DUMPSHOCK – DAMAGE CONTROL
"I want him found, and I want him found NOW!" Obadiah Stane growled bitterly.
He had no comprehension of how his prized specimens had so easily vanished in a flare of blinding, brilliant light in the middle of a busy, downtown street, and Obadiah did not rightly care at the moment. This was bad, very bad, but not altogether unsalvageable. No law enforcement officials had come knocking yet, despite the occurrence out front. That meant Tony had either decided rather smartly not to draw attention to himself, or that he was unable to summon police help. Either way, that meant that there was still time, so long as they moved quickly enough to find Tony and Kitten before they caused any more trouble.
"Find him and bring him back. Monitor all police broadcasts, television, radio, internet, the works." Obadiah orders in sharp, curt barks. "And keep an eye on area hospitals, pharmacies, and any place that sells auto supplies. Between the thing in his chest and open surgical sites, they're going to need medical attention sooner or later. And, if not, he's going to need a new battery. We'll be waiting."
Finding a battery was easy; finding the necessary cables along with something to strip and splice the ends took for longer and several more swings of the fire axe. By the time Tony finally started connecting the wires to the electromagnet, his hands trembled violently from the bitter cold. He called Kitten to this side and explained, through both broken sentences and gesture what to do, her tiny hands more that accommodating in size for the socket to work delicately at the base-plate while he lie limp and still for her to work. His breath came in staccato puffs through chattering, clenched teeth, while Kitten looked pale, her cheeks flushed with a sickly red as she twisted the last connection into place.
"Now what?" Kitten breathed in a hoarse rasp.
Tony shook his head against the frigid concrete. "Nothing. It's good." He cracked an eye open and chortled oddly. "I should be asking you that."
She curled her arms about herself, hugging herself against the cold as she cocked an eyebrow. "Hrm?"
"Now what do we do?" Tony pressed, curling onto himself as well from both exhaustion and the icy cold. "You've done this before."
Kitten smirked slightly, her lips kissed with a purple-blue shade. "How are you at car shopping?"
Pepper and Fury waited in the shadow of the trees for but a few minutes before a gleaming, dark helicopter rounded over the mall and landed nimbly before them. Pepper glanced to Fury, who nodded. Friends. He took his by the hand and dragged her up from the soft bed of pine straw and into the wild maelstrom of the rushing air about the chopper as one of the passengers threw open the sliding side door and extended a hand to Pepper. She smiled as she recognized Coulson and took his hand while Fury scrambled in behind her. The chopper took off within a minute of landing, secure with the precious cargo of Agent Fury and Potts and raced into the night.
Pepper stared out the window as Atlanta dropped out from beneath them and the chopper rushed off, feeling her heart crack and quake. They had been so close, so very close, and yet thousands of miles away. No closer to getting Tony back. It was Afghanistan all over again; the waiting, the hoping, the getting excited over nothing. She bit her knuckle in frustration.
There came a commotion in the cockpit perhaps thirty minutes into flight. At first, it seemed like nothing, until Coulson tapped Fury on the shoulder and spoke into his ear despite the noise of the helicopter. Fury's lip quirked into a somewhat lopsided smirk, and he glanced to Pepper.
"What?" she shouted.
"Get me a vid tablet," Fury instructed his agent before turning to Pepper once more and bellowing over the racket, "You're going to want to see this."
Rhodes had never honestly considered how long a flight-time it was from Atlanta to Seattle. He never had any need to fly there, let alone fly himself. However, he imagined that, between the suit's advanced propulsion system and Jarvis's impeccable guidance through wind shifts and bands of pressure shift, he would make impossibly good time across the country.
Not long into the flight, however, Jarvis chirped in his ear. "Colonel Rhodes, I have an incoming transmission from Ms. Pepper Potts."
"Put it through."
There was a pause before Pepper's voice piped into his ear. "RHODES!"
"Pepper! What's going on?" the colonel asked.
"You're NOT going to believe this!" She laughed, nearly hysterically. "He's out!"
Pepper caught her breath and blurted it out once more. "He's free! He got out!"
Rhodes furrowed his brow. "Tony? Where is he?"
