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A Beautiful Journey

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"You sure you can watch this, Mr. Stark?" Benjamin asked him.

"Yeah." Tony said with a nod and a confident smile, "I can."

Tony woke up to realize a tube attached to his nose with a bandage. He carefully removed it before ripping out the bandage.

"Ew!" Peter groaned at the sight.

"You had to remove it." Fury said as Tony shrugged.

Tony turned to see a cup and tried to reach it, only to knock it to the floor accidentally. He heard a cough and looked up to see an elderly man shaving in front of a small mirror, humming to himself. Tony tried to move but an electrical cord attached to his chest prevented him, as the man advised him not to do it.

"Who is that?" Scott asked.

"Name's Yinsen." Tony said with a sad sigh.

Wanda and Xavier could sense some of Tony's pain on seeing Yinsen. While they did not always read minds actively, the thoughts and feelings of people around them could still be heard by them in their heads as a very light background hum. This was the origin of Iron Man, written in blood and fire.

Tony turned to see he was hooked to a car battery of all things! He ripped off some of his bandages to see the other end of the cord was attached to a round rusty metal disc just larger than a man's palm, sitting right over his heart, held in place with five large screws.

"Jesus!" Scott said, "A car battery?!"

"The man hooked you to a car battery?" Aunt May asked.

"He saved my life with that." Tony said.

"That is your arc reactor." Hope said in realization.

"It is." Pepper said.

"Stark had a pretty rough start." Fury said.

"I can see." Hill agreed.

"Saving your life in a cave in the middle of a desert. The man is very impressive." T'Challa said, his eyes full of respect for Yinsen.

"He sure is." Steve agreed.

"Good thing there wasn't any rust on it." Bruce noted.

"Yeah, good thing." Professor Hulk agreed.

Later, Tony sat quietly as the man cooked. Tony asked him what he had done, to which he replied he had saved his life. He had removed some shrapnel but the remainder was headed to his atrial septum, with the electromagnet stopping it. He tossed Tony a container which showed the shrapnel that had been removed.

"Looks like he tried his best." Pepper said.

"He did." Tony agreed.

"That was the best that could be done in those circumstances." Vision agreed.

The man said that people in his village with those kinds of wounds were called the Walking Dead due to the fact that the shrapnel would reach their vital organs in a week.

"I loved that show." Scott said, referring to the Walking Dead.

"It has gone to crap." Hope said.

"Yup." Peter agreed.

"You watch the Walking Dead?" Aunt May asked with a glare.

"Ooops!" Peter said.

"Shut your mouth from now on." Benjamin told him and he nodded as everyone chuckled.

The man told him the electromagnet stopped the shrapnel from entering his heart. Tony zipped up his sweater without a word before noticing a camera. The man commented on it before telling Tony the two had met years ago at a technical conference at Bern, not that Tony remembered.

"I do now." Tony said, "A lot's happened since then."

"I know right!" Pepper said.

"I still don't know the exact details of what happened after that." Bruce said.

"Because you fell asleep!" Tony said.

"I do know the exact details now." Professor Hulk said.

The man chuckled and said how Tony had been drunk and still managed to give a lecture on Integrated Circuits.

"Wow!" Scott said, impressed.

"I have not met many people on Earth who can hold their liquor like you can, buddy." Thor told Tony who smirked.

"It holds true even now." Odinson added.

"I know you guys hate me, but I am going to agree with my brother- or brothers from different time periods on this." Loki said.

When Tony asked where they were, someone unbolted the door from outside and voices started shouting at them to get up.

"What now?" Bucky sighed.

"The terrorists." Steve said simply.

"The Ten Rings." Natasha realized.

"They were all sons of guns based on what I have heard." Clint said.

The man pulled Tony to his feet and told him to do as he did while a small crowd of armed men entered, with Tony realizing in horror those were his guns they were using.

"Lot of irony there." Hope commented.

"Bought them from you, used them on you." Fury said.

""Merchant of Death", remember?" Tony shrugged.

One of the men stepped forward and spoke in tones of welcome as Tony's fellow prisoner translated it for him- "Welcome, Tony Stark, the most famous mass murderer in the history of America."

