CHAPTER THREE: OF RESCUES AND SUSPICIONS
"I really need to think my plans through," Charlie grumbled as she carefully walked disillusioned through a camp hidden in the mountains of Afghanistan.
She liked to believe she started out ok, apparating from California to New York to Spain to Egypt. She had yet to travel to Afghanistan, so after resting a while to overcome her raging headache and dizziness, she mounted her broom, donned her invisibility cloak, and headed in the general direction of her desired country. Sure, it took at least a week (perhaps more or less considering the time differences), but she made it without a single scratch.
The next part was a bit more difficult, seeing how the Point Me charm wasn't as dependable as she had hoped it would be. Luckily, the spell managed to pull through in the end and got her to the kidnappers' hideout.
That's where she hit problems.
She couldn't just raze the camp because even as powerful as she was, she couldn't take on all the armed men without getting seriously injured. She could give the coordinates to the American government, but they would either raid the place themselves which may lead to Mr. Stark's death, or they would ignore the information not trusting its origin. She briefly thought about letting herself be taken prisoner, but that idea was eventually shot down after noticing zero women in the vicinity.
It took a day, worrying over all the different possibilities, before she just decided to wing the whole thing.
"Bloody idiot," she berated herself after passing a third guard patrol. "What in the world was I thinking – AM I thinking!?" Fortunately, for her sake of mind, Charlie made it to the prisoner's doors right as someone opened it up for mealtime. It was all too easy for the witch to slip behind the men unnoticed and take cover in a corner of the cell.
It was an average size cavern, not that Charlie had even been in one before. Boxes of weaponry and tools littered the tables and floors, and two dirty cots were pushed against one of walls.
"Food's here Mr. Stark," a weary man stated, drawing Charlie's attention as he rubbed his worn eyes beneath silver-rimmed glasses. She immediately pegged him as another prisoner, and couldn't help but compare his shabby appearance to that of Remus Lupin.
"I wouldn't call that 'food' Yinsen," the man who could only be Tony Stark said. He was tinkering with some machinery and completely ignoring the arrival of substance.
Though she knew Mr. Stark had been held in captivity for well over a month, Charlie still expected the man to look his regular classy and professional above average self. But here he stood before her, and all she saw was a ravaged man who craved only his freedom. She saw it in his actions, the way he moved, and it reminded her of her seventh year on the run with Hermione and Ron – that constant sense of adrenaline.
"Well it's all we have," Yinsen said, placing one of the trays down on the counter. He shot a look at the closing steel doors before adding, "We'll need our energy if we want to pull this off."
It took Charlie the next seven mealtimes to figure out what exactly the two men hoped to pull off, and she had to admit their plan was impressive. Pinning all their hopes on an arc-powered device that would energize a heavily armored suit was a pretty bold move.
Wanting to help out but at the same time not wanting to be discovered, Charlie spent her time doing reconnaissance. She succeeded in mapping out the tunnel routes in the cave, calculating the amount of men in the general area, monitoring the two prisoners health, and sneaking them more food and water when required.
During mealtimes and check-ins, when the door stood halfway open, the witch would to place wards down in the entryway to alert her when people approached. She thought about placing a Muggle repelling charm on the steel door, but wasn't sure how it would react with Mr. Stark and Yinsen in the room.
As for herself, a small notice-me-not charm brought her enough space in the cavern to live as comfortably as she could. It was a stroke of genius that before landing herself in the cave, she had cast an undetectable extension spell on her red backpack, storing enough imperishable foods that would last Ron at least a month; so getting food and water wasn't a problem for her.
She may have used her time wisely and efficiently, but eventually Charlie ran out of things to accomplish.
Engineering and mechanics were not subjects she handled before, so as much as the girl wanted to help the men work on the armor she couldn't. She also couldn't risk taking out some the wardens when that could lead to an increase in security. And honestly, Charlie was hesitant to leave the men in fear that something would happen when she wasn't there. She had grown to care for them.
