Chapter 46 – DoW - Second Beat
Thank you everyone for your reviews! I know it has been rather the long wait for updates, and for that I apologise. Yet, writing something that I would not have been happy to offer up for reading, would have served no purpose. However, I would like to thank everyone still reading this story, for waiting for so long and for continuing with this story.
As always, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to all my reviewers for writing in and sending their comments. Midnight Sin 009, stars90, HowInMadHowie, Paxloria, dfcole, Lycan01, Shaggy37, Silverdragonstar, Sakul Badger, anakulosmos16, emmalilly21, Faiien, lordblink, NaiaLune, Squishy4953, and a Guest, as always, your thoughts are greatly valued and always welcome!
Now on with this chapter. I hope you like it.
Harry and Luna reappeared in what appeared to be an abandoned building in the middle of a well-known city.
"London," Harry murmured, looking around them.
"I could get some shopping done while we're here," replied Luna, staring at the wall right across from them. "That wall feels like the Veil."
Her companion raised a brow, but let his magic approach the blank, unassuming wall. Sure enough, a section of the wall, brick and plaster through and through, and ironically door-shaped, felt distinctly like a portal. Harry's magical senses zinged with the brush against the sharp foreign aura. It was cold and old, and Harry wanted nothing to do with it. And yet, answers were needed.
"Skip? Why are we here?"
The house elf looked up at his Master, a grin on his little face. "Missy is back, Sir. And so is Sir's friend."
"My friend?" Intrigued, Harry stepped towards a window and looked at the scene outside. A second later, he'd brought them all out to rejoin Thor and his Lady Jane.
"Don't suppose you could stop the downpour, could you, Thor?" he drawled, after witnessing the petite young woman slapping the God of Thunder. Beside him, Luna and Skip both giggled.
Lady Jane and her friend jerked around at the sound of his voice, but the young god smiled widely in welcome. "Seidmadr! It has been a long time since we have met. Allow me to introduce to you, the Lady Jane. And her companion, the Lady Darcy."
Jane recovered her composure well enough to nod at the newcomers who had appeared out of thin air. Darcy was less circumspect.
"Dude, where did you even come from? You just appeared from nowhere. Like zap and you're standing in previously empty space. And you're not even wet."
"Oh. My apologies." The thunderer flexed his influence over the weather and stopped the rain, leaving two dry circles on the road. Harry snapped his fingers and dried off Darcy. Then he knelt by a nearby puddle and touched it with a finger. Lifting his hand away, he brought with it a swirl of water that arched and swayed with a will of its own. Coming to a stop before Jane and Darcy, it broke off into six distinct forms – the Avengers. They had a small mock fight, with the Water Avengers all fighting against each other with no discernible formation or strategically formulated plan.
Water Steve's shield absorbing every bolt and arrow fired by Water Tony and Water Barton's attacks. Water Natasha was jumping around, evading Water Hulk as much as she was ganging up on Water Steve, while still helping Water Barton against Water Tony. Meanwhile, Water Hulk was busy smashing Water Thor, who honestly, was the only person on the team who could hold his own against the giant green rage monster. Even his smaller blue-er counterpart.
The little battle ended when Water Hulk and Water Tony were the only two left standing, all the others having evaporated upon their defeat. Before anyone could say a word, mesmerized as they were at the astounding magical treat they'd just witnessed, Luna piped up.
"Tony? Really? That's a biased outcome!"
"Well, of course it is! He's my brother!" exclaimed the wizard.
"You can't just make him win in a mock fight like this! It'll only make his ego all that much bigger and then where would you be?"
"Talking sense into him all night," the wizard sighed. "Alright, I get your point." So saying, Harry vanished both Water Tony and Water Bruce. Only to look up and be met by the awe-struck faces of the two ladies and an amused god of thunder. Harry bowed theatrically.
It was then that the local police arrived on the scene. So while Harry went off to do a little memory obfuscation, Luna and Thor made the required explanations to the scientists. Jane looked positively baffled until she remembered how they'd met Thor. Aliens, Nine Realms, and now an entire secret community of magic-users right here on Earth. Well, life certainly had become rather more interesting since having almost run over the handsome god of thunder over in New Mexico. She looked over at him and found him frowning.
"Thor? Is something wrong?"
Brow clearing, Thor smiled down at the brunette. "No, Jane. I merely wished to ask the Seidmadr how he has had occasion to arrive here at this moment."
