Last chapter everyone, I want to thank all of you for sticking around so long, through the rewrite and original, and I hope you enjoy the ending. I think it's better than the original. :)
"…Iron Man was once again absent from the Avengers battle in Brazil today. This marks the fifth battle that Tony Stark has failed to appear at this month. Many are speculating whether Stark will continue defending the planet in light of his daughter's recent kidnapping…"
With a twitch of my figure, the news channel changed and a blonde woman appeared on the screen in front of me.
"It has been over a month since Penella Stark's kidnapping by terrorists. Demands still have yet to be made, and many are starting to wonder if they ever will be. Many officials are beginning to believe that this is the work of the same terrorist group that kidnapped Mr. Stark last year."
I scowled as I changed channels again. This was hardly the most effective way to gather information, and it would take barely a word for me to be briefed on everything that was going on. But recently, I didn't feel like bothering. Ever since Penny vanished, everything had just been…darker.
"-leader Captain America has refused to comment on their search for Iron Man's daughter…"
Only one person really knew what happened that day; and he hadn't spoken of it once. In fact, Stark wasn't speaking to anyone that wasn't Potts, Colonel Rhodes, or Banner.
SHIELD agents, led by myself, Hill, and Coulson, and had arrived ten minutes after the collapse of the black shield that had been holding the Helicarrier captive in midair. She had only just been released from the repairs, doing a routine flight check before returning to the shipyard for more upgrades. But of course, everything went wrong when the black shield appeared. All of the electronics had been frozen, and for a moment, we expected to fall out of the sky.
We had first reacted as if it was an attack on SHIELD; and at the time we had thought it was. It wasn't until the shield fell and we were able to regain communication that we realized what had truly happened.
Loki appeared, almost instantly, and had taken all of the Avengers – who had been onboard for a meeting before the 'attack' – to the Tower. Apparently a black shield had covered Stark Mansion as well, keeping Loki and his family trapped.
By the time that my agents and I arrived on the scene, Tony was wrapped in a blanket, staring unresponsive at a large bloody spot on the floor. His eyes would sometimes flicker over to Potts, who was unconscious and had Loki bent over her, healing spells falling from the Asgardian's lips.
The top floors of the Tower were destroyed, again, though not to complete rubble. Everyone had tried to get answers from the billionaire, at one point or another over the hours and days that followed. But no one was successful.
So no one knew what happened to the powerful teenager who had changed our world.
And if there was one thing I hated – besides HYDRA and megalomaniacs taking over the world – it was not knowing something.
My eyebrow twitched just thinking about it and I had to keep myself from clenching my fists. SHIELD failed that day; failed the world, failed Stark, and most importantly, failed the girl who had once been everything to this organization. I had failed the girl, the being, who had taught me everything. Who had turned me into the man I was today.
I closed my eyes for a brief moment. God, if I felt this bad over Penny Stark's disappearance, I didn't want to imagine what Stark was feeling. He had lost his daughter and his home all in one day; and he wasn't even talking about it!
No one had been left unaffected by the apparent attack. Even Jarvis had been offline for an entire twenty four hours; leaving the AI glitch ridden and stuttering for two days.
In the end, I was forced to order Romanoff to tranquilize Stark just to move the man. By that time Potts was already awake in the Helicarrier med bay, and had given her permission.
When Stark awoke six hours later, be broke down into hysterical sobs until he was sedated back in unconsciousness.
With Tony flickering back and forth between silence and hysteria in his waking hours, we all hoped that someone would appear to explain what happened. I had recalled how Hel and Mortem had been quick to appear when Penny had gotten shot.
I winced just thinking about it.
But no one had appeared, Loki finally admitted three days after the attack that he couldn't get in contact with his daughter.
We were left with nothing. No ideas, no clues, no possibly trails to follow.
I tried to keep it quiet, I had actually ordered every SHIELD agent to make sure that it was kept quiet.
I had never been as ashamed of SHIELD as I had been when I saw the Breaking News on CNN the night after the attack. It had been simple to trace the leak, a stuttering Jarvis ripping through all firewalls until a name was found.
The agents was fired and his memory whipped by Loki before being charged. Last I heard, he wasn't having a very fun time. When Potts had gotten hold of the previous agent's name, courtesy of Jarvis no doubt, she had the Stark Lawers on him in a heartbeat.
I had thought about feeling bad for him. Then Romanoff reminded me why SHIELD swore to our own, and I was once again reminded to Lynx-turned-Penny. Those pictures were still burned into my mind.
A press statement was released by Rogers, saying that the attack had been carried out by terrorists, and that we were attempting to track them down as we speak.
What else could we say? We didn't even know where to look. SHIELD had scoured the earth; Penella Stark just wasn't on the planet.
