A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But, you knew that.Harry Potter and the Invincible Technomage
I was in the final states of editing this chapter when I learned that the HP Fanfiction writer, Chilord, had died. For those not familiar with his work, Chilord was one of the better fanfiction writers, one who made the leap to professional writing, producing a wonderful book, "I'm Only a Freshman! (I'm Not a Super Spy! Book 1)" which sadly will never see its Sophomore version, which is a crime, because the world needs more of a field guide to the Ninjas of the United States.
In Chilord's memory, I invite you all to raise a glass in his honor, and maybe stroll over to Amazon and pick up a copy of his wonderful story.
Chapter Twenty-Five - Year Four – Rebirth
Harry woke to the sensation of being jabbed in the left forearm. Blinking into awareness, he found a man he didn't recognize collecting blood from a wound in that forearm using a small crystal vial.
It was odd, he though through the haze. This new guy looked to be wearing the type of robes that Ministry guy, Crouch, always wore. Then his attention was drawn back to the still oozing wound on his arm. What was going on?
Harry's head swam as the unknown man moved away from him, carrying the stolen blood sample. Trying to focus, Harry discovered just how he was remaining upright despite the dizziness he was experiencing. He was tied to some kind of statue and a few glances told him he was in a cemetery.
Tied to a headstone statue in a cemetery? Oh, yeah, Harry told himself, this could not possibly be good.
Harry issued the mental command to power his armor, relying on the ceremonial robes he wore to hide the changes. The armor's AI made silent note of the wound on his forearm, and as the shell extended down his arm, Harry felt the sting of an antiseptic being applied to the wound, followed almost immediately by a chilled numbness as a liquid bandage was applied and instantly dried in place.
Harry watched as the stranger made his way to a bubbling cauldron and began an incantation of some kind. That made no sense to him, as none of the potions he had brewed under Snape, nor the alchemical brews prepared under De Albo had required an incantation. Harry's eyes widened when the obvious lunatic used his wand to cut his own left arm off at the elbow, allowing the severed limb to fall into the brew before adding a few drops of Harry's blood and stepped away from the cauldron.
It was the shock of seeing a golem of some kind rise from the bubbling, steaming potion that finally washed away the dizziness and confusion Harry had been floundering in. He needed to get out of here. He started up his flight systems. Of course, he hadn't tried them out in free flight before, but given the level of insanity he was witnessing, better to risk untested flight than to test himself against the craziness that was here.
Unfortunately, it took it took his 'improved prototype' flight systems ten minutes to go from cold iron to flight capable. He was going to have to survive at least that long.
The reborn… thing announced itself to be 'Lord Voldemort', and called for his Death Eaters to attend him. After they arrived he restored the arm his minion had sacrificed to create his body, before punishing his kneeling troops for crimes real and imagined.
It was only at the 7-minute mark he turned his attention to Harry.
"Now untie him, Barty, and give him back his wand."
The unknown wizard, (Barty? Wasn't that the Ministry guy's name?) raised his new silver hand and with a single swipe, cut through the ropes tying Harry to the gravestone.
Gracefully landing on his feet, considerations of just plain old-fashioned running for it flit through Harry's mind, but the Death Eaters had closed ranks, forming a tighter circle around him and the snake man, cutting off that avenue.
Barty held up Harry's wand, to show his master the changes made to the focus.
"Really, Harry?" Voldemort sneered, "You decorate your wand like a school girl? I thought better of 'the boy who lived."
"The 'boy who lived' is a myth," Harry responded. "One made up by a manipulative old man to explain away something he didn't understand, and one believed by idiots unable to think for themselves. I thought better of you, Tom Riddle."
Harry's wand was pressed into his right hand by the wizard called 'Barty'. For whatever reason, Barty didn't notice, or made no mention that Harry's hand was now encased in an armored gauntlet.
"I am Lord Voldemort!" the reborn Dark Lord thundered. "What do you mean, the 'boy who lived' is a myth?
"There were only two people who survived whatever happened that night," Harry said, whipping his wand toward the ground feeling his magic seeking release. "You and me. No one interviewed me about what happened, and I doubt they talked to you, given that just about everyone thought you were dead. So, where did the story that everyone knows, come from? Who profited by it? I certainly didn't. You clearly didn't."
A two-tone sound played in Harry's left ear to indicate that his repulsors were on line, fully powered, good for a dozen discharges. With a thought, he ordered the armor's AI to select targets for optimal results and had the attack program queued up. Keep the idiot talking while the flight systems finished their boot up, Harry told himself.
"Are you claiming that you didn't destroy my body?" the self-styled Dark Lord demanded.
"I have no idea what happened that night," Harry admitted. "I was 15 months old for god's sake. I'd likely only recently learned to manage my bowel movements. What is more likely? That you lost a fight to a toddler or that you ran afoul of a trap set by the Potters?"
Harry took a bit of satisfaction from the way Riddle's jaw worked soundlessly at the thought that everything he believed about his 'death' might be wrong. Now then, once the Dark Dink got over his crisis of faith, he would press the duel in order to prove his power to the assembled minions, likely leading off with the Killing Curse.
Would his armor shield against the Killing Curse? Probably best not to find out. How to deal with Riddle? His body was a result of a combination of ritual and potions and… Magic.
Having never fought with a wand, Harry considered pulling out some of the spells Stephen Strange had taught him… but could he evoke the hand signs from within his armor? Something else that he'd never thought about and really didn't have time to figure out.
Still, the wand was in his hand… and the armor had interfaced the vibranium handle into its own magical amplifying network. Yet another system he hadn't had time to fully test. Still…
"We bow to each other. Harry," said Voldemort, bending a little, but keeping his snakelike face upturned to Harry. "Come now, the niceties must be observed… Dumbledore would like you to show manners… Bow to death, Harry…"
The Death Eaters were laughing. Voldemort's lipless mouth was smiling. Harry mirrored the dark lord's movements. It cost him nothing and ate time. 80 seconds to go.
"Very good," said Voldemort softly, "And now you face me, like a man… straight-backed and proud, the way your father died…
Harry refrained from pointing out that Voldemort had never met his father, who was very much alive, and like as not facing off against a foe far more frightening and powerful than this strutting poser.
"And now - we duel."
The reborn Dark Lord moved, "Avada Kedavra!"
Afterward, Harry would be unable to explain just why he chose the spell he did. Perhaps his earlier musings about the composition of Voldemort's new body had played a part. Abandoning his first inclination to attempt to disarm the older wizard, Harry's simultaneous response to Voldemort's casting was "Finite Incantatem!" followed immediately by a silent order for his helmet to extend, eye ports to iris shut, head's up display to enable, and his emergency runic shield to activate.
A jet of green light issued from Voldemort's wand just as a jet of blue light blasted from Harry's. the two spells met in midair… and merged. Suddenly Harry's wand was vibrating as though an electric charge were surging through it; his armored hand seized up around it; he couldn't have released it if he'd wanted to - and a narrow beam of light connected the two wands, neither blue nor green, but bright, deep gold. Harry, following the beam with his astonished gaze, saw that Voldemort's long white fingers too were gripping a wand that was shaking and pulsating.
And then Harry felt his feet lift from the ground. Had his flight systems suddenly engaged? No, he saw that Voldemort was also raising into the air. The two wands connected by that threaded cord of shimmering golden light. The pair glided away from the tombstones and came to rest on a patch of ground that was clear and free of graves…
Voldemort's Death Eaters were shouting; they were asking the Dark Lord for instructions. Again, they closed in, reforming the circle, some of them drawing their wands.
The golden cable connecting Harry and his opponent splintered. The wands remained connected, an innumerable number of threads bloomed from the connection, crisscrossing all around them, until they were enclosed in a golden, dome-shaped web, a cage of light, beyond which the Death Eaters waited, their words strangely muffled.
