Tony absently tapped the tablet pen against the edge of the worktable as he stared at the rendering of the Mark I suit displayed on the main screen. The rendering wasn't quite right-- drawing with his left hand instead of his right proved more difficult than he had expected-- but all the information he needed was there, and it would be easy enough to clean up the mistakes once he got home.

As he settled back in his chair, he tugged the front of his t-shirt down for the umpteenth time. He briefly considered getting up to find a pair of scissors so he could cut a hole in the middle of the t-shirt to keep it from hiking up on the top edge of the Arc Reactor. However that would require that he actually move, and he wasn't sure if he could do that just yet.

After the shower-- as painful as that experience had been-- and a quick visit from the barber, Tony was feeling more like his old self; but he had yet to regain his strength. He would have thought the workout he'd gotten forging the suit would have prevented him from crashing this hard physically, but clearly, he had pushed himself well beyond what his body could safely handle in those last twenty-four hours.

Being shot and falling out of the sky probably hadn't helped matters any.

He saved the rendering to his private server, and then opened the Stark Industries database to access the Arc Reactor files. As much of a breakthrough as the version he had built was, Tony knew there was a lot more he could do once he had the proper equipment.

It wasn't until something landed on the table next to his elbow that he realized he had been staring at his father's notes on the Reactor for several minutes without actually seeing them. Tony focused on the plate of food for a few seconds before turning around to look up at Rhodey.

"Lunchtime already?" he asked.

"Actually, it dinnertime."

Tony glanced at the clock at the bottom of the screen, and shook his head. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Rhodey pulled up a chair to sit on as he looked over the files crowding the screen. "Plan on updating the Reactor?"

"Uh huh." Tony scooped up a mouthful of food and shoved it in his mouth without looking. "Surprised you didn't come down earlier," he said as he scraped up another forkful.

"I thought about it, but as long as you were down here at the computer, I didn't have to worry about you doing something stupid."

Tony gave him a shrewd look. "And you had Jarvis to spy on me in case I did do something stupid?"


As he ate, Tony watched Rhodey's gaze wander around the workroom; and when Rhodey suddenly yawned, Tony smiled and pointed his fork at him. "You fell asleep, didn't you?"

A sheepish look crossed Rhodey's face and then he smiled back. "Yeah, I did."

Tony chuckled as he turned his attention back to the computer. He suspected Rhodey's hovering would become seriously annoying in a day or two, but for the moment, he was willing to tolerate it. He felt safe and relaxed with Rhodey at his back; a nice change from the stress of waiting for the bad guys to put him up against the wall to shoot him.

"You going to be down here much longer?" Rhodey asked.

"Probably not. Just need to save my notes and shut these files down, then I think I'll turn in." He glanced back at Rhodey. "By the way, how long were you planning on us hanging out here?"

Rhodey shrugged. "I don't know. How long do you think you'll need?"

A little surprised to have the question turned back at him, Tony considered his answer. "Hmm, two days, maybe three at the most. I'd like to be able to move my arm a bit more before we head back." He glanced down. "Oh, and could you have Pepper arrange to have a tailor stop by? I seriously doubt I'm going to fit into any of my suits right now."

Nodding in agreement, Rhodey said, "As long as you don't overdo it that should work out okay. I'm guessing you learned your lesson this morning, though."

"Yeah," Tony said, "I got it."

Standing, Rhodey picked up the plate. Tony blinked; surprised to see the plate was empty. He couldn't remember what it was he had just eaten, let alone the fact he had finished it.

As he started organizing the files he wanted to save, Tony asked, "Oh, hey, before you leave, mind grabbing me a pair of scissors?"

"What for?"

"Need to cut a hole in my shirt."

Rhodey raised an eyebrow. "Planning on starting a new trend?"

Tony glanced down at the glow of the Arc Reactor as Rhodey started opening drawers. "Yeah, I'm sure everybody's going to want one of these."

"Hey, you never know."