"Ah, that would be because of me, actually," came Harry's voice, floating closer, as he approached them. Behind him, the group could see the police vehicles leaving. "After the fiasco in New York, I requested a few of my friends to keep an eye on Pepper, Miss Foster, and Agent Coulson's friend. By default, Miss Foster's protection has extended to Miss Darcy and to the good Doctor Erik Selvig. So far, all has been relatively peaceful, but as soon as I was informed of Miss Foster's disappearance, I decided to come down and look for her myself, since I knew you were in Asgard, Thor."
Understanding shone in blue eyes and the young god bowed to the Master of Death. "You have my thanks, Seidmadr."
Jane sputtered, "Wait! Hold on, just one minute! You've had us under surveillance? Since when? And by whom? I've never seen anyone around us, and Erik is in protective custody. Magic's all well and good, but you have no right to invade our privacy."
"I would like to introduce to you, my friend, Skip."
As he spoke the house elf materialized behind Luna, large round eyes peering out at the humans from behind her legs. "Skip is happy to see Miss is being safe," he said beaming toothily, and then instantly ducking back behind Luna.
"Skip," replied Luna calmly, "is a House-Elf, a member of a species that have a symbiotic relationship with wizards and witches. Specifically, in exchange for the magic of the family that keeps them alive, house-elves do all the household work for us."
Jane Foster stared at them, mouth agape. "This being is a servant!?"
"Skip is not being a servant," the elf stated strongly before anyone else could speak. "Skip is a good house-elf."
"Yo, Mr. Wizard? Its not cool to send a magic Yoda to watch out for us and not even let him help with the chores," drawled Darcy with a little whine. "Do you know how much work Jane makes me do! Poor under-payed assistant, that's me. Even more now that she's been off moping and eating ice-cream and leaving her house in such a mess…"
Jane slapped a hand over her under-payed assistant's mouth. "Okay!" she said brightly, "Let's just get out of here, alright? No point standing around in this deserted place."
Harry swung around to see a lanky young man stepping away from a car, his arms full of gadgets. "Yes?"
"It's an honour to meet you Mr. Potter. My name is Ian, Miss Darcy's assistant. I am also Justin's cousin. He said he was in your year, in Hufflepuff." The young man struggled to balance all the gear in the crook of one arm to cautiously extend a hand to the raven-haired wizard.
Harry's eyes widened and he smiled delightedly, firmly shaking the younger man's hand. "Your cousin remains a good friend to all our family. You must come home with us and meet everyone. I'll call Justin over as well, and perhaps even…"
They were interrupted by a sudden shock-wave that blasted Luna straight into Harry, knocking them both to the ground. Behind them, Jane had fainted, and Skip came forward to run diagnostic spells over her, while Thor lowered her to the suddenly cushioned tarmac.
Harry had shifted to a crouch almost immediately after falling under Luna, running his hands over his friend to make sure she was alright. A quick glance at Ian assured him of the other man's safety as well. Now free to turn his attention to the others, he snapped a question at the elf.
"She is being fine Master Harry Sir. But Missy is having something inside her that is not supposed to be being there. Skip cannot take it out Sir. Skip is not knowing how."
Thor looked up worriedly at the wizard, who had stepped forward towards their little group while the distressed elf made his report. Harry knelt on one knee and put a steadying hand on Skip's shoulder. "It's alright Skip. I'll take over now. It will be alright. Why don't you go and sit with Luna now? Make sure she's just fine, okay?"
Skip nodded jerkily and turned to go to the blond who was observing them from where she had fallen, now sitting on a cushion. In the meanwhile, Harry turned back to the young woman whom Thor was hovering over and ran a careful hand an inch over her body. He hadn't got very far when she started glowing red, and sluggish rivers of red emerged under her skin, running through her body.
"I have never seen the like, Seidmadr. But it is not of Midgard."
"As I thought," replied the wizard looking thoughtful. "I think I would need to look into her memories to see what caused her to disappear. Would you give me permission to do so on her behalf, Odinson?"
Thor replied swiftly, "You have honor, Seidmadr. You would not harm her. By what little right is mine, I give you permission to see the truth within Jane's mind."
Briefly laying a hand on the young god's arm in thanks, Harry shifted to kneel at Jane's head, and placed a glowing yellow palm on her forehead. Time had no meaning as he examined everything that had happened since Darcy met Jane at the restaurant with proof of inter-dimensional cosmic activity. He instantly recognized the moment when Skip would have lost all contact with the young woman, seeing as she had been pulled into another world altogether. No wonder the little elf had been so frantic.
