DISCLAIMER: I do not own Iron Man nor any associated franchises, neither am I making any money from the writing of this story. I'm just doing it for poops and giggles.
Tony Stark woke with a start, gasping violently for breath. His chest was on fire, covered in red hot coals that burned through his flesh. He screamed, his mind consumed by the intolerable pain. Straining, he tried to move, thrashing his head and struggling. His arms and legs were restrained, and it was only then was he aware of people surrounding him.
There were four people, but he couldn't see clearly enough to tell more than that. One of them was pressing on his chest, igniting further flames of agony which elicited another scream. Two of them were standing at his feet while another moved near his head, holding something gently over his mouth and nose. There was the unmistakable smell of chloroform, and the darkness of unconsciousness tugged him back under. But not before he felt small hands stroking his neck comfortingly.
When next he woke, it was to a chilling cold that seemed to be seated deep in his bones. While definitely not as painful as the unending flames, it was more than uncomfortable. Clenching his hand into a fist while he shivered uncontrollably, Tony then became aware of something in his nose.
Cautiously, he reached up and found a medical tube taped to one nostril. Gagging at the horrible feeling, he slowly pulled the tube out and out and out of his nose, tearing the tape off once it was out. Taking a moment, he assessed his current situation.
The ceiling was made of stone. It was dark. He was laying on a thin mattress on a canvas bed which didn't stop the cold from assaulting his back, causing further shivers. His arms ached a little more than any of his other bones, so he clenched his hands to try and warm them.
Turning his head to the side, he saw a metal mug next to a metal canteen on a rusty oil drum. Reaching out, he tried to grab the mug, hoping there was something inside to wet his parched throat. The cold made him clumsy, and he only ended up tipping the cup from the table with a clink and a sloshing sound. Coughing, Tony's attention shifted from the table just a tiny bit, and he saw an older man standing several feet away, causing him to instantly freeze.
It seemed as though the man either wasn't aware of him, or didn't care to acknowledge him. He was standing in front of a dirty mirror attached to the chimney of an ancient metal stove, calmly shaving at his beard. He was bald, had a hook nose and wore glasses. His suit seemed clean enough, but was obviously old.
Not really wanting to alert the stranger to his consciousness any more than he already had, Tony made to move off the bed, something pulling oddly at his chest as he did so, stopping him short.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," the man said in an accented voice, pausing in his shaving to watch Tony through the mirror.
Glancing over his shoulder, Tony saw that there was an old, beat up battery sitting on a metal table on the other side of the bed. Two cables were attached to the battery, and he followed them down to his chest, which was bandaged. He tapped at his chest, hearing metal beneath the bandages.
Panicking, Tony tore at the bandages frantically until he uncovered something that really shouldn't be on his chest. There was a circular metal device embedded in the center of his chest, the cables hooked up to either side of it by copper wires. Now that he knew it was there, he could feel it inside of him, and he gasped uncomfortably, feeling the skin rubbing around the device.
Something moved silently beside him, making Tony jump. There was another person inside what he had come to place as a cave. At first glance, he couldn't be sure whether it was a girl or a boy, they were so damn dirty. The round face was covered in filth, grease, oil, dirt. The hair might have been long, but it was matted with knots and hung lankly around the person's head, too dirty to tell what the colour might be. There were no clues to the gender from the clothes, either. They were simply layers upon layers of dirty rags, giving the impression of a shapeless mass.
The silent person bent and picked up the metal mug from the ground. They took the canteen and poured more water into it before holding the cup out to Tony. Carefully, he reached for it, glancing at the small, dirty, obviously feminine hands holding the mug.
Once Tony had taken the cup from her, the girl moved without a sound to the other table and picked up the battery attached to him. Holding it against her, she made a motion with her hand that Tony interpreted as 'sit up'. He did so, wincing uncomfortably, and she placed the battery on the canvas bed beside him before moving away, folding herself into a sitting position beside the stove the other man was standing near.
Slowly, Tony raised the mug to his lips and drank the water. It was old, faintly dusty, and warm. Nothing had ever tasted so good in his life. Draining the cup, he placed it next to the canteen. He thought about thanking the girl, but she had hung her head and wrapped her arms around her legs, practically disappearing inside her rags.
