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Thread: The Aquapolian Initiative (Avengers)

  1. #1
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    Default The Aquapolian Initiative (Avengers)

    This story is rated PG-13. Contains crossovers with Suits, Breaking Bad, and Merlin.



    Part One

    Chapter One


    The first thing they noticed about this particular part of the helicarrier was that very, very few agents were roaming the halls. Only two had been counted so far by the small group making their way to one of the main interview rooms in the very bowels of the ship. Fury had told them that this particular member of the initiative needed convincing to take part…and was considered highly volatile, as if he or she would explode at any moment.

    They had not been briefed on this particular member of the team. As Coulson led them through the twisting and turning passageways, it seemed as if the air was growing more and more ominous.

    Finally, they reached their destination. Semi-dramatically, Coulson turned to them, giving each a serious look. “Let me do the talking at first. Then, I’ll leave you alone to speak with her yourselves.”

    Well, that was at least one mystery solved, they thought to themselves. The steel doors displayed no handles, knobs, or slides. Only a four-digit passkey entered by Coulson could open the entrance. A few looks were exchanged between them. Whoever was inside…SHIELD wanted to keep inside until further notice.

    The room inside was dark and empty, save for one table and one chair on the far side. A small light swung from the ceiling, reminding one of the lights used in old-style interrogation rooms…ones that could be swung into someone’s face.

    Sitting on the table, her eyes closed, was a young woman somewhere around twenty years of age. Her golden blonde hair reached down her back and slid over her shoulders like a river. She was dressed in all dark colors: A grey t-shirt, black pants, and black boots. A simple silver belt was draped over her hips, providing the only light in her wardrobe.

    Coulson turned from the girl back to the small group, amazed by the range of reactions. Rogers was simply confused, the look on his face betraying his mind processing how important this girl could be. Banner seemed to recognize her, but hadn’t expected her to be there. Barton seemed the least surprised of the group, which was to be expected, since he knew exactly who she was and had known her for years. Thor instantly recognized her and seemed extremely shocked. But the expression that surprised Coulson the most was Stark’s. He seemed...angry for all of a few moments before he caught the agent studying him. The anger disappeared from his eyes so swiftly that Coulson almost swore he had imagined it.

    Turning back to the girl, he wondered why she hadn’t responded to the entrance of the group. “Kat, you have a few…visitors.” Somehow, that word seemed extremely strange when applied to them. A few moments of silence passed. He cleared his throat. “Um…Kat?” Silence still reigned. Rogers frowned and tilted his head. They looked around at each other, all of them hearing the music. Coulson sighed and reached over to pull the earphones out of Kat’s ears. She immediately opened her eyes, which were the brightest shade of blue any of them had ever seen.

    “Oh…sorry,” she mumbled, digging an iPhone out of her pocket and pressing a few buttons on it. She placed it on the table beside her, turning back to study the people in front of her. “Is this them?” She leaned around Coulson to get a better look.

    “Yes. Director Fury said to play nice.”

    She smirked. “Don’t worry, I will.”

    “Good.” He turned back to the group. “Well…good luck.” And with that, he was gone. The door slammed shut behind him. It was a few more moments before Kat said anything.

    “So…this is the Avengers Initiative?” She nodded her head. “Interesting. Why did Fury send you here?”

    “To convince you to join us,” Barton replied.

    “Fine then.” She leaned back, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Convince me.”

    “Can we get a little background information first?” Banner asked.

    “What?”

    “We don’t even know your name.”

    “Quamachi,” Thor breathed. “It has been many years.”

    “I’m sorry I don’t remember you…I go by Kat now.”

    Stark raised one eyebrow. “Kat?”

    “Yes.”

    “Just Kat?”

    “Just Kat.”

    “You don’t have a last name?”

    “Nope. I was never given one.”
    “Is there anything else we should know?” Rogers asked.

    “What? They didn’t brief you on me?” Kat asked.

    “No…” He said, a confused look on his face.

    “That’s funny…because I was briefed on every one of you. Hmm…I know Barton. Let’s see…” She turned to Rogers. “Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America. The superhuman who fought for America in the second World War until you crashed a plane into the Artic and froze for seven decades. You were recently found by an exploratory team and unfrozen. Welcome to the twenty-first century.”

    She turned to Banner. “I’m sure we’ve seen each other around campus a few times. You just don’t realize it.”

    “I’m sorry?”

    “You’ve taught a few classes at Georgia Tech the past few years. I go there.”

    “You’re a BME student?”

    “How did you know that?” She asked, tilting her head.

    “I think I remember seeing you in the biotech quad once or twice.”

    She nodded. “I guess few students there know that you’re the Hulk.”

    He ducked his head. “I guess so.”

    “I know you’re Thor Odinson…and we’ve apparently met.”

    “A long time ago and on Asgard, Quamachi…” Thor started reverently.

    “Kat,” she corrected.

    “Kat?”

    “Kat,” she said in a more firm voice. “It’s short for Katharine.”

    “Well, at least we have a name,” Banner muttered to Rogers.

    “Half of a name at least.”

    “And…wait…let me guess…last, but certainly not least, Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man. Most of the students at my school are obsessed with you.”

    “I’m flattered you think so highly of me,” Stark said.

    “I said most, not all,” Kat replied.

    “Ouch…”

    “Anyway, I’m not really interested in joining the Initiative. I just want to be free to leave.”

    “Free?” Rogers asked.

    “SHIELD has pretty much watched my every move for my entire life. Coulson was assigned as my agent when I was a kid…as kind of my guardian, since my parents died when I was young. He’s the only decent agent around here other than Barton.”

    “So you want your freedom?” Stark asked.

    “That’s correct.”

    “If we can get SHIELD to grant you your freedom, would you join us?”

    She thought about that for a few moments. “Perhaps...”

    “It is your duty,” Thor interjected strongly.

    “Come again?”

    “It is your duty as protector of the Earth to join us in the fight against the army of shadow.”

    “I’m sorry, I’m not the protector of the Earth right now.”

    “You are always the protector!”

    “Wait, I’m confused…” Rogers said.

    “Kat is Quamachi, otherwise known as the Chosen One, the legendary protector of the Earth,” Barton explained.

    “Well, thanks for clearing her secret identity up,” Stark said.

    “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m going through a reincarnation cycle right now. I’m mortal…I’m not the protector…”

    “The legends say you still are,” Thor protested.

    Kat shot him a searing look, the effect amplified by her electrifyingly blue eyes. Although she claimed to be mortal, at that moment she looked every inch the protector of the Earth that she supposedly was. As the two legends lapsed into a staring contest, the other members of the Avengers Initiative tried to deal with the knowledge they were just given. Rogers and Banner seemed to be completely out of the loop. Stark lapsed back into his angry-face, which still confused the hell out of the others. Barton observed the staring contest with a slightly amused look on his face. He had known Kat for half her life. She was the most intimidating person he knew…and he knew many, many intimidating people.

    Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Kat sat back and pushed her golden hair out of her eyes. “Fine. I’ll join the Initiative…IF you can guarantee in writing my freedom from SHIELD after our mission is finished.”

    “Done,” Stark said almost instantly, not allowing any of the other Avengers to even speak his mind on the subject. The rest of them exchanged confused glances, but finally decided to go with it. Thor seemed pleased with this, the angry look disappearing from his face.

    “Great,” she said a bit cheerfully as she jumped down off of the table. “Now, let’s go see Fury.”

    ------------

    “A written agreement that she’s free from SHIELD?” Fury asked, raising his eyebrows.

    “Yeah, don’t you think she’s already earned that?” Stark asked, giving him a knowing look.

    “The Council isn’t going to like this.”

    “The Council isn’t going to like many things about the Initiative.”

    “Fine. She’ll be granted freedom. And consider her the leader of the Initiative.”

    ------------

    The next day, a meeting was called for the Initiative inside one of the deepest rooms in the base. It was occupied by one large table and a display screen. Kat was the last Avenger to show up.

    “Our fearless leader is late,” Stark commented as she sat down beside him.

    She shot him a glare. “Believe me, I’m not too excited about being named leader.”

    “I don’t remember us taking a vote on who would be leader,” Cap complained.

    “This is a team, not a country…” Banner started.

    “We should have still been asked to vote.”

    “Okay then, who would you have voted leader?”

    Cap squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. “Thor, since he knows so much about the enemy we’re facing.”

    “As the Protector of the Earth, it is Quamachi’s job to lead any forces that intend to defend this planet,” Thor answered.

    “Kat,” Kat corrected him.

    “What?”

    “I go by Kat now.”

    “Just Kat?”

    “Just Kat.”

    “Wow…we’re not going to get anywhere if the only demi-god amongst us keeps running around in mental circles,” Stark muttered.

    “Where is Fury?” Barton asked.

    “That’s a good question…” Kat muttered, getting up and crossing over to the only door in the room. “I’ll go and find…” She tried to turn the handle and froze.

    “If the great Protector of the Earth can’t open a door, I don’t feel very secure right now,” Stark said.

    “It’s locked…” She murmured, staring at it. “Really? Are you kidding me?” She tried the handle again, then banged on the door. “Hello?!”

    “I don’t think that’s going to work…” Banner muttered.

    “What do you mean?”

    “Well…” he shrugged, holding up a simple white sheet of paper with black letters printed on it. “This says that we’re locked in here for the next twelve hours so as to better familiarize ourselves with our teammates.”

  2. #2
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    Chapter Two




    Silence reigned inside the room for several moments. Kat stared at the door, not believing her ears.

    “For twelve hours?” Stark echoed. “Is that their plan? To starve the Initiative to death? Granted, this would be one of SHIELD’s more intelligent ones…”

    “Maybe they just want us to come up with our plan of attack,” Cap suggested.

    “It’s not going to take us twelve hours to decide what to do about Loki,” Barton argued.

    “They want us to learn how to get along with each other. Apparently, none of us have very good team working skills,” Banner muttered.

    Kat sighed and returned to her seat. “Fine, so, let’s come up with our plan first. We know we have to get Loki to talk about where the Tesseract is. We know he won’t talk to Fury…one of us is going to have to get it out of him.”

    “He would listen to you,” Thor said.

    “Why not you?”

    “He bears a grudge against me.”

    “But he doesn’t even know me.”

    “He knows you…” Thor cut off mid-sentence.

    “How?”

    “He knows of…your legend,” he said awkwardly.

    “Anyone else have any ideas?”

    “I think he’s right,” Barton spoke up. “Besides, you’re good with words.”

    “As is he, apparently.”

    “Then this will be an interesting match-up,” Stark said. “Anyone in disagreement here with sending Kat to speak to Loki?” No one spoke up. “Then that’s done.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “Now we have eleven hours and forty-five minutes left.”

    They awkwardly looked around at each other. The Avengers Initiative was made of quite a cast of characters, Kat thought.

    “So, we’re supposed to be getting to know each other better…” She started awkwardly. “Other than Barton, I don’t know anything about anyone here…”

    “Why don’t we just start by telling everyone one thing about ourselves that no one really knows?” Banner asked. The others nodded. “Okay, I’ll start. I’ve worked in the field of medicine for years, but I’ve spent some time teaching at a science institute the past few years.”

    “Which one?” Kat asked.

    “Georgia Tech.”

    “I go there!” The others shot her disbelieving looks. “What? You didn’t think SHIELD would let me go to college?”

    “I thought you would be homeschooled…” Cap said.

    “I thought you would pick a different school,” Stark added.

    “Why? Do I not look like an engineer?”

    “Well…”

    “Oh, so you think I don’t look smart enough to be an engineer? Or that, since I’m a girl, engineering is out of the question?”

    “I’m going to pick Option D, say nothing and not get my *** kicked by the Chosen One today.”

    “That was a smart choice…” Thor muttered.

    “What is your major?” Banner asked.

    “Biomedical engineering.”

    Stark laughed and she shot him a glare. “It’s not too late for that *** kicking, Stark.”

    “Fine, fine, I won’t say anything. Let the almighty immortal of Asgard over here have his turn.”

    “There is nothing for me to say,” Thor said.

    “All we know about you is that you’re an immortal from Asgard. Surely, that’s not everything about you,” Cap pointed out.

    “I used to train with the Chosen One.”

    “When was I on Asgard?” Kat asked, confused.

    “Many, many millennia ago…you were the strongest immortal there. No one could defeat you in combat.”

    “Things haven’t changed that much over the millennia, then,” Barton said.

    “How do you know that?” Stark asked.

    “Kat and I have trained together for years. SHIELD asked me to see to it that she knew how to use her powers. And, she can.”

    “Is your primary weapon still your sword?” Thor asked.

    Kat nodded. “Yeah…”

    “A sword?” Stark scoffed at this.

    “I guarantee you it can cut you in half even with you in your suit.”

    “Threats? Really?”

    “I haven’t threatened you.”

    “In the past two minutes, you’ve threatened to kick my *** and cut me and my suit in half.”

    “I didn’t say I was actually going to do it. Just that I could.”

    “Anyway, um…I have been trying to track down my family members,” Cap interjected.

    “Any luck?” Banner asked.

    He shook his head. “Not yet.”

    “I think I know someone who might have been related to you,” Stark said.

    “Really?”
    “My wife was a Rogers. She used to talk about how her uncle was the great Captain America.” Noticing that the others were staring at them, he stopped. “What?”

    “You’re married?” Banner asked, a disbelieving look on his face.

    “Uh…was,” Stark corrected him. “It’s not very public knowledge. We were married years ago when I was just Tony Stark, Howard Stark’s son…not Tony Stark, Iron Man.” Kat could tell he was getting uncomfortable with the subject…but the others were fully interested, even Thor.

    “Tell us about her,” Cap said, leaning forward. He was interested in this, especially since she had been one of his family members.

    “Um, well, we met in college, got married afterward, had a kid, and she died a few months afterward.” Kat had never seen Stark so uncomfortable. The more she studied him, however, she realized that he wasn’t so much uncomfortable as pained, as if it hurt him to discuss his wife.

    “Woah, woah, woah,” Banner held up his hands. “You had a kid?”

    “She died?” Cap asked sadly.

    “You have to expound more on your story, Stark,” Thor said.

    “Okay. We ended up having a kid. Everything was going great for a few months until she died…”

    “How?” Cap interrupted.

    Stark was obviously annoyed with his questions. “She was murdered,” he snapped, causing everyone to fall silent. “Afterward, for her safety, I gave my daughter up for adoption.”

    After a few more moments of silence, Banner leaned back in his chair. “Well, I think that’s probably the most depressing thing I’ve heard ever.”

    Before anyone else could ask Stark more questions, Kat quickly thought of something that would distract more people. “Um, it’s my birthday.”

    “Seriously?” Cap asked.

    “Yeah,” Stark and Kat answered at the same time. Kat shot him a strange look. “What? I read it in your profile. Am I the only one who did the assigned readings?”

    “What year after your birth does this day mark?” Thor asked.

    “The 21st,” she replied, slightly confused by his elaborate way of asking the question.

    “Happy birthday!” Cap exclaimed, giving her a warm smile. “Sorry that you have to spend it with us…”

    She waved her hand. “It’s fine. Most of my birthdays over the past few years have been spent studying for midterms, so this is an improvement.”

    “What are midterms?” Thor asked, confused.

    “They’re exams for college students…” Before the Asgardian could ask a follow-up question, Banner beat him to the answer. “College students are students of higher education. They go there to learn more skills and knowledge than others.”

    “Oh. Okay.”

    “Son of a *****!” Kat heard a thump as Barton hit his head against the bottom of the table. Apparently, he had bent down to look at something under the table and had sat up too soon.

    “Language!” Cap snapped, causing both Stark and Kat to roll their eyes.

    “Guys…I think Fury knew it was Kat’s birthday.”

    “And why do you think that?” Thor asked.

    “Because…” He emerged with a full sheet cake in his arms. Everyone gave him an are you serious look. Banner slid the cake onto the table. Written clearly on the top, in what Kat instantly recognized as Coulson’s handwriting, were the words “Happy 21st Kat!”

    “Seriously, it’s her 21st birthday and he didn’t include any beer?” Stark asked, eliciting a glare from Kat.

    Banner heaved a pack of beer onto the table.

    “That’s more like it.”

    Thor stared at the items before him. “I don’t understand…is this how Midgardians celebrate their birthdays?”

    “Only once they turn 21,” Kat said.

    “I thought the drinking age was 18,” Cap said.

    “You have a lot of things to catch up on.”

    “I guess so.”

    “Did he not leave us a knife?” Banner asked.

    Barton shrugged, taking a knife from his belt and tossing it onto the table.

    “So, who’s going to cut it?” Cap asked.

    “I will,” Thor volunteered.

    “You’ll cut through the table, too,” Stark pointed out.

    “While you guys are arguing, I’ll cut it,” Banner said with a sigh, picking up the knife.

    “Wait! What about the candles?” Cap asked.

    “Ah! I’ve got those,” Kat said, snapping her fingers. All twenty-one candles lit themselves instantly, causing Banner, Stark, and Cap to turn and stare at her. “What?” It wasn’t like she had done anything overly special. Making small flames appear out of mid-air wasn’t even a fraction of her powers, the depth and breadth of which, if the legends were true, spanned whole volumes…at least when she was immortal.

    “I’m just going to check off not getting you near anything overly flammable to my things I need to avoid doing list,” Banner said.

    “I don’t spontaneously light things on fire.” Before Stark could throw in a quip, she eyed him with a crystal blue glare. “But I can always start…”

    “What? I was going to say something about how awesome your superpower is.”

    “Yeah, right…” She scoffed.

    “I would suggest that we sing Happy Birthday, but I think Kat would kill all of us if we did…starting with me,” Barton said, eying Banner warily as the scientist transferred the knife from one hand to the other, studying it. As if he decided to suddenly attack someone with it, no one else in the room would be able to stop him…

    “What is this song, “Happy Birthday?” Thor asked, leaning forward. Kat liked how the Asgardian always looked intrigued by whatever Midgardian thing confused him instead of trying to hide his interest from the others. He was the only other immortal she had ever met, and she had always thought they were an overly proud folk.

  3. #3
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    Chapter Three



    “It’s a song you sing to someone on their birthday,” Stark said.

    “Well no ****, Sherlock,” Barton muttered, eliciting a glare from Cap.

    Stark ignored the comment. “I’d bother teaching you the lyrics, but I’m afraid you’d probably drown out the rest of us with your singing. What are you, a baritone?”

    “A what?”

    “You have a deep singing voice, right?” Banner asked, obviously getting a bit annoyed about everyone having to explain everything to Thor.

    For some reason, the image in front of her made her laugh. From imaging Thor singing her Happy Birthday to Banner, who was awkward as hell, trying to cut the cake to Barton, Cap, and Stark drinking together…Kat couldn’t believe what Fury and Coulson had done. So many different personalities were jammed into one room. At the end of twelve hours, they would either have to come to terms with each other or kill each other.

    Her laugh caught the men’s attention, every one turning to find out what was so funny to her. “No, no, guys…I can’t take it, really…” Before she could catch her breath, she burst out laughing, cursing herself for looking like she had gone crazy in front of her team.

    After a few moments of her laughing without being able to stop, Stark turned to the others. “I think we may have broken our leader.”

    Thor frowned. “She does not look broken to me.”

    “He means that she’s gone crazy,” Cap explained.

    “Oh, well…any person would in this situation,” Banner said.

    Finally, she was able to calm herself down. Seeing that Banner still hadn’t cut the cake, she snapped. “What are you doing? Cut it?”

    “You have to blow out the candles, first,” Cap said.

    “But why go to the trouble of lighting them…” Thor started.

    “It’s so she can make a wish,” Barton explained.

    “A wish? Ah, some Midgardian superstition…” Thor muttered, nodding his head.

    “No, just a tradition,” Barton answered, sliding the cake across the table towards Kat. As the other Avengers turned their attention toward her, she cursed herself again, this time for blushing.

    “Um…” She shrugged. “Okay…” She bent over to blow out the candles.

    “Wait!” Thor practically shouted. “Aren’t you supposed to tell us your wish?”

    Stark rolled his eyes. “No, that’s part of the tradition, too. If she tells you her wish, it won’t come true.”

    “Oh…” The Asgardian seemed slightly disappointed. “Proceed, then.”

    Kat hesitated a bit longer before blowing out the candles, managing to blow half out with each breath. The others clapped, causing her to blush again. “Okay, Banner, have at it.”

    The cake was chocolate (Kat’s favorite), and they divided it up into seven pieces (six for each of them plus one for Coulson). Barton broke open the carton of beer and rolled cans down to each person on the table. Thor stared at his for a few moments before watching Banner open his, then imitated the doctor. Cap sat and stared at his beer for a few moments until Stark asked, “What, you don’t drink?” The soldier glared back at him and finally picked his beer up.

    Kat studied the two men as she tasted the cake. Cap wasn’t exactly up tight…he was just the typical good soldier who did his job well. In addition, he had lived back when things were a lot more conservative…when each man stood for something. He was serious, wanting to do a good job and complete their mission well. Stark, on the other hand, never seemed serious (except for during the depressing story he imparted to them). He was always the center of attention in a room and continuously picked on other people (though Kat was starting realize that he did so to them because he was getting used to them). Stark didn’t really stand for anything except for himself. Even as Iron Man, he had gleaned all of the attention and press that had come from being a superhero. His story, however, made Kat wonder if there wasn’t something else going on inside the billionaire’s head.

    As she picked up her beer, she realized that Stark had been studying her as well. She wondered for a few moments if he was trying to figure her out as well…who she was, what she wanted (besides freedom from SHIELD, of course)…but, instead of a look of curiosity on his face, he had the same look he had worn when the others were asking him about his wife. Kat was suddenly reverted back to a state of udder confusion about who Stark really was. She didn’t much of a chance to reflect, however. As soon as he realized she had caught him in the act, he reverted back to his usual annoying self.
    “You don’t drink much, do you?” He asked her…well, told her, as was his way of saying things.

    She shook her head. “I’ve never had alcohol before.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she realized that she had made a mistake. Stark would have a field day with that, she was sure.

    Right on queue, the billionaire lit up, “Seriously? Are you one of those super serious students who lives in the library the entire school year or something?”

    She rolled her eyes. “No…I have friends…”

    “Who, obviously, do the same thing…”

    “No,” she squirmed in her seat. “They’re studious…but…”

    “They don’t party.”

    “I don’t party.”

    “But you’re also not super serious student.”

    “No, I’m in between.”

    “Well, that’s no fun.”

    “I try to keep my life as normal as possible,” Kat said, sitting back in her seat, her crystal blue eyes on him. She was acutely aware that the other Avengers were listening to their conversation intently, though Thor probably didn’t understand half of it. “When part of it is consumed with how abnormal your existence is, it’s nice to be able to act like a normal student every once in a while.”

    Stark nodded, as if he understood her thoroughly. Kat was glad for the end of that conversation. She was not used to people like Stark, who spoke constantly, would berate or tease you at every opportunity, and took everything as a joke. She hoped he didn’t notice how uneasy she was when they spoke. Although it was strange, she would definitely prefer speaking to the Stark who had told them about his wife and kid. The sincerity he had shown had really struck her. He acted as if he didn’t care about others…but he had obviously cared about his wife.

    As the evening wore on, however, she found herself much more comfortable around the others. The alcohol had loosened them all up, even Cap, who, several times during the night, would even laugh at something Stark had said. Barton and Kat shared stories about their training sessions, how Kat could catch arrows out of mid-air and how Barton had taught her hand-to-hand combat. Kat shared stories from her childhood under Coulson’s guardianship. Banner, Kat, and Stark traded stories about their respective colleges (Banner had gone to Caltech, so all three of the major engineering schools were represented). Stark even spoke to Cap a little bit about his wife, telling the soldier about her relatives, some of whom Cap remembered. Stark even showed him a picture of his wife, Caroline. It turned out she and Cap had the same blonde hair and blue eyes, the Rogers family traits. There was something about Caroline that was familiar to Kat, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Thor imparted some details of Asgardian life to the others and asked a ton of questions about Earth. Kat listened with interest when he told her about her life on Asgard thousands of years ago, though she couldn’t help thinking that he was withholding some information from her.

    By the end of the night, stories had been shared, jokes had been made, and no serious fights had occurred. Everyone had had a chance to observe their teammates, and, in the end, it looked as if this would actually work. A half hour before they were set to be released, the room suddenly fell silent.

    “So…what should I know about your brother before I interrogate him?” Kat asked Thor.

    The look that crossed his face was unreadable, too many emotions mixed together. “He is not being himself, so I do not know.”

    “What do you mean he’s not being himself?” Banner asked.

    “The Loki I know would never do this.”

    “Maybe the Loki you know isn’t the real Loki,” Cap pointed out.

    Thor shook his head, but remained silent. A few minutes later, a click sounded from the door, and it swung open to reveal Coulson. “I see you guys made it through the night alive.”

    “Yeah, no thanks to SHIELD,” Stark muttered.

    “The director says to get some sleep. We’ll be meeting at 1700 to finalize everything while Kat speaks to Loki.”

    After saying their good-byes for the night, the team split up to head to their rooms. Kat stayed behind to speak with Coulson. “Thanks for the cake, Uncle Phil.”

    “Uncle Phil?” Stark asked with a laugh behind them.

    She rolled her eyes. “Yes, what’s wrong with that?”

    “Just that I thought his first name was Agent.”

    “You’re welcome, Kat. Sorry your twenty-first birthday had to come about under such circumstances,” Coulson said, giving her a hug.

    “Okay, well, I’m going to go get some sleep so that I don’t pass out in front of the immortal of mischief tomorrow,” Kat said, saying good-bye to the two men and existing the corridor.

    Coulson turned to Stark, who was staring in the direction of Kat’s exit. “Now’s your chance,” the agent said. “Take it or it’s gone…who knows if the both of you will be alive at the end of this.”

    Stark simply nodded and headed in Kat’s direction. He was able to catch up to her in another passageway before she got to her room. “Hey, Kat,” he called out.

    She turned around, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “Yeah?”

    He took a deep breath and took a few steps toward her. “You know how I told all of you how when my wife died, I had to give our kid up for adoption?”

    She nodded. “Yes…”

    “Well…that kid was you.”

    Kat froze for a few moments, not believing her ears. Before she could say anything, however, he turned around and immediately exited the conversation.

    “Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up!” She snapped, catching up to him and planting herself between him and the exit. “What are you talking about?”

    “It’s simple. Caroline and I had a daughter. SHIELD came in and informed us about how she was the Chosen One, selling us the idea that they could protect our family from anyone who would try and kill her. Then, one day, Caroline ends up getting murdered and SHIELD declares me an unfit father…and takes our daughter away. Twenty-one years later, Fury calls the Avengers together to take down this demon army, and my daughter just so happens to be the leader of the Initiative.”

    From the way Stark spoke and from how close she was to him, Kat could tell that he was slightly drunk. Did he even know what he was saying? “I can’t talk to you like this,” she shook her head.

    “It’s true,” he insisted.

    “I know it’s true, I just…” She had to get away from him. She could see the look of pain flooding back into his eyes. “I need to get some sleep. And so do you.” She stepped back around him and headed back to her room.

    “You thought Caroline looked familiar, didn’t you?” Stark asked before Kat could get very far.

    She swung back around, her eyes wide. “How did you…”

    “It’s because you look just like your mother,” he said before finally ending the conversation for good, exiting the hallway and leaving Kat stunned and confused.

    ------------

    A few hours later, Kat headed to the main bay of the helicarrier, running into Coulson on her way to speak with Fury. He gave her a warm smile. “Sleep well?”

    “Did you know that Stark is my father?” She asked him bluntly.

    He nodded. “Yes, I’ve known all along.”

    “Why didn’t you tell me?”

    “Kat…” He stepped closer, lowering his voice. “Do not let anyone but Fury and the other Avengers know that you know.”

    “Why…?”

    “Kat,” he said firmly. “Just promise me.”

    She sighed. “Okay.”

    “Good,” his smiled returned. “Fury’s waiting to speak to you.” Before Kat could continue, he added. “He’s really happy you’re here.”

    “Fury?” She asked, confused.

    “No, Stark,” he said, heading back down the hallway.

    ------------

    Banner was already in the lab when Stark arrived. He had sobered up considerably and was continuously playing his and Kat’s conversation over and over in his head, a worried look on his face the entire time he sat at his computer. He didn’t even notice that he had been staring at a blank screen until Banner asked, “Something wrong?”

    “Nah, just Star Wars.”

    “What?”

  4. #4
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    Chapter Four



    “When Darth Vader tells Luke Skywalker that he’s his father, what do you think Darth Vader thought Luke would say? I mean, in this case, it should be ten times easier since we’re on the same side, and I’m not a super villain or anything…”

    Banner stared at Stark as he continued to babble, the scientist not understanding anything the billionaire was saying. Something about Star Wars and how it related to his life? He couldn’t still be drunk, Banner reasoned. Unless he had continued to drink after the team split up to get some sleep. No…Stark’s eyes were too clear. This was just another one of his moments, Banner decided. No sense in really trying to stretch his mind trying to figure it out.

    “…and, in the end, I mean, what does she feel about this? Is she happy? I mean I guess it’s a step up from thinking she’s an orphan…”

    “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Banner said, his attention caught by the word “she.” “Slow down. What in the hell are you talking about?”

    “I may or may not have, last night, drunkenly gone through the ‘I am your father’ scene with Kat.”

    Banner didn’t usually swear, but the situation called for it and Cap wasn’t in the room to yell at him about it. “The **** are you talking about? Are you serious?” He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes, not comprehending what Stark was insinuating. Then, the previous night’s events came crashing back. The way Stark had acted when they grilled him about his wife. The similarity in appearance between Kat and Caroline Stark. The fact that Stark had spent most of his time with his attention on or speaking to Kat.

    “Yeah…Kat’s my daughter,” Stark said simply, booting up the computer in front of him, as if that was the end of the conversation and there were no more questions to be asked.

    “You’re Kat’s father?” Banner asked disbelievingly, stepping closer with the most skeptical look he could muster planted on his face. “Why…how…?”

    “For the love of God, do I have to go through the story with everyone?” Stark complained, rolling his eyes. “This is going to get annoying.”

    “Oh, I’m sorry, it’s just that, you know, this is probably the biggest mind blown moment I’ve ever had. And may I remind you, I’ve seen some pretty strange stuff.”

    “Like what?” Cap asked as he stepped into the room.

    “Nothing that could compare to the news I just received,” Banner said.

    “Is it bad news?” Thor asked, stepping into the lab with Barton on his heels.

    “Oh, great, the entire team is here. Maybe I won’t have to repeat the story after all,” Stark said.

    “What story?” Barton asked.

    “The story about my daughter.”

    “I thought you lost track of her years ago,” Cap said, confused.

    “I did until yesterday.”

    Before more questions could be asked, Banner said, “Kat is Stark’s daughter.”

    “You ruined the storytelling.”

    “Yeah, well, we’re on a time crunch here.”

    Thor and Cap stared at him. Barton, however, didn’t look surprised. “What, you knew?” Banner asked.

    “Yeah. Coulson and I were told to make sure Stark stayed away from her.”

    “Why?” Thor asked.

    “For her safety,” Stark answered. “Apparently, her true identity as a Stark could have put her in even more danger than before.”

    “No…the fact that the moment you would have become aware of where she was, you would have taken her from SHIELD’s care and into the spotlight was a risk,” Barton said.

    “Oh, I’m sorry that I wanted my daughter back,” Stark said, shrugging.

    Barton stepped closer. “You made threats. You could have put yourself in danger. If SHIELD had targeted you as a threat…”

    “They already had,” Stark snapped.

    “Your hostility didn’t help.”

    “They promised us protection and failed!” The others froze as Stark continued. “I lost my wife and, not three days later, they took away my daughter. I think a little hostility was called for in that situation.”

    The room was silent for a few moments, the silence not broken until Fury stepped into the room. Everyone turned to the director, who studied their faces. “So, you all know, don’t you?”

    “Yeah…and we’ve got questions,” Cap said.

    “Your questions on that matter will have to be put aside,” he said, stepping over to a monitor and flicking it on. A security feed appeared, displaying the class cage that Loki had been placed in. “Kat’s about to speak with him.” The others gathered around the monitor to watch.

    ------------

    Coulson remained by the door as Kat ascended the steps to where she could speak clearly to Loki, face-to-face. She stepped cautiously toward the cage, standing a few feet away and forcing herself to stand up straight and put her most intimidating face on.

    He had been sitting on a bench on the other side of the cage. When he spotted her, however, he froze, his eyes on her for a few moments...For a split second, he looked shocked to see her there, but, instantly, a look of confidence and arrogance replaced it as he stood up and sauntered over to where she stood.

    He laughed. “So, they send the Chosen One to speak with me. I feel so…honored, though you hold nothing of the power you used to.”

    Kat crossed her hands in front of her chest as the two studied each other for a few moments.

    Loki spoke first. “You used to be one of the most powerful immortals on Asgard, but now…” He tilted his head to the side, fixing her with his emerald eyes. “You look more like a frightened child.”

    “I’m not a child,” she said firmly.

    “Yes…you are…you’ve been controlled your entire life by people who believe they know what is best for you. And, instead of standing up to them…you’ve let them take everything from you…even when you were an infant.”

    Kat gaped at him, not believing her ears. Cap turned to Stark. “How does he know that…?” Stark didn’t seem to hear the soldier’s question, his eyes fixed on the screen in front of them, a worried expression on his face.
    “Though they weren’t directly responsible…your mother was taken from you…and then, they took your father away as well. Your entire life in their hands when you weren’t even three months old. They took away your future. Who knows how powerful you could have become without their supervision…or really, how happy? SHIELD will disagree with me, but really, wouldn’t the life lived with your father been much better than the life you lived under their protection?” Loki studied her for a few moments. “And so I ask you...why, when you are the most powerful immortal in existence…why are you doing just what they want you to do? Why not do what you want?”