But it was the dark red, fluid, viscous liquid that had possessed Jane, that caused him the most concern. It seemed almost sentient, as though it'd been waiting for a host. And judging by its actions, it may even have taken advantage of the connections between the worlds to pull Miss Foster towards it. Sentience… that was troubling.
Pulling out of Jane's memories, he looked at Thor and said, "We need answers and I think it's about time we got them. Come home with us, and everyone can settle in, while we go get some answers."
"Where will we be going, Seidmadr?" asked Thor.
"Asgard." And with a snap of Skip's fingers, the group vanished, only to reappear in Potter Manor's apparition room.
Luna was already moving towards the doors when they burst open to admit Lady Hermione and several of their friends, wands drawn and ready for battle. Those not keyed into the wards would be recognized as intruders and the wards had alerted Hermione at once. Fearing the worst, she'd led a group of their warriors in an assault, only to find Harry and Luna safe and sound on the other side of the door.
"It's alright, guys, it just me. Sorry about this, but it was the fastest way. Hermione, Luna, key them in temporarily and show them to the guest rooms," he ordered, indicating Ian and Darcy. "Floppy!"
Pop! "Master called Floppy?"
"Tell Loki to ready himself for a trip to Asgard in 5 minutes and bring him here."
"Yes, Master Harry Sir." The elf bowed and popped away.
Harry turned and noticed that the room was almost empty, except for Thor, Jane, Hermione and himself. "Yes, I need to get to the bottom of this. And I need to ensure that none of these stones of power end up anywhere on Earth at all. One of them has already caused enough trouble, any others would cause devastation. Severus and Kitty have all the relevant facts for this case. Let him guide you and help you while you're retrieving data and information. And in the meanwhile, I need to go to Asgard and find out the truth behind these stones. It is quite obvious that Odin knows more than he is willing to let on."
Hermione searched his face for a long moment, only seemingly rousing herself as she heard footsteps approaching the room. "Come back safe. I still need you."
Harry stepped forward and enveloped her in a hug. "I'm still always just a call away, Mia." He felt her nod into his shoulder and pressed a kiss into her hair. "I'll try my best to return as soon as I can. But if you need me, call me. It doesn't matter if its in the middle of the night or in the middle of a mission. Call me. Okay?"
She whispered an affirmative into the crook of his neck and he squeezed her tight, only letting go when Floppy arrived with Loki. "It'll be alright, Mia. I'll be back soon."
Hermione nodded once and stepped back and away, standing calm and composed once more. Harry gave her once last look, before apparating everyone to his private stables. From there, he simply shifted them all straight to the gates of the Bifrost. Horses were swiftly saddled and mounted and Harry bid Thor lead the way, while he supported Jane's unconscious form.
At length, barely a few minutes out from Odin's Halls, Loki asked, "Why are we here?"
"To find out about these stones and eliminate their threat to all the worlds. They are too powerful and too prone to destruction to be allowed to remain at large."
"Yes, but why here?"
"Odin has some of the answers that I want. Best thing to do was to come here. And I thought you'd like to show everyone that you're alright and free of any influence, even theirs'."
"But I am still bound to you, Lord Death," the liesmith whispered.
"True. But you are bound to me for your own protection. Not for the fulfillment of their punishment." When the god turned astonished eyes upon him, he continued. "You have proved susceptible to Thanos once, though if what I suspect is correct, there was another agency at work there. However, though the Seals I placed on you will keep you safe, no being of any sentience would dare to approach you with ill-intent, while you are under my personal aegis. To wish the least harm to you now, is to be near Death."
Harry turned glowing eyes upon his charge, and the liesmith could have sworn that the pupils within those green eyes were a pale blue; a sure mark of his power simmering at the surface. "Do not forget your readings, Loki. I am your Guardian, and my unique nature protects you. Only my sister has been so touch by Death, and I see it around her, circling, but never touching. That prerogative is entirely mine."
Ahead of them, Thor signaled to them to slow down, seeing as they were approaching the Houses of Healing. As they dismounted and freed the horses, Loki heard his Lord's voice saying, "You are a part of my family now, Loki Silvertongue, and if you accept them as such, my family is your family also. You made a promise to me. In return, I will keep my promise to you. Now come; a discovery awaits."
