SERIES: Imperfection Deviation/Iron Man (movie)
DISCLAIMER: None of the characters belong to me, sadly. They are owned by people with a lot more money
Author’s Voice of Warning (aka Author’s Note):
English is not my first language; it’s German. This is the best I can do. Any mistakes you find in here, collect them and you might win a prize
Tony had retreated to his lab. It was late. Every normal human being would be in bed already.
Tony was far from normal.
He was so far from normal, only two other people shared the new status he had with him, but neither of them was like Tony at all.
Special. He almost laughed out loud. His parents had called him special. He was gifted. He was a genius.
Fucking genius, right. Sure, he had made Stark Industries the global player it was today. He had developed complicated machinery and programming in his head. He was frighteningly good with all kinds of engineering stuff.
And he had the Extremis.
Tony played with a sophisticated tool. The slender silver rod spun between his fingers, never stopping, always around and around. He felt like a drum major, though there was no music to accompany his performance.
His blessing and his curse.
Tony’s eyes roamed through the wide-spread garage, coming to rest on his armor. It gleamed gently in the soft light, all polished metal, all gold and red. It was imposing, awe-inspiring and deadly. Very deadly.
He felt every twitter of the complex programming that had gone into this master piece. He felt the connection it currently had with the service station. He could listen in to the automatic exchange of the two servers, monitored by a more complex presence that was Jarvis.
In the back of his head was the constant feed from all kinds of data networks. Stark Industries was only one of them. Pepper had told him he wouldn’t need her to bring him the news and check his mails now. He could do it himself.
The truth was Tony still needed her. He didn’t want to do his emails. He didn’t want to keep himself logged into the streams 24/7. His brain was there anyway and it was weird that it felt completely okay, but it didn’t mean he was one hundred percent there every second of every day.
But the Extremis was more than just a tech gadget in his brain. The nanotubes had completely rewritten Tony’s body. He had a new heart, no more splinters, a new liver, well, all organs were new. No scars, nothing left to remind him of the old Tony Stark – aside from the arc reactor.
Injuries would be healed. Quite fast, too. Recovery was usually within record time. The Extremis simply restored his body to what the blueprint it had stored said the body should be.
And that was where things differed from what Tony had believed the nanotubes would do.
He stopped the spinning and clutched the tool tightly in his fist, knuckles whitening.
Extremis operated by resetting him. To the beginning. And the beginning was the moment he had come out of the metal cocoon, had freaked Hot Rod, and had felt like born again. It didn’t even need him to be injured. It simply compared notes. Actual body status to perfect blueprint.
Tony could have cried, and laughed, and screamed, and broken down in hysteria, and hugged Pepper, and killed something, when he had first noticed it. A routine medical check by Jarvis had been the first alert. Then the continued checks, and then Ratchet confirming his suspicions.
He was frozen in time. His body remained at the point of existence he had had after his rebirth.
His cells didn’t age.
He was a fucking immortal!
Tony knew his reaction to that news had been rather violent and Hot Rod had yelled at him after he had woken up. Tony had totaled a car – not Hot Rod – and harmed himself so severely, it had taken his body a day to recover. And he was back to square one physiologically.
-- Tony? --
He smiled at the careful question.
-- Yeah? --
Hot Rod transformed in the tight confines of the underground room. While the garage was gigantic, it had never been laid out with big alien robots in mind. But Hot Rod had adjusted and he wasn’t as big as, say, Optimus Prime.
“Are you okay?” the Autobot asked, down on one knee and peering closely at his friend.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. As okay as finding out you were frigging immortal could make you be.
“Liar,” was the reply.
He smirked at the silver bot. “Okay for now.”
“No one expects you to deal with this as easily as you dealt with the Extremis in general.”
“Roddy, I knew what the Extremis would give me, what it would alter. I was prepared and the Extremis prepared my brain in turn. I just didn’t have all equations…”
“Because it was a prototype.”
“And now you’ll get a lot older than the average human, if you don’t kill yourself first.” The blue optics were intense.
Tony chuckled darkly. “Who knows? Extremis might reboot me again.”
“I won’t try that one out, Roddy, don’t worry.”
-- But I do --
Tony looked at his friend. – I’m not suicidal. Never was –
-- Just self-destructive? --
He shrugged. That was in the past, too. He had an obligation and a mission and the power to change something. He was Iron Man and he would live up to his promises.
-- Tony? You know we’re here for you --
It almost made him laugh again, if it weren’t for the unexpected curl of warmth. Hot Rod meant it. As did the other Autobots.
