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Understanding the Real Hero: Iron Man 3

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Understanding the Real Hero: Iron Man 3

One

“Hey, are you ok?” Rhodey asked quietly, leaning against the door frame of the small room he’d found Tony in.

Tony raised his head from the table. “Just peachy.” He leaned back in his chair, sighing audibly. “I hate this. And we’re not even half-way! Why does it have to be my life primarily? Why couldn’t it have been Rogers? That would have been far more fun and entertaining. But its me.”

“They’re coming around, you know,” pointed out Rhodey. “They are starting to understand you better and are more able to see the person you really are. Hate to admit it… even Steve is.”

Tony threw him a disbelieving look.

“Ok, slightly coming around then,” grimaced Rhodey.

“Better.” Tony was tempted to stay in this room for as long as he could, drag it out further until he was physically forced back into the viewing room. “Have they spoken about anything they’ve seen so far?”

“I think a lot of them are shocked by how large the army was through the portal. I think they’re beginning to understand,” answered Rhodey cautiously.

Tony fiddled with his fingers. “All these years I tried to tell them… and it takes them this to see how right I was!”

“Tony?” Rhodey approached him. “Perhaps this is what you need. For them to believe you.”

“It’s a little too late,” replied Tony. “The Accords messed everything up. How can I trust Steve again? Maybe I could begin to trust the others because they were led astray by Steve… but to feel Steve had my back? I don’t believe it. I can’t bring myself to hope that he sees me any differently than he did before. Resentment is corrosive and I hate it.”

“You’ve given Wanda another chance though…” pointed out Rhodey. “Someone who has tried to kill you several times. What makes her any different?”

Tony sighed. He knew Rhodey would pick up on that. “The difference is, is that Wanda has recognised what she’s done wrong and she’s made every effort to get to know me and re-evaluate what she once presumed I was in the space of a few hours. She’s trying to get to know me. Steve has never done that. I’m not sure he will or if I want him to.” He was feeling bitter.

He hadn’t expected to be around Steve so soon. This whole situation was messed up. Tony felt trapped.

Raising his head from the table, his eyes widened when he saw Steve standing behind Rhodey. “Ah shit, you heard that, didn’t you?”

Rhodey glanced behind him, surprised to see Steve.

Steve nodded. “Tony… We need to talk. I know a lot has happened, and I get why you don’t want to talk to me… But, we’re gonna need to be a team again. We’re going to have to work together. I know we have our differences over the Accords. I know I messed up over a lot of things. I’m not faultless. I judged you wrongly… I wanted you to be like your father. I was… I was wrong to expect that from you.”

Tony sighed. He couldn’t keep avoiding Steve forever. He could play nice during the viewings if he had to but outside of this whole situation, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be around Steve at all.

Realistically he knew he had to.

“Rhodey… can you leave us please?” Tony asked quietly. He couldn’t keep hiding from the inevitable. He and Steve really did need to talk.

“Sure.” Rhodey looked weary, glanced at Steve with a hard expression and then promptly turned and left.

Steve stood awkwardly in front of the desk. “Can I shut the door?”

“If you want,” answered Tony.

Closing the door, Steve leaned against it, watching the other man carefully. “I’m sorry I didn’t take you seriously. I’m sorry I wanted you to be someone you’re not. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed your team. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Bucky and your parents. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”

Though he had expected Steve to apologise, Tony hadn’t been expecting Steve to apologise for everything Tony felt he had been slighted for.

Tony leaned back in his chair, unsure of how to respond or if he wanted to respond. He had to, he knew, especially if he wanted to break the impasse between them, and potentially forge a working relationship going forward. This conversation was long overdue.

“Steve… I’m going to put it lightly. I grew up being compared to you all the time. You were always a constant factor in my life. My father was obsessed with finding you. It was detrimental to our own relationship. He made me feel he’d rather have you as a friend rather than me as his son.” Tony wasn’t sure where he was going with this. “But when I met you, I hoped that perhaps all my fears were unfounded and I had a chance of gaining your respect and friendship.” He snorted. “That blew up in my face. Perhaps our first interaction should have been different.”  

Steve sighed. “That’s an understatement. I shouldn’t have relied on Natasha’s report to pre-judge you. I should have given you a chance, not believed what SHIELD wanted me to. If things had been different, we could have been great friends.”