"Do nothing!" Voldemort shrieked to the Death Eaters, and Harry saw his red eyes wide with astonishment at what was happening, saw him fighting to break the thread of light still connecting his wand with Harry's; Harry held onto his wand more tightly, with both hands, and the golden thread remained unbroken. "Do nothing unless I command you!" Voldemort shouted to the Death Eaters.
And then an unearthly and beautiful sound filled the air… It seemed to come from every single thread of the golden web forming around Harry and Voldemort.
It was the sound of hope to Harry… the most beautiful and welcome thing he had ever heard in his life… He felt as though the song were inside him instead of just around him… It was the sound he connected with his father… with Pepper… with Jarvis. It was the sound of home, of safety, of… belonging.
Harry's wand began to vibrate more powerfully than ever… and the shaft of magic between him and Voldemort changed too… it was as though large beads of light were sliding up and down between the connected wands. Harry felt his wand vibrate in his hand as the light beads began to slide slowly and steadily his way… The direction of the beams movement was now toward him, from Voldemort, and he felt his wand shudder angrily…
Harry concentrated. He wanted, needed his spell to land. The vibranium wire wrapped around the handle of his wand went cool, then cold, enough so that he could feel it from within his gauntlet. The closest bead of light changed color from gold to a blazing silver before racing down the connection toward Voldemort, absorbing the other beads as it overtook them, becoming brighter and brighter until it became impossible to look at directly.
Harry pushed his magic down the connection as hard as he could, putting everything Steven Strange, Mistress Harkness, and his teachers at Hogwarts had ever taught him into his casting. The blazing silver star reached the tip of Voldemort's wand... and then consumed it.
The reborn Dark Lord's red eyes widened with shock as the silver whatever it was jumped the gap that the destruction of Voldemort's wand had created, and the man… vanished along with the mass of magic, leaving only a wet spot and a mangled lump of flesh that might have once been a man's forearm.
A palpable shock rushed through the assembled Death Eaters, with several of them screaming their disbelief at the seeming destruction of their master. It was that shouting that reminded Harry they were there. As he turned his attention to the men wearing masks, several of them started raising their wands.
That was all Harry needed to see. He instructed the armor to holster his wand and triggered the AI's preprogrammed attack process, relaxing his arms as the Armor took control of his upper body to fire off repulsor bursts into the crowd for maximum effect.
Harry's armor chimed its notification that it had finally achieved a GPS lock, determining his location. "Upon completion of attack program, plot fastest return to Hogwarts and execute." He ordered.
With the last thrum of repulsor discharge, the flight systems triggered, and Harry rocketed into the sky. For Harry, the exultation of flight replaced the terror of the fight.
Lucius Malfoy ignored the panicked reactions of his fellows and carefully aimed his wand at the boy that had just launched himself into the air… somehow.
Truth be told, he did not welcome the return of his master to life. He had become comfortable in his role as a power behind the throne of the Minister, and never wanted to step down to simply being a follower again. Still, he reasoned, the boy had seen their faces and heard their names.
He could not be allowed to escape.
Quickly, before the child was out of range, he cast "Avada Kedavra!"
The disfigured man watched in satisfaction as his spell arced toward his victim.
Harry was barely 20 feet off the ground when the spell impacted into his armor, catching him fully in the back, just below the reactionless thruster.
It is a tribute to Starktech engineering that no part of the killing curse penetrated to the boy within the armor. The armor itself was not as lucky. The surge of magical energy overloaded the PowerTap systems, causing an electrical discharge that cascaded all over Harry's body, leaving severe electrical burns in its wake, as the onboard AI rattled out an electronic death scream. Some secondary systems survived and continued to carry out their last orders.
The Armor remained in flight mode, with its limbs frozen in flight attitude. The reactionless thruster continued its programmed burn for the suborbital return to Hogwarts. The helmet, already sealed against Voldemort's attack, remained gas tight, the internal oxygen systems online.
Had Harry been conscious he might well have altered his flight profile from the powered ballistic arc into something more survivable, but the pain of his injuries didn't wake him for another four minutes, after he had already reached the peak of his return trajectory and was heading down at an unsurvivable speed.
"Come on, come on, come on!" Harry screamed as the repurposed Quidditch stadium came into view far below him. He angled his body into the local vertical and started the armor's remaining systems to calculating if the suit had enough thrust to provide a suicide burn.
He had gone too high, far too fast, and had stupidly allowed himself to come down even faster. The onboard AI still would not reboot, and most of his secondary systems were glitching to the point that he had needed to shut down their monitoring alerts to allow him to see the HUD display showing his ill-conceived flight path, while hoping that the data they supplied was at least in some way accurate.
Assuming he survived this idiocy, Harry decided he would never question his father's devotion to safety protocols again.
The numbers scrolled across his HUD told a rather upsetting story. He did not have the delta velocity to keep from plowing into the ground, and he was passing 2000 meters above ground for altitude.
His reactionless thruster would not allow him to land safely.
The pirated broom tech he had integrated into the armor could not overcome his vertical velocity in time.
In short there was nothing he could do to prevent himself from hitting the ground, and there was absolutely no doubt that the sudden stop would kill him very dead.
That morbid thought caused Harry to blink as he passed 1800 meters from the ground. Sudden stop. Maybe that was the answer. Do not suddenly stop.
Harry rotated his body so that his thruster was at an angle to local vertical, he then drove his broom flight systems to give him all the horizontal motion they could manage. Between the two, he had taken on a definite drift from his ballistic path by the time he passed 900 meters above the ground.
At 100 meters from the ground, Harry was well beyond the bounds of the Quidditch stadium and moving almost horizontally, but still entirely too fast. Verifying that his emergency runic shield was active, and redirecting all remaining power to the suit's inertial dampeners, Harry had time for one final thought.
~ This is going to suck. ~
He was right.
Albus Dumbledore was the first to reach the site of Harry's landing, but only because of his ability to apparate within the castle's wards.
His wand swishing along the surface of the magical construct, the Headmaster pushed with all of magical potential to discover just what this 'shield' might be. Analysis of the magical structure evaded even his wand… His wand.
He gathered his magic and pushed with everything he had.
1,465 miles away in Budapest, a man clad in black ballistic body armor slowed his breathing so that it didn't interfere with his aim. The cybernetics in his left arm interfaced with the rifle's scope aligning for a guaranteed kill shot on his target. Satisfied, he moved to pull the trigger.
A sudden unfamiliar sensation prevented him from taking his shot. It was as if something was physically pulling on his very soul. The sensation only lasted a fraction of a second, but it sufficiently destroyed his concentration to the point where his left arm ceased normal function.
The man swore as he disassembled and packed away his weapon with only one functioning arm. He needed to have his arm checked out. His target would live another day.
Albus was still investigating the very odd shield sphere that seemingly surrounded the boy on all sides suspending him in midair within the trench his impact had dug, when the huge black dog arrived at a full run.
"Is he…" Sirius asked upon completing his transformation back to human.
"I do not know," Dumbledore muttered as he continued trying to break through the shield. "I can't even tell if he's breathing, though he must be to maintain the shield. It is clear that something happened to him, as evidenced by the shredding of his uniform to expose that armor of his."
"How can he be maintaining this shield while unconscious?" Sirius demanded.
"Again," Dumbledore admitted, "I do not know. As frustrating as it is to admit, when it comes to Mr. Stark, there seems to be an ever-increasing number of magics that do not make sense."
"Well," Sirius said, rapping the surface of the shield sphere with his knuckle, "It's solid. I've only seen that in conjured metallic shields. Is this some sort of transparent metal?"
