He was born Ho Yinsen. To his family and friends, he was any number of endearments or nicknames. His family is gone. He was taken and pared down to the most basic parts of himself, only what he needed to survive.
He's just Yinsen now.
"You can go home," Tony says when they're out, like he thinks Yinsen is going to abandon him to the sands now that they're free. "We can't be that far off. You'll move faster on your own."
Tony has no appreciation for the efforts Yinsen has made to save his life. Or maybe Tony has a skewed view of what his life is worth in comparison to Yinsen's. Tony's not the man Yinsen thought he was. He's also not the same man who was carried into the cave bleeding from shrapnel wounds caused by his own bombs. Yinsen was pared down to the essentials, but Tony has lost parts of himself, too.
"No, I can't," Yinsen says simply.
My home is ash, he doesn't say.
My family is dead, he doesn't say.
I should be dead, too, he doesn't say.
Tony looks at him. He doesn't ask, but Yinsen thinks he knows.
"You can come home with me," Tony says.
So Yinsen does.
The first thing they do once they've been rescued from the desert is replace the car battery. Yinsen isn't a surgeon, but Tony insists he take lead.
"I trust you," Tony says.
"It's not a matter of trust," Yinsen says. "It's a matter of ability."
"You got most of the shrapnel out. You kept me alive in a cave with nothing more than an electromagnet and a car battery. You have the ability."
"Hire professionals," Yinsen insists.
"Only if you supervise," Tony says.
Which is how Yinsen comes to be scrubbed up in a foreign country supervising strangers as they replace the casing, then does the actual work himself installing the arc reactor he’d pried from the abandoned remains of the suit. There's an anesthesiologist. Tony doesn't wake up. He doesn't scream. He doesn't need to be held still or for Yinsen to apply more ether to a cloth and hold it over his mouth.
Yinsen isn't a surgeon, but he has several surrounding him. The second surgery goes much, much better.
When Tony wakes, he says, "See, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"The exploratory part of the surgery … they don't think they'll be able to fix the nerve damage," Yinsen informs him. Unsaid, but understood, is that Tony may never walk unaided again.
"Yeah." Tony smiles. There's a dark sort of mirth to it. "I wasn't expecting them to."
Being a billionaire and head of a company beloved by the United States government has its perks. Yinsen no longer has his original passport, but he's let in the country. They arrive via military transport. Yinsen pushes Tony's wheelchair. Colonel Rhodes steadies it as they descend the ramp. Tony waves away the gurney and the ambulance.
"I've already been to the hospital."
"In another country, where you had surgery and they advised you to stick around for recovery," Yinsen says.
"The nice thing about advice is how easy it is to ignore," Tony says brightly.
There's a car waiting for them, driven by a man called Happy Hogan. He helps Yinsen get Tony in the back of the car. Tony sits between Yinsen and a woman called Pepper Potts. Tony insists on doing up his own seatbelt, then slumps back into the bench seat.
"I want two things," Tony says.
He gets an American cheeseburger and a press conference called in a room where he's already sitting. The press files in after he's situated. The wheelchair waits out of sight. Yinsen waits with it.
Eventually, Tony calls Yinsen back in. He looks tired; he looks pained. He smiles slightly to see Yinsen. "Probably a good thing I called in all those favors to expedite your visa before we got back in the country."
"This is my first time visiting," Yinsen reminds him.
"Oh, you'll love it," Tony says. "I'll set you up with a car and a credit card. You can travel, enjoy everything the US has to offer. Beaches, burgers, all sorts of tourist destinations."
"If it's all the same to you," Yinsen says as he helps Tony back into the chair, "I'll stick with you."
Tony hires Yinsen as an assistant. "For the lab. Pepper remains the light of my life and the only person who knows how my schedule works."
Ms. Potts takes a cautious view of him. Hogan takes an instant shine. Yinsen thinks this is because he seemingly came out of nowhere. Ms. Potts doesn't know why Tony insisted on bringing Yinsen home and why he won't hire actual, professional carers for home assistance. Hogan harbors suspicions that lead him to offer, "You need anything, anything at all, you ask me. Even if it's just a tour guide."
Yinsen has a PhD. He's not a medic. He has no formal training in taking care of another person or helping them convert their home for accessibility. He feels at sea when it comes to taking care of Tony in the rare circumstances he's willing to let Yinsen help with anything personal.