Yinsen, she found out, was an innocent professor forced under these conditions through threat of his family. He acted kind and cautious, but underneath it all Charlie sensed he seemed resigned to his situation.
Tony Stark, the multibillionaire playboy, just turned out to be a pretty lonely person questioning his place in the world. He was obviously very stubborn and bossy, though that aspect was understandable, yet he was also very motivated and driven—an aspect Charlie couldn't help but admire.
The day Raza, the leader of the group, led a bunch of armed men in the room Charlie wasn't surprised. She was actually amazed they hadn't come earlier since it was pretty obvious Mr. Stark wasn't building that missile weapon they wanted. Lucky for her wards, she had time to ditch the invisibility cloak to disillusion herself; this would make wand movements easier if she needed to interfere with anything.
Standing ahead of everyone else, Charlie scored the best view and watched the scene unfold: Raza tapping the arc reactor on Mr. Stark's chest, questioning turned into yelling as he tried to find his answers, and finally the man pulling a coal from the fire and threatening Yinsen with torture.
That would not do in Charlie's book.
The teenage witch made her move when Mr. Stark stepped forward and drew everyone's attention. As they all turned to face the prisoner, Charlie quickly muttered the confundus curse on Raza while rushing to whisper in his ear, "You have more important things to do than waste your time here. Five more days, give them five more days to finish your weapon."
By this point, all the men were looking at Raza wondering what he would choose to do next; it was only Tony and Yinsen who noticed his unfocused eyes. A minute of complete silence passed until one of the grunt men shifted his gun, earning the awakening of his leader.
"This is wasting my time," Raza snarled, dropping the burning coal in front of Yinsen. He looked around the room in disgust before stating, "Five days, I will give you five more days to finish my weapon." It went without saying what would happen if they didn't.
When the grunts were gone, Tony and Yensin exchanged relieved looks. Five days were more than enough. They could do this.
Charlie was just happy everyone still lived alive and uninjured.
Ho Yinsen was a smart man. Prior to his capture he lived his life as a physicist, engineer, professor, and loving family man. A pacifist by nature, he was very passionate towards teaching the next generation.
Of course, his abduction changed everything. His family ruthlessly murdered, not even having the decency to spare his little girl Mahsa, and his work turned into constructing weapons. It was sickening, it was hell, and he hated himself because of it.
Needless to say, it was a kind of blessing when Tony Stark appeared. But it wasn't saving the man's life that made the difference, no, instead it was convincing the genius to fight to live. It gave both of them a goal to shoot for.
He wasn't sure how much time passed while working with Stark, but one day he realized someone else was subtly helping the two of them. Canned food and clean water appeared beside their cots whenever they woke up, the room ceased to become freezing during the nights, and one day new clothes appeared for the both of them. Sure all the actions were small but added together produced a lot.
It wasn't until Raza held that piece of flaming coal in front of his face that Yinsen finally witnessed proof for his helping-man theory. Everyone else may have missed it, but to the man who called Gulmira his hometown, the vivid streak of dark purple was quite hard to overlook. He also felt that shift in the air, causing the flames on the coal to sway precariously – at that moment he knew their helper was right there next to him, causing the sudden change in events.
So the question changed from "Was there a secret helper?" to "Who is helping us?" and "How the hell are they doing all of this?"
Good fortune found Yinsen the following mealtime when an area in the room that was left untouched, unused, unseen and unnoticed by everyone suddenly appeared in his vision. For that next second he swore he saw a red backpack and black lumpy sleeping bag lying carefully on the ground, but after the next blink it was gone.
A God, a wizard, a mutant – Yinsen had no clue who their mysterious helper was, but he had a huge lead and he wasn't going to waste taking a chance.
He took the risk when Tony fell asleep.
Not knowing whether the 'person' was awake or not, he steadily made his way over to that obscure area of dirt, and sat down a good five feet from the wall. "I know you're there."