    Kat paused for a few moments before answering. “My job as the Chosen One is to protect the Earth. And you and these demons are threatening the very mortals I have sworn to protect…”

    “So you will follow SHIELD’s commands in this war?”

    “No,” she said firmly. “I will lead. Not follow.”

    “Ah…” He took a few steps back, nodding. “Now, that is the Quamachi I remember.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “My brother has told you that you once took up residence on Asgard?”

    “Yes…”

    He stepped closer, his face only a few inches away from hers, the glass the only barrier between them. “I know everything about your past. I know you care too much about the mortals you protect. I know you let Odin control your future even though, if you wished, you could destroy him easily. You don’t remember anything…but I do…Aya.”

    The name struck her hard. It was something familiar…she tried to remember why…it caught her off guard.

    “Isn’t it time that you took what you wanted?” Loki asked. “I am here because I wish to make Midgard my domain. I’m tired of waiting in line for the throne of Asgard.” He smiled, fixing her again with his green eyes. “Perhaps…we could accomplish our goals together.”

    “What exactly do you think I want?”

    “Freedom. You. Want. Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you please, to do anything, to speak to anyone…” He paused. “To love anyone you wish to.”

    “You’re offering me freedom?”

    “I’m offering you the life SHIELD took away from you,” Loki said.

    Kat’s eyes widened, and she backed away from the glass. Back in the lab, Stark turned to Fury. “Get her out of there,” he snapped.

    Coulson stepped forward from his spot by the door and walked over to Kat, gently taking her arm. “I think that’s enough for today,” he said, turning her around and guiding her back down the steps. When he glanced back, he discovered that Loki was smirking in triumph.

    Ushering her into the hallway, Coulson stopped to ask, “Are you okay?”

    She nodded, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “He gave me everything I needed to know.” The frightened look had disappeared from her face. Coulson’s eyes widened as he realized that she had simply been acting like a child to get information out of Loki.

    “And the location of the Tesseract?”

    “’I’m offering you the life SHIELD took away from you,’” she quoted slowly. “They took away my life with Stark…a life I would be living now at Stark Tower.”

    ------------

    “So, what you’re saying is, Loki has sent Dr. Selvig to Stark Tower with the Tesseract?” Fury asked once Kat rejoined the others in the lab.

    She nodded. “It’s the tallest building in New York. Whatever he has planned, he wants to put on a show for the people there…and where better than Stark Tower?”

    Fury nodded and took out his radio. “Tell the bridge to steer us in the direction of the East Coast.” He lowered the radio. “We’ll send you all out in a jet to get closer to the tower…”

    Suddenly, an agent burst into the room. “Sir! We have an intrusion on deck!”

    “What kind of intrusion?”

    “We…we don’t know who they are…”

    “What are they doing?”

    “They attacked several of ours planes…last time I saw them, they were trying to blow up one of the engines…”

    “With what?”

    Before the agent could answer, an explosion rocked the helicarrier. Everyone went flying as the ship tilted downward. Kat slid all the way to the glass windows overlooking the bay of the ship, slamming into them with full force. As she tried to regain her vision, she saw a plume of smoke rise up from one of the front engines.

    Rising shakily to her feet, she shouted, “One of the front engines is out!” She spun around, realizing Fury was waiting for her to call out their plan of attack. “Stark, you know how to fix one of these?”

    “I’m on it,” he said, heading straight for the door.

    “Cap, you go with him. I’ll provide back up for you two. Thor, you get up to the deck with Barton and see what damage you can do to whoevers invading up there.”

    The team sprang into action. Kat followed Cap out of the lab, noticing that Stark was running in the opposite direction. “You go on up there and scope out the damage. We’ll meet you in a few minutes,” She said, sprinting off after her father.

    “I think I can manage to put the suit on by myself,” Stark said when she finally caught up to him.

    “If you get killed before you even reach the suit, it won’t mat…”

    She felt a hand at the back of her shirt, tugging her backwards. She spun around, narrowly missing a swing from her attacker. Kat caught a glimpse of black eyes…a dark aura. She had just enough time to breathe, “Demons…they’re demons…” before he swung again, this time unleashing a powerful wave of dark energy that blew her back a few feet.

    Stark had hesitated a few feet away. “What are you doing?! Get to the suit!” Kat snapped, standing up, not realizing that Stark already had one of the gauntlets on. The demon lunged for her again, but this time, she was prepared. She grabbed him by the front of his shirt, forcing him to back up a few more steps.

    “Get down!”

    Kat had just enough time to flatten herself to the floor before a laser blast slammed into the demon, knocking him clear across the room. He thudded to the floor, a hole blasted clean through his chest. Stark walked over to help Kat to her feet.

    “Thanks for that,” she muttered. “I didn’t know that you could carry the suit with you.”

    “Not all of it just yet…just the gauntlets. I’m working on a new prototype to make it completely portable,” he said, motioning to the cuffs on both of his wrists.

  5. #5
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    Chapter Five



    The helicarrier rocked again, forcing both Starks to brace themselves to keep from flying into the walls. Footsteps rang out in the passageway behind them. Whether they were demons or SHIELD agents, Kat didn’t want to find out. “Let’s go!” She barked, racing past Stark. He followed on her heels, glancing behind them every few steps to ensure that whoever behind them wasn’t trying to catch them. Kat breathed a sigh of relief when she realized that it was just a few agents who had been called to the sector to investigate the demons there.

    However, as they rounded another corner, Kat realized that the passageways to either side were filled with agents fighting demons…or, more correctly, trying to fight them. When your enemies were immortal and required certain injuries to drop dead, guns turned out to be really ineffective weapons. Kat prayed that Coulson wasn’t caught up in this…or if he was, he was kicking *** as he usually did.

    “Up ahead!” Stark shouted as they neared a storage room. He frantically punched the passcode into the keypad, pulling Kat in behind him as the sliding doors slammed shut. She guarded the door, straining to sense any dark energy in the corridor in front of them.

    As the suit was adjusting itself back onto his body, Stark tried to wrap his mind around the situation they were in. He wasn’t used to fighting anything like demons…and, besides shooting them through the heart…didn’t know the first thing about disposing of them correctly. He would leave that to Kat for the time being, choosing instead to focus on repairing the broken engine of the helicarrier.

    A loud banging noise sounded from the other side of the door, startling Kat completely. Not sensing any dark energy from the would-be intruder, she punched the button to open the doors. The glass slid open to reveal Cap, dressed in his own suit. Kat started to feel underdressed, running around in her simple t-shirt and jeans while everyone else got special superhero get-ups. She had her own suit of armor, but didn’t like to use it except in extreme cases…

    As soon as Cap laid eyes on Kat, he gasped, “He’s escaped! They’re calling a code down on the sector where his cell is…”

    The soldier didn’t have to say another word. “Go with Stark! I’ll stop him!” She snapped, brushing past him and racing back down the corridor.

    “Okay, let’s go,” Stark said as the suit’s helmet finally adjusted and his view-screen snapped on. Cap spun around, letting Stark lead the way to the broken engine.

    ------------
    Spinning around corridors, making sure to avoid any interaction with demons on the way to Loki’s cell, Kat’s mind was racing a thousand miles a minute. If he escaped, their chances of finding the Tesseract would decrease substantially. What worried her even more was the presence of the demons…He had brought a demon army with him, which meant he was being backed by even darker forces…How in the world could the Avengers stand up to them…?

    As if her thoughts had summoned him, Kat nearly crashed right into Loki as she careened around another corner. Both were caught off guard for a split second before Kat could recover enough to realize what she was doing. She aimed a swing at his head, but was too slow to connect. As she spun back around, he grabbed both of her arms, immobilizing her.

    A smile spread across his face, his black eyes shining only a few inches away from hers. “You have become so much weaker over the past few millennia.” She struggled to break his grip on her arms, but to no avail. “In body and mind, it seems…”

    Another lurch of the helicarrier caught him off guard. Kat was able to twist out of his grip and spin around to aim a well-placed kick to his chest, but he was still too fast for her. Her attack missed completely, and she got the wind knocked out of her as she fell to the floor, narrowly missing banging her head due to another lurch of the helicarrier.

    She realized then that, during their entire confrontation, he had failed to attack her, choosing to remain on defense instead. Unfortunately, she had all of three seconds to think about it before he grabbed the front of her shirt and hoisted her to her feet. “What exactly do you mean to accomplish by attacking me in your mortal form?” He asked.

    “What, am I not enough of a challenge for you right now?” She snapped, anger rising up when she realized that she really wasn’t. She was certainly no match for him at the moment…

    “Kat! We need your help with this engine!” Cap’s voice echoed in her head from her communicator.

    “A little bit busy here Ca…” She didn’t have time to react when Loki threw her aside. She tried to brace herself against the impact of hitting the wall at such a high momentum, but it still caused her to nearly fall unconscious.

    While she was still trying to regain her vision, she could hear him step closer. “Behold, the mighty Chosen One. I can’t decide if it’s your time with mortals here on this Earth or time itself that has taken your power.” Kat struggled to stand up, but she couldn’t prevent him from simply striding out of the corridor.

    “Kat!” Cap’s voice rang again.

    “I…I’m coming!” She snapped, staggering to her feet. “Just…just hold on!”

    “We’re at the third….” A loud bang cut him off, forcing Kat to focus herself and spring forward, racing to make it to the top of the helicarrier. People were scattering in all directions, trying not to slip off the side with every lurch. It was easy for her to tell which were humans and which were demons. The demons had an aura to them that felt like pure evil.

    She finally reached the third motor. Shouts from below signaled to her that Cap was in one of the engine rooms, trying to fight off any intruders. The blades were spinning in the motor…picking up speed at every turn. It took her a few seconds to realize Stark was in there, turning them himself.

    “Kat! I can’t…I can’t pull the lever to give him his escape route…You’re going to have to do it on the signal…” Cap’s voice came in starts and stops. Kat tried to ask where the lever was, but Cap was too intent on the battle in front of him to answer. She would have to go in there herself.

    Cap’s voice shouted, “NOW!” Just as she slipped off the side of the helicarrier.

    ------------

    The blades were spinning so fast, Stark had actually gotten himself caught between two of them. Cap wasn’t answering and he could hear gunshots echoing from the engine room. “Cap! Really need you to pull that lever now!” He shouted, but the soldier wasn’t listening or was trying to fight his way there.

    Out of the corner of his eye, he glimpsed a white figure flying up beside the engine. The blades swung to a stop, lurching against some unknown force that kept them in place long enough for him to fly out. As soon as he was clear, they lurched back into motion again at the same speed he had pushed them to.

    Spinning out into open air, Stark finally righted himself and was able to make it back up to the deck, crashing down onto his back, trying to catch his breath from the effort it took to move the blades. He sat up just as a flash of white landed a few feet away from him. He glanced over to see Kat, who had apparently suited up for this task…all in white and gold. A white tunic with gold armor and white pants. Golden sandals that made her look like she had stepped out of ancient Greece. White wings disappeared almost as soon as he saw them.

    “Right…angel…” He muttered as she stepped forward and held out her hand to help pull him to his feet.

    “Loki was able to escape,” she said, looking out in the direction of the airplanes that dotted the surface of the helicarrier.
    Before Stark could respond, Kat’s communicator beeped. “Kat,” Fury’s voice rang in her ear. “Get down to the holding bay. We need you down here.”

    “Okay,” she said, turning and running back in the direction she had come from. Stark watched her go as Cap ran up.

    “We’ve lost track of Banner and Thor,” he said. “Banner turned and disappeared…Thor was caught in that holding cell Loki was in and ejected…”

    “Did you see that?”

    “See what?”

    “That whole, psychically controlling the fan blades thing…I should have just gotten her to kick-start the engine in the first place. I wouldn’t look like I’ve been attacked by a can opener…”

    Another crackle of their communicators alerted them to the sound of Fury’s voice. “All members of the Initiative still on board need to report to the main control base immediately.” Something in his voice tipped Stark and Cap off that something beyond Loki’s escape was wrong. His calling Kat away so suddenly a few minutes prior unnerved Stark. A quick glance at Cap told him the soldier didn’t like this at all, either.

    ------------

    Agents were scattering everywhere, but there was not one sign of a demon as Kat raced toward the holding bay, her sandals sliding on the slick metal surface of the floors. Fury’s urgent request for help made her nervous. She finally reached the holding bay, pushing back several agents. The cage Loki had been in was gone. Her eyes instantly fell on the figure of Coulson slumped against the wall. Fury was speaking to him. Her heart froze as she stepped forward. Blood was running through his shirt and down his chest. He turned to look at her and smiled as Fury stepped away and out of the room.

    “Hey, Kat…” He moaned as she knelt down beside him, her eyes wide. “Listen to me…”

    “You can’t die…” She snapped, tears starting to roll down her cheeks.

    He put a hand on her shoulder. “Listen to me, Kat.” She nodded and leaned forward to hear him better. “Whatever you do, don’t let them separate you and Stark. Stay together…stay by his side. That’s the only way you will survive.”

    She nodded, trying to hold back the sobs. He motioned for her to lean closer so that he could speak directly into her ear. “Kat…I’m so glad that I got to spend so much time with you…watch you grow up…but you HAVE to remember this.” He took a deep breath. “Never. Trust. SHIELD.”

    With that, Coulson gave his dying breath.

    ------------

    What remained of the Avengers sat around the main meeting table in the control bay. Fury stood in front of them, having just informed them of Coulson’s death. Stark had his attention focused on Kat, who was staring down at her hands on the table in front of her.

    “The Avengers Initiative goes beyond just what we see today,” Fury said. “Stark and Barton both know at least parts of the true story of the initiative…while Coulson knew it all. He started the program years ago after the Chosen One was born. While one person is powerful, a team of extraordinary people like her was just what we needed. After the death of Caroline Stark, we placed her in Coulson’s hands…” This caused Stark to look up, giving Fury what Cap could only describe as a death glare. “ and Barton helped train her. We lost a good man today…he believed that the Initiative could do anything…”

    The swinging chair caught Stark’s attention. Kat had fled the table, obviously not being able to sit there and hear Fury talk about Coulson a minute longer. Stark had held a small bit of hostility and jealously toward the agent over the years. He realized, though, that Kat had grown up believing she was an orphan…that, believing that had caused her to grow close to the only person she could treat as family. He had overheard her calling Coulson “Uncle Phil” several times. This loss had dealt her a hard blow.

    Stark was the last person on Earth who really had the skills to comfort someone, but he suddenly had an urge to follow her. Before Fury could say another word, he rose from his chair and left the control bay.

    Cap watched him go, a thoughtful look on his face. “So, let me get this straight, you started the Initiative…Why separate the Starks?”

    “Tony Stark did not become Iron Man until ten years ago,” Fury said. “However, as Howard Stark’s son, by the time Kat was born, he was already in the spotlight. It was too much of a security risk…”

    “So you declared him an unfit father,” Barton finished, fixing Fury with a cool gaze.

    “What?” Cap asked, a disbelieving stare filling his blue eyes.

    Barton rose from his chair and stepped closer to Fury, the two SHIELD operatives sizing each other up. “SHIELD was just waiting for something to happen to have the excuse for gaining control over Kat. Caroline Stark’s death was the perfect excuse.”

    “Be careful what you say in here, Barton,” Fury said, fixing him with a warning gaze. “The wrong eyes and ears could be seeing and listening here.”

    “Is it true?” Cap asked, standing up.

    Fury hesitated for a few moments. “It kept her safe didn’t it?”

    “How are you so sure he wouldn’t have kept her safe himself?” Barton asked him. “How are you so sure he wouldn’t have become Iron Man even sooner to protect her?”

    “One of these days ask him why he became Iron Man. Then you’ll see why,” Fury replied, walking out of the room.

    ------------

    Stark found Kat in the holding bay, leaning over the rails and staring down at the hole through which Loki’s cell had fallen. He hesitantly approached her, not sure of what to say. Luckily, after a few moments of silence, Kat spoke before he did.

    “His dying words were to never trust SHIELD,” she said.

    “Well, that’s nothing new to me,” he replied, stepping closer. “I should have never trusted them in the first place,” he added, trying to keep the regret and guilt from his voice. This was no time to reflect on the past…

    She took a deep, ragged breath. “There’s something wrong about all of this. Thor keeps on insisting his brother would never do something like this…”

    “Thor is biased and too optimistic…”

    “What if someone really is controlling Loki?”

    “Then, I guess we have bigger problems…”

    She paused, turning around and crossing her arms in front of her chest. He could tell she was struggling not to cry in front of him. “He told me to not let myself be separated from you. That…that was the only way we would survive.”

    “He didn’t happen to mention exactly what we would be able to survive, did he?”

    She shook her head. “This war goes beyond our battle with Loki…there’s something much bigger than this that we can’t see.”

  6. #6
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    Chapter Six



    “The way I see it is all we can do right now is stop Loki,” Stark said.

    Kat ducked her head. “We have to…” She said firmly. “He can’t have died in vain.”

    He paused. “He was never supposed to get in touch with me over the years.” She raised her head as he continued. “He could have gotten fired, but he…” He pulled his wallet out of his back pocket, holding out a picture for her to see. It was Kat, but she looked a little bit younger. “Every year on your birthday, he would send me a new picture of you.” He sighed. “Guess I owe a lot to him…for everything he did for you over the years.”

    Kat stared at the picture for a few moments, trying to hold back the tears. Coulson had been like a father to her growing up. He had looked after her, encouraged her in her training, and had taught her everything she knew…her values…everything. And now, he was gone, his dying words telling her to stick by the man who was her real father…and to never trust the organization that took her away from Stark in the first place.

    She couldn’t stop herself from crying. She tried to turn away so that Stark wouldn’t see her tears, but he reached out to grab her shoulder, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close to his chest. He rested his chin on the top of her head as she sobbed into his shoulder for a few minutes. He glanced down at the picture in his hand.

    Their thoughts were interrupted by Cap’s voice coming through the communicators. “We’re all ready to head out when you are, Kat.”

    She pulled away from Stark, wiping the tears from her eyes. “We’ll be right up.”

    “Yes, the family of superheroes. You, me, and Uncle Steve.”

    “I don’t think he wants you to…”

    “What did you just call me?!” Cap’s voice rang loud and clear in their ears.

    “Uncle Steve is grumpy today, apparently,” Stark said, causing Kat to burst out laughing. He smiled at her, glad to see that the tears had disappeared from her eyes. “Why don’t we go stop this Immortal of Mischief?”

    “And kick some demon ***?”

    “Of course.”

    “Let’s do it, then.”

    ------------

    An hour later, the entire Avengers Initiative sat in a small plane heading for New York.

    “When we get there, Stark and I will head straight for Stark Tower. I need the rest of you to cover the perimeter of the building and block any demon that tries to stop us. Thor, I’m going to need you to take on Loki for us. Stark and I will recover the Tesseract,” Kat said, shouting over the sound of the engine. Everyone nodded, understanding the plan perfectly.

    New York came into sight in front of them. Barton opened the back end of the plane, allowing Stark and Kat their exit. Stark’s helmet slipped over his head, and he turned to Kat as she transformed back into her ancient armor. “Let’s do this,” he said as they both jumped out of the plane, the suit’s rocket boosters roaring in a few seconds. Kat’s wings unfurled behind her as she flew after him.

    What they didn’t expect was the pair of demon snipers on the buildings across from the tower. And what Stark really didn’t expect was for them to be holding guns and not some kind of ancient dark weapon or something like that. As bullets ricochet off of the suit, he turned to make sure Kat was still flying safely beside him. As the sun beat down on both of them, he could just make out a faint shine surrounding her…something like an invisible barrier. The bullets seemed to fly straight through it, but none even grazed her.

    Ahead of them, they could spot the very top of the tower. Kat could clearly see some sort of machine ahead of them, glowing that eerie blue glow that she knew could only belong to the Tessearct. Stark stopped a few yards away from it, firing lasers at the machine. They simply bounced off of the energy field created by the Tesseract.

    “We’re going to have to find a different way to shut off that machine,” Kat said. Suddenly, a loud bang sounded from one of the thrusters on the suit’s feet, causing the engine to go out and spin Stark slightly out of control.

    “I’m going to need to grab another suit,” he said once he stopped spinning out. “Cover me.” He flew towards the second top terrace of the tower. Kat followed after him, pausing when she saw that Loki was already there. Thor had gotten distracted by the demon snipers. As Stark landed on the terrace above, his suit dismantling around him, she landed a few yards away from Loki, placing herself in between Stark and the immortal.

    Loki smiled, taking a few steps toward her. “You’re here to stop me.”

    “I’m here for the Tesseract. As the Protector of the Earth, it is under my protection and keeping as well.”

    “And you can certainly have it back once I’m through with it.”

    Kat frowned.

    “Ah…Now I see. Not a one of you knows exactly what I am going to use it for…”

    “To conquer the Earth.”

    “To do so, I need an army.”

    “You already have one.”

    “No, these are just the demons who happened to be exiled to Earth millennia ago. I’m talking about those who live beyond the Wall, the true Demon Realm. Today, that wall will be destroyed, and I will have my army.”

    Stark stepped back on to the terrace, not dressed in his suit. Kat shot him a panicked look as he stepped over to her. “Go up top and see if you can stop this machine. I’ve got things here.”

    Kat glanced from him back to the immortal, who was watching them with an air of amusement, his black eyes shining. “Are you crazy?” Without his suit, he was no match at all…he could end up getting himself killed…

    “Yeah, but I suspect we’re all a little crazy here, especially him,” Stark motioned toward Loki. “Go up and see if you can stop that machine. Last thing we need to deal with is more demons…”

    Kat was about to argue more. Without his suit, he wouldn’t be able to force her to leave, either, but the look in his eyes made her back off. She needed to trust him on this. She glanced up at the roof above them, then shot him a look that warned him against getting himself killed. Unfurling her wings, she shot back up into the air.

    “I need a drink,” Stark announced. “You want one?”

    Loki shot him a confused look, but followed him back into the building all the same. “Stalling me will get you nowhere.”

    “Not stalling, threatening.”

    “You should have left your suit on for that.”

    “I’m not completely useless without my suit,” Stark said, sliding behind the bar and grabbing a bottle. He slid two bracelets onto his wrists before pouring the liquor into a glass.

    “Right…please tell me what other abilities the father of the Chosen One has.”

    “Well, I’m a genius…and a billionaire. Kind of like Batman, but much more awesome…”

    “But no powers.”

    “Not that I know of. Unusual powers seem to appear in people every other day…”

    “Have you ever wondered of your own importance beyond your mortal life?”

    “Other than the extreme importance of being the father of the Chosen One? I would say…”

    “You have none. Once you die, you are out of this fight for good.”

    “People also become immortal every once in a while…”

    “Wishful thinking,” Loki smiled.

    Stark stepped out from behind the bar. “Well, in any case, you’re going to lose.”

    “What makes you think that?”

    “Well, let’s look at who is on our side…we’ve got the Chosen One, all-powerful Protector of the Earth. Me, Iron Man, genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist. A super soldier, Captain Steve Rogers. Your brother, the Immortal of Lightning, and an expert archer/assassin who happened to have trained the Chosen One.”

    “I have an army.”

    “We have a Hulk.”

    “Such a small resistance.”

    “There’s nothing here for you to win. There is no throne. You’re going to lose.”

    “We’ll see about that.”

    Before Stark could react, Loki grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off of the floor and flinging him towards the window.

    ------------

    Kat landed on the rooftop, causing whoever was manning the machine to turn around. He wasn’t a demon, she realized. She thought she recognized him from the mission dozier. The Tesseract was glowing brightly, releasing a large beam of energy towards the sky above. “Stop the machine!” She shouted.

    He paused before answering. “I’m sorry, but I can’t…” He stared at her. “This is all too far gone. You need to stop him before he destroys everything…”

    A loud crash sounded below them, and Kat looked back over the roof to see Stark flying through the air with no suit. Swearing, she took off from the roof, diving down at top speed to grab him by the arm. She flew them both back to a roof across from the tower, making them crash land there. As Kat rolled to a stop, she flew to her feet and rushed at him, grabbing him by the front of the shirt.

    “What do you think you’re doing?!” She snapped.

    “Getting another suit!” He shouted back, raising his wrists for her to see.

    She hit him across the shoulder. “I swear to God, if you get yourself killed out here…” She aimed another blow, but he caught her wrist.

    “What are you going to do?” He asked, prepared to say something snide until he saw the hurt look in her eyes. She wrenched her hand out of his grasp and stood up.

    “Guys! We need help down here! We’re getting overpowered!” Barton’s voice shouted over their communicators.

    “The demons have already made it through?!” Kat shouted, watching as Thor landed on the terrace across from Loki.

    As the suit formed around him, Stark turned to Kat. “You need to find a way to shut off that machine…”

    “There’s got to be some cut off for it…”

    Shots rang out behind them. Stark spun around and fired several lasers at the demons behind them. Kat pushed back several more with a psychic blast.

    “We can’t keep fighting them off forever,” she muttered, turning back to the Tesseract. “Go down and help the others out on street level. I’m going to turn that machine off.” She glanced over at him. “Do me a favor and keep yourself alive, okay?”

    “The same goes for you,” he said, the helmet sliding over his face.

    Kat shot off of the roof, landing beside the scientist on top of Stark Tower. “There’s got to be a way to turn this thing off!” She snapped at him.

    “There is, but…” He glanced down to the terrace where Loki and Thor confronted each other.

    ------------

    “Why are you doing this, brother?” Thor asked. “You will destroy this world.”

    “I don’t plan to destroy it. I plan to rule it.”

    “At one point, you wanted to protect it.”

    Loki laughed. “What? Protect it, beside that weakling they once spoke of as the Chosen One?”

    Thor was caught off guard by this. “That weakling used to be your reason for living.”

    “And now that we’ve had so much time apart, I’ve realized that I have other reasons for living. Let her try and protect this world.”

    “Will you destroy her along with it?” When Loki didn’t answer, Thor stepped closer. “Would you kill her to gain a throne?”

    His brother smiled. “Why wouldn’t I, when she is the only person who stands in my way?”

    ------------

    “The scepter cuts the machine off?” Kat asked, staring at the scientist, whom she now knew was called Selvig.

    “It’s a safe key I installed. It will cut through the beam caused by the Tesseract.”

    Kat looked down again to where Loki and Thor were speaking. If Thor could just distract his brother long enough…

    ------------

    Down below, New York looked like a scene straight out of hell. People were running in all directions, trying to get away from the demons that had swarmed out of the portal. Each one was carrying a weapon: sword, spear, bow and arrow, in addition to their own dark destructive powers. Cap had expected each one to put up a humongous fight before they caved, but, it turns out, these demons weren’t exactly fully immortal. He and Barton had backed themselves up against a building, trying to stop as many as they could from crossing the street to Stark Tower.

  7. #7
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    Chapter Seven



    Cap had always believed in the Christian God, but sometimes, those who shared his belief sometimes forgot that there were more beings out there than just humans and God. There were the immortals of Asgard, those who had been created to watch over God’s precious Earth. And there were those angels who resided with Him in Heaven, one of which was flying above them now, the sun spinning bright patterns off of the nearly invisible barrier that surrounded her. While he was constantly aware of the existence of angels every time he saw Kat in the hallways of the helicarrier or spoke with her for long periods of time, Cap had blocked from his mind the fact that everything in the universe had a polar opposite.

    He swung his shield at another demon who had rushed him with his sword. The shield connected with the demon’s face and distracted him long enough to allow Cap to steal his sword and run him through with it. He rushed forward, swinging at every demon within his reach.

    “Nice sword,” Stark’s voice came over the communicator. “Kind of like a modern-day knight in a spangly outfit.”

    Cap looked up to see Stark flying above him, firing his lasers at any demon within his sight. While he was distracted, another demon tried to run him through with a spear, but Barton’s arrows were too fast. Cap nodded a thanks and watched for only a second this time as Stark took to the sky to get a view from above.

    ------------

    From his vantage point above the city, Stark could see only a swarming mass of demons in dark clothes. They were far outnumbered…

    “Kat, close that portal quick…”

    “Stark! Stark, do you read me?!” Fury’s voice shouted over the communicator. “We’ve got a situation to the west!”

    He turned his attention that way, swearing. This was obviously the SHIELD council’s work. Fury himself would have never ordered this. With another quick look over at the ever-widening portal, Stark started formulating his plan. If he was successful, he could end this fight in a matter of seconds…

    Unfortunately, at the same time, he may not be able to make it out alive.

    ------------

    Loki was far too distracted by his heated conversation with Thor to see Kat slipping down the face of Stark Tower behind him, her eyes on the spear that was firmly in his grasp. She dove for it, grabbing it just in time before he turned around, lightning fast. He grabbed her by the neck and hoisted her off of the ground, his grip chokingly tight. Kat gagged, kicking her legs in the air, her hands trying to pry his fingers apart.

    “Brother, stop this!” Thor said, taking a step forward.

    “Advance any further and she dies!” Loki threatened, his grip tightening around her neck.

    “You can’t kill her, Loki, you know you can’t…”

    “Can’t or won’t?”

    “You won’t…”

    “Would I…?” He turned his dark gaze up to Kat. For all of a few seconds, she saw a flicker of indecision dance in his eyes, as if some part of him was telling him to put her down.

    That was all the distraction Thor needed. Hurling himself at his brother, he slammed into him full force, knocking both Kat and the scepter from his grasp. Both went skidding in opposite directions, and she scrambled to her feet to dive after it, scooping it up and high tailing it back to the roof as Loki retaliated the attacked.

    ------------

    The missile was flying full-speed for New York. Stark had been able to grab hold of it to change its trajectory, aiming straight for the portal that the demons had come through. JARVIS had already warned him several times that this may be a one-way trip. He finally ordered the computer system to call Kat’s communicator.

    “Hello?”

    “Kat, hang on! Don’t close the portal yet!”

    “Wait…what are you doing?” The high-pitched tone of her voice told him that she could see clearly now that he was guiding the missile for the portal.

    “Kat, whatever you do, you have to close the portal behind me, do you understand?”

    “No…you can’t…”

    “LISTEN TO ME! We don’t have much time before we’re overwhelmed here!” He sighed. “Listen, Kat, I’m sorry…about everything. That I wasn’t able to protect our family…that I let SHIELD take you away from me. I wish…I wish we had more time, sweetie…”

    ------------

    Kat’s eyes followed Stark’s path as he flew towards the portal. “No…” She whispered, losing her grip on the scepter for a few seconds. “No…” Panic overrode every one of her senses that screamed out for her to be ready to close the portal. Every single second of Barton’s training disappeared the moment her father’s death became possible. She could hear Selvig trying to snap her from her daze, but the screaming panic in her head soon blocked him out.

    “No! Stop, I’LL DO IT!” She screamed. Stark had already shut his communicator off, cutting any of her protestations off short. He had foreseen this…he knew that she would have volunteered. If she died on the other side of that portal, she still had her immortal life to live…but even then, what if the demons on the other side destroyed her before she was able to wake up…? Stark was making the most sensical sacrifice. If Kat died, their hope was gone…but if he did…

    “Kat! Kat, close the portal!” She could hear Selvig yelling for her.

    She watched Stark disappear into the portal seconds before Selvig rushed at her, helping her paralyzed arms push the scepter into the beam of light coming from the Tesseract. It immediately shut off, the portal starting to close before her eyes.

    ------------

    Down below, Barton sent another arrow flying through a demon’s heart, spinning around to help take down another demon that was rushing at Cap. Before he could release the arrow, the demon dropped in place, as did every other demon around them. They stared around in shock at the sight around them, then looked up towards the shrinking portal, their eyes wide.

    ------------

    Kat held her breath, watching the portal close with no sign of Stark. She knew that he had succeeded in destroying the rest of the demon army…and as the portal closed, the rest could not exist without their connection to the Demon Realm.

    The portal finally closed, the blue light around it dissipating with no sign of Stark anywhere. She ducked her head, swiping at her eyes to try and hold back any of the tears that were threatening to flow.

    “He made it!” Selvig’s voice jarred her attention skyward.

    Stark was falling fast, but he was back…She smiled for a few seconds before she realized that he was falling too fast. As he plummeted toward the street, a large roar sounded from below, and the Hulk went flying, catching Stark in midair and landing on the ground below. Kat handed the scepter to Selvig and stepped off of the tower, floating down to where Cap, Thor, Barton, and the Hulk had gathered around Stark. Someone had taken his helmet off.

    Kat rushed forward, her heart pounding hard. He wasn’t moving…the other Avengers looked down at him with way too concerned looks on their faces. It wasn’t until she was right by his side that she realized the arc reactor in his chest had almost gone out. She shakily knelt beside him, unsure of what to do, feeling helpless. She was supposed to be one of the most powerful beings in the universe…surely there was something she could do to save her own father?

    Reaching out with a shaky touch, she placed her hand on Stark’s shoulder, shaking him a bit. There was no response. She shook him harder, fighting back the urge to cry in front of her team. The battle had been won. Her time as leader of the team was over, but she still didn’t want to break down in front of them. Part of her said that she shouldn’t make such a big deal in front of the others. True, Stark was her father, but they hadn’t known each other for that long…was it right to break down over his death?

    But most of her screamed that she couldn’t lose him. Memories of her childhood flashed through her mind. She and Mike watching that press conference five or so years ago when Stark announced he was Iron Man. They had been so fascinated, two orphans with their own powers. Stark wasn’t just a superhero…he was a hero to them. Someone they could look up to and admire. How ironic it was that the same man on the television screen…the man whose words they hung on to with held breaths…turned out to be her father.

    And at their locked-in meeting, the looks he had given her…that extreme sadness and pain when he spoke of how his wife had died. Later, there was something unspoken between them. He had hesitated several times when speaking to her, as if there was something he wanted to say or confess. Her breakdown over Coulson’s death had been awkward…but she had seen a side of Stark that probably no one had seen since her mother’s death.

