He woke with a gasp and found himself surrounded by complete darkness.
The air was stale and he stifled a moan upon feeling some sort of breathing apparatus sealed over his nose and mouth. The slightest movement brought instant pain and the realization that he was trapped within confines which left no room to rise, let alone move. Panic kicked in, despite years of training and conditioning, and his knees and elbows knocked into soft-padded walls which did not budge or give an inch.
His breathing became more erratic, resulting in the mouthpiece filling with droplets of moisture. When he thought he would pass out from sheer hyperventilation, there was a scraping sound outside before the cover got lifted. “I'd apologize for the current circumstances of your transportation, but the end justifies all means.” Bruce's frantic eyes darted from the familiar countenance down to his surroundings and back.
He tried to reach for the breathing apparatus and take it off. All it got him was a stern shake of a head. “The oxygen supply is going to last another 72 hours. You should still be mindful of your consumption rate.” Wayne started to frown and made a fumbling attempt at getting up. His opposite sighed at his growing agitation and produced an item the size of a car key. It had a glittering, sharp needle on one end.
"There is no other choice for the moment."
Bruce made a muffled sound of protest and tried to twist away, but then there already was a pricking sensation on the side of his throat. “A muscle relaxant. Also lowers your body temperature enough to fool any biometric scanners.” Feeling the instant effect of whatever drug was entering his bloodstream, Bruce's vision started to blur as his limbs turned heavy and sluggish. Soon, the voice above was nothing more than a far-away hum.
“Once you're out of country, stay out of country. Don't trust anyone.”
Nick Fury moved to lower the lid of the coffin again, pausing one final time.
“It's been a pleasure, Agent Wayne.”
For the first weeks after the assassination, Tony was kept under heavy sedation to make him get at least some sort of rest. The Mandarin had been taken down by the National Guard, but it left Stark feeling bereft of his revenge as soon as he learned of it. Rhodey and Happy took turns in watching over him, together with an ever-present Jarvis, but despite their best efforts, Tony Stark remained a hollow-eyed shell of his past self.
Cutting off all ties to the outside world, he holed himself up inside his Malibu mansion, swearing to never lay a foot into the fatal Tower in New York again, and started working on building suit after suit, trying to compensate for the failure that had taken away Bruce's life because of his negligence. The media hassle around his person still remained high, and Tony made the mistake of laying eyes on a gossip magazine once.
Seeing the big bold headline about the TRAGEDY AT STARK PRESS RELEASE – BILLIONAIRE FIANCÉ DIES SAVING HIS LOVER'S LIFE resulted in making him physically sick on the spot. He went to raid the liquor cabinet of the house bar that night, passing out from a drunken stupor around three in the morning. From that moment on, his dormant alcoholism reached a sad new height, up to the point where he was drunk almost 24/7.
Slouching on the couch of his workshop, bottle balancing on his thigh, Tony cast dulled eyes over to his workbench. There, the Bulgari watch sat still inside the plastic bag. A dark, soaked-in bloodstain was on the inside of its strap, but Tony had no energy to clean it or change the leather. He kept on telling himself it was the closest thing left from Bruce. The only thing. Even his Brentwood apartment did not exist anymore.
SHIELD had chosen to keep Wayne's burial site hidden from public, and not even Jarvis was able to find out details on the exact location. And if that was not enough, Nick Fury and his staff had gone off the radar ever since, almost as if the whole organization had been nothing but a figment of Tony's addled imagination. With a grunt, Stark then rose, sloshing some liquor onto the concrete floors of his workshop in the process.
“Sir, may I recommend not adding to your current level of intoxication?”
Tony held onto the headrest of the sofa.
Jarvis' disembodied voice echoed through the workshop, carrying nothing but honest concern. "At the current rate, you have already disrupted the balance of your gamma-aminobutyric acid and glutamate inside your brain. Permanent damage to the central nervous system will also lead to reduced tolerance levels." The billionaire hummed and rubbed down his face. "Small favors an' all that."
"No, Sir. It will prevent you from being able to operate the Iron Man armor long-term. And I assume you are going to want to suit up, seeing there is evidence of SI weapons being dealt in Cambodia.” Bleary-eyed, Tony blinked over at the dark screens of his mainframe. “What?” Upon seeing the grainy satellite footage of men in guerrilla uniforms, carrying out crates with emblazoned Stark Industries' logos, Tony put the bottle aside.
"I'll take a shower. Have an espresso ready. Double shot."
"Coming right up, Sir."
After a cold shower, and fired up on caffeine and a vitamin-laden smoothie, Iron Man headed out to Cambodia.