Three days after the attack, I was forced to release Stark from the med bay. Partially because there was nothing physically wrong with him, but mostly because Jarvis and Potts threatened to tear down our firewalls. I would've listened to them without the threats, but they didn't need to know that.
No one protested when I asked for daily reports, though I made sure never to ask Potts. While most of the Avengers trusted me to some extent, I suspected that Potts blamed some of the insanity of her life on me. I never protested, nor argued with her. The Stark family had suffered enough for this world in my eyes; and if shouldering the blame would ease any of their pain, then I would in silence.
During these reports, which may or may not have been concerned inquiries, I learned that Loki and Jarvis finally managed to get in contact with Hel. We learned that she had been ordered to stay in Helheim while Mortem was gone, and that she hadn't seen one Immortal since what happened.
From the tone of her voice, Loki informed us that he suspected that she knew more but simply could not tell. After listening to the recording of the conversation, I was inclined to agree.
It was then that I decided I really didn't like the politics that surrounded the entities that Penny called friends.
Potts and Stark had it rough for a while as his condition refused to vanish. According to Romanoff Stark wasn't sleeping again, his night terrors worse than ever, and he routinely had panic attacks around the Tower. The man refused to leave the Tower once he returned, even when it was under construction, and Penny's name had to put under the black list within Tony's earshot. One mention of her, Mortem, Hel, Insania, or anything else regarding the redhead sent the man into hysteria or panic attacks, sometimes both at once.
Eventually, Tony and Pepper moved back out to Malibu. Which I may or may not have suggested to Jarvis late one night after yet another report of Tony's pain attacks. The man just couldn't deal with the memories surrounding the Tower. While my reports became less frequent, usually coming from Banner or Rhodes – who had both moved to Malibu with him – Stark managed to stabilize somewhat in Malibu. But everyone was left wondering if he was ever going to heal enough to be considered stable.
Happy Hogen returned to the country and Stark's side, joining Banner and Rhodes in Malibu, as soon as he heard about Penny's fate. I had been surprised by this fact, as the reports on him had pegged the man as 'beyond angry at Stark and unlikely to return' after being lied to about Penny's existence.
Tony had almost turned the man away, according the Banner, before Jarvis suggested that Stark Industries needed a new head of security. Hogen had happily taken the position and I was left with a previous head of security who thought he had won the lottery to keep an eye on.
Then the unexpected happened: I received a call from Tony. It had come through at two am and Jarvis had been forced to call me on my privet line, but I could not bring myself to be mad at the broken man.
He had barely spoken a sentence, but it was all that had been needed.
"Keep Pepper safe," were the three words that Tony Stark muttered to me, his words slurring under exhaustion and lack of use before hanging up.
Less than an hour later I had no less than two different teams watching Pepper Potts full time. I knew that Tony had his own forces dedicated to his girlfriend/fiancé's safety (no one was sure if he had actually gotten around to proposing before the incident, and the three people who would know refused to say) but I had decided that it was worth it.
Pepper Potts kept Tony Stark alive at this point in time, and as much as I hated to admit it, the world needed Tony Stark.
Or at least, that was what I told the reformed Council when they questioned me.
I had to admire the strength of the team that I had envisioned long before they had been created. They had managed to find the strength to carry on. Sure, the event had left the Avengers scattered, as nothing could overcome the grief to hold them together, and Iron Man unresponsive to calls, but they still stood as the Earth's protectors.
I, and many others, had been surprised when Loki had turned up only a few weeks before to answer a call that we all knew Tony would not. Everyone knew that the god wasn't trying to take the billionaire's place, but merely was attempting to help those who he was coming to see as family.
Not that I was doing anything less. If any of the team noticed that all security on them had tripled, and I literally had a camera on them in any non-Stark building that I could access from my table at any moment, they didn't say a word. Hill had argued that it was a tad obsessive, even for me, but my one eyed stare at shut her down.
I was proud that even after all this time I could still silence my agents with a look.
Coulson was still their handler, but with the Avengers scattered and the heroes rarely called into action, he set out to start his own team. I approved, and soon Coulson was doing what he needed to do deal with his own grief. He had requested nothing less than three different teams assigned to his cellist 'friend', but I had been more than happy to oblige before doing the same for Jane Foster and Betty Ross as well. If there was anything that we had learned recently, it was even the most untouchable of us could be ripped away.
Coulson reported that it was different, having a team that wasn't the Avengers and where he couldn't be completely laid back. I was also able to read in between the lines and see how much the man missed those that had become his family, but I tried to help my friend the only way I could, throwing more amazing toys and cases his way.
We all dealt with loss differently, and burying myself in work and ways to improve was how I did just that; and from what Jarvis confided to me, Tony was doing much the same.
