Disclaimer: I do not own anything pertaining to Marvel Comics or Iron Man, or anything else related to this material of which I written about. All rights are reserved by the original owners.
Author's Note: The last chapter. Wow! I can't believe it's taken me this long to finish this story! (sorry) Thank you for sticking with me all through it. I hope you enjoy this one.
Chapter 14 – Iron Man
"Tell me if it hurts."
"I can't believe you… I had no idea…"
"You could've been killed!"
"I never should have trusted him."
"You had no reason not to trust Marius."
Julia and Virginia were sitting in the back of a government SUV that was racing to the nearest hospital. Agent Phil Coulson – the man Julia had contacted while freeing the agents trapped in the Stark building – followed Ms. Potts' instructions to have Stark and Ramirez be shuttled straight back to the house. Meanwhile, Yinsen, who had left with Rhodes, returned there with Happy Hogan. Tony wasn't pleased with having strangers down in his workshop, but Pepper convinced him to allow Coulson and a couple other men to standby as the robots took the suits off of him and Julia.
Only then did they realize the extent of Julia's injuries. The fight with Obadiah had kept her multiple knife wounds bleeding. Pepper hadn't spoken much since she saw that; not to mention the blood all over Stark's house. The news of Marius Dellinger's identity had also shocked her. Now Virginia held cloths to the deep cut in Julia's shoulder; still trying to comprehend everything that had happened that night. While Yinsen would be tending to Tony, Julia – who did not have an arc reactor in her chest to worry about – could go to a hospital.
"I think I'm going into shock… I feel really cold," Julia murmured.
"We're almost there," Virginia tried to reassure her.
"I'm going to need so many stitches…"
"Don't think about it. It'll be okay; the doctors will know what to do."
"I'm glad you're alright – Tony was worried."
"Really? Well, I guess he would be."
"Obadiah was out to get you. He thought we would be dead."
Pepper shivered. "Thank you for being there for Tony."
"Always," she said in return.
By the time Julia and Virginia finished at the hospital and came back to Stark's house, it was in the early hours of the morning. They found specialized personnel carefully assessing the crime scene, that being all the areas where Ramirez and Dellinger had fought. Yinsen was resting peacefully on the living room sofa, and Tony was stretched out next to him, completely asleep with an arm hanging over the side in mid-air. Agent Coulson approached, still looking surprisingly alert despite the stressful night.
"We were finally able to sit down with Mr. Stark and debrief him; all it took was a death match with his former mentor and a ton of collateral damage."
"I never said that it would be easy to talk with him," Pepper replied with a tired smile.
"Though after tonight's events, it would have been difficult for him to hide the existence of his new technology. On that note, in order to counter the media flood Mr. Stark will inevitably be facing in the morning, I have to arrange for a statement he can make to the press. Ms. Potts, would you please get a press conference scheduled?"
"Of course. Is there anything else that I can do to help?"
"Not at the present, but I will keep you informed as things progress." Coulson turned to Julia next. "How are you feeling, Airman Ramirez?"
She grimaced slightly. "I'll live."
"That's good to hear. As I'm sure you're aware, the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division would also like to debrief you. Normally we would like to do this as soon as possible after an incident, though considering your condition we can wait until tomorrow when you are rested."
"I appreciate that – I don't think I'd be very coherent, especially as I'm already on some painkillers."
"After the press conference I will meet with you here; that will likely be sometime in the late morning." His gaze shifted back to Pepper. "I've also arranged for our agency to send a team to clean up the house."
The woman suppressed a shudder and tried not to look at the bloodstained residence. "Thank you very much – I doubt our regular cleaners would be able to handle this."
"I believe that's all for now, ladies. Until tomorrow."
Coulson went off to supervise the rest of the team as they were packing up equipment, and Julia gingerly sat down on the sofa. The movement awakened Yinsen, who groggily peered at her bandages.
"How many stitches?" he asked.
"I can't remember; it was double digits, something like fifty or more."
"You're going to have to take it easy until all of that gets healed."
"I know…" she said with a yawn.
"Well, I'm going to bed. See you all in the morning."
"Thanks, Yinsen," Tony mumbled from where he lay. He had small pieces of medical tape upon the cuts on his face and across the bridge of his nose.
Pepper came over and bent down next to him. "Tony, you should really go to bed."
"No way. I don't have the energy to move."
"Do you want a blanket then?"
"Please," he replied. "I can't believe you left me here with Coulson."
"You were going to have to talk with him one way or the other."
"It wasn't a 'talk' – it was an interrogation!"
"Julia, would you like a pillow and a blanket as well?"