“Possibly,” admitted Tony. He wasn’t sure it was possible. “I’m sorry for everything too. Sorry for trying to kill Bucky. I know it wasn’t his fault, Steve, but when you see something as traumatic as I did, you lose all sense of reality, all rational thought and you listen to your instincts. I’m not perfect, no one is. I’m sorry I didn’t contact you about the Accords earlier. I thought you at least knew of all the new legislation going through. If I’d known…”

“We were both blind,” admitted Steve quietly. “I shouldn’t have let my fear for Bucky rule my heart. I should have told you that Bucky murdered your parents. But I was afraid… And what I was afraid of was your reaction and what you would try to do to Bucky in retaliation.”

Tony chuckled darkly. “And what you feared came to be because someone used it against us. The Accords… Zemo… it all fell into place perfectly at the right time. You know, if you’d told me your suspicions about Barnes, I probably would have been fine with it. A little upset, lingering hatred but common sense would have won out in the end. I knew Bucky was being mind-controlled but seeing the footage… Steve... That broke me. That set me so on edge. All I could see in my head was your friend strangling my mother to death and breaking my father’s skull. I couldn’t think rationally. To expect someone to stop and think ‘hold on, this guy was being mind-controlled at the time and therefore they are not to blame’ after seeing them brutally murder my parents, do you really expect someone to stay in control when their murderer is in the room?”   

Steve looked crestfallen.

“I’m sorry I went after Barnes but I couldn’t control myself. For years I blamed my father, and I blamed myself too. The last words I ever had with my father?” Tony shook his head. “I’m sure you’ll find out… What made it worse was you knew. Or if you didn’t know, you had suspicions. You should have told me! You’ve accused me of keeping secrets from the team, Steve, but you’re just as bad. One rule for others and another for you if it means protecting Barnes.” He could feel the frustration rising within him, and Tony wondered how much longer he could stand to be in this room with Steve.

Steve kept his head bowed but when he spoke his voice was soft. “I should have trusted you more. Treated you more of a team mate. I didn’t.”

“We’ve both made mistakes, Steve. We’ve hurt each other too much. Can we really repair this bridge between us?” asked Tony. “Can we really see past the hurt we’ve done to one another and move on? Can we work together despite our very different approaches to the Accords?”

“I told you I would give them a chance but I cannot guarantee I will suddenly change my mind about them,” admitted Steve, “but I will listen to what you have to say. I know you want to wait until we get to the Accords in our viewings so I’m not going to push you for answers. I hope, despite our disagreements, we can still respect one another, and even if we are unable to come to an agreement with the Accords, we can still find a way to work with each other.”

“If you listen to me, I will listen to you,” said Tony. “I’ll try to understand your views – and I do get your reservations – but there are bigger things heading towards us. We won’t be able to act unless we are on the side of law, Steve.”

“I’ve been managing just fine on the other side,” stated Steve.

Tony raised an eyebrow. “Really? Running from country to country, hiding out constantly, and trying to help only to find they don’t want your help? It’s not a way to save people, Steve.”

Steve sighed. “I know. But we’re getting jobs done any way we can.”

“Admirable,” commented Tony. “Look, I’ve been keeping Ross off your back for a while. I’ve always known where you’ve been. Call it a habit, just in case. With what is coming, its better if you are not in jail. ‘Cos once you are in there, Ross won’t let you out for anything. I’ve been trying to keep him off your track as much as possible. I’ve had no reason to do that, but I did.”

“Tony –” Steve started but Tony held up a hand to stop him from speaking further.

“I can only do so much. But, if you are willing to talk after this is all over, about the Accords, I can organise a meeting with the Accords Committee. I can make sure Ross is not present. He may be America’s representative but he doesn’t sit on the full Committee. I can’t promise they will do anything to change the system but you should at least be given the opportunity to state your concerns in an official capacity without being worried Ross will find your location.” Tony held out a hand to Steve. “Do we have a deal?”

Steve observed Tony’s hand. He was slightly hesitant to do so.

“Do you trust me?” Tony asked quietly.

It was those words that seemed to make Steve act and make a decision.

He reached out and shook Tony’s hand.

“I do.”

A part of Tony didn’t want to believe it, but Steve was willing to take that step forward. Tony had to be prepared to do as well.

Slipping out of his chair, Tony indicated the door. “Shall we head back?”

“Are you ready to?” queried Steve cautiously.

Tony shuddered. “Not really. But we’ve got to get through these movies. I cannot delay the inevitable any longer. And, Steve…”

“Yes, Tony?”

“If I’m right – and I know I am – what we are about to watch will show you how badly the portal affected me. It may help you understand how other people cope with traumatic events. We all process things differently. We cannot expect everyone to act as we would in the same situation,” explained Tony quietly. “I could have done things differently to process how I felt but I was too scared to talk to somebody. I refused to accept I had a problem and the people I loved suffered for it.”

“Tony-” Steve swallowed. “I-”

Tony shook his head. “Please, it’s fine.”