Harry bore Jane's supine form as they strode into the Houses of Healing, following Thor's broad back as he led the way into one of the chambers, barking orders at the Healers right and left. Orders were carried out and messages were relayed swiftly, as the Healers scurried about to do the bidding of their Prince. Many of them stayed to gawk at the younger Prince and at the handsome, green-eyed, raven-haired newcomer, causing Loki no end of amusement. Harry caught the drift of his thoughts and they shared a smirk. Thor couldn't understand why the Healer he'd been speaking with fainted away mid speech.
Fortunately, one of the Elder Healers named Eir arrived and enforced some normality in the attitudes of her underlings, completely ignoring the two other men in her domain. Listening carefully to Thor, she began casting diagnostics on Jane where she lay on one of the beds, watching and listening with avid curiosity. Not long after, Odin himself entered the room demanding an explanation.
"Not one but two humans! And Loki! Have you no regard for the laws of your father that you would thus break them?"
"Jane has need of aid, Father. The Healers of Midgard would not be able to help her."
"Then she should suffer whatever suffering her ailment wreaks upon her! No human has so wantonly set foot in Asgard, and none will be allowed now. I see no need for her to be here. Guards! Arrest them all!"
Thor could only watch as whatever was within Jane, blasted the guards into the walls, knocking everyone but the four men unconscious. Intrigued, Odin came forward to examine Jane, bringing forth the energy under her skin in a manner similar to what Harry had done.
"This should not be possible," he whispered. And then, without providing an explanation he bade Thor, "Bring your companions to the library," and walked out without a backward glance.
"Well," said Harry in the silence left in Odin's wake, "your Father certainly is ill-mannered and arrogant."
Thor, who was helping a now conscious Jane to her feet looked up at that, shock and worry written all over his face. "Seidmadr, allow me to ask pardon on my Father's behalf. He does not know who you are."
"Is courtesy not taught in the House of Odin, then? Is not the King supposed to show honor to his guests, no matter their origin? Your Father will learn who I am before the day is out, Thor Odinson, and then we shall see what he has learnt."
The thunder god blanched, but led everyone out of the Houses of Healing and through the long corridors of his home towards the library. When they finally arrived, they found Odin already there, standing at a table in the circular room at the center of the library, several thick tomes open and spread out on the table before him. Probably having sensed their arrival, he began without preamble.
"In the earliest days, long before the birth of light, unlike what we prefer to believe, the firstborn of the universe came into existence out of the darkness. The Dark Elves. Eons saw their dark rule, there being nothing to hold them back or even to challenge them. But change came, and with the light, other beings came into existence, challenging the dark rule. Wars erupted across the universe. Their most ruthless leader at the time, Malekith, sought to transform our universe back into one of eternal night. Such evil was possible through the power of the Aether, an ancient force of infinite destruction."
"Several millennia ago, my father Bor, defeated the Dark Elves and took the Aether from them, destroying both it and that dark race of foul beings. It was understood that neither would be a threat to the universe after that annihilation."
He turned to face Jane and spoke directly to her for the first time. "Until now."
"And so,"Loki drawled, "it seems you are wrong."
"I would be very careful if I were you, boy!" Odin shouted, spittle flying from his mouth as he screamed into Loki's face. "Being bound to a human mage offers you no protection on Asgard and yet you are here. Do you think I do not see your machinations? You would take this human woman and force the Aether from her, and then become its host yourself. Behind the screen of your kindness, you would unleash a Power you cannot hope to understand to revenge yourself upon Asgard! Never! I, Odin All-Father know your mind and will stop you ere your take the first step!"
"Really? I never thought the All-Father would be quite so arrogant."
The old king rounded on the male human who had spoken, his visage a mask fury. "You dare, Midgardian!"
"I'm sorry, I don't think Fenrir heard you," the apparent human replied with a mocking smile.
Eyes wide, Odin reeled back, staring at the impertinent human, caught between rage and a sense of horror.
"And before you call your faithful Einherjar to arrest either myself or Loki, know this Odin Borson…," and as he spoke, the simple Midgardian began to emit an aura of ancient magic, deep and heavy, swirling around the man, no, not a mere man. Odin risked a glance at his younger son and saw that familiar smirk on his face, and all at once, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
This was the true power of the Midgardian mage to whom Loki's magic had been bound. He was not just any simple mage, not if the Heimdall's reports of four travelers arriving on Asgard without use of the Bifrost were to be believed. But he had forgotten that the man was still speaking.