    Tears rolled down her cheeks as Kat started shaking him harder. “No…no…” She whispered as the arc reactor started paling more and more. “No! Please, no…” She sobbed. “Dad…you can’t do this…”

    There were a few moments of silence as everyone held their breaths. Suddenly, the Hulk roared, causing everyone, including Stark, to jump.

    “Oh…God…” He gasped, groaning. The arc reactor had brightened considerably as his eyes flew open. Stark looked around wildly, trying to get his bearing’s straight. “Oh…okay…good…I see we won.” He tried to lift his arm, but was too weak to do so. “Good job, guys…good job.”

    A large smile spread across Kat’s face. The other Avengers looked relieved as well. Stark turned to Kat. “Do me a favor, sweetie, and push…that button on the back of the suit to deactivate it?”

    Kat helped him sit up and deactivate the suit. It instantly disappeared back into the cuffs lining his wrists. Kat waited a few seconds before punching him in the shoulder.

    “Okay…ow! What was that for?” He said, giving her a confused look.

    “I told you not to go and get yourself killed,” she snapped, feigning anger.

    “The thing about that is…I DIDN’T get myself killed…” He paused for a few seconds. “Wait…did you call me Dad?”

    She shrugged as she helped him to his feet. “Maybe.”

    He smiled. “Well, I guess that’s a start…” He looked around at the others. “Now, who wants shwarma?”

    Everyone turned to stare at him, even the Hulk, who, as Kat guessed, was slightly conscious about what was happening around him through Banner’s eyes. Stark’s declaration was so random, it had caught everyone off guard completely, even Barton, who was usually not thrown off by anything.

    Kat stared at her father as if he were insane (which, judging from his current actions, he might very well be…). “Seriously?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “What’s shwarma?” Thor and Cap managed to ask at the same time. Kat realized that the ratio of people who were confused by most things to people who were not was actually pretty big in their group…

    “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always wanted to try it,” Stark said. “And since I almost died…”

    Barton rolled his eyes. “So you decided now was a good time to go eat shwarma?”

    “Well, truth be told, things were getting a little bit too sappy there for a few minutes,” Stark said, glancing over at Kat. “We’re going to have to work on that…”

    “Good. I don’t think I can stand Sappy Stark,” she said, smiling. Everything was over…and now she was free. She felt so light and happy. Finally free from SHIELD and where she belonged. She could do whatever she wanted with her future. And now…now she had a family. A real family, even if it was just her and Stark.

    Kat’s happy thoughts were disrupted by Barton clearing his throat. “Guys, this isn’t completely over yet. Where’s Loki?”

    Everyone looked around at each other before Thor answered, “He’s incapacitated…I believe he’s still at the top of the tower.”

    ------------

    Loki groaned, trying to pull himself out of the hole in the floor that had been created by his run-in with the Hulk. He gazed around the room, trying to get his thoughts in order. For a few moments, his heart stopped as he realized what he had done. Then, he slammed his fists into the marble floor.

    Turning back around, he came face-to-face with the blade of a sword. He gazed up into crystal blue eyes that flashed dangerously. He froze, caught up by fear.

    There were a few moments of silence as he searched her eyes. What did she think of him now?

    “Stand up,” she ordered. He did as he was told, slowly stepping to his feet. He couldn’t take his eyes off of hers. She obviously wanted to run him through with that sword…

    Thor stepped forward, placing a hand over hers to make her lower her sword. He studied his brother for a few seconds before asking Loki, “Brother…?”

    Loki looked from him back to her. The others were gathered behind them. Most of them watched him carefully. Stark stepped forward to put a protective hand on her shoulder, his eyes telling Loki that the man dared the immortal to try and attack her.

    After a few moments of silence, he finally spoke. “I’m sorry.”

    His apology took everyone off guard except for his brother. He couldn’t stand to look at that expression in her eyes…the combination of anger and hurt…she thought the worst of him, he was sure of it.

    The image of his trying to kill her flooded his mind. No…he hadn’t…But he had. He had thrown her father out the window…he had tried to strangle her. He would have succeeded if his brother hadn’t stopped him.

    No one answered his apology. Barton finally spoke up, addressing Thor. “What do we do with him?”

  8. #8
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    Chapter Eight



    There was a long awkward pause as everyone thought about the answer to Barton’s question. Kat was sure that everyone had their own suggestion of what to do with Loki, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was different about the immortal. All arrogance was gone from his gaze, and he no longer held himself with the extreme pride he had shown earlier. It seemed as if Hulk had beaten all of the ambition out of him in addition to waking his senses. If what Thor said was true, this was the real Loki standing in front of them.

    What was the most odd about the situation was that the immortal of mischief had had such a look of horror in his eyes when she cornered him…as if he were horrified about what he had done...and that he had been caught. She noticed he would no longer look her in the eye…was avoiding her gaze for some reason. True, he had tried to kill her…but he had also tried to kill Stark…She would feel bad for him if he hadn’t killed Coulson. Even if he hadn’t been in his right mind, he had still murdered her guardian…

    “We will return to Asgard,” Thor announced after a few more awkward moments. “The Small Council will pass their judgment there…” He seemed unsure of what he was saying as he looked around at the others, who obviously wanted justice done while the immortal was still on Earth. Kat tried to push down her biased feelings about Coulson long enough to realize that they couldn’t be the ones to judge whether or not Loki had been possessed…or Shadowficated as Thor had tried to explain to them. The Small Council would have more experience with those things…

    “I agree with him,” she spoke up, warranting several surprised looks, the strongest of which came from Stark. “They will pass their judgment on whether or not he was Shadowficated. If he was not…” She crossed her arms and gave the immortal the most intimidating look she could muster. Once again, he refused to meet her gaze, only ducking his head in a too-humble gesture for his once-arrogant personality. “…you’ll need to bring him back to pay for his crimes.”

    Before they continued on, Barton returned to the plane, which had miraculously not been reduced to ashes during the battle. It was an awkward few moments as the team stood around, waiting for him to return. No one really noticed exactly when the Hulk had left the room and Banner entered in, shrugging on a the clothes that he had brought up himself earlier.

    “Well, this is sufficiently awkward,” he announced upon his return, drawing everyone’s attention back to him. “What did we say we were going to do with him?” He frowned, trying to remember. Kat wondered how much he remembered after becoming the Hulk, or if all of the events were like a spacy dream to him.

    “Thor is going to take him back to Asgard to stand trial before the Small Council,” Cap explained as Barton finally strode back in, handing a pair of handcuffs to Thor. The Asgardian looked hesitant to restrain his brother until Loki held out his arms for him to do so. Kat realized that Selvig had returned from the roof with Barton, carrying a heavy suitcase in which, she guessed, was the Tesseract.

    As the others discussed Thor and Loki’s return to Asgard using the Tesseract, Selvig pulled Kat aside unexpectedly, a slightly concerned look in the scientist’s eyes. “I’ve been researching the Tesseract for the past two decades…it’s more than just a power source. Much more, but I don’t know exactly what it could become.” He paused, studying her for a few moments before continuing. “Have you ever heard of the ancient civilization of Aquapolis?”

    She nodded. “A little bit.” Coulson had spoken of it several times. Apparently, the Aquapolians were the closest people to her millennia ago. They were a race of humans who had elemental powers.

    “The Tesseract is connected to them somehow.” He hesitated, as if he were telling her more than he should.

    “Could I have your number to keep in contact with you?” She asked.

    He paused, then pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and a pen from the pocket-protected pocket on his shirt, jotting it down and folding it up. She immediately put it in her pocket. Before she could ask him any more questions, however, Selvig turned to walk away…but not before shooting her one more concerned look. Kat got a nervous feeling in her stomach. The way the scientist was acting told her that there was more to this story…something he couldn’t impart to her. She made a mental note to wait a week before she called him so that he could recover from his experience with being captured by Loki.

    “Kat? We’re heading out now.”

    Stark’s voice jarred her thoughts back into the present. Confused, she asked, “Heading where?”

    “Heading to Central Park. Apparently, the Tesseract could explode and kill us all if we try and activate it here.”

    “Well, then, let’s go,” she said, trying to put an upbeat tone in her voice. On the inside, however, every kind of emotion and fear was flying around in her head. She should be happy that their fight was over…but, in reality, it seemed as if everything was just beginning.

    Kat looked around at her teammates as they headed out. From the looks on their faces, it seemed as if all of the Avengers knew what she knew.

    The battle was over…but the real war had not yet begun.

    ------------

    The gold, red, and orange leaves on the trees in Central Park distracted Kat with their beauty, making her almost forget her troubles for a few moments. Stark was walking beside her, speaking with Barton about the Tesseract and Selvig’s research. The scientist had not accompanied them on this particular trip, saying that he had to return to his lab in Switzerland to document the events of the previous few days. No one questioned his leaving so suddenly. He needed some time to process what had happened…as did they all.

    Kat glanced over at where Loki and Thor walked. Loki’s eyes were on her, studying her. As soon as he spotted her looking at him, however, he turned away.

    When they reached the spot where they were to activate the Tesseract, Barton took it out of the suitcase and placed it into a portable carrier.

    “If we need you again, how are we going to contact you?” Kat asked Thor as he picked up the carrier.

    “The portal between Asgard and Earth has been forced open for a time,” the Asgardian replied. “I will return after the Small Council’s trial and we will be able to form a better system of correspondence.”

    Kat nodded as Thor turned to his brother, who gave Kat one more look before he reached out to place a hand on the carrier. The bright light that issued from the Tesseract was bright enough to force her to put her hands in front of her face in order to keep herself from going blind. Seconds later, she lowered them. The two Asgardians were gone.

    Loki’s behavior before his departure confused her. He had looked to be in a perpetual state of wanting to say something…to her in particular, though he could never bring himself to do so. She knew from the look on his face that he felt remorse over what he had done…but it looked like he was especially apologetic towards her for some strange reason. True, he had tried to kill her, but he had also tried to kill Stark as well…and did he know that Coulson had been her guardian?

    Kat turned to the rest of her team, the entirety of which was oddly silent. It would take a while for them to process what had happened. But now…they had to decide what to do with their lives next. Luckily, Barton decided for a few of them when he spoke up. “Kat, we should go and pick up some of your things before a team comes in to clean out the house.”

    “I’ll come with you,” Stark spoke up, turning to Cap and Banner. “Anyone else care to join us for a little field trip?”

    Banner shook his head. “I need to get back down to Atlanta.” He looked pointedly at Kat. “I’ve missed too many days of school so far. Are you going back soon?”

    Kat realized that returning to college was the most obvious option for her at the moment. She had only missed a week of school…but several midterms on top of that. She would have to scramble to catch up, but it was doable…Glancing over at Stark, she noticed that the look on his face told her that he didn’t exactly like that idea at all…but wasn’t going to say a thing about it. He wanted more time with her, she realized. This trip back home would have to include a talk about their future as father and daughter. Somehow, though, she was excited about it as well as nervous.

    A new life without SHIELD.

    With freedom.

    With a father.

    “Yeah, once I pick up my stuff. I should be back down there by tomorrow.” She grimaced. “Not looking forward to making up those organic chemistry and physics midterms…”

    “Physics? I can help with physics,” Stark said as they made their way for the street where the group had parked their assorted cars…and motorcycles, in Cap’s case. His bike was an old school forties style motorcycle, matching Cap’s style perfectly. He had announced that he was heading out west on a kind of soul-searching journey (which Stark promptly teased him about). Before he could climb on, Kat handed him a piece of paper with her and Stark’s numbers on it.

    “Stay in touch,” she said. Cap gave her a smile as he slid his sunglasses on and revved the engine on the bike.

    “Good luck,” he said to Kat as Stark stepped up to say good-bye. The soldier glanced over at him. “If you decide to live with him, you’re going to need it,” he teased.

    “Now that’s unfair, Uncle Steve,” Stark said, crossing his arms in front of his chest.

    Cap grew serious for a few moments. “Coulson was right. We don’t know what’s ahead…if there’s a bigger enemy out there than Loki. The two of you need to stick together. No matter what SHIELD thinks…”

    Kat nodded as Cap rolled away. Barton spoke up from behind them. “We should get going before SHIELD comes by to clean out the house.”

    ------------

    Stark slammed the car door behind him, looking up at the small, two-story house in front of him. “I can’t believe I couldn’t find this place after two decades of looking…”

    “Coulson worked hard to make sure that was the case,” Barton said, walking up the sidewalk. Kat had gone ahead of them, unlocking the door as they stood on the porch. The door swung open, and she stepped inside. They could hear her gasp after a few seconds, and both scrambled inside after her.

    The first thing they noticed was that there was nothing personal laying around. No pictures, books, nothing. Barton made a beeline for a room in the back of the house, swinging the door open to reveal a completely empty space. “Goddamn it,” he swore as Stark stepped into the room behind him.

    “Was this his office or something?” Stark asked as Barton searched the floor and walls for secret panels. After a few minutes, he was able to find at least two hidden spaces, but they were completely empty.

    “Kat! What does your room look like?” Barton yelled down the hall.

    “They didn’t touch it.”

    Barton raced out of the room and into Kat’s room, which was probably the cleanest and neatest room Stark had ever seen.

    “What are you, OCD or something?” He asked.

    “Shut up, Stark,” she snapped.

    “Just saying…” He said as Barton threw open Kat’s closet doors, pushing aside boxes to reach the back. He felt around the back wall for a time before he found the trap door.

    “Guess they didn’t think to look for anything here…” He muttered as he pulled out a single folder with simple words printed across the front.

    Stark stepped forward to read the lettering. “The Avengers Initiative.”

    Barton stood up, flipping through the file. Kat could see that there was a sheet of paper with details on each one of the Avengers within the file.

    “Why would he hide a file about an initiative that is known throughout SHIELD…?” Barton muttered to himself. “Something’s not right here…”

    The three of them stood around, thinking about the folder for a while before Barton spoke again. “I’m going to take this file…I have access to some of the SHIELD databases.” He looked around the room. “You can finish packing…”

    “I’ll meet you two outside,” Kat said, pulling a black duffel bag out from under her bed. “Just let me grab a few things…”

    Stark wanted to stay and talk with her, thinking this was as good a chance as any to get to know more about her past. Barton, however, shot him a look that said the agent wanted to speak with him about the contents of the folder. “Probably won’t take long...are you one of those OCD people who labels everything, too? Do we need to stage an intervention…?”

    Kat rolled her eyes and burst out laughing at the look that Barton shot Stark’s way…until the agent actually opened his mouth. “You should see her locker down at the gym…or the books on the bookshelf that used to be out in the living room. I thought Coulson was particular about things…”

    “I wasn’t that bad!” She protested. “They were just in alphabetical order…”

    “You arranged them by time periods in history, Kat. Sometimes, I would walk in and you were rearranging them due to how historically accurate certain fiction novels were. I told Coulson the two of you never really needed a TV, he could just watch you trying to decide which book told the best story about the Civil War or something…”

    “Are you serious?” Stark laughed. Kat glared at him, snatching up a pillow from her bed and hurling it at his head as hard as she could. “Oh, that was mature,” he snorted.

    “Just get out so I can finish packing,” she snapped.

    He held up his hands and followed Barton out of the room and back outside. Barton stopped on the porch, staring down at the folder in his hands. “You were in touch with Coulson over the past two decades, right?”

    “Occasionally. Just enough for him to remind me that I shouldn’t be looking for Kat.”

    “He didn’t tell me much, either…”

    “By the way, how did you get this job?”

    Barton paused. “What job?”

    “The Chosen One’s personal trainer. How did you get it?”

    Barton hesitated for a few moments before speaking. “I used to run ops for a group called the X Group. It was used by government officials throughout the world for assassinations. I had been in it since I left high school…I…killed a lot of innocent people. One day, SHIELD caught up to me, gave me a chance to redeem myself by becoming one of their agents…”

    “And killing more innocent people,” Stark said bitterly.

    Barton shot him a withering look, before he realized what the man was saying. “You think SHIELD had something to do with your wife’s death?”

    “I think they have everything to do with her death,” he said, something unspoken hidden beneath his words.

    “Coulson came to me when SHIELD picked me up. Offered me the job to train Kat…”

    “They were going to let you around my daughter…?”

    “Under Coulson’s supervision at first. They realized how much I wanted to make up for what I had done. I took the job, thinking that protecting and training the Chosen One would be exactly what I needed…”

    “And was it?”

    Barton paused. “The job’s not over yet.”

    “So you’re still on SHIELD’s payroll?”

    “…I think I might be looking for new employment soon…”

    “So you and I are in agreement.”

    “SHIELD’s not to be trusted.”

    “Good, I was worried there for a second…” Stark paused. “Thanks for looking after her for all those years.”

    Barton nodded. “Just glad to see that she’s back where she belongs…”

    Kat walked out of the house, glancing from Barton to Stark and readjusting the bag on her shoulder.

    “That’s all you’re bringing?” Stark asked.

    “Do I look like a girl who has a lot of shoes?” She asked, raising an eyebrow.

    “If she did, she would know how to kill a person with each and every one of them,” Barton pointed out.

    “True story,” Kat agreed as they walked down the steps to the sidewalk.

    “I’ll take that,” Stark said, grabbing the file from Barton, who glared at him. “I’ll hang on to it for you…just so SHIELD doesn’t accidently get it.”

    “Fine. I have some things I need to attend to before we investigate, anyway,” Barton said, walking toward his car.

    Stark turned to Kat. “Need a ride to the airport?”

    She glanced over at Barton. When she had first met the agent at ten years of age, he had seemed gruff and serious to her, still searching for redemption from his bloody past. Eleven years later, he had turned into her most trusted mentor…who had also imparted to her throughout the years the same lesson Coulson had hinted at, but had never explicitly stated until his dying breath.

    Never trust SHIELD.

    He smiled at her, walking back around the car to say good-bye. “Good luck, Kat. I’m sure physics and chemistry won’t seem half as daunting after what we just did.” He nodded to Stark, motioning toward the folder in his hand. “I’ll be by later to pick that up. Let me know if you find something important in there.” He paused before returning to his car. “This isn’t over yet…We need to keep the team in contact with each other and establish a home base…”

    “Well, that’s simple. Stark Tower has plenty of room…” Stark said, shrugging his shoulders. “The top few floors could house the entire team with room to spare.”

    “It’s the most obvious choice…” Barton hesitated, shaking his head. “But it’s the best one. I’ll keep in touch.” With that, the agent turned back to his black, government-issued car (the GPS, of course, destroyed a long time ago in order to avoid Stark learning his whereabouts), and drove off.

    “I’ll take that,” Stark said, motioning to the bag slung over Kat’s shoulder. She handed it over to him, and he promptly threw it into the back of his sports car.

    “Wow, that was a lot of work.”

    “Did you see how hard that was? I had to throw that all the way in the back, just for you.”

    She laughed and shook her head, climbing into the passenger’s seat of the car.

    ------------

    Fury stood before a video screen, addressing the Council. One of the council members, a British woman, spoke up, “What has happened to the war criminal, Loki?”

    “His brother has returned with him to Asgard. He will be put on trial there for the time being. There has been suspicion that he was not acting consciously over the past few weeks,” Fury replied.

    “Do you have the whereabouts of the Avengers?” An American man spoke up.

    “They’ve gone their separate ways for now…I think they deserve some time off for what they did this week.”

    There was a pause before the British woman spoke again. “And the Starks?”

    “Kat Stark has been granted full freedom from SHIELD oversight and protection due to her involvement in the Initiative.”

    “Are you sure that it is wise to allow Tony Stark to reunite with his daughter?”

    “I think both Starks have earned the right to be together after twenty-one years of separation. The major danger of Stark’s fame endangering Kat is gone now. It’s time they were allowed to live their lives together.”

    “And you made this decision?”

    “As the chief officer of the Initiative, yes, I did.”

    “I don’t think you know what you’ve done.”

    Fury paused. “No…I think I know exactly what I’ve done…”

    ------------

    Kat and Stark stood at the ticket desk, paying for Kat’s ticket back to Atlanta. Kat tried to pay for it herself, but Stark wasn’t having any of that.

    “What?” He said when she gave him a withering look. “Listen, I have all this money, and for the past twenty-one years, only myself to spend it on. Now, I have a daughter to spoil with all of this money…just like how Caroline predicted it years ago…”

    “Mom predicted that?”

    “Yeah…” He said as they made their way through the terminal for the departure gate. “She predicted a lot of things…Just not how messed up SHIELD would make our lives.”

    There was an awkward pause. “So…” Stark said. “There’s always a room waiting for you in Stark Tower. You know, Thanksgiving, Christmas, you’re always welcome to come back up.”

    Kat nodded. “Of course…”

    “Because it’s going to take a while to adjust…figuring stuff out…two decades to catch up on…”

    “Yeah…we’ve got time to figure it out,” she smiled.

    There was another awkward pause before Stark stepped forward and hugged her close. Once again, Kat was caught off guard by this unusual show of affection on Stark’s part. It was a new side to him…but, of course, everything had changed between the two of them. And, she realized, he seemed happy that she was around. She wondered how he had made it through the last two decades…

    “I love you, sweetie.”

    “I love you, too, Dad.”

    Both of them burst out laughing at how absurdly sappy the exchange had been as Kat took a step back, picking up her duffel bag from where it lay at her feet. “I don’t think I can handle too much of Sappy Stark.”

    “Yeah, I’ll try to limit myself to one moment a day when you get back. This is a new thing for me…”

    “Having emotions?”

    “Having a daughter.”

    Kat shook her head as the intercom overhead buzzed to announce that she needed to get to her gate soon. Stark pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to her. “Almost forgot to give you my number. Make sure you text me so I can have yours…”

    “You’re not going to annoy me eternally when I’m trying to study, are you?” She said, shoving the piece of paper in her pocket.

    “Now why would I do that?” Stark asked, smiling. The announcement repeated again. Reluctantly, Kat turned toward the gate. She knew she needed to go, but at the same time, she really, really, really wanted to stay in New York.

    Before she could change her mind, Stark made her decision for her. “I’ll see you soon, Kat.”

    “Bye,” she said, turning back to the gate. Stark watched her go for a few minutes before he left the terminal.

    A few minutes after takeoff, Kat dug around in her pocket for Stark’s number, only to pull out the piece of paper Selvig had handed her. She unfolded it to reveal not a phone number…Her blood ran cold at the phrase scribbled there in bold letters.

    Never trust SHIELD.

  9. #9
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    Part Two




    Chapter One



    Kat walked up the winding hill to the classroom building, autumn leaves crunching beneath her feet. She entered the building, descending stairs until she reached the basement. In front of her was a computer lab with class windows that allowed anyone in the hallway to see inside. She buzzed herself in, the first person in the class to make it to lab that day. She didn’t even notice the figure sitting at one of the computers in the far corner until she was halfway to her seat.

    “First one here. I KNEW you were the model student,” he said, swinging around in the chair, his signature grin plastered across his face. Kat shook her head, not believing that her father had shown up here during a school day…then she realized exactly how embarrassing the situation could get.

    “What are you doing here?” She hissed, sliding into the seat beside him, shooting a glance out of the windows to see if any of her classmates was making their way for the lab. Maybe she could convince him to leave before anyone she knew saw him…

    “What? I can’t come visit my daughter at school?” He asked innocently.

    Kat rolled her eyes. “First of all, this is college, not elementary school. Second of all, do you know who you are?”

    She knew that it wouldn’t take long for her father to think of his signature phrase. “Tony Stark. Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.”

    “And…?”

    “Oh, and I’m Iron Man.”

    “Exactly. You’re at an engineering college…this is where your biggest fanbase lives. You can’t just walk on into a computer lab here and expect nothing to happen.”

    “Which engineering department is this?” He asked, looking around wildly. The room was bare of any sort of poster or piece of paper that would hint at which discipline worked here.

    Kat sighed, ignoring the fact that he had completely forgotten her major…or chose to forget it. Unlike her father, who had attended MIT in electrical engineering, Kat had chosen to go to college at Georgia Tech and major in biomedical engineering. Stark made jokes about it all the time, but facts were facts, the BME department at Tech was superior to all of the rest in the nation.

    “Biomedical engineering.”

    “Wrong major for my fanbase.”

    “Maybe for the suit, but not your arc reactor.”

    “Oh, is that what biomedical engineering is all about?”

    “You better be grateful. Biomedical engineers built the machine that’s keeping you alive right now.”

    Stark raised his arms in defeat. “Fine, fine, I’ll concede them that.” Kat glared at him. “What? Oh, you want me to leave?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “Afraid I’ll embarrass you in front of all of your friends?”

    “That and nothing’s going to get accomplished with you here.”

    “So?”

    “We have projects due next week.”

    “Oh. Sorry…”

    “What are you doing here besides visiting?”

    “I came to pick you up for Fall Break.”

    “I can’t miss this class.”

    “Then we’ll leave afterward.”

    Kat sighed and shook her head. “This is going to be interesting…”

    Luckily, though, the lights in the computer lab were so dim that no one actually noticed he was there until the TAs did a roll check to make sure everyone was present. Counting everyone in the lab, they paused when there was one too many.

    Before anyone could say anything, and before Kat could stop him, Stark said, “Oh, sorry, it’s Take Your Dad to Class Day. Or at least I thought it was. Apparently, I got the date wrong…awkward…”

    Kat groaned as the kids in the class stared at him, mostly everyone recognizing who he was at the same time. The lab instructor gawked for a few moments before composing himself. “Okay, Mr…”

    “Stark. Tony Stark.”

    There was silence in the room. The TAs looked at the roll and frowned, confused. There wasn’t any kid on the roll with the last name Stark. Kat breathed a sigh of relief until Stark spoke up again.

    “And, I’m here today with my daughter, Kat, who has informed me that you are working on projects due next week, and I should be quiet, so I’ll just sit here and observe.” He paused for a few moments. Everything was silent. “Oh…and thank you for the arc reactor…Well, not you personally, but your field and…you know, you might create something like it in the future, so…” He paused. “Yeah, that’s it.”

    It took a few more minutes for the lab instructor to recover from Stark’s dialogue. “Well, it’s an honor, Mr. Stark, to have you here. We’re working in a computer aided design based software, but not near as complex and advanced as the software you probably use…” He coughed. “Anyway, please boot up the Solidworks program.”

    Kat was busy at work a few minutes later when she glanced over to where Stark sat, his chin resting in the palm of his hand as if he were completely bored. She glanced at the screen in front of him. In the span of five minutes, he had re-done the entire suit in the program, including assembly so that it actually moved. She rolled her eyes as he looked over at her half-finished product, the head of an otoscope she was working on. He lifted an eyebrow as if to ask her what was taking her to long.

    “I just started working with this program,” she hissed.

    “Obviously, the technology genes were not passed down to you…”

    “Will you leave me alone so I can work?”

    “Okay, okay…” He held up his hands and turned back to his own screen.

    When class was finally done, Kat grabbed her stuff, and, before Stark could strike up a conversation with anyone else in the room, she grabbed his arm and dragged him from the lab.

    “That was fun,” he said as they stepped out onto the sidewalk outside of the BME building.

    “For you,” she muttered as they made their way down the hill.

    “Oh, I’m sorry, did I embarrass you?” She rolled her eyes. “Sorry, I’m try to cram twenty-one years of being an embarrassing father in…”

    “Well, you succeeded,” she muttered.

    “Where are we going now?” Stark asked.

    “Back to my apartment on the other side of campus,” Kat said, glancing around for anyone she knew. Kids were staring across the street at them, most of them wondering whether or not that really was Tony Stark striding through campus. She didn’t blame them. It still felt so surreal with him walking beside her. A few months beforehand, if someone had told her that her father was still alive and was Tony Stark, she would have laughed at them.

    Then again, however, after the last month’s events, nothing seemed strange to her anymore. After having to team up with Stark, her trainer (an expert archer), her great-uncle (a super soldier), one of her ex-chemistry professors (who, when angered, turned into a raging green monster), and an immortal from Asgard (who had apparently known her during her own immortal life) to battle another immortal from Asgard, who was apparently possessed the entire time, nothing ever seemed unusual.

    Kat had spoken with her father off and on over the past month, texting him between classes and speaking with him long hours on the phone. They were still trying to catch up on the past few decades, trying to decide what their relationship as father and daughter was. Kat could tell that Stark was keeping himself from flying down to Atlanta and dragging her back up to live in New York. Several times, he had offered her a job within Stark Industries under the excuse that she needed to learn the ropes to the Stark empire.

    “Hey, look, it’s Banner!” Stark said, motioning over to where the professor was walking up the hill towards them.

    He stopped, obviously surprised to see Stark there. “Wow…I’m surprised Kat hasn’t killed you yet.”

    “Well, she sure has threatened me enough,” he said. “We’re heading back up to New York for Fall Break. Care to join?”

    “Sorry…I’ve got work…” He said, shrugging. “Maybe some other time…”

    “Christmas? We should probably get the team together for Christmas,” Stark said.

    “Yeah, I’ll see you there,” Banner said, nodding to each of them before walking off in the direction of the biotech quad.

    “Have you seen him much since the Initiative?” Stark asked as they made their way down the hill.

    “Off and on. We’ve had some conversations…”

    “How’s he doing?”

    “I think he’s doing better. Participating in the Initiative gave him…I think…a reason for continuing on.”

    Stark nodded. After a few more minutes, he asked, “God, how far is your apartment?”

    Kat sighed and rolled her eyes. “Just five more minutes. What are you, allergic to walking?”

    “No, just allergic to taking forever to get places.”

    They finally reached her apartment building, managing not to see anyone else she knew. Unlocking the door, she stepped into her apartment with Stark right behind her, turning around in a circle to study the contents of the living room.

    “Oh, it’s…Wasn’t SHIELD paying your tuition?”

    She sighed, unlocking the door to her room. “I wanted to have some semblance of a normal life, so I decided to stay on campus.”

    “Okay…okay…but, if you want…”

    “No.” She called, pulling her duffel bag out from under her bed and putting stuff into it.

    “Just saying…”

    “No...”

    The sound of a key turning in the front door’s lock grabbed both of their attentions. Kat stepped back into the living room as her roommate came back in, freezing when she saw Stark.

    “Oh, hey, Karen,” Kat said. “Um…I’m leaving for Fall Break.” She motioned to Stark. “This is my dad, Tony Stark. Dad, this is my roommate, Karen Redmond.” She walked back to her room.

    “I didn’t know…” Karen started.

    “That she had a father? Yeah, it’s a new thing. Whole separated for life thing…”

    “It is not that dramatic, Dad,” Kat said, reappearing in the living room. She shot Karen a sympathetic look, realizing that she needed to get her dad out of the apartment as soon as possible for her sake. “We need to run now…have a good Fall Break!” With that, she grabbed Stark’s arm and pulled him out of the apartment before he could say another word.

    ------------

    Kat gazed out of the window of Stark’s private jet, watching as Atlanta disappeared below them. This was the first time she had been inside one of Stark’s jets…Apparently, he had one for business and one for personal. Since he was picking Kat up from school, they were sitting in his personal jet. Stark sat across from her, watching her. This was the first time they had been alone together in a room for an extended period of time since the Initiative. Though she had gotten used to his quips and what she had once deemed annoying personality, she was still nervous about the flight. It always seemed as if there was something he wasn’t telling her or wanted to say…

    Finally, he spoke up. “Barton’s been looking through those files we found at Coulson’s house. There are elementary ones dated back a couple of decades…Obviously, they have a file on you since birth and one on me since your birth. He kept up the modern file pulled on Cap a few years ago when they woke him up…and Barton for the past decade. Banner’s accident was what, five or six years ago? His since then…Thor’s file since a few years ago when he visited Earth. But that’s not that strange…”

    Stark reached down to the briefcase he had brought on board, retrieving the folder they and Barton had found in Coulson’s house on their return to gather Kat’s stuff before SHIELD sent operatives to clean out the house. It turned out that the SHIELD team had already removed everything but what was in Kat’s room, thinking there was nothing important there. Kat thanked God that they hadn’t been as thorough as Coulson had been…and her guardian had known they wouldn’t. Hidden in a panel in the back of her closet was this folder with files on all of the members of the Avengers Initiative, updated throughout the years since the time Kat was born and the Initiative created.

    “What’s strange is that he was researching Loki as well,” he said, handing Kat a piece of paper. She scanned the paper, which contained a very short list of facts that Coulson had known, all of which were known to them as well.

    “It looks like he was going to recruit Loki for the Initiative,” she said, a surprised tone in her voice.

    “Yeah, before he went all possessed on everyone.”

    “Shadowficated,” she corrected.

    “Yeah, whatever. Anyway, the point is, it seems like Coulson was the one to create the Initiative, NOT the Council of SHIELD.”

  10. #10
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    Chapter Two



    “Never trust SHIELD,” Kat muttered, pulling a piece of paper out of her pocket. “Coulson told me that…and Selvig sent me the same message…” She paused. “Maybe we can get Barton to find Selvig…”

    “Yeah, that’s not an option,” Stark said.

    “Why not?”

    “Selvig’s dead, Kat.”

    Kat leaned back in her chair, her eyes wide. “How…”

    “It looked like he had tried to go off the grid and something caught up to him. Wouldn’t be the first time SHIELD got rid of someone who was in their way…” He said pointedly, looking out the window.

    She paused before asking, “Do you think they had anything to do with my mother’s death?”

    He paused, but everything about the way he reacted to her question told her that he certainly did. Instead of answering the question, he said, “Cap’s returned to the tower. Looks like the whole family is back together.”

    “A whole family of three people?”

    “We’re a small family, but an interesting one.”

    “Clearly,” she laughed.

    The rest of the flight back to New York was uneventful, the conversation turned back to catching up on the events of the past month.

    ------------

    They arrived at Stark Tower later that day. As Stark stepped up to the front desk in the lobby to confirm her security pass, Kat pulled out her phone and tried to call her friend Mike. His phone went straight to voicemail. “Hey, Mike, it’s Kat. Listen, I’m in New York for Fall Break if you want to catch up and hang out. Call me back as soon as you can. Thanks.” She hung up the phone as Stark returned, handing her a security pass.