She was dozing off already. "Yes. I think I'll just sleep here."
Pepper left and returned a few minutes later with the bedding for both of them. After tucking them in, she went off to her room.
"Hey Tony?" Julia asked, nearly asleep.
"You would've sacrificed yourself to stop Obadiah."
He didn't reply, but she knew he was listening.
"Thank you. I wanted to let you know: all of us are better for having you in our lives."
"I feel the same way about all of you."
Julia didn't move once the rest of the time that she was asleep. She hadn't even stirred when Pepper had awakened Tony to get him to his press conference. It was when Yinsen brightened the living room by having the windows brightened – a useful feature to keep the windows free of curtains – that Julia finally came out of her deep slumber. The doctor handed her a mug of tea and sat down on the sofa next to her.
"How are you feeling this morning?"
"Alive – which is good enough for me."
"That press conference is starting in ten minutes; I'm anxious to know how this situation will be dealt with. Come into the breakfast nook and we can watch from there. I have some food prepared as well."
"Thanks Yinsen, but couldn't we just have it here."
"We could, but the bloodstains in this room put me off."
Julia squinted at the floor. "Right. Help me up."
"The cleaners from that Strategic Division thing will be here later today," he reminded her as they made their way to a less damaged part of the house.
The television was already on the news channel that was about to broadcast the press conference. First to appear was Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, who quickly strode through the hoard of anxiously waiting reporters. Behind him was Tony Stark, who seemed no worse for wear to the observers. The medical tape was gone, and Pepper had most likely disguised the cuts and bruises with some makeup.
Rhodes stepped up to the microphone first, his face more serious than usual. "You've all received the official statement of what occurred at Stark Industries last night – there have been unconfirmed reports that a robotic prototype malfunctioned and caused damage to the arc reactor. And now Mr. Stark has prepared a statement; he will not be taking any questions, thank you."
"He looks nervous," Julia murmured to Yinsen.
"I just hope he says what he ought to," he replied.
Stark cleared his throat and began; "Uh, it's been a while since I was in front of you – figured I'd stick to the cards this time. There's been speculation that I was involved with the events that occurred on the freeway and the rooftop-"
Just then, a blond woman in the front row of reporters cut him off mid-sentence. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stark, do you honestly expect us to believe that there was a bodyguard in a suit that conveniently appeared-"
"Excuse me," Tony interrupted her in return, "It's one thing to question the official story, but to make wild accusations assuming that I'm some kind of superhero-"
"I never said you were a 'superhero'," she replied with a smirk.
"You didn't? Well good, 'cause that would be outlandish, and fantastic," he added under his breath. "I'm not the hero type, clearly; with the laundry list of character defects, all the mistakes I've made…"
Julia would've smacked her palm to her forehead if she weren't concerned about disrupting her stitches. Back on the stage, Rhodes had to discreetly get Tony back on track.
"The truth is…" Tony continued, but then stopped and stared at his prompt cards.
Yinsen sat forward in his seat and started muttering, "Don't do it, Tony. Stay with the statement. Don't do it!"
Julia's eyes widened; she suddenly realized what Yinsen's apprehension was about. She saw the resolve in Tony's eyes a millisecond before he opened his mouth to speak.
Tony Stark looked up from his cards and gazed at the assembly of people before him. "I am Iron Man."
The conference room erupted with eager shouts from the reporters, who were instantly on their feet and surging for the stage.
Yinsen and Julia sank back into their seats, stunned into silence as they stared blankly at the media circus.
"I can't believe…" Julia started, but trailed off.
"I can," Yinsen replied. "It's Tony."
"But, what about… everything?"
"I don't know. 'Let the chips fall where they may', I guess."
"Pepper's going to kill him."
"I doubt very much that the government will be pleased either."
"Agent Coulson is gonna kill him too."
On the screen they watched Stark wade through the crowd, surrounded by a layer of security persons, while Rhodes tried to gain a semblance of order from the platform.
"Where do things go from here?" Julia asked, though it was more rhetorical.
"Forward." Yinsen turned off the television. "Let's get you ready for the day. Besides, I want to check all of these dressings."
"My arms aren't broken; I can manage."
"You'll change your mind the moment you try to change your shirt."
Pepper Potts called the house a couple hours later, sounding stressed. "I'll assume you saw the press conference?"
"Yes, we saw it," Yinsen answered.
"You can imagine the insanity, then. I can't believe that Tony would do this! Total disregard for everyone and everything! This is really going to wreak havoc!"
"Ms. Potts, this is Tony Stark we're talking about. He's known to be completely unpredictable."