Steve followed Tony back to the viewing room.

- - - - -

When they arrived back, the others quickly found their seats again, though there had been a rearrangement of seating places during Tony and Steve’s absence. Clint remained at the end of the right-hand sofa with Bucky next to him and Steve in the middle. Natasha was on his left and Bruce was now perched next to her. On the left-hand sofa, Thor sat closest to Bruce, with Vision beside him. Wanda sat next to Vision with Sam on her left. Rhodey sat between Tony and Sam.

The next disc was sitting in the player, ready to be pushed into the slot. “This is titled ‘Iron Man 3,’” said Bucky, lifting the cover of the casing up.

“Ready to start, Tony?” asked Steve.

Tony took a deep breath and nodded. “Play it.”

The screen was dark when Tony’s voice was heard. “A famous man once said ‘we create our own demons’.” Three Iron Man suits appear on screen, exploding in a fiery ball.

Wanda gasped. “Why are they exploding?”

Tony glanced along at her. “I’m not going to spoil the movie just as it begins.”

“Who said that? What does that even mean? Doesn’t matter. I said it because he said it. So, now, he was famous and its basically getting said by two well-known guys. I don’t, uh…” He sighed as the screen goes black. “I’m gonna start again. Let’s track this from the beginning.”

Rhodey chuckled. “You really didn’t think it through when you started speaking, did you?”

“One could probably say I never think before I start speaking,” mooted Tony, surprised no one else had said it before he could. It was true. He usually did speak what was on his mind the majority of the time. He never had to censor himself.

Music starts to play at a New Year’s Eve Party in Bern, Switzerland. The onscreen text shows them that it is 1999. A woman appears on screen, dark-haired and blows a party-popper in a younger Tony Stark’s face.

“Ah, this was you before Afghanistan?” clarified Sam.

Tony nodded. “Nine years before, yeah. This was during my big party days.”

“Before you changed,” added Steve quietly. 

He is dressed very eccentrically and she laughs as they both smile at her antics. Happy Hogan is keeping an eye upon Tony and his female companion, informing them that it is half an hour until the ball drops. Other people come up to praise Tony for his speech earlier in the evening though he can’t remember doing it. He is told it was unintelligible by the woman who is Maya Hansen.

Tony informed the others of her name. “You might want to not forget about her.”

Tony starts to walk away with her, and she asks him where they are going. He gives his standard ‘Tony Stark’ response.

“Uh, to town, on each other. Probably back in your room because I also want to see your research.”

Tony groaned. He really had been out for one thing most of the time. As much as he had enjoyed himself, looking back on it now, he recognised what a self-absorbed idiot he had been. Granted, he could still be self-absorbed but he wasn’t as bad as he used to be. He’d learned to be humble and understanding of others.

The Tony they were seeing onscreen now would not be capable of forming a lasting romantic relationship with Pepper Potts. The experiences he had survived had turned him into the man who could.

Maya isn’t too happy with Tony’s suggestion. “Okay, you can see my research, but that’s… I’m not gonna show you my “town”.”

“She may say that…” inferred Rhodey. “But she doesn’t mean it.”

“Oh, she did,” replied Tony.

Clint shifted in his seat. “I’m not convinced you didn’t sleep with her. That was your reputation in those days.”

Tony couldn’t deny it, it was the truth.

As they walk through the crowd a familiar man appears. It is Ho Yinsen.

Everyone recognised him as the man who had saved Tony’s life and given him a second chance.

Tony felt his heart constrict in his chest. He’d tried to live by Yinsen’s words every day of his life. He wasn’t sure if he was succeeding or not.

Don’t waste your life.

“I think I know what you’re thinking, Tony,” mentioned Steve quietly. “I just remembered what they were. You haven’t wasted your life, Tony.”

Tony bowed his head. “I feel I could do more than I already have.” He pursed his lips, eyes glued to the screen as he watched himself on screen, feeling embarrassed by the words he next said. He really didn’t care how he spoke to others as long as it got him what he wanted, and in this instance, it had been sex with Maya.   

“Oh, I finally met a man called ‘Ho’,” commented Tony. They shook hands. Tony told Maya to come with them as Yinsen introduced him to a man named Dr. Wu. They shook hands and Tony gestures to Maya as he speaks. “Hey. You’re a heart doctor. She’s going to need a cardiologist after I…” He blew on his party horn and walks away with Maya.

Dr. Wu looks uncomfortable as Yinsen calls after them that perhaps there would be another time.

“Little did I know the next time would be spending months with Yinsen in a dark cave in Afghanistan,” muttered Tony.