“I might just have to take you up on that offer,” he replied softly.
Hot Rod smiled. “Do that. Until then, call Sam or Will. Get drunk if you have to. Just… leave the cars in one piece, and the armor, and yourself.”
“Yes, Mom,” he grimaced.
He went for a ride that evening. In the armor. He took it up into the outer layers of the atmosphere, enjoying the sights above and below. It was peaceful here; removed; detached. Out here he was no one else, just
“Sir?” Jarvis’ quiet voice intruded into the silence.
“Are you all right?”
Tony studied the HUD data. There was no sign of any physical problems, so Jarvis was picking up on his mood. It was something he had had a fight over with Hot Rod, how the influence of the Autobot had changed the AI. Hot Rod had denied he was influencing anyone. Jarvis was simply evolving, just like Tony had always wanted him to. He had been written to learn, and learn he had.
“Yes, Jarvis, I’m fine.”
There was a brief silence, then, “If you say so, sir.”
He chuckled. Yes, Jarvis was becoming more human in his own way. That had sounded rather disbelieving.
Tony drifted back toward the Earth, a controlled descent, then he powered up the jet boots and just blasted off. He streaked through the air, keeping an eye on other aerial movements, like planes, then descended even more and sharply skimmed across the ocean. The waves were below him, close enough to touch if he dared to let his hand dip into the water. It would probably catapult him to the side, crash him into the ocean, but it was tempting to see how much control he could exert when touching water at Mach 1.
Might break his arm. Might even tear the joints. Might break his back, too.
And how would the Extremis deal with that?
While the scientist in him was curious to see what could happen, the human being that would be smashed to pieces argued against it. In the end Tony rose a little higher and headed further North until he reached the east coast of
“Yes, Jarvis?” he sighed.
“Ms. Potts wants me to remind you of your scheduled appointments.”
He rolled his eyes, already heading back. He used the Extremis to dial directly into Pepper’s cell phone.
“Afraid to talk to me, Potts?” he asked when she picked up.
“Dr. Richards will be here in two hours,” Pepper answered, voice clipped.
“As will I.”
“You are currently in
“Already coming home. Has Jarvis been whispering into your ear again?”
He could almost see her smile. “No.”
“Hot Rod then, the traitor.”
“He’s being a friend you should appreciate.”
Tony sighed and adjusted his course to keep out of the way of a commercial flight. He was already over
“I’ll be on time, Pepper. Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a scout, Tony.”
“Not for the lack of trying. Will that be all, Ms. Potts?”
“That will be all, Mr. Stark.”
Losing himself in business deals would be the best solution, Tony thought to himself. Just forget what was going on inside him. Work helped.
Tony didn’t know why he had confessed to this weakness, to this craving for company. He didn’t know why he had let Hot Rod convince him to hang out with the people he now had most in common with. He should have fought it. He should have told his mech friend that he was fine and didn’t need anything, least of all some pseudo shrink talk.
But he hadn’t.
He had simply taken Hot Rod up on his suggestion to talk to
He had friends. Mechs and humans alike, people who didn’t judge him by the changes.
Okay, so Tony had taken a while to actually make that call. Three months to be exact. For mechs it was barely worth mentioning. Tony smiled grimly. Neither was it for him anymore.
In those three months Stark had avoided thinking about the changes as best as possible. Pepper had once asked him if he was feeling all right because he was turning into a veritable CEO-type, always in meetings, always in conference calls, and throughout the evenings and nights he stayed in his work shop. He even jumped at attending charity events, openings, auctions and all the things that usually grated on his nerves. Tony Stark was suddenly making a re-appearance in the public, as the head of Stark Industries, and the public loved him.
Pepper had been and still was suspicious about his motives. Even Nick Fury had called and asked whether he was feeling all right. Tony had simply smiled and told them he was finally doing what they wanted him to, so stop bothering him.
It wasn’t up until three months later that events caught up with him and he finally made that call – after drinking way too much and ending up passed out on the couch. Jarvis had been rather brisk and formal in the morning, as had been Hot Rod. Okay, so he had pissed off his house and his car. Great going.
When had the cold-shoulder treatment from an AI and an alien mech ever bothered Tony enough to actually do what Hot Rod had suggested months ago? Well, never before, but until a few years ago he hadn’t had such exclusive company.
He smiled grimly. Yeah, change they did indeed.
