Coulson, who was standing nearby, and he handed T

ony a set of blue cards.


"Hi, Phil," said the real Tony.
"Okay," said onscreen Tony as he took them.
"You were on your yacht," said Coulson.
"You have a yacht?" asked Peter.
"Used to," said the real Tony.
"Yeah," said onscreen Tony absently as he read the cards.
"We have port papers that put you in Avalon all night," said Coulson. "and sworn
statements from fifty of your guests."
"Fifty?" asked Laura in some surprise.
"We're nothing if not thorough," said Maria.
"See," said Tony. "I was thinking maybe we could say it was just, ah, just Peppe
r and me alone on the island." He looked impishly up at Pepper.
"Aww!" said Scott.
Pepper pulled another bandage rather severely, with a smile that said "don't you
even think about it", and began applying makeup to cover the scars.
Wanda stifled a laugh.
"That's what happened," said Coulson.
"All right," said Tony, looking back down at the cards.
"Just read it word for word," said Coulson.
"Nice try!" said Rhodey.
Tony frowned. "There's nothing about Stane here."
"That's being handled," said Coulson. "He's on vacation. Small aircrafts have su
ch a poor safety record."
"Oh, what a tragedy!" said Sharon.
"But what about the whole cover story that it's a bodyguard?" Tony clearly wasn'
t having any of it. "I mean, that's kind of flimsy, don't you think?"
"It is rather fantastic," said Thor.
"What would you have said?" asked Maria.
"This isn't my first rodeo, Mr. Stark," said Coulson. "Just stick to the officia
l statement and soon this will all be behind you."
"Official statement, right," said Clint, smirking.
"Pfft," said the real Tony.

Onscreen, Pepper finished making Tony up and smoothed her hair behind her ear.
"You've got ninety seconds," said Coulson, and he turned to go.
Pepper hurried after him and stopped him at the door. "Oh, Agent Coulson," she s
aid. "I just wanted to say, thank you very much for all of your help."
"Helpful is Coulson's middle name," said Clint.
"That's what we do," said Coulson. "You'll be hearing from us."
"From the Strategic Homeland Interven-" began Pepper arching her eyebrows.
"Just call us SHIELD," said Coulson, and for a moment his impassive smile seemed
more genuine as he turned and walked away.
"SHIELD it is!" said the real Pepper.
"Right!" said onscreen Pepper, and she trotted over to pick up Tony's suit-jacke
t. "Let's get this show on the road."
"You know, actually, it's not that bad," said Tony, getting up. "Even I don't th
ink I'm Iron Man."
"You do too!" said Steve, but he was smiling.
"You're not Iron Man," said Pepper, helping Tony into the jacket.
"Am so!" said Tony, gripping the cards between his teeth as he got his arms into
the sleeves.
"You're not!" said Pepper.
"All right, suit yourself," said Tony. "You know, if I were Iron Man, I'd have t
his girlfriend who knew my true identity ("Named Pepper Potts, hopefully!" said
Sam) - she'd be a wreck, 'cause she'd always be worrying that I was going to die
," ("And it was mine to see that he didn't," said the Vision) he pulled the card
s out of his mouth and turned around. "yet so proud of the man I'd become. ("Aww
!" said Natasha) She'd be wildly conflicted, which would only make her more -" h
e cleared his throat as Pepper straightened a folded square of silk in his butto
nhole. "- crazy about me - (Wanda giggled at the memory of Pepper's thoughts at
that moment) tell me you never think about that night."
"What night?" asked Pepper.
"Last night?" asked Bruce, his smile turning into a grin.
"You know," said Tony.
"Of course I know," said the real Pepper.
Onscreen Pepper looked up into his face for the first time. "Are you talking abo
ut - the night that we danced?" she asked. ("Oh yeah!" said Bucky) "And went up
on the roof, and then you - went downstairs to buy me a drink and left me there
by myself? ("Aw, crap!" said Bucky) Is that the night you're talking about?"
"Mm-hm," said Tony, deflating visibly.
"Thought so," said Pepper, straightening his jacket.

"I thought we were having a moment!" said the real Tony.