Steve Rogers slid to a stop beside Sirius. "Sorry I'm late," he said showing no evidence of exertion. "Your man Hagrid felt that this wasn't the place for a 'Muggle' and moved to stop me. He's a big fellow, so he should be up and around in a few minutes. Albus, remind me to apologize to him. What is the situation?"
"It seems that Mr. Stark is incased in some sort of shield bubble that I do not recognize," Albus explained running his hands over the surface of the sphere. "Is it too much to hope that this is the product of the elder Mr. Stark's technology and that you know how to counter it?"
"If Tony has this kind of force field, he hasn't mentioned it," Steve said, removing his own round shield from his back and raising it above his head in both hands. "In my experience, these things work by spreading any force used against them over their entire surface. Sometimes, you just need a bit of an edge…" with all his might, Rogers drove the edge of his shield into the sphere.
The Vibranium/Adamantium alloy penetrated three inches into the force shield before its momentum stopped. Rogers changed his grip on the embedded shield and grit his teeth. "These things usually fail when you put a bit of angular force on them."
The shield sphere disappeared with a loud pop once Rogers twisted his shield. Harry's armored body fell to the ground, laying still for a moment until the helmet's mask opened to reveal Harry's sweating face.
"Now you're just showing off," he gasped. "Ben beat on a smaller prototype for almost an hour and never got a reaction, you walk up and pop it."
"Are you all right, Trooper?" Rogers asked as he knelt at the boy's side.
"Oh, god no," Harry admitted. "I think I need the Hospital wing, but not until I get a bit more sun. My batteries are completely drained. Without power, I'm never getting out of this thing."
"He said he was Voldemort," Harry reported with a shrug. "Was he telling the truth? I dunno, but he certainly seemed to believe it."
Poppy Pomfrey huffed and cast the latest of her diagnostic spells on his body. Beyond some nasty electrical burns, and more bruising than a human being should ever have, Harry was frustratingly healthy after his adventure and this annoyed the nurse beyond all expectations.
"How could he possibly be back from death?" Sirius asked.
"Villains have an annoying tendency to find death to be little more than a momentary inconvenience," Steve Rogers said from where he leaned against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. "So, what is the plan, Albus?"
"Are you sure you defeated him, Mr. Stark?" Dumbledore pressed.
Again, the boy shrugged. "His body went 'poof' when I finited the spells holding him together, but he's evidently been without a body before, so did I defeat him or simply inconvenience him? We won't know until he manages to come back… or doesn't."
The old man nodded, "I fear you are correct, Mr. Stark. I suppose there is nothing to do but alert the Ministry."
"Like they'll be of any help," Sirius scoffed.
"True, but it must be done," Dumbledore agreed. "Will Mr. Stark be able to attend the Leaving Feast, Poppy?"
"Yes," the nurse said begrudgingly. "His burns should be healed in fifteen minutes."
"Fifteen minutes?" Rogers asked perking up. Over his career, burns were the injuries he had needed to deal with most often. "Would it be possible to get some of that salve?"
"Are you sure, you're all right?" Padma whispered.
Harry turned his attention away from whatever nonsense the Headmaster was blathering on about concerning the visiting schools and unity of the magical world. Underneath the table, he took his girlfriend's hand and squeezed. "I'm fine. Pomfrey fixed me right up."
"Hanging out with you isn't good for my heart," Padma sighed. "When you disappeared, I thought it had stopped."
"As kidnappings go, it was fairly boring," Harry confided. "The only odd thing wanted was my blood and not money or influence over my father. He threatened me, we did a little dominance dance, and then I ran for it. The actual running away turned out to be more dangerous than the kidnapping."
"Your view of life is so very messed up," Hermione whispered. "Now, hush. The Headmaster is talking."
"The Headmaster is always talking," Harry pointed out. "Never actually doing anything, even when you tell him what is going to happen, and he assures you that his precautions will keep you out of it, but he'll talk about it."
"So cynical," Padma giggled, grasping his hand under the table.
"That's me, cynical to the end," Harry agreed. "I haven't been told if I'm riding the train back or not. I don't know if we'll have much time alone."
"We'll have to make time," she suggested.
"Sorry, mate," Sirius grinned. "I've got to get back to Greer and Jennifer."
"And I have an appointment with Bryan Braddock tomorrow, and Hauptmann Deutschland on Friday. Tony told me he'd arranged for a ride home for you, and that she would meet you at the train station," Steve explained.
"Are you starting a Confederation of Captains?" Harry snarked.
"Those of us who identify as representatives of our nations have been having meetings for about a decade," Steve said easily, refusing to acknowledge the jibe. "'Captain' is a title many of us share, but it is far from universal. T'challa is a member of the group for example. So is Peregrine from France. We maintain our contacts as a way of offering a unified stance against planetary threats."
"Now I feel bad about running home to my wife and kid," Sirius snarked. "You're riding the train, Harry. Enjoy the time with your friends.
Lockheed thrummed happily when he fluttered onto Kitty Pryde's shoulder, the pair both ignoring the looks of horror from the passing crowd on Platform 9 3/4.
"I missed you too, you vicious beast," the young woman said, gently stroking the miniature dragon's chin. "Did you behave for Harry?"
"He was a little jerk when you dumped him on me," Harry suggested, watching as Padma disappeared through the Floo access along with her mother and sister. "he was a little jerk all school year, and I return him to you still a little jerk."
"That's not nice, Harry," Kitty grinned.
"A little jerk, that I will someday change into something small and fluffy," Harry threatened. "The torture is waiting for it. You won't know where, you won't know when, but it will happen, and I will laugh."
"Hrmph!" the miniature dragon scoffed, a wisp of smoke issuing from his nostrils giving a clear impression that his response was something along the line of 'bring it on, mammal.'
"You're so mean," Kitty pouted.
"That's what I told him all year," Neville agreed helpfully. "Horribly mean to poor little Lockheed."
"Oh, you did not," Harry laughed. "Quit trying to suck up to the pretty girl or I'll take that poster back."
"And now you're being mean to Neville," Kitty teased with an evil glint in her eye. "So, you think I'm pretty do you, Harry?"
"Oh, god!" Harry said looking to the sky for aid that never seemed to come.
""That's just Harry," Hermione interjected helpfully. "Where do you sell your posters anyway? I'd love to add one to my collection."
"Didn't you say the poster was 'fairly graphic' Hermione?" Harry snarked. "I seem to remember you thought it was fairly graphic."
"Only in comparison with the social norms of Magical Britain," Hermione protested.
"I like you," Kitty laughed. "You never cut Harry any slack, do you?"
"Kurt is her favorite," Harry pointed out. "She said so when she was being all cattie about your poster.
"Kurt is my favorite, too," Kitty noted. "Though I do really like that charity poster Brian did."
"Oh, yeah," Hermione agreed.
"So, are you just here to pick up the little jerk, or are you my ride home?"
"Storm and her team are here for a conference on Muir Island," Kitty explained, guiding Harry toward the nearest wall. "I'm catching a ride home with them to visit my mom, and you're coming with us."
"On the Blackbird?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Yep," Kitty nodded.
"Cool," Harry grinned. "See you guys in September."
"Bye, Harry," Hermione called.
"Blackbird?" Neville whispered to Hermione while maintaining a laser like focus on Kitty's bum as she and Harry passed through the wall.
"It's a kind of aircraft," Hermione explained. "The hero fan magazines aren't clear on what kind of plane it really is, and all the photos of it have been rubbish, but if it impresses Harry, it must really be special."
"Life threatening you mean," Neville laughed as he turned toward the Floo portals. "Those are the kind of things Harry likes."
"True enough," Hermione agreed. "See you in September, Neville."