He sat, waiting for something, anything to happen, but nothing did. Knowing he was taking a long shot anyway, he kept speaking words. "I don't understand how, but I know you're the one who's been helping us out. Members of the Ten Rings would never waste good food and water on us, we may feel quite warm and cozy in the morning but everything we touch is freezing, and the clothes… no guard would ever give prisoners new clothes. I just don't understand why you're helping us. By the way you seem to go about escape would be a cinch for you, so why haven't you gone?"
Yinsen sighed heavily and removed his lens to rub at his eyes. "If you are staying to help with Stark's and my escape from here like I feel you are, can I selfishly ask for one thing?" he questioned the wall. "If our plan goes south and something bad happens, I want you to save Stark. He has far more left to live for than I do, and… And I just want to be reunited with my family. Please, that is my only request."
The silence seemed suddenly louder, and before Yinsen felt the need to start questioning his sanity he quickly made his way to his cot. Collapsing in one movement, he fell asleep within the following ten minutes.
Later, when he awoke, he would find beside his bed a very detailed map of the caverns with a rosy red apple on top. You are not crazy.
"There's not enough time," Charlie heard Yinsen say. They made it to the fifth day, but the doors were blown, their cover ceased to exist, and the metal suit was taking its sweet time to charge.
"You need more time," he said to Stark while picking up one of the dropped machine guns. "I'm going to buy you more time."
He raced to the destroyed entryway and paused before completely leaving the room. "Remember what we talked about," he said aloud, "take care of Stark."
Charlie's astonishment at Yinsen's reckless actions was the only thing that allowed the man a getaway. She couldn't believe him—how dare he pull off a stunt like this! She hurriedly raced after homicidal man, assured that Stark's suit would be ready by the time people came looking for him.
Making it halfway to the exit, a large group of men appeared in front of her by way of an adjoining passageway. Not wasting precious seconds she drew her wand and shot off a round of stunners, dropping over half the group. Her Protego shield managed to defend her from the instinctive trigger friendly response, and she dodged around the flailing limbs to attack again from behind.
The witch just managed to fell the last attacker when the ominous sound of multiple machine guns rang out and echoed off the walls. "No…" But it was all too obvious what happened when a troop of heavily armed grunts stormed past her.
Sprinting, Charlie arrived just in time to banish Raza outside before he took the kill shot to Yinsen's head. In the rush of anger, the disillusionment charm broke and Charlie was revealed in front of the pained martyr.
"Yinsen! Yinsen, you have to hang in there," Charlie cried to him. She saw the chest littered with numerous bullet holes and cursed herself for not bothering to learn past the basics of healing magic. "Please!"
Unfocused eyes leveled upon her and wonderment lit the beat face. "You are… the helper."
Charlie tried to smile back, but the teary tears ruined the otherwise positive effect. Shooting a pain-reducing spell at his chest she said, "I'm sorry I didn't make it in time."
"My choice," decisiveness dripped from the fading voice. "It's ok. It's my time."
Those seemed to be the magic words because not a second later three things happened simultaneously. Death appeared in a silhouette beside her Master, Raza shakily found his way back to the front of the cave, and Tony's grisly armor joined the party.
Raza had his eyes fixated on the kneeling visible form of Charlie, Tony only glanced at the girl once before his worried gaze landed on his friend, and Death moved closer to the dying scientist.
"Who are y—!" Charlie watched as Raza's question was cut off by a missile launched by Stark and took the moment to conceal herself yet again.
Tony didn't seem to care about her disappearance as he struggled to kneel. "Come on, we got to go. We have a plan, let's stick to it."
Yinsen closed his eyes, unable to keep them open any longer. "This was always the plan Stark."
"Come on, we're going to go see your family. Get up."
"My family is dead. I am going to see them now Stark. It's ok. I want this."
