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Oaths Under Duress

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Tony’s Ordeal was not the universe-spanning shopping trip of younger wizards. It was a dirty little workshop in the back of a cave with a man standing over him telling him to build, and a voice in Tony’s head saying he didn’t need Yinsen to translate. It was the squeak of the welding iron when he first picked it up, and the effort it took to convince himself to listen.

The Oath was in a brochure in the Fun-V. It was tucked into the seat pocket amid pamphlets along the lines of So You Want to Join the Army. The problem with resisting this blatant manipulation was that there was nothing else to read.

He was pretty sure he hadn’t read the whole thing. Not out loud, anyway. He’d read it through several times before he spoke the last few lines to the soldier next to him, trying to make a joke to show how serious he was. He hadn’t meant the joke to be an explosion just as he said “Universe’s end.” After that he didn’t have time to think until the bag was pulled off his head, and then he was just confused by everything, not least that he knew he shouldn’t understand what was being said, clearly he shouldn’t understand it, and yet something kept telling him the words were familiar.

There was someone else speaking inside his head, too, someone cold and sneering and so dismissive, but that wasn't possible - and if it was, well, it wasn't saying anything he hadn't already heard from Howard, so he did a mental bras d'honneur and got on with things. Got back to listening to voices outside his head, even when they came from the welding iron. Metal couldn’t say dai, but the Whispering in his head said it could. Tony hadn’t resolved to listen to that Whispering either, but he slipped up a couple of times, mistook some of its ideas for his own - hard not to when everything was happening in his head, the only thing that was ever clear was what he did with his hands - and drew some strange words over the crummy little device he was building that somehow turned it into a power source. Still not a weapon. But the Whisper sounded smug, sounded like Tony when he came up with a new gadget, and the only person Tony had ever listened to was Tony. So he listened to the Whisper, and he built himself some armor.

Later, people would whisper Iron Man. Later, wizards would whisper about the man who had forged a heart from iron and wizardry. Like Tony cared what people said.

The real shock was when he got back to his workshop, finally, safe and comfortable - still sane! - hello Dummy, and Dummy said, “Dai stiho!” back to him, but Tony hadn’t given Dummy speakers. But all of his robots said hello. So Tony stared at them for a bit, and then said, “Well, dai, guys. Let’s get to work.”