"Seattle International. Long term parking." He could almost hear the woman bite her lip. "Or, at least he was."
"What are you talking about, Pepper?"
It took a moment, but a grainy video feed appeared in the HUD. Rhodes put the suit on autopilot for a moment so he could focus on the display. It seemed to be an indoor parking space of some form, dark and dimly let. At first, it seemed empty and barren, devoid of any human life yet packed with cars. Then, two forms stumbled into view, shouldering one another's weight and carrying something bulky and weighty between them. Tony, and that little bitch, Kitten, hanging onto one another as though for dear life. Tony slipped from Kitten's grip and leaned heavily against a car. Rhodes watched in confusion as Kitten swung a large axe through the back seat window, reached through the hole, unlocked the front door and opened it for Tony. Tony practically fell into the car, working under the console and out of sight. In mere moments, the inventor had the car hotwired, and the two were speeding away with Kitten at the wheel.
Rhodes whooped in the helmet, and Pepper laughed. "I know! Can you believe it?"
"Any idea where they were heading?"
Fury spoke on the line next. "An APB has already been issued. We should have them in protective custody shortly." The agent paused. "However, there seems to have been an event in Seattle. Ares and Stark Industries security is on high alert judging from their com chatter."
"Shit. We've got to find Tony before they do," Rhodes muttered darkly. "Jarvis, let's step on it."
"My sentiments exactly, sir."
They rode in silence for maybe fifteen or twenty miles as the downtown area of Seattle bled away from them into the lulled doldrums of suburban America. Tony tried, initially, to watch the sprawl of the city as it flowed about them, but it was too much too soon. The buildings, cars, and signs all blurred together into one, dizzying array of colors and shapes, too much for Tony's mind to comprehend after so long a span of nothing but plain, stark white of the cells and labs. His head swam amid the overwhelming sea of stimuli until the strain of attempting to keep up with it all brought on a blinding migraine, forcing Tony to retreat his vision to the comforting and refreshing stillness of the warnings and instructions printed on the sticker atop the car battery, despite the fact he knew more about batteries than could ever be contained on a tiny square of paper and plastic.
It seemed an unspoken agreement that, with the bulk of the car battery and the short leads that held it to his heart, Tony would not be driving anywhere anytime soon, and, after the world proved too much to Tony, he felt thankful for the simple excuse. Kitten drove as Tony clutched the car battery close to his chest and leaned into the refreshing warmth pumped out of the heater at full blast. However, after just a short time of relishing the heat, Tony's nerve broke, and he timidly suggested they ditch the car. It was only a matter of time before the vehicle was reported stolen or Kitten passed out at the wheel and ran into something. To his surprise, she agreed without comment.
Kitten coasted through the suburbs before pulling into the parking lot of a K-Mart. Tony wanted to ask, but he was too tired to worry about her. He trusted her, for whatever that was worth. She parked in a far corner beside a line of innocuous, beige, metal bins labeled for clothing donations.
"Now what?" Tony croaked, blinking his increasingly bleary eyes.
"New threads," Kitten heaved as she exited the car and started to stagger to the bins.
When she reached for the door handle, Tony climbed out of the car after her, tugging the battery along by its strap and calling as loudly as he dared, "Kitten, don't. This… this doesn't feel right. Stealing from the needy?"
"We've got no money, no place to go, and nothing warm to wear in this cold," Kitten argued swiftly in a breathless huff. "Does that qualify as needy enough for you?" She picked at her coveralls at a patch stained with her own blood and char, "Plus, orange and bloody is a little bit of an attention getter if you're trying to lay low."
The inventor chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment before nodding in concession. She had survived on the run for years while Tony lived the sheltered life in his Malibu mansion. He had to trust her, even if it meant performing acts of questionable morality.
"Besides," Kitten began as she drew the door to the bin. "These clothes don't actually go to the needy." She pointed at the labeling on the door, decrying any donations made to it benefited a local first aid. "See ?The good stuff gets sold at places like the Good Will, and the crappy stuff gets sold to get mixed into paper. Now give me a hand."