Padma entered her father's office only to discover a Patil/Stark Magitech computer waiting for her at her desk in her father's office.
"It's nothing to be frightened of," a new voice interrupted the silence.
Padma turned to find a young man of perhaps 17 sitting at another computer.
"You must be Padma," he said, rising to his feet and offering his hand. "I'm Ankit Malhotra."
"Father said he had hired someone for the office," Padma said taking his hand. "Welcome to the company."
"Thank you," Ankit said with an easy smile. "You attend Hogwarts, yes?"
"I do," she said with her own smile. "And you?"
"Oh, I'm a squib," he laughed. "An embarrassment to the family. My father was telling yours of his embarrassment and how he was casting me out now that I've finished my secondary education among the Muggles. Your father told my father he was a fool and hired me on the spot. I'm attending University in the coming secession and will be studying business."
"You're seemingly taking that quite well," Padma noted.
"You either laugh, or you cry," Ankit explained. "Laughing is much more fun. Plus, the experience has given me a goal in life, to prove my father wrong, so I've got that going for me. When you're ready, I'll step you through the ordering process in your computer, once you've got that, we can go through the invoicing process."
"Sounds good," she nodded.
"Your mother is still doing the actual bookkeeping by hand, insisting that the way she has always done it is still the best way," Ankit confided. "I'm certain I can convince her otherwise by the end of the summer."
"Changing my mother's mind?" Padma scoffed. "Good luck."
Pepper pulled Harry into a hug. "You're gone for 10 months and all I get is four lousy emails?"
"Sorry," Harry shrugged from inside the hug, "This year was crazy."
"Every year at that place has been crazy," she laughed finally releasing him. "Are you going to have time for me this summer?"
"I've got no plans at all," Harry said. "I'm supposed to see Franklin tomorrow, but you'll be working then. Dinner Friday night? I'll make Mac and Cheese."
"I'm going to hold you to that Mister."
"Are you sure about this?" Harry asked. The rooftop vantage-point the pair had selected allowed a clear view of the building they were keeping under surveillance.
Franklin shrugged. "I was with Mom and Dad when they ended up responding to an alert. We buzzed that building on our way. We were going awfully fast, but I'm sure I saw people in AIM uniforms on the fifth floor. Whatever is going on, the building looks to be abandoned and it turned out that it's psi shielded to heck and back."
"Those AIM clowns are anything but subtle," Harry nodded, remembering the absurd yellow bee keeper outfits worn by the scientist shock troops of Advanced Idea Mechanics. He activated his armor's link to StarkTech and subvocalized some search commands. "The building belongs to… Oh my god."
"What?" Franklin asked wishing that Harry's armor had external displays.
"The building is owned by Four Freedoms Enterprises, dude. It belongs to your family," Harry looked up at his friend. "There goes that pesky 'breaking and entry' concern."
"That's ballsy," Franklin noted. "Taking over a building owned by heroes. Well, as a minor stockholder in Four Freedoms Enterprises, I think it's time to do an inspection of the property. And who better to do that inspection than Psion and Technomage?"
"Technomage and Psion," Harry corrected. "I get top billing or I tell Hermione you're doing this stuff."
"You wouldn't dare."
The helmet of Harry's blue and bronze armor extended from the collar to cover his head and face as it powered up. "Try me, Psion," his electronically distorted voice said. "Do you think I've forgotten about the doll you got Parvati to send you? I get top billing until we come up with a team name."
"You won't be able to hold her over me forever," Franklin groused as he caused the air in front of his face to twist and warp, distorting his features. "Besides, you gave Hermione a doll of me."
"No, not forever," Technomage admitted. "Just until Hermione gets tired of you and dumps your lovesick butt, or you marry her. Besides, I didn't give Hermione a doll, I gave her a limited-edition action figure." A smile ghosted across his features, hidden by his helmet. "An action figure she tells me is anatomically correct."
"You suck and should die," Psion suggested helpfully. "Ready?"
"Yeah," the armored wizard nodded. "I'll need a lift."
"What, that erector set of yours doesn't fly?" Psion asked as he wrapped his friend in a bubble of telekinetic force and floated them both to the roof of the building they were about to 'inspect'.
"I found out the hard way in June that my control of the flight systems needs a whole lot of work, and my landings are anything but covert." Once his feet settled onto the rooftop, Technomage was surprised when an alert appeared on his Heads-Up Display.
~Ah, crap, ~ he thought.
~What is it? ~ Psion asked via his telepathy.
"My dad is calling me. Just a sec," Harry triggered one of his armor's silencing charms, and then willed the armor to answer the phone. "Hey Dad, what's up?"
"I just saw that your armor powered up and sealed itself," his father said quietly in his ears. "You just queried StarkTech for information about a building owned by the Fantastic Four, and of course you're with Franklin. Should I ask what you're up to?"
"Just goofing off Dad, testing stuff."
"Uh huh," Tony agreed sarcastically. "Your flight system are powered, but offline."
"Dad, if I didn't know better, I would think you didn't trust me," Harry said in a hurt tone. "Sticking white rat monitors on my armor like that."
"You do know better, and I don't trust you," his father said easily. "What are the pair of you up to?"
"We're practicing infiltration into a derelict warehouse," Harry sighed guiltily.
There was a short pause on his father's side. "Harry, don't do anything stupid."
"Fine," Tony sighed, "You and I will go over your armor tonight when you get home. I'm still not satisfied with its performance during that stupid tournament, and I'll want to see what the system logs say about your testing this afternoon."
Relief washed over Harry, "that's no problem, Dad."
"Ok," his father said. "Have fun."
As soon as the line went dead Technomage turned to Psion, "Okay, I managed to convince him that nothing is going on."
~ Our folks are smart people, ~ Franklin silently sniggered, ~ but sometimes, they can be so clueless. ~
Reed Richard's face came into focus on the screen. "Is this important Tony?" he asked, "I have several experiments going on just now."
"You've always got several experiments going on, Reed," Tony laughed. "But right now, our boys are out doing something stupid."
"How stupid?" Richards asked, suddenly concerned.
"I don't think they've managed to be stupid to the level we usually manage, but still pretty damned dumb," Tony explained. "Harry is out in his new armor, and Franklin is with him. Harry just queried the Stark Tech servers about a property you own, and then his armor went hot and sealed itself on his command. I called him to find out what was going on and he gave me some song and dance about practicing covert infiltrations with their equipment and abilities."
Richards scanned the data packet Stark had forwarded him, before making some entries in his own computer. "That property is currently unoccupied and is supposed to be for sale, but nothing has happened on that front for over a year. That's odd."
The screens changed to a first-person view of a long dark hallway. "This is a live feed off Harry's armor; I'm pretty sure he doesn't know about it. We'll be able to see what they're up to. You'd best grab Sue, she'll skin you alive if you don't."
"Understood," Reed acknowledged. "Transferring this feed to the main screen in our family room."
"We own the property?" Ben Grimm rumbled from his place on the sofa, a large bowl of popcorn on his lap.
"We do," Susan confirmed, reaching over to steal a handful of the corn. "Our corporate records show that it's supposedly up for sale, but a quick look at the realtor's database didn't show it as being listed at all."
"I found signs of a hack on the database from around seven months ago," Reed added while he fussed with the monitor, attempting to 'improve the picture'.
"Leave the damned display alone, Reed," Susan laughed. "If I'm going to be punishing Franklin, I'm going to want to know what I'm punishing him for."
"You're too hard on the kid, Sue," Johnny Storm halfheartedly protested. "You were the same way with me, and in spite of that, look how I turned out."
"If that's supposed to make me feel better, it isn't working," Susan sniffed.