“If you’d known the future, would you have said anything different?” queried Natasha softly, her eyes shining with concern as she scrutinised her team-mate.

“Probably,” answered Tony. “I would probably have got to know Yinsen more there, rather than have one thing on my mind. We’ve already established what an awful person I was before Afghanistan…” He couldn’t help putting himself down. Looking back on his past now, he hated who he had been. Not that he was proud of who he had become, but he did feel he was a better person now.

“Tony… you weren’t an awful person. Sure, you had some hobbies which were questionable at best…” explained Rhodey, “but you still did a lot of good things. You always gave a lot of money away. You weren’t one of those billionaires who kept it all for himself. You gave it to good causes. You held fund-raising events! You sponsored people!”

Tony frowned. Everyone seemed to focus on the negative aspects of his previous life but to hear some of the positive things he had done did make him feel a bit better.

“Despite ending weapon’s production, what you designed and created helped save numerous lives too,” interjected Sam cautiously. “I know it’s a touchy-subject with you, especially with them being sold to terrorists by your ex-business partner… but your weapons did save lives more than end them. The number of soldiers saved by them… casualty numbers went down a lot once we used a lot of your technology in the field.”

Tony glanced at Rhodey, seeking verification of Sam’s words.

“He’s right. I saw it too.” Rhodey rubbed his shoulder. “You did a lot of good before Afghanistan. Ending weapon’s production was a big shock to all of us but I know NOW how important it was for you to make the choice to do so. You were different, and had changed. It wasn’t a bad thing in the end.”   

A grateful smile crossed Tony’s face. “Thanks,” he said quietly.

Tony is narrating as they see a younger Tony and Maya walk out of the party towards an elevator. “It started in Bern, Switzerland, 1999. The old days.” A man calls out his name, who is using a crutch, has shoulder length hair and wearing thick round glasses. He is wearing a scruffy suit and inscribed on a t-shirt the man wore was the word ‘AIM’. 

Tony groaned inaudibly. He wondered if he had treated Killian differently if the whole Extremis debacle would still have happened. A part of him doubted it would as he would have been overseeing the project as a partner to Killian. The man had wanted to get revenge on Tony after all.

“I never thought they’d come back to bite me. Why would they?” continues Tony’s voiceover.

The man follows them to the lift, introducing himself. “Oh, wow! Hey, Tony!” Tony and Maya turn to face him. “Aldrich Killian.” He stutters to Maya. “I’m a big fan of your work!”

Maya seemed surprised. “My work?”

“He isn’t? He means me,” corrected Tony.

“A bit full of yourself there,” grunted Bruce. “I know this is you pre-Afghanistan… but still…”

Tony winced. The criticism was expected. He hadn’t liked it when everything was not about him.

“Well, of course. But, Miss Hansen, my organisation has been tracking your research since year two of MIT.” Killian ducks under Happy’s arm to make it into the elevator.

“Persistent,” noted Sam. “But he definitely was referring to Maya there rather than you.”

Tony is surprised he made the cut. Happy asks him what floor he is going to. Killian tells him it’s the ground floor and that he has a proposal he is putting together himself and it is a privately funded think tank called ‘Advanced Idea Mechanics’. Killian held out two business cards towards Tony and Maya. Tony says Maya will take both. One to throw away and one to not call.

Tony raised his hands. “Look. I know. I was a jerk. We know that. Don’t need to bring it up!” He was feeling a little defensive, though the ensuring silence around him suggested that no one was going to say anything.

“We know, Tony,” answered Steve quietly. “We’ve seen how different you are. You’re not that person anymore. If you were, I probably would have said something, but I’m not going to because there is nothing to say.”

Killian is continuing to explain what AIM is, pointing to the logo on his shirt. Tony states that he gets it as the man is displaying it on his shirt. Killian seems pleased Tony had noticed.

The elevator doors open and Tony instructs the party of women in the elevator to follow Happy. To Maya, he points the way. Maya tells Killian that she will call him. She walks out.

Tony stops Killian from leaving. “I’m titillated by the notion of working with you.” Tony tells him he will see Killian up on the roof in five minutes and he steps out of the elevator. Killian says he will see him up there. Tony steps out of the elevator as the door closes.

“And, you didn’t go, did you?” said Rhodey.

“No… I didn’t see the need to.” Tony sighed, hating how he had blindly treated others badly without considering the consequences. “I just wanted to get rid of him. I wasn’t interested in a think-tank. In hindsight, considering what happened, I could have overseen everything and made him not go…”

“Crazy?” finished Rhodey.

Tony nodded.

