May 2015, Cambridge, MA
Tony could safely say that getting arrested sucked. Well, maybe the whole handcuffs and Miranda Rights part didn’t suck nearly as much trying to deal with a truly epic hangover from within jail. Tony was dying. He needed coffee, he needed at least half a bottle of Advil and he needed food - ideally hangover-curing pancakes. It went without saying (even though Tony had loudly said as much to whoever in the police station that would listen to him) that he was getting none of these from within a jail cell. Tony lay on what police station was generously calling a “bed” and reflected on the sad state of his coffee and pancake-less life while doing his best to ignore the throbbing in his head. God, if felt like someone was repeatedly and vindictively hitting him in the head with a hammer. Tony spared a moment to thank last-night Tony for at least abstaining from any substances harder than alcohol. A loud clang from doorway of his cell sent another spike of pain through Tony’s head.
“Alright Stark, get your ass up, you’re free to go” called out a voice. Tony cracked his eyes open - and boy was that a mistake, everything was too bright and kind of spinny - and saw an unnecessarily loud and unpleasant policeman standing at the door of his jail cell, which was now open. The police officer seemed vaguely familiar, and Tony thought he might have been one of the officers that arrested him outside of the club last night.
“Oh thank god, I need coffee and drugs.” Seeing the look on the policeman’s face, Tony quickly amended, “Not those kind of drugs, I promise! My stay here at your lovely establishment has made me see the light. I’m going on the straight and narrow, no more illegal substances for me, Officer, no siree.”
“For god’s sake Stark, just shut up. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a drunk complain as much as you have in the past 12 hours,” growled the policeman.
Swinging his legs over the side of the bed and sitting upright sent another wave of pain (with the added fun of nausea) through Tony’s head as he replied, “Unfortunately for you Officer, while I have many, many talents, shutting up is not one of them.” Tony rubbed a hand over his face and fervently prayed to any deity that might be listening for sunglasses.
The policeman’s face twisted in disgust and he retorted, “Well, it seems as though one of your many ‘talents’ is managing to walk away from multiple arrest charges without a single consequence. All it took was a phone call to Daddy and suddenly the prosecutor was falling all over themselves not to charge you with anything. It was all ‘Tell Mr. Stark how sorry we are for the mistake!’” Under his breath, and with a deadly glare in Tony’s direction, the policeman muttered, “Mistake my ass, it must be nice to live in a world where everything is handed to you.”
Getting gingerly to his feet, Tony shot the officer a cocky grin, “Well Officer, maybe next time you and your friends will think twice before arresting someone like me.” Still smiling, Tony met the eyes of the irate policeman, waving his hand in invitation, “Now, why don’t I do you the honor of letting you escort me out of here?”
Tony followed the sputtering officer, who had seemingly lost the ability to make any other sound except outraged huffs. Apparently, the policeman didn’t have the capacity to come up with a retort which Tony resented because even though he was hungover and sleep deprived, Tony retained his capacity for witty repartee. Tony supposed he couldn’t blame the man, after all, most people were too stupid to keep up with him - even when he wasn’t functioning at 100 percent.
The policeman led Tony past several other jail cells - all empty. “So what, you guys weren’t able to find any actual criminals to arrest last night so you decided to settle for handcuffing poor innocent little old me? Kinky,” snarked Tony.
The officer rounded on Tony, his face going red with what looked like pent up rage, “Listen here you little shit, you broke multiple laws last night including underage drinking and public intox-” Tony cut the officer off before he built up steam on what promised to be a very long and boring rant and with his most innocent smile said, “Now now officer, according to the prosecutor I haven’t committed any crimes. I’m an upstanding citizen! It looks like it’s you guys who were in the wrong, but I’m willing to hear your apology and let bygones be bygones.” Tony watched with glee as the policeman’s face flushed even darker and what looked like a vein started to throb in the man’s forehead.
Just before it seemed the officer was about to start shouting at Tony in earnest, the station captain rounded the corner and barked, “Officer Ritter, get back to your desk! I’ll escort Mr. Stark out.” Officer Ritter looked mutinous, but turned on his heel and strode back down the hallway. Before he left, Tony smirked at Officer Ritter, gave him a small wave and called out, “Have a good day Officer! You can send any apology muffin baskets to Stark Industries, care of Tony Stark!” “Mr. Stark,” the captain said solicitously, “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience, any delay in getting you released and for Officer Ritter’s attitude. If you’ll just follow me, we’ll get you back all of your personal effects.”
