Damaged - Chapter Three
"You want to know what I think, Anna?" questioned Happy as the two Stark Industries employees moved through the hectic square opposite the Californian Chinese Theatre. The portly Head of Security outstretched his hand to cover the analyst's torso, stopping her from crossing the street as three black SUVs raced forward. He nodded in response to her short nod of thanks. "I think he's scared. He's scared of something happening to Pepper, to Rhodes, to you, and even me."
Anna sighed and tried to find the words she wanted to speak. She tucked the grey cardigan around her shoulders, not bothering to button it. She only needed to say two words. "New York."
Happy led them forward, stopping short as Anna glanced at the stalls surrounding them. "Exactly." A sigh. "And keep up, OK? We're working."
"I think the correct term is stalking," corrected the analyst, rolling her eyes. She looked around them, searching for signs of the shifty male. Having escaped the confines of Stark's Californian mansion, she had called her only other friend in the Golden State. Happy had been tucked away in the offices, looking over CCTV footage and searching car plates and registration info. He'd invited the analyst down to the offices to over-ride two of the six programmes in place. Having found an identification on the male - E. Savin -, the two had followed the car toward the theatre. "He's not here," stated Anna, shrugging her shoulders. "Now what?"
Happy held up on finger. "We wait. And try to blend in, alright?"
Anna laughed. "Blend in? These people are here to have fun and spend time together." She gestured to the hundreds of people milling about, taking photos beneath the oversized Christmas trees and festive displays and decorations. "You're still in your suit, Hap. You look more Men in Black than Bueller's Day Off."
The man pinched his eyes closed. "Now is not the time for smart remarks, Princess. We're working. I'll take this side," he pointed to the opposite side of the theatre toward the remaining stalls and stores. "You take that side. Keep out of trouble."
"Yes, Sir," muttered Anna, ignoring the look Happy shot her. She smiled at him to let him know she was just teasing, and trudged over to her designated section of the area.
She passed happy couples and families, over-hearing their excited chatter and upcoming plans for the holidays. She watched as children raced in and out of the towering pillars and faux landmarks, hearing their laughter echo up and down the square. She made it a further ten feet before her phone vibrated in the left pocket of her cardigan.
The brunette fished the phone from her pocket and answered the call. "You could at least let me look," she sighed, waiting for Happy's response.
"I'm over by the stalls," said Happy, ignoring her remark. "He's heading toward you, to the right of the coloured tree. He's got someone with him. Can you see?"
Anna shifted to her left and craned her neck. "With a guy sitting on the bench?"
"That's the one. Watch him. Can you hear them?"
She shook her head, knowing that Happy was watching her in the reflection of the mirror. "Nothing. They're quiet. And I'm too far away to even attempt to watch what they're saying-"
"Is that a briefcase?"
She waited for the dark-haired male to open the black case, and she stared in confusion as the man ran his fingers over the items, tracing them as though his life depended upon them. Furrowing her brow, she glanced back at the stall only to find that Happy had moved from his position and that he'd ended the call. She looked up to find her friend walking toward the suspicious character trapped in the middle of them. Taking Happy's nod as her cue, she too moved forward, rolling her eyes as Happy's large frame knocked into the man's, sending the case and its contents flying.
"Oh," exclaimed Happy, "I'm sorry, buddy." He scrambled to pick up the pieces, slipping one inside his jacket pocket.
Anna watched the exchange with exasperation, but her heart stopped as she spied the orange flare beneath the stranger's skin.
What was going on?
"Anna?" called Happy, gesturing to the woman with his hands in quick movements. "Let's go."
A second collision.
Savin. Anna tasted the name on her lips, hating the way the man smiled at the two of them. He turned to Happy, holding his hands out. "Where you going, Buddy?" he snarked, nearly echoing the security guard's earlier words. "I'm sorry. You out by yourself?" He glanced at Anna, throwing her a dark smile. She bristled in response. "Having a little date night? Seeing your favourite chick-flick maybe?"
Happy glared, rolling his shoulders. "Yeah," he said, sizing up the male. "A little movie called The Party's Over starring you and your junkie girlfriend."
"Hap-," began Anna, but the guard continued.
"And here's the ticket." He held up the small key-shaped item he'd stolen from the suitcase and smiled.
Savin turned back to face Anna. He smiled at her, rolling his eyes before facing Happy once more. "No kidding." He smirked. "That doesn't belong to you." His hand shot forward, but Happy's fist caught Savin's wrist, holding it in place. And with his left arm, Happy swung it forward, but Savin jerked his head to the side, successfully avoiding the blow. But with another shot, Happy sent a hard hit to Savin's jaw.
Savin lifted his head, his skin glowing with what Anna only could describe as fiery veins. Her eyes widened and she took a slow step forward, watching as Savin's nose healed itself, and she felt herself drawn into an old memory.
The dog stilled. It snapped its jaws at the inked skin of her arm, its canines tearing through the woman's supple flesh.
Crying out in surprise and pain, Anna held the injured arm to her chest, well aware of the blood soaking her clothing. Tears welled in her eyes. The bite wasn't deep, and she rationalised in her head that she wouldn't need stitches. Before her, Duke growled and snapped his jaws again. Steve pushed the woman away from the barking animal.
"What?" she snapped, holding her injured arm closer to her front. She glowered at the soldier, her bad mood taking over. Could this day get any worse? she wondered.
Steve paused. "Your blood is… Well, it's, uh… It's glowing."
Without uttering a word, the woman glanced down at her arm to find that the animal's canines had ripped into her skin, a light stream of glistening sapphire blood trickling down to her wrist. Her breathing increased and she emitted a small noise of disbelief. Before either of them had time to comment on the queer goings on, the broken skin began to mend.
She blinked. The wound had vanished, leaving a thin line of blue liquid staining her pale flesh. "Did I imagine that," breathed the analyst, her voice unsteady, "or did that just happen?"
"It happened," muttered Steve, frowning.
Anna stared at Steve, her expression somewhat frantic. "What the hell is happening to me?"
Her blood had been blue. Savin's was orange. Was he another product of Loki's short-lived reign over New York City?
There was no time to dwell on that thought as Savin had grabbed the Security Chief by his arm and flung him to the back of the theatre. Happy's body flew through the air before crashing into a stall, glass shards and store items breaking his fall. Anna spun on her heel and made to run to her friend, but Savin's hand gripped her own arm for a short second before he released his grip on her, looking at her in surprise. She glanced down at his hand to find it covered in burns. Her own skin felt cool and she pushed back her sleeve to find her skin painted a shimmering blue.
The brunette stared around the theatre space, trying to make her toward her friend, but in the chaos families and couples raced past her, and she fell to the floor as the roar of an explosion echoed behind her.
And the heat spread across her skin, and that was all she knew.
Apologies for the wait! And this is a relatively short chapter, but it's quite possibly the most important chapter of this story. Please continue to review! All will be revealed in the next chapter!