Tony could not argue with that logic. He stumbled over to her side and gave her a bit of a leg up, watching as she lumbered into the donation bin. She slipped over the lip of the opening, wriggling through the opening until gravity took hold of her, and the girl teetered forward, tumbling into the container. Tony flinched, his heart leaping into his chest, but Kitten did not fall far, only a foot or so before landing into a rather soft pile of plastic trash bags. She hoisted a few bags out of the big and onto the ground before shimmying out and flopping against Tony as her thinned frame slid from the bin. He helped her tow the bags to the car and climbed in before she peeled out of the lot.
Kitten drove for a few more miles before pulling onto a side street and letting the car idle while she dug through the bags. Much of the clothes were, as Tony expected of a donation bin, "well-loved" and worn to put it politely. The hems were softened and frayed, torn and mangled in some parts. Most of them were also, unfortunately, children's clothes, far too small for the two bedraggled and exhausted travelers. However, with enough searching, they turned up a decent enough set of options in a bag of nothing but sweat pants and hooded sweatshirts that seemed like someone's old, discarded gym clothes, complete with the musty odor of stale sweat. Tony did not care, so long as they were warm, especially when he found amid the discards, a zippered hooded sweatshirt that could be closed over the cables to the electromagnet, while the hood would conceal the surgical ports on both of their heads from prying eyes. They both pulled the clothes on over their orange coveralls, reluctant to shed the warmth of those.
When Tony finished dressing, he glanced to Kitten at his side. The mage had finished before him and sat slouched against the door. Her breath came in soft puffs, marked by a ring of fog upon the window by her mouth that pulsed with her respiration. Her eyelids hung at half-mast, and her eyes were glazed and somewhat clouded, unfocused. The girl had overextended herself in the escape, leaving herself with little to no reserves to tap into. She was beyond exhaustion, pressing somewhere into that strange territory of adrenaline-fueled drive that could vanish without notice. They were only maybe an hour or two into their escape, and that fight-or-flight response could melt away any moment now, leaving Tony equally high and dry.
Tony reached across and touched her arm gently. The runner stirred slightly and murmured, but she did not fully wake. He squeezed her upper arm slightly and gave a small shake, rousing her. Kitten forced herself up, blinking owlishly.
The inventor pursed his lips, mulling it over for but a millisecond before he said anything. "I've got an idea."
"What?" she breathed softly.
In the end, it had been a fairly simple decision. Tony instructed Kitten to drive about for a few moments until he could feel the soft, tingling hum of a wireless network singing in the back of his subconscious. Once he found one without any sort of protection or firewall – when would families learn to at least put a password lock on their wifi? – Tony slipped easily in and searched for the nearest cheap hotel before directing Kitten within easy distance for them to ditch the care and half-drag, half-carry one another towards the place.
Then, it had been a slightly more complicated matter to secure a room. Hotels, even the cheaper ones, had gone on a progressive trend of switching to maintaining their registry and check-in/check-out procedures on computers. Most of the cheaper hotels were run on poorly secured networks, which should have been a relatively easy thing for a technomancer of Tony's skill to hack. However, he was tired, his head throbbing from even what should have been a minute effort to slip through the laughable security protocol. He licked his lips and buckled down, slamming into the network and sorting through the registry to locate an open room. Tony smiled as he worked, unable to resist in his sleep deprived haze, as he backlogged a supposed check-in time for a Mr. Shadow Moon at around 10:00AM that morning to room 137. He frowned and elected to the reservation for a few days time, just to give them time to make a plan.
The two strangefellows shouldered one another's weight once more as they trudged through a rear entrance. The hotel had a cheesy sort of feel to a man well accustomed to the high life, a pompous insinuation that it was somehow more luxurious and exclusive than it truly was. The hotel had that odd, cookie-cutter color scheme of creamy gold walls, white trim, and red accents. The floor was carpeted in lush, burgundy, marked by several, ancient stains ground into the carpet. Every twenty or thirty feet, there stood a silk palm plant in a plastic urn, the leaves curiously fussy in their arrangement considering the liberal coating of dust upon each bit of green aside from the marks of fingerprints. Yet, after so long in the dark, in that cramped little cell, this place looked like a palace to Tony.
