"Has he lost his damn mind?!"
Being a friend of Tony Stark was not a luxurious position to be in. It defied common sense to ever believe that being in any
sort of association with the third wealthiest man in the world would cause more harm than good, especially with the deep connections and the company that the 34-year-old made a habit of keeping. But most people didn't know Tony as well as Captain James Rhodes, who had long been a close friend of the billionaire playboy through their fathers' mutual friendship born from Stark Resilient's dealings with the United State military. At one point, Rhodes even considered Stark to be the brother he had never had. But then the inheritance check cleared and something changed. Gone were the days of a respectable boy genius who wanted nothing more than to live out his creativity through design and engineering - every day since he'd turned 18, Stark's life had been about three things: women, booze, and the money that could buy them both.
Harold Hogan tried to hide the sincere disdain at his assignment from his face as he stood firmly in the entrance of Stark's California mansion, the inside of which was blasting music so loud that it could be heard for miles. Tony was hosting another one of his infamous VIP parties, and - even as one of his closest friends, and even having worked security detail a couple of times for these damn things - it seemed that Tony didn't consider Rhodes to be a "very important person".
"Mr. Rhodes, I'm sorry, but you know how Mr. Stark feels about uninvited guests."
Rhodes furrowed his brow, but nevertheless realized that he had to get difficult if he was gonna talk any sense into the man inside. Forcing his way past Hogan, who stood relatively an inch shorter than the built military man, Rhodes marched into the front hall of the crowded mansion, with Hogan quickly following. Having to yell over the deafening music that several were dancing to, Rhodes turned back to Hogan as he double-checked the VIP list, praying that the Captain was on it and that he wouldn't be fired.
"Mr. Stark's about to feel a boot up his ass! Now where is he?!"
"He's, well... I don't actually know where he is!"
With their collaboration on a revolutionary new idea, Rhodes had been given reason to hold onto the last bit of hope that the old Tony would return. After a heart-to-heart two years prior, Stark had promised his closest friends and confidants that he would get help for his alcoholism and take more of an initiative to be responsible with his father's legacy. The solution to the latter problem was working with Rhodes to pursue the title of lead military contractor under the Pentagon's watchful eye. A title which, after a year of pulling strings, Tony finally attained. And their main project was now waiting to be assembled for it's first test run: Project Iron Man.
The problem was, without Tony himself to be there, the idea of a test run was lost. Given the secrecy of the project, only he knew the schematics, and only he could fix a problem on the spot. Rhodes had only served as a glorified consultant, offering input where it was needed. But even still, Tony was graciously willing to share joint credit for the project when they presented it to the Pentagon in three weeks. It was a sign that maybe Tony was able to leave his shallow days of partying behind him.
Tonight was a testament to the exact opposite.
"Then we'll go look for him!"
, Rhodes exclaimed, heading up the stairs. "Gotta be up here somewhere. Either the bedroom or the jacuzzi, or the jacuzzi in the bedroom..."
On his way, Rhodes bumped shoulders with someone who didn't respond too kindly. The man turned, the contents of his glass now covering the front of his shirt.
"Hey, watch it!"
Never one to back down from a fight, Rhodes instantly glared at the man.
"Man, you best step out of my way."
The man relented, leaving Rhodes to continue to the second floor and leaving Hogan to approach the disgruntled guest immediately after. "Mr. Downey Jr., I'm so terribly sorry. Here, let me find you a towel..."
"To an evening of enlightenment!"
The cork on the champagne finally popped, and a river of sparkling Venice came flowing from the bottle and dripped into the water below. The hot steam rising from the center of the room was momentarily cooled down, as Tony Stark poured three ice cold glasses for himself and his two female companions - one a redhead, one a brunette - who both wasted no time in accepting their respective glass. Tony smiled back at them as they raised their glasses, ready to agree to the toast. He replied in kind, and the three joined.
"Or is it enlightment? Enlightment, enlighten..."
, Stark momentarily mused. "Oh, who the hell cares. To carelessness!"
Just as soon as he said it, the two women joined Stark at either side, allowing him to leisurely drape himself with their bodies as he relaxed against the jacuzzi. Despite throwing the massive party for an even bigger turnout than he'd expected, Tony had never been one for the social scene. He preferred a more intimate touch, and that was exactly what he was planning to do. One of the women rested her head on his shoulder and stared up, particularly entranced.
"So, Mr. Stark..."
"Please, I don't want to feel 40 already. It's Tony."
, the woman corrected. "About my employment at Stark Resillient. You know, the job I asked about. What did you say my chances were of getting that again?"
Tony smirked back at her. "Oh, you're a clever little minx, aren't you?"
She grinned. "Can't blame me for trying."
"Hmm, let me think. A regular salaried position, ludicrous benefits, your own parking space at corporate..."
Leaning in and preparing for a kiss, Tony unwittingly ignored the other woman's annoyance at the attention being placed on the former.
"I think we can work out an arrangement that'll be mutually beneficial."
Just as their lips met, the door to Stark's jacuzzi room came flying open. And standing in the entrance was Rhodes, who immediately shielded his eyes, falsely believing that he'd barged in on something far more provocative than what he actually had.
Rather than taking offense at the intrusion, Stark smiled, glass of champagne still firmly in hand as he rose from the water of the hot tub, partially chuckling at his friend's unnecessary show of modesty.
