At last, Tony Stark and SHIELD are joined by Thor, Loki, Captain America and Wolverine—but this ill-matched team will have to overcome vast personal differences if they ever hope to defeat an enemy force that threatens all the realms. Sequel to "Fallen Star."
For SunnyZim, whose Hat of Wisdom demanded that I begin. And to all those who came with me through "Fallen Star." I hope all those who read this deeply enjoy it.
The walls shivered. A deep rumble quivered through the stone, then subsided. Dust and small rocks fell from the ceiling and clinked against the metal floor. A tall, hooded and cloaked figure slipped through a doorway, feeling the musty air open up before him as if a vast space waited just beyond. He reached a gloved hand out to the left, found a large switch, and threw it.
Connections snapped together. Electricity hissed. Overhead lights clanged—
And dim yellow lights buzzed and flickered to life…
Illuminating a large chamber, encircled by iron catwalks.
He stepped forward, his boots tapping the metal, and grasped a railing. He leaned slightly over the edge and gazed down.
The lower level was littered with equipment—blinking computer screens, wires and brains—and countless tables covered with weaponry that glowed from within with an eerie, pulsing blue light. But what caught his attention, and held it, was a huge golden dome, almost a globe, that stood at one end, and slowly spun.
He lifted his head. Level with him, but all the way across the chamber, stood another figure in the shadow of a pillar. The first man could just make out the second man's broad-shouldered uniform.
"I like what you've done with the place," the first man commented. His deep voice echoed, accompanying the constant mechanical hum.
"I approve of the working space, Doctor," came the harshly-accented reply. "Although I could use more of it."
The first man shrugged and held out his hands.
"I had another spot all picked out—but it kind of fell through."
"I am sorry to hear that," the other man said. "This is a small space, for the two of us to work."
"I'm not shy," the first man told him. "And I'm sure we won't get in each other's way."
A heavy silence fell between them. The second man's head tilted.
"I am sure we will not."
"Why would we?" the first man asked. "Our goal is the same, but our interests are different. We should each learn enough, and gain enough, individually, to satisfy us both."
"Indeed, Doctor," the second man nodded. "An equal division of the earth and the heavens."
"Quite so," the first man inclined his head. "Shall we begin?"
"My pleasure," said the second man, motioning to him. "Come. Come with me. I want to show you something."
"Come on, Pep—you like New York."
"I've never liked New York, and you know that. Quit trying to—"
"There's plays—you like plays, and music, and clubs—"
"—make it seem like this was my idea, Tony. I told you could handle this by yourself and I didn't want to—"
"—so I can take you dancing. I know you enjoy that. And you never—"
"—tag along on some meet-and-greet with Nick Fury over some—"
"—get to relax, anyway, so I've put us up in a Hilton—"
"—project he's got going, and…Tony, stop," Pepper huffed, halting in the middle of a bustling Time's Square sidewalk, and pushing a strand of dusty-red hair out of her freckled face. Tony walked past her, then swung around to face her. She glared at him as the pedestrians hastily maneuvered around them. The thousands of neon lights, brilliant against the darkness, flashed and danced against her vision, and the traffic roared—but she focused on Tony.
His dark hair was mussed, his collar hung askew and his dark suit looked unkempt—but his bright black eyes watched her with such innocence, his eyebrows raised, that she could only sigh and roll her eyes instead of yell at him. She reached up and rubbed her forehead.
"I have a headache," she mumbled.
Tony reached up and took hold of the hand she was using to massage her forehead, then leaned in and kissed her right above the bridge of her nose.
"No you don't," he accused. She glanced up at him. He smiled crookedly at her—the smile that made deep, endearing lines next to his sparkling eyes.
"Yes, I do," she promised, turning her face away to hide her own half smile. He kept hold of her hand, then pulled her up next to him as they kept walking.
"Truth is, I had to have you with me. Had to," he said.
"Oh, really? Why?" she asked, sighing again.
"I love that black dress, by the way. It really flatters your figure—"
"Why, Tony?" she cut in. He heaved a sigh of his own.
"Nick Fury. He scares me."
"What?" Pepper cried as they paused for a moment on a curb, waiting for a screeching cab to whiz around the corner. "That is the most ridiculous excuse—"
"No, it's true," Tony insisted as they stepped out onto the street with the rest of the throng. "I need you to protect me."
"Then why, may I ask, are we going to this meeting alone, without Happy or any other body guard?"
He gave her an indignant look, his frown lit up by the blue flash of a ten-foot screen.
"You think you need a body guard when you're with the Iron Man?" he pressed his hand to his chest, then shook his head and muttered: "I think I'm offended."
"Okay, that makes no sense," Pepper countered. "You're not afraid of the countless thugs running around this crime-infested city, but you are afraid of Nick Fury."
"I'm not afraid of him like that," Tony shot back, gesturing. "I'm afraid of his weird ideas."
Pepper glanced at him, watching his profile as they walked. Their pace had increased.
"What weird ideas?"
"Well, weird ideas like this one, for example," he answered.
"Tony, what's going on?" Pepper suddenly asked, gripping his fingers tighter.
"Nothing to worry about," he said lightly, jostling her hand. "Fury just wants to introduce us to a couple mutants."
Alarm shot through Pepper's body.
"This way!" Tony said, and tugged her down the grimy, noisy, packed stairs toward the subway.
(Ahh…it's good to be back. ;)