In Maya’s room, Tony is leaning over a computer monitor. He thought the data he had seen had just been a theory. Maya was proving him wrong with her research. “It was. If I’m right, we can access the area of the brain that governs repair…” On the screen there is an MRI image of the human brain in the sagittal plane, showing a small red dot in a specific area of the brain and a small orange pallor began to cover the rest of the brain. Tony was impressed.

“And chemically recode it,” continued Maya.

“Wow.” Sam whistled, impressed. “If we’re able to do that… There is a lot we’d be able to do that we have never done before.”

“That’s incredible. Essentially you’re hacking into the genetic…” started Tony.

The both continued that sentence. “Genetic operating system.”

“Of a living organism,” finished Tony.

“Yes.” Maya was pleased Tony understood the ramifications of her discovery. Tony was very impressed.

Tony sighed. “I really should have helped her… Instead, I did my usual thing of sleeping with her and then leaving her.” Though he had left a formula for her, fixing her specific problem, stabilising Extremis. He’d been far too interested in where his next conquest was to even consider the ramifications of his choice.

Happy Hogan touches a plant and Maya asked him not to do it. “Can you not touch my plant? It’s not… she doesn’t like it. She prefers…”

“She’s not like the others,” said Tony, then speaks to Maya. “Come on. Let’s go in the bedroom.” Tony takes the laptop into the bedroom, telling Happy to leave her plant alone. Maya reprimands him as well. Tony clarifies she is only starting with plants. Maya confirms she is and that the new formula is called Extremis. 

Happy reaches for the plant and pulls off some leaves, throwing them on the ground.

Natasha tutted. “Not a good decision.”

“Why?” asked Bucky. “All he did was pull some leaves off.”

A slight smirk pulled at her lips. “Why do you think she was so adamant no one touched her plant? She’s a researcher.”

Bucky’s eyes widened. “Oh.”

Tony and Maya continue to talk about her research in the bedroom. They were discussing how Extremis had the potential to change the world and how it could be applied to the human body to prevent disease, help limbs regrow... There were many possibilities for Extremis’ application. 

“Extremis sounds that it has a lot of potential abilities,” said Steve. “A lot of applications which could be used for the future. Perfect human medicine?”

“It could,” agreed Tony. Extremis was a banned substance, one that was not permitted by the US Government. Tony, however, did still have the formula. And he had fixed it so it wouldn’t be so volatile either.

If the Earth was going to face a significant threat, perhaps Extremis would come in useful? Providing Tony could make the case for its use to the Accords Committee. It wasn’t a formula he could easily dismiss without at least trying to gain the relevant permissions needed to experiment on such a lethal formula. 

In the other room, the plant is starting to grow a new limb.

“You’re the most gifted woman I’ve ever met.”

Clint snorted. “I thought that was Pepper?”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Pepper didn’t fancy me then. And… anyone who was willing to sleep with me… Well…” He didn’t need to finish his sentence; the others could easily guess what he was inferring.  

“Wow.” Maya didn’t believe him.

“In Switzerland,” Tony corrected.

Rhodey chuckled.  

Maya removed his glasses from his face. “Hmm, that’s better. Aw, you’re seeing things.”

“This week,” joked Tony. He laughed. “You almost bought it, didn’t you?

Maya puts his glasses on and Happy starts to shut the door to the bedroom. As Tony and Maya lean into kiss they are interrupted by an explosion and the sound of glass shattering. The plant behind Happy had exploded.

Bucky flinched. “Now I know why pulling the leaves off was a bad idea.”

“Extremis was unstable,” explained Tony. “It didn’t work the same for everyone. There were huge problems in how it was used and applied. It’s why it will never come onto the marketplace again, and why the US Government regulates it very carefully.”

Steve eyed him carefully. “I’m assuming you probably know the formula?”

Tony nodded. “Not many other people do. If used correctly it can be a life-saver… but if abused…” He didn’t need to finish his sentence. The others knew what was he referring to.

“This is what I’m talking about, the glitch,” stated Maya.

“A very big glitch,” muttered Clint.

Tony asked her if she had checked the telomerase algorithm. Maya asks for clarification but Happy runs into the room and tackles Tony onto the bed to make sure he is okay.

Rhodey snorted. “Bit late for him to try to protect you after the explosion he caused.”

“I don’t think Happy realised he was the one who had caused it…” elaborated Tony. Happy’s first instinct had been to protect Tony at all costs, regardless of who was at fault or not.

He told Tony to stay down, although Tony attempts to reassure him that he is fine.  Happy asks Maya what that was. She attempts to explain that it is a glitch in her work, and Tony tells him they had just been talking about it.

They hear people cheering outside and they realise that it is now midnight. They all wish each other Happy New Year, and Tony tells Happy he will see him in the morning though Happy will be right outside, keeping guard.