Potts and Rhodes were hoping that he was getting better, since he was actually going down to the shops and tinkering. But Jarvis, Bruce and I had other ideas. We knew what it was like to completely lose yourself in your work, and Jarvis had confessed that Tony was already on the Mark XIV.
No one was sure just how much sanity Tony had managed to cling to. How much of himself was still there.
A ping echoed through the air, and I sighed. Leaning back in my chair I reached over the poured myself a drink.
The past month had been a nightmare, but it seemed that everything with Stark and Penny was just the beginning. A few anomalies in the SHIELD system had begun to pile up; add in some strange 'coincidences' and some strange readings I had received from the Starks before this mess, and I had called in the expert.
"Alright Jarvis," I grunted after sipping the scotch. "How bad is it?"
"I'm afraid to say, Director Fury, that it is – as Miss Penny would say – one huge-ass hell of a problem." The AI reported the worry and gravity in his tone extremely apparent. My gut tightening, I threw back the rest of the drink in one gulp.
"Lay it on me."
The AI who had become somewhat of my confidant in the past month proceeded to do just that; and together we planned for the battle ahead. A storm was coming and hell if I was anything but prepared.
I wasn't going to fail again.
Third POV, Cor
"Are you sure that this is going to work?" Mortem asked as he looked down at the remnants of E're's home dimension, where the last shred of her Soul had fled too.
"Yes," Infinitas stated as confidently as she dared. She could feel her Brother's worry, she knew how much saving Aequivalere meant not only to Mortem but also to all of Cor. Sure, many of her Siblings had never met the Immortal but they had also never had an Immortal death. They had all rallied behind those who knew E're in support, giving advice and donating power. What they were about to do was dangerous, but no one had protested or even thought about turning away.
Aequivalere was the baby of the Family, and it was time for the Immortals to remember that.
"How can you know? I thought something was blocking your Sight." Mortem pointed out and Infinitas almost felt like flinching. She still felt guilty that she never saw this coming, that she hadn't know what Fati was going to do.
Infinitas opened her mouth to say something, anything, but was beaten to it by a warm yet soft voice that echoed with power from behind them.
"Because, I guaranty that it will."
Both Immortals spun around to see a tall figure walking towards them. A gasp escaped their lips in unison as their eyes widened, for walking towards them wasn't just any Immortal, it was their Mother, the Creator.
She was almost indescribable to human terms, simply because she chose her form long before other life was created. Most Immortals took on humanoid form because they preferred it, or humans played a dominant role in their Realm, but not all of them. Opes for example, the Immortal of Wealth and Fortune, was a planet sized dragon when he bothered to manifest outside of Cor. In fact, Infinitas only looked humanoid because she had fallen in love with their stories once life was created and her Realm shifted to (mostly) Time.
But Mother…she was something else entirely.
Her face was delicate, with eyes swirling like captured galaxies and love always upon her face. Her body was made of starlight, every color imaginable and then some swirled as her skin. As she walked, it was impossible to tell whether she walked on two legs or ten, for her body was always moving. She was like a singular being of cosmic energy, and glowed so brightly that it just wasn't possible to see her features in any great detail.
"Mother," The two Immortals breathed, and almost instantly they were in her arms, clinging to the being of life, love, and energy almost desperately. Mortem would never admit it, but in that moment he allowed the tears to fall shamelessly from his face. But he didn't care, for why would he? There was no one there that would judge him, for see him anything less than a son hugging his mother in a time of chaos.
After a moment, or perhaps an eon, the three separated, and the two younger Immortals realized that their Mother hadn't arrived alone. In fact, she had been joined by an Immortal the two knew rather well, or so they liked to believe.
"Insania!" Infinitas exclaimed in greeting as Mortem stepped forward and swept his Sister up into a hug.
"It was true," He whispered into the unsurprised Immortal's hair. "You really were working on Mother's orders."
Insania's smile was soft and her eyes kind as she explained. "I have been for a very long time Brother. What I said to Fati was true, but what I left unspoken was this: much of what I've done for E're in recent time, has been specifically what Mother or E're has told me to do. Our Sister hasn't always been completely blind, and in the height of her madness, while you had me reconstruct her mind, she begged me. Our Sister pleaded with me to save her, to do anything to untangle the webs that Fati had spun around her. She begged me to play Fati's puppet, something she did not know that I already had been doing, and work to free her. I agreed of course, and begun my work. It took someone who could walk in the dark, all alone, and yet still see to untangle the web that Fati had spun; and thankfully, I filled the job description."
Mother continued on after giving her children a few moments to process what Insania had said. It had tormented her to see her children fight and hurt one another for so long, and was thankful that she could finally step in and do something about it. E're's Soul finally had returned to her Realm.
