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Chapter 1: In Afghanistan

These thoughts on the superiority of his own state above this Middle Eastern chaos that was called Afghanistan accompanied Lord Anthony de Stark in some god-forsaken cave in the middle of Hindukush. And now he was going to die in these fucking mountains where he shouldn't have been in the first place.

Obadiah had convinced him that sending the representative of the Ton as the emissary would've been better perceived, and he had been the only one available. So, Tony reluctantly agreed to go as Atlantis's ambassador for trade negotiations in Kabul under the condition that Rhodey would be part of his entourage. The talks had gone as well as it was expected.

It had been three days since he woke up after the surgery. He remembered every second of the attack on his convoy before the bomb went off and the world turned black. Then he was revived for what he believed was a ransom video and taken straight to the operating theatre. Then pain, Pepper's voice and finally sweet, painless oblivion. And then he woke up to pain, absolute discomfort and some primitive car battery attached to an electromagnet protecting his heart. His fellow prisoner, Dr Yinsen as he learned since, explained to him that the bomb he designed blew into millions minute shrapnels that didn't kill on impact but ingrained themselves into body and slowly killed the victim from the inside. It was supposed to take a week, but Tony's captors wanted him alive and made Yinsen install an electromagnet that kept metal pieces away from his heart.

It felt almost surreal that only five days ago he was arguing with Rhodey about irresponsibility and self-respect.

Flashback

It was some awards ceremony hosted for "The Great Anthony de Stark". Tony didn't even know what it was, some ridiculous, self-congratulatory show he didn't care about. Pepper probably told him what it was about dozen times, but as she decided her presence wasn't necessary, it couldn't have been important. She sent him out with Rhodey and whole entourage and told them to have a good time. So Tony did only thing to improve evening in distant Cristal Springs and skipped ceremony in favour of casino. Apparently, he forgot to mention his plan to Rhodey and James was left surprised until Obadiah came on stage and received this award on Tony's behalf. So the colonel was understandably irritated with his friend and didn't fail to mention it when he caught up with Tony in the casino. And then the evening turned to worse...

A young journalist (too young, too blonde, too not Pepper) accosted Tony when he was trying to leave Springs. She kept nagging him about his involvement in weapons' manufacturing. Tony first joked, then gave her serious and more or less sincere answer, and when neither worked, he turned to flirting. She thankfully fell for that. So Happy booked them a room and Tony took her upstairs. The minute they entered the room, his phone rang. Tony told her to get comfortable and went outside to answer it. When the door closed behind him, he simply took the elevator down and went straight to his car. If the girl wanted to have a scoop by sleeping with him, it's her problem. Two hours later he was already in Pepper's arms.

The next day was Pepper's birthday and Tony once again wondered why he agreed to go on this mission. He had a bad feeling about this trip and tried his best to delay it. Unfortunately for Tony, birthday or not, Pepper was scaringly efficient and had him out of the door only an hour later than scheduled.

Tony's lack of punctuality only added to Rhodey's annoyance. He spent majority of the flight scolding Tony. As the hours passed and sake they drank accumulated in their system, Rhodey kept giving him the ever growing list of miseries.

They landed at 10am local time. Rhodey was hungover and really unhappy with Tony as if his friend forced him to drink. The negotiations concentrated on providing Afghan government with Atlantan weapons, mostly designed by Tony and made by Stark-Carbonell Industries. Everything went according to plan, after Tony's demonstration, their partners were willing to pay asking price.

They were getting in cars to go to the airport, when Obadiah called asking how it had gone. Tony told him it'd be the early Christmas for all of them and then turned to Rhodey. Logically, he knew James had been so drunk last night his words hadn't really expressed his thoughts, but the accusations still hurt. That was why he asked James to take another car.

They were halfway to the airport when everything went to hell. Suddenly there were shots, explosions and screams. Soldiers that were driving as Tony's detail were shot on site. Panicked and dazed, he left the car. He only ran a few yards when another explosion knocked him off his feet. Tony fell behind some rock. He turned and saw a missile of his own design. His mind immediately started countdown. This type of bomb went off five seconds after hitting the ground. Either this little piece of rock would take most of the blast, or he was a dead man. The bomb exploded. Both Tony and rock fell several yards. Tony detachedly watched as blood seeped through both his bulletproof vest and his shirt. And then everything went black.

End flashback

Currently, lord Anthony de Stark was imprisoned in Afghan cave, with his heart regulated by an electromagnet powered by a primitive car battery. He missed home, or more specifically he missed Pepper. He wanted to come back to her, but he couldn't see how it would be possible. Particularly as, apart from the ransom video, his captors kept him and Yinsen in a cave without any external contact. Part of Tony wished they had done something, anything, so that he'd know what they wanted and could start figuring it out.

Three days after Tony woke up, his captors finally decided to make themselves known. He was discussing his injuries with Yinsen, when suddenly someone banged at the door to their cell. Yinsen stopped mid-sentence and dropped to his knees, hissing at Tony to do the same. Stark mirrored his position, kneeling, hands behind the head, while absently comparing it to Atlantan mercy process.

The door opened loudly and large bearded man entered surrounded by a group of armed rebels, terrorists, mobsters, whoever they were.

'Wellcome, Anthony de Stark,' he said in a broken, heavily accented English. 'The greatest mass murderer in a history of Atlantis.'.

The group's leader turned to Yinsen and began speaking in Dari. Tony understood about every third word, but apparently Yinsen was supposed to translate.

'He welcomes you in their midst. They want you to balance the scales of war Atlantis started and build them a Jericho missile.'

The Jericho? The one missile he kept presenting on various demonstrations, as the last negotiations, but actually refused to send into mass production and sell? The one nobody had because it was deadlier than the atomic bomb?.

'I refuse.'


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