"I know, but still!" She sighed heavily, before continuing. "Sorry, I didn't mean to call you and vent."
"Don't apologize. I am happy to lend a listening ear."
"Thank you Yinsen. How are you and Julia?"
"We're alright. We're out on the patio, and Julia is sleeping in a deck chair."
"Have the cleaners from S.H.I.E.L.D. arrived yet?"
"Ah, an acronym, finally!" he replied with a small laugh. "Yes, they're here. They said it might take a while; there are bullet casings and so forth."
"I see. Well, Agent Coulson has assured me that they will be able to handle everything, and that someone will debrief Julia a little later. I expect that we'll be out for the rest of the day dealing with this new situation, so will you be alright?"
"Yes, don't worry about us."
"I'll send something to you for dinner. I want you both to just relax."
"Thank you. We will see you later Ms. Potts."
"Oh, and Yinsen, feel free to call me 'Virginia' or 'Pepper'."
"Thank you, Virginia."
The rest of the day passed quietly – a welcome rarity for Julia, as she was sore all over. Though if she were feeling this badly, Dellinger was probably feeling worse; granted that he had survived his injuries. For some reason, Julia didn't want to be alone in her room. She had spent the day lounging all over the place, but hadn't actually gone to lie in her bed. By eleven that night, Tony had not yet returned, Yinsen went to his room, and she stayed on the sofa, staring at the ceiling.
At the sound of a click, adrenaline flooded her system and she could feel her heart racing. Julia forced herself to remember her training, and switched to strategic breathing; drawing air deep into her lungs and pausing while inhaling. It's nothing, you're imagining things, she said to herself. But then she heard the tread of boots on the hard floor. It would only be a moment until the person entered the living room. Clenching her teeth in pain, Julia gingerly yet swiftly got to the floor between the sofa and the table and lay still. What she would've done for a firearm in that moment.
"Don't move!" a voice shouted suddenly. "Hands up high!"
Julia recognized it – Yinsen. She sat up and saw Yinsen standing there in the darkness with a gun trained on the intruder; that being a formidable-looking man. He was wearing a knee-length, black leather coat, had a shaved head, and an eye-patch over the left eye. Not at all who they were expecting. Oddly enough he had listened to the commands, and had both hands up in surrender.
"Doctor Yinsen, Airman Ramirez," he greeted them. "Forgive me for startling you; I was hoping that you would both be in bed."
With difficultly Julia got to her feet to face the man. Dispensing with 'who' or 'how', she got right to the point; "What do you want?"
"I need to have a word with Mr. Stark."
"He has an office," Yinsen remarked.
"What I have to say to him actually concerns both of you also. I am the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Nick Fury." He looked over at Julia. "I can appreciate what you've just been through with Marius Dellinger, so I don't expect you to trust me."
Julia stared him down, but then heard Yinsen put the safety on the gun.
"I trust you," he said. Julia glared at him, yet he continued talking; "If you had wanted to kill us, you would've done so already. Besides, I have heard of you before."
Julia shrugged her acceptance and sat down.
"Thank you for the vote of confidence, doctor."
"Please sit, Mr. Fury."
He did so and started explaining the reason for his unexpected appearance. "I'm going to cut to the chase here: S.H.I.E.L.D. is very interested in these suits that Stark has developed. We have been trying to debrief him on his escape from Afghanistan because we had received intelligence on a mechanical suit that he had made. It wasn't until a so-called mysterious raid on a Ten Rings weapons depot that we discovered what Stark has been up to since his return. I must say that it was a surprise to see not one, but two suits in action." He glanced at Julia. "You two make a formidable team."
She accepted the praise with a nod of her head; her feelings toward the man were starting to thaw slightly.
"Now, I've read the report on last night's incident, but I have to ask you something: Why are you flying around in a suit like this instead of getting some R&R?"
Julia let out a breath of air. "I need to. Returning to civilian life has been really difficult; I'm not the same person as when I went on tour, and especially after being in that cave for months. I needed something to do, something with purpose. When Tony asked me to help out with building a new suit, I jumped at it. And after Gulmira, we both knew that it was just the beginning. After all we've been through I'm not going to leave now."
Fury rubbed his chin and sat back on the sofa, then turned his attention to Yinsen. "Doctor, I believe that you're the reason that Tony Stark is still alive. What's your part in his current venture?"
"A valid question. Well, as I have no plans to be flying around in a suit, I have been getting some rest and relaxation; Stark has generously invited me to stay as long as I wish. My family is dead, and I'm recovering from a leg wound – I need time to figure out what to do with myself. Until then, I'm keeping an eye on these two." He smiled at Julia when he said it.