When they reached the door, Tony panicked for but a moment, worrying that, perhaps, this might be one of those few, lingering hotels that had not yet switched from physical keys to electronic key cards. He breathed a sigh of relief, then, to spy the card reader on the door, one, last obstacle before the merciful rest and seeming security of the room. He licked his lips and focused, but the inventor was tired, so very tired. His head ached from the effort, as though split in two by the sheer force of his efforts. The electronic code slipped through his grasp no matter how he tried until, finally, it caught. The small, indicator light on the card reader turned to green and the lock sprang with a clunky sort of sound. Tony's heart leapt at the success, and he threw the door open before it could relock once more.
Kitten smirked slightly from where she stood, leaning heavily against the wall. "Neat trick."
Tony said nothing in response as they grit their teeth and dragged one another into the room. As it turned out, room 137 was a small, two bed suite. The hotel's charitably titled "interior designer" had carried the gold and red theme into the room with the same carpet and wall color. Neither Tony nor Kitten noticed as they collapsed into the near bed along with the weighty battery from the airport. They were asleep within seconds of hitting the downy comforter.
Perhaps three hours into flight time, Jarvis spoke serenely, "Colonel Rhodes? I am afraid to inform you that the vehicle in question has been located."
Rhodes started in the suit, as much as his limited range of motion coupled with the cramped confines of the metal exoskeleton would allow; however, he collected himself enough to rationally order, "Tell me more."
"The vehicle was discovered by a patrolman approximately twenty three minutes ago. It was recovered without any further theft of the contents. There were no witnesses, and current radio communication indicates that the officers involved in the recovery believe this to be a matter of joyriding."
"And Tony?" the colonel pressed.
Jarvis paused slightly, a calculated measure of the precise amount of milliseconds derived by carefully crafted algorithms to suggest concern and worrying thought. "There was no trace of Mr. Stark."
Rhodes's heart fell.
Tony woke some indeterminate amount of time after their arrival at the hotel. Kitten slept beside him, curled up like her namesake on her side, blocking the view of the clock, and, without windows, there was no way for Tony to gauge how much time had passed as they slept. It could have been moments, or hours, but certainly not days granted the fact that the electromagnet still seemed to be working on the same car battery from the parking deck.
He turned to his side to Kitten, and his heart trembled in his chest for a moment. She was so still, so terribly still, that Tony started to worry perhaps that she had died beside him sometime in the night, his only ally torn so cruelly from him after finding freedom. Tony swallowed, his mind still murky and hazed with exhaustion despite the sleep and unable to so easily throw off the paranoid sensation. It was silly, really, after all that, to think she'd just roll over and die, but he could not help but think that.
He rolled away from her awkwardly, carefully cradling the cables against his chest to keep them from pulling uncomfortably from the motion. Tony closed his eyes, still exhausted from… well… everything. Yet, despite the warmth of the blankets and the plush bed beneath him, sleep eluded him. Something niggled at the back of his mind, something dark and foreboding. He snuggled deeper into the blankets, attempting to shrug off the sensation, but it remained.
Tony turned over once more, until he faced Kitten's back. What had she said about burning herself out? Her words rolled about in his mind, uncomfortably playing again and again, but he could not remember. What if she had burnt herself out, whittled her life away to save his? And, then, what? This life was hers, not his. He had no bearing in this existence, no comprehension of how survive on the lamb in a country that may or may not welcome the presence of Tony Stark any more. He had faced the impossible countless times but never anything like this. The entire country knew his face, for chrissakes – how on Earth was he supposed to even dare to dream of blending in and hiding in a world with his name on the tip of so many tongues? Yet, Kitten had done it somehow, survived without notice, and he knew, if he were to do the same, he needed her experience, her knowledge of this world of the shadows.
"Without her, I'm alone."
The thought bubbled up in the back of his mind from nowhere, but he could not deny it. Rhodes would not see him, and Tony hardly blamed him. Rhodey probably hated Tony. And Pepper? She had turned her back on him, spurning him. He had no one else in the world really, no one except Kitten now.
