A/N: I'm marking this as complete because, technically, we've come to the end of this particular arc (and I find 20 is a nice number). This isn't an origin story (and, since I know close to nothing about Iron Man's background, the contents of this story being gleaned from MarvelWiki) and I'm not going to claim it as such.
However, since this IS a series, the story/plot/relationships will continue to develop. So...keep posted for that, I suppose.
Though they were in a perfectly sealed vehicle, the insides of which could probably meet surgery sanitation regulations, Tony swore he could feel the hot desert dust scorching the back of his throat as they bounced along through the sand, on their way to demonstrate the proper usage of the Jericho missile. Tony personally wasn't a big fan of the design - it went against most of the things he believed in - and even now he could still hear an old bioinformatics lecturer of his at MIT flinging open the door to his classroom, beckoning each student forward with a firm handshake and a statement: "First, do no harm."
He shook his head to clear away the thoughts, and one of the junior executives accompanying him on the trip looked at him in concern.
"Are you quite alright, Mr. Stark?" he asked, and Tony turned a bleary gaze towards him, his eyes burning from the dry air. If you squinted, and maybe tilted your head to the side a bit, the junior executive looked quite a bit like Rhodey. Tony wanted to laugh; what a blast from the past that would have been, him and Rhodey sitting side by side in the same classroom, scribbling notes about organic chem to each other, and that blonde girl who always sat next to Rhodey, what was her name? P something, the name of a spice or a plant or something equally ridiculous like that. He'd seen her resume just the other day, the application to become his personal assistant. Jarvis had insisted on it.
"You know I'm not going to live forever, Master Stark," he'd told him matter-of-factly over the breakfast dishes one day. "I'm certainly no spring chicken. And, granted your...hideous lack of organisation, have you seen your room lately?, I think it might be a rather good idea to hire a secretary or assistant to help you keep your business matters in order. Arranging your calendar, keeping your desk tidy, your pencils sharpened, something of the sort. And I've seen many soaps in which the strapping male lead is some sort of high-powered executive who ends up falling in love with his lovely blonde secretary over some matters of state. Not that I'm saying your given secretary will have the same sort of caliber as the ones on television but -"
Tony had tuned Jarvis out at this point as he turned back to his eggs on toast. He grudgingly admitted to himself halfway through his fruit cup that Jarvis might have a valid point, as much as he wouldn't want to acknowledge the possibility of there being a world without Jarvis in it. He'd have to figure out a way to immortalise the man, perhaps modeling an AI after Jarvis's personality so he could hear the strident, sarcastic, utterly British tones on a constant basis. There was an idea.
Pepper Potts. That was it. Like Tony had said before, an utterly ridiculous name.
He snorted to himself, much to the junior executive's concern. It was one thing to go to the United Nations International School in Queens, it was quite another to graduate from said esteemed prep school and then go to some prestigious college on the West Coast only to return and state quite firmly that yes, you were interested in being a secretary. It was laughable, really. He wondered what she would wear to the interview he was willing to give her.
He rested his head on the flat of his hand, leaning his forehead against the tinted window that was supposedly designed to keep a majority of the sun's harmful UV rays out. Tony certainly didn't feel like it was doing its job properly; he felt half-cooked already.
His eyes followed a brown thing in the distance, twisting and turning, and wondered if it were possible to see mirages through tinted windows. He wondered if possibly he was having a heatstroke.
He licked his dry lips, flaking away the chapped skin, and thought about Pepper, whom he had not seen in almost a decade, her platinum blonde hair plaited neatly in two fishtail braids that hung over her shoulders and were tied with brightly coloured elastics. The way her writing curved and sloped, her curves bubbly and her i's dotted neatly with little hearts (he'd discovered this on an examination of Rhodey's notebook when he'd presumably been looking for notes on isotopes. The twin dimples at the corners of her cheeks whenever she smiled.
He wondered if she'd changed while she was off at university.
He snapped his attention back to the junior executive, who was by now frantic. Tony thought it was rather silly of him; he certainly wasn't going to go anywhere, the future of Stark Industries was relatively assured, he couldn't possibly do anything so drastic that the stock collapsed in a single day, but the junior executive was pointing out the window and screaming, tugging at the handle of the car door as if he wanted to jump out.
Tony turned, looked over his shoulder just in time to see something emblazoned with the letter "S" flying directly at them.
The last thought that went through his head was what Steve would think about the whole thing.
The team of scientists based in the Arctic to study the migration patterns of penguins, with the help of a few archaeologists expressly flown in for the excavation, dug out the remnants of what looked to be an incredibly well-preserved aerial navigation vehicle. Once they'd sufficiently thawed out a few of the entrances and doors, a few scientists, equipped with flashlights and notepads and thick winter coats, ventured inside the aircraft and took a look around.