The bald man finished shaving, placing his razor down on another oil drum on the other side of the stove. He sighed, wiping his face with a cloth before reaching up and taking the mirror down. He glanced at the pile of rags on the other side of the stove before turning to Tony.
"Here," he said, holding the mirror out to him. He carefully reached forward to take it. "To better see your new look."
With a small smile, the bald man turned away from Tony and began to whistle a tune as he went to the stove. There was a small fire crackling in it, a beaten up, black frying pan sitting inside it. Taking a wooden spoon, he merrily began to stir something that was inside the pan which didn't smell even remotely appetizing.
"What the hell did you do to me?" Tony rasped, using the mirror to see 'his new look'. He had no idea what the thing in his chest was, even now that he could see it. It was completely metal, screws and copious amounts of copper wire visible. He could feel it sitting there, inside his chest cavity. He squirmed.
"What I did?" The bald man repeated, pausing in his whistling to glance at a rather indignant looking Tony. He continued to stir as he replied, "What I did was to save your life. I removed all the shrapnel I could, but there's a lot left, and it's headed into your atrial septum."
Putting down the wooden spoon, the bald man turned and picked something up from the oil drum the girl was sitting next to. She raised her head enough to peer through her dirty hair as the man walked towards Tony. "Here, want to see? I have a souvenir. Take a look."
He tossed a small glass jar to Tony, who caught it with a glare. Holding up the cylindrical jar, he turned it around to see tiny slivers of metal rolling around inside. The girl stared at him until he caught her, and then she ducked her head again.
"I've seen many wounds like that in my village," the unnamed man began. "We call them the walking dead, because it takes about a week for the barbs to reach the vital organs."
"What is this?" Tony asked. He didn't need to gesture to the device in his chest, it was just obvious by the way that he asked.
"That," the other man did gesture to his chest, "is an electromagnet, hooked up to a car battery. And it's keeping the shrapnel from entering your heart." He smiled, turning back to the frying pan.
Tony squirmed again, zipping up the jacket that he'd woken in. The skin around the electromagnet felt cold, chaffed, uncomfortable. Trying to distract himself from his current predicament, he looked around the cave. A tiny red light in the ceiling caught his attention, and he found himself looking at a security camera.
"That's right. Smile!" the other man grinned, though clearly he wasn't too fond of the fact that they were being watched. "We met once, you know. At a technical conference in Bern."
"I don't remember," Tony absentmindedly replied, watching the girl that was now watching him again, her eyes shadowed by hanks of tangled hair.
"No, you wouldn't," the man agreed with a chuckle. "If I had been that drunk, I wouldn't have been able to stand much less give a lecture on, uh, integrated circuits."
"Who's she?" Tony jerked his chin in the girl's direction, and she shrunk back into herself, drawing her legs closer to her body.
"Oh, her?" The older man smiled indulgently at the pile of rags that was now shivering. "She was already here when I arrived. She doesn't speak. But she is very helpful. She helped me save you."
"Where are we?" Tony tried.
The man opened his mouth to answer, but at that moment there was a metal clang that drew both men's attention to a large iron door set into the side of the cave. The girl stopped shivering instantly, her body freezing into a statue that seemed to shrink even further into itself.
A man on the other side of the door started to shout in a language that Tony didn't understand. The other man came towards him, gesturing urgently. "Come on, stand up. Stand up!" He grabbed Tony's arm and pulled him to his feet. "Just do as I do."
The iron door swung open with a horrible grating sound, a handful of men armed with what appeared to be assault rifles making their way into the cave. "Come on, put your hands up," the man urged, holding his hands behind his head.
Tony did as he was told, holding his hands up behind his head like the man beside him. The armed men came closer, and Tony was able to see the weapons that they were holding. "Those are my guns, how did they get my guns?" he demanded in a whisper.
"Do you understand me? Do as I do," the man beside him repeated with an undercurrent of panic.
A large, unarmed man stepped ahead of the others, holding his arms out wide in a gesture of friendliness that didn't have Tony fooled for a moment. He greeted them in another language, though Tony recognised his name somewhere in the jolly greeting. When he'd finished speaking, the large man gestured to the man beside Tony.
"He says 'welcome, Tony Stark,'" he translated, "'the most famous mass murderer in the history of America.'"
The man spoke again, gesturing to himself with a smile. "He is honoured." He continued, and the bald man translated, though Tony caught the word 'Jericho', and his eyes widened. "He want's you to build the missile. The Jericho missile that you demonstrated."