His chest tightened sharply, and he choked back a stifled laugh. It was silly, really. Downright idiotic. If Kitten had died beside him some time in the night, Tony figured he would surely be the first to know. Right? Tony grinned a macabre, toothy and twisted smirk in the darkness, one which he could only feel and no one would ever see, laughing in silent, coughed chuckles as the hysteria swept over him. Of course he would know? His mind raced and reeled as his logical side struggled vainly to propose how ludicrous a thought it was. Tony crushed his eyes shut for a long, still moment, as though by sheer force of will he could purge the blind panic from his mind.
In the end, his hand moved on its very own, snaking out to touch the mage ever so gently upon her shoulder. His fingers found bony ribs and scapula there, sharp and angular from so long in the Obadiah's clutches. Yet, there was something else there, the warmth imparted of a living, human body, along with the subtle motion of the slow, even respiration of deep slumber. She did not stir, but Tony somehow knew, instinctively, that the shadowrunner would not.
The simple knowledge alone lulled Tony enough to sleep himself so long as his hand remained on her shoulder.
It was difficult for Rhodes to survey the abandoned car. The authorities balked at first at his insistence to be the first to process the evidence left at the scene. Tony might have insisted upon barging in, but Rhodes was a man of authority and loyalty to the law. He finally persuaded the clearly unseasoned officers into letting him have a quick look after doling out some swift autographs as Iron Man and posing for a few photos. He refused to sign as Tony, no matter how the officers argued otherwise, finding it somehow appalling to pretend to be his friend to get into the cops' good graces.
The car was a mid model sedan, rather innocuous in nature. Rhodes felt himself smirk in the suit to at least know that Tony had been sensible enough not to steal a Ferrari or other sports car. Blood stained the driver's seat and a few places along the console, but not enough to suggest a mortal wound, while discarded clothes littered the backseat. Rhodes furrowed his brow at the sight but continued to paw through the vehicle until his search yielded nothing of further interest.
Rhodes scowled beneath the helm, thankful that the police and the curious who had gathered just a dozen or so meters away could no spy his desperation beneath the mask of the Iron Man. He had come so far, so very far. Tony had to be close now, so close that Rhodes could almost hear the jokes and taste the beers they would swap when this was all over. Yet Tony had left no other clues for him, no small breadcrumb for him to follow.
"Sir? I regret to inform you that we are currently operating on auxiliary power. Any further delay in return may result in catastrophic power failure in flight," Jarvis intoned flatly in the helm.
The colonel pressed his lips together, vowing to himself to be back before rocketing into the sky.
Movement stirred Tony from his sleep with a jerk. Kitten. She groaned as she stretched in the bed and slowly sat up. His hand slipped down the length of her back as she moved away from the contact and stood, working her joints as she moved. Kitten murmured something that sounded acutely profane before she stumbled from the bed and strode to the bathroom, peeling away the stolen clothes as she did. A moment later, the sound of running water from the shower met his ears and swallowed the sounds of her motion.
Tony sat up slowly, reluctantly. His body felt stiff and worn, his muscles protesting the motion as he massaged his neck. The clock by the television read 6:53, but Tony did not know if it was night or morning, or even the day. Judging by the growling of his stomach and the stiffness to his body, a day could have easily passed.
A tightness formed in Tony's chest, a strange pressing knot of tension. He tried to ignore it by picking up the remote for the television and flipping it on. The news blared in Tony's face instrusively, but he hardly had the heart to watch it aside from noticing that it was night from the "Prime Time" logo floating alongside the anchor's head. He clicked through the channels but nothing caught his attention for long enough to focus on it until the news came back around. Tony turned off the tv and returned the remote to its place on the bedside table, wondering what he had ever found so interesting about it as he unsuccessfully attempted to swallow whatever it was that felt so discomforting in him.
He shifted uneasily on the bed, his foot twitching with nervous energy. The inventor rose and circled the room before sitting down once more and running his fingers through his hair on the side of his scalp away from the surgical ports. Tony glanced at the clock. 7:01 Less than ten minutes had passed without her, and, already, he felt like he was suffocating. His chest heaved in great, unsatisfying inhalations. He paced in his circle a few more times before realizing that his circle had shifted and changed, expanding closer towards the bathroom until his nerves had settled slightly and he stood just outside the bathroom.