The accommodations themselves are nice, and not just in comparison to his previous circumstances. The guest room Tony gives him is bright and airy, with floor to ceiling windows looking out over the ocean. It's too bright following their months in a cave. The bed is too soft.
Tony must agree. He moves into the garage. He gets a cot installed, then, when Yinsen takes to falling asleep on the floor down there, a second one. He works on converting the armor into a slimmed down exoskeleton.
Ms. Potts gently suggests some renovations. There's an elevator, but very little else about the mansion is designed with accessibility in mind.
"I won't need them once I'm done with this," Tony says forcefully.
Yinsen keeps his mouth shut. He helps Tony work on the wiring.
They discover one of the copper wires is corroded when they go to switch out the old arc reactor for a new one. Yinsen's hands are too big for the smaller casing. Tony loves his robots, but neither of them trusts this to Dum-E or U.
"Pepper has small hands," Tony says thoughtfully.
Ms. Potts appears as if summoned. Yinsen retreats to give them a moment. And … he doesn't want any of the blame to fall on him when Ms. Potts discovers Tony wants her to put her hand in with the plasma discharge.
Yinsen stays downstairs when they have guests. Tony has enemies. Yinsen doesn't want to make them his own. And, because Yinsen can admit it to himself, he doesn't want to see them. His world shrank down to the cave and the men in it before. Now, it's Tony's mansion and his workshop and Hogan and Ms. Potts. It's Tony and his robots and the A.I. that lives in the walls. It's a better world, a brighter world, but it's almost too much. Yinsen doesn't want to add to it.
"Do you think you need therapy?" Tony asks abruptly one evening as they're putting the finishing touches on his leg braces. "You never leave."
"I will when you do," Yinsen says.
"Touché." Tony puts down the soldering iron. He taps a gloved hand against the braces. "What do you say we take these on a test run?"
Tony falls over again and again. He gets back up.
Yinsen helps him.
The braces aren't the only thing Tony was building. With them complete, he switches entirely to his other project. He makes a third arc reactor to power it.
"There's no cave to escape this time," Yinsen says as the project takes shape.
Tony laughs bitterly. "There's no escaping it, you mean."
"We are captive only to our own minds." Yinsen runs a hand over the gauntlet Tony's finished. It's beautiful and terrible. Yinsen doesn't believe anything good will come of Tony making it. He's been wrong before. And at least the flight stabilizers will make the landings easier. He honestly worried he'd crushed Tony when they first made it out.
"I'm not a captive," Tony says. He picks up the second, unfinished gauntlet. "Neither of us ever will be again."
"The only way to guarantee that—" Yinsen draws away. "—is if you're already dead."
"Maybe I want to go down fighting next time," Tony says stubbornly.
Yinsen turns back. He stares pointedly at the gauntlets. "These aren't measured to your hands."
Tony looks away. Yinsen takes the unfinished gauntlet from him.
"It would help if I knew what you wanted from me," Yinsen says.
"I want you to live." Tony's gaze when he looks back burns. "I want us both to live."
"Well." Yinsen lets out a breath, not quite a sigh. "I suppose we should get back to work."
They finish the armor. Tony has J.A.R.V.I.S. paint it red and gold when Yinsen refuses to express a preference. Tony says, "Take it for a test drive, and I'll take us out for burgers after."
Yinsen doesn't care for American cheeseburgers, but he does take it out for a test drive. There's a problem with icing when Tony encourages him to go too high. Yinsen takes it back down before too much can build up.
"We'll work on that," Tony promises.
"I don't need to go on a one man mission to the moon," Yinsen says dryly.
"What, that wasn't your dream as a kid?"
Yinsen's reply dies in his throat. He doesn't remember his dreams these days. After a minute of careful flight, letting the ice melt, he says, "I'm headed back."
They go out for burgers after. Happy drives them. They eat in the car. Yinsen has a few bites of his burger, as greasy and unappealing as the first time he tried one within an hour of landing in the country, then hands the rest to Tony. It's been weeks, but neither of them wastes food. Tony's still thinner than he was before his abduction, still ravenous. He finishes the burger, but gives Yinsen his fries.