Putting on his best charming smile for the Captain, Tony replied, “It’s no problem Captain, let’s just make sure there are no inconveniences like this one in the future, right? I’m sure my father will happily make a donation to the Cambridge Police Department once he hears about my speedy release and your ability to avoid any ‘inconveniences’ like this one in the future.” Tony watched with amusement as the captain fell over himself to assure Tony that he would never be inconvenienced by the CPD again.
Tony followed the Captain to the processing area where Tony was quickly given back everything that had been in his pockets last night: a Dolce and Gabbana wallet that cost more than the amount of money Tony actually had in it (about $160); a Stark Industries prototype phone (with his own modifications, of course); a half empty pack of Marlboro cigarettes (Tony was a social and stress smoker); two condoms (there had been three at the beginning of last night - Tony had been optimistic); and a small bottle of lube. As Tony received and pocketed his items, he gave the middle-aged woman in charge of returning his effects a small wink and a “Thanks beautiful,” causing her to flush and stutter.
The Captain cleared his throat, “Well Mr. Stark, you’re free to leave, I hope we meet again under more auspicious circumstances,” he paused and then continued tentatively, “like the Cambridge Police Department's annual fundraising dinner?”
Tony laughed, fished out his cellphone and hit speed dial 2, and while his phone was ringing, turned to the Captain and said, “Sure thing Captain, send me the invite.”
Tony’s call connected and Happy Hogan, his chauffeur answered with a “What’s up boss?”
Shaking hands goodbye with the police Captain, Tony spoke into the phone, “Hey Happy, I need to be picked up outside the Cambridge PD.”
“Sure thing boss, Mr. Stark already called to let me know, I’m waiting outside,” Happy replied. After a pause, Happy continued apologetically, “Just so you know boss, there are some reporters waiting for you outside the precinct… I would have gone around back to pick you up, except, well, there is no back.”
Tony sighed, “It’s fine Happy, I’ll be out in a second.” Right as Tony was about to leave the police station, a man walked through the front door wearing a pair of knock-off Ray-Ban sunglasses. Seeing his salvation, Tony stepped in front of the man and drew out his wallet saying, “Hey there, I am incredibly hungover and all light hurts. I will give all of the money in my wallet and my eternal gratitude in exchange for your sunglasses.” Tony tried to look as pitiful as possible, hoping sympathy and greed would win him the sunglasses.
Although the man seemed a little confused, as soon as Tony drew out the money he took off the sunglasses and handed them over to Tony, “Here you go man, uh, good luck with, uh, that?” he said, gesturing to Tony’s generally disheveled appearance. Tony had yet to look into a mirror (he was avoiding it for as long as possible, he didn’t think his fragile emotional state was up for dealing with what he would see), but he knew that he must look pretty unkempt. Jail was not the ideal location for beauty sleep.
Tony thanked the man, and sighed with relief as he slipped on the sunglasses. Tony then took a fortifying breath and stepped out of the precinct. There was sunshine and quiet for about 30 seconds before the space in front of Tony exploded with camera flashes and shouted questions. Tony had a moment to be thankful that the sunglasses he was now wearing would cover his bloodshot eyes and the bags underneath when the pictures being taken inevitably appeared on TV, the internet and in gossip magazines later that day.
The reporters camped out in front of the police department yelled out questions and thrust microphones and tape recorders in front of him as Tony tried to force his way through the throng and towards the town car where Happy was waiting for him.
“Tony! Were you charged with anything? Will you be serving jail time? Doing community service?”
“Tony, sources are claiming that illegal drugs were involved. Will you be seeking counseling for your drug and alcohol addictions?”
“Mr. Stark, several sources say you were thrown out of the Middlesex for having sex in one of the bathrooms. Who are you sleeping with?”
As much as he would have liked to punch a few (or all) of the reporters (or at least be able to tell them where they could shove their microphones), Tony ignored all the questions and silently fumed as Happy got out of the town car and muscled his way through the shouting reporters, retrieved Tony, and escorted him to the car. Tony collapsed in the back seat of the car and released a breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding.
“Boss, are you okay?” Happy asked from the front seat.
“Yeah Happy, thanks for getting me. Just take me home, I feel like I could sleep for a week,” Tony replied.
