The ice cubes rattled in his scotch glass as Tony Stark, famous inventor and billionaire, stared out of the window of the truck into the desert. He noticed the glances of the young soldiers who sat in it with him, of course he noticed them – darting between him, the scotch and the small cassette recorder that was blaring AC/DC loudly. He could practically hear the 'spoiled citizen' thoughts in their heads, but he frankly didn't care.
Anyway, the tense silence that hung over them, despite the music, unnerved him. The young soldier beside him kept staring at him nervously, and eventually, he spoke up: “I feel like you're driving me to a court-martial, this is crazy. What did I do? I feel like you're gonna pull over and snuff me out. What, you're not allowed to talk? Hey, Forrest!”
“We can talk, sir”, the man beside him replied, looking deeply uncomfortable.
“Oh. I see. So it's personal?”
“No, you intimidate them”, their driver replied, and –
“Good God, you're a woman!”, Tony commented drily. “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.” Finally, the guy beside him cracked up with a grin.
“I'm an airman”, the driver replied curtly.
Tony went on: “But you have actually excellent bone structure there, I'm kind of... having a hard time not looking at you now. Is that weird?” And finally the rest of the soldiers laughed, too, including the one he was currently flirting with. “Come on, it's okay, laugh, hey!”, he exclaimed. This mood was much closer to his likings.
“Sir, I have a question to ask”, the other soldier, sitting next to the driver's seat, said.
“Is it true you went twelve for twelve with last year's Maxim cover models?”
"That is an excellent question. Yes and no. March and I had a scheduling conflict, but fortunately, the Christmas cover was twins. Anything else?” The young soldier beside him raised his fingers shyly. “You're kidding me with the hands-up, right?"
“Is it cool if I take a picture with you?”
"Yes. It's very cool.” Excitedly, the young soldier handed his camera to another, the one who was sitting in the copilot spot. “All right. I don't want to see this on your MySpace page”, Tony told him. The boy raised two fingers in a peace sign. “Please, no gang signs.” A little disappointed, the hand went down again. “No, throw it up, I'm kidding. Yeah, peace. I love peace.” The last part was muttered: “I'd be out of a job with peace.”
“Come on. Hurry up. Just click it. Don't change any settings. Just click it”, the boy urged the other, and he was just about to finally do it and click, when –
An explosion shook the truck, suddenly everything was on fire, there were gunshots, and Tony heard one of the soldiers shout “Jimmy, stay with Stark!” before being told to keep his head down. With wide eyes he stared out of the window, not really able to make anything out and still not quite grasping what the actual hell was going on, until he saw one of the soldiers getting shot, the one that had just been taking the photo of him and the young boy.
“Son of a bitch!”, Jimmy yelled and threw open the door of the car.
“Wait wait wait, gimme a gun!”, Tony shouted, but the soldier just threw the door shut again and yelled: “Stay here!”, turned around and in the next second, the metal of the car housing was full of holes and Tony had to fight nausea creeping up in him at the thought of what had just happened. His ears were ringing and his sight slightly blurred as he looked around and then, after giving himself a pause of a few seconds, he jumped out of the car and dodged bullets and other explosions as good as he could while searching for a place to take shelter.
He jumped behind a rock and pulled out his phone, dialling hurriedly when he heard a sound he knew just all too well from weapon tests he had participated in. He looked up, seeing a missile stuck in the ground. His heart, already beating frantically behind his ribcage, doubled its pace as he saw the logo imprinted on the metal shell.
Stark Industries .
Panicked, he scrambled to his feet, the fear making him clumsy, and heard himself scream when the missile detonated and hauled his body into the air, throwing it like a lifeless puppet.
For a few seconds, everything was dark, and when he opened his eyes, the ringing in his ears was back and there was a strange feeling on his chest, warm and wet. Groaning from the burning pain, he ripped open his shirt with unsteady hands. Its white fabric had turned red in several places and he could see the growing pool of blood on his chest before blacking out.
After he had lost consciousness, everything was a blur of white lights, distorted voices speaking in foreign languages and glimpses of persons hovering over him when he woke up for a few seconds before fading into blackness again, people, light, voices, persons, voices, darkness, pain , screaming, a sharp pain in his chest, more people talking, a camera, a cloth on his face, darkness.
When Tony woke up again, the first thing he noticed was that he was cold. Then, running a hand over his face, he felt a tube coming out of his nose and started pulling at it with a disgusted grunt. He felt like it was going on and on and on, but of course, it did not and he could rip off the last remaining straps that had been holding it.
With trembling fingers, he reached for the water that was standing next to his bed (if it could be called a bed ), but he was so numb from the cold that he only managed to throw it over. Rolling to his side, he felt a sharp pull in his chest.
“I wouldn't do that if I were you”, a voice said, startling him.
With growing incredulity, he stared at the cables that were coming from the bandages over his chest, leading to something standing beside him that please, please wasn't a fucking car battery . Close to hyperventilating, he started to tear the white fabric apart, revealing something embedded in his chest, in his ribcage, something that –
“What is that?”, he asked breathlessly, slumping back to stare at the ceiling of the cave he was in with wide eyes. What the actual fuck was going on here?