"Rhodes! I'll be damned, didn't think you'd show up to one of these things!"
Angrily, Rhodes advanced as Tony stepped out, leaving the two women to look at eachother, puzzled by this new development.
"I wasn't invited, remember?"
Stark realized this was true, and immediately slapped his forehead.
"I knew I forgot somebody. Damn, I'm sorry about that. But hey, you made it anyway!"
"No, I don't want to be apart of some stupid ass party,"
, Rhodes replied, indignant. "What was tonight supposed to be, Tony? Where were you supposed to be right now?"
Blank-faced, Stark mulled it over until the realization slowly came upon him.
"Wait, that was tonight? I figured you had enough specifications to ship it out already, you don't need my permission for that. Well, I mean, you do. But I can sign that off in the morning."
"Tonight was supposed to be the the start of the testing phase. Remember? You and I were supposed to run diagnostics on the suit and the power source all in one go. Then you said you wanted to have me personally try the thing out so that I could assess a proper field deployment. Is any of this getting through to you?"
Tony shook his head, placing his hand on Rhodes' shoulder.
"Rhodey, that was me talking shop whenever we were still working out at the airfield. I can run diagnostics from my bedroom and I don't even need the suit here to do it. You're taking this way too seriously. We don't even have a demonstration lined for another month."
Raising his arm, Rhodey withheld an urge to slap his friend upside the head.
"It's in three weeks, and get your damn hand off me! You think just because we have a set deadline that we're not on a tight schedule? My superiors are breathing down my neck about this, man! We've got to show them that we're gonna be ready to make this happen, otherwise you can kiss your company's contract and my rank goodbye!"
Stark quietly sipped another gulp down of champagne.
"You need to relax. Here, have some of this..."
Slapping the glass away, Rhodes stared back at Tony with disbelief.
"You kidding me with this? You're not seriously this deluded."
"Deluded? I don't know if you've noticed from your little land of paranoia over there, marine, but this is a party! I'm allowed to be a little deluded if it gets me drunk, laid, or any combination of the two."
Rhodes was silent for a moment, trying to process what he was seeing as Tony turned to the two women waiting for him in the jacuzzi.
"Now come on, I never like to mix business with pleasure. Especially this kind of pleasure. You want one of them, you can have one. Maybe that'll get you to calm down for a minute."
"You know what... keep them."
Rhodes turned around, too disgusted to even look his friend in the eye.
"Keep all of it. Your damn money, your damn booze. After this project is finished, you can keep our friendship, too. You said you changed, but you really haven't. I'm done."
Tony spun around and watched him as he left the room, finally beginning to take him seriously.
"Rhodey? Rhodes! Don't be like that, I was just messing around!"
But despite his plea, Rhodes didn't come back. And for a moment - granted, only a short moment of the night - the same Tony Stark that had just made a toast to carelessness found himself regretting his actions. Drinking the very last drop up of the champagne, the rest having spilled from Rhodes' dismissal, a legitimately bothered Stark allowed the frown to wash away from his face as he turned back to the women. Realizing that he needed this even more than before.
"Sorry for the brief interruption, ladies... another idiot looking for corporate sponsorship. Now where we we?"
As the night of partying continued on, Tony Stark only proceeded to drink his troubles away.
It was a shame that he wasn't able to do that now.
"It... it was supposed to work."
From within the confines of a dark and cold cavern, his home away from home for the last three years, a disheveled Stark stares down at the object in his hands in disbelief. Behind him stand seven armed men - each of them members of a dangerous terrorist cell known as The Ten Rings - who have their guns trained at the back of the former billionaire's skull. One false move by one of them and Stark's life would be over. But they know better than to kill him. He's their prisoner, and he's been kept alive this long for a very specific purpose - to re-engineer one of his own designs from scratch and build them an Iron Man. Up until yesterday, Stark had made considerable progress, given no choice but to comply to their demands on threat of death. He had built crude versions of the gauntlets and repulsors, the jets, and most recently the chest armor. Before now, a full suit would have only taken a couple of months to complete.
But the primary source of power for the entire thing wasn't turning on. Tony stared at the miniature arc reactor in his hands, having built it over eight months from top to bottom, dumbfounded at it's inability to activate.
"I don't understand. This wasn't supposed to happen,"
, he muttered, turning back towards the men who stared, displeased with the news. "I followed every instruction, every detail. I looked over the blueprints twice, for god's sake. I verified this. It should've worked. It has to work!"
The men turned to eachother and started speaking in a language that Stark didn't even understand. His frustration with that had extended throughout his entire time as a captive, and it was doubly annoying to him now. But one word that they uttered was one Stark knew quite well. Raza, the name of their leader. And a man that Stark desperately didn't want to see again any time soon.
"No! No, that won't be nessecary, I can fix this! I swear to you, I can fix this! Please, I just need more time!"
Ignoring his attempts to dissuade them, the men each walked away, heading towards the entrance of the portion of the cavern that they had reshaped into Stark's prison. All the while, he stared at them, tossing the ineffective arc reactor away in anger.
"I JUST NEED MORE TIME!"
But they didn't listen to him, and in moments, Stark was finally left by himself.
Alone and with nothing but his failures.