Wanda was surprised someone else called Tony the same name she had for most of her life.

Tony's fellow prisoner told him their captor wanted him to build the Jericho for him.

"That's what they wanted!" Thor realized.

"To cause mass destruction." Steve sighed.

"Why am I not surprised?" Sam muttered.

"Pretty unpleasant lot they were." Rhodes said.

The captor passed him the photograph which he passed to Tony. After looking at it, Tony refused.

"Shit!" Sam said.

"Bad idea, bub." Logan agreed.

"Oh Tony!" Pepper exclaimed in horror.

Tony's head was shoved and removed from the water again and again until his electromagnet sparked and his body spasmed.

"Not every billionaire with no experience with reality can endure what you did, Mr. Stark." T'Challa said with some respect in his eyes.

While Sam and Clint still held grudges against Tony, they could still feel sympathy for him.

Tony suddenly heard the faint voice of Pepper in his head- "Tony!"

Pepper looked at Tony with wide eyes, touched by how much he felt for her even back then, "You were thinking of me the whole time?"

"You were what kept me going." Tony said and to everyone's shock, Pepper kissed him passionately, not caring about the others present in the room. Peter, Aunt May and Rhodes shifted away a bit uncomfortably.

After one full minute, the kiss stopped and the two didn't look at anyone else as Benjamin continued the recording.

Later, Tony's captors put a sack over his head and hauled him out of the cave into the open before removing the sack, making him adjust his eyes to the brightness. Tony saw several of his weapons there. The bearded man talked to Tony, with his fellow prisoner translating, saying they would set him free if he made the Jericho for them in a week. Tony shook hands with him, though he said the man wouldn't free him, with his fellow prisoner agreeing. From a distance, a bald man watched him.

"Free you from this world he means." Fury said dryly.

"Good thing I did that instead." Tony said darkly.

"The bald guy is the leader I guess." Peter said.

"Yup." Tony confirmed.

In the cave, Tony sat in grim silence as his fellow prisoner told him no one would find him in these mountains. He told Stark his legacy was in the hands of murderers. " Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?" The man asked with a raised voice.

"The speech." Steve commented.

"I think he can give you a run for your money, Cap." Sam told him.

"Not going to argue with that." Natasha agreed.

Tony was hopeless, saying they would kill both of them anyway, to which the prisoner responded that it was an important week then.

"It sure was." Tony said.

"And so it begins." Thor said.

"So it begins indeed." Odinson agreed.

Later, the place was in bustle as Tony gave instructions for the equipment he needed at his work station as his fellow prisoner translated.

"It was then, was it not?" T'Challa asked.

"It was then, Your Highness." Tony confirmed.

As the two unscrewed an explosive, Tony asked him how many languages he spoke, to which he gave his answer and also said these people were called "The Ten Rings." He suggested to Tony to include him in the planning process. Tony extracted a tiny piece of metal from inside a rocket, revealing it to be Palladium, saying it was point one-five grams, and one-point six more was needed. He told his fellow to break it down to another eleven.

"Palladium huh?" Peter said with wide eyes.

Two terrorists watched them and concluded Tony was working.

"Well, he is working." Rhodes said.

"Just not on what you want." Fury added.

"Shows how dumb you are, bub." Logan said to the terrorists.

Tony gathered stuff of deep, metallic red into a bowl and put a smelting cup into it before giving it a tap. His fellow lifted it with a pair of smelting tongs as Tony said they only got one shot at this, to which he said he had steady hands which kept Tony alive.

"He is a pretty good surgeon." Bruce said, impressed.

"Couldn't agree more." Professor Hulk agreed.

Tony put the car battery down as his fellow poured the melted Palladium into it. At Tony's request, he introduced himself as Yinsen.

"Hello, Yinsen." Natasha said.

"Nice to meet you." Clint said too.

"He was a good man." Tony said sadly.

Tony lifted a slender ring of the palladium, now cooled and hardened, from the red sand-like stuff with a pair of tweezers. He looked it over, and placed it inside a protective frame. He began welding pieces of copper wire to the frame, bit by bit. And then, there it was, sitting on the table, a small, circular object that glowed brightly. The lights around Tony flickered and the battery to which he was connected began to sputter.