On top of the building, Killian stands out in the cold, waiting for Tony, who never shows up. Tony’s voice is heard as a voice-over once again.

“So, why am I telling you this? Because I had just created demons, and I didn’t even know it.” Tony is seen writing a note for Maya and leaves it on the bedside table for her before he leaves. On one side of the card, he had written ‘You know who I am’. Maya reads it in the morning. Tony’s voice-over continues. “Yeah, those were the good times. Then I moved on. After a brief soiree in an Afghan cave, I said goodbye to the party scene. I forgot that night in Switzerland. These days I am a changed man. I’m different now. I’m well… you know who I am.”

“Brief soiree?” Rhodey raised his eyebrows, arms folded across his chest. “Three months is not brief, and you know it.”

Tony shrugged. “It’s not something I wish to think about a lot.”

They could all understand why having now seen what had happened to Tony in Afghanistan.

In the present day, Malibu, California, at Tony’s mansion, he is injecting small devices into his arm, despite JARVIS’ requesting him to wait a few hours so he can calibrate them. Tony refused, stating the micro-repeating implanting sequence was complete.

Vision sighed. “I don’t know why I ever bothered trying to tell you anything as you usually ignored it.”

“I’ve also prepared a safety briefing for you to entirely ignore,” said JARVIS.

“What are you doing?” asked Clint curiously.

“Watch and see,” advised Tony.

Tony wiped the blood off his arm. “Which I will. Right, let’s do this.” He started to speak to DUM-E who was sweeping the floor with a broom and had a white cap on its head. He asked DUM-E how he had got the cap on its head, saying that DUM-E had earned it. Tony walked towards him, telling him there was blood on his mat and DUM-E needed to handle it.

“What had he done?” queried Wanda.

“Erm…” Tony frowned. “Probably didn’t clear up properly?” He winced. A lot of the time DUM-E irritated him but he was still very fond of the robot. He had been his first AI robot, though was not capable of learning the way JARVIS and FRIDAY were. They could progress and enhance their knowledge whereas DUM-E could not surpass a certain level of intelligence. He wasn’t made for greatness. He was made for simple tasks. “It may not look like it, but I am fond of them. Of all of my creations.”

“And they’re also insanely loyal to him,” Rhodey pointed to Tony with his thumb.

“Sir, may I remind you that you’ve been awake for nearly seventy-two hours.”

“Seventy-two hours?” Steve gaped. He felt bad. If they’d known Tony had been having problems, he hoped he would have tried to help. They hadn’t known, none of them had, and Tony hadn’t been forthcoming. Which he could understand. Steve wanted to be there for him. He wanted to prove he cared for him.

Tony walked across the lab until he stands in front of a range of Iron Man suits all in glass cages. Another robot begins to record him. “Good evening, and welcome to the birthing suite. I’m pleased to announce the imminent arrival of your bouncing, bad-ass, baby brother.” He turns to the camera. “Start tight and go wide, stamp and time. Mark 42. Autonomous prehensile propulsion suit test. Initialise sequence.”

“You made 42 suits?” Sam was surprised. “I know your suits advanced a lot but…”

“That number has now increased… Each suit was an improvement on the one before it,” explained Tony cautiously. “There is no perfect suit. I will always keep on upgrading it until the day I die. I know it sounds crazy… but if it’s what I have to do to protect the world, I will keep on designing and creating.”

Tony raised his hands, moving his fingers down to activate the dismantled Iron Man suit on the table nearby. He told JARVIS to start the music. Christmas music starts to play. He starts to dance to the music before he raised his right arm towards the suit and indicating for it to come to him.

Bucky chuckled. “You need to work on your dancing skills.”

Tony grinned. “Doesn’t matter what my dancing skills are, everyone would flock to me regardless.”

“Point,” admitted Bucky, his shoulders sagging. “They’d rather have the billionaire than the ex-Hydra agent.”

A slight sadness pulled at Tony’s chest. “There is always someone for everyone, even if you believe there isn’t. Someone out there wants you for who you are, not for what you are. That’s what makes Pepper so special to me. She doesn’t want me for what I am. She wants me for who I am. There’s a big difference between the two. One day, you’ll get the opportunity yourself.”

Bucky wasn’t so sure about that but he decided to leave it.  

Nothing happened. He tried again. Still, nothing. He bites his arm where he had injected himself and then hits the area five times before attempting it again. This time a part of the suit activates and flies over to him, attaching itself to his hand and then extends to his arm and shoulder. He tries his other arm and soon the armour covers the lower part of his arm. Laughing happily at his success, Tony declares to send them all to him.