The large man handed a printed photograph to the bald man, who held it out with one to show Tony. "This one," he said.
Tony looked down at the picture, recognising the Jericho missile that he'd been demonstrating before the attack on the convey, just before he'd woken up in the dank and dark cave. The missile that he had designed to protect Americans, the missile he had designed to stop the people who were asking him to build them one.
"I refuse," he answered adamantly.
What happened next happened very quickly. Tony was grabbed by several men and taken out of the cave. The unnoticed girl raised her head to watch them leave, the unnamed man moving to crouch beside her.
Tony counted the steps that they lead him away, plans beginning to form in his head. He struggled against the men, but knew that he wouldn't be able to escape just yet. They took him into another room, where a trough of water was sitting, presumably a convenient drinking supply.
They then unceremoniously dunked his head into the trough, and held him there. Just when he thought he was going to pass out, they yanked his head up out of the water and began yelling at him. While he knew what they were saying despite the language barrier, Tony couldn't help but wonder why they thought yelling at him in a language he didn't speak would work.
He didn't know how long they kept him there, keeping him on the edge of unconsciousness and yelling in his face. It was a damn long time, but eventually they kicked him in the ribs, causing a searing burning to flare across his chest, before hauling him back to the cave and dumping him on the ground. There was the sound of retreating footsteps, and then the heavy scrape and clang of the metal door closing.
"I don't think they're very happy with you, my friend," the bald man said gently, going to help Tony up.
Only able to cough in reply, Tony leant heavily on the guy as he was lead back to the canvas bed, dimly aware that the car battery was being carried by the silent girl behind them. As soon as he'd collapsed on the thin mattress, the man moved away while the girl gently placed the battery back on the table beside the bed. Then she moved to stand above his head, and began to stroke the side of his neck. He tried to look up at her face, tried to pick out something about her other than the layers of rags and filth, but he was dragged under and fell asleep with the feeling of cold hands caressing his neck.
The water torture continued for two days. Each morning Tony would be woken by the scraping of the metal door, manhandled out into the other room, and drowned for the day. He would be returned to the cave in the evening, where the bald man would help him to the bed, and the girl would stroke his neck before he fell unconscious. He was always too exhausted to speak by the time he was returned to the cave, and too exhausted to see much of the girl other than a round face peering curiously at him from above.
On the third day, it seemed there was a change in plans. Like the previous two days, Tony awoke to the sound of the door being pulled open and was roughly dragged from the canvas bed. But that was as far as the similarities went. This time, they grabbed the car battery and shoved it into his hands before tugging a burlap sack over his head.
He was lead out of the cave with more shouting and pushing, dreading that perhaps they'd decided to just kill him, or at least up the ante. When the sack was pulled from his head, the sudden sunlight momentarily blinded Tony before he realised that he was outside, and it was much later than his usual wake up call.
They were in a ravine nestled between a handful of smaller mountains. Men were scattered here and there, going about their business as though they weren't standing in the middle of a small armoury. There were shaded lean-tos against the walls of the mountains, some obviously living spaces, while most had crates, ammunition boxes and missiles in the shade underneath. Tony couldn't help but notice his name was on all of the crates.
With a push to his back, Tony was lead further down away from the mouth of the cave and into the ravine. The small band of men surrounded him as he followed the larger man, who came to a stop outside a particularly large pile of crates. 'Stark Industries' was emblazoned across them.
The man spoke, and the man from the cave translated, "He wants to know what you think."
"I think you got a lot of my weapons," Tony said quietly.
The bald man translated to the larger man, who spoke as he walked around Tony, gesturing to the crates. "He says, uh, they have everything you need to build a Jericho missile. He wants you to make the list of materials."
With what Tony assumed was supposed to be a benevolent smile, the man spoke again, ending his sentence with a nod of his head. "He says for you to start working immediately, and when you are done... He will set you free."
The large man held out a hand, an expectant look on his face. Tony winced on his smile as he took the man's hand and shook it. "No he won't."
"No he won't," the bald man agreed, while the large man grinned happily.
The rest of the afternoon was spent going through the crates and other munitions, familiarising Tony with what was available, and what he would need. The armed guards never moved more than three feet away from him, but Tony did his best to ignore them, trying to figure out how so many of his American weapons had wound up in Afghanistan.