    “Who’s Mike?” He asked, interested. “Your boyfriend?”
    Kat rolled her eyes, shoving her iPhone back into her coat pocket. She had held no pretenses about what kind of father Stark would be. While, on the outside, his personality was given to awkward conversations and embarrassing her when he got the opportunity, she knew that he cared a lot for her and wanted more than anything to make up the time together that they had lost. To him, having her live in Stark Tower was all he really wanted. To have his daughter close after twenty years.

    But that still didn’t mean he couldn’t be just as annoying as possible. “No, Dad. He’s not my boyfriend. He was my best friend growing up. He works as a law associate here in New York.”

    It didn’t take long for Stark to do the math. “Wait, so you’re still an engineering undergraduate, and he’s already gone through undergrad AND graduated law school?”

    Kat uneasily shrugged. That wasn’t the whole truth of it, but she wasn’t about to reveal any secrets on Mike’s part to Stark. Maybe in the future…but not now. There was one truth, however, that would serve as an explanation. “He has a photographic memory. Everything he reads, he remembers.”

    They had reached the elevators by this time, Stark punching a passkey into a touch screen in order to open the elevator that only serviced the top ten floors, the living space dedicated to the Stark family and any visiting Avengers who happened to be in town. The glass elevator slid down within seconds. “I’ll give you the passkey later. It will be easy for you to remember…”

    She lifted an eyebrow as they stepped into the elevator. “Seriously? My birth year?”

    He lifted his hands in defense. “What? It’s a perfect safety precaution. Noone knows I have a daughter…so why not make it your birth year?”

    She shifted from one booted foot to another. “I don’t know, I just didn’t know you were so…” She searched for the word as the elevator flew up the first twenty or so floors. “So sentimental?”

    Stark shrugged. “In an effort to keep the number of sappy conversations at a minimum today, I’m just going to say I’m a little sentimental. Not one of those people who saves everything from every part in their lives…Just the important stuff…”

    Before Kat could answer, the doors swung open to reveal Cap, a gym bag swung over his shoulder. “Oh, good, you’re here,” he said with quite a bit of relief in his voice as he stepped into the elevator. “How was the trip up here?”

    “It was good. How long have you been here at the tower?” Kat answered.

    “A couple of weeks.” Cap paused. “Glad that you’re here.” He looked pointedly over at Stark. “None of the other Avengers are living here. My God, have you ever been stuck in a conversation with him?” He asked Kat.

    “I was just stuck in a plane with him for three hours,” she replied. “I know that feel.”

    “Hey, now, I’m not that bad…” Stark protested.

    “In a group, no. One-on-one, I can search the world and not find anyone else who can make a conversation more awkward,” Cap replied.

    “Now that’s not fair…”

    “No, it’s totally fair,” Kat said.

    “Now, Uncle Steve…” Stark started.

    Cap glared at him. “Didn’t I tell you to stop calling me that?”

    “But you really are my uncle, just saying.”

    Cap tried really hard to keep himself from rolling his eyes. “Anyway, it’s good to see you again. How long are you going to be staying?”

    “For a few days. I’m on my fall break from school, so I have to be back on Monday. But, I should be coming back up for Thanksgiving…”

    “And Christmas,” Stark added.

    “And Christmas.”

    “Doesn’t Banner teach at your college?” Cap asked.

    “Yeah, he teaches several chemistry classes.”

    “How is he doing?” Cap asked, a worried tone in his voice.

    “Better. I finally got him to agree to come back to the Avengers if we need to assemble again.”

    “That’s good,” Cap nodded. “I have a feeling we’re going to have to fight again…”

    “Just a different type of demon,” Stark muttered.

    “Where is Barton?” Kat asked.

    “He’s made a trip out to his SHIELD base to research this folder a bit,” Stark said, lifting the briefcase in his hand. “He’ll be back tomorrow.”

    The elevator finally reached the top floor. Kat was the first to step out, Cap making his way for a staircase nearby. “I’ll see you guys later,” he said, climbing up the stairs.

    Kat didn’t remember whether those stairs had been there the last time she had been on this floor of Stark Tower. Granted, the last time she had been here, she was trying desperately to read and figure out the situation with Loki and whoever else may be behind his Shadowfication and sending him to Earth to conquer it. On top of that, she was also trying to figure out exactly what was going on in Loki’s mind after the Shadowfication wore off. He had seemed extremely apologetic…but mostly towards her, as if he had done her a personal wrong…

    Stark caught her looking up at the stairs with a confused expression on her face. “Oh, yeah, that’s where all of the apartments are. Come on, you can pick one out.” Kat followed him up the glass staircase, gazing around at everything around her. Most of the furniture and walls were glass and metal, a very modern style. Everywhere, there were touch pads and panels…

    “Hey, JARVIS, which of the rooms have been unclaimed?” Stark asked, seemingly aloud to himself.

    Kat nearly jumped out of her skin when a robotic voice in a British accent responded, “Rooms 5, 12, and 18 have already been claimed. 18 by Agent Barton. 12 by Captain Rogers. 5 by Mr. Stark. The rest are unoccupied at the moment.”

    “How many rooms are there?” Kat asked Stark, trying to get over the sudden shock she had received from the computer system. She had known that JARVIS assisted Stark while he was in the suit, but she didn’t know the program also ran things here in Stark Tower.

    JARVIS ended up answering her question. “There are 20 apartments total open to those in the Avengers Initiative, ma’am.”

    “Oh, yeah, JARVIS, this is Kat,” Stark said as they made their way down the hall towards the apartments. They passed by a large kitchen. Kat was only able to catch a glimpse of it, but there was stainless steel everywhere and everything shined.

    “Ah, yes, Miss Stark. A pleasure to finally meet you,” JARVIS said. Kat shot Stark a look that asked him what he had exactly been telling the AI about her. He shrugged, and she sighed.

    “I hope he hasn’t been saying anything bad about me,” she said as they stepped into the first hall of apartments.

    “Oh, no, Miss Stark. Though there have been a few words about some OCD-like tendencies…”

    “Okay! These are apartments 1 through 5. Obviously, 5 is mine. You can choose this hall, the next hall, any hall at all.” He paused. “Actually, I think I know which one you would like. Follow me.” He typed in a code into apartment 2, leading her through into a nice living area and out onto a balcony.

    “Wow…” Kat gazed out across the New York skyline. She could see forever in the distance on all sides.

    “Best view in the tower,” Stark said, leaning on the rail in front of them. “Closest one to the sky as well.”

    Kat ducked her head. “I like this one.”

    “Great! I’ll sign you up and get you a passkey for this one.”

    Kat nodded. There were a few minutes of silence before she said, “Thanks, Dad.”

    “I wasn’t going to make you stay in a hotel or anything…”

    “No, I meant…this apartment is wonderful…”

    “You can change the color, anything. Here, let me show you.” Stark stepped back inside, Kat following close after him, gazing around at the same type of glass and metal furniture as decorated downstairs. It was nice to know that her father shared her love of the modern look…she guessed that he had installed all of the panels and technology himself…

    The living room had several chairs, one sofa, and a wall panel TV in it in addition to the same kind of wall panel TV across from the bed in the bedroom, which was separated from the living room by glass sliding doors. A large bathroom, complete with white marble, a shower, and hot tub was connected directly to the bedroom. Finally, there was a walk-in closet next door with empty shelves and drawers and mirrors…

    “Plenty of room in here for your OCD tendencies,” Stark commented. Kat rolled her eyes, turning around to take everything in. “And, so you can fill these shelves or do whatever…” He dug around in his pocket and handed Kat a credit card.

    The last thing Kat wanted was this… “No, no, I can’t…” She shook her head.

    “Now, come on, Kat…”

    “No, I can’t…”

    Stark stepped forward, placing his hands on each of Kat’s shoulders and looking her straight in the eye. “There is only so much money I can give to charity when I die, Kat. Look all around you. Everything the light touches will be yours one day.”

    She burst out laughing. “Seriously, Lion King?”

    “If you see a pack of antelope stampeding downstairs in the lobby, tell me to stay at the top of the tower…”

    “But, no, I…”

    “Kat. Just take the card. You don’t even have to use it. If there’s an emergency or something, I would feel better if you had it.”

    She sighed, taking the card from him. “Okay.”

    “Great! Now, the colors. The panel over there changes the colors.”

    “The wall colors.”

    “ALL the colors.”

    “ALL the colors?” She asked incredulously.

    “Just go over and select a color…isn’t your favorite color blue?”

    “How did you know that?”

    “Other than the immense amount of blue you wear and the fact that your birthstone is blue?”

    She rolled her eyes, stepping over to the panel. There were separate color selections for everything in the room. She chose the wall color first. Immediately, the walls around them rolled from white to a dark sapphire blue. By just sliding a bar on the control panel, she could adjust it to a deep-sea blue or a bright blue.

    “Wow…” She nodded. “I’m impressed. Did you create this system yourself?”

    He shrugged as if it were no big deal. “Just a little project I’ve been working on…”

    “Stark Industries expanding into the home décor business?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. “Doesn’t really seem quite your style…”

    “Try the sofa,” he said, pointing back to the control panel.

  11. #11
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    Chapter Three



    Kat raised an eyebrow and selected the couch, which was currently white. She chose a plain yellow color, turning to see what would happen. One second, it was white, the next, it was yellow. She turned back to Stark, who raised his eyebrows. “That’s impressive…” Kat said, nodding. “Nanomolecules…?”

    “Trade secrets. You’ll find out later. Anyway, there was something else…Oh, yes, we have a meeting with some lawyers in about…” He checked his watch. “Half an hour downstairs in my office.”

    “Wait, what?”

    “Well, here’s the deal. When SHIELD took you from me, they also confiscated your birth certificate, our marriage certificate, everything, which means when I sat down to make my will about a decade ago, I literally couldn’t leave anything to you because I couldn’t give you away as my daughter…”

    “But now you can,” she finished. “So you want to include me in your will?” Kat didn’t understand why he would have to go through so much trouble to do something as simple as mention her in his will…perhaps something related to inheritance of the company…?

    “There must always be a Stark in Stark Tower.”

    “You do realize that you’ve been quoting situations in which you would always end up dead at the end, right?”

    “I don’t plan on getting beheaded by a teenage brat of a king anytime soon. It’s a good thing we live in America…Anyway, as you know, Stark Industries is a family business. On default, since I was believe to be childless before, the council would gain control after my death, but now…”

    “You want to make it so I inherit control of Stark Industries?”

    “That’s my girl. Genius like her father…” Stark trailed off at the look on Kat’s face. “What’s wrong?”

    Everything was happening too fast. She had come here to spend a few days with her father, not get handed a fortune to spend and a company to inherit. And she couldn’t just refuse…Beforehand, during the Initiative, before she knew Stark’s background, she would have turned him down in an instant. But now…she knew he just wanted to forget and make up for the past twenty-one years.

    “Nothing…” Kat trailed off.

    “Great! Now we have fifteen minutes…” Stark said.

    “Let me get changed real quick…”

    “I will see you in the main area in a few minutes.” Kat hesitated for a few moments after he left, wondering what she was getting herself into.

    ------------

    “It’s nice,” Kat sat, spinning around and taking in Stark’s huge office.

    “It’s just for show and to meet important people and such. I prefer to work upstairs or in the shop,” Stark said. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”

    “Yeah, why do you ask?”

    “Nothing, I just…am I rushing you at all…?”

    “Maybe a little bit…”

    “I can call off the meeting…”

    “No, no,” she shook her head. “It has to happen sometime. Let’s do this.”

    “Okay…” Stark studied her for a few moments before the intercom on his desk buzzed.

    “Mr. Stark, a Mr. Harvey Spector is here to see you.”

    “Great! Send him in.”

    The door opened and in walked a well-dressed man with dark brown hair and eyes. He carried with him a simple portfolio and walked as if he knew just how important he was. “Mr. Stark,” he said, holding out his hand to shake Stark’s.

    “Mr. Spector, glad to finally meet you. They say you’re the best lawyer in New York.”

    “Well, I’m going to make sure to prove them right.” Something about how Harvey carried himself, spoke…Kat watched as he and Stark conversed for a few minutes, observing the new lawyer until she finally realized what had happened.

    Stark had managed to hire a man that was basically him in lawyer form.

    Kat couldn’t help but laugh at the exchange between the two, which caught their attention. “And this is my daughter, Kat,” Stark said, stepping forward to put a hand on her shoulder.

    “Harvey Spector,” Harvey said, reaching out to shake her hand.

    “Nice to meet you,” she replied.

    Harvey checked his watch. “I’m sorry my associate isn’t here yet. He usually isn’t this late…”

    “Mr. Stark, Mr. Spector’s associate is here now,” the intercom buzzed again.”

    The office door opened again and in walked a man around Kat’s age with sandy brown hair and blue eyes. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, an apologetic look plastered across his face.

    “Crash your bike or something?” Harvey asked.

    The young man scowled at him. “No, just had some problems with my security pass downstairs.” He stepped forward to introduce himself to Stark. “I’m Mr. Spector’s associate, Mike Ross.”

    “Good to see you made it, Mr. Ross. This is my daughter, Kat,” Stark said turning to her.

    Kat and Mike froze for several seconds, recognition dawning in both of their eyes. Mike then took a few steps back. “Are you serious?” He muttered to himself.

    “Do you two know each other?” Stark asked.

    “Yes…this is the Mike I was talking about earlier,” Kat said.

    “Oh, wow, what a coincidence.”

    “You didn’t tell me…” Mike started, then caught himself. “Never mind.”

    “Do you two need some time alone or can we get on with this meeting?” Harvey asked.

    Kat and Mike shot each other a glance before Kat answered, “No, we’re fine. We can start now.”

    -------------

    After the meeting, Mike was the first to leave the office. Kat ran to catch up to him before he could make it to the elevator. “Hey, listen, I’m sorry…”

    “That you didn’t tell me you had found your thought-to-be-dead father? It’s not as if we’ve been best friends since we were four, you know.”

    “A lot of things have been going on…you know what happened last month. We’re still trying to figure out our relationship.”

    Mike glanced over, seeing how apologetic Kat was. He shrugged. “I understand. It’s fine. I guess it’s pretty cool, you know.”

    “That I found my dad? Yeah.”

    “And that he’s Iron Man. That’s pretty awesome as well.”

    Harvey stepped passed them, punching the elevator door’s down button. “Want me to give you the rest of the day off to spend with your girlfriend?”

    Mike scowled at him. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

    “I’m heading back to the office. You follow things up here. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

    After Harvey stepped into the elevator, Mike turned back to Kat. “I have no clue what I’m supposed to be doing now.”

    “Well, theoretically, you would be interviewing us to find out why we were estranged for so many years.”

    “Which is a government secret nowadays,” Stark said. Both of them turned to see him walking down the hall towards them. “We’re going to have to come up with an alibi. An interesting one…” He looked from Kat to Mike. “Unless she’s already told you what actually happened.”

    “Yeah, I’m aware of the whole…Initiative and superheroes thing.” Mike paused. “I’ve got…some sort of powers myself.”

    “What kind of powers?”

    “Fire. I can control fire and fight with it. Barton trained me to control it so I don’t make things spontaneously combust.”

    “Beforehand, did you make things spontaneously combust?”

    “Luckily, only inanimate objects.”

    “So, you’re kind of like the Human Torch?” Stark asked.

    “I can’t set myself on fire, so, no,” Mike replied.

    “You got that reference.”

    “I did.”

    Kat looked from Stark to Mike, shaking her head as Stark continued. “So, what was Kat like growing up?”

    Kat groaned as Mike answered. “She was cool. Violent sometimes.”

    “Violent?” Kat asked, raising an eyebrow in question.

    “She didn’t take crap from anyone. How many kids did you beat up in Kindergarten?”

    “Only the ones who deserved it.”

    “See?” Mike said.

    “Oh, that’s nothing. The first time we met, she threatened to cut me and my suit in half,” Stark said.

    “I believe that.”

    Kat groaned. “I knew putting the two of you in the same room together wouldn’t turn out well for me.”

    “Anything else I should know?” Stark asked.

    “She tell you that she’s OCD?”

    “Oh, no, I’ve seen the evidence myself.”

    “In Coulson’s house? All of the books?”

    “They had cleared out the books by the time we got there. But her room…”

    “Bookshelves, clothes, everything. I used to tease her that she should become a librarian when she grew up.”

    “Speaking of that…” Stark turned to Kat, who had her head in her hands. “I’ve got something to show you.”

    “I should head back to the office…” Mike said, heading for the elevators again.

    “What’s the rush? You’re here to gather more information about us, right?” Stark asked.

    “Yes…but I already know Kat…”

    “Doesn’t matter. You’re still on the job.”

    “Okay…” Mike said as Stark stepped forward to punch a few buttons on the elevator. The doors swung open, and they stepped inside. It felt surreal to Kat to be standing in the same space as Mike, who represented her old life, and Stark, who represented her new one. While she wasn’t looking forward to the endless teasing Mike and Stark were sure to indulge in at cost to her, she was glad to see that they were getting along. Mike wasn’t one to get star struck, but Kat could see in his eyes as he hung on ever word that came out of her father’s mouth that he was excited about getting this opportunity to meet someone he had idolized for years.

    “So did they really clear out everything from Coulson’s house?”

    Mike’s question brought Kat back to reality. After they had seen Thor and Loki off to Asgard, Kat, Stark, and Barton had returned to Coulson’s house so Kat could pick up some of her belongings before SHIELD inevitably swept through the house to pick up any classified documents Coulson may have left there.

    “Yeah, they took pretty much everything except for my belongings,” Kat answered.

    Mike shook his head. “What did they think they would find there? It’s not like Coulson would have kept anything extremely top secret in that small office of his.”

    Kat looked over at Stark, who was too busy studying the ceiling to catch the glance she had shot him. They HAD found something extremely top secret, but not in Coulson’s office. Barton had scanned the walls and the floors…even the ceiling to see if the agent had hidden anything from prying eyes, then realized that it was more likely that Coulson had hidden something in Kat’s room, which would probably not be scanned by the SHIELD team. Barton had found a secret compartment in the back of her closet…and a file folder containing information about the entire Avengers Initiative. Apparently, there was something within the file that he didn’t want SHIELD to know.

    Unfortunately, Kat, Stark, and Barton’s suspicions about SHIELD had to be kept under wraps for the time being. Though she knew Mike wouldn’t tell a soul about what had happened during the Avengers Initiative, he would be in danger if he knew about their distrust of SHIELD. She hoped that they would be able to impart this knowledge to him in the future. But, in the present, she kept her mouth shut and shrugged.

  12. #12
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    Chapter Four



    The elevator slowed to a stop on the top floor of the tower. Kat smiled as Mike turned around in circles, trying to take everything in. Now he was really fanboying, mostly over the technology in the wall panels. Kat knew he was trying hard to look cool and unimpressed in front of Stark, and, luckily, her father wasn’t paying much attention to him. After the elevator doors had slammed shut behind them, he had immediately crossed the room to a door Kat hadn’t noticed on her first trip through the top floor. There was no lock or wall panel keyboard on this door, which seemed odd to her. It seemed as if he had programmed every other entryway on this floor…why not this one?

    The door swung open to reveal a pitch-black space. Stark disappeared into the darkness first, the shadows seeming to swallow him whole. Kat and Mike shot each other a look, and Mike gestured for her to follow her father first. While Kat was not afraid of much, she WAS claustrophobic. She had guessed years ago that this was due to the fact that she was an angel. Most beings with wings, she theorized, were uneasy when the sky was not visible. When the darkness closed around her, her first instinct was to reach for whoever was closest, who happened to be Stark. She grabbed his shoulder, startling him.

    “Jesus, Kat!”

    “Did you happen to install any lights in here, genius?” She snapped, mad at herself for being so scared of a little darkness. She was the Chosen One, for God’s sake…What was that old legend that said she had stood up to and slew the Demon King of Asgard himself? She wondered if she had been claustrophobic in her immortal life as well.

    She could hear Stark clap twice, and light flooded her eyes, nearly blinding her. Next to her, Mike was blinking spots from his eyes, shaking his head to clear it. When their vision cleared, however, they couldn’t believe the sight lay out before their eyes.

    Stark looked extremely pleased with himself as Kat and Mike tried to grasp what exactly was in front of them. The mahogany shelves and oaken panels was in extreme contrast with the modern glass and metal that decorated the rest of the top floor of Stark Tower. Each and every shelf was lined with dozens of books. The staircase they stood on spiraled down into what looked like several floors of bookshelves, ladders, chairs, and tables, each outfitted in what looked to Kat materials that came straight out of Victorian England. If she had to guess, there were close to a thousand books there.

    “What is all of this?” Kat breathed.

    “Twenty-one years of birthday presents all wrapped into one. I started the collection a few weeks after you were born, and I guess I didn’t want to stop afterward just in case…” Stark trailed off. Kat didn’t know what to say. Mike had a just as surprised look on his face. She could tell Stark was uncomfortable in this situation. “Why don’t you go see what you can find? I tried to put them in some semblance of order.”

    Kat was glad to slip down the steps and scan the first few shelves. Mike and Stark watched as she scanned the books, running her fingers down the rows. “Most of them are first editions,” Stark said as Kat picked up an especially old copy of The Sign of Four.

    She laughed. “You bought all of the Sherlock Holmes stories?”

    “Yeah. We’re related to him somewhere down the family tree…”

    “Sherlock Holmes was a fictional character,” Mike pointed out.

    “Says who? There are actual historical records that prove he lived.”

    “You must be thinking about Dr. Bell…”

    “Nope, Holmes lived.”

    “Seriously?” Stark and Mike looked down to see Kat holding up a copy of A Game of Thrones. Before her sat the entire series of A Song of Ice and Fire.

    “Ah, yes, the Starks…” Mike said in his best British accent. “Winter is coming.”

    “A Lannister always pays his debts,” Stark quoted.

    A few seconds of silence followed before Mike turned and said, “In the game of thrones, you either win or you die.”

    “What is dead may never die, only rise again…”

    “You know nothing…”

    “We are the watchers on the Wall..”

    “Remember who you are. Others won’t. Wear it like armor…”

    Kat rolled her eyes and pushed A Game of Thrones back into place, choosing to block out the rest of Mike and Stark’s quote battle. She found a few old translations of The Odyssey and The Iliad. She had just found a first edition of Dracula before a cell phone rang out, bringing the quote battle to a halt. Mike dug around in his pocket, pulling out his iPhone and picking up the call. “Hello?” He paused, ducking his head. “Okay. I’m on my way back.” He hung it up and shook his head. “I’m needed back at the office.”

    “Spector catch on that you were having too much fun here?” Stark asked.

    “Yeah, he tends to pick up on that stuff pretty quickly,” Mike said, leaning over the rail. “Call me tomorrow. I have the day off.”

    “Will do. See you later,” Kat called back up.

    “Hey, listen, Stark Tower is open if you ever want to come by sometime,” Stark said before Mike left.

    “Really?”

    “Yeah, all of Kat’s friends are welcome.”

    Mike thanked him and ran out of the library doors, answering his cell phone as another call from Harvey came through. Stark walked down the steps to where Kat was examining another row of books.

    “Let me tell you, it was a huge relief when Barton mentioned how many books you filled Coulson’s house with over the years. I didn’t know whether or not you would be a reader…Didn’t get much information from Coulson at all.”

    “No, it’s…wonderful. I love it.” There was a pause as Kat struggled not to cry again. “Thank you,” she said in a shaky voice.

    Stark turned to examine another bookshelf. Kat realized that, as much as she thought she knew about her father…she actually knew very little. Her first impression of him as a self-centered and arrogant man was wrong. Her second impression of him as slightly self-sacrificing and arrogant was still wrong. She had known that he suffered from his wife’s death and Kat’s being taken away, but she didn’t know that he was still grieving. From the way he was scrambling to ensure that Kat was close to him for the foreseeable future, she could tell he had missed her greatly and that the figuring-out-what-our-relationship-is problem was even more complex than it had seemed at first.

    Silence was rare for Stark, but since Kat had arrived in New York, they had lapsed into more awkward pauses than she could stand. It was a combination of Kat’s first and second impressions of Stark and Stark’s inability to show another level of interest other than indifference in front of people that caused these pauses. It made Kat want to get on the first flight back to Atlanta…but at the same time, she wanted to stay.

    “He seems nice,” Stark said, breaking the silence.

    “Who?” Kat asked, confusion seeping in as she was broken from her train of thought.

    “Mike.”

    “Oh, yeah…”

    “I approve.”

    “We’re not dating.”

    “Why not?”

    And, once again, their conversation took an awkward turn. “He’s more like a brother to me than…that…” She stuttered. One day, she would get the hang of making conversations with Stark less awkward. She resolved to work on that.

    “Just saying…Do you even have a boyfriend?”

    “No,” she said, scowling and instinctively reaching for another book to distract herself.

    “Okay, then. I have a few more things to get done at the office. I assume you’ll want to stay here…” He turned and walked back up the steps, leaving Kat alone in the library. After he shut the door, she leaned forward, placing her forehead on the wood paneling of the shelf in front of her, and cried softly.

    ------------

    A loud ringing noise filled Kat’s ears, making her groan and throw the nearest pillow she could find at the source of the noise. A soft thump followed by a hard one told her that she had succeeded in knocking her iPhone off of the bedside table but had not succeeded in stopping the loud ringing noise.

    A banging on the door made her question how long she had let her phone ring. She groaned and tried to shout something akin to telling the person banging on the door to go jump off the top of the tower. Her garbled shouting received a response that she couldn’t quite hear, but sounded like, in both tone and fashion, Stark’s usual sarcasm. Kat rolled off of her bed, and ran to the door, flinging it open. “What?”

    “Do you answer your phone at all?”

    “Not when I’m asleep.”

    “We thought you were dead. Even Uncle Steve tried to call you.”

    Kat rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

    Her phone went off again. “Are you going to get that?”

    She snatched her phone off of the floor and answered it. “Hello?” She snapped.

    “Woah, woah, no need to bite my head off.”

    “How long have you been calling me?” Kat said, a bit softer this time, turning away from Stark, who was standing in her doorway with a seriously? look on his face. True, Kat was a deep sleeper. Nothing close to certain alarm clock sounds or a nuclear bomb could wake her up most days. Luckily, her body was also tuned to waking her up in threatening situations…some sort of sixth sense as an offshoot of her powers, she guessed. If someone were coming at her with a knife or a gun, she would wake up within seconds of sensing someone meant to do her harm.

    Mike answered back, “About an hour. Called your dad, too.”

    “Yes…” She turned back to glare at Stark, who threw his hands into the air as if to say he was innocent of everything and he hadn’t done anything wrong. “…I know. How did you get his number?”

    “I’m his lawyer, Kat. Of course I have his number.”

    “The ability for the two of you to stay in constant communication with each other terrifies me.” This caused both Stark and Mike to laugh, unnerving Kat. Sure, they weren’t planning world domination, but…oh, wait, yes, Mike Ross and Tony Stark probably would plan world domination together. Throw Harvey Spector into the mix, and they were shoe-ins for world dictatorship.

    “Anyway, you free to come down to the office?”

    “I thought you had the day off today?” Kat asked, frowning.

    “Yeah, whenever I think that as well, I turn out not having the day off.”

    Kat sighed. “What time is it…?” There were no damned clocks in the room that she could see. Maybe they were located on the wall panels?

    “12:00. That’s why we thought you were dead,” Mike responded. “Why don’t you get dressed and meet me at the office, and we’ll grab lunch?”

    “Fine. See you in a few minutes.” Kat hung up the phone.

    “Just want to point out that we’re not planning world domination or anything,” Stark said.

    “Yeah, right,” Kat said before swinging the door shut in his face.

    ------------

    Kat stepped off of the elevator onto the floor of the business building that housed the law offices of Pearson-Hardman. She wandered about a bit until she found Harvey Spector’s office. Glancing through the glass wall to the office within, she realized that he wasn’t there.

    “Can I help you with something?”

    Kat spun around, coming face-to-face with a red-haired woman who looked to be somewhere around Harvey’s age. She was well dressed in a no-sleeved blue dress and heels, and her auburn hair fell in waves around her shoulders. She studied Kat with dark brown eyes the color of polished mahogany. Kat suddenly felt nervous. She never seemed easy around well-dressed women…high society, the whole New York social life thing never appealed to her. She would rather be rock-climbing or training with Barton or anything else. Maybe that was why she didn’t have many female friends…

    “Yes…I’m looking for Mike Ross. Could you tell me where he is?”

    “Oh, he and Harvey are in a meeting with Jessica Pearson at the moment.” She paused. “How do you know Mike?”

    “We’ve been friends for years. We grew up together.”

    “Their meeting will be just a bit longer. If you’ll wait in the lobby…Can I get your name…?”

    “Kat…” Kat paused, unused to giving her real last name. “Kat Stark.”

    “You’re the daughter?”

    “Um…I think so?”

    “I’m Donna Paulson, Harvey’s legal secretary,” she said, shaking hands with Kat. “Nice to meet you, Miss Stark.”

    “Kat. Please call me Kat.”

    “Is that short for Katharine?”

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    Chapter Five



    “Yes, it is,” Kat replied.

    “I love your boots,” Donna said, admiring Kat’s black boots.

    “Oh, these? I’ve had them for forever.”

    “Who designed them?”

    “Erm…I think I got them at a Macy’s or something.”

    There was an awkward pause before Donna gave her a genuine smile and replied, “They look cute.”

    “I see you’ve met Miss Stark.” Donna and Kat turned to see Harvey and Mike making their way back to Harvey’s office.

    “Yes, I have.” While Harvey’s back was turned to open his office door, Donna shot Mike a look that clearly asked him why someone like Kat was asking after him and that she approved if Mike was involved in any sort of relationship with the young woman. Mike’s quick shake of the head told her otherwise. Donna chose to leave the two of them alone by her desk as she followed Harvey into his office.

    “So that’s the daughter,” Donna started.

    “That’s the daughter,” Harvey said in a way that suggested he had his doubts about that.

    “What would Stark gain by finding some random girl to leave all of his money and his company to?”

    “Sticking it to the company board, most likely. His father created the board to help run the company, but it’s never exactly approved of Stark’s handling of the company and Stark has never really seen eye-to-eye with them, either.” Harvey sat at his desk, thinking for a few moments. “I need your help.”

    Donna’s auburn eyebrows shot up. “Things must be serious if you’re asking for help outright like this.”

    “Tony Stark will be our highest-paying client of all time if we pull off this case. Yes, things are serious. We need to know whether or not this girl is actually his daughter.” He shot a glance through his office wall at Kat and Mike, who were chatting away, unaware of the doubts flying through the air within Harvey’s office. “Mike has known her his entire life, said that she grew up under a guardian’s care believing she was an orphan. He didn’t find out Stark was her father until yesterday. That’s enough to raise doubts.” He paused. “I’m going to call Stark in to the office tomorrow to talk to him about this…You call Kat in, but don’t let Stark or Kat know each other is coming. I want you to watch how they act at the spur of the moment.”

    “To see if he’s telling the truth?”

    “Exactly.”

    Outside, Kat and Mike were talking about that night. “You should totally come over. You could take a tour of Stark Tower. I think Barton’s supposed to come over tonight…and you could meet Uncle Steve.”

    Mike raised an eyebrow. “Uncle Steve?”

    “Well, that’s what Dad calls him. I call him Cap.”

    She smiled as realization dawned on Mike. He shot a look left, then right before saying, “Are you talking about Captain America? Are you telling me you’re related to Captain America, too?” He paused. “Are you telling me Captain America and Iron Man are actually related?”

    “He was my mom’s uncle,” Kat explained. “Dad’s uncle by marriage, though he really doesn’t like Dad calling him Uncle Steve…”

    “Wow…that’s…” Mike shook his head. “I don’t even have words for how epic your family is.” He paused. “You’re already the coolest person I know….”

    “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Kat said, grabbing his arm and heading toward the elevator bank. “Let’s go grab some lunch and talk about what’s going to go down tonight.”

    ------------

    Kat decided to stay the rest of the day at Pearson-Hardman, reading a book quietly in the legal library as Mike worked on the Stark case. She didn’t wish to know all of the legal jargon he was pouring over, so she didn’t ask him about his work. She preferred not to think much about Stark’s fight to change his will to include her in it, though she knew he meant well…

    After an hour of reading her way through Feast for Crows, Kat pulled her mind out of Westeros and decided to stretch her legs by walking to Harvey’s office. As she passed by Donna’s desk, the secretary swung around from her keyboard. “If you hang out here too long, Lewis is going to mistake you for one of the associates and put you to work.”

    Kat cringed. “That doesn’t sound good. Maybe I should go back to Stark Tower and brave another…interesting conversation with Dad again.” She didn’t know who Lewis was, but from the way Donna had said it, it sounded like she did not want to work under him. Then again, she had needed to get out of Stark Tower, even for a few hours. She had been a bit irritated at Stark for pursuing this case on the spot without telling her, and the air between them had been super awkward since Mike had left the night before. Not to mention what had happened that morning…

    Mike’s voice broke through her thoughts. “Yeah, I assure you, an awkward conversation with Stark beats being forced to work as an associate under Lewis any day.” He held up the stack of papers in his hand. “Look, I’m not going to lie. It’s going to be boring around here for the rest of the day. I’ll swing by Stark Tower tonight.” A rare serious look crossed his eyes. “You should be home spending time with Stark.”

    Mike was right, of course. She and Stark weren’t going to get any better at figuring out their relationship if they avoided the awkward silences and conversations that much. Besides, she needed to find out more about her father. Tony Stark was still somewhat of an enigma to her…and she was probably just as much one to him. Mike, who had grown up an orphan with her, knew just how important family was. His grandmother had single-handedly raised him. Kat had had no family other than Coulson for the first twenty-one years of her life…

    But now Coulson was gone and her real father was in her life now. Kat gave Mike a thankful smile. “Okay. Don’t let Harvey work you into the ground. You’re supposed to have dinner with us tonight.” She patted him on the arm and said good-bye to Donna before making her way for the elevators, once again feeling light as air as she contemplated how her life had taken a turn for the better.