A rather awkward talk over the phone had led to
Stark had suggested Malibu, Lennox had told him that he and Ironhide were somewhere up north and how about Tony come and enjoy a weekend in the woods? Tony didn’t believe for a moment that the invitation was without an agenda or just because
Changes in the last few years had brought out the man underneath the expensive clothes and stylish hair-cuts. Still, Tony was rediscovering himself, so if he didn’t know who he really was aside from a former arms dealer and now Iron Man, why would the Autobots think they could do it for him?
But he had come. He had told Pepper to handle everything till he got back, had written Keller an email that this was urgent and not just him having fun, had taken Hot Rod and driven up north to a tiny town in the middle of Nowhere, left of End of Everything and right smack past Last Shred of Civilization. There was a gas station, a B&B, a restaurant/bar type of thing and some houses, and when he took the barely visible road through the forest he ended up in a clearing that housed a cabin and was not far from a lake.
Remote. Peaceful. Idyllic. -- He hated it.
And then it started to rain.
The weather had been kind of foggy all the drive up some back-country road and now the fog came down in small droplets. It created a soft patter on the leaves and the trees were soon shrouded in the fog.
It wasn’t even three p.m. yet!
The former Army Ranger was dressed in jeans, hiking boots, a black t-shirt and goddamn flannel shirt. He had rolled up the sleeves of the red-chequered shirt and Tony had immediately looked at the runes. They were hard to miss, especially since some were prominently on his left cheek. They looked like a news bulletin running from his cheekbone to his jaw.
“I see you made it.”
Tony grimaced. “Didn’t you mention a resort?”
“I know you did.”
“I didn’t. Come on in, Tony.”
Stark muttered something under his breath, grabbed his duffel, shot Hot Rod an acidic look as the R8 suggested this was a nice place, and followed Will inside.
There was beer in the fridge, potato chips and M&M’s on the table, the coffee was brewing, and one quick look through the fridge’s other compartments revealed a lot of prepared food.
“Do you have granny contacts in this town?” Tony asked.
“Where? There’s hardly a WalMart here.”
“No, but a very nice grocery and butcher’s the next town over. We passed through it on our way and I decided to stock up on things.”
“Why? Expecting a natural disaster?”
“Nope. Just you.”
Tony glared at him. “Tell me why I came here again?” he muttered.
“You called, Tony. You should know.”
“I wanted to talk, not play Larry the Wood Chucker.”
The Extremis was still roaming, like it was looking around the very down to earth natural place with disbelief. There was a small TV hardly worth mentioning and a radio. Of course he could just fling out his senses and connect to a satellite – which he had, and he had found that he was truly in the backwoods of
Tony opened the chips bag, took a handful and stuffed them into his mouth. For some reason the prospect of unhealthy food in a cabin in the middle of Nowhere gave him a happier mood than a night with a beautiful woman, an expensive restaurant and a chicy-chic nightclub. Not that he had had any kind of female company ever since
No, his life was different now, and not just because of the armor.
“Ironhide doing okay?” Tony asked conversationally.
Will gave him a bemused look. “He’s parked outside. Go ask. But I can tell you he’s okay.”
“So you got the same communications thing going with him as Sam and Bumblebee have?”
Another look, this time less bemused, more like annoyance. “No. We talk.”
“Okay.” Tony opened a beer and swallowed a large gulp. It was just the right temperature, though the craving for something stronger was in the back of his mind.
What the hell had he been thinking, coming here? He had driven three hours for potato chips, beer and foggy rain.
“So what are you guys doing here?” he asked.
Tony looked expectantly at him, then rolled his eyes. “Oh please! I’m not some grad student touring the FBI headquarters in
“There might be another new-arrival,” Will added, shrugging.
“No clue. We aren’t even sure the signal’s real. It might be something Sector Seven… misplaced.”
Tony blinked. “Misplaced?”
Another shrug. “We’re just keeping an eye out.”
Right, he thought. Knowing his luck he’d end up in the middle of a fight. Of course he had brought the armor along. Never leave home without it. Hot Rod had teased him about it.
“Hot Rod’s worried,” Will remarked.
“And you’re as subtle as an anvil.”
It got Tony a wry grin.
“Hot Rod is always worried. It’s what keeps him ticking,” Stark went on. “Probably the job description of a baby-sitter.”
“Call it what you like, he’s here to keep an eye on me.”
“For protection and for company. You’d have kicked him out already if you minded,” Will told him knowingly.
Tony was silent.
“Do you mind?” the ex-Army Ranger pressed.
“No,” he replied quietly. “It’s… it’s okay.”
