Tony had lost count of the days. He lost count a while ago. Could’ve been days, might’ve been months.
How long had it been? He wondered if anyone realized he was missing. That they were missing.
He couldn’t feel his hand. Probably broken, or numb. Come to think of it, he couldn’t feel anything. He was strapped down on a table. His arms, legs, and chest bound hard enough to cut off circulation. Maybe that was why he couldn’t feel anything. He was numb.
He was getting used to feeling numb. It was like an old friend now. He couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t numb.
No, that was a lie. He could, but the memory was hazy, like an old, worn out, black and white photograph. There was a glimpse of a time when he wasn’t numb, when he wasn’t so empty. But the more he tried reaching for it the farther it got.
There was a ghost sensation in his chest. The warm feeling of… of -
It was gone.
He felt empty.
He wanted Rhodey. Where was Rhodey? What were they doing to him?
The masked bastards took his Rhodey from him.
Cowards. Attacking them at their most vulnerable. Catching them off guard and without Vision.
They used Rhodey’s disability against him and against Tony, and they had no choice but to give in. Taken right off the streets without anyone being any wiser.
Has anyone noticed them gone? Had Vision? Had Pepper? The remains of the Avengers? Steve?
No, probably not. Otherwise they wouldn’t still be here.
But then again, if they had noticed… would they do anything to rescue them?
Footsteps echoed down the hall. They were back. Lab coat wearing bastards with their syringes and clipboards and faces covered with masks.
Where was Rhodey? What had they done to his Rhodey?
They didn’t answer, ignoring him in favor of extracting more blood and injecting him with more red liquid. His body burned. His chest felt heavy. Breathing was hard to do.
They watched him, backing away when he trashed around.
He fell unconscious.
They were still there when he woke up again. He was sweaty and the feeling returned back to his body.
He still felt empty. More so now than before.
What were these bastards doing to him?
“He’s ready. His body accepted the nanites. Prep him, we’re doing this now.”
No. He wanted Rhodey. Just give him his Rhodey and let them go.
They released the straps holding him down. He tried to move, to fight, but they knocked him out.
They moved him to a chair, wrist and ankles bound to the metal of the seat. He regained consciousness just as the main lab coat grabbed something from the table.
“I believe you’ve been acquainted with this little virus. Ours is a bit different and less fiery, and maybe with those nanites in your body it won’t be as unstable. We haven’t tested it out yet, but what better subject to find out than Tony Stark?”
He couldn’t move. He felt sluggish and tired.
One of the coats grabbed his head and yanked it back, exposing his neck. He felt a pinch over his jugular and his head dropped.
He felt the burn spread across his body. He screamed and shook and fought against the restraints. A migraine attacked and his head threatened to explode.
He continued screaming.
He didn’t black out this time.
Tony’s head hurt, but he did what he was told. The lights barely flickered, remaining on and not meeting main lab coat’s expectations.
“ Again .”
He tried, focusing on cutting the connection, but the lights remained on.
Anger bubbled in his chest and he let out a frustrated scream. Something snapped inside his head.
The lights went out. They came back on seconds later.
“I expected better from you, Stark. Progress is going too slow. Prep him for the chair. I want him on it for five hours. We’re getting his complete focus and cooperation one way or the other.”
They dragged him to the metal chair and strapped him down. The crown covered his head and eyes. He bit down on the metal ring they placed in his mouth when they activated the machine.
It didn’t stop him from screaming.
He focused on the order. The dull pain in his head a small distraction. He felt empty.
The lights turned off and stayed off.
“Good. Now, turn them back on.”
On the screen a small icon appeared. A new message.
“Excellent. Progress is coming along nicely. In fact, you deserve a reward for your efforts. An hour on the chair, and because I’m feeling so generous I’ll give you a little surprise.”
Tony was getting used to the pain the chair brought. It brought with it migraines, but only on a section of his head. He prepared himself for the pain before the machine was turned on.
The hour passed and he was brought to a new room. His eyes felt heavy but he remained firm.
He waited patiently.
“I believe this little reunion has been long overdue. Stark, meet your new and improved friend.”
Rhodey stood before him, up straight and wearing a black combat outfit.
There was a small pain in his head and something flickered in his chest.
“Turn around. Show Stark how you have improved.”