"The Arc Reactor." Bruce breathed in awe.

"The first one." Tony said, "In all its glory."

As Yinsen commented it didn't look like a Jericho, Tony told him it was a miniaturized Arc Reactor which would keep the shrapnel out of his heart. It would generate 3 gigajoules per second, enough to run his heart for 50 lifetimes and something huge for 15 minutes.

"But how did you shrink it?" Scott asked.

"You are the shrink-dude. You tell me." Tony joked as everyone snickered.

Later, Tony showed Yinsen crumpled pieces of paper and joined them, revealing an image through multiple layers of paper.

"There it is!" Thor said in awe.

"The first Iron Man suit." Steve said.

"Can't wait to see it!" An excited Peter said.

"It was a pretty good basic model." Benjamin said.

"Sure was." Tony agreed.

"They have come a long way from there, haven't they?" Natasha asked.

"Yup. Very long." Tony said.

"Like you wouldn't believe." Professor Hulk said as he remembered the first time he had seen the Bleeding Edge armor again.

Later, while under surveillance, the two talked as Yinsen said he was from Gulmira, with a family he would see again after escaping. He asked Stark if he would to, to which he replied in the negative.

"You sure did see them again." Tony sighed sadly as Wanda saw an image of Yinsen lying on his back, trapped under a large sack, flashing across his mind, while Pepper held his hand in comfort.

"So you're a man who has everything. And nothing." Yinsen noted.

"Well, not exactly nothing." Tony said as him and Pepper exchanged a smile.

Later that night, as they worked, the big man looked at them through a small sliding tab in the door and walked away, satisfied. Tony continued working for some time with a powerful wood cutting machine and safety goggles over his eyes as pieces of the would be Suit were seen scattered around. He attached a normal tube to small green can. The watchers were uneasy as it didn't look like the picture.

"Not completely dumb." Thor noted.

"The guy who hired them must have seen something in them." Loki pointed out.

Sometime later, the bald leader barged inside with his men as the two stopped working.

"Oh no!" Pepper gasped, "This can't be good!"

The man looked at the Arc Reactor and said how the bow and arrow used to be the pinnacle of weapons technology.

"Still packs a punch if used right." Clint said and everyone nodded in agreement.

Talking about the history of empires and weapons, he said how the latest Stark weapons helped in making empires nowadays. He then turned to Yinsen and demanded an explanation. Yinsen tried to convince him they were making the Jericho but he had none of it and made his men force him to the ground. Using a pair of tongs, he picked up a piece of coal and tried to put it in his mouth. After few tense moments, Tony stopped him, saying Yinsen was a good assistant. Dropping the coal, the man said they had till the next day.

"That was close." Aunt May sighed in relief.

"Too close." Sam noted.

"But they do not have much time now." Vision noted.

"They have to work fast." T'Challa agreed.

"They will." Fury told them.

"It is about to be finished." Steve realized, "The first suit."

"Yup." Tony said.

Tony was working. With one hand, he held the piece of metal steady, with the other, he was forging-  clang, clang, clang , went the hammer.

"That looks so epic." Peter said.

"It sure does, no matter how many times I watch it." Benjamin agreed.

"You're a very good smith." Thor complimented.

"The Dwarves at Nidavellir would be proud." Loki agreed.

"Uh, thanks." Tony said, not understanding the second compliment but grateful for them both, even if the second one came from Loki of all people.

No one noticed the sad expression on Odinson's face at the mention of Nidavellir from Loki.

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. Yinsen helped Tony put the breastplate on as he told him the layout of the place.

"Yes!" Thor, Bruce and Peter cheered at the same time.

"You learnt the layout of the place in spite of a bag on your head? Wow!" Natasha said, impressed.

"You're a potentially good SHIELD agent." Hill said.

"NO!" Tony and Fury said at the same time and everyone chuckled as they thought about how many arguments the two would have if such a thing ever happened.

The bald leader looked at the screen and frowned on realizing he couldn't see Tony or Yinsen on the screen so he sent two of his men to check. He managed to barely see Yinsen from one of the screens, hidden by something large.

"Uh-oh." Sam said.

"That's not good." Steve agreed.

"For them." Tony shot back.