    ------------

    The top floor was empty when she arrived home (home, to her, had always been Coulson’s small and cozy house in the suburbs of Washington. She knew that, hoped that, over time, Stark Tower would feel more like home to her). The large sprawling room of glass and metal seemed cold and silent with no one there. After a few moments, she could hardly stand the silence and stepped over to one of the wall panels, clicking JARVIS’ communications on.

    “Hello, JARVIS,” she said, trying to sound more cheerful than she actually was. Even though she was an engineering student, the thought of speaking to an A.I. still unnerved her.

    “Hello, Miss Stark. How may I assist you?”

    “Yes, um, do you know where Dad is right now?”

    “Mr. Stark is working in his shop downstairs and will not be finished with work until later today. However, he did mention that, if you were to arrive home early, that you should come down to the shop to visit him,” JARVIS said.

    “Okay…where is his shop?” Kat asked.

    “On the floor right below us, Miss Stark. I have allowed you access.”

    “Thank you!”

    When the doors opened onto the floor where Stark’s shop was held, Kat walked down a short hallway into a large open space. Computers were everywhere, as were bits and pieces of what were, Kat guessed, new prototypes of the suit Stark was coming up with. Stark wasn’t in the room at the moment, but Kat was too caught up in the display across the room to notice.

    Lining the back wall were display cases of several different iterations of the suit, each one different colors or with different functions. Kat studied each one with interest.

    “Security alert!”

    Kat spun around to see Stark standing behind her, a smile planted across his face.

    “JARVIS let me in here,” Kat said, throwing up her hands as if it wasn’t her fault. “He said that you told him to tell me I should come down.”

    “Oh, yeah, right…I forgot.” Stark motioned to the case in front of her. “What do you think?”

    Kat raised an eyebrow. “You’ve only been through five iterations in ten years?”

    He winced. “Ouch, ONLY?”

    “What else have you been doing?”

    “Other than running the most profitable business in the world and saving said world from an army of demons and a crazy-as-hell Asgardian? I think I have an excuse for not coming up with more iterations…”

    Kat laughed and shook her head. “Mike should be coming by tonight.”

    “Great. So is Barton.”

    “Barton?”

    “Yeah, he’s coming by to give us a report on what he’s learned from his insiders at SHIELD. He says that he’s found something…but he doesn’t know whether it’s related to Coulson’s file or not,” Stark said.

    “Let’s hope it’s not more bad news,” Kat said grimly.

    ------------

    Mike stepped off of the elevator onto the top floor of Stark Tower, still a little bit in awe of the striking glass and metal decoration scheme of the main living space. Kat was sitting on one of the chairs, talking to a man that looked to be in his late twenties. If Mike hadn’t known better about Kat’s family (and really, now that he knew Kat’s real father was Stark, she could have all number of relatives he didn’t know about), he would have thought the two brother and sister. The man had the same blonde hair as Kat. The girl’s eyes, of course, were that strange shade of unnatural crystal blue, but the man’s eye color was only a shade off from hers. What struck him as odd was that the guy was wearing a plaid shirt and pants that made him look like he had stepped out of the forties or fifties.

    Of course, Stark was too young to have a son that old, and Kat had told Mike that both of her parents had been only children, so he assume this was an older distant cousin speaking to his best friend. When he finally drew close enough to garner their attention, Kat glanced his way and smiled. “Mike, great, you’re here!” She said, jumping up from her seat. The man stood up to make his way over and introduce himself to Mike. “Cap, this is Mike Ross, my childhood best friend and one of Dad’s new lawyers.”

    “May God have mercy on your soul,” Cap said jokingly, holding out a hand for Mike to shake. His grip was unbelievingly strong. “Captain Steve Rogers. I’m Kat’s great uncle.”

    Mike gave a short laugh. “Wow, you look really good for what, eighty? Ninety?”

    “That’s close, really. The years haven’t really caught up with me yet.”

    Realization dawned on Mike’s face, and a smile spread across Kat’s. “Oh my God. You’re…you’re Captain America, aren’t you?”

    Cap nodded. Mike’s eyes grew bigger as he stared at Kat. “You’re related to Captain America, too?”

    “He’s my mom’s uncle.”

    Mike shook his head. “Your life keeps on getting more awesome by the second, Kat.”

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, Barton and Stark were talking as Stark poured drinks for everyone gathered there. “We should gather together the entire team for this…” Barton started.

    “Nearly the entire team is here.”

    “I know we can’t get Thor here. I’m just saying Banner…”

    “Doesn’t want to be drug out of his secluded office all the way up to New York just because of a hunch.”

    “This isn’t a hunch, Stark. This is serious. We need to start looking into this soon and preparing ourselves in case fighting breaks out.” Barton paused. “Which means expanding the team a bit to make up for the fact that Thor’s gone and probably won’t be in contact or available to fight when we need him.”

    “You’re going to drag more people into this?” Stark shook his head. “That’s not going to work…”

    “Right now I only have one person in mind,” Barton said. Stark followed his gaze across the room to where Mike was speaking with Kat and Cap.

    Stark laughed. “Mike? Are you serious?”

    “I trained him to control his powers. I can train him to use them effectively in battle. Coulson hinted to me for years that Mike had the potential to fight…”

    “Then he would have included him in the Avengers.”

    “He wasn’t ready.”

    “What makes you think he’s ready now?”

    “Are we in a battle right now?”

    “Knowing SHIELD, we could be in a battle in the very next second.”

    “I’ll have time to train him before anything happens?”

    “In the next second? Wow, I didn’t know you were that good.”

    Barton shot him a glare. The slightly stoic and serious SHIELD agent found it difficult sometimes to deal with Stark when plans needed to be formed or business needed to be talked over. He was able to keep down his outbursts directed at the billionaire, while Cap was more likely to spring to the opposition and challenge Stark at every turn. Luckily, Kat usually broke up the fights caused by clashing personalities on the team, mostly by telling her father in not so many words to keep his mouth shut and her great-uncle not to take the bait whenever Stark wanted to push him over the edge to get a reaction.

    “I don’t even know why I’m trying to convince you,” Barton said offhandedly, moving away from the bar to signal that their conversation was over. “You’re not the leader of this team.”

    As Barton walked away, Stark smirked, calling after him, “I do get a vote in these kinds of matters, though.”

    The SHIELD agent called back. “ONE vote, Stark, ONE vote that weighs as much as any other member of the team.”

    Stark rolled his eyes, not bothering to continue the conversation. He would have more to say once the team actually voted on the matter. If it were up to him, they wouldn’t bring anyone else into their small Initiative. His dealings with SHIELD over the years had bred a distrust of any person involved with the organization.

    Distrust of any person, that was, except for Coulson and Barton. And out of the two of them, he trusted Coulson more despite the fact that he knew much less about the older agent than he did about Barton.

  14. #14
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    Chapter Six



    “Hey, Mike!” Barton said, catching Mike’s attention for the first time since the young man had stepped into the room.

    Mike looked surprised to see him there. “Barton? Man, it’s been a while,” he said, shaking the agent’s hand.

    “How’s the job coming along?”

    “Yeah, I just got assigned to a new case. Some billionaire needs us to help re-write his will, that’s all.”

    “What a coincidence,” Barton said, shooting a look at Kat.

    “There are no coincidences in our world,” Cap pointed out.

    Barton agreed with a nod. That much was true. Whatever happened in each member of the Avengers lives that seemed a coincidence was never so…There were always greater forces at work behind these occurrences, even if they seemed completely due to chance.

    “Still working on your training?” Barton asked Mike, this time glancing over at Stark, who had stepped up to take part in their conversation.

    “Well, it’s not as high-intensity as it used to be with you, but I have successfully been able to prevent things from catching on fire, and I can control the fire I summon a lot better now than I could before,” Mike said, holding how his hand to demonstrate. A flame instantly ignited in his palm, sweeping across his hand until it formed a circle. The ring pulsed and flashed in midair around his wrist until he finally extinguished it with a single thought. Sheepishly, he shrugged as if to say that it was nothing compared to what the others gathered in the room were capable of.

    But, of course, Kat was the only other person standing there that had powers like Mike’s. Barton was extremely skilled in combat, Stark had his suit, and Cap was fiercely strong, but none of them boasted elemental powers as the teenagers did. Cap looked impressed by what Mike had done. Barton nodded as if to say the young man had gotten far in his training, shooting Stark a look that said, See what the kid can do now? Wait until he’s trained. He’ll be lethal.

    The rest of the conversation that night consisted of the five of them talking about seemingly random subjects. Mike told the others stories about his and Kat’s childhood, pausing every once in a while to laugh about something Coulson had said or did. During these times, Barton nodded in agreement, adding something here and there about the agent. Stark tried not to show it, but he was extremely curious to hear about the man who had raised his daughter, listening intently to Mike as he talked. Barton also pitched in training stories and some details about his life before working for SHIELD.

    Kat walked Mike to the elevator. As the others watched the two leave, Barton said, “If we’re going to make a decision, we need to make one quick.”

    “A decision about what?” Cap asked, confused.

    “Katniss here wants to make Mike the newest leader of the Avengers,” Stark said. Barton glared at him.

    Cap shrugged. “Once he’s trained a little…”

    “We need to go ahead and make him a member now.”

    Cap paused. “Why? Is there something coming that you haven’t told us about?”

    “Once we get Banner here, I’ll share the details.”

    Stark shook his head. “I’m telling you, he’s not going to want to come out of hiding in Atlanta for this.”

    “We’ll get Kat to talk to him. He seems to respond to her more than to the rest of us.”

    Meanwhile, Kat and Mike were talking as they waited for the elevator to arrive. “He seems to care a lot about you,” Mike said.

    “Who?”

    “Stark. I’m happy for you Kat,” he said, putting a hand on her shoulder as the elevator doors finally swung open. “I’ll see you later.”

    After bidding good-bye to Mike, Kat returned to where the others were standing. “It’s not really a team meeting unless Banner’s here,” she said, interrupting whatever they were discussing.

    “Exactly. Kat, you need to see if you can get Banner to come up here,” Barton said.

    “Is there something wrong?”

    “There might be in the future.”

    “If you have something important you need to tell us, we can fill Banner in on it later,” Cap said a bit impatiently.

    “I’m not exactly sure about it yet. Give me a couple of days…see if we can get Banner here.” Barton looked unnerved. “In the meantime, we need to increase our ranks.” He turned to Kat. “I think we should invite Mike to join the Avengers.”

    Kat’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Really?”

    “If I can train him to use his powers, he’ll be indispensible. Our numbers and power shrank greatly when Thor became out of reach.”

    Kat turned to the other two. “What do you think?”

    Cap shrugged. “If Barton can train him…he’s right, we need to add more…and people we trust are in short supply. You’ve known Mike your entire life. Would you trust him with your life?”

    “Yes,” she said without hesitation, turning to Stark. “It doesn’t seem like you think this is a good idea.”

    “Keeping the team small is the best idea. We prevent information leaking out and we already know how to back ourselves up in a fight,” he said.

    “We’re adding one person. Not ten.”

    Stark shrugged and turned away as if he didn’t care anymore. Usually, he either kept on trying to press his point or gave up and act like he just didn’t care about what they were debating. The latter would be more tiresome in the end, however. Stark would revert to snide rather than sarcastic comments towards whomever he had been arguing. While the others were used to this, Mike wasn’t. Kat hoped Stark would refrain from doing this on account of Mike being her friend.

    “It’s decided then. Mike will join the Avengers,” Kat said, loudly enough for Stark to hear across the room. He turned slightly at her tone of voice, and she shot him a look that told him not to mess with Mike because of this. “And I’ll talk to Banner and see if I can get him up here.”

    ------------

    “Hello, could you please direct me to Dr. Banner’s office phone?”

    Kat swore that the kid sitting at the desk manning the front phone for the Georgia Tech chemistry department couldn’t be more than a first-year. She still had that hopeful and excited tone to her voice that all of the kids had until their first set of midterms. Seeing as how the first set was over, she guessed this kid still held on to some hope…Wait until finals, she thought. Tech always breaks them in the end.

    Thinking about school made her wonder when exactly she was going back. Fall break had ended the day before, yet neither she nor Stark had brought up the subject of transportation back to Atlanta. In fact, no one had even hinted towards her being gone past Fall Break. She sighed. She had missed so much school.

    “Hello?” Banner’s voice rang out on the other side of the line.

    “Dr. Banner, it’s me, Kat.”

    His voice was wary. “Hi, Kat. Are you…are you still in New York?”

    “Yeah, I…I probably won’t make it back in time to finish out the semester.”

    “You deserve some time off. Some time to get your life sorted out, I guess.”

    “That’s true. Listen, I know what I’m about to ask…it will be a huge inconvenience.”

    “You want me to come up to New York for something to do with the Avengers?”

    Kat’s eyes widened. “How did you know that?”

    “Kat, for the past few months, I knew, one day, you would call and beg me to help…What’s the problem now?”

    “We don’t know yet. Barton has gathered some information that he wants to share with the whole team face-to-face…”

    “Is it extremely important I be there?”

    Kat paused. “I think whatever he’s discovered…it’s disturbed him. There’s something wrong here, and I’m afraid you’d probably be in danger…”

    “You think the safest place for me would be in Stark Tower?”

    “I think the safest thing for all of us would be to stick together.”

    There was a long paused on the other line, then a sigh. “I missed so much school myself, I might as well do what you’re doing. I’ll try and catch a flight back today.”

    Kat had expected hours more of bartering and pleading to convince Banner to fly up there. His sudden agreement caught her off guard. “Wait! Wait just a minute!” She flew up off of the sofa in her apartment, this day colored a soft yellow, and raced into the main area of the upper floor. “Dad?! Dad?!” She was sure he had been there not ten minutes ago…maybe he had gone down to his office or shop…?

    “Where’s the fire? Oh, God, is Mike here and accidently set something on fire?”

    Kat rolled her eyes, turning around to speak to Stark. “Banner’s agreed to come up here as soon as possible.”

    “Great, what, do you want me to provide transportation or what?”

    “If you send one of your private jets to pick him up, SHIELD might get suspicious.”

    “I’ll pay for his ticket up here, then,” Stark said before leaving the room.

    “Dad says he’ll pay for your ticket up here,” Kat said.

    “Great. I’ll pack my things up. I probably shouldn’t tell anyone that I’ll be gone…”

    “That’s probably best.”

    “Oh, and, Kat…”

    “Yes?”

    “Thank you.”

    As the call ended, Kat stared at her phone, confused.

    ------------

    “The first thing we want to set up is a meeting between us and the board of Stark Industries,” Harvey said, turning away from the window to address Stark, who was examining the lawyer’s record collection on the shelves of his office. “The board is likely to be the biggest opponents we have, seeing as, previously, they would have gained all power over Stark Industries in the case of your death.”

    “And you’re saying we need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kat’s my daughter?” Stark asked. Harvey glanced over at Donna, who was taking notes at his desk. She shot him an impressed look.

    “Yes, and quickly before people start demanding to see the evidence. We also need to know exactly why the two of you have been estranged for so long.”

    Stark paused. “Let’s start with proving Kat and I are related first, okay? What do you want us to do, a paternity test?”

    “That’s exactly where we need to start…”

    The door opened suddenly, and everyone swung around to see Kat step in, a little unsure of herself. Donna quickly refocused her attention on Stark’s face. One second, the billionaire was surprised to see his daughter. Surprise turned to an uncharacteristically fatherly smile.

    “I’m sorry, I thought…” Kat started.

    “No, it’s fine. Meeting’s over,” Harvey said. Now Donna swiveled her attention over to Kat. She seemed more relaxed now. “We’ll just have the test done later next week.”

    Stark cringed. “I’m going to be out of the country next week.”

    “Then how about later this week?”

    “Great. Just call my office, and we’ll schedule it.” Stark turned to Kat. “Need a ride back?”

    “Yeah…” They said their good-byes, and both Starks stepped out of Harvey’s office.

    As they made their way for the elevators, Stark said, “Looks like we passed test one.”

    Back in the office, Harvey turned to Donna. “Well?”

    “If this is just an act, Stark could make another fortune in Hollywood in a matter of a few years,” she said, shaking her head. “No…Kat believes she’s his daughter. She’s not lying.”

    “And Stark?”

    “There’s no way anyone could fake that under surprise. He’s telling the truth.”

    “Well, test one is complete. Now…on to test two.”

    ------------

    Mike stepped into the elevator at Stark Tower, quickly pressing the button for the top floor and holding the open door button for another passenger to rush in. The man glanced at the button panel and turned to Mike as the doors shut. “Not many people get to see the top few floors of Stark Tower,” he said to the younger man.

    “Yeah…I’m one of his new lawyers,” Mike explained.

    “Really? I thought he had tons of lawyers…Though he always did strike me as someone who could represent himself in court very well.”

    Mike laughed. “Sorry, I’ve just got to imagine Tony Stark representing himself in court.”

  15. #15
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    Chapter Seven



    “I don’t know whether he would be able to fast talk his way out of going to jail or get himself sent to jail just by opening his mouth,” the man laughed. He paused. “You’re kind of young to be a lawyer, aren’t you?”

    “I’m actually an associate,” Mike said. “My boss is Mr. Stark’s primary lawyer.”

    The man nodded. “Sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. Dr. Bruce Banner.”

    “Mike Ross.” They shook hands. “So, what brings you to Stark Tower?”

    “I guess you can say I’m a friend of the Starks. I teach at the same university Kat Stark attends.”

    “Which department do you teach in at Tech?”

    Banner seemed a bit surprised Mike knew the name of the school where he looked. Mike explained. “Kat and I grew up together. We’ve been friends since we were like four.”

    “That explains things…like how you’re meeting him on the residential floor of the tower instead of at his office…Yeah, I work in the chemistry department at Tech.”

    Mike shook his head. “I was always interested in science, but I would never in a million years be able to do engineering. I do not envy what Kat is doing. She’s going to be there even longer now that she’s taking the semester off…”

    Banner had caught the fact that Mike and Kat were the same age, but he didn’t say anything. Kat had turned twenty-one during the Initiative and was a third-year in her undergraduate studies at Tech. Banner wasn’t an expert on law education, but he did know to work as an associate, you needed not only an undergrad degree, but a law degree as well. Mike was too young to have graduate from law school on the usual schedule. Perhaps he had graduated a few years early? Banner told himself to drop it.

    The elevator finally stopped on the top floor, the doors swinging open to reveal the main living area. Barton was pacing back and forth in front of the couches, where Stark and Cap sat. Kat was perched on one of the arms of the couch Stark was sitting on, watching Barton pace.

    “Something happen already?” Banner asked.

    “No, Barton just wants to get this meeting done and over with as soon as possible,” Stark said.

    “Maybe I should go…” Mike said, backing up towards the elevator.

    “No, Mike, you should be here,” Barton said, stopping and motioning for Mike to return.

    “What’s going on?”

    “Before Barton reports, the first order of business is to discuss adding on new members to the Initiative.”

    Mike tried his best to seem confused as to what she was talking about, but Stark caught him. “You know what the Avengers Initiative is all about, don’t you?”

    “Well, I…not officially…” He said, trying to cover his tracks. “I may have heard about it from someone…” He didn’t look at any of the others, but Cap shot Kat a look that said I know you told him.

    Kat shrugged. “Mike has had to keep his mouth shut about his powers for a long time. I knew I could trust him to keep the Initiative secret.”

    “Powers?” Banner asked.

    “I can control fire,” Mike explained.

    “And once you’re trained, you can fight,” Barton said. “Since Thor left, we are dangerously short on fighters. We need all of the help we can get.”

    “Wait…” There was silence in the room as Mike realized what was going on. “You want me to join the Avengers?”

    Kat nodded. “Banner, any problems with this?”

    “No. If he wants to get himself involved in all of this, be my guest.”

    “What do you say, Mike?” Barton asked. “Will you join us?”

    “Uh, yeah! Of course I will.”

    “Great, then it’s decided.”

    “And now we finally get to listen to what Barton has to say about his research into SHIELD,” Stark said.

    “Right…” Barton paused, uneasily looking around at the group gathered in the room. “I tried to follow a lead on Selvig’s death. It was ruled an accident, but I uncovered something else. There are tons…literally hundreds of files on accidental deaths in the SHIELD database. Most of them have been looked into by SHIELD, but…all of them have common threads. Entire families have ended up dead in some cases.”

    “You don’t think they’re accidental,” Cap said.

    “When SHIELD is involved, there’s a large chance that they are not accidental. Some of them were ruled unsolved murder cases as well. They were all grouped together…but what was strangest were the dates…”

    “The dates?” Kat asked.

    “None of them occurred earlier than 1991. In fact, the earliest date I found was an unsolved murder case…” He trailed off, glancing over at Stark. “…that occurred in the December of 1991.”

    There was a long silence as everyone waited for Stark to say something. Kat glanced over at her father, holding her breath. He didn’t seem surprised. Anger flashed through his eyes, however. “So the first file in the series was on Caroline?”

    “Yes. That’s what’s strange. SHIELD was founded immediately after World War II. The earliest records should have been around the late forties.”

    “Unless they just recently started recording accidental deaths,” Cap said. “Were any of the others military or government families? Since the Starks were under their protection, it makes sense that they would have investigated Caroline Stark’s death, but the others…”

    “None of them were under any sort of protection. A few were related to SHIELD agents, but most were ordinary citizens.”

    “So…you think SHIELD had something to do with their deaths?” Banner asked.

    “Never trust SHIELD,” Barton said simply.

    ------------

    “The test results are back in,” Mike said, handing the papers to Harvey.

    He glanced over them. “Positive. Not surprised.”

    “Now what?”

    “We’ve set up a meeting with the board of Stark Industries two months from now.”

    “Two months?” Mike asked.

    “Right after New Year’s,” Harvey said.

    “So what do we do in the meantime?”

    “We insure that Kat has full claim to Stark’s company. I called your house phone yesterday. Forget to pay your phone bill yesterday?”

    “No. I moved. Call me on my cell from now on.”

    “First things first, then. You need to get Kat Stark to tell you exactly why they were estranged for so long.”

    ------------

    Kat sighed. “Can we trust Harvey or not?”

    “There’s no way we’re going to tell him about the Initiative,” Cap said. “Not for some case.”

    “Some case?” Stark asked.

    “Spector doesn’t strike me as someone who would breathe a word about this,” Barton said.

    “Then why tell him?” Cap asked.

    “He can forge a more believable story out of the true one,” Banner pointed out.

    Everyone turned to Mike. “Really, there’s no gain for him to tell anyone else. Besides, is he really going to believe us in the first place?”

    “He’ll believe you,” Kat said.

    “He’ll think I’m playing a joke on him.”

    “Then Kat and I will back you up,” Stark said.

    “You can’t be serious,” Cap said, turning to Barton.

    The agent shrugged. “As long as we’re careful about who we tell…”

    “Donna will have to be told as well,” Mike said.

    “Who?” Banner asked.

    “Harvey’s legal secretary,” Mike answered.

    “How much do you trust her?”

    “She’ll do whatever Harvey does…”

    “Okay, then,” Kat said. “We’ll fill Harvey in before you leave for your business trip later this week.”

    “That’s going to be one interesting conversation…”

    ------------

    A long silence hung over Harvey’s office after Stark finished talking. Finally, after a few moments of awkward pause, Mike said, “So, we obviously can’t tell that story to the board.”

    “They won’t buy it,” Harvey said.

    “And we wouldn’t want them to,” Stark said.

    “Is there any way you can help us come up with a different, more plausible story?” Kat asked.

    “After that? Anything would seem more plausible.” Harvey turned to Stark. “When are you getting back from your business trip?”

    “At the end of next week.”

    “We’ll have you a story by then.” He turned to Kat. “If you would lend us a hand.”

    “I would be glad to.”

    ------------

    “I think he thinks we’re either crazy or just lying to cover the truth,” Stark said.

    “He thought you were lying at first, then crazy until I convinced him otherwise,” Mike said.

    “Do I strike you as crazy?”

    “Sometimes,” Kat said.

    “Mr. Stark, downstairs security would like to speak to you,” JARVIS said.

    “Tell them I’ll be right down,” Stark answered.

    When he walked into the lobby, he spotted Thor right away. “Are you serious?” He muttered to himself as he approached the head of security.

    “I’m sorry to bother you, sir, but he kept on insisting…”

    “I know him. Don’t worry. I’ll send down for a security pass for him later.” Stark motioned for Thor to follow him to the elevator. “How the held did you get back here?”

    “The portal between Asgard and Midgard has remained open.”

    “There a reason why you’re here?”

    “The Tesseract has disappeared and so has my brother.”

    “Oh, great…”

    Everyone but Mike was present at the tower. They gathered in the main living area, surprised to see Thor there.

    “Let’s start with your brother,” Kat said. “What happened when you arrived back in Asgard? Wasn’t he put on trial for his actions here on Earth?” She had the feeling, however, that Thor’s protestations during the Initiative had been correct…that the Loki who had attacked the Earth was being controlled by an outside force. After they had closed the portal and effectively destroyed his army of demons, Loki’s personality and temperament had greatly changed. The immortal she had faced in battle, who was arrogant and confident, had looked extremely penitent. It could have been an act, but Kat wasn’t so sure.

    “He was tried by the High Council and declared to have been under the influence of Shadowfication, so they allowed him his freedom,” Thor said simply. Kat could tell that he was extremely relieved and glad for the council’s decision, but one glance around the room told her that her fellow teammates weren’t so happy.

    “After everything he did?” Cap said, raising his voice in disbelief. “He killed hundreds of people and did considerable damage to a major city. He stole a dangerous weapon and threatened to take over the Earth. Even if he wasn’t doing it willingly, he could still be dangerous. Wasn’t he being at least watched?”

    “He was, but he slipped away without being noticed.”

    “Since you’re here, you obviously think he’s here on Earth,” Barton said.

  16. #16
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    Chapter Eight



    “I believe he slipped through the portal between Asgard and Midgard soon after the trial ended,” Thor said.

    “Any idea why he would return to Earth?” Banner asked.

    Thor hesitated. “No, I don’t.”

    Barton sighed. “That doesn’t give us much of a clue on where to start looking.”

    “The Tesseract has also gone missing.”

    “Do you think he took it with him?” Stark asked.

    “No, it went missing a few days after he left…and of its own accord.”

    “What do you mean?” Kat asked.

    “The Tesseract is not just an energy source. It is an ancient Aquapolian artifact that has a mind of its own. In ancient times, it would transport itself from place to place in order to keep itself hidden…but always within the boundaries of the same island of Aquapolis.”

    “Where is Aquapolis?” Cap asked.

    “I’m not exactly sure of the geography of Midgard…I believe it is south of one of the islands of which you call the Orient…”

    “Indonesia? The Philippines?” Kat asked.

    “The name was not that long…”

    “Japan?”

    “Yes! That was it…”

    “Aquapolis isn’t on any modern day map,” Barton said.

    “No one has set foot on the island for three thousand years,” Thor explained.

    “Maybe we should go out there and make sure its safe…” Cap said.

    “Not all of us…just a few. What if Loki knew where the Tesseract would go and headed out to Aquapolis himself?” Barton asked.

    “The Tesseract is not what Loki is here for…” Thor said.

    “Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look. Maybe two or three of us can go and check out the island…” Cap said. Kat studied Thor carefully. There was something he wasn’t telling them about his brother. She had no doubt that he knew exactly why Loki had returned to Earth and what he was planning to do here. She was sure the immortal of lightning wanted to find his brother and bring him back to Asgard with their help…but she didn’t know if she exactly wanted to help him if he wouldn’t tell them everything.

    The discussion of the Tesseract, however, distracted her from Thor’s spinning the conversation around in circles. Flying out to Aquapolis as a group would be suspicious. Stark’s jets were probably being tracked and watched carefully by SHIELD, and it would take weeks for Barton to gain possession of and strip the GPS from one of SHIELD’s planes. One or two people who could fly on their own, however…

    She shifted her gaze to Stark, who was looking right at her. In an instant, she knew he was thinking the same exact thing. They were the only two members of the Avengers who could fly without any aircraft involved. The others would not be too keen on the idea of the two of them going off on this mission alone…

    “If what Thor says is true, the Tesseract probably hid itself on the island. I don’t think we should worry about anyone getting their hands on it anytime soon,” Kat said.

    Barton and Cap gave her strange looks, but didn’t protest. “Anyway,” she continued. “We should look into trying to find Loki in the morning.”

    ------------

    Kat dropped her bag to answer the knock at her door. Stark stepped in and shut the door behind him, keeping his voice low so that none of the others could hear. “So, what’s the plan?”

    “We fly out to the island, find the Tesseract, make sure it’s safe, and fly back. That is, if you think the suit is fast enough to get you there and back in twelve hours,” Kat said.

    “Make that six, if you think you’re fast enough to get there and back in twelve hours.”

    “Believe me, I’m going to have to slow down tenfold to allow you to catch up.”

    “Is that a challenge I hear?” Stark asked.

    “A challenge you can’t win,” Kat retorted, glancing at her bag. “I guess I don’t really need to bring anything if we’re only going to be gone a few hours…” She checked to make sure her communicator was firmly set behind her ear. “That prototype you were working on during the Initiative…” She started, sliding back her balcony doors and looking over at Barton’s, then Cap’s windows, which were both dark. “…is it working?”

    “I don’t know, you tell me.” Kat turned around to see Stark armored in a full version of the suit.

    She smiled. “Okay then, let’s go.”

    ------------

    “JARVIS isn’t picking up any kind of signal from the Tesseract,” Stark said as they flew through the dark skies.

    “Maybe we’re too far out…”

    “We’re within a hundred miles. We’ve picked up a signal from over a thousand before…”

    “Maybe there’s something around the island to prevent us from picking up the signature.”

    “There has to be dozens…hundreds of places there for the Tesseract to hide. From what Thor says, the island is pretty big…”

    Kat only slightly heard what her father was saying. From the darkness ahead of them, she could see a thin beacon of crystal blue light, the same strange shade of her eyes and the pendant that she frequently wore. And the same color as the Tesseract. “Up ahead!”

    “What? What do you see?”

    Realizing that Stark couldn’t see the beacon, she glided out in front of him. “Follow me! I know where it is!” Before he could ask exactly how she had gained such knowledge, she sped up her flight, forcing Stark to focus on catching up with her.

    After a few minutes, land appeared beneath them. First the shoreline, with rocky cliffs and white beaches, then forests with tall trees that reached up towards the sky. The beacon was coming from an area hidden by the tall pines that filled the forest, covering the floor so that it was pitch-black. Luckily, there was a full moon outside to light their way down to the forest floor. Kat’s wings folded and disappeared, her shining armor disappearing to reveal her regular clothes. She had decided to take Barton’s approach to dressing herself that night: all black. Black coat, shirt, pants, and boots. Just in case they ran into trouble…

    Stark was already back in his everyday clothes, the thin rings around his wrists the only sign that the suit had ever been there. Through the branches of the trees around them, Kat could still see the blue beacon. “This way,” she said, making her way through the forest, Stark right behind her.

    “So tell me again what it is you see that I apparently can’t?” Stark asked as they made their way deeper and deeper into the forest. Kat could hear the calls of birds and one or two growls of animals further away. She wondered what kind of beasts lived here, undisturbed by Aquapolians or humans for three millennia.

    “The Tesseract is giving off a beacon of light. I could see it a hundred miles out,” she explained, nearly jumping out of her skin when she heard the branches above her head shake. It was just a squirrel. A normal, everyday squirrel.

    “Oh, yeah, that’s perfectly safe. Given that I couldn’t see it, maybe it’s safe to assume no mortal can, but immortals…”

    “It’s the color of ancient Aquapolis. Only those who were once tied to this land could see it.” Kat frowned, confused as to what she had just said. Where had those words come from? Perhaps she had read them somewhere…

    Before Stark could respond, a large rock face loomed ahead. Two lit torches were burning on either side of the entrance. The two Starks glanced at each other, but neither spoke as they entered the cave. Marble lined the floors of the passageway and ruins were sketched onto the rock face walls, some glistening with torchlight, but others shining with that Aquapolian blue.

    After a few minutes of walking warily down the corridor, they entered a hall with six doors on either side. There was another entrance to a chamber right across from them, and Kat could see the Tesseract’s gleam from where she stood.

    The chamber that held the Tesseract was circular in shape, ruins gleaming all the way to the domed ceiling. The Tesseract itself was suspended in midair about twelve feet off of the floor, spinning slowly.

    Stark was about to take a step into the chamber before Kat grabbed his arm, pulling him back. “There has to be some sort of security here. Let me go first.” She placed one foot slowly into the chamber, then another, walking all the way into the room until she was only a few feet away from the Tesseract. “I don’t know if I’ll set off any traps, but…” She turned around, sighing. Stark was already halfway across the room towards her, completely ignoring any sort of danger that could happen to him if the ancient Aquapolians had set up any sort of security measures…

    For a few moments, they stood staring up at the Tesseract as it spun in midair, shining light into every corner of the chamber. Kat couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something ancient in the air of the building they were in. Some power that had been locked away for thousands of years, still protecting the Tesseract as it had in ancient times.

    Something shifted in the air around them. Kat glanced over at Stark, wondering if he could feel the same power in the air. As the Chosen One, she was sure she was specially tuned in to the invisible elements still alive on this island. If he hadn’t seen the beacon of light coming from the Tesseract, perhaps he couldn’t sense what was happening in the chamber.

    However, as the air shifted again, she could tell that he had felt it. Stark was looking around to see if he could find the source of the energy shift, but Kat knew it was invisible. She glanced back at the Tesseract, holding her breath as she watched it descend slowly until it was only four feet above the ground. Both of them took huge steps back, unsure whether or not this was the security measure that they had expected. That the Tesseract itself would attack them.