Tony laughed. "True. If I make this hip enough, I could make a fortune."

"Stark Industries taking over the Paris runways. That's kind of a scary thought," Rhodey said as he handed Tony a pair of scissors.

"I'd have to change the company name to something with a little more pizzazz-- but hey, we could probably still use the "Tomorrow Today" slogan." Tony carefully held the t-shirt away from his body with his right hand, making sure not to move his shoulder as he did, and was about to make a cut when he realized he had a problem.

It wasn't until Tony gave him a frustrated look that Rhodey took pity on him and pulled the scissors out of his hand. Rhodey almost managed to control the smirk on his face as he gripped a fistful of Tony's t-shirt and started to cut. "Maybe you should look into making ambidextrous scissors," he said.

"I'm seriously considering it right now."

When he was done, Rhodey set the scissors on the worktable and asked, "Need anything else?"

"Nope, I'm set."

"Okay. I'll be back in twenty."

Tony nodded as he started shutting the files down. When he was sure Rhodey was gone, he said, "Jarvis?"

"Yes sir?"

"Care to tell me why you didn't wake Colonel Rhodes up for lunch?"

"You were showing no signs of hunger or discomfort, and Colonel Rhodes seemed to be in need of sleep."

"Did he manage to get any sleep last night?"

"Yes. Two hours, twelve minutes and fifty-two seconds."

Tony smiled. Well, at least someone's keeping an eye on Rhodey. "Thanks Jarvis."

"You're welcome, sir."

As soon as Tony fell asleep, he was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming, and was a little afraid of where this dream would go, but wasn't about to do anything that might break the illusion-- even if it meant having to answer the same question over and over again.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

Glancing over the Flathead V8 engine that belonged to the 1932 Ford Roadster he and his father were rebuilding, Tony smiled and said reassuringly for the third time, "Look mom, I'm fine, it's no big deal." He rapped his knuckles against the front of the Arc Reactor imbedded in his chest. "This thing's practically invincible."

Maria Stark gave her son a clearly skeptical look. "I'm aware of that-- I helped your father design the original, remember? I also know that, although that thing may be invincible, you are not, Anthony Edwards Stark. I suggest you keep that in mind the next time you decide to do something stupid."

Tony nodded, but was unable to wipe the smile off his face. "Yes mom."

Maria shook her head in exasperation before turning towards her husband. "Do you need anything, Howard?" she asked.

Howard Stark looked up over the edge of the engine and blinked as if surprised to find there was someone else in the room. Tony and his mother shared an amused knowing look; Howard Stark had a tendency to ignore everything that existed beyond whatever it was he was working on.

"No, I'm fine. Thanks Maria."

"Well, if you need anything let me know." Maria started up the stairs leading into the house, and then paused. "Oh, and please try to remember to wash the grease and oil off the bottom of your shoes before coming up. It took forever to clean up the footprints you two left on the living room carpet the last time you were working on that thing."

"Yes dear," Howard responded absently. Tony stayed silent, his heart clenching painfully at his mother's gentle reprimand. The tracks she was referring to had remained in the carpet until the day he had put the Long Island home up for sale a few months after his parent's death. He had been working on the car with his father the night before heading out to visit Rhodey. It was the first Christmas Rhodey would be spending away from home, and Tony had decided to drop by to say hi while he was checking out how well the new missile guidance systems he had designed were performing in the field.

By the time Tony had left his parent's house that night-- unknowingly adding his footprints to his fathers across the living room carpet on his way out-- his mother had already gone to bed and his father was on the phone with someone from the west coast office. No one had bothered to say goodbye; there had been no reason to. In a week, Tony was due back to spend the rest of the holidays with his family.

Less than twenty four hours late, Rhodey had pulled him out of a consultation to tell him his parents were dead, killed in a car crash on their way home from a stockholders meeting in Manhattan.


Startled by the sound of his father's voice, Tony pulled his attention away from the past and back to his father. Howard Stark gave his son a curious look and held out his hand. "Need the socket wrench," he said.

