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Love Without Doubt

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Anthony Edward Stark was one of the most formidable people on the planet, and scant few could match up to him in any single way that defined him.

 

He was intelligent. With an IQ that was well within the top 1 percentile of the population of the entire planet, he’d entered MIT at fifteen, graduated with master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science by nineteen and earned two more master’s degrees in Business Management and Political Sciences in the succeeding five years, during which time he had also taken over as President of Stark Industries from his late father. More than that, most of the products generated by Stark Industries in the last twenty years, especially those that were most successful: bombs, missiles, military paraphernalia, cellphones, computers, cars, green energy, had been conceptualized, designed and built by him thereby launching the company into the forefront of most industries and directly contributing to the modernization of the human race.

 

He was rich. Stark Industries had become a household name after retiring from weapons manufacturing when they entered into communications technology. Among other successful products, they engineered many of the newest and most in-demand features of cellphones, making Starkphones some of the most sought-after products in the world and putting them well ahead of competitors like Apple and Nokia that had been in the industry for decades. And with the latest clamour for environmental consciousness, Stark Industries is also the leading pioneer of green technology, from industrial arc reactors replacing nuclear powerplants, to household appliances that consumed less power than ever before. As the majority stockholder, Tony reaped the benefits of SI’s success.

 

He was charismatic. Some would argue that he was nothing but a drunk, playboy, capitalist scumbag and would lambast his name to any who would listen and devalue his contributions to society. And while they would have been right once upon a time, it was clear that they had never met Tony Stark because he could, with a simple smile, have any hapless fool swooning on his or her feet, with a handshake, have businessmen and senators alike making promises they would do everything and anything to keep and, with a word or two, have the devil himself selling his soul to him.

 

He was Iron Man. He built a miniaturized arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps while his chest was gouged out and his heart hooked up to a car battery. He created the most advanced armour the world has ever seen with scavenged bits and pieces while under the guise of making missiles for terrorists. He jetsetted around America (and sometimes the globe) with a ragtag group of superhumans to save the lives of helpless civilians from forces the local government could not handle on their own. He was the brains, the money and the face of the group that had captured the hearts of millions of people the world over. He was a superhero. He was a saviour. He was… He was…

 

He was an action figure, for Chrissakes!

 

“Look, I understand the whole… you know… thing you’ve got going on here because I mean, yeah. Tony Stark,” he said as the men around him secured the perimeter, made sure the ropes around his feet and wrists were done up well and tight, and ignored him—oh, that just wouldn’t do. “No, seriously, what is it? Are you holding me for ransom? For my brains? For my body? It’s ransom, isn’t it? Yeah, I bet it’s ransom. But you’d do better with the brains bit, just so you know, because hello? I’m still speaking, and you should know that if you’re going to kidnap Tony Stark, the first thing you should do is gag him because I could talk anyone to death. Really. Literally.” He paused. “Well, not literally. That’s still debatable, but Clint has a going bet that I could talk someone to death. There hasn’t been any chance to test it out, you see, because we’re superheroes and aren’t supposed to go killing people for fun, but he’s pretty damn sure of himself, and it wouldn’t be a good idea for you if he was right. It wouldn’t be good for me either because he’d be unbearably insufferable. And why aren’t you listening to me? Hello! Genius speaking over here!”

 

All he got from the kidnappers was silence, so he readied himself to launch another spiel until someone took to notice him because maybe that way he could do something about it rather than sit around and wait for his rescuers to arrive, which was probably the worse option because Clint would be so insufferably smug about his getting kidnapped the one time—the ONE time—he elected not to have his suitcase armour on him. Stupid stupid stupid! Before he could speak, though, another person cut him off.

 

“It’s everything but ransom, actually, Mister Stark,” said person drawled, and Tony had to twist his neck to see someone saunter down the stairs from a doorway cloaked in shadows. It was so unbelievably clichéd that Tony was sure this villain had time travelled from the forties where such a scene was still considered cool and mysterious. Tony’s hypothesis was further tested as said villain was revealed by the light, slowly from the feet, up, to be wearing what seemed to be a leather trench coat with a design that evoked little of Nick Fury and more of an uptight Nazi loyalist. Said hypothesis was further confirmed as the villain stopped just as the light was about to reveal his face, and Tony could see nothing but the swastika-shaped buttons on his neck. He couldn’t keep himself from rolling his eyes.

 

“Nazis,” he spat with a sneer that distorted his face. Teeth glinted from behind the shadows. “You do realize that Hitler had lost the war, his supporters and most of his dignity in the 40s, right? Nothing you and your pathetic little group could possibly do could bring his ideals back.” There was a chuckle.

 

“You misunderstand the symbol, Mister Stark,” the man explained. “Adolf was an incredible man, but rather short-sighted when it came to the things that really mattered. As such, I have long since lost any allegiance to him. This,” he tapped the swastikas on his clothes. “Is a symbol, not of Adolf Hitler, but of power, of superiority. This is a symbol that invokes the loyalty of people who matter and fear in those who do not.”

 

“And disgust? Who does it invoke disgust from?” Tony asked. He sat as though he was bored and indifferent, despite the restraints that held him, but the question seemed to be the right one because the man stepped out of the shadows to reveal who he really was. Tony recognized him instantly, and his jaw dropped in shock.

 

“Why, from those who must be punished, Mister Stark,” Johann Schmidt declared and nodded his head in a clear signal. Tony felt a needle stab into his neck and lost consciousness seconds later.