The two men slid open the slide and called out to Yinsen in Hungarian, which he didn't understand, though Tony urged him to say something.

"Yeah, say something in a language you barely know!" Clint snarked.

Yinsen tried to reply but they started opening the door, not noticing the explosive wired to the inside of the door.

"Oh boy!" Scott said.

"This is going to be interesting." Hope said.

As they opened the door, there was a  bang.  The two were sent flying back by several feet as the camera was destroyed. The bald leader yelled to his men and they charged towards the prisoner's quarters as he picked up a walkie talkie and started barking orders.

"Not sure if it's gonna help you now." Bucky said for the first time, surprising everyone.

"It won't." Vision agreed.

Inside, Yinsen hastily initialized the power sequence on the laptop on Tony's instructions and progress bar started as he buttoned Tony up.

"It had to be buttoned up?" Pepper asked incredulously.

"He has come a long way from that." Wanda said.

"Very long." Xavier agreed.

Yinsen realized they were out of time as the progress bar was only a third of the way loaded. "We need more time. I'm going to buy you some time." Yinsen said as Tony protested, "Stick to the plan! Stick to the plan!" But Yinsen 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.

"He is brave." Sam said.

"One of the bravest men I have seen." Rhodes agreed.

"Sometimes, simple men can show a lot of bravery." Steve said on seeing Yinsen's bravery, which reminded him of the old man who had stood up to Loki.

Tony didn't speak, replaying the horrible scene in his head.

A howling Yinsen made the terrorists run the other way as he fired his gun, only to find a score of men pointing their guns on him at the entrance, the bald leader among them.

"No." Scott groaned.

"Oh no!" Peter said, fearing for Yinsen's life.

The progress bar made it all the way as some more men entered the quarters, passing by the bodies of the two dead men. At the end of the metal tube, a gloved hand stirred and flexed itself.

"Oh!" Vision cried.

"This is it!" Tony said.

A bright light came up behind one of the men, who turned to look, only for a strong blow from the now alive Suit to send him flying backwards with a cry as he fired around erratically.

"How do you like that, huh?" Peter cheered.

"Not all that much." Natasha said dryly.

"At last!" Sam said.

The other three men fired but nothing happened. As they stopped, a bright light suddenly came up to them. The Suit smacked two of them away. The last one tried to fire but he was smacked away too as Tony straightened himself in the suit.

"Look how clumsy that is." Clint said.

"Can't disagree." Tony said, "Pretty heavy too."

"I wouldn't want to wear it." Rhodes said.

"Don't blame you." Wanda agreed.

"Still, he made that in a cave with a box of scraps under surveillance." Steve noted, impressed.

More men fired at Tony as he marched at them. One of them charged but he hit him so hard he was sent flying off and hit his head on a wall. Another charged but met the same fate as Tony elbowed a third one out. He marched towards more men as they ran off in fear and shut the door.

"As if that will save you." Bruce said.

"The suit does the damn job." Fury said.

"It did that pretty good." Tony agreed.

One of the men got locked with Tony accidentally. As Tony marched towards him, he knocked at the door frantically. On the other side, the men waited fearfully as the knocking stopped and someone banged on the door thrice. They ran the other way as with a fourth  bang,  Tony kicked the door open.

"Ouch!" Pepper said about the one who had gotten locked with Tony.

As the men ran in fear, Tony knocked one of them out, but his arm got stuck in a crevice of the rock. One of the men noticed and fired at him. But the bullet glanced off his helmet with such force that it rebounded and killed the shooter.

Everyone cheered happily at the scene.

"That's what you get for your sins!" Scott said.

Tony freed his arm as the bald leader prepared himself at the entrance. As Yinsen lay coughing and choking, partly buried under a pile of rice sacks, Tony turned the corner and called out to him. Yinsen tried to warn him but the bald leader had already fired. A small rocket sped towards him but he barely avoided as it exploded behind him. Tony raised his arm and fired his own blast, sending the bald leader flying back into the cave with a howl.

"Woohoo!" Peter cheered.

"Yeah!" Rhodes cheered too.

"You got what you deserved!" Sam said.