"All right," Tony said from the communicator window in the lower left corner of the monitor. "Whatever they're up to, Harry's sensor suite is picking up movement ahead of them. I'm starting the audio feed."
"Do they know we're watching?" Johnny asked.
"No," Susan said, shaking her head. "Hush now."
"Four human sized heat sources around the next corner," Harry whispered inside his armor, he knew it was utter unnecessary to actually vocalize his side of the conversation, but he always found it easier to actually speak his side of a telepathic exchange.
~ Yeah, ~ Franklin's words 'sounded' in his mind. ~ Got them. ~
Harry glanced up toward the small mirror Psion was levitating in the corner of the hallway and the ceiling. The though occurred that a tech, or perhaps, magical tech, version of his friend's trick might be useful.
~ Quit plotting to steal my tricks, ~ Psion mentally hissed. ~ You've already got more than enough advantages. ~
"Quit coming up with usable ideas, there is no such thing as too many advantages. If I could figure out how to duplicate Spiderman's webbing I'd do that too," Harry responded as he enclosed the four AIM troopers inside a bubble of silence. "Ok, they can't call for help, how do you want to do this?"
The four collapsed in a heap. ~I just shut off their voluntary muscle control, ~ Psion noted. ~Running a check… They're just guards, but they don't know what they're guarding. ~
"Well," Harry said quietly, "I suppose that means we should find out."
The pair moved forward, together.
"Well, that's just revoltin'" Grim rumbled.
"What?" Johnny asked.
"All that time I put into makin' sure those two can defend themselves and they're just strolling in, shuttin' down the baddies by remote control," Ben complained as the screen showed another group of AIM Scientist Troopers in their Beekeeper outfits collapse. "In my day…"
"Yeah, yeah," Johnny mocked. "In your day, you'd stroll over to the next cave and give Ogg a piece of your mind."
"Matchstick," Ben rumbled, "If this wasn't a better show, I'd show you a cave or two."
"I wish we could hear Franklin's side of the conversation," Susan sighed.
"Sadly," Tony said from his picture in a picture window, "I've never managed to figure out a telepathy voder."
"You probably won't," Reed interjected, "every telepath is on, for lack of a better word, a different frequency. You might be able to calibrate one to a specific telepath, but a broad spectrum voder… Not going to happen." His brow furrowed. "What was that? Tony can you roll the playback about six seconds?"
"What did you see?" Tony asked as he rolled back the video feed and enhanced it on his end.
"I'm not sure, it looked like…" Reed leaned forward, his eyes going very wide. "That's MODO tech."
"Oh, shit," Tony agreed. His words echoing in an empty room where the Fantastic Four no longer were.
"This is very weird," Technomage said as he took up position to the right of the final door.
~ Extremely weird, ~ Psion agreed from the left side. ~ Seven groups of guards, no management, no researchers, not even any computers. ~
"Well," Technomage said, "According to the blueprints on file, this is the last room on this floor. My armor has taken control of the door, I can open it when we're ready."
~ I have no idea what's waiting for us in there, ~ Psion admitted, ~ the psi shielding is tough. I can break it, but that would be like putting up a Neon sign saying Break-In in Progress. ~
"The Psi Shields are focused on this room?" Technomage asked. "That's not ominous at all."
~ Yeah, ~ Psion nodded. ~ I was thinking a strategic retreat and making a call for my folks might be a good idea. ~
Technomage nodded in agreement when the door slid open.
"I've been expecting you," a voice from inside the room said. "You might as well come in and get it over with."
Psion exchanged a look with Technomage, who shrugged in return. The two teens steeled themselves and looked into the room.
The Invisible Woman was the first one through the door, her force field formed into invisible razor-sharp blades that shredded everything in her way. The rest of the Fantastic Four trailed behind her, each of them more than a little concerned about getting between Susan and the villain
"MODOK!" she thundered, "GET AWAY FROM MY SON!"
"Mom!" Franklin shouted, putting himself between his rampaging mother and the other two people in the room. "Calm down, he's not MODOK."
"What?" she gasped, her invisible blades ceasing to exist.
"Technically," the figure sitting in a wheelchair interjected, "I am MODOK. I am MODOK Prime's clone 19900827-A. My personal designation is MODOD."
"MODOD?" the Torch asked.
"Mental Organism Designed Only for Dying," the young man responded in a matter of fact tone. "MODOK Prime had concerns about his mortality, so I was created to answer those concerns."
"We are not calling you MODOD," the unmasked Technomage said. "You aren't going to die."
"You are incorrect, Harry," the young man said. "My death is programmed into my genes. Unless accident or malfeasance intervenes, I will expire on the 5th anniversary of my becoming aware. That will come in sixty-three days."
The air filled with the hum of a pair of Starktech reactionless thrusters. The Ironman rocketed into the room with the repulsor emitters on his gauntlets glowing. Upon seeing everyone conspicuously not fighting anyone, he lowered his outstretched arms and landed.
"So," the Armored hero said, "what did I miss?"
"Programmed to die?" Pepper asked as she sipped at her glass of wine. "Why would anyone program a 15-year-old to die?"
"He's actually 5 or so," Harry explained from the kitchen, "accelerated invitro development, followed by some kind of forced maturity in a techno-organic pseudo womb, where he was educated until the physical age of 10 or so, then 5 years of real time life with the ability to describe his descent into entropy."
Harry came to the table with a plate in each hand. "It sounds horrible, but it led to… well, MODOD. We really need to come up with a better name for him."
"Yes you do," Pepper agreed. "And he was hidden in a building owned by the Fantastic Four?"
"Yeah, Franklin spotted the guards in their stupid bee keeper outfits while out with his folks, so we decided to do an assault on the building," Harry explained, taking his seat at the table and picking up his fork to start on his salad. "We made our way, putting the guards to sleep through magic or psionics, and found the hidden lab. We were kind of worried when we found the defenses on the last room and were getting ready to call for the FF, when the door open and MODOD invited us in. He thought we were there to kill him because MODOK was tired of waiting, and just wanted to get it over with. We kind of made friends before Frank's family busted in."
"You did call them?" Pepper asked.
"No, Dad has a white rat monitor on my armor. I don't think he trusts me."
"I wonder why that might be?" she asked.
Fury looked up from the report. "You're sure about this?"
"Yes," the electronic voice responded in time with the agent's keystrokes. "Not an alien threat. Home grown terrorist. The Kree attack last year was a strike at Stark the younger, not at Earth."
"And the Zombie wizard?" Fury pressed.
"Why do I bother typing the reports?" the agent asked through his voder. "No one reads them, they just hold them while asking me questions. Stark the younger's blood was used in the ritual that returned the wizard to full life. Before I could reverse that process, Riddle's followers were on site and he challenged the boy to a duel."
"How did you get the site so quickly?" the Head o asked.
"You've read my jacket," the agent snorted. "Why do you ask questions you know the answers to? I was valuable t because of my tracking abilities. I was valuable to you for the same reasons. I had the kid tagged, when he disappeared, I followed. The wizard was reborn in a ritual, called his troops and then dueled the boy. Their wands formed some kind of quantum linkage, and started to manifest an odd, and judging from the reaction of Riddle and his crew, unexpected isolation of the two casters. The kid's experimentation with Vibranium allowed him to win, and his Stark Armor allowed him to survive the counter attack by the Wizard's followers, though it was close."
"So, Riddle is dead?"
"Sure, why not?" the Agent asked with a shrug. "He's been dead before, he'll probably be back.
Fury nodded, pausing to digest what he had been told. He had, in fact read the report, but he had been in the field too long to ever believe that the reports held all the information. "Do you think you'll be able to return to keep an eye on the boy next year?"