Tony pushed everything that had happened in the past 24 hours out of his mind and dozed on the ride home. As soon as Tony got back to his condo, he collapsed on his bed, not even bothering to shower or get undressed. Tony had missed his bed so much and mumbled promises to never abandon it again as he fell asleep in minutes. Tony didn’t know how long he slept, but when he woke up to the door of his room slamming open, it was dark outside.
Tony jolted upwards, looking in confusion towards the doorway where a handsome middle-aged man, with salt and pepper hair and a distinguished mustache stood. “Oh good, you’re awake.”
Tony blinked owlishly at the man, mind racing, before finding the words to ask, “Dad? What are you doing here, you’re supposed to be in LA.”
Howard Stark looked coldly at his son and took a seat in the armchair facing the bed before replying, “Well Tony, I figured your latest stunt merited an in person discussion, especially since it's apparently going to cost me a considerable amount of money in donations to the CPD.” Tony rubbed his eyes and sighed, “Dad, I’m really not in the mood to -”
Howard cut the end of Tony’s sentence off and said in a deceptively calm and quiet voice, “Tony, I could care less whether or not you’re in ‘the mood’ to discuss this.” Howard paused, his eyes glittering with suppressed anger, before taking out a series of magazine and internet articles from his briefcase. One by one, he threw the articles onto the bed in front of Tony.
The articles were all from within the past three years - dating back to Tony’s first semester at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he was only 15. Tony glanced over the articles, picking out headlines such as ‘Tony Stark is Bisexual! Pictures of Male Tryst Reveal Sexuality,’ ‘Drunk Tony Stark Punches Reporter,’ ‘Explicit Pictures from Tony Stark Threesome Made Public’ and of course, today’s headline, ‘Tony Stark Arrested! Alcohol, Sex and Drugs?’ With each headline he read, Tony got angrier and angrier. Splayed out on the bed in front of him was the evidence that many private moments and every teenage screw up from the past three years were public domain.
Tony furiously pushed the articles off of his bed, exclaiming, “What do you want me to say?” Howard replied icily, “I don’t want you to say anything, I want you to stop embarrassing me and Stark Industries with these stunts. How do you think I feel whenever the press ignores major Stark Industries news in order to report and speculate on your latest public spectacle?”
Tony laughed bitterly, “Get out Dad. Thanks for stopping by and making I’m okay after spending the night in jail, it’s been lovely to catch up and all, but I think it would be better for everyone if you just left.”
Howard sat silently for a moment regarding his son before rising to his feet, “You’re a disappointment Tony. I’ve known it for years. You need pull yourself together if you still want to run Stark Industries some day. As things are currently, I am seriously considering disinheriting you from both my personal fortune and from controlling interests in Stark Industries. Let's see how long you survive without the protection of my name and my money.” Howard turned and walked to the doorway, but right before leaving, he turned back to Tony, his expression full of contempt,“I’m just glad your mother didn’t live to see what you’ve done with your life.”
Tony was half out of bed, ready to rant at Howard, to scream at him, to hit him - anything to try get rid of the turmoil and pain he felt at Howard’s last words - before he realized that Howard was gone. Tony collapsed back onto the bed, taking deep shuddering breaths and trying to get himself under control. Hatred for Howard burned through Tony, helping him chase away the tears that were threatening to spill over.
Today was the first time that he had seen his father in over 6 months. The last time Tony had seen Howard was at a formal Stark Industries party where they had merely exchanged polite greetings at the beginning of the evening before going their separate ways. Apparently, the only thing merited Howard’s presence in Massachusetts was one of Tony’s fuckups. Never mind that just last month he had made a huge breakthrough on the Jericho missile design in his mandatory work for SI weapons research and development and hadn’t gotten so much as a “good job” phone call from Howard. Howard hadn’t even bothered to show up for Tony’s undergraduate graduation from MIT last year, where he had graduated with Summa Cum Laude honors. The only person at Tony’s graduation had been his grandfather.
Tony lay on his bed replaying the conversation with Howard, letting the words “disappointment” and “disinherit” reverberate through his head. Tony decided that he needed to forget this shitty day, this shitty week, and if possible, the shitty past three years. Tony forced himself to get up, shower and change his clothes before leaving his condo. Tony didn’t go far, just down the street to a hole in the wall bar named ‘Atomic Number’ where the bartenders knew who he was and never carded him.