It was stupid, maybe just as stupid as thinking she had died in the middle of the night, but he didn't want to be alone. In that other place, being alone meant being at Obadiah's mercy, while being together they had been resilient and strong. Together, they had defied Obadiah and everyone that had stood in their way. It felt wrong to be left alone too long by her, even if she was just in the other room.
Christ, when had he ever been so utterly dependent on another person before in his life?
Tony swallowed his pride, stepped into the bathroom and sat on the toilet seat without even lifting his gaze to look at Kitten as she showered and scrubbed herself, careful to avoid wetting the incision sites. He let out a shuddering breath of relief and stared intently at the floor, just listening to her and feeling somewhat better to be in the same room. The runner did not comment if she noticed him sitting there, feeling the chemical bath of illogical fear ebb and fade from his bloodstream.
Finally, Tony could not stand the silence any longer and broke it. "We forgot the book."
"We'll get a new one. Besides, somebody decided to rip that one in half."
He smiled softly, almost pathetically. "Pity. It's a good book."
She did not answer; instead, Kitten finished washing, cut off the water, reached out and pawed about for a towel. Without even raising his gaze, Tony took a towel from the rack and handed it to her. After so long with the morning showers and changing in front of one another, Kitten hardly seemed to care that he sat there, yet Tony did not look at her. He did not even look up as she wrapped the towel about herself and stepped from the shower.
"You should get washed while you can," Kitten stated flatly as she scrubbed at her face with a washcloth. "We should have checked out of here a long time ago."
"And then what?"
Kitten shrugged her narrow shoulders. "Take it as it comes."
"What about the files?" Tony pressed. "We've got to take those to the authorities."
Kitten frowned slightly, her expression somewhat inscrutable. "It's too risky right now."
"People have to know what happened there, what they're still doing there," the inventor argued. "We can't just let Obi get away with it."
"And we won't," Kitten assured him sternly, fixing a level gaze upon him as she plaited her hair into a neat braid. "I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly keen on painting a big fucking target on myself right now."
Tony nodded slowly. "Ok. So, what do you propose?"
"Lay low. Get our strength back. Maybe do some work," the girl suggested with another quick, noncommittal shrug.
"You mean run?"
"No. I meant gardening and whitewashing fences like Huck Finn," she teased sarcastically before sobering with a long, tired sigh. "Look, we need cash. Lots of it if we're going to pay someone off to take this shit out of our heads and keep quiet about it. Not like you can even get a job off the books without someone recognizes you. Running the shadows is the only option."
"But, what if there was an easier way? A safer way?"
Kitten folded her arms across her chest. "I'm listening."
In the end, it was so very simple, so very safe. Kitten found an ATM, and Tony did the rest. He easily dipped his mind into the surveillance system and found the data for the video. It was only a small thing, then, to loop a bit of video over and over again displaying only empty, barren street in front of the ATM. No one need know that anyone visited that ATM the night before. Once that was done, Kitten and he shambled to the ATM, close enough for him to work more comfortably.
Kitten stood at his side, keeping watch as he worked. It felt somewhat comforting to know the mage was there, at his side. She had his back, and it eased him.
He licked his lips as he worked, drifting through the node of the ATM and accessing the appropriate files before the ATM started to spit out money. Tony reconfigured the access log a bit as he stuffed bill after bill into the pockets of his sweatshirt. It felt wrong. After all, it was theft. Yet, Tony knew, as well as anyone else, that this was a tiny amount of money compared to what the bank held. Besides, his subtle changes to the access log would blame computer malfunction in the middle of the night that caused the machine to just spew money. No one would be to blame, and the money was insured in the event of such an error. Yet, it still felt wrong.
He waved a handful of hundreds in front of Kitten and grinned. "Told you I had an easier, safer way."
From the ATM, it was a short walk to the nearest Burger King, with Kitten balking every step of the way. He didn't care as he dragged her alongside him. His stomach growled in hunger every step of the way, his need coalescing into a singular arrow of desire, piqued by air heavily laden with the cloying scent of fried foods and a hot grill. He had wanted nothing more than a cheeseburger his first day back on American soil after Afghanistan – a real cheeseburger and not the horrid excuses for cheeseburgers harking from the military and hospital swill charitably called food that he had been subjected to after his rescue. Now, was no different. It was his first day, his first real day free.