Tony looks out the car window. The satisfaction on his face is at odds with the way he leans away from the car door, toward the center. "Anywhere you want to go?"
"This is fine." Yinsen wipes his fingers on one of the paper napkins. "If you're done, we could head back."
"You heard the man," Tony tells Happy. "Let's go home."
There's a gala being thrown in Tony's name. It's a fundraiser for the families of firefighters. Tony's latest set of bracers are thin enough that the lines of them can barely be seen under the tuxedo he dons like armor.
"How do I look?" Tony raises his arms.
"Like a man who is about to crash his own party."
"Good." Tony's smile is sharp. "Sure you don't want to come?"
"I have nothing to wear," Yinsen says, though they both know that has nothing to do with it.
"Don't wait up for me." Tony takes one of his many cars.
Yinsen sits at the second desk Tony had installed down in the garage and tweaks his own copy of the gauntlet design. It's too quiet. He's come to depend on the sound of Tony's breathing, the noises of another person moving about. Yinsen turns on the TV. The news has moved on from the gala. The images on the screen are very familiar even as they're removed from the memories he has of them.
It's Gulmira. The Ten Rings has returned.
When Tony calls, Yinsen is already suited up.
"There's something I need to tell you," Tony says. His voice is tight. He sounds like he's on the verge of a breakdown.
"I believe I already know," Yinsen says calmly.
"Are you in the armor right now?" Tony asks. J.A.R.V.I.S. must not have informed him yet.
"I must thank you for your hospitality, Stark," Yinsen says as he checks that everything is working properly. "But I believe it's time for me to return home."
"It's a good time for it," Tony says. "I had you on manual for the test run, but J.A.R.V.I.S. will plot you a course, keep you under the radar until it's too late."
"No objections to my taking your invention?" Yinsen asks.
"It's yours. If I didn't want you to use it, it never would have let you in without my express permission." Tony's voice is fierce as he says, "Say hi from me, would you?"
Yinsen has never been a violent man. If not for Tony, Yinsen doesn't think he could have hurt even their captors, the people who'd murdered his family. If there had been a way to ensure Tony's escape without personally killing anyone, Yinsen would have taken it. He would have aimed his gunfire for the roof, made a commotion, been a distraction.
Tony had no armor of his own. He was vulnerable. Yinsen killed every threat in the cave until there were none left, then retrieved Tony from the chair he'd waited on, shivering and holding a gun he'd had Yinsen give him "just in case." Most of Tony's injuries from their escape came from the heat of the explosion of the weapons store and the rough landing in the sand dunes.
Yinsen now knows what it is to kill to protect. He doesn't hesitate to take down every member of the Ten Rings he comes across.
After it's over, Tony calls. He says, "You going to stay?"
"Do you want me to?" Yinsen asks.
Tony's silent for a minute. He says, "You've always got a place here."
"I don't know how I'd get the armor off alone," Yinsen says.
He goes back.
It's a rough flight at first.
"Hang on, I've got another call," Tony says. "Let me threeway this. J.A.R.V.I.S.?"
Colonel Rhodes is on the phone. He wants to know if Tony has any equipment in the area.
"Doesn't sound like me," Tony says.
"Good." Rhodes explains that he has a raptor looking right down Yinsen in the armor.
"On second thought, that does sound familiar," Tony says frantically as one of the raptors tries to shoot Yinsen down. Evasive maneuvers aren't as bad as being shot down by a tank, but they're not pleasant. "Very familiar. Please don't kill my guy."
"There's a person in there?" Rhodes sounds almost as excited as he does appalled.
"Could've been you if you hadn't decided to ditch me," Tony says. "I'll explain, but I really need you to leave him alone."
"No, no, don't tell me anything else." Rhodes calls the raptors off.
The rest of the flight is smoother.
Ms. Potts walks in on Tony, J.A.R.V.I.S., and a set of waldoes attempting to pry Yinsen out of the armor.
"Let's face it. This is not the worst thing you've caught me doing," Tony says.
"You're how Tony got out of the cave," Ms. Potts says softly, thoughtfully.
"It was Stark's idea," Yinsen says, because credit where credit is due.
"I'd be dead without him," Tony says plainly.
Ms. Potts likes Yinsen more after that.