Tony sat at the end of the bar, ignoring everyone and proceeded to get methodically and spectacularly drunk. Tony was the last person left in the bar at last call and ignoring the judgmental looks from the staff (So what if it was a Wednesday night? Tony was done with school for the summer, he was allowed to drink as much as he liked, thank you very much), stumbled out of bar into the back alleyway around 2 am. Tony began to walk home, trying to get his hands to cooperate long enough to light a cigarette, when he felt a blinding pain on the back of his head and then everything went dark.
Three Months Later, August 2015, The Great Basin Desert, Nevada
Tony tripped over a rock, catching himself with his hands before he fell completely. The impact reverberated throughout his bruised body, making him cry out in pain. Tony knelt on the hot ground for a few minutes before gritting his teeth and pushing himself back to his feet. Tony had no idea how long he had been walking. After the first few hours, he had lost track of time and distance, the flat desert expanse stretching out endlessly in front of him. Tony knew it had been at least a day since the last time he had had a drink and he knew that he only had a day or two left before the lack of water killed him. For fucks sake, Tony had built a weaponized suit of armour, blown up multiple buildings, escaped and gotten this far - he refused to sit down and die, no matter how much it hurt to move. Tony walked on, the bright sun beating down and heat wrapping around his body.
Tony didn’t know how much time passed before he crested the top of ridge. He looked down and saw perhaps the most beautiful sight in the world: a road, and what looked like some sort of building in the distance. With a new surge strength (and the fervent hope that he hadn’t started hallucinating), Tony strode forward.
As Tony neared the structure, he saw that it was a tiny gas station. Stumbling forward, Tony pushed the door open and was immediately met with a wave of cold air that felt heavenly on his overheated skin. Tony met the eyes of the young gas station clerk and seeing the boy’s gaping expression, spared a thought to how he must look: shirtless and sunburned, the desert dust that covered his body doing nothing hide the bruises and lacerations that littered his chest and arms. And of course, strangest of all, the glowing metal circle in the middle of his chest. Tony stared at the shocked clerk and managed to gasp out, “Please,” before his vision went black and his body finally gave out.
When Tony regained consciousness, he was lying on a bed in a bright, white room. Tony took a moment to revel how for the first time in months, everything was beautiful and nothing hurt. Thank god, they must have put him on the good drugs (and Tony definitely knew the difference between good and bad drugs). In spite - or maybe because - of that, his mind felt clear, thoughts unbothered by pain, thirst or hunger. Tony looked around and saw a variety of machines at his bedside, one emitting a soft a beeping, and an IV in the back of his hand. Finally, Tony’s eyes landed on the petite Asian woman dressed in a long white coat, sitting in the only chair in the hospital room.
Seeing that he was awake, the doctor smiled, rose to her feet and walked over to his bedside, “Mr. Stark, welcome back, I’m Dr. Karen Himura. You’ve been unconscious for the past two days. When you were brought in, you had an impressive list of injuries including two broken fingers and three fractured ribs. You were also severely dehydrated and malnourished. In spite of all of that, I’m happy to say that you’re doing well and should make a complete recovery except for...” Her words trailed off and she paused, her smile morphing into a more serious expression, “Well, as I’m sure you know, you have shrapnel in your chest. I have no idea how you’re still alive, but I assume it has something to do with that,” she said, pointing at the glowing circle in Tony’s chest, just visible through his hospital gown. Finally giving into the pent-up curiosity of days, Dr. Himura asked the question that soon everyone would want to know the answer to: “Tony, What happened to you?”
Tony closed his eyes as his brain raced to sketch out various scenarios. Everything hinged on how he decided to answer all the questions about his disappearance, starting with this question. Even after about five minutes of silent, frantic thought, Tony couldn’t picture all the possible repercussions of telling the truth. And by virtue of what the truth was, Tony knew that the repercussions were not going to be small; they would reverberate through Tony’s life and probably throughout the world. So, naturally, instead of telling the truth, Tony decided on the easier (and likely more entertaining) path: to lie.
Opening his eyes and laying a palm over the arc reactor, covering its glow, Tony met Dr. Hurima’s gaze and replied, “I don’t remember.” Then Tony grinned, feeling a rush of excitement when he thought about his decision and what exactly he was going to rebuild under his acquired cover of secrecy. Downgrading his grin to a smile - Dr. Hurima was starting to look a little concerned, Tony supposed most other trauma patients didn’t have much cause for exhilaration - Tony removed his hand from the arc reactor and stated firmly, “I don’t remember, and I’m going to need your help keeping a secret.”