“I did not realise you had implanted trackers in your body to get your suit to come to you when you needed it…” mused Steve. “But, smart, albeit, should you have been experimenting without someone there to look out for you?”

“JARVIS was looking out for me,” replied Tony. “He always had my back. If something happened, he always knew what to do.”

“Not that JARVIS was ever listened to…” muttered Vision quietly.

One of the leg parts flies over and attaches itself to Tony’s leg, then another part flies over him and crashes into the glass behind him, just as another part hurtles towards him and Tony has to deflect it himself causing it to crash behind him. Tony states it’s probably going a bit too fast and to slow the test down a little.  Tony ducks as another piece flies past his head but he soon catches it on his left upper leg before he is sent flying back as the crotch piece hit him right in the spot.

Clint, Rhodey and Bruce laughed, Bucky held his sides and Steve winced.

The back-piece of armour sends him flying forward and Tony stops himself from falling over using his hand thrusters. He tells JARVIS to cool it down but the other pieces keep on coming until one piece is left – his face-plate.

“I get the impression JARVIS deliberately decided not to listen you to you when you told him to cool it down…” said Steve.

“JARVIS was always independent. He probably wanted to teach me a lesson,” noted Tony.

“Come on. I ain’t scared of you.” Tony dared it.

The face piece flies over and Tony flips over to grab the piece as it settled over his face. He lands in the centre. “I’m the best.” At that moment one of the stray pieces of the suit shoots over to Tony, knocking him hard in the back and sends him sprawling. Pieces of the suit scatter everywhere as Tony lands awkwardly, the only piece of armour remaining attached was the helmet and the face-plate. Tony pulls the faceplate off just as JARVIS states that it is always a pleasure watching Tony work.

Clint laughed. “Yeah, JARVIS did that deliberately!”

Vision refused to comment, though there was a little upside of his lips which suggested he agreed with the sentiment completely.

Tony’s voiceover began again. “I guess seventy-two hours is a long time between siestas. I didn’t think it could get any worse. Then I had to go and turn on the TV. That’s when he happened.”

The screen flashes to show the Ten Rings symbol followed by footage of a man called The Mandarin. The footage shows the Mandarin considering himself a teacher rather than a terrorist as he is teaching America lessons. He confirms he was responsible for the attack on the Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait, focusing on a military church filled with wives and children while the soldiers were out on manoeuvres. He states that President Ellis is still resisting his attempts to educate him, and now he’s missed him again. “You know who I am, you don’t know where I am, and you’ll never see me coming.” The footage ends and all the TV channels change back to news reporters discussing the hacking of the airwaves by the Mandarin and the disturbing images that had been broadcast. 

Steve crunched his fists together. “Why weren’t we involved with this? This is a world threat, albeit focused on America. We should have been the first port of call!”

“It wasn’t an issue for the Avengers,” explained Rhodey quietly. “The American military had been involved with stopping terrorists for years. It was our responsibility to counter the threats. Not a job for the Avengers.”

“Yet when its HYDRA’s involvement – which is a terrorist organisation – they call us up,” pointed out Steve. “What’s the difference between them?”

Rhodey sighed. “The difference is that HYDRA presented a higher threat which needed you guys. They’d seeped themselves deep into American politics, into world politics. That was a job for the Avengers – to root the rest of them out and bring a stop to them for good. You had the technology and the experience with dealing with HYDRA. Something the American Military did not have. Sometimes, Steve, you have to recognise between a threat which only needs the Military and a threat which only needs the Avengers. If you keep trying to solve all the problems in the world which could be solved by local military or policing units, you’re putting people out of their jobs. Why do we need a Military if Captain America can save us? You need to learn to differentiate between the two.”  

Steve frowned. He had a lot to consider.

President Ellis is discussing his response to the threat, highlighting Colonel James Rhodes, who will soon be known by the American people as the Iron Patriot. They had taken the War Machine suit and rebranded it and given him a new paint job in the colours of the American flag.

Various newscasters are then seen mocking the rebrand and the new name for War Machine as they do not see how the rebrand is a good enough response to the terrorist threat.

“That wasn’t their best redesign,” sighed Rhodey, glad that he had been allowed to return to the original design and branding of his suit after the backlash against Iron Patriot.

Tony and Rhodey are in a bar where they are discussing the rebrand between them. Rhodey tells Tony that the name tested well with focus groups. Tony put on a mocking voice as he said the name ‘Iron Patriot’.

Rhodey tried to defend the name. “Listen, War Machine was a little too aggressive, alright? This sends a better message.”

Tony sighs. “So, what’s really going on? With the Mandarin. Seriously, can we talk about this guy?” Tony leaned in closer to Rhodey.