Upon finding the cockpit, the part closest to the surface of the ice, they found a body strapped securely into the pilot seat. They theorised that perhaps it had been the extremely cold temperatures that had made the environment resemble a cryogenic freezer, as the body was incredibly well preserved with no signs of decay. The red, blue, and white circular object they had identified on the surface was now shown to be a shield apparently made of vibranium; however, they had no materials with which to conclusively test the shield's composition.
And one of the scientists, who, in his youth, had been an avid comic buff, took one look at the body and declared it to be Captain America. Without a doubt.
There are other voices now. Lots of them. Maybe I'm going mad.
There's shafts of light darting all across my vision, and the voices are incredibly excited, saying what a great discovery this is, is there a possibility that Captain America might be able to be revived?
Revived? I had no idea I was dead.
Talking about cryogenic preservation, the scuff of boots across some rough floor, a bright shattering light right in front of my eyes.
"Oh my God!" the voice shouts, the light pulling away and leaving me blind. "We have pupil constriction! He's still alive, boys! He's still alive!"
Well, Tony could have told you that.
Speaking of Tony, I haven't heard from him in a few days. Now I know that he's a growing boy and he probably has some other engagements to attend to, but I can't help but feel just a bit lonely. It gets that way when you haven't had anyone else to talk to.
"Careful! Careful now!" the voice shouts. "That's right, easy, let's try to get him on the stretcher and back to base."
And there's the soft schick of something opening, and there are hands - warm! I've forgotten what it felt like - other than the small bubbles I get in my throat whenever Tony's half-awake and talking to me, or when he's just dozing off to sleep, his voice all warm and syllables all round like honey in your mouth...
The feeling of motion and my eyes, open, looking at dark shapes and faces and big smiles that I've never seen before, and suddenly, inexplicably, I feel horrifyingly alone.
The recent discovery of Steve Rogers (Captain America) has thrown the nation into confusion. Some, including military buffs and veterans alike, are amazed and proud and eager to hear what the Captain has to say on the state of current affairs. Others, particularly a sector of the scientific community, are also eager, but for different reasons in that they are putting proposals forward to study the Captain's physiology and any long term effects of the "super soldier serum," as they have dubbed it, on his body. Committees all across America are currently in meeting in regards to the ethics of this matter, as the Captain at present is thawing out in an unspecified location under the protective wing of SHIELD authority Nicholas Fury. He, and SHIELD, have no comment on the subject.
In other news, entrepreneur and rising young CEO of Stark Industries, Anthony Stark, has gone missing. His itinerary, according to a household worker (Edwin Jarvis) consisted of travelling to several foreign countries to check up on international SI factory operations. He has been confirmed to have landed in Afghanistan two days prior; however, current word of the CEO is unknown. The United States intelligence agencies are undergoing investigations.
"Hey, you alright?"
I look up from the newspaper I'm reading. A woman with hair the colour of fire stands in my kitchen doorway, leaning against the jamb and tilting her eyebrow at me.
"Fine, I suppose." My voice is still gritty - the scientists tell me that it'll go away on its own, anyone's voice would be hoarse after seventy or so years encased in ice. "Just reading."
"Yeah, I can see that, Cap." She grins, a dimple appearing in the corner of her mouth, and for an instant she looks so much like Peggy that it takes my breath away and I have to pinch myself very hard on the thigh to remind myself that this isn't 1941 anymore. "Getting used to the 21st century? We've even got electronic news that you can get through the television or through your computer."
"Yeah, it's amazing," I tell her, and turn back to my newspaper, racking my brains for why the name "Anthony Stark" seems so familiar. I can feel it on the tip of my tongue, I can get glimpses and tastes of small scenes deep in my mind, but for the life of me I can't figure out why. "Stark," I reason, is familiar because I knew a Howard Stark back in the 40s. But this Anthony person, I'm fairly sure I've never met anybody named that. The article described him as "young," so I'm assuming he can't be some sort of brother to Howard; perhaps he's a distant relation, or maybe that last name is more common now.
The scientists tell me that it's only natural to have some memory loss, and, furthermore, most people forget their dreams almost as soon as they wake up, and not to worry about it.
They tell me not to worry, that I'll be okay, but their fancy monitors and blipping machines don't tell me why there's a knot in the base of my throat that makes it hard to swallow every time I see Anthony Stark's name in the papers or on the television.
Let's put it another way: Imagine you had the best dream; you could do anything. You could fly, you could solve global problems, you had a happy marriage with the most attractive, most successful, most amazing person of your choice.
Now. Imagine you wake up, and you try desperately to remember every aspect of that dream, but the details slip out from your fingers like water.
Isn't that devastating?
That's a bit like what I'm feeling right now.
Maybe being awake isn't all it's cracked up to be.