Charlie and Tony could only watch as Yinsen's harsh breaths ceased. Only the Master of Death could see a golden light shoot from the broken body to the shade made of black.
"…protect Stark…" Charlie heard before Death faded away.
"But Stark doesn't require any protection," Charlie thought as she watched a revengeful man utterly destroy the camp; she could see zero hesitation in his flamethrower movements. Of course she was prepared to intervene when things began looking dicey, but in the end there was no need when his suit began to fly.
Taking note of the direction Stark seemed to aim for, she headed back into the depths of the cave and retrieved the red backpack she accidently left behind in her haste.
Taking one last look around the room she had been holed up in and preparing to apparate away, Charlie stopped when an item partly hidden under Yinsen's sorry excuse for a pillow caught her attention.
Procuring it revealed a small photograph. Yinsen was easily recognizable even with a full set of brown hair and spiffy suit, and beside him stood a lady dressed in fine blue. In between the adults stood a small child, her hands holding on to her parents.
Charlie had found his family picture.
"Why?" she asked, knowing she would never get the answer.
Gazing at the picture for a few extra minutes, she steeled herself for what she knew she had to do next and pocketed the token. Tracing her steps back to where Yinsen lay, she winced at the sight but managed to mutter, "Levicorpus."
Charlie wished she could've taken his body back to his hometown, possibly find the graves of his wife and child, but she didn't know where Gulmira lay and flying to the base of the mountain with him was already hard enough. As such, she travelled a good three miles before gently resting his body on the soft ground.
Standing in front of the sharp rocky wall, Charlie took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a few seconds, then blasted a huge dent in the base. With a gentle wave of her wand, she eased the professor into the enclosure and laid him to rest.
Kneeling, she conjured a sheet to cover his body and took the family picture back from her pocket. Selfishly wanting a piece of Yinsen to remember him by, she decided to make a copy of the aging photograph and placed the original on top of the sheet.
She may not have known the man for long, but she understood just how strong and sincere he was.
Hitting a higher level of the cliff with a reductor curse, she watched in slow motion as huge gouges of rock hid the body from sight. Using the biggest one as a headstone, she slowly and precisely wrote out words the whole world deserved to know. A moment of silence later she flew off in search of Stark.
Lived and died a hero
An honorable husband, father, and friend
We will always remember
"Oh, bloody hell!" Charlie exclaimed as she finally spotted Tony Stark quite a while later. It would seem that she spent more time that she thought with retrieving her red backpack and saying goodbye to Yinsen because Tony laid at least four miles from where his armor crashed 12 miles from the destroyed campsite.
Facedown in the hot sand, Tony wasn't moving.
Cursing like a sailor she gripped the front of her Firebolt tighter, sharply angled the broom towards the ground, and landed lightly on her feet. After packing up her now unneeded cloak, she fell to her knees to gently push the heavy man onto his back.
Stark did not look good. Scrapes and blood littered his face and body, and judging by the look of his left arm that was broken too.
Holding her hair to the side, the witch bent her ear over his face and managed to hear slow shallow breaths. Thankful for at least that, she touched his forehead to get a read on his temperature and flinched at the heat.
She should have expected this. After what had to have been months stuck in that cave, Stark's lack of proper health care finally caught up to him at the worst possible moment. That wasn't even taking into factor the injuries he sustained from the fight and crash, or even the burden of the strength of the sun.
Knowing she needed to work fast, Charlie's first move was to conjure a tent to shield him further from the rays of the yellow ball in the sky. Next, she pulled a worn blanket from her backpack and placed a cooling charm on it. When those tasks were complete, she dried his sweaty clothes and levitated his unconscious body carefully onto the cold sheet inside the cover.
Focusing intently on her power, Charlie pointed her wand at the broken arm and intoned, "Episkey." With the limb healed, she charmed a sling to prevent movement to further aggravate the sensitive bones.