“Not sure you should be talking about the Mandarin in such a public place…” frowned Sam.

Rhodey told him it was classified information but did reveal there had been nine bombings but the public only knew about three of them. “Here’s the thing, nobody can ID a device. There’s no bomb casings.”

Steve sighed. “Why do I get the impression these bombings are not simple bombings?”

“You’re not wrong,” muttered Tony.

“You know I can help. Just ask. I got a ton of new tech. I got a prehensile suit. I got bomb disposal. It catches explosions in mid-air.”

Rhodey is scrutinising Tony carefully. “When’s the last time you got a good night’s sleep?” Tony points out that Einstein only slept three hours a year with what he did. Rhodey continues. “People are concerned about you, Tony. I’m concerned about you.”

“We were. Pepper had been talking to me too,” revealed Rhodey. “We were all worried about you. We hoped you might have come to talk to us but you didn’t. I didn’t want to ask you for help in case it burdened you further.”

Tony could understand how they wanted to help him but he’d never been big on help. On reflection, he should have made things easier for them. 

Tony isn’t happy. “You’re gonna come at me like that?”

“No, no,” defended Rhodey. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick…” He trails off when two children approach their table. “…tator.”

Clint snorted. “Good save.”

“What do you mean? I fail to see how it is a good save?” said Thor, looking a bit baffled.

“He was calling me a dick. But its not nice to call someone that in front of children so Rhodey cleverly changed the word to something completely different and irrelevant to save face in front of two very small children,” grinned Tony, folding his arms across his chest.

A girl asks Tony if he minded signing her drawing. Tony asks Rhodey if he doesn’t mind, calling him Richard, and then using the shortening for Richard if he was alright with it. Rhodey replies that its fine with him. Tony looks at the drawing of himself in his Iron Man suit. He asks the girl her name and she said its Erin. Tony tells the boy next to her that he loved him in A Christmas Story.

Whilst Tony is signing Erin’s drawing, Rhodey continues to talk to him quietly. “Listen, the Pentagon is scared. After what happened in New York… aliens, come on. They need to look strong. Stopping the Mandarin is priority, but it’s not…”

“It’s not superhero business, I get it,” interrupted Tony as he continued to write on Erin’s drawing.

Wanda tipped her head to the side, concern flashing across her features. “You’re getting agitated. You do not like where the conversation is going.”

“No, it’s not, quite frankly. It’s American business.”

“That’s why I said I… got it.” Tony’s demeanour changed. He placed a hand over his face, looking pale.

Steve passed a glance at Tony.

Rhodey asked if he was okay. Tony said he had broken the crayon. Erin asks if he is okay as well. Rhodey tells him to take it easy, tapping his shoulder gently, but the little boy whispers to Tony: “How did you get out of the wormhole?” 

“Oh no…” Steve recognised instantly what was about to happen.

Tony panics and he leaves the table, the drawing left on the table, as he stumbles outside, hand on his chest, knocking into people as he heads towards the Iron Man suit standing outside the bar. He tells himself he has to check on the suit and make sure he is okay. As he enters the suit, Tony collapses to his knees.

Natasha swallowed. “It was that bad?”

Tony nodded. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me then. The lack of sleep and the thought of nightmares caught up with me…”

“Check the heart, check the… check the… is it the brain?” Tony asks JARVIS. He is clearly panicking. 

Tony scrunched his eyes shut. “Just the mere mention of New York could set me off. At the time, I didn’t realise it was an anxiety attack until JARVIS informed me.”

“No sign of cardiac anomaly or unusual brain activity,” confirmed JARVIS.

Tony theorises he has been poisoned. 

JARVIS disagrees. “My diagnosis is that you’ve experienced a severe anxiety attack.”

Tony is surprised by this. “Me?”

“I guess you never thought that you, Tony Stark, would ever suffer from anxiety attacks,” mused Clint quietly, his voice soft and supportive.

“I didn’t. No,” admitted Tony. It was a hard thing for him to admit, but oddly, doing so, it made him feel just a tiny bit better.

Rhodey knocks on the side of the helmet as people gather around watching them. “Come on, man. This isn’t a good look, open up.”

“Sorry, I gotta split.” Tony gets to his feet and activates his thrusters before flying off into the sky leaving Rhodey behind.

“I’ll admit, I wanted to follow you after you took off,” said Rhodey. “I was worried.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Tony.

“Because I know you, Tony. You wouldn’t open up to me, even if I had tried. I’ve known you for far too long. I know when it is best to not follow. It may take you longer than other people but you will come to us when you feel ready to.”

Rhodey wasn’t wrong.

To be continued…