Rhodey turned and revealed an exoskeleton attached at the base of his head. It disappeared under the armor, showing an outline that ran down his spine, connecting to his arms and legs.
Tony felt his jaw clench and his arms shake.
They noticed it.
“Put him on the chair again. Another hour.”
He continued to clench his jaw, even on the chair, even with the metal ring in his mouth.
“Listen closely, Stark. Give me your full cooperation and loyalty and I will give you your friend as a reward. Don’t, and I’ll send him off to the nearest facility in need of test subjects.”
He refused to make a noise when the machine turned on. His options were given.
For Rhodey he’ll do it.
“Fully operational. No abnormalities. His brain function has improved tremendously and so has his skills. He managed to bypass the simulation’s security undetected.”
“Exactly what I wanted to hear.”
Tony remained motionless in front of the system, eyes half closed and mind not fully there. Through the inside of the screen he watched the Handler speak to one of the Operators.
“Any signs of him resisting?”
“None in the past month, Sir.”
“I’d say now’s the perfect time for a trial and error, don’t you agree?”
“I’ll have the men prepare for the departure.”
The Handler stared at the screen.
“Return, Control. It’s time to give you your reward.”
Tony traveled through the circuits and regained mobility of his body again. He faced the Handler in parade rest.
“A deal is a deal.”
In another room Rhodey stood at attention. The exoskeleton coating was now wrapped around his body, reaching up his neck and stopping at his jaw. He wore a dark helmet that had the mask lifted to show his face.
“This is Machine. He will be your help. Trained in weapons and combat he will do the heavy lifting while you handle the technicality. Succeed in your missions with no screw ups or resistance and he’ll be programmed to follow your orders. That will be your reward. For now, listen to my men and do as you’re told.”
He remained still, as did Rhodey.
The first mission was a success. Tony hacked the systems with no problem. Rhodey’s skills weren’t required.
Rhodey stuck close to him. Tony dared rest a hand on his shoulder.
He was put on the chair for thirty minutes.
The second mission Rhodey was injured. Four combatants against him. They managed a strike against the spine of the exoskeleton. He was down.
Tony cut off the lights, the electrical equipment and the communications of the targets. The Handler’s men had to move in and finish them off.
Tony kneeled to help Rhodey.
He was put on the chair for an hour when they returned.
Rhodey’s injuries healed in a matter of hours.
The third mission was another success.
He wasn’t put on the chair.
The sixth mission they were spotted before reaching the building. Tony hacked their systems to stop the sirens from going off. Rhodey was required to shoot all the visible outside targets.
Inside, Tony was struck while mentally separated. Rhodey had failed to keep all the targets away.
When he returned to his body it was to Rhodey carefully holding his head. His skull hurt and blood was trickling down his face.
He was put on hold upon their return. His head injury healed in two days.
He learned about Rhodey having been put on the chair for his show of weakness.
He himself was put on the chair after he was declared functional.
On the fourteenth mission Tony learned about the Handler’s promise to give him to Rhodey if Rhodey followed his orders to the exact and didn’t show signs of resisting.
Tony wanted to reach out, but he remained firm.
No good came from seeking out weakness.
On the twentieth mission Machine was programmed to follow Tony’s orders.
Tony was declared a success.
All weakness was suppressed.
On the thirty secondth mission the Handler gifted him with blueprints and equipment and ordered him to produce armor, for his own benefit.
He studied symbiote biology and fuses it with metal. He mentally connected with the liquid smart-metal and ordered it to listen to him and only him.
The suit and him became one.
The Handler approved of the armor greatly.
He was put on the chair when it was revealed that the armor was meant for him alone.
The Operators were unable to make out how he had created it. The blueprints and equipment weren’t of any help.
The Handler still approved and dubbed him their greatest creation.
They changed his name from Control to Superior.
With no weakness he saw no variables against following orders.
He benefitted and stopped resisting.
Superior and Machine pledged their loyalty to the Handler and his men.
A month later Superior and Machine get captured during a mission. Machine gets taken down by a beam. Superior hadn’t been wearing his armor and gets subdued by the leader.
The Handler ordered his men to retreat.
Superior saw an opportunity and refused to struggle.
His capturers removed his mask.
“Oh, my God, Tony ?”
Superior didn’t respond.