"Well, it seems as though you both have a good situation here. Where do you see yourselves going with this project?"
"I'm not sure," Julia responded. "Wherever Tony goes with it, I guess."
"In that case that brings me to-" Fury paused midsentence when his cell phone buzzed. "Excuse me a moment." His eyes scanned the message he'd received, then he looked at them with a bit of a smile. "I've just been told that the man of the hour has returned. He should be in momentarily, then I can tell all three of you at once."
Under a minute later, the sound of someone entering was heard, followed by Tony's voice.
"Welcome home, sir…" The A.I. had been temporarily circumvented and the reply faded out before it could finish.
Tony stopped short when he saw Julia and Yinsen sitting with a stranger.
"'I am Iron Man.' Think you're the only superhero in the world?" Fury spoke from where he sat, then stood to address him directly. "Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe, you just don't know it yet."
"Who the heck are you?" Tony asked, his tone exhibiting annoyance.
"Nick Fury – Director of S.H.I.E.L.D." He walked over to a better lit area, allowing Tony to see him better.
"Oh," was all Stark could say.
"I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative."
Tony looked over at his friends. "Okay, which one of you let him in here?" He turned back to Fury. "Wait, how did you get inside?"
"I was using the interface when it started acting strangely, then Jarvis reported an intruder," Yinsen explained. "As Julia was sleeping out here, naturally I came to investigate."
"That's why you had the gun," Julia said to him. "I didn't know that you were keeping it with you."
"I thought that you would try to keep it on your person, and you definitely should not be carrying a firearm at present; for more than one reason."
"That reminds me, Tony – you have to keep more ammo handy."
"I'll get right on that. Sorry."
Fury cleared his throat loudly and they all looked over at him. "As much as I'd love to sit around and chat, we've got some business to get through."
Tony flopped down onto the sofa. "Fire away, Director."
"The Avenger Initiative is a program in the works for those with extraordinary abilities and powers, such as yourselves."
"Did you say 'powers'?" Tony asked.
Fury glared at him and continued; "While I recognize that you probably don't wish to work directly for S.H.I.E.L.D. at this point in time, this program is designed to be a kind of auxiliary force that can be tasked out to specific situations."
"So it's a club for superheroes."
"It's going to involve functioning in a team capacity, and meetings with S.H.I.E.L.D. on some kind of regular basis. Now, this is all still in the developmental phase, but I would like to start observing your progress with this 'Iron Man' thing, and see whether you would be able to fit into this Initiative."
"Observe away, but I'm not making any commitments."
Julia spoke up; "Director Fury, I'm not sure that you should be offering a place on this program to me. I'm just an airman, and not anywhere near the technological genius that Tony is."
"Thank you, that's so sweet," Tony said to her in an undertone.
"Ms. Ramirez, you are a courageous woman that has just been given an incredible power. You may not fully realize this yet, but your personal qualities combined with this suit of yours could make you a potent addition to such a team."
Yinsen also voiced his hesitation. "I don't see how I would be able to be a part of the Avenger Initiative; I deal with the medical, not the mechanical."
Fury smiled a bit. "Doctor, I would like to be able to have you attached to the Initiative on a consulting basis. Seeing how you kept these two in good health against insurmountable odds speaks volumes."
"So, is this some kind of interview, or are we going to have some sort of testing thing?" Tony asked.
"I guess you could call it that. This meeting is to make you aware of what would be in the best interests of both parties, and that would put your skills to good use, especially in the face of a large disaster. That is when we would need the Avenger team the most." Fury stood, indicating that he would leave. "It's a big world out there. Even S.H.I.E.L.D. acknowledges that we can't handle everything on our own."
"When do we know if we've been accepted into the Avenger Initiative?" Julia asked.
"Don't worry, you'll know. Until then, good luck with the with the hero thing. You're going to need it."
Nick Fury left and the three of them sat on the sofa in silence.
"That was weird," Tony ventured.
"This Avenger program must be very important for him to speak with us personally," Yinsen remarked. "Director Fury is something of a legend, from what I've heard."
"Legend or not, he did a break-and-enter on my house. I'm going to have to reset the system again. Darn spies…"
"I don't know if I'm ready to be a superhero," Julia murmured.
"You're my hero. Or should that be heroine, Ms. Airman?" Tony replied with a smirk on his face.
"Whatever you say, Iron Man."
A/N: Thanks for reading this story! If you wish to continue following this AU, the first chapter of the next story is ready and waiting! It's called Legacy. Hope you see you there!