"I'd be dead without you, too," Yinsen says that night in the dark of the garage. He's lying on his cot. Tony's breathing is too light, too uneven for him to be sleeping. "But please don't expect me to get back in that armor again."
Tony doesn't say anything. That's fine. Yinsen hadn't thought Tony would. Yinsen just needed to say the words aloud.
Yinsen closes his eyes, listening to Tony's breathing. He tries to sleep.
Yinsen continues to stay downstairs when there are visitors. He stays downstairs nearly at all times. His world is small and growing smaller when he lets it. He's not there when Obadiah lets himself in and helps himself to Tony's personal arc reactor. Yinsen's only aware of it when the elevator opens and Tony comes stumbling out, collapsing to the floor.
Yinsen takes the reactor from the armor, hands steady even faced with the dark, gaping hole in Tony's chest where a glow should be. He pulls Tony into his arms. He slots the reactor in. He locks it.
Tony gasps. His face is waxy and pale.
"Obie," Tony sobs like a curse.
"Shh, take your time," Yinsen soothes him.
Tony's movements are jerky in a way unexplained by the missing arc reactor. He clutches Yinsen's arms. "Not sure I've got it."
"I'm listening," Yinsen says.
"A while back you asked what I want from you." Tony stares at Yinsen with an expression that is open, painful. He looks like a man who has had his heart ripped out by a dear friend and subsequently replaced by a once stranger. "You saved my life under extraordinary circumstances, even when maybe I didn't want to be saved. You saved me again and you've gone on saving me, and that's what I want. Not for me, but for you—for you to keep saving people. And somewhere in the process, I hope that you can save yourself, because I know you're not happy. I know you'd rather you never had to leave that cave. Yinsen, I want you to live." Tony points a shaky hand at the armor. "And right now, I'd also really like you to save Pepper, because I didn't make that to fit me, and we don't have time to adjust it."
Yinsen doesn't want to get back in the armor. He does it anyway.
The first reactor slots as well into this newer armor as it did the first one.
Rhodes arrives as the waldoes tighten the pauldrons. Yinsen inclines his head, but he doesn't wait to take off. Tony's in good hands. Someone else needs his protection now.
Obadiah calls him Tony. He gloats. He talks about power and progress and all the things small, selfish men speak of. They take off, a game of tag straight up that Yinsen draws out until Obadiah ices over. And then, because this man is not his friend and Yinsen cannot guarantee this will stop him, Yinsen drops back, grabs the other armor, and redoubles the power to the thrusters.
"You said you didn't want to go to the moon," Tony says cautiously in Yinsen's ear.
"Sir has not added an oxygen tank to the suit," J.A.R.V.I.S. warns.
"I know," Yinsen says, serene. The air is getting thin. He keeps going.
The ground is very far away. It's beautiful up here. He can see the stars. The charge on the reactor is ticking steadily down.
"Yinsen." Tony's voice breaks. "Yinsen, you've gotta let go. You've got the momentum. He'll keep going."
This is true. However this goes, Obadiah will be one of SI's newest satellites.
Yinsen could be, too, if he chooses.
Yinsen lets go. He switches direction. He cuts power to the thrusters, gravity already pulling him back in.
Yinsen passes out before he completes the fall.
"Did you want to go with me?" Tony asks.
It's the next day, but Yinsen's head is still killing him.
"I can watch it from here," Yinsen says from his place sprawled out on the guest room bed.
"I don't like it," Tony says. "The cover story. Bodyguard is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from finding out it's you."
"You have S.H.I.E.L.D. on your side and several senators remain in your debt. I don't expect they'll press charges or deport me unless or until you're sick of me."
"I don't like it," Tony repeats. He goes to his press conference.
Yinsen watches it on the guest bedroom's television.
It should be no surprise when Tony looks straight at the camera, expression serious, and claims, "I am Iron Man."
Tony crawls into bed with Yinsen when he returns. "Budge over. I just got yelled at by a bunch of people, and I want to be horizontal before you take up where they left off."
"'I am Iron Man'?" Yinsen asks.
"Yeah, you are," Tony says. He pats Yinsen on the chest. "And it'll be our little secret."
Yinsen huffs a laugh. "I'm not keeping that name."
In the end, he keeps the armor. The name comes with it.