When the sun started to sink below the horizon, Tony was grabbed roughly by his arm and shoved back towards the cave. They didn't bother with the burlap sack this time, so he was able to more accurately map out the hidey-hole.
The metal doors scraped open, and there was a flash of movement deep in the cave. Tony and the bald man were pushed inside the dark cave, then the door was slammed shut behind them. The flash of movement revealed itself to be the silent girl, who peered out from the shadows at her cell mates.
"I'm home, honey," Tony said sardonically.
The girl froze, head turned towards the two men. Then her shoulders started to shake as she shook her head. Tony realised that she was silently laughing, and for the first time since he'd come too inside this horrible little slice of hell, he wondered what had happened that made this girl unable to speak.
His thoughts, however, were completely derailed when he realised that the girl had been cooking something before she'd dived for cover. While still smelling unappetising, it had been several days since Tony had eaten. At that moment, he would take what he could get.
The bald man moved over to the stove and took the beat up frying pan out from the fire. He smiled at the girl and dipped his head in thanks. She nodded back, but didn't smile. Instead, she slunk without a sound towards the back of the cave, folding herself up atop a battered crate.
The two men ate in silence, and once they were done, the girl appeared and took the metal plates they'd used, placing them aside. Then she held out a bundle of folded clothes to Tony, who took them with an incline of his head. The way the bald man treated the girl made him start to think that she was deaf, too.
The bundle consisted of a pair of scratchy, fingerless gloves, a thick beanie, and a tattered shirt. Taking his jacket off, Tony quickly pulled on the other things, trying to get warm. Once he'd sat down again, the girl returned with a blanket and without a word wrapped it around his shoulders. He pulled it closer, staring at her as she moved back into the shadows.
"Why can't she speak?" he asked.
"I don't know," the bald man replied with a shrug of one shoulder. "Like I said, she was already here when I arrived. I have no idea how long she's been here, no one speaks of her when I ask. It's almost as though they're afraid of her."
"Of her?" Tony glanced at the other man before turning his attention back to the girl. There was absolutely nothing threatening about her at all. She was short, and he assumed she'd be tiny under her layers of clothes. Her hands were always cold, and he noticed now that her feet were bare. She must have been half frozen.
"They say that she's cursed," the man continued. "That she can curse others by speaking their name aloud. They call her Pandora."
"Pandora," Tony repeated curiously. "Huh." The girl raised her head and peered at him, head tilted to one side like a dog that hears it's name being called. After a moment of staring and trying to place what colour her eyes were, hidden as they were by her hair, the girl lowered her head once more, transforming into an empty pile of rags in the corner.
Minutes passed as Tony stared into the fire on the stove, thoughts swimming around in his head. A moment was spent thinking on the strange, 'cursed' girl in the corner. Another on the man wandering around the cave, looking for his hat. And then an hour passed while he thought on his situation, pulling his blanket closer to his body to fight the rising cold. And then another hour passed. And another.
"I'm sure they're looking for you, Stark," the bald man said as he came and sat next to Tony. "But they will never find you in these mountains."
Tony didn't reply, staring unmoving into the fire.
"Look. What you just saw... That is your legacy, Stark," the man continued. "Your life's work, in the hands of those murderers. Is that how you want to go out? Is this the last act of defiance of the great Tony Stark? Or are you going to do something about it?"
"Why should I do anything?" Tony asked lowly. "They're going to kill me, you, either way. And if they don't, I'll probably be dead in a week."
"Well then. This is a very important week for you, isn't it? Hm?" Standing, the man pat Tony on the shoulder. "It's late. You should get some sleep. We can start in the morning, no?"
Tony didn't move for some time, so when he felt something slide across his shoulders he nearly jumped out of his skin. Turning his head, he saw the girl was hugging him from behind, her arms locked across his chest, carefully avoiding the magnet there. She rested her chin on his shoulder, looking at him from the corner of her eye.
Her eyes were blue. Startlingly blue. Crystalline blue. She blinked, then shook her head before straightening up. Bending down, she grabbed the car battery from the ground and gestured towards the canvas bed Tony had been using. Without a word, he followed her gentle goading and lay down on the thin mattress, watching her as she placed the battery carefully down on the oil drum beside the bed. She moved to stand above his head and started to stroke his neck, gazing unfocusedly across the room. Tony fell asleep watching her.