"We might be more productive if you include me in the planning process."
"Yeah-huh." Tony spares a moment to wish for Butterfingers, or even Dummy. It's been years since he's done the grunt work of construction, and his hand briefly aches after the thump he gave the missile head. Slides the innards out.
"What is that?"
"That's palladium." The words come out clipped as he extracts the folded bit of metal, meets the doctor's gaze impatiently. "Point one five grams. We need at least one point six, so why don't you go break down the other eleven?" Tony jerks his head towards the other warheads and then he bends back to what he was doing before, as clear a dismissal as any.
There's a hint of reproval in the doctor's silence as he gets up to do as he's directed - it's the same reproval that was just barely evident when he'd spoken of Tony's drunkenness at Berne. Tony experiences some uncharacteristic regret over his dismissal, more brusque than he'd intended, but the palladium gleams and he's reabsorbed again. He can feel the burn of planning and calculation, schematics and diagrams rearranging themselves in his mind, and he never did have much patience with anyone who couldn't keep up.
The math isn't wrong, he's never wrong, but he's still hit one of those stubborn snags that all engineers face from time to time - even the great Tony Stark. And he's tired, so tired. He needs a fresh set of eyes to look it over.
"Jarvis, I need you to run a diagnostic on the support framework and output structures. Focus on the discharge disposal--" he actually gets that far before his brain catches up and the sentence trails off dangling in the air. Reality slams back through the single-minded concentration of the last few hours, as silence greets the aborted directive and Tony's reminded, again, of where he is and what he's doing and how he's doing it. There's a hollow ache in his chest, the wires connecting the magnet to the damned car battery keep getting in his way, and yeah, he's definitely not home.
Across the cave, the Yinsen shifts and the sound of his shoes grinding against a dirt floor hammers the point further in.
"Who is Jarvis?"
"He's..." Tony heaves a sigh, blinking against blurring eyesight from staring at tiny bits of metal for too long. "He's the AI system in my home. Runs the household and all the equipment in my shop."
He never thought he'd miss an AI and a bunch of movable arms this much. Damn.
"Jarvis would normally assist you as you work, correct?"
"Yeah." Tony looks down at the thing taking shape on the table and feels the tunnel vision swallowing him up with hollow satisfaction. It's the only way he can hide, put away the constant reminders of his situation and the utter alien quality to everything - the cave, his captors, the clumsy tools he has to work with.
No Jarvis. No handy data screens and hologram simulcrums. It takes him four hours to get done what he could finish in one.
"If I may." Yinsen gets up and crunches across the cave, carefully skirting the live and not-live Stark Industries products stacked (and thrown) haphazardly around the workshop. "I am not a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence..."
Tony knows he's been spoiled his whole life. He should have been wallowing, lamenting over this knowledge now that everything in his life is marked by the absence of his former life. But it's a slow process, and the shock and the tunnel vision and delusions of rescue are only now wearing off. He's afraid to discover what comes after.
He blinks as rough, elegantly-fingered hands enter his field of vision.
"But my own intelligence was enough to save your life," Yinsen is saying. "I poured the palladium for you, and I've yet to hear a complaint about it, so I know you know that I have the mind and skill necessary for delicate work."
"Yeah," Tony says, looking up to see the calculatedly non-threatening and faintly amused expression on the doctor's face.
He realizes with distant curiosity that he doesn't know how long Yinsen has been here. How long he's had to survive the Ten Rings thugs, and still maintain a sense of humor.
Yinsen spreads his fingers.
"Additionally, you have not slept for 36 hours." Tony starts to protest and Yinsen efficiently overrides him, "It will wait, Stark. They see you working night and day, they are pleased that you labor so hard to fulfill their demands. Raza will not grudge you, say, five hours of sleep."
Tony doesn't think his expression had changed that much, but something satisfies Yinsen as to his compliance with doctor's orders, and the older man smiles slightly.
"I am not your Jarvis, I understand. But first sleep, and when you wake, I will assist you with your work."
"Did you go to school somewhere to learn that bedside manner?"
"Cambridge, actually. They made us take a class."
It's not really a question at all, when Tony begins roughing out his strategy for escape and accounts for two people in the plan.
"What does he want," Tony repeats, panicky, blood pulsing in his ears and rising horror fogging his vision. The coal glows cruelly, and it's far, far too close to Yinsen's fragile skin. The calm certainty in the Ten Rings leader's expression--
Tony thought he'd been suffering all these months. In the instant in which he pictures exactly what the coal is going to do to the doctor's tongue and mouth, he knows that he hasn't suffered, not really. The chief evidence at hand being that Yinsen is about to lose the lower half of his face.
Part of his brain whines in a corner, babbling about collateral damage and acceptable losses and scapegoats. Another part calmly counters with the assertion that Tony needs a translator and an assured friendly ally. Most of him is screaming and beating its head against his helplessness, and he starts forward under its momentum, intent on doing what, he doesn't know. Then a dozen machine guns freeze him in place.
I need him. "I need him," Tony says, already wincing inside at how flimsy it sounds. At least Raza is looking at him. Their eyes both flick down to the man in question. Tony squeezes something out of his throat. "...good assistant."
There's one long exhale when the bald leader drops the tongs and coal and leaves. Tony hears but doesn't process the ultimatum he issues.
Yinsen, who had so deftly drawn out Tony's life story and whose steady flow of conversation had kept Tony sane even when he was most irritated at the interruptions, doesn't talk about what had just happened. Doesn't ever allude to how close he'd been to a long, slow death.
They get back to work on the suit.