"Unlikely," Lockheed the Dragon offered a reptilian grin as his fingers danced across the keyboard of his voder. His mouth and voice box really weren't suited to voicing human speech, at least not beyond the amusement of annoying the Stark kid. "Unless you can arrange for Kitty and Excalibur to have to leave the system again and need a baby sitter."
"This is my favorite place for lunch," Padma explained, leading Ankit to the bench in the park. "Far enough from the playpark that it's quiet, but close enough to the office that getting back doesn't take any time at all.
"Very nice," Ankit agreed. "I've been eating at my desk since I was hired. A change of scenery might be just what I need."
"I mentioned taking you out to lunch, so mother went a little crazy with packing our meal," she laughed. "I hope you're hungry."
"No worries," Ankit nodded accepting the offered covered plate. "I've always been hungry since I was about 12 years old."
Padma found herself blushing for some reason she could not identify. "Good."
"I do not think I was monitored to this extent even in the earliest stages of my life under MODOK Prime's analysis.
"Don't worry about it," Franklin said with a grin.
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "Franklin's dad can fix you, and mine can make him whatever he needs."
"Your optimism is encouraging," MODOD responded from the hospital bed where he was connected to multiple machines. "However, realism requires I rely on actual data rather than optimism. While my creator is admittedly less prodigiously productive than your own, in the biological sciences, he is nearly unsurpassed. I was created with an intentionally limited lifespan, so that my descent into entropy could be measured and analyzed."
"Not going to happen," Franklin said, "Now, we need to get you a name."
"I am designated MODOD," MODOD protested.
"That's not a name," Harry pointed out, "it's a pessimistic descriptor."
"Franklin?" a girl's voice broke in as she opened the door. "Are you in here?"
"Hey Cassie," Franklin said, "what's up?"
"Hiding from my Mom," the blonde girl answered. "Hey Harry." She looked expectantly between the two boys.
"Ah, Cassie, this is…" Harry paused, "we don't know what his name is yet."
"I am designated MODOD," MODOD insisted.
"And we're not calling you that," Franklin insisted.
"MODOD?" Cassie asked.
"Mental Organism Designed Only for Dying," MODOD answered helpfully.
"Oh, yeah," Cassie agreed, "we're not calling you that. I'm Cassie Lang."
MODOD nodded as much as he could, restrained as he was by the medical sensors. "I am pleased to meet you, Cassie Lang. You are female, correct?"
It was only due to her exposure to the insane weirdness of the world her father had exposed her to that Cassie did not react to the question with anger or sarcasm. "Yes, I am."
"Like Susan Richards," MODOD nodded. "My records show that AIM Head of Biological Sciences, Agnes Kaknis volunteered to serve as my gestation host. Agent Kaknis is female as well."
"Our buddy here has lived something of an isolated life," Harry explained.
"No, really?" Cassie asked, her sarcasm finally finding a release. She lowered herself on to one of the chairs. "So, you need a name."
"Franklin and Harry insist that I do," MODOD agreed. "I am not sure that I see the necessity."
"The necessity is, that while you may have been designed to die, there is more to you than that," Franklin explained. "Dad is going to make sure you have a full life, so you need a name, not a descriptor."
"If we were called what we are, rather than who we are, Franklin would be called 'Homo Superior, God Trainee'," Harry explained. "And I would be 'Homo Magus, God's gift to women'."
"Oh, lord," Cassie sighed. "And I would be 'Homo Sapiens, about to slap a couple of idiots'. You need a name because people have names. How about 'George'?"
The three boys in the room blinked. "George?" Harry asked, "why George?"
"Why not?" she asked. "It's based off my Dad's favorite comedian, George Carlin, and he's going to need a sense of humor if he's going to put up with you two idiots."
MODOD contemplated for a moment. "George is acceptable."
"George it is, then," Franklin said happily. "And now, we'll teach you about how cruel women can be."
Hermione Granger carefully folded the printout of her email before storing it away in what she had taken to calling her Memory book.
Franklin had told her many stories of his adventures since they had met, but this one… This one was horrible, and she dearly hoped it was an exaggeration, while knowing it likely wasn't.
Being created to die, just to satisfy the curiosity of a sociopath. That was just too horrifying to contemplate, but it appeared to be what had happened to Franklin and Harry's new friend George. According to Franklin, George fully believed that he was going to die, while Franklin and Harry were convinced that Professor Richards would be able to save him.
'Dad can do anything,' was Franklin's explanation.
The young witch found herself hoping Franklin was right. If Professor Richards could not save the young clone, Franklin's world would be shaken to its foundations.
She reached for her phone. Perhaps Padma had heard from Harry and could offer his point of view on poor George.
The phone rang five times before it went to Voice Mail. That was odd, Padma always answered her phone.
"Good Afternoon, Padma, it's Hermione. I've just gotten some disturbing news from Franklin, and was hoping you had heard from Harry. Call me."
"Boys," Reed Richards said solemnly. "We need to discuss George's prognosis."
Franklin and Harry exchanged a quick look, before turning to face Mr Fantastic.
"You've figured out what to do," Franklin grinned.
"Knew you would," Harry agreed.
"Boys, I've already spoken with George, and I am only speaking with you because he told me I should. I can't cure him."
"What?" Harry asked.
"That's not funny, Dad," Franklin said with a frown. "You shouldn't joke like that."
"I'm not joking, boys," Richards sighed. "Over the last two months, I've tried everything. I've even brought in people with healing abilities. None of us can do anything. What is killing George is too much a part of him. It can't be removed. I've tried Gene replacement, I've tried nano constructors, and transfusions from people with healing factors. None of it made the slightest bit of difference. If I manage to inhibit the active suicide gene, that triggers a completely different gene in the same sequence to suicide. Cloning transfers the cellular time limit to the new form. I can't even transplant his brain into another body because the cells of his brain are on the same terminal timeline as the rest of his body. The only possibility of keeping George alive would be to transfer his mind to an electronic vessel, which would be a kind of hell. I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do."
"But you're still trying, right?" Harry asked.
"Of course, I am, but you both need to be aware of the limits of what I can do. Be with your friend and don't treat him any different than you have been. George has accepted what is coming, in fact he has never doubted how and when his life would end. He needs his friends."
"If you're still trying," Franklin said with conviction, "then it's just a matter of time, Dad. You've always come through in the pinch. You'll do it. You'll fix him."
As Franklin entered the room where George was living, Cassie Lang rushed out, running fulling into Harry, before wrapping her arms around him and starting to cry.
Franklin gave him a questioning look, ~ Not it, ~ he thought before carrying on into the room and closing the door behind him.
"Cassie?" Harry asked.
"He's dying," she gasped. "He's dying and no one can do anything about it."
"Frank's dad is working on it," Harry explained. "He wouldn't be Reed Richards if he didn't string his solution out to the very last second."
"I was in the room when Professor Richards told George there was nothing he could do, Harry," Cassie protested. "I was holding George's hand when Professor Richards told him. Why would he lie?"
"He wouldn't," Harry said confidently. "But he's still working on the cure, Cassie. I mean, come on, he's Reed Richards."
"Professor Richards is a genius, but he's still human," the girl protested. "I think you and Franklin are setting George up for a massive disappointment with your endless optimism."
"You worry too much," Harry laughed, guiding the girl down the hall. "Come on, you need to wash your face."
In the back of the darkened cinema, Padma pulled away from Ankit, fighting to regain her breath. On some level she realized that she hadn't been paying the slightest attention to the movie.
She moved closer to him again, her lips seeking his in the darkness. This hadn't come fast. It started with work, then lunches together away from the office, then Ankit had invited her to dinner, then dancing, then a series of movies, they had yet to become truly intimate, but it was coming, and she welcomed it.