"Oh, right, sorry." Tony handed him the wrench and watched as his father fiddled with the engine.

"Decompression in cylinder three appears to be low, Mr. Stark," Jarvis suddenly said.

Tony's father nodded and said, without looking away from the engines, "Any suggestions Jarvis?"

Tony felt another sharp pang as he listened to his father and Jarvis go back and forth over ways to improve the engine's performance. Jarvis had been build years after his father's death. Tony had always regretted the fact the two would never meet.

"You've got your mother a little worried," Howard said after settling on a plan with Jarvis on how to fix the decompression problem. He held his hand out for the diagnostic scanner.

"Well, the next time mom suggests I do a weapons test in Vegas instead of in the middle of a hot zone, I'll be paying more attention to what she says." Tony handed his father the scanner and then frowned when he remembered Rhodey had been the one who suggested they test the Jericho missiles outside Vegas instead of smack in the middle of Afghanistan.

"Well, the only way you could truly test the Jericho was under real field conditions."

"That's what I told him," Tony said. As he continued to watch his father, a question popped into Tony's head, a seemingly important question.

"Dad?" he said hesitantly. "Did you ever wonder if what you were doing was the right--?"

His father cut him off. "How is Rhodey doing?"

Tony lost track of his question. He tried to figure out why he needed to ask the question, but when he couldn't, he decided it wasn't as important as he thought.

Leaning against the Roadster, Tony chuckled and then said, "Uh, right now he's taking great joy in terrorizing the next generation of Air Force pilots."

"Ah. And when were you going to tell him about the suit?"

"Tell him about the suit?" Tony asked, perplexed by the question, then perplexed by the fact that he had not told Rhodey about the suit he had made.

His father stared at him then pointed at something.

"The suit. When are you going to tell him about the suit?"

Turning around, Tony found a silver, streamlined version of the Mark I standing in the middle of his father's workroom. He slowly stood and walked towards it.

Before he could get close, the suit's eyes began to glow and it raised one hand as if to stop him. Tony stared at the dark circle imbedded in the palm of the glove, then his thoughts skittering excitedly in all directions as he considered the implications regarding the placement of that repulsor unit.

"Howard! Phone!"

"Be right up Maria!"

He heard the words, and knew what they meant, but the suit held him in place. By the time he could tear his attention away from it, he knew it was far too late.

Tony looked across the now darkened workroom. "Dad?" Taking a step forward, he raised his voice and shouted, "Mom? Dad?" When there was no answer, Tony ran up the stair.

At the top of the stairs, he skidded to a stop. Panting, trying to control the panic clutching at his throat, Tony stared at the single trail of footprints running across the pristine carpet. The footprints abruptly stopped in the middle of the room-- as if the person who made them had simply disappeared.

"Dad?" He took a few hesitant steps forward.


Jumping slightly at the sound of his name, Tony whirled around and found Obadiah Stane standing at the top of the stairs watching him.

"Are you all right, Tony?" Obadiah asked gently.

Nodding, Tony took a deep shaky breath and said, "I'm all right."

Obadiah joined him in the living room and wrapped an arm protectively around Tony's shoulders. "Sure you are kid," he said, easily seeing through the lie; and Tony found some small comfort in that. As his father's best friend and business partner gave him a reassuring hug, the lights in the living room suddenly came on.

Tony stared at the series of black and white photos that appeared on one wall; photos of the weapons he had designed, and a few that were still in the back of his mind waiting to be born. Another wall had shelves holding a collection of awards both he and his father had won over the years.

"So, you're really going to sell the house after all, huh?" Obadiah asked as he took a step back.

"Yes," Tony answered, swaying slightly as the support Obadiah offered disappeared.

"Sure you want to leave all this behind?"

"Yes." Tony's voice was firm as he stared at his father's footprints, and he knew it was more than the house he was leaving behind with that one simple answer.

He wasn't sure why he was crying as he said it though.