"… and if any harm were to befall him, I might find reason to lose Fenrir's chains a bit early. I'm sure he would not yet have forgotten the taste of Tyr's arm, as hungry as he is."
Watching his father's face lose what little color it held, Thor could not understand why the Seidmadr held such ill-feeling for the King of Asgard. But he held Jane close to him and watched quietly, for there was nothing he could do.
Odin saw the glowing green eyes and the hard slash the man's lips made, even curved into a smile as they were, and nodded, ready to agree with whatever the mage said. There hadn't been any being so powerful in all the universe in millennia. It was best to be cautious.
Gathering some courage he said, "Thor, introduce your friends to your father." He was thankful his voice did not waver or shake. The mage had not yet drawn in his aura.
Bewildered at the thinly veiled order, the thunder god complied. "Father, these are my friends, the Lady Jane Foster and Lord Hadrian Potter of Midgard. Lord Potter is the one who provided the means for us to visit, father, as there was dire need for Lady Jane to be examined as soon as possible. My friends, this is my father King Odin All-Father of Asgard."
"Well met and welcome are you all to Asgard and to the Halls of Odin," was Odin's warm rejoinder. His voice was calmer now and his tone courteous. "It is always good to meet the friends of my sons. Come Thor, Loki, take your friends to your mother's rooms. You must all meet Frigga. I will see you there momentarily." And with a nod, the All-Father vanished deeper into the library.
There was a sound of flesh hitting flesh and everyone turned to see Loki rubbing his hands together, a smile on his face. "Well," he said, looking at the others, "I'm sure I have not forgotten my way around these corridors during my time away. Come, I will take you to Mother's gardens. To be sure, they are a marvel in all of Asgard and not to be missed." He moved to one of the many doors leading out of the circular room. "This way," he invited them, and pushing open the door, stepped over the threshold.
Meanwhile, the king himself was making his way to the throne room, having sent a message to Heimdall to meet him there. He reached but a fraction before the loyal watcher of the worlds and took little time in signaling him to follow. Once seated on his throne, Odin looked at the golden-eyed Vanir and commanded, "Tell me all you know about the Lord Harry Potter who arrived in Asgard today."
Needless to say, after listening to Heimdall's evidence of the man, Odin All-Father was not too pleased. But as he ordered the man to return to his post and made his way to his Queen's chambers, he knew there was nothing he could do. He had no idea that there were greater surprises to follow.
~ Scene Break ~
It wasn't meant to be this way. This was never supposed to happen. He was Iron Man. He was supposed to be able to watch over the others and protect them. Especially those closest to him. But no matter what he did and how much he prepared and trained, things just didn't seem to go right. Nothing was as it should be, nothing was even real anymore. For a while, he just sat there, at his workbench, his phone in his hand, eyes staring, unseeing.
Then his grip tightened and he rose. Happy was his friend and his responsibility. And no matter how broken he felt inside, there was no way he would let his friends down. Leaving JARVIS to continue running checks on the recent upgrades to the Mark XLII, he got into one of his cars and drove down to the hospital where Happy had been admitted.
Charming the nurses was simple enough, and he was allowed to see for himself what his friend had suffered. More than half of his body was covered in bandages covering fourth degree burns and what little skin he could see was bruised purple. And he was surrounded by plastic tubes and irritating beeping machines that told him all too well just how close Hogan had been to being gone.
If it hadn't been for the protections Harry had placed on the family so long ago, they might have lost him. As it was, the trauma was extensive.
Outside the hospital, the vultures had gathered, to no-one's surprise. In that moment Tony understood what it might have been like for Harry in his youth, with the Wizarding World clamoring for the 'Saviour' to save them, and condemning him at the same time. He had never felt such contempt for the human race as he did right then, on the front steps of the hospital.
But Harry had never given up, and neither would he. As the reporters approached and asked him for a quote, a response, anything, he snatched a recorder from one of the young men and issued a challenge to the Mandarin. There, now they knew who to blame.
On the way back to the house, however, he had an unexpected call. "Tony?"
"Yes, of course it's me, pea-brain. Who else would be talking to you in your head?" Tony rolled his eyes. "I heard that." He chuckled, the tension in his shoulders releasing in response to his brother's voice.
