At first it was alright – settling into a room in the Ramirez house, with extended family included – but then it got awkward. Julia Ramirez had devoted a lot of her life to serving in the air force. She was tough and independent. It had only just started to sink in that this was what her new life was going to look like. Her family didn't want her on her own yet, and neither did the psychologists and therapists that she was obliged to see. Although she had her privacy, Julia was not oblivious to the anxious glances from her mother and father, or the hushed talk that ceased when she entered a room.
Her two older brothers came by on a regular basis and offered words of encouragement, but they were both married with families and had their own concerns. Julia also had a younger sister, she was quite a bit younger though, and the two of them were polar opposites. Her sister lived at home and therefore always nearby; she was starting to grate on Julia's nerves. The other relatives were usually occupied with their own affairs, but were generally easier to be around.
By day three the questions started, coming mainly from her mother. At first they were customary: Where were you held? Did they feed you? Did you have clothing? What were the captors like? But then Mrs. Ramirez's questions started to feel more like an interrogation: What was it like living in close quarters with two men? Were you sexually assaulted? Did anyone try to use you as a bargaining chip? Her sister was openly impertinent and kept asking about Tony Stark: What was he like? Did he look as "hot" as in his photos? Was he the womanizer that that everyone said he was? Did she sleep with him?
Julia came close to smacking her sister's face at that last question, but a particularly menacing glare had sent her on her way. All her family knew was the information the air force provided and the few details that Julia was willing to discuss. Thus, they knew that she had been captured and held hostage with the billionaire industrialist Tony Stark and another man named Yinsen. They knew that she had been held in a cave in Afghanistan for three months. They knew that it was only by a daring escape that the three people had managed to get away to freedom.
She had also told them about the convoy attack, revealed the scars she's been left with after being shot, and described a bit about living in a dark, cold cave. Nevertheless, there was so much that Julia couldn't tell them, and didn't want to anyways. There were things they wouldn't understand – her relationship with the famous Tony Stark – and things they couldn't handle – what it felt like being tortured – and things they couldn't know – the arc reactor and the mechanical suit.
And so she would sit quietly staring out the window. She watched re-runs on television, but wasn't able to enjoy them. She slept profusely, yet tossed continually in a restless slumber. Julia's doctors didn't want her driving yet, and everyone was leery of letting her go off on her own. It had only been a matter of days that she had been home, but she could already feel herself getting cabin fever, or depression, or whatever this feeling was. If this was what it was like being on leave, she wondered how anyone survived it.
Eventually Julia forced herself to sit down at her computer to check her e-mails and other websites that she had accounts with. Most were unchanged, but others were flooded with emotional messages dating back to when she had been reported missing. She couldn't bear to read them, at least not yet. The newest item in her inbox was from Elian Pratt, her friend and colleague from the air force. They had just reunited a few days ago after believing each other had been killed in the convoy attack that had seen Stark taken captive. Pratt's e-mail ended up being the only one she replied to; he just wanted to know how she was doing.
It was eleven o'clock in the morning when her mother entered the room. Julia was still sleeping, but woke suddenly at the sound of movement – a habit she'd picked up from being in the military.
"Julia, there's someone on the phone for you."
She raised a hand from the blankets to accept the device and put it to her ear, mumbling a groggy "Hello?"
"Hey! Did I wake you? Time to get out of bed, soldier. It's Tony. How are you?"
"I'm doing alright. How did you get my number?"
"Rhodey gave me your contact information. So, I have a question for you: Have you ever ridden in a Rolls Royce?"