Tony threw the rice sacks away and removing his visor, begged Yinsen to come with him, asking him to stick to the plan, though Yinsen refused. Stark brought up his family, to which Yinsen replied, "My family's dead. I'm going to see them now, Stark. It's okay, I want this." Tony seemed to accept as he said quietly, "Thank you for saving me." A dying Yinsen said, "Don't waste it. Don't waste your life." And then his breaths ceased.

"No!" Peter cried out as Aunt May covered her mouth with her hand.

"He was brave!" Thor said sadly as he slumped back into his couch.

"I agree." Logan said.

Steve looked at Tony sadly, remembering the death of Erskine.

"Why did he have to go?" Scott muttered.

"I wish I could have met him." Rhodes said.

"Me too." Sam agreed.

"I'm sorry, Tony." Pepper said sadly as she grasped Tony's hand to offer comfort and he squeezed back.

Wanda could feel some of Tony's pain too.

Tony angrily turned his head up while the other terrorists waited outside for him, weapons raised.

"Death is upon you!" Thor declared to them.

"The flames of war are upon you!" Loki added.

"You guys are so screwed now!" Bruce said.

First, they heard a thumping sound. Then, they saw the glow of the Arc Reactor. And then Tony stood in front of them with the Suit on him.

The others watched with interest. While the Suit was very clumsy compared to the newer ones, there was something about it that felt intimidating.

The soldiers fired at him but he was unaffected. As they stopped, he said, "My turn." He raised his arms and streams of fire rained down, dousing all the men around him. Tony set fire to everything, including his great pile of weapons.

"Holy shit!" Clint exclaimed.

"You're really lighting it up." Steve noted as Tony nodded.

"Hell yeah!" Peter said as he pumped his fist into the air happily while Benjamin and Aunt May shook their heads in amusement.

One of the men fired at him from a mountainside as others followed. Tony staggered and sank to his feet before firing more streams of flames, but the explosives started going off. Tony flipped a red switch under his red arm and the Suit propelled into the air as a mass explosion began below him. As great clouds of fire and smoke sailed towards the sky, Tony flew out in the Suit, and directed its flight away from the encampment.

"Yeah!" Thor, Bruce, Professor Hulk and Peter cheered at the same time.

"The first flight of Iron Man." Sam said.

The Suit suddenly lost power and Tony plunged towards the sand with a yell.

"Uh-oh." Natasha said.

"Not the best first flight." Fury said.

"It's okay. The Wright Brothers failed too on their first try." Hill said.

"Ouch!" Pepper, Aunt May and Peter said at the same time as they saw the Suit crashing.

Tony was in the middle of the wreck of the Suit. He pulled off the remaining pieces with a grunt and tumbled across the sand, his jacket over his head to keep off the sun. Just as he came to the top of a high ridge and was about to go down the other side of it, two helicopters soared over his head. He happily called out to them and waved.

"YES!" Sam roared.

"Was it you?" Steve asked Rhodes.

"It was me." Rhodes confirmed.

"Phew!" Pepper sighed in relief as Tony looked at her and Rhodes with a smile.

"I'm so glad you came." Tony told Rhodes gratefully who nodded.

Five men came running out of one chopper as it landed, with Rhodes in the front. As Rhodes asked him about his comment on the humvees earlier, Tony managed a weak smile. Rhodes hugged him fiercely and said, "Next time you ride with me, okay?"

"There won't be a next time." Tony said.

"Yup." Rhodes agreed.

"Fortunate for you, bub." Logan told Tony.

"How long has it been?" T'Challa asked.

"Three months." Fury said.

"A long time." Benjamin noted.

"You were a changed man after this." Xavier said.

"Not fully changed, but still changed." Professor Hulk agreed.

In the nearby room, Reed and his wife Susan Storm Richards were eating snacks together as they heard everyone's reactions to what they were viewing.

"Looks like Tony has escaped." Sue noted.

"Yup." Reed said, "After building a suit in a cave with a box of scraps."

"Which is very smart." Sue said, "Almost as smart as you."

"Yeah." Reed agreed, "I think the two of us are about equal." [1]

"We need him, don't we?" Sue asked.

"Yeah." Reed agreed, "My and his brain together can do a lot of things that mine alone can't."