    When nothing happened, she let out a sigh of relief and stepped forward, her hand reaching out towards the Tesseract. Before she could get within a few feet of it, Stark grabbed her shoulder. “You can’t touch it with your bare hands.”

    “Trust me,” she said, wrenching her shoulder out of his grip and reaching out for the Tesseract again. When she touched its surface, the light around them exploded, nearly blinding them both for a few seconds. When she opened her eyes, she could see words scrawled across the walls as if from a projector. She backed away a few feet, the words falling back towards the Tesseract, suspending in midair.

    “Can you read that?” Stark asked.

    “No, I can’t…” The words started to change shape, rearranging themselves from ancient Aquapolian to English. “Those Descendant from the Ancient Aquapolians,” Kat read. “It’s a…”

    “Catalog?” Stark frowned. “The Tesseract is a catalog? Seriously…”

    “No…it’s a computer…” She whispered, drawing closer. “Could we see a list please?”

    The words disappeared and a list with literally thousands of names appeared in its place. “Why don’t we try this out?” Kat asked.

    “Okay…let’s start with an easy one. Katharine Stark.”
    The list rolled away to reveal what looked to be like an entire profile that began with her name. “Katharine Stark, mortal name of Quamachi, Chosen One of God and Protector of the Earth.” It also listed her immediate mortal relatives, her age in both immortal and mortal years, and whole number of things Kat was surprised it knew. There was even a picture of herself, but not a modern one. It showed her in her immortal armor.

    “How does it know all of this…?” She asked herself.

    “Like you said. It’s a computer,” Stark said. “Let’s try Tony Stark.”

    Stark’s profile listed his full name, his immediate relatives, everything. His picture was more up to date than Kat’s. It even listed information on Stark’s company and his time as Iron Man.

    Both Starks smiled and shot each other a look that said it was time to find out more. “Mike Ross,” Kat said. Mike’s profile included the fact that he could command fire. Cap’s told them that his body was in a frozen-time state, that he should have been nearly ninety years old, but still looked to be in his late twenties. Banner’s had the entire profile of his accident. Barton’s mentioned his time in the X Group as an assassin. As expected, Thor’s name was not there, nor Loki’s. They started trying other names of people they knew, hitting dead ends with most.

    Coulson’s came up, however. Kat felt a stab of pain when she saw the word “deceased” scrawled across the bottom of his profile. Sometimes, when she was talking to Mike or Barton, the only two people left in her life that had connections to Coulson, that familiar stab of pain threatened to overwhelm her. Luckily, both of them understood when she started to fight back tears. They had known Coulson well and had known how much he had meant to her. Stark’s overall distrust of SHIELD, however, blinded him slightly to this fact, so she fought extra hard not to burst out into tears in front of him…again. After Coulson’s death, she had looked to her father for comfort…

    She realized, however, that she wasn’t the only person in the room silently grieving. While thoughts and memories of her deceased guardian had flooded her mind, Stark had asked the computer to bring up Caroline Stark’s profile. His eyes were on the word “deceased.” Kat gave him a few seconds before trying another name. “Harvey Spector.” To their surprise, he was on the list. His profile said that he could freeze things with his mind.

    A beeping sound filled the chamber, and Kat pressed a button on her communicator. “Hello?”

    “How are things in Aquapolis?” Barton asked.

    Kat winced. “They’re just fine. We’ll be back in a few hours.”

  17. #17
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    Chapter Nine



    “Just be careful coming back,” Barton said, hanging up.

    “Barton knows we’re here,” Kat said. “We should start heading back.” When Stark didn’t move immediately, she said simply, “We can’t take it with us…it’s much safer just to leave the Tesseract here. It will probably change its position soon after we leave…”

    With one last look at the blue cube, the Starks turned back towards the passageway with six doors. “Wonder what’s in these rooms…” He said, walking up to one of the simple wooden doors and pulling its wrought iron handle. It refused to budge. He tried pulling it with all his strength, but that didn’t work, either. Before he could try and use the suit…and successfully destroy the millennia-old door…Kat grabbed his arm and pulled him out of the passageway.

    ------------

    “Did you find the Tesseract?” Cap asked.

    “Yeah, it was in some kind of building near the eastern shore,” Kat said. She and Stark glanced at each other. “It turned out Selvig was right. The Tesseract is more than an energy source. It’s a computer.”

    “A computer?” Thor asked.

    “Some sort of ancient processing machine,” Stark said. “It has a list of all of the descendants of the ancient Aquapolians.”

    “Do you think that was what SHIELD was after…why they would kill Selvig?” Banner asked.

    “What would they want with a list of names?” Mike asked.

    “I don’t know…the Tesseract is safe, right?” Barton asked.

    Kat nodded. “It will change its position now that we’ve found it.”

    “How did you find it in the first place?” Banner asked.

    “Kat saw an invisible beacon of light come from the Tesseract,” Stark said.

    “You say as if I’m crazy,” Kat said.

    “Jury’s still out on that one,” Mike muttered.

    “Well, if only Kat could see it…maybe it’s safe…” Barton said.

    “Now we just need to find the rogue Asgardian,” Stark said.

    “And find out why SHIELD wants the Tesseract,” Cap said.

    “Harvey Spector was on the list,” Kat said.

    “Harvey?” Mike asked incredulously. “What did it say?”

    “That he can freeze things with his mind,” Stark said.

    “I’ve never seen him do that.”

    “Maybe he has better control over his powers than you do,” Barton pointed out.

    Everyone paused. “Let’s see if we can find out what SHIELD is up to before we start expanding the team again,” Kat said.

    ------------

    The next day, Kat waited in a Barnes and Nobles around the block for Mike to join her for lunch. She browsed some of the shelves, her iPhone pressed to her ear.

    “I’m just saying, he’ll be an awesome addition to the team. No one would expect him to be a member of the Avengers,” Mike said.

    “He doesn’t strike me as someone who would want to join. What would be in it for him?”

    “That’s true, but…” Kat could hear Harvey talking in the background, something about Mike telling his girlfriend good-bye.

    “Got to go. See you in an hour,” Mike said hurriedly, hanging up the phone.

    Kat shoved her phone in her pocket, making her way back down another line of bookshelves. She was lost deep in thoughts of what she wanted to read next, what was already in the library Stark had built, and what she could recommend to Mike. So deep in thought that she jumped at the sound of a voice a few feet to her left.

    “I see you haven’t lost your love of books.”

    Kat turned to see Loki leaning up against one of the bookshelves, a careful smile spread across his face. She was so shocked by his sudden appearance that she was speechless for a few moments.

    Finally, she spoke in a cool tone. “Your brother is looking for you.”

    “I suppose he is. I knew he would try and talk me out of coming back to Earth so soon, so I left without much of a good-bye.”

    “And exactly why are you here?”

    “To redeem myself.”

    Kat studied him intently for a few moments. Thor’s protestations rang in her mind over and over again…but so did Loki’s words when she interrogated him during the Initiative. He was extremely cunning. If he was acting, he was doing a good job at it…

    That’s when she saw his eyes. She had remembered staring into them during the interrogation and when Loki had tried to kill her at the top of Stark Tower (and most definitely would have if Thor had not stopped him). They had been the darkest black she had ever seen…but now…

    Kat stepped carefully closer. Loki watched her with what appeared to be curiosity and a held breath, as if he were anxious about what she would say next. The eyes that studied her were not black, but a light bluish green. She had been right that last day of the Initiative when she watched Loki leave with his brother. This had not been the same Asgardian immortal who had tried to kill her.

    “You want to redeem yourself?” Kat echoed. It was all that she could really think to say to break the silence. She stepped back, her eyes on his, carefully watching him as he answered her question.

    “Yes, for the destruction I caused last month.” A flash of regret. Could anyone really fake that? “I wish to make up for the suffering I caused…if I ever can.” Overacting would have been to look away at that moment. Instead, Kat was almost bowled over by the small pulse of guilt and pain that came from him.

    Being suspicious of him would be tiring, she thought. If he decided to turn against her, she would be ready at a moment’s notice, but she wouldn’t be wary twenty-four/seven. Still…”And how do you propose you can do to redeem yourself?”

    “By helping you fight against the demon armies when they return.”

    Kat raised an eyebrow. “WHEN the demon armies return?”

    “Not all of them were destroyed when the portal collapsed. They’ll attack again once their numbers are strengthened,” Loki explained.

    “You want to join us in fighting them?” Kat asked.

    “Yes.”

    She thought about this for a few moments until she said, “Fine. Let’s see what the others think.”

    He smiled. Kat led the way out of the bookstore, dialing Mike’s number to call him.

    “Hey! Sorry I’m late.”

    She turned to see Mike racing up to them. She sighed. “Listen, Mike, I’m going to have to take a rain check on that lunch…”

    “Yeah, sure…” He shot Loki a curious glance. “I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Mike Ross. Kat and I grew up together.”

    “Loki Laufeyson. Is Kat the name you are going by these days?” He asked Kat.

    Mike stared at Kat. “You found him in a bookstore?”

    “It was more like he found me,” Kat said. “We’re heading back to Stark Tower now.”

    “Yeah…um…I’ll see you after work.” Mike turned and started walking back to work, glancing once or twice back over his shoulder towards them.

    Kat watched him go, then turned in the direction of Stark Tower. It was a good few blocks away, but walking would afford her the opportunity to talk with Loki one-on-one, to find out more about why he was there and what he was up to. She had a feeling once they reached Stark Tower that the others would want to keep a careful eye on him…

    “I don’t remember fighting Ross while I was here last,” Loki said as they rounded the first street corner. His voice had changed from cruel and cold to merely inquisitive, though Kat could still hear a strain of confidant arrogance playing through.

    “He’s a new addition to our team,” she explained, trying to take the cold out of her own voice. He wanted to redeem herself…she would give him the chance. She would treat him as she treated the others of the team.

    “Has your team grown much in the past month?” And now this was turning into what a passerby would just gather to be an everyday conversation between two friends. It felt a bit surreal to Kat. She had been fighting this man to the death only a month previously…

    “No. Mike’s the only new addition we’ve made…besides you. We’re trying to expand the team a bit for future threats.”

    “So you did expect to face someone in the future…” He turned his head to the side, studying her curiously. “But not the demon army. So then, who?”

    Kat knew SHIELD couldn’t have eyes and ears everywhere, but she was always cautious when speaking about the organization outside of Stark Tower. Loki beat her to the answer, however. “Even the agent who aided your team did not trust the organization he worked for.”

    Fury built up in her at the mention of Coulson. Now she knew what unnerved her so much about this situation. Loki had killed Coulson. True, he had not done so willingly, but still… that was hard to get past. Before she could stop herself, she snapped, “Coulson was surrounded by enemies, but you were the one who ended up killing him.”

    This seemed to take Loki aback, as if he hadn’t expected her to attack him for his actions so violently. To her surprise, confusion set in. “I didn’t kill him.”

    Kat’s eyes widened. “What?” She asked, taken aback.

    “Coulson? The agent who aided you when you interrogated me? I didn’t kill him.”

    “Then who did?”

    “I thought at first it had been one of the demons who had been sent to aid me…but it turned out to be one of SHIELD’s operatives. He killed Coulson, then set me free from that cage…”

    “SHIELD…” Kat muttered. “Of course…”

    “If SHIELD is what you were preparing to face, I believe you were right to believe they are the enemy…”

    Kat shook her head, quickening her pace down the street.

    ------------

    “Brother!”

    As soon as Kat and Loki stepped into the common living space, Thor’s voice could be heard from across the room. Cap, Barton, Banner, and Stark were all there. Barton shot Kat a look as if to ask where she had found Loki.

    “I found him at one of the bookstores near Mike’s office,” she explained. “He wants to join the team.” Stark laughed, and she shot him a deadly glare. “He’s serious.”

    “Oh, yeah, and I’m serious when I ask you if you’re crazy. We just got finished fighting him a month ago and now…”

    “If you don’t want me to assist you in any further battles, then you will at least want the information I bring,” Loki said.

    “What information?” Barton asked.

    “About the demon armies that attacked the Earth…and may attack again.”

    “Do you know when they’ll attack next?” Cap asked.

    “No…at least not after I abandoned their cause…well, at least that is the way they see it. I didn’t willingly choose their cause in the first place,” Loki explained. Kat glanced around at the others. Only Thor held true conviction in his eyes that he believed his brother. Cap and Barton had guarded wary expressions, as if they would agree that he would be of great help to them, but they wouldn’t go so far as to trust him. Banner did not trust him at all, but Kat knew he wouldn’t put up a fight if the others agreed Loki should join. She could see right off the bat the Stark would not be convinced at all, would put up a fight, and then, if Loki joined the team, would go to great lengths to voice his distrust and true opinion of the immortal at every turn.

    Loki’s words as they were returning to Stark Tower, however, echoed in her head. Not just that he believed the Avengers should not trust SHIELD, but his tone of voice suggested to her that he saw the organization as a great threat…and that the combined threat of SHIELD and the army of demons they were to face again would be huge. He knew something he wasn’t fully disclosing to them…

    “How did you become Shadowficated in the first place?” Kat asked. It was a question she knew that was on everyone’s minds. Better to go ahead and clear the air now before Stark started in on his snide comments.

    “The Demon King himself saw that I was brought to join the cause,” Loki said. “And, apparently, lead it.”

    “Who is the Demon King?” Banner asked, shifting his glasses from hand to hand. A nervous tick of his that Kat had first noticed during the Initiative. Banner had the unique perspective of behaving like a bystander, never getting directly into a debate or argument. This allowed him to watch, observe, and take notes. She could tell that he had picked up the same ominous feeling from Loki’s words that Kat had.

    “The leader of the realm of demons,” Thor explained. “Thousands of years ago, the previous Demon King tried to expand into Asgard, but was killed and his followers trapped behind a wall of power created by the Chosen One.” He looked directly at Kat as he spoke. She could faintly remember Coulson telling her tales like this one as a child.

    “The portal that I created with the Tesseract has destroyed that wall. Instead of trying to expand into Asgard, however, it allowed the current Demon King to set his sights on easier prey. Earth will be much more easily subdued than Asgard,” Loki added.

    “So why send you to lead the offense?” Cap asked. “Why not another demon? One that he didn’t have to force to do his will.”

    “He’s under the impression that it is my destiny…my purpose in life to join him in this conquest.” Loki seemed to look straight at Kat as he spoke. Something changed there.

  18. #18
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    Chapter Ten



    Anger seemed to flash in Loki’s eyes for a few moments before he said, “The current Demon King is my half-brother, Adam. Our father was the previous Demon King, Laufey. Apparently ruling the Demon Realm runs in our blood, and since I am the younger of Laufey’s two sons, I will have to settle for a different throne…or so Adam believes.” This time, his gaze shifted to Thor, who seemed to be the only other person in the room who already had this knowledge. “I have a tenuous claim to the throne of Asgard. Once Earth falls, Asgard will soon follow.”

    Now it was Banner’s turn to speak. He had seen enough…heard enough. “It sounds like you don’t want any of this. You’re not very fond of your brother, are you?”

    Kat could see that Banner’s question was an understatement. No, Loki was not just not very fond of Adam. It looked as if the Demon King had better watch his back before his half-brother drove a sword through it. Loki had a right to be mad at Adam for Shadowficating him, of course, but it seemed as if that wasn’t the only reason the immortal showed such hatred for his brother.

    Unfortunately, Banner had made the mistake of referring to Adam as Loki’s brother. Every bit of hatred and contempt the immortal had for the Demon King shone through his voice as he snapped, “He may be my brother by blood, but there will always only be one person as address as my true brother.” This comment was obviously directed at Thor. The immortal of lightning had been right, and so had Kat’s first impressions…This Loki was completely different from the one they had fought before.

    “No, I do not want a throne. Only to aid in stopping these armies from taking over the Earth and destroying Adam’s chances of advancing his kingdom past the demon realm. All I ask is to be given a chance to redeem myself for my actions.” Loki’s gaze swept over the entire team, coming to rest on Kat. The team may take a vote, but it was ultimately her decision. Everyone waited expectantly for her to decide what she wanted to do.

    The odds were becoming more and more against their favor. They would need Loki’s experience and knowledge. And everyone deserved a second chance. Barton knew that more than anyone else in the room. As soon as Loki spoke of redeeming himself, Kat knew Barton had instantly made his decision to accept Loki into the team.

    She nodded. “We’ll start out on a trial basis. You may join for two weeks, at the end of which, the entire team will vote to whether or not you can stay permanently.” Everyone seemed content with this…except for Stark, who started to say something, but instantly thought better of it when Kat shot him another death glare.

    “Thank you,” Loki said, a slight smile crossing his lips. The team started to break up, Thor leading his brother towards the halls of apartments. Stark immediately walked over to Kat, his eyebrows raised as if to say seriously?

    She sighed. “He wants a second chance, so we’ll give it to him.”

    “I seem to be the only one remembering that this is the same immortal who threw me out of a window and tried to strangle you to death.”

    “That’s the thing…this isn’t the same person. Thor was right.” She shook her head. “He’s completely different.”

    “He could be the best actor in the universe.”

    “We’ll watch him carefully…”

    “Oh, yeah, that will work.”

    “Just don’t make the fact that he’s on the team unbearable for the others.”

    “How would I do that?”

    “By annoying the hell out of all of us…more than usual.”

    Stark shrugged as the doors to the elevator slid open down the hall. Mike walked in, throwing his bag down on one of the couches and stopping short, looking from Kat to Stark. “Wow, you can cut the tension in here with a knife. What happened?”

    “We have a new team member,” Stark announced.

    “Really? Who?” Mike asked. Before Kat could answer, however, he shot her a disbelieving look. “Are you talking about Loki? Seriously?”

    “Exactly! See, I’m not the only one who thinks this is a crazy idea.”

    “I told you he’s only here for a trial basis for the next two weeks. If you don’t like it, just vote against him after that time,” Kat snapped.

    “How much can we trust him?” Mike asked.

    “Thor trusts him thoroughly,” Kat said.

    “He knows his brother more than we do. Let’s just keep an eye on him…even if we are starting to question the sanity of our fearless leader,” Mike said. Kat scowled at him. “What? I always thought you were the more sane one of the two Starks.”
    Stark raised an eyebrow in shock at this, but Mike had already scooped up his bag and left for his apartment. “Do you think I’m insane?” He asked Kat in a serious tone, though she knew he was joking.

    She shook her head, making her way after Mike for her own rooms. “I think the jury’s still out on that one.”

    ------------

    When Kat woke up the next morning, she realized that she had absolutely nothing to do. Barton had not started scheduling training sessions until after Stark returned from his business trip, which he would be leaving on the next day. Stark had gone with Mike to the office to discuss something with Harvey and would be gone most of the day. Banner had pretty much locked himself away in his lab, continuing his academic research from where he had left off. Thor, Barton, and Cap were sure to be training.

    That left Loki. She wondered how he fit into all of this. Once she decided that she would see if she could get a better reading of him, she dressed quickly and pretty much ran for the kitchen. Banner was already sitting at one of the tables, reading a newspaper and drinking a cup of coffee.

    “I guess this beats studying and working on projects for school,” he said as Kat searched for some coffee. “It’s a lot more interesting, I’m sure.”

    “Yeah, running a team full of…well, running a team like the Avengers is going to be just as stressful, I assure you.” She sighed, slamming a cabinet door shut. “Where is all the coffee?”

    “I promise I did not take the last of it,” Banner said, not taking his eyes off the paper. Kat knelt down again to search the cabinets, banging each and every one in frustration.

    Banner looked up as Loki entered the room, a confused look spread across the immortal’s face. “Kat’s not a morning person,” Banner explained as a couple of swear words sounded from the other side of the kitchen. “By the way, I think it was Mike who took the last of the coffee.”

    “Seriously?” Kat asked, jumping to her feet. “He could have picked some up on his way to the office!”

    Banner shook his head and went back to reading his newspaper. Kat folded her arms in front of her chest and took one more turn around the kitchen, finally discovering a small bag of coffee. “Never mind, I found some. Remind me to call Mike and tell him to bring some more home after work.”

    “Are we meeting again before Stark leaves on his trip to…?” Loki asked.

    “Tokyo,” Banner finished, still staring at the newspaper.

    “No. We’ll meet while he’s gone to come up with a solid game plan,” Kat said.

    “Then what is the plan now?” Loki asked.

    “Don’t have one. Just…um…make yourself at home. New York’s got plenty to do. I for one am just glad that I don’t have to do schoolwork anymore.”

    “You’re a student?”

    “I was a student. I’m taking the rest of the term off until we’ve established the threat…”

    “Which may not be for a while yet,” Banner pointed out.

    Kat shrugged. “When Dad gets back, we’ll start training.” She paused. “Until then…come with me.” She snatched up her cup of coffee and led the way out of the kitchen and across the hall, opening a door and descending the flight of steps down into the library. Loki seemed at least a bit impressed by it.

    “Stark never struck me as one who reads books,” he said, scanning the shelves.

    “He isn’t really. He built this library for me.”

    “In one month?”

    “No, he started collecting the books when I was born. Kept the library here in case we were ever reunited.”

    “You’ve grown close to him over the past month?” Loki studied her with a curious expression on his face.

    “I wouldn’t say close…closer than we were, yes, but…” She shrugged.

    “He seems to care a lot about you,” Loki said, glancing around at the shelves once again. “Is there any sense of order to this?”

    “Um…I think he arranged it by genre…” Kat said. “History and science up the stairs. Fantasy and other fictions down here.”

    “Then I’ll see what I can find.” Kat watched as he ascended the stairs, then turned to find her own books. She had finished Feast for Crows. Unfortunately, the next book in the series was not on the shelf yet. She searched for something else to read.
    When she had finally settled on re-reading some Sherlock Holmes stories, she returned to one of the tables, sitting down and looking around for Loki.

    “There’s nothing on Aquapolis in here,” she heard him say from above.

    “Historians these days don’t really believe Aquapolis existed,” she said.

    “Most of their records must have been destroyed in the Fall. There is, however, something on the last two kings of Aquapolis…”

    Kat smiled. “Nowadays, people believe they were kings of England, not Aquapolis. And that they were legends, not real.” She paused. “What was Aquapolis like?”

    “I never actually set foot on Aquapolis. All I know about the country is from what I read and what you told me.”

    “I told you?” Kat asked, confused, but suddenly remembering that she had spent time on Asgard.

    “Yes. You had no immortal family. No immortals at all but yourself lived on Earth. The Aquapolians were your people. You loved that land.”

    Kat wanted to ask more, but stopped herself, glancing down at the book in front of her. Loki stepped back down to the lowest floor, where she was reading. Although they sat there for hours in silence, reading, Kat could not make her way through more than four pages. Something Loki had said during her interrogation of him echoed in her mind. He knew everything about her…he knew everything about her past. What kind of person had she been three thousand years ago? Who did she know? What did she do? What was life on Asgard and Aquapolis like back then? Hundreds of questions swam through her head.

    Before she could even consider asking one of them, a loud ringing sound filled the library. Loki glanced up from his book, his green gaze meeting hers. For some reason, all thoughts flew out of her head, and she couldn’t place the source of the ringing.

    After a few more moments, Loki said, “I believe that’s your phone…” Kat, realizing how stupid she was being, ducked her head so that he didn’t see her flush with embarrassment as she answered it, suddenly remembering that she had texted Mike earlier to tell him to bring back coffee.

    “How’s it going today?” Mike asked. She could tell he was still at the office. She could detect none of the New York City street sounds in the background.

    “Are you picking up more coffee on the way home?” She didn’t want to answer his question in front of Loki as flustered as she was. Her head was still swimming with questions of her own…

    She could hear Mike wince on the other end of the line. “About that…listen, I’m going to be working late tonight. I told Stark he needed to pick up the coffee, but I don’t know if he’s actually going to be able to. He was supposed to be leaving after he stopped by the office today.”

    “Wait, what? I thought he was leaving tomorrow!”

    “The office from Tokyo called and wanted him in early.”

    “Since when did anyone control Tony Stark that way?”

    “I think he’s still pretty pissed off about adding Loki to the team.”

    Kat sighed. “Has he left the office yet?”

    “No, he’s still here, but you better get over here quickly…”

    “Okay, bye.” Kat hung up, resisting the urge to chuck the phone across the room.

    “Is there a problem?” Loki asked as she jumped for her seat and ran for the stairs.

    “Yes…yes, he really is a problem…” She muttered before rushing out the door.

    ------------

    Kat made it to Pearson-Hardman, learning from Donna that Mike and Stark were in the legal library downstairs. She found Mike sitting at a desk, stacks of book covering the entire surface. “He’s over in the case files aisle,” Mike said as she walked up.

    Stark was reading some file as she walked up, quickly slipping it back in the drawer as she walked up.

    “You were going to leave without saying good-bye to me?” Kat asked.

    “No, I was going to call you before I left.”

    She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “Why are you leaving so early?”

    “They called me in early.”

    “No one calls you in early. You’re one of the richest men on Earth and even if you weren’t, you still wouldn’t let anyone order you around like that.”

  19. #19
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    Chapter Eleven



    Stark paused for a few seconds, then shrugged. Kat knew she wasn’t going to get much out of him this way. While Stark usually didn’t get mad when others yelled at him, he seemed to grow angry quickly when Kat snapped at him. She wasn’t about to start a fight right there in the legal library. She realized that he only grew angry with her because he cared more about her and what she thought than he did about anyone else. This thought made her stop short from what she wanted to say next. She knew he was doing this as a form of protest against Loki’s acceptance into the Avengers, but she wasn’t going to take the bait.

    Instead of yelling, she took the anger out of her voice and sighed. “You’ll be back next week, right?”

    “I should be. They might want me to stay longer, but I’ll try to avoid it if possible. If I’m successful, we’ll be spreading the company into Japan.” He smiled. “And then our plans for world domination will be one step closer to completion.”

    Kat raised an eyebrow. “OUR plans?”

    “Okay, well, MY plans. You’ll have it eventually, though. Everywhere the light touches will be yours one day. Literally. And, since you’re an immortal…”

    “I think you’ve already quote Lion King once before.”

    “There aren’t any rules that say I can’t quote something twice in a one week period.”

    “Even if there were, you would probably break them anyway.”

    Stark shrugged. “Rules were made to be broken.” He glanced at his watch. “I’ve got to head to the airport now. Listen…” He said, stepping closer, his voice becoming serious, a rare thing for him, indeed. “Be careful around Loki. Not quite sure yet if this is an act or not, so watch him.”

    “Okay.”

    “Good.” He laid a warm hand on her shoulder. “See you next week.” He started for the stairs.

    “Have fun,” she called after him.

    “Oh, I always do.”

    She smiled, her gaze traveling to the drawer of case files. She stepped over and opened it, retrieving the file that was sticking out the most. Kat’s heart seemed to stop as she read over its contents.

    “You must have run out of things to read in your library.” Mike’s voice from behind her caused her to jump. He frowned as he saw the worried look in her eyes. “What is it, Kat?”

    “This…he was looking at this file.” She held it up. “It’s a case file on a murder trial…my mother’s murder trial.”

    “Seriously?” Mike frowned as he glanced over the file in her hands. “It must have been really low-profile. A trial like that would have had the media crawling all over it…”

    “Not if SHIELD had anything to do with it,” she pointed out.

    “If they went to trial, they must have had a suspect.”

    “Yeah,” Kat muttered darkly. “Tony Stark.”

    Mike was taken aback. “He hasn’t mentioned any of this to you?”

    “No…” She said, returning the file to its place. “But it makes his hatred of SHIELD make more sense.”

    “How’s that?”

    “Who do you think pointed him out as the prime suspect?”

    ------------

    She woke up the next morning and immediately made her way for the library. Loki was already there, scanning the shelves on the top floor. As she approached, he turned to her and smiled.

    “Tell me what you know about my life as an immortal,” she said.

    This caught him off guard. “What exactly would you like me to tell you?”

    “What was Aquapolis like? What was Asgard like? What did I do while I was there? Who did I meet?”

    “That’s a lot of information you’re asking for.”

    “Maybe I can learn something from my past life that will help us in the future.”

    “Where do you wish to start?”

    “Thor mentioned something about how I trained with him on Asgard. I guess that’s how I know you, but we must have known each other better if you can claim that you know everything about me.”

    Loki hesitated, unease dancing in his eyes. “Yes, we were more than acquaintances. You spent a lot of time in the libraries there, tutoring some of the children of one of the upper lords. We had many…conversations about Aquapolis.”

    There was something in his voice that told Kat he was dancing around her question. “So we were friends?”

    After a few more moments of silence, he turned his attention back to the bookcase. “Yes,” he said in a low voice, “We were friends.”

    “You say that as if we stopped being friends…for a reason other than the fact that I’ve been on Earth for the past three thousand years.”

    He still wouldn’t look at her as he spoke. “That’s not it…”

    “I’m sorry if I did anything…said anything…”

    “Don’t apologize. You have no memory of what occurred. It’s not your fault.”

    She shifted from one foot to the other, stepping closer to him. “I…I just want people to stop withholding information from me about my past. My entire life has started to feel like it’s not my own, that it was a lie. So please, tell me what happened. If we weren’t friends, then what were we?”

    Kat held her breath in anticipation of an answer, and, for a few seconds, feared that she wasn’t going to get one. Finally, Loki turned away from the bookshelf, his green gaze leveled on hers. Before she knew what was happening, he stepped forward, grabbed her gently by the shoulders, and pressed his lips to hers.

    Although Kat was thoroughly shocked by his actions, she did not pull away. Some images stirred in her mind, most she could not make out, but one showed very clearly in her mind’s eye. This had not been the first time they had kissed.

    After a few moments, Loki pulled himself away, stepping back, his eyes not meeting hers. “I apologize,” he said, addressing the ground. “I should not have done that.” He started to turn away. Kat could tell that he wanted to escape. All of his previous hesitation now made sense. And now he had regretted once again his actions…

    “Wait!” She called after him, though she didn’t know quite why she wanted to stop him. She didn’t know what she wanted to say at all. He turned back, his gaze finally settling on hers. She could almost hear him holding his breath, waiting for what she had to say. “I…No…it’s fine. You don’t…you don’t need to apologize…”

    But now it was her that wanted to escape. Even more questions were rattling around in her brain. She backed away, heading for the library door, one thought bringing itself to the front of her mind.

    If she wasn’t going to get much more out of Loki, then she would have to turn to his brother for information.

    ------------

    Kat felt extremely light-headed with shock as she made her way down the corridor for the gym Stark had installed a few levels below the main living area. Thor was always there either training with Cap or Barton. He would help her sort this out. Her shock wore off about halfway there, however, and anger set in. He had known all along about Loki’s feelings for her. Why hadn’t he said anything?

    Just as she suspected, Thor had just ended a sparring match with Cap, both Avengers looking tired, but happy. They both addressed her cheerfully as she entered the gym. Cap backed away as he sensed the angry vibe off of her as she stalked across the floor towards Thor, the former soldier shooting a look back to Barton that told the archer that he was glad he wasn’t Thor at that moment.

    “I need to speak to you,” Kat said to Thor. “Alone.” She added, shooting a glare at Cap and Barton, who both nodded and left the room, shooting looks at Thor to say they felt sorry for him, whatever he had done. When Kat was angry, her Aquapolian blue eyes flashed dangerously. Even those who feared no one shied away from her gaze, the gaze of the Protector of the Earth.

    “Is something wrong?” Thor asked, genuinely looking worried. Kat was at least a foot and a half shorter than him, and at that moment, he looked as if he were a puppy who had just been kicked. The metaphor was extremely apt for him, Kat thought.

    “Why didn’t you tell me about Loki’s feelings for me earlier?” She demanded. Before he could respond to her semi-rhetorical question, she continued, her voice rising. “We could have used his feelings for me during the Initiative!”

    “It was his feelings for you that had to be stripped first in order to Shadowficate him,” Thor explained. “Otherwise, it would have been extremely unstable. Perhaps you would have been able to purify him…”

    “It wouldn’t have hurt anyone for me to have at least tried!” She snapped. After a few seconds, she calmed her voice down, about to ask some questions that she dreaded the answer to. “Tell me. Did I return his…Did I feel the same for him?”

    “Yes, you did.”

    “And…what were we to each other? Was this just a passing affair…?”

    “No, it wasn’t. You were his entire universe…and he was yours.”

    ------------

    Kat spent the rest of the day avoiding both Loki and Thor. Luckily, Loki seemed to be avoiding her as well, and Thor knew she was mad at him, so he kept away. Cap, Banner, and Barton knew something was going on, but none of them dared to ask Kat exactly what it was. When Mike returned home from work, he could also feel the tension in the air, but no matter what questions he asked, Kat refused to tell him that anything was wrong.

    The next day, however, she decided that avoiding Loki wasn’t going to work if she would be fighting beside him in the future. She found him in the library, though he wasn’t reading the book in front of him. He was staring into empty space in front of him. He seemed startled when she came down the stairs to where he sat.

    “Hi,” she said awkwardly, taking the seat across from him.

    “Good morning,” he said. There was awkward silence for a few moments until he spoke again. “About yesterday…”

    “Let’s just forget about it.”

    He frowned. “Forget about it?”

    “I mean.” She waved her hand. “You don’t have to keep apologizing. I…talked to your brother. I understand now.”

    “You do?”

    “Yes, so…I just…” She paused. “I don’t remember anything from my past life. I’m sorry if I don’t…” She hesitated, not sure how to phrase what she wanted to say.

    “Share the same feelings you did in the past? I didn’t expect you to remember. I don’t know what I expected when I came back…”

    “You didn’t just come back to help us fight against the demon army, did you?”