More than okay. For some reason Tony felt he needed at least someone in his house who wasn’t an artificial intelligence programmed by him. Jarvis had developed and he wasn’t just a simple program, but he was still responding to codes written by Tony. In a way he was predictable. Hot Rod wasn’t. He was a wild card. He was alien and new and dangerous and powerful and he was simply there, all the time. Had been there for a long time to get to know Tony Stark.
“And you’ll have time to further that friendship,”
Tony grimaced. “You are subtle.”
“That’s me. Part of my training. We Army Rangers are sneaky.”
“You’re no longer in the Army.”
Will smiled. “Can’t lose it.”
“I noticed.” Tony swirled the beer in his can. “How do you handle it?”
“What part of my life?” came the calm question in return.
“Everything. You had your world turned upside down.”
“You lost everything.”
“You were screwed over by alien technology.”
So much like Tony, but he would have injected the Extremis into himself one day voluntarily. Maybe. Well, likely. Most likely. Definitely.
“I didn’t handle it,” he finally replied. “I didn’t handle my divorce. I didn’t handle dying. I was scared shitless at the changes and what they meant. I’m living with it, Tony. I’ve come to accept it.” He was silent for a second or two. “Because I have friends who support me. I have Ironhide.”
“Yeah,” he murmured.
“Like you have friends.”
Tony smiled mirthlessly. “Who I’m going to lose in time. I’m fucking immortal!”
“As long as no one kills you, yes.”
“I don’t intend to get killed.”
“Neither do I. And your great advantage is… you’re still looking human.”
There was a downside to everything, Tony figured. He opened his second can of beer and played with some potato chips.
“Have you ever thought about the future?” he finally asked.
Will nodded. “A lot. Every since the accident. Ever since Ratchet told me that while I still look human, genetically I’m not.”
“Gotta let it happen. It might be horrible, it might be fantastic, it might be boring, but I can’t change the fact that I’ll be around a lot longer than many.”
With friends whose life expectancies were close to immortal as well.
Will leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. The brown eyes were intense, a pinpoint of blue in their depths.
“You can’t stop here, hole up, and fear the future, Stark. You’re not the type. You’re also not the brooding, moody hero-type. You do things. You change the world. We might never see the Decepticons here on Earth again, but it won’t stop the Autobots from protecting this planet. We might survive our friends, but it doesn’t stop me from having them. I might lose the mechs, I might lose Ironhide, and yes, we bonded. Not like Sam and Bumblebee, but there is something that ties us together. I can’t let that weigh me down. When I think about Sarah and Annabelle, it tears me apart. I want to be part of their lives so badly, but I can’t. I’m dead, Tony. You’re not.”
“I died,” Stark said softly.
Extremis had killed him, then reconstructed him inside the metal cocoon. The Tony Stark of before was no longer. Everything was new… perfect.
“But you came back and you’re you.”
That much was true. No disputing the facts. He was human. No Allspark parts inside him, no runes on his skin, no changed genetic coding. He had a nanovirus inside him, sure, but he was human.
Tony gazed out the window into the wet wilderness beyond. It wasn’t just drizzling, it was raining now. The kind of rain that settled in for a long time.
“People around us will die,” he finally said into the rather soothing drum of rain onto the roof.
“Yes. In my profession they always have. I lost comrades and friends.” Will’s eyes were suddenly shadowed. “Even a long life can’t guarantee that the people you share it with don’t suddenly die.”
Tony nodded. Hew knew the mechs could die, had died, would die. But humans weren’t supposed to be immortal. He had figured on seventy or eighty years, less if his liver had given out before. Now the Extremis had given him the upgrade and he had known he was brand-spanking-new inside. He just hadn’t bet on staying that way. As fun as it sounded on TV or in novels, it was… shocking.
“I didn’t want this,” he said softly.
“Neither did I or Sam. We got it; now we deal with it.”
And they weren’t alone.
-- I won’t leave you alone, Tony – Hot Rod suddenly said.
-- Are you spying on me?--
That got him confusion. – No. You’re sending –
Oh, crap. Tony rubbed his temples. So much for that.
“No. Got my frequencies mixed.”
Will frowned, then the frown turned into a slow smile. A knowing smile. Tony hated him for it.
“Let him help, Tony. It’s easier than it looks.”
“Are you trying to hook me up with a mech?” Stark asked darkly.
“No. I’m telling you to let friends be friends. We’re not out to get you. Hot Rod’s not there to tie you down. You went through a very bad thing, and I’m not talking your first brush with death.” Will met and held Tony’s eyes. “Extremis was supposed to kill you. It didn’t. It made you into something very new and very unexpected. You know what you had programmed into it worked; the rest is a surprise. Who knows if you don’t discover more?”