Yesterday had been Harry's birthday, but she had been out with Ankit, spending the day in Blackpool, and hadn't spared Harry a thought.
When she realized that this morning, she had felt incredibly guilty, but had put the guilt out of her mind to get ready for work, and for seeing Ankit.
Ankit didn't have magic. On some level, she thought that his status as a squib should bother her, but it didn't. All she knew was that she wanted to be with him. School started in less than a month, and returning to Hogwarts was going to be hell.
"Where are we going?" George asked, as Harry held the door open for Franklin to push the wheelchair through.
"We're breaking you out," Harry suggested.
"You've spent your life in labs and hospitals," Franklin agreed. "If this is really your last day, and I don't believe that for a minute, you're going to see the world."
"There is no way our dads aren't going to fix you," Harry agreed.
"As I have told you both repeatedly, the deactivation features are integrated into my genetic structure. As impressively intelligent as your fathers are, I cannot be 'fixed'. Are you planning on using this construct to show me the world?" George asked as he eyed the original Fantasticar critically.
"She's old, but she flies like a dream," Harry assured his friend as he maneuvered the wheelchair into the center seat position and locked it into place before taking his own seat.
"We're heading to the Stark Estate," Franklin explained. "When Dad has his breakthrough, he can get hold of me, but for right now, we're heading to the woods for a picnic."
"Why?" George asked.
"Why not?" Harry asked in return. "You've been in Frank's Dad's lab for two months. Some fresh air and sunshine might be just what the doctor ordered."
"It is exceedingly unlikely," George said as the Fantasticar lifted vertically from its dock and began a flight with Franklin at the controls. "That mere air, no matter how 'fresh' will make any difference in my termination."
"Ever the optimist, Dude," Franklin snarked.
"The world," George said, gazing down at the city below them, "is so large. I always knew it was, but to actually see it…"
"Well, rubberneck all you want," Harry said. "It's 20 minutes to our hideout."
Edwin Jarvis entered the kitchen to find his employer and friend waiting for him.
"The kids having a picnic, Javis?" Tony asked.
"They are, sir," the butler admitted. "It is George's last day, after all."
"Harry and Franklin still believe that Reed and I are going to pull a miracle out of our asses at the last minute," Tony sighed, pulling a beer from the refrigerator. "Want one?"
"Normally, I would say no," Jarvis admitted. "However…"
"A nice kid dying in front of you cuts into the niceties of life," Tony said handing his old friend a bottle. "Did the boys sneak any?"
"No, at least not from here. I cannot speak for what they might have liberated from the Fantastic Four's kitchens. Mrs. Richards sent over a basket of her fried chicken for the boys."
"Did you steal any for us?" Tony asked hopefully.
"Indeed, sir," Jarvis said as he slid a plate in front of his employer.
Stark looked down at the plate with a smile. "Whatever I pay you, it isn't enough, Jarvis." The man's smile faded as he continued, "I do wish we could have kept up the 'dad can do anything' fiction a bit longer."
Jarvis took his own seat at the table with his own place of fried chicken. "It will take a few days, but ultimately, Harry will come to terms with the idea that his father can only do almost anything."
"So many plants," George noted in awe.
"Summer is the best," Franklin agreed, sitting on the ground to the right of George's wheelchair.
"There's a lake over that way," Harry said, pointing to the southeast. "Normally we'd go swimming, but that probably wouldn't work for you."
"It would not," George agreed. "In my current state, I am almost certainly not buoyant enough to float in fresh water."
"Cool," Franklin interrupted, looking up from the goodie basket prepared by Jarvis. "Mom's fried chicken!"
"Score!" Harry exclaimed happily before realization kicked in. "Crap, that means they know what we're up to."
"Your parents are all quite observant," George agreed. "What is 'fried chicken like?"
"Find out for yourself," Franklin laughed handing his friend a chicken leg.
George examined the leg curiously. "This is not a food stuff I am conditioned to."
"So, if Frank and I are right, once Professor Richards cures you, you've potentially got a bellyache," Harry shrugged. "If you're right, it costs you nothing. Taste it. Mrs. Richards makes the best fried chicken on the planet. You can't go your whole life only eating that nutrient paste."
"The claim of best on the planet seems statistically unlikely," George said, hesitantly nibbling at the drumstick before his eyes widened. "To hell with statistics!" he breathed reverently, "This is wonderful!"
"Like Harry said," Franklin grinned. "The best on the planet."
"Reed?" Susan Richards called from the door to the lab. "The boys are gone."
"They left about an hour ago," Reed responded, pulling his optical enhancing goggles from his face. "Direct flight to the Stark Estate, landing in the meadow near their old fort. Did you get your care package to Jarvis?"
"Yes," the Invisible Woman nodded. "Ben is moaning because I didn't save him any of the chicken, but I thought the boys needed it more than he did."
"It's your own fault for being such a good cook," Reed mused. "Of course, when you consider what Ben and I would eat when we were in college, neither of us are really all that picky."
"That was some faint flattery," Susan laughed before becoming serious. "Any progress? One of your last minute eureka moments?"
"No," Reed admitted. "I can't save him. I would have to replace every single cell in his body, I can't even clone him because the clone would have the same suicide genes on the same clock."
"You've done your best," Susan assured her husband, wrapping him in a hug. "Franklin knows that."
"It's not that I can't help him that bothers me," Reed admitted. "It's that Franklin refuses to believe that I can't. Once that faith is lost, it will never come back."
"Franklin has more faith in you than that," Susan insisted, "and being unable to do the impossible will hardly make him doubt you. I had best make an appointment for Franklin to speak with Leonard Samson.
"You're right," Reed nodded. "I might talk to the doctor myself."
"Dad's cutting it close," Franklin said from where he laid in the clover, watching the clouds drift through the sky.
"He is not going to cure me, Frank," George wheezed softly. "I've been losing sensation in parts of my body for an hour. I can no longer move my left arm, and my right hand is unresponsive."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Harry demanded as he and Franklin sat up. "We'll get you back to the lab!"
"No," George shook his head. "I have known my entire existence that I was going to die today. But I thought it would be in a lab. I never dreamed it would be out here, in nature, with… friends. I cannot choose when I die, but I can choose where. Here. This place, after the perfect meal, is a good place to cease to be."
"Damn, dude," Franklin said reaching out to take his friend's right hand, while Harry took the left.
George smiled. "I cannot thank you two enough for this summer, I met girls, I ate real food, I had friends. The best 63 days of my life."
"How can you be so calm?" Harry wondered.
"None of this is a surprise," George whispered. "I came to awareness with the knowledge of the absolute limits on my lifespan. I have had my entire life to come to terms with my death. I do find the unknown of what is beyond life to be a bit concerning, but what will be will be. Please, I have only a few minutes left to me. Lay down and join me in watching the clouds form shapes that our minds will use primitive pattern recognition instincts to suggest recognizable objects in the sky."
Slowly, Harry and Franklin joined their friend in laying in the clover and staring at the sky.
"Look," George said, "a duckie."
"George," Harry gasped, his fight against tears starting to fail, "don't take this the wrong way, but you suck."
"I know," George agreed.
Four minutes later, Franklin suddenly realized he couldn't feel George's mind any longer. An hour after that, their fathers found the two young men still holding on to their friend.
MODOK armed his personal weapons suite as his last line of defenses crumbled before the onslaught of the creature.
"Well," Ben Grimm said as he slapped his massive hands together and allowed the last of MODOK's defenders to fall to the floor. "That was fun."
"You've sealed your doom, you brain-dead cretin," MODOK sneered.