    Loki took a deep breath. “Thousands of years ago, I made you a promise that, when you returned to Earth, I would come with you and stay by your side. I was kept from keeping that promise by Odin’s closing of the portal after he exiled you from Asgard. Now that the portal is open, I’ve come to fulfill my promise to you.”

    Kat didn’t know what to say, so she just let Loki continue speaking. “I do not ask anything of you. Just that you allow me to stay by your side for the remainder of your mortal life. Even if as just a…friend.” But Kat could see that this would still hurt him. She realized with a start that she had never dated anyone before…never really loved or even like a guy in her life. She mused over this before she spoke.

    “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said hesitantly. “I…don’t remember anything. I won’t be able to return any of the feelings you have for me…not for a while, at least.” Suddenly, she felt extremely sad. She didn’t know why this situation made her that way…

    “You won’t?” Loki tilted his head to one side, studying her intently. “You seem to care enough about me to feel bad about hurting me…Maybe…” he said thoughtfully. “…your heart still remembers what your mind has forgotten.” He stood up from his seat, leaving Kat to her own thoughts.

    ------------

    Mike was sitting at his desk, pouring over the case file Kat had found the previous day when he heard a knock on the side of his cubicle, causing him to shove the file underneath a bunch of other documents and look up. “Oh, hey, Kat, what’s up?”

    “Are you free for your lunch hour?”

    “Yeah, what’s wrong?”

    “I…just need to talk to you.”

    They sat outside a Starbucks, wrapping their hands around their coffee to keep warm. “So, what’s up?” Mike asked.

    Kat sighed. “You know how I got asked out by all of those guys in high school?”

    “Literally every guy in our grade tried to go out with you except for me.”

    “And my excuse was that I just didn’t feel that way about any of them…”

    Mike paused, staring at her. “No…” A large smile spread across his face. “Who is he?”

    Kat waved her hand. “It’s not important…”

  20. #20
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    Chapter Twelve



    “Um, seriously, Kat? You get your first crush, and I’m not allowed to know who it is? That’s not fair,” Mike said.

    Kat glared at him. “Don’t call it a crush.”

    “But you like him.”

    “I’m not sure I still do.”

    “Still? How long have you known this guy?”

    “I…I used to like him a long time ago, but I don’t remember anything…”

    “So this is someone you used to know back when you were an immortal…Wait…” He leaned back in his seat, giving her an incredulously look. “Thor? Seriously, Kat? The guy means well and all, but I do believe Loki got all of the brains in that family.”

    “He’s adopted.”

    “My point exactly.”

    “It’s not Thor…” She said, looking down at her hands.

    “Loki?” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “You…you like Loki?”

    “When you say it like that, it sounds childish.”

    “Did something happen between the two of you during your time on Asgard or something?”

    “Apparently, we were extremely close.”

    He thought for a few moments. “It sounds like you’re getting your feelings for him back.”

    “But what if I’m not, Mike?” She said, fixing him with her blue gaze. “I don’t want to string him along.”

    He shrugged. “You wouldn’t be doing that for long. Another five, six decades at the most? That’s like days to an immortal. But I don’t think you would be doing that.” He leaned closer. “I’ve watched you around him. I didn’t know what exactly it was that was so strange about the two of you before…but now I do.”
    Kat took a deep breath and let it out. “So, what do you think I should do?”

    Mike leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Barton would caution you against it. Cap wouldn’t advise it at all. And Stark would say hell no. But they don’t know you like I do. I think you should go for it, Kat.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Ask the immortal out on a date. Start from the beginning with him. It wouldn’t hurt to at least try and see if you still have those feelings for him.”

    “When did you become such and expert on dating advice?”

    He threw his hands up in the air. “Hey, you came to me about it.”

    “Because you’ve dated a lot more girls than I’ve dated guys.”

    “I wouldn’t say a lot…”

    “Whatever,” she rolled her eyes and he laughed for a few seconds before becoming serious.

    “Kat, you do know that, if this guy hurts you, as your adopted brother, I’m am legally bound to kick his ***, immortal or mortal, right?”

    “I think Dad might actually beat you to that.”

    He winced. “Yeah, I think Loki should be more worried about Stark kicking his ***…which he would probably do anyway even if Loki didn’t hurt you.”

    She groaned. “He’s going to think I’ve gone crazy.”

    “If it makes you feel any better, I, too, think you’ve gone crazy, but it doesn’t change how I think about you.”

    “Do you think I should tell the others? I mean…if I’m dating someone else on the team, shouldn’t we inform the rest of the team?”

    He shrugged. “Up to you. You can’t sacrifice the team’s safety to save his life, after all…him being immortal and such. Maybe that’s to your advantage.”

    “Thanks.”

    ------------

    “I’m just saying, next time, you should come with me to learn the family business.”

    “An extremely small family, this is…” Kat said.

    “Who am I talking to, Yoda?” Stark asked.

    She sighed. “Okay, I’ll come with you on your next business trip.”

    “How are things going with the immortal of darkness or whatever?”

    She paused. “Nothing, really. He’s being some help by giving us an idea of what we’re up against.”

    “Just make sure he’s not a spy for the enemy or anything.”

    “I’m pretty sure he isn’t, but Barton and Cap have been keeping a close eye on him.”

    “More worried about Thor keeping a close eye on him. Barton and Cap are strong, but if Loki goes rogue again, we’re going to want the immortal to help take him down.” There was a pause on his end of the line. “Sorry, Kat, I’ve got to go. Call you soon.”

    She hung up the phone and stared at the dark New York skyline out of her window, sliding open the balcony door and stepping into the nice cool breeze outside. The moon was bright that night. She was aware of some movement to her right, and turned to see who was standing on the balcony of the apartment next to hers.

    “Seriously?” She asked Loki, who was leaning against the rail of the balcony.

    “I had no idea that I chose the apartment next to yours.”

    She laughed and shook her head. “Right…”

    “You were talking to Stark?”

    “You heard that?”

    “Not the words. Just your voice. It sounded as if you were happy, whoever you were talking to.”

    She crossed her arms in front of her chest, letting silence reign for a few moments before saying, “I’ve been thinking about what happened the other day.”

    “I thought you said that we should forget about what happened?”

    “Apparently…” she stared down at her hands. “…you’re right…when you said that perhaps my heart remembers what my mind has forgotten.” She forced herself to look up. His eyes were widened with surprise, as if he hadn’t expected her to say this at all. As if he had accepted the fact that she simply would not share his feelings during her mortal life. That they would remain teammates. As she continued to speak, it started to dawn on him that he had been wrong, and his green gaze started to lighten.

    “I think it would be best if we started from the beginning…” she continued haltingly, not sure of how to say what she wanted to say. “I don’t know what the custom on Asgard is, but on Earth, those who feel this way about each other…”

    “Date. Boyfriend and girlfriend.” He laughed at the surprise on her face. “Unlike my brother, I am not ignorant to the ways of Earth. Texts have their ways of turning up in the libraries of Asgard…even contemporary ones.”

    Kat let out a sigh of relief. Good. She wouldn’t have to explain everything to him. Most days, having to get through an ordinary conversation with Thor meant she would have to take twice as long getting a message across to him simply because she had to explain what certain everyday things were. She was glad that she wouldn’t have that problem with Loki…especially since she would be spending a lot of time with him in the future.

    “So, um…” She shifted her feet, but before she could speak, Loki beat her to it yet again, relieving her of the need to make things even more awkward.

    “I believe it’s customary for the man to ask the woman out on a date.” A flash of the arrogance that was a staple of his bearing, whether Shadowficated or not, punctuated his speech as he leaned back against the railing. Arrogance or just plain confidence? Kat wasn’t quite sure about that yet.

    “It’s the twenty-first century. Traditions have changed a lot,” she said. “Now, you can complain about that or you can say yes to being my boyfriend.” She fixed him with a confident smile, her Aquapolian blue eyes fixing his.

    Loki’s eyebrows rose. “Well, when you put it that way, I have no choice but to accept.” Kat could tell that he was trying to hide the pure joy she could feel just by looking into his eyes. She smiled to herself. Something inside reflected his joy in her own heart, though she didn’t know exactly why.

    “Good, now, we need to get some things out of the way first,” she said, leaning against the rail that divided her balcony from his.

    “There’s always a catch, isn’t there?” He laughed, shaking his head. Kat glared at him in mock anger, snatching up one of the pillows that sat on the balcony chairs and throwing it at him. He caught it easily, raising an eyebrow at her. “I know you can throw better than that.”

    “You might not like how fast the next pillow will fly,” Kat teased. It was so strange how easy it was to talk to him. She hadn’t seen it before, but now all of the awkwardness was gone, and she could relax around him. It was somehow a familiar feeling…

    “I’m terrified,” he said, studying the sky above them.

    “What I was going to say is that you need a haircut.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “Didn’t your hair used to be shorter?”

    He frowned. “How did you know that?”

    “I…I don’t know,” she answered. “Um…but, also we need to get you more clothes, though I’m not exactly an expert on that subject…but I do know someone who is.”

    ------------

    “Where exactly are we going?” Loki asked as they made their way down the busy New York street the next day.

    “I have a friend who can help us,” Kat answered as they stepped into the elevator and pressed a button. The elevator doors started to close, but before they could close all the way, Harvey stepped on, looking from Kat to Loki and back again.

    “Mike call you in for something?” Harvey asked Kat. “I know we have a meeting set up for when Stark gets back from Tokyo.”

    “Oh, I just needed to pick up some things,” she said.

    “Right…” He nodded, his gaze traveling to Loki.

    “Oh, yes, Grayson, this is Mike’s boss…”

    “Harvey Spector,” he said, holding out his hand to shake Loki’s. Kat cleared her throat, shooting Loki a meaningful look.

    “Grayson Strauss,” he answered, shaking Harvey’s hand.

    Luckily, the elevator doors opened upon the floor where the Pearson-Hardman offices resided, preventing Harvey from asking any more questions of Loki. They had agreed earlier that he was to introduce himself as Grayson Strauss to everyone, even Harvey and Donna, who knew about the Initiative. It didn’t hurt to be extra cautious. She made a note to remind herself to ask Barton to come up with a complete fake background for Loki in case they needed his alias in the future.

    Kat followed Harvey through the offices, Loki following after her, his eyes and ears taking in everything around him. It was almost frightening how aware the immortal was of his surroundings. Kat had commented on that as they left Stark Tower that morning. He had told her that, as great as his ability to be fully aware of his surroundings was, Kat’s had been better during her immortal life.

    Before they could reach their destination, however, they ran into Mike, who looked extremely confused when he spotted Loki. “Harvey told me my life in the Avengers wasn’t supposed to interfere with my work life…”

    Kat sighed. “You told him you joined the Avengers?” They had told Mike to keep the team’s existence quiet. Though Harvey knew about the Initiative, it was best that his knowledge was limited.

    “I had to explain why I changed addresses and spent a lot of time at Stark Tower,” he said, keeping his voice low in case any of his coworkers were listening in.

    Kat rolled her eyes. “Just watch him while I go talk to Donna for a few minutes.”

    “I didn’t know it was bring your boyfriend to work day.”

    “I don’t work here,” Kat pointed out at she made her way down the hallway towards Harvey’s office.

    “Exactly!” Mike called after her, turning back to Loki, smiling “So, what’s up, Grayson?” Loki gave him a searing look that wiped the smile right off of the young lawyer’s face. Tension hung in the air for a few moments until Loki finally smiled, telling Mike that the immortal was teasing him. “So, did Kat pick your name or did you?”

    “She did. I’m not quite sure exactly why I need an alias. I guess my name is too unusual not to cause suspicion amongst people here on Earth,” he said. Mike knew that Loki knew that Mike was studying him, listening to every word, every tone. “You’re very protective of her. Why is that?”

    “Kat and I grew up as orphans together. She’s like a sister to me,” Mike explained simply. “I’m not going to let anything happen to her, even if she’s more powerful than I am.”

    “I understand completely…I feel the same as you do.”

    Meanwhile, Kat had made her way to Donna’s desk. The redhead was typing away, transcribing some document for Harvey as Kat stepped up. “If you’re looking for Mike, he’s heading for the legal library as we speak,” Donna said, not looking up from the screen in front of her.

  21. #21
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    Chapter Thirteen



    “I actually wanted to talk with you about something,” Kat said. Donna instantly stopped typing on her keys, tilting her head towards Kat in an interested fashion. “I wanted to ask you a favor…”

    “Go on…” Donna said, sitting up straighter in her seat. Kat’s first impression of the legal secretary had been wrong. She seemed a lot more genuinely friendly than Kat had thought beforehand. Of course, this could be something to do with Kat being one of Harvey’s clients…

    “I...um…” Donna knew about the Initiative, so Kat wouldn’t have to dance around who Loki really was. “I’ve started going out with this guy…and he’s not from around here…He doesn’t really have any clothes to blend in here on Earth…”

    “Oh my, God…” Donna’s eyes widened. “Is it Thor?”

    Kat didn’t know why everyone was jumping to the conclusion first that she was going out with Thor. True, the immortal of lightning was good-looking, but he was too much a…warrior. Kat couldn’t really deal with someone who didn’t really have much between their ears. Thor meant well…but as Mike said, Loki seemed to have gotten all of the brains in that family.

    “No, no,” she shook her head. “Not Thor. His brother…”

    “Thor has a brother?” Donna knitted her eyebrows. “Another one? Other than the one who attacked Earth…?”

    “No…just the one,” Kat sighed as Donna gave her a mischievous smile. Kat was not used to discussing such things with other women. She had virtually no girl friends growing up, and the ones she had acquired in college were not ones to go on and on about boys.

    “So you like the bad boys…” Donna studied her. “I thought so. What’s his name?”

    “Well, his alias is Grayson Strauss, but his real name is Loki.”

    “So we’re to call him Grayson.” She shook her head. “Lucky you, with an immortal boyfriend.” She stopped, fixing Kat with a serious gaze. “Do you know if Thor is seeing anyone?”

    “Not really…I don’t remember much…Anyway, listen, I don’t know anything about clothes…I was hoping that maybe you could give me your opinion?” Kat asked, her voice taking on a slightly pleading tone. She didn’t know where else to turn if Donna refused to help her.

    “And you’ve come to me for help? I’m flattered. Of course, you made the right decision. First, I’m going to have to see this new man of yours.”

    “Great, he’s here now talking with Mike.”

    As they made their way back to where Mike and Loki were, Kat wondered if this was a good idea. They finally rounded a corner to where they could see the two of them talking. Donna turned to Kat, raising her eyebrows. “Wow…”

    “Wait until he starts talking.”

    They finally stepped up as Mike finished saying what he was saying. “You must be Grayson,” Donna said, holding out her hand for him to shake. “Donna Paulson. I’m Harvey Spector’s legal secretary.”

    “Grayson Strauss,” Loki said, shaking her hand. Kat shot him a look that told him Donna knew who he really was.

    Donna turned back to Kat. “I would be delighted to help you. I have tomorrow afternoon off. Meet me here at noon.” She turned and walked back to her desk.

    Mike gave Kat a confused look. “What is this all about?”

    “Donna’s going to help me pick out some clothes for him,” Kat explained.

    “Why didn’t you just ask me for help?”

    “Seriously?” Kat raised an eyebrow, making her way back to the elevators, Loki following after her.

    “May God have mercy on your soul,” Mike told him in a serious voice before leaving for the legal library.

    ------------

    The next morning, Kat found Barton standing in the kitchen, waiting for his coffee to finish brewing. “Morning, Kat.”

    “Morning, Barton.” Kat paused. “Listen, I need to talk to you about something.”

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing’s wrong. A situation…has come up.” Barton leaned back against one of the cabinets, his grey gaze fixed on her. It could be unsettling at times, as many enemies of SHIELD had learned during his days of running covert ops for them. She wondered how many people had last seen that grey gaze during his years as an assassin…”This may seem a little out of the blue…I think Thor could explain it better than me…and maybe we shouldn’t mention anything to Dad just yet, but…I’m going out with Loki now.”

    Few things, if anything surprised Agent Barton. This, however, made him stare disbelievingly at her. “Say that again?” He asked, shifting from foot to foot and shaking his head as if he didn’t hear her right.

    “I’m going out with Loki now.”

    “Kat…” He said slowly. “You’ve known the guy for only a few days.” No mention of the fact that he was their former enemy or how dangerous he was. What was up with everyone she was breaking the news to? At least Barton hadn’t said anything about Thor…

    “Apparently…we were really close during my immortal life.” She ran her hand across the smooth glass surface of the countertop. Like every other room in Stark Tower, the kitchen was mainly modern metal and glass. Although it seemed cold to others, Kat always thought the lines were nice and clean. Perhaps the engineer was coming out in her…

    “So you decided it was a good idea to go out with him now?” Barton shook his head slowly. “Stark is going to kill us…”

    Kat raised an eyebrow. What did Stark have to do with any of this? “What are you talking about?” From the look on his face, Kat wondered if she was going to like what her mentor was about to say.

    “He told me, Cap, and Thor to make sure you weren’t left alone in a room with Loki while he was gone.”

    Kat stared at him, not believing a word he said…until anger started rising in her. Stark had an overprotective streak in him. She had seen it once or twice during the Initiative. It was just another outward sign that he really cared about her…but it got annoying when she knew she could protect herself. “Then how in the world was I able to sit in the library with him for hours at a time?”

    “Well, I knew that you wanted to spend time alone with him to scope him out, see if this Shadowfication story is true and that he’s really on our side now. It sounds like to me now that Thor was planning this out secretly. We both covered for ourselves by telling Cap that the other was with you…” He shrugged. “Or sometimes Banner or Mike. You know Cap would have agreed with Stark about not leaving you alone with Loki. Stark’s going to be furious when he finds out…”

    “I’ll take care of Dad. I just need your opinion on how you think this will affect the team,” Kat said. Barton had worked in covert ops since he was a few years younger than Kat and Mike were. Although Cap had more experience leading teams, his anger would probably cloud his judgment…and, to be honest, her great-uncle didn’t know her as well as Barton did.

    “Well, since he’s an immortal, your feelings for him can’t jeopardize the team if his life is in danger.” Barton shrugged. “I trust you, Kat. I know you’ll make the right decisions for the team. If you think this is a good idea, go for it.”

    Kat paused, unsure of what Barton was saying. She had had this worry for the past few days. During the Initiative, she hadn’t had time to doubt herself when placed as leader of the Avengers, but now…she had the least experience of all of them…WAS she a good leader.

    “Kat…this is what Coulson and I trained you for all of these years. Remember that. Now…” Barton sighed. “Why don’t we go ahead and get telling Cap out of the way?”

    “What do you need to tell me?”

    They turned to see Cap standing in the doorway.

    “Kat has something she needs to tell you,” Barton said. Kat glared at him.

    “Is something wrong?” Cap asked.

    “I just thought I needed to inform you that I’m dating Loki now,” she said.

    Cap gave her a confused look. “What? Is this some kind of a joke?”

    “Nope!”

    They turned to see Mike step into the kitchen, heading for the coffeemaker. “It’s no joke. They really are going out.”

    “Am I the last to hear of this?” Cap asked.

    “No, I think Stark’s going to be the last…When are you going to tell him, by the way?” Mike asked Kat.

    “When he gets back.”

    “How in the world did this happen?” Cap asked angrily. “You were never alone with him…” Realization dawned on him as he turned his gaze to Barton. “Stark told us to watch her.”

    “Kat’s not helpless. Believe me, this isn’t the worst case scenario here…”

    “No, it’s not. What if he had killed her?”

    “What if who had killed who?”

    Banner stepped into the kitchen, looking around at everyone. “Some team meeting I wasn’t informed about?”

    “Kat’s going out with Loki now,” Mike said without hesitation. Kat hit him on the shoulder. “Okay…ow.”

    “I didn’t hit you that hard.”

    “You don’t really know how strong you are, do you?”

    Banner shook his head. “And things get even more interesting here at Stark Tower.”

    A few minutes later, everyone had cleared out of the kitchen except for Cap and Kat. Cap crossed his arms in front of his chest and scowled at Kat. “What do you think you’re doing?”

    “I’m not doing this for a motive…”

    “Kat, this man almost killed you.”

    “That wasn’t him.” Cap stared at her as she continued. “He’s a completely different person now, Cap. All you have to do is spend five minutes around him to see that. I don’t think he’s acting.” She stared down at her coffee cup. “I can sense the true nature of people sometimes. Maybe it’s due to my angelic nature…I don’t know.” She looked up and fixed him with her gaze. “But I do know that he’s changed. And I’m not someone who just starts going out with someone on a whim. You can ask Mike.” Without another word, Kat stalked out of the kitchen, leaving Cap to his own thoughts.

    ------------

    “I’m just saying, I think we should get uniforms.” A taxicab horn blared, nearly drowning out Mike’s voice as they walked down the bustling New York street towards the law offices of Pearson-Hardman. Mike and Loki were engaged in conversation, walking in front of Kat as she observed from behind, marveling at how well the two got along. They were so different and from two completely different realms, yet here they were, discussing the Avengers and other random topics. Kat wouldn’t miss this for the world, though she realized, once Stark came back, throwing Mike Ross, Loki Laufeyson, and Tony Stark in a room together would not play out so well for her, given her friend’s and her dad’s penchant for teasing her. She had a feeling her new (well, to this millennium) boyfriend would join in as well.

    “I don’t think Stark would be one to wear a uniform, though I do believe Barton would jump at the chance to rip that SHIELD symbol off of his uniform given the chance,” Loki argued. Mike nodded, agreeing, as the immortal went on. “If we do end up getting a uniform, it would need to be a completely new symbol, one for the Avengers.”

    “What about just an A for Avengers?” Kat proposed innocently, though she hadn’t really intended to join the conversation. Both men stopped and stared at her, as if it had been the most stupid thing they had ever heard. Before either of them could speak, she continued, “We don’t have much in common, I guess…except for most of us being Aquapolian…it can stand for Aquapolian, too. And Asgard!”

    She breathed a silent sigh of relief when Mike nodded. “When you put it that way, a simple A would sum up the entire team.” Loki nodded his agreement and they continued on, Kat raising her eyes skyward and thanking God for that close encounter. She hated it when she misspoke sometimes, especially around Stark. He could make even Stephen Hawking feel like an idiot.

    “I think we should put it up to a vote when Stark gets back,” Mike said as they stepped into the lobby of the office building, waving his security pass as Loki and Kat dug their own temporary passes out of their pockets. Because her father’s case was such a high profile one, Kat had been given her own pass, while Donna had issued Loki one in case of an emergency or if he needed to stop by to see Mike for anything.

    “If you want to pass that vote without Stark arguing against it, we should hold it before he gets back. Tony Stark will not wear a uniform. Ever,” Loki said as they stepped out of the elevator. They had not made it four steps before Harvey appeared around the corner, sighing when he saw Kat and Loki.

    “Didn’t I tell you not to bring your girlfriend to the office?” Harvey asked Mike.

    Mike winced and stepped forward to where only Harvey could hear him. “See that six foot tall immortal guy behind her? That’s her boyfriend. Not to mention she’s your client.”

    “Secondary client,” Harvey corrected him. “Now, do you have the birth and marriage certificates?” Mike gave Kat and Loki a slight wave before following Harvey, filling him in on how Barton was able to get his hands on the documents, leaving out the complete details, of course. SHIELD had eyes and ears everywhere.

  22. #22
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    Chapter Fourteen



    Kat and Loki had to wait in the legal library for a few hours before Donna got off of work. She had been called in for a meeting with Harvey and Mike, obviously something to do with the Stark case. Mike filled her in on it every day after work. It had taken Barton some hard digging to find the Starks’ wedding certificate and Kat’s birth certificate in SHIELD’s files without raising any red flags.

    Finally, Donna came down to the library to meet up with them. Kat had tried to stop him, but Loki had succeeded in pulling several books off of the shelves, completely wrapped up in one as Kat and Donna talked.

    “So, he’s the reader of the family,” Donna said. “You two go together well.” She was having so much more fun with this situation since Mike had told her Loki was Kat’s first boyfriend. Kat had made a mental note to pay her friend back in kind later. “Now, we’re going to start with the haircut first, then go on to finding some clothes for him.”

    “That is, if we can drag him away from these books.” Donna raised an eyebrow at her. “Yeah, they may look boring to a normal person, but Loki isn’t exactly…normal.”

    “I heard that,” he said without even raising his head. “Isn’t it a saying that being normal is overrated?”

    “True story. You think you can put that book down for a few hours?” Loki looked up at her and smiled. Donna shot her a look and raised her eyebrows. She had noticed something Kat had known for a while. The immortal was extremely good looking when he smiled…especially when it was aimed at Kat. It unnerved her sometimes, but in a good way, she guessed.

    “I don’t think anyone would notice if you walked out with it anyway,” Donna said as they walked towards the elevators. “Though this is a library, you can’t check things out unless you work here. Or…are related to an extremely high-paying client.”

    “Yes, I’m sure everyone here is scrambling to do well on Stark’s case,” Loki said, his eyes on Kat. “At least, that is what I can tell from what information Mike gives me.”

    Kat raised an eyebrow. “Mike gives you information? Since when did the two of you get on such friendly speaking terms?”

    Loki shrugged as if to say that he had no clue how it happened. They had arrived in front of a barbershop that Donna said was where Harvey got his hair cut. “Just go on in and we’ll pay for you after you’re finished,” Donna said.

    Loki turned to Kat. “You said you wanted it the same length as it was when we first met?” Kat nodded, and he turned and entered the shop.

    “This is going to be interesting,” Kat said, turning around to gaze out at the city streets. Her phone suddenly started ringing, and she picked it up.

    “Kat?” It was Stark.

    “Hey, what’s up?”

    “Listen, I’ve got bad news.”

    Kat sighed. “What is it?”

    “I’m going to have to stay in Tokyo for another week.”

    “Another entire week?”

    “Yeah, I know it sucks. Spector wanted me to come in and help work on our alternate story right after I returned, but it looks like we’re going to have to put that off…again. Did Barton get the files yet?”

    “It took him a lot of digging, but he managed to get them safely to Mike before SHIELD could raise any red flags.” The case involving Stark’s will was the least of her problems right now. Her mind was focused on what lay ahead with Loki and the future threat of an invading demon army…plus the fact that SHIELD could, at any time, do something…she didn’t know what. If what Loki said was true…if SHIELD really HAD killed Coulson, dark times lay ahead.

    “Good, good. Listen, Kat, I’m going to call you later today…I’ve got to go.” A short click and they were disconnected. Something about Stark’s voice told Kat that what he wanted to talk about was serious.

    “That Stark?” Donna asked as Kat shoved her phone back in her pocket.

    “Yeah, he’s going to be stuck in Tokyo for another week.”

    Donna winced. “Harvey is not going to like that. I’ll be right back.” She pulled her phone out of her purse and stepped away, lifting it to her ear. Kat watched her go, then turned back to see Loki stepping from the shop.

    The sight of the immortal as he had once been abated all doubts she had about her choice to be by his side once again. It was such an aberrant idea for her…to fall head over heels for a man like this…if asked, she would have never admitted she believed in love at first sight. That belief was put in abeyance immediately in her mind.

    “Is this what you wanted?” Loki asked.

    “Um…yes…” Kat said as Donna clicked her phone off and stepped up, nodding in approval and shooting Kat and impressed look before going inside the shop to pay the barber. Kat’s eyes met Loki’s, and she quickly looked away, blushing.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing, I…you look…great.”

    He smiled as Donna stepped back out of the shop. “Okay, let’s go! We’ve still got more work to do.”

    ------------

    Kat sat outside on her balcony that night, enjoying the cool October air. She heard Loki step out onto his balcony to her right. “How do I look?” He was dressed in the normal clothes Donna had picked out earlier that day.

    “You look good,” she smiled. “Much more normal…not that…not that you looked abnormal…” The rest of the day, Kat had been abstemious, with not much of an appetite, uneasy about the day’s events. Loki unnerved her now in a way she couldn’t quite put a finger on. His adulterated self had never thrown her off. He had been an enemy: plain and simple. But now…the aggregation of facts further confused her. She had been in love with him thousands of years ago. Was she now getting her feelings for him back? He had endured the entire day with great alacrity, not minding Donna bossing him around. Kat knew he wanted to do everything he could do please her…past and present amalgamated into one huge mess in her mind. The only thing that would ameliorate her problem would be to sit down and talk with Loki face-to-face.

    Loki tilted his head to one side, studying her intently with that blue-green gaze that always captured her attention. “Is something wrong? You’ve been acting this way since I cut my hair.” True worry flooded into his gaze. Kat felt touched that he was so concerned about her. It was different from the concern Mike and Stark showed her...

    But, he was right…images had flooded her mind so quickly when he had emerged from the shop, as if seeing him the way he looked when they first met had triggered all sorts of memories that she couldn’t see clearly or decipher. The mystery unnerved her, and an entirely new wave of emotions threatened her now. She was so caught off guard by her response to him now. Just by sitting across the room from him, she had urges to go to his side, sit beside him, hold his hand while walking. And now, with them alone together on their separate balconies…

    The space between the balconies was not that great, and he seemed to have had the same thought. Instead of forcing her to lean over (being only a little over five feet, Kat was on the short side), he came to her, drawing her face closer to his. She wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing away after only a few moments. He smiled as she looked down, avoiding his eyes. “You seem to be remembering more every day.”

    “I guess so,” she said, pulling away from him and leaning back on her own balcony.

    “It’s getting late,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned to head back into his apartment.

    “Good night,” she called after him, stepping back into her apartment and closing the door behind him. She leaned up against the door, letting out a sigh of relief.

    ------------

    A taxi flew past as Kat and Loki made their way across the street. They had been walking around New York all day, not really doing much of anything except talking, though Loki now seemed to refuse to tell Kat anything of her previous life, telling her that she would soon remember it.

    “I’m just saying that it may trigger some more memories,” Kat argued.

    “You really do not like being kept in the dark about this, do you?”

    “A few months ago, I found out that my entire background of my mortal life has been a fabricated lie by SHIELD. Forgive me if I want to know more about my past life…” Kat trailed off, looking around her and stopping short. Loki kept on walking for a few seconds before he realized she had stopped.

    “Is something wrong?”

    “Um…” She backed up a bit. “This is a pretty rough area of town. I’m not very familiar with New York. Maybe we should head back a different way?”

    He looked around, then turned back to her, holding his hand out for her to take. “I won’t let anything happen to you. It will be fine.”

    She nodded, silently taking his hand. They walked along in silence for a few moments before both of them stopped and froze at the same time, looking around.

    “It seems as if you’re in the wrong neighborhood.”

    Both of them turned to see a man in his late thirties, dressed in a black uniform similar to SHIELD’s. He stepped into the glow of a streetlight, revealing light red hair and deep black eyes. Loki stepped in front of her protectively. “What are you doing here?” He asked.

    “He wishes to speak with you.” The man looked at Kat. “Alone. I can look after your little girlfriend if you wish.”

    “I don’t think so,” Loki said, taking her by the arm and turning away from the man. “Keep walking. If he attacks, I’ll hold him off. Don’t look back. If you have to, call for backup from my brother and fly to Stark Tower.”

    “I don’t think that will be necessary.” They looked up to see that the man had materialized in front of them silently. He had a gun held in his hands, pointed straight at them. “As I said, I’ll look after her while you speak to him.”

    “And if I refuse?”

    The man smiled. “I think she can deal with having her mortal life cut short…”

    Everything happened so fast, Kat had no time to react. She could hear the gun go off, causing her to cover her ears. At the same time, Loki surged forward, grabbing the man by his arm and twisting it until Kat could hear several bones break. It had just taken a flick of the immortal’s wrist to do this…but the attacker didn’t seem to be in much pain. The gun had clattered to the ground at his feet, forgotten completely as he withdrew a knife from his coat and slashed out at Loki, coming within an inch of the immortal’s face as he stepped backwards. The man was almost as fast as Loki, which shocked Kat.

    Before she could think to run or attack or do anything, another loud crack filled her ears, and the man dropped to the ground, his neck lying at an impossible angle. Kat told herself not to scream, but she was too shaken up to do much else then stand there, her arms wrapped around herself. Loki stepped forward, using the side of his boot to turn the man’s head to the side, getting a good look at his eyes. “A demon…” he said, his voice low, but loud enough for Kat to hear.

    A demon. So he had been right…Kat shuddered. This one…if she had been alone, would have easily killed her. Loki stepped forward, placing his hands on her shoulders, his green gaze worried once again. “Are you okay?” He asked in a soft voice.

    She nodded, unable to say much as he drew her close, her face pressed against his chest. He was at least a foot taller than her, able to rest his chin on the top of her head easily. Kat felt safe and secure for all of three seconds until she wrapped her arms around his stomach, then drew back, her left hand wet with blood.

    “Loki…” She lifted his coat away from the shirt underneath. The bullet wound was bleeding so badly, it had soaked all the way through his coat. A mortal would have passed out by then. Loki didn’t seem fazed much as he drew her hand away from the wound.
    “I’m fine…” He said in a low voice, wrapping his arm around her shoulder and leading her back in the direction they had come from. While his body was already healing, he had still lost enough blood to make himself a little bit weak, though he was obviously trying to hide this from Kat. He stumbled once or twice as they made their way for Stark Tower, Kat punching Banner’s number into her cell phone.

    “Hello?”

    “Banner, Loki’s been shot. We’re just a few blocks from the tower…” By now, Kat was partially supporting him, which was difficult because of their height difference. “He says it’s not bad…”

    “I’m fine…” Loki groaned, leaning against her slightly. He was still standing upright…but Kat could feel that he was weakening with every few steps they took.

    “How much blood has he lost?” Banner asked.

    “A…a ton…”

    Cap and Barton met them in the lobby, Cap taking over the job of supporting Loki for Kat.

    While Kat, Barton, and Cap waited in the room outside of the infirmary for Banner to give them an update on Loki’s condition, Barton asked, “So, what happened?”

    “This demon cornered us as we were walking home. He threatened to kill me if Loki wouldn’t come with him to talk with someone.”