Kitten held her tongue as he ordered a few burgers, fries and a coke for him and a plain tea for her; she waited until they sat upon the curb just a few blocks down. "It's a bad idea."
"I don't care," Tony sang, unwrapping his treasure.
"You'll be sorry," the runner chirped, turning her head away.
Tony shrugged her warnings off and tucked into the food, relishing the veritable explosion of taste after so long with nothing but the bland, boring oatmeal and protein sludge. The taste tickled his palette, better than any fine wine or overly priced gourmet dining. He licked his lips in delight, smiling nearly deliriously at the sensation.
That was, of course, until his stomach rebelled and brought the lone cheeseburger back up in a violent, ghastly display. Kitten sat back, chuckling as he wretched, but not in a mean way. It was the sound of a faint mix of amusement and empathy one might hear from a friend holding back their hair as they threw up from night of rather glorious drinking.
"Told you it was a bad idea." Kitten shook her head. "You've been near starved. Your body can't handle food like that."
Tony wiped his lips with a napkin from the paper fast food bag and gave a tiny shrug. "Still worth it."
She handed him her tea. He sipped it gratefully, as the tea warmed and settled his stomach. Kitten perched on the edge of the curb, as a bird ready to take flight, shifting her weight uneasily as her eyes constantly scanned the road. Her paranoia was a great, cumbersome thing over them, yet Tony could not begrudge her when it was that very paranoia that had kept her safe for so many years before her lust for vengeance blinded her to the danger closing in.
Tony sipped the tea slowly and resolved to trust, to listen.
A day passed, and, then another went slowly by without any further news or leads. Rhodes and Agent Fury's mean searched Seattle, scouring the streets for days, without finding anything. Not a trace. It was as if Tony and Kitten had slipped right off the face of the Earth. Pepper worried constantly, her face growing drawn, pale, and saddened as the days went on, yet Rhodes took heart. Word on the street was that Stark Industries, MCT, and Ares were still searching for Tony Stark and Kitten. It meant that Tony was still out there, somewhere beyond Obadiah's reach, somewhere safe perhaps. It meant that there was still time to find Tony before anyone else did.
Rhodes had found Tony once in the desert, despite all odds; he would find him again.
A day blurred by slowly, painfully, and then another. Tony followed Kitten's common sense when it came to life on the streets and on the run, learning as they went. Kitten taught him, showed him life in the shadows, and kept her ear to the ground for a line on a doctor who would safely remove the ports and lines under the table. For his part, Tony took care of the money needs and places to stay. They worked together, for as strange as it may have seemed.
However, by the end of the second day, Tony felt a twinge in his chest. The electromagnet was losing strength, slowly, as the battery drained. His chest plate had never been designed for running off a car battery for any extended period of time, and, as such, it was only a matter of time before the battery failed him. Tony resolved to hide it from Kitten, not to worry her when it was not entirely necessary. On the evening of the second night, as they sat and sipped soup, a barb slipped in Tony's chest, and he flinched, clenching his teeth as he did. When he looked up, Kitten stared intently at him, concern written on her every feature. He waved off her concern.
"What is it?"
Tony shook his head. "It's nothing."
"Didn't look like nothing to me," she snapped.
For a moment, Tony said nothing; then, he conceded and shrugged. "Battery's gone bad." Tony gave a mirthless chuckle. "At least I won't have to carry the damn thing around anymore."
Kitten did not seem to find the humor in it. "How long before it's drained completely?"
"Maybe a couple of hours."
Kitten stood and extended a hand to help him up. "C'mon."
"Where are we going?"
They trudged together, side by side, to the nearest WalMart. A greeter made a half-hearted attempt say hello, but the pair just kept moving. Tony grit his teeth as it became more and more difficult to move, yet Kitten valiantly dug in and took up more of his weight as they moved to the very back of the store, to the automotive section, each of them grabbing a few clothing items as they moved. Together, they ambled the long aisles until they came to the car batteries. Tony slumped heavily against Kitten, his heart throbbing and straining with effort as she surveyed the selection curiously. The battery was heavy, and his muscles had wasted severely during their captivity.