"Now, that's just hurtful," the orange rock man said. "People always forget that before I became the idol of millions, I went to Empire State University and earned three master's degrees in Aeronautical Engineering and after that, I was a Marine fighter jock. I'm a lot of things, but I'm not stupid."
"What do you want?" MODOK demanded.
"I used up a whole lot of favors I was owed to find you. It might interest you to know that Nick Fury knows where you are and what you're doing. Hell, he probably knows when you trim your toenails. I'm here to offer you a bit of advice and to issue a warning," Grimm rumbled. "Doin' you a favor really."
"A favor?" MODOK sneered. "Where are the rest of your pathetic team?"
"Susie is trying to console her son after your clone died," Grimm explained. "Reed and Johnny are keeping her calm enough to not come and kill you after how much your clone dyin' hurt Franklin."
"My… Clone?" the modified human asked, the expression on his gigantic face moving from one of confusion to one of understanding. "MODOD. You have MODOD! The clone was due to expire yesterday." His fingers danced across the keyboard. "His data upload did not happen. You must release the data."
"Tony Stark inhibited the data nodes you had implanted in the kid. Franklin and Harry Stark found him two months ago, and the three of them made friends. The boys wouldn't call him MODOD, and renamed him George. They went out of their way to show him that there is more to life than labs and research and pain. They snuck him out of Reed's lab on his last day, and that's where you made your biggest mistake."
"My biggest mistake?" the misshapen homunculus asked.
"You showed those two boys that their fathers couldn't fix everything," Grimm rumbled. "You showed them a reality they didn't need to know about just yet."
MODOK's response was nothing more than an incredulous look.
"So, here's what you're going to do," Grimm continued. "No more clones. You're going to stay away from Franklin and Harry. If you as much as come within a mile of either of them, you'll start running as fast as that stupid little hover chair can carry you. You're never going to get the data from George's death, and you're not going to try to get it."
"Or, what?" MODOK demanded. "Will the famous Fantastic 4 pay me a visit and send me to jail?"
"You wish," Grimm laughed. "Susie would kill you for what you did to her boy. And that would eat at her soul. Reed would lock you up in a prison with enough inhibiter tech to reduce you to a drooling idiot. Destroying your mind would eat at his soul."
The Orange Rock Giant took three steps forward and encountered MODOK's forcefield. With no real effort, he pushed through the field and continued forward. "Johnny would… Well, I don't know what Johnny would do, but it would probably be stupid and potentially fatal for you. That would probably ruin him for life."
MODOK's weapons fired at his command, bathing the Thing in a myriad of energies. Two massive orange hands reached out and crushed the emitters one by one until there were no more and Grimm continued on his way.
"You see, my family are all good people who go out of their way to do no harm," Grimm rumbled as he came nose to nose with the villain. "But me, deep down, I'm not a good person, I grew up on the streets, in a gang. Then, I was a Marine. I've killed people, MODOK, some at a distance, some close enough to touch. If you ever pull this sort of crap again, or even slightly annoy either of those kids, or any other member of my family, I will kill you. You made George to learn about death? Give me an excuse and I'll demonstrate it to you, slowly, up close and personal. To save my family, I will go back to what I've tried so hard to quit bein'. Build all the weapons and defenses you want, they won't make a bit of difference. The only reason I'm not doin' it now, is that Franklin and Harry would be disappointed in me. Do we understand each other, MODOK?"
The Thing maintained eye contact for several seconds, before nodding once and turning on his heel and leaving AIM's formerly best defended facility the way he had come.
MODOK watched him go, hoping that the wetness he felt in his chair was the result of coolant leaking from one of his destroyed weapons.
"Two steps forward, one step back," Harry sighed. "On my good days anyway."
"That's a bit pessimistic for you, Harry," Leonard Samson noted.
"Yeah, I know," Harry agreed. "It's just George dying hit me harder than I expected. Both Dad and Professor Richards told us that it was a long shot that they could help. I mean, the problem was encoded in his genes. I knew that they probably wouldn't be able to help, Franklin knew it too, but I guess, despite everything, we didn't believe it."
"Hmm," Samson hummed.
"Our dads can do pretty much anything." Harry insisted.
"They can," Samson agreed, looking up from his notes. Harry was sitting on a straight back chair, elbows on his knees, his eyes focused on the floor between his feet. Leonard Samson had always eschewed the classic couch for his patient's sessions, but he had several quite comfortable chairs available in his office. Harry's selection of this particular chair over the one he usually used was telling. "Their abilities are part of the problem."
"I don't blame them," Harry protested.
"Nor should you," Samson nodded. "Reed did his best, and Tony made sure your friend was as comfortable as possible. They were not at fault for George's death, neither is Franklin, and neither are you."
"I know that," Harry admitted.
"You just don't believe it," the doctor concluded.
"I don't," Harry continued to fail to meet Leonard's eyes.
"Well, the good news is, you aren't depressed, at least not in a clinical sense, you aren't delusional, at least no more than any 15-year-old, and you aren't confused," Leonard leaned back in his chair, wishing he could still use his pipe. Sometimes the cravings would just come back out of nowhere. "What you are is sad, and more than a little bit angry. And that's okay."
"All of that from the 5 minutes I've been here?" Harry asked.
"All of that from the 8 years we've been speaking. I know you, Harry," Samson explained. "You aren't the frightened little boy from our first meetings. You aren't the goofball you were before you discovered Chaos magic, and happily, you aren't the driven Type A personality that materialized out of that incident. At least not very much, and not all the time. What you are now is a young man who wants to become a hero like his father."
"Do I?" Harry asked. "Do I really?"
Samson reached out and lifted Harry's chin so to establish eye contact. "Harry, speaking as someone who has, through little fault of my own, ended up in more than a few super powered fights, I can tell you this in utter certainty. All we can do is our best. And even when we do our best, in the face of the egomaniacal evil in this world, sometimes, people die. We can't prevent it, all we can do is try to limit it."
Samson sighed. "If you keep your goal of being a hero, like your father, it will happen again. I see a lot of the powered set in my practice, mostly from the Hero side, but some of the others come to me as well. They all find a way to deal with the reality of death in their lives, or they find other things to do that do not involve fighting."
"How did you deal with it?" Harry asked, hoping for some kind of guidance.
"I cut my hair," Sampson said with a smile, "got some suits, and re-opened my practice. Mostly I quit being a hero because I couldn't deal with it. If I'm out in the world and I see something I can help with, I do, I just don't go looking for fights anymore."
"I don't know if I can avoid it," Harry sighed, no longer looking at the floor. "I know it sounds paranoid, but there are people after me. They keep coming, keep escalating all the time."
"Harry," Samson said, leaning forward to put a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "That they keep coming just means they deserve what happens to them."
Harry clung to his father for several seconds.
"I appreciate the affection, Harry, I really do, but is this the image you want to show the world at 15?"
"I just want to stay home and mope," Harry sighed as he released his father.
"As much as I would love to have you stay home, I know you, and I know you'll come to terms with what happened in time. It's never easy when you lose someone you care about. When I lost my parents, I thought I was going to stay in my room and cry forever, but Jarvis forced me to go back to school so that I would have more on my mind than just feeling sorry for myself."
"And I need to go back for the same reason," Harry nodded. "I know that, I just don't believe it." Harry sighed and hefted his backpack, thankful for the shrinking charm that had miniaturized his trunk. "I'd best go before I change my mind."
Tony watched impassively as his son disappeared through the portal to the magical platform before sighing himself. Maybe a visit to one of the AIM facilities was called for. Work off a bit of his anger toward their leader, and with a little luck, find the bastard so he could explain in minute detail just how badly his plot had gone wrong.
A/N: Yeah, a bit of a downer. Things will be better with 5th year. After all, the Ministry of Magic is about to take a deep interest in Harry and his education.