Also on FF.net. +++ "Tony?" "Before you ask, yes, that is really me. Not a dream, or a hoax, or your imagination. I really am riding a nuclear missile like a mechanical bull, and I'll have to put that on my business card." "Is that really you?" "What did I just tell you?" "Well, I'm just a little shocked. I mean, alien invasions, nuclear missiles, you riding them in an extremely suggestive manner -" Pepper plopped herself down into one of STARK 1's ridiculously luxurious seats. If she didn't look out the window, it was hard to believe she was on a jet. "It's enough to give a girl the vapors." "Turn up the air-conditioning." "Done. Are you sure there wasn't anything else?" "Well, I did want to tell you that uh, it's perfectly safe for me. I made sure the Mark 7 was space-rated, in case they needed me to fix the ISS or something. So I'll just get it through that portal, and head back. Just like we planned." Wasn't his best lie, but he was counting on Pepper being too distracted to not- "Mmm hm." Well, crap. "Nothing else?" "I love you." "I love you too. What did you really call for?" "Well, it's nothing big," said Tony, as he and his big, phallic friend approached Long Island. He could probably drop in on the house where he spent the first few years of his life, see if they had left the crayon drawings on the basement wall. Maybe they were charging for tours. "See Tony Stark's first purple turtle!" "Just - before I ask, I want you to know that if you say yes, I want to have lots of kids. At least ten. If you want to marry me, I mean." "No, no matter how much I'd like to have Captain America for the godfa-wait, what? Tony, what did you say?" "Crap, I screwed up. Lemme try again-" "Tony, of course I'll -" "Wait, wait, I have to ask properly. Semi-properly. I'll pick up a ring later. Miss Virginia Potts, will you marry me?" "You're seriously asking this now?" The portal loomed. The Team was trying to cut in, but he ignored them. He'd make it back. One way or another. "That's not a y-" +++ An experimental missile fired at the portal malfunctioned, and Stark volunteered to guide it in manually. He was not able to return before the portal collapsed, and was declared dead earlier this week. No officials were available for comment at press time on the fate of Stark Enterprises. Captain America, missing since World War 2, attended Stark's memorial service, as did a man some claim is Doctor Bruce Banner, wanted in connection with the 2008 Culver University incident. Both were unavailable for comment. Also in attendance were his fiance Virginia Potts, military liaison to Stark Industries James Rhodes, and... "Awake," said the voice of an emperor. He awoke. Slowly. Blinking the sleep out of heavy eyelids, probing a mouth that felt dry as the desert he had once nearly died in, checking to make sure his Black Sabbath shirt was on, he awoke. He was lying on the ground, with a faint blue glow around him and a low buzzing noise that seemed to be entirely in his mind. And it was cold. Deathly cold. He tried to stand. Gravity around him abruptly increased, and he fell to one knee. The pressure slacked off, but he knew that whoever had their hand on the knob would turn it up again in a heartbeat, if he stepped one toe out of line. They had gotten the Suit off of him. "Kneeling suits you." Slowly, the prisoner raised his head. In front of him was a throne. Rough hewn, it seemed not so much carved as shaped, by wind and rain and pitiless winds. The guy sitting on it was no slouch either. Humanoid, yes, but cloaked in shadow. What was visible in him was massive; muscles no human-or demigod, for that matter, could match. His clothing was a dark blue, trimmed in the dull gold of the alien invaders. His skin was purple. You could use his jawline to cut through icebergs. "Yeah, Pepper says that all the time." The big guy smiled. Not good. "Indeed." "What are you planning to do with me?" "You are, of course, too proud to beg for your life. I do not fault you. With pride, one can achieve a great many things. But more so with power. know this: I have a great deal of power." His voice was flanging at the edges, like it was being run through some sort of mixing board or...a translator. "Purple's a nice color on you. Really, works well with the gold. May I know the name of my captor?" "I have many names. The one you will use is Lord Thanos." He leaned forward. "Know this: the forces I alloted to Laufeyson were but a pittance of my strength. A scout force, engineer, and you were only saved by the Asgardian's..." His jaw worked. "...incompetence. You will improve the weapons, the armor, my means of making war." "And why would I do that?" The big guy didn't move, but a holograph, much like a screen, flared to life, showing a certain tall strawberry blonde leaving a church. "I will rip you to shreds. If you lay a finger on her, if she skins her knee, I will-" A second pane appeared, with the viewpoint of the spy on Rhodey. The prisoner's heart stopped. A third screen, with Cap. Then Bruce. Thor. Barton. Romanov. Then smaller ones with random Stark employees who were also attending whatever service they were at, with a helpful overlay listing their names, ages, jobs, and several personal details, such as their number of dependents. Dozens of them. Hundreds. The screens cut off, leaving the man the only well-lit thing in the room. His chest was tight, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing. "You will, of course, be watched. Your every move analyzed by my technicians, any interactions with your remarkable warsuit logged. It has, of course, been put in a limited-function mode, and is still not space-capable. I would advise you not to attempt to leave, Anthony." Thanos cocked his head. "For...various reasons." He turned away. "Remove him." The universe went kumquat for a second, and then the prisoner found himself in his new workshop. There was a room off to the side with human amenities, and no obvious doors. That creepy, back-of-the-neck feeling that he was being watched, even though he couldn't see the cameras. It wasn't much different, really. Bigger. Better ventilated. Alien tech instead of old Stark missiles. The tools were new. No Yinsen. But it was really just different bad guys, sticking him in a different cave, with a different box of scraps. Tony smiled. One way or another. THE END +++ If you liked this, you might want to check out my earlier What Happened to the Burd?, set after Iron Man 2. It's been Jossed by an Avengers prequel comic; the burd dies.