Finally, the girl hissed in Tony's ear, "Which one?"
He smirked. "Any one. It'll work." He leveled a stern gaze at Kitten, or, at least, as stern of a gaze as Tony could muster, and stated firmly, "Trust me."
She nodded and grabbed the nearest, cheapest battery, which was no small effort granted the weight of the draining battery shared between them. They moved to the register and swiftly paid, in cash. Tony kept his head hung, avoiding looking anyone in the eye for fear that someone might recognize him. Kitten quickly ferried him to the outdoor section and into the privacy of a sample tent.
"Talk me through this again?" Kitten pressed as she gutted the box for the new battery.
Tony did, and, within moments, the new battery was hooked up and running the electromagnet in his chest. Kitten looked at him anxiously; there was no way for her to know outwardly if the magnet worked. He smiled weakly in thanks.
Kitten pursed her pale lips together. "Good. Let's get out of here."
Tony nodded. This place felt too public, too exposed. WalMarts, like so many other major retailers, were riddled with security cameras and crowded with people. At any moment, someone might recognize him, despite the heavy beard growth across his face and how utterly gaunt he had become over however long it was that Obadiah held them. Admittedly, it wasn't likely, but Tony Stark had never been a man to take anything but highly calculated chances. Tony preferred not to risk that, especially not considering how easy it had been to secure the battery.
Together, they walked back to the front of the store; however, it did not escape Tony's notice that a few of the other shoppers watched them pass. Tony tensed, gripping Kitten tighter. The shadowrunner scowled but said nothing. She had seen them as well, yet they were too close to the door now to do anything save keep moving. Foxes. Security for someone, perhaps the store or perhaps Obadiah, in plain clothes, sent out into the world to pretend to shop while surreptitiously keeping an eye on the other shoppers at all times.
As such, it was no great surprise then, when a stranger latched his hand upon Kitten's upper arm and a voice sneered from behind. "Would you mind coming with me, ma'am?"
Heat rolled off Kitten in a sudden, baking wave; Tony shook his head. "Don't."
"Now, ma'am," the fox insisted, his tone dark and warning.
"Don't do it, Kitten," Tony ordered under his breath.
She moved without thought, without fear or hesitation, and something about that frightened Tony. Yet she did not let loose, not with the vengeful magic the inventor expected of his odd companion. Instead, the shadowrunner flung their bags of clothes and the empty battery box up and into the face of the nameless fox. It was a smart move. The abrupt flurry of things took the fox off guard, and he loosed his grip on the girl's arm. Kitten bolted, tugging Tony along in her wake as she moved.
"Shit!" Stark swore loudly as they moved, faster than his legs could rightly keep up as they slammed out of the store and ran for the nearest tree line before collapsing in an exhausted, panting heap atop one another.
They were lucky, Tony knew with a sobering clarity as he struggled to catch his breath. The outdoor section and the autoparts were situated in the far reaches of a rather sizeable store. The fox could have gotten to them there, but, instead, they'd been close enough to the door to just run without a fight. It could have been so much worse. It could have been Obadiah with one of his security teams, but, instead, it was just a common, plain clothes security officer, likely intending to stop because he thought their brief interlude in the tent was far more risqué than it truly was.
"We can't do that again," Tony heaved.
Kitten shook her head. "You're going to need another battery. And then another. If we don't do this, you'll be dead."
"Don't you think I know that?" Tony bickered sourly. "New batteries are just a temporary solution. We need a permanent one."
"What are you suggesting?"
The inventor sat up and sighed. "I've got an idea, but I don't think you're going to like it."
Author's Notes: Ah yes, it has been a while, but school is finally over for the summer, so I can begin to wrap up a lot of stories. After watching the new movie (*loved it), I kind of figured this was a good place to start. Yes, we're almost to the end. It's been a while, I know, and this was not nearly as action paced as anyone reading (*or writing!) Dumpshock knows, but we're winding down to a gripping conclusion. I needed something light and fluffyish between all my stories as a nice warm-up into hardcore writing again.
Next chapter, cameo ahoy and maybe some reunions perhaps?