“It's a magnet hooked to a car battery”, the man replied matter-of-factly while shaving himself. “You have shrapnel shards in your chest, I couldn't take all of them out. It keeps them from entering your heart.”
The next days went by in a blur. Sometimes, it was like Tony was watching himself, miniaturizing the arc reactor in his head so it could fit into the housing in his chest. Being tortured into building missiles for terrorists. It was surely the most horrific time he had ever had in his life, but at the same time he managed to stay enough of an observer not to freak out. He didn't have a breakdown. He carried on – of course not without resistance. While pretending to work on the Jericho missile he had promised those crazed Taliban or whatever they were, he planned something else.
Absently, he tapped the reactor in his chest that he had managed to build with the index finger of his left hand. Enough energy to power my heart for fifty lifetimes, he thought. Or something big for fifteen minutes. The other hand was scribbling down notes and calculations on the thin paper he had been provided with. Not plans for a missile though. No, he wasn't that easy to beat.
He was Tony fucking Stark, and he was alive and kicking. Well, the kicking would come later. For now, he'd just –
The metal door burst open and with a startle, the engineer dropped his pen and grimaced as he saw the line he had drawn over his sketches when he had winced. He'd never get used to this. Raising his hands, he turned towards the door. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Yinsen doing the same, but he didn't get to translate anything this time like he usually did for him.
Tony was seized by his arms by two terrorists who dragged him forward and out of the cave roughly. Tony's protests went unnoticed (or ignored, that was more like it) and they didn't even bother with covering his eyes or something. With every step they forced him to take he felt the dread in his stomach well up more viciously.
But they still needed him, so whatever was going to happen, he was not going to get killed during it, which meant as soon as he was back in his 'workshop', he could continue building the suit he was absolutely not building. Ha, these guys were so blissfully stupid, he could've been making a coffee machine as far as they were concerned, and they wouldn't doubt it was a missile until they tried to get it to explode.
The light from outside the cave came as a surprise; it had to be midday because it was so damn bright. Or maybe he just wasn't used to sunlight anymore. Which way ever, he had to squint and couldn't really see anything while they dragged him down into the village. Only when they stopped, he looked up. The sight made him freeze.
When he spotted Obadiah, he was flooded by relief for a second. There was someone he knew, and he was here to rescue him, to get him out of this madness, and for a moment he even thought of asking him if they could take Yinsen with them, too. And then he suddenly realized: No. Obadiah wasn't here to save him. If he were, he wouldn't be standing there in an Armani suit, smirking and completely relaxed despite the fact that he was surrounded by terrorists.
“Obie?”, he croaked out, hating how uncertain, how lost he sounded. “What are you doing here?”
The man's smirk turned into a grin, warm and friendly and nauseatingly fake. He spread his arms as if he was going to hug Tony, not bothering to take notice of the way the engineer was still held in place with his arms twisted painfully behind his back, making anything similar to a hug impossible. Well, not that it would really have been Obadiah's intention.
“Tony!”, he said, like greeting an old friend he hadn't seen in a few months. “How wonderful to see you up on your feet and”, his eyes wander over Tony's bruised and beaten form briefly, “so well.” Then he seemed to remember the question he had been posed and, a little belatedly, replied: “I'm just here to say goodbye to you, boy.”
There was something inside of him shattering at these words, feeling like there was a rug being pulled from under him, stripping him of every grounding he had had to stand on. He all but breathed: “What?”
“Don't take it personal”, Obadiah said, stepping forward to throw his arm around Tony's shoulders, ushering the men away who had been holding him. “Actually, I never wanted it to come to this. It should've been over pretty fast, you weren't even supposed to see all this.” He made a gesture that included the whole camp. Tony still tried to wrap his head around what was happening. This couldn't actually be real, could it? Was – was Obadiah saying that had been planned? It should've been over pretty fast – had he meant to kill him? Breathing around the arc reactor was painful all of sudden and any words he could have uttered were stuck in his throat. “As I said, nothing personal. It's about the company, nothing else.”
Money. Had this been a little less serious (a little less deciding over his life), Tony would have laughed. It was about money. Just that. “Money”, he said numbly. “Money, Obie? I've got tons of that. You could have just fucking asked me.” He felt his fingernails digging into his palms as he tried to stop his hands from shaking. “Please tell me that's just a bad joke”, he whispered, still staring at the ground with far too wide eyes, and that hadn't even been supposed to come out.
“Oh, Tony, not the money”, Obadiah laughed. “It's the company. But I guess a spoiled little brat like you wouldn't understand that.” Tony really, really felt like throwing up. Maybe on Obadiah's feet. Or his expensive suit.
“And now?”, he asked, surprisingly calm. At least, he sounded like that. Everything inside was a blur of feelings; betrayal, fear, anger, uncertainty. “Are you gonna shoot me or what?”
“That's not very subtle, is it?”, the other man said. Like he hadn't already ordered terrorists to kill him once. “No, I've decided for something else. We're going to sell you.”
And that was when Tony ripped himself free of his grip, stumbled to the side of the road and threw up.