"Where are you?"
"In Asgard. Something came up and here I am. Figured I may as well look for some answers while I'm here. But I felt something was off about you. What's happened?"
The billionaire sighed, wondering if he should say anything. "You're forgetting that I'm in your head, Tony, and I can hear you debating with yourself. Just tell me."
"Happy got caught in an accident. He's in the hospital, unconscious, 4th degree burns, IVs everywhere, and I just issued an ultimatum to the Mandarin on live television."
There was absolute silence for a whole minute. Then Harry let out a long and hard breath. "You don't do things by halves, do you T?"
"No. But I'd prefer to have a plan before I go around issuing ultimatums to terrorists with a tendency to blow people up. Anyway, you're in Malibu, right?"
"Yeah," not even bothering to wonder how Harry knew where he was.
"Okay, then here's what I want you to do. Carry on with your day, whatever was planned or not planned, but you're not going to spend the night there. You understand?"
"Tony, you do not threaten the terrorist and leave your front door open, which is essentially what you've just done! So whatever you do all day, at night, Dobby's going to bring you and Pepper to the Hideout and seal it off completely. Bring a suit if you like, but you're not staying in that house, do you understand me?"
He was actually serious. "You actually mean it, don't you?"
"Are you daft, man? Of course I mean it! And don't worry about Happy. I'm sending someone to heal him, he'll be fine."
"Shut it, you chump. We're family. And Pepper would have my hide if I let anything happen to any one of you." The brothers laughed at that. Pepper was both devious and fierce when protecting someone. "Well, gotta go. Odin needs to learn that the Master of Death isn't just a fairytale."
Tony grinned at that. "I'll get to see that, right?"
"Oh, you bet! Oh, and just, FYI. The Avengers will be coming to stay for a day or two as well. You need to plan out what the hell to do about the Mandarin now that you've called him out. Phil knows about the plan, so just roll with it. I'll come visit if I can."
"Do you promise?"
Harry's voice carried a smile. "I promise. See you later, T-man!"
"See you soon, LP!"
Having calmed down now, the genius inventor reflected sheepishly on the impromptu ultimatum he'd delivered today. Thank Merlin for Harry. His mind shifted to the design flaws yet to be corrected in his latest suit, the Mark XLII. One of his best, if he did say so himself, he mused with a smirk. It wasn't long before he was back in his workshop, elbow deep in another hot-rod red suit, tinkering, with AC/DC blasting in the background. Talking with his brother had comforted him like little else could these days.
You picked up a screwdriver that had rolled off the workstation, handing it to a watching Tony. The man patted his old companion and took the tool from its claw. "Good boy," he reassured You, who chirped happily. Tony smiled. It was good to be home.
~ Scene Break ~
It wasn't often that Maya Hansen found enough cause within herself to be brave about anything. She was plain and mousy, and was only acknowledged because of her hard work and achievements within what she saw as her domain – researching and rewriting genetic codes. Her early successes had led the way to a project she had hoped would be revolutionary to the field of medical science and remove the need for artificial prosthetic limbs. Extremis.
The Extremis design had the potential to upgrade the human body and regrow cells to allow for regeneration of body parts, internal or external. Until a few years ago, her financial situation hadn't allowed for anything more that the simplest of plant-based experiments, which had largely been successful, apart from one crucial downside.
The Extremis formula was unstable, and any stress to the host subject caused it to explode. It was the only reason why the formula could not be tested on human subjects. But more than that, was her lack of a solid financial standing to fund her research. She'd hoped Stark would help, but the man was a libertine, and had left her with nothing but a healthy dislike for the man himself and a card on which he'd scribbled a possible solution for her Extremis formula. She'd chosen to use the help and allied herself with Aldrich Killian who was interested for her to work with his company A.I.M.
Which brought her to this moment, working up the courage to knock on Stark's front door, hoping he would be able to help her improve her formula and maybe even fund it. Not to mention, help out with her own concerns. But before she could knock, the doors opened and curious despite herself, she walked in.
Footsteps sounded from further within, echoing in the large entrance hall, and Maya waited to see who would come. And then around the corner came a woman almost as well-known as Stark; the CEO of SI, Pepper Potts.
"Hello, I'm Pepper Potts. And you are?"
"Uh, h-hi. I'm, er, Maya. Maya Hansen. I was wondering if I could maybe meet Tony Stark?"