“You need to work on your pep-talk,
“If you let us, we can. Hot Rod’s not your enemy.”
“I’m not going to hook up with him either!” Tony snapped.
Will tilted his head almost thoughtfully. “Not that I thought about it, but since you’re mentioning it…”
The other man chuckled. “Hit a nerve?”
“Why am I here again? In the middle of fucking nowhere? Talking to the living billboard?”
There was no offense in Will’s eyes. He was actually smirking and Tony hated him again.
“Because aside from Sam, who already wiped the floor with you when you had to get rid of that particular knot in your genius head, I’m the only one you can talk to.”
“And you’ll do what? Recommend mech sex and everything’s fine?” Tony muttered.
“No, I recommend you get over it, deal with it, handle it, whatever you want to call it. The Extremis changed you. Maybe because you fiddled with it. Maybe because Dr. Hansen did something wrong. Maybe because it intermixed with the P-Cells. Maybe it was a freak error. It happened, Tony. You’re not alone. You’re not invincible. You’re not dead. You’re not someone else.” Will pinned him with a hard look that had a definite blue edge to it. Runes were now quite prominently on his exposed skin. “You’re alive, Tony Stark. You have a life. Live it.”
“For how many millennia?”
“No, I think you’re the only ass in this room.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Lennox. Spoken like a true friend.”
Tony snorted. “Yeah.” A lot worse. And he had deserved it all.
It was by now a murky dark outside, probably from too many clouds because the clock on the wall said it was just after five p.m.
“I don’t want to lose them, Will,” Tony murmured.
“One day you would have anyway. People die, Tony.”
”We will. Eventually. Not even mechs live forever.”
“But humans aren’t meant to be millennia old. Ninety, one hundred, tops. It’s unnatural!”
“Like an arc reactor in your chest. Like an Allspark shard somewhere inside an organic body.”
“You in the mood for steak?” Will asked, abruptly changing the mood and the topic.
Tony smiled. “Yeah, I could eat. A big one.”
Tony sat on the porch, feeling the wet air against his skin. The rain was still coming down in a drizzle and it saturated the air. It wasn’t humid; simply wet. The ground was soaked.
-- Tony? --
-- Yeah? --
-- It’ll be okay --
-- For you maybe, but I was never meant to live this long --
-- You don’t know how long this life will be. No one does. Some of my friends died young --
Relatively seen. Older than any living being on Earth, but young compared to other Cybertronians.
Tony sighed and shook his head. – I’m scared shitless, Hot Rod. I’ll lose everything. Friends… family…--
-- Not abruptly. You’ll have time to prepare, to say goodbye --
He had. He would be able to watch them grow old and die, while he didn’t change. Not much of a pick-me-upper either.
He would lose Pepper.
He would lose Rhodey.
He would lose all those nagging bastards on the board, as well as his new chairman. Sure, he would have outlived Keller anyway. The age difference took care of that. Still…
He’d see people die and he would have to start playing hide and seek because at a certain point it would be quite obvious that he wasn’t ageing. Sure, the tabloids would have their fun speculating about facial jobs and so on. Not that any doctor would be able to attest to it. That would be fun.
Tony almost smiled.
But he would also lose his company. He’d make sure that Stark Industries would remain true to its course, to his new ideals. He would be in control somehow, of SI’s fate, even if he had to invent himself again.
-- I’ll nail you on that promise – he told Hot Rod softly.
It got him a chuckle. – You do that --
-- Got a jealous girlfriend I need to know about? --
-- Why? Are you proposing?— the mech teased.
-- Hell no. I’m not into that kind of kink --
Tony looked at the two cars that were barely visible in the darkness and rain.
But he’d manage. He always had. All that had ever been thrown at him he had managed. Now he was immortal, or close to it, and he would manage that, too.
Tony smiled darkly. Maybe he should change his name into ‘McLeod’. Wouldn’t that be fun?
-- Tony? --
Hot Rod sounded worried.
-- I’ll be fine --
The Audi seemed to shift on his shocks, squelching the wet ground underneath the tires.
-- Really, Hot Rod. I just need a little time. But I’m in the best of company --
For now he had to learn how to deal with his prolonged life span, with watching people he cared about vanish. Tony got up and brushed off his pants. The air was heavy with rain and he breathed in deeply, enjoying it despite his misgivings. His eyes were on the night sky, covered in clouds, no stars visible.
Everything was open to him now. All and everything.
He just had to make the best of it.