    “Who?” Cap asked.

    “He didn’t say, but I have a feeling it was someone important…I wonder…if it was the Demon King?”

    Cap crossed his arms in front of his chest. “This isn’t good. Especially if Loki’s been injured badly. We’ll be knocked down one immortal in fighting shape…”

    Banner stepped out of the sliding doors, his glasses in his hand. Everyone turned to him expectantly. He paused before saying, “He’s lost a lot of blood, but he should be good by tomorrow. A normal person would have died, and if Kat had been shot…well, yeah, she would have died.”

    “He saved my life…” Kat whispered to herself, fixing Cap with a meaningful look. He looked away.

    “I’m going to keep him here for a few more hours, then send him up to his own apartment to stay the night.” Banner turned to Kat. “He’ll be fine, Kat. Why don’t you catch some sleep?”

  23. #23
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    Chapter Fifteen



    That night, Kat lay in her bed, wide awake. She couldn’t get to sleep, the demon’s face swimming in her mind’s eye, where she saw it every time she closed her eyes. A knock at her door broke through her thoughts. She was surprised to see Loki when she opened the door. “May I come in?”

    “Yes, of course.” He stepped into the apartment shutting the door behind him. “How are you feeling?”

    “Much better now. I should be fully healed by the morning.”

    “Thank you.”

    He frowned. “For what?”

    “For saving my life.”

    “Aya…” He stepped closer to her. “Do you really think I would let any harm come to you?”

    She frowned. “Aya?”

    “I’m sorry…I used to call you that…I forgot…”

    “Why Aya?”

    “It means angel of chaos in Aquapolian. You asked me to call you that instead of Quamachi.”

    She raised an eyebrow. “Angel of chaos?”

    “YOU asked me to call you that.” He smiled.

    There was a pause before she asked, “Would you mind staying here tonight?”

    “No…” He studied her. “Is anything wrong?”

    “I just…I’m still trying to get over what happened today.”

    “You should get some sleep then,” he said, sitting down on the couch.

    “Yeah…so should you.” She turned to go into her room, then turned back around. “Um…you don’t have to stay on the couch.”
    Loki studied her, not sure if he heard right. “Are you sure?”

    Kat nodded. “Yeah. Please…”

    He took the side of the bed closest to the door with her on the opposite side, facing the closet. This time, she fell asleep quickly. When she woke up the next day, she was surprised to see that she had turned over in the night and wrapped her arms around his arm closest to her. He woke up at the same time, and she sheepishly pulled away from him. “Um…sorry…”

    “It’s fine…” He said, sitting up.

    “How are you feeling?”

    “Better. Much better.”

    She stepped out of the apartment first after she dressed, making her way to the kitchen where Mike was getting some coffee. He handed the carafe to her, looking at her over his cup. “Did Loki stay over at your apartment last night?” He happened to ask just as Cap stepped in. Cap frowned as she stared into her coffee.

    “Maybe…” She muttered, fleeing from the kitchen before Cap could say anything. Mike laughed, but immediately shut up when Cap shot him a glare.

    ------------

    “We need to boost security around here just in case,” Barton said. “If demons start to attack this place…”

    “Perhaps I should speak with Adam. He’ll continue to attack until…” Loki started.

    “No. He’ll probably kill you on sight for abandoning the cause,” Thor said.

    “We haven’t seen a demon around here…” Kat said. “Adam’s strategizing…”

    “When Stark gets back, he may be able to program security to pick up a demon’s signature,” Cap said.

    “When is he getting back?” Banner asked.

    “Not for another week…” Kat answered.

    “Then we’ll just have to keep an eye out…” Mike said.

    ------------

    A few nights later, Kat lay curled up beside Loki. He had started sleeping beside her since the night the demon attacked her. At around one in the morning, a loud ringing noise filled the room, waking both of them up. She groaned, leaning over to grab her phone off of the table on her side of the bed. “Hello?” She said groggily.

    “Hey, Kat,” Stark said. “Sorry to wake you up.”

    “No…it’s fine. What’s up?”

    “I’m actually about to jump on a jet home. The meeting ended early, just wanted to let you know before I show up randomly tomorrow.”

    “That’s great!”

    “Okay, I’ve got to run now. See you in the morning.” There was a pause before he said, almost as a hesitant afterthought. “Love you, sweetie.”

    She was taken aback by this, but answered instantly, “Love you, Dad.” After hanging up, she sat staring at her phone for a few moments.

    “Is something wrong?” Loki asked.

    “No…nothing…” she said, putting her phone back on the table. “Dad’s coming home early.” She smiled. He slipped his hand through hers, sitting up beside her.

    “Good,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.

    “I need to tell him as soon as he gets back.”

    “Tell him what?”

    She fixed him with her Aquapolian blue gaze. “Tell him about us.”

    “He’s going to put up a fight.”

    “Are you scared?”

    Loki smiled. “No, however I know how protective he is of you…”

    “Yeah…” She nodded. “I’ll try to talk to him. I think he’ll warm up to the fact more after learning how you saved my life…if you show him you’re just as protective of me…”

    He wrapped an arm around her shoulder, and she rested her head on his shoulder.

    ------------
    The next morning, Kat woke up before Loki did, slipping into the kitchen and fixing two cups of coffee. Cap came in, a worried look on his face. “Kat…”

    “I know you’re worried about me and Loki. You don’t have to be.”

    “I know, but Kat…”

    “And him living with me. I know you’re old-fashioned…there’s nothing going on…”

    “I know…”

    “I don’t know why I care so much, but…I guess I’m just worried about how Dad’s going to take this…”

    “Kat, I don’t have a problem with you being with Loki anymore.” She put down her cup, staring at him. “What happened the other night…I started observing the two of you together. He cares a lot about you. There’s no way someone could pretend to feel that way about someone.” He smiled. “I actually think I’ll give you hell if you break up with him.”

    She laughed, stepping down from the main kitchen and lifting one of the cups to her mouth as he stepped past her to grab some coffee himself. The news was playing on the TV screen on the other end of the kitchen area. A news alert story caught her eye, stopping her cold.

    “We’ve received reports that a private jet traveling from Tokyo to New York has gone down over the Pacific. Reports say that the jet belonged to Stark Industries CEO Tony Stark, who was in Tokyo on business for the past week before heading home early this week. Sources confirm that Mr. Stark was on board the jet, but search and rescue crews believe that there is a low possibility that anyone on board survived.”

    There was a pause in the room until Cap said, “I’ll go wake the others.” He rushed out of the room as Kat stared at the screen, completely frozen in shock.

    Cap ran to all of the apartments, banging on the doors and trying to phone Mike at the same time. Only Loki and Banner were in the apartments. “Turn on the news NOW!” Cap snapped at Banner, turning to Loki. “Go to the kitchen, Kat’s in there.” He rushed to the elevator, punching the button furiously as he re-dialed Mike’s number. Loki wasted no time getting to the kitchen, where he found Kat, standing only a few inches away from the TV screen. Two ceramic mugs lay shattered behind her, coffee and blood spread around them. Her feet were bloody as well. He stepped around the shards of the mugs, putting a hand on her shoulder, listening to a few lines of the repeated news story.

    “Aya…” He whispered. “Your feet.” She didn’t reply as he lifted her up, racing into the common room. “Banner!”

    ------------

    Mike, Harvey, and Donna stared at the TV screen in Jessica Pearson’s office, none of them believing what they were hearing or seeing. The silence was broken by Mike’s phone going off. “Hello?”

    “Mike, we need you here now,” Cap said.

    “Okay,” he glanced over at Harvey.

    “Go to Stark Tower now. Gather any information you can,” Harvey told Mike.

    He nodded. “I’m on my way,” he said, rushing out the door.

    ------------

    Kat sat on one of the beds in the infirmary, staring down at her hands. Banner retrieved some gauze and bandages from a drawer nearby, handing them to Loki. “Just wrap it really tightly. I don’t want the bleeding to start up badly again.” He glanced over at Kat and lowered his voice. “Stay by her. She’s in shock right now. She’s going to take a while to recover.” He left the room as Loki sat down across from Kat, lifting one of her feet into his lap as he wrapped it up, his eyes staying on her as he worked.

    Finally, when he finished wrapping up both feet, he stood up and sat beside her, taking one of her hands in his. A few more moments passed before she burst into tears. “What if he’s dead?” She sobbed. “What if he didn’t have his suit with him?”

    He wrapped his arms around her, placing his chin on her head. “You know he always carried the mobile suit with him. It’s going to take more than a plane crash to kill Tony Stark.” She sobbed some more into his chest.

    ------------

    “I’ve reached some of my contacts…ones that were loyal to Coulson. They’re heading out to the crash sight. It was within twenty miles of California, so they’ll be searching the shore as well,” Barton said.

    “We have to make sure they find him before SHIELD does,” Cap said.

    “Should we go out there?” Mike asked.

    “No, that would just lead to trouble between us and any SHIELD agents out there. We stay here and keep an eye on the situation.”

    “If he’s still alive...” Thor began.

    “Barton’s right. If he’s still alive and has the suit, his chances of survival will be better if we stay here.”

    Everyone turned to see Kat and Loki standing in hallway between the common room and the elevator.

    “Then we’ll stay here,” Cap said. “And keep a sharp eye out to see if any demons decide to attack at this time.”

    ------------

    For the next few days, everyone stayed in the common room unless they were on guard duty or asleep. When either Kat or Loki were not on duty at night, they slept together in her apartment. After the first crying spell in the infirmary, she would wake up randomly throughout the night, sobbing from nightmares about demons and Stark ending up truly dead. Loki was there to comfort her, holding her until she fell asleep.

    One night, Barton was standing in the common room, watching the news, when he got a phone call. “Hello?”

    “Barton?”

    “Lawson. How’s it going?”

    “You’re going to need to get to the airport in the next few hours.”

    In Kat’s apartment, Kat and Loki were fast asleep until Kat’s phone rang, loudly waking them up. She scooped up her phone. “Hello?”

    “Hi, sweetie.”

    Her heart stopped. “Dad?”

    “Yeah, I’m standing here at the airport in San Francisco. I’ll be home in a few hours.”

    “…How…?” She breathed.

    “Guess that prototype saved my life. I wasn’t able to stop the plane from sinking…I black out for a few seconds before I could activate the suit.”

  24. #24
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    Chapter Sixteen



    “Thank God,” Kat said.

    “I’m about to head back now. I’ll see you soon, sweetie.” Stark ended the call. She sprang out of bed, fully waking Loki up.

    “What is it?” He asked.

    “He’s alive!”

    “Who…?” He asked groggily.

    “Dad! He’s alive!”

    ------------

    “I’ll take one of the cars out to the airport. I’m going to need two more people to come with me,” Barton said after everyone had gathered in the common room. “It’s crucial that we get to Stark before SHIELD does.”

    “I’ll go,” Kat said.

    “I will as well,” Loki volunteered.

    “The rest of you, stay on alert. We may need reinforcements. We’ll stay in constant contact, okay?”

    ------------

    Barton sped towards the airport, Loki in the passengers seat beside him and Kat sitting right behind him. “Kat, you get out first, greet him when he gets off the plane. Keep it short. Loki, you get out of the car and keep a close eye on them, then signal when it’s time to go or if we spot any SHIELD agents in the area. If we have to split up, I’ll go with Stark, you two stick together. Head back for Stark Tower and call in reinforcements if you need to.”

    He pulled onto the airstrip of the airport. It was a tiny one, only big enough for a few planes at once. She could see Stark’s plane already on the strip. Barton braked to a stop, and Kat slipped out, making her way for the opening door of the plane. Stark was walking down the steps as she approached, flanked by two SHIELD agents. Kat froze until she realized these were the agents on Barton’s side. Instead of stepping fully off of the plane, one turned to her, nodded, and both of them retreated back into the aircraft. Stark turned to her, and she ran to him, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his chest.

    “They’re going to have to try harder to kill me,” Stark said as he held her close.

    She pulled away. “Do you really think SHIELD was behind this?”

    “Kat, when it comes to SHIELD, I don’t think. I know.” He looked past her to where the car was, Loki standing beside it, keeping an eye on them.

    Barton gazed ahead, still in the driver’s seat. Flashing lights shone in the distance. He turned toward Loki. “We’re leaving. NOW!” Loki signaled to Kat, and she grabbed Stark’s arm.

    “What’s going on?” He asked.

    “We need to get out of here before they try to finish the job,” she said as they raced for the car, Stark sliding into the backseat beside her.

    “Okay, everyone, buckle up!” Barton said, as he spun the car around. “This is going to be a bumpy ride!” Without waiting to check that everyone had fastened their seat belts, he made a sharp turn to the right, causing Stark, who had ignored Barton’s warning, choosing instead to grip one of the handles above the car door on his side of the back seat, to slide sideways into Kat. Barton stepped on the gas pedal, pushing Stark further back in the seat.

    “I swear to God, if you get thrown out of this car because you failed to put on your seatbelt…” Kat growled at Stark. Barton and Loki shot each other a look that said they were glad it wasn’t them getting chewed out by her as Stark silently buckled himself into his seat, a slightly unnerved look on his face. Though she was the shortest of the group and did not look tough at all, Kat had a way of intimidating anyone, even Thor. The effect was thoroughly carried out by her blue eyes, which seemed to spark dangerously whenever she was mad.

    They raced down the road that led from the small airport back towards Manhattan, Barton careening around other cars in the road expertly. He had received this kind of driving training not under SHIELD, but under Group X, the assassination organization he had worked for previously. Assassins had to be able to make quick exits, especially if they were out in the field alone. Sirens screamed in the distance, but Barton ignored them, driving even faster. If the police caught them, they would eventually end up in SHIELD custody. The only safe place for them now was Stark Tower.

    The SHIELD vehicles were now closing in on them like predators stalking their prey. A gunshot shattered Barton’s side-view mirror, coming inches within the agent’s face. He withdrew a handgun from his belt, rolled down the window, and expertly shot out two vehicles’ tires while still maintaining a steady hand at the wheel. “Anyone else want a shot at them? This next part’s going to be tricky.” He handed the gun over to Loki, who inspected it for only a few seconds before rolling down his own window and aiming at another car. “Don’t shoot to kill unless you have to,” Barton said as several more gunshots sounded out from behind them. Two more vehicles screeched and careened into each others as their tires blew out, this time on the passenger’s side of the car.

    Stark looked back as they quickly left the SHIELD cars behind, their passengers jumping out of the vehicles and yelling into their radios. “Nice shot. They have guns on Asgard?”

    “No, they don’t. I just have better eyesight than most mortals. It makes it easier to see what I’m aiming at,” Loki explained as another volley of shots rang out from behind them. The back windshield collapsed, glass falling in showers to the road behind them.

    “GET DOWN NOW!” Barton yelled at Kat and Stark. This time, she didn’t protest when Stark unfastened his seatbelt, both of them ducking behind the two front seats, Stark with his hand on Kat’s back and his body positioned closer to the back in order to protect her from any wayward bullets.

    “Did they bring the entire organization?” She could hear Loki ask from the front seat as he scanned the roads around them. It seemed as if all of the vehicles on the road now belonged to SHIELD.

    “Just about. I have to hand it to them, they don’t give up on a mission easily. Probably pissed off that Stark survived a certain-death situation. Have to fix this problem before someone else gets wind of it…” Barton commented as he swerved, swearing.

    “What’s going on?” Kat asked, trying to raise her head to see what Barton was cursing at. Stark forced her to lie low as he raised his head to get a better look.

    “A roadblock? For one person? I’m flattered,” he said, his eyes on the line of SHIELD cars in front of them. “Just to let you know, Barton, this car isn’t going to be able to plow through all of those vehicles…and it looks like we’ve got company on both sides.” He ducked back down, shooting Kat a smile. “I knew I should have started working on that flying car prototype I thought about years ago.”

    “Who needs a prototype when this car can fly?” Kat said, her eyes shining. Before Stark could ask her what she meant, the road underneath them started to rise up, forming a sort of ramp over the roadblock. Barton tried to keep his eyes on what was ahead, but he couldn’t help staring in awe as the road on either side of them started to twist, forming a tunnel too narrow for any car to ride beside them. The tunnel rippled like a wave down the road, completely crushing any SHIELD vehicle in its path. The car landed back on the road with a jolt, and Barton was able to steer it cleanly down the road, leaving the SHIELD cars behind as they raced through the tunnel.

    Kat and Stark slide back onto their seats, Stark staring at the tunnel rippling outside of his window. “Are you doing this?” He asked Kat, impressed. Barton and Loki didn’t seem as surprised, Loki knowing exactly what her powers entailed and Barton having trained with her in controlling the elements for years.

    “Yeah, but we only have a short amount of time before the tunnel has to collapse back. I don’t want to injure any bystanders…” She said, her eye on the tunnel, keeping it rippling as they sped along.

    “Okay, well listen to the following sentence because not many people get to hear it… I’m impressed.” Stark didn’t have long to admire the tunnel, however. It was already starting to collapse around them…and it seemed as if the SHIELD agents had refused to give up in their pursuit. Barton tried to ease the car into a faster pace, but a loud shot rang out, causing the car to spin around. It careened into a guardrail at the side of the road, but didn’t stop there.

    With a loud screeching noise, the car broke through the barrier and tumbled down the slope into a wooded area. Flipping sideways several times, it finally crashed into the treeline. Kat blacked out for a few seconds, her head swimming. She could feel herself reaching across to grab Stark’s arm. “Kat!” His voice sounded far away. “Kat, are you okay?” Then she was being pulled out of the car by Barton, Stark following after them. Blood was running down Stark’s face and Barton’s shoulder looked as if it had been wrenched painfully.

    “Come on!” Barton yelled, sound still so far away to her ears. Stark grabbed her arm, wrenching her towards the trees. An explosion sounded from behind them. She turned. The car was in flames…and she hadn’t seen Loki yet.

    “LOKI!” She screamed, wrenching her arm from Stark’s grasp. She could vaguely hear him shouting her name, but she wasn’t listening. “LOKI!” She stumbled towards the wreck, her eyes searching everywhere. Someone grabbed her from behind, spinning her away from the flames and back towards where Barton and Stark stood. She realized distantly that it was Loki who was steering her towards them, but she was still too in shock to realize anything.

    When they were standing across from Stark and Barton, Stark stepped beside her, tilting her head up so that she was looking directly at him. “Are you okay?” Kat had never seen him like this before. He was literally shaking, even though she had gotten away a lot less injured than he had. She nodded as Barton started to talk.

    “Everyone take a few moments to compose yourselves…” He said calmly. Stark stepped back from Kat, taking a deep breath. Sirens sounded in the distance. “Okay, here’s our plan,” Barton said, turning to Stark. “You come with me. Kat goes with Loki. We split up and head back to Stark Tower by two different routes.” Stark was about to say something, obviously about the way they were splitting up, but Barton interrupted him. “We don’t have time to argue. They’ll be on us in a few minutes. We have to start back on foot now.” The sirens were growing closer. Barton started in one direction, Stark hesitantly following after him. Kat spun around, and she and Loki bolted in the opposite direction.

    ------------

    Barton and Stark made it back to Stark Tower first, jumping in the elevator to get to the top floor as quickly as possible. As soon as it was certain that they were out of danger, Stark turned to Barton. “What part of ‘don’t leave Kat alone with Loki’ did you not understand?”

    Barton shrugged, looking a bit uncomfortable. “We decided we could trust him.”

    “Really? Trust him enough to gamble with my daughter’s life?”

    “He saved her life a few days ago.”

    “What?” Stark frowned, confused. “I didn’t hear anything about that…”

    “A demon attacked them while they were walking back home from somewhere a few nights ago…threatened to kill Kat. Loki killed him instead.”

    Stark was quiet for a few moments, thinking this over. “They were walking home alone?”

    Barton sighed. “Listen…about that…” A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed as Barton tried to decide how exactly he was going to phrase the next sentence out of his mouth. It was harder with no one else around…Barton had faced up against mercenaries, assassins, all sorts of covert agents, yet he still felt facing the Starks when they were angry was the scariest thing he would ever do.

    What unnerved him the most was that Stark was completely silent. Barton usually walked around Stark Tower wishing the billionaire would just shut up for five seconds, but now that he had, Barton could literally feel the tension in the air. He knew that, while Stark took almost nothing seriously, when it came to Kat, he was more dangerous than Thor.

    “Thor might be able to explain this better than I ever would…it’s got something to do with Kat’s immortal past and all…” That was actually a good idea, Barton thought. Let Thor explain to Stark that his daughter was dating Loki…

    “What?” Stark’s voice had gotten dangerously low. Barton unconsciously backed away from him a few inches. Yeah, much more scary than mercenaries. Barton suddenly wished Stark had been knocked unconscious in that car crash…Then again, it would be interesting to see what Stark’s reaction was…

    “Kat is going out with Loki now.”

    For all of a few seconds, Barton was convinced that that day was the day he died. All of those years running black ops in Russia and China…and he would die at the hands of Tony Stark.

    Then Stark burst out laughing and he realized the billionaire thought it was a joke. “That…that’s a good one, Barton.” Barton hesitantly started to laugh as well, realizing that he would have thought the same thing a few months previously. Stark doubled over and both Avengers were laughing so hard, Barton thought one or both of them would pass out. This was his chance.

    “You know what the funniest thing is?” He said, trying to keep his composure as he continued on. “It’s true!”

    For a few seconds, Barton didn’t know whether his plan had worked or not. He had accidently put on his serious face…Stark was staring at him as if he couldn’t believe his ears. Well, now Barton was dead. “Wait…what?”

    “Kat…and Loki…are going out now…And it started back when they were immortals…well, when Kat was an immortal…”

    “So, let me get this straight…” Stark said, his voice getting dangerously low again. “I tell each and every one of you that I don’t want Kat alone in a room with Loki for her safety…and apparently, not only do you completely ignore that…but…when in hell did it seem a good idea to you to let her start dating him?!

    “Um…” Barton was saved at the last moment by the elevator door swinging open onto the top floor, where the rest of the Avengers were waiting. Before Barton could issue another “um,” Stark stormed out of the elevator and into the common area. Barton could see everyone else turning to watch them come in, and the look on everyone’s face told him that they knew Stark was pissed.

    “Seriously, what the hell, guys?” Even Cap seemed a bit intimidated by Stark and Thor looked like he wanted to disappear into the floor. Mike stepped silently behind Thor while Banner tried to make himself as small as possible sitting on the couch. “You!” He pointed straight at Cap. “I thought you would have had complete control over this situation!”

    Cap raised his hands as if to say it wasn’t his fault. “Can anyone explain to me exactly what happened?” Stark asked, spinning around to address all of them. Each and every one of them pointed at Thor simultaneously. Mike stepped out from behind him sitting on a chair nearby.

  25. #25
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    Chapter Seventeen



    Everyone seemed to simultaneously hold their breath as they waited for Stark to say something. Thor, for as big and strong as he was, looked as if he were facing a firing squad. “I…they…” he started, stuttering over his words. “…years ago, they were together…” he tried to shrug, as if to say it wasn’t a big deal. “I didn’t think it wrong that…”

    “Yes, this was all before your brother became a murdering psychopath,” Stark said. Before Thor could protest, he cut him off. “And just because someone else was controlling him…What if the Demon King takes over his mind again?”

    “He can’t. Not as long as he is close to her.”

    If it were possible for silence to grow even quieter…No one had heard this before, not even the Avengers who had been there the entire time. This seemed to shut Stark up just long enough for the elevator doors to swing open and Kat and Loki to step in the room. It was obvious to everyone that Kat knew what they were talking about. Before they could lapse into a long and awkward silence, she turned to Barton. “Have you received any word from your contacts within SHIELD yet?”

    A big sigh of relief swept over everyone in the room except for Stark, who decided to stew over his own thoughts. Barton looked the most relieved of everyone as he spoke, “SHIELD isn’t releasing any orders to go after you. They lost track of you for now…they’ll be regrouping and deciding whether or not they want to pull another maneuver like that.”

    “So what should we do now?” Mike asked.

    “We need to figure out exactly why SHIELD is after Stark,” Cap said. Barton nodded in agreement.

    “I wonder if it has anything to do with the Tesseract…” Kat turned to Thor and Loki. “We discovered that it’s some sort of computer.”

    “There were ancient legends that only two beings would be unable to unlock the Tesseract’s secrets,” Loki said. “One of which being the Chosen One…” He glanced over at Stark. “If Stark is the second being…perhaps SHIELD does not want the Tesseract’s secrets unlocked.”

    Everyone thought about this for a few moments before Barton spoke up. “I have a friend who is a former SHIELD agent.” He paused, glancing at Mike and Kat. “He may be able to help us…you two actually know him. After he retired from SHIELD, he started teaching high school chemistry.”

    Mike laughed. “No way, Mr. White?”

    Barton nodded. “He and Coulson used to be partners on missions in the late eighties and nineties. That was around the time SHIELD came into possession of the Tesseract. The only thing is…we would have to get Kat and Mike down to speak with him. He doesn’t like being approached for this kind of stuff.”

    “We can’t go down alone,” Kat said.

    “You won’t. I’ll do down with you, and we’ll take one of the immortals.”

    “We should go as soon as possible.”

    “And we’ll keep in constant communication,” Cap spoke up. “So that SHIELD doesn’t swoop in and catch you while you’re gone.”

    “Are you good with going in two days?” Barton asked. “Think you can get out of work, Mike?”

    “If I get a note from Stark saying I’m doing something for the case, Harvey won’t mind.”

    “Speaking of Harvey,” Stark said, his mood lightening up just a bit. “That database of Aquapolians we found. Harvey was in it.”

    “Do you think we should invite him to join?” Mike asked half-jokingly. “I don’t think he’d be up for that.”

    “We can always try and see if he develops powers,” Barton pointed out. Everyone remained silent as they thought on this. They decided to wait to make the decision later.

    ------------

    The walls of the corridor threatened to close her in…it felt as if Kat was trapped underground, her claustrophobia threatening to drown her. That day’s events had her nearly suffocating from the turmoil of emotions that swam in her head. The early morning phone call from her father, who turned out to be alive and well, had brought extreme joy to her heart. The perilous ride back from the airport had sent an adrenaline rush through her body, combined with terror and shock (which she was still suffering slightly from hours later) brought on by the car crash. Finally, though not one of the other Avengers had said anything to her about it, she knew that Stark had not reacted well to the fact that she was now dating Loki. She had hoped to pull him aside that night, after things had settled down, and tell him everything. Kat was starting to get the hang of speaking to her father, and she knew that his top concern would be her safety.

    Footsteps sounded behind her, and she turned around as Stark stopped, his hands in the pocket of his coat as he studied her for a few moments. She started to talk, but he cut her off. “When were you going to tell me?” He looked hurt by the fact that she hadn’t confided in him earlier. She was surprised to see this emotion on his face.

    “I…I was going to tell you when you got home…” She started to fight back tears. “I’m sorry…I wanted to talk to you face-to-face…and then…” She sobbed. “And then…I wasn’t so sure if you were even coming home.” She burst into tears, covering her eyes with her hands so that she couldn’t see his face. A few moments later, she could feel him wrap his arms around her and place his chin on her head as she sobbed into his shoulder.

    “I just want to make sure you’re safe,” he said after a few moments. “Barton told me about what happened a few days ago.” He sighed. “Kat…I can’t claim to know everything about you, it’s just that…you don’t seem like the sort of person to rush into decisions like this.” He paused. “Although I guess I should ask Thor more about this.”

    She stepped back, her eyes on the floor. “I just…don’t know how to explain this.”

    He put his hand up to stop her. “No need. You seem just as confused as I am. That’s why I’m surprised about…this…happening. However, if you were going to pick between the two immortals on the team, I’m not surprised you picked Loki.”

    She smiled. “I guess I have more in common with him than I do with Thor. It’s hard talking to him sometimes…”

    Stark snorted. “That’s the understatement of the millennium. Conversations with him are like talking to a brick wall that asks questions every three seconds.”

    Kat rolled her eyes. “Dad, he’s not stupid, he’s just…”

    “Slow?”

    “Well, compared to Loki many people can be seen as slow. I meant to say that Thor just doesn’t know as much about Earth and is eager to learn. He means well, but I…”

    “Prefer the brother who has his nose in a book all the time? I thought so…”

    She raised an eyebrow, inwardly extremely glad that the conversation had turned from tense back to the usual teasing that occurred between the two of them on a daily basis. Usually, she found it annoying, but now it was an extreme sense of relief to her. “What do you mean you thought so?”

    “I just meant that you’re a nerd, so…” Stark said.

    “So says the man who built a flying suit,” Kat pointed out.

    “And now you know where you got your nerdiness from.”

    There was a pause in the conversation until she asked, “What are we going to do now?”

    “You and me?”

    “The entire team. But yes…” She took a deep breath. “We do need to figure out why SHIELD wants you dead.”

    “I think it has something to do with that registry of Aquapolian descendants.”

    “I would think SHIELD would want access to it…”

    “That’s what we’re going to find out from White, hopefully.”

    She frowned. “It’s going to take a lot of convincing for him to tell us what he knows.”

    “If he wants protection, we can provide it.”

    “We can barely provide enough protection for the group members we have now,” she said bitterly.

    He shrugged. “Well, then, if he wants money, that’s not a problem.”

    She shook her head. “No. He’s more likely to ask protection for his family. If he’s a former SHIELD member, there’s a high chance he and his family are being monitored. This is a huge risk we’re asking him to take.”

    “But it’s a huge risk that has to be taken. Being kept in the dark about anything SHIELD does is dangerous for us.”

    She nodded. “Why is it that I’m more afraid of what SHIELD will do than what an army of demons will do?”

    “Because no demon could match what the council of SHIELD does on a daily basis.”

    -----------

    A few hours later, Loki stepped out of the library and into the common room. Everyone had cleared out except for Stark, who was staring at a computer screen intently. Loki hadn’t spoken to Kat since they had returned from the airport, but he knew from how the rest of the Avengers were acting that Stark was not pleased with him at all. No matter to him. He knew from the start that there were bound to be members of the team who wouldn’t be happy about him fighting by their side. The only difference was that Kat cared a lot about what her father thought…at least about this. If Kat cared, Loki would care. It was as simple as that.

    Loki was debating whether or not to go ahead and get the confrontation over with when Stark looked up from his computer, not exactly surprised to see him there. Both of them knew this conversation was inevitable, so they might as well have it now.

    “When did it start?”

    This question caught Loki slightly off guard. He had expected a snide remark or yelling. Instead, Stark merely seemed curious, as if this were a scientific problem he was trying to sort out, gathering variables and evidence to solve it. “It started originally three thousand years ago. Ay…Kat” He corrected himself. “Was invited to stay on Asgard for a few centuries to tutor the grandchildren of a higher lord. That was when we met.”

    “And then you decide that now…” Stark stopped, starting his sentence over again. “She doesn’t even remember anything from her immortal life.”

    “Her mind still holds the memories of her past life. They are just not…unlocked for her to completely see yet. She may not know this, but the motivation behind most of her actions comes from these unlocked memories from her past.”

    “Which would explain why she decides to start going out with an immortal like three days after she meets him.” Stark seemed relieved now that he knew the truth behind what confused him earlier.

    “And why she can’t stand the thought of losing you, though she doesn’t know exactly why yet.”

    Stark frowned, remembering Kat’s words during the Initiative. “Do me a favor and don’t get yourself killed out here…” He muttered thoughtfully, thinking about the way she had burst into tears earlier that day. “So…why is that?”

    “There are four sets of immortals. Those who live in heaven and hell, the angels and demons, and those who live on Earth and in Asgard. Earth has no native immortals of its own. Asgardian immortals are born from other Asgardian immortals, as are angels and demons. Kat is an angel, created to stand watch over and protect the Earth. But she has no immortal parents…and for thousands of years, she has been the only immortal to walk on this Earth.” He paused. “You are the only father she will ever know. After she dies, she will wake to walk the Earth once more…but even as an angel, she is barred from heaven to continue her job of protecting this Earth…”

    Loki did not have to say a word more. Terrible realization dawned on Stark. The only comfort in death for him was the fact that he would see Caroline again and Kat some time after. But now…he realized that not only would he never see her again after his death, but Kat would never meet her mother.

    As Stark struggled to come to terms with this new revelation, Loki continued. “And now you know why she cares more for your safety than her own. And how it’s possible for her…feelings to return after so many years.”

    There was a heavy silence for a few moments as Loki realized just how much his words had impacted Stark. He knew he needed to end the conversation and leave Stark to his thoughts as soon as possible, but before he could say any last words, Stark stepped forward, his gaze meeting the immortal’s. It was so strange to Loki how a mortal could possess so much power in one glance, but then again, Stark was no ordinary mortal. Besides being the father of the Chosen One, there was something else…some kind of power hidden within him that had proved Loki’s words during their first meeting wrong. Tony Stark would not just be remembered throughout immortal time as the Chosen One’s father or as Iron Man. He would be remembered for something more, though Loki knew not what.

    “You can stay by her side…but you have to stay true to your end of the deal.”

    Loki raised an eyebrow. “Which is…?

    “I want you to act as her bodyguard during her mortal life. I can’t be everywhere. I can’t protect her all the time. And I won’t be there for her after I die. She needs someone by her side for eternity. And that someone will be you. I want you to watch after her from this day on. And if you don’t, I swear to God, I’ll find a way to come back from the dead and kick your ***.” He held out his hand. “Understood?”

    A slow smile spread across Loki’s face. “Understood.” They shook hands, a sense of surprising relief flowing through the immortal. “It’s strange…” He said. “It did not turn out well the last time someone tried to control Kat and my relationship…it ended up with her being banished from Asgard and my being Shadowficated.”

    “Then why take this deal now?”

    “Because I have more respect for you than I will ever have for Odin.” With those words spoken, Loki turned and left the common room, effectively leaving Stark speechless and alone with his own thoughts.

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