Checking on his temperature again, she smiled with the improvement and decided the last thing to do was rehydrate the man. So taking out her eternally cold water bottle, she placed enough water to fill the cap and dribbled the liquid onto Stark's chapped lips and down his raw throat. Charlie did this twice before she finally got a groaning response.
Pausing in her ministrations, she watched as two glazed over eyes tried to focus on her. Smiling even though he might not see it, she said, "Mr. Stark, everything is going to be ok. You're safe now."
She didn't get a response, but that didn't deter her from holding the water in front of his face and saying, "You need to drink some more water, can you do it?"
A very slow nod was all she needed to encourage her to help him sit up. He took a few mouthfuls with her guiding hand, but exhaustion quickly took over. It didn't take long for him to pass out again.
Charlie got him resituated in a lying position, and sighed in relief that her companion was recovering. She was glad the crisis was averted, but at the same time prayed that he wouldn't remember her when he awoke; that would just cause all sorts of trouble.
Falling back into habit, Charlie walked in a circular parameter around the tent and warded the area. A few minutes later she took to the skies hoping to find civilization or American military patrols, either would work for her.
It was pure luck that she spotted a chopper about 15 klicks away. She hovered next to the noisy thing, making sure to ID the American uniforms, before returning to Stark and the tent. Once there she hastily took down the wards, got rid of the tent, and shot red sparks into the sky. There was no way the airmen would miss it.
After getting back on her Firebolt she expelled a wide blast of wind to erase any evidence of footsteps, and finally, she disillusioned the blanket and cast a small "Rennervate" on Stark.
Not five minute later two black choppers drew closer and landed near the now awakened man.
Charlie smiled at the recovery team's relieved looks and Stark's confused one. Her job was complete.
"Are you really ok?" Pepper ventured to ask her boss as Happy waited in line at Burger King. To her eyes Tony radiated fatigue and couldn't imagine how or why he'd want to have a press conference the same day he returned home.
"I'm fine," he reiterated, slight annoyance creeping into his voice. But contrary to his words, he shifted his sore arm and winced at a sudden flare of pain in his head.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Pepper asked, not giving up. Tony's random bouts of anger did little to scare her anymore
She watched as Tony's eyes left gazing out the window to stare sightlessly at her. His breaths seemed to become faster and heavier with the blaring silence in the car.
Suddenly worried and regretful for the question, Pepper laid a calming hand on his shoulder and lowered her head near his. "Mr. Stark… Mr. Stark it's ok. You're safe now."
"Everything's going to be ok."
Slowly, Stark's hazy eyes turned focused at Pepper's choice of words and eventually narrowed in thought. "Someone else told me that," he stated.
"When they rescued you?" Pepper wondered, pulling her hand away from his body.
"So someone helped you," the strawberry blonde thought out loud. "Do you remember who?"
"I collapsed," Tony said instead, following his memories. "I escaped the cave but crashed in the sand."
"I was alright and started walking, but the sun just got to me. One minute I was heading up a sand dune, the next…" he looked at Pepper.
"It was a girl, long black hair, couldn't be older than 18."
Pepper looked shocked. It couldn't be… but it would make sense. Charlie disappeared the day after Pepper basically gave up on Tony and only yesterday did she return looking pale, exhausted, and... haunted just like Tony. But still, that couldn't, wouldn't, that didn't make sense… right? How would an 18-year-old girl even manage to find Tony when more distinguished people failed?
"She had the most vivid green eyes I've ever seen and an English accent to boot."
Pepper couldn't mask the shock in her eyes, "You have got to be kidding me."
Thanks for everyone choosing to follow this story, and especially to those who took the time to comment and review =] You guys are fantastic!
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and I have already started work on the next one. :P One of the early scenes takes place with Tony, Pepper, and Charlie all in the same room... should be interesting if I do say so myself.
Thank you for taking the time to read this! And please, any comments, reviews, or constructive criticism is truly appreciated =]