"Now, there isn't much time my children." The Creator and Mother of All said, speaking softly but swiftly. "Fati attempts to unravel Aequivalere's birth universe as we speak, and her Soul is still in danger."
The three Immortals stood up straighter at this, ready to do whatever was necessary to save their Sister. Aequivalere was their Family, and they would were about to prove that family would do anything to protect one another.
Laying out one hand before them, Mother presented to them a small crystal that glowed as bright as a newly born star, attached to a cord that appeared to be spun from the very fabric of space itself it was so black.
"Take this, and give it to Aequivalere the moment you find the remnants of her Soul. This holds the few drifting memories that Memoria was able to ensnare after her Soul fled. They are mostly from her First life, though some memories of Immortals and as Penny Stark are held within as well. I've poured enough of my own power into this as well; it should stabilize her Soul upon interaction, and buy you enough time to gather the rest of her Soul."
Mother explained, handing the object to Infinitas before she was interrupted by Mortem.
"What do you mean? How can we gather the rest of her Soul? I was only able to detect the most basic remnant of it; Fati destroyed the rest…didn't she?"
Mother laughed sadly, shaking her head and giving Mortem a pointed look. "Surely you know, My Son, that work with Souls is never as simple as it seems. This becomes even truer when dealing with Immortals Souls." She sighed, "The moment Fati attempted to destroy Aequivalere's Soul, Father and I knew without a doubt, who has been assisting her. I stepped in, and was able to catch the pieces of Aequivalere's Soul as they drifted away. I was about to sew them back together, when Father stopped me."
Here her eyes closed and she looked almost pained as she continued. "Father says that Aequivalere has danced between Mortal and Immortal for too long. He bound the rest of Aequivalere's Soul into three pieces and replaced them into the shadows of the Hallows, where her Immortal power originally lay. He says that Aequivalere must decide if she wishes to be Human or Immortal, and this shall be the perfect opportunity to do so."
"But!" Mortem spluttered attempting to protest as fear gripped his heart. How many times had E're wished to be human, to be Mortal, over their time together? "Fati's still out there! She's attempting to break into the dimension as we speak! Surely now isn't the time to make Aequivalere choose!?"
Mother's eyes opened and she smiled sadly at the Immortal of Death as Infinitas and Insania looked on in horror. "I did not say that I agree with the timing of Father's choice, but I'm afraid that it has already been done."
Mortem opened his mouth to say something else, but Infinitas, who knew the importance of time at the moment, slapped her hand over his mouth. Mortem glared at the elder Immortal, but she ignored him. He could protest to his heart's content later. Right now they had a Sister to save.
Mother looked thankfully over at Infinitas, Insania rolling her eyes at her Brother, before continuing.
"Mortem, you will be allowed to take human form, to aid your Bonded, but you must become completely human. Anything more than a projection of an Immortal will destroy the dimension, as it is simply not stable enough, especially without Aequivalere there to control her Realm." Mortem seemed to finally understand the situation and simply nodded, trying to get his emotions back under control. Right now, his only worry needed to be saving his Bonded.
She smiled, sensing Mortem's attitude change, before sighing. "This is where things get difficult. You simply cannot tell Aequivalere of the choice that Father has placed before her. You may inform her that the Hallows contain parts of her Soul, but you must let her find them, and want to find them, on her own. You may help her in her goals, but the choice must be hers.
"And above all, my Son, protect your Bonded. Do not allow Fati to destroy her Soul before she has made her choice. I have little doubt that Fati shall soon learn of Father's actions, and shall try to influence Aequivalere into staying Human. You must allow her to make the choice on her own, no matter what Fati throws at her." Mother's smile suddenly became crafty and she winked at Mortem. "But that doesn't mean you can't give her reasons to reunite the Hallows."
Mortem nodded as Infinitas removed her hand from his mouth. He knew that the road ahead would be hard, but he would do anything for his Bonded; and if that meant becoming human and dealing with the Mortals for a time period, then so be it.
Fati would not touch another molecule of her being ever again. He wouldn't let her.
"I won't fail, Mother." Mortem said, his voice hard with determination and his eyes swirling a dark grey as his Soul surged.
"Just remember, the choice must be hers." Mother said one more time before fading from the stop.
Infinitas and Insania shared a worried look as Mortem returned his gaze down to the dimension below. His fists clenched and his eyes hardened, turning pure black.
His attention snapped back to his two Sisters and he said in a voice that carried across Cor and the dimensions below, "Let's go save Aequivalere."
And here we are, once again at the end of Awakening. I hope you all enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing it. Send me your thoughts, please, and I hope to see you all over at Here Once Again, the final instalment of the E're Series.
Thank you all for reading, and for everything! You all rock!