Pepper looked her up and down discreetly. "How do you know Tony?"
"We, er, met several years ago at the conference in Bern. He gave me a few ideas about my research project, but I've run into some problems and I was hoping he could perhaps look into them again."
The two women stood looking at each other for a while, with the scientist wondering whether this had been a bad idea. But she did need both the help and the advice and since she 'knew' Iron Man, this had been the best course of action she could take. Then there was that other issue she couldn't really decide about…
A message alert tone cut through the silence and Pepper looked down at her phone to read it. One brow rose elegantly, though her expression never shifted and then she looked up at the visitor. "Come with me, please."
Pepper led Maya into the living room, where Tony had just arrived from his workshop, having been informed of his visitor by JARVIS. He seemed to having a conversation with his suit which was also sitting right next to him.
The raven-haired man looked at her for several seconds before, "You know, I don't quite remember you? Though you do seem somewhat familiar. No offence."
Maya gaped at the arrogant man; he hadn't changed a bit. No doubt this Iron Man business had gone to his head. "Of course you wouldn't remember me, Mr. Stark," she snapped. "We only met once, spent a single night together and then you left. There is no reason why you'd remember me."
"Hmm, yes. I sense a lot of suppressed hostility from you. So why don't you tell me what brings you here?"
Maya struggled visibly to stamp down on her anger and took a seat on the sofa across from her host, while Pepper remained standing at the end of the sofa. From her jacket pocket she withdrew an old and weathered card. "Years ago I told you about my Extremis project and you left me with this formula to help correct its flaws. I've tried to make it work, but for all its improvements, I don't know what else I can do to perfect it." She flipped the card so Tony's writing could be seen. "I came here hoping you could help me out again."
Tony leaned forward to pluck the card out of her hands and examined the formula. He looked up at her and asked, "This is all you've had to go on for all these years? I don't even remember this. Why haven't you come to me about this before?"
"Because, like you just said, you didn't remember this or me. And I didn't want to be one of your girl-Fridays just so you could show some interest in my project."
"Wow. Okay. So, what's the problem now?"
"I found work with a private think tank and they funded my research and I finally got clearance for human testing. It's just that the intial flaw hasn't quite weaned itself out. Some of the test subjects died because the Extremis didn't integrate with them completely."
"I'm sorry, think tank?" Tony cut in.
"Yes, I work wi…"
Alarms blared and JARVIS' voice boomed from around them. "Sir, we are under attack. Missile contact in 10 seconds."
Every person in the silent sitting room turned to the large ocean-facing windows to see three helicopters in the distance. Tony leapt up and spun to Pepper. "You need to leave. Now."
"I can't just leave you here!" she protested, even as Tony took both the ladies by their elbows and all but dragged them out to the door.
"You can and you will. Take Maya with you. Get in the car and drive away. I will find you."
In that instant, Tony flung his arms in a smooth flow towards Pepper and watched in satisfaction as the Mark XLII assembled into place around her, just as the missile hit the house dead on. With an ear-splitting boom, a shock-wave swept through the metal and glass and concrete, every material blowing up under pressure and falling into the waters below.
Maya was flung right out the doors by the blast, scratched and bleeding but largely unhurt. She watched in shock as Pepper used the suit to protect Tony from falling debris. All too soon, however, they were hit by another missile and Tony directed Pepper to head to safety. The moment she was out of blast range, Tony called the suit back to him. As Pepper led her towards her car and began to drive away, Maya looked back to see Iron Man fighting against the war-birds, having already taken one down, with a second following as she watched.
Only when the road curved away, hiding the half destroyed house from view, did she turn to face the front again and noticed that her companion's gaze was still on the rear-view mirror. She couldn't help saying, "He'll be fine. He's Iron Man and Tony Stark. He always has a plan."
Drawing a deep breath, the redhead took her eyes off the rear-view mirror and looked at her. "That has never made things any easier. But, thank you."
Maya's lips twitched in a smile, but she too was still wound up with adrenaline to be completely calm and collected after escaping an attack like that by the skin of her teeth. But she took the initiative to suggest, "Why don't we go to my flat? If they're after Tony, they might come looking for you too. Your place may already be under surveillance."
Several minutes passed as Pepper thought about this. She knew Tony would be able to locate her wherever she was, just as soon as he was able to. And although she'd never really consider going to an unknown location, her companion did have a point. It took a few minutes, but then, "Alright. So where am I going?"