Before. Before the Avengers. Before Iron Man. Before the cave. Before Stark Industries. Before the car accident. Before everything…

There was a little girl.

She wore frilly dresses, and had tea parties with all her dolls. She saw mother the most, but father would read her bedtime stories.

One day, mother got a cold, so father watched over her. He didn't want to play tea party, he was busy measuring the distances between buildings in his little town. There were lots of big books in his workshop, so she wasn't bored. There were lots of big words in those big books, but she knew where the dictionary was, and quickly learned all she could.

On the second day, mother was still sick, so once again, father watched her. She found diagrams and instructions, and used the dictionary again.

On the third day, father looked up from his work and caught her reaching for his small welding tool.

On the fourth day, she built her first circuit board, with his close supervision.

Father stopped calling her Antonia, she was now Tony. It was a fun game, seeing people's faces when they realized Tony Stark was a girl. They never believed her until she explained her work.

There was a whole world of things for her to build. She never played tea party again.

When she was sixteen, living alone at MIT, she built her first artificial friend. She slaved over his programming, giving him the closest thing she could to intuition and feelings. When she installed him in a robotic arm, it was a disaster. He always chose the wrong option. She named him Dummy.

Later, when she removed the intuition and feelings, Dummy2.0 won her an award. Nevertheless, he didn't feel right, so she restored his original programming. Uncle Obadiah said she was personifying her creations. Sentiment had no place in programming, and there was nothing wrong with tweaking something until it was perfect. Tony thought that was an easy way to charge people more money for newer and better versions. From that day, she never produced anything until she thought it was perfect.

She started drinking at her parents' funeral. She never stopped. Life looked so much better through an amber haze.

She spent her whole life being twice as fast, twice as smart, twice as good as her male opposites. Then she became CEO of Stark Industries, and…something changed. One day she woke up and she was the best. She was richer than Gates and Buffet; Stark Industries was at the top of the stock market. There was no farther to go, she was the best…

…and she just didn't care anymore. Her alcoholism became worse and with it comes sex and drugs.

Skip ahead some years.

Tony Stark wakes, cold and afraid, in a cave. She has an electromagnet resting above her breasts.

There's fear and captivity; guns and torture. The terrorists want her best weapon, so she builds one. The best weapon is one you only have to use once. The iron suit she builds only gets one use before it falls apart, that once was enough. She destroys their terrorist base and escapes.

Rhodey rescues her. Rhodey is always rescuing her from her craziest ideas; it's nice to keep the pattern. On the chopper ride to the American military base, she falls asleep curled up in his arms; safe for the first time in three months.

She sleeps through the landing, and the debriefing. She only wakes when her captors are removing the new arc reactor in her chest. She breaks the man's hand before she realizes it was only a scientist, measuring the energy output. They want to make sure she's not radioactive or something idiotic like that. Like she would put something harmful into herself.

Rhodey is there to calm everything down. He yells at the guy for sneaking up on her.

When she orders a steak, they give her a half-portion and broccoli instead of potatoes. There's no knife, so she eats it like a corndog, skewered on the end of her fork, ripping pieces off with her teeth. She thinks that's how she'll eat steak at home from now on, with one hand free to work on her projects.

The next day, they fly her to a hospital in Germany. It's a disaster. She has to explain over and over to so many different military commanders that: no, she did not build her captors anything. Yes, she was tortured. No, it would not "be alright" if she gave in to the demands. Everyone breaks, miss, they had you for three months. No one blames you. We just need to know what you gave them.She rolls her eyes so often she gets a headache. She built the suit, and the arc reactor, and that was it.

She is surrounded by idiots. And Rhodey. But he still works for the idiots, so he counts as one. Mostly.

Is it because she's a woman and they're laboring under the impression she's a delicate flower or because terrorists had her for three months and this is how they'd treat anyone who had been in enemy hands for so long? No one gives her an answer when she asks. She's not sure which answer she'd prefer.

The day before she is due home, some yahoo colonel from one of those middle states claims she's performed an illegal human experiment and will be detained until the illegality of her actions can be determined. The entire room goes quiet at that announcement. The whole speech sounds well quoted, especially since he's the type of man who calls the IT department asking for them to download the internet onto his computer; all bajillion gigabytes of it. It's probably Justin Hammer. It sounds like Hammer Tech got the stupidest colonel to throw his weight around, just so they could eliminate her as the competition. Tony, having enough of bullshit, spends the next half hour verbally castrating Colonel Idiot.

The next day, she flies home.

She imagines Justin Hammer destroying something in a fit of rage, then slipping and impaling his head on a garden rake, because he is definitely dumb enough to have a garden rake in his workshop. The doctors give her the good drugs that day.

The first thing Tony does (after the cheeseburger, and "ugh, Happy, did it have to be Burger King?") is close the weapons production sector of Stark Industries. Rhodey is pissed. Obie and Pepper both think she's lost her mind due to her harrowing imprisonment. They think she has no idea of the consequences of this action. Of course she does. There's the stock prices, and the breach-of-contract clauses with the military for starters. She knows the company is going to loose a lot of money and never be as popular as it once was. But, maybe that's a good thing. Stark Industries was the best of the best for years and what did it bring? A hole in her chest, near cirrhosis of the liver, and her weapons killing innocent people in countries she doesn't even know the names of. Accountability can only be a good thing after that.

Her first suit, out of necessity, was a barely-shaped hulking monstrosity. Now she has the tools and the time to make something elegant and powerful. For a few hours, she plays with a feminized design. But, there's no way to make breasts and an hourglass figure work with the schematics and it looks terrible so she goes with the masculine designs.

Her hair's a problem. If she ties it back, it presses against the back of her helmet, and limits her head moving for the display interface. If she keeps it down, it flops around and tangles around her neck. She spends two hours re-coding a robotic arm (not Dummy, never Dummy) and has JARVIS slave it so he can give her a haircut. Years and years of growth fall to the workshop floor and she's left with a pixie style. On her next public appearance, the tabloids go crazy trying to explain why she did it, they get interviews with "experts" and "close friends", most of them agree it's PTSD and Tony is trying to regain control of her life.

It's not her life anymore, it's her atonement. She has reinvented herself. She is going to make sure her inventions never hurt an innocent person, ever again.

Skip forward.

Tony kills Obadiah Stane.

To be fair, he was trying to kill her first, and Pepper, and maybe start World War Three, who knows? She couldn't really pay attention to his villain monologuing, since at the time, Obadiah was removing her arc reactor and she was in a lot of pain. Obadiah uses her designs and her inventions to hurt innocent people, so she kills him, using the very technology he so covets. The arc blast radiates him to a quick and painful death and she's not sorry. Well, she's sorry for the damage caused to Stark Industries' arc reactor, it was a popular tour destination…

Now, the reporters clamor, the bulbs flash and she stares through the camera lenses to everyone watching.

"The truth is…I am Iron Man."

But, all this was just the prologue. The Hero's Journey from billionaire playgirl Tony Stark to superhero Iron Man Tony Stark.

Here is where it gets interesting...