There was about an instant's silence during which onscreen Tony's eyes rolled up
and away from Pepper's face.
"Will that be all, Mr. Stark?" said Pepper.
"That will be all, Ms. Potts," said Tony at the same moment, and he left in rath
er a hurry.
"Aw, nuts," said Clint, and Rhodey snapped his fingers.
"And now, Mr. Stark has prepared a statement," said Rhodey down in the conferenc
e room, and then as the reporters began to pipe up he added, "He will not be tak
ing any questions. Thank you."
"Yeah, so much for that," said the real Tony, and the real Rhodey began shaking
his head and laughing silently.
Onscreen Rhodey stood aside, and Tony came up to the microphone. "Uh. . ." he tr
ailed off, clearly a bit out of balance. ". . .been a while since I was in front
of you, I figured I'll just stick with the cards this time."
The press people all chuckled.
"Seems like a good idea," said Fury. "Maybe you should even do it."
Tony cleared his throat, and Pepper watched the livestream from upstairs.
"There's been speculation," Tony began. "that I was involved in the events on th
e freeway and on the rooftop -"
"I'm sorry Mr. Stark," broke in an all-too-familiar voice ("Oh no, not Christine
Everhart again!" said Scott. "What does she want?"). "but do you honestly expec
t us to believe that that was a bodyguard in a suit that conveniently appeared,
("Told you it was lame," said the real Tony) despite the fact that you -"
"I know that it's confusing," said onscreen Tony, making a face. "It is one thin
g for you to question the official story, and another thing entirely to make wil
d accusations or insinuate that I'm a superhero -"
"Really?" said Scott to the real Tony. Thor began to laugh. Tony shrugged.
Christine smirked. "I never said you were a superhero," she said.
Thor's laughter grew, and Pepper rolled her eyes.
"You didn't," Tony backtracked. "Well good, because that would be outlandish and
, uh, fantastic -" he looked back down, and Christine arched her eyebrows skepti
cally.
"Cards, c'mon," said the real Rhodey.
"I'm just not the hero type, clearly," said onscreen Tony. "with this, uh, laund
ry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made, largely public. . ."
Onscreen Rhodey put his mouth to Tony's ear. "Stick to the cards, man," he whisp
ered. Tony nodded.
"Yeah, okay, yeah," said Tony, seeming for a moment to pull it together and hold

ing up the cards to look at them again. "Truth is. . ." He looked up, and his fa
ce went completely blank.
"Here it comes!" said Natasha.
"I am Iron Man."
Thor, who had just begun to quiet down, burst out laughing all over again.
"Ta-da!" said Darcy merrily.
Steve flung up his hands.
Instantly the press conference room was in uproar and every reporter sprang to h
is or her feet - all except, of course, for Christine Everhart.
Tony almost smiled for a moment, and then the screen went dark.
"And that's the end of it!" said the real Tony, spreading his hands.
But then the screen lit up again, and it opened on Tony's lounge as he came in.
"JARVIS!" he called.
"Oh, we're watching this?" said the real Tony, raising his eyebrows and lowering
his hands.
"Welcome home, sir," said JARVIS, but something seemed to be wrong with him, and
his voice distorted oddly on the sir.
"What's wrong with JARVIS?" asked Cooper rather apprehensively.
Tony walked forward a step or two, and halted. Behind the couch, in the shadows
of the room, stood a tall figure wrapped in something dark.
"Who on Midgard -" said Thor.
"I am Iron Man," said the familiar voice ("Oh, it's you!" said Clint to Fury). "
You think you're the only superhero in the world?"
"Not for long!" grinned the real Tony.
The shadowed form of the former director of SHIELD turned to the large window. "
Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe. You just don't know it yet."
"Sure as hell I didn't," said the real Tony.
"Who the hell are you?" asked onscreen Tony.
The stranger came forward into the lamplight, which gleamed on a long black tren
ch coat and a black eye patch. "Nick Fury, director of SHIELD," he said.
"That was quite an entrance!" said Maria.
Tony grunted and gave a sharp nod.
"I'm here," said Nick Fury. "to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative."
"All right!" cheered Darcy, and more than one of the viewers broke into applause
as the screen went dark again.

* * *

Just a step closer to being a single team again . . . but only a step . . .
Once again, I'd like to thank all of you who reviewed (but especially KiyaNamiel
, Samie Goode, Ur Fan, charlotteredmond99, and Ana Paula Lopes) for your boundle
ss enthusiasm about the re-write and your ongoing support. I couldn't have done
this without you guys!
Now I really don't know when I'll begin the re-write for Iron Man 2 because I mi
ght just go ahead with The Incredible Hulk instead, and then come back to Iron M
an 2 (and I'm still trying to work on The Seventh Avenger! ). I also think I'll
go ahead and add Rhodey/May to the list of pairings (though I'd like to give the
m a little buildup first).
Anyway, thanks again for your support and I hope to be back shortly!